Beef stew

Beef stew, beef stew, whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when beef stew comes for you… This was a massive in joke with my boss back when I had a 9-5 office job. At random times, including at big meetings, he’d pick a word from the current conversation and ‘whatcha gonna do’ it. For example ‘business plan, business plan, whatcha gonna do when business plan comes for you’ and so on. We thought it was hilarious. Our co-workers perhaps, at times, found it a bit wearing. Ha ha ha us. (If this is completely baffling watch this… specifically 0:24… see what we did there?)

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So… beef stew! I know two recipes for this. One my mum taught me which is a variation of her lamb casserole but with beef instead of lamb and a tin of petit pois instead of flageolet beans (can I just add that tinned peas are utterly delicious. Lewis loooves them and they are very common in France and Spain, less so here I think. A fab Spanish recipe is to fry some bacon or slivers of jamon serrano with a little garlic and maybe some onion, add the drained tin of peas and a little stock and fresh parsley – delicious with a fried egg.)

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As my mum’s stew is quite rich and I’m still craving light and healthy foods (not long now, due date 9th December, eek!) I plumped for this one instead. The recipe is from Jane Clarke’s Yummy Baby book which is full of baby and toddler friendly recipes for the whole family. I’m a big fan of this book, my squash and feta salad is from Yummy Baby and so is my staple daal that hopefully I’ll post here soon. This stew is a little lighter with more veggies. I love it and so clearly does Lexie. We made it the other day for the first time this year. Her response as follows: “It’s good,” pause, “it’s super yummy,” another pause. “I really like this… ooh look a carrot sausage!” More pausing, “Thank you for making this mummy.” !!!

Beef stew

Prep time: 5-10 mins
Cooking time: 3 hours
Budget: £10-15 (£5 beef, £7 wine, £1 mushrooms, £1 courgettes, £1.50 shallots, £1 celery, £2 bacon)
Ease: Easy
Serves 4-6 Ingredients:

  • 800g braising or stewing beef in large pieces
  • Olive oil
  • 50g diced bacon or pancetta
  • 12 shallots, peeled but left whole (or 1 chopped onion)
  • 2 sticks roughly chopped celery
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
  • 4 chopped garlic cloves
  • 750ml red wine
  • 1 tbp tomato puree
  • 1 bouquet garni (sprigs of rosemary, thyme and flat leafed parsley)
  • 12 mushrooms, sliced if large
  • 2 medium courgettes thickly sliced
  • Pepper

Preheat the oven to 180C/300F/Gas 2. Season the beef with ground black pepper and heat olive oil in a frying pan on a high heat. Fry the beef in batches until well browned then put in a casserole dish, like a Le Creuset. Add a little more olive oil to the frying pan and add the bacon, shallots, celery and carrots, frying until golden. Add the garlic, cook for another min, then tip everything into the casserole dish. Put the frying pan back on the heat and pour in half the red wine. Bring the the boil and scrap up all the bits at the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Pour this into the casserole, adding the rest of the wine, the tomato puree and the bouquet garni. On the hob, bring the stew to the boil then cover with the lid and cook in the oven for 1 1/2 hours. Then add the sliced courgettes and the mushrooms and put back into the oven for another 1 1/2 hours. Once done, the meat will be wonderfully soft and should fall apart on the fork. For extra veg you can add a few frozen peas before serving and some fresh parsley to garnish. This is delicious with boiled potatoes, or rice, or some buttered pasta.

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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Lexie’s tomato rice

I was going to call this ‘Basque vegetable stew’ – sounds a bit better than marrow stew which essentially what it is. Then Lexie started calling it ‘tomato rice’ which is a much better name. This is sort of a ratatouille, sort of a piperade and I remember my mum teaching me how to make it.

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Lexie is going through a weird hardly eating anything at all phase – literally three mouthfuls and she says she’s done. It’s quite challenging! But she really loves her ‘tomato rice’ and yesterday actually asked for it so I thought I’d share the recipe here. We always have it with rice and fried eggs. It’s really easy to make with kids – Lex slices the veg and pours the tomatoes into the pan, she loves stirring the pot and also helping to fry the egg (we gently break the egg into a bowl then she pours it into the pan and I fry it). Make a big batch of this on the weekend and you’ve got an instant veggie packed meal ready to go for the rest of the week.

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(I need to update this post with some pics of said tomato rice. Until I do here are some pics of Lex in her new little Indian girl outfit. She’s very keen on a Peppa Pig themed birthday party this year… erm…. so I preempted and bought her this costume. Success! She loves it and now wants a Cowboys and Indians theme. Am I a bad mother because I don’t want her to have a Peppa Pig party?)

Lexie’s tomato rice

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 1 hour
Budget: £5 (£1.50 peppers, £1 marrow, £1 tinned tomatos, £1.50 eggs)
Ease: Easy
Serves: 6
Ingredients:

  • 1 marrow or 2 big courgettes – cut in half and sliced into crescents
  • 1 red pepper, sliced
  • 1 green pepper, sliced
  • 1 yellow pepper, sliced
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 clove sliced garlic
  • 2 tins of tomatos, drained
  • 1 chicken or veg stock cube and water
  • Salt and pepper
  • Sugar (equal to salt so maybe 1 tsp)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Chopped parsley
  • Rice
  • Eggs
  • 4 tbsp olive oil

Fry the onions gently in olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan or casserole dish for 10 minutes. Make sure they don’t brown and season with salt to help release the onion’s juices, as my mum always says. Then add the peppers and fry for another 10 mins. Then add the marrow and fry for another 10 minutes before adding the drained tins of tomatoes, sliced garlic, bay leaf, stock cube and water. Add a little more salt and the equivalent sugar. Cook partially covered for 30 mins – 1 hour until you are happy with it. Sprinkle on the fresh parsley and serve with rice and fried eggs and some nice bread to mop up the juices. This tastes better the next day and keeps well in the fridge for about a week.

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Prawn and chorizo omelette with pimientos and chipotle lime mayo

Short and snappy title hey? And that’s the abridged version. We recently celebrated my little cousin Bec’s birthday with brunch at Caravan (Kings Cross). I had this delicious omelette – the official title being ‘prawn and chorizo omelette with pimientos, flaked almonds and chipotle lime mayonnaise.’

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I’ve never eaten at the original Exmouth Market branch of Caravan but know it’s famous for the coffee and fusion East/West style of cooking. The Kings Cross outpost is fab, especially the outdoor seating area overlooking the supremely toddler friendly fountains. Fountains are a big thing for us in London over summer and these Kings Cross ones are great because they are teeny tiny therefore not scary for little ones. I’ve had brunch here a few times, the coffee is indeed excellent and I’ve tried some delicious things like chilli avocado on sourdough, and jalapeno corn bread with fried eggs and black beans.

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The omelette with a long name was totally divine and I decided to recreate it at home. My first attempt didn’t really work – I used supermarket packet prawns and way too much filling per egg ratio. It was tasty but not a patch on Caravan’s omelette. Then I tried again with king prawns from the fishmonger and it was really yummy. The pimientos and chipotles en adobo are the most exotic ingredients but shouldn’t be too hard to find (see suggestions in the ingredients list). The rest is easy to source and it’s not that faffy to make. Because the mayo is a little spicy I left this off Lexie’s portion and also made sure to buy non spicy pimientos and chorizo.

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I haven’t got any recent photos of the Kings Cross fountains so these are from last year with Bec at KERB – the wonderful street food market run by my bessie – that often takes over Granary Square (check their website for details).

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Prawn and chorizo omelette with pimientos and chipotle lime mayo

Prep time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 5 mins
Budget: £10 if you already have the condiments, £15-20 if you don’t (£5 prawns, £5 chorizo, £4 chipotles en adobo, £5 pimientos, £2 rocket, £2 mayonnaise, 20p lime, £1.50 almonds, £1.50 eggs)
Ease: Easy if you know how to make an omelette
Serves 1 and a toddler. Definitely make separate omelettes if making for more people – just cook the filling in one go, reserve and add to individual omelettes when cooking
Ingredients:

  • 3 eggs
  • Chorizo – about 5cm chopped into thin slices
  • 5 king prawns in their shell
  • 2 pimientos cut into strips (from Brindisa online or M&S, Waitrose also do a version)
  • 1 tsp flaked almonds
  • 1/2 tsp chopped coriander
  • Handful of rocket
  • 2 tbsp mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp chipotles en adobo (to taste)
  • Juice of 1/2 lime (to taste)
  • Salt and pepper
  • A little olive oil

Assemble all the ingredients and start by toasting the almond flakes in a hot pain with no oil. This should only take a couple of mins and take care they don’t burn. Once done, remove the almonds and heat a little olive oil in the same pan to fry the prawns and chorizo. When they are done pour into a separate bowl along with all the oil. Once the prawns are cool, shell them trying to reserve their juices in the bowl (throw the shells away!! Or use for a fancy fishy stock – I don’t know how to do this!). Don’t wash the pan – the leftover oil will be used to fry the omelette.

Make the chipotle lime mayo by combining these ingredients to taste – it should be fairly liquid. Slice the pimientos and get the rocket and almonds ready. Season and beat the eggs then reheat the pan. Once it’s hot pour the eggs in and a few seconds later add the coriander, prawns and chorizo along with some of the juices (not all or it will be too oily). Check the heat and use a spatula to start lifting the edges of the omelette. When it is mostly set but still liquidy in the middle, use the spatula to lift one side of the omelette over the other creating a sort of half moon. Cook for another few seconds then I usually use a plate to flip the omelette (place a large plate over the pan, flip the omelette onto the plate then slide back into the pan). Cook for another few seconds until you think it is done, it should be runny in the middle.

Once the omelette is ready, place on a plate and drape the peppers on top. Cover with a handful of rocket and some flaked almonds. Finally drizzle or, as in my case, blob the chipotle lime mayo on top. Voila! A tasty omelette with a very long name!

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Here are some more pics of some of our favourite fountains this summer.

Princess Diana memorial

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Victoria and Albert museum

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Southbank Centre

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Somerset House

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Steak tacos/burritos

A long hiatus I know. I’m about 4 months pregnant and my first trimester saw me completely reject ‘screens’ – no blog, no instagram, no facebook. This would have been a Very Good Thing were I not sick as a dog. Thankfully it passed early, around 8 weeks, and I’m having a lovely pregnancy now, very mellow and relaxed. I’m also back on fish in a big way! So happy about this as I went off seafood massively when pregnant with Lexie. With her all I wanted was cheese and ham toasties, burgers and pies!

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This baby seems to want citrus, chilli and fish and I’m really craving Mexican food. So far I’ve made carnitas which I’ll share another day (I roasted pork belly instead of braising pork leg – nice but I’d like to try the braised version), yummy fish tacos and my current fave – these delicious steak tacos.

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The recipe (and pic above) is from Mexican Food Made Simple (though I do my own fresh tomato salsa and guacamole and add to the refried beans). I’m not a huge fan of the Wahaca restaurants but so far all the recipes I’ve made from this book have been good. I love the refried beans in particular. Even though the steak is marinated with chilli it isn’t spicy and was fine for my toddler to eat. I tend to do one chilli free salsa for Lexie and give her slices of avocado, which she prefers, instead of guacamole. It’s also good to serve with some fresh orange juice (or a mix of orange and grapefruit juice which I love with ice and sprigs of mint!) as vitamin C helps to absorb the iron from the meat.

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This is not a ‘use up the cupboard’ dinner and there are some specialist Mexican ingredients worth buying. Also, as there are a few salsas and sides to make, it’s best prepped with napping children, or on the weekend when the adult:child ratio improves! It’s a ‘lots of little bowls’ on the table meal so bear this in mind if you don’t fancy washing lots of dishes after!

I think it’s the most complicated recipe I’ve ever written up due to all the components. Tacos are definitely quicker than the burritos and I often make a much simplified version of this recipe with just steak, spring onions, fresh tomato salsa and guacamole – takes about 30 mins, no specialist ingredients needed and totally delicious so please don’t feel overwhelmed by this long recipe! There is an easier way to make it!!

If you want to go the whole shebang I recommend printing this off (print button should be below) and reading it with a cold beer a week before you make it! Preferably listening to this soundtrack. And definitely make the chipotle salsa and beans in advance. As faffy as it is making all these sides, because some of them keep well, they do make instant other meals (nachos or just rice with refried beans/salsa/cheese/sour cream etc) so it’s nice having them in the fridge.

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Sorry there are no pictures of the actual meal – it’s my first post in ages and I’m a bit slow on the take – I’ll update with real photos when I next make this. Instead here are nice pictures of Lexie enjoying this summer. I feel like I should write an update on her and what we’ve been up to but this is a long recipe so I’ll let the photos speak for us!

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Steak tacos

Steak

  • 600g butterfly cut onglet steak – we got this from the butcher. Original recipe calls for thin skirt steaks
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves crushed garlic
  • Juice of 1/2 an orange
  • 1 finely chopped chilli de arbol
  • Salt and pepper

Refried beans (optional)

  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 chopped white onion
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 chopped cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 chile de arbol chopped (optional)
  • 1 tbsp chopped coriander stalks or 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano

Then either a tin of black beans (or any beans – pinto/borlotti are good and taste great refried) OR cooked black beans. If doing the cooked version

  • 250g dried black beans 
  • 4 bashed cloves of garlic
  • A few sprigs of thyme (optional – I’ve never used)
  • A few bay leaves
  • A little chicken or veg stock (1/2 cube)
  • Espazote (comes with this black bean kit) (optional, I’ve made delicious beans without it)
  • 1 onion cut in 1/4s
  • 1 tbsp salt

Chipotle salsa (this is amazing!!) (optional)

  • 4 plum tomatoes
  • 2 cloves unpeeled garlic
  • 1 tbsp chopped coriander
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 white onion in 1/4s
  • 1 or 2 tbsp chipotles en adobo

Fresh tomato salsa (optional)

  • 4 chopped vine or plum tomatos
  • 1/2 crushed garlic clove
  • 1 chopped spring onion
  • Handful of chopped coriander
  • 1 chopped birdseye chilli (red or green or both!) (omit for kiddies)
  • Olive oil to taste – 2 tbsp approx
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp salt to taste
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp sugar to taste
  • Juice of 1/2 lime to taste

Guacamole

  • 1 or 2 mashed ripe avocados
  • 1 sliced spring onion
  • 1 chopped green birdseye chilli (optional)
  • Olive oil to taste (maybe 1 tbsp)
  • Lime juice to taste (maybe 1/2 lime)
  • Salt to taste

(A speedy guacamole is just to mash avocado and add a tablespoon or two of the fresh tomato salsa and mix. Or just have slices of avocado a la Lexie.)

Other ingredients

  • Corn tortillas – little ones for tacos, big ones for burritos (most supermarkets sell tortillas)
  • Sour cream
  • Grated cheddar cheese (medium cheddar is good) (optional)
  • Limes
  • Chopped coriander
  • White basmati rice (optional)
  • 6 spring onions sliced into 3cm lengths
  • Kitchen towel paper

Marinate the steak in the olive oil, garlic, orange juice, chilli and seasoning for 30 mins. If having rice make it now. Prepare all the salsas and sides. The chipotle salsa and the refried beans can be made in advance as both keep well in the fridge. The guacamole and fresh tomato salsa should be prepared from scratch now. Here’s how!

For the chipotle salsa get a heavy bottomed pan and dry roast the tomatoes, onion and garlic for about 15 mins. They should blacken and keep turning them. When done, squeeze the garlic out of the skins and put in a blender along with tomatoes and onion. Add the chipotles en adobo and whizz. Put into a bowl and add the chopped coriander, salt and lime to taste. This salsa will keep for a few days to a week in the fridge and it’s bloody lovely.

For the refried beans, heat the oil in a pan and soften the onion and garlic with the spices. After 5-10 mins add the beans with either some of the cooking water, or a little water if using a can, and mush some of the beans with a masher to thicken the sauce. Season and taste. Add a little chicken or veg stock if it needs it. This will keep for up to a week in the fridge.

(If not using canned beans, soak the black beans overnight. Drain and rinse then place the beans in a pan covered in about 10cm of water. Add the garlic, herbs and onion, bring to the boil and skim off any scum on the surface. Simmer, partially covered, for 2-3 hours. Add salt to taste when the beans are done not before or it will toughen the beans up.)

For the fresh salsa and guacamole literally combine all the ingredients for each and mix. I usually do this in jars to save on having 90 bowls on the table and both will keep for a day in the fridge (but not longer really).

Once all the salsas and sides are done assemble the other ingredients. Chop coriander, slice limes, grate the cheese and open the sour cream. Warm the tortillas either by lightly dry frying each one on both sides for a few mins or by wrapping all of them in foil and placing in a warm oven for 5 mins.

Heat a griddle or heavy bottomed pan until smoking hot and add olive oil. Chop the spring onions, season with salt and pepper and put on the hot pan. Pat the steak dry with kitchen towel and add to the pan. Sear for a minute on both sides (90 secs max – this cut of beef can toughen up but is very tender if cooked quickly and served rare). Leave the beef to stand for a minute on a warm plate and finish cooking the spring onions. When done remove the onions and put on the steak plate, adding the reserved steak marinade to the pan, sizzling it up then pour into a separate bowl. Slice the steak into bite size pieces cutting across the grain. Then either add to the marinade or serve separately.

Make sure everything is on the table and then finally….. to assemble!

If having a taco place a little steak and marinade in the middle of the tortilla and dollop on top the spring onions, guacamole, chipotle salsa, sour cream and fresh coriander (you can add cheese too – I don’t). Roll up the tortilla like a wrap or fold in half making a half moon and enjoy!

If having a burrito add a little rice to the tortilla then top with steak, spring onions, guacamole, salsa, cheese and sour cream. Make a little parcel by folding in the outside edges (so tuck in the top and bottom sides then tuck in the side sides!). Roll over and eat or toast for a few minutes in a dry pan and then eat!

Serve with slices of fresh lime, ice cold beer or juice. I think slices of watermelon make a great pudding after these tacos/burritos.

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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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Asparagus soup with poached egg on toast

There has been a chill in the air all of this week. We’ve been spending a lot of time indoors which I always find a struggle. At home Lexie seems to need constant attention. Why is she incapable of playing by herself? Ever? It drives me nuts! In an attempt to do something fun with her that wouldn’t end in (my) tears, we built our first fort. Thankfully it was a success, though it took a while to convince Lexie she didn’t have to put all her toys and clothes in it. Does anyone else’s child love stuffing everything into places? Lexie is obsessed with cramming things into her suitcase/bag/oven/Sylvanian camper van.

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Another soup recipe from me today. It seems fitting for the chilly weather. It’s from the Jamie at Home cookbook which is divided into seasons. Under spring falls my great love asparagus. I’ve tried all the recipes in this section and the standout winner is this creamy asparagus soup with poached egg on toast. It is really delicious and tastes so luxurious despite the lack of cream and butter.

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The book tells me asparagus is one of the most nutritious vegetables you can eat, full of vitamins and folic acid. It is also a diuretic and a good liver cleanser (although I think this soup is lovely with a nice glass of white burgundy). Lexie really enjoys eating this and helping to make it. She likes making soups as our handheld blender is broken so I have to use the magimix and she gets to press the button. She also loves poaching the egg, helping me crack it into a little bowl and stirring the water to create a vortex.

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Asparagus soup with poached egg on toast

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 35 mins
Budget: £5 (£3 asparagus, 20p onion, 20p celery, 50p leek, £1.30 eggs)
Ease: Easy for the soup – medium for the poached egg
Serves: 4

  • 1 bunch of asparagus, rinsed, trimmed of edges and chopped into 2cm pieces
  • 1 sliced leek
  • 1 sliced onion
  • 1 sliced stick of celery
  • Chicken stock cube
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 egg per person
  • Bread – ciabatta is nice for this recipe

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Gently heat a little olive oil in a saucepan and add the onion, celery and leek with a little salt. Sweat gently for 10 minutes without browning. Add the asparagus, stock cube and top up with water. You can make this soup as thick or as thin as you like depending on how much water you add. Cook for 20-30 mins. When it’s ready whizz it in a blender and season to taste. A word of warning – once I made this in a rush, didn’t sweat the vegetables and cooked it for just under 20 mins. The result was like eating the leftover stringy pulp from a juicer! So definitely respect the cooking times!

My method of poaching eggs is not foolproof and doesn’t always work (I mean doesn’t always look pretty). Use the freshest eggs you can and crack them into bowls – one bowl per egg. Boil a small saucepan full of water and add a small splash of vinegar and a tiny bit of salt. Reduce the heat so the water is simmering and create a vortex by swirling a spoon around the water. Pour the egg into this simmering vortex and leave for 3 minutes. If doing more than one egg make sure you pour it into a different part of the saucepan at the same time – I’ve never done more than 2 at a time! Start toasting the bread and when the egg is done, remove with a slotted spoon and place on the toast. Serve the soup either as Jamie does, with the poached egg and toast resting on top of the soup or, as I do, on the side.

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Two dresses, some tulips and a cauliflower soup

It’s been a week for flowers and dresses. I couldn’t resist getting some beautiful tulips from the market and we have small branches of apple blossom dotted around our flat. Lexie likes shaking them and making the blossom “snow” on her head.

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Inspired by the new season I’m finding myself wearing dresses, drawn to anything floral or white and crocheted. Two ebay finds that have delighted us this week are this little Laura Ashley number for Lexie (99p!) and a Whistles dress that I will probably wear at my wedding – I love it!

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Continuing on the white theme, I also made the most delicious scallops with cauliflower the other day. The recipe is, as always, by the beautiful Mimi Thorisson whose book: ‘A kitchen in France – a year of cooking in my farmhouse’ is now available to preorder – hurrah!! This was wonderful, light and fresh despite the copious use of butter. The cauliflower was probably my favourite element – I adore cauliflower. As there are only two of us and there is only so much cauliflower one can eat at a time – even for an aficionado like me – I used less than half of it for this recipe. I needed to make something else with the rest… hmm decisions decisions.

I thought about cauliflower cheese but didn’t really fancy it. I love Lewis’ Indian spiced cauliflower he serves as part of a ‘Rice and Three’ vegetarian curries – the other two are usually sag aloo and dal. But I don’t know how to make this (there is still some cauliflower left so his recipe will probably be on the blog next week). As it’s still quite chilly despite the blue skies I decided on my mum’s cauliflower soup. This is a delicious and simple creamy soup that we ate with cheese toasties and, in Lexie’s case, a sombrero.

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I should add that my mum is the worst person in the world to ask for a recipe. For example: “Mum how did you roast this amazing pheasant?” (which includes brandy and flambeing in the cooking)… Mum: “I put it in the oven.” When I asked her how to make this soup, she replied: “Like every other soup.” Lewis and I think it’s hilarious to do ‘my mum’ impressions when cooking. Me: “Lewis what are you doing?” Lewis: “Cooking hmmmpfh!” etc etc.

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The pic above is us out in our new dresses and old denim jackets. Lexie turned to me aghast that day and said: “Mummy where our coats!!!!” She was right, it was far too cold to be out without proper coats.

Cauliflower soup 

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 30 mins
Budget: Under £5 (£1.50 cauliflower, 20p potato, £1 milk, 20p onion)
Ease: Easy
Serves 4

  • 1/2 cauliflower head, cut into florets
  • 1 potato, peeled and cubed
  • 1 small sliced white onion
  • Chicken stock cube
  • 1 cup milk
  • Olive oil
  • Butter
  • Salt and pepper

Gently fry the onion in a little olive oil or olive oil and butter for 10 mins. Add the potato, cauliflower and stock cube, cover with water. Cook for 20-30 mins then blitz in a blender. Put the soup back in the pan and gently heat. Add a cup of milk and a little knob of butter and stir in. Season to taste and serve.

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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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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