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.

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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.)

Carrot, ginger and red lentil soup

Bert is regularly in character (and full fancy dress) as a fireman, astronaut or builder. He’s been known to be a cowboy, a dinosaur, a policeman and a pirate. Peepo, despite popping to Sainsbury’s and then driving back to his own house, occasionally visits, and we have a number of invisible lions and dinosaurs that live with us, as well as Peepo’s creepy mate, the flying monkey.

Next to Bert I feel positively unimaginative, but one thing I am good at inventing is soup.

This is normally another us-not-Bert one, though Bert will have a go at almost any soup if it’s topped with croutons (toss cubes of bread – the staler the better – in olive oil, sea salt and dry rosemary, bake at 200/ gas mark 6 for about 10 minutes, till golden).

Serves 2-3

25g butter

1 small onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, peeled and whole

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon chili flakes

2cm fresh ginger, grated (I portion it up and freeze it, grating it frozen)

3-4 carrots, peeled and chopped

Large handful red lentils

1 chicken stock cube

Boiling water

Dollop creme fraiche to serve

Melt the butter in a saucepan and sauté the onion, garlic and spices. When the onion’s transparent, tip in the carrots, sweating gently for a couple of minutes, then add the ginger, seasoning, lentils, stock and enough boiling water to entirely cover the veg. Bring to a rapid boil then turn down to a simmer and cook for 30-40 minutes. Puree and check seasoning then serve with a dollop of creme fraiche on top.

 

Thai veg soup

thai veg soup

Perfect, post-sickness bug food. (Thanks, Bert.)

Serves 2

Dash of sunflower or veg oil

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 teaspoon chili flakes

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 small bunch coriander, chopped

100g spring greens, chopped

1 tin coconut milk

Salt to taste

3 white mushrooms, roughly chopped

Bert gets a sickness bug, is sick twice (and does about 20 jigsaws in between), has an afternoon nap and is then completely recovered. He passes it on to us and we’re floored for days.

God, we feel old.

To make the soup, saute the onion, garlic, spices and chopped coriander stalks till the onion’s translucent. Add the spring greens and coconut milk, season and simmer until tender before pureeing. Then add the mushrooms and return to the heat for another 5 minutes to cook the mushrooms through. Sprinkle on the chopped coriander leaves to serve.

Bert has tried this, and would probably eat it with a bit less chili, though the thought of his wild spooning plus the turmeric is a bit unnerving, immovable stains-wise.

Too-tired-to-cook curry

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Bert pushed his bowl away and refused to eat then sat on our knees, one at a time, working his way through all of our food. Every time we tried to take a mouthful he’d point at himself and say ‘Ber’ firmly. We’re going to market it as the Bert diet.

We probably shouldn’t dwell too closely on the total lack of parental control.

Serves 2.5

2-3 chicken breasts (we had two, but they were big), cut into bite sized pieces

Splash of olive oil

1 dessert spoon tikka curry paste

1 can coconut milk

Peas – pour in until it feels ‘pea-y’ enough

Salt

Briefly brown the chicken in the olive oil then add the tikka paste and coconut milk. Bring to a boil then simmer for about 20 minutes, adding the peas in the last 5 minutes. Season to taste.

We had ours with rice and Indian spiced root veg (add 1 teaspoon of nigella seeds and one teaspoon of turmeric to peeled and batonned root veg, toss in olive oil and roast for 30-40 minutes).

 

Chicken, chorizo and white bean cassoulet

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Finally, he says ‘mummy’. I rewarded him with cassoulet.

Serves 4

6 chicken thighs, boned, skin on

1 whole chorizo

1 dessert spoon goose fat

1 small bunch rosemary, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

2 dessert spoons tomato puree

1 can white beans – cannellini or butter beans

1 small glass water

A couple of slices of bread worth of breadcrumbs (when I’m feeling Nigella-y, I crumb and freeze portions of going-stale bread)

Fry the chicken breasts, skin down, in the goose fat till the skin’s crisp and golden. Add two thirds of the chorizo, chopped into chunks, at the end then tip all of the meat into a casserole dish.

Combine the crushed garlic, beans, tomato puree and two thirds of the rosemary. Thin with a little of the melted goose fat from the pan. Add to the meat with the glass of water.

Chuck the breadcrumbs and the rest of the rosemary into the pan you fried the chicken in and fry gently till crisp. The chorizo fat will flavour them too.

Top the cassoulet with the crumbs then the rest of chorizo, finely sliced, bring to a fast simmer on the hob and cook on a low heat with the lid on for a couple of hours (say 140 degrees or in the Aga simmering oven). Serve with green salad and maybe a little bread for mopping up the juices.

Me and Bert’s chili

chili

I’ve had Bert on curries since he was first weaned. I think if you go gentle on the chilli, heat with warm spices like garam masala and add flavour with cumin,  coriander and turmeric, even small babies can handle it.

The grated beetroot sounds mad, but it disappears into the chili and gives it a sort of subtley earthy flavour.

Served 5

Dash of olive oil

1 onion, diced

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1/2 a red chile, finely chopped (or more to taste), or a teaspoon of dried chile flakes

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 carrot, grated, a 2 beetroot, grated

Small bunch of fresh coriander, stalks chopped, and – to garnish – its chopped leaves

500g minced beef

1 tin tomatoes, 1/3 of the tin of water

1 tin red kidney beans, drained

Fry the onion and garlic till translucent. Add the spices and grated veg and cook for a minute or two, then add the meat and brown. Stir through the chopped coriander stalks then add the tomatoes, water and kidney beans, season, bring to the boil and simmer for an hour or so. (I slow cook it in the Aga simmering oven.) Garnish with the chopped coriander and serve with rice and sour cream or yoghurt (plus grated cheese for cosy indulgence – not sure if that’s authentic, but can cheese ever be wrong?). Guacamole if you have avocado and energy.

As I write, Bert is on his hundredth race through a large book of farm tales with his big brother Ben, pointing out every single tractor in it. Ben just said weakly, ‘shall we see if there are any other books on the shelf?’ Sadly, Bert chose a book of tractors as the replacement. I’d better crack on with serving dinner for everyone’s sake.