Monday, 19 August 2013

C is for Cupcake, D is for Dinosaur

Beautiful day in west London. I’ve snagged one of the pavement spots outside my favourite café; peppermint tea that tastes like drinking a herb garden out of a cup. Today is a slow day, which is what I needed after a week that involved too many ten- and eleven-hour days. Blissful post lie-in breakfast:

Greek yoghurt takes porridge seamlessly from winter to summer, especially if you only half-defrost the blueberries so they keep a little of their frosty chill. Anything is possible after a breakfast like this. Well, almost anything - I had planned to do my long run this morning, but the heat by noon meant that today had to be about speed, not distance. It’s been a while since I set off to just run a 5k course. I first started running using the NHS Couch to 5k Podcasts, which I cannot recommend enough. They ease you in incredibly gently, so you almost don’t realise you’re increasing your mileage every week, and I’m pretty sure that that approach is why I’ve so far been running for six months totally injury-free (touch wood!) When I started, I could not run AT ALL, but sure enough I did manage to run 5k in 30 minutes (and a few seconds) by the end of the nine weeks. After that I embarked on a 10k training plan from The Running Bug which I found really useful, but it took the focus off the 5k distance. Most of my runs do average around 5k or 30 minutes but I thought it would be interesting to see what I could get my time down to now. Today I managed it in 28:20, which shaves a pleasing almost-two-minutes off my previous PB. Before you get any ideas, I have to add that I pretty much keeled over after doing that and took the opportunity to top up my tan in the park for a good quarter of an hour. I found today’s run really satisfying, just to put my nose to the grindstone and bash out the 5k as quickly as possible. I do need to start upping my distance, though: I let myself back into my house and stepped on my race pack from the British Heart Foundation, for their 10k I’m running in October. I get a timing chip for this race, which will be a first. I’m really excited and I’m still looking for someone to run it with me – any takers? It’s on October 6th, at Blenheim Palace.

We haven’t had an official house-warming yet but I suppose we are warming it in stages. Call Saturday night Housewarming Part II. My second official visitor came bearing a chilli plant and a bottle of wine.

I had stayed up ridiculously late on Friday night cooking so that Saturday night would be hassle-free (nothing worse than being stuck in the kitchen while everyone drinks the wine without you.) This lasagne gave me plenty of hassle on Friday night but meant I was free to open all the bottles of wine myself on Saturday! I got this recipe from the September issue of the Weight Watchers magazine. I’m always slightly wary of serving Weight Watchers recipes to my friends, but something I’ve learnt since starting the plan is that just because a recipe is low in points, doesn’t mean it tastes that way. I honestly couldn’t tell the difference between this lasagne and a standard one, except perhaps that it has more vegetables in it. The magazine recipe puts pancetta into the lasagne, which I could neither afford nor particularly see the point in, and with a few other tweaks, my recipe comes out at 2 points lower than theirs – only 8 pro points per serving. My friends didn’t seem to mind either (unless they were just being polite) – it was even good enough to serve as both breakfast and lunch the next day, apparently... Recipe at the end of the post. 

I also made some very non-WW-friendly chocolate cupcakes for my friend Laura’s birthday. I won’t post the recipe as they’re the ones from the Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days book and I didn’t change anything. If you have an afternoon/potentially a whole day to spare, I would recommend tackling the Sea-Salt Caramel Chocolate Layer Cake, which I made a few years ago. It’s ridiculously extravagant and very, very tasty.

C is for Cupcake

D is for dinosaur. On Sunday there were a few miniature hangovers around but we managed to make it into town to stand in the queue (!) for the Natural History Museum. Turned out everyone in the world wanted to see the dinosaurs that day. Did you know you could fit a Mini Cooper inside the heart of a blue whale?

Classic Lasagne Recipe after this link:

Classic Lasagne
Serves 6 (generous portions!)

150g lasagne sheets
50g finely grated Parmesan

For the ragu:
500g extra lean beef mince
1 large onion
2 celery sticks
3 carrots
10 mushrooms
4 garlic cloves
600g canned tomatoes
2 tsp dried oregano
500ml beef stock made with 1 stock cube

For the white sauce:
400ml skimmed milk
Black pepper
2 tbsp cornflour (please believe that this is enough. The sauce WILL thicken. Don’t get impatient like I did, or you will end up with a very lumpy white sauce and a very messy sieve-saucepan situation.)
2 tsp Dijon mustard

1.     Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/180C.
2.     To make the ragu, cook beef over a medium heat (using Fry Light or similar) for 8-10 minutes, until the mince is nicely browned. Add a tsp oregano while it’s cooking. (I saw my friend Yosola does this and her cooking is to die for – I’m not sure how much of a difference seasoning the meat makes at this stage, but every little helps and now it’s a habit.) Then set it aside in a bowl.
3.     Add the onion, celery, carrots and mushrooms (all finely chopped) to the pan. Cook for about 10 minutes on a low heat until they’re all soft. Add the garlic (also finely chopped) for the last 2 minutes.
4.     Return the beef to the pan and add the tomatoes, tomato puree, sugar, oregano, and stock. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 30 minutes, until thickened and rich. Season to taste.
5.     Meanwhile, for the white sauce, put the milk in a small saucepan and season with black pepper. Slowly bring just up to the boil, then remove from the heat. BE CAREFUL. It turns out it’s very easy to burn milk onto the bottom of a saucepan without realising. (Sorry Megz and Emma..) Mix the cornflour with a splash of cold water into a smooth paste. Pour some of the warmed milk over, whisk, add this mixture to the milk in the pan and whisk again. Slowly bring to the boil, whisking again until it has the consistency of pouring cream. Remove from the heat, mix in the mustard, and season to taste.
Spoon half the ragu into a 2-litre lasagne dish and top with a layer of lasagne sheets. Spoon around a third of the white sauce over and top with the remaining ragu. Add a final layer of lasagne sheets and the remaining white sauce. Scatter the parmesan over and bake for 45 minutes or until golden and bubbling and the pasta is tender. 


  1. I love you :) Your blogs make me very happy xxx

  2. Those whales, so huge! I loved the lasagne. I think the only thing that seemed different about it was less cheese on top but I think this was the first time I have eaten lasagne in my life that I have not felt afterwards like a balloon full of sludge ready to burst so all together a pleasant eating experience, and my thanks to you! xx
    P.S. the house needs NO MORE warming please it is a furnace ha

    1. Yes, that's true - it's only Parmesan, as opposed to cheddar too. And as my aim is never to make anyone feel like a balloon full of sludge, I'm v glad to be of service, lol. You're right about the housewarming though... I really hope this just means our heating bills will be zero come the winter. xx