January 29th. Paella Tortilla (and variations)

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So apparently I am now someone who is creative with leftovers. Not sure it’s going on the skills section of my CV…

There was a lot of leftover paella and I fancied doing something a bit different with it. While Indie’s pincer grip is coming along nicely, it needed to be something grippable. Omelettes are an almost perfect BLW food…and so the paella tortilla was born.

I seem to find myself reaching for an egg when I am lacking ideas and/or Indie’s salt content is as high as I want it to be. You can cram the beaten egg with lots of veggies and you quickly have a meal ready. While I have always believed that eating eggs without salt is like kissing a man without a beard (a lovely phrase that a school friend’s mum once introduced me to) I am just about getting used to not cooking eggs with it. I just add it at the table to my portion.

I have a beaten up old small IKEA frying pan that I love to use for things like this. It seems to be the perfect size for a two-three egg frittata/tortilla. I’d recommend using your smallest pan for this, so you can get the nicest, thickest tortilla.

Ingredients

1 overfilled cup of leftover paella
2 eggs, beaten

Mix the eggs and paella together, season with a little pepper.

Heat your frying pan and add a scant teaspoon of oil when it’s hot. Pour in the egg mixture, leaving it for about thirty seconds without stirring. Once the bottom is starting to cook, give the mixture a good stir and then turn down the heat. You will still have some runny egg on the top, this is OK. Keep cooking the tortilla for another 1-2 minutes. You’re going to flip it once the bottom is nicely browned. This will depend on how high the heat is, and how well your pan conducts the heat.

When you’re ready to flip, place a dinner plate over the frying pan and invert the whole thing, then lift off the pan. Slide the tortilla back into the pan, so the uncooked side gets a turn at the heat. The second side should take just a moment or two to brown.

If your pan is ovenproof, you can always slip it under the grill instead of turning it over. This results in a nice puffed up top, but my small pan handle isn’t ovenproof. I also quite like the way the edge of the tortilla will round out if you use the inverting method, I feel this look more authentic.

We had this with a little sweet potato with lemon and tahini dressing, and those nice Spanish breadsticks you have with jamon.

So tell me, how do you feel about beards and salt?

January 28th. Easy Paella

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Not the most authentic paella I have ever made, but given it was pulled together in less than ten minutes of actual work and left to cook for 30….I deliberately went for something drier than I might usually, and I skipped using any delicious chorizo because, salt.

Ingredients
250g paella rice (I randomly seem to have about 3kg of bomba rice in the cupboard)
An onion, finely sliced
A clove of garlic
A red pepper, diced
A good pinch of saffron
A small pinch of sweet smoked paprika
250ml chicken stock and 250ml or so of water (you may need a bit more water later)
A handful of frozen prawns, defrosted
A handful of frozen peas, not defrosted
Chopped parsley to garnish

First get your stock and water into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the saffron once this has happened. While the liquid is heating, gently fry your onion, pepper and garlic in a tablespoon of olive oil. Once it’s golden and melty (about ten minutes) add the rice and paprika. Stir to coat and let the rice begin to become translucent (about five minutes) and then pour in all the liquid. Stir, bring up the heat and let everything come to a good simmer. Then you can turn down the heat and wander off for twenty minutes.

Taste the rice when you come back. It should still have a chalkiness to it but it shouldn’t be break-your-teeth-solid. If it is, add more water and wander off again for ten minutes or so. If you’re happy with the level of doneness, scatter your peas and prawns over the top and gently press them down. Come back in ten minutes, everything should be done. Sprinkle over the parsley. Impress your baby.

Resist the urge to stir your rice once the liquid has been added. Part of the appeal of the dish is that slightly scronchy layer at the bottom of the pan and you will lose this if you stir. You have been warned…

January 21st. Salmon and Kale Fishcakes

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These went down a treat! I’ve always been partial to a fishcake and these are really simple to make. I made these with tinned salmon as I liked the convenience of it, but fresh fish would work just as well. I’ve had success with some lovely undyed smoked haddock in the past. The choices are endless.

I’m the kind of person who has left-over mash and kale in the fridge a lot as I tend to make batches when I do my Sunday food prep. There is absolutely nothing (other than salt content and perhaps moisture) stopping you from using a pack of ready-made mash for these and subbing the kale for parsley.

Ingredients
250g mash (you want mash that’s on the dry side so I tend not to add milk when I make mine)
A tin of salmon
A couple of handfuls of cooked kale, chopped
Plain flour
A beaten egg

It really is as simple as mixing together the fish, potato and green item. I’d recommend chilling it once you have done this, as the colder the mixture, the easier the next bit.

Line three plates up on your counter-top. Put the beaten egg on the first one and flour on the second one (be generous, as there is nothing worse than attempting to shake out more flour once you have started.) If you were going on Masterchef, you could do an extra plate with breadcrumbs or Panko. I’m not, so I didn’t.

Wet your hands, and then grab some fishcake mixture. How much depends on what size you want your fishcakes. Mulch it together and then flatten. Repeat, until all your fishcake mixture is used up.

Now for the messy bit. Dip your fishcake in the egg, both sides. Then into the flour, again, both sides. Don’t stint on the flour. Pop the fishcake onto the last plate. Repeat, until your fingers look a complete mess and all your fishcakes are coated.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan. Fry the fishcakes, taking care not to burn them. I find that a quick blast on high at first, and then turning the heat to medium for five minutes or so means you get a nice crust, without ending up with a cold middle. Alternatively, get a sear on them and then pop into an oven at 180 for 20 minutes.

Serve with a good squeeze of lemon.

January 18th. Buffalo Chilli

This was a happy accident. Far be it for me to say I have improved upon the original Ottolenghi recipe, for that recipe is damn delicious and I cooked it the day it appeared in the paper. But this version came out of necessity, and just goes to show that you don’t ever always have to follow a recipe to the letter.

This is a quite involved dish. So it’s not one to try on a Tuesday night. It also benefits from a night in the fridge (like all stews). Make double. This is a brilliant thing to have stashed away in the freezer.

A thought on making the paste. I don’t own a food processor, just a stick blender and I find that this works just fine for me. I always use it in a high-sided, flat-bottomed glass jar. I find my Weck ones are perfect, and it doesn’t pick up any food taint.

Ingredients

800g diced buffalo. Venison shoulder or chuck steak would also work.
300g shallots, peeled and sliced. If the skins are very papery and hard to remove, top and tail them and then pop them in a bowl of boiling water for a minute or two. This will seem like an insane amount of shallots. Stick with it.
320g pancetta. Smoked for preference. I used half and half.
1 large dried guajillo chilli
3 dried chipotle chillis
2 cloves of garlic
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp Mexican oregano
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1/2 tsp caster sugar
2 tbsp plain flour
100ml dry white vermouth and 250ml of chicken stock (white wine or stock can be subbed for the vermouth)
400g tin of butter beans

Heat the oven to 150C.

Rehydrate your chillies using 150ml of boiling water and leave for thirty minutes. Strain (save the water), and put the flesh in whatever you are going to make your paste in, with the garlic, cumin, vinegar, sugar, and oregano. Blitz, adding chilli water until it’s a smooth paste, then set aside.

Put your largest, heaviest Le Creuset type pot on medium-high heat. Add two tablespoons of the oil, the shallots and pancetta, and fry gently for 10-15 minutes, stirring so that nothing burns, until the shallots have softened and the bacon browned.

While the onions and bacon cook, put the venison in a large bowl. Sprinkle over the flour and half a teaspoon of salt, and mix to coat. Heat a large frying pan on a medium-high heat and add a tablespoon of oil. Add a third of the venison, sear for a couple of minutes, browning it all over, and transfer to the pot with the bacon and onions. Repeat twice more with the remaining venison. There will be some delicious pan scrapings, so deglaze using 150ml water and add this to the meat and onions. Add the rest of your liquids and the chilli paste to the pot, stir, season and bring to the boil. Cover and cook in the oven for 90 minutes; 10 minutes before the end, add the butter beans, cover again, and return to the oven.

If you’re eating this straight away, leave it to stand for 30 minutes, but it will really benefit from a night in the fridge.

I like to serve this with rice and a very simple guacamole of mashed, very ripe avocado, a very finely diced white onion, plenty of salt, coriander and lime juice.

January 15th. Sweet Potato, Feta & Coriander

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This dish has a place in my heart as Giles “properly proposed” to me while I was making it. I came across it as part of a Jamie Oliver 30 minute meal, a meal which I can confirm was actually impossible to make in 30 minutes, especially when presented with a beautiful ring in the middle of cooking.

I like this recipe mostly because it’s a repurposing of something that I cooked before Indie, just with a couple of tweaks to make it a bit more BLW friendly. Babies need to eat as little salt as possible and lack our pincer grip, so I don’t chop the cooked dish the way Jamie suggests. This gives me a bit more control over the amount of feta Indie gets, and it’s a lot easier for her to pick up. I also skipped the chilli today, but more because I didn’t have one.

Ingredients
Two sweet potatoes, peeled and chunked
50g of feta. Try and find the creamiest feta you can, it will really help the final dish (I like the barrel aged feta from Waitrose).
Half a bunch of coriander (cilantro), finely chopped
A good squeeze of lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil for finishing

Put the potatoes into a microwave proof bowl, cover with boiling water, and microwave for 10-15 minutes. Cooking time will depend on your microwave wattage. While this is cooking, chop the feta and mix it with the coriander on your chopping board. When the potatoes are cooked, drain them thoroughly and then put them onto the chopping board. Mix and chop the three ingredients together, more finely if you are not worrying about salt content. Squeeze over the lemon and drizzle with oil.

I served this with some haddock but I think it goes with heaps of things. There were some leftovers which will probably be turned into little sweet potato, feta and coriander cakes tomorrow, by mashing them up and then frying in a little oil.

January 9th. Porridge Fingers

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“If I give my baby a pouch of Ella’s Kitchen chicken casserole with the top screwed off, and she feeds herself, is it still baby led weaning?”

I’d followed the BLW page on FB in the hope of picking up some tips and recipes. Instead the group seems stuck in a bit of a rut, arguing about what BLW is (or isn’t).

One question that keeps popping up is “what are porridge fingers?”, usually followed by “can I have the recipe?” This is likely because feeding toast to your baby every morning makes you feel a bit guilty, and most people getting to grips with BLW can’t yet fathom dealing with the clean up from a bowl of cornflakes. Giles and I are currently considering converting the lounge into a Dexter-style kill room after a particularly messy encounter with some Cabbage in the Troo Style. I can deal with the clean up from lunch and supper, but I really need breakfast to be simple.

The BLW bible would have you believe that babies can be served a porridge finger made by microwaving three tablespoons of oats with three tablespoons of water in a shallow bowl for three minutes. Some suggest soaking the oats. I’d suggest doing all that, and then throwing the resulting ship’s biscuit-style abomination in the bin. I gave it to Indie, and she gave me a raised eyebrow. Maybe I used the wrong oats?

So instead, I remembered a conversation with a lovely Scots friend, who told me about how his mum used to fry up the leftover porridge in a bit of butter. Yes it’s a lot more work than the weevil-less ship’s biscuit. But it’s a lot more delicious. Also, as I am sat eating my porridge alongside Indie, I like to pretend we’re in a fancy restaurant and I have served “porridge, two ways”.

I make a batch of the porridge the night before I want to serve it. This amount makes two servings and keeps for a couple of days.

40g jumbo porridge oats
175ml of water, or a mixture of milk and water
A good shake of cinnamon

Microwave the oats, cinnamon and liquid in a steep sided tupperware container (to reduce the risk of porridge boiling over) on high for two minutes. Stir, and then leave for two minutes and then microwave for another minute. Give it another stir, scraping down any porridge that has crawled up the sides. Pop the lid on the container and refrigerate overnight.

The porridge will have solidified by the morning. Take it out of the container and cut into fingers. You’ll find it quite easy to cut, unless you’ve made a bollox of the liquid measuring, in which case just make some toast.

Melt a little butter in your frying pan. Fry as many slices as you think your baby will eat (mine “eats” three but there’s some significant wastage) giving a good couple of minutes on each side to brown. Leave to cool. Serve.

As a variation, you can mash a banana into the porridge once it is cooked and before you chill it. Et voila, banana porridge fingers.

January 7th. Tomatoes and Tahini on Toast

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More of a set of foraging instructions than a recipe to be honest…

I first had this dish at Bill’s* in Sydney so it transports me to summer mornings, no matter how dreck the weather is here. I know it’s not tomato season, but Riverford sent some last week, and while their hardness means they could be mistaken for snooker balls, the flavour isn’t too bad. Along with slices of a brown St John sourdough (via Selfridges foodhall), and some proper Arabian tahini (via Ottolenghi), this was a lovely reminder of more sun drenched days.

A note on tahini. It really is worth shelling out for the good stuff. I recently purchased some Al Arz Brand and it blew my mind. It’s so smooth and light, with none of that clagginess, or slight acrid flavour that you can sometimes yet. Yes, it is at least twice the price, but I think it is worth every penny. I wonder if this brand can be found more cheaply on the Edgeware Road?

Indie loved the whole thing. I originally didn’t put any tahini on her toast, and she quickly made it clear that mum needed to stop holding out on her. I find her desire to copy me absolutely charming, and yet so frightening to think about the influence I have over her. Responsibility indeed.

She also enjoyed some crinkle cut banana (so much easier for the holding) and some delicious strained Greek yogurt from Waitrose. This is a really great product and I am delighted it’s back in stores. It’s almost thick enough to pick up, and really tangy. Perfect for little graspy fingers.

*not the terrible British chain that I am fairly sure is trying to pass itself off as Bill Grainger’s place. They even use the same font. The actual Bill has been forced to call his new London place Grainger and Co. We are planning a visit soon.