Pink and white rock cakes

We were at our usual Friday morning breastfeeding support group meeting last week, and amongst the homemade goodies to eat there were some lovely apple and cinnamon rock cakes that a friend had baked. This reminded me of baking rock cakes when I was younger, and especially the time that a friend and I made some but forgot to put the sugar in. They still tasted fine, just not sweet, so we passed it off as suitable for my dad who’s diabetic. This got me thinking that I could make some with no or not much sugar in now, and they would be a very toddler-friendly treat. As we were going through the fruit aisle at the supermarket on Friday afternoon, I spotted some lovely looking raspberries for a reasonable price, and that gave me the inspiration to do some raspberry and white chocolate rock cakes. The raspberries would give colour and flavour without being too sweet, and the classic combination with white chocolate would be perfect, bringing a bit of sweetness to them, without the need for extra sugar. So here’s the recipe.

Ingredients

  • 200g self raising flour
  • 100g margarine
  • 1 egg
  • 100g fresh raspberries
  • 100g white chocolate, chopped into chocolate chip sized chunks

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 170ºC.
  2. Combine the flour and margarine using your hands, until it becomes like breadcrumbs in texture.
  3. Mix in the raspberries, white chocolate and egg until you have a nice thick sticky mixture.

    Nice and thick sticky mixture
  4. Spoon blobs of the mixture onto a greaseproof paper lined baking tray, set a little apart from each other as they will spread. Don’t make them smooth, just leave them ragged – the more ragged the better, as they’re supposed to look like rocks, and taste much crispier and crunchier with a rough surface.
  5. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes until golden.

    Just gone into the oven
  6. Let cool and eat as fresh as possible! Or freeze if you don’t think you’ll eat them all soon enough 😉

    Finished pink rocks - ready to be eaten as fresh as possible 🙂

Traffic lights tart with home-made rocket pesto

Here’s a quick Saturday night tea that I made last weekend. Partly inspired by pizza, which I can’t currently eat due to my bread fast for Lent, and partly inspired by my love of pesto, which is pretty high in salt when you buy it from the shops, but if you make it yourself you can reduce or leave out the cheese which usually makes it so salty. Using rocket for the pesto gives it a really strong flavour so the salt is less necessary for flavouring purposes. If you haven’t guessed from the picture already, I called it ‘Traffic lights’ because it has red, yellow and green things on it!

Ingredients

  • 1 sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry (you can make it yourself if you have time, but I’ve had bad experiences with pastry before so I only make it when I know I’m not in a hurry – which is hardly ever these days. A decent food processor would help me too)
  • 1 bag of fresh rocket
  • olive oil
  • 1 tin of pinto beans
  • half a tin of sweetcorn
  • 1 large tomato (I wanted to use sundried tomatoes, but when I opened the pot that had been in the fridge, I discovered it had gone mouldy! It hadn’t even been opened long. I’m considering taking it back if I have time.)

Method

  1. Roll out the pastry onto a lined baking sheet. Prick it with a fork several times all over the rectangle of pastry, leaving a border of about 2cm around all the edges.
  2. To make the pesto, whizz up the rocket with a decent glug of olive oil in a blender until you get a smooth paste.
  3. Spread the pesto over the pastry, leaving that 2cm border.
  4. Spread a mixture of sweetcorn and pinto beans all over the pesto until it is almost covered with a few green patches poking through.
  5. Cut the tomato into slices and add to the topping.
  6. Finish the topping by pouring a splash of olive oil over the top to keep it moist and brown the beans.
  7. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 200°c for about 20-25 minutes, until the border is puffed and golden.
My boys loved it....here is Andrew tucking into his
My boys loved it....here is Tom coming back for thirds to finish it off!

Chocolate and almond butter crumblies

A checkerboard of hearted (use your imagination!) yummy crumblies

I’m no good at lying, so here I am being honest about the fact that these delicious ‘crumblies’ I made started out in my head as shortbread biscuits. They look or feel nothing like shortbread, but they taste just as good if not better, because they have that lovely ‘melt in the mouth’ quality, they just crumble as (but not before) you bite them. Hence the name change to ‘crumblies’. It was always my intention to make half chocolate dough and half almond dough, and then make square biscuits with a contrasting-coloured heart in the centre. If you use your imagination, you can just about see this plan worked for the chocolate squares with almond hearts, but the almond squares with chocolate hearts were a bit of a flop (or a run if you like) – in appearance that is, but not taste. Oh how I wish I could post samples so that readers would believe me.

I suspect part of the reason why the dough ran so much (unlike the firmness of shortbread) was that I used all cornflour. I used to make shortbread with half cornflour, half plain flour; I expected that using all cornflour would make them more fragile and crumbly, but I didn’t expect the dough to go so runny whilst cooking and therefore lose the shape of my hearts. My inspiration for doing this cornflour thing was seeing gluten-free shortbread on sale at a tea-room I visited with my mum-in-law who is wheat/gluten-intolerant; so I thought I’d have a go at another wheat-free recipe with her in mind. The results are not bad. The perfectionist inside me is annoyed that they don’t look so pretty, but the time-pressed realistic mum inside me has come to accept that as long as they taste good (which they do, did I mention that?!), that’s all that matters. If you fancy having a go at these yourself, here’s how I did it.

Ingredients

Almond dough:

  • 125g corn flour
  • 125g unsalted butter (at room temperature)
  • 60g icing sugar
  • few drops almond essence

Chocolate dough:

  • 45g cocoa powder
  • 80g corn flour
  • 125g unsalted butter (at room temperature)
  • 60g icing sugar

 Method

  1. Start with the almond dough (so you can use the same bowl for the chocolate one – think about it, the other way round and you’d get brown bits in your yellow dough). Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl with a metal spoon.
  2. Add the cornflour and almond essence and combine until you get a thick pasty dough. As it gets thicker, use your hands to bring it together into a ball.

    Ball of almond dough
  3. On a large flat surface, sprinkle some cornflour. Roll out the dough until about 1cm thick. (I suspect that making it thicker would have been better.) Cut out some squares with a biscuit cutter, until you’ve used all the dough.
  4. From each square, cut out a small heart using a biscuit cutter. I got mine from Hobbycraft back in 2008 (I know the date because I got them to cut out hearts from card for the orders of service at our wedding!)

    A close up of cutting
  5. Place the squares (minus hearts) on a greaseproof-paper-lined baking tray. Put the hearts to one side.

    Cutting in progress - almond dough cut into squares with hearts cut out, and the same happening with the chocolate dough
  6. Do the same with the chocolate dough. Cream butter and sugar, then add cornflour and cocoa powder.

    Ball of chocolate dough
  7. When you have a tray of almond and a tray of chocolate squares, place the opposite type of dough heart into the heart-shaped holes in the squares.

    All lined up ready to go into the oven (the last time I got to see my beauties looking so perfect....)
  8. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 160°C for 10-12 minutes. When you take them out they will still be quite soft.
  9. Allow to cool on the trays and they will become firm. Once cooled and firm, remove from the trays and store in an air-tight box.
The good....
...and the ugly (there was no 'bad' involved, not on taste)

The chocolate taste is nicely strong and not too sweet, which contrasts well with the sweeter almond taste. So if you’re more in the mood for something chocolately with a hint of sweetness, I’d recommend one from the ‘good’ option, and if you’re more up for a sweet bite with a bit of chocolate thrown in, I’d go for the ‘ugly’ but still yummy option. My willing tasters (aka my boys) approve, which is reassuring to know. I’d be more than happy to get suggestions of why it went so runny, other than the cornflour. I’m a bit of an experimental baker; sometimes things go right, sometimes wrong, but I don’t know much of the science behind why something went wrong unless it’s obvious like I left out a key ingredient by mistake.

Just-sweet-enough cheesecake

This week we are having friends round for Sunday lunch, and this reminded me of a pudding that my mum used to make quite often when we had friends or family round for Sunday lunch when I was a child. I don’t think the recipe was ever written down, or at least she taught it to me without looking at a recipe, so it’s a bit like an oral legend that was passed down a generation. If I remember rightly, it was in fact the son of one of her friends who once made it in a home economics lesson (ah remember when it was called home ec. and not food technology or something like that?!) He’d done it as part of a project on food suitable for diabetics, and my parents were interested in the recipe because my dad is diabetic.

In outline it’s a biscuit base (using plain biscuits like digestives which don’t have too much sugar in them, though I like to use Hobnobs too to give it a bit of oatiness), and a topping that’s made from a sachet of dried sugar-free jelly, made up not with a pint of boiling water, but instead with a small amount of water and the rest cottage cheese and double cream. It sets in the fridge like ordinary jelly does. If you’re not convinced that this sounds delicious, let me try and persuade you that it is! I’ve written the recipe below, but I guess the best way to believe me would be to try it for yourself. Go on, it’ll be yummy!

This is the first time I made this since Andrew’s been eating solids, though I’m not sure why I haven’t done it yet because it’s of course good that it doesn’t have much sugar in. The sweetness comes partly from the biscuits which have a little in, and from the sweeteners that make the jelly sweet. And of course the fruit used to decorate it. What other flavours do you think would be nice to try? Do you think a particular colour of jelly would go down well with you or your family?

Ingredients

  • 20 biscuits like Hobnobs or digestives.
  • 100g butter or margarine
  • 150ml boiling water
  • 300g cottage cheese
  • 150ml double cream
  • 1 dried sachet (which makes a pint) of sugar-free jelly (I chose raspberry this time, but you can use any flavour of jelly that you’d like for a cheesecake)

Method

  1. Crush the biscuits into crumbs using the end of a rolling pin and a large bowl, big enough that it catches the inevitable flying crumbs when they’re created from the biscuits.
  2. Melt the butter/margarine and add to the biscuit crumbs.
  3. Press the biscuit mixture into the bottom of a suitable dish – I used a circular Pyrex one.
  4. Empty the sachet of jelly into a measuring jug. Add the boiling water and stir until the powder has all dissolved.
  5. Sieve the cottage cheese – I know this sounds odd, but by pushing it through a sieve using the back of a spoon until it’s all passed through, you end up with a nice smooth consistency rather than the lumpiness from the pot. Add the sieved cheese to the jelly mixture and stir well to make sure there are no lumps.
  6. Add the double cream to this mixture and stir until it’s mixed in well.
  7. Pour the mixture onto the base in the dish and leave it to chill for a few hours in the fridge.
  8. Once set, decorate with fruit (I chose red grapes to go with the pink colour of the cheesecake).

 

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40 breadless days, here I come…. but first some pancakes

When I announced to Tom this evening that I’m giving up bread for Lent, his reaction was ‘What??!! Are you mad??!!’…. to which my reply was ‘No, not mad Dear (well no more mad than usual), just wanted to do something really challenging this Lent.’ You see he knows how much I love bread and any bread products; I can’t usually go a day without something along those lines. Since we got a bread-maker, which I still maintain was one of my all-time best Christmas presents, I’ve been slightly obsessed with having fresh bread as often as possible. A few years ago my GP thought I might be gluten/wheat intolerant with the symptoms I was presenting. After 2 weeks of going gluten-free I’m sure I was more happy about the fact that I felt no better than having to carry on life without bread. (In the end it cleared up on its own and was put down to bouts of IBS.) It was a HARD 2 weeks; pasta I could cope without, and wheat cereals like Shreddies and bran flakes just about, but not bread, that was the hard part.

So when a friend at work today mentioned another friend had given up bread for Lent last year, that gave me a great idea. I was thinking of giving up chocolate, as that too would be challenging, but then I thought I’d just eat other things like cake, biscuits and sweets in its place. Having a blanket ban on sweet snacks wouldn’t do me much good either, as I find I need lots of energy during the day, with all the walking, cycling, swimming and of course breastfeeding that I’m doing. So bread was the answer to my search for a Lenten challenge: I would certainly miss it, and it’s not really replaceable with anything similar.

But why bother to give up anything at all for Lent? The tradition, as far as I was taught as a child, comes from the fact that the 40 days before Easter, or the period we call Lent, is a time when Christians take time to reflect on and contemplate quietly what Jesus did for us by dying on the cross. Traditionally they used to fast completely; this helped focus their mind on this reflection and contemplation, and it would certainly make them appreciate God’s provision in all the things they missed whilst fasting. More recently the tradtion became giving up just one thing, maybe a food or maybe something else like buying magazines, watching TV or biting finger nails. The point is that it’s something you find hard. However, some people might not find it particularly helpful to give something up to focus more on God. When I was a student, one of the leaders of our church student group once said that actually doing something new/different every day instead might help some people focus on God, for example making an effort to pray for longer or serve others by helping out with a charity. For me this year, as I give up something I know I love to eat, I will try to spend more time focused on God, and every time that I crave some bread, I know it will remind me to do so.

And finally the pancake bit. Along with the tradition of fasting in Lent was the tradition of using up all the fatty food that was in the larder beforehand, so the temptation wasn’t there to eat it. What better way to use up eggs, milk and flour than to make pancakes! This day, always a Tuesday (because Easter is always a Sunday and it’s 40 days before that), became known as Shrove Tuesday (to shrove means to ‘make merry’). In more recent years this has become Pancake Day thanks to the yummy things we eat in this 24-hour period.

This year I decided to make some pancakes for dinner, some with a savoury bean filling, and some with a sweet filling for afters. My pancake recipe was following the legendary Delia (I usually look up basic classic things like this on her website), and the fillings were my own. The bean filling was what has affectionately become known in our home as ‘Beanie thing’. Basically it’s what we have when we want a meal that’s more than just a snack but isn’t too heavy either. It turns out differntly every time because I vary the ingrediens slightly depending on what we have in the cupboard and what we fancy in particular. So I can’t really write an ingredients list, but here’s an idea about how to make it.

  • Chop and onion and a garlic clove. In a saucepan, fry in a little olive oil until golden and softened.
  • Add a tin of beans (drained first) such as cannellini, borlotti, black-eye, kidney, haricot etc. or even chick peas or lentils.
  • Add some other veg like sweetcorn/peas/grated carrots/diced pepper/mushrooms.
  • Add a tin of chopped tomatoes. Stir well to mix up all the ingredients.
  • Add some herbs like dried mixed herbs or indiviual things like oregano/cumin/parsley (anything you like really). Even add a dash of Tobasco if you’re feeling like a bit of a kick to it.
  • Mix up a couple of tablespoons of cornflour with a little cold water, to form a thin paste. Add this to the bean mixture and stir well. Keep on the heat until it’s thickened up as much as you’d like.
  • Serve with fresh bread (or, if you’re giving it up for Lent, some alternative….need to think about that….), or pancakes on Shrove Tuesday.

After we’d finished our savoury pancakes with beans, there were sweet ones filled with white chocolate buttons, which melted and oozed out as the pancake was still hot 🙂 Andrew only had a small taster of mine as I didn’t want to risk a sugar high that close to bedtime (as it turns out he’s shattered after a busy day with Granny and Grandad and went straight off to sleep!) What did you fill your pancakes with? Any unusual toppings that you’ve come up with or heard of? Happy Shrove Tuesday everyone, have a flipping good time 🙂

Ruth’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along quiche

Having noticed recently that all the recipes I bake are in fact my own adaptation of someone else’s, I decided that I really should be brave and just take the plunge into coming up with my own stuff. I’m also aware that copyright is a grey area here – how do you decide if an adaptation is ‘significant’ enough to be able to reproduce it? I hope I’ve not crossed any lines so far, always crediting where necessary and always adapting in a way that I believe is significant. So my future baking posts will be coming from a more personal perspective, which will inevitably include some disasters and hopefully more than a few successes.

To start this new era off, I thought this quiche recipe would do the trick. We had one of Andrew’s friends and her parents round for lunch last weekend (the postponed date mentioned in a previous post). After a busy week in which I was barely organised, I was looking for inspiration one evening. Seeing my stressed searches through books, Tom asked if I could do one of my ‘lovely quiches’ (his words not mine). Perfect, I thought, and as I opened the fridge I saw that there were a few bits and bobs that needed using up and would go together well in a quiche – I could just make it up as I went along. Here’s what we ended up with….

Ingredients

  • 3 eggs
  • 150ml soured cream
  • 100ml milk
  • 1 leek, chopped
  • couple of handfuls of mushrooms, chopped
  • ball of mozzarella, chopped into cubes
  • 5 slice pack of good quality cooked chicken, chopped
  • shortcrust pastry…..I used 1 pack of ready rolled (about 300g I think) – I had little time and I’ve had bad experiences making pastry so don’t like to do it in a rush
  • olive oil
  • freshly ground black pepper

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  2. Lay the pastry into a quiche/tart dish, making sure you push it firmly down into the edge at the bottom, and leave a good couple of centimetres spare overhanging at the top as it will shrink slightly.
  3. Put a sheet of greaseproof paper and a heavy-ish object like a cake tin (that fits inside the dish) on top of the pastry (I don’t use baking beans). Bake blind for about 20 minutes, removing the paper and cake tin about 5 minutes before the end, until there are no raw parts showing on the pastry case.
  4. Meanwhile heat some oil in a pan and fry the leek and mushrooms until the leeks ar golden and the mushrooms are darker.
  5. Mix the leek, mushrooms, chicken, egg, soured cream, milk and black pepper in bowl.
  6. Once the case is ready, pour in the filling, and scatter mozzarella over the top. It’s also possible to get the case and filling ready ahead of time, chill them, and put them together once you’re ready to bake (I did this at the weekend so that I could go for a swim before our guests arrived).
  7. Return to the oven and bake for around 35-40 minutes until the filling is cooked solid and the top is nicely golden.

Our lunchtime was completed with some roasted carrots, parsnips and potatoes (olive oil and some dried mixed herbs). Everyone enjoyed it, particularly the little ones around the table. Anyone got any good ideas for what to put in a quiche/tart like this? I think it’s a great way to put a few ingredients together that are lurking in the fridge and cupboard waiting to be used up.

How to turn a pound of carrots into lots of scrummy muffins

A pound of carrots gets turned into....
.....delicious carrot muffins (with cream cheese icing on some) 🙂

I’m not one to turn down a bargain, so when I saw a kilogram bag of carrots for less than a pound at the local greengrocers, I shoved them into my basket without thinking anything other than ‘oooh it’ll be a good excuse to make carrot cake if we don’t get round to eating them all before they start to go off!’ We had a good go at them: roasted carrots one evening and grated carrot in a pasta dish another. But a combination of going away for the weekend and getting through the big bargain cauliflower I also bought meant that carrot cake was definitely on the cards this weekend.

In the end I made some carrot muffins on Thursday evening, brought forward by the fact that we were going to a La Leche League breastfeeding support group meeting this morning and I wanted to take some snacks to share. Plus I’d been meaning to have a go at the recipe I’d found in Cook with Kids by Rob Kirby (a book previously mentioned on this blog). As these kind of cakes freeze well, I thought I’d double up his recipe and use a whole pound of carrots! This amount made 24 muffins, so there were plenty to take to LLL this morning and have some for the freezer at home.

Here come the inevitable adaptations… The original recipe had nuts in (chopped walnuts and ground almonds), but I simply left these out, adding in some more sultanas for the walnuts, for two reasons: choking hazard for Andrew and his breastfeeding buddies, and ladies with nut allergies at LLL. I halved the amount of sugar in the cake, and they still taste lovely and sweet; I also made half the amount of icing, with the intention of doing half the muffins plain (more toddler-friendly) and half iced (more adult-friendly), but (as usual with icing recipes I find) there was enough to ice nearly two thirds. They went down well with the toddlers and mums who made it through the snow this morning.

Ingredients

  • 4 eggs
  • 200g brown sugar
  • 100ml olive oil
  • 220ml natural yoghurt
  • 8 drops vanilla extract
  • 4 tbsp orange juice
  • 520g self-raising flour
  • 4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 500g carrots, grated
  • 200g sultanas

Icing

  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 300g icing sugar
  • 125g cream cheese

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C. Whisk the eggs, sugar and oil together in a large bowl. Then add in the yoghurt, vanilla extract and orange juice and combine the ingredients thoroughly.
  2. Put the flour and cinnamon into another bowl, then add and fold in the egg mixture until everything is thoroughly mixed together. Finally, add the carrots and sultanas.
  3. Fill two muffin trays (x12) with mixture, then cook in the oven for about 20-25 minutes. You can tell they’re done by poking a skewer into the centre of one and it will come out clean if they are done.
  4. Remove the muffins from the oven and cool them on a wire rack while you make the icing. Do this by creaming the butter, sugar and cream cheese together in a bowl.
  5. When the muffins have cooled, spread some icing over the top of each one.

I love carrot cake, and so does Andrew it seems, but Tom is not so keen. I can see why it might not be everyone’s cup of tea (or slice of cake), because we usually think of carrots as savoury, even though they’re actually quite sweet. Do you like carrot cake? Have you tried any other kind of vegetables in a cake? I once tried courgette cake, which was nice – didn’t taste anything like courgette though!

Muffins before icing came along

Top up your toddler with vitamins and iron – the green way

Yummy scrummy in my tummy 🙂

When I came across this recipe for Green Risotto, I thought what a great way it is to get toddlers eating the vitamins and iron that are found in spinach and peas, which are not always the most popular of foods amongst our littluns, though I’m glad to say that so far (I’m aware this can change) ours has shown no signs of being fussy, and it surprises me sometimes just how much of all kids of different foods he’ll try and polish off. At the moment for him it’s more a case of he can’t (in great quantities) rather than he won’t eat spinach, because he only has two teeth (I think he’s put all his developmental effort in mastering walking recently), so I have to cut it up very small for him otherwise he can’t seem to ‘gum’ it very easily like he can other foods. But at least he’s not against the flavour. Peas are definitely one of his favourites – not sure whether it’s the fun of picking them up one by one and perfecting his pincer movement, or the flavour, but all I care about is that he eats them.

The veggies are whizzed up in this risotto, so even the most suspecting toddler won’t be able to see actual pieces of veg, just a lovely thick bright green sauce. And let’s face it, bright colours are so appealing when you’re a little person – that’s why all their toys/books/clothes etc. are brightly coloured. I thought it would be a good idea to share this recipe on the blog, for anyone who’s wondering how they can get those all important vitamins and iron into their littluns who might not be too keen on eating visible plant life.

Do you think I can eat it with this spoon Mummy?!

The recipe is based on one from Paddington’s Cookery Book, which Andrew got for his birthday from Uncle Matt and Aunty Helen, along with a gorgeous little kids’ apron for when he’s old enough to help me cook. The book is a fantastic mix of snacks, mains, breakfasts and puddings, all beautifully illustrated with Paddington Bear doing bits of cooking. I’d definitely recommend it if you’d like some child-friendly recipe ideas, for getting them involved in both cooking and eating. This recipe was about half the quantities that it said for 4-6 people, and it served two adults and a hungry toddler just right. It would also freeze well, but I didn’t buy enough spinach this time to make double and freeze half; I’m already planning on doing that next time. I used cheddar cheese instead of Parmesan, because I forgot to buy the special cheese and we always have the ordinary stuff in the fridge – it worked fine. I also replaced the butter with olive oil, because we were running a bit low and I needed it for the other recipe I was making that night (post to follow…) So that’s enough of an intro…. on with the green stuff!

Look at my grogeous Cath Kitson apron

Ingredients

  • 500g spinach
  • some dried or fresh mint leaves (how much is up to you – depends how minty you want it)
  • 125g frozen peas
  • 500ml vegetable stock (I used reduced salt stock)
  • 50g cheddar cheese
  • 1 onion
  • olive oil
  • 150g rice (I don’t usually buy risotto rice on the grounds that ordinary long grain rice tastes nice too and is considerably cheaper when you’re on a budget like us)
  • basil leaves (optional)

Method

  1. Wash the spinach and cut off any tough stalks.
  2. Put it in a saucepan of boiling water for just a minute, to blanch. Drain, keeping the water.
  3. In the same water, cook the peas and drain. Liquidise the spinach, mint and peas, adding a little of the cooking water if necessary (whoops I burnt out the motor in my aging liquidiser doing this! Time for a new one I think).
  4. Heat the stock and grate the cheese.
  5. Chop the onion finely. Heat some olive oil in a heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat, and cook the onion until soft. Add the rice and stir for a minute or two. You should hear the rice crackling when it’s ready for the next stage.
  6. Add 2 ladlefuls of stock and watch, stirring often, until it is absorbed into the rice. Carry on, a ladleful at a time, until the rice is almost completely soft but the risotto is still creamy. This should take about 20 minutes.
  7. Now stir in the spinach, mint and pea puree, and half the cheese. Add the basil leaves if you have them.
  8. Serve with the rest of the grated cheese.

I polished off my lovely green risotto
Green monster! (He had a bath straight after this... and turned the bath water green!)

One special first birthday cake

Apart from the fact that Andrew is one year old (where did that last year go?!), I can’t believe that I’ve actually made my first ever birthday cake for a child of my own. This is a special moment for me, because I’ve been looking forward to it for so long. My mum used to bake amazing birthday cakes for me and my brother – my all time favourite has to be the swimming pool in the shape of an 8 for my 8th birthday swimming party. So I’ve wanted to carry on the tradition with my own children for quite a long time. And now I finally got to do it 🙂

I came up with this idea one day quite out of the blue. I think I was just out walking with Andrew in the buggy and it came to me. It’s basically 3 classic sponge cakes (20cm round) cut into the letters ‘o’, ‘n’ and ‘e’, and then decorated with buttercream icing in different colours and sweets. Here’s a break down of the process, based on Delia Smith’s classic Victoria sponge recipe, and cupcake icing from Cook with kids by Rob Kirby.

Ingredients

cake

Ingredients for the sponge
  • 220g self raising flour
  • 220g sugar
  • 220g margerine
  • 4 eggs
  • few drops of vanilla essence
  • 3 20cm round cake tins, greased and lined at the bottom with greaseproof paper

    Three 20cm round cake tins greased and lined with greaseproof paper

icing

  • 260g icing sugar
  • 165g unsalted butter
  • red, blue and green natural food colouring

Method

Cake

  1. Blend the margerine and sugar together until pale and fluffy.

    Margerine and sugar blended together
  2. Beat the eggs, and then add to the mixture little by little, beating thoroughly as you go.

    Beaten eggs added to the margerine and sugar mixture
  3. Add the vanilla essence.
  4. Work in the flour until you have a smooth pasty mixture.

    Flour added to the mixture, to make a smooth pasty mixture
  5. Divide the mixture evenly between the 3 cake tins.
  6. Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes until golden brown on top.

    Three sponges just out of the oven

Icing

  1. Whip the icing and butter together until you get a pale, fluffy ‘cream’.
  2. Split the cream into 3 roughly equal portions.

    Icing evenly split into three bowls
  3. Add a few drops of each food colouring into each portion, until you get a strong colour.

    Three bowls of icing coloured with different food colourings

decoration

  1. Once the cakes are cool, remove from the tin.
  2. Using a sharp knife, cut a hole in the middle of one cake to make an ‘o’, then a hole in the edge at the centre bottom of one to make an ‘n’, then two holes, one just higher than the middle and one at the right side on the edge, to make an ‘e’.

    'o n e' cut out of the round sponges
  3. Spread the icing to completely cover the cake, including down the sides where you cut bits out.
  4. Add sweets to decorate.

    Finished cake - 'o n e'
'o' - milk choc buttons in the shape of a star with some pinky/red writing icing (not very visible here) around the edge of the star
'n' - jelly beans and white writing icing make some bunches of baloons
'e' - white choc buttons with hundreds and thousands on them (I LOVE these!) and some orange writing icing to contrast with the blue buttercream

The cakes went down well at our teatime party with family. The red food colouring tasted slightly of pepper (as in red pepper) to me, probably because it was paprika extract (no artificial E-numbers on sale these days!) But the men didn’t seem to mind it, and ate it anyway! I stuck to a piece of the blue ‘e’, as the white choc buttons are my favourite. Andrew also had a small piece of the ‘e’, after we sang Happy Birthday to him, and he really enjoyed it, munching away on it happily. My first go at kids birthday cake baking seemed to go successfully, so I’m happy 🙂

I’m going to try and fit in another birthday related post soon, but for now, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about this part of Andrew’s first birthday.

Spinach, Feta and Pine Nut tart

We have a great cook book called Cooking For Friends by Gordon Ramsey. It’s where I always look first when (funnily enough) we have friends round for a meal. This weekend we were supposed to have one of Andrew’s friends and her parents round, but unfortunately she was sick and they had to postpone. As I’d bought the ingredients for this tart anyway, I thought I might as well carry on and make it for the 3 of us, and freeze half for another day. It’s a vegetarian recipe which has lots of flavour and really fills you up. I adapted it slightly from the original recipe (of course!), by putting yoghurt and milk in instead of double cream, because I thought it was rich enough with the pastry, feta and parmesan, and because we always have lots of milk and yoghurt in the fridge these days. I think Andrew’s not supposed to have pine nuts just yet (choking hazard?) so I just sprinkled them onto three quarters of the tart and gave the pine-nut-less bit to him. As I thought I was running out of time before our friends came, I forgot to take pictures of every stage, though in the end I should have just looked at my phone earlier and I’d have seen a text to say they wouldn’t be able to make it. Anyway, here goes with what I did manage to capture…

Ingredients

  • 320g ready-rolled shortcrust pastry (I didn’t have time to make my own)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 400g spinach leaves, washed and drained
  • nutmeg, to grate
  • 200g feta cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 100ml natural yoghurt
  • 100ml milk
  • 50g toasted pine nuts
  • 4 tbsp freshly grated parmesan

Method

  1. Roll out pastry on a lightly floured surface and use it to line a 23-25cm tart tin (Ramsey says to use one with a removable base, but I don’t have one of those, so I used a solid pyrex-style one). Press the pastry into the edges of the tin and leave a little excess dangling over the sides. Chill for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Heat the olive oil in a large pan and fry the onion with a little pepper. Stir frequently over medium heat until soft but not browned: about 6-8 minutes. Then wilt the spinach leaves in the same pan as the onion. Stir them over a medium-high-heat just until they’ve wilted, then transfer to a colander set over a large bowl. Press down on the spinach with the back of a ladle to squeeze out the excess water, then cool slightly.
  3. Put the onion and spinach in a large bowl and grate over a little nutmeg. Add the feta, eggs, yoghurt, milk and a generous grating of black pepper. Chill until ready to use.

    Spinach, onions, feta, egg, yoghurt and milk mixed together to make the filling
  4. Heat the oven to 200°c. Line the pastry with foil and fill with baking beans. Bake blind (i.e. without any filling) for 15-20 minutes until the sides are lightly golden. Remove the foil and beans and return to the oven for another 5 minutes until the base is golden and there are no more uncooked patches left. Remove from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 170°c.

    Blind baked pastry case - except I noticed when taking this photo that it still had uncooked patches on the bottom, so I put it in uncovered for a bit longer)
  5. Spread the filling over the pastry shell, then sprinkle the parmesan and pine nuts over the top.
    Grated parmesan and toasted pine nuts, ready to sprinkle on top

    Tart ready to go into the oven (pine nuts delibertely only sprinkled on 3/4 of it)
  6. Bake for about 35-40 minutes until the top is golden brown and the filling is set. Cool slightly before serving.
    Half eaten tart - forgot to take photo when it came out of the oven (probably because Andrew was clearly keen to eat it and was letting me know this!) I think I could have done with squeezing out more of the excess water from the spinach, but it tasted yummy anyway.

    Tart in process of being consumed - served with roasted parsnips and carrots and some couscous salad