Sunday, February 28, 2010

Rice Krispie Squares

Remember these? If you live in North America you’ll remember them from every buffet table and every school bake sale of the 1970’s and 80’s. They were a huge part of my childhood.

I have fond memories of making these with my Mom. I can remember painstaking counting out the “40 marshmallows” the recipe called for. My Mom always said, “Honey, you don’t have to count the marshmallows. There’s usually about 40 in a package – maybe a little more, maybe a little less, but it won’t matter.” I was okay with the more, but not with the less – so I kept counting!

I used to make them with my son when he was little. Then one time when we were making them, he slipped on the stool he was standing on to stir the marshmallows. I couldn’t grab him in time and he managed to catch his neck on the pan and burnt it as he fell. (Yes I know now that it was a dumb idea to have a five-year old standing on a stool to reach the stove, but at the time it seemed perfectly safe. The stool was especially for kids and I was standing right there.) Although it wasn’t a serious burn (I took him to the doctor to be sure) and it didn’t leave any mark, we never made Rice Krispie squares together again, despite his numerous requests that we do so. In fact, although he is scarred neither physically nor emotionally from the burn experience, it took me years to get over it. The first time we made Rice Krispie squares together again was about a month ago. My son is seventeen years old.

Anyway, since then I’ve been making up for lost time, and we’ve been having Rice Krispie squares quite regularly. You’d be amazed by how much people love them. Over here in England where I live now, not every one remembers them from their childhood, but they still love them! Marshmallows over here are somehow different in taste and texture, making them pretty much unsuitable for melting, and it used to be nigh on impossible to get North American style marshmallows. (I used to bring marshmallows back with me in my suitcase when I visited Canada.) Now you can get what I consider to be “proper” marshmallows fairly easily, at the big warehouse store Costco and from speciality importers of foods from Canada and the US like American Sweets in Aldershot and the Canada Shop in Covent Garden in London. Both have on-line stores too.

To make these sweet treats, I use the time-honoured recipe that Kellogg’s post on their North American website, with the addition of one extra ingredient. My best friend’s Mom used to make the most amazing Rice Krispie squares and she shared it with my Mom. Just add one to two tablespoons of corn syrup as you stir in the Rice Krispies. If you are familiar with Rice Krispie squares you will be amazed at the difference it makes to how they taste. Okay, okay, it’s yet more sugar in something that is already alarmingly sweet, but nobody ever said Rice Krispie squares were healthy. Kellogg’s may have tried to imply it, but seriously – 40 marshmallows and three tablespoons of butter definitely negates any health benefit of eating something made with rice cereal, no matter how nutritious that rice cereal might be to start with. A little corn syrup isn’t going to make that big a difference! If you live in the UK and can’t get corn syrup easily (the Canada Shop does stock it) you can always use Lyle’s Golden Syrup.

Anyway, I urge you to give these delicious squares a try, whether you have ever made or tasted them before or not. For me, they are a blast from the past but even if they are new to you I’m sure you will enjoy them. And seriously, next time your little one mentions those dreaded words “school bake sale” – these take about ten minutes to make and they definitely qualify as home-made. Just cut them up in small squares make little packages of three or four in food safe cellophane bags, tying them with a ribbon. I can tell you from experience, they disappear from bake sale tables almost before anything else, no matter what country you are in!

Rice Krispie Squares

3 tablespoons butter
40 marshmallows - American style, a brand such as Rocky Mountain, not European-style marshmallows like Haribo
(This is about 1 large package or half the very large package of Rocky Mountain brand. You can also use 1 large package of mini marshmallows.)
6 cups Rice Krispies cereal
1 to 2 tablespoons corn syrup

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over low to medium heat. Add the marshmallows, and melt into the butter, stirring almost constantly with a wooden spoon. Be careful the marshmallows don’t start to catch on the bottom of the pan.

When the marshmallows are melted, remove the pan from the heat. Quickly stir in the Rice Krispies and the corn syrup, making sure the cereal gets totally coated in the buttery, sticky marshmallows.

Now here’s the tricky bit. Transfer the mixture to a 9 x 13 inch pan that is about 2 inches deep. Now, using two buttered knives (just run them along a block of butter to lightly coat them), firmly press the mixture into the pan until it looks like this.

Allow to cool at room temperature. Then cover with Saran Wrap or cling film and put in the fridge. They will keep for a couple of days in there, if they last that long!

Serve cut into small squares with a knife. Once they are cool, they are not so sticky so are pretty easy to serve. As I said, it’s hard to qualify these as a nutritious snack, but I comfort myself with the knowledge that as this recipe involves cereal, there must be some good in it! Perhaps it is nostalgia on my part, but for some reason, they taste particularly lovely with a glass of ice-cold milk.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Private Lives

I’m back at home in England now, and I’ve just been to see Noel Coward’s classic play, Private Lives in London’s West End. A comedy of manners written in 1930‘s, it is somehow just as pertinent and funny today as it was then. It tells the story of two couples honeymooning in Deauville, France. It turns out that the husband of one couple (Elyot) was previously married to the wife (Amanda) of the other couple and - horror of horrors - the couples have rooms next to one another with adjoining balconies. Elyot and Amanda’s marriage was stormy and their divorce bitter, but neither one ever really got over the other. You can imagine the chaos that ensues when their love is rekindled and they run off with one another to Paris, leaving their new spouses in the lurch. However their relationship is still as complicated as ever, and this makes for a very funny play. The ending is quite unexpected, and rather nice for everyone concerned.

This new production at The Vaudeville Theatre on the Strand in London stars Kim Cattrall and Matthew Macfadyen. They make a fantastic Elyot and Amanda; their comedic timing is absolutely wonderful. The supporting cast (Lisa Dillon, Simon Paisley Day and Caroline Lena Olsson) are equally brilliant. The sets and costumes are fantastic, with some of Kim Cattrall’s costumes looking as if she might have been able to wear them in her role as Samantha in Sex in the City, had it been set in the 1930’s.

One thing that made me smile was how this production appealed to so many different sorts of people. There were those who went for the play itself, and many who went to see the actors - particularly Kim Cattrall. (Some of the ladies in the audience were definitely dressed up a la Sex in the City!) There were also people of every age in the audience - from my 17 year old son (who was dragged along but ended up loving it) to some quite elderly patrons. Everyone was clearly enjoying themselves and at one point they had us all nearly crying with laughter.

We had great seats front row centre in the Royal Circle with lots of room to spread out as I had bought three tickets, not knowing my husband would be away! Sadly he missed a hugely enjoyable evening. If you happen to find yourself in London’s West End I highly recommend you go along and see this very entertaining play. It runs until May 1st at the Vaudeville Theatre (nearest tube Charing Cross). Tickets are available from the theatre box office (click here) or from selected ticket agents.

The Friday Recipe Swaps

I always enjoy Fridays in the blogosphere; there are so many great recipe swaps going on. Check the paragraph at the bottom to see the blogs I am linking up with today. Do go and visit them for some great recipe ideas!

I invented this recipe on a busy weeknight a couple years ago, and it has become a family favourite. Based on the flavours in the iconic Club Sandwich, it makes a delicious and satisfying meal. The best part is that in my experience, kids really like it too.

If you are watching your pennies (and who isn’t these days!) there is no reason why you could not wash and prepare your own salad leaves. I was just in a hurry the night I developed this recipe and as I had some bagged salad on hand, I used it instead.

The 21st Century Housewife’s Club Salad
Serves 3 to 4
1 very large bag of ready washed mixed salad
1 to 2 cups cherry tomatoes, rinsed and drained
2 or 3 cooked chicken breasts, chopped in bite-size pieces
(the ones you buy ready-cooked from the grocery store are fine)
1 cup cubed pancetta or unsmoked bacon lardons
(or 5 to 6 slices of bacon, chopped)
Honey Mustard or Ranch dressing
Place the salad leaves in a large bowl.  Add the tomatoes and cooked chicken.  Fry the pancetta or bacon until done, and then add them to the salad while still they are still warm.  Dress the salad with the dressing, toss and divide between three to four large salad bowls. Garnish with croutons.  That is all there is to it!

Today I am linking up with Friday Food at Momtrends, The Grocery Cart Challenge Recipe Swap, Foodie Friday at Designs by Gollum and Food on Fridays at Ann Kroeker’s blog. Have a great weekend everyone!


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Exploratorium and Beyond...

This gorgeous setting is the home of The Exploratorium, San Francisco’s Museum of Science, Art and Human Perception. Built for the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition in 1915, this “Palace of Fine Art” as it was referred to at the time, was also a celebration of San Francisco’s recovery from the devastating 1906 earthquake. Architect Richard R Maybeck chose a Roman ruin for his theme and this beautiful structure was the result. It’s absolutely beautiful, and such a shock to find it as part of a such a (relatively) modern city. I was really taken by it, and although we didn’t have time to go into the museum itself, we spent quite a while admiring the outside.

From here, the Scenic Drive takes you on to the Presidio. Originally a Spanish garrison and later an American army base active during both World Wars and the Vietnam War, the Presidio is now part of National Parks Service. There are lots of historic buildings and museums, and also some stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

We’ve driven across the bridge so many times (you have to pay a toll) and never had as good a view as this one, which was completely free! It’s a stunning piece of architecture, and while it is amazing to drive across, it is beautiful to look at. If it’s the Golden Gate Bridge you want photos of, the 49 Mile Drive is definitely your answer. Driving away from the Presidio we got a wonderful view of the other side of the bridge as well. There is a place that you can park by the side of the road so that you can safely get out to enjoy the scene.

The drive also takes you through Golden Gate Park, which is very beautiful indeed. One of the highlights of this part of the drive is Stow Lake with its lovely little waterfall.

There were so many things to see on the drive and it gave me a perspective on San Francisco that I have never had before. We finished the 49 Mile Scenic Drive as the sun set with a stunning view of San Francisco at night from Twin Peaks, the two hills that sit at the centre of the city.

The 49 Mile Scenic Drive is signposted throughout San Francisco but it is wise to have a map as well. Click here for more information. You can start at any point on the circular route and you should allow a full day to complete it. Next time I think we would use our satellite navigation device to help us as well, putting the various points of interest in ahead of time. We did have a couple of times when we got a bit lost! I highly recommend this route, and will definitely do it again.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The 49 Mile Scenic Drive Continued

After exploring the market in the Ferry Building, we retrieved our car from the meter where we had parked it at Washington and Davis Streets. Driving past Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf, headed further into the city.

Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf are great places to visit. The only reason we did not stop was that we have been before and did not want to run out of time. Don’t miss the sea lions at both locations - and Pier 39 is also where you need to go if you want to take boat tours or go out to Alcatraz. You can also wander through lots of very interesting streets along the Embarcadero area - there are shops and restaurants galore, as well as a very interesting fish market. You can pick up a cable car at Hyde and Beach, not all that far from Fisherman’s Wharf.

We drove further into the city, seeing lots of wonderful sights along the way. The architecture of this hilly city is fascinating and many of the houses are so beautiful. Before long we were at Union Square, and just past there at Grant and Bush Streets is the Chinatown Gate.

It was lunchtime, so we decided to park up and wander round Chinatown in search of a restaurant. It didn’t take us long to find one! Cathay House at 718 California Street was a great place for lunch. We had a very nice meal, with tea and fortune cookies, all for only $8 each.

After lunch, we carried on with the 49 mile drive. It really is a super way to see the city as it takes you through loads of little residential streets (many closed to tour buses) and gives you a taste of the real San Francisco - the one where people actually live and work - not just the one for tourists! And every once in a while you come upon a real treasure. I really was not expecting to see anything like this in San Francisco.

I’ll tell you more about it in tomorrow's post...

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The 49 Mile Scenic Drive

The 49 Mile Scenic Drive is a route round the city of San Francisco and its environs, opened in 1938 as a promotion for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition. By following the blue and white seagull signs pictured above, you can get great views of lots of San Francisco landmarks, including The Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, Cliff House, The Presidio and the Embarcadero.

My husband and I had a great time driving the route on Friday, and aside from a couple of points where the signs were either hidden by trees or missing, we found it pretty easy to follow. First stop was the Ferry Building, which I have driven past many times before. I had no idea of the treasures contained inside!

In the 1930’s it was the second busiest transit terminal in the world, and even today it is still a busy terminal for ferries across San Francisco Bay. We popped in looking for the rest rooms and were surprised to find a wonderful marketplace, absolutely humming with people and some fabulous food shops. From incredible greengrocers:-

to fantastic fromageries and artisanale bakers,

it’s a true foodie paradise. There was even a beautiful antique store full of home and kitchen-related items called Culinaire.

We could have spent hours exploring, but we had a lot more ground to cover. I’ll share more of our adventures tomorrow :)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Friday Night

I’ve just had an amazing day in this truly wonderful city with one of my favourite people in the whole world. It was bliss.

My husband and I drove the famous 49 Mile Drive (which showed us sides of San Francisco we have never seen before), had lunch in Chinatown and finished off with dinner in the city. So much more to tell and so many stories, but for now...

Good night!

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Very Edges of My Soul

Everywhere I looked today I saw flowers

in the most unexpected places.

I even saw a flowering cherry tree in full bloom

and foxgloves by the side of the road.

I was in the very urban paradise of Santana Row...

but I felt like I was in a wonderful garden.

Isn't it amazing how the most urban of settings can be made so beautiful by a bit of creative gardening and a lot of help from the One who makes the flowers grow?

If you've never been thrilled to the very edges of your soul by a flower in spring bloom, maybe your soul has never been in bloom. ~Audra Foveo

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


There are some wonderful shops in the Bay Area. As well as branches of Crate and Barrel, Sur la Table and the iconic Williams Sonoma, there are smaller concerns like the wonderful Domus in Los Gatos. For the last thirty years Domus has been a locally owned, family run business and their beautiful store is a virtual treasure-trove of ideas.

I love this artificial wreath:-

The picture doesn’t do it justice, but it is the sort of thing that would be appropriate all year round, either on a front door or inside on a wall in the kitchen. Unfortunately it is far too big to fit in my suitcase! I also loved these tablescapes:-

These are perfect for Spring entertaining. I felt like I was lost in a wonderland when I saw the wall full of pull out drawers with place mats, tablecloths and napkins in practically every colour imaginable.

I really loved this display too with all its gorgeous Spring colours.

The little ‘cupcakes’ are actually jewellery/trinket boxes. The top of the cupcake comes off to reveal four tiny compartments inside. What a lovely gift they would make.

I did treat myself (and our house) to one thing - this pretty door mat.

There are French doors in our kitchen leading out to a patio and we really need a mat there. This one isn’t washable, but it was so pretty I could not resist. My husband found it hanging in a display of lots of gorgeous door mats and it is the perfect colours for my kitchen which is blue and shades of cream. Plus it is small enough to fit in my suitcase rolled up and it’s under my import allowance - result!!

Even though I can’t buy all the things I would like to at Domus (or any of the other delightful kitchen and home stores here) the inspiration the very talented display people provide me with is wonderful to take home. It’s hard to duplicate in England as we just don’t have the same amount of choice at affordable price points, but every once in a while I’m lucky enough to be able to bring some of the cool ideas I see over here in North America into my British home. It gives it the wonderful eclectic vibe I love in decorating and that makes me very happy indeed.

(No promotional consideration was received for this post, and the opinions voiced are my own.)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Chicken with Mustard and Tarragon Sauce

I’ve been making a Chicken in Mustard Sauce recipe for years and a couple of summers ago I updated it a bit, being inspired by all the lovely summer produce and herbs that were available.  It’s easy to buy herbs year round now, or you can always grow your own on your windowsill - even in the depths of winter - and I thought that as so many folks are experiencing such cold weather and snow these days a recipe that tasted of summer might be welcome! Of course you can use dried tarragon, or the tarragon that is available in the chiller or freezer cabinets in your local grocery store.

I also think this would be lovely rolled into savoury crepes if you are celebrating Shrove Tuesday today. Just slice the cooked chicken thinly, dress it with lightly with the sauce and roll it up in homemade or ready-made crepes. Serve a little more sauce over the top, and then serve the rest on the side. Delicious!
4 chicken breasts

salt and pepper

2 tablespoons + 2 tablespoons butter

3 shallots or baby onions, finely chopped

125 ml good white wine (you can serve the rest with dinner if you like)

juice of one lemon

1 tablespoon fresh tarragon leaves, washed and chopped with scissors

3 tablespoons Dijon mustard 

1¼ cups double cream (you may not need it all)

Melt the first two tablespoons of butter over medium heat in a frying pan with a lid. Add the shallots and cook, stirring constantly until they just begin to turn golden in colour. Now add the next two tablespoons of butter and the chicken breasts. Grind some salt and pepper over the chicken as it cooks. Add the wine and cover the pan with the lid. Turn the chicken after about three to five minutes and then cook for another three to five minutes on the second side. Turn them again if they are still not done. You want the chicken breasts to be cooked through, with no pink inside. I always use a removable meat thermometer to be absolutely sure they are done. 

Once the chicken is cooked, remove it from the pan and place it in a casserole dish tightly covered in foil. Set aside. 

Turn the heat down a bit and add about 250 ml of cream to the buttery shallots still in the pan. Stir together. Now add the lemon juice, mustard and tarragon. Stir the sauce until heated through. If it appears too thick or you simply want more sauce, add the rest of the cream. Taste the sauce to be sure it is flavourful and add salt and pepper if necessary. If you want to add a bit more mustard, lemon or tarragon to taste, do feel free! 

Return the chicken breasts to the pan and turn to coat in the sauce. Serve each one with a bit of sauce spooned over. Any remaining sauce can be served in a gravy boat so people can add more at the table if they like.
I’ve linked this post up to Tempt My Tummy Tuesday at Blessed With Grace, Tasty Tuesday at Balancing Beauty and Bedlam and Tuesdays at the Table at All The Small Stuff. Go and visit for some great recipe inspiration!

Just Relaxing

My husband and I spent today just settling in and being together. Bliss.

We enjoyed wandering round Santana Row, the purpose built community in San Jose that is home to many high-end shops, upscale restaurants and bars, some fantastic spas, and beautiful homes plus a 213 room boutique hotel that is our “home away from home” for the next week or so. There is a huge Westfield Mall called Valley Fair at the North End of it as well. The top two photos are from Santana Row - I love the well-tended plant and flower displays they have, and was very impressed indeed to see delphiniums blooming in February. There are some lovely shops - we did an awful lot of window shopping! There is certainly lots to look at and explore when my husband is at work over the next few days - especially the home and decorating shops.

Around lunchtime we drove to Los Gatos, a beautiful little community a few miles away that is full of a lot of quaint shops, galleries and some fantastic restaurants. The bottom two photos are from there, and I’ve got more to post later. We ate lunch at a very popular restaurant called Steamers, which we visited on one of our previous visits when we actually stayed in Los Gatos. Steamers specialise in fish, and I had a beautiful Shrimp Louis salad while my husband had some gorgeous sole in lemon butter with homemade coleslaw. Delish! It’s a must-visit if you are anywhere near Los Gatos.

We headed back to Santana Row to tour the beautiful town homes at Santana Heights. Small but very well laid out townhouses and apartments, they would be a great place for folks who love the buzz of city life. It seems a lovely lifestyle, with a concierge to arrange for your every need, shared gym and a beautiful pool - unfortunately with a price tag to match! Of course, we have no plans to move; we were just interested to see the properties on offer there. I love looking at show homes and visiting open houses.

We had dinner with an old friend and her daughter at The Cheesecake Factory this evening. It was great to catch up. I had the Luau Salad, made with chicken, green salad, peppers, mangos, macadamia nuts, wontons and sesame seeds. Sadly it’s not diet-friendly due to its size and its contents; it was, however, delicious! I have no excuse as I have had this salad before; I knew it wasn’t the low cal choice when I ordered it! And yes, I did have cheesecake, but we shared one piece between three of us. If you have ever been to the Cheesecake Factory you will know why. I had just three bites of it and felt like I had eaten an entire cheesecake - incredibly delicious but very, very rich!!

It’s been a tough day for my poor son though, who called from Spain this evening to say he and several of the group on his tour have traveller’s tummy. I cannot describe what it felt like to know that my baby (also known as our 17 year old son) was ill over 5,000 miles away and there was nothing I could do. I gave him the best advice I could, telling him to keep hydrated, take the Immodium I sent with him and to try to sleep (his room-mate had so far escaped the plague and was keeping an eye on him). At first I felt really guilty for being so far away, but then I realised that the conversation would have been the same if I had been at home in England - I would have had no more power to help him there than I have here. I’m just praying he and all the others are well in the morning. I know we have to let our kids grow up, go off and do things on their own, but man, is it ever hard!!

Tomorrow my husband is at work, so I’ll have lots of time to explore and report back on any of the goodies I find!

(Please note, none of the businesses mentioned in this post have provided any promotional consideration and any opinions expressed are purely my own.)

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Few of My Favourite Things

I love to travel - and I don’t even mind the journey as long as I have a comfy seat - but when you are on a flight that is scheduled to last nearly eleven hours, it is inevitable that at some point you are going to get a bit bored - no matter how good the in-flight entertainment is. I really have enjoyed myself so far - the food has been great, I had a nice glass of wine, and I finally treated myself to a copy of Twilight, by Stephanie Meyer, a book I have been wanting to read for quite some time now. I always hesitated to buy it because I’m not really into scary stories (so vampires are pretty much out) and it was billed as a story for young adults - but so many young adults have told me how good it is I finally gave in and bought my own copy. I read it in one sitting - I was barely able to put it down to eat my lunch! I can’t wait to get hold of the rest of the books in the series. Stephanie Meyer is a great storyteller - she had me hooked all the way through. If you have not read Twilight already, I highly recommend it.

My husband and I then spent some time dozing and listening to some music together with those headphone splitter things that mean you can both listen to one iPod at the same time. It’s great having him all to myself this Valentine’s Day. It’s pretty rare for me to have over ten solid hours at a time with him right beside me. It got me to thinking about how that is just one of the many things I have to be grateful for. Here are some more:-

1. My family and the very beautiful part of the world we live in (this was taken less than ten minute’s walk from our house) and that I am able to visit so many other very beautiful parts of the world. I’m also grateful that our son (who is on a trip with college) has arrived safely in Spain. And most of all for answered prayer for safe travel during their 24 hour bus journey particularly when a wild and crazy car driver decided to drive the wrong way on the motorway in Spain. He avoided hitting the bus, thank God.

2. The fact that it is Valentine’s Day means that we are getting seriously closer to Spring. The days are getting longer, and by the time March gets here we usually have some flowers out at home. The picture above is from March/April last year, but I’ve even got daffodils blooming in a container outside now!

3. Our friends and extended family who are all a very special part of our lives.

4. That my husband, son and I are all in good health. Also that I am now fit enough to be working towards running a 5km fun run and hopefully eventually a 10 km run with my husband - something I never dreamed I would do in my life, let alone now!

5. My rich family history and wonderful memories of my parents. I love surrounding myself with things that remind me of them and pieces of furniture that have a history - whether from my parents’ childhood, my own, or the history my husband, son and I have created together. This cute heart shaped dish is one of three that nest inside each other. They belonged to my Mom, and I have loved them since I was little. We use them for sweets and candies or sauces (like the cranberry sauce above). I thought this picture was particularly suitable for today - the bright cranberries sitting jewel-like in the heart shaped dish - and with it I wish you and yours a very Happy Valentine’s Day! The things I have listed are only a few of the things I have to be grateful for, and I hope you have a great many things to be grateful for as well.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The 21st Century Housewife's© Leek and Pancetta Pesto Risotto

Although risotto does require a lot of stirring, it really is not a difficult thing to make. It’s comfort food at its best - smooth, flavourful rice accented by your favourite ingredients. In this version I use tasty Italian bacon (pancetta) and mild, delicious leeks perked up with the addition of basil pesto.

Washing leeks is not as hard as everyone makes out. In fact, unless the leeks are very dirty indeed, provided you thoroughly wash the outsides and dry them you can usually just go from there. Cut the ends off and slice them thinly. Then rinse the sliced leeks thoroughly in cold water a few times and drain in a colander. You honestly don’t have to fuss around slicing them open like flowers and swishing them about in water or anything like that unless they are absolutely filthy. If it does look like they are very dirty in between the layers, just cut a small slice about half way through the leek from top to bottom after you have cut the ends off, fan the leek open and rinse under the tap until the dirt is mostly gone. Then slice and rinse as described above.

Be sure to use proper risotto rice – sometimes called Arborio rice – to get the best flavour and texture. You can often buy pancetta already cubed and ready to use but if you can’t find it or it is too pricey, just chop up a few slices of bacon to use instead. If you have any homemade pesto to hand, by all means use it, but feel free to use ready made if that is easier. I like Sacla brand pestos and use their Classic Basil Pesto for this recipe. Oh, and if you don’t want to use wine, just substitute an equal amount of stock – but the wine really does enhance the flavour of this dish. Most of the alcohol burns off anyway.

2 tablespoons butter
2 - 3 leeks, finely sliced and washed
1½ cups risotto rice
¾ cup wine
3 to 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
(from a cube is fine)
3 to 4 tablespoons of basil pesto
¾ cup cubed pancetta
1 cup frozen peas
juice of half lemon
1 very generous tablespoon of crème fraîche or sour cream
(the low-fat versions of both of these work really well)

Melt the butter over medium heat in a large saucepan, deep frying pan or casserole that you can use on the stovetop.

Add the leeks and toss to coat in the butter. Cook for a few minutes until they are just beginning to soften a bit. Stir in the risotto and coat with the buttery leek mixture. Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly so the risotto rice does not catch.

Pour in the wine, and stir until it is absorbed. Now, gradually add the stock, a bit at a time, stirring after each addition and allowing it to absorb before adding any more.

Meanwhile, fry the pancetta in a small frying pan until it is cooked. Set aside and keep warm.

After you have added the wine and about three cups of the stock, stir in the pesto and the lemon juice. Taste the risotto – it should be soft and tender, but still al dente (like pasta when it is cooked properly). If it is still too firm, continue adding the rest of the stock, a bit at a time, until the risotto rice is a good texture.

Stir in the crème fraîche or sour cream. Serve in warmed bowls with rolls, crusty bread or salad on the side.

It’s a pleasure once again to link this post up with some of my favourite blogs. You can find some great ideas and recipes at Friday Food at Momtrends, The Grocery Cart Challenge Recipe Swap, Foodie Friday at Designs by Gollum and Food on Fridays at Ann Kroeker’s blog. I encourage you to go and visit by clicking on the blog names. Have a great weekend everyone!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Back to Normal

or as normal as it ever gets around here :)

The hole in the sidewalk outside our gate has now been filled in and we are just waiting for the nice men with the machine that lays the tarmac to come along and make it look like a sidewalk again. Oh, and take away the very stylish orange barriers they put around it :)

I can’t believe it is Wednesday already. It has been such a busy week so far. One thing I am inordinately proud of is finally getting the bookcase in the study sorted out. I’m almost embarrassed to show you, but last week it looked like this.

There were things on that bookshelf that I had literally just stuffed on when we moved over two years ago and not touched since. Now it looks like this.

It needs to be styled and dressed of course, but I’m just pleased that it is finally tidy! I got three bags of things to put in the garbage and recycling off it - none of which were beautiful, useful or seriously sentimental. I’m nearly there with the study actually, and if I keep up at this pace I might be able to post some photos of the whole room before long!

We are in serious danger of getting organised here. All three of our cars have been serviced this week (and the oldest one got a new clutch installed), plus we’ve arranged to have the gates at the end of our driveway electrified in March. This way we don’t have to keep opening and closing them by hand - and it will stop people from turning round in our driveway which seems to happen multiple times every day and really irritates me! In fact, we are getting so organised, I’m just about feeling like I might be able to start actually decorating come the spring.

Plus there is my garden to work on. Now that it is all landscaped, it needs some plants. We’ve got a really big L-shaped garden (if you have some time and would like to see its transformation from grassy expanse to a landscaped space please click here, here, here and here.) Right now, my vegetable garden looks like this:-

This is a view of part of the established garden which you can see if you stand with your back to the vegetable garden.

And this is a view looking up the side of the ‘L’, taken actually standing in the established garden you can see above.

There are a lot of empty flower beds, and even the established garden has been widened so it needs more planting. It’s quite a project, and I’m feeling very excited about it - particularly the vegetable/herb garden.

So there is no shortage of things going on here! Plus next week my son is off to Spain on a college photography trip, and I am tagging along to San Francisco on a business trip with my husband. I love San Francisco and I’ll definitely be blogging about my trip here and also on my food blog Recipes from the 21st Century Housewife’s Kitchen.

Hope you are all having a good week too!

Monday, February 08, 2010

Divine Protection

This is not a sign you want to see outside your house if you live in England. “Apologies for any inconvenience caused by these essential works. Emergency telephone....” You see, this sign means there is a gas leak somewhere leading up to your home. In fact, it might even be in your home.

About 9.30pm last night, as we sat watching television, someone banged on the door. (They didn’t ring the doorbell, they hammered.) We opened it to find a chap from the gas board, who identified himself and said, “Can you smell gas?” Of course the obvious answer to this is “no” as anyone in their right mind who smelled gas would already have called the gas board. Certainly we had not. Our neighbour, on the other hand, could smell gas by his front door. So this chap asked permission to come on to our property to check all was well.

And it seemed it was. Every check he ran outside our home - and even into the foundations - was clear. So he and two other fellows spent a couple hours in the rain boring small exploratory holes between our house and our neighbour’s house to try to find where the gas was coming from. And by about 11pm it was determined it was coming from right in front of our gate.

This perplexed us as we had definitely NOT smelled gas at all, but the readings were conclusive and immediately the barriers went up and the pneumatic drills set in.

I was not impressed. It had been a pretty fraught weekend. Although my husband was with me, he had been working for most of it. We had not had a proper evening since Thursday and suddenly Sunday was ruined too. I have to confess, I lost it. I even cried.

Luckily they managed to make everything safe by about midnight, although my husband and I can tell you from experience knowing that you have a gas main outside that has only been “made safe” (ie. not “repaired”) is not conducive to a good night’s sleep.

Luckily they came back in the morning and fixed it properly, leaving the hole open so any remaining gas can escape. We were without heat for a few hours, but it was no huge hardship considering the alternative.

Which leads me to a huge coincidence. Now I am not the best housewife in the world and my house is certainly not a shrine to tidiness. But one thing I am pedantic about is my bathrooms and kitchen These are always clean and sanitised. I am obsessive about it. One thing that has always bothered me is how our guest bathroom by the front door smelled. Despite me putting bleach down the drains and cleaning the sink and toilet daily, after a few hours the smell would return. It reminded us so much of our cats’ litter box from days of old that my son used to joke our cat boys had come back to haunt us. I was mortified and had various plumbers and contractors check it out, but no root cause was ever found.

This afternoon my husband noticed that the toilet no longer smelled. I noticed it too. I hadn’t even got round to my daily cleaning routine in there, and yet there was no odour. It still has not returned.

If you drew a line from where the fracture in the gas pipe was to our house, it would come to just about where the drain for the sink is in the guest bathroom. It appears that the smell we thought was the drains was most likely gas seeping into the house through the drains. It didn’t smell anything like gas, but it was gas. Ever since we moved in this house, a faulty connection between the mains pipes and the gas pipes leading up to our home meant that we had small amounts of gas coming into the house through the guest bathroom. And yet despite this, nothing bad ever happened. Imagine what could have - particularly if I was not so firm about forbidding anyone to smoke in the house.

Every day for the last two years plus God has been protecting my family and my house, even though I had no idea of the danger inside it. I cannot begin to describe how grateful I am.

“The Lord will keep you from all harm - he will watch over your life”
Psalm 121:7

“No harm will befall you; no disaster will come near your tent.”
Psalm 91:10

Friday, February 05, 2010

The 21st Century Housewife's© Chocolate and Banana Snack Cake

I’ve been working on developing some easy to make, delicious cakes that can be served without icing in an homage to the “Snackin’ Cakes” Betty Crocker marketed in the late 1970’s and early 80’s. I think this is my best one to date - and my very willing taste testers all agreed!

You probably already have everything you need to make this in your store cupboard and fridge. Don’t worry if you don’t have buttermilk; I do like the tangy flavour it gives, but ordinary milk works just fine.

To read more about my “snack cakes”, the history behind them, and for another snack cake recipe, click on the link to check out this week’s Recipe of the Week.

1 ¾ cups all purpose flour
¼ cup cocoa (not drinking chocolate)
1 tablespoons baking powder
1 cup white sugar
2 generous pinches of salt
½ cup chocolate chips
1 egg, lightly beaten
⅓ cup sunflower oil
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
2 mashed bananas

Sift the flour, cocoa and baking powder into a large bowl. Stir in the sugar, salt and chocolate chips.

In a medium bowl, beat the egg, oil, buttermilk and vanilla . Stir in the mashed bananas.

Add the egg and milk and banana mixture to the flour mixture. Stir thoroughly until well blended, but don’t beat. Pour the mixture into a greased and floured (or lined) nine inch square pan.

Ovens can vary quite radically so you’ll probably need to watch this the first time you bake it. I bake mine at about 350℉ or 170℃ for 20 to 25 minutes or until a piece of dry spaghetti inserted into the middle comes out clean (ie. with no batter clinging to it).

This cake really does not need any frosting and it is easy to pick it up and eat it with your fingers. (Far too easy in my experience!) However, a little dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of good vanilla ice cream does go really well with it if you want to serve it as a proper dessert.

It’s a pleasure once again to link this post up with some of my favourite blogs. You can find some great ideas and recipes at Friday Food at Momtrends, The Grocery Cart Challenge Recipe Swap, Foodie Friday at Designs by Gollum and Food on Fridays at Ann Kroeker’s blog. I encourage you to go and visit by clicking on the links. Have a great weekend everyone!

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

An Ordinary Day?

Today was just a day in the life really. I did a lot of writing. I posted the Recipe of the Week and I also did some home admin. You know, paid some bills, made some appointments, that kind of thing.

I did some tidying up, and finally got one of the occasional tables in the hallway sorted out - totally dusted and organised with baskets and some of my favourite books.

Here’s how it looks from two sides of the hallway.

The top picture is of the view from the door of the study. The front door is through an alcove to the left. (Our entry hall is kind of like a sideways ‘H’.) The photo below is taken from the door of the living room - you can just see the corner of our stairs, which go round in a circle to the upstairs landing.

All this made me keenly aware that all our walls are still beige and I really need to do something about it.

I decided to do my run on the treadmill as it was raining cats and dogs outside. I’m training for a 5km race in the Spring or early Summer. Those of you training for half marathons and marathons, I salute you - for me, 5km is a really big step. I’ve worked up to the distance; now I’m trying to improve my time. I knocked ten seconds off my personal best today :)

Later I worked on developing a new recipe for another snack cake, along the lines of the one I posted for the Recipe of the Week, but this time involving bananas, chocolate and chocolate chips.

It was a resounding success - my son said it was one of the best cakes I have ever made! Even I loved it, and I’m not a huge fan of the whole chocolate/banana combination thing. So needless to say I am very pleased - that’s my recipe for the Friday recipe swaps sorted :)

In between, I cleaned bathrooms, did some general housecleaning and chauffeur duty too. It was just an ordinary day really. But then, I don’t really believe there are any ordinary days.