Monday, 16 October 2017

Easy Chocolate Halloween Biscuits - Cooking with Kids

These biscuits are super simple to make, a fun activity for half term next week in the lead up to Halloween or for any spooky gathering. 

I grabbed a pack of cookie cutters from Poundstretchers which had shapes such as bats, Frankenstein's Monster faces, gravestones, pumpkins and cats, but you could apple the same method to any biscuit. If you only have round cooking cutters, just ice and then write 'RIP' on them or grab some of the Haribo sweeties like I have in the pictures with things such as spiders, bones, skeletons and the like and apply them. The main thing is that this is a really fun thing to do for Halloween with the children.

Bridget absolutely loves cooking and particularly baking anything sweet - this was the first time Beatrice (8 months) got involved in baking too, and enjoyed a little mix with the big spoon plus trying to scoop out the raw biscuit mixture! 

Easy Chocolate Halloween Biscuits

Here's how:

  • 125g butter
  • 110g caster sugar
  • 250g plain flour
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • Flour to dust the worktop and rolling pin

To ice:

  • 3 tbsp icing sugar
  • Few drops of water
  • Food colouring (I just used red to make orange for the pumpkins)
  • Red icing pen
  • Selection of spooky sweeties (I used Haribo)

Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees, then grease and line the baking trays with parchment paper and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the egg, butter and sugar together with the vanilla extract until combined. Slowly sift in the flour and cocoa, stirring through as you go. Add the milk if the mixture is a little dry. Once satisfied with the dough, cover with cling film and place into the fridge for 20-30 minutes.

Remove biscuit dough from the fridge. Lightly dust your worktop space with flour, and rub flour up and down your rolling pin, then use your hands to pull off a small section at a time, and roll out into a thin dough, about 1cm thick. If it's too thin, it'll be very difficult to handle, unless your a very deft baker!

Now use your cookie cutter, to cut out the shapes that you wish to use, and place each shape onto the baking shape. They can be placed close together, but not touching. They shouldn't expand too much in the oven.

Repeat the process until all the dough has been used and the shapes placed onto the baking sheets. Now place into the hot oven and bake for 12-15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to completely cool on the baking sheets before moving.

To ice, you can do so however you wish, and decorate in any manner, we used jelly lips, teeth and fangs for the mouths of the bats and Frankensteins, raisins for eyes, I cut up a dried apricot for the ghost mouths, and once iced, we used spiders, bones and skeleton jellies to make the biscuits as spooky as possible. We wrote RIP on the gravestones in a red icing pen.

To make up relevant icing, you want it quite thick, so take 3 tbsp icing sugar, and just a drop or two of cold water, and stir through, you want it runny enough to pour or brush onto the biscuits, but thick enough to not set 'watery' or opaque. We just used simple plain icing sugar for most of the icing, then added a little drop of red food colouring to make an orange hued icing for the pumpkins. 

Experiment though, and most importantly let the kids enjoy this activity - it doesn't matter if the biscuits are the most beautifully decorated, it only matters that you all enjoyed making them together!

Beatrice's first baking experience
If you're having a Halloween get together or tea party, or just doing a fun and spooky dinner for the kids on 31st October, these easy peasy Mummified Sausage Rolls are a winner too.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Weaning Mashed Banana and Oat All-In-One Pancakes

These are a super quick pancake, filled with slow release energy from porridge oats and banana. Perfect for a baby led weaning breakfast, brunch or even lunch - they are super easy to hold and go down a treat with both my 7-month old and my (nearly) 3 year old. Finger foods never seem to go out of fashion the older my daughter Bridget gets. 

I adopt the 'all-in-one' method to most of the ingredients using a 'half a cup' measuring utensil so you get a perfectly close texture each time. They are a 'heavy' and filling pancake so don't dissolve in baby's hand either.

One banana mashed into the batter works well but you could just as easily use blueberries or strawberries. 

The below makes enough for two little ones plus a parent-sized portion, or you can wrap up and pop in the fridge for the following morning.

Weaning Mashed Banana and Oat All-in-One Pancakes

Here's how:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup full fat milk
  • 1/2 cup plain flour
  • 1/2 cup porridge oats
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 banana 
  • Little drizzle vegetable oil

Add a little drizzle of vegetable oil into a pan and place on a low heat. 

Into a mixing bowl, crack two large eggs, and add the 1/2 cup full of flour, oats and milk. Stir well with a fork until you gave a thick batter. 

Now drop in the banana and mash into the batter with the vanilla and stir well. 

Use a tablespoon to drop in several spoonfuls of the batter into the now hot-pan, ensuring they are spaced out enough not to combine in the pan. 

Allow to cook for 3-4 minutes and then flip, they should be golden brown, and cook for the same time on the other side. 

Serve with some fruit fingers. Enjoy!

Here are a few other pancake and other breakfast-bite recipes/ideas that are great for the weaning stage:

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Mini Weaning Banana and Oat Breakfast Muffins

These are such a fantastic finger food for babies and toddlers in the weaning stage and I've experimented with a few varieties for both taste, texture and popularity amongst my two girls. These are definite winners. 

The original inspiration was from the 'queen of wean'; Annabel Karmel's, Banana Muffins, but I have played around with the ingredients, quantities, and also added natural yoghurt and energy-giving porridge oats, and am satisfied these are slightly less crumbly (and messy) than her fantastic version. These also work with peach puree and these go down well too!

I've also given ingredient quantities in tablespoon measurements here, because I do appreciate that not everyone jumps up at the crack of dawn, wanting to make muffins and the effort of measuring out and getting out scales might be off-putting. Not so with these, they take less than ten minutes to prepare and 12 minutes in the oven, plus cooling time. Win, win.

These freeze well, but frankly if you have more than one child and another adult in the house, keep them in an airtight container for up to three days - they won't last that long!

The below makes 18 mini muffins. 

Mini Weaning Banana and Oat Breakfast Muffins

Here's how:

  • 1 banana
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 4 tbsp wholemeal flour
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp porridge oats
  • 2 tbsp natural yoghurt (full fat)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp bicarb
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Firstly pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees and line a baking tray with mini muffin or cupcake cases. 

Peel and mash the banana well in a small bowl and set aside.

In a mixing bowl whisk the egg and sugar together and then add the oil, vanilla extract and yoghurt and mix well. 

Now sift in the wholemeal flour and add the bicarb, cinnamon and porridge oats and stir again till all is combined.

Spoon the mixture into the muffin cases to about even level, about a heaped teaspoon into each is perfect for small bites.

Place into the oven on the middle shelf and bake for 12 minutes or until the tops are golden brown and a cocktail stick goes in and comes out clean.

Mini Weaning Banana and Oat Breakfast Muffins

Set aside and leave to cool for at least five minutes before serving. Enjoy! 
Mini Weaning Banana and Oat Breakfast Muffins

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Turkey and Charred Vegetable Ragu Pasta Bake

This is another super simple pasta bake recipe perfect for a quick mid-week meal - ideal for working parents or those who's little ones have gone back to school this week. 

For me this is a cheat pasta sauce too - I was making my Thomasina  Mier's Fruity Chilli for me and Glen this evening, which is a little too spicy for the girls, and basically made extra for the basis of the sauce which is a load of charred vegetables - tomatoes, onion, peppers and garlic blitzed to a fine sauce and added a little here and there to jazz it up. It went down an absolute treat with both of my girls this evening. We've started having turkey mince a lot too instead of our usual steak or pork, as it's leaner, cheaper and we genuinely like the taste, 

I added a carrot into the blitzing stage of the sauce too, which will add a little sweetness and a little extra vegetable too which is completely disguised! It's a great toddler meal but also good for the weaning stage - you could of course blitz it up or if you're following the baby led weaning route, it's a great finger food as the fusilli is easy to hold, and just spoon-feed or offer loaded spoons with the remaining meat and sauce mixture.

Turkey and Charred Vegetable Ragu Pasta Bake

The below is enough for 3 toddler meals.

Here's how:

  • 60g turkey mince
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 red or green pepper
  • 1 carrot
  • Drizzle olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 4 close cup mushrooms
  • 75g fusilli 
  • Little grating of hard cheese such as Cheddar

Firstly switch the oven onto 200 degrees, and cut the tomatoes and pepper in half, and peel and quarter the onion, and peel the garlic. Drizzle over a little olive oil, and scatter over some dried oregano.Place all into a baking tray or dish and into the oven for 20 minutes or until nicely charred on the outside, remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Now cook the pasta according to the pack instructions, and drain and set aside.

In the meantime, drizzle the olive oil into a pan, and place on a medium heat. Cook the turkey mince in the oil, and season with black pepper. Use a wooden spatula to turn the mince over and cook all over.

Finely chop the mushroom at this stage - my Bridget 'doesn't like mushrooms' when she can see them, but miraculously eats them all up when they're not visible. 

Now place the charred vegetables into a blender or a Nutribullet  alongside the peeled carrot and blitz - depending on your blender you may need to chop or grate your carrot, I just threw mine into the Nutribullet. Pour this sauce over the turkey mince and add the water, cinnamon and a little more oregano. Allow to cook for twenty minutes on a medium heat to allow the spice to cook out.

Now add the pasta to the sauce mixture and stir well to ensure all is evenly coated. Pour the pasta into an ovenproof dish and scatter over the cheese before placing into the hot oven. Allow to cook for twenty minutes until the cheese is melted and there is a golden brown colour. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Mexican Mushroom Soup

This is a gorgeously moreish and filling soup - intense in mushroom flavour with a warm smoky spiced punch cutting through. 

This recipe is very loosely based on Thomasina Mier's 'Herby Mushroom Soup from the book 'Mexican Food Made Simple'. I've adapted it due to ingredient substitutions according to what I had in stock, and also out of convenience. I decided to inject some smoky charred flavour with chipotle paste and paprika, rather than first dry roasting the tomatoes, chilli and onion for speed, and I cooked everything in the one pan rather than three, mainly to reduce the clearing up process after a long day with my two girls. The final soup was utterly delicious but I will try the original at one point.

I also used a scotch bonnet chilli rather than jalopeno - not conventionally Mexican but it is Caribbean in origin and it did work. 

Mexican /Mushroom Soup

This makes x4 adult portions as a main meal. 

Here's how:

  • 1 large white onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 scotch bonnet
  • 3 tomatoes
  • 600g mushrooms (try and use a variety if you can)
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1.2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp ground anise
  • 1.5 tsp chipotle paste
  • Small bunch coriander leaves and stalks
  • 1 tbsp rapeseed oil
  • 1 litre vegetable stock


  • Sour cream or creme fraiche

Firstly pour the oil into a saucepan and place on a medium heat. 

Finely dice the onion and mince the garlic and add to the pan. Carefully chop the scotch bonnet, removing the seeds unless you're an absolute chilli fiend and add to the pan. Make sure to wash your hands after handling these.

Roughly chop the tomatoes and add to the pan. Throw in the salt, pepper, cumin, paprika, anise and chipotle and allow to cook down for a few minutes, stirring gently. This will provide the base flavour for your soup.

In the meantime rough chop the mushrooms and add to the pan. Pour over the stock and add the coriander leaves and stalks too. 

Slowly cook until the soup comes to the boil, then simmer for ten minutes and remove from the heat. 

Allow to cool for at least 20 minutes and then blitz with a blender. 

Re-heat until warmed through and serve with a teaspoon full of creme fraiche or sour cream and some buttered bread. Enjoy!

If you're keen on more soup recipes here are a few more:

Asparagus Soup with Crispy Bacon
Roasted Tomato and Basil Soup
Curried Parsnip and Spinach Soup
Red Pepper Soup
Chicken Noodle Soup with Pak Choi
Vegetable Soup
Thai Sweet Potato Soup
Chunky Lentil Bacon and Kale Soup
Skinny Broccoli and Fennel Soup
Creamy Mushroom Soup with No Cream
Quick Pork Noodle Soup
Leek Potato and Cauliflower Soup

Bridget's Easy Peasy Cheesy Veg Pasta Bake

A variation of this dish has been doing the rounds in our household since Bridget was eating solids - she has always loved anything carby (like her mother) be it pasta, rice or potatoes but she adores pasta in all it's many guises.

She has been 'helping' me in the kitchen since she was walking and now she's about to be three, she absolutely loves getting her apron on and helping out. This particular dish was made today, mainly by her, with the obvious help and cues from me, avoiding the hot oven and hob, but doing all the 'important' jobs.

You could use any pasta shape for this really, but with my weaning seven month old, Beatrice, in mind we used penne today, as it's a bit easier to grip than macaroni. This went down well with both girls today - three lots of vegetables in one hit too, winner. Of course you could play around with the vegetables used, depending on what's a favourite for your little ones, or what is easier to disguise, in some cases.

Bridget's Easy Peasy Cheesy Veg Pasta Bake

This is a great weaning dish once finger foods have been introduced - Beatrice loved it!

Baby Led Weaning with Pasta Bake

Here's how:

  • 1.5 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1.5 tbsp plain flour
  • 250ml milk (I use full fat)
  • 60g Cheddar cheese 
  • 100g dry penne or other pasta
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp mustard powder
  • Freshly grated nutmeg
  • 6 florets broccoli
  • 6 florets cauliflower
  • Cup of peas (fresh or frozen is fine)
  • Few breadcrumbs

Firstly pop the oven on at 200 degrees and fill and boil the kettle with water. 

Cook the broccoli and cauliflower first, using freshly boiled water - cook for four minutes, and then use a slotted spoon to remove from the pan and set aside. 

Add the penne to the pan and cook according to the pack instruction - be careful not to overcook, as it will cook a little more in the oven. Drain and place with the cauliflower and broccoli for the moment.

Now to make your cheese sauce, pop the butter into a frying pan, on a medium heat and allow to fully melt, gently. Next, add the flour and stir the whole time until the flour and butter is combined, it will be a bit of a mound or paste, now slowly add the milk a bit at a time, until all is combined, stirring all the time. It will be a fine liquid at this point but will thicken up in time. 

Cheesy Sauce

Now add the grated cheese, retaining a handful for the topping. Add the mustard powder, black pepper and grate over the fresh nutmeg - be liberal, the flavour is enhanced massively by this! Allow to cook out and thicken for five more minutes.

Now pour the cooked penne, broccoli and cauliflower into the cheese sauce and add the peas too. Stir and ensure everything is coated well in the sauce. Pour into an ovenproof dish and arrange with the broccoli and cauliflower florets facing upwards and evenly distributed.

Give another seasoning with black pepper and nutmeg, and scatter over the breadcrumbs and remaining cheese. 

Bridget's Easy Peasy Cheesy Veg Pasta Bake pre-bake

Bake for 20 minutes until the topping is golden brown. Enjoy!

Bridget's Easy Peasy Cheesy Veg Pasta Bake

Monday, 4 September 2017

Meat Free Monday Mexican Veggie Burgers

It's been a while since I've shared a Meat Free Monday post - family life dictates that this doesn't always happen on a Monday, but we do try to eat meat-free or vegetarian at least one day a week.

I've experimented countless times with varying degrees of success, a range of vegetarian burgers, but these are my best yet - the beans are the main base, but with the addition of cooked sweet potato and grated carrot, there's no denying there's lots of goodness to be found inside these. To avoid a bland mass of mushed beans, my favourite version of these is to add some typically Mexican flavours to the mix, cumin, paprika, lime, lots of coriander, mint and of course some chilli.

This is 100% a family dish here, and I even served them to my 7 month old this week, mini versions at least, and she fully enjoyed these as part of her baby led weaning. She had the same version as us, but if your baby isn't used to spice you could of course omit from throwing in as much chilli, paprika etc. 

I served with brioche buns, a quick chipotle yoghurt dip and some salad for me, with chips for Bridget and Glen - definite crowd pleaser; everyone loves burgers in my house.

Mexican Veggie Burgers
If serving as a weaning finger food as I have, serve alongside some other finger food such as cucumber sticks, some cheese and tomato.

Weaning Mexican Veggie Burger Bites

The below makes four good sized burgers.

Here's how:

  • 1 tin red kidney beans
  • 1 tin butter beans
  • Bunch spring onions
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 red chilli
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 lime
  • 1 egg
  • Olive oil
  • Big handful coriander leaves and stalks
  • Handful mint leaves
  • 2 slices of bread
  • 1 carrot
  • 2 tbsp cooked sweet potato

  • x4 brioche burger buns
  • 2 tbsp natural yoghurt
  • 1 heaped tsp chipotle paste
  • Optional:
  • Grated cheddar
  • jalopeno chillies
  • salsa

Salad of your choice

To assemble the burgers, first use your blender to make breadcrumbs out of the slices of bread. Remove from the blender and set aside. 

Now open the cans of beans and drain, retaining a little of the water in each. Place both cans into a blender. 

Finely slice the spring onions, chilli and garlic and add to the blender. Throw in the herbs and spices. 

Grate the carrot and add to the blender along with the juice of the full lime, the cooked sweet potato and the egg. Add 1 tbsp olive oil and then blitz until combined. 

You should be left with a rather wet concoction, and may wonder how this is going to turn into burgers - be patient. Now add a little of the breadcrumbs at a time, and mix in thoroughly. When you're satisfied that you can mould burgers out of the mixture stop adding the breadcrumbs - you may need all of them, or a little less.

Now drizzle in a little olive oil or rapeseed oil into a non-stick pan and place on a medium heat. 

Mould the burgers into pattys and place directly into the hot pan. 

Meat Free Monday Mexican Veggie Burgers

Use an egg slice to move the burgers around a little to avoid sticking to the bottom, and use this with a spoon for guidance, to turn the burgers over after about five minutes of cooking - they should be golden brown. Now cook on the other side for five-six minutes until that is golden brown too. 

In the meantime assemble your salad and create your Mexican burger sauce from the natural yoghurt and chipotle and spread over the bottom layer of the burger buns. 

Once the burgers are cooked through serve immediately and top with your choice of cheese, jalopenos and salsa. Enjoy!

If you're looking for further vegetarian meal ideas a few are included below:
Squash and Goat's Cheese Pie
Bean and Pepper Chilli
Pumpkin and Spinach Lasagne
Feta and Roasted Vegetable Tarts
Mushroom Risotto with Cauliflower Rice
Tomato and Vegetable Pasta Bake
Truffled Mushroom and Leek Tagliatelle
Spinach, Ricotta and Courgette Pasta Lasagne