Baby in one hand, wooden spoon in the other

Category Archives: kitchen inspiration

Salad spinner

Is it a salad spinner, or an entertainment centre?

About ten years ago I was browsing in Habitat kitchenware department – as one does – and came across the king of all salad spinners. A decade on, in 2013, I am delighted to tell you all about the all-new and improved OXO Salad Spinner. And, trust me, A LOT can change in a decade…

I was lucky enough to recently get sent the brand spanking new OXO Salad Spinner to test, now that summer is officially here. Although now Wimbledon is upon us, we’ll probably get yet more rain. Talking of Wimbledon, this is truly the Roger Federer of salad spinners…

With its straightforward one-handed operation – so you can even spin salad while carrying baby – The One-Handed Cook is extremely happy with this bit of kit. It looks smart, with its all-new clear plastic look and new shape bowl for 2013. It still features the brilliant pump mechanism, and now the underside of the lid comes apart at the touch of a button for easy cleaning.

I wash the salad in the bowl, then drain the salad in the colander part, and then get spinning to ensure my lettuce is nice and dry, ready for dressing. The OXO Salad Spinner has a non-slip base so it won’t move around on the work surface, meaning you can spin to your heart’s content. To stop it spinning, simply press the little brake button, then tip out salad, and voila.

However, there is more – those clever folks at OXO have done away with the domed lid of the old version, and replaced with a flat lid, so once you’ve poured out the water from the bowl, post-spin, you can store your salad in the spinner in the fridge, which makes life easier. Which busy mums and dads definitely like.

Easy to use, brilliantly designed, and very effective, I can now disclose that this fabulous salad spinner has one more feature that is not mentioned on the box. Oh no. I have an exclusive for you, dear reader *steals a glance left and right, cartoon-style, and whispers* It entertains the children. Yes, you heard me. It is worth buying (or growing) and eating salad, just to watch your toddler keep him or herself entertained with this bad boy.

In fact, get one even if you don’t like salad. I have to wrestle this from my daughter’s hands in order to get my lettuce in the salad bowl, frankly. She loves it – she is helping, she is pushing the pump up and down, she is spinning, she can’t stop spinning, she’s checking the salad leaves (‘They’re still bit wet, mummy,’ she says disapprovingly, putting the lid back on), she’s spinning again. While I can get on with doing other things.

Get the all-new OXO Salad Spinner here. And, parents of little ones, get ready to thank me, on oh-so-many levels…

Happy salad spinning.

TOHC

xxx

P.S. My personal favourite salad recipe at the moment is a rather wonderful one which was recently featured in the Guardian’s COOK supplement, by Cheeku Bhasin and featured on her blog, here: Spicy Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Tahini and Yogurt Dressing http://cook2jhoom.wordpress.com/

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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.

 


Welcome to the (basil) jungle

Welcome to the (basil) jungle

So it’s the Easter holidays and we’ve seen snow, the death of a former prime minister (politics aside, I grew up in the 1980s and having a female PM did make it entirely conceivable – and indeed normal – for a woman to be in charge, running the country – wise Hannah from Muddling Along has more on this very topic here), and – I am sure most of you are with me on this – eaten a lot of chocolate. We went away for a week to Northumberland with friends – 8 grown-ups and 8 children in one enormous house with an Aga, an open fire, a huge garden and a swimming pool (indoor, heated), some delicious meals and a lot of nice wine. As a result, am now on a bit of a health mission!

Coming home to London, the sun seems to be trying to come out and the buds and the flowers are opening. In honour of Spring I bought a large basil plant in Waitrose at the weekend. Having a pot on the windowsill always feels like I am bringing summer into the kitchen. I love the colour and smell of basil – that lovely green, so fresh, with that wonderful odour – it inspires me to cook simple, healthy dishes.

And so I bring you this very simple basil pesto. You need a decent, heavy pestle and mortar for this one. I know some folks swear by the food processor for making pesto, but I think, frankly, it’s too much hassle for such a simple sauce, plus I enjoy making it by hand. Oh, and I don’t bother toasting the pine nuts, either, but you can if you want to.

This is one to make when you get home tired from the park on a Saturday, or when the kids have had a party and are hungry but don’t want much, or simply for a weeknight post-work supper. Sometimes when I get home and am not sure what I am going to whip up, I start by just putting a saucepan of water on to boil – by the time it’s bubbling, I’ve usually thought of something to rustle together (a top tip).

Basil pesto

You will need

Serves 2-3, but you can easily up quantities to taste

Small clove garlic, peeled

Pinch sea salt

Big basil plant, leaves removed and (ideally!) washed and patted dry

50g pine nuts

3tbsp Parmesan, grated

Extra virgin olive oil

Simply crush all the ingredients, bar the olive oil, in your pestle and mortar. If your mortar is very sturdy, you will even be able to do this one-handed. Hurrah indeed. Once it is all mashed together, drizzle in the olive oil until you get the consistency you like. Serve with hot, drained spaghetti or linguine – or other pasta shapes, with extra Parmesan grated on top if you fancy. Yum.

At present, on my health kick, I am into Seeds of Change semi-wholewheat tortiglioni pasta which is available in Waitrose, Tesco and other supermarkets. I find 100% wholewheat pasta a bit too ‘earthy’ tasting, but this is a good compromise. You still get some of the nutritional benefit of the whole grain – so, the B vitamins, vitamin E and fibre, plus a slower release of carbohydrates than white pasta – but it still tastes like ‘proper’ pasta. Plus the sauce clings to it well. Well worth a try, if you’ve had wholewheat pasta before and weren’t keen. Plus the children like it!

Ciao for niao!

TOHC

x


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!

TOHC x

* In actual fact, I asked her nicely if I could reproduce it. She very kindly said yes.


One of the things I will be offering on my blog is interviews with other busy parents, to help you feel inspired, give you an exclusive behind-the-scenes peek at how other mums do things and to offer tips and advice across a range of issues and topics that will (I hope!) interest you.

Jo Wheatley impressed the nation with her amazing baking skills on BBC2’s The Great British Bake Off and after winning the competition in 2011 went on to write A Passion for Baking (Constable, 2012), which is an absolutely lovely book – the photographs are gorgeous, the recipes make you want to get baking immediately plus there really is something  for every occasion – I really recommend it (currently loving the Lemon Drizzle Traybake). She also writes a blog, Jo’s Blue Aga – www.josblueaga.com which features some show-stopping cakes.

I particularly love the introduction to Jo’s book, where she talks about what baking means for her. In it she says, ‘Baking is about memories, old ones and ones yet to be made: a favourite auntie’s bread pudding; a nan’s apple pie; eating the most amazing croissant with a loved one […] a birthday cake shaped like a fort for a four-year-old … I could go on forever!’

This is how I feel about food and cooking for my family, too, which is why we try to sit down to eat together as a family at weekends in particular. Simple rituals like dipping soldiers into soft-boiled eggs or tucking in to homemade scones and jam are the things family memories are made of, and I cherish the (relative) peace at weekends (however, let’s keep things in perspective here; things are never *actually* quiet with two kids!).

Jo Wheatley A Passion for Baking

Now over to Jo:

Q: As a busy mum, how have you adapted the way you cook since having your children?

To be totally honest it’s been such a long time since I wasn’t a mum I can’t actually remember! Billy, my eldest, is now 25.

Q: Can you share some of the snacks you give your children?

I think snacks with oats and fruit are always a packed lunch favourite and help keep children going throughout the day. But to be fair, I’m more of everything in moderation, to totally deny children any treat will only make them want it more.

Q: Breakfast is often cited as the most important meal of the day, particularly for growing children – what sorts of things do you and your family like to eat for breakfast?

At the weekends it was always pancakes for my lot, in the week it’s Weetabix or porridge, or fruit depending on the season.

Q: What kitchen gadget could you not live without?

My KitchenAid. I love how it frees me up to do something else and can whip up meringues in moments!

Q: Who are your favourite cookery writers?

I love all types of writers and books – cookery books are my guilty pleasure – I have a tower of them next to my bed and a whole length of kitchen worktop full of them…

Q: I am all about embracing shortcuts in the kitchen – what shortcuts do you do to make life run that little bit smoother? Any tips you’d like to share?

I have a Wednesday Top Tip on my Facebook page Jo’s Blue AGA  where every week I share tips. This week’s was melting small amounts of chocolate in a microwaveable bag, then snipping of a corner – perfect for drizzling without any mess of washing up! I also have bits and bobs in my book, A Passion for Baking where I give other helpful little tips.

Thanks, Jo!

I hope you all enjoyed reading my interview with Jo. Look out for more interviews with other interesting mums coming soon. Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog, so you don’t miss out.

The One-Handed Cook

x


One of the things I will be offering on my blog is interviews with other busy parents, to help you feel inspired, give you an exclusive behind-the-scenes peek at how other mums do things and to offer tips and advice across a range of issues and topics that will (I hope!) interest you.

So, without further ado, I’d like to invite you to settle down for five minutes – snuggle baby in your arm, put your toddler down for his nap, or send your older one upstairs to play Lego – and read my first interview with Brigid Moss, Health Director of Red magazine, who shares some wonderful foodie tips below (oh, and I can vouch for Nigella’s Chocolate Guinness Cake – it’s to die for!)

Passionate about health, nutrition and wellbeing, Brigid has worked as a journalist across a range of women’s magazines, including Grazia and Zest. She is also the author of IVF: An Emotional Companion (Collins, £12.99), which features real fertility stories. In her free time she imagines her perfect house, shops at markets and cooks. She has a son who is five.

Q: As a busy mum, how have you adapted the way you cook  since having your son? 

When my son was younger, I found I couldn’t really cook at all when he was awake, there were too many interruptions and I like the relaxed side of cooking. Now I pretty much only do one-pot dishes; I’m very lazy! If it can’t go into the same casserole dish or oven dish, I’m not doing it. I like to chop, put in the oven, forget it for a bit. My husband, Adam, is the one who does elaborate three-dish curries or Thai food.

Q: I know you are into healthy eating and nutrition – can you share some of the quick, healthy snacks you and your son enjoy eating?

He loves popcorn, although it did take me a while to learn to make it without burning it – now I use the microwave. If I think he’s low on his five a day, I make him a fruit salad; kids seem much keener on fruit when it’s chopped up.

I also serve veggies first – that tip came from US author Jessica Seinfeld (see www.doitdelicious.com). I put chopped avocado with dressing, carrot and cucumber sticks, cherry tomatoes on the table before the main course, and it works really well.

The other things I rely on apart from fruit are: dried fruit, Nairn’s cheese oatcakes and Marks & Spencer multi popcorn packs. Of course, he has less healthy stuff too. Given the choice, he’d go for cheese and onion crisps, Haribo and a sugary juice drink in a flash.

Q: Breakfast is often cited as the most important meal of the day, particularly for growing children – what sorts of things do you and your family like to eat for breakfast?

The perfect breakfast for me is a boiled egg, but my son doesn’t agree. However, scrambled eggs often get eaten when boiled don’t. And I have to confess I gave him quail’s eggs when he was younger and in an egg-refusing stage, to make him start eating all eggs again. Extravagant, perhaps, but it worked!

He often has mushrooms with toast during the week, or Rice Krispies with chopped dried figs and desiccated coconut (his choice!). Our weekend treat is pancakes with bacon and maple syrup.

Q: What kitchen gadget could you not live without?

My hand blender, for making soups, banana milkshakes (I do just milk and bananas) and smoothies.

Q: Who are your favourite cookery writers? Where do you find recipes?

I always go back to Delia and Nigella for cakes – Nigella’s Chocolate Guinness Cake looks impressive and tastes amazing, and Delia’s Carrot Cake is the best. Otherwise, I cut out recipes from magazines, especially Red. We recently featured Margot Henderson and I’m going to buy her new book, You’re All Invited.

Q: I am all about embracing shortcuts in the kitchen – what shortcuts do you do to make life run that little bit smoother as a working mum? Any tips you’d like to share?

Not cooking! I eat something-on-rye-toast for supper at least twice a week (my son gets fed earlier). And we get a takeaway probably once a week. That’s three nights a week less washing up. I freeze anything leftover, even if it’ll only make a meal for one. I did used to buy ready made soups, until my husband and I got terrible food poisoning from one.

Q: How do you carve out time for your own personal writing projects?

A very obliging mum.

Q: And lastly, what’s the weirdest thing you learned to do one-handed when your son was a baby?

Writing emails.

I hope you all enjoyed reading my interview with Brigid and picked up a few ideas! Look out for more interviews with other interesting mums coming soon. Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog, so you don’t miss out.

The One-Handed Cook

x



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