Where do I begin?

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So this is me… Caroline, 44 and a busy, full time working mum of 2 young children. Oh and I’m married too, with a stepson to add to the madness. I love my kids, but I never really knew what having family meant until I became a mother myself. I realise now what a task my parents had… And how the hell did they survive bringing up 2 teenage daughters!?

Like I said I have 2 kids; an 8 year old daughter and a 6 year old son. They make me laugh, scream and cry, but most of all, SMILE! (Ok pull my hair out too!!). There’s many a journey to work/breakfast club when I just listen to them talking in the back of the car, and the conversations just ramble from one mad subject to the next, but these happy memories keep me smiling in the long hours at work. Oh and I work with kids too, so I’m surrounded!… But, I love it as there is no one more honest than a child; they brighten my day, and make me laugh out loud. In all the stress and madness we find laughter!

I have many interests. I love cooking and baking (obviously), and I shall be posting my favourite recipes on this site, all accompanied by my own photographs. I also run to keep fit and healthy, and most of all stay (or get!) in shape. (Sometimes I enjoy eating what I cook a little too much!) We are fortunate to have a home gym in a converted workshop in our garden, fitted out with a treadmill, cross trainer, workout bench, rebounder, weights, etc. I also love photography, so I am starting a photography blog too.

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Fresh and vibrant, Pea and Mint Soup, a match made in heaven!

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If you have never made soups before, it can be quite daunting and you don’t know where to start. But I have several, fool proof soup recipes that will show you how easy they are to make and far more delicious and fresher than the shop bought ones. You will really impress yourself!

This is one of my personal favourites, lovely fresh pea and mint soup. It makes me think of mopping up the minty gravy after a Sunday dinner, with some peas rolling around in for good measure. You can use a vegetable stock, however, to make it feel more Sunday dinner-ish, I like to use a lamb stock instead, it really adds to it, but the choice is yours and it’s a matter of taste, or principle!

You can also use more or less stock depending on how thick or thin you like your soups. I don’t like mine too runny… Or too thick!

I like to make this for my work lunches and bag portions up in those “pour and store” pouches.

  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • knob of butter
  • 1 medium red onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
  • 750g fresh peas, shelled or frozen peas (I used frozen as you can see!)
  • 75g mint leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1 litre of vegetable or lamb stock
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Serves 4

Gently heat the oil and butter in a large saucepan, add the chopped onion and cook on a gentle heat for 10 minutes, or until the onion is soft but not brown. Add the garlic and cook for a further 3 minutes.

Add 3/4 of the peas, the chopped mint leaves, and 3/4 of the stock. Cover the saucepan with a lid and simmer for 10 minutes.

Blend the soup with a hand blender, you will have a thick puree. Season with sea salt and pepper and add the remaining peas and stock to your desired thickness. Cook for a further 5 minutes.

Serve with crusty, fresh bread and enjoy!

Omelette for Breakfast anyone? Gammon & Cheese Omelette

Cheese and gammon omelette

With still more gammon left over from Sunday, I had this tasty omelette for breakfast today. Folded omelettes are traditionally folded twice, but you can just fold them in half, which is what I tend to do, with the fillings teasingly, peeping out.

Omelettes cook very quickly, so to make one, you must be organised with all your ingredients prepped, and plates warmed, before you start cooking.

For one omelette you will need

  • 3 large eggs
  • fillings of your choice, I used cubed, cooked gammon, just enough for one omelette
  • a reasonable quantity of grated or crumbed cheese, I used parmesan. (I’m being vague with quantities, because it’s personal taste how much you like.)
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • A knob of butter for the pan

Break the eggs carefully into a bowl, add seasoning, then gently combine the yolks and whites with a fork – don’t overbeat them, combine is the word you need to think of here.

Turn the heat to medium, place the pan over the heat and let it get quite hot (about half a minute). Now add the butter and, as soon as it melts, swiftly swirl it round, tilting the pan so that the base and the sides get coated. Now turn the heat up to its highest setting. When the butter is foaming, pour the eggs into the pan, tilting it to and fro to spread the eggs evenly over the base. Then leave it on the heat without moving it for a count of five.

After 5 seconds a bubbly frill will appear round the edge. Tilt the pan to 45° and, using a tablespoon, draw the edge of the omelette into the centre. The liquid egg will flow into and fill the space. Now tip the pan the other way and do the same thing. Keep tilting it backwards and forwards, pulling the edges in with the spoon and allowing the liquid egg to travel into the space left – all this will take only half a minute. You will have a mound of omelette forming in the centre of the pan, with just a shallow sea of liquid omelette around it. Sprinkle with your choice of filling and the grated cheese.

After a few seconds the remaining liquid will start to set, so now’s the time to start folding. Tilt the pan again and flip one side of the omelette into the centre, then fold again. Take the pan to the warm plate and tip the omelette out on to the plate, or simply folded in half, and sprinkle it with more freshly grated parmesan.

Remember, an omelette will go on cooking, even on the plate, so serve it immediately.

Yummy, delicious, amazingly easy, spaghetti carbonara

Spaghetti carbonara

Following Sunday’s roast gammon joint, and the resulting, ample leftovers, it was inevitable that last night’s dinner was going to be some kind of pasta dish, or chicken and gammon pie. I have made chicken and gammon pies before, so I wanted to make an authentic spaghetti carbonara, which, despite the years I have cooked pasta dishes, I have never actually made… Hmmm…

It started with me making a simpler version for the kids with fusilli pasta and normal cheddar, which they loved. Then I took the plunge and did the “Ultimate Spaghetti Carbonara” version, with a little help from Gennaro Contaldo… Who else?

The original recipe calls for pancetta, but as I had leftover gammon, I obviously used that. It also called for 50g pecorino cheese and 50g parmesan. I only had parmesan at home, so I used a full 100g of that instead. It tasted delish!

This is such a simple, delicious dish and if you have never made it before, I urge you to give it a whirl, you won’t regret it!

Ingredients (to serve 3 – 4 people)

  • 100g pancetta (or in my case cubed gammon)
  • 50g pecorino cheese and 50g parmesan (or 100g of parmesan), grated
  • 3 large eggs
  • 350g spaghetti (I used whole wheat spaghetti as ever…)
  • 2 fat garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
  • A sizeable knob of unsalted butter (the recipe calls for 50g, but I’m not sure I used as much)
  • Freshly ground pepper (it also called for salt too, but I rarely add more salt, not when there is ample salt present in the existing ingredients, i.e., cheese, gammon)

To prepare

Cook the spaghetti for 8 – 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the pancetta or gammon, chopping it up finely. Squash the garlic cloves with the side of a blade of a knife, just to bruise it.

Beat the eggs in a bowl and add the grated cheese, stirring to combine.

Heat the butter in a large, deep saucepan, and add the garlic and gammon or pancetta. Cook on a medium heat, but don’t allow the garlic to burn. Remove the garlic once it has imparted it’s flavour after about 5 minutes. If, like mine, your meat is already cooked, it’s simply a matter of heating it through, rather than making it golden and crisp if it was fresh pancetta. Turn off the heat, but keep on the stove to keep warm.

Once the spaghetti is cooked, either lift out with tongs, or drain over a bowl to reserve some of the cooking water and place the cooked pasta in with the meat, stirring to combine. Mix in the egg and cheese mixture, using tongs or a fork to lift up the spaghetti, so it mixes evenly, but doesn’t scramble and everything is coated. Add extra pasta cooking water, a tablespoon at a time, to keep it moist, but not wet. Season with freshly ground pepper.

Using a fork, twist the pasta onto a plate or bowl. Serve immediately with extra parmesan to top.

Looking forward to Sunday roast leftovers tomorrow? And the lowdown on bacon

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Today we had a lovely joint of roast gammon. We had it with lovely, roast sweet potatoes and butternut squash, baby chantenay carrots and broccoli, and baby new potatoes for the kids, so they didn’t moan about the sweet potatoes! I don’t know why, they used to eat them when they were babies, but hey, it’s a phase. They are generally very good with their veg.

Anyway, as luck would have it, we have a sizeable portion left over, which will be used to make another meal tomorrow night. I’m thinking probably another pasta dish, as this is quick and easy to prepare after a 10 hour working day!

And even better news, whilst many reports say bacon might not be the healthiest meat, I have read otherwise. Newsflash: Bacon might actually be good for us! Good news in my book!

Here’s some reasons why bacon might actually be healthy for you!

  • Consuming bacon on a regular basis has been shown to lower blood pressure and blood sugar in the body.
  • It also lowers or alleviates the effects of diabetes, heart disease and strokes.
  • Bacon is an excellent source of high protein, low carbohydrate energy that helps reset the metabolism, making weight loss much easier, and is helpful in building muscle tissues that are lean and strong.
  • Not only is bacon a good source of amino acids, but it does not contain any mercury, which is typically found in lots of seafood today.
  • The ratio of protein to fat in bacon is a very healthy four to one, making it one of the highest protein to fat ratios found in any source of meat, poultry or fish.
  • It contains many important B vitamins. Choline, which helps boost memory and healthy brain function, helps prevent diseases such as Alzhheimer’s. It also provides vitamins B1, B2, B3, B12, and B6.
  • It contains essential zinc, iron and magnesium.
  • Contrary to popular belief, bacon is actually good for your cholesterol.
  • Bacon should not be overcooked and it is best to bake it, not fry it, in order to eliminate any trace of nitrates.

So pop some on your next shopping list!

Information taken from thesilverclouddiet.com and bacontoday.com

Fancy a nibble? Try these healthier, homemade muesli bars for yourself. They are so easy!

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My husband and I both run, although to be fair, these days I don’t get out as much as him, but he still puts in his mileage. He lives on muesli bars for his mid morning snack at work and also before a run or a race.

Anyway, I saw this recipe on River Cottage one day and decided to try making them myself. I have done a variation on the original recipe and it’s the one we all prefer, even my daughter, who swears blind, she “hates” peanut butter and cranberries, loves them!

They pack a healthier punch than the shop bought variety and are so easy to make and taste just so devine, you’ll make them again and again!

Click on the link for the recipe Peanut Butter and Banana Muesli Bars

Whole wheat Spaghetti with chorizo, olives, tomatoes, basil, pine nuts and garlic

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A delicious, quick and easy recipe, dreamt up after a lovely chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc on the beach at Whitstable. I used my own, home grown tomatoes and basil, which made it even more satisfying!

Follow the link below for the full recipe!

Whole wheat Spaghetti with chorizo, olives, tomatoes, basil, pine nuts and garlic.

School Reports!

A couple of weeks ago, my 6 year old son had his school report. Despite having excellent school reports in reception and also his first half yearly report in year 1, I really didn’t know what to expect; surely he couldn’t still be doing great? But maybe instinctively, I wasn’t nervous.

As soon as I saw his teacher, she gushed about how well my son is doing and repeatedly told me how he amazes her with his abilities. She told me he is in the top (but small) group for maths, his reading has taken off and he’s now flying, and how well he grasps new concepts. And of course, how his wit and anecdotes keep her laughing! That’s my boy!

Tonight was my daughters turn. She’s 8 and in year 3, 1st year juniors in old money. I have to tell you I was, in her case, nervous about tonight. She’s been struggling with her maths homework at times, depending on what it is, and it’s a constant battle to get her to learn her times tables, despite my constant nagging and me explaining how important they are… And of course how they are fundamental to solving maths problems.

Anyway, on arriving, we looked through her books before meeting her teachers. I was surprised to see how many smiley stamps and house points she had… Tick after tick, after tick, in both literacy and maths! We then went on to look at her science folders and topic books and again, all ticks etc. Why had I been so scared?

Her teachers then greeted us and we went through to find out the full report. Well I’m pleased to say that she has gone from strength to strength and met all her targets and is doing really well. As importantly, she has grown in confidence and is keen and eager to learn. My fears were unrealised. Thank goodness!

Well done kids, you have both done Mummy and Daddy proud!

…And it just goes to show, all the hard parenting work, nagging or “blood, sweat and tears”, whatever you want to call it, is worth it!

So it’s my day off…

 Today is my day off. I don’t usually have Monday off, it’s usually Friday (and Saturday and Sunday, but the jury is out on that…), but as it’s Good Friday this week, work have rostered today as my non-working day. I’m not complaining!

My days off start with me somehow hoofing the kids out of bed, in whatever manner befits their mood at any given time! My daughter is usually no problem, but my son is a different animal altogether. This morning I started by singing him a little adlibbed song, the words to which escape me now, so I’ll spare you my singing! Then I moved on to “If you don’t get out of bed now, I’ll scoop you up and take you to school in your pyjamas and you won’t have time for breakfast!” Then I remembered that I had washed his clothes last night and he was wearing an old, age 3-4 year pair of pyjamas, the trousers of which had had a fight with his ankles. So I moved on to “Get up and get dressed. What would you like for breakfast?” A short pause followed by a little voice from under the duvet saying “Hot cross bun!”

Ah-ha… A plan! Within no time I had 2 kids washed and dressed, floating down the stairs on the aroma of the toasting buns. Job done. Almost.

So post school run, I like to frequent my place of cappuccino worship… McDonalds! Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it, they make lovely cappuccinos and I am an addict! Unfortunately, I am in the position of living ‘twixt 2 McDonalds, both with drive through, but I prefer to “drink in” and ponder over my to do list:

  1. Laundry
  2. Tidy up
  3. Go for a run
  4. Think of reasons I shouldn’t go for a run. Too busy. Too tired. Too stuffy nosed/chesty for a run.
  5. Suddenly realise I must get myself some new boots. Right now. Most urgent!

So, cappuccino drunk, I went to hunt for a pair of boots in the sale and there was nothing. None! But I did come away with a bag full of bargains for the kids. At the checkout the lady asked me if I wanted cash back, to which I replied “Nnnnn… Yes £10 please.” Well you never know when I might need an emergency cappuccino!

So as the day is now ticking on I can tick off:

  1. Laundry – one load done so far *tick*
  2. Tidying up – pending…
  3. Cupcakes eaten (did I miss that off my list?) *tick*
  4. Run – 12K done! *tick* (Polish my halo *tick*)
  5. Shopping for boots, maybe another day.

So it looks like it’s almost time to collect the kids and the madness starts again 🙂