Lola and Finn's Mum

Lola and Finn's Mum

Friday, 27 April 2012

Gorgeously Greek and very tasty! Greek Lamb Tray Bake

I've decided that this is the meal I envisage cooking next time I am slumming it in some villa in Greece. (Slumming it; I wish!!! To be there is an absolute joy!) Most people think I am just a tad peculiar for actually enjoying cooking on holiday and I would like to stress here and now that it isn't always the case. I enjoyed being wined and dined as much as the next mum, but I do, it has to be said, gain far more satisfaction that I probably should by taking cookbooks on holiday, already stuffed with post it notes, ready for a mooch round the local market or such like, looking for things I can rustle up whilst the kids are splashing around or whilst Phill has is head in one of those pile of books people (i.e. me) keep getting him for Christmas but he never ever gets around to reading until the Summertime when all the important day to day stuff happily disappears from view for a couple of weeks.

Here I get the best of both worlds: I've cooked dinner and it's looking after itself in the oven whilst I'm all over a glass of wine and I am watching the kids play. Fabulous.

This recipe is from the BBC GoodFood website, and is amazingly easy to make, even the meatballs, which I always think is a beautifully theraputic activity in itself. Pick really tasty tomatoes if you can and season the mix well, particularly the meatballs which will taste a bit like cotton wool if you are too shy with the seasoning.

I left out the mint. I quite like it but Lola and Finn think it's a bit weird if it is not with chocolate in ice cream. I can understand that notion. I substituted parsley. I also upped the meat content because 250g mince is a bit stingy. I also upped the potato content and added some oregano to my meatball mix.

Greek Lamb Tray Bake, adapted from the BBC GoodFood website

Serves Lola, Finn, Mum, Dad plus one other

50g fresh white breadcrumbs
250g lamb mince (though I used 500g)
1 egg, beaten

1 tsp oregano
2 onions, halved
A handful of mint, chopped, (though I substituted parsley)
2 large potatoes, cut into wedges (though I used 3 as we all love potatoes)
2 courgettes, cut into batons
12 cherry tomatoes
2 tbsp olive oil
50g feta cheese, crumbled

Preheat the oven to 200c/180c/Gas 6.

Put the breadcrumbs, lamb mince, egg and plenty of seasoning on a bowl. Add half of a finely chopped or grated onion and half of the parsley and the oregano. Mix everything together until well combined and then form into meatballs. I make slightly smaller ones for the kids, but somewhere between a walnut and golf ball size.

Cut the remaining onion into wedges and put onto a suitable baking tray or dish with the potatoes, the courgettes, the meatballs and the cherry tomatoes. Drizzle with olive oil and season well once more.

Bake for about 40 minutes, turning things around about half way to ensure even cooking.

When ready, sprinkle with the feta and the remaining parsley.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Spanish and Moreish: Arroz con Leche, or Rice Pudding with Orange and Lemon

After a balmy March, April can only be described as a bit of a wash out, and a cold one at that. Yesterday in particular was bitter (or 'Baltic' as some of us say around these parts) and walking to pick up Lola was a bone chilling, damp experience, reminiscent of those days of Autumn when the skies are leaden, the wind cuts right through you, hinting at Winter, and where no one should really leave home without an umbrella. Ugh, horrible... and alien to my sun loving soul.

So whilst I was dodging the puddles (Finn wasn't; there is nothing more entertaining than jumping in them, let's face it) my thoughts turned to the night's meal. I'd already gone down a Spanish route, with a chorizo and pork casserole (blog post to follow) so I decided that Spain was where it was at, and that a pudding that you could curl up infront of the telly with was in order. Rice Pudding - Arroz con Leche if you will.

I used to know someone who used to open a tin of Ambrosia rice pudding, warm it up, put it in an oven proof dish, sprinkle sugar on the top and put it under the grill to create something like a caramelised, 'skin' top, then passing it off as her own, because she thought it was easier than making her own. It isn't. It sounds like a faff. Making your own rice pudding is really rather easy and whilst you can complicate it like I have done here, the principle is really rather easy, as long as you are able to keep an eye on it and not let it catch too much on the bottom of the pan (though that comes under cook's perks for me; the slightly caramelised scrapings from the bottom of the pan are sweet, vanilla and have the consistency of a chewy sweet - delish!)

This recipe is adapted from Modern Spanish Cooking by Sam and Eddie Hart; a superb Spanish cookery book of which I want to cook every recipe and eat it all. Their suggestion of making a quick orange jam to go along with the citrussy rice pudding was inspired, though I had no brandy as the original recipe calls for, so I dug out my trusty bottle or Triple Sec and used that instead. It's by no means necessary to make it, as the rice pudding is stunningly gorgeous as it is, but if you are looking for something just a little bit different, you may have just found it here.

Arroz con Leche, adapted from Modern Spanish Cooking by Sam and Eddie Hart

Serves Lola, Finn, Mum and Dad

For the rice pudding:

850ml whole milk
finely pared strip of zest of 1 orange
finely paired strip of zest of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp cinnamon
150g pudding rice (they suggest Arborio but pudding rice was fine - and cheaper!)
120g sugar
1 vanilla pod (though a tsp of good vanilla extract will suffice)

For the orange jam:

150ml orange juice (about 2 large oranges)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
zest of an orange
1 tbsp sugar
30ml triple sec


Take a large saucepan and put all the rice pudding ingredients in it. Give it a quick stir then turn the heat on. Bring it slowly to the boil then reduce the heat so that the mixture simmers. It will take around 40 minutes or so. You're looking for the rice to have swelled and be cooked through and for the liquid to be of a creamy consistency. Keep an eye on it whilst it is cooking.

Meanwhile, to make the orange jam, in a small saucepan put all of the ingredients, give it a quick stir and slowly bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Simmer until the mixture has reduced to a slightly runny syrup. This could take about 15 minutes on a gentle heat, maybe more.

To serve: Remove the citrus zest and vanilla pod from the rice pudding (if you can find them). Serve in warm bowls with some of the orange jam.

A perfect pudding for an unseasonably cold day.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Dinner for one - Sea Bass Fillets with Spinach, Tomatoes and Ouzo

Yes, dinner for one. Phill was away this weekend which means fish for dinner. Normally fish is off the menu, which is such a shame so when it is just me to be looked after and I can make the kids their favourite pasta and I can settle down to something just for me. And it always has to be fish.

I think my favourite fish is sea bass, though to be honest it would be a really difficult choice. It reminds me of Greek holidays and being sat at a beach side taverna, nursing a Mythos and watching the sun down, devouring some wonderful Aegean sea bass with a piquant sauce. Absolute heaven.

There are so many recipes that involve the whole fish but I wanted something involving the fillets, seeing as I had the fish already filleted in freezer I also wanted something tasty, quick and fresh tasting. This was a recipe that I found whilst mooching on the internet and as I had all the ingredients I would have been a fool not to have given it a whirl. And, guess what... it's relatively healthy too, that is 'healthy' compared to most of the recipes on this blog. 

The recipe calls for 'anise' flavoured liqueur, of which there are several. Ouzo was my drink of choice.

You could eke this out to serve two by the addition of rice or potatoes, but I just wanted fish and only fish, so for that reason this served one.

Sea Bass with Spinach, Tomatoes and Ouzo, adapted from The Essential Diabetes Cookbook by Antony Worrall Thompson

Serves Mum, but could serve another with an accompaniment.


1 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Small pinch of dried chilli flakes
250g spinach, tough stems removed, shredded
Small pinch of grated nutmeg
2 fillets of sea bass, about 175g each, skin on
1 1/2 tablespoons ouzo
1 1/2 tablespoons dry white wine
1/2 tin chopped tomatoes
A sprinkling of flaked almonds
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper


Heat half the oil in a large saucepan, add the garlic and, over a gentle heat, cook until the garlic turns golden. (but not burnt; watch carefully!) Add the chilli flakes then the spinach and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle on some nutmeg and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Set a colander over a bowl and drain the spinach well, pressing to remove as much liquid as possible. Retain the liquor and set aside, and keep the spinach warm.

Meanwhile, in a frying pan heat the remaining oil and cook the fish skin-side down over a medium heat for 4 minutes until the skin is golden and the flesh has nearly cooked through. Turn the fish over then add the Ouzo and white wine and cook until the liquid has nearly (but not totally!) evaporated. It won't take long so watch carefully.

Remove the fish and keep warm.

To the fish pan, add the spinach liquor and boil vigorously to reduce a little. Add the tomatoes, flaked almonds and tarragon and cook for 15 minutes until slightly thickened.
Taste and adjust the seasoning appropriately.

Pile the spinach on a warmed plate and rest the sea bass fillets on top. Spoon the sauce over the fish and around the side of the dish.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Marshmellowy Marvellous - Mississippi Mud Cake

Whilst it might be a nice idea for me to pretend to have some kind of sophistication, the fact of the matter is that I haven't. I am trash, it has to be said and this is the kind of pud which appeals to my lack of sophistication, being that it is messy, not massively attractive looking and generally lacking in finesse. Don't expect to be able to eat this without getting it all over your face, fingers, if you're me, in your hair, and quite possibly on your clothes (particularly if you're Lola or Finn) but, despite the disadvantages, the massive, massive plus point is that this tastes so joyously good, you would be daft to resist.

This recipe is easy. I ended up making this for children and mums at our most recent 'ladies wot lunch and kids wot run riot' afternoon. I had grand designs on taking something more befitting of our 'ladies' status, but a 'non setting tart' disaster meant that plan B had to swing into action. This was plan B. It could so easily be plan A.

This was enjoyed, a lot, by the mums. And the kids too.

The recipe is another adapted from Southern Cakes by Nancie McDermott. A stunningly good book on cakes of thr American South. My alterations were to fling in some pieces of milk chocolate into the melting butter and cocoa, to take the edge of the darkness of the chocolate and make it a little more kiddie friendly. Because the recipe and book is American, the ingredients are measured in cups. Cups are great. Dead easy, no faff. My advice would be get yourself some. You'll never look back.

Go on, you know you want to.

Mississippi Mud Cake, adapted from 'Southern Cakes' by Nancie McDermott


For the cake base:

1 cup of butter, cut into big chunks (a standard pack of butter if you live in the UK)
1/2 cup of cocoa
6 pieces (squares) milk chocolate
4 eggs, beaten well.
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup of chopped nuts (I used mixed nuts this time, but pecans are delish!)

For the Mississippi Mud Frosting:

3 1/2 cups of icing sugar
1/2 cup of cocoa
1/2 cup of butter, melted
1/2 cup of milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
A pinch of salt
4 cups of mini marshmellows, or 3 cups of standard size marshmellows, quartered.


Prepare and line a large brownie tin or square cake pan (I used 2 7x7 inch square tins that were about an inch deep).

Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the cocoa and chocolate. Stir the mixture until the cocoa has dissolved and the mixture is well blended, about 3 to 4 minutes. Ensure your heat isn't too high or else the mixture will burn. When combined, take off the heat and allow to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, combine the eggs, vanilla, sugar, salt, nuts and flour in a bowl or a mixer. Don't overbeat.

Pour the cocoa and butter mixture gradually into that, and mix until both mixtures are incorporated.

Transfer to the cake tin and smooth over.

Bake at 180c for about 20 - 25 minutes or until the cake springs back when touched and the cake edges look like they are pulling away from the side of the pan.

Whilst the cake is baking, prepare your frosting, as it will need to go on the cake as soon as it comes out of the oven.  Combine the icing sugar and cocoa powder in a bowl or mixer. Add the melted butter, milk, salt and vanilla. The mixture will then need to be beaten until it is well combined and looks quite glossy and a good pouring consistency.

At the point the cake is ready, scatter the marshmellows over the top and return the cake to the oven for about 3 minutes until the marshmellows are still in shape but are starting to melt into the cake itself. Take the cake from the oven and pour the frosting mixture over immediately, covering the marshmellows completely. Leave to 'set', or at least go cold.

I kept mine in the pan until I was ready to serve, then I removed it from the pan by the greaseproof paper. I cut it into squares at that point and transferred the remainder to a tin. You could remove the cake to a rack as soon as it comes out of the oven and then pour your frosting over, but I felt it would be potentially disasterous for someone of my ineptitude. I knew if I kept it in the pan I would not go far wrong.

Serve to hungry kids and mums. They will love it!

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Getting ready for a certain barbecue summer - Apple and turkey burgers with hot salsa and halloumi

*with apologies for poor burger pic - whoda thunk it would be so difficult?*

Well, obviously. Summers around here are just so fabulous, why wouldn't you want a nifty few recipes up your sleeve? And if you're doubting my sincerity then you'd be totally right, and our dreadful summers is one of the reasons I want a bolthole somewhere near the Med, where at least I can feel the sun in the summertime rather than dodging the raindrops. Anyway, barbecue weather or not, you can whip these up anytime, cook 'em inside and feel a little more virtuous than if you were eating 'real' burgers, as these are quite light in the scheme of things.

As to the origin of this recipe, well, I don't know. I scribbled it down in my recipe file years ago and have no idea as to where I got it and how and have made tewaks along the way. What I do know is these burgers are lovely, as long as you are not shy with the seasoning, as turkey mince needs plenty of salt to make it taste of something.

The recipe for the salsa can be tempered to your palate. Lola and Finn only get a thin spread of this, if any at all; usually they prefer a dollop of tomato sauce. The quantity of salsa is generous, and you may find yourself with plenty left over. I have used it with chicken and fish and it has been glorious.

Lastly - this masquerades as a kiddie food friendly blog, and often falls short of the mark, but making your own burgers for the kids is quite a cool thing. You can make the burgers to suit their tiny mouths, buy those little rolls to put them on, and voila, it's theirs. Only in miniature...

Apple and turkey burgers with salsa and halloumi

For the burgers:

500g turkey mince
2 cloves garlic
1 onion
2 apples, grated/finely chopped
1 tbsp oregano
3 tbsp chopped parsley
olive oil
plenty of salt and black pepper

For the salsa

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
400g tinned tomatoes
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 to 2 green chillies, deseeded and finely chopped (to taste)
1 tsp sugar
a squeeze of lime (optional)
1 tbsp of chopped coriander (optional)
black pepper
salt, if needed

To top the burgers: 100g halloumi cheese, sliced and melted onto the burgers

Rolls and salad to serve.


Begin by making the salsa. Heat the oil in the saucepan, add the onion and fry until soft. Stir in the remaining ingredients except the coriander and lime. Cover, and bring to the boil then simmer for 10 minutes.

Allow to cool and put in the fridge to chill.

Preheat the grill

Put the ingredients for the burgers into a bowl and mix thoroughly until combined. Using your hands is good. Check the mixture for seasoning (I just place a really tiny bit of mixture on my tongue to taste, then throw it away) and then with damp hands, shape the mixture into burgers, of whatever size you require.

Place the burgers under the grill, on the griddle, on the barbecue and cook for about 6 minutes or so each side until 'golden' and cooked through. Smaller burgers will take less time.

Whilst cooking, taste the salsa. It may need some lime to brighten the flavour, or some salt. If you have a mind to, add some chopped coriander.

Place a piece of halloumi on each burger. Grill/cook until the cheese has melted.

Serve burgers on warmed rolls with a helping of salsa and some salad leaves. With any luck you'll be sat outside and not sat inside with the heating on, watching the raindrops fall. Enjoy.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

A crumble for warmer weather: Rhubarb and Strawberry Crumble (or 'Crisp' if you prefer) with Toasted Oats and Hazelnuts

It is probably wrong to associate crumbles with colder weather, but I tend to do so, as they are the type of pud that is substantial, 'sticks to your ribs' and if your accompaniment of choice is custard then your bones get warmed up as a result. However as the year moves on to something a little more spring like, I was looking for something that I considered a little lighter, and that would be more likely to be accompanied by a splosh of cream than a dollop of custard, (not that there is anything ever wrong with said 'dollop').

Regular readers to this blog will know that I am a huge Tamasin Day Lewis fan and this recipe is from her latest cookbook, 'Food you can't say no to'. It is a lovely book, as are all her others, and the way she writes so eloquently on food, on memory and the joy of eating is wonderful to read and inspires the budding cook to get into the kitchen.

I made very little changes to the original recipe, save that I had some rhubarb in the freezer which I had cooked and frozen several months ago, and I upped the amount of strawberries, for two reasons. One, Lola. If Lola could be a fruit, she would be a strawberry, and secondly, the strawberries that I bought (and I don't like buying them at this time of year because they're often dreadful) I couldn't see myself doing anything with the remaining few, so I lobbed them in. I also wanted a more uniform crumble - the original recipe suggests layering the crumble somewhat, so crumble, followed by toasted oats, followed by some of the hazelnuts, coarsely chopped. Finn in particular isn't keen on nuts as such, so I wanted to have the crumble more 'uniform' by combining all the crumble ingredients and blitzing all of the hazelnuts.

Despite the fact that rhubarb and custard should be together, I think this is better accompanied with a little cream. Or a lot...

Rhubarb and Strawberry Crisp with Toasted Oats and Hazelnuts, taken from 'Food you can't say no to' by Tamasin Day Lewis.

Serves Mum, Dad, Lola and Finn twice


675g rhubarb, cleaned and chunked
4 tbsp vanilla caster sugar, or to taste (I confess, I used caster sugar with a couple of drops of vanilla extract)
450g strawberries, hulled, halved if large (I used 500g strawberries)

For the crumble:

Large handful of (jumbo) porridge oats
90g hazelnuts, toasted and skinned and blitzed
180g plain flour
120g chilled butter, cubed
60g light muscavado sugar
60g granulated sugar


Combine the chunked rhubarb, the strawberries the sugar and vanilla carefully to encourage the flavours to combine. Leave whilst you prepare the crumble topping.

In a small frying pan, toast off the oats until they are golden brown. Tip onto a plate and set aside. Then toast off the hazelnuts, taking care that they don't burn.

Rub together the butter and flour until it resembles breadcrumbs, then add the sugars. Finally add the toasted hazelnuts and oats and stir to combine.

Stir the fruit again and then transfer it to the dish you wish to bake the crumble in (I just combined my fruit in the dish I wished to use for the crumble in the first place). Top the fruit evenly with the crumble mixture.

Baked for around 45 minutes, or until crisp and bubbling. Remove from the oven and leave for 5 -10 minutes or so because it will be really, really hot. Serve with cream.


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