Wednesday, 19 March 2014

on cooking

I've been pondering our diet. Generally, our meals are as predictable as a Swiss clock. I suppose we all have our routines when it comes to meal times and family meals have to fit around busy life styles (the kids, not mine!).
I am a firm believer in home cooking and quite enjoy preparing a meal that everybody likes. Naturally, with six in the family, it is rather rare that I can please them all but my strategy is to wear them down with repetition and eventually, a new family favourite is accepted.

I have looked at my meal planning board and noticed that I usually note down something like "toad in the hole" or "lasagne" but I never write down the vegetable side dishes that we almost always have. I am really bored with the vegetables that we eat regularly. Scotland is quite possibly not the best place for a large variety of fresh vegetables, particularly at this time of year. There is only so much cabbage and turnips one person can eat in a life time....

Our staple vegetables are peas and broccoli.

Peas. From frozen, they are cooked in just a minute or two and all the children love them. My offspring are rather fussy when it comes to peas: only the best is good enough for their delicate palates. It has to be petits pois. Not any kind of petits pois, only the Birds Eye ones pass their muster. I have tried every other brand available, to no avail. Garden peas are a big no, too starchy and -well you guessed it- too big. I can honestly say that every one of my children would be able to pick out the most luxurious of all frozen peas in a blind test. Apparently only home grown peas surpass Birds Eye petit pois but the few that we grow never make it to the table because peas are really best straight from the pod. I bet my lovely children would shudder if I told them that peas in my childhood came from a tin and were a dull green and had a slightly slippery feel to them...

Broccoli. This is another vegetable that all children like. It is quite possibly the most boring vegetable I can think off ever but it always available and easy to prepare.

We do of course eat other vegetables but there is always one or two at the table who will complain. Most other veggies that we like are a bit more involved, cauliflower cheese or ratatouille for example. My latest favourite is celery braised in butter and dry vermouth (I use Noilly Prat), finished off with a dash of cream and seasoned with salt and pepper. We eat a lot of "hidden" vegetables, for example onions in curries or peppers and carrots in Bolognese sauce.

Lately, I have tried to add a bit of variety to our meals. I go through phases of enthusiastic experimenting in the kitchen. Usually, the enthusiasm wanes with the onslaught of complaints about "weird" food. However, I am hoping for the enthusiasm to last for a wee while longer than usual because changing cooking habits provides an opportunity to save grocery money. I hope. Our grocery outgoings are just ridiculous. Every time I do the messages, I hold my breath for the final blow. I don't know if we have particularly luxurious tastes or if my children have hollow legs where they put unbelievable amounts of food. 

Anyway, I have been idly looking through my cookery book collection for some inspiration. I like to look at the pictures but for cooking proper I prefer cookery books with few or no photographs because my creations never compete with the perfect tableaus in my books. This week, I made a spiced cauliflower soup to be eaten with a walnut and cheddar loaf. The ingredients were not new or exiting but the combination thereof was. I was mightily impressed that everybody except Annie (who chose to eat at a friend's house) ate the concoction bravely. The soup recipe asked for 2 tsp of turmeric, which I added without thought. Well, I tell you, the soup was as bitter as dandelion leaves!

Undeterred, I chose another new recipe from my trusted vegetarian cookery book, Rose Elliot's New Complete Vegetarian. I am not a vegetarian at heart but eating a partially vegetarian diet is a good way to cut the grocery bill. We tend to buy good quality meat from our local butcher shop, which comes at a price. And I am sure it is also good for our health.

Not being a habitual vegetarian makes it difficult to judge if a vegetarian dish would be both satisfying and filling. To err on the safe side, I opted for a lasagne made with lentils and red wine. The lentils smelled quite divine and I added a bit more wine than was necessary. I was sorely tempted to have a glass but prepared the lasagne just before school run and it didn't seem right to show up at school with boozy breath. Not that I am in the habit of kissing mums on the playground, but rumours travel fast.

The lasagne was a partial success only. Personally I thought it was a bit dry but this could be remedied easily by adding more liquid to the lentils, or by pre cooking the lasagne sheets. I am too lazy to pre cook the pasta normally. The flavour was delicate and the texture pleasant. I was worried that it might be a bit mushy but it wasn't. Annie was the only child who ate with gusto. Sam kept lifting pasta layers up and inspecting it with that face of his that he would normally reserve for a dog poo on the pavement. James and Alistair ate their portion but didn't want seconds, which is always telling. Richard doesn't think pasta is proper food. Still, it was a much greater success than the soup and I'll cook it again sometime soon, with some modifications, maybe adding some celery to the lentils, or mushrooms.

Oh, and we didn't have peas or broccoli but sweetcorn!

Do you get bored with your family meals? And if you have any good suggestions for vegetarian meals that might satisfy my meat lovers, I would love to her from you.



  1. We often rotate around the same staple meals usually with peas, sweetcorn and broccoli (although cabbage and cauliflower feature prominently too). I've been attempting to vary our meals and to try out new recipes by trawling through my cookbooks and blogs for inspiration. Cauliflower (or other veg) cheese goes down well often with a jacket potato or pasta. Plus the cheese sauce is easily frozen so you can make an extra big batch. This barbecue bean stew recipe - is delicious with or without the bacon. I love my Rose Elliott cook book...I got it when I was an undergrad! It's been very well used. I can recommend Hugh fearnley Whittingstall's 'Everyday Veg' for inspiration too.

  2. And Sue at the Quince Tree!!! I follow lots of her recipes!

  3. Thank goodness for Bird's Eye petit pois. Mine too would eat nothing else. We get through masses of broccoli too. I did a lentil and coconut curry tonight - lots of opportunity to hide things in there!

  4. I think I'm very fortunate in that both of my children eat a lot of vegetables. They had pasta and broccoli in their school lunch today because I didn't have any nut-free bread (my daughter isn't allowed to bring anything else to her school because someone in the class has an allergy). They both love beets. I *hated* beets as a child. They went crazy over boiled cabbage on Sunday. I know, I'm very, very lucky. There are plenty of other foods they don't like, though, and I agree completely with your approach of repeated exposure and eventual breakdown of defenses. :)

  5. I think sometimes we get stuck in a rut with meals, you are trying at least and it can't be easy to please everyone. I think it's great that you're trying to introduce new 'favourites' to add to your existing favourites. If this cuts your food bill too then that's a good thing. I would imagine new meals are tricky and you are right to try again with modifications to the recipe you're following.

    my blog ;

  6. I just wanted to let you know that the cookery book I mentioned in my post, that you commented was £90 (yikes!) is available for £2.81 second-hand ("very good" condition) here if you're interested. I would have emailed you, but I couldn't see your address, sorry. Rachel Demuth's second book, Green World, which I slightly prefer, is also available for £2.81 on Amazon, here. Hope this is helpful. CJ xx

  7. What's for tea is the first question my daughter asks when I pick her up from school. Do find it hard to come up with ideas and she moans about most healthy things, like healthy soups. Made Salmon teriyaki last night with noodles and peppers and everyone ate it though husband moaned about unidentifiable black bits (burnt ginger maybe?) At a loss tonight - maybe macaroni cheese with frozen peas in it. I seem to get away with ordinary supermarket garden peas too.

  8. I think there are times when we all get into a rut and make the easiest most popular dishes, particularly if you go to a lot of effort and the rest of the family turn their noses up. I shall be glad when spring veg arrives and we cast aside the relentless rotation of swede, carrots and cabbage. The only vegetarian dishes my children ate without complaint were Delia's vegetarian shepherds pie & glamorgan sausages and a savoury rice dish that included sweetcorn, peppers and tomato.

  9. Chestnut soup is a big favourite here. Vacuum packed chestnuts aren't the cheapest thing but one large pack makes a really hearty main meal soup for six when veggies are added (I have four children too, although they are not all at home all the time now). I usually add mushrooms and barley but I'm sure all sorts of different things would work.

    Feeding six can be exhausting after a while, can't it ... it's not just the quantities, it's trying to take everyone's food preferences into account.

  10. I often get bored with our family meals which can get very repetitive but that has to be balanced against time spent researching, shopping and experimenting with something new... and if anyone complains arounf here they are all big enough here to cook their own. I do have phases of trying new dishes though and every so often one manages to work its way into my standard repetoire. Our standby vegetable accompaniment is also broccoli or sometimes carrots!

  11. Hey Christina,

    I love to cook, and yet have three boys that live on pasta bolognese. I make nice things for Marc and I at the weekends. My feeling is that when they finally leave home to go to Uni or whatever, they'll probably live off pasta, discover the local Indian, get a taste for spicy food and come home for the holidays grateful for whatever I lay before them. I will win in the end.

    Leanne xx


Thank you for visiting and leaving a comment, I love to hear from you, I really do. I sometimes reply by email but I am not all that reliable... Christina xx