I have been so busy this week with thinking about Christmas, that I forgot to order my veg box. I was so occupied looking at all the Christmas hampers and cook books for family, that I clean forgot. But it is amazing how rummaging through the fridge I came up with all sorts. Last week I was talking about bulking out, or even replacing, meat dishes with mushrooms and I had a punnet to use up so that went in, and I had leeks too, which can always replace onions in sauces or stews.
I have also been talking quite a bit about cooking for kids and I came across a picture of my daughter aged 3, quite happily tucking into Spaghetti Bolognaise and I wondered how she had managed to turn into the fussy little madam she is today. I know that I have probably been a bit to blame, maybe bearing the adults in mind a little too much when cooking family dishes and I am quite a robust sort of cook. With children’s sensitive, little palettes, a little too much pepper or chili is probably enough to put them off. So I decided to make a batch of Bolognaise entirely with her in mind and see if I could win her back. Here are a few key points when cooking for kids although obviously you will need to adapt them for your own. Anyway, I am very pleased otro say that my efforts were rewarded when she not only finished up her own plateful, but somewhat regrettably, half of mine too!
• Go easy on the pepper and chilli. Don’t use too much wine. Make sure you cook it off.
• Break up the tinned tomatoes really well. Children can be fussy about pieces of tomato in things. Don’t use chopped, use whole, and mush them up with your hands until there are no big chunks left.
• Make sure you do not let anything catch. Burning makes things taste bitter. We tend to use leaner and leaner meat which of then does not have enough fat to cook. Add sufficient. If your sauce is greasy at the end, skim it or blot it with kitchen paper,
• Leave out (or puree) vegetables that they hate. My daughter will not eat carrots, no matter how I try and tell her they are something else, golden nuggets for example, she is not falling for it. As frustrating as it is leaving these things out, it is not as frustrating as them refusing to eat the whole dish.
• Cut vegetables fine, and cook down for as long as possible. Do this slowly with enough oil and a good pinch of salt. This will help them disappear into the sauce. This will also add some of the missing flavour that you have had to leave out, back.
• Be careful with cuts of meat. Children can be particularly fussy about skin, sinew or pieces of fat.
• Be careful with “green bits” ie herbs. Dried oregano is best to start with as it is familiar from pizzas.
Extra virgin olive oil
250 g quality British beef mince
6 rashers thinly sliced dry-cured smoked streaky bacon, sliced into lardons
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and grated
1 leek, peeled and finely chopped (or onion)
2 sticks celery, very finely chopped
4 large Portobello mushrooms or 8 smaller ones
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tbsp tomato puree
100 ml red wine
2 x 400 g tins of plum tomatoes
Put a casserole pan on a medium heat, add a splash of olive oil then cook then brown the meat. Break it up completely with a wooden spoon. Do not burn. Add more oil if necessary. When golden brown, remove to a separate bowl. Drain any extra fat if necessary. Add another glug of oil to the pan and add the bacon. At first the bacon will sweat. Use the liquid to scrape the bottom of the pan clean so that it does not burn. Fry until crispy. Add leek or onion and celery and sweat for a good 10 minutes, with a pinch of salt, stirring now and then, until really soft. Add the mushrooms, oregano and garlic and cook until completely broken down. Add the mince back, the tomato puree and then pour in the red wine. Bring to the boil and cook off for at least 2 minutes. Add the mushed up tinned tomatoes. Rinse the tins out with a little water and add that too. Either tip the whole lot into a slow cooker for 3 hours on slow or cover with a lid and cook on the hob very slowly for 1 ½ hours. Check seasoning and add salt and a little pepper to taste.
Serve with whatever pasta your kids like best. Parmesan is obviously optional too. Don’t forget it is great in baked potatoes.