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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

Raspberry and White Chocolate Muffins. An essential component of your five-a-day?!

5 Jul

You know you want me!!

Today’s mouth-watering and seasonal recipe is provided by one of my new blogging friends, Sian, who is helping me out while I am wondering how we are going to get packed up by this time next week! Over to you Sian.

Hi Mummy in a Hurry readers, I’m Sian from Pumpkin and Piglet. Firstly I would like to thank Natalie for having me here. I’ve been reading Natalie’s blog for a while now and love her tips and quick, easy but yummy recipes so it’s a real pleasure to be here!

One of my passions is baking. For me, there is nothing more comforting than a big slice of cake, a fluffy, moist muffin or a lovely cupcake with a sweet swirl of frosting. Sometimes though, time is limited and spending too long in the kitchen is not an option.

For those days, muffins are a good answer. No faffing about making sure everything is combined just so, quick to bake and scrumptious. If time is seriously tight then you can weigh out the ingredients the day before, dry in one bowl and the wet in a jug covered in the fridge, ready to mixed together and taken out of the oven within half an hour.

There as many flavours of muffins as you can think of but I would like to share a recipe with you for Raspberry and White Chocolate muffins. This recipe is adapted from Nigella Lawson’s How To Be A Domestic Goddess.

Raspberry and White Chocolate Muffins

INGREDIENTS

  • 60g butter, melted
  • 200g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 150g caster sugar
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • Approx 120ml milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 150g raspberries
  • 100g white chocolate chunks

METHOD

Preheat oven to 200oC and line a 12 hole muffin tin with paper cases.

In a largish bowl combine the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, sugar, salt and zest.

In a measuring jug pour in the lemon juice and then enough milk to come up to the 200 mil level (it will curdle, this is fine), then beat in the egg and butter.

Pour into the dry ingredients and stir briefly. The batter should scarcely be combined and should appear lumpy. Don’t worry if there are still streaks of flour.

Fold in the raspberries and chocolate, dollop into the muffin cases and bake for 25 minutes.

Once baked, leave in the tray for 5 minutes and then transfer to a rack to finish cooling.

There you go, 12 muffins! They are best eaten the same day but will keep for another day in an air tight tin.

Birthday Party for a 4 Year Old Boy. Part 3. The sundries, the party bags, the entertainment…

23 Jun

I’m not sure when children’s birthday parties turned from a very easy to organise group playdate (in my childhood), to the angst ridden ‘ I have to throw my child the best party ever’ type of even that sends even the most cool and collected mother into overdrive.  I don’t recall the party bags of my childhood containing much more than a bag of sweets, a balloon and a piece of cake, yet now parents are so anxious that their child’s party is success, I have known mothers that have spent several hundreds of pounds, paying for entertainers, handmade luxury cakes and party bags containing gifts that rival the type of gifts the child might receive. 

So now, I would like to urge you to quell those fears that might send you on a midnight supermarket extravaganza, take a deep breath, and stop the madness!  Easier said than done I know.  I too have ‘over gifting’ and ‘over-catering’ urges, that I have to keep in check.  But it is possible. And lets face it, all the children usually want, is to run around together and a bit of chocolate. 

Party Invite

 

Invites. We made ours this year. Not because I am a mad keen crafting mummy. Simply because I couldn’t find invites in our chosen theme (Disney cars) and a had a box of stickers and an afternoon to kill. The recipients loved them, especially as each invite contained their name.  A morning occupied and a job completed. Result! 

The Party Table

 

Firstly the decor of the table. I really am not keen on being over-themed at a party. You know. Your child likes a toy. You buy the tablecloth, the plates, the cups, the hats etc. To my eye, it’s all a bit busy. I don’t mind buying one or two things, but it can add a lot to your bill to get everything in the one theme, and once the table is laden with food, nobody can see all that branding anyway.  I prefer to opt for plain old paper banqueting roll (more eco than plastic), then maybe one thing (like plates) in the party theme. 

Balloons. I usually order 2 or 3 helium balloons that i use to make a birthday ‘throne’ for the party girl or boy, then a big bag of multi-coloured balloons (or single colour theme if you prefer). 

Party games 

For Davids party this year I was lucky enough to have good weather so most of the games were abandoned as the kids played in the garden.  But just in case you are not so lucky, here are a few ideas aside from the ubiquitous (and almost compulsory) pass the parcel. 

  • Ice your own biscuit. Buy plain biscuits (I like shortbread), then leave icing and sprinkles on the table for the kids to decorate their own
  • Ice your own cupcake. As above but with buttercream icing and plain un-iced cupcakes
  • Make an edible  necklace. Use liquorice as the string, and thread with cheerios or hula hoops
  • Face painting. Rope in older children and any available adults to paint the childrens faces.  I am pretty hopeless at it, yet the kids still love it.
  • Treasure hunt. Either make a trail with clues for older ones, or simply hide fun-size sweets then get the kids to find them
  • Pin the tail on the donkey. An old scarf can be the blindfold, and you can draw the donkey on some paper in advance with the kids
  • My childhood favourite. The mars bar game. Get the children into small groups of about 6. Lay out hat scarf, gloves etc. Also lay out a chocolate bar (like a mars) on a plate with a knife, and fork. Get the children to throw the dice in turn. When they get a six, they have to dress up, then cut into the chocolate bar before they can eat that piece. While they are racing to do this, the others furiously throw the dice in turn, trying to get a six. If they are successful, the person dressing up has to stop and pass the clothes on to the new winner.  This game kept us occupied for hours as kids.

Party Bags 

Like I said, these seem to have got out of hand.  While I admire the generosity of some parents, I can’t also help feeling some guilt about the amount of landfill these bags filled with 5 minute gifts often contain.  I therefore tend to try to opt for something that might get some use before ending up in the bin.  I also hate plastic bags, which again will end up in landfill. So I either get paper bags that we decorate ourselves, or this year I simply wrapped the party ‘prizes’ in plain paper and decorated with stickers. 

One good option (although more popular with parents than kids I fear) is books. If you choose a retailer like The Book People, and buy a set of books that you split up, add a balloon, some chocolate and the cake, and you have organised a lovely, useful and fairly eco-friendly gift. 

This year I put the following in Davids Party presents 

  • Colouring book (in party theme)
  • Bubbles (also in party theme)
  • Balloon
  • Kinder chocolate and biscuit

Probably not the most exciting gift in the world, but hopefully one that might get some use and some smiles, before retiring to the landfill site. So that’s me done. Luckily our party season is now over until February, so I can relax, and pick up a few more ideas for next year from other busy mums. 

Please post your thoughts and comments too. I am always on the lookout for new ideas and shortcuts.

Birthday Party for a 4 year old boy. Part 2. The food

21 Jun

Food at a child’s party can be a social minefield these days. Everyone has their own ideals and standards about what is ‘appropriate’ fare for a child’s party, and I am no exception. (How much easier our parents had it, in the days when crisps, fizzy drinks and hydrogenated fats were all the rage!!)

Not everyone has the time, or the inclination to prepare the food themselves.  In the light of our current ‘how on earth are we going to pack up this house in 4 weeks status’ I was almost tempted to make a mad dash to M&S myself. However, there is something truly satisfying about putting something home-made and personal.  I find the trick is to keep it simple, and to try not to do too much. A little advance planning, and a shopping delivery, meant that the preparation took about the same amount of time as if I had ventured out to the supermarket to buy everything.

MENU

  • Sandwiches – Ham, Cream cheese, Cheese, Marmite (about 4 rounds of each type)
  • Cocktail Sausages
  • Sausage Rolls
  • Breadsticks
  • Cucumber
  • Grapes
  • Watermelon
  • Skips and Hula Hoops
  • Fairy Cakes
  • Vanilla Ice cream in cones with sprinkles or a flake
  • Fruit Juice drinks or mini- bottles of water

    cookie cutter sandwiches

You may wonder if it is possible to give a ‘recipe’ for sandwiches. Not really. But there are a couple of tips and tricks I have picked up along the way, that make life easier. The first is to get the butter out the night before you need it, so it is very soft and spreadable.  Also, the quality of the bread matters. I tend to buy a premium brand, medium sliced loaf. It’s not what we have usually but is perfect for these type of sandwiches.  And here is a tip I learned from Mary Berry. You can make the sandwiches up to 2 days in advance. I didn’t on this occasion but I have been known to make them the day before. To keep them fresh, cover the sandwiches in damp (not wet) kitchen towel, then double wrap in cling film. Keep them refrigerated. The damp kitchen towel and cling film will stop them drying out. I like to get the children involved with the cookie cutters (saves cutting the crusts off) so we usually offer a variety of shapes and sizes.

Stars and circles

Cocktail Sausages. On this occasion I bought them ready cooked. Don’t send me to the gallows just yet. I usually prefer to cook them myself as I find the pre-cooked ones a little dry, but on this occasion time was short, so needs must.

Jazzed up 'home assembled' sausage rolls

Sausage rolls. I do not make these from scratch. Its more of an assembly job. I bought some sausage meat, added chopped sage (from garden) and shallots (from freezer) then wrapped in ready-made puff pastry. Cook for about 20/25 minutes on 190 degrees. I have also been known to squeeze out the contents of sausages onto the pastry as the filling. Tastes much nicer than the shop version, and really not an awful lot of effort. My 2yo happily joined in with this little exercise.

Breadsticks. Remove from wrapper and place in beakers

Crinkle cut cucumber

Cucumber – Peeled and cut with a crinkle cutter

Grapes – An abundant supply. Washed and de-stalked

Watermelon – Chopped into small pieces. I bought a mini- watermelon which has hardly any seeds. Served in a large trifle dish. This was a big hit with the little ones.

Fairy Cakes – I used the Hummingbird Bakery Vanilla Cupcake recipe and placed Disney Cars rice paper cutouts on top. I also helpfully forgot to take a picture! If you are short of time, then leave the uniced cakes out on the table with the icing and some sprinkles, and the kids can create their own.

Vanilla Ice Cream.  I have been known to make my own!  On this occasion it was shop bought. I still like to check the ingredients as many use Invert Sugar Syrup and other unappealing ingredients. I opted for a supermarket own brand Organic Vanilla type, which had a fairly innocuous ingredients list, and served it in a cone, with my childhood favourite flake 99.

This amount of food was enough to feed about 12 children, and a few hungry parents, and the leftovers were polished off by myself and the OH for dinner. A complete carb overload, but totally satisfying!

Watermelon Heaven!

Birthday Party for a 4 year old boy. Part 1, The cake

19 Jun

David's Cake

 

I was, with great reluctance, bounced into holding a small birthday party for my son.  I was hoping the promise of a big present instead might dampen his enthusiasm, but to no avail. Usually I love to hold a party, but with the house move looming, I was hoping that this year I might be able to give it a miss. 

I know that I could just go to the supermarket, and buy everything ready cooked, ready-made etc, but, I hate to serve food that I am not keen on myself. So I find myself knuckling down, to a lot more preparation than I had the time for. 

I had a brief glance at the cakes in the supermarket, which offer both convenience and the kind of decor that children love.  But one look at the cocktail of ingredients that look like something from a chemistry experiment, leaves me fleeing without a second look. 

A standard sponge cake, is of course, a doddle. If I am really pushed for time it will be Nigellas Never Fail Victoria Sponge. The trickier issue is persuading my son that my ‘home-made’ confection, can rival those of his friends who have elaborate designs, created courtesy of the supermarket. 

I do not do the whole sugar paste/cake modelling thing. I do not have the time, any sort of artistic skill, and more importantly, I am not all that patient. 

So here are my quick fixes 

  1. Ice the cake as usual. Decorate with small toys or figures from the them that your child would like. For Davids 2nd Birthday it was plastic figures from In the Night Garden. For his 3rd birthday, it was Pirate Lego on a chocolate cake.
  2. The second option, which I have elected for this year, is to buy a cake topper. I bought one on ebay. Personalised. Edible. Has his name and age on. And only £4.99.

This year I made a fatal error. I decided to make something I had never made before, and at the last-minute. Armed with the comfort of the cake topper in reserve, I decided that a red velvet, cream cheese frosted cake (from Hummingbird bakery book) would be just the thing. Ha ha. I measured the cake tins. They were a bit on the small side for the cake topper, but I (foolishly) thought that I could thicken it up with the frosting and all would be fine. 

Great idea. Then, the great buttermilk shortage occurred. It’s a key ingredient of the cake, yet was absent from the shelves of every supermarket in a 5 mile radius. After much huffing and puffing, I decided to ‘make’ butter milk by combining crème fraîche, yoghurt and a little milk (to get the consistency right). It seemed to work. 

The cake turned out surprisingly well, despite my ‘buttermilk’ concoction.  However, the heat in of the day caused the cream cheese frosting to go all runny and it kept falling off the side of the cake.  I then put it in the fridge for half an hour. that did the trick, but when I got the cake topper out, it was still 1 inch too wide. So, there was nothing for it but a last-minute dash for my failsafe standby, a chocolate version of Nigellas Never Fail Victoria sponge made in tins that were (this time) the right size. There was not even time to ice the cake. I filled it with buttercream (left over from the cupcakes I had made) and just stuck the cake topper on using jam. I think I used too much, as it went a little ‘glisteney’ but on the whole, it looked ok, and kept my four-year old and a bunch of his friends happy. And the bonus was I served the red velvet cake to the party mums, who were all very grateful for my birthday cake disaster. 

Red Velvet Cake

 

Total effort for cake. 30 minutes (for each cake). Happiness for 4 year old son. 10/10. Warning. The finished product (good-looking, great tasting, home-made cake) might lead to just a teeny feeling of smugness!

Bananas about Bananas

2 Jun

The Best Banana Muffin Ever?

 

There are very few people I have come across in life, that don’t like bananas. I love them. They are amazing. The ultimate fast food that come in their own biodegradable packaging.  

Even the peel is useful. Did you know the peel makes a great fertilizer for plants? Apparently its very good for rose bushes. Next time you are planting or pruning your rose bushes, dig a hole next to the bush and bury the banana peel. Then cover the whole back up. Not a tip I have tried as I am more of a ‘swingseat’ gardener than a get your hands dirty type, but maybe worth a try?  

There is no good reason why you should ever throw away a banana ever again. Ever been faced with a half-eaten/blackened banana and thought there was nothing else for it than the bin? Well stop right there. I say this with someone who is used to having half-eaten bananas discarded by my 2 year old at will.  

Did you know they freeze well? So you can freeze them with or without skin, for use at a later date in a smoothie, as ‘faux’ ice cream, or to put in banana bread.  

Put them in the bin? No chance!

 

Today I was faced with a glut of ‘decaying’ bananas, that were transformed, in under 10 minutes, into a muffin mixture awaiting a breath of life from my *blush* not too clean and slightly temperamental oven. 25 minutes later, and they were resplendent on the cake rack, awaiting almost certain instant demolition from my two little treasures.  

INGREDIENTS LIST  

  • 4.5 medium bananas, mashed
  • 1 lightly beaten egg
  • 75g unsalted butter, melted
  • 175 g plain  flour
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence

Almost good as new

 

So heres what we did. Whilst still in our pyjamas, the kids washed hands, jumped on their stools and got ready for some ‘we can cook’ time with Mummy.  The banana pile, it has to be said, would not be one to get your heart racing. In fact, I am sure in most houses this would have ended up on the composting pile. However, fearless thrift warrior* that I am, we used the bananas, after checking they were just black from being bruised and not mouldy. Skin off and inside they were almost good as new.  

So we mashed bananas, melted butter and just mixed all the ingredients together in a very haphazard way. The trick with muffins is that you don’t overmix. I seem to have been drawn to a few streusel recipes of late.  That inspired me to sprinkle some crumble mixture that I found in the freezer, on top of the muffins. I then finished them off with a tiny sprinkle of caster sugar and cinnamon. but you could leave them plain. They still work!  

Then into the oven on 180 degrees for 25 minutes. And result, the perfect portable treat for our day trip to the farm.     

Keep your hands off!

 

Now don’t get me started on banana bread which I love. I make it in big batches then slice it and freeze it, ready for breakfast on the run, and packed lunches. Recipe to follow.  

If you too are bananas for bananas, then I would love to hear your tips and recipes. If you fancy something a little more decadent, maybe involving frosting, then try the Banana and Carrot cake by Mummy Mishaps 

Too good not to eat

 

*When I say thrift I have no intention of implying hardship. Its not a matter of being cheap. More, making sure every penny counts, so there is room left for a few of lifes essential pleasures. Like lipgloss, and champagne.