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Category Archives: cooking with toddlers

Cute Lunches: Christmas Tree Pizzette

We made some cute Christmas tree pizzette using my super quick cheat’s pizza recipe and they went down a treat. Leftovers would be perfect to add to a lunchbox.

mini cheat's pizzaCut out tree shapes from a tortilla (or even a slice of bread). We spread a little tomato puree then a sprinkle of grated cheese on top, then added torn spinach for leaves, grated carrot ‘tinsel’ and red cabbage ‘baubles’ (squares of cabbage that you can’t really see in the photo unfortunately).

While they were cooking I cut small stars from a slice of cheese. After they’ve cooked, let the pizzette cool down a bit before adding the cheese stars; I added them too soon and they melted so had to add some more!

What other food do you think would work well as decorations?

I’m linking up to Fun Food Friday, a weekly round-up of fun and creative food by the lovely Grace of Eats Amazing.

Eats-Amazing-Fun-Food-Friday

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Gingerbread

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without gingerbread. Whether it’s gingerbread men, a gingerbread house or other gingerbread shapes, the mix of spices and the smell of it baking makes me feel all warm and Christmas-y!

Making gingerbread with your little ones is a wonderful activity to do (and not just at Christmas time). It’s easy to make, immense fun to make shapes out of and cooks quickly so you can start decorating sooner.

If you’re cooking with toddlers, you could make the dough yourself beforehand (the dough keeps in the fridge easily for a day) and get your munchkin involved from the ‘cutting out shapes’ stage. Older kids can help make the dough from scratch and while it’s chilling in the fridge, they can start choosing cookie cutters and think about how they’ll decorate them.

Gingerbread keeps wonderfully (in an airtight container) for a couple of weeks. It’s also a lovely present your kids can make and then give to friends and family. We’ve just finished decorating some Christmas trees to give to the staff at Nicholas’ preschool.

Gingerbread Christmas treesThis recipe has been the only one I’ve used to make gingerbread for the last few years. It’s slightly adapted from a Waitrose recipe. If I remember correctly, I just reduced the amount of bicarbonate of soda, as I really don’t like it when I can taste it in the finished product. There’s still enough of it though to puff up the gingerbread a little.

To make cleaning up easier, I like to roll the gingerbread on a piece of baking paper rather than on a floured surface, with a piece of plastic wrap on the top so the rolling pin stays clean too. This also means that your gingerbread won’t accidently stick to your work surface.

Christmas

GINGERBREAD

Prep time: 20 mins
Cook time: 9 mins
Makes about 30 medium-sized biscuits

125g unsalted butter
100g dark muscovado sugar
4 tbsp golden syrup
325g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
3 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg

Preheat oven to 190C. Line at least two baking trays with baking paper.

Melt the butter, sugar and golden syrup in a small saucepan over a low heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.

Mix the flour, bicarbonate of soda, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Stir in the melted ingredients to make a stiff dough. Shape into a ball and refrigerate for 10 mins (if you’re not going to cook your gingerbread immediately, wrap in clingfilm and leave in the fridge).

Roll out onto a lightly floured surface to a thickness of 3-5mm. Cut out shapes and place on your lined baking trays. Bake for 9 minutes until golden brown.

Leave on a wire rack to cool completely before decorating.

Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

Tip: before measuring out your golden syrup, rub a drop of oil over the spoon; the syrup will easily slide off.

What sweets are your favourite for decorating gingerbread?

Chewy chai cookies

There’s something wonderfully comforting about oatmeal cookies, especially ones with soft chewy centres. We regularly make variations of our chewy oaty biscuits, which Nicholas likes to both make and eat, but I wanted to try making some with the warm and lightly spiced flavour of my beloved vanilla chai tea.

While these are not the healthiest snack, I’ve reduced the sugar content quite a bit (by a third!) so you can feel less guilty eating them. If you prefer sweeter cookies you can also add a handful of raisins or sultanas to the cookie dough.

Oatmeal oaty biscuits

If you can’t get hold of vanilla chai teabags, look at my tip below the recipe for recreating the flavours with spices you probably already have in your cupboard.

I make these quite small (they’re about 5cm in diameter after cooking), so you can indulge with less guilt. The recipe is easily doubled though if you prefer to make bigger ones.

CHEWY CHAI COOKIES

Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 10-12 mins
Makes 12 small cookies

60g butter, chopped
1 tbsp honey or agave nectar
75g (1/2 cup) rolled oats
50g (1/2 cup) plain flour
50g (1/4 cup) soft brown sugar
2 vanilla chai tea bags (leaves only)

Preheat your oven to 160C and line an oven tray with baking paper.

Gently melt the butter and honey (or agave nectar) either in the microwave or in a small saucepan. Leave to cool.

Mix the oats, flour, sugar and tea leaves together in a medium-sized bowl.

Pour in the cooled melted butter and honey, and mix until combined.

Roll the mixture into small balls and place well apart on the prepared tray. Press down with the back of an oiled spoon to flatten them slightly.

Bake for 10-12 minutes until just starting to turn brown, flattening them again with the back of an oiled spoon after about 5 mins of cooking. (If you prefer crunchy cookies, cook them for a few minutes longer until turned golden brown.)

Leave the cookies to cool on the tray for 5 mins to firm up before transferring them to a wire rack to completely cool.

Variations:

  • Use a dairy-free margarine instead of the butter to make dairy-free cookies;
  • Add a handful of dried fruit such as raisins, chopped dried apricot, dried apple or dried strawberries;
  • Add chocolate chips to the mixture or drizzle the baked cookies with melted chocolate;
  • Add flaked almonds.

Tip: instead of using the vanilla chai tea leaves, make your own chai spice mix by combining 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ground ginger, 1/4 tsp ground allspice, a pinch of ground cloves and a pinch of freshly ground pepper. Also add 1/2 tsp vanilla essence to your cookie dough.

AlphaBakes Logo

I’m linking this recipe to the AlphaBakes monthly challenge (this month it’s the letter ‘C’) jointly hosted by Caroline from Caroline Makes and Ros from The More than Occasional Baker (and I’m quietly very proud of achieving a triple letter ‘C’ this time ;))

Savoury courgette and pine nut muffins

I’ve found muffins are a great way to get some extra vegetables into Nicholas’ diet. He can help me make them (which usually results in him eating more of them), they’re an easy-to-eat finger food (and very easy to pop into a lunchbox) and so wonderfully adaptable (you can pretty much throw in anything you have in the fridge!).

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s courgette and pine nut muffins intrigued me when I came across them. He makes the point that these flavour combinations work well in a pasta dish and also work in a muffin, which makes my mind wander to other pasta flavours to experiment with in a muffin form. I was also curious to discover if the addition of some oats was noticeable in the end muffin (no, although I used normal-sized porridge oats rather than his suggested jumbo oats).

Amazingly for me I didn’t make any changes to Hugh’s original recipe. After tasting them I did wonder about leaving the sultanas out next time, but they do add a lovely burst of sweetness to the other savoury ingredients which I think little people (as well as big people) will like. The added texture of toasted pine nuts also works very well. I’ll be making them exactly the same from now on! Oh and I can confirm that they freeze well.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

SAVOURY COURGETTE/ZUCCHINI AND PINE NUT MUFFINS

Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 18 mins
Makes 12
Freezable

200g plain flour
40g jumbo oats
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1-2 tsp flaky sea salt (depending on how salty your parmesan is – you can easily leave this out for toddlers)
A few grinds of black pepper
8 large basil leaves, shredded
60g parmesan, coarsely grated, plus another 20g or so to sprinkle on the top
2 eggs
250g whole milk yoghurt
4 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
200g courgette/zucchini, coarsely grated
40g pine nuts, toasted
40g sultanas

Heat the oven to 200C and line a muffin tin with 12 paper cases.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, baking powder, bicarb, salt, pepper, basil and parmesan.

In a separate smaller bowl (or jug), whisk together the eggs, yoghurt and oil, pour this over the dry ingredients and stir with a spatula until roughly combined – don’t overmix.

Add the courgette/zucchini, pine nuts and sultanas, and stir until just evenly distributed.

Spoon or scoop (using an ice cream scoop) the batter into the muffin tin and sprinkle over the rest of the parmesan.

Bake for about 18 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out clean.

Leave them to cool in the tin for a couple of minutes to firm up before transferring them to a cooling rack.

What other yummy pasta flavours do you think would work well in a muffin?

 

National Cupcake Week

It’s National Cupcake Week which means you have the excuse to bake or eat as many as you want!

There are some wonderfully creative recipes on the official website, including gluten-free sticky toffee pudding cupcakes, mojito and ‘mocktail’ cupcakes, and even savoury korma cupcakes. For even more inspiration, here are some of my creations.

National Cupcake WeekLamington cupcakes

National Cupcake WeekLemon meringue cupcakes

National Cupcake WeekShaggy bear cupcakes

National Cupcake WeekGingerbread cupcakes with cream cheese icing

dairy-free chocolate cupcakesDairy-free chocolate cupcakes

dairy-free lime cupcakesDairy-free lime cupcakes

Super quick cheat’s pizza

I’ve already talked about hubby’s quest to find the perfect pizza dough, and my Anglo-Saxon efforts and cheats. Here is my biggest cheat of all which hubby happily eats – use a bought tortilla as the base!

For those evenings or weekends when you have no desire or energy to cook, these are perfect and yummy. Use what you have in the fridge, get your littlies to help or just get everything out, turn on the oven and go back to the sofa while the rest of the family make their own!

tortilla pizza

I always have a tube of tomato puree in the fridge and this is perfect for spreading on these pizzas. You could also use pasta sauce or leave it out entirely and have a ‘pizza bianca’. Then the other toppings are completely up to you and your fridge/cupboard. For fussy veg eater Nicholas, I often add some finely grated carrot and he loves it. If you have your own fussy eater, cut the ingredients up small, focus on the lovely colours and use some veg to ‘draw’ pictures on the pizzas.

A drizzle of good olive oil over the top of even the most mundane ingredients makes everything taste better. I like to add a drizzle before cooking and also after ;)

Tortillas come in different sizes. The ones I used for the photo were slightly smaller than a dinner plate and usually enough for one adult or two toddlers. It never hurts to make too many though as they’re also tasty the next day in lunchboxes.

Why not try using some other type of flat bread for your base?

SUPER QUICK CHEAT’S PIZZA

Prep time: 5 mins
Cook time: approx. 5 mins
Makes 2 adult and 2 toddler servings

3 tortilla wraps (plain or wholemeal)
3 tsp tomato puree
Extra virgin olive oil
Your choice of cheese (eg. shredded fresh mozzarella, grated cheddar, crumbled feta, etc.)
Your choice of toppings (eg. sliced cooked ham, diced cooked chicken, sliced tomatoes, grated carrot, sliced mushrooms, fresh basil, etc.)

Line an oven tray (a heavy-based one if possible) with baking paper. Heat oven to 220C and put the prepared tray inside to heat up (this helps crisp up the bottom of the pizzas).

Put your tortillas on a cutting board. Drizzle each with a little olive oil and 1 tsp of the tomato puree. Use the back of a spoon to spread the puree and oil fairly evenly over each tortilla.

Add your other desired toppings and finish with another drizzle of olive oil.

Open the hot oven and pull out the tray enough so you can slide the pizzas on to it.

The time it takes to cook your pizza will depend on how many toppings you added, but they shouldn’t take much longer than 5 minutes (just keep a close eye on them).

Finish with another drizzle of olive oil and some torn fresh basil if you have it.

What ingredients do you normally have in your fridge or cupboard that would be great on this pizza?

Mini cheese and carrot scones

I’ve been trying to avoid turning on the oven during our amazing continued warm weather here in the UK (this is how summer should be!), but when the idea of savoury scones popped into my head I knew it wouldn’t go until I’d made some. The good thing is, scones are quick to prepare and quick to cook, so staying in the heated kitchen is kept to a minimum.

My first attempt at making scones when I was in my twenties was a disaster. What came out of the oven were rock cakes. I guess I overmixed and/or overkneaded the dough. You can find plenty of tips online to ensure your sweet or savoury scones are as light as possible (I’ve added some at the end of the recipe). I ignored one tip never to use any kind of wholemeal flour (I used half white self-raising and half wholemeal self-raising flour) and I think they turned out pretty good anyway! If you’re not feeling confident about scone-making, use all white self-raising flour.

mini cheese and carrot scones

I made mini scones for mini fingers, but you can make any size or shape you like. I used a 4-centimetre round cutter and also cut out a few small butterfly shapes for Nicholas. (Mummy: ‘What sound does a butterfly make?’ Nicholas: ‘Flap flap’.)

Scones are definitely the yummiest straight from the oven with melting butter on top, but these are also lovely to have for lunch filled with some ham and cheese.

These scones freeze very well and are also something different to pop into lunchboxes. You can also add some chopped ham or cooked bacon to the mix as well as experiment with other grated vegetables. I’d love to hear your variations.

MINI CHEESE AND CARROT SCONES

Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 10-15 mins
Makes about 20 mini scones
Freezable

1 cup wholemeal self-raising flour
1 cup plain self-raising flour
1/4 tsp salt
50g butter, cold
1/2 cup finely grated carrot
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
3/4 cup milk
1 tbsp milk extra for glazing

Preheat the oven to 200C and line an oven tray with baking paper.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, add the two flours and salt.

Quickly dice the butter and add to the bowl. Using your fingertips, quickly rub the butter into the flour for a minute or two until it’s fairly evenly distributed (the consistency should be like coarse breadcrumbs). Don’t rub the mixture too much or the butter will melt.

Using a knife instead of a spoon, quickly mix through the grated carrot and cheese then add the milk, stirring until it’s just loosely combined.

Tip the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead it just enough to form a ball. Use your hands to flatten the dough until it’s about 2cm thick.

Cut out your desired shapes and place them on your prepared oven tray close together. Form another ball from the leftover dough and repeat.

Brush the tops of the scones with the extra milk and bake for 10-15 mins until golden.

Variations:

  • For a cheesy top, a couple of minutes before the scones are cooked, sprinkle over some extra grated cheese and pop back into the oven.
  • Add some chopped cooked ham or bacon to the dough.
  • Substitute the grated carrot with a different grated vegetable such as parsnip, courgette/zucchini or beetroot.

Tips:

  • Always use butter that’s straight from the fridge to avoid it melting when it’s rubbed into the flour (which leads to heavy scones); some cooks suggest putting the butter into the freezer for a few minutes after weighing it out, grating it into the flour and then quickly mixing it through rather than rubbing it.
  • When cutting out your scones, don’t twist the cutter after pushing it into the dough; this seals the edges and makes it more difficult for the scone to rise.
  • Putting your scones close together, even touching, on the oven tray helps them rise (a good example of teamwork?!?).