My efforts to vary my children’s diets’ while not totally freaking them out continue. There was a disastrous attempt to convince them that cod tempura was so much better than shop bought fish fingers, an idea which I’m not even sure I believe. I’ve tried every fish finger on the market and Bird’s Eye wins on flavour by a country mile. So, their father and I munched our way through a kilo of cod while the kids had peanut butter toast. And that, as they say, was that.
More successfully, I’ve been making kind of a Cottage Pie recently that’s going down well. As is usually the case when you put something new in front of a small child, getting the first bite in took some gentle persuasion but once they’d swallowed a few mouthfuls it was full steam ahead. In Britain, and some Commonwealth countries who inherited its culinary conventions, a dish of minced beef sautéed with onions, topped with mashed potato and baked in the oven is known as a Cottage Pie. My kids haven’t developed a taste for beef yet. I think they find it tough to chew, so I used a combination of pork and veal mince which are softer. I stealthily added green beans to the mince, which I chopped very finely in the hope they wouldn’t be spotted by toddler eyes on the prowl for any unwanted green food on their plates. Instead of mashed white potatoes, I steamed then puréed butternut squash and carrots as the topping.
I love the fact that you can make a batch of this and freeze some for later. Since having children, the freezer has become my greatest ally in the kitchen. It’s incredibly useful to cook in advance and freeze food ahead of those occasions when you know you won’t have time to prepare something from scratch. And those occasions are numerous when you have young mouths to feed! I love cooking and really enjoy introducing new foods to my kids, but I refuse to be an on-call chef for two toddlers. Frozen chicken nuggets, fish fingers and the many other examples of ready prepared foods have been lifesavers during those times my kids have behaved like walking middle fingers.
2 tablespoons oil
2 garlic cloves, finely crushed
500g pork mince
500g rosé veal mince
handful extra fine green beans
1 tablespoon sea salt (or half as much table salt)
2 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon tomato puree
about 1kg veg for the topping (butternut, carrots, white potato or a mixture as above, I used half a butternut squash and 4 large carrots)
1 tablespoon butter
grated cheese (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 160°C / 320°F. Finely chop the onion.
- Heat 2 tablespoons oil (olive, or whatever you prefer) in a large pan and add the onion with the salt. Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes while you finely chop the green beans. Stir occasionally.
- Add the minced meat to the onions and fry for about 10 minutes, breaking the meat up as you go, until it’s lost all pinkness.
- Add the chicken stock, tomato puree, garlic and green beans. Put the lid on the pan, increase the heat and as soon as it’s come to a boil place it in the oven and cook for 1.5 to 2 hours.
- While the meat is cooking in the oven, peel and chop the butternut and carrots and steam or boil them until very soft. When cool, mash or purée with a tablespoon of butter.
- Decant the meat into a dish (or several dishes if you’re freezing some for later) and allow it to cool. Once cool, top with the mashed butternut and carrots. I usually grate some cheddar over the top, because, melted cheese.
At this point, you can cover the dishes you wish to freeze in cling film and store for later. See *Note below.
- Bake in oven at 180°C / 350°F for 25 -30 minutes, or until the meat is bubbling hot.
You can’t cook these from frozen so, depending on when I want to bake the Cottage Pies I’ll either transfer them from freezer to fridge the previous evening for lunch the following day, or, I’ll take them out the freezer first thing in the morning and leave them to defrost at room temperature to bake for the kids’ dinner that evening.