Category Archives: Recipes

Frugal Flapjacks (cereal bars – not pancakes) Recipe

When I was back in Scotland this summer I rediscovered several things I had completely forgotten about. One of these things was, oh joy, Flapjacks.

Flapjacks are not, as in the US, pancakes, but rather a gooey cereal bar consisting mostly of butter and golden syrup and oats, cut into squares and served almost anywhere you can get a cup of coffee or tea. They might have stuff in them (dried fruit, nuts, chocolate, lemon, spices, anything you can imagine, really) or they might have stuff drizzled on top (icing, chocolate, sticky stuff of all descriptions), or they might come gratuitously naked (it is Europe, after all). In any form however – as long as the baker has included the right amount of gooeyness – they are universally delicious.

Since we’ve been back I’ve fallen into the trap of buying bags of factory-made, individually-portioned, never-go-stale snacks for the boys. This, in spite of the fact that I love to cook, I prefer to feed them real food 1, I don’t like to encourage the deforestation of the rainforest 2, I like to be frugal where I can 3, and I have major guilt about waste 4.

So, thanks to the magic of the Internet I was able to find a few recipes for UK-style flapjacks to set me on the right path. I made a trial batch. The boys’ eyes spun around in their heads several times and I had to hide the rest of the batch (in the freezer, in case you’re coming over), which I took to mean that they wouldn’t mind finding these tucked into their lunch boxes from time to time.  So I made another batch today while waiting in for a dishwasher repair man who, it turns out, isn’t coming. Again. 5

And, because I know you’ll ask, here’s today’s version.

(It is very caramel-y, not overpoweringly sweet6.)



  • 4 oz butter (I like salted)
  • 1/2 cup soft brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons Golden Syrup (can be hard to find in the US, but makes all the difference to the taste)
  • 1 3/4 cups Old-fashioned/Rolled oats
  • 1/3 cup chopped dried dates (taster’s note: you could definitely use more if you really like dates)


1. Preheat oven to 300 F. Line a 7×9 or 8×10 pan with baking parchment and butter (you can go more eco-friendly by avoiding the parchment, but you’ll have to butter the pan generously and it might be a bit more difficult to get the flapjacks out). I used a ceramic pan and the edges did not burn.

2. Melt the butter, sugar and syrup in a pan or in a large bowl in the microwave, being careful not to burn.

3. Stir in the oats and the dates until coated with the buttery mixture. You can add spices at this point if you wish. I know how much you Americans love your cinnamon…

4. Slop the whole lot into the prepared dish, flatten it out, and bake for 30 minutes. Cooking time may have to be adjusted if you are a, using a smaller pan; b, using a metal pan – watch out for charred edges. You’ll know the flapjacks are ready when the oats look toasty, there is no evidence of bubbling liquid at the edges and your house starts to smell so good that the squirrels are tapping impatiently on the windows.

5. Pull out of the oven and allow to cool slowly. When it is still slightly warm and soft, pull the whole thing out onto a chopping board. Slice the big flapjack into 12 little square flapjacks and allow to cool the rest of the way.

Julie's Date Flapjacks

You can store these in the freezer and they’ll last quite a long time. A frozen flapjack, pulled out and tucked into a lunchbox, should be perfect for eating at lunch or snack time. And honestly, if you have strong teeth, you can treat yourself to one with just a few minutes notice…




I’m currently using cling film/plastic wrap to wrap them, but will soon be investing in some Wrap-n-Mat pouches to hold them (I already like their sandwich wrappers but only 50% of my children will eat sandwiches…)



Convenience food is so pervasive where I live that I think people lose confidence in their ability to make something delicious without setting aside great amounts of time or effort. I also think people lose sight of how much money you can save with a little effort. These flapjacks are an awesome illustration of both these issues. The prep work takes almost no time. They bake quickly and it’s hard to screw them up, unless you put too little mix in too big a pan and end up with paving stones, instead of flapjacks. But you have to try pretty hard to get them wrong.

In terms of cost, I worked it out for you. Even allowing for the exotic Golden Syrup (which was far and away the most expensive single item, but which will last through 21 batches of these babies), these flapjacks came out to $0.17 per serving (assuming you can eat only one at a time and call that a serving). My little pre-packaged snack packs cost $0.50 each.

If I served a snack like this to both of my children every day for a year, the pre-packaged snacks would cost me $365. The home-made snack would cost me $124.

Holey moley. Quite apart from the fact that I just blew hundreds of dollars on snacks for the boys alone (ha!), at least the home-made version saves me $241 7

So go forth: cook good food for your little ones … and treat yourself to something nice with the savings ;)



  2. Thank you, cute Lego exhibit at the Philly Zoo a couple of years ago, for ruining Oreos for me, forever – or until someone can convince Nabisco to stop using Palm Oil
  3. More money for gadgets!
  4. Six packets generate one cardboard box and six foil packets worth of waste. If I were any kind of mathematician (and if it weren’t trash day) I’d break down one of those boxes and some of those packages and give you measurements and area and volume. But you get the picture.
  5. His loss. He’d have got a flapjack if he had turned up. I, however, can hand-wash dishes for the rest of my life with no such suffering
  6. And yes, I did fall off the low-carb wagon, thanks for noticing
  7. Or as I like to think of it, the first half of an iPhone 5…

Best Chocolate Buttercream Icing EVER

(as defined by my seven year-old son, so you know it’s good!)

This is a delicious, rich dark chocolate butter-cream frosting recipe, with hints of orange. Perfect for icing an 9×13 cake or 8″ or 9″ round layer cake.
Rich and chocolatey. No eggs in the mixture, but firm enough to spread.  Substitute vanilla essence or other fruit flavoring if you don’t want the Cointreau/alcohol.

Julie's Birthday Cake

Julie’s Orange Chocolate Icing


3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
4oz salted butter, softened
1/2 cup Dark Hershey’s cocoa powder
1/4 cup milk
1 tbsp Cointreau


1. Pile all ingredient into a bowl and beat until smooth.

2. Eat.

(This much icing will more than ice the middle, top and sides of an 8″ double-layer sponge cake.

chopped salad

Chopped Salad Will Save My Life

I’ve never been a fan of salads.

It could have something to do with growing up in a country where a salad consisted of a few limp lettuce leaves, a slice of tomato and spoonful of Salad Cream. Salads were only ever served in the summers (which were notoriously short. Sort of regarded as a day here and there, rather than a proper season), and even the one dressing available is still marketed as “pourable sunshine” because the taste of it inevitably reminds us of those summer salads of childhood.

The introduction of the exotic ‘vinaigrette’ dressing some time during the 80s made salads a little more palatable, but still, i couldn’t get excited about them, but still never something I was likely to choose over a big plate of pasta and meat sauce or something with chips.

There is no denying, however, that a big salad is a great way to get in your 5-a-day if, you know, looking after your body is something that’s important to you. Which it is to me.

It’s also a lot of food-in-the-mouth time for the amount of calories it contains, if that sort of thing is important to you. Which, sadly, it is to me. (Sometimes).

So I’ve been experimenting with chopped salads and I’m actually, GASP, enjoying them.

What is a Chopped Salad?

Can you guess? Yup, salad. All chopped up.

The thing I like is that you just pick foods that you like, dump them on a big chopping board, get a big cook’s knife and start whacking away at it.

As you chop, things spread out on the board, so you corral them with the knife and scoop them back in to the center, mixing as you go.

It’s entirely up to you what to put in: if you like iceberg lettuce’s crunch, throw some in. If you like spicy mustard greens or spinach’s iron boost, use those as well/instead. Toss in peppers or don’t. Any type of onion, or go pure. Want nuts? Go nuts!

Today’s Chopped Salad

chopped saladToday I used iceberg lettuce, because that’s what I had. I added a spring onion, some shredded carrots, some slivered almonds and flax seed, a couple of slices of deli ham and turkey.

Then I threw them all into a big bowl and gave them a final toss with my latest favourite salad dressing: 1 tbsp salad cream and a dollop of Scotch Bonnet sauce (thanks to Neil & Fiona for turning me on to scotch bonnet sauce) 1

Oh, and then I threw on a handful of Cranberry Trail mix on top for occasional sweetness and crunch. 2


With all that healthy goodness in there, how could this salad not help save my life?!

More on Chopped Salads:

Jamie Oliver salads:

Tracy Porter’s All-American Airhead Chopped Salad video about how to make a chopped salad

  1. The size of the dollop depends entirely on how far I want the top of my head to blow off on any given day.
  2. I’m a big fan of texture.

Better Breakfasts – Southwestern Scrambled Eggs

My Better Breakfast quest continues. Mr Kellog may have had a point (we do need more fiber in our diets) but his cereals just don’t cut it as a morning meal for me. The carbs burn off and leave me hungry. The sugar makes me sluggish. I need protein! I need ‘no hunger’ breakfast recipes. I also need to lose weight. So here’s my latest Better Breakfast Recipe:

Eggs make a good breakfast food: they are quick-cooking, protein-packed and satisfying. But I get really, really sick of the taste of eggs.
So I came up with this scrambled egg recipe. You’d barely know there were any eggs involved, but you get 1-2 servings of veggies and all the protein you can handle before noon!

Mmm, steamin' scrambled eggsINGREDIENTS

1 tbsp butter (you can use a low fat alternative if you like, but I’m using a little butter. It’s natural and tastes good and satisfies my body’s need for a little fat)

1 egg, scrambled or two egg whites if you’re watching cholesterol/fat  (buy free-range eggs. They taste better, although that might just be the absence of guilt…)

Spash of milk

1/4 cup salsa (I use organic, medium or hot. Your taste may vary)

1 big handful of baby spinach, washed (if you don’t like spinach, throw in some other soft, quick-cooking veggie for added virtue)

1/2 cup black beans, rinsed (I used organic black soy beans which I bought by accident, and really liked)

A few shavings of Parmesan cheese  (because I love that umami taste. Use a potato peeler to shave a few thin slivers off the block)


Heat your butter (or wimpy non-fat cooking spray) in your frying-pan/skillet of choice. I use a small, thin non-stick omlette pan. Medium heat, don’t let the butter burn.

Mix an egg with a splash of milk. Pour into pan. Allow to cook for a minute, until you can see that it’s starting to firm up at the edges.

Turn the heat up and stir like crazy until the egg is mostly cooked, but still looks kinda moist.

Toss in the spinach, stir until it starts to wilt.

Throw in the salsa and black beans, give it all a stir and allow to cook through.

Serve on a nice side plate, with shavings of Parmesan arranged artfully on top. Get yourself a cloth napkin and some water in a crystal wine glass.

Sit down and enjoy.


mmm, soy beans(Prep: 2 mins; cook: 3 mins; eat: 2-3 mins) 8 minutes


Protein from eggs, cheese and beans, 1-2 servings of veggies with associated fiber, vegetarian (though no vegan, obviously), small portion, enough fat to tell your body to stop whining for it.

WW Points: 6ish

Brie, Ham, Tomato, Basil – Super Supper

OK, so I’m watching my portions but I worked hard today and hadn’t eaten much so i decided to have a little supper.

Two small slices of bread, some thinly-sliced Brie, two slices of shaved ham, and a couple of cherry tomatoes, topped with some basil harvested from the garden in the summer and frozen.

Hey, if I’m going to have a sandwich, it might as well be tasty. Small and tasty.

Oh, and the small glass of Châteauneuf-duPape isn’t hurting.

Better Breakfasts – Perfect Oatmeal

My Better Breakfast quest continues – with Oatmeal! Mr Kellog may have had a point (we do need more fiber in our diets) but his refined cereals just don’t cut it as a morning meal for me. The carbs burn off and leave me hungry. The sugar makes me sluggish. I need protein! I need ‘no hunger’ breakfast recipes. I also need to lose weight. So here’s my latest Better Breakfast Recipe:

Perfect Steamy OatmealOatmeal is good for your heart, good for your intestines, good for your brain (eh, I made that up), but almost never cooked in a way that makes it something you might actually want to eat. It’s the national breakfast of Scotland, but I never ate oatmeal (or ‘porridge’) until I discovered this method.

It might seem like more effort than cold cereal or toast, but once you have it down, it’s actually really simple. Start it before you make coffee or while you’re making a packed lunch or whatever else you do first thing. It takes a little over five minutes. Honest.

The secrets?
1. Use old-fashioned oats (not instant or microwave or ‘easy’. This is important) [1]
2. Don’t use the microwave [2]


1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1 cup of water OR 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup milk (try it with just water first, and see what you think)
1 pinch of salt (this makes the oats creamy even if cooked only in water)
slivered almonds

Optional Toppings

fruit jam/jelly
dried fruits
fresh blueberries
brown sugar


1. Boil the water and/or milk.
2. While that’s happening (or better yet, the night before), place almonds on a greased baking sheet and toast under the broiler. Hang around in the kitchen until you smell the first hint of delicious toasty almonds, then RUN to the oven and grab them before they burn. (If you do a whole bag of almonds today, you can put the rest in a ziplock back in the freezer for use on other days.
3. When the liquids are boiling, add the salt and stir.
4. Add the oats, stir once.
5. Reduce heat to a simmer. Cover.
6. Set a (loud) timer for 5 minutes. (This is where you can make coffee or go and yell at your kids to get up/dressed/showered).
7. When the timer sounds, turn off the heat and leave for 2 minutes, to absorb remaining liquid. (You can leave it for longer. It just gets thicker and thicker the longer you leave it. Honestly, you could go and have your shower and it’ll still be fine when you come back. You just might need to add some milk to thin it out a bit).
8. Crush the almonds a bit (with a spoon or your fingers if cool) and mix into oatmeal.
9. Add other toppings sparingly. Add a dash of milk, or half and half if you feel the need (This tastes really good with just a teaspoonful of a good fruit jelly or with fresh berries or dried fruit)
10. Fill the pot with water, to soak, while you enjoy your breakfast. There should be no sticky bits, but just in case…


[1] Insant or ‘easy’ or ‘microwave’ oats are the devil’s own breakfast. They cook up with no texture at all and will put your kids off oatmeal (AKA ‘lump-sludge’) for life. Using them also removes you from the register of People Who Can Claim Any Type of Celtic Heritage Whatsoever [*]
[*] This is not actually true. My mother uses microwave oats. In Scotland! I tell you, the woman is one breakfast guest away from an angry, pitch-fork-bearing mob…
[2] This is also not true. I use the microwave sometimes. It creates oatmeal with less texture (which you may/not prefer) and makes clean-up even easier, as you can make it right in your (large) cereal bowl. Just add the oats, liquids and salt, cook uncovered for 5 minutes on 50% power, and add toppings. It’s not quite as good but it’s not bad. Also it might be thicker. Or thinner. Depending on the day.