Cheap Champagne and Purse Pleasing Prosecco

5 Jul

First of all, my apologies for the slight pause on the blog. I have been diverted by the sheer panic of trying to offload 3 years of clutter, cleaning the new to us but old and in need of tlc house, meeting with architects, builders and the like.

But priorities, priorities, I just had to sit down tonight to the season finale of Desperate Housewives, and my head was turned by the Sainsburys ad for a whopping 25% off Wine and Champagne.

Too Good to be True?

And while I was there I noticed that they have some fab recipe ideas for the kids (that may also keep the mums pretty happy too). Here are a few ideas

Its the last week of the Ocado World Cup Recipe competition, and my contenders, while out of the World Cup, could still be winners, so if you have the chance please click the following links

French Apple Tart

New Zealand Kiwi, Lime and Ginger Cheesecake

Back soon….

Sweltering Summers Day Lunch

27 Jun

Salmon with Asparagus and Spinach

In years gone by, the asparagus season would have been long over by now. I am sure that British Asparagus will be running out soon, but I am enjoying it while I am around. I prepared this dish with the assistance of my friend Matt, who conveniently is a chef, and his wife Helen.

This happened to be my birthday lunch, and as I was anticipating a delicious restaurant dinner with my husband, I wanted an easy, quick and healthy lunch.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 fillet of salmon per person
  • 1/2 bunch asparagus per person
  • 1 bag of spinach (will serve 2/3)
  • chopped garlic
  • butter
  • pesto or lemon and mayo to serve

METHOD

Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees.While it is heating up, place the salmon fillets in a ovenproof dish. You want to poach them, so fill the dish with some water (or white wine if you are feeling extravagant), to about 1 cm depth and cover with foil.Trim the ends from the asparagus, place in a ovenproof dish, drizzle with oil, adding a sprinkle of sea salt and pepper. Leave uncovered.Both dishes will take 8/10 minutes. The trick with salmon is not to overcook it, or it becomes dry. You want the fish to still be slightly pink in the middle. Check after 8 minutes, and if it’s not quite there stick it back in the oven. My advice is to use a timer for those last couple of minutes, as its so easy to be distracted and overcook the fish by accident.

While the fish and asparagus are cooking, grab a jar of good quality mayo, decant some into a dish and mix in the zest of a lemon. Alternatively, put some fresh pesto out to serve on the fish. Melt 50/50 butter and oil (about 1 tbsp) in a pan then add garlic on a gently heat for 1/2 minutes until it starts to soften. Add fresh spinach and allow it to wilt (keep turning). Turn heat off once wilted. If I serve this with lemon mayo, I cut the zested lemon into wedges to serve on the side.

Lay the table and pour yourself a glass of chilled rose (or whatever tipple takes your fancy). By now the fish should be done, so all you need to do, is serve, then relax and enjoy.

Emergency Exfoliation

26 Jun

Quick Body Scrub Ingredients

There are times when I look back with longing at my pre-motherhood days, when I had the time and the inclination to follow the strictures of the magazine beauty gurus and managed to wax, primp and preen on a regular basis, like a hopeful for a bit part on Sex in the City.

Oh how times have changed. Now I have made friends with the hairs on my legs (they keep me warm!). And as for the almost mandatory bikini wax. Are you kidding me? I have had 2 children and I eat cake on a regular basis. You would only rarely glimpse me in a bikini in my 5 times a week gym days, but now, not a chance, so bikini waxes are for high days and holidays only!

This weekend I am off, for 2 nights, child free, to see my uber-glamorous and gorgeous friend Sara tie the knot in Yorkshire.  While I am understandably excited about the wedding, I am also ever so slightly giddy at the thought of staying in a luxury hotel for 2 nights sans children. No requests for milk in the night, and no loud whines  demanding milk and cbeebies at 530am. I really cannot wait. The trouble is, I am not at all prepared. I managed to squeeze in a pedi on Thursday, when a girlfriend came for a playdate then kindly shooed me out of the house to the salon in what seemed like a guilty mid-week indulgence.  I had grand plans of getting plucked and fake-baked before the weekend, but instead, spent yesterday scrubbing our soon to be home and came home with dirt blackened fingernails!  I failed quite spectacularly at organising anything, so I am going to have to do an emergency fake tan application tonight, and keep my fingers crossed.  I decided that in order that I am halfway prepared, I would at least bathe and exfoliate last night, then realised at the last-minute, I had no products to hand. Suddenly, like a lightbulb going off in my head, I remembered my standby from my struggling student days. The answer lies in the kitchen. Olive oil and salt. Total cost of ingredients, well under a pound. Result, gloriously smooth and moisturised skin.

INGREDIENTS

  • Table Salt – the free running, fine, uber cheap kind
  • Olive Oil

Mix roughly equal quantities of salt and oil in bowl. Stand in bath or shower, and use in the usual way.  I have also mixed salt with body wash to great effect, but you will then have to moisturise afterwards.

I was feeling very proud of myself for my quick. thrifty last-minute solution, when I then read my Donna Hay Magazine 50th Anniversary Edition, which contains a lovely recipe for a hand scrub along the same lines, but sounds a bit more fragrant and glamorous. Unfortunately I cannot find a copy of it on the web. It was very similar to that above, but also contained sugar and lemon.  I may well have to make some. In the meantime, here is an example of another more fragrant example that I found on Wikipedia

Spicy Sausage Casserole

24 Jun

Spicy Sausage Casserole

This dish is a total cheat. Not quite a Delia, ‘let’s assemble our shepherds pie from a tin and the freezer’ sort of cheat, more of a ‘lets tweak the dinner I made 2 nights ago’ and tell everyone its something else, kind of dish.

The clock is running and we are now less than 3 weeks away from our house move and still not much further along with the packing.  This means I am a bit pre-occupied and not able to drift along into mealtimes without a plan.

Cous Cous on the side

So when I made my ‘Chilli non Carne‘, there was enough left over for the beginnings of another meal. To transform the ‘Chilli Non Carne’ into ‘Spicy Sausage Casserole’  I simply cooked some sausages on the hob. My favoured method of cooking them is to do it so slowly that there is almost no chance of them burning. Place in a non-stick frying pan with a gentle dash of olive oil, then simply jiggle the pan every now and then when you happen to be passing. Takes 45 mins to an hour, and the resulting sausages are gloriously  caramelised and sticky.  I cooked some couscous on the side (and you really don’t need instructions for that).  For the children I chopped the sausages and mixed into the chilli, and for us just piled the sausages on top.  Result, a happy, well fed family, with no more effort than occasional stove tending and the boiling of the kettle for the cous cous. Leaving me enough time in the evening to tend to my blog and engage in some twittering do some packing and paperwork in the study!

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!