Bloody Fingers, Bats and Teeth….

Fingers

 

Halloween is approaching once again. It was not until I had children that I really started enjoying this celebration – and really – I only enjoy it because I get to cook funny looking things!

Last year I wrote a bit about the history of Halloween as well as posting quite a few recipes; a refresher below:

……I have learned that Halloween has ancient origins linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain. The name of the festival is derived from Old Irish which roughly translates to “summer’s end”. It served to celebrate the end of a good season of harvest of apples, pumpkins, spices and cider as well as a setting for supernatural encounters. The original Celtic holiday occurred on November 1, not October 31, and was one of the most important holidays for Celtic people, who believed that the spirits of those who had died over the course of the year would mingle with the living before traveling on to the afterlife. Festivals and celebrations were meant to aid the good souls on their way, and keep bad spirits from doing harm to the living.

Since that time, however, the holiday has grown and changed – fuelled largely by horror films such as Frankenstein and Dracula.

The carving of pumpkins, which is my absolute favourite part of Halloween, stems from Scotland and Ireland where they used to carve turnips as a symbol of remembering souls held in punishment. Immigrants to North America later discovered, and used, the pumpkin which was much larger and therefore easier to carve. Today it is used to open your home to little “trick or treaters” – if you leave a lit pumpkin on your front step they know they are welcome!

Chocolate Spiders

Sweet Pumpkin Loaf

Bat biscuits

Ghost Cupcakes

This year we have made a few different bits – the favourite ones (according to the children) were Bats, Fingers and Teeth! The recipes will follow below!

I hope you have a smashing Halloween and Half Term holiday and enjoy the time with your little ones.

Bloody Fingers (adapted from Sainsbury’s Magazine)

This recipe will make 24 fingers

375g short crust pastry

Tomato puree – about 1 tbsp

24 blanched almonds

1 beaten egg or some cream

Grated parmesan – 1 tbsp full will do

  • Pre-heat your oven to 190C
  • Cut the short crust pastry into three rectangles; then cut each rectangle into eight fingers
  • Roll each pastry piece into the shape of a finger – do not fold the dough or roll it out as this will create “splitting” fingers! I.e. the fingers will open up when cooking.
  • Round the finger tips and use a sharp knife to score gentle lines across the middle for knuckles
  • Press your thumb into the top of each finger to make an indentation for the fingernails
  • Dot the tomato puree onto each indentation and press and almond onto each
  • Place all the fingers on a lined baking sheet
  • Brush with either beaten egg or cream
  • Sprinkle parmesan on top
  • Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes – or until golden
  • Let them cool and enjoy!
  • They are great served with hummus, guacamole, pesto or tomato salsa

Marshmallow Bats

Simple and cute – makes 12 (ish)!

250g plain chocolate

12 marshmallows

Baking sheet and pencil

  • Melt 250g of dark chocolate (or milk chocolate if you prefer) in a bowl over simmering water. Do not let the chocolate overheat or it will go crumbly in texture
  • On a baking parchment sheet, draw the bat wings with a pencil (Google image them and print off a picture to trace if you are not the creative type) ensuring you link the wings with a circle (big enough for a marshmallow
  • Ensure the sheet is placed on a moveable surface as the bats will need to go in the fridge once made
  • Turn over the baking parchment – you should see the trace
  • Once the chocolate has melted fully remove it from the heat and let it cool down – this will probably take 10-15 minutes
  • Using a spoon (or piping bag if you prefer) fill the wings and centre “blob” on the parchment with chocolate. make sure you make a relatively thick coating to ensure the bat wings do not break when you need to remove them later
  • Dip your marshmallows in the chocolate and place one marshmallow, as the bat’s body, on the centre blob of every wing set
  • Continue until you have finished the chocolate and marshmallows
  • Place the bats in the fridge for at least 30 minutes
  • Once completely dry, decorate the face with icing pens and sprinkles (for eyes)

Bat

Wobbly Teeth – surprisingly tasty (Sainsbury’s magazine)

Apples

Thick honey (or toffee sauce)

Mini marshmallows

  • Slice your apples into wedges – making the bottom wedges very flat to allow them to sit easily on a platter or plate
  • Put some thick honey (or toffee sauce) on each wedge
  • Place the mini marshmallows on the flat wedge, into the honey, and lay an apple wedge on top
  • Enjoy!

Teeth

 

Advertisements

Thai Impressions

DSC_0508Thailand was never a place I wanted to visit. I yearn for some destinations, dream of them, plan holidays in future years but Thailand has never made that list. Not sure why.

Then, my mother in law bought a house there, and suddenly it was the next destination. That was four years ago and we have just been back for our second holiday. How do I feel about the country now? I could live there, permanently, without giving it a second thought! Why? Well, the list is long but topping it….it has to be….it has to be:

  • The Food. It has to be the food that tops the list! The colours, the flavours, the philosophy under which meals are prepared, the scents that tickle your nostrils and massage your palette. Amazing. If you dare to let go and try things that look strange; things that come out of odd leaves, containers and pots then you are in for a treat.
  • The People. Respectful, not pushy, at peace, not stressed, happy, kind, accommodating. Always a smile, always ready to help. We have a lot to learn in the west
  • The Weather. Average 30 degrees C in February. Nice. No further comment.
  • The Activities. Diving, kite boarding, snorkelling, go-karting, fishing, cooking classes, animal shows, morning market, night markets, fish markets, walk-in streets, trekking to tops of water falls and skinny dipping in them, riding elephants…. We did all of these and could easily have done more.

We took a few hours worth of cooking lessons from a fabulous Thai lady who ran a much acclaimed Thai Restaurant in Australia for 20 years. Short, stout, strict, and bossy as anything, but passionate about ingredients. About when to stir and when to leave, about pestle and mortar, about using every little bit of the raw materials – out of respect for both nature and the client who is to eat the dish. From the lesson came three dishes and I will share them on the blog. Mouth-watering yet so simple and quick to cook!

Before I start recipe writing I want to share my favourites pictures from our trip. Hopefully they will draw you in and let you feel just a little of the magic that is Thailand. It truly is a place where your soul can rest and re-fresh; when you have time to think and focus; a place where stress does not seem to exist and most importantly, to a food lover like I am, a place where the food you find at little road stands is simply divine and different. Where the best local restaurants are nothing more than a wok on fire and you walk through the chef’s living room to be seated. Completely different; completely fabulous!

Enjoy the gallery….and share your experiences! Have you been to Thailand? What was your best bit?

Italy. Simplicity. Dry bread, garlic and tomatoes = Bruschetta!

It has been too long – I have missed cooking, taking photographs and sharing with those that care to read it! I promise never to leave a two month gap again….

So, we went to Italy. Not just anywhere in Italy – we went to Tuscany. Not just anywhere in Tuscany – we went to Florence; and Florence is my favourite place in the whole world. Cannot for the life of me explain why, but the place fills me with joy, with promise, with excitement. The rolling hills, the flavours of the food, the people, the architecture, the colours…no where like it. No where.

It was a family trip (I am lucky enough to have a sister-in-law living in Florence) and we made the most of it. The majority of  the holiday was spent eating and laughing….makes me smile to think about it.

Quality time with the children and extended family and a magical place to stay (Lebbiano Residence – have a look) from where we ventured into the Tuscan country side and spent hours in the nature. The children caught tadpoles and frogs, we taught them to row a boat in the lake, trekking in the woods, catching fire flies at night and finding a hidden park that was, and I kid you not, like a fairy tale come true.

This one needs translating – will live by this…..

In The Park You Can

– inhale clean air
– listen to the silence
– stretch out in the sun (lie down)
– dream
– love
– play
– make up
– think
– slow down
– observe
– taste/enjoy
– doze/nap
– forget/lose time
– come home feeling peaceful
 

 and the food….the food….the food!

Best of all – simplicity. With nothing but paper plates and a lot of love and patience we had the best meals I have had in a long time. Eaten outdoors, with family.

Eaten indoors, on little stools – amazing!

 

So simple – the line in front of the restaurant a very telling thing…My daughter who is only 7 and claims to not like meat – well – a Bistecca Fiorentina at Mario’s….and she is converted!

If you are ever in Florence go there!!! Da Mario – behind San Lorenzo – close to Zaza (another good restaurant).

I want to leave you with a recipe – one of the simplest I know – and probably one of the tastiest too! Bruschetta. Dry bread, olive oil, tomatoes and garlic – fresh garlic – by the clove. Nothing more, nothing less.

Bruschetta

Loaf of dry bread
Fresh, ripe tomatoes cut into small pieces
Extra virgin olive oil
Red onion (can be omitted)
Basil (can be omitted)
Sprinkle of salt
Garlic – cannot be omitted – peeled cloves, sliced in halves
 
  • Slice the bread – it is fine if it is horrible and dry (just not mouldy…)
  • Place under a grill – or on a hot BBQ (perfect for summer – if we ever get one!) until dark brown and crisp
  • Place bread on plate
  • Rub sliced, peeled garlic straight into the bread
  • Throw a large spoonful of tomatoes on top of it (precut in a bowl – if red onion is wanted add it to the tomatoes in small pieces)
  • Drizzle with olive oil
  • Sprinkle with salt and a few basil leave
  • ENJOY!

If you are in need of relaxing, of a break or simply of re-falling in love with life, with your children, with your partner, with food – go to Florence! Stay at Lebbiano Residence, eat at Mario’s, go for walks, see the sites….it is a little bit of magic for the soul.

If you cannot afford to go – make bruschetta at home, put on some Italian music and pretend…! Not quite the same but hey – better than nothing!

Salt Dough Ornaments and Reindeer Food!

So, we have almost got there! Christmas is less than five fingers away…that is how it works with my four-year old anyway!

It is getting harder for the children to sit still and activities that get them concentrating for more than two seconds are always welcomed!

The first one is a great one for all ages, but specially for those that are able to spell a few words on their own. It is making little salt dough ornaments for the Christmas Tree that the children can initial, write a note on or simply decorate. The dough can also be used to make name tags for gifts which is very cute, or simply little gift tags with messages on – like the one in the picture above.

Salt Dough (recipe also found here)

300g flour
150g salt
200ml water – ish!
 
  • Pre-heat oven to 150C
  • Place flour and salt in a bowl
  • Pour water in as you stir – when dough comes together stop adding water!
  • Get your hands in the bowl – knead the dough – if it feels a bit dry add some more water – if it feels too sticky add a bit more flour
  • Let your children have a piece of dough each, give them cookie cutters as well as rolling pins. Another great tool is a toothpick! They can draw faces, write notes or simply make their shapes look like hedgehogs (my youngest decided that was best use of them!)
  • Make sure you put a hole in the top, using toothpick, if you want to hang the ornament on the tree or place on ribbons for gifts
  • Once decorated – glitter is good here – put the shapes in the pre-heated oven and bake for about 1 hour – may be less if the shapes are rolled thinly – keep an eye on them. They should be light brown.
  • Transfer to a wire rack and let cool – once cool paint with acrylics or leave as are
  • Hang them on the Christmas Tree, string onto gifts or decorate windowsills in your home

REINDEER FOOD

The second activity, and this is a MUST of course, is Reindeer Food making. How will Santa and the Reindeer know where to land if this is not sprinkled on the lawn or in front of your house?

This may look like sparkly cereal to you, but believe me, to a child it is magic! So simple and so sweet to see how excited about it they get. Mine decided to make quite a few of the little parcels and we went to a few friends of theirs and handed them out.

Reindeer Food

1 tbsp oats
Half a weetabix
1 tbsp bird seeds
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp raisins
Glitter of your choice
 
  • Add all the ingredients in a bowl – the children can have a tablespoon each and combine it.
  • Good stir
  • Then add sprinkles – lots! This is what lights the way in the night….
  • Fill little baking parchment parcels with a few tablespoons full of “food” and wrap up.

  • Save them for the evening of the 24th
  • Let your children write this little poem to go with it – or just read it to them! You can make up your own of course!
  • Make sure Santa does stop by….:-)

Reindeer Food Poem

                                                                                                                                                On the 24th at night
When the stars are shining bright
Be sure to take this magic food and sprinkle on the lawn
On Christmas, Santa’s reindeer travel miles before the dawn
But here’s a secret I have to tell, one you must try to keep
That Santa’s reindeer only come when you are fast asleep
So quickly put your jammies on and get a story read
Then sprinkle this magic treat outside and hurry off to bed!
 

All that is left for me to say is Have a Lovely Christmas – I hope you have a really special and memorable evening and morning – and that your wishes come true! Thank you for reading along and commenting, it really makes me smile when you do!

Sleep your way to happiness!!

How many times have you tried to lose a few pounds? How often do you find yourself yelling too much at your children? How often are you lacking motivation to exercise or cook healthily? Final question – do you sleep less than 7 hours a night?

The days I go to bed too late or have my deep sleep broken by someone needing a wee, talking in their sleep or waking inhumanely early, I am much more irritable, prone to be more short-tempered, and definitely have a higher tendency to feel stressed. I eat a lot more sweet and unhealthy foods and am much less fun, definitely in the eyes of my children! Like when they fill the sink with water until it runs onto the floor and through the ceiling into the room below…yeah…when I have too little sleep, that is not a good scenario to find myself in (or for my children to have created!!).

The link between sleep and mood, appetite and weight is not only easy to experience first hand  but also well documented. Over the past few weeks I have, due to feeling tired and de-motivated, been reading up on it and it has made me realise that it is very simple to hit these low energy phases but likewise, very easy to turn the energy levels back around.

Most of the research I have read centres around sleep and weight loss, with one study showing that “…men ate significantly more (an average of 560 excess calories in their daily diet) during the days after they were sleep-deprived, compared to what they ate after having a good night’s sleep” (everydayhealth.com article). For those not used to working with calories, 560 excess ones equate to roughly ½ a kg a week in weight! Amazing how sleep alone can affect our appetite this much.

Less sleep equates to less energy and lower motivational levels throughout the day – you will find it harder to get out there and exercise as well as harder to cook and prepare healthy meals. Instead, and you are probably nodding now, you will grab for food that gives you an instant kick – starchy carbohydrates and sugars – and a vicious circle is created. This is because your appetite controlling hormones have been thrown with sleep deprivation leading to elevated levels of ghrelin, which is appetite-stimulating, as well as reduced levels of leptin, which is an appetite-suppressing hormone (everydayhealth.com). So how do you turn it around!? A few tips – and they work!

  • Sleep is the linking factor so start by going to bed at a decent time, and do it regularly. Creating a good routine will make it easier for you to stick to bedtimes. Count back at least 7 hours from when you have to get up…the hours before midnight are the ones you want to catch – especially if you have children that wake before 6am!
  • Eat a healthy breakfast! This is critical to starting your day with energy and giving your body fuel to tackle all that will come its way. Have a read of my blog RISE AND SHINE for more information on why breakfast is important.
  • Snack between meals. By this I do not mean stuff yourself! Have a handful of nuts (almonds or walnuts) with a piece of dark chocolate or a carrot with some olives, some tomatoes and feta cheese, edamame beans, hummus and veggies….Having a healthy snack will keep your blood sugar levels afloat during the day and thus keep your mood steady! Less shouting at the children, less sweets and starchy carbs being eaten!
  • Exercise! At least 30 minutes, five times a week. Getting out into the fresh air will not only clear your mind and help keep you in shape but it WILL give you energy! It also helps keep your appetite balanced…So important! Read EXERCISE blog for more!
  • Eat healthily! Every magazine you read bangs on about 5 a day. I won’t! I don’t care how many a day you have – it’s not about getting the five in there but about enjoying a balanced diet every day of your life. It is a mind-set to be honest. You need to just go for it. DO IT. Decide that you will throw away the processed white stuff in your cupboards, your biscuits, the chocolates…get rid of it. If it is there so is the temptation to have it. Do not worry so much about the fat content (there are actually many many fatty foods that are good for you, in moderation), look more at the sugar and carbohydrates. This is what gets you lazy and tired…and overweight! Fill your bowls with fruit and vegetables and always have lots of nuts and seeds to hand. Salads are great and believe me there are so many gorgeous ones – it does not have to be boring!!!
  • Cut back on alcohol and caffeine – at least in the afternoon and evening.  If you are struggling to get to bed early, or with waking in the night, don’t assume that a few glasses of wine or a beer will make you sleep better! It may get you falling asleep but once the alcohol wears off you will wake and probably find it hard to fall asleep again. Caffeine will prevent you from falling asleep – usually it takes 4-5 hours to get it out of your system. It would be very hard for me to live without my morning coffee but that is all I have. Not more than 3 cups of tea or coffee a day someone once told me – if you have more broken sleep is the result!

With the darkness and cold moving in on us it is so important to create energy in our every day. I like to feel alive! I like to wake and jump out of bed and look forward to the day ahead. I like to laugh with my children, not shout at them. I love the feeling of returning from a run, buzzing….I love good food – and I do not feel I am missing out on that by eating healthily. I just follow the 80/20 rule…eat really healthily 80% of the time and sneak in some naughtiness once in a while! Finally, I love to sleep! After a full day with exercise, the children and fresh air, there is nothing better than getting under the covers and letting the body have a well-deserved break!

These same rules apply to children by the way…are you helping yours to be happier?

Give it a go and let me know if you are feeling more energised!

(Some good articles I read on the importance of sleep)

http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/sleep-more-weigh-less

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-michael-j-breus/seep-weight-loss-and-appe_b_566378.html

http://www.fitday.com/fitness-articles/fitness/weight-loss/the-relationship-between-getting-enough-sleep-and-weight-loss.html

http://www.tree.com/health/sleep-disorders-effects-weight-gain.aspx

http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/need-sleep/whats-in-it-for-you/mood

Nothing beats the classic Pesto

Pesto – just hearing the word makes me hungry; takes me to Italy, to thoughts of parmesan, garlic and gorgeous bruschetta, stuffed ravioli and fresh pasta recipes. I think dip, I think bread sticks, I think green, healthy…. Really, I just want it! So when the thought hit me the other day I had to make it!

A family food – yes, my children love it (I put a little less garlic in when they are having it with us and sometimes dilute it slightly with cream cheese in pasta dishes) – and very versatile. Can be used for any occasion! I like it as a dip, often just eat it by the spoon (!), and sprinkled over ripe, red tomatoes. Some people add it to their soup…never tried…but not one to judge!  It can be a simple dish but very much an extravagant one…never boring though!

It is, and I know I say this about most of what I cook, so easy to make. Ridiculously easy in fact. If you don’t believe me, try it!

I have made pesto this way since I was 13! My fabulous step mother, very good in a kitchen, taught me how to make it and I have never looked back! This makes enough to cover 500g pasta. Don’t worry about left overs! Keeps well in a jar in the fridge.

50g pine nuts
50g parmesan cheese in small chunks
2 cloves of garlic – peeled – ( this is the child friendly version! Add more if you like!)
A lot of basil….I love it….probably the equivalent of 1 large pot or two bags if you buy those
Pinch of salt (be careful not to add too much as the parmesan is salty on its own – may even be omitted)
Extra virgin olive oil…enough to make it smooth, but not so much that it covers everything. You will see what I mean as you pour it into the mix. Start slow – you can always add more later. I probably use about 120ml, give or take!
 
  •  Chuck all the ingredients, but only a glug (equivalent to about 1 tbsp) of the olive oil, into a food processor. If you do not have one, get one! 🙂 No, just kidding! If you don’t own any chopping machine you will have to do that bit of the job yourself, quite finely, and put it in a pestle and mortar. Squash away! Will be a softer pesto but the flavours will be there which is the most important. Or, just leave quite rough and ready. All good!

  • Start the food processor, or your arm, and add olive oil in small quantities as it churns. The mixture will change from dry to wet – from lumpy to smoothish and from separate colours to a sea of green. Smell it! Stunning right? Basil….yum!
  • When you think it is smooth enough – most people have a preference – stop the machinery or your arm! Stir a spoon through it. If it feels good you are done! If it feels or looks a bit dry, just add some more olive oil and stir through.
  • Put it in a jar in your fridge and use as and when you feel the need to smile!

Note

This is a really cute gift! Put a nice ribbon around your jar, maybe a hand written label, and give it as a housewarming gift with grissini (or posh breadsticks) as I call them!

Finally, make sure those around you have it too, especially your partner if you have one! Garlic is best when shared!!!  If you have no idea what I am on about, try being in close proximity to someone who has had garlic when you have not….let me know how it was!

Scones? Yes please!

At half term we spent a gorgeous week in Appledore, a tiny little fisherman’s village in North Devon (have a look: Appledore Cottages), and most days we ate scones….not just scones though, stunning homemade scones with clotted cream (lots) and jam (lots) and even butter….(also lots!). OK, we did do many other things, crab fishing, fishing, walks on the beach, sites etc, but the scones stand out in my mind. I LOVE a good scone….Some say plain, boring…but no no….I say scones all the way!

Being in baking and snack mode this week, as well as having some buttermilk in the fridge, I thought I would make some. I am always hunting for good after school treats for the children (wanting to avoid abuse :-)) – scones are a great one! Very easy, super quick and the smell that fills the kitchen…heavenly!

To make things complicated, however, my husband criticized the first batch I made….said the flavour was lovely but the consistency “bready”… I am a tad of a perfectionist and it really bothered me…so I researched a bit and tried making them in a different way! Much better, or different is a better word….smiles all around…BUT we now have scones all over the kitchen – come over and have one if you like!!!!

I will put both recipes up – the first one makes a less crumbly, less sweet scone while the second is more of a sweet, soft treat!

It was a bit dark and sad outside today so a candle made it lovely and cosy inside! Important to set a nice scene when you are in the kitchen!

The first recipe – inspired by Anne Willan’s Look and Cook book – goes like this!

250g flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
60g unsalted butter
175ml buttermilk
 
  • Heat your oven to 220C and line a baking tray with parchment paper
  • Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. I used to skip this step and just chuck everything in but actually, apart from making the flour look soft and beautiful, almost snow like, it makes it more airy and therefore helps create a lighter scone.

 

Pretty right?

  • Add the butter and with your fingers, or those of your children, rub the mixture together quickly until it forms crumb like consistency. Think airy and light when you are doing this and do move rather quickly so that you do not melt the butter with the warmth from your hands.
  • Pour the buttermilk into the centre of the bowl – you will of course (!) have made a pretty hole in the flour…

  • Using a fork, toss the flour mixture with the buttermilk and stir until just holding together. Do NOT over stir – why? This will make chewy, hard scones…
  • Knead quickly on lightly floured surface, literally a few seconds, do not make it smooth. Then pat the dough into a round shape, about 2cm thick.
  • Cut out round shapes with a cookie cutter or glass

  • Place the scones on your parchment and bake them in the warm oven for about 15 minutes (or until light brown)

  • Sink your teeth into those!!!!! OR, what I did, butter and jam them, wrap them up and delight your children! (and enjoy a rare, quiet, proud “Mum is great” moment)

The second recipe is by Rachel Allen and is slightly sweeter and more light – not much – but enough to be different!

500g plain flour, plus extra for dusting   
1 heaped tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 heaped tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp salt
125g chilled unsalted butter   
25g caster sugar
1 egg,  beaten   
275ml buttermilk, plus extra for the egg wash   
1 tbsp caster sugar
 
  • The procedure is similar to that above. Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda, cream of tartar and salt into a bowl. Using your fingertips, rub in the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and mix.
  • Save 1/3 of the beaten egg and pour the rest into the buttermilk.
  • Add the liquids to the flour and stir with a fork – quickly – follow kneading and patting procedure as above, and you should see this on parchment.

  • Lightly brush the scones with the remaining egg, to which you can add a bit of buttermilk. This creates a nice, golden colour.
  • Into the oven – 12-15 minutes – until brown/golden. Below is the result! YUMMY!

Both recipes are great..my preference is probably the Sarah Allen’s though…just a bit more traditional scone…

A slight niggle remains….someone suggested that a real scone, a proper one, contains lard….Hhmmmm….I just cannot quite get myself to try it. Watch this space though, maybe I will be brave enough one day!