Thursday, 18 September 2014

Quinn at Six Weeks

Quinn is six weeks old already! Everyone told us that life went very quickly with a new baby, and that babies grow up so fast, but we didn't entirely believe them. We've been focusing on just taking each day as it comes, but the days have passed very quickly. And now our baby is six weeks (and three days) old!

Six weeks doesn't seem like a terribly massive milestone, but it hit me the other day that he's already halfway to being three months old. And that means it isn't too long until he'll be fitting into his 3-6 month clothing--which right now, looks enormous.

That said, Quinn has already grown out of most of his newborn clothing. All of his newborn vests and sleepsuits are packed away, and we're on the verge of doing the same with his tops and trousers. At the moment, he seems to be putting on about a pound every fortnight, making him 10lbs 3oz at his last check on Tuesday. And although it's incredibly difficult to get a baby to stay still long enough to measure his height, he's gained about 6cm since he was born, putting him at 58cm.

It's really strange looking at pictures of newborn Quinn, since he's changed so much since then. In addition to stretching out and chunking up, his hair is definitely lighter, and it has a sort of auburn/blonde tint to it. I'm convinced his eyes are a little lighter as well (they were almost navy blue when he was born) but it'll be a while before we know exactly what colour they end up.

As well as growing out (really, you should see his little belly) and up, Quinn has been making some exciting (well, to us) developments in terms of movement. If you lie him on your chest he can lift his head up for a few seconds at a time; we've tried lying him on his belly on his playmat to see if he'll enjoy doing the same thing there, but he's not such a big fan of the "tummy time" every leaflet and website insists is essential to his development. He prefers to practice lifting his head when he's lying on us, not a mat.

Quinn doesn't like being carried or held like a baby, except when he's feeding or very sleepy. His favourite positions are sitting up on our laps, facing out so he can see everything, or lying along your forearm, with his head at the crook of your elbow. I really need to get a picture of this as it's impossible to explain, but we call it "Flying Baby" as we often walk around the room holding him like this when he's being fussy.

Talking of being fussy, Quinn has graduated from the stage where he's happy to just sit in your lap and be played with (allowing for much time in which mummy can eat her lunch, watch TV, read books or just rest) and now prefers to be walked around the house during the times when he's not feeding, sleeping or playing with his toys. He will still last about 20 minutes just sitting up on your lap (and it's entirely possible to type emails around him, honest) but this baby likes to be on the move.

Quinn has started to figure out how to hit the toys hanging from his bouncy seat and playmat, but he'll only play with them for 5-10 minutes at a time before he gets upset. We've determined that the reasons for him becoming upset are generally due to him a) forgetting how to hit the toys, b) deciding that he wants to hit one that he can see but is entirely out of his reach and not understanding why he can't hit it, or c) focusing on something that is not attached to his mat or chair in any way (for example, a door handle on the cabinet next to him, or the ceiling light) and getting similarly frustrated that he can't reach it. If you move him to reach said object, he will get even more upset because he must do it himself. When he does get upset about his inability to reach said toy/doorhandle/ceiling light, he lets out the saddest little noises that aren't entirely cries, and honestly sound like he's arguing with his toys. And then it takes a while to calm him down again after he's argued with his toys. But still, it's worth it to see the concentration on his little face as he reaches up to hit one of them. Sometimes we just sit and watch him.

Aside from hitting his toys, Quinn also likes being tickled--unless he's upset, in which case he hates it. He doesn't laugh yet, but he smiles a lot, and I think he tries to laugh as he makes some very amusing noises.

He's become a very smiley baby, and sometimes we discover that he's woken up from a nap and is just looking at the patterns on his moses basket and smiling at them. Better than that, he's started obviously smiling at us, as if he's happy to see us. Sometimes he still smiles at entirely random things (like a blank wall, or a lamp) but we're definitely getting deliberate smiles now, which is fun.

Other things Quinn likes? He likes to look at anything shiny or reflective, including a picture of a penguin that we have propped up on his changing table. We put it there temporarily, but it provides an excellent distraction when he's being changed. He doesn't mind his nappy being changed, but he hates having anything pulled over his head, or getting his arms in and out of tops.

Quinn likes being carried around in his carrier, although he often screams when he's being strapped into it. He's undecided about his pram--he'll spend some time looking around himself quite merrily, then go to sleep, and as long as he stays asleep, he's happy. On several occasions, however, he has woken up and decided he no longer wants to be in the pram (a good twenty minute walk from home) and he'll just scream all the way home, no matter how quickly we walk. Sometimes his unhappiness isn't even because he's hungry--he just doesn't want to be lying down any longer.

Quinn loves bath time, perhaps because we have a Tummy Tub that allows him to sit up and look at things. After all, that is one of his favourite activities! He hates being taken out of the bath, naturally.

Quinn does not like being undressed, but if you catch him in a good mood, he won't make too much fuss. If you wake him up in a strange location and take all of his clothes off and lay him on a set of scales or press a stethoscope on to his chest, he'll probably scream and pee everywhere. So far, Quinn has peed on every item of clothing possible, several changing mats, two sets of scales, a muslin, two walls, a couple of towels, the living room carpet, and a medical student. And us, of course, but that's a given. He's quite prolific at this hobby.

We've recently discovered that music seems to calm Quinn, to the extent that we played some Apocalyptica to him the other day and he stopped crying for a full four minutes. (I tried this in the pram the other day and it did not work, so it's a bit hit and miss). Mostly we just sing nonsense songs to him.

I'd like to say that Quinn has a routine now, but every time I verbalise that thought, he changes his routine. For the most part, Quinn goes to sleep in his basket sometime between 9-11pm each night after I've fed him. Typically he wakes up once, around 5am, and comes into our bed to feed, before falling asleep again. He then usually feeds around the time Simon leaves for work, about 8am, but he doesn't always go back to sleep again. He normally has a morning nap of about 30 minutes sometime between 10 and 12 which allows me to shower, get dressed and do a couple of chores. He's usually pretty alert until the afternoon, where he often goes down for a longer nap, lasting between 1-2 hours, any time between 1 and 5pm. Unless he's skipped his afternoon nap, he'll normally be awake all evening until bedtime.

Given that I've used the words typically, normally and usually a lot in that paragraph, Quinn isn't exactly predictable. He's had days where he's refused to nap for more than 15 minutes, or days when he's stayed awake for seven hours straight. If I take him out in the pram or the carrier, he'll often stay asleep the entire time he's in that, resulting in a nap at a really odd time of day. On days like today, his afternoon nap has only lasted 30 minutes.

A woman from our antenatal class told me that her baby feeds every three hours, on the dot. It made me realise that I really don't know how often Quinn feeds. Maybe every two hours? Sometimes it feels like it's more frequent than that, maybe because I don't get much done between feeds. He typically feeds less at night (unless he's gone to bed early, or not fed much that evening, or he's just being fussy), and I guess he feeds for 30 minutes at a time? He's growing, so I figure whatever he's doing, it's working for him.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Quinn's First Two Weeks

Finally home approx. 36 hours after Quinn was born, and all very tired.

Daddy somehow found the energy to make dinner, and thus we entered the continuing saga of "How to eat left-handed while nursing a baby (because he will want fed as soon as dinner is ready)."

To begin with, he slept all the time, anywhere. You could cuddle him or take pictures and he'd stay asleep.

He hated getting dressed, or even having his nappy changed. It was honestly a shock the first time he didn't cry when we laid him on the changing mat.

We ended up co-sleeping a lot in the early weeks.


But he would nap in his bed during the day. Sometimes for a couple of hours!

But sometimes he just prefers to sleep on us.
Then he hit two weeks and suddenly became very alert. No longer would Quinn lie happily on your lap--he had to be sitting up and looking at everything!

[Note: I wrote this post when Quinn was 3.5 months old, but I thought it would be better to have all of Quinn's photos in chronological order, hence this blog post being stuck back in August.]

Quinn Elijah Brand

Quinn Elijah Brand was born at 1:37am on Monday the 4th of August, weighing 7lbs and 4oz. Here are just a few photographs from his first day with us.

And one last bump photo, taken at 40 weeks & 1 day. Contrary to what everyone said, my bump did not suddenly get huge in the last few fact, it was still measuring 35cms when we went to the hospital to be induced. But in spite of all the worries about Quinn being too small or not developing properly, he has been perfectly healthy and happy.

Although he is extremely cute, Quinn doesn't allow his mummy much time on the computer, so further updates on our labour and Quinn's first few weeks may be a little delayed. But we promise we are taking plenty of photographs!

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

38 Weeks

We took these photographs on Saturday because I'd been having contractions on and off for about 24 hours, and we were wondering if this might be our last opportunity to take some bump pictures. Sadly, it's Tuesday and the baby has not yet arrived, so here's an update on our pregnancy so far since, well, we're still pregnant!

How far along? 38 weeks & 4 days
Total weight gain/loss: Still 21lbs in total. I think I should be within the 25-30lb range by the end of my pregnancy, and I guess I'm technically already there if you count the 7lbs I gained and lost in the first 20 weeks when I was really sick. 
Maternity clothes? Since the baby has dropped, I'm starting to hang out of a lot of the tops that fitted me a couple of weeks ago. It's too warm to wear some of my maternity clothes (especially my jeans), so I'm pretty much rotating a few outfits that are suitable for summer and don't show of my belly too much.
Stretch marks? Still none! 
Sleep: It could be worse, I guess, but it's not great. I'm having to sleep with a pillow under my bump to stop it from being too uncomfortable, and it's an effort to roll over in bed. The last couple of nights I've woken up feeling nauseas several times, so it might be time to start taking my antisickness pills again, to see if it helps me get a better night's sleep.
Best moment this week: Contractions! Although we're a little disappointed that the baby hasn't made an appearance yet, we're definitely in the final stretch now. 
Movement: The baby has been a lot more active this weekend, so all is good on that front. 
Cravings/Aversions: I've been craving sugary/sweet stuff again, which may just be my body's way of trying to keep its energy up. 
Gender guesses: We've still only let it slip once, which is crazy. 
Labor Signs: Ooh, plenty. We had regular contractions on and off for about 48 hours, including a couple of hours on Sunday morning where I was getting them every five minutes, lasting 40 seconds each time. We really thought we were in labour, but then the contractions trailed off. I've also been having more backache, some nausea and headaches, and needing to pee constantly because the baby is sitting so low. Although it's exciting to feel like we're on our way to actually having this baby, it's also frustrating that I spent this weekend feeling drained from contractions and then it didn't actually go anywhere. 
What I miss: Having more than three outfits to choose from, being able to stay out in the sun without overheating within 20 minutes, putting on shoes without feeling like it's an olympic event, and being able to get things out of the cupboard under the sink without falling on my butt. (Which, incidentally, did not happen in a charity shop last week when I squatted down and reached for a book and overbalanced myself. I also did not just sit on the floor and try to make it look like I had intended to sit down to look through this particular volume. Nope). 
What I am looking forward to: The baby finally arriving! It could still be a few more weeks, but we're hoping it's a bit sooner than that.
Weekly Wisdom: If you've had, say, four or five false starts of pretty serious contractions in one weekend, it is totally acceptable to buy Tesco Finest cheesecake to cheer yourself up--especially if it's discounted. 
Milestones: Contractions have started! And also stopped. But still, we know what they're like now, and we definitely know how to use the stopwatch on my phone, so the practice run was useful for something. 

Monday, 21 July 2014

Recent Meals #7

Fragrant Fish Tagine
Source: BBC Good Food
Who Cooked It: Simon
What We Changed: We reduce the quantities to make it suit two people, and fit into our small tagine. We also use smoked river cobbler fillets instead of tilapia, regular olives instead of pimento-stuffed, and sweet potatoes instead of regular.  
What We Omitted: Nothing
How Easy Is It? Well, you need to own a tagine, which isn't a typical item in everyone's kitchen. Other than that, it's not terribly complicated.
Verdict: This is one of Simon's favourite recipes, and I really enjoy it as well. We used to make it with unsmoked river cobbler, until we were substituted smoked river cobbler in one of our Asda deliveries last year. We decided to go ahead and make the meal with smoked fish and it added a wonderful element to the dish. It might not be the most photogenic meal, but it does taste good.

Bacon Fried Rice
Source: Dine & Dish
Who Cooked It: Rachel
What We Changed: We reduced the quantities slightly as we were just serving the two of us, and added bird's eye chillies. We used regular carrots instead of baby ones, and less bacon (and we cooked it ourselves--I've no idea if you can even get precooked bacon in the UK). Next time we'd probably use three eggs, as we like our fried rice to be more eggy than this. 
What We Omitted: Nothing
How Easy Is It? This may well have been my first attempt at making egg-fried rice and I found it surprisingly easy. It's not terribly complicated, and a good way to use up leftover vegetables. 
Verdict: We love regular egg-fried rice, so this meal was a hit for us. We'll definitely be making it again. 

Mexican Red Lentil Stew
Source: Kalyn's Kitchen
Who Cooked It: Rachel
What We Changed: Tesco must sell magic lentils as we never need to soak ours--we just simmer this stew until the lentils have softened. We use fresh chillies instead of chilli powder, regular tinned tomatoes instead of roasted, and either Chipotle or Habanero Tabasco instead of Green Tabasco. We usually add in at least 1 tsp of smoked paprika to make up for the lack of roasted tomatoes. 
What We Omitted: Nothing
How Easy Is It? Pretty easy. Chop up some vegetables, chuck everything in and let it simmer. This recipe doesn't require a lot of effort, and it's cheap. 
Verdict: We make this recipe a lot, and it's definitely become one of our favourites. It's always nice to discover a relatively cheap recipe that's packed full of so much flavour.

Smoky Sweet Potato Burgers with Roasted Garlic Cream and Avocado
Who Cooked It: Simon
What We Changed: We serve these on regular white burger buns, but I think we may use more cumin.
What We Omitted: Onion powder
How Easy Is It? Not overly easy--there's a lot of preparation involved, starting with roasting the garlic and sweet potato, then making the burger patties and the sauce, then finally griddling the burgers. The recipe calls for a skillet, but trust me--griddled burgers are the best.
Verdict: This is one of our all-time favourite recipes, and I think the only reason you haven't seen a photo of this one yet is because we always start eating before we remember to take a picture. We often serve this when we're entertaining guests because it's cheap (no meat!) but packs a lot of flavour, and the burgers look surprisingly glamorous and colourful for, well, burgers. 

Spicy Black Bean Burgers with Chipotle Mayonnaise
Source: Skinny Taste
Who Cooked It: Rachel
What We Changed: We used precooked black beans and white buns. I don't think we froze these for quite two hours, but they turned out fine. Also, we griddled them instead of grilling.
What We Omitted: Nothing
How Easy Is It? Relatively easy. You have to make sure there isn't any excess liquid on the beans, and food process the vegetables, and remember to prepare these a couple of hours before you're ready to eat, so it's not something that can be just thrown together, but it also doesn't require any particularly unusual ingredients or multi-tasking.
Verdict: I'm honestly not sure why this recipe sat on my Pinterest board for so long, because it's definitely our kind of meal. We really liked these burgers, and the only thing holding us back from making them again is that we need to buy more chipotles in abodo from Lupe Pintos.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Recipe: Cheese & Bacon Meat Loaf

When Simon and I first met, I wasn't terribly proficient at cooking. In fact, the one thing I felt confident about making was lasagna--which I completely and utterly ruined on the first time I attempted to cook it for Simon. Simon loved to cook, and had a terrible habit of taking over in the kitchen because he was convinced he could prepare something better or quicker than I could. It took him a while to relinquish control and let me chop onions the way I preferred, and just as long for me to start finding recipes that appealed to me and develop my own love of cooking.

This meatloaf was one of the first things I made for Simon after we moved in together in our third year of university, and in spite of how simple it is (I don't change a lot from the original recipe) it quickly became one of his favourite meals. I can nearly master his favourite roast potatoes (courtesy of Delia Smith) and we've served this meal with a variety of side dishes: green salad, roast asparagus, and braised cabbage.

I'm fairly certain I first came across this recipe on when I was searching for Amish-inspired meals, since I'd come across some appealing dishes in some Amish novels I'd read. I'm not sure how authentically Amish it is, but it's a great comfort meal and incredibly easy to make. 

Adapted from Taste of Home.

Serves: 3-4
Prep. Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes

2 slices of bacon
500g of minced beef
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
8 Ritz crackers (or similar), crushed
100g of Emmental or Gouda, cubed
1 tsp of dried sage
1 egg, lightly beaten
Salt and pepper, dependent on personal taste

1. Preheat the oven to 175C/350F. Fry or grill the bacon until cooked but not crisp, then drain on paper towels before breaking into pieces.
2. Meanwhile, combine the remaining ingredients in a large mixing bowl, making sure that the egg coats as much of the mixture as possible. Keep a few pieces of cheese aside to place on top of the meatloaf.
3. Transfer meatloaf mixture into a loaf tin and top with bacon. Cook in oven for 30 minutes.
4. Top the meatloaf with the remaining cheese and cook for a further 5 minutes.
6. Serve with roasted potatoes and your preferred vegetable side. Salads, asparagus and cabbage work well!

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Recipe: Sweet Potato, Chorizo & Kale Enchiladas

It's no secret that we love enchiladas, or sweet potatoes, or chorizo. So when I spotted a recipe for sweet potato and chorizo enchiladas on Pinterest, I knew that we had to try it. Given how simple the original recipe was, I played around with the ingredients a fair bit and came up with something that suited our tastes. Other than waiting for the sweet potato to soften, this is a relatively quick and easy recipe to throw together. Enjoy!

Adapted from Budget Bytes.

Serves: 2-4
Prep. Time: 20-30 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 bird's eye chillies, finely chopped
Approx. 450g of sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into half-inch cubes
1 tsp of chilli flakes
1 tsp of smoked paprika
1 tsp of cumin, ground
1 spicy chorizo sausage, chopped into rings, then halved
A few handfuls of kale, stems removed and chopped
4 large flour tortillas
One portion of your favourite enchilada sauce (we like this one)
Grated extra mature cheddar cheese

1. Preheat oven to 190C/375F. In a large frying pan, fry the garlic and chillies until they become fragrant. Add the sweet potato and spices and cook until the potato softens. Add the chorizo and cook until it starts to brown, then toss in the kale and cook it until it wilts. 
2. Pour a little of the enchilada sauce into the bottom of a casserole dish and spread it around until it covers the base evenly. Fill each tortilla with a quarter of the sweet potato mixture and roll tightly so that nothing escapes when placed in the enchilada dish. Once all four enchiladas are in the dish, cover them with the remaining sauce and as much grated cheese as suits your taste.
3. Cook in oven for 20 minutes, and serve with your favourite toppings: spring onions, fresh coriander, sour cream, etc.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

36 Weeks

We haven't done one of these in a while, and we're definitely glad to be entering the final month of our pregnancy! The last month was rather eventful--as well as finishing up our antenatal classes and gathering up most of our newborn/home birth supplies, I also took a nasty tumble and scraped my knees in a rather dramatic way, and then came down with a cold that jump-started my morning sickness. If you thought morning sickness at 8, 14 or 20 weeks was bad, it's even worse at 34 weeks. I'm very grateful for Cyclizine Hydrochloride and Peptac Liquid for allowing me to get through the day without puking, and actually get some sleep at night. 

Everyone keeps commenting on how I don't look particularly big, and as of my last midwife appointment, my bump was still measuring two weeks less than it should have, but trust me--I feel pretty big. This is the biggest I've ever been, after all! There are some days where I have tons of energy and get all of the housework done with little extra effort, and others where just standing at the sink washing dishes hurts my back and I don't really want to move. I feel like I'm constantly flipping back and forth between the extremes. 

We technically have just under four weeks left until our due date, but since only 5% of babies are born on their due dates, we're trying not to think of a specific day on which to expect the baby. Since we're having a home birth, we've been given a four week window in which the NHS will provide midwives to attend us at home (otherwise we'll have to go to the birthing centre or hospital), so we're just imagining that the baby will arrive within that period of time. Depending on how huge and uncomfortable I'm feeling, I may start guzzling raspberry leaf tea at 38 weeks, or I may feel brave enough to wait until we go overdue. 

We've had some lovely weather lately, and I've been trying to enjoy it, but Monday and Tuesday of last week were just a bit too much for me. Apparently it was only 21C on Tuesday, but it felt a lot worse than that--I was wearing a cotton sundress and dripping with sweat after just hanging out the washing. Normally I'd be outside all day long when the weather is this nice, but the heat tends to set off my Braxton Hicks, and as huge and uncomfortable as I sometimes feel, I'd rather not go into labour just yet. 

Also, our baby officially dropped as soon as we hit 36 weeks! I had a different midwife for my appointment on Monday, and she didn't believe that it could have dropped already as I was only measuring 34 weeks (my normal midwife has pretty much accepted that I'm always going to measure a bit less than average) but there is definitely more space to breathe, and the baby's head is officially making its way down. Pretty exciting! Even if it does mean that I need to pee even more than usual ;)

How far along? 36 weeks & 5 days
Total weight gain/loss: 21lbs. Apparently 25-30lbs is average for my pre-pregnancy BMI, so I'm happy with this. A few people have cheerfully told me that I'll balloon in the last few weeks, so we'll see if that happens. 
Maternity clothes? I'm down to a pretty limited wardrobe--lots of loose skirts and dresses, plus a few long tops and my two pairs of maternity jeans. This is more to do with the heat than my size, to be honest. I can still fit into a dress that has an age 13-14 label on it, so I'm kind of giving up on paying attention to clothing sizes right now.
Stretch marks? Still none! I'm not sure if this is genetic (my mum never got stretch marks with her first pregnancy) or because I've always kept my skin really hydrated with lots of body butter. 
Sleep: I've had one night last week where I slept for seven hours straight, which was downright miraculous. Because I'm getting occasional nausea (even with my antisickness pills) I sometimes wake up during the night feeling sick (generally because the baby is lying in a really awkward position). And I can't sleep past 8am because I always need to pee. Honestly, I can't predict how well I'm going to sleep right now. It's all over the place.
Best moment this week: Getting seven hours of uninterrupted sleep, and spending most of the day shopping with one of my friends. Just the fact that I managed to spend over half the day in town without getting too tired or uncomfortable was exciting for me! 
Movement: They're mostly still on a usual schedule (first thing in the morning, last thing at night, and sometimes around lunchtime) but it's hard to predict how strong the movements are going to be. Sometimes I barely notice them because I've got used to them, and then other times the baby gives some really sharp kicks. At the moment, most of the movements feel more like the baby is elbowing me than kicking me.
Cravings/Aversions: I've been craving sweet stuff a lot lately, and for the most part (except when I'm feeling nauseas or have heartburn) I'm eating more than usual. 
Gender guesses: We're still finding that everyone is pretty split in their guesses, and I think we've still managed to avoid letting the truth slip. Impressive!
Labor Signs: I think I must be getting used to Braxton Hicks now as I'm not noticing them as much. I can pretty much guarantee that I'll have them if I walk anywhere when it's relatively hot. And the baby dropping is a sign that we're definitely on our way, but that can happen up to four weeks before the baby's born, so it might still be a while.
Belly Button in or out? Still in. I don't think it's ever going to pop. 
What I miss: A lot of things! Uninterrupted sleep, being able to carry or reach for things without toppling over, being able to put on my shoes without major effort, and alcohol!
What I am looking forward to: This might sound kind of lame, but I'm looking forward to going shopping with my mum this weekend and finally getting fitted for nursing bras. I've changed bras three times so far in my pregnancy, and the cheapy, ugly, non-wired ones I picked up at Tesco (2 for £9) six weeks ago are starting to feel really uncomfortable. Mothercare has some really pretty stuff, so I'm going to treat myself to something attractive but practical. We also have a couple of final things to pick up for the baby, and then we'll be sorted :)
Weekly Wisdom: It's okay to feel ginormous even when everyone keeps telling you how small you are. They aren't carrying around an extra 1.5st on their front.
Milestones: We're into the final month! The third trimester has gone by really, really fast (in spite of dramatic bruises and morning sickness). I'm not sure if we feel ready, but we're nearly there :)

Friday, 27 June 2014

Recipe: Slow Cooker Pinto Bean & Chorizo Stew

Although this recipe works best with pinto beans, you could substitute your favourite kind of beans (haricot, cannellini, kidney, etc) if you can't get hold of pinto beans. Tesco sometimes sells canned pinto beans, but we often buy a bag of dried beans and cook them in our slow cooker before freezing them in 2 cup portions. 

If you use beans that you've already prepared (either by slow cooking or soaking overnight) you'll probably want to reduce the cooking time so the beans don't disintegrate. Canned beans tend to be firmer and need more time to cook.

Adapted from AllRecipes.

Serves: 4-6
Prep. Time: 15 minutes
Cook. Time: 3-5 hours on High, 5-7 on Low

2 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled into powder
3 (300g) cans of pinto beans, drained and rinsed (or 6 cups of precooked pinto beans)
1 spicy chorizo sausage, chopped
1 (500g) carton of passata
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 tbsps of cider vinegar
2 tbsps of pickled jalapeno peppers, including juice
2 tbsps of white sugar
2 tsps of smoked paprika
2 tsps of chilli flakes
1 tsp of cumin, ground
1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
1 bell pepper, chopped
4 spring onions, chopped

1. Place all of the ingredients, except pepper and spring onion, in the slow cooker and mix until thoroughly combined. If the passata doesn't completely cover the ingredients, fill one of the pinto bean cans with water and add to the slow cooker. 
2. Cook on High for 5-7 hours or on Low for 9-10 hours.
3. About five minutes before serving, stir in the pepper and spring onions. 
4. Once the pepper and spring onions have started to soften (you still want them to have some crunch), serve on top of cous cous. 

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Recipe: Slow Cooker Taco Soup

We used our slow cooker a lot when we were students, but we've not had the opportunity to put it to such good use since moving to Edinburgh. A slow cooker is great for feeding a crowd or preparing freezer meals, but since we just have a tiny ice box in our current flat, we have limited space for freezing leftovers. Still, this is one of our favourite comfort meals to make in the slow cooker, and it's relatively easy to throw together, even if the ingredient list does look pretty extensive.

You can adjust this recipe to suit your taste--it works well as a vegetarian meal if you remove the mince and add more beans or corn, and if you find it difficult to get hold of pinto beans, haricot or cannellini make a good substitute. This isn't a very spicy meal, but you can skip the chillies and some of the spices if you really can't handle the heat.

Adapted from A Year of Slow Cooking.

Serves: 4
Prep. Time: 15 minutes 
Cook Time: 3-5 hours on High, or 6-7 on Low

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 onions, chopped
3 bird's eye chillies, finely chopped
500g of minced beef
1/2 tsp of paprika
1 1/2 tsps of cumin, ground
1/4 tsp of chilli flakes
2 tsps of dried chives
1/4 tsp of dried oregano
1/4 tsp of dried dill
1 tsp of celery seed
1 tsp of dried parsley
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 (410g) cans of kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 (300g) cans of pinto beans, drained and rinsed (or 2 cups of precooked pinto beans)
2 (400g) cans of chopped tomatoes
1 (326g) can of sweetcorn
1 can of cold water
1 tbsp of balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp of lime juice

For Serving
Shredded mozzarella cheese
Sour cream
Tortilla chips
Fresh coriander

1. Preheat slow cooker. Fry the chopped garlic, onion and chillies in oil until they start to brown. Add the mince and cook until completely brown. 
2. Add mince mixture to slow cooker. Sprinkle all of the spices and herbs on top of the mince mixture, including salt and pepper.
3. Add the beans, tomatoes and corn to the slow cooker. Fill one of the tomato or kidney bean cans with cold tap water and add to mixture. Add balsamic vinegar and lime juice.
4. Stir contents of slow cooker until mixed through evenly and cook for 3-5 hours on High or 6-7 on Low.
5. Serve topped with grated mozzarella cheese, sour cream, guacamole, tortilla chips and fresh coriander.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Recipe: Spicy Black Bean Soup with Avocado Sauce

I was planning to post the link to this recipe in one of our Recent Meal posts, only to realise that we deviate from the original recipe a fair bit. We love black beans, Mexican food and anything spicy--and this recipe is definitely spicy. If you find regular chillies a bit too hot, this probably isn't one for you, as it really isn't the same without the scotch bonnet. But unlike a lot of our recipes, this one is pretty quick to make. 

Adapted from Okie Dokie Artichokie.

Serves: 2
Prep. Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes

1 red onion, chopped
2 spring onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 scotch bonnet chilli, deseeded and finely chopped (preferably red)
2 teaspoons of cumin, ground
2 teaspoons of chilli flakes
2 teaspoons of ancho chilli powder
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 cups of cooked black beans
1 cup of vegetable stock

Avocado Sauce
1 avocado, ripe
1/2 cup of fresh coriander, finely chopped
1 lime, juiced
1/2 cup of single cream
A sprinkling of paprika
Salt and pepper, to taste

To Serve
Feta cheese, crumbled
Lime wedges
Fresh coriander

1. In a medium saucepan, fry the onions, garlic, chilli, spices, salt and pepper until the red onion turns soft and translucent.
2. Add the black beans and stir to combine. After 30 seconds, add the vegetable stock and bring to a boil before reducing to a simmer. Cook until the beans are hot.
3. While the soup is simmering, mash up avocado with a fork, and mix with cream, coriander, lime juice, paprika, salt and pepper. If you prefer a completely smooth sauce, you could make it in a food processor, but we prefer our sauce a little chunky.
4. Remove soup from the heat and blend with a hand-held blender until it has the desired texture. We prefer our soup to still have some chunks in it, but you can make it completely smooth if you prefer. If you don't have a hand-held blender, you could transfer the soup to a standing blender.
5. Top each bowl of soup with avocado sauce, crumbled feta cheese and fresh coriander, and serve with hot rolls and lime wedges. 

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Recent Meals #6

Breakfast Tacos with Spicy Green Onion and Cheddar Scrambled Eggs
Who Cooked It: Simon
What We Changed: We used less eggs, pickled jalapeno slices, more black beans, a whole avocado and instead of pico de gaillo we just used some leftover red onion and tomatoes that we had on hand.
What We Omitted: Nothing
How Easy Is It? If you're comfortable with multi-tasking, this recipe is relatively easy--you just need to make sure you have the eggs, beans and tortillas ready at the same time.
Verdict: We loved this! We're big fans of black beans, avocado and eggs, so this was a perfect combination of flavours for us. Simon prefers savoury to sweet for breakfast, so it's always fun to discover a new recipe that both of us enjoy.

Ca Kho Tieu (Vietnamese Sweet and Spicy Fish)
Source: Rice and Wheat
Who Cooked It: Simon
What We Changed: We added garlic and carrots, used green chillies instead of red, and added more shallots.
What We Omitted: Nothing
How Easy Is It? This isn't the easiest recipe out there, but it doesn't include a lot of ingredients, so it's worth a shot if it appeals to you. Follow the instructions in order and you can't go wrong.
Verdict: This is one of our favourite date night recipes, and I think this was the meal that made me realise how much I love shallots. If you need a new fish recipe and like Asian-style food, definitely give this a shot. We always make this with river cobbler, which is the cheapest white fish we can find, and it just happens to actually be Vietnamese!

Mexican Tortilla Pizza
Source: Honey, What's Cooking?
Who Cooked It: Rachel
What We Changed: We make our own salsa and refried beans, more tomato, pickled jalapeno rather than fresh, plain rather than whole-wheat tortillas, and extra mature cheddar rather than mexican blend.
What We Omitted: Onion and taco seasoning (although we added plenty of spices into our salsa and refried beans)
How Easy Is It? This isn't a complicated recipe (especially if you opt to use premade salsa and beans), as long as you have the patience to prepare each individual pizza. 
Verdict: This is one of our favourite comfort food meals, and if we haven't had time to do a grocery shop, we often have the ingredients on hand to just throw this together. It might not look fancy, but it had a great combination of textures and flavours. 

Puerto Rican Chicken
Source: This one is from Levi Roots' Caribbean Food Made Easy, but the recipe can also be found here.
Who Cooked It: Rachel
What We Changed: We used red sweet peppers rather than bell, and less olives. 
What We Omitted: Nothing
How Easy Is It? This one needs a while to cook, but once it's in the oven you don't have to do anything except add the olives for the final 15 minutes. 
Verdict: This is another of our favourite recipes, and it's a great way to use chicken thighs (which are typically a lot cheaper than breasts). Colourful and a wonderful blend of flavours!

Easy Grilled Maple Dijon Salmon with Spicy Sweet Potato Chips and Salad
Source: How Sweet Eats
Who Cooked It: Rachel
What We Changed: We used a smaller amount of salmon, and I had to add in a little wholegrain mustard as we didn't have quite enough dijon.
What We Omitted: Nothing
How Easy Is It? Super easy, especially if you already have cooked bacon. Mix the ingredients together, spread on salmon and grill. I chose to make sweet potato chips as a side, but you could make a quicker side dish to save time. 
Verdict: I don't think we've ever found a How Sweet Eats salmon recipe that we don't like, and this one is no exception. Since we always have maple syrup and dijon mustard on hand, I imagine we'll make this again when we have leftover bacon that we need to use up. 

Bacon & Corn Griddle Pancakes
Source: Recipe Girl
Who Cooked It: Rachel
What We Changed: We used less bacon, regular onion, and extra mature cheddar.
What We Omitted: Nothing
How Easy Is It? Other than cooking the bacon beforehand, this isn't any more complicated than any other pancake recipe out there. 
Verdict: This is one of our favourite breakfast recipes, and the one that convinced us to always cook our pancakes in a griddle pan. Once you've tried it, there's no going back! The combination of bacon, sweetcorn and maple syrup is a great mesh of sweet and savoury flavours. 

Pesto Pasta with Sun Dried Tomatoes and Roasted Asparagus
Source: Damn Delicious
Who Cooked It: Rachel
What We Changed: We used fusilli rather than shell pasta, and mozzarella balls instead of cubes, and adjusted the amounts for serving two.
What We Omitted: Nothing
How Easy Is It? Super easy, especially if you use premade pesto and prechopped/balled mozzarella. You can cook the asparagus and pasta at the same time, then throw it all together while quickly frying the eggs.
Verdict: We'll definitely be doing this one again. It's always a pleasure to find a flavoursome recipe that's also quick to make. 

Sun-Dried Tomato Fish with Roasted Potatoes, Corn and Greens
Source: Bev Cooks
Who Cooked It: Rachel
What We Changed: We substituted a few things to make this recipe cheaper/easier: river cobbler for cod, new potatoes for pee-wee, tinned sweetcorn for fresh, and used chives for a garnish.
What We Omitted: Nothing
How Easy Is It? Probably not the easiest, since it involves a lot of multi-tasking to cook the fish, potatoes and vegetables at the same time. 
Verdict: We really liked this one. We have a tendency to cook the same fish recipes over and over (especially when it comes to white fish), so we'll probably be adding this to our rotation. We don't tend to eat a lot of potatoes, but we loved the ones in this recipe.