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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?

Carrot, spinach and cumin muffins

It’s National Baking Week here in the UK and many people across the UK are baking up a storm to raise money for the wonderful Great Ormond Street Hospital.

I thought we’d try another of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s savoury muffin recipes to start our week of baking, as we all loved his courgette and pine nut muffins. And his combination of carrot, spinach and cumin didn’t disappoint! Savoury muffins are such as great finger food for little hands and mouths, and you really can pack them full of wonderfully nutritious vegetables.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Usually for me, savoury muffins just have to have some kind of cheese (is that just me?). Cheese makes pretty much everything taste better! Yet, amazingly, I didn’t miss the lack of cheese in these at all.

The only thing I’ve changed from Hugh’s original recipe is the amount of spinach. He uses 150g of spinach, while 100g was enough for me (and left me with spinach leaves to throw into other dishes for the rest of the week).

If it’s difficult finding the time to cook, try to toast the pumpkin seeds ahead of time, even the day before. If you don’t have pumpkin seeds (they add a fabulous extra texture to the muffins) you can use sunflower seeds or a mixture of the two (Hugh’s suggestion). You could also cook the onion mixture ahead of time.

The batter is quite a stiff mixture, but still produces lovely moist muffins which freeze wonderfully (great to have in the freezer to add to lunchboxes).

CARROT, SPINACH AND CUMIN MUFFINS

Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 18-20 mins
Makes 12
Freezable

80g unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus extra 10g for frying
1 onion, finely diced
2 tsp ground cumin
100g spinach, tough stalks removed and very finely shredded
250g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
275g whole milk yoghurt
150g carrots, grated
40g pumpkin seeds, toasted

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

Warm the 10g of butter in a large frying pan and sauté the onion with a pinch of salt until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes.

Add the cumin, stir for a minute, then add the spinach and stir until wilted and soft. Leave the mixture to cool.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt.

In a jug, whisk the cooled melted butter, eggs and yoghurt.

Pour the wet ingredients over the flour and stir with a spatula until just combined. Fold in the cooled onions and spinach, the grated carrot and seeds.

Spoon into the prepared cases and bake for about 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

How are you celebrating Baking Week?

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.

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?

 

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.