Posted tagged ‘family fun’

Share your foodie gift ideas

November 3, 2011

Hello Family readers – and all other visitors to my blog.This post is by Nicola Baird, and offers some simple foodie gifts to make with your children. Or make them yourself and get the kids to design a label. These gifts show off your creativity and are cheaper to make than buy (although Lidl can compete on the truffles).

Wrapping can look eccentric, or authentically chic, using newspaper, especially foreign language papers which you may find at train, tube or metro stations. There are lots of other ideas in my book Homemade Kids – itself a fine gift for baby bumps and new mums. You can buy copies of Homemade Kids here (or have a look at the library).

 PayPal says when families start to watch their budgets, more of us give food or drink gifts. Encourage your children to make something – jam or truffles for the older ones. Or try vanilla essence (split a vanilla bean and put into a clean small jar with vodka); flavoured sugar (decorate a big jar and fill with fair-trade sugar and a vanilla bean  or cinnamon stick). If you want to be more imaginative with a bargain tin of Quality Street from Tesco try sewing together the sweets to make a necklace. The green ones can be turned into mini sweet kebabs if you spear them on a lolly stick. Draw on a smiley Christmas fairy face/dinosaur/Santa at the top.

Instructions below for making:

1) Jam     2) Truffles     3) Vanilla essence (needs vodka)
4) Flavoured sugar (super simple)     5) Mini sweetie kebabs (panic choice)

1 JAM is a great gift
If you buy preserving sugar there is usually a recipe on the packet. I find the more sugar or pectin-rich fruit you use, the easier it is to get the jam to set. If it’s very runny, leave to cool and maybe try re-heating tomorrow when you’ve got more time, or are less tired. This works well for me and the kids:

1 kilo fruit (strawberries/blackberries fresh or from the freezer)
1 kilo jam sugar (contains pectin)
Blob of butter
Lemon juice (squeeze one)

  • Method – sterilise 5 jars by putting through dish washer OR wash out and then warm/cook in oven for 20mins on 100C – or do for 10mins in 180C. Also put 2 saucers into the freezer.
  • Gently melt a spoonful of butter with the sugar and then add the fruit. Stir occasionally so nothing burns.
  • Now bring to boil. Boil for about 6 minutes until setting point reached (!).
  • You can test success by putting a teaspoon of the mix on to a cold saucer. Leave a mo then push at the jam with your finger – is it runny, or slightly tacky. The firmer the better. Keep testing every two minutes. I find this usually takes 20 minutes on an electric hob – perhaps gas hobs are quicker?
  • Remove from heat, allow to cool and then pour (I use a milk jug) into the warm jars.
  • While warm add a wax disc (make  from greaseproof or baking paper) to put on the top of your jam – this stops mould growing. Seal the lid and store in a dark, cool place (eg, larder/cupboard) until needed.
  • If when you open your jam there is sugar mould scrape it off for the compost, and then eat the rest. To avoid this happening if this is a gift encourage the recipient to eat soon and once open keep in the fridge.
  • Jam that doesn’t set is still delicious as a hot or cold sauce for icecream, an extra filip for a cake or eaten on cereal, with yoghurt etc.

TIP: Instead of making jam, you could give a voucher for a pot of marmalade 2012 – the bitter Seville oranges are in shops and markets from early January. I’ve always had best luck finding them in Waitrose or greengrocers.

2 TRUFFLES are easier to make if your house is a bit cold

Ingredients: 110g dark choc (one bar), 2 tbs double cream, 2tbs alcohol, 25g butter, some toppings to give the truffles a finish (eg, dessicated coconut, chocolate powder, grated chocolate) = 12. I usually double or triple ingredients – it’s just as easy to make with a larger quantity of truffle mix.

  • Method: Melt small dob of butter in a big pan, add chopped up chocolate and melt very slowly.
  • Take off heat and stir in cream and brandy (or your choice – cointreau is good)
  • Leave until almost hard but friable enough for you to mould into balls. Overnight is too long. 2-3 hours probably OK.
  • Using your fingers and palm roll teaspoonfuls of the mix into a nice round ball – then finish off by rolling through grated dark chocolate, dessicated coconut, chocolate powder (eg, milo, ovaltine etc) or whatever coating you want.
  • Put in a pretty box and leave in a cool place until you need to hand over.
  • Best eaten within 5 days, might be a good idea to store in a cold place – not just by the woodburner, or dog.

TIP: Dogs get sick if they eat chocolate, so keep them out of reach. This is a very rich truffle, ideal gift for grown ups. Take to parties, housewarmings, new baby arrivals, birthdays, significant milestones etc.

3 VANILLA essence

Find a small clean bottle or tiny thin jar. Snap a vanilla pod to fit the bottle and release its flavour. Then fill the bottle with vodka and leave to marinate. Result vanilla essence – ideal for flavouring cake mixes.
Homemade Kids verdict: Slightly troubling to know there’s alcohol in your kiddy cooking? 

Find a large, clean, empty jar. Fill it half-full with Fair Trade sugar (pale brown looks nice). Then add a flavouring.

  • vanilla pod for vanilla flavoured sugar
  • energetic shakes of cinnamon for cinammon flavoured sugar

Top up the jar with the remaining sugar. Tighten the lid and make a label.

TIP: Keeps forever but gives sugar-users a nice kick to their sweet treat. Also nice used in crumbles or a cake mix.


Sew your wrapped sweeties from tins (eg, Roses, Quality Street) together and make bracelets, necklaces… Ideal time waster for a rainy afternoon with six-year-olds. And you’re bound to eat some of the sweets too, so it’ll be a fun chore. I use the sweets without excess wrapping for sweetie kebabs. Spear with a sharp skewer (or clean object) and then thread on to a clean wooden lolly stick. You can add paper decorations to the lolly stick – someone’s name, or an animal head, monster design to raise the crafty stakes. It might be fun doing this for a hide and seek quiz around the house?

Over to you
Good luck making these gifts – I know I’d be very happy to have any one of them! Do share any other quick foodie ideas you have that are simple(ish) to make with children of any age. Thanks. Nicola


What’s so great about apples?

October 5, 2010

Delicious apples. Pick from the tree. Taste blind. Nice or not?

It’s October and I’ve just tasted the first satsuma of the year. As it was from Spain, hopefully shipped in (rather than flown) and bought in the Co-op, I felt as much pleasure from my ethical choice as the sweet-sour taste of this only just orange-shaded fruit. Later in the year these satsumas will be much sweeter, smell less “new” and start to be covered in a thicker pith.

This post is by Nicola Baird using ideas filched from her newest book, Homemade Kids: thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children.

 But Granny Fiona watching my two girls and I doing our taste test – in our family every new and looked forward to taste of the year earns us a wish – wasn’t impressed and went into a long diatribe about how she only ate locally grown seasonal fruit, ie, apples.

And apples are in their glory at the moment. Last weekend we were invited to an apple press party. The idea is that you bring your apples and then use the host’s chunky, old-fashioned apple press to juice your own crop. It’s a lot more fun sharing the work with friends than doing this on your own…

 Arriving late allowed Lola, 12, Nell, 9, and I to walk into a Country Living photo set – under a huge oak tree in the stable yard around a trestle table were arranged mums, dads and little children. The women looked glam and happy, the dads relaxed as they feasted on sausages and beer (as appropriate!) while everyone took a turn chopping and mincing apples or using the lever to push the juice out of the fruit. Did I mention that the sun was actually out or the jokes were about an apple tax?

As my apple tree was back in London I was sent off to pick a bucket of eaters from a big tree that I remember being planted in the 1970s.  Back under the oak tree I cut them into quarters ready for the mincing/mashing/juicing stage. Just as my haul was about to be tipped in the apple press broke, but because it is a relatively simple style machine my brother was able to fix it in minutes and on the juicing went… a process which the poet Keats described in Ode to Autumn as “the slow oozings hours by hours”, except because we’re in the 21st century even old-fashioned presses seem quicker!

Long life
The dark apple juice lasts a week in the fridge, or you can put it in plastic bottles and freeze. Another way of making it last longer is to pasturise it – try heating it in a glass bottle up to 60F for a minute or two. Check Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall for the exact approach.

Why is apple juice so dark? The 10 year old boy loved helping press it.

Kids play

While the adults got lost in juicing dreams – how about adding ginger or sloe or vodka? – the children wandered through the fields in their wellies exploring the overgrown hedge by the boundary ditch as if they were adventurers. This kept them busy all afternoon until the last of the summer wasps unfortunately managed to sting a four year old and everyone had to retreat into the kitchen to recover with Ben 10 chocolates.

Celebrate apple day
It’s easy to celebrate apple day on 21 October even if you don’t have an apple press. You could do it virtually with a visit here, or you can go to the National Fruit Collection in Kent (or just the website). You could go to a market (or a supermarket) and choose a few different English varieties and run a taste test with the kids.

Or try apple bobbing (very hard and wet even in a shallow washing up bowl), or an apple peeling contest. Try cooking and juicing, adding apples (for their pectin) to autumn jams (eg, damson, blackberry and quince), making apple cake or an apple compote for puddings/breakfast cereal toppings. 

There may also be exciting events going on locally to you, including wassailing – drink something and spill something by your apple tree as a harvest thank you. Or try some cider (or perry from pears) or join a tour of an orchard.

These national days may be contrived but they give all of us a big hint about what to talk to our children about that day. It’s amazing how much children not just soak up, but also enjoy annual family rituals. If you haven’t yet given Apple Day a go, then go on and see what happens to your child’s interest in the humble apple.

Leo on the left has his own apple tree.

As Rita, one of the brilliant mums quoted in Homemade Kids pointed out apple trees make great gifts:  “Leo’s granny bought him an apple tree for his first birthday, and he loves the little apples. He’ll be able to watch it grow as he gets older.”

Do share any ideas you have about what’s so great about apples (or pears). Thanks.

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