Monday, 11 August 2014

Quick no-bake cookies

I have a recipe obsession.  Every month I scour every cookery magazine I can get my hands on, reading and rereading the recipes looking for the ones which will appeal to my family.  I reread my cookery books regularly, especially when I've attempted something more accomplished - I go back through and find recipes I liked the look of but thought were too tricky for me.  Ditto when I try a new ingredient.  It's quite amazing how your tastes change when you're pregnant or as you get older. 

Anyway, apart from the magazines and books, I love Pinterest.  The recipes on there are for the most part American.  Slightly less so than when I first joined, but even so, mostly American.  This isn't a bad thing, you understand.  Their posts are the ones I've tried the most, as their ideas are the most intriguing.

I can't tell you how many have worked, although they've needed tweaking, adapting, or ended up as a complete new recipe, sometimes the inspiration of a Pin alone is enough.  My homemade sweet and sour chicken is a case in point, I've completely altered the ingredients for the sauce, added extra elements to the dish and the finished dish isn't the same as the dish on the Pin yet it's now a firm family favourite. 

There are a few that haven't worked, such as microwaved potato crisps.  Yes, I know.  BUT in my defence they were so cleverly described and I could sort of see it working, yet it really didn't.  We just ended up with hot, raw potato slices.  I'd try it out again to see if I could get it to work but actually the kids prefer Walkers at any rate.  Similarly we tried to make 's'mores' mini cups which worked but looked NOTHING like the pictures.  Even though they worked I don't class them as success as I've never been tempted to make them again.

I came across the recipe for these no bake cookies in several separate posts.  All slightly different, yet all essentially the same.  And also, because they all appear in American posts, measured in cups.  Now I love the cup/spoon way of measuring, so that's how I made them, with only a quick check online to find out the weight of a "stick" of butter.  They are the work of a few moments to make, although if I'm honest, I'd eke out the recipe to make more than the 24 it should, as they are so very full of sugar and quite filling.  I certainly can't eat more than one, and I am a breastfeeding mother who had a "healthy" appetite to begin with.

Apologies for the fact that there are no 'making' photos, but it's so quick there wasn't time!

No Bake cookies

2 cups sugar (I used granulated)                      450g
1 stick butter                                                    110g
3 tbsp. cocoa powder
1/2 cup milk                                                     110ml
1/2 cup peanut butter                                        approximately 120g
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups oats                                                        420g

Add the sugar, butter, cocoa and milk to a large saucepan and melt together.  Once it's all melted and the sugar has dissolved, boil it for 1 minute and then take off the heat.

Add the peanut butter and vanilla, and mix it quickly until the peanut butter melts.  Add the oats (I used gluten-free oats, as that's what I had in the cupboard) and mix well.

Put blobs of the mixture onto greaseproof paper - like I said, the versions I read on Pinterest described a yield of 24 cookies, but I think you could get 30 easily without making them too small. 

Once the mixture has been placed on the paper, refrigerate until set.  In cooler weather you could just leave them on the side to set, but as it's warm at the moment here, and we get flies quite a bit, I prefer putting them in the fridge.

Have you tried any recipes from Pinterest?  Any fantastic failures or stupendous successes?

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Soreen Malt Loaf and Banana Fruit Loaf ideas

It's fair to say we like a snack in this house.  With four children (although Theo can't be counted yet, on account of him only being 7 weeks old) a gannet of a husband and myself (breastfeeding, so in need of extra sustenance) plus plenty of visitors, you can correctly assume we go through a fair bit of snack food.

I bake cookies, bars, traybakes and cakes when I can so that I know what we are putting into our bodies.  We eat a sizeable quantity of fresh fruit too, especially the children, but we buy a good amount of snack food too.  One of our favourite store cupboard must-haves is malt loaf.  It doesn't ever last for very long, and until recently I didn't really know that there were several different flavours available.  In fact it was only when I received an email from Soreen, who by happy coincidence are the brand of malt loaf we favour, that I discovered them all.  The email asked if I would like some Soreen to create some recipes with.  And so a sunshiney yellow box of Soreen arrived, full of malt loaf and their banana fruit loaf.

Now a quick peruse of the Soreen website gives you all the yummy facts on the different flavour loaves available, along with some recipes for you to try.  I'll be brutally honest and say that the loaves don't usually last long enough in our house to make recipes with, so I was *really* stringent this time (also, I hid the loaves from the rest of the family).

Mr L is a flapjack fanatic; which has passed on to our children, so when I saw that recipe on the website it was too good to resist making it.  You can find the recipe here and there's also a video here 

The children devoured them pretty quickly, and our resident flapjack connoisseur, AKA Mr L, said they were very tasty and that the malt loaf added a lovely texture.  Here they are in all their chocolatey, oaty, soreeny glory:

I had high hopes for the banana loaf, with several ideas floating around in my head for fancy concoctions.  However, one didn't turn out as I imagined and then the kids kept nicking the bits that were left.  We had great fun however, making fruit kebabs with cubes of the banana loaf which the children thought would be great fun in their lunchboxes.  We used blueberries, strawberries, bananas, grapes and the banana loaf and the children liked making them look like traffic lights.

We also played around with an idea which we thought might work as either a fruity pudding or even a breakfast idea.  Cut the banana loaf into cubes, or tear into lovely squidgy pieces, and place into a bowl.   Then pile on whatever fruit you like; we chose strawberries, fresh banana, grapes and blueberries, and added them.  Then we topped it with yogurt.  We used plain, but Greek yogurt with honey would taste DIVINE with it (I just didn't have any at the time) - it was devoured in short order and I thought it was fruity and filling.

My children all said they'd eat the banana loaf just as it was, as they do the malt loaf, and we've now got to try some of the other variations too, as they've investigated the list and seen all the different loaves available.  It's also spurred them on to think about using these loaves as ingredients rather than as the final product.  And HOPEFULLY I'll get the recipe idea for the banana loaf to work and then I can post a follow up recipe for you all to try.

*Disclaimer: Soreen provided me with the loaves, but the opinions are that of mine and my family*

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Kiddylicious treats

My children are akin to a plague of locusts.  They eat and eat and eat AND EAT.  Thankfully they 'mostly' eat healthy things, and our fruit bowl is filled every week and every week they empty it.  I swear the four year old would turn into an apple, the amount of them he eats.

I try to get them a range of snacks and lunchbox treats to give them variety, but sometimes I struggle.  So when Alfie started pointing out the Kiddylicious adverts on TV I thought I'd find some for him.  Now he loved the fruit wriggles, just on their own in his lunchbox.  He's actually quite obsessed by them.  But he wasn't so keen on the tomato flying saucers (sorry kiddylicious people) or the smoothie bites. 

So when the kind people at Kiddylicious asked if I'd like some of their products to play with, Alfie thought it was a great idea.  What he didn't think was great was that he couldn't eat the contents of the box as soon as it arrived.

Seeing as he was less keen on the smoothie bites, I concentrated on making something using them.  I thought about some sort of sweet pizza, but in the end, marshmallow squares were the order of the day.

To make about 12 - 16 squares, depending on how big you want to cut them,  you'll need

20g butter
120g marshmallows (I used mini marshmallows as they seem to melt more evenly)
90g puffed rice cereal
3 packs of Kiddylicious smoothie bites (I used one pack of each - as that's what I had)

Line a tray or tin with parchment or a non-stick sheet.

Melt the butter in a large heavy based saucepan

 Add the marshmallows to the pan and heat gently until they are melted evenly

Stir in the rice cereal until it's all mixed in.  It can look a bit strange and spider-webby as the marshmallow cools as you're mixing it, but stick with it. 

I broke some of the larger pieces of smoothie bites into smaller bits, then fold them into the mixture.  The key here is to move quite quickly before the marshmallow cools too much.  Once stirred, tip the mixture into the tin & refrigerate for a couple of hours.  Cut into squares and share :o)

PS Alfie said they were very tasty, as did my other little (and big) taste testers. 

Friday, 20 June 2014

A bit of a pause in blogging and a new arrival

I logged into my blog account earlier.  I note I have not blogged for a month.  I tried, but in all honesty, I found my love of baking had dissipated - I had lost my mojo.  Those final weeks of pregnancy took their toll on me, mentally and physically, and I focussed on little else other than trying EVERY CONCEIVABLE METHOD for getting my bump shifted.  My eldest was 2 weeks early, my boys were both 3 or 4 days late.  I had convinced myself that this baby was going to be early.  So when it wasn't, I panicked.  Not just because I was getting uncomfortable, or because I was eating into the time before my dad went on holiday (he was to be our childcare when I went into labour) but also because I convinced myself there was a reason the baby wasn't coming out.  I'd never had a sweep, let alone an induction.  I have had a spinal before, and loathed it intently.  The idea of a C-section terrified me to the point of inducing nightly panic attacks.  Then I would get upset as the adrenaline surge and the tiredness would surely be slowing down any movement towards delivering my bundle.  The exhaustion of little or no sleep compounded the issue and it all became a vicious circle.

So, when baby Theo finally put in an appearance at 12 days overdue, I had tried every trick I could think of; walking until I was worn out, drinking raspberry leaf tea, eating curry, bouncing on my birthing ball, sex, nipple tweaking, frantically cleaning, anything and everything I had read on the internet that seemed to do the trick.  I don't like pineapple but I'd even asked Mr L to get me some.  The shop didn't have any, presumably some other pregnant mamas were scoffing them all. 

The internet is a valuable asset.  It's also a bloody curse, and whilst every post about natural induction would come with scores of people saying that the baby would come when it was ready, you ignore them, even though that's precisely the case.  You scour websites looking for that magic action which means hospital inductions aren't necessary.  Of course, if this were true, hospitals wouldn't have to break waters or put you on drips.  All of which was very scary to me. 

Finally, when I did go into labour, it was quick.  So quick in fact, that I went from the midwife telling me she wanted to break my waters (I declined) to being fully dilated within an hour.  And so Theo arrived at 8.29am weighing a VERY healthy 10lb 2oz!  He came naturally (phew) and on the day he was due to be induced.  See? Scare them into it ;o)


Anyway.  Here's the thing.  My anxiety is still there, it's still floating around but not as panic inducing as it was.  But one of the things that's keeping me sane (other than my newborn and my three other chimps) is my cookery books.  All of a sudden my interest seems to be coming back.  Now, a couple of days before I went into labour, my mum suggested I bake something for the kids to distract myself.  I baked them cheesy shapes, a recipe I've made hundreds of times and always turns out great.  They weren't up to scratch and I was disappointed.  A couple of days AFTER Theo's birth, I decided to make some cookies for visitors coming to see us.  Hallelujah! They were a success. 

I'm not saying I'll be baking up a storm each and every day, but I feel more able to bake again, and therefore write some more on the blog.  So there we go. 

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Breastfeeding in public - what's the issue?

I am a breastfeeding advocate.  If it doesn't work for you, I'm not disappointed, I don't look down my nose at mothers with bottles in their hands, and I certainly don't think I'm a member of the Breastapo.  BUT in my own experience it's worked.  There's a cut-and-dried reason for this; I'm lazy and I love my sleep.  If the baby is next to me in his or her crib, I can lean out, hoick (technical term) them up, plonk them on my boob & I've neither had to leave the sanctity of my warm snuggly bed, nor have I had to faff with formula - because to be honest, I'm not 100% sure I wouldn't, in my sleep-deprived state, give them ant powder by mistake.

In all seriousness, I have found that I've coped far better with babies when I've fed them myself rather than having to deal with formula and sterilisers and bottles, but that's just me.  Like I said, I'm not one to judge and each of us is different.  With baby number 4 due in a matter of weeks now, I remember the draining feeling of breastfeeding whilst looking after other children, so I'm not for one second saying that it will be a breeze this time. 

My biggest worry (after latching on, etc) is public feeding.  I'm happy feeding wherever my child needs feeding.  Whenever.  However, with more and more shoddy treatment of breastfeeding mums by establishments and individuals, I'd be forgiven for feeling uncomfortable feeding my baby in a public place.

Why do certain people feel that babies and their mothers deserve anything less than respect and dignity?  Would you be happy to eat your meal in a store's public toilet?  Would you feel happy if you were told you couldn't eat in a public space?  I've seen and read many news articles recently, copious twitter comments, facebook rants, etc where mothers have been asked to leave, asked to stop, or redirected to feed in public toilets by members of staff from high street stores.  Yesterday I heard of a mother being asked by a John Lewis member of staff to feed in their toilets.  There was a news article last week regarding Sports Direct, and it's not that long ago that an individual branded a mum a "tramp" for feeding her baby in the street.

In the ten years since I became a parent, it seems that attitudes to breastfeeding have changed little.  Whilst I've seen more and more discreet "areas" being created (one such space now in a place where I remember a shopping trip where I had to retreat to my car in order to feed one of my little ones) and there are certainly more products available now designed to create a more private and dignified feeding experience, shawls, capes, etc there still seems to be some stigma attached to the act of breastfeeding a baby in a public space.

In my time, I've been labelled "disgusting" for breastfeeding my 4 week old son in a cafĂ© area (I have clothing and positioning down to enough of an art that it just looks as though I'm cuddling my baby) I've been glared at, moved away from, and on one occasion caused my husband to tell one bloke that he'd "best get used to it" as he gave the most horrified stares whilst sitting next to his heavily pregnant partner.  Even some family members have struggled to deal with it, although the nearly-teenage nephew who almost stroked my breast whilst cooing over his new cousin can be forgiven for being embarrassed and blushing the most AMAZING colour.  He hadn't realised I was feeding. 

This is my point.  Most breastfeeding mothers don't show a huge amount of skin, we tend to be discreet, and show less than is on the front of many magazines these days.

Am I wrong in thinking that THIS is what breasts are FOR?  Not for gawping at on Page 3 of a newspaper, or a lad's mag, but for the production and distribution of nutrition for babies?  Why does public opinion still seem so skewed?  It's not as if I am feeding a toddler or child, where opinion is very divided.  I have to say, I can't do it longer than a year.  After that, the child is just that - a child - and to be frank, I want my body back.  But again, I'm not here to judge. 

My children have all grown up knowing that this is how babies are fed.  When my second child was born, my eldest daughter used to pretend to feed her baby doll.  Not with a bottle, but by tucking her baby doll under her top.  When my third baby was born, she was at school, but the middle child, at home with me, viewed feeding time as cuddle time for all three of us, and would snuggle up on the other side to his brother and watch TV, or fall asleep. All of my children have seen other babies fed both by breast and by bottle.  They sometimes ask questions, as all inquisitive children will, but they know that breasts are for feeding babies, and maybe that little nugget of information will shape the way they treat women in the future.

As for the stores and individuals who are ignorant of the laws and ethics surrounding breastfeeding, will more education or training lead to fewer embarrassing incidents, or is this just the tip of the iceberg?  Does public opinion as a whole need to be addressed? 

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Mother's Day Cake

I enjoy Mother's Day in our house - I usually get breakfast in bed brought to me (even better if Mr L has supervised!) and I love seeing what the children have made at preschool/school for me.  I get Sunday lunch cooked for me too! My favourite - roast lamb :o) usually with gin or prosecco aperitif as I'm waiting - this year lemonade or possibly a *small* glass of prosecco.

This year, however, someone (odds on it's a male ;o)) has seen to it that the clocks go forward on Mothering Sunday - cheated out of a lie in!

I was recently approached by someone on behalf of German dessert makers Coppenrath & Weise to decorate a cake with a Mother's Day theme.  They kindly provided me with the cake (chocolate fudge) and some decorations, along with some photographs of cake ideas to inspire me.

Looking for inspiration, I thought of letting the children run riot and decorate it.  Usually this type of situation ends up in a conveyor belt system where at least one of the children eats most of the decoration.  Asking them what they thought I'd like on the cake led to suggestions of Lego, Thomas the Tank Engine and Jacqueline Wilson characters.  I obviously didn't highlight the part where it's what *I* would like!

Sensibly then, I should do it.  I love this time of year, and spring always makes me happy with its bright flowers appearing everywhere.  My own mother is a competent gardener (I am not. I can just about wield a lawnmower) so I decided to make the cake flowery.  Oh, and I love strawberries so they are on there too!  

Apart from needing to colour some white fondant icing to make purple and pink, and use some to cover the cake and make the flowers for the strawberries, the coloured icing (Renshaws) was provided, as were the wafer butterflies (Tesco) and the smarties which I used in the primrose-type flowers.  I'd also been provided with some thread, which I'd intended to use to display the strawberries - but it proved a little tricky so I settled for cocktail sticks pushed into the strawberries and the cake. 

You can see I'm not a professional cake decorator, I think that's clear, but I enjoyed working with the icing, and using a variety of cutters from my stash, along with some freehand modelling, I don't think the effect is too bad.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

The great toy debate - gender bores

A lot seems to have been happening in recent times regarding the perceived sexism within the toy industry.  From development through to manufacture, from marketing to displaying them, it seems that toys, and how they are displayed, are just TOO sexist.

REALLY?  I mean come on people, let's get something straight here; kids play with what they damn well like.  They don't give a toss if it's in the "girls" aisle or the "boys" aisle.  They wouldn't give a toss if it was in the "pets" aisle.  If they want to play with it, they will.  And do.  These labels are for people who need a little help finding something.  It's a hint, a small arrow, something to say; it might be HERE.  In the supermarket, there's a "baking aisle".  As customers, we are well aware that the products on the shelves can be used for something other than baking.  It's not a statement telling you that these items can ONLY be used for baking.  Do grow up.

What really gets  my goat at the moment is the backlash against Lego for creating Lego Friends.  When I was a little girl, I loved Lego, I built whatever my imagination wanted me to.  I was an average girl, I liked My Little Pony, Barbie, and crafts, but equally loved climbing trees, dismantling things to see how they worked, and making mud pies.  The Lego I had was pretty much the standard sets you see in the old adverts bandied about at the moment along with sneering comments about "steps backwards" and the like.

Yes, you could say it's tailored towards girlie girls who like fairies and fluffiness and pink.  If that's not your daughter, here's the crucial thing; DON'T BUY IT THEN.  I know parents who have boys who love it.  My daughter likes it, just as much as the Harry Potter Lego she has.  She's an average girl too; she likes ponies, and teddies, as much as she loves technology such as her Raspberry Pi, her 3DS and her tablet.  My older son loves Lego; he's nearly as happy building her Lego Friends kits as he is building his Ninjago sets.  Sometimes, they even mix them up a bit and, you know, USE THEIR IMAGINATIONS to create something that suits them. 

Yes, Lego needs more girl Lego people doing more things, such as flying the aeroplanes, being the police officers, and saving the world.  They could create some male figures making the cakes, serving the coffee, being the sidekick.  You could, if it bothers you that much, swap over some of the heads - yes, it really is that simple.  But don't berate them for designing new ranges for other markets.  If your son or daughter likes it, let them.  If they don't, who cares? 

We always tried to let our children choose what they wanted to play with, with no stereotyping from us.  We discovered that our eldest, our daughter, liked cuddly toys, animals, jigsaws and dollies.  Our first son wouldn't give any time to anything cuddly, and loved cars, trains, balls, Lego and so on.  When our second son was born, we thought that this would be the ideal test; both sets of toys in the house, in the playroom.  We found that he too liked cars and trains, but he also loved playing with baby dolls, pushchairs, and has in the past, floated through in a princess dress telling me he was the tooth fairy. 

What really amused me was the doll's house that my niece gave to us when she grew out of it.  Meg used it as a play set with the characters playing family roles, my eldest son played Ben 10 with it, and Alf used it as a car park.  They didn't care what it was originally, they used their imaginations, and that's my point here.  To children, toys ARE toys.  There seem to have been many statements of "let toys be toys" - here's the scoop; kids DO.  It seems, as ever, it's adults who have the real issue.