Baby in one hand, wooden spoon in the other

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It’s almost the end of half term, which has meant a week off school and work and some family time. We’ve been in Somerset with the in-laws, and have had some nice outings, including to the Sherborne Castle Country Fair and the local RSPB sanctuary to learn about baby animals, which was very sweet until the children got tired and hungry – at which point sweet went sour and we made a run for it, home for soup and sourdough bread…

Having a bit of time off has given me the chance to take a proper look at Top Bananas! The best ever family recipes from Mumsnet by the ever-so-talented Crumbs sisters, Lucy and Claire McDonald (if you don’t know their blog, you must check it out now!) which I was sent to review. It is a lovely looking book, packed with glossy photos (there is a photo for every dish) and more than 100 family-friendly recipes ranging from Breakfasts and Sunday Lunch ideas to Packed Lunches, so it’s been really well thought through.

The tone is breezy and light, and the authors have clearly been around the block when it comes to putting a family meal on the table – their amusing insights into some of the less glamorous sides of being a parent had me chuckling, not least in the Introduction to the Sunday lunch chapter in which they described how parents imagine Sunday lunch with friends will be, and how it is in reality (in essence, as long as there is some half-decent food on the table and the kids are happy and eat some of it too, all will be well). Yup, been there.

The authors make a point of saying that they want to encourage families to eat together, that the ingredients they use are easy to get hold of, that the dishes are simple and that they will be sprinkling in shortcuts and tips along the way – all of which is music to this busy mum’s ears. The recipes are arranged by meal type, so the book is easy to navigate, and the clear layout and photos make it a joy to browse through and plan what to make.

My feedback would be that although this is clearly defined as a family cookbook, there is not much discussion about portion size for different child age ranges, which I was expecting, and each recipe states how many adults it serves, which I found strange. There is no mention of children or babies at all – it’s either ‘serves one adult’, ‘serves two adults’ or ‘serves four adults’ or whatever. Perhaps this is meant to be used as a guide, but I would have preferred something like ‘perfect for four hungry children’ or ‘for a family of four, with leftovers’ as I personally think this would have suited the book’s audience better.

My only other gripe is that there isn’t a single photo of Lucy and Claire anywhere in the book, which I think was an oversight, given that their voices are so clear and warm throughout. Even just a photo of them at the end would have been a nice addition; as a reader, you feel like you get to know them as you use the book, but you don’t get a sense of what they look like, which is a shame, I think! Having been lucky enough to meet them at blogging events, I can vouch for the fact that they are absolutely lovely in real life, and a pic or two in the book would have been a great addition to help give it personality.

I decided to make the Courgette Fritters as I had all the ingredients on hand, and I am always keen for my children to eat more veg in a main course capacity. I followed the recipe to the letter, and it worked a treat. I used my food processor to grate the courgette, which took seconds.

Making Courgette Fritters

Making Courgette Fritters

The alternative suggestions – using Feta instead of Cheddar, or alternative fresh herbs – were good. I thought the fritters could have done with extra seasoning, but the tip to dip them into sweet chilli sauce was a great one, and I’d make this recipe again. Next I’m planning to make 12-Hour Pulled Pork, which Knackered Mother Helen tells me is ‘amazing’. Bring it on.

All in all, a great addition to any busy parent’s cookbook collection. Congrats Mumsnet, and Claire and Lucy!

TOHCx

Disclaimer: I was sent a free copy of Top Bananas! to review but all opinions are my own.

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From counting out the cakes to decorating them, these were a delight to make - for me and the children.

From counting out the cakes to decorating them, these were a delight to make – for me and the children.

If you like the sound of dishes such as Apricot Frangipane, Chilli Chocolate Cookies, Thyme, Cheese & Tomato Quiche, and Chicken, Pancetta & Maple Parsnip Traybake then look no further than Jo Wheatley’s new cookbook, Home Baking which is published tomorrow, 7 May. Having bought – and loved – Jo’s first cookbook, A Passion for Baking, I was delighted to get my hands on her second.

Once again, Jo keeps things simple – nearly all the recipes fit on one page, and there are no obscure ingredients. Like her first book, this is packed with gorgeous photography and has a nice clear layout. The book is organized by theme, and the chapters break down as follows:

–       Biscuits, bars and cookies

–       Bread and scones

–       Cakes

–       Baking with children

–       Crumbles, tarts and pithiviers

–       Quiches, pasties, pies and savoury puddings

–       Quick and simple

–       Special occasions

–       Supper bakes

–       Teatime treats

I was really pleased to see her include some delicious-sounding savoury dishes that can be baked in one pan in this book. Like me, Jo is a big fan of ‘recipes that involve as little fuss as possible, and hardly any washing up’ – she is talking my language – and indeed the language of any busy parent – minimum fuss, maximum flavour!

The recipes that appeal to me personally include Spelt Bread, Parmesan & Pesto Fantail Loaf, Lime & Coconut Tray Bake, Thyme, Cheese & Tomato Quiche, and Chicken & Leek Pie. From the Quick Bake chapter, Easy Italian Soda Bread and Coffee and Walnut Traybake sound great, and suitably speedy. The Special Occasion chapter features dishes such as Beef Wellington, a wonderful looking Easter Meadow Cake and Salted Caramel Chocolate Pots – fabulous. There is also a show-stoppping Toffee Apple Croquembouche, for the brave! She also does new takes on classic dishes such as Toad in the Hole, which I will definitely be trying.

I turned to the Baking with Children chapter and was interested to read that Jo believes in teaching children to cook and bake as she thinks it encourages a passion for food and eating homemade. Although I did think there was rather a lot of sugar in the Sweetie Spectacular Traybake!! For a special occasion, I imagine this would have the ‘wow’ factor, however.

I was completely won over by the photograph of the Owl Cupcakes, however and decided to try these with my daughter, who is 2¾. So mummy got on with making the cupcakes – I followed Jo’s recipe to a tee, using a blend of 80g wholemeal self-raising flour and 120g white self-raising flour (the recipe simply calls for ‘200g self-raising flour’) and they turned out beautifully. The buttercream icing recipe worked a treat, but I did find it was too much – half the quantity would have been fine, especially since these were for children and already quite sugary with the milk chocolate and white chocolate buttons going on top.

My daughter absolutely loved doing the decorating, to make them look little owls – I have never seen her so absorbed in doing something baking- or cooking-related before, so it was lovely to watch. Once they were finished, they looked completely beguiling. Needless to say, the owl cupcakes went down a storm among her, her brother and their cousins who all arrived to play next day. I will definitely be doing these again!

Home Baking by Jo Wheatley (Constable & Robinson) is published tomorrow, 7 May 2013, and available from Sainsburys for the introductory price of £8 (RRP £16.99).

Disclaimer: I was sent Jo Wheatley’s new cookbook to review. All opinions are my own.

 



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