Family dinners #1 – Oat, cheese and veg meatballs

What are family dinners??  Essentially meals that work for both children and adults – without being too scary for the child and too boring for the adult. Meals that are quickly prepared, healthy (give or take sometimes!) and tasty. Often the protein side of the meal is the same for both little and big and by simply substituting the side dish the whole meal becomes more adult friendly. I hope you will find it useful and inspiring…and with some luck…cut down on your need to think of two evening meals a day (hence also more economical). And who could not do with saving a bit these days…

Why this blog series?

Whether or not my memories are correct I cannot say, but in my mind evening meals (when I was a child) were had together – mother, father and siblings – and it was a time to catch up and be together. No different plates of food for different individuals around the table, not one parent eating alone later. No – one meal. No fuss (or maybe there was but I have erased that bit!).

When we had our first daughter my husband purposefully changed (or managed) his working hours so that he would always be around for dinner time. We sat together every evening. With our second child we managed to keep this going – maybe not every night, but most. The third one – slightly more tricky. We try. We try very hard because we believe it is fundamental to our family’s happiness that we have this time together around the table.

For one it is a great and relatively pain-free way of teaching table manners – they always watch us eat and hence learn by looking. Secondly, it means they always have a varied and healthy meal – one I put quite a bit of energy and attention into making as I know my husband and I also want to enjoy it. Lastly, and most importantly, I really enjoy sitting around a full table and looking at my family. Makes me happy.

I know that not everyone is able and lucky to be home early enough to eat with their children. I know many find it painful and prefer eating alone with their partner. But I am pretty sure that those cooking the evening meal would love to just cook ONE meal a day and not have to find inspiration for two…(one for children and one for adults!).

Hence this blog series.

This first recipe I love. I have made meatballs since I was 12 or 13 and it is easy. Very easy. You can throw pretty much anything into the mixing bowl and not ruin them. Make them tiny and put them on skewers to make it fun for the children. Make them large and flat, stick them into pita bread with some salad and they become burgers. Make them small and round and they go well with pasta and tomato sauce. Make them standard size and they are lovely with a salad, oven baked chips, rice, cous cous…. They are even great cold – I often have them on rye bread for lunch the next day. Oh and almost forgot – they are healthy!! At least the way I make them.

This particular combination is relatively new – oats being used rather than flour to make them healthier and lighter in the tummy. Enjoy!

Oat, Cheese and Vegetable Meatballs

500g mince (I often use 250g beef and 250g pork as this gives great flavour. 500g minced beef can be used though)
2 grated carrots
1/2 an onion finely chopped
1 crushed garlic clove
1 egg
125g porridge oats
1-2 tsp salt
1 big handful grated cheese
2 tbsp olive oil
Milk to combine – 1 small cup maybe – trial and error!
Lots of fresh, finely chopped herbs – whatever you have! I love sage and thyme (my garden is full of it)
 
  • Pre-heat oven to 200C (by using the oven you cut down on fat (no frying) as well as wasted time spent in front of the hob.
  • Let the children pick the herbs if you have a veg garden – mine love chosing which ones to use. They are getting really good at it. Let them pick the leaves off the stems (hateful job honestly but they seem to love it. Keeps them occupied for ages!) – chop them finely.
  • Place all the ingredients, except the milk, in a big mixing bowl
  • Stir….let the children stir…
  • Add milk slowly until the mixture comes together to form a huge meat ball.
  • Depending on what shape/size you want there are a few ways of making your meat balls. Two table spoons work well for the perfectionist… Hands work well for those that don’t mind getting stuck in, and teaspoons great for making tiny ones.
  • Dip the spoons in water, scoop up some meat mixture, shape between the spoons and lay on a lined baking tray (greaseproof baking paper works best, aluminium OK).
  • If using hands, scoop, cup – lay on tray. Remember to wash hands well afterwards….
  • Place the baking tray in the hot oven and cook for 20ish minutes – if tiny a lot less, if huge a bit more…The best test is to take one out, slice in half and if the meat is no longer pink they are done.
  • Serve with anything!!! I usually serve mine either with pasta or with home-made oven chips and salad.

(You can really experiment with this one! Chilli works, mozzarella ball stuffed into the middle probably yummy, grated courgette, mushrooms – sky is the limit)

Rye #4 – Stress Free Carrot and Rye Breakfast Rolls

The reason these are called stress free buns is that you make the dough the day before and leave it to cool overnight – then grab it when you want it, shape your rolls and place them in a cold oven, turn it on and cook for 35 minutes – the result being amazing! While they are cooking you can go for a short run, take a shower or bath, play with the children, read the paper…what ever you fancy! And when your timer goes off, breakfast is served – stress free! Combine with a big mug of coffee, some orange juice, slice of cheese with a dollop of strawberry compote…heaven!!!!

As with all my rye recipes they are jam-packed with goodness! The seeds and carrot only add to it – and the children absolutely adore them.

I like to make the dough on a Friday afternoon – sometimes a double portion – then Saturday and Sunday breakfast becomes a treat and a really lovely time where we can sit together as a family and enjoy. There is nothing like a freshly baked roll in the morning.

This recipe is a mix of my Dad’s and my Mum’s – thank you both!

300ml (ish) luke warm water
15g fresh yeast or 1.5 tsp dry yeast
Drizzle of honey
250g rye flour
150g plain flour
1.5 carrots – grated
Handful sunflower seeds or more
Salt
1 tbsp olive oil
 
  • Pour luke warm water into a big bowl and dissolve the yeast – fresh or dry – in it with a wooden spoon
  • Drizzle honey in and stir
  • Add the flour – both types – stir to combine. What you want is a dough that is sticky but not runny. It should make your hands messy…but not too wet. You definitely do not want it too dry. So add the flour slowly and stir as you go.

  • Throw in the grated carrot and seeds, season with salt and add a bit of olive oil – about 1 tbsp
  • Put a lid or tea towel over the bowl and leave in a cool place. If you have a larder, great, if not the fridge is good. Walk away!
  • The day after, the dough will have risen and be spongy, it may also smell slightly sour and yeasty. That is fine! It will not have risen a lot as the rye flour is heavy.

  • Shape small dough balls with your hands and place the rolls on a lined baking tray – as mentioned earlier the dough will be sticky. Rolling each bun in a little flour will make it easier and neater – for a more rustic appearance, see note further down!

  • Pop in a cold oven, turn it to 225C and bake for 30-35 minutes
  • Let cool for about 10 minutes before eating

If you are lazy, or do not want to get your hands sticky, you can simply drop the batter onto the baking tray with a wooden spoon – this will give you a more rustic looking bun and it does not affect the flavour at all!