Thursday, June 30, 2011

Nanaimo Bars {& Happy Canada Day!}

Since I now live in Canada and have a Canadian husband and half Canadian son, I decided I had to make something special for Canada Day. This year I couldn't resist making some deliciously sweet Nanaimo Bars. Not only are they my husbands favourite, we live not too far away from Nanaimo so all-in-all it was the perfect thing to make to celebrate Canada Day. So to all the Canadians out there and everyone celebrating Canada Day, have a fantastic day!

For the base:
115g/ 4oz butter
30g/ 1 oz sugar
225g/ 8oz digestive biscuits (Graham crackers)
30g/ 1oz cocoa powder
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
115g/ 4oz shredded coconut
45g/ 1 ½ oz pecan nuts, chopped

For the custard layer:
170g/ 6oz icing sugar, sieved
45g/ 1½ oz butter
2 tbsp custard powder
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp milk

For the top:
115g/ 4oz good quality dark or bittersweet chocolate
1 tbsp butter

Preheat the oven to 180C/ 350F/ GM 4.

Crush the biscuits finely (either in a food processor or a sandwich bag with a rolling pin). Place the butter and sugar in a pan and cook gently until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat then add the biscuits, cocoa, egg and vanilla and stir well before adding the coconut and nuts. Stir again until everything is evenly mixed.

Spoon the mixture into a 8” x 8” tin and level out. Bake for 10 minutes in the oven then remove and leave to cool.

Put all of the ingredients for the filling into a bowl and beat until smooth. Spread over the base and chill for 1 hour or until firm.

To make the topping very gently melt the chocolate and butter (I find the best way is to put the ingredients into a small bowl then place the bowl over a pan of barely simmering water). Cool slightly then spread over the filling. Chill until set, then cut into squares and keep in the fridge until ready to serve. Delicious, sweet and completely Canadian!

*I added a little too much milk to my custard layer so they are a little thinner than they should be, however if you follow the recipe you will be just fine!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Requests {Spaghetti Puttanesca}

The reason I started my blog was to be able to share my recipes with my family and friends in an easy, relaxed way that we could all enjoy. Of course I also started it because cooking and creating my own recipes is my absolute passion. The other week I was looking back over a few of my first posts when the only people reading them was in fact my family and friends, and I saw that I had a couple of requests for recipes which I had never followed up with. I felt bad that I have never published the recipes since that was the whole point of my blog, so here they are – a little late but better late than not at all. If I have ever cooked for you and there is a particular recipe you would like to see appear here please let me know – there is a good chance I have just forgotten but I would love to share it with you if you are still interested!

First up for the requests is my Spaghetti Puttanesca – Abby this one is for you! I hope you still enjoy it!

Spaghetti Puttanesca {with Extra Attitude}

Prostitute, whore, lady of the night and most recently slut's....No I'm not shouting profanities, these are all names that I've heard this pasta dish be called! Spaghetti Puttanesca is a classic Italian pasta dish full of gutsy, full-bodied flavours (hence the name – so one theory goes) using ingredients that you are likely to have in your pantry and fridge. The 'Extra Attitude' in my version is quite simply just some extra chilli to give it a final punch at the end – this really is gutsy pasta with plenty of attitude and flavour! It's a quick and easy meal – ideal for a mid-week pasta dish or my favourite, on a Friday night to be enjoyed on the couch with a glass of red wine!

2 tbsp olive oil
2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 fresh chillies, finely chopped or a good pinch of chilli flakes
1 tsp dried oregano, finely chopped
6 anchovies fillets, packed in oil
2 x 400ml tinned tomatoes
1 tsp sugar
2 tbsp capers, rinsed
100g black olives, pitted and roughly sliced
Salt and pepper
Small handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped
Small handful of fresh basil, chopped (optional)
400 - 500g spaghetti
Extra virgin olive oil
Parmesan cheese, finely grated to serve

In a large frying pan heat the oil and gently sauté the garlic for 1 minute before adding the chill, oregano and anchovies. Cook for a few minutes then add the tomatoes, sugar and some black pepper. Simmer gently for 30 minutes, stirring every now and then.

Cook the spaghetti in boiling, salted water according to packet instructions. When the pasta has only 5 minutes left, add the olives and capers to the sauce and check whether you need to add any salt. Drain the spaghetti reserving a couple of tablespoons of the cooking water. Add the water and pasta to the sauce and stir well. Sprinkle on the parsley and basil and serve with some freshly grated parmesan, then put your feet up and relax!

*The great thing about this dish is that you can chop and change the quantities as you like. In other words – if you're a lover of anchovies add more.....not so keen on capers, add less! You get my drift – up the anti to whatever you like and enjoy it even more!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Cheese & Fruit Skewers for a Birthday Party {and a Tonka Truck Cake!}

My little one was born two days after Christmas – not the best time to celebrate a Birthday! That being said we did have a party for his 1st Birthday Party in Scotland, however we didn't get to celebrate with all of our friends and family (and his friends!) in Canada, so as a compromise we had a 18 month party for him this past weekend! It was a great excuse to see all of our friends, have a BBQ outside and of course eat cake!

When throwing a Birthday party there are a few food items that I think make it extra special. Maybe it's just an excuse for me to go back to some of my childhood favourites or maybe its just a part of tradition...regardless, they always seem to be a hit so I have fun and go all out! I always make Top Hats – to me it's just not a Birthday Party without them and of course a cupcake or two always goes down well... For something savoury we had some sandwiches for the children (just simple cheese and ham triangles this time) and another favourite party food of mine - that retro 70's classic, Cheese and Fruit skewers! That being said I've moved on from the classic cubes of cheddar cheese and tinned pineapple (!) and instead serve an absolute favourite of mine – Cherry Tomato and Bocconcini with Basil. As well as the Tomato & Mozzarella skewers for a refreshing summer twist, I made Feta & Watermelon Skewers – a little different but absolutely delicious!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


I realise that I seem to be going through a real 'green' theme with my latest posts but I can honestly say it's the season and I can't think of anything better than fresh, vibrant green food! So here is another green recipe – an all time favourite of mine – Guacamole!

I think I've mentioned before that I'm a real condiments person – I love them and my fridge is testament to that with its overflowing top shelf and door crammed full with them! It therefore goes hand in hand that I love dips – all kinds of dips, but when the sun is shining I can't think of anything nicer than a big bowl of freshly made guacamole. I like to keep my guacamole very simple but if you prefer feel free to add some spring onions (green onions) and some chopped tomatoes to yours. Either way it will still be an absolutely delicious and fresh guacamole. All you need to go with it are some tortilla chips and perhaps a nice cold drink.

4 ripe avocados
2 small cloves of garlic, crushed
1 chilli, finely chopped (optional)
Juice of 2 limes (depending on how juicy they are)
Small handful of coriander {cilantro}, finely chopped
Salt and Pepper

Cut the avocados in half then remove the stone. Peel the avocados then chop and put into a large serving bowl. Add the garlic, chilli, lime, ¾ of the coriander and seasoning and mash well but retaining some chunks of avocado for texture. Check for seasoning and that there is enough lime juice then top with the remaining coriander and serve with tortilla chips and perhaps an ice cold beer or refreshing glass of limeade!

Thursday, June 16, 2011


I recently went to buy some limes and when I got to the shop they were selling HUGE bags of them for very little of course I had to buy them! Literally, there were so many limes in this bag I had no idea what to do with them, however on the next sunny day I decided to make some delicious and refreshing limeade – a twist on traditional lemonade.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Asparagus, Pea & Chorizo Salad

When I first made this it had been my plan to crumble over some feta and a sprinkle of chilli, however that day I received some beautiful, fresh and local eggs and so I just couldn't resist cooking a couple of eggs and topping the salad with them. It is a delicious version of this salad as the yolk spills onto the asparagus and pea shoots mixing with the dressing to create a rich and utterly delicious salad.

If you would rather not serve this with eggs then crumbled feta is delicious or you could try some goats cheese or even some creamy buffalo mozzarella.

This is a delicious salad that screams of spring. Ideal for lunch or a light dinner, served with some crusty bread.

Serves 2

½ bundle of Asparagus (roughly 250g)
85g sugar snap peas
1 tbsp olive oil
125g chorizo
Juice of ½ lemon
2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper
50g Pea shoots
4 fresh mint leaves, finely chopped, plus a few smaller leaves to garnish
2 basted {or poached} eggs*
A handful of freshly podded peas, if you can get them! (optional)

100g feta cheese {or other cheese of your choice – see above)
1 long red chilli, finely diced (optional)

Bring a pan of slightly salted water to a boil then blanch the asparagus for 1-1 ½ minutes depending on their thickness. Remove from the pan and place in an ice bath to stop them from cooking. Return the water to a full boil then add the sugar snap peas and cook for 1 minute. As with the asparagus remove from the water and plunge into ice cold water. Drain both the asparagus and peas and set aside, allowing to dry.

Once cooled cut the delicate tips off the asparagus and set aside (if you want, at this point you could add them to the large mixing bowl you need for assembling the salad). Using a vegetable peeler 'peel' the asparagus so that you get long thin ribbons of asparagus. When you can't peel anymore cut the remaining 'core' into pieces the same size as the tips. Set aside along with the asparagus tips.

Cut the sugar snap peas in half diagonally and set aside with the asparagus.

Cut the chorizo into roughly 2 inch pieces (at a diagonal) then cut each into 4. In a frying pan heat the olive oil then fry the chorizo pieces until golden and just starting to turn crisp. Remove from the pan and set aside, allowing them to cool slightly.

If you want to baste your eggs reheat the chorizo infused oil in the frying pan and once hot crack in your eggs. Once the whites have started to set add a little water to the pan (a couple of tablespoons should be enough) then cover with a tight-fitting lid. For runny yolks (which I highly recommend for this recipe) cook until the yolks have just started to get a very thin covering of white so that the top is sealed but inside is a delicious, oozy golden yolk. Remove the lid immediately to stop them for cooking any further and take off the heat.

While the eggs are cooking assemble the salad. In a large bowl add the asparagus ribbons and tips, sugar snap peas, pea shoots, mint and chorizo. Gently toss together using your fingers then dress with 2/3 of the salad dressing. Divide the salad onto 2 plates, scatter over the fresh peas if using then crown with the eggs. Finish by sprinkling over some Maldon sea salt (or other finishing salt that you have) then break open the yolks and let them dribble all over the salad! Light, incredibly refreshing and very fulfilling!

*Before I moved to Canada I had never heard of 'basted' eggs – it was another thing that my husband introduced me to. Now, I wish I had known about them my whole life! They are so easy to make and you never (well very rarely) have to worry about over-cooking the yolk if you, like me, like a very soft, runny yolk. Basically for those of you that are questioning what a basted egg is, it's a cross between a fried egg and a steamed one! It may sound a little strange but you start cooking the eggs as you would when frying them then you add some water to the pan then clamp down a tight-fitting lid, allowing the yolks to gently steam. This results in a soft egg, much like a poached egg without any stress or worry. If you have never had your eggs like this, please do me a huge favour and try it – you'll love it!!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Artichoke & Pesto Dip

This dip is so versatile and in the summer is something that I love to make over and over as it takes no time, I always have the ingredients on hand and everyone loves it! It makes a perfect starter for a relaxed evening meal or lunch, and is even fantastic to take with you on picnics since you serve it at room temperature. I like to serve it in a bowl with plenty of toasted ciabatta on the side and let people help themselves, but if you prefer you could make it in advance and then just before serving spread it onto the toasted ciabatta for a quick and easy artichoke and pesto crostini. Delicious, light and all the flavours of summer!

1 large jar (or tin) of artichoke hearts (approx. 14fl oz/390g)
1 small clove of garlic
3 heaped tbsp basil pesto, either homemade or bought
Squeeze of lemon juice
2 tbsp parmesan cheese, finely grated
Salt & pepper
Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
Fresh basil leaves to garnish

Toasted ciabatta slices to serve*
Drain the artichoke hearts and wash gently. Place in the bowl of a food processor or in a jug that you can fit a hand held blender in. Add the garlic, pesto, lemon juice and a little salt and pepper then blitz in pulses until you have a consistency you like – you want to keep some texture to this pesto. Add the grated parmesan and stir so that it is well mixed. Taste to check the seasoning then transfer to a serving dish. Drizzle with a little extra oil then garnish with a few basil leaves. Serve at room temperature with the toasted ciabatta.

*Of course you don't have to serve this with ciabatta – it's just my preference. Crudites, pita chips and even plain tortilla chips all work well with this dip.

**For an extra special treat you could also use this as a pasta sauce, just thin it down using some of the cooking water from the pasta! Yum!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Mojito Cupcakes

What can be better than a refreshing, crisp and clean Mojito in the summer?....A Mojito Cupcake! You heard me, the perfect little treat for adults. I made these for my friends birthday at the weekend which we celebrated with a perfect garden party on a beautiful sunny day. Everyone needs cake on their birthday so this was the perfect time to treat ourselves with cake and of course a Mojito or two!

I used the syrup to keep the cakes moist since I had to make them 2 days before they were being eaten – however it also packs a nice rum punch into the cake! You can miss it out if you don't want the alcohol or you have made the cakes on the same day as they are being eaten.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Rigatoni with Sausage & Rosemary

Although sausage and rosemary sounds like a hearty and robust pasta sauce, this version is actually quite light and fresh due to the addition of the lemon zest. If you would prefer a heartier version omit the lemon zest and use red wine instead of the white. Either way both versions equal a delicious meal!

Serves 4
1 tbsp olive oil
1lb good quality sausages of your choice, skins removed
1 onion, finely chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp fennel seeds
500ml approx. passata*{or if you prefer you can use chopped tomatoes}
100ml white wine
1 tsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 tsp fresh lemon thyme
1 tsp sugar
Salt & pepper
Zest of 1 lemon
400g rigatoni
Extra virgin olive oil
Freshly grated Parmesan to serve

Heat the oil in a pan then break up the sausage meat into small pieces and add to the pan and cook for approximately 8 minutes until they resemble delicious golden brown nuggets. Add the onion to the pan and sauté for another 5 minutes or so until softened. Add the garlic and fennel seeds and cook for another minute before adding the passata, wine, rosemary, thyme, sugar, salt and pepper. Let the sauce simmer gently for 30 minutes until reduced slightly.

Cook the rigatoni in boiling, salted water until al dente. Add the lemon zest to the sauce for the last 5 minutes or so of cooking then taste to check the seasoning and adjust if necessary.

Drain the pasta once it is ready, reserving a few of tablespoons of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the sauce and toss well so that it’s all coated. Drizzle with some extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle over some fresh Parmesan shavings.

*I find jars of passata vary in size so for the recipe although I suggest 500ml, just use whatever size of jar you have. The ones I buy come in 670ml so I don't bother keeping the extra 170ml – it would no doubt just get forgotten about, so just add the whole jar – it's a pasta sauce so there is definitely no need to be exact about the quantities of ingredients!

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