The secret to stress-free family cooking is making meals everyone enjoys, says Annabel Karmel. She tells Lisa Salmon about her new book catering to both children and adults.
Catering for a family’s varied tastes can be a nightmare at dinner time, with hard-working parents often having to serve several dishes to keep everyone happy.
After her own research found some mothers make up to 63 meals a week to satisfy all the mouths in their family, bestselling cookery writer Annabel Karmel has whipped up Annabel’s Family Cookbook, a new recipe book packed with dishes everyone can enjoy.
The Jewish children’s food guru, who has previously written 37 books about feeding toddlers and babies, has branched out with her new book, 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 cafés,” 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 doesn’t alienate anybody in a recipe that’s great for the whole family,” adds the 50-year-old mother-of-three.
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 is by no means a homage to children’s cooking; grown-up dishes include Moroccan lamb tagine, baked sea bass and vanilla cheesecake.
“So many mums were telling me 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 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.
“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,“ she explains. “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 lives are so busy; we can’t sit around the table together at every meal time. 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 have older children cook the family meal 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.
• Annabel’s Family Cookbook by Annabel Karmel is published by Ebury Press, priced £20, and available now
- Annabel’s Posh Fish Fingers
400g lemon sole, cod, plaice or hake fillets
skinned 85g cornflakes
30g freshly grated Parmesan cheese
100g plain flour
2 medium eggs, lightly beaten
4tbsp sunflower oil, for frying
Salt and black pepper
Cut the fish into strips. Put the cornflakes into a food processor and blitz, then pour into a bowl and mix together with the Parmesan. Put the flour into a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Beat the eggs in another bowl. Now dip each piece of fish in the flour, then the eggs and finally the cornflake and Parmesan mixture. Heat two tablespoons of the oil in a large frying pan. Fry half of the fish fillets for four to five minutes, turning them regularly until they’re cooked. Drain on kitchen paper. Add the remaining two tablespoons of oil to the pan and cook the second batch of fish. Drain as before, then serve with chips or salad and lemon wedges.
- Annabel’s Vanilla Cheesecake
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)
Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas 4. 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 tin and put in the fridge to chill. 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 jam in a saucepan. Arrange the strawberries and raspberries on top of the cheesecake and drizzle with the jam.