Food & Drink, Winter

Brussels Sprout Gratin – Vegetarian-Friendly Recipe

brussels sprout gratin
brussels sprout gratin

Looking for a way to liven up brussels sprouts? Try this vegetarian brussel sprouts gratin recipe, for a comforting winter treat.

The humble, much-maligned brussels sprout is, I think, a fantastic winter vegetable.  In season from October through to March, these miniature cabbage lookalikes sadly suffer from a bad image problem.  

To many people, they are foul-smelling, sulphuric, and soggy poor relations of the cabbage. As such, they will only tolerate sprouts once yearly as part of Christmas dinner.  The problem, more often than not, lies in how they are cooked. Boil sprouts to within an inch of their life, and they just aren’t going to taste good.

Try This Instead

This cheap, quick, and easy to prepare brussels sprout Gratin, made with store cupboard essentials, is a fantastic way to turn how you view the brussels sprout on your head.  Instead of seeing them as soggy and vile, the addition of the cheese and mustard sauce to the brussels Sprout Gratin invites you to instead enjoy them as decadent comfort food.  It’s absolutely perfect for cold nights when you need something delicious and hearty to warm your cockles.

brussel sprout gratin recipe

This brussels sprout Gratin is great as an accompaniment to meat/meat substitute, or even a baked potato.  It’s also a good way of using up any bread that has gone stale, and additionally makes wonderful leftovers for the next day.

If you also omit the salt and go easy on the parmesan style hard cheese then it’s great for babies and toddlers.  My one year old daughter adores this dish!

Serves four adults

Brussels Sprout Gratin Recipe

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Brussels Sprout Gratin

This tasty Brussels Sprout Gratin, with it’s cheesy mustard sauce, makes for a deliciously comforting winter treat, that is sure to delight even the most ardent Brussels Sprout hater!
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 35 minutes
Servings 4 adults

Ingredients

For The Gratin

  • 500 g Brussels Sprouts buy locally grown ones if you can – washed, trimmed and cut into quarters
  • 25 g butter
  • 25 g plain flour
  • 100 g cheddar cheese or similar hard cheese grated
  • 30 ml whole milk
  • ground pepper and salt to season to taste
  • 2 spoons of mustard – coarse or smooth.

For The Topping

  • 30 g cheddar cheese or similar, grated
  • 10 g parmesan cheese grated (if you’re vegetarian Sainsbury’s sell an “Italian hard cheese” which is veggie friendly and similar in taste)
  • 30 g breadcrumbs roughly equates to 2 slices of bread (I use stale bread and a food processor to achieve a good crumb. It’s also less messy than grating).

Instructions

  1. Heat the oven to gas mark 5/190 degrees C.
  2. Prepare your sprouts by washing, trimming and cutting them into quarters.
  3. In a large pan, bring a large amount of water to the boil and add your quartered sprouts. Once the water comes back up to the boil, let the sprouts boil for two minutes, then remove from the heat and drain.
  4. Melt the butter in a small pan, and then add the flour and milk, continually beating to create a smooth and lump free paste. Warning – this bit can get very very spitty so wear an apron and keep at arms length! If, once you’ve added the milk and the sauce is still very thick, keep adding a little bit of milk at a time until it’s smooth.
  5. Once you’ve got a nice consistency, lower the heat and add the grated cheese, the two spoons of mustard, and your salt and pepper (to taste). Give it a good stir to mix it all in.
  6. Add the sauce to your sprouts, stirring well so that the sprouts and sauce are well combined.
  7. Spoon into an ovenproof dish and spread it out so that it is evenly distributed.
  8. Mix your grated cheese(s) and breadcrumbs in a separate bowl.
  9. Cover the sprouts evenly with your grated cheese(s) and breadcrumb mix.
  10. Place in the oven for 20 minutes, until golden brown.
  11. Serve and enjoy, and never pass on the sprouts again!

I adapted this recipe from the River Cottage Baby and Toddler Cookbook*.  The original recipe called for infusing milk with bay leaves, peppercorns, and onion. However, I feel that life is just too short to spend it infusing milk!

Babies, Families

Are Wooden Toys Better For The Environment? Not Necessarily

wooden kids toys

Looking to buy eco-friendly wooden toys? It can be a minefield, as just because a toy is made of wood doesn’t make it sustainable. Here’s what to look out for, as well as some of my favourite brands.

Look into any parent of a young child’s home (including ours) and you’ll most likely see a sea of plastic toys.

Plastic toys are cheap to make and buy and are convenient. However, we pay a heavy environmental price for this convenience and low financial cost. Being made from fossil fuels, plastic toys have a heavy carbon footprint.

What’s more, plastic is pretty pervasive, hanging around for hundreds of years. As plastic toys mostly can’t be recycled, unwanted toys that are binned can also contribute to the amount of plastic ending up in landfill and oceans. And if that’s not enough of a headache, plastic toys are full of toxins, and often contain banned chemicals.

What About Wood?

Wooden kids’ toys can be a better environmental choice.  Wooden toys are (if you choose correctly) sustainable, and free of the chemical risks that plastic toys possess.  They can also be real hand-me-down pieces.

What to Look Out For

Just because a toy is made from wood, this doesn’t make it sustainable. There are various environmental considerations to be made. These include how the wood has been grown and the paints used. Other considerations should be how the workers in all aspects of the supply chain are treated and the company’s own sustainability ethos.

Here’s what to consider and look out for when buying wooden kids toys.

Secondhand First

The most sustainable wooden toys are the secondhand ones. Therefore these should always be the ones that you consider buying first. The good news is that buying secondhand is also the most budget-friendly way of buying them too.

It’s not difficult to source good quality secondhand toys. Charity shops, eBay Facebook marketplace, Gumtree, and Oxfam Online are all great places to look. There are even wooden toy buy and sell groups on Facebook.

We’ve found some great secondhand and sustainable wooden toys over the last year. Here is our collection:

eco-friendly wooden toys

As wooden kids’ toys are so durable, they all look like new. We actually found most of these in local charity shops. Meanwhile, the walker came second-hand from eBay.  The bus was the only toy we bought new, as a Christmas present, and the jigsaw was a gift from a family member. We’ll keep these toys going for as long as possible and then keep for a future child. Alternatively we’ll donate them to a charity shop once they’re done to keep the reuse cycle in motion.

Look for Eco Certifications

If you decide to buy new, then to make sure the toy you are buying is actually sustainable, you can look for external certification.

External certification means that company’s toys and their business practices meet criteria that is assessed by an external non-profit organisation.

Labels to look for when buying wooden toys include:

  • FSC Certified – the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo on wooden toys is your assurance that it is made with, or contains, forest-based materials from FSC-certified forests or reclaimed sources. Look specifically for labelling that says FSC 100%.
  • BCorp Certified – where businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.
  • Fairtrade Certified – this shows that the product has been certified to offer a better deal to the farmers and workers involved. It does not endorse an entire company’s business practices.
  • Carbon Neutral Certified – this certifies that products that are either carbon neutral or the companies have purchased offsets to the value of their annual emissions.
  • Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) – this label allows customers and consumers to identify products from sustainably managed forests.
  • EU Ecolabel – a label of environmental excellence that is awarded to products meeting high environmental standards throughout their life-cycle. From the raw material extraction to its production, distribution, and disposal. 
  • Blue Angel Eco Label – an independent, German environmental label for products and services that have environmentally friendly aspects. Its goal is to inform consumers about environmentally friendly products.

It is rare that wooden toy companies would hold all of these eco labels in place. Each certification is time consuming to achieve, requiring many systems in place. Therefore, you just need to look for at least one eco label.

Consider Where The Wood Come From

As I mentioned, just because a product is made from wood doesn’t make it sustainable. Some wooden toys contribute to deforestation and illegal logging, which happens when companies use wood sourced from forests managed unsustainably. This is especially a problem in environmentally sensitive areas such as the Amazon.

This means the production of these wooden toys can result in biodiversity loss, reduced ecosystem qualities, and increased greenhouse gas emissions. The things that you probably wanted to avoid by buying wooden toys.

Instead, look for wood that is from sustainably managed forests. Rubberwood is a good choice when it comes to wooden kids toys. Rubberwood is a waste product from the latex industry, which used to be destroyed once the latex dried up. Alternatively, wood from European sources is often a more sustainable choice.

Five Sustainable Wooden Toy Brands to Look Out For

If you’re looking to buy a special toy for a child in your life then here is a rundown of some of my favourite ethical and sustainable wooden toy makers available in the UK

Grimms

Grimm’s stunning, handcrafted Waldorf inspired toys are fairly made in Europe from wood that comes exclusively from sustainably managed forests in Europe. They are an FSC certified company and are actively engaged in reforestation projects. What’s more, the stains they use are non-toxic and water based.

Longevity is key for Grimms. As such, you can get a free repair kit should your Grimms toy break.

Buy Grimms in the UK from Little Acorns, Mighty Oaks.


Haba

Haba make high quality long lasting wooden toys, all with the PEFC seal. Their toys are made in Germany from beech and birch wood, which comes from sustainably managed German forests. You can read more about their sustainability processes in this lengthy yet impressive post.

As Haba know that the loss of one part of a game can sometimes mean that the whole game can no longer be used, a couple of years ago they set up a comprehensive replacement service to combat this problem.

Buy Haba toys in the UK via Yes Bebe.


Indigo Jamm

Indigo Jamm ethical wooden kids toys

Indigo Jamm are a small company designing eco-friendly wooden toys in the UK. All of their factories have been visited and inspected by Indigo Jamm, to ensure their products are made in environmentally and socially responsible ways.

90% of their toys are made using rubber wood – a waste product from the latex industry which used to be destroyed once the latex dried up. Their paints are also water based.

You can buy their toys directly from their website.


Lubolona

lubolona eco-friendly and ethical wooden kids toys

Lubolona designs and manufactures stylish kids’ toys using eco-friendly and high-quality materials. All their products are designed in Barcelona and are manufactured entirely in Europe, from natural high-quality beech wood. Their intention is to keep their environmental impact to a minimum, whilst focusing on fair and local production. What’s more, Lubolona uses environmentally friendly cardboard boxes and fabric bags for their packaging. You won’t find any plastic here!

Shop Lubolona in the UK via Kidly – with prices starting from £9.


Plan Toys

plan toys ethical sustainable wooden toys

Plan Toys make ethical wooden toys for kids and babies, that are designed to be fun, engaging and educational.

Their toys are Fairtrade made in Thailand from sustainably sourced wood and painted with non-toxic dyes. We’ve bought secondhand Plan toys in the past, and can testify that their toys are high quality and built to last.

Buy Plan Toys in the UK via Kidly.


If you’re looking to buy a wooden toy as a gift, then do check out my ethical and eco-friendly gift ideas post for more inspiration.