Tag Archives: food

Merry’s Banana and Sultana Muffins

I’ve mentioned the marvellous multi-talented Merry on this blog a few times before, and if you haven’t discovered the Merrily empire yet you definitely should.  I’ve always considered Merry to be my main source of home ed inspiration and encouragement (and though her big girls now go to school, it seems to me that she still home educates but just in less time!)  Then there’s the fab businesses she runs – Play Merrily, the place to go for quality toys online, and Craft Merrily, for all the Hama beads, Fimo and Loom Bands you will ever need, among many other lovely things.  And I’m continually impressed by Merry’s own crafting – her Instagram feed is full of beautiful pictures of the knitting and crochet projects that she always has on the go.  Frankly it’s enough to make me feel a little inadequate, but Merry is so lovely that I’ll have to let her off.  And now, if all the above wasn’t enough, she has recently got the baking bug, and has moved remarkably quickly from “I don’t do baking” to “I invent my own recipes.  Move over Nigella…

So when I saw this recipe for banana muffins, I knew it would be good and I couldn’t wait to try it.  With my usual forward planning I decided about 20 minutes before supper that it would be a good idea to make them for pudding.  They were so quick and easy that Monkey and I managed to make them in the time it took for Owl to make pesto (with a little help from daddy) and cook spaghetti.  They were very popular (as was the pesto, which probably deserves a blog post of its own) and the children have asked when we can make them again.  I think they’ll be able to make them without much help from me, so the answer is probably once a week at least!

banana muffins

Nigelissima – Instant Italian Inspiration

This post was written by Paul who was also the chef.

Nigellissima most Nigella

The last cook book that came into our house, in March, was Jack Monroe’s “A Girl Called Jack”. At the time we’d been living off tinned tomatoes and lentils for weeks, and fell upon her recipes with the grateful desperation of a family ready to have their lives transformed by adding a beef stock cube and some shredded mushrooms to their terrible attempts at fake Bolognese.

Six months later, on the upward curve of the thriftspend cycle, enter Nigella. Nigella with her simplicity, her glamour, and her insistence on quality. Nigella with her mixture of the commonplace (tomatoes, semolina, lentils), and the expensive (sirloin steak, fresh figs, 70% cocoa chocolate). So, riding the fiscal upswing, we invited friends round and cooked loads of dishes. What’s the point of using a cookbook from a supreme entertainer if you don’t entertain with it?

Nigelissima 3

This was the menu, scaled up for four adults, two teenagers and five children aged 10 to 4:

  • Tagliata
  • Mock Mash
  • Italian Golden Lentils
  • Gnocchi Gratin
  • Meatzza
  • (Broccoli)
  • Instant chocolate mousse
  • Baked figs with honey and cream

Nigelissima 4

Tagliata is delicious. Buy the most expensive sirloin you can afford, make some vinaigrette with added chilli flakes and pour over cherry tomatoes chopped in half, cook the steak properly and slice it after resting, then arrange the whole lot on a plate topped with fresh oregano. Total cost of ingredients £25 – an easy party piece. None left over. Tomato and beef salad – who knew?

Nigelissima 2

Mock Mash was a surprise hit – also none left over. Take semolina and cook in milk, then add parmesan, seasoning and nutmeg. Total cost £5

Italian Golden Lentils was less popular, but probably because we’ve seen quite a lot of our little pulse friends recently. And it wasn’t a fair test as, with an hour to go before the guests arrived, I realised I’d forgotten to buy the necessary Castelluccio lentils and garlic oil, so substituted green lentils and olive oil with crushed garlic in it. But the dish itself was really nice – I’d never cooked lentils with leek and thyme before. Fry leeks, add lentils, thyme, bay leaves and water. Serve when cooked (fish out bay leaves). Total cost only £1.50

Gnocchi Gratin was easy to make and quickly eaten, the only leftovers caused by the abundance of other food on the table. Heat mascarpone and milk in a pan and dissolve parmesan in it. Cook gnocchi, put into oven dish and cover with a mixture of breadcrumbs and more parmesan, put into oven and take out when golden. Total cost £12

Meatzza was tasty but overshadowed by everything else. The concept is simple enough – take beef mince and add herbs and spices (a bit like making lamb kofte mix), then pat down into an oven dish before covering with chopped tomatoes and mozzarella slices to form something that looks like a pizza. We’ll try it again on its own later. Total cost £15

Broccoli was meant to have been Nigella’s lemon and parmesan version, but we ran out of time so it was just broccoli. Take broccoli, chop into florets, chuck into water then guess how long it takes to cook.

The instant chocolate mousse was fab, and easy to make. Instead of egg, use condensed milk to thicken and bind the mixture of melted luxury chocolate and partially whipped cream. Leave to chill in the fridge then top with more partially whipped cream. The recipe called for orange liqueur but I left the booze out because of the children. Total cost £12

Nigelissima 1

Baked figs with honey went down a storm with the grown-ups, less so with the children (although the kids were pretty full by then). Cut and split figs without severing them completely, and drizzle olive oil over them before baking for 10 minutes. Prepare mixture of warm cream and honey, and chop unsalted pistachios in mini chopper. Pour honeyed cream over hot figs, sprinkle chopped nuts and serve. Total cost £12

Nigelissima 5


None of the recipes were difficult to follow, although I do wish I’d got the herbs sorted out in advance instead of running around the garden in the dark trying to pick thyme and oregano. I started prepping an hour and a half before the meal by opening the first bottle of Bardolino and finding Don Giovanni on the ipod. Chocolate mousse was next (as it had to be chilled before serving), then the Meatzza (which could be baked at the same time as the gnocchi but I didn’t want to be handling raw beef whilst cooking everything else). Then the lentils were put on, then the gnocchi prepared. Finally the tagliata and mock mash happened simultaneously, and the figs were got ready for throwing in the oven after the main course.


Would we use Nigella’s book again? Yes! Could we regularly afford to buy premium cherry tomatoes, sirloin steak, decent mince, pounds of parmesan, mascarpone? No! We could save Nigella’s book for special occasions or we could experiment. Can the chocolate mousse survive the ignominy of Sainsbury’s basics dark chocolate? Can the mock mash be made with ‘Italian hard cheese’ rather than real indicazione geografica typica parmesan? Because given our recent experience you could survive at least a year with just two cook books – Nigella’s and Jack’s – and change the ingredients to suit your budget. Have these two passionate ladies met? Can someone arrange it, and send me a preview copy of the resulting hybrid cookbook? Thank you.




This week I have spent a lot of time planning and preparing a Middle Eastern meal for two very lovely friends.  I am so looking forward to a relaxing Friday evening combining good company and Egypt nostalgia, and if the food looks presentable enough I will inevitably be Instagramming it.  I couldn’t resist posting a sneak preview yesterday of the basbousa, and several people have asked me for the recipe so here it is.  If you are observant you may notice that I didn’t use an 8 x 12 inch cake tin.  If you don’t have one, a 10 inch round one will do!


½ cup unsalted butter

¾ cup caster sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla essence

2 eggs

2 cups fine semolina

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

¾ cup yoghurt

blanched split almonds


2 cups sugar

1 ½ cups water

1 tablespoon lemon juice

  1. Cream butter, sugar and vanilla essence until light and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time and beat well.
  2. Sift semolina, baking powder and soda twice.  Fold into butter mixture alternately with yoghurt.
  3. Spread batter into a greased 20 x 30 cm (8 x 12 inch) slab cake pan and place almonds on top in rows.
  4. Bake in a moderate oven – 180° C (350° F) for 30-35 minutes.
  5. While cake cooks, make syrup. Dissolve sugar in water over medium heat, add lemon juice and bring to the boil.  Boil rapidly for 10 minutes, then cool by standing pan in cold water.
  6. When cake is cooked, spoon cooled syrup over the hot cake.  Cool thoroughly and cut into diamond shapes or squares to serve.

The recipe comes from The Complete Middle East Cookbook by Tess Mallos.

This week

This week I have been

getting excited about our new Tuff Spot and its potential for messy play.  I think I am enjoying it as much as the children are.

watching the big three perform in their Dramabuds play (as Peter Pan, Wendy and the crocodile) and feeling very proud – and pleased that Tiddler was allowed to get away with escaping from the audience and joining in towards the end of the show.  That’s the kind of laid-back flexibility I love about Dramabuds!

excercising more – a Pilates class and a run, not much maybe but better than in recent weeks.

celebrating Easter with my family, at my parents’ house, and feeling lucky to have them all.

eating chocolate, hot cross buns, a Middle Eastern banquet cooked by Suburban Dad, more chocolate, Roast Lamb cooked by my mum, chocolate nests, chocolate brownies, simnel cake and a bit more chocolate.  (Note to self: might need to run more than once a week for the next few weeks.)

reading Sealed with a Kiss by Rachael Lucas and A Funny Kind of Education by Ross Mountney (and loving both so far – will review when I’ve finished them.)

This week

This week I have been

celebrating birthdays – mine, Rabbit’s and my friend’s; and Owl’s successful piano prep test

enjoying breakfast in bed twice, Birthday pavlova, brunch with Rabbit, hot chocolate with Owl and daddy after the prep test, some really good restaurant food and rather a lot of gin and tonic

reading some wonderful blogs, old and new

admiring truly beautiful food at Broadway market

appreciating a husband who can cook, clean and declutter while looking after four children

feeling thankful for good friends

loving cuddles with my children, and sharing a bath with them (two at a time!)

thinking of Jennie, Sian and Merry

The format of this post was inspired by Millie at Toddles and Tantrums.