Beef and mushroom burgers, corn on the cob and potato wedges


The other day, Bert’s dad mentioned this author to me. ‘I love her writing!’ I said and added, never one to miss an opportunity, ‘That would be a great Mother’s Day present for someone who admired her writing.’ He gave me the noted look.

A couple of days later a book-shaped parcel arrived. At dinnertime, Bert and his dad asked me what I wanted for Mother’s Day. ‘Aren’t you supposed to think of it yourselves?’ I said. ‘Or else there’s a book I want.’

‘Oh, I’m keeping that for myself,’ Bert’s dad said. Bert followed me into the study and said, ‘what thing do you love and want most in the world?’

‘You,’ I said. ‘Or jewelry.’

He reported back and then came back in, while I was Googling bracelets, to say, ‘something cheaper.’

‘I love bubble bath and books,’ I said.

A sign went up on Bert’s bedroom door reading ‘no Mother’s Day presents in here!!!’ and I was instructed absolutely not to look in his room, especially not on the bookshelf, and absolutely especially not on the top shelf.

At bathtime I said to him, ‘I also really like snuggly things like blankets or this bubble bath here.’

‘Mum,’ he said wearily, ‘we already got you a Mother’s Day present. We don’t need to know any more.’

Did I mention there’s a book I wanted?

Serves 3

500g minced beef

2-3 good sized closed cup mushrooms

Salt to season

A slice of cheddar each burger (or on the side if you’re five)

Three brioche buns

A few leaves of cos lettuce and a few sliced baby tomatoes to garnish

Mayonnaise and ketchup

‘Enough’ potatoes

1/2 teaspoon mixed spice

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon onion salt

1 tablespoon sunflower oil

2-3 corn on the cobs

Teaspoon of butter

Sprinkle of salt to season

Pre-heat the oven to 200 fan.

Only you know how many potato wedges are enough. Don’t peel the potatoes, just cut into quarters or sixths, if bigger, lengthways. Put in a bowl, sprinkle on the spices, tip in the oil and mix to coat thoroughly. Lay on a lined baking tray in a single layer and cook for 35 minutes, turning half way.

Dot butter on the corn, season, wrap in foil and put on a tray in the same oven as the wedges for 30 minutes.

Mince the mushrooms finely and add to the minced beef in a bowl. Season, combine with your hands and form into three burgers, about an inch thick however big they are (for adults, aim for a little bigger than the bun, as they’ll shrink in the pan). Get a frying pan really hot, cover the base with a thin layer of oil and press the burgers firmly into the bottom of the pan to form a nice, savoury crust. Cook for 10 minutes, turning and pressing down firmly with a spatula again half way through. The pan needs to be hot enough for you to be nervous of smoke alarms. Only turn once. Do not fiddle with them.

When done, pop the slices of cheese on top, put a lid (or large baking sheet) on top of the pan and turn the heat off. The cheese will melt while you toast the buns, slice the tomatoes and spread mayo and ketchup on one half of each bun. (Or puddle the ketchup in a separate compartment of your plate if you’re five.)

You wouldn’t know the mushrooms were there if you hadn’t been told, but they make the burgers more moist and give the flavour a bit more depth. (And when was the last time a 5-year-old ate a mushroom?)


Many veg cottage pie

As a blog I follow said the other day, it’s my job to put vegetables in front of my child, but it’s not my job to force him to eat them. My job’s somewhere in between giving up and feeding him chicken nuggets and chips every night, and bribing or threatening him until he eats courgettes.

So today Bert cried inconsolably at nursery drop off again. I thought we’d got past this, but it’s obviously all about his dad working away a lot and him feeling sadder and less anchored as a result. In the car on the way home I thought about my brief success with the ‘taking a dinosaur to school’ strategy and wracked my brain for how I could make the drop off okay again.

But I can’t. If he’s sad about his dad, he’s sad. I can’t take that away, much as I’d like to, just like I can’t force him to eat vegetables. I can offer them to him in loads of different forms, and I can be in the same room with him every day whether he’s sad or happy. But that’s it.

Dinner tonight is many veg cottage pie, with honey and butter popcorn* for pudding. Because food can nourish us and it can comfort us. And some days we really are just a bit sadder than others.

*2 tablespoons each of butter, brown sugar and honey melted together then poured over warm popcorn

Serves 4 (2 in the freezer for next week for us – I freeze it when it’s constructed but before it goes into the oven)

400g minced beef (5% fat if you’re 5:2ing)

Olive oil to fry (1 teaspoon if you’re 5:2ing)

1 onion, diced

2 carrots, finely diced

4 sticks celery, finely diced

2 cans chopped tomatoes

1/2 a can of tap water

2 tablespoons Worcester sauce

4 tablespoons tomato puree

2 bay leaves

Salt and pepper

For the topping:

1kg root veg, peeled and chopped – we had 2/3 sweet potato, 1/3 parsnips

200g creme fraiche (half fat if you’re 5:2ing)

(Obviously I’m not suggesting you put a child on a 5:2 diet, but with no portion restrictions and three good meals a day, this is just a hearty meal with tons of veg in. If you follow the 5:2 instructions, a quarter of this – a huge portion, even by my standards – is about 300 calories.)

Brown the meat in a large frying pan until it’s starting to brown and caramelise. Add the chopped onions, carrots and celery and cook for 10 minutes, until softened. Stir through the chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, Worcester sauce, seasoning and bay leaves. Bring to a rapid simmer, then turn down and cook gently for at least half an hour. (Because I’m working at home I turn it down really low and cook for an hour to an hour and a half.)

Boil the root veg till tender then mash with the creme fraiche and season. Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees/ gas mark six and construct the pie in an oven proof dish, topping the meat sauce (with the bay leaves fished out) with the mash. It’s easier to put together if filling and topping are cold, but obviously this is only possible if you’re hanging around at home all day procrasinating working. Put in a hot oven for 20-30 minutes, till bubbling and golden.

Serve with peas, or a green salad if you’re willing to watch your toddler mime vomiting as you eat it.


Five-veg bolognaise

Today after nursery me and Bert made elaborate train tracks, played ‘Mum is going to sleep’, a game of Bert’s devising where I was tucked up with a blanket, had a story read to me (‘oh! Poor fox. Lost socks. Found hat!’) and was left to read to myself with the light off. (Oh, if I must!) We then snuggled up to watch Tom Hardy cuddle his dog and read the CBeebies bedtime story.

There is such a thing as a perfect day.

He filled his new Fireman Sam boots with wee though.

Serves 4-6

400g minced beef

200g chestnut mushrooms, finely diced to match the size of the mince

1 onion

1 red pepper

1 courgette 

1 stick celery

1 tin tomatoes 

2 dessert spoons tomato paste

1 teaspoon marmite

1 beef stock cube

1 teaspoon chopped rosemary 



Pinch cinnamon 

Good grating nutmeg

This is 5:2 diet recipe, but it’s got loads of veg in, and with Peppa Pig pasta shapes (the creators of Peppa Pig must be richer than J.K. Rowling) and grated cheese it’s ideal for small firemen who’ve lived off chocolate coins and sausages for the last month.

The original recipe (in Mimi Spencer’s book) dices the veg, but I couldn’t face Bert querying each individual piece and asking ‘what’s that mum?’ a hundred times, so I puréed it and the whole thing just looked like a regular Bol. On a non-fasting day you could fry the meat in a knob of butter or add crisply fried chunks of pancetta. Minus the meat it’d make a good veggie bolognaise for veg-averse toddlers too.

Fry the meat and mushrooms in a spray of oil (or knob of butter) till the meat’s well-browned and starting to crisp and caramelise in places. Meanwhile, blitz the veg in a blender (or finely dice them). Add to the browned meat with the tinned tomatoes, tomato purée, marmite, stock cube, seasoning and herbs and spices. Bring to a good boil, turn down to a simmer and cook for at least half an hour, ideally an hour and a half. 

Serve with pasta and cheese, or, if you’re 5:2ing, a small portion of pasta and some corgetti. If you are a fellow 5:2-er, a quarter of this, 50g (uncooked weight) brown pasta and half a bag of courgetti is about 350 cals.

Rum-marinated steaks


Here’s Bert, seemingly caught in the act of playing tiddly winks with a knife. And in other bad parenting news he’s been watching Dinosaur Train on Netflix with the dedication with which the rest of us are getting through Stranger Things. It’s basically Breaking Bad for todders.

Oh, and eating rum marinated meat.

Enough marinade to serve 4-6

80ml white rum or vodka

60ml olive oil

3 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried rosemary

Loads and loads of grated black pepper – grate till it seems like a lot then grate some more

Teaspoon of sea salt (or a sprinkling of table salt)

Minute beef steaks or lamb steaks

Mix all the marinade ingredients together and add the meat. Cover and marinate for at least three hours at room temperature or for a day or two in the fridge.

Remove from the marinade, oil a hot pan and cook the minute steaks for a minute or so on each side (lamb steaks or thicker steaks will take from 6 to 8 minutes depending on how thick they are).

I then cut Bert’s into smaller pieces and threaded it onto a skewer – a beef lollipop marinated in rum and threaded onto a sharp stick, what could possibly go wrong here?

As I carried it in, he said ‘wow’. Cheers Bert!

We had ours with home made oven chips and roast squash, red onion and green leaf salad. Bert had chips and still-frozen peas.

Tomatoey meatballs


Three things I never thought I’d do as a parent:

  1. Watch hours of Peppa Pig with my eyes closed and my cheek resting on his shoulder, pretending to be awake and merely affectionate
  2. Lie about the presence of chocolate buttons in the house
  3. Buy shoes that light up when he runs

Serves 4

For the meatballs

500g mince – a mixture of beef and pork is ideal; if not, just beef

6 tablespoons breadcrumbs

1 egg

2 tablespoons grated parmesan or pecorino

2 tablespoons passata

3 cloves garlic, crushed

A few sprigs of basil, leaves finely chopped, or two teaspoons of dried basil

Salt and pepper to taste

For the sauce

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

500g pack of passata, less the two tablespoons you’ve already used

2 teaspoons brown sugar

1 desertspoon balsamic vinegar

Salt and pepper

To serve

Chopped basil

Grated parmesan or pecorino


Mush all the meatball ingredients together in a bowl with your hands; ideally, with latex gloves on so you feel like a lab technician. Form into walnut sized ball – if you’ve still got your CSI gloves on this is easier. Brown the top and bottom of the meatballs for a couple of minutes in a wide, deep frying pan in a splash of olive oil, then add the sauce ingredients and simmer for 30 minutes. I did it right to the point of starting simmering, then finished it off when The Toddler was back in residence. Put the spaghetti on to cook when it’s been simmering for 20 minutes or so.

When it’s done, carefully remove the meatballs, pour the sauce into the cooked spaghetti,  mix thoroughly to coat and stir through the chopped basil. Serve the tomatoey spaghetti with meatballs on top, and add cheese at the table. Stirring through the sauce first is a Mr Me and Bert trick.

The recipe was from, though I amended it a bit. I make double of the meatballs, freeze them and they make a good, harried-from-work, quick dinner, cooked from frozen with oven chips and peas on the side.

Slow cooked Mongolian beef


Yesterday Bert woke up crying because he wasn’t green enough. He went to nursery in a dinosaur costume, wore it there all day and sat in a shopping trolley wearing in it all the way round Sainsbury’s when I picked him up.

Today he rejected my choice of clothes in favour of the only all green/ non-dinosaur outfit he has – an emerald green polo shirt, bright green trousers and stripy green socks. His dad had to change into green shorts and a luminous green running top. Luckily they left the house before I was emotionally blackmailed into wearing a green tartan winter dress.

Sometimes I think life as an adult is stressful, but, to be fair, I can’t remember the last time I cried because I wasn’t green enough.

Should have served more than three

500g beef shin or other stewing steak, sliced

1 dessert spoon plain flour

1 red pepper, sliced thinly

1 inch fresh ginger, grated

4 cloves garlic, crushed

3/4 cup soy sauce

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup water

Toss the sliced beef in the flour in a casserole dish, add the remaining ingredients, bring to a fast simmer on the hob and then put in a slow oven (140 or the bottom of the Aga simmering oven) for 4-5 hours. The cups are the American measurements, not mugs, or there’d be about a week’s worth of sugar in there.

Because of the way the Aga cooks, I had to take it out and simmer it on the hob with the lid off for the last 25 minutes to reduce the sauce to the thick, sticky consistency it should have.

We had ours with plain rice in the garden by a campfire, with campfire bananas for pudding.



Leftover roast beef stir fry

beef stir fry

Terrible photo of a dubious looking Bert, but it was actually delicious. I have to take the photos by stealth these days or much fury follows at the sight of a phone he’s not allowed to play with at the table. (Naughty, hypocritical mummy.)

Serves 3

1 tbsp  vegetable oil

Leftover beef cut into thin strips

1 green pepper, cut into thin rings, deseeded

1.5 leeks, sliced

5 or 6 white mushrooms, sliced

For the sauce:

30g  dry roasted cashews

1 shallot, peeled and chopped

1/2 teaspoon chili flakes

1 clove garlic, peeled

1 inch fresh ginger, grated

2 tablespoons soft brown sugar

3 tablespoons Thai fish sauce

3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

Juice of one lime (or 1 tablespoon lime juice)

Stalks of bunch of fresh corander, roughly chopped

Blend all the ingredients for the sauce until smooth. Fry the veg for 2-3 minutes, then add the sauce and beef and cook for another minute or two. Garnish with more roughly chopped nuts and the chopped leaves of the coriander, if this won’t infuriate your child.

I made the mistake of cooking the veg too long so they failed to pass the very stringent toddler slime test. Next time I’ll make sure they were crunchy. I’m getting enough finger wags and ‘naughty mummy’s at the moment as it is.

Beef ragu


This is so easy and absolutely bloody delicious. Total active cooking time is about 15 minutes. That’s extra time to watch your baby pester the dog by throwing toys at it, press warm lips against a cold window and stare at the birds, or play a small tamburine while cackling wildly.

Serves 3-4 (we had it for 1.5 with a lot of leftovers for a pasta bake)

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

Glug olive oil

Finely chopped leaves of a sprig of rosemary

500g piece of stewing steak, diced or whole

300ml passata

100ml boiling water

1 low salt beef stock cube, crumbled

Saute the onion, garlic and rosemary in the olive oil till the onion’s translucent, quickly brown the meat, then add the liquid and stock cube. Bring to a good boil and then put in a very low oven (140 degrees or the Aga simmering oven) for 5-6 hours. After the cooking time’s up it will just pull apart with a fork or the back of a wooden spoon to form a thick, delicious, meaty sauce. You might need to pop it on the hob with the lid off for the last 30 minutes to thicken it up (I did).

Serve with pasta and parmesan.



Serves 1.5

1 portion bolognaise sauce (we had about a quarter of the bolognaise we had earlier in the week)

4 sheets lasagne

1 level dessert spoon plain flour

1 level dessert spoon butter

300ml whole milk

1 or 2 bay leaves

Grating of nutmeg

Black pepper

About 100g cheese – we had a combination of pecorino and cheddar

Make your white sauce by melting the butter, stirring in the flour, then gradually adding the milk. Add the bay leaf, nutmeg and pepper and simmer for about 10 minutes to thicken to a reasonably thin white sauce. Dissaude a cackling baby from using the dog as a Zimmer frame.

Assemble your lasagne. I started with a layer of cheese, then the usual pattern of meat sauce, lasagne and white sauce for two layers. Finish with white sauce and then top with another sprinkling of cheese. Bert liked touching the flour and soft butter, but his sensory play with the cheese turned into him grabbing a large handful and stuffing it in his mouth. Into a hot oven (200 degrees) for about half an hour, till the cheese is bubbling and the lasagne’s cooked through.

I must admit I used a rubber muffin tray for this, imagining a perfectly cute baby portioned lasagne tower on Bert’s plate. (Yes, I did cut individual circles from the lasagne sheets with a wine glass.) My lasagne didn’t have the structural integrity for that outcome, but it would be quite a handy way to make it for the freezer if you greased the muffin tray first and used a rubber one so you could pop the frozen mini lasagnes out. In the muffin tray they took about 20 minutes.

Spag bol


My standard bol recipe used to include red wine, salty bacon, milk and sometimes chopped chicken liver. Sounds a little voodoo when it’s all written down and it was a bit too intensely savoury for a baby. It also involved finely cutting up loads of stewing steak. When you’ve just got a small amount of free time in a day, spending most of it cutting up meat is less appealing.

Serves 6 (we had 3.5 for dinner and leftovers for lasagne)

500g minced beef

300g minced pork

1 onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves chopped

1 carrot, diced

1 stick celery diced

leaves from a spring of rosemary, finely chopped

glug olive oil

500g passata

200ml boiling water

Low salt beef stock cube

Grinding of pepper, grinding of nutmeg

2 bay leaves

Fry (or ‘sweat’) the onions, rosemary and garlic in the olive oil, adding the other veg and cooking for around another 5 minutes. Transfer to a large saucepan or casserole and brown the meat in batches. Add to the veg and then pour over the passata and water, crumble in the stock cube and season, tucking in the bay leaves. Bring to a steady boil and then cook in a very low oven (140 degrees or an Aga simmering oven) for around 3-4 hours. You might need to bring it onto the hob at the end to reduce it a bit.