Life has been far from perfect of late, purely in terms of how busy I am, husband is, and indeed we all are. What with a work trip, the new term and associated school admin, sorting out jobs that need doing to the house, piles of washing, getting up really early in an attempt to Get Things Done, oh, and having a cold for three weeks, sometimes it all feels a Bit Much.
But busy isn’t always bad, and I’ve managed to fit in some fun stuff, too, including a lovely session with an amazing food stylist I met through work who has given me some fantastic tips for the blog (more on that soon), plus it’s Mumsnet Blogfest next month, which I am sure will be pretty perfect. It’s a great chance to get inspired about various aspects of blogging (although I am not sure I will ever ‘change the world’ with a pasta recipe, but hey ho), swap blogging stories, have a laugh, drink some sparkling wine and get a nice goody bag. What’s not to like? I am looking forward to hearing one of my fave authors, Rachel Joyce, speak, learning how to make my blog better and, best of all, meeting fellow bloggers old and new. Whoop.
In the meantime, I have learnt how to make the *perfect* poached egg. (I know!) Eggs are wonderfully comforting, and a simple soft poached egg served with a slice of buttered toast and a mug of tea can do a lot for a busy, frazzled parent in need of some TLC. Preparing something so simple and nourishing, in (hopefully) a moment of calm while baby naps or the children are at school, or simply for breakfast, can be a very pleasant interlude. And as for that satisfying moment when the yolk spills out on to the toast, well, it can be quite therapeutic, particularly if it is soft, runny and cooked to perfection.
Free-range eggs are also a great nutritious dish for the whole family (babies should be over 1 if you are serving the yolk soft) – they’re packed with protein and B vitamins, they’re easy to prepare and cook and frankly, the perfect dish for a quick, healthy energy boost – perfect for anyone on the go. What’s more, if you can crack an egg one-handed, poached eggs and toast can easily be prepared with one hand while a) holding baby, b) filling in yet another form/cheque/reading book record for school, or c) typing an email on your phone to your boss with the other. If you have a Spork, you can even eat it one-handed too. Perfect.
Perfect Poached Egg for one
The trick with the vinegar I learnt from my food stylist friend Rosie. It works a treat!
You will need:
1 free-range egg
White wine vinegar
One slice of sourdough bread, toasted and buttered to serve (my favourite butter is this Brue Valley Butter which I get in my Riverford box every week; it is delicious)
What to do:
- Bring some water to the boil in a small saucepan (fill it about two thirds full).
- Take a teacup and pour in a centimetre or so of white wine vinegar, swill it round, then return the vinegar to the bottle. Crack the egg into the teacup.
- Once your water is boiling, create a whirlpool in the water by stirring it with a small wooden spoon. Add the egg to the centre of the whirlpool, reduce the heat slightly and cook for 2 ½ minutes for a soft yolk.
- Once cooked, remove the egg using a slotted spoon and put on a plate. Use a teaspoon to remove any of the ‘frothy’ white (it comes away easily) to ensure your poached egg has a nice regular shape.
- Place the egg on top of your toast and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Phew, life is busy. Busy but good. I’ve been trying to practise a bit of gratitude recently – as in, ‘My train was delayed, there’s no food in the fridge and my hair looks like the hair of a madwoman, BUT I am thankful I have a job I like, two healthy children, a roof over my head and all my own teeth.’ It is not always easy to be grateful, but then being frustrated and cross isn’t conducive to a calm, fruitful home life either. So I will be grateful. I am grateful I have a glass of wine next to me, now, for instance 🙂
So what have I been cooking up at One-Handed HQ recently? Well, in keeping with my gratitude theme, I am grateful that it’s asparagus season. Lovely green British asparagus. Years ago I used to live in Germany, and round rolled May, and they all went wild for ‘frische Spargel’ (fresh asparagus). Hooray, I thought, only it looked like no asparagus I’d ever seen – it was white. Weird.
Anyway, I love asparagus, and look forward to its arrival every May, so when Sainsburys got in touch asking me what I would like to celebrate for their Best of British produce theme, of course I plumped for the green stuff – as Sainsburys are stocking 100% British-grown asparagus this year and I like buying seasonal British-grown fruit and veg.
In the past, I’ve always steamed or boiled asparagus – hmmm, yes, nice enough. But I recently discovered the joys of cooking it in a griddle pan. It is a breakthrough – the asparagus retains its lovely sweet deliciousness but also has a bit of bite and crunch to it. Plus it is SO easy, which we like. You just need a very hot griddle pan (one with ridges), some oil, a pastry brush and some tongs. It can be cooked one-handed while dealing with something child-related with the other. It’s great dipped into the yolk of a soft-boiled egg. My (initially very dubious) kids really enjoyed the novelty of dipping something that wasn’t toast into a boiled egg and ate it all up. Hurrah.
Join me in gratitude for this wondrous dish.
Delicious Griddled Asparagus Dippers
What you need
One bunch British asparagus, washed, and with the woody stems snapped off
Some light olive oil for brushing onto the pan and the asparagus
A free-range egg (medium) at room temperature
What to do
- Put a small pan of water on to boil for the egg. Once the water is boiling, reduce heat to a gentle rolling boil, add the egg and cook for 4½ minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat your griddle pan (I have a heavy-based Le Creuset one) until it’s nice and hot. Brush the pan with olive oil while it’s heating up.
- Brush your asparagus spears with olive oil using the pastry brush.
- When the pan is hot, lie the asparagus across the ridges and allow to cook for a few minutes before turning. They need approx. 5-6 minutes total cooking time.
- Once your egg is done, remove and put in an eggcup; cut off the top.
- Put your asparagus dippers on a side plate, allow them to cool before giving to your child – they will be very hot!
In the interest of full disclosure, Sainsburys asked me to choose my Best of British produce and write about it in exchange for some vouchers to buy some produce. These are my views. And mine only!
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.
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).
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!
I know I am a bit late for Shrove Tuesday, but then, given I usually have two kids in tow, I am often late for a lot of things… Anyway, today I bring you pancakes. Who doesn’t love a pancake? Warm from the frying pan, with a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkling of sugar, they are manna from heaven. When I went travelling in Thailand many moons ago (pre-children) banana pancakes made in tiny little pans over a gas flame in the street became almost a daily staple for body and soul – served, as they were, with a swirl of chocolate sauce and a beaming smile.
I was lucky enough to be sent a Pancake Kit by the lovely people at Oxo Good Grips, who produce fantastic kitchen tools, it has to be said. My kit comprised an Oxo Good Grips batter bowl, an Oxo Good Grips Silicone Balloon Whisk and an Oxo Good Grips Silicone Flexible Pancake Turner. I was particularly excited about the batter bowl, because one of the things that is tricky to do one-handed in the kitchen, while holding baby in one hand, is stir something in a bowl because invariably the bowl will move. Not with this bad boy. It has a non-skid base to stabilize the bowl when mixing. Genius. Now, Oxo may not have designed this bowl with the one-handed cook in mind, but boy, is this one-handed cook happy about it!
I made my pancake batter – see below for recipe – using my lovely batter bowl and gave it the one-handed test, with my whisk in my right hand and, not a baby this time I confess, but a cup of coffee in my left. This is how I did it: I put the batter bowl on my platform scale and weighed the flour straight into it, put it back on the kitchen worktop then added the pre-cracked egg and the extra yolk, the pre-melted butter, a pinch of salt, started whisking, and then added the milk bit by bit until I’d made my lovely mixture. The bowl holds 2 litres, and has high sides, making it splatter-proof, too – very handy. The handle makes it comfortable to hold, and it has a wide lip for easy pouring. I can see this becoming my go-to mixing bowl for cakes.
As you can see from my One-Handed Cook logo, I am a big fan of the whisk! The Oxo Good Grips balloon whisk is also a lovely thing to use – for me, what makes it different is the fact that the handle is shorter than most, which actually gives you better control, and the rubbery handle feels really nice and doesn’t slip out of your hand (hence the ‘good grip’ bit – keep up). I also love it because it’s red, and if you know me, you’ll know I like a colourful kitchen gadget. The pancake turner is super-flexible and very thin, so perfect for turning not just pancakes, but anything really, because it’s large and helps prevent things falling apart – you could use for omelettes, fish, burgers etc. Finally, the other good thing about all these Oxo Good Grips items is that they all go in the dishwasher once you’ve finished. Result.
See below for my tried-and-tested pancake recipe and filling ideas. I am a bit addicted to this lovely crunchy sugar from Barbados at the moment – it’s called Plantation Reserve Barbados Amber Sugar, it’s a traditionally produced cane sugar and the crystals provide the most wonderful crunch and contrast beautifully with the soft pancake or soft banana. Honestly, you have to try it – it’s the perfect accompaniment to all sorts of things, such as porridge, pancakes, puddings – in fact, all things beginning with ‘p’…
Make the pancake batter at least half an hour in advance of cooking, and then they can be cooked one-handed at tea-time, I promise. I know, I’ve done it. Note that the first pancake often goes a bit wrong, but once you find a rhythm and your pan’s nice and hot these are a cinch to make. Plus the mixture will keep, covered, overnight in the fridge – more for breakfast! Yum.
What you need
100g plain flour
pinch of salt
1 egg yolk
50g melted butter (I use microwave)
What to do
1. Put all the ingredients bar the milk into your bowl and whisk together with a balloon whisk. Gradually add the milk, whisking as you go. Pour through a sieve into a jug and leave to stand, as above.
2. Using a 15-20cm frying pan, heat a small knob of butter on a high-ish heat, and once it’s sizzling hot, add a small ladleful of batter mixture to just cover the base of the pan. ‘Swoosh’ it round the pan by picking it up and moving it around.
3. Use a pancake turner to lift the mixture away from the edge of the pan a little and once the edges turn pale brown (after 30-60 seconds), use it to flip the pancake over and cook for a further 30-60 seconds.
4. Tip out onto a plate or some greaseproof paper.
5. Serve with lemon juice and sugar. Or sliced banana and Nutella. Or squeezy honey and blueberries with Greek yogurt. Or whatever takes your fancy!
These are absolutely yummy and take me back to my own childhood. Grate some cheddar cheese and chop two slices of decent-quality ham. Once you’ve flipped over your pancake, add the cheese and ham mixture to the middle, in a line, and fold the two sides in and over the mixture. Cook for about 30 seconds and then flip the folded pancake back over for a few more seconds, to ensure the cheese is well and truly melted. Serve.
I have been making this recipe for years – it is so simple and so tasty that you can’t really go wrong. If you’ve never tried it on your children, I urge you to – in my experience, adults and children alike love it, and what’s more, it’s good for you – mackerel is an oily fish full of VIP Omega 3. Some recipes over-complicate mackerel pate, I think all you really need is mackerel, soft cheese and lemon juice. It really is that easy.
You’ll find smoked mackerel in shrink-wrapped packs in the chiller in the supermarket; I opt for the non-peppered one as it can be a bit strong, and the children prefer it without peppercorns. Once you’ve skinned the mackerel, this can be made pretty much one-handed as you just stick everything in the food processor. Which then goes in the dishwasher. Joy. The other great thing is that it freezes beautifully, so you could make double and keep some for next time. More joy.
Mackerel pate is great served on toast for lunch or a snacky tea, but it also works brilliantly as a dip; children (and dinosaurs) love dunking carrot batons, red pepper strips, cucumber sticks, breadsticks, strips of pitta bread and Kettle chips into it, too.
200g smoked mackerel
100g light cream cheese
Juice of half a lemon
Twist of black pepper (but not if you chose the peppered smoked mackerel)
What to do
1. Remove the skin and put the mackerel fillet in a food processor with the cream cheese and the lemon juice and a twist of black pepper.
2. Blitz until combined and taste; if you feel it needs a bit more lemon juice add another squeeze.
3. Serve as suggested (dinosaur optional).