Junior Meets… Annabel Karmel MBE
Your baby and toddler cookery books are so well-loved by parents. Why did you decide to branch out into family meals?
This book was such a treat to write. I love coming up with new puree recipes, but creating delicious desserts and grown-up dishes was something very different, and great fun.
So many mums tell me that they still rely on my recipes even though their children are now older; it got me thinking about how I could develop recipes for entire families. I also have so many recipes up my sleeve that I cooked for my children as they grew older.
I think eating together as a family is so important, and so much harder as we all lead such busy lives, so I wanted to put together easy, quick staple dishes you can whip up in no time that you can trust and that all the family will love.
The new book is jam-packed with recipes. How long did it take to put together and what process do you go through?
I had wanted to write a family book for a while and already had a lot of the recipes in my mind, but it takes a lot of time perfecting them to ensure they are failsafe family pleasers! I spend most Tuesday morning’s trialing the recipes to make them as tasty as they can possibly be.
My two daughters still live at home and they are my most loyal taste testers (and biggest critics!). As well as perfecting timeless favourites, I love writing new recipes. From initial idea to final creation takes about six months, so it is not a quick process. However, it’s such a thrill having all that hard work appear in such a gorgeous book.
What are your favourite dishes from the new book? Did you used to cook any for your children when they were little?
I absolutely love the roasted chicken with sweet peppers. It is so simple but tastes and smells incredible. I’ve also included lots of recipes I cooked when the children were small. In fact, some of the recipes were perfected by my children. I used to get them cooking for the family on a Friday and Lara’s Lasagna is the tasty result of countless weeks of cooking and perfecting when she was young.
Your children are all grown up now. Have they followed in your foodie footsteps?
They are good cooks and still love tasting all my recipes, but none of them have decided to venture into food. They are all carving their own paths. As a mum, it’s wonderful to see them following their own passions. What I believe I’ve passed on is the inspiration to follow your dreams and do what makes you happy.
Why do you feel that cooking and eating together as a family is so important?
We all seem to be so busy these days, and for many families, sitting down together to a home-cooked meal can be a rarity which is such a shame. It’s the perfect opportunity to spend precious time together – discussing, sharing and enjoying each other’s company. However old your children are, I always say try and organise at least three or four regular mealtimes during the week where everyone makes it to the table.
Cooking for everyone doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive, and you can never have too many cooks. Your toddler isn’t too young to stir and sieve; and your teenager isn’t too cool for an apron! Get them involved and mealtimes will become even more central to your happy family.
What would be your top three tips for coping with fussy eaters?
1 Perseverance; keep trying, and don’t let them see your frustration.
2 Ignore bad behaviour. Take food away if it is not eaten but don’t give into giving them a snack later. But when they do try something, heap the praise on them.
3 Get them in the kitchen learning about food and taking control of the food they will eat by helping you prepare it.
How do you feel British children’s eating habits and the child food industry has changed since you brought out the Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner 20 years ago?
That book was somewhat pioneering in that it taught parents that it was OK to combine flavours, add spices and be a little adventurous. Today, we are continuing to see a lot more choice out there for little ones which is so important in bringing up healthy happy children.
If you could only eat one more meal, what would it be?
It would have to be seafood spaghetti followed by my favourite pudding which I got from the restaurant Caprice – Chilled berries with white chocolate hot sauce. So simple to put together and utterly delicious.
Do you like to use cookbooks or are you a “make it up as you go along” kind of person? And if you do, which are your favourites?
I love using different cookbooks for inspiration, but once I’ve got the idea and the general gist I often make the recipe my own and add a different element to it. When I was learning to cook I loved the basic techniques and recipes from Delia Smith. However, as I am so often creating recipes for children, it is a real treat to cook something a bit special for grown-ups, so I love Ottolenghi’s salads and the recipes from the Leon books are just fantastic.
If you weren’t in the food industry, what would you do instead?
I love having my own business so I think that whatever I did, I would want to do it for myself. I was a professional harpist before I had children but after the death of my first child, Natasha, I just did not want to play anymore.
Would you say you had a signature dish?
My secret salad dressing is absolutely fantastic, I keep huge bottles of it in the fridge and we put it on everything! My children used to take it into school to make their lunches more tasty. It also makes a great present to take round to someone’s for dinner.