Cherry and orange individual Bakewell tarts

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I was lucky enough to escape some of the brutal shocks to our identity and sanity that new parenthood can bring. My hobbies were already pretty sedendary. I didn’t socialise wildly or travel the world (except for work, when I was paid to be that type of person, which helpfully got it out of my system): I wrote or read blogs, wrote or read books, cooked or ate food, or just sat on a sofa and stared at the wall. Of course, all of these are totally compatible with parenthood, particularly the latter.

Bert wasn’t early to sleep through, but when he did he really went for it, with 3-hour naps and 14 hours at bedtime. One Christmas he woke up at 11am and greeted me with  ‘hello gorgeous’. For at least three years I’ve been getting enough sleep to wipe away the smear of tiredness and let the glimmer of small joys shine through.

So even though parenting this particular toddler wasn’t especially hard (well, no harder than having someone shouting mum a hundred times in a minute then pooing on a new speaker has to be), I did think that parenting a school age child would be easier. The age of toileting accidents over. Five days a week to fit work into, with no guilt since he has to be at school. Near-rational conversations. Walking to school.

How wrong I was. What I hadn’t taken into account was the emotional grind of tiny friendships formed and smashed up, piles of ‘optional’ homework that’s nevertheless chased for and rewarded with achievement stickers, the incomprehensible mind-grenade that is the phonics system and the need to get him through next year’s exam so he won’t have to resit it. And the near daily additions to my to-do list that arrive by email – put a pound in a named envelope, dress them in spots and odd socks, sign up to contribute to the Christmas hamper, send in charity money, return library books, fill in a form so they don’t miss out on the school Christmas lunch.

Or make cakes for the Christmas fair. These are a tiny bit of a faff, but delicious, and at last count there were at least 12 left to be dropped off this afternoon.

Makes 20 tarts

2 x 225g sheets ready-made shortcrust pastry

Dark cherry jam, about 20 teaspoons

120g soft butter

120g golden caster sugar

1/2 teaspoon orange essence

1 egg

1 tablespoon plain flour

110g ground almonds

400g icing sugar

4-5 tablespoons water

10 dark glace cherries

Pre-heat the oven to 180/ 170 fan. Lightly grease a muffin tin.

Cut  circles out of the pastry – about 8-10cm diameter – and then line the muffin holes with them, smoothing out any creases. (I had a 12 hole tin, so did two batches.) Crumple up 10cm square pieces of greaseproof (just cut up the paper in the pastry packets), uncrumple and put one on top of each pastry case, weighing down with baking beans or dried pulses. Bake for 10 minutes, take the paper out then bake for another 8-10 minutes, till golden. (I’m a keen but lazy cook and often miss this stage out, but it’s what makes these little tarts soft on the inside but buttery and crunchy on the outside, so worth doing.)

Take them out and let them cool a little. Meanwhile, beat together the butter, sugar and orange essence. Add the egg and flour and then the almonds. Spread a little jam on the bottom of each pastry case, then a generous teaspoon of almond mixture (it rises a little in the oven and ideally you want to see the pastry case around it, so don’t be tempted to over-fill.) Bake for 20 minutes, till risen and golden.

When the tarts are cool, mix the icing sugar and water together and spread a generous teapoon on top of each tart. Top with half a glace cherry. (These would also be good for Red Nose Day.) Protect from scavengers.

 

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.

Strawberry and yoghurt scones

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On Wednesdays we now have to grab a quick bite at a weird time between getting home from school at 4ish going to gymnastics class for 5ish. My intention is to make this a regular high tea, with sandwiches and home-made scones. No doubt by the end of term we’ll be eating cold Heinz spaghetti hoops on an old Jacob’s cracker that the dog’s already had a nibble of, but for Good Intentions Week the first week of term, I made these.

Bert said ‘I don’t even want the rest of my sandwich because the other things are so very  very much nicer.’

Because of the yoghurt, they’re a bit more tender and slightly less risen than ‘normal’ scones, but very very much nicer.

Makes 12 small or 6 large scones

225g self-raising flour, more for dusting

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

50g cold butter, in small pieces

1.5 tablespoons golden caster sugar

140ml plain pouring yoghurt (or half and half milk and plain yoghurt)

60g strawberries, diced to about the size of raisins

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. ‘Breadcrumb’ the flour and butter by rubbing between your fingers and thumbs, or in a food processor. Stir through the sugar. Heat the pouring yoghurt (or milk+yoghurt) to hand temperature in a small pan, then take off the heat and stir the vanilla into it. Add the liquid to the flour and butter mixture and then very swiftly combine with a blunt knife to make a soft dough.

Flour a surface well and quickly press the dough into shape (about 2.5-3cm thick) on it. (The trick with scones is to touch the dough as little as possible.) It’s very soft but does hold together. Sprinkle the top with flour and then cut out 12 rounds with a champagne glass (get me) or 6 with a cookie cutter. Brush with beaten egg, pop on a floured baking tray and bake for 12-14 minutes, till golden brown. Eat the same day, with clotted cream (beneath the jam is the correct Cornish way) and jam.

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).

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. 

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.

Storecupboard bakewell muffins

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Today, as on many days when I’m alone with Bert, we’re busy in the morning then have to fit in a dog walk after Bert’s luxuriously long lunchtime nap and before it gets dark. As a result, I bribe him into it by taking the pram and iPad, along with dummy, blanket and John.

So today at 4pm a maudlin Bert was dressed in his oversized fake fur deerstalker hat and only-just-big-enough green parka, dummy in, looking like a Russian gangster who was no less sinister for being tiny. Meet Sweet Cheeks – happy to sell you a sawn off shot gun for the right price.

Me: Look at the beautiful sunset!

Bert: [taps away at Dinosaur Trucks with very cold hands]

Me: It’s like Christmas lights in the sky!

Bert: [taps away at Dinosaur Trucks]

[Ten minutes’ silent trudging]

Me: Look, a digger.

Bert: [glances up, agrees] Yellow digger. [Back to tapping at Dinosaur Trucks]

In my pre-child fantasies there was more Boden knitwear, stamping through crisp leaves and collecting of acorns involved.

Makes 6 muffins

150g golden caster sugar

3 eggs

150g sunflower oil

150g self raising flour

100g ground almonds

100g frozen cherries, dusted in flour

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/ 180. Beat together all of the ingredients, except the cherries, till smooth, then stir the fruit gently into the batter. The flour dusting helps stop them from sinking to the bottom of the muffins. Divide the mixture between six muffin holes, making sure there are cherries in each. Bake for about 30 minutes, till golden and risen.

Doughballs

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I met Bert’s stepbrother, Ben, nine years ago when he was seven. I’ve cooked him birthday cakes, created special, birthday evening versions of his favourite dinner (sausage and mash), come up with our regular Christmas Eve tradition of baked ham and Dauphinois potatoes followed by sticky toffee pudding, handed him warm pancakes while he was playing FIFA or killing zombies, made pizza, self-saucing pudding and roast pork with crackling… I’ve been cooking for Bert since he was born, if you count producing breastmilk as cooking, coming up with all kinds of combinations of pureed veg, introducing him to curry, showing him how to make biscuits, threading meat onto tiny skewers, cooking veg perfectly and also hiding it in sauces to hit it from both angles. I’ve made him warm banana pancakes, fruit bread and peach and honey cake.

They’ve refused things politely (‘Too nice’ – Bert, ‘No thank you, thank you’ – Ben), eaten them happily, offered them to Ray and thrown them across the room (Bert, at least). But they’ve largely just accepted warm, home made food as something that happens. (I wouldn’t really want it any other way.)

But I hand them both a plate of doughballs (zero imagination, 5 mins active prep, 10 mins cooking time) and they practically stand up in unison and start singing Hallelujah while saluting me.

There’s a lesson in here somewhere, I just don’t know what it is.

Makes about 25

150ml warm water

7g dried yeast

225g strong bread flour

1 tsp salt

1 tbsp olive oil

Mix everything together and kneed for about eight minutes. I do the lot in a mixer. Cover and leave to rise for an hour. Then form the dough into small balls, about 2cm diameter, place on a baking tray, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for about another hour. Your hands need to be dry and not sticky when you roll them, so it’s worth keeping a bowl of water and a tea towel next to you.

Meanwhile preheat the oven to 180/ gas mark 4 (gas mark 5 in our oven, which is a bit cool). Cook for 8-10 minutes, till just starting to turn pale golden brown. Accept that praise isn’t always proportionate to effort. Serve with little pots of garlic butter or plain butter to dip into.

Bert ate maybe eight or nine. Then a bowl of pasta bake. Then a chocolate and secret-beetroot brownie.

Red and white jam tarts

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Bert had half a cucumber and two jam tarts for dinner.

I obviously cut the cucumber up, rather than just hand it to him like a banana.

He could have had some home made fishcakes. But no. Just cucumber.

We met his friends Fearne and Hugo for a play in the playground this afternoon. He proudly showed Fearne his plastic dinosaurs and let her play with the ‘green ones’. If you know Bert’s obsession with green, then this is even more touching. He then wrestled her to the ground over possesion of a bouncy mushroom. And finished off with an air hug and a kiss on the lips.

The guy’s got style.

Makes 8 tarts

1 block of puff pastry

Flour for rolling

Strawberry jam

A punnet of mixed red and white currants

Roll the pastry out till it’s about 1-2 mm thick and cut out large circles with a big mug (or something of about that size). Line the compartments of a cupcake tin with the circles – not the ones with the little, shallow indentations, but proper deep ones. Drop a generous teaspoon of jam into each, and scatter over currants to cover the jam like little jewels, alternating white and red with each tart. Put in an oven at 180 for about 10-12 minutes, till puffed up and golden. (That’s near the bottom of the Aga roasting oven.)

The fresh currants look pretty and they give a sharper tang to balance the sweetness of the jam, so these feel more grown up than normal jam tarts. Saying that, I told Bert’s dad I’d made jam tarts and he ran over to them in great excitement, saw that they had fresh fruit on and wandered off saying he’d ‘save them for later’. Meanwhile, Bert ate two.

This would have been a good one to make with Bert if he showed any interest at all in cooking with me wasn’t sleeping off his adult portion of lunchtime meatballs.

 

 

Red pepper humous

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No idea whether Bert will eat this since it doesn’t look like a banana or a bowl of shreddies (what will his excuse be when that final molar peeks through?), but hey, this is me and Bert and I liked it. And Bert – it’s the sort of thing that toddlers whose mothers post their meals on Instagram eat all the time, okay?

1 red pepper

1 can chickpeas, drained

1 peeled clove garlic

2 tablespoons peanut butter

3 tablespoons lemon juice

30 ml olive oil

Sea salt

Put the pepper directly on to the hob or Aga hot plate and char till the skin is black and wrinkly. Put it straight into a sealed plastic bag. When it’s cool, peel the skin off, de-seed and put everything in a blender to puree. Add a little more lemon juice and oil if it seems too thick.

Bert was naked on his hands and knees with a hand towel last night after his bath, scrubbing away at a tiny spot of wee on the carpet. He’s either ready for potty training or terrified of me and my Victorian workhouse regime.