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Are you searching for a sneaky way to get some more vegetables into the people you love? (Even if that’s you?). If you’re looking for a fudgy, chocolate cake that fits happily in the palm of your hand (or a lunch box) and manages to sneak a smudge of three extra veg into your diet stat- skip straight to the matching image and recipe at the bottom. These date, carrot, zuchinni and beet cakes (hipster heaven; dairy free, wheat free, refined sugar free etc etc) may be what you’re looking for. If you have the patience for context, some battle-worn hacks on getting veg into four small people and the usual endorsements read on. 

I never thought I’d be the sort of person who would be sneaking veg into cakes and snacks. PAH. “I shall feed my children nutritious food. They will come to appreciate the bounty of the plot. We shall lovingly shop for the season’s best together and then transform them into nutritious soups, stews and fritters. They shall revel in all the colours of the rainbow and snack happily on crudites until the cows come home”.

Show me someone who speaks like that and I’ll show you someone who I hazard has never had a three year old. Or whose nanny is lying to them. 

I have done some ridiculous things to try and encourage my Japanese-at-heart four and a half year old to eat his five a day in the past few years. (If he still had his way, he would exist every day on salmon sashimi, avocado, nori papers and cake). 

I’ve cut up pieces of nori seaweed into little postage stamps to eat as chips. I’ve rolled up nori papers with mashed avocado into rice-less sushi and cut it with scissors so it looks like little hosomaki rolls (I’ve tried this with cauliflower ‘rice’ and it was definitely a bridge too far). I’ve drunk a green smoothie in front of him made from kale, spinach, cucumber, mint, pineapple, banana, chia, coconut oil and water every morning for 9 months and poured him a small glass. After 8 months he will now consent to occasionally take a sip- but only because one of his current favourite cartoon characters ‘Geko’ is green too. I’ve frozen said green smoothies as popsicles. This sometimes works. I’ve made a variety of hummus/dips (beet hummus, carrot hummus, cauliflower hummus, sweet potato hummus, roasted pepper hummus) and we use carrot sticks to dunk in the dip then ‘fish’ for peas or pieces of corn to try and get them to stick to the carrot and dip. We fold up baby spinach leaves into the shape of envelopes and ‘post’ them into his mouth, as letters to everyone from the Easter Bunny to Hulk. He ‘catches’ coins of carrots in his mouth on the swing, as if he was a dolphin at SeaWorld (but with less sadness in his eyes). We even had a stage where I made him show me his muscles after every bite of broccoli and I had to faun over how much bigger they had grown.

Good god. Just writing that makes me want to knock my head against a desk. Wouldn’t it be lovely if you just put nutritious food out and they ate it? WOULDN’T IT? 

So, if you’re in the market for another way to get some veg into the small fry, might I suggest these?  These are dense, fudgy little chocolate cakes. Carrot in cakes is not new. Neither is zucchini (it has helped keep many a loaf cake plump and moist). And beets offer a definite red velvet lilt. The key here is to really blitz them until you can’t see any lumps or bumps. The other key is to bake them with a thirsty flour, like oat flour, add cocoa and dates for the winnable choc/caramel flavours and to bake them in muffin tins, so they cook all the way through.

Now, let’s be honest. These will be a slight vegetal scent to these. You could add a shedload of sugar to mask that, but then, I think you’re talking about a wash of effort and reward. We’re currently running at a 70% hit rate with small people, dependent on how attuned your child is to the real deal of chocolate cake. True aficionados will know that something is afoot. But for the young, hungry, gullible and uninitiated; well, to them I say with love; ‘gotcha’.

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These cakes will keep happily in the fridge for a week and freeze well. Just pull one out and defrost in a lunch box in the fridge overnight. 

Here are a few other things that are going on. 

Watching: I’ve had a couple of rough weeks in the solo-wrangling game. We’ve had bronchiolitis and croup, some tricksy behaviour from a four year old, plus Evie is working on some big teeth and is literally chewing walls. Finding this interview with Lin Manuel Miranda (of ‘Hamilton’ fame) with Oprah on his creative process and how he believes that empathy is the cornerstone for any burgeoning artist (or decent human) was just delightful and helped to completely turn the day around. Watch it here

Reading: This piece from Nigella in Lenny Letter on why she thinks home cooking is a feminist act. This is a bit that called to me. “Of course, there’s a reason why the home cook has always been seen as a lesser creature: traditionally, chefs had been male and paid; home cooking was “women’s work,” unwaged and taken for granted, sentimentally prized but not essentially valued or respected. There was a time when denigrating cooking and insisting on how hopeless you were at it were ways of establishing distance from the role of domestic drudge. And yet I have always felt that to disparage an activity because it has been traditionally female is itself anti-feminist.”. Another great take away. Nigella published her first cookery book; ‘How to Eat’ when she was 38. It calls me back to a piece from Jenna Price that I really need to have posted next to my desk, whenever I get impatient and fretful about being currently mired in the cul de sac of caring; ‘We have time to play this out. It doesn’t all have to happen at once.’

Listening: I always refer to my oldest pal Alice as my cultural concierge. She’s the one to blame for my current ‘Hamilton’ obsession. She’s the one that points me the way to some of my favourite tv binges. And she’s the one who told me this week that I should be listening to the latest album from Kacey Musgraves ‘Golden Hour’. She’s right. It’s just the right mix of mellow and plaintive and the right sort of music for slow ambles and sipping wine and tea to. I may have even got a little misty once or twice while listening to ‘Rainbow‘ while washing up after a pretty wretched evening alone with the kids. 

Cursing: Daylight savings. Whoever invented that DID NOT HAVE A 15 MONTH OLD BABY WHO THEY HAD JUST TAUGHT TO SLEEP TO A DECENT HOUR. We had 10 days of 3.45/4.30 am starts. We had a lot of coffee. We’re coming back to the light now. But seriously. SERIOUSLY. 

Cooking: Spanish Shakshuka. 

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This is it if you need an easy ‘brunch for a group’ option, which isn’t an avocado-toast bar (Nb entertaining can be that simple. Just good bread, smashed avo and everyone toasts their own and adds a variety of toppings, from smoked meats or salmon, herbs, crumbled feta and sliced tomato). But back to the shakshuka. Cut two red onions into very slim half moons. Sautee them in a good glug of olive oil until they are caramellised, checking on them every now and again. Remove them from the pan. Meanwhile roast 12 roma tomatoes, cut in half lengthways, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and placed cut side up on a lined baking dish at 150C/300 F for 1 hour, until they have begun to dry out and pucker. This can be done the day before. In fact, everything can, except for cooking the eggs. Then take three fresh chorizo sausages and remove the casings. Cook them in a wide saucepan or casserole dish, breaking them up with a spatula until you have little nuggets of spicy, delicious sausage. Return the onions and the roast tomatoes to the pan and any juices. Pour in 300 ml of tomato passata and then taste the sauce. At this point you can also add in some chopped marinated red peppers, or a tin of drained chickpeas or cannellini beans if you want it heartier.  Season with some extra smoked paprika, cumin, chilli flakes,  salt and potentially sugar until you have a rich, spicy, balanced tomato sauce. Bring the sauce to a simmer, then gently crack in 4-6 eggs. Add the lid to the pot and simmer until the whites have set but the yolks are still soft (approx 5-10 minutes). Top with chopped parsley/ mint and or coriander. Serve with warm bread and extra chilli on the side. 

Loving: ‘Veronica Mars’. Somehow I missed the boat on this back in the late 1990s. It’s great fun. And while it looks like a teen murder mystery, it’s wise beyond its years (and has stood the test of time). Kristen Bell can do no wrong. She’s glorious. 

Chewing Over: Ruby Tandoh’s ‘Eat Up’. This is a small book with some big ideas. Ruby was a delight to watch on ‘The Great British Bake Of’f a few years ago, and wrote this searing piece on the Clean/Disordered eating for Vice. ‘Eat Up’ is a treatise on the pleasures of eating and cooking and in many ways is a great call to arms, from someone who spent a good portion of her adult life in fear of food and what it would do to her body. Her prose is lovely, there are some great citations and ideas and she’s all for democratising the joy of consumption and creation. Yet, please can some people go read it and then come chat to me about it; there’s an awkwardness in its overarching ethos of ‘let’s appreciate all food (no matter who/what corporation made it and at what cost) that I find difficult to swallow.  Book club anyone ;)? Get it here

Date and Three Veg Cakes

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Makes approx 16 cupcakes

Ingredients

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200 g pitted dates
1/4 cup/ 125 ml boiling water
1 tsp bicarb soda
60 g coconut oil (or butter)
3 eggs
60 g cocoa powder/ raw cacao
1 zuchinni (approx 160 g)
1 medium raw beetroot (approx 280 g)
1 carrot (approx 120 g)
2 cups/ 200 g of oat flour (made by blitzing oats in a food processor or powerful blender until you have the texture of flour)

Method

1 Preheat the oven to 180C/350 F and line 2 muffin tins with 16 patty cases.

2 Add the veg into a food processor and blitz until it is pulverised. 

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3. Transfer the blitzed veg into a large mixing bowl. In the blender combine the dates, boiling water, bicarb soda and coconut oil. Allow to steep and soften for 5 minutes, then blend until you have a smooth puree.

4. Combine the blitzed veg with the date puree and whisk in three eggs until smooth. 

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5. Sift in the cocoa powder, then fold in the oat flour. Stir well to combine.

6. Transfer into the patty pans.

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7. Bake for 35-40 minutes until a skewer comes out clean. Allow to cool in muffin tins. These will have a fudgy texture and will keep in the fridge for up to a week. They freeze well.