Friday, 27 June 2014

No Bake Dinosaur Cake

I can't say I wasn't given fair warning that Big Boy wanted a dinosaur cake for his 6th birthday - I think he told me the day of his 5th birthday.  But I didn't start to think about how to make one until 2 days before, which left it too late to get the dinosaur cake mould my sister-in-law in South London offered me.

So instead I googled dinosaur cake and discovered I could adopt a similar principle to my No Bake Train Cake, that is to say buy a cake in the supermarket and 'assemble' a dinosaur.

2 circular cakes, I used Victoria Sponges from the Co-op
1/2 jar of seedless jam
250g icing sugar
Green food dye
Chocolate buttons
Suitable size cake board or tray

1.  Cut one of the cakes into a head and a tail.  I looked at some templates online, and ended up tracing a Ying & Yang shape in the sugar of one of the cakes.  I then held what I decided was the 'head' piece of cut cake over the whole cake and trimmed off any excess from the neck with a sharp knife so it would fit right up against the round 'tummy' cake.  Use some of the offcuts to fill any gaps between the head and the body.

2.  With the point end of the other cut 'tail' piece of cake I again held this over the tummy and trimmed any excess off so the tail would fit right up against the body with some of the offcuts.

3. Cut 'legs' out of the cake off cuts.

4.  Warm half a jar of seedless jam in the microwave until bubbling.  One by one, dip the end of head, tail, and legs that join the body into the jam and use it as glue to hold these pieces in place.  Then drizzle the rest of the jam over the cake so it coats the top and sides, particularly any cut edges of cake as they are very crumbly!  This jam helps the icing stick to the cake and also stops the cake crumbling too much.

5.  Make the fondant icing by mixing the icing sugar with the green food dye and 2-3 tsp water.  Add the water one teaspoon at a time and mix until stiff.  Knead for 3 minutes then roll out to the size of your cake.  I misread the recipe and added 2 tbsp of water and ended up with a gloopy green mixture which I had to apply like sticky polyfilla to my cake.  Drape the icing over the cake and gently encourage it to droop down the sides.  Cut any excess from where the icing folds ie where the legs join the body.

6.  Decorate with chocolate buttons stuck on with jam.  With a sharp knife, fashion some teeth and claws from another chocolate button.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Tinned Tomato Gazpacho

Last year I posted my parents tried and tested Gazpacho recipe, but I have to say nine times out of 10 I now make a cheaper version with tinned tomatoes and save tasty summer tomatoes for a tomato salad.

Serves 4

1 tin tomatoes
1/4 medium onion
1/2 cucumber
1 small clove garlic, peeled
1/2 red pepper 
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
Large pinch of salt
1/2 tin cold water

Roughly chop the larger ingredients and liquidise in a blender until smooth.  

My blender jug has measurements up the side and I found that it makes the right quantity and texture if you top it up to the 1 litre mark with chilled water after a first blitz to liquidise. 

Chill if you have time or serve with a few ice cubes to keep cool.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Courgette & Chorizo Risotto

After the success of my Cheesy Green Risotto, the discovery of some beautiful courgettes in the Riverford vegbox, and having just returned home from a week in France with supplies of chorizo, I thought I'd try another.  I came clean to the kids that it was a risotto, and they could choose either bacon or chorizo.  I didn't mention the courgette.

As my previous risotto my plan was to use my mini food processor to make the vegetables almost unrecognisable, but on discovering I'd left it behind in Northern France (I had intended to take soup in a flask to the beach on cold days but our adult friends decided that mulled wine was a better use of the flask) I resorted to chopping the onion and chorizo as finely as I could by hand, and grating the courgette.

Serves 4 kids or 3 adults

1 large courgette, grated
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped or grated
1/4 chorizo (about 75g)
180g risotto rice
50g mature cheddar
100ml white wine (optional)
600ml hot stock or boiling water + stock cube
1 large knob butter
1 tbsp olive oil

Gently fry onion and garlic over a medium heat with the olive oil and butter in a large saucepan. After a few minutes add the chorizo.

When the oil starts to come out of the chorizo, add the courgette and continue to fry and stir until the courgette starts to look quite wilted.  Add the rice and stir through thoroughly.

Pour in the wine and stir regularly whilst it bubbles away. When the wine has nearly all cooked away and the rice is in danger of sticking, add about 100ml of stock and stir from time to time until the rice is in danger of sticking again.  Keep adding the stock in large ladlefuls, stirring from time to time, and adding more when nearly dried out.  This process takes about 20 minutes.

Test the rice after all the stock has been used to see if it is cooked through and not crunchy and uncooked in the middle.  You are also aiming for the risotto to be a slightly loose porridge texture - sticky enough to help it stay on a spoon wielded by a toddler but not so sticky it could be used to make a sand castle!

If the rice is not cooked through keep on adding hot water from the kettle and stirring and bubbling away as before, checking the rice from time to time until it is done.  When the rice is cooked, stir in the cheese.

Serve on cold plates for kids to help it cool to eating temperature.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Kids Bolognaise Sauce with Hidden Vegetables

I made bolognaise sauce yesterday morning.  Add only had 500g of minced beef which my partner reckoned is not enough for five of us, so I added lots of 'spare' veggies to try to stretch it further, and ended up with enough pasta sauce for 8-10 people!

As one of my kids tends to fish suspicious objects out of his food and cross-examine them, I chopped the vegetables up really small in a food processor to both to hide them, and make them the same size as the minced beef.  And although he said he didn't want seconds, he didn't seem too reluctant to clean out the last remaining sauce out of his bowl after all the pasta had been eaten.

Liver or bacon seems to be a modern traditional ingredient in many spag bol's.  I add it because it is a great source of iron for the kids plus it add another layer of flavour.  Finely diced and covered in a rich tomato sauce the children don't seem to notice.  But if you don't like handling it you could always puree it with the tomatoes.  The liver and tomato cocktail looks disgusting but it cooks down just fine!

Wine too is an optional extra.  I know some people don't like the idea of alcohol in children's food.  I do, in the hope they might fall asleep quicker of a night, but it never seems to affect them.

Serves 8-10 depending on how high you pile your sauce!

500g lean beef mince
100g lambs or chicken liver, or smokey bacon (optional)
1 large leek or onion
1 stick of celery
2 medium carrots
1 large clove of garlic
1 tbsp olive oil
1 glass red wine (optional)
2 tins of tomatoes

Finely chop the leek or onion (I used a sprouting leek from my veg patch in mine) and garlic in a food processor and fry in a large saucepan with the olive oil over a medium heat. Finely chop the  carrot and celery in the food processor and add these when ready. Stir and put a lid/plate on for a few minutes to let the vegetables sweat. Add the mince, then finely chop the liver if using, and not pureeing, and add this. Stir and break the meat up for a few minutes and then

Serve over any shape pasta with parmesan cheese if you have it. Or cheddar.
cover again over a low heat and leave to simmer for 5 minutes.  Break the meat up again then add the tomatoes pureed in the food processor with the liver or bacon if using.  Fill one of the tomato cans with half wine (if using) half water and pour this in. Stir and leave covered to simmer for 30 minutes.  After about 20 minutes check the season and to see if it is not drying out.  If too watery, take the lid off and simmer for 10 minutes whilst you cook the pasta.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Eat Your Greens Pasta Bake

Sunday evening is roast night for us, so I felt we needed something vegetarian on Monday to compensate, and after all it is Meatless Monday.

My began thinking I would make a green risotto with leeks and wild garlic and lots of cheese.  But I decided I couldn't be bothered to stand at the cooker stirring that long so I googled pasta and cabbage, and eventually settled on a cross between Jamie Oliver's Italian Cabbage & Bread Soup and Nigella's version of the northern Italian dish Pizzoccheri.

The resulting dish is a kind of green risotto using up all the leftover greens from my fridge and small veg patch, including cabbage, leaks, and Swiss chard. I whizzed up the greens in the food processor in an attempt to hide them a little from the children.  Unfortunately it didn't work that well as although they announced they loved the pasta when they began eating, about 10 minutes later they mumbled that they didn't like the green sauce. I, however, thought it was lovely with lovely sweet  buttery herby cabbage.

If if you are an anchovy phobe, do try it at least once with these.  They give a lovely deep flavour to the dish and I swear you won't know there was anchovy in it.

The pangrattato (literally 'grated bread') topping is optional too.  I didn't do it for my kids last night as I tried it once on a Jamie Oliver Macaroni Cheese and it really didn't go down well.  But as Dad I ate the lion's share of this last night, I think it would have added a little extra something to the dish for grown-ups.

Serves 6
1 head of green cabbage or equivalent in other greens.  I used half a small head of green cabbage, one leek, handful of swiss chard.
Small handful of sage leaves
1 large garlic clove
50ml white wine
Large knob of butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tin of anchovies in oil (optional)
500g dried pasta
1 tsp stock powder (optional)
100g grated mature cheddar cheese

Pangrattato Topping  
1/4 tsp chilli flakes

zest of 1 lemon 
1 garlic clove
4 thick slices stale bread

Preheat oven to 200C.

Wash and finely slice (or mince) the greens, sage, and garlic.  Roughly chop the anchovies and heat these and their oil in a large saucepan.  Add the sliced greens, sage & garlic and leave to soften with the lid on for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes add the wine and leave again with the lid on for another 15 minutes to make sure the cabbage is lovely and soft.

Boil the pasta whilst the cabbage is softening according to the instructions on the packet.  Reserve 2 mugs full of the cooking water before draining.

If using, make the pangrattato topping by whizzing all the ingredients in a food processor until turned into bread crumbs.  Leave to one side.

When both cabbage and pasta are cooked, mix both together with the reserved pasta water in a large baking dish.  Sprinkle over with cheese and mix again, then sprinkle over the pangrattato.  Bake in preheated oven until crispy and sizzling.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Minty Mojito

Okay, so it's showery and cold outside.  But I walked past my lush looking mint plant on the school run home and made a date with it for when most of my three kids were in bed.

I bought the wherewithal for Mojitos two Christmas' ago but just seemed to forget about them.  But today I fancied something a little bit different.  And I like it.  Kind of a cross between Pimms and a G&T.

1 Simple Mojito
1 shot white rum
2 tsp icing sugar
5 or more large mint leaves
Sparkling water, soda, tonic, lemonade...

Bruise mint leaves with the ice, icing sugar, and rum in a tall glass (I'm thinking I might need to invest in cocktail shaker for some serious bruising). Top up with sparkling water, stir, and think of summer.

My Best Ever Rhubarb Crumble

Ever since we moved to this house 10 years ago and inherited a large rhubarb patch I have tried unsuccessfully to make rhubarb crumble.  I don't know why something so simple seems so hard, but I have fed my aunt raw rhubarb during my Gran's wake and usually have something akin to a dry dusty desert of a topping.  That is all up until now.

My luck turned on discovering Jamie Oliver's Rhubarb & Sticky Stem Ginger Crumble recipe, plus stumbling across  Felicity Cloake's article 'How to make perfect crumble' on The Guardian's website.  The two essential tricks to me are 1) stew hard fruit like my sturdy unforced rhubard for about 5 minutes beforehand to give it a head start at softening, and 2) add oats and a few sprinkles of water to the crumble mix to make it, well, crumbly.

Serves 4-6 heartily

Stewed Rhubarb
1kg rhubarb, washed and cut into largish chunks
100g sugar
Zest & juice of 1 orange

Other possibilities; 1 tsp fresh grated or ground ginger instead of orange zest, apple juice instead of orange, honey instead of sugar. Jamie Oliver used stem ginger in his recipe but I never have any in.

Crumble Topping
100g plain flour
100g cold butter
100g sugar
100g oats

Preheat oven to 180C.  Put all the stewed rhubarb ingredients into a pan and bring to the boil with the lid on.  Simmer for a couple of minutes with the lid on, and then a couple with the lid off.  Spoon into an ovenproof baking dish and put to one side whilst you prepare the topping.

I always make topping in a food processor now.  Put the cubed cold butter and flour in the food processor and pulse until it resembles largish breadcrumbs.  Stir in the sugar and oats until mixed well.  Sprinkle with a little water and stir gently so the crumble clumps together a little.  Sprinkle evenly over the stewed rhubarb but do not press down!

Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the crumble is golden and bubbling.  Serve with custard, creme fraiche, or cream.