Blog Archives

Shiny Disco Balls (aka Rum Truffles)

On Monday I was left with the quandary of what to do with left over cake trimmings, though to be honest left over cake in this house is a rare sight. As a child I had a fondness for Rum Truffles. The best ones being from a local bakery called Mellors. These rum truffles were huge, but that could also be due to nostalgic hindsight, just like Wagon Wheels and Monster Munch used to be bigger back then. We also used to make them at home. All I could remember was that is was cake crumbs, rum essence and not much else.

At 6am Monday morning when I was trying to remember the recipe, Google was no help. No help what so ever. A thousand and one recipes for cake pops and the like and fancy truffles with all sorts of ingredients added, but nothing like the simple recipe I could barely remember. Read the rest of this entry

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Baked Jam Doughnuts

Next week I’m running a week-long Cookery School for 6-11 year olds and for the last week I’ve been busy finalising arrangements and testing recipes. Each day is themed and one of the days is America. We couldn’t do an American themed day without making doughnuts and the fact I have a slight fear of frying, especially around children, this had to be a baked recipe. You can buy doughnut tins but part of my business ethos is about making cookery accessible for all. Having to buy a special tin doesn’t make it accessible. Read the rest of this entry

What shall we cook today? Chocolate Salami

As I don’t have children of my own I’m very lucky to have a couple of Little Helpers that help me road test recipes, ingredients and cookery equipment geared towards children. Back in November they helped me try some ingredients to make cupcakes. A few weeks back they came for a whole day and we road tested two cookbooks, two sets of ingredient ranges and one piece of equipment. Read the rest of this entry

Calzone – bread making for kids

Take kids, flour, water and yeast and for some it’s epitome of hell. For me I love it, well it is my day job. I’m one of the rare breed that will take your children off your hands, let them make a mess in the kitchen and I promise to clear up afterwards. There is no getting around the fact that bread making isn’t the cleanest of cookery, but it is a fantastic way of teaching science, maths and fine motor skills. This is a recipe I’ve been teaching for the last few weeks and it has been a big hit with my pupils. It’s a good introduction to bread making because it doesn’t require the time usually needed to allow the dough to rise and double in size. Of course if you have the time, allow the dough to double in size as it does improve the flavour of the dough, but it works just as well with just a quick 10 min rise while the toppings are being prepared. This basic dough recipe can also be used for regular pizza.

The dough uses a mixture of plain and strong bread flour to make sure the dough doesn’t ping back too much when it’s being rolled out which in turn makes it easier for little hands to use. The kneading method I use with most of my pupils is the stretching method. However the best pupil of the past few weeks was a lad who had broken his arm. With a small amount of tuition he was able to knead dough like a pro using the one hand method I was taught by Aidan Chapman. I also showed the pupils that we can check dough is ready by stretching a small window in the dough. The thinner you get the window before the dough tears, the better the dough.

Making bread dough links well with science. During the class I set up a glass of warm water with sugar and yeast so the pupils could see yeast in action. I did have an interesting time explaining to some pupils that yeast is a tiny living thing, a microorganism, a fungi and not an animal. I think some thought that when we added the water to the yeast it would turn into something like sea monkeys! This recipe also links well with maths. As with most measuring jugs it can be difficult to see where 75ml is so we weighed the water on digital scales to improve accuracy as 1ml water = 1 cm³ water = 1 g. Alternatively we could have counted out 5 tablespoons (15ml) of water.

Of course the filling of the calzone is endless. In class we did simple cheese and tomato and the Ikea BONUS knives did a superb job of cutting the tomatoes with no cut fingers. Remember kids, Miss doesn’t like sliced digits. One pupil suggested a sweet filling of banana and chocolate spread, I may well have to give this a go in the future.

While uploading the photos for this post I realised the small cuts I have put in the calzone to stop them getting too soggy inside makes them look like have navels. Maybe they are animals after all…

Calzone
Makes 2 small calzones

60g plain flour

60g strong white bread flour

2 pinches of table salt

1/4 tsp fast action yeast

75ml warm water

2 dessertspoons passata (sieved uncooked tomatoes)

25g grated mozzarella

1 tomato

sprinkling of mixed herbs

1) Preheat oven to 200°c. In a bowl mix together both flours along with the yeast and salt. Stir in water until you have a dough.

2) Sprinkle a small amount of flour on the clean surface, take the dough out of the bowl and knead until you have a soft, smooth dough. Add a tiny amount of flour if the dough gets too sticky. It can take up to 10 minutes for the dough to transform into a soft dough. Put the dough back in the bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave while you prepare the toppings. Depending on time leave the dough for between 10-120 minutes.

3) On a chopping board cut the tomato into small pieces.

4) Cover your baking sheet with a piece of baking parchment. This is not essential but does make sure that none of the calzone sticks. Alternatively sprinkle the tray with a small amount of polenta or semolina.

5) Tear the dough in to two equal balls then roll out until they are the size of a side plate. Place the dough on the lined baking tray. Top with the passata then sprinkle with the cheese, tomato and herbs. Fold the dough in half so it makes a pasty-like shape then crimp the edges. Cut a small hole on the top of the calzone.

6) Bake for 10-15 min or until calzone is puffed and golden.

Cooking with Kids – getting started


Given I now work as a freelance children’s cookery teacher a significant amount of my time is currently taken up with recipe research and development along with teaching children how to cook. Recently, unless it is promoting various skills, has the potential to be knife-free and suitable for a school kitchen it’s likely to have been made in our home kitchen. The kitchen also seems to be dominated by a distinct pile of cookbooks that are allegedly meant to be aimed at children and/or their parents. There are the odd gem in the pile, but it has also made me aware of a huge gap in the market of which I’ll leave for another blog post.

There has been many a mention in the media regarding children cooking including a BBC post about why you should cook with children and an article in the Telegraph that had a potentially controversial slant on getting kids cooking. For me cooking with children is not about producing a Michelin starred masterpiece, it’s about key life skills, creativity, fine-motor skills and most importantly having fun.

There are some amazing people out there who are doing a fantastic job of inspiring children of all ages and their parents to get cooking:

Fiona Bird – A Masterchef finalist who has given me some superb advice & support over the last year. Her book Kids’ Kitchen is worth a look at.

Nick from My Daddy Cooks – Nick along with his adorable 3-year-old son Archie vlog the cooking they do together in the kitchen. A great way of seeing how you can differentiate recipes for younger children and get them involved.

Michelle Stearn has written a superb article on teaching knife skills to kids along with some suggestions for cutting tools. Unfortunately some of these tools mentioned don’t appear to be available in the UK at the moment, but I’m working on it.

Gastronuts by Stefan Gates – Gastronuts is aimed at the market that seems very much neglected in cookery. Upper primary aged children and specifically boys. I know many of my pupils adore this programme, even I’m a fan. An educational food program that tells it as it is and  inspires. To be honest it is even better than some of the food programmes that are aimed at adults!

Equipment

When it comes to cooking with children don’t bother with kids’ cooking kits. The equipment is often too small to be useful and the kits can end up being expensive. I find Wilkos is fantastic for decent quality, affordable cooking equipment along with local and online cook shops, like Squeak, for various biscuit cutters. This is the basic equipment I recommend:

Chopping board – embrace the giant Swedish warehouse that is Ikea.

Silicone fairy cake cases – silicone fairy cake cases has a multitude of uses –  not just for baking cakes, but great for mini frittatas as no oil is required, you can make mini jellies in them plus they are also great for sorting ingredients into at the beginning. Again Wilkinsons is the cheapest for these, but it also worth keeping an eye out in Pound Shops as I’ve picked some fun shaped and sized ones in there.

Silicone spatula – Not technically essential, but in my kitchen I’m lost without it. Great for scraping the bowl out.

Thes cake cases and the spatula are the only silicone bakeware I rate. There is many reasons for this. 1) The silicone bakeware doesn’t get hot enough for larger items to cook properly, 2) Silicone bakeware isn’t very stable and has a tendency to go wobbly when trying to transfer it to the oven.

Mixing bowl – Easy to get hold of in a multitude of sizes. To help stop the bowl slipping while the child is mixing place a damp cloth under the bowl.

Wooden spoon – any will do.

Baking tray – In my classes I use the small cheap baking trays that are often in Supermarket’s value ranges as they are smaller so you can fit more in the oven. If you use silicone fairy cake cups all you need for most baking is a baking tray.

Selection of cutters – I pick these up in lots of places and buy them when I see them. You don’t have to have special cutters. Upturned glasses or cups make great circles.

Rolling pin – Can be picked up for as cheap as 30p.

Patience & sense of fun – not essential but it does help!

The main thing to remember this that it doesn’t go right all the time, but then again life would be boring if it was always perfect. Cooking is not about being perfect, it’s about learning.

Here are some of the recipes I use with my pupils that have gone done very well:

Cheesy Biscuits

Peppermint Creams – from experience, don’t make these on a hot day as it all gets very messy & sticky!

Fairy Cakes

Gingerbread Men

Jam tarts – You don’t need a bun tin, these can be made in the silicone fairy cake cases.

Baked Vegetable Spring Rolls

Easy Peasy Pizza

Chilli Cheese Scones



Gingerbread Men

Ok, maybe I should be PC and call then Gingerbread People, but I only have men cutters anyway. I’ve just finished planning a whole term of Cookery Club (CC) which scarily takes us up to Christmas, seriously I’ve never been so organised in my life. These Gingerbread Men will be baked in the final CC before Christmas. I’ve been trying different gingerbread biscuit recipes for a while; none were quite right either they had a long list on ingredients, a huge amount of golden syrup/treacle or just didn’t bake properly. I remember the gingerbread men we used to buy from Mellors or Sayers and wanted these to be similar.

When researching recipes for CC I look for a few things:

  • Ingredients work out no more than £1 per child. In this case I’m halving the recipe for each child.
  • Recipe can easily be scaled up or down.
  • Doesn’t require expensive/unusual equipment & only uses oven or microwave.
  • Baking will fit on the baking trays. We use supermarket value baking trays in CC. While they are smaller than the majority of baking trays you can fit 8 perfectly in a professional oven.
  • Can be made, baked and washed up in 90 min. Never underestimate how long it can take a child to make something! This also means maybe taking some steps out of the recipe. In this case I found that the dough didn’t need to be chilled to make biscuits that didn’t spread too much which is also an advantage of using butter in this recipe rather than marg.

Making these brought up some questions. Hubs insists that Gingerbread men should have icing eyes and buttons where I love them to be decorated with smarties and raisins that caramalise as they cook. The only thing that seemed to spread on these biscuits was the Gingerbread Mens’ bellies. Trust me, they weren’t as rotund when they went in the oven.

Gingerbread Men
Makes around 12 large gingerbread men
Adapted from Cookie & Biscuit Bible

350g Plain Flour

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1-2 tsp of ground ginger

115g unsalted butter, cubed

170g soft dark brown sugar

1 egg, beaten

2 tbsp (40g) of golden syrup

raisins and smarties for decoration

1) Preheat the oven to 180°c and cover 2 baking trays with baking parchment.

2) Rub together the flour, butter, ginger and bicarbonate of soda until it has the consistency of breadcrumbs.

3) Add the sugar egg and golden syrup. To start with, mix the dough with a wooden spoon them once it is well combined use your hands to knead the dough. At first the mixture can seem quite dry but keep kneading. It will become soft and pliable.

4) Roll the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Cut out the shapes and place on baking sheet. Decorate if you want with smarties and raisins.

5) Bake for 15min until slightly risen and beginning to colour. Leave for 5 min then continue to cool on a wire rack. Store in a tin to stop them going soggy.

Easy Cheesy Biscuits

It’s no lie that we love cheese in this house. Be it feta, paneer, Stilton, Red Leicester or some Gorwydd Caerphilly there is always some variety in the fridge. I think it would be one of my Desert Island foods. Hubs had a go at making his own cheese press. Many of my pupils have asked if we can make cheesy biscuits in Cookery Club. Like all the recipes I teach I road test them at home to check they are suitable and given they contain a well loved ingredient I was more than happy to find a recipe suitable for them to make. An old workmate used to make the most amazing flaky cheesy biscuits of which these biscuits are based on. Hubs & Father-in-Law were the taste tasters for these biscuits and lets just say, they didn’t last long.

With a minimum of 3 ingredients these really are easy and perfect for kids to make. It is possible to change the topping and flavours, a great way to experiment with tastes and textures. You can also try mixing two cheeses – a smoked cheese and mature cheddar works very well together. There are a few tips I would give for these biscuits:

  • Use mature/strong flavoured cheese. Also very cheap, mild cheese has a tendency to go very greasy & watery when heated so try not to use it in this recipe.
  • Chilling the dough before rolling out helps the biscuits keep their shape, however it isn’t essential and they still taste just as good if you don’t chill the dough.
  • Try to allow them to cool for an hour, yes I know it’s hard, but they taste better properly cooled than they do warm out of the oven.
  • Try and keep your husband/partner/kids away from them or they might literally inhale them!

Easy Cheesy Biscuits
Makes around 30 small biscuits

100g plain flour (it will also work with self-raising flour)
100g butter or margarine
100g mature cheese, grated
pinch of chilli powder and/or mustard powder (optional)
toppings e.g. paprika, nigella seeds, poppy seeds, curry powder, cumin seeds (optional)

1) Rub together the butter and flour then mix in the grated cheese and chilli/mustard powder until you have a dough. If you have problems getting the dough to come together add a splash of milk.

2) Roll into a ball, cover in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for 30 min.

3) Roll out the dough until around 5mm thick. Cut out shapes and place on a lined baking tray. Sprinkle with toppings.

4) Bake at 180° for 10 minutes, until puffed and golden. Cool on a wire baking rack for an hour before eating.

Chocolate Welsh Cakes

Giving up biscuits for Lent has meant I’m baking things to replace the banned biscuits, not exactly the healthy intentions I had in mind. Given I’m half Welsh, and proud before you ask, I often celebrate St. David’s day in a foodie vein; surely the best way to celebrate any special day in the calender. Be it Welsh Cheesecakes, Bara Brith , anything with leeks or Welsh Cakes I’ll try to bake at least one around the 1st March. Traditionally Welsh Cakes are made with raisins or sultanas but as I discovered at Fabulous Welshcakes in Cardiff Bay you can put different fillings in welsh cakes. I had a look around the baking cupboard, of which I swear I could open my own baking suppliers with, and found chocolate chips begging to be used.

Technically you could argue that these are not Welsh Cakes as they are baked in the oven and not on a griddle; I wanted to play around with recipes suitable for schools. I suppose they could be described as a richer version of scones, but with a lighter texture. By all means this recipe could be cooked the traditional way on a griddle giving the cakes the distinctive browned flat top and bottom. Both methods of cooking taste more or less the same they just look different. Perfect with a cuppa and in my eyes a perfect substitute for the banished biscuits.

Welsh Cakes
Makes 15

225g self raising flour
110g butter
50g caster sugar
75g chocolate chips
1 egg

1) Rub butter into flour until it has the consistency of breadcrumbs. Stir in sugar and chocolate chips. Break in egg and mix until you have a dough.

2) Roll out onto a floured surface until around 1cm thick and cut into 5cm rounds. Place on a lined baking tray. Bake at 180°c for 10-15 until cakes are golden.

Baked Vegetable Spring Rolls

This time of year is good for food-related festivals but typically this year Shrove Tuesday, Valentines & Chinese New Year all fall in half term. After teaching the kids how to make pancakes last year, this year I decided to teach food from a different celebration and country. We’ve been doing quite a bit about Chinese New Year in work and have been dishing out the Fortune Cookies. I was particuarly pleased with my 2 fortunes:

The next week is full of fun and adventure

You’ll travel far with business and pleasure

Other people’s are far more cryptic.

I had been asked by some people if I could teach them to make Spring Rolls. Traditionally they are fried and there is a fryer in the kitchen I use but 1) we’re walking towards Healthy School status 2) I’m not that brave! I wanted the spring rolls to be easy to make, healthy and didn’t want to have to pre-cook the filling. I don’t claim these to be authentic, but is a great kid friendly recipe. Spring roll wrappers are nigh on impossible to find around here so used filo.

One thing I learnt today that filo pastry doesn’t always come in squares, it just so happens that every pack I have ever bought before today was squares. If your filo pastry comes in a long oblong cut in half to get to sets of squares. If not brushed with egg the rolls can look a tad anaemic. Also don’t use more than 2 sheets of filo per roll or it can end up being filo pastry overload. Also if you use sweet chilli sauce as your sauce filling, but be careful; due to the sugar content it caramalises fast. Just keep an eye on it.

If you’re looking for a delicious chinese takeout-style recipe for Chinese New Year I can highly recommend Tastefully Done’s Sweet & Sour Chicken. We often double the sauce and cook with a handful of sliced red & green pepper. Happy Chinese New Year.

Baked Vegetable Spring Rolls
(makes 6 large spring rolls)

1 pack of filo pastry
½ pack of raw stir fry vegetables
6 tbsp chinese-style sauce (eg Hoi Sin, Sweet Chilli, Soy etc…)
1 egg, beaten
Sesame seeds for decoration (optional)

1) Unwrap the pastry and lay out on the table. If the filo is a long oblong cut in half to make 2 squares. Take two layers of filo, pile on top of each other, then turn so one point is facing you.

2) Place some of the veg and inch or so above the bottom point. Cover with 1 tbsp of sauce. Begin to roll. The next bit is difficult for me to describe so here is the crib sheet I made for my classes – click here

3) Once they have been rolled, place on a tray lined with baking parchment, brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake at 190°c for 5 min, turn over, brush again with egg and bake for a further 5-10 minutes. The rolls are ready when they are golden in colour. Allow to cool slightly before eating as they can been bloomin’ hot inside. Best served with a dipping sauce.

Easy Peasy Pizza

Blogging has been a bit quiet for me recently for many reasons. I’m working on a project at the moment that is taking up quite a bit of my free time and cooking in the house has been positively boring after a food-filled Christmas break.

This pizza recipe is partly due to the project I’m working on. I’ve been looking for a pizza recipe suitable for a class of children to make, bake & do the washing up all within a 90 min lesson. No mean feat I ask you.  Not a refined authentic pizza recipe in the slightest but a recipe that is perfect to be taught to classes of children with limited lesson time or even to be made at home.  Of course traditional pizza uses a yeasted dough, but with limited lesson this doesn’t give an adequate time period for the dough to rise so I needed to find an alternative. The base for this is essentially a basic scone recipe. It could have herbs, spices and even cheese added to the dough to make it different, however this time I just kept it simple.Topping wise anything can be used, I dare say you could even play with sweet toppings.

Although there is no yeast in the dough due to the self-raising flour the base will rise. The key, like scones, is not to make the base too thin. The thicker the base the more it will rise. This recipe makes 2 individual pizza that are about in diameter and are perfect for lunch boxes. If your interested in other lunchbox ideas, especially for kids, head to The Life of Wendy (who puts my lunches to shame) and Funky Lunch.

Easy Peasy Pizza
Makes 2 individual (5 inch) pizzas

150g Self-raising flour (plain flour could be used but the base won’t rise as much)
20g butter or marg
60ml milk
6 tbsp pizza sauce or tomato ketchup
handful of grated cheese
toppings (eg. sliced cherry tomatoes, ham, pepper)
mixed herbs

1) Rub together the flour and butter until you have the consistency of breadcrumbs. Stir in the milk until you have a soft dough. Knead for 30 seconds.

2) Split the dough into 2 equal balls and roll out into 2 rounds. Place both on a floured baking tray. Cover base with pizza sauce then sprinkle on the cheese, toppings and herbs.

3) Bake at 200°c for 10-15 min until golden.

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