Best Cottage Pie Recipe

I love this cottage pie but I’d forgotten to make it for a while. I seem to forget about comfort food over the summer (unless chocolate counts as a comfort food, in which case I have plenty of it.) This meal is easy to make and my kids eat it.. well, they eat the mince and mashed potatoes and set the rest on my plate :/ The measurements for this are so rough because I tend to just throw stuff in a pan and hope for the best and with this it worked 🙂

Serves 2 adults, 2 kids or 2 hungry people

Ingredients

For the meat:

250g beef mince
1 onion
2 cloves of garlic
2 small carrots
2 sticks of celery
Beef stock to cover
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
Shake of salt and pepper
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp ketchup
1 tbsp red wine

For the potatoes:

8 potatoes
1 tbsp butter
A splash of milk
A shake of salt

For the topping – grated cheddar cheese

Method
Fry the mince on its own in a pan. Chop an onion, garlic, celery sticks and peel and chop carrots. (Cut the vegetables up small so they cook quicker.) Add to the pan and continue to cook on a medium heat.
When the onions are clear and the veg looks like it is softening, cover the meat with boiling water. I crumble in 1/2 a beef stock cup after doing this and mix it in. Add the wine, Worcester sauce, ketchup, salt, pepper and thyme. Reduce heat and let simmer until carrots and celery are soft. At the end, add in a couple of tbsps of cornflour mixed well with COLD water. (Do this in a cup first.) Stir continuously until sauce has thickened. Turn heat off.

In the meantime, peel potatoes and chop into chunks (so they cook more evenly and quickly.) Put in boiled water with salt and cook on medium heat for about 20 mins. Take potatoes off heat when they are just starting to break apart. Drain and mash with butter and milk. (Sometimes I use an electric mixer to make them extra smooth and creamy.)

Fill an oven dish with the meat mixture. Use a spatula to spread the mashed potatoes on top. Cover generously with grated cheddar. Put in the oven at 180c for 15 minutes to crisp up the cheese. Let it cook until it is browned on top and the sauce is visibly bubbling underneath.

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Homemade Play Doh Recipe

This is such an easy recipe and you can customise it as you please 🙂 My kids seem to play with it for longer than regular play doh. I think it is partly the novelty of getting such a large heap of dough instead of a few little pots.

Ingredients

1 cup of flour
1 cup of water
1 packet of cream of tartar (5g)
1 tbsp oil
1/2 cup salt

Method

Combine the dry ingredients and add to a pot. Add the wet ingredients and cook over a low heat, mixing continuously. Keep cooking it until it turns solid. What looks like a slight skin will start forming on it when it’s ready, but it will go away when you knead it. After it has formed one ball in the pot, I usually remove it and knead it for a few minutes to make sure it is the right consistency. If it is too runny add some more flour.

Ideas:

Separate the dough into bowls and add different food colourings to them/and/or glitter, sequins, etc.
Add lavender, cinnamon and nutmeg, oregano and rosemary, rose petals, fresh mint or any other herbs or scented oils you like.
Give your kids a baking tray so they can pretend to make cookies with it.
I save any disposable containers that are easy to clean and work as play cooking receptacles for the dough – eg, if i buy dough balls and they come in a tray with little holes to hold them, we save it as a muffin tin for play doh.
This is so easy to make and you can give it as a gift for kids if you wrap it in cellophane. I usually dispose of it after one use as it quickly goes mouldy since there are no preservatives in it.

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Cheap Weekends with Kids

This post is appearing a little late since I got sidetracked mid-writing, as I often do with kids, but at least it is weekend related 🙂

After the school term starting up again, I decided that this month I’m going to have a fresh start, start a new budget, save for holidays, make use of our existing memberships and enjoy watching the seasonal changes outside. (Basically avoid spending money when I can.) If I don’t spend a weekend being creative or contemplative, I feel like I’ve wasted it. So, I set up some simple activities for my kids and we spent time in pretty settings. I’ve got into the habit of making lots of small purchases over the summer, with nothing to show for my expenditures. So, I’m going to start a holiday fund instead.

We started last weekend, as we always do, with pancakes. One of my daughter’s refuses to eat them which still confounds me. I thought all people loved pancakes. Anyway, afterwards, the girls wanted to play with play doh but I didn’t have any, so I made a simple homemade one, which I will share in my next post. That kept them entertained for the longest I’ve seen them focus on one thing ever! You can add food colouring or something scented, like lavender, herbs etc. I added some rosemary and oregano and we called it “pizza dough.”

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I also found some paper people in the pound shop and I had a box of sparkly confetti I got to decorate the dresses with. We stuck on googly eyes, so at least my obsession with stocking up on craft supplies comes in handy at times. You can also find craft materials for kids in the card making section of the pound shop, as well as the party section (where I found the confetti.)
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The weather brightened up, so I brought the girls their lunch on a tray in the garden. My kids always eat better outside – I might have to start serving dinner there every night to persuade them to eat something other than a snack.
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I always reach my limit with staying in the house, so I took the girls to Castle Espie and they fed the birds. As they are getting older, they are becoming more interested in identifying the different types of birds. Our visit there was well-timed because they had an hourly explorers session for kids. A man led a tour around the badger hides and tracks left by otters etc. He had a lot of animal poo-related stories that kept my kids listening, rapt. They got to make crafts indoors and we brought our own snacks so the trip was free (minus the petrol.) We have membership for about £60 a year so we can use it whenever we like.
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I think getting memberships for child-friendly places is worthwhile, because otherwise, we would be separately spending on every day out at different places. At least if the cost of days out is included in your monthly budget, it’s easier to avoid overspending on activities and you can plan your days out around those places.

I felt like trying to make dinner out of what was left in the house and what we needed to use up, so I made taco rice and for dessert a peach crumble with custard. It was a quick way to use up peaches that were past their best and I used some egg yolks left over from a cake I made with egg whites to make custard.

We had a no spend weekend, but we didn’t miss anything because of it. I think people often conflate having a good time with having to spend money and that isn’t the case. In fact, I find the most enriching activities always come for free.
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Creating Calm with Kids

Today I needed a calm day. I realise that the idea of calm is incongruous with having kids, but I decided that I would try to balance the day out with activities for my kids and activities for me, to get the closest feeling to calm that I could. The last few days have been exhausting. My daughter had to get her bandage changed on her broken finger in hospital and the next morning, it fell off and the doctor refused to see her, so we had to go back to the hospital. On top of that, my other daughter came down with a vomiting bug the night before, and none of us had had any sleep. After days like that, I need to retreat and go into hibernation mode when they are over. I knew my daughter would be off school today – she’s at the stage where she is back to her normal self, but too contagious to be allowed to go in. So, we did some simple art projects and baked.

First, the girls painted pasta tubes. We left them to dry so they can thread them onto necklaces later. You can also use PVA glue as a varnish to put on top of the paint. It stretches out the pasta necklaces activity for longer. For boys that don’t want to make necklaces, you could make pasta snakes instead and thread them on pipe cleaners.
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Then, we made dried food collages. Sometimes if we don’t have card, I cut up old cereal boxes and they use them instead. It works better than paper for gluing solid items. I just set out plates with dry beans, lentils, rice, seeds, oats, etc. You get the kids to draw a large picture and then fill in the different parts of it with whatever they like. You can also do this with cut-up coloured paper, fabric remnants or string painted with a mixture of glue and paint. This activity took more than an hour and the girls didn’t get bored with it – which is rare for them 🙂 A word of warning – the clean up took a while, but it was less painful than I’d expected it to be.
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The girls watched a film for a while and I got an opportunity to have a cup of tea and write. I think it’s important to squeeze in time for your own things when you’re with kids all day. If you never get time to yourself, it’s easy to get snappy!

We made some easy shortbread. It was just three ingredients and we tried some new cookie cutters we hadn’t used before. They have cut out parts so you can balance them on the rim of a teacup. I made some babyccinos and a vanilla latte for myself and then allowed TV time again so I could drink it and write uninterrupted. It reenergises me, so when I do something else with my kids I’m able to focus more on them. Jazz helped us survive the day in the house too. I’m convinced that it cuts down on the number of squabbles over toys and creates a calmer atmosphere.

It can be hard to treat yourself as a stay at home mum, but I think the things that work best for me are taking time out in the kitchen, listening to music, lighting scented candles and wax melts, making coffee-shop style coffee, squeezing in short times to write, read or draw. You can colour alongside your kids too if you get an adult colouring book. I like using the kids as an excuse to bake too so I have freshly-baked treats 🙂 There is a youtuber I like watching called “Coffee with Kate.” She makes videos about her simple lifestyle and the creative things she does. My daughter likes watching it too, because she does cooking videos and has two children. Finding something you like to watch that your kids enjoy too is a good way to attend to your need for a break while they’re awake 🙂 At the moment, our house is a dump, and I’m just letting it go, because being with my kids and sitting drinking coffee in the midst of the mess are more important today.

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Ordinary Days

I think there is a lot of emphasis placed on always doing things with your kids nowadays. I’m not very good at sitting still for long periods of time, so keeping them occupied suits me well. But lately if we have a busy week, I like to have an ordinary day to wind down from it and let my kids have the room to be creative.

When I got up today, the first thing my kids asked me was “what are we doing today?” Sometimes I think if we have a lot of busy days, they come to expect it and become more entitled, so I like to offset it with uneventful days too.

Today, I let my kids watch TV, they played in the garden and made a pretend barbecue with flowers, stones, leaves etc. I like to see what games they come up with when I allow them the space to do it. I sat in the garden with them, my writing and a cup of tea. I think it’s good to let your children watch you doing something creative of your own. They need to know you have value beyond serving them snacks sometimes 🙂 They usually show curiosity about what I’m doing when I do write/read/make things in front of them. My daughter usually joins in with an idea of her own. Today they were drawing pictures of some lilies in our garden.

We had to go out for a little while to do errands and we stopped at the pound shop and one shop on our way out. Even if you are trying not to spend too much money, I think it’s good to treat yourself to one pound treats 🙂 I got the girls a couple of canvases to colour and decorate and I got some chocolate and Yankee candles that were on sale.
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I think music and candles are important. They make you feel like you’re treating yourself when you don’t have the time to do it, and you can enjoy them whilst occupying your kids. Sometimes the best times I have are when my kids are happily playing (before they inform me of their next fall-out!), I’m listening to music, dreaming up ideas and enjoying the aroma of a new candle, coffee and cooking. My multicoloured hydrangeas make me happy too, with my new unicorn lights 🙂 Sometimes it’s important to just enjoy whatever your version of ordinary is.

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Sunshine and Spontaneity

Last weekend, we went to The Fine and Dandy Market. It is a monthly market in Belfast that sells handmade items and quirky things. I always know when I go it’s going to account for most of my unnecessary spending that month. Everything is so cool I’m like a deprived magpie in a jewellery box. I’d been looking for hanging plants for a while. I saw some at a local flower shop, but they were expensive, so I waited to see if I found a cheaper one elsewhere. I found one for £12 that hangs from a rope and a plant in a glass ball that hangs from a metal stand the stall holder had made. I got a bit carried away since they suit the 60’s decor in my living room.
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My kids enjoyed the market too. They like going to the fancy bows stall and appealing to my mum to get them some. They got some unique ones. One was a little dream catcher hair clip – I think about pinching it when she’s not looking.

They have made the fair more kid-friendly now. There was a felting workshop upstairs where the girls learned how to make soap in a coat. You take a bar of soap and wrap it in wool, using water until it clings to the soap and looks decorative, as well as having a practical use. Making them involved lots of bubbles and mess, so my kids loved it and they were proud of their creations they got to bring home.

In the market, there is a lady who makes amazing earrings. I bought another pair. She was simultaneously holding a kids’ workshop where they could use gems, and patterned paper and tape to decorate rings and badges.

I think the key to a good day out with kids is breaking things up into small segments. I manage to go shopping with them sometimes as long as there are food and drink breaks and a chance for them to make something/ run around in an open space.

We shared a pizza outside the market and then decided things were getting a bit fraught, so we decided to go to the Belfast Mela.

I’d never been to it before and it was worth going to. It is an event that celebrates all different cultures and brings everyone together. Tickets were seven pounds for adults and kids go free. It was on for hours and it takes place in Botanic Gardens. There was so much to do – we sat in the sun and listened to the Dublin Gospel choir. The girls were happy to get some lemonade and dinky donuts. Then we found a tent for kids where they could dig in big basins filled with rice/cereal and utensils. That kept them occupied for ages. There was dancing with scarves for them in the tent too. We walked around the whole park to see what was on. There was lots of food being served from different cultures. Each section was labelled with a country. We watched African limbo fire dancing which my daughter said was her favourite. The girls loved sticking their heads through the animal photo boards. It is held once a year and we would definitely go back. I love days where you plan to go to one event and end up at another one, deciding what you do as you go and not over-planning; letting the day unfold how it wants to.

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Raspberry, Pineapple and Kale Smoothies

I should preface this by saying, in this smoothie, you can’t taste the kale. I can confirm based on the fact my children will drink it and one of them doesn’t like green vegetables; the other doesn’t like any vegetables. When my kids are asking for ice lollies constantly, it’s a good, healthy replacement. If you use lots of frozen fruit, it makes a slushy type of consistency that they can eat with a spoon. This recipe is more the consistency of juice. You can also freeze it in lolly moulds to make ice lollies.

Ingredients

1 frozen banana
handful of frozen raspberries
small handful of pineapple
handful of kale
apple/pineapple juice to just cover the fruit and veg.

Method

Add a frozen banana broken in two and a handful of frozen raspberries or other berries to the bottom of a blender. Place pineapple and kale on top and fill with juice until it just covers the ingredients. Blend until smooth.

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