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!

Butternut Squash Houmous 

I’ve been rather silent this week as we are currently in the middle of renovating the barn we are moving into. We only have 4 weeks to finish it so it’s been rather hectic! At the moment it’s seems miles off being finished but I’m assured it will be ready on time! All our spare time has been spent painting, sanding and doing general donkey work to speed the job up. I wouldn’t mind moving into a house that wasn’t finished a few years ago, but now we have Will I am much more anxious that things are finished. Busy baby who is furniture cruising and into everything plus building site- no thank you! In fact, the whole moving with a baby scenario is bonkers. Filling one box takes hours as Will likes to play boo/needs a feed/doesn’t want to pack! Every night I look at the house and wonder what I can actually pack- babies need a lot of things every day, it’s all going to have to be packed at the last minute.  I certainly haven’t stopped cooking though! If anything I’m cooking more as I find it a brilliant way to relax. 

I have made this particular recipe for years and years, but have avoided sharing it for one reason and one reason alone – the spelling of the word ‘houmous’! There are SO many versions out there and I simply wasn’t sure what to write. Then I made it the other day and Will was such a huge fan of it that I decided to bite the bullet, choose a spelling and share the recipe. 
Houmous features in our weekly meals quite often, I find it handy to keep in the fridge to add to sandwiches, salads or as an impromptu snack. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but having healthy snacks to hand really ensures I make better food decisions (most of the time – sometimes I still decide that a ginormous bar of cadburys whole nut is completely necessary)! 

While there is very little wrong with some shop bought versions, homemade really does taste better. I use my nutribullet to blitz the ingredients making it both quick and low on washing up (vital in my kitchen).  It can also be made from mostly store cupboard ingredients. 

Houmous is also an excellent food for babies and children. This version is full of protein and fibre from the chickpeas, and the butternut squash adds a lovely sweetness that children love. They can scoop it with their favourite vegis or breadsticks and it’s completely free of salt, stabilisers, preservatives or other unnecessary ingredients the shop bought offerings include. 

I have substituted the squash for carrots or sweet potato in the past, but the squash is my favourite. 

Ingredients

  • 400g butternut squash, in cubes
  • Half a can of chickpeas 
  • 2 cloves of garlic, skin on
  • 2 Tbsp tahini 
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 40ml extra virgin olive oil 
  • Sprinkle of smoked paprika

Method 

  • Peel and cube the butternut squash and roast in in a little olive oil with the garlic cloves until it is soft and browning at the edges (about 30 minutes)
  • Squeeze the garlic cloves to remove ththe sweet cooked garlic from their skins and place in the blender with the squash 
  • Drain the chickpeas and add them to blender with the lemon juice, tahini and olive oil. 
  • Blend until you have a textured paste 
  • Pop in th fridge to chill completely 
  • To serve I like to drizzle it with some more olive oil and some smoked paprika.

This is perfect with crudités or breadsticks as well as being great in wraps or as an accompaniment to a salad. It keeps in the fridge for 3 days if covered, although it’s normally eaten before this in our house! 

Well, that was my little break, now it’s time to choose bathroom tiles! 

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!