Moroccan spiced pork belly and bean casserole


I was expecting five for Sunday dinner and ended up with two, so we had a lot of leftover slow roast pork belly. Finally the pick of the crackling though, after years of listening to stealthy crunching in the kitchen after Bert’s dad offered to carve.

Serves 3-4

1 onion, diced

Splash of olive oil

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 tin flageolet beans, drained

Salt to taste

Leftover slow roast pork belly, cut into good chunks – each piece about 2cm cubed

Saute in the onion in the oil in a casserole dish or large saucepan. When it’s translucent add the spices and fry till fragrant. Then add the tinned tomatoes and beans, season and stir through the chunked meat. You could cook this on a simmer for about half an hour, adding the meat in the last 10 minutes, but I took advantage of having a slow oven constantly on in the form of an Aga and brought it to a steady simmer then put in the simmering oven (or very low oven) for a couple of hours. You don’t really notice the spices, they just add a soft, background warmth. It’s a bit like a gentle cassoulet, with butter-soft meat and small, tender beans.

It has the added benefit of making your toddler fart in the bath and laugh like a drain. Let’s just say I’m glad I’m not in John-the-small-fabric-rabbit’s shoes tonight.


Gently spiced crunchy chicken couscous


Last night we got back from the holiday that made us all realise that holidays were no longer holidays. This morning Bert greeted Ray (our long-suffering dog) with rapturous delight and offered him a dummy and a soft teddy bear. We all greeted stair gates and child locks with relief and pleasure. And we cooked chicken couscous.

This is an adapted Leon recipe.

Serves 2.5-3

3-4 chicken breasts

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon mild curry powder

1/2 teaspoon garam masala

Splash olive oil

1/2 packet of couscous

Another splash of olive oil

1/2 dessert spoon butter

4-6 tomatoes

4 cloves garlic, crushed, and combined with a tablespoon of olive oil

To garnish adult portions – chopped coriander, chopped mint, toasted pinenuts

Cut the chicken into bite sized pieces, put in an oven proof dish and coat with the spices and oil. Meanwhile, put the couscous in a bowl, stir through a splash of oil till all the grains are coated and cover with boiling water. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and give it five minutes for the water to absorb before stiring it through the chicken. Dot the butter on top and bake in a hot oven (200 degrees or near the top of an Aga roasting oven) for 25 minutes.

Chop the tomatoes into generous pieces, coat in the garlic and oil and put on the next shelf down in the oven for 20 minutes. (If you combine the garlic with the oil first, it won’t burn.)

If your baby is a better baby than mine, try him or her on the tomatoes.

If your baby is an even better baby, try them on the herb garnish.

Creamy tomato and marscapone pasta


Got laryngitis from shouting ‘didDA’ too much? What you need is a soothing, creamy, tomato pasta sauce.

Serves 1.5-2.5

1 shallot (I used the white of a massive spring onion), chopped

Glug olive oil

1 large tomato, chopped

300ml passata

100g marscapone

1/2 teaspoon brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Fry the onion gently in olive oil till translucent, then add the chopped tomato, salt, sugar and passata and cook for around 10 minutes (while your pasta’s cooking). Stir in the marscapone and serve with a pasta like fussili, which will hold onto the sauce and can be grabbed easily by a chubby hand.

Watch as your baby eats half and throws the other half on the floor, piece by piece, while fixing you with a cold, unblinking Sopranos stare.



Served 3.5 as a side dish

1 small aubergine, diced into 1cm cubes

2 medium-large tomatoes, diced into 1cm cubes

1 small onions, diced into reasonably large pieces – about 1cm cubed

1 large red pepper, diced into 1cm cubes

2 cloves garlic, crushed Olive oil

Chopped oregano – leaves from a couple of sprigs, chopped

Fry the onion and garlic till soft then add the rest of the veg, diced into equally sized pieces. I was basically aiming for the same quantity of each veg, so start with your aubergine and attempt to match. Stir through the herbs and a dash more olive oil and simmer on a really low heat for as long as you have – a couple of hours at least.

I did it in the Aga simmering oven, where, I saw on Facebook, a friend used to keep their baby lamb as a child. Either it really is a very cool oven or that baby lamb was beautifully slow cooked. Or both.

We had ours with roast lamb (which the last story makes me feel a little queasy about) and had there been any leftovers, I planned to give it to Bert for lunch with some alphabet pasta in some sort of homage to tinned seventies childhood food.

Aromatic slow roast lamb feast with tomatoey broad beans, crushed new potatoes and orange berries for dessert

lamb feast

Today Daddy was home after a week away and Bert’s big brother and sister came to see him. He celebrated by not taking an afternoon nap.

Serves 4.5

For the lamb

I shoulder of lamb

1/2 a teaspoon of ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon of ground coriander

1/2 a teaspoon of ground cumin

1 teaspoon of zaa’tar

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

Good glug or two of sunflower oil or a similar light oil

For the tomatoey broad beans

About 250g broad beans (I had a third of a bag of frozen ones)

About 1/2 a tin of tomatoes

Leaves from 2 springs of rosemary, finely chopped

Good handful of parmesan

For the crushed new potatoes

About 500g new potatoes

Really good glug or two of olive oil

Salt and pepper

For the orange berries

One punnet of strawberries

One punnet of raspberries

Zest of half an orange, finely grated

Juice of half an orange

Get the meat to room temperature then combine the spices and garlic with enough oil to make a thin paste. Rub the aromatic oil all over the meat, top and bottom, and then pop it in a roasting tray in a hot oven (about 220 degrees) for 20 minutes, before transferring to a cool oven for about seven hours. I used the simmering oven of the Aga, which I think is the equivalent of 120 degrees.

Meanwhile, your baby can laugh like a drain at a bouncing ball, at a dog jumping for a bouncing ball, at a dog looking like it’s nodding if you bounce a ball next to it, at a dog chewing a bouncy ball, at a dog not wanting to stop chewing a bouncy ball… the seven hours will fly by. At the end of its cooking time the lamb will just fall off the bone. Its tenderness is great for those of us with no molars, but to be honest no-one complained.

Simmer the broad beans till cooked through – about five minutes. Then add to the tomatoes with the rosemary and a little bit of olive oil. You could add a couple of chopped anchovies at this point, but I live with anchovy deniers. Simmer slowly for ten minutes or so then stir the grated parmesan through.

Cook the potatoes, whole and unpeeled, in salted water till tender then roughly mash with the olive oil and season. The oil is acting like the butter in normal mash here, so don’t be stingey with it.

Grate the zest over the berries and then squeeze the orange juice over. This is so simple but absolutely delicious.

We had our main course with roast carrots and salad. Bert ate loads. His little pot belly really isn’t so little at the moment.

Creamy chicken curry


This is a version of an absolutely delicious Nigel Slater recipe. I can’t honestly claim it’s better than the original, but it is a bit more toddler friendly.

Served 2.5. Bert ate so much we’re worried we’ll wither away as he swells to giant proportions.

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

The seeds from 10 cardamom pods

1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes

1 tablespoon sunflower oil

2 small onions, diced

3 cloves garlic, crushed

400g diced chicken

1 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

6 diced tomatoes

4 tablespoons plain yoghurt

Juice of half a lemon

1 tablespoon creme fraiche

Small bunch of coriander, finely chopped.

Crush the teaspoon of cumin seeds with the cardamom seeds, combine with the sunflower oil and chilli flakes and then toss the chicken in the oily spice. Fry the onion, garlic and turmeric in a bit more oil, then add the rest of the cumin seeds, the chicken, the tomatoes and the yoghurt. Bring to a fast simmer then turn the heat down and cook for about 30 minutes.

Remove the chicken, add the lemon juice and turn the heat right up, reducing the yellow sauce down to a thick sludge. Then return the chicken and stir through the creme fraiche and coriander. We had ours with rice and spicy cauliflower.

Bert’s hair was a beautiful, crisp, pale yellow by the end of this meal.

Fresh tomato sauce


Serves 2.5

3 tomatoes, diced

400ml passata

1 clove garlic, crushed

Glug olive oil

1 teaspoon dried oregano

Black pepper

Get your pasta in a pan of boiling water on the hob.  Fy the garlic briefly in olive oil. Add the tomatoes, passata, herbs and seasoning and cook for around 10 minutes, mashing the diced tomatoes into the sauce as you go. Serve with freshly grated parmesan. This is a good, easy dinner for lazy busy days.

We have this cold as ‘ketchup’ – or will do until the day Bert tastes Heinz ketchup.



Makes about 6 pizzas – we didn’t eat all of them between the two of us, honestly

For the pizza base:

7g quick yeast

175ml lager [wonders if beer is appropriate in a recipe for a 1 year old]

200ml tap hot water – when combined, the beer and water need to be hand hot. I get the beer from the fridge and add very hot water.

600g 00 pasta flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

50ml olive oil

For the tomato sauce:

2 garlic cloves, crushed

Good glug olive oil

Can chopped tomatoes

For the topping:

About 125g mozzerella per person (that’s a single ball)

And then whatever you fancy – we had ham and pineapple so Bert could have the Pizza Hut c. 1987 experience; when his mother was in her permed prime. With good ham and a nice, crisp base, this is actually a surprisingly good topping, as rediscovered by Bert’s dad, our usual pizza chef.

Put the yeast into a bowl, pour over the liquid and whisk together. Add the remaining base ingredients, gather into a rough dough and knead till smooth. It just takes a couple of minutes or so. Don’t be tempted to add much extra flour if the dough starts out sticky – it will get smooth and a wetter dough is a better dough.

Put the dough into a clean, oiled bowl. I’d not normally advocate unneccessary cleaning, but the clean, oiled bowl means the dough doesn’t stick to it. Cover with a tea towel and leave for a couple of hours. After the first rise, give it another knead. If you have time and energy, the more stretching and folding you do at this stage the better, but this dough is still good with just a quick second knead. You can involve babies in stretching and folding if you’re looking to convert the pizza into an immune system opportunity for everyone. After the second knead, leave the dough for at least half an hour before rolling out into pizzas.

For the tomato sauce, fry the garlic briefly in a generous amount of olive oil, add the tomatoes and as soon as they’re bubbling take them off the heat and push through a sieve. Return the sieved tomatoes to the pan and reduce for five or ten minutes. You’ll know when they’re the right consistency.

When you’re ready to cook, get the oven really hot (the maximum your oven offers) and roll out the dough into six circles. Get the tray hot in the oven, then build your first pizza on the tray. Be stingy with the tomato sauce. They take about 7 – 10 minutes. The quicker and hotter the better. For Agas, put the tray directly on the floor of the roasting oven.

The dough was originally a River Cottage recipe I think, though I refer to my own notes not the original when I make it so I’ve probably cut corners and changed it a bit over the years.

Barley risotto


This is similar to risotto in every way except it takes a bit longer (about 45 minutes), so start a good while before your baby’s howling like a wolf, and you don’t need to keep stirring while the liquid’s getting absorbed, freeing you up to race tiny cars.

We didn’t have any lemons so I used a bit of sumac from my Ottolenghi period.

Serves 1.5

Teaspoon of butter

1/2 stick celery, finely diced

1/2 onion, finely diced

1 clove garlic, crushed

100g pearl barley

300ml passata

400ml boiling water

Low salt veg or chicken stock cube, crumbled

Finely chopped oregano leaves or 1 teaspoon dried oregano

Zest of half a lemon

A pinch of saffron

Grating black pepper

Saute the veg in the butter, then stir through the barley and add the liquid and seasonings. Bring to a boil, reduce to a gentle simmer and cook for around 35-45 minutes, till the liquid’s absorbed and the barley’s tender.

Serve with a bit of mild cheese on top – maybe pecorino or crumbled feta.



Serves 1.5

1 portion bolognaise sauce (we had about a quarter of the bolognaise we had earlier in the week)

4 sheets lasagne

1 level dessert spoon plain flour

1 level dessert spoon butter

300ml whole milk

1 or 2 bay leaves

Grating of nutmeg

Black pepper

About 100g cheese – we had a combination of pecorino and cheddar

Make your white sauce by melting the butter, stirring in the flour, then gradually adding the milk. Add the bay leaf, nutmeg and pepper and simmer for about 10 minutes to thicken to a reasonably thin white sauce. Dissaude a cackling baby from using the dog as a Zimmer frame.

Assemble your lasagne. I started with a layer of cheese, then the usual pattern of meat sauce, lasagne and white sauce for two layers. Finish with white sauce and then top with another sprinkling of cheese. Bert liked touching the flour and soft butter, but his sensory play with the cheese turned into him grabbing a large handful and stuffing it in his mouth. Into a hot oven (200 degrees) for about half an hour, till the cheese is bubbling and the lasagne’s cooked through.

I must admit I used a rubber muffin tray for this, imagining a perfectly cute baby portioned lasagne tower on Bert’s plate. (Yes, I did cut individual circles from the lasagne sheets with a wine glass.) My lasagne didn’t have the structural integrity for that outcome, but it would be quite a handy way to make it for the freezer if you greased the muffin tray first and used a rubber one so you could pop the frozen mini lasagnes out. In the muffin tray they took about 20 minutes.