Hooked for Life! Lesley Waters

As a patron of the Christchurch Food and Wine Festival, Lesley Waters is looking forward to meeting the young cooks of tomorrow at this year's event

Hooked for Life!

As a patron of the Christchurch Food and Wine Festival, Lesley Waters is looking forward to meeting the young cooks of tomorrow at this year’s event

Coming up this month is one of my favourite festivals, the Christchurch Food and Wine Festival; now in its 13th year it gets bigger and better every year. I’ve been working with this festival almost from the start and I’ve been a patron of it for some years now, which I’m very proud of for many reasons. The one that is closest to my heart is the way the festival embraces young people in the food world. Every year I have great pleasure in being one of the judges for the Junior Cook of the Year competition held at schools in Christchurch. I’m always so impressed by the students and come away feeling truly inspired by them and the dishes they cook. Many go on to take up cooking as a career; it’s all very exciting stuff!

So this month’s article is dedicated to getting children to cook and to those young talents in Christchurch who will be battling it out at the Christchurch Food and Wine Festival finals this year, good luck to you all.

I feel sure that one of the reasons I’m so passionate about food and cooking today is because, from a very early age, my Mum encouraged me into the kitchen. I was always allowed to make lots of mess and she never seemed to mind. As far as I’m concerned you’re never too young to learn about good food and I’ve kept up the family tradition with my own children. For them, cooking is the best game in the world. They mix it up, make a great mess and get to eat the rewards! They love to cook and a morning in the kitchen always wins hands down against other more high-tech amusements.

So how early can children start to cook? Well, pouring milk on cereal, spreading butter on toast and washing the fruit and veg are all safe things that can be done from a very early age. Don’t forget that laying the table and eating together are all part of it. These little games are a great way to set the scene and encourage the confidence of those little kitchen helpers. Moving on, pre-school children can knead dough, balance weighing scales, crack eggs and grease cake tins – all helpful jobs in the kitchen; with the added bonus of licking the cake bowl and they’ll be hooked for life!

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"But isn’t it a bit dangerous?" I hear you say. Invest in some user-friendly bits and pieces. Plastic scissors, bowls and wooden spoons are a good idea. When working in the kitchen get your children to sit down, this keeps them in one spot and helps them to concentrate and you keep control. Situate them away from hot ovens, hobs and anything sharp and keep sessions short and sweet. I find that 30-40 minutes is usually ample for a good time to be had by all.

If your kitchen is too tiny for little helpers then weather permitting, move them outside. It’s not just for barbeques; a garden table makes a good mixing area. Conservatories or dining rooms are useful indoor areas to consider and if you’re really pushed focus on dishes that don’t require too much space such as smoothies, simple soups and breads.

So if you’re looking to entertain your children over the Bank Holiday weekends, get together in the kitchen. Here are two simple recipes that are great fun to cook and eat for the whole family, whilst setting the children on the road to enjoying some tasty local fare. U

For news of courses and events at Lesley Waters Cookery School at Abbots Hill Farm visit lesleywaters.com or follow her on Twitter @LWCookerySchool

Muffulettas

Serve these delicious muffulettas warm straight from the oven with a homemade spring time pasta soup (see below) or serve with Denhay bacon and baked tomatoes for a tasty brunch.

 

Makes 8

225g self-raising flour

55g Denhay mature cheddar, grated

2 large free range eggs

2 tablespoons rapeseed oil

200mls natural yoghurt

2 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon wholegrain mustard

 

Method

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 5/ 190�C. Lightly grease an 8-well non-stick muffin tin.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, cheese and herbs. In a jug, whisk together the eggs, oil, yoghurt and water. Add the wet ingredients to the flour and cheese and quickly combine, taking care not to over stir. Spoon the mixture into the prepared muffin tins and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden.

 

Springtime Green Minestrone

This is a lighter twist on the classic minestrone and a tasty way to get your kids to eat their greens!

 

Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, crushed

1.5 litres vegetable or chicken stock

100g macaroni

225g thin asparagus trimmed and cut each stick into three

110g French beans, trimmed, cut into 2.5cm (1in) lengths

1 x 400g canned cannellini beans, drained, rinsed

75g frozen petit pois

2 ripe tomatoes, chopped

3 tablespoons basil, chopped

Extra-virgin olive oil to drizzle

 

Method

Heat the olive oil gently in a large pan, add the onion and garlic. Cover and gently cook for 6 minutes or until softened, stirring occasionally. Add stock to pan and bring to the boil. Tip in macaroni and simmer for 6 minutes. Stir in French beans and simmer for a further 3 minutes. Add the asparagus, cannellini beans and petit pois and simmer for a final 2-3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and basil and heat through for 1 minute. Season well with freshly ground black pepper. To serve, ladle minestrone into 4 warm bowls, drizzle each with a little extra virgin oil. Serve with the warm muffulettas.

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