Things my kids happily ate this month 2

February is my least favourite month. Too cold, too grey, too far away from summer. You eat salad because of all the mince pies you packed away in December but really you just want endless roast dinners, except without the washing up.

I’m already sick of thinking about food for the kids. I can’t wait for the days of lawn picnics where I can dispose of all the bits and pieces in the fridge under the guise of alfresco living. Or even better, full time nursery, which means I’m only responsible for two suppers a week.

These meals, however, tasted nice, involved minimal prep, and had plenty of veg, with the exception of the Nutella pancakes, obviously. Which, frankly, were everyone’s favourite.

One-pot green macaroni cheese

Macaroni cheese. Green vegetables. And only one pot to wash up. It’s a dream meal.  

I used this recipe as a basis, but left out the Quorn and added green veg.

In a large saucepan, saute grated courgette and finely sliced celery in a little oil and garlic. Then add 450ml milk, 500 ml double cream, 200 ml water and 500g macaroni, and season with salt and pepper, mustard powder and nutmeg.

Bring to a low simmer and cook til the macaroni is done, about 15 minutes. Throw in some frozen chopped spinach and a handful of peas, then add 200g of cheese – cheddar obviously melts nicely but use whatever is in the fridge


Stuffed Italian chicken

Bash some chicken breasts with a rolling pin until flat.

Mix together cream cheese, mozzarella, garlic, spinach and mushrooms; season with salt and pepper and any herbs you like – try oregano and basil, or a mixed Italian blend.

Roll each flattened chicken breast around a blob of filling. Tuck these into a baking tray and cover with tinned chopped tomatoes, then bake at 180C for about 40 minutes.

Pancakes, obviously

I used this recipe from BBC Good Food.

Big G likes chopped up hot dogs and cheese sauce on his. WTF? Gross.

The girls and I had bolognese sauce.

And Nutella for after.

 

This whole virtuous dinner – baked salmon, sweet potato fries and mushy peas.

Fish for brain development and good fats, sweet potatoes for fibre and vitamin A, and peas because green. Give yourself a pat on the back for your excellent nutrition-ing.
   
Peel and chop the sweet potato into chips. Dust in cornflour and a little garlic salt, if you have it, and bake at 180C for 40 minutes. 25 minutes in, add the salmon fillets to the tray.

Meanwhile, make the mushy peas. Boil/microwave frozen peas, drain, and add a large knob of butter and a slug of cream. I also put a teaspoon of mint sauce in for extra sweetness. Use a hand blender to whizz it all together, but leave a few chunky peas for texture.

What’s proved popular in your house this month?

 

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Three quick ideas for tortillas

Lunchtimes with small kids are just the worst. Just eat a salad, already. I love cooking, and dinners are fine, but I find lunches are a real chore.

While G Major would eat her weight in cheese and ham if permitted to, I need to think of her colon and include some veg. My kids are the only ones in history that won’t eat cucumber sticks dipped in hummus. I want to avoid endless sandwiches, but I don’t want to have to cook too much. So if you discount soup, quiches and vegetable muffins, what’s left?

Tortillas. Terrific tortillas. Less bulky than bread, and my kids will eat whole wheat and granary versions more readily than the same in bread. They cook really quickly and are easy for little hands to manage.

So here are three ideas for speedy lunches that will help you out of a sandwich rut.

Baked pinwheels
Spread a tortilla with your favourite fillings, roll up tightly and slice into discs. Bake at 180 for around 12 minutes. Try ham, cheese and mushrooms; salmon, cream cheese and avocado; leftover bolognese; chicken or turkey with cranberry sauce and spinach. A light dusting of cheddar rarely goes astray and helps bind everything together.

Quesadillas
Spread a tortilla with avocado, some salsa or chopped tomatoes, some tinned sweetcorn, chopped mushrooms and peppers (blast them in the microwave for a minute to soften) and some grated cheese. Top with another tortilla and dry fry on both sides until the cheese is melted. Slice into wedges as you would a pizza.

Tortilla cups
Use a pastry cutter to cut small circles from a  tortilla, and use these to line a muffin tin. You can either bake them straight away then fill with cold ingredients (try lettuce, tuna mayo and tinned sweetcorn) or fill them and then bake, again at 180 for about 12 minutes. Try huevos rancheros (tomatoes, peppers, beans and some mild spices with  a egg cracked on top) or use your favourite pizza toppings (tomato, cheese, ham, peppers, mushrooms and – forgive me but it’s for the kids – tinned pineapple).

What are your favourite easy lunches for kids? 

Potential careers for my kids

What did you want to be when you grew up? Clearly, my plans of being a lawyer by day, prosecuting multinationals for environmental damage, and a Tony award-winning actress by night fell by the wayside.

My guidance counsellor at school administered tests which repeatedly delivered a result of either a copywriter or a teacher, both of which I’ve done. Some things seem inevitable.

And looking at my kids, I think I can make a decent stab at what they might consider as potential careers.

Close hand magician
I carefully wipe G Minor’s hands, face and neck at the table after breakfast. Then again at the sink when I take her bib off. Then again when we go upstairs for a nap. But come mid morning, there are still bits of cereal and soggy banana shaking loose. Where does she hide it?

Writer for Hollyoaks
G Major is a great one for melodrama. She can eke out a minor injury over several days, more if it required the application of a plaster, and any slight, real or imagined, will be dragged up weeks later and presented accusingly.

 Molecular gastronomist
Heston’s test kitchen has nothing on G Minor’s tray table. And snacks eaten on the go take on the fine nuances of wine tastings, with delightful notes of dust, fireplace ash, cat fur and her sisters’ shoes.

US senator
No one filibusters like G Major. Wendy Davis delivered an epic 11 hour filibuster in 2013 to break an abortion bill. But that was nothing compared to the other night, when Big G made the mistake of getting home before bedtime and was subjected to an endless stream of questions, stories and requests to delay the inevitable. (Sucker.)

Sewerage inspector
I think this goes for most children, to be honest. There’s an endless fascination with poo – how big, how smelly, any accompanying farting; to the point where they’re crying outside the bathroom door because you won’t them come in for a look.

Middle manager
“What are you doing?” “When will you be finished?” “Can you do it any faster?” “I’ve changed my mind.” “Remember three weeks ago when you said…” “What about if we do it this way?”

I have high hopes.

What careers are your kids showing an aptitude for?

Waiting 

Parents are usually pretty happy to tell you how boring having kids can be. There’s the obvious tedium of Frozen for the nth time, sitting in on Saturday night because you’re knackered and can’t get a babysitter, or sitting with crap coffee at soft play while your kids run riot in the ball pit.

But no one ever explains that it’s mostly boring because you have to wait. You’ll spend all your time waiting. You know those studies that have shown an average person spends a year of their life just queuing? That has nothing on parenting. So many hours when you could be doing other things that you’re stood, staring into the middle distance, just waiting.

You wait three minutes for that second line.

You wait nine months for your baby to arrive.

You wait five minutes of back rubbing for that stubborn burp so you can put the baby down to sleep.

You wait for six extra laps of the block while they nap in their car seat.

You wait three episodes of Peppa Pig and two readings of Mog the Forgetful Cat for a tiny wee on the potty.

You wait one tantrum for them to choose a pair of shoes for nursery; one heavy basket of laundry for them to go up the stairs first; one wardrobe of clothes while they get themselves dressed; one dishwasher load of clean dishes while they put toppings onto a pizza themselves.

You will stand for decades, silently screaming, keys in hand, while they put their wellies on the wrong feet because, “No! I do it my OWN, Mummy!”

The seasons will change as you wait for them to climb into the car themselves.

Empires will rise and fall on the walk back from the corner shop. “Look! A leaf!”

So. Much. Waiting.

I know that there is more to come. Waiting to hear about school places and exam results. Waiting for them to get their license so they can drive you to the pub for once. Pretending to be asleep but really waiting to hear them come home safe after a night out. Waiting for them to leave home. Waiting for them to come back and visit.

If this were a different kind of blog I’d acknowledge how fast the time goes, and how these moments are precious, as they find their independence.

But right now I have to get to the supermarket before it closes, and I just wish she’d pick a hat to wear, already.

Korean-style chicken wings

I’m a bit obsessed with Korean food at the moment (me and most of the food universe, it seems). Big G and I went to On the Bab in January, and I’ve put bibimbap bowls on my birthday wish list.

I think part of the reason is that I’m doing the 5:2 diet, and on fast days a spike of chilli and some tangy pickles makes a little food feel like it’s going further.

These chicken wings are definitely not fast day food, though.

I adapted this recipe for my wings. I didn’t bother to brine my chicken; I only fried the wings once, because arteries; and I put in less garlic and more honey, as I made these for Valentine’s Day.

Big G loved them, and he was enamoured of the wings we had at On the Bab, so I’ll call this a success.

Ingredients

Chicken wings (I served us 5 each)
3 cloves of garlic
A thumb-sized piece of ginger
3 tbs soy sauce
3 tbs gochujang
1 tbs rice vinegar
1 tbs sesame oil
2 tbs honey
Equal parts plain flour and corn flour
Salt and pepper
Oil for frying

Method

Joint the chicken wings so you separate the little drumettes and the wing.

Blitz the garlic and ginger, then add this paste to a small saucepan with the soy, honey, gochujang, vinegar and sesame oil. Bring to the boil then simmer til thickened, then you can set this aside.

Heat the oil. Season your flour then whisk in some water a little at a time until you get a smooth, thin batter. In small batches, dip the chicken wings in then fry until golden. Drain briefly then coat with the warm sauce.

Eat with your fingers.

 

 

 

Veggie ‘sausage’ rolls

Along with nearly everyone I know, we’re trying to reduce our meat consumption. This is partly down to cost, partly down to environmental considerations. It’s not for ‘health’ – there’s no reason not to eat a steak, it’s full of protein and iron and good stuff that bodies need.

We eat two veggie meals a week, two of seafood and the rest a mix of meat (both white and red, trying to mostly avoid bacon and sausages). But Big G doesn’t like pulses so it makes planning veggie dishes a little more tricky.

These ‘sausage’ rolls are brilliant. They’re easy to make, they keep well, you can freeze the mix if you make too much and everyone gobbles them up.

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As always, this recipe is really adaptable – use whatever you’ve got in the fridge. I’ve thrown in left over baked beans before, and leftover sweet potato mash (which was actually  a really delicious variation). No amounts here, as it will depend on what you throw in – you want the mix to be soft but firm.

Ingredients
Cooked white rice
2 crushed Weetabix
An egg, plus another for sealing and glazing
Grated or finely chopped veg – courgette, carrot, onion are your starter for 10, but mushrooms and butternut squash also work well, the end of a tin of sweet corn, leftover mash…you get the idea
Grated cheese
About half a tin of chopped tomatoes
Mixed herbs, if you fancy it
2 sheets of puff pastry

Method

Heat the oven to 200C and line your baking tray with greaseproof paper.

Combine your rice, weetabix, egg, cheese and veg, and herbs if using.

Cut the sheets of pastry in two, then divide mixture evenly between the four sheets. Make a log shape along the long edge of each piece brush the opposite edge with beaten egg and roll to seal, then cut into desired length.

Brush with egg and bake for 25-30 minutes or until pastry is golden and crisp.

Powermush™

We all hide veggies, right? Grate a little carrot and courgette into the bolognese, hide mushrooms under cheese on a pizza, puree an avocado into a smoothie.

Powermush™ takes this one step further. I make up a witch’s brew of the highest-nutrient veg I can think of, then include it wherever I can.

This particular version had sweet potato, butternut squash, courgette, tomatoes and mushrooms, all roasted and then blended. I’ve included beetroot and avocado before, too, and lentils and white beans. You could add nuts or nut butter, or even seeds, if you wanted to up the protein content.

No need to make any special purchases for this – use up the bottom of the veg bin, or roast some extra veg when you’re doing a roast anyway.

I freeze this in ice cube trays and then just defrost as required.

It goes in pasta sauces, chilli, stews and soups, and is spread under pizza sauce and on toasted sandwiches and basically anywhere I think I can get away with it.

What they don’t know won’t hurt ’em.