Monday, 29 April 2013

Meal Planning Monday - the largely recycled edition!

Meal Planning MondayIt was a busy week last week involving birthdays, a husband running a marathon and making 3 cakes. Never. Again. Much as I love baking, it was too much and some of the normal cooking went right out of the window. Some things got placed on the backburner so I have a few things to make leftover. And then, this week is busy in a different way - I am working on Saturday running some training at a volunteer training day which involves an overnight trip on Friday, which puts cooking down the pecking order. And then, it's our wedding anniversary on Sunday so we're going to go out for lunch. No less busy then! Husband has asked fora simple tea on Friday, meaning there is really only one or two other meals to choose. One of those days Monkey has a friend coming and has chosen tea.

This is how it's looking then.

Monday - Spiced bulghar pilaf with fish
Tuesday - Fish fingers, beans and chips
Wednesday - Curried squash, lentil and coconut soup
Thursday - Sandwiches
Friday - Pasta with bacon and tomato sauce
Saturday - Keeping free
Sunday - Keeping free

Maybe, just maybe, next week will be a little calmer. As I enter chasing mode at work next week and I have a day of volunteering on Saturday, it's probably unlikely. May is always busy!

After you've told me what you are eating this week, pop on over to Mrs M where she will have more meal planning loveliness from lots of other bloggers.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Fajitas, enchiladas and fish fingers

So. Husband's birthday earlier this week. A midweek birthday is always a tough one to work out what to do - when the children were younger, we'd have arranged a babysitter and just gone out for the evening, but they are much more aware these days. God love 'em - they even managed to keep a secret so well, they didn't even tell him we went to pick up a present from one of his favourite shops.

The children are not for being left out any more. A family meal out it had to be, so it was more than lucky that Chiquito Mexican Restaurant offered us a voucher to give them a try. When I lived down south, I'd been to quite a few of their restaurants but when I first moved here, there were none. In the last couple of years, we have made one or two trips to the newer local branches in the area. In the meantime, we've been to newer chains like Las Iguanas which offered greater variety of food options.

Monkey staring aimlessly at the Reebok
We went to the restaurant near Bolton Wanderers' stadium, which impressed Monkey as our table had a panoramic view of the ground . Wednesday early evening was never going to be a busy time and sure enough, it was half empty when we arrived so the service was very attentive. The guy that showed us to our table had some good banter going with the children.

Checking out the menu, I liked that they had two children's menus - Monkey has a voracious appetite whereas Missy Woo is not as hungry. The "young adults" menu was also more adventurous than the kids menu, again reflecting their respective food personalities. Whilst we demolished a couple of bowls of what I think was sour cream and chive flavoured popcorn, Monkey chose fajitas with chicken in tomato sauce, which is one of his favourite things to eat, and Missy Woo? She went for fish fingers! As it was that or their standard choice of pasta, I wasn't going to fight a battle. They both chose a milkshake as their drink, which cost a little extra than those that are part of their meal deal. The adult menu was huge - far wider than I remember it and I struggled to choose because it was like reading a book!

We skipped starters on this occasion and went straight to mains. It meant, along with the fact that it was quiet, that our food arrived pretty quickly after we'd ordered. Like Monkey, I'd gone for fajitas and we both received substantial portions, so I was glad I'd skipped starters. Husband chose enchiladas which he demolished fairly quickly and actually had some of my fajitas. Mine was pulled pork which was  gorgeous - the barbeque sauce was a great mix of sweet and sour. My only minor criticisms of the fajitas were that I had no plate so no place to lay out a tortilla, fill it and roll it and that my tortillas were rolled so tightly that they had all torn in the middle. That did not detract from the enjoyment of the food. Monkey enjoyed his fajitas although he didn't touch the salsa. Missy Woo enjoyed her fish fingers but they were fish fingers and chips, nothing fancy.

My fajita filling - pulled pork and veg
Knowing that there was chocolate orange cake at home, we were going to skip dessert too. However, the children's meals both included a dessert so husband cracked and ordered one too. Missy chose strawberry sundae and Monkey went adventurous again, choosing churros that he has never had before.  Both of them got substantial portions so although I hadn't ordered anything, I got to snaffle a fair bit and very nice they were too.

All throughout our visit, the service was friendly and attentive. If I were to have a criticism, it would be that because it was quiet, it was a little too attentive at times, and they did that thing where they asked us if our meals were OK almost seconds after we got them as we were served by a number of people. Apart from that, it was good and we were certainly made to feel welcome and there was no pressure to finish our food quickly so it was nice and relaxed. Being a fairly new unit, the layout is good so you're not on top of all the tables and the children love the light fitting made from beer bottles.

We left, carrying birthday balloons with full tummies and smiles on our faces. We had a great time and with the increased variety on the Chiquito menu, we will definitely be back soon.

(Chiquito kindly sent us a £50 voucher to use in one of their restaurants and were aware in advance of the approximate time and location of our visit. We were also asked to tell the staff on arrival that we had a voucher. All pictures and opinions are our own.) 

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

What would you do with the free time if you didn't have to be a taxi to your kids? Tell me and you could win a £25 Sainsbury's voucher

Photo credit - DJ_maxim
This competition was created by Sainsbury’s Bank Car Insurance and I'm taking part as a member of the
Sainsbury's Bank Parent Blogger Network.

Sainsbury's recently introduced the ‘Taxi of Mum and Dad Calculator’ — a fun way to see how much you could earn in taxi fares, if your children were ‘on the clock.’

It’s not all about money, your time is also precious. How would you spend the hours if you weren't playing taxi? Finish a good book, getting outdoors or just doing nothing, are some of the little luxuries the Money Matters team would enjoy.

To find out how parents would rather spend their time, I'm offering a £25 Sainsbury’s Voucher as a prize. All I need to know is 'What would you do with your time saved?'

To enter and win the prize of a £25 Sainsbury's voucher, you simply have to leave a comment below telling me what you would do with the time saved not being the Taxi of Mum and Dad.You can increase your chances of winning by tweeting about the giveaway and referring a friend to enter.The more times you enter, the better your chance of winning the £25 Sainsbury's voucher.

Whether or not you’re our prize winner, your affordable family activity ideas could also potentially appear in a future Money Matters Blog post. The winners will be chosen via Rafflecopter (which uses and announced on this page. The deadline for entering the giveaway is Wednesday 1st May.

Terms & Conditions

This giveaway is open to all readers in the UK.
Rafflecopter will accept entries for this giveaway at 12am on Wednesday 24th April.
Rafflecopter will close the competition at 12am on Wednesday 1st May
Sainsbury's Bank will run this competition via Rafflecopter.
The winner will be chosen by Sainsbury's Bank via Rafflecopter (which uses and announced on this page.
Entrants must have a UK address to enter. No bulk or third party entrants.
The prize is non-transferable, and will be sent out from Sainsbury’s Bank.
The giveaway winner will be contacted by the blog host to retrieve name and address.
The name and address of the winner will not be used for marketing purposes by Sainsbury’s Bank.
All entries may be featured on the Sainsbury’s Bank Money Matters blog post without further payment.
The winner will be contacted by e-mail, if they do not respond within seven days another winner may be chosen.
Entries using any software or automated process to make bulk entries will be disqualified.

(Disclosure - I have received a Sainsbury's voucher for hosting this giveaway)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, 22 April 2013

Meal Planning Monday - the uber organised busy week edition!

Meal Planning Monday
Hopefully, the title says it all. This week seems really busy for a number of reasons. Firstly, it's husband's birthday on Wednesday and I have to make not one, but two, cakes for him. His work colleagues have requested he bring in a "Kate cake" after I did one for him for a colleague's birthday just before Christmas. Who am I to refuse? And then, it's cake club day on Saturday. That's a three cake week! On top of all that, we are out for tea on his birthday, I have a meeting on Tuesday night and husband is running the Greater Manchester Marathon next Sunday. And I have a busy work week. Oh yes, and the children are out at multisports this afternoon, and their usual stuff on Thursday.

It's a good job therefore that I have been very organised this week. Realising it was a busy week, I started writing our schedule on Saturday and ended up putting a plan together within an hour. So then, I did my online shopping that evening and picked up on Sunday afternoon. So the plan was done, and the shopping in the house before the week even started. How organised is that?!

So, we have a plan and it's a little lighter than normal because of tea out on Wednesday plus only husband needs feeding Saturday night as the children are coming with me to cake club.

Here it is.

Monday - Chicken mustard crumble (adapted)
Tuesday - Sweet potato hash with bacon, pepper and sage
Wednesday - out for tea
Thursday - Curried butternut squash, lentil and coconut soup
Friday - Spiced bulghar pilaf with fish
Saturday - Orzo pasta "risotto" for husband
Sunday - Lamb, chickpea and spinach curry with masala mash (curry done in slow cooker)

Is your week as busy as ours? How do you cope when you have a busy week ahead? Do you plan more carefully or does it all go to pot? Let me know and then visit the other meal planning entries over on Mrs M's which you can find by clicking on the badge above.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Meal Planning Monday - the Monkey chooses edition!

Meal Planning MondaySo this week, I let Monkey choose most of our meals as Missy Woo went to play at a friend's (and forgot to come home for tea, had to send Monkey to get her!) so we were home alone when I was planning meals. His first thought was "spaghetti" so I'm introducing them to carbonara as it's a damn sight easier than bolognese. He helped me choose the rest of the week although I inserted something I wanted to cook from my trawl of the other MPM entries last week. And then I ended up doing a sort out of my recipe file, which threw out a recipe I wanted to make about a year ago that I never quite got round to (no idea why!) which has gone on a menu. Expect many more of those in coming weeks as I have a list of everything I have and some are asterisked to cook soon.

So, the menu according to Monkey is

Monday - Curry lentil stew with tomatoes
Tuesday - Spaghetti carbonara
Wednesday - Sausage, bean and cheese pasties
Thursday - Cauliflower cheese soup
Friday - Cherry tomato and ham bread and butter bake
Saturday - Cowboy corned beef and beans pie
Sunday - Roast chicken (expect leftover chicken recipes next week)

I think it's obvious which ones I chose there! He is definitely a meat and two veg child, happiest with meat, pies, gravy and more meat.

So this is us. Let me know what you're having, I always like to know. And more MPM entries can be discovered at Mrs M's by clicking the badge above. Have a good week.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Missy Woo bakes her first cake!

Since we took a trip to the Cake and Bake Show in Manchester last week and Missy Woo got to help with one of the demos when there was a sudden and unexpected lack of peeled apples, which is fairly critical for a toffee apple cake, Missy Woo has been on at me to make a cake. I told her when we were there that she could make her own cake sometime when we were talking to the lovely Ruth from the Pink Whisk, the person she ended up helping.

Missy Woo is now like an elephant - she never forgets. You can't make promises like that and then conveniently forget them. She will keep on until she gets it. On Friday, she asked me again when she could make it and I suggested that she could on Saturday, her last weekend of freedom before she and her brother go back to school. We have a whole weekend to fill, just me and the children as husband is at work. She was further inspired by finding out her 8 year old friend often makes cakes for her family that turn out yummy, apparently.

I knew she would choose chocolate cake and luckily, had most things in. Whenever I am making chocolate cake, my first thought is to turn to Ruth again and use her recipe, which is super simple as it uses cocoa powder rather than having to melt chocolate, and it always works. The original recipe is here (it's actually for chocolate muffins but those quantities work for an 8 inch tin) but Ruth was lovely enough to give me a copy of her book which has the recipe scaled for different sized tins which is so handy.

So, Missy Woo set to work baking with me as adviser. This is what I did:

- Told her how to line a tin
- spray cake release around the tin
- got all the ingredients out for her
- explained some things to her about weighing and measuring some ingredients
- reminded her of a few things to do
- got the mixer out for her and fitted the blade
- cracked the eggs into the bowl
- scraped down the sides of the mixer bowl when she couldn't reach
- poured the cake mixture in tin from the mixer bowl
- put the cake in the oven
- took it out and tested
- removed from the tin to cool
- cleaned the blade of the mixer so she could reuse it
- finished off weighing out icing sugar
- added cocoa powder and milk to bowl to make buttercream
- split the cake
- helped her spread buttercream in the middle and top
- spread the buttercream round the sides
- open the sprinkles
- been around to answer questions when she wanted help

And Missy Woo

- drew a circle of baking paper
- cut it out
- turned the oven on
- weighed out all the ingredients for the cake
- microwaved the butter briefly to soften it
- put the ingredients into the mixer and turned it on
- decided when to stop the mixer and add new ingredients
- scraped some of the sides of the bowl
- timed the cooking of the cake
- helped to test the cake with a cocktail stick
- weighed out the butter and some of the icing sugar for the icing
- placed the buttercream ingredients in the mixer
- mixed the buttercream to her satisfaction
- spread some of the buttercream
- sprinkled stars and gold glitter on the cake
- licked the bowl, and the scraper, and the mixer blade, and the bowl. And the palette knife. And the little knife. You get the idea.

And here, in all its glory, is the finished cake.

Not bad for a first attempt, huh?

Monday, 8 April 2013

Meal Planning Monday - the keeping it simple edition!

Meal Planning Monday Still holidays here although I have to work this week. No rest for the wicked! I opened out choices to everyone and the children came up trumps with a couple of ideas. We have one meal leftover from last week after I ended up taking the children on consecutive days to the Cake and Bake Show in Manchester so I was home late two days in a row. Monkey has discovered Filet-O-Fish recently so I now have to make a home alternative (*whispers* I'm buying pre-made fish burgers!) and Missy Woo asked for cauliflower cheese. I picked the rest - husband was no use whatsoever!

This is what we have.

Monday - Cauliflower cheese with jacket potatoes
Tuesday - Tandoori chicken with rice
Wednesday - Fish burgers in a bun (with tartare sauce) and chips
Thursday - Pea and new potato curry with naan
Friday - Creole jambalaya
Saturday - Mince and onions with mash (tho this might get turned into a pie!)
Sunday - keeping free

What are you having this week? Fingers crossed that it continues to get warmer now.

Click on the badge above to discover more meal planning wonderment. Or something like that, anyway.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Ice Tea?

 Not really the drink for the time of year (well, the weather at the moment at least), but I'm not actually talking about the drink. No, no, no. We were invited to a tea party by the people from Ice and it seemed like a good idea for a trip out during the school holidays. I mean, cake is something my children never turn down so free cake is even better, right?

The venue for the tea party was Farmer Copley's in West Yorkshire, a farm shop who is a member of the Ice scheme, more of which in a moment. They have a fab cafe which produces huge slabs of yummy cakes, a farm shop and lots of fun activities at weekends, although sadly, the weather had put paid to a lot of their outdoor Easter activities.

Still, there were baby chicks to hold. Missy was surprisingly keen to hold them - the chick pecking her hand made her laugh.

I was there, with some other lovely bloggers, to learn about the Ice loyalty scheme. It's a loyalty card, just like the supermarkets have, but one with a difference. Ice aims to be different. They want their loyalty scheme to be beneficial to the environment. Most of its retailers are farm shops, offering mostly locally grown or made produce. Others are public transport operators, as well as some larger national brands like John Lewis and Marks and Spencer. All of them have good environmental credentials - something they must have for Ice to allow them into the scheme.

Points can be earned and spent at the farm shops or by visiting the retailer's sites via the Ice website. Points can be redeemed as total or part payment for purchases, rather than having to cover the total cost like some insist. If you forget to redeem your points - you get 3 years to redeem them - the money is put towards projects that benefit the environment. In terms of the environment, it's a win all round. As a shopper, you're getting to do your bit and perhaps get something back too. It's particularly great to have local farm shops as part of the scheme as it will encourage people to buy local produce, perhaps over buying everything from the supermarket. There aren't too many farm shops across the country at the moment, but hopefully, more will continue to sign up. There are a couple in the North West, including one about half an hour from me which I've been meaning to visit and has a great reputation so I'll be making tracks up there soon.

The kids got to enjoy some Easter fun, doing an egg hunt and quiz around the farm, which gave them the opportunity to see some more animals, and then to meet Jasper the Easter bunny. I think Monkey and Missy Woo cleaned them out of eggs and chocolate bunnies, judging by the amount of chocolate that ended up in my bag.

Ice were kind enough to give us a card already loaded with points, so we had a mooch around the farm shop before we went, taking home some lovely treats, including pork and black pudding sausages and smoked bacon for brunch. It was the best bacon we'd ever tasted, that cooked without leaking all that horrible white liquid all over the pan that cheap stuff does.

If you don't usually shop at a farm shop, it's really worth trying to find a good one in your area. If they're members of Ice, you can register here and start to earn points. And if they're not, suggest they sign up to the scheme so that everyone can start to benefit.

Thanks to Tots 100 and Ice for inviting us, and to Farmer Copleys for being fantastic hosts and providing fantastic cakes. Ice gave me a reward card loaded with some points to spend as I choose. 

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

My blog posts are like bloomers

I just can't seem to blog easily anymore. Things happen, but I have much less to say about it all. Well, that I'm prepared to commit to the blogosphere anyway.

The kids are growing up and I'm less inclined to write about them in case it comes back to haunt them.

Things happen but our life isn't that remarkable. We're all healthy, we're not especially wealthy or especially poor, no major drama is playing out in our lives.

Life bumbles on but we're not able to spend out on lots of trips out or holidays. I don't craft although Missy Woo likes to make things. We bake, but we make other people's recipes so I can't blog them without infringing copyright.

I have opinions but I'm not necessarily sure anyone wants to read it or whether I'd cause an uproar for my terrible views. Sometimes, I end up ranting in my head and then mentally slap myself for being so judgemental.

What's left? Not a lot. I know I will never be no1 at blogging and having the world fall at my feet. I just don't have the time. But you know what? I'm OK with that. I'm glad I've had this time in a way - it proves that blogging really is just a hobby to me; if I was top dog, I'd be feeling the pressure to write lots of posts and I just don't.

You'll just have to wait. Having mastered making bloomer bread recently thanks to Paul Hollywood, taking your time makes for a better, more enjoyable product. My blog posts are like bloomers (not that sort) - I'm hoping the wait is going to be worth it.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Meal Planning Monday - the Easter holidays edition!

Meal Planning Monday
So yeah, Easter holidays. Husband has just worked the whole of the Easter weekend so this week, we are off with a vengeance. We have a few things to go out and about to but we're not off anywhere so it's a pretty normal week of meals. Despite that, I've had various requests from the children and husband for different things so I have gone with them - couldn't be bothered to fight and we might as well have something different.

This is it.

Monday - Fish fingers (children's choice!)
Tuesday - Pizza (possibly, we're out in the afternoon)
Wednesday - Vegetable chilli and rice
Thursday - A curry of undetermined type
Friday - Keeping free
Saturday -  Bacon and ricotta oven baked frittata
Sunday - Tandoori chicken

Certainly not that inspired but the children will be (mostly) happy. What about you? What's on your menu this week? Click on the badge to discover more meal plans over at Mrs M's.

(PS and no, this is not an April fool!)
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