Food is big in this house. We love our food, all three of us. What we're going to eat is a hot topic everyday, especially at weekends, and if there's ever any spare money at the end of the month you can guarantee it'll be spent on an extra delicious ingredient (normally it's steak). Special occasions are largely centered around food, holidays and day trips are planned on where's good to eat and trying the local cuisine, visits to the deli are always pretty awesome and we get very excited when it's finally dinner time.
And when it comes to choosing what food we'll be eating for dinner, Josephine and I are very lucky to have The Boy and all his wonderful culinary knowledge and skill. As well as being taught and influenced by his Mum in the kitchen from a young age, Ben studied food at A-Level and for his degree and worked in the industry when he graduated - until he decided that actually his love was for cooking at home, for his family and not to the strict rules and regulations of the dessert world. (Oh yeah, he worked developing dessert recipes. I ate a lot, a lot, of chocolate torte. Good times.)
Because of his superior talent in the kitchen, from the day we moved in together at uni Ben has been the cook. And while that meant awesome food for years, it has left my culinary skills virtually non-existent. So I'll admit that, while Ben was giddy with excitement about all the wonderful things he was going to make his baby girl when she started eating solids, I was pretty nervous. Because, as the one staying at home with Phiney, it was going to be down to me to make a lot of the food she ate. I was going to have to learn the basics, and fast.
Our love of food means that we have always been pretty particular about how we were going to feed our children when they arrived. We loved the idea of baby-led weaning and avoiding purees and pulps in favour of finger foods and baby-friendly versions of the food we eat. Josephine took to this like a fish to water. She loved strong flavours and unusual textures from the word go, and is always a pleasure to feed. Breakfast is normally porridge with a range of fresh fruit mixed in; lunch comprises of finger foods (including toast and sandwiches with various toppings and innards plus piles of cheese, fruit, yogurt and raw veggies) and most of her evening meals are portions saved from what we ate the night before. Sometimes however, that just doesn't work out. Maybe we're having something unsuitable (like pizza), it could have been just too spicy or salty or maybe we were just too greedy to save any (ha!) Sometimes I have to make her dinner.
Thankfully it turns out that all those years of watching Ben cook, and the hours watching cooking shows with him, taught me something and subconsciously I have actually picked up a tip or two. Now I'm proud to say that I've come up with two really yummy dishes (for Phiney and us) using what little knowledge I've gathered along the way. They're quick (taking only the time it takes to cook the pasta), easy and most importantly they use ingredients that we always have in the cupboards so there's no excuse for ready meals or boring alternatives, and there's no need to spend any money.
Tomato and Basil Spaghetti
This is one of Josephine's absolute favourites. She gobbles it down every time.
^ Get a pan of water boiling and add as much spaghetti or linguine as you need.
^ Chop up a few cherry tomatoes (as big or small as you wish) and a big bunch of basil while you're waiting for the pasta to cook.
^ Drain the pasta and put back in the pan over a very low heat.
^ Add a good pouring of olive oil to the pasta, as well as the chopped tomatoes and basil.
^ Stir and allow to simmer for a couple of minutes to soften the tomatoes, then serve.
To make it extra special, or if you have them lying around, why not add a little chilli or garlic (gently fry in some olive oil before adding to the pasta to ensure they're not raw) or a few pieces of cooked chicken. And remember, as we don't put salt in baby's food, herbs and spices are even more important to add seasoning and an extra depth of flavour. Basil is just the firm favourite in our family.
Cheese, Ham and Pea Twists
Ben loves this one too and has enjoyed more than one bowl for lunch or a light supper - I'm not so much of a fan (it's too cheesy for this cheese-hater!)
^ Get your water boiling and add as many pasta twists as you need. You can use any pasta of course, but I find that the cheesy sauce does stick nicely in all the crevices of the twists :)
^ While your pasta's cooking, grate a mound of cheese (we use Mature Cheddar, with quantities based on how many people and how cheesy you like it) and chop up some good ham.
^ When the pasta is almost finished, throw some frozen peas in a steamer for a minute or so.
^ Drain the pasta and return to the pan over a very low heat, before pouring in the cheese, ham and peas and adding a little milk. I add a tiny bit at a time to ensure the sauce isn't too runny. Grind in a little pepper, mix it all together and serve.
Again, there are so many other ingredients you can add to the basic cheese pasta. Broccoli, sweetcorn and leeks are yummy alternatives (or additions) to peas.
Strawberry Jelly with Blueberries
Finally, this quick and easy pudding is yummy, sugar-free and packed with fruit. We often end up buying reduced punnets of fruit and freezing it for use in a variety of puddings including crumble, jelly or just sprinkled over ice cream (grapes are the best for this - so delicious). It's a great way to save money on what can be expensive ingredients, then using them when they're needed.
^ Divide quartered frozen blueberries (strawberries, blackberries or grapes - whatever you fancy) across your jelly pots. We use silicone cupcake cases as they're ideally Phiney-sized and a sachet of jelly divides across the 12 of them perfectly.
^ Make up your sugar-free jelly mix and pour over the fruit.
^ Place in the fridge. The hot mix defrosts the fruit by the time it's set.
TIP: To ensure your fruit doesn't clump together in one frozen ball of mess, space the fruit out on a baking tray and put in the freezer for a few hours. Once frozen, you can put them in a sandwich bag or container and back in the freezer; the fruit will stay in individual pieces allowing you to use it as and when you need to.
If you're a super-duper cook, these little recipes and tips probably aren't too impressive - but to me they mark a definite milestone in my cooking education. When Ben eats them, he thinks they're delicious and he praises me for my good mix of flavours, which really means the world to me. I love being able to make good, yummy food for my family and it's given me the confidence to keep trying new things and continue learning.
I'd love to know what your quick and easy go-to recipes are, and to maybe give them a go :)