It’s time to celebrate another hero gadget – something I truly could not get by without in the kitchen. It is time the spatula got its moment of glory. I like a spatula. I like scraping out every last bit of mixture, every last drop of soup, it makes me feel thrifty; I don’t like waste. Spatulas can be used one-handed. Spatulas are colourful. They are cheap. They are friendly. God bless ‘em.
I have five spatulas: one big yellow one made by Oxo Good Grips, which is perfect for scraping out every last bit of cake mixture from the bowl, and flexible and slim enough to lift and turn omelettes and pancakes. The two medium-sized ones – one red Le Creuset one with a wooden handle, one cheap and cheerful all-plastic – are both frequently grabbed at critical moments while cooking, for turning, scraping out the food processor bowl, or folding in an egg white or two. The fish-slice spatula (not pictured) I have is this beauty made by Chef’n – it is razor-thin and makes flipping burgers, fish, fried eggs etc a doddle. But my most favourite spatula is my tiny turquoise one. It measures no more than 15cm but is super-flexible, and so tiny it can be used to extract the last bit of jam from the jar, or the last bit of yogurt from the pot.
I also have a spoonula (yes, this is a word – apparently) which is a heat-safe silicone spatula with rounded edges and has a scoop like a spoon. Hurrah for the spoonula.
I looked online for spatulas. Wow. There are mini icing spatulas, double-ended spatulas, pastel-coloured spatulas, spatulas with faces, spatulas that look like fried eggs – they come in every shape and size. I think I am in love with this set of mini ones from US company Williams-Sonoma… (oh dear, what has happened to me?)
No one-handed cook should be without one – they are truly the mother of all utensils.
Disclaimer: I wasn’t paid or sponsored to feature any of these delightful spatulas – I just find them very useful and wanted to share!
1. Wake up to find two small people in bed with us
2. Get up, make breakfast for small people; return upstairs for shower and get dressed (jeans and top; luckily my office is casual)
3. Discuss the merits of the the Sam Silver Undercover Pirate series with son in kitchen while tidying
4. Help small daughter put milk, yogurt, butter back in fridge, which takes three times longer than if I’d done it myself :)
5. Put on load of washing (quick wash), remove washing from machine, hang up
6. Eat some breakfast (briefly sit down!), give up on coffee – no time
7. Quickly wash up a few items so I don’t have to come home to them later. No time to empty dishwasher
8. Go on to Young Vic website and spend ten minutes booking tickets for A Streetcar Named Desire – website is a pain, so takes ages. Simultaneously brush daughter’s hair with other hand. Get tickets! Whoop!
9. Brush small peoples’ teeth; brush own teeth
10. Realise have no make-up on; dash upstairs. Dash back downstairs to put packed lunch and book in son’s bag; kiss children goodbye, say goodbye to husband, who is taking children to childminder, while shouting last-minute instructions at each other ;)
11. Bin day!! Put bins out (eew)
12. Check emails – phew, nothing urgent
13. Write this and leave for work. Oooops, running late!! Still no time for make-up – taking bag with meeeeee
Byeeee! TOHC X
A few weeks ago I was contacted by a jolly-sounding chap called Giles from Honest Foods asking if I’d like to test-drive their snack delivery service. The idea is they send out monthly ‘Snackoria’ (their word for a box of heavenly snack products) to anywhere that the postie can reach. They use exclusively British produce, trying to give the small producers that they work with a chance.
As someone who prides herself on packing snacks for every occasion – my kids are seemingly always ‘huuuungry’ – I was delighted to try the February box. And it contained a rather lovely array of treats, including some lovely popcorn, some delicious chilli & lime baked nuts from Liberation, which is the UK’s only Fairtrade nut supplier, and a 9 Bar (always a winner). I was less keen on the Clearly Scrumptious Simply Golden Berries, which I found too tart, and the shortbread, which was billed as ‘finest’ was nothing special.
I am told that March’s box included the following delicacies:
A Gingerbread man
Willie’s Cocoa Ginger & Lime Chocolate
Captain Tiptoes’ Chilli Harissa Nuts
Perry Court Farm Tangy Apple Crisps
A fruity O-Bar
Melting Pot fudge (award winning!)
I applaud the values and enthusiasm of this young vibrant company, which has a clear ethos and also a personality. I also like the focus on British produce and British companies. For £9.99 a month this would be worth a try for a serious snack-a-holic.
Also worth noting – the snacks come packed in a lovely, fun box which feels like a gift has arrived, particularly after a night of broken sleep with a cold-ridden child :(
Disclaimer: I was sent the Snackorium box to try for free. All views are my own. The Lego gingerbread man sadly didn’t come in the box!
Having read all the recent articles about how sugar is the devil and we must all give it up immediately, I started thinking about the amount of sugar I consume, and how much the children eat. Not only is it bad for their health (as sugar-laden foods tend to be low in nutrients in general), it’s so bad for their teeth.
I am aware that when checking your diet for ‘hidden sugar’ breakfast cereal is often the culprit, and I will admit that my kids do often eat Cheerios (or the own-brand equivalent), Special K (ditto) and granola, which I know are high in sugar. I am no saint! However, I do put my foot down when it comes to chocolatey cereals and Frosties. I console myself with the fact that every morning they also eat fresh fruit, wholemeal toast or ricecakes with homemade jam or peanut butter (the no-sugar variety) and in my book, this cancels out the evil cereal. And often, in fact, they will forego the cereal for porridge or scrambled eggs, which they adore. Whatever they eat, they brush their teeth pretty well afterwards.
I never buy fruit juice because it’s high in fructose, or fruit sugar (read Zoe Harcombe’s website if you’re interested in the effect of fructose on the body) and so they drink milk or water.
I also never buy fruit yogurts because they are invariably laden with extra sugar. When it comes to yogurt, from a very young age I only really gave the littles plain (natural) full-fat yogurt with a variety of toppings – yes, fruit, but also (tiny) swirls of honey, nuts and homemade compotes. I like knowing what they are eating. Without coming over all righteous mum I would simply never buy a children’s-character-branded yogurt or fromage frais. The second ingredient in the Peppa Pig fromage frais is sugar. Each tiny 45g pot contains approx. 1½ teaspoons of the stuff. Not an insignificant amount.
So if you are interested weaning your child off sweetened yogurts, or indeed weaning your baby onto plain yogurt, I thought it would be nice to suggest a few yogurt toppings. The best plain, natural yogurt is Yeo Valley, in my opinion, and I have tried them all. Sainsbury’s and Waitrose do a good own-brand Greek yogurt. Personally, I find Rachel’s and Total a bit chalky.
I asked food writer and author Bee Wilson, who recently wrote a piece about Greek yogurt in Stella magazine, about how she likes to eat yogurt, and she told me she once visited a primary school where they had yogurt toppings on offer – dried fruit, fresh fruit, compote and so on, rather like an ice-cream bar, so you could jazz up your yogurt, which is such a lovely, healthy image. Her favourite yogurt is whole milk yogurt, topped with blackcurrant jam, a dash of double cream and a sprinkling of toasted pumpkin seeds. Sounds utterly divine!
With the ice-cream bar image in my mind, rather than simply plonking some cut-up banana on top of the kids’ pudding at tea-time tonight, I presented them with bowls of yogurt and a colourful ‘yogurt bar’, with pomegranate seeds, blueberries, toasted flaked almonds (I didn’t toast ‘em, Waitrose did) and cut-up dried mango. They absolutely LOVED it, and merrily sprinkled and chatted and devoured their pudding. Make healthy food fun for kids and everyone enjoys the experience!
Ideas for yogurt toppings:
- homemade fruit compote (apple, apple and blackberry, rhubarb)
- homemade or high fruit content shop-bought jam
- berries, cut-up apple, banana slices, chunk of orange
- cut-up dried fruit, or raisins/sultanas (go easy though, dried fruit high in sugar!)
- tiny swirls of runny honey (my children love it when I ‘draw’ their initial in honey on top)
- nuts and seeds (be careful with younger babies as these could be a choking hazard)
Have fun topping your yogurts!
How can it be Pancake Day again already? Where oh where has the last year gone? Perhaps it was my friend, who I admittedly haven’t seen for two years, exclaiming ‘Ooh, you’ve got some grey hairs’ at the weekend, or perhaps it’s the fact that my husband is rapidly approaching the big 40 (which we aren’t allowed to talk about) but I am feeling a tad spooked by the passing of time. Hey ho.
And so because it is Shrove Tuesday we will be making pancakes later, and I have been testing out some pancake-making kit, which was kindly sent to me by Oxo Good Grips, who have invented a rather ingenious device called a batter dispenser. This is a brilliant idea, but one I cannot endorse fully as it requires more washing up (something I am never fond of) but it is really clever, the idea being that you make your pancake mixture and then decant it into the dispenser, from which you can accurately dispense the right amount of batter into the pan – one-handed! Big tick. You can also store unused batter in it overnight in the fridge – handy.
The best new pancake gadget I have been sent, however is the Oxo Good Grips Flip & Fold Omelette Turner which is completely and utterly awesome. It is the perfect wide bendy spatula to ease around the edge of your pancake before you effortlessly flip it. It is amazing. I love it. And it’s yellow!
Every time I make elaborate pancake fillings I always come back to the old favourites of lemon and sugar, or cheese & ham, it must be said, but if you fancy something exotic, there are a million recipes on the Sainsbury’s website here. I did recently invent Apple Cinnamon Pancakes, which were rather good, and so here is the recipe. Almost guaranteed to cheer you up and make you feel less old :)
Apple Cinnamon Pancakes
First make a classic pancake batter using:
100g plain flour
30g butter, melted
15g caster sugar
1. Melt the butter over a low heat or using the microwave.
2. Whisk the eggs with the milk and melted butter.
3. Put the flour and sugar in a bowl and slowly pour in the wet ingredients, whisking as you go until your batter is lovely and smooth. If in doubt, blend using a stick blender.
4. Heat your non-stick pancake pan (I have a Sainsburys 24-cm pancake pan which is is perfect) and add a tiny knob of butter. When it starts to bubble, pour in enough mixture to cover the base of the pan, tipping the pan to cover it evenly.
5. Leave to cook for a minute or so (don’t be hasty) then flip and cook the other side. Flip in the air if feeling carefree.
For the Cinnamon and Apple bit, simply peel, core and slice an eating apple, and gently cook in some butter in a small frying pan. Add a teaspoon of caster sugar and half a teaspoon of cinnamon and stir. Cook until the apple is soft and melty. Top your pancake with the apple mixture and some creme fraiche. Delish.
Disclaimer: I was sent the pancake-making kit by Oxo Good Grips to test for the blog. All opinions are my own.
It’s been a while since I wrote about a hero gadget of mine, so I started thinking about equipment in the kitchen I literally could not live without. It dawned on me that of course, I had to write about my freezer. Duh. It is singularly the most useful thing that any busy parent can own. Make friends with your freezer. Feed your freezer. Fill it with food. It will repay you with unimagined riches!
In my 20s my ‘freezer’ was a small box at the top of the fridge, in which we kept ice cubes for gin & tonics, a tub of Häagen-Dazs and maybe a small bag of peas. Fast-forward 15 years or so, and while ice cubes and the peas are still there, my relationship with my – much bigger – freezer has taken on a whole new dimension.
The joy of being able to reach into it and pull out a labelled container full of homemade soup, or a little tub of pasta sauce or a casserole, carefully divided into portions (some adult sized, some kid sized) is truly a thing of wonder. Of course, it requires some work in terms of stocking it, and labelling it all, but it still honestly feels like magic sometimes. You forget the time spent making the dish, and just feel a huge sense of gratitude that tonight’s dinner is already made. All you have to do is remember to take it out of the freezer in the morning. (It also gives me a reason to buy clip ‘n’ lock containers – hurrah!)
I don’t tend to batch cook specifically for the freezer, although I do sometimes if we have a glut of vegetables from the Riverford box, when I’ll make some butternut squash soup or a veg curry or whatever. But when I cook a one-pot dish, I’ll squirrel away a portion here, or a couple of portions there, knowing how handy they’ll be when we are late home from after-school and Biggest is ‘starving’.
The other thing I have learnt in recent years is that you can freeze practically anything. Between my freezer-obsessed mother-in-law (she has two) and this brilliantly practical book, How to Freeze by Carolyn Humphries, (I have the old edition) I have been merrily freezing all kinds of things. And so, I give you my Busy Person’s Top 5 Things to Freeze list. Wild.
1. Cheese. Can you freeze cheese? Of course you can. I have discovered that most cheeses freeze really well, particularly soft French ones (Brie, Camembert etc). They should be just ripe when you freeze them, and need to be really well wrapped. Defrost and bring to room temperature before serving. Cheddar cheese is best frozen grated. A handful or two is perfect for a quick cheese sauce for cauliflower or pasta – just use from frozen!
2. Soup. Don’t forget to leave a little headspace between the top of liquid foods and the rim of the container when you freeze liquids, as they expand by about 10% when frozen. Soup freezes really well – just cool it quickly and get it in the freezer as soon as you can.
3. Smoothie ice lollies. Make or buy 100% fruit smoothies and freeze in ice-lolly containers. Instant healthy frozen goodness. No added sugar.
4. Onions. Sometimes you get on an onion-chopping roll. Sometimes. If you’ve got to chop some for a dish you’re making, do a couple of extra ones, then blanch the chopped onion in boiling water for one minute, then drain and plunge immediately in a bowl of iced water. Drain again and dry on sheets of kitchen roll. Freeze in small portions in freezer bags. Next time you can’t face chopping onions, you don’t need to – just use straight from the freezer.
5. Purée for baby. Probably lots of you are doing this already, but it really is very simple. Cook if necessary (juicy fruit can be puréed raw), freeze in ice-cube trays, and once frozen, turn out into freezer bags and label. Defrost on the side or in the microwave.
I thank you *takes a bow*
I will soon be following this up with the Top 5 Things to Keep in Your Freezer.
Happy freezing, folks!
I have been thinking about one-handed breakfasts lately – things you can successfully put together with a baby in one hand. I’ve managed scrambled eggs, toast (tricky to butter, mind) and porridge. Yippee. There is life after kids. OK, it’s not quite up to The Wolseley standards, (check out their breakfast menu here – OMG!!) but it does us just fine.
I love breakfast. In fact, I often start planning it the night before. Whether it’s soaking porridge oats in water in advance (helps them cook quicker), making pancake batter and sticking it in the fridge to save time, or simply laying the breakfast table to make for an easier morning – I am all about making breakfast easy, and tasty. It sets you up for the day, it’s a chance to sit down together, if only briefly, and just check in with each other.
I like trying new things for breakfast – Spelt Flakes are a new favourite, for instance, and we always have fruit – cut-up apple or orange, or maybe banana or blueberries – and the children drink milk or water. I don’t buy fruit juice. I will drink a cup of Assam tea first thing, and have coffee later on.
So I wanted to share a recipe for something else I like at breakfast: muffins. These banana pecan ones are really easy and not too sweet. The pecans give them a protein kick, which is a good energy booster for kids. You can’t make them one-handed, but you can make them in stages; get the dry ingredients all ready, then the wet, and then simply mix together. And no, you don’t need to be a chef – they are really easy!
Breakfast Banana Pecan Muffins
250g self-raising flour
75g pecans, chopped
1tsp baking powder
75g light brown sugar
1 ripe banana, mashed
1 egg, beaten
100ml vegetable oil
250ml whole milk
You will need a 12-hole muffin tin
What to do:
- Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6
- Sift the flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl and stir in the pecans, the sugar and the cinnamon.
- In a separate bowl, mix together the wet ingredients.
- Combine the dry and wet ingredients in one bowl, mixing swiftly. The mixture can be quite liquid, don’t worry.
- Sprinkle some granulated sugar on top.
- Fill your muffin cases about three-quarters full, and then bake for 25-30 minutes.
Perfect for a quick breakfast or mid-morning with a coffee.
If you have any one-handed breakfasts you make – do share them.
Have a nice breakfast!