Blog Toast Tuesday: 13 September 2016

It’s time for my weekly feature, #blogtoast Tuesday, where I toast other blogs I’ve discovered and enjoyed in the previous week. I’m actually running a little late today. I like to queue up my #blogtoast post on Monday night and publish on my Tuesday morning commute. But last night I got my nails done instead. You gotta’ live a little, right?

So here I am blogging on my lunch break. I’m going to have to make it fast!

The Adventures of Beta Mummy: Doodlings and ramblings on what a f*cking disaster parenthood can be

Her blog’s subtitle just makes me feel safe. Yes, parenting can be a f*cking disaster. I’m so glad I’m not the only one who thinks so!

I’m also glad I’m not the only one who thinks an asterisk is the perfect way to write the f-word online. It’s like a swear, but not a swear. Nobody’s sure if it really counts as swearing. It’s Schrodinger’s swear.

Anyway, I love the concept of Beta Mummy, who just doesn’t look as polished and sorted as Alpha Mummy. Alpha Mummy attends all the playgroups perfectly coiffed and dressed, with no sick on her shoulder, and engages in sparklingly witty conversation with other Alpha Mummies. Beta Mummy comes rolling in late, with no money for the playgroup “fee” and some cheerios stuck in her hair. Beta Mummy illustrates these sorts of scenes with hilarious drawings.

But Beta Mummy knows that not all is as it appears – I love her post, ‘Even Alpha Mummies Struggle’.

She is also one of the hosts of the fab Chucklemums linky, where you can link up your funny posts. I’ve only linked up one that I thought was worthy, but someday I might write something vaguely funny again!

Little Paper Swans: A food + mama blog

A very different sort of blog – Little Paper Swans has beautiful photography and great lifestyle posts.

My favourite feature on her blog is her Weekly Meal Plans for under £30. I’m always struggling to come up with new ideas of things to cook without buying loads of ingredients or making loads of effort! She packages it up for you nicely so you can pick and choose what you might like to cook. You can get further inspiration from her great selection of recipes.

She also has a great series featuring other people’s birth stories. I really enjoy hearing about other people’s experiences.

Please do join me in toasting the best blogs by tweeting your favourite this week with the hashtag: #blogtoast (and if you @themumreviews I will retweet you – it’s win/win!) – or let me know just what you think of me in the comments!

Tandoori Chicken and Coconut Lentils

Try this instead of a take-away. Great for kids too!

After a decade in England, I feel like Indian cuisine is a staple in my home. Since we don’t have our local delivery any more, I’ve taken to making my own favourite dishes, getting closer and closer to a curry house flavour. Luckily, my kids were very young when they were first introduced to tandoori and dahl (lentils), one of my preferred mild dishes too, so making it at home is very familiar and comforting to us all.

I usually make this when it’s a good day to grill. The chicken can be done in the oven (200C/450F for 20 minutes), but it tastes amazing if it’s been fired up. If you’re super organised, you can put together the chicken and yogurt to marinate all day or overnight, but giving it a good thirty minutes is still fine. I let the chicken tenderise in the yogurt for at least as long as it takes to finish the lentils and rice, so it’s nice and hot of the grill for serving. The lentils will just get better the longer they simmer, and you can top it up with a bit of water all day long.

Tandoori chicken on the grill.jpg

Now, it’s worth noting that in the UK, you’re more likely to find Tandoori Masala pre-mixed, but it can be achieved in the States, or you could make your own mix. Local Indian groceries are always well stocked with spices, ghee, rice and lentils at fabulous prices. They usually even have the coconut milk priced more competitively, and certainly bulk buying rice and lentils is an economic no-brainer. I found a brilliant little shop right here in my own Seattle suburb, so try a visit to the little guy and you may be pleasantly surprised at their selection and prices. Most pre-mix Tandoori will be mostly E-numbers to achieve that Tandoori orange, so feel free to simply mix dry spices (see below) for the same, additive-free, flavour.

You’ll need:

Chicken

  • 3 large boneless chicken breasts (or on the bone if you have more time to grill)
  • 3-4 TB Greek yogurt
  • 1 heaped TB Tandoori Masala or a dry mix of turmeric, coriander, ginger, paprika, cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, salt and chili powder (a good shake of each into a small bowl usually does the trick and allows you to add more of the flavours you enjoy most)

Tandoori chicken ingredients

Dahl

  • 1 cup chopped white onion (frozen is fine) / 1 medium onion
  • 5 cups/800g red lentils/masoor dahl
  • 1 cup shredded or julienned carrot (approx. 1 medium carrot)
  • 1 heaped tsp minced/grated garlic (I buy large jars of minced garlic)
  • 1 heaped tsp minced/grated ginger (this really is best freshly grated)
  • 1 heaped TB Tandoori Masala or mix as above
  • 2 TB ghee (clarified butter) or 1 TB vegetable oil
  • 1 cube dry chicken stock or 1 tsp concentrated stock
  • 400 ml tin of unsweetened, first-pressed coconut milk (don’t bother with low fat versions, you want the cream)
  • 1 tsp brown or muscovado sugar
  • 2-4 cups water

Dahl ingredients

Rice

  • 2 cups/400g jasmine rice
  • 4 cups chicken stock (1 cube dry stock in 4 cups water)
  • 1 cup frozen peas (optional)

First things first, you can slice the chicken into large cubes, or buy chicken tenders to save time, but be sure the pieces won’t fall through the grill (if you’re using a bbq).

Mix the yogurt and dry spice together well in a large mixing bowl before adding the raw chicken. Give it a good mix to really coat the chicken, and then cover the bowl with cling film/plastic wrap and find a space in the fridge.

The longer the chicken has a chance to canoodle with the yogurt, the better. Don’t worry if it doesn’t look bright orange, you don’t need that much ‘stuff’ in your dinner.

Once your chicken is set aside, give your lentils a really good rinse. This is not a step to be missed, because the lentils will be ‘dusty’, and they will produce a bubbly foam when boiling if you don’t. (I usually use a small strainer inside a larger bowl to submerge the lentils and shake ‘em up under water 4 or 5 times, until the water I’m draining is clear.)

Next step, start your onions in the ghee or oil over a med-high heat. I suggest using a wide based pot or pan so you get more browning and less stewing. (I wouldn’t suggest trying to use normal butter if you can’t find ghee, it’s just going to burn.)

As the onions just begin to sizzle, add the garlic, ginger and dry spices and stir it pretty continuously to avoid the dry spices burning.

Add the lentils, carrots and dry or concentrated chicken stock and coat everything with the onion/spice mixture before adding about 1.5 cup of water and reducing the heat to med-low.

Coconut milkOpen the tin of coconut milk and, if you’re lucky, the cream will be separated from the water. Put a small whole on one side and larger whole on the other to drain just the water, holding your spoon in the way to keep back the cream. If it hasn’t separated, it’s no biggy, just add the whole can. If it has, keep the near solid cream for adding at the end.

The reason I try to keep the cream until the end, it doesn’t need to reduce with the rest of the water, and adds a smoothness to the dahl. Let me stress, though, that this isn’t a necessary step, just a texture enhancer.

Once you’ve added the coconut water, reduce and cover for about ten minutes.

Now is the perfect time to start your rice. I just make a standard pot of rice, but use chicken stock instead of water. This adds flavour, salt and fat in one step, instead of using butter, salt and water. I’ve also been known to add about a cup of frozen peas to rice from the beginning, as well as a pinch of cardamom powder, but these are optional. I try to use veg anywhere I can, and even the smallest bit of flavour cooked into the rice is very kid-friendly.

Stir your dahl occasionally to be sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom, adding a bit of water to keep it from getting too dry if needed. Once the lentils and carrots are nice and soft, taste test to add any salt and a teaspoon or so of the brown sugar. Allow the mixture to bubble a bit longer and then add the coconut cream if you’ve held it back. Mix in thoroughly and then turn the heat to the lowest heat, just to maintain the warmth. The dahl will stay liquid as long as the lid is kept on while you grill the chicken, but the moisture will escape and dry it out if you leave it uncovered for long.

Dahl in the pan.jpgTurn off your rice when it’s tender, but leave it covered until time to serve.

On a high grill flame, place the chicken pieces nicely spread apart onto a greased grill (I usually use a bit of veg oil on a paper towel/kitchen roll and wipe the grill before I turn it on). Keep the lid closed for about 5-7 minutes and then turn the chicken over and repeat. The less you move the pieces, the better you’ll be at getting crispy bits and a bit of yogurt char. Yum.

Depending on the size of the pieces, 10-15 minutes should be plenty, with one roll over in the middle and keeping the lid closed. Be careful not to overcook the chicken in pursuit of char, it’s better to have moist chicken. If in doubt, always cut open your biggest piece first to check it’s cooked through.

My kids can’t get enough of the coconut dahl served over rice, and I cut up a piece of the chicken into tiny pieces mixed in if they’re interested. I don’t worry if they aren’t up for the chicken, though, because lentils have protein and are super healthy. And filling! Our whole family love this meal, and it all makes for great leftovers. I love to nibble the cold chicken bites (if any are left) the next day, and a scoop of rice and dahl in the microwave makes for a two minute lunch/dinner!

Tandoori chicken and coconut lentils

Mummy in a Tutu

Blog Toast Tuesday: 16 August 2016

I was rather excited and flattered the other day when another blog featured me! I thought it was such a lovely idea that I am going to copy her (because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery). I’m going to make up my own hashtag for it (why not, right?), and anyone who wants to copy me is perfectly welcome to.

So from now on, every Tuesday I’ll be featuring 3 blogs that I’ve enjoyed over the past week. I’m calling it #blogtoast. Because I’m toasting your efforts, get it? And I like wine.

cars&cooking – From the kitchen to the racetrack and back again

This is the lovely blog that featured me and gave me the idea. The blog does what it says on the tin – shares a great variety of recipes and some very good writing about motor racing. It’s not the typical “mum blog”, but she is a mum, and I think it’s great that she just focuses on what she loves. The recipes she shares are all the sorts of things I (with my limited cooking skills) would like to try, and they sound child-friendly too. First on my list is the Chicken with lemon and caper butter. I had a good chuckle about getting rid of my aggression by pounding the chicken flat.

Siena Says – Lifestyle, Family, Writing and Chocolate

I discovered this one just today whilst participating in this week’s Big Pink Link. Siena says she tried to make her blog like a magazine she would like to read, and she’s certainly made it like a magazine would like to read. She’s got a beautiful layout and a nice spread of topics, with her main menu headings being lifestyle, parenting and opinion. Her conversational writing style makes you want to be her mate and she throws in humour and brutal honesty in equal measure. One of my favourite bits of her linked post, ‘7 Things Primary School Mums Should Know‘ was the point that ‘all school administration staff are trained at the “Had an accident/Life Insurance/PPI Claim School of Texting”‘. That’s already been happening to me with my son’s preschool!

notaneffingfairytale – Because life is no fairytale. Let’s laugh at it together

This was also on the Big Pink Link but I had seen it before. I knew it would be just my sort of thing as soon as I saw her Twitter avatar featuring a drunken Snow White. To me that said ‘escapism’ and ‘drinking’, which are two of my favourite things. Her writing is absolutely hysterical because she is not afraid to ‘go there’. Her linked post was ‘The (embarrassingly) long list of men I would leave my husband for‘ in which it’s not all about looks but she comes up with a rather interesting way to silence David Beckham. I also deeply enjoyed (and related to) ‘Toilets I Have Fallen Down Around The World and Other Travel Injuries‘. It’s not a blog you should read if you’re easily shocked or prim and proper, but if that’s the case you probably shouldn’t be reading my blog either.

What are some of your favourite blogs that you’ve discovered this week? Drop me a comment or stick it up on Twitter, mentioning @themumreviews and #blogtoast, and I’ll RT.

Mummascribbles

Quick & sneaky nutrition for kids – Smoothies

An easy way to get more good stuff into picky eaters

Every parent will have those days when they aren’t 100% sure their toddler has or will ingest the daily recommended doses of healthy food. It’s especially likely during those, “I only eat cheerios” phases, and all the wisdom in the world that kids eat what they need isn’t reassuring. Being an essentially lazy mummy, however concerned with nutrition I may be, I’ve found my go-to solution, rain or shine.

Behold, the smoothie.smoothie

My kids think it’s the most amazing treat, and I make a lot of different versions based on what I have available, so it’s never boring!

I always keep full fat yogurt – vanilla or strawberry are favourites – in the fridge, and tend to keep frozen berries on hand as well. My daughter loves bananas, but sometimes only eats half, so I often keep the bottom half to throw in a smoothie later.

It’s also useful to note that I buy pressed juices (fibre/no sugar!) and water them down by at least half when I give my kids juice. So I’ve usually got apple, mango or berry blends in the fridge already too. These days, they’re selling amazing smoothies that are all fruit (e.g. Naked Fruit in the USA or Innocent in the UK), and are still delicious watered down for kids.

But if you’re keen to make sure the kiddos are getting a protein, vitamin, fibre dose all-in-one, this smoothie is the way to go.

Blend together until sippy cup or straw-friendly:

  • 1 (or 1.5) banana
  • 2 or 3 tablespoons of full fat yogurt, vanilla or flavour of choice
  • Handful or two of frozen or fresh berries (blueberries are super foods!)
  • Approximately 1-1.5 cup pressed juice of choice (apple and mango are great choices, but grape, or other non acidic juices work well)
  • Approximately 1 cup of milk
  • Honey to taste if berries are tart – local honey can help allergies!

MinBlenderd you, any fruit on hand is smoothie fodder. In season, I’ll use peaches, mango or melon, which my kids find weird to eat in pieces, but love to drink.

Some people say add spinach or kale, or other veg, but I would recommend only adding a tiny bit of spinach if you’re really keen. Kale is too bitter and they’ll reject the whole thing. I added a bit of leftover sweet potato once, but it was a bit thick. Make it your own, though – if your kids like it, all the better!

One thing’s for sure, I rely on this morning, noon and night, not the same day, but you see what I’m saying. If we’re going to a party and I know my kids will be too distracted to eat: smoothie. If they’ve been grumpy about breakfast and we’re almost out the door for several hours: smoothie. It takes five minutes to make and is portable. And if you tend to forget to eat yourself, like me, there’s enough for you too.

Mummy in a Tutu
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Spag-Bol with hidden veg in 27 minutes

A classic recipe with extra veg and secret tricks for speediness

The Mum Reviews says:

The email with my mate’s recipe here came in literally as I was sitting down to eat a spag bol made by mixing browned mince with a shop-bought jar of sauce. It was pretty good and tasty, tbh, but I can’t wait to try this recipe, which sounds just as fast and (almost) as easy. I love that it has spinach in it for extra hidden veg.

Ok, so I timed myself for this one, because I know there are days when even a 30-minute meal seems like too long. But this one is totally worth it, and should feed a family of 4 for two days! I use frozen veg where possible, so 30 minutes is plenty of time because you don’t need to spend time chopping. If you prefer to use fresh veg, you could also speed things up by using a food processor to chop the veg.

I find a lot of spaghetti sauces too sweet and have too much tomato, so this is a really light alternative with a lot of flavour.

 TOP TIP: If you use angel hair pasta (this is like thinner spaghetti, called spaghettini or capellini in the UK), you can use a much smaller pot and less water, which is much quicker to boil. You can break the pasta in half and add in two or three handfuls to the water, there’s plenty of room, and it only takes 3-5 minutes to finish! I usually use half a box at a time.

You’ll need:

  • 500g/1lb mince/ground beef OR (for a richer flavour) ground sausage/sausage meat
  • 1 cube beef or chicken stock as per beef or sausage, or 1 tsp concentrated stock (without the water!)
  • 1 cup/130g chopped white onion, or about 1 medium onion (Frozen is quickest)
  • 2 tsp green/basil pesto
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried mixed Italian spices (that’s rosemary, thyme & basil if you want to mix your own)
  • 2 tsp minced garlic OR one clove (buy it in a jar, tube or dried to save time)
  • One medium carrot OR 1/2c./60g pre-shredded carrot
  • 2 tins chopped tomato (in the US that’s petite diced or crushed)
  • 1/2 cup / 60g frozen chopped spinach (or 1 small bag fresh baby spinach)
  • 1 tsp tomato paste (optional)
  • fresh basil (optional)
  • salt and pepper
  • 225g dry pasta

The Method

I usually get the frozen onions into the pan while it heats up to high temperature, then fill the little pot with water for the pasta and turn that on high to start boiling. If you live in the UK, you will obvs boil your water in the kettle before putting it in the pan.

In a wide pan or pot, brown together the meat, stock, onion, oregano, spices, garlic and pesto. You don’t need to add extra oil as this will come from the pesto. Mix the ingredients together but then only stir occasionally to deeply brown.

Spag Bol cookingTo the browned meat, add the tins of tomato, 1 tin of water, carrot, spinach and tomato paste. Allow the sauce to reduce at a med/low temperature, the lid slightly askew to stop splatters but still allow the reduction.

At this point, the water should have come to the boil and you may have added your pasta. While the sauce reduces by about a third, stir and drain your pasta; the thin stuff only takes 3-5 minutes, so don’t let it get over done. Rinse and drain the pasta while the sauce bubbles off a bit more water, and now you may want to roughly chop a bit of fresh basil.

Be sure to taste test your sauce and add salt, pepper and a handful of roughly chopped basil, to taste.

Reduce heat and allow to simmer until the sauce is your desired consistency. We usually use gluten free pasta, so the taste of the pasta is improved if I add it to the sauce whilst it’s still a bit watery.

Once you’ve drained your chosen pasta (my kids just love angel hair and it’s easy to cut into tiny bits for little ones!), I always find it’s best to toss the pasta into the sauce before serving, but either way, it’s delicious! They never even notice all the veg!

TOP TIP: For younger children, allow the sauce to simmer longer to soften the carrots, and try crushed tomato to avoid ‘bits’. I’ve also been known to add a pinch of caster sugar to reduce the acidity of the tomato for youngsters who like it sweet.

Easy Cottage Pie (with a twist) Recipe

Great for kids and busy mums

The Mum Reviews says:

It looks like a lot of ingredients but many are optional and you can just throw everything in! You don’t even need to put it in the oven if you’re short on time. I love the funky mash with added sour cream and cheese.

What you need

  • 6 white potatoes (Maris Piper is good if you’re in the UK)
  • 1 sweet potato (optional)
  • Approx 500g / 1-1.5lb mince (that’s ground beef in the USA)
  • 1 cup onion, chopped (or 1 medium onion)
  • 1 cup carrots, chopped (about 1 medium carrot)
  • Oregano & Thyme (or mixed Italian Seasoning)
  • Worcestershire Sauce
  • Beef stock
  • Garlic, fresh, dried or minced (optional)
  • 1 tsp tomato paste (optional)
  • 1/4 cup (85g) butter
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) sour cream
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) milk or cream (half & half is also an option in the USA)
  • Corn starch
  • Salt & pepper

Method

SpicesPreheat the oven to 375F/180C (however as you’ll see later, using the oven is optional! You could also just use the grill to crisp up the top).

Bring a big pot of water to boil and peel and cube 6 white potatoes for mash. I sometimes add one sweet potato to the mash, but cook it whole in the
microwave for 4 minutes or so rather than boil.

You can save time and peel only spotty bits of skin for a rustic mash too. Or, for a real shortcut, you can use ready mash; some chiller section mash only has milk, butter, cream and potatoes, so isn’t too guilt ridden.

While the potatoes boil, start browning the ground/minced beef. I use higher fat beef to avoid the need to add extra Cottage Pie filling on the hoboil.

Add the chopped onion (you can buy frozen pre-chopped onion for convenience). You can also replace some of the chopped onions with a handful of pearl onions, which sweeten up nicely.

Add healthy dashes of pepper, salt, oregano and thyme (or Italian seasoning), Worcestershire sauce and beef stock (I use 1 cube or 1 tsp of the jar of concentrated stock). You should add as much or as little as you like to taste, but I do use a lot of dry spice to flavour the meat while frying it off. You can also add about 1 clove of garlic or 1 tsp of dried/ready minced garlic (to taste) at this point too.

I try not to stir too much so the meat browns nicely, but if the dry spice starts to burn, add a touch more Worcestershire or water.

When the meat is brown and the onions are soft, add about ½ cup water and about 1 cup chopped carrots (I get the julienned carrots Shredded carrotsand chop them a little smaller, but you could leave them big if you prefer).

Add the frozen peas (you can add extra if they like peas – go for it!) and tomato paste (optional). Stir well and allow peas to thaw completely. Add a bit more water if the mixture is dry, but no more than ¼ cup.

Adding frozen peas to cottage pieAdd 1 or 2 tsp corn starch a little at a time, using a fork to mix it in; try shaking it in off the fork to avoid too much clumping.

Cover and reduce heat to simmer until the gravy thickens a bit. Add a dash of salt or more Worcestershire sauce to taste.

Your potatoes should be done by now (cubed ones take about 15 minutes). Drain potatoes and add ¼ cup butter (or olive oil if you prefer) to the pot and dump the potatoes back in. Add ¼ cup (or more) sour cream and smash it all together. Add milk (or cream/half  & half if you’re feeling indulgent) as you mix (up to 1/2 cup), until you’ve reached your desired thickness. Salt and pepper to taste.

For extra flavour, add a bit of shredded cheese to the mash.

Pour the meat mixture into a baking pan. Cover with mash, sprinkle with more shredded cheese for extra texture, and bake for 15-20 minutes to crisp up the top.

It’s advisable to put the pie onto another baking tray to catch any bubbly juices. Yum!

A few other tips…

In the pictures, I’ve made a two “grown up” or four toddler portion pie. I save the meat mixture to have over jacket/baked potatoes with salad in the summer if I don’t want to have the oven on too long. You can also avoid using the oven altogether if you want to simply layer the mash onto the meat in the pan and allow the sauce to simmer beneath it for a few minutes. Fast family favourites aren’t always about presentation! When my kids were younger, I made sure to make the carrots nice and small, and usually skinned the potatoes properly, but now that they’re older, it’s not necessary. There are a lot of ‘to taste’ measures here, so don’t be afraid to just toss a dash of this and that in – it’ll be a dish you make your own in no time.

Petite Pudding

Introducing The Mum Recipes

Fast, family-friendly food

The Mum Reviews says:

I’m not the best cook, and when I do make an effort, my kids are usually not impressed. So when my best friend suggested she might join me in the blogosphere, I bit her hand off. Because she CAN cook. Her kids even eat it. And it’s got vegetables! So she needs to share her secrets with the rest of us. In this post she introduces herself. Head on over to our About page for more about us, and watch this space for The Mum Recipes first recipe, Easy Cottage Pie.

Like a lot of mums these days, I try to balance my desire to feed my children healthy foods and my often overwhelming ennui. I make the effort to cook at least three times a week, and by cook, I mean something more challenging than hot dogs, baked beans and sweet potato mash. Perhaps it’s because I truly love to cook, but I suspect a lot of it is I find it a legitimate reason to tell my children to “get out of the kitchen!” for a much needed moment by the end of the day. It’s because I’m sometimes horrified when I have the spare moment to inspect an ingredients label on pre-made ready-meals, and realise my kids don’t actually like them when I’ve tried in a moment of weakness. What I’ve learned is to find a balance between the convenience foods available and making healthy meals.

I thought it might make cooking easier for some of the time-strapped mums out there that have all the best intentions, really want their children to prefer home-cooked meals to take-aways, but haven’t had the time to experiment like I have. I’m a stay-at-home mum with two small children (5 and 3) and a gluten-intolerant husband, so I’m no stranger to catering specialty meals. I did, however, make a rule a long time ago that my children were going to eat grown-up food. Nothing too spicy, no chillies just yet, but plenty of spice is a must. I used a food processor to liquefy spag-bol, lentils with rice, cottage pie, etc. As a result, my kids are pretty accustomed to garlic, onion and dry spices in most dishes. They don’t, however, realise just how many vegetables end up in their favourites.

In this blog, I’d like to introduce some tried and tested recipes, not just by my family, but recipes I’ve been asked again and again to share. I use frozen veg when I need to, I don’t mess around with name brands when generic will do, and I’m always looking for the easiest, quickest result for dinner time chaos. I hope you find the tips and recipes I’ll share here help ease the stress of cooking healthy, yummy meals.