Strawberries and cream

One of my favourite things to do in June is eat buckets of strawberries with sweet cream, ideally watching Wimbledon. Heaven. This is barely a recipe but it’s so good I’m posting it anyway. British strawberries are everywhere at the moment and they are so delicious it’s worth waiting once a year for this treat.

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Strawberries and cream

  • punnet of strawberries, washed and sliced if preferable
  • 1 tub of double cream
  • caster sugar
  • packet of good quality shortbread biscuits

Whip the double cream, slowly adding sugar once it’s started to thicken. Keep tasting so you add the amount of sugar you like. Once the cream is thick serve a big dollop of it with the strawberries and a shortbread biscuit (or two!) per person.

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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Vongole for Valentines!

Ha ha naff title of the day! For last year’s Valentine’s post we made these silly heart shaped biscuits that didn’t really work. The origami message hearts were fun too but this year I’ve gone even simpler, what with having a baby and all. Some pretty cut and stick hearts…

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Along with some heart shaped balloon cards for Lexie to colour in and glitter. Obviously I’m biased but how amazing is her penmanship? (I love the heart where she obviously couldn’t be bothered anymore on the right below.)

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We’ve also been listening to ‘love’ music (in particular this song) and I’m contemplating trying some sable heart shaped biscuits with Lexie this afternoon because sugar cookies really don’t taste very nice. For us big people I’m leaning towards having spaghetti vongole. This has become my recent favourite ‘special occasion’ recipe and we had this for my birthday in January. (We tend to cook the same recipes for important days – Christmas/New Year’s Eve or birthdays – usually crab linguine or steak and chips.)

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As my favourite blood oranges are also in season I’m dreaming about some sort of campari blood orange cocktail for the aperitif, ideally with a plate of iberico ham from Borough market. The classic campari cocktails are the negroni or, my personal favourite, the sbagIiato (which means ‘mistake’ – apparently invented when a barman added prosecco instead of gin into what was supposed to be a negroni). Both of these would be nice with a splash of blood orange. As we don’t have any gin or vermouth I’ll probably make blood orange campari spritzes. This is a take on a cocktail my wonderful neighbour used to make for me 2 summers ago. We’d sit supping these delicious spritzers with our feet in the paddling pool in our communal back garden while our little toddlers splashed around – bliss! I’ll also ask Lewis to make me his yummy chocolate mousse pots for desert.

Blood orange campari spritz

Get a glass and add a shot of campari, a shot of white wine, a shot of blood orange juice. Stir and add some ice then top with fizzy water and stir again. This can be a tall or a short cocktail. Enjoy!

Spaghetti alle vongole

  • 500g small clams
  • spaghetti (dried)
  • knob of butter
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • ½ medium-hot red chilli, finely chopped
  • 100ml dry white wine
  • Small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
  • Zest of ½ a lemon and a spritz of juice
  • Salt and pepper

Rinse the clams in cold water and scrub a bit. Then put in a large bowl, cover with cold water and salt generously. Leave for 10-20 mins – my family say this is to make the clams feel they are back home in the sea. Then drain and rinse well to remove any grit.

Put the spaghetti into a large pan of salted boiling water and cook until al dente.

Meanwhile, put half the butter and all the olive oil in a large pan over a medium heat and soften the garlic and chilli.

Add the drained clams, and turn up the heat. Pour in the wine, cover and leave for a couple of minutes until most of them have opened. Discard any that are still closed. Add the others to the garlic/chilli pan.

Drain the spaghetti and add to the pan along with the remaining butter. Toss well and leave for a minute, then stir through the chopped parsley, lemon zest and juice, season to taste and serve.

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Chocolate and almond cake

Hmm my last recipe was sweet and so is this one… Looks like I’m getting to the ‘cake’ phase of pregnancy. With Lexie, I had a sugar aversion during my first trimester but, by the time I finished breastfeeding, cake had become a major food group. A la ‘sleeping child = nice cup of tea/coffee and slice of cake.’ Indeed it is 3:37pm and, after a lovely and hectic morning at the London Transport museum my child is asleep. Here I sit with a lovely little latte and a slice of this scrummy chocolate and almond cake. If only my flat were tidy rather than toy strewn madhouse then we’d be pretty close to nirvana… (yes I could be tidying up instead of blogging BUT I’M NOT.)

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That picture is not my slice! That’s what is left of the cake at the moment. My much more reasonable portion is pictured below. The other pictures are from the London Transport museum. Ok so the recipe is another recommendation from my friend Dani. I’ve made it about 6 times now and think it tastes better the next day or even after a few days. It’s a Hugh Fearnley jobby (his recipes are so reliable I find, as if he’s Delia’s prodigal son) but I’ve changed it a little after a few mishaps/larder emergencies. I had no caster sugar so twice I used granulated white sugar. I’ve since made the recipe properly (and also once with a bar of Lindt chocolate orange by mistake) and I prefer it with granulated sugar. Lewis says I’m cray cray as one must always bake with caster sugar but I think granulated gives it a cruncher crumb and nicer texture. I also usually half or third the recipe as it’s a big cake.

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Chocolate and almond cake

Prep time: 15-20 mins
Cooking time: 30 mins
Budget: £5-£10 depending on what essentials you have £5-£10 (£5 chocolate, £1.50 eggs)
Ease: Easy to medium
Serves: At least 6
Ingredients:

  • 250g dark chocolate (around 70% cocoa solids – we use Lindt), broken into chunks
  • 250g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 4 medium eggs, separated
  • 200g granulated sugar!!!! Or as the original recipe states either 100g caster mixed with 100g soft light brown sugar OR 200g just caster sugar)
  • 50g plain flour
  • 50g ground almonds
  • 23cm springform cake tin

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Preheat the oven to 170/gas 3 and grease the cake tin with butter. I use the leftover paper from the butter used in the recipe to do this. Put the chocolate and butter in a bain marie or, as I do, in a smaller saucepan suspended over a larger pan of barely simmering water, ideally making sure the water isn’t touching the smaller pan. Stir occasionally until the butter and chocolate have melted.

Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a large bowl until well combined. Then stir in the melted chocolate and butter. Combine the flour and almonds and then fold these in.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until they hold firm peaks. Stir a large spoonful of egg white into the chocolate mixture to loosen it, then carefully fold in the rest of the egg whites with a large metal spoon, trying to keep in as much air as possible. When I first made this, I didn’t mix the egg white in properly so my cake was marbled with streaks of chewy egg white. So it should be a glossy brown when you are done.

Pour the mixture into the cake tin, place in the oven and bake for about 30 mins, until only just set. Hugh says: “It should still wobble slightly in the centre – this means the cake will have a divinely sticky, fudgy texture once it’s cooled down.” YUMMY! Then leave to cool for 10-15 mins before taking it out of the tin. It tastes better cold than warm and way better the next day, especially if you use the granulated sugar.

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Asian baked sea bream

After the bizarre sand clouds that covered London in a smoggy gloom, we are getting some blue skies again. We’ve been enjoying picnics under the blossom and some long afternoons in the garden.

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We’ve also been eating lots of fish. I’ve made beer battered fish tacos with chilli lime avocado about four times. Lewis made a delicious skate and caper butter sauce which I was going to share today but last night’s asian baked sea bream was so amazing it has to go first. This is so so delicious. It’s meant for sea bass but bream is cheaper and just as tasty in my opinion.

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The recipe belongs to Lewis. The first time he made it for me was my birthday. We’d only been together 4 months and he took me to Scotland to his mother’s house. I’m a January baby so the landscape was frozen, other worldly and it was dark by 4pm. That day we got caught in a blizzard attempting to climb a munro (mini mountain). We were so happy to get home safely, drink some beers and eat this delicious fish. The photo above was the view before the blizzard hit, the second photo below was when it started (it got much worse!), the third is our ‘we made it!’ selfie!

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Lexie also loves this dish. There is only chilli in the garnish so it’s really easy to serve this to kids and do a separate chilli-free garnish for them. It calls for a lot of soy sauce so if your child is under 2 perhaps serve with only a drop of sauce.

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Asian baked sea bream

Prep time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 20-30 mins
Budget: £10-15 (£7 sea bream, £1 spring onions, £1 coriander, £1 chillis)
Ease: Easy
Serves 4

  • 1 whole sea bream, gutted and cleaned by the fishmonger
  • 1 bunch of spring onion
  • 1 knob of ginger
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 red chilli
  • Sunflower or groundnut oil
  • Sesame oil
  • Soy sauce
  • Coriander

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Preheat the oven to 200/gas mark 6. Put the sea bream in a baking dish, tuck some sliced ginger, spring onion and coriander inside the fish. Add a small amount of water, sesame oil and soy to the bottom of the dish. Cover tightly with foil and bake in the oven for about 20 mins.

Prepare a garnish of thinly sliced chilli, spring onion (we usually do matchsticks) and coriander. Then make a sauce by softening 2 cloves of sliced garlic and about a thumb of finely chopped ginger in some sunflower oil on a low heat. This should take about 5 mins and watch it doesn’t burn. Add lots of soy sauce (approx 100ml), some water (approx 50ml) and bubble for 1 min. When the fish is ready, remove the foil, pour the sauce over the fish and sprinkle the garnish on top. Serve with rice, filleting the fish and removing the skin and bones. When Lexie saw the whole fish with eyes and everything she said: “Mummy it’s a scary fish!!”

(The picture below is the very first time we ate this in Scotland!)

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L’amour! C’est le steak frites!

One year for Valentines we tried to be ironic and go for a curry. The joke was on us as the entire restaurant was full of heart shaped balloons and tables for two. Since then (and because I love Valentines) we stay in, have steak and chips and watch a classic movie. This year’s film was Riso Amaro which also provided the soundtrack to our evening.

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Lewis always cooks the steak ever since he attended Ginger Pig cut up a cow masterclass. He also makes the chips as per my mum’s recipe but for a change we decided to try matchstick chips! I loved them but he prefers my mums. Our usual steak of choice is rib-eye but I think I’m wavering. We had an incredible T-bone a while ago then recently a Thai ‘Crying Tiger’ sirloin that just blew me away, both challenging the rib-eye’s title as the steak of true love! Quick question: what is your favourite steak and why?

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Rib-eye steak and matchstick chips

Prep time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 30 mins
Budget: £15-20 (£12 2 rib-eye steaks, £2 potatoes, £1.50 parsley, £1.50 green salad)

  • 2 rib-eye steaks
  • 2 peeled potatoes
  • 40g softened butter
  • 1 clove crushed garlic
  • Handful of chopped parsley
  • 1 or 2 chopped anchovies
  • Sunflower oil (or groundnut oil)

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Make the butters – I like garlic and parsley so add 1 clove crushed garlic and some chopped parsley to the butter and mash it all together. Lewis likes anchovy butter – exactly the same but with some anchovy as well. Put the butter on a plate ready to serve.

To fry the steak and chips it’s a simultaneous job so make sure everything is ready! For the steaks – just before frying season with salt and pepper and brush with groundnut or sunflower oil. Heat the griddle pan (or heavy bottomed pan) until it’s very hot but not smoking. For the chips – what a palaver! Peel and chop the potatoes into matchsticks (ha ha ha) 1/4 inch thick. Rinse in cold water and pat dry with kitchen towel. Get a pan of sunflower oil really hot (mum and I are 100% convinced sunflower oil is the best oil for chips/any fried potatoes). Then you are ready to fry!

Put the chips on first, lower the potatoes into the oil. Fry until golden and crispy. Because they are so thin it should take a matter of minutes. Don’t overload the pan – we did 2 batches but the first batch went a bit soggy whereas the fresh batch were crispy and super tasty – less is more!

Fry the steaks at the same time as you put the chips on. On the high heat fry for 2 mins each side (rare) or 3-4 mins (medium rare-medium). The temperature of the pan and the thickness of the steaks will affect results but that is a general guide. Once done, set aside to rest for a few minutes on a plate covered with foil while you finish the chips. When the chips are ready remove with a slotted spoon and place on kitchen towel to absorb some of the oil. Sprinkle with salt and serve immediately! Put some of the butter on the steak so it melts into deliciousness. We followed our steaks with a simple green salad and some dark chocolate (usually we have Lewis chocolate mousse after steak but we didn’t make it in time). Voila – l’amour!

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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