Category Archives: Cooking

A Big January

Let’s not sugar-coat it; January is the worst.

Christmas is over, and it’s a long stretch til Valentine’s Day, when I can give Mark a box of chocolate I bought in the discount section two days after Boxing Day for a quid and be showered with love in return (#thriftymama).

New Year’s Resolutions are coming into effect, and we’re all discovering that they’re actually pretty tough, and we set the bar too high again. I can’t go to the gym this week, I need to drink the wine I swore not to touch until summer. I can’t eat healthy today; I need the calories from this donut if I want to survive the stressful shopping spree with Mark’s credit card that I promised myself I wouldn’t do any more on New Year’s Eve.

On top of this, the weather is oppressive. The sky never seems to clear of low, grey cloud, the sun is just a bright patch, it’s bitterly cold, anything that isn’t frozen is soaked through. The grey is demoralising. It’s like living in The Road.

With all that said, you might be tempted to think that this hot momma is down on her luck this January, but you’d be wrong. Life has never been better in this grey, lightless, frozen hellscape.

For one, we’ve discovered that Mark’s job is a little more open-ended than we thought – since he’s with an agency in chemical surveying, we thought it was that or freelancing – but as it turns out, he can have his degree accredited and do a few “top-up” modules on the side, then advance to the role of “Executive Chemical Surveyor” with a potential pay increase of about 20%!

That’s a lot of wiggle room on his credit card!

Not just that, but on the side of writing this blog and looking after the bambineroonies, who are more of a handful now than ever, and the little doggie-do, I’ve been trying to write fiction, since this sort of flair doesn’t come around every day, and should be cherished when it does.

So, ever since before Christmas, I’ve been taking the time to sit and try to write something, every day. The trick is to just make the words come out, no matter their quality, no matter whether you feel they’ll sell or you think they’re worth publishing. Just make them come out, no matter what.

Spray your brain all over the paper, and stop well before you feel like stopping. Edit only after the story is DONE and don’t hold yourself accountable to the rules. The only person who can influence the story is YOU, you need to write what you think is true, and let your light shine. I could go on, but I’m out of writing platitudes. The importance, to sum up, is in writing bigly.

And I did! I wrote a little every day, and finished a few stories, like Pip Dreams, a story about a frustrated housewife who becomes a private detective and uncovers a massive conspiracy to defraud fad dieters, or Sola Antiquity, a story about a bored housewife who survives the apocalypse and helps rebuild society by becoming the queen of a tribe of hard-bodied young men. However, they weren’t the ones I was proudest of – no, that honour went to my pride and joy, Wham, Bam, Slam a Jam.

It’s a mouthful, I know (and that’s a direct quote from one of the characters!) but the best part about it isn’t its story (a bored housewife discovers a portal to another world in the washing machine and has to rise to the challenge to save a tribe of hard-bodied young men from the predations of a snake-people nation who all talk like my bitch neighbour Alexandria). The best bit about it is the way all the little things come together.

The actual prose style is much more conversational and accessible than the likes of Sola Antiquity, and the pacing drives things along really well. It’s got much better use of humour, threat and action to keep the plot moving, and much better characterisation than anything I’ve written before – and I’m not the only one who thinks that, because… (drum roll please)

It’s being published!

That’s right, yours truly, Jin Blogger, is going to be published in a short story anthology! The anthology’s by Fruit Loop Books and it’s called the Oil Cherry Anthology 3 – check it out! It’s out this summer, and if you use the discount code WHAMBAMSLAMJAMJIN you can get it in paperback for 50% off!

So despite the cold and the dark, despite Mark’s tonsilitis, and Tilly’s arm getting caught in the laundry press, despite the short days and the atrocious lack of funds, the post-christmas blues, the eight-day-hangover from New Year’s Eve, the Sophie thing, the cold and the dark, despite ALL THAT, it’s a big January.

I know it’s easy to get despirited in January. It’s the month with the highest reported incidences of depression, and the hotspot for seasonal affective disorder (largely because of the horrors inflicted by the weather and the long night/short day dichotomy, but undoubtedly also to do with the equinoxes and the fact that light drives out negative vibrational energy – no light, no “detox” of negativity during the day).

I’m as guilty of it as anyone, and I’m not exempt this year, by any stretch of the imagination. The long winter is getting to me. But we are moving forward anyway. When the dark closes in, and the snow piles up, that’s when you need to find the fire inside and push forward! For death or glory. For victory or Sovngarde. And that’s what we’re doing: January’s got nothing in its bag of tricks that can stand in the way of this hot mama. Sure it’s dark outside; but it’s plenty bright in here.

Mark’s going for the top spot with his Chemical Surveying, and my stories are finally getting good enough to publish. I’m a very happy Jin!

XOXO
Bloggip Girl

Also called Jin

Moroccan One-Pan Lamb and Couscous

I tried my hand at something a little more exotic last night and made a Moroccan lamb and couscous dish I found online, because it didn’t look too scary – and boy, was that a good idea! The end result was a really interesting, tasty, filling, wholesome dish that was low on fat and high in protein – and the best part? It’s the simplest recipe I’ve ever tried!

One pan, a few simple steps, and only aboutu ten minutes total cooking time! I’m sold. If all Moroccan cooking is this good and this easy, I might have to drop the other stuff and become a full-time couscous chef.

So, without further ado:

Jin’s Moroccan One-Pot Lamb

You’ll need:

Ingredients

2 lamb steaks, or four lamb chops with the fat trimmed off
2 heaped teaspoons of harissa powder and enough olive oil to mix them into a paste
1 tablespoon of olive oil
A handful of mixed dried fruit and nuts
85g of couscous
A 400g can of chickpeas, which you have rinsed and drained
100ml of chicken or lamb stock (this can be either fresh, from a stock pot, or from a cube)

Method

  • Mix up the harissa paste and throw the lamb in with it, making sure to mix it up so the lamb is evenly covered.
  • Heat the oil in the pan and fry the lamb for 3 minutes on each side for medium-rare (adjust this time up and down to suit yourselves) then lift the meat out of the pan.
  • Tip the remaining harissa, the couscous, the fruit and nuts and the chickpeas into the pan, and stir to coat in the harissa paste as it cooks.
  • Pour in the stock, stir, and add the lamb back to the pan
  • Cover with a lid for ten minutes, or until the couscous has absorbed all the liquid, whichever is sooner
  • Plate and serve! As easy as that!

This is a great dish to add a little variety into your meal routine and is wonderful for introducing children to new food cultures and cuisines that they may otherwise be hesitant to try. It’s exotic-tasting, but not spicy or an acquired taste by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a simple, quick meal with very little prep and even less clean-up, and it tastes great.

I cooked it up in a few minutes last night, and when the kids were done, they actually asked “can I have some more?” and I was gobsmacked! Such little kids being so brave and trying something newm only to find they loved it!

I’ve got a few little globetrotters in the making here, mark my words.

Bon appetit!

J

xx

Jin’s Nawleenz Chicken and Chorizo Gumbo

Just a quick note – I’ve roughly estimated the amounts of ingredients here to put this recipe into writing, but I usually do it by eye, so you should just put in however much of each ingredient feels right to you! (Gumbo’s a pretty forgiving dish for the chef, and it’s really varied and soulful, so you can get away with a lot of rough measurements. It’s an art, not an exact science!)

All right, let’s get started!

Ingredients

One chicken breast or thigh per person, chopped
1 white onion, chopped
12 baby potatoes, quartered
150g or so of chorizo, chopped
2 sticks of celery, sliced
1 green pepper, cut into little bits (about half an inch on each side)
3 bay leaves
4 tsp of cajun spice
1 chicken stock pot or cube
4 spring onions, sliced
fresh parsley, roughly chopped
240g rice

Method

– Heat up some oil in a casserole dish or saucepan. Fry the onion on a medium heat for a minute or two until softened (not brown). If you want to oven cook this you’ll need to preheat to gas 6.

– Add the chicken and fry it up a bit until coloured on the sides, or until you’re worried your onions might overcook

– Throw in the chorizo and celery. Fry everything up for another couple of minutes so the chorizo turns everything red and the celery softens a little bit.

– Add the cajun spice and stir it around, cooking for about 1 minute so that the flavour gets a chance to get into all the other components.

– Add the potatoes, enough boiling water to cover the contents of the pan, the stock pot and the bay leaves. At this point you can either simmer it on the stove (saucepan) or put it in the oven (casserole dish). I usually do it on the hob if I’m in a hurry or in the oven if I want to leave it and go do something else while it cooks.

– Cook it, covered, for about 15 minutes until the chicken and potatoes are cooked. If cooking on the hob you want it at a gentle simmer and you’ll need to keep lifting the lid to stir it. Put the rice on and get it ready to serve.

– When it looks and smells delicious, add the peppers and cover it again for another 5 mins(ish) so they can cook through, then serve it over the rice, with the spring onions and parsley scattered on top.

It’s a perfect dinner for guests or dinner parties, since it scales to more people extremely easily, it’s a very forgiving dish in terms of ingredients, and it’s unusual and delicious! If you can’t find an ingredient, don’t be afraid to swap it out – that’s the spirit of gumbo! The dish will still be great.

It’s also still an uncommon enough dish that it’ll really catch your guest’s attention and make the dinner party stick out in their minds. Just don’t tell them how easy it was to cook!

Bon appetit,

J xx

christmas with family

Settling in for Christmas

So, after setting our tree up last week, we finished the last of our prep today! (We’ve been very organised, I’m sure it’s a fluke).

We’ve got the turkey bought, the veg in the fridge, the presents ready (don’t tell the kids!) and the decorations up all in time for Christmas week, so now we’re just settling in to enjoy the last few days, and really kick back.

We’ve made a little planner for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day, with a schedule of things to do each day, just to make sure we don’t lose track of anything. With so many relatives to see, and so many things to pen in, it’s been a real lifesaver, and I think it’ll really keep us on track!

We’ve got my sister up, with her sprouts and her husband, Rufus; we’ve got to visit my Mum at some point, we’ve got the hubster’s parents to see, we have to sort out the presents for the kids, that scratching started in the attic again, we need to sort out the dinner (which will be tricky just by itself) and we have all kinds of smaller treats and things to arrange to fill the time.

Things like curling up with the kids to watch Elf (something I like to do every Christmas), stuffing button mushrooms with pate for Christmas Eve supper, a glass of Baileys on the sly with the sis when she gets here… There’s so much to do!

Thank heavens for little leather diaries.

Spooky Baking!

So Halloween’s coming up, and at Tilly’s fierce insistence we’re going to bake some cupcakes to take round to my sister’s little family Halloween party!

I was looking online for some inspiration and the options were a bit overwhelming (apparently cupcakes can be made spooky in thousands of ways) but when I saw the picture of the spiderweb cakes up above, I just fell in love with them.

So then all I needed was to find the recipe – it wasn’t attached to the photo!

I hunted around and finally found this one on the BBC Good Food site that should do the trick just perfectly! Tilly gets her baking and I get the most gorgeous cupcakes to bring round to Suzie’s for the party. Everybody wins! (Especially Tilly and I, who will be tucking in to a cake or two hot out of the oven!)

We’re baking them the night before Halloween, so I’ll post pictures then! (if I remember!)

Ingredients

  • 125g/4½oz plain flour

  • 25g/1oz cocoa powder

  • 1½ tsp baking powder

  • 150g/5oz caster sugar

  • 50g/2oz butter, softened at room temperature

  • 1 free-range egg

  • 8 tbsp milk

For the cream cheese icing
  • 50g/2oz cream cheese

  • 25g/1oz butter, softened at room temperature

  • 125g/4oz icing sugar, sifted

  • ½ tsp vanilla essence

For the chocolate icing
  • 25g/1oz icing sugar

  • 1 tbsp cocoa powder

Preparation method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Line a muffin tray with 9 paper cases.
  2. Sift the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder into a bowl. Add the sugar and butter and beat the mixture together until well combined.
  3. Whisk in the egg and milk until the mixture is thick and smooth.
  4. Divide the mixture between the paper case and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until springy to the touch and skewer inserted into the middle of one of the cakes comes out clean. Set aside to cool on a wire rack.
  5. For the cream cheese icing, beat the cream cheese and butter together in a bowl until well combined. Beat in the icing sugar and vanilla.
  6. Spoon the icing onto the cupcakes, leaving a small border around the edge.
  7. For the chocolate icing, sift the icing sugar and cocoa powder into a bowl. Stir in 2 tablespoons of water to form a smooth, thick icing.
  8. Transfer the mixture to a piping bag with a fine nozzle. (Alternatively, spoon the mixture into the corner of a sandwich bag and snip off the corner, to form a small hole.)
  9. Carefully pipe a few concentric circles onto each cupcake. Run a toothpick from the centre to the edge of the cake, through each circle of icing, at 2cm/1in intervals to create a cobweb effect.
  10. Set aside for 20 minutes to allow the icing to harden.

(Easy) Raw Brownies

My kids love helping out in the kitchen, and one of their favourite things to eat are brownies. However, I’m pretty careful not to buy the store-bought kind too often, as these are normally filled with overly processed flour, hidden dairy (which Tilly can’t have) and wayy too much sugar. Therefore, I normally keep these kinds for special occasions (when family comes over) or for kids’ birthday parties (if I’m in a pinch).

Instead, I try to bake something as often as I can, whenever I can find the time (usually once a week), so that I can put something sweet in Tilly’s lunchbox without worrying too much about how much sugar she’ll be consuming in a day (as hooked-up sugar-fueled kids are every parent’s worst nightmare).

I recently discovered this amazing raw brownies from the wonderful food blogger, Ella Woodward. Her blog, Deliciously Ella, has seen massive success for its plant-based. gluten-free recipes, all free from refined grains and process sugar. The term ‘raw’ might raise some alarm bells, but I promise you. they’re super-easy and fast to make, and most importantly…they’re DELICIOUS!

After we made these brownies last weekend, I can now safely say that:

  • They’re fast, easy and relatively cheap
  • They’re perfect for kids or those long summer days where you don’t feel like turning on the oven. All you need is some fridge space.
  • They contain no refined sugar, meaning your kids won’t be bouncing off the walls afterwards(!).

Ingredients

  • 2 cups medjool dates (unlike dried dates, this variety has a particularly soft, sticky consistency)
  • 1 cup pecans (hazelnuts could also work)
    2-3 tablespoons of cacao or cocoa powder (Ella uses cacao for its health benefits, but I find that good-quality, dutch-processed cocoa powder is more purse-friendly and contains less caffeine for the little ones)
  • 2 tbps pure maple syrup/agave/raw honey (optional).

Instructions

1. Place pecans into a blender and blend until they are fine and crumbly.
2. Add the dates and blend with the pecans.
3. Add the maple syrup last (if using) and blend again.
4. Spread mixture evenly into a baking tray and refrigerate for 3-4 hours to set. Afterwards, slice into 10 brownies.
5. Keep the brownies in the fridge to retain their freshness!

This recipe is courtesy of Ella Woodward. Find more of her recipes here.

After-School Winter Warmer: Pumpkin Spice Latte (for kids!)

At this time of year, when the sun is setting almost by teatime, all you want to do is tuck your little ones up on the couch with a mug of hot chocolate in front of some cartoopumpkin-spice-latte-for-kidsns when they come home from school.

In our house it used to be hot chocolate…that is, until we discovered pumpkin spice cocoa. I know you’re probably thinking immediately of the Starbucks-packaged treat that has become so prominently associated with all things Autumn, but this pumpkin spice experience is much healthier…and it’s for kids!

All in all, its very easy to make your own pumpkin spiced latte without all the sugar and processed ingredients of the Starbucks version. But leaving out the espresso/coffee and slightly increasing the cocoa content can make this a delicious treat for children, too.

Here’s my own pumpkin spiced latte tea/cocoa recipe, just about ready after many days of experimenting!

Ingredients (per mug):

cinnemon-spice1 cup milk (normal or non-dairy milk of your choice)
1/4 cup pumpkin puree (fresh or canned)
1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (OR 1/2 tsp cinnamon with a pinch of nutmeg)
1 tsp good quality maple syrup
1/2 tsp plain cocoa powder
Sprinkling of brown/coconut sugar (optional)

How To Make:cocoa-powder

1. Put milk, pumpkin puree and the spices into a saucepan and heat on a low flame until the milk comes to the boil (but don’t let it boil over!) Remove from the heat.

2. Add the cocoa powder and whisk together. You may wish to use a hand blender to help soften and blend the pumpkin  for a smooth consistency. This will also help get the milk nice and frothy!

2. Add your quantity of maple syrup and stir.

3. Pour into mugs, using a spoon to hold back the froth until the end if you like a nice froth-capped result.

4. Add more maple syrup to taste if you wish,and/or sprinkle the coconut sugar on top to serve.

Happy Autumn!pumpkin-spice-latte

Baking Cookies!

It’s been baking-central here in our house this week, as Tilly’s school is holding a family fun day to raise funds for the local hospital. The teachers want all the kids involved (and obviously, the parents!) so we’ve been baking up some varied treats to contribute to the bake sale (as well as one or two extra batches to munch on ourselves, of course!)

So far we’ve done around three batches of 20 cookies and one batch of brownies…but I have a feeling we’re going to need more of the latter as they taste so good, they may not last in this house for long…

I think above all though, the winners are these truly delightful peanut butter cookies, which most kids are likely to love. Before making these for any community-based project, do check that there’s nobody with any nut allergies, or anything (luckily Tilly’s class is clear). If not, you’re good. Bake away!

This recipe is from food.com.

Soft Peanut Butter Cookies

Ingredientspeanut-butter-cookies
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup peanut butter (preferably sugar-free, for your own peace of mind)
1/2 cup raw cane sugar
1/2 dark brown sugar1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cups flour (choose white or wholemeal)
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

How To Make
1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

2. Mix the butter, peanut butter, both types of sugar, the egg and the vanilla.

3. Gradually add the flour, mixing well.

4. When you have a nice thick doughy consistency, roll into balls and use a fork to press down on a greased baking tray. (You can dip the fork in sugar or flour if you like.)

5. Bake for 10-12 minutes (10 if you like them soft). Be sure to keep an eye on them though as some ovens get hotter than others.

These cookies are perfect to make with kids as they’re really easy, and little ones can help with simple things like mixing and rolling the cookie dough.

Then of course there’s always licking the bowl at the end, which is Tilly’s favourite part (though I can’t figure out why…!)

Enjoy!

J

x