Apple loaf

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To me there are only two types of cake – a treat that should be as delicious as possible with no nod at all to nutrition, and something tasty but vaguely healthy that I can justify serving as a pudding or snack for a 3-year-old and his friends. (You can only really get away with loading other people’s children up with empty sugar at birthday parties I feel.)

In two days’ time we’ll be eating sundaes and drinking milkshakes as Bert turns four (‘that’s very old’, in case you were asking) and in four days’ time I’ll be loading other people’s children up with empty sugar and cutting up a treaty cake with four candles on it. In theory the cake will be Paw Patrol themed – does looking like a dog’s dinner count?

But tomorrow morning it’s apple loaf, a couple of friends and a big pile of Duplo for us. This is a (very slightly adapted) one from the National Trust Family Cookbook.

Makes 1 small loaf

140ml sunflower oil

2 eggs

150g golden caster sugar

3 eating apples, peeled and grated

170g wholewheat self-raising flour

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pre-heat the oven to 180/ 170 fan. Beat together the sugar, eggs and oil till the mixture’s light and fluffy – about five minutes. Then add the grated apple, and finally the dry ingredients. Make sure to sprinkle the bicarb through evenly, since a mouthful that contains a pocket of it is unpleasantly reminiscent of the sachets you stir into water when you’ve got a bladder infection, and no-one remembers cystitis fondly.

Tip the mix into a small, lined loaf tin and bake for about 45 minutes, till firm and coming away from the edges of the tin.

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Chilli balls

When I started this blog, Bert was a great eater. Now he declares anything in a sauce, cooked in a sauce then fished out, sitting near a sauce, as ‘soupy’.

I was prepared for a veg avoider but not a soup avoider.

This may be my most niche recipe yet, but if you fancy a soupy chilli and your child is a sauce avoider, try these. Then make a normal chilli for all the sane people in the room.

Or cook up a bigger batch in tomato sauce and serve with rice, grated Cheddar cheese, sour cream and guacamole. (Naked, soupless balls also being available.)

Makes 6 meatballs

60g minced beef

20g red kidney beans, mashed with a fork.

10g finely grated cheddar

10g finely grated carrot

Pinch each of ground cinnamon, ground cumin, cayenne pepper, salt

Preheat the oven to 180. Mix all the ingredients together and form into walnut-sized balls. Bake on a baking sheet for 20 minutes. Serve with rice, broccoli (and soupy guacamole if you dare).

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.

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.