Wednesday 31 January 2018

Rustling up a manic midweek fakeaway in minutes ! #RustlersHack

Whenever people learn that I'm a teacher, the first thing (and, in fact, often the only thing) they say is always "ooh it must be lovely to have all those holidays". Well, yes, this is undoubtedly the biggest perk of the job - not because I'm a lazy tyke but because it's lovely to be off at the same time as the Madhouse kids and spend real quality time with them ! What people always tend to forget though are the manic days and weeks at the end of term, marking and filling in school reports way past bedtime (or, since having the kids, I do the opposite now and get up at 6am on Sunday morning to clear it all before everyone else gets up so I get a weekend too !) or weeks like this week, with two parent-teacher evenings, meaning I leave home before 7am (my bus is at 6.55) and get home around 8pm. I love cooking from scratch but some days, it just isn't going to happen !

When BritMums emailed news of their Rustlers Burger Hacking Challenge, it sounded perfect. They provided a shopping voucher to pick up a Rustlers Southern Fried Chicken Burger twin pack, plus some other ingredients to add extra toppings and sides. As the challenge email said, "sometimes we just need a quick and convenient meal solution that pleases the whole family" and Rustlers have really taken this on board. 

BritMums explain : "Rustlers Southern Fried Chicken Burger twin packs are a perfect quick fix when time just isn’t on your side. Smaller than the average burger (at just 140g each) and in convenient packs of two, they are ideal for little hands and mouths. Just 90 seconds in the microwave and then ready to add your favourite toppings - add what you like to your Rustlers to make it your own as part of a balanced meal." I will be honest, I was slightly dubious when I got to the bit about the microwave, expecting an end result that was soggy and not very appetising, but the burgers are in fact designed to be deconstructed, zapping the meat part in the microwave while toasting the bun and preparing your extra toppings. I chopped up some iceberg lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber, grilled some bacon and got out some sweet mustard, tomato relish, ketchup sachets (from a previous Burger King visit, for the genuine fast food experience !), and beetroot - yes, beetroot ! If it's good enough for New Zealanders (check out my Kiwi Burger recipe if you don't believe me), it's good enough for me ! Oh, and cheese squares - you can't have a burger without fake cheese !

I put everything on the table and let everyone top their burger with whatever they wanted - it comes with black pepper mayonnaise but the kids preferred the ketchup, sweet mustard and relish options. They basically stuffed everything in there - each burger was spewing salad, tomato, cucumber, cheese and bacon everywhere and I wondered how they'd ever manage to fit them in their mouths ! They did though, declaring them delicious and deciding that next time, they'd be happy enough having just extra salad ingredients on the side without the Actifry chips that I'd prepared. The chips were the longest to prepare (20 minutes) so without those, I could literally have a meal on the table in ten minutes. Certainly can't say fairer than that !

Disclosure : This post is an entry for BritMums Rustlers Burger Hacking Challenge, sponsored by Rustlers.

Tuesday 30 January 2018

Madhouse recipe : Spicy Chicken & Coconut Soup

When we were in Norway on a teacher exchange at the start of January, we all went to the home of one of our colleagues for dinner. They eat really early so we were invited over at 4.30pm (which kind of makes sense, because that was when night fell and our exploration of the local area had to stop). She made us laugh because, when we arrived, she said :"OK, I've been at work all day and haven't had time to get anything ready. So here (showing the central island in the kitchen) are all the ingredients, the drinks, the plates and cutlery and some bunches of flowers. There are twelve of us. Get into groups - three of you are making the main meal, three of you are cooking dessert, three can set the table and sort out the flowers, two can be in charge of music/entertainment and one can be in charge of keeping everyone's glass topped up all evening" ! We were all a bit taken aback, but it was actually great fun, especially as she'd translated the recipes from Norwegian with Google Translate so some of it made no sense at all ! This dish is based on the soup that we ate, with the addition of some extra leeks (although I was in Team Dessert so I never saw the original recipe !). She had bought purple, orange, white and yellow carrots to make it look prettier too.

Spicy Chicken & Coconut Soup

ingredients :

drizzle of olive oil
1 onion
1 clove garlic
2 leeks
3 carrots
4 chicken breasts
2 chicken stock cubes
20cl coconut milk
salt, pepper
1tsp cumin
1 tsp powdered lemongrass (or you could use fresh)
1 dried chilli

The prep is the only thing that takes any time or effort. Start by finely chopping all the veggies and chopping the chicken into smallish chunks.

Heat the olive oil in a large pan and fry the chicken and garlic until it is almost completely white but not at all brown. Don't worry if it's not completely cooked as it will finish cooking in the hot broth.

Add the leeks, carrots and onions and stir fry for a few minutes until they start to soften.

Cover with boiling water, crumble in the stock cubes and add the coconut milk. Drop in the whole chilli.

Bring to the boil then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Add the seasoning and spices. I also added a splash of fish sauce for a richer flavour. Once the chicken is perfectly cooked and the leeks have gone soft (but not too mushy), it's ready to serve. I left mine to simmer for about 15-20 minutes on a gentle heat.

It's creamy but not overly heavy, with a lovely fresh taste of chicken and vegetables and a spicy kick from the chilli. It made a lovely change to my usual chicken soup using up the leftovers after the Sunday roast.

Monday 29 January 2018

Norway diaries : Up in the mountains of Gjesdal municipality

My favourite thing about Norway is that you feel like you've visited a dozen countries and seen all kinds of different landscapes all within a few hours and miles - after the bustling town of Stavanger, the beautiful fjords and the moody beaches, we got to discover the delights of the Gjesdal municipality, slightly higher up in the mountains. Our guide for the day - local teacher Sigmund - explained that the people from this region are very patriotic and have a saying that you can travel to wherever you want in the world as long as you never move out of sight of the local lake ! This is the view from the school car park, that the kids (and teachers) get to take in every time they look out of the window. How could you not be in a happy place with this just outside your classroom ?!

The fjords are never far away and are always just as spectacular. This was the view from a little car park where we were meeting up with some other local teachers and barely even got a glance from the locals, who were more interested in texting on their phones !

After school finished for the day (around 2.30pm), Sigmund said he'd drive us up into the mountains to see if we could see some snow. He uttered the immortal line "if you see anything and want to stop to take a photo, just yell". We took him at his word and, literally every 2 minutes, we were doing photo stops ! The little villages nestling in the valleys looked like Austria or Switzerland.

Half a mile further up the mountain road, the landscape dramatically evolved into a breathtaking winter wonderland.

Pretty to look at but very isolated - I'm not sure I'd want to live here. We asked if people ever got cut off with the snow and Sigmund shrugged and said no - they just travel by ski or sledge if they can't get the cars out !

This was the only real snow that we saw during our trip in Norway, apart from a dusting in Stavanger, so we excitedly clambered out of the car and headed along the path through the crunchy snow.

Another fjord, whose crystal clear, dark blue waters are set off nicely by the snow-capped mountains behind.

Spot the tourists ! We didn't stay for long as the temperatures had dropped dramatically on the higher ground.

After meeting up with the other teachers, we headed to Gloppedalsura Scree, part of the Magma Geopark.

This enormous heap of avalanche boulders is famous as a historical landmark because it was the site of a World War II battle where 250 Norwegian soldiers used the scree as a natural fortress and held back two German battalions. One Norwegian soldier lost his life in the battle. Losses on the German side are uncertain and the official figure varies between 12 and 44 soldiers.

Twilight was closing in and it was starting to snow again, so we headed to our final destination, Byrkjedalstunet in Byrkjedal - a lovely, traditional Norwegian restaurant/hotel with a huge gift shop that is well worth a visit.

Norway is the land of trolls and there were lots of them dotted around in the grounds of the restaurant.

Some looked scarier than others !

We were intrigued by the dozen or so little wooden cabins.

It turned out that this is where the goats and sheep are housed, who provide milk and cheese for the restaurant (and, I suspect, sheepskins for the gift shop).

The gift shop is a real Aladdin's cave and you could easily spend an hour in there looking at all the goodies on offer. 

They have everything from homeware and decorative objects to an impressive assortment of semi-precious stones and fossils. (I bought a few for Sophie's collection - they were very reasonably priced, especially by Norwegian standards !)

It was the first week of January and they still had their Christmas display out, with lots of tree ornaments and festive trinkets.

I really wanted to bring home a furry cover - they have them everywhere, in particular on benches outside of pubs and cafes so you can keep warm while while having a drink in freezing temperatures. They're so warm and snuggly but cost a fortune, even the fake fur ones - you can get everything from sheep and goatskin to wolf skin.

The end of the shop evolves into a rocky outcrop - I'm tempted to believe it's the natural rockface that the house was built into, but it may just be a really well designed feature - with a variety of stuffed animals dotted around, including deer, lynx and a huge bear. 

I've never been in a shop like it. It's almost like a museum and there are interesting things to see wherever you look !

We all had a turn on the giant chair, channelling our inner Viking, with one of those snuggly blankets wrapped around our shoulders !

There is also a candle workshop, where you can make and buy your own candles.

After buying our souvenirs - I got some gemstones and a candle holder that casts pretty patterns - we headed next door into the restaurant part. There are half a dozen choices, including the trout and meatballs that most people opted for.

While waiting for the food, I popped to the toilet and marvelled at the décor on the way !

And there you have it - Norway on a plate. Meatballs, boiled potatoes, mushy peas, carrots and lingonberry sauce. This being Norway, we were eating early - around 5pm - and the restaurant shut at 6.30pm. It had been a busy day so we were happy to head back to the hotel and jump straight into our pyjamas afterwards !

Sunday 28 January 2018

#MySundayphoto #SundaySnap 28/1/18

Another atmospheric shot from Norway - no Photoshopping required !  :)

OneDad3GirlsSunday Snap

Saturday 27 January 2018

Celebrating #NationalChocolateCakeDay with Num Noms and Brownies !

It's #NationalChocolateCakeDay today - I'll be honest, I had no idea until an email landed in my inbox last week from the lovely people at Num Noms ! - but it sounded like a great excuse for eating cake to me, so I was all up for it ! To help us celebrate, they sent us through a lovely kit, including everything we needed for making and decorating a chocolate cake, as well as some Series 4 Num Noms.

I'd promised the kids that I'd make some brownies when I got back from Norway, so I decided to put the cake kits away for another day and make some brownies from scratch instead. Brownies still count as chocolate cake, right ?! Here's the recipe that we used, based on one by Paul Hollywood from his How To Bake book that I got for my birthday last year (although he added dried cranberries and walnuts to his and used all dark chocolate).

Chocolate Brownies

ingredients :

100g butter
100g dark chocolate (72% cocoa solids)
100g milk chocolate
4 eggs
250g sugar
100g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
30g unsweetened cocoa powder

Preheat the oven to 180°. Line a 20cm square baking tin with baking parchment.

Break the chocolate into pieces in a bowl. Add the butter and melt in the microwave (or in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water). Stir until smooth and glossy. Leave to cool slightly.

In a separate bowl, use an electric hand-held whisk to beat together the eggs and sugar until pale and thick enough to leave a trail when the beaters are lifted.

Gently fold the chocolate into the egg mixture.

Add the flour, baking powder and cocoa to the bowl and gently fold them in.

Pour into the baking tin and bake for 30 minutes or so, until nicely crusted on top but still soft inside.

Leave to cool before cutting into squares. Serve warm or cold.

Totally gooey, rich and moreish, just as a brownie should be. Juliette was very impressed ... both by the brownies and by the new series 4 Num Noms. (Apparently I'm rubbish and picked out any old Num Noms from her collection for the photo rather than the new ones. I just opted for the ones that looked like they represented cake or chocolate !)

 The Series 4 Sweets Sampler includes a gorgeous chocolate-scented Num called Hottie Chocolate, who is perfect for  #NationalChocolateCakeDay. Other delicious-sounding Series 4 Nums include Choco à la Mode, Rainbow Crunch and Madelyn Macaron. Aah macarons - they are my baking nemesis, so I think I'll stick to chocolate cake ! (If you want a giggle at my #MacaronFail, click through - you'll soon see why I dubbed them Monster Poo !)

Disclosure : We received some Num Noms and a baking kit to celebrate #NationalChocolateCakeDay.
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