Beautiful blackberries

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Post by Luca: As it reaches Autumn millions of blackberries appear as if out of nowhere. However, people just ignore them! Picking blackberries is so fun and is an old-fashioned summer activity.

Here are my tips on picking blackberries

- It is highly remarkable that stinging nettles are always by blackberry bushes! Mind out for the nettles! [If you do get stung, look for doc leaves nearby - large green leaves which help the sting.]

- Only pick squashy black blackberries otherwise they aren’t ripe.

- Don’t pick blackberries below knee height in case dogs have wee’d on them!!!

What you can do with blackberries

- Tarts/ pies/ crumbles – add a bit of apple to liven it up and some sugar.

- Smoothies/ juices – squash the blackberries then add yoghurt for a smoothie/ water for juice.

 Post by Luca’s mum:

We’ve been out and about walking much more since we got a puppy in April and on our walks we started spotting blackberries ready and ripe for picking as early as the end of July. We’ve had bags and bags full and Luca and other children who’ve been on walks with us have had great fun picking out the best ones. We’ve made a gorgeous berry smoothie with Greek yoghurt and milk, compotes and a tart. All very easy ways to use them up and (mostly) quite healthy too.

Where to find blackberries

You don’t have to venture to the countryside to spot them – they can often be found in brambly hedges in urban green spaces too.  As Luca said there are often nettles and prickly twigs around where you pick them so it’s worth wearing thick, long trousers such as jeans if this bothers you!

And don’t forget some secure Tupperware type boxes or food bags to collect and store them in.

 

 

 

 

 

A very different sort of picky eater: lunch was lobster (at Burger and Lobster, St Paul’s, London)

Our half term treat was a little unusual. Decadent even. Some kids might want to go to McDonalds for a school holiday lunch but we were very keen to try Burger and Lobster. And no it was the lobster we were all after, not the burgers.

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Here’s what Luca had to say:

“We went to Burger and Lobster today for lunch. I was very keen to try lobster again. I had some of my mum’s once on holiday but it was ages ago. The waiters bought two silver metal trays of lobster and fries and salad and we shared this between three of us. The salad had a special ingredient of balsamic vinegar dressing which we like. The fries were similar to McDonalds ones. I don’t like McDonalds much but I do like their chips so this was not a bad thing. The lobster was large and delicious with a garlic and lemon butter sauce. They had bibs to protect your clothes but I did not want to wear one as I’m not a baby! Some of the grown-ups wear them though. It was quite a lot of work for my mum picking all the bits out of the claws with the picking stick but worth it for the extra.

The drinks menu was confusing because it didn’t have anything like normal juices or water on it – nearly everything had alcohol but when we asked the waitress they did have lots of juices that weren’t on there. I chose pineapple.

There are only three things on the menu for main courses: lobster with a choice of two butters, beef burger or lobster brioche roll. It would not be good for vegetarians as there is nothing vegetarian. The staff were very good and friendly. Lobster was delicious. I had a great hot chocolate at the end too. The best part was the lobster though as you can have a hot chocolate anywhere. We’d go again.”

This is what Luca’s mum said:”I had been desperate to try this place as I absolutely adore lobster. My favourite food ever but usually it’s too expensive in the UK. It wasn’t cheap here per se but was excellent value for what you get. Any of the three options on the menu costs £20 – the burger, the lobster or the lobster roll. That’s a lot for a burger but not bad at all for a lobster and it was amazing. As ever with lobster, there was a fair amount of picking out of the claws to do with the special picking out thingy* provided but it was worth the hassle. The staff were helpful and attentive, friendly but informally professional. They didn’t seem to mind at all that the three of us shared two lobster meals (oh no, am I making it sound McDonalds-ish saying a ‘lobster meal’. It’s not at all), with an extra plate for Luca to nab some of ours for. We didn’t have room for puddings (there were two on the menu, well in the waiter’s head, so not much choice but that’s fine – one was Eton mess, the other vanilla cheesecake with caramel and Oreo cookies). Coffee at the end was one of the most mellow and lovely I’ve had for a while. Most impressed generally and looking forward to going back soon.”

* there is probably a technical, culinary term for these instruments…

Here is the lobster picking instrument in fact:

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Now the crucial question:

Is it a good place to take children?

This is a restaurant with quite a grown-up, albeit informal, feel but we were still made very welcome indeed as a family. There were no qualms about our request for the extra plate for example and the waiting staff were kind and friendly to our eight-year-old.

At the end we asked one of the waiters if they get many kids in. He said that it can be packed with them at weekends although they don’t have a children’s menu (or, it seems, do half portions). He added that they are hoping to introduce a kids’ menu soon…let’s hope they take our advice (see a previous post on this) and don’t dumb it down too much if they do (bread crumbed lobster nuggets anyone? Please NO!). Or better still they could just do smaller half portions of their grown-ups’ main courses and keep with their ethos of a very ‘finely tuned’ menu.

Out of interest, we asked the waiter if child customers there normally have burgers or if some do opt for lobster – he was pretty adamant that nearly all, if not all have burgers. The burger we saw at the next table did look incredibly appealing but we think this is a bit of a shame. Lobster rocks! Give it a go kids!

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This post was not sponsored, we have no links to the company and we paid our way. There are five branches of Burger and Lobster in Central London.

Please do not comment on the ethics of lobster eating…this is not the place for it. Thank you.

About a sprout

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These little green beauties have a DREADFUL reputation and we think it’s totally unfair. Why not give them a proper try so you know for yourself? They’re not bad at all – in fact we actually like them a lot in our house. Not convinced? You know the rules of Fab Fun Food Club – you have to at least try them, even if you find they genuinely are not for you. You might be surprised and they are very good for you, well apart from the fact they might make some of you FART (they only seem to do that to the dad in our family…yuck!!!)  You have been warned…

What are they?

Brussels sprouts are leafy green, small vegetables that look like mini-cabbages.  This is no coincidence as they are in fact related to cabbages. Think of it like a kind of vegetable family with cabbages being the parents and the sprouts being the kids. They are also related to broccoli and cauliflower – the cousins perhaps.

We’re not 100% sure why they have the Brussels bit in their name (Brussels is a city in Belgium if you didn’t know already) but it could be because they originated there or lots are grown there or they are very popular there.

Sprouts grow on stalks and if you look in a good greengrocer or the veg section in a larger supermarket they might sell them like this, although more often they are taken off the stalks and put into net bags. If you can, get your grown-up to buy the ones on stalks at least once as they will usually be fresher.

Clever people who know a lot about food, called nutritionists, often describe sprouts as a ‘super food’ as they are so good for you. They are absolutely jam-packed with nutrients – things you eat that help your body stay healthy.  Some of these are vitamins and some are minerals such as iron. You might well have read or been told, for example, that oranges are an excellent source of Vitamin C. Pah to that though – these little sprout guys would totally win in a fight with oranges about how much vit C they have – boasting levels three times higher.

What are they used for?

They are part of a traditional British Christmas lunch but we think they shouldn’t just be kept for Christmas. Enjoy them all year as a side dish/ veg with whatever else you are eating.

Ready to try them?

The good old-fashioned way:

Now the key here is to cook them properly – or to not over-cook them in fact – as then they don’t taste very good and that is probably why some people don’t like them. Boil your sprouts for about 5 to 10 minutes, no more. It’s a case of sticking a fork’s prongs into them and checking that it will go in but that they are not too soft.

One for sprout-haters:

Slice your sprouts finely and stir-fry or pan fry them in a little olive oil for about ten minutes. You can also add garlic or bacon or both. They are quite different to the ‘good old-fashioned boiled sprout’ this way.

Make a meal of them:

If you fancy something different to just a pile of sprouts, how about this yummy recipe for ‘Roasted Sprout Gratin with Bacon and Cheese‘ on the fabulous BBC Food site? It’s a lovely cheesy sprout bake.

Enjoy those sprouts…

Tell the Sunday Times what you think of your school dinners – courtesy of Kids’ Blog Club

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?

YUM! Home-made popcorn…

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. photo

Absolutely delicious when slightly warm and it’ll put any bagged popcorn to shame.

Your next food: Smashing spinach

Smashing spinach

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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.

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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.

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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)

Ingredients:

1 onion

2 cloves garlic

a splodge of olive oil (about two tablespoons if you want to measure it)

500g of broccoli chopped into chunks/ florets

250g spinach

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:

http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/3245/mushroom-and-spinach-risotto

SUPERBLY SPINACHY (AND CHEESY) LASAGNA

http://www.riverford.co.uk/feed/in:recipes/spinach-mushroom-lasagne/

Remember nothing ventured nothing gained is our motto at FFF. If you don’t like it, you won’t have lost anything.

Grandpancakes pancake batter recipe…our super-easy, no weighing scales needed recipe from Luca’s Grandpa

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!)

More photos to follow on Tuesday from us!  pancakes photo

We’d love to know what your favourite pancake topping is…ours are Nutella or Golden Syrup!

Restaurants: no more fish fingers/ chicken nuggets/ burger only kids’ menus please!

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:

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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:

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