Monthly Archives: October 2015

Muesli Bars for NewHuman

One of the toughest things about being a parent of an under-5, I’ve come to realise, is that toddlers seem to have a death-wish. I didn’t sign up to be a lifesaver but pretty much all weekend me and the boyfriend have half an eye trained on NewHuman whilst he undertakes various feats of gravity-defying purpose. I mean, it’s kind of cute, especially when he crashes, but his propensity to smash up his face just prior to a significant event (please see weekend before last when he faceplanted whilst on a bus and the whole bus went ‘oooooooh’ and we were on the way to an appointment with a nice school who probably don’t want to admit kids who look like boxers. Or, thinking about it, kids who take buses to school rather than ride in their parents’ giant city 4x4s. However…) means that half an eye needs to be kept.

I find, although I’m not an obsessive, anxiety-driven type person, that when it comes to NewHuman I am motivated to keep any bad things from happening that might ostensibly be my fault at some point in the future when he will no doubt sit me down and go through a very tidy list of complaints about how things have gone. At the moment I’m obsessed about his teeth and wrangle his complaining lips down like those of a dog, scouring for tartar, and making appointments for him with our (remarkably lovely) dentist, Dave. I’m fairly sure that I want NewHuman to go see Dave so that Dave can tell me what a wonderful job we are doing with NH’s teeth but until those musical words drop from Dave’s laconic lips I’ve gone crazy plaque-hunter.

This is all leading up to me wanting to make sure NH doesn’t have blackly rotten teeth. They are lovely and straight and me and the boyfriend have firm, financially-based hopes that his big-kid teeth come through as nicely. In the interim I can enjoy worrying about cavities, totally NH’s fault because fruit is one of his favourite snacks and OMG FRUIT IS SUGAR OH GOD NOTHING BUT KALE MUST PASS HIS LIPS. Luckily I’ve not actually reached that level of hysteria but I know there are neighbourhoods less than a mile from my own where that approach is status quo.

I’ve managed to somehow have NH think that a little handful of sunflower and pumpkin seeds is a big-time treat. This may genuinely be my biggest parenting win to date. So, I thought, I’ll bung those in some kind of muesli bar type thing and call it a snack. I’ll sweeten it with honey and stick it together with peanut butter and hey ho that’s me being all organically amazing! So easy.

Thus, below, is my totally-made up, once-tried bash at muesli bars for kids that aren’t full of refined sugar. They’re obviously full of honey and fruit-based sugar (depending on what fruit you go for) but the other big lesson I’ve learnt on this being-responsible-for-someone-elses’s-wellbeing thing is that the lesser of two evils is usually a great compromise.

These are a hit with NH and actually taste pretty nice. They’re a bit crumbly (OK, maybe quite a lot) but I think that’s cause I insist on cooking them.  They’d probably work fine just put in the fridge for a couple of hours to set but I like a toasted muesli bar and I have the dog to collect any crumbs as they fall from NH’s mealy hands.

Put your oven on to about 170C.

Gather:

2 cups porridge oats (I used porridge ones cause rolled ones are mega big)

About 1 more cup’s worth of any mixture of seeds and fruit you fancy. I usually go for pumpkin, sunflower, sesame and either dried apricot or sultana or sour cherry.

Bout 1/2 cup proper peanut butter – this means no evil unsustainably palm-oiled stuff, mostly, and no added sugar

Bout 1/3 cup honey

Bout 1/3 cup sunflower or other tasteless oil

  Oh – below is some of NH’s current fave cereal. Tastes like cardboard. They say it’s got honey in it but a bee must’ve pissed a tiny drop of honey on the factory on its way home one day, there’s no flavour of honey there at all. Anyway it’s crunchy and provides a nice texture so I stick some in. Rice bubbles or actual muesli or whatever would also work. S’up to you. This is a pretty freestyle recipe, yo.
  In a little saucepan over a medium heat slosh together the oil, peanut butter and honey and let melt and mix all together.

Whilst that’s happening, into a bowl shovel the oats, fruit, cereal and seeds and mix around a bit. Metal spoons are easy for this.

  Below is the gloopy peanut butter, honey and oil mix. Urgh. It looks rather like what I imagine a polluted mountain stream in hardcore mining territory in middle America to look like.  Possibly marginally less flammable.
  Mix your liquid stuff into your dry stuff.  I’d recommend you mix through half the liquid stuff and then use your professional judgement in respect of how much to eventually pour in. Take risks.  Pack it into a lightly oiled tray and bung in the oven for about 20 mins or until it gets golden on top. Turn the oven off and leave in there for about another ten mins or so.
  NewHuman has deep feelings for stickers and for things with wheels. When the two combine his ecstasy is difficult to be around.  And I know it’s been a while since the Dog made an appearance, so here she is, as was last night, looking as full as ennui as you could ever hope. Bless.
  Right, take the tin out of the oven and let cool completely before slicing. I then slice it up and individually wrap in clingfilm, then shove in a tupperware, and thus make a minor contribution to the Boyfriend’s sole parenting efforts whilst I have weekly jollies over here in the West of England.

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Ottolenghi’s Sticky Chocolate Loaf 

Well, here I am, sitting in my hotel room in a rather nice West of England city, trying not to gaze at the traditionally awful hotel art – it is always so terribly hung and thus gives me a squint and a bad mood – typing a blog post on my iPad.  It’ll no doubt be full of spelling and other errors. 

One of my few skills is that of Very Fast Typing.  It’s the result of the only thing my mum really ever made me do at school – typing classes.  Yes, I’m old enough to have (1) had typing as an elective, and (2) learnt on those big manual machines that required a builder’s arm strength to get the keys to depress. The teacher – Mrs White, often known as Radar as she absolutely 100% had ears on sticks and eyes in the back of her head; nothing got past her on the chat/passing notes front – wouldn’t let you graduate to the very fancy electric typewriters until you’d gained a speed of at least 30wpm on the big heavy bastards.  

Graduate I did and over the next year got up to heady speeds of 60wpm and more.  Jobs involving typing, and the endless bloody parade of university assignments, got me to 100wpm at my peak. It’s aces, touch typing.  Only hangover I have though is the damned habit of 2 spaces after a full stop.  Properly antiquated these days, that is. Anyway the point of all this is that typing on iPads, with just my index fingers, is bloody horrid for those of us who can type properly. I can type multi-syllabic words with ease, without ever needing to look at the keyboard.  I can have a conversation with you about one thing whilst at the same time typing something else. But can I type on an iPad? Hell no. I think mostly cause my brain moves so much faster than my fingers and by the time they’ve caught up I’m just no longer funny.

As I’m working away so much I’m doing far less cooking than normal. This seems to be manifesting itself through the medium of cooking binges, one such 3.5hr mammoth session occurring on Sunday just gone in order to feed some friends for lunch.  3.5hrs for one main, one side, one sauce, one pudding, a 2-part starter and some bread.  Not bad going.  It was all bloody Ottolenghi stuff, though (bread excepted), which means multiple bastarding processes and bowls and ingredients lists as long as the hair I found on my chin the other night. LOOOOOOOONG. I could’ve wound it twice around my face to effect some kind of homemade facelift had I not gone straight in with the tweezers in an hysterical state. I was so whisker-free pre-NewHuman. Lovely and smooth chin, I had.  Now? Caveman.

For pudding I made Ottolenghi’s sticky chocolate loaf, no doubt previewed by this post’s title.  He puts prunes and Armagnac in his but, in lieu of prunes and Armagnac, I used dried apricots and cognac.  He uses yoghurt but I’d already accidentally used mine in the sauce for the main so used sour cream instead.  It all seemed to work out fine. Do what you like.  Clearly it’s fine. I mean, I wouldn’t use, like, figs and Malibu or bananas and vodka. Go with the prune or apricot option.

Gather:

220g pitted Agen prunes (I used a 250g bag of good dried apricots. Was probably a bit less in the end because I donated two pieces to NewHuman’s rapacious appetite, no doubt rotting his teeth in the process. I never said I’d be any good at this parenting thing…)

100ml Armagnac or cognac

115g plain flour

15g good cocoa powder (I used a bit more)

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Pinch of salt. Not sea salt, fine kitchen salt please

60ml sunflower oil

60ml buttermilk or yoghurt (as I said, I used sour cream)

1 egg, from a happy chicken, please

30g caster sugar

60g light brown sugar

2 tablespoons molasses (I used golden syrup, bugger buying a big lot of molasses just for this)

150g good dark chocolate, chopped (I used 70%)

For the syrup:

80ml water

80g cup caster sugar

The leftover cognac or Armagnac from when you soaked the fruit or 2 tablespoons of new if you’re wasteful

First thing you do (after putting oven on to preheat at 170C and lining two smallish loaf tins) if using apricots is cut half of them up into quarters. If you’re using prunes, don’t bother, just divide them into two lots.  Put the chopped half and the booze into a saucepan over a medium heat and warm up.  Ottolenghi says until just warm. I was busy with a million other things so they definitely boiled. Was fine. Put to one side to cool a bit.

  Sift your flour, baking powder, bicarb, cocoa and salt. As I hope you know by know I never sift. If I’m feeling good I’ll whisk. I didn’t even whisk this time.  I forked. 

Then, as you can see below, you make cake mayonnaise.  Kind of.  Put the remaining fruit (the stuff not currently absolutely pissed in its warm booze-bath) into a food processor with the oil and the buttermilk or yoghurt. Whazz it up till it looks like shiny mayonnaise-y paste.

Scrape it all into a bowl and with a whisk mix in the egg, then the sugars, both, and the molasses/golden syrup.  I actually did it in the opposite order. Was fine.  

  Should look like the above. 

Chop your chocolate. I bloody love chopping chocolate.  I’m not sure why but it’s one of those viscerally satisfying activities. Set it aside.
  Fold in your flour et al with a spatula, making sure everything is nicely incorporated.  Mix through the chopped chocolate. 

Looks like poo-sick, as we have come to expect of all the best bakes.
Evenly distribute between your two lined loaf tins.  You’ll note below I used pre-made liners. I had no time to neatly line them myself so I went with the very common supermarket ones. For shame.

Get your boozy fruit and start to push into the cake mix.  If you are using prunes chop them into halves or quarters first. It’s gross AND delicious.   You can see below kind of what I mean, I hope. But push them down into the cake mix a little more than you can see in the photo.  Mostly cover them.    

  Into the oven with the sticky little suckers. About 45 minutes should do you, till a skewer comes out clean.

In another saucepan combine the water and sugar for the syrup, over a medium heat, swirl it around a bit till the sugar dissolves.  Once dissolved take it off the heat and pour in the remaining booze from the boozy fruit.  Let cool while the cakes cook.

Once  cooked take out and poke into it with a skewer, multiple times, like a Live Action Role Play enthusiast at a medieval re-enactment. But, like, for real. Actually skewer it.

Then using a pastry brush generously slather on the syrup, all of it.  The loaves can take it. They love it. They are greedy for it. Don’t be shy.    Take note of NewHuman’s top.  I’m not allowed to complain about the weather but let’s just say the heating has come on recently.  

Right. Below is the done loaf thing, topped with a bit of leftover syrup (oh yeah, if you’re having company keep some syrup behind for serving, it’ll make you look fancy). Cause I’m posh and classy and that I also dumped on some leftover boozy fruit. Was yum. Eat with vanilla ice cream.

 
 

Smitten Kitchen’s Baked Orzo with Eggplant

G’day from Bristol! I write as a victorious Australian, offering well-meant but essentially cold comfort to my English colleagues and compatriots on the occasion of their loss in the Rugby World Cup. I don’t care about rugby. At least I didn’t previously. I’ve only recently gotten my head around the difference between League and Union. League (the final having just been played in Australia) and Union (the World Cup being played here in the UK) look, to all intents and purposes to anyone not a rabid fan, pretty much the same. That is to say, a game played on some nice spongey lawn in which men of gargantuan proportions grab each other in a manner reminiscent of long-lost ogres having a somewhat aggressive family reunion, and then scrabble around on said lawn like hungry chickens.

Having said that I enjoyed the game between England and Australia over the weekend, and not just because Australia won. I went on a very rare night out with a friend on Friday, very moderate drinking, good amounts of food taken on and home before midnight, yet I suffered the BITCHY BITCH HELL-BITCHES of all hangovers. I am sure it can’t have just been hangover, I was too sick. Anyway all day Saturday was spent mostly in bed, variously rocketing up from prone position in response to fast-moving nausea and then rocking back and forth like Girl Interrupted as the increased blood pressure attempted to blow my eyeballs out from the inside. Boyfriend put in a sterling effort looking after NewHuman all day and as such on Sunday, when I woke miraculously recovered (no doubt in part due to Australia’s sporting brilliance), some kind of reward for his hard work was required. Anyway by the time the rugby started I was beginning to regain a level of human-ness and, thus, the game will always be remembered fondly. By me.

I thought about what he’d like the most – meat, something smokey and barbecued, a nice pairing with beer – and decided to go vegetarian. I’m good to him and to his digestion. Also I’ve yet again left him with a vast amount to eat as never-ending leftovers on these single-parenting days he survives whilst I’m away.

I say Smitten Kitchen in the post title, which it is, but she adapted it from an Ottolenghi recipe so I’m firmly within my happy Ottolenghi place with this one. I went with her version cause I think I agreed with her changes but of course I made a few of my own, mostly involving doubling the amount of cheese involved. It was the right decision. I made this in a vast, vast rush, having gotten back from a lunch with visiting friends and only having an hour to get it prepped and cooked before presenting some of it to NewHuman for supper. It actually took just over that, all told, but was worth it. Not if you’re NewHuman, however. More to come on that front.  Smitten Kitchen says this recipe is for four, but she might mean rugby players. It’s a lot. Good for leftovers.

You’ll need:

1 large eggplant (or aubergine, I’ve no wish to be culturally insensitive), cut into 3/4-inch dice – I that is a bloody mammoth eggplant, so I used a lot of baby ones, total of around 600g. They were great as really didn’t need salting.
Salt and black pepper
1/4 cup (60 ml) olive oil
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 celery stalk, in a 1/4-inch dice
1 medium onion, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
8 ounces (225 grams) orzo, a rice-shaped pasta, rinsed
1 teaspoon (6 grams) tomato paste
1 1/2 cups (355 ml) vegetable stock
1 to 3 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped – I used thyme, just leaves picked off, about a tablespoon
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest or more to taste, up to the zest of a whole lemon – I used about a dessertspoon finely chopped
4 ounces (115 grams) mozzarella, firmer is better here, cut into 1/3-inch dice – that’s like, one mozzarella ball. BALLS TO THAT. I used two mozzarella balls, about 200g in total
1 1/2 ounces (a generous 1/2 cup or 45 grams) parmesan, grated – I used more like 3/4 cup
3 medium tomatoes, diced

METHOD

You’re supposed to generously salt your chopped aubergine and leave to drain in a big colander. I did that, actually, but cause I used lovely little baby eggplants it wasn’t really necessary. Next time I know. If you use MEGA EGGPLANT then do this step, rinse well and lay out on a tea towel or similar and dry properly.

Whilst they’re salting get on with chopping celery, carrot, onion and tomatoes. Chop chop. Chop. Chopchopchop. Shitload of chopping.

You could also get your lemon zest in line, garlic ready to crush, thyme ready to use, stock dissolved, cheese chopped and grated. Bloody prep.

Stick your oven on to preheat at 180C.

In a nice big frypan, in two lots, slosh some oil and when it’s all lovely and warm over a medium-high heat chuck in the eggplant. SK says to cook it for 8 mins, stirring occasionally. I did it for more like 5. Was fine. Remove from pan with slotted spoon and drain well on kitchen towel. Both lots, do it.

  In the same pan add the carrot, garlic and onion and cook for about 5 mins, trying not to let onion burn or brown or anything much. You’re trying to get the cooking going here but not add any bitterness.
  Then add the tomato paste (I was generous with mine, put maybe twice as much in as recommended) and the orzo and cook for another two minutes or so.  Right. Take it off the heat, and add (this is why you’ll want a nice big frypan) everything else – eggplant, tomato, cheeses, stock and thyme. It’ll look a little sloppy. That’s good. The orzo needs some liquid.  A good twist of salt and generous amounts of cracked pepper stirred through will be required.
  Shove it all into a big casserole dish and cover tightly with foil, then into the oven for 20 mins. After that time take the foil off – you want a lovely crispy top.  I left it for about 30 mins without foil but go with what your own preference is (if you don’t like crispy tops we cannot be friends, you are clearly altered).  Above is NewHuman caught in the act of actually spitting this out. His head looks mutant and huge. It’s mutant in real life, but not actually huge, it’s poor photo taking skills but really don’t be mad at me, be mad at him. Philistine.

Below is the finished product. Is yum. Benefits from an additional spray of salt and pepper and a good stash of tupperware for leftovers. I expect Boyfriend is eating some tonight. HE HAD BETTER BE.