Saturday, 11 October 2008

Family foodie night

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.


  1. we are having a mexican night this evening of chilli, tortilla chips, cheese, guacomole soured cream etc all washed down with a nice bottle of something white and watching strictly cd. And as someone who also comes from a foodie family me and my husband are also determined that our son learns to try different foods. we've done all sorts of foodie nights usually on a saturday and usually eating in the lounge with the tv on as an extra special saturday night treat (otherwise I'd have to miss strictly which is simply not an option at the minute). we've taken inspiration from all sorts of things ie: england v germany at football = a german food night of sauerkraut/bratwursts various salads followed by cake (this is an easy meal for me to recreate as I lived in Germany when I was younger). When eurovision is on we draw a country each out of a bag and have a dish from each country. Silly games like that seem to work for us and Jamie does get wrapped up in the excitement of doing something different. All good fun don't you think?

  2. getting children into food is such a delight, and such a struggle. we find if our two help make it, they will love it more, but in the week I just don't have the energy for that... they love themed nights too, and the poppadom was a great intro into indian food, why wouldn't you like food you can eat with crisps!
    and even if you think they're not that interested then you're wrong - if they eat all those things you have great kids - I have one friend whose 5 year old eats only bread and cheese.....

  3. Only have one little suggestion which you have probably tried already. We found if we put out wraps and lots of choices to add to the wraps the kids would add stuff that they would not normally try. The trick for us was to keep all things seperate so they could add as much or as little as they like.
    Also as they grow up they do tend to expand their ideas. My 18 year old when little would only eat sandwiches, usually sitting under the table. Now he is turning into a bit of a foodie who likes to cook and loves to sit at the table discussing food, politics and the world in general. He has even asked for a Jamie Oliver cook book for his christmas. I will miss him when he goes to Uni next year.

    Sorry for such a long comment, what I meant to say was just keep on doing what you are doing and enjoy it.

  4. How funny!
    I did chinese night last night. Chicken with a sticky plum sauce - wasn't the greatest of success but they did finish it all, so maybe not that bad! Will try a more peanut one next time.
    Tonight we had 'whatever was in the fridge leftover' tea. Lamb and mint burgers (from Abel) garlic bread, ham, pate cheeses, sauted potatoes, carrots, while watching Merlin + X Factor!! No kale - hoorah! We finished that last night with the chinese - ok, bit weird!!

  5. Years ago when we lived in Lancashire we were invited to High Tea in a new friend's farmhouse kitchen. We ate similar treats to the ones you listed and also a meat pie. It was all home made, quite delicious and one of my best ever food memories. Now that we live in NZ maybe I should revive it next autumn/winter.

  6. This is such a great idea! I'm so timid about making food I'm unfamiliar with, I usually only achieve these explorations with our family by going out to eat to some local ethnic restaurant.

    We do have a host of experiments with cheeses that worked out alright. Brie and feta usually are the favorites. Last night we mixed feta with ripe red grapes tossed with olive oil and mint. I'm not sure if that combination would hail from any specific region, but it was good!

  7. Cupboard Love is such a great book- I was inspird to buy it the last time you mentioned it. Have you tried his Chicken tikka? He cooks the chicken so that it melts in the mouth, really beautiful sauce as well. You must try it!! I haven't got the book with the clove chilli recipe in-must be the only Nigella one I don't have! I will try googling it.The moro book is also a great one- I have a different one to you but the recipes and style of writing is just so inspiring.
    Your Saturdy nights sound like great fun, new food, time together and a glass of wine whilst slobbering over Austins biceps. What more could a girl ask for?!x

  8. What a marvellous idea. I certainly get bored of the same old routine and whilst my children are fairly adventurous compared to some, we still get stuck in a food rut. I love the idea of trying something new every week. At the moment we do home made pizza night (with a movie) on Friday. Surprisingly to me, my children are actually quite fond of sushi, although I haven't actually mastered the art of making it yet.


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