Summer Vegetable Minestrone

One thing that I have definitely become better at since becoming a parent is time management. I’ve always been a bit of a control freak organised, but I now realise I was completely terrible at managing my time!  I used to be very good at writing lists; long lists that were neatly written with little boxes to tick when I had done the task. Sounds ideal – but I would rarely, and by rarely I mean NEVER finish the list of jobs. Post-baby I still write a list every day, it’s normally scribbled on the back of an envelope with a coffee stain on, but most importantly I actually do what it says! William has been in a pretty steady two nap routine for a few months and this has made it relatively easy to be organised. It means I have two spells in the day to get things done. For my kitchen this means I need recipes that I can prep, at least in part, in advance. Most often I get the supper prep done in his morning nap as by the afternoon my enthusiasm can be dropping, or my house may have turned into a bomb-site! This summer vegetable minestrone is a perfect example of a supper that can be prepped in advanced and then cooked quickly when everyone is ready to eat.

All of the summer vegetables in this soup need minimal cooking, it takes only 10 minutes to cook and in an ideal world would be eaten straight away as this way the vegetables keep their individual character, colour and texture. On the surface it may not sound that baby friendly, but all the prep work can be done beforehand, meaning when your little one goes to bed supper is only 10 minutes away. This soup is a wonderful way of getting vast quantities of green vegetables into your family. For Will, I blend his up to make a thicker soup as the chunks are currently too big for him to manage, but an alternative for baby led weaner’s would be to drain the liquid off the soup and just give them the vegetables as they are.

The ingredient list may look long but don’t be put off, its really just a shopping list of green vegetables, and they can all be exchanged for others you may have in your fridge or freezer. The key is to not let it overcook. The other little trick in this soup is to add a parmesan rind; a trick I learnt from a Nigel Slater recipe. It works brilliantly with this soup to add a depth of flavour to the broth which would otherwise not be there owing to the soup cooking so quickly. It can be omitted but it does enhance the flavour. Adding pasta to the soup in the form of orzo or spaghetti (we use wholewheat spaghetti) makes it a filling supper on its own, but its also wonderful with some crusty bread and butter.

Soup may not seem that summery but I urge you to give this a try, it is a real celebration of all things green and sings summer!

Ingredients

  • A bunch of asparagus
  • A courgette
  • One handful of peas (fresh or frozen)
  • One leek or 4 spring onions
  • One handful of sugar snap peas (or fine beans/ mange tout)
  • Few stalks of tenderstem broccoli (normal broccoli works too)
  • One handful of frozen edamame beans
  • Parmesan Rind
  • Vegetable stock
  • Two Tbsps orzo pasta or a small handful of spaghetti broken into little pieces
  • Olive oil
  • Handful of chopped basil
  • 5-6 leaves chopped mint

Method

  • Chop all your fresh vegetables until they are the size of small cubes – try as much as possible to make everything a similar size.
  • Soften the leek or spring onion in a little olive oil, making sure they don’t colour
  • After a minute add the rest of the chopped vegetables and the edamame beans
  • Add the orzo or spaghetti pieces
  • Add the vegetable stock (a cube works just fine in this soup, because I’m also cooking for William I use salt free stock), water (about 2 pints) and the parmesan rind. Leave to simmer on a medium heat.
  • After 5 minutes add the frozen peas and mint plus half of the basil
  • Cook for further 5 minutes until the vegetables are soft but still retaining their beautiful green colour.
  • Remove the parmesan rind, ladle into bowls and garnish with the rest of the basil, enjoy!

 

Apple Crumble Bites 

Will was born last summer and this meant I started weaning him in January- the 25th of January to be exact. Someone bought us a baby record book and I have thanked them so many times as I have written so much down that I would otherwise have forgotten in my sleep-deprived new Mum fog! I loved the process of introducing him to food, both as purees and finger foods, but I really struggled with fruit. Winter fruit in Britain is awful, or I should say winter fruit in Britain that babies can eat is awful! I tried, on a number of occasions to buy melons or strawberries but buying these fruits out of season is a futile exercise – they tasted of swede! It seemed that the only fruits on his menu for the first month or two were apples, pears and dried fruits such as figs, prunes and apricots.

The other problem with winter fruit is that its not that suitable to eat as finger food. On numerous occasions I bought pears that actually went off before they became soft enough for my little one to gum, and raw apples were definitely not going to be suitable. Inspiration finally struck when I was making a crumble for a family lunch. It occurred to me that aside from at the sugar that most crumbles are filled with, it was a pretty baby-friendly pudding. I decided to deconstruct it and these apple crumble bites were the outcome.

The apple is baked and therefore soft enough for young babies to gum or chew, whilst the crumble coating is sugar free yet delicious and turns the humble apple chunk into a really tasty pudding or snack. These have now become a staple make in my kitchen. I offer them to Will on their own, or as an edible spoon with a yoghurt or fruit puree dip. My husband and I enjoy them with yoghurt and maple syrup, on top of rice pudding (amazing) or even with a bowl of warm custard! They are lovely warm or cold and keep well in the fridge for 48 hours.

The ingredients you need are limited, they are fast to make and healthy. They also increase the nutrient and calorie content of fruit for your little one- always good as they need plenty to keep them growing!

 

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Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsps rolled oats
  • 2 Tbsp ground almonds
  • 1 tsp cinnamon (or to taste, you could also use ginger)
  • 2 apples

 

Method

  • Peel and core 2 apples and chop each apple into 6 chunks
  • Place in an oven tray and pop in a preheated oven at 180c
  • In a small bowl combine the oats, ground almonds and cinnamon
  • After 5 minutes pull the apple out of the oven- it should be warmed through and ever so slightly damp, this will ensure the dry ingredients stick to it.
  • Ensuring the apple isn’t too hot to touch, coat each slice in the dry ingredients and place on a lined baking tray or a cupcake tray.
  • Bake at 180c for 15 minutes until the apple feels soft and the crumble coating is golden.img_6236

 Now that summer fruit is available I have been making these less. But I made them again the other day as the weather has turned really damp and grey here and we were all in need of something cozy for brunch. I fell in love with them all over again and had to share them with you.

What are your favourite ways to use apples? I’d love to hear!

 

Very Vegetable Chilli Con Carne

I think lots of people assume that because we live on a beef farm, we eat roast dinners every day. This couldn’t be further from the truth in our case; my husband and I often eat vegetarian meals, or meals that contain very little meat. In most of my cooking I aim for quality of meat over quantity. I try to by local, organic meat wherever possible. We are lucky to have an excellent butcher in the next village to us who supplies meat from local farms. I like to know where my food has come from and I do find the flavour to be superior, especially with minced meat. Minced beef that you get in a supermarket is okay, but I do find it lacking in any meaningful flavour. I would much rather buy beef and have it minced by the butcher in front of me. It can be more expensive but that is precisely why I choose to use less of it.

This recipe is a perfect example of just that. It won’t win any prizes for Mexican authenticity but its a delicious nutrient-dense powerhouse. It is also a brilliant way of sneaking extra vegetables into fussy eaters –  there are no less than 8 vegetables in this chilli!

It also makes a wonderful meal for babies or children. It can be blended or pulsed for those who are eating purees. If you can handle the mess utter carnage, you can feed it as finger food alongside flatbreads to dunk/scoop, or you can load spoons of it and hand them to your little one. However you choose to feed it, this chilli is packed with iron, protein and a whole host of other vitamins and minerals needed for their growth and development. I tend to pulse this for Will and add a spoon of full fat yoghurt to it, adding a little calcium hit and making it creamier.

I tend to make this with flatbreads (the most versatile bread dough) or simply with brown rice. Its also rather delicious on its own, in a bowl in front of the TV after a busy day!

Ingredients 

This quantity serves 6 people easily. I tend to cook in larger batches and freeze portions  for busy days. 

  • 500g lean minced beef
  • 2 medium onions, finely sliced
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled & chopped
  • 2 tins of tomatoes
  • 1 tin of pinto/kidney beans
  • 2 courgettes, grated
  • 1 large handful of chopped spinach
  • 1 1/2 peppers, deseeded & chopped
  • 6 tablespoons of lentils, red, green or puy – or a mixture of all three
  • A little oil for softening the onion and garlic

Spices- this is just a guide, its what I like to add. I remove Will’s and then add the chilli to just the adult portions, but it really is up to you.

  • 2 Tsp ground cumin
  • 1Tsp paprika
  • 1Tsp ground coriander
  • 1 Tsp chilli powder

 

Method

  • Brown your minced beef in a wide base frying pan
  • Finely chop the onion and garlic and sweat in a large saucepan using a little oil (I use olive oil) on a low heat. You don’t want them to colour, just soften.
  • Grate the courgette using a coarse grater
  • Chop the peppers finely
  • Once the onion and garlic have softened add the spices (except the chilli if making this for little ones) and stir on the heat until the aromas are released
  • Add the beef to the saucepan, as well as the peppers, grated courgette and lentils
  • Add two tins of tomatoes and one tin of drained beans
  • Add roughly a pint of water
  • Simmer on a low heat for around 45 minutes with a lid on. After this time the  lentils should be cooked and the sauce reduced slightly.
  • Before serving add the chilli if you haven’t already and the handful of spinach.