Instructions

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Play Dough a Go Go!

Play dough is brilliant.  Practically free and endless possibilities.  Plus it lets kids do the whole messy play thing without actually making that much mess, which is always a good thing.Plus if you use the cheap home made version you don’t need to worry about mixing the colours.  I start off with a variety of basic colours (usually based on whatever colourings I have to hand) and then let the kids make further colours by mixing.


Child playing with multicoloured playdough made by an easy homemade recipe

There are a few recipes knocking about the internet, with various no cook options or ingredients, but this is the best one that I have used.  Where I say cup, use any cup, as long as you use the same one each time.  I use a little plastic beaker.Use your common sense and don’t play with playdough on your best tablecloth or tread it into your expensive persian rug, but then if you have that kind of thing in a house with small children then you are a braver (and possibly quite a bit richer) person than me…


Home Made Play Dough

  • 2 cups flour (any will do)
  • Half a cup of salt
  • 1 cup cold water
  • A big spoon (or small glug) of oil – any will do
  • Two big spoons of cream of tartar (you can leave this out if you like, but it makes the dough more springy and stretchy and only costs a few pence)
  • Food colouring, smelly oil (use food safe versions in case it gets nibbled…), glitter or whatever else you want to use to make it pretty and/or smelly

Chuck everything in a pan and put over a low heat.  Keep stirring until it looks like…dough.  Allow to cool before giving to children (obviously…)

You can also just add boiling water to the ingredients in a bowl and stir, to avoid having to put it on the hob.

I tend to leave out the colourings and flavourings, cook plain dough and then knead in the colours/flavours/glitter.  That way I only have to cook once but can make loads of colours.  Beware though that colourings can stain, and are much more likely to stain your worktop (and hands, and clothes, and children) before they are mixed in.

This recipe isn’t toxic, but isn’t exactly edible either, given that it will taste horrible and has loads of salt.  Hopefully inquisitive toddlers will just have one taste and then be put off.  Hopefully.

Keep your playdough in an air tight container and it should last at least six weeks.  Enjoy, and let me know if you come up with any cool ideas!

Paleo 2.0 Nut Loaf Recipe

This a gluten and dairy free, Paleo friendly (not vegan as it contains eggs) recipe for a very satiating nut loaf that’s nice hot or cold. This works really well with roast veg. I had Asparagus and Sweet Potato.

Serves 8 x 150g meal portions or 16 x 75g snack portions.

Prep time- 2-3 hours, plus 1 day prior to soak ingredientsNut loaf

Ingredients-

400 g Walnuts (soaked for 4 hours)

185 g Brazil nuts

180 g Mushrooms

70 g Pumpkin seeds (soaked for 24 hours)

70 g Sesame seeds (soaked for 8 hours)

6 eggs

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil for loaf and some to grease cake tin

1 tablespoon ground black pepper

1 tablespoon coriander

1 tablespoon garlic

Instructions-

-Put the oil  and eggs in a food processor powerful enough to grind nuts and begin to blend whilst adding the other ingredients.

-Grease a cake tin and pour in mixture

-Bake in a preheated oven on middle shelf at 180 degrees celsius (adjust for fan assisted). Check after 90 minutes, if the centre is still runny, bake for another 30 minutes.

-Remove from oven and leave to rest under a clean tea towel for at least half an hour.

-Serve or refrigerate

Courgette and smashed pea pasta

Last night’s meal was one of those real ‘throw together’ easy efforts. Which turned out to be unbelievably flipping scrumptious. And quick. And cheap. So I thought I’d share the results of my latest fridge forage.

You could get fancy with this, adding in some toasted breadcrumbs, chopped parsley, a dash of white wine or strips of bacon. But I think the basic version is pretty darn good. Let me know what you think!

Courgette and smashed pea pasta

Ingredients

Linguini / spaghetti – enough for 2

2 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped

1 onion, chopped

1 large courgette, grated

2 handfuls of frozen peas

2 tablespoons of grated hard cheese (Grana Padano or Parmesan)

Half a tub of crème fraiche

Dab of olive oil

Method

Put pasta on to boil according to instructions.

Warm the olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat, before adding the onion and softening for a couple of minutes before adding the garlic.  After another couple of minutes, add the courgette and the frozen peas. Leave to cook through for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

When the peas are hot, add the crème fraiche along with the cheese, and stir through the vegetables. ‘Smash’ a few of the peas up with the back of your spoon whilst stirring to add texture.  Allow to bubble for a couple of minutes whilst you drain the pasta.

Stir the sauce through the pasta, serve in warm bowls with lashings of black pepper and some more grated cheese, if you wish.

Lazy Cheesy Twists

I promised that I would show you what to do with the leftover puff pastry after making the cheap and easy tart.  Well – here it is.  Even cheaper, and even easier, and doesn’t even need a knife and fork to eat. (Less washing up – vital for the lazy cook.)

Ingredients:

  • Some leftover bits of ready made puff pastry
  • That bit of cheese that is in the fridge that you need to use up (everyone has it – I used a mixture of the end of some Cheddar and some Christmas leftover Stilton – stronger flavours work best)

Roll out the pastry and sprinkle about a third of the cheese on top.

Grated cheese on top of some puff pastry, waiting to be turned into cheese twistsFold the pastry over, sandwiching the cheese.  Roll again.

Cheese being folded inside some pastry to make cheese twistsSprinkle, roll, sprinkle, roll, until you run out of cheese/motivation.  Then cut into strips.

Pastry cut into strips to make cheese twistsLightly oil a baking tray (or use one that you have just cooked a cheap and easy tart on) and twist the strips of pastry before arranging them on the tray.  Leave plenty of room for expansion.

Cheese twists waiting to go into the ovenCook in the oven at a hottish temperature, until they get all puffed up and golden brown.  Or until the ones at the back start to singe and the smoke alarm goes off.  Either way, really.

Slightly singed cheese twistsEnjoy!  Perfect for finger food at a sophisticated cocktail party.  Or for eating while watching TV, if yours go all funny shapes like mine did.  (Ha!  Like I was planning a sophisticated anything.)

Cheesy twists, perfect for nibbles at a party, or as a snack

Cheap and Easy Tart

Ok, so it’s not exactly cooking from scratch, but it is really tasty. Meditteraneam style cheap and easy tart

I got all the ingredients from Iceland, for less than £3, and they are all either from the freezer or canned, so it makes an excellent “last days before payday” meal.  Preparation time is about ten minutes, cooking about twenty, and there is plenty for a reasonably sensible small child to help with, and is easy enough for a student/rubbish chef.  These amounts made enough for a family of four plus cold snacks for the adults later, although our children are quite small.

Ingredients:

  • Two thirds of a block of frozen puff pastry (you can use the whole block if you like, but then you wouldn’t be able to make lazy cheese twists with the leftovers)
  • About 500g of frozen Mediterranean veg (either roast in batches and freeze, or buy ready frozen)
  • A tin of chopped tomatoes
  • A small block of cheese (I used strong cheddar, which I buy big blocks of, chop up and freeze the smaller blocks, and is excellent to have in for things like this)

Frozen puff pastry defrosting

Leave the pastry out to defrost for half a day, or overnight in the fridge.

Put the oven on to preheat to about 200 degrees C

Empty the tin of tomatoes into a small saucepan and simmer – add some oregano and/or basil if you have it.

Chopped tinned tomotoes simmering in a pan

Sprinkle a clean surface with flour and roll out the pastry, then put it on a baking tray and fold up the edges.Pastry rolled out on baking try ready to be covered in tomatoes

Cover the pastry with the tomatoes, then add a layer of the frozen veg.Frozen veg on tart

Grate some cheese over the top, and stick it in the oven until the pastry at the sides is puffed up and nicely brown, and the cheese is all melty.Vegetable tart with cheese, all ready to be cooked

Chop up and eat.  You could serve this with chips and salad, or maybe garlic bread, and it is excellent cold.  Or just eat slices like a lovely pastry pizza.

Vegetable tart

Crafty Gifts for the Yummy Mummy – Baby Sock Bouquet

With just days to go until the birth of our first baby and several friends with new babies already born or expected, my brain is firmly on baby related craft at the moment. It can be really difficult thinking of gifts for a new mum or mum to be, especially if the baby’s sex is still unknown, or is a second or third child for parents who already have most of the necessary kit.Close up of baby sock bouquet

I always like to find something that is both a treat for mum and a practical gift for baby, and this year I think I have finally cracked it with my handmade baby sock bouquet.

MATERIALS

Baby socks (each individual sock makes a single rose bud, colours entirely your choice)

Florist/thick jewellery wire (1 length per sock I normally use 10” lengths)

Florist tape (any coloured tape will work; just pick one that fits with your theme. For realistic roses you can usually get green florist tape at craft shops and garden centres year round and a lot of pound shops through spring and summer)

Optional: vase, florist foam, flowers (real or fake), tissue or cellophane to wrap

GET STARTED:

Step by step instructions to make a baby sock bouquet

  1. Take one sock and unfold completely including cuff if that is folded.
  2. Roll tightly from toe towards cuff, pinching at one end to form a cone shape. Stop at 2 fingers depth from the open edge of the cuff. You now have the basis of your rosebud.
  3. Fold the cuff over the bud to hold the roll in place and form the outer petal
  4. Pinch the base of the bud and pierce (carefully so as not to cause damage to sock) with the florist wire. Twist wire together tightly to secure.
  5. Pinch bud at base and wrap in florist tape. Continue winding the tape down the wire as far as is likely to show. It can be a bit tricky to start with if you aren’t used to the tacky nature of the tape, but persevere and once you get the knack it is quick and easy.

And that’s it: your first baby sock rosebud. Simply repeat with the remaining socks and arrange to your own taste. These are so simple (and cost effective too) but stunning and adaptable too. You can see here I’ve done them in a vase with fresh flowers but they are equally as nice with wooden, dried or fabric flowers or just as a large bunch of sock roses wrapped in cellophane like a fancy bouquet.  The friend I made this bouquet for didn’t know if she was expecting a boy or girl so the white socks and yellow fresh flowers fitted her perfectly, but I love mixing up different colours and tailoring them to the mum & baby in question.

baby sock rose bouquet with fresh flowers in vase

Let me know how you get on!

You’ll never write a thing by staring at a blank sheet of paper

‘Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.’

Benjamin Franklin

The process of creative writing is very much like that of moving your bowels. There’s a degree to which you can sit there and force it, but if it doesn’t want to come it won’t. Plus, you have to appreciate that mostly what you will produce will be crap.

My very first blog, just over a month ago, was a statement of intent. I set out to keep up with my writing, mostly as an exercise to keep me in practice for when I eventually get around to writing something more involved – like a novel – so the subjects of my blogs were a secondary concern. I can proudly say that, after five weeks, I’ve exceeded my expectations. I’ve blogged seventeen times about all manner of subjects, and not short, insignificant entries, but material with clout. But I fear I’ve burned myself out a little, and hit a patch of what is known as writer’s block.

It happens to the best of writers, but I’m not including myself amongst them plus I pay little attention to their advice on how to get yourself in the right frame of mind to write. As amateur and part time writers, we face slightly different challenges to someone sat staring at the blank sheet of paper in their typewriter all day, with no pressures other than a publisher’s deadline to worry about. We may face roadblocks in the shape of lack of confidence in our efforts, a void of inspiration, or simply just finding the time to sit down and bash keys.

For inspiration for a subject for this article, I looked back to that very first blog. My intention was that my articles should never amount to a diary, not should they be journalistic reporting. They should lie in between, and that would be my first point: although it’s important any facts used are correct, your opinion is as valid as anybody else’s. So, in one sense, nothing you write is wrong. Don’t worry about people disagreeing or else not being interested in what you have to say. That’s what opinions are for and this is the internet, so someone somewhere will be interested.

As far as confidence goes, you have to remember you’re not writing for The Times, and as long as you can string a sentence together in something approximating English you’re good enough for blog writing. At The Camel’s Hump, we affect an air of professionalism, but don’t let that put prospective writers off. We also have an editor, and she’s there to advise and suggest, not criticise. A good editor can help you improve your writing no end. The best advice I can give if you don’t have an editor is to find a friend willing to read your work and give honest feedback before publishing.

On the subject of inspiration, I would suggest it is everywhere if you learn to look for it the right way. You have to stick your aerials out to catch the signals. There’s material all around, even in the daily Facebook grumbles we all make – why are children on buses so annoying, and why do old people have to smell? But I don’t think you can chase inspiration down, like a bailiff looking for debtors – finding where it lives, coming round and kicking its door down. Once you have the scent of an idea, if it’s a good idea, decide what you think about the subject, research what others think about it, and start when you have more of an inkling what you’re going to write about. You’ll never write a thing by staring at a blank sheet of paper, and the sheet will stay blank if your mind is blank.

In regards to finding the time, it’s all very well to say “Tuesday at 8pm I’ll sit at my desk and write for sixty minutes” because an hour after you’ve started you’ll probably still be staring at your screen and checking your social networks every five minutes. You may be inspired to write at any time of the day, and you have to be prepared to jot down your ideas and thoughts. I write most of my first drafts on the Word application on my smartphone, then neaten them up on my laptop later. For those of you not yet a part of the touchscreen revolution, notebooks and biros have been the writers friend for many years. Keep them with you and use them, even have them next to your bed as you sleep.

Since The Camel’s Hump began, we’ve been continuing to look for contributing writers. So far, enthusiasm has far outweighed product. That isn’t a criticism, as all contributors give up their time and talents for free, but I hope this post can inspire some of those who haven’t got around to it yet, and perhaps raise interest in being one of our writers from others. So in conclusion I’ll say this: If it was easy, anyone could do it. I’m not saying it is easy, but no one should be afraid of trying.

Where Do All The Left Over Sprouts Come From? A Recipe for Spicy Sprout Soup.

Well, that’s that all done with for another year. The presents have been opened, the wine has been drunk and the resolutions made. But it’s always today when I do my post-Christmas stock-take of the fridge and grimace. Good intentions might abound but unfortunately so to do half eaten cheese platters, cakes, biscuits, pies and all those odd chocolates that no one likes at the bottom of the box.

Fortunately I know I don’t have to blow all my plans to be healthier and less wasteful because there at the bottom, under the leftover trifle and Christmas pud, is the veg drawer. Huzzah! I think, I am saved from yet more dairy and carbs! And yet as I open the drawer I know what will greet me. It’s the little green ghosts of Christmas past; brussel sprouts, by the armful. Luckily I am armed with a secret which can turn even these inglorious little fridge squatters into an appetising and surprisingly slimming little dish perfect for the New Year detox.  So here is my recipe for easy-peasy spicy-sprout soup.

1. Raid the cupboards

So we start off by raiding the cupboards for relatively few ingredients:Ingredients for a simplesprout soup, perfect for leftovers.  Onion, sprouts, potato, tabasco

1 potato,

1-2 handfuls of sprouts (replace with any other green veg if you prefer)

1 onion

Salt

Pepper

Stock cube (chicken or veg work best but this is totally optional miss it out if you prefer)

And the special ingredient: Tabasco sauce

2. Heat stuff

First, get the kettle on- you will need to fill your pan in a few minutes so best get this boiling before you start. Now find yourself a decent sized pan and whack it over a low heat with 1-2 tbsps of oil while you chop the veg.

3. Chop stuff

I like my soup farmhouse style (with chunks in) so I tend to dice my veggies so that they are bite size, but it’s entirely up to you.  The smaller the bits, the quicker they cook so if you want to do this for a speedy lunchtime snack dice them finely.

Start with your onion- get it peeled, chopped and straight in the pan while you finely shred the sprouts.  Add two thirds of the sprouts to the pan and put the final third to one side for later. Give your sprouts and onions a quick stir before finSprout soup ingredients sizzling in a panally dicing your potato – don’t worry about peeling, the skins just add more flavour. Then simply chuck the potato in the pan and stir for a minute or so.

4. Simmer

Next, simply cover the veg with your pre-boiled water, add a pinch of salt, stock if you are using it and 2-3 drops of Tabasco.  Simmer for 10-20 minutes or until your potato chunks are soft enough to crush with a fork. Remove from the heat and mash using a potato masher.

Remember those sprouts I told you to hold back? Add them now and leave the soup to stand for a further 5 minutes. This will allow the soup to thicken and the latest sprouts to soften without losing their vibrancy.

5. Season & Serve

At last, taste time. Make sure you taste your soup before you serve it. It will need seasoning here and how much depends on the age and condition of your ingredients to start with and your own preference. I like mine very spicy so I tend to add a lot of black pepper and another 3-4 drops of Tabasco at this point. I know full well when it gets to the table my husband will always add more salt so I tend to under-salt here on purpose.

And there you have it, ready to serve, an easy-peasy lunch with minimal ingredients, minimal fuss and maximum good girl (or boy) points.  I have had mine just with some breadsticks left over from New Year’s Eve broken up as croutons for lunch, but I have an adaptation of Alicia’s Bread Recipe for the Slapdash in the oven as I type to go with tomorrow lunch’s serving (if either lasts that long).

Sprout soup ready to eat

An Alternative Christmas Pudding

I hate Christmas Pudding. I detest dried fruits. I cannot stand brandy. I don’t care for stodgy food.

This year I commandeered Christmas Dinner, there was only me and my dad to cook for, so it was an easy job, and I had a great time making it, and an even better time shoving it into my pie hole. The starter of Gravadlax  (cured salmon) on a bed of rocket was simply an assembly job, and the main of Roast Duck with Most Of The Trimmings was classic Sunday roast stuff, just with a different bird, however what I was most proud about was the pudding I made.

It’s the sort of pudding that I think ol’ Pudding Face himself, Greg Wallace, of BBC’s Masterchef, would approve of, and say “oh mate” after finally removing his spoon from his gob. Even if I do say so myself.

I’d like to share that recipe with you, so here it is…

Panna Cotta With Raspberry Coulis and a Macadamia Nut Crumb

(serves 3)

Ingredients:

(for the panna cotta)

  • 250ml semi skimmed milk
  • 250ml double cream
  • 25g caster sugar
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • 3 gelatine leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract

(for the raspberry coulis)

  • frozen raspberries
  • icing sugar
  • bourbon whiskey or lemon juice

(for the macadamia nut crumb)

  • honey roasted macadamia nuts

Method :

  1. Add the milk, double cream and sugar to a pan and simmer over a low light
  2. Add the gelatine leaves to a bowl of cold water and leave to soften
  3. Scrape the seeds from a vanilla pod into the milk, cream and sugar, add the vanilla pod, and the vanilla extract
  4. When warmed through, remove the vanilla pod.
  5. Squeeze out the water from the gelatine leaves and add to the hot liquid.
  6. Pour panna cotta mixture into moulds, and refrigerate overnight.
  7. On the day of serving, blitz macadamia nuts, or grind in a pestle and mortar to a crumb, and then add to a dry, non-stick frying pan, and keep moving until they go slightly toasty. Put this crumb to one side and allow to cool down to room temperature.
  8. Add the raspberries to a blender – retaining a few for presentation – adding icing sugar (to taste) and a splash of either bourbon (which matches the vanilla flavour) or lemon juice, and blend. If it’s too sharp, add a touch more icing sugar.
  9. Strain the blended raspberry through a fine mesh sieve to remove the pips and keep chilled until serving.
  10. To release panna cottas, simply place moulds in some shallow warm water to loosen the edges so they can be upturned into a serving dish. Serve with the crumb and add the coulis.

Bread Recipe for the Slapdash

Making bread is lovely, and is about the easiest thing possible.  It seems to have a kind of mystique around it, and while a nice big loaf of tiger bread from the supermarket is nice, nothing beats a nice chunk of tasty homemade bread, with butter thickly spread on top. Really good bread can be like a savoury cake – it doesn’t need anything else and has its own depths of flavour and texture.

Ignore weights and measures and just go by feel – it is almost impossible to mess up.  It feels wrong calling this a recipe, so here is my method.  Everyone has their own little variations, but it is all basically flour, water and  yeast.

FLOUR

Put some bread flour in a mixing bowl.  I like about a third wholemeal and two thirds white, but go with what you feel like (or happen to have in the cupboard)  Apparently newer flour is better, but I’ve never noticed a difference, so buy it when it is on offer and keep in a sealed container.

You want approximately half a normal sized bag of flour. but a bit more will just make a bit more bread and vis versa.

OTHER STUFF

Next you need yeast.  With instant yeast, put in one packet, or do whatever the container says on the side for other types.

Then add a good big spoon of sugar and a smaller one of salt, and a big glug of oil of some kind (olive is nicer, but vegetable or sunflower is fine)

Here is my secret – you don’t have to, but you will get a better result if you crush a vitamin C tablet and add it to the mix.

WATER

Get some blood temperature water – it should just feel pleasantly warm to your fingers.  Mix it in bit by bit until the dough looks like, well, dough.  Don’t worry if you put too much water in – just add more flour.

KNEAD ONE

This is the fun bit- chuck loads of flour onto a surface – a scrubbed table, a chopping board, whatever.  Then attack the dough – pull it, squash it, squish it, roll it.  I press any passing children into service for this bit – my four year old is a dab hand.  If things get sticky, add more flour.  Do that till you, or the child, gets bored.  Then put the dough back into the bowl and put it somewhere warm – imagine it is a cat, and put it where a cat would go.  Unless there is already a cat there – in that case, put it somewhere else.  You can also put it in the fridge overnight if you like, which is slower, but can give better results.

KNEAD TWOHomemade bread for slapdash peopel

When the dough is twice the size it used to be, get it out and do another knead.  Then find some kind of baking tray and put the dough on it – make sure there is room for it to become double the size.  Put your oven on to heat up – about 200 degrees if you have a oven that lets you choose.  I used to use a range oven and just used the hot bit.  Put the dough somewhere warm again – near the heating up oven could be good – until it has expanded to slightly less than twice its size.  Then put in the oven.

It will be quite happy in the oven while other stuff is cooking, or I have even baked it in the oven after it is turned off from cooking a big meal.

The bread is ready when it a) looks like bread and b) if you pick it up and tap the bottom, it sounds hollow.

EAT

My slapdash approach to recipes does mean that the bread turns out different each time, but I like that.  You can also add seeds, garlic, olives, cheese, onion – whatever you like, and you can put it in weird shapes if that floats your boat.

Ooh, and something worth trying is to get the oven steamy – I sometimes put a yorkshire pudding dish of hot water on the bottom of the oven.  It makes the crust nicer and seems to make the bread softer.

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