We spoke with talented chef and creator of our Kids’ Kitchen Activity Deck (North America | Europe), Fiona Bird, to learn more about her tips for fun in the kitchen and how to get children involved. Read on for our Q & A with Fiona as well as some special recipes from her that will have you yearning for warmer months and summer treats!

Q: What is the one ingredient you absolutely cannot live without?

In She Stoops to Conquer, a comedy by Irish author Oliver Goldsmith, there is a line which Elizabeth David grabbed as a book title and mentioned in my favourite bedside table book, An Omelette and a Glass of Wine: “I’ll be with you in the Squeezing of a Lemon”. Lemons were so loved by that great doyenne of Mediterranean food who suggested that for seasoning, it is second only to salt. I too cannot be without lemons—I even have one carved into the linoleum on the kitchen floor.

I use lemon in place of vinegar in Pavlova and salad dressings and a little grated zest adds flavour to puddings, cakes, stuffings, pasta and fish; they are always in plentiful supply in my kitchen. Lemons are such a helpful fruit: a wee sprinkling of juice prevents oxidation in apples and artichokes—just use a kitchen skewer to make a hole in the fruit and then pop it in a bag in the fridge for later use.

When I cook with children, we play (controlled) football on the work surface with citrus fruits, to ensure that we get as much juice out as possible, but 10 -15 seconds in a microwave works well too. My children have given homemade lemon curd to teachers as presents. Last year, for the first time, I preserved lemons–and they made excellent Christmas presents. Rich in vitamin C, useful in sweet and sour recipes, such a versatile, scented ingredient; I cannot be without them. If you are in Menton on the French Riveria in February, don’t miss the annual lemon festival.

Q: Do you have any tips for encouraging children to have fun in the kitchen?
We are fortunate, the kitchen is the warmest room in the house and the one that family enters through when home from work, school or play, so it is relatively easy for me to hand out potato peelers and encourage everyone to help in the kitchen. Some parents prefer to cook in solitude, especially when they don’t have a kitchen large enough for family cooking. If you have a galley kitchen, kids can work at a table in another room. Wherever they are working, my advice is the same: get everything ready before you start and allow a little extra time. Cooking is fun but with small people it may of course take longer. With patience and perseverance a delicious supper can be ready before midnight. In time you might even get the night off.

Q: What is your favourite kind of food? Why?
Shellfish, ideally collected live from Ludag on South Uist (Outer Hebrides). We holiday on the island and one of the highlights of the break is cooking freshly caught shellfish en famille. I worried that the children might be anxious over the killing in the pot, especially after a cockling expedition, but they weren’t. Children love dismembering things, and armed with a rolling pin and the back of a teaspoon, the race is on to see how much crab meat comes out of a claw. Shucking scallops is an art and we eat the orange roe too. One bright spark decided that the flat scallop shell would make an excellent butter dish—better than the ubiquitous pub ashtray idea for the curved side I say.

With such delicious Scottish produce, the cooking is simple: less is more. My absolute favourite shellfish supper was cooked on a peat barbeque, in deserted sand dunes, looking out across the Atlantic Ocean. The recipes for Kids’ Kitchen were tested with children in a primary school not far from this beach.

Lime Posset with Brambles (Blackberries)

Makes 6-7 small glasses

What to find:
500ml (2 cups) double cream
150g (2/3 cup)caster sugar
Zest 1 lime
Juice 2 limes
6 tablespoons brambles (washed and dried)

What to do:

  1. Put the cream, caster sugar and lime zest in a heavy based saucepan and cook over a low heat until the sugar dissolves (about 4 minutes). Remove from the heat.
  2. Whisk the limejuice into the cream (it will thicken).
  3. Divide the blackberries between the glasses or small dishes and then pour in the lime cream
  4. Allow to cool, and then refrigerate.

Bramble and Wild Mint Junket

Makes 4 small pots

What to find:
500g (2 cups) sweet ripe brambles
Sprig of wild mint

What to do:

  1. Wash the brambles and put them with the mint in a large sieve lined with muslin  (or a jelly bag) over a bowl (or wide measuring jug) so that the juice will seep through the muslin into the bowl or jug. Use the back of a spoon to push the juice through.
  2. Pour the thick bramble juice into small pots or ramekins and leave to set at room temperature. Do not refrigerate.

This junket is rich in flavour and a small pot is quite sufficient. It makes a light ‘just set’ junket which will quickly lose its jelly like properties when spooned. It is my adaptation of a recipe by Richard Mabey.

Recipes copyright FionaBird

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