Review: Bebs Bites Authentic Indian Cookery Lessons

“Amazing and loads better than a takeaway,” this was just one of the many gushing things my partner had to say about the leftovers I brought home from my Bebs Bites Indian Cookery lesson. And it’s high praise indeed from someone who loves Indian food and would eat takeaways most days of the week if he could. He was totally right though, the food we created in just a few hours with Ranjeet, who runs Bebs Bites Indian Cookery lessons from her home in Woodford, was totally delicious.

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Yellow Lentil Dahl, Keema Lamb, Raita and rice

I arrived at Ranjeet’s house on a Saturday evening late and harassed after facing a toddler bedtime battle, but luckily her house was an oasis of calm and I was shown to the conservatory at the back where two other pupils were waiting. They were a lovely, young couple, cooking novices who had travelled from Brixton for the class after reading such brilliant reviews on Trymykitchen.com.

Ranjeet immediately made us all feel at home, offering a glass of beer or wine to start with, and talking us through the spices we would be using throughout the evening. Even though I have cooked quite a lot with spices, Ranjeet was excellent at telling us about each one and demonstrating the differences when you roast and grind your own and she was brilliant at sharing tips and tricks about how to cook and prepare spices as we went along.

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Chilli Paneer

We began by making a starter of Chilli paneer which was surprisingly easy to make but absolutely gorgeous and which I will definitely be making again. We then moved on to one of my favourite dishes, a Yellow lentil dahl and while I have tried loads of versions of this around the world the combination of ingredients and spices made this one of the best. Then we set to work on our other main dish which was Keema lamb which could also be made with Quorn for the vegetarians. As with all the dishes, we were surprised by how little oil we used and as Ranjeet explained the lack of loads of ghee, oil and onions that you find in takeaway food means that her recipes are healthy as well as being delicious.

Amazingly, Ranjeet runs two Indian cooking courses a week as well as holding down a job and raising a family and although she has only be running lessons since September 2015 she comes across as a natural hostess and teacher. Not only does she offer adult cookery classes in the evenings, such as the one I went to, she also offers bespoke children’s cookery courses. Usually these are a minimum of 4 lessons run once a week for an hour for parents and kids to do together, and is often a popular activity for dads to do with their children. Children can learn to cook things liked baked bhajis, chapati, stuffed parathas – healthy Indian food that is not deep fried, with an emphasis on teaching children about real ingredients and proper food. I think this would be a great idea of children who love cooking and you can see some photos of happy kids having a go on the Bebs Bites Facebook page.

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Keema lamb

 

After our Keema main courses were cooked, we all sat down at the table together to try the dishes we’d made along with some rice and a simple raita that Ranjeet showed us how to make. We were all amazed that we’d managed to cook such yummy food in such a short space of time – although I do think the fresh spices we used made a massive difference. If I didn’t have cupboards full of spices at home I would have bought some of the freshly ground spice trays Ranjeet was selling and it has definitely motivated me to cook Indian food more regularly. The couple who were doing the course with me both said they found the lesson very simple and easy to follow, so I’d recommend it for people of all abilities. As a parting gift, we were even sent home with some Indian sweets that Ranjeet had made for us.

You are advised to bring Tuppaware containers to your class so you can take home any leftovers and my partner has already been asking when I’m going to cook the recipes again. But I’ve got a better idea, I’m already planning on sending my partner along for his own lesson so he can learn how to cook these dishes himself.

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For more information about Bebs Bites Indian Cookery lessons visit the Bebs Bites website or Bebs Bites Facebook page. Ranjeet also offers kids parties, catering for functions and classes for corporate events and cookery lessons start at a vary reasonable £38.

Disclaimer: I attended the cookery lesson free of charge in exchange for a review, but as always, the words and opinions in this review are completely honest and my own.

Child friendly cafés: Butler’s Retreat, Chingford Plain Epping Forest

Remember the days when you could spend a few hours in a coffee shop reading the weekend papers over eggs and coffee? Well those pre-children days are a distant dream, now it’s all about child-friendly cafes that will take one, or god forbid two buggies and if you’re really lucky, not only welcome families but are actually enjoyable places for the little people too. These are surprisingly hard to find.

Butlers Retreat cafe Chingford Plain Epping Forest

One café that we return to time and time again is the child-friendly Butler’s Retreat café on Chingford Plain. The location is definitely the main draw on the edge of Epping Forest but the great coffee and yummy food keeps us coming back. We usually park by the lake at Connaught Water and walk up the hill or in the car park opposite Butler’s Retreat and even a small bit of walking in the forest gives me the perfect excuse to justify lots of cake.

THE FOOD
Butler’s Retreat is run independently by the same people who own The Larder in Wanstead (another very child-friendly café with a small kids play area) and another café in Bethnal Green. Like its other outlets, it focuses on organic and ethically produced produce where possible with things like fish pies, sandwiches, soups and breakfasts. As you’d expect from a place serving lots of homemade and organic food, it isn’t cheap but the cakes are divine (a recent passion fruit tart was amazing and my son loves the blueberry muffins stuffed with plenty of fruit). We like to go for brunch at the weekend and breakfast is served until 11.30am and I’d recommend the lovely smoky beans.

The children’s menu is small but a welcome departure from the ubiquitous chicken nuggets and chips. For breakfast, there is porridge with honey and fruit or a small fry up. Lunch is salmon and smoked haddock pie, lamb kebab with chickpea salad with humous and minted yoghurt, handmade sausages with peas and wedges or orecchitte pesto pasta and prices range from £2.90 – £6.50. There’s also a toddler section with cheese on toast (£2.90) or a mini fish pie with greens (£3.40). And they have a selection of child-friendly snacks and drinks, such as Bear fruit snacks and Pom Bear crisps.

boy on tree stumps Butlers Retreat Chingford Plain Epping Forest

CHILD-FRIENDLY FACILITIES
Obviously the forest is the real draw here and most of the seats are outside either at the front or benches around the back looking out over Chingford Plain. Personally, with kids I prefer the back as it is away from the road and most importantly they can play nearby while you sit and chat. While there is no traditional play equipment there are two mini hills with wooden steps and wooden logs for toddlers to run up and down on. Admittedly this doesn’t sound like much but it keeps my son amused for ages and he usually has to be dragged away. There are often older children playing nearby with balls, Frisbees or kites in windy weather.

boy on tree stumps Butlers Retreat Chingford Plain Epping Forest

For rainy or colder days there are seats inside and an area upstairs that I believe is available for private hire for christenings, parties etc.

There are a number of high chairs available both inside and out and a changing table in the female bathroom upstairs. If you’re outside there is loads of room for multiple buggies so it is a good place to congregate with other families to eat before or after a walk in Epping forest.

As I mentioned, there is a car park on the opposite side of the road to the café and an overflow is opened in the field next to it during busy periods.

boy on wooden steps Butlers Retreat Chingford Plain Epping Forest

The café is next to the Queen Elizabeth Hunting Lodge that was built by Henry VIII in the 16th century and is slice of local history worth a visit. Next door to that is The View visitor centre which has maps and staff on hand to give you information about the forest and local walks. There is also an interactive nature exhibition which little people will love. There are lots of buttons to press, natural soundscapes and stuffed animals that reside in the Forest and there’s even a little shop that has information about local events in the area. If your child is older it’s definitely worth picking up the guide leaflets as there are conservation days and craft events to encourage children to get closer to nature.

Opening times: Until 30th September open everyday from 9am – 6pm and kitchen closes at 4pm.
Breakfast is served daily until 11.30am and then lunch is from midday (so watch out for that half an hour gap!).
Note: The Lodge and the view will be closed on Mondays from 5 October 2015

More information: Butler’s Retreat website
Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge website
The View Visitor Centre website

Have you visited Butler’s Retreat? I’d love to know what you think so please add your comment below or tweet me @WestEssexMums.

I’ll be reviewing more child-friendly cafes and restaurants in the area soon, so let me know if you’d like to suggest one of your favourites.

banana bread with chocolate chips and sunflower and pumpkin seeds

Cooking with kids: Easy seedy, chocolate-chip banana bread recipe

banana bread with chocolate chips and sunflower and pumpkin seeds

I love banana bread and as the Little One loves bananas we always have some hanging around. So if you find yourself with some that are over-ripe this is a perfect way to use them up and it’s very easy so the children can help you bake it. This is a mishmash of various banana bread recipes, keeping the bits I like such as chocolate chips and a crunchy, sweet, seeded crust. At two years old, I’ve been involving my son in baking for a while now and it’s great to see him really keen to get involved. However, as with most things these days, he insists on trying to do it by himself (obviously I’m actually doing most of it) but luckily this is one of those recipes that is quite forgiving even if everything isn’t quite mixed properly. And I’ve learnt  to accept the fact the kitchen will get covered in flour as he ‘stirs’ while actually flicking stuff all over the place!

What you’ll need

A 2lb loaf tin
A willing little helper (ideally wearing an apron if you can get yours to wear one!)

130g Butter
150g Light brown sugar
3 ripe bananas, mashed
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large free range eggs
250g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp mixed spice
100g bag of choc chips
2 tbsp demerera sugar
2 tablespoons seeds, sunflower and pumpkin seeds

weighing ingredients for banana bread

What to do

  1. Preheat the oven to 160° C (fan), 180° C conventional, gas mark 4. I use a silicon loaf tin so just grease it with butter but if you’re using a conventional tin you may want to line it with baking parchment too.
  2. Get your little ones to help you mash up the bananas with a fork (I have to stop mine sneaking most of it into his mouth as he loves bananas).
  3. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy. I use an electric handheld whisk then little hands can ‘help’ you by holding on.

Mixing banana bread ingredients

4. Add the eggs, mashed banana and vanilla and whisk a bit more until all combined.

5. Sift the flour, mixed spice, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda and fold in. Then add the chocolate chips (you could add other things here – dried fruit, coconut, white or dark chocolate chunks – up to you)

6. Transfer to the loaf tin and then sprinkle the top liberally with mixed seeds. I suually have pumpkin and sunflower seeds in the cupboard but you can use whatever you have or even exchange these for nuts like flaked almonds or even desiccated coconut.

7. Finally sprinkle with Demerara sugar (for a yummy sweet crust) and then put it in the oven for 50-60 minutes.

8. It’s delicious eaten warm, but it will keep for a few days and is yummy lightly toasted with butter for breakfast. Although ours usually gets eaten pretty quickly!

Boy stuffing his face with banana bread

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The Twinkle Diaries

Easy peasy chocolate flapjack recipe for children

I’m not even going to pretend that these flapjacks are healthy. But they are great fun to make together with children as they are super simple, and kids can get involved in the stirring as well as choosing what tasty extras they want to add.

homemade flapjack recipe

The basic flapjack mixture that I have used here can be adapted any way you want. You could add dried fruits like dates, apricots and raisins or even mashed bananas which would mean you could reduce the amount of sugar needed. I usually throw in whatever I have in the cupboard so they are different every time. For this latest flapjack, I decided to use up some leftover Easter eggs melted down on top and added some sunflower and pumpkin seeds as well as some chopped nuts. But feel free to just use whatever you fancy.

YOU WILL NEED:

One baking or roasting tray – I use a brownie tin A little helper

INGREDIENTS

Flapjack mix:

250 g (8oz) butter

180g (6oz) golden syrup

180g (6oz) light brown sugar

500g (16g) rolled or porridge oats

For the topping:

50g each of whatever nuts or seeds you want

100-300g chocolate depending on how thick you want your topping (or 1 large leftover Easter egg)

WHAT TO DO

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius (350 F, Gas 4).

2. Measure out the oats and put them in a large mixing bowl.

oats to create homemade flapjacks 3. Grease the roasting tin well with butter so that the flapjacks won’t stick.

4. Put the butter, sugar and golden syrup in a saucepan on a low heat. Warm it up gently, stirring until everything has melted and dissolved.

Butter, sugar and golden syrup melting in saucepan

5. Take the pan off the heat and pour the mixture over the oats. Get your young assistant to help you stir the oats until they are evenly coated by the buttery, sugary mixture.

6. Add any fruit pieces at this stage or you could even mix in some nuts or desiccated coconuts.

7. Put the mixture in the tin and push it down and into the edges so that the mixture is spread evenly. Little hands can help with this bit.

8. I like to add any nuts or seeds at this point, pressing them into the top. I often use a mix of things like sunflower or pumpkin seed and whatever nuts I have in the cupboard like almond flakes or chopped hazelnuts.

seeds and nut topping for flapjacks

9. Put the tray in the oven for 20-30 minutes just until the mixture had gone a light golden brown. Keep a close eye on it because it can easily start to brown too much around the edges and you don’t want to overcook the flapjacks as they will become dry and hard. You want them slightly chewy.

10. If you’re adding chocolate, melt the chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water on a low heat. Stir the chocolate until it has all melted and then remove it from the heat to cool slightly. Then spread the chocolate on top or use a spoon to make a pretty – or very messy – pattern depending on how keen the children are to help.

white chocolate on top of homemade oat flapjacks

And then enjoy! I’d love to hear how you get on and your favourite ways to personalise this or any other flapjack recipe.

 

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How to make chocolate easter egg nest cakes

Despite the fact that the Little One isn’t really allowed chocolate yet, I decided to make some chocolate easter egg nest cakes for our Easter egg hunt party with his friends today. And even though I had great intentions to make healthy snacks (see Healthy Easter party food ideas for kids post), I just really liked the idea of getting him involved in the creation process as we probably don’t do enough messy play. They are super simple and great fun to make with kids so I thought I’d share the recipe. And don’t worry too much about the exact measurements of ingredients, to be honest, I mostly bung things in by eye for these and so much of it ended up on the table, floor, his clothes and in his mouth that it’s probably best to make a bit extra!

Chocolate easter egg nest cake

CHOCOLATE EASTER EGG NEST CAKE RECIPE

Makes about 18-20 small nests depending how much gets munched in the process.

You will need:

Some willing kids to help you

100g Rice Krispies (you can also use Shredded Wheat, Cornflakes etc)

300g Milk Chocolate (2 large bars)

2 tbsp of Golden Syrup

A bag of Mini Eggs – I prefer Cadbury ones

Small paper cake cases

Rice Krispies, chocolate and Cadbury mini eggs

How to make them:

Grab your aprons and break the chocolate into small pieces – little ones will enjoy helping with this job, just try to make sure it doesn’t all get eaten at this stage! Then melt it in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of water simmering on a low heat. Try to avoid the boiling water touching the bottom of the bowl as it tends to make it too hot. When the chocolate is all melted remove from it the heat and cool for a minute or two.

In a large mixing bowl, combine your Rice Krispies with the melted chocolate and squirt in a generous helping of Golden Syrup which is about 2 -3 tablespoons. Children can then mix it all up with a wooden spoon. Once all the Krispies are covered, use a spoon to fill up the paper cases. You can put them in a fairy cake tin if you want them to keep their shape, but I just put them on a large plate. Add a couple of Mini Eggs to the top of each one and then pop them in the fridge for a few hours to set.

boy mixing chocolate and rice Krispies in large mixing bowl with wooden spoon

Then try not to eat them all at once! And if you’ve tried this recipe or have your own version that you think is great, I’d love to hear from you so please leave a message in the comments section.

Boy eating chocolate easter egg nest mixture

There goes the ‘no chocolate’ rule!

Healthy Halloween Party Food Ideas for Kids

After picking up a skeleton costume for The Little One at the NCT Nearly New Sale last week, I’ve been thinking about throwing a Halloween party for his friends.

Back in my child-free party days, I used to throw a fancy dress Halloween party for my friends because I really love fancy dress and throwing parties, so it was a no brainer. But with toddlers you can’t just throw alcohol and salty snacks at the problem. The shops might be stuffed full of  Halloween sweets, but what can you feed them that won’t have them climbing the walls on a sugar high?

Easy and healthy halloween satsuma oranges craft idea

Super easy pumpkin satsumas – just use a black pen. From Disney Baby http://bit.ly/1zeDlEk via Pinterest

Pinterest to the rescue. It turns out there’s actually loads of  brilliant ideas for healthy Halloween food for children. Like all the best ideas most of them are so simple I keep thinking, now why didn’t I think of that? But hey, who needs originality when you have the internet. Here are some of my favourites and you can see lots more on my Halloween inspiration Pinterest board including ideas for Halloween decor, costumes and party games.

"boo" nana pops - spooky ghosts made from banana covered in yoghurt

“Boo” nana Pops made with yoghurt from http://www.skinnytaste.com via Pinterest

healthy rice ball pumpkins treats with green bean hats

Rice savoury pumpkin treats from Hello Wonderful http://bit.ly/1wakyoP via Pinterest