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Child’s play: simple December supper

Categories: Expert guidance

We all need some dishes in our repertoire that are, quite simply, child’s play—dishes with no shopping list, no recipe, that can almost be thrown together with your eyes closed. In this new series, Jenny Chandler gives directions and cooking tips for fabulous seasonal meals that a 10-year-old could throw together

Winter slaw
A slaw, or crunchy vegetable salad, provides the backbone of many a winter meal in our home. I don’t call it coleslaw nowadays as that just conjures up images of plastic tubs of shredded white cabbage and carrot drowning in a sea of sweet salad cream. About the only constant in our house recipe is the cabbage (coleslaw, after all, takes its name from the Dutch ‘koolsla’ meaning cabbage salad), and more often than not, it will be red.

If you’re thinking that a slaw requires no recipe then you’re absolutely right, it’s a fabulous dish that anyone can manage—it’s just about moving beyond the ubiquitous cabbage/carrot combo. It’s the moment to raid the vegetable basket, the fruit bowl and get creative with nuts, seeds, oils and vinegars. Kids can hone their knife skills, students can up their vitamin intake without breaking the bank, and we can all explore the huge range of seasonal roots and brassicas on offer in the Market.

So, I’ll generally kick off with about a quarter of a red cabbage for the three of us (the remainder will keep for a good week in the fridge) and shred it fairly finely into ribbons using a large knife, abandoning the tough core. Carrots do provide a bit of sweetness, so I’ll chop, rather than grate, a couple of those up too. Now’s the moment for at least one more root: celeriac cut into matchsticks, a little parsnip finely diced, fine slices of kohlrabi for a superb bit of bite or perhaps some grated, raw beetroot (added at the last minute if it’s the red variety). Grating the veg can lead to a rather sludgy slaw, so I limit it to the raw beetroot that can be rather leathery if left in slices.

Fruit is key to the perfect ‘chop-chop’ salad (as we called it as children); it could be that last lone apple or pear, chopped roughly with skin on, or some segmented orange, mandarin or grapefruit. At least a handful of nuts—be they remnants from the baking cupboard or freshly cracked from the shell—even a few salted peanuts, will add some vital crunch. Then I go wild with the seeds: poppy, sesame, sunflower or pumpkin get a quick toast in a dry pan before being sprinkled over.

Vinaigrette or mayo’? Now there’s the question. I lean towards light dressings and some good seasoning (a 60/40 extra virgin olive oil to apple cider vinegar is a great place to start) but if I do use a mustardy mayonnaise, I’d serve it on the side—I never stir it in for fear of killing the vibrant colours and giving the gloop effect. Miso, tahini, grated ginger or fresh herbs, there’s myriad ingredients with which to ring the changes and that’s why we eat slaw at least once a week without ever tiring of it. Simply served alongside a baked potato (sweet potato is great with a zippy citrus slaw), with some hummus and toast, or as a perfect accompaniment to one of Mrs King’s magnificent pork pies, this fresh seasonal salad is a winner.

Rice pudding

Rice pudding 
Pudding can be a lusciously creamy affair after such a wholesome start and rice pudding has to be about the simplest, most economical and yet indulgent, sweet dish around. Just 100g pudding rice will serve 4. Take a large ovenproof dish (try adding 2 pints of water to check the capacity, tip away and continue). Now place the rice along with 50g light brown sugar and 2 pints of whole milk into the dish with a pinch of salt and either a bay leaf, a strip of lemon zest and a pinch of cinnamon or just a sprinkling of grated nutmeg and bake in a low oven (150C) for about 2 hours, until set. This will look like a ridiculously tiny amount of rice—don’t worry, it works I promise you. It’s worth giving the rice a good stir after about 45 mins to get rid of any lumps. Dot the top with about 25g butter to help achieve the characteristic rich brown skin.

So there’s the rice pud blueprint, but do feel free to swap 200ml of the milk with double cream for a richer affair, or swap traditional spices for a couple of cardamom pods and a dash of rosewater (gorgeous served with figs) for some Middle Eastern magic.

Serve hot or cold with jam (Rosebud Preserves has a wonderful selection), compote, poached or stewed fruit.