Thursday, 8 May 2014

Ringing the dinner bell

Mmm, dinner. I love dinner. I especially like new dinners - a change from eating the same handful of familiar meals. I particularly especially like new dinners that my kids eat without complaining.
(OK, that didn't quite happen. But nearly)

I got the very marvellous Ms Jack Monroe's cook book for my birthday a few weeks ago. There are some things she and I will not ever agree on - tinned fruit in dinner! No! - but she cooks many simple things: tasty, affordable things that I could knock up in not much time. Reading her book reminded me that I can like making food for my family after all.

I dread cooking meals for my kids. My eldest was an extremely picky eater from infancy. Which particular meal he would approve for a year at time would change - homemade cauliflower cheese with diced boiled egg, spaghetti, fish fingers and potato smiles, veggie burgers and margarita pizza have all taken their turn as Sole Acceptable Meal over the years - but the pattern was exhausting. No fruit, no veg, no rice, nor meat, nor pulses nor even chips. I went wrong somewhere and never quite got back on track. (Yes, you can judge me. Go ahead. It won't be anything worse than I've thought myself. Even CAMHS said we'd tried everything they would suggest and let's just hope he grows out of it.)

My youngest is playing monkey see, monkey do with the eldest and my middle child - formerly an enthusiastic eater of anything - has decided to object to some of the few foods the other two will actually eat. There are nearly no meals they all like. Home made macaroni cheese is the only reliable one.

And that's why I hate cooking for them. At best, at least one of them will push the food around glumly and not eat. At worst two of them will moan and strop, making enjoying a meal together hard going. To save my sanity by reducing the emotional investment I have in the success of a dinner, I never spend more than 25 minutes of prep on a meal for them. Otherwise I am a ball of seething resentment when no one eats it, which is fair to no one. They didn't ask me to spend 90 minutes on a fancy dinner they won't eat.

So, knowing I was really experimenting for my own enjoyment, I had a browse through Jack Monroe's book. I made the red kidney bean burgers for Mark and I for lunch one day - delicious! Then I looked at the carrot and coriander felafel recipe and had an idea.

Mark, Z and I love felafel. Miss B loves hummus. She and Z also love assembling their food. Luke likes wraps, although only if they contain melted cheese. A "build your own wrap" meal could work.

I shredded some lettuce, sliced cucumbers and cherry tomatoes, peeled ribbons of carrots. I knocked up a quick bowl of hummus, made the felafel's according to Jack's recipe and set everything on the table.  But what to offer Luke? I had a ball of cheap mozzarella in the fridge, so I tore that into fat chunks, dipped them in flour, beaten egg and flour again (because I meant to use matzo meal and realised we hadn't got any - oops) and dropped them in the pan of oil with the felafel. There was a plate of warm pitta and wraps in the centre of the table and a small plate for each person to assemble their own dinner.

It was a big success. Announcing she didn't like vegetables, Miss B promptly ate most of the cucumber and a fair few carrot ribbons before stuffing herself with a mound of hummus. Luke liked the daft mozzarella melts in his wrap - ok, not a healthy food, but at least we were all eating together  - and Zach made a gargantuan wrap filled with loads of everything. For him, the felafel were the stars of the meal. He had an extra portion later that evening when he came home from Scouts. Mark and I loved it too.

So a big Thank You to Jack Monroe for inspiring me to try something new for the kids, and a huge thumbs up for her book. Get a copy if you can.

Oh, and if you buy hummus rather than make it, I recommend having a go at home made. Much cheaper and easy to adapt to your taste.

1 tin chickpeas
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon (ish) of tahini. Peanut butter will do at a pinch
lemon juice
olive oil
salt and pepper

Drain the chickpea water into a cup. Tip the chickpeas, garlic and tahini in a blender. Add enough lemon juice, chickpea water and olive oil to the blender to allow it to be just wet enough to whizz the chickpeas up. My guess is 2 parts chick pea water, 2 parts oil oil to 1 part lemon juice. Add the liquid sparingly and taste as you go so you can tell if it is too thick, too tangy (add more olive oil) or too bland (add lemon juice). Put in a generous pinch of salt and a grind of pepper to taste.

That's it.

Seriously, that's hummus. Tip a few things in a blender, whizz them up, taste it, whizz again until smooth and Bob's your oyster. See why I never bother buying it?

PS - You can add all sorts of things - fresh coriander, ground cumin, roasted peppers - but I still like it best as it is.

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