Saturday, 31 December 2011

2011 round up

What would 31 December be without a little self indulgent introspection?

Great things that have caught my eye and/or changed my life in 2011

  1. Isle of Wight - our Easter holiday there is one of my favourite family holidays ever, due in no small part to the glorious weather. The unpredictability of British sunshine really makes it special.
  2. Pod camping - 3 days with my boys and friends and something new for all of us
  3. Polo - Pimms, sunshine and strong thighs. It's got to be an annual outing
  4. SlimPod - it's helping change the way I think about eating, and develop (hopefully lasting) healthier habits.
  5. Dubonnet - building a new relationship with an old favourite.
  6. Pinterest has changed my life without a doubt. Such a fantastic site with tonnes of interesting and useful links, and a favourite indulgence for time wasting
  7. Twitter  - not a new find, but one I've used much better this year and have found some lovely funny people through
  8. Mrs M's Meal Planning Monday -  I am so much more organised as a result of this. It's also motivated me to try new recipes and, along with Pinterest, has rejuvenated my pleasure in day to day domestic cooking
  9.  Moves Like Jagger- I love this song. Possibly my favourite all year
  10. Early starts - it's taken me a while to get into the habit but now I (mostly) love my early morning starts. I am a lark. 
Happy New Year! I hope that 2012 is everything you could wish for. I fully plan on giving it plenty of welly and am looking forward to it immensely.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

January Meal Plan

The need to feel in control of meals and money again has led me to meal plan early. My aim for January is to bring each week's shopping in at £60 or less. I know I can do it if I plan and shop sensibly. It certainly can't hurt to try.

My handicaps are 2 fussy child eaters, 1 of whom won't eat potatoes or sauce in any form, and one whose likes and dislikes change on a whim; and a husband who eats a lot, but none of it pasta. On my side are my slow cooker, a love of baking, and a wealth of delicious and inexpensive ideas courtesy of all the lovely recipe bloggers out there.

Here are my 28 meals for January. I figure left overs will take care of the other 3 days. I have listed them vaguely order of shopping rather than order of eating. I have a big freezer so will either cook in advance (eg: beef stew will also be pie filling with a few tweaks), or cut meat into meal size portions and freeze.

I tend to use frozen vegetables in winter as they are cheaper and I can cook them in just the portion sizes I need, so where I have just put something like 'pot roast', it will be pot roast, peas and potatoes for example. I'll still be doing Mrs M's Meal Planning Monday linky each Monday.

1.       BBQ chicken fajita layer
2.       Meatloaf
3.       Fridge fajita
4.       Pot roast
5.       Beef stew
6.       Beef pie
7.       Chicken stew
8.       Chicken pie
9.       Chicken curry
10.   Chinese lemon chicken
11.   Creamy Chicken Casserole*
12.   Beer chicken (chicken pieces cooked in crock pot in beer)
13.   Sausage casserole
14.   Sausage plait
15.   Rissoles
16.   Gammon, chips, peas and egg
17.   Pesto baked potatoes and gammon
18.   Ham and Potato casserole*
19.   Chilli and rice
20.   Chilli fajita layer
21.   Pizza
22.   Make you own wraps
23.   Pulled pork
24.   Egg, beans and chips
25.   Cranberry pork*
26.   Quorn, noodle & veg stir fry
27.   Root vegetable stew*
28.   Fridge fried rice

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Jaffa Cake Brownies

Hello and Happy Christmas. I have not blogged in ages as, well, it's been Christmas and sometimes (only sometimes) real life takes priority. So here we are: post Christmas but not post Christmas food. I thought I was restrained this year but I still seem to have a lot of food in my kitchen. My husband asked me to bake him something to take for him and his friends to eat after their bike ride tomorrow, so I took the opportunity to experiment a little with the hope of clearing some of if out of my house before it settled on my hips.

I bought one of those massive tubes of Jaffa Cakes. 5 packets of 12 cakes = 60 biscuits glaring at me in a fit of uneaten pique (along with the clementines going soft in the largely ignored fruitbowl). I refuse to be looked at in such a way by anything without eyes, so they had to go.

I am too lazy to halve my favourite chocolate cake recipe so this makes 2 batches.
 My favourite chocolate cake recipe

185g butter (or Stork, which I usually use for baking)
2tsp vanilla (oops, I forgot that)
1.5C sugar
2C SR flour
1/4C clementine juice (about 4 fruits)
3/4C water
3 eggs
2/3C cocoa

1. Preheat oven to gas mark 4 or 180C.

2. Prepare brownie tin by greasing and lining it with baking paper. Put a layer of Jaffa Cakes cake side down.

3. Put all the ingredients in a mixing bowl. Add the butter first, then the cocoa 2nd, unless you want your kitchen to be covered in cocoa dust. Mix until it's all the same colour (I use a hand mixer on high for 2-3 mins) and nice and smooth.

4. Pour half the mixture evenly over the Jaffa Cakes and bake on the middle shelf until cake springs back when touched (around 20mins in a normal oven, or whenever my temperamental oven feels like it.

5. leave to cool in pan and then lift out on the paper. I cut mine on the paper then lifted them up rather than avoid any faffy turning out and turning them back over.
 these were too big, so I cut them in half again after taking the photo.

The end result are lovely. The Jaffa Cake jam bit didn't melt at all so is still visible, and the dark chocolate on them added a nice richness to the brownies. I was very impressed. The 2nd batch were made with the cake mixture first and the Jaffa Cakes added to the top for no reason other than I was also trying to cook dinner and forgot to put them in first. They weren't as good because the cake part of the Jaffa Cake was on top so they went crunchy and I didn't like the texture as much.

It's my favourite use of leftovers so far.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Perfect Pudding

Did you miss Stir Up Sunday (and no, for my children's benefit, that is NOT the day you can torment each other without getting shouted at). The last Sunday before Advent, it's the traditional day for making Christmas pudding. It's a lovely tradition where everyone gets a go at stirring the mixture and making a wish.

Don't worry if you missed it, as this recipe doesn't need to be made until 1-2 weeks before Christmas. One year I was a bit apathetic about it all and didn't make them until a few days before and they were the best I'd ever made. It may have been due to the fact that I soaked my fruit for a week, topping it up with whatever bottle was handy (port, dark rum, and brandy). My kitchen smelled lovely.

My mum passed me this recipe. It's from a 1950s Sunbeam mixer cookbook and is lovely and light compared with traditional puddings. I gave a spare pudding to a friend  who hadn't had time to make her normal pudding one year, and now she and her family are converts. The notes at the bottom are from my mum, who is a seasoned pudding professional.


N.B.  This pudding is best made 7 to 14 days before required for use

250g butter or margarine
250g brown sugar
5 eggs
250g raisins
250g sultanas
125g currants
60g preserved figs
60g almonds
60g dates
60g cherries
3 tablespoons rum or sherry
185g plain flour
1 teaspoon mixed spice
½ teaspoon bi-carb soda
185g soft breadcrumbs

Beat butter or margarine on low speed until soft

Add sugar and beat until creamy on medium-high speed

Add eggs, one at a time, and beat evenly through

Add prepared fruits and spirit alternatively with sifted flour, spice, soda and breadcrumbs on lowest speed

Place mixture into greased pudding basin and seal securely with foil and kitchen string (or use metal pudding basins with their own clamped lids).

Boil for four hours and for two hours on the day of reheating.

Serve with hard or brandy sauce and/or custard

This is the old Sunbeam Mixmaster recipe from the 1950s book, and I’ve converted the weights from imperial to metric.  I vary it according to whim; e.g. I don’t like preserved figs so I add more cherries instead and I also put in more almonds than the recipe call for.  I soak the fruit in rum (3 tbs? yeah, right… like that’s going to be enough to even taste!) overnight in a bowl tightly covered with cling wrap. If you don’t have a pudding basin or two with their own lids, be sure to seal the foil as tightly as possible with the string tie.  Make a string handle so that you can lift it out.  It’s a good idea to sit the bowl on an upturned saucer or similar so that the bottom does not burn if the water gets too low.

Margaret Fulton has recipes for custard sauce, brandy sauce and hard sauce

Monday, 12 December 2011

Meal Planning Monday - 12 December 2011

Last week's meal plan was a success both in terms of taste and budget. I confess to buying the wraps for the tortillas as I just didn't have enough time or motivation to make them. And we didn't have pasta and doughballs for some reason or other (oh yes, McDonald's).

This week's plan is:
Chicken tortilla bake
Fried rice with ham
pineapple chinese chicken in slow cooker
beef stew in slow cooker
Jambalaya (from freezer)

I've already got ham, beef, sausages, and Jambalaya in the freezer, along with plenty of frozen vegetables, so this week's shopping was also within budget. 

For more meal plans check out the linky on Mrs M's blog.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Random likings

Things I have seen lately that I really like include:

Very Boden-esque robe from Peacocks for boys up to 6 years - £8

Rhod Gilbert's new tour The Man With The Flaming Batternburg Tattoo. I've got my ticket!

Pre-Christmas sales. Ok, not a great sign for the economy that stores are already having of 25-50% off good stuff and not summer tat from 2 years ago. For example: 30% off everything in Laura Ashley plus free delivery.

Arthur Christmas. I took my 4 year old and he didn't need to go to the toilet during it at all, which is the ultimate seal of approval. I also loved it and will probably see it again before Christmas. It's lovely and festive family friendly film and not annoying at all.

 You know I love my SlimPod, well Thinking Slimmer have released a FREE Christamas one (worth £29.99) to help combat the seasonal urge to overindulge. Like them on Facebook here and try the free SlimPod here

 Outdoor ice skating
A friend and I took our kids to Cardiff's Winter Wonderland other weekend and it was so much fun. Despite having never been before, the loved it. I impressed myself my not falling over even though it's been 25 years or so since I last skated. Like riding a bike, I guess! We all want to go again.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Meal Planning Monday - 5 December 2011

I am quite pleased with this week's menu as it is really inexpensive and should be tasty. It's not going to win any prizes for excitement, but with the fussy eaters I live with that is not necessarily a bad thing. The kids can help make the doughballs, wraps, biscuits and flapjacks.

Pasta & homemade dough balls
steak pasties
Fajitas (including homemade wraps) with bbq chicken in slow cooker
Vegetable risotto using mixed frozen veg (crockpot or oven baked)
Sausage casserole & potatoes 
Frittata with gammon and peppers
I'll also be giving these Nutella Cookies a whirl, and possibly flapjacks, depending on how long they last.

For more menu plans have a look at the linky on Mrs Ms's blog.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

SlimPod diary - Week 6

I know I skipped a week of the diary last week. There wasn't much change and I just didn't get around to posting to that effect. I have been listening to my body and staying away from the scales but I weighed on Saturday to find I'd lost the 2lbs I gained. So I lost 4lb, gained 2lb, lost 2lb. The difference between this week and last week is that I've been doing more running and am generally more active. I am eating more than I was in the first week or 2, but a lot less than I was before I started using my SlimPod.

Positive changes I continue to notice:
Feeling satisfied with less food
Automatically making healthier choices with food and drink
Exercising more and being more active naturally - no more having to drag myself out to exercise.
Sleeping better
Looking better 

I have been getting up really early lately and have been feeling tired as a result, however where I would previously have reached for Coke and sugar laden empty carbs to perk myself up, I'm not now. If I snack it's normally on dried fruit and occasionally cake, and I still drink mainly water.

Further proof my SlimPod is working this week:
* I went to the cinema yesterday and had no sweets or fizzy drink (normally I'll have both)
* there are 2 boxes of chocolate in the cupboard for a week. I bought them for Christmas last week. Every now and then I ask myself "you know there's some chocolate in there, don't you?" and my SlimPod brain replies "yes" and moves on. It's quite strange, but satisfying. 

I am a lot more patient than I was a few weeks ago. I am eating more, but enjoying it and not over indulging. It's easy to stop, or to not start if I'm not hungry.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Lush Snow Fairy

I have decided that Lush Snow Fairy shower gel is my new favourite thing in the whole world. I have not been into a Lush store for years, so was ignorant of its pink and sparkly charms until I read about it on Alice's Bucket List. Unfortunately I didn't get one of Alice's batch, but the person on the sticker who made it looks nice and happy anyway.

I was a little sceptical when I smelt it - it's quite bubble gummy- but my first shower had me hooked. It's like washing in an iridescent Barbie pink bubble. It lathers so beautifully that you only need a small amount. The smell changes a bit to candy floss and lasts on your skin. It makes my bathroom smell beautiful and given that I live in a house full of males, that's no mean feat. I used it as a shampoo this morning (followed by my normal conditioner) and my hair feels nice and soft. It's £3.25/100g, £5.95/250g, and £9.95/500g.

Snow Fairy gel seasonal product so I will definitely stock up on more before Christmas. I don't know why I love it so much as it's not my normal sort of product, but I adore it.

While I was in Lush I got my boys some Christmas shower jelly (£3.50/100g) which we are all impressed with. It smells pine-y, but not overly so (think Christmas tree rather than car air freshener). My 4 year old had a great time washing himself again and again with it. As with the Snow Fairy gel, a little goes a long way, but given that it's so fun to use I don't expect it to last long. It's also good for washing hair.

The Snow Fairy gel is suitable for vegans but not the shower jelly. If you're looking for stocking fillers then Lush is the place.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Meal Planning Monday - 28 November 2011

I wrote this week's meal plan out, shopped for it, and promptly lost my list. So alongside mentally kicking my stupidity I have had to try to cobble the menu together as best as I can from my memory (dodgy at times), the contents of my cupboards and freezer, and the list of meals I planned at the start of November. 

Here we go: 
chicken, apricot and squash stew
pork schnitzel
egg, beans, bacon on toast

Ok, that last one is a bit of a cop out but I am out 3 nights this week so only have 4 nights to plan for - hooray! Expect the next 2-3 weeks to feature fairly inexpensive and healthy meals as I try and pare both my budget and waistline down in preparation for Christmas
For other menu plans check out Mrs M's blog. She should have a linky up at some point.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Music Therapy

Thank you Him Up North for tagging me in the Music Therapy meme, started by MammyWoo. I love a good rummage around in other people's music collections. I never know what new favourite I'll unearth or just as satisfying, what shit that makes my own musical taste look sophisticated and urbane.

I happily acknowledge my own musical taste is for the popular. Or rather, what was was popular a few years ago.I am not a music snob and will give pretty much anything at least 30 seconds ear attention, however my preference is for indie rock which is not very fashionable at the moment.

The task for this (my very first) meme is to choose 3 songs by 3 bands that speak to me with both music and lyrics.

These are the 3 I chose today. I suspect I'd choose a different 3 in another week. But this is it for today.

1. My Sharona - The Knack
I can't say the lyrics speak to me, but the tempo is so upbeat and it's one of my favourite tunes to dance like a loon to. It's the first song that came to mind. (Watching the video takes some of the gloss of it. Did he cut his fringe himself? While drunk? In a dark room?)

2. Make You Feel My Love - Bob Dylan

I adore the lyrics of this song. It's exactly how I feel about my family, especially my children. I am not a fan of Dylan's voice, so here's the video of the Adele version.

When the rain
Is blowing in your face
And the whole world
Is on your case
I could offer you
A warm embrace
To make you feel my love

When the evening shadows
And the stars appear
And there is no - one there
To dry your tears
I could hold you
For a million years
To make you feel my love

3. Throw Your Arms Around Me - Hunters & Collectors
Not sure why I chose this but it came to mind so I investigated further. I've got so much nostalgia tied up with Hunters & Collectors. They were one of the main bands of my formative years (ie: 15-22 or so) and I have always loved this song. It's sweet and poignant. I just found out Pearl Jam covered it and that makes me happy as I love Pearl Jam too.

Unfortunately I don't know any bloggers to tag to do this one, so feel free to do it anyway.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Meal Planning Monday - 21 November 2011

I had this post drafted on Friday, before my freezer decided to stop working. It's one of those tall, upright freezers and it was the day the shopping was delivered. Cue me madly ordering a freezer for collection from Comet, only to get it home, let it stand for 4 hours, move the old freezer, unpack the new one and realise it was a FRIDGE. What a plonker I am! Unforunately it was too late to change it so I had a counter full of defrosting food. Saturday started with a sheepish visit to Comet, followed by cooking up all the meat that had defrosted overnight. It's fair to say that Saturday and Sunday's meals were a little random.

The upside is that the BBQ chicken and shepherd's pie are cooked and we have an unexpected blackberry and apple pie due to defrosted blackberries and pastry.

BBQ chicken
Fridge Frittata
Quorn stir fry and rice noodles (an easy meat free favourite at the moment)
Shepherd's pie with cheesy cauliflower topping
Sausages of some description.

I might also give this Chocolate Cola cake a whirl. I was going to bake something other than chocolate this week, but this has been on my list to try for a while. My eldest son has been asking me to make these Cinnamon Crusted coffee cake muffins again. They are so gorgeous that when I made them before we were eating them while they were still warm.