Summer cooking with children

Summer Fruit

Summer Fruit

With a couple of weeks of the long holiday still to go, perhaps you’re looking for a few more ideas of things to do with the children this summer?!  Spending time in the kitchen might not be your first thought in the hot weather but cooking is an exciting and rewarding activity for children and you can certainly enjoy eating the delicious food you make with them outside in the sunshine even if the cooking is done inside.Many of us will remember cooking as a child with a parent or grandparent.  I have fond memories of baking with my mother or, if I’m totally honest, of licking the spoon and dipping my finger in the cake mixture but I did also learn key basic baking skills and started a life-long passion for cooking.

Although it would be true to say that cooking with children requires time and patience and there will inevitably be extra clearing-up and cleaning to consider, the rewards are well worth the effort.  It is well-documented that when children are involved in the preparation and cooking of food, they are more likely to eat it.  With today’s concerns about children’s nutrition it is now more important than ever to get them interested in trying healthy foods and children who learn to cook and eat well are also more likely to eat healthily as adults.  All in all cooking with your children is quality time spent together on a fun, hands-on, creative and ultimately valuable activity. 

It’s worth remembering that the whole process is a learning experience for children.  From the planning, shopping, weighing-out and preparation of ingredients to following a method, cooking techniques and skills, food hygiene and information about food sources and production, not to mention the tasting, the learning opportunities are plentiful.  Even children under the age of five can help with many of the activities; there is never a too young to get involved in the kitchen and of course never a too young to help with the clearing up! 

With the abundance of fresh vegetables, salad and fruit at this time of year, the summer is an ideal time to get children involved in the kitchen.  We’ve put together some seasonal recipes for you to make with your children or grandchildren this month. 

Encourage your children to eat more fruit by making these non-alcoholic cocktails with them.  Children will enjoy using the blender (under supervision of course!) and the idea of mixing up a ‘cocktail’ is sure to appeal!    

Shaken or stirred!

Children will also love making berry fruit jellies as they can be creative about choosing their own combination of fruit and layering it before pouring over the jelly and allowing it to set.  You can use a packet of jelly or try making your own using fruit juice and leaf gelatine.  For younger children, try making fruit kebabs allowing your child to come up with different combinations and sequences with the fruit.  For a little luxury, these could be served with a chocolate dipping sauce (white chocolate is particularly popular with children).  Fruit smoothies or fruit juice frozen in lolly moulds is a great treat when the weather is hot or try making a fruit sorbet, a winner with children and adults alike.   

Jelly & Sorbet!

Need an idea for a picnic or a tasty snack to take on a day out in the holidays?  Why not get your children to make these cereal bars for the family?  

Making burgers to cook on the barbecue in the summer is another great idea whatever your age.  Home-made burgers taste so much better than shop-bought ones and are really very simple to make.  The seasoning and additional flavours in this recipe can be adapted to suit individual tastes.

I remember making this lemon pudding as a child and we ate it both warm in the winter with pouring cream and cold in the summer with fresh berries.  It might not be particularly healthy but it does involve many cooking techniques for children to begin to get to grips with!

No cook cheesecake is another great idea to make with children.  To make the base, ask children to crush biscuits (place into a freezer bag, seal and encourage them to crush enthusiastically with a rolling pin!) and then help them to stir the biscuit crumbs into melted butter (the butter could be melted in the microwave rather than the hob if wanted).  Press down firmly in the tin before adding a creamy cheesecake topping.

Happy cooking!

Next month: Tips on which drinks to serve at a late summer party.

 

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Blooming marvellous!

MarigoldsIt seems that using flowers in food and cooking has, well, blossomed in the last few years!  That’s not to say there is anything new in the idea though; in fact, flowers have been part of world cuisines for as long as some vegetables and fruit.  They’ve been used in the same way as herbs and spices to complement, enhance, add flavour to food or bring a splash of colour to the plate.  We know that roses were used in both cooking and medicine in Ancient Rome and violets and primroses have been eaten since the Middle Ages.  Flowers were particularly popular additions to salads in the Victorian era.  Saffron has long been used in world cooking to add both flavour and colour to food; just think Spanish paellas, Italian risottos, French bouillabaisses and Indian biryanis. 

Elderflowers

There are severaPimmsl familiar examples in our own food heritage.  Elderflower, used for cordials or wine, is an obvious example but who else remembers putting borage in their Pimms?  With a taste similar to cucumber, the leaves in particular work well in the classic summer drink but the slight peppery taste of the flowers means they have had a culinary use in this country since Medieval times. 

Nasturtiums

Another spicy tasting and versatile plant, the nasturtium was introduced into Europe in about the 18th century and has been used in cooking ever since.  The flowers and leaves are great in salads and the seed pods can be dried, ground and used as an alternative to pepper or soaked in vinegar and used as a substitute for capers (they are sometimes even referred to as ‘poor man’s capers’).  Nasturtium leaves are sometimes used as an interesting alternative to basil in a homemade pesto.          

Edible flowers are so much more than a pretty garnish.  Why not try some of these ideas:

  • Chive flowers look great on a potato salad but like the stems they have a subtle onion flavour that works particularly well with the earthy taste of new potatoes or try using the blossom to flavour a pot of sea salt
  • Use flowers to flavour vinaigrettes or marinades – basil or thyme flowers work well
  • Or try crushing peppery nasturtiums or citrus flavoured marigolds and mixing into softened butterDaylily
  • Daylilies have been eaten in China for centuries.  The flower buds add a lovely crunch to salads or try them sautéed or stir fried with vegetables

Courgette Flowers

Stuffed courgette flowers are popular in Mediterranean cuisines.  Try stuffing them with ricotta and herbs and deep-frying in an airy, light batter

Pink Rose

Rose petals are often used in desserts as their scented flavour works well in sweet recipe (Turkish Delight is an obvious example).  The best tasting roses are, of course, those with the best scent.  Try making rose petal jam or steep the petals in sugar syrup and use to poach strawberries or peaches

  • Infuse cream with chamomile before whipping to add another dimension to desserts, particularly good served with summer berries

LavendLavenderer is another versatile flower in cooking.  The flavour works well in both sweet and savoury dishes.  It is often paired with lemon; try making lavender shortbreads to serve with lemon posset or try roasting with a joint of lamb  

  • Crush pansies or violets and use to flavour buttercream.  Delicious on cup cakes or between layers of a sponge cake

Elderflower Cordial

  • Elderflowers make such a delicious cordial that it is a must-make each year in our kitchen but we also use the flower heads in the same way as rose petals, to flavour poaching syrups and liqueurs
  • We were first introduced to the idea of putting hibiscus flowers in champagne in Australia but jars of the flower buds preserved in syrup and ready to pop into a glass are now widely available in this country
  • Many edible flowers make lovely floral teas.  Calendula, chamomile, rose, rose geranium and hibiscus to name just a few.  Use on their own or combine with fruit or herbs

The flowers included above are probably the ones we use most often in the kitchen but there are many more out there.  We should point out that if you do use flowers in your cooking then make sure they have not been sprayed with pesticides etc. and rinse them well if you have foraged from the wild.  Better still, grow your own then you’ll know what they’ve been exposed to!  There is wealth of information available on edible flowers but remember; never eat a plant that you can’t identify and if you are eating something for the first time, it is perhaps sensible to try a small amount just in case you discover it disagrees with you!    

Enjoy the sun and happy cooking!  

We dream of summer…

 

It’s been a long time coming but finally we’ve had a few days when we can start to believe that midsummer’s day is just around the corner!  Perhaps we should be cautious about mentioning it in case it dives back behind the clouds again but this first glimpse of the summer sun has us dreaming of lazy days spent out in the countryside or at the coast and sees us grabbing the picnic hamper and making plans for a trip into the great outdoors.  With the start of the festival season this month and Wimbledon, Henley and Ascot among other open-air events, we’ve been thinking about our favourite picnic foods and looking at new ideas for tasty treats to take on summer outings.

Whether it’s an intimate occasion between two people, a family get-together or a larger public gathering; the picnic itself is a prominent part of a planned day out.  Long associated with the idea of a shared meal to which everyone involved contributes, picnicking has also become linked with public events such as open-air theatre performances or concerts and with seeking out beauty ‘spots’ and places with a view.  Traditionally, picnic food is cold and designed to be eaten without the need for plates and cutlery although more elaborate and complicated meals emerge from the picnic boxes, cool-bags and hampers these days. 

Click here for summer salad recipes – perfect for picnics!

Here are our top tips for the perfect picnic:

  • choose food that travels well.  It might seem obvious but there’s little point planning to take anything delicate when you’re going to have to carry it for any distance on your back in a rucksack! 
  • summery salads packed with seasonal and interesting flavours are great but try to avoid anything too soggy; choose robust ingredients that will hold their shape.
  • think about the length of time food is going to be out of the fridge and if it can’t be kept cool adequately avoid taking high-risk foods such as salads with mayonnaise dressings
  • cold meats or fish, pork pies, scotch eggs, quiches and tarts are classic but for good reason; they travel well and form a good basis to build a meal around.  Try taking wedges of frittata for the same reasons
  • utilise flasks for chilled soups or even cocktails
  • frozen bottles of water double as drinks and cold blocks
  • wedges of watermelon are refreshing additions to any picnic
  • it’s hard to beat strawberries, raspberries and cherries during the summer months 
  • chocolate doesn’t travel or keep well on hot days, take slices of cake, fruit loaf or biscuits instead
  • don’t forget to include a bottle of champagne, sparkling wine or prosecco!
  • plan carefully and if you’ve judged it correctly you won’t have too much to carry back!

Here’s hoping the sun will come out another day very soon!

A taste of the season!

We’re still in time for a couple of highlights of the late spring/early summer growing season and two firm favourites with the ffO team.

Asparagus spears!

Asparagus has always been a prized ingredient mostly because it’s in season for such a short time in the year.  Coveted by the Romans, the spears usually make an appearance in early May and for around eight weeks they are pared and trimmed, steamed and grilled and enjoyed by people all over the country (here we’re talking about the green variety rather than the white that is favoured on the continent).  This year, the prolonged wet weather earlier in the season meant that the asparagus has been a bit later in making a show but that does mean we’ve still got time to savour the taste!  (The heavy rain has had another, rather unfortunate, effect on the crop, kicking sand and grit up into the tips resulting in the need for lots of rinsing…sigh!)           

Here in the ffO Kitchen we use asparagus in many different ways across our menus but at home we think British asparagus should be enjoyed simply; lightly steamed and then drizzled with melted butter and seasoned with salt and black pepper.  We might also char grill a few spears on the barbecue (if we get a break between showers!) and serve drizzled with olive oil and shavings of pecorino.    

Rhubarb & Ginger Ice Cream

Another favourite of ours, (although a bit like Marmite for some!) and in season for a bit longer than asparagus (hurrah!) is rhubarb.  Some of you might have been enjoying forced rhubarb for some time already this year but field grown rhubarb is being harvested now and should be available for the next couple of months.  For some, forced rhubarb is superior with its tender stems and delicate flavour.  Field rhubarb generally has a more robust texture and taste and often needs more sugar to counter the acidity.  To be honest though, we really can’t get enough of either so the longer the season the better in our mind! 

We always make a few batches of rhubarb and ginger ice-cream at this time of year, experimenting with quantities of sugar, ginger and ginger syrup to get the perfect result!  Remember; when making ice cream some of the flavour is ‘lost’ in the freezing so make sure you achieve a good strong taste before you turn it to ice!  We start with a custard base and add puréed rhubarb and small chunks of stem ginger and extra syrup to taste before churning in an ice cream maker.  Delicious!

Incidentally, experimenting with ice cream flavours is not a new trend.  According to food historian Jeri Quinzio, we’ve been trying different ingredient combination since the 17th and 18th centuries, including brown or rye bread, cheese, rose petals, foie gras and… asparagus!  (Jeri Quinzio in the essay ‘Asparagus Ice Cream, Anyone?’ from the Spring 2002 edition of Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, Vol.2 No.2)  http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/gfc.2002.2.2.63

What’s good to cook and eat now.

Among other ingredients in season and at their best at this time of year, look out for the following over the next few weeks: 

  • Asparagus (cook and eat it as soon as you can after buying but watch out for gritty tips after all the rain!)
  • Rhubarb (ice cream, crumble, compote, fool, stewed, with custard… also excellent with oily fish such as mackerel, don’t just think desserts!)
  • New Potatoes (particularly Jersey Royals)
  • Wild Nettles (pick and cook when young as they will be tender and less bitter than older plants)
  • Herbs & Salad Leaves (particularly Chervil, Parsley, Chives, Mint, Chicory, Rocket & Sorrel)
  • Elderflowers (around and ready to pick now for cordials and fritters!)