It happens. They get left in the bowl and sudddenly it’s too late, no-one wants them. Don’t throw them out they’re are great for all kinds of things. Smoothies are an obvious and super fast approach. Yogurt, milk, a little ice if you like (I don’t) and you’re set. A lot of recipes specify a sweetener but you really don’t need one. A handful of berries, dollop of  tahini, peanut, or any other nut butter along with  also makes this very special.

At the moment the whole back to school thing has me in a spin, scrambling around trying to remember mid-afternoon snacks that tide kids (and sometimes grown-ups) over till dinner (while trying to figure out what’s actually for said dinner….) Smoothies are perfect and this one is very popular at the moment….


Super-healthy Chocolate Banana Smoothie

You’ll need:

200ml milk

2 dollops yogurt

1 heaped tablespoon cocoa powder

2 tablespoons flaxseed oil (brilliant source of Omega 3 oils)

1 heaped tablespoon flax seed (for fibre)

1 large ripe banana

Put everything in a blender and blast til smooth. Serve cold.


The other great way to deal with old bananas is of course banana bread. For portability muffins are a good way to go. Same mixture different mould and slightly less time in the oven. Lately I’m on a coconut buzz so instead of the usual walnuts there are coconut flakes in this recipe. To plump up the sultanas I soak them in my fav Bengal Spice tea but you can use regular or any other kind you like. These muffins (or buns if you want to make something a little more manageable sizewise) will keep for a few days in an airtight tin.

Banana and coconut muffins

You’ll need:

100gr butter room temperature

100gr moscovado sugar

150gr wholemeal flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 large eggs

2 teaspoon cinnamon

A pinch of allspice if you have it

A pinch of salt

250gr really ripe bananas

100gr flaked toasted coconut

100gr sultanas

Anything from an hour to 15 minutes before you begin put the sultanas into half a cup of tea in a pot. Bring to the boil then simmer until most of the water has evaporated. Allow to cool down while you get on with everything else.

Sieve the flour, cinnamon, allspice, baking powder and salt together and set aside. If the butter isn’t nice and soft stand it in the mixing bowl in a basin of hot water for a few minutes then cream it with the sugar til pale and fluffy. Add an egg and continue beating til fully incorporated. Add about half of the flour, beat then add the other egg, beat well then add the rest of the flour.


Mash up the bananas and beat them into the mixture then add in the sultanas followed by three-quarters of the coconut. . Mix well then spoon into moulds and top with the rest of the toasted coconut which goes deliciously chewy in the oven.


Bake  at Gas Mark 5/190 degrees for 30 minutes. Enjoy!


Chicken with spinach

Absolutely everyone loves a curry. It’s weird -people who won’t eat local food in places like Spain and Portugal will all eat curry. In our house anything curried goes down a storm even with the kids who moan about the tiniest bit of ginger making their juice “too spicy!”. And it doesn’t have to be fancy either. Got loads of random stuff at the back of the fridge and don’t fancy soup? Make curry instead. Now, I’m no expert and most of my curries are, shall we say, on the not very authentic side but somehow they always seem turn out ok.

From some cooking I did alongside an Indian girl in Barcelona I know that a good way to start is with lots of slowcooked onions which is pretty much how I start most dishes. I sweat these in plenty of rapeseed or coconut oil over a low heat til they start to go mushy then throw in lots of garlic (not only because it tastes good but because it’s so good for you). Keeping cooking until the garlic softens then add a pre-mixed curry powder (I’m currently working my way through a tin of Madras but it’s whatever you fancy) along with a little chilli for extra fire. Normally I then throw in a few chopped tomatoes (a tin will also work fine) and cook these down a bit before adding some coconut milk (told you this wasn’t kosher!)

While all this is going on, I’m furiously peeling and chopping what, in any other dish would be a waaaay too random selection of veg – parsnip, carrot,cabbage (red, white and green) celery, fennel, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, cauliflower, spuds……pretty much anything works. In they go and I’m onto rinsing a tin of chickpeas. These get thrown in with some water or stock then it’s sit back and let things cook. If I’m using greens, they go in at the end as do courgettes and broccoli (they go to mush otherwise) and I’m also partial to a handful of sultanas at this stage. Serve with rice and some chutney and pickles – we’re enjoying a lime one from M&S at the moment that one of you recommended (thanks Penelope). Easy, peasy, lasts well in the fridge and it rocks the next day for lunch with flatbread.

When it comes to the real thing, I’ve always found Indian food to be such a complex mix of spices and flavours that unless I pay very close attention to a recipe book I usually don’t have a clue where to start so I tend not to bother with it unless I’ve got lots of time (so that means never at the moment). Plus, there are usually so many spices required that I’m frustrated before I start (when I’m ready to cook, I’m ready to cook). Paul is the one with the patience/OCD tendencies for all that assembling of ingredients and precision grinding of spices. He also does a mean matchstick of pretty much any root veg but I warn you – bring snacks because dinner’s at midnight.

Recently, Indian cooking guru MadhurJaffrey completely changed this for good when she brought out Curry Easy, a book that seeks to do the previously unthinkable – simplify and speed up Indian cooking. She says herself that over the years (she’s now in her seventies) her cooking had changed and that some of the processes she’d previously considered essential she has recently discovered can be done in different ways. So, instead of cooking for hours  there’s lots of marinating to really let the flavours sink in before you even start. There are also fewer spices (well, usually 6 or 7 but not the 10 -15 that you find in her other books) so there’s less faffing around. I feel like I’m starting to understand how to build Indian flavours without a recipe and I find myself using more in other cooking.

We’ve been cooking our way through this book for a while and everything we’ve made has been amazing. First of all, we tried the Chicken Karhai with Mint which involved marinating everything overnight then simply frying it up and it was superb. We served it alongside Aubergines with Tomatoes which were also great. After that we were hooked. Standouts so far have been Chicken with apricots, Masala fish steaks and the green lamb curry.

spinach leaves

I have earmarked this week’s spinach in from Denis Healy in Wicklow for one our favourite dishes from the book which I’m going to share with you –  Chicken with spinach.  I haven’t changed anything except lower the quantity of oil used. It’s very quick and fantastically moreish.This recipe feeds 2 with leftovers.

Madhur Jaffrey’s Chicken with Spinach

3 chicken legs separated into drumsticks and thighs weighing about 1k in total

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 medium onion roughly chopped

2.5cm/1 inch piece ginger, peeled and roughly chopped

3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

1/2 tablespoon sweet red paprika

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons olive/ rapeseed oil

1 x 5cm/2 inch cinnamon

4 cardamom pods

150g/ 5 oz spinach, chopped

Spread out the chicken pieces and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and lots of black pepper on both sides

Put the onions, garlic, ginger, paprika and cayenne in the food processor and chop all the ingredients as finely as possible taking care not to allow things to go to mush.

Heat the oil in a large pan or wok. Add the cinnamon and cardamon letting them sizzle for a few seconds before adding as much of the chicken as will fit in a single layer. Brown the chicken pieces on both sides then remove to a bowl leaving the spices behind. When all the chicken is cooked add the onion mix to the pan and fry for about 5 minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated taking care to stir as you go so thing don’t stick and burn. Add the spinach and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook for a further 5 minutes. Add the chicken, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 12oml/4 fl oz water. Bring to the boil, cover and lower the heat then gently simmer for about 30 minutes. Any excess fat can be removed before serving with boiled basmati and nan bread


This week  there’s also celery in our selections and I notice how Guardian columnist Yotan Ottolenghi has been using the leaves and inner tender stalks for salads a lot recently. Last Saturday’s Avocado, radish and celery salad with spiced croutons and lime is on my to-make list for this week – sounds fab right? Our larger bags have radishes from the Healys and I’m hoping to secure enough for all our bags next week.

Have a brilliant week,


Christmas cookies

If you’d told me 10 years ago I’d be baking Christmas cookies to hang off the tree I’d have said you had the wrong girl. I’m just not that kind of cook. I bake and indeed do all my cooking to eat and rarely faff around with too much decoration leaving that kind of Martha Stewart business to calmer types with more time on their hands.

But time and kids have mellowed me and these days I consider it a quite a luxury to have a few hours to devote to baking and, as I’ve often said, find it a superior form of crowd control when it comes to kids (basically they’ll do anything to lick the bowl and after 7 years I know how to use this to my full advantage).

Dan & Auggie making cookies

But don’t switch off just yet, these cookies are for grown ups too. I make them with cocoa and chinese 5 spice powder.In fact they’re probably a little highbrow for most kids. Mine love them (sugar is sugar after all) and in our house it signals the start of Christmas eating.

Making cookies

This recipe (adapted from a Nigella one)will make about 50 -60 cookies and about half go on our tree and the rest are for having with coffee or perking up vanilla ice-cream as a quick dessert. For the tree we did stars and dinosaurs today and I decorated them with white icing sugar and Christmassy bits and then the rest were cut into smaller stars and drizzled with dark chocolate which suits my purposes when it comes to coffee and/or ice-cream. They’ll keep for a week in a tin and for a day or two on the tree – after that they start to really soften and the kids tend to leave well alone which suits the Martha Stewart in me (this is what happens!!!) as they do look so sweet…

Iced Christmas cookies

Christmas cookies with chocolate and Chinese Five Spice powder

You’ll need:

300gr plain flour                                                                  Dinosaur cookie

1 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch of salt

2 level teaspoons Chinese 5 spice powder

100gr butter, diced

100gr light muscovado sugar or any brown sugar you have

2 eggs

60gr golden syrup

First of all preheat your oven to Gas mark 3 (170 degrees Celsius). Sieve the flour, salt, baking powder and 5 spice powder together. Rub in the butter with your fingertips then stir in the sugar. Beat the eggs with the golden syrup then mix through the flour using your hands.

At this stage the mix will probably seem very dry but persevere and using your hands gather everything into a ball. When you’ve got everything together, tip the mixture out onto a floured surface and work it by rolling  and re-rolling the dough with a well floured rolling pin until the dough becomes smooth.

Divide the dough into 2 balls and put half into a plastic bag or wrap in cling film and put into the fridge while you work on the first lot*. Get the remaining dough back into a ball then roll out to about 5mm thick. Cut out your cookies.

Christmas cookies

Using a spatula, put them on a lightly buttered baking tray. If you are making some for your tree you’ll need to put a little hole big enough to get a thin ribbon, string or wool  through before they go into the oven. I use the point of a chopstick for this.  Place the cookies in the oven for about 12 -15 minutes. They will come out slightly soft but don’t worry, they harden on cooling. Place them on a wire rack . They’ll cool down quite quickly so you can get on with melting chocolate or making icing almost immediately.

*The dough you put in the fridge can either be used straight away or will keep for a few days in the fridge. It can also be frozen.

The decoration

If you’re using icing……

Sieve 150gr grams icing sugar then very gradually add warm water making sure not to let the icing get too runny then drizzle over the cookies. You can drizzle with a spoon but I find the easiest thing is to put the icing into a small plastic bag, loosely tie it then prick with a large needle and use this to pipe the squiggles onto the cookies. We went quite all Sunday supplement low key this year with some white decorations on the white icing. Usually it’s a riot of colour and silver balls. Up to you…

If you go for chocolate…..

Christmas cookies with chocolate

Melt a bar (100gr) chocolate in a bain-marie (ie in a heatproof bowl set in a pot of hot water) then drizzle over the cookies.

One thing – I find that the  icing takes a lot longer to dry than you’d think so be sure it’s fully hardened before you put the cookies away away.

Our mediterranean selections all have a bag of dried mango  Chocolate mangowhich makes another brilliant sweet treat for after dinner. Slice into strips and partially dip in melted chocolate. Dry on grease-proof paper. These will store for at least a week in a tin and also go really well with ice-cream and the cookies for that matter.

As for the savouries, I think soup is a definitely way to go – easy and more importantly warming. This week’s sweet potatoes are great with Thai flavours and my recipe for sweet potato soup with coconut and lime  is a cinch to put together or there’s the one I did at Hallowe’en with pancetta, sour cream and crispy sage. If you’re having friends over or hanging out there are those crispy sweet potato cakes with feta and pomegranate molasses which make a brilliant starter or picky thing to have with beers.

The leeks are also brilliant for pretty much any soup – don’t overlook the humble version with spud especially if topped with pan-fried crispy bacon and some sour cream. They’re also great braised in stock and topped with Parmesan .If you have the oven on it’s a great way to go, not least because it’s one of those completely hands-off dishes which I’m more than a little partial to..

Have a great weekend,



I’m a huge fan of all things Mexican and I think a big part of that comes from the simplicity. Beans, chillies, avocado, tomatoes, coriander, sour cream and cheese are the basic building blocks. You can use as many or as few as you like. For main meals I often use them all (and some more)  but for snacks I pare things down for bites that are easy to put together but more importantly, fast. During the week speed is all. We get home after work, school and creche between 2 or  3 and everyone is STARVING. I always keep a stash of corn tortillas for superfast lunches (yes, yes, I know you can make these so easily but believe me nobody is in the mood for anything that takes more than 5 minutes.

More often than not, I make quesadillas. First of all you throw a tortilla on the pan (no oil) with a handful of grated cheese (cheddar works for me but really any hard cheese will do). Toast over a lowish heat and let the cheese melt. Spread guacamole and/or a tomato salsa over the cheese then top with another tortilla.

Corn tortilla on the pan

Flip over so the top tortilla gets toasted. Take off the pan, quarter then eat with a little sour cream on the side.

That’s a very basic version. After that the combinations are pretty much endless. Here are just a few….

  • roughly chopped jalapeno peppers
  • scallions if they’re around (onions are a bit too hardcore so I don’t bother with them)
  • A generous sprinkling roughly chopped coriander
  • Griddled courgettes
  • Strips of red peppers – fresh or roasted
  • Refried beans (from a tin)
  • Rice from the fridge
  • Sweetcorn or, ideally sweetcorn salad with roasted peppers and lime
  • Salad leaves – anything bar rocket (the flavour doesn’t really go). If I’m using salad I either serve it on the side with a spritz of lime or, instead of using 2 tortillas I use just the one taking it off the pan when the cheese melts, then I add the salad and whatever else I’m having and serve it  folded.
  • Greens like this week’s rainbow chard finely chopped or spinach
  • scrambled egg
  • Any leftover cooked chicken or fish

There are probably lots of other things I just can’t think of at the moment but you can see that it’s a flexible kind of thing. The 2 “recipes” (and I really use that term loosely) I can give you for all this are for tomato salsa and guacamole. Both can be as rustic or as refined as you like. My versions tend to be pretty rustic -after all there’s only so much chopping you can do in the minute it takes the tortilla to toast…

Tomato salsa

You’ll need:

A couple of perfectly ripe tomatoes roughly chopped  Tomato salsa ingredients

1/2 small onion finely chopped

1/4 fresh red chilli minced (take out some of the seeds if you don’t want things too fiery)

1 lime

A handful coriander roughly chopped


Combine the tomatoes, onions, coriander and chilli. Add a pinch of salt and lime juice to taste.

Guacamole (my version that is)


You’ll need:

1 ripe avocado

1/2 small onion very finely chopped

1 tomato chopped

Some finely chopped green or red pepper if you have it – not essential and some would say a little controversial but nice


Lime juice

A handful coriander chopped

Mash the avocado then mix in the tomato, onion, coriander and pepper if using. Add salt and lime juice to taste. If you’re making this ahead of time a trick is to add the avocado stone back into the guacamole to stop things discoloring.

That’s about it really. Obviously this kind of thing isn’t just for snacks and lunches, they make brilliant “I’m too exhausted to cook” dinners – you just eat more!

In case you were wondering…….

The funny looking fruit in the Mediterranean bags is a persimmon aka kaki or sharon fruit. Known as the fruit of the gods in ancient Greece they have a lovely apricot flavour with a mango texture (yum!). They are perfectly ripe so have them for dessert this evening if you can.



 sweet potato soup

Ok,  it’s not pumpkin but sweet potatoes are about as seasonal as you can get right now and very similar so you can try this one with any leftover pumpkins you have around. This soup is just perfect for this time of year. Warm and comforting, very moreish and almost filling enough to be dinner – if it’s not enough a cheese course afterwards will sort things out or there’s always the trick or treat bag……..

Pumpkin ghosts

Bacon is a brilliant foil for sweet potato. You get that lovely balance of sweet and salty. I added in a Parmesan rind for an extra savoury hit and I think that that’s what makes it so satisfying. I’ve been growing sage (is it me or is this one of the slowest growing herbs ever??) and decided to add a few leaves into the pot then fry some more til crunchy for the top. These really make it along with a little drizzle of sour cream. If you don’t have sage no worries, some toasted pumpkin seeds make a great topping too. All in all, most satisfying and ready in a decidedly unscary 30 minutes.

Sweet Potato soup with pancetta topped with crispy sage and sour cream (enough for 2-3 hungry people or 4 as a starter)

You’ll need:

Olive oil

2 onions roughly chopped

100gr pancetta or streaky bacon chopped

600gr sweet potato peeled and cubed

6 or 7 sage leaves

1 litre chicken or vegetable stock

1 Parmesan rind roughly 4cm x 4 cm

To garnish:

10-12 sage leaves

Vegetable oil for frying

A little sour cream

Begin by heating a generous glug of olive oil in a pot. Add the onions and let them fry gently for about 2 minutes before throwing in the bacon. Continue cooking over a low to medium heat until things start to really soften and change colour. If you haven’t already prepared them, this is the time to get the sweet potato ready. When the bacon and onions have nicely darkened to a lovely golden brown tip in the sweet potatoes and sage leaves. Stir everything together and slightly brown the sweet potatoes before pouring in the stock. Season with a generous pinch of salt, add the Parmesan rind then bring everything to the boil. Lower the heat then simmer for about 20 minutes until the spud has softened. Take off the heat and let things cool down a bit before blending til smooth. Check the seasoning, adding black pepper, more salt if you think it needs and even a squirt of lemon juice if feel a little kick is called for(up to you).

To finish

Heat a little vegetable oil in a small pan. Fry the sage leaves til crispy. Drizzle a teaspoon of sour cream on top of each soup bowl then finish with a few sage leaves.


This week all our bags have a head of celery from Marc Michel’s Organic Life farm. It’s not everyone’s favourite I know, but it is brilliant behind the scenes flavour builder in soups and stews. Chop a few stalks and fry it up with the onions when you start (and that goes for this week’s recipe top) for a more rounded finished dish.

It’s lovely in a simple salad with walnuts and  Parmesan shavings dressed with lemon juice and olive oil but if you want something a bit more robust the recipe I posted last year for a stew with chorizo is so tasty I promise it will convert any celery hater.

Have a brilliant Hallowe’en,


Blackberry Pancakes

Pancakes. Once you get the hang of them you can whip up a batch in about 5 minutes, less if you have a well trained child on the case. Auggie, my crazy 3 year old obedient in hardly any other situation, knows that the egg white must be whipped up to stiff peaks “like clouds” before I’ll add them, that all the blueberries in the freezer will not be going into 1 batch of pancakes (I buy when they’re cheap, freeze, then have a stash right through the winter months).

In the kitchen I rule – shame about everywhere else! He’s even getting the hang of folding – we’ve tried his way and the more leaden result was enough to convince him. Arts and crafts sessions often lead to meltdowns (mine not theirs) but in our house baking in is the way to get everyone on the same page. If you’ve got a kid (or 2) you’ll know this is no mean feat.

Anyways, back to breakfast. We make pancakes almost every weekend and I even made some last Thursday morning before school – pregnancy has me up at the most ungodly hours and instead of cruising websites I can’t afford I decided to make breakfast.

The basic recipe is simple – flour, baking powder, egg and milk but rather than just throwing them all in together a few tricks will give you results that beat most of what you’ll get served out and about (and charged a tenner for).
First of all, I am a firm believer in separating the egg despite what lots of recipes say. It really does make for a lighter result. I beat the white first til I get the “clouds” then separately beat the yolk with the milk, adding in the flour and baking powder. A pinch of salt is pretty essential and I’m recently converted to the addition of some cane sugar. These bring up the flavours and go in with the flour. Most recipes recommend you sieve the flour, salt and baking powder before you start and yeah, it certainly doesn’t hurt (adds more air which is always good) but if I’m in a hurry I don’t and things still work out fine. If I need to buy time with the kids while I wake myself up with coffee, clear space in the kitchen or whatever, I get Auggie on the case but to be honest, kids don’t really sieve so well so you kind of need to keep an eye on things or the whole kitchen gets a not so  light dusting…

When everything is fully mixed together, I fold in the egg white along with a large handful of berries – blueberries are the default, raspberries are gorgeous too and this week I used some of the blackberry booty we picked last weekend. These were amazing and just to take things up a notch I did some caramelized panfried apples aswell. A most autumnal breakfast if ever there was one….

Blackberry pancakes topped with caramelized apples

You’ll need:

150g or 1 cup of plain flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

A generous pinch fine salt

1 tablespoon cane sugar

1 egg

200ml milk

2 tablespoons of melted butter

A large handful berries (roughly a punnet) – I often use these straight from the freezer but you can of course take them out in advance

1 apple – I like cookers for bite but any will do.

A knob of butter

Apple syrup or runny honey

If you’re the kind of cook that can only deal with one pan at a time (and lots of us are first thing in the morning) do the apples first but they are pretty easy so if you might want to throw them on while the pancakes are cooking to save time. Peel and slice them then heat a little butter on the pan, throw the slices on and toss until they start to change colour. This will take about 2 minutes. To make the pancakes, if you can spare the extra minute, sieve the flour, salt and baking powder together and set aside. Separate the egg and then beat the white to stiff peaks. Beat the yolk with the milk and when mixed, add the flour mix and the sugar then beat til smooth. Turn off the mixer and fold in the egg white and then the berries and finally the butter.

Heat some butter on a clean pan. Dollop a soup ladle of pancake mix onto the pan. You’ll fit 2 or 3 on a typical kitchen pan. Cook until golden then turn over (about 1-2 mins each side). Before you do the next batch, wipe the pan with some kitchen paper then heat another knob of butter. If you’re not sure your pancakes are fully cooked press down on them with a spatula. If some wet mix runs out leave them on for another bit. When the pancakes are ready, serve topped with the apples and generous knob of butter. A drizzle of apple or maple syrup or honey if you don’t have these will finish things off.

If you want take things further, a dollop of Greek yogurt on the side is lovely and of course no one ever says no to a couple of slices of crispy bacon…

This week sees the last of corn on the cob. The simplest way to go is to boil it up until tender then have it slathered with butter but it makes very good pancakes which are a cinch to make. Another thing you could try is a salad with this week’s ramiro pepper, chili and lime. This one was a revelation to me over the summer. So simple but bursting with flavour. Might even make you think it’s still summer….

Have a great weekend,

spiced french toast with a plum compote

French toast is a big weekend favourite in this house. As well as being super quick and easy, it’s a brilliant way to bridge the sweet and savoury thing on those mornings when you just don’t know what you want.  It was invented to use up old bread and  it works better this way as dry bread soaks up more egg than fresh. I throw bits that are too far gone for toast into the freezer so I have a stash. The classic approach is maple syrup and maybe a few pieces of streaky bacon but fruit is also a great partner.

Plum season is really hitting its stride at the moment and what you may not know, is they are great cooked. Last year I did a gorgeous crumble with almonds which we ate all summer so it wasn’t too much of a leap to stew and serve them alongside rounds of lightly spiced french toast, a dollop of mascarpone and some toasted almond nibs. Now is that a recipe for a perfect brunch or what?

Spiced French toast with a plum compote, Mascarpone and toasted almonds (for 2)

You’ll need:

4-6 decent rounds of old bread or about 12 baguette rounds

3 large eggs

A generous dash of milk

1 heaped teaspoon cinnamon

The plum compote

300gr plums

A generous knob butter

1 tablespoon brown sugar

50gr (2 tablepsoons) Mascarpone or Greek yogurt

1 heaped tablespoon flaked almonds or almond nibs lightly toasted on the pan (toasted hazelnuts would also be lovely)

Maple or apple syrup (optional)

Begin with the plums – wash them then cut in half, twist the halves off the stone then quarter each one. Heat the butter on a pan and add the plums. Toss for a minute then throw in the sugar and keep moving for another 2-3 minutes then take off the heat and set aside

Beat the eggs with the milk and cinnamon. Soak the bread in the egg mixture for a few minutes then fry in butter or a very light olive oil til golden on each side. Serve immediately with the plums, a dollop of Mascarpone topped with the almonds. Drizzle with a little syrup. Enjoy.