Archive for the ‘Children’ Category

Flapjacks, and I don’t mean pancakes

27 March 2014

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To me, flapjacks have always been flapjacks.

According to the Oxford Companion to Food, flapjacks are ‘thick, chewy biscuits made from rolled oats, sugar, butter, and golden syrup baked in a flat tin.’ Thank you. Because it took me close to 14 years to understand that, in the US, flapjacks are also griddle cakes, which are akin to pancakes. I don’t blame myself too much as The Joy of Cooking, or the ‘pancake book‘ as it is known in our house, happily deems these interchangeable.

Having spent a few years in England as a child, my first encounter with a flapjack was a flapjack, so when I read about Imen‘s Fine Fettle Flapjacks, I knew exactly what she was talking about. I also immediately construed their magical ability to make the day a little better.

I’ve made the flapjacks Imen’s way first, because the recipe is compelling. Then I tinkered with it a little, because it can’t be helped.

In search of Sriracha sauce one day I walked into a small shop with a myriad specialty products and, without a plan in mind, bought a big bag of barberries and a jar of date syrup (of course, no Sriracha). For the flapjacks I substituted date syrup for some of the honey, which Imen used rather than golden syrup. I also added coconut. The date and coconut transport the flapjacks to a slightly warmer place. I liked it.

Which nonetheless begs the questions: if there is no golden syrup, are these even still flapjacks?

Adapted from Imen McDonell’s Fine Fettle Flapjacks

250 g (1 cup) butter

2 small ripe bananas

4 Tbsps honey

1 tsp cinnamon

4 Tbsps date syrup

350g (3 1/2 cups) porridge oats (which are finer than rolled oats)

115 g (1 cup) millet flakes

100 g (1/2 cup) chia seeds

100 g (1 cup) coconut flakes

Pinch of sea salt

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Butter a rectangular 9 x 13-inch (23 x 33 cm) baking tin and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Mash the bananas; then place the bananas, butter, honey, and cinnamon in a medium saucepan, and heat slowly, stirring carefully until the butter has melted. Remove from heat and stir in the date syrup.

In a large bowl, mix the oats, millet flakes, chia seeds, and coconut flakes, with a pinch of salt.

Pour the butter/honey/date syrup over the oat mixture and stir with a large wooden spoon until the oats are well covered and nicely sticky.

Scoop the mixture into the prepared tin and pat it well to achieve a flat, even surface. Sprinkle a couple of handfuls of millet flakes over the top and slide into the oven.

Bake the flapjacks for about 25 minutes, or until nicely brown. The flapjacks should still be soft to the touch as they will harden as they cool.

Cut into squares while still warm, but leave the flapjacks in the tin until completely cool if you can (otherwise they will crumble).

Almond and lemon madeleines with a touch of buckwheat

24 October 2013

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Moving is like a big gust of wind, it shakes things up and clears the air. I’ve always loved that feeling. Thomas likes to tell how I warned him, when I met him, that I didn’t mean to stay in Berlin forever, I was planning to move around. Indeed just a few weeks after our wedding we left for New York. And we got stuck. It happens, apparently.

For many years Berlin remained the city to which we would undoubtedly return. But gradually, imperceptibly, the feeling dissipated, and New York became home. A bit by default, perhaps, though in time it was hard to envisage any other. It happens, evidently.

As our lives became ever more settled, known, easy, the itch for change was more efficiently tempered by the comfort of friends and habit. It required a bit of a leap, or a gentle nudge. The opportunity had to be seized.

Moving is liberating. Liberating from the grip of a pounding, neurotic, fabulous city constantly vying for attention. I always thought the most fascinating thing about New York is its versatility, a place where anyone can find a place and live life singularly. What I didn’t realize was how much the city, with its endless offerings and possibilities, plays a role. New York isn’t just the setting, it is a main character. It’s what makes it so hard to leave, like breaking off a relationship. And New York is the jealous type.

So I made madeleines. I had no Proustian connection but they’ve found a place right where the happy look ahead chases a little heartache. They are not traditional and exactly how I like them.

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From David Lebovitz‘ classic lemon madeleines with just a few substitutions. Makes about 24 madeleines.

Note: Plan ahead as the dough must rest at least one hour. I did use baking powder though there is none in traditional madeleine recipes. Next time I might try without. Resting the dough is crucial for the little humps to form, particularly if the baking powder is omitted.

120 g butter plus a little more (about a tablespoon) for the molds

3 large eggs

130g sugar

Generous pinch of salt

100 g white flour

30 g buckwheat flour

1 tsp baking powder (optional)

45 g almond flour

Melt the butter and set aside to cool to room temperature.

Brush the madeleine molds with melted butter, sprinkle a little flour, and tap off excess. Place the dusted molds in the refrigerator.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar, and salt for a good 5 minutes until very frothy.

Sift together the white flour, buckwheat flour, and baking powder (if using) into the batter and fold gently with a spatula or wooden spoon. Add the almond flour. Do not overmix.

Add the lemon zest to the cooled butter. Add the butter to the batter a few spoonfuls at a time, folding carefully, Stop as soon as all the butter is incorporated.

Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 2 days.

When ready to bake the madeleines, preheat the oven to 425° F (120° C) and place the rack in the top third of the oven.

Drop little spoonfuls of batter into each mold, just enough to fill each to 3/4. The batter will be hardened from the refrigerator, so it won’t fill the mold immediately (no need to try to spread it).

Bake for 8 to 9 minutes just until the madeleines start to turn golden. Remove from the oven, let cool a little before removing the madeleines from the molds.

They are best eaten very quickly, but will keep in a glass or metal container for one to two days.

Children’s dinner | The ‘I wish it was cauliflower’ (but it’s not quite the season!) zucchini gratin

20 September 2012

Every morning I make lunch for Leo and Balthasar to take to school. When this began I thought I would use the opportunity to be terribly creative; in fact it has become the least inspired aspect of my cooking life. One day I make sandwiches, one day pasta. I alternate. I know the boys will eat this. The problem with school lunches is that I am not there, at the end of the table, frowning, admonishing, and — yes — forcing them to finish their grilled mackerel and ratatouille.

The children eat many things, and, if I may, I don’t think it’s because ‘we’ve been lucky’ but because I’ve made it an excruciating. daily. struggle. But not at school. At first I was just happy that they finished their meal; now I’ve become stuck in this pasta/sandwich routine. I am mindful of what goes into the lunchbox, of course, my mother‘s ever knowledgeable advice always chiming in my ears. But I leave the really good food, the fun food, and the mealtime fights for the evenings.

It seems to have payed off. Leo and Balthasar can be coaxed into eating practically anything; Louise, who is 2, is still in a tug of war. Some things need a bit more prodding, and, unhelpfully, it happens that onetime hits suddenly misfire. But there is some predictability. Naturally oftentimes I have little more patience than to throw some frozen peas into boiling water, serve that with a sunnyside egg, and call it dinner; but I know that practically anything that is diligently prepared, well seasoned, and cooked to the standards of something I would serve guests will be polished off.

Gratin for example. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever made gratin for guests. But nonetheless, gratin is a great example.

It started out with cauliflower. Winter is not the most propitious season to get children excited about vegetables, and at some point I had to find new ways to prepare cauliflower. I personally like cauliflower best raw, but one day I decided it was time to tackle gratin. I say ‘tackle’ because I was intimidated by béchamel sauce. Many years ago on a skiing holiday I volunteered to make béchamel sauce. It was for lasagna, I think. I knew the basic ingredients and felt confident that, by virtue of being French, I was the person best qualified for the job. All I managed to do was create a giant, ever expanding monster of butter, flour, and milk, which probably wasn’t even any good. As it happened, I had to suffer some lessons in béchamel making from Thomas, who made copious fun of me. This was a very long time ago.

I’ve since gained some confidence in the kitchen, so a while ago I decided to tackle béchamel again to make cauliflower gratin, which, come to think of it, is now probably my favorite way of eating cauliflower.

The punchline, of course, is that children love gratin. They also love anything that’s been simmered or stewed with onions, garlic, herbs, spices. They love ratatouille (they do!), they also love risotto (but weeknight dinners rarely enjoy the leisure of 45 minutes of undivided attention). So when I made this squash and zucchini gratin the other day, despite slight initial dismay that it wasn’t cauliflower, the children ate heartily, and asked for more.

***

Gratin is easy to make once the béchamel demon has been tamed. Ideally I’d make simple broiled or pan fried fish with this gratin, since fish and zucchini go so well together. On this particular day I was unprepared and just had some leftover rice, fried to crispiness in olive oil. That was good too.

Quantities are for a 9 x 13 inches (23 x 33 cm) oval dish.

6 medium-sized zucchini and/or yellow squash

Lots of basil leaves

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Good olive oil

About 3 1/2 cups (850 ml) béchamel sauce (this deserves its very own post and will be up soon, but in the meantime look here)

Freshly grated parmesan

*

Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C)

Wash and thinly slice the zucchini crosswise (into disks) approximately 1/4 inch (1/2 cm) thick. Wash the basil leaves.

Place the zucchini slices upright in the dish. Intersperse a basil leaf every 4 or 5 slices. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and pour a very thin drizzle of olive oil over the zucchini.

Pour the béchamel sauce evenly over the zucchini and grate lots of parmesan on top.

Bake the gratin for about 45 minutes, until nicely brown and bubbling. (Placing the rack in the upper half of the oven will help the gratin get a good color.)

*

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Children’s dinner | Fake rabbit in the vegetable garden

Spelt buckwheat buttermilk pancakes

5 June 2012

I expect everyone has an opinion about pancakes.

Pancakes must be light and fluffy, of course, but they must have character. I don’t make plain white flour/milk pancakes, if I can help it. Every Sunday (right, every Sunday *on which I make pancakes*), I experiment. Spelt, oat, whole wheat, buckwheat; buttermilk, yogurt, kefir, ricotta; orange and thyme; fruit, nuts, coconut; … . Some improvisations are better than others.

This recipe strikes just the right balance. There isn’t much buckwheat and that’s how it should be. Just a little heft, tempered by the tang of cultured milk.

***

I used white and whole spelt flours though regular wheat flours would also work. The key here is a small proportion of whole grain and a little buckwheat.

4 Tbsps butter

1 1/2 cups (175 g) white spelt flour

1/2 cup (75 g) whole spelt flour

2 heap Tbsps buckwheat flour

2 Tbsps sugar

1 tsp salt

2 tsps baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

2 eggs

2 1/2 cups (600 ml) cultured buttermilk

Coconut oil for the pan (I use coconut oil to cook pancakes. It works perfectly because it doesn’t burn.)

*

Melt the butter and let cool to room temperature.

Into a large bowl, sift the flours together with the sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.

In another, smaller bowl, beat the eggs well with the fork before adding the buttermilk and finally the melted butter.

Pour the wet ingredients into the flour mixture, and mix swiftly, just enough to combine completely (a few bumps are nothing to worry about, it is important not to overstir the batter).

Grease griddle (non-stick pan) and place over high heat. Once the griddle is hot, pour little puddles of batter (the size is entirely up to you, but keep in mind that they will expand quite a bit), reduce heat to medium, and stay close, checking constantly until you start noticing bubbles popping up. Turn over the pancakes with a wide spatula and, within barely a minute, the pancake is ready. To make more pancakes, repeat process, adding a little oil every time to make sure they don’t stick.

The pancakes can be kept in a covered pan in a 250°F (120°C) oven for a little while if you want to make all the pancakes first and serve them at once.

*

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Orange thyme pancakes

Crepes

Banana cake

Cuban bread

Children’s dinner | Fake rabbit in the vegetable garden

8 November 2011

or “How the Flopsy Bunnies tricked Mr. McGregor.”

I think the name initially devised was even more convoluted, but Leo and Balthasar helped me distill it down to this. This is what happens when Thomas isn’t around.

It’s really meatloaf with spinach mashed potatoes, so let me explain.

Fake rabbit (falscher Hase) is what the Germans call meatloaf, which, as flawed as it may be, is better than “meatloaf” — I imagine pretty much anything is better than “meatloaf.” So as I was looking for a name for this dinner – which isn’t exactly a speedy 20-minute meal, but much easier than it seems and always a great success — I erred into a world of bunnies, vegetable patches, and Beatrix Potter.

For anyone who didn’t grow up with stories of Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny, Thomasina Tittlemouse and Jemima Puddle-Duck, the tale of the Flopsy Bunnies goes something like this: seven hungry bunnies venture onto Mr. McGregor’s rubbish (it’s an English story) heap, where they find a quantity of discarded overgrown lettuces. Victims to the soporific effect of lettuce, the bunnies all fall into a deep sleep, from which they are plucked by Mr. McGregor, and dumped into a sac for his dinner. Luckily the parents come by, find the sac, and, with the help of a friendly field mouse, free the bunnies from the sac then replace them with rotten vegetables. Unaware of the swap, Mr. McGregor proudly presents the sac to his wife, who doesn’t find the joke very funny.

Somehow, thinking of fake rabbits and children’s dinners reminded me of this story. And you know what? The name has caught on (not that the meal really needed selling, but still).

***

The fake rabbit

This fake rabbit is very moist, flavorful, and incidentally, bread-free. It takes a while to cook, but just a few minutes to prepare. The meat can be seasoned and prepared in advance and kept in the refrigerator for a few hours. 

2 lbs ground lamb or beef

1 small onion

1 garlic clove

Small bunch parsley

2 eggs

Zest from 1/2 lemon

1 Tbsp Dijon mustard

2 Tbsps good olive oil

1/2 Tbsp coarse grey sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

*

Preheat oven to 425°F (220°C).

Place the meat in a large bowl.

Peel and finely chop the onion. Peel and finely chop the garlic. Wash, remove the stems, and finely chop the parsley.

In a small bowl, whisk the eggs briefly with a fork.

Add all the ingredients to the meat and mix thoroughly.

Pat the meat into an oblong shape and transfer to an ovenproof dish. Drizzle a little olive oil and rub over the meat.

Slide the meat into the oven and bake at 425°F for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375°F and bake for another 30 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes before cutting into 1 inch slices to serve.

*

The vegetable garden

Or quick mashed potatoes with spinach

5 or 6 medium potatoes

1 bunch spinach

3 Tbsps butter

Good olive oil

Freshly grated nutmeg

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

*

Fill a pot with water, salt generously, cover, place over high heat, and bring to a boil.

Peel and cut the potatoes into halves (or quarters if the potatoes are very big). Carefully drop the potatoes into the boiling water, leaving the lid ajar so the water doesn’t overflow, and cook. (They will cook for about 20 minutes.)

Meanwhile prepare the spinach. Remove the damaged leaves, cut off the stems, wash the spinach leaves in cold water, and set aside.

Start checking the potatoes after about 15 minutes; As soon as a sharp knife slides easily into the flesh, the potatoes are done. Immediately add the spinach, blanch for 1 minute, and quickly drain the potatoes and spinach into a colander.

Place the potatoes into a large shallow bowl and the spinach on a cutting board. With a masher or fork, mash the potatoes with the butter, and good glug of olive oil. Season with nutmeg, salt, and pepper.

Now the spinach should be cool enough to handle. Chop it finely, add to the potatoes, and mix well.

Done.

*

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Children’s dinner | Cowboy food


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