Posts Tagged ‘children’

Notes from the kitchen | Monday chicken legs with spring onions and ginger

15 November 2018

Monday night. Eternal, tedious, domestic conundrum — what to make for dinner? Feeding six requires labour, always. The simplest thing — grating cheese for all the pasta — takes a while.

Forever torn between fantasies of heady stews and lack of time, I go into the butcher’s dreaming of oxtail and grab chicken legs instead. It’s the quickest path to a braised (style) dish. It requires little foresight or planning, barely a thought. There will at the very least be garlic and lemon in the house.

As it happens, today we also have spring onions and celery, ginger and tamari. What began as a resignation, an easy way to finish odds and ends at the bottom of the fridge, has become a legitimate meal, an instant favourite. And with Balthasar’s retro / disco playlist in the background, there may even have been some dancing around the kitchen table.

Chicken legs with spring onions and ginger
Serves 6

6 chicken legs (whole or separated into thighs and drumsticks)
A large chunk of ginger
One bunch — 6 or 7 — spring onions (scallions)
4 or 5 celery stalks
1 small lemon or lime
1 whole head of garlic
Neutral flavored oil
Toasted sesame seed oil
Light soy sauce (or salt)
Tamari soy sauce
Rice vinegar

Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F).

Remove the chicken from the refrigerator so it has time to come to room temperature.

Prepare the ‘vegetables’:
Peel the ginger and slice it into matchsticks.

For the spring onions, cut off the ends, remove one outer layer, wash, and cut into three.

Top and tail the celery stalks, wash, and cut into pieces of similar length to the spring onions.

Wash, halve lengthwise, and thinly slice the lemon (or lime) into half moons.

Smash the head of garlic with your palm to open it up. Crush each clove with the side of a large knife and remove the skin, which will come off easily.

Roasting:
Pour some oil at the bottom of an oven dish large enough to fit all the pieces of chicken with space to spare. *The pieces should not be too crowded or the skin wil not become crispy.* Scatter all the vegetables at the bottom of the pan, toss with a little oil, and roast in the oven for about 15 minutes.

Coat the chicken legs with sesame sauce.

Once the vegetables have been roasting for about 15 minutes, add the chicken legs to the pan and season everything with a few hits each of light soy sauce, tamari, and rice vinegar.

Roast the chicken for 40 to 45 minutes, basting occasionally with the juice, until brown and crispy on the outside and fully cooked (i.e. juices run clear) inside.

If possible, let the chicken sit for a few minutes. Serve with rice.

Life-saving birthday aka any-day yogurt cake

23 June 2015

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The no-hassle, mindlessly easy, infinitely versatile, all-season, all-occasion cake that will also save a thousand birthdays.

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t have the heart of a baker. I rarely follow recipes precisely, I am exasperated when a cake I’ve made many times suddenly doesn’t work because the butter or the continent or the ambient humidity has changed. I like the idea of baking, however. I like cakes. And I like to think I can make a cake for my children’s birthdays, at the very least.

So I gravitate towards simple recipes such as this one or this one. And yogurt cake.

Yogurt cake is a classic in France; it is the cake most French children first learn to make. While French home cooks use scales, not volume measurements such as cups, this cake is an exception: the unit of measurement is a pot of yogurt, the one whose contents are emptied precisely for the cake.

Because my family is not classically French, I discovered yogurt cake a bit later, in my twenties. It is brilliantly easy, and very clever, and can be easily spruced up for a special occasion.

Here first is the simple original recipe, though I rarely make it as is. The variations are just as easy.

Yogurt Cake, classic French recipe

The measurement used is one empty pot of yogurt (empty once the yogurt has been used for the cake!). In Anglo-Saxon countries where yogurts are not as ubiquitously sold in the same standard-size pots I use a measure of 100ml.

Note: 1 ‘pot’ = 100ml see explanation above
1 pot of plain unsweetened yogurt
1 pot of oil or melted butter
2 pots sugar
3 pots flour
2 eggs
1 tsp baking powder
Lemon zest

Mix all the ingredients together and bake in a medium oven for 35 to 40 minutes.

*

Yogurt Cake, adapted recipe

I have doubled the quantities, reduced the amount of sugar, substituted part of the flour with ground almonds, and added raspberries which are conveniently in season for my boys’ birthdays.

2 pots (200 ml) of plain unsweetened yogurt
1 pot (100ml) melted butter
1 pot (100ml) olive oil
3 pots (300 ml) brown sugar
3 pots (300 ml) flour
3 pots (300 ml) almond flour
4 eggs
2 tsps baking powder
Zest from 2 lemons
Fresh raspberries

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).

Line a 10-inch (26cm) baking tin with parchment paper and butter generously.

Mix all the ingredients together except the raspberries to obtain a smooth batter. Add the raspberries and incorporate gently in order not to squash the berries. Pour the batter into the baking tin, slide into the oven, and bake for 50 min to an hour, until the cake is set and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and let cool. Sprinkle with icing sugar and a handful of raspberries for decoration.

*

Festive birthday cake (pictured above)

Make the above recipe without nuts — use 6 pots of flour (and no almond flour)
NOTE: I don’t use almond flour for this version because it renders the cake incredibly moist and crumbly, which would make it difficult to cut through

Once the cake is baked and cooled, cut it in half carefully crosswise. Smear raspberry jam on the bottom half of the cake and place the top half back on top.

Make a lemony mascarpone icing and decorate with fresh raspberries and a generous sprinkling of popping candy!

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).

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

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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