Chocolate Jaffa Oat Bars


Did you watch the Great British Bake Off last night? I'm so happy to have it back on our screens again, summer just hasn't been the same without it. If you're not in the UK, Bake Off is a televised baking competition that is the TV series of the year (in my opinion). In fact, it's pretty much the only thing I watch on TV!

Every year, Jenny over at Mummy Mishaps hosts a Great Bloggers Bake Off, where food bloggers bake along with what the contestants on the TV show bake each week. This week the options were a drizzle cake, Jaffa cakes or a mirror glaze cake. I decided early on to make Jaffa cakes, but I wanted to find a way to make them a little healthier. Jaffa cakes are traditionally little sponge cakes topped with orange jelly and chocolate. Many of the contestants on the show didn't do a great job at recreating them - they are definitely trickier than they look! Having gone through many different options in my head, I took the bold move at 6am today when up with my toddler, to do something that wasn't a cake at all.

These chocolate Jaffa oat bars are full of chocolate orange flavours, but are just a little bit better for you. There is no refined sugar in the oat part at all, so if you had a very young child you could just make the bar part. As a treat though, I don't mind my toddler having a little bit of chocolate and he certainly enjoyed these a lot. I did have to change his t-shirt afterwards though as it was so chocolatey! 30 degrees plus heat and chocolate treats don't mix well. These bars are also dairy free and vegan - just be sure to buy vegan chocolate.

Here's what to do if you fancy having a go at making these yourself:

120g oats
50g nuts (I used hazelnuts)
100g chopped dates
Juice and zest of one orange
35ml sunflower oil
3 tbsp orange marmalade
100g bar of dark chocolate

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C fan. Grease and base line a 20cm square cake tin.

Place the oats, nuts, dates, orange juice and zest and oil into a food processor and pulse until well combined. 

Spread smoothly over the base of the tin and bake in the oven for 20 minutes until firm and golden brown.

Remove and allow to cool completely. Melt the chocolate. While it's melting spread the marmalade over the top of the oat cake. Pour the melted chocolate over the top, allow to cool slightly then pop in the fridge to set. If you want to avoid the chocolate cracking remove the cake from the fridge after half an hour or so and cut into squares or bars.

Chocolate jaffa oat bars recipe
Mummy Mishaps



Trunkaroo monthly subscription boxes for kids - a review

A Trunkaroo is a monthly subscription box for children aged 3-8 with an art and science focus. Your Trunkaroo arrives through the post, addressed to your child, in a letterbox-sized box. The box may be small but it's jam-packed with a lot to do.

How the Trunkaroo looks when first opened

How the Trunkaroo looks when first opened

Our Trunkaroo arrived at the start of the summer holidays, which really couldn't have been more perfect! R, 6, has long had the world's shortest attention span. In fact when he was a toddler I even started a blog called Stir Crazy Toddler, which documented some of the things we got up to. He's getting a little bit better at sticking with an activity for more than two minutes but nonetheless I was delighted to have something new, fun and educational for him and Miss R, 4, to do.

The kids getting started with their Trunkaroo

The kids getting started with their Trunkaroo

The Trunkaroo focuses on science, technology, engineering, art and maths. It's completely gender neutral, and is designed to appeal equally to girls and boys. This gives it a massive thumbs up in my book - while I accept that R is obsessed with lightsabers, Miss R (still) loves Frozen and Baby S can't get enough of things with wheels, they don't need to believe that these are the only options available to them.

The theme of the box we tried out was Growing Seeds. There were two main projects - seedling city and flower pots. Seedling city involved growing cress and radish seeds. It was perfect to do with a six-year-old and a four-year-old as the different tasks lent themselves really well to their different levels of education. There was a little bit of writing for R to do, including labelling and some observation charts where he could measure and record the growth of the seedlings. And Miss R was delighted to be sprinkling seeds and watering them every day with a pipette. She even ate her cress (on toast with raspberry jam - her idea). Whether any radishes get eaten remains to be seen. It's been lovely to see them both nurturing their seedlings and checking on their growth every day. I really must do more gardening with them.

The kids were so proud of their seedlings - this was after just a couple of days

The kids were so proud of their seedlings - this was after just a couple of days

The second activity, My Flower Pots, was a craft project. All the materials were provided for the kids to decorate some flower pots, including some paper flowers to put in the pot. Actually there was only one pot but we used the watering cup from the seedling city project as a second, and there were plenty of materials to fill two flower pots. The finished pots are sitting proudly in the lounge now. They both thoroughly enjoyed this part too, although it took up much less time than the first activity.

The finished flower pots

The finished flower pots

In the box was also a little Discoveroo magazine, with 12 pages of extra activities and ideas. This also had a good range of things for both kids to do - some pattern decorating, drawing and spotting the odd one out for Miss R - and some code breaking and science experiments for her big brother.

The whole box was beautifully presented and all instructions were clear and well-written. Following instructions is something that I have serious problems with. Honestly, since having children it's like that part of my brain disappeared somewhere. Put me in a room with some flat pack furniture or a Lego X Wing and you'll find me sobbing in frustration within five minutes. I had no such problems following the Trunkaroo instructions, so they must be good!

A Trunkaroo would make a lovely gift for any child in your life. A one-off box costs £19.99, and the price reduces if you sign up for more, depending on the length of the subscription.

Find out more at

Disclaimer: we were sent a Trunkaroo to try out for the purposes of this review. All opinions are honest and are my own.

Olympics round up and Cook Blog Share Linky Week 34

Welcome to this week's #CookBlogShare linky. #CookBlogShare is a place for food bloggers to share their posts. If you're a food blogger you can join in at the bottom of the page. If you're not a blogger then please check out some of the linked recipes - our bloggers are a talented lot!

Before I share this week's linky however I want to share with you some of last week's lovely recipes. The linky last week was hosted by Eb over at Easy Peasy Foodie for the first time. Eb did a fantastic job - thanks so much! 

Did you enjoy the Olympics? We were on holiday in Spain for the second week and the TV seemed to only show water polo, handball and rhythmic gymnastics. So I don't quite feel like I got my fill of watching the British athletes. But I enjoyed watching it nonetheless! It looks like #CookBlogShare bloggers felt the same as last week's linky featured some lovely Brazilian-inspired meals. One of them doesn't actually say Brazilian in the title, but it features bananas which grow plentifully in Brazil so is the perfect addition to this round up.

Brazilian Coconut Dessert (Quindao) by Only Crumbs Remain

Now onto this week's linky. You can link up any foodie post that you have - both old and new posts are welcome. We just ask that you:

  • Comment on this post
  • Add the badge so others can find us (you can find the code below)
  • Comment on some of the other recipes linked up
  • If you tweet me at @sneakyvegblog with your recipe I will retweet them throughout the week
  • I will comment on and pin all posts.

I can't wait to see what you've all been making! Next week's linky will be hosted by Kirsty at Hijacked by Twins.


Apricot energy balls


Back in 2014 I posted a recipe for chocolate, date and nut truffles. My kids loved them and thought they really were eating chocolate truffles. Since then energy balls have become really popular with everyone and we make them a lot in the Sneaky Veg household. They are fantastic little snacks, made with natural ingredients (usually dates and nuts) and my kids absolutely love them.

This time I have a recipe for energy balls using apricots. I really fancied making some but we were out of dates and I'm pleased to say that they work really well with apricots too. This is such a versatile recipe and you can use whatever nuts you have to hand. It's really nice with almonds but this time I used a bag of mixed nuts (almonds, cashews, brazil nuts and walnuts) and they're so tasty.

Here's how to make them:

Ingredients (makes around 12)
150g dried apricots, roughly chopped
100g mixed nuts or almonds
30g raisins
1 tbsp honey/maple syrup/agave nectar (optional)


1. Place the nuts in a food processor and pulse until you have the consistency of breadcrumbs.

2. Add the apricots, raisins and honey if using and continue to process until you the mixture comes together in one sticky lump.

3. With lightly oiled hands roll small amounts of the mixture into balls. Put in the fridge for 30 minutes before serving. 

4. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.


Hazelnut and chocolate overnight oats - plus win a copy of Deliciously Ella Every Day


I make overnight oats, or Bircher muesli, most days. It's so simple to make - all you need to do is soak oats in milk overnight in the fridge and you have a delicious breakfast. I often put dried fruit in to soak with the oats, grate an apple to put in, and top with fresh fruit, nuts and seeds in the morning. It's also amazing with granola on top - try it! I even make it with carrots in sometimes. My two eldest children aren't all that keen, but baby S is as much of a bircher addict as me and if I don't get breakfast on the table quickly enough he screams "BIRCH" at the top of his voice until it's in front of him.

Quaker Oats has teamed up with Deliciously Ella to encourage people to try overnight oats and Ella has created some delicious recipes for the oat company. I tried out her recipe for hazelnut and chocolate overnight oats. What a taste sensation - honestly it was like eating Nutella out of the jar, just healthier. So good. If you're a fan of Nutella you have to try this for breakfast.

I have a copy of Ella's latest book, Deliciously Ella Every Day to give away to one lucky winner. You'll find the giveaway at the bottom of this post.

Here's how to make Ella's hazelnut and chocolate overnight oats:

Ingredients (serves 1)
50g oats
2 tsp raw cacao powder
100ml almond milk
1 tbsp almond butter (I used cashew butter as I didn't have almond and it was delicious)
20g roasted, chopped hazelnuts
1 tsp maple syrup

Mix the oats, cacao powder, almond milk, maple syrup and half of the hazelnuts. Spoon the almond butter into the bottom of a jar and pour the cacao and oat mixture on top. Store the jar in the fridge overnight with an airtight lid on it. In the morning sprinkle over the remaining hazelnuts and enjoy!

How about you? What's your favourite way to eat oats?

I have one copy of Deliciously Ella's latest book, Deliciously Ella Every Day to give away. For your chance to win please enter via Rafflecopter below. Open to entries from the UK only. You can see the full terms and conditions next to each entry option. If you haven't used Rafflecopter before check out this useful guide by Super Lucky Me


More competitions at ThePrizeFinder

Disclaimer: this is a collaborative post with Quaker Oats

Fantastic family foods and #CookBlogShare linky week 32

Welcome to this week's #CookBlogShare linky, a place for food bloggers to share their posts. There were some lovely varied recipes last week over at Hijacked by Twins, and at first I found it a little tricky to spot a theme. Then I realised that several of the recipes were things that my kids would love. 

So without further ado, here are four fantastic family foods from last week. You'll find this week's linky is just below.

Salmon, spinach and feta cheese fishcakes by Mummy Mishaps

Now onto this week's linky. You can link up any foodie post that you have - both old and new posts are welcome. We just ask that you:

  • Comment on this post
  • Add the badge so others can find us (you can find the code below)
  • Comment on some of the other recipes linked up
  • If you tweet me at @sneakyvegblog with your recipe I will retweet them throughout the week
  • I will comment on and pin all posts.

I can't wait to see what you've all been making! Next week's linky will be hosted for the first time by Eb over at Easy Peasy Foodie so be sure to pay her a visit!


Gluten free apricot crumble with The Free From Fairy gluten free plain flour blend


Vicki from The Free From Fairy is proof of what incredible things parenting and blogging can lead to. Unhappy with the gluten free flours on the market (many of them contain rice flour, which she's not keen to give to her kids due to the levels of arsenic in rice) she took it upon herself to develop her own and is now a successful business owner. The Free From Fairy wholegrain, gluten-free flour blend is available from Honest Eats and Vicki is working on a self-raising flour blend now. 

We're not a gluten-free family but I often cook and bake for my family with different types of grains and flours as I believe strongly that the more different things we eat, the better for our health. The flour contains teff, sorghum and buckwheat as well as tapioca and potato starch.

I decided to make a crumble with the flour to see how it worked out. We eat crumble quite a lot as R, my six-year-old doesn't eat fruit unless it's cooked in a cake or dessert like this. We had a lovely punnet of fresh apricots to use, so apricot crumble it was. The Free From Fairy flour was gorgeous in the crumble topping, and I would say had way more flavour than a plain white flour that you'd usually use to make crumble topping.

This is a great recipe to make with kids as well. Miss R, 4, destoned and chopped all the apricots and helped me to rub the flour and margarine together to make the topping. She loves cooking so much and always wants to help. I hope this love of cooking lasts her whole life.


Here's how to make the crumble:

500g apricots, destoned and quartered
110g Free From Fairy plain flour
75g dairy free spread/butter
50g light brown soft sugar
40g oats (gluten free if needed)

Preheat the oven to 180°C (fan). Place the prepared apricots in a baking dish. 

Rub together the flour and spread or butter until it is consistency of breadcrumbs. Stir through the sugar and oats and pour over the top of the apricots.

Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes until golden brown.


Disclaimer: I received a bag of flour from The Free From Fairy to try out for this blog post. I received no payment for the post and all opinions are honest and my own.


Review and Giveaway: new kids snacks from Heavenly Tasty Organics


I knew the school holidays would be a challenge. How to stop R & R from arguing for 90% of the day? How to get any work done with them both off school? And what to do on the inevitable rainy days that doesn't include the words "soft" and "play"? But what I hadn't expected was how much they'd eat. 

Honestly, they are eating me out of house and home. I can't keep up with the constant demands for snacks, meals and puddings. R, who won't eat yoghurt or fruit, seems to expect me to make a full dessert for him twice a day! I think he's been spoilt by the cake and custard style puddings he gets at school every day.

So when Heavenly Tasty Organics got in touch to ask if we'd like to try out their new kids snacks I leapt at the chance. I was particularly impressed with the crispy veggie waffles - it's so great to see a kids food company putting vegetables at the heart of what they do. This is a subject that is dear to my heart of course and as you'll know if you've been here before, I take every opportunity to add an extra portion of veg into the food I feed my kids.


The crispy veggie waffles come in two flavours - sweet beet and shallot and carrot and cumin and the breadsticks come in original and rosemary. So what did the kids think?

Well, they absolutely loved the breadsticks. And what's so great about them is that they don't contain any added sugar or salt. I recently had a shock when I looked at the back of the packet of supermarket breadsticks and saw how much salt is in them so to know that these don't contain any is really reassuring. 

The crispy veggie waffles didn't go down quite so well unfortunately. R & R weren't keen on these. Baby S however, can always be relied upon to like everything that they don't like and he enjoyed them. I sampled them both myself and I thought they were far more delicious than any of the other kids snacks I've tried! I also tried them on one of R's friends and he loved them too. So I would definitely recommend trying them.


For your chance to win one of two prizes including two packets of crispy veggie waffles and two packets of breadsticks from Heavenly Tasty Organics simply enter using the Rafflecopter widget below. Open to entries from the UK and Ireland only. You can see the full terms and conditions next to each entry option. If you haven't used Rafflecopter before check out this useful guide by Super Lucky Me


More competitions at ThePrizeFinder

What is your child's favourite snack?

Disclaimer: this is a collaborative post with Heavenly Tasty Organics. All opinions are honest and our own.

Redcurrant muffins and a family fruit picking trip


Making redcurrant muffins is a lovely way to use one of Britain's delicious summer fruits. We made these delicious muffins after a fruit picking trip. The recipe is really simple, and one that is perfect to get children involved with baking. In fact the kids made the whole of the first batch we made of these - I was just needed to help fish bits of eggshell out of the bowl! 

For a child who hates all fruit, in fact almost has a phobia of it, going fruit picking is kind of a big deal, right? I arranged to go for the day with friends last week, in the first week of our school summer holiday. R, who is 6, and hasn't eaten a piece of fruit since he was around 18 months old, was reluctant, but (and this is a great step in the right direction I think) didn't put up a fight about coming along.

I can't say he was looking forward to it, but he joined in without a fuss. When we arrived at the pick your own farm we started off with tomatoes and cucumber. Neither of which he eats either, but they don't count as fruit in his mind, so they're not too scary. This was an accidental start but it was great because it allowed him to get really stuck in and we picked a lot of gorgeous little orange Sun Gold tomatoes.

We moved on to pick raspberries, of which Baby S probably ate more than his bodyweight straight off the bushes. Oops. By the time we got to the plums and redcurrants R was really into it and he singlehandedly picked an entire bagful of plums and punnet of redcurrants.

R's verdict of the day? "More fun than I was expecting."


Here's what to do:

Redcurrant muffins recipe

175g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
125g light brown sugar
60g butter or coconut oil, melted
1 large egg
120ml milk (almond or dairy)
125g redcurrants

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C (fan). Place 12 muffin cases in a non-stick muffin tin.

Mix the flour, baking powder and sugar together in a large bowl. Use a fork to separate the sugar if it's a bit lumpy.

Beat the egg, then stir in the melted butter or coconut oil and the milk. Fold in the flour and sugar mixture. Finally fold in the redcurrants.

Spoon the mixture into the muffin cases, sprinkle a little sugar over the top (optional) and bake for 20 minutes in the pre-heated oven until well risen and firm to the touch.


Rio pasta with squash, corn and black beans

Rio pasta recipe with squash, corn and black beans

This delicious and unusual pasta recipe is inspired by the Olympics, which are starting in under a fortnight in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It's estimated that around 15% of Brazilians are descended from Italian immigrants. As a result, Italian food is widely available in Brazil nowadays. But there's more to it than that. Food is so integral to Italian culture, so important, that the early Italian immigrants didn't just import pizza, pasta and risotto, they created a whole series of new dishes. Popular Brazilian dishes that were created by Italians include Galeto, Frango com polenta, several types of sausage and the amazing-sounding Chocotone (Panettone with chocolate chips). Source: Wikipedia.

For my Olympics-inspired meal I decided to create a vegetarian pasta dish using ingredients typically found in Brazil. Squash, corn, black beans, coriander and lime are all common in Brazilian cooking. But do they work with pasta? Well, yes, they do! I was so pleased with how this dish turned out - the flavours go really well together and it was lovely to eat pasta with an unusual flavour combination. I'm pretty sure I haven't had pasta with coriander before. But, how did this go down with the kids? Well, Baby S enjoyed his, Miss R ate the pasta and the corn and R was not at all keen. But us grown-ups gobbled it all up and had seconds!

Bertollini pasta with squash, corn and black beans

Bertollini pasta with squash, corn and black beans

I made this dish using Bertolli with butter. Celebrity chef Gennaro Contaldo and Bertolli have launched a limited edition pasta shape, known as The Bertollini, which is cone-shaped. It particularly appeals to me as it comes in three flavours: spinach, beetroot and egg. A lovely use of sneaky vegetables! To buy the cone shaped pasta visit Delicatezza. To see Gennaro's Bertollini pasta recipes go to

I was lucky enough to meet Gennaro Contaldo at a cooking demo put on by Bertolli. Gennaro invited members of the audience to pick ingredients for him to cook with. Watching him at work was amazing. In an hour he created five separate pasta sauces for the audience to try! It really was proof that creating delicious home-cooked food doesn't need to take a long time. 

Gennaro Contaldo demonstrates the Bertollini: a  new pasta shape from Bertolli

Gennaro Contaldo demonstrates the Bertollini: a  new pasta shape from Bertolli

Gennaro Contaldo creating a delicious vegetarian pasta dish in minutes

Gennaro Contaldo creating a delicious vegetarian pasta dish in minutes

Here's how to make my Brazilian-inspired pasta:

1 tbsp Bertolli with butter
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
350g butternut squash, peeled and diced into 1cm pieces (prepared weight)
150g sweetcorn, tinned, fresh or frozen
1 x 400g tin of black bean
50g chopped coriander (replace with parsley if you don't like coriander)
One lime, cut into wedges
300g dried pasta eg penne or 300g bertollini pasta
Salt and pepper

Bring a large pan of water to the boil.

Heat the Bertolli in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Once melted add the onion and cook, stirring frequently for 5-7 minutes until softened. Stir in the garlic and cook for a further minute.

If using dried pasta put the pasta into the pan and cook until al dente. The Bertollini pasta only takes a couple of minutes to cook so you can do this just before the sauce is cooked.

Add the butternut squash to the pan, along with a ladleful of cooking water from the pasta. Reduce the heat and cover, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes, or until the squash is soft. 

Cook the bertollini pasta now if using.

Stir in the corn and black beans and warm through. If you're using fresh corn you may need to cook for a little longer and add a little more water.

Drain the pasta and mix with the vegetables. You can either stir the coriander through, or serve it at the table along with the lime wedges for people to help themselves.

Season to taste, or serve salt and pepper at the table for the adults to add if you're serving this to children too. 

Serves two adults and three children.

Rio pasta recipe with butternut squash, sweet corn and black beans. A delicious and simple vegetarian pasta dish to celebrate the Olympics

Disclaimer: this is a collaborative post with Bertolli



Gooseberry upside down crumble bars


As you're sure to know if you've visited Sneaky Veg before, I'm keen on reducing the amount of sugar in my children's diet and love experimenting with different ways of sweetening baked goods that we are used to making with sugar.

These gooseberry upside down crumble bars are made with Tate & Lyle agave nectar, a natural sweetener, made from the Blue Agave plant. The bars were a massive hit with all three of my kids, and with us grown ups too. I made them with vegan margarine but you can use butter instead if you prefer. Either way, they're refined sugar free and are perfect for an after-school snack or even as dessert. The oats and nuts provide some lovely energy and protein and anything that gets my six-year-old eating fruit and asking for seconds gets a thumbs up from me.

I mustn't forget to give my dad a shout out as he grew these gooseberries in his garden - thanks dad! 

Tate & Lyle offer lots of different types of sugar but if you're interested in reducing the sugar in your family's diet, take a look at their Better Balance products. As well as agave nectar they offer sugar mixed with stevia, fruit sugar, and sugar mixed with sweetener.

Here's how to make the gooseberry upside down crumble bars.

360g gooseberries
125g oats
100g almonds
100g butter or vegan margarine
1 small banana, mashed
4 tbsp Tate & Lyle agave nectar

First prepare the gooseberries. Wash them then snip off the ends if there are spiky bits. Place in a small non-stick saucepan, cover and cook over a low heat for 10-15 minutes until starting to break down. Stir occasionally. If you prefer you can add a couple of spoonfuls of agave nectar to the gooseberries at this stage. We (yes, even the Sneaky Veg kids) quite like the slightly tart taste of gooseberries so I don't add any sweetener at this stage.

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C fan. Prepare a 20cm square cake tin by lightly greasing the sides and lining the base with greaseproof paper. 

Grind the oats and the almonds in a food processor until you have a powder. Add the butter or margarine, the banana and the agave nectar. Pulse until combined.

Scrape out into the cake tin and level the surface. Pour the gooseberries over the top and bake for 20-25 minutes until cooked through.

Gooseberry upside down crumble bars, refined sugar free, can easily be vegan. Healthy after-school snack or dessert for kids. Delicious for grown-ups too.

Disclaimer: this is a collaborative post with Tate & Lyle.


Perfect summer puddings and #CookBlogShare linky 19-25 July 2016

Finally it feels like summer here in London. The kids are getting suntanned, we're eating a lot of ice cream and the paddling pool is out. After weeks of drizzle, wind and generally un-summery weather, this is most welcome indeed.

When the weather is hot there is a particular type of dessert that I fancy. Nothing too heavy, something fresh and light, often with fruit. Here are four lovely dessert recipes that I'd love to eat at this time of year from bloggers who linked up to last week's CookBlogShare over at Hijacked by Twins. You'll find this week's linky below as well as a recap of how to join in, just in case you're new here.

White Chocolate Lime and Raspberry Cake with Yoghurt Popcorn Topping by Mummy Mishaps

Summer Pudding by Recipes Made Easy

Graham Tiramisu by The Not So Creative Cook

Bilberry and spelt muffins by Only Crumbs Remain

Now onto this week's linky. You can link up any foodie post that you have - both old and new posts are welcome. We just ask that you:

  • Comment on this post
  • Add the badge so others can find us (you can find the code below)
  • Comment on some of the other recipes linked up
  • If you tweet me at @sneakyvegblog with your recipe I will retweet them throughout the week
  • I will comment on and pin all posts.

I can't wait to see what you've all been making.





Pappa al pomodoro (bread and tomato soup) with Cirio tomatoes


Cirio has been canning and bottling Italian tomatoes for 160 years and the company celebrated this anniversary by inviting Italian chef Antonio Carluccio to cook with its products in front of an audience of bloggers and journalists at the Good Housekeeping Institute in London. Thanks to Lisa from Lovely Appetite, who couldn't go at the last minute, and a tag team of excellent babysitters, I was able to attend.

At the event Carluccio told us that his love of the tomato as an ingredient started when he was a child, and he remembers loving the smell of the tomato plant as a youngster. I can identify with this as my dad grew tomatoes ever summer and the smell of the plants, especially just after watering, is one of the smells that means summer to me.

Carluccio has lived and worked in Britain since 1975, and opened up the first Carluccio's restaurant in Covent Garden in 1998. He's been on our TV screens since the early 1980s and has published many cookbooks. His next book, Vegetables, will be published in October 2016 and is one that I will definitely be adding to my collection. I had the chance to ask him a question and I opted to find out what his favourite vegetarian dish is. He was obviously finding it difficult to choose just one as he mentioned several, but he did tell me that he loves parmigiana with courgette (the dish is traditionally made with aubergines) and beetroot lasagne. He also said that the regions of Puglia and Calabria are the best places to get vegetables in Italy.


What I love about Carluccio's style of cooking, and Italian cooking in general, is how he focuses on great ingredients and simple recipes - yet with fantastic results. He even has a little slogan, mof mof, which he explained means "minimum of fuss, maximum of flavour". I love this. Although I do enjoy a challenge in the kitchen, with three kids around time consuming dinners are out of the question. 

Carluccio cooked two dishes for us - mussels alla tarrantina (mussels in a tomato sauce) and pappa al pomodoro (Tuscan bread and tomato soup). Being veggie I didn't try the mussels, but the soup was delicious.

I've made my own version of pappa al pomodoro using Cirio passata (finely sieved tomatoes) for you here. This is adapted from Carluccio's version in the Cirio anniversary recipe booklet.

300g ciabatta, ideally stale
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1000g Cirio passata
1 litre vegetable stock
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
Salt and black pepper
Fresh basil leaves and olive oil to serve

Slice the ciabatta and cut each slice in half. If the bread isn't stale, lightly toast it in the oven at a low heat (50°C fan) for 10 minutes, turning half way, to dry it out. 

Heat the olive oil in a large heavy based saucepan. Add the garlic and fry for a minute. Stir through the bread, then add the passata, vegetable stock and balsamic vinegar. You can also add a little salt now although I left this out as I was serving to children as well.

Cook over a low heat for 40 minutes until the liquid has thickened. Serve warm with salt, black pepper, fresh basil leaves and extra olive oil.

Pappa al pomodoro (bread and tomato soup) recipe and Cirio 160 anniversary event with Antonio Carluccio

Disclaimer: I was invited to attend a Cirio event with Antoni Carluccio. I received no payment for this post and all opinions are honest.


Mini calzone with beetroot, thyme and pumpkin seed pesto and cheddar cheese


This vegetarian recipe for mini calzone with beetroot pesto and cheddar cheese is made using Haywards Pickles cooked beetroot. It's a great unusual way to use beetroot and makes a delicious veggie lunch or dinner.

Have you ever had a jar of piccalilli at the back of the cupboard? Or some pickled onions you weren't quite sure what to do with? Well wonder no longer because Haywards Pickles are out to change the face of the pickle and have a whole load of gorgeous recipes on their website to help you out, including lots of ways to use pickles to liven up salads. 

Plenty of people, Mr Sneaky Veg included, like nothing more than to tuck into a pickled onion or a gherkin. My Granny was never without a jar of bright yellow piccalilli in her pantry. For the rest of us however, pickles can be something we're not quite sure about. 

When we were invited to join Haywards Pickles at a cooking event I jumped at the chance, as there's nothing I like more than to challenge myself by cooking something new. At the event we were shown how to make a couple of these recipes - including a piccalilli curry and a slaw made with pickled cabbage and onions. We then had the chance to make a recipe of our own and I helped to make a caramelised onion goats cheese tart - using Haywards pickled onions of course! The tart was delicious, and the onions caramelised beautifully.

In case you've ever wondered, this is what I look like after I've eaten a 'strong and zingy' pickled onion.  Photo: Kaye of

In case you've ever wondered, this is what I look like after I've eaten a 'strong and zingy' pickled onion.  Photo: Kaye of

It was certainly an eye opener to see what you can do with a jar of pickle. My favourite idea - although I didn't try it because it wasn't vegetarian - had to be the piccalilli curry. When you think about it the idea of using piccalilli in a curry makes complete sense as it's largely composed of cauliflower, onion and spices. 

We were sent home with a selection of pickles to try including some pickled beetroot. I made the beetroot into a pesto using pine nuts, pumpkin seeds and thyme leaves and used this as a filling for calzone with some cheddar cheese. They turned out to be delicious, although only had a semi success rate with the kids. Baby S loved them as beetroot is pretty much his favourite thing in the world. Miss R tried them and ate a little bit. R, of course, refused to go anywhere near them. But us grown ups loved them and I'll definitely be making them again.


Here's what to do:

Ingredients (makes eight)

For the dough
400g strong white bread flour
200g spelt flour
1 tsp fast action yeast
1.5tsp fine sea salt
400ml warm water
2 tbsp olive oil

You can use any pizza dough to make this recipe but if you choose to use this one the method is based on Dan Lepard's pizza dough recipe from his cookbook Short and Sweet. I love how he makes bread as the kneading time is so much less and I find it works much better for me with kids around. If you've never made bread in this way and don't believe it'll work - trust me - it really does! Dan goes into it in a lot more detail in his book. Incidentally you'll have more than you need to make these calzone. I usually divide the rest into three balls, wrap in greaseproof paper and store in the freezer to make pizzas another day.

To make the pesto
1 x 400g jar of Haywards Sliced Beetroot (260g cooked beetroot), drained
50g pine nuts
50g pumpkin seeds
2 tbsp olive oil
4 sprigs of thyme, leaves picked and roughly chopped

50g grated cheddar
1 egg, beaten

To make the dough put the flour, yeast and salt into a large mixing bowl. Add the water and olive oil and mix everything together with a wooden spoon. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave it for 10 minutes. Lightly oil your work surface, turn out the dough and knead it for just 10 seconds. Put it back in the bowl and leave it for another 10 minutes. Repeat this kneading and resting process twice more then leave it for an hour until it's risen in size by a half.

While the dough is rising make your beetroot pesto by placing all the ingredients into a food processor and pulsing until smooth. Grate the cheese and beat your egg.

Divide into five pieces and freeze three of them as mentioned above for use another day. Shape the remaining dough into eight small balls with flour and leave to rest for 20 minutes.

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C. 

On a lightly floured surface roll out your dough into a circle. Place a large spoonful of the beetroot mixture into the centre and sprinkle over some of the grated cheese. Be careful not to overfill. Fold in half and press the edges together with your finger tips. Transfer to a baking tray and brush with the egg wash. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Serve with a green salad.

Mini calzone with beetroot, thyme and pumpkin seed pesto and cheddar cheese. Vegetarian calzone made using Haywards Pickles beetroot.

Disclaimer: this is a collaborative post with Haywards Pickles.


Butternut squash cheese straws


I'm proud to say that this recipe won the Readers' Recipe Swap for Kids' Parties in the Guardian on 6 August 2016!

Puff pastry cheese straws must be one of the easiest things out there to make. Simply roll out your pastry - or just unroll it if you've bought ready rolled - grate cheese over it, roll again, cut into strips, twist and bake. Hey presto - you have a delicious, moreish, if not particularly healthy snack.

But what if you add a vegetable into the mix? Is it still as easy to make? Do they still work? Are they still tasty, moreish and loved by kids?

The answer to all of these questions is yes!

Butternut squash macaroni cheese is one of our regular meals these days. Miss R won't eat it so it's not the perfect family meal for us, but seeing as R LOVES it and it's pretty hard to get him to eat any vegetables, I make sure we have it at least once a fortnight. So when I was thinking about what might work in a cheese straw, butternut squash seemed like the obvious choice. 

The first time I made it I put in far too much pureéd squash and they kind of exploded in a cheesy mess in the oven - tasty but not too photogenic. So I started again and this time they've turned out perfectly. 

Here's what to do if you'd like to give them a go:

1 x 320g puff pastry sheet
100g pureéd butternut squash - either steam it or roast it, then blend. You could probably even use a jar of baby food!
100g grated cheddar cheese

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C. Unroll the pastry sheet. Spread the butternut squash evenly over the top, then sprinkle two-thirds of the cheese over.

Fold in half and gently squeeze the edges shut. Roll the pastry very gently until it's about the same size that you had originally. 

Cut into 1cm wide strips, twist a few times and place on a non-stick baking tray. Scatter the remaining cheese over the top and bake for 15-18 minutes until golden.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Best served warm from the oven but fine the next day too if stored in an airtight container.

Makes around 10

Easy recipe for cheese straws with hidden butternut squash inside