Easy as (chicken) pie

Do you cook much with your kids? I used to hate baking with mine, although I forced myself to do it – too much mess, too much wriggling about on the stool they were standing on, too much kiddy grime in the batter.

But now they’re a bit older, they can actually do useful things like use a knife and measure amounts and stir ingredients without most of it ending up on the surrounding bench.

Plus I’ve started recently to talk the Gs through the food choices we make – what’s cheap, how we use leftovers, how we can boost a meal with vegetables and reduce meat consumption, how to plan a menu, what requires minimal washing up (obviously). It’s never too young to start – once they’re old enough, they can take over cooking one night a week, and hopefully, this also means their university meals will be a little more balanced than endless pot noodles.

G Major is particularly interested. She spent a happy afternoon last weekend playing at being a food critic – she watched the lunch being made, inspected the table setting, made a great show of tasting the food, then wrote up her review (5 stars, thank you very much).

She also wants to do much more cooking, so the last few weeks I’ve planned Sunday dinner around what she can prepare. This chicken pie was easy enough for her to properly do it all herself, with just a bit of supervision.

What you need

  • 350-ishg chicken, cubed ( I used mini fillets becuase they’re easier to cut up but there are cheaper cuts)
  • 1 large leek, finely sliced
  • I large carrot, ditto
  • 1 heaped tablespoon flour
  • 200ml chicken stock (low salt if you have it)
  • 100ml white wine
  • 100g cream cheese
  • 3 sheets filo pastry
  • Butter and oil

What you do

  1. Brown the chicken in a little olive oil, then set aside.
  2. Add some butter to the same pan and soften the leeks and carrot. Then sprinkle over the flour and cook out for another 2 mins.
  3. Stir in the wine and stock and simmer til thickened, about 5 mins. Add the cream cheese and stir til melted, then tip the chicken back in.
  4. Pour the whole mix into your pie dish and leave to cool.

5.  Brush the edges of the pie dish with olive oil, then fold the sheets of filo pastry over the pie. We used three sheets, concertinaed across the length of the pie dish.
6. Brush with olive oil and bake at 180 for about 35 mins.

Serve with your favourite veg – we had sweet potato mash, beans, spinach and peas. This was enough for 4 of us for supper, plus a lunch the next day for Big G and a weeknight supper for G Major later that week.

So easy a 6 year old can make it – get to it!

And tell me – what do you like to cook with your kids?

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An interview with G Major before she turns six

Six! Six sounds big. It’s definitely bigger and more important than five. Six is always great. As A. A. Milne says, “Now I am six, I am clever as clever; I hope I stay six now forever and ever.”

G Major is six tomorrow. So I asked her the annual interview questions today. You can see her answers from last year here. I might take out the ones about our age next year as she knows the correct answer now.

This year there is a much stronger influence from school (favourite things, rules). And I’ve been abroad this week with work so the more sentimental answers probably reflect that.

Let’s go!

How old are you? 5 but I want to say six cos tomorrow I’m six
How old am I? 38
How old is Daddy? 39
What’s your favourite food? Noodles
What’s your favourite colour? Blue
If you were the king of the world, what would you tell everyone to do? Never use a loud voice (Seconded)
What’s your favourite book? Roald Dahl books
What’s your favourite TV show? My Little Pony and The Magic School Bus
What’s the best place to go on holiday? The beach
What are you very good at? Art and archery (She has shot a bow and arrow exactly twice, both on holiday this summer)
What would you like to do for a job when you are older? Work in a supermarket
What’s your favourite thing to do with Mummy? When we spend time together just mummy and Eliza
What’s your favourite thing to do with Daddy? Having ice cream
What’s something you would like to learn to do? Make books
What does Mummy do for a job? Works on a computer
What does Daddy do for a job? The same

And both you and daddy travel to help other countries (This is an INCREDIBLY generous description of global planning and marketing workshops)

What’s your favourite animal? Guinea pig
What makes you happy? Spending time with my whole family
What makes you sad? When mummy and daddy go away for work
If you had superpowers, what would they be? Flying
Who is your best friend? Carmen

G Major continues to be a generous, considered and inquisitive little girl, who is also not opposed to a bit of nudity. Can’t wait to see what this year brings!

Easiest ever chocolate cheesecake

This weekend was Big G’s birthday. And a cake was required. He doesn’t “do” fruit, so it was always going to be chocolate. But I have lost interest in messing about with fondant, and G Major currently has a thing about filling in cakes – she’ll only eat plain (dry) sponge – so I decided a cheesecake was the quickest solution.

And I was right – this was really quick to make, and as it’s no bake you can just do each step as you find the time and pop it into the fridge in between, which is quite helpful on the school holidays when you’re working and juggling holiday camp pick ups and so on.

This was not too sweet but still incredibly rich so you only need a thin slice, which means it feeds a whole load of party guests. Plus there’s plenty leftover, for you to do a Nigella and sneak down in the middle of the night for another swipe.

What you need

  • 2 packs of, or about 25, chocolate biscuits (I used chocolate brownie Oreos, which was frankly unnecessary)
  • 50g unsalted butter for the crust, and 25g for the ganache
  • 500g cream cheese
  • 1 cup double cream
  • 100 icing sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla
  • 100g white granulated sugar
  • 250g melted and cooled chocolate for the filling, plus another 100g for the ganache

What you do

  1. Whizz up the biscuits into a fine crumb, then mix with 50g melted butter. Grease a spring form pan and press the mixture all over the base and a little way up the sides. Chill in the fridge.
  2. In one bowl, whip the double cream until its firm, then whip in the icing sugar until you get stiff peaks.
  3. In another bowl, whisk the cream cheese, vanilla, granulated sugar and the 250g melted chocolate.
  4. Gently fold in the whipped cream mix until completely combined, then pour over the chilled crust. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours – I did this the day before and left it overnight.
  5. Once the filling is very firm, melt 25g of butter with 100g chocolate, allow to cool slightly then spread the ganache thinly over the top of the cheesecake. Decorate however you like – more chocolate, fruit, metallic sprinkles. Put it all back in the fridge until you are ready to serve.

This will last 3 days in the fridge.

What do you like to eat on your birthday?

Vietnamese salad

We spent the half term in Dorset on a huge family holiday. 17 people across 3 generations. The Gs had an absolute blast – spending time with cousins is good for the soul. We had glorious weather for the most part, and the perfect mix of beach, swimming pool, rockpools and Monkey World.

Did you know you can hire a beach hut if you’re a National Trust member? It’s such a great perk. We found the hut was a godsend with kids – if it’s a bit wet or windy you can go inside for a cup of tea; if the kids are over-sunned you can have lunch inside for a bit of respite.

Catering for 17 is no mean feat. You have to factor in small kids who want to eat early and grownups who have a sundowner or two and would be happy with bread, cheese and another G&T. Not to mention a range of likes and dislikes. So we ate delicious but fairly straightforward dishes: chicken pie, lasagne, pizzas. And the requisite BBQs, of course. Proper holiday food!

When we got home, though, I quite fancied some meals to suit a more grown up palate. Plus, the last weekend of the half term had glorious weather, and I didn’t want to cook much in the heat.

This Vietnamese salad was perfect. Cold and juicy, and sour and spicy. It takes just minutes to prepare and there was enough left over for lunch the next day. It was so good I made it again a few days later.

Vietnamese salad

This salad is perfect just as it is, but you could add all kinds of protein: shredded poached chicken breast, grilled prawns, fried tofu or finely sliced rare steak.

You don’t have to deseed the chillis but I didn’t recently and found it quite burn-y…and I love chillis.

What you need

For the salad

  • Big handful of bean sprouts
  • Half a pack of mange tout, julienned
  • 3 or 4 spring onions, finely sliced
  • A carrot, julienned
  • Half a green cabbage, finely sliced
  • Half a cucumber, julienned
    A handful of fresh mint, finely sliced
  • A packet of fine rice noodles, softened in boiling water.

For the dressing

  • Equal parts sesame oil, rice vinegar and fish sauce
  • Juice of a lime
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 red chillis, deseeded and finely chopped (keep some back to garnish)
  • 2 crushed cloves of garlic

To top

  • Crushed peanuts
  • finely sliced red chilli

What you do

  1. Slice all the veg and throw it in a bowl with the noodles. I use one of these julienne peelers for the carrots and cucumber – life’s too short.
  2. Add any protein you fancy, if you’d like
  3. Mix all the ingredients for the dressing together; amend to taste. I like mine quite sour but you may want it a little sweeter.
  4. Toss the salad in the dressing and chill in the fridge for half an hour.
  5. Scatter over peanuts and sliced chillis. That’s it!

What do you like to cook when it’s too hot to cook?

An interview with Josephine Blythe just before she turns 3

G Minor is nearly 3. She is counting down the days. And the sleeps. Today was the first birthday party she’s had. She had a great time. I shattered.

Every year, I’ve asked her sister some questions. And now I’ve asked G Minor the same questions.

Both my kids like pigs. And pizza. And staying with their grandmother in Australia. And no one yet knows what I do for a living.

How old are you? Two
How old am I? 7
How old is Daddy? 7
What’s your favourite food? Pasta. And pizza
What’s your favourite colour? Pink. And orange and yellow and blue and green and orange and blue. That’s a lot!
If you were the king of the world, what would you tell everyone to do? Stay in bed What’s your favourite book? The Runaway Bunny
What’s your favourite TV show? Peppa Pig, and Topsy and Tim
What’s the best place to go on holiday? Mimi’s house
What are you very good at? Running
What would you like to do for a job when you are older? Put my clothes on (Better than taking them off, I guess)
What’s your favourite thing to do with Mummy? Cuddles
What’s your favourite thing to do with Daddy? Cuddles as well
What’s something you would like to learn to do? My letters
What does Mummy do for a job? Play
What does Daddy do for a job? Play
What’s your favourite animal? Piggy
What makes you happy? Smiling
What makes you sad? Crying
If you had superpowers, what would they be? Shouting (You’re already there, my love)
Who is your best friend? Poppy

Happy birthday, Shoutface x

An interview with Eliza Dorothy, aged 4 years and 364 days

G  Major turns 5 tomorrow. And she started school on Wednesday, so it’s been a big week. This time last year, I asked her some questions. Today, I asked her the same questions. Some things changed – I got younger. And some things stayed the same – she’s still a stickler for the rules and thinks it’s important to be kind.

How old are you? Four
How old am I? 30 (This is good, last year she said I was 40)
How old is Daddy? 31
What’s your favourite food? Pizza
What’s your favourite colour? Blue
If you were the king of the world, what would you tell everyone to do? Follow the rules
What’s your favourite book? Winnie the Witch
What’s your favourite TV show? Angelina Ballerina
What’s the best place to go on holiday? Disney World (I have literally never spoken to her about Disney World)
What are you very good at? Drawing
What would you like to do for a job when you are older? Work in a shop
What’s your favourite thing to do with Mummy? Dressing up
What’s your favourite thing to do with Daddy? Going to Amsterdam (Hmmm. This sounds like people trafficking. They went on a daddy-daughter trip earlier this month)
What’s something you would like to learn to do? Hula hoop
What does Mummy do for a job? Don’t know (Me either)
What does Daddy do for a job? Don’t know
What’s your favourite animal? Giraffe
What makes you happy? What I do nice things
What makes you sad? When someone is unkind
If you had superpowers, what would they be? Flying
Who is your best friend? Eva

Happy birthday, Liza-Loo x

Mushroom and spinach stronganoff

Last September, when G Major started reception, I dropped my hours at work a bit to enable me to do pick up three days a week. I have always felt very strongly that it’s a good idea, if at all possible, for an adult to be at home after school in the early years, when the kids are knackered and need a decent feed and help with reading and there are playdates and extra curricular activities and not enough hours in the weekend to do everything you want to do together. I’m very fortunate indeed I’ve been able to wrangle the hours I do.

I rather thought it would be a breeze – I’d pootle home after work, have a chat at the school gates, relax with G Major while providing a gently stimulating environment, serve a balanced hot meal, and then collect G Minor from nursery early enough to also spend quality time with her.

LOLs.

I am running ALL THE TIME. I battle Southern Trains to get home; I race up the hill to get to the classroom door on time; we now have swimming and dance after school; reading is fraught when G Major is tired; she doesn’t want to go back out to nursery; G Major wants her sister’s post-nursery snack and G Minor wants her sister’s supper; no one agrees on what TV show to watch and what bedtime story to have; I have to pick up on work in the evening and connect with my US colleagues.

Part time work does not always equal less work.

I am knackered. So to avoid feeling utterly shattered, I’m keeping an eye on my diet. This recipe is a good boost for iron and vitamins B and D. Clearly, one meal is not going to make any difference to your energy levels, but it’s a good recipe to have in rotation. And it’s veggie.

Serves 2, plus a bit left for lunch the next day

What you need

  • 2 cups sliced mushrooms, preferably a mix of different types
  • Half an onion, sliced
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  • Half a bag of baby spinach
  • Half a small pot of sour cream
  • 3 tbsp brandy
  • Same of Worcestershire sauce
  • Ground black pepper
  • Pinch of paprika

What you do

  • Fry the onion and garlic in some oil until soft
  • Add the mushrooms, paprika and a good grind of black pepper and fry the mushrooms for about 8 minutes
  • Add the brandy, sour cream and Worcestershire sauce and allow to bubble away for a couple of minutes, then add the spinach and allow to just wilt.

I served this over rice, but you could also have it as a side with steak or a pork chop. It would also be delicious over a baked sweet potato.

Big G won’t eat mushrooms so I cooked this when he was out at a work do, and ate it slumped comatose in front of some bad TV, while I ignored the washing that needed folding.

Living. The. Dream.

What’s your go-to meal when you’re feeling a bit tired and flat?