Courgette macaroni cheese


We’ve just got back from our holiday where Bert ate, over the course of two weeks, two family-size packs of crisps, the inside of half a baguette, half a jar of nutella, 14 ice creams, 30 yoghurts and one grain of rice.

I’m trying to get him back on decent carbs and protein before he loses his characteristic sturdiness and the dimples on his knuckles.

He also invented a new card game he called Mojo (the opposite of snap – shout Mojo when the cards don’t match) [me, feeling sure I’ve never said the word ‘mojo’ in my life: where did you get that word from? Bert: blank face], learnt to swim with a float vest on [me: you’re really good at that! Bert: yes I am really good at that], and invented a chilling game with the toy sword that we found in the pool. The latter involves stabbing a person or toy repeatedly, then saying ‘it’s cutting time’ and cutting across their jugular with the bottom of the sword, announcing ‘I’m going to eat you’ and then slicing down the stomach and bending over to eat the entrails. [Me, in a high, tight voice: where did you hear those words? Bert: blank face]. Maybe reincarnation is a fact and Bert was once… a cavalier soldier? A cannibal? A zombie? Or maybe nursery carry out some awfully vivid history sessions.

Anyway, it’s courgette time!

Serves 4

1 courgette, coarsely grated (peeled too, if you’re living with a massive veg avoider)

1 dessert spoon each of butter and olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

Macaroni (about 400g for 4 servings)

1 spring mint, leaves finely chopped

Salt and pepper

300g creme fraiche

125g grated mozzerella

60g grated parmesan

Finely grated zest of a lemon

3 tablespoons of breadcrumbs to top

Gently fry the courgette in the butter and oil with the garlic until soft (about ten minutes) while you cook the pasta. Add salt and pepper to taste, and the finely chopped leaves of a spring of mint (I debated this ingredient since Bert can spot a strand of green a mile off, but I figured he eats pesto so I threw it in). Combine with creme fraiche, mozzerrella and half the parmesan and tip into an overproof dish. Top with the breadcrumbs, lemon zest and the rest of the parmesan.

At this point I left it to finish off later.

Pre heat the oven to 180/ gas mark 4. Cook for 10-15 minutes, if cooking straight from prepping it while it’s still warm, or 20-25 if cooking from cold.

We had ours with green beans; whole, boiled veg being less alarming than those drenched in sauce.

After moaning that he didn’t like it, he ate it all.

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Mango muffins


Here’s Bert at an outdoor performance of The Wind in the Willows (or The Wind in the Willies, as my phone desperately wants it to be called).

When I asked him if he enjoyed it he said, ‘yes and no’. The muffins were a yes though.

Makes 12 muffins

240g plain flour

160g golden caster sugar

1.5 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

75g sunflower oil

4 tablespoons plain yoghurt

2 eggs

250g fresh mango, diced (about one of those lazy, ready prepared punnets – you’ll need to dice it a bit more finely though, into 1cm cubes, more or less).

Flaked almonds to scatter on top.

Preheat the oven to gas mark 5/ 190 degrees and grease your muffin tin or fill them with muffin cases.

Mix together the dry ingredients and then stir through the beaten eggs, oil and yoghurt. Mix in the diced mango (or diced tinned peach, if you prefer). Spoon carefully into the muffin holes and sprinkle with flaked almonds. Bake for 25-30 minutes. 

Bert ate six of these.

Lemony hummous


We allow Bert’s tummy to say no to more food if he’s full, but recently his tummy’s been on a power trip, losing all sense of justice and prorportion – today it’s said no to saying sorry, having a bath and switching off the TV.

Homemade hummous can be a bit sticky and heavy. Adding a bit of water gets the lighter, whippier texture that the shop-bought stuff has. But still Bert’s tummy said no. Mine said yes.

Served me

1 tin chickpeas, drained

1 clove garlic, peeled

Juice of half a lemon, finely grated zest of half a lemon 

3 tablespoons olive oil

Salt

Splash of water from the tap

Put everything except the water into a blender and blend till smooth. Then add a splash of water and blend again till smooth and whippy, adding a little more if necessary.

Tomato-plus soup


I’m having a bad mummy day. A shouty, irritable day not a fun, whisky swilling, swearing, Bad Santa kind of day. This photo, complete with iPad, shows that even by lunchtime I’d decided to pick my battles, for both of our sakes.

At bedtime I said, ‘have I been really grumpy today?’, beautifully finishing off a bad tempered day with a bit of neediness. ‘No,’ Bert said, ‘it was my fault.’ Which of course made me feel even worse.

When Bert spoke to his dad at dinner time I was hoping he’d mention the fun stuff we’d done rather than say I’d been shouting at the dog then apologising all day. But no: ‘we played and then I felt something moving in my punny and then a poo came out!’ ‘Great!’ said his dad with the level of over-excited cheer that seems to be everyone’s standard response to poo news. ‘Where? When?’ ‘On the chair!’ Tony’s smile became just a touch more fixed.

Luckily it’s a leather chair. 

This is week five of Bert’s dad working away and while I don’t want to moan about parenting someone I wanted and love dearly, single parents, whether they are better people than me or just have to tolerate a lot of feeling like a shit parent days or both, have my deep felt admiration.

Serves 2

A portion of cooked veg, primarily orange-hued (we had half a large carrot in batons and a couple of spears of broccoli left over from Sunday dinner, but I’ve also used a tin of drained sweet corn combined with a handful of frozen peas in the past)

A large teaspoon of butter

A clove of garlic, crushed

1 tin of tomatoes and half the can of water

A teaspoon of light brown sugar

1 tablespoon of cream

1 egg yolk

Seasoning

Melt the butter, fry the garlic for a few seconds then add the veg, tomatoes, water, sugar and seasoning. Bring to a rapid simmer. Puree then stir through the egg yolk and cream, check seasoning and serve.

Bert took a sip through his bowl’s in-built straw and said, ‘mmm, it really is tasty!’ How could I be impatient with such a boy?

Spinach and cashew pesto


Green things Bert approves of: dinosaurs, traffic lights, broccoli and now this. Green things Bert does not approve of – salad; ‘you eat leaves?! That’s kind of crazy.’

I thought he might help me make this in the ‘milkshake maker’, but no, instead he sent his dad about a hundred texts of emojis that he toils and sweats and weeps over like he’s writing a novel.

Makes a couple of small jars (you may get one in the post, Mum)

75g spinach

75g cashews

35g grated parmesan (an earlier edit read garlic – I apologise to anyone who cooked this and still has garlic breath)

2 cloves garlic

2 dessert spoons chopped basil

2 dessert spoons chopped mint

Zest, grated, and juice of a lemon

190ml olive oil

2 teaspoons sea salt (1/2 teaspoon table salt)

Blend the lot and keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks.

Sardine fish cakes 

Photographed in the middle of singing our own version of The Wheels on the Bus. I made the mistake of suggesting ‘the grandad on the bus says have some crisps’ as a verse, after which the fish cakes lost their appeal.

He ate half the fish cake. And a packet of crisps.

Makes 4-5 fish cakes (just the two of us so I froze two)

400g mashed potato (ours were leftovers – if cooking from scratch leave to cool first)

200g tinned sardines (about 2 tins), drained and broken up -coincidentally how I felt on Saturday after a full day of screaming tantrums

1 teaspoon mayonnaise

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 small egg, lightly beaten

1 tablespoon breadcrumbs and more to coat

A few chives, finely chopped

Salt

Combine the ingredients, adding more breadcrumbs if the mixture seems too wet. Form into patties and sprinkle them with breadcrumbs, turning over and sprinkling again. I chilled them at this point but according to the recipe there is no need!

Get a couple of tablespoons of sunflower oil very hot in a large frying pan then fry the fish cakes for a couple of minutes on each side, till deep golden brown.

We had ours with broccoli, Bert had half a slice of buttered bread, I had half an avocado, sliced and drizzled with chili oil and sea salt. Bert begged to try the avocado then declared it ‘too frothy’.

This is another one from the National Trust Family Cookbook, only I subbed smoked mackerel with tinned sardines.

Cheddar and parsnip bread


‘You’re too gorgeous,’ I said to Bert, grabbing him for a cuddle as this was cooking for our lunch.

‘I not too gorgeous,’ he said strictly. ‘I right amount gorgeous.’

Too true.

Makes 2 small loaves

175g self raising flour

50g grated strong Cheddar

175g grated parsnip (about 3 parsnips)

1 lightly beaten egg

4-5 tablespoons whole milk

Salt

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/ 180. Combine all the ingredients gently until they’re just formed into a dough, then split into 2 rough, round loafs. Bake on a lined baking sheet for abou 35-40 minutes, until they’re golden and hollow-sounding when the bottom’s tapped.

Salmon fish fingers 


Daddy’s away with work for nearly four weeks. Today’s only day two but I’ve already been told Bert’s cross with him four times. When we walked the dog on the heath by the hospital this afternoon, Bert pointed at a man aged, I don’t know, 90, and said ‘is that my dad?’ I thought the man didn’t hear but he gave us a bleary wink and said ‘I wish I was!’ 

As we approached someone sitting outside the hospital, Bert said, ‘that my dad? Oh no,’ dismissively and loudly, ‘just old man.’ ‘Not old!’ I said brightly, ‘and not a man!’ 

Then Bert repeated, with great pleasure and not for the first time, his version of the birth story I told him last time we were here, since this was the hospital he was born in. ‘Didda in Bert’s punny [tummy]. Very big bottom. Huge! Mum take Bert hospital and Didda come out Bert’s punny. We put nappy on Didda and blanket and take him home.’ 

I guess sometimes missing people comes out in funny ways. And, sometimes, a story can put an image into your brain that can never be undone.

Makes 6

2 salmon fillets

1 tablespoon cornflour

50ml milk

2 tablespoons breadcrumbs

1 tablespoon grated Parmesan

Olive oil

Cut the salmon into strips about a centimetre deep and a couple of centimetres wide. There’s often a thin end of a fillet so cut that off and slice the remaining piece horizontally in a parallel line to the surface of the fillet. Arrange the flour, milk and mixed crumbs and cheese in three bowls and production-line dip the fish in flour then milk then crumbs & cheese. Fry in olive oil on a medium heat for six minutes, turning after three.

Four veg pizza sauce

Looks and tastes like standard pizza sauce (maybe a little sweeter), turns pizza into a vaguely healthy meal for small builders who spent all afternoon methodically digging a tiny road into the gravel on the drive.

I can’t remember the last time I saw my child without fancy dress on, other than in the bath.

Enough for about 16 pizzas (I froze some)

1 large carrot

1 small parsnip

2 sticks celery

Dash olive oil

Salt and pepper

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon golden caster sugar

Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 6/ 200 degrees. Slice the veg into 5cm batons, drizzle generously with oil, season and roast for about half an hour. Then tip the lot, oil and all, into a pan with the tomatoes, balsamic vinegar and sugar, cooking gently for 10 minutes. Blend to a puree, check seasoning and spread on rolled out pizza dough before adding mozzarella and any other toppings (ham for me, road dust for him).

Fish fingers


Bert fell asleep in his pram while I was walking Ray today. (Yes, looking like a sixty-year-old man in an armchair.) After an hour we were back at the car and I attempted to lift Bert in – the way I did when he was a baby – but he’s huge and woke up as I tried to haul him in. He cried loudly and angrily as I wrestled him into the seat, and I drove off with him screaming.

After a couple of minutes he stopped crying and was perfectly cheerful. ‘Do you feel better?’ I said. ‘Yes,’ he said conversationally, ‘I was just a bit shocked.’

Serves 2-3

2 skinless hake fillets (like cod but tastier and more sustainable)

2 tablespoons cornflour

100ml milk (enough to dip the fish)

2-3 tablespoons breadcrumbs (if using home made, toast them on a baking sheet in a low oven for an hour first – they keep like this for a few weeks)

Zest of one lemon, finely grated into the breadcrumbs 

2 tablespoons sunflower oil

Slice the fish into strips, around a centimetre thick. Dust in flour, dip in milk then coat in lemony crumbs. Get the oil hot in a large frying pan then turn the heat down to medium and fry the fish fingers till they’re golden and crisp on all sides.

The trick is toasting the crumbs first, adding the zest and frying instead of baking.