Asparagus soup with poached egg on toast

There has been a chill in the air all of this week. We’ve been spending a lot of time indoors which I always find a struggle. At home Lexie seems to need constant attention. Why is she incapable of playing by herself? Ever? It drives me nuts! In an attempt to do something fun with her that wouldn’t end in (my) tears, we built our first fort. Thankfully it was a success, though it took a while to convince Lexie she didn’t have to put all her toys and clothes in it. Does anyone else’s child love stuffing everything into places? Lexie is obsessed with cramming things into her suitcase/bag/oven/Sylvanian camper van.

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Another soup recipe from me today. It seems fitting for the chilly weather. It’s from the Jamie at Home cookbook which is divided into seasons. Under spring falls my great love asparagus. I’ve tried all the recipes in this section and the standout winner is this creamy asparagus soup with poached egg on toast. It is really delicious and tastes so luxurious despite the lack of cream and butter.

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The book tells me asparagus is one of the most nutritious vegetables you can eat, full of vitamins and folic acid. It is also a diuretic and a good liver cleanser (although I think this soup is lovely with a nice glass of white burgundy). Lexie really enjoys eating this and helping to make it. She likes making soups as our handheld blender is broken so I have to use the magimix and she gets to press the button. She also loves poaching the egg, helping me crack it into a little bowl and stirring the water to create a vortex.

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Asparagus soup with poached egg on toast

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 35 mins
Budget: £5 (£3 asparagus, 20p onion, 20p celery, 50p leek, £1.30 eggs)
Ease: Easy for the soup – medium for the poached egg
Serves: 4

  • 1 bunch of asparagus, rinsed, trimmed of edges and chopped into 2cm pieces
  • 1 sliced leek
  • 1 sliced onion
  • 1 sliced stick of celery
  • Chicken stock cube
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 egg per person
  • Bread – ciabatta is nice for this recipe

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Gently heat a little olive oil in a saucepan and add the onion, celery and leek with a little salt. Sweat gently for 10 minutes without browning. Add the asparagus, stock cube and top up with water. You can make this soup as thick or as thin as you like depending on how much water you add. Cook for 20-30 mins. When it’s ready whizz it in a blender and season to taste. A word of warning – once I made this in a rush, didn’t sweat the vegetables and cooked it for just under 20 mins. The result was like eating the leftover stringy pulp from a juicer! So definitely respect the cooking times!

My method of poaching eggs is not foolproof and doesn’t always work (I mean doesn’t always look pretty). Use the freshest eggs you can and crack them into bowls – one bowl per egg. Boil a small saucepan full of water and add a small splash of vinegar and a tiny bit of salt. Reduce the heat so the water is simmering and create a vortex by swirling a spoon around the water. Pour the egg into this simmering vortex and leave for 3 minutes. If doing more than one egg make sure you pour it into a different part of the saucepan at the same time – I’ve never done more than 2 at a time! Start toasting the bread and when the egg is done, remove with a slotted spoon and place on the toast. Serve the soup either as Jamie does, with the poached egg and toast resting on top of the soup or, as I do, on the side.

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Two dresses, some tulips and a cauliflower soup

It’s been a week for flowers and dresses. I couldn’t resist getting some beautiful tulips from the market and we have small branches of apple blossom dotted around our flat. Lexie likes shaking them and making the blossom “snow” on her head.

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Inspired by the new season I’m finding myself wearing dresses, drawn to anything floral or white and crocheted. Two ebay finds that have delighted us this week are this little Laura Ashley number for Lexie (99p!) and a Whistles dress that I will probably wear at my wedding – I love it!

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Continuing on the white theme, I also made the most delicious scallops with cauliflower the other day. The recipe is, as always, by the beautiful Mimi Thorisson whose book: ‘A kitchen in France – a year of cooking in my farmhouse’ is now available to preorder – hurrah!! This was wonderful, light and fresh despite the copious use of butter. The cauliflower was probably my favourite element – I adore cauliflower. As there are only two of us and there is only so much cauliflower one can eat at a time – even for an aficionado like me – I used less than half of it for this recipe. I needed to make something else with the rest… hmm decisions decisions.

I thought about cauliflower cheese but didn’t really fancy it. I love Lewis’ Indian spiced cauliflower he serves as part of a ‘Rice and Three’ vegetarian curries – the other two are usually sag aloo and dal. But I don’t know how to make this (there is still some cauliflower left so his recipe will probably be on the blog next week). As it’s still quite chilly despite the blue skies I decided on my mum’s cauliflower soup. This is a delicious and simple creamy soup that we ate with cheese toasties and, in Lexie’s case, a sombrero.

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I should add that my mum is the worst person in the world to ask for a recipe. For example: “Mum how did you roast this amazing pheasant?” (which includes brandy and flambeing in the cooking)… Mum: “I put it in the oven.” When I asked her how to make this soup, she replied: “Like every other soup.” Lewis and I think it’s hilarious to do ‘my mum’ impressions when cooking. Me: “Lewis what are you doing?” Lewis: “Cooking hmmmpfh!” etc etc.

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The pic above is us out in our new dresses and old denim jackets. Lexie turned to me aghast that day and said: “Mummy where our coats!!!!” She was right, it was far too cold to be out without proper coats.

Cauliflower soup 

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 30 mins
Budget: Under £5 (£1.50 cauliflower, 20p potato, £1 milk, 20p onion)
Ease: Easy
Serves 4

  • 1/2 cauliflower head, cut into florets
  • 1 potato, peeled and cubed
  • 1 small sliced white onion
  • Chicken stock cube
  • 1 cup milk
  • Olive oil
  • Butter
  • Salt and pepper

Gently fry the onion in a little olive oil or olive oil and butter for 10 mins. Add the potato, cauliflower and stock cube, cover with water. Cook for 20-30 mins then blitz in a blender. Put the soup back in the pan and gently heat. Add a cup of milk and a little knob of butter and stir in. Season to taste and serve.

A spring risotto for Poppy and Lexie

Poppy is one of Lexie’s very few ‘younger’ friends. My daughter definitely likes the older kids! They probably get on because they are both born wrigglers who never ever sit still. It’s pretty hard to find a picture of these two that isn’t blurry.

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Both of them love risotto so whenever they have dinner together either Katie, Poppy’s mum, or I make it (although sometimes, to avoid cooking we take them to the Tate Modern for the brilliant £3 kids fish and chips).

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All the magnolias and camelias are in full bloom right now. It’s so beautiful and makes me so happy. I’ve been filling our flat with camelias and visiting my mum in Chelsea which is awash with bursting magnolias. In honour of all this blossom and Poppy and Lexie’s budding friendship, here is a simple risotto for spring.

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Kids love risotto – it’s so easy for them to eat and ideal for little ones who are weaning as the rice sticks to the spoon and their fingers. Risotto is a great vehicle for lots of different veg – I’ve added some variations to this recipe at the end. Making this I listened to the Jungle Book’s I wanna be like you. Poppy and Lexie are such little monkeys and it seemed apt given how the littler ones always want to be just like the bigger kids.

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Simple spring risotto

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 20 mins
Budget: £5 (£2 bacon, 60p leek, £1.50 parsley)
Ease: easy
Serves 2

  • 1/2 sliced leek
  • 1/2 chopped onion
  • 2 rashers chopped bacon
  • 1 clove sliced garlic
  • 1 cup of frozen peas
  • Handful of fresh chopped parsley
  • Risotto rice
  • Chicken stock cube
  • Grated parmesan

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Heat olive oil in a pan and add the onion, bacon, leek and garlic and sweat for about 10 mins on a gentle heat. Add the risotto rice and start introducing the stock. For proper risotto I add a splash of wine and let it sizzle down before adding the stock a cupful at a time, stirring the risotto all the time. But for this version I just chuck a stock cube in and top up with hot water from the kettle every 5 mins or so, stirring it a bit. After 15 mins add the frozen peas. The risotto should be done after about 20 mins. Stir in the parsley and serve with grated parmesan.

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  • A classic risotto is mushroom. Fry onion, bacon and garlic as per above. Add the rice and stock and after 10 mins add the sliced mushrooms. Nice with lots of parsley.
  • I often make risotto with leftover roast chicken. Same recipe as above and add the leftover chicken 5 mins before serving.
  • I love courgette and pea risotto – the same recipe as above maybe leaving out the leek and adding the courgettes after 10 mins of cooking. This is nice with basil and/or a tiny bit of fresh chopped mint.
  • I also really love asparagus risotto – same recipe as above (except I don’t usually do bacon with asparagus risotto, not sure why), adding chopped asparagus after 10 mins of cooking.
  • Butternut squash risotto is popular but not really my cup of tea and Lex doesn’t like squash but I thought I’d mention it for inspiration.

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El Vergel

I was asked to write a short review of our favourite local cafe for our square’s newsletter. I thought I’d share it here!

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I first discovered El Vergel, a South American café bar on Great Suffolk Street when I was working nearby. Serving speedy and delicious tacos and empanadas to eat in or take away (as well as lots of other nice things) it’s a popular place with local office workers at lunchtime.

When we moved to Borough with our little girl Lexie, who is now almost 3, El Vergel went from being a nice and slightly different from the norm lunch spot to becoming a complete and total godsend for me! I’ve since run there many times to escape Peppa Pig and revive myself with coffee or to meet other adults who don’t howl at me because I cut the apple they requested ‘the wrong way’ or gave them the ‘wrong juice cup’ (THE LELLO ONE MUMMY NOT THE BLUE ONE). I’ll quickly caveat that I really love being a mum and I adore my daughter but it is bloody hard work… and so… back to the review!

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I’d say going to El Vergel is a perfect pick me up as the music, décor and staff are all South American – friendly, colourful and vibrant! It’s a light and airy industrial space (exposed concrete and pipes) juxtaposed with colourful murals and beautiful Mexican weavings, tapestries and baskets. There’s a good mix of large communal tables as well as tables for two and aside from the lunchtime rush, when it gets pretty busy, it never feels hectic. In fact I’d say it’s one of the few local cafes where I don’t worry about disturbing other customers because it’s so spacious. There are usually a few young professionals on laptops when we go and it never feels like we are sitting on top of them (or flicking avocado at them in Lexie’s case).

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El Vergel opens early in the morning (great when you’ve been up since 5 with a perky toddler who is bouncing off the walls) and has good coffee and fresh juices as well as a lovely healthy breakfast menu including huevos rancheros, chilli avocado tortillas and greek yoghurt with fruit, granola and agave. A particular highlight or luxury for me is getting to read one of the newspapers available while my daughter has her juice – the bliss! It’s also a very good café for a group – so in my case to meet up with other sleep deprived mums who appreciate the space, the high chairs, the section of fun bean bags for jumping on and the supply of pens to scribble on the walls (well our kids appreciate the pens). But I always see lots of groups of childfree people looking very happy here, especially on the weekend, enjoying the El Vergel brunch menu with the papers.

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Our favourite thing to eat is the churrasco palta or churrasco queso – an incredible steak sandwich served on a homemade bread roll with really good salsa and either ‘palta’ avocado or ‘queso’ cheese. Definitely order this if you go – it is delicious and very reasonable at under a fiver. The range of freshly baked empanadas is very good too. I like the ‘carne’ meat empanada best but the cheese empanadas are very popular with my friends (and kids!) – all come with a really good coriander salsa. There are also daily specials and if you ever see one that says chips go for it – the homemade chips are brilliant and I wish they would sell them as a side dish. I should also mention the really good cherry cheesecake, which is massive yet very easy to eat all of even though you when you get it you say ‘oh I’ll never manage all of that!’ El Vergel also serves lots of other things like tacos and fresh salads and the bar is licensed if you want a beer or a glass of wine. I’d love to go for a meal there in the evening but alas they shut at 4pm. I’d say my only bug bear with El Vergel are charges for some of the add ons (60p for a tiny bowl of ketchup etc). This aside it would be hard to find a friendlier, more colourful spot in SE1. Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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Crab linguine with Albert – Lexie’s other boyfriend

This is another mother-in-law recipe that has become one of my all time favourites. It encompasses all my favourite ingredients – salt, lemon, chilli, garlic, olive oil. We make it regularly buying dressed crabs for ease, but nothing will beat eating this in the Scottish Highlands. The local fisherman delivers crabs caught that morning directly to my mother-in-law’s house.

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Yes that beach is in Scotland. The weather is always changeable in this part of the country but last summer we were blessed with a run of glorious sunny days. Lexie was overjoyed to be on the beach and ran headlong into the freezing Atlantic sea completely nonplussed. Usually the weather is more like the picture below taken the year before. I couldn’t find a picture of the crabs but here is one of me with a lobster that was also part of our special delivery.

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Crab linguine ticks a lot of boxes. It’s often our Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve main course. Recently it’s been my go-to dish if cooking for girl friends because it’s luxurious yet ready in the time it takes the pasta to cook. Perfect for a midweek lunch with Caroline who was visiting with her son Albert. By perfect I mean as perfect as lunch with two awake two year olds will ever be (Lexie: “Mummy need wee wee”… Albert: “Mummy I need wee wee NOW” etc). It was so lovely to see them. I mean how can you not adore a little boy who arrives to see your daughter like this…

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Albert is Leo’s main competitor. Him and Lexie have been friends since they were 6 months old as we lived over the road from each other. Caroline and I found the local area difficult and we both ended up moving after a year, in their case to Brighton by the sea. It is such a shame we don’t get to meet up as much anymore – I mean just look at these two!! I’m already picturing my grandchildren with Albert’s amazing hair.

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We all ate linguine but the kids had peas and parmesan instead of crab. I’m not sure when I’ll give Lexie crab – can two year olds eat crab? In any case ours had lots of chilli so wasn’t kiddie appropriate. The crab was yummy as always but I’ll probably aim for something even easier next time we are all together. The kids were way too excited to eat and after the various wee stops/spillage wipe ups etc our pasta was pretty cold. But it was fine because we had bubbles! And strawberries and cherries in garden after lunch which were very popular and made up for the lack of lunch eating. Come back and see us soon Albert and Caroline!

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Crab linguine

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 10 mins
Budget: £10 (£5 crab, £1.50 parsley, 50p lemon, 50p chilli)
Ease: Easy
Serves 2-3

  • 1 dressed crab per 2 people
  • Olive oil
  • 1 crushed garlic clove
  • 1 red chilli finely chopped
  • Lots of chopped parsley
  • 1 or 2 lemons
  • Salt and pepper
  • Linguine

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Start by making the crab mixture. Scoop the prepared white and brown crabmeat into a bowl adding a generous amount of olive oil. Add the chopped parsley, crushed garlic and finely sliced chilli – I wear rubber gloves and use scissors to chop chillis and avoid getting any on my hands (I wear contacts and also worry about touching Lexie with chilli fingers). Mix it all together with a spoon and season with salt and pepper to taste. Start cooking the linguine and just before it’s ready squeeze some lemon into the crab mixture. Drain the pasta reserving a tiny amount of the cooking water. Mix the crab into the pasta so that the linguine strands are all nicely coated. Serve with extra olive oil for drizzling and more lemon slices. We always seem to add loads of extra salt and lemon. Serve quickly because it cools down fast but, having eaten it cold this very day, I can say it’s still tasty cold! Not optimal but still good!

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I love the two pictures below of Lexie in Brighton last year on a trip to see Albert.

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Braised fennel, tomatoes and chickpeas (nice with cod)

When I was pregnant we lived with my mother-in-law for six months. Our beautiful flat (that we no longer live in… sigh) was being renovated. We moved into it in September and Lexie was born a month later. Although it was a bit stressful being displaced, it was also a golden time. Living in her light, airy Georgian house that summer I felt extraordinarily free. I wasn’t working, I spent a lot of time napping, reading and sitting in the shade of the fragrant garden. It was an oblique time compounded by the displacement perhaps and I was very happy.

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She also cooked us so many wonderful meals. This is one of her recipes that I love. Fragrant, filling and nutritious, I usually make this with baked or pan fried cod but it’s lovely by itself too. Ideally use dried chickpeas using the cooking water as the stock, but I rarely have the foresight and use tins. I haven’t managed to get Lex to eat the fennel yet but she loves the tomatoes, chickpeas, fish and broth.

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Braised fennel, tomatoes and chickpeas

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 20-30 mins
Budget: £5 no fish, £10-£15 with fish (£1 chickpeas, £1.50 tomatoes, £1 fennel, £1.50 herbs)
Ease: Easy
Serves: 2

  • 1 tin of chickpeas or equivalent dried chickpeas soaked overnight and cooked for 1 hour
  • 1 fennel bulb, sliced and rinsed
  • 1/2 red onion (white fine too)
  • Some small tomatoes on the vine
  • Bouillon
  • 1 clove peeled and sliced garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • A handful of chopped fresh parsley or basil
  • Splash of vermouth or sherry or white wine (optional)
  • Fillets of cod (optional)

Put the sliced onion and fennel in a pan with olive oil and some salt. Cook slowly, partially covered for 10-15 mins. Then, If using sherry or vermouth, add a splash now and sizzle for a bit until the alcohol has gone. I haven’t used any booze in this dish for ages – it’s fine without. Add the garlic and place the tomatoes into the pan and cook on a medium heat. Stir from time to time but the idea is for the tomatoes to retain their shape so stir around them with a wooden spoon. After another 20 mins add a small glass of water and a tiny sprinkle of bouillon. Add the drained and rinsed tin of chickpeas along with the chopped parsley or basil. Add more water to get the consistency you want – it can be as soupy as you like, maybe just add a little more bouillon in which case. Cook for another 5 mins or so and it should be done. Serve with olive oil for drizzling and some nice fresh bread to mop up the broth.

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  • If you have used dried chickpeas (so soaked overnight, drained and rinsed, then cooked for an hour in fresh water), use some of the cooking water in place of stock and also add the cooked chickpeas as above.
  • If having fish, either pan fry or bake. To pan fry – salt and dust the cod fillets with a little flour, heat some sunflower oil in a pan to a high heat, place skin side down and don’t touch for 2-3 mins, gently turn over add a squeeze of lemon and fry for another 2-3 mins. The fish should be ready and serve on top of the chickpea, fennel broth with a slice of lemon. To bake – place some of the chickpea, tomato and fennel broth into a casserole and place the fish fillets on top. Drizzle the fish with olive oil, coarse sea salt and a squeeze of lemon. Put in a pre-heated oven for 10 mins – you will need to judge the cooking according to your oven and the size of the fish – when done the fish should be flaky and slightly translucent.

Here is a picture of my mum and Lexie enjoying my mother-in-law’s beautiful garden last summer.

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Leo and Lexie eat pesto – it is a success

Sarah is one of my oldest friends. We met at secondary school but lost touch during our early 20s. By chance we both moved to Waterloo and bumped into each other in Borough market. Our kids are 5 months apart and it was so brilliant living by such a good friend during pregnancy and that difficult first year! I was very sad when Sarah and little Leo left us to move to a humongous house in West London 😦 Thankfully there is a speedy train between us so meeting up is not impossible (it’s still not the same Sarah!! We miss you!!).

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Leo and Lexie have a special relationship. It’s safe to say I consider him to be my future son-in-law (although he has a lot of competition from Albert… and Louie…). Apologies in advance for the photo overload – these two are just too cute. Most of the photos are from Lexie’s second birthday party which was loosely themed ‘Confetti and Cake!’

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Leo now has a baby brother Charlie, in those pics above Sarah is heavily pregnant! The other week we hopped on the train and went to visit this little family. Sarah prepared the most delicious pasta pesto using a recipe she adapted from the Eagle gastropub’s cookbook reducing the garlic and salt. I was secretly hoping the kids wouldn’t finish theirs so I could have more but they scoffed the lot! They also tried to feed the baby pasta which they found hilarious!

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Sarah kindly gave me her recipe and here it is. This is great to make with kids if you have a food processor. Lexie absolutely loved helping me – all she had to do was press the scary button on the magimix which terrified her at first and then became such a big thrill!

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Sarah’s pasta with pesto

  • A large bunch of fresh basil
  • 45 g approx of pine nuts
  • 2 1/2 heaped tbsp of grated parmesan
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled (or even 1/2 garlic clove)
  • Salt – Sarah left this out for the kiddies
  • 100ml olive oil
  • Pasta

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Either chop the basil, pine nuts and garlic by hand then pound in a pestle and mortar, or pulse in a food processor. Then slowly add the oil either by hand or in the processor still. Finally stir in the grated cheese by hand. Season to taste with salt if using. Cook the pasta as per the packet instructions and – importantly – when draining do it very quickly so a little of the pasta water is retained. This will help loosen up the pesto sauce. Add 2 tbsp of pesto per 200g of pasta or to taste, mix well and serve with extra parmesan. I only mixed a tiny bit of sauce for Lexie as it has raw garlic which is hard to digest. Err on the side of caution if serving to little ones.

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  • An even simpler ‘cheat’ pesto that is ideal for little ones is pasta with a little olive oil and lots of chopped basil and grated parmesan – tastes very similar and is lighter on little tummies.