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.
I recently met someone whose baby wasn’t that keen on meat, and she was struggling to find alternatives for main meals. It got me thinking about lentils, and how good they are for you, and about meat-free alternatives to popular winter warmer dishes. I also feel as though we need some meat-free options post Christmas, which was heavy on meat. Lentils contain lots of protein, as well as valuable amounts of B vitamins, plus iron, zinc and calcium. They are also a good source of fibre. And they’re cheap. What’s not to like?
In my Meat-free Moussaka I use good old tinned lentils (in this case, Waitrose Essentials Tinned Lentils), which cost 69p a tin. The dish also contains child-friendly tomato sauce, cheese sauce and potatoes, so hopefully the lentils, which older ones may be unsure about, won’t look too ‘strange’. If they’ve never tried aubergine, give it a whirl. My 3-year-old astonished me by devouring an entire plateful the first time I made this; no complaints.
Now you may be thinking that moussaka is a labour-intensive dish to make, and it’s true, it does have quite a few elements to it. But the beauty of my recipe is that I have separated it into 4 components, each of which can be completed as a single entity. You then just assemble them to make the final dish. So, this is the perfect supper dish to make if you know you have, say, 20 mins now to do one part – the tomato–lentil sauce, for instance, and that tomorrow, or later on, you could do the potatoes and the aubergine while baby naps or the kids are busy, and then the cheese sauce last of all before baking the final dish in the oven. When you finally put it on the table, you’ll be pleased you made the effort 🙂
Each component can be made and chilled overnight if needs be. You can even assemble all 4 components into the finished dish and then chill that overnight ready for baking the next day, too (but get it out the fridge and bring it to room temperature before baking). The end result is really delicious and will keep the whole family happy. If you want to try it on your baby, I suggest making a separate mini moussaka with the tomato–lentil sauce blended up (to make the lentils more digestsible) and omitting the aubergine, so you just layer blended tomato–lentil sauce, cooked potato and cheesy sauce.
1 large aubergine
Olive oil for brushing aubergine + more for sautéing onions and garlic
1 onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tin (400g) chopped tomatoes
1 tin (400g) lentils, drained and rinsed in cold water
750g Charlotte or other waxy potatoes
1 ½ tbsp. cornflour
400ml whole milk
Good handful grated Cheddar cheese (approx. 50–100g) + extra to go on top
Salt and pepper
Lots of moussaka recipes require you to fry the aubergine in oil, but I like to keep things simple! Simply line a large baking tray with foil, brush it with olive oil and arrange the sliced aubergines, then brush them generously with oil and bake at 200˚C/180˚C Fan/ 400˚F for 15 mins. Put to one side. As I said, it’s fine to let them completely cool and come back to them later when you assemble the dish.
2. Tomato–lentil sauce
Make a thick tomato sauce as follows: sweat the onions and garlic in 2tbsp olive oil for about 10 minutes, before adding a good squeeze of tomato puree, and the chopped tomatoes. Simmer gently for around 10–15 minutes, and then add the tinned lentils (which have been drained and rinsed). Simmer for a further 10 minutes or so until the sauce thickens. If it looks a bit too thick, add a bit of water. Put to one side. This sauce can be cooled and refrigerated overnight.
Wash and slice the potatoes (there’s no need to peel them!) into slices about the thickness of a pound coin. Add to a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer for approx. 4 minutes, until fairly soft. Again, lots of moussaka recipes say boil the potatoes and then slice them, which is a total nightmare as they are a) hot and b) crumbly. This method works a treat! Drain and put to one side.
4. Cheese sauce
A cheese sauce is the first thing my mum ever taught me to make, as a teenager, and I still follow her method today. It will remain engrained in my brain forever. Melt the butter in a high-sided saucepan (I use a Stellar 7000 sauce pot; it may sound terribly pretentious but it’s specially designed for making sauces, and never lets me down!), add the cornflour to make a roux, stirring all the time, then add the milk (if you have the wherewithal, pre-heat the milk in the microwave for a minute and a half), stirring continually to prevent lumps from forming. Add a grating of nutmeg and seasoning, and keep stirring until the sauce starts to thicken and bubble. Then turn down the heat and cook for a minute or two. Remove from the heat and stir in your grated Cheddar. Put to one side.
5. Assemble your moussaka!
Pre-heat oven to 200˚C/180˚C Fan/ 400˚F. Take a largeish gratin dish (mine is 9” x 9”) – the aim is to have two layers of everything, finishing with a layer of sauce, topped with grated cheese. Start with half the tomato–lentil sauce, then half the aubergines, then half the potatoes, then half the sauce. Repeat. Top with the cheese and a twist or two of black pepper and bake for approx. 35–40 minutes until golden. Good served with courgettes sautéd in butter or a green salad.
Enjoy your meat-free moussaka!