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.
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!
This week’s highlight was winning a ticket to the 2013 Mumsnet BlogFest (for more details, click here)! I really was in shock! I went last year when my blog was but a month old, and was bowled over by the amazing group of bloggers I met, and the quality of the panels for the various topics up for discussion, so I am thrilled to be going again this year. I am looking forward to catching up with blogging friends, and meeting some more lovely people (if you are going, let me know, so I can say hi!) and hearing speakers such as Tanya Byron, the inspirational Jack Monroe from A Girl Called Jack and a whole host of fellow bloggers. Yippee!
So, from BlogFest to, er, mince! (nice segue there…) I recently discovered that there are recipe books devoted entirely to mince. I kid you not. From Favourite Mince Recipes and Marvellous Meals with Mince (by cookery doyenne Josceline Dimbleby no less) to the imaginatively titled Mince! it would appear that us Brits genuinely love the stuff. Certainly, it’s versatile, and children do tend to love it. So is there life beyond spaghetti bolognaise, which I make quite often (i.e. all the time)? I felt compelled to try something different… and so, I bring you chile con carne! It is so easy to make, I hope this will fast become a tea-time hit in your house, too.
I was particularly keen to try chile on the children, because kidney beans are a great source of fibre, protein and B vitamins and provide slow-releasing energy – perfect for active kids (and super heroes…), and I want them to eat more pulses. But I was conscious that adding chilli would make it instantly spicy, and hence a risky option, so I just use cumin and coriander.
So, don’t panic, it’s not spicy – it just has a lovely rich, warming flavour, primarily from the cumin, which gives it that Mexican chile-style hit. Initially I was a bit nervous about the reaction I’d get to the kidney beans, so rather than serving the chile with rice, I served it in tortilla wraps to hide the kidney beans (I know, I know), with a bit of rice, grated cheese, cut-up avocado and a dollop of sour cream. No complaints about kidney beans. In no fact complaints about anything – they loved it. And, alongside the good old faithful spag bol, this has become a family favourite.
You do need time to make it – while it’s dead easy to throw together, and hence the perfect recipe for a busy parent, it needs 1½ hours in the oven so make sure you have a window of time available. You also need a decent pan which will transfer from the hob to the oven. It freezes really well and makes an easy meal when friends come to play.
Perfect for bonfire night, served with jacket potatoes, or boiled rice (with a dollop of sour cream and some grated cheddar), or go the whole hog and do the tortilla wrap option – it’s delicious, I promise. Oh, and for the grown-ups, add a nice glass of red. In fact, I even asked lovely Helen from The Knackered Mother’s Wine Club what wine she’d recommend, and she suggests La Posta Argentinian Malbec from Majestic or Tesco Finest Chilean Carmenere.
Don’t say I’m not good to you.
Chile con Carne
Makes 8–10 child-sized portions
You will need:
1 tbsp of olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 small red pepper, chopped*
400g beef mince
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp whole cumin seeds
1 x 400g tin kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 x 400g tin of tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
What to do:
- Preheat the oven to 160C/140C Fan/320F
- Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed oven proof pan (I use my Le Creuset) and sauté the onions, peppers and mince allowing the meat to brown a little.
- Add the cumin and coriander and stir well.
- Add the kidney beans, tomatoes and water, season well, and bring to a gentle simmer.
- Cover with a lid and put in the oven for 1½ hours, stirring every 30 minutes or so.
- Skim off any excess fat before serving.
* Note, if you don’t have a red pepper, I’ve also used courgette and carrot in its place, and it still worked a treat.
Enjoy round the bonfire 🙂
So we had Harvest festival at Big One’s school last week. I confess, I am very fond of Harvest festival, I think primarily because it brings back such vivid memories of growing up in the countryside in Kent, and of the Harvest festival at my primary school which always entailed displays of gigantic plaited loaves, us singing ‘We plough the fields and scatter’ at the tops of our voices, and taking baskets of produce round the village to the OAPs.
I decided to ask my son what Harvest actually means, and I have to confess, he looked at me blankly. Despite the celebration, he hadn’t really grasped that it was about bringing in the crops and the produce from the fields. This little city dweller didn’t know his orange pippins from his coxes. Something had to be done! And so we trundled off to pick apples and get back to nature at Pippins Farm in Kent. Raymond Blanc, who has been in the media recently, talking about how important it is to teach children where food comes from, would be proud of me. I was so pleased we did it – the children both picked and ate apples fresh from the tree and their enthusiasm was evident. It was such a success!
One supermarket that has a great awareness of the seasons and of local food is Waitrose. This spring they launched the national ‘Grow & Sell’ campaign with schools across the land to encourage schools to grow fruit and veg at school and help kids understand the journey from field to plate. And now British apples are in season – and this is apparently the best harvest season in years, making the apples even more delicious than usual – they are keen to celebrate apples with me and my readers.
So in honour of National Apple Day next Monday 21 October, Waitrose asked me to share my love of apples with you. They are stocking 50 apple varieties this year, of which 70% will be British. Hooray!
I made their wonderful Deep Filled Bramley Apple Pie using Waitrose Bramley apples and their Best of British apples. The pie was a rip-roaring success, with my husband declaring ‘Amazing pastry’ – high praise indeed from a man renowned for his homemade quiche (no, I am not kidding), and the children devouring it – they especially liked the addition of raisins . I served it with double cream, and for the time of year, it was just perfect.
The Deep Filled Bramley Apple Pie recipe is here – it works an absolute treat, and using the food processor meant the pastry was made in moments. The only thing that is a faff – and definitely cannot be done one-handed, folks, is peeling the apples. If only I had the miraculous apple peeler which the wonderful Margot Darling from Margot Tries the Good Life recently featured! Now, that would make life easier for this busy mama.
Waitrose.com is a magnificent source of recipes for everything under the sun, including apples, in fact they recently teamed up with some top food bloggers who contributed their own apple recipes,– they include recipes from the marvellous Becky from English Mum (Apple & Caramel Pie), Helen from Fuss Free Flavours (Estivale Apple & Blackberry Steamed Pudding) and Michelle from Utterly Scrummy (Michelle’s Utterly Scrummy Estivale Apple Cake). Take your pick! http://www.waitrose.com/content/waitrose/en/home/recipes/food_glossary/apple.html
Waitrose has even teamed up with online garden gurus Crocus, to sell apple trees online – they have a wonderful tree called ‘Scrumptious’ which is perfect for smaller gardens as it doesn’t need another apple to tree to pollinate it, and can even be grown in a pot! So, city dwellers with kids, there’s no excuse to not PYO apples next year J
What do you like making with apples? Pies? Cakes? Chutney? I’d love to hear!
Happy Apple Day everyone,
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 🙂
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.