I borrowed Nigella Lawson’s mammoth tome How to Eat from my mother-in-law over the weekend, and while I’m not thrilled with the organisations (it’s all menus, rather than being divided into meats, fish, vegetables, desserts, etc.), the section on feeding babies and small children was very enjoyable. For one thing, it was nice to find that a celebrity chef (with children) was recommending the things I’ve been doing by instinct – feeding him the same things I feed myself, trying out exotic flavours and ingredients, just assuming he’ll like vegetables and cooking accordingly. And the ‘Cooking with Children’ section was inspiring. As we were trapped inside by heavy rain all day, I decided to try the recipe for cheese stars.
Small Boy has been barred from the kitchen ever since he pulled a cup of hot tea down on himself at 18 months, although I really ought to get off my backside and make the room more child-friendly. To include him in cooking, I’ll bring vegetables out to the dining room table and chop them there, offering him a taste and letting him gather scraps and put them in the compost bucket or the stock bag (I collect vegetable ends and make stock out of them at the end of the week). So he watched from the gate as I weighed ingredients, and then I brought everything out to the table so he could help.
Small Boy stirred the flour and chilli powder while I grated the cheese, and then he stirred that in. I melted the butter (recipe said ‘softened,’ but I never have the patience and the house is cold) and mixed it in by hand, then let Small Boy put some flour on the pastry sheet. I rolled the dough out thinly and guided Small Boy as he cut out shapes.
I’m pretty sure Nigella’s vision did not include me wrestling the rolling pin away from my son and shouting ‘No, you’re mashing it! Darn it, stop sticking holes in the dough!’ and similar endearments.
We couldn’t find the star-shaped cookie cutter, so we have bird-shaped biscuits, circles, clovers, large plus-signs, lips and whatever other shapes we could find among Small Boy’s collection, which he usually uses with play-dough. Got the things on the cookie sheet eventually, though, and they turned out beautifully. Ten minutes later, we were happily drinking squash and munching cheesy biscuits, and I was trying not to think about the vast expanse of floury carpet in the dining room.
I quote Nigella’s recipe below:
- 50g self-raising flour pinch cayenne (we used chilli powder)
- 25g softened butter (I needed a few more tablespoons to make the dough stick together)
- 80g finely grated red leicester
- 20g freshly grated parmesan, about 4 tablespoons (for cheese, we used 80g grated double gloucester and 20g medium cheddar, which was what we had in the fridge)
Preheat oven to gas mark 6/200C. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. Dust a surface with flour, roll out about 2 1/2mm thick, cut out shapes and put on non-stick or lined trays in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes. Look after 8. The biscuits continue to crisp up while they’re cooling on a rack.
Nigella says it makes 25 stars, but we got almost 40 biscuits of varying sizes. Everyone’s cutters are different.