Tag Archives: Cooking

First jam of the season!

Last year I was lucky enough to be able to make many jars of blackcurrant jam with the bountiful berries harvested from the bushes in my sister’s garden. Unfortunately, as my sister no longer lives at that house, my blackcurrant picking this summer was not to be. Not to be thwarted, I have been keeping my eyes open for berries growing wild. I have my eyes on a vacant lot with loads of blackberry bushes which I am hoping will bear loads of fruit, as blackberry is my favourite jam of all!

Last night, on my way to work, I spotted a tangle of wild raspberry bushes and decided to pick some on my way home. Unfortunately, it was quite dark and I had to pick what I could without being able to see much. I planned to make jam using them along with the pears and plums I had in the fridge.

Sadly, on seeing the raspberries in the light, they were pretty rank and couldn’t be used. Not to be deterred, I pressed ahead and made pear and plum jam (sans raspberries) instead. I was a little worried it wouldn’t set properly, as I don’t add pectin, instead relying on the pectin naturally present in the fruit.

Fortunately, the jam did set and although it’s a little sweet for my personal tastes (it could do with being just a touch more tart), it’s pretty tasty. As you can see from the photo, I got just shy of four jars filled. I look forward to trying some on a slice of toast, or perhaps a home-made scone!

Chicken, Spinach and Soft Cheese Stuffed Cannelloni with Tomato Sauce

Ever wondered what to do with that leftover roast chicken? Sick of sandwiches? Why not try this delicious recipe for a change…

Chicken, Spinach and Soft Cheese Stuffed Cannelloni with Tomato Sauce
Serves 5

Tomato Sauce Ingredients:

OK, so it doesn’t look very appetizing, but I promise it tastes good!

  • 1 small onion (roughly chopped)
  • 2 large garlic cloves (crushed or finely chopped)
  • 1 medium carrot (finely grated)
  • 100g courgette (finely grated)
  • 50g mushrooms (roughly chopped)
  • 1 x 400g can plum tomatoes
  • 500g passata
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1/4 tsp oil
  • large pinch mixed dried herbs
  • large pinch paprika

Stuffed Cannelloni Ingredients:

  • 10 – 15 cannelloni tubes (depending on how big they are)
  • 180g fresh spinach (wilted)
  • 150g roast chicken (finely chopped)
  • 1 small onion (finely diced)
  • 200g extra light soft cheese

Directions:

  • To make the sauce, roughly chop one small onion, crush the garlic, and sautee in the oil till the garlic turns the colour of cappuccino.
  • Add the tomatoes, passata, grated carrot and courgette, roughly chopped mushrooms, balsamic vinegar, herbs and paprika, and simmer till you reach the desired consistency and the carrot and courgette “melts” away into the sauce. You may like to add some water and then reduce it.
  • To make the cannelloni stuffing, wilt the spinach, then set it aside to cool.
  • Finely dice a small onion and the chicken, then stir into the soft cheese.
  • Squeeze all the water out of the spinach and roughly chop it, then add to the mixture and stir through.
  • Stuff the mixture into the cannelloni tubes allowing 2-3 per person depending on size. Use your fingers – it’s messy, but it’s easier, trust me! (And if your kids like helping in the kitchen, get them to do this bit – they’ll love it!)
  • Place the cannelloni tubes in your baking dish, and cover with the tomato sauce.
  • Pop it in the oven at 200C for around 30 minutes, till the pasta is cooked.

Nutritional info:
(per serving)

  • Calories: 234
  • Carbs: 26g
  • Fat: 6g
  • Sat Fat: 2g
  • Protein: 18g
  • Sodium: 249g

This nutritional information is based on the brands I used (Asda smart price passata and tinned tomatoes, Asda cannelloni tubes and tomato puree, Kraft Philadelphia Extra Light soft cheese). Using different brands may well result in different nutritional values.

Results:
I made this up in individual portions so I could freeze it (pre-cooking stage) and just defrost and pop it in the oven whenever I fancy some cannelloni. I allowed three cannelloni tubes per serving because the Asda ones are quite small. As you can see, I didn’t mention any cheese sprinkled on top, because I like to leave them without it in case I don’t have enough of my allowances left for the day to have that. It’s lovely with a sprinkling of cheddar melted on top, or even just a sprinkling of parmasan when you serve it. It’s great served with a green salad or some garlic bread, or just alone as a light meal.

Banana Peanut Butter Cupcakes with Chocolate On Top

Xander is really getting into making things in the kitchen, so when he begged me to make some cakes with him this afternoon, I couldn’t say no, and we headed through to experiment and make up a new recipe. Here’s what we came up with…

Banana Peanut Butter Cupcakes with Chocolate On Top
Makes 6 cupcakes

Banana peanut butter cupcakes topped with chocolate. Delicious!

Ingredients:

  • 90g banana
  • 30g reduced fat peanut butter
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1 egg
  • 40mls skimmed milk
  • 100g self raising flour
  • 30g sugar
  • 18g chocolate buttons (3 buttons per cupcake)

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 200C.
  • Mash the banana and mix well with the peanut butter, vanilla essence, egg and milk.
  • Add the flour and sugar and mix well so that the cake batter is light and fluffy.
  • Spoon into six cupcake cases and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until cooked through and golden.
  • Remove from the oven and immediately place three chocolate buttons on top of each cupcake so that the chocolate melts, then spread it over the top of the cupcakes.
  • Cool on a wire rack.

Nutritional info:

  • Calories: 154
  • Carbs: 25g
  • Fat: 4g
  • Sat Fat: 4g
  • Protein: 4g
  • Sodium: 1g

A nice B-I-G bite!

These values are based on the products I used (Asda reduced fat peanut butter; Asda Smart Price eggs and flour; Asda chocolate buttons), so if you use different brands, the values may differ slightly, but as a rough guideline, this will give you an idea.

The Results:
These only have a very slightly peanut buttery taste, but the banana wasn’t so overpowering as to completely cover it – it was a very tasty combination. There was just enough chocolate on top to make it feel indulgent but without it being too much. Xander certainly enjoyed his! We had a lovely time making them together too!

Kid-speak Sunday

Being a Mum is the best job in the world and sometimes there’s the added bonus of hearing your kids come out with an absolute gem…

~***~

We all know kids love watching television (well, most of them do) and they get bombarded with all kinds of shows aimed at them, from Ballamory to In the Night Garden to Mr Bloom’s Nursery to I Can Cook. However, it’s not always the kids’ shows they like best, as was proven to me this week.

Xander has recently taken an interest in helping me in the kitchen. Mostly I’m baking when he wants to lend a hand – biscuits, cakes, scones, you name it, I’ve baked it – but he’s also been slowly creeping into wanting to help me make our meals too. It started with pizza – helping make he base from scratch, spreading the sauce, grating the cheese, and adding the toppings – but it’s happening more and more often with other foods too.

Although I love cooking, I think one of the main reasons Xander has suddenly shown an interest in the kitchen is because we’ve been watching Fabio Viviani‘s Chow Ciao videos on Yahoo together and he really enjoys them. In fact, whenever we watch one of those videos, Xander shouts out,

“Chow Ciao, Fabio!”

Then he snuggles on my lap and watches, all the while giving a running commentary on what’s happening, “Look, Mummy, he’s putting the oil in. Now he’s got the tomatoes. Now he’s got it on the cooker. Mmmmm it looks yummy. Is it tasty, Fabio?”

So, it seems that children’s shows can take a back seat once in a while, and we can watch a cookery show or two, even if they’re all under seven minutes long, and we can both learn something new together.

And then we can try to recreate  it together in the kitchen!

What did your kid say lately?

All Things Baked And Beautiful

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Continuing with my baking for Xan’s party (which is today) here are the last yummies I put together to take along for everyone to enjoy.

First off, I thought I’d cater specifically for the vegetarians (my sister is a demi-veg and is going to be there today) and thought I’d offer an alternative to the sausage rolls we’ll no doubt be having. My vegetarian (not vegan, I’m afraid) version is cheese and tomato rolls.

I’m afraid I didn’t make my own puff pastry. Rather than leave it to chance, I bought some ready-made stuff (also, I was fast running out of time, so I really needed to go down the route of convenience here!), rolled it out and trimmed off the edges so they were nice and straight and even. Then I painted on a load of tomato puree, grated some cheese on top of that, and finally sprinkled on some mixed herbs. Then all I had to do was roll them up, cut them up and bake them in the oven till they were crisp and golden. Delish!

Then it was the turn of the brownies! I’ve only made these once before, so it was a bit of a risk, but they turned out so good last time I just had to try it again. They certainly look good and while I was cutting them into little bite-sized squares, I tried a little crumb that fell off and it tasted gorgeous, so I’m hopeful these will go down well. I’ve left them in the trays for easy transport so I hope they come out easily and don’t fall apart!

Last, but not least, I made some flapjacks. Chocolate chip flapjacks. Except I mucked them up a little bit. See, you have to melt the syrup, butter and sugar then stir in the oats, and I didn’t leave them to cool long enough before stirring in the chocolate chips so they got sort of, well, melty. Still, judging by the bit I licked off the spoon after smooshing the mixture into the trays, they should still taste pretty good (at least, I hope they will!). They’re all cut into squares, ready to pop out of the trays, so here’s hoping they hold together rather than crumbling – I guess we’ll see when we get them out at the party!

How do you get fussy kids to eat vegetables?

… Bake them into muffins!

Yup, you heard me. Lovely, yummy muffins. With carrots and courgettes in them. Trust me on this, they’re lovely!

I used the recipe from the CBeebies show I Can Cook and can highly recommend them as both kid-friendly and appealing to grown-ups alike. On this occasion, I multiplied everything by four so I could get two dozen muffins in two batches for Xan’s birthday party. And I’ll admit I threw in a few extra big, fat, juicy raisins for good measure too.

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Tip-Top Marshmallow Hats!

After the Great Cake Pops Disaster, I decided something a lot more simple and easier to make was on the cards for the party (I’ll be making other things too, but we’ll get to those later).

To my mind, there’s nothing simpler to make than marshmallow hats. After all, they consist of only three ingredients – marshmallows, melted chocolate and Smarties. What could be simpler? I was certain I could make these for the party without messing it up!

I was still wary after screwing up the seemingly simple task of melting chocolate yesterday, so I resorted to a super-duper mega-high-tech method instead – I chopped up the bar of chocolate into really small pieces, and popped them into a small bowl, boiled the kettle, filled a large mug with boiling water, and sat the bowl of chocolate on top. Result! Perfectly smooth melted chocolate and no having to throw out four bars’ worth of mess – hurrah!

While the chocolate was melting, I cut a piece of greaseproof paper and lined the bottom of my roasting pan with it to cut on any more mess from chocolate drips. Then I simply dipped the marshmallows in the chocolate and topped each one with a Smartie.

Don’t they look lovely?

I am now wondering, however, why most of the Smarties were pink and purple with only one or two of each of the other colours? I wanted a whole rainbow of marshmallow hats, but they’re definitely dominated by the girlier shades. I’m sure I remember a more even spread of colours when I was a kid, and I particularly mourn the orange ones (there were only two!) as they were always my favourites.

Anyway, they are done. I’m just waiting for the chocolate to set so I can pop them all in an air-tight container till Sunday…

The Great Cake Pops Disaster

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I’m a busy Mum whose son turned three recently and is having a birthday party on Sunday and I enjoy baking.

You’d think this was a great mix, especially when I get inspired by lovely things I see online. Like cake pops. Little balls of cake on sticks, coated in chocolate and then decorated with all manner of things. Every time I see a blog post about these little morsels, they look so simple and everyone extolls how easy they are to make.

Stupidly, I took them at their word. And that’s how The Great Cake Pop Disaster came to pass.

Directions for making cake pops:

  1. Bake a cake. Just a plain Victoria sponge cake. Easy.
  2. Break up the cake into chunks while young son looks on with horrified expression on his face at the seemingly wanton destruction of perfectly good cake. So far, so good.
  3. Use my blender to break down the chunks of cake into crumbs while son screams, “No! My cake! My cake!”
  4. Open a large jar of Nutella. Oh, Nutella, you gorgeous jar of choco-nutty deliciousness, you!
  5. Add very generous dollop of Nutella to the cake crumbs and mix well till it all start sticking together nicely.
  6. Roll into chocolatey-cakey balls and try not to start singing Chef’s Song out loud in front of son who is too young to know about South Park.
  7. Poke little holes in chocolate balls (you’re still humming Chef’s Song, aren’t you?) with a lollipop stick and melt the chocolate.
  8. Dip the ends of the lollipop sticks in the melted chocolate and then stick them in the chocolate balls (yup, still humming that tune!) and pop them all in the fridge so the chocolate will anchor the sticks in place.
  9. Look on in dismay as a drop of water gets into the chocolate and ruins the whole lot of it – all four bars. Kick yourself as you dump the irredeemable mess in the bin.
  10. Melt another lot of chocolate – one bar at a time just to be sure you don’t waste four bars like last time – and dip your first cake pop in.
  11. Try not to swear as it breaks and falls off the stick into the chocolate.
  12. Try not to swear again as each and every one of the cake pops comes off its stick in the chocolate.
  13. Sacrifice your pastry brush in the hopes that brushing the chocolate on instead of dipping the cake pops in will make a difference.
  14. Fail in the trying-not-to-swear stakes as you realise you’ve ruined your pastry brush and the cake pops are STILL all coming off their sticks.
  15. Carry on painting the chocolate onto the cake pops and pulling out the sticks to drop them in the rainbow-hued sugar strands.
  16. Panic when you realise you’ve run out of sugar strands and still have half your cake pops to cover.
  17. Dig around in the baking cupboard and actually cheer when you find a bag of desiccated coconut and use that for the rest of them.
  18. Pop them all in the fridge to set and give the broken ones to hubby and child to polish off.
  19. Decide you’re never making cake pops again as they’re just too much hassle.
  20. Finally clean up the mess that is covering the entire kitchen.

I really hope the kids at the party appreciate the damned things.

We’ve decided to call them truffles.

Recipe – Bread

There’s nothing quite like the smell of freshly baked bread wafting from your kitchen, and with bread-making machines available at more and more reasonable prices, it’s never been easier to make bread at home.

But what if you don’t have a machine? What if you simply don’t have room for one in your small kitchen, or you fear you wouldn’t use it regularly and it would be a waste of money? Well, you can still make bread the old-fashioned way – by hand. And it’s easier than you might expect!

Simple Hand-Made Bread Recipe
Ingredients:

  • 500g strong bread flour
  • 1.25 tsp salt
  • 7g (1 sachet) dried yeast
  • 25g butter
  • 300mls warm water (use 1 part boiling to 2 parts cold)
  • flour for kneading

Directions:

  1. Mix together the strong bread flour and salt, rub in the butter, then stir in the yeast.
  2. Stir in the water and mix to a soft dough by hand.
  3. Turn out onto a well-floured surface and knead for 10 minutes by hand (or 5 minutes in an electric mixer with a bread hook) till the dough is smooth and elastic.
  4. Cover and rest the dough for 5 minutes
  5. Shape the dough and place in a greased 2lb bread tin or on a greased baking tray.
  6. Cover with a clean, wet cloth and leave in a warm place to rise for 1.5 – 2 hours.
  7. Uncover and bake in the oven at 230C for 30-35 minutes. (If it sounds hollow when you knock on the top, it’s ready!)
  8. Immediately turn out onto a wire rack to cool.
  9. Wrap in greaseproof paper when cool and store in the breadbox. It will be fine in there for several days, but I guarantee it won’t last that long!

Experiment with different types of flour – wholemeal, brown and white – or even try mixing half and half of two different types to see what works best for you. Different brands will give different results, as will different types. I find wholemeal gives a denser bread, whereas white tends to rise a little better and results in a “lighter” loaf. To get the best of both worlds, I like to mix a little wholemeal flour in with the white. It tastes gorgeous!

Xan can’t get enough of my homemade bread, which is great because I really enjoy making it. It’s definitely worth the time it takes, although to be fair, it doesn’t take much dedicated time really, as the initial prep only takes about 10-15 minutes and the rest of the time you leave the dough to do its own thing and then pop it in the oven. Easy!

Foodie Fridays

Foodie Fridays is a weekly meme hosted by Diary of a Domestic Goddess.

The aim is to share a recipe or a favourite food each week so that everyone else can try it.

If you take part, please leave a link in the comments!

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Last week I was far too busy for any blogging at all, so to make up for it, I thought I’d give you all another of my favourite soup recipes. Seeing as how the weather here has been as far from the expected for summer as possible, soup seems to be particularly appropriate to warm us all up again while the rain pours down outside! This recipe will serve four people as a starter, or will do two or three very generous servings as a meal in itself. It’s a delicious, silky-smooth soup with a hint of sweetness and spice that will delight your taste buds and even kids who won’t eat their veg will enjoy it. It’s also really cheap to make, especially if you generally have squash and sweet potato in your kitchen – you don’t have to buy in anything special for this one!

Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Soup
Ingredients:

  • 2 shallots
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 medium butternut squash
  • 1 medium sweet potato
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
  • small drop / spray of oil
  • 1 pt water
  • 1 stock cube
  • Salt and pepper to season to taste

Directions:

  1. Finely slice the shallots and mince the garlic, then lightly saute in a little oil in a large pan.
  2. Peel, de-seed and roughly dice the butternut squash
  3. Peel and roughly dice the sweet potato.
  4. Add butternut squash and sweet potato to the pan with the balsamic vinegar, ground mixed spice, stock cube and water.
  5. Simmer till vegetables are tender, then use a hand blender or food processor till soup is smooth, adding more water if required to reach desired consistency.
  6. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve with crusty bread and / or croutons.

Notes:

  • For added depth of flavour, roast the butternut squash, shallots and garlic (it takes longer, but you can now skip the sauteing)
  • For added indulgence, serve with a dollop of creme fraiche and garnish with a sprig of parsley.
  • I tend to use a ham stockcube as I love that added depth of flavour, but it tastes just as good with a chicken or vegetable one.
  • If preferred, you can leave out the balsamic vinegar – I just happen to love the stuff and always have it in my kitchen!
  • For an extra kick, try adding a dash of Worcestershire or Tabasco sauce.