Monday, 16 May 2016

Baby Weaning: the Theory...and the Reality

 Ready, Steady....Wean!

When I first began to plan weaning the baby I envisaged myself as the ultimate Annabel Karmel-Ella off of Ella's Kitchen SuperMama. The baby would be eating purees worthy of Masterchef champions. Only the finest, ripest, brightest fruit and vegetables would be purchased. I bulk bought designer bibs and designated entire cupboards to luminous coloured plastic bowls and spoons. The freezer rapidly filled with carefully labelled, lovingly prepared miniature pots of weaning goodness.

Fast forward three months. 

The freezer remains full of miniature pots. But I gave up long ago labelling them. Each mealtime we now play the very fun game of 'weaning pot roulette'. Bingo! Its pork casserole! Darn- Salmon Surprise* for the third supper running!

Freezer roulette...

I've discovered that there is a definite correlation between the amount of time earnestly preparing and cooking a delicious recipe and the refusal shown by the baby to eat said delicious recipe. I spent hours one afternoon cooking a fish pie to find the baby abjectly refusing to even entertain eating a single spoonful. 

The first month of weaning, any food that was tossed on the floor was immediately, without hesitation or deviation, unceremoniously thrown straight into the bin. By month two, it was three strikes and in the bin. Nowadays, I'm not entirely certain whether the carrot stick I've just returned to the high chair was from today's dinner... or last week's lunch. 

I still haven't worked out what is one prune too many. This, it turns out, is a careful calculus no less demanding than the mathematics required to launch a rocket to the moon. If I miscalculate, we need to pack a lot more nappies in the changing bag.  

And the mess. Oh, the mess. We are single handedly keeping the manufacturers of Varnish in business. 

But you know, it is a lot of fun. Seeing the baby's gorgeous little face scrunch up in delight (or disgust) as she explores new flavours and tastes. Watching her enthusiastic banging on the high chair tray, her little legs racing underneath, as I head to the fridge in search of her favourite: the coconut milk yogurt. I may not be the love child of Annabel and Ella, but the baby is enjoying solids very much, and that's all that matters after all. 

* Probably wouldn't be on the menu in a Masterchef final I suspect

Monday, 25 April 2016

The Seven Commandments of Taking a Baby to a Cafe

When the baby was a teeny, teeny little thing that happily fitted into the palm of our hand and spent 80% of the time sleeping, 15% feeding and 5% having a nappy change, nipping out for a much needed caffeine boost was a quite straight forward task as she'd just sleep while we tucked in. Now, it requires the logistical planning of the Duchess of Cambridge's wardrobe mistress on their recent Indian trip, when she wore fourteen different, perfect, outfits in five days*:

1. Find a cafe that'll accommodate our pram tank. When we go with our friends that can mean up to a dozen buggies  tanks, which pretty much means a short-lived, nimble invasion of an entire small country cafe with tots, toddlers, tantrums and those pushchairs tanks

2. Pack enough toys  to fit in one entire aisle of Toys-R-Us. You know when you haven't packed enough toys to entertain when the baby spends half an hour happily trying to open the pack of wipes...

3. Don't forget the rice cakes. There is nothing more off-putting than enormous big bambi-esque baby eyes staring up forlornly and enviously at you as you tuck into a gigantic slice of Double Chocolate Fudge Cake

4. Order an espresso. At least you'll get to drink it in one hot mouthful unlike the lukewarm latte that'll have been sitting there for twenty minutes while you've wrestled with a wriggly baby while failing to open the pack of rice cakes

5. Try and avoid sitting next to anyone leisurely reading the paper over a large cappuccino on their day off. They probably did not come into the cafe to listen to me loudly discussing the contents of the baby's nappy after a lunch of salmon; I know this as, once upon a time, I used to be that person.

6. Decide whether the baby crawling under the tables picking up dropped panini crumbs will a) build up her immunity b) save you from making her any lunch or c) be good exercise for you as you crawl after her in the style of an army commando training course

7. Forget about any thoughts of a nice relaxed coffee for the next ten years, grab a take-away and head for the nearest soft play (aka Dante's Inferno) or a cold cuppa and another pack of chcocolate digestives on the sofa

*As a new-ish Mum, a swift sniff, a wet wipe and a flash of febreeze and I reckon I can get away with one outfit lasting five days.

Dairy and Sugar-free Fruity Flapjacks

For the last few months we've been weaning our (now not so) little baby. Its been messy. I have never had to mop our kitchen floor quite as much as I have since January. It starts the day sparkling, as though auditioning for a kitchen cleaner commercial and ends the day covered with splodges of puree and squished chunks of fruit and vegetables, all congealed together in a small lake of water from the baby's beaker.

Despite the mess, it is great fun as the baby has a ferocious appetite. She adores her food, impatiently banging on her highchair when I've not prepared her food quickly enough, reminiscent of a character in Oliver or a contestant in Man Baby-Vs-Food. 

I was keen to bake a little something for the hungry munchkin but as she has a milk allergy I needed to do a little research before getting out the greaseproof paper and switching the oven on. 

I'm certainly no deliciously ella but these are quick, easy and perfect for using up storecupboard ingredients. The baby has been enjoying them as finger food, mushed up with a little oat milk for breakfast and, of course, as another thing to throw into the food lake beneath her highchair.

Fruity Flapjacks (dairy and sugar free)

2 medium bananas
1 apple, peeled and grated
0.5 tsp cinnamon
180g oats
100g dates, finely chopped
85g dried apricots, finely chopped
100ml olive oil

1. Preheat the oven to 160C/140C fan/Gas Mark 3. Graese and line a 20cm square tin with baking paper
2. Mash the bananas in  large bowl and add in the apple and cinnamon. Stir in the oats and dried fruit and finally add in the oil, mixing thoroughly until the ingredients are nicely binded together. You may need to add a little extra oil or water if the mixture appears a little dry
3. Bake for 30-40 minutes until golden. Leave to cool in the tin before cutting into squares

Baker's Notes...

  • These are great for adding a variety of dried fruit too- simply raid your storecupboard for inspiration!
  • When my husband and I bit into them we did miss the sugar- more a relfection on our dietary habits than these flapjacks I suspect... 
  • Stored in an airtight container, they will keep for up to three days

Monday, 18 April 2016

Babyproofing and Fridge Fitness with Betta Living

Cheese in fridge

According to the various books and websites we spend each evening pouring over in an ambitious attempt to keep a day or two ahead of our baby's suddenly very rapid development*, she ought to start crawling very, very soon. Admittedly at the minute, when placed on her tummy, she lolls back and fro, not dissimilar to a beached seal pup. Its very cute for us, slightly more frustrating when your favourite toy is merely inches out of reach.

And so it comes to babyproofing, well, everything. We realised very quickly that pretty much our entire home holds the most enormous attraction for an adventurous and inquisitive baby. Infact, I'm convinced there is a correlation between the more dangerous the item, the more attractive it is to a curious eight month old tot. Heck, why play with a boring, dull rattle when there is a whole selection of cables attractively and temptingly dangling down from behind the telly to gnaw at? And an immediate beeline is always made to the cupboard containing all the cleaning products and their enticing bleach containing bottles.

So when Betta Living got in touch to ask for a few tips on fridge safety and organisation with a baby it seemed a good time to really consider what needed to be done to make our home even just slightly less hazardous. After a little research, these were amongst the tips I sent in:

“Consider setting aside a cupboard or drawer for your little one to consider their own. Fill it with safe objects, such as plastic storage tubs, wooden spoons and tea towels, and encourage your baby to explore this rather than the fridge.”

“Don’t put grapes on the lowest shelves in the fridge,” she says. “These are choking hazards and could be very dangerous for inquisitive young children.”

The tips appear in the article 'Fridge Fitness' and include valuable tips from other bloggers to ensure your fridge is kept in tip top condition.

* I swear it was just two minutes ago we were elatedly walking out of the hospital with our perfect little bundle of joy, having successfully put on a nappy without a midwife staring over at us trying to remain professional as she pointed out that we'd put it on the wrong way round. Again.

With thanks to Betta Living who supported this post

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Choc-Chick Cakes

Following an enormous haul of Easter Eggs last year, enough to rival an entire production line at Cadburys, it was suggested that this year our family undertake a Secret Santa-type approach to Easter Egg purchasing. A sort of Secret Easter Bunny if you like. After very vocal, very strong objections from yours truly were firmly rejected (I just can't see the problem with 'too many' Easter Eggs...) I realised I needed to get my Easter chocolate fix from someplace else. 

I hatched a plan to bake these crackin' Choc-Chick cupcakes and, no yolk, they are pretty egg-cellent!

(I think we may have answered the question of how many Easter puns it is possible to get into a single sentence). 

Choc-Chick Cupcakes

For the cakes:
150ml pot natural yogurt
3 beaten eggs
175g caster sugar
140g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
100g cocoa powder
100g dark chocolate, chopped into gravel sized pieces
175g unsalted butter, melted

For the icing and decoration:
50g dark chocolate
100g softened butter
200g icing sugar
a little milk if needed
Yellow, black and red fondant icing to decorate

1. Line a 12-hole muffin tin with paper cases and preheat oven to 190C/fan 170C/gas mark 2. In a jug, mix the yogurt and beaten eggs 
3. Put the dry ingredients, plus a pinch of salt, into a large bowl and make a well in the middle. Add the yogurt mix, chopped chocolate and melted butter. Quickly fold in with a spatula or metal spoon – don’t overwork it. 
4. Spoon into the cases and bake for 18-20 mins or until risen and springy to the touch. Cool in the tin for a few mins, then lift the cakes onto a wire rack to cool completely. 
5. For the icing, melt the chocolate and allow to cool for a few minutes until no longer hot to touch. Beat together the butter and icing sugar and fold through the melted chocolate
6. Once the cakes have completely cooled, spread the icing over each cupcake. Decorate by rolling out the yellow fondant icing and, using a cookie cutter the same diameter as the cupcakes, cut 12 circles. Place on the top of each cupcake. Cut out a little more yellow fondant icing for the feet, form the black icing into eyes and the orange icing into the little beaks. 

Baker's notes...
  • The cakes keep in an airtight container for up to 3 days 
  • Have a very Happy Easter!

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Avacado and Chocolate Cake

How fast is 2016 going?

Maybe the last seven weeks have disappeared into a space-time warp generated by the collision of two black holes. Or perhaps its just that I've been rather preoccupied keeping a mini Pete Tong rather busy:

But last weekend, I finally dusted off the KMix, located the missing flour and sugar behind a pack of rusks and baked this Avocado and Chocolate Cake. A lovely teashop near us makes the most delicious version, complete with a almost offputting luminous green avocado icing and, Blue Peter-esque*, I wanted to make my own version. It turned out the baby rather likes avocado so ate for breakfast what I'd intended to use for the icing. Oops. Instead, I made a plain chocolate icing but this didn't detract from what was a ruch, fudgey, almost-dense chocolate cake.

* NB: I haven't seen Blue Peter for years. Do they still make Thunderbird Islands out of toilet rolls?

Chocolate and Avocado Cake

1 large, ripe avocado
250g light muscovado sugar
350g plain flour
50g cocoa powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp baking powder
400ml milk
150ml rapeseed oil
1 vanilla pod

1. Heat the oven to 160C/140C fan/Gas Mark 3. Grease and line two 20cm round cake tins. Whizz together the avocado and sugar in a food processor until smooth. Add the remainder of the ingredients and whizz until smooth.
2, Divide the liquidy batter between the two cake tins and bake for 25-30min or until risen a skewer interested in the middle comes out clean
3. Cool in the tins for 5 minutes then turn the cakes onto a rack to cool completely.
4. To make the frosting, beat together the butter and icing sugar until smooth and use to sandwich together the two cakes. Dust with a little extra icing sugar.

Baker's notes...

  • This is based on a BBC Good Food recipe
  • Should you not have an avocado-eating-baby and wish to make the delicious green avocado icing, Joy the Baker has a fab recipe

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Ten Best Baking Hacks


Knee deep in nappies, hours (mostly at 3am) spent googling "how to get my baby to sleep through the night" and days spent happily splashing my maternity cash on lattes in local coffee shops with other new mums, means the concept of a life hack had until recently passed me by. But apparently it's a "thing" at the minute. For those not in the know, Wikipedia tells me that Life hacking refers to any trick, shortcut, skill, or novelty method that increases productivity and efficiency, in all walks of life. 

While my husband was taking his turn to blow raspberries while our darling baby laughed uproariously, I thought to put together a list of my favourite baking hacks. While these hacks may not change your life, say in the manner of this week's largest ever lottery win, they may come in handy one day... 

1. Softly, softly
Although a microwave will soften and warm butter in seconds, it is rather frowned upon. Another version is to pop the butter in a freezer bag and give it a bash with a rolling pin. Terribly satisfying. Another option is to copy Jo Brand and sit on it

2. Grounded
If your recipe calls for ground almonds and your cupboard is bare, simply replace the quantity with plain flour and add a teaspoon of almond extract.

3. Whisk
Whisking icing sugar almost inevitably means your work surface is covered in a fine layer of the sugar for at least the next fortnight. A teatowel over the whisk or a paper plate, with holes cut out and inserted at the top of the beaters, will reduce any back splash and messy clear up

4. Bangin' biscuits
Keep your homemade biscuits crisp by placing a couple of sugar cubes in the biscuit tin. Previously baked biscuits can also be pepped up by popping them back in the oven for a few minutes on a low heat

5. Brown Sugar
Not the song, but the hardened sweet stuff. No matter how carefully I reseal the bag, inevitably the sugar hardens between use. Either I need to make a lot more fruit cakes or I could pop a marshmallow or slice of bread in with the brown sugar in an airtight container

6. Egg-cellent
Urgently need eggs at room temperature? Simply pop them in a bowl of hot water for 5-10 minutes. 

7. Perfect precision 
For the absolutely perfectly cut slice of your favourite sticky cake, run your knife under hot water for several seconds, dry and slice

8. Crumbled
If no Sunday lunch is complete without a crumble for pudding, you can bulk-bake the crumble topping, divide into small portions to freeze and simply whip out each Sunday no ring to scatter over your fruit without missing a single word of The Archers omnibus 

9. Emergency Cake
Need a cake-fix in a hurry? Microwave Mug Cake recipes have come a long way and take all over 8.7 seconds to make (possibly a slight exaggeration)

10. Charred, scorched and crisped 
Slightly singed cake or burnt the biscuits? Use a microplane to grate away the bits you don't want anyone else to see. Who knew you accidentally forgot about the cookies in the oven while preoccupied with goings on in Ambridge?

11. Tricky sticky ingredients
When you're measuring out sticky ingredients, such as treacle or honey, spray the measuring bowl with a little non stick cooking spray and the ingredients will miraculously not stick

* Eleven. Sorry, somewhat sleep deprived and can no longer count.

What are your best baking hacks?