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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24-hour aromatic pork

Recipes are like wormholes, sucking you to another space and time. I write this at ten o’clock at night, the smell of aromatic pork filling the house, because two days ago Bert’s dad asked me what my signature dish was.

’24-hour pork!’ I said, as if it was obvious, then we both realised that even though I’ve known him for ten years I’ve never cooked it for him.

When I used to cook this I was in my early thirties, living in a small house in East London, working in a job I sort of enjoyed, sort of disliked, and leading a – relatively to now – life of modest affluence and freedom. I owned a house, on my own, in London, with leftover cash to put new floors in and buy new dresses! Every year I’d throw a house party and cook this. If friends came over I’d cook this. Life was good, but it was marbled through with seams of anxiety. I was managing a design company. (I so, so wanted to be a writer, but it seemed absurdly arrogant to say so, even to myself, on my own, in the dark, in a bedroom in Hackney with a new floor.) I was single; I’d have children at some point. (I so, so much wanted to be a mother that it was written all the way through me in sugar capitals.) The route from one place and time to another seemed impossible, unpassable; invisible, even.

Fold the pages of time together and here I am, poorer, less free, but there are deep veins of contentment running through my days that I had no idea of then.

There’s pork in the oven for tomorrow. And Bert will hate it.

Probably serves 10-12, we’ll be eating leftovers for days and days

1 whole shoulder of pork (less and it may dry out)

1 tablespoon sunflower oil

1/2 tablespoon sea salt

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon brown sugar

5 garlic cloves, crushed

‘Thumb-sized’ (of course!) piece of fresh ginger, grated

1 tablespoon Chinese five-spice

Get the oven as hot as it will go (230/ gas mark 8 or 9). Mix all the ingredients, except the pork, together in a small bowl. Spread half of the spice mix on top of the pork and place the meat on a rack on top of a roasting tin. Put in the hot oven for half an hour then take it out, turn it over to skin side down and smear on the rest of the spice mix. Pour in a small glass of water, turn the oven down as low as it will go (gas mark 1/4) and cook for 16 – 24 hours (my kind of margin of error). Then take out of the oven, whack the heat back up, turn it back to skin side up and blast at 230/ gas 8 or 9 for half an hour, checking to make sure it doesn’t burn.

Serve with mash and greens.

Sticky ribs


Since February, Bert’s been going to the pre-school attached to our local primary two days a week and the nursery he’s been at since he was 10 months old for one day a week. He’s always gone in fine but claims to have no friends there (other than a mysterious girl called ‘Bert’). It’s a lovely place – a bit more formal and school-like than his old nursery, but brilliant in lots of ways and they made him very welcome. Even though he’s consistently said he preferred the old place, we put that down to it being so much more familiar. The logic was that starting at the local pre-school would make it far easier for him to settle at primary school next September. This September he’s due to have all of his three days at the new place – they’re so booked up that they didn’t have the third day available till now. Not only is it lovely but it’s a walk rather than a drive away, the day’s slightly longer, finishing at 4.30, so I get more work done, and it’s cheaper. I’d walk the dog there and back with Bert, giving me a full, uninterrupted eight hours to work. Win win win.

However. Even though he’s perfectly settled at the new place, he’ll still tell me that he likes the old one better. On a nursery day he’d ask which it was and, if it was an ‘old school’ day, he’d cheer and say ‘thanks, Mum!’ When he rang his dad at work and told him, very seriously, that he preferred ‘old school’ I began to wonder if we just weren’t listening. This coincided with the day they painted his nails bright pink, a sweet thing that was nothing to do with Learning Journeys and which he really loved, and him making all kinds of new friends there – he’d come home and tell me about the new friend he’d made most days (and none were girls called Bert). The second I sent the ‘old school’ an email confirming that he’d be leaving I started to have doubts. Why weren’t we listening to him? If he really preferred the old place that much, maybe their learning style of free play and creativity just suited him better. Weren’t there years and years for him to get used to more a formal way of learning? If anything, I think children are forced to start that too soon at five. I asked him again which he preferred and asked if he could pick one, which he’d choose. No hesitation – old school.

Many long conversations with his dad later, I did the deed and arranged for him not to go back to ‘new school’ for the start of the new term in September and to do all three days a week at ‘old school’ instead. Heart-warmingly, ‘old school’ were thrilled – three members of staff came up to me to tell me how excited and happy they were.

I gave Bert the good news when I picked him up. His lip wobbled. ‘But I like new school! I like new school better now!’ he said and literally stamped his feet.

Today I drove him to ‘old school’ and he looked out of the window and casually said, ‘you’re going the wrong way.’ ‘Huh?’ I said, though Bert is not averse to a bit of patronising back-seat driving. ‘New school’s that way,’ he pointed, accurately, and went back to his iPad.

This is a BBC Good Foods recipe. You can double the quantity of ribs with the same amount of marinade.

Serves 3-4

500g passata

2 cloves garlic, crushed

2 tablespooons soy sauce

3 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon Worcester sauce

500g pork ribs

Combine all the ingredients and cook in a baking tray, covered in foil, at gas mark 6 (200 degree) for 30 minutes, then bake for another hour. We had ours with egg fried rice.

 

Egg fried rice


At music group today Bert had three tantrums, threw a plastic cuckoo clock at his best friend’s head and refused to apologise. When his dad asked him at dinner if ‘Tadpole Tunes was good’, Bert replied with a flat ‘no’.

When I was trying to convince him to leave the house at lunchtime, I said ‘you can jump off the back of the sofa and then we’ll leave. Deal?’ He laughed, said ‘No deal!’ in a high-pitched voice and dived, head first, off the sofa.

He did eat this, on condition that I spoon feed him. 

Winning at parenting; as Bert would say, ‘I nailed!’

Serves 4

Cooked rice, left to cool (works even better if cooked the day before) 

4 eggs beaten with 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and 1 of fish sauce 

Thumb (what else!) of ginger, grated

1/2 small white cabbage, finely sliced to ribbons

Handful of frozen edamame beans or peas

6 spring onions, finely sliced

Leftover chicken or pork, shredded, or some frozen prawns (or a combination of these)

4 tablespoons sunflower oil

50g salted peanuts, bashed into chunks

Heat half of the oil in a wok and cook the cabbage and ginger for about 5 minutes, till wilting, then add the cooked meat, onions and beans and cook for another three minutes. Remove to a bowl.

Get the rest of the oil smoking hot in the wok then add the rice, stirring quickly till it’s coated with oil. Add the egg mixture and stir rapidly till it’s completely coating the rice, then keep stirring and cook till it’s starting to brown and caramelise in places. Stir the rest back through and serve, sprinkling the peanuts on at the table.

From the National Trust Family Cookbook. 

The ‘best Ben’s ever had’ roast belly pork and crackling

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The title says it all. Back of the net.

Some days all I think about is pork crackling.

This was a small piece that served three, but the method applies whatever the size of the meat, and works with shoulder of pork too.

1 piece of belly pork, skin scored

Sea salt, liberal quantities (about a dessert spoon)

I onion

Take the pork out of the fridge first thing in the morning. Boil a kettle, run the hot water over the pork skin, then take the pork out of the sink and wrap the whole thing in kitchen towel to dry it and get it to room temperature. The skin needs to be completely dry and the meat needs to be at room temperature before you start.

When you’re ready to cook, pre heat the oven to 220/ gas mark 8. Pat the skin completely dry and sprinkle on the salt, rubbing it into the skin scores as much as you can. Slice the onion, skin still on, into 1cm slices and place on a baking sheet as a platform for the pork. The pork goes on top and into the hot oven for 30 minutes. After the 30 minutes turn the oven down as low as it will go (gas mark 1 for us) and cook for 5-6 hours. Then turn the oven back up to full for 20 minutes, getting the grill hot at the same time. Put the pork under the grill till the crackling puffs up, watching it very closely as it goes very quickly and will catch and burn if you’re not careful. The pork can rest while you finish up but it doesn’t need to because it’s been cooked so slowly.

The crackling will be crisp and crunchy with soft, tasty, chewy bits underneath, and the pork will be melting.

Make the gravy with the onion still in the tin. You’ll have to sieve the gravy at the end, but it gives the gravy a brilliantly deep colour and taste.

Mini schnitzel

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If you’re in that precise frame of mind that combines a delight in violence with the enjoyment of repetitive tasks, I highly recommend you cook this. Luckily I’m in that frame of mind most of the time.

I had some diced pork in and thought I’d make tiny pork schnitzels, the size of chicken nuggets. Insane? Maybe.

I experimented with an oatcake crumb coating too, since we seem to eat so much white flour.

Serves 2

About 150g of diced pork – I’m on a 5/2 day (too much toddler group cake) so I didn’t make much for myself

4 oatcakes, blitzed to a fine crumb

Zest of half a lemon, finely grated

Teaspoon of dried sage

Whole milk

Bash each piece of pork with a rolling pin till it’s thin, then tip the lot into a bowl and cover with whole milk. Leave to further tenderize for an hour or two. Combine the crumbs, lemon zest and sage.

Take the pork out of the milk and coat in the crumb mixture. Lay on a baking tray and bake in a hot oven for 20 minutes, turning over halfway through.

We had ours with home made oven chips and green veg. Serve with redcurrent jelly for Austrian authenticity.

 

Tomatoey meatballs

meatballs

Three things I never thought I’d do as a parent:

  1. Watch hours of Peppa Pig with my eyes closed and my cheek resting on his shoulder, pretending to be awake and merely affectionate
  2. Lie about the presence of chocolate buttons in the house
  3. Buy shoes that light up when he runs

Serves 4

For the meatballs

500g mince – a mixture of beef and pork is ideal; if not, just beef

6 tablespoons breadcrumbs

1 egg

2 tablespoons grated parmesan or pecorino

2 tablespoons passata

3 cloves garlic, crushed

A few sprigs of basil, leaves finely chopped, or two teaspoons of dried basil

Salt and pepper to taste

For the sauce

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

500g pack of passata, less the two tablespoons you’ve already used

2 teaspoons brown sugar

1 desertspoon balsamic vinegar

Salt and pepper

To serve

Chopped basil

Grated parmesan or pecorino

Spaghetti

Mush all the meatball ingredients together in a bowl with your hands; ideally, with latex gloves on so you feel like a lab technician. Form into walnut sized ball – if you’ve still got your CSI gloves on this is easier. Brown the top and bottom of the meatballs for a couple of minutes in a wide, deep frying pan in a splash of olive oil, then add the sauce ingredients and simmer for 30 minutes. I did it right to the point of starting simmering, then finished it off when The Toddler was back in residence. Put the spaghetti on to cook when it’s been simmering for 20 minutes or so.

When it’s done, carefully remove the meatballs, pour the sauce into the cooked spaghetti,  mix thoroughly to coat and stir through the chopped basil. Serve the tomatoey spaghetti with meatballs on top, and add cheese at the table. Stirring through the sauce first is a Mr Me and Bert trick.

The recipe was from mylittlelunchbox.com, though I amended it a bit. I make double of the meatballs, freeze them and they make a good, harried-from-work, quick dinner, cooked from frozen with oven chips and peas on the side.