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Cute Lunches: pizza bears

I haven’t posted a cute lunch in many months. I try to pack Nicholas a cute lunch when he goes to nursery twice a week, but usually only manage to take a quick photo of them (if I remember!) with my phone.

I’m sure it will get easier, but it stills takes me lots of time (and thought) to come up with a cute meal idea, although investing in some cute cutters and edible ink pens make even the most boring sandwich instantly better. I’m constantly in awe of the cute lunch makers whose blogs I follow.

My inspiration for these pizza bears came from a photo Bento, Monsters posted on Instagram. Finally something I could attempt! Unfortunately when I got our jar of black olives out of the fridge they had to be thrown away so I had to come up with another idea instead of having Bento, Monsters’ lovely shiny black noses, but I think they turned out quite well.

bento pizza bearsI used my Super Quick Cheat’s Pizza recipe as a starting point, cutting out bear shaped-heads from a tortilla wrap (much easier to use kitchen scissors rather than a knife). I then added homemade spinach pesto (recipe coming soon), some cooked ham and grated cheddar and popped them into the oven for a few minutes until the cheese was melting and the bases starting to turn golden.

As they cooked, I cut out circles of cheddar for the bears’ muzzles, and cut out noses and eyes from a slice of tomato. I added them to the pizzas and then cooked them a little more (only about a minute).

Now the only thing we’re missing is Goldilocks!

Any other ideas, apart from olives, as to what to use for the bear’s features?

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.

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?!?).

Ham, Cheese and Veggie Muffins

I was very happy to discover this new blog (The Diary of a Fussy Eater). Amy’s a working mum of a fussy eater who’s taking a stand to get her boy to eat more healthily. If, like me, you’re struggling with your own fussy eater, I’d definitely recommend checking out Amy’s recipes and techniques.

ham, cheese and veggie muffins

Amy’s Ham and Cheese Mini Muffins are super easy and quick to make. I made them with Nicholas pretty much immediately after seeing the recipe and my fussy eater scoffed three of them as soon as they were cool enough to eat for his afternoon snack. Win!

I made a couple of little changes to her wonderful recipe. I used wholemeal self-raising flour (she uses plain flour with the addition of a couple of tablespoons of wheat bran) and I added some veg (I just couldn’t help myself!). I think you can easily get away with adding some grated vegetables as the overall flavour is still ham and cheese which kids usually love.

Like me, Amy isn’t a fan of hiding vegetables as it doesn’t help little ones learn to enjoy eating their veg. BUT that certainly doesn’t mean I don’t do it. I think the important thing is to keep offering them an assortment of vegetables, cooked in different ways to keep trying to pique their interest.

I make these muffins with Nicholas and point out all the ingredients as we add them, so I don’t think the veg can be called hidden! Our favourite grated vegetable to add is carrot, but courgette (zucchini) has gone down well and also parsnip.

This recipe is also great in that it’s very ‘forgiving’. The amounts don’t have to be exact and we’ve also made them successfully tipping everything into the bowl together (egg unbeaten), mixing until combined, so perfect for getting your munchkins involved (which is also a good way to encourage them to eat).

The muffins freeze very well and are also great in lunchboxes. And I’ve scoffed quite a few myself!

Thank you Amy for helping me get more vegetables into my own fussy eater 🙂

ham, cheese and veggie muffins

HAM, CHEESE AND VEGGIE MUFFINS

Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 10-15 mins
Makes 12 small muffins
Freezable

1 cup of wholemeal (or plain) self-raising flour
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
100g cooked ham, sliced
1/2 cup milk
60g butter, melted and cooled
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/3 cup finely grated vegetables such as carrot, zucchini or parsnip
Salt and pepper (optional)

Preheat your oven to 200C. Lightly spray or grease a 12-hole muffin tin.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the flour, cheese and ham.

In a jug or small bowl, whisk together the milk, butter and egg then stir through the grated vegetable. Season with salt and pepper if desired.

Pour the wet mixture into the dry ingredients and mix until just combined (mixing too much can make your muffins dense and chewy).

Divide the mixture evenly between the muffin tin holes. Bake for 10-15 mins until golden and cooked through when tested with a skewer.

Beetroot, feta and thyme muffins

Beetroot is one of those vegetables I often think about using but never do. Perhaps it’s because growing up, beetroot only came from a can, precooked and sliced, its bright juice ready to stain as much clothing as possible on the way to your mouth. I was never a fan of its earthy flavour.

Well I can finally say I have cooked with it, although I took the easy option this time of buying it in a vacuum sealed pack already cooked (next time, next time). And I also managed to come out the other end stain-free!

Beetroot is a very good source of potassium and manganese, but while it’s very low in fat, it’s also high in natural sugars.

savoury beetroot, feta and thyme muffins

I paired the earthy flavour with feta and thyme for these savoury muffins. Feta and beetroot are a classic combination; goat’s cheese would also work well. I used a mixture of white and wholemeal flour, but you can certainly use just white flour if you prefer.

I was very happy to see my muffins still had a lovely pink hue on top when I took them from the oven (although you can’t really see that in my photos). But when I broke one apart, the inside was a normal muffin brown colour (can anyone enlighten me about this?).

BEETROOT, FETA AND THYME MUFFINS

Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 25-30 mins
Makes 12 regular-sized muffins

200g self-raising white flour
100g self-raising wholemeal flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
100g feta, crumbled or diced
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
200g cooked beetroot (1 large beetroot), finely grated
2 eggs, lightly beaten
210ml milk
90ml vegetable oil
1/2 tsp salt (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200C. Either lightly spray a 12-hole muffin tray with cooking spray or line with paper cases.

Mix the white and wholemeal flours, baking powder, feta and thyme in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl or jug, combine the grated beetroot, eggs, milk, oil and salt (if using). Add this to the flour mixture, mixing until just combined (mixing as little as possible keeps your muffins light in texture).

Divide the mixture evenly between the 12 muffin holes.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until cooked through when tested with a skewer.

Tip out onto a wire cooling rack.

Savoury beetroot, feta and thyme muffins

Variations:

  • use goat’s cheese instead of feta.
  • if you don’t have any fresh or dried thyme, substitute with chives or parsley.

Tip: to avoid getting beetroot juice all over your kitchen when grating it, put your grater into a good-sized bowl to catch the juice and wayward pieces as you grate.