Grab a pen and paper and prepare your minds to be inspired and your tastebuds to be tingled! This week we would like to introduce you to someone who is every parent’s dream come true! Nicky is not only a local mum to three gorgeous girls, (7 year old twins and a 4 year old) she is also the brains behind The Little Cooking Company based in Surrey. She is what American’s would call a bespoke personal chef, and in this blog she has very generously given us plenty of hints and tips on how to feed your hungry families, keep the food bills low and lots of new recipe ideas including a lovely dish you can prepare for your family this festive season.
The Little Cooking Company offers a whole host of services that will take the weight off any busy mother’s shoulders! From preparing delicious dinner party meals to offering bespoke cooking lessons in the comfort of your own home. However my personal favourite is the Weekly Meal Preparation Option! Nicky will come and meet you and your family to discuss what food you like. She will then design a menu for you for the week, go and buy the food, let herself into your kitchen, cook all of the meals, clean up the kitchen, put the beautifully prepared meals in your fridge (enough for a week!) and leave your house smelling delicious and full of healthy food! What more could you ask for?!
After speaking to Nicky last week and reading her hilarious blog, peppered with side comments like, “wipe snotty nose, separate two fighting siblings, get load of washing out of the dryer,” I came away feeling inspired and ready to tackle my dreaded weekly shop!
Be warned when you read on your tummies will start rumbling!
What type of food makes you smile?
I love eating food that is as good for me as it is delicious – my heart sings when I’m offered a hearty salad full of leafy greens, roasted vegetables and wholesome grains, perhaps topped with some slices of bright green avocado. At this time of year, after a busy week, I’m particularly partial to a large bowl of fresh pappardelle tossed with chunks of roasted butternut squash, red onions, a modest amount of creamy blue cheese and a sprinkling of toasted pine nuts for crunch.
Were any of your children fussy eaters, if so what is their favourite meal?
My eldest daughters are total gourmets and delight in telling people that mussels are one of their favourite foods. My littlest, however, can definitely have her fussy moments. If she’s been difficult during the week, I at least know that a roast dinner on Sunday – plate piled high with roasted root vegetables, sautéed buttery cabbage and a generous portion of juicy roast chicken – will help to restore the balance.
Do you have a traditional Christmas meal or do you add something a bit different?
We have a fairly traditional meal – roast turkey with homemade cranberry sauce, sausages wrapped in bacon, roast potatoes, mashed carrots with thyme & orange, Brussels sautéed with pancetta and walnuts – but I try a new stuffing recipe each year. Last year we enjoyed a rustic sausage, fennel, butternut squash & sage version but I haven’t decided on this year’s yet. My favourite part of the meal is the bread sauce – Delia’s recipe is a winner!
You say you really enjoy meal planning. This is something I think most people dread each week. Is there a way to make meal planning simple and enjoyable?
The night before I shop for my family, I have a look in the fridge and freezer and see if there’s anything that needs using up. I make a note of these, grab a glass of wine and sit down with any new cookbooks, food magazines and my iPad (for extra recipe ideas). Menu planning is much easier if you have (child-free, if possible!) time to think about which days you need something quick, and when you can spend a little longer in the kitchen. Challenge yourself to cook one new dish each week and watch your repertoire grow.
How do you find time to do your food shop each week and think of meals for clients?
I spend a lot of time in Waitrose and I am ALWAYS thinking about food, reading cookbooks and researching online…I have been known to come up with menu ideas in my sleep. I keep a notebook for jotting down ideas, and have a well-stocked store cupboard so that I know that I always have the ingredients for a nutritious family meal on hand.
Food is so expensive at the moment, does healthy, tasty food mean you have to spend a fortune or is it possible to keep the weekly food shop bills low and still have great meals?
By eating seasonally (i.e. not buying strawberries in December and asparagus in March!), it is possible to enjoy delicious meals without breaking the bank. When in season, fruit and vegetables are cheap and abundant. At this time of year, nutrient-packed root vegetables & dark green leafy veg should form the basis for your meals. Save your pennies & up your fibre intake by stewing some British apples to add to your morning porridge. Another tip is to get used to eating vegetarian meals a couple of times a week, and if you do like to eat meat, choose cheaper cuts of higher welfare animals. Lamb shoulder is one of my favourite cuts of meat – endlessly versatile and half the price of leg.
Is there such a thing as a home-made healthy snack for children?!
Absolutely! Children are growing and need calories to do all that endless running around, so just make sure that the calories are providing more than just a sugar rush. Flapjacks are a perfect sweet snack for kids – especially if you add extras like sunflower seeds & chopped dried fruit to the oats and honey. A favourite snack in our house is plain popcorn. I put about 50g of dried kernels (sold in most supermarkets) in bowl, cover with the lid and stick it in the microwave on high for about 3 mins. Sometimes we add a handful of raisins & a sprinkle of cinnamon but the girls are usually very happy without!
The Little Cooking Company: Roasted Pears with Blue Cheese & Cranberries – Serves 6
3 ripe but firm pears
Freshly squeezed lemon juice (2-3 lemons)
3 oz Stilton, coarsely crumbled
¼ cup dried cranberries
¼ cup walnut halves, toasted & chopped
½ cup apple cider
3 tbsp port
1/3 cup light brown sugar
¼ cup olive oil
Bag of rocket or lamb’s lettuce
Preheat the oven to 190 C. Peel the pears and slice them lengthwise into halves. With a small, sharp knife, remove the core and seeds from each pear, leaving a well for the filling. Trim a small slice away from the curved side of the pear, allowing it to sit in a baking dish without wobbling. Toss the pears in lemon juice to prevent them from turning brown. Arrange them cut side up in a baking tray.
In a small bowl, gently mix the crumbled blue cheese, cranberries and walnuts together. Divide the mixture between the pears, with a little mound on top of the hollowed out well.
In the same bowl (to save on washing up!), combine the apple cider, port and brown sugar, and give it a little stir to dissolve the sugar. Pour the mixture over and around the pears. Bake the pears in the cider mixture for about 30 minutes. If you can remember to, it’s a good idea to baste the pears every so often. When they are tender, take them out of the oven and set aside until just warm, or room temperature.
Just before serving, whisk together the olive oil, ¼ cup of lemon juice and ¼ cup of the basting liquid.
Divide the leaves between the plates and place a pear on top of each pile. Drizzle each pear with some of the dressing, sprinkle with salt and serve warm.
Serve on individual plates or place the pear halves on a large bowl of dressed leaves, and encourage everyone to help themselves. A smaller version of pear slices and a tsp of the cheese mixture in a chicory leaf would make a beautiful & very tasty canapé.
Other cheeses, nuts & berries can be substituted for the stilton, cranberries & walnuts. Try pecans or hazelnuts, goat’s cheese or a creamy brie, and even chopped apricots. It’s the sweet, salty, creamy & crunchy combo that you are trying to achieve.
We would like to thank Nicky for all of her helpful hints and tips and we hope everyone will leave this page full of a new zest for cooking!
You can book a 3 hour bespoke cooking session in the comfort of your own home, including all ingredients, recipes & specialist equipment for £150.
Nicky also offers an innovative New Baby gift option where she will prepare healthy meals for new parents! Perfect for a baby shower gift. We would have loved that when we were new mums!
Please visit The Little Cooking Company website for more information and subscribe to Nicky’s blog for more culinary inspiration.
You can contact Nicky on:
Phone: 07968 348 887
or call us