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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Chocolate mousse

My favourite restaurant in Paris is called Le Square Trousseau. It’s so beautiful. The original zinc bar has featured in lots of movies and the food is classic and incredible – garlic snails, steak and chips, steak tartare, confit duck, lemon sole – as are the wines (Drappier champagne, Morgon reds). They always have an ‘all you can eat’ chocolate mousse on the dessert list which sounds quite naff but is so divine! You get a huge bowl of chocolate mousse to share regardless of the size of your group and you pay for what you eat – it’s heavenly.

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After a particularly stressful evening trying to get our daughter to sleep Lewis surprised me with a tray of chocolate mousses. He’d made them as I’d been trying to settle her. Amazing! And totally delicious (although I had to wait for them to chill before I got to eat them!). He adapted Simon Hopkinson recipe from the gloriously retro ‘The Prawn Cocktail Years’. We now leave out the rum and coffee – I ate one and found it impossible to sleep so… This also proved to be the perfect dessert for my celebratory birthday dinner with old school friends I rarely see without children!

(Quick note: I’m keen to try this chocolate mousse recipe – maybe without the salted caramel – when I do I’ll update this post and compare.)

Chocolate mousse (serves 4)

Prep time: 20 mins
Cooking time: 6 hours or overnight in the fridge to set

  • 200g good quality dark chocolate
  • 4 tbsp water (or 3 tbps expresso coffee and 1 1/2 tbps rum)
  • 25g butter
  • 3 large eggs – separated

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Break the chocolate into bits and place in a bowl with the butter and water. Suspend bowl (as in not in contact with) over a pan of simmering water. Let the ingredients melt stirring gently from time to time.

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Once melted remove the bowl from the pan and stir the egg yolks in one by one. Beat the egg whites until they are fluffy. Take 2 tbpn of egg white and fold into the chocolate mixture. Then fold the rest of the egg white in with a metal spoon until it’s completely mixed.

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Pour the mixture into little ramekins or glasses, cover with cling film and leave in fridge to chill for 6 hours or overnight.

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Butternut squash and feta salad

This is one of my staple salads. It’s a kids meal from Jane Clarke’s Yummy Baby book but I often make it if I have more than 3 people to feed because it’s delicious, cheap and really easy to make so I don’t get neurotic (I’m not a great host). Ironically it’s not Lexie’s favourite – she’s not into squash or sweet potato – but everyone else loves it and always asks for the recipe.

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It’s nice with sausages but today I’m serving it with lamb chops for a lunch with my mum and her best friend. It’s lovely as a warm salad using the squash straight from the oven but equally delicious served cold so you can roast the squash in advance and keep in the fridge till you need it. I’ve never made it with toasted nuts/seeds or bacon but I think both would be a great addition.

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Butternut squash and feta salad

Prep time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 45mins – 1 hour (to cook the squash, takes 5-10 minutes to put the salad together)

  • 1 butternut squash cut lengthways in half
  • Olive oil
  • Feta cheese (or goats cheese is nice too and what I used in the pics)
  • Spring onions
  • Lemon
  • Salad – spinach, rocket, watercress is nice (I used watercress in the pics
  • Salt and pepper (optional)
  • Toasted hazelnuts or pumpkin seeds (optional)
  • Chopped, fried streaky bacon (optional)

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Preheat the oven to 200 degrees or gas mark 6. Drizzle olive oil over the halves of squash.

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Put in the oven for 40mins – 1 hour depending on size. Do check the squash and adjust the temperature accordingly. Once it’s done either wait for it to cool, cover and keep in the fridge till you need it. Or remove the skin and seeds and chop the flesh into chunks.

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Slice the spring onions and cut the feta into chunks. Put the salad in a bowl and add the spring onions, feta and squash chunks. Dress with olive oil and fresh lemon juice to taste and season with salt and pepper if you want. Then if you are using them add the nuts/seeds/bacon to garnish (not used in the pics).

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