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. 

Not Heinz tomato soup

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And yet, strangely, very much like Heinz tomato soup.

Serves 2

1 tin of cherry tomatoes or plum tomatoes (cherry are a bit sweeter, but plum are fine)

1/2 a slice of white bread

1 teaspoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Salt

Water from the kettle

Bring the tinned tomatoes and their juice to a boil in a saucepan and add the torn up bread, sugar, vinegar and cayenne. Turn the heat off, leave for 5-10 minutes for the bread to absorb the liquid, and then puree, thinning to the right consistency with hot water from the kettle if you need to. (We have it a bit thicker than Heinz, but – importantly – thin enough to drink through a bowl with a built in straw.)

Season and liquidise. You can also add any leftover roast red onion, pepper or carrot (anything red-hued), if you’ve got it, before you puree.  Reheat gently, checking the seasoning, and serve with bread and butter.

 

Nearly Bird’s custard

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Mine and Bert’s relationship came as close as it’s ever come to crisis point when he refused to try this. It’s home made! It’s creamy and custardy! It’s a nursery classic! I was genuinely really annoyed.

But I’m over it now – at least enough to note down the recipe to force on him at a future date. It basically tastes just like a really, really nice version of packet custard.

Serves 3-4

2 cups of milk

1 teaspoon of vanilla essence

4 egg yolks

1 tablespoon of cornflour

1/2 cup of golden caster sugar

I’m friends with the mother of the girl Bert loves most in the world. Fearne treats him with a firm hand, shares his love of dinosaurs, is up for most things and has loaned him spotty socks. Maybe those are the secrets to a lasting relationship right there. Anyway, her mum suggested stewed apple and custard as a toddler friendly pudding and I thought, that sounds bloody lovely. And it was, even though the toddler in question wasn’t friendly about it in the slightest.

Whisk cornflour with the eggs in a foodmixer (or by hand) till thick, add the sugar and beat till thick and pale. Bring the milk and vanilla to a simmer then add to the egg mixture slowly, whisking all the time. Return it all to a clean pan and heat gently, constantly stirring, till thick. Eat the lot yourself if necessary.

Alphabetti Spaghetti

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I had seconds of this. And Bert’s leftovers.

I hope that this is in the same category as home made baked beans – wholesome and tasty, and not in the same category as home made custard creams – insane. I have made my own custard creams, but that was in a pre-child fit of whimsy.

Serves four, or two for lunch and leftovers for lunch tomorrow

200ml passata

50ml water and a bit of pasta water

Salt to taste

1 teaspoon brown sugar

2 carrots, grated

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

A lot of olive oil

A couple of handfuls of alphabet pasta

Fry the onion and garlic in the olive oil then add the carrots. You want enough oil for the carrots to be melting into it after a few minutes. Cook for around five minutes, till the carrots really soft, then add the passata and 50ml of water. Season to taste with salt and add the sugar. Cook for around five minutes again. Meanwhile put the alphabet pasta on to cook (mine takes 7 minutes).

Then puree the sauce, add maybe half a ladle full of the water the pasta was cooked in – enough to get it to a thick but runny consistency – and serve on hot, buttered toast.

Fish pie

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I’m not a fan of boiled eggs, vegetables, prawns or other such fancy touches in fish pies. This is a bit like the fish pie my mum used to make and there’s a comfort in the way our palettes and recipes get passed down the line.

I’ve since nerded out a bit on the subject of mashed potato, and come to the conclusion that fish pie really needs a very dry mash so that it doesn’t merge into the sauce. Steaming potatoes with their skin on is the way forward, though it does take ages. They keep a really potatoey taste, too.

Serves 4

450g fish – a combination of salmon, white fish and smoked fish like smoked haddock. Ideally skinless and boneless. Cut into bite sized chunks.

500ml whole milk

1 dessert spoon butter

1 dessert spoon plain flour

Chopped parsley – a small bunch

750-850g floury potatoes (that’s about 4 or 5 medium sized baking potatoes)

1 tablespoon of butter

Salt, pepper and grated nutmeg to taste

About 130g cheddar cheese, grated

Put the fish in a pan, cover with the milk, bring to a simmer and cook for 8 minutes. Get your potatoes steaming. Remove the cooked fish and reserve the milk. Melt the dessert spoon of butter in a saucepan, mix in the flour to form a roux and gradually add the milk the fish was cooked in till you have a thick white sauce. The fish goes in an oven proof dish, followed by the chopped parsley and the sauce. Ideally leave this to cool till your potatoes are ready so that the sauce is a bit firmer and the potato’s easier to spread on top.

Steam the potatoes in their skin for about 45 minutes, till tender. Mash or, even easier, rice with a potato ricer. Return the pan of mash to the hob and add the butter, stirring through as it melts. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Cover the fish with the mash and then the grated cheese. Cook at 200 (or the middle of the Aga roasting oven) for about 30 minutes, till golden and bubbling. Give it an extra 10 minutes to cool. Bert looks very disapproving if he’s served food that’s too hot, making a tiny O mouth and blowing showily on each mouthful.

I know his portion looks massive. It’s not the perspective.

Gran’s sweetcorn pudding

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My mum used to make something like this when we were small. It came to me in a flash today and I thought it would be nice with the pulled pork I put in the oven at lunchtime.

Serves 4-6 (just me and Bert here though, ahem)

2 thick slices white bread – about 170g

2 eggs

400ml milk

1/2 teaspoon paprika

250g can sweetcorn, drained

salt to taste

100g grated pecorino

Break the bread into chunks and put in a pan with the milk. Warm till the bread’s absorbed the milk and is soft. Break it up into smaller pieces with the back of a fork or spoon until it looks like mash. Then stir in the paprika, salt, sweetcorn and beaten eggs. Put in an ovenproof dish, top with the grated cheese and bake at 180-200 degrees (or near the bottom of the Aga roasting oven) for about 25 minutes till it’s puffed up and golden.

While it was cooking, I desperately tried to add ‘mummy’ to Bert’s repetoire, which now includes car, hiya, RaRa (for the dog), Didda (for daddy) and bye bye. Priorities, Bert!

Fishfingers and ketchup

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Serves 1.5

For the fish:

1 large piece of skinless and boneless cod (it was about 280g)

1 slice of bread, blitzed into breadcrumbs

2 good pinches of cayenne pepper

Glug olive oil

Flour for dusting – cornflour works well

Milk

For the chips:

2-3 medium sized potatoes

Sunflower oil

For the ketchup:

1 tomato, diced

200ml passata

1 small clove garlic, crushed

Glug olive oil

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

Black pepper

To make the ketchup, fry the garlic briefly in olive oil, then add the tomatoes, passata, herbs and seasoning. Cook for around 10 minutes, mashing the diced tomatoes into the sauce as you go. This makes enough to use on one day as a simple tomato pasta sauce, with leftovers for ketchup (or a dipping sauce for fish cakes or sweetcorn pancakes). It would keep in the fridge for around 3 days, I’d say.

Cut the potatoes into chunky chips (about 1.5 cm square at the end), put in a pan of cold water, bring to the boil and parboil for 5 minutes. Drain, give them a couple of minutes to dry off and coat them in sunflower oil, cooking on a lined baking sheet in a hot oven (220 degrees) for about 25-30 minutes. Turn them over half way through.

Combine the breadcrumbs with the cayenne pepper, get a glug of olive oil hot in a pan, and brown them till they’re crispy. The cayenne gives a bit of a kick and a touch of that Captain Birdseye orange hue. Cut the fish into thick fingers and dip in flour, then milk and then in the crumbs. They join the chips in the oven for the last 15 minutes.