It is absolutely vital to feed our children well – their energy, vitality, and ability to concentrate all depends on the quality of the food we feed them. When I say well I mean wholesome, nourishing naturally produced food, free of chemicals, additives and artificial colourings. Kid’s palettes are very sensitive and can pick up nuances of flavour or lack of much more acutely then we often can, I have observed this many times over with my own children and grandchildren. Little Amelia Peggy was first introduced to tomatoes and baby cucumbers where she as about 8 months old in the Summer of 2008. She loved them and ate them like fruit. It was quite noticeable that she ate less at the end of the season when both vegetables and fruit lose their sweetness through lack of sunshine. Eventually the crop was finished, but she was too young to ask where they had disappeared to. Some months later while she rode around the supermarket in her Mum’s trolley she got very excited when she suddenly spotted some cherry tomatoes in the vegetable section and gesticulated wildly in their direction. She was a bit baffled at the packaging but she couldn’t wait to get at them. She popped one into her mouth chewed a little, grimaced and promptly spat it out. She literally didn’t eat another tomato until she plucked one off the plant the following Summer. This and many other examples have led me to believe my theory about children’s palates but this is only anecdotal evidence (I would welcome some research)
Parents who grow their own vegetables, herbs and fruit will confirm that their children will eat everything particularly if they have helped to grow it. Visitors are constantly amazed to see our grandchildren tucking into platefuls of mussels or peeling shrimps or wiggling periwinkles out of their shells, no one bats an eyelid – they don’t think there is anything peculiar about it. The little ones run into the greenhouse and pluck the beans off the plants and eat them there and then. They love shelling the broad beans to find the tiny beans cuddled up inside the furry lining. Of course they also eat them cooked but many never even make it into the kitchen not to speak of the pot!
Porridge or fruit muesli is their favourite breakfast; several of the grandchildren don’t know any other breakfast cereal exists. When our eldest grandson Joshua was about 5 he arrived home from school one day and much to Rachel’s surprise asked for Corn Flakes, she wondered why he wanted them. It transpired that he had no idea what they were but wanted to have the little toys from the packet like his pals at school, so Myrtle collected them from the cornflakes in Ballymaloe House and then he was happy. They also baffle their friends by fighting over the drum sticks on a chicken which causes a bit of a problem considering each chicken only has two drumsticks, so far we have managed to pass off the delicious crispy wings as mini drum sticks!
Good food habits are unquestionably laid down when children are young. If they are introduced early to a variety of foods, they seem to enjoy them as the norm. One can control their diet well when they are little but it becomes more of a challenge when they go to school. It’s a huge help to parents if the school have a healthy eating policy and refuse to allow fizzy drinks and bars into school lunch. Nonetheless – once they go to school they’ll get to taste all kinds of foods that include flavours specially formulated to stimulate a craving. Still if you have managed to foster good eating habits when they are little you are likely to experience less difficulty.
I’m quite sure my grand children would tuck into a well known brand of burger as good as the rest, but it’s a rare treat. Nourishing food does not have to be expensive, food is cheaper and has a much better flavour when it is in season.
Radishes with Cream Cheese and Parsley
Get your kids growing radishes, even in a little timber box, at this time of year they will only take 12 – 14 days to be ready to eat. Then they can pick, wash and enjoy them.
Fresh Radishes complete with leaves
Gently wash the radishes, trim the tail and the top of the leaves if they are large.
Put 7 or 8 chilled radishes on each plate; put a blob of cream cheese close by.
To eat, smear the radishes with a little cream cheese, dip in chopped parsley and eat – delicious.
Traditional Roast Stuffed Organic Chicken with Gravy and lots of Roast Spuds
In my experience all children love a roast stuffed chicken with lots of gravy and roast spuds. Nowadays, many people buy chicken pieces rather than a whole chicken, so a traditional roast chicken is a forgotten flavour for many, partly because unless you have access to a really good bird the smell and flavour will be quite different to ones childhood memory. People often feel that making stuffing is too bothersome but if you keep some breadcrumbs in the freezer it can literally be make in minutes. Should I cook the stuffing inside the bird or separately? The best place for the stuffing is inside the bird where it absorbs lots of delicious juices as it cooks. Do not overfill the bird otherwise the heat may not penetrate fully. This is particularly important if you are using an intensively reared bird which may be infected with salmonella and or campylobacter.
4 1/2 – 5 lbs (1.5 – 2.3kg) free range chicken,
1 1/2 ozs (45g) butter
3 ozs (75g) chopped onion
3-3 1/2 ozs (75-95g) soft white breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh herbs eg. parsley, thyme, chives and annual marjoram
salt and freshly ground pepper
a little soft butter
1 – 1 1/2 pints (600-900mls) of stock from giblets or chicken stock
Sprigs of flat parsley
First remove the wish bone from the neck end of the chicken, this is easily done by lifting back the loose neck, skin and cutting around the wish bone with a small knife – tug to remove, this isn’t at all essential but it does make carving much easier later on. Tuck the wing tips underneath the chicken to make a neat shape. Put the wish bone, giblets, thickly sliced carrot, onions, a stick of celery and a few parsley and thyme stalks into a saucepan. Cover with cold water, bring to the boil, skin and simmer gently while the chicken is roasting. This is the basis of the gravy.
Next make the stuffing,
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/regulo4. Weight the chicken and allow about 20 minutes to the lb and 20 minutes over – put on middle shelf in oven. Baste a couple of times during the cooking with the buttery juices. The chicken is done when the juices are running clear.
To test prick the thickest part at the base of the thigh, hold a spoon underneath to collect the liquid, examine the juices – they should be clear.
Remove the chicken to a carving dish, keep it warm and allow to rest while you make the gravy.
To make the gravy
If possible serve the chicken on a nice carving dish surrounded by crispy roast potatoes and some sprigs of flat parsley then arm yourself with a sharp knife and bring it to the table. Carve as best you can and ignore rude remarks if you are still practicing but do try to organise it so that each person gets some brown and some white meat. Serve with gravy and roast spuds.
Use the cooked carcass for stock.
, tilt the roasting tin to one corner and spoon off the surplus fat from the juices and return the roasting pan to the stove. De glaze the pan juices with the fat free stock from the giblets and bones (you will need 1 1/2 pints depending on the size of the chicken). Using a whisk, stir and scrape well to dissolve the caramelized meat juices in the roasting pan. Boil it up well, season and thicken with a little roux if you like (the gravy should not be thick). Taste and correct seasoning, serve in a hot gravy boat. sweat the onions gently in the butter in a covered saucepan until soft, 10 minutes approx. then stir in the white bread crumbs, the freshly chopped herbs, a little salt and pepper to taste. Allow it to get quite cold unless you are going to cook the chicken immediately. If necessary wash and dry the cavity of the bird, then season and half fill with stuffing. Season the breast and legs, smear with a little soft butter.
8 potatoes, unwashed Golden Wonders or Kerr’s Pinks
Choose medium to large potatoes of even size. Scrub and peel. Put into a saucepan, cover with cold salted water and bring to the boil. Drain thoroughly. Lightly scratch the surface with a fork and season with salt.
Put the potatoes into smoking hot fat or olive oil. Baste occasionally. Cook until soft in a hot oven 230°C/450°F/regulo 8 for 30-45 minutes depending on the size. Drain well on kitchen paper. Serve immediately.
Alternatively, put the potatoes into smoking hot fat in the same tin as the meat, 40-45 minutes before the meat is fully cooked and baste well. Cook until soft. (Baste the potatoes when you baste the meat and turn them over after 25 minutes). Drain on kitchen paper and serve immediately.
Sweet Sticky Carrots
You might like to try this method of cooking carrots. Admittedly it takes a little vigilance but the resulting flavour is a revelation to many people.
450g (1lb) organic carrots, Early Nantes and Autumn King have particularly good flavour
15g (1/2 oz) butter
125ml (4fl oz) cold water
Pinch of salt
Good pinch of sugar
Freshly chopped parsley or fresh mint
Cut off the tops and tips, scrub and peel thinly if necessary. Cut into slices 7mm
(1/2 inch) thick, either straight across or at an angle. Leave very young carrots whole. Put them in a saucepan with butter, water, salt and sugar. Bring to the boil, cover and cook over a gentle heat until tender, by which time the liquid should have all been absorbed into the carrots, but if not remove the lid and increase the heat until all the water has evaporated. Taste and correct the seasoning. Shake the saucepan so the carrots become coated with the buttery glaze.
Serve in a hot vegetable dish sprinkled with chopped parsley or mint.
Note: It is really important to cut the carrots into the same thickness. Otherwise they will cook unevenly.
Scrub the carrots with a brush but don’t peel. Trim the tails but if the tops are really fresh, leave a little of the stalks still attached. Cook and glaze as above, scatter with a little fresh parsley and mint.
Rhubarb Fool with Shortbread Dippers
Kids love dipping and fruit fools make a delicious dessert.
Serves 6 approx.
450g (1 lb) red rhubarb, cut into chunks
175-225g (6-8ozs sugar
2 tablespoons water
300ml (10fl oz) cream whipped or a mixture of cream and natural yoghurt
Shortbread Dippers (see recipe)
Top and tail the rhubarb stalks – rub with a damp cloth. Cut into approximately 2.5cm (1 inch) chunks.
Put the rhubarb into a stainless saucepan with the sugar and water, stir, cover, bring to the boil and simmer until soft, 20 minutes approx. Stir with a wooden spoon until the rhubarb dissolves into a mush. Allow to get quite cold. Fold in the softly whipped cream to taste. Serve chilled with shortbread dippers.
Makes 25 Approx
175g (6 oz) plain white flour
110g (4 oz) butter
50g (2 oz) castor sugar
Put the flour and sugar into a bowl; rub in the butter as for Shortcrust pastry. Gather the mixture together and knead lightly. Roll out to 7mm (1/8 or 1/4 inch) thick. Cut into strips to make ¾ inch to 2 ½ inch pieces to make nice dippers. Bake in a moderate oven 180°C/350°F/regulo 4 to pale brown, 5-15 minutes, depending on size.
Fool Proof Food
Ballymaloe Strawberry Muesli
Oatmeal, a brilliant food with high glycemic index is very inexpensive and will provide breakfast for a week or more. Porridge in winter but try this irresistible fruit muesli in Summer. Everyone from kids to grannies and grandpas love it. This is a huge favourite with all our family and friends – it’s a good recipe to know about because it’s made in minutes and so good. We vary the fruit through the seasons – strawberries, raspberries, loganberries, blueberries and grated Cox’s Orange Pippin apples or Ergemont Russet in the Autumn.
6 tablespoons rolled oatmeal (Quaker Oats)
8 tablespoons water
250g (8oz) fresh Irish strawberries
2-4 teaspoons pure Irish honey, preferably local to your area
Soak the oatmeal in the water for a few minutes. Meanwhile, mash the strawberries roughly with a fork and mix with the oatmeal. Sweeten to taste with honey, a couple of teaspoons are usually enough but it depends on how sweet the strawberries are.
Serve with pouring cream and soft brown sugar.
A great new Irish fizz
A great new Irish fizz
has just come onto the market; it’s called Dunhill Castle Sparkling Spirit. It’s made using a triple distilled natural Irish spirit from Carbery in West Cork and juice from an old fashioned flavoured apple called Karmine that grows very well locally in Kilkenny. There are no sweeteners, additives or preservatives. None of the sulphites that are found in most champagne and wines, so no headache the following day. I’ve been enjoying this fruity fizz as an aperitif on Summer evenings – it’s already available in 21 locations in the south east, to find out where your closest stockist is visit www.irishartisanbeverages.com – just what we need to perk us up!