Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Goody Good Stuff

What would you say if I told you that you could give your kids candy and feel good about it? Well, thanks to the nice folks at Goody Good Stuff, now you can. They have created an alternative to traditional gummy gelatine based candy that is gelatine free, gluten free, diary free, fat free and uses only natural fruit juices and extracts for colour and flavouring.

I discovered Goody Good Stuff at the BBC Summer Good Food Show where Managing Director Melissa Burton and Sales Manager Daniel Stott were handing out samples of their yummy sweets and answering all sorts of questions from interested shoppers. Daniel explained to me that all Goody Good Stuff candies are not only made as naturally as possible, but that all their products are dairy free, nut free, suitable for vegetarians and Halal, Kosher and Vegetarian Society certified. Four of the flavours are actually suitable for vegans as well. I was extremely interested in the gelatine free part. I've never liked the idea of meat gelatine in anything - after all it is made with the kind of animal parts we don't normally eat (skin and bone) so it is kind of nasty. Sadly its gelling properties mean that it is widely used in food products like candy. But by using food technology that has taken years to perfect, Goody Good Stuff have been able to completely eliminate the gelatine from their sweets.

Launched on 1st June this year, Goody Good Stuff is a product I am really excited about because not only are they made so that they are better for you, they taste really, really good. In fact, in my opinion they taste better than traditional sweets. I bought some Goody Good Stuff at the Good Food Show (purely for research purposes of course) and have been sharing them with colleagues, family and friends, all of whom agree that the fresh fruit flavours and refreshing not too chewy but just chewy enough texture make them absolutely scrumptious.  With eight flavours to choose from - from Cola Breeze and Cheery Cherries to my personal favourite, Summer Peaches - there is something for everyone, even the fussiest of candy connoisseurs.

Don't get me wrong, Goody Good Stuff are not low calorie. They are candy after all. What they are is a naturally delicious alternative to traditional sweets with none of the worrying ingredients traditional sweets so often have. Eaten in moderation these delicious treats are as good for you as a candy can possibly be and when it comes to taste, I think they are some of the best sweets on the market. I highly, highly recommend them.

For where to buy information please click here.

The 21st Century Housewife was not paid for this post.  When I find something this cool I like to share it!

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

The 21st Century Housewife's Asparagus, Scallop and Pesto Tagliatelle

This is a beautiful recipe for using up the last of the season's asparagus, and is perfect for an intimate dinner à deux.  

7 ounces (200 grams) tagliatelle (fresh for preference but dried is fine)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
14 scallops (thawed if frozen), roes removed
a handful of asparagus, washed, drained and cut in half if large
2 - 3 tablespoons prepared Basil pesto 
(I used Sacla but by all means use freshly made if you have it.)
2 - 3 tablespoons single cream (light cream or half and half)

If using dried pasta, prepare it according to package directions now.  
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a frying pan over low heat.  Fry the scallops in the butter until opaque in the centre (about 6 to 7 minutes, depending on how thick they are).  At the same time, lightly steam the asparagus over boiling water for about three minutes.  Drain, set aside and keep warm.  

At this point, if you are using fresh pasta, cook it according to package directions.  
When the scallops are cooked, gently toss the steamed asparagus into frying pan with them. Leave in the frying pan over very low heat.
When the pasta is cooked, drain it and return it to the pan.  Add the pesto and cream, stirring through to make a light sauce.  (You can add a bit more of either of these ingredients to taste.)  
Serve the pesto and cream coated tagliatelle into warmed bowls and top with the scallops and asparagus.
This is lovely served with a nice glass of Sauvignon Blanc.  

Saturday, 26 June 2010

The 21st Century Housewife's White Chocolate, Macadamia and Blueberry Cake

How could anything with these ingredients not be delicious?  This is a beautiful cake for summer, light and delicious, and it couldn’t be easier to throw together.  Be sure to stir the blueberries into the flour as directed or they will sink to the bottom of the cake.  I use roasted salted macadamia nuts for this, but if you only have plain ones, just add a generous pinch of salt to the batter with the baking powder.  
½ cup butter, softened
¾ cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla 
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup fresh blueberries, washed and well drained
1 cup milk 
½ cup white chocolate chips or chunks
½ cup macadamia nuts, roughly chopped plus
¼ cup macadamia nuts, finely chopped for decorating
Preheat your oven to 350℉ or 160℃.  (This is just a guide as oven temperatures vary so radically.)
Cream together the butter and sugar in an electric mixer.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.  Beat in the vanilla.  Remove the bowl from the electric mixer.
Sift together the flour and baking powder.  Reserve about 2 tablespoons of blueberries, and gently stir the rest of them into the flour mixture.  Using a wooden spoon, add the flour and blueberry mixture alternately with the milk in two additions.  Stir gently so as not to break up the blueberries.  Add the white chocolate chips and the half cup of roughly chopped macadamias and fold in very gently.  
Pour the mixture into a greased and floured (or lined) eight or nine inch square or round pan.  Bake for  25 to 35 minutes (depending on your oven), until a skewer inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean.  If necessary, lower the heat towards the end of cooking to prevent over-browning.  Let the cake cool for a bit before taking it out of the pan and letting it finish cooling on a wire rack.  
Allow to cool completely before frosting with buttercream.  Just cream ¼ cup softened butter with 2 cups of confectioner’s sugar (icing sugar) and then add 1 teaspoon vanilla and enough cream (usually about 2 to 3 tablespoons) to make a soft, spreadable icing.  If I’m in a rush I use Betty Crocker’s Buttercream Icing instead so feel free to try that as well!  Sprinkle with the finely chopped macadamias and scatter the reserved blueberries over top. 

Friday, 25 June 2010

Genetically Modified or Genetically Enhanced? It's a Thorny Question

As you probably already know, a GMO is a genetically modified organism. Basically, you take an ordinary garden-variety product - say a tomato – and add new genetic material to it in order to make it taste better, increase crop yields, be resistant to pests without the use of pesticides or perhaps even make it ripen more quickly. It all sounds fairly innocent, but then words like cross pollination, “mutant” plants and even more frightening ones like “terminator technology” start to creep in and we all get very nervous indeed.  There are serious concerns that genetically modified crops could threaten biodiversity and even our health.

In the United Kingdom where I live most people are pretty wary of foods that have been genetically modified and have been from the very beginning. GM foods are considered not only bad for you, but unethical as well.  Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland have all agreed to make themselves GM free zones, with Dublin declaring the Republic of Ireland wish to do the same thing. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in London are hedging their bets, saying they prefer “to assess each application for GM crops on its merits without blanket approval or rejection” and European Union regulations require that any genetically modified product marketed for sale must be judged “not to present a risk to health, not to mislead consumers and not to be of less nutritional value than the foods they are intended to replace”.  One good thing though, if a product here contains anything genetically modified, it has to be labeled as such.

Up until recently, world opinion was pretty divided on GM crops.  The media have played a huge role in this, so much so that where you lived could really influence your opinion. 

I spent a lot of time in the North America between 2004 and 2007 looking after my parents in the last years of their lives.  I travelled back and forth to Canada at least five or six times a year and in addition there were regular trips to the US.  I shopped and cooked in both countries and the question of looking to avoid GM foods never really arose.  It would have been impossible as there was no labeling and to be honest, at that point I not only had other things on my mind, but frankly I couldn’t see why properly managed, genetic modification might not be a very good thing indeed.  Interestingly enough, at that time you rarely saw the words “genetically modified” in the North American press – instead you saw the words “genetically enhanced”.   My goodness that sounded better. Enhanced is a good thing, isn’t it? Don’t we all want things to be enhanced and improved? Would I not prefer my family eat foods that have less pesticides on them? Do I not want food that both tastes and keeps better?  No wonder the majority of public opinion was totally different there, and as someone who likes to look on the bright side, no wonder I was influenced it by it.

Thankfully things have changed a lot in the years since then.  Opinions in North America are more divided and so is mine.  Monsanto’s huge mistake of researching and developing seed that does not actually bear more seed for planting (often referred to as “suicide seed”) raised everyone’s hackles worldwide. Then it was discovered that monarch butterfly caterpillars that ate pollen from genetically modified crops were dying in large numbers.  Not long after that, millions of honeybees began to disappear without explanation.  It made a lot of people, including me, wonder if messing with the food chain was really such a good thing.  While there is not any proof genetically modified crops caused the disappearance of the bees, there is no way yet of proving it doesn’t contribute to it either.  And if GM crops are killing insects, maybe we ought to look at what they might be doing to us, not to mention what would happen to our food chain if we lose our honeybees, the main source of crop pollination worldwide. 

Chances are that many of us have eaten and are eating more genetically modified products than we imagine. Two of the main genetically modified crops grown are corn and soybeans. Animal feed used to nourish the animals we eat can contain both of these products - which we also eat both as an end products in themselves, in vegetable oils and as part of more foodstuffs that you would imagine.  If you look at the ingredients list on virtually any package of prepared food, chances are you are going to find some soy or corn derivative.  Plus there is a risk that if genetically modified crops are grown close enough to regular or organic crops, that pollen may be transferred from the GM crops to the other crops unintentionally.  The only limit is how far the wind can blow – and that is a pretty scary thought. 

It is definitely time for labeling of GM products and products containing them like we have in the UK worldwide – and for that matter, labeling here could still be made clearer.  But what else can one do on an individual scale?  I’m hardly an eco-warrior, but I do care deeply about food, the environment and what and how my family – and my readers – eat.   So I do everything I can to make it unnecessary for me to buy things that are genetically modified.  I try to choose organic vegetables, fruit and meat wherever possible, always buy free range eggs, refuse to buy intensively farmed meat or fish, grow some of my own vegetables in the summer and never use pesticides of any kind in my garden (flowers or vegetables).  I also make a concerted effort to buy only what I need and campaign for and advocate better, clearer labeling on packaged products. Most of all though, I try to stay informed and open-minded. 

Until we know the true environmental, economic and human cost of genetically engineering our crops, we need to proceed with caution both individually and collectively.  If genetic modification can help us to feed the world, reduce pesticide use, improve nutrition and grow foods in inhospitable environments without damaging the world’s eco-structure, human health or fledgling economies, then it could be a wonderful thing indeed.  The question is, is that really possible?  Sadly, I’m afraid the answer to that thorny question is probably no. 

Thursday, 24 June 2010

The 21st Century Housewife's Strawberry and Coconut Cake

Unadorned, this is not a beautiful cake. It tends to fall a bit and often cracks a little but it tastes so good it just doesn't matter. All you need to do is pop on a little buttercream frosting and strew some nuts and strawberry slices on top and everyone will be far too busy eating it to care that it doesn't look good naked.

½ cup butter, softened
¾ cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1½ cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ cup ground almonds
1 cup desiccated coconut
1 cup sliced strawberries
½ cup low fat strawberry yogurt
½ cup milk

¼ cup butter, softened
2 cups confectioner's sugar (icing sugar)
1 teaspoon vanilla
about 2 to 3 tablespoons cream or half and half

halved strawberries and flaked almonds or chopped nuts to garnish

Place the sliced strawberries in a sieve and drain over a bowl just to be sure they are as dry as possible. Grease and flour (or line) a two to three inch deep eight or nine inch square or round cake pan. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 350℉ (about 170℃ - 160℃ for a fan oven).

Cream the butter and sugar in an electric mixer. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.  Beat in the vanilla. Remove the bowl from the electric mixer and do the rest of the steps by hand.

Place the ground almonds and coconut in a medium bowl. Sift together the flour and baking powder and add them to the almonds and coconut. Stir thoroughly to mix. Gently fold in the strawberries. Fold the strawberry mixture into the batter in the electric mixer bowl.

Mix the yogurt and milk together and add to the batter. Stir gently but thoroughly until everything is all blended together.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and bake for 25 to 35 minutes until a skewer inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool a bit in the pan before attempting to remove the cake to cool completely on a wire rack.

When the cake is completely cool, make the frosting. Cream the butter and confectioners sugar together thoroughly and beat in the vanilla. Gradually add enough to cream to make a spreadable frosting. Go slowly - you can always add more, but you can't take it away!

Frost the top of the cake and sprinkle with chopped nuts. Garnish with the halved strawberries.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

A Visit to Taste of London

Just before I left home to go to Taste of London on Friday night, it started to sprinkle with rain.  By the time I got there, it was pouring.  You would have thought that might ruin an evening at a food and drink festival held primarily outdoors, but Taste of London was so good, it really didn't.  Admittedly I did have tickets that allowed me entrance to the VIP tent, and the fact that I'm a frequent flyer meant I could get into the British Airways Executive Club VIP tent too, but I spent less time under cover than you would have expected and I had an amazing evening.

There's a couple pointers about attending Taste Festivals I'd like to give you before I tell you anything more.  The first is not to be put off by a little rain, and the second is don't wear something you really love, even though they are very fashionable festivals and you never know who you might see.  I wore one of my favourite Ralph Lauren summer sweaters which is now no more after a collision with a gentleman eating one of the delicious curry dishes from the Colony Club - a collision during which I feel justified to report that I was actually standing still.  Said gentleman then fled after a hastily mumbled apology.  Luckily I was wearing a blazer which I was able to do up to hide the damage and I was not forced to wander round looking as if I had been attacked by something very large and very orange.

The thing I love most about the Taste Festivals is that they allow you to taste small portions of dishes from the host city's most acclaimed restaurants and chefs - so that in a single afternoon or evening you can experience the best food that city has to offer - without ruining your budget or your waistline.  Dishes are not cheap, but you spend a great deal less than if you actually went to all of the restaurants for a meal, and it allows you to find the places you would really like to go.  Let's face it, there is nothing more disappointing than going to a top restaurant venue only to find that actually their dishes are not exactly your cup of tea.  Spending a great deal of money on food you love is a wonderful indulgence, spending it on food you only like, well, the only word for it is disappointing.  This is one of the reasons why the Taste Festivals are not only great fun, but also great sources of information.

For example, I'm not that into food that has a curry vibe.  I like it, but I don't love it. So Colony was not top of my list of restaurants to visit.  However the dishes they offered moved it right to the top of my list of places I want to eat - soon.  Their Spicy Garden Vegetables and Potato Crush Sauteed with Ginger, Garlic and Masala was amazing.  Served on a bun, it had the most incredible balance of flavours.  And the bite I had of my husband's portion of Colonial Style Chicken Curry with Rice was the most delicious curry I have ever tasted.

This raises an important point.  It's tempting to head towards the restaurants you know you will like - for example I was thinking of making a bee line towards anything French, traditional British or Italian - but stepping out of your comfort zone is a great thing to do here.  And you can do it safe in the knowledge that when you do go to the venues you know you will like, you will definitely be delighted.

At the Almeida Restaurant and Bar, my husband and I enjoyed a Salad of Cornish Crab and Secrett's Farm Asparagus with Marinated Cucumber.  The freshness of the ingredients and flavour combinations really showcased this restaurant's menu of traditional French cooking with a modern twist.  Theo Randall at the Intercontinental offered uncomplicated, unfussy food that was absolutely exquisite. I struggled to share my Pasta with Violet Aubergines and Plum tomato, it was that delicious.  The chef himself was actually on site, which did lend an aura of glamour to their stand, but the food spoke for itself. Le Pont de la Tour had great French food, including an amazing Steak Frites made with one of the most beautiful pieces of beef I have ever tasted.  At Club Gascon I had a Prune and Armagnac Bonbon - a cracker shaped puff pastry extravaganza - which was just delicious.  No wonder they are Michelin starred.  My son had a Baked Custard Tart with Raisin Syrup from Rhodes 24 which he very nearly lost when he let me taste it.  This restaurant offers great traditional British food with a fresh, modern twist.

There were over thirty restaurants represented at Taste of London, alongside small producers and well-known names offering their wares at special Taste prices.  We bought our favourite macarons from Ladurée, wonderful baklava from Persis and found out about Ancre Hill Estates, a young vineyard based in Wales.  We tasted some of their award winning wines and were really impressed by their delicious drinkability.  British wines were represented too - the sparkling 2005 Classic Cuvée we had a glass of at the Nyetimber Pavilion was very refreshing, and almost as good as the champagne on offer in the VIP tents.

Throughout the evening, various demonstrations by London's top culinary talents were offered and you could attend as many of these as you wanted to.  Some of the chefs were very well known and as well as Theo Randall I spotted Giorgio Locatelli at his restaurant's stand.  There is certainly no shortage of things to do, and although the evening slot lasted four hours, I was surprised how quickly the time flew by.

There are thirteen Taste Festivals held worldwide every year at venues from Birmingham to Cape Town to Sydney, including Taste of Christmas.  Taste of Amsterdam opens tomorrow at the Amstelpark in Amsterdam and Taste of Birmingham is due to be held from 16th to 18 July at Birmingham's Cannon Hill Park.  If you find yourself in any of the great locations Taste visits, I highly recommend going along for a few hours of the best food and wine many of the world's top cities have to offer.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Garlic Butter Biscuits

I was making a quick pasta dinner last night and realised I didn't have any crusty bread or rolls to go alongside it - not that you have to have bread with pasta, but I kind of fancied it! I got to thinking about what I could substitute instead that would not take a very long time when I suddenly  remembered the dinner biscuits my Mom used to make using Bisquick baking mix.

Well, I wish I had remembered them years ago.  The reaction I got to them was fantastic, and the whole recipe took about twenty minutes in total. Once again I'm indebted to my late Mom for saving the day in my kitchen, and making me look really, really good!

Here's my Mom's recipe.  Depending on the size of the cookie cutters you use (I used big rounds), you will get between six and twelve biscuits from this recipe.

2¼ cups Bisquick baking mix
⅔ cup milk
2 tablespoons butter, melted
¼ teaspoon garlic salt
½ teaspoon dried parsley

Mix the Bisquick and milk together with a fork until well combined.  Place the dough on a floured surface and knead for a minute or two.  Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out to about a half inch thick and cut with round cookie cutters.  Place the biscuits on a lightly greased baking sheet.

Mix the melted butter, garlic salt and dried parsley together in a bowl.  Generously brush the tops of each biscuit with the garlicky butter.

Bake in the oven at 375 - 400℉ (about 190℃) for ten to twelve minutes.  Serve immediately with butter.

Friday, 18 June 2010

And The Winner Is...

The winner of the giveaway of a £40 gift certificate from CSN Stores is Email number 91 - Lucie Sanderson from Ely in Cambridgeshire.

Lucie is a designer of beautiful bespoke jewellery who blogs at her website Bugle Designs.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Taste of London

Ever wanted to taste some of the dishes from London's top restaurants? Well, now is your chance.  Today marks the beginning of one of the world's greatest restaurant festivals, Taste of London.  From now until Sunday you can go along and experience the best of London's foodie scene in Regent's Park. Over thirty of London's best restaurants, including The Grill at the iconic Dorchester Hotel, the Cinnamon Club and Launceston Place, are represented - along with dishes by top chefs including Michel Roux Jr, Gary Rhodes and Giorgio Locatelli.

By purchasing Crowns, the official currency of Taste of London (£1 = 2 Crowns), you can sample some of the British capital's best restaurant dishes. Priced at an average of 9 Crowns each, dishes range from modern British at Rhodes Twenty Four to the continental flavours of Theo Randall at The Intercontinental Hotel, on to the spicy treats at Asia de Cuba and The Tamarind and including just about everything in between. Most of the restaurants represented also offer a more expensive Icon dish that really showcases the talents of their chefs. I can't wait to try the Lobster Cocktail with Summer Truffles in Tomato Jelly at Le Gavroche or perhaps I'll indulge in the King Crab and Rice Cracker Croquette at Sake No Hana. The choices are endless and the only restrictions are your wallet and your waistline!

Presented by Channel 4 in partnership with British Airways, there is something for everyone at Taste of London from live cooking demonstrations by Michelin starred chefs and other top kitchen talent in the Taste Theatre to wine tasting and other live demonstrations. There is even a Laurent Perrier Champagne Masterclass (at an extra charge).  Another feature is the first ever charity pop-up restaurant in aid of Action Against Hunger with dishes from Simon Rogan, Paul Merrett and Valentine Warner to name but a few. Lots of food producers are exhibiting and you can sample and shop the latest and best foodie tastes and gadgets till you drop. With all this set in the beautiful surroundings of London's Regent's Park it's a great way to spend a few hours (hopefully) in the sunshine!

Tickets start at £22 (£26 on the door) and range right up through to VIP tickets - including a glass of champagne and access to the VIP lounge - from £55.  If you want to include the Laurent Perrier Champagne Masterclass, tickets start at £75. It's definitely a great place to spend an evening with family and friends enjoying great food, wine and a convivial atmosphere in the heart of London and I am seriously looking forward to attending tomorrow evening's session with mine.

For tickets and more information, visit the Taste of London website by clicking here.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Sweet Freedom Raisin Bran Muffins

I wrote about Sweet Freedom, a totally natural alternative to sugar, not long ago.  (To see the article, please click here.)  It's a product I am really enthusiastic about and recently I've started using it in some of my baking.  Here I've incorporated it into my signature bran muffin recipe.  Served with a glass of low-fat milk or orange juice they are a quick and delicious breakfast, and bear no relation whatsoever to the cupcakes masquerading as muffins you often find in stores.

You need to be sure to use natural bran in this recipe (not bran cereal) which is available in the cereal aisle of most grocery stores near the oatmeal.  I use Jordan's natural wheat bran.  Bran is a nutritional powerhouse containing lots of fibre, omegas, protein, vitamins and minerals and along with Sweet Freedom it helps make these muffins healthier than ever.

I use large North American style muffin pans for this recipe and it makes about 15 muffins.  If you want to use smaller pans with smaller muffin cups that is absolutely fine, just remember they will take less time to bake.

2 large free range or organic eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup mild olive oil (not extra virgin)
¾ cup Sweet Freedom (the Rich Sweet Freedom works best)
2 cups bran
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1¼ cups plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
½ teaspoon salt (feel free to use less if you are on a salt restricted diet)
1 eating apple, peeled and cored
1½ cups sultanas or raisins
1 cup buttermilk
(You can use ordinary milk if you don't have buttermilk on hand, but do use buttermilk if you can.)

Preheat the oven to 170℃ (160℃ fan oven).   Line muffin pans with paper cases (available in various sizes in the baking aisle of most grocery stores).

In a large bowl combine the eggs, olive oil, Sweet Freedom, bran and cinnamon.  Stir to mix and then set aside.

Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda, cream of tartar and salt together into a medium bowl.  Grate the apple into the flour mixture.  Add the raisins and and stir lightly with a wooden spoon to mix.  Add this mixture all at once to the eggy bran mixture in the large bowl.  Don't worry if it doesn't all combine straight away, but stir through lightly.  Now add the buttermilk and stir until the mixture is thoroughly blended.

Divide the mixture between the muffin cups - I use a quick release ice cream scoop for this which works a treat - and place the pans in the preheated oven.  Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until a skewer (or piece of dried spaghetti) inserted in the centre of the muffins comes out clean.  Cool on wire racks.

Once cool, store in a sealed container.  Muffins will keep for about three days at room temperature, longer if stored in the fridge.  They also freeze very well and you can thaw them overnight in the fridge.  Re-warm fridge cold muffins on high in the microwave for ten to twenty seconds.

Friday, 11 June 2010

The 21st Century Housewife’s Healthy Mini Fruit Parfaits

This is a delicious, healthy and fresh dessert that only takes minutes to put together, yet is pretty enough to serve at a dinner party.  It also gives you a great opportunity to use those special glass dishes - or even teacups - you have tucked away in the cupboard or china cabinet.

The proportions of the ingredients depend on how many desserts you are making and the size of your dishes, so this is just a guide.  Of course you can use any berries you like - I just happened to have strawberries on hand when I took the photographs.  Just use a flavour of yogurt that compliments the berries.  (Blueberries are lovely with peach yogurt by the way.)  The almond-y Amaretto liqueur does give a lovely flavour, but feel free to leave it out if you are serving these to children or those who don't want to drink alcohol.

You can make these parfaits about an hour or so before dinner and refrigerate, but the sooner you can serve them the better as you don't want the Amaretti biscuits to go too soggy.

For four servings you will need about:-

12 Amaretti biscuits
4 teaspoons Amaretto Disaronno liqueur (optional)
2 cups low fat, low calorie strawberry yogurt
about 1½ cups sliced strawberries

4 pretty glass dishes

Place one Amaretti biscuit in the bottom of each glass.

If using, sprinkle 1 teaspoon Amaretto over each biscuit.  Layer some yogurt over top of the biscuit.

Add a layer of sliced strawberries, and another layer of yogurt.  Then add a final layer of strawberries.

Crush the remaining Amaretti biscuits and sprinkle the crumbs over top.  Enjoy without an ounce of guilt!

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

The Vintage Wine Bar in Santana Row

The Vintage Wine Bar is a wonderful place to wile away a few hours enjoying some absolutely fabulous wines.  As well as wine by the glass, they offer "flights" of wine - three two ounce pours of wines that complement one another.  When we visited I sampled "White Crispies" a Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and a Falanghina.  My husband tried "Sideways", three wonderful Pinot Noirs  - one very curiously called "Pink Pig" from Jay McDonald at EIEIO wines (honestly!!).  Other flights amongst the eight on offer were "Chard in the City" featuring Chardonnays and "Golden Gate" featuring big gutsy reds.

The 'pours' were very generous, and you don't get the feeling anyone is measuring too carefully.  The atmosphere is friendly and unpretentious and service knowledgeable and attentive.  For those who don't have to worry about transporting it, wine is available to buy to take home as well.  They even offer very special wine clubs for those who want to purchase their selections on a regular basis.  They also run regular tasting events.

All of the wines we tasted were great, and if we lived more locally I'd definitely source wine from this wonderful company.  We visited twice on this trip to San Jose and definitely plan on returning next time.  And no, I wasn't paid for this post, I'm a real fan!

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Another Great Giveaway!

CSN Stores has amazing online stores where you can find anything from lighting to furniture to cookware. I love their amazing collection of online stores - wonderful for people who love shopping as much as I do! The great news is that the lovely folks at CSN are partnering with me in a giveaway - this time for my UK readers.  Just click here to send me an email and be entered in the draw for a £40 gift certificate good for use on any one of CSN's fantastic UK websites.  Please put "lighting" in the subject line so I know you are entering the giveaway!

Hurry, the draw closes next Thursday 17th June!

Monday, 7 June 2010

Bake With Compassion Week

Compassion in World Farming are sponsoring Bake With Compassion Week this week - 7th to 13th June.

Since 1967, Compassion in World Farming has been working to improve the lives of farm animals.  Their peaceful campaign to end cruel, intensive farming practices has improved the lives of a large proportion of the livestock in the European Union, but there is still work to be done.  Philip Lymbery, Compassion in World Farming's Chief executive is quoted as saying, "Compassion in World Farming is working strategically towards a whole food system that is truly kind, caring and honest - kind to animals; caring for the environment and consumer health; and honestly labelled."

Compassion in World Farming are asking people to host events this week in order to raise money for their campaign - whether it be coffee mornings, bake sales or even dinner parties - using baked goods prepared with free range eggs and other high welfare or organic products (milk, butter, chocolate etc).

Although the barren battery cage is due to be banned across the European Union from 2012, 'enriched' battery cages will still be allowed.  Hens kept in these cages never experience natural light or fresh air and never leave their cages until they have outlived their laying capabilities and are taken for slaughter.  Some of the money raised from events during Bake With Compassion Week will go towards working to stop this horrible practice.  A cage is a cage is a cage, and no animal should be put in one for long periods, let alone its whole life.

There are lots of celebrity chefs supporting this event and many have kindly donated their recipes for inspiration, so do click here to get helpful information about hosting your own event or to make a donation to this very worthy cause.  Improving the lives of farm animals doesn't just benefit the animals, it benefits us and the environment as well.

So get baking, and remember to always use and buy eggs that are free range or organic! (To find out more about the eggs you buy, download Compassion in World Farming's pocket guide to eggs by clicking here.)

Thursday, 3 June 2010

My First Experience Cooking with Tofu

I’m not a vegetarian but I do enjoy meat-free meals, ordering them in restaurants and frequently cooking them at home, but one thing I’ve always been nervous about is cooking with tofu.  I have eaten it on many occasions, however up until last week I had never cooked with it myself. 

I had trouble imagining how I could transform the white, slightly slimy looking blocks I saw in the grocery store into something I could want to eat and the thought of having to press or drain it extensively and then marinate it always put me off.  Recently though I have noticed more and more ‘ready to use’ tofu in stores.  It is cut into bite size pieces and is already marinated which gives it a bit more appetizing colour. 

So last week I took my courage in both hands and bought one of the packages of ginger and garlic marinated tofu.  I was pleased to read it cooked in only five minutes, making it perfect to use in my cashew nut stir fry recipe in place of the cashews.  It turned out really well, and everyone thoroughly enjoyed it, especially my long-suffering son who has been encouraging me to cook with tofu for ages!

1 to 2 tablespoons oil, sesame for preference
160 gram package (5 to 6 ounces) marinated tofu pieces (ginger and garlic)
2 or 3 leeks, finely shredded and thoroughly washed or 1 red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 red pepper, de-seeded and sliced
1 yellow pepper, de-seeded and sliced
2 or 3 carrots, peeled and sliced thinly on the diagonal
2 to 3 packages ready to cook noodles or 2 or 3 nests of dried noodles, cooked, drained and tossed in a little oil

Heat the oil in a large frying pan or wok.  Add the leeks or onion, peppers and carrots and stir fry for about three minutes.  

Add the tofu and stir fry for five minutes.  

Toss in the noodles, heat through and serve. 

That’s it, a quick and easy meat-free meal to serve up to four people.  It was delicious and I’m sure I’ll be cooking with tofu again soon!