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Cute Lunches: Taco Monster

Happy Halloween everyone! While I made this snack for Halloween, monster-loving little ones would love it at any time of the year.

Halloween bentoI carefully drew eyes and a nose on a taco shell (I definitely need to work on drawing scary features!) then filled it with ham, cheese and baby leaf spinach. I cut teeth from a slice of cheddar and tucked some of them under the filling and stuck the others, using dots of mayonnaise, to the top of the taco shell (serve before they have a chance to fall off!). As a treat, Nicholas also had some ghost crisps.

How are you and your family celebrating Halloween?

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.

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?

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?

 

Back to school

It’s ‘back to school’ time for many families and after the summer holidays it can be difficult getting back into a routine. To make sending your munchkins out the door with some good food in their bellies a little easier, I wanted to remind you of some ideas I came up with for Mindful Mum last year.

My favourite is still the sunny bread. Click on the photo to see my other ideas.

Back to school breakfasts

What’s your favourite school day breakfast for you and your family?

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.