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.

DSC_0637

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.”

DSC_0645

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

DSC_0612

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!

DSC_0623

 

Advertisements

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.

IMG_4334

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?

IMG_4356

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)

DSC_0633

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!

IMG_4350

IMG_4359

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.”

IMG_0675

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’

DSC_0629

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.

DSC_0636

DSC_0634

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).

DSC_0663

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.

DSC_0628

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!).

DSC_0654

DSC_0659

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.

DSC_0620DSC_0662

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!

DSC_0677

DSC_0668

(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

Lamb stew with flageolet beans

We’ve gone from the wettest January in 250 years according to the press to ‘Wild Wednesday’ with ‘Red Warning’ winds hitting Britain. In the Basque country when the sea waves are this big it’s called temporal. Whenever it’s stormy here my mum tells me about how much more ‘impresionante’ temporal is in San Sebastian and how people go out of their way to witness it. So far today she’s told me about temporal at least 3 times…

We’re staying in then! I’ve a mountain of laundry to conquer (including a bag of dry clean only knitwear I just realised our machine can wash perfectly on a cold wool setting!! HIGHLIGHT OF MY DAY! NOT BEING SARCASTIC). I made a nice minestrone for our lunch and, because I remembered to marinate the meat last night, this lamb stew is currently bubbling away on the stove for our dinner, while we listen to Lena Horne’s Stormy Weather on the stereo!

DSC_0637

It’s one of my mum’s staples and she also does a similar stew with beef which I’ll share soon. It’s very rich and gorgeous – Lexie likes it but I give her a small portion and often water her sauce down a little. It’s also another brown recipe from me! I’m turning into the brown pot lady! I’ve got a bright orange butternut squash tagine coming up as well as my cousin’s hake and clams in salsa verde. This blog will soon be a rainbow I promise! (Couldn’t resist this pic again!)

rainbow

Lamb stew with flageolet beans

Prep time: 10 mins plus 4 hours + marinating time
Cooking time: 2-4 hours
Budget: £10 (£4 lamb neck, 60p onion, 30p carrot, £1 rosemary, £2 tin flageolet beans, £2 bacon)
Ease: easy
Serves 4

  • 2 pieces of lamb neck fillet or similar cut of lamb for stewing – cut into pieces
  • 1 white onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 carrot, peeled and sliced
  • 1/4 stick celery, sliced
  • 2 tbsp roughly of olive oil
  • 2 big glasses of red wine
  • 1 stick of rosemary
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 carrot
  • 2 rashers streaky bacon, chopped
  • 1 stock cube – chicken, lamb or veg
  • Plain flour for dusting lamb
  • Salt and pepper
  • Tin of flageolet beans

Marinate the meat for 4 hours or ideally overnight in some olive oil (2 tbpsn), a big glass of red wine, salt and pepper, garlic cloves and a stick of rosemary.

Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed pan (I used a Le Creuset). Take the lamb pieces out of the marinade, reserving the liquid to add to the stew later, dust lightly in flour and place into the hot oil. I used to be crap at browning meat – the trick is, as Hugh Fearnley says: “Remember you are looking to burn…” This info from his MEAT cookbook is the business:

DSC_0604DSC_0605

Once the meat is browned, set aside on a plate and add a big splash of wine to the pan. Turn the heat up and use a spatula to scrape up or ‘deglaze’ all the meaty bits. After a couple of minutes pour the winey bits into the marinade.

Put more oil in the pan, heat then add the onion, carrot, celery and bacon. Season and cook gently for ages to make the sofrito (very softened onions, not browned). When the sofrito is ready add the meat and juices that have been released while it’s been resting. Then add the marinade liquid keeping the garlic cloves but removing and chucking the stick of rosemary. Add a bay leaf, the stock cube and top up with lots of water – the lamb should be well covered. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 2-4 hours. From time to time check it’s not drying out and if it is just add more water. 10 mins before serving open, drain and rinse the flageolet beans and add to the stew. Season to taste and serve with lots of fresh crusty white bread. This stew is also nice with boiled new potatoes instead of flageolet beans or even rice – but not chips or roast tatties!! Nooo – it’s too rich for them!

(Here’s a pic of our sole outing of the day at dusk so Lexie could have a scoot around the square and look at the moon!)

IMG_4487

EDIT: We’ve just eaten the stew – it was bloody amazing!

DSC_0613

Lentils with chorizo

When I was little my dad and I absolutely loved my mum’s lentils with chorizo. She could never understand how we could get so excited about lentils which represent to her the poverty of growing up in post Civil War Spain – endless stews of lentils or chickpeas, eking out whatever meat was available. “Are you sure you want lentils?” She’d ask: “What about a lovely roast pork or chicken?” But we’d always want the lentils and spend ages trying to distract each other so we could steal more lumps of chorizo from the other’s bowl.

After another day of drizzly rain we went for a quick run around the square, came back and put on Ay Carmela!, my favourite Spanish Civil War revolutionary song from Rolando Alarcon’s album, and had steaming hot bowls of lentils with chorizo! Rhumbala rhumbala rhum ba la!

DSC_0627

DSC_0629 DSC_0628

This stew is very cheap, nutritious and delicious which must be pointed out as it can look a little like brown sludge. It keeps for about a week in the fridge and, as with all these stews, tastes much better the day after you make it. Lexie absolutely loves it and it’s probably her second favourite dish right now (although she won’t touch the chorizo!! #sonotmydaughter). In my view the chorizo makes this dish and I always make it if I have any pork leftovers as they are delicious chucked in too. But I should say it’s tasty even with no meat so if you are veggie just leave out the bacon/chorizo etc and use veg stock. It’s similar to the sausage lentil casserole I’ve posted before and I’ll add a French variation at the end taught to me by my 97 year old granny-in-law.

DSC_0638

Lentils with chorizo

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 45-1 hour
Budget: £5-10 (£1 lentils, 20p onion, £3 chorizo, 30p potato, 30p carrot, £3 bacon)

  • Green lentils – half a packet serves 4
  • 1 peeled potato chopped into big chunks
  • 1 peeled carrot chopped into big chunks
  • 1 peeled and chopped white onion
  • Chorizo chopped into chunks – 1 little one or half a big one
  • 2 rashers chopped bacon
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 chicken stock cube
  • Leftover pork (roast or pork chop) – optional
  • Olive oil

DSC_0620

Fry the bacon and onion in a little olive oil in a casserole dish – I used a Le Creuset. Add a little salt to help the onions release their juices and fry gently for as long as you can be bothered. The idea is to make a sort of sofrito with softened not browned onions so I usually fry gently for 10 mins, turn it off covered for 10 mins then fry again for another 10. Then add the green lentils, bay leaf, stock cube and chopped carrot. Cover with double the amount of water, bring to the boil then simmer partially covered. After 20 mins check the water, top up if need be as lentils guzzle water, then add the potato. Cook for another 20 minutes, check the water again then add the chorizo and any leftover pork if using. My mum sometimes boils the chorizo for 30 seconds in water before adding to remove excess oil but I don’t often bother. Simmer for another 10 mins and it should be ready – all lovely and brown and sludgy! You really have to believe me on this one! Serve with some lovely fresh bread.

DSC_0647

  • French variation – exactly the same recipe but omit the potato and chorizo (you can still add pork leftovers). Cook for 40 ish minutes then just before serving add one tbsp of dijon mustard and stir around. Delicious served with chipolatas!

Spaghetti with prawns and aubergine

They said on the radio it’s been the wettest January in 250 years. Unsurprisingly I’ve started dreaming of summer, blue skies, the sea the sea…

DSC_0547DSC_0587

Every summer we spend a week at Lewis dad’s house in Provence near Cassis. It’s on the coast and the light is incredible – a never ending horizon of blue. Thinking of these far off summer days I put on some Francoise Hardy and Serge Gainsbourg then made this wonderful recipe of my French mother-in-laws I had for the first time on one of these holidays.

IMG_2696

Spaghetti with prawns and aubergine

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 20-30 mins
Budget: £10-15 depending on prawns (£5 for 6 prawns, £1.50 tomatoes, £1.50 basil, £1 aubergine)

  • 3 prawns per person (sounds stingy but they are huge and it’s all about the amazing juices they release into the pasta)
  • 6 vine tomatoes
  • Chopped fresh basil
  • 1 aubergine sliced into thin rounds
  • 1 or 2 cloves of crushed garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Make this fresh tomato sauce. Put the pasta on to boil as per the packet instructions (usually 8-10 mins). Put the aubergine on a baking tray, season and rub with oil and crushed garlic. Grill until turning golden on both sides, remove and set aside on a plate. Season the prawns and mix in a bowl with some oil and crushed garlic. Heat a griddle pan as hot as it will go and fry for roughly 3 mins on each side or until the prawns are happy and rosy. Set aside on a plate (this is also how you do the prawns for my garlic and lemon butterbeans recipe). Once the pasta is done, drain and mix into the tomato sauce. Serve with the separate plates of aubergine, prawns and basil so everyone can help themselves. Remember a spare bowl for the prawn shells and lots of napkins! Lexie loves loves loves prawns – look at her little mitts grabbing them below!

DSC_0632

DSC_0626

“Don’t like beans” with olive oil, garlic and lemon

Lexie is a good eater so it’s always funny when she doesn’t like something… “Don’t like beans mummy.” I find this one quite hard to understand because she loves lentils and chickpeas! Luckily she sometimes forgets what beans are so as long as I call them something else (‘baby chickpeas’) she’ll give them a go. Especially if she has flowers painted on her face!

DSC_0657

My favourite quick staple meal is beans with lots of olive oil, crushed garlic, lemon and salt. The original recipe is from Gwyneth Paltrow’s first cookbook (not the macrobiotic one!) using giant butterbeans but I’ve made it many many times with chickpeas and cannellini beans. Lexie really likes it too despite it’s garlickyness (I leave out the salt for her). It’s very easy to adapt the recipe and make a warm version more suited to winter – see variations below. I love this recipe hot or cold – the hot version is delicious soothing comfort food, the cold version just lemony garlicky heaven. Both ways take less than 5 mins to prepare, are incredibly cheap and leave you feeling nourished as beans are so good for you.

Beans with olive oil, garlic and lemon

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: None (unless using dried beans instead of canned beans – see note below)
Budget: Under £5 (beans 60p, lemon 30p, spring onions 80p)

  • Giant butterbeans or cannellini beans or chickpeas – Brindisa Spanish foods sell delicious jars of chickpeas and giant butterbeans that you can get from their shop or Ocado OR cheaper at M&S. Normal tins are fine but avoid Sainsbury’s tinned beans – they’re horrid! (1 tin is two small portions or one big portion)
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove of crushed garlic
  • 1 or 2 sliced spring onions
  • Lemon
  • Salt and pepper
  • Chopped herbs like basil or parsley – optional
  • Watercress salad (any salad is nice – see variations below)

Open, drain and rinse the beans. Crush the garlic and add to the beans with a generous drizzle of olive oil. If using basil or parsley add them now with the spring onion. Add a good squeeze of lemon juice, season to taste and serve with watercress/salad.

  • The Gwynnie recipe adds griddled prawns which I’ve tried and is nice. She also marinates the beans for at least an hour in the fridge which I don’t think is necessary.
  • When using chickpeas I usually add courgette carpaccio – thin shavings or grated courgette – with the same dressing. This is especially nice with yellow courgettes.
  • With cannellini beans I think good quality tinned tuna is a lovely addition.

DSC_0624

To do a warm version get a pan and gently heat the garlic in olive oil (don’t let it brown). Add the drained and rinsed beans, season then squeeze some lemon juice on the beans and add a little water or light chicken stock. If you have homemade chicken stock definitely use a little as it transports this simple dish into something heavenly. If you have any herbs like thyme, a bay leaf add them (but not rosemary – too pungent) as they will give lots of flavour. Smash the beans into the oil using a fork or wooden spoon. The idea is not to make a puree, rather to have some mushed beans and lots of whole ones. If you want to make it more soupy add more stock. Add chopped parsley or basil (try to use herbs if doing this version). Serve with some nice fresh bread, olive oil to drizzle and a little grated parmesan if you want.

  • If I’m doing this with cannellini beans I add spinach to the recipe above which only takes a minute on the heat to soften. Serve with grated parmesan. Lewis loves this version which says a lot given it’s beans and spinach! (See pic)
  • If I’m doing this with chickpeas I usually fry a bit of bacon with the garlic and definitely use a bit of chicken stock. A little chorizo added at the end is nice too. The spinach version above is nice with chickpeas too.

DSC_0649

(NOTE: If using dried beans, before trying the recipes above, make sure you soak them overnight, drain and rinse them in the morning – dried beans are toxic if you don’t do this!! Then put them in a pan and cook for a good 40 minutes or so using fresh water (not the water they soaked in). If making the warm version the water from the cooked beans is wonderful to use as the stock. The River Cafe recipe for smashed beans recommends cooking the beans with a garlic clove and some sage leaves for 45 minutes then draining, removing the sage but not the garlic, before adding the olive oil and smashing the beans.) Here is a pic of Lexie happily shelling borlotti beans with Lewis in France this past summer.

DSC_0463