World Food Exploration: Greece, India & France

In our ongoing series of studies on World food we’ll be taking a quick look at the kinds of food that people from around the globe eat and how we can cook their favourite dishes!

English food might be delicious in its own right, but it can be so easy to get bogged down in cooking with the same ingredients every day and getting stuck in the rut with the same boring meals. Don’t let yourself fall into bad habits. By staying curious, you can bring yourself into contact with different kinds of foods and bring those influences into your cooking repertoire.

Greek

Greek food is a raucous combination of seasonal ingredients that are available all year round in the foodie paradise that is Greece. Although aspects of Greek cooking are certainly present in our own culture (think charcoal-grilled meats and feta salads), many of their signature dishes have yet to make the successful transition to English mainstay.

Our recommendation: For a perfect introduction to Greek cuisine, prepare a three-course meal including an olive starter with some bread and taramasalata (a creamy fish roe dip), followed by some grilled meat skewers (known as souvlaki) and then finish off with a glorious moussaka.

Indian

Many English people believe that they are familiar with Indian cuisine, but what you might order at your local takeaway is most likely very different from what billions of Indians enjoy on a daily basis. Although it might surprise you to hear it, the majority of Indian food is vegetarian and Chicken Tikka Masala is rarely ever on the menu.

Our recommendation: Indian ingredients can be difficult to get hold of, unless you live in a multicultural urban settlement, or don’t mind ordering in bulk online, it could be difficult to cook from scratch. Start in the spices section of your local supermarket before you settle on a recipe, so that you can avoid disappointment.

French

The French are practically wholly credited for the invention of Fine Dining, their techniques have filtered and interspersed with cuisines from all over the world, however many classic French dishes have not yet found their way onto English plates. Cooking French dishes does not necessarily require frog’s legs or garlic, but it does involve a lot of meat.

Our recommendation: You don’t need to be a cooking whizz to be able to start cooking French food, indeed some of the most classic dishes also happen to be some of the simplest. Coq au vin is a great place to start, it doesn’t involve any technical precision but still gives you a good lesson in how the French approach their cooking.

Taking step outside of your comfort zone in the kitchen can sometimes lead to errors, don’t be disheartened if you make some mistakes early on – practice makes perfect!

How Cooking Like Mum Helped Me Make Friends

How Mac’n’Cheese Helped Me Make Friends.

Sarah’s Mum thought she was simply helping her daughter to eat well, when she taught her how to make some of her home-style classics, but she was giving her so much more.

This story was sent into us from a university student and amateur baker who wanted to tell us how she managed to make a whole host of new friends at University with the help of some extra nostalgic recipes that she learnt from her Mother…

Students are notoriously bad eaters. Although they might not be raiding the supermarkets for pot noodles like they did in the 90s, it can still be said for many of these young people that they are simply not ready to sustain themselves, when many of them arrive on campus for their first year in University. They’re more often than not likely to fall for the first piece of campus marketing that they see, and remain blindly loyal to a cheap takeaway shop for the rest of their time at Uni.

Whilst it might be tempting to attribute this lack of care to laziness, or simple stupidity, in reality many freshers aren’t given proper direction in how to plan their meals or do their shopping. This lack of education can lead to a steep learning curve for young people who have just flown the coop and, if not corrected, can potentially result in poor habits developing in adult life.

Luckily, Sarah was not one of these kids. We’ll let her continue in her words:

“I’m not one of those kids who has horror stories about all the terrible meals they were served by their parents, in fact, the opposite is true. I’ve always loved my Mum’s cooking, she learnt how to cook from my Grandma and holds her in a similarly loft fashion. As much as I relished every single one of my Mother’s meals, I never showed much interest in how they were prepared. To my Mum’s credit, she never once forced me into the kitchen. She did, however, make a series of blindingly good dinners leading up to my final weeks living at home, which made me realise just how talented she was and just how hopelessly clueless I was.

So it was, that after nearly two decades of avoiding touching the oven, my Mother was finally able to get an apron around my neck. Over the course of the last few weeks I spent my evenings learning how to make the dishes of my childhood: sausage & mash, mac’n’cheese, roast dinners, pork chops. I’d never appreciated all the details that were involved in creating these familiar meals, but by the time I left for university I was armed with a host of new skills (and a recipe book) and was ready to get cooking!

On my first night in halls, whilst my new room-mates were stocking up on chicken nuggets and pot noodles, I was carefully picking out ingredients for my debut meal: a faithful recreation of my Mum’s Macaroni Cheese. In the hours before the drinking games and inevitable drunken night out, I sat down to eat with my new Uni family and was happy to find out that not only could I cook, but that my cooking could also make people happy!”

Treat Your Sandwiches With Care!

There aren’t many grown-ups that fondly remember school-dinners and who can blame them?

School-dinners are universally reviled amongst British adults who shudder when they think about the seemingly endless days of wet, bitter vegetables that they were forced to eat under the watchful eye of a dinner lady, whilst struggling through a pile of ‘creamed potato‘ that would forever haunt their dreams.

Those lunch hours somehow felt even longer than some of the most tortuous lessons. Unfortunately, these lunchtime woes were often not saved by our parents intervening.

Lunch boxes prepared by parents were just as susceptible to ruining our appetites as much as the school-provided food. Whereas our lunchboxes would tend to be mercilessly free from the kind of hot messes that would be provided in canteens, our Mums and Dads would often struggle to put together a meal that would get us truly amped for lunch. Squashed sandwiches made with bleached white bread and ham, or jam (what crazy person thought a jam sandwich was a good idea?!) would inevitably end up dry and inedible. In fact, many people despised their school sandwiches so much that they would actively avoid eating them in adult life. Can you imagine such a thing?

Were they too cheap? Did they lack any kind of empathy? Or did they simply lack the resources and experience to provide us with a nutritional, tasty lunch? Although it might be fun to raise a backward fist against the governments and dinner ladies of the past, it feels somewhat unfair to reproach our parents for their lunchtime efforts. The one thing that we can actually do in response to this is ensure that we can provide our own kids with the kinds of lunches that we wish we had.

Whilst there have been many attempts at recreating ‘classic’ school dinner recipes in a modern style, we thought we’d focus on the basics of lunchbox sandwich making. Follow these simple tips and tricks to avoid scarring your children with the same memories that still haunt you today:

Start with good bread…

Did you eat your crusts when you were a kid? Children pick up all sorts of strange habits and ticks whilst they grow up, most of the time they are related less to their actual taste than their experience whilst eating them. The crusts of bread are by no means difficult to eat, but they do require more patience to chew, which is something that many children are particularly short on. Give in to your kids’ demands for softer bread and you’ll be compromising the quality of their lunches. Freshly baked bread always offers the best depth of flavour and will also provide a better base for your sandwich.

What’s going on inside them?

How you choose to fill your sandwiches will depend on your budget and on the tastes of your kids. You might be tempted to stuff them with salad, to trick your kids into eating more greens but this won’t guarantee that they’ll eat them! If you’re making your sandwiches the night before then you’ll need to consider how they’ll be to eat 12-16 hours later. Tomatoes should be layered within the sandwich and not allowed to touch the bread to avoid sogginess, likewise, excessive mayonnaise will lead to similar issues. Try and use ingredients that your child enjoys, mixed with new things that they haven’t tried yet.

How are you going to store them?

Lastly, it’s wise to consider how you’re planning on storing your sandwiches before you send your tyke of to school with them. Don’t follow in your father’s footsteps, by crushing down each one into oblivion – take care when assembling and packing your creation so that your kids are able to enjoy them as much as possible! If your sandwiches are being packed into a box with other items then you should wrap them carefully in cling film, leaving them loose in a box will lead to them being squashed or worse still, susceptible to falling apart.

4 Packed Lunch Ideas To Get Your Kids Excited

Don’t let your packed lunches get boring!

Kids spend 11 years in school and, if you’re making them a packed lunch five days a week, then that’s a long time for them to be eating the same thing for.

Kids are more likely to abandon their school lunches in favour of something else if you give you them the same thing over and over again. Whilst certain packed lunch staples, such as apples, oranges and bananas will always have a place in kids’ lunchboxes, there are other mainstays that could always be replaced with something healthier or simple more interesting.

If you want to keep your kids excited about their food and eating healthy, then you should avoid packing the same types of food in their lunchboxes week in, week out. Although sticking to tried and tested favourites might help keep your make your weekly shopping easier to manage, doing so is likely to make your children’s tastes very rigid in the long-term, which will stop them from trying new things when they’re older. There’s nothing wrong with being a discerning eater, but if your close-minded tastes stop your child from eating a balanced and varied diet then you’re not doing them any favours.

Don’t get stuck in a rut with your packed lunches, push the boat out and show your kids that you really care with these interesting lunch box ideas:

Egg Omelette with Spinach and Feta


The humble egg omelette is eaten up and down the country by all kinds of people, but many people are unaware that it can be enjoyed as a lovely lunch the next day. The trick to selling this to kids is the toppings and sides that you serve it with. Preparing your omelette the night before is important, so that it can properly cool before you top it the next morning. We recommend feta cheese with a few salad greens and cherry tomatoes for a starter.

Sun-dried Tomato Cous Cous


Cous cous is a sure fire-winner with kids who might usually turn their noses up at a leafy salad, it’s carby plain-tasting nature makes it really ease to pair with anything you’ve got hanging around in the fridge, or even any leftovers you might have from the night before. For a quick, easy lunch that can be prepared the night before, try mixing your cous cous with some chopped up sun-dried tomatoes, cooked onions and mixed herbs.

Hummus and Veggies


Sometimes it’s the simplest ideas that work the best and they don’t get much simpler than this! In order for this idea to properly work you’ll need a standard lunch box, plus a little pot to keep your dipping hummus in. Shop bought hummus is fine, but if you want to go the extra mile then you can always make your own from scratch, it only requires a handful of ingredients to do and is also a super cheap. Chop up some fresh cucumber, carrot and celery into your box with your hummus and a piece of bread for a healthy, tasty lunch.

Kedgeree


Take your kid’s favourite dinner treat and repackage it as a packed lunch! On our first blog spot we shared Nathan Outlaw’s Kedgeree recipe, despite having some pretty ‘out there’ ingredients it has proved to be a real favourite amongst school-aged kids. This adaptable dish doesn’t have to be kept on the dinner table, once cooked it can be kept in the fridge for up to 3 days, so you’ll be able to drop it into your kids’ lunchboxes as a midweek surprise.


This post was kindly sponsored by Beatson Fan and Motors, suppliers of TEC motors, AmTec motors, Helios fans from their base in Sheffield. Thanks guys!

Cooking Your Way To Mealtime Success

Get in the kitchen and save money at the same time!

Learning how to cook cheap, healthy dinners isn’t as difficult as you might think it is…

One of the chief  excuses (yes – excuses!) that parents come up with for not feeding their children properly is that it’s too expensive to buy fresh ingredients, or simply too difficult to make healthy food that their children will like and that is within their budgets. This is, of course, nonsense. Whilst it might be fair to say that cooking using fresh ingredients might take more time (and effort) than giving your kids a pound and sending them down to the chippy, the sooner you embrace this style of cooking, the sooner you’ll be able to get to grips with these skills, and the better you’ll be able to cook in the future.

As with learning any new skill, you should try to remain patient when starting your cooking journey. Perseverance is key to cooking success and you shouldn’t be disheartened if your early attempts do not quite hit the mark.

Start simple

If you’re new to cooking then it’s best to start simple. Luckily, most kids prefer simple foods so your family will be able to ease into your new food routine without too many tantrums or trip-ups. Think simple pasta bakes with chopped tomatoes, pesto, basil and mozzarella; or sausage and mash, with peas and gravy. These meals won’t break the bank and require minimal equipment, there are also plenty of recipes online that you can use to get started.

Get your larder stocked

Before you start your new cooking journey, you should think about pulling together a larder of food that will be able to support your future meals. A few years ago, James Martin presented a television show for the BBC with the purpose of explaining how cooking from fresh ingredients doesn’t have to cost you a fortune. He published a list of basic store cupboard ingredients that would cost around £20 at the time of writing, and then asked his chef friends to offer up healthy recipes that would cost an extra £3 for 4 portion on top of this – both of these resources are highly recommended.

Plan ahead

In order to make the most of your limited budget and time, it’s crucial that you plan your meals ahead, depending on your work schedule, this is best done on the weekend. Find the recipes you want to cook, factor in any evenings where you’re busy and consider subbing in frozen portions, if you have them and make sure you have everything that you need in your cupboards. You’ll find yourself slipping up if you don’t get this preparation done in advance.

Cook in bulk to save

Finally, try and prepare meals in bulk so that you can either freeze your leftovers, or save them dinner or lunch later in the week. Although eating the same meal a few days in a week might not be the most attractive of prospects, if your priority is keeping to a budget and providing your kids with a healthy diet then this shouldn’t be an issue. Always make sure that your food is completely cooled before popping it in the freezer. Once your food is frozen it should be consumed within 2 weeks, keep a record of what you’ve got in there so that it doesn’t get forgotten!

Surprise The Kids With Two Of Jamie’s Salads

Give your oven a rest and make one of these crowd-pleasing salads!

The humble salad has gone through something of a renaissance in recent years thanks to a much-needed cultural shift around healthy eating.

Out of all the stereo-typically ‘healthy’ foods, salad has perhaps been derided the most.

Many die-hard ‘carnivores’ happily call salads ‘rabbit food’ and don’t see much beyond green leaves, but the modern salad is so much more than this. Whereas many kids might initially turn their nose up at a plain garden salad, or a sad pile of leaves from a pre-mixed bag, you can hardly blame them for this! Treated and prepared properly, a dinner comprised completely of salad can be a real crowd-pleaser that can leave your whole family happy and satisfied.

Here in the UK, our households have developed certain traditions and standards that are not only unhealthy, but also extremely expensive. It’s estimated that the average meat eater in the UK consumes twice the world average. Although the government recommends eating no more than 70g of red or processed meat a day (roughly equivalent to two slices of bacon), our eating culture and cuisine is hopelessly ‘meat-centric’.

Our obsession with eating meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner is expensive, unhealthy and messy. Meat tends to spatter fat and juices wherever it’s cooked, so meat eaters will also find that they’re having to get their ovens professionally cleaned much more frequently than non-meat eaters. Put short, although our country’s meat-eating habits is great for businesses oven cleaning in Bicester, and the rest of the UK, it’s hardly a convenient habit for most of us!

Thankfully, we live in the 21st century and have access to a whole world of ingredients in supermarkets that can transform kids’ perspective of salad from most-hated to prized favourite. There’s no greater advocate for the salad than healthy-eating fanatic Jamie Oliver. Here are two salad recipes taken from his website which are bound to keep you your kids healthy and happy:

Simple Chopped Salad

What you’ll need for 6 side portions:

6 small carrots, mixed colours if possible
2 sticks of celery
handful of ripe, mixed colour cherry tomatoes
2 small gem lettuces
100g feta cheese
few sprigs of fresh mint
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Method:

  1. On a large chopping board, trim and finely chop the carrots and celery, then finely chop the tomatoes and the lettuce.
  2. Once your veg is finely chopped, you can start to mix it together and continue chopping it some more.
  3. Crumble over all the feta, roll the mint leaves and chop them into the salad.
  4. Mix together the balsamic vinegar and oil with a pinch of salt and pepper in a small bowl and set aside.
  5. Give your salad a final mix on the board and then serve it with your dressing.

Lentil Tabbouleh

What you’ll need for 4 servings:

200g puy lentils
1 bunch of spring onions
200g ripe cherry tomatoes
1 large bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 large bunch of fresh mint
extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon

Method:

  1. Rinse the lentils thoroughly and then cook them in plenty of salted water, until just tender. Drain and set aside to cool.
  2. Trim, then finely slice the spring onions, halve each tomato, then pick and finely chop the herbs.
  3. Mix the cool lentils with the spring onions, tomatoes, herbs and 4 tablespoons of oil. Add the lemon and season to taste before serving.

Create A School Riot with Nathan Outlaw’s Kedgeree

We look to India for some time-saving cuisine…

Save time and cook a big batch meal that can cover you for dinner, breakfast and lunch!

Kedgeree is a rice-based curried dish that has its roots in both Indian and English cultures. Although the origins of this dish are not exactly certain, what we do know is that this deft mixture of rice, smoked haddock and boiled egg is an absolute treat regardless of when you eat it. Whilst you’d hardly describe these ingredients as being an easy sell for younger kids, if you’re savvy with your introduction to this dish, you could find yourself whipping up vast batches that can serve as a speedy breakfast, a nutritious packed lunch or a super-easy dinner.

This dish is the perfect example of an interesting, nutritious take on a food stuffs that your child might already be familiar. Most kids don’t have a problem with plain rice, its bland flavour is inoffensive and they’re likely to associate with takeaway meals. Pairing this staple food stuff with a new food stuff, like smoked haddock, is a great way of introducing kids to new flavours and texture combinations without taking them out of their comfort zone. Despite it’s Indian origins, kedgeree was originally designed as a dish that would introduce stuffy Victorians to the new flavours discovered in the East, but without blowing their heads off with spice – therefore it’s a perfect choice for introducing young kids to curry flavours, smoked fish and low levels of spice.

There are many different variations on the classic kedgeree recipe, but we found award-winning chef Nathan Outlaw’s to be the best for young ones.

What you’ll need for 4 portions:

400g skinned smoked haddock
300g long grain rice
2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
1 leek
1 celery stick, finely sliced
1 garlic clove, chopped
1/2 tsp mild curry powder
700ml fish stock
2 tsp fresh coriander, chopped
4 eggs
1 lemon
50g unsalted butter
1 dash of vegetable oil
Salt & pepper to season

Method:

  1. Dice up the fish into 2cm cubes and set to one side, then preheat your oven to 200c/gas 6.
  2. Trim the top off your leek and give it a good clean under cold, running water. Slice finely, then put to one side.
  3. Heat a large pan over a medium heat, once hot, add the oil and butter. Once this is bubbling nicely you can add the shallot, leek, celery, garlic and for 2 minutes whilst stirring so that the veg softens, but doesn’t brown
  4. Wash the rice thoroughly before allowing to stand for 15 minutes and then adding to the pan. Stir thoroughly for a minute, coating the rice in the oil and butter before adding your saffron, curry powder and fish stock.
  5. Bring the pot up to a simmer, then cover with a lid and transfer the whole pan to the oven for 15 minutes.
  6. Whilst the kedgeree is in the oven you can boil a separate pan of water and gently lower your eggs into it. After 10 minutes, remove, leave to cool and then peel, and slice.
  7. Once your rice is quite cooked you can add the smoked haddock and steam for 3-5 minutes in the hot pan.
  8. Then all you’ll need to do is fold in the coriander and egg, season to taste and serve with lemon wedges. Perfect!