Will has been really poorly with an ear infection. It’s the first time he has been properly unwell (thankfully) and it has been horrible. He had a fever that wouldn’t come down with painkillers and it worried me a lot. As a pharmacist, I thought I would be calm and controlled when my child was ill but if anything it makes me even more neurotic! I also, despite being surrounded by medicines every day, hate to give him things if I can avoid it, so when he was given antibiotics I was weirdly disappointed – a completely stupid emotion as within two doses he had perked up no end and his temperature was back to normal. There is such negative stigma attached to antibiotics and it’s completely unfounded; of course they should only be used when needed, but when they are needed they are incredible, life saving medicines that we should thank our lucky stars for! Although he has been feeling better, he still hasn’t been his usual bubbly self and its been upsetting to see.
Anyway, as I was feeling hopeless at making my little man feel better I focussed on what I could do, making him some soothing, nutritious food. Soup is my go-to food when anyone is ill. Its quick to make, comforting, healthy and can be eaten at literally any time of day. Soups have always been a regular meal in our house, but even more so since we became parents. I love to batch cook soups and freeze portions to have for lunches or late suppers. Its also great to have something that is quick to reheat and can be eaten with one hand (or put in a mug when you have a cluster feeding newborn)!
This particular soup is a firm favourite in our house. It really showcases summer vegetables so it is perfect for this time of year. The aubergine gives the soup a wonderful creamy texture which works beautifully to cut through the acidity of the tomatoes without having to add sugar. This soup is also able to make even the most tasteless, unripe supermarket tomatoes taste delicious. Although it goes without saying that the better your tomatoes, the better the flavour will be.
Soups are also a marvellous way of sneaking extra vegetables into children or babies. I spoon-feed Will food like this (my kitchen or my type A personality wouldn’t cope if he fed himself soup!) To encourage him to feed himself as well, I give him bread soldiers that have been dunked in the soup for him to chew on. I also added some live natural yoghurt to Will’s to give him back some of the good bacteria the antibiotics may have taken!
Any leftovers can obviously be frozen but this soup also works perfectly as a pasta sauce, two recipes in one!
1 aubergine, chopped into chunks
5 fresh tomatoes
1 tin of tomatoes
1 red onion
pinch of fresh or dried oregano
pinch of mixed herbs
black pepper to taste
Chop the aubergine and tomatoes and place in an oven tray to roast with the dried herbs and a drizzle of olive oil
Roast them at 180C until they are soft and browning
Peel and finely slice the red onion and sweat in a saucepan on a low heat until it is translucent
Add the oven roasted tomato and aubergine to the saucepan with the onion, rinse out the oven tray with some water and pour into the saucepan so you lose no flavour
Add the tin of tomatoes and a little water
Simmer for 15 minutes
Season to taste and blend, adding water until you reach your desired consistency.
My first job was at a hotel and restaurant in a local village. I was employed there to work at the reception desk in the mornings. One morning I arrived to find the head chef having a blazing row with the owner as the breakfast chef had walked out. The owner, in a bid to calm down the chef volunteered me to help in the kitchen. I was terrified as I hadn’t ever set foot in a professional kitchen and the restaurant was chasing a Michelin star. I was taken to a blisteringly hot corner, shown an enormous mixer on the floor and told to make bread; 20 loaves of bread to be exact! To cut a long story short, my terror turned very quickly to enjoyment and 10 years later I still love making bread.
Bread-baking lends itself brilliantly to life with a baby. Although it takes a while to make, the work isn’t constant. You can spend 10 minutes with it and then walk away for an hour. The taste of homemade bread is unlike anything you can buy pre-sliced, and it contains far less ingredients. I checked a loaf of supermarket wholemeal bread yesterday and it contained 22 ingredients, including more sugar and salt than I am happy to feed Will. I don’t pretend that he is never exposed to sugar or salt, he is. But as far as possible I try to limit these, frankly unnecessary ingredients.
This wholemeal loaf recipe contains six ingredients and absolutely no nasties. It is a modified version of the recipe I used to follow before I became a Mum. This one has as little salt as possible (you need some for flavour and to inhibit the yeast). The same goes for the sugar content; I use light brown sugar as it is less refined than white sugar, and I have reduced the quantity as much as possible. It is a wonderful ‘every day’ bread with a great texture and a lovely taste. I do use a mixture of wholemeal and white bread flour to make the texture soft enough for little mouths.
400g Strong wholemeal flour
100g Strong white bread flour
2tsp fast acting yeast
10g light brown sugar
30ml olive oil plus a little extra for your proving bowl
310ml-330ml of water (the water quantity you need to make the dough will vary depending on the day, on a wet day you will need less water than a hot dry day. Be led by the dough and stop adding water when it holds together as a nice ball of dough
Weigh your flour and add to a large bowl
Add the salt, yeast and sugar ensuring the yeast and salt are kept apart
stir the dry ingredients together and make a well
Add the oil and some water (around 50ml)
Start mixing by hand or if using a mixer with a dough hook, start mixer on low
slowly add water until the dough holds together and is play-dough like
knead for 10-15 minutes either in mixer or by hand until your dough is elastic, you want to be able to pull a section of it until it is thin enough to see through
At this stage grease your mixing bowl, place the dough back in it and loosely cover with cling film
Leave to prove somewhere warm if possible for an hour or longer, until the dough has doubled in size and bounces back if you push a finger into it
Knock the dough back for 5 minutes and shape your loaf, I tend to make this load round or oval.
If you want to have any pattern on the loaf use a serrated knife or a lame if you have one to cut the design into your loaf
Re-cover with the cling film loosely and put back somewhere warm for 30 minutes
Preheat oven to 200 C.
Put loaf in and bake for 30 minutes, the loaf should be a gorgeous brown and the bottom should feel hollow to tap.
Leave to cool on a wire rack, or enjoy a hot slice with lots of butter!
Your house will smell amazing as this cooks and it will keep (thanks to the addition of the olive oil) for at least 3 days, not that it ever lasts that long in my house! This loaf has a nice crust but to make it a crisper crust spray some water into the oven to create steam when the loaf goes in.
It may seem time consuming but I promise its relatively low effort cooking and the reward you get it phenomenal. Once you start making bread you won’t be able to stop!
Its nearly the end of June, it’s raining, its foggy and we all have colds. All in all its a grumpy house this week. Will is frustrated if we stay in all day but gets too tired and overwhelmed if we are out for too long, which is making it hard to know what to do with him! This morning we went to a soft play centre which he enjoyed for about half a hour before turning back into to a little cuddly, grizzly boy. I’m not complaining though, having a cold is horrid and he is never normally cuddly so in some ways it’s nice (for me). His body is obviously fighting hard to get him better as he is also napping a lot! He has currently been asleep for over an hour which is unheard of in the afternoon for him!
As I wrote that previous sentence he woke up, when will I ever learn!? DON’T MENTION GOOD NAPS!
Anyway, my point was that both the weather and everyone being under the weather, meant comfort food was definitely in order for supper! Comfort food for me is bowl food – the kind of thing you can eat with just a fork. Risotto is perfect comfort food, and this salmon and leek version manages to feel both warm and cosy, as well as light and summery. It’s not hard to make either, but as with all risotto it does take some serene stirring.
To make it baby friendly there are a few sacrifices compromises. They aren’t actually sacrifices, as it’s delicious and full-flavoured without them. There is no white wine added, although the lightness of the salmon and leek come through more as a result. It really isn’t missed in this particular recipe. There is also a lack of salt so it can feel under seasoned, but I have a trick for this which will become clear in the recipe method!
This is enough for 2 adults and 1 baby portion.
1 salmon fillet, deskinned
75g smoked salmon
200g arborio rice
Low salt vegetable stock cube
3 tablespoons of peas
Small bunch of dill
Zest of 1 lemon
knob of unsalted butter
Finely slice the leek, leaving the top 2 inches of green leek for later
De-skin and chop the fresh salmon fillet
Add leek to a large sauté pan with half of the butter and soften (don’t let them colour)
Add the rice to the leeks and stir to coat in the butter
Add the stock cube to a saucepan of hot water and bring to simmer (roughly a litre of water should be fine but if you run out just add more water to your saucepan)
Add a couple of ladles of the stock, the fresh salmon and stir
Keep adding more stock as the rice absorbs whats in the pan, stirring periodically to prevent it sticking. I like to use a wooden fork for stirring as it prevents the rice from breaking down.
When the rice is soft but still too hard to eat (after roughly 15 minutes) add the peas and the lemon zest
Finely chop the dill
Slice the smoked salmon into thin strips
Finely slice lengths of the green leek top
Once the rice is cooked and the liquid absorbed (20-30 minutes), turn the heat off, add the remaining butter, the dill and roughly two thirds of the smoked salmon, and stir to combine.
Remove the baby portion
For the adult portions, I add the rest of the smoked salmon on top, with some of the green leek and a generous crack of black pepper.
Adding the rest of the smoked salmon to the adult portions ensures that the baby portion isn’t too salty, and the adult portions’ become adequately seasoned. I like to add the raw leek as it provides a fresh taste as well as a contrasting texture from the smooth creaminess of the risotto.
Risotto is excellent baby food as it is so versatile: you can feed it in a variety of ways. For baby led weaning you could simply squash the peas and pop this, once cooled a little on a plate/highchair tray (messy but effective). You can also wait for the risotto to cool, mash the peas and roll it into balls the size of a walnut. These can be coated in parmesan and bread crumbs and lightly fried to create finger food. Finally you can pop it all in a blender and puree to you required consistency. This is what I have done today as when Will isn’t well he prefers to be fed by me.
What are your favourite comfort foods? I’d love to know!