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.
If you’re after a super-quick delicious muffin recipe, read on!
I just love rhubarb – it’s often forgotten in discussions about great fruit (although strictly speaking, it’s actually a vegetable, but let’s not worry about that), but it’s usually around this time every year, when my mum informs me that her rhubarb patch has gone wild and asks if I’d like some, that I remember just how much I like it. Rhubarb does require quite a lot of sugar to make it palatable, which is a downside, given my efforts to reduce the sugar intake here at OH HQ, but then the tang of rhubarb is an unbeatable flavour, and these muffins offer a delicious and easy way to bake with rhubarb.
This recipe was inspired by a recent visit to new artisan bakeshop Kitchen in Langport in Somerset, on our half-term travels, where we tasted rhubarb & raspberry muffins for the first time and they were declared ‘delicious’.
I hadn’t thought of using rhubarb in muffins before, but it’s great, particularly with raspberries. What’s brilliant is that you don’t need to cook the rhubarb beforehand – you just stir it into your mixture – which means these muffins literally take about 10 minutes to make – perfect for the time-pressed parent.
I am into coconut oil at the moment (I use Lucy Bee coconut oil, which I bought in my local health food shop) so I tried it in this recipe and it worked a treat, although you could also use melted butter.
These were a complete hit here – both children loved them. They are great for a weekend brunch, an afternoon snack or even in lunchboxes or for a picnic, now the weather’s cheered up a bit!
Rhubarb & Raspberry Muffins
Makes approx. 10 muffins
200g self-raising flour
½ tsp cinnamon
90g golden caster sugar
80g melted coconut oil (I used the microwave)
2 free-range eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 or 3 stalks of rhubarb, sliced into ½ cm pieces
Handful of raspberries (fresh or frozen)
Flaked almonds, for sprinkling
Demerara sugar, for sprinkling
What to do:
- Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C Fan/350°F, and line your muffin tin with muffin cases.
- Sift the flour and cinnamon into a bowl, and stir in the sugar
- Stir the wet ingredients (melted oil, milk, eggs and vanilla essence) into the dry ingredients and mix, but don’t overmix – lumps are fine.
- Lastly, stir in the chopped rhubarb and the raspberries (if they’re frozen, straight from the freezer is fine)
- Spoon the mixture into the muffin cases, and sprinkle a little demerara sugar on top of each one for crunch.
- Finish each muffin with a good sprinkling of flaked almonds.
- Bake for about 30 mins – test with a skewer – and allow to cool on a wire rack.
It’s almost the end of half term, which has meant a week off school and work and some family time. We’ve been in Somerset with the in-laws, and have had some nice outings, including to the Sherborne Castle Country Fair and the local RSPB sanctuary to learn about baby animals, which was very sweet until the children got tired and hungry – at which point sweet went sour and we made a run for it, home for soup and sourdough bread…
Having a bit of time off has given me the chance to take a proper look at Top Bananas! The best ever family recipes from Mumsnet by the ever-so-talented Crumbs sisters, Lucy and Claire McDonald (if you don’t know their blog, you must check it out now!) which I was sent to review. It is a lovely looking book, packed with glossy photos (there is a photo for every dish) and more than 100 family-friendly recipes ranging from Breakfasts and Sunday Lunch ideas to Packed Lunches, so it’s been really well thought through.
The tone is breezy and light, and the authors have clearly been around the block when it comes to putting a family meal on the table – their amusing insights into some of the less glamorous sides of being a parent had me chuckling, not least in the Introduction to the Sunday lunch chapter in which they described how parents imagine Sunday lunch with friends will be, and how it is in reality (in essence, as long as there is some half-decent food on the table and the kids are happy and eat some of it too, all will be well). Yup, been there.
The authors make a point of saying that they want to encourage families to eat together, that the ingredients they use are easy to get hold of, that the dishes are simple and that they will be sprinkling in shortcuts and tips along the way – all of which is music to this busy mum’s ears. The recipes are arranged by meal type, so the book is easy to navigate, and the clear layout and photos make it a joy to browse through and plan what to make.
My feedback would be that although this is clearly defined as a family cookbook, there is not much discussion about portion size for different child age ranges, which I was expecting, and each recipe states how many adults it serves, which I found strange. There is no mention of children or babies at all – it’s either ‘serves one adult’, ‘serves two adults’ or ‘serves four adults’ or whatever. Perhaps this is meant to be used as a guide, but I would have preferred something like ‘perfect for four hungry children’ or ‘for a family of four, with leftovers’ as I personally think this would have suited the book’s audience better.
My only other gripe is that there isn’t a single photo of Lucy and Claire anywhere in the book, which I think was an oversight, given that their voices are so clear and warm throughout. Even just a photo of them at the end would have been a nice addition; as a reader, you feel like you get to know them as you use the book, but you don’t get a sense of what they look like, which is a shame, I think! Having been lucky enough to meet them at blogging events, I can vouch for the fact that they are absolutely lovely in real life, and a pic or two in the book would have been a great addition to help give it personality.
I decided to make the Courgette Fritters as I had all the ingredients on hand, and I am always keen for my children to eat more veg in a main course capacity. I followed the recipe to the letter, and it worked a treat. I used my food processor to grate the courgette, which took seconds.
The alternative suggestions – using Feta instead of Cheddar, or alternative fresh herbs – were good. I thought the fritters could have done with extra seasoning, but the tip to dip them into sweet chilli sauce was a great one, and I’d make this recipe again. Next I’m planning to make 12-Hour Pulled Pork, which Knackered Mother Helen tells me is ‘amazing’. Bring it on.
All in all, a great addition to any busy parent’s cookbook collection. Congrats Mumsnet, and Claire and Lucy!
Disclaimer: I was sent a free copy of Top Bananas! to review but all opinions are my own.
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!
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 recently met someone whose baby wasn’t that keen on meat, and she was struggling to find alternatives for main meals. It got me thinking about lentils, and how good they are for you, and about meat-free alternatives to popular winter warmer dishes. I also feel as though we need some meat-free options post Christmas, which was heavy on meat. Lentils contain lots of protein, as well as valuable amounts of B vitamins, plus iron, zinc and calcium. They are also a good source of fibre. And they’re cheap. What’s not to like?
In my Meat-free Moussaka I use good old tinned lentils (in this case, Waitrose Essentials Tinned Lentils), which cost 69p a tin. The dish also contains child-friendly tomato sauce, cheese sauce and potatoes, so hopefully the lentils, which older ones may be unsure about, won’t look too ‘strange’. If they’ve never tried aubergine, give it a whirl. My 3-year-old astonished me by devouring an entire plateful the first time I made this; no complaints.
Now you may be thinking that moussaka is a labour-intensive dish to make, and it’s true, it does have quite a few elements to it. But the beauty of my recipe is that I have separated it into 4 components, each of which can be completed as a single entity. You then just assemble them to make the final dish. So, this is the perfect supper dish to make if you know you have, say, 20 mins now to do one part – the tomato–lentil sauce, for instance, and that tomorrow, or later on, you could do the potatoes and the aubergine while baby naps or the kids are busy, and then the cheese sauce last of all before baking the final dish in the oven. When you finally put it on the table, you’ll be pleased you made the effort 🙂
Each component can be made and chilled overnight if needs be. You can even assemble all 4 components into the finished dish and then chill that overnight ready for baking the next day, too (but get it out the fridge and bring it to room temperature before baking). The end result is really delicious and will keep the whole family happy. If you want to try it on your baby, I suggest making a separate mini moussaka with the tomato–lentil sauce blended up (to make the lentils more digestsible) and omitting the aubergine, so you just layer blended tomato–lentil sauce, cooked potato and cheesy sauce.
1 large aubergine
Olive oil for brushing aubergine + more for sautéing onions and garlic
1 onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tin (400g) chopped tomatoes
1 tin (400g) lentils, drained and rinsed in cold water
750g Charlotte or other waxy potatoes
1 ½ tbsp. cornflour
400ml whole milk
Good handful grated Cheddar cheese (approx. 50–100g) + extra to go on top
Salt and pepper
Lots of moussaka recipes require you to fry the aubergine in oil, but I like to keep things simple! Simply line a large baking tray with foil, brush it with olive oil and arrange the sliced aubergines, then brush them generously with oil and bake at 200˚C/180˚C Fan/ 400˚F for 15 mins. Put to one side. As I said, it’s fine to let them completely cool and come back to them later when you assemble the dish.
2. Tomato–lentil sauce
Make a thick tomato sauce as follows: sweat the onions and garlic in 2tbsp olive oil for about 10 minutes, before adding a good squeeze of tomato puree, and the chopped tomatoes. Simmer gently for around 10–15 minutes, and then add the tinned lentils (which have been drained and rinsed). Simmer for a further 10 minutes or so until the sauce thickens. If it looks a bit too thick, add a bit of water. Put to one side. This sauce can be cooled and refrigerated overnight.
Wash and slice the potatoes (there’s no need to peel them!) into slices about the thickness of a pound coin. Add to a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer for approx. 4 minutes, until fairly soft. Again, lots of moussaka recipes say boil the potatoes and then slice them, which is a total nightmare as they are a) hot and b) crumbly. This method works a treat! Drain and put to one side.
4. Cheese sauce
A cheese sauce is the first thing my mum ever taught me to make, as a teenager, and I still follow her method today. It will remain engrained in my brain forever. Melt the butter in a high-sided saucepan (I use a Stellar 7000 sauce pot; it may sound terribly pretentious but it’s specially designed for making sauces, and never lets me down!), add the cornflour to make a roux, stirring all the time, then add the milk (if you have the wherewithal, pre-heat the milk in the microwave for a minute and a half), stirring continually to prevent lumps from forming. Add a grating of nutmeg and seasoning, and keep stirring until the sauce starts to thicken and bubble. Then turn down the heat and cook for a minute or two. Remove from the heat and stir in your grated Cheddar. Put to one side.
5. Assemble your moussaka!
Pre-heat oven to 200˚C/180˚C Fan/ 400˚F. Take a largeish gratin dish (mine is 9” x 9”) – the aim is to have two layers of everything, finishing with a layer of sauce, topped with grated cheese. Start with half the tomato–lentil sauce, then half the aubergines, then half the potatoes, then half the sauce. Repeat. Top with the cheese and a twist or two of black pepper and bake for approx. 35–40 minutes until golden. Good served with courgettes sautéd in butter or a green salad.
Enjoy your meat-free moussaka!
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.