Sunday, 26 November 2017


Ever since the days started getting colder and darker (boo!), I've been craving warming, comforting foods. I'm loving roast dinners at the moment, especially since the girls have finally decided that they quite like them too. Isn't it a great feeling when kids suddenly decide - after months or even years of shunning a certain food or meal - that they DO like it after all? Of course, they might change their notoriously fickle minds again next week so I'll make the most of this while I can!

As far as I'm concerned, a roast dinner simply must be followed by a decadent pud, and you can't get much more decadent than a classic sticky toffee pudding. My version is made using individual basins and it is steamed to make the most deliciously moist, self-saucing puddings. And with Christmas Day being just four weeks away tomorrow (sorry to remind those of you who are still in denial), these mini puddings would make a great prepare-ahead alternative to the traditional Christmas pudding if, like me, you're not a fan.

Before I had kids to cater for, making cakes and desserts was my absolute favourite kind of cooking but, with less free time and more focus on healthy family meals, I've found myself doing less baking in recent years. I'd actually forgotten how easy this recipe is - sure, there are a few stages involved but none of them is especially difficult.  It's a great recipe to try when you have a little time to potter around in the kitchen.

I love the fact these desserts are portion-controlled (a single pudding will easily feed two children or one hungry grown-up) and any leftover puds can be whacked in the freezer for another day. Call me boring, but feeding my freezer makes me very happy!

Sticky Toffee Puddings

Makes 6

150ml boiling water
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
125g dates, chopped
175g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
40g cold unsalted butter
125g caster sugar
1 large egg, beaten

Toffee sauce
140g dark muscovado sugar
85g unsalted butter
4 tbsp (60ml) double cream

vanilla ice cream, custard or cream, to serve

To make the toffee sauce, put the muscovado sugar, butter and cream into a small saucepan over a low-medium heat. Stir until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved, then gently bring to the boil. Divide the sauce equally between six 150-ml non-metallic pudding basins and transfer to the fridge for at least 1 hour. The sauce needs to set a little before you add the sponge mixture on top.

Meanwhile, pour the boiling water into a heatproof measuring jug and add the bicarbonate of soda. Add the dates and give a good stir, then leave to soak for 1 hour.

To make the sponge, sift the flour and baking powder into a large mixture bowl. Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles dry breadcrumbs, then stir in the caster sugar. Drain the excess water from the dates (reserving the liquid), then gently stir the soaked dates and beaten egg into the flour mixture to form a dropping consistency (adding more of the reserved liquid if needed).

Remove the pudding basins from the fridge and divide the sponge mixture equally between them. Cover each basin with a square of aluminium foil, pleating it in the middle to allow for rising. Place in an electric steamer and steam for 40-45 minutes, until the sponge springs back when pressed.  

Tip out the individual puddings onto a plate, scraping any remaining sauce out the basins with a small spatula. Serve with vanilla ice cream (our favourite), custard or cream.


  • This is a great make-ahead recipe - make a few days ahead, then give each pudding (still in its basin) a 45-second to 1-minute (depending on wattage) blast in the microwave just before serving. Remember that heating more than one pudding at a time will take longer.
  • Any leftover puddings should be frozen as soon as possible (still in their basins). They can be reheated from frozen - 1-1½ minutes in the microwave should do it, but make sure they're piping hot all the way through before serving.

Sunday, 27 August 2017


Here's a little something to help celebrate the Bank Holiday weekend! It's been a scorcher here in south-west England today and we've spent the day out in the garden - my husband even brought out the barbecue for what I think was only the second time this year. And when you're relaxing in the great outdoors what can be better to cool you down and chill you out than a cool, refreshing cocktail?

This recipe was inspired by a cocktail I enjoyed on my honeymoon in the Caribbean. It's basically just a Piña Colada blended with banana but it must have been good because I can still remember the taste now, 12 years later! Don't you just love food memories like that?

I think the original recipe used coconut cream so I've attempted to slim it down a little by using a combination of reduced-fat coconut milk and coconut water. The great thing about it is that the kids (or any non-drinkers) don't have to feel left out - simply leave out the rum you're left with a delicious non-alcoholic smoothie. I always add the rum last anyway so I can remove a portion for the kids first, if they want some (they're not big smoothie drinkers but they seem to always want a taste of any smoothies I make).

Banana Colada

Serves 2

1 large banana
160g frozen pineapple chunks
200ml reduced-fat coconut milk
200ml coconut water
50ml coconut-flavoured white rum (optional)
desiccated coconut, to decorate

Put the banana and pineapple in a blender with the coconut milk and coconut water and process until smooth. Add the rum, if using, and process briefly. Pour into glasses, sprinkle over the desiccated coconut and serve.

  • I used frozen pineapple in this recipe because I like to use at least one frozen ingredient in a smoothie or cocktail to make it nice and cold. Frozen pineapple is also super convenient as it spares you from having to prepare a fresh pineapple, which can be messy and time-consuming. That said, I've only recently discovered frozen pineapple in the supermarket so if yours doesn't stock it, there's no reason why you couldn't use fresh, or even tinned, pineapple.
  • If you're using frozen fruit, please be aware that not all blenders will be able to cope with rock solid ingredients. Ideally, you need to use a blender with a powerful motor that's capable of crushing ice - this has the advantage of giving the finished smoothie a velvety-smooth finish too. Alternatively, allow the frozen ingredients to partially defrost before blending them.

Thursday, 10 August 2017


Packed lunches are a bit of a necessity when you're out and about with kids - they want to eat when they want to eat (waiting for it to be cooked is not an option) and what they want to eat (whether it's on the menu or not). As a result, my family eats a LOT of picnics at this time of year. Not that I'm complaining - even the simplest of lunches tastes amazing eaten in the great outdoors, especially if you've been active enough to work up an appetite beforehand. While my kids are more than happy with a sandwich or wrap, I like to change things up and will often take along a salad for my lunch. This couscous salad is a current favourite - it tastes just as good cold as it does hot, it is full of flavour, and it is robust enough to withstand transportation.

As well as being a great picnic dish, it would make a fantastic accompaniment to grilled meat (especially lamb skewers) at a barbecue, and I'm looking forward to trying it with grilled halloumi the next time I make it. This quantity of couscous salad will serve four as a light lunch or six as a side dish.

Couscous Salad with Roast Summer Vegetables

Serves 4-6

Roast summer vegetables
1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
2 small red onions
2 courgettes
8 garlic cloves (optional)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp dried oregano

250g couscous
1 tsp each ground cumin, ground coriander and paprika
4 spring onions, finely sliced
325ml hot vegetable stock
juice and grated rind of 1 lemon
300-g can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6.

First, prepare the vegetables. Deseed the peppers and cut the flesh into 2.5-cm chunks. Peel the onions, removing any roots but keeping the root ends intact. Slice each onion in half through the root, then cut each half into four wedges through the root so the layers don't separate. Trim the ends off the courgettes. If the courgettes are thick, cut them in half lengthways before cutting them into 1-cm-thick slices. Finally, break the garlic cloves, if using, from the bulb but do not remove the papery skins.

Put all the vegetables in a large food bag, pour in the oil and add the oregano and pepper to taste. Holding the top firmly, shake the bag until the vegetables are thoroughly coated in the oil and seasonings. Tip the contents of the bag into a large roasting tin. Transfer to the preheated oven and bake, stirring occasionally, for 30-35 minutes, or until the vegetables have softened and the edges are brown in places.

Meanwhile, prepare the couscous. Put the couscous into a large heatproof bowl and stir in the spices and spring onions. Pour in the hot stock, then cover and leave to stand for at least 5 minutes. Fluff up the grains with a fork, then stir in the lemon juice, lemon rind, chickpeas and pepper to taste.

Remove the roast vegetables from the oven and leave to cool down for a few minutes, then add to the couscous and gently stir through. Serve immediately or leave to cool down slightly and transfer to the fridge - this couscous salad is delicious eaten hot or cold.

  • To eat the garlic, simply squeeze the soft pulp out of the papery skin. Roasting garlic like this mellows the flavour, making it almost sweet and not at all pungent.

Saturday, 10 June 2017


Smoothies are a super way to pack lots of nutrients into your diet. I tend to avoid taking in too many calories in drink form (unless we're talking wine) but I've been doing lots of running recently and have been enjoying the occasional smoothie as a post-workout snack.  I also find them to be a good breakfast option on mornings when I don't feel like eating anything too heavy or if I simply fancy a change from cereal.

Green smoothies have been around for some time but, to be honest, I've never really fancied trying them because they seem just too, well, healthy. Despite its vibrant green colour (no getting that past my kids!), I think this version is the perfect introduction to green smoothies as the sweetness of the banana and mango completely masks the taste of the kale, which can otherwise be quite bitter.

My girls aren't big smoothie (green or otherwise) drinkers but my 6-year-old was intrigued enough to try this - she even said "that's nice, Mummy", although she declined to have her own glass. I'm taking that as a partial success!


Super Green Smoothie

Serves 1

½ banana, peeled
60 g frozen mango
45 g frozen kale
225-250 ml coconut water

Put the banana, mango and kale in a blender with 225 ml of the coconut water and process until smooth. Check the consistency - it will be fairly thick, so stir in the remaining coconut milk if you prefer a runnier smoothie.


  • I've used frozen mango and kale in this recipe but you can, of course, use fresh - it's just quite nice to include frozen ingredients in a smoothie because they'll make it nice and cold.
  • Frozen fruit and vegetables are super-convenient - let's face it, preparing a mango can be a bit of a faff, and with frozen fruit that's all done for you. Using frozen also helps me to prevent wastage because my family is not keen on greens and I'd struggle to get through a whole big bag of kale on my own. With the frozen stuff, I just take out what I need and put the rest back in the freezer for another day.
  • That said, if you're using frozen fruit or vegetables in a smoothie, please be aware that not all blenders will be able to cope with rock solid ingredients. The stick blender I've been using for my smoothies is definitely on its way out! Ideally, you need to use a blender with a powerful motor that is advertised as being capable of crushing ice - this has the advantage of giving the finished smoothie a velvety-smooth finish too. Alternatively, allow the frozen ingredients to partially defrost before blending them.

Friday, 12 May 2017


These pitta pizzas are so quick and easy to put together, making them perfect for an after-school dinner or a weekend family lunch. If you're particularly hungry, you could cook some oven chips to serve with them or add some vegetable sticks or salad on the side.

You can use whatever toppings you like - well, any that are child-approved anyway! I've given a recipe for a simple vegetarian topping here, but have included suggestions for alternative ingredients below. My girls' favourite topping is sweetcorn and pepperoni.

My kids love to help to make these and I usually set out the prepared toppings in little bowls so they can choose whichever they want (any leftovers can be tossed into a salad). This is a good activity to do when your child has a friend over and you're not sure what toppings the visiting child likes, plus it seems to be something the kids enjoy doing and it produces a fairly minimal amount of mess.

Speedy Pitta Pizzas

Makes 2

2 white or wholemeal pittas
2 tbsp frozen sweetcorn
1 tbsp chopped red onion
¼ green pepper, deseeded and sliced
4 button mushrooms, sliced
55g grated mozzarella and Cheddar cheese

Tomato pizza sauce
1 tbsp tomato purée
2 tbsp passata
½ tsp dried oregano

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6.

In a small bowl, mix together all the ingredients for the tomato pizza sauce.

Place the pittas on a baking sheet and top with the tomato pizza sauce, spreading it right to the edges. Arrange the sweetcorn, onion, green pepper and mushrooms on top, then cover with the grated cheese.

Transfer to the preheated oven and bake for 10-12 minutes, until the cheese is melted and slightly browned.

Our favourite toppings:
  • Cooked chicken, red peppers, mushrooms and sweetcorn
  • Pepperoni, green peppers, onions and black olives
  • Pepperoni and sweetcorn
  • Ham, pineapple and sweetcorn
  • Ham, mushrooms and black olives

This is a great recipe for getting some veggies into your child. Even if they're not keen on vegetable toppings, just one tablespoon of tomato purée counts as one of their five-a-day. Add vegetable crudités on the side or perhaps some sweet potato fries and you're on to a winner!

Sunday, 26 March 2017


I find it hard to believe that I've been writing this blog for over six months and I still haven't shared my recipe for spaghetti bolognese (or "spag bol", as us Brits call it). This was my favourite meal as a child growing up in the 1980s, probably because it was one of the most exotic meals on the menu. Back in those days, spaghetti bolognese night was the only time we ever ate pasta (unless you count canned spaghetti in tomato sauce), which I find rather incredible considering how much of the stuff my own children consume!

This recipe is probably as far from a classic Italian spaghetti bolognese (or ragu) as you can get but it's the only version I can contemplate making because it's the dish of my childhood. It's not my mother's recipe, but it tastes similar (from what I can remember) even though I've made some tweaks to make it more acceptable to my own children. They are not keen on "bits" so I've learnt to grate the carrots rather than dice them, and to use passata in place of canned tomatoes for a smoother sauce - and cleaner plates!

The recipe I've given below serves four adults, but the sauce is ideal for batch cooking so the ingredients can easily be doubled, or even tripled if you have a large enough saucepan. I also use the sauce as a base for lasagne (recipe to follow another time), which is a fabulous dish to serve when you have a crowd to feed.

Spaghetti Bolognese

Serves 4

2 tsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 small carrots, peeled and coarsely grated (100g prepared weight)
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
500g lean steak mince (5% fat)
1 reduced-salt beef stock cube
2 tbsp tomato purée
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp dried mixed herbs (I like to use Italian seasoning)
400g passata
350g dried spaghetti
grated Parmesan cheese, to serve

Heat the oil over a low-medium heat, then add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, or until softened. Add the carrots and cook for 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for a further minute.

Increase the heat and add the mince and cook, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until browned all over. Crumble over the stock cube and stir until thoroughly combined.

Add the tomato purée, Worcestershire sauce, herbs and passata. Season to taste with pepper. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low-medium and simmer for at least 25 minutes, or until the sauce is thick and reduced.

Meanwhile, bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, then add the spaghetti and cook for 8-10 minutes, or until tender but firm to the bite. Drain and transfer to dishes along with the bolognese sauce. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese.


  • There's no reason why you couldn't add extra vegetables to the sauce - mushrooms work especially well, but finely diced red peppers or celery, or grated courgette would also make fantastic additions.
  • The bolognese sauce freezes successfully and is very useful to have to hand when you need a quick dinner. Freeze in single portions in freezerproof containers or freezer bags. Remember to label and date them - unless you enjoy playing freezer roulette!
  • When I'm cooking meals that the children will eat, I only season with pepper as I figure that some of the ingredients I use (for example, the stock cube, Worcestershire sauce and Parmesan) are salty already.

Monday, 20 March 2017


Here's a little something for meat-free Monday! Even though we're a family of omnivores, I think it's important to incorporate meat-free food into our weekly menu, so I usually try to make at least one vegetarian dinner a week, and our lunches are often meatless. Actually, come to think of it, this particular recipe would be suitable for a vegan diet too, if you omit the yogurt accompaniment or swap it for a dairy-free alternative.

Sadly (although predictably), this chilli turned out to be a bit on the spicy side for my kids (and a bit on the vegetarian side for my husband, a confirmed meat-eater) but it freezes well so a batch lasts me a while. I like to eat it for lunch as a filling for a baked potato or, if I'm feeling slightly less virtuous, I'll serve with tortilla chips and a good dollop of cooling natural yogurt.

The vegetables and beans in this tasty chilli all count towards your five-a-day (although apparently beans only count as one portion a day, no matter how many you eat) so I reckon you'd be well on your way to this target if you ate this for lunch or dinner.

Mixed Bean Chilli (vegetarian/vegan)

Serves 4

½ tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 fresh red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
2 tsp each ground cumin and paprika
1 tsp mild chilli powder
1 each red, yellow and red pepper, deseeded and diced (360g total prepared weight)
400-g can chopped tomatoes
400-g can mixed beans in mild chilli sauce
400-g can red kidney beans in water, drained and rinsed
200-g can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 tbsp tomato purée
2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a low-medium heat and cook the onion for 8-10 minutes, or until softened. Add the garlic and red chilli and cook for a further minute.

Add the cumin, paprika and chilli powder and mix until the onion is coated in the spices. Increase the heat to medium-high, then stir in the peppers, tomatoes, beans, chickpeas and tomato purée.

Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes, until thick and reduced. Stir in the coriander just before serving.