When it comes to cooking I’m more of a Domestic Novice than a Domestic Goddess and it’s fair to say that inspiration seldom strikes when I’m in the kitchen. I seem to possess a complete inability to forward plan, throw the contents of the fridge together to create something delicious or simply cook anything other than my small repertoire of dishes. Not great when you have a growing family, right? Thankfully, I have found someone to help. Katie Bryson is the founder of the brilliant blog Feeding Boys and a Firefighter. Married to Matthew, a fireman (yes ladies, she is living the dream) and mother to Sam (7) and Arlo (4), she’s fast become an expert on feeding a ravenous crowd. To make things even more complicated, her husband is a vegetarian, meaning that she is as adept at creating filling veggie meals for an active man as she is for fuelling small people. We are thrilled that she’s passed on some tips…
How do you go about planning what to cook? Do your boys and your husband always eat the same meals?
I draw up a 7-day meal plan at the weekend using a mixture of tried and tested recipes and stuff I’ve been inspired to try out from magazines and websites. I do my supermarket shopping online from this plan to try and stay on budget. I plan quick and easy food for the days where there’s lots going on, and more interesting meals when i’ve got a spare afternoon in the calendar to play around in the kitchen. Meal planning saves time and money, and is such a godsend as all the decisions about what you’re going to have for supper are already made and the ingredients magically in the fridge.
I try and cook the same food for everyone, but as my husband’s a vegetarian and the rest of us are flesh eaters, we might have a roast and do something veggie on the side. However i’ve really enjoyed cutting back on the meat and coming up with creative vegetarian options that we can all eat.
I do sometimes wish I could cook more challenging and grown up meals for my husband and I, but I don’t like cooking twice or eating late.
Do you have any tried-and-tested methods for feeding fussy eaters?
Feeding children can be SUCH a battle. Often it’s not really the type of food that’s the issue, but a power play. It’s typically a matter of how long it takes for kids to wear you down and get you to make them something else! Hold your nerve, try something new once a week and don’t give up or give in. In my experience, if you get kids involved with cooking a meal they’re more likely to eat it.
What are your top tips for cooking with children?
Cooking with kids can be lots of fun and it’s such a brilliant way to get them interested in different types of food. Baking is the obvious place to start, but just getting them involved in preparing ordinary family meals is really rewarding for them too.
Have your equipment and ingredients laid out and ready before letting the kids loose. They’ll be impatient to get stuck in, so if you’re ready to go when you call them into the kitchen it’ll be a lot less stressful.
Make them aware of the dangers in your kitchen. Show them very firmly what can hurt them and don’t leave them unattended at any point while they’re cooking. My fiercely independent youngest decided he was ready to make toast on his own once… luckily he didn’t hurt himself but that could easily have gone the other way had he decided to stick a knife in the toaster.
Go through the recipe first and break it into different tasks that are age appropriate to your child. These are the kind of jobs my boys have become pretty good at:
melting butter in the microwave
breaking up a bar of cooking chocolate into chunks
melting chocolate in the microwave
chopping fruit and vegetables
peeling boiled eggs
weighing and measuring ingredients
If you’ve got more than one child helping out then make sure they’ve got their own tasks to do on their own so no one takes over or gets left out.
I’ve written a whole guide to help you cook with your kids here on my blog
How old do you think children need to be before they can start learning to cook?
As soon as they show an interest in food there’s always something children can get involved with. Even if it’s just mixing some ingredients together, toddlers can have lots of fun in the kitchen. You just need to be ready for the mess and chaos and just accept it! Make cleaning up part of the fun and above all make sure they’re not in a position to hurt themselves on something hot or sharp.
What are your favourite things to cook with your boys?
Marshmallow pops are simple and fun to make, and perfect for party favours. I make them for my local cafe and the boys love helping melt the chocolate and scattering the sprinkles.
What are your favourite ‘I’m in a rush!’ meals to cook for your family?
Gnocchi with peas and pesto and a liberal grating of parmesan is done in minutes. Shop bought ready rolled puff pastry is a shortcut to amazing tarts that look impressive, taste wonderful but are super easy. I’ve made a video which you can see here.
Do you ever use cooking apps? If so, what are your favourites for families?
I don’t really use them in my own cooking, but there’s a great kids cooking app that came out in the summer that my boys love – Henri Le Worm. It’s all about getting kids to connect their food with where it’s come from, along with some recipes for them to try.
Do you have any favourite cook books you can recommend?
Cook books I always go back to are Nigel Slater’s Real Cooking for indulgent but simple comfort food, any of Yotam Ottolenghi’s titles for stunning dishes for entertaining and Leith’s Cookery Bible for the gospel on any particular recipe i’m not sure on.
What is your kitchen ‘secret weapon’ – ie a life-saving gadget that you couldn’t live without?
I have a Vitamix that I’m rather evangelical about. It’s a total powerhouse of a blender. Not only does it blitz up amazing smoothies, but it can make soups and even a hot cheese sauce without using any heating element, just the friction from the blades. I can have macaroni cheese on the table in 10 minutes… now that’s what I call a secret weapon!
And now for two of Katie’s favourite recipes…
Macaroni cheese and broccoli souffle (feeds 6-8) Prep time 10 minutes. Cooking time 30 minutes.
This fluffy take on macaroni cheese is the perfect family-friendly one pot supper that’ll warm everyone up on chilly winter school nights… great for playdates as it doesn’t take too long to throw together and cheesy pasta appeals to most kids I find…
Ingredients: 50g butter, 50g plain flour, 500ml milk, tbsp grain mustard, pinch nutmeg, 100g parmesan cheese (grated), 4 egg yolks, 350g macaroni, 1 head broccoli, 4 egg whites
1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan, stir in the flour and cook for a few minutes then gradually add the milk whisking all the time to create a smooth white sauce. Once thickened remove from heat and stir in the mustard, nutmeg, half of the parmesan cheese and the egg yolks.
2. Meanwhile cook the macaroni and broccoli until almost done, but not completely all they’ll be totally mushed when you bake them. Drain and stir into the cheese sauce.
3. Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6.
4. Whisk the egg whites until peaks form, then tip into the pan of cheese sauce and carefully fold in until totally combined.
5. Pour into a large oven proof dish (and I mean large as this makes loads) or perhaps two medium-sized ones. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes until fluffy and golden. Serve with crusty bread and salad or just on it’s own is fine too.
Bake Sale Brownies (makes 15)
This simple brownie recipe is ideal if you need to come up with the goods for a school cake stall but don’t have a lot of time to spare. It’s also fab for getting little helpers involved.
Ingredients: 40g cocoa powder, 5 tbsp water, 75g butter (cubed), 2 eggs, 225g caster sugar, 85g plain flour, half tsp baking powder, pinch salt, 50g sultanas
To decorate 100g cooking chocolate sprinkles of choice
1. Pre heat the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Grease and line a rectangular tin approx 27cm x 17cm.
2. Put the cocoa powder and water into a small pan and mix together over a gentle heat until a paste forms. Stir in the butter and heat until melted and you’re left with a glossy mixture. Remove from heat.
3. Whisk the eggs and sugar together until creamy, then add the chocolate mixture until combined.
4. Sieve in the flour, baking powder and salt, then mix thoroughly. Finally stir through the sultanas and pour the mixture into the lined baking tin.
5. Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes. Take out and allow to cool in the tin. Carefully peel off the baking paper and place on a chopping board.
6. Break the chocolate into pieces and place in a heat proof bowl in the microwave. Melt on full power for a minute, give it a stir and then in further 30 second bursts stirring in between until completely melted.
7. Using a teaspoon drizzle the melted chocolate over the brownies and decorate with sprinkles. Allow to set and then cut into 15 even squares.
All recipes and food images courtesy of Katie Bryson/Feeding Boys & a Firefighter