Fluffy pancakes

I’ve mentioned before we’ve started baking a lot with Lexie, especially at the weekends. What with PANCAKE DAY around the corner I thought I’d post one of our pancake recipes. Lewis is the master of crepes, while I usually do ‘fluffy pancakes’, her name for fat american style pancakes. Here’s how to make them. (Sorry for the massive pictures – not sure how to fix this)

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Fluffy pancakes

  • 350 g of flour
  • 80 g of sugar (or 100 g if you want them sweeter)
  • 2½  teaspoon of baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 500 ml buttermilk (make this by adding 2 tbsp of lemon juice to the milk and leaving to stand for 10 mins)
  • 2 big eggs
  • 50 g of melted butter
  • 1 packet of fresh blueberries – optional

This recipe comes from Babyccino Kids. We’ve tried lots of other recipes but this one has always worked best for us.

Mix the dry ingredients – the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, sugar and salt. Then in another bowl bowl mix the wet ingredients – the buttermilk, eggs and melted butter.

Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and stir until it is just combined, don’t over stir. If using, add the blueberries. Definitely let the batter sit for 10-15 mins – this makes a huge difference.

Melt a little butter in a frying pan that is on a medium heat. When it’s hot pour in a ladle of batter. Wait until little bubbles have started appearing in the pancake and then flip over, a couple of mins per side.

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For toppings we usually have:

  • If plain pancakes – streaky bacon and maple syrup
  • If blueberry pancakes – extra chopped banana and maple syrup
  • A mix of fresh berries and creme fraiche or yoghurt, drizzled with agave syrup or maple syrup. Or vanilla ice cream for a special treat!
  • Berry compote – cherry or blackberry are particularly good – with creme fraiche or yoghurt. (I prefer this topping on crepes).

A quick berry compote

A punnet of berries – any you like – I recently did blackberries
2 tbps caster sugar (to taste)
1 tbsp water
Squeeze of lemon

Put everything in a saucepan and bubble on a low heat until the berries are bursting. Taste the compote for sweetness, I like mine quite sweet but you can adjust the sugar to suit your taste.

A note about syrups

Although maple syrup is classically used for american pancakes you can replace with agave syrup or honey or even sugar if you prefer. According to Gwyneth Paltrow agave syrup is “super low on the glycaemic index and has lots of minerals including potassium, magnesium, iron and calcium.” Vermont maple syrup is also low on the glycaemic index and is “a great source of manganese and zinc.” There you go!

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Vongole for Valentines!

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

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

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

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

Blood orange campari spritz

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

Spaghetti alle vongole

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Roast sea bream with salsa verde

Yup it’s January. Not a lot to report here. Finn is still coliky and Lexie is a poppet. I’m slightly keen to escape London for the weekend, ideally somewhere snowy. Lex is obsessed with the idea of snow thanks to all her Christmas books and shows. It’s only snowed once in her lifetime when she was one and she can’t remember it.

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Thankfully a trip to beautiful Richmond is pretty much like going to the countryside and just as uplifting. Especially as we visited the magical Petersham Nurseries for a potter and lunch in the teahouse (the ‘cafe’ is actually the restaurant and so pricy, like £30 mains, the ‘teahouse’ is the slightly more affordable cafe with soups, salads and cakes). For those who don’t know, both are set within the garden nurseries and you eat in what look like beautiful vintage greenhouses with bare earth floors, and a robin in our case!

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The nurseries are so beautiful and it was a glorious but freezing cold sunny day. We warmed up with bowls of delicious winter minestrone, the best coffee I’ve had in a long time and decadant slices of lemon poppyseed cake. Lewis bought me a beautiful jasmine as a birthday gift and Lexie loved running around the nurseries, jump/sliding on the frozen puddles.

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The style of cooking at Petersham is very River Cafe, not surprising given the head of the kitchen garden Lucy Boyd is the daughter of River Cafe founder Rose Gray. I’ve since recreated the delicious minestrone we had at home and will post that recipe soon. Until then here is a recipe for roast sea bream with salsa verde, which I think is also a very Petersham Nurseries style of dish. We made this the same day with purple sprouting broccoli and puy lentils (it’s an update of this recipe with a different fish).

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Roast sea bream with salsa verde

  • 1 sea bream, cleaned
  • Handful of chopped basil and parsley
  • Sea salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Lemon, thinly sliced

For the salsa verde

  • 8 tbsps olive oil
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice (or slightly less of red wine vinegar)
  • 6 anchovy fillets – chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic – minced
  • A handful of chopped parsley
  • A handful of chopped basil
  • 1 tbsp capers
  • Dijon mustard (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200/gas 5. Slice 4 or 5 slits on each side of the fish and stuff each one with a thin slice of lemon and some of the chopped herbs.

Put the fish in a roasting tin, season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Cover with foil and roast for 20 mins or until done.

While the fish is roasting make the salsa verde as per Lewis instructions: “Chop a good handful of flat parsley and the same of basil, add a tbsp of capers, 6 anchovy fillets, a single clove of garlic, a tbsp of lemon juice or slightly less of red-wine vinegar. Beat in enough olive oil (about 8 tbsp) to make a thick, slushy sauce. I also add a little dijon mustard. Parsley, garlic, oil and vinegar/lemon essential. Basil, anchovies and capers desirable but not essential.”

We had this with some puy lentils that take about 20 mins to cook and some lightly boiled purple sprouting broccoli. It would also be delicious with rice or boiled new potatoes.

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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.

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.

Butternut squash tagine

I’ve never managed anything like the Atkins diet but I’ve had phases of eating very healthily (no croissants or cake! Lots of pulses and veggies!). I learnt this recipe during one of those spells and it’s happily remained in my repertoire because it’s tasty and Lewis really likes it.

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It’s adapted from an Ottonlenghi recipe which means it’s delicious but has a bonkers list of ingredients! It’s actually really easy to make and very cheap once you’ve invested in the required condiments (ground coriander/ginger etc). When weighing out the spices I always make a separate mix and keep it in a jar to use for next time to help make this recipe simpler. Lexie loves the cous cous and will only eat the squash if we tell her it’s turnip because she “don’t like squash mummy.”

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Butternut squash tagine

Serves four
Prep time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 20 mins
Budget: £5-10 (£1.50 butternut squash, £3 fresh herbs, we had all the other spices but roughly £1.50-£2 per spice, £1 cous cous)
Ease: Easy

  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 50g butter
  • 800g peeled butternut squash or pumpkin, cut into 2.5cm dice
  • ½ chilli, thinly sliced – leave out for kids
  • 4 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 bayleaf
  • 3 cardamom pods
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg (have left this out before when didn’t have it and was fine without)
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • ½ tsp ground turmeric
  • Small pinch saffron (have left this out before when didn’t have it and was fine without)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • ½ tbsp honey
  • Salt and pepper
  • Chicken or veg stock
  • 4 tbsp fresh coriander, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp pinenuts, roasted and roughly chopped
  • Cous cous

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In a large, heavy saucepan, sauté the onion in oil and butter for 10 minutes, add the squash and cook for a few minutes. Add the herbs, spices, honey, salt and pepper, cover with stock (or add a stock cube and cover with water so squash well covered) and simmer for 20-30 mins. It really won’t need more than 30 mins and do check the squash after 15-20 mins – squash cooks really quickly and can disintegrate – the squash should be soft but not collapsing. The sauce should have thickened slightly by now – if it’s too runny, increase the heat to reduce. Stir in half the fresh coriander. Prepare the cous cous as per the packet instructions. Dry fry pine nuts (get a frying pan, heat on stove, add pine nuts and fry until slightly changing colour – try not to burn!). Serve the tagine over couscous and garnish with pine nuts and the rest of the coriander. For kids I fish out the bigger spices like bay leaf/cardamon/cinnamon stick so they are not surprised by random cardamon pods or cinnamon bark!

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Lamb stew with flageolet beans

We’ve gone from the wettest January in 250 years according to the press to ‘Wild Wednesday’ with ‘Red Warning’ winds hitting Britain. In the Basque country when the sea waves are this big it’s called temporal. Whenever it’s stormy here my mum tells me about how much more ‘impresionante’ temporal is in San Sebastian and how people go out of their way to witness it. So far today she’s told me about temporal at least 3 times…

We’re staying in then! I’ve a mountain of laundry to conquer (including a bag of dry clean only knitwear I just realised our machine can wash perfectly on a cold wool setting!! HIGHLIGHT OF MY DAY! NOT BEING SARCASTIC). I made a nice minestrone for our lunch and, because I remembered to marinate the meat last night, this lamb stew is currently bubbling away on the stove for our dinner, while we listen to Lena Horne’s Stormy Weather on the stereo!

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It’s one of my mum’s staples and she also does a similar stew with beef which I’ll share soon. It’s very rich and gorgeous – Lexie likes it but I give her a small portion and often water her sauce down a little. It’s also another brown recipe from me! I’m turning into the brown pot lady! I’ve got a bright orange butternut squash tagine coming up as well as my cousin’s hake and clams in salsa verde. This blog will soon be a rainbow I promise! (Couldn’t resist this pic again!)

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Lamb stew with flageolet beans

Prep time: 10 mins plus 4 hours + marinating time
Cooking time: 2-4 hours
Budget: £10 (£4 lamb neck, 60p onion, 30p carrot, £1 rosemary, £2 tin flageolet beans, £2 bacon)
Ease: easy
Serves 4

  • 2 pieces of lamb neck fillet or similar cut of lamb for stewing – cut into pieces
  • 1 white onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 carrot, peeled and sliced
  • 1/4 stick celery, sliced
  • 2 tbsp roughly of olive oil
  • 2 big glasses of red wine
  • 1 stick of rosemary
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 carrot
  • 2 rashers streaky bacon, chopped
  • 1 stock cube – chicken, lamb or veg
  • Plain flour for dusting lamb
  • Salt and pepper
  • Tin of flageolet beans

Marinate the meat for 4 hours or ideally overnight in some olive oil (2 tbpsn), a big glass of red wine, salt and pepper, garlic cloves and a stick of rosemary.

Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed pan (I used a Le Creuset). Take the lamb pieces out of the marinade, reserving the liquid to add to the stew later, dust lightly in flour and place into the hot oil. I used to be crap at browning meat – the trick is, as Hugh Fearnley says: “Remember you are looking to burn…” This info from his MEAT cookbook is the business:

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Once the meat is browned, set aside on a plate and add a big splash of wine to the pan. Turn the heat up and use a spatula to scrape up or ‘deglaze’ all the meaty bits. After a couple of minutes pour the winey bits into the marinade.

Put more oil in the pan, heat then add the onion, carrot, celery and bacon. Season and cook gently for ages to make the sofrito (very softened onions, not browned). When the sofrito is ready add the meat and juices that have been released while it’s been resting. Then add the marinade liquid keeping the garlic cloves but removing and chucking the stick of rosemary. Add a bay leaf, the stock cube and top up with lots of water – the lamb should be well covered. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 2-4 hours. From time to time check it’s not drying out and if it is just add more water. 10 mins before serving open, drain and rinse the flageolet beans and add to the stew. Season to taste and serve with lots of fresh crusty white bread. This stew is also nice with boiled new potatoes instead of flageolet beans or even rice – but not chips or roast tatties!! Nooo – it’s too rich for them!

(Here’s a pic of our sole outing of the day at dusk so Lexie could have a scoot around the square and look at the moon!)

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EDIT: We’ve just eaten the stew – it was bloody amazing!

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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!