Friday, 21 October 2016

Old MacDonald's Farm, Padstow

During our recent stay in Padstow, Cornwall we enjoyed a lovely family day out including Glen, Bridget and I,plus Glen's sister Claire, her husband Matt and their two girls, Lola (almost 9) and Pearl (2 and a half) for a Sunday morning at Old MacDonald's Farm on the outskirts of the town.

Set over a large enough area for the children to run loose, but small enough for us to keep an eye on them and be hot on their heels, Old MacDonald's Farm was winding down for the winter months, however it has to be one of the best value days out I've had with Bridget anywhere. The ticket price for both children over the age of two and adults is £7.00 but as they claim, there really are no hidden extras, everything within the farm is included, and there is plenty to keep the family entertained for hours.

Firstly and foremost, it is a farm with plenty of animals to see, feed and pet. From chickens, goat's, birds of prey, horses and even a Shetland pony or two, there’s plenty of wildlife to keep the children entertained and bags of feed were reasonably priced at just £1.00, which meant the children got the chance to feed them and really build up their confidence with animal handling.

The goats were particularly keen and the girls happily got involved in feeding them, which is lovely.

Goat feeding at Old MacDonald's Farm, Padstow

Feeding the goats, Old MacDonald's Farm

The chickens had their own little coops and there was the chance to see where they laid their eggs too, which is great and really educational.

The egg laying section

Feeding the chickens at Old MacDonald's Farm

The girls were encouraged to brush and pet the pony and horses, which Bridget and Pearl loved doing, and Pearl was brave enough to go for a ride on the Shetland Pony for a quick trot around the farm, which was lovely. 

Pony grooming at Old MacDonald's Farm

Bridget and Pearl enjoying petting the Shetland Pony
Pearl taking a trot on a Shetland Pony

Lola was enticed later to have a canter around on a larger pony too but we didn’t manage to persuade Bridget – next time hopefully.

Lola about to go for a canter

Also at Old MacDonald’s Farm were a couple of different adventure playground sections - it was a little wet, but the girls had their wellington boots on so got straight into playing. There was a trampoline section too which went down well and an area with Little Tykes cars and other mini vehicles. 

Bridget enjoying the trampoline

Pearl on the slide

Bridget on the swings with Daddy

In the centre of the farm was a pedal go-kart track which we all had a go at and was lots of fun, and there was also a mechanical train which took us round the whole farm and was lovely. There was even a crazy golf section, which again was all included in the price, but we didn’t have time on this particular day to indulge. 

Go Karts at Old MacDonald's Farm

We just stayed for the morning, but you could have easily broken the day up with a snack at the cafe or taken your own picnic and then gone back for more fun. We were also told there are lots more animals in the summer months such as sheep, cows and pigs and in the lambing season you can get the children involved in feeding the lambs, which they would absolutely adore.

I would thoroughly recommend Old MacDonald's Farm for anyone staying in the Cornwall area for a fun, educational and excellent value day out with the family.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Middle Eastern Roast Pork with Roasted Roots and Yoghurt Dip

At the weekend, following a few weekends of eating a traditional Sunday roast dinner I fancied cooking something different - a twist on the classic and came up with this Middle Eastern-inspired pork shoulder joint that I marinated for five hours and it went down a treat, we'll definitely be having it again.

I served with some roasted 'roots' or carrots and parsnips drizzled with olive oil and scattered with cumin seeds and some garlic-roasted sweet potato plus a little wilted spinach and a quick yoghurt dip - delicious.

The below was enough for Glen, Bridget (age 2) and myself with a little sliced meat leftover for sandwiches the next day.

Middle Eastern Roast Pork and Roasted Roots

Here's how:

  • 1 small pork shoulder (approx 1.5kg)
  • The pork marinade:
  • 1.5 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1.5 tsp dried ginger
  • 1 tsp ras el hanout
  • 1 tsp white pepper
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp rosemary
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp sea salt

The roots:
  • 1 pack baby parsnips
  • 2 large carrots
  • 2 sweet potatoes
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • Pinch sea salt
  • Pinch black pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Everything else:
  • Half pack spinach
  • 2 tbsp natural yoghurt
  • Handful parsley
  • Handful coriander

Firstly combine the cumin, ginger, ras el hanout, pepper, salt, thyme, rosemary, cinnamon and paprika in a small bowl and mix to combine the spice mix. Get your pork joint into a large bowl and rub all over with the spice mix, into the creases of the meat to ensure it is fully coated.

Now wash your hands, and then cover the pork with either cling film or tin foil and place into the fridge to marinade for several hours. If you haven't got five hours, a couple will do.

Once the pork is sufficiently marinated, remove from the fridge for twenty minutes and pre-heat the oven to 180. Then place the pork into a roasting tin, fat side up, drizzle with a little olive oil and place onto the middle shelf. This will need 30 minutes per 500g plus an additional 20 minutes - or cook according to the packaging.

Whilst the pork is cooking, peel the sweet potatoes and chop into flat rounds and place into a small oven proof dish that you can mash into after roasting, place in four unpeeled garlic cloves and set aside.

If using the baby parsnips you can just cut the ends off but I like to peel too as Bridget won't eat them with the peel on. Place them into another roasting dish. Peel the carrots and cut into long wedges, similarly sized to the baby parsnips and add to the roasting tin. Drizzle with a generous glug of olive oil (1.5 tbsp) and then scatter over the cumin seeds and a pinch of sea salt and black pepper then toss to coat fully. Cover and set aside.

Cumin Roots

When you have about half an hour of pork cooking time left, place all of the roots into the oven to begin cooking - they will take about 45 minutes, which allows the meat some resting time.

For the yoghurt dip simply chop the parsley and coriander and add to a bowl with the yoghurt. Then once the sweet potato is out of the oven, take out one of the roasted garlic cloves and add to the dip and stir well. Leave in the fridge until serving.

When the meat is out of the oven, leave to stand and rest for 15-20 minutes before carving into thick slices.

Middle Eastern Pork

Place a drizzle of olive oil into a pan and wilt the spinach with a little salt for 1 minute whilst getting everything else out of the oven.

The sweet potatoes need to be gently crushed or mashed in their cooking vessel, add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a teaspoon of cinnamon and stir through.

Roasted garlic sweet potatoes, pre mashing
Cumin roasted roots

Now use a platter or a wooden board and dish everything up accordingly, so the family can dig in and get as much or as little of what they want. Once the meat is on, drizzle over some of the yoghurt dip which complements the flavours really well. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Children's Party Food: Vegetable Train

Pig Train Driver and Vegetable Train
For Bridget's recent second birthday party, I was entertaining a number of toddlers and wanted to prepare some food that was fun as well as healthy and this veggie train ticked the boxes. Having scoured Pinterest for ideas, I saw trains made out of hollowed cucumbers but thought peppers would hold more and be easier for my clumsy hands.

With a little preparation, some fiddling and a fair few cocktail sticks - we had this lovely train that had a few of the kids running back into the dining room to take another look and yelling 'choo choo', I have a feeling it'll be making a regular appearance at children's parties from now on.

As it was a Peppa Pig theme party too, I even managed to secure an M&S Percy Pig on the front to look like the driver - such a fun idea and easy to replicate at home.

Vegetable Train
Here's how:

  • 1 large cucumber
  • 4 different coloured peppers
  • 1 carrot
  • 2 celery sticks
  • 1 Percy Pig (optional)
  • Handful cocktail sticks to assemble
  • 1 wooden or plastic board or platter

Firstly prepare the cucumber - you need three sections of this as so, some sticks to place in one of the pepper 'carriages', ten sliced rounds or circles to act as wheels (you could of course use half a cherry tomato each or some sliced radishes) and then the front of your train which is a little more fiddly.

You need about 6-7cm length of cucumber including the pointy end, leave 2 cm untouched and neatly slice halfway across, long-ways off and set aside the leftover piece which will act as the train 'roof'. Now you need a further length of cucumber of about 3-4cm to act as the train drivers section - it should be a little square, and you can cut small little square 'windows in the sides if you so wish. Now use a cocktail stick first to pierce the corner of the roof, then into the corner of the train drivers bit and finally all the way through to the base, to secure. Do the same the other side. Now place a round of cucumber - or a wheel at the front on either side of the front of the train and again use 1 cocktail stick to secure - use scissors to trim down if it's too long. Set aside. If you are using a Percy Pig sweet as a 'driver' also secure him with the end of a cocktail stick.

Now you need to lay each pepper on it's side, and cut out a rectangular section, that you will then slice as the vegetable fingers or crudités and set aside. Now using the knife, cut out all the seeds inside each pepper to make a hollow 'carriage'. Trim a couple of cocktail sticks into thirds, and use to secure a cucumber round 'wheel' onto either side of each pepper carriage.

Now place the front of the train and the pepper carriages onto the board in the order you wish them to appear.

Cut the two celery sticks into equal (ish) sized pieces and lay them as 'tracks' either side of the train.

Now fill the pepper carriages with the leftover pepper cut into slices, some carrot and cucumber batons and your train is ready to go.

Serve alongside dips such as hummous, tzatziki, guacamole, tarama and salsa. Enjoy!

Some more children’s party food ideas can be found below:

Caterpillar Sandwiches

Smoked Salmon Blinis

Spiced Chicken Goujons

And for real piggy inspiration try these Peppa Pig Rice Paper Topped Cupcakes or Pig Face Cupcakes.

Children's Party Food: Pig Face Cupcakes

As we recently celebrated Bridget's second birthday and she is somewhat obsessed with Peppa Pig, I decided to make her some Piggy based cakes - with some inspiration stolen from Pinterest - where there are some pretty elaborate and impressive versions!

I have to say, whilst I'd say I'm a competent cook and baker - I'm lacking somewhat in the artistic presentation stakes - not through want of trying, I just express my creativity differently. So I went for something simple that still looked piggy and relied on cookie cutters and a tiny bit of shaping of fondant - if I can do it, so too can most children! And whilst this is great party food it could also work as a fun baking activity with your children - perfect for a rainy day activity or cold and wintery afternoon distractions.

I used the classic cupcake or fairy cake recipe that I've used time and time again, from Mary Berry but doubled up and used half the mixture for making the Peppa Pig Rice Paper Cupcakes.

For the whites of the eyes, if you have a steady hand you could pipe on some buttercream, but I found using fondant icing slightly easier for my not-so-steady hands.

Once the cupcakes were cooled enough to take on the fondant here is how I made them into little piggies.

Pig Face Cupcakes

Here's how:

1 batch Mary Berry basic cupcakes slightly cooled (Use the all-in-one method to combine: 175g each; slightly softened butter, self-raising flour, caster sugar, 3 large eggs, 1 tbsp vanilla extract, ½ tsp baking powder)
1 pack pink fondant icing (I used Renshaw's)
1 pack white fondant icing (Renshaw's)
1 black icing pen (could also use those sugar balls instead)
1 tablespoon icing sugar
Drop cold water

Firstly find a round cookie cutter that will be almost big enough to cover the entire top of each cake and set aside. Now find a smaller round cookie cutter for the nose and set this aside also.

Now make sure you use a completely clean and dry worktop space to very lightly flour, then flour a rolling pin and roll out the pink fondant icing until it is about 1/2cm thick.
Cut out the number of toppings you require for your cupcakes (I did 18).Combine the icing sugar and water in a small cup and mix well. Use a pastry brush to top each cake with a little icing then secure a topping on each cake.

Pig face cupcakes

Now make the noses using the smaller cutter. Using a sharp skewer make two nose holes in each, you can go all the way through.

Pig face cupcakes

Now place a little icing onto the back of each nose then gently tap it down into the centre of each pig's face.

Now using a tiny ball of pink icing for each pig, roll out a little pair of ears for each and set aside for the minute.

Now get the white fondant icing and cut off a quarter of it - that will be sufficient. Roll this out and then create 18 pairs of small, white balls for eyes, then flatten them onto each pig's face, securing with a tiny bit of icing and hold down. You won’t require all of the icing – secure the rest in a sealable bag and this will keep for a while in the cupboard.

Now use the same method to secure the ears on top of each pig's face.

Finally, use the black icing pen to drop a tiny dot or 'pupil' onto each eye.

If kept in a sealed container these can keep for a couple of days - perfect if you've got a lot of party preparation to get on with. Enjoy!

The piggy corner

Children's Party Food: Peppa Pig Rice Paper Cupcakes

Bridget was two a couple of weeks ago and so we threw a little party to celebrate. Her current phase is Peppa Pig and has been since Christmas time so naturally we tried to incorporate this into the party food and these cupcakes worked well and went down well with both the children and the adults. Who doesn't love a cupcake?

These are an incredibly simple recipe that is great for parties or just baking with your children. The basis for the cupcakes is the 'all in' method from baking legend Mary Berry and the topping is a simple buttercream, some 100's and 1000's and in our case, some Peppa Pig rice paper cake toppers - but if for a party and your little one has a preference you can source all number of rice paper toppers online - Amazon and Ebay have an amazing selection!

You could omit from the 100's and 100's and just use rice paper toppers but I liked the way it made them all the more colourful and fun for a party - and as an occasional treat at birthdays, I don't think there's anything wrong with allowing your child a sugary treat.

Peppa Pig Rice Paper Cupcakes

Here's how:
  • 1-2 batch Mary Berry's basic cupcake recipe (Use the all-in-one method to combine: 175g each: slightly softened butter, self-raising flour, caster sugar, 3 large eggs, 1 tsp vanilla extract, ½ tsp baking powder)
  • For the icing:
  • 150g slightly softened butter
  • 280g Icing sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • 1 tub sugar strands
  • 1 pack rice paper cake toppers – Peppa Pig if you so wish

Once you've prepared the cupcakes and allowed to cool sufficiently, place the butter and icing sugar with the vanilla in a small bowl. Use a wooden spoon to mix well until thoroughly combined.

If the mixture is a little stiff, add a tiny drop of milk to loosen a little then mix again.

Now using a knife or the back of a spoon scoop up a little buttercream for each cupcake and spread over the top to cover well.

Once all are coated, scatter over the sugar strands and use the back of a clean spoon or a clean finger to just very gently pat them in, to ensure they don't roll off in transit. This doesn't sound it, but can be a tricky step - you may have to scoop up bits that fall onto the plate with your hands and re-scatter until you're happy they are evenly distributed and nice and colourful.

Finally - remove each cake topper from the outside shell and simply place into the centre of each cake and gently tap down with your finger.

Voila - the Peppa Pig Rice Paper Cakes are done - these will keep well in a sealed container for a couple of days, so are great to make in advance and save time on the day of any parties when you are likely to be rushing around like a maniac trying to get everything done. Enjoy!
Peppa Pig Cupcakes

Children's Party Food: Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese Blinis

Catering for children's parties often means the parents too, and this always begs the question of whether to just cater for the children, or to throw a few other bites onto the buffet table that might satisfy a more sophisticated, older palate. 

These smoked salmon blinis always go down well and are so quick and simple to do they're an absolute no-brainer. You can of course garnish with a little dill too, but I struggled to get hold of any for Bridget's second birthday party recently. Bridget loves them too - so they're a good all-rounder for both young and old party guests.

Smoked Salmon & Cream Cheese Blinis

Here's how:
  • Pack of blinis
  • 1 tub cream cheese
  • 300g smoked salmon
  • 1 lemon
  • Black pepper to season

Firstly place the blinis onto a the grill rack and allow to cook for 2-3 minutes on either side, remove and leave somewhere to fully cool.

Spread each blini with a teaspoon full of cream cheese.

Put on top of each blini a generous amount of smoked salmon in a pretty looking mound.

Squeeze over the fresh lemon and add a pinch of black pepper to each. Enjoy!

Children's Party Food: Caterpillar Sandwiches

Children love food that is fun and I have made this Caterpillar of sandwiches for Bridget's 1st and 2nd birthday - this year we had a few children and they loved this and the Vegetable Train. As well as birthdays, it's such a young-person crowd pleaser, it's worth making for playdates too or even a family lunch - it makes it much more fun that a boring sandwich.

Caterpillar sandwich

The great thing with this is it is incredibly easy to do and it yields the best results if you use simply spreadable fillings that children love. Think peanut butter, jam (St Dalfour is great as it is all natural), cream cheese or other spreadable cheese like Dairylea. You can do sliced meats too easily – ham, chicken, turkey, beef or even chorizo, all go down well. And you can vary between white, brown and granary bread too – as I did with this one last year.

Caterpillar Sandwiches

By the time I made this for Bridget's birthday a couple of weeks back we were twenty minutes before guests were arriving so this one is a bit 'slap-dash' - but you get the gist - rounds of sandwiches, made with a decent cookie cutter, feet made with cubes of cucumber, a nose made by a halved cherry tomato, eyes were frozen peas simply pressed in with a tiny bit of butter, and two sprigs of chives as antennae. Enjoy!