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.
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!
What a week. Work mad, kids deranged, parents crazy, #royalbaby watch gone into overdrive, relentless heat, Leah (she of pink lipstick fame – just wait for the Rimmel contract) won The Apprentice, my lovely son has read the whole of the BFG – and it’s only Thursday. It was our wedding anniversary this week, too, and I am ashamed to say we didn’t celebrate at all, other than to open a bottle of champagne we happened to have. Must try harder next year.
So, anyway, I know it’s hot, but what better than a slice of fruitcake and a cup of tea in the shade come 4pm on a Saturday afternoon, along with a good novel and no kids around? (yeah, dream on…)
Whenever I used to think about making a fruitcake I would push it to the back of my mind, thinking it would take too long. HOWEVER I have recently developed a recipe for a really quick tasty cake that is so easy and so delicious you will be thanking me forever. I recently made one and took it to work with me – we are an office full of cake aficionados – and it got the thumbs up, so I am sharing it here. The kids also love it – a slice in the old packed lunch goes down a treat.
For the best result, you need to make it the day before you eat it; so whip it up on Saturday morning when the kids are watching cartoons, ready for tea on Sunday afternoon. Mmmm.
If you can’t eat the whole thing in one go, cut it in half and freeze the other half! It freezes really well.
Note: If you have the time (and the inclination), the fruit is good pre-soaked, so it has a chance to plump up. Simply put the dried fruit into a Pyrex bowl, make two strong mugs of Earl Grey tea and pour over. Allow to steep for a couple of hours.
225g soft brown sugar
8fl oz milk
450g mixed dried fruit (raisins, currants, sultanas, chopped dried dates, peel)
3 eggs, beaten
450g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp mixed spice
- Preheat the oven to 340°F/170°C/150°C fan
- Melt the butter and sugar in a large saucepan and add the milk and dried fruit, stir and warm through until molten, then pour into a large Pyrex bowl
- Add the rest of the ingredients, and mix well
- Pour the mixture into a greased and lined 8” Springform cake tin (yes, it really is this easy)
- Bake for 1 hour, then remove from the oven and cover with tin foil
- Bake for a further 45 minutes and then check with a skewer; stick into the middle of the cake and remove. If the skewer is clean, it is done, but if there’s any uncooked mixture on the skewer bake for 5 more minutes
- Cool in the tin on a wire rack and once cool, store in an airtight container
Sit under tree, pour tea, devour cake. Repeat.
Ah, bread. Sourdough. Bloomers. Multiseed. Soda bread. It seems the whole country has gone a bit bread crazy, what with Paul Hollywood’s book racing up the charts and his TV show getting umpteen million viewers every week. It seems we want to know how to get back to basics, how to make focaccia, knead our own dough and fill the air with the wonderful smell of fresh homemade bread baking in the oven.
Not me. Oh, no. I have never been into bread. Sure, I remember making it as a child once or twice, but as a grown-up (sorry, habit) adult, while I have embraced making many different things – cakes of all shapes and sizes, homemade pasta, casseroles, curries, quiches; you name it – bread has never been my thing. Until now.
I received an email a couple of weeks ago from the lovely folks at Mermaid bakeware asking me if I’d like to try their anodized aluminium bakeware in honour of National Bread Week which runs from 16-22 April. I paused, I deliberated … perhaps my reluctance to bake was because I didn’t have a tin? Perhaps with a 2lb loaf tin in my hands I would be inspired? This was my chance! The 2lb/900g loaf tin duly arrived. It is quite a beast. Solid. So solid, it feels as though nothing could ever dent it or scratch it. I liked it from the minute I saw it. A trustworthy tin.
And so, I thought I’d better seek out a recipe. I turned to Jo Wheatley’s trusty cookbook, A Passion for Baking, and in it found a recipe for a Basic White Loaf. Well, you can’t go wrong with a basic white loaf as a starting point, I thought. Miraculously, I even had some Dove’s strong white flour in the cupboard. Perhaps it was meant to be. I should point out that we were going to the in-laws for a long weekend, so I took my loaf tin, my cookbook and my bag of flour with me. My mother-in-law has an Aga – the perfect environment for bread-making – a lovely warm place to let the dough rise and prove. Plus she’s got a Kenwood mixer. She was slightly non-plussed when, on arrival, I announced, ‘I need to make bread’, but she’s coped with a lot more weird stuff over the years, let me tell you.
So, I set to work. I followed Jo’s recipe to a tee (page 163 of her book, if you’re interested), using dried yeast and the Kenwood dough hook to do the 7 minutes’ kneading required (one-handed I hasten to add). An Aga really is an asset when making bread, I have to say. The dough rose beautifully in the bowl, and I was able to leave the tin to warm up before popping in the dough in and, after proving, into the roasting oven (top right). It only took 20 mins to bake, and it was beautiful.
I was so proud of myself. I’d made a loaf of bread! And I’d really enjoyed it! I don’t know what I had feared all those years. The loaf itself looked nice – Jo suggests brushing the loaf with beaten egg yolk before baking, which gives it a nice sheen. I do think it could rise a bit more, and will experiment next time. But in terms of flavour – wow! I actually wasn’t expecting much, but it tasted really good. As my father-in-law observed, ‘It’s got a proper flavour. It tastes like bread used to taste,’ plus both children really liked it, just plain with a bit of butter. Clearly I’d risen to the occasion (sorry – couldn’t resist a pun). It really did taste great, I have to say. Plus, I knew what was in it. No E numbers, no weird preservatives, no crap. Yes, it takes time to make, but once I know what I’m doing, I reckon I’ll be able to fit bread-making in at the weekend around other activities – and it’s actually relaxing and enjoyable.
Bread-making is clearly addictive, as no sooner had I mastered the Basic White Loaf than I was flicking through Aga cookbooks looking for more recipes. Stay tuned to hear about my Six Seed Granary Loaf, made the very next day. I only wish I could have brought the Aga back to London!
If you’re interested in making the switch to eating real bread check out the Campaign for Real Bread website here.
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.
What a week. I’ve been poorly, both kids have been poorly. Work has been missed. School has been missed. Appetites have been lost. It’s all been a bit topsy turvy, so it was a relief to get back to normal this weekend and do some cooking and baking. Lovely husband bought me Annie Bell’s Baking Bible – woah, now there’s a baking book and a half. I loved it from the moment I saw it, and chose to make Blueberry and Orange Muffins, which were delish, and look, I even managed to find the recipe for you here. I have long been a fan of Annie Bell and this is a super book for the home baker.
Today we caught up with old friends who live out in the countryside, which was lovely. It’s always nice to have a breather from London. Seeing our five (between us) children playing and growing up together is a joy. Seeing my friend’s large and well-stocked larder, however, is not a joy as I am proper jealous.
Macaroni Cheese with Chicken and Rosemary
One of the things busy parents are always on the lookout for are simple pasta dishes for a family meal. We are all huge fans of macaroni cheese, but I started thinking about how it could be tweaked, plus made a bit simpler without having to make a white sauce each time, which can be a faff if you’re just trying to get Dinner On The Table. This recipe just uses crème fraîche – use half-fat if you like – and works a treat.
This rather moreish pasta dish, which you could also make using penne, rigatoni (or whatever really) is a great dish for a Monday night after a roast chicken on a Sunday, because you can use leftover cooked chicken. Which we like.
Note that stages 1 and 2 could be done in advance and left to rest (refrigerate the chicken once it’s cool if necessary) until you are ready to make the whole dish. I’m a big fan of stage-by-stage cooking, and using the windows of time available while the children are occupied, as you know!
What you need
300g macaroni (which you can cook in advance)
Approx 150g leftover roast chicken, or two medium-sized chicken breasts
400ml crème fraîche
½ clove of garlic, crushed
A sprig of rosemary, leaves removed and finely chopped
2 handfuls of grated cheese – Monterey Jack, strong Cheddar, Gruyère all good
Salt and freshly ground pepper
What to do
- Cook the macaroni or other pasta according to the instructions on the packet. Once cooked, drain and set aside.
- Meanwhile, if you need to cook the meat from scratch, slice each chicken breast into smallish pieces (bite-size for kids), heat a griddle pan or frying pan, add a dash of olive oil and sauté until cooked through. Set aside.
- Pre-heat the oven to 200˚C/180˚C (Fan)/gas 6
- Put the crème fraîche into a non-stick saucepan and set over a gentle heat. Add the rosemary and garlic, stir, and bring to a simmer.
- Add the cooked chicken and the cheese and season (go gently if serving to toddlers). Remove the pan from the heat and add the cooked pasta, stirring it together well.
- Pour into an ovenproof dish, top with a bit more grated cheese (you could also add some ready-made breadcrumbs if you have some, or scatter on a bit more chopped rosemary) and bake for 18-20 minutes until golden and bubbling. Nice served with green beans.
Christmas is always a big deal in our house because it’s my son’s birthday on Boxing Day, and so we enter a New Year with him a year older, which always makes me feel older. My daughter is growing fast, too, and starting to exhibit a new level of enterprise and cunning; her latest trick of an evening is getting out of her Grobag and catapulting herself out of the cot with a wicked cackle of glee. I am in denial – she’s my baby – she can’t grow up. I won’t allow it.
So, anyway, 2013 has been quite busy for me already, what with one thing and another, and I haven’t had as much time to cook as I would like. Thankfully, the good old weekly Riverford box has come into its own, and I have been throwing together such things as aubergine curry, minestrone soup and cauliflower cheese. It’s amazing what you can rustle up without having to leave the house, if your store cupboard is fairly well stocked and you have some cheese knocking about (one of my store-cupboard faves is this Gia Sundried Tomato Purée, incidentally – it’s brilliant in so many dishes).
One thing I seem to have had a glut of is bananas. And so I made my quick and very tasty banana bread this week, and thought I’d share the recipe here. Not strictly one-handed, although some bits could be done with a baby perched on your hip, it can be whipped up in no time at all. It is really delicious, and what with snow allegedly coming, I can’t think of anything nicer than sitting inside, all cosy, eating a slice of this warm from the oven with a dab of butter, while the snow falls outside. Yum.
Nutty Banana Bread
Mashing bananas to make this always reminds of mashing bananas for the babies when I was weaning them: plate, fork, ripe bananas, tiny spoons, puckered lips, flat refusal, banana on the floor, banana in their hair, banana in my hair, banana absolutely everywhere – ah, happy days.
This is dead simple, so it’s perfect if you have a few overripe bananas lying around that you can’t bear to see going to waste and someone is coming for tea. If you don’t have walnuts, macadamia nuts are good too. Chopped medjool dates are nice stirred in, although they are very sweet so you could reduce the sugar a little if adding those. You could also try sprinkling poppyseeds on top.
3 ripe bananas, mashed up
75g soft butter (get it out the fridge in advance or soften in microwave)
160g soft brown sugar (100g soft brown + 60g dark brown sugar also works well)
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking powder
1 pinch salt
170g wholemeal flour (50:50 wholemeal & plain flour works well, too)
small pinch ground cloves
50g walnut halves, chopped, and save a few halves to go on top
What to do
- Preheat the oven to 180˚C/160˚C Fan/Gas mark 4 and grease a small loaf tin (7½” x 3½”), or use some Lakeland quick release spray.
- To a mixing bowl add: the mashed bananas, butter, sugar, egg and vanilla extract and mix.
- Mix in the baking powder, the salt, the ground cloves and finally the flour. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and decorate with a couple of walnut halves.
- Bake for 45 mins and check. Insert a skewer; if it comes out clean, it’s done. If not, return to the oven for another 10 minutes.
- Allow to cool in the tin a little, and then… dig in!