Monday, 30 September 2013

Meal Planning Monday - 30 September 2013

Phew, what a week! Last week's meal plan was pretty successful although I was right about being the only one to eat the carrot and lentil soup! Still, it was delicious and I got through it in a couple of days. I added some quinoa and had it for brekkie a couple of times with some yummy bread.

This week's meal plan is:

Slow Cooker Pork shoulder with apples and cider gravy (left over from last week)
Arancini (using recipe from Organic Centre Wales which I will blog later)

There are only six meals on there because it's late on Monday and I've already eaten dinners, which was one of the kids' left over sausages and half a bun. #Gourmet (can you hashtag in a blog post? Probably not, but too bad). 

Don't forget to check out Mrs M's Meal Planning Monday linky for more meal planning inspiration. 

PS: apologies for any spelling or grammar errors. It's been a long day. I'll check it over tomorrow. 

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Oven Baked Crisp Coated Chicken Schnitzel


I'm lucky enough to be taking part in the Bzz campaign for Walkers Mighty Lights and was sent a box of free crisps. You can imagine how excited my kids were about this and they scoffed the lot before I had a chance to try them myself. They're being marketed to parents as a healthier crisp snack for children, being 30% lower in fat with no MSG, artificial colours or preservatives. The suggestion was that we include them as a healthier alternative in lunchboxes. I haven't done this for two reasons: crisps are not allowed in packed lunches by the school; and crisps are a treat rather than an everyday item. Instead, I got hold of more crisps, hid them from the kids, and used them to remake chicken schnitzel, which is one of our favourite dinners.

flour, egg, crushed crisp production line ready to go

 I normally make chicken schnitzel by flattening chicken breasts before dipping them in flour, egg, and breadcrumbs seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic granules (egging and crumbing twice for a good coating). They get shallow fried then finished off in the oven. Yum. Sticking with the healthier option I decided to try oven baking this time, hoping that the oil in the crushed crisps would give a good finish.

Straight out of the oven, golden and crispy

The end product (before gravy) served with cous cous and spinach
The verdict was that they were just as enjoyable as normal. I liked that I didn't have to clean up a fry pan full of oil and that the house didn't have that "fry" smell. If I do it again I will crush the crisps up more finely to get a more even coating.

Disclaimer: I was given the crisps (and vouchers for more crisps) for free, but the recipe and opinions are entirely my own. Well, mine and my family's, but you know what I mean.

Abergavenny Food Festival 2013 - A Review from the Front Line

Abergavenny hosts one of the UK's top food festivals every September. This great town in south east Wales is surrounded by incredible restaurants and locally produced food. On Festival weekend they are joined by over 200 stall holders from around the country, and the streets, market hall, and castle grounds are packed with incredible sights, tastes and aromas.

It isn't only food and drink that are the main attractions. After fifteen years, Abergavenny has a reputation that draws top chefs, writers and other experts hosting masterclasses, pop up restaurants, tutored tastings and talks. Some of this year's guests included Rick Stein, Valentine Warner, Pete Brown, Xanthe Clay, Roger Stevens (who really fired up the kids with his passion for organic produce and his ability to whip up delicious treats in a Ready,Steady, Cook style), and Magnus Nilsson. Abergavenny isn't simply about eating well while you're here. Visitors also have the opportunity to learn about how to source great food (even if that means foraging) and prepare it at home, too. While most of the action takes place over Saturday and Sunday there are pre-festival and fringe festival events in the week leading up to it.

My view as I emptied waste water from washing up into the recycling tank. Virtually everything is recycled and the refuse team worked non stop
 There has always been a great family friendly vibe at Abergavenny Food Festival. It really is a fab day out and, as someone who has kids of my own and who works with children, I was super impressed with this year's offerings. The Festival's new Chief Executive, Heather Myers, has done an awesome job at ensuring there is something to appeal to even the youngest visitors. As well as the Food Academy where free masterclasses are run by Jethro Carr of the Kitchen Academy, there was live cow milking; CBBC's Stefan Gates and his Incredible Edibles Live show, where he encouraged kids to eat, um, insects; and the grand final of Organic Centre Wales' Cook It, Grow It, Eat It competition for high school students. Arts Alive were in the Dome on Sunday, helping children create animal sculptures out of a variety of fruit and veg, and some of the results were really impressive.

View from my "office" shortly after the festival opened on Sunday morning. The castle dates to 1087.
I was lucky enough to be working in the Food Academy this year. It's the third time I've worked there and it just keeps getting better. This year we were centre stage in the Dome up at Abergavenny Castle, moving from the previous location on the lower lawn. It meant an increase in capacity from around 25 to 40 children per session, which is a real testament to how hard Cath Fookes, the Abergavenny Food Festival kids events co-ordinator, has worked and the popularity of Jethro's masterclasses. Two days x 40 kids x 4 sessions + parents = a whole lot of cooking and fun! Chris Young of the Real Bread Campaign was also working in the Dome and it was awesome working with people who really care about making good food and about instilling an interest in food in kids. We were opposite the gorgeous smells and sounds of Grillstock and right near the Chase Vodka Cocktail Tent, and with full on views of the Blorenge you couldn't ask for a better location.

My favourite recipe was the Spiced pumpkin, pea and Y Fenni arancini, which made a tasty second breakfast! Valentine Warner whirled in to do a masterclass on Saturday and his lentil salad was also delicious. 

 I managed to catch parts of some Rude Health Rants, including local food blogger Bill King. You can see these at

The only downside about working at the festival is that I don't a chance to do much shopping (or taking photos) Still, I managed to pick up a few goodies that included
13 x punnets of blackberries and damsons for a tenner - bargain!
Gower Cottage Brownies (using pic from their website as mine didn't last that long)
Halen Mon Salted Caramel Sauce (again, using their picture as mine is embarrassingly depleted after just a week) and Celery Salt

                                                     Celery Sea SaltImage

The kids benefited from these massive meringues (or Merangz) from the Little Round Cake Company which were almost as big as their heads... seriously.


You can expect to see more Abergavenny Food Festival inspired posts from me over the next few months, including my attempt at sourdough (which I am slightly nervous about trying)

If you haven't got Abergavenny on your calendar yet, mark it in BIG RED LETTERS for the third weekend in Septemeber. It's in a spectacular location, the atmosphere is really down to earth and friendly with plenty of passion but no snobbery, and with all the other activities there is something to keep everyone happy.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

A Recipe for Healthy Flapjacks

I am going through another phase where I restrict processed foods/cakes/crap that comes into the house. Since my family of gannets won't stop asking for food that means I have to fill the empty bickie tin with something that keeps both them and me happy. I have been experimenting with my favourite ANZAC biscuit recipe which I always back as a tray slice because, quite simply, it's faster and easier than shaping individual biscuits. Today I made some substitutes to make it healthier and - get this - no one noticed! It's very satisfying to feel like I got one over on my picky eaters.

120g coconut oil
large dessert spoon (probably 2 tablespoons) of treacle
1 cup wholemeal self raising flour
1 cup rolled porridge oats
3/4 cup dessicated coconut
2/3 cup soft brown sugar (dark or light)

Preheat oven to 180C
Melt coconut oil and treacle together
Mix dry ingredients then pour in oil and treacle and mix
Press into shallow tin lined with baking paper and bake for 20 minutes or so, until it starts going crispy.

Leave to cool in tray and slice

They're not as sweet as my normal recipe owing to using treacle instead of golden syrup, but it hasn't put the kids off.

To satisfy my pudding loving husband I made him a dessert with sliced up bananas topped with a couple of crumbled up flapjacks and drizzle of warmed Halen Mon Salted Caramel Sauce. Then I ate it and told him there was nothing for dessert. Sorry, Sweetheart.

What do you think? Do you have any recipes you have adapted to make healthier versions? If so, post a link in the comments!

Monday, 23 September 2013

Meal Planning Monday - 23 September 2013

Hello and welcome to a brand new week! I have spend the weekend working at the Abergavenny Food Festival (I will blog about how fantastic it was later this week) so am full of foodie inspiration and raring to go. I hope you all has an equally amazing weekend with lots of late spring sunshine.

This week I am cooking

Chicken and Pancetta with wilted spinach.
Garlic mushrooms and roasted autumn veg.
Slow cooked beef in ale with with garlic bread topper & you guessed it - more spinach. I love it.
Fridge frittata. I have tail ends of veggies and probably left over pancetta that needs using up.
Slow braised pork shoulder with cider and parsnips (BBC Recipe)
Carrot and lentil soup with homemade bread rolls. Suspect I will be the only one eating this!

Edited to add:
Look at this morning's breakfast. I got heaps of late season blackberries on the weekend and some of them went into my breakfast smoothie. How awesome is this colour!

That's it from me. Remember to hop over to Mrs M's linkup for more Meal Planning Monday inspiration. There are loads of new recipes to be found.

Have a great week.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Crockpot Chocolate Cake Recipe

In a recent Meal Planning Monday Post (The Slow Cooker Special) I lamented that I had never used my beloved slow cooker for making either cake or risotto. I rectified one of these on the weekend by making chocolate cake in it. I used this recipe from which requires:

2 Cups white sugar
1 3/4 Cups flour (I used SR but you could use Plain and add the rising agent)
3/4 Cup unsweetened cocoa powder (what, you mean just 2 Cups of sugar is enough?!)
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 Cup milk
1/2 Cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 Cup boiling water

Grease your ceramic bowl and put in slow cooker. Turn on low. Mix dry ingredients. Mix wet ingredients. Combine. Pour into ceramic bowl. It should look like this:

Cook on low until there are no wet puddles of batter on the top and it's starting to come away for the sides slightly (recommended time 3 hours) then allow to cool for 30 minutes before turning out.

Checking my cake after 2 hours I found the batter wasn't more than luke warm so I cranked that sucker up to high and promptly got distracted doing something else. Coming back to it an hour later I found that it was definitely cooked and starting to burn on the bottom. Don't do that.

The cake itself was alright. It looked incredibly dark - almost black (no that wasn't the burnt bit!) and was quite moist and fudgy in texture. I don't think I'd use it as a normal cake, but as something in between cake and pudding for dessert it was lovely. It had started to stick so I couldn't turn it out but that wasn't a problem because cake's don't last long in this house and it was gone in under two days.

I don't know if I'd bother using my slow cooker for a cake again. Not only does it takes ages and doesn't seem to yield a better result than using the oven, I got fed up of the kids asking if it was ready yet. 

Do you use your slow cooker for cakes? If so, post a link to your favourite recipe and I will keep an open mind. It is cake, after all!

Yes, that's squirty cream

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Fun Ideas For A Halloween Themed Children's Party

I am throwing a kids Halloween party for my six year old this year. It's not that I'm a massive Halloween fan (far from it - I am a mother who refuses to let her kids trick or treat) but he's recently started at a new school and a party is a good way for me to meet other parents and get him on the social radar, so to speak. Besides, Halloween for (most) kids is fun. The hall is booked, the bouncy castle is the biggest on the books, and now it's time for the fun part: planning the spooky party details!

Bat invitations have been requested so I am making these:
bat invitations
Flying Bat invitations from

You can't have a Halloween party without Halloween party games such as...

...pumpkin bowling and pin the tail on the cat

From Ladies Home Journal

And what about this spooky ghost pinata?

Better Homes and Gardens
Latex gloves filled with sweets instead of a goodie bag
I love this. Great for Halloween parties
From Pinterest. Sorry, I can't find the original source but let me know if it's yours!
Now all I need to do is organise a costume and the food without spending a fortune. Hmm... maybe I'd better stay away from Pinterest!

Monday, 16 September 2013

5 Beautiful and Unusual Wedding Bouquets that Aren't Made From Flowers

I've been doing a lot of work for a favourite client lately, much of which has involved writing about weddings. It's no hardship as I love all the romance of weddings even though, ironically, I would have preferred eloping rather than have an actual wedding of my own. Go figure. Anyway, in the course of recent research I have discovered these beautiful wedding bouquets.

1. Book Bouquet
Apparently this couple work in publishing. Check out her book bouquet! It is so awesome and beautiful. The photo is from Will Chao Photography

Original image at Will Chao Photography
2. LEGO bouquet
No surprises I've found a LEGO bouquet. I am so cack handed with LEGO I would probably break this within minutes if it wasn't glued together.

Custom LEGO rose bouquet from Etsy
3. Sweetie Bouquet. 
Would it be unseemly for a bride to scoff her face on the way down the aisle? I know this comes from Modern Life Studios, but I can't find the original image to correctly credit it.

4.Origami paper flowers.
There's a DIY tutorial for these at Capitol Romance

Image via Capitol Romance

5. Brooches
I know brooch bouquets are not new but have you ever seen one quite as blingtastic as this? I found the image from via Pinterest, but can't find the original page to link back to.

Meal Planning Monday - 16 September 2013

16 September! How on earth did that happen? I am sure I was only preparing for the summer holidays a few minutes ago and now here we are staring down the barrel towards Christmas (99 days people, 99 days). This week is one of those that I have been dreading. Everyone's column on the calendar is full and it's going to take a time turner to help me make it through the week with my sanity unscathed.

Just in case you didn't get the Harry Potter reference
This week we shall be eating:

Meatloaf, smashed potatoes and veg
Slow cooker gammon roast
Brinner (aka: breakfast for dinner)
Chicken burgers

I can bet that at least one of these won't get made but I've given myself every advantage of getting through the week by using my slow cooker and/or preparing as much as possible yesterday. My life would be so much easier if my family ate soup, my husband ate pasta, my eldest son ate sauce of any kind, and my youngest wasn't so fickle. See what I am up against?

What have you planned for this week? Head over to Mrs M's if you're looking for more Meal Planning Monday inspiration

Sunday, 8 September 2013

It's a Pinterest kind of Day

I don't know what Sundays are like in your house, but ours are usually pretty quiet. My husband almost always rides his bike which leaves me and the kids to our own devices, or me and the youngest since my oldest normally hangs out with his friends. Finding activities to keep kids occupied while still leaving me enough time to get my own stuff done (such as reading the paper in peace) isn't always easy. I'm usually brain dead and devoid of imagination on Sunday, especially on days like today when I don't want to go anywhere or spend any money. Where else would I go for inspiration for a fun and frugal activities for children, but Pintrest! This is what we have been doing today.

Baking Banana and Oat biscuits
Finally, a biscuit that is virtually guilt free! These have just two healthy ingredients: bananas and rolled oats. I also chucked in some raisins and a sprinkling of cinnamon. I quite like the idea of adding peanut butter and some frozen raspberries to the mix next time.

Two ingredient Oat and Banana biscuits

Being a Ninja
How awesome is this Ninja mask! It's as simple as you like because it's just a normal t-shirt. The pin came via one of my favourite websites, Frugal Fun For Boys. My son was delighted with the effect and spent the next hour or so playing Ninja and sneaking up on my while I was undertaking sinister activities such as hanging out the washing. We used my older son's t-shirt for this but it would have been even better if I'd nicked one of his dad's. Best of all it took seconds with no cutting, sewing or mess of any kind.

No cut, no sew Ninja mask

Making a LEGO maze
Even a Ninja needs a little downtime so after successfully patrolling the perimeter and practicing his swordsmanship, this little Ninja and I settled down to make a LEGO marble maze. We started by identifying where the entrance and exit was going to be then worked our way out creating false paths until the board was covered. A few adjustments were made to make the maze even trickier and now it's ready for use.

Thank you Pinterest for a stress free Sunday which hasn't involved me shouting, hiding in the toilet in an attempt to get some peace, having to go out, or spending any money!

Saturday, 7 September 2013

A Spa Day at the Celtic Manor

Back during that mythical era when my time and disposable income was my own I enjoyed the odd beauty treatment. I was never a weekly customer, but a facial here and a manicure there was not unusual. Fast forward 14 years, two kids, and a self employed income later and I am lucky if I make it to the hairdresser twice a year. As for my New Year's Resolution to have regular manicures, that lasted as long as it took to peel the second lot of Shellac polish off. I was as surprised as anyone, therefore, to find myself digging out my single cozzie (I am not a big swimmer) and tidying up my tootsies in preparation for an afternoon's spa-ing at the Celtic Manor.

I have great friends, one in particular who not only swaps childcare, happily taking both my boys even though she only has one, but who took me to the Forum Spa at the Celtic Manor as thanks for my doing the Cardiff Half Marathon with her last year as she raised money for the MND Association. Yes, that's right. I got to drag her out for runs in all weathers (a particularly torrential Sunday morning stands out in my mind) and call her my bitch, and she rewards me with a luxurious treat. Like I said, I have great friends. If there is one thing that was brought home to me it is that I clearly don't spend enough time doing my own thing. The kids mooned around and acted like I was abandoning them forever, not just 8 hours. "I suppose it will be the best day of your life" said the oldest. "Why do you want to leave us, Mummy?" whined the younger. Closing the door firmly on any semblance of maternal guilt I fairly skipped out of the house. 

Handing the car keys over for valet parking we made our way to the Forum Spa where we were greeted in hushed tones by women with glowing skin who handed us questionnaires and directed us to the tea and coffee facilities (I have been asked to make a note that the cups are only suitable for right handed people. You have been warned!) So far, so good. I had nothing to do with the booking so was happy to find that we had a good five hours to eat lunch and lounge around before having our treatments. Filling in the questionnaire we guffawed over questions such as "what do you hope to achieve from today" providing information about all the bits we weren't happy with so if we didn't feel decrepit and scraggy when we walked in, we sure did now. Exchanging our clipboards for bathrobes satisfyingly luxurious (and large! I nearly tripped over the bottom of mine) we assumed the spa day outfit of swimmers, robe and hotel slippers and headed up to the private club room to dine on food so healthy and delicious it had us swearing our first Lottery win purchase would be a personal chef. If you are having a spa day that involves this lunch I recommend you get there sooner rather than later. While there was plenty of food for us, I noticed it wasn't topped up and later groups had to ask for more of some and settle for the scrag ends of others.

Stylish but not for left handers
The next few hours passed in a blur of eating, swimming, steaming, jacuzzi-ing, reading, snoozing and generally reverting to a fragrantly vegetable like state. I had brought a book and magazine but was pleased to see a wide choice of recent copies of glossies and weeklies for spa guests to use. The treatments were awesome. I am not sure what package my friend booked but I think it was the TFI Friday one as it included a hot stone massage followed by an Elemis facial treatment. I shamefully have forgotten my therapist's name but she was fab, giving me a run-down on what to expect and asking how firm I wanted my massage before taking me to the cocoon like treatment room and working her magic. I floated out of that room on a fragrant cloud of relaxation, rejoining my mate who looked as relaxed as I felt. We were there on the day of the ISPS Handa Wales golf tournament so retired to the very busy bar where we happily passed the time of a glass  of wine people watching before heading home. Waiting for the car to be brought around we noticed a number of golfers returning with evidence they had just eaten at McDonalds which made us snigger somewhat.I am sure there were numerous golfers there who would be recognisable to someone who gave a toss about golf, but the only celeb I saw was Linda Robson (who will be back on screens in a new series of Birds of  Feather in 2014 - hooray!)

It was a fab day and I'd like to say thanks to T who shared her Celtic Manor vouchers with me so generously, by posting another link for the MND Association (South East Wales Branch) which is run by volunteers who do a fabulous job helping those with MND and their families, and who also have a Facebook page.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Meal Planning Monday - 2 September 2013 (The Slow Cooker Special)

It's the Slow Cooker Special on my Meal Planning Monday post today. School goes back tomorrow, the nights will start to draw in, and I will once again be reliant on my trusty slow cooker at least two or three nights a week to get a hot and tasty meal on the table. I actually tried to replace my slow cooker with a pressure cooker this summer. I got as far as buying one from Aldi only to get it home and find it was a) ENORMOUS and wouldn't fit in my cupboard, and b) without sufficient instructions for anyone other than a Pressure Cooker Whisperer to be able to use it, so back it went. I am still tempted to get a pressure cooker but only when I can find one at the right price (ie: cheap as chips).

I am not going to pretend that I will be cooking all these meals this week. Tonight's dinner is pork with a glaze made from soy, honey, grainy mustard and crushed garlic and it smells gorgeous, but I haven't actually planned my menu or shopping for the rest of the week so I am going to skirt the issue and share some of my favourite slow cooker recipes.

Pulled Pork (pork shoulder with a jar or Reggae Reggae or homemade BBQ sauce)
Beef & mushroom either stew or pie filling
Beef, winter veg hotpot

I also just do pot roasts where I chuck in a chicken or joint of meet, add some onion and stock and let it cook. 

There are lots of things I would like to try in my slow cooker including cake and risotto, so I may include them when I actually do get around to doing my meal plan. 

Do you love your slow cooker as much as me, or is it something that just gathers dust in your cupboard? Add a comment with any recipes you think I should try.

Remember to head on over to Mrs M's for more Meal Planning Monday inspiration.