Sweet and sour chicken (or tofu)

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Three years ago, our son asked us casually what our favourite colours were. Equally casually we replied – ‘red’; ‘blue’. Little did we realise that we’d unwittingly slipped a chain around our own necks – a chain that would be tightened, inch by inch, as the months and years passed.

It began as a way of sorting sweets. (Bert, cannily, selected pink, yellow, green, orange and purple as his signature colours.) It moved onto him crafting us little objects in the right colours – a blue owl made of toilet roll middles, a red octopus made out of a paper cup.

It got a shade more inconvenient when he began to insist that I put random red objects from around the home next to my bed – a red Rescue Bot or a red Superzing. Then, in a sinister flourish, this was extended to include any object with even the smallest dot of the right colour on.

In some desperation, last night I said to him, ‘I can’t keep everything red and everything that has a bit of red on it next to my bed, there’s no room and I’ll end up hating red.’

He looked at me with ice-cold eyes and said, dismissively, ‘you can have black too.’

This meal has a lot of red in it.

Serves 3

1 red pepper, diced

1 orange or yellow pepper, diced

1/2  a pineapple, diced (a tin of pineapple chunks or the majority of one of the plastic pots of them will do if you don’t have sufficient spare energy to wrestle a large, spiked fruit)

Drizzle of olive oil

2 chicken breasts, diced (and some diced firm tofu for the awkward veggies like me) – both in generous, bite sized chunks

120g self raising flour

100ml sparkling water

100ml tap water

2 tablespoons cornflour

Sunflower oil to shallow fry

(Yep, this is a faffy recipe, ingredients-wise)

1 tablespoon tomato ketchup

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

2 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon cornflour

2-3 tablespoons water (add more if necessary)

Chopped coriander and thinly sliced spring onions, to serve

Heat the oven to 200, throw the diced pepper and pineapple on a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil and roast for about 25 minutes, till starting to char round the edges.

Put the first lot of cornflour in one bowl, and in another whisk together the self raising flour and waters. Get the sunflower oil hot in a large pan (oil about 1cm deep, pan at least 10cm deep). Dip the chunks of chicken or tofu in the cornflour then the batter and then throw them place them gently into the hot pan. Cook for about 3 mins on each side, till they’re a deep, warm, golden brown.

Meanwhile put the ketchup, honey, soy, vinegar, cornflour and water into a small pan. If you happen to have some tamarind paste, add one or two teaspoons for that extra sour kick. Whisk together and simmer over a lowish heat till thickened – about five minutes. Keep checking it as it suddenly changes from watery to a thick sauce. Add a bit more water if you need to and whisk it up a little till it’s combined.

Tip the roast veg into the sauce and serve alongside the crisp chicken or tofu, sprinkling some coriander and spring onions onto adult servings. We ate it with plain boiled rice.

 

 

 

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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.

Sunny pasta

Roast yellow veg carbonara. Blurred but cute picture.

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Served 2.5 (me and Bert and leftovers for my lunch tomorrow)

Half a butternut squash, deseeded, sliced into slim discs

Yellow pepper, deseeded, sliced into discs

Splash of olive oil or rapeseed oil

One clove of garlic, crushed

1 egg and 1 egg yolk

60ml double cream

Pecorino cheese, grated – about half a cup – around 60g or so – and a little more to serve

Pasta

Half a ladle full of saved pasta water

Drizzle the veg with oil and roast for about half an hour in a hot oven – 220 or so. (I did it on the bottom of the Aga roasting oven.)

At this point in the proceedings I watched two Peppa Pigs with Bert on my knee, surrepticiously sniffing his hair.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta, keeping about half a ladle of the cooking water to one side. Mix together the cream, egg and cheese and season with salt and pepper. In a large pan, fry the garlic briefly in a little oil, stir in the veg then take the pan off the heat and stir through the pasta the second it’s drained, followed by the cream mixture and a little bit of the pasta cooking water. Coat the pasta with the sauce and serve with a bit more grated cheese.

Bert hasn’t eaten for over 24 hours because of a virus (Ray’s done well out of it), but he ate this.