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Category Archives: dinner

Halloween Inspiration

It’s almost Halloween and this year I’ve created hardly any spooky dishes for Nicholas. If you’re also in need of some inspiration, why not check out some of my favourite bloggers. I’m sure there’s something for everyone!

Halloween bentoMichelle, of Creative Fun Food, made the most adorable Frankenstein lunch with just a few ingredients. Also check out her wonderfully simple but effective ghostly cheese and crackers, and her easy ghost pancakes.

Halloween bentoI love Lunchbox Dad’s movie themes and his ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ bento, complete with Oogie Boogie, is no exception!

Halloween A super simple and super cute snack idea is Jill’s (from Meet the Dubiens) jack o’lantern fruit cups.

HalloweenBento Monsters’ cute ghost is almost too adorable to eat. Ming uses crepes and egg sheets to create her ghosts, and there are so many possibilities for what to put underneath them.

From possible the cutest to the scariest…

HalloweenMr Meatloaf Head, created by Jo of Jojoebi Designs, would be perfect for a Halloween party. Just look at those googly eyeballs and all the severed fingers!

For more inspiration, read last year’s round-up of my favourite Halloween creations, as well as check out my Halloween Tasting Plate and Spider Web Soup.

spider web carrot and lentil soup

Spider web carrot and lentil soup

Spooky tasting plate

Spooky tasting plate

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Spinach crepes

We pretty much always have fresh spinach on hand. It’s easy to throw in a handful to boost the nutritional content of a surprising number of meals. A few leaves get added to Nicholas’ breakfast banana milkshake and my morning protein shake, a few handfuls into dinner casseroles just at the end of cooking, and pasta sauces, scrambled egg and savoury muffins also often have some spinach.

If you want to wilt the spinach before adding it, don’t get out a frying pan. Fill up your kettle and turn it on, put the spinach leaves in a sieve and then pour over the just boiled water. Use a wooden spoon to press out as much excess water as you can and, when it’s cool enough to touch, squeeze out more with your hands. Easy and less washing up to do!

savoury crepes

Adding spinach to a crepe mixture works really well. You end up with amazingly green crepes (we call them ‘monster food’) without any bits of spinach your little one might be tempted to pull out. Fill them with your munchkin’s favourite filling and they should be a hit.

My recipe feeds 2 adults plus 1-2 toddlers, but is easily doubled so you can freeze some for another day (put baking paper between them before you freeze them to separate them more easily), or keep the leftover batter in the fridge to make more the next day.

Leftover crepes also work really well in lunchboxes. Spread with a soft cheese and some ham, roll up like a swiss roll and cut slices about 2cm thick.

SPINACH CREPES

Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 20 mins
Makes 6 crepes
Freezable (without filling)

50g fresh spinach
150ml milk
75g plain flour
1 egg
1 tsp butter, melted and slightly cooled
Fillings such as grated cheese, sliced ham, shredded cooked chicken, sliced tomatoes.

Preheat your oven to 120C.

Put the spinach and milk into a bowl or jug and use a stab blender to combine until the spinach has completely broken up (or use a small food processor).

Add the flour and egg and blend again. Finally add the melted butter.

Put a small frying pan over a medium-low heat and either coat with cooking spray or a little extra butter (wipe any excess butter away with kitchen towel).

Add a ladleful of batter and swirl the pan to evenly coat the base.

Cook for 1-2 minutes on the first side (the edges will start to curl up) then turn to cook the other side. Turn the temperature down to low and add your fillings. Cook for another minute before folding in half and then in quarters.

Put the cooked crepes into an ovenproof dish and put in the oven to keep warm as you make the rest.

AlphaBakes LogoI’m linking this recipe to the AlphaBakes monthly challenge (this month it’s the letter ‘C’) jointly hosted by Ros from The More than Occasional Baker and Caroline from Caroline Makes.

Leftover veggie pops

While the weather is getting colder and my summer tan is fading, I’m consoling myself with cooking shows. And thankfully I can watch two of my favourites at the moment (The Great British Bake Off and Australian Masterchef).

I’ve struggled to get back into the kitchen after our late summer holidays, and have had little inspiration to be creative, but watching Australian Masterchef’s kids’ week has ignited some enthusiasm. One challenge had the contestants inventing a child-friendly dish using either liver, brussel sprouts or anchovies which were tasted and judged by three children.

Thinking about what I would do if I was a contestant (don’t we all do that watching these kinds of shows?), I thought about dishes that usually go down well with kids and my three ideas were pizza, pasta and things on sticks, all of which then featured in the better dishes made.

The most creative for me was a meat and liver ‘lollipop’ which was dipped into satay sauce and then some crushed peanuts by the kids. They loved it and it was such a brilliant idea that it got me thinking about getting vegetables into something similar.

When I was clearing up after dinner and wondering what I could do the following day with some leftover vegetables, inspiration hit me! It’s one of those ideas which makes you wonder why you never thought of it before. Leftover veggie pops were born!

leftover vegetables

All of the other fussy-eater-parents out there, you have my complete and utmost sympathy. It’s a tough gig already without this extra stress. Thankfully, and very luckily for us, Nicholas’ fussiness for eating (especially vegetables) was a phase which we seem now to be through. Interestingly, I have made similar fried vegetable balls and patties in the past which weren’t eaten, but… I didn’t serve them on sticks. Why didn’t I think of putting vegetables on sticks before now?!?

Nicholas first encountered these in his lunchbox. When I picked him up and asked him how his lunch was, he very excitedly told me he’d eaten “cheesy lollipops! cheesy mummy!” and his favourite dinosaur-shaped sandwiches merely got a mention. Success!

You can use pretty much any leftover vegetables you want. So long as they’re already cooked, all you need to do is mash them and mix them with a few other ingredients you probably already have. If your munchkins tend to pick out the vegetables they don’t like (probably the green ones!), use a potato ricer or quickly blend the veggies in a food processor to make the mixture smooth and even in colour.

These are not the healthiest way to serve vegetables as they’re fried, but you could also bake them in the oven (turn them regularly so they brown evenly). Pop any remaining balls in the freezer for another fun vegetable side dish another day.

LEFTOVER VEGGIE POPS

Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 10 mins
Makes about 25 pops
Freezable

2 cups of leftover cooked vegetables (I used sweet potato, leeks and peas), mashed or blended
1/2 – 3/4 cup grated cheddar (depending on how cheesy you want them)
1/4 cup dried breadcrumbs
Salt and pepper (optional)
1 egg, beaten
Vegetable oil
Clean lollipop sticks or ice lolly sticks

In a medium-sized bowl, mix the mashed or blended vegetables, cheddar, breadcrumbs, and salt and pepper if using.

Add about half of the beaten egg and mix. Add more egg a little at a time until you have a mixture just wet enough that it sticks together to shape into balls (if the mixture becames too wet, add some more breadcrumbs a little at a time).

Shape the mixture into small balls (about the size of a walnut shell).

In a frying pan, pour enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan to the depth of about 1cm. Heat over a medium-high heat then fry the vegetable balls turning them over regularly so they evenly brown.

Drain the cooked vegetable balls on some kitchen towel and when cool enough to touch, place each on a lollipop stick.

Add to the fun by serving the pops with a dipping sauce such as houmous, tomato sauce or a satay sauce.

leftover vegetables
Letting your creative juices run wild, what other food or dishes do you think you little ones would love more if they were served on a stick?

Persian lamb skewers

We’re trying to squeeze in as much use of the barbecue as possible as the English summer quickly fades, and trying to be as varied as possible with what we throw on it. These lamb skewers were inspired by ones we had at friends’ barbecue which were from their village butcher (thank goodness village butchers stil exist).

I added a small amount of breadcrumbs to my mixture which is not authentic at all. I found a pure meat mixture very difficult to easily shape around the skewers and it also fell off the skewers during cooking, so decided to add the breadcrumbs as an additional binder. Feel free to go with a competely meat mixture.

minced lamb kebabs

While these are perfect for a barbecue, especially when you need to feed lots of people, it would work just as well cooked on a griddle pan over the stove. The amounts are also easily halved to make a smaller amount for a family main course.

You can prepare the meat mixture the day before and leave it in a bowl in the fridge, or shape the meat around the skewers and leave them in the fridge overnight ready for the next day. Remember if you’re using wooden skewers that could burn on the barbecue, soak them for about 30 mins before putting the mixture on them.

Nicholas loves meat anyway, but particularly loved these “meat lollipops”. Of course be careful of skewers with children. You could also add some grated vegetables to the mix to get some more veg into your little ones.

Wonderful served with grilled vegetables, or with Greek yogurt with a squeeze of lemon juice and some chopped mint added.

PERSIAN LAMB SKEWERS

Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 15-20 mins
Makes approx. 15 skewers

600g minced lamb
1 onion, grated and excess juice squeezed out
1/4 cup breadcrumbs (optional)
2 tbsp sesame seeds
2 tbsp ground cumin
2 eggs
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large bowl mix all the ingredients together (easier if you do it with your hands).

With wet hands to avoid the mixture sticking to them, take a small handful of the meat, shape it into an oval shape and then mould it around the skewer.

Cook on a preheated very hot griddle pan or barbecue, turning regularly to cook evenly, until cooked through (about 15-20 mins).

Variations:

  • Use a mixture of minced beef and lamb.
  • Add some grated vegetables to the meat such as carrot or courgette/zucchini.

 

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?

Smoked Bacon and Courgette Pasta

This quick and easy pasta dish, ideal for the whole family, is another recipe from Annabel Karmel’s latest book which I reviewed a little while ago.

Annabel Karmel macaroni, bacon and courgette pasta

The original recipe uses macaroni, but any short type of pasta such as penne or farfalle would work well. It also uses crème fraîche, which can easily be substituted with Greek yogurt or even soured cream if you don’t have it on hand.

The book says this dish is suitable for freezing. It’s not clear if it means you can freeze the whole dish or just the sauce. Either way I’m always dubious about freezing crème fraîche or yogurt when mixed with other ingredients as they have a tendency to separate (the water from the dairy product separating when frozen). I’ve never thought about freezing pasta (and I think Italian hubby would be horrified!). Has anyone tried it?

Nicholas is thankfully going through a slightly better period with vegetables (fingers crossed it lasts!), but he still picked out a lot of the courgette/zucchini. If you’re feeding this to a fussy eater, dice the veg as small as you can.

SMOKED BACON AND COURGETTE PASTA

Prep time: 5 mins
Cook time: 15 mins
Makes 1 adult and 2 toddler servings

150g pasta (any short type like penne, macaroni, farfalle or orecchiette)
3 thick sices smoked bacon, diced
2 small courgettes/zucchini, diced
1 tomato, deseeded and diced
2 tbsp snipped fresh chives
3 tbsp crème fraîche (or Greek yogurt)
50g parmesan, grated
salt and pepper (optional)

Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling lightly salted water according to the packet instructions. Drain, reserving 150ml of the cooking water.

While the pasta is cooking, dry-fry the bacon for 2 minutes in a non-stick frying pan. Add the courgettes and fry for another 5 minutes until they are soft and lightly golden, then add the tomatoes and chives.

Add the pasta to the frying pan with the reserved water, crème fraîche and parmesan. Toss together over the heat for 2 minutes (be careful not to let the crème fraîche split by heating it too much).

Add seasoning if desired, then serve.

Quick Chicken Nuggets

This is another recipe from Annabel Karmel’s new book, ‘Quick and Easy Recipes for Toddlers’, which I recently reviewed. These are a much quicker and easier version of the Chicken Nuggets which feature in her ‘Top 100 Finger Foods’ book. This time she uses store-bought red pesto sauce and smashed up cornflakes.

Annabel Karmel quick chicken nuggetsWhat children don’t like chicken nuggets? Well I’m sure there must be some, but put a plate of nuggets with some tomato sauce for dipping in front of fussy eaters and you’re most likely going to have a stress-free meal. Now if only we could get some veg in there too…

To be honest, I wasn’t sure about the use of ready-made red pesto, which is a pesto made from sun-dried tomatoes rather than the traditional green basil pesto (it can also be made from roasted red peppers/capsicum). But I’ve made these nuggets a few times now and this recipe’s speed is definitely a winner! It’s also easy enough for your little ones to help you make them. They can have lots of fun bashing up the cornflakes and it’s also fairly mess-free.

If you have a bit more time or if you’d prefer not to feed your little one ready-made sauce, red pesto is quite easy to whip up, basically throwing the ingredients into a blender and whizzing them to a paste. Marthe at The Baking Bluefinger has a very easy recipe. The pesto will keep in the fridge for about a week, but it also freezes very well (freeze it in ice cube trays so you only need to defrost a small portion when you need it).

The original Annabel Karmel recipe adds seasoning to the chicken pieces before covering them in the pesto, but for me there’s well and truly enough seasoning in the pesto itself without adding more, even if you’re serving these to older family members. I’ve also added the preparation time as unfortunately this is lacking for all of the recipes in Annabel Karmel’s new book (that’s a super important piece of information to know for busy mums and dads!.

The nuggets are best eaten immediately as the coating loses some of its crunchiness as they cool down. However, they’re still yummy cold and leftovers can be popped into the next day’s lunch box.

I’m still thinking about how to get some vegetables into a chicken nugget. I’m eyeing up some pea puree left over from a scallop and chorizo starter I made hubby and wondering if it would work instead of pesto. Hmmm… I’ll get back to you!

QUICK CHICKEN NUGGETS

Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 10 mins
Makes about 25 nuggets

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 tbsp red pesto
50g cornflakes
15g Parmesan, finely grated

Preheat the oven to 200C/180C Fan and line an oven tray with baking paper.

Slice the chicken breasts into small cubes (you should get 10-12 pieces from each breast). Put the chicken into a bowl and mix in the pesto to coat the chicken.

Put the cornflakes into a plastic food bag and bash them with a rolling pin to make fine crumbs. Add the cheese and half of the chicken to the bag. Shake the bag to coat the nuggets, then transfer them to a plate. Add the remaining chicken to the bag of crumbs and repeat.

Lay the nuggets on a baking sheet and cook in the oven for 10 minutes.

What foods do your fussy eaters always eat?