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:
Two slices of bread (or, better, wraps which admittedly makes for an easier 'roll')
 sliced ham
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 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

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

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

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
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
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

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 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

Coconut and Lemon Curd Madeleines
Makes approximately 18
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

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.

Monday, 15 February 2016

A seventies cake for a seventies chick - Black Forest Victoria Cake

Retro. That’s me. And that being the case, it was only fitting that my birthday cake of choice would also be, like me, of a seventies vintage, the Black Forest Gateau. I don’t care if it’s naff, the combination of chocolate, cream and cherries is, quite frankly, lush, and I thumb my nose to all you dinner party aficionados who think it a gastronomic crime to serve this after your prawn cocktail and your duck a l’orange… (I lurve duck a l’orange by the way…)
I was flicking through some cookery books for an idea as to what to indulge myself with (and force upon others) for my birthday and when the book fell open on this cake I thought to myself, bingo… I have all the ingredients, so no visit to the supermarket (a dangerous business when you are in the midst of ‘healthy eating’ and feel like eating your own arms…) and I like chocolate. And cherries. And cream. And more chocolate. If I am abandoning my current pastime of living virtuously, albeit temporarily, then this is a beautiful way to do it.
This recipe is from ‘Gorgeous Cakes’ by Annie Bell. A completely apt title if you ask me. I made some adaptions, like adding some vanilla extract and salt to the chocolate cake mix, for chocolate likes vanilla and needs salt for that chocolatey ‘hit’. I brushed the warm cakes over with some kirsch because I don’t believe that you can ever have too much of a good thing, and I sweetened the cream with some vanilla and a little icing sugar. Because I can.
The other nice thing about Black Forest Gateau is that you can make it look as pretty as a picture. It didn’t need the 42 candles that should have gone on it. Just as well really as I imagine that such an amount of candles constitutes some kind of fire hazard.

Black Forest Victoria, adapted from ‘Gorgeous Cakes’ by Annie Bell
Makes a 1 20cm cake with sides of 9cm deep, (but I divided the mixture into three 18cm sandwich tins)
For the cake -
225g unsalted butter, at room temperature
200g golden caster sugar
1 tbsp golden syrup
1tsp vanilla extract
200g self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
25g cocoa powder, sifted
4 medium eggs
100ml milk
Pinch of salt
10 – 15ml kirsch, for brushing over the cake
For the filling –
Half a jar of black cherry jam
1 tbsp kirsch
350ml double cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp icing sugar, sifted
To decorate:
Approx 50g of grated chocolate (Should have used dark chocolate, chose to use milk due to fussy children!)
Cherries (I used some from a jar)

Preheat the oven to 180c and prepare tins by greasing and then lining the bottoms with greaseproof paper.

The original recipe recommends putting all the ingredients together and creaming them until combined. Rightly or wrongly I did it the way mama taught me, that is, creaming the butter with the sugar, then added the syrup, the vanilla and the eggs, one at a time, putting a spoonful of flour into the mix after each egg to stop the mixture from splitting. Then I added the flour alternately with the milk and mixed to only just combined. Lastly, I added the salt and then for the final mix together I used a spatula to ensure that all the mixture was combined.

Pour the mixture into the tin(s). If using the sandwich tins then bake for about 20 mins, until the cake is firm to the touch and has shrunk away from the sides of the tin. If baking in the recommended tin, bake for about 55 mins or until a toothpick placed into the centre of the cake comes out clean).
Once the cakes come out of the oven and whilst still warm, brush a little of the kirsch over the top of the cake(s). If you are making one cake then you will need to cut the cake into layers.
To make the filling: Whip up the cream with the icing sugar and vanilla until it forms pretty stiff peaks which will hold whilst piping. Do not overbeat.
Put the jam into a bowl and loosen with the kirsch. Grate the chocolate.

To assemble. Once cool, spread jam over the layer and then pipe some cream on. Place the next layer onto the cake and then repeat the process.

On the top layer, brush the jam over the top and then cover the jam with grated chocolate. Once the top is completely covered in chocolate, pipe the top decoratively. Adorn the cake with pitted cherries.
Don your bell bottoms and Cuban heels and then serve to all and sundry.


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