Mushroom barley soup

SAM_3326

Jon bought some new shoes last week. On one of those days when it was raining like the monsoon, he sent me an email just after arriving at work which said that his trustworthy Sketchers had holes in the soles and his feet were wet, so he had decided it was time to buy a new pair of shoes. Since this was an important purchase, he felt that it was only right to include me in the decision making process, and he sent me two links – “what do you think of these?” he wrote. I clicked on the first one and saw a pair of shoes almost exactly identical to the ones with the hole in the sole. I clicked on the second one, then went back to the email to check the links again. Oh no, wait, I squinted at the shoes on the screen and saw what I had missed the first time: the second pair had cream stripes, the first had tan. I emailed him back saying that they were both lovely and I couldn’t decide so I would leave it up to him. Several hours went past, and then I got another email. “I bought the second pair!” it said, triumphantly. “Great!” I replied, “when you get them, can we throw the old ones away?” “Well obviously,” he said, “why else would I have bought new ones?”

The new shoes arrived a few days later and sat in their box for a week. The shoes with the hole in the sole remained by the front door, in use. Then, today, Jon opened the box and carefully removed the new shoes. “Yay!” I said, “Let’s throw the old ones away now!” I went to remove the old shoes. “NO!!!” he cried, “I haven’t tried them on yet!” So I waited while he tried on the (same model, same size) new shoes, and then while he pronounced them a perfect fit. “Great, let’s chuck the old ones. Are you wearing the new ones today?” I asked. “WHAT??” He said, shocked. “No! It might rain! I need to wear these in first before I wear them out and get them ruined. THEN we can throw away the old ones.”

Is this just a man thing? A similar thing happens in this house with soup. We have a thing called Soup of the Week. It’s a soup that we make usually on a Sunday, and it lasts for most of the week, and it means that there’s always a healthy and delicious starter on week nights. We have a number of standard soups in our repertoire which get cycled around again and again, and then some new additions every now and then, most of which are OK, but don’t make it into the top list. One of Jon’s favourite soups is mushroom barley soup. It’s warming, really tasty, fragrant and perfect for winter. Jon LOVES it. He loves it so much he doesn’t really want to eat it, and conditions have to be really quite wintery before he will allow it. I think his fear is that he will have the soup, and then the week after will turn out to be worse weather and exactly the kind of conditions which would make him want to have mushroom barley soup, but he wouldn’t want to have the same soup two weeks in a row. “What soup shall we have this week?” I will ask as we consider the weekend Waitrose trip. “Mushroom barley?” “WHAT??” Jon will say, as the snow falls outside and we shiver under blankets. “It’s not cold enough for that!” Last year, I think we only had mushroom barley soup twice, because it was never deemed quite cold or wintery enough to make it. This week, it’s not actually that cold, but it is Christmas, and Christmas means wintery and cold, even if it actually isn’t. So, mushroom barley soup is bubbling away on the hob right now, Jon’s new shoes have been placed carefully back in their box and the old ones are waiting for him by the front door, as it’s going to rain tomorrow. Happy new year!

Makes around 8 portions

  • 50g dried porcini mushrooms
  • 150g shiitake mushrooms
  • 250g portabellini mushrooms
  • 3 medium carrots
  • 250ml pearl barley
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • Around 700ml vegetable stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Soak the porcini mushrooms in around 700ml boiling water.
  2. Put the pearl barley in a sieve, rinse and drain it.
  3. Finely dice the carrots, and then heat about 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large saucepan, and add the carrots. Keep it on a medium heat and stir occasionally.
  4. While this is happening, slice the mushrooms, and add these to the saucepan.
  5. Continue stirring and cooking, add a little salt and pepper and keep going for around 5 minutes.
  6. Add the barley to the carrots and mushrooms and continue to cook on a medium-low heat.
  7. Put a layer of kitchen towel into the sieve and put the sieve over the jug of stock or another bowl. Pour the porcinis into the sieve, so that the mushrooms can be removed and the gritty bits which are always hanging around in dried mushrooms stay on the kitchen towel.
  8. Finely chop the porcinis and add them to the saucepan.
  9. Add the stock, the mushroom liquid if not already combined, and the soy sauce. Add the bay leaf.
  10. Bring to the boil and then lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until the barley is very tender. Add salt and pepper to taste.

*Approximate nutritional values (1 generous bowl)*

  • Calories: 124kcal
  • Carbs: 19.3g
  • Fat: 3.25g
  • Protein: 4.1g
  • Sugar: 2.1g
  • Sodium: 643mg

*Baby friendly version*

It is easy to take a portion out of this soup before adding the salt and soy sauce. Put that in its own saucepan, and simmer as above. With the tiny diced carrots, peal barley and mushrooms this contains lots of fun textures that a baby starting out with food would probably really enjoy.

Cranberry Sauce Muffins

 

SAM_3323

I love Christmas. I don’t celebrate it at all, which seems to be the key to why I love it so much. I love Christmas music in shops, I love the lights, the sparkly trees, and most of all I love Christmas Cheer, an ephemeral concept that means people who would normally shove you out of the way to get nearer to the front of the ridiculously long queue in Waitrose on Christmas Eve say, “no don’t worry, you were there first.” When I was younger I felt a little aggrieved that Christmas seemed to be like another, even better birthday (in terms of the presents), but I now feel genuinely sorry for everyone who has to actually go Christmas shopping, buy a million presents for a million people you rarely see, and then suffer through a lunch (which seems to start at about 4pm – why?) consisting of things like turkey and brussels sprouts.

Ah, the brussels sprouts. When I talked about broccoli on here before, I felt the need to explain, using one of my favourite lines from The Simpsons, why broccoli is not fit to be eaten. I don’t think I need to do that with brussels sprouts. I don’t think anyone takes them seriously as a food. The smell, for one thing! Of course, Jon claims to love them. I think he is only saying it to annoy me because I genuinely cannot believe that it is possible to love them. For that reason, I don’t feel bad at all that I have banned them from the house, and he obviously doesn’t love them that much because he has accepted the ban, with the caveat that he should be allowed them once a year. Because it is the season of goodwill, I have allowed that one time to be at Christmas. Not specifically on Christmas day, because we don’t do anything particular on Christmas day (this year, for example, we had pasta pesto for lunch and then seabass with lebanese spinach rice for supper and brussels sprouts would have been a horrific interruption to either of those), but at some point over the Christmas period.

So this year, the dreaded sprouts came out on Christmas eve, when we had some friends over for dinner. I also made roast chicken, and then since there was a roast and some sprouts it began to feel a lot like a Christmas dinner, so I thought, why not make cranberry sauce? I realise that cranberry sauce is primarily designed for turkey, and the reason for that is that turkey is generally dry and tasteless and needs sauces and relishes to make it taste better. Roast chicken does not, but I’ve never made cranberry sauce and it looked easy and nice, so I thought I would try it.

It was both easy and nice, but the quantities (I used this Delia recipe) weren’t quite right (i.e. there was loads), or perhaps because there wasn’t any turkey, people didn’t have as much of it. The result was that we were left with a lot of cranberry sauce and, after finishing up the leftover roast chicken, nothing to do with it.

And so I made muffins. Muffins are like the puttanesca of baking – you can just chuck anything in and they will usually work out well. In my head these are also known as “Breakfast Muffins” because they contain oats and it is well known that if you prefix something with “breakfast” then it instantly becomes healthier.

This made 26 muffins, which I baked without paper cases in muffin trays (muffins seem to do better without cases, as they can become soggy with the paper. Just grease the trays well beforehand).

  • Approx 24 fl oz cranberry sauce (3 American cups)
  • 6 fl oz maple syrup/agave nectar/sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 5.5 fl oz (2/3 of a cup) vegetable oil
  • 8 fl oz (1 cup) water or milk
  • 12oz plain flour
  • 6oz rolled oats
  • 1 teasp cinnamon
  • 1 teasp salt
  • 1 teasp bicarb of soda
  • 2 teasp baking powder
  1. Beat the wet ingredients (cranberry sauce, eggs, oil, water/milk and the maple syrup/agave syrup if using. I used half and half maple syrup and agave syrup and no sugar).
  2. Mix the dry ingredients together, and then beat into the wet ingredients, but do not overbeat.
  3. Spoon the mixture into the muffin tray.
  4. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until a fork in the centre comes out clean.

*Approximate nutritional values (1 muffin)*

  • Calories: 164 kcal
  • Carbs: 24g
  • Fat: 6.7g
  • Protein: 2.6g
  • Sugar: 9.3g
  • Sodium: 74mg

*Baby-friendly version*

Muffins are excellent for babies, even those just starting out with food, because they are easy to hold and eat. Also, you can call them cakes and then they get very excited that they are having cake, even though the cake they’ve got has no sugar and little taste and is a very poor imitation of what they will later know as cake. However, cranberry sauce has a lot of sugar in it and you can’t do much about that because cranberries on their own are so bitter. If you’re OK with your baby having some sugar then these muffins will be very popular, but otherwise, cranberry sauce muffins are not really for your baby.

Vegetable spring rolls

A few years ago, Gordon Ramsay brought out a cookbook called 3 Star Chef. It contains lots of his recipes and secrets from his Hospital Road restaurant and when I saw it I thought, “What? Why would he bring out a book giving away all his secrets? What if people decide not to go to the restaurant anymore because they can just make it themselves?” Then I read this so-called “cookbook” and I realised why he had nothing to fear. Yes, this book has recipes and techniques for cooking, and actually some of them aren’t that difficult. But there’s no way that anyone would ever make any of them in full. Most of them have at least 3 different elements just within one part of a dish. Even if you literally had nothing to do and could devote a whole day to this, you still wouldn’t because after spending the whole day making them you wouldn’t have any energy left to entertain guests to eat them.

In a very small way (really very very small), I felt a little bit the same about starting my own food blog. If I give away all my secrets, will people still want to eat my cooking? Will people think, “nah, can’t be bothered to go to Katie and Jon’s tonight, I’ll just go on her blog and do it myself”? I don’t really think there’s much chance of this happening, but just in case, I thought I’d put a recipe up here that looks really complicated, so you’ll go, “what a complete FAFF. I’ll go to Katie’s and have it there instead.”

I absolutely love these vegetable spring rolls, and one of the best things about them is that you can make loads and shove them in the freezer, and they are actually even better when crisped up in the oven. Pre-Joe, when my mum and I were stocking my freezer with good hearty meals that we could eat in the weeks after he was born, I also made a massive bag of these to freeze. Not exactly an essential, but really nice, on those rare occasions when I could sit down to eat a whole meal without being interrupted, to have such a delicious snack or starter.

The best thing to use for these is a bag of those stir fry vegetables which you can buy ready-prepared from the supermarket. The reason they work well, apart from the convenience, is that they give a good mix of vegetables, and if you prepared all the vegetables yourself then you would have to make hundreds of spring rolls, as 1 carrot, 1 pepper, 1 bag of beansprouts, etc, would make a lot of filling.

I find that one bag weighing about 300g will make between 8 and 10 spring rolls, depending on how full you like them, and of course how big your spring roll wrappers are. I use wrappers which are around 20cm square (I think they are actually 215mm) – you can buy bigger and smaller, but these are the ones that I think work best. When I am making these, I tend to buy 3 or 4 bags of vegetables, and do a whole load in one go.

All you do is stir fry the vegetables, using a very little bit of oil. I also add a lot of grated ginger, because I like it, and plenty of soy sauce. You can add any seasoning you like, but the two important things to remember are (1) that by the time you are finished you don’t want to have any liquid remaining in the pan with the vegetables, as this could make your spring rolls go soggy, and (2) all the flavours that you want your spring roll to have need to go in to the vegetables. Obviously  you can dip your spring roll in any sauce you like, but the wrapper itself doesn’t add any flavour, so if your vegetables are under seasoned and tasteless then the spring roll will be the same.

I like to fry these in a very little bit of oil, turning all the time so that they crisp up evenly and on all sides. Jon always wants to experiment – “why don’t we BAKE them? Why don’t we try DEEP frying them?” but I’m like, “can we please just not ruin these spring rolls that I’ve spent ages folding, and do it the way we know?” So I haven’t tried either just baking or deep frying. Obviously deep frying would work, but I don’t want to do anything as unhealthy as that (and then what do you do with the oil, anyway? Yuk.) Baking, after brushing with oil, may work but I’m not sure if it would be as tasty. If you’re planning to do either of those things, please invite Jon over to try it with you.

Once you have stirfried the vegetables and made sure that no liquid remains, put them in a bowl and let them cool.

Crack an egg and put the white into a small flat dish – you will use this to seal the spring rolls.

Then take one spring roll wrapper, and put a small heap of vegetables in the corner of the pastry:

Then start rolling:

Then fold one side in to the middle:

Then fold the other side and continue to roll, until you just have a small flap remaining:

Then dab a little egg white on that flap, and roll it up and stick it down.

Fry, then eat or freeze.

(Shhhh… it’s really easy)

*Approximate nutritional values (1 spring roll)*

  • Calories: 99kcal
  • Carbs: 11g
  • Fat: 6g
  • Protein: 0g
  • Sugar: 1g
  • Sodium: 305mg

*Baby-friendly version*

These are perfect for babies (you can fill them with anything) but can be a little crispy if, like Joe, your baby doesn’t have many teeth. You could use Vietnamese wrappers instead, which are soft and don’t require cooking.

Monkey Bread

When I started this blog, I thought it would be all about family-friendly recipes that could be knocked up in a few minutes, and enjoyed by the whole family, small babies included. So far, that hasn’t really happened – I’ve found it hard to resist including recipes for chocolate mousse, cakes, brownies, etc and some other things that aren’t particularly quick or family friendly. I think that this is because, while my main cooking task is to make healthy delicious meals everyday for me, Jon and Joe, I can’t just do that, and I also want to experiment and try random new things, even if they ultimately turn out to be pointless.

Pointless. What is a pointless recipe? As long as it tastes OK and fills a hole, then how can a recipe be pointless? That is what I thought, until I made Monkey Bread. It’s not that it doesn’t taste nice – it does. It’s not that it’s difficult – it’s not. It’s just that I can’t quite see why anyone invented this food and what purpose it serves in the general culinary canon.

Monkey Bread is (of course) an American invention. Essentially, it is a “tear’n’share” bread, made from balls of dough stuck together. In its original form, it is sugary and cinammony and buttery, but I made its less common savoury sister, using olive oil and herbs. I love cinammon, but I feel like it is an overused spice in the US. When I was in DC, I felt like the months of September to January were shrouded in a cloud of cinammon – as you walked part the pumpkins outside Whole Foods, as you stepped into Starbucks with their red “Christmas” cups – it was like they pumped cinammon through the air vents everywhere to give you a warm, autumnal and festive sense. It sort of worked, but it also made you feel like you were being played, very obviously, by these big consumer giants, into believing that you were skipping merrily through autumn leaves into your village market to exchange silver coins for fresh marrows grown on your neighbour’s farm. Also, I can’t think of any particular place for a sweet, cinammony bread at my table so I thought that at least the savoury one would be something to snack on with our meals. Obviously all the recipes I saw for savoury monkey bread involved cheese, so that is definitely something you can do, but clearly not what I would do. Pointless as this bread is, the cool thing about it is that you can do anything you want to it, flavour-wise.

The picture you see above is attempt number two. We first tried this the week before, and I was running late so I sent Jon an email with the ingredients and told him to stick it all in the Kitchen Aid and make a dough, and then put it into a greased bowl to rise. I got home to find that he’d done it and dilligently sought out the warmest place in the house to let the dough rise, i.e. by the boiler. What he hadn’t done was added anything to the dough that would make it rise. This was because I’d forgotten to include yeast in the list of ingredients. Jon said, “Yes! I noticed that and thought it was funny that there was no yeast. But then I thought, perhaps there’s something else in here that would cause it to rise magically!” A+ to Jon for noticing the lack of yeast and considering its effect on the rising. B+ to Jon for thinking that there may be a magical ingredient in the dough. F to me for forgetting to include the yeast in the recipe. (We’ve made this mistake with bread before, by the way – about two weeks after Joe was born I made a bread with no yeast or salt, which unsurprisingly turned out to be a small baked rock).

So – what are the advantages of this bread? It’s quick and easy to make without any special equipment (though if you have an electric mixer it takes a lot of the pain out of kneading). Depending on what you put on it, it can certainly be a good bread for babies as it’s easy to eat and tasty. It would also be a fun thing to make with children, who would probably love rolling the dough into balls and squishing them together. If you’re having a dinner party and you want bread to be part of it (maybe to go with soup), then this would look cool on the table and it’s fun that everyone can just reach over and pull a piece off (which always looks a bit animal-like if it’s done on a normal loaf of bread).

Give this a try. But don’t be surprised if, after you’ve made it, you think, WHY?

  • 450g bread flour (you can use a combination of different flours, but make sure that at least 300g is strong white flour. We did 350g white and 100g rye)
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 1 packet of dry yeast
  • 250ml warm water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 egg
  • Herbs, spices, etc of your choice, plus more olive oil or melted butter or whatever you choose. We used olive oil and fresh thyme, since that was what we had, but garlic and rosemary would be nice, and so would caramelised onions. You could also use grated cheese – I think you would need about 50g grated cheese.
  1. Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl or the bowl of your electric mixer.
  2. Combine the wet ingredients in a smaller bowl, and then add to the dry ingredients. Mix with your hands, or beat with the electric mixer. Add more flour if necessary to get to the desired consistency, which is a smooth, soft, elastic dough.
  3. If doing by hand, knead for around 10 minutes. Alternatively, use the dough hook of the mixer and keep it on low for 10 minutes.
  4. Lightly oil a big bowl (which should allow the dough to rise to around double its size) and put the dough in it. Grease a piece of clingfilm and cover the bowl tightly, and then put the bowl somewhere warm.
  5. If you don’t have anywhere warm in your house, then you can put a small saucepan of water on the hob, bring it to a simmer, then turn off and put your bowl on top of that.
  6. Allow the dough to rise to double its size – it can take 30-60 minutes for this to happen.
  7. In a small bowl, combine the extra olive oil, herbs, cheese or whatever you want.
  8. Prepare your baking dish. You could use a cake tin, or a glass dish, or anything you like. I used a glass dish which had a base of about 18 cm)
  9. Divide your dough into 32 pieces, and roll each into a ball. (I did half the dough, then half again, then half again, then half again – but I’m sure you worked that out for yourself.)
  10. Dip each ball into the bowl of oil and herbs, and then place it in the dish, forming a layer of balls all squished next to each other, and then on top of each other.
  11. Cover the dish with the greased clingfilm, and leave it to rise again in a warm place for another 20 to 30 minutes.
  12. Pre-heat the oven to 180C/350F.
  13. Put in the oven and bake for around 35 mins, or until golden brown.

*Approximate nutritional values (1 “ball”)*

  • Calories: 63.5kcal
  • Carbs: 9.5g
  • Fat: 2g
  • Protein: 1.75g
  • Sugar: 0.2g
  • Sodium: 86.3mg

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

Pappardelle with mushrooms

A few years ago, I considered getting a vegetable box. What can I say? I was just married, living in what the estate agent called Hampstead (it was really Swiss Cottage), working with a whole bunch of well-groomed City types and spending my Sunday mornings in my local coffee shop reading the Sunday Times. A vegetable box would have completed the picture. I looked on the websites of Abel and Cole and Riverford Organic, glossing over the problem of having a weekly delivery to our third floor flat when we were both at work every day, and excitedly told Jon all about it.

He wrinkled his nose. “So each week we get a box of random vegetables, which someone else has picked out, some of which we don’t like, and then we pay more for the privilege of knowing that they are grown on some farm not very near us?” It did sound a bit barmy, then, so we went off to Waitrose (of course) and, crazily enough, picked out a selection of vegetables that we both liked and wanted to use.

I mentioned that episode to a friend and he told me that I had missed the point of vegetable boxes. Apparently the whole fun of it is that you get interesting vegetables (for which read beetroot, or turnip) that you wouldn’t otherwise buy, and then the challenge is to make something out of it that you wouldn’t have otherwise made. It all sounds a bit Blue Peter and not really the way I like to shop or eat. Generally in this house we pride ourselves on not having very much wastage. We bake our bread and then when it is stale, turn it into breadcrumbs. We freeze leftover portions or take them to work for lunch. We use up vegetables in soups and fruit in pies and sorbets. But sometimes we’ll buy something because I have a specific recipe in mind, and then I don’t need very much of it and we have loads of it lying around. I confess that I would probably forget about it and let it languish in the bottom drawer of the fridge for a few weeks, but if there is a loose end in the fridge Jon is on it. “Half a bag of spinach? What are we doing with that?” “There are two leeks and half a swede, what’s happening with them?” It’s like having my very own awkward vegetable from the vegetable box, but I generally choose the vegetable and it’s not a horrible turnip. But the challenge is still on.

That is what happened this week with mushrooms. We had a load of different ones – shiitake, portabellini, chestnut – some of which I’d used to make a mushroom ragu to have on polenta squares as a starter for lunch on Saturday (to be blogged another time). I had a hunt around for a nice recipe to use them up and found a Spanish mushroom and lentil recipe which looked nice, but then I had lentils for lunch and didn’t want them. With Yom Kippur tomorrow, if we didn’t eat them tonight we’d have them hanging over our heads until Thursday and I knew we had to get them out of here before then. I had things to cook for Yom Kippur tonight and couldn’t be bothered with anything complex, and really just wanted something delicious and simple and comforting.

Step forward, Jamie Oliver, with your simple, light and quick pappardelle with mushrooms. I’ve laughed at Jamie on this blog before for his nonsense malteser ice cream recipe, but I know that really, like this pasta, he is a good, simple, hearty fellow, and he means well. This is a super quick, easy weeknight dinner. A bit of a carb-fest, and not massively high in protein (eeeek) but using egg pasta helps, and if you use shiitake mushrooms you get a bonus portion of vitamin D, and the parsley gives you some equally elusive vitamin K. It’s surprisingly filling, too.

Serves 2

  • About 400g mixed wild mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 dried red chilli, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Small bunch of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped.
  • Fresh egg pappardelle for 2 (about 250g)
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Clean the mushrooms and slice them thinly
  2. Put the olive oil in a very hot frying pan and then add the mushrooms, frying quickly. Add the garlic and chilli and some salt and pepper.
  3. Continue frying for 4 or 5 minutes and then turn the heat off, and add the lemon juice and half the chopped parsley. Check the seasoning.
  4. Meanwhile, bring a saucepan of salted water to the boil and cook the pasta.
  5. When it is cooked, pour a little of the pasta water into the frying pan with the mushrooms, drain the pasta and add to the frying pan, tossing to coat with the liquid and mixing the mushrooms in.
  6. Serve, garnishing with the rest of the parsley.

For the baby-friendly version, as above but without the salt (and maybe without the chilli, depending on how your baby deals with chilli). You will have to cook the pasta separately, because the salt in the water is essential for the adult version.

*Approximate nutritional values*

  • Calories: 520 kcal
  • Carbs: 72g
  • Fat: 19g
  • Protein: 19g
  • Sugar: 2g
  • Sodium: 1766mg

Spinach dal

Since Jon and I got together, our tastes have merged somewhat. There are still things we will never agree on, for example, I have always been a believer in that bit from the Simpsons, that one where Homer is dead and Dr. Hibbert pulls broccoli from his corpse. “Yet another broccoli related death,” says Dr. Hibbert. “But I thought broccoli was healthy,” says Marge. “Oh no,” says Dr. Hibbert, “one of the deadliest plants on earth. Why, it tries to warn you with its terrible taste.” Yet despite the obvious truth of everything in the Simpsons, Jon calls broccoli “the king of vegetables”.

Other than this and a few others, we generally agree on most things, food-wise. I’ve mentioned before about my incredibly fussy eating, particularly as a child but to some extent continued today. Jon was never as fussy as me, but he did have some peculiar dislikes (we’ll save the discussion of his cherry phobia for another day) which, in my opinion, were not so much dislikes of the actual food but of the way he had encountered them. He now devours peas like they are going to be rationed, and as he eats, happily says, “I love peas! Didn’t used to!” Similarly, with the various different apple pies and tarts that I make, he wolfs them all down but he still maintains that he doesn’t like apple pie BUT he makes an exception for mine. This is because the apple pie he has in mind, the benchmark apple pie, is one from a bakery in north London called Sharon’s. It’s horrible – an overly sweet crust, with the apples inside in a claggy goo. It sullies the good name of apple pie.

Actually, we once had a whole ridiculous conversation about Sharon’s apple pie. Jon was maintaining that he doesn’t like apple pie, as a general rule. My point, which got slightly obscured in the heat of the argument, was that he does like apple pie, he just doesn’t like Sharon’s apple pie, and any other rubbish apple pies. I was trying to say that, if he’s going to have a general rule about apple pie, it should be, “I like apple pie” and then he could have exceptions to the rule, which would be the various bad apple pies that he doesn’t like. The discussion got more and more heated until I said, “but what if you were sitting here, eating my apple pie, and Sharon came in and said, “but you said you didn’t like apple pie!” THEN what would you say? Huh? Huh? What’s your answer to THAT?”

Yes, I accept that Sharon is unlikely to come over and say anything about apple pie, even if Sharon is an actual person and not just a brand name. Sharon sells hundreds of these inferior pies every day and she won’t care at all if Jon doesn’t want to eat one. But my real point here is that often people think they don’t like things, but they do. It could be that they refuse to eat all apple pies because they’ve had one horrible one, or it could be that they think they don’t like courgettes but when you call a yellow courgette a squash then actually courgettes are pretty nice.

Or it could be lentils. Lots of people (men, mostly, I think) say that they won’t eat a meal of lentils. Jon is now a big fan of the recipe I’m about to share with you, but he admits that a few years ago if you’d suggested that he would eat a plate of lentils and call it dinner, he’d ask what the main course was. My dad is the same, although I’m not convinced that even now he accepts that lentils can make up a nutritious, satisfying meal.

This recipe, though, is really one to try, even if you are unsure about lentils. From a nutritional perspective it is a bit of a super-meal, it is really tasty and, very importantly, really quick and easy and perfect for a mid-week supper.

I adapted this recipe from Tarla Dalal, who is apparently the Delia Smith of India.

Makes 4 or 5 adult portions

  • 3/4 cup of red lentils (I use an ordinary kitchen mug for this recipe, and it works just fine)
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 green chillies
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 large knob of ginger (equivalent in size to about 3 garlic cloves)
  • 250g spinach
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 tbsp amchur powder (this (dried unripe mango powder) is available from Indian stores. If you can’t find it, you could use the juice of half a lemon to achieve the sour element, or a teaspoon or two of tamarind paste)
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tbsp rapeseed or other flavourless oil
  1. Put the lentils and water into a saucepan, cover and bring to a simmer. When I make this it nearly always bubbles over, so watch it carefully, and use a bigger saucepan than you really need.
  2. If you have a food processor, de-seed the chillies, and put them in the food processor with the ginger and garlic. If you don’t have a food processor, then finely dice the chillies, grate the ginger and crush the garlic. Set them aside.
  3. Finely dice the onion.
  4. Heat the oil in a second, large saucepan. When it is hot, throw in the cumin seeds and a few seconds later add the onion. Fry on a medium heat until the onion is translucent. Then add the chilli, ginger and garlic, and stir and fry for a few more minutes.
  5. The lentils should be soft and cooked now. If they are not, turn down the heat in the onion saucepan and wait, then tip the lentils and their remaining liquid into the saucepan with the onion.
  6. Stir and add the tomato puree, amchur powder, turmeric and salt.
  7. Roughly chop the spinach and add to the saucepan. Stir and cook until it is all wilted and mixed in. Taste, and add more salt, amchur or tomato puree as needed.
  8. Depending on the consistency of the dal and what you prefer, you could keep cooking to reduce it a little more, or you can serve straight away. It’s good with rice or chapattis.

Baby-friendly version

At 2, do not add the chillies, but chop or process and keep aside.
At 6, do not add the salt.
After 7, remove your baby’s portion. Add the chillies and salt to the remainder, and cook for another 10 minutes to make sure that the flavours blend together.

*Approximate nutritional values (adult portion)*

  • Calories: 169 kcal
  • Carbs: 24g
  • Fat: 4g
  • Protein: 11g
  • Sugar: 4g
  • Sodium: 736mg