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.
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!
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!
I met my dear friend Camilla for lunch the other day. She brought her delectable baby son Zeb with her, who is 16 months old. Once we’d set up his high chair and we’d ordered our meal, he proceeded to sit and devour the contents of the carefully packed little containers of food she had stowed away in her bag. One revealed pieces of cucumber, mini tomatoes and strips of cheese, another fresh blueberries and raspberries. Once he’d worked his way through these, she brought out the big guns: two mini hummus sandwiches. Surely life doesn’t get better for a one-year-old. His obvious delight in feeding himself was clear. And in the meantime, we were able to tuck in to our (delicious) moussaka at the same time and have a good old chat. Result.
My friend is a huge advocate of BLW (baby-led weaning). Not once had she spent her precious free time labouring over a pile of apples that needed peeling, coring, chopping, cooking and puréeing, nor had she mashed up bananas nor had she spent hours making sweet potato and carrot mush and dolloping it into ice-cube trays. From day one, Zeb had fed himself. As someone who has been through the whole puréeing and spoon-feeding process twice, it was so interesting hearing about an alternative. So I have asked her to contribute to The One-Handed Cook blog by sharing her best BLW advice with you!
A former cookery book editor and now a recipe consultant, Camilla is a true foodie.
Read all about her BLW experience here, and stay tuned for her
Top Five Baby-Led Weaning tips coming soon!
Why did you decide to try BLW?
BLW was first mentioned at an NCT breast feeding workshop I went to and when the time came to introduce solids, all my NCT friends were talking about it and swapping videos. . . it was seeing a YouTube clip of a six-month-old baby devouring a chicken leg that convinced me – (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zzPMAJCPhmA) – though I should say that my son has never quite shown the same mastery of the drumstick!
Did you have any fears or concerns when you first tried BLW?
I was a bit worried about choking at first, but a friend made me see that the BLW approach made it less likely that a baby will choke on a large object because it is used to ‘chewing’ and moving solid things around its mouth unlike a baby who has only been spoon-fed who automatically swallows without chewing. The gag reflex is really strong in young babies and it is all part of learning how to process food.
I also worried that he wouldn’t eat enough but someone else told me that ‘Up to one, food is fun’ because babies get most of their nutrients from formula or breast milk. Zeb didn’t seem to swallow much at first (you spend a lot of time examining dirty nappies for signs of semi-digested food!) but that slowly changed over the first two months or so.
What are the advantages of BLW – for you and for him?
For me, it is the time you gain from not having to sit and spoon-feed your child. You also cut down the amount of cooking because many foods can be given whole and just lightly steamed or roasted. While your child is eating, you can eat your own lunch with him or cook for the next meal, tidy the kitchen, do the crossword . . . Particularly when they start walking, it is a valuable half hour of captivity! I still chat away to him and we try to eat together as often as possible but it does free you up to get things done. I have found that my son often eats more when I’m not sitting and staring at him so I potter around the kitchen, checking in with him and chatting on and off.
Eating out in restaurants is easier because you all eat at the same time and you can get on with your delicious meal without having to do airplanes with spaghetti Bolognese. I think this helps with general behaviour in restaurants – my son seems to be fairly well-mannered eating in public because he is quite used to tucking in to whatever is in front of him without throwing it on the floor or smearing it on every surface. Though it doesn’t stop him reaching for the glasses, cutlery, salt and pepper, butter dish etc. . .
For him, I think it teaches self control, independence and good motor skills (is there a better example of the pincer movement than picking up individual peas?!). The mantra to remember is ‘You choose the food, he chooses the amount’ – I think this sets up healthy eating patterns and good awareness of satiety and hunger for life. If you can trust that your child will eat what it needs and never force food into its mouth (though you are seriously tempted to on occasion!), you can be more relaxed about feeding and mealtimes don’t become a battleground. Perhaps it will all change when he’s older but so far Zebedee eats a wide range of foods without throwing tantrums or sprouts across the room.
I should mention that there are disadvantages too. . . The mess is really bad at first and a change of clothes is often required at the end of each meal but this doesn’t last for too long. There is also a lot of wastage early on; it isn’t the most thrifty way of introducing your child to solids.
Did you buy any books about BLW?
A canny friend told me to buy the BLW cookbook rather than the general BLW book as well as the cookbook because it’s all in the introduction (and online) and you just want the recipes for inspiration. I like the River Cottage Baby and Toddler Cookbook and Jenny Maizels’ Finger Food for Babies and Toddlers for more good ideas.
Tell us the first few things you gave your baby to try? (What age was he?)
At six months, we started with banana and avocado and broccoli. Broccoli is a good one because though it gets everywhere, some of it always goes in and you can track it through their system to their nappy giving you the encouragement to continue! We moved on to mango, asparagus, sweet potato, baby corn, eggy bread and mozzarella balls – all things that are soft enough to eat but hard enough to hold.
What are his favourite things to eat now?
Corn on the cob, felafels, fish cakes, edamame beans, meatballs, cherry tomatoes, buttermilk pancakes.
Would you encourage new mums to try BLW?
Absolutely. . . there are times when you discover more food in the crevices of their clothes or high chair than they have eaten or you are on all fours clearing mush from the floor when you wonder whether it is all worth it, but a year down the line, it is so brilliant to watch Zebedee tucking into risotto or picking up lentils. He already weighs 13Kg at 16 months so I can now totally relax that he is getting enough to eat!
Thanks, Camilla, a brilliant insight into BLW. Love the part about BLW enabling you to
get things done while baby has his lunch!
Stay tuned to The One-Handed Cook for Camilla’s top five BLW tips coming soon!
It’s been a while since I featured a Hero Gadget on the blog. It suddenly struck me that I had not yet featured my beloved Microplane grater, and I’ve been writing this thing for almost a year (er, how the hell did that happen?). So it is time to put things right.
Put simply, any kitchen worth its salt has to have a Microplane grater. For a start, it works. Every time. It doesn’t bend. It won’t buckle. It is rigid and unyielding (a bit like my six-year-old when it comes to eating broccoli). It looks good; it is robust; it is multi-functional. It stays sharp. It goes in the dishwasher. It is the king of graters. This is truly a gadget for a time-pressed parent who just needs things to work.
I have two Microplane graters: a fine one and a coarse one. The fine one is brilliant for grating Parmesan, or any other hard cheese, nutmeg, chocolate etc. It is also completely brilliant for zesting oranges, lemons and limes. The coarse one is also good for Parmesan, but can also be used for fruit and vegetables – onion, celery, carrot, apple – all have seen the rough side of the grater in my house.
Now of course, it is physically impossible to grate something one-handed. So this is a gadget to use quickly, while baby or toddler is content and occupied. Pop him or her in the bouncy chair or the sling, and pick up your Microplane. It won’t let you down, I promise. In fact it will work so well, the only thing that might let you down is over-zealous grating… watch those fingers, folks.
In other news, the oldest one goes back to school tomorrow. Where oh where have six weeks gone? Yes, I was that mum frantically buying school uniform in my lunch hour today. Amazingly, they had trousers in his size. Nothing like leaving things to the last minute…Oh lordy, now I need to sew a name tag on them…
Happy Back to School everyone 🙂