Mastering mealtimes

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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 a delicious recipe below.

Catering for a family’s varied tastes can be a nightmare at mealtimes, 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’s a recipe from her new book to get you going…

 

:: VANILLA CHEESECAKE

(Serves 8)

 INGREDIENTS

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)

WHAT TO DO:

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

Annabel’s Family Cookbook by Annabel Karmel

:: Annabel’s Family Cookbook by Annabel Karmel is published by Ebury Press, priced £20. Available now

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