Carrot and Spinach Buttermilk Muffins

I started writing this blog post this morning, Will woke up at an eye-watering 5am so I had some time before breakfast! Anyway, I then found another million things to do so thought I would leave writing until later in the day. One of today’s tasks was the weekly shop. I’ve done a lot of online food shopping since having Will but I must admit I don’t like it. I like the convenience, but I absolutely hate having no control of which food is chosen for me. I’m normally the person who picks up every single watermelon in the shop before deciding that the very first one I looked at was in fact, just fine! Shopping with Will has become a bit of a breeze recently though as he is happy to sit in the trolly, eating and nosing his way around the shop! I tend to take him a piece of fruit to eat en-route. Once home, with Will napping I decided to sit down to write a little more. I made myself a cup of tea, sat down at my desk and went to tuck my chair in. In doing so I happened to notice my feet, and it was at this precise moment that I realised I had gone all around town and to the supermarket in ODD SHOES! They didn’t even nearly resemble a pair! I think its fair to say that early mornings coupled with moving house and finishing maternity leave is starting to take its toll… on my wardrobe choices if nothing else! Thankfully I’m not making such mistakes in the kitchen!

I’ve been frantically filling my freezer with food so that when we begin moving house lunches and supper will be taken care of. Snacks and meals that can be eaten hot or cold, at any time of day are going to be a necessity over the next few weeks, especially as the house we are moving into is still derelict, and I go back to work next week! This recipe is something I make quite often, we have them as snacks, with big bowls of soup or as an alternative to bread.

Savoury muffins are something I never really enjoyed; I found most recipes came out heavy, ‘healthy tasting’ (code for dull) and with a chewy, often unpleasant texture. I then came across a  recipe that used buttermilk and I decided to experiment. The following is the result of a few months experimenting with different flavours. These are delicious, delicately spiced with cumin and coriander, but not overpoweringly so. The recipe looks like it contains lots of raising agents, and to be fair it does, but the resulting muffin is light, fluffy and not at all greasy like shop-bought sweet muffins can be.

The key with this recipe, as with soda bread, is to act quickly once you have added the buttermilk into the batter. The buttermilk is added last and the muffins will be lightest and most fluffy if they get into the oven as quickly as possible, no pressure! I’ve probably made the recipe sound scary now, but they are incredibly easy to make.

The vegetables can be swapped for alternatives such as butternut squash, Kale, courgette or sweet potato, or anything else you fancy/have to hand. It goes without saying that these are an excellent way of sneaking vegetables into fussy children. More than this though, they are actually a brilliant way of celebrating just how delicious vegetables can be! Savoury muffins are also a great food to give when weaning as the texture is softer and more moist than bread. Will has them along side soup to dunk, or just with some cheese for a simple, quick lunch.

Ingredients

This makes 12 generous muffins

  • 250g Wholemeal self raising flour
  • 80g unsalted butter (salted is fine too if not cooking for little ones)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 200ml buttermilk
  • 150g of grated carrot (roughly 3 medium carrots)
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 2 large handfuls of spinach
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander

Method

  • Melt the butter un the microwave, add a tablespoon of it to a frying pan and pour the rest into a large mixing bowl
  • Peel and dice an onion, add this to the frying pan and soften in the butter.
  • Once the onion is soft add the cumin and coriander, switch the heat off and let the spices warm through
  • To the bowl of melted butter add the flour, eggs, baking powder and bicarb, mix to combine
  • Peel and grate the carrot
  • Chop your raw spinach finely
  • Add the carrot, softened onion and spinach to the other ingredients and combine
  • Finally pour in the buttermilk, combine quickly and spoon into muffin cases as efficiently as you can. The mixture will start to foam and become light and airy as soon as the buttermilk and bicarb react.
  • Bake for 17-20 minutes, until golden and hollow sounding when the bases are tapped.

These keep for 5 days in a sealed container but they freeze well too. I have a freezer full of them now for Will’s packed lunch, and my own!

Spiced Nut Buckwheat Cookies

Does anyone else have days when they could just eat a whole packet of chocolate digestives? I certainly do, when I’m tired, William is cranky and I feel deserving of a treat I often feel like reaching for the biscuit tin. There are two major problems with this though. firstly, my biscuit tin actually doesn’t exist, I try not to buy food like biscuits or crisps as having them in the house means I would eat them! Secondly, a whole packet of chocolate digestives, great though it sounds, really never feels like a treat afterwards. I don’t ever deny myself food, and I hate reading terms such as ‘guilt-free’ or worse, the dreaded slimming world term ‘syn’. Food isn’t something to feel guilty about, and it certainly isn’t a sin. I think its really upsetting that people feel this way about food; for me, all food, healthy and not-so healthy, is something to be savoured and enjoyed, not labelled.

Having said this, I do enjoy eating healthily and love nothing more than being able to create delicious treats that provide some nutritional benefit as well as calories. The packet of digestives really doesn’t provide any nutritional value and for me this is what makes them not such a great choice. I also get far more pleasure eating something if I have made it myself, it feels more deserving.

This week has been incredibly busy with renovations in the barn. We are supposed to be moving into it by September and at the moment its a building site! Progress is being made, but as with all building projects, delays creep in. This is also the first renovation project we have undertaken whilst having William. It is making it much harder for me to help out as at the moment its not safe enough to let Will crawl around in. I have been trying to get some jobs done in the evening, once my husband is in to babysit. By 9 o’clock I’m ready to drop and love nothing more than a biscuit and a big ol’ cuppa!

These biscuits certainly fit the bill! They are crunchy around the edge with a slight cookie chew in the middle, and are so tasty. To make them suitable for babies I have modified a recipe that was given to me years ago. They are free of refined sugar, gluten and dairy, but none of this impacts the flavour, they taste just lovely and due to the nuts and buckwheat they are healthier than a standard biscuit. Buckwheat is related to rhubarb and is a complete protein, while nuts are a great source of vitamin E and healthy fats, brilliant for growing little ones. They are fast to make and cook in 10 minutes so they are easy to whip up when the need for a biscuity treat strikes. I’m still not suggesting you eat the lot in one go though!

Ingredients

This makes 12 medium sized biscuits or lots of smaller ones

  • 150g nut butter, I prefer to use cashew but almond works well too
  • 60g buckwheat flour
  • 60g ground almonds
  • 1 medium egg
  • 30ml agave syrup or maple syrup
  • 1tsp cinnamon
  • 2tsp ground ginger
  • 1/3 tsp ground nutmeg

Method 

  • Weigh the nut butter and place in a bowl, stir it until it becomes a smooth even texture
  • Add the egg and syrup, stir to combine
  • Add all the dry ingredients
  • The mixture should come together like a slightly shiny playdough
  • Grab the dough and place on a large square of cling film
  • Roll into a sausage using the cling film to seal together (shown below)

 

  • Place this in the fridge to firm up for 30 mins or so, you don’t have to do this but it does make the biscuits easier to cut
  • Since rounds off the biscuit roll and peel off the cling. Each biscuit should be around 0.3-0.5cm thick
  • Place on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper
  • Bake for 8-10 minutes at 180 C. The biscuits should be golden and firming up with a little softness in the middle.
  • Leave to cool on their baking tray.

Cod & Sweet Potato Fishcakes

I continually ask my husband if he is bored of the meals we eat; I fear that we may get stuck in a food rut, a nightmare to a greedy person like me! I love food and I love my meals to be exciting and varied. When My little boy was first born ( in August.. where has the time gone?) we were definitely in a food rut. I had frozen an eye-watering 75 meals beforehand as I knew I would have no time to cook. This was an absolute life saver in the early days when my evenings were spent mainly on the sofa trying to feed and/or comfort an often inconsolable baby. It was however, rather boring and repetitive. Meal times began to feel like just another task; an interruption to looking after William. I will admit I found this really sad; meal times were my favourite time of day and I longed for the picture-perfect image of us all sitting at our table together sharing a meal.  It was feeling like this that made me determined that William would be able to share our meals.

Fast forward a few months and obviously this doesn’t always work. My husband is a farmer and some days he can be home at 4pm, on other days I don’t see him until the middle of the night. William is not a flexible baby (he likes routine, just like me) so we don’t always get to have supper together even if we have managed breakfast and lunch. That being said, I still try to ensure he eats the same supper as us, even if it has been blended or altered slightly.

These fishcakes are something I made long before I was a Mum and are a perfect example of a meal that can be altered slightly to suit grown-ups and little ones. They have always been a staple in our house as they freeze brilliantly meaning I can make a large batch and then have them stored away for busy days. I’ve called them cod fishcakes but actually I have made them with a variety of white fish, today they are haddock, in the past I have made them with pollock, red snapper and even monkfish. William often requires some persuasion to eat fish but he adores sweet potato so these tend to be received well, I try not to take it too personally when my food gets thrown on the floor in temper!

The quantities I’ve outlined below make 6 large fishcakes and 6 mini ones.

Ingredients 

  • 200g white fish (cod, haddock and pollock all work brilliantly)
  • 4 medium sweet potatoes
  • 3 spring onions
  • zest of half a lemon
  • Handful of fresh herbs (basil, mint, coriander or parsley all work well, use whatever you have)
  • Oil for frying fishcakes
  • Polenta or plain flour for dusting

Optional extras for grown-up versions

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Grown up extras tonight are chorizo and chilli

 

  • Half a chilli, chopped finely
  • 25g Chorizo, fried until crispy
  • Extra herbs
  • Black pepper

 

Method

  • Pre heat your oven to 180 degrees, place fish on a baking tray and pop in the oven for approximately 15 minutes.
  • Peel and chop sweet potatoes and boil until soft
  • Finely slice the spring onions remembering to ensure they are small enough for img_5655your little one to manage and place in a large mixing bowl
  • Zest half a lemon and add to the mixing bowl
  • Once the potatoes are cooked, drain them well and leave to cool a little
  • Add potatoes to mixing bowl and mash roughly with a fork
  • Once your fish is cooked (15 minutes approximately but depends on the thickness of the fillet) place it on a plate and flake it, checking for bones as you go
  • Add the flaked fish to to the mixing bowl and fork it through the sweet potato mixture
  • Once the mixture is cool enough to touch, shape your mini fishcakes and place on a plate
  • Add any extras to the remaining mixture and stir through
  • Shape your large fishcakes and place on a plate
  • Place fishcakes in the fridge to cool down as this ensures they hold their shape when cooked
  • Dust the fishcakes in flour our polenta. I love the texture that polenta gives them and it makes the easier for small hands to grab (at this stage they can be frozen and then cooked in the oven from frozen)
  • Shallow fry in the oil of your choice (I use cold-pressed rapeseed oil as it has a high smoking point) for a couple of minutes a side until they are crispy and golden. Make sure you give them long enough on each side to form a crust or they won’t flip easily.

Tonight we are having these with some grilled asparagus. Although we also have them with salads, mushy peas or tenderstem brocolli.

 

Mini ones for Will 

The key with these is really to add herbs and flavours that you like to them. I love the salty spice of chorizo with the sweetness of the potato and the white fish. They can also take on an asian twist if you add lime zest instead of lemon, with chilli and coriander. Its a brilliant base-recipe that you can tweak to make your meals more exciting, avoiding the infamous ‘food rut’!

 

I’d love to hear if you try making these, happy cooking!