Cheddar and parsnip bread

‘You’re too gorgeous,’ I said to Bert, grabbing him for a cuddle as this was cooking for our lunch.

‘I not too gorgeous,’ he said strictly. ‘I right amount gorgeous.’

Too true.

Makes 2 small loaves

175g self raising flour

50g grated strong Cheddar

175g grated parsnip (about 3 parsnips)

1 lightly beaten egg

4-5 tablespoons whole milk


Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/ 180. Combine all the ingredients gently until they’re just formed into a dough, then split into 2 rough, round loafs. Bake on a lined baking sheet for abou 35-40 minutes, until they’re golden and hollow-sounding when the bottom’s tapped.


Halloween pasta


The night before last I woke up in the middle of the night to hear Bert calling for me. I went into his room and he pointed sadly at some sick on his bed and said, ‘poor old Bert.’ As I gathered up his bedding, blanket, Rex the dinosaur and John the rabbit to be washed he shouted, ‘no, not John! Not the dryer for John!’ It was like Sophie’s Choice on a tiny scale.

(Spoiler: John was fine.)

There are good parenting days. And there are days when I’m constantly infuriated at dinosaurs being smashed onto tables, wee accidents less than a minute after he’s refused to try for a wee, denials of the need to nap and sulks at the end of Dinosaur Train – alongside teetering washing baskets, sinks and dishwashers both full of washing up and clients that promise work then disappear. And then I see a serious little face with round cheeks and I apologise, again, for being grumpy.

Today I mostly feel like this picture. Poor old Bert.

Serves 2-3

200g pureed pumpkin (the scrapings from our T-Rex pumpkin – what, you can’t see it? – blitzed in the blender till smooth)

4 rashers streaky bacon, chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

2 teaspoons chopped or dried rosemary

1/2 bag of spiral pasta

50g grated mozzerella

100g mixed grated Cheddar and Parmesan

Fry the bacon with the garlic and rosemary till it’s starting to crisp. At the same time, boil the pasta till it’s just done. Drain the pasta, put it back in the pan and combine it with the bacon mix and pumpkin, stirring till the pasta’s well coated with pumpkin and the bacon’s evenly distributed. Stir the mozzeralla through more roughly so there are pockets of it melting into the pasta and tip the lot into an overproof dish. Top with the Cheddar and Parmesan and cook at gas mark 4/ 180 for half an hour, till the top’s golden and bubbling.

The other 364 days of the year you could subsitute any other squash for the pumpkin.

We’re having ours with broccoli.


Marmite and pancetta pasta


How can something so wrong feel so right?

Serves 2

200 diced pancetta

Splash of oil for frying


Knob of butter

50g grated cheddar cheese

2 teaspoons marmite

Grated parmesan

Me and Bert have just got back from a lovely couple of days in Brighton. All very relaxing except driving on a busy M25 with a back seat passenger shouting ‘CRASH!!!!’ at random intervals.

I think this is a BBC Good Food recipe. If you use the quick cook pasta, the whole thing takes five minutes. Ideal for after a 3 hour drive that’s commentated on as if it’s a Lego Juniors iPad game.

Cook the pasta, scooping out about half a cup of the cooking water towards the end of the cooking time.

Meanwhile fry the pancetta in oil till it’s starting to crisp.

Return the cooked, drained pasta to the pan and quickly add the cheese, butter and marmite, stirring through till melted, and a splash or two of the pasta water – enough to make a silky sauce to coat the pasta. Add the pancetta and serve with grated parmesan.

Cheesey cornbread and guacamole


Basically, chili con carne sides.

Bert has chickenpox. We’re on day two of being confined inside with a very spotty toddler who feels perfectly well and has his normal levels of lunacy energy.

I’m spending £20 a day on Amazon Prime dinosaur jigsaws.

For the bread:

300g polenta

2 teaspoons of baking powder

1 teaspoon sea salt

200g cheddar, grated

150ml plain yoghurt

8 tablespoons warm water

For the guacamole:

1 ripe avocado, peeled and stoned, roughly chopped and crushed with the back of a fork

Juice of half a lime

1 medium sized tomato, roughly chopped

1 spring onion, roughly chopped

Salt to taste

Drizzle of olive oil

For the bread: combine the polenta, salt, baking powder and grated cheese in a bowl, then stir through the yoghurt and water to make a dough. Press into a baking tray to about 2-3 cm deep and bake at 180 (bottom rungs of the Aga roasting oven) for 20 to 25 minutes or till golden brown.

Combine all the guacomole ingredients. Do not expect your toddler to respond with anything but ‘bleurgh’.

Arlo the Good Dinosaur ate quite a lot, but Bert just ate rice and cheese.

Penne Giardiniera


This is a Carluccio’s recipe, and I wouldn’t neccessarily have thought of trying it on Bert, but we had lunch there a few months ago and he nicked most of mine so…

It’s also fairly faff-y, particularly the spinach balls, but I’m out of work at the moment and while Bert was at nursery yesterday I spent most of my time colouring in, so let’s just say that time isn’t my most pressing concern currently. But you could always do just the courgette bit, which is really quick. The spinach balls would make a good vege meatball if you served them in tomato sauce, too.

Serves 3

For the spinach balls:

100g spinach, cooked in water for just a couple of minutes, then drained

1/2 a clove of garlic, crushed

1/2 a beaten egg

35g fresh breadcrumbs

Grating of fresh nutmeg, salt and pepper

20-25g grated parmesan

For the pasta:

1 courgette, grated

40g (yes!) of butter

1 and a half garlic cloves, crushed

1/4 teaspoon chili flakes

120g (yes!) grated parmesan

Cooked pasta to your appetite

Squeeze as much water as you can out of the cooked spinach, then keep squeezing till no more comes out. (Weirdly satisfying.) Chop it fairly finely and add it to the other ingredients, then form into walnut-sized balls. I put them in the fridge at this point to firm up. When you’re nearly ready to eat, shallow fry in plenty of olive oil till golden brown – about 5-10 minutes. The more water you’ve squeezed out of your balls – don’t – the firmer and less prone to falling apart they’ll be.

While your pasta is simmering, gently cook the courgette, chili, butter and garlic in a frying pan till the courgette is soft. That takes about 10 minutes, so the amount of time you’re cooking your pasta, more or less. Add to the cooked pasta with most of the cheese (leaving some for the table). The chili really doesn’t make it at all hot – it’s more a flavouring.

Despite the appalled look on his face in the picture, Bert demolished this. I felt briefly filled with a warm glow of smugness. Then I remembered that his dinner on Friday night was a bowl of Rice Krispies and a bag of chocolate buttons.

But I do believe that if you present small children with tasty, nutritious, ‘adult’ food in a no-pressure way (we never insist he tries or finishes anything) and present it all as equally attractive (he doesn’t have to eat veg, and puddings aren’t a treat or a reward, they’re just what comes after dinner if I can be arsed I’ve made one), then they’ll generally eat about 70% of it enthusiastically and ignore the other 30% randomly. If one day they just eat a huge pile of mashed potatoes, who cares?


Sunny pasta

Roast yellow veg carbonara. Blurred but cute picture.


Served 2.5 (me and Bert and leftovers for my lunch tomorrow)

Half a butternut squash, deseeded, sliced into slim discs

Yellow pepper, deseeded, sliced into discs

Splash of olive oil or rapeseed oil

One clove of garlic, crushed

1 egg and 1 egg yolk

60ml double cream

Pecorino cheese, grated – about half a cup – around 60g or so – and a little more to serve


Half a ladle full of saved pasta water

Drizzle the veg with oil and roast for about half an hour in a hot oven – 220 or so. (I did it on the bottom of the Aga roasting oven.)

At this point in the proceedings I watched two Peppa Pigs with Bert on my knee, surrepticiously sniffing his hair.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta, keeping about half a ladle of the cooking water to one side. Mix together the cream, egg and cheese and season with salt and pepper. In a large pan, fry the garlic briefly in a little oil, stir in the veg then take the pan off the heat and stir through the pasta the second it’s drained, followed by the cream mixture and a little bit of the pasta cooking water. Coat the pasta with the sauce and serve with a bit more grated cheese.

Bert hasn’t eaten for over 24 hours because of a virus (Ray’s done well out of it), but he ate this.


Fish pie


I’m not a fan of boiled eggs, vegetables, prawns or other such fancy touches in fish pies. This is a bit like the fish pie my mum used to make and there’s a comfort in the way our palettes and recipes get passed down the line.

I’ve since nerded out a bit on the subject of mashed potato, and come to the conclusion that fish pie really needs a very dry mash so that it doesn’t merge into the sauce. Steaming potatoes with their skin on is the way forward, though it does take ages. They keep a really potatoey taste, too.

Serves 4

450g fish – a combination of salmon, white fish and smoked fish like smoked haddock. Ideally skinless and boneless. Cut into bite sized chunks.

500ml whole milk

1 dessert spoon butter

1 dessert spoon plain flour

Chopped parsley – a small bunch

750-850g floury potatoes (that’s about 4 or 5 medium sized baking potatoes)

1 tablespoon of butter

Salt, pepper and grated nutmeg to taste

About 130g cheddar cheese, grated

Put the fish in a pan, cover with the milk, bring to a simmer and cook for 8 minutes. Get your potatoes steaming. Remove the cooked fish and reserve the milk. Melt the dessert spoon of butter in a saucepan, mix in the flour to form a roux and gradually add the milk the fish was cooked in till you have a thick white sauce. The fish goes in an oven proof dish, followed by the chopped parsley and the sauce. Ideally leave this to cool till your potatoes are ready so that the sauce is a bit firmer and the potato’s easier to spread on top.

Steam the potatoes in their skin for about 45 minutes, till tender. Mash or, even easier, rice with a potato ricer. Return the pan of mash to the hob and add the butter, stirring through as it melts. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Cover the fish with the mash and then the grated cheese. Cook at 200 (or the middle of the Aga roasting oven) for about 30 minutes, till golden and bubbling. Give it an extra 10 minutes to cool. Bert looks very disapproving if he’s served food that’s too hot, making a tiny O mouth and blowing showily on each mouthful.

I know his portion looks massive. It’s not the perspective.