Bert’s hitting the party scene hard. Somewhere between the age of three and four, children stop existing like well-loved dogs – food ideally being stolen and lapped off the floor, the top of a new speaker being as good a place to poo as anywhere, reality being here right now with no sense of past or future, emotions being either damp, panting joy or aimless whining – and suddenly gain a sense of time. Four is bigger than three. Fourth birthdays are a Big Deal. I’m not sure there’s anyone we know, or indeed have just passed in the street, who hasn’t had the news of Bert’s age reinforced with four fingers held up forcibly and the number repeated twice.
Anyway, fourth birthdays being a Big Deal, we’ve been to a lot of parties recently and I’ve become a hoarder of ‘low maintenance good party ideas’. The one we went to on Saturday involved ride-on, very fast racing cars, a huge bouncy castle, between-meals timing (biscuits, crisps and squash on offer) and me frantically scribbling down supplier numbers for future reference. Now Bert’s fully immersed in party season I’m meeting a lot of mums and I’ve discovered that the phrase ‘do you watch Motherland?’ is code for ‘may I speak freely?’
I love Motherland and I love bacon Frazzles and I love Iced Rings (or hard doughnuts as Bert has it). But for more motherly days, this passes the ‘no sauce’ test, so long as I don’t even begin to suggest that Bert might eat a marinated mushroom – I put those in first, in a clearly separate layer, and don’t offer them to FOUR-YEAR-OLDS.
Serves 4 (or a greedy 2.5 with leftovers)
1/2 punnet mushrooms, sliced (or a whole punnet, no chicken, for vege nights or vege lives)
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts or 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (my preference), cut into 2cm pieces
1.5 teaspoons mild curry powder
1.5 teaspoons garam masala
2 garlic cloves, crushed
120g plain yoghurt
2 onions, sliced
1-2 splashes of vegetable oil
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon turmeric
350g basmati rice
450g boiling water
1/2 tin coconut milk (we tend to cook this in the same week as chicken satay, which uses the other half)
Toasted flaked almonds
Pre-heat the oven to 180/ 170 fan.
Mix the mushrooms with the yoghurt, curry powder, garlic and garam masala, season and set aside.
Fry the onion in half of the oil till translucent, then tip into a large saucepan or casserole dish that has a lid. Pile the mushrooms on top and then the chicken.
Reheat the pan you fried the onion in and add a little more oil if necessary. Fry the cinnamon, cloves, turmeric and bay leaves for a minute or so, then stir through the rice, coating in oil. Add the boiling water, bring to simmering point and cook for five minutes. Take off the heat, stir in the coconut milk, season and then add to the sauce pan, covering the chicken with the rice. Cover with a lid and put in the oven for 45 minutes, till all the liquid is absorbed and the rice is cooked. Serve, only going as far as the chicken layer for FOUR-YEAR-OLDS. Scatter adult portions with chopped coriander and toasted almonds.
Adapted, a bit, from the National Trust Family Cookbook.