Homemade ice lollies

This heat has reminded me that I haven’t blogged about our home made ice lollies yet! I bought a lolly mould from our local supermarket for £2 a while ago, and we’ve made a few batches of various flavours. They are the perfect size for little hands, and just the thing we need to cool off in this sunny weather. We’ve made them with pure fruit juices, so they aren’t full of added sugar, and even Joel has been able to enjoy gnawing on one, helping him not only with the heat but his teething gums too.

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This batch was a mix of raspberry and orange juices….

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And this batch was half grape juice and half apple juice (we froze the grape first and then added the apple once frozen to create the two-tier effect)….

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Such a simple idea, but very effective at cooling us off in the temperatures that we’re currently experiencing. Do you have any top tips for cool food and drinks with little ones in mind?

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Schwartz for dinner tonight (review) #schwartz2in1

If you didn’t know already by reading this blog, I love cooking and baking, and then writing up here the new things that I’ve tried. Most of the time I just make make it up as I go along, rarely following recipes, and instead taking inspiration from dishes I’ve tasted or smelled or just heard of. There are some evenings though, when we’re all tired and hungry, that I lack inspiration or the ability to remember previous inspirational moments.

So when I saw that BritMums were offering some Schwartz 2-in-1 sachets to review as part of the “Tell us what’s for dinner tonight” challenge (I’m entering this post with a chance to win a prize) I thought I’d give them a go. As BritMums write: sometimes you need a little inspiration to make your meals even better. And that’s just what these Schwartz sachets are here to help with.

The details

Schwartz describe their new 2-in-1 range as “easy to use recipe mix sachets in one handy pack: one sachet flavours the main dish whilst the other contains ? seasoning for a complementary side dish or topping. With 5 different varieties to choose from, and an easy recipe on the back of each pack, it’s a great way to try out new dishes or transform an existing family favourite.” You can see all the different flavours here, and I was sent two of these sachets to try:

  • Mediterranean Chicken Pasta and Cheesy Crumb Topping: A blend of herbs and spices for chicken pasta with a cheesy topping
  • Garlic & Thyme Roast Chicken and Crispy Roast Potatoes: Roast chicken seasoning, with garlic and thyme, accompanied by a special seasoning to create perfect Crispy Roast Potatoes

For us, the sachet for the pasta bake is an example of a way to transform an existing family favourite, as we quite often cook a tomato-based pasta bake with veg and tuna in and cheese on the top as a quick and easy midweek meal. The recipe on the sachet suggests that you make it with chicken and peppers, but as we don’t cook meat very often, I decided to adapt it to what we had in the cupboard and veg box that week. So we had tuna, carrots and courgette instead (the “hint and tips” section on the sachet suggests that you could replace the chicken and peppers with tuna and sweetcorn, and gives you instructions for when to add these at different stages fro, the original recipe). I’m planning on using the roast chicken and potatoes mix to bake some white fish with potatoes one day, but I’m still looking out for when the fish is on the reduced shelf when we go shopping so I can grab us a bargain meal.

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Before grilling…………..after grilling, yummy bubbling cheese

How easy was it?

The evening that I cooked the pasta bake was a classic for our family. We usually eat together around 6.30pm, but I’m never too sure how much I’ll be required for feeding Joel around that time. These days it’s not that much, but I can be called away at quite short notice. This is why I’m into slow cooking, it’s ready for 6.30pm having done all the prep earlier. But I digress. I started off chopping the veg, weighing out the pasta and grating the cheese, whilst Daddy and the boys were otherwise entertaining themselves. But then a tired Joel got very grizzly, so Daddy and I swapped and he carried on doing the cooking. We make a good team, and often end up cooking half a meal each. This usually involves me shouting instructions at him from the sofa, but with the recipe on the Schwartz 2-in-1 sachet, he was pleased that he could follow it himself with a couple of verbal notes from me about how I was adapting it. I too found the instructions easy to follow and adapt.

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Prepping – nothing complicated

I liked the fact that the ingredients were all things that we had in the cupboard or fridge, and we could just decide at short notice that this is what we’d have for dinner, open tins and cartons, do some chopping and grating, fling it all together and that was it. No tricky steps or fancy equipment required. The larger part of the sachet contained a mix of herbs to add to the tomatoes to form a sauce, which then got mixed with the pasta, tuna and veg, and the smaller part of the sachet contained a crispy herby topping to mix with grated cheese and sprinkle them on top.

The taste test

Whilst it was cooking, both the sauce in the pan and the completed bake under the grill smelled delicious, so we were waiting with watering mouths for what was to come on our plates. We were not disappointed, the flavour did live up to the deliciousness that the smell had promised. The boys absolutely loved it – pasta is their favourite for dinner, so to get approval from them means it met their high standards. Andrew decided to call it ‘special pasta’, I’m not quite sure why, maybe he could tell that it was better than the usual pasta bakes that I whip up without the sachet! Joel expressed his opinion by making loud lip snacking noises as he shovelled fistfuls into his mouth. Us adults were also pleased with a meal that was high in taste factor but low in effort factor – the sachet really did transform what could have otherwise been a fairly ordinary pasta bake.

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A very happy baby with his dinner

Any problems?

Just one problem that we found was the salt content: my little boys have good appetites, so the portion they ate of the pasta bake contains all the salt in their guideline daily amount as an under 1 and an under 3. I suspect a fair amount of this also comes from the cheese as well as the flavouring. They don’t have much other salt in the day as I don’t add it to anything (including the bread we make in the bread maker), so I don’t mind them eating something like this occasionally, but I wouldn’t want them to eat it every day unless the salt content was reduced. I find this a general problem with sachet or jar sauces, so we don’t often eat them, but they are handy to have in for the odd day here and there.

Our verdict

Overall we were very impressed by the sachet. It was easy to cook and had a yummy result. I would buy it again to have in the cupboard, though as I said it would only be for occasional use with two little ones due to the salt content. It made an ordinary meal ‘special’ for us.

This post is an entry for BritMums ‘What’s for Dinner Tonight?’ sponsored by Schwartz. Find out more about the new 2in1 mixes here

Disclaimer: I was sent the sachets free of charge for the purpose of this review, but all opinions expressed are honest and my own, based on our experience of cooking with one of them.

 

 

Slow cooked moussaka

I haven’t written up a food post for a while. It’s partly because our oven has been broken for a few weeks – I know, shocking, I’m not sure how I’ve coped without baking therapy; well actually I do, it’s been sewing therapy instead, making some funky wet bags for the boys’ nappies! And it’s partly because I’ve been busy writing breastfeeding posts and doing stuff for the Nappyness Cloth Nappy LIbrary. The oven is now fixed so hopefully I can do some more baking next weekend.

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With a broken oven, I’ve been so glad that we have a slow cooker. Last week we had an aubergine in the veg box, and as I was thinking about what I could do with it, moussaka sprang to mind. I think traditionally this is done with lamb, but as I can’t stand lamb, I went for turkey instead, as that’s the meat that I often substitute when a recipe calls for minced beef or lamb (I also make a turkey shepherd’s pie for example). I had a quick google and the first hit for slow cooked moussaka was another blog with a recipe that seemed to fit the bill. So, as usual, I adapted it to what we had in and my own tastes, and this is what I came up with….

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The verdict from my boys was very positive, so much so that Tom suggested I cook it again when the younger boys’ Godmum came round for lunch on Sunday.

Ingredients

  • 1 aubergine
  • 1/2 courgette
  • 1 onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 tin tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons tomato purée
  • handful of herbs (I had fresh sage in the tubs)
  • 400g turkey mince
  • olive oil
  • 1 pack feta

Method

  1. Slice the aubergine and courgette into fairly thin rounds.
  2. Chop the onion and garlic, and heat in a frying pan with some olive oil, until they start to brown.
  3. Add the minced turkey and cook until just grey.
  4. Add the tomatoes, tomato puree and herbs, and stir well.
  5. Put about one third of the turkey mixture in the bottom of the slow cooker pot.
  6. On top of this, place a layer of sliced aubergine and courgette.
  7. Put about another third of the turkey mixture on top, then another aubergine/courgette layer, and repeat with the last third of the turkey mixture and the last of the veg.
  8. Cook on low for about 7-8 hours.
  9. In the last hour of cooking, add the feta to the top and replace the lid.
  10. Serve with rice, and freeze any that you don’t eat – it defrosts to make a yummy meal later in the week 🙂

Cupcake of the month (June): cheesecake cupcakes

This month my cupcake calendar came up with a more unusual type of cupcake, one which I’d never thought of doing before. The idea was to make little cheesecakes in cupcake cases – an actually very simple idea, but not something I’ve seen before. I didn’t follow the recipe in terms of ingredients much, I just used a basic baked cheesecake mixture that I’ve done before, but made it in cupcake cases instead of a large cake tin.

I wasn’t sure how they would turn out, but in the end they worked pretty well. A few had issues coming out of the tin – I think the key was to make sure no mixture spilled over the side when I poured it in or during the baking as the mixture rose slightly, because this left a sticky residue between paper and tin. The taste was delicious, just like any other baked cheesecake. These would be handy to serve at a buffet or party where there are lots of different choices and you’d like to try a little bit of a few things – no more trying to cut a small slither of a big cheesecake and it ending up disheveled!

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Here’s the recipe…

Ingredients

  • 200g digestive biscuits
  • 125g margarine
  • 200g soft cheese (Philadelphia-style)
  • 100ml soured cream
  • 100g sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla essence
  • blueberries to decorate

Method

  1. Put cupcake cases into a 12-hole muffin tin and pre-heat the oven to 160ºC (fan).
  2. Put the digestives in a large bowl and crush them into crumbs using the end of a rolling pin.
  3. Melt the margarine in a smaller bowl in the microwave and add to the biscuit crumbs.
  4. Mix until well combined and stiff, then spoon into the cake cases and press down with your fingers to make the base.
  5. Mix the soft cheese, soured cream and sugar together, then beat in the eggs and vanilla essence.
  6. Pour the mixture into the paper cases on top of the biscuit base.
  7. Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes until just golden on top.
  8. Turn the oven off and leave the cakes to cool in there until they are cool enough to remove without oven gloves.
  9. Remove the cakes from the tin.
  10. Decorate each cake with a few blueberries or other fruit.
  11. Store in the fridge until eaten.

Mackerel kedgeree – #slowcooked

I love finding bargains on the reduced shelf in the supermarket – I only really buy fresh fish when it’s there because I think it’s too expensive at full price and I think about how little a tin of tuna costs in comparison. But there is a biig difference in taste between tinned and fresh fish, which is why I grabbed the pack of mackerel fillets that were about half price last week, and stuck it in the freezer until I had chance to think what to do with them!kedgeree 1 Collage

As I was thinking, kedgeree popped into my mind – we haven’t had it for ages, and although I know it’s usually made with smoked fish, I still just fancied it and thought it would still work with unsmoked fish. So I adapted my usual basic risotto recipe to make it into kedgeree, which is basically a curried fish and egg risotto as Tom and I joked. The veg we had in the box this week included chard, and given that it’s similar to spinach and I absolutely love spinach in curries (my favourite is Chana sag – chick peas and spinach), I chucked that in too to make it an all in one dish with no need for a side veg.

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The verdict amongst my three boys was very positive. Daddy was very impressed and asked for seconds, Andrew was even more impressed and asked for thirds, and Joel excitedly rocked to and fro in the high chair whilst shoving fistfuls of egg and caked on rice into his mouth! If you don’t believe them, why not give it a try yourself….

Ingredients – serves 4-5 adults

  • 250g mackerel fillets
  • 300g rice
  • 900ml hot stock
  • 1tbsp corn flour
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 100g chard or spinach, roughly chopped
  • 2 tsp hot curry powder
  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • 4 eggs

Method

  1. Put the rice, chard, onion and stock into the slow cooker pot.
  2. Add the curry powder, turmeric and corn flour and stir.
  3. Place the mackerel fillets whole on top of the liquid where they will float.
  4. Cook on low for 3 hours on low.
  5. Whenever you have time during the cooking, hard boil the eggs, and when they are cooled, peel off the shells and chop into quarters.
  6. After the 3 hours, take the fish out and flake on a plate, then add the flaked fish back into the pot and stir until evenly distributed.
  7. Add the egg quarters and fold in carefully so that they stay in tact.
  8. Cook for a further half an hour on low.
  9. Serve straight away and you can freeze any left-overs.

Cheesy red & green mini muffins

In general, Joel seems to be loving food, there’s not much he hasn’t eaten when we’ve given it to him. I’m sure he’ll get fussier as he gets older, but hopefully he’ll be similar to Andrew and like most things despite the odd fuss here and there. One thing in particular that both boys like is extra mature cheddar cheese – Joel would eat loads of this if I let him (I’m watching the salt), and Andrew would polish off the rest! And a couple of things that Andrew is less good at (unless they are cooked in something) and I hadn’t tried Joel with are spinach and tomatoes.

Mini muffins cheesy

So I decided to make some savoury mini muffins packed with cheese, spinach and tomatoes. Having been searching for a while for a cheap silicone mini muffin mould, I eventually found one last week at a homeware store that opened a while ago near our local supermarket but I’d never heard of the brand and assumed it was an expensive one (we live in Cambridge, this is the norm). But as I walked past it the other day, I took a closer look and realised it was in fact a Wilkinsons-style shop – ever since we moved here 7 years ago I’ve missed having a Wilkos to get bits and bobs from.

This recipe would also work in a fairy cake tin (mine have seen better days, hence my search for a new silicone mould) or a normal-sized muffin tin. I just like the mini-ness of them for little fingers to grasp. And these muffins were very much devoured by the little mouths on the receiving end of the little fingers’ grip.

This recipe made 24 mini muffins, some of which we ate fresh and some of which we froze for later to keep them fresh.

Ingredients

  • 250g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 100g extra mature cheddar cheese (or you could use any strength you like)
  • 100g fresh spinach leaves, roughly chopped
  • about a dozen cherry tomatoes, chopped into quarters
  • 180ml milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 50ml olive oil
  • black pepper

Method

  1. Put the flour, baking powder, cheese, spinach and tomatoes in a bowl and mix until roughly distributed.
  2. Mix the milk, eggs and oil in a bowl until the egg is broken up – don’t over beat, you don’t want to end up with mayonnaise!
  3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones along with a good grind of black pepper and stir until well combined.
  4. Spoon the mixture into the mini muffin mould so each hole is full.
  5. Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes at 180ºC (fan).
  6. Remove from the oven and allow to cool only as much as you need to in order to eat them!
  7. Freeze any that are not eaten within a day or so to keep them fresh.
Link up your recipe of the week

#slowcooked turkey and leeks with crunchy crust

Wow a meaty recipe, can you believe your eyes?! It is true that I don’t cook or eat a lot of meat (and when I do it’s only chicken or turkey), but as Joel is starting solids, I want to give him the opportunity to taste meat along with all the other foods he is trying as part of a very varied introduction to food. So I bought some turkey last weekend and cooked a dish in the slow cooker that was suitable for him to eat with us – most of what we eat is baby-friendly anyway.

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Mummy/Daddy-sized, toddler-sized, and baby-sized portions

The turkey went lovely and tender as it was slow cooked, so this was perfect for him who has no teeth quite yet. The vegetables were some of those that we got in our box that week. The ‘crunchy crust’ is a basic suet pastry that I baked separately in the oven as pastry doesn’t work in the slow cooker – it’s not hot enough to get it crunchy rather than soggy. I assembled the turkey and leeks with the crust on our individual dishes when serving the meal. Joel enjoyed munching on some turkey, mushroom and pastry (which went soggy after he gummed it for a while), though he wasn’t sure about the leeks – they are a bit weird to it without teeth I think.

Here’s the recipe, which was a bit more time-consuming than some of my ‘chuck it in the slow cooker’ recipes, but still only took about 20 minutes to prep then 7 hours to cook in the slow cooker plus a quick shove of a baking tray into the oven half an hour before it was ready.

Ingredients – serves 4

  • 250g turkey
  • Olive oil
  • 3 small leeks
  • 3 large mushrooms
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 400ml hot stock (I use low salt)
  • 120g self-raising flour
  • 60g vegetable suet
  • mixed herbs
  • cold water
Method
  1. Fry turkey for a few minutes in olive oil to seal it.
  2. Chop the leeks and mushrooms and put in the slow cooker pot.
  3. Crush the garlic cloves and add to the pot.
  4. Add the tomatoes and stock.
  5. When the turkey is sealed put it into the pot and stir.
  6. Cook on low for 7 hours.
  7. Mix the flour, suet and herbs together, and add just enough water to form a dough.
  8. Roll it out on a lightly floured surface and cut out four large squares.
  9. Place on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper and chill until about half an hour before the turkey mix is cooked, then put it in the oven at 180ºC and bake for 20-30 minutes until it is crisp and lightly golden.
  10. Assemble the pies individually in bowls by spooning the turkey mix in and placing the pastry on top.
  11. Eat straight away!

Easy blueberry pancakes

This must be one of the easiest recipes I’ve made. After the success of banana oatmeal pancakes, I wanted to make some more pancakes with a different fruit in. We also had quite a lot of natural yoghurt in the fridge, so I thought why not make pancakes with that – I’ve heard that buttermilk makes good pancakes, and yoghurt is very similar to this. So I mixed up a quick batter with half flour, half yoghurt and an egg. The fruit I chose was blueberries, because Joel hadn’t tried them yet and I knew they would cook down well and give a great flavour, texture and, most importantly, colour! They should be called purple-berries when cooked 🙂Bluberry pancakes Collage

These were a real hit with both boys. The recipe made about 10-12, so I froze some to bring out as snacks throughout the week.

Ingredients

  • 120g plain flour
  • 120g yoghurt
  • 1 egg
  • 100g fresh blueberries

Method

  1. Mix the flour, yoghurt and egg in a bowl until a thick batter forms.
  2. Stir in the blueberries (whole) until evenly distributed.
  3. Heat some olive oil in a large frying pan.
  4. Blob heaped teaspoons of batter into the pan and press down slightly.
  5. Let them cook for about 5 minutes on one side until they are nicely browned.
  6. Flip them over with a fish slice and let them cook for another 5 minutes or so until that side is nicely browned too.
  7. Remove them from the pan and place on kitchen towel.
  8. Eat as fresh as possible!

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Cupcake of the month (May): After Eight

Continuing my cupcake of the month feature baed on a cupcake calendar that I was given for Christmas, this month we have a mint and chocolate recipe, which I’ve given the name ‘After Eight’ for obvious reasons. The recipe on the calendar didn’t involve chocolate, but I think that mint and chocolate go so well together, particularly dark chocolate, that I couldn’t resist adapting the recipe to include it. I also made the cake mixture itself much less sweet than the recipe in the calendar, because the icing is very sweet – it tastes like butter mints or Murray mints – and the bitterness of the dark chocolate goes well with this.

After eight cakes

If you’d like to make these yourself, and I can assure you that they are yummy particularly after eight and the kids are in bed, here’s the recipe which makes 10.

Ingredients

  • 50g sugar
  • 160g self-raising flour
  • 20g cocoa powder
  • 150ml milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 75g margarine
  • 1 tsp mint extract
  • 75g dark chocolate, cut into large chunks
Icing
  • 50g margarine
  • 100g icing sugar
  • 1-2 tsp mint extract (depending how strongly minty you like it)
  • green food colouring
  • grated chocolate to decorate

Method

  1. Prepare a muffin tin by placing cupcake cases in the holes.
  2. Cream the margarine and sugar together until smooth and fluffy.
  3. Beat in the egg and milk.
  4. Add the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and mint extract and mix until well combined.
  5. Add the chocolate chunks and fold in until evenly distributed.
  6. Spoon the mixture into the cases to about 2/3 full.
  7. Bake at 180ºC for about 20-25 minutes until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
  8. Remove from the oven and leave to cool fully.
  9. Make the icing by beating together the icing sugar, margarine and mint extract, and adding the colouring a little at a time until it gets as green as you would like. Mine are quite Shrek-like, but you may want to go for a more subtle green shade 🙂
  10. Spoon the icing onto the top of each cupcake and spread it around (you could pipe it, but I find that using margarine makes it quite runny compared to buttercream icing).
  11. Finish them off by grating a small amount of dark chocolate onto each cake.

Pink pasta – #slowcookersunday

Another week, another recipe with beetroot! As you can probably guess if you’ve read my previous posts recently, we had beetroots in the veg box again this week. I love beetroot, so this isn’t a problem, I just don’t know many recipes that use them, so we often eat them roasted as a side veg. Having already made chocolate beetroot cake and savoury beetroot crumble, I had a brainwave for this week’s beetroot: red + white = pink! I knew that Andrew would love pasta (his favourite food) even more if it was brightly coloured, so I thought why not cook the red beetroot in a milky sauce and add pasta to make a pink dish. The addition of red kidney beans as well as the deep red/purple of the beetroot chunks complimented the pink colour very nicely.

Pink pasta

I’ve not done much pasta cooking in the slow cooker because I’ve heard that it can be very difficult to get it just right in texture between being crunchy and mushy, but I was impressed by how good Aly’s macaroni cheese recipe over at Plus 2.4 turned out when I made it, so was motivated to try one myself. The pasta turned out quite well, though on the mushier end of normal for someone who usually likes quite al dente pasta – next time I would have the pasta in for a little less time. But it was perfect for Joel to try sone, so I wasn’t disappointed. Andrew was very impressed with his pink pasta – he even managed to eat some beetroot, which hasn’t always been his favourite vegetable. So an all round good family meal. If Andrew was into a certain pig called Peppa, I might have called it Peppa Pig pasta! Maybe worth a try if you have a Peppa Pig fan who is a fussy eater?

Here’s the recipe – it did us two meals

Ingredients

  • About 400g beetroots
  • 200ml boiling water
  • 450g pasta shapes – we had shells
  • 500ml milk
  • 1 tbsp cornflour
  • 1 tin red kidney beans
  • 1 tsp chilli powder (optional – we like spicy food)
  • 100g soft cheese

Method

  1. Chop the beetroots into chunks (I left them fairly large) and place in the slow cooker pot with the boiling water. Cook for 2 hours on high.
  2. After the 2 hours, add the rest of the ingredients except the soft cheese and stir well.
  3. Cook on high for a further 2 1/2 hours (more like 2 hours if you want firmer pasta).
  4. When it’s cooked, stir in the soft cheese and serve immediately.

Linking up with Slow Cooker Sunday