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Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Pumpkin Carving - How to Impress Your Friends

I first discovered the art of Pumpkin carving when we lived in the US and I bought a pumpkin carving kit that came with a booklet of templates. Prior to this I just hacked out a face with a bread knife and the result wasn't pretty.

There are lots of free templates that you can find online and here are a few websites where you can download them :

pumpkinpile

orangeandblackpumpkin

Disney

Pumpkin Masters

You can buy the carving kits from Supermarkets or online and they usually consist of a knife/saw, scoop and a poker for pricking holes through your template. There are also more advanced tools for some of the more complicated designs but for for the simpler designs you'll just need these 3 items.

First of all you need to slice the top of your pumpkin, it's easier to draw a line where you want it before cutting.

Then scoop out all of the seeds and some of the flesh, leaving the pumpkin around an inch thick - don't throw the seeds away as they can be roasted to make a snack.


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Next you will need to choose a template - make sure you choose one that's not too large for your pumpkin - some of them show the best shape pumpkins for that template.

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Attach the template to the outside of the pumpkin.


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Using the poker punch holes around the edges of the parts that you need to cut out

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Once the complete template has been traced then take it off the pumpkin & you will be left with a pin prick design of your template


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Now it's time to carve the pieces out - careful if some of the lines are close together. You should be able to take the unwanted piece out or press it through into the pumpkin.


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When all the pieces have been carved out place a tea light inside, light it, replace the lid and sit back and enjoy your handiwork before putting outside to impress your neighbours.

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Aunt Bessie's Half Term Food Challenge

I'm not ashamed to say that I use convenience food from time to time, after all, with three children, a husband and my own business, life is sometimes pretty hectic. I've posted recipes before where I've used Aunt Bessie's products, here and here. I've also mentioned that to save time on Christmas Day I often use ready prepared roast potatoes, sprouts and carrots. So when BritMums announced their Aunt Bessie's #halftermfood challenge it was my duty to enter.

The challenge is to create a family meal using one or more Aunt Bessie's products. My meal does have around 30 minutes of preparation but the bonus is, if you have a family of 4 there should be enough pasties left for the following day. As I'm not one to do things by half I've used just a few more than one Aunt Bessie's product, 7 in total.

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Chicken & Roasted Vegetable Pasties - makes 8

Prep time : 30 minutes
Cooking Time : 30 minutes

Aunt Bessie's Shortcrust Pastry Mix
Aunt Bessie's Roasted Vegetable Stuffing Mix
20g Butter
200g Cooked chicken cut into small cubes 
1 Egg
Aunt Bessie's Button Sprouts with Seasoned Butter
Aunt Bessie's Perfectly mashed Swede & Carrots
Aunt Bessie's Frozen Chicken Gravy

  • Make the pastry up as per directions on the pack
  • Make the stuffing up as per directions on the back, adding the butter and mixing well
  • Mix the chicken into the stuffing
  • Divide the pastry into 8 equal pieces and roll out, on a floured surface, until the approximate size of a side plate
  • Place a heaped spoonful of the stuffing/chicken mixture along the centre of the pastry circle
  • Brush the uncovered parts of the pastry with water
  • Bring sides of the pastry together and pinch together
  • Brush the edge with more water and fold over the joins to seal
  • Repeat with each pastry circle
  • Brush pasties with beaten egg
  • Place on a lightly greased baking sheet and bake at 180 C for 25-30 minutes - adding the mini roasties to a baking tin and placing in the oven at the same time
  • During the cooking time heat the carrot and swede and sprouts as per directions on the pack
  • Make up the gravy following the directions on the pack - I used 3 portions for 4 meals

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Warm Sticky Banoffee Trifle - serves 4

Preparation Time : 1 minute
Cooking Time : 3 1/2 minutes

Aunt Bessie's Sticky Toffee Sponge Pudding
Aunt Bessie's Instant Custard
50g Plain chocolate
2 Bananas, sliced
Squirty Cream
Chocolate for decoration (optional)

  • Heat the Sticky Toffee Pudding as per directions on the pack
  • Meanwhile make up the custard following directions on the pack
  • Stir the chocolate into the custard and mix well
  • When the Sticky Toffee Pudding is cooked divide between 4 serving dishes, reserving some of the excess sauce
  • Layer sliced banana over the pudding and cover with the chocolate custard
  • Squirt a generous amount of cream over and finish off with some grated chocolate and some of the toffee sauce
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This is my entry for the BritMums #halftermfood, sponsored by Aunt Bessie's

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Oh the shame

Last night I took Jack to a birthday part at a soft play. He was a bit wary about going in as he hasn't been to a soft play since he had his leg in plaster - in fact the last time we went to this one his leg was in plaster. 

It took me a good 10 minutes for me to be able to prise his shoes off him and and another 5 to get into the ball pit. As he wouldn't let me leave him to go and put his shoes and coat with those of the other party children I popped them on a chair behind me whilst I sat on the edge of the ball pit throwing balls in.

After another few minutes Jack braved the steps and small slide and then he was off, so I sat back, took my phone out (as you do) and checked my tweets.

It was then time for party food so I stood up and went to grab Jack's coat and shoes which is when I realised there was only one shoe on the chair. I looked on the floor, and all around....no shoe. Inside my head I ranted 'why would anyone want to take just one shoe', and it meant I would have to carry Jack all the way to the car, and he would be crying because he's a touch OCD about having things 'just right' and having just one shoe would be so wrong.

Just as I was quietly ranting a lady nearby said "are you looking for a shoe?", "yes" I said, relieved that the shoe had been found...although I did wonder how it got all the way over to her table, and she was taking her time passing it back to me.

"oh" she said "it's stuck to your bum"
As I reached behind me towards my bottom there I found it, a little size 8 shoe with velcro straps dangling from my jumper!

Cue beetroot face.

Oh the shame.....

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Macaroni Cheese with Bacon & Leeks

I can't remember the last time I made macaroni cheese. It's not something that I'm overly keen on but as everyone else likes it I thought I'd given them a treat.


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Macaroni Cheese with Bacon & Leeks - serves 6-8

500g Macaroni
200g Bacon Lardons
2 medium Leeks, thinly sliced
100g Butter
100g Plain Flour
1 Litre milk
200g Cheese (I used a mix of mature cheddar & Pecorino Romano)

  • Boil the Macaroni as per directions on the pack
  • Meanwhile fry the lardons in a large pan for 2 minutes over a medium heat
  • Add the sliced leeks, stir and cover and sweat down for 5 minutes.
  • Add the butter to the pan and stir until melted
  • Stir in the flour and stir over a low heat for 2 minutes
  • Gradually add the milk, a little at a time to avoid getting lumps until all the milk has been added
  • Bring to the boil and remove from the heat
  • Stir in the cooked pasta and 150g of the cheese and mix well
  • Add to a baking dish and cover with the remaining cheese & bake in a preheated 180º C oven for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.

This recipe makes between 6 & 8 portions so you could freeze some to eat at a later date.

I have been sent a set of retro looking ceramic cook and serve dishes from Presents for Men (they don't just have presents for men, they also have them for the ladies and children too!) which were perfect for cooking this dish in as I could serve one portion and then pop the other one in the freezer for another day. There are 2 dishes in the set and both come with silicone lids. I was a little disappointed that the lid for the smaller dish doesn't seem to fit properly so I ended up putting the bowl into a freezer bag as it didn't seem very secure. The larger one fits better but it still doesn't feel as secure as I'd hoped.

The dishes, however, are great and can be used in the dishwasher, oven, microwave and freezer. They are also stackable for easy storage and come in a floral or stripe design.

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I was sent the set of dishes for the purpose of this review



Spooky Halloween Gingerbread Church

After two days my Halloween gingerbread house is finished. I used the same recipe for the gingerbread that I've previously used, from the Tesco Real Food website, and added some grated orange zest. I also used the template from the same site but I adapted it slightly and made a template for the clock tower. Thankfully I suffered no breakages as I never had any spare dough but I did have some of the liquid left over (possibly due to my tablespoon measures of golden syrup & treacle being very generous) which I boiled up, added cream & made a very nice toffee sauce.

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I used chocolate cake covering to glue the walls together, which was a genius idea from Susan, which she first used with her Valentine house. The cake covering sets really quickly so you don't need to support it for ages with tin cans, as well as tasting a lot better than royal icing. As always though, the walls never end up straight however carefully I cut them, which doesn't help when it comes to assembling - another good reason to use the cake covering as gaps can be filled more easily.

I bought a pack of cheap plastic Halloween accessories from a pound shop along with some chocolate ghosts, Haribo sweets and chocolate fingers which were used to decorate the structure.

If you fancy joining in with mine & Susan's Halloween Gingerbread House Challenge you can add your post to the linky below and grab the code and add it to your own blog so others can join in. Please go and have a look at the other entries in the challenge & show them some comment love.

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Sex on the Beach Cake

At the weekend it was the birthday of a friend and I'd agreed to make her a cake. Earlier in the day I'd picked up a can of 'on the beach' (note no 'Sex') from Asda which inspired me to make a 'Sex on the Beach' type cake. I used my favourite recipe of the moment but instead of using root vegetables I instead used tinned peaches, along with a couple of fruity additions and left out the cocoa. The end result, although didn't really taste peachy, was a very moist cake that everyone enjoyed.

Sex on the Beach Cake

115g tinned peaches, pureed
115g butter, softened
170g caster sugar
3 Eggs
170g Self Raising flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
grated zest of a large orange
2 tbsp Cranberry Vodka

  • Beat the peach puree, butter and sugar together
  • Add the eggs, one at a time, with a spoonful of flour with each egg
  • Sift the remaining flour and bicarbonate of soda in and mix well
  • Stir in the orange zest and vodka
  • Pour into a greased and lined 21cm cake tin and bake for 30 minutes, until springy to the touch
  • Decorate with icing made up with cranberry vodka and a little orange juice


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Monday, 29 October 2012

Double Chocolate Celebration Cake

I've seen lots of these cakes around recently, many of them with multi-coloured Smarties or M&M's on the top, but when I saw Amanda's cake on Instagram, that she had made for her daughter using pink Smarties, I knew I had to make one like that for my Mum's birthday.

I used the same recipe as I had done for my Halloween cake, increasing the quantities slightly and substituting the potato and squash for pureed carrot, which kept the cake lovely and moist. As the chocolate frosting I used previously was a success I decided to go with that again and whilst shopping I discovered white chocolate spread so use that instead of the milk chocolate.


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Double Chocolate Celebration Cake

340g steamed & pureed carrot
225g Butter
340g Soft Brown sugar
6 Eggs
340g Self raising flour
45g Cocoa powder
2 tsp Bicarbonate of soda

Frosting
400g Full Fat cream cheese
240g White chocolate spread

Decoration
2-3 boxes of White chocolate fingers
2 large tubes of pink Smarties
  • Beat the carrot, butter and sugar together
  • Add the eggs one at a time, along with a tablespoon or two of flour with each egg
  • Sift in the remaining flour, along with the cocoa powder and bicarbonate of soda, mixing well
  • Pour into two greased and lined 8" sandwich tins and bake in a preheated 180° C oven for approx 30 minutes, until springy to touch
  • Leave to cool for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely
  • Beat the cream cheese & white chocolate spread together until smooth
  • When the cake has cooled sandwich them together using some of the frosting.
  • Spread the remaining frosting on the top and sides of the cake and decorate with the chocolate fingers and smarties
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PicMonkeyCollage1A


 thegoodlifemum.com

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Halloween Gingerbread House Challenge


Last January myself and Susan decided that we should make a gingerbread house for every occasion throughout the year to get some practice in for our Pièce de résistance at Christmas.

Firstly we had Valentines Day

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and then Easter
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we were going to make one in the Summer but never got around to it, so it's been a few months since our last attempt but as it's getting ever closer to Christmas there is no backing out of our last chance for a practice before the big one.

We've been roping in as many willing gingerbread house makers as possible who we hope will enjoy making and decorating possibly their first gingerbread house ever, and have set up a Linky so everyone can link their posts up and see everyone elses posts at the same time. We've set it up as a blog hop so you can add the code to the bottom of your post and others will find it easier to add their links too.

If you are a pro gingerbread house maker or have never made one before it doesn't matter, as long as you have made a Halloween gingerbread house for this Halloween you can join in with our challenge. It doesn't have to be a masterpiece, we just want everyone to have fun and possibly learn some new skills and tips along the way.

The linky is open until a week after Halloween so hopefully there is plenty of time to join in.

There are lots of gingerbread recipes on the internet and I've used the one on the Tesco Real Food website, which also has a template.

You can find us both on twitter if you want to join in with some gingerbread house chat - @susankmann @jessies_kitchen


Friday, 26 October 2012

LEGO does Halloween

Recently Jack has been getting into Lego a lot, more so since our visit to the Legoland Discovery Centre over the Summer. He still mainly plays with his Duplo but loves to raid his brother's 'Big Boy Lego' from time to time.

ROOM Copenhagen have created a fab range of storage heads where you can keep all of your Lego together in a fun storage box. What's great about the head's is that they can be stacked on top of one another, as well as on top of the Lego bricks storage boxes, Especially for Halloween ROOM have added Pumpkin and Skeleton heads to the range. They make a great accessory for a Halloween party, or for keeping sweets ready for Trick or Treater's.
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Jack was really excited to receive the storage box and heads and couldn't wait to start filling them with his football men and Duplo.


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The standard Lego heads are available in two different sizes, however the Halloween heads are only available in small, but as you can they are still a good size.


We were sent the Lego storage for the purpose of this review

Pork & Peaches

This recipe is a cross between sweet & sour and a stir fry and used up some of the 'end of the week' veggies  in the fridge.

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Pork & Peaches - serves 4

4 Pork Loin steaks
2 tbsp Olive Oil
1 Garlic Clove, crushed
2 Carrots, sliced thinly lengthways
1 green & 1 yellow pepper, de-seeded and sliced
1 red onion, sliced
1 tsp of mixed herbs
1 tin of sliced peaches in light syrup
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp Cider vinegar
3 tsp cornflour, mixed with a little water to a paste

  • Griddle the pork steaks for 2-3 minutes on each side to give them some colour, then remove from heat & set aside
  • Heat the olive oil in a large pan and add the garlic
  • Add the carrots and fry over a low heat for around 10 minutes
  • Add the onion, peppers and herbs and fry for a further 2-3 minutes
  • Drain the peaches and mix the juice with the soy sauce, vinegar and cornflour paste
  • Add to the pan and stir well
  • Add the pork loin on top of the vegetables and put the lid on, leave over a low heat for approx. 10 minutes
  • Stir in the sliced peaches and heat for 5 minutes before serving on a bed of noodles



Foodie Foto Friday - Week 8

Last week I never managed to get around to doing my Foodie Foto Friday link, sorry to anyone that tried to join in, I'm trying to be a little more organised now by doing it earlier in the week, fingers crossed this organisation continues.

If you don't know what Foodie Foto Friday is about read and grab the badge code here



This week is a photo that may get you drooling, it's a topping that I made for a chocolate cake. It's really easy to make and tastes so much better than buttercream, especially if you haven't got a really sweet tooth.


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There are just 3 ingredients - cream cheese, chocolate spread and cocoa powder -  in it and you just beat them all together, in fact you don't really need the cocoa powder but I added it to make it extra chocolatey.




Come and show us what you've been making or eating (or tempted to eat) this week.




The Crazy Kitchen

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Devilishly Chocolatey Chocolate Orange Pumpkin & Potato Cake

Well the aim was for the cake to have pumpkin in it and I bought an 'edible' pumpkin especially for the purpose. First of all I was surprised that the flesh was so pale when I cut it open and then once I'd roasted it in the oven and scooped it out it seemed very watery, more of the consistency of a marrow than a pumpkin. Instead I decided to use some butternut squash and potato mash that I had leftover after making gnocchi. You need the mash to be quite firm so don't add any milk or butter to it.

The topping (I can't really call it icing as it doesn't have any icing sugar in) is perhaps the easiest think I've ever made - it was one of those moments when you look in your cupboard and say 'ahh that'll work'...and thankfully it did.


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Devilishly Chocolatey Chocolate Orange Pumpkin & Potato Cake

225g Potato/Butternut Squash/Pumpkin mash
150g Butter, softened
225g Soft Brown sugar
4 Eggs
225g Self Raising Flour
30g Cocoa powder
1 tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
Zest of 1 large orange and juice of half

Topping
200g Full Fat cream cheese
120g Chocolate spread
20g Cocoa Powder

  • Beat the mash, butter and sugar together - don't be concerned it it looks a little curdled at this point
  • Beat in the eggs one at a time, along with a tablespoon or two of flour with each egg
  • Sift in the remaining flour along with the cocoa powder and bicarbonate of soda
  • Stir in the orange zest and juice and mix until everything is fully combined
  • Pour into a greased and lined 24cm springform cake pan and bake in a preheated 180° C oven for approx 30 minutes
  • Leave for 10 minutes before turning out and cooling on a wire rack
  • Beat all of the topping ingredients together and spread over the cooled cake

I decorated this cake with chocolate tombstones made by melting Silver Spoon orange flavoured buttons and piping them onto a sheet of greaseproof paper. My writing leaves much room for improvement!


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I have entered this into Mummy Mishaps I love Cake & One Ingredient Challenge at Franglais Kitchen and also We Should Cocoa at Hungryhinny and Chocolate Teapot /  Chocolate Log Blog
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The Purple Pumpkin Blog

Reading Eggs - Review

Jack is a very active child, he doesn't like to let the grass grow under his feet and is always moving from one activity to the next. I've often tried sitting him down to draw pictures or write his name but he's just not been interested. I then heard of Reading Eggs and, although at first I thought Jack would be too young for it, I took a look. There are different levels within the site, suitable for children from 3 years up to 13 years. You can register each of your children and they can follow their own learning path. I registered for the free trial and Jack was keen to have a go.


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The learning path - on lesson 4

We started off by having a look in the 'Playroom' where there are games and puzzles to play as well as musical books and colouring. We then started our 'lessons' and were introduced to the letter 'm' by a character called Sam. The lessons were fun and Jack really enjoyed navigating the mouse around the screen and clicking on the letter when he recognised it.

Over the past couple of weeks we have been logging on to Readings Eggs almost every evening (as a reward for being a good boy) for around 10-20 minutes each time. During this time we have been introduced to the letters m, a, s and i, and in turn the words I, am & Sam. I'm not expecting, or hoping, that Jack will be reading any time soon but I'm really pleased with his progress over the last two weeks, as he's gone from not being interested in reading or writing at all to this

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which he wrote independently at Pre-School this week. He's now really keen to learn about letters and has been happy to sit down and write a birthday card for Nanny, which has always been a struggle before.

After the free trial on Reading Eggs the subscription price is £29.95 for 6 months or £39.95 for 12 months, which works out to just £3.32 per month, less than the cost of many pre-school magazines.

We haven't had chance to look at all the activities on the site yet as there are so many, as well as so many lessons and levels on the learning path but I hope Jack won't lose interest and we'll be visiting more soon.

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Recognising the word 'I' and guiding the bee in the right direction



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Making a sentence 'I am Sam'


We were given an extended free trial to enable us to carry out this review

Christmas Shopping Under Control


I mentioned in a previous post that I felt I had Christmas under control. I know what I'm buying each of my 3 children and present buying is well under way. I don't think I've ever been this organised before, apart from the year that Sam was born and I had all the Christmas shopping sorted before he came along at the beginning of November.

Present buying has definitely become more difficult as the children have got older. Since Sam was about 3 or 4 he's always been a tricky one to buy for, never really being 'into' anything except football. This year though he's adamant that he wants a phone, so that's nice and easy. Hanna on the other hand has always been into anything and everything so present buying for her comes with different problems. I always see loads of things that I could buy her so I need to really think long and hard about what to focus on or she would end up with a pile from Santa much bigger than that of her brother's piles. Her bedroom is full of lots of 'little' things, many of them being Moshi Monsters, and having somewhere to keep them all would make my life a lot easier when it comes to cleaning her bedroom. The Moshi Monsters My Moshi Home from Tesco.com would be perfect to keep her Moshi's in as well as keeping her busy decorating it with the stickers and accessories.

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If only buying presents for the husband was this easy. As he has a December birthday I often end up splitting his Christmas presents into two and giving him half for his birthday...but shhhh don't tell him!



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Sunday, 21 October 2012

Aged Grana Padano & Pumpkin Gnocchi

A few weeks ago I was invited to attend an event with Grana Padano Cheese and Slow Food Kids. Unfortunately we were unable to attend so we were kindly sent a box of goodies instead.

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Along with the goodies I was also sent some recipes (on a handy Grana Padano USB stick) so I thought I would give the Gnocchi a try. I've only ever attempted to make Gnocchi once, I can't remember how long ago it was or the recipe I used, but all I remember was ending up with a pan of cloudy water at the end and the Gnocchi had disappeared. This time I hoped it would be different, after all if 8 year old GG can make it then surely I should be able to?

Here's the recipe by renowned Italian Chef Francesco Mazzei

Aged Grana Padano and pumpkin gnocchi with sage

Ingredients (serves 4):
100g mashed potatoes (use 2 large potatoes)
100g pumpkin mash (1 butternut squash)
100g Grana Padano 21 Months
100g 00 flour
Pinch of Nutmeg
1 egg yolk
50g butter
1 teaspoon shallots
20g Sage (4 leaves)

Method:
  • Cook the potatoes and pumpkin in boiling water for 20-25 minutes, or until soft, then drain.
  • Mash well and place in a large bowl.
  • Make a well in the centre and add the egg, salt and freshly ground nutmeg, ¾ of the grated Grana Padano and flour.
  • Mix by hand to form dough, and then knead for a few minutes.
  • Cut the dough into smaller pieces.
  • Roll each piece into a cylinder and cut into 2.5cm/1in pieces.
  • Cook the gnocchi into boiling salted water.
  • When they rise to the top, remove from the saucepan with a slotted spoon and refresh in iced water. Drain, drizzle with olive oil and keep warm.
  • In the meantime deep fry the sage leaves in a deep fryer or in a pan with very hot oil.
  • Separately sweat the shallots and butter in a pan and then sauté the gnocchi.
  • Serve with extra Grana Padano and crispy fried sage leaf.
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I Note : I used plain flour instead of 00 flour, omitted the sage leaves and substituted onion and garlic for shallots and served alongside a ratatouille. I also think that my gnocchi were possibly a little on the large side. The Grana Padano has a subtle and less salty taste compared to the Pecorino Romano that I usually buy, which all the children liked - they all ate the Gnocchi too which I was amazed by!



Blue Cheese Chicken Salad

I love salads but I can't usually be bothered with the hassle of chopping, so I always, lazily, buy bags of pre prepared salad. I then just throw a sliced tomato in along with some red onion and heat some ready cooked sliced chicken from the freezer to go on top. This salad uses new Laughing Cow Blue Cheese Light triangles to flavour the chicken, and at only 25 calories per portion I used 2.

Blue Cheese Chicken Salad

Mixed Salad Leaves
1 tomato, sliced
half a small red onion, sliced
Cooked chicken strips
2 Laughing Cow Blue Cheese traingles

  • Arrange the salad leaves, tomato and onion in a bowl
  • Heat the chicken and cheese triangles in a microwavable bowl for approx 1 minute until the cheese has melted, stir to coat the chicken
  • Arrange the chicken on top of the salad and serve immediately

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I was sent a pack of Laughing Cow Blue Cheese Light for the purpose of review

Little Dish Fresh Filled Pasta - Review

I've reviewed Little Dish meals before and they've been a real hit. Now Little Dish have created fresh filled pasta in bite sized pieced, perfect for little ones.

The pasta is made with 100% natural ingredients including free-range egg pasta, in 2 varieties - Mini Tortellini with Cheese & Tomato and Mini Ravioli with Spinach & Ricotta. As we were having Tortellini for our dinner I opted to try the Tortellini first. I didn't think Jack would eat it without a sauce so I made a quick tomato based sauce using olive oil, garlic, herbs and tinned tomatoes, to which I added the cooked Tortellini and then baked in the oven, covered in grated cheese.

Photobucket I I cooked half a pack of the tortellini (in 230g packs) and this made enough for 2 meals so at £1.99 per pack it's good value for 4 meals.

You can buy the Fresh Filled Pasta from Waitrose and Ocado, in the chilled aisle along with the Little Dish range.

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