Cooking With Elfie: Cottage Pie

Elfie cooking

Elfie is the epitome of a little darling these days. She’s sweet to adults, kind to her brother and friends, has wonderful manners and the loveliest sense of humour. If someone had asked me when I was pregnant to describe what sort of daughter I wished for I would have described 4 year old Elfie to a tee.

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IMG_2165It’s no secret that we’ve struggled with our relationship in the past – we’re just too similar and end up butting heads sometimes – but since starting school we have become a lot closer. She tests boundaries a lot more, something I actually enjoy as I think it’s important my children discover where the line is and when they can cross it, but she also has learned a lot about respect. R-E-S-P-E-C-T!!

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IMG_2170The upshot of this is that we now get on fabulously, so much so that Elfie’s favourite time of day (and one of mine!) is the ten minutes solo time we get to spend together after Huxley goes to bed at 7. We chat about the day, watch Frozen, do some online shopping and she whispers to me “Mummy, I love you all the way to the moon and back!” It is just AWESOME.

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IMG_2172In certain situations Elfie seems to think the sun shines out of my bum. She told her Grannie that she needed a new car, and not to worry, Mummy would buy her one because she works very hard. And if you ask her what she wants to be when she grows up she will tell you ‘Mummy’s Helper’. As I’m going to wait until she’s at least ten to make her come into work with me and help by getting her to write KPI reports, for now she is ‘Mummy’s Helper’ when I’m cooking. So when OXO invited us to spend some time in the kitchen together recently to test their new Herbs & More range we were delighted to get to it! They sent us a goodie box full of Herbs & More pots as well as aprons for both E and I and a ‘Kitchen Magician’s Wand’ which I haven’t been allowed to touch since.

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IMG_2183OXO Herbs & More pots are perfect for a busy cook like me, adding a hefty punch of flavour into your dishes quickly and easily. Small pots of flavourings and seasonings, you simply add them to your recipes as you go along. They come in five variants: lemon & thyme, roast garlic & parsley, rosemary & red wine, rosemary & thyme and tarragon & chive. For this challenge OXO sent us some recipe cards to utilise our Herbs & More pots and Elfie decided we should give the Cottage Pie a go, so the Rosemary & Thyme pot was for us.

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IMG_2189We had a fantastic time cooking together – I did all chopping and hot duties and Elfie took care of the stirring and measuring. And mess making, obviously. Despite the flour-covered kitchen I think these little moments are so important and we both thoroughly enjoyed ourselves – me as the Kitchen Magician and she as the Kitchen Magician’s assistant!

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I did feel a bit sorry for poor old Hux, though. He doesn’t really enjoy cooking and so went rogue on us and spent an hour drawing on himself. He had a ball.

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I’ve included the recipe here as it really was a doddle to follow plus it tasted spectacular. Usually for a dish like this I’d fanny around with seasonings (rosemary from next door’s garden, garlic, red wine, blah blah) but I decided to follow the instructions and let the Herbs & More pots speak for themselves. Because we are rebels we not only added the Rosemary & Thyme pot to the sauce but we also chucked a Roast Garlic & Parsley one into the mash – and I was so glad I did. It was delicious. I’ve already used one of the Rosemary & Red Wine pots in a Shepherd’s Pie (we like pie) and I look forward to using the others in all sorts of dishes.

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And the kids’ verdict on flavour? Hux ate his WHOLE dish of Cottage Pie which literally never happens, and Elfie asked for seconds. I took mine into work and had lots of compliments on the way it made the kitchen smell. JOB DONE.

Cottage Pie
 
Recipe type: Main
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 400g lean mince beef
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 2 sticks celery (we substituted a courgette)
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 Rosemary & Thyme Herbs & More
  • 100g grated cheese (I use Gruyere as I'm a posh bugger)
Instructions
  1. Peel your onion, carrots and potatoes and pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C. Brown the mince in a non-stick pan.
  2. Dice the onion, carrots and celery and add to the pan. Fry for 2 minutes then add the tomato puree and flour and cook for a further minute.
  3. Add the Worcestershire sauce and 400ml of boiling water. Stir and simmer for 20 mins.
  4. Chop the potatoes and boil for 20 mins, then mash with a tbsp of butter and 2 tbsp milk (I use cream as I'm a greedy bugger)
  5. Add the Herbs & More pot into the saucy beef mixture and transfer to an ovenproof dish.
  6. Spread the mash over the mixture and sprinkle your cheese on top.
  7. Place in the oven for 20-25 minutes until golden and bubbling.

Big thank-yous to Britmums and OXO Herbs & More for collaborating with us on this post. We had a great time! 

MTT: Kid-Friendly Spanish Paella Recipe

 

Kid-friendly Paella Recipe

I try to get my kids to eat as much multicultural food as possible. They both adore curries (especially poppadoms for breakfast the day after a takeaway… #supermum), we recently had a proper American feast of pulled pork and cornbread and traditional carbonara is one of their favoruites. Ditto American maple pancakes for breakfast!

Because cooking is such a love of mine I really enjoy teaching them the origins of where our food comes from and talk about how this differs from country to country – sometimes we get the atlas out and it turns into a lovely little geography lesson.

Kid-friendly Paella Recipe

One of our favourite cuisines to delve into is Spanish. I’ve been to both Madrid and Barcelona and just love the Spanish tapas style of eating; lots of nibbly bits of cheese, meats and fried stuff with copious amounts of Estrella, natch. HEAVEN. The children have an Auntie living in Madrid and with a new cousin en España I see it as my parenting duty to eat loads of chorizo ;)

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#MorrisonsMums and a Paleo Shepherd’s Pie

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Last week we did our supermarket shopping a little bit differently; thanks to the lovely ladies at BritMums I was sent £80 to be a #MorrisonsMum and do my weekly shop at my local Morrisons. Morrisons have recently cut the prices on thousands of their products, they say not temporary reductions but new everyday low prices on things we buy every week. They claim we’ll notice the difference with every shop so I was really keen to test their claims.

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For the last year I’ve been a fully paid-up member of the Waitrose Wankers club. Eating fresh and, where possible, organic produce is so important for me and I’ve always enjoyed the selection and quality of the food on offer at Waitrose. I seem to spend so much time at the supermarket (I do one big shop a month and 1-2 little ones a week) so it’s important to me that the experience is as easy and as stress-free as possible. But shopping at Waitrose does mean that I spend a lot of money on my groceries. I try to balance this by having a finely-tuned meal plan each week so we waste minimal food and because there’s only three of us we rarely buy expensive cuts of meat. I was interested to see how a shop at Morrisons would compare with my old faithful Waitrose.

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So how was the shopping experience? It was actually pretty good. There was a great selection of vegetables and I loved browsing up and down market street looking at them all. Even my old favourite Waitrose doesn’t sell samphire! I also loved all the flowers on offer which were at great prices; I’m a big fan of having cut flowers in my home and at £5 for two bunches they were great value for money.

The herbs were magnificent and put Waitrose’s to shame – I picked up a huge bunch of parsley and a living coriander – but there was no mint left.

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There were a couple of other things I found either weren’t sold or were sold out though this might have been because of the time I was shopping (Bank Holiday Monday afternoon, not ideal). I couldn’t find any ready-ripened avocados, coconut milk, kale or pomegranate seeds (for this recipe), total middle class problems, right?

Morrison’s is a big supermarket. I usually buy a mixture of own-brand and branded products but at times I was quite overwhelmed at the range of produce on offer. There were loads of different brands, so many different options with whichever product you might like to buy. I like their ethos of having an in-store butcher and made use of that with a lovely piece of pork belly and organic chicken legs. I also picked up a packet of beef mince (full price) but when I got home realised it expired the next day so had to bung it in the freezer – my bad, should have checked the date, but still slightly disappointing.

One thing I’ve always loved about Morrisons is the selection of freshly baked products they have at the bakery. I stayed away from the puddings this time (thanks Paleo) but the pies looked incredible. I picked up a couple of pizzas which were great value and put together at the deli in-store and the kids really enjoyed these for dinner this week.

My big shop using the list above (including a couple of bottles of wine) came to a grand total of £100.25 which I was pretty pleased with. It felt like I’d done a very decent-sized shop and I was certain a similar load at Waitrose would be at least £20 more expensive. In the interests of research I logged on to MySupermarket and inputted all items on my receipt to see; surprisingly I was wrong and Morrison’s was cheaper by £13.37. A small amount I thought, though if you spent this much each fortnight (as I do) that’s a saving of £320.88 a year. Not insignificant!

Morrison’s challenged me to create a bank holiday meal with their produce and blog about it, so here goes. This is a real favourite in our house – Paleo Shepherd’s Pie. It has a sweet potato topping which I much prefer to normal potato; the sweetness is fantastic with the lamb and it’s much less stodgy. I sneak extra peas into the pie for the kids and serve mine with a big salad. It’s delicious, warming and healthy! Yum. It’s also fantastic value with the products I bought from Morrisons – it serves four and comes in at £1.65 a head.

Paleo Shepherd's Pie

 

4.0 from 1 reviews
Paleo Shepherd's Pie
 
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Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 500g lamb mince
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 red onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 5 small sweet potatoes
  • 25g butter
  • 1 lamb stock cube
  • 100ml water
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 100g frozen peas
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp honey
  • Sprinkle of cheddar cheese
Instructions
  1. Start by finely chopping your onion and frying over a medium heat until it starts to soften. Add your garlic cloves (finely chopped) and cook for another 5 minutes.
  2. In goes the lamb - cook until nicely browned all over.
  3. Add the tomato puree, tinned tomatoes, lamb stock cube and water. Mix well and leave to simmer over a low heat for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Meanwhile, peel and cube your sweet potatoes. Add them to a saucepan and cover with cold water. Cook on a high heat for around 15 minutes, or until soft.
  5. When the potatoes are done remove from the heat and drain well. Add the 25g butter and a pinch of salt and pepper and mash until smooth. Put to one side.
  6. When the lamb is fully cooked add the tsp of honey and a pinch of salt and pepper to taste. Add the frozen peas and cook for a further 3 minutes.
  7. Pop the lamb in a large baking dish and spread the potato over, using a fork to get lots of lovely ridges that will crisp up. Sprinkle a handful of cheddar cheese over the top.
  8. Cook at 190 degrees C for 25 minutes, or until all lovely and golden brown on top.

 

So am I a Morrisons convert? I have to say the cost savings are impressive. I noticed the difference in prices as I was browsing the fresh produce and I definitely saved on nappies and loo roll. I’ll be back to buy these and some other storecupboard staples but for my little shops I’ll probably still nip down the road to Waitrose. With the free newspaper, free tea, the fact their staff know my kids names and the quiet middle class shopping experience… I’m just a bit too attached to a supermarket, aren’t I?!

Thank-you Morrisons and Britmums for sending us shopping vouchers :) 

MTT: Mama’s Lasagne

I might be cheating a bit here with the title of this dish. This recipe has nothing to do with an Italian Mama, but rather it was the very first recipe my own Mum taught me about 12 years ago. I have memories of her cooking this at special occasions for my brother and I,  for dinner parties with her friends and she even made it for a faux dinner party I once held for my thirteen year old posse (the dress code was black tie, obviously). It was a staple of my childhood and is a recipe have modified and I come back to time and time again now I’m (barely) a grown-up.

I’m not convinced how authentic this version is. For one, I’m pretty sure the Italians don’t use mature cheddar cheese and I’m sure they use the more traditional combo of carrots and celery. But this is a recipe that I’ve honed over my 12 years of cooking it, from the vegetables and herbs I use to the amount of wine and the time I simmer the ragu. The quantity of cheese sauce has slightly increased over time and I now use less tomatoes. The result is a pasta dish that not only tastes sublime but has layers of flavour thanks to the beef stock, sugar (really!), mushrooms, wine and strong cheese. I would defy anyone not to do a bit of an Italian “MMMMMmmmmmm!” and maybe even that kissy finger pinch thing when they’re eating it.

The quantity below serves 4 hungry grown-ups and is great served with a herby salad and even some (homemade) garlic bread. I often double this otherwise I’m disappointed at the lack of leftovers which taste amazing heated up for lunch the next day. This may be a little more involved and time-consuming than most of my other recipes, but it’s bloody worth it.

In my recipe I’ve used Gourmet Garden basil and garlic, which are a great way to save time when you’re cooking without compromising on taste or flavour. Chopping herbs and garlic are one of my least favourite things to do in the kitchen, so I certainly noticed the difference! I’m entering my lasagne recipe in Gourmet Garden‘s blog off/cook off competition.

 

Mama's Lasagne
 
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I find I get my best results from this recipe when I par-cook my lasagne sheets in boiling water for around three minutes each. I do this in 2 batches of 3 while the ragu sauce is bubbling away and then lay them out flat ready to assemble. Of course you won't need to do this if you are using fresh pasta sheets .
Author:
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 3 teaspoons Gourmet Garden garlic
  • 1 white onion
  • 1 pepper (red or orange) chopped into cubes
  • Half punnet chestnut mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 500g lean minced beef
  • 100ml red wine
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato puree
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • Half a beef stock cube
  • 3 teaspoons Gourmet Garden basil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 50g Butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 60g Mature Cheddar Cheese
  • 175ml (approx) whole milk
  • 6 lasagne pasta sheets
Instructions
  1. Dice the onion and sweat in a large pan with about a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the garlic, cooking slowly to ensure it doesn't burn, about 10 minutes.
  2. Whilst the onion is cooking chop your other veg and add to the pan. Cook for a further 5 minutes.
  3. Add your mince and break up well. Mix in with veg and stir as it cooks.
  4. Once it's brown all over add the 100ml of red wine and tomato puree and stir well.
  5. Crumble in the half a stock cube and stir again, then add the tin of chopped tomatoes.
  6. Bring the pan to a slight simmer and cook with a lid off, stirring every 5 minutes. Leave to cook for about 40 minutes before moving on to the cheese sauce.
  7. When the ragu is nearing the end of cooking add the sugar and salt and pepper to taste. I usually add a touch more than 4 teaspoons to counteract the acidity of the tomatoes.
  8. Melt your butter in a small saucepan and when it's slightly bubbling add your flour; stir well and don't let it burn. Cook for about 30 minutes before adding a splash of milk to cook the pan down.
  9. Add a handful of cheese and stir well to combine, followed by about half the milk. Wait for the cheese to melt then repeat, until you have a sauce about the consistency of cake batter. You might need a little less of the milk- use your judgement - but make sure you have a small sprinkling of cheddar left over for the top of the lasagne.
  10. When this is done it's time to assemble! If there's any liquid left on the top of your ragu sauce skim it off and discard.
  11. Place half of the ragu in a large rectangular dish and press down so it's nice and level.
  12. Add three quarters of the cheese sauce and place three lasagne sheets on top.
  13. Spoon the remaining ragu over the cheese sauce and place the last three sheets on top of this. Add the last of the cheese sauce to the top of the lasagne and sprinkle with cheddar.
  14. Cook in the oven at 180 degrees C for about 45 minutes, or until the top of the lasagne is golden brown and bubbling. Delicious!

 

MTT: Loaded Potato Skins

 

As much as I really don’t approve of using food as an emotional crutch there is nothing that will give you a hug from the inside quite like a jacket potato, preferably with cheese and baked beans. I went through a whole winter of being unhappy about my career on the strength of the jacket potato van at the front of the office; I put on a couple of pounds (double cheese, double butter, oh yeah) but I had a perpetual warm feeling in my stomach.

 

 

I can’t even put my finger on the best thing about the humble jacket potato. The crispy skin? The salty, oozy butter? The melting cheese? The sweet tomato sauce? There are SO MANY good bits, too many to choose from.

There does appear to be a limit to how many potatoes can be eaten in one week, however. My record is 4 (5 if you count one with a tuna topping but I’m a beans n’ cheese gal), but I’m guessing 1 is probably a much healthier option. Plus if you overdo them there’s always the risk of jacket potato burnout. So to save my health I like to come up with different ways to warm my cockles.

 

 

These loaded skins are one of those ways. It’s a recipe I came up with in the middle of our chilly and rainy summer when I’d had one too many jacket potatoes and couldn’t look another baked bean in the eye. It’s crispy, cheesy and salty yet a bit lighter than your more traditional baked potato. I serve them with a quick homemade guacamole (1 mashed avocado, salt, pepper, lime, olive oil) and pretend they’re healthy: just ignore the mountain of soured cream.

 

 

5.0 from 2 reviews
Loaded Potato Skins
 
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The quantities below will serve one: just double, triple etc it for more people.
Author:
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: Mexican
Serves: 1
Ingredients
  • 1 Baking Potato
  • 2 Rashers Smoked bacon
  • Good handful of cheese (approx 25g), I like Double Gloucester
  • Dessert spoon full sour cream
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Guacamole and soured cream, to serve
Instructions
  1. Pre-heat your oven to hot, about 230 degrees C.
  2. Cook the potatoes whole in the microwave until just cooked, about 4 minutes on each side.
  3. Take them out and slice them in half. When cooled slightly scoop out the insides and pop in a large bowl. Add to this 2 rashers of chopped fried bacon, the cheese, a dessert spoon ful of sour cream and salt and pepper.
  4. Meanwhile, brush the potato skins with Olive Oil and salt and place them curved-side up on to a baking tray to crisp up. Cook for about 7 minutes.
  5. Take the skins out the oven and turn over. Fill with the topping.
  6. Pop in the oven for another 7-10 minutes, until heated through and the cheese is melted.
  7. Dip liberally in guacamole and soured cream.

 

 

MTT: Really Nice Burgers

One thing I struggle hugely with out here in the middle of nowhere is the lack of a decent burger. I’ve tried EVERYWHERE within a 10 mile radius, and none of them compare to the delights you get in London. Our local pub’s offering is passable, especially since they gave up doing those massive huge chips that were basically roast potatoes and went with slimmer chips. They also get points for a homemade tomato relish though it’s a little too spicy for me. Man, I’m difficult to please.

We do at least have a local GBK 7 miles away which is where I turn to for my burger fix, especially as they now do those awesome shoestring fries, but the best local chips I’ve found are thrice cooked and at The Bell and Bear (I’M A CHIP CONNOISSEUR, OK?!)

 

But I like to have a burger on a whim, and whims are fairly hard to come by when you have two children in nappies. So I’ve learned to make my own delicious burger at home with a healthy accompaniment of vegetable fries. And best of all, you’ll find every ingredient for this in the Co-Op.

These burgers are made extra special thanks to the addition of caramelised onions (see here for a quick recipe) and I buy mature cheddar cheese slices and iceburg lettuce to give them a bit of crunch.

 

I found the idea for these chips on Pinterest a while ago: vegetable sticks coated in a marinade and oven-baked at a high heat. Sainsbury’s sent me some samples from their new specialty ingredients range a couple of weeks ago so I decided to use their Harissa to give the carrots and courgettes a bit of a kick. My parents-in-law spent a while living in Tunisia and we used to bring home jars of Harissa when we visited but I was pleased to find that Sainsbury’s version is more smokey and less spicy (I’m a wimp when it comes to chilli); I added a dessertspoon full of this to an equal portion of olive oil and honey, tossed the veg and baked for about half an hour. Yummy. And healthy!

 

 

MTT: Really Nice Burgers
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Main
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 400g minced beef
  • 1 onion, caramelised (optional)
  • Breadcrumbs made with 2 slices of white bread
  • 1 teaspoon mustard
  • 1 egg
  • Pinch of salt and pepper
  • Bread rolls
  • Iceberg lettuce
  • Ketchup
Instructions
  1. Put all ingredients into a bowl and mix well.
  2. Form mixture into balls and squash into patties.
  3. Heat a frying pan to medium-high and cook for approx 4 minutes either side.
  4. Serve in buns with iceberg lettuce and ketchup.

PS: thanks to Sainsbury’s for kindly sending me samples of their new ingredients… read more about them here!