Thursday, 31 May 2012

New shoes

I have a pair of shoes from Office, which I love. They are simple, canvas mary jane pumps with black polka dots. Unfortunately, they are in very bad shape; I have checked and Office doesn't do canvas ones any more, only jersey, which I don't like. I trawled the internet for some similar shoes with no luck, but did find some plain hessian ones in Tesco.

I picked them up yesterday and while the quality is nowhere near that of my originals (not surprising, as they were less than half the price!), they are comfortable. They did need a bit of work to make them look like more than £8 shoes, but 10 buttons and some thread later, I am very pleased with the result.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Fake Empanadas

I have faked something today, but it is new, so I can count it as part of my New Year's resolution (cook something new every week). I had some leftover gyoza skins from the weekend Wagamama cook-off and decided to finally use up the half chorizo that has been glaring at me from the fridge. These are not dairy-free, but Charlotte is at school, so it's ok.


In a blender, I whizzed up:
1 chicken breast
1/2 an onion
1/4 orange pepper
A big chunk of chorizo
About 60g Manchego cheese

Once this was suitably minced together, I dolloped a teaspoon onto a gyoza skin, moistened the edge and folded in half. I flattened them a bit and made sure the edges were well sealed. I made 17, I think, from this quantity of mix.

I put About 1cm of oil in a frying pan and gently fried them for a couple of minutes on each side, 6 at a time. Unfortunately, the filling seeped out and burned in the oil, but apart from that they were easy and tasted great. Now I need to learn how to make empanada dough, so I can make them properly and hopefully not leak everywhere.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Lemon cheese-cakes

It's a friend's birthday today, and my husband will be seeing her later, so I decided to send him off with a batch of cakes for her. She also bakes, so I thought I'd try something new to see what she thinks of it, and these little babies turned out remarkably well.


Make up a batch of 5:4:4:2 cake mix with 1tsp vanilla extract in it.
Place 8 large cupcake cases in a 12 bun muffin tin, then put about 2cm depth of mix in each case.
Dollop about a teaspoon of lemon curd on the middle of each cake, then cover it with another couple of cm of mix. I'm not being very specific about quantities as I was rushing a bit, and didn't concentrate!
Bake in a 180c oven for about 18 - 20 minutes until they are browned on top and cooked.

I left them to cool in the tin, before removing them and icing them. You can see that I broke one open to check out the inside. It was still a dollop of lemon curd, and had not stopped the mix around it from rising. Some had leaked out a bit, you can see the dark patches on the cases where the lemon curd started to caramelise.

I made up some cream cheese frosting using 1tbsp full fat Philadelphia cheese, 1tbsp soya margarine and kept adding icing sugar until I got a thick, smooth consistency. I also added 1tsp of vanilla extract to the icing. I am already considering the next batch, and have plans to make strawberry jam ones with strawberries and whipped cream on top.

Stuff to do with kids

I was collecting books for the book stall at our school fair recently, and in one of the boxes I found a very tatty looking box with a couple of dozen little coloured leaflets inside. It couldn't go in the sale, but I didn't want to throw it away either, so I saved it to investigate at a later date.

I looked through the leaflets yesterday morning and discovered exactly what they were. A set of little projects to do with kids - some making, some educational and some puzzles. We picked a making one and tried it out. All you do is thread 2 disposable bowls onto string and hook them onto each end of a coat hanger to make scales. You can then see if things weigh more or less than each other.

The kids got their marbles out and before long, Charlotte was making guesses as to how many of different sizes would balance the scales. She didn't realise it, but she was doing maths and enjoying it too. Brilliant. Next I want to try the one where you make a sugar syrup and dangle a knotted thread in it and sugar crystals grow on the knots - it's titled "Grow your own candy". Who's a big geek? Me, and I don't care who knows it!

Friday, 25 May 2012

Noodle soup

Today, on possibly the hottest day of the year so far, Emma asked for noodle soup for lunch. Noodle soup is a bit of a generic term in our house, the soup always has noodles in it, but the rest of the ingredients change depending on what is in the fridge. Today I made it with pork, but I often use chicken.


About 150g pork or chicken, chopped up small
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 tin of creamed sweetcorn
500ml stock
Light soy sauce
5-spice seasoning
Vermicelli or fine rice noodles


Gently fry the onion to soften but do not brown it.
Add the chopped meat and cook through.
Pour in the tin of sweetcorn and the stock and simmer for a few minutes.
Season with a little soy sauce and 5 spice, taste and add more if necessary.
Break the noodles into pieces as you add them to the soup, then simmer for a few more minutes until they are soft.

Sometimes I use spring onions instead, or dark soy instead of light, a little cornflour if it is too runny etc. It's also great without the noodles if they are not your thing. All in all, a very adaptable recipe!

Here is Emma enjoying hers today:

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Dairy-free banana cake

There is always a cake brewing when I notice half a bunch of bananas in the bowl that no-one is going to pick up and eat in a million years. The ones that are more black than yellow and very, very squishy. My mum always used to make banana bread with these rather sad, dejected looking fruits as they make a much better cake than the firm, yellow ones. This is her recipe (almost):

Before mashing

200g self-raising flour
50g soya margarine
1 egg
50g sugar (I use light brown soft sugar)
grated rind of a lemon (I use 1/2 tsp lemon oil)
3 medium sized bananas
1/2 tsp ground mixed spice (optional, not part of the original recipe)


After mashing, not too pretty!

Weigh out the flour and margarine into a large bowl and rub together to make crumbs.
Stir in the sugar.
In a separate bowl, mash the bananas with a fork and mix in the lemon, egg and mixed spice.
Add the wet mix to the dry and stir together.
Pour into a 2lb loaf tin which is either lined or greased and floured.
I like to sprinkle a tsp of demerara sugar on top to give a crunchy crust.
Ready to cook
Cook in 180c oven for 35 - 40 minutes, until a toothpick poked in the top comes out clean.
Cool in the tin for 5 minutes then place on a wire tray to cool.

This cake is most delicious when it is still slightly warm. It doesn't keep for long (maybe 2 days) as it is quite moist, the perfect excuse to have another slice!

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

My creative kids

I'm having a day off today. It was such lovely weather that I decided to be destructive in the garden instead of creative in the house. I chopped 2 big bushes down and hauled them off, then felt all weak and had to sit down and watch my mum do some of my gardening instead.

While I was outside, I noticed how much the children enjoy being creative. They have had chalks outside and decorated the path, which is great, because a bit of water and it's all clean again.

They definitely have the creative streak, as I often come downstairs in the morning to find them furiously scribbling away at some new picture or creation. I have to say, my current favourite is Emma's trouser people, that she thought up all by herself before proudly presenting them to me.

Luckily, they also take after their dad, so they have rhythm (which I totally lack), an interest in music and the three of them love playing Mario together on the Wii!

Monday, 21 May 2012

Retro pineapple cake

I was talked into buying a pineapple by my children. Yes, yes, we will eat it, we love pineapple! Then when they did try it, they decided it was too fizzy and made their tongues hurt. I seem to remember a kitsch pineapple cake topped with cherries in the holes of tinned pineapple slices, so I thought I'd try and make a version of that.


Fresh pineapple, sliced into 1/2cm rounds.
50g soya spread
50g soft light brown sugar

2.5oz soya spread
2.5oz soft light brown sugar
2.5oz self raising flour
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract


Cream together the 50g of soya spread with 50g of sugar, then use it to line an 8inch round cake tin.
Place the pieces of pineapple on top of this, in one layer, getting as much in as possible.

In a bowl, cream together the 2.5oz of soya spread and brown sugar, add the egg and vanilla and mix.
Finally add the flour and mix in.
Carefully spread this cake mix over the pineapple pieces and smooth the top.
Bake in a 180c oven for about 30 minutes, until the cake is cooked and light brown on top.
Leave to cool for 5 minutes in the tin, then tip out onto a plate and leave to cool a bit before serving.
It's nice warm with as a pudding or cold as a cake.

My cake tin has a base that is rather too loose, so I lost a lot of the sugar/spread that was supposed to caramelise the pineapple. Instead, it caramelised the baking tray which was (luckily) underneath and I spent ages scrubbing it off. We ate the cake warm with natural soya yoghurt mixed with maple syrup, and it was very yummy.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

The finished play house

I was about to write about the dairy-free tandoori chicken masala I made for the first time tonight (part of my new year's resolution to cook something new every week), but thought it would be much more visual to show the finished play house that I have painted for the local nursery. Don't get me wrong, the curry was delicious, if a bit "fizzy" for the children, but the play house is much more fun, look:

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Painted chair

We had some new wardrobes fitted in our bedroom a few weeks ago, and they are dark red gloss - I am in love with both the look of them and the storage they provide. I wanted to make the rest of the room really minimal, and so all we have in the room is a bed, bedside tables and a big leaner mirror. As there is nothing else in the room that is red, I thought I'd better rectify the situation.

We have a hardwood chair that has been in my husband's family for a few generations, and it has never had a proper home in our house. It bravely put itself forward as my first ever piece of painted furniture. I had been talking to our decorator (yes, I have given up on thinking I can decorate - I can't, I'm too messy and my arms ache too quickly) and he recommended this undercoat for furniture painting. So I bought a tin and 2 coats later, here is the first stage of the chair painting.

I had some paint mixed to match the colour of the wardrobes and painted 4 coats onto the chair to give it a whole new lease of life:

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Peanut butter and chocolate cookies

I love peanut butter. The best use for peanut butter (crunchy, not the smooth stuff) is in a fluffernutter. Made with 2 slices of white toast instead of bread, it is my absolute favourite yummy treat. I am also partial to peanut butter cookies, but as the children don't like them, I don't make them too often.

Then, I had a breakthrough. Emma now likes peanut and honey based cereal, and so I have an excuse for trying a brand new peanut cookie recipe on the family. Introducing the peanut butter and chocolate chip dairy-free cookie - I think it needs a better name.


3 oz soya margarine
4 oz soft brown sugar
5 1/2 oz peanut butter
4 1/2 oz plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg (I used a medium sized one)
6 oz dairy-free chocolate chips (I used 3 oz of dark and 3 oz of milk)


Cream together the margarine and sugar, then add the egg and vanilla and mix well.
Add the peanut butter and mix.
Add the flour and bicarb and mix to make a soft dough.
Finally, stir in the chocolate chips.
You are supposed to put the dough for peanut butter cookies in the fridge for an hour to firm the dough and make it easier to use, but I am always in too much of a rush to bother. It does help the next stage if you do, though.
Take a tablespoon of mix at a time and place on a baking tray, then squash it down to a biscuit shape with a fork. I forgot to do this bit today, so I got mine out of the oven after a minute or so and squashed them - the chocolate was already melted and oozed all over the place, hence the finished biscuits having a mashed-up chocolatey top to them.
Cook at 180c for about 12 minutes, until they are browning around the edges.
Use a spatula to transfer them to a wire rack to cool.
Makes 18 large cookies.

On tasting them, I think that they needed a bit more sugar, and when I make them again (they are very good) I will use 5 oz of sugar. I love the crumbly texture you get from the peanut butter and the fact that these are a little less nutty than plain peanut butter ones. Conclusion - I am very pleased.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Orange and poppyseed loaf cake

I mentioned a while back that I love making the orange and poppyseed cake from one of my recipe books. It is made in a baba tin and I was wondering if it would be possible to scale it down a little and make it as a loaf instead.

Here is a picture of it, made correctly in the baba tin.

So here is the new recipe:


30g poppy seeds
120ml sweetened soya milk
170g caster sugar
2 eggs
170g self raising flour
140g soya margarine
1tsp vanilla extract (not necessary, but I love vanilla with orange)
2 oranges


Warm the milk in a cup in the microwave carefully (about 30 seconds with a stir half way), then add the poppy seeds and leave to stand while you do the rest of the preparation.

Zest the 2 oranges and add to a large mixing bowl along with the flour, sugar, margarine, eggs and vanilla. Finally, add the poppy seeds and milk and whisk the whole lot up until it is a smooth, creamy batter.

Pour the batter into a lined loaf tin and bake at 180c for around 50 minutes.

Leave in the tin to cool.

Make a thick icing with orange juice (around 3 tsp.) and icing sugar and spoon over the slightly warm cake and spread to the edges.

I made the icing too thin, so it ran off too quickly, next time I'll make it thicker, like the cake at the top.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Easy-peasy dairy-free strawberry mousse

I always feel a bit sad when my children can't enjoy the sorts of puddings I ate when I was small. Luckily, the ingredients can be found to make equivalent puddings if you know where to look. I discovered this dairy-free whipping cream alternative a while back, and have used it to make eton mess and mousse for the girls in the past. It is good enough for us all to eat, and that is saying something! It doesn't whip up to the lovely softness that you get with real cream, but it is acceptable in pudding making.

So, today I thought I'd make a strawberry mousse for tomorrow's pudding. It's very simple, all you need is a pack of jelly and a carton of dairy-free cream.

Place the jelly block in the microwave for 1 minute with 100ml of water.
Take it out of the microwave and stir to make sure it's all melted, then add 150ml of iced water (with ice chips in if possible) to bring it back to room temperature or less.

In as big a bowl as possible, whisk up the dairy-free cream. The colder it is, the better - refrigerate if possible before use.

Once the cream has been whisked and the jelly cooled, pour the jelly into the cream and get whisking! It will start off looking scummy and unappetising, but very quickly foams up to look pretty good. The big bowl is important here, as otherwise it sprays up over the top when you whisk the jelly mix in.

The finished mousse, ready to go into the fridge to set overnight. Sometimes, the jelly starts to drop down before it sets properly, so you get a thin layer of jelly at the bottom of the bowl. This can work in your favour if you are making individual ones, as you can turn them out and have the jelly sitting pretty on top.

Another bonus is that my eco-warrior 5-year-old can feel safe in the knowledge that all we threw in the bin was a jelly wrapper, as the carton was recycled. Phew!


Quick update - the mousse went down very well, it was light and bubbly and very tasty. The girls now want me to make a chocolate one, which is going to take some research and planning!

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

The beach hut

I mentioned that I was re-painting the playhouse at the local nursery, and the front is finally finished! I can't finish the murals on the back and sides until the weather improves, so for now, here is the front:

The life belt is made from 2 cut pieces of marine ply painted up with the same paints I used for the main hut painting. The name is on 2 pieces of driftwood which my friend Anna kindly painted using enamel* paint.

*I think - I should really check to be sure.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Gingerbread biscuits

We make gingerbread biscuits a lot. The girls like big ones that they can take for packed lunches, but we also make lots of little ones for nibbling at home. I tried a few dairy-free recipes for gingerbread, but the best by far was actually an Annabel Karmel one I found online. The dough recipe just uses soya margarine instead of butter and that's it. We have so many cutters, but today the girls wanted bears and circles, and I chose the old-fashioned gingerbread men and little diamonds. I always make diamonds, when you cut them out you can cut them very close together, so you don't have to keep pressing the leftover dough back together and re-rolling. I guess a square cutter would be just as good for doing this.

These are great biscuits for a decorating session, either just my two girls or with their friends. I make up a small bowl of icing sugar and water icing and give them a variety of sprinkles and decorations. They spoon a little icing onto each biscuit and then arrange and sprinkle the decorations to their hearts' content. It keeps them amused for ages, and they can eat their creations too. I found the tidiest way of doing this is to give them a few biscuits on a low sided baking tray. This way, the sprinkles don't roll all across the table and they can re-use what lands in their tray.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Saturday morning treat

When I was little, my dad used to make us American pancakes and maple syrup for breakfast on a Sunday. My sister and I have always adored pancakes, so there was no reason to believe my girls would be any different. Of course, the big problem is that pancake mixes are made with milk and buttermilk in them, so I had to make them from scratch. I used to buy a free-from mix but as they were also wheat and egg free they were no comparison to the ones we used to eat.

I dug out my Domestic Goddess book and there was a pancake recipe in it, so I adapted it to make it dairy free. I have been making these pancakes for a few years now, and they are always great:

115g plain flour
1/2 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tbsp caster sugar
15g soya margarine
1 egg
150ml sweetened soya milk


Melt the soya margarine.
Put all the dry ingredients in a bowl, add the egg and soya milk and whisk by hand.
Finally mix in the melted soya margarine but don't whisk any more than you need to to make a reasonably smooth batter.

Heat a frying pan with a little oil over a moderate heat, I add the mix in batches of 3 small pancakes and leave to cook for a couple of minutes until they are starting to bubble.
Use a spatula to turn them and cook on the other side until they are browned (a little less time than the first side).
Repeat the batches of 3 until you have made 12 pancakes. This is sufficient for me and the 2 children, but for more people you really need to double the mix.

Today, as an extra special treat we had crispy bacon with our pancakes. Heaven:

Friday, 4 May 2012

I did not make this today, but...

My sister reminded me of something I made a while back for my daughter's birthday. She was into Maisy Mouse at the time (Charlotte, not my sister) and I made this for them to play with at her birthday party. I think the box was left over from when we had a new kitchen delivered, and not one to throw anything out unless I have to, it went up in the loft for a while. Anyway, here is the Maisy thing:

Now I shall find out if certain people are reading the blog, as they are bound to comment on this picture - the things you do when your 3-year-old niece asks you to!
The picture is acrylic paint on cardboard. I cut the face holes out then lined each hole with brown gummed paper so the kids didn't get paper cuts on their faces.

Some friends were talking the other day about how much kids love a good cardboard box, I don't think I ever grew out of it, and have to admit I have boxes full of boxes in the loft - they always come in useful.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Butternut squash day

Butternut squash is a strange vegetable. How many people cook with it regularly? Yet it seems that when introducing foods to a baby, butternut squash is a champion. I know I gave it to my girls as toddlers, but in moderation and roasted, not pureed. We don't eat pureed butternut squash, so why should they?

Anyway, I digress. For some reason, one jumped into my shopping basket this week and has been glaring at me from the fruit bowl, daring me to think up a use for it. I was feeling a bit loathed to just make boring soup, so I decided to try making a cake with it (more likely to be eaten too!). I guessed it would lend itself to mixed spices (the Americans call it pumpkin pie spice, which is a much nicer name, I think) and orange and so I adapted a recipe to come up with something.

Here is the cake, fresh from the oven, to prove that I did in fact make it. It smelled great while it was cooking, but the mix smelled of sweaty horses and I had a few reservations about continuing with the experiment.

It was very thin, so I sliced it in half and placed one semicircle on top of the other to make a sandwich cake.
Here is a slice of the cake, complete with icing and filling. The cake was too dense and the icing too runny. While warm, it would have been fine with custard as a pudding, but as a cake it was a fail.

It also had a slight aftertaste of sweaty horse, so I was right to be worried earlier!

In conclusion, I would probably stick to carrots in future vegetable-based baking, they are tried and tested and don't taste of sweaty horses.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Another mural

I have just got back from fixing up another mural. It is unfinished, as the children from the nursery are going to add foliage to the tree with all their named hand-prints. I can't wait to go in and do that with around thirty 2 - 4 year olds! I'll put up a finished picture, eventually.