We are nearly at the end of January and I am taking big breathes to relax as we have made it. It really can be a really dreary and depressing month weather wise and with everyone trying to be good it can seem like the fun is sucked out of it. Let me tell you this though, it isn’t all bad as when life gets overly stressful, when the kids drive me round the bend, my wonderful husband sends me off to a café on my own, with my laptop so I can write a blog post in the day and he instructs me to eat cake. Yes my lovely readers, my gem of a husband sends me out to eat cake. Some of you may well struggle to believe that I have to be told to eat cake with all the things we make, but it turns out I do… I have just ordered my second slice and I am not feeling one bit guilty. Why? Because it has been a stressful day month and I have been really good since I devoured practically a whole batch of meringue topped mince pies – and that was last year! Please don’t remind me that that was only last month! Yes the second slice of cake may well cancel out the rest of the good in the month, but for my sanity I was ordered to eat cake, so I have. It is one thing I can tick of my list without any trouble. And I will vow to work with even greater dedication at the exercise classes I attend during the week. So if any of my instructors are reading this yes you may yell at me to work harder next week and I won’t roll my eyes at you or grimace at you. I promise. Well I promise to endeavour not to!
So before I went out to eat loads of cake, last week the boys made these delectable Apricot and Pistachio Energy Balls. We seem to get through kilos of dried fruit in cereal, cakes and snacks during the year, but looking back over the things we have made, I realised energy balls had never featured. The main reason is due to the nut content and me being super paranoid about another child getting hold of them in the school grounds. But when they have these, I herd the children out of the school grounds questioning where their snacks are, (it is after all a long walk or trek in their eyes home) and then distribute them to the eager recipients. I would maybe say though, they are probably better as a pack up snack in the winter months as they do need to be stored in the fridge.
I promise they couldn’t be easier to make. My children made them one evening after school and enjoyed the fruits of their labour the rest of the week and over the weekend. They are literally one of the easiest thing to make with your little chefs. We also made it a game to see who could go the longest while rolling them into balls without licking their fingers. I have to say even I was sorely tempted to lick my fingers as they were so truly scrummy and at the end we all sat there eating the remains off our fingers before hand washing! We truly must have looked a sight! Poor Ophelia though, watched from the other end of the counter as she had a particularly bad cold I that was one thing I was not eager for her to share. She was given a little spoon to lick to feel included while she chatted along to grandma.
275g dried apricots
85g shelled pistachios
2tbsp runny honey (or use maple syrup to make vegan)
Place all the ingredients in a food processor and put the lid on.
Turn it on at a medium speed. You may need switch off and scrape the sides a bit.
Blend together until the ingredients form a big thick clump.
Remove the lid and the blade from the food processor and take pieces of the mixture and roll into balls. Ours were all slightly different slices, but mainly around the half a tbsp. mark.
Refrigerate for a couple of hours and the return to the fridge in a tub. These will store in the fridge for a week or so.
It has to be said that the boys were more fond of these than Ophelia. I do think that the no finger licking contest that they had going made this activity even more fun and made them want to eat even more of them! There were many happy sounds from them when I said I had energy balls for snacks. I think we shall be trying some different flavours next time. I am dreaming of chocolate and ginger… I shall leave that one out there and hopefully they will come around at some point!
I was never a particularly rebellious teenager. That said, I do remember being told off by my dad when I was thirteen for reading a book in the back of the car as we drove across the Grand Canyon National Park. I remember having looked out the window and seen the astonishing beauty of the scenery, feeling overwhelmed and then delving back into my historical fiction book about the area that I had bought earlier that day. Language and books have always held a spot very close to my heart. While translating I used to spend hours procrastinating with Roget’s Thesaurus to try and find the perfect word to convey the meaning of the text. This may seem to have no connection whatsoever to the Fat Rascals that I made with Ophelia last week, but the word rascal got me thinking of what other words I could use for them. So, drum roll please… we made Massive Scoundrels! It made me chuckle so much to myself that I had to share!
For those of you who haven’t heard of Fat Rascals before, they are a rich scone and rock cake hybrid from Yorkshire. I don’t come from Yorkshire, but my sister and I had a lovely mini break there before I had the kids, when I was between jobs. We went to the iconic Betty’s Tearooms and had a Fat Rascal and tea. It was exquisite and I still hold very fond memories of that trip and the Fat Rascal all these years later. So when I was hunting for something I could make with Ophelia and was thinking of scones, I decided we would try and replicate Betty’s yummy Fat Rascals. The exact recipe Betty’s Tearooms use is a closely guarded secret, but I did some research and drew elements from a couple of recipes I found in my cookbook collection and online. They did also resemble my memories so I was happy.
These are excellent to make with children as they can get involved in pretty much every stage from rubbing in butter, pouring cream, squishing and squashing to form the dough and counting out and tearing the glacé cherries and counting out the almonds to make faces on top of them.
For the dough
125g plain flour
125g self raising flour
1tsp baking powder
100g unsalted butter
75g caster sugar
150g dried fruit (we use a mixture of raisins and sultanas)
Zest of half a lemon
60ml double cream
6 cherries halved
18 whole almonds
1 beaten egg
Preheat the oven to 200°c or 180°c fan. Line a baking tray with a silicone baking mat or greaseproof paper.
Sieve the flowers into a large bowl. I tend to let the children alternate between gently tapping the side of the sieve and gently stirring the flours in the sieve.
Stir in the baking powder.
Add the butter and ‘tickle’ it into the flours until it looks like fine breadcrumbs.
Add the sugar, lemon zest, cinnamon, nutmeg and dried fruit and mix until fully combined.
Pour in the cream and the beaten egg and mix gently before bringing together with your hands. Knead until a dough has formed.
Divide the dough into two equal pieces and then make three equally-sized pieces from each of the two pieces of dough. You should have 6 lumps.
Shape each lump with your hands until they look like large rounds.
Brush the second beaten egg over the Fat Rascals.
Tear the 6 cherries in half and use two pieces on each for eyes.
Use three almonds on each to make a smile.
Place in the oven for between 15 and 20 minutes. They are done when golden brown. Leave to cool on the tray for 5-10 minutes before moving them.
When these came out of the oven and Ophelia had a look at her handiwork and she exclaimed: ‘They look like gulper eels!’ In case you are not as familiar with sea creatures as my Octonaut-loving two year old, a gulper eel is an eel with a mouth which looks disproportionate to the size of its thin tail. It’s animation in the show portrays a creature with beady eyes and small, but very prominent pointy teeth. So I suppose she was right, they do look a bit like gulper eels in their own little way…
We are only a week into the new term and I am already having to coax the kids out of bed in the mornings all the while trying to convince them that it is morning despite the darkness. It seems to be one of my eternal frustrations in my parenting expedition. I use the word expedition as I most certainly do want to conjure up the image of the sheer volume of allegedly necessary paraphernalia that the kids, and therefore me by default, accumulate and need to have on hand at any given time.
Having just read the above, I think it is abundantly clear why parents tend to favour quick and easy evening meals. I know for me that by Friday all my intentions of well balanced, homemade and nutritious meals is abandoned and the kids eat ready made pizza and garlic bread and I heave a sigh of relief while they happily chatter and gobble it up. Fish and chips always used to be my go to meal for Friday evenings. However, this started becoming an issue when Seb started school and it turns out they serve a fish meal on a Friday at lunch. This made him reluctant to have fish and chips for a second time in the day so Friday food then became pizza and we now rarely buy fish fingers.
Lucky for me, my kids seem to like fish. I know for some parents the only way that their children will even contemplate eating fish is if it comes breaded and served with chips. But not all fish fingers are created equal. We like the ones made out of 100% fish fillet, they just taste nicer. And if that makes me a fish finger snob, so be it… Anyway back to our recipe. We decided to use crushed cornflakes (so much more than a breakfast cereal!) instead of breadcrumbs, some dried mixed herbs and garlic granules for added flavour and the result was really yummy fish fingers!
For the three children, we used 2 fillets of cod. I sliced them into ‘finger-sized’ pieces before starting cooking with the kids.
2 fillets of cod
1tsp dried mixed herbs
1/2tsp garlic granules
Preheat the oven to 180°c and put a silicone baking mat on a baking tray.
Put the cornflakes, mixed herbs and garlic granules into the food processor and blitz until fine and place on a plate.
Crack the egg and gently whisk in a small bowl. Add the tablespoon of milk and mix.
Dip the fish fingers in the egg and ensure all sides have been coated.
Roll the fish fingers in the blitzed cornflakes to ensure that all sides are covered.
Place on the baking tray and put in the oven for 15-20 minutes until golden and fully cooked. We turned ours half way through cooking time.
My kids had a lot of fun making these and there were no leftovers. If I am honest, I should have made more as I would have liked to have some too! I should also say that, my kids are generally quite messy in the kitchen, but this last photo shows the extent of the damage and this time around it was limited. I can’t express my surprise that they had managed to keep most of the crushed cornflakes on the plate! Maybe this is the start of less messy cooking sessions? Nope, who I am kidding there is no chance that this was anything more than a fluke! Do let me know if you make this recipe.
And just like that the Christmas holidays are over for another year. Part of me is rather looking forward to having a bit more time to get everything done, but the other part of me is mourning the end of the holiday time and the fact that the boys are returning to school. As a last fun activity for the holidays I thought it would be fun to experiment in the kitchen with a steamed sponge. If the thought of having to watch the pan and continuously top up the water puts you off making a steamed sponge, we cooked ours in the slow cooker.
You could make this with any flavour jam or curd that you have leftover in the fridge or even some gift jars like we did. As we made lemon sponge we put in lemon zest and juice, but altering the flavours would be really easy. For a vanilla sponge, use 1tsp of vanilla extract and your jam flavour of choice. For a chocolate sponge, remove a tbsp of the flour and add a tbsp of cocoa powder and 100g of chocolate chips and use chocolate spread instead of jam or curd. I am sure a chocolate-based pudding is pretty much a firm favourite in most households!
Since starting cooking with the kids regularly, I have learnt that asking small hand to hold a citrus fruit and have a go at zesting invariably ends up with somewhat grumpy children. They want to complete the task, but as yet are unable to hold such a large fruit and operate the zester at the same time. To enable them to complete more of recipes using zest on their own, we tend to use a tub grater with the small grater attachment to achieve fine zest. Atticus managed this admirably for this recipe and was quite sad when he had done it all! It may seem obvious, but maybe this tip will help someone. It took longer than it probably should have for the penny to drop for me!
The one bit of this recipe the kids didn’t do by themselves, was folding the lid and tying the string around the pudding basin. This can be a bit of a tricky process. I had Seb lay the foil down first and then the baking parchment over it. We folded it in half and then he painted the greaseproof paper with butter. I tied the string round in a double knot while he held on to the edges of the paper to ensure it all went under the string. I did also let Atticus pour the water into the slow cooker. Yes we did have a bit of a puddle on the surface and the floor as the jug was too full for him to accurately gauge the angle and say splish splosh at the same time!
Butter/margarine for greasing the pudding basin and parchment
5tbsp of lemon curd
175g butter/margarine (remove from the fridge early to soften if using butter)
175g golden caster sugar
175g self raising flour
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of half a lemon
Grease a 1.2 litre pudding basin with lots of butter or margarine. We always use silicone brushes to do this and the kids have fun painting the surface.
Put the 5tbsp of lemon curd in the bottom of the basin and put to one side while making the sponge.
Put all the ingredients for the sponge in a large bowl and mix together until fully combined. We used electric beaters to do this.
Pour or dollop the cake mixture into the pudding basin over the lemon curd.
Lay out a bit of foil which is large enough to cover the pudding basin with a bit extra and then a piece of baking parchment on top of it. Put a fold vertically down the middle and grease the baking parchment with butter.
Put the baking parchment (butter side down) over the pudding basin and tie the string round in with a knot. You could also fashion a handle from the string, but I don’t tend to.
Pour water into your slow cooker so that it reaches half way up your pudding basin. We used cold water so the kids could decant the water.
Put the slow cooker on high for 3 hours. I checked the progress of ours by peaking under or poking a skewer through the wrapping at 2 hours. The pudding is ready when a skewer comes out clean.
When out of the slow cooker, uncover and turn the pudding out onto a plate. Serve immediately with custard or ice cream or even plain.
You could also make this on the stove in a large pan allowing it to simmer for 2 1/2 hours. I have found that this is a wonderfully adaptable and versatile pudding. We made ours after lunch and served it for pudding at our evening meal after afternoon when it was ready.
A very happy new year to all my lovely readers wherever you are. Like most people, I find it so very easy to get lost in the random period between Christmas and New Year. At the end of boxing day, I feel as if the Christmas celebrations should be drawing to a close, but my pantry and kitchen indicate otherwise. I wouldn’t be exaggerating much by saying that we still have a small mountain of chocolate left over despite our best efforts to make it shrink. I don’t think we shall need to buy any more chocolate until Easter. I have even found some new places in our messy pantry to hide chocolate from myself and everyone else to save for when everything and everyone are driving me around the bend and I need a chocolate fix. I am sure you will agree that this isn’t selfish, but merely survival!
In a desperate attempt to move away from sweet recipes with the kids after a wonderfully sugary build up to Christmas, I managed to entice the boys to make their lunch. I am completely convinced that the only reason that I succeeded in doing this is because I said the recipe included popcorn. This baffled them somewhat as they normally have unflavoured popcorn with some raisins or nuts for film snacks and made them all the more eager to get stuck in. The other reason for using popcorn is the pure sound of joy that comes from the children when the popcorn machine starts whirring and popping and the popcorn comes jumping out.
75g popped plain popcorn
100ml garlic and herb cream cheese
80ml crème fraiche
150g grated cheese
2tbsp tomato paste
3 slices ham (or omit to make vegetarian)
Preheat the oven to 180ºc fan and grease and line a brownie tin or a square or rectangular cake tin.
Crack the eggs into a large bowl and whisk.
Add the cream cheese, crème fraiche, tomato paste and seasoning and mix well.
Put the grated cheese, ham (if using) and popcorn into the mixture and mix until fully combined.
Transfer the mixture to the tin and bake in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven when golden and the cheese is all lovely and melty. Leave for 15-20 minutes to cool before slicing into squares.
Simon and the kids had this for lunch one day. I was expecting them to leave some so the kids could have some the following day. This didn’t happen as all the pieces were gobbled up at lunch! I suppose this is an accurate indication of their opinion of the bake! Do get in touch if you have a chance to make these Cheesy Popcorn Squares.