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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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.

Baked rhubarb with orange and ginger

Rhubarb isn’t very Spanish and I was in my 20s the first time I had it. I think it was my mother-in-law who made me the most delicious rhubarb fool served with sable biscuits. This recipe is also hers – dreamy rhubarb baked with orange and ginger and served with vanilla ice cream. The perfect desert after a long Sunday lunch!

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Baked rhubarb with orange and ginger

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 20-30 mins in the oven or 15 mins on the hob
Budget: £5-10 (£3 rhubarb, 50p orange, £4 ice cream)
Ease: easy
Serves 4

  • 1 bunch of rhubarb, ends trimmed
  • Zest and juice of 1 orange
  • A few chunks of peeled ginger
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • Vanilla ice cream

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Put the chopped rhubarb into a baking tray with the sugar, ginger and orange. Cover with foil and bake at 180 for 20-30 mins. Or you can cook covered on the hob for 10-15 mins. When it’s done the rhubarb should be all fluffy with a gorgeous red syrup. Remove the ginger and serve hot with scoops of vanilla ice cream!

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Basque piperade with eggs

There are so many nights when I still don’t know what to make us for dinner. Yesterday was another day where the fridge was bare and it was too late to pop to the shops. The only fresh ingredients I had were eggs and some peppers.

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Omelettes never feel very substantial and scrambled eggs on toast I reserve for when I’m completely out of time. Egg fried rice was an option but I kept thinking about a recipe for baked eggs with tomato and chilli my friend Dani recommended. I didn’t have chilli but was reminded of Basque piperade – a tomato sauce with peppers – that I did have the ingredients for.

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Piperade goes with lots of things – cod, chicken – but in our family we always had it with rice and fried eggs. My mum made this for me a lot growing up but I associate it more with my aunty Consuelo, herself a mother of 5. My mother Carmen, Consuelo and their little sister Feli were known as the Brigitte Bardot sisters such was the resemblance – three blonde bombshells! (See the pic above – my mum is in stripes with Consuelo behind her – I need to find some more pics of them!). They are wonderful cooks, even now they are in their 80s with arthritis ravaged fingers, the food they produce is incredible (I’ve a vivid memory of watching my aunty last year expertly joint a chicken with a machete and she still pulls off a 6 course Christmas dinner for 15!!).

This is a tasty recipe that’s quick and easy to make and very cheap. I’ve used my mum’s recipe with no paprika or pimenton (spicy paprika) because we don’t really like the smoky taste. I’ve asked my cousin to send me my aunty’s version which I’ll add here when it arrives and another time I’ll share a very similar recipe for courgette or marrow that is just wonderful. Lexie loved it – she loooves fried eggs so much so anything that is a vehicle for them goes down well with her.

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Basque piperade with eggs

Serves 4
Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 20-30 mins
Budget: £5 (£1.80 eggs, £1.50 peppers, £1.50 parsley)
Ease: easy

  • 1 or 2 tins of whole plum tomatoes
  • 1 white onion peeled and chopped
  • 1 clove of chopped garlic
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp tomato puree
  • 1 tsp white sugar
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Handful of fresh chopped parsley
  • 1 red pepper, deseeded and sliced
  • 1 green pepper, deseeded and sliced
  • Rice
  • 4 eggs
  • A little sunflower oil – the amount you use to fry eggs, we use quite a lot

Put enough rice on to cook for 4 people. I use the cup method – one cup of rice to two cups of water, stir once, bring to the boil then cover and reduce the heat, leave simmering for 10 mins. Check the rice is done and if it is then turn the heat off and cover the saucepan with a clean tea towel with the pan lid on top to seal it tightly shut. My Spanish flatmate taught me this – apparently the tea towel helps absorb moisture. Even without a tea towel it’s good to let the rice rest off the heat for another 10 mins and it will sit happily for longer, steaming away making the rice all perfect. Another very Spanish way to cook rice is to fry a bit of chopped garlic in olive oil in the saucepan, then adding the dried rice and tossing it about in the oil before adding the water then cooking as above.

While the rice is cooking, heat a generous amount of olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan (i.e. Le Creuset). Add the onion and a little salt and fry gently for 10 mins. You can make a piperade with a sofrito base (slow cooked onion for ages) but traditionally all the veg is cooked quickly and retains a bit of bite which I prefer. Add the peppers and garlic then fry for another 5 mins. Then add 1 tin of tomatoes or 2 sieved tins of tomatoes according to preference (in Spain we always sieve tinned tomatoes), add the bay leaf, a pinch of salt and a tsp of sugar and bubble away for a few minutes. Bring the heat down to a simmer and cook for about 20 mins or until you are happy with the sauce. Add a little water or wine or stock if it’s drying out. 5 mins before you want to serve it add the fresh parsley.

Around the time you add the parsley start cooking your eggs. I can manage 2 at a time, no more than that so do batches – kids first for example so their meal can cool a little while you cook yours. Our method is to heat some sunflower oil to a high temperature (but not spitting) in a non-stick frying pan with one peeled garlic clove. Break the egg into the frying pan and reduce the heat immediately – it should sizzle when it hits the pan and the white should bubble up. Salt then fry until you are happy with it, baste with a bit of the oil if you like. Discard the garlic! It’s only there to flavour the oil.

To serve we’ve always put the rice and sauce separately on a plate with the fried egg on top and some fresh baguette or white bread to dip into the egg and mop up the delicious juices!

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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

Roast vegetables cous cous with goats cheese and pine nuts

This is one of my main staples. It’s not the most exciting recipe but it’s clean, tasty, nutritious and cheap. Lexie loves it and I would recommend this for kids with a warning: for toddlers and babies cous cous is messy and can go everywhere! I’ve definitely had cous cous dry spells where I can’t face cleaning up after her.

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It’s nice having this with the warm vegetables straight from the oven but it’s good cold too with a little balsamic vinegar. I usually roast a big tray once a week as the veg lasts well in the fridge. It takes around 5 mins to make this meal if you are using pre-roasted veg either cold or warmed slightly in the oven. If I’m not eating with Lexie, I’ll often have a roast veg snack with some cheese or ham to accompany her at the table and keep me going until my dinner. This is also a good recipe to shop for with kids – Lexie loves being told to fetch the different vegetables and practise her colours (RED pepper, GREEN courgette etc).
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Roast vegetables cous cous with goats cheese and pine nuts

Prep time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 1 1/2 hours
Budget: £5-10 (veg £5, goats cheese £1.50, pine nuts £2.80, herbs £1.50)

  • Red, yellow and green pepper chopped into chunks
  • Courgette chopped into chunks
  • Slices of aubergine
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Sweet potato peeled and chopped into chunks
  • Red onion sliced
  • 3 or 4 garlic cloves skin on
  • Herbs – rosemary, thyme and basil work well
  • Goats cheese
  • Pine nuts (leave these out for very small children)
  • Cous cous
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Balsamic vinegar – optional but recommended if having cold pre-roasted veg. It’s nice with warm veg too!

(You can roast any selection of veg you want – sometimes I add beetroot or fennel or miss things out if I don’t have them)

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Preheat the oven to 200/gas mark 6. Put all the chopped vegetables except the tomatoes in a baking tray with the sturdier herbs like thyme/rosemary. Season and drizzle with oil then roast for about 20 mins. Then stir and check the veg – if it looks very dry add some more oil or a little water. You may also need to adjust the heat (if things are turning black it’s too high!!). After another 20 mins or so add the tomatoes and any less sturdy herbs like basil/parsley. Adding the tomatoes later means they retain their shape but still release some needed juices. Roast for another 20-40 mins until the veg looks all yummy.

Just before the veg is done toast some pine nuts. Put them in a frying pan with no oil and fry gently for a few minutes – be careful they burn easily. Once toasted set aside. Cook the cous cous as per the packet instructions and when it’s ready season, drizzle with olive oil and fluff it up with a fork. Serve the roast veg on top of the cous cous with crumbled goats cheese and scattered pine nuts.

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Chocolate chip cookies

A few years ago I spent Christmas in the Basque country with my family. The main celebration is on Christmas Eve with everyone out in the bars, dressed in traditional Basque clothes. Male choirs walk around the town singing carols then everyone goes home around 10pm to start dinner. The food is incredible – jamon, foie gras, smoked salmon, asparagus, steak, turrones…

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Basque men

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The whole experience was amazing but I was heartsick as Lewis was home in London. One phone call to him made me particularly maudlin. It was Christmas Eve and he was looking after his dad’s dog and making chocolate chip cookies to give to his family as presents… awwww! Of course he made me the cookies upon my return and they’ve been a favourite ever since.

The recipe is Hugh Fearnley and very easy to make with kids. They take about 7 minutes to bake and the day we realised we could freeze them in batches then cook from frozen was a very good day!

Chocolate chip cookies (makes 12-14 cookies)

Prep time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 10 mins

  • 125g unsalted butter
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 75g soft light brown sugar
  • 1 lightly beaten egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 150g plain flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 100g dark chocolate, chopped into smallish chunks – Bourneville or Sainsbury’s dark chocolate are nice

Preheat the oven to gas mark 5/190 degrees and grease a baking tray with butter. Weigh out all your ingredients (tutu optional).

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Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Put the sugars into a mixing bowl, pour in the melted butter and beat well with a wooden spoon. Beat in the egg and vanilla (this is Lewis ‘adding vanilla for Phillipa blog’ face).

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Sift the flour into the bowl and add the baking powder and salt. Stir them in, then add the chopped chocolate (eat some chocolate).

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Using two tablespoons put little blobs of cookie dough on to the baking tray – leave lots of space between them. Either use 2 baking trays or bake in 2 batches (or freeze half the cookie balls – see below). Bake for 8-10 mins until the cookies are pale golden brown. Remove from the oven and leave for a few minutes then use a spatula to put the cookies on a wire rack or plate to cool. I always eat at least one cookie straight from the oven when it’s all goey chocolately (or “chocolalli” as Lexie’s little friend Bonnie says). Lexie prefers to eat hers nudie on the sofa. Remember to store them in a biscuit tin so they are nice the next day. 

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To freeze the cookies (we usually bake 6 and freeze 6) put the little blobs of cookie on a plate and pop in the freezer. Once they are pretty frozen you can pop them into a plastic freezer bag. Then every time you want a cookie just take a ball out of the freezer and bake in the oven for 8-10 mins. This is Lewis ‘putting the cookies in the freezer for Phillipa’s blog’ face.

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Pan tumaca (bread with tomato)

Pan tumaca – bread with tomato – along with a cafe con leche and fresh orange juice is a traditional Spanish breakfast from Cataluyna. Lexie absolutely loves this and I give her a little bowl of tomato with rounds of toasted baguette which she dips into the bowl! I eat it all the time, including at work where my colleagues thought I was mental. I’d reply: “Yes well the rest of the world thinks you and your marmite are mental so ya boo to you.”

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Pan tumaca is nice at any time of the day as a snack or a side dish. Often, if not being served for breakfast, you rub a bit of garlic on the bread too. As a snack I like it with slivers of manchego and/or jamon serrano.

Pan tumaca

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 2 mins

  • Fresh or toasted baguette/ciabatta/white sourdough/pugliese
  • Tomatos – vine ideally
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • (garlic – optional)
  • (manchego/jamon serrano – optional)

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Get the tomatoes and cut them in half. You can just rub the tomato onto the fresh or toasted bread but its more economical to grate it. Grate the cut side till you get to the skin then discard the skins.

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Lewis adds olive oil to the grated tomato, I don’t. I spread the tomato on the bread then drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt. Its so yummy – salt for breakfast!

If you want to have the garlic rub one clove on the bread before you add the tomato.

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No time pasta with peas

See I told you we were the pasta family. This recipe is for when I’ve no time to cook (i.e. got home late with nothing ready to heat up in the fridge). It’s really easy and Lexie loves it.

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Pasta with peas and parmesan

Prep time: 2 mins
Cooking time: 8 – 12 mins depending on pasta

  • Pasta
  • Frozen peas
  • Parmesan
  • Olive oil
  • Squeeze of lemon (optional)
  • Fresh basil or parsley (optional)

Cook your pasta as normal and 2 minutes before it’s done add the frozen peas. Drain, put back in pan and drizzle with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. Serve with lots of parmesan and chopped fresh basil or parsley if you have any. If I’m eating this with Lexie I add salt to mine!!

A nice variation is to add chopped courgettes to the pasta at the start of cooking. If you do this version add a bit more squeezed lemon at the end – courgettes looove lemon.

Leek and potato soup

I’m writing this covered in face paint. I painted a lovely rainbow on Lexie’s face.

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She did this.

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Don’t we look nice! It’s a typical January evening – cold, dark and wet so at least we look bright for her supper! Tonight I made my staple leek and potato soup. It’s easy, uber healthy and right now she loooves dipping toast into things.

I love this soup with lots of baguette and cheeses but Lewis isn’t at all keen on it. One boxing day I made a flask of it with wholemeal cheddar cheese sandwiches for a long walk in Richmond park. He huffed: “I like you because you’re Spanish and make manchego and serrano ham baguettes! This is like school packed lunch!” I was gutted!

Leek and potato soup

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 20 mins

  • 2 small leeks or 1 big leek
  • 1 fluffy potato like a maris piper – medium sized
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 chicken stock cube

This soup is very quick to make and is so healthy. I’ve made it before sauteing the leeks in butter and olive oil but it didn’t taste as nice. Wash and chop the leeks and put into the saucepan. Peel and chop the potato and add to the pan. Add a bay leaf and one stock cube, we use Kallo organic or Knorr. For babies just starting to eat you can leave the stock out or buy special stock cubes for babies with less salt. Top up with water so the potatoes are covered, bring to the boil then simmer for 20 minutes. Once the potatoes start getting mushy, take the bay leaf out and juzz the soup in a blender. Voila – serve with buttered toast or a yummy cheddar cheese toastie.

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