Thursday, 27 October 2016

Family Activities: Making Halloween Cards

Children and toddlers absolutely love anything that involves any arts and crafts and for younger ones, like my daughter Bridget who has just turned two, it's an excellent way of helping them tune their fine motor skills - not to mention keeping them entertained for a while; perfect during half term if your kids are now climbing the walls. It’s just a great family activity.

With Halloween coming up on Monday, I spent some time with Bridget making spooky cards for all the family using a bunch of different items and encouraging her to get messy and have some fun.

We recently bought the Step2 Flip & Doodle Desk for Bridget's birthday, which is a desk with easel and drawers and compartments for all different arts and crafts and it has been such a great investment. We've already had hours of fun with it and I know come the colder, winter months when I'm very heavily pregnant or at home with the new baby, this is going to be invaluable.

Some simple Halloween crafting needn't be an expensive ask either, the only thing we bought were some spooky stickers from a pound shop - everything else we had in supply; and we even used an apple to help us print some paint-pumpkins. 

Homemade Halloween Cards

Halloween Crafting

Things you might need:

· Orange tissue paper

· Coloured card

· PVA Glue

· Some googly eyes

· Pipe cleaners

· Pompoms

· An apple

· Some yellow and red paint (or orange if you have some)

· Sticky backed letters

· Spooky Halloween stickers (can pick up in pound shops, supermarkets or Hobbycraft)

We made eight cards - simply folding 8 pieces of coloured card in half - plus a few paper artworks to practise on first and we did half with the paint pumpkins and half with tissue paper pumpkins (to allow the paint to dry sufficiently).

For the paint pumpkins I cut the apple in half and used a paring knife to make a small incision into the top, and then inserted a lollipop stick, to act as a handle. We didn't have any orange paint, so I encouraged Bridget to mix some red and yellow Crayola paint together in a bowl with a paint brush until we had the desired colour, which she seemed to enjoy. We then dipped the apple fully into the paint and then placed onto the card or paper to make a delightful pumpkin print. Just do half and then set aside to dry fully. Luckily we had a sunny day so left on the window sill and they were dry in a couple of hours.

Using some orange hued tissue paper, purchased in a large pack of ten coloured sheets from Asda (only £1.00) as part of the art supplies, we ripped up small pieces then scrunched them into little balls. I drew, with pencil, a small circle for Bridget on the cards, and then she used some PVA glue with a paint brush and painted the circle, then attached the tissue paper to appear like a pumpkin.

We then used either some cut green pipe cleaner or small green fluffy pom poms to stick on top as the stalk, as well as some colouring with Crayola Washable Markers and plenty of sticker fun. We used the letters to write ‘Happy Halloween’ on a couple of them, obviously I handed Bridget each sticker and told her where to stick those ones for the spelling of the words, but they are lovely and higgledy piggledy, which I think makes them all the more fun.

Once the paint was dry we added googly eyes and plenty more stickers and colouring in – lots of fun.

Bridget and I really enjoyed this quality time together and she was super proud handing them out to her Nanny and Grandad’s too – we’ll definitely be getting some Christmas crafting bits and pieces in the next few weeks ready for the next festive season J

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Pumpkin and Spinach Lasagne

Having a bit of a haul from our Pumpkin Picking on Sunday, I created this vegetarian Pumpkin and Spinach Lasagne on Monday – another Meat Free Monday option added to the repertoire.

I must admit, usually I would make my own béchamel or white sauce for lasagne, but as I had a sick boyfriend at home and our toddler to run around after and was batch cooking for the week, I took a cheat here and used the Dolmio Lasagne Sauce – which actually is pretty decent and I wouldn’t hesitate to use again as a shortcut. I’m not one for processed sauces, but sometimes the need for speed overtakes and the pressures of family and working life intervene.

This was a family dinner favourite – anything involving pasta always is with my daughter and Glen; Glen’s slightly harder to please with our meat-free options, but this went down well and we all agreed we’d have it again.

I thought I’d share this in honour of Pumpkin Day this Saturday in the lead up to Halloween.

Here’s how:

1 small roasted pumpkin (can use butternut squash)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 white onion
1 clove garlic
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp dried oregano
½ tsp paprika
1 pack washed spinach
Lasagne sheets
1 jar Dolmio Lasagne White Sauce
50g grated Cheddar cheese
1 whole nutmeg
Salt & Pepper

Firstly pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees.

Roast the pumpkin until slightly softened. Allow the pumpkin to cool, then peel, and chop the flesh into long slice, discarding the pith and seeds inside (unless you’re using the pumpkin seeds for roasting and snacking on). Set aside.

To make the tomato sauce, add the olive oil to a pan on a low heat. Peel and dice the onion and mince the garlic and add to sauté slowly in the olive oil on a gentle heat.

Once slightly softened, add the tomatoes (could use passata), tomato puree, oregano, paprika and a pinch each of sea salt and black pepper to season. Add a couple of tablespoons of water and allow to cook for at least 30 minutes, or longer if you have it.

Once you’re happy with the sauce, remove from the heat and you’re ready to assemble the lasagne.

Firstly lay a layer of pumpkin at the bottom of an oven proof dish. Then spoon over a generous amount of the tomato sauce (you’ll need two layers so use about half). 

Next place the lasagne sheets over the top – don’t layer these on top of each other or they become a bit yucky in cooking.

Now pour over the Dolmio White Sauce to cover the sheets sufficiently. Now grate the nutmeg over really generously – this gives a really lovely warming flavour and really complements the dish, so be super generous.

Scatter over a really generous amount of spinach leaves – only one layer is spinach and it wilts quickly so add more, rather than less. 

Now repeat the process of adding the pumpkin, topped with tomato sauce then the lasagne sheets and white sauce.

Once again, grate over a really generous amount of nutmeg over the top with salt and black pepper and finish with the Cheddar before placing into the oven.

Cook for 35-40 minutes or until the topping is golden brown and bubbling away. Serve with a handful of green salad leaves, such as watercress or rocket. Enjoy! 

Thai Spiced Pumpkin Soup

Following a lovely pumpkin-picking session at The Pumpkin Patch on Sunday, I made this delicious Thai-inspired Pumpkin Soup on Monday for me, Glen who was at home poorly, and Bridget, for a healthy, hearty and warming lunch.

It’s super simple to make, tastes great and you could make a huge batch of it if you so wished. After pumpkin season has passed, you could substitute the pumpkin for butternut squash; which is readily available throughout the year, or even sweet potatoes. But for a lovely, Halloween-inspired meal, this is a great choice – and it works for vegetarians too.

If you're catering for little ones or those without a heat tolerance - maybe tone down the chilli usage to just half a red chilli - we don't need to as Bridget loves a bit of spice and it's a great family meal.

Thai Spiced Pumpkin Soup

Here’s how:
  • 1 small roasted pumpkin, or half a larger one (roast for 40 minutes)
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 large white onion
  • 1 red chilli
  • 1 clove garlic
  • Two thumb nail piece of fresh ginger
  • Two sticks celery
  • Handful fresh coriander
  • 2 kaffir lime leaves
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 150ml vegetable stock
  • ½ Lime

I like to roast the pumpkin for 30-40 minutes first, then allow to cool, peel and chop into bite-sized chunks, discarding the centre seeds and pith, unless you are doing something with the seeds.

Place the coconut oil into a heavy-bottomed saucepan, and place onto a medium heat.

Now peel and dice the onion and add to the saucepan to slowly sauté. Peel and mince the garlic and chop the chilli and add to the mix. Slice the celery and add to the saucepan, and peel and slice the ginger and again, add to the saucepan.

Add the pumpkin then pour over the pumpkin and vegetable stock, add the kaffir lime leaves and allow to cook down for 30 minutes or so, to allow the pumpkin to absorb all of the beautiful, fragrant flavours.

After 30 minutes, remove the kaffir lime leaves, add the coriander leaves and the juice of half a lime and allow to cool a little.

Once sufficiently cooled, use a hand blender or food processor to blitz to a fine soup consistency.

Return to the pot, and place on a medium heat to bring it back up to the required temperature. Serve with some delicious bread – enjoy!

Thai Spiced Pumpkin Soup

Pumpkin Picking at The Pumpkin Patch, Basildon, Essex

On Sunday, Glen, Bridget and I enjoyed a lovely hour of pumpkin-picking at The Pumpkin Patch, Foxes Farm in Basildon, Essex as a family weekend activity in the lead-up to Halloween next week.

The Pumpkin Patch, Foxes Farm

Despite it being bitingly cold, we wrapped ourselves up with layers and Bridget really enjoyed choosing our three pumpkins to bring home – with the intention of cooking with and some Halloween-inspired decorating.

A huge field jam-packed with piles and piles of pumpkins plus a few more ad hoc ones, dotted around – of every perceivable colour and size – it truly was a sight to behold and the sheer level of people taking advantage of the Pumpkin Patch was impressive too.

There was also ‘spooky’ sweetcorn to be picked, as this is one of Bridget’s favourite things to eat, we loved taking her around and showing her that the corn grows from the ground – such a lovely, fun and educational activity to do with children of all ages.

There was a walking trail amongst the corn rows, but we’d gotten just a little too cold by then, so didn’t take advantage of it this time. 

If you have older children too, there are some big hay stacks dotted around for climbing and photo opportunity fun, plus some even more fun and games – pumpkin bowling and pumpkin noughts and crosses which I thought was a really fun, cute activity. 

Proud of her pumpkin

It’s free entry to the Pumpkin Patch – you just pay for the pumpkins you want to take away with you, ranging from anything from £1.00 to £9.00 depending on the size, so it’s a lovely cheap pursuit for families. It’s open throughout half term this week too and is just a couple of minute’s’ drive from Barleylands – where you have the farm, a few retail outlets and the lovely Tiptree Tea Room where I can thoroughly recommend a scone and a warming cup of tea.

Daddy and Bridget enjoying the haystack

Bumpkin - Pumpkin hiding my bump

The Pumpkin Patch can be found just off the A12 on Wash Road, Noak Bridge, Basildon, Essex, SS15 4BP.


Rafferty's Cafe Wine Bar, St Merryn, Cornwall

During our recent week-long stay in Padstow, Cornwall we enjoyed a really beautiful traditional Sunday lunch at Rafferty's Cafe Wine Bar, St Merryn, which was in very close proximity to where we were staying in Constantine Bay.

There were six adults and two children and they squeezed us in on enquiring, just about, as the last sitting of the afternoon. We wanted to try the restaurant as we’d had a couple of good experiences, on returning to Penrich late in the evening after a full day of sight-seeing, with the takeaway outpost of Rafferty’s Pizzeria, the sister restaurant.

We were welcomed by a friendly and knowledgeable waitress and the continued warmth throughout our meal from the staff was appreciated, especially with our young charges (plus two sleeping children).

The menu was small but rather well formed - I chose the fish tostada to begin which were really tasty - sharp pickled red onion with a little refreshing tomato salad pepped up with coriander complemented the delicately flavoured soft white fish (cod so I believe) and the satisfying crunch from the baked tortilla made for a very pleasing start to the meal.

Fish tostada, Rafferty's

Another appetiser among our group was the patatas bravas - spicy tomato sauce coated fried potatoes which went down well with several around the table.

Patatas Bravas, Rafferty's Wine Bar

For our main, we, all of us, opted for the traditional Sunday roast dinner - a mixed sirloin of Cornish beef with pork belly and we were glad we did.

Presented to the table on two big china serving dishes, everything looked incredibly appealing dished up this way and meant we could each take a little (or in some cases, a lot) of what we fancied. The sirloin was just a little pink in the centre, which was perfect for our group and the pork was lovely and tender to the bite.

Roast Sirloin of Cornish Beef and Pork Belly at Rafferty's Wine Bar

Duck fat roast potatoes were deliciously crisp on the outside with fluffy middles and the perfect amount of seasoning and light and fluffy homemade Yorkshire puddings to soak up the deliciously beefy gravy were very welcome too.

The vegetable selection was fantastic - a rich and creamy cauliflower cheese, roasted heritage carrots of many hues and that were deliciously sweet, curly kale that still had some bite and not the sometimes-over-wilted excuse for greens that comes from overseeing this many covers and a particular favourite of mine, roasted beetroot that was rich, earthy and beautiful in both colour, appearance and taste, just wonderful. Being the only person in our household that likes beetroot this was a real treat.

The children's mini roast dinners came up already portioned and were a good size.

The desserts were equally enchanting, simple but gorgeous Cornish ice creams for the girls. I had a delightful vanilla panna cotta with the perfect amount of both sweetness and wobble plus plenty of pretty specks of vanilla. This was served with a homemade shortbread biscuit and some balsamic glazed strawberries.

Vanilla Panna Cotta, Raferty's Wine Bar
Another dessert was the chocolate torte served with Cornish clotted cream which also went down very well.

Chocolate Torte, Rafferty's Wine Bar

The three course option for adults was priced at £23.50, or two courses for £18.50 which I thought, given the top notch quality of the food, provided excellent value for money. Children's mini roasts were £6.50. Our entire meal for the eight of us came in at just under £200 before service - and was well worth the price.

If we venture back to this area of Cornwall again then we would return in a heartbeat to Rafferty's for the excellent food and warm, welcoming service.

Glen, Bridget and I enjoyed a lovely late afternoon family walk from Constantine Bay to Treyaron Bay to walk off the excesses of Rafferty's which proved absolutely delightful. Cornwall really is beautiful.

Constantine Bay
Fun on Treyarnon Bay Beach, Cornwall

Trayarnon Bay, Cornwall

Friday, 21 October 2016

Old MacDonald's Farm, Padstow

During our recent stay in Padstow, Cornwall we enjoyed a lovely family day out including Glen, Bridget and I,plus Glen's sister Claire, her husband Matt and their two girls, Lola (almost 9) and Pearl (2 and a half) for a Sunday morning at Old MacDonald's Farm on the outskirts of the town.

Set over a large enough area for the children to run loose, but small enough for us to keep an eye on them and be hot on their heels, Old MacDonald's Farm was winding down for the winter months, however it has to be one of the best value days out I've had with Bridget anywhere. The ticket price for both children over the age of two and adults is £7.00 but as they claim, there really are no hidden extras, everything within the farm is included, and there is plenty to keep the family entertained for hours.

Firstly and foremost, it is a farm with plenty of animals to see, feed and pet. From chickens, goat's, birds of prey, horses and even a Shetland pony or two, there’s plenty of wildlife to keep the children entertained and bags of feed were reasonably priced at just £1.00, which meant the children got the chance to feed them and really build up their confidence with animal handling.

The goats were particularly keen and the girls happily got involved in feeding them, which is lovely.

Goat feeding at Old MacDonald's Farm, Padstow

Feeding the goats, Old MacDonald's Farm

The chickens had their own little coops and there was the chance to see where they laid their eggs too, which is great and really educational.

The egg laying section

Feeding the chickens at Old MacDonald's Farm

The girls were encouraged to brush and pet the pony and horses, which Bridget and Pearl loved doing, and Pearl was brave enough to go for a ride on the Shetland Pony for a quick trot around the farm, which was lovely. 

Pony grooming at Old MacDonald's Farm

Bridget and Pearl enjoying petting the Shetland Pony
Pearl taking a trot on a Shetland Pony

Lola was enticed later to have a canter around on a larger pony too but we didn’t manage to persuade Bridget – next time hopefully.

Lola about to go for a canter

Also at Old MacDonald’s Farm were a couple of different adventure playground sections - it was a little wet, but the girls had their wellington boots on so got straight into playing. There was a trampoline section too which went down well and an area with Little Tykes cars and other mini vehicles. 

Bridget enjoying the trampoline

Pearl on the slide

Bridget on the swings with Daddy

In the centre of the farm was a pedal go-kart track which we all had a go at and was lots of fun, and there was also a mechanical train which took us round the whole farm and was lovely. There was even a crazy golf section, which again was all included in the price, but we didn’t have time on this particular day to indulge. 

Go Karts at Old MacDonald's Farm

We just stayed for the morning, but you could have easily broken the day up with a snack at the cafe or taken your own picnic and then gone back for more fun. We were also told there are lots more animals in the summer months such as sheep, cows and pigs and in the lambing season you can get the children involved in feeding the lambs, which they would absolutely adore.

I would thoroughly recommend Old MacDonald's Farm for anyone staying in the Cornwall area for a fun, educational and excellent value day out with the family.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Middle Eastern Roast Pork with Roasted Roots and Yoghurt Dip

At the weekend, following a few weekends of eating a traditional Sunday roast dinner I fancied cooking something different - a twist on the classic and came up with this Middle Eastern-inspired pork shoulder joint that I marinated for five hours and it went down a treat, we'll definitely be having it again.

I served with some roasted 'roots' or carrots and parsnips drizzled with olive oil and scattered with cumin seeds and some garlic-roasted sweet potato plus a little wilted spinach and a quick yoghurt dip - delicious.

The below was enough for Glen, Bridget (age 2) and myself with a little sliced meat leftover for sandwiches the next day.

Middle Eastern Roast Pork and Roasted Roots

Here's how:

  • 1 small pork shoulder (approx 1.5kg)
  • The pork marinade:
  • 1.5 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1.5 tsp dried ginger
  • 1 tsp ras el hanout
  • 1 tsp white pepper
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp rosemary
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp sea salt

The roots:
  • 1 pack baby parsnips
  • 2 large carrots
  • 2 sweet potatoes
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • Pinch sea salt
  • Pinch black pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Everything else:
  • Half pack spinach
  • 2 tbsp natural yoghurt
  • Handful parsley
  • Handful coriander

Firstly combine the cumin, ginger, ras el hanout, pepper, salt, thyme, rosemary, cinnamon and paprika in a small bowl and mix to combine the spice mix. Get your pork joint into a large bowl and rub all over with the spice mix, into the creases of the meat to ensure it is fully coated.

Now wash your hands, and then cover the pork with either cling film or tin foil and place into the fridge to marinade for several hours. If you haven't got five hours, a couple will do.

Once the pork is sufficiently marinated, remove from the fridge for twenty minutes and pre-heat the oven to 180. Then place the pork into a roasting tin, fat side up, drizzle with a little olive oil and place onto the middle shelf. This will need 30 minutes per 500g plus an additional 20 minutes - or cook according to the packaging.

Whilst the pork is cooking, peel the sweet potatoes and chop into flat rounds and place into a small oven proof dish that you can mash into after roasting, place in four unpeeled garlic cloves and set aside.

If using the baby parsnips you can just cut the ends off but I like to peel too as Bridget won't eat them with the peel on. Place them into another roasting dish. Peel the carrots and cut into long wedges, similarly sized to the baby parsnips and add to the roasting tin. Drizzle with a generous glug of olive oil (1.5 tbsp) and then scatter over the cumin seeds and a pinch of sea salt and black pepper then toss to coat fully. Cover and set aside.

Cumin Roots

When you have about half an hour of pork cooking time left, place all of the roots into the oven to begin cooking - they will take about 45 minutes, which allows the meat some resting time.

For the yoghurt dip simply chop the parsley and coriander and add to a bowl with the yoghurt. Then once the sweet potato is out of the oven, take out one of the roasted garlic cloves and add to the dip and stir well. Leave in the fridge until serving.

When the meat is out of the oven, leave to stand and rest for 15-20 minutes before carving into thick slices.

Middle Eastern Pork

Place a drizzle of olive oil into a pan and wilt the spinach with a little salt for 1 minute whilst getting everything else out of the oven.

The sweet potatoes need to be gently crushed or mashed in their cooking vessel, add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a teaspoon of cinnamon and stir through.

Roasted garlic sweet potatoes, pre mashing
Cumin roasted roots

Now use a platter or a wooden board and dish everything up accordingly, so the family can dig in and get as much or as little of what they want. Once the meat is on, drizzle over some of the yoghurt dip which complements the flavours really well. Enjoy!