Saturday, 24 December 2011

In which we make a gingerbread house

It's hard work, making all these magical memories, isn't it? It's Christmas Eve and the children broke up from school a week ago. I tried to get as much of the shopping, wrapping and general preparation done ahead of time in order to be able to gaze in hushed wonder at the twinkling Christmas lights, take long walks through frosty fields and generally drink in the awe and majesty of this special time of year.

Let's have two minutes' silence to mourn the death of another lofty ideal.

The reality is that the children are simultaneously exhausted from a busy school term, hopped up on all the sugar they've come to expect as an inalienable right, excited at the prospect of a visit from you-know-who and bored/frustrated with all the endless WAITING. It's the perfect storm, and it has resulted in plenty of shouting, crying and sulking. The kids have also been pretty badly behaved.

One accomplishment I am proud of, though, is our lovely gingerbread house. Do you like it? OK, OK, I know, I know, a nano-second spent Googling 'gingerbread house' will yield some amazing specimens (like this one) to which ours does not begin to compare. BUT as my Dad always says, "if a thing's worth doing, it's worth doing badly" and I can honestly say that the children and I got a lot of pleasure out of completing this project together. I'd like to think it will become an annual ritual.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

First blogging challenge...

Here's a picture of some bread to give you a clue as to what I came up with...

It gets kinda lonely around here (not that I want to guilt-trip you into leaving comments. Much). So I decided I would dip a toe in the blogging community pool, so to speak, in order to try and make some connections. How? I hear you ask. Why, by participating in a food blogging challenge, of course.

There are tons of these out there in Blog Land. They seem to consist of various bloggers getting together and coming up with a theme for a monthly (or one-off) recipe-related challenge in which they invite fellow bloggers to participate. Other bloggers create a recipe to fulfil the brief and submit their entries to the challenger (or 'host', as I believe they're called) for them to collate so we can all compare notes as to who has the worst photography skillz (erm... that would be me).  Not really. I mean, so we can see what recipes everybody came up with and hopefully get some new ideas for our own cooking along the way.

I came across this one via Dom at the Belleau Kitchen (thank you! You're an inspiration!):

and decided to try and come up with an idea. This is a monthly blogging challenge on the subject of ... you guessed it... breakfast. Check it out here. It's being hosted this month by Susan at A Little Bit of Heaven on a Plate. (Hello, Susan! I hope you like my entry!)

Monday, 7 November 2011

The tyranny of chicken

Everybody loves chicken, right? Because it's mild-tasting? Can be subjected to myriad different treatments and cooking methods? Takes on the flavour of the ingredients it's paired with really well?

Whatever the reason, it has become one of the things my children will generally eat fairly reliably (oh, I wish I hadn't just written that...) so we eat it at least once a week and I'm always keen to try something new to do with it. This idea came from the marvellous Epicurious, which I've been a huge fan of for years (I have printouts in my moth-eaten, sticky, mouldering ideas folders that date back to 2001! That's like the Jurassic!) and I'm sharing it with you because a) everybody loved it and b) it's the kind of amazingly quick, easy recipe that can be whipped up in about 15 minutes, the time it takes to set the table and steam some cous cous. And re-heat some roast potatoes for the cous cous-hater.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Bonfire toffee

You wait six months for a festival, then two come along in one week (much like Mealtime Meltdown blog posts… ahem…). Hot on the heels of Hallowe’en* comes Bonfire Night** at the weekend, so you’ll be needing a treacle toffee recipe, won’t you?

Monday, 31 October 2011

A pumpkin explosion

We carved this monstrous trio from pumpkins grown for us by our lovely neighbour. She didn't know what variety they were but I decided to have a go at cooking the flesh anyway. It was a rather haphazard affair. I roasted some of the larger chunks, steamed the smaller bits in the microwave... but then just mixed it all together anyway and blended it to what turned out to be a rather looser puree than I might have hoped for. The answer seemed to be to reduce the water content by simmering it in an open saucepan... The answer, that is, if the question had been: "What's the best way to spread volcanic splashes of pumpkin over the widest available area?"

Friday, 8 July 2011

Cheesy corn bread

“Can’t we have something regular that you get from the shops and you don’t even have to make?”


OK, I’ll admit that the children (who, you'll have gathered, are not exactly adventurous) have had a fair amount of new stuff foisted on them this week. I’ve been researching recipes for a parent and toddler cooking class that a friend and I are going to be running this autumn.

Friday, 24 June 2011

A nugget of the purest green

We didn’t eat many meals together as a family when our children were just learning to eat solid foods. This was because DH was working long hours and was rarely home to see – let alone eat with – the children and because I’d convinced myself that I couldn’t make food that satisfied their needs and tastes as well as my own (now is not the time or the place to have the conversation about how dieting WRECKS LIVES, though).

I wish I’d had Nikki Duffy’s book back then. Nikki (who happens to be a former colleague) has written a fantastic book (under the aegis of River Cottage) all about feeding babies and toddlers and it’s crammed with useful, reassuring, practical and pragmatic advice, as well as some really, really terrific recipes. I plan to write in more detail about the book in a future post BUT suffice it to say that the most iron-clad advice that she gives and that anybody could give anybody about feeding young children is MAKE THEM EAT WHAT YOU EAT FROM AN EARLY AGE.

So I – clearly – feel like I’ve already failed in this regard, even if the two of us dining together regularly (telly off, candle on table, good bottle of wine) has felt like a sanity-saver on occasion. But I think what I mean to say here is that if I was eating regularly with a young child, this – as well as the amazing recipes in Nikki’s book - is what I would be making.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Pizza, and some observations on dough

I know I’m supposed to be pushing the boundaries, using this blog as a way of challenging myself to make innovative, interesting family food that takes us out of our comfort zone… but the Gorgeous Boy looked at up me the other day with his beautiful, liquid brown eyes and asked for pizza. I was pretty powerless to resist.

In theory, at least, pizza-making is a fun activity in which to get the kids involved. They can slap the dough around a bit, and, look! Here are some vegetables! Make a funny face with them on top of your pizza!

I have two observations to make at this point.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Quickie post: Best. Chicken. Sandwich. Ever.

Hi, howareya? Yeah, I know I haven't been around much lately. I have been thinking about you, though! And as my last post (way back when dinosaurs roamed the earth) featured roast chicken, I thought I'd offer my take on what to do with some of the leftovers.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Roast chicken with leek

Oh, man. Is there anything (anything?) finer in this world than a chicken, roasted to crisp, golden, salty perfection? Amazingly enough, even the children seem to agree, so I’m taking it to the next level by introducing an accompaniment that makes the most of the marriage made in heaven that is chicken + leek + pasta. Wait a minute, that’s bigamy. Ha ha.

For this dish, a plump, farm-fresh, free-range chicken is roasted atop a mound of snowy white, aromatic leeks. When it’s done the bird is removed to reveal the cooked leeks (some tantalizingly crisp, some melting and soft) resting in a pool of intensely flavoured chicken juices. A heap of cooked wide papardelle pasta – I’m afraid I’m talking non-PC, refined white pasta that will absorb all those lovely juices – is mixed in. The ribbons of leek get lost and melt into the pasta, making the kind of slippery, flavourful mouthful that will have you picking at the dish until lo-o-o-ng after you’re full.

That’s the theory, anyway. But will the kids go for it? Here’s the recipe.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Cakes, cakes, cakes!

Ah, the half-termly PSA cake sale. The letter sent out too late, the last-minute change of setting, the clash with various clubs... But we all love a bit of cake, don't we? And at 30p each (four for £1), you can't argue. Especially when they're as amazing as this!

But all offerings - including, and, in fact, especially 'confectionery applied to breakfast cereal' as a friend of mine described her own contributions - are gleefully, and remarkably indiscriminatingly pounced upon by hungry children craving sugar. So we beg, implore and bully people to bake some cakes if they possibly have time (people start to back away in the playground when they see us coming), we bake, we ice, we eat several too many of the ersatz chocolate decorations we've bought, we breathe a sigh of relief when we see children other than our own heading to school cradling plastic boxes and biscuit tins.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

You say baby food, I say soup...

Soup. Not baby food. OK?

It's disheartening, isn't it, when you think back to all the lovely vegetables your small babies ate when they were first eating solid food. Lovely purees of sweet potato, butternut squash, spinach and potato. Delicious risotti, stews and casseroles... they couldn't gobble them fast enough. Fast forward to now: "I'm not eating THAT", "I think I'm going to be sick", "Is THAT what's for tea???"

All of which is, clearly, a ringing endorsement for a blog that claims to be about feeding kids well (I'll get me coat...)

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Sunshine, birthday cake, pageantry

Here's what's been up with me recently.

Hiking in the glorious, sunny Yorkshire Dales. Careful not to look at those white legs for too long, you'll go blind.

Fabulous Flapjack

The chair of the kids’ school’s Parent Staff Association is a lovely woman called Alison who – among other things – bakes cakes and treats for a good independent local coffee shop. To entice us to attend a meeting a couple of months ago she baked some of this amazing flapjack. Under its spell, we agreed to help organize a fundraiser. Seriously, it was just that good.  A buttery, sugary, fruity festival of fun (rather than a health food, which the presence of oats might otherwise lead you to suppose, or at least hope). I have adapted it slightly - the chocolate on top is mine, all mine! Feel free to experiment until you find a combination of fruit that you love – this is great for using up odds and ends!

Friday, 15 April 2011

What's for lunch?

Look, I know I don’t need to tell you about quesadillas, but I’m gonna, anyway. It’s the school holidays! I don’t know about you, but I’m halfway up the wall with all the (play) fighting (which always ends up the same way as the real kind), the mess and the lack of any kind of volume control, not to mention the destruction of neighbours’ property (don’t ask). Of course the upside is the weather has been gorgeous, we've had some lovely trips out, and we can all still be in our pyjamas at 10am if we like...

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

That Yummy Sauce

Kids are funny lil’ ole things aren’t they? (Though, if you have them, ‘funny’ may not be the adjective that springs immediately to mind.) One day they like something, the next they turn their noses up. Incredibly honed instincts enable them to tell on sight whether they like something or not, no morsel need pass the lips. Combine a set of ingredients in one way and it’s a big thumbs up, combine the same ingredients and present it in a different format and, well, good luck.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Not a recipe, a rant

I ordered some single cream from Ocado and instead they bought Elmlea. I didn’t know what it was, so I didn’t give it back to the driver. I think I assumed it was just branded (as opposed to supermarket own-label) cream. It was with a growing sense of (what? Outrage? Is outrage too strong?) let’s just say outrage, tinged with disgust, with perhaps a soup├žon of sadness that I read the label.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Perfect every time?

I am Yorkshire born and bred, but until recently I’d never made Yorkshire puddings myself. I think this is because when I was growing up, Sundays brought with them a special kind of anxiety: would the puddings rise this week? It was even worse if we had company. The shame that would attach if that week’s batch loitered limply in the tin, as opposed to floating puffy and crisp on the plate! More often than not they were perfect, but it seemed as if the magic secret ingredient – whisked in with the egg, flour and milk - was actually the worry itself.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

When life hands you lemons...

... make lemon risotto.

My friend Anne gave me this gorgeous specimen, sent from the garden of her parents' home in the south of France. Beautiful, perfectly uniformly sunshine yellow with a shiny, subtly dimpled skin, you could smell it from a mile away. I felt privileged to have been gifted with one of these beauties, so I really wanted to do it justice. I wanted something that would use both the zest and the juice, and that would make a really special Saturday night dinner for Dear Husband and self, perhaps as an accompaniment to some fish.

In the end, I decided on a lemon risotto. Unctuous, oozing rice with an assertive-without-being-strident citrus tang. 

Friday, 18 March 2011


I made meatloaf this evening. I’m not entirely sure why. It’s not really part of the British culinary vernacular, is it? And yet in the USA (Dear Husband is Ohio-born) it’s a comforting staple. There are a bazillion different permutations (spicy, herby, veggie-laden, Italian-influenced with oregano and tomatoes, Mexican-inflected with chillies and coriander leaf, you get my drift), so why has it never caught on here?

Thorough – nay, exhaustive – research (thanks, Wikipedia!) reveals that it does have northern European ancestry. But of course it does. If you consider the idea that it probably began as a way of making small amounts of inexpensive meat (plus a little starchy filler – oats, breadcrumbs or suchlike) go a long way, it’s not a stretch of the imagination to consider it first cousin to the haggis, or certainly the faggot.  Just don’t tell the Americans! (DH is the only American I’ve ever met who actually likes haggis.)

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Quickie post: Awesome feta, pea and mint cous cous salad

It takes longer to say ‘feta, pea and mint cous cous salad’ than it takes to assemble it. Almost. This is more a serving suggestion than a recipe, so I’m not going to give exact quantities. It’s well worth making for one, but, equally, is easy to scale up to feed a crowd. It tastes brilliant with lamb – chops, kebabs, leftover roast, you name it.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Fishcakes and jumping beans

OK so we made fishcakes this evening and I feel pretty smug about it. Of course it would help if I could be a LOT more go-with-the-flow and relaxed about the gobs of mixture melting into the egg and curb my impulse to tut at the children when they don’t come up with perfectly shaped, compacted, neat little discs. But after some deep-breathing exercises I think these turned out pretty well, and – this is actually the terrific part – both kids loved them. Of course, they’re fish cakes. What’s not to like?* But, still, the fact that they participated in the creation of a (I think) pretty healthy meal that they both enjoyed? Like I say, smug.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Quickie post: Rhubarb crumble

OK, it's probably a little odd to start with a picture of an empty dish, but that's just how popular this dish was. Sticky, tart rhubarb crumble, vivid pink juices oozing through a crisp, crumbly crust. Honestly, you would have loved it.

Anyway, this post goes out to my friend Tina. She and I spent a very happy afternoon at her allotment, turning over the soil, making plans and pulling weeds and I came away with an armful of the most beautiful rhubarb.  It became a wonderful pudding that even Gorgeous Boy - who, on hearing that rhubarb was technically a vegetable declared himself against it - DEVOURED with gusto.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Really, really good bread

I’m ba-ack! Did you miss me?

(Was that tumbleweed?)

We’re home after a great week up in Yorkshire first in the lovely city of York with babysitters parents*, then in the wilds of West Yorkshire for a weekend of great friends, lovely walks and outings, the traditional fiercely competitive session of the name game, and of course great food. I made roast beef and Yorkshire pudding for my contribution and some day I’ll blog about that, but for now I’d like to share a recipe I’ve been working on and LOVING for a few weeks.

The best granary bread, ever. At least, I think so. 

Of course I can’t claim this recipe as my own – it’s bread! Staff of life and all that. But this version is considerably adapted from one I have written down from who knows where. Delia, maybe? It yields a satisfyingly chewy, nutty, crusty loaf that tastes perfect simply buttered and sublime topped with pickle and molten, bubbling Cheddar. Or wobbly scrambled egg. Or goat’s cheese and a sprinkling of chives. You get the picture – it’s not a sandwich loaf as such, but makes a brilliant base for whatever you care to top it with.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

One-pot wonder

I was minded to write this by a post on the glorious blog Words To Eat By (subtitle: "because parents need to eat, too" – we do! We do!) in which the talented Debbie Koenig expounds on the infinite versatility of the ‘en papillotte’ method. And while I will be giving this a go in the very near future, I was reminded of my own ‘one method fits all’ recipe. I think I first got the idea from Nigella Lawson (I have a hard time with all her simpering and pouting but I love her ideas). The basic premise is this: place vegetables in dish, place protein on top, drizzle some oil, add some aromatics, put in oven, walk away, drink wine, watch telly, chat with significant other, enjoy enticing aroma, eat.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Muffins 101

“Did you know you can make cupcakes out of anything?”

I’ve probably seen The Cat in The Hat (the Mike Myers version) more times than anybody on the face of the planet  (let’s just say my Gorgeous Boy likes what he likes), but I really love the scene where Cat’s giving cupcakes the infomercial treatment. Who wouldn't like a Kupkake-inator of their very own?

Anyway, point is, the same can be said of muffins. And there’s really not much nicer than a basket of warm, fragrant, moist, crumbly muffins for the breakfast table – possibly accompanied by some nice homemade smoothies. They only take about 10 minutes to get to put-in-the-oven stage, too.*

(I should state right at the outset that I’m talking about muffins, here, not those over-sized, over-sweetened cakey things sweating in plastic bags in the cafe at the leisure centre.)

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Dinner, as it happens

5.08pm – We get in from Art Club. Dinner on the table by six? Hm, OK then. Drag out the griddle pan from a tightly packed cupboard and set it to heat on the stove while I put coats away, exhort children to tidy shoes, extract laundry from machine and change to drying mode, tidy shoes myself, check book packs, insert Power Rangers (Operation Overdrive) DVD and locate swords.

5.20pm – The griddle pan is smoking alarmingly. Quickly slice four courgettes and drizzle some olive oil on them before placing them in the pan. Zest and juice a lemon over the top of some chicken breasts and add salt and pepper.

At this point Beautiful Girl gets an inkling that dinner might not be fish fingers and baked beans. Commences exhortations to provide same as an alternative to whatever ghastly concoction I might be about to come up with.