Croissant-topped fish pie

In my book, fish pie is comfort food. I love fish and when paired with smooth mashed potato it always manages to hit the spot. It is somehow able to make me forget the trauma and drama the day may have brought and enter a happy place of clear thinking. This is, however, until I try and serve it to my children and my husband. No one else in the house seems to have the same appreciation of mashed potato as I do. It breaks my heart that they don’t understand the comfort that can come from this combination that I so adore.

With this in mind, I set about planning a new way to serve fish pie that wouldn’t disgust my family and cause copious arguments over the dinner table. I was looking at online chicken pie recipes and I came across one topped with a tin of croissants. I followed the link the recipe stated to put the uncooked croissant pastry on top of the pie instead of short crust pastry. This surprised me as I had presumed that it would involve a savoury  croissant bread and butter pudding top to the pie. Then I realised I had accidentally stumbled upon the solution to my fish pie problem. This made me happier that it  should have and I managed to contain my excitement by planning the shopping for the following week and adding the ingredients for my Croissant-topped fish pie onto my shopping list.

Ingredients

  • 300g white fish (or fish pie mix)
  • 150g small prawns
  • 1tsp mixed herbs
  • 2tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/2tbsp pesto
  • Seasoning
  • 4 croissants
  • 3 eggs
  • 50ml single cream

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 170°c fan.
  2. Chop the fish into bite size pieces and place in a bowl with the prawns. In our house prawns are called rainbows from when Seb, when aged just under 2, said they looked like a rainbow and it has just stuck!
  3. Add the tomato paste and pesto, mixed herbs and season.
  4. Slice the croissants.
  5. Place the fish mixture in an oven proof dish and put the sliced croissants over the top of it.
  6. Crack the eggs into a bowl and whisk well. Add the single cream and season and mix again.
  7. Pour it on top of the sliced croissants and put it into the oven for 25 minutes. Check after 15 minutes and cover with foil for the last 10 minutes.

We served this with broccoli and it was wonderful to see the children eat fish pie without trying to avoid the mashed potato on top of it. Seb and Atticus enjoyed the whole process of making it and it is a recipe that will become a family favourite over time.

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Peppermint Tea Chocolate Chip Muffins

I am a big procrastinator. I will do literally anything to avoid doing household chores such as putting the clean laundry away, sorting out the kids’ toys or hoovering. This is how I came to create this recipe. While ignoring the aforementioned chores on Saturday morning I discovered it was National Tea Day. I am not overly fond of tea, my morning’s are fuelled by coffee and the caffeine it provides me. That said, I do love a soothing peppermint tea to prevent me from jittering in a caffeine-induced trance at the school gate and speaking so quickly that no one is able to decipher what I am trying to say.

When I was thinking of tea related recipes my brain automatically started thinking what kind of tea would go best with chocolate? I am a self-confessed chocaholic so this is no surprise. That is when I remembered how much I enjoyed the Mint Choc Chip ice cream I had over Christmas. It is not my usual ice cream flavour because as a child the vibrant mint-green colour that some ice creams in this flavour are made me hesitant to eat it. The ice cream I had over Christmas had the wonderfully refreshing combination without the green colour. This led me to believe I could reproduce the flavour in my muffins by using peppermint tea and thus avoiding the green colour.

These cupcakes are beautifully moist. If you want them to have more of a peppermint flavour you only need to put more tea bags in the boiling water. We left them un-iced, but with some chocolate drizzled on top of them. This was partially because it was easier and quicker, but secondly my children sometimes ignore the cake underneath when presented with a beautifully iced treat. I find this especially frustrating when they have really engaged with the process of making the cake and then decide to forget its existence.

This recipe will make either 12 large muffins or 24 mini ones or even 6 large muffins and 12 mini ones like we made. I should say, we did have to double this recipe so that both the boys could crack an egg as I really wasn’t in the mood for the argument over who would be allowed to crack the egg! I was distributing them to neighbours on Saturday afternoon – I believe I am starting to become quite popular despite the noise my children make!

Ingredients

  • 200g self raising flour
  • 115g caster sugar
  • 65ml milk
  • 50ml crème fraiche (we used half fat)
  • 1 egg
  • 60g vegetable oil
  • 120ml boiling water containing 2 peppermint teabags (we used Teapigs)
  • 100g chocolate chips (we used milk)
  • Melted chocolate to drizzle on the top (we used 50g dark chocolate)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°c fan and line the muffin tins (we use silicone cupcake cases).
  2. Measure out 120ml of boiling water and put the two teabags in it. If you want a stronger peppermint taste, you can add more teabags. The two give the muffins a delicate peppermint flavour. Put to one side to cool.
  3. In a large mixing bowl mix together the self raising flour, sugar together. Crack in the eggs and mix thoroughly. Add the milk, crème fraiche and the oil and mix it all until it is fully combined.
  4. Hopefully the teabags will have cooled a little bit by this time and if they are cool enough let the children squeeze them to get the excess liquid off them and let out the peppermint flavour. If they are still a bit warm leave them a little bit longer before squeezing them.
  5. Pour the tea into the muffin mixture and gently stir until it is combined. The mixture will be thin and runny, but this isn’t a problem. Add the chocolate chips and divide the mixture evenly between all of the cupcake cases (just under 2/3s full).
  6. Place in the over and cook for 15-18 minutes until golden and springy to the touch. A skewer will come out clean when inserted (unless you manage to hit a chocolate chip!) The smaller muffins will take less time around 12-14 minutes.
  7. Allow the muffins to cool and then drizzle with the melted chocolate.

The kids and I enjoyed these as an afternoon snack. Simon, who isn’t a huge fan of peppermint, liked them as the peppermint wasn’t too overpowering.

Right now I really should get back to putting the clean laundry away as much to my dismay it will not magically happen. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy the recipe.

 

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Oven-baked Crumpets and Homemade Jam

The 23 April is St George’s day. If I am honest, and honestly I do tend to be as it prevents the guilt that lying can cause and I am just not a good enough liar to pull it off without getting myself into a pickle, this sort of occasion tends to pass me by before I even realise and have the chance to do any activities relating to it with the kids. This year Simon suggested that I get the kids involved about a week ago and this spurred me to find a recipe that I had not made with the kids before, but which was also traditionally English.

Many ideas zipped across my head and I immediately became desperate to try as many of them as possible. I had to tell myself to slow down and that there is plenty of time to make bubble and squeak with leftovers and convince the boys to eat stewed fruit so they will enjoy a tasty, yummy, delicious, warming crumble. Yes the boys love fruit, but both refuse point blank to entertain the possibility of consuming stewed fruit in any sort of pudding. It is very strange, but, as yet I have been unable to change this. Ophelia, much to my delight, doesn’t share this peculiarity. After I had manage to channel my thoughts, I decided what could possibly be more English than crumpets and fruit jam? After reading that crazy jumble of ideas, you have a greater understanding of how hard it is for my family and friends (my husband in particular) to keep up my train of though and stay sane during the process!

Crumpets are traditionally cooked on a griddle and despite their regional variations, the crumpet that we recognise today seems to be a product of the Victorian times when yeast was added to the recipe. Now before you start thinking crumpets, gosh they sound fiddly and difficult and I don’t want my child standing over the hob for that long as they will get bored and you never know what mischief or trouble they could cause, don’t worry these are oven baked. Woop woop! My children all love crumpets and eating homemade crumpets definitely makes the process all the more special.

For the crumpets

  • 225g plain flour (or gluten free flour – see note below the method for gluten free flour)
  • 7g fast action yeast
  • 200ml tepid water
  • 100ml milk
  • 1tbsp golden syrup (we have found that Tate and Lyles is the best brand as some of the other brands do sometimes leave the crumpets with a slight orange tinge)
  • 1/4tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/4tsp salt

Recipe adapted from Peyton and Byrne, British Baking

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°c and set a timer for 2 minutes. In the meantime boil the kettle and fill a bowl with the boiling water. Once the 2 minutes is up, turn off the oven and the oven light and place the bowl of hot water into the oven and close the door. This will create good conditions to activate the yeast during proving.
  2. Measure out the tepid water and add the yeast and mix until the latter has dissolved.
  3. Sift the flour into a medium-sized bowl (I give the kids a spoon to push the flour through to reduce the mess and ‘make it snow’) and create a well in the middle of it with the back of a spoon.
  4. Add the milk to the yeast and water mixture and mix well. Then add the golden syrup and mix again until fully combined.
  5. Pour the yeast mixture into the well in the flour bowl and mix with a wooden spoon until smooth.
  6. Add the salt and the bicarbonate of soda and mix again.
  7. Cover with cling film and place in the oven to prove for 30 minutes. At the end of proving the mixture should seem thicker, have air bubbles and be sticky to the touch.
  8. While the mixture is proving grease you muffin pans. I used silicone ones either sprayed in frylight or greased with margarine. Atticus enjoyed painting them with the margarine. Silicone ones do make removing them from the pan easier. A well-greased metal muffin tray could be used instead.
  9. Once the proving time is up remove the crumpet batter from the oven and switch the oven to 180°c fan.
  10. Fill each muffin compartment around two thirds full and then level gently with the back of a spoon if they don’t seem flat. We filled 6 circular and 5 heart shaped compartments.
  11. Place in the oven for 12-15 minutes until the tops are a light golden colour and springy to the touch.
  12. Leave in the muffin trays for a couple of minutes to cool and them remove to cool further. You may be thinking these don’t look like the crumpets you buy at the supermarket, but once they have cooled a bit more slice them in half to expose their trademark air bubbles. Try and avoid slicing them when they are piping hot as it is easier when they have cooled a little. To reheat place under the grill for a couple of minutes. Enjoy with jam, butter, peanut butter or even Nutella! These do have a sweet taste due to the golden syrup.

To make these gluten-free follow the same process, substituting the plain flour for gluten-free plain flour. This mixture will not rise as much or have as sticky texture as the normal plain flour and will be considerably runnier. They don’t rise as much during cooking either and are slightly stodgier than their plain flour counterparts. I have, however, been informed by a gluten-free friend that they taste like normal crumpets. They may need to be cooked in the oven for a minute or two longer as well and are best toasted. The close up on the left is a gluten-free crumpet and as you can see the holes are less pronounced.

For the Chia Seed Jam

In this recipe the chia seeds act as the gelling agent instead of the pectin. The more chia seeds added the thicker the jam will become. You will not get the same set jam that traditional jam making will yield, but as I have discovered, it is a perfect way to introduce children to jam making.

  • 2 cups of fruit (we used apple and blackberry as we had some leftover frozen blackberries from last autumn’s foraging trips.)
  • 1-2tbsp lemon juice
  • 1-2tbsp clear honey
  • Chia seeds (the amount you require depends of the consistency of the jam you want. If you want a thick jam, you will need more chia seeds. We did use quite a lot of chia seeds as we wanted thick jam.)

For older children;

  1. Wash and peel and hard skin off of the fruit (such as apple skin). Chop fruit. Berries can be left whole.
  2. Stew the fruit for around 10 minutes until it is soft. I am personally happy to supervise my 5 and 3 year olds using the hob, but if you would prefer the adult can do this for the child. If you have chosen very ripe soft fruit then you can bypass this step.
  3. Squish the fruit with a potato masher.
  4. Then add 1tbsp of lemon juice and 1tbsp of honey. Check the sweetness and then add the rest of the lemon juice or honey if required. If the fruit is particularly sharp, then you may well need more than 2tbsp of honey.
  5. Add 1tbsp of chia seeds and leave to start setting. If you do want a firmer jam rather than a thick fruit compote continue adding chia seeds 1tsp at a time at 10 minute intervals. The last step of adding further chia seeds may be the part that you complete for the child. Place in sterilised jars (if the fruit was stewed do this once it has cooled) and store in the fridge.

If you have young children (between 1 and 4) you can still make this recipe. I would advise you choose a soft very ripe fruit such as strawberries or raspberries and they squish them with a fork or potato masher and then follow the same steps as the stove-top method.

As soon as we have finished making the jam, Atticus turns around and says to me; ‘Mummy I don’t like jam.’ I had to do my best not to snap at him and remember how much fun he had making the jam with his brother and working the apple peeler and watching the jam get thicker. Luckily, Seb and Ophelia both seem to like it. Ophelia managed to get it all over her face and behind her ears, but she did have a smile all over her face when she did so I was happy. I took this as a positive sign and this gave my patience levels a much needed boost after Atticus’s comment!

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Provisions for Little Pirates

Seb, my eldest, went into school dressed as pirate on Friday last week – complete with oversized pirate hat and a moustache and beard drawn on with eyeliner. The reason for this unusual attire in school was Pirate Day: a day comprising offsite pirate-themed activities. Atticus, not wanting Seb to have all the fun, also insisted on taking part so also spent the day dressed as a pirate. That was all good until I took him swimming and spent a couple of minutes wondering why people were staring at him and looking at me strangely. I am that mother who looks at her son with an eyeliner beard and moustache as we are about to go swimming and doesn’t twig that there may be something wrong with his appearance. Oh well, at least he was happy! No harm done and Atticus didn’t understand the lifeguard’s comment about having aged a lot since the last time she saw him!

As this was Seb’s first school trip, I decided that the occasion had to be marked and what better way to do this than with pirate-themed food? This started the debate of what a pirate actually eats. Simon said that it had to be something they could mainly eat with their hands as he couldn’t imagine them eating a formal meal or using cutlery. I had tropical fruit on the brain as I always imagine pirates living in hot places. I am pretty sure that Pirates of the Caribbean is the reason for this, but seriously can you imagine a pirate living in our relatively cool climate?! Fuelled by these two ideas I set about trying to combine them. I came up with two ideas, both of which sounded fun so instead of having to choose which one would be best, I decided we would have a go at both.

The two ideas were:

  • Pineapple and Coconut Granola for breakfast. It seems this flavour combination of granola will now be known as Pirate Cereal. We do end up with some funny names for things in this house and they invariably stick. I am sure this also happens in other families. Please, please, please don’t tell me it is only ours… This recipe is suitable for children of all ages as they can all have a go at pouring and mixing.
  • Sticky Citrus Chicken Drumsticks for dinner or tea or whatever you wish to call it… I seem to be unable to call it tea. It was always called dinner when I was growing up in Surrey, but despite my time in the North and now the Midlands I still refer to my evening meal as dinner and get confused when Seb refers to dinner at school. Isn’t language wonderful?! Anyway, putting all regional variations aside, let’s get back to the recipes. This recipe is suitable for older children as it involves zesting and juicing which are both slightly more difficult skills to master.

To make the granola you will need:

  • 2 cups of oats (you could substitute some of these oats for rice crispies.) Although I have not tried this recipe with gluten-free oats, I see no reason why gluten free oats wouldn’t work.
  • 1 cup of desiccated coconut
  • 1tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2tsp salt
  • 50 ml melted coconut oil or vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp coconut extract (or vanilla if you prefer)
  • 1/4 cup of honey (preferably runny honey)
  • 1/4 cup of brown sugar
  • Approximately 1/2 cup of dried pineapple
  • Approximately 1/2 cup of raisins
  •  1/2 cup of flaked almonds or chopped mixed  nuts

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°c and line two baking sheets with greaseproof paper or silicone baking sheets.
  2. In a large bowl mix the oats, desiccated coconut, cinnamon and salt together well.
  3. In a smaller bowl or a jug, mix the honey, melted coconut oil (or vegetable oil), brown sugar and coconut extract (or vanilla extract).
  4. Pour the liquid ingredients over the oat mixture and mix thoroughly until all coated.
  5. Spread the oat mixture out on the two baking sheets. Bake for 5 minutes and then turn to ensure it doesn’t burn and return to the oven for another 5 minutes. You will need to watch it carefully (especially in the latter five minutes) to ensure it doesn’t burn.
  6. Leave to cool and then store in an airtight container.

To make the chicken drumsticks you will need:

  • 1 pack of chicken drumsticks (you could use chicken thighs or breasts if you like, but as it was pirate food and fingers were allowed for the chicken we went with drumsticks.)
  • 2tsp cornflour
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • Zest and juice of 1 lime
  • Zest and juice of 1 orange
  • 2tbsp runny honey
  • 2tbsp soy sauce

Method

  1. Remove the skin from the drumsticks and preheat the oven to 200°c fan. My children are 5, 3 and 1 so they did not help to remove the skin.
  2. Put the drumsticks into an ovenproof dish and cook for 25 minutes.
  3. Zest all the citrus fruit and put the zest into a bowl – my children love the idea of the zester, but in reality they struggle to use it so they have a couple of attempts and then I finish the process off for them.
  4. Slice all of the fruit and juice. We have a handheld press which works really well, but anyway you fancy is fine, but do watch out for the pips! You will see that this step did require the help of some of the Thunderbirds and Atticus is even dressed as Scott Tracy for the occasion. I will say that fancy dress is optional for this bit, but they do enjoy it! (ps he still had his pirate beard at this time mainly intact despite swimming!)
  5. Add the cornflour to the zest and juice and mix well. Add the soy sauce and the honey and mix some more until all combined.
  6. Pour it over the chicken. Please remember the pan will be hot. I tend to place the dish a distance from the child who is doing to pouring so they can’t burn themselves. Adult: turn the chicken in the sauce to ensure it is fully coated.
  7. Cook for 10 minutes further ensuring that every couple of minutes you spoon the sauce back over the chicken. If the sauce becomes too thick add some more water.

Both these dishes were enjoyed by all little pirates, some of them even polished off two bowls of cereal before leaving the house before the day’s activities! The chicken drumsticks didn’t survive until the following morning as three hungry children and their dad ensured they gobbled them up amid discussions of future pirate adventures.

 

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Cranberry, Bacon and Brie Tart

I love it when my children decide that they want to try a new flavour or food that they have never tried before. I also find they are more willing to taste a new food if we are cooking with it. This was how they all ended up tasting blue wenslydale cheese and it is what led to me making this Cranberry, Bacon and Brie Tart with Atticus. I must say it was quite a feat to convince him not to eat all the brie as we were slicing it for the top of the tart! I was quite surprised that he liked it and was planning of giving the children beans on toast if he turned up his nose at the cheese, but it turns out I needn’t have been concerned, the boy definitely loves his cheese!

This tart can be made in several different ways and as I am a huge fan of experimenting in the kitchen so I like to mix up the recipe that I use for the pastry and how I put the filling together.  This time round we put more bacon in the filling and I relied on the sheer volume of meet in the tart to keep it all together, but you could use less bacon and a couple of eggs and make it more like a brie topped bacon quiche. The latter option would provide greater structural integrity for the tart. We decided to use a scone-like recipe for the pastry and the quantities below make a generous batch which will leave you with a bit left over after covering a 23cm diameter pie dish or very tall or thick sides. If you prefer you could use a short crust pastry recipe, but this one is so simple to put together with children that I do recommend that you give this one a go. Atticus enjoys getting his hands sticky so he happily mixed this all together with his hands, but you could also do it with a wooden spoon. If you would like you can add some parmesan to the pastry to add an extra layer of depth to the flavour, but it isn’t necessary.

Ingredients

  • 250g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 100ml milk
  • 40g melted butter
  • 1/4 tsp mustard powder
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 tbsp cranberry sauce
  • 1 small onion
  • 8 slices of bacon (or 4 slices of bacon and 2 medium eggs to make it a quiche)
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 200g brie

Method

  1. Preheat the over to 180°c.
  2. Put the plain flour, baking powder, salt and mustard powder into a bowl. Combine the milk, melted butter and egg in a jug or cup.
  3. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ones and mix with a wooden spoon or your hands. It will be a sticky dough so flour a silicone baking mat (easier to transfer the dough). Flour a rolling pin and roll the dough out until it is a little bit larger than the size of the pie dish. Transfer the dough to the pie dish and carefully remove the silicone baking mat and gently press the dough into the pie dish. Atticus enjoyed helping with this bit, but close supervision was required as he was becoming a little over enthusiastic during the transfer process and as a result our pastry cracked a bit and we ended up with thick edges following a repair job.
  4. Blind bake the pastry (baking parchment and baking beans on top of it) for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, chop the bacon with scissors. Atticus did this while I chopped the onion. Fry the onion and the bacon with a clove of garlic and season and put to one side. If you would prefer to make this tart more like a quiche, beat a couple of eggs into bacon and onion mixture. Slice the brie into slithers.
  5. Remove the pastry case from the oven and spread the cranberry sauce over the bottom of it with the back of a spoon. The cranberry sauce was also a new flavour to Atticus and he eagerly licked the spoon used to spread it after he had finished covering the case. Pour the bacon mixture into the pastry case and arrange the brie on top to cover it.
  6. Return to the oven and cook for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let stand for 5 minutes before slicing.

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Sticky Toffee Pudding Biscuits

Sometimes I have a recipe idea in my head, but the road to creating it is paved with a few kitchen disasters and sometimes a sugary mess which tends to end up in my tummy! Luckily I now have the foresight to test a recipe before I even attempt it with the children or I would have three very disappointed little people when this happens!

Creating this recipe was enjoyable, calorific, but yes enjoyable.  Sticky Toffee pudding is one of our family’s favourite puddings and I wanted to create a biscuit which perfectly encompasses what we like about a good sticky toffee pudding.This recipe also takes considerably less time than making an actual sticky toffee pudding which means there is less time between starting the activity and enjoying the fruits of our labour!

The addition of oats and ground almonds to create flapjack-like biscuits means that they can be dolloped onto the baking tray rather than having to refrigerate biscuit dough before rolling and cutting it out. This is great for children who get frustrated when they can’t lift an intricate biscuit cutter design from the surface by themselves to put on the baking tray without it breaking. We have had tantrums from little people in our house when such an incident has occurred. Also as it is a biscuit, it could be an acceptable snack as a treat or pudding for hungry little tummies.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup of brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup of butter/margarine
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup of chopped dates
  • 1/2 cup of raisins
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 1tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup of oats
  • 1/2 cup of self raising flour
  • 1/2 cup of ground almonds
  • 2tbsp golden syrup
  • 7 fudge pieces chopped into small pieces.

I have also made this recipe substituting the self raising flour and oats for gluten-free equivalents and used sunflower spread instead of butter and the results were also good, but you may need to cook them for a little less time. They do end up with more of a cakey texture with the gluten-free products, but they still taste good. If you require a nut free alternative you could just omit the ground almonds. I add them as I like my sticky toffee pudding to have a nutty flavour and texture.

For the icing

  • 200g icing sugar
  • 2tbsp of golden syrup
  • 2tbsp water
  • Cake decoration chopped toffee pieces

These quantities will make a very firm icing, you could make it runnier to resemble the toffee sauce that you have with sticky toffee pudding. This will make them messier to eat and if your little people are anything like mine, they may well need a bath after having one!

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°c fan.
  2. Cream the sugar and the butter together in a bowl.
  3. Crack the egg, I tend to suggest that the child gently tap the egg on the surface and then hold the egg in two hands and pull the crack apart. Gently whisk the egg in a cup or bowl with a small whisk or a fork.
  4. Add the whisked egg, cinnamon and vanilla extract into the creamed sugar and butter and mix well. Add the 2tbsp of golden syrup and mix again until fully combined.
  5. Add the oats, self raising flour and ground almonds and mix again and then add the dried fruit to the batter and ensure they are spread as evenly as possible. 
  6. Chop the seven fudge pieces (my children enjoyed trying to chop the fudge pieces with a table knife, but they did need some help) and add them and mix for a final time.
  7. Dollop the biscuit mixture onto two baking trays and place in the oven. The biscuits will spread so don’t place them too close together. This recipe will make around 12 large biscuits or 20 smaller ones. If I am making them for grown ups I do tend to make them larger, but if little people will be eating them, I aim for smaller biscuits.
  8. Place in the oven cook for 8-10 minutes for smaller biscuits and 10-12 minutes for larger ones checking them and moving around in the oven if necessary.
  9. While the biscuits are cooling make the icing. Measure out the ingredients for the icing and sift the icing sugar into a bowl. Add the golden syrup and water mix them all together thoroughly. You want quite a thick icing if you don’t want it to drip off the biscuits too easily. Spread the icing on the biscuits and add some of the cake decoration toffee pieces. If you are unable to get toffee pieces, just chop some fudge and place on top of the icing.

These biscuits have become a firm favourite in our household as all the kids can help out. Even the youngest at 21 months enjoys trying to have a mix and dollop them onto the baking tray. I hope you enjoy them as much as we do!

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A Loveliness of Ladybirds

My sister’s Christmas gift to us was tickets to see ‘What the Ladybird Heard’ at the Curve theatre in Leicester. Well the day finally arrived and we embarked upon our family outing with Buzz the class bear in tow. At the outset, I think I was the most excited, but by the time we had arrived at the theatre Seb could remember our previous trip and was getting excited too.

It was a well-honed production complete with catchy music and plenty of opportunities for excited children to join in. The whole family had a wonderful time and our big surprise was Ophelia (22 months) seemed to enjoy the show the most! We purchased the CD and have now listened to it several times and the children are already singing along when it goes on in the car! I am guessing it may start to grate after hearing it many times over, but we can always rotate it with the music from ‘Room on the Broom’ or ‘Hairy Maclary’ so that’s fine…

We did talk a lot about ladybirds in the car on the way back. Seb saying that they have symmetrical spots and Atticus mentioning they were red. That was when Simon turned to me and said maybe you can make ladybird biscuits with them. This made me exceptionally happy as it isn’t often that the husband of an avid baker actually suggests making more baked goods (we never seem to be short of them), but also he was thinking about a baking project before I had even considered it! It makes me smile just remembering it!

The boys enjoyed weighing out the ingredients and then sifting the dry ingredients to ‘make it snow’ and then rubbing in the butter. I do think their favourite part is licking the remnants of the mixture off their fingers before I insist they wash their hands!

After the biscuits were made and iced, the boys went on a ladybird hunt in the garden. They both managed to find where I had hidden their ladybird biscuits and then happily sat in the sort of sunshine eating them.

We did bake our biscuits, but if you want to do this with minimal effort you could use chocolate digestives as the ladybird, ready-made icing with a little red food colouring added, chocolate buttons as the spots, tubes of icing for eyes and a line down the middle . If you wanted to put more spots on the ladybird than just one each side, maybe consider using chocolate chips instead of buttons as the chocolate digestives would be slightly smaller than our biscuits.

We used the following recipe:

  • 125g plain flour
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • 1/4tsp salt
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 125g unsalted butter

For the icing:

I like to use a thick buttercream as I find it easier to ice biscuits with than glacé icing as it doesn’t drip off the biscuit as easily. I do tend to make buttercream by sight rather than use a recipe, but below you will find approximate measurements. Do add a little more icing sugar to make it more firm and more butter to loosen it if you need.

  • 40g butter
  • 125g icing sugar
  • Red food colouring (we use Wilton gels)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 150°c fan.
  2. Sift the flour, sugar, salt and cocoa powder into a bowl. Usually I give the kids a metal spoon each and get them to stir it through the sieve as they do seem unable to understand gently shake to get the flour through and we end up with flour everywhere. This way is more contained!
  3. Rub in the butter until the mixture combines.
  4. Wrap the shortbread in cling film and put it in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  5. Roll the biscuits out on a floured silicone baking mat or surface cutting out circles (we used 7.5cm diameter cutter). You will probably need to re-roll the shortbread in order to cut out all the biscuits. Depending on how thin you like your biscuits, this recipe will make around 12 biscuits. We did find the thicker biscuits cracked more easily when the boys were holding them to ice them.
  6. Place in the oven for 10-12 minutes. Remember: as these biscuits contain cocoa it is harder to see if they are burning. I tend to cook them for 5 minutes, rearrange them in the oven and then cook for another 5-7 minutes checking them to ensure they haven’t burnt.
  7. Leave the biscuits on the baking trays to cool for a while and then transfer them to a cooling rack.
  8. While the biscuits are cooling mix the buttercream ingredients with an electric mixer. This is the only bit the children didn’t help with as they were playing so nicely and I don’t really like them getting too close to food colouring (my fingers are still red!)
  9. Once the biscuits have cooled cover just over half of each one in the red buttercream. Draw a line down the middle of the buttercream with a dark coloured icing tube and add the chocolate buttons for the spots. Give the ladybirds eyes with a light coloured icing tube. I did have to help mine with the icing tubes as it can be difficult to get the icing out and get it where they want it.

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Giant Picnic Eggs

Following the boys’ interest in the cinnamon brownie scotch egg recipe I decided to see if they would enjoy making picnic eggs. I find making savoury recipes with the children remarkably rewarding as not only can they be just as fun as their sweet counterparts, but by exposing children to more than just making cakes and biscuits they are learning the foundations of how to feed themselves once they have flown the nest. I am aware this is a long-term vision and I am not trying to wish my life away, but I truly believe that childhood dietary preferences prevail in adulthood. This is the reason behind my enthusiasm and dogged determination (some would say stubbornness!) to cook a variety of recipes with my children.

When I planned this recipe, I envisaged cute little picnic eggs like you can buy ready-made in supermarkets and I was enthusiastic to get started. What I failed to factor in was that little equates to fiddly and this is not a characteristic for a recipe which is generally successful with small children. So, I took a step back and re-evaluated my expectations of the recipe and I decided to go forward with it, but that we would make giant picnic eggs rather than little ones.

I must also add here that as both the boys handle raw meat frequently they understand there are some things they can lick their fingers after (such as melted chocolate), but never even try to when we cook with raw meat. This may be something that you need to remind children who have not tried this sort of recipe before. You may find that having a washing up bowl filled with warm soapy water to hand during the recipe is helpful.

Ingredients

  • 2 medium hard-boiled eggs (shells removed!)
  • 1/2tbsp-1tbsp mayonnaise
  • 1tbsp grated cheese (cheddar or parmesan would work well)
  • 500g sausage meat
  • 1 cup of plain flour
  • 1 egg (you may need another)
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2tsp grated ginger
  • 1 cup of fine cornmeal/polenta
  • 1tsp smoked paprika
  • Seasoning

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°c fan and line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper or a silicone baking sheet.
  2. Slice the hard-boiled eggs (we used table knives to do this) and place them into a bowl.
    1. Mash the eggs with the back of a fork and mix with the mayonnaise and cheese and season. You should be able to get a tbsp of the mixture and be able to roll it into a sticky ball.  It does need to be quite sticky so it doesn’t dry out too much during cooking.
  3. Crack the egg in a bowl and add the ginger, garlic and seasoning and beat it well.
  4. Place about half a cup of the flour on a plate or bowl and put about half a cup of polenta mixed with seasoning and some of the smoked paprika on another plate/bowl.
  5. Take a tbsp of the hard-boiled egg mixture and cover it in sausage meat and roll it into a ball. Roll the ball in flour, dunk it in egg and then roll in the cornmeal. Place on the baking sheet. 
  6. Repeat step five, remembering to replenish the flour and cornmeal plates if they are running low. It is easier to put small amounts on at a time rather than all of it or you may well end up with flour and cornmeal all over your table! You may also need to beat another egg.
  7. Cook in the oven for 20-25 minutes until they are golden and the sausage meat is cooked.
  8. Enjoy either warm or cold.

The children enjoyed making and eating these for dinner one night and then in a packed lunch the following day. Grandma, Auntie Nicola and Daddy also enjoyed eating them. Special thanks go to Grandma for allowing us to use her kitchen to make these and being an extra pair of hands to fill up the flour and cornmeal plates.

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