If you can think ahead when it comes to preparing meals –whether for the children, to eat together as a family, or for two invariably tired parents, then you have already won half the battle in the kitchen, I find. It’s taken a while, but I have learnt that cooking ‘stage by stage’ is a great way of helping me feel like I am (kind of) on top of things. By ‘stage by stage’ I mean using little windows of opportunity when the little ones are asleep/occupied in their high chair/at school to get ahead – so, for example washing and chopping vegetables in advance and storing in the fridge, or pre-roasting root veg to stir into a salad or pasta dish – this helps make prepping supper one-handed with baby on your hip a breeze!
Being a spontaneous kind of girl, at first this notion of planning and doing meal prep in advance really went against the grain, but I have persevered, and now I find it an incredibly useful approach to cooking, especially given the hours I work, and the precious weekend time that I want to spend with the family.
If you can get into the habit of being organized, planning meals, and cooking in stages you will feel calmer and more in control in the kitchen. You will also find you spend less time trying to rustle up meals on the fly and cooking when it’s reached ‘tipping point’, i.e. when the children are hungry and whiny, which can, let’s face it, be very stressful. And no-one likes to be stressed in the kitchen!
To help you feel less stressed and more calm and in control in the kitchen, here are my top time-saving tips for busy people:
- Use the windows of opportunity available to you throughout the day to get ahead: prepare vegetables, make a white sauce, prepare the couscous – even just 5 minutes used well can help you cut down on cooking time later on.
- Keep a well-stocked store cupboard – this is one of the secrets to success in the kitchen. If you have a selection of ingredients to hand then you will always be able to prepare something quick, easy and interesting.
- Put aside some time to plan the week’s meals. Having an overview of who is eating what and when will help you plan the shopping and reduce waste.
- Don’t be afraid to take shortcuts if you are pressed for time and your week is going to be madly busy: no-one else is going to know (or likely care) if you buy ready-prepared vegetables. Don’t judge yourself either – do it and move on.
- Stock your freezer with practical things (bags of frozen veg, homemade stock for later use, prawns etc.) and also interesting bits and bobs so that even the most unexciting prospect can be transformed. A tin of tuna and some sundried tomatoes can suddenly look quite interesting served with some posh bread from the freezer and a drizzle of olive oil. (A tub of fancy ice-cream can go a long way, too…)
- Make double and freeze half for another meal. Stocks, curries, stews, pasta sauces and soups all freeze really well. Feel smug as you get it out the freezer next time :)
Let me know your time-saving tips!
Hope these help.
With special thanks to Jenny at The Gingerbread House for letting me reproduce her wonderful Playmobil clock photo to illustrate this post!
Last week while visiting the in-laws in Somerset I was given 2kg of plums by one of their neighbours who had so many Victoria plums she didn’t know what to do with them all. We’re talking plum city!
So anyway, bringing a huge box of plums back to London did rather focus the mind, and so I decided to make jam for the first time (more on that later…) and also to whip up some lovely plum muffins. I figured the slightly sourish plums would combine beautifully with white chocolate and make for a seriously gorgeous muffin – which they do. I think this is the fourth muffin recipe to appear on the blog, and quite possibly the best! The whole family loved them.
So once you’ve made them, pour yourself a coffee and enjoy – with or without the kids.
As chance would have it, Rix, the Aga fuel people, are running a competition around recipes featuring plums this month so I decided to enter these beauts in the Rix Aga Inspired Recipes competition. You can find more seasonal recipes from them here: http://www.rix.co.uk/aga-cooker-recipes/
I know, talk about timing ;)
Plum & White Chocolate Muffins
You will need:
250g plain flour
170g caster sugar
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
¼ tsp salt
1½ tsp baking powder
150ml plain or Greek yogurt (I used Greek)
2 free-range eggs
1tsp vanilla essence
12 ripe plums, stoned and flesh cut into chunks
75g white chocolate, chopped into small chunks (or use white chocolate chips)
zest of a lemon
dash of whole milk (optional)
poppy seeds to sprinkle on top
What to do:
- Preheat the oven to 190°C/170°C Fan/375°F and line your muffin tin with cases. (This will make about 12 muffins.)
- Melt the butter (in a bowl over a pan of simmering water) and set it to the side to cool while you mix together all your dry ingredients in a largeish mixing bowl with a wooden spoon – flour, sugar, bicarb, salt, baking powder.
- In a separate bowl mix your wet ingredients – the yogurt, eggs and vanilla essence – then add the cooled melted butter and stir.
- Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix together, but don’t overmix. Fold in the plums, white chocolate chunks and lemon zest. If it’s feeling a bit dry, add a dash of milk.
- Spoon the mixture into the muffin cases, filling each hole about two-thirds full, and sprinkle poppy seeds on top.
- Bake in the preheated oven for approx. 20 mins – test with a skewer – and cool on a wire rack.
These will keep for a couple of days in an airtight box. They also freeze well.
So the good old government has introduced free school lunches for all infants as of this September. Quite how some schools are going to cope with all the extra demand is unclear, but what is certain is that the packed-lunch-eaters are going to be in the minority.
Biggest (7) has always had a packed lunch and flatly refuses to eat a school dinner, which has obviously had an impact on Littlest (4) who is about to start school and, despite the offer of a free lunch, is adamant that she is having a packed lunch, too. I must confess, as much of a hassle as it sometimes is, I quite like them having a packed lunch as I a) know what they’re eating and it’s healthy b) I have to think of interesting things to put in it (this point can be good and bad) and c) I quite like all the packed lunch paraphernalia – lunchbox, cooler bag, drinks bottles etc. I think this taps into my food container obsession… (see my Twitter feed for more on this!)
I was, therefore, delighted to receive for review a Framboise Pink Yumbox from the UK distributor of these American-designed lunchboxes, which are styled on the traditional Bento box. The interior tray comprises six small compartments for different kinds of foods – grains, protein, dairy, fruit and vegetables, with an illustration and the name of each food group printed inside, as well as a small receptacle for dip, dressing or yogurt. I was quite excited to see you can pack wet foods (not liquid) in the Yumbox, as it’s leakproof, which is pretty cool.
My first impression was that is quite heavy. The plastic outer box is no heavier than your average lunchbox, but once you slot in the interior tray, and consider that it would then have food in it too, it is quite weighty in my opinion. Not off-putting, but heavier than the Sistema lunchbox I use for my son, for instance.
The next question was ‘Where does the sandwich go?’ – and this was my husband’s first question too. I can see this would be an issue for some, for whom a packed lunch equals a sandwich and few other bits. However, for my daughter, who while she is not a picky eater, doesn’t love huge sandwiches and prefers finger foods, I could actually see that this could really work for her. I like the compartments, which remind you to make the packed lunch healthy and interesting – ‘Have I added some vegetables?’ ‘What dip could I put in the little pot?’ – and the compartments are just the right size. Initially I thought they might be too small but they’re not, they’re just perfect for little ones (and big ones!) and this provides an ample lunch.
The first time we used the Yumbox was at the beginning of the summer. We went on a picnic with a group of friends, and I have to admit that it did get some ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ when I pulled it out the bag as it’s quite unlike anything else. All the other mums were very interested, and agreed that for little children in particular, eating this way i.e. a bit of this, and a bit of that, was very appealing. It looks really attractive, and filling the compartments makes you think about the visual look of the food and want to add a bit of colour from fruit or vegetables or add in different textures and interesting things because the compartments are so beguiling. Lunch becomes a visual feast and an exciting experience.
Littlest loved it – she actually ate more than she usually would – she is renowned for leaving half her roll or sandwich – and on this occasion she ate her cucumber and pepper, then her cherries and crackers and then the other bits and pieces and enjoyed dipping the vegetables into the mayonnaise.
I would say the Yumbox offers a new packed lunch or picnic experience and has its pros and cons. The interior tray is a bit of a faff to wash up, as you can’t really leave it to drain easily I found, as water gets in the nooks and crannies, so is probably best in the dishwasher (top rack). It is quite heavy, as mentioned, and it does require a different attitude to lunch, i.e. beyond the sandwich. Arguably this takes up more time, as you have to think what you’re going to put in the compartments, and some one-handed cooks (parents) may find that off-putting. But all in all, having gone on to use it several times over the summer, I think it’s great for the reasons above, not least because it makes you think about providing a balanced, healthy lunch and not just sticking a slice of ham between two slices of bread. I’ve used it myself to take lunch to work and it’s great if you are trying to reduce the amount of bread you eat, for instance.
For visual inspiration, go to the Yumbox website or look on Pinterest where there are a gazillion inspirational Yumbox photos – I am including a couple of photos of the lunches I made for Littlest over the summer, which are quite boring in comparison, but at least it shows that even with relatively ‘unexciting’ ingredients – ham, crackers, cherry tomatoes, olives, or cheese, cut-up rolls, beetroot and homemade chutney – you can create something visually appealing, healthy and portable. In short, lunch heaven.
The Yumbox retails at £24.95 and is available from the website in a variety of lovely colours.
With thanks to Yumbox www.yumbox-uk.co.uk for the chance to review this lunchbox.
More soon on my new obsession – jam-making and plums galore!
Disclaimer: I was sent a Framboise Pink Yumbox for free to review on The One-Handed Cook blog. All opinions are my own.
Ah, holidays… some see holidays as a chance to spend time together as a family, peacefully reflecting on the meaning of life, passing days quietly doing relaxing activities together… Hmm, not in this household. More like a chance to spend 24 hours a day together in a place that’s hotter than the sun (Spain), jump in swimming pools, eat far too many crisps, and cope with whining children who ‘just want to get this one thing’ from the tacky souvenir shop….
Ho ho. But seriously, Spain was great. We spent two days in Barcelona followed by eight down near Valencia, combining pool time with visits to the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, the waterpark in Cullera (fantastic fun) and, er, the local Carrefour. Yup, one of my holiday highlights was browsing the aisles in the local hypermarket – I spotted unusual bathmats, some lovely wicker baskets, some great clothes, and as for the kitchenware – there were gadgets I’d never even seen before (I didn’t think this was possible).
Frankly, you can’t beat a European supermarket. And what did I come home with from Spain? Yup, three mini storage containers in orange, yellow and green, ‘para las frutas’ – I couldn’t resist them, as I loved the bright colours. Truly rock n roll, baby.
Hasta la vista,
This fruit salad came together by accident – I had a lime that needed eating up and having had lunch at Mexican eatery Wahaca earlier in the week I felt inspired to give my fruit salad a bit of a Mexican twist, and we all loved it. We had it for breakfast outside last week – super-healthy and so delicious. The colours are simply amazing – look!
Warm weather seems to make it easier to eat more simply than usual and I’ve been whizzing up smoothies, throwing together delicious salads and keeping family food simple, just using delicious ingredients such as these fresh strawberries and ripe mangoes.
We’ve also been enjoying some lovely al fresco food on local picnics here in our little corner of south-east London, as well as barbecues on our recent camping trip to the New Forest, when we also toasted marshmallows and ate ice-creams every day. We were very taken with the wild ponies – what a beautiful part of the world!
Much-needed holiday to Spain soon – life’s been so busy lately, and we need a break. Catch up when I’m back :)
Quick 3-Fruit Salad
Enjoy making this – it’s so quick and easy and an absolute winner!
1 ripe mango, diced
1 punnet strawberries, hulled and diced
1 punnet blueberries
Juice of ½ lime
1 tablespoon maple syrup
What to do:
This one couldn’t be easier: simply toss together the fruit, squeeze over the lime juice and stir in the maple syrup. Let it sit for 20 mins before eating, so the flavours combine really well. Stir again before serving.
I thought it would be fun to pull together some of the photos I’ve taken for this blog over the past 18 months or so. As you can see, I try to illustrate my recipes and gadget reviews in a fun way! I love taking these photos, and have built up quite a collection of my own Playmobil and Lego figures, in addition to those upstairs in the toy box… You can see ALL my photos on my Pinterest page, The One-Handed Cook.
This blog is a fun place to come and find simple yet tasty recipes, and reviews of cool cookware and other kitchen-related things that might be of interest to any busy parent. My aim is to share easy recipes, shortcuts and tips – I know what it’s like juggling baby on your hip, or toddler at your feet, or whining 3-year-old, or older child with the appetite of a grown man, with LIFE!
I write as regularly as I can – being a busy working mum of two means it’s not always as often as I’d like – but I love the process of thinking about the post, planning and taking the photo, and then sharing with you. I also love being part of the wider parent- and food-blogger communities and have discovered some great blogs and met some great bloggers, which has been amazing.
So, if you enjoy reading my blog, please do spread the word! And do give me feedback on any of the recipes you try.
As long as you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.
Just wanted to share a bit of blogging love this Sunday evening :)
The One-Handed Cook x
We have a winner folks! And she wins an Oxo Berry Bowl set and an Oxo Strawberry Huller. She is… Maddie Sinclair from the blog Gammon & Chips (www.gammonandchips.com). I loved her comment about serving strawberries on a massive bed of meringue and, as she says, ‘You can take the girl out of Australia, but you can’t take away her love of a bloody good pavlova!’
Happy weekend all,