Delicious School Lunchbox Ideas

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Philip Boucher-Hayes and Suzanne Campbell ‘s programme ‘What’s Ireland Eating?’ opened a right ‘can of worms’ when it was shown on RTE some time ago. It highlighted the stark reality of the modern Irish diet and what many of our children are eating. School lunches are an eternal dilemma for busy mothers. What can we put in the lunch box that will both entice and nourish our little dotes? Often those two aspirations seem poles apart. The challenge to make tasty bites is only part of the problem; peer pressure can prevent kids who normally have a healthy selection from eating it. Children desperately want to fit in and anything that sets them apart can cause anxiety and embarrassment. The ham or cheese sandwich seems to be a perennial standby, so instead of processed meat, why not cook a piece of bacon at the beginning of the week, slice it thinly, it makes superb ham sandwiches. If your child insists on white bread, then make a little loaf, the same recipe can be adapted for a light brown bread that many children love. It’s honestly made in minutes and can be sliced thinly to make cute little sandwiches, include a few little cherry tomatoes and batons of carrot or beetroot for them to nibble. In general the quality of sliced pan is appalling with a few rare exceptions, if you must use it seek out a traditional baker (a truly threatened species) in your area, they may still be making traditional bread. If you are fortunate enough to find a good artisan baker, support them, they are treasures and we badly need a revival for the sake of the health of the nation. A little container of tasty salad with grated carrot, apple and some nuts and seeds is easy to eat, delicious and certainly nutritious for dessert, a little pot of natural yoghurt with some honey or stewed fruit would be good – steer away from the sweetened versions some of which contain aspartame, an increasingly controversial sweetener. A little flask of soup will be warm and welcoming in winter months. Children also love drumsticks or chicken wings – easy to eat and filling. Beans or chickpeas are another inexpensive source of protein, tossed in a tasty dressing – they can become a favourite. Squares of frittata on a little slice of well seasoned quiche can be delicious occasionally. Of course a little sweet treat in the form of finger shortbread, a flapjack, Anzacs or an occasional ‘fairy cake’ or plain queen cake. Fruit is also a must, little tangerines, a small apple, banana, peach or a few cherries depending on the season and the budget. Hard boiled eggs with a little pot of salsa or garlic mayonnaise, chicken sandwiches or wraps with Ballymaloe Relish or Chutney. My grandchildren also love a little pot of potato salad with chives, pitta bread stuffed with hummus, some salad leaves a cherry tomato and maybe some batons of crispy cucumber. Slices of salami or chorizo are also easy to pick up and nibble. Pancakes, drop scones, tiny muffins, nuts and raisins and of course smoothies are all firm favourites.

 

A little White Soda Bread Loaf

 

 

You can make it in the round traditional way or like this in a loaf tin which is more convenient for slicing or sandwiches

 

1 lb (450g) white flour, preferably unbleached

1 level teaspoon salt

1 level teaspoon breadsoda

sour milk or buttermilk to mix – 15 fl ozs (425 ml) approx

oatmeal, sesame seeds or kibbled wheat (optional)

 

First fully preheat your oven to 230ºC/450ºF/regulo 8.

 

Sieve the dry ingredients. Make a well in the centre. Pour most of the milk in at once. Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, but not too wet. When it all comes together, turn it out onto a well floured worked surface. Scoop it into the oiled tin, sprinkle with oatmeal and sesame or kibbled wheat seeds if you enjoy them. Place in the hot oven immediately turning down the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/regulo 6 for 45 minutes. Remove from the tin and return the bread to the oven for a further 5-10 minutes or until fully cooked. If you are in doubt, tap the bottom of the bread: if it is cooked it will sound hollow.

 

 

White Soda Scones

 

Make the dough as above but flatten the dough into a round 1 inch (2.5cm) deep approx. Cut into scones. Cook for 20 minutes approx. in a hot oven (see above).

 

Carrot and Apple Salad with Honey and Vinegar Dressing

 

This delicious salad can be made in minutes from ingredients you would probably have easily to hand, but shouldn’t be prepared more than half an hour ahead, as the apple will discolour. Serve either as a starter or as an accompanying salad for ham or pork.

 

Serves 6

 

8 ozs (225g) grated carrot

10 ozs (285g) grated dessert apple, e.g. Cox’s Orange Pippin if available

salt and freshly ground pepper

 

 

Dressing

 

2 good teaspoons pure Irish honey

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

 

 

Garnish

 

a few leaves of lettuce

sprigs of watercress or parsley

chive flowers if you have them

 

Dissolve the honey in the wine vinegar. Mix the coarsely grated carrot and apple together and toss in the sweet and sour dressing. Taste and add a bit more honey or vinegar as required, depending on the sweetness of the apples.

 

Take 6 large side plates, white are best for this. Arrange a few small lettuce leaves on each plate and divide the salad between the plates. Garnish with sprigs of watercress or flat parsley and sprinkle with chive flowers if you have some. Season to taste.

 

 

Quiche Lorraine

 

Serves 6

 

1 x quantity Shortcrust Pastry (see recipe) 

1 tablespoon olive oil

175g 6oz) streaky bacon cut into 1cm (1/2in) lardons

100g (4oz) chopped onions

3 eggs and 2 egg yolks

300ml (1/2 pint) double cream

1 scant tablespoon chopped parsley

1 scant tablespoon chopped chives

50g (2oz) Cheddar cheese, grated

50g (2oz) Gruyère cheese, grated

salt and freshly ground black pepper

23cm (9 inch) diameter baking tin

Make the pastry (see recipe).

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Line the tart tin and ‘bake blind’ for about 25 minutes, the base should be almost fully cooked. Remove the paper and beans, brush the base with a little beaten egg white and replace in the oven for 3-4 minutes. This will seal the base and avoid the “soggy bottom” effect.

Heat the oil in a frying pan and cook the bacon until crisp. Remove and dry on kitchen paper. Then sweat the onions gently in the same oil for a further 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk the eggs in a medium-sized bowl, add the cream, herbs, cheeses and cool bacon and onions. Mix well and add seasoning.

Pour the filling into the pastry base and return to the oven for 30–40 minutes or until the centre has set. Serve warm with a green salad and relish.

 

 

 

Basic Shortcrust Pastry

 

 

6 ozs (175g) white flour, spelt or sieved wholemeal flour

3 ozs (75g) butter

pinch of salt

beaten egg or water (to bind)

 

Sieve the flour with the salt, cut the butter into cubes and rub into the flour with the fingertips. Keep everything as cool as possible; if the fat is allowed to melt, the finished pastry may be tough. When the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs, stop. Whisk the egg or egg yolk and add some water. Take a fork or knife, (whichever you feel most comfortable with) and add just enough liquid to bring the pastry together, then discard the fork and collect it into a ball with your hands, this way you can judge more accurately if you need a few more drops of liquid. Although rather damp pastry is easier to handle and roll out, the resulting crust can be tough and may well shrink out of shape as the water evaporates in the oven. The drier and more difficult -to-handle pastry will give a crispier shorter crust.

 

Cover the pastry with cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for a minimum of 15 minutes. This will make the pastry much less elastic and easier to roll.

 

N.B. 4 ozs (110 g) pastry will line one 6-7 inch (15-18cm) flan tin.

 

 

Note

3ozs (75g) will produce a richer pastry, but beginners would be wiser to use

2ozs (50g) butter to 4oz (110g) flour for ease of handling.

 

Potato and Spring Onion Salad

 

Serves 4-6

2 lbs (900g) freshly cooked potatoes – diced, allow about 2 1/4 lbs (1.1kg) raw potatoes

4 tablespoons chopped parsley

4 tablespoons chopped spring onion or chives

4 fl ozs (110ml) French dressing

4 fl oz (110 ml) mayonnaise

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

The potatoes should be boiled in their jackets and peeled, diced and measured while still hot. Mix immediately with the chopped spring onion and parsley. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Stir in the French dressing, allow to cool and finally add the mayonnaise. Keeps well for about 2 days in the fridge.

Note: This potato salad is also delicious without mayonnaise. Potato salad may be used as a base for other salads, eg. add cubes of garlic salami, cooked Kabanossi sausages or cooked mussels.

 

Drop Scones

 

Makes 12

110g (4ozs) self-raising flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

25g (1oz) caster sugar

pinch of salt

1 egg

110ml (4fl ozs) milk

drop of sunflower oil, for greasing

Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl, add the sugar and salt and stir to mix. Make a well in the centre, crack in the egg and whisk, gradually drawing in the flour from the edge. Add the milk gradually, whisking all the time, to form a smooth batter.

Lightly grease a frying pan and warm it over a moderate heat. Drop 3 tablespoons of the batter into the pan, keeping well apart so they don’t stick together. Cook for about 2 minutes or until bubbles appear on the surface and begin to burst and the drop scones are golden underneath, then flip them over and cook on the other side for a minute or until golden on this side as well.

Remove from the pan and serve warm with butter and jam, apple jelly, lemon curd or if you are like my children, chocolate spread! (If you wish, wrap the drop scones in a clean tea towel to keep warm while you make the rest.)

 

Lisa Bowskill’s Mini Muffins

 

Makes 12 muffins or up to 36 mini muffins

10oz (275g) plain flour

1 level tablespoon baking powder

3oz (75g) caster sugar

½ teaspoon salt

2 medium eggs

8floz (225ml) milk

4oz (110g) melted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 200C/400F/Gas mark 6

Place paper muffin cases in muffin tin. Hand whisk together sugar, eggs, milk, melted butter and vanilla. Sieve flour, salt and baking powder. Fold into beaten mixture. It should look like lumpy batter. Add filling of your choice.

Divide mixture between 12 cases or put just over 1 teaspoon per mini muffin case. Fill almost to the top. Bake at the top of the oven for 25-30 minutes.

Cool on a wire rack.

Note: Reduce baking time to 15-20 minutes for mini muffins

 

Flapjacks

 

These nutritious oatmeal biscuits keep very well in a tin. Children love to munch them with a banana. Don’t compromise – make them with butter, because the flavour is immeasurably better. This is the recipe that I use when I want to prove to people who swear they can’t boil water that they can cook. We often drizzle them with melted chocolate as an extra treat. Makes about 24

 

350g (12oz) butter

 

1 tablespoon golden syrup

 

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

 

225g (8oz) caster sugar

 

450g (1lb) rolled oatmeal (porridge oats)

 

Swiss roll tin 25 x 38cm (10 x 15in)

 

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4.

 

Melt the butter, add the golden syrup and vanilla extract, stir in the sugar and oatmeal and mix well. Spread evenly into the Swiss roll tin.

 

Bake until golden and slightly caramelised, about 30 minutes. Cut into squares while still warm – they will crisp up as they cool.

 

Variation

 

Oatmeal and coconut flapjacks

 

substitute 50g (2oz) desiccated coconut for 50g (2oz) oatmeal in the above recipe.

 

 

 

Anzac Biscuits

 

 

Makes 34 biscuits approximately, depending on size

 

150g (5 oz) plain flour

50g (2 oz) porridge oats

50g (2 oz) desiccated coconut

150g (5 oz) castor sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

150g (5 oz) butter

2 tablespoons golden syrup

 

Preheat the oven to 150ºC/300ºF/Gas Mark 2

 

In a large bowl stir together the flour, oats, coconut, sugar and the baking powder. In a small saucepan combine the butter and the syrup and cook the mixture over a moderately low heat, stirring until the butter is melted. Pour the butter mixture into the flour mixture and combine the mixture well. Place into small balls and put them 5cm (2 inches) apart on baking sheets and flatten them slightly with the back of a fork dipped in water. Bake the cookies in the middle of a preheated oven for 15 minutes or until they are golden. Let the cookies cool slightly on the baking sheet, transfer them with a spatula to a rack, and let them cool completely.

 

Hottips

Limerick Slow Food Celebration

is on Sunday 21st August from 12.00pm to 5pm at Curraghchase Farm Kilcornan, Co Limerick. Learn a few Forgotten Skills – bee keeping talk and demo, pig and poultry keeping (free range), an informal walk and talk, Shorthorn Cattle Society, talk and roast beef tasting, forest mushroom growing display, bread making demo of simple soda bread, organic vegetable growing from the poly tunnel. Admission €5. Caroline Rigney has compiled and written a small book full of stories, features and recipes and it will be on sale, all profits to go to Pieta House for suicide awareness. Email – info@rigneysfarm.com Mobile 087 2834754.

Raw Milk Sales Threatened

– Those who feel strongly about the importance of having freedom of choice to buy unpasteurised milk from a clean and healthy herd may want to sign the petition on the Slow Food Ireland website see www.slowfoodireland.com

Waterford Harvest Festival

is on this year from Saturday 3rd to Sunday 11th September. Three main Slow Food events are Artisan Food Tours to artisan producers – booking essential for this. Tutors from the school of Artisan Foods in the UK will give demonstrations on Cheese Production, Butchery and other artisan food skills. Slow Food France will be be providing demonstrations and tastings of Catalonian food in the Theatre Royal during the festival. Visit the All Ireland Slow Food Market with over 150 food stalls along the One Mile Quay on Sunday 11th September. http://www.waterfordharvestfestival.ie

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Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

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