Exciting things are afoot on the blog; it is being redesigned *as we speak* which means that pretty soon I will be unveiling the new look for Spring/Summer 2015 on The One-Handed Cook website. Woo hoo.
In other news, Black Friday and Cyber Monday have been and gone, which means that Christmas is practically upon us. I’ve made a list, I’m checking it twice, and yes, I still need to buy about 800 presents. I have started an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of all the gifts, which feels a bit too organised, even for me.
What else is new? Well, my son is obsessed with Match Attax trading cards, my daughter with her Tiny Tears doll and my husband with his new KitchenAid, which he was given for his birthday. A beautiful red KitchenAid just for me him.
In the meantime, here’s something for you: a soup recipe to help chase away the November blues. It’s a recipe my grandma – a wonderful home cook – used to make, and my mum has passed it on to me. Like all my soup recipes, it’s dead easy to make, and completely delicious. You can make it in stages – make the soup and liquidise it later, if needs be. It also freezes really well, so make double if you have the energy – and freeze half for later. Steaming hot, silky smooth, deliciously fragrant Carrot and Tarragon Soup on a cold winter’s day; what could be nicer?
Carrot and Tarragon Soup
A delicious soup for the whole family. Omit the salt – and go easy on the pepper – if serving to babies and toddlers. If serving to grown-ups, the soup looks good served with a swirl of cream and a bit of chopped parsley on top. It will keep in the fridge for several days and freezes well in an air-tight container.
Makes 8–10 portions
You will need
2tbsp light olive oil
1kg carrots, chopped into chunks
1 large onion, chopped
2 largeish potatoes, peeled and cut into eight
1.5 litres (approx) vegetable stock (I use Marigold bouillon)
1tsp freeze-dried tarragon flakes, or 1tbsp fresh tarragon, washed and chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
What to do
- Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan (I use a Le Creuset), add the onions and cook gently for a few minutes.
- Add the carrots, stir well with the onions and continue cooking for a further 5 minutes or so.
- Add the stock, the potatoes and the tarragon. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 20-30 mins. Check that the carrots are cooked.
- Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Liquidise in a blender, keeping an eye on the thickness of the soup. (Sometimes you have too much liquid and other times you may have to add a bit of water.)
- Season to taste. Reheat the quantity you need and pour into bowls.
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!
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 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!
I was in New York for work a couple of months ago, and in one of my few hours off, I decided to browse the baby aisle in the KMart near my hotel. (Always thinking of you, dear blog readers…) What innovative product could I find that American moms were using on their babies?
Of course there were sippy cups, spoons, melamine plates, BPA-free bottles, etc – much the same as you’d find here in the UK. But there was one product that stood out for me – this, the Munchkin Easy Squeezy Spoon. The blurb on the packaging says:
A baby food spoon for no-mess, one-handed feeding at home or on-the-go – feeding with a simple squeeze makes mealtime a breeze.
One-handed feeding? Well, of course I had to buy one to share with you. As you know, I am a huge fan of shortcuts and ways to make life easier for busy mums and dads, and Munchkin seems like a great brand. Here it is:
This is a really nifty device. You fill the squeezy rubber container part of the spoon with puréed baby food, squeeze gently and the food comes out onto the spoon, and, hopefully straight into baby’s mouth. Seems pretty ingenious to me, and the idea of being able to feed baby one-handed with no mess is very appealing!
If you are a parent who likes to make homemade purées for your little one, then would be a great product to use when travelling, in particular. I am not sure how practical it would be to clean by hand, but it’s dishwasher safe, which we like J It is made of silicone and is BPA free. Suitable for babies 4+ months.
Now, as I am well beyond the weaning stage with my two, I thought it would be nice to offer this as a giveaway on my blog! So, if you’d like the Munchkin Easy Squeezy Spoon, all you have to do is follow me on Twitter @onehandedcook and tweet that you’d love to win the spoon (or follow and RT my tweet about the giveaway).
Follow me here.
If you’d like to buy one, you can actually buy one on Amazon here in the UK.
Giveaway ends on Monday 16 September, when I will pick one name out of the hat. Usual T&Cs apply.
This is not a sponsored post. I bought the spoon myself!
Ah, pudding. Who doesn’t love pudding? Especially when it’s fruit. And especially when it’s fruit in the shape of a loveable animal! My children love mango hedgehogs. And while I am not really one for making such things as miniature edible sailboats with cheese sails, or fruit faces with blueberries for eyes and grapes for the nose (you get the picture), these are so easy to do, and bring such joy I cannot resist sharing with you here, lovely blog readers.
Admittedly, mango hedgehogs most definitely cannot be created one-handed, however they are quick to do and will keep your child quiet and happy for between 5 and 15 minutes. For younger babies (9m+) remove the cubes of mango, and serve in a little plastic bowl, or – even easier – straight onto the tray of the high chair.
You will need
A very sharp knife. I have this Global knife (it was a gift, I had no idea it was this expensive) which is just wonderful because it has a sharp point so you can score into the mango flesh to make your lines.
A cutting board
What to do
Take your mango and, using your sharp knife, slice off one side. Turn it flesh side up, and using your sharp-pointed knife, score 5 or 6 lines in one direction (from top to bottom), and then the equivalent number from side to side, creating a criss-cross pattern in the flesh. Now press your thumbs into the skin side and push out the little ‘cubes’ created by your artful cutting. Add two raisins for eyes, and voila, a mango hedgehog.
Here is my daughter devouring her mango hedgehog. (She ate three that day.)
In other news, I have been nominated in the Mad Blog Awards Best Food Blog category for 2013, which I am completely thrilled about. I feel very honoured to have been put forward by some of you lovely people. I started this blog in October 2012, and it is an incredible feeling to have been recognized by my peers, some of whom are writing such incredible blogs, they put me to shame (I still don’t know what a linky is, and I am not on Facebook). But I am on Twitter! It’s a start.
Or is there life beyond raisins and rice cakes?
I was going to write you a blog post with some ideas for healthy snacks – what to give babies, toddlers and bigger children in between meals that a) aren’t just raisins and plain rice cakes, b) aren’t full of rubbish and c) don’t cost a fortune – but then I discovered that my lovely Twitter friend and co-blogger, and list-maker extraordinaire, Mums Make Lists had already done it. So I decided to nick hers.*
She has created a wonderful list of 50 (yes, 50!) healthy snack ideas, divided into categories e.g. fruit & veg, dairy, cereal nuts & crisps, savoury muffins. There are some splendid ideas on her easy-to-print list, which you can find here. I love the sound of stripey fruit lollipops for hot summer’s days, malt loaf, and cheese and ham muffins! This is a great starting point, as it is packed with inspiring ideas.
One I’d like to add, for babies aged 9+ months, is to give them a little plastic bowl with frozen peas in – yup, straight from the freezer – and watch them practising their pincer grip as they pop them in their mouth, and get a cold surprise!
For other great ideas, including how to get more organised, books for children, and a weekly round-up of parenting blogs around the world, The Friday Baby Shower, I highly recommend Mums Make Lists’ brilliant blog! http://mumsmakelists.blogspot.co.uk/
Happy snacking, peeps!
* In actual fact, I asked her nicely if I could reproduce it. She very kindly said yes.