Monday, 27 February 2012

Courgette polpette

My sisters and I grew up on a diet of fish fingers, beans, sausages, spaghetti bolognese, toast, scrambled egg, chips and boil in the bag cod with rice. My mother occasionally made a concession to our general education, by giving us Alphabites, with which we would construct rude words on our plates. We never had to eat vegetables or salad or anything we didn't want to, although it was always available.

Eventually we started eating that stuff of our own accord ,when we reached an age when we thought eating vegetables might make us thin and get rid of our spots. (Misguided of course. In order to be thin it doesn't matter what you eat, as long as you eat almost none of it, and in order to get rid of your spots you need some sort of pharmaceutical assistance.)

So I do not labour under a thing where I think Kitty ought to be eating a lot of fruit and vegetables. Do you even really NEED fruit and vegetables up until the age of about 12? I thought all babies and toddlers and small children need is carbohydrate and a bit of protein. That's all they want anyway. That and the food group known as CAKE.

Anyway it's a good thing I am very relaxed about all this, because Kitty doesn't want to eat any of that vegetable shit, thanks very much. She used to make a good fist of eating broccoli but now doesn't care for it much. From 8 months old onwards she has survived on about seven different kinds of spoonable stew that we make and freeze, mostly bean and animal fat-based.

And she has never, ever been interested in fruit. I must have placed a hundred different pieces of banana, apple, grape and clementine segment on her tray table only for her to discard them with various different disgusted faces. She did once put a piece of banana in her mouth, while mesmerised by one of her cousins - but I think she thought it was cheese.

Now she has reached a stage where she won't eat anything she hasn't eaten before. She will put it in her mouth but then hook it out with her forefinger with the word "Mmlair". Or simply open her little beak and let the food roll out.

The fact that you cannot bribe, cajole or otherwise force a pre-verbal toddler to eat something it doesn't want to is both frightening and liberating. She doesn't want it. There's nothing I can do except try again another time.

But even though I privately think that she can eat whatever the hell she wants, I must maintain a pretence in front of my husband and other middle-class people that I think she needs to eat vegetables.

So I purchased the River Cottage Babies and Toddlers Cookbook and set about making what I thought looked like a very tasty fingerfood, called Courgette Polpette.

They are really, really yummy and easy and I heartily recommend them as a delicious canape for your next soiree. Kitty hated them, obviously. But, thankfully, I don't give a fuck.

Courgette polpette

500g courgettes, finely diced
Grated zest of 1/2 a lemon
1 beaten egg
2 tbsp grated parmesan or pecorino
1/2 ball mozarella
50g breadcrumbs
1 tbsp chopped parsely
1 garlic clove, finely sliced or grated
salt and pepper

1 Heat some oil in a frying pan and fry the courgette over a medium flame for 10 minutes (time it) until they have taken a bit of colour and have collapsed just slightly

2 Allow to cool for as long as you can be bothered and then combine with all the other ingredients. The mixture will be quite wet and sticky

3 Form walnut-sized blobs and place on a greased baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes and serve to your baby with prosecco.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Banana bread for Dory

I often, as you might guess, struggle to feel positive about stuff. Any small knock can send me spiralling into an unwashed, disconsolate, uninspired, make-up free bundle of nerves. In recent times, Kitty being ill has been a sure-fire way of me plummeting into despair. A tiny cough, a bout of teething, a sticky eye and I'm moping round the house with eye bags and dirty hair, snapping at my husband and refusing to do any washing up or laundry.

But recently, I've been fighting back. Kitty's been ill for about a week now. Started with a hacking cough, graduated to full-on fever, dull eyes, sporadic weeping (mainly at 3am) etc. It's been pretty tough. Our new plan of action is to have dinner eaten by 8pm and be in bed asleep by 9pm so that when 2/3am comes around and with it an hour or so of analgesic administration, cooing and soothing, we are prepared for it and not utterly fucked by 7am the next morning because we stayed up until 11pm watching Borgen.

My other plan of action is to get up the next morning, have a shower, wash my hair, put on fresh clothes and put my old ones in the wash. I make an effort to keep the house tidy, I try to make dinner every night, rather than barking "Let's just get a takeaway" at my husband.

It helps, it works. This illness, although with its persistent blubbery hacking cough, feverishness, sleeplessness and general horror, has been the longest and worst illness Kitty has had to date, hasn't sent me quite into the depths of despair that it would have done 6 months ago.

And so when the sun came out yesterday and I had a rush of blood to the head having smelled spring on the breeze, (like a demented Carwash in Will o' the Wisp), I decided to bake something.

I have been meaning for a long time to make a lot of things out of the Leon 2 cookbook, which is about baking and puddings. Recipe Rifle's very own pork pie is in there - with a picture and everything - on pages 284/5. And Henry, a friend of my husband's, who runs Leon, remarked the other day that I hadn't mentioned the cookbook once here. That's because I can't see what good it would do them and I'm staggered that he noticed, but still I took the hint.

And then Henry and his wife Jemima, who as coincidence would have it was my first ever boss, went and had a(nother) baby! Little Dorothy "Dory" Dilys Dimbleby. What a little peach she is. And my husband Giles is her godfather, which really means that I get to go absolutely bonkers with his credit card twice a year.

Let me tell you a story about my godfather. His name is Sir Douglass Wass and  he was, I think, my dad's boss when dad was a spy worked at the Treasury. The story goes that dad said to Sir Douglas when I was born "Will you be her godfather?" and Sir Douglas said "Oh I am very bad at that sort of thing but yes sure." And by then it was too late for dad to say "Oh forget it then you useless bastard." And as a result I heard absolutely hide nor hair from Sir Douglas. Ever. Never. Like, NEVER. But then I didn't actually have a christening so he may have been within his rights.

But it didn't stop me from thinking that it was something about me, something I'd done, that made him not especially interested in fulfilling his godfatherly duties. It left me feeling really quite shit about myself, seeing as my other sisters had perfectly normally functioning godparents. And next-eldest didn't have a wretched christening either.

So I can now, at last, lay a bad godparenting ghost to rest by being, via Giles, the world's best, most extravagant and mad godparent ever to Dory. I have started by purchasing a new hat for the christening.

And I am following this up with a banana bread baked in her honour. Yes I know it's more bananas, but I need the potassium, okay? And this banana bread is absolutely outstanding - much better than the other banana bread recipe on here. It is very banana-y, it's basically a lot of bananas held together with eggs and flour.

One of my favourite readers, Oraleek, just made the other banana bread, I note via my comments, and I feel very bad that she's been diddled out of making this one because I didn't post in time. But what can I say - life stinks.

Banana bread from the Leon 2 cookbook 

50g pecan nuts
150 veg oil
200g dark brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
350g ripe skinned bananas
75g natural yoghurt
1 tsp bicarb of soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
225g wholemeal spelt flour (yes they sell this in Waitrose)
1 extra banana, peeled
2 tbs caster sugar

1 Pre-heat your oven to 170C and butter a 2lb loaf tin and line it (YES you must do this, don't be lazy) and line a baking sheet, too.

2 Spread the pecans out over the baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 5 mins until golden and smelling yummy. you could probably also do this in a dry frying pan

3 In a bowl whisk together the oil, sugar, vanilla and eggs

4 In another bowl, roughly mash the bananas. I do mean roughly - you are going to stir them a lot later, so don't worry if there are very big lumps at this stage. Add the youghurt and mix together. Sprinkle over the bicarb of soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt and stir again.

5 Mix the banana mixture and the sugar/egg mixture together. Chop the pecans and chuck those in too. Then sprinkle over the flour and stir until things are only just combined. Over-mixing is disastrous here so I actually left about 15% of dried flour still visible, which resulted in some seams of flour left running through the cake. So be brave, but not too brave. Spoon the batter into your smugly lined tin.

6 Slice your spare banana down the middle and place one half on top of the batter, then sprinkle over the caster sugar. The banana half will sink into the mixture during cooking and look terrific. I advise you to eat the other half to get in the mood.

7 Bake for 45-50 mins.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Banana on toast

My favourite time of day is between 8am and 11.15am. I can deal with the day from 7am if absolutely neccessary but any time before 7am is liable to make me depressed and anxious. Similarly, the hours between noon and 5pm can go and fuck themselves, as can any time after 11pm at night.

Similarly I love breakfast. Love, love, love. I could eat breakfast all day long. I go through great phrases of clinging loyalty to certain sorts of breakfast. For example, when I was on the Atkins diet I made myself bacon and eggs (no toast) every single morning. Then I decided that Just Right cereal was the thing. Then there was a couple of years when I would have marmalade on sourdough, every day. Then my weight-loss museli phase. Then for a while when Kitty was very small I would breakfast on Sudocrem and high anxiety. And now, with the smell of spring in the air and sunshine around the corner, I have seized upon bananas on toast and hot chocolate as being the very thing.

Meanwhile, let me tell you a really weird story. About four years ago I knew, very briefly, a girl called Olivia. We met at a bizarre dinner party, set up for the amusement of a Bajan millionaire, at which Olivia was pre-told to leave at 9.15pm so's to encourage everyone else to fuck off, too. But it didn't work and all that happened was that I hung about at the party for another hour, irritated that the only normal person had left. Then we met again at an annual Christmas party, where we stood in a corner and fell into the cautious but basically easy chatter of two redheads talking to each other.

(I often avoid other redheads. The best way I can explain it is because they know too much.)

She is the kind of redhead I so wish I was, is Olivia. Tall, slim, pale, with blue eyes and long elegant fingers. I have the ruddy cheeks of a farmer's son, a fat bum and the stumpy, picked-at dwarf-hands of a labourer. Not neccesssarily in a bad way - it has its merits and it's just a type - I just often wish I was the other type.

Anyway, the following year at the same Christmas party I looked around hopefully for Olivia. I asked people: where is she? Not there, not anywhere. She then published her debut novel, (an absolutely terrific book called The Trouble With Alice), and wrote an enigmatic piece in The Spectator. I emailed the email address she had divulged to me at the first Christmas party. Where was she? Was she alright? The email bounced back.

Then, 18 months later, as I was slumped over my iPad the other night there was an email - from Olivia. She had seen my blog. How was I? She, too, lives in North London. I emailed back, clumsily, from my iPad, in high fever. Where the hell had she been? We had much to talk about. We made a date for coffee.

The next day, Valentine's Day, in the midst of re-reading The Trouble With Alice, my head full of it all, I took a bus to Oxford Circus from Kentish Town. I looked up and down the street - surely Olivia would come pedalling past on her bicycle - it was that sort of day.

But she didn't. I ran my errands in town and turned down Maddox Street, in search of a Ryman's and there she was, after all, coming towards me. I was unsurprised about it, but still, it was the most amazing coincidence.

A lot of banana-eating goes on in Olivia's book, too. It is available on Kindle.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Potatoes boulangere

Ok I'm back. Boiler fixed. Norovirus gone. House tidy. Admin mostly done.

Things not done:

Car still dirty...
...and messy
Desk and general working area an absolute tip
No food in the house
Kitty's tea-stained pyjamas still in a bowl of water and not been through washing machine

BUT I do have here for you a really great idea for potatoes (even though anything with potatoes is just super). It's called potatoes boulangere and I'm sure there are all sorts of smartarses out there who know all about it already, but for those who don't, it's like a non-gloopy/heart attack potato dauphinoise. A real crowd-pleaser. (Is that a totally wankerish phrase or not? I can't decide.)

My husband's friend Jim did this for us the other day and he said he did it like this:

Slice up a lot of potatoes and onions. Arrange them flatly in a baking dish and pour over some good chicken stock until the potatoes are just covered. Add a lot of salt and pepper. Then put in the oven at 180C for 2.5 hours. On the rack above the potatoes put a joint of meat, if you are having one. As the meat cooks, the fat will drip down on to the potatoes.

It was GREAT. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to go and enjoy life before the next ghastly thing happens.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Chorizo and bean soup stew by EmFrid

Nigel Slater’s Chorizo and Bean soup stew

SNOW! Proper. Snow. It has settled and everything! I love snow. It takes me back to of winters of yore (ok, the mid to late eighties) when we lived on a remote farm and got snowed in every winter. Back then every single Christmas was white, godammit, and my parents used to strap Viktor, the piebald Shetland pony impulse-bought by my dad from a circus, to a small sled for Santa to use on his rounds before coming to us with presents. Incidentally, given that he is covered from top to toe in bad tattoos, it’s a testament to my dad’s amazing ability for disguises that it took me until I was nine years old to figure out it was him behind the beard. It was a soul destroying discovery.

Snow is also one of the main reasons behind my relentless Let’s Move Back to Sweden! campaign (besides, you know, the schnapps, the strong economy, the virtually free childcare, the exceedingly generous maternity leave and the schnapps). “Goblin and Troll the Foetus ought to experience proper seasons and white Christmases just like I did!” I wail forlornly. My other half, having grown up in the damp West Country and being equipped with the view that snow is merely an obstacle to overcome during his Very Important Commute, just shrugs cruelly.

ANYWAY, the point that I wanted to make is that the thing with snow and cold weather in general is that it provides an excellent excuse - should you need one - for warming, comforting one pot meals with lots of flavour. Such as this Spanish inspired chorizo and bean stew, by Nigel Slater. It really is lovely, and it’s everything I want out of a dinner when it’s delightfully cold outside. It’s also, once you are done arsing about with all the chopping, very easy to make. If I say one thing it’s don’t leave out the orange peel or the fennel seeds (unless you absolutely can’t stand fennel, you weird, weird person) as it marries beautifully with the smoked paprika flavour of the chorizo and in my frankly grossly unprofessional opinion makes the dish. Do as I say!

Oh, and Nigel refers to this as a “soup”. Hey Nige? It’s a stew, man. It’s a stew.

For about four people you will need:
2 onions - chopped.
3 or so garlic cloves – thinly sliced or just squeezed through a garlic press. Why faff?
2 carrots – chopped.
A rib of celery (that’s a stick of celery to you and me) – chopped.
A tablespoon fresh oregano though I used dry, as I don’t habitually have fresh oregano knocking about in winter
Chorizo – about 400g or however much or little you want, cut into bite sized chunks. I use Unearthed’s cooking chorizo, but this will work well with whatever chorizo you have to hand.
Fennel seeds – Nigel says a pinch but I use a lot more because I love fennel, and I really think it adds to the dish.
3-4 strips of orange zest.
A glass of dry sherry (or white wine, which I used, though I prefer sherry for sherry is the nectar of the gods – I just didn’t have any at home).
5-6 tomatoes – chopped. I (along with Nigel in this instance) don’t bother with the whole peel ‘n’ deseed business, but if you’re feeling less barbaric go ahead and do it.
2 tins of cannellini beans – drained.

Do like so:

1 Heat some oil in a deep pan. Moderate heat. Cook the onion until it starts to soften. Add garlic, carrot and celery, then leave to cook until the onion is golden and soft. Stir in the oregano.

2. Add the chorizo along with the crushed chillies, fennel seeds and strips of orange zest. Cook until the chorizo starts to release its juices to coat the veg. This is delicious and a Very Good Thing. Throw in your glass of sherry/white wine/vermouth and reduce down a bit.

3. Once reduced add your chopped tomatoes, beans and some fresh water – about a canful. Season well with salt and pepper, bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and leave to slowly cook half covered by a lid, for about 45 minutes.

4. Before serving sprinkle with some chopped parsley and maybe some grated orange zest.

We had this with warm sundried tomato rolls which I made by mixing some sundried tomatoes with the ingredients for a basic white dough and then employing my trusty old bread maker. Bread makers are magic! Eat this while looking out the window at all that pretty, PRETTY snow, feeling warm and cosy and smug that you’re not actually outside in it. Because it’s cold. And wet. And the little shits from next door will chuck snowballs mixed with pebbles right at your neck the second you step outside. You know they will.

Life stoves my head in

I am writing this in my mother's kitchen, trying to make sense of the appalling practical mess I find myself in.

It started with my nanny's deciding to go back to her native St Lucia for 2 months, which in the run-up neccessitated all sorts of days off in which to tend to the personal admin that goes with leaving the country for two months. My cleaner, the beautiful and humorous M-, who is taking over from the nanny, was due to start her nannying duties when Kitty got norovirus. Then I got norovirus. Then just as the snow came down, our boiler finally gave out and I screamed and screamed until the boiler man agreed to come first thing on Monday morning to give us a new one.

So, reeling from 10 hours of vomiting, on Monday morning, I packed up the gargantuan volumes of cack required to spend two days away from home with a one year old and drove through the snow to my mother's house. I haven't got my diary. I've got no fucking idea what's going on. I can't find anything in my mother's house and my mobile phone battery is running out. I also forgot to pack spare pants and am wearing yesterday's. My hands are horrifyingly cracked, dried-out, bleedy and picked-at from the endless hand-washing and anxiety-picking that goes with two bouts of noro and being too distracted to find the hand moisturiser.

What else? Oh yes, the endless slew of crap and paperwork that goes with a minor amount of building work we are having done later on this year. The ghostly images in my head of some really scary things lurking in the back of the fridge and the larder. The horrifying thought of having to pack up and move out of the house for two months while our building work happens.

At the very least, Kitty is going through one of her fortnight-long phases of being totally delightful before she decides that being "challenging" is more interesting. Small mercies.

To cut a long story short: no cooking. But I leave you in the more than capable hands of EmFrid, who is about to tell you all about a bean and chorizo stew, any minute now.