Archives for category: parenting

It seems that baking bread shaped like small animals can be addictive.  After the excitement created in the Breadfortheboys household by last week’s caterpillar bread I couldn’t wait to make these ladybird rolls as a weekend treat.

Initially I toyed with the idea of making a savoury bread and using beetroot to create the red colour but I couldn’t think of anything other than squid ink to make the dark head from so I then set on the idea of making a sweet(ish) cherry and chocolate dough and then colouring some of the dough with cocoa to make the ladybirds’ heads.

As with the caterpillar bread I made the dough the night before and refrigerated it overnight.  Being an enriched dough it then needed several hours at room temperature to rise well so we finally got onto shaping the rolls just before dinner time, after we came home from spending the day at the Thame Food Festival.  My eldest really enjoyed being the “header” and, apparently, I was the “ladybirder” (meaning I was responsible for making the main body).  He was a bit disappointed that they weren’t bright red on the outside once they were baked but we glazed them with a brown sugar and cream glaze after baking which gave them a bit more of a ladybird-like shine (and really enhanced the flavour).

I’m pretty pleased with the result as a first attempt.  They taste delicious split open, to reveal the pink insides, and spread with butter.  I think I need to work on the sugar/salt balance a bit though – I’ll post the recipe once I’ve got that right.

I think I must have been a bit over-excited about watching the quarter final of The Great British Bake Off last night as I thought to myself “ooh I think I’ll just get a cake into the oven before it starts”. Fifteen minutes before it started.

I know, I know, I said I was planning a month of lighter cooking but I’ve had the dry ingredients for Nigella’s Quadruple Chocolate Loaf Cake weighed out and taking up space in a container on the top of my fridge for a couple of weeks now, since I weighed out the ingredients for a third loaf cake when I made the fire engine cake. Just in case there was a need to avert disaster late in the proceedings.  Then there was the fact that my Mum brought me some dark purple plums and I couldn’t stop thinking about plums and dark chocolate in combination.

So, I had lots of reasons to come up with a variation on this moreish cake and call it Plum and Chocolate Loaf Cake with Sloe Gin Syrup.  Well, why not?

I replaced the sour cream and all but 20ml of the boiling water in the Nigella Lawson recipe with 210g of cooked plums (simmered gently for 25 minutes with nothing added).  I also replaced most of the dark chocolate chips with chunks of Roasted Almond Dark Lindt chocolate and 25ml of the water in the chocolate syrup with 25ml sloe gin which I added after removing the reduced syrup from the heat.  I cooked it for ten minutes longer than stated in the recipe but I always find this cake needs a little longer in my oven.

The result is pretty good but, well, it is not quite Nigella.  A bit like chocolately Christmas Pudding really.

Lesson learned: don’t mess about with what is already good, I decided to follow the recipe to the letter for this evening’s meal and made Marcus Wareing’s Sea Bass with Cauliflower Puree from October’s Delicious Magazine (the link will be added when the recipe has been published on the website).  The recipe was included as part of a feature about the Action Against Hunger Campaign promoting specific ingredients in its fight against child malnutrition (in this case, fish).

This is an excellent meal for young families – not only is it really tasty (the baby gleefully covered himself in the cauliflower puree and my eldest, who wasn’t so keen on the cauliflower, was asking for more fish before I had even taken my second mouthful) and nutritious, but much of the preparation can be done in advance and it only takes just over thirty minutes to make.

I’ve loved Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar ever since I was a child which is lucky since I’m often asked to read it several times a day.  I decided an Eric Carle-inspired Saturday morning baking session was in order with this ‘tear-and-share caterpillar bread’.

I made the basic dough on Friday night and left it to prove in the fridge overnight.  This meant all the boring bits were out of the way before getting the children involved.

After breakfast I added some cheese to the dough and cooked some frozen chopped spinach, squeezing the excess water off through a fine seive.  At this point my eldest wandered over to ask “what are you making Mummy? Bread rolls?”.  “I’m making caterpillar bread”.  That did it.  High/chairs were drawn up for him and the baby so they could watch.  The baby was less excited about the whole thing and promptly jammed his finger in the kitchen drawer.  Otherwise it went smoothly.

We separated some of the dough off to make the caterpillars head and dyed it red with tomato puree.  I kneaded the spinach into the bulk of the dough to make the caterpillar’s body and one nice green leaf.  We used kalamata olives for the eyes, nose, antennae and feet.

We went out for a walk to allow our caterpillar to become a big, fat caterpillar and returned home not a moment too soon as he was almost too big to fit in the oven!

Given that I have had to start using Thai curry pastes in almost homeopathic quantities since the boys started eating solids I have found little point in making my own curry pastes for the time being.  I know, I know, they keep well in a jar in the fridge (and I could probably even freeze them) but my poor brain just can’t cope with any recipe that has more than about ten ingredients just now.  So, for mid-week meals at least, a good quality commercial curry paste will be just fine for the moment, thank you!

This noodle recipe isn’t intended to be authentic but something accessible for the boys and quick to put together at the end of the day (I tend to chop the veggies at lunchtime when the little one is having a nap).  Once everything is plated up I add extra finely sliced red chilli, coriander and spring onion to the adult portions to give it a much needed kick!

I’m hoping that these introductions to small amounts of spicy flavourings as part of a long term goal of one day being able to all sit down together and having a decent curry.

On the sweet and spicy front I made some eccles cakes today.  To be served with Wensleydale cheese.  Something traditionally British for my sister-in-law to try.  If there are any left by the time she wakes up in the morning.

We’re all very excited in the breadfortheboys household as one of my lovely sister-in-laws is coming to stay with us from Australia.  She is going to have to sleep in the cupboard under the stairs as our house is tiny.  I hope she doesn’t mind.

I’ve been trying to work out what she might want to eat when she gets off the plane.  My mother-in-law always gets it right with a cool yet comforting bowl of vichyssoise and toast.  Great when you are going from freezing cold London to lovely warm (or cold, or wet, or scorching – depending on what mood the weather is in) Melbourne!

I think simple food is best most of the time, but especially when you’ve just got off a plane, so there will be toast, lots and lots of toast.  Fruit. And macaroons.

Not the pretty, ultra-sweet and brightly coloured ones that are all the rage at the moment.  I love them but my preference is for these Chewy Almond Macaroons (Nigella Lawson, Feast).  They are chewy, marzipany and scented with rosewater and cardamon.  They can also be out of the oven and on the cooling rack within thirty minutes of me deciding to make them which is definitely an added bonus.  They will spread out a little more and become flatter than the ones in my picture (see this picture) if you use larger eggs (mine were on the small side of large).  A bit of squidginess might be lost though, which would be a shame!

Now, what to do with those leftover egg yolks.

I have two ‘lessons learned’ (as they would say at the office) from the first time I made Ragu Alla Napoletana from Antonio Carluccio’s Complete Italian Cooking*.

1) Ask your butcher to slice the topside of beef for you rather than trying to do it yourself from a small piece – not easy – even if you have good knives.

2) Do not attempt this when nearly eight months pregnant, especially if you have not asked your butcher to prepare the required number of beef slices.

Had I realised how quick and easy this dish can be to put together I might have acknowledged that the need to sit down whilst making this, along with the feeling that the task was insurmountable, might have been the warning signs that the baby was going to arrive a few weeks earlier than expected!

Today’s attempt was much easier.  I could reach the worktop for a start.  My wonderful butcher checked what I would be making with the beef so he could get just the right piece of meat and cut it correctly.  After that it was a breeze and took just a little over thirty minutes to put together.  It can then do its own thing in a slow oven for a couple of hours and then sit in the fridge for a couple of days before you are ready to eat it with some penne and a glass of red.

Well, that was the theory anyway.  I think I might have left it rather too much to its own devices as it was, sadly, a little overdone.  So, a third lesson for me.

It is a very tasty dish though so please don’t let my struggles put you off!

* Like most ragus, everyone has their own version of this, there is probably a version for every family in Naples – a quick google will find a myriad of Ragu Alla Napolenta recipes.  In this version beef topside is rolled around a mixture of pine nuts, parmesan and parsley and cooked in red wine.

“It is like a jam factory in here” said Mum.

I’ve brought the boys to stay with my parents for a few days to do all the things we normally do, somewhere else, with extra pairs of hands.  We’re having fun.

One of our reasons for the trip is to collect late-summer fruit and make jam together.  My parents enjoy foraging just as much as we do so, equipped with large bags, punnets and a long pole, we head for the Dunton Plotlands, the remnants of an area of small holiday homes for Londoners from the early 1900s which became permanent abodes after The Blitz.  A variety of fruit trees, as well as the ubiquitous blackberry bush, are abundant in the area.

Being the summer holidays a lot of the fruit has already been collected but there is still more than we know what to do with.  We return home with early cooking apples, various types of plums, and damsons.

The apples went into a caramelised apple pie which we ate with cream for pudding.

We’ve decided that the best way to make jam-making less arduous is to simmer the fruit earlier in the day or even on the previous day and then add the sugar and make the jam in the evening, after the children have gone to bed.  Despite the fact that my Mum taught me to make jam we find that our methods have diverged somewhat over the years.  I like to use a jam thermometer, she doesn’t need one!  She likes to fish the stones out after the fruit is cooked rather than de-stone the cold fruit.

Our minor disagreements aside, we both agree that the jam tastes delicious!

I haven’t made this delicious beetroot risotto since before the boys were born but it is a great one for adults and babies alike. Although not for toddlers.  Not according to the toddler anyway.  His main complaint was that it was red.  I said it was purple.  He said…well you can imagine, it was a lengthy and unproductive discussion.  I don’t think it can have helped that (unbeknownst to me) he had tomato risotto (aka Orange Rice) at nursery.

Earlier in the day I had been trying to think of ways to distract the boys from the fact that we were having blackberries for the third day in a row.  Then, whilst attempting a (futile) rainy-day decluttering of The Cupboard of Doom, I stumbled across a set of lego man ice lolly moulds.  Surely this could not fail.

Sadly, for anyone looking for actual recipes here, there was not much change to the sorbet/jelly recipes that I have previously written about: 400g blackberries and 40g sugar.  Fruit gently stewed and juice (yield 200ml, three lollies) pushed through a sieve. I added just a dash of lemon and about 20ml water to help achieve a firmer freeze.  They took ages to set though and only one of them was firm enough for an outing at dinner time so I probably could have got away with more water.

The 39 year old was certainly impressed: “Oh, cool, a Lego man icy pole!”

The toddler was also impressed but more so when the man’s head fell off onto the table.

I’m still in the ‘can’t have too much of a good thing’ phase with blackberries.  It is only the first week in August after all.  It might last a while for me but I might have to rein myself in a bit when my husband starts throwing me a slightly nauseated look at the appearance of yet another blackberry creation.

Part of the problem is that my toddler loves blackberry picking (choosing to do that rather than go to the water park today) and then you have to do something with all the blackberries (although more go in his mouth directly than come home in his basket).

Anyway, today’s delight was a just-set blackberry jelly.  Pretty much the same recipe as the sorbet but with enough gelatine to set the liquid.  I infused a little mint with it today.   I felt they belonged together since the mint was growing in amongst the blackberries.  Not everyone agreed.

There seems to have been an accidental Italian theme on the food front this weekend with risotto yesterday and a ribolitta this evening.  Oh, and a cheeky Danieli gelato after a spot of strawberry picking (a scoop of pistachio and another of mandarin sorbet, both sublime).  The ice cream was probably rather unnecessary after eating rather a lot of delicious cake at two toddler birthday parties but I really couldn’t resist!

It has been a while since I made a ciabatta but I needed one to go in the ribolitta.  Despite it being a very satisfying bread to make it does tend to take over the whole kitchen as you need a virtually pourable dough and I always end up with pools of doughy water and clouds of flour everywhere.  I have to say it was a bit of a made up effort and far from perfect but I still managed to acheive the open texture I was looking for.

In fact it must have been rather better than I thought as neither of the two loaves survived beyond Saturday lunchtime when we ate them with some Neufchatel we bought from the farm/agricultural college we visited in Normandy (we met the cows who provided the milk for it)!  Then I had to make an emergency bread machine Italian style loaf while we were out on Sunday.  Not quite the same but it just about did the job.