20 minutes or more

Lentil Soup

I know, I know. What the hell is a lentil soup recipe doing here in the lead up to Christmas? Lucy (my sister and co-crumbs author) counselled against it. “It’s the anti-Christmas recipe!” she cried. She’s right, of course, but also a little bit wrong. We’re back to the yin and yang thing. I think you can only enjoy vast amounts of mince pies, marzipan fruit, Christmas cake, turkey etc if you’re not eating them all the time. Also, it’s not physically possible to make, let alone eat, constant delectables in the run up to Christmas. Sometimes you just need to eat and you don’t have hours to prepare. This is the perfect thing to make when the kids are in bed, and then have it in the fridge or freezer as back up just in case brunch doesn’t quite carry you over to dinner, or the mince pies weren’t as filling as you thought. It means you (or your children) are not constantly tucking into the Quality Street etc for sustenance, when all you fancy is something a little bit nutritious. It also freezes really well, so I’m taking a batch to the in-laws in Wales, this Christmas, so that I know the kids will get a square meal if their eating timetable doesn’t quite slot in to ours. And not only is it a practical solution to holes in the Christmas eating plan, it is also bloody delicious! Rich, creamy, warming and nutritious, kids love it too. It’s from The Little Dish Recipe Book which is turning into one of my favourite family friendly cookery books. Lentil Soup Start to finish: 20 minutes preparation, 35-40 mins...

On the 6th day of Christmas…red cabbage

Good for: reluctant adults and children as really sweet Alongside all the delicious elements of Christmas, you know, mince pies, chocolate, Christmas cake, cheese, meat etc, there are always some vegetables. Who knows why? Maybe it’s some horrible convention, dictated to us by “them”. Anyway, so be it, there are vegetables and we have to eat them. Sorry, what? Oh, my husband is mentioning something called “healthy eating”. What is this “health” he so often bangs on about? Anyway, back to vegetables. Sometimes (at Christmas) we have to eat them, and we have to get our children to eat them too. It’s a funny yin/yang situation. It’s a lovely time of year, so we have to eat the most horrible vegetables available. But, I have discovered, if you are cunning these bitter wintry things can turn into something that tastes quite nice. I’d go so far as to say you can make them taste rather delicious. At the weekend when I slow roasted the pork, I made mash potatoes and this red cabbage. And guess what everyone wanted seconds of? The cabbage! I know, bizarre. And I promise the rest of the meal was really nice. It wasn’t like I was offering them cabbage and slop and they wanted the cabbage. Anyway, I thoroughly recommend this recipe, it’s a slight variation of a Valentine Warner one, and as it is done on the stove top it frees up the oven for the turkey and roasties. BREAKING NEWS: just defrosted a batch, to see how it would fare, and it freezes really well. Just revive in big pan with some melted...

Bonfire night bangers

Good for: kids love this. It’s sausages, of course they do. But adults will tuck in too. And only one pot to wash up – it’s a winner! As a kid I hated Bonfire Night. It was all freezing feet, delinquent-looking Guys and public service adverts about the dangers of sparklers. I got limited pleasure from watching a Catherine Wheel go spiralling out of control into next door’s garden, and the closest thing to a public firework display where I lived was the Scout’s annual do, which ended abruptly one year when the biscuit tin where they kept the fireworks caught fire. Ahh, the 70s. But last year I went to a free public display at my local park and what a difference. With hot spiced cider in my thermos, mince pies in my bag and a new born baby in my sling, the whole event (in my mind) was a glorious technicolour celebration. So I was a bit gutted to hear this year that Lambeth council have cancelled virtually all their fireworks displays because of the economic “situation”. So it’s straight back to the 70s. At least this time the food is better. If you do have the luck to go to a public display, maybe take one of Lucy’s Better-than-Ginsters-cheese-and-onion-pasties. But if you are going to stay at home, half-heartedly waving a sparkler around between rain storms, why not try this sausage and sweet potato casserole to distract attendees from the disappointment of the pyrotechnics? There are quicker sausage casseroles, but this is one you can be proud of if you’ve got friends coming over. You can make it...

Eight Apple Cake

Good for: your breakfast (with coffee) or their pud It is National Apple Day this Thursday and although I have finally used up the glut of fruit from my apple tree I shall still be cooking this amazing apple cake. I have searched for years for the definitive recipe and this is it. It is very appley and utterly gorgeous, especially when eaten warm from the oven. It is also perfect with a sugary espresso for breakfast or as a snack with some strong Cheddar cheese. Eight apple cake Start to finish: Just over 1 hour (including peeling and baking) Serves: Eight or twelve decent slices 8 eating apples – peeled, cored and chopped (you need about 450g of apples) Juice from one lemon ½ tspn ground cinnamon 200g plain flour 1 ½ tspn baking powder 200g caster sugar 3 eggs 6 level tablespoons of melted butter 1-2 tbsp milk, as needed one tablespoon of demerara sugar for topping Heat oven to 180C; grease and line a 20cm square cake tin. Toss the apples in the lemon juice and ground cinnamon the minute they’re chopped.   Combine the rest of the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the eggs and butter and beat to make a stiff batter. Add milk if it seems a bit dry.   Fold the apples (and any remaining lemon juice) into the batter. Pour into the cake tin, smooth down and sprinkle with demerara sugar. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.   You might also like these: Hot apple and cinnamon drink Banana and chocolate bread Custardy...

Something for the weekend – Anything Goes Tart

My friend Serena is a seriously good cook. She once rustled up the best zabaglione I have ever eaten, whilst drunk at two in the morning. So if she recommends something, I normally take it seriously. Like this tart. It is, quite simply, a sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry piled with slow-cooked onions and bacon bits. It takes ten minutes to prepare although with cooking times allow an hour all in. It is very savoury and more-ish but don’t be a slave to the ingredients. I have since cooked it with mushrooms and gorgonzola so you can mix and match as you wish. Although I add as a postscript, my children would never eat blue cheese or funghi but instead like it with less onions, more bacon and lots of grated mozzarella. Start to finish: 1 hour Serves: 3 adults or 2 adults and 2 kids 1 sheet ready rolled puff pastry 4 rashers bacon, finely chopped 4 onions – ideally roughly chopped in large-ish pieces, but I often use these 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves 2 tbsp double cream salt pepper Unroll the pastry onto a greased baking sheet and refrigerate. Fry the bacon over a medium heat until it renders its fat. Add the onions and cook slowly over a low-medium heat for 30 minutes, stirring from time to time. Heat the oven to 220C. Take off the heat and let the mixture stand for 5 mins before stirring in the cream, salt, pepper. Cool to room temperature. Prick the pastry all over with a fork. Pile the oniony mixture onto it, leaving a centimetre margin round...

Boil in the bag kedgeree

Good for: a swift midweek supper for grown ups or weekend lunch for adventurous children and their parents Ok, ok, maybe I should have worked on the name of this dish a little more. Boil-in-the-bag kedgeree summons up images of ’50s housewives preparing dinner and then killing all germs dead with some radioactive bleach. But, please, forget the name. This is delicious and the boil-in-the-bag element just adds to the convenience, all the ingredients are as healthy and unadulterated as though they were fresh. It’s a great dish for when you’re feeling sluggish and weary – a permanent parental state I’d have thought – as kippers (yes, kippers, to keep the ’50s feel going) are packed full of omega 3s. It’s also a good emergency supper, keep a packet of kippers in the freezer and rice in your cupboard and you’ll always have a super-healthy supper just 20 minutes away. Kipper kedgeree Start to finish: 21 minutes Serves: 2 adults or 1 adult and two children 125g or one sachet of Uncle Ben’s wholegrain “boil in the bag” rice 2 Scottish kipper fillets – again, boil in the bag 20g butter 1 onion diced1 tsp curry powder – strength up to you 1 tsp tumeric 3 tbsp sour cream or crème fraiche Salt and pepper Handful of watercress or rocket, chopped 2 hard-boiled eggs Get a large saucepan of water to a rolling boil and pop in the bag of kippers and set the buzzer to 10 minutes. Pour large glass of wine and start picking dried Weetabix off the high chair. When buzzer goes, pop the bag of...

Pineapple upside down pudding

Good for: just about anything. I’ve spent a long time trying to nurture my husband’s inner baker. I need a constant supply of cake, initially it was because of pregnancy, then it was breastfeeding, and now the excuses are over and it’s just plain gluttony. Anyway, the nurturing wasn’t going to plan, no cakes had been baked and I was worried that my cake vibes were misdirected as a neighbour’s husband has gone baking crazy, to the extent that he now grows his own yeast. I don’t need that level of commitment, just a weekly cake or fruit loaf would be fine. Anyway, a couple of days ago, with no prompting, husband got the urge, and we had a delicious, gooey, pineapple upside down pudding. The kids had it for their pud the next day with some cream and thought they’d died and gone to dessert heaven. Normal service resumed today and they had their daily dose of chopped fruit and a whisper of yoghurt. Pineapple upside down pudding Start to finish: 15 minutes prep, 35 minutes in the oven and 5 minutes standing Serves: 6 For the topping 50g softened butter 50g light soft brown sugar 7 tinned pineapples rings or equivalent of fresh FOR THE CAKE 100g softened butter 100g golden caster sugar 100g self-raising flour 1 tsp baking powder 1 tsp vanilla extract 2 eggs Put oven on at 180C. For the topping, beat the butter and sugar together until creamy. Spread the mixture over the base and slightly up the sides of a 20-21cm round cake tin. Arrange pineapple rings on top. Put the cake...

Peas please frittata

Good for: picnics or family lunches in the garden. This frittata was inspired by an epic train journey to Cornwall last week. Our usual bribe of Smarties for good behaviour was supplemented by a bag of fresh peas in their pod. Not my idea – I’m a sucker for something with chocolate, and this sounded too healthy to fool anyone, even a two year old. However my eldest son fell for it. He was rewarded for good behaviour at each train station we stopped at with a pod to pluck, or a Smartie, and he was ridiculously pleased with either. Oh, how the six hours flew by. . . Pea, feta, asparagus and mint frittata Start to finish: 20 minutes Serves: 4 adults 350g peas (frozen, of course, life’s too short etc ) 8 asparagus spears or other veg you’ve got knocking about 150g new potatoes, cooked a sprig of mint 8 eggs 1 tbsp olive oil large knob of butter 8 finely sliced spring onions 50g feta cheese Cook all the veg – boil peas for three mins and steam asparagus on top. I had some cooked potatoes in the fridge. Beat the eggs in a jug and season with pepper. Heat a 24cm non-stick frying pan (I used my griddle pan which worked just as well). Add olive oil and butter and fry spring onions for 2 mins. Stir in cooked vegetables. Tear up mint, crumble feta and drop both in, pour in eggs and distribute vegetables evenly with wooden spoon, Cook over a medium low heat for 10-12 minutes or until almost set. Place under a preheated...

Snapped asparagus

Good for: a grown up Sunday night supper In May my family gorges on asparagus. It’s in season so our local cornershop stacks it high and sells it cheap. I avoid buying it at other times, because it’s imported from so far away, and although my husband maintains he’s hard done by, I think he likes the gluttonous abandonment with which we enjoy it for the six weeks or so it’s in season. We eat it at least once a day, steamed, dripping in butter, with shavings of parmesan alongside whatever else we’re having. My eldest loves it and I’m weaning my nine month old at the moment, and it’s perfect finger food. Before cooking asparagus I fold the tip to the tail into a horseshoe shape, until it snaps. This means you only get the tender stems with no woodiness, but it seems a shame to throw away what can be a large part of the asparagus, so below is an asparagus stalk soup. True, the last few inches can be woody and inedible if lightly steamed, but if you subject them to a ferocious boiling in stock, followed by a blitzing in a food processor, they surrender and collapse into the most incredible soup. The kids would probably love it, but it gets a bit messy feeding them soup so we keep it as an adult pleasure. That makes it sound more exciting than it is. Asparagus stalk soup Start to finish: 20 minutes Serves: 2 as a main 300g of asparagus stalks – just cutting off the really woody cm or so at the end A...

Pimped up rice crispy cakes

Good for: birthday parties, wet afternoons, chocolate withdrawal, anything really. I’m new at this making cakes malarkey but my eldest son (three in July) has just rumbled that those things I buy in cafes can be made at home and who can resist a lisped request for rithe crithpy caketh? Surely this can’t be too hard, how difficult can stirring rice crispies into chocolate goo be? But what is the chocolate goo? Call me a novice, but I had no idea. After a few disasters I realised the missing childhood ingredient was Golden Syrup. That with a melted bar of Green&Black, for an element of sophistication (ha!) was the answer. I used their milk chocolate as it was all my local shop had, but imagine it would be doubly delicious with Mayan Gold or something a bit more unusual. I pimped up these cakes a little by putting them into individual heart-shaped baking tins lined with cling film, making sure the crispies were squashed in and compact so the edges would be solid. I was quite pleased with the results and reckon you could use any shaped tin to add a new dimension. Chocolate Rice Crispy Cake Start to finish – 20 minutes plus 30 minutes in the fridge 100g chocolate 8 tablespoons golden syrup 100g rice crispies Makes 20 small cakes •Add the chocolate and golden syrup to a glass bowl sitting on top of a sauce pan of simmering water. •Once the chocolate and golden syrup has melted, add the rice crispies and stir in. •Put the mixture into the biscuit/cake tins which you have already lined...

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