Asparagus (or courgette or pea) carbonara

I’m rushing to get all my asparagus recipes written up. The ‘asparagus’ collection if you will. Here’s a tasty carbonara that’s lovely with asparagus but also good with courgettes or peas. Lexie likes cracking eggs so this is a good recipe to make with her, although Finn is too little to have raw egg.

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I usually make this with penne or spaghetti but recently have made it for Lexie using my favourite kids pasta Stellette, little stars that cook in 5 minutes and are suitable for baby Finn to eat. Chifferi rigati which is like mini macaroni also cooks in 5 mins.

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Asparagus carbonara

  • 2 egg yolks
  • bunch of trimmed and washed asparagus, sliced into 5mm rounds, or peas, or sliced courgette
  • 75ml double cream
  • 30g grated parmesan, plus more to serve
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • a sprigs worth of fresh thyme leaves, chopped
  • 2 crushed garlic cloves
  • handful of chopped fresh parsley
  • pasta (roughly 250g)

Blanch the asparagus for a minute or two, drain and set aside. Heat a little oil in a pan and fry the bacon with the thyme leaves so it’s nice and crispy. Just before it’s done add the garlic and asparagus. Mix the egg yolks with the cream and parmesan and season with salt and pepper. Cook the pasta and when cooked and drained, add to the bacon mix. Finally stir in the egg mixture off the heat and serve quickly, ideally on warmed plates if for grown ups, with extra parmesan.

10 min vegetable stir fry

I’d love some more noodle and stir fry recipes that don’t just taste of soy sauce. I’ve got two staples – a yummy cold rice noodle salad with chicken, lettuce and coriander (I’ll post this soon as it makes a great packed lunch), and a 10 min stir fry which is also tasty but does taste quite a bit of soy sauce.

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More importantly, Lexie loves it and will eat up a whole rainbow of vegetables when we have it. You can make this with any veg you want and, as most kids are very happy with lots of rice and a few slivers of each veg, a little goes a long way. It would also be easy to add meat to this. I’ve added a variation at the end with a simple marinade for beef, pork or chicken that works well.

10 min vegetable stir fry

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 5 mins with noodles, 10 mins with rice
Budget: Usually less than £5
Ease: Easy
Serves: 2
Ingredients:

  • 1/2 red pepper, sliced
  • 1/2 yellow pepper sliced
  • 1/2 courgette, sliced
  • 2 sliced mushrooms
  • 1/2 sliced carrot – in rounds or slivers
  • 2 or 3 tbsp sunflower oil (or groundnut/peanut but not olive oil)
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 knob of ginger, peeled and grated
  • 2 or 3 tbsp soy sauce (we use reduced salt soy sauce for Lexie)
  • A little chicken stock (fresh or from good quality stock cube) or water
  • Sherry (optional and I usually leave this out)
  • Chopped coriander (optional)

Heat the sunflower oil to quite a high heat in the pan and add the garlic and ginger. Sizzle for a few seconds then add the veg. Cook on a high heat for 30 seconds, turning the veg lightly with a spatula. (I usually add all the veg at the same time but the rule of thumb is to add veg in the order of hardness. So add veg like carrot and broccoli first for 30 seconds – 1 minute (you can parboil for a minute first but I don’t), then peppers/courgettes/onions for another 30 seconds, followed lastly by mushrooms.)

Then add a splash of sherry if using. Sizzle this down then add a splash of soy sauce. If not using sherry just go straight to adding the soy sauce. Cook for a minute and the sauce will also reduce and when it does add a little chicken stock or water to make it all more saucey. Keep cooking the veg for a couple more minutes – approx 2 mins for an authentic stir fry (veggies with a bit of bite) but it doesn’t matter if it cooks for longer and is soft. Once you’re happy with the veg, turn the heat off and add the coriander. That’s it! Serve with rice or noodles.

  • Meat marinade: Mix 2-3 tbsp groundnut oil, 2-3 tbps soy sauce, 1 tbsp honey, 1 minced garlic clove, a knob of peeled and grated ginger. Add thin strips of either chicken, pork or beef to the mixture and marinade, covered, for 30 mins. Stir fry the meat before the veg for about 3 minutes (or until done to your taste), then set aside to rest while you fry the veg in the same pan, adding a little more oil, garlic and ginger before the veg.

In other news all three of us have had a haircut! We’re off to the Basque country for a holiday and to celebrate my mum’s 80th birthday with her family. So we wanted to look respectable. Lexie absolutely loved having her hair cut. It was the first time she had a blow dry and she remembered she’d get a sticker and gold coin too! For some reason my bump looks quite small, but it isn’t! Definitely feel like I’m almost in the 3rd trimester!

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Bel’s orange French toast

Actually this is Nigella’s French toast but the first time I had this was at my friend Bel’s brunch, so in my eyes it’s her recipe! I’m not the hugest fan of French toast, preferring pancakes or croissants, but I really love this version. There is something utterly amazing about the orangey syrup you drizzle over the toast. Something also utterly unkidfriendly – neither of our kids would touch it. Leaving the syrup off and offering the kids sugar to sprinkle proved more popular but I’m kind of thinking this recipe would be perfect for a kids-free girls brunch with a bottle of bubbles! Pic below is of lovely Bel – thank you for the recipe honey!!

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Bel’s orange french toast

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 5 mins per batch
Serves 2
Ease: Easy
Budget: £5 (£1.25 bread, £2 marmalade, £1.50 eggs, 30p orange)
Ingredients:

  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • Grated zest of 1 orange
  • 60 ml milk
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 large, thick slices white bread
  • Juice of 1 orange
  • 75 grams marmalade
  • 50 grams caster sugar
  • Butter

Mix the eggs, orange zest, milk and ground cinnamon in a wide shallow dish. Then soak the bread slices in this mixture for roughly 2 minutes per side. Meanwhile, bring the orange juice, marmalade and sugar to the boil in a saucepan then simmer for 3-4 minutes. Heat the butter in a frying pan and cook the eggy bread for about 2 minutes a side over a medium heat until golden. Serve the French toast with some of the orangey syrup poured over each slice, and some extra syrup on the side. If trying this for kids, leave the syrup off and offer sugar to sprinkle instead.

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Instead of eating brunch Lexie dressed Arlo in a tutu.

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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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.

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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“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!

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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.

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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.

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(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.

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