Family-Friendly Scandinavian Smorgasbord

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Once in a while we have a ‘theme’ night at dinnertime when we try food from another country.      It’s a fun way to be a little adventurous and learn about different cultures.  I sometimes simplify or adapt the original version to make it more kid friendly and not too overwhelming, so there is no need to completely stick to tradition.  Our latest theme dinner was a Scandinavian Smorgasbord consisting of smoked salmon and lemon wedges (the kids felt all fancy squeezing the lemon over the salmon!); potato salad made from boiled potatoes, capers and a little mayonnaise; and rye bread with butter (you can get rye bread from big supermarkets).

If you wanted to be even more authentic you could add meatballs, boiled eggs, crayfish, crackers, beetroot salad or dill and mustard sauce.  Or you could have a look in the Ikea food shop for easy inspiration (they even do vegetable balls as an alternative to meatballs).

There are endless possibilities for theme nights – we have had Italian pasta meals listening to opera and Mexican fajitas after watching the Pixar kids film Coco!  Google will give you lots of ideas.

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Cooking With Kids – Salmon and Green Bean Curry

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This is a gently spiced Salmon and Green Bean Curry recipe from the lovely Nadiya Hussain’s free kids cookbook for World Book Day.  It is all made in one pan so nice and simple.

My youngest son Robin (5) helped me make the curry using his new proper grown up chopping knife (the knife brand is ‘kitchen devil’, so obviously he was sold).  Luckily he is naturally cautious so I wasn’t scared for long!  I just had to make sure there was no loud music on and he and his brother were in different rooms and not distracting each other.  He helped me cut the green beans and salmon, holding one end with one hand (fingers curled in) and cutting slowly with the other.

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He also helped me put the ingredients in the pan and stir.  Great job Robin!  Hopefully Freddy will cook with me soon too.  Freddy and us adults loved the dish with some brown rice.  Robin wasn’t keen on the green beans but enjoyed the rest of it and we agreed to try it with peas next time.  Canned chickpeas would make a great alternative to the salmon.  Allow about 30 minutes to make everything!

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Salmon and green bean curry (serves 4 with brown rice)

Glug of oil

2 garlic cloves, crushed

Thumb of ginger, grated very small

1 small onion, chopped small

1 tsp tomato puree or 1 tomato, chopped small

1/2 tsp turmeric

1 1/2 tsp garam masala

Water

170g green beans, chopped

450g salmon, skin removed and chopped in to chunks

Handful of fresh coriander, roughly chopped

Heat the oil, garlic, ginger and onion in a pan for 5 minutes, until the onions have softened.  Add the tomato puree or tomatoes, turmeric and garam masala and cook for another minute.  Add a 2 tbsp water and then the green beans.  Cook for 5 minutes, adding a little more water if need be, to just cover them.

Add the salmon and cook for another 5-7 minutes, adding a little more water to help them cook if necessary.  Take off the pan and stir in the coriander.  Eat with brown rice!

Brazilian Fish Stew (Moqueca)

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This is a really hearty, beautifully flavoured fish stew that hails from Brazil (they call it Moqueca).  The fish is simmered in a lovely tomato, coconut, pepper and garlic sauce and the whole dish is topped with fresh coriander, chilli and a squeeze of lime.  I have simplified it slightly so it only takes 25 minutes to make.  Next time I will eat the stew with a hunk of baguette to soak up the flavours!  Wonderful.

Brazilian Fish Stew (Moqueca) – serves 2

Oil, for frying

1 onion, sliced thin

1 red pepper, sliced thin

2 cloves garlic, crushed

Tin chopped tomatoes

Carton of coconut cream (160ml)

Salt and pepper

2 fillets white fish, chopped in to large chunks (I chose pollack as it is good value!)

Handful coriander, roughly chopped

1 red chilli, chopped small

2 lime quarters, for serving

Heat the oil on a medium heat and fry the onion and pepper for about 7 minutes, stirring regularly, until softening.  Add the garlic and 1/2 the chopped chilli and heat for a minute, then add the tin of chopped tomatoes, coconut cream, salt and pepper.   Heat for 2 minutes then add the fish on top.  Make sure it is mostly covered by the sauce.  Simmer for around 12-15 minutes, until cooked through, turning over halfway.  Spoon in to bowls then top with the remaining chilli, coriander, and a wedge of lime for squeezing.  Enjoy with crusty bread and a cold drink!

Family-Fun Asian Buddha Bowl

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You may have seen Buddha Bowls before – they are basically bowls filled with little mounds of different foods, usually vegan.  I decided to mix it up and put together a quick, non-vegan, family-friendly Asian Buddha Bowl: sushi (shop-bought of course!); edamame beans in their pods (just defrost them and cut off the ends for easy popping); chocolate covered rice cake; fruit; prawn crackers and salted peanuts.  Us adults also had kimchi (a sort of spicy, fermented Korean coleslaw – not sure what I make of this yet!)

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The kids loved having all the different bits of food in their bowl and especially enjoyed the sushi (they stuck with the more familiar rice and salmon option rather than the more complex filling).  They didn’t finish every single thing and I didn’t pressure them to, as I think the fun of experimental eating makes the little rascals more likely to be adventurous in the long-term anyway.

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I’m going to try some other Non-Orthodox Buddha Bowls in the future – the options are endless.  Suggestions are very welcome!

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Cracking Creamy Prawn and Spinach Pasta

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I recently had possibly the best pasta dish of my life at  Vapiano restaurant in London – a big, silky, comforting bowl of spaghetti, prawns, cream, pesto, onion, garlic, chilli and spinach.  The best thing about this experience was that the dish was cooked in front of me (you order your food then the chefs cook it behind a long counter).  I therefore realised that this AMAZINGLY delicious dish is easy to cook and only takes 15 minutes!

Within days my boyfriend cooked the dish himself at home and it was every bit as good.  The kids loved it too.  It makes a great family meal but would also impress friends.  Here is the recipe.

Cracking Creamy Prawn and Spinach Pasta (serves 2)

Approx 200g pasta

A little olive or vegetable oil

1 large clove of garlic, crushed/chopped small

1/2 onion or a shallot, finely chopped

Approx 150g large prawns

1/2 fresh chilli, chopped small (seeds included!)

1 tbsp double cream

1 tbsp basil pesto

Large handful of parmesan

Large handful of spinach, roughly chopped

Cook the pasta as per the packet instructions.  Meanwhile heat the oil separately in a pan, add the garlic, onion and prawns and fry on a medium heat for a few minutes, stirring regularly.  Add the chilli, double cream, pesto and most of the parmesan.  Heat for a few more minutes then add the spinach.  Continue to heat for at least two more minutes, stirring regularly, until the spinach has wilted.

Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce mix.  Mix well and divide between two bowls.  Top with the remaining parmesan.  Enjoy every second of eating it.

 

 

Autumn Platter with Aji Green Dip

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This is an unusual and grown up sharing platter of roast autumn vegetables, prawns and tortillas with Aji Green Dip – a Peruvian sauce which is full of flavour and kick.  The dip is super easy and can be made in minutes in a food processor.  If you use ‘lighter than light’ mayonnaise then the dip is also officially low fat!

The whole platter is lovely to share with someone else for dinner, or with several others as a starter.  As an alternative you could use the dip as a sauce by spooning it over roast veg or meat or swirling it in to soups.

Autumn Platter with Aji Green Dip (serves 2 as a main or 4/5 as a starter)

For the things to dip

1 tortilla, cut in to triangles (or a small bag of plain tortilla crisps)

Small pack of king prawns, dry fried for a few minutes (you can use cooked prawns straight from the packet but they are nicer warm)

3 parsnips/2 potatoes/2 carrots – chopped in to thin wedges

Tbsp oil e.g. olive or vegetable oil

For the dip

Small pack fresh coriander
1 green chilli, chopped in to 3
2 spring onions, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
Juice of 1 lime
4 tbsp mayonnaise (if you use ‘lighter than light’ mayo the dip will be officially low fat!)

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees/gas mark 6.

First put the vegetables in an oven tray and drizzle over the oil, until everything is lightly coated.  Roast the vegetables for half an hour or so, turning a few times, until browned and cooked through (the exact time will depend a bit on the oven).  Ten minutes before the veg are done, arrange the cut tortilla in an oven tray and cook each side for about 4 minutes, or until lightly browned and crunchy.

For the dip, put all the ingredients in a food processor and blitz for about 20 seconds, until smooth.  Serve in a bowl with the vegetables, tortillas and prawns placed around it for dipping!

Cooking With Kids – Baked Whole Fish with Tasty Roast Veg

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A fillet of fish in a packet bears no resemblance to the animal it used to be.  So I feel really strongly that if children are going to eat fish or meat they should find out where it came from.  I’d always assumed that cooking a whole fish would be technical and awkward, but actually if you buy it gutted and descaled then all you have to do is stuff it with lemon and herbs, shake over some salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil and bake it until flaky .  My kids love the spectacle of peeling the cooked skin off and using a fork to serve themselves.  They really enjoy the texture and flavour of the fish and then seeing and touching the bones, head and eyes left at the end.  They don’t hold back, so having wipes nearby is a must!

My kids are young so I just get them to do little tasks when I am cooking.  In this case they chopped the olives in half with a blunt knife (next time it will be a proper knife!) and stuffed the fish (seabass) with the herbs and lemon slices.  The fish is baked on top of sliced potatoes, onions, the olives and sundried tomatoes, which become sweet and chard, along with the subtle flavour of the lemon juice.  Other vegetables such as sweet potato, broccoli, pepper, tomatoes and asparagus would also work well.  Sainsbury’s do a pack of ‘British sea vegetables’ which you can fry in minutes, and make a great accompaniment (not according to the kids though, who stuck to their peas!)

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The whole dish is fun to eat as you can put it in the middle of the table for everyone to help themselves.

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Baked Whole Fish With Tasty Roast Veg (serves 2-4 depending on appetite)

2 large potatoes sliced

1 onion, sliced

12 olives, chopped in half

6 sundried tomatoes, chopped small

2 whole sea bass or other similar sized whole fish, descaled and gutted

Handful of parsley

2 lemons, sliced

Olive oil (or any other cooking oil)

Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees/gas mark 6.

Spread the sliced potatoes, onion, olives and sundried tomatoes out on a baking tray or large casserole dish to make a sort of bed for the fish, and pour over some oil.  Lay on the descaled and gutted whole fish and stuff them with the parsley and lemon slices (don’t worry if they come out the side a bit).  Finally drizzle the fish with a little oil and shake over some salt and pepper.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the fish is flaky and cooked, taking out the fish briefly to turn over the veg halfway through cooking.   Let everyone serve themselves and the kids explore the fish as much as they like.  Watch this video from 37 seconds in for how to eat your cooked fish – it is simpler than you think!