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!

Salmon & Spinach Tart

I love eating food, I love cooking food, I love reading about food and I love looking at food. But  can I be the only person who thinks there are far too many photos of chia pudding on Instagram? There – I’ve said it. That statement may make me wildly unpopular but frankly I’m becoming bored of the endless stream of ‘photogenic food’. Yes, food should look appetising, and yes, I applaud those who can take fantastic photographs (a skill I would love to learn one day as my camera is a total mystery to me!) But I don’t think how food looks should be anywhere near as important as how it tastes! I must declare a strong dislike for chia seeds and so they have taken the brunt of my rant – but really I am using chia pudding as an example for a whole range of ‘pretty but tasteless’ food.

This seems to form part of a growing trend for ‘clean’ food and in some ways I think this is excellent – knowing what we are putting in our bodies is hugely important to me and I am very passionate about the provenance of my ingredients. However, replacing all known foods with ‘clean’ alternatives I find concerning, especially when children’s diets are involved. We have no allergies or intolerances in our family so we eat a balance of all food groups including whole grains, dairy and meat. When I replace an ingredient it isn’t to make my food ‘clean’ as if it was somehow ‘dirty’ before – its merely to try something new and provide my family with nutritious and varied meals.

This tart is made with a sweet potato crust instead of pastry. This does make it lower in fat and calories, as well as increasing the vegetable content of the meal, but more than this, its delicious! The sweetness of sweet potatoes works beautifully with the salmon and spinach in this tart and is a lovely alternative to pastry. I have tried sweet potato bases with various quiche and tart recipes but this has been my favourite so far. It is such a summery meal, perfect on warm evenings with a large salad. It also makes a brilliant baby-led weaning meal as it contains oily fish, green vegetables and dairy; in my experience often the hardest foods to get babies to eat! It can be eaten hot or cold, so it also works well for packed lunches.

The recipe method looks a little long but if you are short on time I recommend making the tart case in advance. I normally make this in the morning, blind bake it and then keep it in the fridge until I need it later that day.

Ingredients

This makes enough to serve 4 adults as part of a main meal. 

  • 3 medium sweet potatoes
  • 2 fillets of salmon
  • 1 bag of raw spinach (enough to make 3 cooked handfuls)
  • 2 eggs
  • 100ml creme fraiche
  • Tsp dijon mustard
  • Zest of half a lemon

Method

Sweet potato tart case:

  • Peel and grate the sweet potatoes using a coarse grater
  • Highly grease your tart case and pour the grated potato in
  • Using your hands or a spoon push the grated potato into the tart case, covering the base and sides. This can be a little fiddly, I find the best way is to use my hands and knuckles!
  • Blind bake this a preheated oven at 180C for about 15 minutes until the edges are starting brown.
  • Crack one of the eggs and put the yolk to the side. Using the egg white, brush the tart case to create and pop it back in the oven for 5 minutes. This creates a waterproof layer ensuring your salmon filling will not leak through. You cannot see or taste the egg white.

 

For the filling:

  • Place the salmon fillets in a microwaveable dish with a little water and cook them for about 3 minutes, until they are cooked through.
  • Flake the salmon into large chunks and put to one side
  • Cook your spinach, drain it and squeeze out any excess moisture and chop up.
  • Add the salmon, spinach, creme fraiche and mustard to a bowl and stir.
  • Add the egg yolk and the remaining egg to the mixture and combine
  • Season with salt and pepper (no salt if cooking it for children)
  • Spoon the mixture into the tart case and put in the oven for 15 minutes
  • Optional: add slices of tomato to the top of the tart
  • The filling should be set and golden brown

 

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We enjoyed this warm last night with some new potatoes from our garden and a green salad with a citrus dressing to mirror the lemon in the tart. Will had his at lunch time cold and he ate it all (happy Mummy!) Despite the poorly taken photographs and the slightly browned black edges of the sweet potato case, this meal was made with love for my family and it tasted fantastic!

I’d love to hear from you if you try any of my recipes, or if there are any people who have a recipe for chia seeds that may change my mind about them!

 

Roast Aubergine & Tomato Soup

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Will has been really poorly with an ear infection. It’s the first time he has been properly unwell (thankfully) and it has been horrible. He had a fever that wouldn’t come down with painkillers and it worried me a lot. As a pharmacist, I thought I would be calm and controlled when my child was ill but if anything it makes me even more neurotic! I also, despite being surrounded by medicines every day, hate to give him things if I can avoid it, so when he was given antibiotics I was weirdly disappointed – a completely stupid emotion as within two doses he had perked up no end and his temperature was back to normal. There is such negative stigma attached to antibiotics and it’s completely unfounded; of course they should only be used when needed, but when they are needed they are incredible, life saving medicines that we should thank our lucky stars for! Although he has been feeling better, he still hasn’t been his usual bubbly self and its been upsetting to see.

Anyway, as I was feeling hopeless at making my little man feel better I focussed on what I could do, making him some soothing, nutritious food. Soup is my go-to food when anyone is ill. Its quick to make, comforting, healthy and can be eaten at literally any time of day. Soups have always been a regular meal in our house, but even more so since we became parents. I love to batch cook soups and freeze portions to have for lunches or late suppers. Its also great to have something that is quick to reheat and can be eaten with one hand (or put in a mug when you have a cluster feeding newborn)!

This particular soup is a firm favourite in our house. It really showcases summer vegetables so it is perfect for this time of year. The aubergine gives the soup a wonderful creamy texture which works beautifully to cut through the acidity of the tomatoes without having to add sugar. This soup is also able to make even the most tasteless, unripe supermarket tomatoes taste delicious. Although it goes without saying that the better your tomatoes, the better the flavour will be.

Soups are also a marvellous way of sneaking extra vegetables into children or babies. I spoon-feed Will food like this (my kitchen or my type A personality wouldn’t cope if he fed himself soup!) To encourage him to feed himself as well, I give him bread soldiers that have been dunked in the soup for him to chew on. I also added some live natural yoghurt to Will’s to give him back some of the good bacteria the antibiotics may have taken!

Any leftovers can obviously be frozen but this soup also works perfectly as a pasta sauce, two recipes in one!

Ingredients

  • 1 aubergine, chopped into chunks
  • 5 fresh tomatoes
  • 1 tin of tomatoes
  • 1 red onion
  • pinch of fresh or dried oregano
  • pinch of mixed herbs
  • black pepper to taste
  • olive oil

Method

  • Chop the aubergine and tomatoes and place in an oven tray to roast with the dried herbs and a drizzle of olive oil
  • Roast them at 180C until they are soft and browning
  • Peel and finely slice the red onion and sweat in a saucepan on a  low heat until it is translucent
  • Add the oven roasted tomato and aubergine to the saucepan with the onion, rinse out the oven tray with some water and pour into the saucepan so you lose no flavour
  • Add the tin of tomatoes and a little water
  • Simmer for 15 minutes
  • Season to taste and blend, adding water until you reach your desired consistency.

 

This obviously isn’t an adult bowl of soup, but ours was eaten very late and I was too hungry for the camera!