Tuesday, 18 October 2016

The Future is Bright - Chicken with Lemon and Thyme #BrightFutures



Amidst the hustle and bustle of everyday life, it’s easy to forget about the things that really matter, in my case, spending enough quality time with my children, as I know that by teaching them and investing in them, you create bright futures for all that come into contact with them, either directly or indirectly. We talk about waste; we talk about caring for the environment; we talk about helping those less fortunate than us.
That is why I am enthusiastic about the idea of promoting a #BrightFuture, Unilever’s drive to promote sustainability, ethical practice and their dedication to improving people’s lives across the world. As this is a food blog, I want to talk about the ways in which you can create brighter futures for others by thinking seriously about how we buy, treat and consume food.


Unilever’s involvement with Rainforest Alliance certified products is one way in which you can do something pretty great by doing very little. A PG cuppa, for example, and a sit down with those who you love is an immediate hit of kindness and an example of caring for those around you, whilst supporting those in the tea plantations around the world who wish to farm sustainably. Making a simple choice of putting a Rainforest Alliance banana into your child’s lunchbox means that you are thinking about the health and wellbeing of your children as well as helping those on banana plantations have a better life. Crumbling a Knorr stock cube to make a chicken stock is supporting the idea of farming sustainability because of their desire to improving agricultural practices in the production of their goods.
So what do I do? What can we do?
Seasonality
I buy in season. Buying strawberries in winter is crazy because they take like wet cotton wool and have been flown half way around the world. The taste of the first strawberry from the garden in late spring/early summer, when it has been gently warmed by the sun is the stuff that makes us foodies swoon with delight… and most kids too.
Buy what I need.
I can’t get to the supermarket in the week as I am usually hiding behind a veritable ‘Great Wall of China’ of exercise books. So, I do it all online, but only after planning what I intend to cook for the week and buying just what I need. I used to throw out loads and feel guilty about the (wo)manpower that had been wasted to make it, the energy needed, the fact that people are starving in many parts of the world and I am filling a bin full of food that, with more forethought, could have produced a tasty meal.
Leftovers are pretty fabulous.
The joy of making that oversize cottage pie/lasagne/chilli is that you get to put what’s leftover into a plastic container and take it to work the next day. Bung it in the microwave, wait for the ping and hey presto, you’ve avoided wasting petrol and additional costs by not going to the pie shop (if you’re me, that is…)
Sustainability and Ethical Practice
The selecting of products which support growers and producers is something that can be easily accomplished. You’re probably supporting many of these great causes already by buying products that support producers worldwide and happily, many of these products are not necessarily more expensive than those that are not as ethically orientated. Win win. However, it’s worth considering those products that might be dearer, especially something like chicken, which tastes so much better when there has been ethical treatment of the chook before it reaches the bright lights of the fridge section.
Talking of chicken, and this is where there has to be a recipe, for this is a food blog, I love getting all of us sat down round the table sometime of a weekend and having a really good meal. Brighter futures start at home; those moments where I can spend quality time with Lola and Finn, chatting, laughing, teaching, caring… Cooking is one of the ways that I show my love and in my own way I am creating a safe, happy environment which I hope that will encourage my children to pass on as they grow.

Easter Chicken with Thyme and Garlic, adapted from ‘Eat Greek for a Week’ by Tonia Buxton
Ingredients:
1.5kg free range/organic/corn-fed chicken
2 lemons (unavoidable air miles, due to a lack of Mediterranean climate…)
1 bay leaf
3tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp thyme leaves
Approximately 40 cloves of garlic (unpeeled, thankfully)
2 large onions (or you could use 10 peeled shallots)
150ml white wine
250ml chicken stock (I used a Knorr stock cube – see my preamble)
100ml Greek yoghurt (many small producers make their own versions of ‘Greek’ yoghurt)
Salt and pepper to taste

Method:
Preheat oven to 180c Put a lemon and a bay leaf into the cavity of the chicken. Season the chicken all over, including the inside. Brush the oil over the chicken skin and season it with salt and pepper. Sprinkle one tbsp. of the thyme leaves over the chicken.
Place the cloves of garlic and the onions in the bottom of a large ovenproof casserole and put the chicken on top.
Cut the remaining lemon into quarters and tuck them in under the bird.


Pour over the wine and the chicken stock, then cover with a tight fitting lid. Put the casserole onto a moderate heat until it reaches a simmer, then, place in the oven for about 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hours. Ensure the chicken is cooked through by piercing the thickest part of the leg with a skewer or knife to see if the juices run clear.

Carefully remove the chicken, onions and garlic to a warmed dish, leaving the ‘sauce’ in the bottom of the casserole. Cover with foil. Skim the sauce for any fat that has risen to the surface then add the remaining thyme and the yoghurt to make a ‘creamy’ sauce. Bring to the boil for a couple of minutes, season to taste and then pour the sauce into a warmed jug.

Serve the chicken with the sauce and whatever suitable accompaniments you fancy.





 This post is an entry for BritMums #brightFuture Challenge, sponsored by Unilever and linking to http://www.brightfuture.unilever.com.

Monday, 10 October 2016

It's all in the balance - Lunchbox ideas with #FloraLunchbox



Who would have thought that packing a lunchbox could be such a challenging thing? In previous blogposts I have already alluded to a certain lack of thought in what you gave your child to take to school for lunch, back in the days when summers were hot, winters were cold and I carried my packed lunch in a bag the size of hand luggage, but back then, the received wisdom was that trans fats were harmless and that food should be bright and convenient – to heck with the E numbers and other additives, that inadvertently sent your child on a rollercoaster of craziness during the afternoon’s lessons. Thankfully, parents are now beginning to think about the variety and suitability of lunches, and it’s great that the people at Flora are giving people alternative ways of filling lunchboxes with delicious food which facilitates good health and stamina to take on the rigours of fronted adverbials, 'Goodnight Mr Tom' and dodgeball.

Lola and Finn are picky discerning eaters… but it is pleasing to see empty lunchboxes when they come home from school most nights, knowing that I lovingly filled them that very morning with a balance of wholesome food and the odd treat. It was interesting to read the great suggestions that Flora made for recipes that could easily be put together to make a luscious lunchbox which can be found here and in particular, their really useful lunch planner. It got me thinking about the little quirks that go into my children’s lunchbox, many of the ingredients of which are present in Flora's suggestions. Phew, maybe I am supermum after all.  Here we go – from the weird to the wonderful:
The ‘Tuna Crunch Barm’


Not really earth shattering, but Lola’s sandwich of choice. It used to be a mixture of mayonnaise, tuna in brine and tinned sweetcorn, but over the years it has evolved into really quite a treat! Don’t be surprised to find a sandwich filling that with the tuna contains diced red onion, diced peppers, spring onions maybe, sweetcorn definitely, and occasionally, the mayonnaise is switched for a salad dressing, just to make the whole thing taste ‘zing’.

‘The Enthusiasm Frittata’
So called because everything I have got left (in the fridge) goes into it… *tumbleweed*
Finn loves eggs – From that first 'proper food' meal of loosely scrambled egg, circa 6 months old, to today’s vociferous dunking of soldiers on a Sunday morning, Finn knows his eggs, and this one appeals to his lunchtime tastebuds. This week’s offering was made with six beaten eggs, some leftover potato, some leftover roast gammon and spring onions. You fry off the frittata filling with a bit of oil, butter or Flora and then add the eggs, which have been seasoned with a bit of salt and pepper. Stir the filling round so that all the ingredients become equally dispersed and then leave the mixture to cook and set. Once the bottom of the pan has become quite set, put the pan under a pre-heated grill and allow the top to set, puff up and become gloriously brown. Allow to cool, cut into chunky wedges and put into the lunchbox.

The Carrot, Coriander, Lemon and Hummus Combo
Proof, if it were needed, that you can put anything in a buttie. I live in an area of the country where it is de rigeur to put a pie inside a buttered barm, (this should be on your foodie bucket list…) so this combo doesn’t seem that weird to me. If you use something like a wrap then this becomes a delicious Vegan lunchbox main, especially if you use Flora that is dairy free. To make this ‘interesting' sandwich, you need some hummus, some coriander, a squeeze of lemon and some grated carrot. Grate the carrot and mix it with the hummus. Then mix in some chopped coriander (I am a bit of a coriander fiend so I have loads in, but I tone it down for Lola, who likes this combo, because I know coriander can sometimes taste a bit soapy) and a squeeze of lemon. Mix and taste. You might need a touch of salt; you might need a bit more lemon. Once you’re happy with the taste and the consistency, load it onto bread/into a wrap.

Flapjacks. The treat to make the afternoons seem not so bad.
The recipe that I use for Lola and Finn’s favourite flapjacks is here. Other recipes are available. Lola and Finn are fans of the apple flapjack in particular and I have been experimenting with substituting some of the oats with some millet, which gives a nice crunchy texture. However,  I do believe that anything coated with butter/golden syrup/brown sugar is going to taste mighty fine and a little bit of flapjack will leave your bubs sated and with enough energy to take the world on.

Maybe, with a little bit of help, it is possible to improve on the current percentage (a mere 1.6%!) of children who eat a packed lunch that is nutritionally comparable with the guidelines set out for school dinners. It’s vital for the long term health of our children that little changes are made to produce, maybe over time, a lunch that strikes a balance between health, wellbeing and …the odd flapjack!


This post is an entry for the #FloraLunchbox Linky Challenge, sponsored by Flora. Check out their lunch planner and recipe ideas here <http://www.flora.com/article/category/1104207/healthy-kids >

Monday, 29 August 2016

Lola's Lovely Lunchbox with help from Hartley's



I remember being quite happy with a paste butty and a bag of crisps for a packed lunch back in the 70s when I started primary school, but today’s 'packed luncher' is a little more discerning and now that I have two children who have recently returned to packed lunches after some time on school dinners, I need to think about what they like and what is good for them. I also need to think about the ease in which the packed lunch can be put together, because, there is a small window of opportunity of a weekday evening between falling in through the door with a pile of marking and hurling what’s for dinner in the general direction of the oven when the packed lunch is made, packaged and placed in the fridge for the next day.
So, for me, it is a boon when I am able to place in my child’s lunch box something that has sweetness and is healthy, avoiding the need for something sugary, and a pot of Hartley’s Jelly is just the thing here. And whilst it might be just as easy to throw a piece of fruit in the lunchbox, having jelly feels like a proper pudding, and let’s face it, you could have the fruit and the jelly; Lola does!
And whilst I am looking for a lunch box that is quick and easy, I am looking for food that interests and engages my children, but doesn’t really impinge on a general shortness of time. It might mean using a bagel instead of sliced bread, or a particular favourite that I saw in France that Lola loves: ham and cucumber wheels:


ham and cucumber wheels:
Ingredients:
Two slices of bread (or, better, wraps which admittedly makes for an easier 'roll')
 sliced ham
Cucumber
Method:
Make the sandwich by putting the ham on to the bread, but then cutting the cucumber lengthways. Cut the cucumber quite thinly so that it will bend without snapping. You could also do this with a vegetable peeler, shaving off a couple of slices to put onto the sandwich.
Trim any overhanging filling if necessary, then remove the crusts if you like and cut into three ‘soldiers’
Roll up the soldiers in a ‘swiss roll’ action and secure with a toothpick (or if you wish, place all three on a longer wooden skewer, thus creating a ham and cucumber‘kebab’ and voila, a sandwich, but not as they know it.)


Or, when I am making some of the week’s meals on one of my get ahead Sundays, a frittata is a great way to avoid the uninteresting sandwich. Mostly, my frittata consists of cooked potato, bacon bits and some spring onions, encased in egg, though it can include any manner of sad looking vegetable, leftover ham that is lurking in the fridge. A slice of this instead of butty is a tasty, filling alternative.


And then there is the ‘play food’.  Lola’s regular ‘getting home from school snack’ was slicing a pepper and opening a tub of houmous. She even made it herself. This little snack now often takes centre stage in her lunchbox.
But, whatever you decide to start with, a jelly is a great way of finishing. And even better, In store from July onwards, Hartley’s will offer consumers the chance to collect 12 special edition green lids from across the No Added Sugar Jelly Pots (115g), to claim a free Hartley’s lunchbox and stickers.
Consumers can claim their exclusive lunchbox by heading to the Hartley’s website www.hartleysfruit.co.uk. Each one comes complete with a sticker sheet of Hartley’s much loved characters and a sticker alphabet for children to personalise their lunchbox.

This post is an entry for BritMums #HartleysYourLunchbox Linky Challenge, sponsored by Hartley’s Jelly http://www.hartleysfruit.co.uk/.




Saturday, 2 July 2016

Cheese butties and a cheap day out. Surviving the Summer Hols!



The fact that the title combines two of my favourite things in the whole world is merely a coincidence – for this is not necessarily about me but about my bubs, Lola and Finn, and helping them to get the best out of the Summer holidays without too much fuss . When I was a kid, money was short but the fun wasn’t and it was just a case of being a bit savvy about what could actually be done. A regular Summer hols destination back when I was little was the beautiful Dunsop Bridge in the Trough of Bowland, Lancashire. Its appeal was about getting out into the countryside, finding a safe place to swim or paddle or build a den and, importantly, it was cheap, cheerful and fun. You packed a picnic, found a fishing net, got a couple of towels and sidled onto the hot, sticky seats of the Cortina and off you went, windows down, radio blaring.  And when you got there, you were greeted with verdant oaks and sycamores overhanging a glistening river which either bubbled joyfully over smooth stones or dropped into dark abyss like craters which had been carved out by whirlpools when the river had been at its most aggressive during the storms of winter, but at that moment seemed quite benign and inviting on a hot June/July/August day. I wanted my two to experience the same thing.


Nowadays, the experience isn’t quite the same. Instead of cavorting about in the cold, cold river in just a pair of knickers and an old t shirt, the clothing of choice was a shorty wetsuit. The Ford Cortina has been replaced by a Hybrid ‘Plug In’ electric vehicle, but the canopy of green leaves and the sun still beats down, and children still glisten like jewels as the water rushes over them and their whooping and hollering means that, for today at least, the children have escaped from the vice like grip of the computer game. It was great to see my own children, 30 years after me, laughing and splashing in the water.

And then, there’s the picnic. To be honest, after half an hour of immersing yourself in water that has just run off the Bowland Fells, you could just about eat anything, but if there is anything more humble, simple and more satisfying than a slab of cheese between two thick slices of white bread that have been generously spread with butter then I don’t know what it is. Sure, you could jazz it up with the odd tomato, a dollop of pickle or, my particular favourite, a bag of cheese and onion crisps, but that’s just decadence!

Summer hols can be simply brilliant, with simple pleasures and the rediscovery of a place which when you were a kid, gave you so much fun.  My children and my inner child will be back. Soon. Maybe this Summer hols there is a place that you and your children are yet to visit which, when you were a child, seemed magical.

Lastly, as this is a food blog, the recipe for picnic success!


My favourite cheese sandwiches
Serves Mum, Dad, Lola and Finn

Ingredients:
8 slices of soft white bread
Lashings of butter
A block of cheese, cut into thickish slices
4 packets of crisps

Method:
Spread the butter on the bread
Place the cheese slices on a slice of bread and then top a generous handful of crisps.
Place a piece of bread, butter side down onto the crisps, pressing down until you hear the satisfying crunch
Cut sandwich in half.
Repeat process until you have four sandwiches
Wrap sandwiches in foil
Get in car and go off and create some childhood memories.

This post is an entry for BritMums Confessions of a Summer Parent Challenge, sponsored by Anchor.



Monday, 11 April 2016

Not quite Barefoot Contessa - Lasagne with Chicken Sausage


My admiration for the Barefoot Contessa knows absolutely no bounds. Ever since that hot June afternoon when I sat down with a tiny Lola and flicked through the TV channels trying to find something to stare absentmindedly at whilst it was bottle time, I have been a fan. There she appeared, on my TV screen, looking all smiley and homely, with her lovely house and her Kitchen Aid and those cute American measuring cups, putting her ‘good vanilla’ and half a pound of butter into a bowl, and I thought, ‘Oh yes, this could be me.’ Unfortunately, instead of ‘habitating’ in The Hamptons, I was lounging somewhere near Liverpool, half asleep, not yet totally dressed, with a little bit of baby dribble adorning my left shoulder but all that was mere detail. This was going to happen. I could breeze in and out in my Mercedes/BMW, the odd dinner party here, the trip to the speciality food store for some mozzarella from the happiest buffalo in the whole world there. Bring it on.
Fast forward 10 years and I have the nice house (though it’s not what you’d call ‘tidy’ – I need at least two hours warning of any visit so I can shift the dogs, children, washing, yesterday’s plates, clothes, etc.)  Phill bought me a Kenwood for my birthday instead of a Kitchen Aid (I am very grateful; I know that sounds like I am not…) and I bought my own measuring cups. Not much going on on the old Mercedes/BMW front but I like to zip about in my little Fiesta up to the farm shop for some carrots… I think the point I am trying to make is that sometimes it’s nice to take an idea and put a twist on it and kind of make it yours, and that is what I did with my ‘I am going to be like the Barefoot Contessa fixation’ and the Barefoot Contessa’s Turkey Sausage Lasagne recipe. I used chicken sausage. And it was fabulous.
Lasagne is a very important dish in our house. I’d like to say it is because of our Italian roots but collectively we’re not that interesting. However, it was a lasagne that wooed Phill (along with, I hope, my stunning wit and repartee, my jolly personality and what I am going to call my ‘allure’) and if I happen to think out loud about what to cook for dinner, I know what the answer is. How would  my brood take to this lasagne craziness? The answer, thankfully, was a general thumbs up, though for the reasons above, Phill said he preferred the real thing. This, however, is a tasty, ramped up humdinger of a dish that epitomises Barefoot Contessa recipes. They’re never bland.
Lasagne with chicken sausage, adapted from ‘Barefoot Contessa Family Style’ by Ina Garten, or you can find the original recipe here
Ingredients:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 1/2 lb chicken sausages, casings removed
1 ½ tins chopped tomatoes
5 – 6 tbsp tomato puree
Large handful chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, divided
pack of fresh basil leaves, chopped
salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound no cook lasagne sheets
15 oz ricotta cheese
3 to 4 oz creamy goat cheese, crumbled
10oz Parmesan cheese, plus 1/4 cup for sprinkling
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1lb fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced

Method:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Heat the olive oil in a large (10- to 12-inch) pan. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes over medium-low heat, until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the sausage and cook over medium-low heat, breaking it up with a fork, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until no longer pink. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, 2 tablespoons of the parsley, the basil, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Simmer, uncovered, over medium-low heat, for 15 to 20 minutes, until thickened.

In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, goat cheese, 1 cup of Parmesan, the egg, the remaining 2 tablespoons of parsley, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Set aside.


Ladle 1/3 of the sauce into a 9 x 12 x 2-inch rectangular baking dish, spreading the sauce over the bottom of the dish. Then add the layers as follows: half the pasta, half the mozzarella, half the ricotta, and one third of the sauce. Add the rest of the pasta, mozzarella, ricotta, and finally, sauce. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese. Bake for 30 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling.


I served this with salad and garlic bread.

Monday, 4 April 2016

I should coco! - Coconut and Lemon Curd Madeleines

I’ll be honest, I’ve been slapping coconut oil on my face for as long as I can remember, and it is indeed as good a moisturiser and restorative as my previous moisturiser, if not better, which, when I discovered this, was brilliant and disappointing rolled into one. It's brilliant when I think on one hand of the money I now save by buying coconut oil and putting that on my dressing table instead of the (expensive) moisturiser that I had been sucked into buying by promises of eternal youth. My savings now go towards my not insubstantial collection of Kurt Geiger shoes, which is very pleasing, but the cloud that goes with this particular silver lining is my thinking of the copious amounts of money I had spent in the years gone by on 'posh' moisturiser which in turn led me to lament the ‘Kurt Geigers’ that could have been mine if I had been a bit more savvy. Life can be cruel.


But my recent discovery of cooking with coconut oil has been a revelation. A bit of reading around led me to discover that coconut oil had been the ‘go to’ oil for cooking and baking, before we discovered the horrors of hydrogenated, manufactured fats and indeed like many other naturally derived oils, coconut oil had long been a beauty/health staple too by those in the know. Win. Win. So, for no real logical explanation, I decided to celebrate my much improved knowledge by making madeleines.
Regular readers to this blog will know that I am a Francophile, pure and simple. That being the case, it is surprising that my madeleine pan, bought at Super U in a pretty Dordogne town one balmy summer when I was young, beautiful and carefree, before such pans were ever readily available here, has had about three airings in all the time I have owned it. Despite my lack of effort, madeleines are a cinch to make, as long as you are vigilant because like most ‘biscuity’ types, blink and they are burned.

Newly inspired, I decided to make coconut and lemon curd madeleines, which are loosely based on the idea of placing a dollop of something in the middle of the raw madeleine mix. I’d seen it done with Nutella, but with my coconut vibe, I thought that the sharp lemon tang would be a great foil to the mellow, nutty coconut. So, I set off to work, replacing the requisite amount of butter for VitaCoco coconut oil and adding about 50g of desiccated coconut, a pinch of salt and a teaspoon orange flower water (I was thinking citrus…) to a well-established madeleine recipe that I had cut out of a French cookery magazine in the dim and distant past. The result was, even though I say so myself, pretty damn good. It was a good thing that madeleines don’t really keep very well and need to be eaten within a few hours of baking. Marcel Proust used to dip his stale madeleines in his tea; Lola, Finn and Phill snaffled these before I had managed to put the kettle on. There can be no better recommendation in my mind.
And if you don’t like lemon curd, what about lime curd for a totally tropical vibe? Or a dollop of raspberry jam? Now, Coconut and raspberry: Let me just think about that for a moment. Or you could visit www.swearbyit.com for some more great recipes!
This recipe is an entry into the #swearbyit challenge with Vita Coco. Find more great coconut oil recipes and tips on using coconut oil at www.swearbyit.com

Coconut and Lemon Curd Madeleines
Makes approximately 18
Ingredients:
3 large eggs
130g caster sugar
1 tbsp honey
1tsp orange flower water (optional)
100g Vita Coco Coconut Oil, softened,( but cooled if you have melted it) plus a little more for greasing the tin.
50g desiccated coconut
150g plain flour
6g (a generous teaspoon) of dried yeast
A pinch of salt
About a quarter  to half of a jar of good quality lemon curd

Method:
Preheat the oven to 200c

Place the eggs and the sugar in a mixing bowl and beat until light and airy.
Add the honey and the orange flower water if using and mix well.

Add the coconut oil. If it is quite solid, mix it vigorously into the egg mixture until it disperses evenly.

Add the flour, the coconut, a pinch of salt and the yeast and mix until combined. Don’t overbeat. Personally I taste the mixture at this stage to see if I can discern the flavours, in this case, coconut. If it tastes a bit bland, add a little more salt, but be careful.
Grease the madeleine pan very well with the coconut oil. This is imperative as you want your madeleines to come out easily.

Place a heaped teaspoon of the mixture into each madeleine mould. Tap the pan down on the working top to encourage the mixture to settle into the mould.

Place a scant teaspoon of lemon curd onto the madeleine mixture.

Top the lemon curd with another generous teaspoon of the madeleine mixture. You may have to use the spoon to disperse the mixture evenly and it may all become a bit messy, but it will be okay.
Give the madeleines a final tap in the pan and then place them in the middle of the preheated oven. They might spread frighteningly and will look pretty awful initially but all will be fine. They should take about 8 – 10 minutes to bake and they should be a light golden brown with perhaps slightly browner ‘shell’ edges. Remove from the oven and when you can do so. If you have greased the pan well, the madeleines should come away from the moulds easily.

Trim the madeleines to their characteristic shell shape. It is likely that some of the mixture will have spread from the mould and therefore some trimming will be needed to neaten the madeleines up. I just think of all those sweet crispy bits and it pleases me enormously.
Eat warm, or whilst they are not quite cold. They will begin to become a little less light once they have been cold for a while, in which case, do what Proust did: make a pot of tea.

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