Sunday 14 June 2015

crackers-on-top lazy pasta bake

I still hadn't quite got my menu-planning mojo working the next day, and also hadn't made it to the shops yet, so i decided to see what we could find locally to make into a meal.  We are very lucky that on the way home from school there is a really nice Greek shop with a deli counter, fresh meat, and fresh bread and pastries.

I asked Littl'Un if she had any suggestions of what she'd like to eat, mainly because she's been going through a phase of not being interested in meals, and taking forever to eat a tiny portion.  I hoped that getting her to suggest something would give her more encouragement to eat better.  She remembered that we had opened a pack of crackers at the weekend, only to find they were all crushed, and she had suggested we could use them as a crunchy topping for a pasta bake.  People who know me will be aware that for some reason, I have an aversion to boiling and draining pasta, so I wondered if I could again adapt Gill Holcombe's brilliant "chuck it all in" pasta bake recipe.

We bought a small pack of happy pork mince, a jar of passata, and a little pot of lovely thick Greek yoghurt at the Greek shop, and then I set to work.

I fried the mince in the much loved oven-proof dish.  Once browned, I then flavoured it with some fennel seeds.  Once the heady aniseed sweetness was apparent, I added some garlic too.  Once that was soft and mellow, I poured in the passata with some stock, and then stirred in the weighed out amount of dry pasta for the family.  This all then came back to the boil quite quickly, and I stirred in the pot of yoghurt.  Littl'Un was in charge of scrunching the broken crackers, in this case a rather battered pack of black pepper and cheddar Ryvita thins, and spreading them on top, and I sprinkled a scant handful of grated cheese on top for extra scrummyness.

I popped this in the oven at 200 degrees and left it for 40 minutes.  After this time, the pasta was cooked, and the top was brown and crisp, and the meat and sauce had made a gooey unctuous filling.

We served this up with some nice green veggies on the side, and everyone thoroughly enjoyed it! And Littl'Un was the first to finish her plateful, AND she asked for seconds too!!

Saturday 13 June 2015

emergency oven no-sotto

After the laid back approach to meals we had during half term, I got a bit caught out and forgot to go shopping or make a menu plan, and then suddenly it was Monday and the girls had Rainbows and Brownies, so no time to nip to the shops and I really didn't want sandwiches!
I had a half pack of bacon in the fridge, and a few cherry tomatoes, and plenty of cheese, so my first thought was the oven risotto which I make quite often. But oh no! No risotto rice! Now, I really don't think this would be right with basmati, (even though I always have loads, I'm not sure my head would cope) but I did have a few of the packs of quick cook mixed grains packs I have blogged about before.  Tesco and Waitrose definitely both have their own versions, which can be found in the whole foods sections.  They make a nice change from rice or couscous, and are very quick to cook, so I keep a few in the cupboard at all times.
So I got out a nice oven-proof, flame-proof pan, and fried the bacon (chopped up). I added some chopped onion and a little butter.  Once the onion was soft, I emptied the pack of the dry grains in, and stirred it well.  I then added a litre of stock and the halved cherry tomatoes.  Once this was boiling, I popped it in the oven for 18 minutes.  If I'd had a slightly narrower pan, I would have used the halogen, as it is cheaper to run than putting the full oven on. 
After the 18 minutes, the grains had absorbed the liquid and become plump and juicy, and I then stirred in some grated cheese.  
It was really delicious, and comforting and quick, and made a very interesting change from the usual oven risotto, and no one noticed the emergency even happened!

Friday 29 May 2015

Banana Oaty Buttermilk Muffins

I had a couple of bananas going black as usual, as it has been half term and so Tiny isn't having them routinely in the morning before the dog walk.  I also had a litre of Polish buttermilk in the fridge, which I love to buy as it is only £1 and lasts well and is great for waffles, scones, American "biscuits", lassi, and muffins.  Since we were doing a half term playgroup, I decided to throw together a nice healthy and filling muffin recipe to help blood sugar levels stay, well, um, level... So I found a recipe online, and tweaked it to fit my wishes and had these ready in no time! In fact, because I made mini muffins, the thing that took the longest was the spooning of a teaspoon of mixture at a time into tiny muffin tins, the making of the batter took no more than 10 minutes, including finding and measuring all the ingredients.

1 cup plain flour
1 cup wholemeal flour
1/2 cup caster sugar (I used a bit less and it was fine)
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarb of soda
1/3 cup normal porridge oats (we use Flahavans Organic, but bog standard Basics etc would be absolutely fine.)
2 tbs oat bran (optional)

The above are the dry ingredients.

1 cup buttermilk
1 cup well mashed banana. (I had 2 medium bananas, and I also mushed up a peeled pear which was likely to be ignored as it was bruised, but was perfect for smoothie-fying or similar)
2 tbs veg oil
1 egg

These are the wet ingredients.

First, heat the oven to 190 degrees C. Prepare the muffin tin/silicon either with a cooking spray or with muffin papers.

Stir  all the dry ingredients into a large bowl.

In a separate jug or bowl, whisk the wet ingredients well together.

Pour the wet over the dry, and stir quickly just until the mix is blended.  Do not overmix, do not beat or cream or whip like you would a cake mix; be gentle, and be very lax.

Spoon the mixture into the muffin cups, about 3/4 full.  With mini muffins this can be slow, about a teaspoon at a time, and you will need 2 trays.

Bake 10-15 mins for mini muffins and 15-20 for normal muffins, until a cocktail stick comes out clean when stabbed into the centre.

Cool in tins for 15 mins, then remove and cool completely on a rack.
Needless to say these are best within 24 hours.

Friday 22 May 2015


So now Tiny has been at Nursery School for a few months, he has started doing one full day a week. At first I was very worried about this, as he has been used to a hot meal at lunchtime and he has never been a fan of any sandwiches, and also because this issue has never come up for me before.  Big'Un never went to nursery, she went straight in at Reception and had school dinners and that was that.  Littl'Un did go to the Nursery but the rules and hours were different and so she only did 5 three-hour sessions a week. In other words, she did mornings in nursery and came home for lunch. She also has school dinners, and both girls love their hot school meals at lunch time. So I realised that to make this work, I was going to use my imagination and think laterally.
It dawned on me that if I don't have a hot meal to give him at lunchtime, I usually give him a what we call a "monkey plate" of bits and pieces of food from the various food groups, colourfully arranged on a plate with different sections. If I could translate this to a lunchbox, I was sure he would enjoy it. 
Then I discovered the amazing world of bento boxes. Bento is a very ancient Japanese type of snack box, with partitions to keep the various foods separate.  In modern day Japanese culture, there are thousands of websites and photosites of "kyaraben" - and although I find these cute, I honestly don't have the time or energy to prepare those, and also the ingredients and tools needed are impractical for our purpose.
So after a lot of research, and a few false starts, I found this amazing lunchbox, the Yumbox, which is perfect for Tiny. The latch is easy to open, it is leakproof, has separate sections with guidelines/reminders of the food groups to try to include and the lid stays open when you want it to.  
My lunch packing has evolved and I've learned to think outside the box (sorry, pun not intended!) and find small, packable, interesting, and most importantly, colourful foods to tempt him each week.  I post the pics on Instagram - #yumbox - every week, and on my Facebook and Twitter accounts and I shall try and blog them here too.  
Here is a selection of the few I've done so far.  I will admit that buying the silly food picks was a brilliant investment, as well as being a practical way for him to eat prepared foods.
Many of the foods are shop-bought and involve no effort at all. Each box took about 5 -10 minutes to assemble. 

Mini pork pies, mini picnic eggs, mini Goodies organix cake bars, Polish "Junior Safari" animal shaped crackers, slices of brioche, strawberries/raspberries/grapes mix, cucumber wedges and sweet radish halves. Yoghurt coated raisins and fruit hearts in the "treat pot".

"satay" chicken mini skewers (no peanut), flower shaped cheese sandwiches - half of which are threaded onto a pretzel stick skewer, animal crackers and the in-between pieces of sandwich stabbed onto the tops of more pretzel sticks. Cucumber/peppers/mushrooms. Strawberries and grapes. Iced gems and white choc buttons in the "treat pot"

Organic sausages (left over from supper, yes, I put a pig pick into the pork sausages. So sue me!) pieces of "dal vada" - a tasty lentil cake snack from South India; chapatti hearts; Minion biscuits; mini cucumber and carrot wheels; and strawberries and grapes. Yoghurt coated raisins in the treat pot.

I think this was the first Yumbox I made.  A mini snack roll with cheese, salami stick and a slice of salami, baby carrots, pre peeled mandarin with grapes, and iced gems in the treat pot.

In other boxes, I have also given leftover mini toads in the hole (home made); chicken goujons, hearts cut out of cheese, flowers cut from slices of carrot, baby sweetcorn circles, blueberries, oatcakes, dry cereal, mini crackers and even a bunny shaped boiled egg!

I think it is important to have fun, but not spend too much time, energy or effort. When your 3 year old only eats half of it, it is likely because you have provided too much in an effort to give enough variety, but I do find Tiny will happily finish anything that is left over once he gets home as his after-school snack, but it doesn't stop it feeling a bit deflating when you have spent ages making it to see it unravelled and half eaten, so quick and simple is less of a "set up" for that.

I'm really hoping the boxes and picks and other accessories become easier to get hold of. I firmly believe that having  variety of boxes or plates can make repetitive easy meals more interesting and fun details don't have to involve cutting facial features out of seaweed!

Tuesday 24 February 2015

Inge's Banana Hazelnut Cake

My parents have a lovely German neighbour called Inge.  She is just the perfect German grandma, and she comes to my Monday morning knitting group regularly, and makes me feel homesick talking about the typically German foods she enjoys.  She spoils my kids rotten and often has little bits and bobs for them, knits them lovely warm socks when she has odds and ends of sock wool to use up, and chats to them in a way they really enjoy.  One day we popped in to my parents' flat when they weren't there and her door was ajar with an amazing scent of baking wafting out.  As we were leaving, we couldn't resist knocking to say hello, and to enjoy the smell a bit more.  She was delighted to see us, as she'd baked a bundt type cake for her family and with the little bit of cake mix that hadn't fitted in her tin, she had made 3 little cakes for us!

I have to say the 2 bites of cake I got from the 3 kids just transported me to my childhood, and I just HAD to have the recipe.

I was delighted to be presented with the recipe, scanned from Inge's recipe scrapbook, clearly clipped from a magazine and lovingly kept.  All in German, but that's not a problem for me.  Anyway, I baked this recipe in heart shapes for Valentine's Day. It was delicious, and I wanted to share as it is easy, and slightly different.  We don't tend to use a lot of hazelnuts in the UK, and they are such a Germanic flavour.  So here we are:

Inge's Banana Hazelnut Cake

180g Butter
3 eggs, beaten
220g sugar
1 packet (about 5g) vanilla sugar
3 bananas
150g ground hazelnuts
300g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder


Soften the butter in a bowl and slowly add the beaten eggs, sugar and vanilla sugar.  Mash the bananas with a fork and add to the mixture along with the hazelnuts.
Sieve the flour and baking powder into the mixture and fold in.
Pour the batter into a greased ring tin, any excess can be made into small cakes.
Bake in a preheated oven 190 degrees  for 40 minutes for smaller cakes and an hour for the larger cake.

Thursday 22 January 2015

Butternut quinoa cashew pilaf

Very quick and easy and tasty way to use a butternut squash. 
Peel and dice a butternut squash and fry in a little olive oil with one finely chopped onion and a teaspoon of cumin seeds.
Once the onion is soft, and the squash is starting to colour and soften, add a teaspoon of Marigold powder and a pack of Pedon Bulgar and Quinoa mix or the same amount of quinoa from a packet.
Pour on about 3 mugsful of hot water and bring to the boil.  Cover and allow to simmer for 10 minutes, or follow the packet instructions.  Keep an eye on it so it doesn't boil dry though.
Add a mug of frozen peas, and half a mug of plain cashew nuts and switch off the heat but leave it to steam for 5 more minutes.  Stir well and serve.