Sweet potato, butternut squash and Quorn bolognaise

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There is an eternal tug-of-war between chaos and order – a struggle that can have no winner because each state leads inevitably to the other. Peace of mind and wisdom can only be found through acceptance that neither position is permanent and that neither is superior.

Or, as we call it in our house, Lego.

I dream of a vast tool box with small drawers of colour sorted, shape sorted Lego bricks, with a shifting, temporary display of complete pieces, which are then disassembled in an orderly manner (as Teresa May would say), before going off to their individual drawers, instruction manuals filed in alphabetical order.

Bert dreams of a massive pile up of both finished and partly broken items and random bricks, but also  things from around the house that match them, according to a mysterious categorising system in his head where a Bloco dragon and blue shoe are, of course, honourary Ninjago Lego.

We live in flux between these two states of mind, neither of us ever achieving perfection. Though the second he leaves home I’m buying the toolbox.

Vegetable consumption in our house follows a similar pattern. I dream of him eating the rainbox of veg that Instagram accounts I follow assures me is normal for five year olds. He dreams of eating hot dogs, cheese cake, raw plain flour and Kinder Surprise. I’m generally now just letting it go, putting vegetables on his plate then back in the fridge for my lunch or into a soup if they’re uneaten, with just the occasional stealth-dash from the undergrowth, sniper-firing root vegetables at him.

Serves 6

1 dessert spoon butter

1 small onion, diced

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 packet of Quorn mince

1 small sweet potato, grated

About twice the volume of grated butternut squash – I’d guess at about 1/8 of a whole one (I made soup with the rest)

2 tins chopped tomatoes and half a tin of water

1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary

Salt to taste

1 teaspoon butter to finish

I thought bolognaise, that classic vegetable hiding place post-children, would be a good place to expand our veg consumption and reduce our meat reliance. I tried Bert on a lovely aubergine and lentil one (nope!). This was attempt number two. He ate it and gave it a ‘medium’ thumbs up.

Pre-heat the oven to 140. In a large, oven-proof sauce pan, gently fry the onion and garlic in the butter then add the Quorn mince and grated veg. Stir to combine then add the tomatoes, water, rosemary and salt. Bring to a fast simmer then reduce to a low simmer for half an hour, put a lid on and put the pan in the oven to slow cook for another 2.5 or so hours (check it at 2 hours). When ready to serve, stir through the last knob of butter and check the seasoning.

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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.