Cooking, cooking and more cooking

For the past twelve days I’ve been on a mission to get my two foodie* New Year’s Resolutions off to a great start. As a result, my hands are raw from constant dish washing, I’m running out of tupperwear and my house stinks of cooking (I’m writing this with a scented candle burning), but… it’s happening! The freezer is filling up, and my family are showing interest in their meals again.

I’m feeling excited about finally getting on top of healthy eating, plus the reduction of our rubbish that’s happened as a result. I’d be lying, however, if I said it was effortless. Far from it – I have to plan meals a few days ahead, which involves scouring for recipes, making shopping lists, and popping out for ingredients. I realise though that I’m not in a routine yet. In addition, I’ve done a lot of time consuming batch cooking which will save me hours in the weeks ahead.

If you are even vaguely interested (!), then here are the evening meals I’ve provided for my family since the New Year began. I’ve only recorded the side dishes we’ve had where I’ve had to specially to prepare them to a recipe, but mostly we have veg and sometimes potatoes:

1 January: Steak Pie

2 January: Vegetable Crumble

3 January: Chickpea Stew

4 January: Pasta Bolognaise

5 January: Tomato Sauce with pasta

6 January: Vegetarian Haggis

7 January: Homemade Pizza

8 January: Quark Pasta with roasted butternut squash done in cumin & coriander

9 January: Chickpea Stew

10 January: Tortilla with roasted butternut squash with caramelised sugar (thanks Snail of Happiness!)

11 January: Vegetarian goulash with brown rice

12 January: Tomato and Mozzarella tart

On top of that I’ve batch cooked;

Lentil soup, vegetable soup and curried carrot soup (some of the meals above were also part of a batch)

and baked:

Flapjacks, pear pie, marble cake, quark cakes and countless loaves of bread in the breadmaker.

(I’ve linked to recipes where I’ve discovered them on the internet).

All of this food preparation has been both exhilarating and exhausting! My other half is truly delighted with the increased preparation in the kitchen and has been helping with other jobs around the house and child care so that I can get off to a good start. The kids are still doing a fair bit of poking at their food with forks (but what is it Mummy?!) but they are loving the extra baking I’m doing, and there have been some pleasant surprises – such as my youngest loving chickpea stew.

In an attempt to reduce our food waste I’m finding that no sooner have I prepared one dish than I’m looking for a recipe for another, to use up leftover lemons or half a leek, which keeps my momentum up.

Will I keep this going? I certainly hope so. I can slow down now that I have several meals prepared in the freezer, but I’m aware that healthy meal preparation is a habit, and I’ve got to keep working away at it so that it becomes part of my lifestyle. I’ll keep you updated on my progress!**

*1.I will dramatically increase the amount of food that I cook from scratch, using organic ingredients where practically possible, with the aim of reducing the packaging I contribute to landfill. 2.I am going to provide healthier and more varied food for my family.

** and I’ll include photos in the next food post – they won’t upload and my IT support is currently at work 😉

 

 

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Preparing to prepare food

In my last post I outlined my New Year’s Resolutions. The first three (writing, sewing and knitting) are a pleasure so, if I’m not doing them, it’s likely to be as a result of time constraints, or being unable to justify them as a priority against the background of a busy family life. My last two however involve food planning and preparation – definitely more of chore!

With that in mind, I decided to jump right in at the start of the year and get off to a good start with cooking and baking from scratch.

As everyone who wants to succeed at anything knows, a little planning goes a long way. Often when I go to prepare a meal, I can only think of a handful of food options – and usually we’ve either eaten them recently or the kids hate them! I therefore grabbed a pen and piece of scrap paper one night with the family and got everyone to shout out every meal we’ve ever had.

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It was a surprisingly fun exercise and the kids happily shared their thoughts on each dish as I wrote it down (my other half kept quiet, he’s just happy he’s not responsible for the cooking!)

So now at least I have a list of ideas to keep handy when inspiration has deserted me.

I have been procrastinating over my next task for over a year. I wanted to find new recipes. In the end, it was a simple and quick job. I opened up netmums and mumsnet, went to their recipe pages and printed off the first ten that I thought looked easy and tasty.

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Finally I bought myself a small diary in the sales (£1) to record what I was making each day, plus what we ate for dinner every night. This is a way of monitoring my progress and motivating myself by being able to see a log of my good work – that’s the idea anyway…

To date (6 days in!), I’m happy to report that my methods are working. I’ve been cooking and baking most days. I’ve also been batch cooking and freezing the spare portions for those days the kids have classes after school, and I’m short of time to prepare food.

Realistically, after having a good break over Christmas, I know my energy levels and enthusiasm are much higher than they will be as time goes on, but for now, I’m off to a good start. I’ll keep you updated on my progress!

Plastic-Free Me: The (almost) plastic-free fairy cake

In our house, we eat a lot of sweet things (well, the adults do!) As I have friends round for coffee and play regularly, there is always something just asking to be consumed…Things are going to have to change in July though as it’s not easy to find sweet treats that aren’t wrapped in at least one layer of plastic!

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Just some of the biscuits in my cupboard!

 
Cutting sweet things out altogether isn’t an especially attractive option so I have no choice but to get baking!

I have limited time available at the moment for baking, so I tend to stick to favorite recipes that work, are fast, and that the children enjoy. Top of that list is fairy cakes. The recipe I use is this one from the BBC website which has never failed me (I ditch the vanilla extract and food colouring).

Yesterday I decided to work out if I could create a plastic free fairy cake. I didn’t quite manage it but I came close and, best of all, I can easily make a batch of 12 with significantly less plastic than the packaging of the biscuits I usually eat.

Of the ingredients in the recipe, the following are totally plastic-free :

• Self raising flour (paper bag)
• Caster sugar (paper bag)
• Eggs (cardboard egg box delivered in my veg box – we even return the egg boxes so that they can be reused)
• Water (from the tap!)
• Smarties (in a cardboard tube) I hadn’t thought of these yesterday but will use for decoration in July

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Other ingredients that aren’t plastic-free:

• Milk (to be delivered in glass bottles during July, but a plastic lid is still involved I think)
• Butter (looks like it’s wrapped in foil and paper but I’m pretty sure from soaking it that there is a layer of plastic hidden in there!)
• Icing sugar (bought in a cardboard packet but again, from pulling it apart, I am highly suspicious of plastic content!)

Today I got my youngest child on board to assist. My kids adore making fairy cakes! For ages I innocently thought their motivation was the joy of creating, but I have since discovered it’s actually the joy of scraping the bowl. No matter – if there’s joy of some sort involved, it works for us all!

The first task for my little helper was to line the bun tray with my new silicon cake cases (zero waste!) Unfortunately though, I realised that 6 of the 12 cases still had residue on them from the last batch of cakes we made.

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Check out those white flecks of cake gone by – yuk!

 

This was annoying as I’d washed and dried them thoroughly myself, so we substituted the dirty cases for their paper equivalents which were bought in a plastic packet.

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I blame myself for impulse buying the (probably low quality) silicon cases for a mere £2 while standing in the queue at Hobbycraft! For paper cases that come in cardboard read this post on the Plastic Is Rubbish site. I will continue using the silicone ones though, I just have to be aware that they need a really really good scrub!

After some messy stirring, and a few rogue fingers in the mixture (not mine!), the cakes came out nicely and we enjoyed decorating them. I popped them in a tin to complement my plastic-free theme.

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Okay, the tin looks a bit plastic-coated but it’s not single use plastic!

Here’s the plastic waste that resulted from making the fairy cakes:

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Butter wrapper, milk carton lid, waxy paper icing sugar packet

Bare in mind though that I only used less than half of the packet of butter, a tenth of the icing sugar and just a glug of milk, so I would say that actually amounts to very little plastic! Consequently, that will reduce the amount of rubbish that goes into my bin for July which makes me happy…

Out of interest I also worked out the cost to see how they much they would cost. For 6, I estimate it would cost me around £1.15 (for the share of the ingredients). Not super-cheap if you compare the price to supermarket fairy cakes, but given that my milk and butter are organic and the eggs are free-range, organic and local, then it’s a price I’m happy to pay.

Can you help me perfect my plastic-free fairy cakes or perhaps suggest other cake recipes?

Meaner Greener Me: Green Gifts

Today I’m going to tackle the topic of giving gifts. My Meaner Greener Me blog series is only 10 posts in and already I’ve touched on this subject at least twice – here and here.

In my life I can honestly say that the giving and receiving of gifts has got completely out of hand. For some months of the year I spend literally hours choosing, buying and wrapping gifts – Christmas is obviously one such time, as is April/May where I seem to have a huge cluster of family and friends’ birthdays. Unfortunately I have to admit that in most cases choosing and buying gifts is a ‘tick box exercise’, in that I work out how much I should be spending and pretty much buy the first appropriate thing in my price range that I come across. This is simply an issue of time – I do not have enough spare to carefully research the gift that might genuinely enhance the recipient’s life. I like to think most people are happy with their gift but, as in most of the topics I have covered so far in Meaner Greener Me, I admit, I could do better.

So with my blogging aims in mind of ethical consumption and responsible waste disposal, I thought I’d go back to basics for some of the gifts I’ve recently given. What I really wanted to do was choose something appropriate, personal and source it ethically. I wanted gifts that actually showed we cared and that wouldn’t end up in the charity shop or bin.

The three most recent gifts I’ve given have been on behalf of my children so I wanted to involve them – teaching them about showing appreciation for someone as well as the pleasure they can get from giving. They have already worked out that there is a pleasure in receiving!

The first gift was for the teacher of a music class they have attended since they were babies – she was leaving and my children adore her. I think on such an occasion I’d probably buy a card and a small box of sweets worth £5 – £10.

I got the children to make cards from our craft box. I then decided to make a ‘star jar’ which was an amalgamation of a few ideas I’d seen around Christmas time in magazines.

We had a spare glass Kilner-type jar (a reasonably eco-friendly material), then I raided the craft box and found some sparkly stars which were Christmas tree decorations. I got some wrapping ribbon and some star stickers from Hobbycraft. My eldest child made some marshmallow cakes.

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Here is the finished result.

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It’s really not professional but we enjoyed making it and hopefully she isn’t reading this and wishing we’d gone for the shop-bought sweets…

When Father’s Day came around, we had to find a gift for the grandfather who has everything. Normally I would spend around £15 on such a present but I have been finding it increasingly difficult with each birthday and Christmas to find something that is special and that he couldn’t just have bought for himself.

This is a grandpa who has embraced his Grandparent role – he notices every little thing the children do and his pride and love for them is obvious to all. For something special, I felt I had to get the kids involved so I got them into the kitchen for some baking which they love. We made banana bread from this very manageable recipe and I wrapped it in foil which they helped to decorate with hearts made from scrap paper.

Et voila!

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Not £15 worth of present as usual but we had a happy grandpa and proud kids at the end of the exercise (plus we managed to use some organic ingredients and most of the waste that resulted from the process was recyclable).

Finally we had to make an end of term present for the nursery staff. I feel very strongly about staff presents on two counts:
• I like to show the people who have helped look after my child our appreciation

• I absolutely believe the end of term presents should be about saying thanks and not competing with other parents on the amount spent.

On a roll (and perhaps running low on inspiration) we got into the kitchen again and made some fairy cakes for the staff coffee break. I wrote a thank you note for the bottom of the box we gift wrapped (badly – I am not crafty in any way!) and my wee one decorated it with stickers.

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I gave them a print out of a small donation that we had made to a children’s charity as well as some pens that my kids had chosen for the staff room. Again minimal unrecyclable waste was created, although admittedly there was single use plastic in the pens – it was June though (not Plastic Free July)!

I’m not sure how easily ‘thoughtful’ gifting comes to me – I like a quick and easy solution and although I am doing more in the kitchen, I’m definitely not a natural baker.  I am without defence, rubbish at craft… With my career on hold however, as a stay at home parent whose main priority is to look after small children, making things and thinking up present ideas is a great activity for them. My kids love to be involved in the planning, the creating and the giving of gifts so I think we’ll try and put more thought into our presents where time allows.

I do reserve the right to cheat every now and again though and grab the first thing that comes to hand in Toys R Us as long as it’s not triple wrapped in crap that’s destined for landfill…