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Do Onions Bring Tears To Your Eyes?

One of the most versatile ingredients for many dishes has to be onions.  The majority of mine have onions in some shape or form, whether they’re red, white or just small shallots.

Without going into too much depth, there is a lot of goodness in our onions and we’d all do well to eat more of them than we actually do, depending on our current intake.

Why are onions good for us?

In a word, phytonutrients, or plant nutrients as I know them better.  The substances that help prevent some diseases and are good for our health.  If you don’t know what those are, you’re in good company.  Neither did I, until I skimmed through the notes from my University course from years ago.   I must have known at some point, but it had been very well forgotten.  All I could remember was that they beat tomatoes and carrots hands down.

Onions 255

Where are the nutrients?

What I did remember, was to peel onions very lightly, taking off only the outer skin where possible, to keep the best flavour of the onion.   I grew up having the benefits of a thin peel for potatoes from my grandmother, but the benefit of onions hadn’t been drummed into me so well.

When onions are cooked for soup making, they don’t lose their health benefits.  Some will leech into the water or stock, but they’re still there, doing us a lot of good when they’re cooked into our food.

There is also some discussion around whether onions help reduce our stress levels.  Just for that reason alone, it’s worth adding them into our diet.  I find that when they’re cooked into food, a strong oniony taste disappears, which is always good if we’re cooking for children and making smooth soups, where the individual taste of vegetables can be easily hidden from children.

Cooking onions for soup.

Using the sauté method, where we slowly cook our onions until they’re soft, brings out the natural flavour that many of us love.

Happy hearts.

Like garlic, onions have a beneficial effect on our hearts.  There has been talk about onions helping to stop clots forming in blood, but how true that is, I haven’t had time to research fully.   As a mum, I’m happy to go with the old wives tale of onions being a natural reducer of cholesterol.

A kitchen garden vegetable.

As a plot renting household, we tend to always have plenty onions on the go.  They’re easily grown and fresh onions always seem to taste sweeter than their shop bought companions.  We successfully grow traditional onions as well as the small sweet spring onions and their leeky companions.

Our onions tend to differ in size and colour, often with different varieties mixed together, but we find the small yellow ones easiest to grow in our cool climate.


Where did onions come from?

On the internet, I found that people tend to say they came from Egypt, thousands of years ago.   They were held in high regard and even buried in tombs with important people.

Choosing and Storing Onions.

Make sure your choices have a good round shape with an unbroken stem and a crispy top layer.  Soft spots and dark spots can mean the onion is past its best and are best avoided.   In the past, I’ve made the mistake of putting onions in my fridge, but that should really be avoided as often as possible.  Keep them in the dark, in a dry but well ventilated room.  I’ve kept onions for up to a month, but sweeter varieties can degrade more quickly.

Helping the Stinging Eye Syndrome.

I suffer from this badly, yet my youngest child can chop the meanest of onions and shed never a tear.  When we cut into onions, we release a natural gas that can bring a tear to the eyes.  Apart from being incredibly useful for actors, there seems to be little other benefit for the rest of us.

I’m told the following can work, but for me, these seem to do  nothing.  And I’ve tried them all.

  • Using a very sharp knife.
  • Cut low and stand tall, maximising the distance between your eyes and the onion.
  • Wear glasses.  I have to say that I wear glasses most days and they don’t help me with this problem at all.
  • Stick the onions in the freezer for a few minutes before chopping.
  • Chop them up outside.
  • All of the above.


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In sickness and health, the bruised apple.

Could the Wicked Stepmother have saved herself a lot of heartache and just given Cinderella lots of bruised apples?

Perhaps rotten fruit hasn’t crossed your horizon yet, but it’s the one that stood out for me at university many moons ago.  I think I have written about it once before, but it merits a reminder I think.

It wasn’t the botulism, salmonela or listeria that most people know about that stood out for me.  Parents can often be paranoidically fastidious about avoiding the well known food rot, but patulin seems to have fallen under the radar.

Rotten Apples

What Is Patulin?

Quite simply, its a chemical – a toxic chemical fungal matter that is produced from some moulds, for example penicillium and aspergillus.   Does that mean anything to you?  Well, to be honest, it didn’t to me either.   It’s safe to say that although the apple is the fruit that I associate it with in my mind the most, it’s not the ONLY source of patulin.

Why is Patulin Dangerous?

It shows as toxic effects in animals and it should be avoided in foodstuffs as far as is possible.  As it is soluble in water, it is easily absorbed and can grow quickly.  Although there isn’t much research on humans, there has been a lot of testing on how it affects animals.  It shows significant damage to the stomach and lower intestines.

Which Foods is Patulin Found On?

Apples stick in my mind, but there is the possibility of it affecting apple juices, jams and pies.  It has been found on cherries, vegetables and other fruits too.  Cereals and cheese have shown to contain some patulin, but apples and apple products seems to be the biggest threat to our human diet.

How does it affect human health?

Most of the information on the toxicity of patulin is derived from animal studies and there is little or no experimental, or epidemiological, data on acute or chronic toxicity in humans if it is eaten in large quantities.   There is the possible worry about the long term effects of eating patulin regularly and it seems sensible to take precautions and stay away from patulin where it is at all possible.

Should We Stop Eating Apples?

Patulin isn’t something that is going to stand up, wave its arms and induce vomiting and diaorrhea – well okay, it might if someone is intolerant or allergic to the apples or any toxins present, but in general, it might not do more than the odd slightly upset tummy.

Should we ban apples because of its future potential?

Of course not, that would be silly.  Apples seem to be very good for us, and I wouldn’t stop my children eating apples just because of the possibility that a poison might affect their body a few decades down the line, but I do take care that the fruit I give them is bruise free.

Can Patulin Be Cooked Out?

Cooking or pasteurisation does NOT kill patulin.  There could be some evidence, that in juices, with some preservatives, it could be mitigated.

How To Avoid Patulin?

My lecturer simply told us to avoid all apples with bruises.  You could minimise the risk by cutting out the bruised portions of apples where the bruises are small, or simply discard all bruised apples in the same way that it is recommended to discard all green potatoes.  Discard any apples you cut open that have insect burrows and buy good quality apple juice.

Physical damage can help promote the rot, so over handling of fruit can also be a problem.   To keep your fruit in as good a condition as possible, I put mine in the fridge and cut off any bruised parts if I plan to make juice.

I don’t overly worry about it, but I hate seeing little ones being given apples with brown bits on it.  It’s NOT the same as a banana….


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15 Uses for Coconut Oil

Coconut Oil 2

I’m, a coconut freak.  It’s been one of the constants in my life for a couple of decades or more and it’s multi purpose abilities means that I’ve found it handy.  I used to buy mine online in quantities of 6 tubs of 500 grammes at a time.  I can now buy it supermarkets, so I’ve changed my allegiance and switched brands.

The extra virgin organic and raw coconut oil is solid at room temperature, but melts very quickly when heat is added.  When we go abroad, I’ve just learned to live with the fact that the solid state of my tub of oil can fluctuate greatly.


I go for virgin coconut oil, and the one I have this month is actually extra virgin coconut oil.  The smell is what draws me to this type of oil as I absolutely adore it.  It came into my life when I was sixteen years old and on my first holiday in Corfu, Greece.  I’d got burnt by the sun and my hair began to frazzle.  It was a Greek lady who came up to me, felt my hair and told me to go and buy a tub of coconut oil to rub into my hair and leave it overnight.  I am so grateful she did, as otherwise I’d probably never have found my favourite oil of all time.

It’s safe to say that I use coconut oil quite a lot.  I’ve slackened off using it in cooking, but I plan to remedy this quite soon.   That’s more to do with wanting to make my stocks last for as long as I could until I found Sainsbury’s stocking a fabulous smelling tub of it.

Before using coconut oil on any skin or body part, make sure you do an allergy response at least 24 hours before so that you know there won’t be any negative reactions to it.  I’m not a doctor, so ask their advice if you’re not sure about using it on your body.    An inside elbow patch is probably a good place to try it out.

People say coconut oil has anti-fungal properties and can be used as an anti-inflammatory and anti-parasitic.  I’ve never used it for any of these uses, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it helped with all of them.

1  Cooking

Why more people don’t cook with coconut oil, I have no idea.  I suspect some are cottoning onto the good uses of it as the price is beginning to come down in supermarkets for the good stuff.   I love it to add to fried fish that I’m not dry frying and to give a lovely coating for things I’d rather not stick to pans.  It has a high smoke point so it’s great for baking and replacing butter to make a recipe dairy free.

2 – Skin Cream

Yes really.  I’ve had years where the only skin care regimen I’ve had is to slap on coconut oil twice a day.  I now alternate that with oilatum in the morning and the coconut oil at night as my skin is really very very dry and can break out in dry patches.  I’ve not had any dry patch breakouts since I started using coconut oil, so for me, it’s a no brainer to use it.

3 – Make Up Remover

Are you out of baby oil, or eye make up remover liquid?  If so, your tub of coconut oil can come in extremely handy.

4 – Baby Rash Cream

Slimy to apply it may be, but coconut oil makes a for a fabulously soothing balm for sore babies bums.  Just make sure they’re not allergic before using it.

5 – Hair Conditioner and Deep Nourisher

This is what I did in Greece.  Slap it on and then pop on a towel and keep it on while you sleep.  It will take some amount of rinsing out the next morning, but your hair will feel amazing a couple of days later.  If you’re too wary of leaving it on all night, just pop it on for an hour and take it off then.

6 – Stretch Marks

People tell me that it helps to prevent stretch marks if you rub it directly on your skin when you’re pregnant.

7 – Sun Protection 

I believe it’s a natural sun protection factor of 4, but you’d have to research that for yourself.

8 – Home Made Soaps

Add it to your home made smellies and it’ll add a fabulous moisturising effect.

9 – Home Made Soy Candles

Add it to home made candles and the smell of your soy candles may well be enhanced and the texture improved.

10 – Massage Oil

It’s an oil.  It’s more practical to have one oil with multi functional purposes than to buy lots of different oils for different purposes.  Some people can’t take the smell of coconut oil as a massage, but if you do, it’s perfect for it.

11 – Lip Balm

Buy wee lip balm tubs and put some in for a lovely natural lip cream.

12 – Eczema

Helps to improve and sooth dry skin and skin problems like eczema.

13 – Energy Source

I am told it doesn’t store calories as fat in our bodies and is wrongly labelled as one of the bad fats.

14 – Cradle Cap

Soothes babies skin and flaking misery by moisturising and helps remove the horrible itching.

15 – Acne

I didn’t have acne as I always had dry skin, but people tell me that it helps with acne.  It can cause an increase in the outbreak over the first 5 days so I’d recommend anyone wishing to try it makes sure they know what the potential is before they try it.

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Budget Versus Quality Food

Just by choosing to eat some cheap ingredients, it doesn’t mean that we have to eat tasteless and horribly boring food. Cheap ingredients mixed with slightly more expensive ones can make us some fantastically wonderful meal options if they are combined in the right proportions.


As a family, we tend to eat much of the same things quite often, with the differences being how it is cooked and what accompanies the meal.  Eating good food on a budget can be done if we shop around.

The cheapest ingredients we tend to think of are things like:

  • Pasta
  • Pulses
  • Grains
  • Eggs
  • Breads


Food can become tiresome to make when we’re short of ingredients, but more experienced cooks (and mums) tend to know that tasty food doesn’t stop with the actual ingredients.

So, what can we do to make it better?

Expensive Ingredients


Using what’s left from a Sunday roast to make food for other days is the easiest way to spin out expensive meat enough to last for a few days.   Leftovers need to be put in the fridge as soon as possible after they are cooked to keep them at a safe temperature.

Cooking Methods

Buy cheaper cuts of good quality meat and cook it slowly.  Cuts such as pork belly and stewing steak will give great food for everyone when they are slow cooked.  Be warned that the taste and smell as your food cooks may well convert you forever.


  • Make your own burgers and mince with steak bought from a good butcher.
  • Mix oatmeal and vegetables with your meat to make it last longer.  It’s not just meatloaf that you can add things to.

Local Produce 

Eat local, eat seasonal.  If it’s in season, there will be more of it, and it will taste better.  Strawberries in January look fabulous, but the ones I buy tend to taste like raw neeps.

If you can get hold of an abundance of in season fruit and veg, make jams, chutneys and sauces for the rest of the year.

Wild Berries

At the bottom of our street, wild blackberries grow in bushes.  There used to be a few women who went and picked them every year, although I see them less and less.  A good tip is to pick from above waist height, as anything lower could well have been sprinkled on by the local dogs.



As a family we find this hard to do.  We all like rice, but quinoa, bulgar wheat, cous cous and others don’t seem to go down well here.  I would wish that my family would eat more of them, but they rarely do.  I’ve given up with this family of foods as it wastes money buying it not to be eaten, but it is a very real and cheap addition to food.


I love fresh bread and so do the family.  I bought a cheap breadmaker that was a disaster, but it made me realise that bread is really achievable.  I splashed out on a Panasonic a few years ago and have never looked back.  Pizza bases, softies for sandwiches, full loaves and more get made in mine.  Over the years, we’ve saved a fortune in buying bread.



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The Terms – Shelf Life of Different Types of Food Products

The shelf life of food is very important, but it’s even more important that we actually know what the different terms actually mean.

When we deal with fresh foods like meat, fish and poultry, we really need to look at the processes and our handling of it when we get it home.  Vegetables are a very visual purchase and we even tend to overlook tins and jars far too often.

The thing we usually struggle with is how to store foods at home and how long we should keep them for.


Where you get your food is a major concern.  The freshest possible is the best bet, and with the scare from the horse meat crisis, a visit to your local butcher and greengrocer if you have one is a good way to go forward.

Remember that supermarkets may have your food stored in boxes or lorries for days before they go out onto the shelves.  You have to decide what is most important to you as a purchase.


How does it look?

It might sound silly to say look at the products before you buy.  I know that in the past, I’ve been guilty of sometimes just picking something up with a short glance and throwing it in my trolley.  I’m more aware of what to look for now, and I expect better quality.

Leave bashed tins jars and cartons on the shelves.  If it’s not in fabulous condition, you shouldn’t take it home.  Any damage on the outside could have caused damage to the food inside.

Buying from an independent means there is more traceability in fresh food and although there may be less choice in fruit and vegetables, you would at least know where all your food is coming from.

Independents might well have the great tasting, but irregular looking fruit.  I remember well the pound boxes of strawberries I used to buy as a teenager on the way home from school.  Strawberries never taste like that from the supermarkets as they look perfect, they’re all matching sizes and colours which seems to be a the expense of the taste.

Taking food home.

A friend I know goes shopping in an afternoon, then waits for half an hour top pick up her kids from school and heads over to swimming before going home.  The food in her boot will be fine in the winter, but I often wonder just how many sore bellies they all have in the warmer months.

Go straight home with foods that need stored in the fridge or freezer and put them in to chill as soon as you get home.

 Keeping food at home.

It’s not easy for me to say how to store any one kind of food.  There are different times and ways to keep different things.  I keep my flour in the freezer and friends keep theirs in the kitchen cupboard.  I once ended up with flour weevils when I was 19, and I have no intention of ever having to do so again.

Fresh meat can usually be kept in the fridge for about 5 days before being cooke.  Once it’s cooked, you have around 2 – 3 days to eat it safely unless you freeze your cooked dishes.

Fish is much more difficult to keep on top of.  Like poultry, it needs to be cooked quite quickly after being bought, but will keep better once it has been cooked for up to 4 days.

I usually keep rice for only a day or two after being cooked so I was surprised to read that it was ok to eat up to 7 days after cooking.  I don’t think I would take that risk.

Tinned, packets and jars of food can happily live in the store cupboard, but once they are open, they need to be treated in the same way as their fresh cousins.

Expiry Sell By and Use By Dates

Expiry dates are really for things like packets, jars and tins, where it might say “best before”.  It means that foods can be used past that date, but the quality could well be reduced.

Use by dates tend to be used more for fresh foods and they are saying the exact date that the food should be eaten or cooked by.  To leave food longer  than the use by date is taking a risk with food poisoning or spoiling.

Sell by dates only indicate where the consumer should purchase food by.  It isn’t the same as the use by date as a product could contain both a sell by and a use by date.


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What Foods Can We Freeze?

Freezing a larger batch is the easiest way to spin out our food and make it last, but not everything freezes nor defrosts well.



Most dairy products will struggle to defrost well.  I find that cream will separate and can spoil any food that it is combined with prior to freezing.   I have managed to freeze milk pretty well on its own, but it does have a slightly altered taste when I defrost it.  It is similar to the UHT taste, but just not quite as strong.

Cream, mayonnaise and soft cheeses like mascapone might well separate when defrosted, but they could be whipped back together into an emulsion with a bit of effort.   That really is a trial and error thing to see if you are prepared to do that on a frequent basis.  I stick to freezing milk and regular cheese from the dairy family, but I have been known to freeze yoghurt for the kids.

High fat content cheese does freeze quite well.  I have much success in freezing grated cheddar and mozarella.   Some yoghurts do well, and make great ice lollies for kids.    Butter freezes beautifully and I always have some blocks in the freezer as a standby for making cakes, pastry and more.  I simply pop it into the microwave when I need it and it works really well.

Eggs can be frozen raw, but they need to be taken out of their shells.   Cooked egg yolks will freeze fine, but cooked egg whites tend to come out very rubbery and really not very nice at all. They would probably be ok when cooked in with other foods.

Fruit & Veg


Lots of fruit and veg don’t freeze well, although the root vegetables seem to do much better.  I’d love to freeze lettuce, grapes, strawberries, melon, oranges and more, but the textures they give when they are defrosted don’t sit well with me.  The water content is too high and the taste is very much affected when they are defrosted.  Similarly, radishes and cucumber are not good for freezing.  I do often buy a bag of frozen strawberries from Costo, but I tend to use those for smoothies and sometimes a small batch of jam making in the winter, but as a rule, I wouldn’t freeze them to eat afterwards.

Cooked potatoes freeze well, but I have not had any success with freezing raw ones.  Some websites will say potatoes are freezable, but not where I am concerned.   I have not tried freezing uncooked turnip or butternut squash, but I’m told they freeze well.   Pulses have a reputation for freezing well, but they don’t really matter to me as I use mine dried.  Meals cooked with all these ingredients will freeze and thaw well with very little change to taste or texture when they are reheated.

Big manufacturers have the technology to freeze some fruits and vegetables that we couldn’t do at home.  It can depend on where our fresh vegetables come from as to whether they really are of much nutritional benefit to us.

We have an allotment as well as our garden, and this year, we hope to have a lovely crop of fresh and home grown fruit and veg to eat over the warmer months.  I’m not a gardening fan, so I am looking forward to not having to go and water the plants and feed the tomatoes in the outdoor greenhouse this year as the man has taken that over.


Almost all protein sources will freeze well whether cooked or uncooked.  Meat, fish and poultry are all freezable.   You do have to stick to good freezing guidelines and clear out your freezer now and again.  I suspect there are more than a few of us with things in our freezers that are way past their freezer shelf life.   Pulses and lentils we’ve already discussed, but buying dried is so easy, that I’d not really see the need to freeze them unless they are cooked in something else.

Bread & Baked Goods


I freeze bread, softies, rolls, croissants and more.   I tend to do mine baked, but you can freeze the dough for using later.   We can keep our bread in the freezer for a few months, but if I leave it too long, I find that it can be better used in the toaster than for sandwiches.   I am told we can freeze cakes, but that is one thing I’ve not actually tried yet.

Cooked Foods

Soups, stews, casseroles and more are easily freezed as long as you keep out the cream, mayonnaise or soft cheese.

Tomato sauces freeze really well.  Soups and sauces that have been thickened with cornflour or plain flour have always come out really well for me, but I have seen reports where they have not been advised for freezing.   I tend to thicken soups with a few potatoes, so those are always easy for me to do.  I think some things are trial and error.  I have a fast freeze button, and thickened stews and sauces do just fine when they are cooked in with protein and vegetables.

Pasta / Rice / Cous Cous 

There is the argument that says not to bother freezing these starchy foods as they cook so quickly anyway.  I wouldn’t tend to freeze any of them on their own.  I do often freeze them where they are mixed in as part of a whole meal.

We all need to be careful of rice dishes as rice does tend to have problems if bacteria is allowed to grow.   Make sure that if you intend to freeze any rice dishes, that they are cooled quickly and possibly separated into shallow containers.  Get these dishes into the freezer in the shortest time frame possible after cooking.

Reheating Foods from the Freezer

Food might taste much stronger as the herbs and flavours become stronger.   It might be a good idea to leave strong seasoning out until you are ready to reheat.  I don’t usually do this and there are times where I add a little milk or water to the reheating process to give food a slightly more diluted taste.

Some sauces, soups, stews and pasta dishes my seem very thick when you defrost it.  Simply add some water or milk to the reheating process to think down the mix.  It’s all a matter of personal preference.

It’s important to ensure that food from the freezer is thoroughly reheated.

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Why are we so upset about eating horse meat?


With lots of jokes about the horse meat issue facing many of the suppliers of meat in our country, I’ve found myself mentally checking off the Dalepack, Findus, Tesco, Lidl and Aldi brands of any sort of meat.  I know that is actually completely ridiculous, but how many people feel the same way as I do about the horse meat scandal?

The Food Standards Agency seem to be more involved now and I hope they do decide to do mandatory tests on hospital and school meals as many of those are done on such a low price point per person when admin costs are taken off.

Those who can afford to buy proper meat from a good butcher will go and do exactly that.  Those who can’t afford to do that have no choice but to eat the cheap meat on supermarket shelves.  It always makes me cringe when I read the ingredients lists and the thought of the “pink slime” made me rightly or wrongly shy away from lots of meat products.  In my opinion cheap beefburgers probably seem to be a good place to hide undesirable ingredients.

People really don’t want to have to think that they could have eaten a former pet, discarded thoroughbred or seaside pony.  As a nation, we see horses as pets in the same way that we see dogs, cats, gerbils, rabbits, hamsters and guinea pigs.  In France, they do eat lots of horse, but I’d bet with the current state of play, they’d also be annoyed as it really isn’t about the horses.

It’s about not knowing what’s in our food.  If I knew horse or pink slime was in food, I’d rather feed my kids veggie.  The whole point is that we’ve been scammed as a nation, and that’s the most horrible thing about it all.

I want to know what is in my food, in my kids food, and in my animals food.  Criminal activity or not, someone somewhere put people at risk.

It’s been stated as not being a food health issue as if that makes it okay.  What if it hadn’t been horse?  What if it had been arsenic or poison, or something else?  Somewhere in the process and procedures, testing and quality assurance failed.

I hate the thought of mechanically processed food.  A chef once showed me the contents of a cheap commercial value pack of mince.  He rolled it out in his hand and showed me a bit of cheek and an eyelash.  I’ve never bought value mince products since that day.  He described it as the head stuck on a centrifuge and the contents forced off at speed.  Whether it was true or  false, it put me off for life.   I don’t think cheap meat is worth buying when we have no idea what it is that is actually in it.

If I couldn’t afford decent mince, I’d rather make lentil casserole instead – and I’m intolerant of lentils.  We all make our own choices, but I’d love to know how much cheap meat products have suffered this last week or so.

A dozen burgers for £1 are never going to be great quality, but the people buying them deserve to know exactly what’s in them.



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Top Tips for Baking the Perfect Cupcakes


1. Use the minimum of utensils and keep your ingredients list reasonable.

I have a habit of making a huge mess of the kitchen when I am cooking, and with 6 mouths to feed, the kitchen can look like a bomb site quite easily.  I have got cup cake making down to a fine art with only my mixer, a cup, a dessert spoon and a knife at the ready.  I use no bowls whatsoever and just put everything straight into the mixer.

2 – Choosing Ingredients

Use the best ingredients you can afford.  It does make a difference.  The quality of flours can be quite different when you have your finished cup cakes.   If you’re using chocolate, use real chocolate and not the cooking kind that nobody really likes.  For chocolate powder, splash out on something like Green and Blacks Cocoa powder and not cheaper versions with fillers, and you’ll be very glad you did.

Use unsalted butter instead of margarine.  I really don’t understand the margarine or spread brigade as I’d rather have a little less of the real stuff than a heap of manufactured fats full of additives and other difficult to pronounce ingredients.

Baking really is a case of getting the mix of ingredients right.  As long as you add butter, sugar and flour at the same proportions and 1 egg for each 120g of any one of the other ingredients, you should be fine.

3 – The Mixing Moments

How much to mix is always a big issue with cup cake chefs.   I do have my mixer on at a fairly low-speed for a couple of minutes and then I turn it up high for the last little while at the sugar and butter stage to try to blast some air into the mix.

4 – When to Add the Ingredients

I’m going to go completely against the grain here.

Sifting the flour in can add extra air, but I suspect most home bakers don’t bother.  I am not telling you that I actually follow the rule for sifting flour into the mixer, as there are times when I don’t.  I’ve never had complaints from not sifting and my cakes seem to be as light as when I do sift, but I can often hear my grandmother in the background nipping my ears for not doing it right.  Guilt will sometimes make me reach for the sieve.

If you’re really brave like my sister-in-law, you can throw everything in the mixer at the same time and just mix until it’s ready to spoon into cases.

5 – Get the mix even in the cases.

This one is common sense.  If some cases have more mix than others, some will be cooked more quickly than the rest.  Try using a standard sized spoon or scoop to get the same amount of cake mix in each cup cake case.

6 – How to know if it’s mixed.

The consistency should be creamy and not like Scottish Tablet with a grainy consistency.

7 – Work your oven.

It takes a while to get to understand a new oven.  Each one works differently and gives different results.  If you know your oven tends to run hotter or colder than recipes usually ask for, change your baking time.   Use a skewer to know when they are ready.  If a skewer comes out clean, then the cakes are ready.

Resist the temptation to open the oven part of the way through cooking.  Your cakes may well just fall flat as a pancake…

8 – It’s disaster time..

Cakes that don’t look perfect are rarely a disaster.  Make a form of Eton Mess using the sponge, or change a bread and butter pudding recipe, or cover it all up with icing.  If it tastes great, then it doesn’t matter what it looks like.



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Are Fizzy Drinks Bad For Us?

I love carbonated drinks.  I have a soda stream, so my fizz of choice tends to be simply diluting juice with added sparkle.  The question I really have to ask, is should I really be drinking any fizz at all?

We all know the sugary fizzy drinks, otherwise known as soda, pop, or ale depending on where in the country we live in, are really bad for us, and I keep reading that the diet versions are horrendous too.

I used to be addicted to Diet Irn Bru.  I say addicted as it was all I drank.  I’d get through at least 2 x 2 litre bottles in a day.  Weaning myself off the drink took nearly two weeks and lots of headaches, but I can now happily take a coffee, Diet Irn Bru or Diet Coke without getting a caffeine headache, although caffeine does give me acid reflux.

My concern exists as I prefer my drinks sparkly to still, and people keep telling me that all carbonated water is bad.  I thought I’d have a look to see what I could find on it.

So, Is Carbonated Water Bad for You?

With a quick Internet search, we could be forgiven for thinking that we are going to pop our clogs if we don’t stop drinking fizz, as our bones will deteriorate into a mess of osteoporosis, with rotten teeth, smelly breath, stomach pain, excess wind and possibly even cancer.  All of those things really are food for thought.

The Truth About Calcium

I found no evidence that drinking fizzy water with added juice would do anything at all to my bones or my teeth.  There is the possibility that the only reason people have calcium deficiency could really be just because they take in less calcium in their diet as a result of possibly only drinking fizzy drinks.

In 2005, the British Journal of Nutrition published the results of a small clinical trial comparing healthy postmenopausal women who drank about one quart of non carbonated mineral water daily with those who drank the same amount of carbonated mineral water. After eight weeks, blood and urine tests for bone turnover showed no difference between the two groups.

So, if drinking carbonated water doesn’t add to osteoporosis or teeth decay, what does?

Some studies report caffeine as the culprit, and as someone who was once addicted to caffeine, I can relate to the problem.  There are suggestions that caffeine hinders the absorption of calcium in our bodies, even if we have ingested enough to be healthy.

Water Contents

All water, tap, mineral and spring contains small amounts of calcium and other minerals.

Heart Benefits

The Journal of Nutrition study, discussed by Dr Briffa, found that drinking of sparkling mineral water did not lead to an increase in blood pressure and may actually be beneficial for our bodies.  I’m happy to live with that as fizz is a big part of my life.

What about flavours?

This is where we can easily fall down.  Cola can strip a penny back to the shiny new piece of metal it once was.   It will have caffeine, either sugar or sweetner, and possibly a whole raft of colourings, additives and flavourings.   It seems a good idea to make sure that if we use flavourings, we look at what is actually on the label, and decide if that is what we really want to drink.

Will I keep drinking fizzy drinks?

After reading article upon article, I think I have enough of a handle on what it does and doesn’t do, so I can give an appropriate answer to the next person who tells me that my fizzy water is the root of all evil.  I will also enjoy the fact that I have a better chance for lower cholesterol, and relish the knowledge that I am not harming my teeth and bones after all.

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School Lunches – “Healthy” versus “Unhealthy”

With grinning faces, the kids love it if there’s pizza, or burgers and chips on the school menu.  Granted, the days of lumpy custard have hopefully spent their last ever days gracing the plates of our growing future generation, but for my kids, stodge is what they want from a school dinner in Aberdeen City.

Making faces that would sour milk, they turn their noses up at school dinner fish, as I’m told it tends to be grey with “bits” on it.   Similarly the soft veg and tasteless fruit seem to be pretty low on the agenda of my hungry horaces at feeding time.

Portion sizes are teensy, and on the one day I was able to join the lunch time rabble, I was shocked how little kids were eating of their meals once they tasted them, and made faces at each other.

I really don’t see the point of meeting Governmental Nutritional Guidelines, or claiming to serve a balanced meal if the food looks and tastes like shoe leather.  And what about the 11 year olds getting the same portion sizes as the 4 year olds?  How is that going to keep them alert during afternoon classes, bellies not full enough from their £2 meal?

So, given the “reasonably low” standard of food on offer in many lunch canteens, why oh why do the schools insist on telling kids they shouldn’t be taking cans of fizzy pop, or sweeties in their lunch boxes?

I’m told by the kids that the staff take cans of pop away from children who have taken them to school.  If it happens, it’s thieving of the lowest proportions from kids, and seems to set double standards that rankle.  All it creates is the sweetie mob and the non sweetie mob hierarchy as lots of parents put sweets in lunch boxes, even when they’re asked not to.

The short story is, that as a health promoting school, we’re not supposed to give them any sweeties to school, but the tables are turned when they sanction teachers using sweets to bribe the kids into better behaviour.

Little children’s brains try to absorb the contents of the healthy living world and come home full of facts and figures on how bad some foods are, yet when the same kids go to secondary schools, (or academy, or whatever else schools at 12 + are) they are suddenly faced with canteen style food of epic fast food proportions, and expecting around £5 a day to gorge themselves on whichever food tasty of the day catches their eye.

I’ve been “reliably” informed by an excitedly animated face, that the food in secondary is as good as Pizza Hut, McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

“That’s good for me mum,” came the  high pitched happy chappie who starts there next Tuesday.   “I need to put on a few pounds,” says the skinny football mad lad.

A response of “Ye’ll get a packed and like it, with a school lunch on special occasions,”  leads to folded arms and a pout worthy of One Direction.

So, after all of this, I have yet to see what the point was of making such a fuss of “healthy” versus “unhealthy” food at primary, if at secondary, they can choose to just get stuffed full of junk and want £5 a day for lunch.  Ok, so senior school moves to a cafeteria style service with healthy choices,  but with many kids, the only choice they will make is the junk, as they often have to eat the healthy stuff at home.

Aside from the fact I am not spending £15 a DAY on kids lunches when they reach secondary, am I the only one who thinks it’s a ridiculous double standard?

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Making Stock Recipes for Slow Cookers Begins With Experimenting

How we make our stock is the difference between good and ok food from our slow cooker recipes.

It doesn’t matter if we are making soups or casseroles, the basis of good stock makes our meals perfect.  Cooking with a slow cooker is easy, but not satisfied with the results I was cajoled and encouraged by my mother on many occasions for the use of stock cubes in my recipes.  I still do use them for some recipes, for where speed is needed, or I haven’t got time to make or buy stock.

Using stock cubes works out where we are using herbs and spices to flavour meals, as they can often disguise the lack of real stock, but this post is to show you how to make stock that can also be frozen for the future.


All stock has to be meat based.

Types of Stock

The world is your oyster.  We can make stock out of almost anything ingredient wise.  When we are making slow cooker stock, we can put our ingredients in, and then just forget about them.

Bones, meat, poultry, vegetables and even fruits can be used to make our stocks with.

The key to good stock is to allow it to simmer slowly and absorb the aromas and flavours.   Don’t allow your stock to boil, or it will change colour.


If you want lovely white stock, place bones, vegetables or fruits into slow cooker, add water to cover your ingredients and simply put on the lid and simmer on low for 8 hours.  Leave the stock alone to simmer, no stirring.

If you want brown stock, roast your ingredients first, or add some colouring.

Using Stock in Meals

Skim off the fat when it’s cool.  I put mine into the freezer for half an hour so that the fat rises to the top and is easy to skim off.  You could use a muslin or cheesecloth to strain it if you don’t have a handly sieve, or at a push, wait until the fat hardens into white lumps and just lift it out using a spoon.  You’ll find a way that works for you.

Freezing Stock

  • Remove as much of the fat as you can.
  • We don’t have to reduce the stock to freeze it, but if space is an issue, you might have to.
  • The best way to reduce stock is simply to put it onto the cooker, and let it boil away most of the water, but keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t burn.


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Eating Out – Childrens’ Portions

I am guessing that you are all sitting waiting for some huge revelation into the type of food (or packet gunk) that they might be serving up, but no, that is not what has me champing at the bit when we eat out.

Picture this

Small fingers, trying to manipulate knives and forks that are not fully compatible with the small hands that are trying to hold them the same way that mum and dad do. 

The plate is small, and the food is tightly packed onto the plate.  With no room for manoeuvre, the food spins out of control, whirrs off the plate and invariably ends up on someones’ clothes.

How difficult is it to give a young child a plate that is big enough for them to use their cutlery.

I’d love to tell the PR and media types who deal with restaurant chains, hotel kitchen outlets and supermarket food courts that they are not fooling anyone into thinking there is more on the plate, simply because it is miniature sized.