Pre-baby freezer stocking list and Cornish pasty recipe

As I mentioned when writing my toad in the hole recipe, the best idea I had in my final weeks of pregnancy was to fill my freezer to the brim with pre-made food.  I will start with a disclaimer here – I have a compulsive need to organize things, and there’s almost nothing I love more than a good spreadsheet.  Seriously, it comes right after family, friends, wine and chocolate!  So, armed with my trusty laptop, I spent many, many hours searching the internet for recipes that sounded good, and arranged them all in my mind-saving spreadsheet for easy access.

Now I realize that this doesn’t sound fun to some (OK, let’s try 99% of) people.  And so, what I’d like to do with the first part of this post is to share my own for you all to use as you wish.  The only thing that I have removed from the spreadsheet is the highlighting that I used to keep track of what I’d made and what was still to be done.  It’s a small thing, but I really recommend doing that as you go.  My list was really big, and my mental capacity at the time was teeny tiny!  It’s amazing we manage to get through pregnancy at all, with all of the things our darling unborn children do us along the way!

In it’s full form, this spreadsheet also included many other sheets, including our baby registry list, contact info for various people (in all seriousness, my husband could barely remember my name by the time we got to the hospital, we needed lists!), packing lists, lists of classes we were taking, and a few other things.  If you want a more comprehensive version, let me know and I’ll send it to you.  For now, this is purely my recipe list.  I didn’t actually get everything on this list made, mainly because my apartment contains a somewhat sorry excuse for a freezer, but I have since had everything on the list, and I personally like all of the recipes.  For things that don’t need a recipe, or for recipes that I already had myself, I just listed freezing instructions.  You’ll see when you look at it.  The spreadsheet is freely available for you to download.

Freezer list.

There is something on this list that you may not be overly (or at all) familiar with if you’re not from the UK, and that is Cornish pasties.  This is something that I have been eating since I was a child, because my Mum’s side of the family are all from Cornwall, and it’s one of those things that would always put a smile on my face when my Mum made them for us.  Originally, they were something that the tin miners would have had for lunch, with a savory filling at one end a sweet filling at the other end.  The folded crust made it nice and sturdy to hold, and would be thrown away so that they didn’t have to try to scrub their hands clean in the middle of a mine.  They’re very simple in terms of ingredients, but if you want to make the pastry from scratch, they can be time consuming.  The list does include a link to a recipe from the BBC website for shortcrust pastry if this is a route that you want to take.  I have to admit that I have never been good at making pastry.  Scratch that.  I’m terrible at it.  I have almost no issues with baking cakes, breads, other baked items.  But when it comes to pastry, the only success I’ve ever had is a recipe that uses a food processor and makes a sweet shortcrust pastry for a chocolate ganache pie.  So, being heavily pregnant and easily annoyed by almost anything, I cheated and used pre-made pie crust.  Does it taste as good as when my Mum makes it?  No.  Is it good enough when you’ve barely slept and only have 5 minutes to eat?  Hell yes.  The other ingredients are potato, onion, swede (also called turnip or rutabega, depending on where you are.  Only the Cornish call it turnip though, don’t confuse it with the small white things that the rest of us know as turnips!) and chuck steak.  You don’t even need to pre-cook anything.  We always used plates as templates to cut the pastry – side plates for smaller ones, dinner plates for large ones.  And when I say large, I mean enormous.  A side plate sized one is plenty for most people.

To make the pasties, cut your pastry into circles, and fill one side with a decent heap of diced potato, swede and onion.  Add some steak, also diced, and season with salt and pepper.  Fold the other side over, and use either milk or egg wash to make sure that the edges seal together.  Fold the sealed crust inwards, similar to a calzone, and transfer to a baking sheet.  Poke a hole in the side to let the steam escape, brush with milk or egg wash, and bake at 350 F for around 30 minutes, or until golden brown.  Done.  Personally I think they’re best hot with tomato ketchup, but they work cold too.  If you’re making a batch and freezing them, cook them, let them cool, wrap each one individually in foil and then freeze them all together in a large ziploc bag.  Then you can just pull out as many as you need, unwrap them and reheat from frozen in a 350 F oven for about 30 minutes.  I hope you enjoy the recipe, and if you give them a try please let me know how they turn out!

 

Hyperbolic crochet ball

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you’ll know that my pregnancy prompted an almost obsessive desire for crafting baby things.  This was, of course, accompanied by an almost obsessive amount of reading up on things that would help my son developmentally.  I was wanting to make all kinds of baby toys, and I saw many many posts of balls.  Great, I thought.  I can make those and stuff them.  But, it also occurred to me that it would be a while before he would be able to hold spherical objects, and would probably just end up accidentally throwing them across the floor, much to everyone’s annoyance.  This is when I came across the concept of hyperbolic crochet.  Despite it’s somewhat intimidating name, this is actually really really simple.  It just involves doubling the number of stitches per round.  (Being a nerd, I feel like exponential crochet would be a more apt name, but what can you do?!).  The simplicity of it makes this a great project for anyone, regardless of crochet skill level.  So, armed with a nice bright color yarn and the recommended size crochet hook, I dove right in.

What you’ll need:

Yarn (your choice of color) – for the best contrast, go with white and edge it in black, otherwise just go for something bright and colorful.

Crochet hook – since my yarn was a size 3 (light weight), I used a 3.5mm hook, but you can adjust this to suit your needs.  If you wanted a small ball, go with thread and a small hook, for a bigger one, chunky yarn and a bigger hook.

Stitch marker (optional) – I worked the ball in spirals rather than joining at the end of each round, so a stitch marker was helpful.  If you choose to join at the end of each round, you can get by without one.  If you don’t want to buy special stitch markers, a paperclip works very well.

To make a hyperbolic ball:

Round 1: chain 6, join to the first chain with a slip stitch

Round 2: sc in each chain around (6 sc)

Round 3: 2 sc in each stitch around (12 sc)

Round 4: 2 sc in each stitch around (24 sc)

Repeat this process of 2 stitches in each one until you have a ball of the size you want.  Mine was about 9 rounds in total.  Finish with a round of 1 sc in each stitch (using a contrasting color if wanted), fasten off and weave in the ends.  Don’t worry about making it fold – it’ll do that all by itself, leaving you with a great texture covered in folds that are perfect for tiny hands to grab on to.  If you make this for your little one, I’d love to know what they think of it!  I had to wait until mine was asleep to take a picture of it, seeing as he rarely puts it down!

 

Crocheted plastic bag plastic bag holder

No, that’s not a typo you see in the title.  This is my plastic bag holder that I crocheted using plastic bags.  You know, the kind that you get 800 of from a trip to the grocery store where, if your local store is anything like mine, 2 would have been sufficient.  Despite my best efforts, we too frequently grabbed a few items on the way home from work without enough forward planning to have taken reusable bags with us.  And so began the mountain of plastic bags that ended up in our pantry.  My original plan was just to make something to store them in, but while rooting through my yarn stash I remembered just how versatile crochet can be in terms of it’s starting materials.  I originally learned to crochet because I wanted to make a flower to go on a bag that I was making, and I definitely got bitten by the crochet bug.  Despite spending years watching my Mom and Grandmother knit at what can only be described as the speed of light, knitting just never worked for me.  I never really understood shaping, and while I can get a half decent square or rectangle out of it, I just couldn’t get my head around anything more complicated than that.  Crochet on the other hand was a completely different story.  There’s something about it that’s inherently easier for me to understand, whether it involves changing the shape, changing the stitch styles, or a combination of the two.

Early on in my crochet journey, a friend mentioned something to me about crocheting with old t-shirts, allowing you to mix up fabrics and colors without spending a fortune on yarn.  It had never even occurred to me that something like that would even be a possibility.  So, when I started looking into how to make a plastic bag holder, it occurred to me that maybe I could kill two birds with one stone, and upcycle some of the bags by using them to make a holder for the others.  While looking around on the internet, I discovered that this is apparently not a new concept.  It’s typically referred to as plarn – plastic yarn.  I’ll admit I had my doubts.  After all, how many times have you come home from the grocery store and found the bag barely holding together because something ripped a tiny hole in the side which rapidly grew into the size of a small crater?!  But it turns out that this stuff is actually much sturdier to crochet with than it is to make bags out of. The reason is that it’s cut into small strips which end up being used at double thickness once they’ve been attached together.  This does, however, have a downside – it’s not particularly easy to work with because it isn’t that flexible.  I remember having to put it down and take a break at times because the plarn was hurting my hands.

Making the plarn on the other hand, is really really easy.  Take your plastic bag and cut off the bottom and the handles, leaving you with a tube.  Leave the sides in tact.  Then, fold it or roll it to make it easier to work with, and cut it into strips about 1/2 – 1 inch wide.  The exact width doesn’t matter, as long as they’re more or less the same, so don’t worry about trying to measure or be exact with it.  Unfold each piece – you should now have several circles.  To make one long piece, start joining them together.  Lay one on top of another and pull one end of the bottom circle through the top one.  Pull the top loop back through the bottom one, and gently pull them until a knot forms (sorry if that’s not the best explanation, hopefully the pictures will help!).  Keep joining more and more loops onto the end, giving you one long strand of plarn.  At some point you’ll want to start rolling it into a ball to keep it all under control.  If you start turning it into a center pull ball, then you can keep adding to the outer end while rolling from the inside.  I found this particularly useful, since I had no idea how much plarn I would need, so doing this allowed me to add extra bags as I was going.  There’s a good tutorial on how to do this here.  Now you have a ball of plarn, it’s time to start crocheting!

To make this plastic bag holder, you’ll need:

Your ball of plarn

2 elastic hair ties (you can use rubber bands if you want, but I find hair ties are easier to work with)

Crochet hook – the size isn’t too important, just make sure it isn’t too small because the tighter you make this, the more difficult the plarn is to work with.  I wouldn’t go with anything smaller than 6mm, but bigger would be fine.  It depends on what size you want, how tight you crochet and how pliable you find the plarn.

Row 1: Crochet around the first hair tie with single crochet.  My hair ties were old and getting a little stretched out, so for me this ended up being 18 sc.  The numbers I’ll use from here on are based on this, but if yours are different it isn’t important, you can add or remove stitches as necessary.

Row 2: chain 2 (counts as first dc), 2 dc in each stitch around (36 dc).

Row 3: chain 2 (counts as first dc), 2 dc in next stitch, repeat around (54 dc)

Row 4-18 (ish): chain 6 (counts as 1 dc and chain 4), skip 4 dc, dc in next stitch, *chain 4, skip 4 dc, dc in next stitch* repeat around.  From here on you’ll be working in spirals.  When you get back around to where you started row 4, there will be some overlap between the first and last set of chains and dc – just keep counting in 5s and working your way around to create a mesh – you want the dcs to be staggered from one round to the next.  Keep this going until you have a tube of the size that you want.   For me, this ended up being 15 rounds.

Row 19: dc in each stitch around (54 dc)

Row 20: dc2tog in each stitch around (27 dc)

Row 21: dc2tog in first stitch, dc in next stitch, repeat around (18 dc)

Row 22: sc in each stitch, crocheting around second hair tie

Row 23: chain required length for hanging loop (for me this was 14), sc in next stitch of row 22.  Fasten off and weave in ends.

And there you have it – an upcycled plastic bag holder that’s totally customizable for your needs and preferences.  Seeing as I already had all of the materials, this project cost me absolutely nothing!

Please note: you’re welcome to use this pattern for your own use and to make items to sell, but please link any posts back here.  Thanks!

Toad in the hole with onion gravy

Of all of the things that I did during my final weeks of pregnancy, the one that I think was the best use of my time and somewhat limited energy was to stock my freezer with pre-made food.  And when I say stock, I mean really stock.  I had to give up on making a good portion of things that I wanted to make because I had filled every inch of available space (although that has as much to do with the size of my freezer as the amount of food that I made).  Why was this the best thing that I did?  When my son arrived and we had almost no sleep and even less of an idea of what we were doing, we didn’t have to even think about cooking.  And when I only had what seemed like minutes in between feedings, feedings and more feedings, I could grab something to eat that would be ready in seconds.  Between our freezer and my wonderful friends at church bringing us meals, we didn’t cook dinner from scratch for at least a month, and didn’t end up living on take out with the nutritional value of the box that it comes in.

Anyone who knows me knows my obsessive need to plan and organize.  Never has this been a more useful thing for me than with my pre-baby freezer stocking.  I started with a spreadsheet of meal categories (breakfast, lunch, snacks, dinners etc) and filled it with lists of items and links to online recipes where I didn’t have my own.  There were gallon bags filled with meat and vegetables to go into the slow cooker, stuffed breakfast biscuits, meatballs, fruit portioned into bags for smoothies… The list goes on and on!  It worked so well for us, that I now spend a few hours restocking once a month or so, to limit the amount of cooking that we have to do during the week.  Having moved to the US from England, I love to make traditional English food for my husband, so one of the things that we currently have sitting in our freezer is a pre-made toad in the hole.  My husband still has no idea what this actually is – I think he’s worried that I’m planning to feed him actual toads for dinner!  For anyone who isn’t familiar with it, it’s basically sausages baked in a batter, typically served with mashed potatoes and some kind of vegetable.  My version of it contains onions and some extra seasoning, and I also like to serve it with onion gravy.  If it’s part of my freezer stocking plan, I bake it in a disposable foil loaf tin so it doesn’t take up too much space and is just big enough for the 2 of us, but in terms of scaling it up to a bigger size, the sky’s the limit (or rather, your oven’s the limit!).  Here’s what you need to make it for 2:

2-4 sausages (depending on size and appetite); if I was in England I’d be using either Lincolnshire or Cumberland sausages, but seeing as those aren’t so readily available here, I use decent sized bratwurst which are easy to find in my local grocery store.

3 heaped tbsp plain flour

1 large egg

3 oz milk

2 oz water

Salt and pepper

Optional: 1/2 onion,diced, 1/2 tsp mustard powder and 1/2 tsp dried thyme

How to make it:

Heat the oven to 400 F.  Part cook the sausages by baking in a little oil for about 10 minutes, just to get them starting to brown on the outside.  If you’re adding onion, saute it until it’s starting to caramelize, and add to the pan with the sausages.  To make the batter, whisk the dry ingredients in a bowl to break up any clumps.  Make a well in the center.  Lightly beat the egg and add it to the other wet ingredients, then pour into the well and whisk everything together.  Pour the batter over the sausages in the hot pan, and put it back in the oven for about 40 minutes, until risen and golden brown.  If you’re freezing it, let it cool, then cover and put in the freezer.  Really easy, and not a single amphibian to be found!

As I mentioned, this is delicious when served with onion gravy.  Here’s what you’ll need for that:

1 tsp olive (or other) oil

1/2 onion, diced

1/2 tbsp plain flour

3/4 cup chicken, vegetable or beef stock

Salt and pepper

Optional: 1/2 tsp dried thyme, Worcestershire sauce

Heat the oil and saute the onion over a low heat until caramelized (at least 10 minutes).  Add the flour and cook for a couple of minutes, then gradually add the stock, stirring to make sure you don’t get any lumps (other than the onions).  Add the Worcestershire sauce and seasonings, and simmer for around 10 minutes to thicken.  The longer you simmer it for, the richer the flavor gets.  If it gets too thick, add more stock to thin it out.  If it’s too thin, either simmer it for a while longer until it has reduced, or mix a small amount of flour with some stock and add that to the pan (I really do mean small – if you add too much, it’ll turn into a brick).

My apologies for the lack of photos – I’ll make sure I take some the next time I make it!  In the meantime, if you give this a try, I’d love to hear how it turns out.