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?


Kid-friendly meals: Savoury mince and vegetable pie

Big G has very strict rules on what constitutes a pie. It should have both a pastry top and bottom, none of this “casserole with a pastry lid” nonsense. He’s not alone – there was even a petition about this a few years ago.

But time is of the essence, so this pie only has pastry on the top. Sorry, Big G.

This pie is the food of childhood. Your mother probably made one; your grandmother definitely would have done. It’s very plain, using basic mince, but so tasty.

Feeds a family of four with plenty of leftovers.

What you need

  • 500g beef mince
  • 1 brown onion, finely diced
  • 1 cup of diced vegetables
  • 250ml beef stock
  • Tablespoon of flour
  • Tsp tomato puree
  • Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • Block of ready-made pastry
  • 1 egg

What you do

  1. In a little oil, soften the onion.
  2. Add the diced veg and cook until soft but still firm. I used sweet potato, carrot and frozen peas. Mushrooms would have been good but Big G doesn’t eat them. I see a lot of recipes suggesting tomatoes and celery; I say, it’s not a bolognese. Once cooked, set the vegetables to one side.
  3. In the same frypan, brown the mince until all moisture has evaporated. Stir in the flour, tomato paste and Worcestershire sauce.
  4. Add the veg back to the pan and pour over the stock. Simmer for 20 mins, until thickened.
  5. Pour the mixture into a pie dish and allow to cool.
  6. Cover with a pastry top. Decorate with pastry shapes, if you like, and make a small slit to allow steam to escape. Brush with beaten egg then bake for 20-25 minutes until the top is brown and crispy and the filling is hot.

There is enough in the pie that you could serve it alone, but I served it with mash and creamed spinach.

Make it veggie: Quorn would be the obvious substitute here, but with enough ‘meaty’ veg you could omit it. Try lots of mushrooms, kidney beans and finely diced sweet potato and swede.

Cheap eats: Mince and cabbage stir fry

My mum used to do a version of this. I have cobbled it together from memory; it’s not quite as nice as when she makes it, but recipes passed down from mothers and grandmothers rarely are, are they? My grandmother used to make a delicious salad dressing that I’ve never been able to replicate.

Anyway, this comes in at a cost of about £3.00, which will give you 4 adult servings, depending on where you shop and what quality mince you buy, and assuming you have a basic pantry of aromatics and soy sauce.

It’s a little bit crunchy, with spicy, salty flavours. It’s also very quick to make, so it’s perfect mid-week. This taste even better the next day, so take a serve for lunch.

What you need

  • 500g mince (you could use pork, beef or turkey)
  • Small cabbage, finely sliced (I like sweetheart but regular white cabbage is fine, too)
  • Medium brown onion, finely fliced
  • Pack of supernoodles or a cake of fine egg noodles
  • A red chilli, chopped
  • At least 2, maybe 3, garlic cloves, minced
  • A knob of ginger, grated
  • A dash (15 mls?) of soy sauce
  • Oil for cooking
  • Spring onions, if you have them, finely sliced for garnish

What you do

  1. Heat oil in a wok or frypan. Brown the mince then set aside
  2. Meanwhile, cook your supernoodles or pour boiling water over the egg noodles
  3. Add a little more oil to the pan, and when shiny and hot, tip in the garlic, ginger and chillis and cook for about a minute
  4. Turn the heat down, add the sliced onions and cook until soft, then add the cabbage. Pop a lid over and cook until slightly softened, but not soft – you want to retain some bite
  5. Tip the mince back in, and the cooked, drained noodles. Pour over the soy sauce and stir well before serving. Scatter over the spring onions, if using.

Make it veggie:
Use tofu or Quorn in place of the mince
Make it low-carb: Remove the noodles or replace with zero-noodles
Make it child-friendly: Use less chilli

Kid-friendly meals: Creamy chicken and sweet potato pie

My family loves fish pie and cottage pie, but the Gs eat both most weeks at nursery. I wanted something a bit different that didn’t need pastry.

Frankly, there’s not much that can’t be improved by the addition of mashed potato. So this takes all the best elements of a fish or cottage pie – meat cooked in a creamy sauce and clouds of mash on top – and adds more veg and tasty chicken thighs.

What you’ll need

  • 6 chicken thighs, cut into small chunks
  • Half a cup of frozen peas
  • Half a cup of sliced mushrooms
  • 3 or 4 shallots, finely sliced
  • About 50g butter
  • 1/2 cup plain flour
  • 500ml chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp dijon mustard
  • A decent glug of cream
  • 3 medium sweet potatoes, plus  butter to mash

What you do

  1. Peel, chop and boil the sweet potatoes until soft. Mash with plenty of butter and seasoning to taste and put to one side
  2. Using half the butter, brown the chicken pieces then set aside
  3. In the same pan, heat the rest of the butter then cook the shallots until soft. Stir in the flour and cook for another 2 minutes
  4. Off the heat, slowly whisk in the chicken stock. Return to the stove and bring to the boil
  5. Add in the cream and mustard, the chicken pieces and the vegetables and cook until the sauce thickens
  6. Pour the mix into a pie dish and cover with the sweet potato mash. Bake at 180C for 25 minutes.

I served this with green beans on the sides for me and Big G but the Gs just ate it as it came.

You can prep all of this in advance to make life easier – I made mine before we went to swimming in the morning then put in the oven for supper.

You can also freeze all the elements if you wanted to make double – just take the filling and mash out in the morning, let it defrost in the fridge all day then assemble half an hour before dinner.

Things my kids happily ate this (last) month 9

Two days late this month. We’ve been in Mallorca on holiday, where the kids happily ate all kinds of things, including those Spanish classics, spaghetti bolognese, icecream and chips. Le sigh. G Minor did show a preference for prawns, at least.

Sneaky green veg pesto 

Tastes like jarred pesto but is full of extra veg. 

Microwave a stack of green veg till soft – I used broccoli, spinach, courgette and frozen peas.

Add slug of olive oil, some grated Parmesan and a blob of commercial pesto, then blitz with a stick blender.

Serve over pasta; add cooked chicken or ham as well if you’d like.

Cheesy pea and broccoli croquettes 

These are easy for little fingers to manage. The cheese and potato make a handy cover for the green veg. They make a great lunch on their own or a side with chicken, lamb chops or sausages. 

Boil and mash two small potatoes. I used a potato ricer – normally I think the ricer is a mess and a pain but it does make better potatoes for these croquettes.

Meanwhile, cook a handful of frozen peas and smush them up a bit. Cook just the fluffy tips of the broccoli and finely chop.

Mix the peas and broccoli into the mash with some butter and grated cheese and leave to cool.

Roll the mix into fat little sausages, dip in beaten egg and breadcrumbs and fry until golden brown.

Mild mustard chicken

This has a lovely  mild flavour and is deliciously creamy. Serve with steamed veg on the side, and rice if you’d like.

Dice a chicken breast and brown off. Add some finely sliced onions to the pan and cook
until soft and translucent. Add some sliced mushrooms and cook gently.

Pour over some cream of chicken soup, a splash of chicken stock, a splash of cream and a teaspoon of Dijon mustard. Simmer for five minutes until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce has thickened.

Orange mash

Pretty much what it says on the tin. Serve alongside anything you like for a triple whammy of carotene.165769770

Peel, chop and boil or roast carrots, butternut squash and sweet potato. Mash with plenty of butter and a sprinkle of sweet paprika.

Things my kids happily ate this month 8

Where has this year gone? Mine has absolutely flown by, and I seem to be getting nothing much done. We took a holiday in July, and have another at the end of September, and the house renovations haven’t started yet, so August has been a bit of a dead month. But being home a bit more has given more time to play with weekend meal ideas. Enjoy!

Veggie-packed toad in the hole

There are enough vegetables in this to allow you to ignore the fact you’re serving up sausages in batter. 

Make a batter of three eggs, 300ml milk, 150g plain flour and a pinch of salt.

Heat some oil in a roasting tin then throw in chipolatas and diced sweet potato and roast for 10 minutes. Add some sliced red onions or halved baby leeks and some small fingers of courgette and roast for another 5 minutes. Then add half a cup of frozen peas and some asparagus tips, pour over the batter and stir together.

Roast for another 30-odd minutes until the batter is puffy and crispy.

Serve with gravy, if you like. I gave the Gs a spoonful of baked beans on the side, too, to further assuage my starchy guilt.

Honey and lemon chicken 

Full disclosure: Neither of them bloody ate this at all, but they should have done, as it’s quite sweet and non-threatening and full of vegetables they do normally eat. Plus noodles, yay!

Coat diced chicken in lemon juice, honey and minced ginger and marinade for at least an hour.

Bake in a moderate oven for half an hour, or you could stir fry.

I served this with noodles and steamed courgettes, baby corn, carrots and peas.



White bolognese

Obviously this is not a bolognese, but it’s tasty anyway.

Fry off some pancetta or bacon then add turkey mince, garlic and onions to the pan and cook until the meat is browned and the onions are soft.

Add a splash of white wine and cook off, then add a big blob of creme fraiche and a teaspoon of grainy mustard. Cook for another couple of minutes and finish with a squeeze of lemon juice and some chopped tarragon.

Serve over whichever pasta your kids like/can manage.

Turkey meatballs 

I usually make beef meatballs for the Gs, as they need the iron and fat, but I had some turkey mince leftover from the bolognese so did these instead.

Mix turkey mince with a beaten egg and breadcrumbs to get a firm consistency. Add any veg you fancy – I had leftover avocado for lunch so that went in, plus some finely grated onion, courgette and carrot. Mushroom would also be good, or you could add some mashed white beans for extra protein.

Roll into balls and brown gently, then pour in a can of chopped tomatoes and a splash of water and simmer for 10 mins.

I served these with baked beans and peas but I would have done sweet potato chips if I had any in.



Things my kids happily ate this month 7

We went on holiday at the beginning of July. Which meant a week of other people preparing meals for me. Woo hoo! And then when we got back it was actually hot, and I was disinclined to spend much time in the kitchen, as there was Pimms to drink. So this month’s meals had to require a minimum of effort and as little time at the stove face as possible – I prepped in advance then left them to cook while we hung out in the garden.

Quiche muffins

Everyone know how much I love a quiche. Full of protein and great for using up leftovers and getting veggies in. These have no crust and are ideal for little hands and on picnics. They also freeze well, so you can make a batch and thaw them out for lunches.

Beat 3 eggs, add a splash of cream, chopped cold meat, diced veggies (whatever is in the fridge, basically) and a handful of grated cheese.

Spoon into greased muffin tins and bake in a moderate oven for about 25 mins until firm.

Chicken cannelloni 

The girls had these on holiday and wolfed them down, so I replicated them at home. Kids can help stuff the shells once the mix has cooled.

Part cook the cannelloni shells.

Fry some chicken mince with diced onion, then add frozen spinach and a bechamel sauce and cook through.

Spoon into the cannelloni shells and spread the filled shells over the bottom of a baking dish. Cover with more sauce and a sprinkling of cheese. Bake at 180C for 40 mins.

Pork, potato and apple stacks

No picture because it wasn’t pretty, but it tasted lovely. I know it doesn’t seem very summery but the slow cooker didn’t make the kitchen hot which for me is key to summer meals.

Put a layer of sliced potatoes over the base of the slow cooker. Lay pork chops on top, then cover with sliced apples. Top up with veal stock (or a mix of beef and chicken stocks) and cider and cook on low for 4-6 hours.

Ice cream sandwiches

Not actually a recipe but G Major loved helping to make these.img_5875

Sandwich ice cream between biscuits or wafers then dip the edges in sprinkles, because sprinkles make everything taste better.

Freeze for a while before serving.