Wednesday, 30 September 2015

A London Lunch: Bourekas at Balkan Bites

Today's lunch was a good one - a warming, satisfying plate that reminds me of sunnier climes.

I had a Spinach and Feta Boureka from Balkan Bites's outpost at Borough Market. Whilst I'm more familiar with the Greek version (Spanakopita), this is an equally delicious pie filled with unctuous feta and good-for-you spinach. What's more for only a fiver, this was served on a pillow of mouth-watering and freshly made hummus, with some cooked chickpeas and topped with salt and fresh chilli sauce.

Balkan Bites has a shop in Crouch End but can be found at Borough Market Monday-Wednesday's 10am-5pm, Friday's 10am-6pm and Saturday's 8am-5pm.

For £5.00 my boureka was a real treat - slightly naughty, but very, very nice.

Baby Bites Party Food: Spiced Chicken Goujons

This weekend we had 18 of our immediate family over in celebration of our daughter, Bridget reaching her first birthday - a little tea party, in honour of this first milestone. I did a range of different party foods to have universal appeal with both the adult majority as well as the three children.

Chicken goujons seem to be a mainstay as a party finger food and I made my own to avoid any nasty additives being used and so we knew the chicken was of the best quality and organic to boot. I used a spice combination that worked well, but if for smaller babies you may want to reduce the quantities to tone it down a little, but luckily Bridget and her cousin Pearl who is four months older, both love lots of spicier flavours so these went down well with both adults and children alike.

The below makes enough for a big platter full, as seen in the picture, and I served with some Ketchup, BBQ sauce and a Harissa Mayo as dips. In the breadcrumb mix I've also used some garlic salt which may seem like a lot but it really does add flavour. You can always omit to use if you don't want baby having any salt content at all but they will likely only have one goujon which will contain a minimal amount.

Here's how:
  • 5 breasts of chicken
  • 4-5 slices of granary or brown bread
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tbsp black pepper
  • 1 tbsp garlic salt
  • 1 tbsp oregano
  • 2-3 eggs
  • 200g plain flour
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil

Firstly pre-heat the oven to 180 and line two baking trays with some baking papers then brush with a tiny bit of vegetable oil and set aside for the moment.

Now get two equal sized bowls together. Crack the eggs into one and gently beat.

The flour goes into the other bowl with a pinch of black pepper.

Now you need to make your breadcrumbs by placing one slice at a time into a food processor and blitzing then pouring into a larger bowl. Repeat until all the breadcrumbs have been made.

Now add the seasoning and give a good stir so everything is combined.

Now flatten out each chicken breast onto a chopping board and chop into chunky slithers unto all have been chopped. Don't worry about each piece being exactly the same - the fact they won’t be, will add to the rustic look and demonstrate the fact they have been homemade.

Now coat each piece coat in the flour by popping into the flour and turning. Then move it into the egg and turn, ensuring each part of the goujon is coated in egg, then finally dip into the breadcrumbs and turn and place onto the baking sheet.

Once each piece has been coated in breadcrumbs place onto the baking tray and then pop both trays into the oven to bake for twenty minutes. 

Remove from the oven and serve either hot or cold with your preferred choice of dips.

Pork Cheeks Braised in Cider and Apples

I have been experimenting with pork cheeks a lot lately - they are so delicious slowly braised, and yet one of the cheapest cuts of meat out there. I picked up four cheeks for £1.40 in Morrison's for this particular recipe - bargain.

This recipe calls for a bottle (500ml) of apple cider. I also used some Kentish apples straight from a farm in Hunton, but any cooking apples will do.

The combination of cider, apples plus the parsnip make this quite a sweet dish so I serve alongside some mustard mash or with a jacket potato with oodles of grain mustard to offset the sweetness and with extra vegetables too to ward off any colds or flu now the cold is setting in. This is a favourite batch cook meal too - you can make it, freeze it and it can be on the table in thirty minutes when you get in from work mid-week which makes it a winner in my eyes.

Pork Cheeks Braised in Cider and Apples

Here's how:
  • 4 pork cheeks
  • 1 onion
  • 4 celery sticks
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 parsnip
  • 2 apples
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 500ml apple cider
  • 500ml chicken stock
  • Pinch salt & black pepper
  • Pinch of dried thyme or few sprigs of fresh
  • Drizzle olive oil 
Firstly slice the onion and celery, mince the garlic and add to a casserole pot.

Peel the carrots and parsnip and slice finely then add to the pot. Do the same with the apple.

Now drizzle the oil into a pan and place on a medium heat.

Season the pork cheeks and brown all over in the pan. Once browned, add to the pot and cover with the cider and stock.

Give a good stir, season again and place into the oven for 3 hours.

Remove the casserole dish every 45 minutes- 1 hour and give a stir.

When you remove the casserole from the oven check the meat is perfectly tender, it should fall apart easily if you prod it with a fork.

Serve with your accompaniments and enjoy.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Captivated by Kefalonia

In June my partner Glen and I took our little, then nine month old, daughter Bridget on our first holiday as just the three of us – destination Kefalonia.

If you regularly read this blog, you will know I’m heavily influenced by Greek cuisine in my own cookery – I adore the flavours and I adore the Greek islands too. This was my first trip to Kefalonia and I can safely say it won’t be my last and I jotted down a few things to share, should anyone want any pointers if visiting the island.

We travelled with Olympic and stayed in the resort of Lassi at the charming and quaint Irilena Hotel. The hotel was named for the owner’s daughter, who in her early thirties was regularly seen at the hotel bar – however this was primarily the domain of her fiancé Aggi, and Tasos, both local men from Argostoli. We got on so well with both of these, they were just the friendliest people and my daughter adored both of them as they were constantly making a fuss of her. We would have a tipple in the bar each evening – sometimes until 2am and then Tasos would have to get up and go to work in his 9-5 job too in the town – but you never heard a word of complaint from him.

In terms of the rooms – they are fairly basic and typically Greek to be honest – although kept spotlessly clean and they have everything you could need as a base if you’re not spending too much time in the room. Athina – the owner was around each morning and again made such a fuss of the baby and was always checking did we have enough of everything in the room. She even gave up her own personal room on our last day so we could get Bridget and ourselves showered before our late flight. Nothing was too much at this hotel.

Lassi in general, as we learned, is a purely tourist resort – but this couldn’t take away from its’ charm. With a scattering of tavernas serving all of the local delicacies, such as Kefalonian meat pie, moussaka, stiffado and kleftiko there really was something for everyone. I won’t go through each and every restaurant as we did have good meals everywhere – but some of the restaurants in the resort of note, include Veronika’s, Butler’s House and Nefelli’s. We also had a fabulous night at Zorba’s where traditional dancing took place and the food was fantastic too. 

Feta topped Mushroom 

Kleftori Mushrooms

Beef Stiffado


Feta Saganaki and mix plate

Feta in the oven

We kept our week fairly low key, being as it was warm and we obviously had Bridget in tow. However this didn’t stop us venturing into Argostoli three days of the week. The bustling capital has some fabulous sites and was just an eight euro taxi ride away – I was very excited to see the fishermen selling their wares to local on the harbour-side. Argostoli is full of shops, bars and restaurants and if you were looking for some nightlife this would be the place to find it – on this part of the island at least. 

Argostoli harbour

Mid-way through the holiday we’d booked onto the island tour trip with Etam Travel and this was an absolute highlight. We took in some wonderful sites that are frankly must-see; Myrtos beach is that beautifully picturesque bay that is seen on postcards, in films and the like, and the view is truly spectacular. We were rowed through the Melissani Cave, a natural wonder, and traipsed down the Cave Drogarati too – a strangely eerie experience where you manage to feel incredibly cool, despite the outside temperature being over 90 degrees. Another highlight was visiting and tasting a selection of wines at the Robola Wine Co-Operative – where we also bought four bottles to bring home. We also visited the Monastery of St Gerassimos which was a moving experience – the people of Kefalonia call on this saint when in need even to this day and it brings back what a deeply religious place Greece can be. During the island tour we stopped for a couple of hours for lunch at Aghia Efimia a little fishing village where we enjoyed a lovely lunch and yet more beautiful views.

Myrtos Bay

Mellisani Cave

At Myrtos 

Aghia Efimia

I celebrated my 31st birthday whilst on the island and we took this opportunity to visit Lixouri – you take the ferry from Argostolli and on such a warm day, this was a pleasure in itself. We visited a little beach (I’m afraid I don’t recall the name) and had some cold drinks after about a thirty minute walk to find it. We then had a beautiful lunch in the main square of Lixouri – a platter of Greek specialities including Kefalonian meat pie, moussaka, dolmades, stuffed tomato, giant beans and a selection of dips – heavenly. 

Greek mix plate

My favourite experience of the week though has to be one we stumbled upon thanks to a female taxi driver we met – once again an example of how friendly and helpful a people the Kefalonians are. We asked to go to a different beach and Maria recommended one in Svoronata – she said it would be perfect as the water is shallow there for baby and slightly cooler as a result – she also told us the taverna there was so good that her family went there on special occasions, which we took with a pinch of salt wondering if she was recommending a friend or family’s business.

The beach was Avithos, and the restaurant To Enetiko – our best meal of the week by far. The beach was small and less busy than Costa Costa where we’d spent most of the week, it was perfect for Bridget – especially when she had a couple of naps. Peaceful and tranquil would be accurate descriptions. The food at the taverna was exceptional and makes my mouth water even thinking about it. We were greeted with home baked bread, olives and a tapenade and ordered a couple of Mythos beers to quench the thirst built up in the gorgeous sunshine. We shared the squid starter and it was the freshest, most tender, and flavourful version I have ever had – it literally tasted of the sea, in a good way. Glen had the special of the day, a slow-cooked rabbit dish in a tomato stew and I had my favourite prawn saganaki. Both were gorgeous. 


Prawn saganaki

We did spend a fair bit of time on Costa Costa Beach too and if you have little ones or like some proper shade from the sun, they hired out gorgeous white cabanas for 30 euros for the day which were ideal for keeping Bridget out of the sun. And another tip off if you can manage an uphill walk, is to visit Logos Beach Bar in Lassi – logos meaning hill means a beautiful view up there and perfect for watching the magnificent sunset – the perfect setting for a boozy cocktail.

Me at Logos Beach Bar

Having got to know Aggis and Tasos throughout the week and making friends with them, I had expressed my disappointment at not finding a good place for gyros or souvlaki in Lassi – having worked in Corfu previously this is a favourite item and I was so looking forward to it. They told us that you had to have a special licence to cook ‘on the spit’ and that the best place by far was To Karvouno and that they would happily deliver to the hotel. So on our day of departure we had a pita gyros with pancetta belly pork. We had one each, some chips and a feta salad and the entire meal cost 15 Euros and was one of the most enjoyable meals of our week in Kefalonia.

Pork Pancetta Gyros 

Kefalonia is the most captivating island I’ve ever visited and I’ve been raving about it ever since and cannot wait to return. If you haven’t been – I strongly advise you do.


In August, my friend Larni and I had a few days away in Berlin. As well as some important friend time it also coincided with my brother’s birthday - Dan was travelling across Europe during his six weeks break (primary school teacher) with some friends and we all had a great time. It’s an interesting city full of culture, historical buildings mingled with uber modern architecture and a complicated U-Bahn underground transport system which we just about navigated.

We took in the Jewish Museum in Lindenstraße - which documented some fascinating accounts of life during the war with some unusual artwork to boot, we made it to Checkpoint Charlie the infamous border crossing point which played a huge role for Allied Forces too – all very interesting and thought-provoking. I also did the Exit Escape Game with my brother and his friends which was a first for me – for those who haven’t participated, you get an hour to escape from a themed room – in this case a room in the war to prevent the president being assassinated with various clues along the way. A fun distraction in the centre of the city.

We took in plenty of shopping, visiting Bikini Berlin, Potsdamer Platz, the Europa Center and spent frankly hours in KaDeWe or Berlin’s answer to Selfridges. We also spent a fair bit of both time and Euros on cosmetics in the various Douglas stores dotted around the city. They were to us what Sephora was in New York on our last trip abroad together.

Shopping, cocktails and food are always the foundations of mine and Larni’s trips together and I really enjoyed the food in Berlin. Larni struggled a little, as the place where bratwurst is a mainstay wasn’t massively geared up for vegetarians. By mainly having Italian food in Germany we got by and below are some of the favourites.

Our first night we had a gorgeous meal at Petrocelli on Kurfürtendamm. It was buzzy and vibrant and full of happy chatter – it was a Monday night and the food looked good, that coupled with the atmosphere was what drew us in. Larni had a pasta dish that was nice – but nothing to write home about. I had a spectacular seafood salad that included prawns, squid, langoustine, mussels, and lobster and had the most sensational creamy, lemon dressing. It was just fantastic. We followed the meal with delicious desserts after, again, seeing them arrive at fellow diners tables. Larni had a chocolate fondant – perfectly oozing chocolate on the inside and I had what was essentially a fishbowl full of deliciousness – cherry, stracciatella and caramel ice creams, peach cream, whipped cream, caramelised almonds and maple walnuts. Immense. 

The meal, with wine and beer and two courses each came in around the £50 so I thought this was really good value too. The service wasn’t fantastic – but the food did make up for it for me.

I tried the classic Wiener Schnitzel at Reinhard’s am Kurfürtendamm which was nice – a little bigger than I was expecting and served with a slightly odd combination of boiled potatoes and pickled cucumber in a mayonnaise. 

We had a night of cocktails for Dan’s birthday at The Monkey Bar which overlooks Berlin Zoo and where they served incredibly good but incredibly strong drinks. A classy venue with a trendy vibe – I would return for sure. We headed from here over to Schöneberg where we popped into a few different bars and had a wild drinking night.

The hangover meal the next lunchtime was fantastic – a four cheese pizza bigger than I’ve ever tried and utterly delicious at L’Osteria at the Bikini Berlin – another place that was constantly heaving with people and it’s easy to see why. For about £15 a pop we had the most enormous pizza (which if you can’t finish they offer you a box to take it away) as well as a Peroni or two – great food, great value, great vibe.

On our last full day, we enjoyed most of the day at the Waldorf Astoria, an old faithful for us after staying with them in New York. We enjoyed a lovely lunch – steak for me with chips and grilled tomatoes – steak cooked exactly as I wished too. Larni had a goat’s cheese and roasted pepper sandwich with chips too – and she loved it. We also had a gorgeous slice of cake each – a chocolate torte for me and red velvet for Larni. I also had the best iced coffee there - these were hard to find!

Following our meal we headed upstairs to the Guerlain Spa and both enjoyed a massage. If we’d have known about it more in advance we probably would have gone here for the day and enjoyed the pool, steam and sauna facilities – we’ll know for next time.

A great city break with plenty to do – if I was to return I’d be sure to go at a cooler time of the year as it was incredibly hot (over 100) every day we were there and whilst we stayed at the modest and completely clean and comfortable NH City West hotel, they were lacking in air condition which was a massive fail for us and we really did struggle sleeping because of this. I have to say though, the bar in the hotel served some fantastic cocktails and did a very good breakfast – which we only made once in our four days!

Creamy Mustard Chicken and Mushrooms, Roasted Sweet Potato, Roasted Carrots and Asparagus in Garlic Butter

This is a lovely dish for the colder nights - it's warming and hearty and could be served with rice, pasta or just salad, or as I have with some roasted sweet potatoes and a selection of vegetables.

Surprisingly given the warm wholegrain mustard addition, this is also a weaning winner too - especially with the roasted sweet potatoes which are always a hit with Bridget. The vegetables and sweet potatoes make for great finger foods whilst the chicken and mushroom encourages the development of spoon feeding.

The below recipe makes enough for two adult portions and two weaning portions.

Here's how:
Chicken & Mushrooms:
  • 300g chicken breast
  • 150g mushrooms - I used Chestnut but any work well
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 yellow pepper
  • 4 spring onions
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 heaped tbsp creme fraiche 
  • 100ml hot chicken stock
  • 1-2 tbsp plain flour
  • 1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
  • 2 tsp dried tarragon
  • Pinch black pepper
The accompaniments:
  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 1 pack asparagus tips
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • Pinch paprika
  • Pinch dried thyme

Firstly place the oven on to 180 and the kettle on to boil.

Peel the sweet potato and slice into rounds of about 1/2 cm thickness.

Peel the carrots and cut into chunky wedges and place into a saucepan with the sweet potato and pour over the boiling water till everything is covered and place on a medium heat and cook for five minutes.

While the pot is boiling, finely slice the spring onion and 1 clove garlic and add to a non-stick pack with the olive oil and place onto a low heat.

Slice the pepper and mushrooms and set aside for a moment.

Chop the chicken into evenly sized chunks and once the spring onion has started to soften add to the pan. Turn the chicken to cook and whiten on each side.

By now the potato and carrot will be nicely blanched. Remove and drain away all water and give a vigorous shake.

Place into a baking tray or dish. I try to pop the sweet potato one end, and the carrots the other if possible. Now sprinkle over the thyme over the carrots and the paprika over the sweet potato. Add four of the garlic cloves to the pan and then drizzle over about a tablespoon of olive oil. Place into the oven to cook for 30 minutes.

Once the chicken has turned white on all sides add the pepper and mushrooms to the pan and allow them to soak up the cooking juices and slightly soften.

Now add the creme fraiche and stir till it reduces down to a less solid and more liquidy format then add the chicken stock, tarragon, mustard and black pepper and give a good stir. Allow to cook, stirring every few minutes for about five minutes. Then add the flour and stir until all is absorbed by the sauce. Now this needs to cook away until the sweet potatoes are nicely charred – stir every few minutes and this should thicken up beautifully.

A few minutes before removing the sweet potato and carrots from the oven and the chicken off of the heat, in a separate pan, melt the butter with a clove of garlic – I just cut in half and this is enough to flavour the butter. Now add the asparagus and shake every minute or so. Leave these to cook whilst you plate up everything else and that will be plenty of cooking time. Enjoy!

Sandwich Face

This isn’t a recipe, just an idea to make mealtimes fun for your tot during the weaning stage and beyond.

This is an especially good tactic if you have a fussy eater or one who needs a lot of encouragement and motivating little ones to eat finger foods is really important too.

By simply using a cookie cutter to make round sandwiches (use their favourite filling – ours at the moment are soft cheese with cucumber) and then use some salad items to make a face shape outline – using different items for the different features of the face. You could grate some carrot to make the hair, or use some radishes to make rosy cheeks but I’ve just kept it plain and simple here – a cucumber nose and hair and cherry tomato mouth.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Baby Bites Cheese and Vegetable Fingers

These are a lovely way of using up leftover mash and are a great finger food. You can add whichever leftover vegetables you have to hand too.

Serving them with a dipping sauce makes them seem a bit more fun - and this one is homemade and has no additives or any nasties in there either.

The below makes enough for six fingers - 2 are sufficient for my little girl who is 12 months but 1 would be enough for smaller appetites. They keep in the fridge for a couple of days too, but I wouldn't freeze as potato doesn't tend to defrost too well. 

Also these are popular amongst older children too, way past the weaning stage.

Here's how:
  • 2 tablespoons of leftover mash potato
  • 1 tablespoon sweetcorn
  • 1 tablespoon frozen peas
  • 1/2 carrot
  • 1 large spring onion
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley
  • 30g Cheddar or another hard cheese
  • Black pepper
  • 1 slice granary bread
  • 1 egg
  • Tomato Dipping Sauce

Firstly pre-heat the oven to 180.

Now peel and chop the carrot into very small cubes and place into a saucepan of water with the peas. Pour over some boiled water and cook for five minutes to soften.

Place the mash into a bowl and give a stir with a wooden spoon.

Chop the spring onion and parsley very finely and add to the potato with the sweetcorn and give a good stir.

Drain the carrot and peas and return to the pan to absorb any moisture. Then add to the mash mixture and again stir well.

Grate in the cheese and give one final stir.

Blitz the bread with a blender to make the breadcrumbs, then place onto a plate or bowl.

In a separate bowl crack the egg and give a quick whisk.

Now get about 1 tablespoon of mixture in your hands and shape into a finger - kind of like a sausage shape, and then place onto a clean plate. Repeat till all the mixture has been used. 

Now pat each one until it is a little rectangular shape, then dip into the egg and turn over, then dip into the breadcrumbs then return it to the plate and do the same to each finger.

Now drizzle a little vegetable oil into a pan and place on a medium heat. Once warmed add the fingers you are cooking, and allow to cook for two to three minutes or until the breadcrumbs have turned nicely golden brown. Then turn over and repeat for the other side. 

Once golden brown on each side, place the cheesy vegetable fingers onto an oven tray or dish and place into the oven to heat through for ten minutes.

Remove from the oven and cool for a few minutes until cool enough for baby to handle. Serve alongside some tomato dipping sauce.

Baby Bites Steak and Lentil Cottage Pie

This is an absolute family favourite at our house and particularly with our little weaning one.

Whilst she does love her finger food, this is a great chance to encourage her how to use a spoon too - and serving with some vegetable spears such as asparagus and baby corn, mean she can dip them in and still have a selection of fun finger foods too.

I only use 200g lean steak mince and 150g red lentils plus all of the vegetables and this makes enough for two cottage pies plus two small ones so this is a very economical meal too as well as being a bit healthier than a traditional cottage pie.

Also with the gravy - if you have all the time in the world to make one from scratch - perfect. Personally I use Bisto, and find no shame in this.


Here's how:
  • 200g lean steak mince
  • 150g red lentils
  • 1 onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 carrots
  • 3 sticks celery
  • 3 tbsp frozen peas
  • 500ml gravy - made to your preference
  • 200g white potatoes (I use Desiree) 
  • Black pepper
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 30g hard cheese (I use Cheddar)
  • 3 tbsp olive oil

Firstly peel and wash the potatoes and put them on to boil and pre-heat the oven to about 180 degrees.

Now finely dice the onion and crush the garlic add to a pan on a low heat with a spritz of cooking spray.

Now peel and chop the carrot and slice the celery and set aside.

Once the onion has begun to soften, add the meat to the pan and move around using a spatula or wooden spoon until it has browned all over.

Once brown, add the carrot, celery and lentils and cook in the juices from the meat for three or four minutes whilst you make up the gravy.

Now pour over half of the gravy and add the frozen peas, dried thyme and a pinch of black pepper at this point too. Try not to be tempted to add salt at this point if possible - the gravy will have a salt content and you and your partner or any other adults sharing the meal can always add salt when eating.

Give a good stir and leave to bubble away for twenty minutes, adding more gravy if it becomes too dry.

Test to see if the potatoes are soft enough to mash with a fork and if so, drain, shake away excess water then return to the pan and place back on the heat for ten seconds giving the pot a good shake to remove any leftover moisture.

Now add the olive oil and mash. Add a pinch of salt here too for seasoning. Once nicely mashed set aside for the moment.

Once the meat has been cooking for twenty minutes, remove from the heat and spoon half into an ovenproof dish. I like to do Bridget's in a separate dish so also use a ramekin for her which is the perfect size and two tablespoons of the meat mixture is sufficient. The remaining meat I put into a plastic dish ready for freezing. (Obviously allow this to completely cool before placing into the freezer to avoid it ruining the rest of the food in the freezer!)

Now spoon on the mashed potato onto both dishes use the back of a spoon to press it down slightly. Once evenly distributed all over, grate over the cheese onto both dishes, and use a fork to crimp to give it that classic look once cooked.

Now leave to stand until you're ready to cook or place into the oven and cook for 35-40 minutes or until nicely golden brown. 

Serve with your choice of vegetables.

Crab, Chilli and Asparagus Pappardelle

This pasta dish is one of my absolute favourites - there's barely a sauce, the rich brown crab meat and white wine plus all the seasonings make just the most delicious coating for the thick pasta, and the white crab meat stirred in last minute plus lots of fresh parsley add a delicacy and freshness that is just beautiful.

I used fresh pappardelle from La Tua but dried is good too and you can use the more traditional linguini or spaghetti too but I just love this combination.

The below serves two as a main course.

Here's how:

200g fresh pappardelle
1 whole medium dressed crab (brown and white meat)
4 spring onions
1 clove garlic
1 whole red chilli
Handful of asparagus
1 courgette
2 tbsp white wine (I used Pinot Grigio)
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp fresh parsley
Salt and black pepper
Zest of a whole lemon, juice of half

Firstly drizzle the olive oil into a pan and place on a low heat. Also boil the kettle or put a pan of water on ready for the pasta.

Now finely chop the spring onions and chilli and mince the garlic and add all to the pan to flavour the oil and slowly soften.

Use a vegetable peeler to slice the courgette into ribbons, halve and set aside. Break the tips off of the asparagus and discard the thick ends.

Add the asparagus tips to the pan, and then pour over the white wine. Allow to cook for two minutes.

Add the brown crab meat and use a wooden spoon to break apart so it's evenly distributed.

If using fresh pasta this is the time to place it on to cook with a pinch of salt as it only takes four to five minutes from here.

Chop the parsley finely and keep to one side.

Add the courgette ribbons to the pan too and move around with the wooden spoon.

Add about a third of the parsley at this stage.

Once cooked to your preference, take a tablespoon full of the pasta water and add to the crab mix, drain the pasta then add to the pan and give a good stir to ensure that the pasta is coated.

Now add the white crab meat, the parsley and grate on the zest of a whole lemon stirring all the time. This should only be just heated through for a minute or two.

Now cut the lemon in half and before serving squeeze over the juice of half of the lemon, season with salt and pepper and give a final stir.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Five Spice Rump Steak with Stir Fried Vegetables

This is the perfect midweek dinner for two – it that takes barely any time at all and is fairly healthy too but packed full of flavour.

You only need one 250g(ish) rump steak, and you can of course use a different cut, this just works quite well.

I served here with some instant noodles that take less than three minutes to cook but you can just add more vegetables to the stir fry if you prefer.

The Chinese Five Spice marinade works really well with the steak and is aromatic and warming rather than overly spicy.

Here’s how:

  • 1 rump steak (250g)
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 pepper (I used green but any colour is fine)
  • 1 red onion
  • 100g beansprouts
  • 1 small gem lettuce
  • 1 red chilli
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp rapeseed or vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp Chinese five spice
  • Handful of cashew nuts
  • 1 lime
Firstly marinade the steak in the rapeseed or vegetable oil and the Chinese five spice. I combine the two in a bowl then pop in the steak and leave for five-ten minutes while you prepare the vegetables and nuts.

Mince the garlic and roughly slice the onion and chilli and set aside – this will flavour the oil when you begin cooking shortly.

Now slice the pepper, lettuce and peel, then finely slice the carrot or use a peeler to make ribbons.

Pop your wok or pan on a medium heat and gently toast the cashews – this will only take a minute or two, until the colour changes subtly. Then remove from the heat and place into a sandwich bag or wrap is some cling wrap and bash with a rolling pin or mallet to crush a little bit.

Now extract the oil from the steak and pour into the wok and place back on a medium heat. Once hot, place the steak in and cook for two minutes exactly on each side for blushingly rare (recommended) – or slightly longer as you prefer. Time this, as overcooked steak is not a thing of deliciousness. Once the four minutes (or longer) is up, remove the steak and place onto a plate with a bowl over the top to keep the heat.

Immediately pop the onion, garlic and chilli into the oil and add the sesame oil and soy to the equation too. Cook until the onions are softened – probably 1-2 minutes.

Next add the peppers and carrot and cook for a further three minutes.

Finally add the beansprouts and lettuce to the pan – these both take less than a minute to cook – and will turn to mush if overdone so don’t be tempted to cook for longer.

During this final moment of cooking, slice the rump steak thinly.

Dish up the stir fry, with noodles or rice if this is how you’re having it, then add the strips of steak on top, scatter over the cashew nuts and give a squeeze of lime. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Baby Bites Mushroom and Cheese Omelette

Omelettes are such a quick and easy meal and the egg provides a great source of protein for baby. What's more they can be served with berries or fruit sticks as I have done for breakfast or brunch or with a side salad such as cucumber, tomatoes, radishes and lettuce for lunch or dinner.

Up until a year old you must make sure the egg is cooked right through (no runny bits) which is better whilst they are enjoying the finger food stage of weaning, as it helps the omelette to keep its’ shape.

You can use up lots of different ingredients but this cheese and mushroom variety is a favourite - I use two eggs and Bridget just has a quarter of the omelette whilst my partner has the rest. 

Here's how:
  • 1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 3 mushrooms
  • 25g hard cheese such as Cheddar, Red Leicester or Edam
  • Black pepper
  • Handful of washed berries (or salad if you prefer)

Firstly pop the butter into a non-stick pan and place on the lowest heat.

In a bowl crack the two eggs and beat gently with a fork.

Grate in the cheese and add a pinch of the black pepper.

Now wash and dry the mushrooms thoroughly and slice then add to the egg and stir through to try and evenly distribute.

Pour straight into the pan and allow to cook for 2-3 minutes or until the omelette has starts to take a more solid form on the bottom.

Use an egg slice to gently flip it over and cook for the same time on the other side.

Remove from the heat and cut off a quarter for your little one and place on a plate to cool a little. Add the berries or salad and once cooled serve to baby.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Mexican Pepper and Chorizo Stew

This is a delicious, hearty and warming dish for colder nights that takes very little time to prepare and is light on the purse strings too – win, win.

You can make it slightly bulkier with the addition of chickpeas, butter beans or cannellini beans but I love it without.

I serve with some crusty bread, a dollop of homemade guacamole and a side salad but it would work well with rice or a jacket potato too.

It has a lovely smoky, chilli heat from the chipotle and the chorizo and you can dial this up with the addition of a red chilli as I have, or if you prefer something milder just omit this. I cook for about thirty minutes – however the longer you cook the more the flavours will intensify – so adjust according to how much time you have or how hungry you are.

Serves 3-4

Here’s how:
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 red chilli
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 green pepper
  • Handful cherry tomatoes
  • 75g mushrooms
  • 1 pack of cooking chorizo sausages
  • 1 tin passata
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp chipotle paste
  • Pinch salt and black pepper
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Few fresh coriander leaves

Firstly pop the oil into a strong bottomed, non-stick saucepan and place on a low heat.

Next peel and slice the onion, mince the garlic and slice the chilli and add to the pan to flavour the oil.

Slice the peppers and add to the pan once the onion has started to soften. Slice the mushrooms and place to one side.

Chop the chorizo sausages into small chunks and add to the pan to slowly cook. They will exude a gorgeous red oil that’s full of flavour and will continue to coat all of the ingredients in deliciousness.

Once the chorizo has taken on the colour of the oil all over, add the mushrooms and tomatoes and cook for a few minutes.

Finally place the passata, salt, pepper, chipotle and paprika into the dish and stir through.

Cook for approximately 30 minutes and this will be ready to serve. Once dished up, add the coriander leaves as a final flourish and additional flavour.

Baby Bites Greek Feta Plate

Ok this isn't really a recipe - more an idea for a quick and simple weaning lunch or dinner. It's perfect for when baby is into finger foods as everything can be cut into similarly sized cubes.

This is perfect for you having the same meal as it's less fuss and this also travels well in a little lunchbox if you're out and about too.

I've used peashoots here but you could change this for rocket, watercress or even plain old iceberg and have some fun introducing new items to the plate. Bridget really likes olives - but if you offer these be warned they have a strong taste for a tiny palate and make sure to remove the stone. 

Here's how:
  • 75g feta cheese 
  • 6 cherry tomatoes
  • An inch length of a cucumber
  • Handful of peashoots or rocket
  • 1/2 brown pitta bread

Firstly toast the pitta for a couple of minutes and then allow to cool a little so baby can handle.

Next wash the tomatoes, peashoots and cucumber and then dry with a clean tea towel or some kitchen paper.

Now cut the cherry tomatoes in half and the cucumber into cubes of around the same size and place onto the plate with the peashoots.

Cube the feta into as close in size to the other items as possible and pop onto the plate with the toasted pitta.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Chicken and Mushroom Potato Pie

This is a favourite way of using up leftover roast chicken in a really lovely hearty dish, perfect now the colder nights are drawing in.

The potato topping means that once this goes into the oven too, you're free to do whatever needs doing or to simply relax for half hour too.

For this version I make a quick roux and add a little white wine but if you're short on time, you can make a sauce very quickly by gently frying the onions and garlic in a little oil, then adding 2-3 tablespoons of creme fraiche plus the tarragon which gives a really lovely creamy finish.

I serve with whatever vegetables I have to hand.

Here's how:
  • Leftover roast chicken or some cooked chicken pieces 
  • 100g mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons frozen peas
  • 1 onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1.5 tsp dried tarragon
  • 1 tablespoon salted butter
  • 1 tablespoon plain flour
  • 100ml milk (I use semi skimmed) 
  • 2 tablespoons white wine 
  • 200g potatoes 
  • 20g grated hard cheese (Cheddar or Parmesan is pefect) 
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Firstly peel and wash the potatoes then place on to boil in some lightly salted water. Bring to the boil then simmer for fifteen to 20 minutes, until a fork would easily go through and they are ready to mash.

Whilst the potatoes are cooking shred the chicken and slice the mushrooms and place to one side. Also place the oven on to pre-heat at around 180 degrees.

Finely slice the onion and mince the garlic and add to a pan in a tiny bit of butter to soften. Next add the mushrooms and cook for about 30 seconds, turning them over with a wooden spoon. Now remove this mixture and place into a small bowl.

In the same pan melt the butter and once melted, add in the flour a little at a time, constantly stirring to create a smooth consistency.

Once all the flour has been absorbed, add the milk a little at a time and stir the whole time too, until all has been added and the sauce begins to take shape. Add the wine at this point and cook gently for five minutes.

Return the chicken and mushooms to the sauce and place the peas in too and stir to ensure the sauce coats everything nicely. Remove from the heat to mash the potatoes.

Drain the potatoes and shake in a colander then place back into the saucepan and return to the heat for a few seconds, giving the pan a little gentle shake to remove any remaining water.

Now add the olive oil and mash. You want it thick and fluffy and to keep a bit of it's shape so try and refrain from adding milk or butter. Once mashed, season the potatoes with salt and black pepper.

Now place the chicken and mushroom mixture into a small pie plate or dish and try to evenly distribute.

Spoon the mash on top and use the back of the spoon to smooth down. Then use a fork to make track lines, as you would with a shepherd’s pie. Then finally grate on the little bit of cheese just to help to brown the top and give one final delicious touch.

Place the dish onto a baking tray and then into the oven for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Serve with your choice of vegetables and a glass of the white wine you used in the sauce. Enjoy!

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Baby Bites Spiced Tuna Fishcakes

This fishcake dish is another great finger food recipe for your weaning tot and one that has some really delicate spicing to introduce your little darling to some new, interesting flavours.

It uses tinned tuna too so is a really economical dish and makes enough for 3 fishcakes – two of which can be popped into the fridge or freezer for a later date.

Also these are really tasty and full of delicious flavour so they can be enjoyed by all of the family – just up the quantities.

I served here with some cooked carrot batons and baby corn but any vegetables you have will work – I just like to use a variety and introduce Bridget to as many different vegetables as possible to work out which she likes – so far most of them!

Here’s how:

6 new potatoes
1 tin of tuna (I use John West No Drain in Spring Water)
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped coriander
2 spring onions
1 clove garlic
½ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon garam masala
¼ teaspoon paprika
1 egg
1 slice of brown or granary bread
Drizzle of oil (vegetable or rapeseed or something light in flavour)

Firstly place the new potatoes into the microwave and cook for 6 minutes – check they are cooked through – if not cook for a further minute or two.

In the meantime, finely slice the spring onions, coriander and parsley and mince the garlic and set aside for a moment.

Place the potatoes into a small bowl and use a fork to crush and mash – if they aren’t easy to crush add a tiny drizzle of oil. As with the Mexican Salmon Fishcakes you want the potatoes broken down but not turned into a smooth mash – it just helps the fishcakes to hold some structure and not fall apart if you do this.

Once the potatoes are suitable crushed, add the spring onions, garlic, coriander and parsley and the herbs and stir.

Now open your tin of tuna and pour into the bowl giving a good stir with a fork to evenly distribute the tuna.
Now add the egg and stir through.

Blitz the bread into breadcrumbs and place onto a plate or in another bowl and at this time drizzle the oil into a non-stick pan and place on a low-medium heat.

Now scoop out a heaped tablespoon of the fishcake mixture and shape into a small rounded shape – like a mini burger. The mixture will be wet from the egg so place onto the plate of breadcrumbs and gently pat down to coat, then turn over and repeat. Shape all of the mixture into fishcakes and if freezing wrap in clingfilm and allow to cool before popping into the freezer - likewise if chilling. 

Then place into the pan and cook for 4-5 minutes on each side or until golden brown.

Simultaneously cook the vegetables and allow both to cool to a suitable temperature before serving to little one. 

Baby Bites Berry Yoghurt Pancakes

My little Bridget absolutely loves pancakes in all forms and these fluffy blueberry ones are a particular favourite in our house.

American pancakes tend to call on buttermilk to get that trademark thick, fluffy texture compared to the more crepe-like pancakes that we associate with Shrove Tuesday. I tried these with some natural yoghurt once instead of buttermilk and they work beautifully so this recipe has stuck.

It's a perfect weaning breakfast or brunch and makes a great treat of a finger food but it's not limited to being a baby food - these are gorgeous for the whole family and this recipe makes enough for baby plus 2-3 bigger appetites. 

We love this for a late and lazy Saturday or Sunday morning breakfast and add the icing sugar as this is a real treat meal – but if you’re keen to keep the sugar level down and keep to just the natural sugar of the berries you can of course omit this and the sugar for the pancake mix too.

Here's how:

  • 240g plain flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 120g plain natural yoghurt
  • 75-100ml milk (try to use full fat for best results but semi skimmed will also be OK)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 70g blueberries
  • 70g raspberries
First wash the berries and then gently dry them with a clean tea towel or kitchen towel – try not to squish them.

In a large jug or bowl combine the flour, sugar and baking powder.

Next crack in the egg, vanilla extract and yoghurt and give a really good stir until it's all combined.

Add in about 75ml of milk and keep stirring. The mixture should be like a cake mix so you should be able to do the spoon test and see how it drops back into the bowl. If it seems too thick, add a little more milk a little at a time until you're happy with the consistency.

Now add in your blueberries and raspberries and mix so they are evenly distributed.

Now add a little vegetable oil to a non-stick pan and place on a low-medium heat. Once the pan is nicely warm, half fill a ladle with the mixture and gently pour into the pan, trying to keep to a nice small rounded shape.

Cook for a couple of minutes and use a spatula, spook or egg slice to turn over, the cooked side should be nicely golden brown.

Cook on the other side for a further couple of minutes or until that has turned a golden colour. Make sure it's cooked through.

Now place onto a plate to cool enough for baby and cook the rest in the meantime. Serve with some extra fresh berries and dust with a little sprinkling of icing sugar which is the final decadent touch.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Baby Bites Fun Cheese Kebabs

Making food fun is a great way to encourage little ones to become more interested in food – especially if they are going through a fussy stage – and finger food is always more fun as it’s sensory.

These fun cheese kebabs are simple – take no cooking time whatsoever and work for older children too – just be careful of the skewers and don’t leave baby alone with them.
You can use any salad item you fancy and you could add some cooked meat such as chicken on too to make it even more exciting.

I serve with a slice of bread and butter or a toasted pitta and this is a great lunch or snack for babies, toddlers or children during and beyond the weaning process.

Here’s how:
  • ·         50g cheddar
  • ·         1 radish
  • ·         3-4 cherry tomatoes
  • ·         Chunk of cucumber
  • ·         Bread

Simply cut each of the items into similarly sized cubes and place onto the skewers.

Butter the bread or toast the pitta and serve alongside.