Friday, 27 September 2013

Real food for Little People

Recently we spent a week on holiday in Cornwall as a family. We stayed in a lovely stone cottage between St Ives and Lands End. We had a great week of hilly cycling as well as enjoying the beautiful beaches and stunning coastline.

One of the things we also enjoy whilst on holiday is going out to a restaurant for a meal. Now that our son is getting a little bit older it is nice for him to be able to enjoy the food on the menu too. He has always been a good eater ever since he started solids at 6 months. I have tried to cook all his meals from scratch and introduce him to as wide variety of foods as possible. Now at nearly 3 he has a very diverse palette. He loves fruit of any kind, will eat most vegetables and is very keen on fish, especially salmon. He really isn't fussy at all which as a mum is a real blessing. It also makes it a lot easier when we go out for a meal as it means he is happy to eat what we are having. Whilst on holiday we found a local pub and all had a delicious piece of smoked haddock with pesto mash, spinach and a poached egg. Our son really enjoyed it and they were happy to give us a child size portion at half the price. They had offered us the children's menu but it was the usual chicken nuggets and chips, sausages and chips and pasta. Why do a lot of pubs and restaurants assume that all children want to eat only fast foods? At what age do they progress to the adult menu and more varied tastes? Do they simply then move onto the burger and chips from the adult menu? I really want to encourage our son to try a variety of foods as he grows up and to be keen to try different tastes and flavours. I also really want restaurants to not take the easy choice and just serve burger and chips. If you have good food on the menu why not offer it to children? I was impressed with the other two places we chose to eat later in the week. The Cornish Deli in St Ives said that children could have a smaller portion of most of the foods on the main menu. We chose a haddock and leek chowder (a fish soup) for our son which came with freshly made bread. They said on their menu that they believed that 'little people should eat as well as big people'. I agree. On our final night we went to the Cornish Range in Mousehole. We have been there a couple of times before and the food is excellent and very refined. I really love the fact that they have a childrens menu that is just as good as the adults. It had salmon fillet, lemon sole goujons, risotto and even steak on offer. They all came with new potatoes and vegetables. I was happy for my son to choose any of those and he went for the risotto (which does happen to be his favourite!). He loved it so here are a couple of the great recipes he enjoyed that are suitable for both children and adults.

Haddock Chowder
3 Adult servings (or 2 adults and 2 children).

1 teaspoon of vegetable oil
1 large leek trimmed and finely sliced
1 medium potato cut into small cubes
400ml of whole milk
350g of smoked haddock, skin removed and cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon of finely chopped chives
Freshly ground pepper

Heat the oil in a saucepan over a medium heat
Add the leek and sweat for 5-10 minutes until soft
Add the potato and milk
Bring to the boil then cover and simmer for 15 minutes until the potato is tender (stir regularly)
 Add the fish and cook gently for a furthur 3-4 minutes until the fish is cooked
Stir in the chives and add pepper to taste

Parmesan and Pea risotto
Serves 3 adults or 2 adults and 2 children

1 teaspoon of vegetable oil
1 onion peeled and finely chopped
1 garlic clove peeled and crushed
225g of risotto rice
750ml of vegetable stock
30g parmesan cheese
Knob of butter
125g of frozen peas defrosted

Heat the oil in a medium pan
Add the onion and sweat for 5-10 minutes until softened but not golden
Add the garlic and rice and cook for another minute
Start adding the stock a ladle at a time. Bring to the boil  then reduce the heat and simmer stirring regularly
Keep the rest of the stock in a small saucepan on the hob so it stays on the boil
Continue adding the stock until the rice is cooked (tender but with a slight bite in the middle)
Stir in the peas and cook for a few more minutes
Stir in the knob of butter and parmesan
Season with black pepper

Another good risotto is mushroom, pea and parmesan.  After sweating the onion add 15g of dried porcini mushrooms that have been soaked in warm water for 30 minutes, along with 100g of fresh mushroomn (such as chestnut or button). Add the liquid from the soaked mushrooms after adding the rice.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

A Quick Guide to Slow Cooking

This week I was talking to a friend who told me she had just got a slow cooker. She was asking me what my favourite recipes were that I cooked in it. So I thought I would share two of my favourites here. We were given our slow cooker as a wedding present 7 years ago and I have probably used it at least once a week for those seven years. I will even take it on holiday if we are self catering. It is great to be able to put something like a stew or curry in it in the morning, go out for the day (or the morning) and come back to the delicious aroma of something warm and filling. It means that tea can be on the table within 15 minutes once the vegetables are done. 

Slow cooking means you can cook cheap cuts of meat such as braising or stewing steak. These meats which can be quite tough end up being tender and full of flavour. I also use it for chicken and turkey but these obviously need less cooking time.  I do have a slow cooker cookbook but have found that a lot of my favourite recipes have been dishes that are adapted from ones that are originally cooked on the hob or slow cooked in the oven (these two recipes below are). The main thing to remember if you do this is to reduce the amount of stock or water in the original recipe by half in the slow cooker.This is because the juice in meats and vegetables are retained more in slow cooking. It is a good idea to brown the meat first as this seals the juices in the meat and makes it more tender. It also caramelises the meat and improves the flavour of the finished dish. 

Beef and Apricot Stew.
Serves 4

1 teaspoon of vegetable oil
500g of lean stewing steak or braising steak cut into chunks
1 onion peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic peeled and crushed
100g of dried apricots chopped
50g of sundried tomatoes
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
250ml of stock
1 tablespoon of tomato puree

Heat the vegetable oil in a medium frying pan and brown the meat in two batches. Remove and place in the slow cooker
Add the onion  and garlic to the pan and cook for a few minutes until softened. 
Place into the slow cooker along with the apricots, sundried tomatoes, stock and tomato puree
Cook on high for 3-4 hours or low for 5-6 hours

Turkey Stew
Serves 4

1 teaspoon of vegetable oil
500g of turkey steak cut into chunks
1 onion peeled and chopped
1 clove of garlic peeled and crushed
1 tablespoon of garam masala
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
1 red pepper deseeded and chopped
1 tablespoon of tomato puree
250ml of chicken stock

Heat the oil in a medium frying pan, add the turkey and cook until browned
Add to the slow cooker
Add a little more oil to the pan and cook the onion for 5 minutes until softened 
Add the garlic and garam masala and cook for a furthur minute
Add to the slow cooker along with the tinned tomatoes, tomato puree, pepper and stock
Cook on high for 2-3 hours or low for 3-4 hours