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Happiness & help in the kitchen – for under a fiver!

24 Jul
Since we moved house, my complete lack of internet and phone signal, and TV (I can almost hear your agonised gasps) have left me mithering in a yesteryear haze.  I have been unable to access my blog or emails, and shamefully, todays post has been lingering in my inbox in for a week. But, joy oh joy, a kindly neighbour has taken pity on me, and allowed me access to their wi-fi, until I can have some 21st century technology installed!
The lovely Michelle at BabyDinesOut, (the only guide for eating out with babies and tots) has kindly prepared this post for me, and I have to say that after reading it, I ordered a chef’n’peeler straight away. Anything that keeps the little ones amused and helping with the dinner preparation is a winner in my book.
So, over to Michelle, and her talented almost 4-year-old sous chef.
I love cooking with my nearly four-year old.  Sharing the tastes, aromas and colours of fabulous ingredients and recipes is a real delight.Being a normal nearly four-year old, he naturally wants to be into everything and do everything himself.  He has mastered my beloved Kitchen Aid mixer for cake mixing.  He can stir, mix and (with a small, not too sharp knife) chop.
When it comes to preparing veggies, though, I never let him use the peeler.  Too sharp, too dangerous. The problem is that as soon as I intervene he gets disappointed and loses interest.Then I saw the Chef’n Palm Peeler on an American blog called Cooking with My Kid. Great, I thought, it’ll only be available in the states and cost me a fortune to have delivered, never mind the import duty.  Then I found it on Amazon.  It was a Mummyinahurry-worthy bargain £3.25 plus postage.
The nearly four-year old couldn’t wait to get his mitts (or palms!) on it when it arrived.  As you can see from the pictures he peeled carrots perfectly from the very first time he used it. Peeled perfectly and safely.  Result. Child re-motivated: happy child = happy mummy.

Getting to grips with the peeler

Concentrating on the carrots

Perfectly peeled carrots

Happy Eggs and Fabulous Fishcakes (Day 3 of The spendthrift’s challenge)

20 May

Keeping a close and slightly anxious eye on the challenge budget, last night I decided to bring the bread maker out of retirement, and before I went to bed put in the usual flour, yeast and water and left it to work its magic while I dreamed of a night of unbroken sleep. It was just a dream!  

This morning I descended the stairs, half asleep, nose in the air like the bisto kid,  inhaling the irresistable aroma of freshly baked bread. Every time I use the bread maker I am struck by its genius, and wonder why I don’t use it all the time.  

Breadmaker Bread

 

Dippy Egg and Soldiers

 

LUNCH – Dippy Eggs and Soldiers  

The fresh bread was a helpful head start to our quick and thrifty lunch of ‘dippy eggs’ (soft-boiled eggs to the uninitiated). This is one of my favourite midweek lunches with the children and is on our menu at least twice a week. Quick, easy, nutritious. A sure-fire winner for any busy person.  

The Egg Cooker

 

I am, I confess, a bit of a kitchen gadget collector, but in my defence, I only keep the things I use. One of my favourite and most used pieces of kit is the egg cooker that I bought from Lakeland last year. I am eggstatic about it! While I know that in theory, it doesnt take a genius to boil an egg, I used to always get distracted and get the timings wrong. Since the egg cooker found a home here we always have perfectly cooked eggs.  

Now for a little word about the eggs. For eggs that I am poaching, or soft boiling, or putting in a salad, I favour those from Clarence Court above all others. We usually have their pretty pastel coloured Cotswold Legbar eggs, or alternatively Burford Browns. They are unrivalled by any other brand I have tried. They have the most incredible deep orangey yellow yolk. They tend to induce a fit of nostalgia, reminding me of the eggs my Gran used to serve up in my childhood.  

I prefer to use freshly baked bread (from a bakery or the breadmaker) for the ‘soldiers’. With butter. Lots of butter.  

Smoked Mackerel Fishcakes

 

   

DINNER – Smoked mackerel fishcakes  

My fridge was looking very bare this morning, and I was starting to suffer from ‘almost empty fridge’ anxiety. A quick chat with a good friend, Rita, gave me the inspiration for using up the half  bowl of mash left over from Monday. Smoked mackerel fishcakes. Cheap, tasty, and full of good stuff.  

A quick dash up to Sainsburys after lunch found me in possession of 252g of mackerel for only £1.87. Could I be any more thrifty?!!  

I can honestly say I have never made these before. I had gained a rough idea of the framework for Rita’s recipe, then adapted that to suit the fridge contents. It took about 10 minutes in total to make them, then probably another 10 minutes or so to fry them in the pan.  

INGREDIENTS  

Fishcake Ingredients

 

  • 560g cooked mash
  • 250g smoked mackerel
  • 10g wilting chopped parsley (the fresh unwilting kind will do just as well!)
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 dessert spoons chopped chives
  • 2 dessert spoons crème fraîche
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • breadcrumbs (from freezer). If you don’t have any, or are short of time, you can miss these out
  • 1 egg, beaten with a dash of milk
  • I almost forgot. I had half a cooked salmon fillet from yesterday left over so I added that in too)

METHOD  

I get the kids to wash their hands while I am gathering the ingredients together. They take a while and it gives me a chance to get everything out before they start bickering!  

The mix

 

  1. Take skin off fish, and using fingers check for bones. Then rub the fish between your fingers until it flakes.
  2. Put fish in large bowl with mash (or split between 2 bowls if you have 2 kids to save arguments)
  3. Mix the mustard with the crème fraîche, then add and mix to the potato/fish mixture
  4. Combine all the additional ingredients, tasting as you go
  5. Shape into patties, then dip in egg and coat with breadcrumbs
  6. Fry in a little oil and butter on a gentle/medium heat for 5 mins each side.

This made 11 medium-sized patties. Enough to fill a few hungry stomachs.  

I served this with broccoli and cucumber for the kids. Mr Mummyinahurry and I ate ours with the remains of the spinach and beans from Monday, some beetroot (the vacuum packed kind) , a couple of lemon wedges and a generous dollop of mayo.  These freeze well so you can always make a double batch and freeze them ready for a quick supper another day.  

Fishcakes, bean salad and beetroot

 

The children loved making these, and despite my reservations about the overly fishy taste, they literally licked their bowls clean when we had finished the prep, then ate all their dinner and asked for seconds.  

So, day 3, a great success. But the kitty is not looking so good, and I am wondering if I can really do this….  

  

 

Wake up and smell the coffee….

30 Apr

Since my teenage years I have had a caffeine addiction that I have been unable to break. It started with diet coke, then moved on to fresh coffee. For a few years I tried to fight the addition, with no success, so now I simply embrace it, and enjoy my morning fix.    

I drank strong coffee all through my pregnancies (which these days attracts similar looks to a pregnant lady drinking a g&t or smoking), while breastfeeding and beyond. In fact, my son was such a little wriggler that unknown to me, the other mums in my ante-natal group wondered if he would calm down once I stopped breastfeeding! (He didn’t – he was crawling at 6 months).    

I probably have had more coffee machines and coffee related gadgets than most people I know. So I have pretty much tested everything on the market, from the bottom of the range plunger, to my top of the range Elektra machine.    

It is possible to achieve coffee shop quality in the comfort of your own home, at a fraction of the cost that you would pay on the high street. And while the weather is good, what could be nicer than relaxing in the garden with a freshly made cappuccino or latte?    

Now the holy grail of home-made coffee (to me at least) is getting the perfect foamy milky froth on top of the coffee. I worked out many years ago that a cafetière did the job just as well. But more recently I discovered the bialetti milk frother. This is so consistently successfully at creating a good froth that I bought a job lot to hand out as gifts. And it complies with the house rule that it is dishwasher proof.    

Then, there is the business of making the coffee.    

At the bargain basement end of the spectrum is the standard cafetière/plunger coffee. I dont like the glass versions of these, as I have a knack of breaking them. So I discovered a fantastic stainless steel version. Insulated so it keeps the coffee hot, and dishwasher proof too. And mine cost under £20 at Amazon. John Lewis sell one that looks remarkably similar but with a brand name and it costs a whopping £55.  I kid you not.    

Stove top espresso makers are also a great budget choice. I would recommend buying a large size. Mine makes 6 or 8 espressos I think but in reality makes only 2 or 3 cups of coffee. I bought mine from the monmouth coffee company, but these are widely available.    

Moving up a price band is the hand-held handpresso.After watching the u-tube video of how this works I just had to have one (essentially for holidays when the quality of the coffee cannot always be guaranteed). If you want a traditional style espresso, but don’t have the room for a machine, then this is the one for you.    

Next up are the capsule coffee machines. Simple, generally quite small and make consistently good coffee. I do have issue with a wide range of these, as they tie you to a brand of coffee made by a company that I have issues with. But last year lavazza launched the a modo mio machine that I purchased for my sister as a 40th present. She loves it.They cost about £120 and come in a range of colours. Again they are widely available. The one drawback with these is that the capsules are quite expensive, so if you drink a lot of coffee it can get a bit pricey, but still considerably cheaper than a coffee shop.    

At the more expensive end of the market are the automatic or semi-automatic machines.. I have the Elektra Nivola which I purchased for its Italian good looks and the fantastic coffee it makes. This is not a cheap option, and it expensive to fix if it goes wrong, but if you love your coffee, then I can recommend it. Its drawbacks are that it is a bit fiddly and messy. In fact, if I was to choose again now, I think I would go for a bean to cup machine, which is pretty much at the top of the list for any coffee connoisseur.    

My friend Victoria owns a magimix robot machine. This is a bean to cup machine. To the unitiated that means that you put the beans in, and it grinds them freshly before making your coffee. In the interest of quality control I have tried coffees from this machine. She has also reported that it is very tidy and clean and quick to use which I can’t honestly say for my good-looking but slightly high maintenance machine.    

If, like many people, you buy your coffee from one of the high street outlets, you could end up spending a minimum of £50 a month. That is the equivalent of a few bottles of good wine, or a meal out, or a couple of nights at the movies.  So, my tip of the day is make your coffee at home, and with the savings you have made treat yourself to a little indulgence elsewhere.    

My morning cappuccino. Bliss

 

My Elektra Nivola

Microplane Magic

28 Apr

In case you are wondering how I managed to get the grated parmesan looking quite so professionally fluffy, it is all thanks to my Microplane grater. Almost every guest we have had who has tried this out has asked where we got it and has bought one. Even my mother-in-law who can be very hard to please!!

I first discovered them at a cookery demonstration many years ago. They make any sort of grating almost effortless.

The first one I bought had a rubber handle and a plastic frame. After many washes in the dishwasher, the rubber deteriorated and the plastic casing began to crack (probably something to do with the fact that I think it is not dishwasher proof). So I replaced it with the current all stainless steel version, which is in my opinion, nothing short of fabulous.

I bought mine from a kitchen shop, but they are widely available on the High St, and at the online shopping store of choice for this mummyinahurry, Amazon.

If you want to know the science behind the magic, they explain all here

http://microplaneintl.com/english/mpprocess.htm

My stainless steel microplane grater

Pizza Pronto

24 Apr

Today has been one of those days when I have quite successfully done nothing much at all for the entire day.  Tea time for the children was looming, and I couldn’t even be bothered to call for a takeaway. That is where little store cupboard staples like tortilla wraps come in. Perfect for packed lunches and, as it turns out, little pizzas. These are so quick, in the time it takes you to choose from the takeaway menu, they will be ready for the oven.

We are lucky enough to have a couple of pizza stones. I cannot recommend them enough. I don’t just use them for pizzas. They are fantastic for baking any type of pastries on and we have ended up using ours so much more that I expected.

I find that the trick with these is to get the oven as hot as possible and to heat the stones before you use them.  Then the pizzas themselves will usually cook in under 5 minutes, so keep a close eye on them.

A mistake that I frequently made in the past was to put far too much topping on my pizzas. This meant they were always a bit too gloopy and the base stayed soggy. I find that by keeping the toppings light, the pizzas will be crisp and light and ready in a flash.

Todays toppings were a random selection of whatever we had left in the fridge and the whole operation, including help from the toddlers took around 5 minutes. We had fresh pesto wtih tomatoes and mozzarella, salami and mozzarella, and my personal favourite red onion chutney with halloumi. I love the contrast of the sweet chutney with the saltiness of the halloumi. And it works very well with a sprinkle of rocket on top when you get it out of the oven.

A drizzle of olive oil on top before it enters the oven will ensure the finished product glistens invitingly when it is golden, crisp and ready to eat.

METHOD

Heat oven to 230 degrees and leave pizza stones in to warm up.

Break open a packet of ready-made tortillas

Rummage in the fridge for cheese/ham/veggies/pesto/chutney for pizza topping

Assemble to taste. Go easy on the toppings.

Place on pizza stones and cook for about 5 minutes

Pizza Pronto

Breakfast Pancakes

24 Apr

There are some days when only carbs will do. After a late night out (and possibly a bit more wine than was sensible), followed by several toddler makings and a 6am start, I was hankering for a big carb fix to get me up and running.

I love making these american style breakfast pancakes. They are so easy and quick to make, and popular with all the family.

These were on the table and ready to eat in under 15 minutes, and devoured (by me at least) less than 5 minutes after that. Actually 14 mins 38 seconds to be precise. That timescale included help with the mixing from a toddler, chopping of banana and setting of table, and the cooking of the pancakes of course.

The recipe I tend to follow is that belonging to Nigella Lawson in Nigella Express. You can find it at a number of locations on the internet, including Nigella’s Website and BBC Good Food

Every now and then I make up a batch of the dry mix as directed, then it is ready to go with some melted butter, an egg and some milk. Not exactly an arduous task.

I have to confess I hankered after the pancake warmer used by Nigella for quite some time, and eventually found it on the net. I couldn’t stop myself from buying it. It is fabulous. It keeps the pancakes warm for ages, and the steam vents on the top stop them getting too soggy.

To speed up the process I do tend to use 2 pans at once (dishwasher proof, naturally) then the cooking part usually takes only a few minutes.

I have yet to bother with Nigella’s suggestion of a blueberry maple syrup on top Maple syrup and blueberries, both not exactly cheap, and to me it just seems like a step too far.

I tend to plump for chopped banana with a drizzle of maple syrup. I prefer the smoky sweet taste to honey. Whereas the kids of course favour Nutella, or lemon and sugar. Brunch anyone?

In the pan

Ready to serve

Mmmmmm