A nourishing vegetable curry… and a baby!

I’ve been pondering how to return here. With an overspill of events since early autumn to catch up on, not to mention the backlog of recipes still from the summer, where to start? With the most important news of course…

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My son Finn was born on the 2nd of December. Having spent most of September and October rueing the unseasonal heat, I was delighted in bitter November when the wind began to howl, the trees became skeletons and it finally got cold. I’m so happy Finn was born at the start of December, at the beginning of this frozen month, and just before the Christmas festivities began in earnest.

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Now he’s here it’s like he was always with us, as is the way with babies. I feel complete and also delighted to no longer be pregnant. He’s a beautiful, blue eyed boy. Looks remarkably like his sister did as the picture below shows. Very strong, very sweet and growing exponentially, especially considering he’s been plagued with viruses since birth. The love came instantly this time round.

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Obviously we are exhausted! To the bone. He has colic, poor little boy. It is really hard. So the first recipe I’m noting is from the food parcel delivered by my mother-in-law the week after he was born. A gentle vegetable and chickpea curry, delicately spiced and laced with coconut milk. It’s comforting, nourishing and also a good January dish being both warming and good for the body and the soul. It’s easy to make a huge vat of this for freezing or for quick suppers and it’s mild so suitable for little ones. There is a one off investment in the requisite spices, after that this recipe is as cheap as chips. She first made us this when we arrived for a stay at her house in the Scottish highlands, perfect after 12 hours of travel culminating in a 3 hour drive with a screaming child. When she asked us what we wanted in the food parcel it was my first choice (Lewis wanted fish pie). She says the spicing comes from a Nigel Slater recipe. Pic of curry to follow and I don’t know why the pics are so massive on this post – sorry!

Vegetable curry

Prep: 20 mins
Cook: 45mins – 1hr
Serves: 6
Budget: £5-10 assuming spices not included

  • 1 or 2 tins chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3 red chillis (or less if wanted), chopped
  • 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 6 cardamon pods
  • Groundnut oil (or sunflower/vegetable oil)
  • 15 curry leaves
  • 1 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • 500g tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1 large sweet potato (new potatoes are nice too instead), peeled and in chunks
  • 1 red pepper, thick slices
  • Spinach, rinsed
  • Vegetable or chicken stock, 750 ml
  • 1/2 or 1 tin of coconut milk
  • Handful of chopped fresh coriander

Grind the coriander seeds in a pestle and mortar. Remove the seeds from the cardamon pods and also grind.

Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pan and gently cook the onions and garlic until soft.

Stir in the curry leaves, mustard seeds, ground coriander, turmeric, cardamon seeds and chopped chillis. Fry for a few mins then add the carrots and cook on a low heat for 5 mins.

Add the tomatoes, sweet potato and peppers then pour in the stock. Bring to the boil and skim off any froth that comes to the surface, then simmer gently for 20-30 mins, stirring from time to time.

When the veg is nicely tender but not overdone the curry is ready. Stir in the chickpeas and when they are warm add the coconut milk.

Finally stir in the spinach which should wilt instantly in the heat then garnish with fresh coriander and serve with rice.

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Butternut squash and pumpkin soup with a thyme and taleggio tart

Argh I’m drowning in a sea of recipes I keep meaning to post here. There are recipes from the summer in my backlog!! Really nice recipes like roast sea bream with salsa verde or an indian chickpea curry we had for the first time in Scotland back in June. Also our favourite blueberry muffins, a windfall apple cake and the fish curry Lewis makes for the whole family every year in France. But alas! The mood to write, she is not there as Hercule Poirot, for whom I always have time, might or might not say.

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To start, here is a recipe for butternut squash and pumpkin soup. Very ‘in’ right now, I’m sure you’ll agree, seeing as it’s proper autumn with the damp and the rain and the leaves. We are greatly enjoying stomping through the leaves this year. The pic above is Lexie posting her birthday party invites, although I had to tell her they were birthday cards for her friends. She wants to keep all her precious Peppa Pig invites for herself and also wants to do the pinata on her own!! This is an easy soup and Lexie loved it when she was weaning onto solids. I’d make it super thick and she’d feed herself (also I never did this but you could easily freeze this into ice cubes for quick baby meals). Now Lexie hates butternut squash so has to be coaxed into having a couple of mouthfuls, or dabbing her cheese toastie in the soup.

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A blob of gorgonzola or another blue cheese is heavenly in this soup and I keep meaning to fry a little pancetta to add on top. A dash of cayenne pepper/chilli powder, a swirl of creme fraiche and some chopped coriander works well too. This recipe is also a good way to make pumpkin taste nice (pumpkin really isn’t that nice on it’s own). Definitely roast the squash first for a richer, more flavourful soup. The pic above is the first time Lexie saw a pumpkin and the other pic is of her helping me buy lots of squash and pumpkins last year – little cutie pie!

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Because I’ve been making this soup for years and find it a bit boring I thought I’d add the recipe for a delicious thyme and taleggio tart. I can’t remember when Lewis first made this for me. It was definitely in the early years of our ‘long term relationship’ (that’s an ‘in’ joke) and it’s a staple from his family. It’s sooo easy and sooo good, a pimped puff pastry job – do try this! Using the same principles you can make a variety of tasty tarts – some that I’ve tried include cherry tomato, basil and goats cheese, very nice. Also a butternut squash and feta tart, a variation of this salad. 

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Finally we’ve gone a bit nuts for autumny crafts in our house now that Lexie is almost 3 and actually a joy to do crafts with (as opposed to when she was 2 when really all I should have done every day was build a massive tower of soft bricks, give her a Timmy Mallet style mallet and set her loose to destroy!). We’ve got leaf ghosts, egg carton spiders and bats, hedgehogs made out of paper plates or conkers, fingerprint or popcorn trees, I could go on.

Butternut squash and pumpkin soup

Prep: 5-10 mins
Cook: 20-30 mins
Budget: Less than £5 (£1.50 butternut squash, £1 pumpkin, £1 parsley)
Ease: Easy
Serves: 2 – 4 depending on portion size Ingredients:

  • A butternut squash and a pumpkin, halved
  • 1 sliced onion
  • Chicken stock
  • Chopped parsley
  • Olive oil and butter
  • Salt and pepper

Roast the squash in pieces (skin on) drizzled in olive oil and sea salt. Try to roast it for at least an hour, until it is all soft and squoodgy.

Gently fry the onion in the olive oil and a little butter for 10 mins. When the onion is soft add the peeled and deseeded butternut squash/pumpkin and cover with stock – as much as you want depending on if you want a thin or thick soup.

Bring to the boil then simmer for 15 mins. Use a juzzer thingimibob to puree the soup et voila, presto, listo, done.

This soup is lovely with a nice cheese toastie or served with a good cheese plate. We often have it with comte cheese.

Thyme and taleggio tart

Prep: 5 mins
Cook: 20-40 mins
Budget: £6 (£3 taleggio, £1 thyme, £1.50 puff pastry)
Ease: Easy
Serves: 4-6 depending on portion size

  • 1 sheet of bought puff pastry
  • 2 onions
  • Lots of butter
  • A few sprigs of fresh thyme
  • Taleggio cheese

Preheat the oven to 200-220c and roll the puff pastry out onto a greased baking tray or a tray lined with greaseproof paper. Score the edges about 2cm apart to make a border (I never do this and it’s always fine, just leave a bit of a border if you want).

In a separate pan, gently fry the onion in lots of butter until soft and translucent, at least 10 mins of frying and don’t let it brown. When the onion is done spread it over the puff pastry and dob pieces of the taleggio on top.

Finally sprinkle the thyme sprigs all over the tart. Lots of thyme is good. Brush the pastry border with a little melted butter (again I never do this and it’s fine without), pop in the oven, and bake for about 20-30 minutes until the pastry is puffed and golden. You can turn the heat up if you want it to cook quicker/be more golden.

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.

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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Lentils with chorizo

When I was little my dad and I absolutely loved my mum’s lentils with chorizo. She could never understand how we could get so excited about lentils which represent to her the poverty of growing up in post Civil War Spain – endless stews of lentils or chickpeas, eking out whatever meat was available. “Are you sure you want lentils?” She’d ask: “What about a lovely roast pork or chicken?” But we’d always want the lentils and spend ages trying to distract each other so we could steal more lumps of chorizo from the other’s bowl.

After another day of drizzly rain we went for a quick run around the square, came back and put on Ay Carmela!, my favourite Spanish Civil War revolutionary song from Rolando Alarcon’s album, and had steaming hot bowls of lentils with chorizo! Rhumbala rhumbala rhum ba la!

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This stew is very cheap, nutritious and delicious which must be pointed out as it can look a little like brown sludge. It keeps for about a week in the fridge and, as with all these stews, tastes much better the day after you make it. Lexie absolutely loves it and it’s probably her second favourite dish right now (although she won’t touch the chorizo!! #sonotmydaughter). In my view the chorizo makes this dish and I always make it if I have any pork leftovers as they are delicious chucked in too. But I should say it’s tasty even with no meat so if you are veggie just leave out the bacon/chorizo etc and use veg stock. It’s similar to the sausage lentil casserole I’ve posted before and I’ll add a French variation at the end taught to me by my 97 year old granny-in-law.

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Lentils with chorizo

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 45-1 hour
Budget: £5-10 (£1 lentils, 20p onion, £3 chorizo, 30p potato, 30p carrot, £3 bacon)

  • Green lentils – half a packet serves 4
  • 1 peeled potato chopped into big chunks
  • 1 peeled carrot chopped into big chunks
  • 1 peeled and chopped white onion
  • Chorizo chopped into chunks – 1 little one or half a big one
  • 2 rashers chopped bacon
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 chicken stock cube
  • Leftover pork (roast or pork chop) – optional
  • Olive oil

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Fry the bacon and onion in a little olive oil in a casserole dish – I used a Le Creuset. Add a little salt to help the onions release their juices and fry gently for as long as you can be bothered. The idea is to make a sort of sofrito with softened not browned onions so I usually fry gently for 10 mins, turn it off covered for 10 mins then fry again for another 10. Then add the green lentils, bay leaf, stock cube and chopped carrot. Cover with double the amount of water, bring to the boil then simmer partially covered. After 20 mins check the water, top up if need be as lentils guzzle water, then add the potato. Cook for another 20 minutes, check the water again then add the chorizo and any leftover pork if using. My mum sometimes boils the chorizo for 30 seconds in water before adding to remove excess oil but I don’t often bother. Simmer for another 10 mins and it should be ready – all lovely and brown and sludgy! You really have to believe me on this one! Serve with some lovely fresh bread.

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  • French variation – exactly the same recipe but omit the potato and chorizo (you can still add pork leftovers). Cook for 40 ish minutes then just before serving add one tbsp of dijon mustard and stir around. Delicious served with chipolatas!

Jamaican lamb curry

It’s my birthday! My favourite birthday dinner is steak and chips. But it’s been chips overload of late and it’s so rainy and grey I wanted this delicious Jamaican lamb curry instead.

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The first time I had this was at my brother-in-law’s with top quality meat from the Ginger Pig. He adapted it from Levi Roots Goat curry. It is A M A Z I N G and super spicy. This is a cheap dish as it uses lamb neck but it does take ages to cook and has many different stages of prep so we always make it the day before we’re having it (by we I mean Lewis). If you leave out the scotch bonnet and reduce the curry powder it’s ok for kids. Or just give them eggs on toast, put them to bed and eat the proper version mwah ha ha! (That is my ‘eating delicious curry’ face – oooh!).

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Jamaican lamb curry

Prep time: 4 hours including marinating time
Cooking time: 4 hours

  • 1kg lamb neck fillet (on or off the bone) – mutton is nice too
  • ½ a lime
  • 2 tbsp mild curry powder
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose seasoning
  • 6 tbsp sunflower or groundnut oil
  • 425ml vegetable stock
  • 1 onion – roughly chopped
  • 2cm piece of root ginger – finely chopped
  • 1 hot red chilli (ideally Scotch bonnet) – seeds left in, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves – finely chopped
  • 10 allspice berries
  • ½ a red pepper – deseeded and cubed
  • ½ a green pepper – deseeded and cubed
  • 2 spring onions – green part only, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
  • Salt and pepper

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Wash the meat and pat it dry with kitchen paper then put it in a large bowl with the lime juice, curry powder and all-purpose seasoning. Leave to marinate for 4 hours in the fridge. Heat a large non-stick casserole or heavy-based saucepan until it is very hot, then add the oil. When the oil is very hot, put the lamb in and turn the chunks over with a wooden spoon to coat the meat in oil. Cover with a lid, turn the heat right down to very low and leave it to just simmer for 45 minutes. Keep checking the pot to make sure the meat isn’t getting scorched on the bottom. I massively burnt the meat the first time I made this so keep a close eye on it! Lewis says about this: “It’s a tricky recipe and needs attention. The first 2 hours are done on a low low low heat. The lamb literally steams in the gravy, no sizzling whatsoever except right at the start when you sizzle it in a hot pan, but very briefly then turn the heat right down.” (This was a text response to me texting “I want to make the curry but am scared of burning it again!!”)

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After 45 minutes, add 150ml of the stock, bring to the boil, turn the heat right down, cover and leave to simmer. After another 45 minutes, repeat this with another 150ml of stock and cook for a further 45 minutes. Add the onion, ginger, chilli, garlic and allspice and stir gently. Add the rest of the ingredients and stock – bring to the boil.

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Turn the heat down again, cover and cook for another 2 hours, stirring from time to time. Keep an eye on it and add more stock if it seems dry. Once done it should be fragrant and glistening. Serve with rice and lots of water because it’s S P I C Y!

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Chocolate chip cookies

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

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Basque men

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

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

Chocolate chip cookies (makes 12-14 cookies)

Prep time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 10 mins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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