Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Slow cooker saves the day

I love my slow cooker.  I really do.  I know it's probably a bit granny-ish but I find it so convenient to chuck a load of stuff in and then when I come home from work there's dinner!  That's pretty much how I use it, I don't do anything fancy, I rarely brown meat before I bung it in or anything technical like that.

Usually, I chop up some chicken or beef, a load of vegetables and then lob it all into the slow cooker with a tin of tomatoes and it cooks up a treat.  Sometimes I add some herbs or spices.  That's it really.  I used to be concerned about how to use it, if I should follow a recipe or anything like that, but then I just started to use it and realised - it's so easy!

This week, I did a joint of beef in it.  No cutting up of the meat, I literally just put it in.  I chopped up some potatoes and onions and put them on the bottom, put a little water in and then balanced the beef on top and sprinkled it with paprika.  When I got home from work, I sliced the beef and served it up with the potatoes, onions and the juice from the cooker - and it was gorgeous!

Even better, both Miss Chief and Master Chief gave it the seal of approval - and a toddler seal of approval is hard won.

Obviously you have to be a little bit prepared i.e. have the food ready in the morning to put in, but my new slow cooker (a Prolex) even has a setting where you can put frozen stuff in it and it cooks it on a high temperature and then switches to the actual slow cooking - genius!

My advice is - if you have a slow cooker, don't be frightened, just use it.  You'll get better if the first time isn't fantastic, and you can always blend whatever you've cooked and make it into a soup.  If you don't have a slow cooker - buy one!

Monday, 16 June 2014

Baking cakes with silicone moulds

We made cakes for Father's Day.  Master Chief loves to help out in the kitchen and especially loves baking cakes so when we saw some silicone cake moulds for sale we snapped them up.  Train shapes, butterflies and beetles, little houses and dinosaurs - just what everyone needs.
We've made the train ones before, obviously with Master Chief being Thomas The Tank Engine crazy, this time we decided on the houses and insects.  The results were impressive, I didn't expect them to look so good shapewise.  Well, the insects looked good, I think the houses could've looked better.   We used a basic sponge recipe for the insects and an eggless cake with chocolate pieces for the houses.

The most important thing with silicone moulds is to ensure that the cake doesn't stick, and here's the best way I've found to ensure that doesn't happen - I've had cakes turn out as shapeless blobs.  They're tasty but not quite the image you're going for!

Make sure the silicone mould is absolutely clean and dry. Oil the moulds thoroughly - I used spray-on oil, I found it easier to cover all the little bits of the mould properly.  Instead of putting the floppy mould on a baking tray (this can affect the cooking) I used an oven shelf and slid the moulds in and out of the oven on that.
After it's cooked leave the cake to go completely cold, inside the mould. This is the most important thing.  When it's cooked the cake will be firmer and you'll be able to turn it out easily.
That's it really, I've out the two recipes below, the eggless one is so useful for when you haven't planned to bake cakes or have just used the last egg for breakfast.

Basic sponge
Butter - 125g (4oz)
Sugar - 125g (4oz)
2 eggs
Self raising flour - 125g (4oz)

What to do
Heat the oven to 180 (C) / 350 (F) / gas mark 4
Cream the butter and sugar together.Beat in the eggs.
Sieve in the flour and mix in (it says to use a metal spoon but if you haven't got a suitably large one then use what you've got!).
The mixture should be a gooey, kind of yoghurty consistency, so you can dollop it into the moulds.  Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until it looks good.  If you want to get technical then stick a skewer in and if it comes out clean then it's done.  I kind of go by the visual and sometimes I poke it a bit to see if it's still gloopy!

Eggless sponge
Plain flour - 175g (6oz)
Baking powder - 3 tsp
Butter - 70g (2.5oz)
Sugar - 60g (2.25oz)
Golden syrup - 1 tbsp
Milk - 150ml (1/4 pint)

What to do
Heat the oven to 190 (C) / 375 (F) / gas mark 5
Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl.
Cream the butter, sugar and golden syrup in a separate bowl until light and fluffy.
Add a little flour/baking powder and then a little milk and mix.  Repeat this until it's all mixed together.
Dollop it into the moulds and bake for about 20-25 minutes or until they're done (or what you think is done - see above for my version!)

Don't forget to leave them to go completely cool before you turn them out of the moulds.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Pier walk and pesto salmon pasta

We live in Southend.  We probably don't make the most of it but this weekend we decided to walk the pier.  We've done it before but not for a while and it was a lovely sunny day so we went for it.  After a fortifying breakfast at a local cafe we set off to walk one way and train it back.  Master Chief loves trains, absolutely adores them so we knew that would make him happy.  Miss Chief was safe in her buggy, not only is she a mountaineer (which is worrying on dry land let alone a pier) but she wouldn't be up to the mile and a bit walk.  We had a lovely walk, waving at the train every time it went by and generally being happy in the sunshine.

When we got to the end we found out that there was an open day at the lifeboat centre.  Master Chief had a fantastic time sitting in the lifeboats and "driving" them.  Then there was the fun of the train ride home, which they both loved.

After a long and busy day, I didn't feel like creating magic in the kitchen so I decided to fall back on one of my trusted old favourites - pesto salmon pasta.  Very quick, very easy, very tasty.

Pasta, any type
Salmon, one fillet per person
Pesto, I used half a jar but it depends how many people it's for and how much you like pesto
Mushrooms, chopped (optional)

What to do
Cook the salmon.  The fillets I had were cook from frozen so it's an easy last minute dinner.  Cook the pasta as normal.  While it's cooking, shred the salmon into bite sized (or smaller) pieces, and chop the mushrooms if you're using them.  When the pasta is cooked, drain it and return it to the pan.  Stir in the pesto, salmon and mushrooms and then serve it up.  Voila!

You can jazz it up if you like by adding spinach, or grating cheese on top, or numerous other additions.  Enjoy!

No picture of this one I'm afraid, my battery died before I could take it, but as it's so easy I'll probably make it again soon and try to add a picture.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Half term and toad-in-the-hole

It's half term.

That means no childcare.
It also means no work for me as I'm now on a term-time contract.

So, less expense on childcare, which is good.
It's been raining all week, which is bad.

All the garden/park/woods fun I had planned?  Not so much.  Don't get me wrong, I love a muddy, puddly, splashy walk as much as the next Mum, but after four days of it it starts to lose it's appeal.  I don't want to go to soft play, it's mental in the holidays.  My two are still small enough that lots of boisterous kids can be intimidating (more so for Master Chief than for Miss Chief, she's a bit of a bruiser!).  

So, crafty bits inside are a winner at the moment.  Master Chief loves getting out his maker box, and Miss Chief seems content building towers for longer these days so it's working.  Last week it wouldn't have worked, she'd have tried to snatch away whatever he was working on and he'd have the screaming abdabs. Next week it might not work, but for the time being I'm making the most of it.  We've made cards for every event, and pictures for everyone.

We've made a gingerbread house (yes, I know it's been a while since Christmas but we never got around to making it then).

 We also made toad-in-the-hole, Master Chief loved mixing the batter and everyone loves sausages.  

Sausages (as many as you want)
225g Plain flour
4 eggs
250ml milk

What to do
I prefer my sausages well cooked so I always brown them first, either in the oven or in a frying pan.  While you're doing that, put a deep baking tray into the oven with the oil in it so it gets really hot.
Mix together the flour, eggs and milk (adding the milk in gradually) and whisk until it's smooth.  Put the sausages into the oven tray (into the hot oil) and then pour the batter all over them (I always make sure that the sausages stay away from the edges of the baking tray).  Put it in the oven at about 200 degrees (gas mark 6) for about 30-40 minutes - basically, as the sausages had a head start, when it looks done, it's done!

I served it with gravy and some veg on the side, this time it was cabbage and cauliflower.
Cue happy faces and clean plates.

What've you done with your holidays?