FRUGAL FOODIE: Keeping the kids amused in the kitchen

Messy hands in the kitchen.
Messy hands in the kitchen.

As half-term comes to an end and the children are ‘bored’ (despite having a room full of toys and a garden to play in) how about spending some time in the kitchen with the little cherubs?

It’s never too early to start them cooking. Remember, the sooner that they start cooking the sooner you get a reprieve and, even better, could end up with breakfast in bed!

Our two love being in the kitchen – it could be the mess or it could be licking the spoon but as long as they are happy ‘helping’ me then I’m happy to show them what to do. Well, sometimes!

As I’m sure you’re sick of hearing, we have hens in the garden who lay us a plentiful supply of amazing eggs. Well, not quite so many during the short days but enough to get a bit of baking going on.

OK, I know that baking doesn’t fit in too well with my ‘giving up sugar’ (which I’m sticking to, by the way) but it’s a great way to get the kids interested in cooking and it’s just an avenue to get them cooking other things!

While the children will pretty much devour anything sweet (in fact, on pancake day, I have never seen such a volume of pancakes consumed nor a speed achieved at a dinner table! It was like lions taking down a zebra in the Serengeti!

Their stock favourite is the good old trusty chocolate crispy cake. It’s such a simple one to make, but it gives youngsters the confidence in the kitchen to see that they can actually make something quickly and easily and then enjoy eating it! We use a very simple recipe:

CHOCOLATE CRISPY CAKE

Ingredients

60g butter, cubed

3 tbsp golden syrup

100g milk chocolate (surprisingly, left over since last Easter!)

90g rice krispies – well, the Lidl or brandless alternative!

Method

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water, stirring all the time. Stir in the butter until it’s melted and then add the syrup and stir. Gently, stir in the rice krispies. Either spoon them into fairy cake cases or make little splodges on a lined baking tray or plate. Leave to cool.

Try to save one for daddy.

Eat.

Realise you haven’t saved one for daddy!

By this point, my offspring have had enough but if, by any chance, yours haven’t then this is another great and simple one. Don’t forget that Mother’s Day is fast approaching so a nice idea is to get the kids involved in making a cake for mum! 

Even if it’s not as pristine as a shop-bought cake, she’ll prefer that it’s made by the bairns’ fair hands. And cake really is one of the most frugal and enjoyable things you can make – don’t buy one from the supermarket! I swear baking is like therapy – if you’re having a bad day, get the pinny on! Cupcakes are always a winner and if you can find a nice box then you can make them look like a really nice present too! Here’s a nice, simple recipe.

CUP CAKE

Ingredients

2 tbsp cocoa powder

1 tbsp water

200g caster sugar

110g butter

2 eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract

200g plain flour

1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder

125ml milk

Method

Preheat oven to 180c/ Gas 4. Grease and flour a cupcake tin, or line with paper cases. Stir together the cocoa and water to form a paste. Set aside. Cream together the sugar and butter until pale. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then stir in the vanilla extract. Combine flour and baking powder and sift into the creamed mixture. Fold it in thoroughly. Gradually stir in the milk until the mixture is smooth. Spoon mixture into the prepared tin, filling cases 3/4 full. Bake cakes for 20 to 25 minutes. They’re done when they spring back to the touch. Let cool completely before topping with your favourite icing. We love vanilla butter icing. Too much!

My husband is a very odd man – he doesn’t like cake. Yes, I know. Even the kids question it on his birthday when we don’t make him one. That’s not to say that he doesn’t have a sweet tooth, it’s just an aversion to cake. 

So, after a hard day’s work there’s nothing we like to do more than welcome him home with a tray of warm biscuits. 

Actually, it’s not the 1950s anymore, so this clearly doesn’t happen but if we’re in a baking mood then there’s a chance we’ll have saved him a biscuit or two. We like this biscuit recipe for Coconut Cookie Crumble. It’s quick, easy and above all delicious!

COCONUT COOKIE CRUMBLE

Ingredients

150g rolled oats

100g light brown sugar

100g plain flour

100g desiccated coconut

100g unsalted butter

2tbsp golden syrup

½tsp bicarbonate soda

Method

Preheat the oven to 180c/Gas 4. Line a baking tray. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, coconut and oats, blending well – messy, floury kids’ hands should be the sign of a job well done. Just make sure their hands are washed before getting stuck into the mix. In a small pan, melt the butter and golden syrup over a low heat. In a small bowl, dissolve the bicarbonate soda in a little boiling water. Combine with the golden syrup and butter. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, and pour in the warm golden syrup mixture, mixing well until it forms a dough. Take a heaped teaspoon of the mixture and roll into balls. Place onto the baking tray and press down slightly to flatten. Repeat until all the mixture has been used up – little hands will make light work of rolling the dough into balls – and then flatten down into cookies. Cook for 15-20 minutes, until the biscuits are golden. Once baked, cool on a wire rack before serving.

So, once you have spent the afternoon in the kitchen baking and the children have probably had enough sweet stuff to sink a ship, it’s probably not a bad idea to make them some dinner with at least a sprinkling of nutritional value! And why not stick with the child-friendly theme.

What about ‘worms and eyeballs’? Spaghetti and meatballs to you and I! Our kids love them. And so do I. Why not use courgette spaghetti instead? If you haven’t got a spiralizer, just use a vegetable peeler to create courgette tagliatelli. It might be a good idea after the baking sugar fest!

For the eyeballs – combine pork and beef mince with a beaten egg, some breadcrumbs, grated parmesan, crushed garlic and some finely chopped herbs (use dried, if you don’t have fresh).

I like to add finely-chopped olives too. Season with salt and pepper.

The kids can get their (clean!) hands in the bowl and do the mixing. When it’s all combined, form the meatballs – I usually make 1 inch(ish) balls.

Heat some oil in a frying pan and fry them until browned. Then you can add some chopped tomatoes, a splash of balsamic vinegar, mixed herbs, tabasco sauce and Worcester sauce and let it bubble away with the eyeballs nestled in amongst it, until cooked.

Now, get the kids in bed and sit down with the last remaining cup cake and relax. Term-time is just around the corner!

Read last month’s Frugal Foodie column: Some warming soups to get you through the worst of the winter

Follow the Frugal Foodie, Christine McAllister, on Twitter @thefrugaldiary and online at diaryofafoodie.co.uk.