Family food can get a little samey. You cook what everybody will eat, you cook what is quick and you cook what you know. If you’re not careful you end up cooking the same handful of dishes over and over again, all the while despairing at the blandness and repetitiveness of your diet. Pasta Bolognese AGAIN?
My parents, my siblings and I are a family of food obsessed people. We can discuss the texture and flavour of a piece of ripe brie for longer than it would take most people to eat it. We say things like “Ooh, you must try the gizzards, they are such an amazing local dish” - and mean it. We can have endless, evening-long discussions about what the ingredients of a particular dish should be. Where there is food, there is a topic of conversation in my family.
I think that this way of appreciating food as something more than merely fuel came about through a very varied diet, and long family meals all together. These are both things I want to do for my own children.
And I think most children are naturally conservative with food – mine certainly are. They like what they know and they know what they like. Just an unfamiliar name will cause noses to be wrinkled and food to be picked at suspiciously. This makes me worry that my own children will not grow up to be foodies, and will not appreciate the different tastes, ingredients and varieties of good food. And then how on earth will they interact with their uncles and aunts at occasions like Christmas, if they can’t join in discussions on topics such as whether you should have grated carrot in the Christmas pudding, or why brandy butter can so often split?
So for a while now I’ve been trialling Family foodie nights on Saturdays. I’ve been greatly inspired in this mission by Tom Norrington-Davis’s book Cupboard Love. He has a series of chapters called ‘Kebab night’ ‘Burger night’ ‘Curry night’ and ‘Pizza night’ that have recipes for mains and side dishes on all those themes.
Kebab night was a big hit a few weeks ago. I made little lamb koftas to a recipe from Cupboard Love. I served them with toasted pitta breads, homemade tsatsiki, different sorts of hummus, mint jelly and pickled gherkins. Last week’s success was nachos with homemade guacamole and large dollops of sour cream on the side.
The anarchy of sharing these themed meals all sat on the floor around the coffee table while we watch Strictly Come Dancing adds to the child appeal. The children end up eating food that is much spicier, much more adventurous and just very different to their weekday diet of pasta, risotto, pies and casseroles. And I get a kick out of thinking up these themes and cooking something a little different too.
Tonight’s theme is going to be Chinese. It is C’s birthday party this afternoon and I won’t have the energy or time to cook after that, so we are going to share a takeaway. Part of the foodie experience is also eating food that other people have cooked!
So here is my list of themes for our family foodie nights. Some I’ve tried already, and some are to try soon.
- Kebab night, as above – kofta, pittas, pickles, tsatsiki, hummus, mint jelly, salad
- Mexican night – nachos or fajitas with side dishes of guacamole, salsa, sour cream and jalapenos. Nigella Lawson has some good Tex-Mex recipes.
- Tapas or Meze night – a loosely Spanish and Moroccan theme. Patatas Bravas, olives, chorizo, hummus. Paella perhaps. I am reading (and very much enjoying) the Moro cookbook to get some ideas for this.
- Burger night - homemade beef burgers with herbs, onions and grated apple in them. Good quality burger buns from the supermarket. Side dishes of sweetcorn relish (divine stuff – Tom N-D has an awesome and easy recipe), cheese, mustard mayo, lettuce and a BIG bottle of ketchup. Homemade potato wedges to accompany the burgers.
- Chinese night – if I had the time this evening, I’d try to combine some bought dishes with some homemade. There are several Easy Chinese Cooking type books out there. I have a Ken Hom one. Don’t forget the prawn crackers!
- Pizza night - home made pizzas using dough made in the bread machine. Home made dough balls to accompany them. Mix some butter with crushed garlic and chopped parsley and chill. Later put a teaspoonful of garlic butter into a flat disc of uncooked dough. Shape the dough into a ball around the butter and arrange in a baking tray. Bake for 10 mins until golden and smelling amazing!
- Curry night - a hot and spicy one for me and G, and a mild aromatic one for the children. Pilau rice and naan breads ordered from the local curry house. My favourite Indian curry cookbooks are by Madhur Jaffrey and Vicky Bhogal.
- Old fashioned high tea. Egg and cress sandwiches (no crusts, obviously), pork pie, cheese scones, scotch eggs. Thick slices of Victoria sponge to follow. All washed down with cups of Yorkshire tea.
I’d love to hear what your ideas for more themes are, and how you’ve introduced adventurous or spicy food into your home.