Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Roasted Tomato and Basil Soup

There is something incredibly comforting about a homemade tomato soup, and this version, with roasted tomatoes, really is a winner. Gorgeous in the summer with fresh, ripe tomatoes - in my case from my Dad's allotment, it's such a treat and so easy to make - it beats any shop-bought versions hands down.

Roasting the tomatoes, intensifies the flavour and gives that lovely, slightly charred, smoky element that makes for a delicious tasting bowl.

This is great for a family meal, with some hunks of fresh, crusty, buttered bread, or a simple light lunch alone too.

If you are watching your calorie or fat intake, simply omit from adding the crème fraiche or the Parmigiana shavings.

Roasted Tomato and Basil Soup

Here's how:
  • 600g fresh tomatoes
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 stick celery
  • 1 white onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • Pinch salt
  • Pinch garlic salt
  • Pinch black pepper
  • Pinch sugar
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. crème fraiche
  • Handful basil leaves and stalks
  • Handful Parmigiana shavings to scatter over the soup

Firstly pre-heat the oven to 180-200. Place the tomatoes into a baking dish. I used a mixture here and halved the larger ones, putting them skin side down. Drizzle over 2 tbsp. of olive oil - use a good quality if you have it, it will make a difference. Now scatter over the tomatoes the garlic salt, oregano, sugar and black pepper and place into the oven for about an hour, or until juice has been exuded from the tomatoes and they are slightly charred - but not blackened.

Tomatoes pre-roasting

Roasted tomatoes

In the meantime prepare the 'base' of the soup, by firstly peeling and dicing the onion and mincing the garlic. Peeling and chopping up the carrot into small pieces and slicing the celery. All of this can be added to a heavy-bottomed pan with a tablespoon more of olive oil and placed onto a low heat until all has been softened, about five minutes. Then turn off the heat and set aside until the tomatoes are roasted.

Place the tomatoes, and any escaping juice in the dish into the saucepan now, and make up the vegetable stock, then pour over. Place the basil stalks into the soup and season liberally with black pepper and sea salt. Now place back on the heat and cook for 30 minutes then remove from the heat and allow to cool

Blitz to a smooth texture and return to the heat. Just before serving add the crème fraiche and most of the basil leaves and stir through, and once dished up into soup bowls, add the shavings of cheese and a few extra basil leaves for garnish. Enjoy!

Some other soup recipes you may enjoy:

Asparagus and Crispy Bacon Soup
Red Pepper Soup
Vegetable Soup
Curried Parsnip and Spinach Soup
Chicken Noodle Soup with Pak Choi Soup
Thai Sweet Potato Soup
Chunky Lentil Bacon and Kale Soup
Winter Vegetable Soup
Quick Pork Noodle Soup
Skinny Broccoli and Fennel Soup
Creamy Mushroom Soup without Cream

Baby Bites: Sweet Potato, Spinach and Pea Puree

Beatrice is six months old this week, and we are well established on the weaning front; she's been enjoying a range of homemade purees, and I will slowly start to introduce a wider selection of foods, meat, fish and different textures over the coming weeks.

In the meantime I will share some of the purees and meal ideas here, as I did with Bridget. Once again, I'm not anti-shop-bought when it comes to feeding babies and weaning, and am actually using the Aptamil Baby Porridge at the moment, for example, as the super soft texture is perfect for babies and I'm a huge fan of the Ella's Kitchen and Hipp Organic ranges too.

Recently we've been using the Lidl fruit pouches too, which are excellent and super convenient. In the main part, I do try to prepare most of the weaning dishes myself, because I can, and enjoy the knowledge that I know every ingredient that my baby is having, but having said that, I've found, like many parents before me from what I've heard, that second time around, I'm a lot more laid back around the whole weaning situation. I'm less neurotic over panicking if Beatrice has a taste of something that she shouldn't have at her age, she was in Crete last week, boiling and had a few licks of a frozen yoghurt - something I would never have done when Bridget was a baby, but she enjoyed it, didn't get a sore tummy, and it cooled her down into the bargain.

I stick by my original weaning 'tools' and say, that you can get by with a simple potato masher if that's all you have, it's what I used first time around and, still do for some of the meals. I'm so reliant on my Nutribullet these days though for myself, I use it at least once a day and it's excellent to help quickly blitz up a meal into a puree for weaning.

This puree is super simple; sweet potato, baked, and scooped out of the shell, a handful of washed, blanched spinach and a handful of boiled or steamed peas. Either mash all together with a little water or baby milk (breast or formula works) or pop into the Nutribullet, allow to cool a bit first, then blitz for 10 seconds.

Sweet Potato, Spinach and Pea Puree

You'll be left with a glorious, green coloured puree that doesn't look very appetising, but is full of goodness, and Beatrice has been wolfing it down.

Beatrice enjoying her Sweet Potato, Spinach and Pea Puree

If you use 1 medium sweet potato, one handful of spinach and the same of peas, this should make a good 3 portions. May your littles ones enjoy! 

Baby Bites: Weaning Breakfast Yoghurt and Banana

At six months old, Beatrice is well under way with weaning and like her big sister Bridget, she enjoys pretty much everything, she's a hungry baby and has been super content since the journey with solid food began.

For breakfast, we started out with the Aptamil Baby Porridge, and I do still give this a couple of days a week, but I like to offer variety and this yoghurt breakfast has been going down really well the past week, so I thought I'd share it.

Weaning Breakfast Yoghurt and Banana


A spoonful of Greek Natural Yoghurt, with a 2-3cm piece of banana, mashed with a fork, and then all mixed in together. It's a lovely, healthy breakfast, and one that my toddler loves too - her version is slightly more grown up with chopped banana, strawberries and blueberries and a drizzle of honey. I'm sure it won't be long until Beatrice enjoys the blueberries and strawberries as finger foods, but please remember honey is off limits for baby's under 12 months.

Natural Yoghurt with Mashed Banana

I still only allow Bridget to have Greek Natural Yoghurt as it only has the natural sugars inside - all the yoghurts aimed at children seem to have a shocking amount of added sugars and nasties - even the Yeo Valley Little Yeo's range, have a shocking amount of sugar per pot - it works out to almost 10% so just be cautious of these 'healthy' ranges aimed direct at your little ones. Enjoy!
Beatrice enjoying her yoghurt and banana

Monday, 24 July 2017

Lemon and Honey Yoghurt Cake with Blueberries

Bridget with her masterpiece - the Lemon and Honey Yoghurt Cake with Blueberries
Yoghurt cakes are a favourite in this household, they keep moist for longer than other cakes and can keep for a week or so in the fridge; if they don't get eaten sooner.

This one is flavoured with honey and lemon and I make it in a silicone bundt mould with blueberries popped onto the base, which makes a beautiful, squished blue and purple topping once baked; irresistible. With a quick lemon icing to finish the cake, it's always a crowd pleaser. You can play around with other fruits too but blueberries go really well with the lemon.

My eldest daughter, Bridget is almost three and absolutely loves cooking with me, and particularly baking. I think it's a great, sensory activity for children of all ages, and love the thought that I am instilling into her an interest and indeed, a passion for food and cooking. Today's bake is our first 'big' one together, outside of biscuits, cupcakes and fairy cakes, and I was so pleased it turned out so well to see her little happy face.  

Lemon and Honey Yoghurt Cake with Blueberries

Here's how:

  • 325g caster sugar
  • 60g butter
  • 3 large eggs
  • 230g Greek Natural Yoghurt
  • Rind of one lemon
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 175g self raising flour
  • 100g blueberries
  • drizzle of vegetable or rapeseed oil

For the icing:
  • 150g icing sugar
  • Juice of 1 lemon

Firstly pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees and lightly grease your bundt mould or tin with the vegetable or rapeseed oil. (Obviously you can use a different shaped baking tin if you don't have a bundt). If using a silicone mould, like myself, place onto a baking tray or tin.

Pop the blueberries into the base of the bundt (or other) mould, no particular pattern, just try to evenly spread them around.

Separate the eggs, with the yolks being popped into a large mixing bowl and the whites into a smaller one.

Now add to the egg yolks the butter and sugar and beat until smooth. Add the rind of the lemon and the yoghurt and mix well. Now stir through the honey.

Now beat the egg whites until soft peaks are formed and there are lots of bubbles, to ensure a good rise. Now slowly fold the egg whites into the cake batter.

Finally pour the batter into the cake mould, even out as much as possible and then place the mould into the centre of the oven.

Bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown, and when pricked with a skewer, it comes out dry.

Leave to cool for 20 minutes before turning out onto a cake stand or plate, and once turned over, gently peel the mould away.

Lemon and Honey Yoghurt Cake with Blueberries pre-icing

To make the icing, simply sift the icing sugar into a small bowl, and juice the lemon and mix well. You should be left with a thick, glossy, white icing. Use a spoon to drizzle over the top - be warned if making this with a little person, like Bridget, expect this to become a bit of a sticky mess, but it only adds to the fun. For a final flourish, add the leftover lemon zest over the top of the icing.

Lemon and Honey Yoghurt Cake with Blueberries

Leave the icing to set for thirty minutes or so, and then serve, preferably with a mug of tea. Enjoy!

Some other cake ideas that might be fun to make with your little ones:
Guilt Free Apple Cake
Pig Face Cupcakes
Double Chocolate Traybake
Chocolate Cornflake and Marshmallow Cakes
Lemon Drizzle Cake
St Clement's Drizzle Cake
Lemon Curd and Blueberry Muffins
Chocolate Olive Oil Cake

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Family Day Out: Stepney City Farm

We enjoyed a fabulous afternoon out this week at Stepney City Farm, in the East End of London; a gem I'd never visited before and that was fun for all of the family.

Stepney City Farm

Bridget saying hi to the chickens
Fun at Stepney City Farm

Stepney City Farm

The city farm is fairly compact as far as farms go, but packs in plenty.

Animal feed is available to purchase at the farm reception so children are able to try their hand at feeding their favourite animals, Bridget loves animals so she found this super fun.

There are lots of 'buzz facts' boards up around the farm with interesting little nuggets of information about farm life and the animals within, which provide an interest and an educational side to the trip - perfect for older, more curious children.

Stepney City Farm buzz fact

In the centre of the farm is a huge area dedicated to some allotments for local residents. My Dad has recently took over an allotment so this proved to be quite interesting to my Mum and I, less so for Bridget and Beatrice and my brother Dan who came along for the fun. You can tell a real care and dedication goes into these small growing patches, every effort has been made to repel birds and bugs from eating the produce and we saw some impressive things growing, from courgettes, tomatoes, squash, onions and an abundance of beautiful smelling fresh herbs. The farm apparently sells 'veg boxes' to locals too, which I thought was great. 
Allotment at Stepney City Farm

The farm hosts a number of events for locals - there was a music group for toddlers taking place when we arrived and there's a play section with lots of toys and ride ons available to enjoy - again popular with Bridget.

There is a little farm shop, which was unfortunately shut on Friday when we visited, and a picnic area too.

Stepney City Farm runs as a charity organisation, so rather than ask for an entry price fee, there are simply donation points to offer up what you can afford or would like to pay. This makes for an affordable day out for the family, especially if you have more than one child; a lot of farms or petting zoos charge a fair amount per adult and child, so for the summer holidays, this is a great shout as a cheap way of keeping them entertained for a day!

Stepney City Farm has a heart and soul that is based all around the local community, and there's something really special about that.
Stepney City Farm is open Tuesday-Sunday 10am-4pm and is about a ten minute walk from both Limehouse and Stepney Stations.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Chunky Lentil, Bacon and Kale Soup

This is my final and favourite post from my 'Seven Days of Soup' challenge - the Lentil, Bacon and Kale Soup was utterly delicious and a different version to the one I often make.

Keeping it chunky really made it feel more hearty and more of a meal than some of the more watery soups and it felt like a real, restorative, robust treat during my week long liquid diet. I've made it again since, and this will firmly be one of my staple soups going forward.

Chunky Lentil, Bacon and Kale Soup

Here's how:
  • 2 rashers smoked bacon
  • 250g red split lentils
  • 1 white onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 celery sticks
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp dried rosemary
  • 2 litres chicken stock
  • Pinch sea salt
  • Pinch black pepper
  • Handful bay leaves
  • 1 pack kale
  • Water to top up as necessary
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil

Firstly place the lentils into a sieve and give a very thorough rinse to remove any excess dirt or starch from the lentils. Keep running water pouring over if possible whilst you prepare the other parts of the soup.

Place the coconut oil into the pan and onto a low heat. Cut the bacon into small pieces and add to the pan to slowly cook through.

Peel and finely chop the onion, mince the garlic and finely dice the celery stick and add all the pan. Throw in the thyme and rosemary and season generously.

Peel and dice the carrot into small cubes and add to the pan with the lentils. Cook like this for five minutes.

Now pour over the stock and give a thorough stir through and up the heat to a medium. Add the bay leaves now too.

You will need to keep an eye on the soup throughout cooking and remove the 'cooking scum' or the weird bubbly mess that will rise to the top of the pan. Cook for a good 30-40 minutes, then remove the bay leaves.

Now remove about 2 ladle fulls of the soup and set aside. Once cooled, this will be blitzed then returned to the pan, so there is a real combination of textures. Taste at this point and add salt and or pepper as required.

Once the blitzed and chunky part of the soup are combined, return to the heat and add the washed kale and allow to cook for 7-8 more minutes before dishing up into deep bowls. Enjoy!

The other soups I enjoyed during my 'Seven Days of Soup' included:

Asparagus and Crispy Bacon Soup
Red Pepper Soup
Vegetable Soup
Curried Parsnip and Spinach Soup
Chicken Noodle Soup with Pak Choi Soup
Thai Sweet Potato Soup

Vegetable Soup

Another one of the soups I enjoyed during my 'Seven Days of Soup' challenge whereby I took on souping and juicing for one week, to shift some baby weight before our family holiday to Spain (7lbs in one week is not to be sniffed at).

This particular soup though is a fail safe, and can be adapted to whatever you may have in the fridge or larder. I make this regularly and batch cook so it makes a family dinner, but then the same again, which goes in the freezer for another week. Soup freezes really well!

Feel free to adapt to the ingredients you have to hand but I suggest always using either a white or sweet potato, a carrot or parsnip to make up the 'bulk' of the soup. This recipe is suitable for vegetarians too.

Vegetable Soup

Here's how:
  • 1 white potato
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 parsnip
  • 2 celery sticks
  • 1 leek
  • cupful peas
  • 1 onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tsp celery salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1.5 pints vegetable stock
  • 1 tbsp rapeseed or vegetable oil
  • Handful bay leaves

Firstly pour in the olive oil into the pan and place on a gentle heat. Peel and dice the onion and mince the garlic and add to the pan.

Slice the celery and leek and they can go into the pan too.

Peel the potato and wash thoroughly, add to the pan. Do the same with the carrot and parsnip.

Make up the vegetable stock and pour over. Give a stir and season accordingly with the salt, pepper and bay leaves.

Cook for 30 minutes until the vegetables are soft to touch with a fork.

Remove the bay leaves and allow to cool slightly. Then blitz with a hand blender or a Nutribullet or alternative blender, return to the pan and re-heat. Enjoy!

The other soups I enjoyed during my 'Seven Days of Soup' included:

Asparagus and Crispy Bacon Soup
Red Pepper Soup
Curried Parsnip and Spinach Soup
Chicken Noodle Soup with Pak Choi Soup
Thai Sweet Potato Soup
Chunky Lentil, Bacon and Kale Soup