A packed Lunch Made with Love

I’m an old romantic at heart.  My husband and I literally met by bumping into each other on the street.  It was fate that he got off the bus just as I was walking past with my pal, and for our eyes to meet.  It could of easily been a ‘sliding doors’ scenario as a minute later and we would have been heading off in different directions, lost in the crowds having never seen each other.  Obviously, I’m so glad it wasn’t, as 13 years later we have been married for nearly 7 years and have 3 wonderful children.

Our household is a pretty busy place as our children are still young and as a result I think it is easy to forgot the romance when real life gets in the way.  My husband and I are like ships in the night sometimes.  He works long hours and as a result so do I.  It can be a struggle to find time for one another when we are both exhausted at the end of the day,  but its so important.  This is why I try and do something special every year for Valentines.  I’m not a fan of the commercial side of Valentines day so it won’t be anything big or costly.   Just a little token of love.

This year there was no doubt that anything I do for Valentines was going to be homemade.  After making 6 Christmas hampers and being a self confessed baking addict, it was also going to be edible.  It had to be unique but also useful.  Cupcakes look pretty but were just not going to cut it, I’d make 12, he’d eat 1 and then have a sandwich!  Same with most other treats.  Then the idea of a valentines packed lunch came to me.  At the moment my husband buys his lunch spending far too much on a dry sandwiches,  but he has no incentive to make his lunch and I don’t have time ordinarily either.  A packed lunch made with love would be perfect.  I spent quite a while working out what I would make him.  A number of criteria had to be met including portability, deliciousness and thoughtfulness.  Below is what I came up with.  I hope it inspires you to do the same for your partner or for someone you care about this valentines.

For all the recipes I am giving you enough to make more than just one packed lunch.  No point going to all that effort if you can’t enjoy some of it too.  You could even invite a friend over for lunch on the day you make it all to join in with the enjoyment and impress by pretending that this is the sort of lunch you eat every day!

You can be as creative as you like in packaging it all up.  A ribbon and a tag would be a nice finish I think.

Blood orange, walnut and goats cheese salad with avocado hearts

This salad uses ingredients that I love and means you can justify buying lots of blood oranges which are amazing but only in season now for a short few weeks.

What you will need:

Salad

  • packet of ruby gem lettuce, or any other lettuce with red in
  • 100g goats cheese
  • 4 blood oranges
  • 50g walnuts chopped
  • 1 avocado (needs to be fairly large)

Dressing

  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp blood red orange juice
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp walnut oil
  • 1 tbsp runny honey
  • Small heart cookie cutter

How to make:

  1. Wash and chop your lettuce and arrange in the bottom of a Tupperware dish.
  2. Cut the ends off your oranges and then use a knife to cut off the peel and pith working from the top down and round the orange.  Cut into chunky slices and arrange on top of lettuce.
  3. Crumble a portion of the goats cheese and sprinkle on top of salad, then add some of your chopped walnuts onto the salad.
  4. Cut your avocado in half, skin and take the stone out then cut thin slices.  There should be the fat bottom bit on each slice.  Use this to cut out your hearts and place on top of the salad.
  5. Finally, to make the dressing mix all of the ingredients together in a small bowl or dish then pour over the salad using as much as you think it needs

Sundried tomato, basil and cheese rolls

Keeping with the theme of valentines, I thought these rolls would be perfect as when the lucky recipient cuts into them they will find a gorgeous red inside.

Makes about 8 large rolls (freeze any you don’t use)

What you will need:

  • 500g strong white bread flour
  • 200g strong wholemeal bread flour
  • 7 sundried tomatoes chopped
  • 3 tbsp tomato puree
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 sachet of 7g dried yeast
  • 75g grated cheddar cheese
  • 450ml hand hot water – not too hot or it will kill the yeast
  • Sunflower seeds for top (optional)

How to make:

  1. Put the flour, salt, tomato puree and yeast into a bowl
  2. Add water and mix with hands until a dough is formed.  Remove from bowl and knead for 10 mins.  Alternatively, use a dough hook on an electric mixer for 5-6 mins
  3. Use your hands to push the dough out flat onto your work surface and put cheese, sundried tomatoes and basil in the middle on top. Fold the edges of the dough back over the cheese, tomatoes and basil and then lightly knead for a few minutes until you think everything has been incorporated into the dough.  You might find that bits fall off as you go but don’t worry just pick up and place back into the dough and you will soon start to see that most it has been mixed in
  4. Once you feel the cheese, tomatoes and basil had been evenly mixed into the dough, put it back into the bowl, cover with cling film and leave in a warm place for an hour, or until doubled in size
  5. Gently take you dough out of the bowl and gently knead to punch the air out of it and then make 8 or so small rounds of dough and place on a baking sheet.  Cover with cling film again and leave for another 30-40 mins somewhere warm.
  6. Preheat the oven to 200c/400f/gas 6.  The small balls should have grown into bigger rolls.  Don’t worry if they are slightly misshapen, I think this adds the homemade appeal.  At this point I put a sunflower seed heart on top of my rolls and then placed them in the oven.  Feel free to miss out the sunflower seeds if you wish
  7. Bake for about 20-30 mins.  Timings will depend on the size of your rolls but you are looking for a crusty top and a hollow sound if you tap the bottom

Red velvet mini heart cakes with orange cream cheese frosting

I adapted this recipe from my Hummingbird Bakery cook book.  I used natural red colouring (mine was Dr Oetker), and found the silicone heart shaped bakeware in my local Sainsburys, (and I was extremely chuffed too).  If you cant find the heart moulds, small round cake tins would be fine as well.  I hope you are getting the red theme here folks 🙂

Makes 4 small cakes

What you will need:

Cake

  • 60 g unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 10g cocoa powder
  • 20 ml red food colouring
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 120ml butter milk
  • 150g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp bicarb of soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp white wine vinegar

Frosting

  • 300g icing sugar
  • 50g butter, room temperature
  • 125g cream cheese
  • 1 tsp orange extract
  • A few sprinkle decorations of your choice. I used white chocolate stars and mini chocolate stars, both found down the baking aisle of my local Sainsburys

How to make:

  1. Preheat the oven to 170c/325f/gas 3). Mix the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then add the egg and mix until incorporated
  2. In a separate bowl mix the cocoa powder, red colouring and vanilla extract to make a paste
  3. Add the paste to your butter, sugar and egg mixture and mix well
  4. Then add half the buttermilk and mix, then half the flour and mix, then the remaining buttermilk and mix and the remaining flour and mix
  5. Add the salt, bicarb of soda and vinegar and beat well for a couple of minutes.
  6. Pour mixture into your cake tine and bake for 25 mins until the top is slightly firm to touch and a knife comes out clean.  Take cakes out of their tins and leave to cool on a wire rack
  7. To make the frosting mix the butter and sugar together in a bowl with an electric whisk.  Add the cream cheese and orange extract and beat until smooth
  8. Ice your cakes with the frosting using a palette knife if you have one and then sprinkle our chosen decoration on top

Present on Valentines morning, and expect a few ‘nom, nom, nom’ texts throughout the day…for the sake of my lovely blog readers, my husband got his packed lunch early!

I’m also entering this into Cakeboule’s virtual valentines craft and bake competition 2012.  Looking forward to seeing all the other entries too.

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20/01/2012. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Homemade gifts, Savory Baking, Sweet Baking. 6 comments.

New Year Blog Challenge – Low Calorie Blueberry Muffins

This week has been quite exciting.  The people at Bakingmad.com were looking for food bloggers to take part in a new year healthy baking challenge. Always up for a challenge, especially a baking one I got in touch and they sent me a list of low calorie baking recipes and asked me to choose one to make and review. So I picked low calorie blueberry muffins because I was interested to see if a low calorie version would be just as good as the real thing.

A link to the recipe I used is here.

A few days later the postman knocked on my door and gave me a little cardboard box. Inside was a packet of Allinson’s nature friendly flour and packet of Silver Spoon half spoon sugar.  When reading the small print on the packs I was pleasantly surprised at the reasons why the flour is branded nature friendly.  It uses conservation grade wheat which is where farmers actively manage their farmland to promote bio-diversity and conditions where wildlife can flourish.  I like the sound of that.  But reading the back of the silver spoon half spoon sugar pack I was a bit disappointed to see that it contained artificial sweetener.  Not something I really like to use if I’m honest, but then there is half the sugar required in this recipe to a normal blueberry muffin recipe (I checked) and so that is quite a bonus especially if you are on the dreaded new year diet.

So today was the day I decided to complete the challenge.  I set everything up and called my 6 year to see if she wanted to help.  There is no electric mixer involved, just a little whisking and stirring, so she could pretty much do everything, which I think she found very rewarding. She took ages putting the batter in the cases and it was lovely to see her take care to do it properly and really get into the task.

They came out of the oven looking beautiful. Nicely risen with a few gorgeous purple blueberries bubbling at the surface. And I have to say they tasted pretty good too!  They would certainly hit the mid afternoon ‘snack attack’ spot and I definitely did not feel quite as guilty eating one of these in comparison to a normal muffin or slice of cake.  Might even pack one in my gym bag tomorrow as a treat for afterwards.  I’m going to freeze a few too as I think they would be nice as an alternative to breakfast at some point in the week, especially if I’m running late and need breakfast on the go.  My 6 year old loved them!  She came through to the kitchen after eating one and said they were delicious!  This is quite a compliment as she has a sweet tooth, so I guess she did not notice the fact that these had a lot less sugar in which is great.

Overall, I would say these are a quick and easy muffin recipe which is certainly worth a try.  Next time I’m tempted to swap the flour to wholemeal self raising and to try it with the same amount of normal sugar to see how that tastes and turns out. Anyone gets there before me let me know.

Disclaimer- I do not work for Baking Mad nor did not get paid to write this review.

14/01/2012. Tags: , , , , , , , , . Homemade for the kids, Sweet Baking. 8 comments.

Easy Peasy Oriental Style Salmon Fillets

Only 4 days until Christmas, and it is all starting to get a bit hectic in my house.  Don’t think I have been to bed before midnight this last week, but finally the mince pies are made and the presents are wrapped.  Can’t help wondering if I have forgotten something though.  It worries me that in my haste to perfect things down the smallest detail that I will have forgotten something major. It only occurred to me not so long ago that my guests are staying for more than Christmas day and so will also need feeding in addition to their Christmas dinner!  The challenge here has been to think of things that are quick and easy but also keeps up the ‘domestic goddess’ appearance!  I also like to cook a meal at some point over this time that is fairly light and not as calorific as all the other foods typically eaten at Christmas.  I always end up craving a bit of green veg, just to make me feel a bit more normal.  This is particularly the case this year with all my baking in recent weeks.  Every time I get a glass out of the cupboard the mince pies on sitting beautifully on a plate on the side shout my name, and when I open the fridge the ‘spare’ truffles look longingly at me.  What is a girl to do??

This recipe is perfect for Christmas eve, and ticks all the ‘boxes’ I mentioned above.  You can prepare the salmon earlier in the day to marinate, and then at dinner time just pop them in the oven, get your rice coking and don’t forget the steam a bit of green veg to go with it!  It is a recipe which I have been doing for years and is totally my own creation.  I just tried a bit of this and a bit of that, and over time I think it has really become perfected.  This is a great time to share it with you.

What you will need:

  • 1 salmon fillet for each person eating
  • Basmati rice
  • Green veg
  • Foil to wrap parcel up each salmon fillet

For each salmon fillet add to following to make marinade:

  • 2 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp teriyaki sauce
  • 1tsp tamari sauce
  • 1 tsp runny honey
  • Juice from half a lemon
  • Sprinkle of  fresh coriander
  • Sprinkle of fresh ginger chopped
  • Sprinkle of dried chilli flakes

How to make:

  1. Place each fillet of salmon on a piece of foil large enough to cover it and seal together at the top.  Wrap the foil around the salmon but don’t seal together so that the salmon is still exposed
  2. Add all the marinade ingredients onto the salmon and seal the foil together.  Put in the fridge for at least an hour, if not more
  3. When you are ready to cook, heat the oven to 180c/350f/gas 4 and bake for 20 mins
  4. Whilst the salmon is cooking, prepare your rice and vegetables
  5. Take salmon out of oven and carefully out of foil wrapper.  Serve with rice and vegetables and pour the juice over the salmon, (this is one of the best bits especially when mixed with a bit of rice)

All that is left for me to say is I hope you enjoy your baking, thanks for your support, and I wish you all a fabulous Christmas! I’ll be back in the new year 🙂

20/12/2011. Tags: , , , , , , , , . Christmas baking, Savory Baking, Uncategorized. 3 comments.

Cranberry, Hazelnut and Honey Granola

We all know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and at Christmas time it is even more essential, especially if you have the task of cooking the Christmas dinner.  Energy will definitely be required.  However,  if your house is anything like mine, we get through cereal like it is going out of fashion.  I would hate to add up how much we spend a year on the stuff!  The grand total would no doubt cause my husband to choke on his mulled wine,  so I’m not going to actually add it up, but hopefully you get my point.  The other problem is that shop brought cereal often contains hideous amounts of sugar which is obviously not good for anyone, and most of all my children, who on Christmas day will have already eaten numerous chocolate coins and such like before 6.30am!  On Christmas day chocolate at what is effectively the middle of the night has to be allowed, but seeing them eat a healthy breakfast would certainly make me (and them) feel better.  Well, luckily for those of you reading my blog and empathizing with the cereal issues I have outlined above, I have a proposition for you.  The perfect solution is to make some homemade granola.  How can I say that so flippantly I hear you ask?  Well do read on as it will all start to make sense.

This fabulously versatile cereal hits the spot for a number of reasons.  Firstly, oats which are the main ingredient are as David Dickinson likes to say, ‘cheap as chips’ which is good news for your budget, and might actually help you save a few extra pennies towards the cost of Christmas.  Oats are also healthy and give ‘slow release’ energy, which is more likely to get you through to lunch without a sugar crash and the inevitable ‘Mr Tickle’ arm into the biscuit barrel that follows.  I’ve been there and done that many a time, especially after a bad night with the kids, so anything that might help kick this biscuit related habit is surely worth a try.  The other thing to say about granola is that is absolutely delicious, and can be used in a variety of ways including with milk, on top of yogurt, in the children’s snack box to nibble on and as a gorgeous unique gift to a loved one this Christmas.  Do what I did, make double the quantity and bag some up to give away, but keep the remainder for yourself :-).

The recipe I have used is taken from Nigella’s Christmas Cook Book.  A few minor alterations means that it has the, ‘homemade by Fleur‘ stamp, making it even more enjoyable I hope.  I have swapped the blanched almonds in the original recipe to chopped hazelnuts as I prefer them.  Feel free to do the same and make your own swaps too.  Add dried fruit or nuts that you like or have in the cupboard, go with what is in season or what is on offer.  The other change I made is to replace some of the honey for agave syrup.  Agave syrup is a little gem to have at hand, it is a substitute to sugar and honey but has lower GI and slower release sugars.  Most supermarkets or health food shops should sell it.  Here is what it looks like.

The last but by no means least point to make about this granola is that it will be my first ever blog challenge entry.  The Forever Nigella challenge hosted by Sarah at the brilliant Maison Cupcake blog has certainly caught my eye, and I am very excited to be submitting this blog post.  One of many more I hope.

So all that is left to say is put the ingredients on your shopping list and get baking.  This is a wonderful treat which the whole family will enjoy and appreciate.  Be careful though, if Santa finds out you have some of this in the house, you may have an extra guest for breakfast!

What you will need

  • 225g rolled oats
  • 60g sunflower seeds
  • 60g white sesame seeds
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 75g runny honey
  • 75g agave syrup
  • 50g soft brown sugar
  • 60g chopped roasted hazelnuts
  • 60g flaked almonds
  • 50g raisins
  • pinch of table salt
  • 1 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 150g dried cranberries

Makes enough to fill a 1.2 litre tin or jar, (3-4 small gift bags or 2 large gift bags)

  1. Preheat the oven to 170c/355f/gas 3
  2. Put everything into a large bowl expect the dried cranberries and mix well with a wooden spoon
  3. Spread the mixture onto a couple of lined baking trays and bake for about 40-50 mins
  4. The mixture should be turned over about half way though, and even more if you think it needs it towards the end.  I set my timer for 20 mins then 10, and then 10 and turned it each time.  Keeping an eye on it like this should prevent it from burning, and instead result in a lovely golden crunchy cereal
  5. Once cooled mix in the dried cranberries.  My daughter actually helped me do this so I could take the picture!
  6. If using for gifts this will keep for several weeks bagged up and then placed in an airtight container.  If you have made it for yourself, keep in an airtight tin or jar

05/12/2011. Tags: , , , , , . Christmas baking, Homemade gifts, Sweet Baking. 5 comments.