Churros con Chocolate

I love Madrid. I mean really love it. It’s in the blood. And if I haven’t visited for a while, I get a craving for the heat (‘Three months of winter, nine months of hell,’), the huge blue skies, and churros con chocolate for breakfast. 

If you’ve never had the joy of eating churros, they are long, crisp, choux-pastry style donuts that are deep-fried. They are served with cups of hot chocolate, thick enough to stand a spoon up in. The churros are dipped into the chocolate and gobbled up. It’s the most indulgent breakfast known to man, and sometimes I just have to have it.

This morning I could’ve got away with lounging in bed whilst the kids watch cartoons, but churros are on my mind and I am up and out as soon as the shop opens, for a litre of sunflower oil and 100g of dark chocolate. Everything else you require for churros is store cupboard stuff, plus half a dozen eggs and a strong arm for whisking. 

The children are overjoyed to hear what’s for breakfast, and they abandon the telly to help out.  I beat  the choux pastry, Daisy melts the chocolate and adds the milk and corn flour (to thicken), and Ollie sprinkles cinnamon sugar over the crisp, golden churros once they’ve been fried.  It’s chaotic happiness. We test each batch until we reach perfection. 

As we sit down to eat, Ollie dips his first churro into the unctuous chocolate,  “Ummm, I definitely remember this!” He exclaims. How could you forget? We get through a whole plate of the cinnamony donuts in seconds, and it makes everyone so happy that I wonder why we don’t make them more often. 

Ollie’s first churro at ten months old

Later, I send photos to my dad of our churros-making. He is at home in Madrid, ill with flu and watching Inspector Lynley, (the Spanish have never mastered the skill of making good detective dramas). Out of his window he can see Jamie’s Bar, our usual haunt for breakfast when we are in Madrid. Fingers crossed, we’ll be back soon, but until then we’ll just have to keep making our own churros con chocolate. 

Churros at Jamie’s Bar, Madrid – summer 2014

If you’d like to have a go, we used the recipe below and doubled all quantities to feed four. I exchanged the milk for coconut milk to make the hot chocolate dairy-free and no one noticed! We also added three tbsp of sugar to it, as the dark chocolate makes it bitter.

Heavenly Fish Pie

Ummm this tastes so good. It’s one of my favourite dinners!” Tom Collier, 6.12pm, Saturday 7th Feb 2015. 

There is a lot to love about this fish pie, but for me the true coup is that it tastes so luxurious without containing any dairy. 

Before I get onto fish pie though, I must back-track to last night’s pizza. Wow! It’s been consuming my thoughts and judging from your comments on Facebook, it has yours too. While I was sitting in my dressing gown, hunched over the iPad, feverishly reading reviews of pizza stones, with my finger hoovering over the ‘BUY ME! BUY ME!’ button on Amazon, comments on the pizza post were pouring in. 

I awoke to pictures of Tracey’s pizzas in Oz, fresh out of the oven; Iain and Neil persuaded us all we needed a pizza stone and extolled the virtues of polenta; Fiona offered her husband’s honey-containing dough recipe; Mel admitted to soggy bottoms; Lucy introduced the concept of the knuckle pummel; and Rachel went to a DIY store and bought a terracotta flagstone to cook her pizza on. 

But perhaps most dramatically, Natalie cooked pizzas for guests today and gave us live, nail-biting updates, (then left us hanging for five hours) before reporting back that phew! for the first time ever, her pizzas had been a success…..

Tonight’s dinner may not get you as excited as pizza does, but it still tastes pretty darn good and is a wonderful comfort food in this freezing weather. 

When I had to stop eating dairy and gluten, I assumed my love-affair with fish pie would have to stop too. I didn’t eat the stuff for several years, until last month when I had such a craving, I thought I’d give it a go with coconut milk and coconut oil, and would you believe it, it blooming well works and tastes every bit as good without any coconuty after-taste. 

I’m hearing of more young children who can’t tolerate dairy too, so this would be a great meal for them (maybe just omit the wine!), and for kids in general, as it contains lots of oily fish (therefore lots of Omega 3) without them even realising……


Homemade Pizza

Pizza-making: tried it once, never again. Or at least that’s what I said at the time. I had a young baby, a hungry three year-old and guests staying. It was a recipe for disaster. The whole process took hours, the kitchen was a tip and at the end of it, all I had to show was a pizza with a soggy bottom and an uncooked middle. I vowed I’d never do it again. Pizza Ristorante for me all the way.

And yet something niggled at me. And that something is that our friend, Iain, makes such ruddy good pizzas by hand with no fuss or bother. You go round there and he’ll casually rustle up the most amazing pizza, all crisp base and delicious-ness, and it tastes so good, you almost make yourself sick on it. 

I’ve been trying to get hold of Iain’s secret recipe for the past decade. I want to know where I went wrong. What’s his method for fail-proof pizzas everytime? But he’s quite elusive and I leave their house empty-handed everytime. 

Anyway, today was the day to face my culinary nemesis. Daisy has two friends staying and I thought it would be fun for them to decorate their own pizzas. 

I have one last go at getting Iain’s recipe. I text his soon-to-be wife, Hannah. Five minutes later: Ping! A text comes through and then another. 

When Tom comes home I’m waiting for him in the hall. “You’re never going to believe this!” I say, eyes shining, “I’ve got Iain’s pizza recipe off him!”                “Whattt!” Tom replies, “How?” Knowing what gold dust this is.                             “I think I got him at a weak moment. He’s ill in bed. He’s sent it all through. Even the ratio of different cheeses you should use.”                                                           We high five, knowing that this is going to be a good Friday night. 

And the pizzas are a success. More than that, they’re amazing. The bases are crisp, the dough still soft. Tom and I burn our tongues and lips eating some straight from the oven, such is our desperation to know if they’ve worked or not. 

So our success is the good news. The bad news is that I don’t feel I have the authority to share this recipe with you. I mean, come on, I’ve had to wait ten years to get it myself. But I can point you in the direction of Joliver and I’m sure he’ll have some good tips:

And I can strongly urge you to give pizza making a go if you never have, or if like me, your first attempt was a disaster, because for us they’ll be no looking back. 

Buon Appetito! 

Roasted Mediterranean Vegetable Pasta.

As you may (or may not) know, my family have abandoned me. Not Tom and the kids, thankfully, but the rest of my nearest and dearest. Over time, they’ve all left the UK permanently for sunnier climes.

 It started with my dad who moved to Madrid 30+ years ago and is still there now. Then my auntie swapped English soil for LA followed by New Zealand, and the rest have quickly followed suit. My sister lives in the south of Spain, my brother in New Zealand, and my uncle in Switzerland where until recently he successfully sold British cheese to the Swiss (no, really!) 

Now my mum is the next to join them… She is freshly retired and is living round the corner from my sister in Altea. 

This ex-pat history is not a new thing. It goes back several generations. My sister and I were born in Spain; my mum and aunt spent half their childhoods in Kenya; and my grandfather (maternal side) spent some of his formative years in India. 

Our family has been suffering from wanderlust for nearly a hundred years, and I’m worried that the gene’s been passed on to Daisy. She has a look in her eyes that I’ve seen before. It’s a sparkle that says, ‘I ain’t gonna be hanging round here for the rest of my life’. 

I’ve begged her never to leave home, and I’ve even offered her a caravan at the bottom of the garden so she can have her own space, but she just rolls her eyes and says, “Mmmmuuummm!” I’d compromise with her being in London: I could get there in under two hours, but I’ve a feeling she’ll be going further afield than that. 

So tonight’s dinner is really a homage to my family abroad, and to our strong links to the Mediterranean. 

It’s a real standby for me and I eat it once a week, normally as lunch-for-one with the radio on in the background. The vegetables end up with a sweet caramelised flavour from the roasting, and I add olives, or artichokes (from a jar), or some cut up bacon to really finish it off, plus a sprinkling of mint leaves. 

Mediterranean Roasted Vegetable Pasta. 

Ingredients (serves 1)

  • Half a pepper, cut into strips
  • 8 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 4 mushrooms, quartered 
  • Half a red onion, thickly sliced
  • Third of a courgette, thickly sliced
  • Clove of garlic, thinly sliced. 
  • tbsp olive oil
  • 80g Spaghetti


  • Olives
  • Artichokes, sliced
  • Sundried tomatoes, thinly sliced
  • Mint leaves, torn
  • Parmesan, grated

Preheat the oven at 180 degrees. Put the vegetables in a bowl, apart from the garlic. Add the olive oil. Stir so all veg is coated. Season with salt and pepper. Put on a roasting tray and roast for 20-25 minutes. 

After 10 minutes put on your spaghetti. Check the veg and turn if necessary. Add the garlic to the roasting tray. 

Drain the pasta, put in a bowl, add the roasted veg and any of the optional extras. Mix through the spaghetti. Season and grate with cheese. Enjoy! 

Tonight as I was eating it, I got a notification on my phone. It said this blog was being read in Spain, NZ, Australia, USA, Canada, Portugal, India,  and more unusually, the Republic of Korea and Lao People’s Democratic Republic. 

This made me smile. So this post is very much dedicated to all the ex-pats out there. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll join you? X

Orange and Cranberry Muffins

Blood oranges. We have a surplus of them going soft in the fruit bowl. They were bought on Daisy’s request, but no one’s touched them and they’ve been there for five days. I cut one open and can’t work out if it’s off, or just a special Lidl hybrid-version. It’s a mottled mix of purple, red and orange. 

I try it out on the kids. Daisy insists I cut it into quarters, peel intact, so they can suck the juice out, like it’s half time at a football match. 

That’s got rid of one orange, nine more to go….

I mention this orange surplus to my friend, Beccy, in the school playground. I mention lots of things to Beccy. In fact, I never run out of things to say to her. We have a spot, a few metres from the corner shop, where we stand after we’ve dropped off the big children, and we talk until my toes can’t take any more, frostbite setting in, or until Ollie throws himself down in despair at all the chatting. 

So these muffins were Beccy’s idea. Her method is to boil two oranges for five minutes to make them nice and soft. Then she whizzes them in the food processor, peel and all. It’s a very good method and strangely satisfying pulverising the whole fruit. The smell is almost as good as marmalade-making. 

Below are two recipes. The first is the basis of Beccy’s muffins, but she boils the oranges, adds cranberries and sprinkles Demerara sugar on top. 

The second is a dairy and gluten-free version which I made. I boiled the fruit (a la Beccy) but followed the rest of the method as stated. They were surprisingly good straight from the oven – I really couldn’t have told that they were gluten-free – but by teatime they were a bit dry and needed some squirty cream (any excuse!)

Tom Yum Soup

This post is dedicated to my good friend, Emily, (poker name, The Duchess, but more on that later).

Without her there would be no Tom Yum Soup. Pre-children and before her much-resisted (by us) move to the big smoke, she would cook for us regularly.

Friday nights were spent at The Mad Moose opposite her house, and after time had been called at the bar, we’d all pile back to hers and Jayme’s (The Kaiser), often for food. No dirty kebab for us though. However much alcohol had been consumed, Em would be on it in the kitchen, and I’d stand in the doorway, amazed at what she could produce. Whole fish would be prepared, tempura batter whipped up, and sometimes hot, fragrant bowls of Tom Yum soup. Everything always tasted amazing, although I lacked Emily’s extreme tolerance for heat (chillis).

Nights at the pub were interspersed with epic poker evenings which never ended before 2am.

The evenings would always follow a similar script: much Jagermeister would be consumed, penalty shots would be issued for poor card-dealing and the game would swing wildly from ruthless to farcical. My poker drink of choice was ice-cold Cava with a shot of Amaretto, something else Emily introduced me to. A delicious drink if you haven’t tried it, but after several, it’s hard to follow the intricacies of a poker game.

The Kaiser would lose the will to live two hours in and would play very erratically before suddenly vanishing from the table. The first time this happened we became concerned, there’s not many places to hide in a small terrace, but lo and behold, he was found tucked up in someone else’s bed (Evil Lord Warwick and Three Queens’? It definitely wasn’t his own), with his shoes neatly put together at the foot of the bed in his very precise German way.

In amongst all of this drama would be Three Queens (Cat) who showed (I think) the greatest poker stamina and wiliness and who would often clear up at the end of the night, taking a substantial pot of money home with her.

My favourite poker night was when we all dressed up as gangsters (Bugsy Malone style) with black suits and ties, and us girls in black dresses. We walked down Newmarket Street like something out of Reservoir Dogs, and frightened the local youths, who beat a hasty retreat on their BMXs.

Those nights of revelry are long gone, (for the time being), but this Tom Yum soup always brings back great memories.

On a day like this, when Ollie and I have already fallen down three times on the ice (don’t wear fashion boots on the school run), you need something to warm the cockles of your heart.

Emily added noodles and pak choi to her Tom Yum which makes it a more substantial meal. This is what I did tonight. You can use the Tom Yum paste to make a very quick version, but sometimes this blows my head off, so I added the raw ingredients to give it it’s flavour instead.

The rice noodles unfortunately turned the stock cloudy, but it didn’t deter from the fragrant, tangy taste. Better than the slightly artificial taste of the Tom Yum paste.



Spicy Bean Soup with Spring Greens and Tortillas

8am: The day starts off with great excitement for the kids and blind panic for me, when I go to let the cat in and realise that we are locked in. Prisoners in our own home! Tom is 120 miles away, on the outskirts of Northampton with one key, and the other is with our neighbour who’s been feeding the cat. 

Daisy is jubilant about the prospect of missing school, and Ollie is throwing himself about because he hasn’t got a clue what’s going on but he’s picked up on the atmosphere of excitement and panic. 

I phone Tom and can barely hear him over the children’s shouts of joy. His only suggestion is to lower Daisy out of the living room window so she can run to the neighbours. Both her and Ollie are more than happy to oblige, but they’re shrieking so much as they climb out, that I have to reassure some passers by that the house isn’t on fire. 

They retrieve the key and come whooping back down the street, which leads to the next charade of trying to explain to Daisy how to unlock the front door. Unsuccessful, she posts the key through the letterbox and we are finally reunited. 

Later in the day, Ollie and I make a trip to the Asian supermarket on the ring road. On the way I tell him excitedly that they sell food from different countries. “Why?” He asks, suspiciously. “Well,” I say, “because people like different food and because Chinese people, for example, who live in Norwich, want to be able to buy the food they would have at home”.

We are just pulling into the car park when Ollie bursts into loud, spontaneous tears and I nearly crash into a bollard. “Poor Chinese people!” He wails. “They are lonely and they just want to go home!” “Not really”, I reassure him but he won’t be persuaded.

The supermarket is great. Cool, quiet aisles full of exciting foreign food, and a huge walk in fridge with pak choi, bunches of fresh coriander and Asian fruit. It gives me a desperate urge to jump on a plane and be in another land. The moment is slightly ruined though by Ollie’s continual sobs next to me. 

“Look there’s one!” He calls out, pointing to the Chinese cashier. “There’s a sad Chinese woman who just wants to go home!” Embarrassed, I try to shhh him down but fortunately the lobster tank has caught his eye and he galavants off so I can resume my search for lime leaves. 

“Can we take a pet lobster home with us?” Ollie shouts across the store. “They’re not pets, darling,” I reply, “they’re for eating.” And instantly regret it. “Awww poor lobsters,” he says, “that’s not very nice. Do they drain all their blood out to kill them? And do they eat their babies?” 

On the way home, Ollie is silent and I’m hoping that we are now off the subject of homesick Chinese people, but as we park up he says, “Poor Gilly,” his voice heavy with emotion. “Why Gilly?” I ask. She is my sister-in-law’s mum and we had lunch with her yesterday. 

“I think she’s Chinese and I think she just wants to go home,” he says, his head slumped forward. 

I can’t bare another moment of this so I break all the rules and let him eat a Lidl trifle on the new sofa whilst watching Tintin. 

Today has been especially cold and tonight’s dinner was inspired by our South American travellers yesterday, and by this month’s cover of Good Food magazine.

The soup has chicken in it but could easily be adapted to make it veggie. It is quick to make and tastes so good. The feta on top is ingenious. Serve with flour tortillas folded into quarters and toasted in the toaster.

Country Chicken

We arrive back from our night away to a freezing cold house and an angry cat. It’s almost midday and we have family arriving at one for lunch, (Tom’s brother, Tim, his wife, Ella, and her mum, Gilly).

We’re having Country Chicken for lunch (Joanne Harris: The French Kitchen) and I need to get it roasting as soon as possible, but I can’t cook in sub-zero temperatures.

I go upstairs and put my dressing gown on over my clothes. I’ve been wandering around the house a lot like this recently. The only down-side is that I have to remember to whip it off whenever the postman/gas-man/neighbour knocks at the door. 

I come downstairs to find the kids not tidying their rooms, as requested, but playing some covert ops game which involves them shuffling on all fours along the floor with a blanket over their heads, crashing into the walls. 

Meanwhile, Tom is in the diningroom supposedly tidying up. Me on cooking duty, him on clearing, although I immediately regret this decision because it sounds more like he’s starting a rave in the diningroom than setting the table for a family lunch.

Hip-hop is pumping out so loudly that I can’t hear The Archers over the top of it, and for the first time I regret my hard fought (and won) argument not to have a door put on the kitchen. Tom wanted one whereas until now I liked the open plan-ness of the house…

The cat is repeatedly attacking my ankles every time I move in the kitchen, and I’d forgotten how long it takes to peel a bag of shallots. I’m panicking about how much we HAVEN’T achieved on the clearing and cooking front, and the guests are due to arrive in half an hour. 

Fortunately Country Chicken is a very quick recipe to put together (apart from the shallot peeling).

Essentially there are two stages:

1) Put the chicken, lardons & shallots in a bowl with some olive oil. Mix so everything is coated. Roast for 45mins on 180degrees.

2) Mix grainy mustard, white wine and a bunch of chopped taragon. Pour over the chicken and roast for 10 more mins. 

We have ours with roasted new potatoes and parsnips, carrots and broccoli. Very tasty. 

After, there is Lego-building and a clafoutis for pudding. We open presents and Daisy learns how to play Jingle Bells on the ocarina (a South American recorder) which was brought all the way back from Argentina. A lovely way to spend a very cold, wet last day in January.

PS: If Tim and Ella ever have children, I will be returning the favour and giving their children musical instruments from far-flung places ; )