Cooking with kids – Toad In The Hole

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Toad in the Hole (along with mushroom roast) is the nostalgic taste of my childhood.  I decided to become a vegetarian aged six, so it was an extra special treat to have a traditionally meaty dish with the sausages nestled in puffed up golden batter (even if the sausages were Linda McCartney vegetarian ones!)

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This recipe is based on 7-year-old Sam’s recipe from BBC Good Food.  I choose it as the reviews said it was foolproof, and indeed it is.  I have simply added some dried herbs for extra flavour, and included 2 veggie sausages as well as meat ones, since I still don’t eat meat.  The kids helped place the cooked sausages in the casserole dish, make and mix the batter and then pour it over.

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We all absolutely loved eating the Toad in the Hole, alongside some roast vegetables and gravy (see below for empty plate evidence)!  Allow time to cook the sausages, 5 mins to make the batter and around 35 minutes for the whole dish to bake.

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Toad In The Hole (serves 4 with veg)

8 cooked sausages (can be meat, vegetarian or a mixture of both)

140g plain flour

1/2 tsp salt

2 eggs

175ml semi-skimmed milk

1/2 tsp dried mixed herbs

Cook the sausages as per the pack instructions.  While they are cooking make the batter by tipping the flour in to a bowl with the salt, making a well in the middle then cracking in the eggs.  Use an electric whisk (if possible) to whisk it together, gradually adding the milk.  Leave to stand while the sausages finish cooking.

Heat the oven to 220 degrees/gas mark 7.  Arrange the cooked sausages in a casserole/baking dish, then pour the batter all around them.  Sprinkle the dried herbs on top of the batter then bake in the oven for 25-35 minutes, until puffed up and lightly golden.  Eat with roast veg and gravy!

My Easy Veggie Ramen

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I LOVE RAMEN.  A big slurpy bowl of goodness which is particularly enjoyable when it is cold outside.  You can eat lots, safe in the knowledge it’s pretty good for you.  Feel free to experiment with what veg you use, or add cooked prawns, meat or tofu to the vegetables for extra substance.  In fact, this is a great soup for using up leftovers so almost anything goes.  Also you could cheat a bit and get a pack of instant miso soup and use that as the water/stock base.

Allow 15-20 minutes to prepare the ramen, and remember the garlic, ginger and chilli amounts are only a guide – you may wish to use less or more, according to taste.

My Veggie Ramen (serves 2)

2 eggs

2 tbsp oil (any is fine)

3 cloves garlic, chopped or crushed

Small thumb of ginger, chopped very small, or minced

1 red chilli, chopped very small

4 mushrooms, sliced

4 large cabbage leaves, sliced thin

1/2 red pepper, sliced thin

4 spring onions, chopped small

1 litre hot water (or 1.5 litres if you want the soup more watery)

1 vegetable stock cube

2 tbsp soy sauce

200g noodles (any is fine – I use fine noodles which cook in 3 mins)

4 radishes, sliced thin

1 avocado, sliced in to small chunks

Small handful of coriander, roughly chopped

Chilli garlic sauce (or whatever sauce you fancy)

Boil the eggs in water for around 6 minutes, then drain, put them in cold water and set aside.

Fry the garlic, ginger and chilli for 1 minute in the oil in a saucepan.  Add the mushrooms, cabbage, red pepper, spring onions and fry for another few minutes, until softened.  Add the water, crumble the vegetable stock cube in, add the soy sauce and noodles and simmer for a few more minutes until the noodles are cooked.  Ladle in to bowls then top each bowl with the radishes, 1 egg chopped in half (hopefully it will be a little soft in the middle!), avocado slices, coriander and chilli garlic sauce.  Slurp then go back for more!

Potato, Onion and Fennel Tortilla

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This potato, onion and fennel tortilla is my favourite recipe from Jamie Oliver’s 30 Minute Meals cookbook.  The slightly caramelised potatoes and red onions are delicious encased in the egg, and the fennel seeds are a really interesting addition.  As you can see my tortilla turned out flatter and more like an omelette, but it doesn’t matter either way!

We ate our omelette/tortilla with baked trout and peas and sweetcorn, but it would also be nice with a salad and/or sausages.  My kids enjoy eating it with their hands (hence it also makes a great cold snack the next day)!  Allow about 30 minutes to make.

Fennel seeds are one of my *exciting ingredients* and also work well in fish pies and Mediterranean tomato based sauces.  They are cheap and last for months in the cupboard!

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Potato, Onion and Fennel Tortilla (serves 4-6 with a side)

200g potatoes, chopped very small in to approx 1cm chunks (I don’t bother peeling – I like the nutty texture)

1 red (or white) onion, chopped small

1 tsp fennel seeds

1 large clove garlic, crushed

1 tsp dried mixed herbs or handful of fresh rosemary/parsley, chopped

5 eggs, lightly beaten, with a little salt and pepper

Fry the potatoes in a frying pan in oil on a medium heat until they start to soften and get a little golden (about 8-10 mins), then add the onion, fennel seeds and herbs.  Mix well and keep stirring for another 6 mins or so, until the onion is soft.  Add the garlic and stir, then pour the eggs in.  Briefly stir and swirl the eggs in the pan until the pan is covered and the other ingredients are nicely spread out.

Once the egg starts to set around the edges, you have two choices.  You can either finish the tortilla off by cooking the top for a few minutes under the grill until set (my preferred option) or you can leave it on the hob to gently cook through.

Once cooked, carefully cut the tortilla in to wedges and eat alongside whatever you fancy.

Vaguely Viennese Whirls

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Vienesse Whirls are a British treat thought to be inspired by Austrian pastries.  The biscuit is normally piped in a pretty swirly shape (as seen on Mr Kipling packets) and then filled with buttercream and jam.  My piping went completely wrong, so I used a cookie cutter to make little shortbread biscuits with the mixture instead (hence renaming them Vaguely Viennese Whirls!)  This was much easier and the result was still absolutely delicious – sweet, creamy and crumbly.

If you have never made shortbread before it really is straightforward, and if you don’t have cookie cutters you can use the top of a glass to cut out the biscuit shape instead.  Try and eat the Vienesse Whirls when they are still slightly warm as not much beats that.  If there are any left then keep them at room temperature as the fridge ruins them!

Thank you to Mary Berry for the recipe.

Vaguely Vienesse Whirls (tricky to say how many this makes – around 16 small ones)

For the biscuits

250g unsalted butter, softened (I do this in 20 second spurts in the microwave)

50g icing sugar

250g plain flour

For the filling

100g unsalted butter, softened

200g icing sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla extract/essence

Raspberry or strawberry jam (1/2 a jar is more than enough – with pips in is best but not essential)

For the biscuit dough, preheat the oven to 190C/170C Fan/Gas Mark 5. Line 3 baking sheets with baking/greaseproof paper.  Measure the butter and icing sugar into a bowl and beat until pale and fluffy ( a couple of minutes should do). Gradually add the flour and beat a little more, until thoroughly mixed.  Put in the fridge for at least 15 minutes until the mixture is still soft but firm enough to roll out.  With a rolling pin start to roll out the dough until it is about as thick as a £1 coin.  It helps to press lightly and ensure both the surface and rolling pin are floured to prevent sticking.  You can use your hands to help press it out too if you like.  Use a cookie cutter or top of a glass/cup to cut the dough in to circle shapes (any size you like as long as they are all the same size – but not too big).  Carefully place the biscuits on the lined baking trays, ensuring about 2 inches between them so they don’t expand in to each other.

Bake the biscuits in the oven for 10—15 minutes, until a pale golden-brown, very carefully turning over halfway through.  Leave to cool a little on the baking sheets (it’s okay if they are still a little warm but not too much or the buttercream filling will melt).
For the filling, measure the butter into a bowl and add the icing sugar. Add the vanilla extract and beat with a fork or whisk until slightly lighter (about 1  minute). Spoon the buttercream on top of a cooled biscuit then spoon a little jam onto that, then sandwich it together with another biscuit.  Repeat this until all the biscuits have been used.  Eat alongside a cup of tea!

Chickpea, herb and halloumi salad

This chickpea, herb and halloumi salad is an old favourite of mine from the excellent Cranks Vegetarian Cookbook.  It manages to be both refreshing and filling at the same time.  The flavours of the lemon and herbs really compliment the rocket, chickpeas, roast tomatoes and olives, and the fried halloumi on top is a salty treat.  It’s lovely whatever the season and only takes 20 minutes to make (or 10 minutes if you don’t roast the tomatoes) – whoop!

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Chickpea, herb and halloumi salad (serves 2-4 depending on appetite)

2 x 400g can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 tbsp lemon juice

100g pitted black olives, cut in half

Small handful chopped parsley

Small handful chopped coriander

Oil (ideally olive oil but any is fine)

1 clove garlic, crushed

200g halloumi cheese, sliced fairly thick

100g rocket (spinach would also work)

12 cherry tomatoes, cut in half

If you want to roast the tomatoes (to make them extra sweet), put them in a baking tray with a drizzle of oil and roast on gas mark 6/200 degrees for about 15-20 minutes, until soft and slightly charred, stirring them a couple of times to prevent sticking.  Alternatively you can just use them raw.

In a bowl mix the chickpeas with the lemon juice, olives, parsley and coriander, a good dash of oil and the garlic.  Season with a little salt and pepper.

Dry fry or griddle the halloumi on both sides in a fairly hot frying pan until golden – this should only take 1-2 minutes each side.

Once the cherry tomatoes are cooked, place some rocket on each plate.  Add the chickpea mixture, the tomatoes and finally top with 2 or 3 slices of the halloumi and a drizzle of oil.  Eat and enjoy!

Mince pies of course!

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This was my first attempt at mince pies, and they turned out really well, in a chunky homemade sort of way! The recipe uses homemade pastry (which, if you have never made before, is surprisingly simple), shop-bought mincemeat and a sprinkle of orange zest. The pastry lids are finished off with a pinch of sugar, as suggested by my oldest son. He also suggested we use chopped pecan nuts as an alternative topping for a couple of them, which was a rather excellent idea.

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My oldest felt his sugar and pecan suggestions were enough input, so my youngest actually helped with the making. He rolled out some of the pastry, cut the lid shapes with cookie cutters and put them on top. Hence the interesting array of shapes! Don’t worry if you don’t have cookie cutters – use the rim of a glass or a bowl instead (make sure they are slightly bigger than the muffin tray holes to allow for covering the sides too).
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If you want more sophisticated mince pies then aim for thinner pastry, as since the pies are quite small it is easy to end up with more pastry than filling. Don’t worry if you have some leftover pastry, just make sure it is rolled out flat, put it in a freezer bag and freeze. You could use it to make something else another day (I made cornish pasties!)
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For the mince pies you will need a muffin tray, cookie cutters or glasses and a straw.

Mince pies (makes 12)

For the pastry

125g butter, melted (I do this in the microwave for 20 second bursts – takes about 1 min)
250g plain flour
2-3 tbsp water

For the filling

Approx 1/2 jar (220g) mincemeat
Zest of 1 orange
Optional – white/light brown sugar for sprinkling

To make the pastry, mix the butter and flour together with a spoon and your hands if necessary, add the water and squeeze in to a ball. It shouldn’t be too sticky. Flour a surface and lightly flour a rolling pin. Roll the pastry out (in two lots if short on space) until it is about 5mm (1/4 inch thick). Don’t press too hard with the rolling pin as it may stick, and use more flour on the surface and rolling pin to avoid it sticking if necessary.

Use a large cookie cutter (around 10cm) or the rim of a similar sized glass or bowl to cut circles out, and gently place them in the muffin tray holes, ensuring they cover the sides too. Add around 1 tsp mincemeat and a sprinkle of orange zest to each pie (avoid overfilling or it might overflow in the oven). Cut smaller circles/cookie cutter shapes for the pie lids, pierce a hole in the middle with a straw and place on top of each pie. Sprinkle each pie with a pinch of sugar if you like.

Bake the pies on gas mark 5/190 degrees for 15-30 minutes (this will depend on your oven), until lightly browned. Check every few mins after 10 mins to avoid burning. Once cooked leave to cool a little – they are nicest when still warm! Will last a couple of days in a sealed container.

Wild West Rice (ready in 45 mins)

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Wild West Rice is based on Jamie Oliver’s version of a Native American recipe.  It’s a unique, sweet and nutty dish full of interesting flavours and textures.   Rice is mixed with dried cranberries, onion, chopped almonds, cinnamon, garlic, dill and lemon juice and eaten with lovely thick wedges of roast butternut squash.  We had the dish with baked trout but it would be nice with chicken or a salad too.  My kids rejected the butternut squash but liked the rice!  I had a feeling that would happen, but it was worth a try… They were intrigued by the name of the dish, which sparked off a discussion about cowboys.

I used a packet of pre-cooked microwave rice to speed things up, and stir-fried it with the other ingredients instead of microwaving it.  Pre-cooked rice is absolutely brilliant for making cooking times quicker and can be kept in the cupboard for a good while until needed!

Wild West Rice (serves 4)

2 tbsp any oil

2 cloves garlic, crushed/chopped

1 red/white onion, chopped small

1 packet microwave rice (I used brown rice)

Shake cinnamon (I probably used about 1/4 tsp but use what you like – avoid lots though as it will overpower the dish!)

Large handful dried cranberries

Small handful roughly chopped dill

Juice of 1 lemon

Salt and pepper

1 butternut squash, skin on and deseeded, cut in to thick finger sized chunks

Heat the oven to gas mark 5/190 degrees.  Put the butternut squash chunks in to a baking tray, drizzle with 1 tbsp oil, season with salt and pepper and mix well.  Roast, shaking the tray every 10 mins and turning the chunks if necessary, for around  30-40 minutes, until soft and golden brown on the outside (time will depend on your oven).

Meanwhile, put 1 tbsp oil in a large frying pan/saucepan on a medium heat.  Add the garlic and onion and fry for a few minutes until soft.  Add the rice and cinnamon, cranberries, dill and lemon juice and fry for a few more mins until all mixed and cooked through.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Put the rice on a plate with the butternut squash chunks.  Eat with fish, chicken or a salad.