Tuesday, May 29, 2012

No cooking today, just garden views.

It seemed a particularly magical morning.  Already pounding with heat the garden beckoned.  No cooking today, just garden views.

A perfect tranquil hideaway.

Perhaps this will reappear as lavender ice cream.

Hollyhocks have a special old world feel.

My husband, the master gardener planted this urn full of thyme.

Our little stone bunny hiding in the lavender.

The lettuces are doing well.

Despite all the rain the old stone bird bath is dry.

Never mind the stroll, how about a walk?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Chocolate Sandwich Cookies with Creamy Vanilla Frosting.

"Classic" never goes out of style.

Chocolate and Vanilla is surely the all time favorite flavor combination.


I don't know about you, but I actually find baking cookies quite challenging.  They're either dry, burnt or too gooey.  I really didn't have high hopes for these as I was rattling around in the kitchen last night.  When they cooled I decided to be totally decedent and frost them, then stick them together like some sort of edible craft project. I have to admit they were wonderful.  The cookies were crumbly and oh so chocolately and the frosting was creamy and voluptuous.  If I make any more of these I'm going to get voluptuous.

The motley crew loved them too.  I had to rescue the last one and hide it for my husband before they inhaled the lot.

Chocolate Sandwich Cookies with Vanilla Frosting.

1 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup cocoa powder (I used Hershey's)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting.

6 oz unsalted softened butter
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups sifted confectioner's sugar
1/4 cup - 1/3 cup milk

Heat the oven to 350F

Cream the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy.

Add the eggs one at a time and beat until thoroughly combined.

Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt together and add to the mixture.

Stir to combine. The mixture will be quite stiff.

Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Line two large baking sheets with baking parchment paper.  Take a tablespoon of the dough at a time, roll it into a ball in the palm of your hands and place it on the baking sheet. 

Press down on the top of the dough balls with the tip of a fork dipped in cocoa powder to flatten slightly.

Bake for 8 - 10 minutes. Check after 8 minutes, the cookies will harden a little on cooling.

Allow to cool thoroughly before frosting.

To make the frosting combine all the ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Add only 1/4 cup of milk to begin with, if the mixture is very thick slowly add a little more milk.  If it's too thin, add a little more confectioner's sugar.

Frost the cookies and sandwich together.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Chicken Nugget Sandwiches

Faced with a hungry crew and a packet of boneless skinless chicken breasts last night, I caved into pressure and rustled up some chicken nuggets.  I normally try to do something a little more interesting than nuggets - but I have to tell you that these were scrumptious, especially packed into pitta pockets along with lettuce from the garden, juicy tomatoes, avocado and a drizzle of ranch dressing. 

Chicken Nuggets.

1 packet of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips approx 2 inches long and 1/2 inch wide.
2 large eggs
1 cup all purpose flour
Black pepper
Pinch of sea salt
1 cup of Panko breadcrumbs, which give a lovely extra crispy texture (regular dried breadcrumbs are fine if you can't find panko)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 large sprig of fresh Rosemary, minced
Olive oil.

Cut your chicken into the required strips.

Crack the eggs and gently whisk, pour onto a large plate

Measure out the flour, salt and pepper and place on a large plate.

Mix the breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese and chopped rosemary and place on 3rd large plate.

Line a large baking tray with parchment paper.

Dip the chicken strips into the egg mixture, then the flour mixture, back into the egg and then roll in the breadcrumb mixture.  Place on the baking sheet while you finish preparing the rest of the chicken strips.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a non stick frying pan until the oil is really hot. 

Add  a couple of the chicken strips.  Don't overcrowd the pan, cook in batches as the chicken will not brown properly and will steam more than crisp if the pan is overcrowded.

You will need to add more oil for further batches of chicken.

Once the chicken is cooked through and you have a glorious golden, crispy coating remove from the pan and allow to drain on paper towels.

Arrange your stuffing ingredients on a serving plate and warm your pitta breads in the microwave.

Stuff the pittas with the goodies and dig in.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Angelic Garlic Mashed Potato with Fresh Rosemary and Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Let's talk potato.  The other day I was watching a cooking show where the host was making mashed potato.  I'm the first to admit that although I have very good intentions, I do get a little carried away with my use of butter.  Well, I'm a perfect angel compared to this cook.  Two sticks of butter was tossed into the potato followed by sour cream, cheddar cheese, a heavy dose of salt and wait for it, yes, another stick of butter.  It was a bit of a turn off.  I want a wonderful taste but I don't want to ingest that amount of fat, I have enough trouble with my waistline as it is.  I wondered how I could achieve angelic potatoes.  This is my offering.  By boiling the garlic and rosemary along with the potatoes, they seem to infuse their flavor. I tried it out on the family last night and got the hoped for result. "What did you put in the potatoes?" they asked,"they're mad good."  Score.

Angelic Garlic Mashed Potato with Fresh Rosemary and Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

6-8 medium potatoes, peeled and halved
2 garlic cloves, in their skins
1 large fresh sprig of rosemary
2 - 3 tablespoons olive oil
A couple of grindings of black pepper
Pinch of sea salt
2 -3 tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup of skimmed milk

Fill a large saucepan half way up with water and put it on to boil.  Add the potatoes, rosemary and garlic.

Boil the potatoes, garlic and rosemary for about 15-20 minutes, until the potatoes are soft.  Drain.  Remove the rosemary and garlic to a cutting board.

Squeeze the garlic out of their skins and chop very finely along with the rosemary.  Add this back to the pot with the drained potatoes.  Add the milk, a few tablespoons of olive oil, Parmesan, salt and black pepper.

Mash it all together, add more oil, milk or cheese if you desire.

I just had to show the milk bottle because I so enjoy it - it's like the old fashioned milk bottles the milkman used to bring to the house in England.

The potatoes go with just about anything.  Although the photo doesn't show it, they have a lovely golden color - I assume from the olive oil. Serve with a sprig of rosemary, enjoy and feel virtuous. 

Let's talk potato.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Mediterranean (no food in the house) Quick Fix Tart!

I had an emergency situation yesterday of no food in the house, or so I thought.  A quick rifle through the fridge found a lonely slab of forgotten puff pastry, a selection of half empty jars of pesto, baby hot peppers, capers, olives, artichoke hearts and a packet of goat cheese. Ha! no food indeed! This turned out to be a gorgeous little dinner which took about 5 minutes to make. Plus I used up all those pesky jars that take up so much room in the fridge.  I forgot how much I like puff pastry - even if it didn't really puff.   

Mediterranean Quick Fix Tart

1 sheet of thawed puff pastry
Approx 3-4 tablespoons of pesto sauce
4-5 jarred artichoke hearts, sliced
A handful of jarred red peppers (sweet or hot) sliced
A handful of pitted olives, green or black
6 oz goats cheese, crumbled (you could alternatively use feta)
1 tablespoon of capers

Heat the oven to 400F

Roll out the puff pastry and place on a baking sheet.  Make sure you have an edge around the outside so the filling doesn't ooze all over during baking.

Spread the pesto sauce over the base of the tart.  It looks a bit like a newly mowed lawn!

Arrange the rest of the topping ingredients over the pesto. No artistic skill required.

Bake for approximately 20 minutes or until the pastry puffs (hopefully) and is golden.  Remove from the oven and sprinkle over some fresh herbs from the garden.  Drizzle over some olive oil if you wish. Best eaten warm from the oven. That won't be hard.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Shrimp Scampi and Child Rearing Issues.

Sophie my eldest daughter, the one who got a nasty clonk on the head LOVES shrimp.  At the moment what Sophie wants, Sophie gets - and this was dinner last night.  I wasn't completely sure of how to cook shrimp scampi, it was a question of a little of this and a little of that, mix it all together and cross your fingers.  Happily it worked. 

I would also like to thank you so much for such kind comments on my last post.

On a child rearing note, I am quite clear on the "it's not good to hit your children" issue.  However when my fourteen year old snarled at her ailing post concussive sister,"I'm so jealous! I wish I could lie in bed all day and do nothing!" I had to smoother an impulse to pounce.  Was she just stressed like the rest of us? probably that was it - so I made her a bacon sandwich. I think I'm a bit of a wimp.

Shrimp Scampi;

1 1/2 lbs fresh shrimp, cleaned
Olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
A handful of fresh parsley, minced
A splash of white wine (optional)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper
Zest and juice of a lemon
A pinch of red pepper flakes

1 packet of Spaghetti

Heat the water for the spaghetti and cook according to the packet.

Whisk together the olive oil, salt and pepper, red pepper flakes, lemon zest, juice, chopped parsley and mustard.

Add the shrimp and allow to marinate while you cook the onion.

Pour a tablespoon or two of olive oil into a large frying pan and heat.  Add the onion and cook on a low heat until just turning golden.  Add the minced garlic and a little minced parsley and continue to cook for another few minutes.  Don't burn the garlic!

When everything is looking nice and golden, turn up the heat and add the shrimp.  Although shrimp needs to be cooked through, don't over do it.  Overcooked shrimp tastes like little bits of chewy rubber - with no flavor - not what we're after.  If you're using the wine, now's the time to pour that in, let the alcohol burn off.

Drain the spaghetti, pour into a bowl, pour a little olive oil over it and add the shrimp mixture.  Top with more parsley and lemon juice and slices.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Fennel Soup with Crispy Leeks, a Concussion and a Stay at the Hospital!

When it rains it pours - how very true.  There has been all manner of upheavals going on lately and on Mother's Day we had the icing on the cake.  My eldest got socked on the top of the head by a fast moving lacrosse ball.  Down she went, out cold.  Off we went to the emergency room where all manner of tests were administered.  We booked in for the night and bright and early the next morning she was whisked off for an MRI and an EEG.  I was trying to keep the atmosphere light and took pictures of her with 35 electrodes stuck to her head. "You'll laugh about this later, I promise!" I said.  She's  not laughing.

The upshot is that her lovely little head is fully intact. She has a massive headache and a nasty concussion but she will be back on the field way before I'm ready for her to be there.  I can't tell you how lovely the hospital staff were, every single one of them.  When you're feeling vulnerable and scared, what a difference that makes.

Now we're home and I've shifted into full "comfort food cooking mode."  Soup surely is the ultimate comfort food with the added bonus that it's good for you (and requires no skill on the part of the cook, which is just as well as I'm still a bit jittery).  I had tasted fennel soup at a restaurant a few weeks ago and was longing to make it.  My daughter who lost her appetite along with her consciousness wanted a second bowl :)))

Fennel Soup with Crispy Leeks;

2 Fennel bulbs, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 small potatoes, cleaned and diced
olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
salt and pepper
32 oz organic chicken stock
1-2 leeks
1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter.

In a large Dutch oven or saucepan heat the olive oil and butter.

Add the onions and sweat for 10 minutes.

Add the garlic, fennel, carrots and potatoes.

Cook on a low heat for 15 minutes or so, until soft and very slightly golden.

Add the chicken stock, bring to the boil, turn down to a simmer and partially cover.  Cook on a med/low heat for another 15-20 minutes until the all the veggies are well cooked through.

Remove from heat and blend in batches. 

Return the soup to the pot and add the heavy cream if using. Stir to combine.

Heat the olive oil and butter in a pan until foaming. Slice the leeks in half and then into very thin strips.  Fry them in the oil and butter until crispy.

Pour the soup into a bowl and top with the crispy leeks.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Early Morning Strawberry Banana Smoothie

For those early mornings when there's only minutes until the bus comes and everyones fighting about who's wearing who's tee shirt while frantically rushing around the house searching for lacrosse sticks and last night's homework, smoothies are the answer.  I feel rather proud of this smoothie, it's become an old friend. It’s the way I’ve slipped flaxseeds (and an occasional teaspoon or two of fish oil – but don’t overdo it) into my children's breakfast for the last 10 years without them really noticing or complaining. 

Most of the time my girls aren't hungry at 6.30am and I don't really function until the second cup of coffee has hit the system, so I need something simple and nutritious. I try hard to cram as much goodness as I can into each glass without them being aware of it to raise objections and I think I've mastered the art of pulling a fast one. It may be conditioning but they ask for this now.

In the blender combine;

1 frozen banana (if you don't have a frozen banana just throw in a handful of ice cubes)
A healthy handful of strawberries (frozen or fresh)
1/3 cup Greek yogurt (plain, vanilla or lemon flavor)
1/2 cup milk (skimmed, low fat or whole, or you can subsitute almond, goat or soy milk)
A generous squeeze of agave nectar
1 tablespoon of flax seeds
1 tablespoon of vanilla whey protein powder
1 teaspoon of fish oil (optional)

Blitz in the blender, the noise this generates is guaranteed to wake up any stragglers.

Pour into a glass and prepare to wake up!

Monday, May 7, 2012

57 Easy and Delicious Eggplant Recipes: Mouthwatering Dishes Even Your Kids Will Love

I was so happy to be approached by a reader the other day who asked me to review her cookbook!

"57 Easy and Delicious Eggplant Recipes: Mouthwatering

Dishes Even Your Kids will Enjoy!"  by Grace Wilders.

I'm always in the market for a new cookbook.  I'll admit it, I'm addicted to cookbooks. I've got bookshelves overflowing with them. I LOVE them! I read cookbooks like normal beings read novels.  If one is going to be addicted to anything, as I point out to my husband who watches incredulously as I rip open yet another Amazon box, it could be a heck of a lot worse than cookbooks!  I digress.  Back to my latest addition.  The beauty of this particular book is that it is an ode to the eggplant.  The author, Grace Wilders has devoted a book to what I believe is an under appreciated vegetable - or is it a fruit?  Grace has done a phenomenal job. I made the classic ratatouille and preceded to eat it with almost everything, chicken, fish, crackers and topped it on toasts to make it bruscetta - it was glorious.

There are plenty of scrumptious recipes to choose from, just to wet your appetite consider, Spicy Chinese Eggplant, Eggplant Au Gratin, Eggplant Parmigiana Caponata and even Eggplant French Fries.

Grace writes in a clear, friendly style, her recipes are well thought out, straight forward and concise. It's amazing to me how many fantastic eggplant combinations she has created.  Grace has managed to do what I have not - she has developed eggplant recipes that children love! I can vouch for this as my children wolfed down the bruscetta.

I'm delighted to have Grace's ebook on my desktop and I know I'm going to refer to it whenever I have an eggplant in my shopping basket.


A classic ratatouille with fresh herbs. Serve alone or with toast or mashed potatoes.


4 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced 
2 bell peppers
1 large onion, diced 
4 small zucchini, sliced
4 large red tomatoes, diced
2 small eggplants, cubed
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme , minced
10 leaves fresh basil, chopped
salt and pepper to taste


In a large saucepan add olive oil and heat on medium. Add garlic, onions, peppers and heat until the onions are lightly browned.

2. Add in zucchini, eggplant pieces, and tomatoes. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

3. Add in herbs and salt and pepper to taste.

4. Set heat to low and cook for another 10 minutes.

Remove from stove and let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Wilders, Grace (2012-04-24). 57 Easy and Delicious Eggplant Recipes: Mouthwatering Dishes Even Your Kids Will Love (Volume 1) (Kindle Locations 688-689).  . Kindle Edition.