Cheap eats January #6: Make your own custard




It’s really easy to make your own custard – all from store cupboard ingredients along with organic eggs, and milk – and you can make it dairy free by using coconut drinking milk (I am sure you could use other dairy free milks but I haven’t tried them as yet).

This is enough for two good sized portions for kids – just double the amounts for more. You can keep what you don’t use in the fridge for a few days. I’ve worked out the cost, and making it with milk and caster sugar costs 44p, Making it with maple syrup (so it has no refined sugar in it) costs 81p.

You will need…

2 egg yolks*
200ml of semi skimmed milk, whole milk or coconut milk drink
1.5 teaspoons of cornflour
1 tablespoon maple syrup (or caster sugar)
Capful vanilla extract

How to…

Bring the milk to the boil in a pan.
Whisk the egg yolks with the maple syrup in a large bowl or jug.
Mix the cornflour with a teaspoon of water so it makes a paste.
Whisk the cornflour and vanilla extract into the egg mixture.
Pour the milk into the egg mixture whisking all the time.
Put it back in the pan and bring to the boil again, whisking all the time, it will thicken.

Serve with seasonal fruit (steamed or baked apple, rhubarb, or sliced banana) or crumble if you have time to make it.


If you’re making this for infants under 1 year, don’t add any sugar or maple syrup – the vanilla extract will add enough sweetness, all you need to do is whisk the cornflour and vanilla in with the egg yolks.


A portion of custard provides good amounts of calcium, phosphorous, vitamin A, riboflavin, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12.

*You can use the two egg whites along with another egg and make an omelette or keep them for this banana macaroon recipe. You can refrigerate in an airtight container for a couple of days, or freeze for longer.




Autumn squash spaghetti bolognese

Spaghetti bolognese is such a family staple in the UK. I can remember my mum’s in the 70’s. I don’t think it had any herbs, except a bayleaf or two. When I first left home, I made my spag bol the same way, but over the years it’s gone through so many changes.

In the Summer I put peppers and courgettes in but come the Autumn, they go out of season. So I wanted to try something Autumnal so thought of trying squash or pumpkin along with red lentils.


As this was the first time I made it this way I wasn’t sure whether the lentils would work, so I only used 50g. I think you could increase the amount of lentils and decrease the amount of beef mince. Adding pulses or beans to meat dishes makes them go further and therefore cheaper. Lentils and beans are good sources of protein, complex carbohydrates and valuable minerals and vitamins.

I am going to try and experiment a bit with the lentils and mince ratio, am sure you could make it with just the lentils (so it would be a vegetarian/vegan) dish but would need to look at whether to add stock as the lentils absorb alot of liquid. When I get a chance I will add to this post on that.


3 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove chopped
500g organic British beef mince (ideally lean)
1 onion diced
1 stick of celery washed, top and tailed and diced
1 carrot top and tailed and diced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (or dried if that’s what you’ve got)*
1 squash**
200ml low salt stock or water
1 tablespoon mild smoked paprika
1 tins of chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato puree
Pasta (of course, though I have to say I’m not keen on pasta, while the rest of the family is, so I often have puy lentils with my pasta sauce instead of pasta)

How to…

Heat your oven to  200°c/ 400°f/gas mark 6.
Wash and cut the squash into chunky slices, cutting out the seeds in the middle (which you can roast separately in olive oil as a snack).
Mix with two tablespoons of olive oil and rub with smoked paprika then roast in a preheated tray for 20 minutes until just browning at the edges.
Allow to cool and then cut off the skin and chop into smaller bite size chunks.
Put to one side to add to the spag bol sauce later.

To make the spag bol

Sweat the onion, carrot and celery in a tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan.
When they are becoming translucent add the garlic.
Keep stirring so that the vegetables don’t brown.
Then add the mince, breaking it up, but not too much so you keep some texture.
Cook the mince until browned, stirring often.
Add the red lentils and thyme and cook for a few more minutes.
Stir in the tinned tomatoes and the tomato puree and stock or water.
Simmer for about 25 minutes or so, until the lentils are soft.
About 10 minutes towards the end of cooking add the squash and stir well.
Put the water on for the pasta and cook.
Serve with parmesan and side salad or veggie sticks.
Make sure it’s cooled down enough for your little ones.

For babies


If  your weaning, and you don’t want to introduce gluten to your baby’s diet yet or because baby has a possible allergy or intolerance, you can use pasta made from quinoa or corn.

This recipe is suitable from about 7 months onwards, once simple first foods have been introduced. I do try as much as possible to make the same meals for the whole family, including baby, as this keeps life simple. There is no reason why babies can’t have the same as long as no salt is added or hot spices used.

For younger babies, the dish can be thinned a little with babies usual milk and then pureed to suitable consistency. From about 10 months onwards it just needs a little chopping – depending on what your baby is used to. I usually serve spoon feeding dishes like this alongside finger food. You could save some of the squash slices for your baby to have as finger food. I also give some of the pasta as a finger food.

Portion sizes

Just to give a guide on recommended portion sizes, I use Caroline Walker Trust’s CHEW! guidance. This portion size guidance was designed for early years settings, and is useful for parents too. They are based on recommended intakes for babies.

So for 7-9 month olds give about 60g of bolognese and 50g pasta with 20g veggie finger food
10-12 months : 70g bolognese and 50g pasta with 30g veggie finger food
1-5 years : 180g bolognese and 120g pasta with two 40g portions of veggies

*You can freeze the fresh herbs you buy – just put them in a sealed freezer bag.

**I used a Harlequin Squash which was about 1 kg

Weaning recipe #2: Salmon and creme frâiche pasta pesto

Salmon creme fraiche pasta pesto

I came up with this recipe when my 7 year old was having salmon with new potatoes and vegetables.

I am weaning using a mixture of finger foods and purees/mashed/chopped dishes (more details in another blog post to follow).

This recipe works just as well with chicken instead of salmon (e.g. leftovers from Sunday lunch).

As shop-bought pesto has salt added it’s not ideal for babies. So I whizzed up my own – it doesn’t take long if you have a hand held blender or food processor. You can freeze what you don’t use in ice cube trays or it keeps in the fridge for up to 5 days.

I used pine nuts, but if you or your partner have food allergies, eczema or asthma, your baby is at a higher risk of having a food allergy, so make pesto without the pinenuts. (see the NHS website for more information on foods that can cause food allergies). And of course, if you know your baby already has an allergy or has eczema or asthma then just exclude the pine nuts from the recipe.

When you’re preparing the basil do it alongside your baby if you can, so they can be involved in the food preparation. If you grow you own, they could “help” you to pick the leaves and help to wash them. Or just being able to explore the leaves through touch, smell and best of all, taste. The leaves are quite big so it’s a good idea to tear them into small, manageable pieces and at around this age, babies are developing their pincer hold – as shown in the photo below.

Exploring basil

Ingredients for pesto (Makes about 20 x teaspoon portion)

50g basil (washed)
6 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
15g (1 tbsp) pine nuts
30g (2 tbsps) parmesan
Quarter of a garlic clove

How to…

Put in food processor and whizz until quite but not completely smooth – see photo below.


Ingredients for the pasta dish (makes 3 portions)

100g (approx) Organic or wild Alaskan salmon fillet* (you need 30g cooked salmon per portion**)
Lemon wedge
150g cooked pasta*** (usually equal to 50g uncooked weight)
45g (3 level tablespoons) half fat organic creme frâiche
15g (3 teaspoons) pesto

How to…

Bake the salmon fillet in foil for 20 minutes at about 200˚C / gas mark 6 / 400˚F for 15-20 minutes (until it flakes easily).
Meanwhile cook the pasta as per instructions.
Run a little cold water through the pasta so it doesn’t stick together and put in a bowl.
If you are using larger pasta shapes or spaghetti then chop it up into mangeable pieces.
Once you have taken the salmon out of the oven, allow it to cool and remove the skin (if you haven’t already)
Break the salmon into small pieces with your fingers that are easy to eat.
Take your time as this way you can make sure you’ve removed all the bones.
Put all the ingredients into a bowl together with a squeeze lemon juice and stir.
If you are making this for a younger baby (7 or 8 months) then thin a little with baby’s usual milk and whizz briefly with blender to make to the consistency required.
Divide into three portions (each about 100g).****
Serve with two types of seasonal vegetables as finger food.

*Make sure that you are buying salmon from sustainable sources by using the Marine Stewardship Council’s product finder on their website.

**30g portion of cooked fish for 7-9 month olds, about 40g portion for 10-12 month olds, for children between 1-4 years about 45g per portion and 5-11 year olds about 90g (all from the Caroline Walker Trust CHEW! Guidance which you can download online)

***I’ve used orzo pasta as this is easy for babies to eat at around 8-9 months and does not need chopping. Any other pasta is fine too, it just needs chopping up.

****It will keep in the fridge for two days. You can freeze portions too and it will keep in the freezer for about 2 months.

Apple crumble and custard tarts

I came up with this recipe to use some left over crumble and custard. Cox apples work well as they are small and fit well into the tarts.

I am making sure all sweet recipes on the blog are small portion sizes for children. We’ve got so used to having big portions and its unsurprising that there’s a link between rising obesity rates and the trend in bigger portion sizes. I am not puritanical about cakes and desserts and think small and fruity is best!



60g plain white flour
20g caster sugar
40g unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon


110g plain white flour
30g caster sugar
60g cold unsalted butter
1 medium free range egg yolk
1 dessert spoon of ice cold water


120g custard
2 dessert spoons of maple syrup
3 apples (English of course)

You will also need some greaseproof paper, baking beans, pastry cutter (size), yorkshire pudding tin

How to…

… make the pastry

Rub together the butter flour and sugar until it resembles breadcrumbs. Using a food processor makes it slightly quicker though it doesn’t take too long by hand.

Add the egg yolk and the iced water and mix in well.

Turn into a bowl and clump together with your hands. Put in a sealed container in the fridge for half an hour to chill.

… make the crumble

While the pastry is chilling, make the crumble mixture by putting all the ingredients in a bowl and rubbing the mixture until it becomes the consistency of bread crumbs. If you have a food processor, all the better, though again, it doesn’t take long by hand.

…then back to the tarts

Preheat the oven to 200/400F/Gas 6. Put the ball of pastry on a floured surface and roll out quite thinly. Use a round cutter to cut out the shape.

Put the pastry in the yorkshire pudding wells and use a small cup or egg cup to gently push it in.

Once you’ve done all of the tarts – you will need to roll the pastry into a ball and roll out a couple more times to use all the pastry up.

Then on a corner of the greaseproof paper use the bottom of a cup of egg cup or use a round pastry cutter and draw round the bottom of it, it needs to fit snugly into the bottom of the tart.

Then fold over the greaseproof paper 3 times along the width of the paper.

Fold it over lengthways 4 times and then cut round the circle shape and you should have 12 circles.

Put the greaseproof paper circles into each tartlet and put baking beans on top to weigh the greaseproof paper down.

Bake so they are just light brown.

…now for the filling

Once the tartlets are out and you’ve removed the greaseproof paper and beans and they have cooled slightly you’re ready to fill them.

Spoon about a dessert spoon of custard in each tartlet. Then you need to core and peel the apples. The best way I’ve found once the apple is peeled and cored is to cut the apple into thirds downwards from top to bottom and then slice across.

Put all the apple pieces in a bowl and add 2 dessert spoons of maple syrup and coat the apple slices with this.

Then put the apple pieces on top of the custard.

Use a pastry cutters and hold it over each tart while you sprinkle the crumble mixture in.

Bake in the oven at 200/400F/Gas 6 for 15-20 minutes until golden brown.

Serve while still warm.

They’ll keep in the fridge for up to 3 days, you can warm through before serving.

Nutrition bits

Each tart is just over 150 kcals which is just under 10% of a 5 year olds recommended calorie intake

Pick up a pumpkin

I know, I know, this time of year there are so many recipes for pumpkin soup and pictures of creatively carved pumpkins. As well as giving you a super easy recipe – its extra nutritious as i’ve included red lentils to add a little protein and minerals, and there’s info on where you can pick your own in Dorset.

So first you’ve got to choose your pumpkin. We are lucky enough to live up the road from Sopley pick your own farm.

Pumpkins as far as the eye can see
My daughter didn’t pick the biggest she could find but sensibly went for one more her size – this beauty cost us all of £1.30. And if you don’t feel like trudging out to the field you can always choose one from the farm shop.


Pumpkins are not the only veg
Pumpkins are not the only veg

Before you make the soup – don’t forget to get creative …

Spooky pumpkin




Pumpkin and red lentil soup

Pumpkin and red lentil soup

Prep time: about 40 minutes
Serves: 6-8


1 pumpkin
2 onions
1 crushed garlic clove
2 tablespoons olive oil
2-3 stock cubes mixed with 1-1.5 litres of water (low salt stock cubes are good for young children)
1 tablespoon cumin seeds or ground cumin seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds (ground in a pestle or between greaseproof paper with a rolling pin!) or ground coriander
100-200g red lentils

How to…

  • Peel and cube the pumpkin.
  • Dice the onion and fry in a big saucepan in the olive oil with the garlic.
  • When the onion is soft and translucent add the pumpkin and stir well.
  • Add the coriander and cumin, stir and continue to fry for about 5 mins.
  • Add the red lentils (100g for a small pumpkin 200g for a larger one) stir and fry for a few more minutes then add the made up stock – 1ltr for a smaller pumpkin 1.5 litres for a bigger one.
  • Cook for 10-15 minutes and then blend.
  • Serve with bread
  • It tastes even better the next day (will last up to about 3-4 days in the fridge), you can freeze it too.

Cost: For a big pumpkin soup the cost is £3.77, each 250ml portion costs 38p.

For a 5 year old, a 250ml portion of soup has:
Just under half of their recommended daily iron
Almost three quarters of their daily recommended Vitamin A
Nearly a quarter of their daily recommended folate
Just over 10% of their recommended calcium
1 quarter of their daily magnesium

Postscript 31 October 2012

We didn’t get to Sopley farm until today and there were hardly any pumpkins left. Still, we managed to find these out in the field…


They only cost £2.70.

This year I’ve gone for smaller pumpkins as they have better flavour.

I’ve made the soup with the pumpkin flesh I scraped out and my husband’s got a roasted pumpkin and pasta recipe from the BBC website that he’ll make from the whole pumpkins. You can also make a lovely pumpkin pie with the flesh, click here for my one for gluten free, lower sugar pumpkin pie