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Mastering family mealtimes
6:00am Saturday 29th March 2014 in Lifestyle
The secret to stress-free family cooking is crafting meals everyone enjoys, says cookery writer Annabel Karmel. She tells Lisa Salmon about her new book, and shares three recipes to please kids and grown-ups alike.
Catering for a family's varied tastes can be a nightmare at dinnertime, with hard-working parents often having to serve several dishes to keep everyone happy.
After her own research found that some mums are producing up to 63 meals a week to satisfy all the mouths in their family, bestselling cookery writer Annabel Karmel has whipped up a sizzling new recipe book packed with dishes that everyone can enjoy.
The children's food guru, who has previously written 37 books about feeding toddlers and babies, has branched out with Annabel's Family Cookbook, which features 100 easy-to-follow recipes that will appeal to tots, teens and time-stretched parents alike.
The idea is that parents can make life easier for themselves by cooking the same meal for the whole family, instead of slaving over separate dishes.
"It would seem that household kitchens are becoming more like cafes," Karmel observes. "You can end up having to make separate meals for everybody, and it's a complete nightmare, so you resort to giving chicken nuggets to your children because you know they'll eat them.
"Instead, find something that's yummy and that doesn't alienate anybody in a recipe that's great for the whole family," the 50-year-old mum-of-three adds.
With chapter headings like Quick And Easy, Everyday Meals and Prepare Ahead, featuring recipes such as Vegetable Fusilli and Posh Fish Fingers, this is a cookbook for busy mums and dads, rather than a cordon bleu tome packed with time-consuming, fiddly dishes.
Nevertheless, it's by no means a homage to children's cooking either; grown-up dishes include Moroccan Lamb Tagine, Baked Sea Bass, and Vanilla Cheesecake.
"So many mums were telling me that they were cooking for their dinner parties from my Complete Baby And Toddler Meal Planner that I thought I should write them a book with more adult meals in it," says Karmel.
"It's been fantastic to write - it's 23 years of my favourite recipes all in one book, and it's been great to use things like wine and chillies, but also include recipes that all the family can sit down and eat together."
She says most recipes in the book have "that magical child appeal", so children will like the dishes as much as their parents - although they may be wary of foods they don't recognise, as is normally the case with kids.
"It's not mushed-up food, but it's quite kid-friendly, although one or two recipes might be a bit sophisticated and not for every child," explains Karmel.
"I didn't want it to be just for kids - some of these recipes are for adults, and cooking for your partner or a dinner party."
Karmel hopes the book will encourage more families to sit down and eat meals together, although she stresses: "I completely realise that lives are so busy, we can't sit around the table together at every mealtime. But it's a good idea to keep at least a couple of days a week sacrosanct for family dinners.
"Don't accept invitations on those days, or the whole thing just crumbles, and the family unit crumbles as well.
"Meals are the one time when you all sit down together and communicate, find out what's going on in your children's lives, and talk to them about what's happening to you."
You could even get older children to cook the family meal themselves one night, Karmel suggests, as her three children used to.
"They loved it," she remembers, "and had favourite recipes they liked to cook for us.
"Children will often be more open when they're talking round the dinner table, plus, when they eat with you, they tend to eat a better quality meal."
She says many parents underestimate the sophistication of children's tastebuds, pointing out that they often like curries, fajitas and many other foods from around the world.
"A lot of parents are really surprised at what children are eating at a young age, so I've included quite a bit of ethnic-style food in the book," she says.
It also features more typical kiddie-style food, like chicken burgers - but with a twist, as Karmel includes grated carrot, leeks, courgettes and apple in them for that hidden healthy touch.
"I want to give parents inspiration to make something a little bit different," she adds. "Try it. See if you can find some new favourites for your family."
Here are three recipes from her new book to get you going...
:: Posh fish fingers
400g lemon sole, cod, plaice or hake fillets, skinned
30g freshly grated Parmesan cheese
100g plain flour
2 medium eggs, lightly beaten
4tbsp sunflower oil, for frying
Salt and black pepper
Cut the fish into strips. Put the cornflakes into a food processor and blitz, then pour into a bowl
and mix together with the Parmesan.
Put the flour into a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Beat the eggs in another bowl.
Now dip each piece of fish in the flour, then the eggs and finally the cornflake and Parmesan mixture.
Heat two tablespoons of the oil in a large frying pan. Fry half the fish for four to five minutes, turning
them regularly until they're cooked. Drain on kitchen paper.
Add the remaining two tablespoons of oil to the pan and cook the second batch of fish. Drain as before, then serve with chips or salad and lemon wedges, if you like.
:: Sweetcorn & broccoli fritters
150g broccoli, cut into florets
150g can sweetcorn, drained
150g self-raising flour
1 medium egg, beaten
2tbsp chopped fresh basil leaves
2tbsp sweet chilli sauce
75g Cheddar cheese, grated
2tbsp finely chopped spring onion
Sunflower oil, for frying
Salt and black pepper
Steam the broccoli florets for about eight minutes, then chop into small pieces.
Blitz the sweetcorn in a food processor. Mix all the ingredients together, except the oil, and season to taste.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Drop spoonfuls of the mixture into the pan and fry for about two minutes on each side, or until golden.
When cooked, transfer to a plate lined with kitchen paper. Serve warm with tzatziki, if you like.
:: Vanilla cheesecake
200g digestive biscuits
100g unsalted butter
1tbsp caster sugar
600g full-fat cream cheese
2 medium eggs
125g caster sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
300ml soured cream
3tbsp seedless raspberry jam
250g mix of raspberries and strawberries (halved)
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Base-line a loose-bottomed springform tin and grease the sides.
Crush the biscuits until they resemble fine crumbs (place in a larger freezer bag and crush with a rolling pin).
Melt the butter in a large saucepan and stir in the crushed biscuits and sugar. Push into the base of the prepared tin and set aside in the fridge to chill while you make the filling.
Whisk the cream cheese in a bowl. Add the eggs, sugar, vanilla and soured cream and whisk until smooth. Pour into the tin and level the surface.
Bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes until puffed up and set around the edges, but with a slight wobble in the centre. Leave to cool in the tin, then place on a serving plate.
Warm the raspberry jam in a saucepan. Arrange the strawberries and raspberries on top of the cheesecake and drizzle with the slightly warm raspberry jam.
:: Annabel's Family Cookbook by Annabel Karmel is published by Ebury Press, priced £20. Available now
Three of the best... Kitchen gadgets
:: Breville Halo Fryer, around £119.99, Amazon
Can be used to fry, cook, bake, saute and roast, and only requires a teaspoon of oil. Features a built-in timer with automatic shut off option.
:: Crock-Pot 4.7L Digital Slow Cooker, £44.99, John Lewis
Locks in flavours, getting the best out of even the cheapest cuts of meat. Features a countdown programmable timer and keep warm function.
:: Kenwood Chefette Hand Mixer With Bowl, £69.99, Currys
Combines the convenience of a portable hand-mixer with a table-top mixer, in an all-in-one handy and easy-to-use machine.
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