The Weeks Eats {14.4.17}

So we’re now on Easter Holidays! Is it just me or is this year going by really quickly?

With Pip at home and as we had family visiting earlier this week, we’ve been doing lots of Easter baking! To an extent, my diet has fallen by the wayside a little, although I am trying to keep with working and making sure that even if I’m having a few treats, my main meals are still healthy and low calorie. I have accepted that I’m simply not going to lose as much weight over the next couple of weeks.

But you’ve got to treat yourself, especially at special times of the year! So here are our two favourite Easter baking recipes:

Cornflake Nests

A staple recipe when cooking with children, we’ve been making these every year since Pip was about two. Only this year, now at 7 years old, has Pip been allowed to stir the melting chocolate in the saucepan (obviously with close supervision!).

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Ingredients: 

150g cornflakes

150g milk chocolate

75g butter

4 tbsp golden syrup

Cadbury’s Mini Eggs (optional)

Method:

Break the chocolate into small pieces and add to a small saucepan, along with the butter and golden syrup. Over a low to medium heat, stir until everything has melted. Leave for a few minutes to cool a bit (maybe while you weigh out your cornflakes).

Put the cornflakes in a large mixing bowl then pour the melted ingredients over them. Stir thoroughly to coat all the cornflakes but be careful not to crush them!

Spoon the mixture into cupcake cases. Top with a couple of mini eggs, if using. Put them in the fridge for about an hour to set. Then tuck in!

Carrot Cupcakes

I wouldn’t call these healthy exactly but they are a little better than a standard cupcake. I don’t often use oil in cakes but that plus the carrots make these super moist – delicious!

carrot cupcakes

Ingredients: 

200g carrot, grated

200g self raising flour

175g light brown sugar

1tsp bicarbonate of soda

2tsp mixed spice

zest 1 orange

2 eggs

150ml vegetable or sunflower oil

225g icing sugar

3-4 tbsp hot water

1 tsp vanilla extract

Decorations (optional)

Method:

Preheat oven to 180 degrees (160 degrees fan, gas mark 4). Line a 12 hole muffin tray with paper cases.

Add to a large mixing bowl the flour, sugar, bicarbonate of soda, mixed spice and orange zest. Mix well.

In another bowl or jug, add the oil and eggs and whisk together thoroughly.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry, along with the carrot. Mix everything until combined.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared paper cases.

Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes. Then allow to cool completely before icing.

To make the icing, put the icing sugar in a mixing bowl, add the vanilla extract then gradually add the boiling water, mixing as you go. You should end up with a fairly thick icing but not a paste.

Use a spoon to pour icing over the cakes (who cares if it dribbles a bit, right?), then use the back of the spoon to spread the icing to cover each cake completely.

Add decorations, if using (I found these cute little carrots for mine but you could use sprinkles or anything else that takes your fancy!). Allow fifteen minutes or so for the icing to set.

 

This week I also tried out another meal prep idea. If you read the last The Weeks Eats, you’ll have seen my black bean and veg stew that lasted me a few days. This time, I’ve gone for turkey mince. I sautéed it in a little oil with a minced clove of garlic. Once it was cooked, I mixed half of it with chopped tomatoes and mixed herbs and the other half I mixed with chopped spring onions, soy sauce, honey and ginger. I shared each mixture between two food containers then added some steamed vegetables. Once they were cool, I popped them in the fridge. Four days of lovely lunches ready to go!

PicMonkey Collage-2

Plenty of other bloggers have been posting their own Easter treats too! The following are a few of my favourites. Alice from NewYoungMum made these awesome looking Speckled Easter Cake – I love the alternating sponges inside. These Easter Egg Sprinkle Cookies from Sarah’s Little Kitchen are so cute! As a big peanut butter fan, I’d love to try these Chocolate Peanut Butter Easter Eggs from Invisible No More – so beautifully decorated too!

So that’s my second The Weeks Eats done! I hope you enjoyed it. I’m hoping for some nice weather next week so I might be posting some of our favourite picnic ideas and recipes!

Thanks for reading.

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The Weeks Eats {05.04.17}

I’ve been wanting to start blogging more about food for a while now. Since this week I really felt like I’ve fallen into some surprisingly good habits and managed to lose another 3lb (Yay!), now seems like a good time to start another good habit – a weekly blog post about food. I plan for this to be a sort of roundup of recipes I’ve used in the last week, what I’ve eaten outside home, tips and ideas for cooking and meal prep and recipes that I’ve found and fancy trying out soon. I hope you like it!

To begin with, here’s a recipe I used last week for several of my lunches:

Bean & Veggie Stew

Now this is my take on another recipe I tried ages ago that was actually a chilli. But I don’t actually like my food very hot so I took the chilli out so I can’t really call it a chilli anymore (we all remember Jamie Oliver’s paella debacle!). So instead it’s now a stew. Anyway, I like eating this with brown rice or stuffed in a pitta or even with a poached egg perched on top. It’s ridiculously simple and easy to make, very healthy and could easily be adapted with different beans or vegetables.

bean and veg stew collage

Ingredients:

1 red onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced or very finely chopped

1 medium courgette, chopped

1 240g tin black beans, drained

1 400g tin chopped tomatoes

1 300g tin chickpeas, drained

A few sprays or about 1 tsp vegetable oil or other oil of your choice

1 tsp cumin

1tsp ground coriander

Method:

Heat the oil in a large saucepan on a medium heat. Add the onions, garlic and courgette and fry for about 10 minutes or until softened a little.

Stir in the cumin and coriander.

Add the black beans, chickpeas and tomatoes.

Bring to the boil then turn the heat down and leave to simmer for about twenty minutes.

Serve and enjoy. Or portion into containers and store in the fridge for 3 days (possibly might be ok for a little longer, this is just how long it lasted for me!).

Serves: 4

Calories per portion: 176

Going out for food can be really tricky when you’re trying to be healthier. My usual rule is that, as I don’t do so very often, I can see it as a treat and not worry too much about what I have. However, something I do more regularly is to sit in a coffee shop and write for a couple of hours, perhaps accompanied by an insanely large mug of hot chocolate and some kind of pastry. I’ve had to admit to myself that this is IMG_1516actually just a bad habit but I am determined to still have my out-of-the-house writing time. So when I popped into Starbucks last Friday, I steered well clear of my usual and instead went for a can of Innocent Bubbles and a Skinny Blueberry muffin. This came in at 396 calories. Perhaps a little more than I’d usually have for a weekday breakfast but still, pretty good and still tasty. I thought the muffin would be a let down but actually the oats make it rather filling and it still tasted like a treat!

Speaking of treats, I’ve also been on the lookout for a snack I can have in the evenings, to substitute the bags propercornof crisps we often have while watching movies. I spotted Propercorn on offer at the local supermarket and decided to give them a go. I got the coconut and vanilla flavour, since the others there were savoury and I prefer my popcorn sweet. It’s delicious! Ok, they’re not super low in calories but still, a healthier movie snack than Doritos!

 

A couple of my favourite meals from this week….

PicMonkey Collage

I read lots of other blogs and that’s where I get lots of my own food inspiration. With next week being school holidays, I’d love to try building these Carrot and Runner Bean Towers from A Mummy Too with my daughter. Or as we’ll be out and about quite a bit, this recipe for Homemade Museli Flapjacks form Elizabeth’s Kitchen Diary could come in handy! This recipe for Ten Minute Mango Pancakes from Deliciously Ella looks perfect for slightly lazier than normal mornings. Finally, as a big fan of banana bread, I’d love to try this healthy version from The Picky Eater.

So there we have it! I hope you enjoyed The Weeks Eats and look forward to next week’s post when I’ll be featuring some Easter themed treats!

Thanks for reading!

Slow Cooking Beginner

After months of procrastination, searching for recipes I might use and trying to choose which model I prefer, I have finally purchased a slow cooker.

Since it’s something to experiment with (which could well end up not working for us at all)  I went for a fairly low cost model, the Cookworks 6.5l slow cooker from Argos . It’s not very fancy, although I think it looks just as nice as much more expensive models, and it has near perfect reviews.

I have such a long list of recipes I want to try out. Last night, I had my first go at using it. I made Coq au Vin for myself and the Husband (I’ll pop the recipe further down) and we were both really pleased with it. I had to tweak the recipe a little bit since Husband can’t eat onions. The flavours were really rich and the meat was ridiculously tender – it fell apart when I tried to get it out with tongs and it could be cut up with fork!

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I’m planning on trying out a beef stew this weekend. I don’t often cook beef as I’m always worried about it being tough. I reckon slow cooking is the answer. I’m always very keen to try some sweet recipes, such as rice pudding and poached fruit.

Here’s the recipe for Coq au Vin:

100g bacon

4 chicken breasts, each cut in half

2 tbsp oil (I used vegetable oil)

25g plain flour

200ml red wine

400ml chicken stock

  1. Heat the oil in a big pan and fry the bacon for a few minutes then remove from the pan.
  2. Coat the chicken in flour and cook in the pan for a few minutes on each side until nicely browned.
  3. Put the bacon back in the pan and add the wine and stock. Bring to the boil.
  4. Put everything in the slow cooker and cook for 3 hours on high or 6 hours on low (timings might be different for your slow cooker, this is correct for my model).
  5. Serve. Eat. Enjoy.

 

I served the chicken with mashed potato and greens beans and gravy made from the cooking sauce mixed with a teaspoon or so of gravy granules.

I’ll add more recipes as I try them out. Do you have a favourite slow cooker recipe? Do share it below!

 

Lunchbox Ideas: Autumn Snacks

Pip has really taken well to having packed lunches. She actually seems to get quite excited at the prospect of finding out what’s going to be in there each day. Since Autumn is now in full swing (Hurray!), I thought I’d share recipes for two of Pip’s favourite snacks that have something of an Autumnal feel: Apple Crisps and Fruity Spiced Muffins.

Apple crisps

These are delicious, super healthy and pretty simple to make, plus they make the house smell gorgeous!

1. Preheat the oven to 100 degrees celsius.

2. Take two fairly big apples. Core them and slice them into thin slices. Try and get them all similar widths, then they’ll cook at the same rate.

2. Lay the apple slices on a baking tray. Dust on some cinnamon.

3. Pop in the oven for about 1 hour, then carefully turn them all over then put them back in for another hour.

4. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Store in an airtight container for up to a week, although these never last more than a couple of days in my house!

 

Fruity spiced muffins

These are really tasty and, as muffins go, pretty healthy too!

1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celsius.

2. Mix together 150g flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon mixed spice and 50g caster sugar.

3. In a separate jug, beat together 100ml milk, 1 egg, 1 tsp vanilla extract and 40g melted low fat spread.

4. Mash 1 banana and peel & chop 1 medium sized apple into small pieces.

5. Add the wet ingredients and the fruit to the dry ingredients and mix gently until just combined together.

6. Spoon the mixture into 12 paper cases either in a bun tray or silicone muffin cases and bake for 20-25 minutes, until they are risen and light golden brown.

7. Carefully remove from the bun tray or silicone cases and allow to cool on a wire rack.

8. Store in an airtight container. Enjoy!

 

I hope you enjoy these tasty treats as much as we do! What snacks do you put in lunch boxes?

DIY Roast Dinner

When I first moved in with my boyfriend, who later became Husband, I only know how to cook a handful of very simple dinners. The idea of cooking a proper roast dinner felt very intimidating. When I eventually gave it a try, I relied on pre-made roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings and even then, I found it really difficult to get everything ready and hot all at once.

Fast forward five years and about a hundred roast dinners and I think I’ve gotten the hang of them now. I’ve realised that what I really could have used all those years ago was a complete ‘How To’, not just a collection of recipes for each component. So here it is! This is a complete schedule and recipe for an entire roast dinner, including the chicken, roast potatoes, yorkshire puddings, mashed potatoes and vegetables. The only thing I still use from a packet is gravy and I always make sure to get the low salt version – it honestly does taste exactly the same, I’ve done blind taste tests on an unknowing Husband. Yes, I know. Packet gravy is lazy. Seriously though, it tastes fine and not in the way that people say packet mashed potatoes tastes ‘fine’ which is obviously doesn’t. If you want to make your own gravy, by all means go and look for a recipe for it and add it into your schedule.

For the schedule, I’m timing everything based on a chicken weighing about 1.5kg. If you’re chicken weighs more or less, there’s a simple way of working out how long to cook it for. It needs 20 minutes for every 450g, plus an extra 20 minutes. So divide the weight (in grams) by 450, times by 20 then plus 20. You’ll probably get a number with a lot of decimal places, just round up to the nearest minute.

You want to begin cooking two hours before you want to serve.

1. 00:00 Make the Yorkshire pudding batter. To make six fairly big Yorkshires, mix 100g plain flour with two eggs using a fork. Once that’s combined, gradually add 250ml milk, stirring constantly to make a smooth batter. Pour this mixture into a pouring jug then cover it and put it in the fridge.

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2. 00:15 Prepare the chicken. Your chicken needs to cook for an hour and 30 minutes and you need to start preheating your oven about ten minutes before that. Preheat to 190 degrees celsius. Get your chicken out of it’s wrapping then give it a thorough wash under the tap, including the inside cavity. Then pat it dry with a piece of kitchen roll. Put it in the roasting tin and then rub a bit of butter (or lower fat butter spread thats suitable for cooking) onto the skin. After that you can whatever herbs you fancy – I often go with thyme as it does go so well with chicken. if you wish to, you can also pop half a lemon in the inner cavity to give the whole chicken a nice citrus taste.  A lot of people add salt but I really try to avoid adding any additional salt to my cooking. I know also that some people put some flour on the skin to make it extra crispy. I don’t but again, it’s personal choice. Put the chicken in the oven once it’s preheated.

Not a pretty sight now but it'll be yummy later!

Not a pretty sight now but it’ll be yummy later!

3. 00:40 Roast potatoes. I generally make three roast potatoes for each adult, less for children (Pip just has one). Peel and either use small potatoes whole or chop larger ones into smaller pieces. Put them in a pan of boiling water an hour and twenty minutes before you want to serve. Boil for about 15 minutes, then drain off the water and give them a very gentle shake, just to roughen the edges a bit – this helps them get nice and crispy. Add the potatoes to the roasting tin (01:10) and, very, very carefully so as not to burn yourself, tilt the tin a little bit and use a spoon to scoop up the chicken juices and drizzle them over the potatoes.

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4. 01:10 Mashed potatoes. I use about one large potato for each person. Peel and slice into fairly small chunks. Put in a pan of boiling water over a high heat. When the water starts to boil again, turn the heat down a bit and leave to gently boil.

5. 01:15 Vegetables. You can do whatever vegetables you like really. Carrots, broccoli, cabbage, peas and green beans are all favourites for us. You can use fresh or frozen, it makes very little difference to cooking time. Prepare them and then put them in a pan of boiling water. Again, start off on a high heat then turn it down once the water starts boiling again. You can cook your vegetables for a bit less time than me – due to Husband’s preference for very soft vegetables, I do admit that I cook them until they’re losing molecular integrity.

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6. 01:20 Cooking Yorkshire Puddings. Turn the oven temperature up to 210 degrees. Take this opportunity to drizzle chicken juices over the potatoes and chicken again. Take a 6 hole muffin tray and pour a little oil (I use vegetable or sunflower oil) in each hole. Put this is in the oven for the oil to get nice and hot. Take your Yorkshire pudding batter out of the fridge and give it a little stir. At 01:30, take the muffin tray out of the oven and pour some of the batter into each hole, to fill each by about a third. Put the tray back into the oven and then do NOT open it again for at least 20 minutes.

Pouring in the oil

Pouring in the oil

7. 01:30 – 01:50 Lay the table and get plates ready.

8. 01:50 Mashed potatoes. Start boiling the kettle for the gravyDrain the water off of the potatoes then add some butter (or low fat butter spread) and milk. I’m not going to be more exact than that because I think everyone likes their mash a little different. If you’re unsure, add a little at a time then mash and add more if you think it’s needed. Mash really well. Lumpy mash is horrible, you don’t want that. I use a ‘serve as you go’ method so I put mashed potato on the plates as soon as I’m finished making it. You could do this differently or even put each of the components into serving dishes and let everyone serve themselves. I usually only do this at Christmas when I make a bigger variety of foods.

9. 01:55 Serve. Take the roasting tin and muffin tray out of the oven. Serve the Yorkshire puddings and roast potatoes. Carve and serve the chicken. Drain all of the water from the vegetables and serve those too. Make the gravy. I would advise adding a little more granules than the instructions suggest but then we like fairly thick gravy. It’s personal choice really. Serve dinner. Enjoy dinner. Then go back to the hell that is now your kitchen. My last piece of advice is to do the washing up straight away, otherwise everything will dry up and be very difficult to clean.

Yum!

Yum!

I hope this has proved useful. When you have finished eating your delicious meal, do NOT throw away any leftover chicken or it’s carcass. Use it for sandwiches, soups or one of the other thousands of recipes that can use it. I’ll be posting a recipe for leftover chicken stew very soon!

A Week of Packed Lunches

Today I’m in a planning mood. The kind of mood where I want to make lists and schedules. So to take advantage of this, I’m going to make a plan for Pip’s first week of school packed lunches. I really don’t want her to have the boring lunches I used to have – soggy sandwiches and whatever happened to be in the cupboard thrown in.

Being completely new to making a child’s school packed lunches, I decided to do a little research, which took me to the NHS choices website, which has some handy guidelines….

A balanced packed lunch should contain:

  • Starchy foods. These are bread, rice, potatoes and pasta, and others.
  • Protein foods. These are meat, fish, eggs, beans and others.
  • A dairy item. This could be cheese or yoghurt.
  • Vegetables or salad, and a portion of fruit

I also had a few rules of my own.

  • No boring sandwiches or anything that’s going to be soggy or otherwise unappealing by lunchtime
  • Never the same thing two days in a row
  • As much homemade stuff as possible, both to save money and to get Pip involved in making her own food
  • Include foods that she’s going to really enjoy eating

With this in mind, I’ve come up with five lunchbox ideas for Pip’s first week.

Day One

Bagel filled with banana and peanut butter*

Cherry tomatoes

Cheese cubes (I’m thinking cheddar & red Leicester, to make it look colourful)

Day Two

Homemade cheese & chive muffins

Grapes

Apple crisps

Day Three

Pitta Bread cut into strips with hummus

Carrot and red pepper sticks

Cheese cubes

Day Four

Bagel with soft cheese and cucumber

Cherry Tomatoes

Grapes

Day Five

Pasta salad with cherry tomatoes, baby spinach, feta cheese and lemon mayo

Apple crisps

Hardboiled egg

What do you put in your child’s lunchbox? I’m always open to new ideas!

*I have heard that some schools have rules against foods that contain peanuts but I’ve been given no such rules so I’m hoping that Pip’s don’t.