16 July 2014

Healthy oat bran, raspberry and honey muffins

I don't know about you, but I can't drink tea on its own. When I'm having a cup throughout the day, I have to have something with it. I'm a real consumer, in the true sense of the word. I have to be consuming, all the time, ideally two things at once. If I have a drink (alcoholic) I have to have a nibble with it, or if it's a night out (don't worry, they're not very frequent) a cigarette often accompanies a drink - not because I still crave them (I smoke so infrequently now the cravings have gone) but just for the act of consuming. I could not smoke a cigarette without a drink alongside, forget it! It's like that with tea. My mum's the same (but only with the drink/nibble thing, not the fags, which is good). What's wrong with me?! I need to go on a mindfulness course or something. In the meantime though, I think it best to simply try and make the things that I am consuming a bit healthier! Like these healthy muffins. (And maybe one of those e-cigs when I go out?)

Obviously I din't just make these all for little old me, though! If you're a mum, and I know many of you are, then it's obvious really isn't it? Kids like treats, so why not give them ones that aren't that bad, right? These are pretty OK in the health department. They don't have sugar in, only a little bit of honey (alright smart*se, I know honey is still a fructose, but it's natural so in my book it's acceptable), as well as fruit, natural yoghurt, oat bran (amazing for getting kids regular, this is what my doc advised when my daughter was constipated as a baby!), wholemeal flour and eggs. So pretty much nothing bad in there. So that makes it OK that I ate two today, doesn't it? And two yesterday... and one the day before. They need eating up OK!?? (We haven't got a freezer, so I have to eat everything in sight or give it away)

Give them a whirl! And, repeat after me: "My body is a temple..."

Makes: 12
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
Total time: 35 minutes

125g oat bran (replace with all flour if you can't get this)
125g wholemeal flour
2 tablespoons of baking powder
Pinch of salt
125g butter, melted
2 eggs, beaten
140ml milk
225g fresh raspberries
115g runny honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons of Greek yoghurt


  1. Preheat oven to 190C. 
  2. Line a muffin tin with large paper cases. 
  3. Mix dry ingredients - oat bran, flour, baking powder, salt. Then mix wet ingredients - milk, melted (and cooled a little) butter, eggs, vanilla, milk, honey, yoghurt. Combine wet with dry, and gently fold in berries. 
  4. Pour batter into tin and bake until a skewer comes out clean - around 25 minutes. Let cool in tin then on a wire rack. Much away till your heart's content. 

15 July 2014

Stilton, hazelnut and rocket pesto on wholewheat spaghetti

I prepared myself for wailing rejection when serving this to the kids tonight. It's a pretty punchy number, for sure, when spooned straight into the gob. And yet... when this pesto is coated sparingly on strands of nutty wholewheat pasta, with a little cream and pasta water in the mix too to lighten, it goes all mellow and is really rather easy going. I'm always wary when giving them Stilton flavoured food. But, like my Mushroom and kale lasagne, which also has a touch of Stilton in, (in small doses) they blinking love a bit of the old stinky blue cheese! Well, they loved this pasta anyway, wolfed down a big bowl each.

I'm constantly surprised by what they do - and don't - like. So called kid friendly recipes (that I've styled and shot recently for work) haven't been a hit with them, and yet this is. Kids are so damn unpredictable. Still, I'm not complaining on this occasion.

You can make the no-cooking-required pesto as the pasta is cooking, which makes it a super speedy supper. It's also genius way to get children (and grown ups) to eat some greens. There's no way my offspring would eat rocket normally, in its raw state, not a chance. But in a pesto? Yeah, baby!

Pestos are really fun to mess around with (I think so anyway, don't judge). You can combine many different hard cheese/nuts/leaf combo and it should work - choose wisely though, which I know you will. For example, you might replace the Stilton with pecorino, the hazelnuts with almonds, the rocket with watercress. Hey, go crazy.

Serves: 3 adults (or 2 adults and 2 children)
Prep time: 10 minutes 
Cook time: 10 minutes
Total time: 10 minutes (cooking pasta and making pesto simultaneously)

For the pesto: 
90g Stilton, rind taken off and crumbled
90g hazelnuts
75g rocket
8 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
Pinch of salt

300g wholewheat spaghetti

3 tablespoons of double cream


  1. Fill the biggest pan you own with water and bring to boil, with a little salt in there too. 
  2. When boiling, add pasta. Boil for a wee bit less than packet instructions say for al dente. 
  3. Whilst that's cooking, using preferably a small processor (great investment for family cooking - amazing for houmous, pesto etc) or if using a large processor you may have to make twice as much, whizz the ingredients. 
  4. Reserve half a mugful of pasta cooking water. Drain the pasta. 
  5. Add about half the pesto to the pasta. Stir in a little cream too, and a splash of pasta water. Toss really well. Taste and season. Toss once more. 
  6. Serve with a little extra virgin and a sprinkling of salt. Watch on in amazement as kids wolf it down. 

13 July 2014

Pear and ginger cake

The only problem with BOGOFs is that you have twice as much of something to use up quickly before it goes off. I succumbed to an offer on pears online and they weren't very nice at all. Even when they'd ripened up a bit they were bitter and just not pleasant. I really didn't want to waste them, so chucked a few in this cake (still have a few more to use up, not sure how, they must be cooked really). I'm happy to report that however yuck they were in their raw state, cooked in this cake and combined with ginger and brown sugar, they tasted amazing. The combo of pear and ginger is a happy and comforting one. This cake is especially amazing warm out of the oven, as such I would recommend it as a dinner party dessert actually, served warm with Greek yoghurt mixed with a little stem ginger syrup, which is what you see here. But don't wait for a dinner party to make it! It's an equally good cake to enjoy with a cup of tea, anytime. Try making it with apples too, maybe with cinnamon instead of ginger, that'd be great.

Serves: about 8-12 people depending on size of slice
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
Total time: 55 minutes

450g pears (about 4 or 5)
115g butter
225g plain flour
2 teaspoons of baking powder
2 teaspoons of ground ginger
115g brown sugar
3-4 tablespoons of milk
2 tablespoons of stem ginger syrup
2-3 pieces of stem ginger, chopped small
Pinch of salt

  1. Preheat oven to 180C. Grease and flour (or grease and line) a 23cm cake tin. 
  2. Peel and core, then dice the pears. 
  3. Mix flour, salt, ground ginger and baking powder. Then rub butter in to make mixture like breadcrumbs. 
  4. Add pear, stem ginger and sugar. Mix. Add the milk and syrup. Mix well. If the mixture is a little dry add a further tablespoon of milk. 
  5. Pour batter into the cake tin. Sprinkle with a little dark brown sugar on top if you so desire. 
  6. Bake for 45 minutes. Test with s skewer before taking out (if it comes out clean it's done). 
  7. Serve with full fat Greek yogurt mixed with a little stem ginger syrup. With gallons of tea too, of course. 

9 July 2014

Best macaroni cheese with bacon, mushrooms and spinach

I make Mac and Cheese all the time. And I think I make a bloody good one too! I usually do a version of a (now very heavily) adapted Nigella version. Instead of using the roux method (mixing flour and butter and adding milk - results are too claggy and stodgy IMO) I make a cheese sauce by whisking hot stock with grated gruyere coated in cornflour. This is then mixed with mascarpone to create a silky, salty, creamy - amazing - cheese sauce. Add to this some torn mozzarella - the macaroni, obvs - and some grated parmesan on top, and you've basically got calorific heaven on a plate. For health reasons I always add some vegetables, this time mushrooms and spinach as my kids will happily eat both (oh, and I chucked some bacon in too as we needed to use some rashers left in the fridge). I have NEH-VAH witnessed my children eat something so quick, then ask for more. It was a happy mealtime!

This recipe makes a large a baking dish full (see below pic), enough for 6 adults. But we had a little left over so I finally used my little blue ramekins. Adam always has a go at me for spending Selfridges wedding vouchers on these ramekins, saying we never use them. Well, look, I used them! HA!

This is a brilliant dish to serve to children and adults too as everyone loves it. Make it ahead (up until the baking stage) as it doesn't suffer. Freezes well too.

Serves: 6 adults
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 35 minutes 
Total time: 55 minutes

300g macaroni pasta
200g gruyere
3 tablespoons of cornflour
800ml chicken stock (or veg)
250g mascarpone
1 x 125g ball of mozzarella, torn into pieces
A few rashers of back bacon, sliced into lardons
250g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
125g spinach
Salt (a small pinch)
2 teaspoons of English mustard
50g parmesan, grated


  1. Preheat oven to 180C
  2. Cook pasta in a large pan filled with boiling salted water, for 2 minutes less than it says on the packet (it'll cook more later). Set aside when done. 
  3. Meanwhile, grate the gruyere and toss in cornflour. Make some hot stock (or bring some homemade to boil) and, either using a microwave or on the hob, whisk the flour/cheese into the boiling broth. Heat some more and it should start to thicken. Add the mascarpone and whisk again, heating through. 
  4. Fry off first the bacon for a few minutes. Set aside. Now the mushrooms over a very high heat for a few minutes, and take off as soon as they become brown, before the start to exude water. Set aside. Toss the spinach in the same pan, off the heat, it'll wilt in seconds. 
  5. Add the sauce and bacon, mushrooms and spinach to the macaroni. Tear in the mozzarella and combine. Add mustard and seasoning. Stir again and taste. You'll think it's way too saucy - but that's good, the pasta will soak a lot up remember. 
  6. Tip into a large baking dish - if it's too much then tip the excess into little oven proof bowls and either freeze or keep in fridge until needed. Top with grated parmesan and bake for 35 minutes or until bubbling and brown. 
  7. Serve as is. Inwardly sing as your kids eat lots!

Smoked mackerel and bean salad with avocado dressing

A while back I posted this smoked mackerel sweetcorn and avodaco salad. It was a throw together thing that worked out really well. Total flukesville. It was equally popular at home as it was on here on the blog. I often have smoked mackerel in the fridge, with nothing in particular in mind for it. (I usually chuck some in the shopping basket as I know everyone will eat it, plus it's healthy, and it doesn't even need cooking!). This mega healthy salad was a similarly thrown together thing, and everybody loved it. Bea and Artie ate every last bit of their portion, pretty much. Couldn't believe it. Kids eating a healthy salad!

The best bit is the dressing, which had everyone asking for more. I got the idea from Jamie Oliver's latest TV series (loving it, some amazing ideas for cheap family meals without compromise) who whizzed up something similar on TV the other night. It's like mayo, but fresher, creamier and healthier. I was very smug indeed after making this, I can tell you. The kids couldn't get enough. I even saw them accidentally eat pieces of lettuce with the sauce on! Happily, I mouthed to Adam across the table "they're eating the l-e-tt-u-ce!!". Oh, the things that thrill you as a parent.

Sorry for the imprecise measurements, it was very much unplanned so didn't jot the exact amounts down.

Serves: 2/3 adults or equivalent as a lunch
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 5 minutes
Total time: 10 minutes

1 tin of mixed bean salad, drained and rinsed
1 packet of smoked mackerel, which had about 4 fillets in, skinned and torn into small pieces
Few lettuce leaves, shredded thinly
About 1/3 cucumber, cut into a large dice
Handful of coriander leaves, chopped roughly

For the dressing: 
Handful of coriander stalks
3 tablespoons of Greek yoghurt
1 ripe avocado
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil

To serve: 
A pinch of paprika


  1. Drain the beans and mix with the chopped cucumber, shredded lettuce leaves and torn up mackerel pieces. 
  2. Whizz up the dressing in a small processor. If you only have a large one, then make twice as much (it will keep if you add a squeeze of lemon or lime for a few days).
  3. Combine half of the dressing with the salad, serving more alongside. It'll all go, I'm telling you!