Like most parents who work from home the hours between the school drop-offs and pickups are ever so precious. A mountain of work can be tackled in a quiet house, so I generally try to use that time wisely. On days when I'm busy writing, it's always lovely to have something nutritious to refuel with when I'm grabbing a quick break. My go-to is often wholegrain toast, smothered in a good quality nut butter and topped with sliced banana. It ticks all the boxes - quick, tasty, nutritious and filling. Another snack I adore is banana bread, and this recipe is one of my favourites. It's effortless to make, so much so I'll be passing the job of making one weekly over to one of my secondary school boys, once the holidays are upon us. In this recipe, I've used a mixture of pecans and walnuts, but any unsalted nuts would work in their place. 



Banana Nut Bread

This loaf is refined sugar-free and gains its delicious sweetness from the ripe bananas and the addition of some maple syrup. Chia seeds, pecans, and walnuts are a great addition to this loaf as they're packed with heart-healthy vitamins, minerals, and omega-3s.

Ingredients

250g wholemeal flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
50g chia seeds
50g pecans, roughly chopped
50g walnuts, roughly chopped
100ml coconut oil
100ml maple syrup
100g Greek yogurt
2-3 (200g) bananas, mashed
2 eggs, lightly whisked
1tbsp oats

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 190°C / fan 170°C / gas mark 5. Using a little sunflower oil, lightly grease a 2lb loaf tin.
  2. Place the flour into a large bowl. Sieve in the baking powder. Add the cinnamon, chia seeds, pecans, and walnuts. Stir to combine.
  3. Add the coconut oil to a large bowl with the maple syrup, Greek yogurt, and mashed bananas. Using a wooden spoon, beat together to combine, while gently breaking down the coconut oil with the back of the spoon. Add the lightly whisked egg and stir well to combine.
  4. Add the flour and nut mixture, and bring the mixture together with a wooden spoon.
  5. Pour into the prepared tin. Sprinkle over the oats and press into place to ensure they stick.
  6. Bake in the preheated oven, for 55-60 minutes, until well risen and golden.
  7. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire tray to cool. Store in a sealed container for up to 3 days.
Chickpea flour, which is also known as gram flour, is a versatile gluten-free flour. It’s widely used in Indian cuisine within a variety of dishes. In recent years it has become much easier to source chickpea flour. It’s available to buy in specialist Asian food shops and health shops, as well as many of the larger supermarkets. Its consistency works wonderfully in batters, so it’s a great choice for savoury pancake. As this flour is made from ground chickpeas it is also high in protein, making it rather nutritious. I’ve paired these flavoursome pancakes with a simple mushroom and chive filling. These delicious pancakes would serve well for breakfast, lunch or tea.



Mushroom & Chive Stuffed Chickpea Pancakes

Ingredients
Serves 4
For the filling:
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
25g butter
250g mushrooms, thinly sliced
A pinch of sea salt & freshly ground pepper
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh chives
1 tbsp cream
For the pancakes:
150g Chickpea flour {gram flour}
¼ tsp salt
1 egg
250ml buttermilk
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh chives
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh oregano
2 tbsp olive oil

Method
1. To make the filling, heat the olive oil in a medium sized frying pan. When hot, turn down the heat, add the onion and sauté for 3 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the butter. Once frothing, add in the mushrooms. Season with a little sea salt and some freshly ground pepper. Increase the heat and sauté for 5 minutes, until the mushrooms are cooked. Add the fresh chives and cream. Combine well, and then keep the pan over a very low heat, to keep the mixture warm until the crepes are ready to be served.
2. In a large bowl combine the chickpea flour with the salt. Crack the egg into a jug, whisk lightly with a fork and add the buttermilk. Pour the wet mixture into the dry ingredients and using a wooden spoon combine until the batter is smooth. Stir through the freshly chopped chives and oregano.
3. Heat a large frying pan. Add a little olive oil. Once hot add a ladleful of batter to the centre of the pan. Tilting the pan, swish the batter around quickly to form a circle. Cook the crepe for approximately 2- 3 minutes and then flip it over and continue to cook on the other side for another 2 minutes. Transfer to a serving plate, and continue to cook the remaining crepes.

4. To serve; spoon some of the mushroom and chive filling into each crepe, and sprinkle over a little freshly chopped chive to garnish.  
If you're looking for something easy to bake with the children over the Easter holidays, these muffins are a great option. The method is so simple as it merely involves adding the dry ingredients to the wet ones, and if your little ones are banana fans they'll love the results. These muffins make for a somewhat less-guilty treat to enjoy with a glass of milk or a cuppa.



Ingredients

3 ripe bananas, mashed
3 eggs, lightly whisked
100g greek yogurt
100ml sunflower or rapeseed oil
1tsp vanilla extract
150g wholemeal flour
100g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
75g light muscovado sugar
2 tbsp raw cacao powder

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 190°C/fan 170°C/Gas 5. Line the muffin tins with 15 large muffin cases.
2. Place the bananas, eggs, yogurt, sunflower oil and vanilla extract into a large bowl. Stir well to combine.
3. Add the wholemeal flour to the bowl and sieve in the plain flour, baking powder, sugar, and cacao powder into the bowl. Stir well until everything is combined well together.
4. Divide the mixture between the 15 muffin cases.
5. Bake in the preheated oven, for 25-30 minutes, until well risen and golden.
6. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire tray to cool. Store in a sealed container for up to 3 days.
This hearty, filling and flavorsome soup makes a wonderful lunch, any day of the week. If you've got a busy day in store, this soup can be easily be prepared the day before and then simply reheated just before serving. My children love the addition of cheesy soldiers, for dunking into the thick soup, but croutons or even crusty bread would also make a perfect accompaniment.


Ingredients

75g butter
250g potatoes, peeled and diced
225g carrots, sliced
150g parsnip, roughly diced
1 white onion, roughly chopped
1 stick of celery, roughly chopped
2 leeks, white part only and sliced
4 sprigs of thyme, leaves only
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1.2 lt chicken stock
100ml cream

Cheesy Soldiers:
4 thick slices of bread, such as sourdough, cut into large fingers
50ml olive oil
75g cheddar cheese, grated

To serve:
A few fresh chives, finely chopped

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C/gas mark 6.
2. Melt the butter in a large saucepan. When it begins to foam add all the vegetables, stir to combine well with the butter.
3. Sprinkle with a little salt, a few grinds of pepper and the thyme leaves. Place a butter wrapper, or a piece of greaseproof paper, over the vegetables to help them sweat. Cover with the lid of the saucepan. Sweat over a low heat for about 10 minutes, making sure that the vegetables don’t stick to the bottom of the saucepan.
4. When the vegetables are soft but not coloured, and the stock, and continue to cook for another 15 mins until the vegetables are cooked through.
5. Meanwhile, make the cheesy soldiers. Brush the chunky fingers of bread with a little olive oil. Place on a baking tray and sprinkle the grated cheese over each finger. Place in the preheated oven for 7-10 minutes.
6. Using a hand blender or a food processor purée the soup until it is smooth. Taste and season, if necessary.
7. Add half of the cream and stir well. Pour the soup into serving bowls and garnish each one with a sprinkling of chives and a spoonful of cream swirled on top. Serve with the cheesy soldiers or crusty bread.

Every year I consider cooking something a little different for the main feast on Christmas Day, but year after year I return to the tradition that is turkey and ham. A number of years back I steered a little away from tradition and in place of roasting a whole turkey, I opted for a turkey breast and simply poached it and then butter-basted it in a pan before serving. I had seen Richard Corrigan demonstrating the same on a Christmas special and decided it was worth a try. The results were incredible. The meat was deliciously succulent and moist, and I found we were left without a scrap of waste. Poaching the turkey is also a wonderful way to keep the oven free for the many turkey accompaniments.
Happy Christmas!



Poached & Butter Basted Turkey Breast

To Poach:
1 large turkey breast, weighing about 3kg
1.5 lt chicken stock
200ml white wine
3 sprigs of thyme
2 bay leaves
10 peppercorns
1 onion, cut into chunks
2 carrots, roughly chopped
1 stick celery, roughly chopped

To Baste:
100g butter

Method

1. Weigh the turkey breast.
2. Place the stock, white wine, thyme, bay leaves, peppercorns, onion, carrots, and celery into a large saucepan and then add the turkey breast. Top up with enough water to cover the breast.
3. Bring to the boil and then turn down the heat. Allow to simmer for 20 mins per 450g of meat. A 3 kg breast would take just over 2 hours to poach.  Adding more hot water to the saucepan as necessary
4. Remove the breast from the saucepan and allow to rest, covered with tinfoil, for 10 minutes. Reserve the stock to use in another dish or soup.
5. Heat a large frying pan or a roasting tin that is suitable for use on a hob. Add the butter and once it begins to froth place the breast into the frying pan skin side down. Keep turning the breast until all sides are nicely browned, which will take about 15 minutes.
6. Allow to rest on a plate covered with tinfoil, for about 20 mins, before carving.

Every Christmas my mother would make a trifle to offer as an alternative to plum pudding on Christmas day. This trifle recipe may not be traditional but has become a real favourite in our house. Welcoming winter scents fill the kitchen, as the berries are being mulled, ones so pungent that I’m often tempted to bypass the trifle idea and pour it straight into a tumbler as a rather fruity hot toddy. The alcohol will naturally be burnt off in the simmering of the wine but for a more child-friendly version, apple juice would substitute the wine nicely. To keep some kind of tradition a little madeira cake is a must for my trifles. As much as I love cream, and generously add significant amounts of it to dishes, here I am choosing a healthier alternative. No need for apologies as this creamy yogurt topping of thick Greek yogurt, icing sugar and vanilla, makes a viable substitute. Finally, a generous sprinkling of grated white chocolate completes the layering process for a decedent and irresistibly delicious trifle.



Mulled Berry Trifle

Ingredients
Mulled Berries:
150g (6oz) caster sugar
300ml (11fl oz) red wine
1 tsp vanilla extract or reserved pod from creamy topping
½ tsp mixed spice
½ stick of cinnamon
600g berries of choice, fresh or frozen

Creamy Topping:
750g Greek yogurt
½ vanilla pod, seeds only
1 tsp vanilla extract
100g icing sugar, sieved

200g Madeira cake, homemade or shop-bought, sliced

To Serve:
50g white chocolate, grated
Fresh raspberries

Method

  1. To prepare the fruit, place the sugar in a heavy-based pan with the red wine, vanilla extract, cinnamon stick and pinch/grate of nutmeg.
  2. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes, until slightly thickened and syrup-like.
  3. Stir in the fruit and then remove from the heat and leave to cool.
  4. To make the creamy topping, in a bowl combine the Greek yogurt, vanilla seeds & extract and icing sugar. Taste and add more icing sugar if necessary.
  5. To assemble the trifle, place the slices of Madeira cake at the bottom of four individual glasses or one large bowl pour in the mulled berry mixture. Add the creamy topping and if not serving immediately the trifles can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours.
  6. Before serving sprinkle generously with the grated white chocolate and scatter over a few fresh raspberries.
My mother would always boil the Christmas ham on Christmas Eve. The first cutting of it would be thinly sliced and packed between thick slices of batch bread. These sandwiches generally weren’t eaten until just before midnight mass and by far were the tastiest sandwiches of the year. I love baked ham at Christmas as it pairs so perfectly with turkey and the leftovers will keep you in sandwiches for 3-4 days.



Sweet Glazed Gammon

Ingredients
2.7 kg (6lb) unsmoked gammon
2 onions, cut in half and studded with 2 cloves in each half
1 tsp whole peppercorns
1 bay leaf
500 ml cider
1 liter apple juice

For the glaze:
4 tbsp Redcurrant jelly
2 tbsp muscovado sugar
1 tbsp wholegrain mustard

20 whole cloves

Method
1. Weigh the gammon and place in a large pan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat, drain and then return the gammon to the saucepan.
2. Add the clove-studded onions, peppercorns and bay leaf. Pour over the cider, apple juice and enough cold water to cover the gammon completely.
3. Bring the liquid to the boil, skimming off any scum as it rises to the surface, then reduce heat and cover. Simmer gently for 20 mins per 450 g (1lb) — around 2 hours for a 2.7 kg (6lb) piece of gammon, adding more hot water to the saucepan as necessary.
4. Remove the pan from the heat and lift out the gammon. Set aside for 10 mins until it is cool enough to handle.
5. Preheat the oven to 200 ̊C /fan 180 ̊C/gas mark 6.
6. Use a sharp knife to remove the skin from the gammon, leaving behind a thick, even layer of fat. Score the fat into a diamond pattern and stud the center of each diamond with a clove.
7. Put the gammon, fat-side up, into a roasting tin lined with a double thickness of foil, and cover the sides of the gammon with the foil. This will avoid the sides of the meat from drying out.
8. For the glaze combine all the ingredients together in a bowl. Spread the mixture evenly over the piece of gammon.
9. Cook the gammon for about 30 minutes, regularly basting with the glaze and juices from the roasting tin.
10. Cover and set aside to rest for 30 minutes before carving.