Mini Pamper Session

Mini Minx’s eczema flared up really badly yesterday – possibly in reaction to a brilliant day out at the swimming pool, possibly because it’s just one of those things. Anyway, she certainly didn’t react well to me approaching her with the big bottle of gloopy moisturiser and corticosteroid ointment!

As I slathered and winced at her squeals, she railed about how it was so unfair that she only got huge bottles of moisturiser while her friends were allowed to wear make-up at weekends and go to beauty salons with their mothers. I took a lot of this with a bucket-load of salt (her friends are only 6 and 7 years old), but it did give me an idea for a cunning plan to disguise my intensive Sort Out The Eczema Fast regime: give her a home spa morning.

Maxi and Midi were packed off to a nearby bouldering wall with their Dad to have some fun while Mini and I prepared my bedroom for her ‘Girly Morning’: Mini fetched her CD player and chose some of her favourite music from Maxi’s music collection (shhhhh, don’t tell Maxi!), while I set up a comfy massage area. I put a pillow on the end of the bed and covered that with a plastic bin liner (really important!), then 2 towels. I used another, soft towel as a cover, and had yet another on hand as a turban for Mini’s hair.

Even though I was prepared for a lot of mess, I tell you, it was apocalyptic. Mini is a delicate, gentle wee soul and I’m not heavy-handed with gunge but it still got absolutely everywhere. So if you’re going to do this with your child too, accept right now that you’re going to have to do an entire full machine washload of towels on ‘hot’ immediately afterwards. Do have a bin within reach and lots of paper towels / flannels / wipes to catch and dispose of all the goop.

The smile was a happy coincidence

First I got Mini to mix up her own hair mask. She has very coarse, dry, brittle hair so Professor Google advised whisking up the following:

  • 1 egg yolk;
  • 2 tablespoons of coconut oil;
  • 1 tablespoon of honey.

She undressed, then I dampened her hair. I plastered the mask all over her hair then tried to massage it into her scalp. She didn’t like that, possibly because the mix was cold and possibly because the honey made it a bit sticky. Next time I’ll just use greasy coconut oil on its own! Or maybe plain old vegetable oil. The amount listed was just right to cover her head. I then wrapped her hair with the turban, laid her back on the bed, covered her up and instructed her to chill out while I made up her face mask.

Mini complains that her face often gets ‘crispy’ bits on it: little patches of eczema. So based on the fact that she spent most of her babyhood smeared in banana with no ill effects, I mushed up a ripe banana with a tablespoon of honey then gently smeared it all over her skin. It was far, far too much and most went to waste – she only needed maybe an inch or 2 of banana. Next time she can eat the rest! I added the slices of cucumber because even at the age of 7 Mini’s bought into the perception, heightened by media pictures, that you can’t have a proper face mask without cucumber slices on your eyes. So on they went.

As she lay back and relaxed for 5 minutes, humming along to her favourite tunes, I slathered her entire body in handfuls of Epaderm cream. I’m glad her face and hair masks smelled so sweet – they covered up the sour, utilitarian smell of the moisturiser! Mini sighed with pleasure as I massaged her little fingers and hands. The look of that blissed-out little face made the whole shebang absolutely worth every second.

I didn’t want to leave the face mask on her sensitive skin for longer than 5 minutes, so wiped it off gently with a hot flannel. I then shampooed and conditioned her hair over the bath as normal. She snuggled in her favourite dressing gown while I tidied up, gasping in horror at the mess on the towels. The banana splashed *everywhere*, the egg yolk stained the turban, and the coconut oil soaked through 3 towel layers to the plastic bin liner – see? I said it was important! Mini helped tidy up by eating the cucumber slices. WeeeeeelI, why not? They’d only touched food-stuffs and her eyelids! Maybe she’d listened when I’d skeptically said that the masks would probably do her more good being eaten than plastered over the outside.

I blow-dried her hair, then helped her choose and paint on some finger- and toe-nail varnish, which is a special treat only allowed in the long school holidays.

Even an old cynic like me can see that the masks had an effect on Mini’s skin and hair, though. I think they’ll have to become a monthly Thing.

Mini’s Harry Potter Themed Birthday – the Cake

Yes, OK, strictly speaking this is the 4th of 3 posts (!) detailing a quick, easy and really fun party that we threw for Mini Minx’s 7th birthday party. Well… 3 and a half: this is the birthday cake part of the post about the party food.

I made the entire cake on the morning of the party. What with also supervising the prepping for the activities and helping with decorations, etc., I was very lucky that it all turned out ok, especially as I started making the cake without a real idea of how it would turn out. I really, really recommend that you do the cake the night before! I’ve written this tutorial in case you’d like to do the same kind of cake and would prefer knowing at the start what the finished item will look like! I hope it helps.

So, you really need to read how I put together her original birthday cake: the Hermione G ranger-themed cake because all the techniques and steps I used are described there.

  1. Follow Step 1 of the linked Hermione Granger-themed Cake post to make a big cake board. It needs to be big enough to hold a 23cm square cake and a loaf cake beside it, plus plenty of space all around.

  2. Instead of making 2 loaf cakes at Step 2, I made a big 6-egg square Madeira Cake and a plain chocolate loaf cake. I wanted cakes that had a bit of substance to them because I felt that basic sponge cakes would be too lightweight.

    Big Madeira Cake:
    Ingredients
    225g butter
    225g caster sugar
    6 eggs, beaten
    300g plain flour
    15ml / 1 Tablespoon baking powder
    grated rind of a lemonMethod:
    a. Grease and line a 23cm square tin. Set the oven to 180degC / 350degF / gas 4.
    b. Cream the butter and sugar until it’s really pale and fluffy. This takes longer than you think! About 5 mins in a mixer. Gradually add the eggs, still beating.
    c. Sift the flour and baking powder together, then fold into the creamed mix. Stir in the grated lemon rind. Spoon into the tin.
    d. Bake for about 1hr 10 or until cooked through and firm to the touch. Cool on a wire rack.Plain Chocolate Loaf Cake:
    Ingredients
    175g plain flour
    50g cocoa
    10ml / 2 tsp baking powder
    2.5ml / ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
    150g sugar (any sugar; I used light brown caster sugar because it needed using up)
    2 eggs
    75g butter, melted
    250ml milk

    Method
    a. Grease and flour a 23 x 13 x 7.5cm loaf tin. Set oven to 180degC/350degF/gas 4.
    b. Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder and bicarb together. Stir in the sugar.
    c. Beat the eggs into the melted butter and milk. Pour the wet mix into the dry mix and stir lightly.
    d. Spoon / pour into the tin and bake for about 45 – 55 mins till cooked through. Cool on a wire rack.


  3. Make up a double batch of buttercream using 2 blocks of unsalted butter (500g), 4 cups of icing sugar, and my all-time favourite method of making Whipped Buttercream Icing.

  4. Turn the cold Madeira Cake into a single, closed book:
    a. Anchor the cake to the right-hand half of the cake board with a smear of whipped buttercream icing. Then slice it in half and spread a thick layer of apricot jam in the middle.
    b. Cover 3 sides of the cake with more whipped buttercream icing and use rolled-out white fondant icing and brushed cocoa to make ‘pages’ as per Steps 8-10 of the Hermione Cake tutorial.
    c. Cover the remaining side and top of the cake with whipped buttercream icing and place rolled-out coloured fondant icing over it to form a top cover and spine. I used a mix of red and white fondant icing because I was running out… Roll out a long sausage of more coloured fondant icing and place along the bottom edge of the white ‘pages’ to look like the bottom cover of the book showing, as per Step 11.

    See the spine detail and the bound pages fanning away from the spine cover of the pink book? I bet you can do a far better job than that! I was really stressing about the time at that stage.

    d. Decorate the spine with fake gold lines and details (yellow fondant icing) if you like or just leave blank, as you’ll barely see it. I also pressed in the cake a little between the pages and spine to make it look like bound pages curving away from the spine, and ‘shaded’ it with yet more cocoa.


  5. Make the chocolate cake ‘book’:

    See how the 3 layers of the chocolate loaf are placed? I was inspired by how the chocolate loaf top puffed up and out as it baked – it looks like the shape of partly-fanned out pages for the chocolate ‘book’.  (Well, it did to me).

    a. Split the plain chocolate loaf into 3 slices. Sandwich the bottom 2 layers with more apricot jam and whipped buttercream icing and put them beside the Madeira cake.
    b. Place the top layer on the Madeira Cake to look a bit like the open pages of the chocolate book – see photo for positioning. When you’re happy with the look, use a smear of buttercream to anchor the sandwiched layers beside the madeira ‘book’ and use a good thick layer of whipped buttercream to hold the top chocolate layer in place.
    c. Now follow Steps 7-11 of the original tutorial to make the chocolate loaf look like an open book. I used green and white fondant icing and a load more cocoa and whipped buttercream (now do you see why I made so much in the first place..?)


  6. Decorate both cakes! I used white chocolate writing icing and a pen with edible ‘ink’ that I bought 8 years ago from a fancy cake decorating shop. It’s still going strong, and is why all the detailed writing on my cakes is in a strange purple tone… I’d spotted a candelabra candle holder in a shop weeks ago that I knew Mini would love, so added some other bits and bobs to the board to make the candle candelabra look a bit more at home: a Golden Snitch that the minxes had made, and a fondant icing wand. Yes, they were all anchored there with the very last dregs of the whipped buttercream icing…

    ‘Hermione’ blows out her candles, watched by 2 of the other Hermiones


  7. Eat! It was a good cake for slicing up and putting in party bags, and the mix of plain and chocolate sponge looked great. It was completely gone within 24 hours (we Greedy Trouts had 2 slices each), so I’d say it was the perfect size for a party of 10 kids.

 

Hermione Birthday Cake Tutorial

little girls dressed up as Hermione Granger

There are worse book characters to idolise than Hermione Granger

The youngest children in all families are inevitably influenced by their older siblings, and Mini is no different. She learned to read better so that she could read her sisters’ favourite Harry Potter books. She’s such a huge fan that I am now the only one in the house who’s never read them, nor am mad-keen on everything Harry Potter.

So for her 7th birthday, Mini asked for a Harry Potter-themed birthday party (more in another post) and a birthday cake for her actual birthday that had “something to do with Hermione Granger”. Hmmmm, no challenge for this non-HP fan, then (!)

I decided to do a fairly simple book cake, and call it Hermione Granger’s Diary. I took photos of the process so that I’d remember it for her more complex birthday party cake later that week. And as a bonus, I can use them as a tutorial to show you how easy it was. Remember, I’m not a great cook or a talented cake decorator – if you take your time and follow my top tips, you’ll produce something far, far better. Please share your own hints and tips too!

Hermione cake Harry Potter

Hermione’s Diary Cake

  1. OK, start the day before by baking the cakes and preparing a cake board. Don’t bother buying a board. Just get some stiff cardboard (I cut a bit off a packaging box, but have been known to use a couple of empty cereal boxes) and cover it entirely in tin foil. This makes it look good, gives you something big enough to work on, makes the cake portable, and it’s also easy to wipe crumbs and smears off the side.

  2. Make 2 loaf-cakes and let them cool completely. Maxi suggested I make them both chocolate and orange marble cakes and so I used double the recipe at the link. I didn’t ice them with the drizzled chocolate and I didn’t use food colouring.

  3. Make up a batch of plain buttercream. I used a block of unsalted butter (250g), 2 cups of icing sugar, and my all-time favourite method of making Whipped Buttercream Icing.

  4. Using a sharp knife, cut the top off the loaves on a bit of a slant. This shapes the cakes so that they’ll look a bit like an open book when you press them together. If you were neater than me, you would cut the tops off entirely so that there are no curved edges. If you’re worried about the cakes becoming too thin, you could raise them up by slicing each loaf in 2 and filling with jam and/or cream at this point.

  5. In the interests of thrift, crumble the bits of cake you sliced off and mush them together with a spoon or 2 of buttercream. Effectively you’re making a batch of cake pops, but you’ll use it like mortar to hold the 2 loaf-cakes together.

  6. Put a smear of buttercream on your cake board and place a loaf cake on top (this will hold it down). Squish the cake-pops mortar along the side of the cake, then smear more buttercream on the board and stick the second loaf-cake to the first. Really squish the cakes together.

  7. Now cover both cakes in the rest of the buttercream. Don’t worry about getting crumbs in the icing: it really doesn’t matter because it’ll all be covered in fondant icing.

  8. Roll out some white fondant or ready-roll icing to form the pages along the sides of the cake. I used a 500g block in grand total, but you might need more or less: it depends how thinly you roll the icing. You could be extremely neat and cut them into beautiful rectangles, or you can be slap-dash like me and just wodge them on. I used the excess fondant icing to start to disguise the misshapen bits of loaf-cake, but as I said in (4) above, you could avoid that by slicing the tops neatly and more severely.

  9. Use a blunt edge (spatula, back of a long knife, etc.) along each side to make lots of page marks. The layer of buttercream under the fondant icing will help.

  10. Dip a clean paint brush in some cocoa and use it to brush the edges of the pages to make them look old and dirty. I’m not sure that Hermione’s diary would actually be so grubby, to be fair, but I wanted to try out the technique.

  11. Roll out more white icing and place over the top of the cake. Shape it with your hands so that it looks like an open page. Brush more cocoa along the edges and on the ‘pages’. Roll some coloured fondant icing (or colour the last of the white fondant icing with some food colouring) into long thin sausage shapes and place them around the edges to look like the book’s cover, peeping out from under the pages. Flatten the sausages with a flat edge on top and at the side. If you have any black icing, add a little arch in the middle of the front and back to look a bit like the empty space where the edges of the pages curve away from the book binding. (Or just brush lots of cocoa in that corner to achieve the same / a better effect).

  12. Decorate! I used a pen that writes on icing to write something, and made a bit of a bouquet of roses with a tiny bit of green fondant icing I had leftover from The Boss’s birthday cake last month and some shop-bought icing flowers. I shook some little white chocolate stars over the top to use them up (they’ve been lurking in my cupboard for too many years… I swear they’re breeding…).

  13. Add some candles and go!

Midi’s Favourite Cubs Badge

I think I’ve written thousands of words about Midi Minx and her love of cooking and baking (and my love of troughing her creations). Ha, my Instagram page features more of her baking than my own! Recently, she’d been grizzling about Maxi’s speedier accumulation of Cub Scout badges than her own. I can see why: when she’s in Cubs uniform, Maxi looks like she fell out of a cornflakes packet… I explained to Midi that she’d need to be patient and earn her badges slowly, as she learned new knowledge and skills. No, she wants more badges NOW. She asked whether she could get any badges for existing skills. For instance, was there perhaps a baking badge..? Crafty minx! I explained that she wouldn’t get badges just for turning up and that all work for badges has to be equally taxing for everyone. I had a chat with her Akela, who was game for her to work on the badge at home. After a quick check that Midi planned to make something that would be appropriately difficult for her current skillset, she was off!

We checked the requirements of the Cubs Chef Activity badge and any available resources – no point reinventing the wheel, eh? The online pack certainly contains lots of activities (pretty handy, as it appears I’ve now merrily volunteered myself to help other Cubs get their Chefs badge!). Like her sisters, Midi’s been drilled in food hygiene and safety since she was tiny, so we just quickly looked at the relevant exercises in the activity pack and discussed them so that I was certain she’d sufficient knowledge of the areas covered. We didn’t do the food techniques game, as I felt that was a bit too easy for her. Instead I grilled her (badoom-tish!!) on which cooking techniques she’d choose to best cook different foods that I listed.

When it came to planning the menu, I know that the Eatwell Plate listed in the pack was updated and replaced in March 2016 by the Eatwell Guide, so I used that instead as a basis of discussing the food choices with Midi. We talked about food groups and proportions, and because this was already old hat to her, I added the challenge of also varying the flavours, textures and colours of the food. She’s only 8, so I didn’t enforce The Boss’s suggestion of also only choosing seasonal or local produce (!) Maybe next time…

I ended up cutting her a fair bit of slack when it came to actually cooking things up and changing the menu: the preparation took far, far longer than expected, and she desperately squeezed in a quick bike ride with her Dad in the middle of the cooking before it got dark. As a result, there were fewer fruits and 1 less vegetable than she’d originally planned. I helped her change her plan for a seasonal fruit salad into a quick yogurt, honey and nut side-dish with just the one fruit to go with the biscotti. And the swede mash didn’t happen at all because her chopping skills aren’t yet safe enough to slice the thick skin off the swede (and not her hand) competently. Maybe if we’d had (much, much) more time

So what was her Showstopper Menu for 5, then? Midi chose to make a vegetable and lentil soup for a first course to show that she can prepare vegetables, follow a recipe and safely use a liquidiser; she decided on cottage pie and mixed greens for main as they’re quite easy to cook, used different cooking techniques, and are a standard winter dinner in our household; for dessert she made some super-crunchy hazelnut, chocolate and lemon biscotti, with Greek yogurt, honey, nuts and pomelo segments alongside, just because they’re her favourites. They all tasted fantastic, but the best bit for me? She had to serve, clear up and wash everything up afterwards. What a treat for the rest of us!

I’ve written this post partly because I’m desperately proud of her emerging cooking skills and am constantly encouraging her independence, and also so I can send a link to her Akela as proof of what she produced. The photos got fewer as she needed closer supervision / time was running out! I’ve added 2 of the recipes she used (weeeeell, one recipe and one set of directions), so I hope you give them a try, too.

Vegetable and Lentil Soup For 10

Ingredients

  • tasty-lentil-soup

    The finished soup. No garnish needed

    tablespoon of olive oil

  • 2 small / 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 carrots, roughly chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
  • crushed clove or 2 of garlic
  • teaspoon each of ground cumin and ground coriander
  • 175g lentils (we used a mix of red and white because it was all we had)
  • 2 pints of chicken or vegetable stock
  • salt and pepper
  • scant tablespoon of tomato puree
  • tin of chopped tomatoes
  • bay leaf

Method

  1. Serving up - a new skill

    Serving up – a new skill for Midi

    Heat the oil in a saucepan. Fry the onion over a medium heat for about 10 mins till it’s soft and transparent.

  2. Add the carrots and celery, and sweat for a few more minutes.
  3. Add the garlic and ground spices. Stir for a minute.
  4. Add the lentils, stock, tomato puree, tinned tomatoes, a bit of seasoning, bay leaf. Bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for 30 mins till the veg is soft.
  5. Cool slightly, then liquidise. Check for seasoning. Serve. We stored half in the fridge for tomorrow’s lunch!

Cottage Pie and Mixed Greens

Ingredients

  • cottage-pie-dinnertablespoon of oil
  • 1 large / 2 small onions, chopped
  • 3 large carrots, diced
  • 750g beef mince
  • pint of beef stock
  • dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • about 500g potatoes
  • large knob of butter
  • about 500g brussels sprouts
  • about 300g frozen peas

Method

  1. Peel the potatoes, chop into even chunks. Place in cold, salted water, bring to the boil, simmer for 20 mins or until soft enough to mash.
  2. While the tatties are coming to the boil, put the oven on to heat to 210degC / gas 7.
  3. While the tatties are simmering, heat the oil in a large saucepan. Fry the onion till soft, then sweat the carrots. Tip onto a bowl.
  4. First attempt at serving dinner in fair portions to 5 hungry people

    First attempt at serving dinner in fair portions to 5 hungry people. And aye, although she’s tall she still needs a step to use the cooker safely

    Turn the saucepan heat to high. Fry the beef mince till browned. Add the vegetables, stock, Worcestershire sauce. Bring to the boil and simmer gently while you’re getting on with the tatties.

  5. Drain the potatoes when they’re ready. Mash roughly with a large knob of butter and a little pepper.
  6. Put the mince in a deep ovenproof dish. Put the mashed potato through a potato ricer and squeeze it in noodles over the mince. Place in the hot oven for 15 – 20 mins until the potato has browned and gone crunchy.
  7. While the cottage pie is in the oven, cook your brussels sprouts (trim the tails, cut in half, pop in a little saucepan. Cover with boiling water, bring back to boil and simmer for 5 mins. Drain, serve with a small knob of butter swirled over them.
  8. While you’re serving the cottage pie and brussels sprouts onto plates, cook the frozen peas in the microwave according to the package instructions.

Hazelnut, Chocolate and Lemon Biscotti

I promise to add more details for this when I check what amendments Midi and The Boss made to the original Paul Hollywood recipe. I can’t reproduce his recipe because it’ll be copyrighted, but I’ll at least link to it.

The Finale… tidying up!

And she’s still smiling. Will she willingly tidy up from now on? (Don’t be silly – you can’t get a badge for that!)

 

Recipe For Rice Skin

I made the minxes a right old carb-fest lunch today: baked tatties followed by baked rice pudding. Weeeeell, I figured the oven was on anyway, it’s the easiest baked pudding in the world, and the cold and miserable weather justified the comfort food.

Over the hour in the oven, it developed a very golden-brown skin. So I put a photo of the finished pudding up on Instagram and asked that perennial old question: do you love or hate the skin?

While you’re having a think about that, here’s the recipe. It’s unbelievably easy!

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Baked Rice Pudding

  • 100g flaked pudding rice
  • 25g sugar
  • 580ml milk (a smidge over a pint. I use whole milk for everything anyway, and in this pudding it will make it creamier)
  • big knob of butter (about 20g)

Preheat your oven to 180degC / Gas 5. Mix the rice, sugar and milk in a deep ovenproof dish. Put in the oven for 15 minutes. Take it out, give it a stir, then drop little knobs (knoblets? Knoblings?!) of butter on the surface. Put back in the oven for 45 minutes. Serve immediately.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

The pudding baked for the same length of time and temperature as the tatties because I threaded the tatties onto metal skewers to cut the baking time. The minxes mixed up some tinned tuna, tinned sweetcorn and mayo in bowls themselves before plopping it onto the tatties and devouring them. They’re all lovers of baked rice pudding skin, so wolfed their lunches down faster than usual so they could choose the pudding with the most skin (Do you do that? Serve up dessert in unequal sizes and let the first finished their main meal choose, to encourage them to eat up / eat faster? Or is that just me…?)

And as for that question, do you love or hate skin – me, I hate it. I’d rather eat warm sick than eat rice skin. But I tell the minxes I’m giving them my portion of skin only because I love them so much. Some lies are ok. Honest. And everyone’s a winner, eh?

Nutty Mincepies

nutty-mincepie-close-upThis weekend we were in Edinburgh and had a really delicious meal at Jamie’s Italian. At the end of the meal we were all given a little mince-pie that had a crumble topping. Whilst we all enjoyed it, I reckoned I could recreate and maybe even make it a little better (oh! The arrogance!)

Well, I don’t know if it’s better, but the version I’ve come up with is certainly very easy and tastes even better the day after it’s made – bonus!

If you adapt this yourself, why not comment below and share your top tips with us all? I’m ready to take notes.

Nutty Mince-pies – makes about 18

nutty-mincepiesIngredients

  • 180g + 60g plain flour
  • 90g + 40g butter
  • teaspoon of demerara sugar
  • few tablespoons of icy cold water and a few drops of lemon juice added
  • (optional): handful of nuts of your choice: I used a tablespoon of flaked almonds and a small handful of hazelnuts because it’s all I had to hand
  • half a small jar of mincemeat (I used about 200g total)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 210degC (gas 7) and take out your mince-pie tins. Clear space in your fridge to precariously balance the tins on.
  2. Make the shortcrust pastry:
    • In a food processor (with the whirly double blade), whizz up 180g plain flour with 90g cold butter.
    • When it’s the consistency of breadcrumbs, add icy cold water and lemon juice a tablespoon at a time, pulsing the processor. You’ll only need 2-3 tablespoons.
    • Stop just as the dough is coming together.
    • Roll and cut out the base of the mince-pies (ie make pie cases). I managed 18 with this amount of dough, but it depends how thinly you roll it – you might make more or fewer.
    • Line the mince-pie tins with the pie cases and put in the fridge.
  3. Make the crumble:
    This is about as dusty as you want to get the nutty crumble - still lumps of butter visible

    This is about as dusty as you want to get the nutty crumble – still lumps of butter visible

    in the same food processor (don’t wash it; no need) add 60g plain flour, 40g butter, teaspoon of demerara sugar and a handful of nuts. Whizz it up until it’s the consistency you like. Stop before it’s dust, though, or it’ll be dry and cloying! (And if it does that, serve your pies with cream or custard – sorted)

  4. When the oven’s at temperature, take the mince-pies out the fridge and add a teaspoon of mincemeat into each pie-case.
  5. Spoon the crumble over the top. For me, it worked out about a tablespoon of crumble mix per pie, but it all depends on how many nuts you added.
  6. Bake for 15 – 20 mins.
  7. Remove to a wire rack immediately because any spilled mince-pie mix will cool to concrete, cementing your pies to the tin forever.
  8. Eat alone, with a cuppa, slathered in custard, or drowned in cream.

Battle of the Prinsesstartas

Ah. It seems I never got around to finishing a post last year about the cake I baked for The Boss’s birthday. Well, I did the same one this year: a Prinsesstarta. It was one of the technical challenges on Great British Bake Off a couple of years ago and made a big impression on The Boss. Every year we bake each other a birthday cake; every year I ask for super-lemony drizzle cake and every year he goes for Dundee cake. Till last year. Cackling a little too loudly, he asked for a Prinsesstarta.

Well, I’d seen it made on GBBO and had a detailed recipe. How hard could it be…?

Chuffing hard when you’ve never made a whisked genoise sponge cake or creme patisserie before… After spending all day on the bloody thing, my 2015 attempt virtually ran out the fridge (and out of the kitchen and down the street). The Boss chortled at the mess I managed to hold together with lots of marzipan, which made it lumpy and a bit like Yoda’s face, but declared the taste delicious.

A week later I was away teaching, so he got the minxes together and made another one, as a Yoda cake, to show me how it was done. And of course they were great. Harrumph! So the battle was on…

This year he asked for another Prinsesstarta. I told him to take a running jump: he was going to get a Dundee cake as usual. Secretly, though, I spent 2 whole days trying hard not to cough over it, doing a bit, lying down for a rest, then doing some more. Sod the 2 and half hours limit of GBBO! I’m strictly amateur. I made the creme pat extremely thick by cooking it for waaaaay longer than the recipe said, over a lower heat. I didn’t overwhip the cream this year. The sponge rose beautifully like a souffle because… well, I’ve no idea. Just luck this time. And because I made it in a narrower tin (8″), it was thick enough to cut into decent layers. Finally, I had leftover jam from when we foraged all those wild raspberries last year.

It was an overly-tall cake, but oh my stars, it was delicious! Worth the effort for the taste alone, never mind the happy look on The Boss’s wee face when he saw it. Still, life is too short to make another ever, ever again, that IS for sure!

Two 15-Minute Lunches

First, catch your squid...

First, catch your squid…

So, how did the squid-as-a-craft-activity go?

Well, I really hyped it up to the minxes: wow, you’ll be learning more sharp knife skills, and you’ll be making your own lunch! They sat down at their chopping boards, took one look at the squid, and wailed, “Ewwwwww!” as one. Harrumph! These are the girls who munched calamari happily as single-toothed babies? My, how they’ve changed! I think you can see by the photo (left) that only Mini is a good actress for the camera.

I persevered. I got them to pull out the tentacles, wash the body, find and pull out the clear plasticky quill, cut out the beak and chop the tentacles with scissors, then one by one (with me hovering), slice up the body into rings with a big sharp knife. Midi was the only one who actually concentrated – her sisters legged it to wash their hands as soon as I released them from service.

So Midi got to prepare and cook lunch for us all as a treat. It was a really quick and simple Pasta and Squid Arrabiata, served up 15 minutes after starting if you’re an adult happy with a sharp knife, 25 minutes if you’re a 7 yo under instruction. This was enough for an adult and 3 hungry children:

My favourite lunch. Drool!

My favourite lunch. Drool!

Ingredients:

  • 1 chopped onion
  • 2 crushed garlic cloves
  • splash of olive oil
  • half a red chilli, finely minced
  • 20 halved baby plum tomatoes (or a couple of handfuls of any chopped tomatoes: it’s just what was in the fridge needing used up)
  • 12 torn basil leaves
  • 4 small sliced squid

Method:

  1. Put whatever pasta you’re having it with on to boil separately; deal with that alongside making this sauce.
  2. Fry the onion and garlic in the oil over a medium-high heat in a big saucepan for a few minutes until they start to go brown.
  3. Add the tomatoes, chilli, salt and pepper. Fry for another few minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add the squid and basil leaves. Fry for 3 – 5 minutes. Stop when the squid’s just cooked and no more. If you cook too long it’ll go rubbery and inedible.
  5. Toss the sauce through some cooked pasta and serve up with lemon wedges.

Personally, I absolutely loved it: the smell reminded me of delicious summer holiday lunches in Menorca and Greece, back when we could afford to go, and it tasted fresh and garlicky and sweet. Yummy!

Little horror!

Little horror!

The minxes hated it. They gave me the full eye-rolling, head-lolling, drooling, crying, nose-wrinkling, gagging hysteria. I wouldn’t have minded if they’d actually tried any of it first, but they refused to even taste it. I demanded that they eat all the pasta, a piece of tentacle and a single squid ring before they left the table. Midi complied quite happily with that, leaving the rest of her squid in a neat pile at the edge of her bowl; her sisters didn’t, and spent the entire time it took Midi to eat with their tongues hanging out their mouths in disgust.

I guess that won’t be going down in their list of current favourite lunches. But I’ve added the recipe here because I know they’d demolish it and ask for seconds if they’d been given it in a restaurant. And I love it! (As does my purse, at 30p a squid). <—— squid’s in! I’ll get my coat…

*************************************************************************************************

The imaginatively-named Green Pasta Sauce

The imaginatively named Green Pasta Sauce

Today’s lunch was the opposite way round: they loved it, whilst I was ambivalent. It’s one of their favourites – Green Pasta Sauce – and it’s a 10-minute lunch from flash to bang. This is for 1 adult and 3 hungry children, and again start with putting whatever pasta you’re eating it with on to boil, and keep an eye on that while you make the sauce:

Ingredients:

  • a large 2-pint jug stuffed full of spinach leaves
  • 3 tablespoons of cream cheese (or equivalent in processed cheese triangles; I used 4 Laughing Cow triangles)

Method:

  1. Wash the spinach (run the jug under the tap, then drain it out), cover the jug and nuke it on High in the microwave for 2 minutes. It’ll now be about 2 tablespoons-worth of dark green stuff.
  2. Whizz it up with a stick blender.

    Spinach waiting to be whizzed

    Add the cream cheese / cheese triangles and a bit of pepper (pinch of grated nutmeg if you have it and are feeling fancy). Whizz again till it’s creamy.

  3. Dollop over the pasta.

*************************************************************************************************

Little madam!

Little madam!

The spinach I planted in May bolted ages ago, but I kept it in the ground (a) to see what the flowers would look like, and (b) to prop up the broccoli growing beside it. I read that bolted spinach should be ripped up and thrown away because it tastes bitter. Well, I had a wee nibble and it tasted quite sweet to me. Midi agreed. So I pulled up 3 half-metre (!) stalks of spinach and got her to strip the leaves from them to use in today’s green pasta sauce. Yes, it had a stronger flavour than usual, but it’s not bitter or unpleasant. Perfect!

Trout’s Chicken Soup

I’m trying to muster the energy to tell you about last couple of weekends, with a couple of birthdays, parties and poorly children. In the meantime, though, I thought I’d jot down the directions for my favourite chicken soup because I’ve eaten loads of it this week. I love it when I’m feeling a bit off-colour, or when I want something light to eat that’s filling, or when I need comfort food, or when I’m fed-up with bland food. Bland this definitely is not! The minxes love it too, though I suspect in their cases it’s mostly because I let them add the flavourings at the end to their bowls as suits them, ie they get to play with their food.

I also say ‘directions’ rather than recipe, because it’s not the kind of thing I make the same way twice. Finally, this amount is generally enough to feed all 5 of us. And we’re pretty greedy.

1. First, put 1.5 – 2 litres of chicken stock in a big pot. You could use 1 or 2 stock cubes and the right amount of boiling water if you wanted, but honestly, if you’re roasting a chicken any time soon, it’s much nicer and really, really easy to make your own. See directions at the end.

Chicken Soup Ingredients2. Add some vegetables (the last time I added some sliced bits off the green end of a leek and 2 big carrots sliced on the diagonal. The time before that it was chopped onion and a tin of drained sweetcorn. Whatever you like. Think about colours: leek, carrot, red pepper and sweetcorn would look amazing!).

3. Add some leftover chicken meat and / or 1-2 sliced garlic cloves and / or a chopped up ginger slice, if you like.

4. Bring to the boil then simmer for 3 mins to start cooking the vegetables.

5. Add some thin noodles (it’s ASDA udon noodles in the photo. They were perfectly light. Thread noodles are great, too).

6. Continue simmering until the noodles are cooked – 4 mins or so.

Ready to serve up

Ready to serve up!

7. Remove from the heat then add your flavourings! In this amount of soup, I like 2 tablespoons of sweet chilli sauce, 2 teaspoons of fish sauce (nam pla) and the juice of half a lime. I don’t add salt because it doesn’t taste right in this soup.

8. Serve with whatever bread you fancy. Adjust your flavourings to your own taste.

Chicken Stock: pick the roasted chicken carcass of most of its meat. Put the carcass in your biggest pan. Cover it with cold water (about 2 litres of water). Add a single sliced garlic clove, a couple of spring onions chopped into 3 or 4 bits, and a couple of slices of ginger. Bring to the boil. Put the lid on. Simmer gently for 90 mins – 2 hours. Strain. Chuck away the bones and veg. The liquid will keep in the fridge for a couple of days, or you could freeze it the same day.