It’s that time of the year again – when I wish I’d started Christmas prep in September… But hey ho, I’m just not that organised. If you are feeling the strain slightly, here are my Top Five Tips for a Great Christmas Day for busy mums, dads, grannies, grandpas – and everyone else.
- Do not panic. Get organised by thinking through the entire menu in advance and the various pots, pans and other dishes you will need on Christmas Day – check you know where they are, they are clean and they are ready to go.
- Delegate. If your child is old enough to carry cutlery without falling over and accidentally stabbing themselves then they can help set the table. Get your dad to serve the drinks. Uncle Geoff can wash up. Small children like tasks too – you need everyone on board here. Your new mantra is, ‘Remember, there’s no ‘i’ in team, folks!’
- Preparation. Check now you have the following essentials at home: batteries, coffee, black bin bags, number for local taxi firm, corkscrew that actually works, kitchen roll, loo roll, matches, copious amounts of sparkling wine 😉
- Get outside. It is very easy to get very hot, quite stressed and cooped up in the house on Christmas Day. Get outside for some fresh air – you and the children will appreciate it! Stretch your legs with a little walk – you will come back to the hectic household feeling refreshed (and maybe even ready for more cheese…).
- Music. Everyone likes a festive tune to help gee things along; line up a great Christmas playlist now (or better still, delegate this to husband/boyfriend/teenager– see point 2) – from carols to Bing Crosby, a good old family singalong as you dry up the dishes together can be one of those bonding moments you never forget!
Enjoy your Christmas Day!
It’s been an amazing year for me on lots of fronts, but of course, like any working mum of young children it’s had its stressful moments too, so I am really looking forward to a break from the routine. We are spending Christmas day with my lovely mum and dad, which we are all looking forward to. (Mum – make sure you read my handy tips!)
Thank you everyone for reading my blog, for sharing your stories and for supporting The One-Handed Cook in 2014. Thank you to the brands I’ve worked with for your support, too. Here’s to more in 2015.
Have a lovely Christmas everyone!
If you can think ahead when it comes to preparing meals –whether for the children, to eat together as a family, or for two invariably tired parents, then you have already won half the battle in the kitchen, I find. It’s taken a while, but I have learnt that cooking ‘stage by stage’ is a great way of helping me feel like I am (kind of) on top of things. By ‘stage by stage’ I mean using little windows of opportunity when the little ones are asleep/occupied in their high chair/at school to get ahead – so, for example washing and chopping vegetables in advance and storing in the fridge, or pre-roasting root veg to stir into a salad or pasta dish – this helps make prepping supper one-handed with baby on your hip a breeze!
Being a spontaneous kind of girl, at first this notion of planning and doing meal prep in advance really went against the grain, but I have persevered, and now I find it an incredibly useful approach to cooking, especially given the hours I work, and the precious weekend time that I want to spend with the family.
If you can get into the habit of being organized, planning meals, and cooking in stages you will feel calmer and more in control in the kitchen. You will also find you spend less time trying to rustle up meals on the fly and cooking when it’s reached ‘tipping point’, i.e. when the children are hungry and whiny, which can, let’s face it, be very stressful. And no-one likes to be stressed in the kitchen!
To help you feel less stressed and more calm and in control in the kitchen, here are my top time-saving tips for busy people:
- Use the windows of opportunity available to you throughout the day to get ahead: prepare vegetables, make a white sauce, prepare the couscous – even just 5 minutes used well can help you cut down on cooking time later on.
- Keep a well-stocked store cupboard – this is one of the secrets to success in the kitchen. If you have a selection of ingredients to hand then you will always be able to prepare something quick, easy and interesting.
- Put aside some time to plan the week’s meals. Having an overview of who is eating what and when will help you plan the shopping and reduce waste.
- Don’t be afraid to take shortcuts if you are pressed for time and your week is going to be madly busy: no-one else is going to know (or likely care) if you buy ready-prepared vegetables. Don’t judge yourself either – do it and move on.
- Stock your freezer with practical things (bags of frozen veg, homemade stock for later use, prawns etc.) and also interesting bits and bobs so that even the most unexciting prospect can be transformed. A tin of tuna and some sundried tomatoes can suddenly look quite interesting served with some posh bread from the freezer and a drizzle of olive oil. (A tub of fancy ice-cream can go a long way, too…)
- Make double and freeze half for another meal. Stocks, curries, stews, pasta sauces and soups all freeze really well. Feel smug as you get it out the freezer next time 🙂
Let me know your time-saving tips!
Hope these help.
With special thanks to Jenny at The Gingerbread House for letting me reproduce her wonderful Playmobil clock photo to illustrate this post!
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.
There was an article in the Daily Mail this week which highlighted the fact that us Brits are guilty of buying kitchen gadgets that we think we will use and love, but that in reality just sit in the cupboard gathering dust. As a result, toasted sandwiches, along with homemade panini and coffee, cost us an average of £10.68 each time we have one because these gadgets are so rarely used. Yikes. And you thought Starbucks was expensive…
I confess I do have a toasted sandwich maker, and it does actually come out from time to time, simply because it can make even the most boring cheese sarnie vaguely interesting, and the children like them. But I know there are other gadgets lurking that I never use – paella pan I had to have (used once), pasta machine (used twice), mouli-legumes (hate the bloody thing, wish I’d never bought it – cleaning the thing is an absolute nightmare), brandy glasses (used once since we got married a hundred years ago), miniature nutmeg grater… What was I thinking?
Having said that, I have some hero gadgets I absolutely LOVE and couldn’t live without, many of which I am sharing here on my blog. So far we’ve had my one-handed tin opener (a godsend), my easy-peasy lemon squeezer, super pink tongs (they don’t have to be pink) and the amazing one-handed colander. With more to come (I know!).
So rid yourself of the unnecessary kitchen clutter, reclaim your kitchen drawers, chuck out those novelty oven gloves, pass on the breadmaker you’ve never used, repurpose that ‘hilarious’ guitar-shaped spatula and start afresh. You’ll thank me in the long run.
Your kitchen buddy,
I want to know what gadgets or pieces of kitchen equipment did you simply have to have, and are now lying unloved in a cupboard somewhere, or worse in the loft? Come on, ‘fess up – I want to hear the good, the bad and the ugly!
Last year I was lucky enough to win tickets to The Baby Show and so I went along, ready to be inspired, having just started writing this blog. I saw lots of things that day, but the one thing I took a photo of, and oohed and aahed over, was really nothing much to do with babies. It was on the Oxo Tot stand that I came across this wonderful product, from parent company Oxo (nothing to do with stock cubes) – a company I knew previously for its fantastic salad spinner…
Oxo kindly sent me some of these fantastic POP storage containers – as they are called – to test out, and they are so brilliant, I had to share with you here. They are the perfect storage container for the one-handed cook – you simply pop the top to release the airtight seal, use the button as a handle to lift off the lid, and you’re away. You can make a cup of tea one-handed, you can pour granola on your yogurt one-handed, you can get the spaghetti out one-handed… perfect for the multi-tasking mum (or dad)!
They stack neatly, so you can keep them on the side or in your cupboard, they are BPA-free, and because you can see inside, you can keep tabs on supplies. So whether, you’re storing Cheerios, Lego or teabags, these are so easy to use, easy to clean and easy on the eye, they make it into The One-Handed Cook’s list of top kitchen equipment! Check out my Pinterest kitchen gadgets board, where I’ve pinned a few photos I found – they really do look lovely.
And, what’s more, Oxo have given me five 0.9 litre POP containers to give away to you my lovely blog readers. (In the photo at the top, this is the size of container with the Lego in.) Yay!
To be in with a chance of winning a 0.9L POP container, you have to a) follow @onehandedcook on Twitter AND b) RT my tweet about the giveaway!
04.02.13 THE ENTRY DEADLINE HAS PASSED – THANKS FOR ALL YOUR ENTRIES AND THE WINNERS WILL BE NOTIFIED SHORTLY!
The small print:
All the views here on the blog are my own.
1. Entry in to the prize draw will be deemed as acceptance of these rules.
2. The prize draw is open to any UK resident, aged 18 or over, who follows the @onehandedcook Twitter account AND retweets the tweet about the prize draw referencing the prize of an Oxo 0.9 litre POP container
3. The competition starts at 10pm UK time on Tuesday 29 January 2013 and ends at 09:00am on 4 February 2013.
4. One winner will be drawn at random from all valid entries.
5. One entry per person.
6. The prize is one Oxo 0.9 litre POP container.
7. The prize is non-negotiable, non-transferable, and there is no cash alternative.
8. The draw will be made by random selection within seven days of the competition ending and the prize posted to the winner’s home address within 30 days.
9. The winner will be notified by direct message on Twitter if they have won.
10. If a response is not received by the winner within 30 days they will forfeit their right to the prize.
11. No purchase necessary.
12. This prize draw is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with Twitter and Twitter shall not be liable in any way whatsoever to the Users.
On Monday night I was invited to an event by foodie campaigners Slow Food UK. They are on a mission to preserve our food heritage, and one of their aims is to encourage people to cook so-called ‘forgotten foods’. They invited chef Anna Hansen from London restaurant The Modern Pantry to come and cook with some of these foods, including quince and einkorn flour, to show us how it’s done.
I have eaten at Anna’s restaurant and have her rather wonderful cookbook, too. But seeing her cook in real life, and talk about how she approaches flavours and ingredients was inspirational. Her trademark style is to combine flavours from the ‘global larder’, so – rather than saying that wasabi is Japanese, and can therefore only go with Japanese food, for example, she thinks carefully about how individual flavours combine, and might add wasabi to a dish that we think of as being typically French, with surprising and delicious results – and trust me, I have tasted her food, it’s amazing.
At the demo she cooked a wonderful-smelling and delicious lamb dish, and used the most incredible array of herbs and spices, and I came home to my kitchen keen to try using spices with a renewed vigour. So, I was going to make lemon shortbread for you this week, but inspired by Anna Hansen, I bring you Orange Cardamom Shortbread, which is completely lovely (and actually quite addictive!), and the children and I have already devoured much of the shortbread Jenga you see before you. Good food is not a game!
Orange Cardamom Shortbread
Makes about 12 pieces (each one slightly bigger than a Jenga piece)
I’d like to start by saying that shortbread is Very Easy To Make, so perfect for the one-handed cook, who may be trying to do several other things at the same time while also trying to make shortbread (ring any bells?). Or if you have a window of time while the little one is happily watching Peppa Pig, say, this is very quick to whip up. Perfect for a bake sale, a coffee morning, for you, for your granny, hell, you could even wrap some in greaseproof paper then wrap in some pretty fabric with a bit of ribbon and give it as a Christmas present.
You need a hand mixer and a baking tin measuring approx. 8” x 8” x 1½” – assuming you have these, you can get this made and in the oven in about 10 minutes – I kid you not.
150g soft butter
60g caster sugar
250g plain flour
Seeds from 6 cardamom pods (split open, remove seeds and pound in pestle & mortar)
Zest of an orange, finely chopped
What to do
- Heat the oven to 170°C/150°C Fan/325°F. Grease and line your baking tin (or use Cake Release by Lakeland if you can’t be bothered with the faff).
- Cream together the butter, sugar and orange zest in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy.
- Gradually stir in the flour and the ground cardamom seeds until your mixture is light and crumbly. Tip mixture into baking tin.
- Use your fingers to press the mixture into the tin and then the palms of your hands to smooth the top. Mark out fingers with a sharp knife, but don’t cut right through. Prick each finger a couple of times with a fork.
- If you have the time and the inclination, you can brush each finger with a little beaten egg and sprinkle more caster sugar on top before baking in the oven for 25–30 mins. Cool in the tin on a rack.
Leave Peppa Pig DVD playing, sit down and enjoy with a nice cup of tea.