Lamb Ragu

What a cold and damp day. In fact, it’s looking like a cold and damp spell so I thought a warming supper would be a good choice for today. This is in fact an old favourite of ours from when Boy O was allergic to all things dairy – even the cow, and he couldn’t eat bolognaise, so I needed to find alternative sources of iron for him.

Lamb isn’t a meat I’d instantly associate with toddlers and Little People, however this seems to get devoured by every child we know. Even Boy A who might as well be vegetarian, in fact would be if I could get him to eat enough veg. It’s a great dish for weekend lunches with friends as everyone can eat the same thing all together, and I’m a big fan of that.

You don’t need much for this and it makes a big vat of ragu – enough for a couple of families to share over lunch, or to fill a shelf in the freezer. As usual for me this can also be re-purposed into many different guises. My favourite way to serve it is simply with pasta – small shells for the children, extra large ones for the grown-ups. Lots of grated cheddar or crumbled feta and some chunks of fresh crusty bread. Yum, I could eat it now and it’s only 11am.

You’ll need a half leg of lamb (bone in), olive oil, an onion finely chopped, 200ml stock (water will also work just fine, as would red, or surprise – white wine if feeding grown-ups), four tins of chopped tomatoes,  three tbsp balsamic vinegar, a few bay leaves and a small bunch of fresh rosemary very finely chopped.

Begin by heating a large glug of olive oil in a large heavy based saucepan. Add the meat and cook for a few minutes on each side – try to gently brown as much of the meat as possible (lots of people think this step is unnecessary, so entirely up to you whether you do it or not – I often skip it if I’m short for time and it doesn’t seem to make any difference either way). Add the rest of the ingredients (although if using wine add this first and cook off the alcohol for 10 minutes before adding everything else) and give it a big stir.

It needs to cook for three hours (or thereabouts) and just needs regular stirring and turning of the joint. You can either leave it on the stove or place it in a pre-heated (160º) oven – up to you.

It is ready when the meat falls off the bone when prodded with a fork. Take it out of the oven / off the stove and carefully remove the bone along with any remaining fat / gristle. Flake the meat and stir it into the sauce. For Little People I like to flake the meat into small pieces, whereas for grown-ups I like to leave the meat in fairly big melt-in-the mouth chunks. But this can be done at the table / on the plate. For the grown-ups you’ll want to season it generously on the plate too.

We love this especially with pasta, however it is also delicious served with rice, in wraps with cheese and grilled to make quesadillas, inside pitta bread or wraps with salad and crème fraiche, with mashed potato and vegetables or made into a pie with a mash or pastry top. Or even just inside a warm baguette with lashings of butter…mmmm.

NB/ Apologies for the rather abstract photo today.

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(Pesto Pasta with) Fruity Squares

Boy O has been poorly this week. In fact, Boy A hasn’t been great either. They’re not really eating much aside from peanut butter, yogurt and hummus (it could be much, much worse.) I find it so frustrating, yet weirdly get a kick out of finding ways to get some kind of goodness into them.  Especially vegetables. However they’re this week rejecting anything remotely healthy. Even fish fingers and they’re not really classed as healthy even if they do contain a percentage of ‘fish’. So I’ve sort of given up for a week *gasp* and am going with the flow (those of you who personally know me will understand that I am not really a ‘go with the flow’ kind of person).

Today they’ve not really eaten anything at all, except for half a bagel, a scotch pancake and a yogurt drink, so this evening for supper I made pesto pasta.

So what? Quite. Nothing new here. Seriously, nothing new here. Just pasta boiled in water (ok, with a couple of cubes of frozen spinach thrown in), tossed in pesto and a pile of grated cheese on top. Boy O gobbled it all up with his fingers in around 3 and a half minutes (we’re still working on his table manners), Boy A was still at the table 45 minutes later eating his favourite supper under duress (he really must be feeling poorly).

And then I brought out pudding – the fruit squares I’d baked earlier in the day, when Boy O napped and Boy A watched TV had quality rest time. They both gobbled them up in quick time. And so did Daddy. Even I have to admit they were delicious, so I must share them with you. I would even call them ‘healthy’ as they contain very little that is considered bad.

You’ll need (as ever the ingredients are interchangeable and quantities are approximate so don’t worry if you’re a little out here and there):

  • 75g butter
  • 75g light brown sugar
  • 3tbsp runny honey
  • 2 small bananas, mashed
  • 2 pears, grated
  • 40g sunflower seeds (or any other seed)
  • 40g desiccated coconut (ground almonds would work as well)
  • 80g fresh blueberries
  • 100g raisins (dried berries such as cranberries or chopped dried fruit i.e apricots, fig etc would be tasty too)
  • 200g porridge oats

Pre-heat the oven to 200º and grease a raised edge baking tray with butter and greaseproof paper.

In a large pan, melt the butter, sugar and honey together, until the sugar has fully dissolved.

Turn off the heat and mix in the rest of the ingredients until the oats are nicely coated.

Press the mixture firmly into the baking tray and pop it in the fridge to set, until the oven is at the right temperature (it can stay in the fridge for 24hrs before baking). Cook for 10 minutes then turn the heat down to 150º for a further 15-20 minutes, or until it begins to brown at the edges.

Take out of the oven and leave to cool in the tray, before transferring to a cooling rack and cutting into squares. Try to resit nibbling on it before it’s cool. Then try and save some for tomorrow. Go on…

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Leftover Risotto Cakes

Earlier this week I wrote about my basic risotto recipe. Today I am writing about what to do with any leftovers.

Leftover Risotto Cakes. Or probably more accurately, Deliberate Leftover Risotto Cakes, because this is really part 2 of the recipe. And possibly the better part. Definitely so, according to Boy A, Boy O and Daddy – all of my boys in fact prefer leftover-day-or-two-old-(no-more)-risotto-cakes to the actual risotto. So-much-so, I now have to double the quantity of rice and stock when making the risotto so I can make these the next day.

All you need is breadcrumbs.

And a fairly hot oven – 180° should suffice.

Now these can be made with fresh risotto, however they are so much better (and easier to make) with stodgy day-or-two-old risotto fresh from the fridge.

All you need to do is take a spoonful of risotto, roll it into a patty (I like them to be hob nob sized and around 1cm deep), gently roll it in breadcrumbs and place on a baking tray. Repeat until all the risotto has gone. These are so simple the children can even make them. Boy O especially loves to make these. Boy A would, but doesn’t like to get his hands mucky.

Bake them for 15-20 mins, depending on their size, then serve with vegetables, sauce, salad – whatever you fancy. Boy A likes them with broccoli. Boy O likes them dipped in ketchup. Daddy likes them on a bed of salad with balsamic vinegar. I like them with a glass of viognier. And an ice cube.

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Anything Goes Risotto

Yesterday we had risotto for supper.
Chicken, squash and leek risotto.
Boy A loves squash. Boy O loves chicken. They both ‘quite like’ risotto and manage to eat most of it which makes me happy, so it’s a winner for everyone.

I know a lot of people find risotto a faff to make, but honestly, for an every-day supper it needn’t be. Chop everything small so it all cooks at the same time and it’s actually pretty simple.

As always, I just throw whatever I have to hand in, which this time happened to be:
One chicken breast which I chopped into toddler-bite-sized pieces, some very small cubes of coquina squash (any squash / pumpkin etc will do), half a leek which I thinly sliced and a few snips of chives from the garden
You’ll also need risotto rice (half fill a big mug and that should suffice) and some low-salt chicken or veg stock (I use a cube of Kallo very low salt chicken stock) dissolved in a mug of water plus an extra half a mug of water to top it up.
Pop a splash of the stock into a pan and throw in the chicken, leek, squash and chives. Stir thoroughly until the chicken is cooked on the outside (it will be white rather than brown due to being kind of poached) then throw in the rice, toss it around the pan to coat it, and put the rest of the stock and water in.
Bring it to a very gentle simmer and go off and do whatever you need to do for the next 20 minutes, checking back every now and then to give it a gentle stir. If it’s looking dry stir in some extra water. If towards the end it’s looking a little too moist turn up the heat to a fast simmer and stir continuously.

It’s ready when the rice and squash are cooked through (which should be at the same time).

My boys like this served with some of the squash lumps gently squished with a fork and a massive handful of cheddar on top. Or sometimes a small spoon of cream cheese stirred in. Sometimes even both.

And if we’re eating as a family I further season ours on the plate and sprinkle some chopped red chilli on top – happy Daddy 😜