Funky Fish Fingers

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Fish fingers are often a sure-fire way to introduce some fish into your kids diet if they turn their noses up at fish that actually looks like fish! This recipe is a healthier and tastier twist on the supermarket varieties. I found the recipe in the free Tesco family food magazine, which has a special section devoted to cooking with kids. The photography is often inspiring and it has lots of ideas for easy weekday meals. The recipes are simple enough for kids to follow and are often a new take on old favourites, like this one.

The Tesco Website is also a great resource (http://realfood.tesco.com/cooking-with-kids.html), although the website publishes different recipes to the magazine, so it’s definitely worth picking up a copy if you are ever in the store.

Here is the basic fish finger recipe:

2 x 400g white fish fillets, skinned de-boned and cut into fish finger chunks
2 medium eggs lightly beaten
100g Panko breadcrumbs (available in most major supermarkets)
1 unwaxed lemon, zested (or 3 tsps of bottled lemon juice)
2 tbsp Parsley, finely chopped (Freeze dried worked just as well)
3 tbsp Parmesan, grated (I used a tub of dried parmesan and it worked just as well)
2 tbsp Plain flour

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Place the breadcrumbs in a bowl and add the Parmesan, parsley and lemon zest (or a teaspoon of juice from a bottle). Add the beaten eggs to one bowl, flour to another and the breadcrumb mixture to a third bowl or plate. Then begin coating the fish by first dipping the fillets in the flour, then the egg and finally the breadcrumb mixture, moving them around until fully coated. My children managed to share the process of dipping and dunking in the different bowls. It was a messy business, but seemed to work well without causing any arguments!

Finally, you can either place the fillets on a non-stick baking tray and oven bake for around 20 minutes, or fry them in Rapeseed oil. If you fry, then remove excess oil using kitchen roll after frying. Serve with potato wedges and peas.

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The Moody Sow

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We’re currently in the middle of a major renovation project at our home in Surrey, so I escaped the chaos and took the children back to my hometown of Cardiff for their half-term break. While we were there we visited Cefn Mably farm park (http://www.cefnmablyfarmpark.com/) – a wonderful children’s farm providing the opportunity for children to feed and handle a variety of friendly animals in an all-weather environment, as much of it is covered over. It also boasts a huge soft-play centre and a café with a good selection of freshly made food. The latest addition to the centre is a farm shop called the Moody Sow, selling fresh, local produce.

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As the name would suggest, their specialty is pigs, which are bred and reared on site. They make their own remarkably tasty sausages (we bought and tasted them!) as well as smoked and cured bacon, and sell a range of other meats that come from trusted local farms. There is also a bakery on site making fresh bread daily for both the shop and restaurant, as well as a wide range of Moody Sow jams, chutneys and preserves, many with rather interesting flavours, such as champagne strawberry jam and lemon curd with lavender. They also stock free-range eggs from a nearby farm and a range of Welsh cheeses.

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The emphasis at the Moody Sow, like many other farm shops, is on quality, reliability, minimal packaging and low carbon footprints. Like buying organically grown foods, this is perhaps an ideal and unfortunately for many of us comes with a rather limiting price tag. Therefore my usual approach to farm shops is to take a quick look around, marvel at the wonderful produce, perhaps pick up a tasty looking preserve as a present and then leave, assuming that it is all far too expensive. However, following the horsemeat saga in the UK, like many others I have become more particular about where I buy our meat. It made me think a bit more about where the meat I buy actually comes from, and what happens before it makes it onto the supermarket shelves.

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Many independent butchers have increased in popularity as a consequence of the horsemeat scandal as many of us are changing the way we shop. A new trend amongst many of my contemporaries seems to be to stock up on the weekly basics online from one of the large supermarkets, then purchase select, fresh produce from local farm shops or farmers markets when they can. This can make the process of buying food an enjoyable part of the weekend that might also involve the children. Talking and getting to know local producers can provide assurance that you are buying quality produce, and establishing relationships with local suppliers can make the whole process more personal.

Our own local village butcher’s shop has a queue stretching down the street on a Saturday morning with people enticed in by weekly offers. The prices now compare favourably with the higher end supermarkets, and it gives you piece of mind to know that the meat has been hand selected by the people who are supplying it. So, why not bypass the meat aisle at the supermarket this week and find out where your local butcher lives, or if there is a nearby farmer’s market. You might find it’s not quite as expensive as you think, or that you are willing to trade quantity over quality. The children might enjoy the old fashioned way of shopping too…just don’t forget to pack your wicker basket!

Pictures were taken from The Moody Sow website and published with permission.

Get Up and Go Granola!

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I am a huge breakfast fan, so would rather run late than leave the house on an empty tummy! I genuinely wake up looking forward to my first bite of the day, and luckily my children also enjoy a hearty breakfast. I like to indulge in more fancy breakfasts at the weekend, such as making fresh bread and pancakes, but on weekdays it is a more rushed affair, often between pyjama changes and me running about filling school bags! So I tend to keep my cereal cupboard well stocked and a good quality granola is often on my shopping list.

However, I’ve recently been budgeting with my grocery shop and set myself the challenge to reduce my weekly spend. It occurred to me that granola is actually ridiculously easy to make quite cheaply, but seriously over-priced on the supermarket shelves. Also, many of the granolas contain a lot of added sugar and palm oils that come from unsustainable forests. So, I decided to make my own healthier, cheaper and tastier version. I love tons of dried fruit in my granola, my husband likes a nuttier version, whereas the kids love the oats but would rather not have anything else added to it. So I now customize our granola too and am completely addicted to it! I’ve seen my husband nibbling on it as a late evening snack, which I guess beats reaching for the chocolate!

Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients
300g of rolled oats
100g Pecans, chopped
50g Flaked almonds
50g Linseed (Flaxseed)
6 tablespoons of good quality maple syrup or maple flavoured agave
2 Tablespoons of Blossom Honey
1 Tablespoon of Cold pressed Rapeseed oil
Two teaspoons of cinnamon

Dried Fruit:
50g Raisins
25g Dried cherries
20g Dried cranberries
50g Pitted Dates, chopped
100g Dried apricots, chopped

Pre-heat the oven to 150 degrees. Add the honey, agave/maple syrup and rapeseed oil to a large saucepan and heat gently until the syrup and oil is mixed completely. Remove from the heat and then add the oats and nuts to the syrup mixture and stir them together until they are completely coated and glistening. Cover two baking trays with baking parchment and transfer the oat/nut mixture onto this, patting them down to give a relatively flat layer. Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon and place the trays in the oven for about 20-30 minutes, until the oats and almonds have turned a golden brown. While the oats are cooking, you can weigh out the dried fruit. I use a kitchen scissors to chop the fruit into tiny pieces to ensure you get more of each fruit per spoonful! After roughly 30 minutes, turn off the oven and remove the trays. Use a spatula to loosen the oats and nuts and give them a good shake. Then, if you like a really crunchy granola, return the trays to the oven with the heat off for another 15 minutes as the oven cools. Finally, remove the oats altogether and allow them to cool completely on the tray before mixing together with the dried fruit. Store in an airtight container and enjoy for a healthy start to the day with either milk or yoghurt, or eat handfuls for a late afternoon energy boost!

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Health benefits
Oats are a real super food and are purported to help reduce the risk of numerous diseases, from asthma to heart disease. Importantly they are high in fibre, can help reduce cholesterol, and also release energy for longer periods meaning you should be fuller for longer. Cinnamon has been shown to work as an appetite suppressant and linseed is high in soluble fibre and omega-3 essential fatty acid. Agave syrup is superior to refined sugars as it has a low gycaemic index, so won’t give a high rise in blood sugar. Dried apricots contain vitamin A and are a source of iron, and cherries reportedly contain anti-oxidants as well as beta-carotene and folic acid. There are lots of great benefits from other dried fruits that you could add too, such as banana, mango, blueberries, goji berries and figs, but be careful which brands you buy as some contain added sugars.

Speedy Salmon Pasta

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This is my kind of fast food, as it’s super quick but still quite healthy. As you will see from previous posts, I’m rather a fiend for broccoli as it’s my favourite vegetable – it’s a real super food if you steam it, and it teams well with most dishes. I’ve given it to my children so often that it’s the one vegetable they will eat without question. I always have at least a few broccoli florets in the fridge and frozen salmon fillets in the freezer for emergencies, as they cook so quickly. However, if you don’t have fresh broccoli then frozen peas will work just as well.

Ingredients:
Penne pasta – 1-2 handfuls per child, 3 handfuls per adult
Broccoli – 3 large florets per person, 2 per child
Mascarpone cream cheese or fresh cream – 1 dessert spoon per adult
Parmesan cheese – 1 dessert spoon of either freshly grated or dried parmesan per adult
Salmon – Half a fillet per person
Pine Nuts – Toasted in a frying pan until lightly brown using a drizzle of rapeseed oil
The amounts are a rough guide as you can add more or less according to appetites, or what is left in your fridge!

Put the frozen salmon fillet straight into the oven with a little butter and pepper, and cook for about 20 minutes at 180 degrees. Then cook the pasta and steam the broccoli. If you don’t have a steamer then the broccoli can be cooked over the pasta pan using a stainless steel steaming basket (£4.99 from Amazon UK) or microwave in a covered pyrex bowl with added water. Steam the broccoli until it is soft but still has a bit of a bite to it; if it’s overcooked until mushy then it will have lost some of the nutrients.

Drain the pasta and mix with the broccoli or peas, then stir through the mascarpone cream cheese while the pasta is still hot, along with two dessert spoons of Parmesan cheese (I keep a tub of dried parmesan in the cupboard as a substitute for fresh if I haven’t had time to plan ahead, but it’s also cheaper). Finally, flake the cooked salmon on top. I season with lots of pepper for myself, but leave it without for the children, as the cheese seems to do the trick.

If you are feeling indulgent then the salmon fillet can be substituted for a few slices of smoked salmon, which is delicious pan-fried and broken up into tiny flakes. You can get away with much less as it is quite salty. I also add toasted pine nuts for myself if I have some in the cupboard, but the children tend to pick them out!

Cheat’s Fish Pie!

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I was visiting a friend recently and found her in the kitchen practically mopping her brow from sweat as she finished off making a huge batch preparation of fish pie for her kids. As she removed a large pot of mashed potato, I mucked in to help portion it out on top of the twenty or so ramekins she had already filled with her delectable fish pie mix. Each one was then covered in silver foil, dated with a sticker and put in the freezer. This was real Super Mum behaviour and I suddenly felt very inferior knowing there were no ramekins gracing my own freezer shelves!

So, I went home that evening determined to do the same, but I knew that if I was going to freeze 20 portions of anything it would have to be something my kids would love – a tasty meal that could be whipped out of the freezer to save the day! I looked up a lot of fish pie recipes, many of which suggest adding in extra things such as cooked eggs and even tomatoes, dill and fresh parsley, but I wasn’t convinced that any of these would be the life-saver I was looking for. I also wanted to emanate my friend, but didn’t want to spend a day in the kitchen and use all my kitchen utensils in the process. So I came up with a version that I call ‘cheat’s fish pie’ as I take a terribly lazy approach to this recipe, but feel it is definitely all the better for it.

I don’t source the different cuts of fish separately, but instead buy several packets of the fish pie mix that you can find in the large supermarkets. The big cheat is that I don’t spend hours making mashed potato either – I buy good quality ready mashed potato, which has no added salt, just cream and butter. This is the big time-saver and it’s also far more creamy and delicious than any mash I can make and easy to portion out.

Ingredients:
3 x 400g packets of fish pie mix (cod, salmon and smoked haddock)
2 x 400g packets of ready mashed potato (no added salt)
150g Frozen peas
Grated cheddar cheese
50g plain flour
50g butter
600ml milk
Ground nutmeg
Dried parsley

Heat a tablespoon of rapeseed oil in a large saucepan and add the fish to cook. After about 5 minutes you can throw in the frozen peas too. After another 5 minutes, drain the juices from the pan and set the fish aside. In a separate saucepan make the white sauce. Melt 50g of butter and cream together with 50g of plain flour, taking it off the heat briefly to do so. Then set on a high heat and rapidly stir in the milk, adding only a little at a time to avoid lumps and stirring all the while. Add a teaspoon of ground nutmeg and two teaspoons of dried parsley. Although fresh parsley could be nice I have just found that the children pick it out, but dried parsley does improve the flavour but goes unnoticed. You can now add this to the fish and peas and portion out.

Using these amounts I usually have enough for one sizeable family (of 4) fish pie to eat the same day and then about 8 ramekins to freeze. Add a generous portion of grated cheddar on top of the mashed potato if you are cooking on the same day, and cook for 30 minutes at 180 degrees (Fan oven) until bubbling and the cheese is melted and slightly browned. If the kids are in the kitchen, then this is the stage at which they can help, assuming the fish pie mix isn’t still piping hot. They can be great mashed potato divider uppers and cheese sprinklers! This recipe has been such a success. The only problem is that the kids usually want seconds, so I have had to find larger ramekins!

Tip: Once you have frozen with the mashed potato on top, then you can cook directly from frozen, in about 40 minutes, but remove after 15 minutes and add the cheese. If you are short of mashed potato then you can freeze without mash, cook from frozen for 15 minutes, then take out from the oven and then add both the mash and the cheese. I serve with steamed broccoli on the side.

Lemon and Almond Polenta cake with a Raspberry topping

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This is such an easy all-in one foolproof cake that makes a wonderful dessert. I made this to take to a new year’s eve party and served it with creme fraiche. I found two recipes for polenta cake and merged them to come up with my own version which uses a little flour as well as almonds and polenta.

250g margarine
250g golden caster sugar
4 large eggs
140g polenta
100g plain flour
100g ground almonds
2 teaspoons baking powder
juice from 3 lemons

Firstly cream the butter and sugar together, then slowly add the eggs, then the flour, baking powder, polenta and almonds. Finally, stir through 50ml of fresh lemon juice and lemon zest. Cook for 45 minutes at 160 degrees in a fan oven.

My daughter enjoyed helping decorate the cake with some fresh raspberries and freeze-dried raspberries around the edge. Delicious!

Easy Party Nibbles

It was our first Christmas in our own home this year so we were rather excited at the prospect of hosting a drinks party. I decided to make life easy and focus on small nibbles and canapes, but I wanted to create some canapes that the children might also enjoy. Strangely these two fairly luxurious choices went down well with both of my children and were also very easy for them to help assemble:

Melon bites with parma ham:
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Smoked salmon blinis with philadelphia cream cheese:
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I also prepared some cocktail sausages drizzled in honey and mustard, then covered in sesame seeds; mini oatmeal biscuits with a chunk of brie and cranberry sauce; olive biscuits with smoked trout pate and bruschetta.

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For the dessert section I made my duo of mince pies and party meringues (see earlier posts). I did also succumb to making some sausage rolls for the kids as well and putting out a cheese plate, but it all went down well and it seems my daughter is now particularly fond of smoked salmon and parma ham. It’s good that she’s trying new things, but they won’t be on our weekday menu just yet!