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The Reasons I love Autumn

 

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My beautiful Jemima. Photo credit to my very talented brother Kelvin Waterman.

I’ve always loved autumn. For as long as I can remember.

There are so many reasons why I’m thankful for this time of year.

The crisp cold mornings, bright blue September skies and the smell of fresh rain on the tarmac – all things that pre-set my brain to happy and ensure I’m ready for the day.

The beautiful golden leaves that crunch underfoot and inspire me to take long impromptu walks in the countryside and the woodlands.

Woolly socks, thick scarves and cable knitted jumpers make me feel cosy and warm.

Call the Midwife.

The dark wet evenings where street lights bounce off wet pavement and a misty fog begins to form like a scene from a movie.

Working at home, meaning I don’t need to brave the cold, rather appreciate watching others in the morning rush while I drink my coffee, whilst still wearing my dressing gown.

The smell of bonfires, fireworks and curried parsnip soup a subtle reminder that Christmas is looming. Which means I can watch Elf, again, for the hundredth time.

Cosying up on the sofa with a good romantic novel, a deliciously scented candle and the first gingerbread latte of the season. Pulling out my winter coat and picking my pumpkin and Halloween outfit.

Onesies.

Nights in and long walks, followed by a pub meal by the open fire. Pinecones and horse chestnut trees with conkers falling around you. Soups, stews and slow-cooked meals galore.

Seeing my daughter all dressed up in her matching hat, scarf and gloves with her rosy cheeks from the cold morning air.

Mine, my daughters and step-son’s birthdays in September, which is always a time of great joy, presents and lots of gin.

 

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Cheesy Chipotle Stars

STARS  Copy of STARS

I figured that this recipe was rather apt. I recently won an award, earning myself a place amongst 23 other ‘Rising Stars’ as we are now known. The award was given by Strategic Proposals is for up-and-coming talent the bid and proposal profession. This week saw the completion of the training sessions for the award, and I sat an exam last week (which I passed – yay!). I’ve been travelling about a lot for work this week too, so it’s been one of those ridiculously busy weeks. Hurrah for the weekend!

These golden cheesy treats are a deliciously spicy savoury snack. They are the perfect balance of smoky Chipotle and yummy mature cheddar. It doesn’t get much better that that, right?

Just looking at these little golden wonders makes me excited that autumn is officially upon us. Amongst the many reasons I celebrate the return of autumn, are the leaves starting to fall, woolly socks, the smell of rain in the morning and of course pumpkins, roasted parsnip soup and gingerbread lattes. It’s is my favourite season for sure. So much so that I’ve decided to dedicate a whole blog post to ‘The Reasons I Love Autumn’… coming soon!

These cheesy delights are the perfect little snack alongside a delicious autumnal soup, or as my sister-in-law (which I can now call her as Rich and I got married 3 weeks ago, yay us!) suggested, these would be great washed down with a glass or two of sangria. She’s in Spain, jealous much?

The recipe makes a whole bunch. Forgive me because I didn’t count exactly how many, and I guess it all depends on the size and shape of your cookie cutter anyhow. Of course, you could use any shaped cutter, but I opted for ‘Rising Stars’ (ahem,  I make no apology for the shameless plug to my recent success).

The base of this recipe will serve you well for other varieties of snack. If you don’t like spicy food, or Chipotle – you’re odd. No, but seriously, you could try cheddar and rosemary, or poppy seed, or maybe some sunflower seeds for crunch. Experiment. It’s the best thing about cooking.

Ingredients:

  • 200g mature cheddar cheese, grated
  • 115g plain flour
  • 50g salted butter (cold)
  • 1tbsp Chipotle paste (less if you don’t like it too spicy)
  • 4-6 tbsp cold water

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees (fan)
  2. Tip the ingredients into a blender with a dough hook and blend adding a tablespoon at a time of water until a soft dough forms. If mixing by hand, combine and bring the mixture together by hand, knead on a floured work surface.
  3. Roll out the dough on a floured work surface to 3mm thick.
  4. Using a cookie cutter stamp out your stars. Place on a lined baking tray and bake for 15-18 minutes.
  5. Allow to cool on a wire rack.
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Banana Berry Smoothie

Forgive my ignorance here, but what’s the deal with all these absurdly calorific recipe videos flying around at the moment? They appear to have taken over my newsfeed and it sparks a reaction in me I can’t quite comprehend. I’m not sure if it’s anger or disbelief. With conditions such a diabetes and obesity at an all time high I’m not convinced this is in anyone’s interest. Above all, most of them actually look disgusting. Who wants to eat Pizzagne? That I assume needs no further explanation.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a bit of indulgence here and there, everything in moderation, but come on guys… let’s actually apply some common sense. Surely fueling your body with all that sugar and saturated fat isn’t a good thing. It’s gluttony in its purest form, is it not?

I’ve seen all sorts of ridiculously bazaar recipes floating about on social media being shared to high heaven. Has anyone ever attempted to make any of these gruesome looking dishes I wonder? Okay, I’ve seen some video recipes that look nice and dare I say healthy, but they are few and far between. I’ve seen meatballs stuffed with whole blocks of cheese, covered in sauce with added sugar and topped with more cheese. Fajita pasta, cooked in five cups of milk no less, and, you guessed it, smothered with cheese. To top things off, today I witnessed Pizzagne – made using three whole pizzas, and yes more cheese!

Peanut butter “protein” balls – pah, this one makes me laugh… butter, peanut butter, rice crispies and three cups of icing sugar. Oh and then, just because that’s not quite enough sugar and fat, they were then dipped in chocolate. Is it any wonder people have a problem keeping their weight down these days? What on earth happened to clean eating and treating your body to the raw, natural foods that it so desperately needs?

I’m cross with the idiocy of the creators of these gluttonous recipes… yes there is a time and a place for it, but i fear social media isn’t the place. Let’s get sharing some healthy recipes people!

I’ve been eating clean for the past couple of weeks and I’m feeling great for it. When I say clean, I mean cutting out all processed foods, fats and sugars. I’ve allowed myself some essential fats such as nuts and omega 3 rich salmon, but refined sugar is off the menu. For now at least.

I’ve been making smoothies for breakfast every morning. Now I appreciate that fruit has sugar in it, but it’s no comparison to refined sugars given that it’s packed with vitamins, antioxidants and is generally very high in fiber. I’m even sneaking in chia seeds and spinach for antioxidants, protein and more fiber. Don’t be put off by the spinach or the alarming look of a green smoothie, they can be surprising delicious. One of my Facebook friends commented “spinach and bananas, yuck!” – there was a time when I would have agreed that this sounds odd, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it Helen. ? I’ve found these smoothies very filling, so I’m less inclined to  snack before lunchtime.

I’ve lost 10lbs in 2 weeks and I’m feeling great. There seems to be a whole lot of truth in the fact that if you cut sugar from your diet the less you crave it. I’m actually realising that if I plan correctly, eat less carbs and sugar and have smoothies for breakfast I don’t need that packet of crisps or digestive biscuit at 11am. I can sail straight through to lunchtime without giving sugary snacks a thought. Honest!

I’ve also been drinking lots of water, which has inevitably meant more trips to the loo. But, that’s a small price to pay for the obvious benefits it has. My skin is looking great!

So next time you’re tempted to share that creamy, cheesy, indulgent recipe video. Stop. Hit up your Pinterest app and type in ‘clean eats’, ‘healthy snacks’ or ‘energy rich foods’ – you might surprise yourself at how “Tasty” some of these recipes look.

Here’s one of the delicious smoothies I’ve been having – banana, berries and spinach… yummy!

Berrynana Smoothie (1)

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When life gets in the way

When life gets in the way of your hobbies it’s frustrating, but when it gets in the way of your passion it can be soul-destroying. Things have been a little tense lately and I’m discovering what long term sleep deprivation does to a person. I honestly believe it would turn even the sanest and most patient person into a ticking time bomb. Despite the lack of sleep, Jemima is the light of my life, she is the cutest little human being I’ve ever met, and she’s my little human, but finding time for your hobbies is also so important. Cooking and writing this blog are my hobbies and it’s often a wonderful escape from the pressures of everyday life.

Cooking has taken a back seat and has become about quick fixes, baby purees and baby led weaning – a rather joyful but messy task. I love making up her food from scratch to ensure she’s getting the healthiest most flavourful start in life. I can’t wait until she’s big enough to stand on a stall brandishing a wooden spoon, wearing a miniature apron and cover my kitchen with flour. I can see all the mums laughing and shaking their heads saying “just you wait”.

I’ve thought long and hard about whether, after all this time away from blogging, I should continue, but I have to. This blog is the thing I’m most proud of. I make myself feel guilty for not being one of those bloggers with a tight schedule posting three times a week – but the truth is, I have a life outside of my blog, one that consumes me. I’m a full time bid manager/proof reader, mother, fiancée and obsessive organiser – yet somehow I find time to see my friends and family. I guess blogging naturally takes a back seat, but time and again I come back to it, because it’s my passion.

I want to talk about meal planning and online food shopping and why it’s saved my sanity and allowed me to feel, and be, more organised. It’s a great way to save food and money. I’ve always been a super organised person, so meal planning makes me feel as though I’ve really got my shit together. I love having a plan for the week ahead and a stocked up freezer of batch cooked meals on hand, it’s essential these days.

I take a quiet hour and write a rough meal plan for the week, taking into consideration what I’ll be doing each evening – that way I can decide if I need a quick meal, or if I have the luxury of time to get creative. For instance, on the rare occasion I get the opportunity to dash out for a drink with friends, I plan to throw together a quick salad, rather than preparing something time-consuming.

I decided to try online food shopping for the first time, which at first was a horrific experience. I used ASDA online – never again. I don’t think I have ever experienced such awful customer service. They had to rearrange my delivery for a day later than I wanted and they were still late. Their customer service team seem to be non existent; either that or they had better things to do than answer the phone. When my shopping did finally arrive the delivery driver was rude and some of my items were missing. However, don’t let this put you off online shopping as I had an entirely different experience using Ocado – using the website was easy, it wasn’t anywhere near as expensive as I anticipated it would be, the service was brilliant, the food arrived on time with more than acceptable ‘use by dates’ and they even threw in a free tea towel.

Shopping online means I only buy what I need and can review my basket at the end and spend some time swapping brand named items for cheaper alternatives – I knocked about £15 off my total by doing this. So, if like me you’re an online food shopping virgin, go on, give it a go and remember to write that meal plan – you’ll save money and you’ll feel super organised.

 

 

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Persian Love Cake and a Marriage Proposal

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Heavily spiced and beautifully balanced – Iranian cuisine is definitely a new interest of mine. I was lucky enough to attend a Persian dinner party on Saturday with some good friends. I was also fortunate enough to receive a marriage proposal! Of course I accepted – so this has definitely been a Valentine’s weekend to remember. In fact, it has been the best weekend I’ve had for a long time – the food was exceptional, the proposal unexpected and the hangover, well rather inevitable.

I’m not one to attend a dinner party empty handed. Of course taking wine is perfectly expectable, but whipping up a delicious, decadent dessert is even better. Given that the theme for the evening was Persian food, I set about researching some recipes and I found myself confused as to why I hadn’t discovered Iranian food sooner. It all looks so wonderfully unfamiliar and exotic – that excites me a little. There is certainly nothing boring about cardamom, saffron and rose water all rolled into the one recipe. I stumbled upon a recipe for a Persian Love Cake on the brilliant Twigg Studios blog written by Aimee Twigger. What better recipe for a Persian dinner party on Valentine’s weekend?

There is something quite wonderful about a cake decorated with crimson rose petals and bright green pistachios – it’s a real show-stopper. I couldn’t quite believe how well it complemented the Raan (roast leg of lamb in yogurt that Bryan cooked) with spiced side dishes of spinach, cauliflower, rice and potatoes.

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Our friend Bryan’s surname is Haines and we call him the Haines Manual, because he is a endless fountain of knowledge. I asked him for the Raan recipe and he bought out this book, the cover fell apart from the pages as I opened it – obviously a rather old and well used book. Bryan tells me it has many a delicious Iranian recipe – The Yoghurt Book by Arto Der Haroutunian (Syrian born). The book was first published in 1983, but I’m hoping I can find a copy online. I will have a go at the dish myself at some point and share the recipe with you, once I have photographs to go with it.

The Persian Love Cake was made with many of the same ingredients, cardamom, saffron, almonds and complemented the meal beautifully. You can view the recipe here.

I still can’t quite believe that I’m engaged – let the wedding planning commence.

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Batch cooking for the entire family – baby and all

Now I’m not talking hundreds of portions of shepherd’s pie that will take up your entire freezer space and leave you, well quite frankly, fed up with shepherd’s pie. But, picture this. You come home from a long day at the office, the kids need help with their homework, they need bathing – oh and there’s that jigsaw puzzle you promised to help your child finish. You then spend an hour cooking dinner, washing up and by the time you sit down in the evening you’re frazzled and falling asleep. Sound familiar? Sometimes, there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

Batch cooking will make your life a little easier. I love to make extra portions that I can pop in the freezer for those times when I’m rushed and cooking is the last thing I have the time or energy for. Not only does batch cooking save you time and energy, it generally works out to be much cheaper, and it can even help you to eat healthier, more nutritious food.

My boyfriend would probably say I have an obsession with batch cooking; I’m always saving ‘a bit for lunch tomorrow’, or cooking extra to see us through the week. Recently, this obsession has stepped up level. I’ve just started weaning my daughter Jemima, something I think I’m enjoying more than her. She is actually a really good little eater and I’m determined to ensure that she tries as many new foods as quickly as possible. Having done my research on the subject, it would appear that this approach is less likely to result in a fussy eater. I’m not sure I’d cope with having a child that is a fussy eater.

To ensure I’m giving my baby the very best start in life, I’m applying a ‘no jarred or packet food rule’ – if it isn’t fresh, she doesn’t have it. Both Richard and I are in agreement on this. We often comment when we see parents giving their babies chocolate buttons and such. Why on earth would you feed a baby chocolate? They don’t know what it is until you introduce it, so why subject your tiny baby to so much sugar so early in their eating experience? It will most likely put them off wanting other things, such as broccoli. Who wants to eat broccoli over chocolate given the choice? I’m certain this will provoke a lot of debate, but ultimately it’s your choice as a parent what you feed your child; I just want to make sure she’s getting the healthiest start I can give her. Chocolate buttons can wait until she’s that bit older.

I digress. I’ve made the decision to go back to work fairly early. Jemima is not even five months old, so I had to ensure that she had enough meals at the ready and that jarred food wouldn’t become a quick go to for the childminders. She’s spending her week between nursery and various family members, so being prepared is the way forward. I’m not going to be getting the blender out every night to make her lunch for the next day! To make up a months worth of various vegetable and fruit purées probably took me less than 90 minutes. Surely that’s worth spending the time over a weekend. You’ll save a shed load of money too!

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If you are beginning the process of weaning, I’ve found that some of the best foods to start with are potato, sweet potato, butternut squash, carrot, broccoli, stewed apple and pear. And, you can start by mixing any of these with baby rice or breast/formula milk to create more of a familiar taste for baby too. Sweet potato is definitely Jemima’s favourite so far.

Happy batch cooking folks!

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Puttanesca Mussels Recipe – and why I don’t diet in January

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I sit for what can only be described as a rare moment in time. I am alone in the house. No boyfriend, no baby and no boyfriends children – and I don’t even feel guilty that I am utterly enjoying my own company. Something very strange has happened to me since becoming a mother. My camera roll on my phone is filled with baby pictures, rather than foodie ones. I’ve found it impossible to find time to blog lately – something any new mother will surely understand. But I’ve missed it. Once Jemima is asleep I begin the long task of washing and sterilising her bottles, tidying away her toys and bath things, washing her clothes, making my dinner, clearing and washing up – there is just no time. Giving up my blog isn’t an option. It’s my one hobby that’s wholly mine – something I can get lost in, and really it’s an excuse to eat just about anything that takes my fancy. That’s not something I’m prepared to give up just yet.

Speaking of eating anything you like. I am probably in the minority as I’ve decided that starting a healthy eating regime in January just doesn’t make any logical sense. You’re already feeling blue, given that the glistening lights of the festive season are a distant memory and the bank balance is looking somewhat dire. Not to mention the fact that the cupboards are stacked with indulgent unhealthy leftovers. What’s a girl to do? Struggle through the entire month trying to resist the last few Quality Street or that delicious cheese that calls my name every time I open the fridge? No!

Rich and I decided that we’d eat our way through what’s left of Christmas and start our health kick when I return to work (after five months of maternity leave) on the 1st of February. So, I have about two weeks left to enjoy being that smug person that isn’t having a ‘dry’ January and eating salad every night of the week.

Today I wanted to share with you a recipe that I happened upon because of leftovers. This week I made a huge batch of my favourite pasta dish – spaghetti puttanseca and used the left over sauce with mussels. It was utterly delicious. Puttanseca is a wonderfully pungent tomato based sauce – with ingredients like anchovies, chillies and capers it really packs a punch.

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Puttanesca Mussels
 
Author: 
Recipe type: Main, Starter, Snack
Cuisine: Fish
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
This recipe will serve two as a main meal with bread and butter, or four as a starter.
Ingredients
  • 1kg Mussels
  • 50ml dry white wine
  • 75ml Scrumpy cider
  • 2 shallots, finely shopped
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • ½ tsp of chilli flakes
  • 1 medium heat red chilli, roughly chopped
  • 5-6 canned anchovies in oil (reserve the oil)
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 2 tsp of capers, drained
  • 10 black olives, roughly chopped
  • 400g chopped tomatoes
Instructions
  1. Start by cleaning and de-bearding the mussels in cold water. Discard any mussels that don't fully close when tapped. Place the mussels aside in a bowl.
  2. For the puttanseca sauce:
  3. Heat the olive oil in a pan over a medium heat and add the garlic, fresh and dried chilli and and anchovies (along with the oil from the anchovies). Allow to cook for a couple of minutes until the anchovies have melted away. Add the parsley, capers, olives and chopped tomatoes, turn the heat down to a gentle simmer and cook the sauce for about 20 minutes allowing the flavours to infuse.
  4. Place a separate large saucepan (with a lid) over a medium heat, add a little oil and fry the shallots until translucent. Add the mussels, wine and cider. Spoon in about 150ml of the puttanseca sauce and pop the lid on. Cook until all of the mussels have fully opened.
  5. Serve straight from the steaming pot with a stack of buttered bread and a sprinkling of freshly chopped parsley.

If shellfish isn’t your thing, you could always use up your leftover puttanseca sauce with grilled chicken and salad – that’s also great. And perfect if you’re watching your weight.

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My Baby – Jemima Dolores

Meet my beautiful baby girl Jemima Dolores – future Miss Friday!

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So you may or may not have noticed my absence and lack of posts over the past few weeks. This is due to me having my baby. She was born on the 20th September 2015 at 8.18pm weighing just 7 lbs and she really is the light of my life. I can’t get over how gorgeous she is.

Finding the time to cook is somewhat difficult at the moment, let alone write up blog posts – Heck, I’m congratulating myself on the days I manage to get dressed in the morning. So, I appreciate your patience during this time, but I’m hoping to be able to snatch away some time to sit and write the odd post here and there and I’m sure once we’ve all settled into a routine normal blogging service shall resume.

As we are moving in to the swing of autumn I start to get rather excited about the foods that this season brings, comfort foods, pies, stews, casseroles and pumpkins – what’s not to love? Perhaps I’ll manage to share with you a few of my favourite seasonal dishes and experiment with some new ones too.

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Lemon & Herb Marinated Chicken Salad

It may not be the height of summer just yet, but it’s certainly getting warmer, brighter and sunnier, and when the sunshine comes out I long for salads and healthy meals, ordinarily because I want a nice trim summer body and the heat suppresses my appetite somewhat. But that summer body I normally long for won’t be on the cards this year as I’m pregnant, but that does mean that eating healthily is still very much at the top of my to-do list – the more colourful the food the better. This baby will get as many nutrients as I can bring myself to eat.

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I suffered with a real loss of appetite for such a long time, hence the lack of blog posts. But now that I’m eating properly again I’m determined to ensure that I’m making the right choices where my meals are concerned, no more stodgy, creamy pasta dishes and carb laden lunches for me. Well, not as many perhaps. It’s all about dark leafy greens for iron, sweet potatoes for folate, vitamin C and fibre, and foods that are high protein like lean meats and eggs and calcium rich foods, such as natural yoghurt.

I’m 18 weeks pregnant, or in my 19th week (depending on how you prefer to count it) and I’m feeling good. I appear to have regained my energy, which I suppose goes hand in hand with the fact that I’m eating properly again. I’ve just started to feel the baby moving about – which is all rather exciting. I have my next scan booked in for the 28th of April when I’ll be half way through my pregnancy. It’s going so quickly.

In keeping with my health theme, I made this super simple lemon and herb chicken salad in the week and it’s so quick to prepare, and exactly what you want on a warm evening.

Grab a couple of chicken breasts, thighs or whichever cut you like to be honest, make the quick marinade and pop it in the oven whilst you assemble the salad. What could be easier than that? I think the salad is perfectly okay served as is, but if you have super hungry people to feed serve it with a side of pasta or cous cous and have any leftovers for lunch the next day.

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Lemon & Herb Marinated Chicken Salad
 
Author: 
Recipe type: Main
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Ingredients
  • 2 chicken breasts, sliced
  • 2 tbsp of olive oil
  • Juice and zest of half a lemon
  • 1 tbsp each freshly chopped mint, basil and parsley
  • 120g mixed spinach, rocket and watercress
  • 25g super sprouts (alfalfa)
  • 12 chopped cherry tomatoes
  • Half a red onion, finely sliced
  • 100g cubed feta cheese
  • Salad dressing of choice (shop bought or homemade)
Instructions
  1. Place the oil, lemon juice, zest and herbs and chicken pieces in an ovenproof dish and mix well to combine. Season well and place in a pre-heated oven at (fan 200⁰C). Cook the chicken for 25 minutes, or until cooked through.
  2. Meanwhile arrange the salad ingredients between two plates, top with the feta and add a dressing of your choice (personally I like French with this salad). Remove the chicken pieces from the oven and add to the salad.
  3. Serve with a side dish of pasta or cous cous for hungry people!