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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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.

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.

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).

Lasagne


Finally a lasagne recipe that Bert likes (the squash and beef lasagne was a dark day). Here he is eating it in our new camper van – in the drive, where else?

At bedtime, with great excitement, he counted on his fingers all the things he’d done in it – climb ladder, play [with] Dad, eat sweet, have wee. Why bother leaving the drive? All of life is here.

Serves 4-6 (half for the freezer)

For the meat sauce:
1 small onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

Dessert spoon butter

Splash olive oil

1 large or 2 small carrots, grated

2 sticks of celery, finely chopped

500g minced beef

500g minced pork

1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes, then half the can of water

350g passata

1 beef stock cube

1/2 teaspoon mixed spice

Salt and pepper to taste

For the cheese sauce:

1 smallish leek, finely sliced

2 dessert spoons butter

2 dessert spoons flour

500ml whole milk

Salt and pepper to taste

180g strong cheddar, grated

For the lasagne:

About 9 sheets dried lasagne

Fry the onion and garlic gently in the butter and oil, adding the grated carrot and chopped celery and cooking slowly till soft – 10-15 minutes. Add the meat and cook till it’s browned, then stir through the tomatoes, water, stock cube, spice and seasoning. Bring to a rapid simmer, turn down and cook gently for 2 hours.

Meanwhile, melt the butter for the cheese sauce and fry the leek on a low heat till very soft and silky – about 15-20 minutes. Then blend with a stick blender. (If you don’t have a toddler you could leave it as it is, but there’s nothing that invokes Bert’s deep suspicion more than a strand of unexpected green.) Add the flour and cook gently for a couple of minutes, then gradually add the milk, stiring well, till you have a thickened sauce. Stir in half the cheese till it’s melted. Taste and season. The addition of leeks is a Jamie Oliver thing and it does give the sauce a bit of extra sweetness, as well as giving you an extra veg in there. 

To construct the lasagne, start with a quarter of the meat sauce, then a quarter of the cheese sauce, then three of the lasagne sheets (depending on the size and shape of your dish). Repeat two more times and make sure, at each stage, that the pasta’s completely covered with sauce. Finish with meat sauce then cheese sauce then top with the rest of the grated cheese. Cook at gas mark 5/ 190 degrees for 45 minutes, cooling for about 10 minutes out of the oven before serving. Add salad or veg sticks and you’re at 6 or 7 of your 10 a day!