Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Sad lonely cook makes raspberry ripple porridge

Sad lonely cook

This is going to sound so sad but I'm just gonna say it. I miss my wife. She's away with work for a few days and I've hated every minute of it. We have never spent more than a night apart and it has made me realise something. Men are boring. Well this one is anyway. When my wife is home I'm interested in all sorts of things, art, culture, current affairs, gossip. Without her I play on my daughter's xbox and go to bed early with no interest in anything. Told you I was sad!

Since Friday we have eaten lovely scrambled eggs on toast, homemade cheeseburger and fries and spaghetti with my own version of pesto which is just like regular pesto but with a handful of spinach, lemon zest, dried chilli, anchovy and a few pumpkin and sunflower seeds instead of pine nuts. I used the seeds as they are much cheaper and are a fine substitute. The spinach is a great opportunity to hide something super healthy in a dish. They don't notice any difference. Suckers!

My 'other' kids are driving me nuts at the moment. They are spoilt rotton. I made homemade cheeseburgers for them on Monday and added a little thyme to the meat to season and they didn't like them! The staff consensus was that they were a fine burger, big, juicy and so good...kids eh! 

Raspberry ripple porridge

Let's be honest, porridge has got an image problem. I don't know why as its cheap, versatile, healthy and delicious. I've adapted this lovely recipe from a chain of porridge bars called Stoats, who are doing a roaring trade selling the stuff. If your kids are like mine (well, like my youngest, Seren) then they will mock vomit at the mention of porridge. Its all about branding with these darn kids...so could anyone out there come up with an alternative name?

Serves 2
100g porridge oats
50g sugar
500ml water
100ml milk
Handful of raspberries
2 tbsp cream
Squeeze of honey
Squeeze of raspberry sauce*

1) In a large, non stick sauce pan, toast the oats over a medium flame, stirring often, for a few minutes. Add the sugar and let it melt but not burn. Keep some of this to sprinkle over the top.
2) Add the liquids and let boil, then simmer for about 10 minutes.
3) Add the raspberries, cream, honey and sauce and stir in. Eat straight away. 

*Make up some raspberry sauce by simmering 500g frozen raspberries with 100ml water, 100ml sugar, a sprig of mint and a squeeze of lime and then sieve. Keeps for ages in the fridge and can be used on ice cream and anything else you might fancy. Champagne cocktail springs to mind but thats another blog entirely... 

Friday, 24 June 2011

A tough week

Before I go on I need you to know that the things I love most in life are my family and lovely food. I think about food every 6 seconds for goodness sake and so you must assume that we dine like kings every night. My food week at home hasn't been great. Monday and Wednesday was a repeat of Thai noodle salad, Tuesday spaghetti with tomato sauce and Thursday hotdogs. No not organic Gloucester old spot outdoor reared sausage in a sourdough roll. Nasty pink things from a tin in a white floury finger roll. Today I'm leaving the fridge door open and having myself a G&T! In my defence your honour, i've been exhausted and feel like millions of other parents: what to do day in day out when you are both at work and are bored with the same things. So therefore, I feel it is a bit of a challenge, feeding your kids well, each day. Well it is for me. And I love food. And I'm a chef.

However, my food week at work has been a little more positive. We tried the Thai noodle salad and the response was lukewarm, which to me is a success. Its only when they are doing mock throwing up do I ditch an idea. Today has been great as the cooks of other schools in the area had a training session where we tried and tested some school dinner favourites. It was a showdown between 'homecooked' and 'industrially produced alternatives'. Thankfully, we all agreed that the homemade versions of chicken curry, bolognaise and pizza were much tastier. I know it might seem like a no brainer but lots of schools still rely on the expensive, nutritionally dubious, industrial versions over homecooked. I think today has shown people that these dishes when cooked from scratch are so much better, cheaper and can be fitted into the cook's working day.

It is my hope that over the next few weeks that I can scale down my recipes for chicken dhansak and thai salmon fishcakes, homemade beefburger and the legendary meatball melt and give them to you. Then you will have a taste of the direction of new school dinners, well the ones in south Wales anyway.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Thai Noodle Salad

On the one hand I love spending hours in the kitchen preparing meals for the family and then somedays I want to be able to prepare something that requires minimal input. Not much time or inclination to be in the kitchen today and as a result made this Thai noodle salad for Seren, my youngest daughter. She loves stir fry but not too keen on salads so I took a bit of a risk. She was very enthusiastic about the ingredients that I was putting in it as I got her to shell a few fresh peas and broad beans. Most children love spicy foods and this salad is just that and beautifully fragrant as well. Seren ate about half of it and says it was "ok but needs improving". I on the other hand thought it was stunning!

My 'other' children had sausage dinner with onion gravy today. The only element of it that I need to work on or source is the sausages. At best a good pork sausage is hard to beat if made with quality ingredients and at worst they represent all that is wrong with the food industry. We are working our way from the latter to the former and I will return to the matter of sausages another time.

Thai Noodle Salad

Thai food is characterised by vibrant colours, a variety of textures and flavours that are hot, salty, sour and sweet and my opinion is one of the great cuisines of the world. This salad encapsulates all of those senses. Do not restrict yourself to the vegetables i've used - use what you like (mango is good). However, to ensure a Thai flavour use the dressing ingredients I've listed and also the herbs to give a beautiful fragrance.

Serves 2, take 3 minutes and costs around £1.20 per portion

200g cold ready cooked rice noodles
1/2 red pepper, finely sliced
handful of shelled peas and broad beans
small piece of cucumber, cut into quaters
small handful of coriander, chopped
3 mint leaves, chopped
1/4 red chilli, chopped
small handful of nuts (dry fry in a pan for 2 mins with a pinch of salt)
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp fish sauce
juice of 1 lime
1 tbsp caster sugar
few dashes of sesame oil

1) In a large bowl put all the dressing ingredients together and stir to dissolve the sugar
2) Add all the other ingredients and toss together. Leave for 10 minutes for the flavours to mingle. Simple as that!

Sunday, 19 June 2011

A realistic picture - Raspberry Sundae

Talking with other parents recently has given me some food for thought. The majority of them say that they don't necessarily think that trying to cook good food for your family each day is a 'challenge'. "Its what we do". Fair enough. However, is this a general portrait of family life in the UK or does it represent a minority of middle class stereotypes who have the social access to sources of good food? I'm going to stick my neck out and say that its the latter. My personal and professional experience combined with some statistics indicate that it is a struggle to feed your family well, particularly in tough economic times. Does anybody else think this is the case?

Leading food journalist Joanna Blythman noted that 2003 was the year that the UK ate more ready meals than the rest of Europe put together. A statistic, no doubt, attributed to a growing supermarket culture that actively promotes cheap alternatives to fresh food.

If people are happy doing this then I am not making any judgements and if you are in the kitchen cooking up a storm for your family then good for you. But I think there may be a few parents out there who are fed up with the monotony of what they cook or may not know how to cook. This blog is my personal thoughts on food issues and some recipes I feed my family and kids at school. They may be of use to other people.

On a lighter note, today is Father's Day and my wife is on her way home. I am making tomato and buffalo mozzarella bruschetta followed by Spaghetti Pangratatto and a Raspberry Knickerbockerglory for pud.

No recipes needed today, just a few guidelines. With the bruschetta, simply toast some ciabatta or white loaf, rub some garlic on add a drizzle of olive oil and spoon some tomatoes chopped with mozzarella and basil over. The recipe for Spaghetti Pangratatto I gave recently and for pudding a Knickerbockerglory. Now this needs no rules and can contain whatever you like. Mine is layers of vanilla ice cream, crushed meringue, fresh raspberries, kiwi fruit, whipped cream and raspberry sauce. The sauce is easily made by simmering a 500g bag of frozen raspberries, or mixed berries (much cheaper at 80p and is what i've used today) with 100g caster sugar and 100ml water. Push contents through a sieve and leave to cool

Happy Father's Day!

Saturday, 18 June 2011

A great day out - McDonalds

All i'm going to do is list what we've eaten today. I have no real opinion right now on junk food as i'm exhausted - been at Oakwood Park all day and i'm blinking knackered

Crunchy nut cornflakes

A packed lunch, wraps, crisps, apple, water

Burger, fries and shake from Ronald McDonald himself

I feel that's OK in the context of things.

Friday, 17 June 2011

School Dinners - Pizza Margherita

Part of my professional life is managing the catering at a large comprehensive school. I took over in January 2010 with the mandate and freedom to transform the school's food. You'd be forgiven for thinking that your kids meals are improving, particularly after the shame of 'Jamie's School Dinners'. There are many reasons why things haven't changed much across the UK. The current guidelines are not legislation and the caterers range from enthusiastic, to well intentioned to downright opposed to changes in their working day. Its a bit of a lottery which cook your kids school has got. Anyway its complicated.

I'm very fortunate that my school wants the kids to eat healthily and the food that we now serve is fantastic. The vast majority of it is made from scratch with a minimal reliance on processed items. We are almost there in terms of our menu having a nutritional 'green light', just a few tweaks here and there. I have been able to prove that all of this is relatively straight forward and not the palaver others make it out to be, although we have had our ups and downs.

The best part and also the most frustrating is getting the kids to try new things and to have them involved in the process, last year we had pupils in the canteen making and serving chocolate and butternut squash cupcakes which was great fun. However, it is heartbreaking to see my Thai salmon fishcakes being wasted. But we are getting there and its safe to say that there's not a smiley potato face or a turkey twizzler in sight.

Today is chip day. Fish and chips or homemade pizza and chips, with the option of salad or peas. I'm not cooking tonight but one of the advantages of having great school food is that I can bring home the occassional meal for my kids. So pizza it is then. Here is my recipe for pizza marguerita.

Pizza Margherita

Home made cheese and tomato pizza is amazing. My advice is to keep it simple. Kids just love making this as it teaches them how to make bread and shows them how healthy pizza can be when you make it yourself. Beats a takeaway anyday!

Makes 4 six inch pizza’s

For the bread dough:

  • 500g strong bread four
  • 330 ml warm water
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 7g sachet yeast
  • 1 tsp salt

For the pizza:

  • 8 tbsp tomato sauce (the recipe I gave recently or make your own simple version by frying 1 sliced clove garlic in 1 tsp oil, add a small tin of chopped tomatoes and a tbsp of tomato puree)
  • 2 x mozzarella cheese balls (sliced up)
  • Bunch of basil
  • Any additional toppings you fancy
1)    First make the dough by putting the flour, salt, yeast and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Add the water and mix to a dough. Knead for 10 minutes then cover and put somewhere warm until it doubles in size. Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius.

2)    Knock back the dough, divide into 4 and then roll out into a 6 inch circle and place on a baking sheet. Repeat with the other 3 pieces of dough.

3)    Spread 2 tbsp of sauce on the base and then add a few slices of cheese, a few basil leaves and any other toppings you may want. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes or until cheese is golden. Serve with a green salad. Delicious!

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Quick and easy - Quesadilla's

It often seems to me that people find lots of excuses as to why they cannot find the time to cook. I had a recent conversation with a colleague who said that they had no time to cook and anyway had more important things to do. I personally think there is no more important, or pleasurable activity but hey we all have our opinions and priorities.

I have had a very busy day, the kids at school have roast dinner on a Thursday, so all good there, but I teach all day and am worn out when I come home. So I empathise with tired and busy parents. Today's recipe is a gem for the time poor. It took me 3 minutes to prepare and cook this. If you don't even have the time to do this then lord help us all!

A Quesadilla is essentially a toasted sarnie but made with tortilla. Anything you can put in a toastie you can put in a Quesadilla. I used what I had in the fridge.


Serves 1 / 2 and costs about 30p to make

2 tortilla wraps
50g grated cheese
1 slice ham / mortadella / parma ham
1/4  finely sliced pepper
A small amount of chopped chilli if you like

1) Lay one of the tortilla's in a heavy non stick frying pan and place on a medium to high heat.
2) Place all the fillings in and lay the other tortilla on top.
3) Toast on one side for a minute, flip over and do the other side. turn onto a chopping board and cut into triangles. A dollop of mayo and a few salad leaves wouldn't go amis.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Result - Chicken Dhansak and Spaghetti with Bacon Pangratatto

You would be forgiven for thinking that Britain is enjoying a renaissance in good food. Our shelves groan under the weight of celebrity chef cookbooks and every night on TV there is a programme dedicated to food. Farmers markets have sprung up in most areas and we can tell the difference between Gloucester old spot bacon and Danepack in a taste test. Its utter nonense of course. Well it is for the vast majority of society. This new gastroporn has created a myth that sourcing and eating food in the UK is on a par with the Europeans. But sadly, this 'renaissance' is largely enjoyed by a tiny minority of people or 'foodies' as they are sometimes known.

Getting good food in Britain is difficult - for lots of reasons. This is especially true for 'ordinary' people. I read a shocking report recently saying that in Swansea, my home town, there is a 13 year gap in life expectancy between the wealthiest and poorest electoral wards. There were many factors and one of them was the problem of obesity. Read the report here: http://www.thisissouthwales.co.uk/Shock-life-expectancy-gap-east-west-divide/story-12387293-detail/story.html

So, I think, without getting too depressed about it, good food should be for all of us. But boy is that a challenge and in my opinion we need to start with the kids. As you know I have set myself a challenge - to feed my kids good homemade food everyday. And on a tight budget. So far so good but if you read yesterdays blog you will know that Louis is coming for tea. Parents seem to love giving kids, as a 'treat', turkey dinosaurs or something equally delicious for their tea. Why do we do this? Why can't we give little guests what we think is good for them and enjoyable.

I took a gamble and made my kids favourite meal ever - Spaghetti with Bacon Pangratatto. I needn't have bought the emergency Hotdogs as he loved it. This made me very happy and optimistic. Kids do like good food but we have got a fight on our hands to make sure they are influenced by people who love them and not mega corporations who have junk to sell.

As a final note, my school kids had a gorgeous homemade Chicken Dhansak with basmati rice today. They have no idea that I put lentils and 2 kilos of mashed butternut squash in it!

Spaghetti with Bacon Pangratatto

Serves 3 and costs about 70p per portion

2 - 3 Rashers of thick cut bacon or pancetta, cut into cubes
300g spaghetti
100g breadcrumbs, a bit of stale bread whizzed up in a processor
2 cloves of garlic, crushed and pureed with the back of your knife
A handful of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil

1) Cook your spaghetti according to the instructions on the packet.
2) While this is happening, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a large non stick frying pan and cook the bacon until crisp. Now add the breadcrumbs and stir often until they start to colour. Now add more oil and the garlic and stir in. you are looking for a golden colour but watch it doesn't go too for or the garlic will taste bitter. Transfer to a bowl and add the parsley.
3) Drain the spaghetti and coat with a little olive oil. Place a portion of spaghetti in a bowl, spoon over the pangratatto, grate over some parmesan and serve. Great with a simple green salad.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Feeding British children

This weekend represented everything that I passionately believe in when feeding children. My girls ate, and enjoyed the recipe I posted on Saturday - Hake with Cockles, Bacon and Leeks. I know it sounds so aspirational or middle class but it was a relatively normal occurance in my house and I am neither aspirational nor middle class. Just a dad who loves food and wants his kids to love it too. So a good weekend. Ah but the realities of the working week are now upon me.

The reality of my working week focuses on my 'other' children. The kids at school have eaten well. A lovely homemade bolognaise with pasta and garlic bread and as a snack item our legendary meatball melt, made with veg packed tomato sauce. So far so good. However, exhaution after work means little energy. Today girls have pasta with simple tomato sauce. They like it and its homemade and very cheap so ticks the boxes.

Tomorrow however brings a monumental challenge - Louis is coming for tea and most visiting kids accept nothing less than chicken dippers. I hope I have the energy to do something better.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Hake with cockles, bacon and leeks

I have just returned from Swansea market with some great food. I always like to go early, to avoid shoppers and to get the best produce. Its nice to go with a few ideas in mind but not with a list because the best way to shop is to be guided by what is fresh and seasonal. Today is a great example of this guiding principal as I chose some beautiful hake and some great goose rillettes from Paul at Goodies deli. I am a passionate supporter of Swansea market. Its what food shopping should be all about, lively and colouful with a great choice of high quality, good value produce. I think that you would halve your weekly shopping bill if you went to the market for your food and this is largely because you are not tempted by all the 'offers' in the supermarket. I think supermarkets have a place, and I do use them, but to do all your shopping in them seems crazy to me. Going to the supermarket is always an unpleasant experience but going to Swansea market is one of the highlights of my week. This dish was inspired by the market. I had a lovely, whole piece of hake (one of the great fish, in my opinion) and had it scaled and filleted for me. I will simply pan fry the fillets and serve it with a Welsh flavour, a cream sauce made with cockles, bacon and leek. Some new potatoes and the last of the asparagus will make it a beautiful and sustainable family meal.

Hake with cockles, bacon and leek sauce
1 whole hake, filleted and each fillet cut in half to make 4 portions
Head and bones of fish, simply simmered for 20 minutes with a bit of onion or leek top to make a stock
1 small leek, washed and finely sliced
1/2 rashers of streaky bacon, thick cut, and cut into dice
2 tbsp cockles
125ml cream
100ml white wine or vermouth
Butter or oil for frying

1) Fry the bacon until crisp and set aside. Make a  leek cream  sauce by sweating the leeks in butter and then adding the wine and let it reduce and add about 50ml of the stock and let that reduce by half. Now add the cream and bring to the boil.Turn down to simmer, add the bacon and cockles and set aside until you need it.
2)  Now its time to pan fry your hake. Get a non stick frying pan hot, put a little oil in, season the fish on both sides and put in the pan skin side down for 2 minutes. Don't be temted to move it until your ready to turn it over or it will ruin the lovely skin, and this you want to be crispy. Turn over and cook for another 2 minutes and then place on a warm plate with some of the sauce spooned over. Serve with new potatoes and seasonal vegatables or just a piece of bread and a simple salad.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Family Favourite - Ricotta Dumplings with Tomato Sauce

Ricotta Dumplings with Tomato Sauce
I have recently returned from Italy and I have been inspired by the food there. I was struck by how well Italian children eat and pleased to see that junk food played second fiddle to home cooked food. The focus seemed to be on simple, cheap, seasonal foods prepared with love and care. This dish is what family cooking is all about - cheap, easy and tasty and is my daughters favourite dish, to cook and to eat at the moment. I am also going to try using self raising flour, adding some flavours such as lemon or garlic and then frying them to eat as a snack - I will post to let you know the results.

For the dumplings:
200g ricotta cheese
220g plain flour
25g grated parmesan cheese
3 egg yolks
Salt and pepper
For the tomato sauce:
2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
6-7 basil leaves

1) Put a large saucepan of salted water on to boil. Make the dough by combining all the ingredients for the dumplings and mix to a smooth dough with your hands. Cut dough into 3 pieces and roll out into a long sausage shape and cut into thumb sized pieces.
2) Make the tomato sauce by heating the oil and frying the garlic for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the basil and season.
3) When the water is boiling add the dumplings. They will rise to the surface when cooked – about 4- 5 minutes. Give about 10 per portion and spoon some of the sauce over. Finish with more grated parmesan and a green salad.