Our friends over at Kids’ Blog Club brought the Sunday Times’ campaign to improve school dinners to our attention. As a junior foodie, Luca will definitely be filling the survey in and giving his views. Generally the food at his school is great but his biggest bugbear is the portions are too small. Sometimes he comes home so ravenous that he ends up eating almost a whole meal. If it’s like that for a fairly skinny year 3, how is it for the year 6 kids?
We’re not sure why but popcorn seems to be really POPular at the moment and all sorts of posh popcorns are hitting the supermarkets.
We got hooked ourselves (Tyrrell’s sweet and salty was the cheeky one that we kept buying) but this stuff is expensive (not as expensive as the rip off cinema popcorn though) and with Luca’s greedy pants dad in the house a big bag lasts about three minutes.
So we’ve taken to making our own. It’s VERY easy and tastes even better, costs way less and you can choose what you put on it.
HOW TO MAKE HOMEMADE POPCORN:
Take 100 g popcorn kernels. Add one tablespoon of sunflower or vegetable oil to a large pan that has a lid. Heat it over a medium heat for a minute or two. Add the popcorn and, ahem, pop the lid on the pan. Continue heating it and give the pan a shake now and again.
Soon after you hear the first kernel pop, it’ll go poptastic in the pan with popping at a crazy rate before it finally calms down.
When the rate slows down a lot and it’s just occasionally, you’re pretty much finished. Turn the heat off and take the lid off (we find if you leave it on moisture gets onto the popcorn).
So that’s the actual popcorn sorted. You could sprinkle it with a little salt, or a little sugar. Or both.
Or grab a small saucepan, 60g of light brown sugar and 40g of butter. Melt it all over a low heat until it bubbles away for a few minutes. Pour over the popcorn (be very careful as it’ll be really hot). Wait for it to cool a bit for a couple of minutes but not too much.
Absolutely delicious when slightly warm and it’ll put any bagged popcorn to shame.
Spinach is one of the healthiest things you could eat! It’s bursting with green goodness. Now it’s not much to look at really – like a leaf but it tastes much better than we imagine the average leaf from a tree would! And definitely healthier: according to Wikipedia spinach has the following good stuff in it: vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, magnesium, manganese, folate, betaine, iron, vitamin B2, calcium, potassium, vitamin B6, folic acid, copper, protein, phosphorus, zinc, niacin, selenium and omega-3 fatty acids) it’s practically a multi-vitamin in a leaf!
You can eat spinach raw or cooked and you’ll find both baby spinach and normal spinach in the shops – the difference? Nope, baby spinach isn’t only for babies, it just means the leaves are smaller because they haven’t grown so much yet.
Spinach is sold in the vegetables section of the supermarket in quite large bags…you might well wonder how you’ll fit such a huge amount into your meal…which brings us to..
THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING SPINACH ACT!
There’s a funny thing that happens to spinach when you cook it. It’s a bit like magic really.
Your pan can end up looking full like this but don’t worry, the leaves do what’s called wilting – they shrivel up and go MUCH SMALLER (huh why have we gone bigger with our words there then!?)
Remember that you will gain another FAB FUN FOOD CLUB point for trying spinach (our fourth food!) Have you got your mum and dad to make you a reward chart for all this yet? If not, you could make one yourself!
What is it used for?
Sometimes spinach is served as a vegetable, pretty much on its own or maybe creamed (with cream added to it) with a main meal. Other times it’s used as an ingredient in all sorts of dishes. It’s very popular in Italian cooking, but also in Asian meals too.
OK ready to try it? Here are your ideas and recipes for food 4: spinach
OUR OWN HOMEMADE SPINACH AND BROCCOLI SOUP (serves three to four)
2 cloves garlic
a splodge of olive oil (about two tablespoons if you want to measure it)
500g of broccoli chopped into chunks/ florets
1.25 litres of veg stock (we use stock cubes)
A dash of cream or creme fraiche for each bowl at the end
Chop the onion into smallish pieces. Add to a large pan and fry over a medium heat for about five minutes until soft but not browned. Add the garlic and fry for another minute, then throw in the chopped up broccoli and pour in the stock. Simmer all this for about 10 minutes then add the spinach too (it’ll probably fill the pan!). Simmer for a further five to 10 minutes – you want the broccoli to be tender if you prod it with a fork. Then use a blender to smooth it down. We use a stick type blender in the pan as this saves on the washing up and potential spillages with transferring the soup from the pan to a proper blender jug!
Serve in warm bowls adding about a good splodge of cream or creme fraiche to each bowl – diners can stir this in to make their soup creamy.
RICEY SPINACH (AND MUSHROOM) RISOTTO
Risottos are brilliant for mid-week family dinners. Once your grown-ups get used to cooking them, they can start experimenting with what they ‘chuck’ in too. Spinach is a real winner here:
SUPERBLY SPINACHY (AND CHEESY) LASAGNA
Remember nothing ventured nothing gained is our motto at FFF. If you don’t like it, you won’t have lost anything.
Luca’s grandpa has the easiest recipe for pancakes in the world…we guarantee (well, almost) that it won’t fail you come Shrove Tuesday (Feb 12th this year).
What you’ll need for enough batter for about six pancakes:
- 1/2 pint of milk
- 1 large egg
- half a mug of flour
What to do:
Add a third of a pint of milk to a mixing jug (we usually use semi-skimmed – I’d avoid skimmed. Full fat would be okay too).
Chuck 1 large egg in too (well, breaking it carefully first – not literally just chucking it in)
Give it a whisk.
Then find a standard size tea or coffee mug. Fill it half full with plain flour.
Add that to the jug where the milk and egg is.
Whisk thoroughly. It should be the consistency of double cream. If it’s slightly too runny, add about a tablespoon of extra flour. Too runny pancake mixture will stick to the pan.
Leave the mixture to settle for maybe ten minutes IF you can wait that long (sometimes we can’t and need our pancakes NOW!)
We’d love to know what your favourite pancake topping is…ours are Nutella or Golden Syrup!
Look, we all like these foods occasionally (hey a fish finger sandwich smothered in ketchup and with a slither of melted cheese on top, is hard to beat) BUT if we see another kids’ menu in a restaurant which reads something like the following, we will run off screaming towards the nearest supermarket and just go home and make our own dinner thank you very much.
Here is an example of a kids’ menu that left Luca groaning with culinary boredom:
Adventurous young eaters clearly not welcome here then.
Now fair enough, it’s great if you’re say, two years old, and we can see the need for a few plainer options for some children but hang on a minute, restauranteurs of the world, it’s a little patronising to assume this is all any kid wants and it’s a lot boring. It makes us do a great big foodie YAWN.
So what do we want instead?
Fine, yes have a few simple meals and some stuff for our tiddly toddler brothers and sisters but please can we have more interesting meals too? If your mum and dad are tucking into fantastic food and enjoying it, not all children want to sit there with a plate of nuggets and chips for company thanks.
So the solution? Go back to the old days when most chefs were happy to knock up a half portion of a selection of more grown-up meals. We know this isn’t going to work with a few things that are probably bought in in set sizes (as in 8oz steaks) but we bet there’s lots of stuff you can do it with. Go on chefs of Britain! Help us be more adventurous!
And by way of example, here’s a perfect half portion dish of haddock, poached egg and mustard that the fabulous Boathouse in Ely knocked up for our seven-year-old diner:
Tricky to say this one. Came-em-bert (as in the name Bert) is not right. Cam-em-ber is probably as good a description of its pronunciation as we’ll manage. The key is, you don’t say the ‘t’ at the end. It might get a bit confusing though if you’re a guy called Bert (saying the ‘t’) eating Camembert (without the ‘t’). Anyway, however you say it, it’s a regular dinner thing in our house – we love it and we hope you will too.
What is it?
Camembert is a French cheese. It’s creamy in the middle with a white outside edge that’s a bit ‘chalky’. It’s sort of goo-ey and soft and just flipping delicious. It was first made in a town called…Camembert in the area of Normandy in Northern France about 200 years ago (so quite a long ago and definitely WAY before the invention of Cheese Strings and Dairylea then).
What’s quite unusual about Camembert is the way it’s wrapped up and sold. Normally most cheeses are put into some sort of plasticky, waxy wrapping whereas Camembert is sold in a little round wooden box. The boxes are quite useful for one of our recipes (see below).
Clearly, it’s going to be in the cheese section. Note to parents: you’re best to stick with a pasteurised milk Camembert given your children are eating it. The main big brands such as President and Le Rustique are pasteurised.
What is it used for?
Well like most cheese, you can eat it on its own with bread or crackers but it’s also sometimes baked or added as an ingredient to recipes…talking of which…here are our recipes!
Ready to try food three? Recipes for Camembert…
THE VERY SIMPLE ONE: Baked Camembert in the Box
This is absolutely fab! It’s so easy that we made the ‘recipe’ up but to be honest, we’re not sure it really counts as a recipe.
Take one Camembert round out of the box but keep the box. Discard any plastic wrapping.
Put the oven on (well get your grown-up to do this depending on how old you are) – about 200degrees C.
Take the Camembert and slice a very fine layer of the white waxy rind off on the top. Put the Camembert back in the bottom half of its box and then put this on a small baking tray with reasonably high sides (not one of those totally flat ones in case of any cheesy overflow!). The chopped off side should be on top like this:
If you have one of those olive oil sprays, spray a bit of this on the top. If not drizzle about a teaspoon worth from the bottle onto the cheese. Then bake your Camembert for about ten to fifteen minutes.
It will come out looking like this:
If you’re feeling a little adventurous, you could squish a clove of garlic and some sprigs of thyme in the top before baking it.
Once it’s done, take a little care initially as the melted cheese could be really hot. Serve it with lovely fresh crusty bread which you can all dip inside the cheese. If you’re a bit cheeky, you could tip a spoonful or two of the melty cheese into your soup if you have some. YUM!!!
NOW YOU’VE TRIED THIS CHAMPION OF CHEESES ONCE, HERE’S ANOTHER IDEA…
If you liked it, check this recipe out- it takes mushrooms and a few other bits and pieces and adds camembert slices. It’s not going to be your main dinner of the day on its own but could make a good family lunch or smaller supper.
THE MUSHROOMY ONE:
Note: parents of more cautious kids could leave out the coriander.
Have a go with mango…
These fruity beauties are a huge favourite in the FFF household. We have a few friends and relatives who live in India and Dolly used to wonder why on earth they would cart a huge crate of mangoes all the way to the UK using their already struggling luggage allowance for the flight. Then she tried them and it all became clear. Tropical tastiness! Velvety fruitiness!
As a fruit, you’ve guessed it, you’ll find them in the fruit and veg section of the supermarket. Be careful when choosing one because if the mango is hard it won’t be ready to eat immediately which will mean you have to delay trying them and therefore wait for your next FFF points!
Your ideal mango should be very slightly squashy when you press it on the outside.
They are a little messy so make sure that they don’t come into contact with any pale clothes or your mum and dad might not be best pleased…
You will gain another FAB FUN FOOD CLUB point for trying them! (We’ll tell you more about this soon but the more foods you try, the more points you’ll get and this will work towards certificates your parents can print for you).
What are they?
Mangoes are a fairly large fruit that grow on trees. They grew in India originally but over the years, other tropical countries have caught onto their loveliness and started growing them too. They are still the national fruit of India (now there’s a question, does the UK have a national fruit?)
What are they used for?
Mainly an ingredient in puddings, they also make a super snack and sometimes get used in salads and main courses.
OK ready to try them? Here are your ideas and recipes for food 2: mangoes:
YOU’RE NOT A FOOL IF YOU TRY MANGO FOOL
Very, very easy to make. This one might take just a few minutes.
A MANGOTASTIC DRINK
Remember nothing ventured nothing gained is our motto at FFF. If you don’t like them, you won’t have lost anything.
Coming next…it’s tangy, it’s orange, it’s as smooth as silk…it’s mango. In the meantime, do let us know how you got on with your capers caper. We’ll also be adding the odd post about food and family life too.
So, capers. Luca loves them, Dolly isn’t so sure. You won’t know whose side to take until you try them. Nothing ventured nothing gained could be our motto at FFF. If you don’t like them, you won’t have lost anything really. If you do think they’re at least okay, well, you’ll be able to look all sophisticated in front of the grown-ups. Whichever, you will gain your first FAB FUN FOOD CLUB points! (We’ll tell you more about this soon but the more foods you try, the more points you’ll get and this will work towards certificates your parents can print for you).
They seem a bit like peas but these little green things are quite different. In the supermarket, you’ll find them in jars, probably near the olives, which in turn are probably near the condiments (fancy pants word for sauces – ketchup, mustard, vinegar and the like).
What are they?
We’ve consulted our enormous foodie encyclopaedia (what old people like your parents used to use to find out about things before Google and the internet were invented) and they are actually ‘immature’ (not very old) flower buds from the caper bush which grows in Mediterranean countries (ones a lot of us like to go on holiday to such as Italy and Spain). The caper buds are picked and then either put into brine (salty water), vinegar or packed with sea salt (that salt that has bigger chunks than the type you’d put on chips).
What are they used for?
Capers are unusual little things taste-wise. They are sort of tangy and work really well to make a creamy sauce more interesting. Probably the most common food they get put with is smoked salmon.
OK ready to try them? Here are your ideas and recipes:
The swanky one: Smoked Salmon and capers.
This is really easy but a bit expensive. If your parents don’t want to buy proper smoked salmon, ‘trimmings’ are cheaper. You could make a sandwich with the smoked salmon, some lovely creamy Philadelphia cheese and a few capers for good luck!
The fishy one: fish in caper butter sauce.
This is a doddle – quick, easy and with only a few ingredients.
What you need:
- one piece of white fish such as cod or tilapia per person (filleted) – the quantities below assume four servings.
- two tablespoons of butter (ideally slightly salted but if it’s unsalted that’s fine)
- olive oil (about a tablespoon’s worth)
- two tablespoons of capers
- salt and freshly-milled pepper.
What to do:
1. Rub the fish with a quick sprinkling of salt and black pepper. Pour a lug (about a tablespoon’s worth) of olive oil into a baking tray with steep sides or an oven dish. Drag each fish fillet through the olive oil so it gets a light coating.
2. Chop the butter into chunks or smear it fairly evenly onto each fish fillet.
3. Sprinkle the capers fairly evenly onto the fish.
4. Bake in the oven for around 15 to 20 minutes at 180 degrees c.
5. Check the fish is white and opaque rather than clear and you’re good to go.
6. Serve this with some baby new potatoes or rice and veg, drizzling the lovely buttery sauce at the bottom of the tray or dish over the fish and the potatoes/ rice.
What’s great about this recipe is that even if you do find that someone in the family is not keen on the capers, it’s really easy to pick them out. It’s the trying that counts at FFF!
The ‘we all love pasta’ one:
We’re cheating here and going to link to this one for those of you who don’t mind proper chunks of tomato in your sauces:
This is one for those of you who prefer your tomatoes squashed and sauced:
http://www.nottapasta.com/index.php?page=recipe&id=90 (note we have no links to this company or any other we just like this recipe).
Here is a link to some more recipes if you catch the caper bug!