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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?

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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.

Spinach muffins

Yes, you read correctly, spinach muffins. And they’re sweet. I’ll let you have a minute to get your head around that.

Still can’t imagine what they’d taste like? Don’t worry, neither could I when I came across the recipe by Weelicious. I’m still on my mission to get more vegetables into Nicholas, so I thought I’d continue my attack from a sweet angle too.

I’ve made two batches of these now, modifying the original recipe both times. Honestly, they’re a strange taste sensation and I certainly won’t be waking up any time soon thinking ‘Mmmm, I fancy a spinach muffin.’ But I made them for Nicholas not me.

Reading the numerous comments for the original recipe, many people who’ve made them say you can’t taste the spinach and that they taste like plain vanilla muffins. For me the spinach taste is strong, and its metallic flavour in combination with the vanilla is probably what confuses my taste buds. But I made them for Nicholas not me.

The original recipe has applesauce and sugar. I replaced the sugar with honey to be healthier (I honestly can’t see the point in packing a muffin with spinach goodness if you then add sugar, sorry). I also left out the salt, as just reading that in the ingredient list made my taste buds apprehensive, and again why add it to your munchkin’s food if you probably don’t need to (after tasting them I think adding the salt would make the clash between sweet and savoury too much).

For my second batch I also left out the baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) as I really don’t like the taste of it in muffins. It didn’t affect the texture and the taste was better. Yes, for me, but I made them for Nicholas not me!

Nicholas has eaten them but without gusto, however he hasn’t been completely well this week. We’re going to the joint first birthday party of Nicholas’ best friend at the weekend. It’s a party with all the babies from his antenatal group, so I will go armed with my spinach muffins and see how they go down with a pack of one-year-olds.

SPINACH MUFFINS

Prep time: 5 mins
Cook time: 15 mins
Makes 12 small muffins
Freezable

1 cup fresh spinach, packed tightly
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce (apple puree)
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
Extra vegetable oil, for greasing muffin tin

Preheat oven to 175C and grease your muffin tin with a little vegetable oil.

Put the spinach, applesauce, egg, vanilla, honey and vegetable oil in a food processor, and puree until the spinach has broken up into small pieces and the mixture has combined.

Sift the flour and baking powder into a medium-sized bowl.

Pour the spinach mixture into a large bowl and carefully fold in the flour mixture, mixing just enough to combine the ingredients (mixing too much will make your muffins heavy).

Divide your mixture evenly between the 12 muffin holes.

Bake for 12-15 mins until a skewer comes out clean.

Spinach lasagne

Nicholas is a big meat eater (not surprising if you know his parents!). He usually happily shares his food when asked, but if it happens to be some meat he’s particularly enjoying, then he’s more likely to shovel everything into his mouth as quickly as possible then gesture with his hands it’s all gone (what a shame!).

During our holidays it was easy to feed him meat, but less easy to get him to eat a good amount of vegetables. And with the nice weather at the weekend, we had two days of barbecues at friends’ with Nicholas happily devouring hamburgers and chorizo sausages. Vegetables? Not interested mummy, more MEAT.

So my objective for this week was to get as many vegies in him as possible!

My vegetarian lasagne is just a simplified lasagne that’s not too time-consuming to prepare or cook. Looking for a dish small enough to fit just one sheet of lasagna, I had the brainwave of using a loaf tin and mine was the perfect size. Any ovenproof dish would be fine though.

I used spinach, yellow pepper (capsicum), mushrooms and onion in my vegetable layer to pack in lots of nutrients (and don’t you just love the bright yellow and green colours?). You can use pretty much whatever vegetables you like or have on hand.

I remember my first attempts as a uni student making lasagne… not great. I didn’t understand the concept of the dry pasta sheets needing moisture to soften and cook. I thought the edges I didn’t cover with sauce would get nice and crunchy. Well they did, but they were also raw! It’s not rocket science, just make sure when you’re spooning the sauce over the pasta that the sheet is completely covered.

SPINACH LASAGNA

Prep time: 30-35 mins
Cook time: 20-25 mins
Makes 4 toddler servings (or 2 toddler servings & 1 adult serving)
Freezable

1/2 onion, diced
100g mushrooms, chopped
1 small yellow pepper (capsicum), diced
75g fresh spinach, roughly chopped
1 tsp olive oil
50g butter
2 tbsp plain flour
2 cups milk
A pinch of salt (optional)
A pinch of nutmeg
3 uncooked lasagna sheets
100g mozzarella di bufala (or any fresh mozzarella)
A handful of grated parmesan

Heat your oven to 220C.

In a medium frying pan, heat the olive oil over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 2-3 mins.

Add the mushrooms and pepper. Cover the pan and turn the heat down a little to med-low. Cook until the onion is transparent and the vegetables are soft, stirring occasionally.

Add the spinach and stir until it just starts to wilt. Take the pan off the heat.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a med-low heat. Add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon for 1 minute (this cooks the flour to avoid having a raw flour taste in your sauce).

Add about 1/4 cup of the milk to the flour paste and use a whisk to stir to get rid of any lumps immediately. Turn the heat up to medium and gradually whisk in the rest of the milk. Keep whisking until the sauce thickens to a runny custard consistency (not too thick), making sure it doesn’t boil.

Take the white sauce off the heat and add a pinch of salt (if using) and a good pinch of nutmeg. Mix and taste, adding more salt and/or nutmeg if necessary.

In a loaf tin, big enough to hold one lasagna sheet, spoon a few tablespoons of sauce into the bottom (just enough to cover it). Place a sheet of lasagna on top. Cover with half of the vegetable ‘sauce’ and then about one third of the remaining white sauce (making sure the pasta sheet is completely covered). Pull apart one third of the mozzarella into chunks with your fingers and sprinkle it over.

Add another layer of pasta, vegetables, white sauce and mozzarella.

Finish with the third sheet of pasta, top with the last of the white sauce, the remaining mozzarella and sprinkle over the parmesan.

Cook for 20-25 mins until the top is lovely and golden and the pasta is cooked (a knife or skewer will easily pierce through from the top to the bottom). If the top is getting too golden, cover with foil and continue cooking.

Variations:

  • use any combination of vegetables in the vegetable sauce
  • add long slices of lightly fried courgette (zucchini) or aubergine (egg plant) under your vegetable sauce
  • use dollops of ricotta instead of the mozzarella

Ricotta and spinach pasta sauce

I love a quick pasta sauce for Nicholas. If I have ricotta in the fridge, I’ll add a tablespoon or two to cooked pasta and mix it together with a sprinkling of nutmeg; it’s a meal ready in a few minutes.

My favourite addition to this basic ricotta pasta sauce is spinach. Spinach is packed with almost every vitamin and nutrient we need, so it’s the perfect vegetable to add to our munchkins’ meals.

I wilt the spinach by pouring over boiling water (see my Super Easy and Fast Creamy Spinach Pasta Sauce for some photos of the process), but you can wilt it quickly in a frying pan if you prefer.

RICOTTA AND SPINACH PASTA SAUCE

Prep time: 5-10 mins (depending on how long it takes for your kettle to boil!)
Cook time: 0 mins 🙂
Makes 1 toddler serving

1 large handful of fresh spinach
1 tbsp ricotta
A pinch of nutmeg
A pinch of salt and pepper (optional)

Fill your kettle with water and turn it on. Put the spinach in a colander.

Holding the colander over the sink, pour over half the boiling water. Use a wooden spoon to push down the spinach to drain it. Pour over the rest of the boiling water and again drain the spinach as much as you can.

Chop the spinach and put it in a small bowl. Add the ricotta and nutmeg (and salt and pepper, if using) and mix.

Stir through cooked pasta.

Variations:

  • If you have more time, put the cooked pasta and sauce into an ovenproof bowl, sprinkle with parmesan and bake at 180C for approximately 10 mins until golden brown

Other uses:

  • serve over rice
  • use as a crepe filling

Super easy and fast creamy spinach pasta sauce

This is one of the easiest meals to cook. Not counting the pasta you serve it over, there are two ingredients. Two. What could be more basic than that?!

I can’t remember where I came across this fabulous way of wilting spinach. It probably is just as quick to wilt it in a pan if I really think about it, but doing it this way feels like it’s much quicker. And you don’t have a pan to wash. Try it and if it seems quicker then that’s my time-saving tip for you for the day!

To keep it super easy and fast I haven’t weighed the spinach, just grabbed a handful. You could use any type of cream (double is what I had in the fridge) and the amount you use really depends on how creamy you want the sauce. Exact measurements aren’t important here. Just relax and go with your cooking instincts.

SUPER EASY AND FAST CREAMY PASTA SAUCE

Prep time: 5 mins
Cook time: 0 mins 🙂
Makes 1 toddler serving

1 large handful of fresh spinach
1-2 tbsp double cream

Fill up your kettle and turn it on. Put the spinach in a colander. Pour over half of the boiling water holding the colander over the sink. Push the spinach down with a spoon to drain it. Pour the rest of the boiling water over and drain as much as you can.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chop the spinach and put it in a small bowl. Add 1 tbsp cream and mix to combine. Add more cream if you wish.

Serve over cooked pasta.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Variations: none this time because any variation I can think of makes this a bit more time-consuming and we don’t want that!

Other uses:

  • serve over rice
  • use as a crepe filling

Do you have any time-saving tips to share?