Basque hake with clams

I have a confession – I don’t like fish. It didn’t use to be this way!! There was a time when sardines or seabass, a plate of oysters or mussels filled me with joy. Then I got pregnant and it all changed. Suddenly, and sadly ever since, I am one of those people who say they don’t like fish because it’s ‘fishy’.

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Lexie loves fish. Lewis loves fish. My mum is from the Basque coastline near San Sebastian where seafood reigns supreme. For their sakes I’m trying to like fish again! I’ve made some headway with seafood. There is no way on earth I could stomach a mussel or oyster right now but I have started eating crab.

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One of my favourite fish dishes used to be hake with clams and parsley. This is a staple of my family, especially my beautiful cousin Maite Miren and I always have it when I visit the Basque country. Hake is incredibly popular over there but very common in the waters around the UK. It’s mostly shipped to Spain which is a tragedy because it’s fantastic. Here is a photo of Maite with her two gorgeous daughters Sara and Andrea. I have no idea why they are so pouty in this photo so here’s a jollier pic of them with my other cousin Olatz (also beautiful!) during the famous ‘Carnavales de Tolosa’ (a week of fiestas before Easter, on the first Friday night the whole town buries a sardine at midnight, the next morning they dance la Diana around town and so on for a week… all in fancy dress!).

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If anything is likely to cure me of my fish phobia this is it so Maite sent me her recipe. Lexie and I bought top quality hake fillets from Applebees, the best fishmongers at Borough market (we also shared one of their delicious prawn wraps). Then we bought Palourde clams from the popular fishmongers in the middle of the market as Applebees didn’t have any.

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The verdict: this recipe is delicious… if you like fish! It’s very simple, the flavours are subtle so the hake and clams are the the stars of this dish. This is Lewis favourite style of Basque cooking. He’s not a fan of the mayonaisy/bechamely style of tapas that are also very popular. Lexie also loved it though I left the clams out for her, I’m not quite sure why. I liked the clams and the hake was cooked to perfection BUT it just tasted fishy!!!

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Hake with clams

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 5-10 mins
Budget: £15-20 – good quality fish costs lots of money (£13 hake, £4 clams, £1.50 parsley)
Ease: medium – there is a knack to cooking fish well that must be learnt by experience even though the recipe is simple
Serves 3

  • Hake fillets or steaks (fillets have no bones so better for kids)
  • Clams – as many as you fancy
  • Olive oil
  • A little flour for dusting
  • Salt
  • Big handful of chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 chopped garlic clove
  • 1/2 white onion chopped
  • 2 big glasses of white wine

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Start by cleaning the clams. My cousin always gives them a bath in salty water ‘to make them feel at home’ she says, and to release any grit. Check all the clams and discard any that are open – they should be tightly sealed shut. Drain then add the clams to a pan with a glass of white wine and cover. Cook on a high heat until the clams have steamed open – 3-5 mins approx. Set aside reserving the liquid.

Gently fry the onion and garlic in a frying pan that will be big enough to take the fish fillets. Fry for 10 mins or until the onions have softened but not browned. Salt and dust the fish fillets with a little flour, turn up the hob to medium hot, then add to the onions with the skin side up. Add the clam liquid and some more wine – this recipe is poaching the fish in the pan, not frying it. Cook for 2-3 mins then gently turn and cook for another 2-3 mins. The sauce should be bubbling down and you may need to add a little fish stock or wine for more liquid if the fillets are thick or if the sauce drying up. At the last minute add the chopped parsley and clams y listo! My cousin recommends serving this with chunky chips and a hardboiled egg (I’m not sure if she means a finely chopped boiled egg to sprinkle on top – will check). Lewis hates boiled eggs so we omitted this and we made rice instead which was fine as there is a lot of sauce. I gave Lexie the fish with a little rice and sauteed courgette and she ate it all happily.

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A spring minestrone

There are buds on the magnolias and the garden is full of daffodils and crocuses – signs that spring is on the way! We have one back garden and access to two beautiful communal gardens and while I never managed to do any gardening last year, I did note down all the flowers that bloomed throughout the year. I’m filled with anticipation of what is to come.

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One of the gardens overlooks the old church, now an orchestra rehearsal and recording studio. When the weather is warm and the church windows open we get to hear the performance by the visiting orchestra of the day – the Royal Philharmonic, the English Symphony Orchestra to name a few. There are two ancient cherry blossoms and I cannot wait for them to bloom. Last year Lexie and I spent many an afternoon lying in their shade, reading books, having ice creams and, if we were lucky, listening to the orchestra’s music.

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Lexie really loves minestrone and, seeing as there was fresh chicken stock from Sunday’s chicken, I made a spring version with no tomato. It’s adapted from a Jane Grigson recipe that calls for spring greens and butternut squash as well as the usual potato, pasta and beans. If you haven’t heard of Jane Grigson she was born in 1928 and a protege of Elizabeth David. Her book Good Things is a classic – a celebration of the seasons and the foods they bring. I made this soup listening to some beautiful Debussy flute, daydreaming about endless days in the garden and all the flowers yet to bloom, the magnolia, the camelias then the glorious summer roses, agapanthus and chrysanthemums…

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Spring minestrone

Prep time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 20-30 mins
Budget: £5-10 (£1 butternut squash, £1.50 leeks, £2.50 pancetta, £1 spring cabbage)
Ease: easy
Serves 4

  • 1 sliced onion
  • 3 sliced leeks
  • 1/2 diced carrot
  • 1/2 stick celery chopped
  • 1 peeled and cubed potato
  • 1/2 butternut squash diced
  • 2 cloves garlic sliced
  • A large handful of spring cabbage, rinsed and sliced
  • 2 sticks of thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • A handful of fresh chopped parsley
  • A handful of pasta
  • 1 tin of cannellini beans or chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • Grated parmesan
  • Olive oil
  • Pancetta
  • Chicken stock

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Heat the olive oil in a pan and add the onion, carrot and celery and cook on a gentle heat for 10 mins. Add the garlic, squash, potato and the bay leaf and thyme, pour in the stock and cook for 10 mins. Then add the spring cabbage and the pasta and cook for another 10 mins. In a separate pan fry the pancetta in a little olive oil and set aside when done. The minestrone should be ready and just before serving add the beans so they heat through. When it’s ready, garnish with the chopped parsley and pancetta and serve with grated parmesan and olive oil for drizzling.

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Baked rhubarb with orange and ginger

Rhubarb isn’t very Spanish and I was in my 20s the first time I had it. I think it was my mother-in-law who made me the most delicious rhubarb fool served with sable biscuits. This recipe is also hers – dreamy rhubarb baked with orange and ginger and served with vanilla ice cream. The perfect desert after a long Sunday lunch!

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Baked rhubarb with orange and ginger

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 20-30 mins in the oven or 15 mins on the hob
Budget: £5-10 (£3 rhubarb, 50p orange, £4 ice cream)
Ease: easy
Serves 4

  • 1 bunch of rhubarb, ends trimmed
  • Zest and juice of 1 orange
  • A few chunks of peeled ginger
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • Vanilla ice cream

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Put the chopped rhubarb into a baking tray with the sugar, ginger and orange. Cover with foil and bake at 180 for 20-30 mins. Or you can cook covered on the hob for 10-15 mins. When it’s done the rhubarb should be all fluffy with a gorgeous red syrup. Remove the ginger and serve hot with scoops of vanilla ice cream!

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Globe artichoke with butter and lemon

I distinctly remember the first time I ate a globe artichoke. It was 2002 in Aix en Provence where I was living for 6 months as a student. Here’s a pic of me outside my wonderful studio flat! There are a gazillion things I loved about living there – the weather, the beautiful architecture, the beaches and countryside of Provence – and of course the wonderful food markets and bakeries.

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One week my cousin from Australia came to visit me and we duly perused the local market. She bought huge globe artichokes and cooked them so simply, with some melted butter and lemon to dip the leaves into. We ate the artichokes on my little rooftop balcony, watching the sun set with a bottle of Rose! La vie est belle!

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Yesterday I cooked a wonderful roast chicken for a big Sunday lunch with my mum – her first proper outing since a knee operation in January. I made Mimi Thorisson’s lemon, thyme and rosemary roast chicken and it was delicious – I highly recommend it! Mum and I love artichokes and, spotting them at the market, they were an obvious starter along with some asparagus.

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Globe artichoke with butter and lemon

Prep time: 2 mins
Cooking time: 20-30 mins
Budget: £5 (2 artichokes for £5)
Ease: easy
Serves 2-4

  • 2 globe artichokes
  • Half a pack of butter
  • 1 lemon
  • Salt

Place the artichokes in a deep pan, cover with water and boil for 20-30 mins until it’s easy to pull the leaves off. Just before serving make the butter sauce – melt the butter gently in a pan, add salt and a good squeeze of lemon juice to taste. Drain the artichoke and serve alongside the buttery dipping sauce and a big bowl for the discarded leaves.

(In the pic below Lexie is protesting that she wants to start eating NOW!!)

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Simple asparagus tapas

My family is obsessed with asparagus. In fact I think the whole of the Basque country is obsessed. Whenever we have big family dinners there’s always a plate of asparagus as an appetiser, it’s always in the bars – the ubiquitous green vegetable. If it’s a special occasion, like Christmas, we have delicate white asparagus served with langoustines and mayonnaise – divine! I’m very very happy that my daughter loves asparagus too!

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Here is a super simple and traditional way to serve a tapas of asparagus! This is my go-to starter for all meals with friends and family – I made it recently as a starter for friends before crab linguine, and yesterday as a starter before a delicious roast chicken (I made Mimi Thorisson’s rosemary, lemon and thyme roast chicken – I highly recommend this recipe!). It’s great with other tapas – jamon, boquerones, Spanish tortilla, garlic mushrooms, pan tumaca etc.

I just have to add, having written asparagus a few times now, it is totally one of those words the more you write it, the weirder it becomes! Is it really spelt like that etc!?! Apparently it derives from a latin word that derives from a greek work that derives from the Persian ‘asparag’ meaning to sprout or to shoot! There you go!

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Asparagus tapas

Prep time: 1 min
Cooking time: 5mins
Ease: Easy

  • 1 bunch of green asparagus, rinsed and ends trimmed
  • 1 lemon
  • Olive oil
  • Salt

Place the asparagus in a wide pan and cover with water. Parboil for a few mins depending on thickness. Drain and set aside. Heat the olive oil in the same pan on quite a high heat, add the asparagus and sprinkle with salt. Fry for a couple of mins then you can shake the pan a bit or turn the asparagus with a fork. Add a generous squeeze of lemon and after a couple more minutes they should be done. Sometimes I cook asparagus on a really high heat and blacken some of the sides, other times I lightly fry them – they are pretty versatile!

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Pork chops with lemon and baked rosemary garlic potatoes

Finally, after what feels like months of rain, we are getting some bright blue skies. I’m still dreaming of escaping London… This time it’s long walks in the countryside and afternoons in front of the fire. Over the Christmas holiday we stayed with friends in their amazing Tudor home in Hampshire. We walked back from the pub across fields in the pitch black, awoke to a bright frosty morning and visited the neighbouring horses, meandering along a magical river. Tammy, our host, had a great way to keep toddlers happy on the long walks – luckily the toy fairy and the chocolate fairy were two steps ahead of us at all times leaving Max and Lexie little gifts under rocks and leaves!

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Tammy also prepared the most wonderful glazed ham with delicious sliced roast potatoes and onion for a lunch (with champagne!). I’ve been thinking about those potatoes ever since and wondering when to try them. A special deal on pork chops at my favourite butchers provided the impetus. Remembering how uplifting it was when I roasted lemon, garlic and rosemary potatoes – the incredible smells of lemon and herbs that filled our kitchen – I decided to do a take on these flavours. Not the same as a long walk in the countryside but pretty cheering nonetheless. The pork is a River Cafe recipe and the potatoes were inspired by Tammy’s using this recipe. The star of this dish was definitely the potatoes – they were amazing! The pork chop was nice but I preferred the gammon by a mile (I’m not crazy about pork chops or fillet in general – love pork belly, love ham, love bacon!).

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Pork chops with lemon and rosemary garlic potatoes

Serves 2
Prep time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 40 mins
Budget: £10-15 (£5 pork chops, 60p lemons, £1.50 herbs, £1.50 potatoes)
Ease: easy

  • 2 Pork chops
  • 1 lemon quartered
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 1 stick rosemary – leaves removed and chopped
  • 3 or 4 cloves of peeled garlic
  • 3 potatoes – washed and sliced into 4 mm rounds, skin on

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Preheat the oven to 200/gas mark 6. Put the potatoes in a baking tray with a generous amount of olive oil, season and add the rosemary and garlic. They should take about 30 mins to roast, check them half way and turn.

Get a griddle pan (or heavy bottomed pan) and heat until smoking. Season the pork and smooth a little oil on both sides. Seal the meat on both sides, 2 mins per side then place in a baking tray with the lemon quarters. Squeeze one of the lemons on the pork and pop in the oven for 5 mins. After 5 mins take the meat out, baste and squidge the lemon quarters into the meat. Depending on the thickness of the pork they should take another 5-10 mins to cook but err on the side of caution and try only 5 mins first. Once done, let the meat rest covered in foil for a few minutes before serving with the potatoes and maybe some nice dijon mustard. (The reason the skin is off in the pic below is because I attempted this Jamie Oliver crackling tip – it was a failure!)

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Basque piperade with eggs

There are so many nights when I still don’t know what to make us for dinner. Yesterday was another day where the fridge was bare and it was too late to pop to the shops. The only fresh ingredients I had were eggs and some peppers.

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Omelettes never feel very substantial and scrambled eggs on toast I reserve for when I’m completely out of time. Egg fried rice was an option but I kept thinking about a recipe for baked eggs with tomato and chilli my friend Dani recommended. I didn’t have chilli but was reminded of Basque piperade – a tomato sauce with peppers – that I did have the ingredients for.

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Piperade goes with lots of things – cod, chicken – but in our family we always had it with rice and fried eggs. My mum made this for me a lot growing up but I associate it more with my aunty Consuelo, herself a mother of 5. My mother Carmen, Consuelo and their little sister Feli were known as the Brigitte Bardot sisters such was the resemblance – three blonde bombshells! (See the pic above – my mum is in stripes with Consuelo behind her – I need to find some more pics of them!). They are wonderful cooks, even now they are in their 80s with arthritis ravaged fingers, the food they produce is incredible (I’ve a vivid memory of watching my aunty last year expertly joint a chicken with a machete and she still pulls off a 6 course Christmas dinner for 15!!).

This is a tasty recipe that’s quick and easy to make and very cheap. I’ve used my mum’s recipe with no paprika or pimenton (spicy paprika) because we don’t really like the smoky taste. I’ve asked my cousin to send me my aunty’s version which I’ll add here when it arrives and another time I’ll share a very similar recipe for courgette or marrow that is just wonderful. Lexie loved it – she loooves fried eggs so much so anything that is a vehicle for them goes down well with her.

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Basque piperade with eggs

Serves 4
Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 20-30 mins
Budget: £5 (£1.80 eggs, £1.50 peppers, £1.50 parsley)
Ease: easy

  • 1 or 2 tins of whole plum tomatoes
  • 1 white onion peeled and chopped
  • 1 clove of chopped garlic
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp tomato puree
  • 1 tsp white sugar
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Handful of fresh chopped parsley
  • 1 red pepper, deseeded and sliced
  • 1 green pepper, deseeded and sliced
  • Rice
  • 4 eggs
  • A little sunflower oil – the amount you use to fry eggs, we use quite a lot

Put enough rice on to cook for 4 people. I use the cup method – one cup of rice to two cups of water, stir once, bring to the boil then cover and reduce the heat, leave simmering for 10 mins. Check the rice is done and if it is then turn the heat off and cover the saucepan with a clean tea towel with the pan lid on top to seal it tightly shut. My Spanish flatmate taught me this – apparently the tea towel helps absorb moisture. Even without a tea towel it’s good to let the rice rest off the heat for another 10 mins and it will sit happily for longer, steaming away making the rice all perfect. Another very Spanish way to cook rice is to fry a bit of chopped garlic in olive oil in the saucepan, then adding the dried rice and tossing it about in the oil before adding the water then cooking as above.

While the rice is cooking, heat a generous amount of olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan (i.e. Le Creuset). Add the onion and a little salt and fry gently for 10 mins. You can make a piperade with a sofrito base (slow cooked onion for ages) but traditionally all the veg is cooked quickly and retains a bit of bite which I prefer. Add the peppers and garlic then fry for another 5 mins. Then add 1 tin of tomatoes or 2 sieved tins of tomatoes according to preference (in Spain we always sieve tinned tomatoes), add the bay leaf, a pinch of salt and a tsp of sugar and bubble away for a few minutes. Bring the heat down to a simmer and cook for about 20 mins or until you are happy with the sauce. Add a little water or wine or stock if it’s drying out. 5 mins before you want to serve it add the fresh parsley.

Around the time you add the parsley start cooking your eggs. I can manage 2 at a time, no more than that so do batches – kids first for example so their meal can cool a little while you cook yours. Our method is to heat some sunflower oil to a high temperature (but not spitting) in a non-stick frying pan with one peeled garlic clove. Break the egg into the frying pan and reduce the heat immediately – it should sizzle when it hits the pan and the white should bubble up. Salt then fry until you are happy with it, baste with a bit of the oil if you like. Discard the garlic! It’s only there to flavour the oil.

To serve we’ve always put the rice and sauce separately on a plate with the fried egg on top and some fresh baguette or white bread to dip into the egg and mop up the delicious juices!

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Butternut squash tagine

I’ve never managed anything like the Atkins diet but I’ve had phases of eating very healthily (no croissants or cake! Lots of pulses and veggies!). I learnt this recipe during one of those spells and it’s happily remained in my repertoire because it’s tasty and Lewis really likes it.

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It’s adapted from an Ottonlenghi recipe which means it’s delicious but has a bonkers list of ingredients! It’s actually really easy to make and very cheap once you’ve invested in the required condiments (ground coriander/ginger etc). When weighing out the spices I always make a separate mix and keep it in a jar to use for next time to help make this recipe simpler. Lexie loves the cous cous and will only eat the squash if we tell her it’s turnip because she “don’t like squash mummy.”

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Butternut squash tagine

Serves four
Prep time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 20 mins
Budget: £5-10 (£1.50 butternut squash, £3 fresh herbs, we had all the other spices but roughly £1.50-£2 per spice, £1 cous cous)
Ease: Easy

  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 50g butter
  • 800g peeled butternut squash or pumpkin, cut into 2.5cm dice
  • ½ chilli, thinly sliced – leave out for kids
  • 4 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 bayleaf
  • 3 cardamom pods
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg (have left this out before when didn’t have it and was fine without)
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • ½ tsp ground turmeric
  • Small pinch saffron (have left this out before when didn’t have it and was fine without)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • ½ tbsp honey
  • Salt and pepper
  • Chicken or veg stock
  • 4 tbsp fresh coriander, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp pinenuts, roasted and roughly chopped
  • Cous cous

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In a large, heavy saucepan, sauté the onion in oil and butter for 10 minutes, add the squash and cook for a few minutes. Add the herbs, spices, honey, salt and pepper, cover with stock (or add a stock cube and cover with water so squash well covered) and simmer for 20-30 mins. It really won’t need more than 30 mins and do check the squash after 15-20 mins – squash cooks really quickly and can disintegrate – the squash should be soft but not collapsing. The sauce should have thickened slightly by now – if it’s too runny, increase the heat to reduce. Stir in half the fresh coriander. Prepare the cous cous as per the packet instructions. Dry fry pine nuts (get a frying pan, heat on stove, add pine nuts and fry until slightly changing colour – try not to burn!). Serve the tagine over couscous and garnish with pine nuts and the rest of the coriander. For kids I fish out the bigger spices like bay leaf/cardamon/cinnamon stick so they are not surprised by random cardamon pods or cinnamon bark!

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L’amour! C’est le steak frites!

One year for Valentines we tried to be ironic and go for a curry. The joke was on us as the entire restaurant was full of heart shaped balloons and tables for two. Since then (and because I love Valentines) we stay in, have steak and chips and watch a classic movie. This year’s film was Riso Amaro which also provided the soundtrack to our evening.

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Lewis always cooks the steak ever since he attended Ginger Pig cut up a cow masterclass. He also makes the chips as per my mum’s recipe but for a change we decided to try matchstick chips! I loved them but he prefers my mums. Our usual steak of choice is rib-eye but I think I’m wavering. We had an incredible T-bone a while ago then recently a Thai ‘Crying Tiger’ sirloin that just blew me away, both challenging the rib-eye’s title as the steak of true love! Quick question: what is your favourite steak and why?

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Rib-eye steak and matchstick chips

Prep time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 30 mins
Budget: £15-20 (£12 2 rib-eye steaks, £2 potatoes, £1.50 parsley, £1.50 green salad)

  • 2 rib-eye steaks
  • 2 peeled potatoes
  • 40g softened butter
  • 1 clove crushed garlic
  • Handful of chopped parsley
  • 1 or 2 chopped anchovies
  • Sunflower oil (or groundnut oil)

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Make the butters – I like garlic and parsley so add 1 clove crushed garlic and some chopped parsley to the butter and mash it all together. Lewis likes anchovy butter – exactly the same but with some anchovy as well. Put the butter on a plate ready to serve.

To fry the steak and chips it’s a simultaneous job so make sure everything is ready! For the steaks – just before frying season with salt and pepper and brush with groundnut or sunflower oil. Heat the griddle pan (or heavy bottomed pan) until it’s very hot but not smoking. For the chips – what a palaver! Peel and chop the potatoes into matchsticks (ha ha ha) 1/4 inch thick. Rinse in cold water and pat dry with kitchen towel. Get a pan of sunflower oil really hot (mum and I are 100% convinced sunflower oil is the best oil for chips/any fried potatoes). Then you are ready to fry!

Put the chips on first, lower the potatoes into the oil. Fry until golden and crispy. Because they are so thin it should take a matter of minutes. Don’t overload the pan – we did 2 batches but the first batch went a bit soggy whereas the fresh batch were crispy and super tasty – less is more!

Fry the steaks at the same time as you put the chips on. On the high heat fry for 2 mins each side (rare) or 3-4 mins (medium rare-medium). The temperature of the pan and the thickness of the steaks will affect results but that is a general guide. Once done, set aside to rest for a few minutes on a plate covered with foil while you finish the chips. When the chips are ready remove with a slotted spoon and place on kitchen towel to absorb some of the oil. Sprinkle with salt and serve immediately! Put some of the butter on the steak so it melts into deliciousness. We followed our steaks with a simple green salad and some dark chocolate (usually we have Lewis chocolate mousse after steak but we didn’t make it in time). Voila – l’amour!

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Valentine’s stained glass biscuits (and origami message hearts)

I love the idea of a day celebrating love. Valentine’s day does not fill me with nausea, to the contrary, I think it’s sweet and romantic. This year, because the depth of feeling for my daughter continues to overwhelm me, Valentine’s pays homage to this love. A favourite children’s book comes to my mind – Mama do you love me? Set in the Alaskan wilderness, it’s about a daughter testing the limits of her mother’s unconditional love, asking her over and over: “Mama do you love me?”… “What if I put salmon in your parka?”… “What if I turned into a polar bear and I was the meanest bear you ever saw?” Of course each time the mother responds that she will still love her daughter:

“I will love you,
forever and for always,
because you are
my Dear One.”

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Today I entered a competition where I had to submit my favourite picture of us. I chose the picture above. Lexie was one day old and weighed six pounds. I love the look of astonishment in my face – she looked like a little china doll – so tiny and precious. Those fleeting moments when time stands still and I’m upended by just how extraordinary children are, how extraordinary my child is: ‘Every day you play with the light of the universe’

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My Dear One and I did two sweet things together today in honour of Saint Valentine! First we made these pretty origami hearts to put messages in and give to our friends and loved ones. I made the hearts and Lexie wrote the messages which she did very diligently with a silvery pen.

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We also had a not so successful stab at making stained glass heart biscuits. I meant to make these for Christmas using Mary Berry’s recipe but never got round to it. Lexie really enjoyed making them, especially separating the colourful sweets then bashing them with a rolling pin. Our downfall was not having baking paper so we might give them another go when I get some! Or use jam instead. For our love songs we listened to Dos Gardenias from Buena Vista Social Club which I once asked Lewis to translate as Spanish homework (we agreed after 3 weeks of ‘lessons’, during an argument in Spanish on the Machu Picchu trail, that I shouldn’t teach him Spanish).

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Stained glass biscuits 

Prep time: 15 mins
Cooking time: 12-15 mins
Budget: £5 (£1 boiled sweets, £1 plain flour, £1.50 butter, £1 caster sugar)
Ease: Not sure – easy recipe and easy to make the dough, the stained glass element is a bit tricky
Makes 20 biscuits (I halved the recipe to make 10)

  • 175g (6oz) butter, softened
  • 100g (4oz) caster sugar
  • 225g (8oz) plain flour
  • About 20 boiled sweets (in different colours)

Preheat the oven to 160°C/gas 3. Line two baking trays with NON STICK baking paper. If you don’t have wood floors (sigh) put a huge splash mat down around where your child will be ‘creating’. Put the butter and sugar into a bowl and cream using a wooden spoon. Add the flour and use your hands to make the dough.

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Roll the dough out on a lightly floured work surface using a rolling pin until it’s about 0.5cm (¼in) thick. You need a 2 different sized heart cutters or one small heart cutter and one larger round cutter. Use your large cutter to cut out the shapes. Use the smaller cutter of to cut the middle out of each shape, leaving about 1cm (½in) of biscuit around the edge. Arrange the cut biscuits on the baking sheets. I let Lexie go to town on half the dough, then I slightly… ok very competitively cut the most perfect heart shapes of all time (scary mum alert!).

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Separate the boiled sweets into their colours and put them in plastic bags (one colour in each bag). Crush using a rolling pin until they’re fine grains. Every time we did this the bag burst – I have no idea how Mary Berry achieves her fine grains, we made a right old mess of it! At one point Lexie started licking the table… Anyway however you get your grains, once you have them sprinkle into the middle of the biscuits.

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Bake in the preheated oven for about 12-15 minutes or until the biscuits are a pale gold and the sweets inside them have melted. Leave to stand on the trays for about 5 minutes to cool slightly, then carefully transfer to a wire rack or plate and leave to cool completely and firm up. Don’t be tempted to overcook if they look a little soft, they firm up when cooling. 

Apparently they can be made up to 2 days ahead and kept in a sealed box but we don’t know because ours just stuck to the baking tray sob! Luckily I made a few little heart biscuits to use up the excess dough and they were yummy so at least Lexie got to eat something!

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(EDIT: I suddenly recall every Valentines growing up my mum getting so excited about giving me a Valentines card. I never really understood why…)

me and my lovely mum