Wednesday, 30 April 2014

4 Easy dishes the kids can make for dinner #NoJunk

One of the key messages of the #NoJunk campaign is getting your kids cooking, so this post is all about meals younger kids can make without using the hob. It's homecooking with the first hints of you not having to do it all and there's no junk in sight.

Sometimes asking your kids to help round the house is not all that successful.  Washing-up leads to tidal 
waves of suds, the hoover probably makes them cry and folding laundry turns into ‘soft play’.  However, there are some very good reasons why getting your kids to do some of the cooking has got to be a good thing.  From the labour-saving - there might come a point where you don’t have to do all the cooking. To the practical - your kids will become competent grown-ups who can feed themselves properly.  To the educational – all that measuring, weighing and general kitchen alchemy is all good learning.  To the emotional – the endearing and disproportionate pride they’ll feel in feeding you for a change.   

So, here are four simple suggestions for very first dishes your child can cook; you’ve got three all-in-one mains and one pud. There’s no hob involved, so all the construction can be done cold. Levels of independence and supervision are your call. Useful kit includes these brilliant serrated, but blunt knives, which even very small children can use safely (once they are past the eye-poking, chewing-things stage of course).

Salad actually has a lot going for it as a first meal for children to prepare; it is cold and instantly ready. There’s also something about the throw-it-in, chaotic nature of salad-making that appeals to kids.  Give them all the usual salad suspects to cut or rip up, then offer them a random collection of goodies from the fridge and let them create.

Or go for a more coherent approach and make prawn cocktail, provide cooked beef strips for this Sesame beef salad  or pieces of cooked chicken with a jam jar dressing: a splash of olive oil, wine vinegar, a squeeze of honey and a blob of whole grain mustard all shaken up in a jam jar.  

Fish Parcels

Parcel based cooking is great for children, because they get to create a complete dinner for each family member. This can be made with fresh or frozen fish, in fact there’s no need to defrost it first. You might need to sneak in and check the parcels are secure before cooking, or switch to foil which is easier to scrunch together.

For 4
·         4 handfuls of washed spinach
·         1 courgette, chopped
·         1 red pepper, chopped
·         A few cooked new potatoes for each person
·         1 tin of tomatoes
·         1 tsp pesto
·         Four pieces of white fish
·         A few basil leaves
·         Black pepper
·         A few black olives/ frozen prawns if you like

1.       Take four large pieces of baking parchment and add a pile of spinach to the middle of each. Then pile on the chopped vegetables and potatoes.
2.       Tip the tomatoes into a bowl and stir in the pesto. Pop a fish piece on top of the veg and spoon over the tomatoes. Add basil leaves, black pepper and olives.
3.       Seal up the parcel as best you can – I find the Cornish pasty approach the best.
4.       They can sit in the fridge for a few hours at this stage if that’s helpful. Cook for 20-25 minutes at 200, or less if they’ve sat in the fridge defrosting.

Chicken Parcels
Another parcel-based recipe, but because this one takes longer to cook you can put the potatoes in raw. Obviously have a conversation about raw chicken and get children to wash their hands carefully afterwards and consider using tongs to pick up the chicken. There’s no real need for a specific recipe, lots of things work in a parcel with chicken and potatoes, see what the kids think:
  • ·         Thyme, crème fraiche or full fat soft cheese, mushrooms
  • ·         Carrots, squeeze of orange juice, black pepper
  • ·         Same as the fish parcels above

These will need to be wrapped in foil and baked for about 35 minutes at 200 degrees, always check your breasts though, in every sense.

Pear Charlotte

This is a satisfyingly simple little pudding to put together, it’s just bread, butter, pear and brown sugar, yet it creates a pretty impressive looking pud. Even if it doesn’t end up looking impressive, it’s still going to taste good. Make sure you’re using very ripe pears though. You could peel them or not bother, depending on whether peeling is achievable for your kids.

·         8 or 9 slices of white bread, crusts removed
·         4 tablepoons of very soft butter
·         4 or 5 very ripe pears (you could even use a tin of pears…)
·         A few teaspoons of brown sugar

1.       Preheat the oven to 200. Brush the insides of a pudding basin with plenty of butter. Then spread the rest on the bread.
2.       Cut the bread into strips or pieces and line the bottom and sides of the basin with bread, try to overlap it a bit. Save a bit of the lid
3.       Chop up the pears and add them to the basin, layering them with sprinklings of sugar.

4.       Make a lid out of bread and bake until it’s golden and crispy. Serve with ice cream.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Totally Ace Chorizo and Lentil Soup/Stew

So, we are fully on with this NO JUNK CHALLENGE. And it's all going well - a bit like a food reboot for the family. It's a good reminder to get back to basics.

First things first, this recipe would still be lush sans chorizo, just stick in a teaspoon of smoked paprika if you happen to have any.

This is packed full of lovely, healthy lentils and vegetables. It is delicious. Just use veg the kids like and get them to cut it up – kiddy buy-in. As it turns out I managed to give this to Alex while he was at peak hunger, so he demolished it.

No-junk wise I used one organic chicken stock cube in a huge pan, so minimal salt, but you could go even lower with a low salt or no salt organic cube too of course.

In terms of a recipe, you don’t strictly need one. This one I made didn't have onion in it because I only had one onion left and it had gone manky. Key bits are:
  • Green lentils
  • A cooking chorizo if you're using one - check out Riverford's one
  • Tons of finely diced veg – I used peppers, a de-seeded red chili, celery, tomatoes, can’t remember what else.Get the kiddies to help chopping and let them choose what’s going in.
  • Plenty of garlic. Don’t be shy, you’re with family.
  • Parmesan to grate on top. Obviously not strictly required, but lush nonetheless.
  1. Pre-cook the lentils.
  2. Chop and sweat the chorizo and veg in olive oil.
  3.  Add the lentils, stock and water - a bit for a stew, more for a soup.
  4.  Boil, simmer, eat. (With Parmesan)
Here's Alex's review of the soup:

Monday, 28 April 2014

#NoJunk Pasta Sauce

Anyone doing the No JUNK challenge?

A little teeny, tiny post for you here, just to say that if the long ingredient lists on ready-made pasta sauces are depressing you, then try this instead. It's proof that simple, home cooking can be pretty much as easy as opening a jar.

Why this is nice:

  1. It's simple and soothing - ready to serve when tempers are frayed and adventurousness is not on the cards.
  2. It's cheap.
  3. You can add and embellish not at all or lots - up to you.

What you do:
  1. While your pasta is cooking, heat a splash of olive oil in a frying pan.
  2. Add a smushed garlic clove (or don't)
  3. Add a tin of decent chopped tomatoes, and a grind or two of pepper if you like.
  4. Bubble it until the pasta is cooked. If lumps are a thing, mush it with a potato masher
  5. Stir and serve - with Parmesan or Cheddar maybe. Up the awesome stakes with a pot of growing basil on the table and let the kids pick and sprinkle the leaves
As Greg Wallace might say, 'Cooking does not get easier than this'.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

NO JUNK - Yogurt Topped Raspberry Flapjack #nojunk

Next week Organix is launching the No Junk Campaign.

This is a good campaign. 

It's an important campaign.

You should get involved.

It's all about good food for children - and who doesn't agree with that? Last year Organix worked with The Soil Association on the Out to Lunch campaign which took restaurant chains to task about junk on their kids menu. And this No Junk campaign is another rung on the ladder towards better food for kids.

What you do is this: you pledge to feed your family real food for a week. Real food that contains ingredients like 'tomatoes' instead of polymonoglockenspieldioxide*. The idea is, you read the label before you buy something and if it's got waccy sounding stuff in it, you ditch it. 

It's blindingly obvious why this is a good idea for your family, but what is perhaps less obvious is that signing this pledge is a powerful thing to do. Why? Because the plan is to start a food revolution. Organix is calling for the government and the food industry to do their part too and it will be helpful to point out how many parents feel strongly about this. We want tough controls on salt, fat, sugar and artificial additives. We are all starting to realise the stuff that has somehow become the norm in kids food and I think I'm right in thinking, that parents have had enough.

So, I’m right behind the campaign and will posting more about it next week, including some easy, easy no junk recipes. I've already taken the Organix #nojunk pledge and thought I'd kick things off with this spirit lifting recipe - Yogurt Topped Raspberry Flapjack. A nice little reminder that things don't need to be full of crap to be good.

And also a reminder that healthy food can be EASY. As I like to say, it's about convenient food not convenience foods...

So, this tasty little number is not junky because:

  • It’s not got much sugar in it. Just a teaspoon in the topping and then honey in the flapjack. About a ton less than most shop-bought flapjacks...
  • It’s got fruit in it. Fruit = good.
  • It’s got nice, slow-release energy oats too.

But, you might actually bother to make these because:
  •  It’s very quick to make – just mixing, baking and a little smearing. We made during the 'grumpy hour' after school - that's how untaxing it is.
  •  It uses  frozen raspberries, meaning it’s okay to be eating raspberries in April and that you don’t have to have fresh ones in. 
  • The kids can make it.
Here's Alex and Emma (sort of) telling you how to make it, proper recipe below if this isn't crystal clear...

Yogurt Topped Raspberry Flapjacks 

1. Mix together 300g oats with 150g very soft butter and 100g honey.
2. Press half the mixture into a square cake tin (which you’ve lined roughly with greaseproof).
3. Crumble over a handful of frozen raspberries and then cover with the over half of the oat mix.
4. Bake for 20-25 mins at 180 degrees.
5. When it’s cool-ish top with about 150g of thick Greek yoghurt (I used 0% fat) with a tsp. of icing sugar stirred through it.

This is a commissioned blog post, full of things I fully support and think.

* I may have made up polymonoglockenspieldioxide...

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Easter Bunny Salad

I have a memory of this salad from a children's cookery book we had, not sure if I ever actually made it, but I always wanted to. It is, of course, totally one of those recipes where the idea is better than the dish. Yeah, a pear half kind of resembles a fat assed bunny, but the almond ears and raisin eyes are always going to be a bit crap. Still, Em loved it and was utterly convinced that it looked like a rabbit in a garden (you got that, right? It's a rabbit in a garden.)

Taste wise it's not bad, Em had the idea of using grated parmesan to make the bunny fluffy, so there is a bit of deliciousness in there. You don't need a dressing, just mix in those yoghurty, parmesan-y cotton tails.

Excuse the vacant stare in the photo, she's actually VERY proud.

Here's a video how-to by Emma.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Do not fear 7 a day!

Apparently 5 a day is not enough. That’s what I heard on the news yesterday morning. It was April Fool’s Day, but still, I’m pretty sure this isn’t a joke.

I know many people, maybe parents in particular, might be letting out a groan as the advice suddenly jumps from 5 a day to 7 a day. But do not fear. For one thing, the government is apparently sticking to its ‘5 a day’ advice, maybe they’ve just had loads of posters printed or something. They say it is ‘sufficient’. However, if you fancy doing more than just being ‘sufficient’ in your diet, then go for the 7. It’s okay, it’s not going to be that hard.

Really, we should be eating more fruit and veg than anything else shouldn’t we, and we know it too. There’s that famous quote from Michael Pollan; ‘Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.’ And that seems to be a lot more helpful than a trying to stick to a number. I’m not really sure I need all the stats and facts about cancer and heart disease either, I’m pretty sure that I just know it’s a good plan.

The BBC’s news story on this says, and this really is a quote: ‘Fruit juice conferred no benefit, while canned fruit appeared to increase the risk of death’ - perhaps this is an April fools story after all… And again, this seems to be a bit obvious doesn’t it? Not the death bit, that’s weird, but a fresh pear has just got to be better for you than a tinned one and I say this as someone who has absolutely no intention of giving up tinned pears. Ever. I love them.
So, do not panic. Be calm and eat more fruit and veg. There are lots of ways. Insert it into meals where it’s missing, like fruit with breakfast, replace a few biscuit snacks with a banana, or mush one in toast if you haven’t done that in a while, it’s all good. The current government advice says you can include frozen veg too, and dried fruit and pure juice. So, buy nibbling a few dried apricots and sinking a glass of OJ, you’ll hit 7.

You could think about getting a lovely organic fruit or veg box too. There are lots of great ones available and they nearly all come with recipe suggestion cards. You could switch a few meaty meals to veggies ones too if you’re a meat eater. You could grate a carrot into your pasta sauce or throw in a lump of frozen spinach. Grill a tomato to have alongside your steak – there are very few meals that aren’t made better by a bit more veg.

So there we go, no stress, just more veg or fruit additions to your day and you’re there... What two things could you do to make your 5 up to 7?

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Easter Nest Cupcakes

These are painfully simple. Just vanilla cupcakes with a bit hollowed out, then iced with melted chocolate and sprinkles, then egg-ify the hollows and there you have it - an Easter cakey treat thing that isn't totally vile. Enjoy!


If you need a recipe, use this one:

125g caster sugar, butter/marg
250g self raising flour
2 eggs
4 tbsp plain yoghurt
Vanilla seeds or essence

  1. Mix everything together - I just give it a good beating with a wooden spoon
  2. Blob into cake cases and bake for about 12 mins at 180 degrees
I only used a scant tablespoon of mix in each case, because I wanted the cake level with the case. This meant I made 12 cakes, but had leftover mix to bake in a bigger tin - or just make more cakes.

For the topping, use the cheapest, crappest chocolate you can find because that's the stuff that melts best. You could even use 'cake covering'. 

Add a few mini eggs and scoff the rest yourself. LOVE mini eggs.