October 2014.

27. Oct, 2014

This is a question that I hear all to often. In fact most days! Don't get me wrong, I love the fact that my son loves his food.  It was almost a formality that he did, with me beeing a chef.  People often ask if he eats well, and almost reluctantly I will tell them yes.  As I see all the pain and frustration written on their faces because theirs aren't.

 I know it can be difficult and that some children can really push those buttons, but they weren't born fussy eaters.  As they grow and are exposed to more foods it is natural that they wont take to things straight away. But try, try and try again and they will develop a taste for it.  Those first few months are crucial to set your set the boundaries.  

I do pretty much all the cooking at home, but when it came to doing the weaning and taste development that fell to my wife.  She was adamant that she wanted to do this for him.  And what a job she did!  A lot of what she tried came from Annabel Karmel.  This acted as a great starting point and then by watching and learning what things he liked to eat, introducing new things became easier.  Once this great grounding had been achieved and he was moving into more substantial meals his interest in our food really began to show as he grew.  So as soon as we could, at the weekends we would all eat together at a time that suited him.  By all of us eating the same food at the same time, he felt grown up and special.  It has always been important to us as a family to sit down together at the weekend as we live such busy lives and both work long hours through the week.  

Before long in the week he would ask what mummy and me would be having for dinner?  He would have his dinner at nursery and I think he felt a little left out as he always would ask as he was going to bed if we could save him some!  It was great to see that he had such a happy and positive attitude towards food and that all the hard work that my wife had done at the beginning had worked so well.  

Now as a seven year old he eats pretty well anything.  Loves all meats, fish and seafood. And vegetables often disappear off the plate first.  The past 12 months have seen him develop a taste for spices.  And if you live in Birmingham you really need to like your spices!  

I've always found that if I make the food interesting then he will be more interested in it.  Whether that is by the ingredients I use or the presentation method.  The other day when I gave him chicken and vegetables, the veg was cauliflower, green beans and cabbage. I used a whole Savoy cabbage leaf as a bowl for holding the rest of the veg, the chicken and the gravy.  As a spectacle fora 7 year old it hit the spot.  I'm not a believer of hiding vegetables in things but know that this is the only way sometimes with some children.  A classic bolognese is one of the easiest to hide veg in because they can be grated and almost melt into the tomato sauce.

I also like to bbq vegetables.  Peppers, asparagus, corn on the cob, mushrooms, aubergine are all great and in the summer time when the kids can see the vegetables on the grill and smell them cooking can generate a bit more interest.  

 If you are fortunate enough to grow your own produce, by involving your children in this will make them more likely to want to eat the finished product.  I know when we had our allotment that he couldn't wait to eat everything that we had harvested ourselves.  The berries never usually made it home.  I always try to forage a bit on holiday.  Whether it is blackberries, wild rocket and sea vegetables in the UK, wild oregano, lemons and fennel in Greece or almonds, figs and rosemary in Tuscany.  Picking these things with our kids makes them want to eat the results.  Which is great as it is fun and saves you a penny or two as well.

So really to best advice would be to try not to let them hold us to ransom with "I don't like that!"  Because if they try it, they may just like it.  They were born an empy book, it is our responsibility to write the recipes into those pages.  Let's not make it a menu for a fast food restaurant!

20. Oct, 2014

I suddenly remembered on Sunday morning that I needed to make some cakes to take to my sons rugby for their cake sale. Now as a chef you would think this should be no problem. And in theory it wasn't! Except for the fact that it was 730 in the morning, rugby started at 1030 and the usual 15 minutes journey would be at least doubled to account for the countless road diversions due to the half marathon being on. And the 2 other facts that had a pretty strong bearing on what I was going to bake!

  1. Was that I was busy tinkering with building and designing this site. Note to self, do this when you have more time as it is much easier and less rushed. 
  2. Was that I hadn't bought anything in to make said cakes for cake sale. Definate schoolboy error!

So frantic rummaging of cupboard ensued!

  • Oats
  • Sugar
  • Syrup
  • Butter
  • Popcorn
  • Coconut

A pretty good haul and I'm sure you can see where this is going! That's right, cupcakes! Oh flapjacks! Thankfully this is one of those recipes that is engrained in my brain. It's all about ratios! Or a football setup! Yes really, a football setup, 4-3-3! 

This is the ratio that will work for the base of all flapjacks.

  • 4 parts butter
  • 3 parts demerara sugar
  • 3 parts invert syrup of some sort. Golden syrup/honey/treacle or the likes

This can be weighed in ounces, pounds, grams, kilograms. All three of these ingredients need to be weighed out and put in the same pan, heated and bubbled up to a good lava consistency. You can add any ingredients at this stage combine with the syrup mix and then add in oats until you have the texture you want. Back to the ratio, for the oats, this will be around 6. This will be dependent on what other ingredients you have added. May be a bit more, may be a bit less.

So back to the ingredient list above. We know that it is a flapjack that I made, but what did I flavour it with. Doh! Popcorn and coconut obviously! That is true and it would have been easy to fold through popped corn and coconut, but no. That would have been to easy. So I decided to do coconut coated toffee popcorn flapjacks! How do you make the popcorn I hear you ask?

  • Pop the corn as normal
  • When popped remove from the pan.
  • Add some syrup, brown sugar and butter to the pan to make the toffee coating.
  • Add the popcorn back to the pan and stir till well coated. 
  • Now add some desiccated coconut to the popcorn and stir. This will now stick to the popcorn and be added to the flapjack mixture.
  • Decide on tin, mould, muffin tray. Grease and fill. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown at 160 fan, 180 normal, gas Mark 4-5.

They really were tasty little flapjacks and went down well at the sale. So what can we take from this little rambling? Don't try to do to much? Be more organised? Probably, but really the lesson is that flapjacks are really easy to make and are very versatile. It's all about 4-3-3!

Oh flapjacks!

20. Oct, 2014

For a chef Autumn is a fantastic season. The boundaries are limitless. The harvest of plentiful vegetables, autumn fruit, game and fungi are but some of the reasons that we love it. It is close enough to summer that we can get away with putting on a cheeky little salad on the menu. Why? Be at we can! Who doesn't like to reminisce about those long summer days spent on a far away beach or of a BBQ in the back garden with family and friends? I know as the nights draw in a memory of summer can be comforting.

 

But really, why look back when the future brings such bounty. Autumn as a chef is exciting. We get to put back on the menu slow cooked cuts of meat. Roasted root vegetables. Mushrooms of mystical appearance. Use the smoker to evoke the smells and sounds of autumn walks in the forest as the leaves fall and the tendrils of the smoky bonfire rise into the mist soaked air. Food isn't just about pie some ingredients on a plate, it's about creating an emotion. The look, the smells, the taste and the feeling all of these give us are to me the essence of enjoying food. Miss one or more of these out and it becomes a processed, film wrapped sandwich from the all night service station. Don't get me wrong it has its place, but it's just a little, limp cold and uninteresting.

 

When it comes to so much in cooking, keep it simple. Sometime people try to put loads of ingredients together and they think the more they use the better the result. When in reality it can often be the more they use the more expensive the pile of inedible food they throw in the bin. So here is my thought on a simple and tasty pasta supper. Use either a squash or pumpkin of your choice. Best result for getting the most flavour from them is to roast them. Cut into wedges, leave skin on, de seed drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cook your favourite pasta, I'm not going to be precious and tell you that you must use hand rolled fresh oricieti. In some good olive oil and butter soften some finely chopped shallot, garlic and sage. Add in the some of the squash once you have removed the skin and chopped it up. This is basically your sauce. The pasta now can 've tossed through this and served with shavings of parmesan and toasted pumpkin seeds. There are some elaborations to this. If you are a keen forager then some fresh nettles through the sauce are lovely.  

Another of my favourites at this time of year are Jerusalem artichokes. I love mashing these and putting them through mashed potatoes. Great with a nice bit of roast lamb. How about serving the 2 of these with some cavalo nero, Italian black cabbage. Sauteed with pancetta, olives and anchovies. Don't use the white marinated ones, keep them for a chilled glass of manzanilla sherry. Use A good time of anchovies in oil, some of the best are the Portuguese ones. Ortiz is a particularly favourite brand of mine if you can get a hold of them. Also don't be scared of the thought of using the little fishies with your lamb. You are in effect just using them as seasoning.