Alphabetti Spaghetti


I had seconds of this. And Bert’s leftovers.

I hope that this is in the same category as home made baked beans – wholesome and tasty, and not in the same category as home made custard creams – insane. I have made my own custard creams, but that was in a pre-child fit of whimsy.

Serves four, or two for lunch and leftovers for lunch tomorrow

200ml passata

50ml water and a bit of pasta water

Salt to taste

1 teaspoon brown sugar

2 carrots, grated

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

A lot of olive oil

A couple of handfuls of alphabet pasta

Fry the onion and garlic in the olive oil then add the carrots. You want enough oil for the carrots to be melting into it after a few minutes. Cook for around five minutes, till the carrots really soft, then add the passata and 50ml of water. Season to taste with salt and add the sugar. Cook for around five minutes again. Meanwhile put the alphabet pasta on to cook (mine takes 7 minutes).

Then puree the sauce, add maybe half a ladle full of the water the pasta was cooked in – enough to get it to a thick but runny consistency – and serve on hot, buttered toast.


Risotto primavera

This is the sum total of my veg patch harvest this year. Maybe my living of the rural idyll is limited a little by my skills. Anyway, both peas were delicious.


Serves 3

Dessert spoon of butter

1 small onion or shallot, finely diced

1 stick celery, finely diced

1 clove garlic, crushed

200g arborio rice

About a litre of fresh chicken stock

Young, baby vegetables – we had the bounty in the photo (baby carrots, 8 peas, 9 broad beans) and some green beans, the carrots and the green beans finely sliced on the slant

A table spoon of double cream

A teaspoon of butter

Fresh mint, leaves from a generous sprig, chopped

Salt and pepper

Grated pecorino cheese

You really need very young, very fresh veg for this. I’m the first to use up manky old veg, as Bert’s dad will testify – I’ll happily bend a carrot double to touch its toes and then chuck it in a stew. But this really relies on tender, fresh veg, as young as possible and as close to being dug up as you can manage. Yes, I only had one carrot that was larger than a field mouse’s femur. But they were fresh out of the ground and delicious. I think you really need home made stock too. Use old veg and a stock cube, and I think you’ll end up with something out of a Birdseye ad. This is all about fresh, delicate flavours.

Saute the celery, onion and garlic till translucent then stir the rice through. Gradually add the stock until the risotto’s thick and creamy. About 5 minutes before it’s done, add the veg. When the rice is plump and starting to fall apart, stir though the cream, the extra butter, the mint and a handful of cheese. Season and have extra cheese at the table.

At 12.30 this morning a delirious-with-teething Bert was sitting cross legged and high fiving me. He ate the veg in this so I high fived him back.



Fragrant lamb tagine


Bert’s dad described this and the nectarine and almond cake as my ‘most competent meal’ in a while. Make of that what you will.

Served 2.5 though could happily have served 3.5

Glug olive oil

1 red onion, sliced

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

500g diced lamb

3-4 carrots, chopped into chunks

1 courgette, chopped into chunks

1 tin chopped tomatoes and half the empty tin of boiled water

1 low salt stock cube

1 dessert spoon tomato puree

1 dessert spoon honey

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon tumeric

1 teaspoon ground ginger

Pinch saffron

1/2 stick of cinnamon

Handful of dried apricots (the soft, dark brown ones), chopped

In a perfect world, you’d brown the veg and meat separately and in batches, but I don’t think it makes enough difference to the taste to be worth it, and means the whole prep here takes about 10 minutes. More time to hide remote controls and phones, and fish computer mice and batteries out of the dishwasher.

Brown the onion, garlic and lamb in the oil and then add the rest of the veg. Stir through the spices, apricots, tinned tomatoes, stock cube and water, tomato puree and honey, and season. Bring to a fast simmer then cook in a slow oven for 2-3 hours. (Mine was in the bottom of the Aga for 3 hours.) We had ours with buttered couscous and a dollop of yoghurt. Bert was initially suspicious and then chinned it. He did not eat any courgette.

Pulled pork, tomato and sage ragu

I was a bit stuck on what to do with our glut of sage and my sister suggested the sage and tomato combination. This was lovely.


Served 1.5 of us for three meals

500g diced pork (a slow cooking cut like leg or shoulder)

1/2 tin of tomatoes

2 grated carrots

A bit of olive oil

300ml passata

Good handful of sage leaves, chopped

1 onion, diced

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

Fry the onion and garlic till soft, add the grated carrots and cook for another couple of minutes then add the pork to the pan and brown. Stir the tomatoes, passata and sage through. Bring to a fast simmer then put in a low oven (140 degrees) or the bottom of an Aga simmering oven with a lid on for 4 to 5 hours. After its long, slow cook the pork will just pull apart into the sauce. This is great if you’re lucky enough to be at home with your baby rather than at work, as it needs so little prep – you just bung it on at lunchtime. Or you could do it on the Sunday and have easy meals for three nights in the week.

The first night we had this with pasta, parmesan and salad (because everyone knows how much babies love salad). Tonight we had it with four-veg mash* and peas. Bert rejects cooked peas. He eats them frozen from a small bowl on the kitchen floor. Don’t ask me. Babies are eccentric, lawless creatures.

I’ve topped the ragu with the mash in an ovenproof dish for a Shepherd’s (Pigkeeper’s?) Pie tomorrow. I’ll grate a bit of cheese on top and put it in the oven (180 degrees or the middle of an Aga roasting oven) for 30 minutes.

* 1 sweet potato, 4 carrots and 1 potato, cut into chunks and boiled till tender, 1 sliced onion sauted in butter till brown and caramelised, an extra knob of butter. Mash the veg with the butter then stir through the buttery caramelised onions and season.

Shepherd’s pie


This shepherd really likes to hide veg in his pies.

Serves 3.5 – 4.5

400 diced lamb

200g minced lamb

3 carrots, 1 sweet potato and 2 sticks celery, all coarsely grated

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

Glug of olive oil

1 dessert spoon tomato puree

1 dessert spoon Worcester sauce

1 dessert spoon plain flour

1 beef stock cube

300ml hot water

400g potatoes

Knob of butter

1 leek, sliced

100g Cheshire cheese, grated

1 dessert spoon butter

Fry the onions and garlic in the oil till soft, then add the meat to brown. Stir through the grated veg and cook for five minutes, then add the flour and cook for another minute or two. Pour in the boiled water and add the Worcester sauce, tomato puree and crumbled stock cube. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer on a low heat or in a low oven for 2-3 hours.

Boil the potatoes for 15-20 minutes till soft. Meanwhile saute the sliced leeks in butter. Mash the potatoes with another spoon full of butter then add the cheese and the leeks. Pour the meat sauce into an ovenproof dish, top with the potato mixture and cook at 180 degrees (or the middle of an Aga roasting oven) for about half an hour, till the little peaks of potato are brown and crunchy.

Potato topping and sweet potato in the sauce – we’re really going in carb-heavy at the moment. Anything to avoid sitting up in bed at 3am while a baby repeatedly slaps you round the face and laughs his head off. The grated sweet potato does make the gravy thick and tasty, too.

Lamb burgers, brioche rolls and apple slaw


I think I might stop admitting how many these recipes serve in our house, but this made 3 big burgers and 2 mini burgers, with rolls leftover for breakfast

For the brioche rolls

250g plain flour

100g butter

2 teaspoons sugar

7g yeast

3 eggs

Beaten egg yolk, to glaze

For the burgers

500g lamb mince

1 teaspoon chopped fresh or dried oregano

BlackĀ  pepper

1 egg

For the slaw

1 apple

2 carrots

1 onion

4 dessert spoons mayonnaise

1/2 teaspoon creamed horseradish

Yes, making your own brioche rolls when you’ve got a one year old may lead people around you to question your sanity, but there’s not much kneading and only one rise, so these are pretty easy. The recipe for the bread’s from the BBC Good Food website.

Cut the butter into small pieces and rub into the flour (easiest with a food processor), add the sugar, yeast and eggs and mix to a dough. Knead for a couple of minutes (it’s quite wet dough), then turn out onto a floured surface and bring it together into a ball. Divide it into rolls – we had 6 big and 4 little ones – put on a lined baking sheet, cover and leave for two hours to rise.

After they’ve doubled in size, brush the top with egg yolk and put in a hot oven (200 degrees or near the middle-top of the Aga roasting oven) for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix the lamb mince with the egg and seasoning and form into burgers. Get some olive oil hot in a pan and cook till done (about 10 minutes for big burgers). Pop some cheese on to melt during the last couple of minutes of cooking for cheese burgers.

Grate all the slaw veg and stir through the mayonnaise and horseradish.

We split our buns open and piled in the cheese burgers, sliced cherry tomatoes and baby leaf spinach, with the sweet apple slaw on the side.

Eastern spiced chicken stew and dumplings

chicken stew

Serves 2.5 or 1.5 with leftovers

For the stew:

400g diced chicken thigh

Flour for browning the chicken – probably about 30g

1 teaspoon zaatar

1/2 teaspoon sumac (if you haven’t had an Yotam Ottolenghi phase you can substitute lemon zest for the sumac and a combination of dried oregano, cumin and marjoram for the zaatar)

A little olive oil

1 onion, thickly sliced

2 cloves garlic, crushed

4 small carrots, cut into batons

Handful of greens, finely chopped

2 tomatoes, diced

A low salt stock cube

200 ml water

For the dumplings:

50g self raising flour

50g breadcrumbs (looking to start my own breadcrumbs business soon)

50g suet

A good pinch of zaatar or other herbs

1 egg

Dust the chicken in the flour and herbs then brown in the olive oil in a hot pan. Transfer to a casserole dish and fry the onions and garlic in a little more oil, adding the carrot when they’re nearly cooked. Cook them in a fairly hot pan so the onions get a little charred. Add to the meat along with the rest of the veg (greens as small as you can get ’em – we mean to deceive here), the stock cube, any remaining flour and 200ml of water. That’s not much water, but thin gravy and babies are a wildly chaotic combination. Bring to the boil, put the lid on and cook in a low oven (140-160 degrees), or the Aga simmering oven, for around 2-3 hours.

The Aga’s actually good at this, since nothing ever dries out in the simmering oven. In a standard oven you may need to keep checking that it hasn’t dried out and adding a little water if so. On the other hand, you have the advantage of being able to cook chips, cook more than once in a 24 hour period, have crisp skin on your chicken…

For the dumplings, combine the dry ingredients then add most of the beaten egg. Hold a little back as you may not need it all. Gather into a dough, adding a bit more egg if you need it. Form into around 10 baby dumplings (about walnut sized) and keep in the fridge till you need them. Pop them in the casserole and put the lid back on when there’s about 15 – 20 minutes cooking time to go and they’ll steam in the heat. The dumplings are a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe and I’ve never felt the need to look elsewhere.

Dumplings aren’t that much more trouble than mash once you’ve taken into account the peeling and the mashing, but this would be nice with mash too (if equally inauthentic).

Root veg cakes and sausages


…and a poached egg for me.

I suppose this is a bit brunchy for dinner, but in a world where we sleep in a pair of woolly tights, on all fours, with our bum in the air and reject milk but eat dried dog food, anything goes.

Serves 1.5 very generously (2 if you count the dog as a second half person)

A selection of root veg – we used a small carrot, 4 small potatoes and a quarter of a small celeriac

A dessert spoon of flour

1 egg

A grating of black pepper and nutmeg, a sprinkle of dried or well chopped fresh sage

A large dessert spoon of butter


An egg

Peel and chop the veg into pieces – about the size you’d do for roasting – and parboil them for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, put the sausages in the oven or under the grill. Grate the veg (using a food processor means you can do it hot) and combine with the flour, herbs and egg. Get the butter frothy in a hot pan and put small spoonfuls of the veg mixture in – if they’re small it makes them a bit more manageable and less fragile. Push them down a bit with the spatula till they sizzle. Fry till golden on both sides, then poach or fry an egg for yourself to go on top. No reason why a baby can’t eat an egg, but self feeding and runny yolks are an extravagant combination, wet wipes wise.

Home made baked beans on toast

baked beans

The whole reason I started trying to find recipes that suited Bert’s palate and were home cooked was his addiction to baked beans, so I’m revisiting an old enemy here. But these were bloody lovely. We had them with grated cheese on top.

Serves 2.5 or would have done if I hadn’t had a large second helping

Small onion, chopped

Large clove garlic, crushed

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 or 2 carrots, grated

1 or 2 sticks of celery, grated if you have them to hand

Glug olive oil

250ml passata

A splash of water – about 30 ml

1 can cannellini beans, drained

Good dash Worcester Sauce – about a dessert spoon

Fry the veg and paprika in the olive oil till the onions are soft. Add the passata, water and Worcester Sauce, and simmer for about five minutes. Take off the heat and roughly blend till they’re a smooth Heinz orange, but thicker than tinned beans sauce. Return to the heat and add the beans, heating through. Serve on hot buttered toast or with toast fingers.

Little meat pies


A better woman than I would make the pastry from scratch and chill in the fridge for half an hour, and make the filling fresh. But I keep Jus-Rol puff and shortcrust pastry in the freezer for when I feel a pie coming on, and I’ve used yesterday’s beef stew to fill them.

An ex once refered to my home made beef stew as ‘pie filling’ – needless to say the relationship didn’t last, but this is a good use of leftovers.

Makes 4 small pies

Leftover stew – I had about a third of last night’s stew or you could make it from scratch, thirding (is that a word?) the ingredients

1 sheet shortcrust pastry

A little flour

A little milk or a beaten egg

I use a muffin tin for this. Flour your surface and roll your pastry out a tiny bit, then cut four large circles – you’ll need about a centimetre overhang when you line each muffin, er, hole. I used a saucer. Line your holes, gathering up the overhang like the pleats of a skirt.

About two dessert spoons of cold stew goes into each – fill them generously. (It has to be cold as it goes into the pastry – another good reason to wait for leftovers if you make this.) Brush the rim of the pastry with milk or beaten egg, then cut out four smaller circles of pastry – I used a tea cup. Press the top onto the pie and pinch the sides together, cutting away the excess. If it looks a bit jagged, it will crisp up nicely in the oven. Brush the top with milk or egg, cut a small hole in the centre and bake at 180 degrees for 15 – 18 minutes. They’ll look like little pork pies when they come out of the moulds.

We had ours with buttered peas. A lot for me, about 10 for Bert since he picks up each one individually with finger and thumb.

One pie for him, two for me and one for my lunch tomorrow. There was enough filling and pastry for a fifth, so this could serve two humans and one baby, but I gave the dog the filling (he’d had a bad day) and used the pastry to make apple lattice tarts. They’ll be pudding tomorrow since a two pie tea is a bit decadent for a Monday.