Sunday, 28 October 2012

Meal Planning Monday (29 October 2012)

This week I am organised, efficient, early out of the starting blocks, inspired. Why? I have been rediscovering my cookbook collection, as you can read here. I am trying to keep smugness to a minimum, but this mix of readiness and enthusiasm is so unusual it fair makes me giddy!

In order not to get overwhelmed by the number of cookbooks I now have at my disposal, and to avoid spending four days on the sofa reading them, I have picked a handful to pick this week's menu from. In case you are interested, they are:

Indian in 6 by Monisha Bharadwaj
A Taste of Heaven and Earth by Bettina Vitell
Chinese Cookery by Ken Hom (I aaaaammm the One and Only...)
The Indian Kitchen by Monisha Bharadwaj

These were the first to hand that I couldn't put down without salivating which I reckon is a pretty good sign. I am being good and designing this week's menu according to what's in the cupboard, together with veg I will be able to get at the market. As usual, it's all meat and dairy free. So, from the books we have:

Sweet and Sour Bengali Lentils, with Gujarati-style carrot and cabbage stir fry, and rice
(no chana dahl but yellow split peas will do fine)

Refried Bean Burritos
(attempting to get brownie points with husband with this one)

Stir-fried vegetables in black bean sauce with rice noodles
(am hoping this is a good replacement for a lost recipe)

Red bean patties filled with coconut and coriander chutney
 (very excited about this one!)

And to go with this we will have:

Lentil Herder's Pie
(lovely from the freezer easy dinner)

Spaghetti Bolognese
(need to make a big batch for the freezer)

A lunch brought by my mum
(lovey lady)

Spicy Bean and Tomato Soup
(leftovers from today)

Sandwiches, fruit, muffins, smoothies etc...

Yum! I am also hoping at some point to try out some Quinoa Breakfast Muffins I have been mulling over and it might be time to treat myself to some of my much loved Chocolate and Beetroot Muffins, so long as I can get beetroot. 

All this and a child with chicken pox, and a room full of junk and boxes to sort out! Better start eating to get the energy up...

For more on Meal Planning Monday, visit At Home with Mrs B.

Cookbook Frenzy! Rediscovering recipes you already own.

This week we are having a big push to sort out the Black Hole that exists in our flat: one of the yet to be renovated rooms that is officially a store room but has become an impossible to navigate dumping ground. I am not posting a photo of it because, quite honestly, it's just too horrible to share.

My parents are coming over in a couple of days to help occupy the baby so I can dive in there and not emerge until it's respectable. And usable. Lucky me...

Anyway, today I have been doing some preparatory clearing out around the edges and I decided it was time to dig out my cookbook collection that has been languishing in there for far too long. Time for a streamlining session, or so I thought.

As you can see, there's a fair few books here: 38 to be precise. I already have around 20 in the kitchen that I use regularly or have more recently acquired and then there is my magazine cuttings collection which is, to put it mildly, extensive.

It seems that despite the fact that this collection was acquired during my meat and dairy years, there's vegan life in them there books. Quite a lot, in fact. You see, one thing I have learnt since giving up meat and dairy is that it is actually easier to convert meat dishes than vegetarian dishes. It's all that cheese. Some vegetarian books have very few recipes without cheese, many of them so fundamentally reliant on the cheese that it's fairly pointless to try 'veganising' them. Sorry, I hate that word but it has its uses.

One such book I looked at tonight seemed to take cheese obsession to extremes. The great Italian cheese Gran Padano featured in every single recipe and it was a while before I twigged and noticed it was in fact an advertising brochure for - yes - Gran Padano. I'm tired, okay? But my point still stands. The inventive Simon Rimmer is one that springs to mind. Less cheese, please Simon, because other wise I love the food!

Needless to say my streamlining session did not go as planned. In each book there was an immediate selection of very tasty sounding meals. A really good sounding recipe for refried beans ... a stonking black bean sauce ... a book that tells you every single way imaginable with potatoes ... smoky lentils ... sweet and sour lentils ... coriander dahl ... mushrooms with curry butter ...

I want to eat it all now! You may notice the Indian slant to my choices but that's no surprise to me. It is our favourite food and we spent some time in India a few years ago so we have a knowledge of it that goes way beyond the British curry house (which I love, by the way). And now I come to look at them altogether, I have a pretty good selection of Indian cookbooks!

Lucky, lucky me. My only problem now is how on earth do I choose what to do first! Menu planning may take some time this week...

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Meal Planning Monday (22 October 2012)

Okay, so Thursday might be pushing it for joining in with Meal Planning Monday, but this week is not a normal week.

The babe has chicken pox so I am more than a little disorganised. He's not sleeping, not eating and not self-entertaining. In short, he is Always There and always needing me, poor pickle.

Still, food needs producing regardless so this week the theme is definitely 'Easy Meals and Stuff I found in the Freezer'. Sadly, I haven't found as much in the freezer as I would like so as soon as the babe is better I shall do a big batch cooking session.

Anyway, meals we have had or are going to have this week include:

Lentil Herder's Pie 
(big batch made so that's a start with that freezer)

Winter vegetable stir-fry
(I know, only Autumn, but there you go)

(dairy free, delicious, won me many brownie points with husband)

Spicy bean and tomato soup

Cheat's mushroom, spinach and lentil Curry
(only cheating because it uses bought curry paste, of which I am a big fan)

Cheat's mushroom, spinach and chickpea Curry
(spot the difference...)

For the babe so far: medicine, breast milk, grapes and pizza (yes, even with a sore mouth!)

For more on Meal Planning Monday, visit At Home with Mrs B. 

Friday, 19 October 2012

Perfect toddler friendly flapjack - dairy free and no added sugar

I have been on the hunt for a no added sugar flapjack recipe for some months and have had several failed attempts. However, thanks to Mamacook I have now figured out how to make no-added sugar that is tasty and - importantly - doesn't collapse into granola every time!

I have tinkered a little with the recipe as I love orange flapjack and the flavour works so well with the dates. Its easy and reliable. The only problem, and it is rather a big problem, is that it won't last long so consider making a double batch!

15 Feb 2013 update: try my new version of this recipe with added veg. Yes! Veg!

Orange and Date no-added sugar Flapjack


150g stoned dates, chopped fine
5 tbsp orange juice
zest of 1/2 medium orange
150g dairy free butter / spread (I use Pure sunflower)
100g raisins or sultanas
225g porridge oats
1/2 tsp allspice

Preheat the oven to 170 C fan ovens or 180 C for conventional ovens.

Line and grease or oil a 9 inch round cake tin, or similarly sized tin.

Pour the orange juice over the dates and add the orange zest. Stir well to coat the dates and then leave to steep for at least 1/2 hour if you have time, even a few minutes is good though. Once steeped, mash the dates as much as possible (I use a fork or you could try a hand blender) until you have a lumpy sticky mixture (many of the dates won't mash but that's fine).

Melt the butter / spread in a saucepan and add the date mixture and raisins / sultanas. Heat gently until it is all combined.

Add the oats and allspice and then turn into your prepared tin. I used a 9 inch round loose bottomed cake tin and it was perfect. Lightly press down the mixture. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until browned on top, but keep on eye on it after 15 minutes. Cut into 12-16 squares (depending on the size you want) and leave in the tin until fully cooled or it will break apart.

Seriously delicious and about as virtuous as flapjack gets!

If you're cooking for toddlers and older babies, why not try these dairy and sugar free Broccoli Muffins? They make a great snack or meal accompaniment. My boy likes to start the day with one!

Top tips for buying thrifty secondhand toys!

If you don't have a lot of money, buying toys for your children can seem a stretch too far when you look at the prices. But with a little bit of effort and the right attitude, you can still keep your child in toys they will love whether it's for birthday Christmas or just an occasional treat.

Toys have a long life span and will serve several children if looked after. Charity shops, jumble sales, online parent sites, Ebay and Nearly New sales are all excellent places to look for toys.

Top Tip 1 - Know what you are looking for

Make a list and stick to it. If you're short on ideas then do some research online: putting 'best toys 6-12 months' in a search engine gets you loads of choice. You might have some very specific wants, but if you can be flexible - any pull along toy rather than a specific one - you are more likely to get some good bargains. One shape sorter is much the same as another in a child's eyes.

Baby Meccano

Top Tip 2 - Buy when you see the right toy

If you see a fantastic toy at a great price, but your child won't be ready for it just yet, buy it anyway if you have space to store it. You might see it again but especially with unusual or older toys, you'll kick yourself if you don't go for it.

I saw this fabulous baby meccano set in a charity shop for just £2 back in the spring but didn't get it out until this summer. Big hit and a really satisfying buy.

Although some of my finds seem lucky, I am persistent and rarely walk past a charity shop without having a quick look. It definitely pays off.

Top Tip 3 - At birthday and Christmas give toys they will grow into over a few months

My son is usefully born in the middle of the year so I can buy for 6 months at a time, but whenever your child's birthday this is still a great tip that my mum gave me. Children can surprise us with which toys they are ready for so having a selection that will last a few months makes sense. Also, a huge pile of presents looks very exciting, but one child can only play with so many at once without getting toy overload!

Activity toys

Top Tip 4 - Buy durable toys

Wooden toys are great buys so long as they are physically in good condition. Tops buys we've found are wooden vehicles, pull along toys, puzzles and building blocks. These can be very expensive to buy new but as always check the price of new ones to make sure you don't pay too much secondhand.

Solid plastic toys are also good, including bath toys, tea sets, activity blocks and

Books are also a great buy, especially board books as they last a long time (so long as not too much chewing has taken place!).

Top Tip 5 - Check toys carefully before buying

If you are buying books, look through each page to check its condition, especially if it is an activity book (such as lift the flap books). Another one to check carefully is 'doing' toys. We recently found a little wind-up submarine for the bath but got it home to find that it the internal ratchet had gone and it didn't work. Instead it just bobs there. Disappointing!

Brightlings Exploration Station
Sometimes, though, it doesn't matter if something is missing. I picked up this Leapfrog Brightlings Exploration Station earlier in the year for £2. I checked over the electronics and they all worked, but it was missing the three little Brightling figures. Since they were only really there to chuck down the shute, I decided the baby could chuck lots of other things down there and bought it anyway. It was a good decision.

Top Tip 6 - Check new price (for current toys) and watch out for postage costs

When you've decided what you want to look out for, do your research on the price of your items new. This is especially important when buying on Ebay as it's all too easy to get caught out with the budding process. A lot of people buying on there don't seem to do their research and, when you put it together with the postage, pay way too much.
Less than £1

When you check prices, check out some alternatives to your first choice as the difference in secondhand price of one wooden pull along toy can be significant. Some toys are more fasionable or timeless and hold their price. But the others are generally just as good, certainly as far as a young child goes.

Top Tip 7 - Look out for unusual places to find toys
Toys from the tip

One of my favourite places to pick up sturdy bigger toys is the tip. Ours has an area for items still in good condition and you pay a very small amount of money that goes to a local charity. A large number of larger plastic toys end up here, as well as baby equipment, so it's worth checking out regularly. We got this wheelbarrow and stool, great for indoor and outdoor use, for £1. 

This amazing car, which is my son's passion and much loved by any visiting child, came from a charity that gets a lot of donations they don't need themselves so they sell on. This beautiful wooden ride-in car , with swivel wheels and a lift up bonnet that reveals the engine (complete with working oil dipstick!) cost £5. Definitely our star find this year.

Star Car Buy

Have you found any particularly good buys, or do you have any good tips about where to find secondhand toys? I'd love to hear from you in the comments.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Meal Planning Monday (15 October 2012)

So given that it's already Wednesday, it won't surprise you at all to find that I don't have a proper meal plan this week. I just didn't get round to it. In my defence, I have been doing some lovely baking!

However, all is not lost. For one thing, there will be food this week (before my husband despairs...): I have recently done a big veg shop so there is plenty to work with. I have got some targets for things I want to make, or have had requested from my husband, and I have food to eat up. I also don't want to shop apart from topping up on essential vegetables and fruit.

I suppose it's rather like Ready, Steady Cook but without the audience and the stop clock (baby needs notwithstanding). Hopefully the food won't be quite so weird either.

Foods needing eating

1 aubergine
1 celeriac
1 butternut squash
Tomatoes (care of a lovely neighbour)
Green Beans (care of same lovely neighbour)
2 parsnips
2 sweet potatoes
2 carrots
1 head spring greens
1/2 swede
1/2 can apricots
Big bag of apples
Leftovers including a bowl of mashed potato, small portion bolognese sauce and curried lentil stew
1/2 pack puff pastry
1 plantain (from another lovely neighbour)
1 tin ackee (came with the plantain)

Actually, that's quite a good selection, if thin on the greens. There is also at least a couple of freezer meals to fall back on (though they will be pot luck since I've lost my freezer pen and they are unidentified...).

So, here are some meals and snacks I think we will definitely have, plus a few ideas of what might come to pass with a bit of luck and a following wind.

Oven baked plantain slices (more of a snack or a side dish)
Leftover curried lentil stew
Mini puff tomato and olive tartlets
Butternut squash soup
Vegetable pizza
Slow cooked root vegetable stew with dumplings
Open aubergine and garlicky white bean toasties
Apple muffins
Apple and apricot crumble
Potato cakes with added greens
Curried ackee pasties
Broccoli Muffins (already made for the babe...recipe here)

That's more than enough to be going on with!

For more on Meal Planning Monday, visit At Home with Mrs B and hello to Stateside meal planners at Menu Plan Monday at I'm an Organizing Junkie.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Toddler friendly Broccoli Muffins - dairy free!

I first made these little muffins several months ago and my son (then about 9 months) ate them up enthusiastically. Recently I have been trying to make our food work a bit harder for us in terms of being nutritious, without losing any of the deliciousness, so I have made a couple of adjustments.

These are easy to make, healthily packed with calcium and a big dose of wonderful broccoli. No added sugar or salt (there's a tiny amount in the yoghurt), Nutritional Yeast for vitamin B12, healthy rapeseed oil for fat, flaxseed for omega 3 oils and soy yoghurt for protein. Great for a snack or as part of any meal.

The recipe is adapted from this one on the Baby Led Weaning website.

Broccoli Muffins

Makes 21 toddler sized muffins or 26 mini muffins

200g broccoli
1 1/2 cups plain soy yoghurt (fortified with calcium and vitamins)
2 tsp cider vinegar
1/4 cup rapeseed oil (or olive)
1-2 tbsp tahini (this is a strong flavour so use less if you're not sure your little one likes it)
2 flax eggs *
1/2 cup Nutritional Yeast
1 3/4 cups self-raising flour
1/4 cup ground almonds (if making nut-free replace this with same amount self-raising flour)
A few sprigs of fresh herbs like parsley or thyme, chopped

2-3 tbsp fortified soy milk (or other dairy free milk)

Preheat oven to 190 C for fan ovens.

Make up flax eggs and refrigerate before starting on rest of recipe.

Cook broccoli. Cook finely and squash any pieces of stalk so no big pieces remain whole.

Mix yoghurt, cider vinegar, oil, tahini and flax eggs together.  Fold in the broccoli and nutritional yeast.

Add the flour, ground almonds and herbs and gently fold together (don't over mix, it will look lumpy). Add in the milk if needed to mix all the flour in. The mixture should be quite moist but not liquid.

Spoon into muffin cases (I use silicone cases, if using muffin tins or paper cases oil well to prevent sticking).

Bake for 15 minutes or until lightly browned with the top springing back when pressed. Let cool for a few minutes before tipping out and cooling on a wire rack. Store in an airtight box or freeze (they freeze and defrost very well).

* To make 1 flax egg: mix 1 tbsp ground flaxseeds with 3 tbsp cold water and whisk until it starts to get gelatinous. Refrigerate for 1/2 - 1 hour.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Meal Planning Monday (8 October 2012)

Last week I did quite a lot of cooking. With Kev off searching and not being able to concentrate on much I retreated to my kitchen. Quite a bit of the food was not great early in the week as I didn't concentrate, but later in the week I got some good batch cooking done. 

We didn't exactly stick to our meal plan but the Curried Lentil, Potato, and Cauliflower soup was surprisingly good, though in no way would I call it soup! Will refine it and post it. It wasn't a slow cooker recipe either, no idea why I thought it was...! I also made the best Lentil Herder's Pie yet but failed to take notice of what it was I did that made it so good. Grrrrr.

I'm planning to do more baking this week, plotting with a friend to experiment with breakfast muffins suitable for babeis and toddlers so no sugar, no dairy, healthy high calorie and lots of lovely fruit and extras.

Lunch: Vegetable flan and bread - leftovers donated by my mum :)
Dinner: Curry leftovers 

Lunch: Spaghetti Bolognese
Dinner: Fried vegetable & bean rice with lots of greens 

Lunch: Curry
Dinner: Soup and sandwiches

Hot white bean and aubergine open toasted sandwiches (didn't get round to these last week)
Dinner: depends on what nice veg I find in the market on Wednesday

Lunch: Leftover curry
Dinner: Roasted vegetables, quinoa and something else I can't think of now

Lunch: Sandwiches
Dinner: Bean chilli with greens and rice


Lunch: Out for vegan roast dinner with friends
Dinner: leftovers

Snacks & puddings
Tinned, fresh and dried fruit, smoothie, crackers or rice cakes & nut butter or hummus or marmite, whole nuts, yoghurt, muffins (full meal muffins for the baby).

For more on Meal Planning Monday, visit At Home with Mrs B and hello to Stateside meal planners at Menu Plan Monday at I'm an Organizing Junkie.

Candles for April

Last night at 7 pm I lit three candles.

One for April Jones and her family. Missing for a week, 5 years old, an innocent child.

One for Machynlleth and the community that has been devastated but has also shown its strength.

One for my village and all my good friends who have been innocently caught up in this tragedy.

April, you are in our thoughts.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Meal Planning Monday (1st October 2012)

I'm really not sure what happened this week but by Thursday I had lost the plot as far as food goes and completely failed to stick to my meal plan. I think I was foxed by having made a huge batch of curry on Monday and then for reasons unknown to man, not frozen it. We were eating leftovers well past the limits of our initial enthusiasm, which was a pity as it was pretty fine curry. I think I need to build in slack to my meal plans for leftovers, although perhaps not always on this scale.

Also I was most perturbed to find that a recipe I had so much looked forward to making - garlicky greens in black bean sauce with rice noodles - was nowhere to be found. I looked through every piece of paperwork (there are a tad too many piles around the house at the moment for optimum tidiness), searched my computer for saved files and then finally wildly searched every corner of the internet I could reach. All for nothing. It's like it never existed. I know it was a recipe rather than something in my head but I have had to admit defeat. It all makes me rather sad, so if anyone sees a likely sounding recipe, please let me know? I feel like James James Morrison Morrison. Not sure why.

I am full of renewed determination to use my slow cooker which has languished for far too long. It is also a menu to tempt my babe into eating a bit more as he's been under the weather the last few days and off his food which is most unlike him.  

Lunch: Lasagne (leftover from last night) and broccoli (because it was there, and I wanted greenery!)
Dinner: Roast with last minute flung together quinoa, walnut and borlotti bean fritters (not bad actually, but 
still need a bit of work )

Lunch: Sandwiches
Dinner: Slow cooker Curried lentil, potato and cauliflower soup (with added experimental curried dumplings)

Lunch: Giant hash (biker husband can never eat enough on bike days) 
Dinner: Bean stew with pearl barley, potatoes and lots of veg

Lunch: Sandwiches
Dinner: Lentil Herder's Pie (in which she daringly shoves in loads of red cabbage...)

Lunch: Hot white bean and aubergine open toasted sandwiches (please let me get round to these, I do love them)
Dinner: Curried lentil, potato and cauliflower soup leftovers

Lunch: Sandwiches
Dinner: Bean stew leftovers

Something at my mum's while I watch my brother run a marathon!

Snacks & puddings
Tinned, fresh and dried fruit, smoothie, crackers or rice cakes & nut butter or hummus or marmite, whole nuts, yoghurt, muffins (full meal muffins for the baby).

For more on Meal Planning Monday, visit At Home with Mrs B and hello to Stateside meal planners at Menu Plan Monday at I'm an Organizing Junkie.