Banana and chocolate cake

I’m on a hunt for a good banana bread recipe. I’ve tried a couple of recipes and none are quite hitting the mark. This one is totally delicious straight out of the oven but it’s definitely more of a cake than a ‘bread’. It was wonderful for a little afternoon tea but the next day I found it too moist. You should be able to spread banana bread with butter!!

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It’s based on a Nigel Slater recipe we changed because we didn’t have the right sugar and I couldn’t be bothered to grate the chocolate. I should add Lexie loved this cake – both making and eating it! She was great at mashing the bananas with a fork, cracking open the eggs and helping me break the chocolate (i.e. trying to eat as much of it as possible).

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Banana and chocolate cake

  • 250g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 125g soft butter
  • 235g brown sugar (we used demerara which is pretty crunchy but it was tasty!)
  • 400g peeled weight of ripe bananas
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • loaf tin, 24 x 12 x 7, lined with baking paper
  • 1 big bar of milk chocolate

Preheat the oven 180/gas 4. Cream together the sugar and butter. Beat the eggs and add the vanilla extract then add this to the sugar/butter mix.

On a plate mash the bananas with a fork so they are still a bit lumpy. Break the chocolate into large chunks and mix into the banana. Add all of this to the sugar/egg mixture.

Mix the flour and baking powder then slowly sift and fold this into the mixture. Pour the mixture into the baking tin and bake in the oven for about 50 mins. Use a knife or a strand of spaghetti to check it’s done by skewering the middle of the cake – it should come out clean. If it’s still gooey, cover with foil and bake for a few more mins.

Once it’s done let it cool for 15 mins then remove from the tin. Let it to cool a little longer then remove from the paper and serve in thick slices.

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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.

Elderflowers and roses

There are roses everywhere. Varying hues in all the back gardens – deep reds, yellows and peach in ours, a vibrant fuchsia next door. Delicate white and pink blooms climb up the gates of the old church in the square. Given we don’t venture far right now, these new flowers make our daily walks all the prettier as we literally stop to smell the roses.

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On Saturday morning we were forced out of the house by Lexie who was doing acrobatics at 7am. We went on a little nature trail to see the aforementioned roses and find ‘treasure’…. a cat or squirrel, perhaps a puddle… (here are some pretty nature trail free print outs). I was beyond happy to discover a huge clump of fragrant elderflowers at the end of the square.

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Back home we roped dad into making elderflower cordial. Lexie proved herself most adept at this task and she particularly enjoyed pulling off any little bugs. We tried a River Cottage recipe and found it to be lovely. Here’s what they recommend: “The sweetly scented, creamy-white flowers of the elder tree appear in abundance in hedgerows, scrub, woodlands and wasteland at the beginning of summer. The fresh flowers make a terrific aromatic cordial. They are best gathered just as the many tiny buds are beginning to open, and some are still closed. Gather on a warm, dry day (never when wet), checking the perfume is fresh and pleasing. Trees do differ and you will soon get to know the good ones. Remember to leave some flowers for elderberry picking later in the year.”

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Elderflower cordial

For about 2 litres

  • About 25 elderflower heads
  • Finely grated zest of 3 unwaxed lemons and 1 orange, plus their juice (about 150ml in total)
  • 1kg sugar
  • 1 heaped tsp citric acid (optional)

Check the elderflower heads removing any insects and put the flower heads in a large bowl with the orange and lemon zest.

Pour 1.5 litres of boiling water over the elderflowers and citrus zest. Cover and leave to infuse overnight.

Strain the liquid through a piece of muslin and pour into a saucepan. Add the sugar, the lemon and orange juice and the citric acid if using. Gently heat and dissolve the sugar and simmer for a few minutes.

Use a funnel to pour the hot syrup into sterilised bottles. We sterilised by pouring boiling water into Kilner bottles, draining then leaving to air dry but we plan to drink the cordial quickly. Seal the bottles with swing-top lids, sterilised screw-tops or corks.

Here’s how to make the Twinkle, a great elderflower cocktail: Put 25ml vodka (or gin) and 15ml elderflower cordial in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake then pour into a champagne coupe and top up with fizz. Garnish with a strip of lemon peel.

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Lemon raspberry cupcakes

This recipe comes from Lewis’s cousin Laura. It’s originally meant to be crunchy lemon squares but she always makes it as a lemon drizzle cake. It’s so delicious I’ve made it for Lexie’s birthday 2 years in a row, although using a lemon buttercream icing instead of the drizzle for the purpose of adding sprinkles!

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We recently tried it as cupcakes for a pretty little picnic in the garden, taking advantage of the cherry blossom that was in full bloom. The addition of raspberries was a Lexie request that worked really well. The garden is proving to be a godsend for me given sleep is still broken and Lexie’s energy levels are high. Our favourite new game involves me lying on a rug with Finny and counting while Lex runs laps around the garden (ha ha ha exhausted mum)! We also like watching all the musicians come and go (the old church is now an orchestra rehearsal studio) or meeting up with Lexie’s little friends who also live on the square.

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Here I’ve written down the recipe for a standard cake with the lemon drizzle, adding raspberries because they were delicious. It’s very easy to change to make cupcakes, just divide the mixture into cupcake or muffin liners and adjust the cooking time. The lemon buttercream recipe is at the end in case you’d rather use that icing instead of the drizzle.

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Lemon drizzle cupcakes with raspberries

  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 4oz butter, cubed
  • 6oz self raising flour
  • 1 tspn baking powder
  • 6oz caster sugar
  • 4 tbsps lemon/orange juice
  • rind 1 lemon & 1 orange
  • handful of raspberries

Lemon drizzle icing

  • Juice 2 lemons
  • 4oz granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 180c. Cream together the butter and sugar until soft and fluffy using a wooden spoon. Then add the eggs, lemon/orange juice and rind. Sift together the flour and baking powder and mix this into the bowl.

Grease and line bottom of oblong tin 7”x9”” (as per original recipe) or a round tin 8″ (200mm) if making a cake. Or put cupcake/muffin liners in a muffin tray – we prefer muffin liners to make bigger cupcakes!

Dollop the mixture into the tin or cupcake liners – if making cupcakes fill the liners half full as they rise a lot. Sprinkle fresh raspberries over the top and lightly push into the mixture.

Bake in the centre of the oven at 180c. If making a cake bake for 30 mins (less if fan oven) until golden brown, springy and slightly shrunk from edges. If making cupcakes check them after 15 minutes, ours took just under 20 mins and were starting to burn!

To make the drizzle, mix the lemon juice and sugar in a saucepan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Then pour over the cake while the sponge is still hot. If making cupcakes you only need a tablespoon of drizzle per cupcake, maybe even less. Leave until cold and then enjoy!

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If using lemon buttercream icing instead of the drizzle

  • 125g soft butter
  • 250g icing sugar
  • juice 1 lemon

Put the butter and half of the icing sugar into a bowl, and beat with an electric whisk until evenly combined and smooth. Add the lemon juice and the remaining icing sugar, and beat again until light and fluffy. Dollop on top of the cooled cake or cupcakes and decorate with sprinkles!

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Fluffy pancakes

I’ve mentioned before we’ve started baking a lot with Lexie, especially at the weekends. What with PANCAKE DAY around the corner I thought I’d post one of our pancake recipes. Lewis is the master of crepes, while I usually do ‘fluffy pancakes’, her name for fat american style pancakes. Here’s how to make them. (Sorry for the massive pictures – not sure how to fix this)

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Fluffy pancakes

  • 350 g of flour
  • 80 g of sugar (or 100 g if you want them sweeter)
  • 2½  teaspoon of baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 500 ml buttermilk (make this by adding 2 tbsp of lemon juice to the milk and leaving to stand for 10 mins)
  • 2 big eggs
  • 50 g of melted butter
  • 1 packet of fresh blueberries – optional

This recipe comes from Babyccino Kids. We’ve tried lots of other recipes but this one has always worked best for us.

Mix the dry ingredients – the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, sugar and salt. Then in another bowl bowl mix the wet ingredients – the buttermilk, eggs and melted butter.

Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and stir until it is just combined, don’t over stir. If using, add the blueberries. Definitely let the batter sit for 10-15 mins – this makes a huge difference.

Melt a little butter in a frying pan that is on a medium heat. When it’s hot pour in a ladle of batter. Wait until little bubbles have started appearing in the pancake and then flip over, a couple of mins per side.

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For toppings we usually have:

  • If plain pancakes – streaky bacon and maple syrup
  • If blueberry pancakes – extra chopped banana and maple syrup
  • A mix of fresh berries and creme fraiche or yoghurt, drizzled with agave syrup or maple syrup. Or vanilla ice cream for a special treat!
  • Berry compote – cherry or blackberry are particularly good – with creme fraiche or yoghurt. (I prefer this topping on crepes).

A quick berry compote

A punnet of berries – any you like – I recently did blackberries
2 tbps caster sugar (to taste)
1 tbsp water
Squeeze of lemon

Put everything in a saucepan and bubble on a low heat until the berries are bursting. Taste the compote for sweetness, I like mine quite sweet but you can adjust the sugar to suit your taste.

A note about syrups

Although maple syrup is classically used for american pancakes you can replace with agave syrup or honey or even sugar if you prefer. According to Gwyneth Paltrow agave syrup is “super low on the glycaemic index and has lots of minerals including potassium, magnesium, iron and calcium.” Vermont maple syrup is also low on the glycaemic index and is “a great source of manganese and zinc.” There you go!

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Blueberry muffins

I’m so proud of Lexie who is proving to be a super star big sister. All our worries about how she would react to Finn’s arrival disappeared the moment they met, she was completely delighted to meet him. And this remains the case. She shrieks with laughter at the smallest things he does, loves being next to him, and shouts at anyone who tries to hold him: “Don’t touch MY brother!!!”

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We had a few weeks of wild behaviour from her which seems to have stopped and generally she’s a very energetic bundle of delight. Even at her best, it’s challenging spending long periods of time at home so it’s always nice to have some fun activities up my sleeve to keep us both from going bonkers. She’s really into baking at the moment, cookies or cupcakes which gives us something to do before her bath these long winter afternoons. For breakfast on the weekend she makes crepes with her dad and fluffy pancakes or blueberry muffins with me.

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Here is our go-to recipe for foolproof blueberry muffins, taken from Gwyneth Paltrow’s first cook book, which isn’t macrobiotic and has some fantastic recipes, although it’s still full of ridiculous quotes, such as this one by her young daughter Apple: “I’m not gluten-free, but I really like gluten-free food!” ?!? Lexie really likes sorting the cupcake liners and putting them into the tray, breaking eggs which she does on her own, stirring the batter and, of course, licking the spoon!

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Blueberry muffins

Prep: 10 mins
Cook: 30 mins
Serves: 4

  • 125g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 2 eggs
  • 125ml milk
  • 225g plain flour
  • 175g plus 1 tsp granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 300g fresh blueberries

Preheat the oven to 190/gas 5 and line a cupcake or muffin tray with paper cases.

Mix together the dry ingredients, so the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. In another bowl mix the wet ingredients, the butter, eggs and milk.

Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and then fold in the blueberries. Spoon the mixture into the paper cases and sprinkle the extra tsp of sugar on top to give a crunchy glaze.

Pop in the oven and bake until the muffins are golden brown, around 25-30 mins. If you want you can test them with a cocktail stick, they are done when it comes out clean. Leave for 10 mins and eat with some lovely fresh coffee! Or with a crying baby!

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Butternut squash and pumpkin soup with a thyme and taleggio tart

Argh I’m drowning in a sea of recipes I keep meaning to post here. There are recipes from the summer in my backlog!! Really nice recipes like roast sea bream with salsa verde or an indian chickpea curry we had for the first time in Scotland back in June. Also our favourite blueberry muffins, a windfall apple cake and the fish curry Lewis makes for the whole family every year in France. But alas! The mood to write, she is not there as Hercule Poirot, for whom I always have time, might or might not say.

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To start, here is a recipe for butternut squash and pumpkin soup. Very ‘in’ right now, I’m sure you’ll agree, seeing as it’s proper autumn with the damp and the rain and the leaves. We are greatly enjoying stomping through the leaves this year. The pic above is Lexie posting her birthday party invites, although I had to tell her they were birthday cards for her friends. She wants to keep all her precious Peppa Pig invites for herself and also wants to do the pinata on her own!! This is an easy soup and Lexie loved it when she was weaning onto solids. I’d make it super thick and she’d feed herself (also I never did this but you could easily freeze this into ice cubes for quick baby meals). Now Lexie hates butternut squash so has to be coaxed into having a couple of mouthfuls, or dabbing her cheese toastie in the soup.

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A blob of gorgonzola or another blue cheese is heavenly in this soup and I keep meaning to fry a little pancetta to add on top. A dash of cayenne pepper/chilli powder, a swirl of creme fraiche and some chopped coriander works well too. This recipe is also a good way to make pumpkin taste nice (pumpkin really isn’t that nice on it’s own). Definitely roast the squash first for a richer, more flavourful soup. The pic above is the first time Lexie saw a pumpkin and the other pic is of her helping me buy lots of squash and pumpkins last year – little cutie pie!

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Because I’ve been making this soup for years and find it a bit boring I thought I’d add the recipe for a delicious thyme and taleggio tart. I can’t remember when Lewis first made this for me. It was definitely in the early years of our ‘long term relationship’ (that’s an ‘in’ joke) and it’s a staple from his family. It’s sooo easy and sooo good, a pimped puff pastry job – do try this! Using the same principles you can make a variety of tasty tarts – some that I’ve tried include cherry tomato, basil and goats cheese, very nice. Also a butternut squash and feta tart, a variation of this salad. 

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Finally we’ve gone a bit nuts for autumny crafts in our house now that Lexie is almost 3 and actually a joy to do crafts with (as opposed to when she was 2 when really all I should have done every day was build a massive tower of soft bricks, give her a Timmy Mallet style mallet and set her loose to destroy!). We’ve got leaf ghosts, egg carton spiders and bats, hedgehogs made out of paper plates or conkers, fingerprint or popcorn trees, I could go on.

Butternut squash and pumpkin soup

Prep: 5-10 mins
Cook: 20-30 mins
Budget: Less than £5 (£1.50 butternut squash, £1 pumpkin, £1 parsley)
Ease: Easy
Serves: 2 – 4 depending on portion size Ingredients:

  • A butternut squash and a pumpkin, halved
  • 1 sliced onion
  • Chicken stock
  • Chopped parsley
  • Olive oil and butter
  • Salt and pepper

Roast the squash in pieces (skin on) drizzled in olive oil and sea salt. Try to roast it for at least an hour, until it is all soft and squoodgy.

Gently fry the onion in the olive oil and a little butter for 10 mins. When the onion is soft add the peeled and deseeded butternut squash/pumpkin and cover with stock – as much as you want depending on if you want a thin or thick soup.

Bring to the boil then simmer for 15 mins. Use a juzzer thingimibob to puree the soup et voila, presto, listo, done.

This soup is lovely with a nice cheese toastie or served with a good cheese plate. We often have it with comte cheese.

Thyme and taleggio tart

Prep: 5 mins
Cook: 20-40 mins
Budget: £6 (£3 taleggio, £1 thyme, £1.50 puff pastry)
Ease: Easy
Serves: 4-6 depending on portion size

  • 1 sheet of bought puff pastry
  • 2 onions
  • Lots of butter
  • A few sprigs of fresh thyme
  • Taleggio cheese

Preheat the oven to 200-220c and roll the puff pastry out onto a greased baking tray or a tray lined with greaseproof paper. Score the edges about 2cm apart to make a border (I never do this and it’s always fine, just leave a bit of a border if you want).

In a separate pan, gently fry the onion in lots of butter until soft and translucent, at least 10 mins of frying and don’t let it brown. When the onion is done spread it over the puff pastry and dob pieces of the taleggio on top.

Finally sprinkle the thyme sprigs all over the tart. Lots of thyme is good. Brush the pastry border with a little melted butter (again I never do this and it’s fine without), pop in the oven, and bake for about 20-30 minutes until the pastry is puffed and golden. You can turn the heat up if you want it to cook quicker/be more golden.