Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Cooking with Children: Chocolate, Cornflake and Marshmallow Cakes

I'm a very firm believer in encouraging children to cook from a young age, and Bridget has been making cakes and 'helping' me in the kitchen since before she was able to walk and would just 'stir' cake ingredients from the comfort of her high chair. She absolutely loves to help Mummy, and her favourite job of all is to 'make cakes' - a really fun activity for children of most ages, especially with the added bonus of eating them afterwards and handing them out proudly to various family members. Bridget has her own little apron and loves going to fetch it if I invite her to do some cooking in the kitchen.

These Chocolate Cornflake Marshmallow Cakes are a slight step up from the ones I made myself as a child and are absolutely delicious, rich with milk chocolate, crisp from the cornflakes but gooey from the marshmallow - just gorgeous and very tempting for children and adults of all age. They are easy to make, take very little time and are a great way of spending quality time with your little one in the kitchen.

For these particular cakes, I bought all of the ingredients from Lidl too for less than £3.00 so it's an inexpensive family activity.

The below makes 12 cakes.
Chocolate, Cornflake and Marshmallow Cakes

Here's how:
  • 80g butter (unsalted)
  • 1 pack mini marshmallows
  • 1 large bar milk chocolate
  • 80g raisins
  • 250g cornflakes

Firstly get your little one to wash their hands with you and get them into this habit before doing any tasks in the kitchen and then help them tie their apron.

Now little one can be in charge of breaking up the chocolate into a crack and melt-proof bowl (without eating any if possible!) while Mum or Dad (or whoever is cooking with little one) boils the kettle and places a small saucepan on the hob with some just boiled water.

Excitedly breaking up and sneaking in a few bites of chocolate
Once all the chocolate is broken up and placed into the ceramic dish, add the butter and two thirds of the pack of marshmallows and place the bowl over the boiling water. Obviously if allowing little ones to help at this stage, be extremely careful and be on hand at all times - Bridget knows that this step is 'burnies'. 

Chocolate, butter and marshmallows melting

Chocolate, butter and marshmallows melting
Now get little one to pour the Cornflakes into a mixing bowl, then you pour over the melted chocolate and marshmallow mix and allow little one to stir. Add the raisins now too and stir well.

Mummy's little helper
Get your toddler or child to line a cupcake tin with 12 cake cases and then help her to spoon a generous spoonful into each - it doesn't matter if this is a little messy, this is all part of the fun.

Adding the finishing touches

Once the mixture is evenly distributed allow your little one to scatter or place a few marshmallows over the top and set aside to set for an hour or so. Enjoy!

Chicken, Chorizo, Peppers and Lentil One Pot

This is a lovely, warming winter dish that will please all of the family, is economical and aside from a quick fifteen minutes of preparation, will cook nicely in the oven for an hour while you get on with other tasks.

This freezes really well too, so is great for batch cooking, which I'll be turning to a lot more in January in preparation for the arrival of our second little one.

I served with sweet mashed potato here, but it works well with rice, orzo or pasta too.

The below serves 3-4 people.

Chicken, Chorizo, Peppers and Lentil One Pot

Here's how:
  • 6-8 chicken thighs or pieces (skin on)
  • 1 pack cooking chorizo
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 yellow pepper
  • 3 tbsp red split lentils
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 jar passata
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 200ml chicken stock (I use a Knorr Chicken Stock Pot
  • Black pepper to taste

Firstly place the oven on to pre-heat at around 170-180 degrees. And place a non-stick pan on the hob on a low heat.

Slice the peppers and place into a casserole dish.

Peel and slice the onion and mince the garlic and add to the dish.

Rinse the lentils well in a sieve and place into the casserole dish.

Now slice the chorizo sausages and add to the non-stick pan to sear on both sides. The chorizo will exude a lovely red tinged oil, once seared on both sides remove and add to the casserole dish.

Now cook the chicken thighs, skin-side-down first and completely brown off the skin until it's quite crisp, then turn over to brown the other side for 3-4 minutes.

Add to the casserole dish and add the stock, passata, tomato puree, paprika, cayenne and a good pinch of black pepper. You shouldn't need salt as the stock will have a salty tang, and the chorizo too.

Stir to ensure the chicken is covered and add a little more water if not. Place the lid on and place into the oven for an hour.

Allow to stand for a few minutes when you remove from the oven and serve with your choice of accompaniments. Enjoy!

TIP: If serving to small children or toddlers like Bridget, then shred one piece of chicken on a separate plate as soon as you take out of the oven and allow to stand for five minutes to cool down sufficiently as it will be piping hot.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Padstow, Cornwall: A UK Family Travel Destination

A few weeks back we returned from a family trip to Padstow, Cornwall with all of Glen's immediate family for a week's stay at a beautiful, large and luxurious house 200 yards from Constantine Bay. I'd been longing to visit Cornwall for a very long time, (my last visit was in 1986, aged 2) and everything I hoped for was true, barring maybe the weather, but this is the UK so we were prepared for that.

The county is utterly captivating, and we did manage to take in a few of the interest points and different towns all with their own individual charms and nuances but I have to say, that Padstow itself was my favourite by far, and I was only sorry we didn't spend a day or two more there.

PENRICHPERFECT STAYS

Penrich, Perfect Stays, Constantine Bay

The beautiful house we stayed in was nestled just a couple of hundred metres from the beach at Constantine Bay. Penrich; a stunning four bedroom house that we booked through Perfect Stays, was a really modern, luxurious base for the week, and with Bridget only just two and our little nephew George just a few months old, it was ideal. Evenings were spent together over a meal, a cream tea, playing some of the provided board games or watching one of the TV's in either the living room area or the designated film and TV room.

Everything at Penrich was finished to the highest specification, and everything you could wish for was here - the kitchen had its own wine fridge, dishwashers and every modern convenience you might require. On arrival the fridge was stocked with locally sourced eggs, bacon, clotted cream, jam and a selection of scones too – a really nice touch.

A balcony looking out to the Bay, plus a back garden area with rattan furniture and barbecue provided - we didn't have the weather to make the most of this, this time around but we wouldn't hesitate to return.

Penrich, Perfect Stays, Constantine Bay

Penrich, Padstow, Cornwall

The master bedroom had a huge en suite with walk in shower and free-standing bath, and another of the double rooms also had an en suite. A shared bathroom sat nestled between the other two rooms; one a double, and one a family room with a double bed and two sets of bunk-beds.

PADSTOW

The small town of Padstow is inhabited by less than 4,000 residents, but has become a real foodie destination, thanks to the variety of Rick Stein outposts, the man with the midas touch for the town, plus a number of other high-profile chefs in the area such as Paul Ainsworth and just across the bay, Nathan Outlaw’s The Mariner’s Rock.

Reviews for meals taken in the likes of Rick Stein's Seafood Restaurant, The Custom House, Rafferty's Wine Bar and The Cornish Arms (another Rick Stein venue) can all be found here.

Rafferty's Wine Bar, St Merryn, Cornwall

We also enjoyed takeaway in the form of Rafferty's Pizza - a delicious stone-baked pizzeria a few minutes’ drive from our house, which provided a delicious meal on two nights after two days out doing lots of sightseeing and driving. Our first night too, saw us enjoy fish and chips in from Rick Steins which was excellent quality too. And on arrival on the Monday, we had a couple of hours wait and so took refuge in The Farmer's Arms in St Merryn, very much what I would call an 'old man's pub'. We chose 'safe' options as wasn't sure of the quality of the food for a quick lunch, but needn't have worried. I had a ham baguette, and the ham was thick cut, home cooked and utterly delicious.

We made use of Stein's Fisheries excellent seafood counter in the town too, Glen's stepdad Bill bought a few fresh crabs from here for sandwiches, and one afternoon we bought some fresh prawns, scallops and squid from here and had a delicious seafood linguine back at Penrich. Before the long drive back to Essex we popped in again and collected a couple of crabs, some lemons and parsley which the shop happily boxed up for us with plenty of ice so it stayed fresh for the five and a half hours of our journey.

Stein's Fisheries
Cooking at Penrich with Stein's Fisheries produce

FAMILY FRIENDLY SPOTS IN THE PADSTOW AREA

Constantine Bay - we took Bridget for daily walks here from Penrich, and when her cousins, Lola and Pearl, arrived at the weekend, they enjoyed it as much as she did. A beautiful sandy bay with hundreds of sea shells scattered and ready for collecting and exploring, it was a paradise for children. We saw plenty of surfers and dog walkers here too, and it looked different every day, just gorgeous.

Constantine Bay, Cornwall

Bridget taking a stroll on Constantine Bay
Treyarnon Bay - just a five minute walk over a cliff path from Constantine Bay was this over sandy cove, more of the same and on the Sunday we walked here after a lovely meal at Rafferty's Wine Bar and there were tons of people here enjoying what nature offered up. One family had brought a pop-up gazebo and were enjoying a BBQ and birthday cake which was lovely to see.

Treyarnon Bay, Cornwall

Padstow Beach - we only admired it from afar as we had our own beach at Penrich which we enjoyed so much, but had we had the weather, it would have made a great change for a day spent on the beach.

Old MacDonald's Farm - a lovely farm on the outskirts of Padstow that had the likes of goats, chickens, horses, owls and other animals to enjoy as well as plenty more to keep the children entertained from pony rides, a train ride, go karts, trampolines and crazy golf; all included in the price of entry.

Old MacDonald's Farm, Padstow

OUTSIDE OF PADSTOW
Mevagissey 

Mevagissey

A pretty little fishing village with a small harbour and a bustling tourism, Mevagissey has plenty of shops selling nautical nick naks as well as some more boutique style outlets. Tina, Glen's Mum, was able to trace the houses of some of her ancestors too, which made the visit here all the more special. We enjoyed a lovely, informal meal at No 5, no bells or whistles, it was a laid-back place but the food did the talking, I enjoyed a delicious seafood salad that made the moat of local Cornish crab, prawns, mackerel and smoked salmon - lovely.

No 5, Mevagissey, C


St Michael's Mount

A National Trust protected island 500 metres off of Marazion, inhabited by just 30 people, and reachable only by sea path, that disappears as the tide rolls in. Unfortunately we chose the worst day for this bit of sightseeing, fog, wind and rain! We managed a quick walk over to the Mount, but visibility was poor and we had to hot step it back to avoid getting rather wet.

St Michael's Mount, Cornwall

There was a lovely adventure playground at Marazion which was ideal after Bridget had been cooped up in the car for a couple of hours.



Newlyn

Newlyn was an even tinier little fishing hamlet with just a scattering of shops but an excellent array of fresh fish shops, some of which offered mail order fish boxes, in the Riverford kind of way.

We enjoyed a traditional Cornish Pasty in Warren's Bakery (who claim to be the oldest makers of Cornish Pasty's) here though, which we were all excited to try. It was tasty, hearty and cheap, but didn't set our world on fire.

Jamaica Inn

High on the Bodmin Moor, Jamaica Inn, famous from Daphne Du Maurier’s famous tale of the same name, is a great tourist spot off of the A30, the main road into Cornwall. Full of gothic history, the Smuggler’s Museum dedicated to smugglers, pirates and of course Daphne Du Maurier, is in an annexe to the main building, which is still an operating guesthouse, restaurant and bar. Jamaica Inn was a must-visit for me, being a huge Du Maurier fan, and made a good meeting spot, it was where we met the rest of the family as Glen, Bridget and I had stayed in Exeter the night before, whereas the rest of the family travelled in from Essex on the Monday. It was a cosy bolthole, full of wood-burning fires and armchairs and a welcoming warming drink too.

The Smuggler's Museum, Daphne Du Marier's Office, Jamaica Inn

Land's End

Land’s End is the very end of the country; with its’ own little built up tourist spot around it. With usual views right out into the sea, which I'm assured are beautiful, unfortunately due to the poor weather, visibility was at an all-time low and so we could barely see five feet in front of us, but at least we can say we’ve been – John O’Groats next!

Land's End, Cornwall

There are plenty of places we didn’t manage to visit during our stay in Cornwall – such as St Ives, which I’ve been told is beautiful, Bude, Falmouth and Penzance to name just a few – there are also plenty of family attractions we didn’t make it to, which we would make a conscious effort to plan for if it was just our little family. 

Cornwall certainly has plenty to offer. The county truly captured our hearts in late September, when the weather was up and down and far from inviting. We will 100% return to Cornwall for a family holiday, especially now we have another little one on the way, and trips abroad will be that bit harder – until next time Cornwall, the ideal UK family holiday destination.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Rick Stein's Seafood Restaurant, Padstow, Cornwall

During our family stay in Padstow, Cornwall recently, the women of the group enjoyed a rare treat, a meal out unaccompanied by the men or our children, a treat we had to book back in January to secure the table, at Rick Stein's revered Seafood Restaurant.

On entering the restaurant we were impressed by the modern decor and welcoming staff on the front desk - the restaurant has a hotel attached too, so the initial service was slick.

We were seated at a table in the main part of the restaurant which is circular with the bar in the centre of the space as a key focal point.

It was Friday evening and the place was buzzing with fellow diners of all types of groups, from family and friends like ours to couples. The atmosphere was good, lively but not overly noisy.

We were brought over an amuse bouche and offered the wine menu which was vast. We asked for some help from the waiter in selecting a bottle that would appeal to the table, with all our varying palates, and he was a little unhelpful and dismissive if truth be told. He did then fetch the sommelier who was able to help, but it wasn't a great start to our meal on a service level.

Claire, my sister-in-law and I both opted to start with the shellfish soup, which was rich, silky, thick and decadent and absolutely packed full of flavour, just delicious. It came with a selection of little toasted croutons, a thick and garlicy aioli and a taramasalata; absolutely gorgeous as a starter and we devoured every mouthful.

Shellfish soup at Rick Stein's Seafood Restaurant

Tina (Mum-in-law) and Charlotte (sister-in-law) both had the scallops which were served with a crisp, fried Serrano ham and a green salad with just a drizzle of sherry vinegar dressing over the scallops. The dish was enjoyed by both, and the classic combination of sweet, succulent scallops mixed with a salty ham looked very pretty on the plate too.

Scallops and Serrano ham at Rick Stein's Seafood Restaurant

For mains, I chose the braised brill which came with a generous shaving of Wiltshire black truffles in an emulsion of mushrooms, slivers of potato and truffle oil. It was genuinely like poetry on a plate, it just worked so beautifully together and I was sad when the dish came to an end. Delicious.


Braised brill with Wiltshire Black Truffle at Rick Stein's Seafood Restaurant

Tina chose the locally caught ray fillet, which was pan-fried and served ‘au poivre’ or with a homemade creamy bĂ©arnaise sauce, simple but stunning 

Ray with Bearnaise at Rick Stein's Seafood Restaurant

Claire and Charlotte opted for the pan-fried filled of stone bass which came with the self-styled ‘symphony of alliums’, or with some Cornish white crab meat, char-grilled spring onions, caramelised leek puree, pickled baby onions and a chive oil. The dish looked uber artistic when it came out and the ladies really enjoyed it.

Stone Bass at Rick Stein's Seafood Restaurant 

We enjoyed some minted Cornish new potatoes and glazed baby carrots from a local farm that were beautifully hued and flavoured and really complemented our meals.



Dessert was impressive too – I couldn’t resist the sound of the chocolate fondant, which was perfectly gooey on the inside with a delicious crumbly texture on the outside and a rich, dense chocolate flavour, but was elevated hugely by the vanilla milk sauce, salted caramel that was literally dreamy and the crunchy caramelised peanuts. Sensational.

Chocolate fondant at Rick Stein's Seafood Restaurant

Charlotte opted for the apple mousse with salted caramel ice cream and crumble and it came and was like a jelly sphere surrounding the apple mousse, with the hint of crumble all around – a bit of a deconstructed crumble, but executed cleverly and very prettily on the plate. Another great dish.

Apple Mousse Crumble at Rick Stein's Seafood Restaurant

In terms of food, we found the Rick Stein Seafood Restaurant utterly faultless, every dish delivered on style and flavour and we left satisfied. The service was less attentive than we’d have liked, which was a little disappointing, but not enough that we wouldn’t return. In fact I’d return in a heartbeat for the brill and truffles. The meal for the four of us was around £260.00 (£65.00 a head) with a bottle of wine, so wasn’t extortionate, but fair in relation to the quality of the food.

Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant has been up and running since 1975 and is the jewel in Rick Stein’s crown of many Padstow establishments, with good reason. They pride themselves on using great, locally sourced, excellent quality fish and seafood and they certainly know how to deliver – hat’s off to Stephanie Delourme, the head chef and his team. If you’re visiting Padstow, or even Cornwall it’s 100% worth a visit – just make sure you book in advance.

Monday, 31 October 2016

Halloween Mumified Sausage Rolls

I copied the idea from BBC Good Food but used ready rolled puff pastry instead of croissant pastry and these went down well at a mini Halloween gathering I held on Saturday evening.

The are a really fun, festive Halloween inspired snack sure to get everyone in the spooky mood and are super simple to make.


Mummified Sausage Rolls for Halloween



Here's how:
  • 12 chipolatas 
  • 1 sheet ready rolled Puff Pastry (I use Jus Rol)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp English mustard
 
 Firstly pre-heat the oven to 180 and line a baking sheet with some greaseproof paper and set aside. 
 
Place a frying pan on a medium heat and fry off the sausages for 6-7 minutes, to sear all the way over.
 
 Leave the sausages to cool for fifteen-twenty minutes.
 
Now roll the puff pastry out onto the paper its wrapped in, and cut into 12 rectangles - three straight lines down, long-ways, and three across should do it. 
 
Now take each sausage and place into the centre of one of the pastry rectangles, with at least 1cm hanging off the edge, for the Mummy's face.
 
Now use a knife and make incisions all the way along the edges, both sides, to make the 'bandages'. And then 'wrap' each one over the sausage, one side at a time, to look like a bandage and once wrapped place onto the baking sheet.
 
Repeat for each sausage, and then beat an egg and brush over the pastry coat of each, then place into the oven for 20-25 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and well risen.
 
Leave to cool for ten minutes before serving and before doing so, use a skewer dipped into the mustard to place tiny eyes onto each sausage. Enjoy!

Friday, 28 October 2016

The Cornish Arms, St Merryn, Cornwall

We spent a week in Cornwall recently, in a little bay (Constantine Bay) just outside of Padstow which was lovely. During our stay, we enjoyed two great meals at The Cornish Arms - a refurbished old pub that has been given the infamous Rick Stein treatment.

It’s a real mix of modern and traditional inside, the main restaurant side veering more on contemporary, whereas the more traditional bar area, where we enjoyed one of our meals, being slightly more laid back and informal. The staff here were friendly, knowledgeable and attentive on both visits.

On our evening visit, I enjoyed a ‘special’ Goan Chicken Curry that came with fluffy basmati rice and a homemade poppadom and was to die for. Fragrant, with a dash of fresh heat but light too, just lovely. Glen had the devilled kidneys on toast - not something he would usually opt for but he said it was really well executed, perfectly tender and seasoned offal with an earthy richness served with woody, local mushrooms on a generous sized toasted doorstep, with a green salad on the side. He enjoyed it so much, he had it again when we returned.


Devilled Kidneys on Toast, The Cornish Arms

On our second jaunt, knowing the portion sizes were generous but wanting to sample more from the menu, we shared a starter - salt cod brandade, a rich, fishy paste, immense served with toast topped with a homemade olive tapenade - a really great combination.

Salt Cod Brandade with Tapenade Toast, The Cornish Arms

I opted for the fishcakes for my main course - made of cod and a little potato, and coated in breadcrumbs. They had a good hint of aniseed tarragon about them, which I enjoyed and which complements fish so well, and were topped with a delicious chunky salsa verde. These came with chips and salad and this was exactly the kind of hearty, homemade pub food you would expect and that was extremely well received on the Saturday lunchtime when the weather outside was chilly.

Fishcakes with Salsa Verde, The Cornish Arms

Among our group – all of the dishes on both visits, were well received. One included the steak and ale pie served with chips (you could have had mashed potato), broccoli and a thick, glossy, beefy gravy. The meat packed out the pie generously and was beautifully tender - another great dish enjoyed by two in our group.

Steak and Ale Pie, The Cornish Arms

A thick cut ham, egg and chips, 6oz hamburger, scampi in a retro basket and a lamb karahi all went down well. The children enjoyed homemade fish fingers, with chips and peas – excellent quality and a decent sized portion for children too.

We also enjoyed some fantastic desserts here, from the local Cornish ice cream, a beautiful sunken chocolate cake, a gorgeous carrot cake served with crushed walnuts and special mention to the sticky toffee pudding and the most insanely good cheesecake cheesecake served with a salted caramel that would make grown men weep. Delicious!



Our meal at The Cornish Arms on the day that there were eight adults and 2 children eating, came in at just over £200.00 which given the quality of the food, the comfort of the surroundings and the friendly staff offers really good value for money. The Cornish Arms has a beautiful garden overlooking the picturesque Cornish countryside of St Merryn, we sadly didn’t get the opportunity to take advantage of it, but I would imagine in warmer months, this is a truly prime spot.

The Cornish Arms strikes that true balance of being a credible restaurant offering good-quality, honest, home-cooked food, whilst holding its’ own as a local pub offering a wide selection of local ales and ciders and with a roaring log fire. It’s a great venue and we’ll be sure to return if visiting Cornwall again.

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