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Homemade baked beans

Homemade baked beans

Baked beans are a common side dish on children’s menus when eating out, and I’d definitely prefer then over the even more common chips, but they can be very high in salt and sugar, even the low-salt/low-sugar varieties. Making your own isn’t difficult. You’ll know exactly what your little one is eating, and they also freeze well so you can cook up a big batch.

Check your tinned tomatoes for other ingredients as some brands do have added salt and/or sugar. For babies under a year old, omit the golden syrup/honey and the Worcestershire sauce; you could also mash or puree the beans after cooking to make it easier for them to eat.

I added some diced yellow pepper for colour as well as to add another vegetable. You could add other finely chopped vegetables like carrot or celery.


Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 15 mins
Makes 4 – 6 toddler servings

1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 yellow pepper, diced
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tin (about 400g) cannolini beans
1 tin (about 400g) harricot beans
1 tbsp golden syrup or honey
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
a pinch of salt

Heat the oil over a medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and pepper, and cook for about 5 mins until the onion and peppers are soft.

Add the tomatoes, beans, golden syrup and Worcestershire sauce. Stir and cook for another 10 mins until the sauce has reduced and thickened a little. Taste and add a pinch of salt if desired.

Homemade baked beans


  • for older little ones, add some chopped bacon or pieces of sausage to the onion, garlic and pepper
  • add other vegetables such as carrots or celery

Other uses:

  • have as a baked potato filling
  • puree and use as a sauce over pasta or rice

Leftover chicken soup (family recipe)

Do you ever roast a chicken, then the next day you scratch your head wondering what you can do with the leftovers apart from chicken sandwiches? Well here’s something filling and warming to try, that will feed the whole family. It would also work really well with leftover turkey.

I used onion, carrot, courgette/zucchini and peas in my soup, but you could easily put in other vegetables (it’s actually a great way to use up those last few vegetables that you’re not sure what to do with at the end of the week). And remember, taking a little bit more time to chop the vegetables into smaller pieces, will shorten the cooking time.

leftover chicken soup

If serving to a baby, don’t season after pureeing. You can either serve them just the pureed vegetable soup, or add some chicken and peas to their portion and puree again.

Nicholas likes searching for the chicken and peas in this soup, and I’ll often add some cooked pasta just to his for him to discover. Adding pasta is also a way to make the soup last for a couple of meals.

If you have a toddler who’s fussy about eating vegetables, puree the vegetables they’re less keen on and keep the ones they do like whole. Or you can puree all of it to hide lots of vegetables!


Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 20-25 mins
Serves 4 adults

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, roughly diced
2 large carrots, chopped
1 large courgette/zucchini, chopped
1 tbsp dried sage
1 litre chicken stock
200g leftover chicken, skin removed and diced
150g frozen peas
salt and pepper

Heat oil in a large pot over a med heat. Add the onions and cook for about 5 mins until they’re starting to soften.

Add the carrots, courgette, sage and stock. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat to low and cover. Simmer for 10-15 mins until the carrots are cooked.

Remove from the heat and puree the soup until smooth. Season to taste.

Put the soup back on the heat, and add the chicken and peas. Simmer for 5 mins and serve.


  • add some cooked pasta to make the soup more filling and to go further
  • use leftover turkey instead of chicken
  • use other vegetables such as potato, leek, butternut squash, frozen corn, etc.

Cantonese-style steamed fish (family recipe)

This is a Ken Hom recipe that’s quick, easy and very tasty. If you have a bamboo steamer it’s even easier, but it’s not that difficult to improvise a steamer using a metal rack over a wok or deep pan.

I like to sit my bamboo steamer on top of a saucepan with the bottom rim of the steamer resting over the top of the saucepan. Whichever steaming method you use, make sure the steamer bottom is above the boiling water. Also check the water while the fish is cooking to make sure it doesn’t boil dry.

I also prefer to use baking paper inside my steamer rather than sitting the fish on a plate, but you do need to make sure you don’t press the baking paper too firmly into the bottom of the steamer (the steam from the boiling water needs some space to come up and do its job).

Tear off a piece of baking paper just slightly bigger than your steamer…

fold it in half & in half again, then bring the right bottom corner up to the top left corner…

and finally fold the right side over again to form a slimmer triangular shape.

Place the folded point in the centre of the steamer to measure where you can tear off any excess paper.

Unfold and lightly press into the steamer.

In the original recipe, Ken Hom salts the fish fillets beforehand to firm up the flesh. Of the many times I’ve made this, I think I’ve only done this once (I either forget about it until there’s no time before dinner to do it, or I just can’t be bothered doing the extra step – yes, call me lazy!). The idea is if you rub the fillets all over with salt, leaving for 30 mins, the salt draws out the excess moisture leaving you with firmer flesh. You then need to rinse off the salt and pat dry with kitchen towel. You can also use this recipe with cleaned whole fish (increase the steaming time to 12-15 mins in total).
If you’re making this to also serve to a baby, leave the seasoning off an end of the fish and don’t sprinkle the ginger over this part. After the fish is cooked, mash the baby’s piece or puree to the desired consistency, double-checking for any bones. Add a tiny drizzle of olive oil before serving if you wish (adding a drop or two of olive oil to cooked baby food is very common in Italy, and is seen as a healthy way to add a little bit of needed fat to a baby’s diet). I’ll leave it to your good judgment if you’re serving the fish to a toddler.

Serve the steamed fish with plain rice or a simple fried rice.


Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 5-10 mins
Serves 2 adults and 1 toddler or baby

2 large fillets of firm white fish (cod, sole, haddock, etc)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
3cm piece of ginger, finely shredded or finely diced
1 spring onion, finely shredded
1/2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tsp dark soy sauce
1/2 tbsp groundnut or vegetable oil
1 tsp sesame oil
coriander sprigs to serve

Pat the fillets dry with kitchen towel. Season with salt and pepper.

Set up a bamboo steamer, or put a rack into a wok or deep pan, and fill with  about 5cm of water. Bring to the boil.

Place fish on a heatproof plate and scatter the shredded ginger evenly over. Place in the steamer, cover tightly and gently steam until just cooked through (flat fish fillets: 5 mins; thicker fillets 7-10 mins). Keep covered until ready to serve.

Just before serving, heat the groundnut and sesame oils together in a small saucepan over a med-low heat until it just starts to smoke.

To serve the fish, sprinkle over the spring onions and soy sauces, then pour over the hot oil. Garnish with coriander sprigs.

Butternut squash soup

I got this recipe a few years ago from the Irish mum of a dear friend and it’s become the soup I make the most often. It’s lovely and thick, and perfect for warming you up on cold nights. It’s also easy to make (chop, simmer, puree and eat!).

If making this for the younger munchkins in your family, use a low-sodium stock. I usually use a stock I’ve made using a leftover roast chicken carcass as I can decide how much salt to add to it, if at all, but a low-sodium stock cube works just as well.

Add a swirl of cream or yogurt to each bowl just before serving. Please excuse my ‘artistic’ swirls in the photo. I was trying to be too clever and it didn’t work at all (you should have seen the efforts I didn’t photograph!).

Nicholas is mostly enjoying having a vegetable soup starter before dinner. I’m definitely finding it the best way at the moment to get more vegetables into him, even though he’s going through a period of fussiness which means he’s sometimes eating very little for dinner. I spent a lot of time last week searching  for advice for fussy eaters and asking people for tips, then trying them out. There’s definitely a post on tips for fussy eaters in the pipeline.

In the meantime, enjoy the soup.


Prep time: 10-15 mins
Cook time: 30 mins
Makes 6 adult servings

1 large butternut squash, peeled and roughly diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
1 sweet potato, peeled and roughly diced
1 litre chicken stock
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
Salt and pepper

Melt the olive oil and butter in a large pot over a medium heat. Add the vegetables and saute for about 5 mins.

Add the stock, bring to the boil and then simmer over a low heat until the vegetables are soft.

Remove from the heat and puree until smooth. Check for seasoning, and add salt and pepper if needed.

Serve with a drizzle of cream or yogurt.


Does your family have a favourite soup?

Stuffed butternut squash (family recipe)

I love butternut squash (or butternut pumpkin as it’s called in Australia). It’s amazingly versatile for a vegetable and has a lovely rich sweet taste. Roasted, mashed, made into a soup, added to risotto, shaped into patties or even baked in a cake, you can pretty much do anything with butternut squash.

As as puree, butternut squash is often a favourite with babies. Have it on its own or add some extra natural sweetness with some cooked unsweetened apple. Once you want to start introducing some other flavours to your baby, warm spices like cinnamon and coriander, or herbs like sage and thyme work well with butternut squash.

If you’re making my stuffed butternut squash for the whole family, buy a squash that has a long neck. Part of the neck will be roasted and pureed for a baby, and another part of the neck will be roasted and stuffed for a toddler, while the adults are left with the main body of the squash and a bit of neck.

I stuffed my squash with veal, but you can use any minced meat or a combination of meats (pork, beef, turkey, etc.). You can also quite easily make this dish vegetarian by mixing the roasted mashed squash with some fresh breadcrumbs or cooked rice or couscous, or even some other roasted vegetables like courgette; top with some toasted pinenuts or fried sage for a different texture.


Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 1 hr
Serves 2 adults, 1 toddler and 1 baby

1 butternut squash with a long neck (approx. 1 kg)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
200g veal mince
1/2 onion, finely diced
about 2 tbsp of olive oil
salt and pepper
1 1/2 tbsp breadcrumbs
a handful of grated cheese (for example, cheddar or parmesan)

Preheat the oven to 190C. Line a baking tray or roasting pan with some foil or baking paper to minimise cleaning.

Wash the outside of the butternut squash and pat dry. Halve it lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Cut off two pieces from the neck. Place the squash on the roasting tray, cut side up, and drizzle each piece with a little olive oil. Sprinkle over the cinnamon. Season the main body pieces for the adults with some salt and pepper.

Roast for 35-45 mins until the flesh is soft (the two smaller pieces will take less time to cook). Remove from the oven to cool but leave the oven switched on.

While the butternut squash is cooking, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a frying pan over a med heat. Cook the onion until soft (about 3-4 mins). Turn up the heat a little, add the veal and fry until just cooked through (about 5 mins). Season and remove from the heat.

For baby:
Remove the peel from baby’s piece of roasted squash and mash or puree the flesh to the desired consistency. Add an extra pinch of cinnamon or ground coriander if you wish.

For toddler and adults:
Scoop out most of the flesh from the remaining pieces of roasted squash, leaving a thin border of flesh around the edge. Mash the flesh and stir in the veal mixture. Spoon back into the pumpkin pieces and place back on the roasting tray. Sprinkle with the breadcrumbs and cheese. Cook for another 5-10 mins in the oven until the top is golden brown.

Tip: rinse off the discarded seeds, pat dry and then roast in a dry frying pan. Sprinkle over the butternut squash to serve or eat them as a snack another day.

Baby oat cakes

My regular readers will know by now that I always need inspiration for breakfast. So when I came across Laura’s microwave raspberry oat cakes, I woke up the next morning with a spring in my step, eager to try them.

I’m a big fan of porridge for little ones as there are so many variations you can do, and this is a brilliant different way to use porridge oats. It’s also super quick and open to variations.

These mini oat cakes would be perfect for baby-led weaning, ideal finger food for a toddler snack, and I even made another for my afternoon tea!

Laura makes hers with frozen raspberries. I first tried frozen strawberries and then some raisins I’d soaked in warm water (if giving to a baby, it’s important to first soak any dry fruit to avoid any possible choking hazard). Try to use a banana that’s as ripe as possible as it will be sweeter (actually this is another great recipe for using up overripe bananas).

They were a great success with Nicholas who called them biscuits and dunked them in milk. He said ‘yum’ in English and Italian as well as signing it, interspersed with requests for ‘more!’. I couldn’t have been happier 🙂

Check out more of Laura’s budget-friendly family recipes on her blog Small Wallet Big Appetite.


Prep time: 3 mins
Cook time: 4 mins
Makes 1 oat cake

1/2 medium banana
1/4 cup (20g) raw porridge oats
A pinch of cinnamon
4-5 pieces of chopped frozen strawberry

Mash the banana in a small microwave-safe bowl (I used one that was about 10cm across at the bottom).

Add the cinnamon and oats, mixing well so all the oats are covered in banana.

Gently mix through the frozen pieces of strawberry.

Press the mixture down firmly into the bottom of the bowl and cook in the microwave on high for 3-4 minutes until it turns into a firm little cake.

Tip the mini cake out. Once cooled, cut it into wedges.


  • use other frozen berries instead of strawberries
  • use dried fruit (raisins, chopped apricots, etc) instead of strawberry, but soak them beforehand if giving to a baby

Mini lamb and mint burgers with cheesy polenta

I love a lamb burger. Moist and still a little pink, it needs little else to flavour it. But just like the perfect pairing of roast lamb and mint sauce, throwing some fresh mint into the lamb mince adds a sweet zing.

I love the colour of polenta, but personally I don’t like it. Never have and don’t understand why people make such a big deal about it. HOWEVER, I mustn’t push my preferences onto Nicholas! I do think though, that cheese makes pretty much everything taste better (honestly I could live off cheese and bread, with the odd steak and potato thrown in every now and then). And with “cheeeeese” being one of Nicholas’ favourite foods (or “maggio” if he’s talking to Papà), I just had to add it to the polenta.

These are mini lamb burgers for little pudgy fingers to pick up and devour, but just make them bigger and cook them a little longer for bigger people.

Polenta, cheesy or plain, is a great meal for babies. You can leave out the salt and oil at the start of the recipe, and not add the butter after it’s cooked. They can have the polenta on its own while the rest of the family also have the burgers, so you just have to cook one meal.

Put any leftover polenta into a cake or loaf baking tin and leave it in the fridge. Once it’s cold, cut it into fingers, brush or spray with a little oil and fry for a couple of minutes on each side until crisp on the outside. Eat on their own or dip into a homemade tomato sauce.


Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 10 mins
Makes about 18 mini burgers

250g minced lamb
1 shallot, finely diced
1 egg yolk
1-2 tbsp breadcrumbs
1 tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped
salt and pepper (optional)
Drizzle of olive oil

Mix the lamb, shallot, egg yolk and mint in a bowl with 1 tbsp of breadcrumbs. Season if using. Add another tablespoon of breadcrumbs if the mixture is too wet to mould into small balls.

Heat the olive oil over a med-low heat in a large frying pan.

Shape the mixture into small balls, flattening them when you place them in the pan. Cook for a few minutes both sides until just cooked through.


Prep time: 5 mins
Cook time: 20 mins
Makes 2 adult and 1 toddler serving

500ml (2 cups) water
125ml (1/2 cup) milk
Pinch of salt (optional)
1 tsp olive oil
1/2 cup polenta or cornmeal
1/3 cup cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
30g unsalted butter, chopped

Put the water and milk (and salt, if using) into a saucepan and bring it to a light boil. Turn down the heat to low and add the oil.

With a whisk, start stirring as you very slowly add the polenta. Be careful not to add too much at a time as it easily creates lumps which are then very difficult to get rid of.

Continue cooking, stirring with a wooden spoon every so often until it thickens and starts to come away from the side of the saucepan (about 20 mins).

Remove from heat. Add the cheese and butter and stir until melted. If the polenta is too thick, add a dash of milk. Add more seasoning to the adult servings.

Other uses:

  • Serve the cheesy polenta with a chunky tomato or vegetable sauce, or sautéed mushrooms instead of the lamb burgers.
  • Chill the polenta in a baking tin and cut into fingers; lightly oil and fry until crispy.