French macaroni cheese

02A142BD-CE3E-4FBC-BAD2-34B1B13F91CB

I wish this was our house, but it’s a hotel in France. Here’s Bert playing table tennis with style, verve, determination and very little skill. In sports terms, he only gets the latter from me, but I have put many hours’ work into trying to create a macaroni cheese recipe that shoe-horns in as many veg as my bolognaise does. I have failed.

But the macaroni cheese the hotel gave Bert was delicious so I tried to mimic its more delicate flavour and thinner, less sticky consistency when we got home.

Bert’s verdict was that it was ‘almost as good as school’s’. (Why thank you, Sir.) It’s also a lot easier to make than normal macaroni cheese – but impossible to hide any veg in. I think that’s a deuce.

Serves 3-4

1/2 bag of dried macaroni

1 garlic clove, cut in half

Butter for greasing the dish

250ml double cream

250g grated Gruyere cheese

250g grated Cheddar cheese

Cook the pasta as per instructions and pre-heat the oven to 180. Meanwhile, rub the cut side of the garlic over the inside your baking dish and then grease the dish with the butter. Combine the cooked pasta with half of the cheese and all of the cream, tip into the baking dish and then sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top. I didn’t season as cheese is fairly salty but you could add some pepper. Bake for about 20 minutes till bubbling.

The hotel served it with a sort of chopped Greek salad of finely chopped tomatoes, cucumber and a sprinkling of finely chopped feta cheese, drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with pepper. Bert ate the salad neither time, but I ate his portions both times.

 

Advertisements

White chocolate, oat and banana loaf

img_3523

Here’s the reason I don’t write this blog much these days: this is the reaction I get to most things I cook. He feels about my cooking the way he feels about my reverse parking, the state of my car and my decision to send him to holiday club for five days this summer – existentially disappointed.

But my car’s a state partly because of a five-year-old who opens party bags in it and discards the rubbish, and who tidies up spilt crumbs by brushing them disdainfully onto the floor; and we liked this loaf so here’s the recipe.

Makes one loaf

120ml vegetable oil

125g golden caster sugar

2 eggs

3 overripe bananas

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

60g plain yoghurt

125g plain flour

90g rolled oats

100g white chocolate chips or pieces

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Preheat the oven to 180/ 160 fan. Mix all of the ingredients together (no need to mash the banana if it’s very ripe and you’re using a food mixer) and tip into a lined 1lb loaf tin (25cm x 12.5cm). Bake for 50 minutes for an hour. Eat warm with vanilla icecream or cold.

 

 

Emergency cookies

IMG-3117

It’s now safe to name your favourite colour in this house, but name your favourite animal at your own risk. Bert’s dad agreed that he liked monkeys (he doesn’t particularly like monkeys) and now has two monkeys and a monkey balloon next to his bed and a sticker of a grinning gorilla behind the bedroom door at head height. I’m using an aardvark as a bookend (I genuinely love an aardvark, to be fair) and a medium-sized bear sits next to my perfume.

Much of this benevolence happens by stealth. Bert’s dad’s working in Canada at the moment and Bert and I happened to find out that the waters round Vancouver have sea otters in. Last night, two hours after Bert was in bed, I found a poster with two otters and the phrase ‘time for a snuggle!’ on it on the bed, on his dad’s side.

His dad made the mistake of mentioning that there are bears in Canada, and I’d say one out of three of the texts Bert regularly dictates and asks me to send is, ‘take a secret picture of the bears.’ His dad’s staying in a hotel in the middle of a large city. There’s absolutely no chance of running into a wild bear.

When he returns on Sunday we may well need emergency cookies.

Makes 30

225g butter

150g granulated sugar

150g soft brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 eggs

275g plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

A couple of handfuls of chocolate chips (or Easter egg chocolate in this case)

2 dessert spoons peanut butter powder

Cream butter and sugar together till they’re really light and fluffy – a good five minutes in the mixer or ten minutes with strong arms and stamina. Add the eggs and vanilla, then stir in the flour, peanut butter powder and baking powder. Stir the chocolate through.

You can just cook it now – pop teaspoons of mixture on an unlined baking tray and bake at 190 for 8-9 minutes. Or, even better, freeze teaspoons of mixture in an icecube tray, decanting to a container when completely frozen and keeping in the freezer till you need them.

Emergency? Is your child hungry? Angry? Hangry? Scuffed knee? Surprised by a friend’s unexpectedly tight cuddle? Shocked by someone calling them by their name at 8am in their own house ? Crushed that their mother didn’t pretend to be prey and get eaten by a sleeping lion on a dog walk, when the sleeping lion looked just like a five-year-old boy and she didn’t know she was prey? Then put the oven onto 180, get a couple of frozen cookie mixture balls out of the freezer and pop them, still frozen, onto an unlined baking sheet. Bake for 11-12 minutes, till golden, and eat warm.

Beef and mushroom burgers, corn on the cob and potato wedges

img_2749

The other day, Bert’s dad mentioned this author to me. ‘I love her writing!’ I said and added, never one to miss an opportunity, ‘That would be a great Mother’s Day present for someone who admired her writing.’ He gave me the noted look.

A couple of days later a book-shaped parcel arrived. At dinnertime, Bert and his dad asked me what I wanted for Mother’s Day. ‘Aren’t you supposed to think of it yourselves?’ I said. ‘Or else there’s a book I want.’

‘Oh, I’m keeping that for myself,’ Bert’s dad said. Bert followed me into the study and said, ‘what thing do you love and want most in the world?’

‘You,’ I said. ‘Or jewelry.’

He reported back and then came back in, while I was Googling bracelets, to say, ‘something cheaper.’

‘I love bubble bath and books,’ I said.

A sign went up on Bert’s bedroom door reading ‘no Mother’s Day presents in here!!!’ and I was instructed absolutely not to look in his room, especially not on the bookshelf, and absolutely especially not on the top shelf.

At bathtime I said to him, ‘I also really like snuggly things like blankets or this bubble bath here.’

‘Mum,’ he said wearily, ‘we already got you a Mother’s Day present. We don’t need to know any more.’

Did I mention there’s a book I wanted?

Serves 3

500g minced beef

2-3 good sized closed cup mushrooms

Salt to season

A slice of cheddar each burger (or on the side if you’re five)

Three brioche buns

A few leaves of cos lettuce and a few sliced baby tomatoes to garnish

Mayonnaise and ketchup

‘Enough’ potatoes

1/2 teaspoon mixed spice

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon onion salt

1 tablespoon sunflower oil

2-3 corn on the cobs

Teaspoon of butter

Sprinkle of salt to season

Pre-heat the oven to 200 fan.

Only you know how many potato wedges are enough. Don’t peel the potatoes, just cut into quarters or sixths, if bigger, lengthways. Put in a bowl, sprinkle on the spices, tip in the oil and mix to coat thoroughly. Lay on a lined baking tray in a single layer and cook for 35 minutes, turning half way.

Dot butter on the corn, season, wrap in foil and put on a tray in the same oven as the wedges for 30 minutes.

Mince the mushrooms finely and add to the minced beef in a bowl. Season, combine with your hands and form into three burgers, about an inch thick however big they are (for adults, aim for a little bigger than the bun, as they’ll shrink in the pan). Get a frying pan really hot, cover the base with a thin layer of oil and press the burgers firmly into the bottom of the pan to form a nice, savoury crust. Cook for 10 minutes, turning and pressing down firmly with a spatula again half way through. The pan needs to be hot enough for you to be nervous of smoke alarms. Only turn once. Do not fiddle with them.

When done, pop the slices of cheese on top, put a lid (or large baking sheet) on top of the pan and turn the heat off. The cheese will melt while you toast the buns, slice the tomatoes and spread mayo and ketchup on one half of each bun. (Or puddle the ketchup in a separate compartment of your plate if you’re five.)

You wouldn’t know the mushrooms were there if you hadn’t been told, but they make the burgers more moist and give the flavour a bit more depth. (And when was the last time a 5-year-old ate a mushroom?)

Gnocchi with tomato and sausage sauce

img_2694

Bert has eaten packet gnocchi and loved it, so I thought this was a sure-fire win, especially since it involved him rolling it out like play-doh.

We went round the table listing our favourite puddings (Bert’s: the icecreams that come with a flake in and Revels – all my time making apple pies and crumbles and cakes wasn’t wasted, then.) He ate two gnocchi and looked perturbed, then concerned, then indignant.

‘Let’s play a new game,’ he said. ‘This time the things we don’t like.’

‘Okay.’

‘Bert first.’

‘Okay, what’s on your list?’

‘Number one,’ [points at plate] ‘this!’

As you can see, it was no trouble at all to make so that was absolutely fine with me.

Serves 3

3 baking potatoes (about 1 kg)

3 teaspoons sea salt

150g 00 or plain flour

Salt and pepper to season

1 beaten egg

1 carrot, grated

1 tablespoon olive oil

6 sausages, sliced into bite sized pieces

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 dessert spoon red pesto

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1/2 head broccoli florets

Put the oven on to 200. Get the potatoes wet under a running tap and sprinkle with salt. Bake for around an hour, till soft. Leave to cool slightly.

Scoop out the potato and push through a potato ricer or a sieve and tip onto a board. Add the flour and seasoning. Make a well in the centre, add the egg, and mix it all together with your hands until you have a soft dough (don’t overwork it). It’s important you do this bit while the potatoes are still warm so the gnocchi are tender.

Heat the oil in a sauce pan and gently fry the grated carrot until starting to melt into the oil. Add the sausages and brown. Then add the tomatoes and pesto and vinegar, and cook for around 15 minutes. When there’s five minutes to go steam or boil your broccoli, either stirring it in at the end, or keeping it as a side dish if you have a five-year-old in the house who likes strict food type ghettos.

Meanwhile, bring a large pan of salted¬† water to the boil and reduce to a fast simmer. Roll the gnocchi dough out into sausages about the width of your thumb (five-year-olds are useful helpers at this point), cut into small pieces and drop into the water. They’re cooked when they rise to the surface – fish them out with a slotted spoon and blot on kitchen paper. Serve with the sausage sauce (with or without broccoli) and cheese.

Sweet potato, butternut squash and Quorn bolognaise

IMG-2728

There is an eternal tug-of-war between chaos and order – a struggle that can have no winner because each state leads inevitably to the other. Peace of mind and wisdom can only be found through acceptance that neither position is permanent and that neither is superior.

Or, as we call it in our house, Lego.

I dream of a vast tool box with small drawers of colour sorted, shape sorted Lego bricks, with a shifting, temporary display of complete pieces, which are then disassembled in an orderly manner (as Teresa May would say), before going off to their individual drawers, instruction manuals filed in alphabetical order.

Bert dreams of a massive pile up of both finished and partly broken items and random bricks, but also  things from around the house that match them, according to a mysterious categorising system in his head where a Bloco dragon and blue shoe are, of course, honourary Ninjago Lego.

We live in flux between these two states of mind, neither of us ever achieving perfection. Though the second he leaves home I’m buying the toolbox.

Vegetable consumption in our house follows a similar pattern. I dream of him eating the rainbox of veg that Instagram accounts I follow assures me is normal for five year olds. He dreams of eating hot dogs, cheese cake, raw plain flour and Kinder Surprise. I’m generally now just letting it go, putting vegetables on his plate then back in the fridge for my lunch or into a soup if they’re uneaten, with just the occasional stealth-dash from the undergrowth, sniper-firing root vegetables at him.

Serves 6

1 dessert spoon butter

1 small onion, diced

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 packet of Quorn mince

1 small sweet potato, grated

About twice the volume of grated butternut squash – I’d guess at about 1/8 of a whole one (I made soup with the rest)

2 tins chopped tomatoes and half a tin of water

1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary

Salt to taste

1 teaspoon butter to finish

I thought bolognaise, that classic vegetable hiding place post-children, would be a good place to expand our veg consumption and reduce our meat reliance. I tried Bert on a lovely aubergine and lentil one (nope!). This was attempt number two. He ate it and gave it a ‘medium’ thumbs up.

Pre-heat the oven to 140. In a large, oven-proof sauce pan, gently fry the onion and garlic in the butter then add the Quorn mince and grated veg. Stir to combine then add the tomatoes, water, rosemary and salt. Bring to a fast simmer then reduce to a low simmer for half an hour, put a lid on and put the pan in the oven to slow cook for another 2.5 or so hours (check it at 2 hours). When ready to serve, stir through the last knob of butter and check the seasoning.

Cherry and marzipan Madeira cake

img_2406

This is how much Bert liked this cake.

On the way home from school last week he reminded me to put the bins out. Yesterday he suggested moving some bright yellow-green accent cushions to my bedroom because the colour would go with the wall paint (he was right). Earlier in the week if asked if someone else would move into the house when we died. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘but that’s not for a long time. You’re a child and me and dad aren’t old.’ ‘Well,’ he said, ‘you’re not young.’

Forty-five at heart but he won’t eat Madeira cake. Going to royal ice it and try again.

Makes 2 small loaves

6 eggs

250g ground almonds

150g golden caster sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

250g marzipan, grated

100g glace cherries, halved

Pre-heat the oven to 160 and grease and line 2 small loaf tins. (Mine were 15x20x10cm.) Whisk the eggs till very big and fluffy (ideally with electrical help) – about 5-10 minutes.

Fold in the remaning ingredients (yep, no flour or fat) and divide between the tins.

Bake at 160 for 40 minutes. Turn out to cool.