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.

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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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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.

Pork chops with lemon and baked rosemary garlic potatoes

Finally, after what feels like months of rain, we are getting some bright blue skies. I’m still dreaming of escaping London… This time it’s long walks in the countryside and afternoons in front of the fire. Over the Christmas holiday we stayed with friends in their amazing Tudor home in Hampshire. We walked back from the pub across fields in the pitch black, awoke to a bright frosty morning and visited the neighbouring horses, meandering along a magical river. Tammy, our host, had a great way to keep toddlers happy on the long walks – luckily the toy fairy and the chocolate fairy were two steps ahead of us at all times leaving Max and Lexie little gifts under rocks and leaves!

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Tammy also prepared the most wonderful glazed ham with delicious sliced roast potatoes and onion for a lunch (with champagne!). I’ve been thinking about those potatoes ever since and wondering when to try them. A special deal on pork chops at my favourite butchers provided the impetus. Remembering how uplifting it was when I roasted lemon, garlic and rosemary potatoes – the incredible smells of lemon and herbs that filled our kitchen – I decided to do a take on these flavours. Not the same as a long walk in the countryside but pretty cheering nonetheless. The pork is a River Cafe recipe and the potatoes were inspired by Tammy’s using this recipe. The star of this dish was definitely the potatoes – they were amazing! The pork chop was nice but I preferred the gammon by a mile (I’m not crazy about pork chops or fillet in general – love pork belly, love ham, love bacon!).

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Pork chops with lemon and rosemary garlic potatoes

Serves 2
Prep time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 40 mins
Budget: £10-15 (£5 pork chops, 60p lemons, £1.50 herbs, £1.50 potatoes)
Ease: easy

  • 2 Pork chops
  • 1 lemon quartered
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 1 stick rosemary – leaves removed and chopped
  • 3 or 4 cloves of peeled garlic
  • 3 potatoes – washed and sliced into 4 mm rounds, skin on

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Preheat the oven to 200/gas mark 6. Put the potatoes in a baking tray with a generous amount of olive oil, season and add the rosemary and garlic. They should take about 30 mins to roast, check them half way and turn.

Get a griddle pan (or heavy bottomed pan) and heat until smoking. Season the pork and smooth a little oil on both sides. Seal the meat on both sides, 2 mins per side then place in a baking tray with the lemon quarters. Squeeze one of the lemons on the pork and pop in the oven for 5 mins. After 5 mins take the meat out, baste and squidge the lemon quarters into the meat. Depending on the thickness of the pork they should take another 5-10 mins to cook but err on the side of caution and try only 5 mins first. Once done, let the meat rest covered in foil for a few minutes before serving with the potatoes and maybe some nice dijon mustard. (The reason the skin is off in the pic below is because I attempted this Jamie Oliver crackling tip – it was a failure!)

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Dani’s spaghetti puttanesca

My friend Dani lent me the most amazing treasure – her family recipe book! All her delicious tried and tested recipes!! Dani is a fantastic cook (and gorgeous as are her kiddos – see lovely pic below) so I want to try pretty much everything in the book. She recommended I do her pasta puttanesca first.

Dani and kids

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All I want for lunch at the moment is tomato pasta – it’s raining incessantly and I’m run down – so I was very keen to try this recipe. Lewis and I both love pasta puttanesca. We lived off it when travelling in Argentina as there are lots of Italians and Italian restaurants in Buenos Aires. We had a memorable moment in Bolivia when Lewis ordered it and received a bowl of cold pasta in a bright purple sauce!?

This spaghetti puttanesca is delicious and a nice change from our fresh tomato sauce staple. It is very easy and quick to make. I was a bit unsure about giving it to Lexie because of all the capers and anchovies but she loved it (I left out the chilli for her). I have to add this sauce was even better the next day so definitely recommend making lots and storing some sauce in the fridge (we stored it in an old jam jar – will probably keep up to a week). Also having made it a few times I can say definitively it is 100% Lexie’s favourite meal right now!

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Spaghetti puttanesca

Prep time: 5-10 mins
Cooking time: 15-20 mins

  • Olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic chopped
  • 6 anchovy fillets (or a small tin)
  • 1 tbsp of chopped capers
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 dried chilli or 1 tsp chilli powder (or a fresh chopped chilli!)
  • 1 small white onion chopped
  • Chopped olives (recipe says black but I used green as it was what I had)
  • 1 tin of whole plum tomatoes (miles better than pre-chopped)
  • Spaghetti
  • Salt and pepper
  • Grated parmesan

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Heat the olive oil in a pan and add the garlic, anchovies and capers. Add the chilli (dried or fresh) and oregano and cook gently. Add the onions and olives and fry for a few minutes to soften (I fried them for about 10 mins which is probably longer than the recipe calls for but I was happy!). Add the tin of tomatoes and break them up a bit with a spoon. Simmer the sauce for about 10-20 mins. Cook the spaghetti as per the instructions then drain and tip into the puttanesca sauce. Season to taste and serve with some grated parmesan.

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Sausage and lentil casserole

We were given the leftover sausages from a family brunch yesterday and I thought they’d go nicely with roasted potatoes with thyme. We stayed with friends in Hampshire over Christmas and lovely Tammy made these really easy and delicious roasted sliced potatoes with onion – I can’t stop thinking about them (she served them with a glazed ham and Jamie Oliver Parsley sauce).

But Lexie doesn’t do potatoes unless they’re chips (weirdo) so I decided lentils would go further plus they are packed full of iron. They take a little bit of time to cook so I usually make a lot, it definitely tastes better after a day or too and it keeps well in the fridge. This dish will make a great lunch or dinner for Lexie throughout the week. The first time I had it was at my best friend Millie’s house – she did sausage and lentil casserole with yummy baked potatoes.

It was bubbling away while I did Lexie’s bedtime and once she was asleep we ate it calmly and in a very civilised fashion, with no interruptions and with a really nice glass of Rioja (Rioja Labarca Finca from Waitrose). We then had salad and cheese followed by chocolate chip cookies for pudding. These are delicious – Lewis pre-made and froze them in little balls. It’s amazing!! You put the little balls on a baking tray and they’re done in 10 minutes. A little bit addictive (oh I’ll just bake another cookie!).

Sausage and lentil casserole

Prep time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 40 mins

  • Sausages
  • Green lentils – rinsed if need be
  • 2 small onions – chopped
  • 1 peeled carrot – 1/2 chopped into little bits, 1/2 chopped into big chunks
  • 1/2 stick chopped celery
  • Tin of tomatos
  • 1 glass of wine – optional
  • 2 rashers of chopped bacon
  • 1 chicken stock cube
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 peeled chopped potato – fluffy maris piper type one, big chunks

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Start by making a sofrito – this is the base for most Spanish pot cooking. A standard sofrito is just onion, celery and carrot but because I want bacon in this dish I started by frying the bacon first with olive oil in a heavy based pan, like a Le Creuset. Then add the onion, celery and finely chopped carrot and cook on a gentle heat, you want the onions to go squidgy and translucent not browned. Adding salt at this stage helps the onions release their juices but I left it out so the dish is less salty for Lex. Cook for minimum 20 minutes on this low heat. What my mum often does is cook the sofrito for 20 ish minutes then turn it off and leave it covered for 30 mins – 1 hour – the softer the onions the better.

Once you’re happy with your sofrito add your lentils, big chunks of carrot, stock cube, bay leaf, glass of wine and tomatoes. I used red wine but it doesn’t really matter. I do recommend sieving the tomatoes a bit to get rid of some of the juice, makes the sauce less acidy. The carrot is also natural sweetener which helps to counteract the acidity of the tomatoes. Top up with water, bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes, uncovered or partially covered. Do keep checking the lentils – they absorb loads of liquid – keep adding water if need be.

After 20 minutes add the potato. A little bit of potato added to lentils gives a lovely consistency, also helps reduce the tomatoes acidity and adds some welcome vitamin C. Cook for another 20-30 minutes and it should be done. Because my sausages were leftovers, I added them in with the potato, sliced, but I’ve made this dish many times before cooking the sausages from scratch, either fried or roasted in the oven and added at the end. It’s also delicious without any meat for anyone who is veggie and another day I’ll post my lentil and chorizo stew because that one really is also lovely without the chorizo.

  • A nice variation taught to me by my 97 year old granny-in-law is to make this exactly the same recipe but omitting the tomato, potato and wine (extra stock to make up the liquid). When the lentils are cooked add a spoonful of dijon mustard and stir around. Serve with chipolatas!