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?)

Gnocchi with tomato and sausage sauce

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Bert has eaten packet gnocchi and loved it, so I thought this was a sure-fire win, especially since it involved him rolling it out like play-doh.

We went round the table listing our favourite puddings (Bert’s: the icecreams that come with a flake in and Revels – all my time making apple pies and crumbles and cakes wasn’t wasted, then.) He ate two gnocchi and looked perturbed, then concerned, then indignant.

‘Let’s play a new game,’ he said. ‘This time the things we don’t like.’

‘Okay.’

‘Bert first.’

‘Okay, what’s on your list?’

‘Number one,’ [points at plate] ‘this!’

As you can see, it was no trouble at all to make so that was absolutely fine with me.

Serves 3

3 baking potatoes (about 1 kg)

3 teaspoons sea salt

150g 00 or plain flour

Salt and pepper to season

1 beaten egg

1 carrot, grated

1 tablespoon olive oil

6 sausages, sliced into bite sized pieces

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 dessert spoon red pesto

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1/2 head broccoli florets

Put the oven on to 200. Get the potatoes wet under a running tap and sprinkle with salt. Bake for around an hour, till soft. Leave to cool slightly.

Scoop out the potato and push through a potato ricer or a sieve and tip onto a board. Add the flour and seasoning. Make a well in the centre, add the egg, and mix it all together with your hands until you have a soft dough (don’t overwork it). It’s important you do this bit while the potatoes are still warm so the gnocchi are tender.

Heat the oil in a sauce pan and gently fry the grated carrot until starting to melt into the oil. Add the sausages and brown. Then add the tomatoes and pesto and vinegar, and cook for around 15 minutes. When there’s five minutes to go steam or boil your broccoli, either stirring it in at the end, or keeping it as a side dish if you have a five-year-old in the house who likes strict food type ghettos.

Meanwhile, bring a large pan of salted  water to the boil and reduce to a fast simmer. Roll the gnocchi dough out into sausages about the width of your thumb (five-year-olds are useful helpers at this point), cut into small pieces and drop into the water. They’re cooked when they rise to the surface – fish them out with a slotted spoon and blot on kitchen paper. Serve with the sausage sauce (with or without broccoli) and cheese.

Fish cakes

fishcakes

Highlight of the day: Bert got into bed with me in the middle of the night because he woke up too hot, wrapped a chubby, little arm around my neck and pressed a damp face against me to sleep, even though it must have made him even hotter.

Lowlight of the day: at toddler music group, he grabbed my index finger, used it as a tool to pick his nose, and then licked the bogie off it.

We had fish cakes for dinner.

Makes 8 – we ate 5 between 3 of us and froze 3

1 packet of fish pie mix or about 450g of fish – or any combination of salmon, white fish and smoked fish, in bite sized pieces

Milk, to cover fish

About 350g potatoes, steamed or boiled till tender then mashed

1 egg

1 spring onion, chopped

1 teaspoon French mustard

75g Cheddar cheese, grated

Salt and pepper

To coat:

1 egg, beaten

Flour for dusting

4 tablespoons breadcrumbs

Cover the fish with milk and cook for about 8 – 10 minutes on a medium hob till cooked through. Combine gently with the other ingredients, being careful not to break the fish up too much.

When cool, make handfuls of the mixture into patties and chill for an hour before coating.

Coat each patty with flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs, fry on each side in a little olive oil for 2-3 minutes (till golden), then transfer to an oven and cook at 180 degrees (or near the bottom of the Aga roasting oven) for 10 minutes, till warmed through. If you chill them before coating and don’t move them about while they’re frying, letting them form a firm crust, they hold together well.

 

 

 

Me and Bert’s steak and chips

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It occurred to me that steak and chips is the one pre-Bert meal I really miss. There’s not much he won’t have a go at so, other than eating at 6pm, we don’t sacrifice much by eating as a family. Except a rare steak, fries and a green salad. So this is Me and Bert steak and chips. Just as nice and eaten in excellent company.

I didn’t take a photo of him eating it so here’s one of him really enjoying one of our new Monday morning adventure slots, where the two of us go off and do something fun together.

Serves 2

1 minute steak

1 steak for you – as large and expensive as you dare

A teaspoon of butter

A couple of potatoes

A selection of root veg – carrots, parsnips (beetroot? turnip? I may be pushing it now)

A tablespoon of rapeseed oil (or vegetable oil). Rapeseed oil gets very, very hot before it burns so makes excellent chips and roasties.

Bash the minute steak with a rolling pin, as if it’s responsible for every sleepless night you’ve ever had. This tenderises it to toddler specifications.

Cut the pototoes into small batons – about 1/2 a centimetre thick. A bit like McDonald’s fries. Par boil in boiling water for 2 minutes. As they’re cooking, cut the other root veg into the same size pieces. Drain the potatoes and give them a minute or two to completely dry as you heat the oil up in a baking tray on the hob. Toss all the veg in the oil and cook in a very hot oven (as hot as it will go) for about 25 minutes.

Melt the butter in a very hot frying pan. For me, an inch-thick steak at room temperature needs 6 minutes to be rare but not lively. Only turn once, in the middle of the cooking time. While it’s resting, cook the minute steak for one minute.

Serve with your condiment of choice. Bernaise sauce for me. Dribble for my Bertie. A green salad on the side for those of you who aren’t leaf avoiders.

 

Fish pie

fishpie

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.

Shepherd’s pie

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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.

Spinach, mint and parmesan frittata

frittata

Serves 2.5 (if the large people are greedy)

4 small floury potatoes

Tablespoon olive oil

2 cloves garlic, crushed

Large handful spinach, chopped

Leaves from a sprig of mint, finely chopped

4 eggs, beaten

Handful grated parmesan

Peel and thickly slice the potatoes (to about 1cm thick), place in a pan of boiling water, bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes till tender. Drain and leave them in the colander for a couple of minutes to dry.

Heat the oil in the pan and fry the potatoes till golden, adding the garlic at the last minute. Mix the eggs, spinach and mint and pour in, topping with cheese. Cook on the stove top till firm then finish off under a hot grill till the cheese is bubbling and golden.

We had ours with sausages and cherry tomatoes. To be honest, this really could have served four.

Baked chicken sag aloo and easy coconut naan

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Serves 1.5; probably more, but I was greedy

For the naans:

100g self raising flour

75ml water

1 teaspoon melted butter

25g dessicated coconut

For the curry:

1/2 an onion

2cm fresh ginger

2 garlic cloves

1 dessert spoon garam masala

Tablespoon sunflower or vegetable oil

1-2 chicken breasts in bite sized pieces

2 or 3 small potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks

2 large handfuls spinach, chopped

200ml passata

Half a can of coconut milk

Mix the ingredients for the bread into a dough and knead for a couple of minutes till smooth.

Boil the potatoes till tender. Blitz the onions, garlic and ginger in a food processor and fry in the oil with the spices till the onion’s translucent and the spices are warmly fragrant. Add the chicken and brown, then add the liquid and bring to a fast simmer. Put the spinach and potatoes into an oven proof dish, pour over the chicken and sauce mixture and pop in the oven at 180 degrees (or the middle of an Aga roasting oven) for half an hour.

Cut the dough in half and roll out to two teardrop shaped pieces about 1cm thick. Don’t worry too much about the shape unless you have a particularly critical baby. Put them under a hot grill for 7-10 minutes, keeping an eye on them. You want them to be soft and pillowy, not crisp.

As you can see, Bert had his with a side of snot.

The curry’s warm and spicy but not hot. It would be nice without the chicken, too.

Fishfingers and ketchup

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Serves 1.5

For the fish:

1 large piece of skinless and boneless cod (it was about 280g)

1 slice of bread, blitzed into breadcrumbs

2 good pinches of cayenne pepper

Glug olive oil

Flour for dusting – cornflour works well

Milk

For the chips:

2-3 medium sized potatoes

Sunflower oil

For the ketchup:

1 tomato, diced

200ml passata

1 small clove garlic, crushed

Glug olive oil

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

Black pepper

To make the ketchup, fry the garlic briefly in olive oil, then add the tomatoes, passata, herbs and seasoning. Cook for around 10 minutes, mashing the diced tomatoes into the sauce as you go. This makes enough to use on one day as a simple tomato pasta sauce, with leftovers for ketchup (or a dipping sauce for fish cakes or sweetcorn pancakes). It would keep in the fridge for around 3 days, I’d say.

Cut the potatoes into chunky chips (about 1.5 cm square at the end), put in a pan of cold water, bring to the boil and parboil for 5 minutes. Drain, give them a couple of minutes to dry off and coat them in sunflower oil, cooking on a lined baking sheet in a hot oven (220 degrees) for about 25-30 minutes. Turn them over half way through.

Combine the breadcrumbs with the cayenne pepper, get a glug of olive oil hot in a pan, and brown them till they’re crispy. The cayenne gives a bit of a kick and a touch of that Captain Birdseye orange hue. Cut the fish into thick fingers and dip in flour, then milk and then in the crumbs. They join the chips in the oven for the last 15 minutes.

Breaded chicken and fries

chicken

Yes, more crumbed items.

Serves 1.5

2 chicken breasts

Large slice of bread, blitzed into breadcrumbs

Grated zest of half a lemon

1 teaspoon finely chopped oregano or thyme

Milk for dipping – about 50ml

Flour for dusting

Black pepper

Floury potatoes, to your appetites

Tablespoon of vegetable or sunflower oil

Salad and peas to serve

Peel the potatoes and cut into frites – sticks about 1/2 a centimetre square at the end. Soak in cold water for about an hour before cooking if you have time – this helps stop them sticking. Coat in oil, spread out in a single layer on a baking sheet that’s been lined with a reusable baking sheet and cook in a hot oven for about 25 minutes. If you’ve got an Aga and you’ve used it within the last 24 hours, count on it taking at least an hour, including swearing time.

Combine the breadcrumbs, herbs, pepper and lemon zest in a bowl. Beat both chicken breasts with a rolling pin – another recipe for angry days – till flattened. Cut one into bite sized pieces; you’ll probably get enough for three or four baby servings. Dunk each piece in flour, milk, then crumbs, sprinkling your larger piece with salt. You can either fry them in olive oil (for about 10 – 15 minutes) or bake in the oven at 200 degrees for around 20 minutes. The leftover breaded chicken freezes well and can be cooked from frozen with an extra five minutes cooking time.

I served mine with salad and Bert’s with peas.

For the full Austrian ski resort experience, have redcurrent jelly on the side and pop a pair of goggles on your baby.