Breakfast crumble


You know those holy grail recipes – the quick, easy, tasty recipes which everyone loves and that you make time and time again to unanimous and glorious praise? I am always in search of those – who isn’t? – and a couple of days ago stumbled across Jamie Oliver’s chicken dim sum. It had chicken – leftover chicken, even, which is always great – a spicy and savoury sauce and it looked impressively exotic but sounded relatively simple to make. I managed to make the whole thing during a very interrupted nap time and as I was doing it I was mentally congratulating myself on a wonderful find, perfect for my big blog comeback piece. They look fabulous and impressive, are pretty healthy and once prepared take just 12 minutes to steam and serve. And bonus: with a slightly modified sauce they are fun and great for babies. Why isn’t everyone making these?

Well, for the simple reason that they are grim. The chicken filling was okay but the pastry was in part uncooked, in part gloopy, in part stodgy: in sum, yuck. I probably did it wrong – Jamie is all, just squash it out, fling it around, etc and usually that sort of minimal instruction, though annoying, is fine for me, but this time it failed or I failed and they were just unpleasant pasty puffs, some of which were sitting in pools of orange where the sauce had seeped through. I made 15 of them from one (very large) chicken breast and steamed 7 of them enthusiastically for supper which Jon ate and I picked at and then had something else. As you may know, there is nothing Jon likes less than wastage of food so although I would have happily binned them all, he declared them an acceptable lunch and has valiantly chewed his way through 4 each on two successive days. So although they are gross, rest assured that they have not been wasted and they are still better than a Pret sandwich.

Anyway, this post isn’t about the horrible dim sum but about the thing I made in the 12 minutes that they took to steam: a true holy grail recipe which I make for Joe’s breakfast. If you also have a toddler you’ll know that you can’t just ask a 2 year old to do something like get dressed and come downstairs for breakfast. Well, you can, but you will probably hear the word NO a lot and then end up chasing a naked child round the house while you try and throw a t shirt over his head like a hoopla. And all of this while answering a neverending stream of questions that begin with “why”. Parenting a toddler means becoming a master in the art of distraction and a nebulous and ever-changing concept called “making things fun”. So no, Joe can’t put his shoes on to leave the house BUT if his shoes should get hungry they may try to eat his feet and in so doing he may end up shod. And no, Joe can’t come upstairs to have his bath BUT if there were to be a whale in the bath who was calling Joe to come and scrub his back then Joe might go and have a look and in so doing get washed. On mornings when he goes to nursery, the simple tasks of getting him up, dressed, breakfasted, teeth brushed, hatted, scarfed and booted can all be an incredibly frustrating and lengthy exercise. Anything that makes this process easier at any stage is immediately latched onto and exploited until the life is wholly sucked out of it. For breakfast, for some reason at the moment it is often fun (and therefore quicker and easier) to go on a Crumble Hunt. The object of a Crumble Hunt is to find crumble at the end (of course), but sometimes we go on the hunt and we come back empty handed (or with a bowl of porridge), for such is life. When we do find crumble, we find something that is loosely based on a standard dessert apple crumble but can be made with almost any fruit (I like to use plums, but apples, peaches, berries, etc all work), covered with a not too sweet granola-ish topping. There are no quantities in the recipe below because it’s just to give you an idea of the basic principle which you can adapt to your tastes. I make this most weeks, as on days when there is crumble at the end of the Crumble Hunt, getting Joe through breakfast and out the door is just a little bit easier.

Breakfast Crumble

  • Fruit – I used about 8 red plums
  • Cinnamon
  • Honey, brown sugar or maple syrup
  • Whole rolled oats
  • Oat flour
  • Ground flax (linseed)
  • Applesauce
  • Other seeds of your choice, such as chia
  •  Coconut oil, or other fat of your choice
  1. Cut the fruit into small pieces and put in a baking dish. Add cinnamon, sugar, honey or maple syrup to taste and mix together.
  2. In another bowl combine the oats, oat flour and seeds and add a spoon or two of applesauce, maple syrup or honey, and coconut oil until the consistency of the oats is moist and sticky.
  3. Put the oat mixture on top of the fruit, press down and then bake for around 40 minutes.
  4. Serve cold or warm, on its own or with a dollop of yoghurt.

Genuinely healthy brownies


Jon’s got a thing about mustard seeds at the moment. It’s getting really weird in our house now – they are cropping up in EVERYTHING. The effect ranges from the totally pointless – mustard seeds on popcorn (they don’t stick), to the frankly bizarre – mustard seeds in challah (you can’t really taste them but they look weird). There are mustard seeds in my rice, in my mashed potato, on my fish, really in anything where he is given the freedom to express himself through the spice cupboard. Perhaps when he reads this he’ll think again about how odd it is, but right now he just can’t think of any food that isn’t improved by the addition of mustard seeds.

Fortunately, he wasn’t in charge of planning the food for Joe’s second birthday party. He was a fantastic cake decorator – post coming soon on the birthday cake – but he didn’t decide on the recipes for the other food at the party, which all therefore remained mustard seed free. It’s a good thing too, because Joe isn’t shy about telling us what he thinks of our food. Joe saw the brownies I made here, uniced, in the kitchen a few hours before his birthday tea and asked for one. I gave him one, then another, and then another – they were a huge success. When we sat down to tea he was very excited to see them again with coloured icing to look like lego, and he asked for one in every colour. I’d especially made a creamcheese icing with minimal sugar which I had imagined he would like, since he likes creamcheese and it would be sweeter than normal, but he put it in his mouth and then spat it out with a look of disgust. “It’s not very tasty,” he explained with a serious face, not in a complaining way, just wanting me to understand why he’d been forced to expel it from his mouth. Luckily, with the icing then scraped off, they turned out to be just as “super yummy” as the brownies he had earlier.

From my point of view, the only problem with these brownies is that they aren’t chocolate. I know, if they’re not chocolate then they’re not brownies. But “blondies” sounds stupid and anyway, they are brown, not blonde. They are also vegan and sugar-free, and so I don’t expect you to believe me when I say that they are delicious, but they genuinely are, and they are perfect for babies and anyone else in your life with weird dietary requirements.

I found the recipe online here when searching for a brownie-type thing to use as the base of the lego cakes I wanted to make for the birthday tea. Since I was planning to make him a hugely elaborate birthday cake (which I couldn’t do in a sugar-free, healthy version), I wanted to make one cake thing that I would actually be happy for him to eat, and I thought these seemed perfect.

Makes around 20 mini brownies

  • 150g plain flour
  • 225g whole dates
  • 1 ripe banana (the riper the better)
  • 1 large tablespoon of peanut butter (or other nut butter)
  • 1 tablespoon of applesauce (you can make this amount from 1 apple)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinammon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Prepare a baking tin of around 8×8 inches – grease it and line it, or use a silicon one where you don’t have to do any of that.
  2. Take the stones out of the dates and put them in a bowl of hot water for at least 15 minutes to soak.
  3. Put the dates with two or three tablespoons of the soaking water into a food processor and blend to make a paste.
  4. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl, and then add the applesauce, peanut butter and vanilla extract.
  5. Mash the banana, either by hand or in the food processor after you have removed the date paste.
  6. Combine the dates and banana with the rest of the mix.
  7. Put the mix into the tin, and bake on your usual oven baking temperature for about 40 minutes, or until a fork comes out clean.

As Joe told us, these brownies are good on their own. However, if you want to make the coloured creamcheese icing to turn these into lego cakes, then I used the recipe below, and coloured the icing using Wiltons Gel Colours (gel colours give a much stronger, brighter colour than liquid colouring and a tiny bit goes a long way). I then put smarties on the top to look like the bobbly bits on lego. This was actually really annoying, because I bought 4 tubes of smarties, imagining that this would easily provide enough of the right colours, and it really didn’t. Plus, since I was a child, the colouring in smarties has obviously got more natural and vegetable-based, which is a good thing for parents of hyper children, but means that the colours are much blander than I remember.

  • 200g Philadelphia or similar creamcheese
  • 70g butter
  • 100g icing sugar (the recipe actually called for 400g, but I was doing a low sugar version!)
  1. The butter needs to be softened and not fridge-hard when you start. The creamcheese should be in the fridge until needed.
  2. Cream the butter with an electric mixer until it has a whipped consistency. Beat in the cheese, but be careful not to overbeat, as the cheese can start to re-liquefy if you do.
  3. Sift the icing sugar and beat it in gradually.
  4. Put a small amount into another bowl and add a tiny bit of colouring (as in, the size of a mustard seed to start with, and then you can always add more as needed). Mix it in with a spoon and spread it onto your brownies.
  5. If you are doing lots of different colours, it’s easiest to do all of one colour, then wash up that small bowl and start again with another colour.
  6. Put the smarties on top and refridgerate until serving.

*Approximate nutritional values (1 brownie, no icing)*

  • Calories – 80.2 kcal
  • Carbs – 28.3g
  • Fat – 0.9g
  • Protein – 1.5g
  • Sodium – 11.4mg
  • Sugar – 9.1g

*Approximate nutritional values (1 brownie, with icing and smarties)*

  • Calories – 136.8 kcal
  • Carbs – 34.6g
  • Fat – 4.1g
  • Protein – 2g
  • Sodium – 23mg
  • Sugar – 11.8g


Carrot, apple and blueberry muffins

Everyone where I live has a Bugaboo. And if they don’t have a Bugaboo, then there’s a good reason why, such as they don’t have a baby, or, more likely, they’ve made a very thoroughly researched decision as to why another buggy is better – the City Mini (“the amazing fold!”) is also quite popular, as are iCandies (“I wanted to support a British company”) and Maclarens (“simple, sturdy, effective”). (My buggy is obviously better than all of these – the Uppababy: upgraded, cheaper Bugaboo, with HUGE basket). But no one just went to Argos and picked up a buggy for £29.99. Not for our babies.

That’s because this is a pretentious neighbourhood with lots of neurotic but style-conscious parents who buy all of this top-of-the-range, probably mostly unnecessary baby stuff.  The plus side, if you’re writing a blog and you need material, is that if you hang around these parents, you hear some funny and cringeworthy things. A few months before Joe was born I was in a local, very expensive baby shop buying a present for a friend, and a couple came in with their baby and asked the shop assistant for “a developmental toy for our very bright 8 month old. He’s already bored with the toys he’s got and keeps throwing them out the buggy. What new developmental toys can you recommend?” Even the shop assistant, who must hear this kind of stuff all the time, looked a bit baffled, but then she realised that these customers were easy marks and she started throwing toys at them (the dad then thrust each toy in turn in front of his son’s face, and then decided whether to buy it based on the reaction he got. Tears meant “this toy is a bit babyish for him”, but a tongue poking out or a grabbing hand meant it was stimulating enough that it went into the shopping basket.)

But a couple of weeks ago, I was out with Jon and Joe for coffee in Primrose Hill, and I heard myself say, “No Joe, please take your fingers out of mummy’s cappuccino, you’ve got your own cappuccino right there.” Cringe. Even worse, a couple walked past as I said it and looked at me with the same unbelieving sneer I gave to the development toy people. Joe didn’t have his own cappuccino, by the way. I’m not crazy. He had his own babyccino, and if you don’t know what that is, well, I’m not sure you should even be reading this blog.

Anyway, the point of all of this was simply to say that there’s lots of things I didn’t imagine myself saying or doing before I became a parent (and it’s not just me: this morning I heard Jon say, “Joe, if you don’t touch daddy’s wee then you can flush the toilet afterwards.”)

Another thing is the constant the singing of annoying children’s rhymes. Not to Joe – we do that of course, but it doesn’t stop when he goes to bed or we go to work. We leave the house to the tune of “Wind the Bobbins” and “The Wheels on the Bus” and, most recently it has been “The Muffin Man”. I know that seems like a really a tenuous link to for a recipe for muffins but it actually isn’t – singing “The Muffin Man” as I sat at my desk (it’s OK, I have my own office) was what prompted me to send Jon my shopping list for the muffin ingredients I didn’t have.

I invented these muffins shortly after Joe started eating real food. They make an excellent, healthy snack and we always have a bag of these in the freezer, as they freeze well and can be restored by putting them in the oven for about 15 minutes, or just leaving to defrost (the oven makes them taste fresher, though). They would also make a tasty, healthy snack for adults and older children.

Makes about 24 mini muffins or fairy cakes

  • 2 eggs
  • 100ml sunflower/canola/rapeseed oil
  • 8 oz self raising flour
  • 2 oz porridge oats
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 eating apples
  • Approx 4 oz blueberries
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  1. Grate the apple and carrot or use a food processor to finely grate them.
  2. Put all ingredients into a bowl, mix with a wooden spoon.
  3. Spoon into muffin tins or fairy cake cases Cook on 160c fan, or 180c normal for about 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

*Approximate nutritional values (1 muffin)*

  • Calories: 95 kcal
  • Carbs: 10.9g
  • Fat: 4.9g
  • Protein: 1.8g
  • Sugar: 2.3g
  • Sodium: 9.5mg

Anything in tomato sauce #1 – chicken in ratatouille


When I was a baby and a child – OK, until I was about 18 – I only liked bland food. Pasta with nothing on it, plain grilled fish, and all my food separated on the plate. I particularly hated (OK, still do) shepherd’s pie, even though I liked meat and I liked potatoes; I just objected to the Evil Seam where the two meet. I actually still like plain pasta and plain grilled fish, but happily my tastes have expanded somewhat since then.

So when I had Joe, and when he started to eat food, I assumed that he would also like bland food. Not only because I did, but also because isn’t bland food what babies eat? Well, one of the first things Joe ate very well was plain pasta – I think he had 5 pieces on his first go. I was proud and delighted: my clever boy knows what’s delicious! But a few days later, I gave him pasta with pesto (no salt) and he ate 14 pieces. Then I gave him some plain fish and he nibbled at the edges. I gave him fish cooked in a tomato sauce and he wolfed it down. And so it has gone on – give him something bland and he might eat a bit if he’s hungry, but give him something with seasoning (cumin is a particular favourite) or mustard or balsamic vinegar, and he can’t get enough of it. In particular, he loves anything cooked in a tomato sauce.

However, it is not all angelic perfect eating in my house. My happy little eater is not a huge fan of vegetables. I have a friend whose baby’s favourite foods are broccoli and peas. They have to give him vegetables AFTER he’s finished the rest of his food, because if they gave them to him at the beginning he wouldn’t eat anything else. If you gave Joe a broccoli floret after or even during a meal he would just pick it up, perhaps sniff at it, and then drop it on the floor, or maybe hide it on his chair next to him. If we want him to eat any green vegetables at all, we can try giving them to him at the beginning of the meal, but he’s a bit too clever for that, and he might take a small bite but then he puts them all in the discard pile and waits patiently for the real food to be served. The other way is to disguise them in tomato sauce. This almost always works – sometimes he picks out a disc of courgette and eagerly eats it, and then looks annoyed because it wasn’t a meatball, and refuses to eat anything else that isn’t clearly meat – but usually he shovels in handfuls of whatever he finds in tomato sauce and seems quite pleased with it.

I made this chicken in ratatouille last night to freeze in portions for Joe, but it is delicious and could have been shared with us. I used red onion, peppers, aubergine and courgette because these seemed like good Mediterranean ratatouille vegetables, but I guess anything would work.

Made 6 Joe-sized portions, or 4 adult portions

  • 2 chicken breasts, skinned and boned
  • 2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 aubergine
  • 2 peppers (I used yellow and green, to look pretty)
  • 1 large courgette
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • Olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Salt, if you like
  • Black pepper
  • Tabasco sauce, if you like
  • A glass or two of wine, if you like
  1. Chop the vegetables into small cubes. It’s useful if you can employ a sous-chef for this task, like my husband, who cuts perfect squares every time.
  2. Add a little olive oil to a large heavy based saucepan, and add the vegetables, starting with the onion, then the pepper, courgette and aubergine and garlic.
  3. Saute until everything is softened – about 10 minutes.
  4. Add the tins of tomatoes and wine, if used, cover and cook for 5 minutes.
  5. While it is all cooking, cut the chicken into small pieces if you like – I did this for Joe’s portions, but if it were just for adults, I may have left the chicken in big pieces.
  6. Taste and season with the vinegar, salt and pepper, and Tabasco, if used. You could also add herbs and other spices at this time – whatever floats your boat.
  7. Add the chicken, cover with the sauce, and put in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes.
  8. Serve, or cool and freeze in portions.

*Approximate nutritional values (adult portion)*

Calories: 243 kcal
Carbs: 16g
Fat: 7g
Protein: 30g
Sugar: 10g
Sodium: 10mg