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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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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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.

Basque hake with clams

I have a confession – I don’t like fish. It didn’t use to be this way!! There was a time when sardines or seabass, a plate of oysters or mussels filled me with joy. Then I got pregnant and it all changed. Suddenly, and sadly ever since, I am one of those people who say they don’t like fish because it’s ‘fishy’.

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Lexie loves fish. Lewis loves fish. My mum is from the Basque coastline near San Sebastian where seafood reigns supreme. For their sakes I’m trying to like fish again! I’ve made some headway with seafood. There is no way on earth I could stomach a mussel or oyster right now but I have started eating crab.

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One of my favourite fish dishes used to be hake with clams and parsley. This is a staple of my family, especially my beautiful cousin Maite Miren and I always have it when I visit the Basque country. Hake is incredibly popular over there but very common in the waters around the UK. It’s mostly shipped to Spain which is a tragedy because it’s fantastic. Here is a photo of Maite with her two gorgeous daughters Sara and Andrea. I have no idea why they are so pouty in this photo so here’s a jollier pic of them with my other cousin Olatz (also beautiful!) during the famous ‘Carnavales de Tolosa’ (a week of fiestas before Easter, on the first Friday night the whole town buries a sardine at midnight, the next morning they dance la Diana around town and so on for a week… all in fancy dress!).

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If anything is likely to cure me of my fish phobia this is it so Maite sent me her recipe. Lexie and I bought top quality hake fillets from Applebees, the best fishmongers at Borough market (we also shared one of their delicious prawn wraps). Then we bought Palourde clams from the popular fishmongers in the middle of the market as Applebees didn’t have any.

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fish

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The verdict: this recipe is delicious… if you like fish! It’s very simple, the flavours are subtle so the hake and clams are the the stars of this dish. This is Lewis favourite style of Basque cooking. He’s not a fan of the mayonaisy/bechamely style of tapas that are also very popular. Lexie also loved it though I left the clams out for her, I’m not quite sure why. I liked the clams and the hake was cooked to perfection BUT it just tasted fishy!!!

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Hake with clams

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 5-10 mins
Budget: £15-20 – good quality fish costs lots of money (£13 hake, £4 clams, £1.50 parsley)
Ease: medium – there is a knack to cooking fish well that must be learnt by experience even though the recipe is simple
Serves 3

  • Hake fillets or steaks (fillets have no bones so better for kids)
  • Clams – as many as you fancy
  • Olive oil
  • A little flour for dusting
  • Salt
  • Big handful of chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 chopped garlic clove
  • 1/2 white onion chopped
  • 2 big glasses of white wine

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Start by cleaning the clams. My cousin always gives them a bath in salty water ‘to make them feel at home’ she says, and to release any grit. Check all the clams and discard any that are open – they should be tightly sealed shut. Drain then add the clams to a pan with a glass of white wine and cover. Cook on a high heat until the clams have steamed open – 3-5 mins approx. Set aside reserving the liquid.

Gently fry the onion and garlic in a frying pan that will be big enough to take the fish fillets. Fry for 10 mins or until the onions have softened but not browned. Salt and dust the fish fillets with a little flour, turn up the hob to medium hot, then add to the onions with the skin side up. Add the clam liquid and some more wine – this recipe is poaching the fish in the pan, not frying it. Cook for 2-3 mins then gently turn and cook for another 2-3 mins. The sauce should be bubbling down and you may need to add a little fish stock or wine for more liquid if the fillets are thick or if the sauce drying up. At the last minute add the chopped parsley and clams y listo! My cousin recommends serving this with chunky chips and a hardboiled egg (I’m not sure if she means a finely chopped boiled egg to sprinkle on top – will check). Lewis hates boiled eggs so we omitted this and we made rice instead which was fine as there is a lot of sauce. I gave Lexie the fish with a little rice and sauteed courgette and she ate it all happily.

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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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Veal saltimbocca

Here is the recipe for veal saltimbocca I made a few nights ago. ‘Saltimbocca’ means ‘jump into the mouth’ and given how tired I am right now I’d be so grateful if my food did just cook itself, jump into my mouth and then wash up after thanks! I talked about the inspiration behind this recipe here and got the veal from the Ginger Pig so it was top quality and ethical. We only tend to buy one cut of meat a week which makes it easier to justify the expense of a good quality butcher.

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A while ago we went through a veal milanese phase (breaded veal escalope) but decided we prefer chicken milanese because it tastes nicer. I’m so happy to discover a new way to cook veal that suits better it’s luxurious taste and tender texture. A huge thank you to Mimi Thorisson for the recipe! Lexie loved her ‘maybe tiny little’ (her words) piece she had with mushroom tagliatelle. We had ours with roast potatoes and mushrooms. I think next time I’ll make extra sauce and serve the saltimbocca with rice, a green salad and some lemon wedges.

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Veal saltimbocca

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 10-15 mins
Budget: £10-15 (veal £7, ham £3, sage £1.50)

  • Very thin veal escalopes (ask the butcher to batter them for you)
  • Flour for dusting
  • A slice of prosciutto or parma ham per escalope
  • Fresh sage leaves
  • 4 or 5 tbsp good quality stock – veal or beef or chicken – try and use real stock. I love my stock cubes but they don’t work well for this sauce
  • Butter
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 glass white wine

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Preheat the oven to 180/gas mark 4. Dust the escalopes with flour. Add a generous amount of butter and olive oil to a fry pan and heat until sizzling. Fry the veal for 15 seconds on both sides then season and add some sage leaves. Pour in the wine and cook for 2 more minutes. Then remove the veal and put into a baking tray. Add the stock to the frying pan, mix and cook for 3 minutes. Place a slice of prosciutto on each escalope, pour the sauce on top, add a few more sage leaves and bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes.

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Baked porcini mushrooms

As I said the other day, all this wet weather is making me fancy mushrooms – mainly on toast (fried in olive oil with garlic and parsley, maybe a splash of wine) or on pasta. Since I’m in London and can’t go foraging with my family in a Basque forest the next best thing is of course Borough market which luckily we live right by. I wanted to try something different from the usual suspects (chestnut and button mushrooms). I also wanted to do a non-pasta dish!

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I decided to make this baked porcini River cafe recipe because it sounded delicious and very easy. We had it with veal saltimbocca and rosemary, garlic and lemon roast potatoes. It’s lovely but next time I might try it with balsamic instead of lemon for a bit of sweetness. It’s definitely a starter/side dish not a main!!

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Baked porcini mushrooms

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 8 – 15 mins
Budget: £5 – £10 depending on cost of mushrooms (Salad £1.99, pancetta £3, mushrooms £2, herbs £1.50, lemon 30p)

  • Porcini mushrooms (in pics used portobello)
  • Pancetta cubed
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • Sticks of thyme
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Rocket salad or similar
  • Lemon (or balsamic vinegar)

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Preheat the oven to 180/gas mark 4. Clean your mushrooms by cutting off the end of the stalk and wiping with a kitchen towel or old toothbrush (here are more tips on how to cook and clean mushrooms – don’t wash them!! Makes them soggy!). Put the mushrooms in a baking tray, stalk side up, and drizzle with oil. Stick the thyme into the stalk and sprinkle the cubed pancetta and garlic on top of the mushroom. Pop in the oven for 8-15 mins. Once done serve whole or sliced on rocket salad (or ‘a bed of leaves’ if you prefer…). Season and drizzle with extra olive oil and either lemon juice or balsamic vinegar.

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