How To Have a Fun Fortieth

Follow the checklist below for success:

1. Go away the weekend before without children e.g. Copenhagen…get in plenty of relaxed, indulgent stuff with friends (see our insta for pics).

2. Decide, like a crazy person to host your own festival party in your garden! Sit down with equally crazy sisters plotting your own demise.

3. Get hay and make it into a sofa! (Thank you Shentons of Wilmslow).

4. Make cute signs! (Thanks Chris)

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5. Make teepees half an hour before people are due to arrive….

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6. Make a huge chilli so that your hands blister from chopping.. (See Mel’s How I….blog to follow).

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7. Source out puddings: Cara and Zoe on cheesecakes, Mum on pavlova and trifle, Emma on cake centrepiece:

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8. Put up a lot of lights (thanks Nick at DNB) signifying that this will carry on into the night, kids or no kids..!

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9. Make some cool cocktails (thanks Emma), using Kilner jars with taps for (too) easy, free-flowing acces

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10. Enjoy! You could have done it somewhere else and have had it catered but it would never have been as good and quite so stylishly, tastily bespoke!

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C

 

Cooking the Books (archive)

This week I’ve been cooking from my brand new Jamie Oliver Everyday Superfood cookbook, tagline – recipes for a healthier happier you, now there’s a promise.

I must admit I’ve ummed and aahed about buying this for a few months. I’m a bit over the whole superfood bandwagon for starters and when you throw 2 under 5s into the superfood mix (or any mix for that matter) it all feels a bit like it’s going to turn into one of those days when nobody eats anything.

In a fit of optimism however, I decided to give it a go so this week I’ve been cooking as much as is feasible from it – some days only fish fingers will do – and these are my thoughts.

We started the week with the Asian crispy beef recipe – or to give it its full, really annoying title – “Asian crispy beef, brown rice noodles and loadsa salad” (cringes).

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This was such an easy one to make, different from other stir fry type recipes we’ve tried a million times and really bloody tasty, the meat was delicious and I’m not even that much of a mince fan. I’ll happily admit we used egg noodles instead of brown rice noodles (one step at a time) but we did serve it with loadsa salad just minus the liberally sprinkled chillis on the picture because I value my eardrums.

I loved it, the husband loved it. The kids tolerated it but in new recipe for toddler land toleration is like a massive win. This one is going into my regular repertoire which makes for a good start for Jamie. Well done Jamie.

Next up I made the “Sweet potato muffins, chilli, cheese and seeds” – more for something for me to take to work than for the kids really. I actually subbed sweet potato for butternut squash (which is suggested) as we had some to use up and I had to skip the seeds as we didn’t have some but again, they were extremely simple (I actually in a fit of madness made them on a school morning and was not only on time but had one at my desk at work by 9.30am).

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Verdict was good, but not amazing. I think they needed considerably more salt than I used as I’m a bit out of the salting habit after nearly 5 years of kid feeding. I’d make them again but not at 8am and not with 2 really unhelpful people helping me.

On Saturday morning I made the “Skinny homemade houmous” for a little lunch addition. I used a jar of really good quality chickpeas as suggested (Ostargi from Ocado) and the rest of the recipe involves tahini, lemon, garlic and natural yoghurt. Again, extremely easy but I wasn’t altogether sold. It didn’t actually taste too bad but there was a funny smell to it I can’t quite describe which was a bit off-putting. I’m going to use the remaining expensive chickpeas on a more tried and tested recipe.

Finally, Sunday evening (this evening) and I went for the “Sizzling moroccan prawns” which are meant to be served with “fluffy couscous and rainbow salsa” but which I actually served with rice, stir fried sprouts, green beans and roasted veg. The prawns were fab, to be fair they were juicy, fat king prawns from our (very good) local fishmonger so it would have been hard to go wrong, but once again they were very tasty and very simple and got me thinking about different ways of cooking prawns, a staple in our house.

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In terms of other recipes in the book I can happily say that there are quite a lot I really want to try with and without the kids. The “tasty fish tacos” do actually look tasty although I’m afraid I’m going to have to skip the “game-changing kiwi, lime and mango salsa” as I’m allergic to kiwi. I love the look of some of the portable jam jar salads if I ever have my act well enough together to assemble them in time for work and the Bombay chicken looks really great. One of these days I’m going to be brave enough to try the kids on the “mega veggie burgers” even though it’s 99% guaranteed to be a tantrum starter and there’s a chicken and squash cacciatore which I’d like to try to see if it’s better than my current cacciatore recipe (which they will eat).

Equally there are many that are just not going to happen – there are about 70 pages on breakfast and that’s all well and good but sometimes cereal feels like quite a lot of work so I suspect these will not be my most used pages (although the muffins and a nice looking rye bread fit here).

My idea of a good cookbook is one where you take one or two recipes really good forward and use them again and again. So far this one passes the test, simple and tasty ideas that push the boundaries a little but not too far.

E

Meal Planner (archive)

Week starting 19th September

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Another week, another meal planner. I mean, seriously, when you have these kids you just never realise quite how much you’re going to have to feed them. For about 10 minutes weaning feels like a really fun, good idea, then the realisation dawns and, before you know it, you’re making 3 million meals a week.

Anyway, rant over. We started the week with a nice easy one. Pasta with homemade tomato sauce thanks to a massive glut of tomatoes that one of my husband’s clients supplied along with the world’s largest cucumber. We roasted the tomatoes first and then cooked them down with some onion and garlic before whizzing up. So simple and so delicious with a bit of pasta and parmesan.

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In fact, this week is a bit of a theme of easy meals. It’s a busy one for both of us and sometimes you have to be kind to yourself so on Tuesday it’s a nice easy prawn stir fry – I use a sauce made up of oyster sauce, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, cornflour and a touch of sugar and then add whatever vegetables we have to hand – usually ribbons of carrots and pepper and then some greens such as broccoli and green beans.

On Wednesday it’s chicken fajitas – I use my own spice mix for the chicken which you can find on a previous meal planner and we serve with a load of rice, peppers, cheese, sour cream and salsa. Yum.

On Thursday it’s fish cakes again (running out of fish inspiration need ideas) and then on Friday we’re doing homemade pizzas – I’m going to try to come up with some more interesting toppings so look out for the results on our instagram (or not if the kids are not allowing for much in the way of innovation).

On Saturday it’s a day off of sorts as it’s Melony’s 40th party (which she is heroically throwing at her own house with a festival theme) so I won’t be making the dinner but I will be making up big vats of cocktails, a different kind of challenge…

And, as a nod to the above mentioned activity, I’m going to make a steak pie on Sunday to mop up all of the booze. I like to cook down braising steak with onion and stock in my slow cooker and then put it in a pie of shortcrust pastry. It was my number one favourite meal when I was a kid and I think it’s actually still pretty much up there. Roll on Sunday.

Have a good week!

Emma

Meal Planner (Archive)

Week starting 12th September

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This week we’ve been married for 6 years. It feels like yesterday… not necessarily in a highly romantic way but the years seem to be flying by. Anyway, we’re having a night on Saturday to celebrate alone which will be a nice and rare break!

Before that though it’s back to the grind of a normal working mother week, school for Max and nursery for Edie-bobs.

Tomorrow we’re starting the week with another recipe from Jamie Oliver’s new app which I’m planning on reviewing for our blog later in the week – creamy macaroni cheese. It’s a recipe which uses gruyere, cheddar and mascarpone although I’ll admit now I’ve skipped the gruyere to reduce the cost.

Tuesday is going to be a fairly simple meal of roasted salmon with mash and runner beans. It’s the season for runner beans right now so feels like a good excuse to eat them as much as we can. And on Wednesday it’s the baked veg biryani from Jamie’s app that we were supposed to be having a couple of weeks back but which turned out to be an epic fail as I realised it took over an hour to make when it was already about 6pm. So that was a non-starter. Try, try, try again!

On Thursday it’s another simple meal of fish cakes and veg – this time ready made fish cakes from Ocado and then on Firday we’re having “mega homemade cheeseburgers” from Jamie’s app. Not sure if we need another burger recipe but let’s see if this one has anything different to offer. I’ve stocked up on brioche buns as they really seem to make the difference in my opinion.

Saturday is our love-filled day off (or a quick meal and a gig) and then ending the week with chicken and chorizo kebabs with cous cous and some more of those runner beans!

Have a great week!

E

Six Salmon Suppers

Bolognese is banned in our house – it was made so much as an easy go-to dinner that the kids can no longer even utter the word. Thinking of ideas every day that will please the crowd and not be too onerous after a day at work can be tricky but you can use regular staples if you ring the changes with the methods. Salmon is, in my house, one of those things that I can use pretty much every week in different guises. It’s quite economical (I get a large salmon side from my fishmonger for a tenner and that feeds five and leaves some leftovers for lunch the next day), it’s healthy (fish oils etc..) and good protein for meaty/gym types.

It’s also very versatile; here are my (and my sisters’) 6 faves:

1. Poached Salmon with Potato Salad:

Make the poaching liquor: 200mls white wine vinegar, 2.5l water, sliced fennel, bay leaf, parsley stalks, peppercorns, salt – boil for 10 mins. Pour into a roasting tin on the hob, add the side of salmon and some lemon slices; simmer for 5 mins then turn off the heat and cover with foil to finish cooking. Leave to cool.

Serve with a potato salad, made with chopped boiled potatoes, finely sliced onion, chopped sweet and sour gherkins (which, I’m told, make all the difference..) and full fat mayo. I also serve it with green beans or green salad.

2. Baked Salmon with a citrus breadcrumb topping, roast gnocchi and salad:

Blitz up 3/4 pieces of stale bread into breadcrumbs. Add lemon zest and juice from 1 lemon, 1 chopped clove of garlic, chopped parsley, a drizzle of olive oil and 2 tbsp grated Parmesan. Mix thoroughly and add s&p. Press the mixture onto a side of salmon and bake in the oven for about 20 mins, adding some gnocchi (bought or made depending on how mad you’re feeling) with a little olive oil on them around the fish to roast.

Serve with a simple salad and maybe a little pesto on the gnocchi.

3. Teriyaki Salmon Parcels (love this-Zoe (13) makes it):

In a square of foil, brushed with sesame oil, place 3/4 tenderstem broccoli pieces. Lay a salmon fillet on top. Drizzle with a stirred mixture of soy sauce, lime juice, ginger chopped into matchsticks, mirin and chopped garlic. Seal up the parcel and repeat for each person. Bake for 20 mins in a medium oven. Serve with rice or noodles and a mixture of chopped spring onions and sesame seeds. Yum…

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4. Salmon Filo Parcels with Tomato Chutney (kids are suckers for parcels..):

Mix about 50g butter with chopped basil, garlic, dill and lemon zest. Spread this over fillets of salmon and wrap each fillet in sheets of filo, brushing with a little melted butter as you go. Bake for 20 mins at 180c.

For the chutney: chop 1 red onion, 2 cloves garlic, half a red chilli, an inch of ginger and 5/6 tomatoes. Put in a pan with 125g brown sugar, 75 ml of red wine vinegar and 2 cardamom seeds. Boil then simmer until thick and chutneyish.

Serve the parcels with the chutney and either salad or new potatoes and peas.

5. Salmon Fishcakes (or burgers to Bobby who will eat all things burger-shaped):

Boil about 500g fluffy potatoes and roughly mash. Grill 3 salmon fillets then flake into the mash. Add chopped parsley or dill (or both), 1tsp mustard, s&p and some lemon zest and shape into fishcakes. You can cook them like this or (a bit of extra effort for a nice crispy outside) coat in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs and fry in olive or sunflower oil until golden.

Serve with oven baked sweet potato chips (make these all the time now-especially good with Cajun seasoning) and home made mayo (if possible-or jarred mayo mixed with natural yoghurt and lemon juice).

6. Mel’s Salmon HotPot (a regular at my sis’s house):

Dice onion, leek, celery and carrot and put in an oven-proof dish with pieces of salmon fillet on top. Mix together soy sauce and water, enough to cover the veg and cook with a lid on in the oven until veg are soft. Serve with rice and sprinkle with coriander (and a little chopped chilli for the oldies).

 

To use any leftovers, try pieces of salmon and broccoli tossed with tagliatelle, creme fraiche and lemon juice or this yummy salmon noodle broth with sesame seeds (using miso sachets as a base and some shredded vegetables and ginger):

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I can probably make these a few more times before I have to ring the changes again-I’ll get thinking…

Cara

Meal Planner (archive)

Week starting 5th September

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Back to school week, hope that it went well for everyone with little ones going back. I still can’t quite believe I’ve got a kid of school age, it’s taking my brain a while to catch up, but we took him in anyway and he decided that year one was “awesome”.

This week started with a bit of an autumnal vibe due to aforementioned back to school vibes even though it was actually quite warm and even sunny there for a minute. I knocked up this butternut squash and bacon soup by roasting the squash while we had our breakfast this morning. That meant it was a 10 minute job to soften some onions with garlic, add some bacon, mix the whole thing with chicken stock and blend. I served with some extra bacon bits just to make it that bit less vegetarian…

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Tomorrow is a bit of a favourite, egg fried rice with prawns. I always use a John Torode recipe as the basis of the egg fried rice but it’s pretty hard to go wrong if you are using rice, eggs and a bit of soy.

I’m out for work on Wednesday and Thursday so it’s easy meals all round for them in my absence, pasta with fresh pesto on Wednesday and then throw them in the oven fish fingers on Thursday (not my own I might add, Waitrose’s finest!) I’m quite sad about that actually, I bloody love fish fingers.

On Friday it’s lovely Georgia’s birthday so we are heading to Mel’s after school for a cake-based dinner and then on Saturday I’m trying a recipe from this month’s BBC Good Food, Italian veggie cottage pie. I don’t think this one’s on the website just yet but it involves cooking aubergine, garlic, and sun dried tomatoes with oregano and spinach. Then making a cheese sauce in the mix. Add mash and grated cheese and cook for 10-15 minutes until golden.

Sunday I’m out yet again (what a terrible mother I am) so I’m leaving them with toad in the hole since I suspect yesterday will have been a grave disappointment!

Have a great week!

E

Productive Work-Avoidance

Call it work-avoidance or multi-tasking or thrifty household management or sheer enjoyment(for sad individuals like myself) or whatever makes you feel ok; making ricotta is pretty easy, pleasing and useful.  I didn’t mean to actually write a post about it but I’m just feeling so smug.

Why? Well I’m making a highly secret thing (except I’m going to give the recipe here..shh!) for my next Great British Bake Off Sisters’ Competition entry next week (requested by my sophisticated 7 year old) that involves ricotta and I didn’t have any so I thought I’d make some since I’m at home “working”and the car’s in the garage so going to the shops would take ages.  Turns out (nerdy fact) that the whey left over from the making process is also very useful (ideas to follow) so it’s all in all, very economical…thankfully, because post-summer holiday=zero money.

What You Do:

Heat 1.5 litres of milk till almost boiling.  Add 2 tablespoons of vinegar to the milk (any kind-I used white wine vinegar cos that’s what I had).  Also add 1/2 a teaspoon of salt.  Let it sit for 15 mins in the pan and you’ll see it start to separate.

Use a muslin square (kind used for babies etc), or a J cloth or any such fine material to line a sieve and place this over a big bowl. Pour the separating milk into this and let it drain for 15-30 mins (depending on how soft you’d like your ricotta-I left it for 30 mins cos I started doing something else and it was just right).  For the last part I constructed a kind of hanging apparatus so the whey could come off easily but it’s not essential. See below (monitored by a small dinosaur):

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And look in the box-actual ricotta.

I can use this on pizzas (tonight’s dinner) and also in the following delicious, crowd pleasing recipe by Nigella Lawson:

https://www.nigella.com/recipes/baci-di-ricotta

…light ricotta doughnuts served with a chocolate dipping sauce.

Left with the jug of whey I wondered how it could be used and then realised it’s practically buttermilk and can therefore be used in exactly the same way (another thing I never get around to buying).  It’s delicious used in scone recipes instead of normal milk but today I’m going to use it to marinate some chicken legs:

Add thyme, garlic, lemon zest and salt to the whey and use to marinate the chicken pieces, overnight if possible.  Remove chicken and dredge in flour and then deep fry for a kind of takeaway style chicken treat.

Apparently whey is also nice in pizza dough (giving a sourdough kind of taste) so I might try that if there’s any left.

Must do some actual work now.

Cara.

 

How we tackled… (archive)

…Summer holidays

Seven reasons why holidays with kids are actually great

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Ah summer holidays. Used to mean 2 weeks of exploring, eating, drinking and spending as much time as possible horizontal. Post-kids, not so much.

After your first attempt or two to cling onto your old definition of holiday it can be easy to feel slightly despondent that holidays as you once knew them are over.

By the end of the first day you’ve realised that kids don’t cry or whinge any less just because you’ve taken them somewhere nice on a plane. In fact, tired, hungry and hot they are quite likely to be whinging even more than normal, and not appreciating the bloody scenery at all.

But fear not, whilst it’s sadly true that holidays which involve any kind of physical relaxation are out of the window, there are still many reasons why going away with young kids can still be great. Here’s my list of things to cling onto.

1. Congratulations, you made it!

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Surviving a taxi ride, followed by hours in the airport, followed by a 3 hour flight, followed by a minibus to your final destination with 2 little people in tow is no mean feat. Allow yourself a moment to celebrate your achievement and naturally have a stiff drink too. In Croatia we took on a fairly difficult journey to see a beautiful island and we were both giddy on the ferry home that we’d been brave enough to give it a go and lived to tell the tale.

2. Hello stranger

If you’ve got a highly sociable 5 year old in tow (Hello Max) you’ll find yourself meeting people everywhere you go. I found myself discussing the ins and outs of the Finnish school system compared to the UK on a boat ride. Before kids I would have passed the time with a book, nowadays life throws up a random encounter every day (I’m writing this on the plane sat next to some kid Max has invited over to our row).

3. Making the most of it

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Because they were going to bed a bit later than normal we did find ourselves with kids who slept in till about 8 (hallelujah) but even with that amazing lie in you still find yourself with long days to fill on your summer break. And so you fill them. No lounging around soaking up the sun (allow yourself a quiet moment to grieve for that) but instead big days with big adventures that mean they fall into bed leaving you to enjoy another celebratory drink.

4. Slow down

While we were in Dubrovnik last week we saw a million tourists waking down Stradun (the beautiful main street), snapping a selfie and moving on. Not us. With a 5 year old and a 2 year old in tow you’re moving at a snail’s pace. Whilst at home this can drive you to distraction as you desperately try to get out of your house on time, on holiday it can be a bit of a blessing. Instead of hurrying them up I took the time that they spent dancing/rolling on the floor/looking at stray cats to appreciate everything around me and spot little pieces of beauty I might otherwise have missed. It was oddly relaxing.

5. Through their eyes

I did quite a lot of travelling pre-kids so it can sometimes be too easy to not appreciate everything you’re seeing. But seeing things through your kids’ eyes adds a brand shiny new filter. From the cauliflower clouds and snow-tipped mountains on the flight to the wild rabbits and cheeky crabs on an island trip. Everything is new and amazing and you’re seeing it all with someone(s) you made.

6. Lighten up

On our last night in Dubrovnik we found ourselves in the Old Town a bit later than normal and realised there was this whole adult life to the place we hadn’t seen. People dressed up to go out out in nice dresses, make up and (gasp) even heels. I felt a pang of jealousy watching them I have to say, it’s nice to get dressed up and drink cocktails without a very tired child on your knee, but then again it’s also nice not to be too much an adult on your holiday. You’ve got a great excuse to spend all day jumping into the sea/pool instead of worrying about looking cool by it, you can collect 40 sea snails in a bucket because 40 is a good number and you can go shopping for boxes covered in shells just like you did when you were a kid. There’s plenty of time to be an adult at home, make the most of the break.

7. Right here

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When I was younger and travelling I often had an acute case of FOMO. I’d be in Sydney wondering if I should go on that road trip to Byron. Or in Vietnam panicking that we should have made it to Cambodia. When I’m with my kids I don’t really feel that anymore, not counting the odd pang for a sun lounger. I may frequently feel like I’m going to lose my mind granted but, cheesy as it sounds, when I’m with them there’s literally no place I’d rather be. And that feels like a true holiday to me.

E

Meal Planner Archive

Week starting 29th August

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Having spent half of the school holidays wondering what the hell we were going to do with Max we’re now down to the last week and I don’t want it to end.  Partly because I’ve got the week off with him and it’s sunny I have to say but also partly… year one!   WTF!  I still look at people with new babies on Instagram and think that’s me and then I look at him and he’s like an actual proper person.  I mean they say it goes fast but you roll your eyes and despair of the lack of sleep but really.  It goes fast.  Sob.

Anyway, having the week off means that we can spend a little bit more time on midweek meals than usual which is rather nice.

This week I thought I’d spend the week also cooking some meals from my new Jamie app which I downloaded this week for £4.99.  It seems like a reasonably good deal.  For £4.99 you get access to around 600 recipes from Jamie’s back catalogue (some of which I’m sure you can access online) with step by step instructions and the ability to change the recipe quantities depending on how many you’re cooking for which is a neat trick.  Plus, you know, he’s got a new mouth to feed in Baby River so I’m sure he needs the cash.

Today I cooked his salmon fish fingers which were exceptionally easy.  Cut up the salmon fillets into 1cm strips, coat in flour, egg and breadcrumbs and shallow fry for 10 minutes flipping them over in the middle.  Jamie serves with potatoes mashed with peas, I served with new potatoes, green veg and a version of his tartare sauce.

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Tomorrow is another recipe from Jamie – a baked veg biryani which uses rogan josh paste, basmati rice, butternut squash and cauliflower.  Plus a load of coriander, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon and garlic for good measure.  I’ll report back on it’s success or otherwise tomorrow.

On Wednesday I’m doing a simple salad with some girdled halloumi.  The kids do like quite a lot of salad bits but aren’t convinced about halloumi as yet so this is my attempt to try to get them to eat something squeaky.  I’ll serve it with lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, celery, some roasted veg, falafel, grated carrot and some crusty bread to seal the deal.

On Thursday it’s homemade pizza which is essentially involves another Jamie recipe although I didn’t take this from the app and it’s freely available on his site.  The dough is quick and easy to make and pretty fool proof.  I just smear it with passata and let them help out a bit with the toppings – mostly chorizo and mozzarella but I’ll save some of the roasted veg from Wednesday for mine.

On Friday it’s another Jamie recipe – his bolognese ragu with pasta.  It’s been a while since I’ve done a proper slow-cooked bolognese so I’m looking forward to this one, I’ll have to eat salad for lunch so I can use all of my calories on this one.

Saturday is a day off and then we’re finishing the week with fish pie because it’s one of my favourite meals of all time.  There are a million fish pie recipes out there and mine is probably a bit of an amalgamation of all of them.  I do like to use boiled eggs in it because it feels a bit wrong without.  I’ve given up cooking the fish before I bake it because it seems like an unnecessary faff and I make sure I’ve got a lot of cheese for the top because that guarantees they tuck into the mash.