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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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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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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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

Veal saltimbocca

Here is the recipe for veal saltimbocca I made a few nights ago. ‘Saltimbocca’ means ‘jump into the mouth’ and given how tired I am right now I’d be so grateful if my food did just cook itself, jump into my mouth and then wash up after thanks! I talked about the inspiration behind this recipe here and got the veal from the Ginger Pig so it was top quality and ethical. We only tend to buy one cut of meat a week which makes it easier to justify the expense of a good quality butcher.

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A while ago we went through a veal milanese phase (breaded veal escalope) but decided we prefer chicken milanese because it tastes nicer. I’m so happy to discover a new way to cook veal that suits better it’s luxurious taste and tender texture. A huge thank you to Mimi Thorisson for the recipe! Lexie loved her ‘maybe tiny little’ (her words) piece she had with mushroom tagliatelle. We had ours with roast potatoes and mushrooms. I think next time I’ll make extra sauce and serve the saltimbocca with rice, a green salad and some lemon wedges.

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Veal saltimbocca

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 10-15 mins
Budget: £10-15 (veal £7, ham £3, sage £1.50)

  • Very thin veal escalopes (ask the butcher to batter them for you)
  • Flour for dusting
  • A slice of prosciutto or parma ham per escalope
  • Fresh sage leaves
  • 4 or 5 tbsp good quality stock – veal or beef or chicken – try and use real stock. I love my stock cubes but they don’t work well for this sauce
  • Butter
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 glass white wine

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Preheat the oven to 180/gas mark 4. Dust the escalopes with flour. Add a generous amount of butter and olive oil to a fry pan and heat until sizzling. Fry the veal for 15 seconds on both sides then season and add some sage leaves. Pour in the wine and cook for 2 more minutes. Then remove the veal and put into a baking tray. Add the stock to the frying pan, mix and cook for 3 minutes. Place a slice of prosciutto on each escalope, pour the sauce on top, add a few more sage leaves and bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes.

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Baked porcini mushrooms

As I said the other day, all this wet weather is making me fancy mushrooms – mainly on toast (fried in olive oil with garlic and parsley, maybe a splash of wine) or on pasta. Since I’m in London and can’t go foraging with my family in a Basque forest the next best thing is of course Borough market which luckily we live right by. I wanted to try something different from the usual suspects (chestnut and button mushrooms). I also wanted to do a non-pasta dish!

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I decided to make this baked porcini River cafe recipe because it sounded delicious and very easy. We had it with veal saltimbocca and rosemary, garlic and lemon roast potatoes. It’s lovely but next time I might try it with balsamic instead of lemon for a bit of sweetness. It’s definitely a starter/side dish not a main!!

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Baked porcini mushrooms

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 8 – 15 mins
Budget: £5 – £10 depending on cost of mushrooms (Salad £1.99, pancetta £3, mushrooms £2, herbs £1.50, lemon 30p)

  • Porcini mushrooms (in pics used portobello)
  • Pancetta cubed
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • Sticks of thyme
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Rocket salad or similar
  • Lemon (or balsamic vinegar)

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Preheat the oven to 180/gas mark 4. Clean your mushrooms by cutting off the end of the stalk and wiping with a kitchen towel or old toothbrush (here are more tips on how to cook and clean mushrooms – don’t wash them!! Makes them soggy!). Put the mushrooms in a baking tray, stalk side up, and drizzle with oil. Stick the thyme into the stalk and sprinkle the cubed pancetta and garlic on top of the mushroom. Pop in the oven for 8-15 mins. Once done serve whole or sliced on rocket salad (or ‘a bed of leaves’ if you prefer…). Season and drizzle with extra olive oil and either lemon juice or balsamic vinegar.

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Rosemary, garlic and lemon roast potatoes

The heavenly scent of the lemon, garlic and rosemary roasting in the oven is exactly what’s called for when it never ever stops raining. So far this month only making Vietnamese crunchy salad has been this fragrant and uplifting (oodles of chopped mint and coriander). We also had a very fun secret mission to cut the rosemary from the big garden.

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This recipe is by my current obsession: Mimi Thorisson’s Manger website. Mimi lives in the Medoc, France with her Icelandic photographer husband, 4 children and numerous dogs. She is French and Chinese and her recipes are delicious. I’m very very happy she has a cook book and TV series coming out this year. I cannot recommend her highly enough.

We had the potatoes with veal saltimbocca and a baked porcini salad. ‘Saltimbocca’ means ‘jump into your mouth’ which seemed apt since we didn’t get to eat until 10pm and were practically lying on the floor with exhaustion – at least the food could ‘jump’ to us. Though the potatoes looked beautiful and crunchy I found them a little heavy. We had an olive oil emergency so had to use an untried oil from the local shop. It was too rich for roasting I think so I want to make these potatoes again, either with a lighter olive oil and less time parboiling or with sunflower oil.

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Rosemary garlic and lemon roast potatoes

Prep time: 5-10 mins
Cooking time: 1 hour
Budget: under £5 (potatoes £1, lemon 30p)

  • Potatoes suited to roasting (maris piper, desiree)
  • Rosemary – leaves picked and chopped
  • 4 cloves peeled garlic
  • Rind of 1 lemon
  • Salt and pepper
  • Light olive oil (or sunflower oil)

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Preheat the oven to 200/gas mark 6. Peel and parboil the potatoes for 10 minutes. We usually parboil for longer then drain and shake the potatoes around so they get smoodgi. I wouldn’t recommend doing that for this recipe unless using sunflower oil which crisps up better. Put the potatoes, rosemary, garlic and lemon in a baking tray and drizzle with oil. Roast until golden for around 40mins-1hour. Lewis recommends wiping up any excess oil from the baking tray with kitchen towel.

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