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!
As regular readers will know, I was really looking forward to seeing The Lego Movie with the children. We were lucky enough to go to a gala screening yesterday in Leicester Square, and boy did we have fun. With Lego brick cookies, Lego man head biscuits and Emmet and Wyldstyle head cake pops beforehand, it was Lego central in the foyer beforehand.
The movie? It was so exciting watching Lego City worlds in action – and the children found this truly magical. I tried to put myself in a 7-year-old’s shoes (not literally) and seeing your favourite Lego characters (including the fantastic Batman and 1980s space guy) and toys come to life on screen was “awesome”, in the words of our hero – average guy Emmet.
The movie was really exciting, funny – with just the right balance of jokes for the kids and the grown-ups – fast-paced and visually spectacular. The plot was a little thin, it’s basically ‘let’s save the world from the baddie’, but frankly, who cares. The children adored it. I laughed, hell I may even have almost shed a tear. No spoilers here though – you’ll have to go and watch it yourself!
Having been given a swanky new blender for Christmas I am really enjoying concocting lots of delicious healthy smoothies every morning, and the children are loving them. I have discovered almond milk, which I’d never used before but it turns out it’s great in smoothies and is much lower in calories than semi-skimmed milk. Plus I’ve been using all kinds of fruit, including papaya, blueberries and frozen berries – but the staple ingredient of all my smoothies is banana. I prefer to use Fairtrade bananas where possible, in the same way that I buy Fairtrade sugar and Fairtrade coffee when I can. Did you know that all the bananas sold at Sainburys are Fairtrade? That’s right, all of them, even the economy ones, which are perfect for smoothies. Hurrah.
So without further ado, I give you the winner out of all the smoothies I’ve been making for the past two weeks: The Banana Peanut Boost.
The boost comes from the added porridge oats (more on those below), which give your smoothie a boost of B vitamins and fibre. The sweetness comes from the banana and the agave nectar, a natural sweetener with a low GI and a great alternative to sugar – as you know, we are all being advised to cut down on the amount of sugar we eat, plus it’s not good for children to eat too much sugar, obviously. Agave nectar doesn’t cause huge spikes in blood sugar levels and yet is sweet enough to ward off sugar cravings, and it comes in a squeezy bottle, making it perfect for smoothies. And peanut butter is just yum.
And what’s more, assuming you’ve pre-toasted your oats, you can whizz the whole thing up one-handed, and drink it with one hand too, I promise you. No excuses, now!
You will need:
1 Fairtrade banana
4tbsp natural or Greek yogurt (Greek makes a creamier smoothie; I like Rachel’s Organic)
500ml unsweetened almond milk (Blue Diamond Almond Breeze Original is my fave)
1tsp smooth peanut butter
Agave nectar (I use the one by the Groovy Food Company)
1tbsp toasted porridge oats
First of all, you need to toast the porridge oats; you can do a batch for the whole week while you’re at it to save time down the line. Simply pre-heat a non-stick frying pan over a high heat and when it’s hot, add your porridge oats and toast them, turning and mixing using a wooden spoon until they smell ‘toasty’ – about five minutes. You can use untoasted oats, but toasting them makes the smoothie much nicer. Trust me, it’s worth the minor effort. Now you are ready to make your smoothie:
- Peel the banana and break into chunks; chuck into the blender along with the Greek yogurt and the almond milk. Blend thoroughly.
- Add the peanut butter, the agave nectar and the porridge oats.
- Blend until smooth.
- Serve over ice.
Enjoy – and no monkey business!
I am writing this while listening to The Ministry of Sound 90s Anthems CD. Oh yes. Not my usual Saturday afternoon listening choice, but it sure as hell is taking me back to student days, badly lit discos, getting ready to go out clubbing, and road trips across the country with mates in small cars. It’s funny how certain music can take you back to a certain moment in time. It’s almost as if I am still 20. Almost.
So, weirdly, no clubbing for me tonight, but I am going out for dinner here, and am muchly looking forward to it. In the meantime, I wanted to share one of my current favourite bits of kitchen kit, which helps me do things one-handed in the kitchen.
I recently discovered these one-handed pepper mills and salt grinders from David Mason Design in Waitrose. It is impossible to use a pepper mill when you have a baby in one hand – no matter how much you want to add a grinding of pepper to your pasta sauce, you can’t until you’ve put baby down. Which is sometimes not an option, as we know. But don’t worry, Things Can Only Get Better.
With one of these brilliantly designed mills, you can add pepper with one hand. With the aptly named ‘Triga’ you just pull the ‘trigger’ and you’re off. With the ‘Pepperpod’ you simply squeeze the handles together. I did find that the Triga salt mill doesn’t grind your salt fine fine, however, and is probably more suitable for adding salt while cooking than using at the table. However, they also have the ‘Triga Combi’, which is a pepper grinder at the bottom, and a salt shaker at the top. This is the Rhythm of the Night… sorry, I mean the ultimate in one-handed seasoning! Oh yeah.
What a week! Talk about shock to the system. After two weeks off work, during which time the most difficult decision I had to make was whether to have more cheese or move onto pudding, it was back to earth with a bang as we went back to work and back to school here at OH HQ. When the alarm went off at 06:20 on Monday morning I swear it felt like I was getting up in the middle of the night.
So, just one week back and already my head is full of stuff, my house is full of clutter, my washing machine is just constantly full, and my purse is, er, empty. Hmm.
So in the spirit of thriftiness, I went through the kitchen cupboards and identified a few items that needed using up (dates, self-raising flour) and thought about what I could make, and what I could share with you, lovely blog reader. And came up with this, which is dead easy and very tasty. A slice with butter is perfect with a cup of tea on a winter’s afternoon, or it makes a good packed lunch addition (nut alert, mind you).
I made it with my 3-year-old, who was surprisingly helpful, helping me measure the ingredients, crack open the eggs and mix. A great team effort!
Date & Walnut Loaf
90g unsalted butter (at room temperature) + extra for greasing
90g soft brown sugar
250g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon
90g walnuts, roughly chopped
250g dates, stoned and roughly chopped
You will need a 1kg (2lb) loaf tin. Cuts into 12 slices.
What to do
- Lightly grease the loaf tin with butter.
- Combine the butter, sugar, egg, flour, baking powder and cinnamon in a large bowl and beat until well blended using a hand mixer. Add the walnuts, dates and milk and stir to mix.
- Spoon into the prepared loaf tin and bake in a pre-heated oven at 180˚C/160˚C Fan/350˚F for 1 hour until well risen and firm to the touch. A fine skewer inserted into the middle of the loaf should come out clean.
- Leave to cool in the tin for a few minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Serve sliced – and buttered, if you’re feeling indulgent.