ArchiveSeptember 2019

School Lunches

Last week I promised to concentrate on school lunches in my next column so here it comes…

By now all our little dotes are back at school. For many parents, it’s a tumultuous mixture of emotions – a huge relief to be back into a routine once again, but also tinged with sadness if your little one is starting school for the first time and a new anxiety – the daily school lunch!

We are all aware that school lunch represents a third of the child’s daily nutrient intake but there are so many challenges. How to fill that box with exciting, yet nourishing wholesome food, that will be acceptable to kids themselves and not be ridiculed by their peers. Such a minefield – how can food have reached this stage?

One ‘catty’ remark from an opinionated friend can banish the raw cauliflower florets or crunchy radishes from the lunch box forever.

A high percentage of kids want sandwiches, easy to pack, easy to eat and I know I am like a broken record but the quality of our daily bread is crucially important. The standard of most shop bought sliced bread, both brown and white is deeply worrying, squishy, doughy, artificially boosted and in some instances undercooked. Often with an interesting list of ingredients that won’t be found in the kitchen cupboard of any home baker.

Last week, I gave a recipe for Little Brown Loaf, so hope you have already discovered how super simple it is to make and experienced a ‘Ooops of delight’ in your tummy when you took that first loaf of bread out of the oven.

I was so thrilled to hear from one proud Mum that her 11 year old, who watched her making the bread has now decided to take over the making of the daily school lunch loaf – how cool is that! Next step a mini bakery, to develop her entrepreneurial skills…

Sandwiches are so easy to ‘grab, gobble and go’, but try to swap out the super easy, old reliable processed ham and cheese. The, universal favourite combination, is not the problem it’s the quality. Slices of good cheddar and home cooked bacon are the option here. Cook a piece of oyster cut bacon (the lean joint between loin and ham) as a ‘go to’ –  keep in the fridge for sandwiches and salads.

Some children go through a phase of not liking crusts but don’t automatically cut them off because they are so tasty and good for children’s chewing mechanism.

Without getting into too much of a knot, one needs to include some protein, carbohydrate, dairy, fruit and vegetables in the daily lunch box.

Hardboiled egg, is a brilliantly easy to eat protein – provide a little pot of mayo, sumac or a mix of flaky sea salt, chili flakes and roasted cumin, depending on how adventurous your kids are. . . .

Let’s not fall into the trap of saying they won’t like that – I’ve found that the question “Who’s brave enough to try the supercool ???” –  tempts many warriors to have a go. Avocado is another brilliant lunchbox option, provide a spoon and a few flakes of sea salt or make a simple guacamole. . .

Hummus and variations, now a lunchbox staple for many is the perfect dip for raw carrot sticks, pepper, cucumber as is Tahina… Add some little super fresh cauliflowers florets or sprouting broccoli , they are crunchy and delicious to munch on or dip. But make sure it’s organic or chemical free, otherwise you are giving your children a fine dose of pesticide and herbicide residues to mess up their gut biome.

Slices of salami, salami sticks or little pieces of smoked fish are also delicious and super nutritious and easy to nibble.

My favourite sandwich of the moment is sourdough toast with almond butter, sliced banana, honey and a few sea salt flakes. Vegetable or cheese croquettes are also a big hit, spicy drumsticks or even plain roasted drumsticks are also good and easy to hold. A little crustless quiche or mini frittata will keep them bouncing with energy.  Cherry tomatoes, cheddar cheese cubes, bocconcini (little mozzarella balls) all easy nibble. Why not thread the cheese, cherry tomato and basil leaves onto a cocktail stick…

Teeny scones are always appealing and delicious too, while a little flask of nourishing soup is just the thing on a chilly day…so many options but here are a few suggestions to get your started….

Little Frittatas with Chorizo

Makes 6

A perfect little school lunch, almost a soufflé, without flour so it is suitable for coeliacs. Lots of fun can be had with this recipe, substitute the chorizo or bacon with a dice of pumpkin, sweet potato, courgette, cherry tomato…

275g (5oz) soft chorizo, peeled and chopped or diced, cooked streaky bacon

3 eggs

250ml (5floz) a mixture of ½ cream and ½ milk

75g (3oz) mature Cheddar, plus extra for sprinkling on the top

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1tbsp chopped parsley (optional)

6 x small ramekins 110mls (4fl oz) or a muffin tin lined with muffin papers.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400F/Gas Mark 6.

First peel and chop the chorizo or bacon and divide between the ramekins – a good tablespoonful in each.

Whisk the eggs, cream and milk; add the grated cheese and parsley and salt and lots of freshly ground pepper.

Just before cooking, stir the batter and pour over the chorizo, sprinkle with grated cheese and pop into the oven for 15 minutes.

They will puff up and be nicely golden on top.

Cool and enjoy! These can be made the night before and popped into the lunchbox.

Guacamole

Made in minutes guacamole is super nutritious and makes a delicious dip. The avocado must be really ripe and preferably organic…

1 ripe avocado (Hass if available)

1-2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon freshly chopped coriander or flat parsley

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Scoop out the flesh from the avocado.  Mash with a fork or in a pestle and mortar, add lime juice, olive oil, chopped coriander, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Serve immediately.  Otherwise, cover the surface of the guacamole with a sheet of plastic to exclude the air.  Cover and keep cool until needed.

 A little finely diced chilli or tomato may be added to the guacamole.

Ballymaloe Sausage Rolls

Makes 8 – 16 depending on size

450g (1 lbs) Good Quality Pork Sausages (90% pork meat) or homemade sausage meat – see recipe

450g (1lb) Puff Pastry

Make the homemade sausages or remove the sausages from their casings. Then form into rolls, either regular or jumbo size to fit the pastry.

Roll the pastry into a rectangle about 4mm (1/6 inch) thick.  Lay the sausage along the wider side 5cm (2 inch) from the edge.  Brush with egg wash or water.   Fold over the excess pastry, press to seal and cut along the edge.  Flake the edge with a knife or seal with a fork. Brush the top of pastry with egg wash and prick the surface with a fork at 1” (2cm) intervals.  Cover and chill.  Repeat with the remainder.  Before cooking cut into 8’s or 16’s .

Preheat the oven to 230°C/450F/Gas Mark 8.

Cook for 20-25 minutes depending on size. 

Ballymaloe Homemade Sausages

Sausages made from 100 percent lean meat may sound good, but for sweetness and succulence one needs some fat. The addition of breadcrumbs is not just to add bulk, it greatly improves the texture, too.

Serves 8

(Makes 16 Small or 8 large sausages)

450g (1lb) good, fat streaky pork (rindless), minced

2 tablespoons mixed fresh herbs (e.g. parsley, thyme, chives, marjoram, rosemary and sage)

60g (21⁄2oz) soft white breadcrumbs

1 large garlic clove

1 teaspoon salt and freshly ground pepper

1 organic egg (optional – helps to bind – reduce breadcrumbs to 50g/2oz if omitting egg)

dash of oil for frying

50g (2oz) natural sheep or hog casings (optional)

Chop the herbs finely and mix through the breadcrumbs. Crush the garlic to a paste with a little salt. Whisk the egg, and then mix into the other ingredients thoroughly. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Fry off a little knob of the mixture to check the seasoning. Correct if necessary. Fill the mixture into natural sausage casings and tie. Twist into sausages at regular intervals. Alternatively, divide into 16 pieces and roll into lengths to make skinless sausages. Cover and chill.

Homemade sausages are best eaten fresh but will keep refrigerated for 2–3 days.

When ready to eat, fry gently on a barely oiled pan on a medium heat until golden on all sides.

Pop in a little pot of homemade ketchup or bramley apple sauce to dip.

Hummus

A wonderfully nutritious and filling dip to add to lunch boxes, add breadsticks, carrot sticks, celery sticks or chopped peppers to dip.

Serves 4 – 6

1 x 400g (14oz) tin of chickpeas, drained (or 200g/7oz of dried chickpeas, soaked in water overnight, then cooked in fresh water till soft – reserve cooking liquid)

juice of 1/2 to 1 lemon

2 cloves garlic, crushed

2 good tablespoons of tahini paste

3-4 tablespoons olive oil

salt to taste

Put all the ingredients into a food processor and pulse until smooth. Check for seasoning.  Thin to required consistency with chickpea cooking water.

Tomato, Mozzarella and Basil Bites

A yummy bite…

Thread a fresh basil leaf a ripe cherry tomato and a bocconcini or a cube of mozzarella onto a cocktail stick and pop into the lunch box….easy!

Magic Muffins

A little treat but more nutritious than most.

Makes 6 – 8 – gluten free

3 large eggs

125ml (4flozs) coconut oil

2 bananas peeled and mashed

3 dates stoned and chopped

Scant 2flozs of maple syrup

25g (1oz) of coconut flour

¼ tsp salt

½ tsp baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)

25g (1oz) of walnuts, chopped

Cupcake tin lined with papers.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350F/gas mark 4. Whisk the eggs with the coconut oil and maple syrup, add the mashed bananas and chopped dates. Stir in the coconut flour, salt, sieved bicarbonate of soda and chopped walnuts. Mix well. Divide the mixture between the cases. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until puffed and golden.

Back to School Fuel – Breakfast

Back to school…our little dotes are busily settling back into school, some making new friends others reacquainting with special pals from last term. It can be an anxious time for both children and parents and now we hear the deeply worrying statistics that anxiety and depression among children, teens and third level students is increasing at a really alarming rate. No doubt there are many contributory factors….the internet is an easy target, ‘helicopter parenting’…is a new one on me….. apparently it refers to parents who ‘hover overhead’, overseeing every aspect of a child’s life, rather than allowing them to acquire basic life skills, usually learned by trial and error.

Whatever the challenge, I am completely convinced that the food children eat is vitally important for both their physical and mental health and their ability to cope with the stresses of everyday life.

So of all our many responsibilities we have as parents and there are many, one of the most important of all is to make sure that our children eat real food. It’s an investment in their future both in health and socio economic terms. No one is saying this is easy in the frantic world we now inhabit, but somehow it must be done.

The morning is crazy busy in most households as parents try to get themselves and kids fed, school lunches made and their kids off to a crèche and/or school all before 8.00am.

So what to do, now I am going to sound unbearably bossy, but take my advice and ditch the cereal packets. I’m a big porridge fan, otherwise oatmeal fruit muesli or granola with a banana or some fresh fruit, All can be ready from the night before…

Children from seven upwards can learn how to make each of these and be proud of their achievements.

A simple fried egg, pretty much a whole protein and a slice of brown bread will set them up for the day. Most 5 or 6 year olds can learn how to fry an egg, Yes they can…. and they have the wit to know the pan is hot!

After all I’m the oldest of 9 kids, so no ‘helicopter parenting’ in our house, everyone had their own little jobs and so we inadvertently learned life skills and were proud of what we could do and anxious to help Mum (a widow at 36).

I’m a big believer in the value of freshly squeezed orange juice to provide a shot of vitamin C and many other good things each morning to protect from winter colds and flus. Buy a small electric juicer, they’re worth every penny and once again a 7 – 8 year old can make juice, pure and delicious with no additives (save and dry the citrus peels for firelighters).

This week I’m going to concentrate on a simple pre-school (or work) breakfast…. I urge you to make or seek out good bread and I’ve become more and more convinced that it needs to be made from organic flour as research clearly shows glyphosate residues in non-organic products. Look on it as an investment in your family’s health – save on supplements and meds and build up healthy gut biomes in all the family.

We can no longer say we don’t know the danger pesticides and herbicide residues are doing to our health, the research is there…

After all glyphosate is registered as an antibiotic and is known to cross the placenta barrier. Austria became the first country to Europe to ban glyphosate in June 2019, others will follow – It’s an extremely problematic subject but back to the kitchen….

Flahavan’s, the famous seventh generation family from Kilmacthomas in Co Waterford, sell organic oat flakes but their non-organic porridge is also glyphosate free because Flahavan’s banned their growers from using glyphosate over 20 years ago. Pat and Lily Lawlor’s creamy Kilbeggan Oatmeal too is organically grown and widely available. We are also big fans of Donal Creedon’s Macroom Oatmeal with its unique toasted flavour and texture.

Flaked oatmeal porridge can be made in minutes. Pinhead oats or Macroom can easily be made the night before and re-heated in just a few minutes the following morning when you are bleary eyed and trying to wake up. I love it with a sprinkling of soft brown sugar and a drop of Jersey cow milk, but I notice that the young people nowadays enjoy porridge with all manner of toppings. Fresh or stewed fruit, compotes, peanut butter, jam, honey, nuts…the more the merrier to give them energy and vitality to power through the day.

This fruit muesli, a Ballymaloe favourite for over 70 years, changes with the seasons. Add crushed berries or grated Irish dessert apples – they are in season now… If you have an apple tree you’ll probably have a glut, don’t waste a single one, they make delicious apple juice to drink fresh, freeze or try your hand at cider, but we are wandering away from breakfast!

Next week I’ll concentrate on and have lots of suggestions for the all

important lunch box, meanwhile a few staples for breakfast….

Kilbeggan Organic Porridge

Serves 2 -4

Mix a large cup of porridge oats with 2 cups of cold water or milk.  In a saucepan, bring slowly bring to the boil and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes stirring all the time.  Reduce cooking time if the oats are soaked overnight.   My grandchildren love porridge with peanut butter – sounds bizarre but it’s nutritious and delicious!

Variation

To further enrich your porridge, you can add your own selection of organic fresh fruits, nuts, honey, cinnamon…….

Macroom Oatmeal Porridge

Serves 4

Virtually every morning in Winter I start my day with a bowl of porridge.  Search out Macroom stoneground oatmeal which has the most delicious toasted nutty flavour.  It comes in a lovely old-fashioned red and yellow pack which I hope they never change.

155g (5 1/2ozs) Macroom oatmeal

1.2 litres (2 pints) water

1 level teaspoon salt

Obligatory accompaniment!

Soft brown sugar

Bring 5 cups of water to the boil, sprinkle in the oatmeal, gradually stirring all the time.  Put on a low heat and stir until the water comes to the boil.

Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the salt and stir again.  Serve with single cream or milk and soft brown sugar melting over the top.

Left over porridge can be stored in a covered container in the fridge – it will reheat perfectly the next day. Add more water if necessary.

Note

If the porridge is waiting, keep covered otherwise it will form a skin which is difficult to dissolve.

Ballymaloe Strawberry Muesli

Serves 8

This is a huge favourite with all our family and friends – its such a good recipe to know about because its 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 strawberries

2-4 teaspoons honey

Soak the oatmeal in the water for 8-10 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.

Granola

Granola is a toasted breakfast cereal, it’s super easy to make in a large batch and will keep fresh for several weeks in a Kilner jar. You can add all types of dried fruit and nuts to the basic recipe and top it with all manner of good things to make it even more nutritious and energy boosting.

Serves 20

12oz (350g) honey or golden syrup

8fl oz (225g) oil e.g. sunflower

1lb 1oz (470g) oat flakes

7oz (200g) barley flakes

7oz (200g) wheat flakes

3 1/2oz (100g) rye flakes

5oz (150g) seedless raisins or sultanas

5oz (150g) peanuts/hazelnuts, or cashew nuts split and roasted

2 3/4oz (70g/1 cup) wheatgerm and /or millet flakes

2oz (50g) chopped apricots, 1/2 cup chopped dates etc. are nice too

toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds are also delicious

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

Mix oil and honey together in a saucepan, heat just enough to melt the honey.  Mix well into the mixed flakes. Spread thinly on two baking sheets.

Bake in the preheated oven for 20-30 minutes, turning frequently, making sure the edges don’t burn. It should be just golden and toasted, not roasted!

Allow to get cold.  Mix in the raisins or sultanas, roasted nuts, toasted seeds, chopped dates, apricots and wheatgerm.  Store in a screw top jar or a plastic box, keeps for 1-2 weeks.

Serve with sliced banana, milk or yoghurt.

A Fried Egg

Crispy at the edges and soft in the centre, fried eggs are probably the most common way of cooking eggs- even a child can do it…, utterly delicious if one starts with a perfectly fresh-free range egg. 

Keeping a few hens is not for everyone, but if it is a possibility for your family, it’s win-win all the day. The hens eat up household food scraps, mow the lawn as you move the coup around, provide chicken manure for your garden to enhance the fertility of the soil and best of all provide delicious fresh eggs the likes of which are almost impossible to source unless you have your own. What a brilliant food, you could hardly do better than go to school (or work) on an egg!
Heat a little pure bacon fat, butter or olive oil in a frying pan, when its just about sizzling break in the eggs one at a time but don’t overcrowd the pan.  Cook over a low heat if you like the eggs soft underneath or on a higher heat if you like them crispy.  Cook until the white is just set but the yolk soft.  Baste with hot fat if you like the top filmed over or cover the pan with a lid. Flip them over gently with a fish slice if that’s your preference.   Serve immediately on warm but not hot plates.

Scrambled Eggs

Perfectly scrambled eggs are rare indeed, though people’s perception of ‘perfect’ varies wildly. However, for ideal scrambled eggs (in my case, soft and creamy), really fresh organic eggs are essential. Nowadays, it’s become common practice to put the eggs into a hot pan, which gives a tough curd if you’re not careful. I prefer the old-fashioned way that my mother taught me: putting the eggs into a cold saucepan, whereby they scramble gently and slowly, and yield a softer, creamier curd. Scrambled eggs should always be served on warm plates but beware – if the plates are too hot, the scrambled egg can overcook between the stove and the table.

Serves 2

4 organic eggs

2 tablespoons whole milk

a knob of butter

salt and freshly ground pepper

Break the eggs into a bowl, add the milk and season with salt and pepper. Whisk well until the whites and yolks are mixed well. Over a low heat, put a blob of butter into a

cold saucepan, pour in the egg mixture and stir continuously, preferably with a flat-bottomed wooden spoon, until the eggs have scrambled into soft creamy curds.

Serve immediately on warm plates with lots of hot buttered toast or fresh soda bread.

Really great scrambled eggs need no further embellishment.

A Little Brown Soda Bread Loaf

The buttermilk in the shops is low fat but if you have access to rich, thick buttermilk, there is no need to add butter or extra cream.

 Bread is a staple in so many of our homes so the quality really matters….

This little loaf of brown soda bread is mixed in minutes and then just poured into a tin.  A few seeds can be sprinkled over the top or added to the dough for extra nourishment.  Why not weigh up x 5 times the amount of flour and salt (but not bread soda).  Mix well and each time just scoop out 450g (16oz), add bread soda and buttermilk – mix and pour into the tin.

Makes 1 loaf

225g (8oz) brown wholemeal flour (preferably stone-ground)

225g (8oz) plain white flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 level teaspoon bread soda (Bicarbonate of Soda/Baking Soda) sieved

450ml (16fl oz) buttermilk plus 2 tablespoons cream

A selection of sesame, pumpkin, sunflower and poppy seeds (optional)

1 loaf tin 13x20cm (5x8inch) approx. brushed with sunflower oil

First preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large wide bowl, (if using cream, add to the buttermilk).  Make a well in the centre and pour all of the buttermilk. Using one hand, stir in a full circle starting in the centre of the bowl working towards the outside of the bowl until all the flour is incorporated. The dough should be soft. When it all comes together, a matter of seconds, turn it into the oiled tin – slide a knife down the centre of the loaf.  Sprinkle with a mixture of sesame, sunflower, pumpkin and poppy seeds.

Bake in the preheated oven for 60 minutes approximately.

(In some ovens it is necessary to turn the bread upside down on the baking sheet for 5-10 minutes before the end of baking) It will sound hollow when tapped.  Cool on a wire rack, wrapped in a clean tea-towel while hot if you prefer a softer crust.

Note:

1.  One could add 12g (1/2oz) fine oatmeal, 1 egg, and rub in 25g (1oz/1/4 stick) butter to the above to make a richer soda bread dough.

Note:  Bread should always be cooked in a fully pre-heated oven, but ovens vary enormously so it is necessary to adjust the temperature accordingly.

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