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Quick and easy chicken and vegetable satay

When I stayed with my childhood best friend during our trip to Australia six months ago, I had a good peruse of her handwritten recipe book (isn’t that what you do when you’re catching up with friends you haven’t seen for years?!). It’s where I ‘stole’ her mum’s delectable recipe for lemon slice and then was delighted to see this recipe sourced from me many years ago.

I used this make this recipe a lot when I was first venturing into the world on my own after university (probably sourced from a magazine), but over the years had forgotten about it. It’s certainly not an authentic satay recipe, but the great thing is it’s packed with flavour without having to marinate the chicken beforehand therefore saving you time. I also love you throw all the sauce ingredients into a pot and stir and that’s it!

quick and easy chicken and vegetable satay

You could easily make this just with chicken, leaving out the vegetables (perhaps have some stir-fried or steamed vegetables on the side instead) or you can reduce the amount of chicken (it is quite a lot) and add more vegetables. Nicholas is a huge fan of satay sauce and will happily eat vegetables he normally refuses to just look at simply because they’re covered in satay sauce! And you really can use pretty much any vegetable you want (I’ve successfully used combinations of cauliflower, carrots, peas, beans, mushrooms, potato, sweet potato, baby corn, peppers/capsicum and broccoli). Now if only I could get Nicholas’ papà to like satay sauce…

QUICK AND EASY CHICKEN AND VEGETABLE SATAY

Prep time: 20-25 mins
Cook time: 25-30 mins
Makes 4-6 adult servings

1/4 cup peanut butter (smooth or chunky)
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp lime or lemon juice
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 cup hot chicken stock or water
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1kg chicken thigh or breast fillets, sliced or chopped
1/2 cup plain flour
500g assorted vegetables, chopped into stir-fry size

In a medium-sized saucepan combine the peanut butter, honey, lime juice, soy sauce, crushed garlic, curry powder, cumin and stock. Stir over a medium heat and gradually bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered for about 5 minutes or until the sauce has thickened slightly.

While the sauce is simmering, heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan.

Put the flour in a large bowl and stir through the chicken pieces until coated. Tip the chicken into a colander or sieve and shake off the excess flour. (Coating the chicken pieces in flour helps prevent them from overcooking too easily and the flour will also help thicken the sauce later.)

Stir fry the chicken in several batches until browned. Remove from pan and drain on paper towel.

Stir fry the vegetables for 2 minutes ot until they’re just soft. Return the chicken to the pan and add the sauce. Stir fry for about 3 minutes or until heated through.

(If the sauce isn’t thick enough for your liking, add a teaspoon of cornflour or plain flour dissolved in cold water and mix it thoroughly through the sauce, cooking for an extra minute or two.)

Serve with your preferred cooked rice.

quick and easy chicken and vegetable satay

Variations:

  • use thin strips of beef or turkey instead of chicken.
  • substitute the stock or water with coconut milk for a creamier sauce.
  • instead of stir frying the meat and vegetables, thread them onto skewers and cook over a grill, then pour over the satay sauce to serve.
  • for a vegetarian version, replace the chicken with tofu or paneer (a cheese commonly used in Indian cooking that you can actually make yourself!).

Other uses:
Use the sauce as a dipping sauce for sticks of raw vegetables such as celery, capsicum, carrot (perfect for toddlers who love to dip)

Please note: Peanut butter is high in nutrition and a good source of protein, but peanuts are one of the most common food allergies.  If you have a family history of allergies of any kind, you should talk to your GP or health visitor before giving your baby any peanut products. In the UK it’s suggested not to give peanut butter to babies under 6 months; it’s also recommended not to give children below the age of five whole nuts because of the risk of choking (either crush or break them into small pieces).

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Roasted carrot soup for the whole family

Happy International Carrot Day! Bet you didn’t know that even though this year marks a decade of celebrating the root vegetable. I certainly didn’t!

After our Easter indulgences, I though it was time to return to my mission of getting as many vegetables into Nicholas as possible (and soup’s the least stressful way). I’m sure the exhausted Easter bunny would also happily relax with a large bowlful.

This is a super simple soup (try to say that quickly as many times as you can!) the whole family can enjoy from weaning babies (omit the seasoning) to adults. It freezes well and can also be used as a pasta sauce for a quick healthy lunch.

roasted carrot soupRoasting the carrots and onion, before adding them to the stock, creates an extra depth of flavour. Ordinary carrot soup becomes something more interesting to the palette. While roasting the vegetables means the cooking time is longer, you can always roast them earlier in the day (if you’re at home) or even the day before.

Like most soups, don’t be too worried about exact measurements; slightly less or slightly more carrots won’t make much difference to the end result. If you don’t have enough carrots, add some other root vegetables like parsnip, turnip or potato.

If you’re not serving this to a baby, you can add some warming spice like coriander (you could sprinkle some ground coriander over the vegetables before roasting).

ROASTED CARROT SOUP

Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 40 mins
Makes 4 adult servings
Freezable

750g carrots, roughly chopped
1 large onion, quartered
1 tbsp olive oil
1 litre vegetable or chicken stock
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
salt and pepper (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200C.

Lay the chopped carrots and onion in a single layer on a roasting tray. Drizzle over the oil, and season with salt and pepper (if using). Roast for 3o minutes or until the vegetables start to turn golden.

Heat the stock in a medium to large pot until lightly boiling. Turn the heat down to low, add the vegetables and thyme, and simmer for 10 minutes.

Take the soup off the heat and let it cool a little if you have the time. Purée until smooth. Check if you need to add any more seasoning.

Variations:

  • use a mixture of carrots and parsnips
  • sprinkle the vegetables with ground coriander before roasting (you can also add fresh coriander later)

Other Uses:

  • Mix through some cooked pasta (or rice) for a quick lunch

Broccoli, asparagus and pea soup

Until I started thinking about St Patrick’s Day, and what healthy green recipe I could come up with for you, I didn’t realise that most of the soups I’ve posted here are green! So I thought I’d make a super green soup, the greenest of green soups for this St Paddy’s Day.

broccoli, asparagus and pea soup

BROCCOLI, ASPARAGUS AND PEA SOUP

Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 20 mins
Makes 6 adult servings
Freezable

1 tbsp olive oil (or butter)
1 onion, diced
2 sticks celery, roughly chopped
300g broccoli, stalks and heads roughly chopped
300g asparagus, roughly chopped
1 cup frozen peas
1 litre hot vegetable or chicken stock
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
Salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over a medium heat. Add the onions and celery, and sauté for 5 minutes without letting the vegetables brown (turn down the heat if they do start to brown).

Add the broccoli stalks and about 750ml of stock to the pot. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Add the broccoli heads, asparagus, peas and thyme, cover and cook for another 5 minutes until the broccoli stalks and asparagus are tender.

Take off the heat and purée until smooth. Check if you need to add any seasoning.

Variations:

  • For older palettes, add a pinch of warming cayenne pepper as you sauté the onion and celery.

Are you eating (or drinking) anything special for St Patrick’s Day tomorrow?

Broccoli soup

Nicholas’ second birthday is quickly approaching (where did that last year go? Hang on, where did those two years go?), hence most of my time in the kitchen is party food planning and preparation. I’m trying very hard to reign my wild ideas in to something more easily achieveable!

But I am continuing my soup crusade and I’m loving the fact that Nicholas is often asking for soup, especially at dinner time. This really has been a successful way to get more veg into him.

Nicholas eating broccoli - look at those chubby fingers!

Initially Nicholas loved broccoli, and happily munched it as one of his first finger foods. That didn’t last long. The only way he eats it now is if he can’t pick it out of whatever new thing I’ve tried to ‘hide’ it in. He can’t get enough of smooth broccoli soup!

You can make a simple broccoli soup with broccoli, onion and potato, but when I came across a different take on the standard version which has white beans and ginger I knew I had to try it.  Melissa and Jasmine Hemsley’s broccoli, ginger and white bean soup uses the whole head of broccoli, fresh ginger for a healthy zing and white beans to boost the nutritional value even more. The two sisters are the founders of Hemsley & Hemsley, promoting healthy food.

I decreased the zing in the soup (for younger taste buds) by using ground ginger instead of fresh and omitting the lime juice,  but I did leave in the pinch of cayenne pepper and all 5 cloves of garlic (use your knowledge of your family’s tastebuds to decide, but I’d err on the side of caution initially with little ones). I also reduced the salt by leaving out the Tamari soy sauce. Next time I’ll try using fresh ginger, but a smaller piece than the original recipe. I love the extra thickness you get using some white beans (I think they’ll often be added to my soups from now on!).

This makes a large quantity of soup; perfect for freezing the leftovers for another week.

broccoli soup

BROCCOLI SOUP

Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 18-20 mins
Makes 6 adult servings
Freezable

600g broccoli
2 onions, roughly chopped
5 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1 tbsp vegetable oil (the original recipe uses coconut oil)
1 tsp ground ginger
a small pinch of cayenne peper
1 litre of good quality vegetable or water
1 400g can of white beans (I used butter beans but you could use cannellini or haricot beans), rinsed and drained
salt and pepper

In a large pot, gently fry the onion, garlic, ground ginger and cayenne pepper in the oil over a medium-low heat for 5 minutes.

Remove the heads from the broccoli and roughly chop, then roughly chop the stems.

Add the broccoli stalks and about 750ml of the stock to the pot. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 8-10 minutes.

Add the broccoli heads and white beans, cover and cook for another 5 mins until the broccoli stalks are tender.

Take off the heat and puree until smooth. Check if you need to add any seasoning.

Variations:

  • For older eaters, serve with a sprinking of toasted pine nuts or seeds.
  • Serve with a squeeze of lemon or lime juice.
  • Take out some of the broccoli heads before pureeing, then add for a chunkier soup.
  • Serve with a small piece of soft spreadable cheese swirled through.

Courgette (zucchini) soup

Yes, another soup recipe! Since returning to the cold weather of the UK I’ve been making soup at least once a week. It really is (for me anyway) an easy way of getting more vegetables into Nicholas’ diet. We’ve even sometimes been having a small mug of soup for an afternoon snack (often with a straw just for fun!).

Making soup is generally quick, only requiring a bit of chopping, a bit of stirring, usually followed by some blending. Then it’s ready and waiting in the fridge for the next few days. Any leftovers go in the freezer for another day.

As with all cooking, the fresher your ingredients the better the end taste will be. And with soup, although stock made from a stock cube (preferably low-salt if cooking for little ones) is absolutely fine, if you use a better quality stock (either bought or homemade) you will taste the difference.

You don’t need great knife skills when making blended soups. However, the smaller you chop the vegetables (especially the potatoes), the quicker they’ll take to cook.

courgette (zucchini) soup

COURGETTE (ZUCCHINI) SOUP

Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 15-20 mins
Makes 4 adult servings
Freezable

2 large or 3 medium-sized courgettes (zucchini), diced
1 onion, diced
1 medium-sized potato, diced
1 tbsp olive oil (or butter)
500ml hot vegetable or chicken stock
salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil in a medium-sized pot over a medium heat. Add the courgettes, onion and potato, and sauté for 5 minutes without letting the vegetables brown (turn the heat down if they do start to brown).

Pour in the stock, bring to the boil then turn the heat down to low and simmer until the vegetables are soft (about 10 minutes if you’ve diced them into small pieces).

Remove from the heat and purée until smooth. Add salt and pepper if needed.

To make it more special, serve with a dollop of yoghurt or cream and a sprinkling of chives.

Homemade baked beans

Homemade baked beans

Baked beans are a common side dish on children’s menus when eating out, and I’d definitely prefer then over the even more common chips, but they can be very high in salt and sugar, even the low-salt/low-sugar varieties. Making your own isn’t difficult. You’ll know exactly what your little one is eating, and they also freeze well so you can cook up a big batch.

Check your tinned tomatoes for other ingredients as some brands do have added salt and/or sugar. For babies under a year old, omit the golden syrup/honey and the Worcestershire sauce; you could also mash or puree the beans after cooking to make it easier for them to eat.

I added some diced yellow pepper for colour as well as to add another vegetable. You could add other finely chopped vegetables like carrot or celery.

HOMEMADE BAKED BEANS

Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 15 mins
Makes 4 – 6 toddler servings
Freezable

1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 yellow pepper, diced
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tin (about 400g) cannolini beans
1 tin (about 400g) harricot beans
1 tbsp golden syrup or honey
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
a pinch of salt

Heat the oil over a medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and pepper, and cook for about 5 mins until the onion and peppers are soft.

Add the tomatoes, beans, golden syrup and Worcestershire sauce. Stir and cook for another 10 mins until the sauce has reduced and thickened a little. Taste and add a pinch of salt if desired.

Homemade baked beans

Variations:

  • for older little ones, add some chopped bacon or pieces of sausage to the onion, garlic and pepper
  • add other vegetables such as carrots or celery

Other uses:

  • have as a baked potato filling
  • puree and use as a sauce over pasta or rice

Pesto sauce

While it’s one of my favourite pasta sauces, I hadn’t yet made pesto for Nicholas. I generally have it out of a jar, but I’m still rather anal about giving Nicholas ready-made food of any description, so I needed to make it from scratch.

It’s really not that difficult (it’s just blending the ingredients) and by making it, you can adjust the amount of cheese, the amount of oil and so on to your munchkin’s and your taste.

pesto sauce

Traditionally you should use a mortar and pestle to gently crush and mix the ingredients together, not rip the delicate basil leaves apart with the sharp metallic blades of a food processor. I use a mini food processor (don’t tell anyone).

I’ve read tips including to use a plastic blade in your food processor, and putting the bowl and blade in the fridge beforehand to cool down (you don’t want the blades to be heating up the sauce as you’re making it). The only tip I do follow is to blend on a slow speed and to use the pulse button rather than let the blades continuously spin (again it’s trying to avoid heating up the sauce).

Many traditional Italian recipes for pesto use some grated pecorino as well as parmesan. If I was making this just for adults, I’d substitute 2 tablespoons of the parmesan with pecorino, but as pecorino is a much saltier cheese, I’ve left it out altogether. I also haven’t used any salt in this child-friendly version; you could add a pinch with the garlic if you wanted.

PESTO SAUCE

Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 0 mins
Makes 4 adult servings
Keeps in the fridge for a couple of days (cover with a layer of olive oil)

1 clove of garlic
50g fresh basil leaves, washed and completely dry
1 tbsp pine nuts
6 tbsp grated parmesan
100ml extra virgin olive oil

In a small food processor, blend the clove of garlic until it’s creamy.

Add the basil leaves and process until the leaves are fairly evenly broken up.

Add the pine nuts then the parmesan, 1 spoonful at a time.

Slowly pour in the oil and blend until completely combined and creamy.

Variations:

  • walnuts are a traditional substitute for pine nuts, but you do need to skin them otherwise the sauce will be very bitter
  • substitute 2 tablespoons of the parmesan with grated pecorino if serving to adults

Other uses:

  • serve over a baked potato
  • use as a dip for vegetables

Seeing the pesto-covered farfalle pasta has given me an idea for another Christmas-inspired cute lunch, but you’re going to have to wait till tomorrow to see that!