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Roasted Vegetable Hot Pot Recipe

Meal Planning on a Budget – Roasted Vegetable Hot Pot

Roasted Vegetable Hot Pot Recipe

The other day I wrote about our Essential List for Meal Planning on a budget. I know that, at a glance, it can look quite sparse and so I wanted to share with you some of the meals we create with it.

I’m going to try and work out a rough cost for each meal, however costs will obviously vary depending on whether there are seasonal deals and also where you choose to shop. To give you a rough idea of our weekly spend, our last grocery shop cost us just under £32 and will provide us with lunches and dinners for around a week.

We managed this by shopping at Aldi and thinking ahead about what we might make to ensure we only bought as much as we needed, whilst also making sure we got as many meals out of each item as possible. I must hasten to add that £32 was just for fruit, veg, fish, bread etc as we already had cereals and milk left over from previous shops. We also have some things like pasta, quinoa, flour etc in the cupboard too. For me, meal planning on a budget is all about making the most of what we already have and buying only what is needed to complement that or replace store cupboard essentials . Perhaps our Store Cupboard Essentials another list to share on another day!

So with all that in mind, I think it is perhaps more helpful to work out the approximate cost of each meal we make to give you a better idea of how far your money can go.

Roasted Vegetable Hot Pot

Ingredients

Roasted Vegetable Hot Pot Ingredients

3 potatoes – 20p (£1 for a 2.5kg bag)
1 leek – 10p (29p for a pack of 3)
1 red pepper – 32p (95p for a pack of 3)
1 carrot – 7p (49p for a 1.2kg bag)
1 courgette – 46p (£1.39 for a pack of 3)
1 parsnip – 20p (59p for a 600g bag)
1/3 head of broccoli – 15p (44p per unit)
1/4 pack of mushrooms – 22p (89p per pack)
1/4 pack of green beans – 20p (79 per per pack)
1/4 pack of sugar snap peas – 21p (85p per pack)
1/2 pack of baby corn – 45p (89p per pack)
1 pack wheat-free gravy – 67p (bought from Sainsbury’s in 3 for £2 offer)

Total cost of meal – £3.25 (should serve up to 3 adults or 2 adults and 2 kids).

Clearly you could have made a bigger saving by not using wheat-free gravy, but that’s one of the things we simply have to budget for as I cannot tolerate wheat. And of course you could cut the cost down further by swapping more expensive items such as fresh baby corn for frozen sweetcorn. But we’re enjoying the fact that this is still within our budget and allows us to eat a wide variety of fresh vegetables at each meal.

Fancy having a go?

Recipe

Preparation Time – approximately 15 mins
Cooking Time – 45 mins

1. Preheat oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6. Place two trays in the oven with a small amount of oil (we used a teaspoon of coconut oil on each).

2. Dice the carrot and parsnip and slice the leek into medallions. Place these on the first tray and put them into the oven.

Roasted Vegetable Hot Pot - Step 2

3. Slice the potatoes (skin on) into rounds of approx. 1cm thickness and lay flat on the second baking tray. Put these in the oven about 10 mins after putting the carrot, parsnip and leek in.

Roasted Vegetable Hot Pot - Step 3

4. Chop up the rest of the veg into small, bite-sized pieces.

5. After the carrot, parsnip and leek have been in the oven for 30 mins, they should be soft and slightly browned on the outside. Take them out and transfer them into the casserole dish. Cover with foil and place in the bottom of the oven to keep warm.

Roasted Vegetable Hot Pot - Step 5

 

6. Put the remaining veg onto the tray you have just cleared and place them in the oven for 15 – 20 mins. You will need to keep an eye on these and the potatoes near the end. If the potatoes start getting too crispy, cover with foil.

Roasted Vegetable Hot Pot - Step 6

7. Make the gravy and add this to the casserole dish along with the rest of the veg. Layer the potatoes across the top and enjoy. As the potatoes have been roasted, there will be no need to put the casserole dish back in the oven to crisp up.

Roasted Vegetable Hot Pot - Step 7

leftover Bolognese with spelt crackers

Meal Planning on a Budget – Our Essential List

Since my redundancy earlier in the year, I have been spending more time consciously thinking about the food we eat. Initially this was for budget reasons only, but it has had a really positive effect on our health as well. You see, by making all our meals from scratch and eating leftovers for lunch, we are avoiding grabbing easy snacks (often processed foods) and instead we’re eating a wider variety of vegetables.

But variety doesn’t have to come at an additional cost. If, like me, you have previously tried to stock up on healthy options only to have them sit in your fridge or cupboard well beyond their better days, please don’t give up. I’ve been pleasantly surprised of late just how budget friendly stocking my fridge full of fresh vegetables can be!

vegetable mixes for easy dishes

We’ve been avoiding meat, for budget and health purposes, but are still keeping fish in our diet. We’ve also been looking at cutting out wheat completely in meals we all eat (TJ and Little Man still have bread etc) and reducing our dairy intake significantly (this is a tough one as we do eat a lot of cheese in our house!) But even with the additional cost of dairy free milk and yoghurts and a lot more fresh fruit and vegetables, our weekly shop has still dropped a massive amount in recent weeks.

So how have we done it? Well, I keep my meal planning relatively loose by having a few recipe ideas in mind when I go shopping but enough flexibility to make the most of seasonal offers. And then I have my “Essentials List” which I know will help me make plenty of meals, even at short notice. This is what I would like to share with you today…

Our Essential List

  • Potatoes (for jackets and salads)
  • Carrots
  • Courgettes
  • Onions
  • Celery
  • Parsnips
  • Broccoli
  • Baby Corn
  • Mange Tout
  • Sugar Snap Peas
  • Green Beans
  • Mushrooms
  • Avocados
  • Tomatoes (fresh and tinned)
  • Tinned Beans
  • Gravy and/or Stock
  • Mayonnaise
  • Tinned fish, such as Tuna
  • Smokedfish, such as Mackeral
  • Eggs

The above ingredients make a variety of meals and are flexible enough to mix and match throughout the week. So, for instance, I always grate a few carrots and a courgette as a base for meals like Bolognese or a hot pot…

grated carrot and courgette base for Bolognese, hot pots and cottage pie

I find it makes a lovely, thick base that can sometimes seem to be lacking from meat free meals. I can then add a variety of other vegetables to it, depending on what I have available.

At the moment this is often baby corn, mange tout or sugar snaps peas. Whilst these may seem less than a budget choice, they are in fact a good option for additions to dishes. I find a pack of baby corn will easily do two meals, and the bags of mange tout and sugar snap peas can last 3 or 4 meals.

Likewise, a punnet of mushrooms will be good for a couple of dinners, and broccoli can go on for 3 or 4 meals too. All of these, in varying combinations, can make up a Bolognese, cottage pie or hot pot dish. And lightly steamed, make a delicious salad for lunch.

Talking of salads, I choose to make a salad base from avocado a lot of the time, as I struggle to digest raw vegetables and lettuce. It is certainly a far cheaper option than wheat free bread! But sometime,  if we have leftovers from the night before I will eat those with some Ryvita. TJ is equally as happy to take leftovers to work too.

leftover Bolognese with spelt crackers

Many of these meals need a sauce or gravy, so we always keep tins of tomatoes and beans in the cupboard. In fact I ran out of carrots for my Bolognese base the other day and substituted with a tin of baked beans and it worked out fun, if a little sweet to my taste!

You can mix it up by making the same Bolognese twice, only having it with pasta one day and jacket potatoes the next. Or you might like to add some spices and make a chilli to go with your spuds. It really is quite easy to make a few simple dishes go a long way!

And they don’t all have to take a lot of preparation and cooking time. One of our favourite meals at the moment is smoked mackerel with new potatoes and vegetables. 20 mins for the veg to cook, 5 mins to serve, and you’re done. Likewise with jacket potatoes, stick in the oven, make up some tuna mayo, and voila, a simply but filling meal.

smoked mackerel dinner

I’m not the most confident or creative cook, but I have really been enjoying helping our budget go further whilst feeding my family healthy and nutritious meals. I still have a lot to explore, like the noodles in our cupboard (stir fry, perhaps?) and the polenta bought on a whim (still no idea on that front!) And then there is the quinoa we could use in place of rice with a chilli, or mixed with veg for a tasty warm salad lunch. And, of course, I have yet to venture into the realm of breakfasts and puddings, but it’s a good start!

I’m going to be blogging more about our individual favourite wheat-free, vegetarian and budget meals, but for now I just wanted to share how we’ve started on this journey and what we have learnt so far.

Tell me, do you have an essential shopping list or go to recipes?

Gluten Free Pancake Mix from Sweetpea Pantry (Review)

Sweet Pea Pantry

Way back in May, I got to know the lovely Tanya from Sweetpea Pantry, as the company began to support the charity I work for (more on this later). It didn’t take me long to fall in love the what Sweetpea Pantry is all about, and I started thinking about all the things we’d like to try.

You see, Sweetpea Pantry was set up by two friends,Tanya and Phillipa, when they had children and discovered that the range of baking mixes available was extremely limited. And so they decided to create their own!

You know what it’s like – you want to bake with your kids but you just don’t have all the ingredients you need. And if you’re stretched for time, having a range of baking mixes in the cupboard could be super helpful. However you also want those mixes to be as healthy and wholesome as can be.

Sweetpea Pantry mixes contain a wealth of grains including barley, buckwheat, oats, quinoa and rye. You can find out all about these, and many more, on their website, which will explain exactly why these mixes are so very special.

Grainy Brainy Pancakes

Sweetpea Pantry Grainy Brain Pancakes Mix

One of the things that most excited me about the range, was that it included a gluten-free pancake mix, which I was desperate to try. I am unable to tolerate wheat, and so a pancake mix made without it was right up my street.

I mentioned my excitement to Tanya upon seeing it, and she kindly sent us a free box to try. Here’s how we got on…

Sweetpea Pantry Grainy Brainy Pancakes Mix

The mix contains everything you need other than some milk, a couple of eggs, and whatever options you want to flavour your pancakes with. We decided to try the pancakes for dinner one day, so we went for a savoury option of cheese and ham.

Savoury Pancake Fillings

Making the pancakes was super quick and easy, we simply put all the ingredients in a bowl, mixed it up, and then off we went. Pancake after pancake came out of the frying pan without a glitch, and we even managed to melt the cheese on top of the pancakes as they were cooking, which was great fun.

Making Pancakes

After eating our fill of the savoury pancakes, we decided to turn some of the remaining ones into pudding with the addition of some chocolate spread, cherries and bananas. It’s not often you can get a main course and pudding from the same ingredients, but we managed it this time and it was simply delicious.

Sweet Pancake Fillings

The package says that the mix will produce around 12-18 pancakes, and they aren’t kidding! We had a massive stack of thick, filling pancakes some of which we had to stick in the fridge and eat for breakfast the following morning. I can honestly say that these pancakes are just as delicious cold the next day as they are freshly cooked.

As the pancakes are full of healthy grains, we found that they kept us going for hours (unlike some of our previous attempts at pancakes which have left us hungry for more an hour or so after dinner). And  despite the ease and simplicity of this meal, it was a nutritious option to feed my family, meaning it is a suitable option to have in the cupboard for days when we need a quick meal at short notice.

Little Man may not have been as interested in the preparation part of this meal, as I had hoped, but he very much enjoyed trying the different toppings for our pancakes! Next time I think we’ll try Tanya’s suggestion of adding ingredients into the actual mix… mashed banana and ricotta cheese, anyone?

If you’d like to try any of the Sweetpea Pantry mixes yourself, you can order them direct from their website. Tanya and Phillipa are kindly supporting the charity I work for, Pregnancy Sickness Support (PSS), if you use the code bigbrew at the checkout. This will give you a 10% discount and a further 20% will be donated to PSS. So why not give them a go and support a good cause at the same time?

If you do try them out, do let me know. I’d love to hear how you get on.

Disclaimer: a box of Grainy, Brainy Pancakes were provided free of charge by Sweetpea Pantry. The charity I work for will also receive donations if the code “bigbrew” is used when ordering mixes from their website. However no other financial incentives were offered for this review and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. 

 

Changing The Way We Eat

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The past few months have been really challenging for us as a family healthwise. The biggest issue for me has been my digestion – having suffered from IBS for years, everything just seems to have become so much worse over the past year, with a rapid increase in symptoms since 6 months.

In desperation I saw my GP when nothing seemed to be helping and weight loss was added to the mix. He referred me to a gastroenterologist and after a busy few weeks of various investigations, I finally saw the gastroenterologist for a follow up on Monday.

It appears that everything looks fine internally, other than the fact that my digestive system isn’t working as efficiently as it should. So his suggestion was to change the way I eat to see if that would combat the nausea and indigestion I am suffering from after eating. Namely, he wants me to drink at least 3 litres per day and start eating 6-8 meals per day to help make things as easy as possible on my system.

That’s quite a change to the 3 meals a day, often at random times and struggling to make time to stop and drink even 2 litres a day around work and looking after a toddler! But it makes sense, so we’re trying it out…

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The problem is, finding a way to work around this new way of working. There are certain things that I cannot eat and haven’t been able to eat for years – wheat, too much meat, too much dairy, raw vegetables and leafy greens like lettuce etc. So I am already limited in my variety of foods, so how can I find enough for 6-8 meals each day?

It turns out it hasn’t actually been that difficult. I’ve discovered that I can easily create nutritious meals that last me several servings – things like “saladas” made from a mixture of green beans, peas and sweetcorn left over from the night before, added to egg mayo, cheese or ham the next day and split between two “mini meals” an hour or so apart rather than all in one go at lunchtime. Or a fruit salad, made in bulk one day (and kept fresh with a bit of lemon juice) and then eaten as a “snack” with some yoghurt or homemade museli at various intervals throughout the day!

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The upside of all of this is that I’ve really started to enjoy cooking and preparing meals again for the first time in a very long time. We’re experimenting in ways we’ve never done before – creating our own wheat-free muesli and discovering new combinations of tastes and textures. I feel pretty happy in the kitchen these days and find myself taking pleasure in feeding my family and myself in a whole new way. And that feels good!

As does the fact that my digestion seems to be dealing pretty well with the changes. I still have a long way to go before I am at the optimum suggestion made by the consultant, but so far so good. And whilst it’s working I am going to enjoy trying new things…

Tell me, do you have any tips for nutritious and tasty “mini meals” or meals that can be split over several servings?

This post is another of my “Joy in the Everyday Moments” posts as I am finding so much joy in the simple act of preparing food – you can’t get more “everyday” than that, can you?

Homemade Vegetarian Bolognese with a (Chipotle) Twist

So, I never really thought of myself as a good cook. But it turns out that when I put my mind to it I’m actually pretty good at mixing flavours together in a hodge podge kind of way – go figure!

This is what we ate last night – Veggie Bolognese with a (chipotle) twist.

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And it was really rather delicious. So much so that TJ has taken the rest of it to work today for lunch. How’s that for success?

The idea for this came, as most of my meals do, from a need to use what was in the cupboard and some very random decisions along the way. But I like that – I think cooking is very much an artistic kind of activity – I’m just no good at following a recipe properly (mostly because I never have all the ingredients to hand). But that doesn’t mean I don’t use recipes for inspiration…

The basis for this particular sauce goes back a few weeks ago when I decided to make a vegetarian bolognese and realised we didn’t have any pre-made sauce. I searched online for ideas on how to use the ingredients I had available and came across this recipe by The Pioneer Woman which struck a chord. The addition of grated carrot to the sauce was new to me, but the addition of milk was something I had seen when in Germany – I was keen to try both!

We don’t generally have much cow’s milk in the house though, prefering dairy alternatives, so I decided cream of tomato soup would suffice for the creaminess aspect of the milk and went with it. Thankfully it worked beautifully, and I knew I wanted to try it again.

That’s when yesterday’s recipe happened. I started off by preparing all my fresh ingredients first, having realised that it really is easier if you chop and grate everything before you turn on the heat (rather than simply creating more washing up as I always thought!)

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In went the (very) roughly chopped onions (because I wanted some extra chunks to the sauce) followed closely by the grated carrot and courgette. I had planned to document each stage, but at this point I discovered a jar of chipotle paste in the cupboard whilst searching for some seasoning and my mind wandered elsewhere…

I sent out an image on instagram and twitter asking if anyone thought adding chipotle paste to a bolognese would work and I got a very excited response from Mummy Whiskers. So I thought, “what the heck” and threw some in. TJ loves a bit of a kick to his food (hence us having chipotle paste in the first place) and I knew he would like it – but would I?

I wasn’t sure how much to put in, and I made the mistake of tasting a tiny bit of the paste before adding some to the pan. This meant all I could taste was chipotle and couldn’t tell if I’d put enough in to the sauce or not. Oh well, you live and learn!

I continued adding my ingredients: diced courgette and roughly sliced bell pepper; tinned tomatoes and finally tomato soup. I put the frozen peas, sweetcorn and fresh mangetout in a pan with some tiny wheat-free alphabet pasta shapes and boiled some wheat-free penne in another pan. Finally, I added salt and pepper to the sauce and let it reduce down as it was rather “wet” after adding a whole tin of tomato soup!

It reduced beautifully though and so I strained the peas, sweetcorn, mangetout, tiny pasta shapes combo and added that to the sauce. It looked lovely…

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All in all I would call this meal a success and I think it may become one of our family favourites. Now that I am working full-time from home, I am able to make sure I finish work in the evening in time to start cooking more adventurously (rather than taking an hour to get home and making it too late to really do anything more than a very basic meal). I’m looking forward to where this will take me!

Do you want to know how I did it? Well, I’m not good at recipes but here goes…

Ingredients

  • 2 carrots (grated)
  • 2 courgettes (1 grated, one diced)
  • 1 large onion (roughly chopped)
  • 1 bell pepper (roughly sliced into bite sized pieces)
  • a handful of fresh mangetout (chopped into bite sized pieces)
  • a cupful of frozen peas
  • a cupful of frozen sweetcorn
  • a cupful of small pasta shapes (optional)
  • approx. 2.5 tsps of chipotle paste (can be substituted with normal tomato paste)
  • 1 tin of tomatoes
  • 1 tin of cream of tomato soup

Of course, the lovely nature of this recipe is that aside from the basics of tinned tomatoes, cream of tomato soup, tomato paste, onions and the grated veg you can mix and match the rest of the ingredients depending on what you have in your cupboards the time! Don’t want mange tout and bell pepper? Why not try mushrooms and broccoli!

The method

  1. Heat around a tbsp of oil in a large pan
  2. Add the roughly chopped onion and leave for a few minutes to soften
  3. Add the grated carrot and courgette and allow to soften for about 5 mins
  4. Add the chipotle paste and mix in with the onion, carrot and courgette
  5. Add the diced courgette and bell pepper, allow to soften for another 5-10 mins
  6. Add the tinned tomatoes and mix
  7. Add the tomato soup, half a tin first and then the other half when it has reduced a little
  8. Leave on steady heat and boil pasta along with the rest of the veg
  9. Once veg and pasta is cooked, strain and add veg to sauce, then dish up
  10. Enjoy!

This went down a treat not just with us but also with the dinosaurs…

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Baking with a Toddler for the Very First Time!

Little Man and I did something very special this week – we baked cakes together!

I haven't baked in far too long and I suddenly realised that Little Man will be 2 in just over a fortnight and he has yet to experience the wonder of baking. That had to change.

We got off to a poor start as I realised my baking powder was out of date (and having only plain wheat-free flour to work with this was a really bad oversight on my part). So we trundled off to the corner shop and thankfully found some there.

We both put on our aprons, I carried a chair through from the dining room whilst Little Man emptied my cupboards…

Baking

And eventually we were all set to start baking!

While the oven heated up and I softened the butter in the microwave (because I forgot to take it out to come to room temperature), Little Man chose to pull all the paper cakes out of the muffin tin. Because apparently that is what you do when you are almost 2 and baking for the first time…

You also try to eat the batter before your mummy has even added the eggs and have to be consoled with a mini chocolate bar to distract you from the cocoa in the batter for just a little while longer.

Chocolate

Because if you don't get some chocolate soon, you will go on strike!

Strike

Thankfully disaster was averted by mummy offering to let you have a sneaky little taste!

Taste

After a little stir, you help mummy add batter to the new paper cases she has hastily placed in the muffin tins, saying "yummy yummy" with every little spoonful you add, because that is what mummy did and you think it's funny!

Mix

And then you decide that it is time to dive straight back in and eat some more batter before she puts it all into the paper cases because you have no idea where those are going…

Taste 2

Eventually, the cakes go in the oven and you go off to play (but not before you try to explore the eggs that mummy has left unattended, because they look like fun!).

Eggs

Mummy chases you around to wipe you hands, and then asks you if you want to sit on the potty, which you do but only until mummy goes off to check the cakes and then you promptly run across the room leaving a trail of poo pellets (just like a rabbit, according to mummy) meaning that she has to come and clean up and the cakes end up getting a little burnt around the edges!

And that, dear readers, is where there are no more photos of the finished cakes.

They were sunken in the middle (I think I got my measurements of baking powder wrong due to trying to stop Little Man eating the mixture and not paying enough attention), burnt around the edges, and then squished flat by a bottle of oil falling out of the cupboard just as I was icing them.

All in all the end product of our first attempt at baking was tasty, if not so perfect to look at. But the fun that we had was far greater than anything I could have hoped for and I plan on baking with Little Man far more regularly from now on.

Do you bake with your children? What funny little mishaps have happened to you whilst baking?

Roasted Veg, Hummus and Baked New Potatoes

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Mmmmmmm… just looking at this picture reminds me how very tasty this dish was, and it is so easy to make that I thought I would share it with you all.

Roasted vegetables is something that Tim and I regularly eat. I find raw vegetables hard to digest and boiled ones often rather tasteless. But stick them in the over to roast and they become magical.

We eat them alone as a light and tasty meal, as a side to meat and even cold the next day as part of a salad. They are so versatile and make use of any vegetables you might have hanging around in your cupboard and starting to look a little sorry for themselves.

So, when I came across a recipe for baked poatoes, hummus and roasted vegetables and I knew we had to try it. However, with it being summer and us having a lovely supply of new potatoes in our cupboard, I decided to have a go at baking them instead of the more usual baking potatoes. I wasn’t sure how well they would turn out, but they were incredible!

So, without further ado, here’s how you do it:

Roasted Vegetables, Hummus and Baked New Potatoes

Ingredients

New potatoes (I baked 6 per person)
Hummus
Vegetables of your choice

When choosing vegetables to roast, I have found the following work really well:

Aubergines
Butternut Squash
Carrots
Courgettes
Garlic
Leeks
Mushrooms
Onions
Parnsips
Peppers
Sweet Potatoes
Tomatoes

Cooking oil
Salt and Pepper
Herbs for seasoning (good options include rosemary and thyme)

 

The Recipe

1. Pre-heat the oven to 200oC, 400oF or Gas Mark 6.

2. Wash the potatoes, pat them dry with kitchen towel, then rub a thin layer of cooking oil over their skins. Sprinkle a bit of salt and pepper over them and place on a baking tray. Put this tray on the top shelf in your oven.

3. Wash and chop your vegetables. I find that cutting the most of the vegetables into thin slices ensures a much more even roast in the oven and makes the end product that much more satisfying. However, mushrooms, tomatoes, leeks and onions do better if cut into slightly larger chunks.

4. Layer the vegetables in one or two baking trays, so that they are all mixed in with each other but the layers aren’t so thick that the middle vegetables won’t turn golden brown as they roast. Drizzle oil over the lot, season to taste, and place on a lower shelf in your oven.

5. Leave everything to roast for approx. 30 minutes from the time you put your vegetables in (putting the potatoes in first gives them a bit longer to bake). You will know everything is cooked when the potatoes have crispy, golden skins but are soft and fluffy when cut open and the vegetables are browned on the edges but soft and tender when bitten.

6. Place the potatoes onto a plate, cover with a generous dollop (or two) of hummus, and top with the vegetables.

7. Enjoy!

 

 

Pumpkin Cupcakes for Halloween

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As it is Halloween, and Tim has gone mad (almost as mad as I go at Christmas), I set out to make some awesome pumpkin cakes for our Halloween party. I am planning on attempting some more marshmallow icing today, and will post an update on how that goes later. But for now, let me share the fun three hours I spent in the kitchen yesterday making not just one batch of cupcakes but also pumpkin bread.

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My first chore, was of course, to scoop out all the pumpkin seeds and then cut/scrape out as much flesh as I could without ruining the pumpkins that Tim will be carving into lanterns tonight. It was a messy job, I can tell you, but still quite enjoyable.

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I then quickly boiled up and mashed the pumpkin flesh. The recipe called for canned pumpkin, but I have no idea where to get that from in the UK and also I enjoyed playing “waste not, want not” by using my pumpkins for both food and decoration.

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I beat the butter with a wooden spoon (not having a mixer as suggested in the recipe) and then creamed in the sugar, before adding half the pumpkin mash I had made to the buttermilk and combining it with the flour/spice mixture and eggs.

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This is how they looked going into the oven. It’s actually the last photo I took as well, because things suddenly got a bit more complicated and taking photos slipped my mind. For you see, while they were baking in the oven I set about cleaning my bowls and utensils so I could make the pumpkin bread and put it in as soon as the cupcakes came out.

So, I have no photos of the bread making process either and I cannot share the bread recipe with you as it isn’t mine to share. The cupcakes are another story, however, as I converted measurements, combined two recipes and made substitutions and so it feels more like “my” recipe than one from someone else’s book. So here goes…

Ingredients

  • 400g plain flour
  • 2tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg (or approx. 1/4 whole nutmeg, grated)
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
  • 300g caster sugar
  • 150g butter
  • 250ml buttermilk
  • 100g pumpkin flesh, mashed
  • 2 eggs

The baking process:

  1. In a bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt, and spices.
  2. In a second bowl, beat the butter until creamy in texture and then add the sugar and vanilla essence, mixing well.
  3. In a smaller bowl or jug, add the buttermilk to the pumpkin mash and mix well. This will help make adding the flesh to the cake batter easier.
  4. Slowly add the eggs to the butter and sugar mixture, adding flour and the buttermilk/pumpkin mixture as you go along so that the mixture never gets too runny from the wet ingredients or too stiff to mix from the flour.
  5. Once everything is mixed in the cake should have a “dropping consistency” – i.e. if you scoop some up in a spoon and tilt it over, the batter should drop in a smooth motion.
  6. Spoon batter into pre-prepared cupcake moulds. The amount you get will depend on the size of the moulds – I used medium sized cases and got 44 cupcakes.
  7. Place in a preheated oven at 180 Celcius or 350 Fahrenheit for approximately 20 minutes or until golden brown and springy to touch.
  8. Allow to cool, decorate and enjoy!

 

I hope that made sense… I shall be back sometime soon with an update on the decorating.

 

SpongeBob Cakes and Marshmallow Icing

Meet SpongeBob

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It was Tim’s birthday last Friday and we were supposed to be going to an old-fashioned kiddies party on the Saturday. Unfortunately my sister went down with tonsillitis at the last minute and so the party has been postponed until she is better and able to appreciate all the yummy food (sorry, Alice!). That didn’t stop us making a whole load of SpongeBob cakes to celebrate with though…

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Aren’t they just adorable? I can’t take credit for the design or the delicious marshmallow icing recipe because I got both from here. I must say though that I am extremely impressed by the marshmallow icing and have eaten far too many of these little cakes for someone who usually detests icing (even as a child I would rather have a plain cake than one that was iced!!)

We started off by baking the cakes, and I stupidly forgot to get the butter out of the fridge early to soften, meaning I had to stick my tongue out with concentration as I tried to beat it with the sugar…

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Two hands were needed, you know!

We made our cakes using wheat- and gluten-free flour from Doves Farm here in the UK. This mix is great as I have yet to work out the right combinations of non-wheat flours to create my own flour mix. The cakes didn’t rise as well as my usual wheat-flour ones as I didn’t quite get the right amount of baking powder in the mix. However, as I wanted to be able to enjoy these cakes as well as Tim we chose the wheat-free option instead… they came out alright in the end!

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Some did get a little overdone I must admit as we were so busy melting the marshmallows for the icing that we forgot to take them out on time. Marshmallow icing is so much fun and you can find the recipe here . First you melt the marshmallows until they are gooey and oh so scrummy (try not to eat too much at this point!!)

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Then you mix with icing sugar and food colouring until you get a malleable consistency…

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The end result is an incredibly sticky icing and you need to coat your hands and surfaces in a massive amount of icing sugar to even begin to work with it (which took me a long time to figure out)… in fact I gave up on rolling my icing very quickly and went for putting blobs of it on the top of each cake and spreading it out with my fingers, carefully.

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Can you see the beginnings of a SpongeBob? I have all sorts of ideas for using this recipe at Halloween (pumpkins, witches and ghosts) as well at Christmas (Santas and penguins) and Easter too (bunnies and chicks). For all the time it took, and that was a lot, it was all worth it to open the cake tin each day and see a host of SpongeBobs staring out.

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Not that there are many left, as you can see. I have been eating two at a time and even offered one to the man who came to fix our radiator yesterday… the look on his face when he saw them was just classic!

Why not have a go one afternoon, if you have the time to spare… and don’t forget that the leftover marshmallows will keep you gasping for cocoa each night as you curl up with a good book 🙂

Summery Salads – Tomato and Mozzarella

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I was never really an adventurous cook before I met Tim… in fact, I had a bad relationship with food, sticking to “plain” and “safe” foods thanks to a kind of “eating disorder” as a child which made me believe certain foods would make me ill…

But, since meeting Tim and also since having such lovely neighbours who enjoyed social evenings, I have developed a keen desire to come up with foods we will love to eat again and again. In fact, entertaining is one of my favourite things, and this simple salad is just perfect for a summer get-together.

I’m not going to give yo exact quantities, because the salad is so simple and flexible, you can make it suit any number of guests. We have eaten it just the two of us as a quick lunch (using just one large ball of mozzarella, and a handful of tomatoes), to a starter for six (using three large mozzarella balls and a selection of tomatoes picked fresh from the vegetable stall). As a rough guide, however, ensure you have at least one large mozzarella ball between two people for a main course and between three as a starter.

Ingredients:

Mozzarella

Tomatoes (try and mix it up by having a selection of different types)

Fresh Basil

Olive Oil

Red Wine Vinegar

Chilli Flakes

Lemon (juice and zest)

Method:

  1. Start by cutting up the mozzarella into round, thick slices. Then, tear each slice up into several chunks and place, haphazardly, across your plate.
  2. Cut your tomatoes into bite-sized pieces and scatter over the mozzarella on your plate
  3. Pick a large handful of fresh basil leaves, the more you have the better the flavour, and then put a dozen leaves to one side. Rip the rest of the leaves between your fingers to release their flavour and scatter over the tomato and mozzarella. Place the whole leaves you put to one side around the plate as decoration.
  4. Sprinkle a few chilli flakes over the plate
  5. Grate some lemon zest over the whole lot, then cut your lemon in half and squeeze the juice over the top.
  6. Pour a small amount of red wine vinegar into the bottle’s lid and drizzle over the cheese and tomato
  7. Finally, drizzle good quality Olive Oil over the whole lot

Simple – and so incredibly tasty!

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You may also want to serve a bowl full of olives, and some toasted Ciabatta with bowls of dipping oils as complementary additions to this Mediterranean inspired feast, and I’ve listed a few of our favourites below:

  • Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar
  • Olive Oil and crushed Basil Leaves
  • Chilli infused Olive Oil

The choice is yours and the varieties endless. What a lovely dish for summer…