Banana ‘Ice Cream’ with Sweet and Salty Roasted Almonds

  

Wednesday 6th May

At pre-school pick up I’m called over by one of the teachers. My heart sinks. Last time I was taken aside, it was to be told that Ollie had spat at another child. I was mortified. It was completely out of character for him and he couldn’t come up with a valid reason for doing it. Outside nursery I gave him a grilling.

“Why did you do it? And where did you spit? Please don’t tell me you spat in her face?”

Ollie sighed, “I spat up her nose”, he said with an air of resignation. 

Today, thankfully, it’s not another misdemeanour. Instead they want to tell me that Ollie has been getting on his political soap-box. Ollie is Green through and through. Whilst the rest of the household have debated and deliberated, Ollie has remained true to  his beloved ‘Green Team’ even designing his own vest:

  
At pre-school he has been advising the staff against voting UKIP and giving the merits of going Green. Even Jennifer, the music teacher, ended up trapped in a David Cameron conversation with him and struggled to get away. 

This political fevour is much the same on every car journey around the city. Both kids call out maniacally any posters and advertising boards they see.

“There’s the Green Team!”

“Oh no! Someone’s voting for the ‘Tourists‘ there,” (a mis-pronunciation that we haven’t corrected). 

On a drive into rural Norfolk yesterday I was shocked to see the sudden change in boards as we left the outer ring road. Ollie spotted it first from his vantage point in the front passenger seat,

“Oh no, mum! I don’t feel safe! UKIP boards are everywhere,” he looks up anxious as he counts eight on his hands. No sign of the Greens, or his second choice, reds, out here. 

On bank holiday Monday we finally get a knock on the door from one of the parties. It’s a Labour guy. I feel sorry for him, I really do. Little does he know, we’ve been desperate for someone to come round and answer some of our endless questions.

Tom gets the door. I am lying on Ollie’s bed recovering from a four hour jaunt to Eaton Park.

“Ah ha!” Tom is genuinely delighted when he sees who’s there. They discuss the economy, then local issues (the proposed northern distributor road) in depth. Just as our man is trying to wrap up the conversation, I leap up from the bed to question him about Labour’s education policy. I must look like a mad woman, appearing at the top of the stairs, hair all over the place, mascara smudged. 

No sooner have my questions been answered, than Daisy steps forward (all four of us are standing on ceremony at the front door).

“Do you help poor people?”

The poor man clearly doesn’t have any children because he launches into a confusing explanation of the minimum wage verses the living wage which I struggle to follow. I think it must be lost on Daisy too, but apparently not because she solemnly turns to Ollie and says,

“Sorry Ol. I’m voting Labour now, not the Green team anymore.”

Ollie takes her deflection badly and responds with a short, sharp jab to the ribs before falling to his knees, sobbing:

“Don’t do it, Daisy!!!”

Our man takes this as his moment to exit. Tom and I make a pot of tea so we can discuss it some more. In some ways I’ll be glad when the election is over so that we can talk about other things again. In the meantime, I have the more pressing matter of working out how to break it to Ollie that he won’t actually be voting on May 7th………

Election Day  

 
Look at the hope in our eyes as we go in to vote…..

 If you are also in shock at today’s results, I prescribe this dessert as the perfect healthy, comfort food. Dairy and gluten free, it’s also pretty low on sugar taking most of its sweetness from the bananas. The recipe is from Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Good book. http://goop.com/its-all-good-2/ 

Ingredients

Banana ice cream

  • bananas, 4
  • unsweetened almond milk, half a cup
  • pure vanilla extract, 1tsp
  • good quality maple syrup, 2 tbsp (optional)

Sweet & Salty Almonds

  • almonds, half a cup flaked/whole/a combination
  • maple syrup, 2 heaped tsps
  • sea salt, large pinch

Method

Pre-heat oven at 180 degrees / Gas mark 5.

Slice the bananas and place on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. Place in the freezer for at least half an hour.

  

Meanwhile, scatter the almonds on another baking tray and roast in the oven for approximately 20 mins until golden. 

Once the almonds have cooled, combine them in a bowl with the maple syrup and sea salt. 

In a food processor combine the bananas, almond milk and vanilla extract. Blitz until the mixture is the consistency of soft scoop ice cream. Taste. If you want it sweeter, add the maple syrup and blitz again. The riper the bananas, the sweeter the ‘ice cream’. 

Serve the ice cream immediately with a sprinkling of the nuts. Incredibly moorish! 


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Chocolate Orange Cake  (gluten and dairy-free)

  
Wednesday 29th April

I feel queasy the moment I walk in the door from drama. I’m supposed to be making cauliflower curry for dinner, but suddenly I can’t think of anything worse. I look in the freezer for the least offensive thing to cook the kids, and bung it in the oven whilst simultaneously running a bath. 

The waves of nausea are so strong that I need to be as far away from any kind of food or eating as possible. I speak to the kids in a now-listen-to-me-I’m-really-ill-and-you-must-behave voice. I tell them to eat their fishfingers without any fighting; I will be in the bath with the door open listening to every word, and Tom will be home in a minute. 

Daisy is good in these situations. She takes the role of Second-In-Command very seriously, but on this occasion there is a loud screech from her as I’m lowering myself into the bath. I must be ill because I don’t have the strength to shout at them to stop fighting (always my immediate assumption).

There’s a thundering of feet on the stairs and Daisy appears in the bathroom doorway sobbing loudly: she’s bitten her lip. Ollie arrives a few seconds behind her. He’s also bitten his lip. What is going on down there? 

I close my eyes and talk through gritted teeth (it’s taking all my concentration not to be sick), 

“Please. Go. Down. Stairs. And. Eat. Your. Dinner.”

“But I need the toilet!” insists Daisy.

“And I do too!” joins in Ollie. 

My eyes spring open.

“You are both only doing a wee. Anything else and I’ll be very cross.”

Tom comes home to find me hunched over in the bath; breathing in through my nose, out through my mouth. It is a scene reminiscent of early labour. All that is missing is Tom in his dressing gown, sitting on the loo seat frantically writing a birth plan as I shout out random phrases in no succinct order, between my contractions. 

Back to this evening, and labour must be on my mind because my opening statement to Tom is that I’m in as much pain as giving birth. I would now like to retract that statement. I think I must be delirious. I am in a lot of pain, but not that much. 

By the time I make it out of the bathroom, (which I have become far too familiar with), I seem to have missed bed-time. I hobble down the stairs like an invalid and ease myself on to the sofa to watch an episode of Bosch (LAPD detective series, highlight of my day). 

No sooner have I put my feet up on Tom’s lap and the opening credits have started to play, than I have to leap up again,

“Got to get to the bathroom,” I mutter.

I never make it downstairs again that night. 

At about midnight I come around to find myself in the bottom bunk, covered in a Thomas the Tank Engine duvet. Ollie is no doubt sprawled out in our king-size bed. Not for the first time, I wonder why we are a family that cannot stick to our designated beds. 

The all-consuming nausea is replaced with the sweats. Quite a relief really. I can hear the coffee grinder whirring downstairs. I text Tom:

Hi!!!! How are you???

I get no reply, which is quite annoying because I hear his phone beep, no doubt on the table next to him. I try again.

I’m awake up here!

Finally he takes the hint and comes padding up the stairs. I should think he’s glad of the excuse – he’s trying to complete his work-mileage for the last seven months. He flops down on the floor amongst Ollie’s toys.

“So I’ve been thinking!” I say, “And I’ve come up with a great idea! The kids are going to be really disappointed that they can’t vote on 7th May, so I think we should set up an alternative children’s polling station in our garden! I’m going to make a polling booth out of cardboard boxes, and the kids will wear rosettes to represent their chosen parties. And we’ll make Vote Me biscuits!”

Tom let’s me go on in this vain for several minutes. He doesn’t really have a choice: I won’t let him get a word in edgeways. Finally, when I pause to draw breath he says,

“You know you’ve got the same bright, ringing voice the children have when they’ve got a temperature?”

I think this is code for ‘you’re delirious and wittering on’.

Tuesday 5th May

  

Fast-forward a week and I’m only just beginning to feel normal again. It has been six days of no cooking, no writing, and most surprisingly, very little eating. 

All the more reason then, to enjoy this wonderful cake at my neighbour’s house this morning. It is so moist, and spongy and decadent, that you would never in a million years believe that it is flour-less. A welcome back to the world of food doesn’t get much better than this. Thank you, Cat! 

If you would like to have a go yourself, it is a Nigella recipe and involves boiling a whole orange for an hour. Definitely worth it! Here’s to a lot more eating this week……

http://www.food.com/recipe/nigella-lawson-flourless-chocolate-orange-cake-303266

My Last Rolo Cupcakes

Tuesday 21st April: version one

Sunday 26th April: version two

  

What have I learnt this week?
 

1) That Rolos do NOT keep their shape when baked in a cupcake. They melt into nothing. It may work with mini Creme Eggs (see Creme Egg Cupcakes post), it doesn’t with Rolos. 

I try twice to check. The first time I think it’s because I’ve only frozen the Rolos for half an hour, but after five days of frozen-ness the results are still the same. 

On the plus side, I’ve discovered a wonder product which makes the most heavenly caramel puddle in the middle of a cupcake, not unlike the centre of a Rolo; all is not lost. The product is a spin-off of one of my favourite childhood tinned products: condensed milk. They now do a caramel version.

In today’s recipe, it is in the centre of the cupcake and in the icing (somewhat unelegantly piped but I’ll work on that….)

  
2) This week I have also improved my knowledge on The English Civil War. (My father will be delighted, Cromwell is a hero of his). It comes from an unlikely source:

 Friday morning and Daisy chooses to see Ollie into pre-school instead of staying in the car. Normally she likes to have a moment to herself and I return to find ‘Paul Wellington’ pumping out of the stereo. 

Not today. Ollie has a new girlfriend (that makes three in total) and Daisy, like any other older sister, wants to give her the once over. I have regaled the family with tales of how girlfriend number 3 seems the keenest, rugby-tackling Ollie to the floor at pick-up, such is her desperation not to be parted from him. 

We shuffle in. Ollie is not the biggest fan of pre-school. He points out the girls, calling some of them over. Daisy is surprisingly quiet throughout. Ollie solemnly kisses us by the coat pegs. It’s a moment of tension as Daisy will only kiss him on the forehead nowadays, but Ollie has his arms round her waist, head tilted, lips pursed expectantly, and he won’t let go. There’s a minor kerfuffle before Daisy manages to extricate herself. 

As we walk out into the chilly April morning, I say,

“What’s Ollie like with all these girls?”

“I know!” says Daisy, rolling her eyes. “He’s as bad as Charles the Second.”

I laugh out loud but am worried that my daughter is making more erudite jokes than me; ones that I’m not sure I understand. I have a vague recollection of Charles II being a hedonist but that’s it.

Back at the car, I secretly google him. He had twelve illegitimate children. I’m not sure I want my son compared to him…..

Back to the cupcakes, these are eaten to mark two celebrations: firstly Alethea’s (family friend’s) eighth birthday. I feel emotional as she’s blowing out the candles; I remember getting the call in the Lakes that her mum, Jo, was expecting her.

  
The second is to celebrate great-great Auntie Pauline’s trip to Norfolk this week (AP to close family). A wonderful woman and amazing to have four generations of the same family sitting around our humble table.

  
Version two of the cupcakes is definitely better. The cupcake batter is thick enough to hold the caramel centre, and the chocolate and caramel icing is more delicious than the slightly sickly vanilla butter icing I used first time round.

Rolo cupcake

  

Ingredients

Cupcake

  • butter, 150g (at room temperature) 
  • caster sugar, 150g
  • eggs, 3
  • vanilla essence, 1tsp
  • self raising flour, 130g*
  • cocoa, 20g
  • caramel condensed milk
  • muffin cases, 12

Cupcake Method

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees/ gas mark 5. Place 12 muffin cases in a muffin tin.

Cream together the butter and sugar ( in a food processor if you have one). Add the eggs one at a time and beat into the mixture. Add the vanilla extract.

Fold in the flour and cocoa. *If you want it extra chocolatey, change the quantities to flour (120g), cocoa (30g).

Put a tbsp of the batter into each muffin case. Make a well using the end of a tsp (easier said than done). Put a heaped tsp of the caramel condensed milk into the well. Add another tbsp of batter on top. 

Cook for approximately twenty minutes until the sponge is springy to the touch. 

Cool on a wire rack. Do not start icing until completely cooled. 

Chocolate and Caramel Icing

I can take no credit for this. Please follow the link. I will definitely be making it again! 

http://vagabondbaker.com/2012/11/11/rolo-brownie-cupcakes/

AND if you would like to know more about the colourful character of Charles II, please start with this clip. It is where Daisy gets all her historical knowledge from and look how much she knows: 

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=FA5abHKvUBQ
 
  

Speedy Suppers #1: Omelettes

  

Monday 20th April  

Tom is away. For some reason this is a licence to live on toast and nursery food. 

It’s warm as we straggle home from school. I decide to do the first mow of the season when we get back. Ollie is distraught that all the forget-me-nots which have taken up residence in the lawn will be culled, so he laboriously picks each one out on hands and knees and presents them to me. 

  
Daisy is skulking around as a ‘spy’ with a rectangle of black paper stuck under her nose as a moustache; her hair tucked up into a trilby. She’s been reading too much Famous Five

They amuse themselves while I mow up and down. It’s quite therapeutic and feels almost like summer. The kids are talking in code and scuttling around. Daisy gets angry if Ollie doesn’t refer to her as ‘double 0 7 and a bit.’

I’m tempted to get out the shears and do a bit of hacking back, but there are cries of hunger as I’m finishing up with the lawn. Fortunately we’re having omelettes for tea which is possibly the quickest cooked dinner there is. 

I time it that evening and the meal takes twelve minutes to prepare from lighting the hob to serving up; less if you are organised and actually have the ingredients out at the start. 

Omelettes are a staple in our house, I’m amazed they’ve only just made it onto the blog. This page lists the many different omelette options out there: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omelette Unfortunately it falls to mention the classic Arnold Bennett omelette, a combination of eggs and smoked haddock. 

  
According to Wikipedia, the omelettes I cook are classic English ones because they are flipped and usually include cheese (I never knew!). Tonight the kids opt for cheese and ham; I have ham and feta. 

I don’t own an omelette pan (this is a massive oversight considering how often I eat them), so I use a standard frying pan and three eggs per omelette. The kids share and I have one to myself (well I have done a lot of gardening!).

  
Ingredients per omelette

  • eggs, three
  • olive oil, 1tbsp (or large knob of butter)

Filling – any of the following:

  • ham, slice of
  • grated Cheddar, small handful
  • Feta cheese, cubed
  • sundried tomatoes, 3 finely sliced 
  • Chorizo, small cubes

Method

Heat the oil in the pan over a medium heat. Crack the eggs into a basin and whisk with a fork. Add a little salt and pepper. 

Pour the eggs into the pan and tip the pan around to spread the mixture. As it starts to set, loosen it around the edges with a spatula. 

  

When it is just set, flip it over with a fish slice. Place whatever filling you want on one half of the omelette. When the bottom has had time to go golden, fold the omelette in half, and slide out of the pan and onto a plate.

  

Watch this space for more speedy suppers in the future…..

  
http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2012/jan/01/nigel-slater-classic-omelette-arnold-bennett

Creme Egg Cup Cakes

  

Friday 17th April

Yes, Easter is over but my sister-in-law’s love of Cadbury’s Creme Eggs is all year round. We are seeing her this weekend and I have been stock-piling packets of mini Creme Eggs in anticipation of making something for this get-together. 

Now the Easter season is over, mini Creme Eggs are impossible to get hold of, but I’m safe and smug in the knowledge that mine are tucked away at the back of the cupboard (can you see where this is heading?!).

I have scoured the internet for recipes, but this one for cupcakes with mini eggs baked inside, is my favourite. 

Unfortunately it means a trip in to town to buy pretty gold cupcake cases and a cake box to carry them in. Ollie, as a hater of shopping in all its guises, can only be persuaded in to town on the following conditions: the trip must involve: (1) a bus ride (2) a hot chocolate or cone of chips off the market (3) some expensive Lego. It is difficult to work within these perimeters and not bankrupt yourself everytime you go into town.

We have the usual kerfuffle to get out of the door in the morning, and then I remember I need £3.50 to get the bus. Drat! The purse is empty but Daisy saves the day by lending me £8 she’s got squirrelled away. I kiss her in gratitude, then my heart sinks when she emerges from her room with a make-up bag full of coppers. She nearly buckles under the weight of it. The bus driver’s going to love me.

In town I nip the Lego issue in the bud by heading straight to Poundland (yes, they do do ‘Lego’; admittedly it doesn’t stick together properly, but it’s Lego-ish). When we enter the discount store (fortnightly), I never grow tired of saying to Ollie, (with a flourish of the arm), “You can have anything in here you want!”

 To which he always replies, 

“What? Anything?!”

Today he chooses a ‘Lego’ set and a goodie bag for the grand total of £2. He has leant his negotiation skills from his sister; I specifically said, ‘one thing’. 

The stress of getting here and having to hand over my own body weight in 2ps to the bus driver, means I need a cup of tea. We hit the nearest cafe. No sooner have I ordered than Ollie has the goodie bag open and is demanding I show him how to make a bracelet with the pack of a thousand white loombands that came in it.

Last time I made a loom band bracelet was in the summer with Daisy when we were on a train halfway up the Pyrenees. I was trying to look at the view; she was trying to teach me a complicated method of bracelet-making.

The only thing that comes back to me now is that you make them on your first two fingers. The waitress comes over as I’m binding Ollie’s fingers together with what looks like tiny elastic bands.

“Oww mummy! What are you doing? You’re hurting me!” he cries indignantly. 

  
I hurriedly put it onto my fingers to finish off while he assembles, or attempts to assemble the one pound Lego. 

The rest of the shopping trip goes well, so well that I decide to push my luck and add on a visit to the health food shop. Ollie’s mood darkens as soon as we walk in the door. He finds a random box of herbal tea and demands I buy it. When I politely decline, he says in a low, growly voice,

“You’re hurting my feelings,” 

It sounds more like a threat than a statement. I hurriedly pick up a few items but his demands to buy the tea are getting louder. When I turn to go, he refuses to leave until the tea has been purchased. 

For a second I consider buying it for an easy life but I know he’s bruising for a fight so we might as well get it over with now. I crouch down to talk to him using my firm, whispering voice especially reserved for dealing with tantrums in public. Ollie is clinging on to a shelf for dear life, loudly refusing to EVER. LEAVE. THE. SHOP!

I stand up and tell him I’ll wait for him outside. It looks like a tactic but actually I’m going to put down all my bags before I manhandle him off the premises.

“Having a hard time?”

I look up. It’s a man fixing the notice board opposite the shop. Oh dear. Maybe we were causing more of a scene than I realised.

By now Ollie has moved to the front of the shop to press his face against the glass; tongue out. I’m just negotiating him out of the door when the shop owner passes by.

“You deserve a medal, you really do,” she says. I laugh.

“I may be here for sometime,” I reply.

“Well we’ll get you a coffee if you need one,” chimes the workman, “we’ve all been there”. 

Wow. What a difference! I wish people were always this supportive in a tantrum situation. 

In the end, Ollie is so shocked by the workman’s offer to put him to work for the day, that he crys then accepts my offer of flapjack. I feed him tit-bits like a baby bird right there on the pavement. 

At home, very relieved to be back, I open the cupboard door to get out the mini Creme Eggs. THEY HAVE GONE!!! It’s enough to send a woman over the edge. I’ve been saving them for two months! I send Tom, who is in an important meeting  in London, a text. It begins: There is a crisis at home. Call immediately……

Turns out the eggs were melted down for ‘Daddy’s Delight’. If you are unaware of the phenomenon that is Daddy’s Delight , please read the post of the same name. 

In the event, I find eight rogue eggs at the back of the cupboard. It is a lottery which cupcakes contain them and which don’t.

  
The recipe (see below) works very well. I would highly recommend it. It may have been a painful process getting here, but I have been inspired and I’ll be experimenting with more chocolates-inside-cupcakes in the near future. Watch this space!

  
http://www.tamingtwins.com/2014/04/06/5-top-tips-for-the-best-cadburys-creme-egg-cupcakes/

Lasagne (gluten & dairy-free)

  

Tuesday 13th April

Lasagne. (Not lasagna, for the record). One of my favourite dishes and yet it hasn’t touched my lips for half a decade since the avenues of pleasure which are dairy and gluten were shut down to me. 

Always up for a challenge, I tell Tom I’m going to attempt a dairy and gluten-free version. His response is a mixture of delight: yes! We finally get to eat it again, and incredulity: lasagne without lashings of dairy? Where’s the fun in that? 

I start by wanting to make the ultimate bolognese. According to Felicity Cloake (see Guardian article below) this means the inclusion of chicken livers: they add a depth of flavour, apparently. 

I’m new to cooking with offal but according to nosetotipapp.com, chicken liver is the place to start your offal journey. I don’t plan to go very far on this journey but if it adds something to my lasagne, I’m willing to cross into unchartered territories. Added to which, the acupuncturist I see is always encouraging me to eat chicken liver because of its high iron content. So far I haven’t been able to bring myself to do it, but hidden in a lasagne makes it sound almost palatable. 

The phone rings just as I’m finely slicing the first liver. It’s my father-in-law. I haven’t spoken to another adult all day, and I’m cutting up offal for the first time; it leads to a long conversation. 

He cheerfully reminds me that the liver processes all the toxins and junk from the body, and that he wouldn’t touch them with a barge pole; then he expects to end the call. Not likely. I want to justify why I’m using them and give him a blow-by-blow account of how disgusting it is to cut up an animal’s organ. 

The béchamel sauce I make using Oatley milk, Pure spread and gluten-free flour. It’s a gamble but it seems to work. I sprinkle each layer of it in the lasagne with Pecorino cheese. This is another new for me. My friend, Helen, uses it for her daughter who is dairy-intolerant but can cope with sheep and goat products. It’s very salty but certainly jazzes up the béchamel. 

  

Next step is the dish (or pan if you are American). Learn from my mistake and don’t even attempt to cook lasagne without the right dish. I nearly come a cropper at the final hour: the bolognese and béchamel are made, the pasta sheets are blanching and there I am on hands and knees looking for a dish I do not own. 

The ideal dish needs to be at least two inches deep, preferably three to fit all the layers of lasagne in. For two people a 5″ X 7″ rectangular pan, or for four a 9″ X 13″ is what housewares.about.com recommends. http://housewares.about.com/od/bakewareservingware/qt/lasagnapans.htm 

Due to the dish issues (mine being too wide and too shallow) my lasagne lacks the structure I was hoping for. Still, I’ve come this far, (I can almost taste the lasagne!) I’m not going back now. I put it in the oven for half an hour. It’s got so late that the kids have had their bath and are in their pyjamas. They are nearly passing out with hunger on the kitchen floor.

I decide to make an occasion of this first-lasagne-in-five-years and we set the table for our first dinner of the year outside. I have one last check of Felicity Cloake’s article and am horrified to read that you should leave the lasagne to stand for twenty minutes once it comes out of the oven. You have to be kidding me?! I’d prefer a burnt mouth than having to look at a delicious cooked lasagne for twenty minutes!

As it is, the temperature in the garden has dropped so it cools as soon as it hits the plates: no burnt mouths necessary. Daisy and I fall upon the lasagne and demolish it. We have seconds and then thirds, then we remember we need to save some for Tom.  

 The gluten/dairy-freeness is not apparent at all. It may have failed on structure but it’s a BIG WIN on taste. What a joy to eat! 

And the chicken livers? I’m not completely ruling them out, (which is good as there’s half a bag to use up in the freezer), but they do need to be cut up VERY finely or the taste can be over-powering. Next time I will also add some chopped pancetta or streaky bacon to the bolognese too. 

For a first attempt though, I’m absolutely delighted. Welcome back, lasagne!

  

Ingredients: serves 6

Ragù alla bolognese:

  • onion, 1
  • carrot, 1, peeled
  • stick of celery, 1
  • garlic cloves, 2
  • olive oil, 3tbsp
  • minced beef, 500g
  • chicken’s liver, 50g (optional)
  • red wine, 100ml
  • passata, 500g
  • grated nutmeg
  • beef stock cube, one
  • dried oregano, half tsp
  • salt and pepper

Béchamel sauce

  • Pure spread, 50g
  • gluten-free plain flour, 50g
  • Oatley milk, 600ml
  • salt and pepper
  • Pecarino (ewe’s cheese) or soya cheese, a sprinkling for the top of each layer, approx 30g
  • 9 sheets of gluten-free dried pasta

Method

Finely slice the onion, garlic, carrot and celery. 

Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a large frying pan or heavy based saucepan with lid. Fry the onion gently until softened. Add the carrot, celery and garlic and cook for five minutes. 

Turn up the heat to medium and add the minced beef. Cook until it has browned, stirring regularly. 

Finely chop the chicken liver (the finer the better!) and add to the frying pan, cooking it for three minutes. 

Add the wine, passata, crumbled stock cube, oregano and a pinch of nutmeg. 

Bring it to a simmer, then partially cover and continue to gently simmer for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally. 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 / 200 degrees. 

Make the béchamel sauce: in a heavy bottom pan, melt the Pure spread, then whisk in the flour. Stir and let it cook for a few minutes, then gradually add the Oatley milk, whisking it in. Bring to the boil, then allow to simmer and thicken for five minutes. Keep stirring throughout. Season. 

Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Blanch the lasagne sheets in batches for two minutes. Leave to dry on a tea towel or greased plate. 

  

Now layer it up in the dish: a third of the bolognese, followed by a quarter of the béchamel and a sprinkling of the Pecerino. Top with three sheets of lasagna. Repeat the process three times finishing with a layer of béchamel and a big sprinkle of Pecerino.

Cook for 30 minutes until golden. Enjoy!

  

http://fornetto.com/blog/lasagna-or-lasagne/

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2011/nov/24/how-to-cook-perfect-lasagne

Jerusalem Chicken & Cardamom Rice

  

Sunday 12th April

  

We arrive home from our travels oop North. So much changes in a week. The cherry tree outside our house is suddenly covered in white blossom; the rhubarb patch in the back garden has new leaves shooting up everywhere; and I am relieved to see that the raspberry canes have survived my severe pruning and new shoots are appearing. 

  

The children run from room to room, delighted to be home. The cat follows them, flopping down for a few minutes at the top of the stairs before trotting after them to the next location. 

Tom and I take advantage of them getting on and have a cup of tea in the garden down by the vegetable patch. As I have a captive audience, I take this opportunity to outline my ambitious plans for a walk-in chicken run. I’ve been taking the softly-softly approach vis-a-vis keeping chickens, but I’ve become more brazen recently. I told Daisy that I wanted chickens for my birthday (9th JUNE, PEOPLE!!), to which she replied:

“Not a chance, mum, not a chance.” 

I have a little more confidence than her. 

I go to bed that night alone (Tom is engrossed in The Vikings). It’s strange not to have my little side-kick next to me (Ollie), throwing his leg over me; nor to hear the loud honking of the geese over Rowntree Park as I fall asleep.

Monday 13th April

7.30am. It’s back to school. Daisy is standing by our bed in her school uniform (unheard of), trying to negotiate an early morning episode of Horrible Histories. She seems to have forgotten that the holidays are over.

The phone rings. It’s Tom making sure I’m up. I’m not. He’s almost at Swaffham; Ollie and I are snuggled up in bed. I’m not sure when he appeared. He can be stealthful when he wants to be. We’re going to be horribly under pressure, but getting up and starting the school routine again seems an awful proposition.

There’s a minor riot when I discover there’s only muesli for breakfast. The cupboards are bare from our week away. Poor Daisy has only one option for lunch: last night’s leftover takeaway pizza. In some weird role-reversal she asks for carrot sticks with it, or at least a banana, I do a big sigh and say:

“Can’t you just have a Twix instead?” 

Ollie is squawking because someone has dressed him in long shorts and he’s cold. 

“It’s spring-time!” I say, as if the shorts are an intentional choice rather than the only choice because all his other clothes are dirty. I put some long socks on him to compensate, but he’s not stupid, he knows this is not a good look. 

Somehow we all make it out of the door but Ollie cries all the way to preschool.

 For dinner I need to cobble together something from what we have in. I find some chicken drumsticks and thighs in the freezer, and we have rice and raisins in the cupboard. The only vegetables in are onions in the fridge; Ollie will be delighted. 

This one-pot chicken dish is easy to make and is perfect comfort food for that back-to-work/school kind of a day.    It is based on Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe but I have added greater quantities of the spices, and have cooked it a bit quicker. We all reconvene at 6.30pm around the kitchen table, glad to have got through the first day back. 

Ingredients

  • olive oil, 4 tbsps
  • medium onions, 2, finely sliced
  • chicken thighs & drumsticks, 1kg
  • cardamom pods, 12
  • whole cloves, 1tsp
  • ground cinnamon, 2tsp
  • currants or raisins, 30g
  • basmati rice, 300g
  • boiling water, 550ml
  • parsley, coriander, dill, 5g of each chopped. 
  • salt and pepper
  • Greek yogurt, 100g (optional) 

Method

Using your largest casserole dish (which has a lid), fry the onions in 2tbsps of the oil over a medium heat for 10-15 minutes. Stir occasionally, until the onions as golden and caramelised. 

In the meantime, put the chicken in a large bowl with the other 2 tbsps of oil plus the cinnamon, cardomom pods, cloves, 1 tsp of both salt and ground pepper. Rub it all in with your hands. 

Once the onions are cooked, remove them from the pan and put into a bowl. Wipe the pan clean, heat it again on high and sear the chicken for 5 minutes on each side. Remove the chicken from the pan. 

Pour away most of the oil leaving only a millimetre. Add the onion, rice, currants and 1tsp of salt. Stir it all around to coat it in the oil and spices on the bottom of the pan. Push the chicken pieces into the rice and pour over the boiling water.Cover and cook on low for 30 minutes. 

Check the chicken is cooked. If the meat doesn’t come off the bone easily, leave the casserole dish to stand for 10 minutes with the lid on, off the heat. 

Add the herbs and use a fork to fluff the rice and to stir them in. Serve with a drizzling of Greek yogurt if you wish. 

http://www.ottolenghi.co.uk/chicken-with-caramelized-onion-cardamom-rice-shop

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