Welcome to my blog!

Savvy shopping, seasonal eating and thrifty recipes. Spend less on groceries and enjoy better tasting, easy to prepare meals your friends and family will love – all on a budget.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Muffin Sized Sticky Date Puddings

Apologies for the lack of blog posts this week, we've had yet another medical drama in our household.  My husband had to be rushed to hospital on Wednesday evening, he'll hopefully be allowed home sometime this weekend.  This means I have been looking after our older 3 girls and baby boy by myself.  I am rather exhausted to say the least. There'll be no respite for a while as hubby will be on bed rest for a week then gradually getting back to normal for a fortnight after that.

At times like these comfort food and easy meals, and the occasional pudding, are craved and needed.  Luckily I had made a batch of these delicious morsels a fortnight ago and stashed some in the freezer.  They went down very well indeed last night after dinner and there's still a couple left for my husband when he gets home.

Muffin Sized Sticky Date Puddings


210g chopped dates
375ml water
1 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
90g butter, softened
110g light soft brown sugar
2 free range eggs
225g self-raising flour

Sauce:
2 Tblsp butter
40g light soft brown sugar

Preheat your oven to 180C/160C Fan. Grease a 12-muffin tin with melted butter or oil.

Put the dates and water into a medium saucepan over a low to moderate heat and cook until the dates have softened. Once the dates are soft, stir in the vanilla extract and bicarbonate of soda.  Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature.

Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.  Gradually add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Should the mixture look like it may be starting to curdle, add a tablespoon or two of flour which will stabilise the mixture.  One the eggs have been fully incorporated, stir in the cooled date mixture then fold in flour.

Spoon the mixture evenly into your prepared muffin tin. Bake the puddings for 20-25 minutes, or until the puddings spring back when touched or a skewer inserted in to the center comes out clean.  Cool in tin for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to continue cooling.

To make the sauce:  Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a medium heat and add the sugar.  Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens to your liking.  Drizzle over the warm puddings and serve with custard if you fancy it.

We had one muffin sized pudding each and I froze the rest, once completely cool and without the drizzle of sauce.  These should keep for up to a month in the freezer.


Saturday, 24 January 2015

Chocolate Overload Slice

This slice is the invention of my 8yo, she made it when we had our After School Club session last week.  It is great to be able to spend time with her and watch her bake, make or craft whilst having a chat.
We started with a Tiffin base then added a layer of marshmallows followed by a layer of melted chocolate then sprinkles.  Everything sweet and baked needs sprinkles, it's the law, so says 8yo. Who am I to disagree?



Chocolate Overload Slice

4 Tblsp golden syrup
125g butter
250g shortbread finger biscuits
4 Tblsp cocoa powder
75g raisins
200g pack marshmallows
250g plain chocolate, roughly chopped

We used a microwave to make this slice, you could use a bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water instead.  Measure the golden syrup and butter into a large pyrex jug or non-metallic bowl.  Melt in the microwave on full power for about 1.5 - 2 minutes in 30 second bursts.  

Whilst the butter and syrup are melting, put the biscuits into a plastic bag, seal it and gently crush the biscuits.  You want small chunks of biscuit, not totally crushed to crumbs, so don't be too vigorous.  

Once the butter and golden syrup have melted, mix them together until totally combined.  Then add the cocoa and mix until completely incorporated.  Finally mix in the raisins and the crushed biscuits.

Pour the mix into a lined tin and spread it out evenly then level the surface.  Put the marshmallows into a microwave safe bowl or jug and heat on full power for about 45 seconds until melted.  Pour over the tiffin base.

Finally, heat the chocolate in the microwave in 30 second bursts for a total of 2 - 3 minutes until melted.   Alternatively you could put the chocolate in a bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water and stir until melted.  

Pour the melted chocolate evenly over the melted marshmallow layer and carefully spread it out to completely cover the slice.  Sprinkle over some sugar stars or other sprinkles if you want.

Put the tiffin in the fridge for at an hour to set.  Cut into small squares to serve.


Thursday, 22 January 2015

Kale, Butternut Squash, and Mozzarella Toastie

I was asked my the lovelies at Warburtons to create a sandwich using their Sandwich Thins which are only 100 kCal per thin.  I decided to make a toasted sandwich that would be great for an after school snack on the way to clubs and work equally as well for a filling lunch.


Kale, Butternut Squash and Mozzarella Toastie

100g butternut squash, peeled and finely diced
2 Tblsp garlic butter
1/2 chilli, deseeded and very finely diced
1 small onion, peeled and finely diced
1 handful kale, finely shredded
1 handful mozzarella cheese
4 sandwich thins

Heat the butter in a small frying pan and cook the squash, onion and chilli until the squash is cooked and has softened.  Add the kale and cook until wilted.  Remove the ingredients from the frying pan and divide between two sandwich thins.  Sprinkle over the cheese and top with another sandwich thin.  Using a frying pan or sandwich press, heat the sandwiches on both sides until the cheese melts and the sandwich thins are toasted and crisp on the outside.



They also asked me to share with you their ideas for Food Trends that will be popular in 2015:

Creativity, contrasting flavours and convenience are the new watchwords on the food scene this year. Research carried out by Warburtons reveals the new food experiences, flavours and the diverse options we will be eating in and out in 2015:

Sweet and spicy mix up
Look out for the likes of jalapeno honey and ghost chilli honey topped on chicken-and-waffles, whipped into butter, mixed into salad dressings, snuck into sauce. It started with salted caramel but this year the idea of subtle clashes in food will become the norm.

A nation of grazers
Quick, portable and smaller portioned foods on the go are replacing traditional meal occasions with the continued popularity of street food testament to this trend. 

Beneath the surface
Carrots are the new pork belly, cauliflower the new steak, winter kale the new burger. Vegetables, no longer the supporting players in restaurant meals, now have the starring roles. Watch out for parsnips making a come back and kohlrabi, part of the cabbage family, rising in fame.

Creative sandwiching
Adventurous sandwiches will pick up pace in 2015 as consumers think outside the (lunch)box to add flair, not calories to their meal and enjoy food their way. Sandwich alternatives such as thins are hot property this year as they complement this growing trend offering consumers a versatile canvas to add exciting flavour fillings at 420 KJ / 100 Kcal per thin.

Breakfast evolution
Taken on-the-go during the week and ‘out-of-hours’ at the weekend, the most important meal of the day is either healthier, quicker and convenient or long and leisurely. Portable foods like yogurts, breakfast sandwiches and fruit are in huge demand. When looking at breakfast eaten out, everyday ‘home style’ breakfast products are on the rise as shown by Brixton’s popular Burnt Toast eatery where consumers are invited to toast their own bread. 

Search, eat, share
As generation Z make themselves known, technology will become a core fixture of food occasions. Whether it's the restaurant experience, the ordering process or social sharing of food, a side of technology will be a must-have. 

Manipulation
Prepare for adjustments in restaurant environments and the way food is served, as foodies play with our senses and manipulate the way the brain tastes and interprets food. Diageo found that if you drink a glass of single malt in a room carpeted with real grass, accompanied by the sound of a lawnmower and birds chirping, the whisky tastes "grassier".

Noodles
The speed, ease, tastiness and value for money that noodle based dishes offer will see the love of noodles continue in 2015. Bone Daddies Ramen Bar hit London by storm recently showing just how popular noodle have become.

Rising Stars
Just as dining is becoming less and less formal, so too do we look less to the old guard of cooking, and look more to the young, exciting cooks. Shaping how and what we eat over the next few years will include Florence Knight at Polpetto, Marianne Lumb of Marianne and Daniel Doherty, head chef at Duck and Waffle, who published a book this year and is pushing a great number of boundaries in the kitchen.

Back to the future
Childhood food formats that are deliberately re-invented in an adult form – from milkshakes to fish finger sandwiches. Childhood food rituals are coming back.


Sponsored Post:  I was compensated for my time, expertise and ingredients to create this recipe.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Chocolate Fudge Cake

Having 3 older children and a new baby means life is busy and finding enough time to spend quality time with each child can be tricky.  I decided to have a 90 minute session with each child once a week where they pick the activity and we are uninterrupted, except if I need to feed bubs.  The eldest two have their time with me on the weekend when hubby can look after bubs, 8yo and whichever of the other two isn't with me.

My 8yo has her session on a Tuesday after school as both older children have after school clubs until 5pm.  She loves to cook and bake so last week wanted to bake a Chocolate Fudge Cake with help from me when she requested it.  We had a good chat and she did so well, I helped by fetching ingredients that she couldn't reach and putting the cake in the oven and taking it out once cooked.  

Chocolate Fudge Cake


175g caster sugar
175g butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla bean paste or extract
3 Tblsp golden syrup or honey
3 large free range eggs
40g ground almonds
175g self raising flour
40g cocoa powder

Icing:
250g chocolate, we used plain/dark chocolate
250g butter
70g light soft brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla bean paste or extract

Make the icing first.  Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan over a low heat.  Stir constantly until the mixture is smooth.  Pour into a bowl, cover with clingfilm and chill in the fridge for an hour or until thick enough to be spreadable.

Preheat your oven to 180C/160C Fan/Gas Mark 4.  Grease and line two 20cm/8 inch sandwich tins.

Cream the butter, sugar, vanilla and golden syrup together until light and fluffy.  Gradually beat in the eggs one at a time.  If the mixture looks like it is starting to curdle add a tablespoon or two of flour to stabilise the mixture.

Once the eggs are incorporated fold through the flour, cocoa and ground almonds.  Spoon the mixture into the tins and smooth the top.  Bake in the preheated oven for 30 - 35 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cakes comes out clean.

Remove the cakes from the tins and cool on a wire rack.  Sandwich the cakes together with icing then spread the remainder over the top and sides of the cake.  8yo decided to grate white chocolate on top of the cake followed by a generous helping of golden and dark chocolate popping candy sprinkles.

8yo took an Instagram photo just before the cake was devoured, apologies for the bad lighting.


Sunday, 18 January 2015

5 Minute Soup


Having a young baby is lovely, it also makes it very tricky to get anything done.  I need to keep up a decent diet to ensure that I can breastfeed effectively but that means making things in advance or whipping up snacks and lunch one handed whilst cuddling/feeding bubs.  

Being part of Jumpstart January is helping as having a smoothie for breakfast is easy to achieve, and quick to make, as is having soup for lunch.  I normally make soup in advance and freeze in batches so all I have to do is reheat a portion and lunch is served.  However, I had run out of soup portions from the freezer and needed a quick lunch for hubby and I the other day when he was working from home.  I was inspired by this post from Jac, fast and wholesome soup in mere minutes.

I used two sachets of steam vegetables along with some fresh kale, stock and a small tin of chickpeas for my soup.  It was a vibrant green colour and tasted delicious.  Hubby, who can be a bit picky about spinach and kale, declared it to be really tasty and he'd happily have it again. Hurrah!

5 Minute Soup


2 sachets Peas, Spinach, Broccoli and Sweetcorn
2 large handfuls of fresh kale
750ml hot vegetable stock
210g tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed

Cook the vegetables following the instructions on the pack.  Put the cooked vegetables into a power blender along with the kale, hot stock and chickpeas.  Blend until smooth and serve immediately or pour into a saucepan and heat for a few minutes then serve.  The soup was accompanied by some Quick Bread Rolls.



Other Bloggers joining in with Jumpstart 2015:

Friday, 16 January 2015

Chocolate Energy Balls

I've been trying to come up with snacks that aren't baked treats and can be whipped up by the kids, and withstand being in the kids lunchboxes.  Here's one of the recipes we came up with.  It is so easy! Just bung everything into a food processor or power blender and whiz it together.

Chocolate Energy Balls


200g dates
200g unsalted mixed nuts
200g dark/plain chocolate, melted
desiccated or shredded coconut, for coating

Put everything, except the coconut, into the bowl of a food processor or power blender and blitz until a smooth paste forms.  Using damp hands roll heaped teaspoonfuls of the mixture into balls and then roll into the coconut.  We made approximately 25 balls from this mixture.

Put the balls onto a lined baking tray and then refrigerate for 2 hours or until firm.  These keep in the fridge, in a snap lock bag, for a few days.  


Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Beetroot Smoothie - Jumpstart January


My daughters have been eyeing up the smoothies I've been having for breakfast and usually have a small serving each.  Having 3 others taste test my creations can be a mixed blessing, sometimes I have to make an extra batch after school so they can have some because it was tasty.  Other times they are less keen, as long as it tastes good to me I'm happy - especially as it means I don't have to share.

They were very curious when I whipped up this beetroot concoction, the colour is lovely and bright and cheery.  I had to make another batch as it was rather popular.



Beetroot Smoothie

2 cooked and peeled beetroot
2 apples
2 oranges
1 dollop vanilla bean paste
water/milk/coconut milk as necessary

Put all of the fruit and vanilla into a power blender.  Blend until smooth then add water or milk  and blend again.  Add more water/milk until smoothie is a consistency you are happy with.

Serve chilled.


As I mentioned previously, I am joining in with Jumpstart January and enjoying a smoothie for breakfast and soup for lunch.  Lots of other lovely bloggers are also part of the campaign, here are some of their latest posts:

Tinned Tomatoes
Slim down with Jumpstart January
Jumpstart 2015 – A Diet and Health Plan
Orange, Carrot and Goats Cheese Salad with Pumpkin Seeds
What I Ate and What I Lost



Sunday, 11 January 2015

Our Family Meal Plan for this week - 12-01-2015

It is a busy week this week for us, as is usual for our household.  The 3 girls have after school clubs starting this week so those, and other evening events, need to be considered when compiling our Meal Plan.

I've fallen back in love with my slow cooker as it is so convenient.  Having a young baby to look after means that cooking needs to be either quick and simple or the 'bung it in the oven/slow cooker and forget about it until it's done' kind of dinner.  I don't have the time or energy for faffing about, especially in the evenings when we're all tired and running short on patience.

Breakfasts this week for me will be smoothies as I'm doing #Jumpstart15, everyone else will be having porridge or cereal and either a small serving of smoothie or a piece of fruit for afters.

Lunches for me will be soups, and likewise for the older two who will be taking flasks of warming soup to school with them.  Youngest and hubby will be having sandwiches with crudites, everyone will be having a small baked treat and pot of yoghurt.

Soups for Packed Lunches

Mixed Vegetable Soup

Sweet Potato and Pumpkin Soup



Vegetable and Lentil Soup


1 onion, finely diced
2 celery sticks, finely sliced 
2 carrots, peeled and diced 
1 swede, peeled and diced
1 garlic clove, crushed 
1 Tblsp ground cumin 
115g (1/2 cup) red lentils 
2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes 
1.25 Litres (5 cups) vegetable stock 

Put a large saucepan on the hob over a medium heat. Sauté the vegetables and garlic in a little oil until they begin to soften. Add the cumin and cook for a minute until fragrant. Add all the rest of the ingredients to the saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until all the vegetables are tender. If I can be bothered I whizz up the soup a little with a stick blender. I serve this with cheese on toast or crusty bread rolls.


Dinners



Pasties, made from leftover casserole


Creamy Bacon and Vegetable Pasta

500g spaghetti
200g unsmoked back bacon
350g frozen chopped spinach
Handful or 2 of frozen mixed vegetables
300ml pot crème fraîche

Bring a large saucepan of lightly salted water to the boil, add the spaghetti and cook following pack instructions. When the spaghetti has about 3 minutes left to cook toss in a handful or two of frozen mixed vegetables.

Meanwhile, in a deep frying pan, fry the bacon until the fat starts to run and then add the garlic, fry until the bacon is lightly golden. Add the chopped spinach and 2 tablespoons of water, then cover and cook until the spinach has defrosted.

Remove the lid, stir everything together, season to taste, then cook for a further 2-3 minutes.

Drain the spaghetti and vegetables and add to the bacon and spinach mixture with the crème fraîche. Stir to thoroughly combine and serve immediately.

Quick and Easy Root Vegetable and Lentil Curry

Quick and Easy Oven Baked Risotto

Apologies that there isn't a Shopping List this week.  I have run out of time and energy. Bubs is teething, despite being only 15 weeks old and it has been a very long weekend indeed as older two had 12 pieces of homework between them.  I hope to be back on form with a shopping list next week.

You can find more Meal Plans in the linky on At Home With Mrs M.


Saturday, 10 January 2015

Quick Bread Rolls

Having a young baby and three older children means that baking these days has to be either very quick or able to be fitted in around everything else that is going on.  Over the festive season, when everyone had a bad cold at one time or another, we had lots of soups as they are a great way to get vegetables into us and are also easy to swallow if you've got a sore throat.  

I developed this recipe as a way of making bread rolls at morning tea time that would be ready to eat with lunch.  You can flavour the rolls how you like, I like to add dried mixed herbs and sometimes I use garlic butter instead of normal butter.  You can sprinkle over some grated cheese before you bake them if you want.



Quick Bread Rolls

375ml milk, I used semi skimmed
40g butter, cut into small chunks
3 tablespoons sugar
650g plain or bread flour, I used 400g plain flour and 250g wholemeal flour
7g instant yeast, 1 sachet
1 1/2 tsp salt

Cut the butter into small cubes then put in a microwave safe jug or small saucepan. Heat the milk and butter until lukewarm. Leave to cool until it's around 38C, or cool enough to hold a finger in without it feeling hot or cold.  Measure the flour into a bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the milk and butter mixture along with the yeast and salt. Mix until a soft dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a well floured board and pat out into a rectangle shape. 

Grease a 25cm x 35cm (approximately 9×13 inches) baking dish. I use a large pyrex dish.

Divide the dough roughly into 12 or 24 portions and carefully form into balls. I made 24 as our appetites weren't as big as usual and the smaller rolls suited us.  Put the dough balls into the greased dish, cover the dish with clingfilm and leave to prove in a warm place for half an hour. Preheat your oven to 180C/160C Fan. Bake the rolls in your preheated oven for 15-20 minutes until golden brown and cooked through.



Sunday, 4 January 2015

Vegan Mango Smoothie

 As I mentioned, I'm joining in with Jumpstart January which means I shall be having a smoothie for breakfast and soup for lunch in an effort to incorporate more vegetables into my meals and feel healthier.  
I needed to use up a couple of very ripe mangoes that we purchased for 10p each in the reduced section of the produce department of our local supermarket.  I decided to use coconut milk for another tropical taste and also add tofu for protein and to thicken the smoothie.  

This recipe made five thick smoothies, a delicious start to the day for us all.

Vegan Mango Smoothie

2 large, very ripe mangoes
400ml can coconut milk
150g silken tofu 
juice of a lime (optional)
ice (optional)
Maple syrup or agave nectar, to taste

Peel the mangoes and roughly dice the flesh.  Put all the rest of the ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth.  Thin with some water or more coconut milk if you wish.  Pour into glasses and chill before serving. 


Friday, 2 January 2015

Jumpstart January With Smoothies and Soups


I'm joining in with Jumpstart January in an effort to include more vegetables in my diet and ensure that I have healthy choices available for breakfast and lunch which are the main times I am tempted just to grab whatever is available and not make good choices.  I'll be drinking smoothies for breakfast and enjoying soup for lunch.  My smoothies will have only one portion of fruit in them with vegetables and some protein included.  I am deliberately limiting the fruit in my smoothies as it is naturally high in sugar and I don't want a sugar laden drink to start the day.  

Jumpstart Jauary for me means:

A freshly made smoothie for breakfast
Soup for lunch, with lots of vegetables included
Drinking more water and less coffee 
Wholegrain or vegetable based snacks
Normal meal with my family in the evening
Having a low fat and low sugar pudding, probably fruit and greek/natural yoghurt
A square or two of dark chocolate if I need a treat

I want to have a healthier diet and avoid calorie counting.  I hope to lose some weight but my goal is to improve my diet and have more energy not to shrink overnight by following a very restricted diet.  I'm breastfeeding so need to ensure I maintain a good milk supply, therefore I need to maintain a certain level of calorie intake.  I consulted my GP and Health Visitor before I decided to embark on Jumpstart January.  

My smoothies will include vegetables such as carrots, beetroot, celery, kale/spinach, avocado, chard, and cucumber along with spices such as ginger, vanilla and cinnamon - not all at once though!  Soups are easy to make in advance, frugal, perfect for packing vegetables into, freeze well, and are usually low in calories if you don't add cream, pasta, or serve cheese toasts to accompany it.

I'll be using my powerful Froothie Optimum 9400 Blender which is great for making smoothies and blending soups or making quick soups from scratch.  I've also used it to make nut butters, great for adding some protein to smoothies. 

There are quite of few bloggers taking part:

Tinned Tomatoes
Fuss Free Flavours
Ren Behan
Elizabeth’s Kitchen Diary
Maison Cupcake
Veggie Desserts
Franglais Kitchen
Smarter Fitter
London Unattached (focusing mainly on soups rather than smoothies)

Please consult a doctor before embarking on any change in diet or restricting calories or food groups.  Consulting a nutritionist or dietician is also recommended should you be compiling diet meal plans.

 You can keep up with Jumpstart Jauary by following our blogs and the #Jumpstart15 hashtag on twitter.