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November 13, 2016 / mintcustard

A few ways to save 5 minutes with Nature’s finest – win some cash too!


Family time is precious, but with so many of us often exhausted at the end of a working day and parents and children looking at screens  we forget to spend just five minutes together.  Nature’s Finest (the fruit pot people) is on a mission to find and champion families who use simple solutions or life hacks to ensure time is spent together, through the campaign ‘Britain’s Most Fruitful Family’.

Run via Nature’s Finest’s Facebook page, the campaign is asking families to send in the life hacks that help them to spend more time together as a family, encouraging others to try the same and embrace a fruit-ful lifestyle.

Inspired by the brand itself, Nature’s Finest offers a variety of tasty Potted fruit only in juice, with no added sugar.  Making eating fruit on the go or at home a simple and easy task.

The campaign will run from 24th October through to 28th November and the winning family with the best life hack will receive £1,000 worth of Sainsbury’s vouchers – ideal just before Christmas when food shopping bills get bigger. If you have a way to save five minutes that you are happy to share with Nature’s Finest on their facebook page then you could bag that 1000 pounds voucher just in time for Christmas.

Here are a few hacks that I found worked well when my children were younger.

  • Encourage your child to pack their school bags the night before. This gives them a chance to do so in a calm manner and you can see if there are any letters in the bag or notes from the teacher that need your attention.
  • Put school shoes next to the school bags so they are easy to find in the morning.
  • Have a copy of your child’s timetable on the fridge, get them to check it every evening and then they won’t forget swim kit or plimsolls!
  • Give your child responsibility for putting their reading book in their bag or checking their PE kit is complete. If they forget DON’T do it for them. They will remember the next time if their teacher gets cross!
  • Organise the emails sent from school into one folder, so they are easier to find in a hurry.

I was sent a few pots of Nature’s Finest to try when agreeing to share this competition. I was not asked to write a positive review of the product and was not paid to write this post.

November 5, 2016 / mintcustard

Bonfire night purple carrot cake.

Bonfire night purple carrot cake.

Bonfire night purple carrot cake.

This time of year many supermarkets, farmers markets and greengrocers seem to have a supply of rainbow coloured heritage variety carrots. I have used them for rosti, roasted them slowly and even turned them into soup but for my money they make an amazing carrot cake. Slightly nuttier than the sweet orange carrot they pair well with the walnuts or pecans you can add to this dish if you’d like. My husband doesn’t like cheese so I add a simple orange icing drizzle to the top of my cake but if you’d prefer a more traditional topping then please feel free to add that.


Bonfire night purple carrot cake

  • 175g light soft brown sugar
  • 175ml sunflower oil
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 140g grated purple carrot (about 3 medium)
  • 100g walnuts or pecan nuts
  • grated zest of 1 large orange
  • 175g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp grated nutmeg (freshly grated if you can.)

Bonfire night purple carrot cake – how to …..

  • Preheat the oven to 180 c or 160c fan
  • Line an 18cm square tin with paper. I used a circular cake tin liner and that worked just as well.
  • In a large bowl combine the sugar, oil and eggs.
  • Stir in the grated carrot, nuts and zest the orange directly over the bowl to catch all the orange oils too.
  • Sift the flour, bicarb and spices into the bowl and fold in until well mixed.
  • Pour the runny batter into the prepared tin and place into the oven.
  • Bake for 40  minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
  • Allow to cool for a few minutes in the tin and then place onto a rack to finish cooling completely.

To make an orange drizzle take 2 tbsp of juice from the zested orange. Spoon in icing sugar and combine until you have the thickness of icing you’d prefer. Drizzle over the cooled cake. Put the kettle on and enjoy.

Light the blue touchpaper and stand well back.

October 29, 2016 / mintcustard

Mediterranean sausage plait – inspired by those GBBO sausage rolls.


Mediterranean sausage plait.

I occasionally make a sausage plait, essentially a sausage roll on steroids. Based on an old family recipe I normally add in onions, a few sauteed mushrooms and possibly a squirt of tomato puree and a dollop of English mustard. All wrapped in shortcrust pastry and served warm  with plenty of vegetables.

Not this time though. My Mediterranean version is really a result of getting to the back of the fridge and an unwillingness to go out and do a big shop! Do use really good sausages in this dish, otherwise the whole thing becomes greasy. If you are unsure how to fold a sausage plait this video is here to help.

Mediterranean sausage plait – ingredients.

400 g good quality sausages

1/2 onion finely chopped

2 tbsp chopped pepper

1 clove garlic finely minced

12 olives halved, you can use more if you want

1 tbsp sundried tomatoes

good pinch chili flakes

good pinch dried Italian herbs

1 egg beaten

1 pack ready made puff pastry.

How to ….

  • Preheat the oven to 180c fan or 200c non fan
  • Over a medium heat cook the onions, peppers and garlic until softened. Leave to one side to cool.
  • Line a baking tray with parchment.
  • Flour a work surface. Roll out the puff pastry until the thickness of a pound coin. Use the video above to help with shaping your pastry.
  • In a large bowl combine the sausage meat squeezed from the sausage skins and all the other ingredients except the egg.
  • Work the ingredients together until combined and then add half the egg. Combine again.
  • Lay the mixture along the centre of the pastry and fold the edges in. If you can’t be bothered with the faff then simply make a big sausage roll.
  • Brush with the remaining beaten egg and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until crisp and golden.
  • Allow to cool a little before serving. Keep any leftovers for packed lunch or a tea time treat.

A smear of pesto under the sausage meat or a few rasps of parmesan on top of the beaten egg glaze would be good if you happened to have those to hand also.


October 28, 2016 / mintcustard

Keeping colds at bay with broccoli soup and ColdZyme.


As a parent of students and as a teacher, these few months after the start of term are full of new beginnings, new challenges and new viruses to contend with. If you are away at University living in Halls Fresher’s flu is a real issue you will almost certainly have to cope with. Not only are you fending for yourselves, you will be burning the candle at both ends and have deadlines to meet I am sure.

Prevention is better than cure, so stock up on vitamin C rich foods, drink plenty of fluids and maintain good hygiene (easier to be on top of your own as sometimes flatmates……. well….!!!!!)

Make sure you get into a good sleep routine. When we sleep our immune system repairs itself, so chronic sleep deprivation can make you prone to infections.Not easy if you are out clubbing but rest when you can.

Manage your stress levels. Try to prioritise and plan where possible as stress can play havoc with your immune system. Don’t leave that essay until the last minute.

Consider using anti-viral tissues and keep them in your bag or on your desk if those around you have a cold to minimise the spread of the virus and make sure that tissues are put straight in the bin.

Use ColdZyme, a revolutionary mouth spray which targets the cause of the common cold and is clinically documented to help reduce the duration of a cold.

If the worst does happen then you can combine all of the above strategies with a big bowl of vitamin C rich soup. It’s cheap too which is always a bonus.

Broccoli stalk soup – makes 1 big bowl


1 broccoli stalk and 2 or three florets – chopped finely

1 small floury potato finely diced

1/4 onion finely chopped

1 clove of garlic

500 ml stock (vegetable or chicken works particularly well)

1 tsp oil

How to 

  • Heat the oil in a large saucepan and soften the garlic and onions until translucent.
  • Add in the broccoli and the potato, turnover in the oil and then add the stock.
  • Simmer gently for 10 minutes until the potato and broccoli stalk is softened.
  • You can either leave the soup chunky or use a stick wand to blitz the soup to a silky smoothness.
  • Pour into a deep bowl. You can garnish with crispy onions, a swirl of sour cream or a few croutons.

Hope you can avoid the cold and flu season but if not remember to use the tips and recipe to help you get better soon.

I was sent ColdZyme to try (as yet I haven’t had a cold so it remains in the box!). I was not paid to write this article, all ideas and the recipes are my own and I was not asked to write a positive review.

October 26, 2016 / mintcustard

Halloween monster tiffin.

Halloween monster tiffin

Halloween monster tiffin

After you have eaten sausages wrapped in puff pastry to resemble mummies, olives dressed up to look like spiders and carved yourself a puking pumpkin you may well need a little sugar boost. Those going trick or treating will have no need of these snacks but the adults shivering behind them may well do! Not overly scary or realistic, simply fun and speedy to make. Enjoy.


Halloween monster tiffin.

Ingredients – makes 16 small squares

250g shortcake/digestive/malted milk biscuits

125g butter  (melted)

1tbsp cocoa

1 tbsp golden syrup

1 big bar chocolate (200g), milk or plain as you prefer

Sandwich tin – buttered

32 mini marshmallows

black food colouring

tooth pick

Space out the pairs of eyes!

Space out the pairs of eyes!

How to …

  1. In a mixing bowl, using the end of a rolling pin, crush the biscuits into crumbs. You could use the fill a plastic bag and whack with a wooden spoon method if you want. You could use a food processor but that takes all the fun out of it.
  2. In a large saucepan melt the butter, cocoa and syrup together to make a sauce.
  3. Pour the chocolate sauce onto the biscuit crumbs and combine thoroughly.
  4. Tip the chocolaty rubble into a buttered or cling film lined 6″ square tin and press down. Put into the fridge to set.
  5. Take the toothpick and dip into the black food colouring. Mark a small dot of black onto each marshmallow.
  6. Once set melt the chocolate and pour over the biscuit base. Place pairs of marshmallows onto the molten chocolate to resemble monster eyes. Refrigerate once more until the chocolate is set. Cut into 16 squares and serve. This is best served from the fridge as it is only the cold that holds it together.
October 25, 2016 / mintcustard

Sticky, spicy beef short rib bao buns


Sticky, spicy beef short rib bao buns.

Sometime in early September when the sun was still shining I bought some beef short ribs and popped them in the freezer. Now the sun has vanished until late March slow cooked comfort food is back on the agenda at Mintcustard Mansions. I didn’t really fancy a big casserole by the time the ribs had defrosted but the ribs had to be eaten so a sweet and spicy beef stuffed into plump pillowy freshly steamed bao buns.

To make the bao buns I used this Good Food recipe. I used a quarter of the ingredients and it made 4 buns. They steamed well in my rice cooker/steamer.

Sticky, spicy beef short ribs – sufficient for 6 well filled bao buns.


3 large short ribs

1 large garlic clove grated

1 knuckle of ginger, peeled and grated

1/2 tsp chilli flakes

1/2 cup soy sauce

1 dsp mirin

1 tsp rice wine vinegar

4 dsp soft brown sugar


SHort ribs in the marinade.

How to ……

  • Preheat the oven to 150c.
  • Gather the bun ingredients and begin to make them as you put the meat into the oven.
  • Place all the ingredients except the ribs into a large tightly lidded casserole. I add a covering of foil under the lid as an extra seal.
  • Add in the ribs. If you want to marinade the meat for up to 12 hours you can.
  • Place in the oven and cook for 3 to 4 hours until the meat falls off the bone and can be easily shredded with two forks. You may need to check the meat every  hour or so
  • Shred the meat into small pieces and allow to cool in the juices. Once the fat has solidified remove and then reheat the meat just before serving.

Ideal as a slightly different easy to share meal at Halloween or on Bonfire night.

Slow Cooked Challenge 1015 copy

I am joining in with Janice of Farmersgirlkitchen and Lucy of Baking Queen 74 for the October Slow Cooked Challenge.

October 7, 2016 / mintcustard

Homemade garlic dough ball knots.


Homemade garlic dough ball knots. Drenched in garlic parsley butter.

I have yet to meet anyone who can resist a plate of garlic dough balls. As ever I thought it must be very simple to make your own, with the added benefit of making your own garlic butter means you don’t need  to worry about running out before the last dough ball is dipped.

I tossed all the dough balls in the garlic butter rather than dipping and munching but it is up to you to choose a method of getting the butter and dough balls together! One other change I made was to make the dough pieces into knots, easier to pull apart and they give more soft fluffy interior to dip in the butter.

Homemade garlic dough ball knots. – makes 12


200g strong white bread flour

1/2 tsp sugar

2 tsp olive oil

good pinch of salt

1/2 tsp dried yeast

4 fl oz warm water

salted butter, garlic and parsley for the garlic butter.

How to…..

  • In a jug mix together the water, sugar and dried yeast. Allow to sit for 15 minutes until the yeast begins to foam.
  • In a large bowl tip the flour, salt and olive oil. Pour in the yeast and water.
  • Mix well to combine.
  • Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes until smooth and the dough feels springy.
  • Place in clean lightly oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave the dough until doubled in size (approx 1 to 1.5 hours).
  • Once risen Preheat the oven to 220c.
  • Slide the dough out from the bowl. Pat into a rectangle and cut the dough into 12 equal pieces.
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment.
  • Roll the dough into a sausage shape and tie the dough into a knot.
  • Place on the baking sheet and allow to rest again for 15 minutes.
  • Bake for 10 minutes until golden.
  • Mix together 50g of softened butter, garlic and parsley. If you want more then make more.
  • I tossed the hot dough balls in the butter until the butter coated the dough ball knots, if you prefer to dip then dip.
October 5, 2016 / mintcustard

Fudge topped mocha marble loaf.


Fudge topped mocha marble loaf.

Fudge topped mocha marble loaf

2 eggs weighed

same weight of flour

same weight of butter

same weight of self raising flour

same weight of caster sugar

1/2 shot of espresso – cooled

1 tbsp cocoa in 2 tbsp warm water


50 g butter

1/2 shot espresso

200 g icing sugar

How to

  • Preheat the oven to 180c
  • Line a 450g or 1 lb tin with a loaf tin liner or parchment paper.
  • Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  • Beat in the eggs one at a time. If the mixture splits add in a tbsp of the flour at this point.
  • Fold in the flour and baking powder until well combined.
  • Divide the mixture into two.Stir in the espresso to one half and the cocoa mixture to the other.
  • Place alternate spoons of mixture in the tin, swirl together with a skewer and bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until the cake has shrunk away from the sides of the tin.
  • Leave to cool in the tin.
  • Make the icing.
  • Melt the butter in saucepan with the 1/2 shot of espresso and remove from the heat.
  • Beat in the icing sugar a little at a time to prevent lumps and until the icing reaches a thick fudgy but pour-able consistency. Depending on the temperature in the kitchen this may take a little more icing sugar or a little less.
  • Smooth onto the cooled cake, mark the lines using the tines of your fork.
  • Try a test piece with a cup of tea. Fill up your cake tin with the rest.


October 2, 2016 / mintcustard

Simple pommes dauphinoise.


It really doesn’t matter what their age, when your children return home for a day or so you want to spoil them a little (or a lot!). Older one came back for a night recently and I asked her what she’d like. Her reply? Pommes dauphinoise. I really didn’t have the time to poach the potato slices in an infused cream and layer up the slices into a pretty pattern, however I did want to bring a smile to Older’s face.

I did slice the potatoes finely, I also carefully mashed the garlic down to a puree with sea salt flakes and I left out the onion as she doesn’t particularly like onion. I am a soft touch!

Preheat the oven to 160c.

The key to my lazy method is choosing potatoes designed for mashing – I used desiree. I took a deep gratin dish and buttered it well. I scattered the bottom with a generous pinch of salt and grind of black pepper. Half the pureed garlic clove was added at this point too. I sliced the potatoes about the thickness of a pound coin and placed a layer into the base of the dish. Again a generous scatter or salt and ground black pepper, the remaining garlic puree and a few dots or butter. Another layer of potato slices, seasoning and then enough cream to just cover the spuds. A few more dots of butter and some seasoning, just to finish off the dish.

Cover the dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes, then uncover and bake for a further 15 minutes.

Allow to cool a little and then serve great big piles of the stuff. Great as an accompaniment to roasts, casseroles or just on it’s own out of the gratin dish with a spoon and a box set. A hot alternative to a tub of ice cream when you need some comfort in your life.


September 30, 2016 / mintcustard

Pickled spiralized vegetables, with a little help from Sarsons.


Pickled spiralized vegetables.

I have always loved pickles. Onions and gherkins are flavours inextricably linked to my South London childhood. Recently I’ve been experimenting with pickling a wider variety of vegetables. Pickled turnips and another childhood favourite, bread and butter pickles can be found lurking in Kilner jars in my fridge.


Earlier this week I had the opportunity to get myself into more of a pickle during a preserving evening hosted by Sarsons. Alongside many friends old and new we set to tasting and creating four different pickles. We each chose a pickle to make, with the added bonus that we could take a jar of them back home with us.

Having tried the pickled cucumber, pickled garlic, pickled peppers and the Vietnamese pickled vegetables I decided to help out on the Vietnamese pickled station. Made with Sarsons new Speciality Pickling blend white wine vinegar, the most taxing part of the whole process was chopping the vegetables.

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Spending the evening chopping, laughing and generally making puns about pickling set me to thinking how I could preserve even more at home. Having been very kindly given a Kilner jar and some of the new Sarsons pickling blend vinegar as a gift when we left the pickling event I had no excuse.

My love of bread and butter pickles and the amazing favours in the Vietnamese pickled vegetables inspired me. I decided to combine the two. By adding mustard seeds, chilli flakes and sugar to the vinegar I gained the heat and sweetness I love and by spiralizing the vegetables the result is easy to eat and downright pretty too.


Spiralized carrot, courgette and mooli, waiting to be pickled.

Pickled spiralized vegetables.

1 large courgette – spiralized

1 large carrot – spiralized

15 cm piece of Mooli – spiralized

1/2 white onion finely sliced

300 ml Sarsons specialist pickling blend vinegar

2 tsp mustard seeds

1/2 tsp chilli flakes

140 g caster sugar

1 1L preserving jar

How to …….

  • Sterilise your jar. Kilner have step by step help here on their website to assist you.
  • Spiralize each vegetable (except the onion) and keep the vegetables separate.
  • In a saucepan heat together the vinegar, spices and sugar until the sugar dissolves.
  • Remove the jar from the oven and allow to cool a little.
  • Layer the vegetables into the jar. Ladle in the vinegar.
  • Allow to cool a little more, seal and place in the fridge for a week or so before eating.

If you would like to make some pickles of your own then the Sarsons website has many recipes. Sarsons and Sainsburys have teamed up and have a promotion on both Sarsons’ products and Kilner jars too.

I was invited to the Sarsons event, I was not paid nor was I asked to write a positive blog post. I was given a selection of Sarsons products to take away with me from the event.