Chicken (or Veggie) Chow Mein

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This delicious Chicken (or Veggie) Chow Mein recipe comes courtesy of Judy and Andy Mus, a couple who run excellent ‘Saturday Cooking Club’ family cooking classes in Walthamstow, East London. Judy says this is the most popular dish at their cooking club, with many people commenting that it tastes better than a take away!  Even many fussy eaters have enjoyed it.   I have added fresh coriander to the recipe, as I can’t get enough of it and it is nice to sprinkle on some fresh herbs.

You can use chicken, prawns, tofu or quorn chunks along with the veg.  Allow about 25 minutes to prepare and cook it all.   The kids could help with all aspects of the dish – here is a guide to cooking with kids, in particular a video about knife skills: https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/guide-cookery-skills-age.  I had never let my kids cut with a sharp knife until I attended the cooking club!  It was a little scary, but my 6 year old did really well and still has all his fingers.
If you are local to Walthamstow then check out E17 Pop Up Kitchens on Facebook for info about upcoming cooking sessions. It costs £15 per family, is fun and relaxed, and there is no minimum age.

Chicken (or Veggie) Chow Mein (serves approx 4)

3 tbsp ketchup
2 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tbsp soy sauce
Small thumb ginger, peeled and grated or chopped very small
1 clove garlic, crushed or chopped very small
Any oil, for cooking
2 chicken breasts, cut in to small chunks OR chopped smoked tofu OR quorn chicken chunks OR prawns
1 pepper, cut in to thin strips
5 spring onions, chopped
200g beansprouts

200g noodles (any is fine – I used medium egg noodles)

Optional – roughly chopped coriander

Mix the ketchup, oyster sauce, soy sauce, ginger and garlic together and set aside.

Heat some oil in a frying pan on a medium heat and add the chicken (or tofu, quorn chunks or prawns), stirring regularly for about 10 minutes, until it is white and cooked through.

Meanwhile cook the noodles as per the pack instructions and set aside.  To the chicken add the pepper and stir fry for another 2 minutes. Pour in the sauce and stir well until bubbling. Add the noodles, beansprouts and spring onions and mix well for another 2 minutes.  Eat, sprinkled with coriander if you wish.

Cooking with kids – Toad In The Hole

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Toad in the Hole (along with mushroom roast) is the nostalgic taste of my childhood.  I decided to become a vegetarian aged six, so it was an extra special treat to have a traditionally meaty dish with the sausages nestled in puffed up golden batter (even if the sausages were Linda McCartney vegetarian ones!)

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This recipe is based on 7-year-old Sam’s recipe from BBC Good Food.  I choose it as the reviews said it was foolproof, and indeed it is.  I have simply added some dried herbs for extra flavour, and included 2 veggie sausages as well as meat ones, since I still don’t eat meat.  The kids helped place the cooked sausages in the casserole dish, make and mix the batter and then pour it over.

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We all absolutely loved eating the Toad in the Hole, alongside some roast vegetables and gravy (see below for empty plate evidence)!  Allow time to cook the sausages, 5 mins to make the batter and around 35 minutes for the whole dish to bake.

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Toad In The Hole (serves 4 with veg)

8 cooked sausages (can be meat, vegetarian or a mixture of both)

140g plain flour

1/2 tsp salt

2 eggs

175ml semi-skimmed milk

1/2 tsp dried mixed herbs

Cook the sausages as per the pack instructions.  While they are cooking make the batter by tipping the flour in to a bowl with the salt, making a well in the middle then cracking in the eggs.  Use an electric whisk (if possible) to whisk it together, gradually adding the milk.  Leave to stand while the sausages finish cooking.

Heat the oven to 220 degrees/gas mark 7.  Arrange the cooked sausages in a casserole/baking dish, then pour the batter all around them.  Sprinkle the dried herbs on top of the batter then bake in the oven for 25-35 minutes, until puffed up and lightly golden.  Eat with roast veg and gravy!

Mince pies of course!

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This was my first attempt at mince pies, and they turned out really well, in a chunky homemade sort of way! The recipe uses homemade pastry (which, if you have never made before, is surprisingly simple), shop-bought mincemeat and a sprinkle of orange zest. The pastry lids are finished off with a pinch of sugar, as suggested by my oldest son. He also suggested we use chopped pecan nuts as an alternative topping for a couple of them, which was a rather excellent idea.

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My oldest felt his sugar and pecan suggestions were enough input, so my youngest actually helped with the making. He rolled out some of the pastry, cut the lid shapes with cookie cutters and put them on top. Hence the interesting array of shapes! Don’t worry if you don’t have cookie cutters – use the rim of a glass or a bowl instead (make sure they are slightly bigger than the muffin tray holes to allow for covering the sides too).
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If you want more sophisticated mince pies then aim for thinner pastry, as since the pies are quite small it is easy to end up with more pastry than filling. Don’t worry if you have some leftover pastry, just make sure it is rolled out flat, put it in a freezer bag and freeze. You could use it to make something else another day (I made cornish pasties!)
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For the mince pies you will need a muffin tray, cookie cutters or glasses and a straw.

Mince pies (makes 12)

For the pastry

125g butter, melted (I do this in the microwave for 20 second bursts – takes about 1 min)
250g plain flour
2-3 tbsp water

For the filling

Approx 1/2 jar (220g) mincemeat
Zest of 1 orange
Optional – white/light brown sugar for sprinkling

To make the pastry, mix the butter and flour together with a spoon and your hands if necessary, add the water and squeeze in to a ball. It shouldn’t be too sticky. Flour a surface and lightly flour a rolling pin. Roll the pastry out (in two lots if short on space) until it is about 5mm (1/4 inch thick). Don’t press too hard with the rolling pin as it may stick, and use more flour on the surface and rolling pin to avoid it sticking if necessary.

Use a large cookie cutter (around 10cm) or the rim of a similar sized glass or bowl to cut circles out, and gently place them in the muffin tray holes, ensuring they cover the sides too. Add around 1 tsp mincemeat and a sprinkle of orange zest to each pie (avoid overfilling or it might overflow in the oven). Cut smaller circles/cookie cutter shapes for the pie lids, pierce a hole in the middle with a straw and place on top of each pie. Sprinkle each pie with a pinch of sugar if you like.

Bake the pies on gas mark 5/190 degrees for 15-30 minutes (this will depend on your oven), until lightly browned. Check every few mins after 10 mins to avoid burning. Once cooked leave to cool a little – they are nicest when still warm! Will last a couple of days in a sealed container.

Afternoon Tea – at home

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A few weeks ago we were on our way to a very rare treat of ‘afternoon tea’ at a family cafe, when it all went wrong and we didn’t make it (I won’t go in to detail, but let’s just say that tensions were high).

Anyway, not to ruin the whole day, we decided to have afternoon tea at home, which turned out to be more fun than I reckon it would have been at the cafe.  The point of afternoon tea at home is to enjoy yourself and momentarily forget about having a balanced meal.  You don’t have to make anything from scratch as it is the experience that is most important.  You could get everything from the shop, make one thing yourself or go crazy if you feel like it.

Since we don’t have those fancy three layer cake stand thingies we constructed them out of an upside-down cup and two plates.  And my son helped me decorate kitchen roll sheets to use as napkins.

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The kids decorated the table with some bizarre things like an egg timer and a dice (!)  I made two sweet treats that I knew were pretty simple: a damp lemon and almond cake (the first cake I ever made a few years ago) and banoffee pie, plus we had some leftover digestive biscuits in the biscuit tin.  I also made some simple parmesan and poppy seed lollipops (see below for recipes) and got creative with the contents of the fridge – egg mayo sandwiches, cheese sandwiches and cheese and chorizo sandwiches.

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The kids had a carton of juice each and I used my gran’s dusty teapot to serve tea, but a jug of squash or even water with sliced fruit or cucumber is a great alternative.  If you have sweet lollipops handy you could put them in a cup for people to help themselves, or if you have fruit you could cut and thread them on to a straw or skewer.  Sausage rolls, cheese biscuits, cheese and pineapple, crisps, any sweet biscuits and scones and jam would work great too.  Absolutely anything goes!

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Here are the recipes I used:

Damp lemon and almond cake: https://katielovescooking.wordpress.com/2012/09/07/damp-lemon-and-almond-cake-20-mins-prep1-hour-cooking/

Cheats banoffee pie: https://katielovescooking.wordpress.com/2014/10/05/cheats-banoffee-pie-ready-in-30-mins/

Parmesan and poppy seed biscuits: https://katielovescooking.wordpress.com/2012/12/29/snazzy-yet-simple-party-food/

And a few that would also work well:

Instant cheesecakes https://katielovescooking.wordpress.com/2013/12/09/instant-cheesecakes-for-the-party-season/

Veggie mince cups (feel free to fill with other ingredients as long as not too wet): https://katielovescooking.wordpress.com/2016/01/21/veggie-mince-cups/

Sausage rolls: https://katielovescooking.wordpress.com/2015/04/19/stilton-crust-veggie-or-meat-sausage-rolls-20-mins-prep30-mins-cooking/

Choc peanut butter cups: https://katielovescooking.wordpress.com/2015/02/04/chocolate-and-peanut-butter-cups-4-minutes-of-effort/

Anzac biscuits (an Australian classic!)

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Anzac biscuits are an Australian classic, believed to have been sent to the ANZAC’s (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) during World War I. Everyone seems to love this crunchy biscuit made from oats, desiccated coconut, flour, butter, sugar and syrup. They are super easy to make, taking about 8 mins prep plus 10-20 mins baking, and are great warm or cold. If you have kids they could help out – once mixed they are just dolloped on to a baking tray so don’t have to look perfect, as you can see!
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Recipe is from Annabel Karmel’s rather excellent ‘The Fussy Eaters Recipe Book’. The biscuits will keep for a few days in an airtight container and can be frozen.  Just look at my son tucking in…
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Anzac biscuits (makes approx 18)

85g porridge oats
85g desiccated coconut
100g caster or brown sugar
100g plain flour
Pinch of salt
100g butter/marge, melted
1 tbsp golden syrup
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tbsp boiling water

Grease a couple of baking trays with butter or marge and preheat the oven to 180 degrees/gas mark 4.

Mix the oats, coconut, sugar, flour and salt in a large bowl. Melt the butter in a small pan and stir in the golden syrup. Add the bicarbonate of soda to 2 tbsp boiling water, then stir into the golden syrup and butter mixture. Pour the wet ingredients in to the dry ingredients and mix well.

Put dessertspoons of the mixture on to the baking trays, flatten the tops slightly and place a fair bit apart to allow room for spreading – they can increase up to twice in size when baking.

Bake for 10-20 mins, turning them over halfway through once the bottom is cooked. They should be golden brown on each side. The exact time will depend a bit on your oven. If your oven is not great like mine then swap the shelves around halfway through too. Leave 10 mins to firm up before eating!

Build-your-own-burgers

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As a parent of young children I really rate letting them choose and put their food together once in a while.  So for this ‘build your own burger’ meal I set out the buns, burgers, lettuce, sliced tomatoes, sliced cheese, ketchup, mayo and sweet chilli sauce on the table.  Then we chose what we wanted and built our burgers ourselves!  I didn’t pressure the kids to include the vegetables, as they are more likely to enjoy vegetables in the long-term if it is not a battle.

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I made some tasty and quick bean burgers, which can be prepared in advance of frying (simple recipe below).  The idea is that this is a fun meal and the kids are getting involved, so if you don’t have time to make burgers then using shop-bought burgers is fine too!  Everyone enjoyed filing their buns and squirting the sauces on.  And 3 out of 4 of us liked the bean burgers.  Only thing that was missing was the gherkins!

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Thank you to the highly recommended Tiny Budget Cooking free online cookbook (www.tinybudgetcooking.com) for the bean burger recipe inspiration!  Their book is full of delicious and cheap recipes.

Bean burgers (makes approx 8 medium sized burgers)

2 tins black eyed beans, drained, rinsed and shaken dry

1/2 onion, chopped small

1 clove garlic, crushed/chopped small

Small handful olives, chopped small

1 tsp dried mixed herbs

2 tsp plain flour

Put the beans in a big bowl. Add the onion, garlic, olives, herbs, flour and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Thoroughly mix and mash the ingredients together using your clean hands to break up most of the beans (this works really well) and form in to approx 8 patties.

Carefully fry the burgers in a little oil in a pan in batches of 3 or 4, for around 4 minutes per side, until browned.  Eat in a burger bun with lettuce, tomato, cheese slices and ketchup or mayo.  Sweet chilli sauce works great too!

Fuss-free Easter eggs

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Yesterday I tried out this little Easter egg recipe from http://www.carnation.co.uk.  You just blitz (or grate) shop-bought Madeira cake, mix with Carnation tinned chocolate sauce, make the mixture in to balls, roll them in sprinkles and refrigerate for 30 mins (or overnight). Hello Easter eggs!

 

You could push lolly sticks in to the Easter eggs if you fancy, but they are perfectly fine without.  Don’t expect perfect balls – expect slightly clumsy looking homemade charm!   This is a nice recipe to make with kids, although mine were too comfortable on the sofa…

Happy Easter!

Fuss-free Easter eggs (makes approx 25 smallish eggs )

300g Carnation chocolate filling and topping

400g Madeira cake

Sprinkles

Break up the Madeira cake and tip into a food processor. Blend until you have fine crumbs, or grate the cake on a fine grater. Tip into a large bowl, then spoon in the Carnation Chocolate filling and topping gradually and mix with a spoon until combined.

Pour your decorating sprinkles in to a small bowl.  Roll the cake mixture into round balls and then roll in the sprinkles until evenly covered.

Press a lolly pop stick or skewer into each coated ball if you fancy.  Refrigerate the balls/lollies for 30 minutes or until they are firm to touch (overnight is fine).  Enjoy over Easter!