Monthly Archives: November 2013

Christmas Fair Chocolate Leaf Cake

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It’s time for the school Christmas fair again, which means baking something delectable for the cake stall. There’s always a slight pressure when you know that people will be paying good money for your wares, so I wanted to create something that looked appealing, but wouldn’t take up an entire day of baking. My Granny’s chocolate cake has always been a winner and can be put together in a jiffy. It’s essentially a Victoria sponge recipe with cocoa and hot water added for the chocolate flavour.  My Granny’s secret was the butter icing filling, with added melted chocolate and rum essence, which is a taste sensation combined with the chocolate sponge!  She used to cover the top with cooking chocolate and decorate with chocolate buttons.

My plan to make the cake the night before, when the children were sleeping, completely failed, so I was in a hurry to make it with the kids in the picture, which was not ideal. I won’t even pretend that I involved my 2 year old son in this; luckily the morning’s activities meant he was fast asleep on the sofa. My daughter was so excited when she heard I was baking and headed straight for the kitchen to join me. I felt very unkind saying that she couldn’t help, so I came up with a way to keep her busy while I whipped up the sponge – making chocolate leaves for the cake decoration.

I have fond memories of making these with my own Mum as they are so easy, but the result is rather wonderful.  The best leaves to use are sturdy leaves with lots of veins on the back.  Rose leaves are very good as you then also get the detail around the edge too. We don’t have any roses though, so I found quite a few shrubs with leaves that I thought would work well. 

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How to Cover the leaves:

Wash the leaves thoroughly and pat dry with kitchen towel, being careful not to tear them. Melt a good quality cooking chocolate – I use Green and Blacks 70% cocoa solids. Put some baking parchment on a chopping board as your base, as then you can recycle any spilled chocolate as it hardens. Apply to the leaf using a small knife, or teaspoon, and make sure that it is reasonably thick, so you can no longer see any of the leaf.  Ensure that the chocolate covers the leaf right up to the edges but doesn’t run over the edge, as this may affect the detail when you peel it off. Put the leaves in the fridge to set for about 10 minutes. Once set, you simply peel off the leaves and reveal the beautiful chocolate leaf with lots of detail.

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My daughter was delighted with the result and helped arrange them in a flower, which we then decided could do with a Belgian chocolate as its centre. So once the cake was baked, all I had to do was to sandwich with the butter cream, cover it in melted milk chocolate and arrange the leaves on top. (The mistake I made was to apply the leaves before the chocolate had fully cooled, so they melted a little around the edges. I had wanted them to ‘stick’ to the cake but could have waited until it was almost set.  Also, the higher the percentage cocoa, the faster the chocolate sets once melted.  I used a much lower percentage cooking chocolate for the top and this took a lot longer to cool). 

Finally, as it was for the Christmas fair and needed to be safely carried away once purchased, I decided to wrap it in a clear film with red ribbon at the edges to make it look like a Christmas cracker.

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Coping with Fussy Eaters

One of the greatest challenges of parenting can be feeding your children. If your days are anything like mine, then mealtimes are often fraught with tension. Breakfast is a rushed affair at the start of the day when we are in a hurry to leave the house, lunchtimes are squeezed in-between nursery pick-ups for older siblings, or before afternoon activities, and dinnertime is at the end of the day when the children are at their most tired and testing. On top of that, you need to think of things to cook that the kids will actually eat, have fresh ingredients in the fridge and prepare meals with hungry toddlers snapping at your heels. It’s no wonder that fish fingers become a weekly staple for most of us! Of course there is nothing wrong with fish fingers – I can certainly recommend the Jamie Oliver version – but cooking the same old meals can be very monotonous for both us, and our taste buds. And of course isn’t it every parent’s dream to have children that really enjoy their food and aren’t fussy eaters?!

So, how can we encourage less fussy eating and get children to try new foods? I was quite amused at a party recently when my daughter excitedly pointed to the table and exclaimed, “Look Mummy, olives. Delicious.” I could sense the envy in the Mum I was stood next to as she exclaimed, “My daughter is so fussy, I wish she would eat olives”, at which point she grabbed the arm of her daughter, pointed to mine and said, “Look, your new friend is eating olives, won’t you try one too?” So she did try it, but spat it out immediately! But at least she tried it.

My husband, in desperate moments, used to coat our daughter’s food in yoghurt in the hope that she ‘wouldn’t notice’ and might eat ‘the good stuff’ anyway. I’ve heard of toddlers happily dunking carrots in yoghurt, and others of course succumb to tomato ketchup as a vehicle for healthier food, or just food in general! Parents will try anything just to get their kids to sample food they think they don’t or won’t like.

One of the favourite books in our house is Green Eggs and Ham, by Dr. Seuss – a comical tale of Sam trying endlessly to get the Cat in the Hat to try something new, which he is convinced he won’t like. Finally, in order to avoid the nagging, he tries the green eggs and ham, and of course discovers he not only likes them, but he loves them. So, as the yoghurt trick won’t wash in our house anymore, we have one line when we present the children with new food they are suspicious of: ‘Green Eggs and Ham’!! My daughter then retorts, ‘He didn’t like it and then he did like it. Ok I’ll try it.’ We don’t always win of course, but at least we are making progress with the concept of trying something before you decide if you like it.

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Fussy eating is almost certainly part of any childhood, but exposing children to lots of different types of food, served in different ways, can certainly help, as well as teaching children about what they are eating, where it comes from and how it is prepared. Talking to children about food away from the dinner table can help stimulate curiosity too. We found that growing a vegetable patch can be an exciting pursuit, or picking vegetables from a local grow your own farm. We took the children this summer to pick vegetables, and I was surprised by how much I learnt too, but more importantly, how excited they were to come home and help to cook and taste their wares!

Despite the title of my website, I don’t believe that children need to eat separate food to adults, and indeed the preparation of separate meals doesn’t benefit anyone, as it’s then just twice the work and you have less opportunity to introduce new flavours. Often it can be a case of staging the preparation, so that you can add spices later on, or giving them a small amount of the ‘adult’ food with plenty of other staples alongside. However, I do concede that some days this is perhaps the easiest strategy, but you can always get them to help prepare the adult food too, even if it’s just adding saffron to the rice to see it change colour, as eventually their curiosity may get the better of them!

Finally, trying food from new cultures can also generate an interest. A simple trip to Pizza Express can be made more exciting if you tell them they are eating Italian food and talk a little about the place and the culture. In this setting you just may get them to try the olives, and not spit them out!

Dinner Party Sticky Toffee

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For some unknown reason I had never tried to make this at home before. It’s undoubtedly my favourite gastro pub dessert as it is both extremely comforting and indulgent. So when I was planning the menu for a small Halloween dinner party I decided to give it a go. I knew that if I got it right it could be the perfect end to supper on a spooky night!

The recipe I used came from Pippa Middleton’s book, Celebrate, which my husband bought me for my birthday. I had picked it up before in Waterstones but couldn’t bring myself to buy it, not because I have any reason to dislike her – except for sheer jealousy at her wardrobe, handbag collection, all year-round tan and enviable social life – but because I thought it be a no expenses spared approach to throwing parties with apparent effortless glamour, and faking domestic bliss at every corner.

So, I was pleasantly surprised by the content as many of the recipes are simple, practical family feeds, and it is actually quite sensitive with regards to cost. The craft ideas are quite manageable, given some time, but it also has lots of imaginative games and activities for children, and the photography is stunning. I don’t think there is a single person on God’s earth, including Pippa, who could actually celebrate the entire year in this style, but it’s the sort of book you can keep on your bookshelf for reference when a particular event you are hosting crops up.

For example, her children’s party section is ridiculously practical and detailed, down to reminding you to keep pen and paper handy for present opening, so you know whom to thank! I know she got quite a lot of bad press for comments like this, which might be seen as rather patronizing, but really good party planners do pay attention to every last detail. I got myself in a complete muddle during present opening last year after my daughter’s party and I know I’m not the only one, as I’ve had to help other Mums match presents to people by guesswork and process of elimination! So sometimes the obvious is worth a mention if it makes you actually do it. The Order of the day for the children’s party ends with the following points: – wave goodbye, – settle your own kids in front of a film, – have a glass of wine. Ok, so maybe we don’t need to be told to wave goodbye, but you’d be surprised in the madness of handing out balloons and party bags how easy it is to forget. However, I do think the modern Mum trying hard to do it all and be it all needs to be set free from her guilt at times. What it means is this: “You did it, you had the party and yes, you can put on a DVD and drink a glass of wine, GUILT FREE, in the knowledge that even the greatest party planners would do the same.” This isn’t patronizing, it’s re-assuring!

The sticky toffee was quite easy to make if you follow the recipe to the letter and the children loved it. It’s perhaps a little less unhealthy if you replace the toffee sauce with a good quality custard and cut it into small-ish cubes. I have discovered that my children can be shamelessly bribed to eat almost anything if sticky toffee pudding is on the menu for dessert, so I have since made it several times and frozen it too. For Halloween, we also followed Pippa’s fun place setting tip, to use scrabble pieces. It was the perfect job for my 4 year old who is currently busy learning her phonics and we gave the dinner party guests a challenge to choose the person with whom they could make the longest sensible word!

A similar recipe can be found here:
http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/3682/ultimate-sticky-toffee-pudding
However, Pippa’s version is simpler!

Mighty Meatballs

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My daughter actually requested this for dinner tonight when we were walking around the supermarket. These meatballs are astonishingly easy to make and seem to be a real winner with both of my children.

Find good quality minced turkey (500g). This is a much healthier option than beef and actually just as tasty. In a large bowl combine it with half an onion that has been finely diced, a large clove of garlic and a handful of each of the following fresh herbs (or a teaspoon of the dried versions): Basil, thyme, parsley, sage. If they are fresh, then they should be finely chopped first. Mix well with the turkey and add a little pinch of sea salt and some pepper to season, but not a lot as they don’t need it with the herbs. Take small pinches of the mixture and form it into small balls. Heat a few good lugs of Rapeseed oil (see Product highlight for more details) in a non-stick frying pan and then drop the meatballs into this. Turn the meatballs once they have started to brown on one side and cook for several more minutes. Once cooked, remove and drain the oil off by blotting onto some kitchen paper. Serve with spaghetti just as they are (my daughter’s preference) or with a chunky tomato sauce, such as the Tideford Organic Tomato and Basil sauce, which I can highly recommend, and parmesan cheese if you are feeling indulgent.

Beat the blues Banana Bread!

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If my kids are driving me crazy at home on a rainy day, the remedy is often to get them in the kitchen to do some baking! The change of scene and the idea of making something delicious they can eat seems to re-set the behaviour dial, and they often rise to the challenge. This banana bread is a foolproof all-in-one recipe that uses up old mushy bananas, of which we always seem to have at least one lingering in our fruit bowl.

2 browning medium sized bananas
2 large free range eggs
260g self raising flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
110g softened butter or margarine
200g caster sugar
Chocolate chips or dates cut into small pieces (optional)
Use a tiny bit of milk if the mixture seems to dry or if you have only small bananas

This makes enough for a 22cm loaf tin, or about 16 medium sized muffins, but you can scale up or down fairly easily. If you want a stickier batch then you can halve the amount of dry ingredients, and you can even experiment with adding part soft brown sugar to make them a little more gooey! You can also halve the dry ingredients if you have only one banana, although one banana works for the larger amount too, it is just a little less sticky, but a very nice banana flavoured cake nevertheless! In essence, you can’t really go wrong as long as you keep the egg and flour ratio the same.

Firstly, preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celcius. My 2 year old is usually given the task of mashing the bananas into a large mixing bowl with a plastic fork, although I usually have to help a little to make them really mushy. You can add a drop of milk here of they are less ripe. Add the sugar next and then the butter, mixing these in a thoroughly before adding the dry ingredients. If my daughter is helping too, then I give her a separate bowl in which to cream together the butter and sugar, but it’s not essential. If the butter is softened first, then mixing it all in one bowl will work better. Don’t melt the butter completely, but, if like me you haven’t had time to think ahead before taking to the kitchen, a short burst in the microwave to soften it won’t do any harm! You just want to avoid large lumps. Once it is all mixed together add it to either a silicone loaf mould, or a lined and greased tin. Bake in the oven for around 50 minutes, or 35-40 mins if you have scaled down. Insert a skewer into the middle and when it comes out clean then the cake is ready.

We made a large loaf with added chocolate chips and I think it was eaten in two days. My husband enjoyed a fair few slices too!

White fish with tapendae, grated cheese and creamy mash

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Having failed to meal plan and to do my online food shop (too much time trying to get this blog set up!) and not having made it to the supermarket in the daytime, it was a case of cooking something from my staples in the fridge/freezer. Luckily I had a huge bag of fresh potatoes – the crop from a friend’s allotment.  As they are an Indian family and were about to celebrate Diwali, she was offloading potatoes as and when she could, so I had taken them gratefully.

The potatoes are what the Irish would call laughing potatoes, which means that once boiled the skin splits and can be easily peeled off.  These ones laughed so much that the skins practically peeled off themselves, so I threw in some double cream, a blob of butter and got my two year old son to mash them to his heart’s content, a task he seemed to relish.

In the meantime I found some white fish filets in the freezer, and it was my daughter’s task to help flavour these (straight from the freezer, no need to defrost). We dug out a jar of olive and sundried tomato tapendae, then grated some cheddar cheese, and made breadcrumbs from the end of a wholemeal loaf, then mixed the two together. My daughter was very methodical in layering the tapenade, and then the cheese and breadcrumbs on top. Although she does eat olives, she can be a little fussy when it comes to anything with tomatoes, so we decided to coat one of the filets with just cheese and breadcrumbs for her and her brother, in case they didn’t like it. We cooked the fish for 25 minutes in the oven and then dished up.

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The result:  A surprising success! My son began by eating the mashed potato, followed by the broccolli, definitely suspicious of the fish, but eventually I asked him just to try it, and then he couldn’t get enough. My daughter took the same approach, leaving the fish until last, but spurred on by my quip that “fish can make you clever” she took a few bites and was also hooked. It was only afterwards I realised I had accidentally given them one with the tapenade!