Not Heinz spaghetti


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.



Auntie Tab’s chicken korma

That’s a pirate waist coat – I don’t dress him in gold epaulettes, much as it’s the closest sartorial match for his personality that there is.

I wrote the recipe down on here a couple of days ago when we ate it and Bert did demolish it – I realise that this blog implies that Bert eats a rainbow of veg every day, but in the interests of honesty I’ll admit that for dinner tonight he had a hot cross bun, a peanut cookie and a Kinder Surprise.

Serves 3

1 small onion

1/2 red pepper, puréed with the onion in a blender

1 1/2 dessert spoons korma paste

Dessert spoon butter

Splash vegetable oil

3 chicken breasts, diced

1/2 tin chopped tomatoes

1/2 sweet potato peeled (or half a large carrot) and chopped and puréed with the tomatoes

1 dessert spoon tomato purée

Teaspoon sea salt

2 tablespoons plain yoghurt

1 dessert spoon mango chutney

Melt the butter and oil in a saucepan, and add the onion and pepper purée and the tikka paste. Cook gently for fifteen minutes then add the chicken, tomato purée and tinned tomato/ sweet potato purée. Season, cover and cook for 15 minutes till the chicken’s tender. Then stir through the yogurt and mango chutney and serve.

(Auntie Tab chops the onion and pepper, frying the onions on their own with the salt, adding the pepper and then proceeding the same way. But pirates can object to pieces of sauce-soaked, soft, cooked veg so I puréed mine. I’ve also – since I first blogged the recipe – tweaked it again to add the sweet potatoes for a thicker sauce, extra sweetness and another veg towards our ten a day.)

Sweet and sour chicken

chinese chickwn

We went to the zoo this morning, and on the way out Bert was counting on his fingers all the animals he’d seen. ‘One, tiger. Two, pinguin. Three, tiger. Five, tiger.’

Basically, we liked the tiger.

This is a zoo selfie because I forgot to take a picture of Bert eating the chicken.

Serves 3-4

For the sauce:

100ml Chinese rice vinegar

2 tablespoons honey

1 table spoon dark brown sugar

1 tin of pineapple and the juice

4 star anise

1 dessert spoon tamarind (optional)

4 small carrots, cut into batons

1 red pepper, chopped into bitesized pieces

For the chicken:

2-3 chicken breasts, cut into bitesized pieces

240g self raising flour

50g cornflour and more to dust

200ml tap water

200ml sparkling water

Sunflower oil to fry

Put the pineapple and its juice, the sugar and honey, the vinegar and the star anise (and the tamarind, if you have it) in a saucepan and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the veg for the last 10 or so minutes, depending on how crunchy you like it; a little more if you like it soft. Remove the star anise before serving.

Whisk together the two types of flour, the water and sparkling water to make the batter. Dust the chicken in cornflour and then coat it in batter. Fry it in sunflower oil in a deep pan at 180 degrees for about five minutes, till it puffs up and goes golden. Serve with rice.

Do not make the mistake of frying it in a deep fat fryer unless you fancy dancing around the kitchen, swearing as you try to dislodge the welded-on chicken from the metal basket.

Slow cooked Mongolian beef


Yesterday Bert woke up crying because he wasn’t green enough. He went to nursery in a dinosaur costume, wore it there all day and sat in a shopping trolley wearing in it all the way round Sainsbury’s when I picked him up.

Today he rejected my choice of clothes in favour of the only all green/ non-dinosaur outfit he has – an emerald green polo shirt, bright green trousers and stripy green socks. His dad had to change into green shorts and a luminous green running top. Luckily they left the house before I was emotionally blackmailed into wearing a green tartan winter dress.

Sometimes I think life as an adult is stressful, but, to be fair, I can’t remember the last time I cried because I wasn’t green enough.

Should have served more than three

500g beef shin or other stewing steak, sliced

1 dessert spoon plain flour

1 red pepper, sliced thinly

1 inch fresh ginger, grated

4 cloves garlic, crushed

3/4 cup soy sauce

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup water

Toss the sliced beef in the flour in a casserole dish, add the remaining ingredients, bring to a fast simmer on the hob and then put in a slow oven (140 or the bottom of the Aga simmering oven) for 4-5 hours. The cups are the American measurements, not mugs, or there’d be about a week’s worth of sugar in there.

Because of the way the Aga cooks, I had to take it out and simmer it on the hob with the lid off for the last 25 minutes to reduce the sauce to the thick, sticky consistency it should have.

We had ours with plain rice in the garden by a campfire, with campfire bananas for pudding.



Alphabet soup


This is a version of a Jamie Oliver recipe. Bert spurned it, but I put that down to teething (teething which had miraculously disappeared by the time he was offered his first chocolate milkshake later). Not sure how we’ll justify his evil behaviour when those last two molars have come through.

Serves 3 generously

Selection of veg to roast (I used a carrot, 3 sticks of celery and a red pepper, but you could just use a couple of those, or substitute leek for the celery), roughly chopped

1/2 a punnet of cherry tomatoes

4 or 5 garlic cloves, whole and unpeeled

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

2 tins chopped tomatoes

1/2 tin of water

2 or 3 handfuls of alphabet pasta (or spaghetti broken up into pieces)

Spoonfuls of pesto and grated cheese to serve

Drizzle the veg, cherry tomatoes and garlic with olive oil and roast in a hot oven (220 degrees or the top of the Aga roasting oven) for about 40 minutes, till soft.

Set aside the garlic and tip the veg and juices into a pan, squeezing the soft garlic out of its papery cases into the veg. Add the tinned tomatoes and water and blitz with a blender to a nearly smooth onsistency. Stir the pasta through and bring the lot to a simmer on the hob, cooking till the pasta’s soft (about 7 to 10 minutes).

Serve with a blob of pesto and a sprinkling of grated cheese.

This did not get the dramatic ‘mmmm’s that the chocolate milkshake did. At least, not from Bert.



Chargrilled red pepper oven risotto

pepper risotto

The fact that I seriously considered writing a list of rules for myself to follow on the blackboard next to the kitchen table tells you everything you need to know about how dinner times are going at the moment.

Here he is happily eating cheese before it ALL KICKED OFF.

Serves 2

1 red pepper

1 teaspoon of butter

1 small onion or shallot, diced

1-2 cloves of garlic, crushed

200g arborio rice

400ml chicken stock

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika – the smokiness brings out the smokiness of the chargrilled pepper

40g grated pecorino and more to serve

Salt and pepper

First chargrill the pepper. Put it whole, directly onto the lit hob, or hot plate if you’ve got an Aga. When the skin’s black and charred turn it and keep going till it’s all blackened. Put in a plastic freezer bag, seal it and wait for it to cool. When it’s cool, you can just pull the skin off. If you wash it under the tap, the last bits of blackened skin will rinse off and you can get the seeds out at the same time. Chop it into smallish pieces. It sounds fussier than it is. I did it up to the bag stage during yesterday’s nap.

Melt the butter in a saucepan and saute the onion and garlic till soft and translucent. Add the rice and stir through. Then add the chopped red pepper, paprika, salt, cheese, seasoning and stock. Bring to a rapid boil, put a closely fitting lid on and put in the oven at 200 degrees (or on the grid shelf near the bottom of the Aga roasting oven) for about 20-25 minutes. Much as I do like the slow, regular stirring of normal risotto, this is brilliant for life with an evil one year old who keeps very close tabs on your movements.

Bert took a single mouthful, said ‘bleurgh’ (who’s taught him this word?), screamed to watch Peppa Pig on my phone and then threw the bowl of cheese onto the floor, smashing it, followed by the fork, watching me closely for a reaction.

We now have a naughty corner.

Anyway, the risotto was delicious.

Yoghurt marinated lamb kebabs


Served 3

500g lamb steaks, cut into chunks

1 red pepper, cut into chunks

2 red onions or large shallots, cut into chunks

2 tablespoons plain yoghurt

1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds crushed with 1 clove of garlic and salt to taste

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon turmeric

Mix the yoghurt with the spices and marinate the lamb in it for about an hour. With a yoghurt marinade, you don’t want to marinate too long or the lamb gets tough. (I think the marinade is originally a Nigel Slater recipe.) Thread onto skewers with the veg and cook on a high heat – in a hot pan or under a hot grill – for 10-15 minutes. In a very tradition division of labour, Bert’s dad barbequed them while I made some flat breads and Bert moved water from one container to another.

We had it ours with salad. Bert looked at a salad leaf with the kind of horrified morbid curiosity most of us reserve for a road accident. Have I read somewhere that babies are programmed to avoid greens in case they’re poisonous? Bert is in no danger of being poisoned by greens.