Working-Mom Problem No.1: Feeding the Hoard


The weather is getting colder, the nights longer, the clocks are going back and that means only one horrifying fact to my family …. the slow cooker is going to be taken out and pressed into use again.

It’s not that they dislike tender meat stews, or vegetable stews, or spicy stews, or chicken stew, or beef stew, it’s just that there is only so much of stew one family can take before even the most delicious stew resembles gruel from a gulag.

The slow cooker had been the answer to all my working-mom problems. Prepare it the ingredients the night before (or mass prepare at the weekend), bang the stuff into the slow cooker in the morning while you are waiting for someone to get out of the bathroom and press start. Twelve hours later you will have a belly-warming … stew.


Every night for five months.

After which even the carnivore was happy to see summer salads arrive again.

This year (in what I feel was a deliberate act of sabotage) the kid, the dog and the husband accidentally threw a ball indoors and it knocked the slow cooker off its shelf causing the bowl to crack. Much to their wisely-well-hidden disappointment I managed to repair it, but being the benevolent dictator I am, I felt compelled to find an alternative solution least there be another uprising that cannot be repaired with ceramic paste.

So I have turned to my many, many cook books. Cook books which proclaim that recipes can be cooked in 30 minutes. Cook books which declare that they have nutritious family friendly recipes that all the family will enjoy. Cook books that claim they can teach anyone to cook. Well I’m going to put them to the working-mom test.

My requirements as a working-mom are

  1. Nutritious food that is tasty but not calorie laden.
  2. Can be cooked quietly when the baby is asleep or quickly when the baby is awake and ‘helping’.
  3. Preparation time should take no more than 20min, although cooking in the oven can take up to one hour, but no longer.
  4. Can ideally be cooked on Day 1, with leftovers for Day 2 (thus meaning every night is not a cooking night, but we get a well cooked meal every night).
  5. Is suitable for all the family:
    1. my husband who insists it’s not a proper meal without meat,
    2. me who insists that there are some healthy vegetables,
    3. my toddler son who has to be able to eat at least part of it with his hands,
    4. my grand-father who is suspicious of overly-spicy meat in case its gone off (apparently its something to do with a war, who knows),
    5. my parents who are open-minded but prefer the meals they recognise.
    6. my dad who is coeliac

Just to clarify, I don’t have the whole family around every night, but the new recipes I am about to learn I will use for the next forty/fifty years (possibly longer), so they have to be versatile enough for my increasingly crazy family (who I love!).

So with that in mind I am taking on my own Julie and Julia project as I work my way through my mountain of cook books and rate them on the working-mom scale.


Hunters Minestrone: Gluten Free

V12.hunters minestrone

I may have mentioned before that I don’t have television. This is because I tend to watch TV compulsively, I am the sort of person who would stay up all night watching reruns of any incarnation of the Law and Order franchise thrown my way. This was bad enough when there were only four or five channels, now that there are hundreds … well let’s just say I wouldn’t get a lot of sleep.

However I do miss cooking shows, in particular I miss finding out about new chefs and bakers whose books I might like and as so many cook books are now tied in with TV shows I sometimes feel behind the curve on what is out there.

Tyler Florence is one of the chefs I might have missed out on if my sister Deb hadn’t had a pot of this soup on the stove one weekend while I was in Cork.

Easily adaptable for gluten free, just use GF pasta and stock, this soup is amazingly flavoursome and the perfect kind of food for this kind of mixed up rainy Spring weather. Snuggle up with a bowl of this, a good shaving of parmesan cheese, a glass of red wine and a book and you will be happy.

Tyler Florence: Hunters Minestrone adapted for GF

This makes six servings and reheats well the next day but will be more of a stew than a soup as the pasta will absorb the stock over night.

2 1/2 pints of gluten free chicken stock

1 whole head of garlic cut in half

1/2 pound of GF rigatoni (or other small pasta), use regular rigatoni if you don’t need
this to be GF.

1/4 cup of olive oil

8 fresh sage leaves, I know these can be hard to get but they do make the difference. I have once or twice substituted and teaspoon of dried Sage and the world did not end.

I sprig of fresh rosemary

I sprig of fresh thyme

450 grams of pork mince

2 medium carrots finely chopped

2 celery ribs finely chopped

1 large onion finely chopped

1 tin chopped tomatoes

I bay leaf

2 tins of cannelloni beans, drained and rinsed

1 good handful of fresh parsley finely chopped

Parmesan cheese and a grater

1. Put the GF chicken stock and the halved head of garlic in a pot and simmer for about 15 mins, remove the garlic with a straining spoon and keep the stock warm.

2. Boil a large pot of salted water for the pasta.

3. Pour the 1/4 cup of olive oil in a soup pot or big saucepan. Add the sage, rosemary and thyme and warm in the oil over a medium heat for three to four minutes. This will infuse the oil with the flavour of the herbs and is what makes this soup a bit special.

4. Add the minced pork to the pot with the herbs and break it up with a wooden spoon, mixing until the pork is browned.

5. Add the chopped vegetables and cook for three to four minutes until they are softened but not browned.

6. Pour in the chopped tomatoes, the cannelloni beans and the stock and add the bay leaf. Bring to a simmer and leave to simmer for fifteen minutes, stirring every now and then.

7. While the soup is cooking add the pasta to the pot of water you have boiling. Cook the pasta for about six or seven minutes, until it is just slightly under done. Drain the pasta.

8. Before adding the pasta to the soup fish out the thyme and rosemary stalks and the bay leaf.

9. Add the pasta to the soup along with the parsley and salt and pepper to taste.

Mr Florence serves his soup with slices of parmesan coated toasted baguette but I find that this soup with the beans and pasta is filling enough and all it really needs is a good sprinkling of parmesan cheese.



Raspberry Ricotta Scones GF

V18 Raspberry Scones 1

Deb Perlman’s Smitten Kitchen is the first cooking blog I found and is still one of my favourites. I love the way she writes, the food she cooks and the way she photographs the food so it is begging you to dive in and eat..

If you navigate through her recipes there is even a gluten free section but I have spent many years trying to adapt as many of her recipes as I can to be GF. This is a purely selfish endeavour as I love the type of food she cooks.

This has worked better in some instances than others but more often than not it just takes a bit of experimentation and adaptation to come out with a dish that at least honours the idea of the original.

I have found when working with GF flour that a wetter consistency than usual in a pastry or cake batter usually works best. It may be because GF flours tend to be quite starchy and therefore absorb a lot of liquid. So when I saw this recipe for scones made with raspberries, ricotta and double cream I figured they should work well GF. The original recipe calls for whole wheat flour but here I am using Doves Farm self- raising flour.

Served still a bit warm with butter and raspberry jam for a little extra raspberry kick these scones were gorgeous.

Ricotta and double cream may seem a bit of an indulgence for scones but I used Tesco’s own brand of both and the scones worked just fine.

V18 Raspberry Scones

2 cups of Dove Farm Self Raising GF flour

1 level tsp of xanthum gum

I tablespoon of GF baking powder

1/4 cup of caster sugar

1/2 teaspoon of salt

85 grams of cold butter cubed

1 cup of fresh raspberries (about one standard punnett)

3/4 cup of ricotta

1/3 cup of double cream

I tablespoon of milk if necessary.
Preheat your oven to Gas mark 5 and line a baking sheet with parchment

1. Sieve the flour, xanthum gum, baking powder and salt in to a bowel and stir in the sugar.

2. Add the chopped cold butter and work in to the flour with your fingertips until you have a bread crumb consistancy.

3. Roughly chop the raspberries and stir them in to the flour mix.

4. In a bowl stir the ricotta and cream together and pour in to the mix, use a spatula to scrape out the last bit of liquid. Using the spatula bring stir the liquid in to the flour mix. Then using your hands bring the dough together and knead it gently in to a ball.

5. Your raspberries will pretty much have disintegrated at this point but the you will have lovely pink streaks and a raspberry flavour even if you don’t have chunks or raspberry in the scones.

6. Flour your work top with some more GF flour and tip out the dough. Pat rather than roll the dough in to a one inch high seven inch square, I did measure this with a ruler and the scones came out a good height so I do recommend checking the dimensions.

7. Cut the scones in to nine squares and transfer to a baking sheet. Bake for twenty minutes, checking after fifteen minutes. The scones should be lightly golden but as they haven’t been egg washed they won’t have a glossy golden sheen.

8. Leave to cool for a minute and then transfer to a cooling rack. The scones will set as they cool so leave for a bit before digging in.