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Tomato & Bacon Pasta Twist Salad

Tomato & Bacon Pasta Twist Salad

I am a huge fan of pasta salads.  For one thing you have a multitude of shapes and sizes of pasta available to use in them.  Secondly, unlike potatoes, you simply boil pasta and drain it. There is no peeling or chopping involved.  Just boil, drain and add to your dressing or whatever.  Cooked pasta makes a fabulous base for a multitude of flavours and textures!

When I worked at the Manor, one of their favourite pre-dinner drinks nibbles that I would prepare for their dinner parties was these fabulous little cherry tomatoes, that I hollowed out and then filled with a mix of finely chopped cooked bacon, spring onions and mayonnaise. This salad is  bit of a riff on that.

Without all the faffing about of hollowing and draining cherry tomatoes.  In this salad you simply cut them in half.  I got some lovely cherry tomatoes at Costco the other day, a mix of yellow and red, and they are fabulously tasty.  I have been really enjoying eating them out of hand and they added a lovely mix of colours to this salad.

I used pasta twists because they really know how to hug a salad dressing, with lots of nooks and crannies to hang onto every smidgen of it.  And you will love the dressing, which is a delicious mix of mayonnaise and blue cheese dressing . . .  some cider vinegar, seasoning and a bit of sugar. YUM!

There is also plenty of bacon as well. A full pound.  Make sure you get it nice and crispy, so that it crumbles well.  Limp bacon doesn't work well in this.  Crisp is the way to go.  Make sure you remember to save some out to garnish the top of the salad.  I forgot, and so what you see here are bacon salad sprinkles, which do provide crunch and flavour, but I really prefer the real thing.

Another essential element is the spring onions.  Finely chopped, the white and light green parts, on up into the dark green, but I tend to cut off and discard the really dark green and tougher bits of the spring onions.  I believe you call them Scallions in North America, or green onions. 

There is also some celery which adds a lovely crunch and extra texture.  I love the celery this time of year.  It has a nice and mild flavour, unlike the celery from later in the season which is much stronger in taste. You want to use the milder celery as you don't want the flavor to be too over-powering.

There should be an equal balance of flavours and textures in this.  If you are making the salad ahead of time, then do hold back some of the dressing to stir into it just prior to serving.  It will absorb the dressing as it sits, so if you want it to be creamy, save a bit aside until just before you put it out for eating!  Your guests/family will love this!

*Tomato & Bacon Pasta Twist Salad*
Serves 10 to 12 as a side dish

Fresh cherry tomatoes and plenty of savoury bacon in a refreshingly tasty pasta salad, with a mild blue cheese dressing. What's not to like? 

225g of Pasta Twists (2 cups)
4 to 5 spring onions, washed, trimmed and chopped
1 punnet of cherry tomatoes, washed and halved (about 2 cups)
 2 stalks celery, trimmed and diced
1 pound of streaky smoked bacon, cooked, drained and crumbled
240g of good quality mayonnaise (1 cup)
60g of blue cheese dressing (1/4 cup)
2 TBS cider vinegar
1 TBS sugar
salt and black pepper to taste
chopped parsley to garnish 

Cook your pasta according to the package directions.  Drain well.  Rise in cold water and drain again.  Set aside.

Whisk the mayonnaise, blue cheese dressing, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper together in a serving bowl.   Stir in the spring onions.   Add the cooked pasta and cherry tomatoes.  Toss to coat well.   Cover and chill for at least an hour.   Remove and stir in 3/4 of the bacon.  Sprinkle the remainder on top along with some chopped fresh parsley.   Serve.

I served this the other day to some hungry missionaries and they licked the bowl clean. They really loved it.  That makes me happy when the food I prepare is so well received.  That always makes all my work more than worth the effort!  Bon Appetit! 

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Marie Rayner
Lemon & Herb Chicken 4 Two

Lemon & Herb Chicken 4 Two

I do confess that I am rather lazy when it comes to cooking.  If I can find an easier or quicker way to do something I will find it. I also like to use as few an amount of dishes that I can when it comes to cooking.  Lets face it, washing up is not really anyone's favourite way to pass the time. That is why I love sheet pan cooking! 

Sheet pan cooking really lends itself to cooking for the smaller family, and really you can easily adapt any sheet pan recipe to cooking for more or less, by using two baking sheets, or a smaller baking sheet.  I sure wish I knew about this type cooking when my family was growing up. With five growing children, it would have come in quite handy!!

This recipe today is sized perfectly for just two people.  As empty-nesters, I cook mainly for two people. I have become somewhat of an expert at sizing things down, as I hate waste. You can very easily double this recipe however.

You begin by cutting new potatoes into wedges and tossing them with melted butter and seasonings and roasting them on a rimmed baking tray for about 15 minutes . . . 

At the end of that time period, you add some boneless skinless chicken thighs, and asparagus cuts, which have also been tossed with a bit of melted butter and seasoning.  At our local shop you can pick up "Wonky" vegetables. I often buy them. There is nothing wrong with them. They are just "odd" shaped when compared with the perfection we usually see.  I am okay with "odd" shaped vegetables, especially when you are using them in a dish like this where they are going to be cut up and roasted. Both my asparagus and potatoes were "wonky" and I bet you can't tell! 

A tsp of honey is spread on each chicken thigh, and then I like to top them with a spring of fresh thyme and a slice of lemon . . .

Bang the tray back into the oven for a further 17 to 20 minutes and Bob's your uncle!  Dinner is done! 

With perfectly cooked vegetables and tender flavourful chicken with  tangy lemon, honey and buttery juices to spoon over top . . .  and a slight touch of herbiness . . .   All you need on the side is perhaps a tossed mixed salad and some crusty bread if you so desire!

*Lemon & Herb Chicken 4 Two*
Serves 2

I love sheet pan dinners. Not only are they fairly simple to create and delicious, but they are pretty much no fuss no muss with very little clean up afterwards, especially if you line your baking sheet with aluminium foil. 

2 TBS butter
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp sweet paprika
1/2 pound new potatoes, unpeeled and quartered into wedges
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1/2 pound asparagus, washed trimmed and cut into pieces
4 tsp honey
1/2 lemon, thinly sliced (Plus additional wedges for squeezing, optional)
a few sprigs of fresh thyme 

Preheat the oven to 220*C/425*F/ gas mark 7.  Line a baking tray with sides with aluminium foil and spray the foil lightly with low fat cooking spray.

Melt 1 TBS of the butter in a bowl in the microwave.  Add your potatoes along with the 1/4 tsp each of the salt & pepper, the garlic powder and paprika. Add the potatoes and coat them in the mixture.  Spread out on the baking sheet, skin sides down, in a single layer.  Roast in the preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes. 

Melt the remaining butter in the same bowl in the microwave.  Add the asparagus cuts and the chicken pieces, along with the remaining salt and pepper. Lay them  out amongst the potatoes, opening up the chicken and scattering the asparagus evenly in the pan.  Spread 1 tsp of honey over each piece of chicken.  Top each with a sprig of thyme.  Top with a lemon slice.  Scatter any remaining thyme over the vegetables.

Roast for a further 17 to 12 minutes, until the chicken juices run clear when pierced with a fork in the thickest part.  Divide the chicken and vegetables between two heated dinner plates and serve with a wedge of lemon for squeezing, if desired.

This is so delicious I am always glad that it serves only two people because if I made any more of it, I would be temped to eat the lot, glutton that I am.  I do hope you will give it a go!  Bon Appetit! 

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Marie Rayner
Thai Chicken Salad  Roll Ups

Thai Chicken Salad Roll Ups

We eat a lot of chicken in our house and I am always looking for new things to do with it so that it doesn't get boring. I don't think that I, personally, could ever get bored of it, but my husband sure could!  (Men!)  I do like to please him if I can, so I am always doing different things with it to keep him happy about eating it!

Chicken is such a versatile ingredient.  You can do so much with it and it easily adapts itself to a large variety of different flavours and textures. Today Todd brought home a rotisserie chicken from Costco for us to have for our tea.

I had seen a recipe on the TABLESPOON site for Thai Chicken Salad Wraps that ticked all of my boxes and that I was very keen to try and so I decided to adapt the recipe to what I had in the house and give them a go.

I didn't have any full size tortilla wraps, so I made do with smaller ones and made them as cones.  This worked really well for me.  I also cut the recipe in half as there are only two of us. 

The original recipe used bagged coleslaw mix. I have never seen that over here, but that is not a problem because I have never minded shredding my own.  I prefer to shred by hand as grating it would make it far too fine a texture for this purpose.  I did grate my carrot.

The original recipe also called for using raw chicken breasts that you poach and cube, which you could certainly easily do.  I had already cooked chicken, so I skipped this step! 

I love chicken salad and I love Thai flavours, so this seemed like a win/win combination for me.  I also love wraps.

The dressing for this salad is really delicious.  It is a creamy peanut sauce, with sesame, soy, lime and coriander flavours, along with a bit of heat from some chili flakes.  It uses soft light brown sugar, but as I am a diabetic, I used  Sukrin Gold brown sugar substitute which worked fine.

Its actually pretty low carb, with the wraps so I would say fairly Diabetic friendly, with plenty of crunch from the vegetables and some from the peanuts, which (although high in fat) are a great source of additional protein.

They were really, really good, although if I make them again (and I really think I will as they are fabulously tasty) I will cut down a bit on the sauce/dressing as it was a bit too much for our liking. Overall however, I would call this a winner/winner chicken dinner!

*Thai Chicken Salad Roll Ups*
Serves 4

These tasty roll ups make a change from the usual chicken salad sandwich! Quick and easy to make as well as being delicious! 

375g shredded cooked chicken (3 cups)
150g hand shredded cabbage (I use a mix of white and red) (1 1/2 cups)
1 small carrot, peeled and shredded
3 spring onions, thinly sliced
3 TBS chopped fresh coriander leaf (cilantro)
3 TBS coarsely chopped dry roasted peanuts
3 TBS creamy smooth peanut butter
3 TBS soy sauce
3 TBS lime juice
3 TBS soft light brown sugar (I use a brown sugar substitute)
3 TBS light sesame oil
1 1/2 tsp minced fresh garlic
pinch hot pepper flakes
salt and black pepper to taste
lettuce leaves ( I like baby cos)
8 (6-inch) flour tortillas 

Place the chicken in a large bowl.  Add the cabbage, carrot, spring onions, coriander leaf and chopped peanuts.  Whisk together the peanut butter, soy sauce, lime juice, brown sugar, sesame oil, garlic, hot pepper flakes and salt and pepper to taste, until smooth. Pour over the chicken and vegetables and toss to coat completely. 

Lay out your tortillas.  Place a couple of lettuce leaves on each. Divide the chicken salad between each tortilla.  Fold up from the bottom and then from the sides to shape cones.  Fasten securely with toothpicks and serve immediately!

These are so delicious and very easy to throw together.  I just loved them and I think you will too!!  Bon Appetit!

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Marie Rayner
Lemon, Lime & Ginger Curd

Lemon, Lime & Ginger Curd

I have to say that one of my absolute favourite things is Lemon Curd.  I could sit down and eat it with a spoon.  I have always made my own. Its not all that hard to do and tastes unbelievably better than the store bought stuff.  Seriously.

I found myself with some lemons and limes that needed using up today and I had in mind to do a Lemon & Lime curd, but was a bit unsure as to what proportions of each I should use.  After doing a search I found what looked like a great recipe on the Waitrose site.  I decided to charge things up a bit however and add some fresh ginger root to the mix, as  I also had a knob  of that which needed using up.

The people at English Provender had once sent me some Lemon and Ginger Curd and it was very moreish, so I thought why not!

The end result was something so fabulous that I think you are really going to love it!  Its tart and sweet and has just a bit of gingery heat to it,  but not obnoxiously so.

This would make a fabulous filling for a cake I think  . . .  maybe even a banana cake . . .  hmmm . . .  the wheels are turning.  I also make a lovely lemon drizzle loaf which uses lemon curd, so I think I am going to try using some of it in that. (You will find that recipe in the same place as my regular lemon curd recipe. See link above.)

See how lovely and thick it is?  And that is while it is still a bit warm. It thickens up beautifully in the refrigerator.

Mmmm . . .  so tasty.  I had a huge Bon Maman jam jar from some jam I had gotten a while back at Costco and that is what I have used to store it in.  I think we will make pretty short work of this.

I couldn't resist trying some on top of a soda cracker just to taste it . . .  you know how it goes.  Oh boy.  This is one gorgeous curd!!

I hope you will give it a go. Making curd is not that easy if you follow the directions perfectly.  And even if your eggs do end up curdling a bit, its not the end of the world, just strain out the curdles. It will still be perfectly edible, but in all truth if you are careful and temper your eggs first, then that just won't happen!

*Lemon, Lime & Ginger Curd*
Makes 600ml (2 1/2 cups)

Creamy, tart and tangy.  This gorgeous spread is very simple to make and tastes fabulous spread onto warm scones or toast, between cake layers etc.

the finely grated zest and juice of 2 limes
the finely grated zest and juice of 3 lemons
1 inch piece of fresh ginger root, peeled and finely grated
250g caster sugar (1 1/3 cup)
125g butter, cut into small bits (1/2 cup)
4 large free range eggs, beaten

Place the grated ginger root, lemon and lime zests and juices into a heatproof bowl, large enough to fit over a pan of gently simmering water. Stir in the sugar and add the butter. Place over the simmering water and cook, stirring occasionally until the butter and sugar both melt. 

Whisk a bit of this hotter mixture into the beaten eggs to temper it, then slowly whisk the eggs back into the bowl of juices, etc. Make sure you don't forget to temper the eggs as you will end up with scrambled egg. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. This will take 20 to 25 minutes over water at a low simmer.  Stirring is not optional, you must stir it continuously or the mixture will not thicken evenly.  

Remove the bowl from the pan and strain the curd into clean and sterilised jars.  (This is not totally necessary, but I like to strain any solids out so that the mixture is completely smooth.) Cover and allow to cool completely before storing in the refrigerator. This will keep for about a week.  So I would give a jar away.  I am sure nobody will refuse it.

Note - It is possible to do this in the microwave by placing all of the ingredients into a bowl and cooking on high for five to six minutes, stirring at frequent intervals  until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon.  Jar and seal as above.  I have not tried this method myself, so cannot vouch for it.

I adapted this recipe from one I found on the Waitrose site for Tangy Lemon and Lime Curd.  I thought that fresh ginger would be a fabulous addition to the flavours and I was right! I love it when that happens! 

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Marie Rayner

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