Wednesday 29 January 2020

child's play

Involving children in cooking simple recipes is a great way of getting them to appreciate good food and healthy eating, says Brenda Costigan. And they'll learn to tidy up, too

Brenda Costigan

I really love to cook with my grandchildren when they come to visit, letting them weigh out, mix and mash the ingredients. We have great fun and, of course, cooking is a valuable life skill that helps children develop their independence. It also gives them a better appreciation of healthy, home-produced food as opposed to ready-prepared, packet items. The golden rule: have plenty of time on your hands -- never involve them when you are in a hurry because the process itself is what is most interesting to children. Make cooking a happy experience and sit and eat the results, praising the little ones for their efforts. Washing and tidying up the kitchen afterwards is another important factor not to be overlooked, even though a parent would do it in a quarter of the time by themselves. Cooking with your children can start at a very young age with something simple, and can continue with more intricate recipes as they grow older. Ideally, set aside a regular fixed slot of time for a simple 'cook-in' and be amazed how they love it.


This sauce gives a good, rich flavour, and it is also suitable for spreading on a pizza. A finely chopped rasher can be added for extra flavour. Tinned, chopped tomatoes are handier to use in the winter; in summer, fresh tomatoes can be used. Makes about 600ml (1pt). Serve with meatballs, see below, or chicken.

You will need:

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

1 X 400g (14oz) tin chopped tomatoes or 350g (3/4lb) fresh tomatoes

¼-½ teaspoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon tomato puree

300ml (½ pt) chicken or beef stock

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1-2 teaspoons sugar (or more to taste)

½-1 teaspoonful balsamic vinegar (optional)

1 tablespoon butter (optional)

1 tablespoon flour (optional)

In a saucepan, fry the finely chopped onion and the chopped garlic in the olive oil until they become soft. Add the chopped tomatoes, the dried oregano, the tomato puree and the chicken or beef stock, whichever you're using. Season well with some salt and freshly ground black pepper, and add the sugar. Bring to the boil and simmer for a few minutes, then add the balsamic vinegar, if you are using it. Take the saucepan off the heat until the sauce is required.

If the sauce is not thick enough for your taste, make some kneaded butter by mashing the butter with the flour. Then drop small pieces of this paste into the simmering sauce.

Use the sauce as required or, when cooled, cover it and store it in the fridge.



Delightful little meatballs, shaped by clean hands, are great fun for all ages to make. Needless to say, the frying should only be done by an older child or parent. Once fried in the pan, they are put into a tomato sauce and heated thoroughly, then served with cooked spaghetti. For speed and ease, I suggest using a jar of ready-made tomato sauce or use my thick tomato sauce, above. Serves 4-6.

You will need:

450g (1lb) lean minced beef

1 small onion, finely chopped

25g (1oz) breadcrumbs

¼ teaspoon mixed herbs

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 large egg

1 tablespoon tomato ketchup

3-4 tablespoons olive oil or corn oil

1 jar ready-made tomato sauce, or thick tomato sauce, see above

350g (12oz) spaghetti

1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan cheese, to serve (optional)

Put the lean minced meat into a bowl. Add the finely chopped onion and the breadcrumbs. Then add the mixed herbs, some salt and freshly ground black pepper, the large egg and the tomato ketchup. Mix everything together thoroughly. If you prefer, use your hands to mix and squeeze all of the ingredients together.

Put a heaped teaspoon of the mixture into the palm of your hand and then, using both your hands, roll the mixture into a ball about the size of a large marble. Lay the meatballs side by side on a board. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and fry 3-5 meatballs at a time, gently shaking the pan so that they don't lose their nice round shape.

Meanwhile, put the ready-made tomato sauce or the thick tomato sauce, whichever you're using, into a saucepan and heat gently. When they are browned, lift the meatballs out of the pan with a perforated spoon. Put them into the tomato sauce and heat gently with the lid on until the meatballs are piping hot and cooked through. Cook the spaghetti according to the instructions on the packet, in plenty of boiling salted water, until it is al dente: just tender, not mushy. Drain well.

To serve, put some spaghetti on each plate, spoon on the meatballs and sauce, and sprinkle some grated Parmesan cheese on top, if you're using it.

Fish FIngers

The home-made crusty breadcrumb coating on the finger-like pieces of fish will taste rather bland unless everything is well seasoned. If it is, then these are delightful to eat. Serves 4-5.

You will need:

450g (1lb) skinless fillets of white fish such as cod, haddock or whiting

2 tablespoons white flour

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 large egg

110g (4oz) white breadcrumbs

1 tablespoon freshly and finely grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

A few pinches dried oregano (optional)

Olive oil for frying

Mayonnaise, to serve

Cut the skinless fillets of white fish into finger-like pieces. Put the white flour into a bowl and season with a little salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Dip the fingers of fish into it, one at a time, then shake them well to remove all the loose flour. Place on a board or plate. Whisk the egg and season it lightly with some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Put the white breadcrumbs in another wide dish and mix in the finely grated Parmesan cheese and the dried oregano, if you are using it. Season lightly with some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Dip the lightly floured fingers of fish into the beaten egg, one at a time, holding them up to allow the excess egg to drain off, then dip into the breadcrumbs, turning over to coat each fish finger evenly. Lift up the fingers to allow the excess breadcrumbs to drop off, then press the breadcrumbs firmly in place on the fish. Put the fingers on a board or plate side by side -- do not stack them or they can become soggy.

The fish fingers can either be fried or oven cooked. To fry, heat about 2.5cm (1in) depth of olive oil in a frying pan until it is piping hot and gently put in four fish fingers at a time. Fry them until they are golden and crispy all over. Add more olive oil to the pan if necessary. Don't put too many fish fingers in the pan at one time as this will lower the temperature of the oil, and the fish fingers will not become crispy. Put the fried fish fingers on to sheets of kitchen paper to drain. Then put them in the oven until you're ready to serve them.

To cook in the oven, preheat the oven to 190°C, 375°F, Gas 6. Arrange the crumbed fish fingers in a baking tin and bake for 15-20 minutes until the fish fingers are firm to the touch and the crumb coating has turned a lovely golden brown.

Serve with mayonnaise.


This is a quick and easy recipe that requires no electric mixer.

Ideally, use ripe bananas because they are softer and sweeter. Use a regular, 12-cup bun tray to make these muffins -- not a big muffin tray -- and put paper bun-cases in it.

You will need:

225g (8oz) self-raising white flour

1 level teaspoon baking powder

110g (4oz) porridge oatflakes

50g (2oz) caster sugar

50g (2oz) fresh blueberries or raisins

50g (2oz) chopped almonds, toasted

150-175g (5-6oz) ripe bananas, peeled

1 egg, lightly beaten

3-5 tablespoons milk

50g (2oz) melted butter

12-cup bun tray, paper bun cases

Porridge oatflakes for sprinkling

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

Sift the self-raising white flour and baking powder into a bowl and stir in the porridge oatflakes, the caster sugar, the fresh blueberries or the raisins, whichever you are using, and the toasted chopped almonds.

In another bowl, mash the peeled ripe bananas to a rough puree. Stir in the lightly beaten egg, the milk and the melted butter. Then, add the banana puree to the dry ingredients.

Mix to a soft dough, adding a little extra milk if the mixture is dry. Spoon the dough into the paper bun cases in the bun tray and sprinkle some oatflakes on top of each muffin.

Bake for about 15 minutes until the muffins are well risen and golden. Transfer them to a wire tray to cool.

These muffins can be stored in an airtight container for up to two days.


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