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!
1. Wake up to find two small people in bed with us
2. Get up, make breakfast for small people; return upstairs for shower and get dressed (jeans and top; luckily my office is casual)
3. Discuss the merits of the the Sam Silver Undercover Pirate series with son in kitchen while tidying
4. Help small daughter put milk, yogurt, butter back in fridge, which takes three times longer than if I’d done it myself 🙂
5. Put on load of washing (quick wash), remove washing from machine, hang up
6. Eat some breakfast (briefly sit down!), give up on coffee – no time
7. Quickly wash up a few items so I don’t have to come home to them later. No time to empty dishwasher
8. Go on to Young Vic website and spend ten minutes booking tickets for A Streetcar Named Desire – website is a pain, so takes ages. Simultaneously brush daughter’s hair with other hand. Get tickets! Whoop!
9. Brush small peoples’ teeth; brush own teeth
10. Realise have no make-up on; dash upstairs. Dash back downstairs to put packed lunch and book in son’s bag; kiss children goodbye, say goodbye to husband, who is taking children to childminder, while shouting last-minute instructions at each other 😉
11. Bin day!! Put bins out (eew)
12. Check emails – phew, nothing urgent
13. Write this and leave for work. Oooops, running late!! Still no time for make-up – taking bag with meeeeee
Byeeee! TOHC X
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 am writing this while listening to The Ministry of Sound 90s Anthems CD. Oh yes. Not my usual Saturday afternoon listening choice, but it sure as hell is taking me back to student days, badly lit discos, getting ready to go out clubbing, and road trips across the country with mates in small cars. It’s funny how certain music can take you back to a certain moment in time. It’s almost as if I am still 20. Almost.
So, weirdly, no clubbing for me tonight, but I am going out for dinner here, and am muchly looking forward to it. In the meantime, I wanted to share one of my current favourite bits of kitchen kit, which helps me do things one-handed in the kitchen.
I recently discovered these one-handed pepper mills and salt grinders from David Mason Design in Waitrose. It is impossible to use a pepper mill when you have a baby in one hand – no matter how much you want to add a grinding of pepper to your pasta sauce, you can’t until you’ve put baby down. Which is sometimes not an option, as we know. But don’t worry, Things Can Only Get Better.
With one of these brilliantly designed mills, you can add pepper with one hand. With the aptly named ‘Triga’ you just pull the ‘trigger’ and you’re off. With the ‘Pepperpod’ you simply squeeze the handles together. I did find that the Triga salt mill doesn’t grind your salt fine fine, however, and is probably more suitable for adding salt while cooking than using at the table. However, they also have the ‘Triga Combi’, which is a pepper grinder at the bottom, and a salt shaker at the top. This is the Rhythm of the Night… sorry, I mean the ultimate in one-handed seasoning! Oh yeah.
We hosted Christmas this year. Cor, it’s hard work. And I didn’t even cook the Christmas Day lunch; my lovely husband was in charge of proceedings! But before we even reached the dizzy heights of Christmas Day itself, about three hundred other things happened: the turkey was duly ordered, the tree was lavishly decorated (the children’s help meant we had a lot of bauble clustering), the presents were chosen, bought and wrapped, a Belgian Christmas market was visited, and various Christmas ‘do’s’ were attended and staggered home from. All quite knackering, but great fun. Ho ho ho.
With Christmas over, my thoughts turn to 2014. What’s in store for the blog? Well, 2013 has been quite incredible on that front, with lots of new readers, followers, supporters and comments. Meeting new blogger friends and catching up with old ones at Mumsnet BlogFest was a highlight. All these things really spur me on, and so I intend to carry on sharing useful tidbits of advice, anecdotes, recipes, gadgets and kitchen equipment all designed to help make life in the kitchen a bit easier when you have small people to tend to at the same time. It’s not always easy. It’s not always fun. But we’re all in it together, and I hope you enjoy what you read here and on Twitter and see on my Pinterest boards.
So, in a bid to actually achieve something beyond eating 4 mince pies a day during this funny ‘in between Christmas and New Year’ period, I wanted to share 6 things I’ve learned this Christmas:
- You can never have too many mince pies (see above)
- Leaving out a mince pie and a glass of sherry for Father Christmas and a carrot for the reindeer is a wonderful Christmas moment for children
- When it comes to the turkey, go Rolls Royce*
- Family matters
- TV doesn’t (what actually happened in that Downton episode anyway?)
- Packet bread sauce is for wimps
*We had a Kelly Bronze which came in a special box with a meat thermometer (!); wasn’t cheap, tasted delicious.
Season’s Greetings, folks!
So, Littlest has started nursery school and has settled in a treat, thank goodness. She has got her little group of friends, old and new, and I hear about them every day, and the games they get up to. Because of work I don’t get to pick her up every day, but on the days I do collect her, I noticed she was very thirsty at the end of the session. She’s grown out of her Tommee Tippee beaker, but whenever I gave her a normal plastic water bottle, half of it would end up down her front. I needed a solution for my thirsty girl!
Thanks to the lovely folks at Oxo Tot who make gorgeous colourful products, we have found the answer! The all-new and super-stylish Twist Top Water Bottle – designed especially for children aged 2+. It’s just the right size, at 350ml, so it fits nicely into small hands. When you turn the top, the straw pops out – perfect. My little one cannot manage to twist the top herself though – I have to do that for her – but she can close it. The top is nicely rubberized, there is a handy carrying loop, it is leakproof (yes!), easy to wash, and all in all is a good quality bit of kit – as you’d expect from this family-friendly brand.
Those same lovely folks at Oxo Tot have given me three to give away on the blog – one in Aqua, one in Green and one in Raspberry! So, if you’d like to win one, please comment on this post. To be in with a chance of winning a Water Bottle, you have to a) follow @onehandedcook on Twitter AND b) RT my tweet about the giveaway!
THE DEADLINE FOR ENTRIES HAS NOW PASSED AND THE WINNERS HAVE BEEN SELECTED! THANKS TO EVERYONE WHO ENTERED.
The small print:
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 Tots Twist Top Water Bottle.
3. The competition ends at 09:00am on the 25th November 2013.
4. One winner will be drawn at random from all valid entries.
5. One entry per person.
6. The prize is one Oxo Tots Twist Top Water Bottle.
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.
For an 18-year window, it’s ALL about being a mummy…
Loved Mumsnet Blogfest. I was so lucky to win a ticket! Thank you, Mumsnet.
I came away inspired – inspired to write, inspired to keep up my blog, inspired to read more blogs, inspired to be funny (it’s all about the LOLZ), inspired to be a positive role model for my children, inspired to wear pink wellies, and inspired to make my blog the best I can (in the time I have available!).
Join me. Get inspired. Go to http://www.mumsnet.com/bloggers-network and get reading. You will be opening a door onto a whole new world of brilliant blogs…