Thursday, 31 January 2013

Cauliflower Children

Cauliflower cheese is not entirely unlike Children.
  • It’s unhealthy
  • And time-consuming
  • And easy to cock up
  • Especially if you don’t give it your COMPLETE ATTENTION at all times
  • The mess is astonishing
  • At some point in the process you will swear Never Again.
  • You will also announce that it is Just Not Worth It

Unlike small people however, you soon realise that it is ALWAYS worth it - particularly when paired with a green salad or avocado (which is not something you’d automatically put on a plate with a child). 

I did try to minimise the mess-factor by using an oven-proof pan for the cheese sauce, but some dozy cow from the council called around just as I was mid-roux, and by the time I’d managed to shoo her away (“I’m making a ROUX!” I finally yelled – how mad must she have thought me?) and got back to the kitchen it HAD BURNT, so I had to start again from scratch, in a clean pan.  The final pan / implement count was:  three pans (cauliflower x 1, cheese sauce x 2), one colander (cauliflower), one jug (milk), one cheese grater (um, cheese), one food processor bowl and blade (bread-crumbs,) one chopping board (cauliflower and cheese), two knives, one wooden spoon, two regular spoons, and one server thingy.  And that’s before I served it up.  Which is ALOT of washing up for one dish.  (I daren’t leave it for the au pair – not least because she has a weekend in Sweden planned in June which she can’t miss...)

So, as with a third child, I have finally accepted that when it comes to making cauliflower cheese, you should never say never.

(Ps:  Rachel made cauliflower cheese recently, which I suddenly thought of when there was NOTHING in the fridge apart from a cauliflower, some milk, and – hurrah! - some cheese.  Her recipe is probably alot nicer than mine, however calls for the white sauce simmering for 20 minutes, which is just too long in this house. Once I start cooking, I want my food NOW, or as close to as possible. I also use more cheese, because, as with wine (for me) and Calpol (for them), more is more.)
Cauliflower Cheese

You need (for 4):
  • One large cauliflower, broken into large florets
  • 600 ml milk (any type)
  • 150g grated cheese (ideally a mix of strong cheeses;  I used cheddar and parmesan in equalish measures)
  • Two heaped tablespoons butter
  • Two heaped tablespoons plain flour
  • A couple of handfuls of breadcrumbs
  • Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 190c / 170c fan / 375f

Cook the cauliflower florets in a pan of boiling water for about 5 minutes – until they’re softened but still have a bit of bite.  Drain and leave to one side.

To make the cheese sauce:

Heat the milk (in the microwave is easiest).  You want it just below boiling. 

Melt the butter in a deep pan.  When it starts to sizzle add the flour and mix well with the butter.  You’re aiming for a dry, chalky mixture, with no obvious melted butter visible, so if necessary, add a bit more flour to get this.  Stir over a medium heat until it starts to stick slightly to the pan.

Do NOT answer the door for ANYONE.

Stirring like a lunatic, pour in the heated milk a couple of splashes at a time; the first few splashes will sizzle and (seemingly) evaporate, and the mixture will resemble thick paste.  Keep adding the milk, a bit at a time, and stirring frantically, until the mix has the consistency of double cream. 

Bring to the boil, stirring all the time, then remove from the heat. 

Add the cheese (keep back a small handful), and stir well to combine it. Taste, adding salt and pepper if needed.

(Alternatively, just buy a good ready-made b├ęchamel sauce – about 750ml – heat through, and add grated cheese, to knock 20 minutes off your prep time, and hours off the cleaning up.)

Bung the cauliflower into the sauce, stir well to mix, then either keep in the pan – if it’s oven-proof – or slop into a separate oven-proof dish.  Either way, sprinkle the top with breadcrumbs and the rest of the grated cheese, and dot some butter on top, then stick in the oven.

A scant 20 minutes later, you will have perfection in your kitchen.

Which is not something most parents can often honestly claim.

Monday, 28 January 2013

It's Parenthood, Stupid

There’s a Gary Larson Cartoon (I measure my life in GL cartoons) with a kid in a classroom raising his hand, saying “May I be excused, my brain is full.”  I have become that kid;  not because my brain is in fact full, but rather it has shrunk so much that it feels full.

As well as having nothing to say to anyone that isn’t child-related, the bit of my brain which deals with non-parenting issues has, I suspect, atrophied to such an extent that it no longer functions properly.  This can be the only explanation for the many less than intelligent things I do on a daily basis.  A selection from this week includes:
  • Leaving my house keys in the front door.  Overnight.
  • Leaving my house keys on the front windowsill.  Outside.  For the morning.
  • Leaving my house keys in the buggy.  At the kids’ nursery. 
  • Leaving my house keys in the Man’s coat pocket, while he went off for a walk with the kids, and I stood on my doorstep shouting at the inside of my handbag. 
  • Putting woollens in a hot wash.  Twice. In one day.
  • Putting eggs at the bottom of the shopping bag.  And then, having seen that they were all broken, putting them into the fridge anyway.
  • Ringing someone and completely forgetting, by the time they answered, who it was I calling, and having to hang up.
  • Putting onions on to sautee, then wandering off in a daze and half an hour later, as I was sorting through baby clothes, wondering (a) what the smell was and (b) why the smoke alarm was going off. 
  • Making boiled eggs. But forgetting the water.  (So, not so much boiled, as shell-on-pan-fried)

Lest you think that the parenting part of my brain is bulked up, like a cyclist’s Yellow-Jersey-winning muscles, rest assured – my stupidity knows no boundaries.  And so this week I have learnt the following:
  • Do not Google: “tiny blue dot on baby’s scalp”, before checking to see if it washes off.  Ink is alot easier – and less traumatic – to remove (not to mention fret about) than Melanocytic Nevus. 
  • Do not snuffle into your baby’s flabby neck, unless you’ve wiped under the neck-flaps first.  (Indirectly, I also learnt that neck-cheese isn’t so tasty.)
  • Always do a head-count before you start the car. Three isn’t such a hard number to remember.  If there’s only 2 – well, one might be in her car-seat on the pavement.
  • If your son asks something, and you’re not quite sure what he said, always assume it’s a question to which the only answer is “no”.  Unless you want (a) a long protracted argument, and (b) - (notwithstanding (a)) - ice-cream on your sofa.

And now my brain really is feeling full, and I must go lie down. 

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Soup & Gore

It is soup weather.  Which is, frankly, the only thing that this post-snow freezing-slush has going for it.  I love soup, and I am determined that my children will love it too. 

Actually, that’s a complete lie;  I could care less if they love it or not, but – God help me - they WILL eat it. To facilitate this, I announce the soup’s arrival in the high-pitched, over-excited  manner of a coked-up tv presenter, according to its colour. 

Behold the Orange Soup:

It may not sound– or look – appetising, but it’s very easy, very cheap, and very tasty.  And if the call-it-by-its-colour trick doesn’t work, employ the other pre-schooler favourite:  name the most disgusting thing you can think of as its main ingredient. So: behold the Blood-Clot soup... Which – of course - is best eaten with Pus & Guts (aka cheese and tomato relish) toasted sandwiches:

Tomato and Lentil Soup
You need (for 4 very generous portions)
  • Some oil
  • 1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • One stick of celery, roughly chopped
  • One large carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
  • Two tins of tomatoes
  • 1 litre of vegetable stock (a cube or bouillon powder is fine)
  • Two handfuls of red lentils
  • A handful of parsley, chopped (optional)

Add a dollop of oil to a pan, and place over a high heat.  When it’s hot-ish, add the chopped onion and leave to cook for a few minutes – until it’s started to sizzle.  (If you like your soup to have a bit of a kick, and you have accommodating children (or indeed no children at all) add some chopped chilli, or a tablespoon of cumin powder (or both) to the pot now and leave cook for a minute.)

Throw in the celery and carrots, stir to combine, and when it’s all sizzling put the lid on the pan and turn the heat down low.  Leave it to soften – about 7 minutes (checking occasionally to make sure it’s not sticking or burning – if it is, add a couple of glugs of water to the pan and replace the lid).

Add the tinned tomatoes, breaking them up if you’re using whole ones. Bring to the boil, then lob in the lentils and the stock.  Bring to the boil again, then cover and leave to simmer until the lentils are almost disintegrating – about 15 minutes.  (Use this time to mop up all the wet sludgy shite which your kids have dragged in from the garden on their shoes AGAIN.)

If you like a bit of chunk in your soup, just season it and add the parsley. However, obvious chunks of UUUUUUUUUGGHHHTOMATOES are banned in most toddler-abodes (certainly in this one) so either employ the old blood-clot-trick, or puree the hell out of it, as I did, before adding the parsley. (Which obviously isn’t parsley AT ALL, but rather flakey bits of goblin skin...)

Then gobble up QUICKLY before the aliens that live under the stairs come and steal it.  

Friday, 4 January 2013

Positively 2013

Two topics today.  The first is, not entirely originally, New Year’s Resolutions. To see how I fared in 2012, I looked at the first post from last year when I set out a few intentions.  Included in it was this little gem:

“Detox for a week at some point this month. I have to be careful about this one – the last two times I’ve done it, I’ve found self in the family way not long soonafter.”
Christ alive. Talk about tempting fate. It’s little wonder really that the Gods started to rub their hands together with glee.

So my first resolution this year – and for every year for the rest of my fertile life – is to NOT DETOX.  (Notwithstanding that the c-section included a teeny tube-tying procedure - there’s a miniscule chance of failure, and I really don’t have the energy to make medical history).

The second is to try to find something positive – no matter how minor - about every day. The Man came home from work yesterday and asked me – reasonably enough – how my day was. I gave him The Look.  “Give me one highlight and one lowlight”.  I really did try, but honestly, the only highlight I could come up with was that the day had passed without any hospital visits / major calamities.  Which are, I accept, highlights in theselves.  But assuming I can get all of us through every day more or less intact, I’m going to try for something more; some icing of positivity on the humdrum cake of life, if you will.  Already today there have been a couple.  The first was at 7am when I woke up after over 7 hours’ sleep.  The other was the Boy and the Girl playing happily together in the garden for the bones of half an hour.  Happily!  Granted, the play involved mud and water, but what price a disgusting pool of filth for enough time to have a cup of tea and a piece of toast?  

Finally, I’m going to really really try to post new recipes every week.  In addition to a whinging rant an all-new-singing-and-dancing-with-positivity recount of the hell bliss that is my life.  I got some wonderful cook books for Christmas, and I’m determined to do more than just read them and salivate. (I'm going to read them, salivate, try to copy, and post really cack photos of the results. Hold on to your seats.) 

Onto the other topic:  equally originally, a quick review of 2012. 

The blogging highlight – ie, the post which was most popular – was the announcement of My Condition.  (Seemed that was a bit of a shock to some of you – just imagine how we felt.) Despite the somewhat less than auspicious beginnings, her arrival was our personal highlight, and she remains the gift that keeps on giving.  She gets cuter - and fatter - every day, full of coos and dribbly  smiles, and combined with her new gift of sleeping past the early hours, is currently the best child in the house. (Mind you, her competition isn't much - the fact that she can't speak catapults her to first place in itself.) 

There were a few lowlights, but nothing major*;  just like long-distance flights with children, or broken teeth, once the moment has passed you forget about them and move on. (Which reminds me, I’ve got to organise ROOT CANAL TREATMENT for this month;  don’t expect much positivity after that.) The ongoing juggling of life with three children, and trying to work out the constantly changing logistics remains a challenge, but the all-new-positive me is hopeful that it’ll get easier.  (It has to get easier, right?)

And so I wish you all a very happy New Year;  may it be full of not-too-challenging challenges, children’s dvds, dark Scandinavian crime thrillers, fat smiley babies, mud dragged through your kitchen, and crisps stuffed into your mouths while your children aren’t looking.  Which just about sums up my 2012.

(* Apart from a week-long hospital stay.  Which - thankfully -  seems to have been wiped from my memory by the ensuing sleep deprivation.)