Wednesday, 15 December 2010



3 medium carrots, roughly chopped 
1 onion, chopped
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
1 leek, washed, trimmed and sliced
1 celery stick, trimmed and roughly chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 clove of garlic, crushed
2 medium potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
400 gm tin of chopped tomatoes
1 litre vegetable stock
2 tbsp tomato puree
400 gm tin of red kidney beans
70 gm dried spaghetti, cut in quarters

In a large, heavy based pan, heat the oil and then gently fry the onions and garlic over a medium heat, until soft.

Stir in the cayenne pepper, if using.

Add the leek, carrots, potatoes and celery and stir.

Pour in the tinned tomatoes and tomato puree and mix well.

Finally add the vegetable stock and bring to the boil.

Reduce to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, add the red kidney beans and dried spaghetti pieces and cook for a further 15 minutes, until the spaghetti is cooked and all the vegetables are soft.

Serve with crusty bread and grated cheese on top.

Salt Dough Decorations

We have been getting into the Christmas spirit by making our own tree decorations!  Bob had a couple of friends over for a playdate and so we thought we would get creative.

This is a really simple way of keeping kids occupied and getting them to make something that can adorn your tree all holiday season long.

You will need:

1/2 cup salt
1 cup of flour
1/2 cup of water

Mix all ingredients together well, adding a little more flour if it is too sticky.

You can either use cookie cutters or make shapes with your hands, but remember to not make them too thick, and create whatever ornaments you like.

Using a toothpick or skewer, make a hole at the top of the ornaments for ribbon to go through.

Place the decorations on grease proof paper and either cook them on full heat in the microwave for 3 - 5 minutes or on a very low heat (100C) in the oven for a couple of hours.  Make sure they are cooked through and retain no moisture.

Place them on a cooling tray and let them completely cool before painting.

Use acrylic paints and glitter glue to paint.

Let them dry and then hang on the tree.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Dressember, Christmas Trees and Chicken Pie!

A friend of mine has taken up the challenge and passed the torch, and so too have I now agreed to attempt it.  What? You may ask.

Dressember, of course. 

As some of you may, or may not, know, November has been taken over by many a male out there as Movember.  This is where men grow themselves moustaches throughout the month of November to raise awareness for Prostate Cancer.  It is certainly a worthy cause and one I hope garners more and more attention as time goes by.

Bouyed on by inspiration, a small group of women have decided to set themselves a challenge, and raise money for Refuge, by creating Dressember.  A month dedicated to the sole wearing of dresses.  Were it July or August, this would be a cinch.  Hot days and maxi dresses go together like strawberries and cream, however this being December, things are not so convivial. Apparently jumpers and skirts are an acceptable combination should one run out of winter dresses (I have two!) so that's a bit of a phew!

I ordered myself a new dress, with promised delivery of yesterday,  but alas the snow has kept the delivery man at bay and so I sit in one of my only two dresses, a little cold as I also await the delivery of a thermal vest and thick winter tights, but still, in a dress I am!

Our Christmas tree is up as well!  Bob helped me decorate it and Boo has attempted to steal the baubles and place them in her mouth.  She knows not to do it as she appraoches the tree shaking her head 'no', yet still reaches up and grabs what she can.  I have tried to move as much out of reach as possible, without the tree looking too odd being only half decorated, but have also resorted to bringing in her play pen to the front room so she can have a safe corner from which to play and observe the tree.  Eating christmas decorations would mean serious and possibly fatal consequences, so play pens it is.

We have also been eating more pies! Yum! Chicken Pie to be precise.

For the crust:

I was inspired by the wonderful A Half Baked Life blog and so adapted the following recipe.  You can of course use a butter based short crust pastry, should that be more to your tastes. 

180 gms plain flour
180 gms wholewheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
100 ml olive oil
100 ml of boiling water

Mix the flour and salt together.

Mix the olive oil and boiling water together.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir well with a wooden spoon until a dough is formed.  It shouldn't be too sticky, if it is add a little more flour to it until you get the right consistency.  It should be pliable yet bounce back a little when you poke it.  Divide into two balls and set aside.

For the Filling:

2 chicken breasts, diced

2 potatoes, peeled and diced
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 leek, trimmed, washed and sliced

1 parsnip, peeled and diced
50 gm frozen peas, thawed
1 knob of butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
300 ml chicken stock
300 ml milk
50 gm butter
50 gm flour

In a pan of boiling water, boil the chopped vegetables for 10 minutes, then drain and set aside.

In a separate pan, melt the  butter (50 gm) and stir in the flour.  Remove from the heat and then slowly add a little milk and stock.  Whisk well with a metal whisk then return to the heat, adding the remainder of the stock and milk.  Continue stirring and heating on a low to medium heat, until the sauce thickens and begins to bubble (around 10 minutes).

At the same time,  in a large, heavy based pan, melt the butter with the oil and then add the onion and leeks.  Cook on a medium heat until they has softened and turned translucent (around 10 minutes).

Add the chicken and stir, ensuring all the meat cooks.  Cook for 5 minutes. 

Add the cooked vegetables and stir.

Pour over the sauce and add the herbs and mix well.

Finally stir in the peas and cook for a further 2 minutes. 

Remove from heat.  Divide the filling in two.  (There should be enough left over to make another pie at a later date so you can freeze one batch and use one.  Or make two pies - just make more pastry!)

On a lightly floured surface, roll out one of the dough balls and line a well greased pie dish, leaving enough pastry to go over the sides of the dish.

Pour the filling into the pie dish.

Roll out the remaining pastry and cover the pie.  Fold over the edges and crimp together to get a nice pie crust.  Cut a small cross in the top of the pie with a sharp knife.

Brush with beaten egg and then cook for 40 minutes at 190C.

Stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Autumn Leaves and Felled Trees

We had a 60' Fir tree in our garden that always looked like a bit of a mis-fit.  So this morning, when we had a knock on the door from a local tree surgeon who had a day free and was looking for some work, we invited him in, showed him our tree and agreed on a felling.  Whilst the tree was a beuty to look at, it took up half the garden and because the fir "leaves' were so prickly, whenever they fell to earth they made walking on the lawn a strategic nightmare.  Little feet would come hobbling up to me whimpering that something was sticking into them, and our lawn was more moss as the roots of the tree drank up all the moisture. 

Once down, our garden looked twice the size and the light that shone through made a huge difference.  We couldn't wait to show Bob after we collected him from nursery.  Bob, on the other hand, was not impressed. 

"I don't like it Mummy.  Put the tree back please"

"Well", I said gently, "I'm afraid I can't do that Bob.  We had it taken away."

"Yes we can Mummy", he replied confidently.  "All we need are some leaves, sticks and some glue."

Finally, my son takes an interest in crafting!  Hurrah. 

Over on the other side of the 'Pond' my American cousins and many others are celebrating Thanksgiving.  I always liked the idea of this holiday.  Not necessarily the Disneyfied version of events and pretense of friendship between invaders and invadees, but of the day and celebration of gratitude.  To give thanks for what we have is so important.  To stop and take a moment to breathe, think, and thank. 

What a wonderful tradition. 

In honour of this wonderful occasion, I made a Sweet Potato Pie.  The husband is not usually fond of savoury mixing with sweet, however when he tasted this dish, he was sold and has now had to adjust his culinary rules!

Happy Thanksgiving everybody. 

Sweet Potato Pie

For the crust

175 gm Flour, sifted
75 gm unsalted butter, cold and diced
1 egg, beaten
Pinch of salt

For the Filling

500 gm sweet potato
1 cup Evaporated milk
2 eggs
200 gm golden caster sugar
115 gm unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp Allspice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp flour
Squeeze lemon juice

Turn the oven on to 180C.  Scrub the sweet potatoes and pat dry.  Place in the oven to cook for a hour, until baked through and soft.  Remove from oven and allow to cool so that they can be handled. 

To make the crust:

Sift the flour and salt into a bowl and mix the butter in with your fingers, until you make fine breadcrumbs.  Stir in the beaten egg and then knead until you make a smooth dough. 

Cover the bowl with some clingfilm and place in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes. 

To make the filling:
Scoop out the flesh of the potatoes into a large bowl.  Add the butter, and sugar and blend well.  

Mix in the milk. 

Add the flour, spices, vanilla extract, squeeze of lemon juice and egg.  Whisk with an electric whisker on a medium speed until you get a smooth blend. 

(Check the oven is on at 180C.)

Roll out the pie crust on a lightly floured surface and line a greased pie dish.  

Pour the filling onto the crust and bake in the oven for 50-55 minutes.  Make sure the pie is cooked by putting a knife through the centre, if it comes out clean, the pie is cooked. 

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Mince Pies and sighs

Miss Boo has been very unwell of late.  Chest infection, viral wheeze and a cold that seems never ending.  We have been back and forth to doctors, out of hours doctors and hospitals and still she coughs, splutters and cries all night in discomfort and exhaustion.  It has been a tiring time for all, except Bob who sleeps through all the commotion!

We are up to our eye balls in anti-biotics, inhalers and Calpol.  Not a fun time.

So I decided to brighten up the day for Bob by making pancakes with him for breakfast (he is an expert now) and nut free mince pies for him for high tea.  This gives me good practice for our Christmas season of friends and neighbours who come visiting. 

I finally found a mincemeat that does not have nuts in, nor a warning about nuts - hooray!  In celebration, I have made my first batch of pies for the season.  Very easy to make and even easier to eat!

200 gm plain flour
150 gm wholewheat flour
250 gm butter, cold and diced
100 gm golden caster sugar
1 egg, beaten
mincemeat for the filling

In a large bowl, mix the butter and flour together with your fingers to get a bread crumb texture.

Stir in the caster sugar and using your hands, knead the mixture into a dough.  The butter should warm in your hands as you need and there shouldn't be a need to add water, however if it remains too crumbly then you can add a drop of cold water.

Turn the oven on to 200C and grease a shallow holed muffin tray.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry to approximately a 5 mm thickness and cut circles using a cookie cutter. (About 2 inches wide).

Line the tray and fill each crust with 1 teaspoon of mincemeat.

Roll out the dough again and cut tops for the pies.  Use your fingers to gently mold the crusts together.

Brush with the beaten egg.

Cook in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes, until golden brown.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tray for a few minutes before removing and placing the pies on a wire rack to cool.

Dust with a little icing sugar.

(Makes about 18)

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Going to the chapel and {they're} going to get married.....

I love a wedding!  I always say to the hubby 'let's get married again!' because our wedding day truly was the most fun day of our lives.  Nothing brings more cheer than being surrounded by those you love, marrying the one you love, and being showered with love. 

So hurrah (and about blooming time) to Prince William and Kate Middleton!

Shall make some celebratory cookies or cakes in due course.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Paella and Pavements

On Saturday I took my mother to see Wicked at the Victoria Apollo in London.  I took full advantage of this day out and told the hubby that I was going to head in early and see the sites/go shopping.  All childcare and feeding duties were passed on to Daddy and Mummy was out of here. 

I headed to the station, spring in step, wondering what to do with myself.  I pondered.  And pondered.  And pondered some more.  By the time I got to Waterloo station I ended up phoning my husband and telling him I was totally confused.  I had no idea what to do!  I didn't need to shop, certainly didn't fancy the shopping masses on Oxford Street.  My favourite part of London, St Katherine's Dock, were just a little too far away for me to safely get back to Victoria to meet my mother, and half the tube lines weren't working fully anyway.  

After suggestions from the husband I headed to Leicester Square.  From there I walked to Covent Garden and wandered around the market.  I bought a delicious Paella and listened to street musicians and watched the entertainers.  This is one of my favourite things to do in London and always has been.  I love the free theatre on the streets.  Standing amongst a throng of people, eating great take away and being entertained.  What a wonderful way to spend a lunch time. 

With over an hour and a half to kill I decided to walk to Victoria.  I headed towards Trafalgar Square and saw the latest addition to the fourth plinth.  I watched as tourists climbed the lion statues at the bottom of Nelson's Column and took photos for tourists next to the fountains. 

I walked down the Mall, taking in the wonderful array of statues and architecture that London has to offer.  Buckingham Palace had it's usual crowd of admirers outside, cameras in hand, all talking excitedly at the prospect of seeing the Queen.  

My travels ended up in Pimlico Green, where I tasted the delights of William Curley's chocolate sorbet and nosed through the windows at the beautiful antique shops along the way. 

The show was amazing.  I have seen Wicked before but my mother hadn't, so this was a birthday present from me to her.   Rachel Tucker played Elphaba and was amazing.  Such a strong and beautiful voice. 

Mum and I went for dinner afterwards before heading home.  On our walk to the restaurant who should we see go by but none other than the Queen herself!  

Inspired by pounding pavements and street entertainment, I am creating a child friendly paella.  Due to allergies in our household I am avoiding shellfish, but you can substitute the cod for prawns if you so wish.

1 onion, chopped
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 red pepper, washed and diced
3 tbsp olive oil
300 gm skinless chicken, diced
300 gm, skinless cod fillet, bones removed (or 200 gm king prawns if using shell fish)
100 gm frozen peas, thawed
1 pinch of Saffron strands
2 tbsp hot, boiled water
1 tsp smoked paprika
200 gm basmati rice
700 ml chicken stock

In a large, deep pan (wok or paella pan), heat the oil over a medium heat and add the onions.  Cook for about 10 minutes, until soft.

Add the diced chicken and cook for 4-5 minutes, until the meat has browned.

Meanwhile, place the saffron strands in a small bowl and add 2 tbsp of just boiled water.   

Add the red pepper and peas and cook for a further 2 minutes.

Add the smoked paprika and stir through.

Add the basmati rice and cook for another couple of minutes to let the flavour infuse.

Next add the saffron water and chicken stock.

Place the cod fillet in with the stock.

Bring to the boil and simmer for at least 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so to ensure the rice doesn't burn or stick to the pan and the cod fillet breaks into small chunks as it poaches in the stock.

Allow for the rice to completely absorb the stock before serving. 

Friday, 12 November 2010

Soft Play and First Steps

Autumn continues to march on with fierce winds and lashing rain.  Leaves have fallen across the lawn, only to be whirled up in the air by the wind, dancing around our windows in mini cyclones letting us know that winter is ever so slowly approaching.  I love it.  Although, one thing about the weather being so ferocious outside is that the options for playing are limited to inside.  

Today Bob and Boo had a play date with their friends A and B. A is a few months younger than Bob and B is 3 weeks younger than Boo.  Their mother, Kat, is a wonderful woman with a huge smile and jolly laugh that brings the best out of people.  You can't help but feel positive in her presence, and with a toddler and a baby to contend with, anybody that makes you feel positive is most certainly an angel in disguise. 

We headed off to a soft play area nearby.  Arriving after 3pm meant coinciding with the end of the school week and it was a little hectic to say the least.  Yet the kids loved it.  Boo crawled about and got ever more confidant in her physicality and Bob just ran around like a headless chicken in delight.  Dinner was had out, a real treat for the end of the day. 

I kept the children up a little later than usual so that they could see their daddy.  Both kids get very excited when they see their father but Boo practically jumps out of my arms and hurls herself across the room to get the first cuddle in.  They all played for a while before I gave the marching orders for bed, and then Boo decided to reward us with her first step!  A tentative stumble would perhaps be a better description but nonetheless, she stood unaided, she lifted her leg and took a step. 

They grow up too fast.  Yes they do. 

Today's recipe is a family classic.  Easy to produce, warming and comforting.  What more could you ask for on a cold autumn day?

Cottage Pie

450 gm Minced beef
1tbsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, peeled, trimmed and diced
100 gm frozen peas
1 x 400 gm Tin of chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp Tomato puree
400 ml boiling water mixed with 1 tsp beef Bovril or 400 ml Beef consomme
4 sprigs of Thyme, leaves removed
800 gm Potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 tbsp Milk
1 knob of butter

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan on a medium heat and add the onions.  Cook for 5 minutes until the onions begin to go soft.

Add the minced beef and cook until browned all over.

Stir in the peas and carrots.

Add the tomatoes, tomato puree and thyme leaves.  Stir through.

Finally, add the Bovril and water or consomme.

Bring to the boil and simmer, uncovered for 20 minutes, until the sauce has thickened slightly.

Whilst the meat is cooking, add the potatoes to a pan of boiling water and cook for 15 minutes, until soft.

Drain the potatoes and mash with the milk and butter.

Turn the oven on to 190C.

Remove the filling from the heat and place in a suitably sized pie dish.  (About 25 cm x 25 cm)

Spoon the mash on top of the filling and fluff with a fork.

Cook in the oven for 20-25 minutes.


Thursday, 11 November 2010

Diva Habits

Miss Boo is turning into a bit of a diva.  She remains undeniably cute though, so she is naturally forgiven, however it has not gone unnoticed that she is beginning to attempt to rule the roost.  Bob can smell a coup in the air and so there is much tussling for my attention going on, and days are noisy, as well challenging!

Her favourite new past time is letting us know when she has finished with something.  Be it a toy, a drink or her dinner.  Yes, we have moved into the 'I don't want it, therefore I will throw it' stage.  Meals are mainly finger foods for her at the moment, followed with a small bowl of mashed up family meal, whatever that may be. I sometimes wonder if she throws her diced vegetables and discarded grated cheese on the floor to test my cleaning habits, as later in the day I often find her crawling around the kitchen, attempting to pick up the smallest of object and inspect them with intent.

Now that days are colder, wetter and windier, our play time activities are housebound and in the warmth and I search for inspiration for warming stews that can be adapted for Boo and Bob to eat, as well as feed us grown ups.  One great source of inspiration for me is the blog A Half Baked Life.  I came to this blog late in the year, but the writer has such an eloquence with words, it is hard not to be absorbed by her writing, let alone her cooking.  She recently did a Moroccan inspired stew, which in turn inspired me, and I have re-created for both weaners and screamers.  Boo had it for her lunch today, and I am pleased to say it didn't end up on the floor.  Not one little bit.

Moroccan Inspired Chicken with Rice

(NB:  This dish isn't cooked with salt or pepper, so please feel free to season as appropriate for older taste buds)

400 gm skinless chicken fillets, diced
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2-3 tbsp olive oil
1 courgette, washed and sliced
2 carrots, peeled, trimmed and sliced
200 gm potato, peeled and diced
350 gm diced root vegetables (I used sweet potato and butternut squash)
1 tsp mild curry powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1 cinnamon stick
1 x 400 ml tin chopped tomatoes
800 ml boiling water mixed with 1 very low salt baby vegetable stock cube OR 800 ml Vegetable stock
200 gm basmati rice
Coriander for garnish.

In a large saucepan, heat the oil over a medium heat and then add the chicken.  Cook for 3 - 4 minutes, until the meat has changed colour all over.

Add the onion and cook for a further 3 - 4 minutes, until they start to go soft. 

Add the cumin, turmeric and curry powder and stir well. 

Add the root vegetables and tomatoes and stir. 

Pour over the vegetable stock and add cinnamon stick. 
Cover and simmer over a low-medium heat for 20 minutes.

Remove the lid pan and stir in the rice.  

Continue to simmer for a further 20 minutes, stirring the pot every 5 minutes to ensure the rice is cooking through and not sticking to the bottom of the pan.  Allow for all the liquid to be absorbed. 

Remove cinnamon stick. 

Serve with a little coriander to garnish.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

MIni Pie Day

Since we discovered Bob has a nut allergy our shopping lives are dictated to by scouring the ingredients list of all items and searching for any traces of nuts.  "May contain nuts" is a no no.  Claims of "contains no nuts but can not guarantee nut free" is ambiguous and "Contains no nuts and made in nut free factory but cannot guarantee original ingredients nut free" is usually okay. 

Each year (bar last year due to being very heavily pregnant) we do a mince pie and mulled wine afternoon for friends.  I make Nigella's gingerbread cake (heaven) and about 100 mince pies.  Imagine my dismay, then, to discover that most mince pies have nut warnings.  As does most mincemeat jars.  I can make my own, which I will do in the long run, but what about when we visit friends and they have mince pies about?

Never fear, I thought. Let's make a Bob friendly pie.  And so these spiced mini crumbles were born.  The pastry is easy enough to make and Bob had great fun rolling it out and cutting the circle shapes.  The crumble topping is easy too and Bob loves squishing the butter to make the breadcrumbs.  It is a mildly spiced pie, and you can always add more spice to taste, depending on the age of your Screamer. 


Spiced Mini Crumble


For the Pastry:

225 gm/8 oz plain flour, sifted
1/2 tsp salt
100 gm/4 oz butter, cut into cubes
water for binding

Using your hands, or a food processor, crumble the sifted flour, salt and butter together to make fine breadcrumbs.  
Add a little cold water, a drop at a time, to bind the ingredients together, but do not make it too sticky (or too dry). 

If you have time, wrap in cling film and place in the fridge for about 30 minutes before rolling out on a lightly floured surface.

For the filling:

2 small apples, peeled, cored and diced
2 small pears, peeled, cored and diced
2 tbsp caster sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp mixed spice

Mix the sugar and spices well.  Stir the diced fruit in the spiced sugar until well coated.
For the crumble:

50 gm/2 oz butter, cut into cubes
35 gm/1.5 oz light muscovado sugar
50 gm/2 oz plain flour, sifted
50 gm/2 oz wholemeal flour, sifted

Make breadcrumbs with both flours and butter.  Stir in the sugar. 

Turn oven on to 180C. 

Using some butter, grease a deep 12 hole muffin pan. 

Roll out the pastry and using a 3" cutter, cut 10-12 circles, about 5mm thick. 

Using a rolling pin, roll once more over the cut circles to widen slightly, ensuring that they will fill the muffin holes. 

Continue doing so until all the pastry is used and the muffin holes are lined with pastry. 

Spoon in the filling, adding any left over spiced sugar to each pie. 

Cover with crumble topping.  Use the back of a spoon to flatten down the crumble on each pie. 

Bake in the oven for 30 minutes. 

Remove from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes in tray before placing on wire cooling tray.

Or eat them warm with a dollop of cream or ice cream.


Monday, 8 November 2010

Warming soup days

The start of November brings about much change in our area.  Halloween is becoming more of a holiday and we had a few visitors in their outfits being terribly polite as they asked for treats.   Thankfully I had to hand some of my banana oat cookies as I really wasn't too prepared for trick or treaters.  Yet I couldn't resist when skeletons and other ghouls came to my door with their excited delight.  The hubby wasn't too keen on seeing all his cookies disappear out of the door, but conceded that in a few years time it would be Bob and Boo in costumes knocking on doors, so he might as well get used to it now!

In the UK we celebrate the 5th November as Guy Fawkes night.  When I was a child this was celebrated more than Halloween.  Time would be spent on building our 'Guy's and in years gone by people would be asking for 'a penny for the Guy'.  Tradition had it that on 5th November, bonfires would be built and the 'Guy's would be tossed upon the burning pyre and people would celebrate.  This is, admittedly, a pretty ghoulish way to celebrate  and when explaining the ritual to some friends in the USA when I was younger, it did dawn on me that perhaps burning a man in effigy is a hell of a lot more sinister than dressing up as ghosts and vampires asking strangers for candy. 

Nowadays it is more about the fireworks displays.  This year Bob really got into the swing of things and we even went to a proper display with our friends Charlie and her son J.  It was a real treat for the little man.  Two layers of clothes, hats, gloves and snow boots were adorned as we headed out into the dark night in search of sparkle.  Needless to say we weren't disappointed and Bob keeps letting me know which were his favourite ones (blue and white) and asking why they aren't on during the day.

Now that the week has commenced and nursery school is back in full swing, the weather has really turned wintry.  Gloves are now permanently out, as are winter coats.  And with the chilly weather comes the warming food.  Nothing is more warming or comforting that a good, thick soup.  I raided our vegetable drawer in the fridge and came up with this winter warmer.  Served with warm home made rolls, it really does hit the spot.

Leek and Potato Soup with a Kick

This has a mild spice to it, perfect for warming you up on cold days yet gentle enough for both weaners and screamers to enjoy.

1 kg leeks, washed, trimmed and sliced
25 gm/ 1 oz butter
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp mild curry powder
200 gm celeriac, trimmed and diced
450 gm potatoes, peeled and diced
800 ml boiling water mixed with 1 baby vegetable stock cube (very low salt) OR 800ml vegetable stock
Cheddar cheese for serving

In a large sauce pan, melt the butter and oil over a medium heat.

Add the sliced leeks and stir well until all the leeks are covered with the butter/oil.

Place a lid on the pot and cook over a medium heat for at least 10 minutes, to sweat and cook the leeks until they are soft.

Add the mild curry powder, stirring it in well, and cook for a further 2 minutes.

Add the celeriac and potato and stir well.

Add the stock and bring to the boil.

Reduce the heat and replace the lid.  Simmer for 20 minutes.

Remove from heat and using either a hand-held blender or allowing to cool slightly and using a food processor, blend until smooth.

Grate a little cheddar cheese over the top before serving.

Optional:  You can also stir in a little cream when serving or add a dollop of creme fraiche.

Serve with home made rolls.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Pudding Bowl

There are some things in life one should never embark on.  "Never start a land war in Asia", being the most notable, but a closer to home one should be, "never cut your child's hair if you have not had training".  You would think that I would have learned this after my failed attempt at cutting Bob's hair when he was just a baby.  But alas, no.

I took Bob to have his hair cut on Monday at the local barbers.  I watched as the hairdresser pulled his fringe back and chopped away, creating a lovely fringe that suited his face.

"That looks easy enough", I remarked to myself before stealing a side long glance at Boo, playing innocently in her buggy.


And so, yesterday, I walked towards Boo with a smile on my face, a pair of scissors in my hands, and a surety that it wouldn't go wrong this time.

Two minutes later, and with the remnants of her over-long fringe scattered about the carpet, I was proved dreadfully wrong.

The result - pudding bowl.  Very reminiscent of a Julie Andrews hair cut from the 1960's.  I can't yet work out whether it is an early Fraulein Maria or a Victor/Victoria, but either way, short fringe, round race.

I suppose I should put up a recipe to mark this occasion?  How about a Summer Fruits Pudding?

This simple classic is made even easier, and cheaper, using frozen berries.  Because the fruit is frozen as soon as it is picked, they retain their nutritional quality and are still a great source of vitamins.

5 tbsp water
3  tablespoons caster sugar
500 gm bag frozen summer berries
6 - 7 thin sliced white bread, crusts removed
Put the frozen berries in a colander and run water over them to remove any ice crystals.
Stir the 5 tbsp of water and sugar together and bring to a gentle boil. Add the berries and fruits and stew very gently until softened but still retain their shape.

Line a 1½ pint pudding basin with the bread slices ensuring there are no gaps.

Fill with the stewed fruits and cover the top with more bread slices.
Cover with a weighted plate (a tin of beans is about right).  Allow to cool before putting in the fridge over night.

The next day, before serving, turn the pudding out onto a plate and serve with ice cream or home-made custard.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Smoked Haddock Kedgeree

This is a wonderfully simple recipe that the whole family can enjoy.  This recipe serves 2 adults or 1 adult and 2 kids.

250 gm Smoked haddock
2 Eggs
100 gm Basmati rice
50 gm Frozen peas
500 ml Boiling water
1 tsp Mild curry powder
15 gm Butter
1 Onion, peeled and chopped
1 tbsp Fresh parsley, chopped
2 tbsp single cream

Bring a pan of water to boiling point and add the 2 eggs.  Leave to boil for 8 - 10 minutes before plunging into a bowl of cold water.

Meanwhile, place the haddock in a deep bowl and cover with the 500 ml boiling water.  Leave for 6 minutes.

Place the peas in a small bowl and cover with boiling water and allow to thaw through.

Remove the haddock from the water and reserve the liquid.   Gently flake the haddock away from it's skin and remove any bones.  Discard skin and bones.

Drain the peas and mix in with the haddock.

Place the butter in a pan and heat on a medium heat.  Once the butter has melted, add the chopped onion and cook for 5 minutes, until soft and transluscent.

Add the curry powder and stir through.  Allow to cook for a minute or so to release the flavour.

Add the rice and stir through.  Again, allow to cook for a minute or so.

Add the reserved liquid and cook, untouched for approximately 8 minutes, until the rice has softened, but not completely cooked.

Add the flaked haddock and peas and cook for a further 5 minutes, or until the liquid has all but evaporated.

Meanwhile, peel the cooled boiled eggs and cut into quarters. 

Add the cream and parsley to the kedgeree and stir through.

Serve, placing the sliced egg on top and a little extra parsley as garnish. 


Monday, 1 November 2010

Celebrate Good Times .....with Cookies!

In celebration of my A and a huge lift in my confidence stock, I raided my fruit bowl for the last of my bananas and rummaged through the pantry for ingredients to come up with these little gems.  Delicious!


When all is said and done, nothing cheers up the soul quite so much as a really good cookie.  These are so yummy and easy to make, Bob helped me throughout - especially with the eating!  Makes about 48.

225 gm Butter, softened
350 gm Plain flour
300 gm Rolled oats
2 small bananas (or 1 large banana)
1 tsp Vanilla extract
200 gm golden granulated sugar
200 gm Light muscovado sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs, beaten

Cream the butter and golden granulated sugar together until light and creamy.

Mash the bananas in a bowl until they have turned into a pulp.  Stir in the vanilla extract.

Sieve the flour, cinnamon, salt and baking powder into a bowl.

Slowly add the eggs, sieved flour/cinnamon and banana/vanilla extract, adding a small bit at a time of each and stirring well until well blended.

Finally, stir in the muscovado sugar and oats.

Cover the mixing bowl with cling film and chill in the fridge for at least an hour.

When ready to cook, turn the oven on to 190C.

Take a small scoop of the mixture and using clean hands roll a it into a ball about the size of a walnut and place on a greased baking tray.  Leave a good space between each ball as the cookies will spread a little when baking.

Using the back of a fork, flatten each cookie slightly before putting in the oven.  Bake for 12 - 15 minutes, until the cookies have turned golden.

Remove from oven and allow to cool on the tray for a couple of minutes before placing on a wire rack to cool.

Friday, 29 October 2010

I got an A!

I have started a distance learning course of late.  It is a 'study at home' affair, and with two small children it is more of a 'whenever you have a spare minute' affair, so I think it might take a little longer than initially anticipated, but I have started, nonetheless.  It has been so long since I studied, I wondered how rusty my skills were at producing a written piece of work.  My mind feels full of cobwebs, which are hard to shake through restless nights, oft disturbed by wailing babes. 

The course arrived a couple of months ago, and since then I have read and re-read the modules, waiting for the right time, and a free moment, to begin and get knuckled down. 

Last week I produced my first assignment.  A written piece about myself and my aspirations.  I 'ummed' and 'ahhed' and procrastinated about what to write. How to present myself, what to say.  As can be seen from previous entries in my blog, I feel a little lost at the moment, and a few events have knocked my confidence somewhat. 

But I heard back from my tutor this morning, and despite a slight hic-cup in her not being able to initially open the document (wrong format), she has read, marked and returned my work.  I got an A!

An A!

What a wonderful way to being the day!  Score one for the confidence boosters!

May just have to make some cookies in celebration......

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Steak Pie Heaven!

Man, oh man.  I do not like to brag (too much) but last night's steak pie was THE BEST!  Just what the doctor ordered.  Maybe it was the succulent meat, yummy vegetables or delicious gravy?  Maybe it was everything combined together?  Whatever it was, it was heaven, all wrapped up in puff pastry. 

Mmmmm, puff pastry!  Life certainly tastes better with a little slice of that in your meal, that is for sure.

And so today we start with a fresh outlook.  As the great Wayne Dyer says, 'If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change'. 

I shall be looking at the left overs of my steak pie and it shall be changing into my lunch. 


Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Steak Pie

1.5 lb / 645 gm Braising steak, diced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery sticks, washed, trimmed and sliced
500 ml beef stock
2 x 400 gm tin of chopped tomato
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
1 tbsp fresh thyme, leaves removed from stalks, chopped
1 x ready rolled sheet of puff pastry
1 egg, beaten

Cook the oil in a heavy based, deep saucepan.

Add the meat and cook over a medium heat, until browned all over.

Add the onion, carrots and celery and cook for a further few minutes.

Add the herbs, stock and tomato and stir.

Simmer over a low/medium heat for 2 - 2.5 hours, until the sauce has thickened nicely.

Turn the oven on to 180C.

Pour the pie filling into a suitable pie dish.

Unroll the pastry and ensure that it is in one piece, otherwise use a rolling pin to make sure it can cover the pie.

Cover the pie with the pastry.  Crimp the edges with a fork dipped in water and trim any excess pastry.

Brush over the pastry with the beaten egg.  Cut a cross in the middle with a sharp knife.

Cook at the bottom of the oven for 45 minutes, until the pastry has turned golden and the sauce is bubbling beneath.

If the pastry browns too quickly, cover with foil until cooked.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Holiday with Matthew Mead

I LOVE the Christmas holiday season.  I love it in winter especially.  Whilst half my world in friends return to the southern hemisphere in late December, I have no desire to experience a Christmas without the cold. 

I love the warming food you make, the festive colours, the spirit of Christmas and the story of nativity. 

My mother has always had a wonderful way of decorating.  Every year she would adorn our tree so beautifully I could stare at it for hours.  And being the youngest in our family, it was always tradition for me to put the angel or star on top of the tree.  I try to recreate the same magic I had when younger, but lacking in the same gifts as either my mother or my sister in law, who takes decorating to another stratosphere, it is good to know that there is help at hand.  

Holiday with Matthew Mead is a book-azine with the most amazing and inspiring ideas.  From decor to food - everything looks absolutely scrumptious and I, for one, can not wait until I get my copy in the post!

You can find out more about how to get this amazing book-azine from the button on the right hand side of this blog.

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, 24 October 2010

All the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey...

There is nothing quite like marching through fallen leaves, kicking them up with your boots and watching as they dance in the air, floating on the wind back down to earth again.  Puts an easy smile on your face, that's for sure. 

We all went for a walk in Bushy Park today.  We saw deer, ducks, dogs and parrots.  Scooters were out, as were woolly hats and winter coats.  And yet, still Bob wanted ice cream when we got back!  That boy is crazy at times. 

This weekend has been an interesting affair.  Unsure as to what to do with ourselves at this junction in our lives - do we stay put or move before Bob starts school? - we went looking around houses this weekend in Kent.  Kent.  A county I have never wanted to live in really.  Mainly because it is at the end of the country and not many people come visiting through, unless they are on their way to France or sneaking in the country from the mainland!  My husband's family are from round those parts and so he is excited at the prospect of moving there.  Me, less so.  The idea of moving so far away from the life I have created here and to be on my own, in unfamiliar surroundings yet with everyone knowing my husband, makes me feel a little like a gooseberry. 

Still, the bigger picture is that our children will grow up near one half of their family.  Both my husband's and my family are small.  3 members in each, to be precise. So moving closer to his dad and sister means moving close to his whole family.  It also means moving away from mine.  

We looked at houses with large gardens, beautiful interiors and pretty hefty asking prices.  Our main reason to look was to see if we wanted to move.  Did we feel the time was right?  Is this where we would move to?  What is there in this part of the world for the children and I (as hubby will be mainly away working in the City).  

24 hours later and we still feel pretty confused.   We are looking around schools where we are in case we stay and yet looking around houses where we may move.  And feel none the wiser for either. 

But at least the autumn leaves have fallen and we can kick them up with our boots.  Because that makes you smile and easy smile and big things can be forgotten as leaves scatter on the wind and dance about.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Chicken Pie

This is a very simple pie to make and very tasty!

500g packet of shortcrust pastry
500g diced chicken
1 stick of celery, sliced
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 leeks, washed and sliced
50g butter
50g flour
200 ml milk
200 ml chicken stock
150 ml double cream
2 tbsp chopped thyme
2 tbsp chopped parsley
1 egg, beaten

Turn the oven on to 180C.

Grease a pie dish with some butter. 

Roll out half the pastry on a floured surface until about 5 mm thick and then use this to line the pie dish.  Trim off any excess pastry. 

In a steamer, place the carrots in a stream pan with the leeks and celery in an additional pan on top.  Steam over boiling water for about 5-10 minutes. 

In a deep frying pan, heat some oil and cook the onion until translucent and soft.  Add the crushed garlic and chicken and cook over a medium heat, until the chicken has changed colour.  Reduced the heat slight and continue to cook the chicken, stirring occasionally to ensure that it cooks on all sides. 

Meanwhile, in a small pan, melt the butter and then add the flour.  Stir with a metal whisk until you get a roux and remove from the heat.  Add a little milk and whisk through to ensure no lumps form.  Return to a medium heat and slowly add the milk and chicken stock, whisking continuously as the sauce thickens.  

Once the sauce is simmering and thick, remove from the heat and add the cream. 

Stir through and then add this to the chicken. 

Drain the steamed vegetables and add this to the cream and chicken, continuing to heat over a low heat.   

Stir in the chopped, fresh herbs. 

With the remaining pastry, roll out enough to cover the top of the pie on a floured surface, again to about 5mm thick. 

Remove the chicken filling from the stove and spoon into the pie dish.  

Add the pie crust and squeeze the edges together, trimming off any excess pastry. 

With a fork dipped in water, crimp the edges of the pastry all around the pie. 

Brush the top of the pie with the beaten egg and cut a cross in the top with a sharp knife. 

Cook at the bottom of the oven for an hour, checking after 40 minutes or so that the pastry top isn't over cooking.  

After about 50 minutes, check again and if the crust is browning too fast, cover with some aluminium foil to top it from turning black. 

After an hour, remove from the oven and allow to stand for 10 minutes before serving. 

Caution:  Filling is hot to you may want to let it stand for a further 5-10 minutes before serving to young children so as to avoid burnt tongues!

Autumn is here!

The leaves are turning golden on the trees right now.  When the sun shines through them, the air is turned such a wonderful, mellow colour that despite it being so cool, you can't help but feel warmed. 

Our apples have all fallen to the ground, and the ones that can be saved are so sweet and juicy.  Bobs and I have been busy making apple crumble with them.  His favourite part is squishing the butter together with the flour.  he hasn't quite mastered the art of 'crumbling' yet, but he does his part and loves every minute of it. 

Miss Boo continues to grow, babble and entertain.  She is pulling herself up to standing, desperate to walk and keep up with her favourite friend of all - Bob.  Bob is getting a little displaced by this change in her abilities and we continue to have to deal with the 'tricky three's', but for the most part, all if good. 

The sky remains a perfect blue.  The clouds are all away.  The temperature has dropped a lot and the hats and gloves have been re-discovered from the back of old drawers.  Soups, pies and hot drinks are the order of the day.  

Thick tights, Ugg boots, quilted coats and wooly scarves. 

Pumpkins are in the shops, waiting for young children to buy them up and carve out faces for Halloween.   

And soon it will be Christmas!  Sparkly lights, twinkling like stars around Christmas trees.  The smell of pine in your home.  Mince pies, gingerbread, mulled wine and Christmas cake. 

And my favourite of all, seeing the houses full of life and warmth as you walk down the street before reaching your house, opening the front door and breathing in the warmth as it envelopes you in a long embrace, letting you know 'you are home' as you shake off the cold and snuggle in with your family at the end of the day.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Trying Three's

Bob is 3.  No one ever told us that 3 was waaaaaaaaay harder than 2.

"Oh the Terrible Two's", people would warn us.  No one ever mentioned the "Terrifying Three's"!

Maybe it is because Boo is now crawling fast, pulling herself up to standing and saying a few words (Words!!), but he is becoming a rotter to her.  Hitting, knocking over, deliberately sitting on her, pushing her away and always jumping on me so she can't get anywhere near me.

He is also acting out towards me and Ian. 

Hard times. 

The Time Out step is being used in our house.  Bob has little respect for it, and uses it to amuse us only, me thinks.

I try to spend some one-on-one time with him as and when I can.  This morning we went to church, as is our usual routine.  As I announced that we were heading off to church many tears were had, mainly out of protest that Playhouse Disney was being turned off.

"But Mummy", Bob wailed, "I don't want to go to church!"

"But you love church darling." I countered.

"No I don't!" Bob exclaimed defiantly.

"Don't you want to learn about Jesus?" Ian asked.

"No!" Bob wailed. "Mummy, I don't want to go to Jesus!"

Least to say he loved it once we got there and came home singing "Jesus' love is very wonderful".

Cook's Staple - How to Breadcrumb Food

As the mother of a nut allergy sufferer, knowing how to breadcrumb food has been a life saver, especially when on holiday to foreign lands and having to create fun dishes for a toddler that I know is safe for him.

You can use this method for fishcakes, fish fingers, chicken fingers or even courgette fingers!

2 slices of slightly stale bread.  You can leave the bread out in the open air for as little as 30 minutes to get it to dry out.
2 eggs, beaten
2-3 tbsp plain flour (or more, depending on the size of food being covered)

Optional - you can always add herbs or spices to your breadcrumb mixture for variety.

Blitz the stale bread in a food processor for a few seconds, until the bread has turned into fine breadcrumbs. 

Place the ingredients in separate bowls, large enough for the food to be dipped in.

For this example I will assume we are using a chicken fillet cut into finger slices.

1. Roll the chicken finger in the flour, until well covered.  Shake off any excess.
2. Place the floured chicken finger in the beaten egg for a few minutes, turning it until it is well covered in the egg.
3. Roll the chicken finger in the breadcrumbs until completely covered.
Place on a lightly greased baking tray and cook in oven for approximately 12 - 15 minutes at 200C, until cooked through.

Spicy Turkey Burgers

These make either 4 large burgers or 8 small burgers.  To make them extra spicy you can add some cayenne pepper, but this is optional and probably best for older Screamers and grown ups.

400 gm minced turkey meat
20 gm finely chopped fresh coriander
1/2 large onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl.

Cover with clingfilm and leave to cool in fridge for an hour.

Remove from fridge and using clean hands, form into burgers (either 8 small or 4 large).

You can either pan fry these in a little vegetable oil or grill on a medium heat for 15-20 minutes.

NB:  you MUST make sure that the meat is cooked all the way through before serving.

Serve with a side salad or on a bun.

Tastes great with cheese and/or mayonnaise.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010


Tonight has been one of those evenings.

Nobody, but nobody has a better talent at burning rice than I.  No matter what I do, I ALWAYS burn my rice.  And more to the point, I burn my pan.  Tonight was no exception.

Bob has started at his pre-school of late.  Since starting he has started to be more aggressive to Boo.  This evening, as I was making up her bottle, I heard her scream out and cry a cry of pain.  Bob was running from the living room, giggling with guilt and trying to get away.

"What did you do?"  I demanded.

"I hit Boo" he giggled.

Poor Boo had a big red mark on her forehead where she had been hit.  Hard.

Bob was then marched upstairs and put in bed.  Lots of tears ensued.

I took Boo upstairs, gave her a bottle, read her a book and put her to bed.

Bob tried to escape his room.

"Bathroom.  Now." I ordered.

Teeth were brushed.  Wee's were had.

"Bed", I pointed.

Much protesting went on but I stood resolute.

"You are going to bed early because you hit Boo and that is unacceptable".

Bob seemed resigned to his fate and despite a few whimpers obediently got into bed.

I lay next to him and cuddled him for 5 minutes before telling him I loved him and leaving him to sleep.

Hopefully a good nights sleep and a brand new day will bring about a better tomorrow.

Until then, there is chocolate.

Praise be.

Warming Beef Stew

400 gm lean steak meat, diced
400 ml chicken stock
200 ml red grape juice
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled and diced
75 gm button mushrooms, washed and thickly sliced
100 gm carrots, peeled and diced
300 gm potato, peeled and cubed
200 gm sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1 tbsp flour
1 tsp dried sage

In a large saucepan, heat the oil and cook the onion until soft and translucent.

Add the flour and steak and stir.

Allow the meat to brown all over but don't over cook it.

Add the remaining vegetables and stir.

Add the chicken stock, red grape juice and sage.

Bring to the boil then turn the eat down very low, cover and allow simmer for about an hour.

If you want the sauce to be a little thicker, continue to simmer uncovered for an extra half an hour.

Either puree or serve with well cooked rice.

Potato Gratin and Ham

2 medium sized potatoes, peeled an thinly slices
70gm grated Emmental cheese
20 gm grated Parmesan
2 slices of thickly cut ham, diced
50 gm flour
50 gm butter
600ml milk

Turn the oven on to 200C.

Par-boil the sliced potato in boiling water for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saucepan and add the flour.  Remove from the heat and mix with whisk until you get a roux.  Return to the heat, adding the milk a little at a time, ensuring that you get no lumps in your sauce.  Continue to stirring until the sauce thickens and starts to bubble (about 10 minutes).  When it is simmering, add 2/3 of the Emmental and stir in until completely melted.

Place a layer of potato in a dish and cover with half the ham.

Pour over half the white sauce.

Repeat with anther layer of potato and ham and cover with the sauce.

Spread the remaining grated Emmental and Parmesan.

Cook in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until the cheese on top has turned brown.

Caution:  the sauce is very hot so allow to cool for a little while before serving.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Teaching and Old Dog New Tricks

My trip to France has invigorated in me a desire to rekindle learning another language.  My passable French can certainly be improved on and I relish the challenge of learning again.  Part of me wonders whether at the grand old age of 35 it is possible to kick start my brain back into learning mode from it's more dormant, sleep deprived baby centric mode. 

And then I discovered that it is indeed possible to teach an old dog new tricks.  For instance, I learnt today that when your dishwasher runs out of dishwashing powder adding a good old glug of Fairy liquid is NOT the best course of action. 

Thank goodness I have a 'it's best to learn from your mistakes' attitude to life........

(The dishwasher is okay, thankfully).

Monday, 11 October 2010

En Vacance en France

We have been to France!  The South of France no less.  We had an amazing holiday, and survived driving 1500 miles with a toddler and a baby (just!)

Things we have learnt from our French journey.

When going on a journey that will take approximately 20 hours DO NOT purchase a new car seat for your 3 year old.  He will not be able to sleep properly, will be delighted with his new found ability to unclick the seat belt and get so bored he will make a game out of sneaking out of his seat belt.  This will result in you discarding new car seat and having to purchase a further car seat in which you can ensure no escape by said toddler.

At the same time, DO NOT put your rear facing baby into a forward facing seat for the first time as your planned schedule of having them sleep at certain stretches of the journey will be marred by their general over excitement at the new view and will not sleep, become over tired and then scream for many many hours.

When travelling with a toddler with a nut allergy, learn the phrase 'mes enfants est allergic au noistette.  Et ill est tres allergic aux arachide'

DO NOT become overly panicked when you discover that one of the cheapest, and consequently most used oil is arachide - peanut oil.  Just become hyper-vigilant.

Bob's new skills from this holiday:

Pony riding

Boo's new skills:

Not napping in the morning
Waving one handed

Anyway - two words that made our holiday heaven - Kids Club.

Nuff said!

Monday, 27 September 2010

Spooky Spider Cupcakes

These are really simple to make and great for Halloween.

4 oz plain flour
4 oz caster sugar
4 oz butter
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence

You will need:

Cupcake casings
strawberry shoelaces
chocolate flakes
writing icing
a quantity of chocolate butter icing

Turn the oven on to 180C

Cream the butter and sugar together until pale.

Beat the eggs and vanilla essence together.

Sift in a small quantity of flour, then egg and mix the batter.  Continue doing this until all ingredients are added and mixed well.

Divide the batter into 12 casings and cook for 12 - 15 minutes, until the cakes are golden and spring back when touched.

Remove from oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

When cooled, first cover the cakes with a good dollop of icing.

Pour the chocolate flakes into a bowl and tip the cupcake upside down into this.  Make sure all the icing is covered with flakes.

Using the writing icing, add a couple of eyes and some teeth.

Cut 8 legs out of the laces and gently press this into the icing.

Alternatively, you can just cover with icing and draw on a cobweb and spider with the writing icing.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Punctured Dreams

The hubby and I had been contemplating our future, and more importantly Bob and Boo's future.  With Bob starting pre-school we asked ourselves whether now was the time for us to move from our little home to a bigger house - our dream house.  A forever home.  There are many pros and cons to these plans.

Pros: we could move further away from the city and buy a bigger house.  Bigger kitchen.  Garden. Smaller village so the kids can cycle everywhere and feel safe. 

Cons: Smaller schools, further commuting, have no idea where to move. 

Where we are at the moment the schools are excellent.  We are lucky.  We have good neighbours and we have carved out a life.

We got the estate agent round to value the house and see whether we could move.  Luckily the house has gone up a little in value, so theoretically we could move.  But we decided against it.  Instead we would extend, we thought.  Build a bigger kitchen right here.  Access the great schools and consider moving in, say, 5 years or so.

Happy with our decision and filled with renewed vigour at the possibilities before us, off we set to the mortgage companies to see what we could do about releasing some equity. 

And then the dreams got punctured as easily as if they were bubbles made of soap. 

With no one lending money, and house-to-loan ratios being so low we can't afford to do anything.  We can not release equity.  We can not move.  We are stuck in limbo.  Noses rubbed up against the glass panes of our wishes, like kids watching thunderstorms, waiting for the rain to stop so we can finally go out and play in the sun again.

But reality soon hits. 

Bob and Boo giggle about the house.  My children are healthy.  We live in our own home.  We have good friends.  And amazing neighbours. 

Life is good. 

Even if the kitchen is small.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

New Beginnings

Bob started pre-school today!  He walked in, found his peg for his coat, ran around a bit and then waved us off with not so much as a backward glance!  I can't believe how grown up my little man seems, and yet he is still only 3.  So young. 

We celebrated at lunchtime by making Bob's favourite meal to cook - scrambled eggs.  Whilst Boo crawled around our ankles Bo cracked the eggs, added the milk, stirred it all and then stood on his steps next to me as I cooked it over the cooker.  On the weekend he made us all pancakes!  He sifted flour, cracked eggs, stirred in milk and made the batter.  What a pro!

Yesterday we made a million dollars!  Okay not real money, but millionaire's shortbread in coin shapes. How to feel rich quick!  Bob made the shortbread.  He is very good at squishing butter and making breadcrumbs.  

Miss Boo is now refusing to eat anything unless she can feed herself.  She turns her nose up at anything that resembles early baby food staged puree and is now all about the toast, sandwiches, vegetable batons and diced fruit.  This last week she has had cous cous, watermelon, peach, peas and cod fish fingers as new foods and loved them all.  It's hard to believe that in just 3 months she will be a year and can eat pretty much everything we eat.  

Pretty soon Boo will be helping out in the kitchen too and I will have two little chefs to help me out in the morning. 

I wonder if I can make 'making breakfast for mummy in bed' a new and exciting game? Hmmmm........

Lamb Casserole with Cous Cous - For both Weaners and Screamers

300 gm Lamb, diced
1 Leek, washed, trimmed and sliced about 1 cm thick
1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped
2 Carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
450 ml chicken stock
1 tbsp flour
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
100 gm cous cous
1 tbsp olive oil

Turn the oven on to 170C.

Pour a little olive oil into a pan and heat over a medium heat.  Roll the diced lamb in the flour and add to the pan and cook gently until browned.  Add the spices and cook for a further couple of minutes.

Add the lamb, vegetables and stock to a casserole dish and place in the oven.  Cook for 2 - 2.5 hours.
Remove the casserole from the heat and allow to cool slightly on the side.

Boil a full kettle.  Place the cous cous into a ceramic bowl and add the olive oil.  Pour over enough water to cover all the cous cous and a little bit more. Cover with cling film and leave for 5 minutes.
Remove the cling film and fluff the cous cous up prior to serving.

For very young babies you can puree the casserole and stir in some cous cous.  For older babies you can simply mush up the casserole as all the vegetables and meat should be tender enough. 

Stir in the cous cous and serve. 

Monday, 20 September 2010

Cheesy, Crusty, Herby Courgette

1 Large courgette, cut into batons (no more than 1 cm thick)
2 slices of semi-stale white bread
1 tbsp unchopped fresh dill
1 tbsp unchopped fresh coriander
25 gm/ 1 oz grated parmesan
2 eggs, beaten
3-4 tbsp flour
A little ground black pepper to season

Turn the oven on to 200C.

In a food processor, whizz up the bread, cheese and herbs until they resemble very fine breadcrumbs.

Roll the courgette in the flour and then place in the beaten egg.

Roll in the breadcrumbs until well covered and then place on a baking sheet.

When all the courgette is covered with breadcrumbs pop them in the oven for 20 minutes until they are cooked through and soft all the way through.

These taste great dipped in a little tomato ketchup.

Millionaire's Shortbread Coins

This is an indulgent treat but so yummy!

For the shortbread:
150 gm flour
100 gm butter
50 gm caster sugar

For the caramel:
50 gm Butter
40 gm Light muscovado sugar
1 tbsp golden syrup
1/2 tin of condensed milk

For the topping:
150gm Milk chocolate

Turn the oven on to 170C.

Grease a deep holed muffin tin with some butter.

In a bowl, mix the flour and the sugar together before adding the butter.  Rub the butter in until you make breadcrumbs.  When the butter is firmly mixed in firmly press the mixture together until you get a firm dough.

Split this into 12 and press firmly into each hole of the muffin tray.  Prick once with a fork and place in the oven, cooking for approximately 20 minutes, until the shortbread has turned golden.

Remove from the heat and score around the shortbread with a knife to ensure it can come out later when finished.

Allow to cool completely.

To make the caramel sauce: melt the butter and sugar in a pan over a low-medium heat.  When the sugar and butter have melted, add the condensed milk and continue to heat, stirring all the time.  Allow the mixture to reach a boil but as soon as you see the first bubble remove from the heat, stirring continuously to avoid any burning or caramelising at the bottom of the pan.

Pour the caramel onto each shortbread.  Discard any remains in a food waste bin (not down the sink).
Allow to cool.

To make the chocolate topping:  Break the chocolate into squares and place in a heatproof bowl.  Place this atop a small pan of boiling water and gently stir the chocolate until it melts completely. 

Pour this over each shortbread coin.

Place in the fridge and allow to cool and harden.

Score around with a knife once more and serve.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Cauliflower Cheese

1 Cauliflower head, chopped into florets
25 gm/1 oz flour
25 gm/1 oz butter
295 ml/1/2 pint milk
2 oz Cheddar cheese, grated
A little grated parmesan (optional)

Turn the oven on to 200C.

Bring a pan of water to boil.  Place the cauliflower in the water and cook for 10 minutes, until the florets are soft but not too mushy.

Meanwhile, in another pan make the white sauce by melting the butter and whisking in the flour with a metal whisk.  Remove from the heat and add a little milk.  Whisk until you have a roux and then return to the heat, adding the rest of the milk whilst whisking through.  Continue stirring until the sauce thickens and comes to the boil. 

Reduce the heat and allow to simmer for a minute before adding half of the grated cheese.  Stir through until the cheese has melted into the sauce.

Drain the cauliflower and place in a suitable sized casserole dish.  Pour over the sauce and cover with the remaining grated cheese, adding a little grated parmesan if desired.

Cook for 20 minutes until the cheese has melted and turned golden.

This meal is great for both weaners and screamers as the cauliflower softens up for very young mouths as well as bigger ones.