Pork and apple meatballs

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Everyone’s got their thing. I was cripplingly shy as a small child, learned to cover it up with bravado and denial (and cider) as a teenager and much, much later in life got brave enough to look it in the face and admit that the anxiety was part of me, not something that the world was doing to me. I conquered it, more or less, by facing it, full-beam.

When Bert was smaller I fretted that he was shy. But not to worry – he’s a massive showman. The sort of bloke that can be convinced to go on a dog walk with the suggestion that ‘everyone will look at you in your Olaf [from Frozen] costume and be shocked’.

It’s rather liberating to realise how little hold genes can have on our offsprings’ demons. But there’s no escaping demons, we just don’t know what Bert’s is yet.

I do wonder, though, how much harder we make it for our children to face their own flaws and accept them when we reward them so much for being perfect – getting the answers right, being good, doing what we expect of them or what’s convenient for us. Bert cheerfully informed his teacher last week that he’s ‘Mr Perfect’ (so, so shy!) And I don’t have a neat conclusion to this train of thought other than hoping that I can help him realise that he’s utterly imperfect but perfectly lovable.

Mr Perfect would eat ‘soupy’ meatballs, but Bert needs the soupiness blotted off on a kitchen towel first, and I’m the sort of indulgent mother who does just that.

Serves 3-4

500g minced pork

1 apple, grated

2 tablespoons breadcrumbs

Salt and pepper to taste

Splash of olive oil

1 carrot, grated

1 yellow pepper, finely chopped or grated (sounds unlikely but is possible!)

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 teaspoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

Mix the pork mince, apple, breadcrumbs and seasoning. Heat a glug of oil in a large frying pan, form the pork mixture into small balls (I use latex gloves, but hopefully you’re not here to judge). Brown, shaking the pan now and then to move them around.

Move the meatballs to the side of the pan, add a bit more oil if you need it, and gently fry the carrot and pepper till it’s starting to get softer and paler – you want it to almost be dissolving into the oil. Then add the tomatoes, sugar and vinegar, season, and get your pasta on to boil, adding half a ladleful or so of the cooking water to loosen the tomato sauce when the pasta’s been cooking for about five minutes. By the time the pasta’s ready, so is the sauce.

Serve with grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese.

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Sausage casserole

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Bert, determined sauce avoider, came home from pre-school raving about the ‘brown, bumpy sauce’ he’d had there. Questioning and detective work revealed it to be sausage casserole. Desperate for some sauce in our lives, I quizzed him intensely, thought hard about what makes the best sausage casserole (and what makes sauce brown and bumpy), did some research and tinkering and came up with this.

Meanwhile, Bert’s been perfecting his joke delivery technique.

‘What do you get if… [stage whisper] what is it? you put what is it??? boiling water down what is it??? rabbit hole?’

I don’t know, what do you get?

‘What is it??? Hot what is it??? bunny. Hot hot hot hot hot hot…hot hot hot… hot hot what is it??? hot hot hot… hot bunny hot hot hot what is it??? cross bun bunny.’

Stewart Lee has made a career out of this. But all we have is an uneaten portion of sausage casserole.

‘What is it?  It is not brown bumpy sauce. It is not brown. What is it?’

He had pasta and Parmesan cheese, we had this.

Serves 4

Good glug of olive oil

1 onion, chopped

2 sticks celery, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 carrot, grated

2 tablespoons tomato puree

1 tablespoon Worcester sauce

1 pack chipolata sausages, cut into bite sized pieces

1 tin tomatoes

300ml chicken stock

1 dessert spoon dark brown sugar

1 red pepper, roughly chopped

1 teaspoon dried rosemary or finely chopped fresh rosemary

salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and soften the onions. Add the carrot, celery and garlic and cook gently till the carrot is soft and pale orange. Add the sausages and cook till browned. Then add everything else, bring to a fast simmer, reduce the temperature and cook for 30 minutes, stirring now and then.

Serve with pasta, buttery mash or crusty bread.

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?

Sausage pasta


‘Look my willy! Look like snake, long snake. I pull it?’

Two minutes later.

‘Look my crazy willy!’

In other news, we had sausage pasta for dinner. 

Serves 2

1 onion, chopped

2 small carrots, diced

2 sticks celery, diced

1 tin chopped tomatoes and half the can of water

Olive oil 

Salt and pepper

1 tablespoon cream

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

4 sausages 

1 tablespoon cream

Parmesan to serve 

Fry the veg gently in olive oil till starting to soften then tip in the tomatoes and water, and season. Simmer for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile de-skin the sausage and break into pieces into a hot pan with a splash of oil in. Add the fennel seeds and cook on a very low heat while the sauce cooks. 

Then blend the sauce, add half to the sausages (fridging or freezing the rest for pasta sauce or pizza sauce), stir a spoonful of cream into the remainder and simmer on a very low heat while you cook the pasta. Add a splash of the drained pasta water to the sauce, stir through the cooked pasta till its coated in sauce and you’re good to go. Sprinkle on Parmesan at the table.

Eat naked from the waist down, dressed as the Gruffalo waist up.


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).

Carrot, ginger and red lentil soup

Bert is regularly in character (and full fancy dress) as a fireman, astronaut or builder. He’s been known to be a cowboy, a dinosaur, a policeman and a pirate. Peepo, despite popping to Sainsbury’s and then driving back to his own house, occasionally visits, and we have a number of invisible lions and dinosaurs that live with us, as well as Peepo’s creepy mate, the flying monkey.

Next to Bert I feel positively unimaginative, but one thing I am good at inventing is soup.

This is normally another us-not-Bert one, though Bert will have a go at almost any soup if it’s topped with croutons (toss cubes of bread – the staler the better – in olive oil, sea salt and dry rosemary, bake at 200/ gas mark 6 for about 10 minutes, till golden).

Serves 2-3

25g butter

1 small onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, peeled and whole

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon chili flakes

2cm fresh ginger, grated (I portion it up and freeze it, grating it frozen)

3-4 carrots, peeled and chopped

Large handful red lentils

1 chicken stock cube

Boiling water

Dollop creme fraiche to serve

Melt the butter in a saucepan and sauté the onion, garlic and spices. When the onion’s transparent, tip in the carrots, sweating gently for a couple of minutes, then add the ginger, seasoning, lentils, stock and enough boiling water to entirely cover the veg. Bring to a rapid boil then turn down to a simmer and cook for 30-40 minutes. Puree and check seasoning then serve with a dollop of creme fraiche on top.

 

Chickpea and tomato macaroni

 

Bert breakfasted as a fireman, shopped as an astronaut and dined as a builder.

If I’d ever wondered what it was like to be famous, walking down a shopping street with a tiny astronaut would have given me a clue. Nearly everyone stared, smiled or stopped to talk. Bert was muttering to himself under his helmet ‘look me! I spaceman!’ 

Not every man can carry off a silver jump suit.

Serves 2-3

1 small onion, chopped

A little olive oil

3 cloves garlic, peeled but left whole

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

2 sticks celery, chopped

400ml passata

1 x 380g can chickpeas

Salt and pepper

2 tablespoons single cream

Macaroni to appetite

This is based on a Nigel Slater recipe but I rarely make a tomato sauce without adding extra veg. I had mine with green salad (Bert mimed being sick) and we both had grated cheese on top.

Gently sauté the onion in a little olive oil. Add the garlic, carrots and celery and cook till the onion’s transparent, then tip in the passata (or tinned tomatoes, if you prefer). Bring to a fast simmer then turn right down and cook on a gentle heat for an hour to an hour and a half.

At the end of the cooking time put the pasta on to boil. Puree the sauce and add the drained chickpeas and cream, seasoning to your taste. Heat through for five minutes then stir through the drained pasta.

If you don’t have a blender, you could finely chop the onion, crush the garlic and grate the veg.

Serve with grated cheese and green leaves (bleurgh).