Category Archives: Recipes

Home truths #2: Food and what we’ve really saved (does it include our sanity?)

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I’m so tempted to tell you that Johnny’s eating habits have transformed, miraculously, over the last eight months. “Yes,” I want to simper, “He literally won’t touch processed foods now, the little devil. Ohhhh you can’t imagine what a pain it is, if it doesn’t have organic chickpeas and raw super foods in it, he’s not interested. I guess he’s just got a really precocious palate. It’s such a bore, but then frozen fish fingers just don’t taste the same as Mummy and Daddy’s fennel and feta focaccia, do they?”

The truth? Not so much. His eating has got better since the introduction of the food rules. Definitely. But in a ‘toddler learns to walk’ kind of way: two wobbly steps forward, one back, a crazed dash onwards, a hideous crash and total meltdown, mended by some chocolate. Then repeat.

Cutting out all toddler/kiddy foods, ensuring that I am only cooking a single meal for all of to share at each stage in the day, and cutting our food bills substantially has come down, as always, to a compromise: he eats more variety than he used to, we eat less.

Because insisting that he eats the same as us hasn’t meant that he’s suddenly happy to try (less still ingest) the weird and wonky vegetables, spices, textures and combinations that we used to try at adult supper time. Instead, he’s gradually, oh so slowly, broadened his horizons. So we’ve had to change what we cook for ourselves, tone down the experimentation, in order to fit all our tastes.

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On an average week, last year, adult suppers would look something like this:

  • Monday – Moroccan tagine
  • Tuesday – Spaghetti vongole
  • Wednesday – sausage and mash
  • Thursday – Pad Thai
  • Friday – Spicy vegetable curry

Meanwhile, Johnny’s suppers would look like this:

  • Monday – Fish fingers and peas (peas would be thrown on floor)
  • Tuesday – Omelet (any vegetables would be forensically picked out and chucked)
  • Wednesday – Supermarket bought toddler fish pie (shoved in oven while desperately trying to meet work deadline)
  • Thursday – Something I’d found in the River Cottage Toddler Cookbook (involving a guilt trip over the lack of vegetable consumption in the past three days, a special trip to the supermarket for ingredients, thirty minutes in the kitchen and, four times out of five, complete rejection by Johnny and a fuming, frustrated me)
  • Friday – Pasta and pesto (this arrives late – because I’m juggling a million different deadlines so have forgotten to cook – so is preceded by a packet of toddler rice cakes, meaning that when supper eventually arrives, only 1/4 is eaten.)

Now, I can’t pretend our new schedule is exciting. It’s going to make pretty dull reading. So prepare yourselves. But sweet jesus, it is soooo much easier, less stressful and cheaper. Just reading the list above makes me feel a bit queazy now.

What was I thinking? All that time in the kitchen, all that effort and expense. Who was I trying to impress? Myself, I think. I’d got into a headspace where I thought cooking had to be exotic and exciting. Can I blame too many TV cookery shows, too many glossy cookbooks? Maybe. But I think part of me was also trying to boost my self-esteem. Almost as if I could rub out the reduction in freedoms and ‘cool’ that came with becoming a parent by cooking in a slick, sophisticated, cosmopolitan way.

What actually happened? Ironically, I ended up spending way more time than was necessary in the kitchen, tethering myself to the kitchen sink so that at some times and in some ways I resembled a traditional 50s housewife far more closely than the liberated ‘have it all’ modern woman I was aiming for. It was expensive. And tiring. Hear me roar? More like ‘hear me yawn’.

Food should be exciting, sometimes. But mostly, it should be nourishing and enjoyable. And that doesn’t have to mean complicated. Most importantly, cooking it should usually leave you with enough of the evening free to do something for yourself.

So here comes our new food mantra. Are you ready? And while you yawn, remember the following: less packaging; less food waste; less time in kitchen; less pressure; less conflict with my kid; more nutritious for him too; and way, way less money: Three meals for the price of one. Basically, I make a base at the beginning of the week that can be saved and, with a few additions, tweaked to create several different meals throughout the week.

For example… Last week:

Monday: Shepherd’s pie. Since it takes the same amount of time as making a small portion, I cooked up a huge batch of basic tomato sauce (two onions, three garlic cloves, three tins of tomatoes and whatever herbs I have to hand). Three quarters of this was put aside. The last quarter was added to some browned lamb mince and some peas, topped with mashed potato and stuck in the oven. Voila, shepherd’s pie. We saved 1/4 of the pie for Johnny to eat for supper on Tuesday.

Tuesday: Tomato dahl and rice. Took a few scoops of the tomato sauce, added red lentils and vegetable stock plus a few pinches of cumin and coriander and stuck it in the oven on a low heat, checking on it periodically and adding water to make sure it didn’t dry out. Served with rice and, again, a Johnny sized portion set aside for him to eat the following day.

Wednesday: Chili pasta. Served up a few scoops of the tomato sauce with pasta, a little chopped fresh chili and some olive oil. Johnny had the same the following day (minus chili)

Thursday: Veggie chilli with baked sweet potatoes. Added some kidney beans to the last of the tomato sauce and served it over baked sweet potatoes. Same for J’s supper on Friday.

Friday: A real meal! Something that wasn’t cobbled together from leftovers. In this case: roast shoulder of lamb with friends (for clarity: we didn’t eat them, we ate with them)

So yeah. It might not sound inspiring. And these meals may not blow our minds. But they get eaten, more often than not, by all of us. And, mostly, enjoyed too.

I estimate I’m saving almost £20 a week cooking this way, since the cost of our ‘adult’ meals has decreased so much at the same time as cutting out special kiddy foods. That’s £80 a month. So almost £650 in our first eight months. Almost a THOUSAND pounds by the end of the year. And SO much time. In which I could have done something really inspiring. Like learn Mandarin or motor maintenance.

Maybe next year…

FOK recipe: courgette and carrot cake

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Yeah, I know the last one’s a truly rubbish and blurry photo but check out the tongue hunting out crumbs in the corner of his mouth. Love it.

I’ve been working on this for a while. A recipe that will: a) use up the veg that’s looking a little tired in the fridge and b) sugarlessly satisfy both mine and J’s super sweet tooth since neither of us can survive on a diet of chocolate hobnobs. Not forever.

Not being a domestic goddess, it’s taken a good few goes to get right (who am I kidding, it took three goes before we even got to a stage recognisable as ‘cake’). But I think we’re there now. And, if I might say so myself, it’s BRILLIANT. Possibly world changing.

  • It has no sugar at all. It can be wheat free (we only had wheat free flour in the back of the cupboard so I tried and it works). You can throw all sorts of vegetables into it (I’ve tried combinations of courgette, carrot and squash successfully so far) and the kid LOVES it. He would eat it for every meal if he was in charge of the menu. And since it’s so healthy, I guess he’d probably be alright too… Introducing:

The FOK courgette/carrot cake

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Picnic recipes: wild swimming

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(Me and the boy)

On Saturday morning, tempers in our cramped city terrace were rising along with with temperature. Tom was working and the boy and I were stewing at home. Then, a message dropped in from some friends who’d escaped to the country inviting us on an impromptu adventure. Tom arrived home unexpected, and suddenly we were in the car, on our way to Cambridgeshire, open spaces and sunshine.

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This picnic was at Houghton Mill, where the water mill turns as families swim and paddle in the water beside it.

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We swam, along with our friends and their baby, watched fish and insects, listened the the cricket on a radio, ate kale crisps made to the recipe I posted a couple of weeks back and drank Rhubarb Cordial. J ran around naked with a toy lawn mower he’d pinched from our friends’ parents. It was bliss, a bit of a revelation really. Why hadn’t I thought of it before? The countryside is full of lakes and rivers you can swim in without parting with a penny or being exposed to other people’s verruca socks and moulding sticking-plasters. I thought J would baulk at the cold water, but the plant, bird and fish life kept him in the river for far longer than the toys at our local leisure centre do.

Hang on in there, summer sunshine, so we can river swim our way through the next few months.

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This F.O.K recipe for Rhubarb Cordial is based extremely heavily on one in the River Cottage Preserves Handbook. But since we were using up the very end of Grandpa Fantastic’s rhubarb harvest and I like to avoid using too much sugar when I’m cooking for J, I decided to use agave syrup instead of sugar. We were cooking in small quantities, meaning we didn’t make a huge amount so I figured that we didn’t need the preserving qualities of sugar (does agave preserve like sugar does anyway? Anyone know?)

To make:

Chop your load of rhubarb roughly, however much you happen to have, and put it in a saucepan.

For every 1kg of rhubarb, add 100ml of water.

Simmer gently, crushing the fruit with a wooden spoon till you have, in essence, a mush.

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Take a sterile tea towel, tip your mush into the centre, and hang the sides from a shelf of peg. Place a bowl underneath it, to catch the liquid that will seep through, and leave it there overnight.

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The next morning, tip what’s made it into the bowl into a saucepan, heat gently, and add agave to sweeten and to your own taste.

Tip the thick syrup into a sterilised bottle and you’re done. It’ll need diluting to the same proportions as Ribena but be much healthier and infinitely more delicious.

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From patch to plate (F.O.K Kale chips)

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A happier day. A brilliant day. There was sunshine for almost two hours. And so Johnny and I harvested our first ever hoard from the vegetable patch we planted together three months ago.

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It wasn’t exactly huge (four radishes and an armful of kale) but whatever. We felt like Tarzan and Cheeta, pushing through the dark green jungle, knife/toddler scissors in hand, looking for the leaves that were ready to cut.

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Sure, it rained directly afterwards. But by then we’d gone inside, moved on, and were on the set of We Can Cook instead. I didn’t hold out much hope that the boy would eat the kale crisp concoction we came up with since they are a) “green coloured” and b) apparently very, very good for you and packed with vitamins. In fact, I had no hope at all. But miracles abound, even when you’ve spent the whole week moaning and cursing your luck and irritating everyone around you.

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He demolished the entire tray. I managed to sneak ONE into my mouth but only by employing my finest GCSE drama skills and screaming, “OH NO! IS THAT A TIGER IN THE GARDEN?!!!!”

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It was a tabby. And yeah, he was a little underwhelmed too. But I had to test the recipe to know whether to recommend them. I do, they’re brilliant.

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I did it for you. Your selfless blogger, as always. But if we’ve got to talk about we got out of it… Two hours of fun and some healthy food, completely for free. Fun of the sort I don’t really remember getting from the classes or sticky soft-play centres I was pining for at the beginning of this week or even with the aid of an expensive toy. Fun that both of us actually enjoyed, in each other’s company – learning lots together (instead of him learning and me checking my phone) about how plants grow, how to look after them, how to chop and cook them and the simple satisfaction of enjoying the fruits (should that be ‘veg’?) of our labours.

Jesus, that sounds a little evangelical doesn’t it? Maybe this is the start of my next ‘crazy in pregnancy’ phase… Watch this space.

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F.O.K Kale Chips

  • Armful of kale, washed and chopped into big bite size pieces, avoiding thick bits of stalk
  • Big dollop of olive oil, shaken all over the kale which should, by this point, be in a baking tray with a bit of baking parchment under them.
  • Generous shake of ‘insert condiment of your choice here’: so a month or so ago, Tom and I went to Brighton for the day and, since I was deep in my ‘early pregnancy, pure body’ phase (the one that came directly before the ‘mid pregnancy, eat-like-a-starved-pig phase) I bought a load of very strange whole foods including, ermmm, ‘inSpiral raw superfood sprinkles. Actually, it’s fantastic, you can use it instead of salt and it’s got a pile of worthy, live-forever ingredients in it that I’d never get round to stocking up on otherwise: flax seeds, sumac, nutritional yeast flakes and even ‘baobab’. I used it on these and it was awesome. Otherwise, if I hadn’t recently had a crazy phase, I’d use salt and cayenne  pepper.
  • Preheat an oven to 180 degrees C, gas mark 4 and stick in the oven for ten mins (they shouldn’t go too brown).
  • Cool, demolish

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Cornish pasties via Kerala

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This recipe is designed for those days you open the freezer and find a load of uninspiring vegetables that need using up in the next 24 hours. The potato, squash etc are what happened to be looking sad at the back of ours on Wednesday, but I reckon you could use whatever you’ve neglected.
  • One packet of just roll short crust
  • one sweet potato, chopped small
  • 1/4 of a butternut squash, chopped small
  • six pellets of frozen spinach
  • one onion, chopped small
  • two cloves of garlic, chopped small
  • six tbsp of coconut milk
  • 1 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp tamarind paste
  • knob of ginger, chopped v small
  • Lime juice to taste
  • chili powder, to taste
  • 1 egg

Par boil the sweet potato and squash, adding spinach at the end to defreeze.

Sautee the onion and garlic till translucent, then add the sweet potato, squash and spinach to the pan. Sautee for a minute, before adding the cumin and ginger. Stir, add the tamarind. Stir, add the coconut milk and lime. Stir, add salt and pepper to taste, then whack a lid on and leave for five minutes.

While you’re waiting, roll out the pastry, nice and thin. Use a plate to cut circles in it.

When the potato mix is ready (N.B: it can’t be watery or saucy, otherwise the pastry will go soggy when you add it) spoon a couple of tablespoons of the mixture into the middle of each circle (the amount you need depends on the size of the plate, dur, but make sure there’s spare round the outside to close the pasties up).

Fold the circles in half (so you have semi circles with potato mixture in the middle), squeeze the edges together and tuck them into ‘authentic, Cornish pasty folds’, like the ones they sell at train stations. Brush with egg (I forgot to do this, the world didn’t end).

Oh yes, you should have pre-heated the oven to gas mark 5. Pop the pasties on some baking paper on a tray, and stick in them in the (pre-heated) oven for about 35 mins, turning half way, till both sides are golden.

Remove from oven. Very lightly dust the ones for adults in chill powder. Leave the ones for kids.

And viola, perfect picnic or snack food. We took them on the train to Brighton yesterday to visit Sarah and Stan. J ate them like a champ, till he saw the tuppaware box full of cake Sarah had sent us home with…