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

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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?)

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Chicken and mushroom biriyani (or mushroom biriyani)

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Bert’s hitting the party scene hard. Somewhere between the age of three and four, children stop existing like well-loved dogs – food ideally being stolen and lapped off the floor, the top of a new speaker being as good a place to poo as anywhere, reality being here right now with no sense of past or future, emotions being either damp, panting joy or aimless whining – and suddenly gain a sense of time. Four is bigger than three. Fourth birthdays are a Big Deal. I’m not sure there’s anyone we know, or indeed have just passed in the street, who hasn’t had the news of Bert’s age reinforced with four fingers held up forcibly and the number repeated twice.

Anyway, fourth birthdays being a Big Deal, we’ve been to a lot of parties recently and I’ve become a hoarder of ‘low maintenance good party ideas’. The one we went to on Saturday involved ride-on, very fast racing cars, a huge bouncy castle, between-meals timing (biscuits, crisps and squash on offer) and me frantically scribbling down supplier numbers for future reference. Now Bert’s fully immersed in party season I’m meeting a lot of mums and I’ve discovered that the phrase ‘do you watch Motherland?’ is code for ‘may I speak freely?’

I love Motherland and I love bacon Frazzles and I love Iced Rings (or hard doughnuts as Bert has it). But for more motherly days, this passes the ‘no sauce’ test, so long as I don’t even begin to suggest that Bert might eat a marinated mushroom – I put those in first, in a clearly separate layer, and don’t offer them to FOUR-YEAR-OLDS.

Serves 4 (or a greedy 2.5 with leftovers)

1/2 punnet mushrooms, sliced (or a whole punnet, no chicken, for vege nights or vege lives)

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts or 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (my preference), cut into 2cm pieces

1.5 teaspoons mild curry powder

1.5 teaspoons garam masala

2 garlic cloves, crushed

120g plain yoghurt

2 onions, sliced

1-2 splashes of vegetable oil

Cinnamon stick

3 cloves

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon turmeric

350g basmati rice

450g boiling water

1/2 tin coconut milk (we tend to cook this in the same week as chicken satay, which uses the other half)

Chopped coriander

Toasted flaked almonds

Pre-heat the oven to 180/ 170 fan.

Mix the mushrooms with the yoghurt, curry powder, garlic and garam masala, season and set aside.

Fry the onion in half of the oil till translucent, then tip into a large saucepan or casserole dish that has a lid. Pile the mushrooms on top and then the chicken.

Reheat the pan you fried the onion in and add a little more oil if necessary. Fry the cinnamon, cloves, turmeric and bay leaves for a minute or so, then stir through the rice, coating in oil. Add the boiling water, bring to simmering point and cook for five minutes. Take off the heat, stir in the coconut milk, season and then add to the sauce pan, covering the chicken with the rice. Cover with a lid and put in the oven for 45 minutes, till all the liquid is absorbed and the rice is cooked. Serve, only going as far as the chicken layer for FOUR-YEAR-OLDS. Scatter adult portions with chopped coriander and toasted almonds.

Adapted, a bit, from the National Trust Family Cookbook.

Hot and sour soup

hot and sour

Another one for the menotbert section. This soup is basically medicine.

Serves 2

Glug of flavourless oil, like walnut or groundnut oil

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 teaspoon dried chili flakes

6 mushrooms, sliced

A handful of veg to go with the mushrooms, sliced – spring greens, carrots, chinese leaf…

3 tablespoons soy sauce

4 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

1 teaspoon honey

500ml chicken stock

3 nests egg noodles, or a packet of fresh ones

Fry the veg, garlic and chil in the oil till softened, then add the soy, vinegar and honey. Cook for a few seconds and add the stock and noodles and cook till the noodles are soft.

I do think you need home made chicken stock for this since it’s so much about the broth. This soup just feels like it’s doing you good.

We assume that Bert’s eating fish fingers with his mates at nursery as we eat this, but who knows, maybe he’s slurping up spicy noodle soup.