Red pepper, roast tomato and pancetta pasta bake

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All Bert wanted from the Christmas holiday was to have a day when he didn’t get out of his pyjamas. All he wanted from Christmas itself was a one-metre high Paw Patrol look-out tower, some green pyjamas … and soft toys in the shape of groundhogs, aardvarks, otters and tree frogs.

A week on, the aardvark, otter and groundhog are tucked up next to a sleepy boy in new green pyjamas that are saggy in the knee from playing Paw Patrol. And a frog soft toy is bumped to his birthday list.

He’s at the point where he’s not prepared to eat any more ham or turkey and I’m not yet at the point where I’m prepared to go to a shop. So this is what we ate tonight.

The veg are puréed because he’s four and so vegetables must be raw and look like cucumber or cooked and seem like ketchup. The random cheese mixture is because Christmas.

Serves 3

1/2 bag pasta

1 punnet cherry tomatoes

Slug of olive oil

1 red pepper

1 of those little packets of pancetta or some diced bacon

Sprig of thyme

Grated hard cheese, about 200g (we had pecorino, Cheddar and Gouda)

About a handful of breadcrumbs

Heat the oven to 180. Put the tomatoes, whole, into a medium sized baking tin (say 20 x 30cm), drizzle with olive oil and roast for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile purée the pepper. Fry the pancetta till it’s starting to crisp. Cook the pasta for a couple of minutes short of its cooking time.

Add the roast tomatoes (and any liquid from the tin) to the blender and purée with the pepper. Add the thyme leaves to the bacon pan and fry for another minute or two.

Stir the puréed veg into the pasta, add the bacon and half the cheese and tip back into the (unwashed) tin you roasted the tomatoes in. Sprinkle over the rest of the cheese and the breadcrumbs and bake for about 25 minutes.

Quick crab chowder pasta

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I always saw myself as a mother of a few children, living in a muddle of chatter and clatter. But it isn’t always easy to accurately direct life towards your heart’s desires, and here I am, mother of one.

I still feel the need to apologise to mothers of siblings, going on and on to them about how easy it is to have just one, partly to say it first and partly because I feel like a part-timer, someone who claims to be committed to their job but leaves on the nose of 5.30. Somehow it’s hard to feel like a proper mother when both hands aren’t holding small, sticky ones; when I have a hand free. It feels like proper mothering shouldn’t be too easy.

With the extra time and energy I could really be cooking home made stew and dumplings on a Tuesday night in October, but sometimes it’s nice to pick spending time together over being in the kitchen while your child watches the same series on a loop for the hundredth time on Netflix.

This is proper food. But it’s easy.

Serves 2

3 handfuls of quick cook pasta

3 tablespoons of double cream

1 tin of white crab, drained

1 tin of sweetcorn, drained

3 tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 tablespoons of lemon juice

Salt and black pepper

Dried chilli flakes to serve

Put the pasta on to cook.

In a shallow pan on a medium heat, combine the cream, crab, lemon juice, two tablespoons of the Parmesan, sweetcorn and seasoning. Heat gently then combine with the cooked pasta. Serve with extra grated cheese and, for non spice-avoiders (me not Bert), a scant sprinkling of chilli flakes.

Manchego and rosemary scones

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Wednesday’s are still scone day!

Bert’s done nearly two full weeks at school and it’s been a roller-coaster. He loves it, he’s exhausted, he’s been told off for trying to scale a fence (either to escape or to impress a girl, it’s not clear), neither Mrs Green nor Mr Green are, infuriatingly, green, he’s cried just out of sight of the school gates, he’s rejected my idea of me kissing a stone for him to keep in his pocket (‘erm, it’s just a stone!’) but asks for a kiss on each cheek to keep all day when I drop him off.

This morning he complained he was ‘so tired’; not because of school, but because he gets up in the night to play.

There’s really only one answer to that, as the doctor says to the patient who complains his arm hurts when he lifts it.

Makes around 10 small scones

225g self-raising flour

55g cold butter

45g finely grated Manchego (Cheddar would obviously work just as well)

1 teaspoon dried rosemary

Pinch of salt

150ml pouring yoghurt (or half and half milk/ plain yoghurt)

Flour for dusting

Beaten egg or milk to glaze

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Crumb the butter and flour, between finger and thumb or in a mixer. Add the cheese, rosemary and salt, and stir to distribute evenly. Pour in the yoghurt and quickly bring together into a wet dough with a knife. Tip onto a floured surface as soon as it’s together and press down gently, to about 3-4cm deep. (The less you touch scone mixture, the better.) Cut out rounds and place on a floured baking tray. Brush the top with egg or milk and into the oven for around 15 minutes, till golden brown. Serve warm, buttered.

Easy peasy macaroni cheesey

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… pleasey.

This is Nigella’s easy macaroni cheese recipe (I say ‘mac ‘n’ cheese’ for no one), pimped up with peas and mint.

Serves 4

250ml evaporated milk (not condensed!)

125g red Leicester cheese, grated

125g Cheshire cheese, grated

2 eggs, beaten (so you don’t get little clots of scrambled egg in there)

2 handfuls fresh peas

1 small spring of mint, leaves roughly chopped (flavour plus leaves – a massive risk when cooking for eagle-eyed small children, but worth it)

Salt and pepper

Half a bag of macaroni

Cook the pasta in boiling water till 1-2 minutes away from done. Put the oven on to 200 fan/ 220.

Combine the egg, cheese, evaporated milk, peas and mint with a little salt and pepper. Mix into the cooked pasta, tip into an ovenproof dish and cook in the oven for 15-20 minutes, till golden brown with little bits of crunch on top.

If you prepare it earlier and put it in the oven cold, give it 25 – 30 minutes.

Bert’s egg and tomato salad

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Yesterday I took Bert out to dinner and was reprimanded for not being spontaneous enough – always saying I had to cook when he wanted to play and always saying not yet or it’s time for bed. Though I am weary of receiving his driving advice (always involving the benefits of reverse parking), I decided to take this on board. It was approaching bedtime, but we stayed for pudding and when we got in he stripped off and jumped into the paddling pool and I was forcibly encouraged to sit down in it fully clothed.

You know what, maybe he had a point. So in the spirit of our children sometimes being able to teach us something, this is Bert’s receipe, created under the structure (I can’t help myself) of picking one thing to give you energy to play, one thing to help you grow, two different coloured things to keep you healthy and one flavour. He also decided all the bits should be separate, the eggs should be hard and the bread should be crunchy. Over to Bert.

For Mum and Bert

4 eggs

3 tomatoes

1/2 a cucumber

4 slices of tomato bread

Some oil and salt

2 big spoons of cream [creme fraiche]

Squeeze of half a lemon

Salt and pepper

Leafs – 1 big one [little gem] cut into 2, some little ones picked off [parsley leaves]

Boil the eggs till they’re hard then put them under cold water. Turn oven button all the way round to sideways till the oven’s very, very hot! Cut bread into small bits. Put on a baking tray. Sprinkle on a salt! And oil. Mix up with your hands then wash them. Mum puts bread in the oven for five minutes. Cut tomatoes up and cucumber. Mix cream and lemon up with a big spoon and put in salt and and pepper. Put leafs in Mum’s bowl because children don’t like leafs. Roll eggs, peel and then break them into halfs. Get a children’s plate. Put on tomatoes, cucumber, eggs and some toasted bread, on the children’s plate. Rest on Mummy’s plate. And sauce on Mummy’s plate. Then eat at a TV.

Parmesan and oat crumbed chicken

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Last night we spoke to our vet friend (a friend who happens to be a vet, not a vet who I stalk) at bath time about the fact that Ray had eaten eight balloons (if you find yourself in the same boat: don’t worry too much unless they were modelling balloons or the dog looks more pissed off than usual) (I paraphrase).

By now Bert was in the bath. He spent the entire time I was speaking to her mouthing ‘let me talk! I dry my hands!’ When he was finally handed the phone he chatted at length, naked, about the eight unblown balloons, the light blue blown balloon that is now hidden and the one red balloon that wasn’t ‘eated’. Anna suggested she come over soon to see his new bedroom and he said casually, ‘that would be cool.’

Just now he called me into his bedroom over a toileting crisis and descended the bunk bed ladder jauntily, looking over his shoulder and smiling like a tiny Bruce Forsyth. He told me ‘you smell nice’ and trotted off to the bathroom.

He requested chicken, chips and broccoli for dinner. No one refuses a charmer. This is the chicken we ate.

Serves 1.5

1 chicken breast

1 tablespoon plain yoghurt

2 tablespoons rolled oats

1 tablespoon grated Parmesan

Bash the chicken with a rolling pin till it’s about a centimetre thick. Resident four-year-olds might help, but watch the arc of their swing. Together, put the chicken in a bowl with the yoghurt, stir to coat and chill it in the fridge for at least half an hour. This stage makes it tender and gives the coating something to cling to without the faff of flouring and milk dipping.

Pre-heat the oven to 180.

Put the oats in a ziplock bag and bash them with the rolling pin till broken up a bit. Put in a bowl with the Parmesan and stir quickly to mix. Take the chicken breast out of the yoghurt and dip in the oats, turning over till fully coated. Pop on a lined baking tray and into the oven for 20 minutes.

Yes, we ate it in front of the TV.

 

 

Not Heinz spaghetti

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Me to Bert in the bath last night: Was I being grumpy today or were you being naughty?

Bert (with an air of diplomacy): A bit of both.

Me: I wonder why?

Bert (accusingly): You were being bossy.

Me: That’s my job as your mum.

Bert: [doubtful look]

Me: And you?

Bert (carelessly): I was just doing my own thing.

As part of my ongoing, inadvertant project to pointlessly recreate processed food classics, tonight I accidentally threw together home-made tinned Heinz spaghetti – in a good way. We had ours with meatballs (my intention was to veg-up a tomato sauce for meatballs) and grated parmesan. This makes enough for a big bowl spare in the fridge – as a veg-heavy pizza base topping or to start your own canned spaghetti business.

Or just do your own thing.

Makes absolutely loads

Glug of olive oil

2 sticks celery, finely chopped

1 red pepper, deseeded and roughly chopped

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

A dozen or so fresh cherry tomatoes

1/2 tin sweetcorn

2 tins chopped tomatoes

Pinch of salt

Spahetti, to appetite

Add the olive oil to a saucepan on a medium heat, cook the celery and pepper till softened, add the garlic and cook for a minute, then add the sweetcorn, fresh tomatoes, tinned tomatoes and seasoning. Bring to a simmer.

Put the spaghetti on to cook.

Stir the sauce now and then. When the spaghetti’s almost done, puree the sauce and add a dash of cooking water from the pasta. Drain the spaghetti and stir it into enough sauce to coat it, stowing the rest away for another occasion.

Slurp.

Chilli balls

When I started this blog, Bert was a great eater. Now he declares anything in a sauce, cooked in a sauce then fished out, sitting near a sauce, as ‘soupy’.

I was prepared for a veg avoider but not a soup avoider.

This may be my most niche recipe yet, but if you fancy a soupy chilli and your child is a sauce avoider, try these. Then make a normal chilli for all the sane people in the room.

Or cook up a bigger batch in tomato sauce and serve with rice, grated Cheddar cheese, sour cream and guacamole. (Naked, soupless balls also being available.)

Makes 6 meatballs

60g minced beef

20g red kidney beans, mashed with a fork.

10g finely grated cheddar

10g finely grated carrot

Pinch each of ground cinnamon, ground cumin, cayenne pepper, salt

Preheat the oven to 180. Mix all the ingredients together and form into walnut-sized balls. Bake on a baking sheet for 20 minutes. Serve with rice, broccoli (and soupy guacamole if you dare).

Yoghurt bread

Bert’s first loaf of bread (with a bit of help measuring) – he’s very proud.

Two hours after this photo was taken he was naked in the kitchen, slice of warm bread in hand, singing ‘go mummy! Go mummy!’ as I chased a fly around the kitchen with a fly swat muttering I will beat you. Making memories.

Makes one loaf

350g strong white bread flour

250ml hand hot water

1 teaspoon caster sugar

1 teaspoon salt

7g (1 sachet) dried yeast

75g Greek yoghurt

Mix all the ingredients together and knead for about 5 minutes or till stretchy. Cover and leave for an hour then tip onto a lined tray to form a mound and bake at 140/ gas mark four for an hour. Have a slice, still warm, in your pyjamas (or, indeed, nudie).

This is a Jack Monroe recipe.

Courgette fritters


I thought this was worth a try and tried to sell them in as ‘big, round chips’. Fail. 

Here he is, complete with the hot pink manicure nursery gave him today (I’ll miss their sweet, random activities when he leaves – it’s like the kids run it. The other day all the children came up with a list of rules, like they live in a tiny commune – most involved trying to resist the urge to be violent). It was film night, Bert’s choice; Boss Baby (don’t bother).

Makes 4

1 small courgette (from our garden!), coarsely grated 

Leaves of a spring of mint, finely chopped

25g (about a tablespoon) plain flour

1 egg

25g grated Parmesan 

Salt and pepper 

2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil for frying

Mix everything but the oil together and heat the oil in a large frying pan till it’s good and hot. Drop in spoonfuls of mixture, flatten and fry for a couple of minutes on each side till golden.