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Seasonal rhubarb and vanilla jam (10 mins prep/30 mins stirring)

easy rhubarb vanilla jam

I wanted to make an unusual seasonal jam so was instantly keen to try out this fuss free recipe from . The subtlety of the vanilla alongside the sharp sweetness of the rhubarb, lemon juice and sugar is delicious. Have it on toast or spoon it on to yoghurt and welcome in the spring!

You can recycle old jam jars but make sure you sterilise them first by washing them in soapy water then popping the jars and lids in the oven for approx. 10 mins at gas mark 1/140 degrees (or a dishwasher cycle should do it).

The jam takes 10 mins to prepare and 20-30 mins to cook. Don’t worry if it all looks dry when you put it in the pan – after a few minutes it will become wet and sticky.

easy rhubarb vanilla jam

For alternative preserves recipes (marmalade, spiced apple chutney and chilli jam) click here

Rhubarb and vanilla jam (makes 5-6 jars)

1kg rhubarb, weighed after trimming, cut in to 3cm chunks
1kg jam sugar (or 1kg caster sugar plus 1 x 8g sachet pectin)
2 vanilla pods, halved lengthways
Juice of 1 lemon

Put the rhubarb in to a large saucepan along with the sugar and halved vanilla pods. Heat gently, stirring until the sugar has dissolved, then stir in the lemon juice. Keep the lid off to help the mixture reduce down, and boil for 10-20 mins, until the jam is sticky. Don’t worry if it seems a little thinner than normal as it thickens as it cools.

Once the jam is ready let it cool for 15 mins before ladling it in to the warm sterilised jars and sealing. Will keep for 6 months in a cool, dark place.

Cooking with kids – cheesy caterpillars and snakes

cheesy snake biscuits cooking with kids

Here is a fun, simple cooking activity to do with kids that produces tasty caterpillar and snake shaped cheesy biscuits. The recipe uses raisins for eyes and involves some great skills for kids to learn e.g. grating, rolling out pastry, cutting, sprinkling, and brushing on egg. And of course breaking an egg, which my son relishes. Hopefully the resulting mess won’t overwhelm you as much as it did my boyfriend, who described it as ‘a tragedy’.

cheesy snake biscuits cooking with kids

cheesy snake biscuits cooking with kids

The recipe is from a lovely kids activity book called ‘What Shall I Do Now?’ by Usborne, the kind of old fashioned, appealing book that only seems to exist in charity shops or the library.

For more ideas for cooking with kids check out the category on the right of the page!

Ingredients for cheesy snakes and caterpillars
(makes about 8 snakes and 4 caterpillars)

150g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp salt
25g margarine/butter, softened or melted
75g cheddar cheese, grated
1 egg and 2 tbsp milk, beaten together
Raisins for eyes
A bottle top

Mix together the flour, margarine and salt. Leave a tbsp cheese on a plate and add the rest to the flour, margarine and salt mixture. Put a tbsp of the egg mixture in a cup and add the rest to the flour mixture. Mix to make a dough.

Roll out the dough on a floured surface until it is as thick as your little finger. Use a blunt knife to cut eight strips as wide as two fingers. Bend the strips in to wiggles to make a snake. To make a caterpillar, cut out circles of dough with a bottle top and lay them overlapping each other in a wiggly line. Press them together.

Brush the shapes with the egg mixture and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Firmly add raisins for eyes.

Use a slice to lift the shapes on to a non-stick or greased tray. Bake at gas mark 6/200 degrees for approx. 15 mins, until golden.

Recipe from What Shall I Do Now? by Usborne

Fragrant plum crumble

easy plum crumble

The blossom is out and people look happy. But while we wait for spring to properly arrive and the chill to go, here is a comforting plum crumble. In my (humble) opinion it is exactly how a crumble should be – with just as much crumble as fruit and with a punch of flavour. In this case orange zest, cinnamon and toasted almonds.  Next time I may add a little chopped ginger. Hopefully you like the sweet gooiness of cooked plums and don’t just scoop up and eat the crumble topping like my philistine boyfriend…

The crumble takes about 20 minutes to prepare and 40 minutes to cook. Serve it with custard, obviously..!

easy plum crumble

Fragrant plum crumble (serves 6)

750g ripish plums, cut in half and stones removed

50g brown sugar

Finely grated zest 1 orange

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tbsp plain flour

For the crumble

250g plain flour

150g butter

160g sugar (caster/brown/a combination)

50g toasted flaked almonds

Heat the oven to gas mark 6/200 degrees C.  Put the plums in an ovenproof dish skin up.  Mix together the sugar, orange zest, cinnamon and flour and sprinkle over the plums.  Spoon over 3 tbsp water.

Put all the crumble ingredients except the almonds in a bowl and mix together.  Use your fingers to rub in the butter so it clumps together.  Spoon the crumble over the plums and scatter over the almonds.  Bake in the oven for approx. 40 mins until golden brown.  Serve with custard.


Thai fish curry (20 mins prep/25 mins cooking)

quick easy thai fish curry

It is hard to define this satisfying fish curry but I guess that the coriander, chilli, coconut milk, lemon and ginger are typically Thai flavours.  It is incredibly easy to make, by simply frying the peppers and onions, mixing in the other ingredients and pouring it over your fish to bake.  You could do it with any fish – I used trout and pollack.  Scatter over the coriander and chilli flakes at the end for extra flavour and effect and serve on it’s own or with rice to mop up the flavours.  The whole dish should be ready in 45 mins.  Delicious!

Thai fish curry (serves 4-6 people)

Oil, for frying

2 onions, chopped

1 yellow pepper, chopped

1 red pepper, chopped

1 tsp finely chopped/grated ginger

2 cloves garlic, crushed

2 tbsp lemon juice

400ml coconut milk

850g fish e.g. salmon/trout/pollack/cod

Small bunch coriander, roughly chopped

Good shake chilli flakes

Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the onions and peppers for approx. 8 mins, until softened.

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/180 degrees C.  Put the ginger, garlic, lemon juice, salt and coconut milk in a mixing bowl and mix together.  Stir in the vegetables.  Put the fish in a casserole dish and pour over the sauce.  Pop in the oven for approx. 25 mins, until bubbling well and the fish is soft and cooked through.  Scatter over the coriander and chilli flakes before serving.

Orzo and courgette bake – 20 mins prep/30 mins cooking

orzo courgette bake

Everyone agrees this is a lovely dish and it is so straightforward to make.  My friend Agnes recommended orzo (thank you Agnes!) - it is pasta but looks like rice, and has a very satisfying consistency.  It is traditionally used in soups but also works in pasta bakes and as a quicker alternative to rice in risotto.

Because orzo is so small it is handy to use when cooking for babies and young children, and in this dish the grated courgette is a simple way of sneaking in veg!  It serves 4-6 people and at less than £1 per head it is a budget meal too.  Yum!


300g orzo pasta

300ml crème fraiche/double cream

1 large courgette, grated

A good sprinkle of dried mixed herbs

Finely grated zest of 1/2 lemon

50g cheddar, grated

2 veg stock cubes, crumbled

Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees/gas mark 6.

Cook the orzo according to the pack instructions, drain and transfer to a casserole dish.  Pour in the crème fraiche/cream and add the grated courgette and lemon zest.  Mix well.  Crumble in the stock cubes and add some extra water if it needs it – you want the dish to be moist but not watery.  Add a little salt and some pepper and mix again.  Sprinkle the cheese on top.

Bake in the oven for approx. 30 mins, until just browned (I finished mine off under the grill for extra colour but you may not need to).  Serve with salad or veggie sausages.

Recipe adapted from Vegetarian Food For Kids by Laura Washburn

Outrageously easy ice cream bread

ice cream cake

I know, it’s New Year and I should be posting a superfood salad recipe.  But when I heard about ice cream bread I looked it up. It sounded so simple I had to try it.

You literally mix a softened tub of ice cream with some self-raising flour, put it in the oven and out comes a subtly sweet bread that is lovely with some butter and a cup of tea.  It is worth using ice cream with chunks of something to give the bread interesting nuggets of flavour.  I used vanilla, pecan and caramel ice cream so there were sweet nutty chunks throughout the bread.  I have read that cookie dough ice cream works great.

ice cream bread

Allow a few mins to prepare the bread and approx. 1 hour to bake it.  Ridiculous!

If you would rather eat a superfood salad, here is a recipe from last New Year:

As for future blog posts, yesterday I made a creamy orzo and courgette pasta bake which was delicious and works well as a family meal or if you are having guests.  If you don’t already know, orzo is pasta that is the same size and shape as rice.  It is my new favourite thing.

Ingredients for ice cream bread

500ml ice cream, any flavour, softened

250g self-raising flour

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees/gas mark 4.

Combine the softened ice cream and flour in a bowl and stir until mixed.  Grease a loaf tin and then add the mixture.  Bake for approximately 60 minutes until slightly golden and a knife inserted comes out clean.  Leave to cool before turning out.  Especially nice sliced and with butter on top!

Christmas mushroom and chestnut pies

Christmas mushroom chestnut pie

Here is another winner based on a recipe from Sainsbury’s magazine.  An absolutely delicious pie that looks all Christmassy and is full of flavour and texture.  The puff-pastry is bought ready-rolled and it is easy to make little pastry decorations to go on top using a knife - they add a real homely touch.  You will see that the recipe includes soy sauce, which I find brilliant for adding richness to veggie lasagne and veggie bolognaise sauce too.

The pie takes about 35 mins to prepare and 35 mins to cook.  If you want to make it ahead you can freeze it then defrost it thoroughly in the fridge and remove it 30 mins before baking.

mushroom chestnut pie

We ate the pie with parsnips and carrots gremolata and kale (gremolata is a rub of lemon zest, garlic and parsley that you add to veg after it has been roasted – it is a great way to liven it up – click here for the recipe

For lots of other straightforward tried and tested Christmas recipes check out this link and for a great chestnut chocolate cream biscuit recipe click here

Here we go! -

Christmas mushroom and chestnut pies (serves 4)


Big glug olive oil

2 leeks, chopped

1 red onion, chopped

250g mushrooms, chopped

2 tbsp. soy sauce

1 tbsp. tomato puree/ketchup

1 tbsp. chopped fresh sage

Good sprinkling dried mixed herbs

1 1/2 tsp English mustard

240g tin cooked, peeled chestnuts, each one cut in to 6

1 tbsp cornflour

2 veg stock cubes

375g pack ready-rolled puff pastry

1 medium egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees/gas mark 6.  Take the puff pastry out of the fridge to warm up.  Heat the oil in a large pan and add the leeks, onion, mushrooms, soy sauce and tomato puree/ketchup.  Saute for approx. 15 mins, stirring regularly, then stir in the herbs, mustard and chestnuts.

Meanwhile put the cornflour and stock powder in to a mixing jug, stir in 400ml cold water and mix well.  Gradually pour the stock mixture in to the leek and mushroom mixture, mixing well with a spoon.  Simmer for a further 8-10 mins, until thickened.  Pour the mixture in to a casserole dish.

Unroll the puff pastry and use a rolling pin to make it bigger than the casserole dish, including some extra for decorative pastry (easy to make I promise!)  Place on top of the casserole dish and crimp the edges with a fork.  Cut out festive shapes (e.g. holly/Christmas tree) from the remaining pastry and place on top.  Use the beaten egg to secure them on to the pie and to cover the rest of the pastry.

Bake for 35-40 mins until golden.  Serve with roast veg.

Recipe adapted from Sainsbury’s magazine


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