MTT: Chinese-Style Braised Orange Duck Legs

If you have a busy life (or even if you don’t) you will probably know the value of one-pot cooking. I am a huge fan of bunging everything in the same pan and letting the flavours all have a party in the oven whilst I do something else with my time, perhaps watch the afternoon episode of Desperate Housewives for example, and then having a lovingly prepared steaming dish of dinner on the table ready for when Will gets home. I probably cook this way two or three times a week, my current favourite being an Italian chicken stew made with rosemary, balsamic and pearl barley (I promise to share this recipe soon!).

Whenever I cook a one pot dish I always turn to my favoured casserole – a lovely cast-iron shallow Le Creuset version in Almond. It’s a brilliantly non-stick dish that is always clean after a rinse in the dishwasher, no matter how many burnt splatters I get on it.

We are big fans of the classic french cookware brand Le Creuset in this house. Since we bought our first home together five years ago I’ve become more and more into cooking and the economy of buying solid, hardworking and reliable cooking equipment has been clear. Which is what I tell myself every time I salivate over their range at John Lewis.

When I first found out we were moving to the countryside the first thing I went out and bought myself was a cream Le Creuset teapot, and the first piece of kitchen equipment my mum ever bought me was their classic casserole in the signature burnt orange (I think the official term for this colour is ‘volcanic’. Since then I’ve managed to pick up larger casseroles, a griddle pan, saucepans, frying pans and cookware. I can’t get enough.

Le Creuset recently emailed me to tell me they had a range of warming winter one-pot recipes they’d created for their cookware, and I was delighted to try one of them out. I let them choose which one they sent me  – a Chinese-inspired braised orange duck dish. This is not a dish I’d choose to cook normally so I was excited to try something new.

This recipe serves four and I halved the quantities (apart from some veg) for Will and myself, and opted to use my oven-safe Le Creuset saucepan over the much larger casserole. Following the instructions to the letter, the recipe turned out wonderfully: the duck fell off the bone as I lifted it from the pan and was lightly flavoured from the orange, but not overpoweringly so. The cooking time was three and a half hours so it was the perfect dish to cook while feeding Elfie dinner, knowing it’d be ready for us a little while later.

I served the duck legs with (overcooked, oops) rice and pak choi sauteed off with sesame oil, butter and garlic. It was divine.

MTT: Chinese-Style Braised Orange Duck Legs
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Main
Serves: 4
  • 4 duck legs (approximately 250g)
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (I used sesame oil as it's Will's favourite)
  • 4 spring onions, trimmed and chopped roughly
  • 4 shallots, quartered
  • 2 medium carrots, cut into finger sized pieces
  • pared zest 1 large orange
  • 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • 4 tablespoons orange juice (I freshly squeezed mine as I had the oranges)
  • 1 level teaspoon Chinese five–spice powder
  • 3 star anise
  • 50g raisins
  • 1 level teaspoon cornflour
  • 2 tablespoons Bonne Maman Bitter Orange Marmalade (I used a Co-Op branded marmalade as that was the only one available)
  • freshly ground black pepper
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 140 degrees C, fan 120. Trim the duck legs of excess flaps of skin and fat or, if preferred, remove the skin completely. Put all the pieces into the casserole, cover with boiling water and on the hob bring to a gentle boil. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Drain well, discarding the cooking liquid. Dry the duck on kitchen paper towels.
  2. Rinse and dry the casserole.
  3. In the casserole heat the oil over a medium heat. Add two of the duck legs and brown evenly on both sides. Remove these with a slotted spoon and brown the remaining two legs. Lift out.
  4. Add all the vegetables to the hot oil and fry, stirring for 2 – 3 minutes. Return the duck pieces to the pot together with the orange zest, soy sauce, orange juice, five–spice powder, star anise and the raisins. Add 125ml water and some freshly ground black pepper. (No salt, the soy sauce will bring sufficient salt to the recipe).
  5. Place on the lid and cook in the oven for 3 hours.
  6. Remove the casserole from the oven. Blend the cornflour with a little cold water and stir this, together with the marmalade, into the ingredients. Return to the oven for a further 30 minutes to allow sauce to thicken.
  7. Remove the pieces of orange zest and star anise before serving.
  8. This dish may be served with small oven roasted potatoes or boiled rice.

Elfie at 19 Months

It’s weird, looking at Elfie now you don’t see a baby anymore. You see a toddler, a mini-person. Especially when she’s dressed in the next size up of 18 months-2 years clothes which seem seem so much more geared towards making toddlers look like children rather than babies. Thank goodness for onesies which I will be keeping her in forever – she’s always my baby in her onesie.

Elfie is growing so fast and can now walk if you hold her hand, last week she even took a few steps on her own which made me come over massively Proud Mummy-like. The pace at which she’s developing is insane, she didn’t want to walk two weeks ago and can still go a whole day without walking unaided – she’s in no rush to become mobile which is absolutely fine by me.

We’ve experienced plenty of health scares recently which have been terrifying but at the same time have taught us more abut how to deal with Elfie when she goes in to an adrenal crisis, which is when she starts becoming ill. Normally when we come down with a virus or an infection our bodies have a mechanism to kick-start the healing process but Elfie’s body is missing the ability to deliver the initial burst of adrenaline needed, meaning she becomes gravely ill very quickly. She takes a maintenance dose of medication to counteract this but when she’s ill she needs to be given this adrenalin manually.

Nightmare number one was when she had her flu jab – we woke up at 8.30 realising she hadn’t stirred (her usual wakeup time is between 5 and 6) and when we rushed to her she was floppy and weak. This was the first time I injected her with her emergency intramuscular dose of cortisol which was terrifying but the immediate effect was amazing.

Nightmare number two found us in A&E a week later with a very poorly child.  It transpired that she’d had tonsillitis and an ear infection and needed another emergency cortisol dose, which we didn’t have at home as our doctor wouldn’t prescribe her the medication without seeing her first (naturally the wait for an appointment was 2.5 weeks). More drama ensued when the paeds nurses refused to give her injection intramuscularly as directed on her emergency notes – they wanted to put an IV in her hand instead. We refused, Elfie has the trickiest veins (blood tests are horrendous) and it has taken hours for consultants to get IVs in her before, plus we knew that shortly after her IM injection she would perk up and there’d be no need for further medication. So as we were going against medical advice they agreed to prescribe us with her medication but I had to inject it myself. In the hospital. Whilst being watched by a nurse. And as we predicted within an hour she was back to normal and they released us after another hour of observation. It is so tough being in that situation and knowing you are behaving like ‘that’ pushy dickhead parent, but as what she has is so rare I feel it’s necessary. And I always apologise for being so ‘assertive’ afterwards.

Since then we’ve had a long night of baby sick (caused by coughing from a sore throat so no hospitalisation required) and some pretty awful teething episodes but apart from that she’s been good. I think I’m almost at the stage where I feel comfortable enough with her medical situation to be able to take her abroad, albeit preferably somewhere English-speaking with good medical facilities.

Elfie’s language skills aren’t that brilliant at the moment; when I first got pregnant I envisaged that by this time, with the baby moving and kicking, we’d be able to curl up on the sofa together and talk to Elfie about her new baby brother and how exciting it will be for her. We could certainly do that but I expect she’d be clamouring to get down so she can go and blow her nose on the carpet on the stairs, or give the living room rug a cuddle. I asked her if she was an alien today and she said “yeah”, so I don’t think she’ll understand the new baby before it arrives.

Elfie with Bryony‘s little girl Frankie, at a recent ShopStyle event

Her vocabulary has expanded a little to include “nana” (banana) and a lions growl (grannie) but aside from that she’s still only saying “yeah”. I think she’s a little behind in this respect but as she spent the first three months of her life very poorly and not developing I guess we’ve got this time to catch up, and new sounds are coming every day. She can understand A LOT of what’s said and definitely knows her own mind. She won’t be doing anything she doesn’t want to do and she will do as much of what she likes to do as possible (read books, eat ham, swim until her lips turn purple).

We’ve had to broach the tricky idea of discipline this month. Because she can’t articulate her thoughts she often gets frustrated and hits or kicks out, which is definitely not OK. Other than this she is an extremely well-behaved little girl and we can take her pretty much anywhere and feel quite confident that she won’t have a meltdown – lucky for us as we like to go to restaurants. The only exception to this rule is if there is a soft play area in the vicinity – woe betide anyone who lets her near but not in to soft play.

The last point: teething. It’s a bit of a shitter, isn’t it? I know kids have got to grow teeth somehow but they really come in the most painful and horrendous manner. They bring us so many nights of broken sleep, big old mouth spots, dribbling chins and a lot of grumbling and groaning. I am however very impressed every time I see Elfie with her whole fist in her mouth. These are the skills in life that will make her LOTS of friends at University.

A Pregnancy Wardrobe, Weeks 18-22

It’s hard enough to get dressed in the morning. No matter how many clothes you have it is always a bit of a challenge to find something to wear. Am I right, ladies?

Throwing a bump into the mix along with massive boobs where perhaps you had none before (RIP, 32Bs) makes things a million times harder, and it is so easy to live in comfortable lycra and baggy tops when you’re feeling lumpy and unattractive. But for me this means I start getting lazy about my appearance, neglecting my hair, eyebrows and moustache, and nobody likes it when mummy looks like Hitler. I find that when I start with making an effort with dressing the bump nicely everything else follows. Even upper lip hair.

Taking things one step further, this time I’ve been trying to document my favourite outfits and posting them on WIWT: do not underestimate the power of taking a photo of yourself and posting it online to motivate yourself towards the makeup. It’s shallow, it’s not clever, but it works for me. I would like to add that on my home days with Elfie you will still find me in jersey and yoga pants, but otherwise I am trying. Really really trying.

So far, my pregnancy essentials have been:
– A decent pair of maternity jeans (mine are these from TopShop)
– Maternity vests, which allows my normal clothes to still be worn over the bump (I prefer Mamas & Papas or TopShop‘s camisoles).
– Low-slung skinny jeans (my pre-pregnancy jeans luckily still fit under the bump)
– Comfortable pyjamas
– Long-sleeved jersey tops a couple of sizes bigger than normal (Primark are good for these and I have them in black, white, grey and stripy – I’m wearing one here with an Aubin & Wills tshirt over the top)
– Belts, to nip baggy tops in at the waist (such as here, with an oversized shirt dress on New Years Eve)

So, down to the nitty-gritty. Here’s what I’ve been wearing recently:


1. To my Mother-in-Law’s birthday party, I wore a Tommy Hilfiger sheer shirt (mmm stretchy) with a long black lycra vest underneath. The skinny jeans are from GAP and are pre-pregnancy.

2. To meet the lovely Kaisa Larkas for lunch I wore a Paul by Paul Smith jersey dress with shirt bib detail (classily ironed that morning with my hair straighteners) and a blue and white stripy jacket from TK Maxx.


3. On a day out with Elfie and my mum I wore a silky top from Zara with a Mamas & Papas maternity camisole underneath, Uniqlo pre-pregnancy skinny jeans and shoes and sequinned jacket from TK Maxx.

4. For a Sunday lunch with my mother and Sisters-in-Law I wore a Jack Wills dress, sleeveless cardi from a local boutique, an ASOS belt, shiny American Apparel leggings and boots from Dune at John Lewis.

I expect I will struggle now as the bump expands and I’ll be unable to wear my pre-pregnancy trousers, therefore shrinking my wardrobe down further. However with spring round the corner (did we even have a winter?) there will be more choices with shorter tops and dresses. I wish I’d considered my wardrobe a little more seriously before trying to get pregnant, clothes-wise I think giving birth in August would have been my ideal. I am not even joking.

I’d love to hear from you: what were your favourite maternity clothing choices? Am I missing anything?

A Winter Holiday In The UK

No matter what you do, January’s always a bit of a let down. There’s the New Year’s Eve hangover that traditionally lasts a week (not this year, obviously), the lack of funds thanks to Baby Jesus’s birthday, the empty promises to stop eating potatoes cooked in Goose Fat and the shock that is your husband returning to work after a blissful two weeks of helping out around the house. Which is why I say January is the perfect time to go on holiday.

We’ve managed it twice before – once to Langkawi, Malaysia and once on our honeymoon to Kenya, but this year as I get so horribly paranoid about Elfie suffering a medical crisis abroad we decided to stay a little closer to home. One of our very best friends had a week off before she started her new job so we decided to spend five days together at Center Parcs. Amazingly we timed our holiday to co-incide with THAT Mumsnet Center Parcs thread, though I can confirm any suspicious marks on the sheets in our villa were a result of a baby banana breakfast in bed.

We booked into a three bedroomed villa at Center Parc’s Sherwood Forest site for a mere £249 (plus an extra £35 paid to secure a property close to the amenities); it had everything we could have wanted including a dishwasher, full kitchen, bath, shower, 7ft tall blackboard, open fire and flat screen TVs. The fridge was only small but we kept our wine and kegs of real ale (yes, really, Will likes to take KEGS on holiday with us) on the patio where we turned the in-built BBQ into a booze storage area. The villa came with all baby stuff we needed – cot (sans sheets) and highchair – though we had to bring things like baby cups and cutlery. It was really useful to be self-catering, I would have quite happily eaten out each and every night but it was lovely to be snuggled up in front of the fire with a big plate of homemade (villamade?) pasta knowing Elfie was safely tucked into bed.


I went on plenty of childhood holidays to Center Parcs Longleat so really didn’t know how I’d feel on my return as an adult. It had definitely lost a little bit of magic as it turns out that it’s not staffed by magical Center Parcs fairies who all live on-site (this is definitely how Disneyworld works and nothing will make me believe any different) but we all really enjoyed ourselves. The food was OK (Strada, Cafe Rouge, Pancake House, Huck’s American Diner) and I have to admit the swimming areas were dirtier than I remember them to be, though this may be down to my fussiness rather than lowered standards. I did however enjoy the full-body dryer facility in the changing rooms, particularly useful if your husband forgets to pack your towel and your delightful child pees on the one you are all sharing.


There was so much to do and we all agreed we could have been there happily for another couple of days; I love Center Parcs’s car-free ethos and it felt so good to be outside enjoying the fresh air or spotting squirrels or rabbits. I even went for a RUN and pootling around on a bike was a lot of fun.

The girls took a morning off to visit the Spa which was divine: I was so relaxed that I fell asleep in an upright wooden chair within half an hour. I sampled all the different steam rooms but didn’t stay in any for long, but my companion had a lovely time in all of them and especially enjoyed the open-air balcony with beds and fur blankets where you could relax and listen to the sound of the birds. Screw that, it was freezing, I much preferred the indoor beds which you could curl up on to with an actual duvet and pillows. The outdoor pool was lovely if a degree or two too cold and had a nice range of bubbles and massage jets. One thing I thought the spa was missing was a proper jaccuzzi or hot tub but overall it was a very good value. It doesn’t have the luxurious feel of Ragdale Hall or Eden Hall but at £30 for a half day it was well worth it and I would definitely return.


The boys sampled other activities such as the driving range, squash and these weird underwater fan-powered jet things (thoroughly enjoyed, apparently made them feel like Bond Villains) but otherwise we were happy to spend most of our time relaxing. Our wholesome friends went on a couple of bike rides and raved about the gorgeous scenery, which I was happy to enjoy from the comfort of our big comfy sofa.

Overall it was a fantastic week away that I’m looking forward to making a yearly tradition. We booked at a very cheap time of year, our accommodation came to a mere £15.50 per adult per night although we spent a fair amount on food, eating out at least once a day. The on-site supermarket has a large stock of food but I did a Sainsbury’s shop the day before and took that with us. You can spend as much or as little on activities as you like and usage of all swimming facilities is free.


Things I learnt at Center Parcs:
–  If your crotch is already slightly ouchy from being six months pregnant, getting onto a bike for the first time in 8 years will only make it worse
– Similarly, cycling with a six month baby bump is quite difficult, even if it is small
– I really, REALLY, can’t bear to go to a swimming pool without wearing flip flops
– The great outdoors is actually rather nice
– Strada’s rosemary and garlic stretched pizza bread is to DIE for
– Once a child realises there is a soft play/ball pit area in the immediate vicinity there is no dragging them away
– Any Mumsnet reports of rampant anal sex at Center Parcs are to my knowledge completely false.

MTT: Pulled Pork

Everyone goes mental for pulled pork, don’t they? Even my mum, with whom I had a 10 minute conversation about it ending with her asking why I named a dish after my dad (Paul…. she thought I was cooking Paul’s pork) loves it, despite not knowing what on earth it is. It’s one of those dishes that pops up on the Internet and always looks so mouthwateringly desirable that you need to have it in your mouth now, if not sooner.

And then you discover that it takes a million ingredients, a BBQ and about 48 hours to cook and it gets filed away in that mental folder reserved for foods that will only be consumed when someone else cooks them (see also: lobster, fois gras, aioli). Plus, all the recipes I discovered were American and I dont have the patience to translate that many ingredients out of cups and into mls and tablespoons.

No more!

When we last went on our big supermarket shop Will picked up a big hunk of meat for me to cook, as he likes to do. It’s normally lamb but this time he came home with 2 kg of pork shoulder. It was one of the cuts that specifically allows you to create monster crackling, which unfortunately you won’t get with this recipe, but in my opinion the melt in your mouth BBQ flavoured pork is a million times better. He wanted me to roast the joint for Sunday lunch but having had pulled pork on the brain for a little while I ignored his pleas, telling him the end result would be worth it. The joint I worked with was a shoulder, though I believe in the US it’s more traditional to use a leg or some kind of rump cut.

So I poked around in our pantry and managed to come up with all the ingredients needed to make a decent BBQ sauce and banged the joint in the oven for six hours. To complete my pulled pork experience I caramelised one red onion by cooking it on the hob with a knob of butter, a tbsp of caster sugar and shake of balsamic vinegar for 10 minutes, then threw this in the Breadmaker with the ingredients for white dough. When the dough was done I shaped it into rolls, proved it in the airing cupboard (middle-class housewife alert) and cooked in a hot oven for 12 minutes.

This pork in those rolls with coleslaw (couldn’t find a cabbage for love nor money so it was shamefully pre-made from Waitrose) and a side of chunky skin-on chips is heavenly. We also had it the next day in wraps with sour cream, avocado and cheese. Also divine.

The joint I bought promised 11-12 servings, but in our house it didn’t even last 48 hours.

5.0 from 2 reviews
MTT: Pulled Pork
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
One of the brilliant bits about this recipe is that you can pretend you're a mad scientist and just chuck all the ingredients in a big pan together. Really, you know that's how it's done. I've kept the ingredients as easy as possible so they should be in your storecupboard, and don't worry if you have to omit one or two of them or find similar replacements (i.e. soy sauce for Worcestershire, syrup for honey).
Recipe type: Main
Serves: 8-10
  • 2kg pork shoulder
  • 2 onions, finely cubed
  • 150ml Jack Daniels
  • 100ml red wine vinegar
  • 100ml malt vinegar
  • 3tbsp ketchup
  • 4 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 5 tbsp tomato purée
  • 2 tbsp mustard
  • 1 tbsp Tabasco
  • 1tsp ground paprika
  • 1 tsp mustard powder
  • 150g sugar
  • 3 tbsp honey
  • 2tsp salt
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 140 degrees C. In a very large oven-proof saucepan or casserole dish, add all the ingredients aside from the pork and mix together well.
  2. Submerge the pork in the liquid and seal the top of the dish with two layers of tin foil, as well as the lid if there is one.
  3. Cook for 5 hours, turning the pork every hour and a half or so to make sure it's evenly covered in the sauce.
  4. Remove from the oven, take off the tin foil and lid and replace in the oven. Cook for one further hour. At this point I also removed the skin and fat of my joint as I wanted to include the taste of this in my sauce: if you are a bit healthier than me you can do this at the beginning before putting it in the oven for the first time.
  5. Remove from the oven and shred - you should be able to do this with a couple of forks. Drizzle the sauce over and serve.

20 Weeks Pregnant


So here I am on New Year’s Eve. 20 weeks pregnant.  A time when it has become neccassary once again to put makeup on before leaving the house – thank goodness, for the sake of my face and the outside world. I’ve felt human for about 4 weeks now,  long enough that I have almost forgotten the hell of the first trimester,  only re-surfacing when a well-meaning acquaintance asks how my pregnancy has been going (“WELL… there’s a story. Do you know how it feels to be hit by a bus?” etc etc).

On New Year’s Eve itself we went for dinner at my parent’s house with my mother in law and depressingly they all went to bed at 12.15am drunk and I drove Will and I the 300m home, exhausted. My dad cooked up a feast of lamb and pomegranate cous cous and churros, the non-pregnant people in my family had fun and games with dessert wine and the highlight of my evening was discovering how much better the BBC coverage of the London fireworks was than ITV’s.  A far cry from last year’s party debauchery at Pizza East with 23 Australians. Good times.

We were in bed by 12.30am which I think even beats my last pregnant New Year’s Eve experience (Nobu- nightclub- midnight kiss- taxi- 12.45am bed).

As a punishment for not having a hangover my body greeted 2012 with a vile cold. I have termed it ‘manflu’ as it is not real flu but man I am suffering. I can’t breathe through my nose, I have that chapped bit of skin on my top lip that appears when you’ve chafed your face with a whole roll of loo paper and I simultaneously need to sleep but can’t sleep. It’s horrible. I’m sure it’s just a normal cold but with the joy of dodgy pregnancy sinuses I am a monster. A wailing, tired, snot-covered monster.

Christmas was difficult as I count two of my favourite festive activities as drinking wine and eating Stilton, neither of which you are supposed to do a a pregnant person. I embraced the French way and sampled the wine with a couple of mouthfuls of cheese but still had to send myself to bed at 9.45 on Christmas eve. Sneaking a nap with Elfie on the day itself was necessary and I learned that the Radio 4 women’s hour podcast is a very soothing way to fall asleep when your relatives are lucky enough to be downstairs getting rowdy on Bailey’s and Cranium.

(A shot that pretty much represents my daily life: That’s Not My Snowman/Reindeer/Teddy, the Very Hungry Caterpillar, Mr Men and Bouncy Tiggers)

I can’t remember how much Elfie moved in utero, and at what times, but new baby seems to be a real wriggler. I first felt the baby move about 4 weeks ago whilst driving and Will first felt him the week after that. He is a right kicker, mostly during the evenings. I’ve started getting those weird internal kicks, too, which I used to find hilarious. The ones when the baby either kicks down into the cervix or towards your spine and it just feels like nothing else you’ve ever felt before. Luckily I have grown up enough to not obsessively Google ‘internal injuries from baby kicks’ (or I may have Googled that once, at 2am).

I still don’t feel that I look hugely pregnant which is why I’ve taken to belting a lot of my outfits and my size 10 maternity jeans have become slightly baggy. Whether this is because of my small appetite or the fact they are of dubious Topshop quality, I do not know. I started the pregnancy after losing Elfie’s baby weight at 9 stone 3lbs, dropped a fair amount during the first trimester (I was 8 stone 7 at my week 12 scan) and have now nudged up again to 9 stone 5. I know there is no typical weight gain during pregnancy – I put on nearly 3 stone with Elfie, the last stone being in the final 4 weeks – but I’m confident my diet is as healthy as it possibly could be.

The leaky boobs are back and I’m sure they’ll hang around until needed again, but aside from that and my painful sinuses I’m not noticing any more unpleasant pregnancy symptoms. This is the golden stage of pregnancy – the awful first trimester is over, I can still fit into my clothes, it’s relatively easy to jog or climb stairs and the birth is but a glimmer of reality far in the future. Bring on 30 weeks – that’s when shit gets real.

Week 16
Week 14
Week 12
Week 6/8