I do love Halloween though I have never been trick or treating. It’s just not in my British nature to knock on someone’s door and give out ultimatums. I’d likely apologise or stutter. But any celebration where there’s even a sniff of novelty food up for grabs and I’m there. All over it.
I’ve been working with Flora lately to develop lots of spooky recipes and ideas. If you fancy hosting your own party then take a look at the ideas here in the Halloween Fun Pack from Flora. Loads of recipes from fiendish finger butter biscuits to pumpkin pie to a graveyard cake to pumpkin bread and of course some arts and crafts ideas. My own recipes for Flora include bloodshot eyeball truffles and treacle toffee flapjack. You can find both the recipes here. (And rather excitingly Flora will be giving away 5 copies of my book on Twitter in November. Follow them here).
Now I know that jelly worms have caused a few people some trouble. Here are mine; they happen to be nestling on a spiced apple cupcake covered in Oreo ‘dirt’. Full details of how to make them below.
I used two packs of regular full fat jelly (Hartleys I think) to make my worms. Just make up the jelly with half the amount of water it tells you to on the packet, then pour the jelly into a pint glass with lots of bendy straws jammed into it, bend side down, with the bend bit pulled apart and fully extended, but still straight. Leave to set overnight in the fridge, weighing down the tops of the straws if they’re bobbing upwards.
The next day fill a tall container up with half boiling water and half cold water. Remove a straw from the pint glass (makes a satisfying squelching sound) and then dip into the water for 1 second. Use your finger and thumb to squash the straw at the top (non bendy end) and push your finger and thumb pinched together all the way along the straw to push the worm out onto a plate. First time I did it the water was too hot and the worm melted. Poor worm! Experiment with the temperature of the water until your worms happily squash out without meeting a sticky end. I made about 35 worms I think with two packs of jelly but could probably have made more if I’d had more straws to jam into the pint glass.
If you want to make Oero ‘dirt’ firstly I should mention that I got the idea from a lovely lady called Jules who writes an excellent blog called Butcher, Baker and secondly I should mention you will make your life inordinately easier if you buy double chocolate Oero cookies with dark chocolate cream in the middle of the biscuits rather than the white stuff. This way you just blitz the lot in a food processor and the dirt is done. If you buy the variety with white cream then you need to remove this first and then blitz the biscuits. What a pain. I attached the dirt to the cupcakes by simply melting some milk chocolate and spreading a thin layer over the top of a cupcake. Then I dipped the still molten chocolate covered cake into a bowl of Oreo ‘dirt’. Done. You can of course use any excess dirt to sprinkle onto jelly’s and adorn with bugs:
All this dirt and bug chat may leave some in need of a drink. Never let the opportunity for novelty food fall at the hurdle of a thirst quencher. Try making these ice cubes with a scorpion or a skeleton frozen into them:
…so easy and yet so well received by the under 10’s. You could freeze spooky rings, necklaces or spiky false teeth too. And if you want to introduce fruit to a Halloween party without going to the trouble of apple bobbing then try these:
Just little nectarines, peeled and poked with celery to resemble pumpkins. Of course anything this healthy may need a savoury accompaniment. How about pepper noodle brains?
Of course, Halloween wouldn’t be Halloween without a sausage disguised as a Mummy with the aid of some pastry strips and an olive or two for eyes:
And last but not at all least, maybe try my bloodshot eyeball truffles. See if you can swallow them whole, pupils and all…
So although I am now less than 6 weeks from my due date the main thing that’s clouding my mind isn’t packing my hospital bag, nor is it making sure we buy some blackout blinds for our summer baby’s room. The name thing still isn’t completely decided upon and yet it’s not pressing heavily. You know what is? My weight.
Oh I am so embarrassed to admit it. That I am so superficial as to be worrying about how large I am and more to the point, how I might not be this large in future. I have never lost baby weight ‘naturally’ and have to admit to finding the prospect of not being able to hide my large hips behind a bump rather scary. I don’t like being really big. Controversial? Maybe. I just feel happier in general when my clothes fit well and I don’t feel a shockwave when I catch sight of myself in a shop window.
I’ve mainly gone for low carb diets in the past to lose baby weight but the thought makes me sigh and want to immediately bake up a storm of biscuits coated in sugary icing. I feel less energy for it this time. Maybe that will change. I’ve thought about the 5:2 diet – could I handle that? Not sure I could with 3 kids. Being hungry isn’t something I relish. Years ago after a final year at university indulging a *little* too much I loosely followed slimming world and found that worked well. But I was 22, not 34. Would it work again? Help!
Here’s a pasta dish that is a real favourite in our house. I am not sure it will help me lose baby weight (well not in the portions I serve it) but for me it really is the taste of comfort and home.
Three years ago: Banana and custard melts
Serves 4 adults
Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions, but 5 minutes before the end of the cooking time add the cauliflower, then 3 minutes before the end add the broccoli.
Meanwhile, heat the oil and butter in a large pan and fry the onion over a low heat, until just softened but not browned, about 4 minutes. Once the pasta, cauliflower and broccoli are cooked through, drain and pour into a large ovenproof dish. Add the cheese and crème fraiche to the pan of onions. Without turning the heat up, stir until all the cheese has melted. Pour over the pasta mixture evenly then sprinkle with black pepper. At this point I admit to adding some ham but feel free to leave this out. Either serve immediately or crisp in the oven for 10 minutes at 190C/gas mark 5.
We are back from our first family holiday abroad and we survived it all. You see I’ve been rather phobic about taking the kids abroad until now so we’ve just holidayed in jolly old Suffolk and it was fabulous. Lots of fish and chips (and sssh… onion rings) on the beach and building sandcastles against the bracing wind. Me with a ski jacket on and blue fingers, Mr Bell in a T shirt looking well, manly in a sandy kind of way. Evenings were spent watching TV, drinking red wine, inhaling local cheese and reading trashy novels once the good telly wore out.
But we bit the bullet. We went to Ibiza for a week. Don’t laugh. Most of my friends found this vaguely amusing; the island of partying with two little tearaway tagalongs more interested in inflatable boats and digging for buried treasure. And it was fine… I managed to survive a holiday outside the UK with kids. We are okay despite a 2am wake up alarm to get us to the airport on time. We are okay despite my youngest son being very very blonde and slightly hating the sun. We are all fine and dandy even though we walked on the wild side and brushed our teeth in local water. And the best thing ever was that the kids ate everything. What a relief. They’re usually pretty adventurous but I have heard horror stories from friends about culinary adventurers turning into screaming neophobes once they set foot on foreign soil.
Of course this was obvious to the rest of you. But not to me. Anyway, a quick recipe tonight as I need to search for a bargain last minute deal for August. Know anywhere good with a water slide?
This recipe was posted on my facebook page in note form after a few people took an interest in the picture of it. Here it is properly.
Leek, asparagus and courgette risotto
– 1 onion, chopped finely
– 1 tbsp butter
– 2 tbsp rapeseed oil
– 1 chicken/veg stock cube
– 150g risotto rice
– 500mls boiling water
– 1 leek, chopped and rinsed if grainy
– 1 chopped courgette
– 6 asparagus spears, chopped into 6 pieces each
– Black pepper to taste
– Grated cheese to taste
Fry the onion in 1 tbsp butter and 2 tbsp rapeseed oil in a large saucepan. Fry on a low heat until very soft then crumble the stock cube over the top and fry off. Add the risotto rice and fry for 1 more minute. Then add boiling water in 50ml dribbles at a time and stir until 400mls are absorbed. When this water has been absorbed and the rice is swelling and looking creamy, add the leek, chopped courgette and the asparagus. Stir in and add the remaining 100mls of hot water a bit at a time – keep checking the rice for bite. It should have a little bite but also creaminess to the risotto. Season with black pepper and stir through a handful of grated cheese. Eat whilst browsing the internet for sunny holidays.
Making fresh pasta is a bit like crafting with kids. You think it’ll be too much of a pain in the backside, probably messy and so you either don’t do it or let someone else do it for you. Then when you take the plunge and have a go you realise that it’s not that messy and the smiles are more than worth the effort.
This is a very bog standard recipe that you can adapt however you so wish…. add herbs, spinach, tomato paste, pepper, spices etc. The world is your pasta oyster.
All comments gratefully received. Here are some Eastery recipes you might like too as it’s that time of year:
Makes enough for 2 -3 generous servings
I’m not going to lie, I don’t make pasta by hand. I am time poor and very greedy so if I want fresh pasta which is oh so much better than the dried stuff (in my opinion and my 4 year olds too) I use my stand mixer with the pasta attachment. (It’s a Kitchen Aid for those who might ask.)
I use the flat beater to beat all the ingredients together, then once combined use the dough hook to knead for about 7 -8 minutes at speed 4. I pop the cover onto the mixer when I do this as the dough can get quite feisty. Then I wrap it in clingfilm and leave in the fridge for 1 hour to relax.
Once suitably relaxed I push the pasta into the Kitchenaid Short Pasta Maker and then cut the pieces off as dictated by my sons using the wire part of the attachment – I put a clean tea towel underneath to catch the pasta treasure and then use it to chuck the lot into a pan of salted boiling water once we’ve made enough. Takes 3 -4 minutes to cook and is adored by all who eat it.
My smaller son is more impatient and prefers short stubby bits of pasta and the older one likes to watch the pasta pushing through the press and so we have longer snake like pasta. Every man or child to their own pasta preference.
P.S. To dry the pasta leave it overnight, not touching each other, on a clean tea towel then bag up in the morning. Makes an excellent birthday gift for a friend. Or just nice to have in the cupboard. Pic is fresh pasta dried and bagged in case you’re wondering.
I left London 5 years ago and still I find it hard to go back. Like seeing an old flame who still slightly tugs at your heart strings, when I visit it hurts a bit. It was my choice to leave, but the love affair wasn’t really over when I did. I still need closure. Maybe we need to have a big argument?
Worst of all I feel like an imposter. I am slower and fatter now, my clothes are from big out of town supermarkets and my internal London A to Z is sketchy through the mists of time. I still stand on the right, but I don’t run up the escalator stairs in an inpatient rush to save time and get fit. I was the poster girl for Busy.
One habit I have lost since the big move Up North is scanning every food item before I throw it in my basket. (Basket? Who am I trying to kid? It’s trolley world up here with two small boys who hoover up a packet of cereal a week between them.) I used to religiously check for fat content, calories and carbs; I’m not sure what eating plan I thought I was following. The paranoid one perhaps? Here is a delicious dish that would have suited me right down to my busy London ground when I lived there, for it is ready in 20 minutes flat. I would never have eaten it though, too many carbs, too much butter, probably too many calories…
Lemony salmon, courgette and pea pasta
Enough for 2 or just increase pasta and veggie content to make enough for 4
Right, before anyone forgets their manners and comments on this post that they need exact quantities and this is a waste of time of a recipe, my advice is… live a little on the wild side and use your hands to measure things. It’s liberating. Plus this was an experimental supper that went very well so I didn’t weigh stuff out. Sometimes I like to live my cooking life by the seat of my pants.
Call this Holly’s 2o minute meal pasta if you like… time yourself, it’s easy and moreish. Boil the kettle then pop the pasta on to boil in a large pan of just boiled water with a pinch of salt. Meanwhile melt the butter in a frying pan and add the courgette, peas and the zest and juice of the lemon. Fry on a lowish heat until the courgettes have sucked up all that buttery lemony goodness and the peas look soft and cooked through. About 5 minutes. Then add the salmon, stir and take off the heat. When the pasta has boiled drain it and throw into the frying pan of lemony goodness. Then stir well to coat the pasta and to let the residual heat cook through the smoked salmon. Pop in serving dishes, add the parmesan and black pepper and enjoy. DON’T think about the carbs or the butter. This way madness lies.
Ten days and counting until due date. Kitchen still with bare plaster walls, without tiles and unpainted windows. Yet a sense of calm is starting to pervade. I think my body is shutting my mind down in preparation for sleep deprivation and general chaos.
Charlie is increasingly coming round to the idea of a baby being in the house. He likes to pull my top up and stroke my tummy saying ‘hi baby’ which is very cute. He also threw a toy doll on the floor at playgroup this week with gusto. It bounced. Maybe he has mixed emotions about the big brother role.
On to the recipe. Everyone has a few quick fridge/store cupboard standby suppers. This one was conjured up recently when I needed to eat a bucketful of pasta asap. This is so quick and easy and satisfying (in my pregnant opinion) that I make no apology for it being trailer trash comfort food. Next I’ll be making my famous Smash toasties…
Boil some water, salt it and cook the pasta. Whilst it’s cooking heat the butter in a frying pan until sizzling and almost spitting, then add the mushrooms and fry until browning slightly on both sides. I had to do mine in two batches as field mushrooms are rather large – plus I made enough pasta for about 5 people. The more mushrooms the more butter you need. They soak it up greedily.
As the mushrooms cook, set aside in a dish and add the torn ham. Once the pasta is cooked, drain it, but not too well. You want a bit of water retained in it. Return the semi drained pasta to the pan you cooked it in and then add the whole pack of spreadable cheese, stirring gently until all the pasta it coated evenly. Then add the mushrooms and ham, stir through and sprinkle with black pepper. Don’t add the mushrooms before the end or they contribute to a grey looking, unappetising mixture.
This must be eaten in front of the TV, without a tray, balancing the bowl just underneath your chin. It’s very nice with ginger beer or cream soda, to make the trailer trash scene complete.
Today my mother and father (AKA Nan-kneeee and Baa Baa) kindly looked after Charlie whilst I had the pleasure of visiting the Coventry branch of Ikea. (Less said the better, though I do have a wonderful storage solution for all the stuff we need for the imminent Baby Bell #2.)
When I returned we asked Charlie whether he’d like a little brother or a little sister. With no hesitation he replied ‘baby bus.’ I like to think I’d do most things for my precious first born but I draw the line at birthing a bus.
Onto the recipe! My friend Sophie served this bolognese with pasta twirls to her twins and Charlie when they played together last week. Charlie lapped it up. I knew there had to be some wonderful magic ingredient. When quizzed Sophie revealed the secret was very simple – grated carrot. Now Charlie loves carrots any which way he can get them, so added grated carrot was bound to be a hit.
I took my normal bolognese recipe and used baby stock cubes from Boots to cut out some salt, then added finely diced bacon at the onion frying stage to increase the flavour and re-add a bit of saltiness. Then, just before letting the bolognese simmer and develop for 1 hour added three grated carrots. (I didn’t peel them, just a quick scrub.) Once ready I open froze tablespoons of the mixture onto greaseproof paper, then transferred to freezer bags when rock solid. Charlie likes his ‘bolognese’ served with frozen peas and pasta but frankly this would be pretty good with most accompaniments.
Sophie warned me this toddler adaptation is very sweet. I clearly have immature tastebuds as Mr B and I enjoyed it very much on top of large field mushrooms with a sprinkling of grated cheese grilled on the top. Mmmm…
Today I was abused again. I’m a battered mother – both kicked and hit on the head. My crime? I suggested that a certain person’s nappy might need changing. Not only did I dare to suggest this, but I also suggested it and then changed it (!) in front of a very attractive, much older lady.
My friend Jasmine, who it has to be said is very easy on the eye, had come to visit for the afternoon. Charlie has a crush on her and has done since he first met her when only a few months old. After chatting with Mr B this evening we have come to the conclusion that Charlie was plain embarrassed that his Mum got his gentleman’s area out in front of such a beautiful woman. Sorry Charlie.
Today’s recipe is spicy and sticky and warming from all the cinnamon. In fact if you don’t like cinnamon then probably best not to make it. I do, though Mr B did say ‘it’s very cinnamon-y, isn’t it?’ Yes it is.
You need a frying pan with a lid to make this. Failing that a hob proof casserole dish with a lid.
Brown the lamb in the oil on a high heat in a frying pan then add the onion, ginger, salt, chickpeas and cinnamon sticks. Cover with water (warm from the tap) until the meat is covered, then put the lid on the frying pan and leave on a low heat for 90 mins.
Check that the meat is tender, which it really should be after 90 mins. Then add all the remaining ingredients and turn the heat up a little. Stir occasionally to stop the rice sticking and check that it doesn’t need any more water. Mine needed about another 90mls but this will depend on how hot your hob is and how much has evaporated. Check the rice is done – it needs a bit of bite left. Then serve! Perhaps without the cinnamon sticks.
So it’s day two of being a ‘stay at home mum’ (as we’re called – so politically correct) and I’m being bullied by a toddler. Today, despite filling the day with all manner of joyful toddler activities, I was almost reduced to tears in public. I am essentially being punished for not being ‘Nanny’ ie/ my mother. It seems that a day filled with baby gym, lunch in town, bus spotting, the park and choosing books at the library does not compare to a day hanging out at Nanny’s.
Needless to say, not the most enjoyable day, so a comforting, creamy supper was called for. Something not overly complex, easy to make and restorative. After all, the bullying recommences at about 7.30am tomorrow…
Put a large pan on the stove and melt the butter on a medium heat, add the leeks and stir with a wooden spoon. Turn the heat to low and let the leeks soften for about 10 mins but don’t let them colour. They taste a bit funny if they do.
Add the risotto rice and stir into the leeks, almost dry frying the mixture. Add the salt, pepper and thyme and give it another stir. Turn up the heat and add some chicken stock, about 300mls. Have about a litre on standby, but you really won’t know how much you need until the end. Using the wooden spoon, stir away and continue adding stock until you have a risotto like appearance. You want some bite left in the rice, so when the rice starts to look like it’s changing shape (swelling) remove from the heat. Try a spoonful to make sure.
Add the cream cheese and stir, then add the chicken. I like to keep the chicken in fairly large slices as otherwise this dish, being pale in appearance, can look a bit like baby food. I like to be able to identify what I’m eating.