The wonderful Skye McAlpine ‘From My Dining Table’ recently hosted a child-friendly cooking workshop in the beautiful garden of La Coqueta Kids founder Celia Muñoz’s Hampstead home...
We were there to catch up with the two women to talk cooking with children, friendship and what inspires them. The talented McAlpine has also shared three delicious, fun, family-friendly recipes with us to try at home.
How can you make cooking relevant and engaging for children of all ages?
Skye: I think it’s mostly about what you cook – I always say that I love to cook because I love to eat, and I think it is no different for children. I find that if the children are excited to eat something -they tend to really enjoy making it too. And I think that is the case for all ages. I remember when I was a child, what I loved most about baking with my mother was that she would let me lick the mixing bowl and spoon clean after the cake went into the oven. Recipes like this salted honey ice cream are great because you can taste them as you go along – and that becomes part of the fun. Taste and flavours are a huge part of what makes cooking fun.
Celia: I find cooking with children always works best when they have to prepare and lay out the ingredients before starting to cook. In this way, they learn about the process of making a meal. In our case, we have a vegetable garden so for them to pick their own vegetables to do a salad adds a lot of interest and for some reason, salads in their eyes also get to taste a lot better! What engages my children the most is when there is something such as picking, or cutting with a sharp nice as it makes them feel extremely grown up and appreciated. I personally find it very helpful that they can wash and cut vegetables while I do other things…
Why is it important for children to see what goes in to their food and how it is put together?
Skye: Cooking is something that growing up I did with my mother – just like eating, cooking is a social, family activity. I am mindful that it is important for me to cook with my son, Aeneas, because I want him to learn that food isn’t just nourishment for the body – there is so much more to it. It is nourishment for the soul, it is memories and nostalgia – and cooking and eating together as a family is a huge part of that.
Celia: We live in a world where everything through the eyes of a child comes out of a supermarket. When I was little, I saw cows being milked, fruits being picked, wine being made. Living in London make these things that were part of my daily life a little bit more challenging although not impossible if you really want them to see. I find it paramount for my children to see where food comes, they get to appreciate the goodness and importance of the ingredients a lot more… in a way I think it gets them closer to the idea of what is healthy and what isn’t, the importance of cooking your own food and how enjoyable it is as an experience when shared with others.
What are the ideal things to bake and cook with children?
Skye: I find that hands-on cooking works well – so making pastry where you knead the ingredients together with your hands and roll it out, or making fresh pasta dough, for example, are great for cooking with children. Recipes where the children can get heir hands dirty are great – as are very simple recipes where you can hand them the ingredients and let them take the lead.
Celia: My children love making tarts, baking cooking and preparing medjool dates with almond butter. They love to wash, cut, chop and very often taste what they are making, while they are making it reducing considerably the expected amount of food to be cooked. My husband and I love seeing their little faces of delight when cooking something they like. They stare at the food and can’t help it but touch it, put the finger in it and lick it as if it was the first time they tried it.
What are your fondest memories of cooking from your own childhood? Are there any particular dishes or bakes that you loved?
Skye: There is a flourless chocolate cake that my mother used to make for me every year for my birthday. Honestly – it is far and away the best chocolate cake I have ever eaten. She would make three cakes, then layer them with chocolate buttercream icing and decorate the whole thing with brightly coloured smarties. These days I still make that same cake, but I serve it plain, dusted with a little icing sugar and with a dollop of rosemary whipped cream on the side. That’s the ‘grown-up’ version!
Celia: While I was growing up my father was the one doing all the cooking at home. I remember preparing dishes for the whole family with my father. I also remember having to clean it all as he got it all very messy! Lemon tart and chicken with tomato and almond sauce were my absolute favourites.
Can you tell us a bit about the recipes you have chosen to cook today?
Skye: The zucchine and tomato tart is a go-to recipe of mine – it’s the kind of thing that I will toss together for lunch or supper at the last minute. It’s a great thing to make with children, because I find they really enjoy rolling out the pastry and they can let their imaginations run wild when it comes to arranging the slices of tomato and zucchine in the tin. It’s really fun to see the patterns they come up with. Lemonade is a wonderfully refreshing summer drink – and it’s so simple to make, the children can do it all themselves. As for the ice cream – again it is a very simple recipe, but it is also one of Aenea’s favourite things to eat so I thought it would be fun for him to try make it too.
You are both very creative women, in very different but complimentary fields, what have you learnt from each other and what do you admire in each other?
Skye: I am always in awe of how seamlessly and gracefully Celia balances the demands of a full-time, creative career with being a wonderful hands-on mamma to her five children. She makes everything seem possible and is a huge inspiration for me.
Celia: There are so many things I like about my friend Skye. I admire her talent and sense of reinvention. She’s a great example of someone creating something out of a real passion and never giving up. I love her character and the fact that there has never a bad word for anybody, she’s always willing to help and listen. She’s a great friend with many talents and food happens to be just one of them.
Where do you both get your inspiration from in your lines of work?
Skye: A lot of the inspiration for my recipes comes from my collection of cookbooks – both old and new, many out of print editions, written in Venetian dialect, which I have found in second hand bookshops. A lot of the food I cook is inspired by the flavours of Venice, the city where I grew up and where I still spend much of each year now – simple, fresh and rustic Italian food is what I grew up with and still now it’s my comfort food.
Celia: My main source of inspiration are my children to who I try everything that I create on and my customers who guide my thoughts. I am quite commercial so in a way although things that I see around me are a great source of inspiration I always try to bring pieces that my customer is going to like and the same for my children, as they are prime customers of La Coqueta.
Recipes to try:
Zucchine and tomato tart
The charm of this dish lies in its unadulterated simplicity. Yes, it is a simple recipe to make – which means that I bake it often, either when playing around in the kitchen with my son, Aeneas, or just as often as the centrepiece for supper or lunch parties. But more still – there is something about the simplicity of the flavours which I find wonderfully seductive: buttery pastry with tomatoes and zucchine lightly roasted in olive oil – nothing else; this tart is light and colourful, and just the kind of thing you want to eat on a hot summer’s evening.
FOR THE PASTRY
250g plain flour
125g cold butter
2-3 tbsps cold water
FOR THE FILLING
4-5 medium sized firm tomatoes
2 medium sized zucchine
4-5 bay leaves
Olive oil, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
Sift the flour into a mixing bowl. Chop the butter into cubes and toss it in the bowl with the flour, then use your fingertips to rub the butter into the flour until you have a mixture which looks and feels like coarse breadcrumbs. Try to work as quickly as you can, while the butter is still cold, before it becomes greasy. Use a knife to stir in just enough water to bring the dough together, then roll it into a ball, wrap in clingfilm and set in the fridge to chill for at least 30 minutes (better still, you can make the dough the day before and leave it to rest overnight, if you like).
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees centigrade. Finely slice the zucchine and the tomatoes into rounds and set to one side. Grease a 30cm wide round tart tin with butter and dust lightly with flour. Set the pastry on a lightly floured surface, then roll out the dough with a rolling pin into a circle as thick as a 50p piece and large enough to cover the the tin with a little pastry overhanging. Carefully lift the sheet of pastry and drape it over the tin, gently press it into the nooks and crannies of the tin, then roll the rolling pin across the top of the tin to cut away any excess pastry.
Use a fork to prick the bottom of the tart in several places, then arrange the slices of zucchine and tomato in the tart. Nestle the bay leaves in among the zucchine and tomato, then drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Set the tart in the oven for 35-45 minutes, until the pastry edges become golden brown and the vegetables are lightly cooked. I set it on the bottom of the oven, so that the pastry underneath crisps nicely and the bottom of the tart doesn’t become soggy. Alternatively, if you have a pizza stone or a spare baking tray, preheat it in the oven and set the tin on that. When the tart is done, take it out of the oven and allow it cool for a few minutes in its tin, before lifting it out on to a plate.
No-churn salted honey and chocolate chunk ice cream
There is no cooking, as such, here: just mixing cream together with a generous amount of condensed milk and a couple of other ingredients, then waiting patiently for it to magic itself into something that resembles wonderfully rich ice cream. This recipe is not intended to be proscriptive either: taste as you go along and play with the flavours as you like; add more honey to make it sweeter, more salt to give it more of an edge, omit the chocolate or toss in some rum soaked raisins. The possibilities are endless. And serve in a cone – because ice cream tastes better when eaten in a cone.
600ml thick double cream
1 x 397g tin of condensed milk
1/2 tsp Maldon salt
100g dark chocolate
Pour the cream into a large mixing bowl and whisk until stiff peaks begin to form. Take care not to over whisk – you want it smooth and lusciously soft. Gently pour in the condensed milk and fold it into the cream with a spatula, then drizzle in the honey, sprinkle with the salt and fold all the ingredients through. Roughly chop the chocolate into chunks and toss them in the bowl, gently give the mixture a stir so that it is well combined and the cream is peppered with chocolate throughout. Pour the mixture into a freezer-safe container with an air-tight lid, and freeze for six hours or overnight.
Something about a jug of iced lemonade that has a way of feeling like a special treat – even though it is such a quick and simple drink to mix together. Homemade lemonade bears little resemblance to what you might buy in cans – it’s sharper and more delicate in flavour, and somehow infinitely more refreshing to drink. I’ve added fresh strawberries and mint here, to mix a drink that has something of the same festive summer-y feel you get with Pimms – feel free to toss in chunks of cucumber, orange, peach, what you fancy, as well. Yields approx. 150ml of sugar syrup, enough to mix a large jug of lemonade.
FOR THE SUGAR SYRUP
100g caster sugar
FOR THE LEMONADE
3-5 sprigs of fresh mint
To make the syrup, pour the sugar and water into a small saucepan and set over a medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Take the pan off the heat and set to one side to cool to room temperature. In a large jug squeeze the juice of the lemons and fill the jug almost to capacity with cold water (you can use sparkling water if you want to make fizzy lemonade, otherwise plain is just fine), then pour in a little of the sugar syrup, and mix well and taste – you can make the lemonade as sweet or as sharp as you like. Toss the fresh mint into the jug. Hull and quarter the strawberries and add them to the mix too, before serving over ice.
Photography: Lesley Colvin
Children wearing La Coqueta