Chicken and mushroom biriyani (or mushroom biriyani)

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Bert’s hitting the party scene hard. Somewhere between the age of three and four, children stop existing like well-loved dogs – food ideally being stolen and lapped off the floor, the top of a new speaker being as good a place to poo as anywhere, reality being here right now with no sense of past or future, emotions being either damp, panting joy or aimless whining – and suddenly gain a sense of time. Four is bigger than three. Fourth birthdays are a Big Deal. I’m not sure there’s anyone we know, or indeed have just passed in the street, who hasn’t had the news of Bert’s age reinforced with four fingers held up forcibly and the number repeated twice.

Anyway, fourth birthdays being a Big Deal, we’ve been to a lot of parties recently and I’ve become a hoarder of ‘low maintenance good party ideas’. The one we went to on Saturday involved ride-on, very fast racing cars, a huge bouncy castle, between-meals timing (biscuits, crisps and squash on offer) and me frantically scribbling down supplier numbers for future reference. Now Bert’s fully immersed in party season I’m meeting a lot of mums and I’ve discovered that the phrase ‘do you watch Motherland?’ is code for ‘may I speak freely?’

I love Motherland and I love bacon Frazzles and I love Iced Rings (or hard doughnuts as Bert has it). But for more motherly days, this passes the ‘no sauce’ test, so long as I don’t even begin to suggest that Bert might eat a marinated mushroom – I put those in first, in a clearly separate layer, and don’t offer them to FOUR-YEAR-OLDS.

Serves 4 (or a greedy 2.5 with leftovers)

1/2 punnet mushrooms, sliced (or a whole punnet, no chicken, for vege nights or vege lives)

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts or 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (my preference), cut into 2cm pieces

1.5 teaspoons mild curry powder

1.5 teaspoons garam masala

2 garlic cloves, crushed

120g plain yoghurt

2 onions, sliced

1-2 splashes of vegetable oil

Cinnamon stick

3 cloves

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon turmeric

350g basmati rice

450g boiling water

1/2 tin coconut milk (we tend to cook this in the same week as chicken satay, which uses the other half)

Chopped coriander

Toasted flaked almonds

Pre-heat the oven to 180/ 170 fan.

Mix the mushrooms with the yoghurt, curry powder, garlic and garam masala, season and set aside.

Fry the onion in half of the oil till translucent, then tip into a large saucepan or casserole dish that has a lid. Pile the mushrooms on top and then the chicken.

Reheat the pan you fried the onion in and add a little more oil if necessary. Fry the cinnamon, cloves, turmeric and bay leaves for a minute or so, then stir through the rice, coating in oil. Add the boiling water, bring to simmering point and cook for five minutes. Take off the heat, stir in the coconut milk, season and then add to the sauce pan, covering the chicken with the rice. Cover with a lid and put in the oven for 45 minutes, till all the liquid is absorbed and the rice is cooked. Serve, only going as far as the chicken layer for FOUR-YEAR-OLDS. Scatter adult portions with chopped coriander and toasted almonds.

Adapted, a bit, from the National Trust Family Cookbook.

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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. 

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.

Leftover roast beef stir fry

beef stir fry

Terrible photo of a dubious looking Bert, but it was actually delicious. I have to take the photos by stealth these days or much fury follows at the sight of a phone he’s not allowed to play with at the table. (Naughty, hypocritical mummy.)

Serves 3

1 tbsp  vegetable oil

Leftover beef cut into thin strips

1 green pepper, cut into thin rings, deseeded

1.5 leeks, sliced

5 or 6 white mushrooms, sliced

For the sauce:

30g  dry roasted cashews

1 shallot, peeled and chopped

1/2 teaspoon chili flakes

1 clove garlic, peeled

1 inch fresh ginger, grated

2 tablespoons soft brown sugar

3 tablespoons Thai fish sauce

3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

Juice of one lime (or 1 tablespoon lime juice)

Stalks of bunch of fresh corander, roughly chopped

Blend all the ingredients for the sauce until smooth. Fry the veg for 2-3 minutes, then add the sauce and beef and cook for another minute or two. Garnish with more roughly chopped nuts and the chopped leaves of the coriander, if this won’t infuriate your child.

I made the mistake of cooking the veg too long so they failed to pass the very stringent toddler slime test. Next time I’ll make sure they were crunchy. I’m getting enough finger wags and ‘naughty mummy’s at the moment as it is.

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.

Lamb korma and coconut rice

korma

I thought this was a bit of a risk, but Bert loved it. And so did I. I imagine that, other than the inevitable ‘thumb’ of ginger, this is totally inauthentic.

Serves 2.5

3 or 4 lamb steaks (or any lamb cut that needs quick and hot rather than long and slow cooking)

3 tomatoes, cubed

3 tablespoons ground almonds

3 tablespoons plain yoghurt

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 heaped teaspoon garam masala

Fresh ginger, peeled – about 3 centimetres. Okay, a thumb sized piece.

2 cloves of garlic

1 small onion

1 or 2 tablespoons vegetable or sunflower oil

1/3 mug coconut milk

1 mug basmati rice

Measure the coconut milk into a mug, fill up with cold water till you have a mug full of liquid and add to the rice in a pan. Bring to a boil then simmer on a very, very low heat with the lid on for 25 minutes till the liquid’s absorbed. For once, the Aga actually excels here – pop in the simmering oven for 25 minutes once it’s boiling.

Blitz the onion, garlic and ginger to a pulp in a food processor. Hold your baby with one arm while he plays the spoons one centimetre away from your face, and fry the onion mixture in a couple of tablespoons of oil with the spices. When the spices smell warm and fragrant and the onion’s translucent, add the lamb, cut into bite sized pieces, and brown. After about five minutes, add the tomatoes, almonds and yoghurt. Cook for around another 10-15 minutes on a medium heat, till the lamb’s cooked through. Salt yours on the plate – I thought it needed it.

Bert even managed to gum his way through quite a lot of the meat here, but the dog did end the meal covered in coconut rice confetti.

Finger arancini

arancini

Finger arancini, because they can be gripped between a tiny, pincer-like finger and thumb.

This made 14 but it depends how much leftover risotto you have, really.

Leftover risotto – we had about 1/3 of last night’s tomato risotto

One egg, beaten

Breadcrumbs – I blitzed a thick slice of stale bread. Or just keep a packet in the freezer and grab handfuls when you need it

Mozzarella, diced. I used about a third of a ball

Form a production line of ingredients while your baby plays a tambourine at your feet like a tiny minstrel. First the bowl of leftover risotto. Then the cubed mozzarella. Beaten egg into one bowl, breadcrumbs in the next. Form small balls with the risotto, a bit smaller than a walnut. Push your finger in to make a hole, pop in a bit of mozarella, then close the hole up. Dip in egg, dip in breadcrumbs and place on a baking sheet. (A Tom Kerridge tip – have a dry hand and a wet hand, so dip in the egg with your left hand, breadcrumbs with your right.)

You could do a few for your baby then season the risotto mixture and breadcrumb dip before doing your own, but I didn’t really notice the lack of salt. Bake at 180 degrees or in the middle of an Aga roasting oven for about 12 minutes. They’ll be golden brown and pleasingly professional looking.

You can also fill these with leftover bolognaise, though who has leftover bolognaise and leftover risotto knocking about at the same time?

Serve with a green salad for adults.

If you have any left, they’re good for taking out and about with a hungry baby.