Tuesday 6 December 2016

Recipes: Brenda Costigan on how to introduce your little ones to the pleasures of cooking

Simple recipes such as home-made pizza faces, meatball sandwiches and carrot cupcakes are healthy, delicious and great fun, says Brenda Costigan, not to mention being an easy way to introduce your little ones to the pleasures of cooking their own food from scratch

Published 26/06/2011 | 05:00

It is not always an easy task for parents to instil an interest in good food in their kids. We are frequently so pressed for time that often the attitude to a meal is to get it over with as quickly as possible. To quote D'Unbelievables: "We had the Sunday dinner at 8.30 in the morning to get it out of the way."

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One of the best ways to appreciate food is to cook it. I think the golden rule should be: never cook when you are pressed for time, because the process itself is what is most interesting to children. Make it a happy experience and then sit and eat the results, praising them for their efforts. Allowing children to help wash up and tidy the kitchen afterwards is another important factor.

Simple cooking with your children can start at a very young, even pre-school age, progressing to slightly more intricate recipes as they grow older. Ideally, set aside a fixed slot of time each week or month for a simple cook-in, and prepare to be amazed at how they will love it. Incorporating home-grown vegetables and fruit makes an even better impression and will hopefully put little ones on the right path for life.

Taking children to a farmers' market can be full of interest. Going to a pick-your-own-fruit farm is another experience worth doing.

Every autumn, blackberry picking was a family ritual when our children were young. On our return home, we made jam, the flavour of which was second to none. Each precious jar was treated with reverence and opened with great ceremony.

PIZZA FACES

Great fun can be gleaned from putting faces on a pizza. If you prefer, the base can be made with home-made pizza dough (see recipe below). Alternatively, you can buy ready-prepared small pizza bases, or another tasty idea is to use naan breads or pitta breads -- toast these first -- as a base for the individual pizzas.

You will need:

4 small pizza bases, approx 15-20cm (6-8in) in diameter, use ready-made or see the home-made pizza dough recipe below

Tomato topping (see recipe below)

175g (6oz) mixture of half grated Cheddar, half grated mozzarella

To make the faces, use a variety of the following suggestions:

Sliced chorizo for mouths or eyes

Thinly sliced red or green peppers for hair, mouths or ears

Black olives for eyes

Sliced pineapple rings, anchovy fillets or sliced ham for mouths

or eyebrows

Sliced mushrooms for ears

Preheat the oven to 220°C, 425°F, Gas 7.

To cook the pizzas, you will need to put them on flat baking tins, such as those you would use to cook a Swiss roll. If you have large baking tins, two should suffice, but the number of tins you will need will ultimately depend on how thinly you roll out the bases. Ideally, if you're using home-made pizza dough, preheat the tins in the oven, as doing so will cook the underneath of the pizzas more crisply. If you're using naan bread or pitta breads, toast these in a toaster first; there is no need to preheat the tins.

If you're using home-made pizza bases, the tins will be heating in the oven so place the bases on some lightly greased tinfoil when assembling them.

Spread each base with a thin layer of tomato topping. Sprinkle a little of the grated Cheddar and mozzarella mixture over the tomato layer. Using the suggestions above, decorate each base with a 'face' as desired -- get the kids to do this aspect in particular -- and then sprinkle a little more of the grated cheese mixture on top.

If you're using the home-made pizza dough, when the pizza is ready for the oven, slide the foil -- with the pizza, or pizzas, on top -- directly on to the piping hot tins. Bake for about 10-15 minutes or until the pizza bases are cooked and the tops are nicely golden.

TOMATO TOPPING

You can use your favourite jar of tomato sauce as a topping, if it's not too runny, or make this simple mixture instead.

You will need:

1 x 400g (14oz) tin chopped tomatoes or 400g (14oz) of passata

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

½ teaspoon dried oregano or Italian seasoning

½ teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon olive oil

To make the tomato topping, if you're using a tin of chopped tomatoes, strain the contents through a sieve. If you're using passata, it has already been strained, so you can skip this step. Mix in some salt and freshly ground black pepper, the dried oregano or Italian seasoning, whichever you are using, and the sugar and the olive oil. Spread the tomato topping thinly over the pizza bases.

HOME-MADE PIZZA DOUGH

Milk or water can be used to make this dough. Makes approximately four 15-20cm (6-8in) small pizza bases.

You will need:

350g (12oz) strong flour

7g (¼oz) quick-acting yeast

1 teaspoon sugar

½ teaspoon salt

225ml (8fl oz) milk or water

3 tablespoons olive oil

A little extra milk/water if necessary

Put the strong flour into a bowl and mix in the quick-acting yeast, the sugar and the salt. Heat half the milk or water, whichever you are using, and stir it back into the remaining cold half of milk or water, whichever you are using, to create a lukewarm liquid. Add the olive oil to the liquid. Add the liquid to the dry ingredients, and stir well or mix with your hands to make a dough. Once the dough has formed, the kneading can be done on a lightly floured board -- great fun can be had bashing the dough around for about 10 minutes! I use my strong electric mixer with the dough hook to do the work. If the dough is tough and dry, then add a little extra liquid. If, by chance, you add too much liquid and make a very sticky dough, then simply add a little more flour. When the dough has been kneaded sufficently, put it back into the bowl, cover with a wet tea towel and leave to stand for about one hour until the dough doubles in size.

Then knock back the dough -- this means kneading it quickly until it reduces back to its original size. (The dough can be frozen at this stage if required.) Divide the dough in four, shape into balls and roll out into thin circles about 15-20cm (6-8in) in diameter. Place the circles on lightly oiled tinfoil and leave them to rise again for a short while, then use.

MEATBALL SANDWICH

Inspired by a recipe of Jamie Oliver's, these meatballs don't contain onion. Put them into soft bread rolls with lettuce, coleslaw and some cheese for a tasty meal. They are suitable for a picnic if you allow the meatballs to cool before assembling into a sandwich. Serves 4-6.

You will need:

500g (18oz) good-quality minced beef

Handful of finely chopped fresh basil leaves or ½ teaspoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon wholegrain mustard

Finely grated zest of half a lemon

1 egg yolk

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

4-6 slices pancetta or streaky bacon

4-6 large rolls or ciabatta loaves

2 tablespoons shredded lettuce leaves

4-6 tablespoons coleslaw

4-6 small tablespoons grated Cheddar

Preheat the oven to 180°C, 350°F, Gas 4. Heat a flat baking tin in the oven.

Put the minced beef and the finely chopped fresh basil or dried oregano, whichever you are using, into a bowl. Add the wholegrain mustard, the finely grated lemon zest, the egg yolk, salt and freshly ground black pepper, and one tablespoon of the olive oil. Mix everything well, ideally using your hands, to thoroughly combine all the ingredients.

Divide the mixture into four, then divide each portion into four smaller portions. The kids can have good fun shaping these into meatballs. Put the remaining olive oil into the pan and fry the meatballs a few at a time, shaking them gently around the pan to keep their round shape. Transfer the meatballs to the hot tin and put it into the oven to continue the cooking process. When all the meatballs are fried, fry the pancetta or streaky rashers, whichever you are using, until they are crispy.

To serve, slit open the rolls or ciabatta loaves, whichever you are using, and drizzle with a little extra olive oil. Sprinkle the shredded lettuce leaves over the base side, spoon the coleslaw on top followed by the meatballs, the crispy fried pancetta or rashers, and finally the grated Cheddar. Cover with the top of the roll and press down to close. Then eat!

CARROT CUPCAKES

It is a well accepted fact that if fibre is included in a recipe that contains sugar, the fibre slows down the release of the sugar into the system -- a much healthier state of affairs. Carrots and sultanas provide the fibre in this recipe.

You will need:

75g (3oz) soft butter, not hard from the fridge

75g (3oz) caster sugar

2 small eggs

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

125g (4½oz) self-raising flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

75g (3oz) grated carrots

For icing (optional), you will need:

110g (4 oz) icing sugar

A little water

Smarties or liquorice allsorts, to make faces

Use a 12-cup bun tray lined with paper bun cases. Preheat the oven to 190°C, 375°F, Gas 5.

Providing the butter is nice and soft, most of the ingredients can be put into the bowl and mixed together.

Put the soft butter, the caster sugar, the eggs, the vanilla extract, the self-raising flour and the baking powder into a bowl and beat with an electric mixer for about two minutes until nice and creamy. Then stir in the grated carrots. Divide the mixture between the paper cases and bake in the oven for about 15-20 minutes or until they are well risen. Cool on a wire tray.

To make the icing, if you are using it, sift the icing sugar into a bowl and add just enough of the water to make a thickish paste.

Spread the icing on to the buns when they are cold and, to make faces, decorate with Smarties or liquorice allsorts.

L

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