Chocolate Hazelnut Spread

When I was a kid we used to eat chocolate hazelnut spread (specifically Nutella!) everyday after going to the corner store to buy fresh Italian bread. My friend Kim’s Mom would slice big fat slices of bread and we would slather on the Nutella every afternoon as soon as we got home from school.  My Dad would make crepes (“Palacinka” – which are a Slovak version) and he would sprinkle lemon and sugar or Nutella on them for me and jam on them for him! Of course you can buy spread in the store but, I like my version because I know the quality of ingredients is higher and I know what’s not in them! preservatives.

I was just recently in Milan and Genoa and when in Eataly I found an entire shelf of better quality versions but in most North American places it might be difficult to find anything other than the basic versions. I did find an Organic version in my local grocery story but why not try making your own. It makes a nice gift and can be used in Crepes, on Croissant or even melted and poured over Ice Cream!!

If you want to use a different type of nut or a combination of nuts go ahead !! experiment away!

You will need:

  • 1 cup of hazelnuts  (if you have hazelnut butter you can use that instead)
  • 12 oz of Milk Chocolate (or of course you can make the dark version)
  • 1 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 3 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil – I used Bondolio from California
  • 1 tsp Vanilla extract (pure never artificial)
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp pure maple syrup

I made both a milk chocolate and a dark chocolate version.

Step 1: place hazelnuts ( also sometimes called filberts) on a baking sheet and toast for 8 -12 minutes – turn them halfway and be careful to watch they do not burn. Once they come out of the oven place in a clean tea towel (kitchen towel) and try to rub some of the outer husk off- I never get them clean if the hazelnuts are fresh so don’t worry if there is lots left on. I leave the husks and place the somewhat cleaned nuts in the food processor or a good quality blender to make into butter. If you happen to find hazelnut butter you ca use that and skip this step.

 Step 2: I like to line up all my measured ingredients  so that I don’t forget anything. Remember this was a double recipe because I made one in the traditional milk chocolate and the other dark chocolate.

Step 3: I washed a few little jars for my finished spread. Although these are cute I would suggest a plain glass jar so that you can microwave for 10-30 seconds to get the spread more liquid when you want to use it. Because there are not preservatives in the spread it will thicken and harden especially if you keep it in the fridge. You can microwave for a few seconds before spreading which brings it back to is almost liquid consistency. It is essentially a nut butter with chocolate.

 Step 4: you will need to be patient for this step. The nuts will turn into a powder and you should stop the machine every 30 seconds to 1 minute and scrape down the sides until eventually it will turn into a thick butter. This takes about 5 minutes in total.

Step 5: in a heat proof container melt the chocolate in the microwave for 1 minute then stir, melt again for 30 seconds and stir and only if necessary melt for a final 30 seconds.

 Step 6: Mix in a large bowl the nut butter, the melted chocolate, the Extra Virgin Olive Oil (or you can add melted butter) pure vanilla extract, salt, cinnamon and maple syrup.

 Step 7: place in a glass jar (so that you can melt safely when it solidifies. It is not safe to melt things in the microwave in plastic containers.

 This is a better glass jar because there is no metal (you have to remove the metal from the other jars so they are safe to microwave) They are not as pretty but way easier to melt so that the spread becomes like a thick melted chocolate butter.


Fire Roasted Salsa

You can make this salsa anytime! It is a simple salsa made with canned fire roasted tomatoes and a few other ingredients. Get out the food processor and in a few minutes you are done!

You will need:

  • 1/2 -1 fresh jalapeno pepper (ha- la payn-yo! pepper)
  • 1/4 -1/2 white onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • a handful of fresh cilantro/coriander
  • 1/2 tsp canned chipotle in adobo sauce
  • 1 fresh lime juiced
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste – it needs more salt than you think- so taste!
  • 1 8 oz can of fire roasted tomatoes
  • tortilla chips

Step 1: I add the jalapenos, onion, garlic and cilantro to the food processor first. I do chop most things at least a bit before adding it to the machine. Chop.

Step 2: add the salt and chipotles (you can buy them in a can or a jar typically) they are very hot so start with less and add more if you like.

Step 3: add the lime juice, olive oil, and finally the tomatoes.  Taste and adjust the salt and pepper as necessary. I also like mine with lots of lime.

Serve in a pretty bowl and get the Tequila baby!!

Habanero Chili Oil and Fire Paste – Honduras

I just came back from Honduras recently where I learned how to make this Habanero oil and Fire Paste from my friends Cathy and Randy. This is seriously hot stuff but, if you have a taste for heat this is the oil or paste you can add to your favorite hot dishes. Randy calls the paste Peanut Butter!! Ya, just a bit different!….I added 1 tsp to a  pot of tomato sauce and it was hot enough for me. You could do this with any chilies you like or you can use a variety for a medley of flavors.

Step 1:Freezing the Habaneros, also called Scotch Bonnets makes them easier to handle. Cathy just cuts off the tops and slices them in half. If you want to remove the seeds and membranes it will reduce the heat a wee bit (we are talking Habaneros!)

Step 2: spread out evenly on an un-greased tray and bake for 12-15 hours on 170 degrees F. It must be a low, slow drying out or you can burn them. Turn them every 6 hours or so just so they do not burn.

Step 3: once they are dry, use a wooden spoon to crush into flakes.

Step 4: add the flakes to a Mason jar and top with olive oil to cover. Let sit for a few weeks to months (Randy leaves his for a few months to get really hot!) Strain for the oil and use the “peanut butter” sparingly for a different level of heat in foods. Use cautiously!!

A few food shots from Trujillo, Honduras. If you find yourself in Trujillo you must go to Mermaids Restaurant at Campo Del Mar!! awesome Fish and Chips and Chicken Sandwiches. Nautico , Luisa’s and Caravida Club Cafe all on the beach road!! and Hotel Casa Alemania in town.

Mermaid’s is a gorgeous spot right on the beach at Campo Del Mar Beach Club. You can spend the day playing at the beach and enjoying a great meal, swimming in the pool or visiting the animals in the rescue sanctuary or see the botanical gardens!

Here are some lobsters fried in a batter at Nautico Restaurant on the beach road.

fried chicken won tons


Fried  Tostones (plantains)

My favorite beer is an ice cold Port Royal!


Preserved Lemons and a Lemon Couscous Recipe


Preserved lemons are easily made with just two things: lemons and salt. They keep for months in the fridge and you typically use the skin in your Middle Eastern dishes. Try making a batch you will never want to buy them. Before using them you rinse off the salt and remove the flesh and pith, eating the thin skin. This is a good place to use Organic lemons since you are eating the skin once preserved.



You will need:


  • a clean jar- sterilized in boiling water 5 minutes
  • lots of kosher salt
  • lemons as many as will fit in your jar



Step 1: wash your lemons. I suggest organic for this application but, if you are using non organic than wash the skins with a mild soap and water before using.


Step 2: slice down each lemon to almost the end (but don’t cut all the way through!) Make two slices to create 4 quarters. Fill as much Kosher or sea salt you can into the center.



Step 3: jam as many lemons as you can into a clean, sterilized jar. Sprinkle a bit more salt and seal.



Place in fridge for at least a month. Shake every once in awhile to distribute juice and salt. After a month rinse before using and slice off the outer skin to use in your favourite dish.



I made a couscous salad with mine



  • 2/3 cup dry couscous
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1/2 onion
  • 1/2 preserved lemon – use skin only
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 2 tbsp chopped basil
  • 1/4 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
  • salt/pepper to taste


Step 1: rinse under cold water and remove flesh and most of the pith. Chop skin.



Step 2: in a pan heat olive oil and toss couscous to toast for a minute or two.



Step 3: add boiling water, cover and remove from heat. Leave at least 5 minutes, once done fluff grains with a fork.



Step 4: in a small pan saute onions with salt and pepper until just starting to develop some browned edges.  Remove from heat and chop fine and add parsley, basil and lemon.




Step 5: toast pumpkin seeds in same pan for a few minutes.



Toss all ingredients and add a bit of fresh olive oil and perhaps a squeeze of lemon juice.

















Spiced Olives


This is not really a recipe. It is a good way to jazz up some store-bought mixed olives. I like to add some lemon and orange zest, some chili flakes, fresh garlic and often some fresh herbs. Add some good olive oil and you have taken your grocery store olives to the fancy section. You can even warm them for a nice touch!


You will need:



  • some olives – I like to mix all kinds
  • some good extra virgin olive oil
  • lemon zest
  • orange zest
  • chili flakes
  • garlic – 1 clove
  • fresh herbs like rosemary and thyme or a bit of dry herbs like Italian seasoning
  • a splash of sherry vinegar
  • other options: coriander seeds or fennel seeds


Step 1: I like to just add everything into the container and mix. Taste and adjust as you like. Drain out the store-bought brine or oil and add better stuff.



You can store them in the fridge or heat them slightly on low heat in a  pan on the stove. Great served as an appetizer or on your favorite antipasti platter.






Pistachio Pesto


This is a fresh pesto made with pistachios, basil, parsley and Parmesano Reggiano tossed over spaghetti. Makes a lovely lunch or dinner and if you have extra freezes well for another meal. You can try making  pestos with all different nuts and fresh greens.


You will need:


  • dry spaghetti – cooked al dente according to package.
  • a big handful of fresh basil
  • a big handful of fresh parsley
  • 1 cup shelled pistachios
  • 3/4 cup – 1 cup excellent quality extra virgin olive oil – I used an Italian Titone
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesano Reggiano-more for serving
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • reserve at least 1/2 cup starchy pasta water before draining pasta

This recipe is good for 1 box of pasta to serve 4 servings (or 6 appetizers portions) I cooked half a box and saved some to freeze for later



Step 1: start with good ingredients. The list is small and the recipe is uncomplicated however, the quality of the oil, the cheese and pasta are important because they are the stars here.


Start by boiling salted water in a large pot for spaghetti.



Step 2: in a food processor add basil, parsley, pistachios and garlic. Puree until chopped finely.



Step 3: pour in olive oil and mix until pureed and smooth (don’t go too far – it should have small pieces of nuts still visible)



Step 4: place in a large bowl and add Parmesan and mix. Taste it and add salt and pepper as you like it. If it is too dry add more oil. I removed about half to freeze and left half to toss with my spaghetti for 2 servings. If you are cooking for 4 you will probably use a full box of pasta and all the pesto.



If you are freezing some place in a plastic container and add a bit more oil and a small sheet of wax paper directly on top to keep the pesto a nice bright green colour.



Step 5: add the hot drained pasta to the bowl with the pesto on the bottom and toss. Add some of your reserved pasta water to loosen sauce and thin out if it is too thick. Mix and serve.



Top with fresh grated Parmesan and serve immediately.









Bagna Cauda


Bagna Cauda which means “hot bath” in Italian is a warm dip made in many variations. It consists of good olive oil, garlic and anchovies and is served warm with a variety of vegetables and bread. Many people dip the vegetable in the Bagna Cauda and hold the bread under it to catch any oil and then they eat the oil soaked bread. You can also add some cold chicken slices to make a lovely lunch.


You will need:


  • 2 anchovies in oil
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tsp capers
  • 1/2 cup great olive oil – I used Mandranova Nocellara which is gloriously green and fresh.
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • pinch of chili flakes (optional)
  • 1 tbsp fresh parsley – chopped fine
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • assorted vegetables
  • fresh crusty bread


Step 1: slice and arrange vegetables of your choice on a nice platter.



gather all other ingredients



Step 2: in a food processor or blender add anchovies, garlic and capers. Puree and then add olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon. Puree again for a few seconds.



Step 3: scrape out food processor with a spatula and place mixture in a small sauce pan. Heat on low and cook 5 minutes until mixture separates.



Step 4: chop parsley and add to mixture along with chili flakes if you like. Taste and add salt and pepper as you like.



Serve warm. You can also serve in a small fondue pot to keep warmed.











Balsamic Jelly

This balsamic jelly is great under a slice of grilled pork tenderloin or topped on a bit of cheese and crackers and is very simple to make so why buy a jar. I have made both a White Strawberry Balsamic Jelly and a regular balsamic jelly. I prefer the lovely sweet sour taste of the Strawberry Balsamic which tastes great in chicken dishes or again with a bit of cheese and crackers.



You will need:

  • 1 cup balsamic vinegar -regular or try White Strawberry Balsamic – I used Lucero from California which is very nice
  • 1 pkg unflavoured gelatin
  • 1/4 cup honey






This is the white strawberry balsamic version



This is a regular balsamic version



Step 1: in a small pan add balsamic vinegar, honey and sprinkle a package of unflavoured gelatin over the top. Leave 5 minutes. Do not turn on heat for this 5 minutes. Turn on heat and stir to dissolve gelatin and melt honey. Let heat for 2-3 minutes just until everything dissolves.



Step 2: pour into a clean jar and let cool. Store in fridge to let firm up.



Use as a jelly or add to something you are cooking. I like this under a slice of roasted pork tenderloin and I have also used a spoon of it while I am cooking slices of chicken to top a warm salad and I have also used it under a slice of cheese on a cracker.









Maple Bourbon Baked Beans


I have to admit I never grew up eating baked beans and the thought of eating any from a can just sounds truly unappealing.  I just do not understand the attraction of eating baked beans at all. Big Pete asked me to make some bourbon baked beans the other day because he used to eat them as a kid on little pieces of toast and he just had a hankering for some. I said sure since this is only the second time in 25 years he has ever asked for them. I made them from scratch (cause there was no chance we eating the ones from a can) and if you give them the time and love they need they can be quite tasty, with the salty bacon or ham and the sweet sticky gravy although they are still not something I would have to eat anytime soon. If you love them you might just really like these.


You will need:


  • 2 cups dried navy beans
  • 1 onion – diced
  • 3 tbsp good olive oil
  • 3 slices great quality Maple Ham – mine is from The Old Country Sausage Shop-Raymond. AB
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup coffee
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 cup bourbon
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • (more water as it cooks)
  • salt and pepper at the end if necessary.


Step 1: cover your dried beans by a few inches with cool water and let soak overnight until plumped and re-hydrated. Add more water if necessary. Drain and rinse beans.



Step 2: cover beans by an inch with cool water and bring to a boil and then gently simmer for 1 1/2 hours. You may need to add more water. Slowly gently cook them and do not add any salt at this stage. Drain beans and set aside.



Step 3: in the same pot add the onions and olive oil and cook 10 minutes until some of the water has cooked out and just starting to brown.



Step 4: chop a few slices of bacon or salty ham. I used a smoked, maple ham. Chop and add to onions.



Step 5: add all remaining ingredients to the pot, including the beans. Stir to combine and set on medium low to cook slowly. This can be done in a slow cooker or in the oven as well.



Cook slowly for another 3-4 hours adding more water if they get too thick. In the end they will be thick and sticky. Serve on toast for the old-fashioned Canadian/American experience.










Charmoula on Baramundi


Charmoula is a condiment that is common in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. It is a sort of salsa or some people puree it to create a marinade that is delicious on fish or chicken or even toasted bread. It has tomatoes, peppers, chilies, mint, cilantro, parsley, great olive oil and loads of spices.



You will need:


  • 2 pieces white fish – I used a Baramundi
  • 4 tbsp olive oil – I used a strong Spanish Fuenroble
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 chili d’arbo flakes
  • 1/4 tsp ancho chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • pinch of saffron in 2 tbsp hot water
  • handful fresh mint
  • handful fresh cilantro
  • 1 chopped tomato
  • 1/2 cup chopped jarred peppers- I used 1/2 small jar
  • handful of parsley
  • 1/2 lemon zested and juiced
  • 1 tsp fresh grated ginger
  • 2 spring onions
  • salt/pepper to taste




Step 1: in a small pan add good olive oil. I have used a strong, fresh Spanish olive oil. Do not be afraid of a strong oil the more you use them the more you will love them. Add ground coriander, chili flakes or chili d’arbo ground (but use half as much), ancho chili flakes and cumin seeds. Cook 1-2 minutes and set aside off the flame.



Step 2: in 2 tbsp hot water add a pinch of saffron. Let bloom while you chop all your ingredients.




Step 3: chop mint, cilantro, tomato, roasted peppers (you can use jarred or fresh roasted), parsley, lemon zest and juice, grated ginger and your garlic oil and saffron. Mix.



Taste it and add salt and pepper.



Prepare your fish by quickly cooking in some olive oil, the oven or on the grill. (mine was frozen, then thawed) I have added some salt, pepper and old bay seasoning to mine. Cooked for a few minutes on each side. You can prepare any vegetables you like or a fresh salad. The point is to add lots of fresh veggies to the plate.




Spoon over some of your charmoula and be prepared to be amazed and how complex and fresh this topping is from the saffron to the fresh herbs and good oil!!