Monday, 1 June 2015

The Silver Spoon for Children - and easy garlic & olive 'focaccia'

My hatred of cooking with the children has been mellowing apace, and half term week last week was an opportunity to poke that little bug bear of mine and find it less irritating than it has been, and actually rather enjoyable. 

It has come about that with the move to the new house, we no longer have a dishwasher. Well, actually, we now have 2 new and incredibly reluctant dishwashers, Blue and Pink. Based on the rule that operates in the Recipe Junkie household that if you don't cook, you wash up, there has been a veritable stampede towards the kitchen pre-dinner. 

The breakthrough for me addressing my horror of cooking with the children has, I think, been the move away from baking WITH me, from Blue wanting to concoct utterly over the top and unrealistic creations and Pink with her "call me when it's time to lick the bowl" approach, to them both wanting to cook actual meals, WITHOUT me . Baking is my solace, my relaxation, my treat, whereas I cook meals every day of the week, and much as I enjoy it, it's nice to have someone else do it every now and again.

And so here we are, and while on one hand I am wishing time would stand still, that they wouldn't grow up, that Blue wasn't starting secondary school in a mere 3 months' time, that Pink wasn't obsessed with pop stars and needing me to have Mother-Daughter chats about growing up, on the other I am positively delighted that in this area, they are becoming more confident.  Both still require a certain amount of oversight/supervision/intervention in the kitchen, especially when it comes to such things a draining hot pans of pasta, but I'm trying really, really hard not to take over, to take a back seat and to let them get on with it, and the results have been pretty impressive.

While Blue has been perusing more adventurous recipes, fuelled mainly by the constant ravening hunger of an 11 year old boy, Pink, who's a stickler for following instructions for things like this, has been keen to find 'children's recipes' and I've been particularly impressed with The Silver Spoon for Children book which she was given for her 9th birthday recently. 

40 recipes taken from the adult version of this seminal Italian cookery book, simplified and aimed for children as young as 9 to be able to manage with minimal supervision. It's a big, colourful and sensible book with real food in it, good basics as well as some good 'techniques' to learn. 

Food-wise, the book includes 4 sections, lunches and snacks, pasta and pizza, main courses and desserts and baking. The recipes are lots of good basics, and recipes that build on each other - for example pizza dough, then pizza margherita, followed by pizza napoletana and sausage pizza. It might not seem very adventurous, but it's a good sensible approach and for kids trying to cook on their own, very straightforward.

The only things I'd like to have seen would be a list of equipment for each recipe alongside the ingredients ("Mummy! I need a LID for this PAN") and also a time estimate at the outset, but in fairness, it's good for encouraging children to read through the recipe all the way to the end before even donning an apron. Pink also found it difficult to follow the recipe steps across the double spread, which meant she kept jumping from step 3 to step 7, rather than crossing to the next page for steps 4, 5 and 6, but the pictures/steps are numbered, so that probably says more about her than the book...

Pink has so far selected to make a tomato and mozarella salad - hardly rocket science, but lots of tomato slicing and talking about ingredients, and then yesterday, a 2 course meal: spaghetti with tomato sauce followed by stuffed peaches.

Unfortunately, my phone died so I can't bring you pictures of the finished article, but it was delicious. Both the spaghetti and tomato sauce, and the stuffed peaches for dessert.

I was particularly dubious about the peaches, requiring as it did, the stones to be removed fairly neatly, eggs to be separated and various bits of fiddling about, but she managed it pretty much single-handedly. And did I say everything was pretty fool-proof and delicious? It is. I'd definitely recommend this if you're thinking of buying a cookery book for a 9/10 year old who's interested in cooking proper food.

And what did I add to proceedings (apart from being sous-chef, occasional crisis manager and sauce stirrer?) well, to stop myself from interfering too much, I made a quick 'focaccia' type bread to go with the spaghetti and make it more of a Sunday dinner. I am not in any way claiming this to be a genuine focaccia - for a start it doesn't have nearly enough olive oil in it - but it's a good filler and pretty darn tasty, as well as being quick and easy to knock up. It's also good with a sharp cheddar cheese the next day...

Olive & Garlic sort of 'Focaccia'

1 sachet easy blend yeast
2 tsp caster sugar
400g strong white flour
100g semolina flour
2 tsp fine sea salt
3-4 fat cloves of garlic
black olives
leaves picked from a good 5/6 sprigs of thyme
sea salt

You'll also need a tray bake tin around 30 by 23 cm with sides around 4 cm, and some good olive oil or rapeseed oil

Measure around 325 ml hand hot water into a jug, stir in the yeast and sugar and leave for a few minutes.

Combine the flours in a large bowl with the salt.

Gradually stir the yeasty water into the flours to make a rough-ish dough, then tip out onto a work surface and knead for 10 minutes or so till you have a smooth dough. You can also knead in a mixer.

Leave the dough in a warm place to rise - it shouldn't take too long, may be 30-40 minutes, then take your tin and generously lug olive oil into the bottom - may be a tablespoon's worth. 

Shape the dough into a rectangle in the tin, cover and leave for another 20 mins or so, and get the oven on to pre-heat to 230C.

While the dough is on its second prove, peel and finely chop the garlic (bash the cloves first with a rolling pin, it makes it easier to peel them - a tip I learnt from The Silver Spoon for Children), chop up the olives into halves. 

After 20 minutes or so, stick your fingers into the puffy dough to make lots of dimple-like indentations then scatter over the chopped garlic and olives, the picked thyme leaves and a sprinkling of coarse sea salt. Glug some more oil over the top, then pop in the oven and bake for around 15-20 minutes till golden and delicious.


  1. I'm definitely in favour of quick breads and it looks very fine to me. I'm also in favour of getting other family members to do the cooking. But I'm truly sorry about the lack of dishwasher. If I found myself without a dishwasher then I'd need a support group and a constant supply of red wine to get over it.

    1. It's been tough, Phil, but thankfully the new dishwasher arrived today to much rejoicing :-)


I LOVE comments - please leave one. Unfortunately, I have been getting hideous amounts of SPAM so please can you do the word verification thingy?