Ellen Widdup’s escape to the country

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MY DAUGHTER has finally started to eat meat again.

“I’m not a vegetarian anymore, Mummy,” she announced at suppertime as I dished up the pasta bake. “I’ve decided to be a Christian instead.”

“Really?” I replied, eyebrows raised. I could see no obvious connection between carnivore and Christian but she has been learning about a variety of different religions at school, so I figured she might know something I didn’t. “What does that mean then?” I asked.

“Simple,” she replied. “It just means you can eat meat as long as you remember to say ‘grace’ first.”

Her logic was somewhat baffling but I wasn’t about to complain.

To be honest, the rest of us have got rather sick of eating Quorn-based substitutes in our favourite meals, supplemented with large helpings of cheese.

“So what shall I make for supper tomorrow, then?” I asked her. “Spag bol? Shepherd’s pie? Lasagne?”

She wrinkled her nose.

“All those things are very nice and you make them very well,” she said diplomatically. “But it’s a bit boring having the same meals all the time.

“Maybe you should experiment with something new?”

It was a fair point. I have to admit to having a repertoire of about 10 dishes which have been made, on a rota basis, for about five years now.

They include a nice roast dinner, various nursery food favourites made with mince, macaroni cheese, meatballs, bangers and mash, a rather mild curry and fajitas.

But despite the fact that my shelves are crammed with cookery books, my kitchen drawer is full of recipes I have ripped out of magazines and I have a real addiction to foodie television programmes, I never deviate.

I realise this sounds dreadfully dull but, in my defence, I am not the only woman out there who sticks to what she knows best.

A recent survey of mothers revealed one in three has a bank of just eight meals they serve to their families.

I wonder if, like me, the reason for this is not because they don’t want to try something new but because they just can’t face the battle if one of their children complains.

The last thing I want come 7pm is grumpy kids pushing food around their plates while I get irritated trying to make them eat it.

Their fussiness has pushed me into this corner.

My son won’t touch baked beans, hates fish and gags if you present him with sweetcorn. My daughter can’t stand mushrooms, is suspicious of cheese which isn’t cheddar and doesn’t do spicy.

My husband isn’t much better. He grimaces if he has to eat anything green, won’t eat the white part of the egg and hates the texture of nuts.

I put my foot down at cooking three different meals a night; which is exactly why I stick to the ones I know will be eaten.

Having said this, my daughter’s complaint about my “boring” menu got me thinking.

Did you know that the typical Briton has 15 cookbooks, featuring more than 1,500 recipes, but has never cooked more than five of them?

I had a look through my own library – an impressive 48 cookbooks – and realised I had made only about 22 of the recipes inside (15 of which were puddings or cakes).

So I made a decision: for just one week I would scrap my usual menu and cook only meals from recipes I have never attempted before.

On Monday I made Chicken Satay. I grated ginger, crushed garlic, de-seeded a chilli, splashed soy sauce, squeezed limes and added a nice dollop of peanut butter.

“Too spicy,” complained my daughter.

“Too nutty,” mumbled my husband.

“Gross,” piped up my son.

On Tuesday it was Pad Thai. I followed the instructions but the result was a bowl of soggy noodles in a coating of scrambled egg. Understandably, it was not met with overwhelming enthusiasm.

Wednesday was one of Jamie Oliver’s 15-minute marvels, with chicken in a Chinese five-spice rub and a salad of watermelon and beansprouts.

The concept of having fruit with a savoury dish did not go down well.

“It’s just weird,” was my daughter’s verdict.

Thursday I turned to Delia and made some pork spare ribs in barbecue sauce.

All was going well until my daughter, who was helping me in the kitchen, managed to get Tabasco sauce in her eye and then refused to even try them.

On Friday I made Gordon Ramsay’s baked courgette risotto.

It was eaten, thankfully, although my husband said it looked a little like the contents of a jar of babyfood.

Saturday I attempted a more exciting Indian feast than our usual Korma. I kept the spice light and made plenty of pilau rice.

Surprisingly, this was enjoyed by all.

Could it be that my culinary adventure had expanded their palates and encouraged them to try new things?

Cheered, I decided to reward them with a twist on the classic Sunday roast chicken.

I used a Peri Peri recipe from Lorraine Pascale which boasted lashings of paprika, oregano, chilli, ginger and red wine vinegar.

It looked and smelt like heaven.

As we sat down to eat, my daughter solemnly bowed her head. Despite our previous conversation, this was the first time I had seen her attempt a prayer at mealtimes, so I was a bit taken aback.

“I’m going to say ‘grace’, Mummy,” she announced.

“OK,” I replied. “If it makes you feel better about eating the chicken, you go right ahead.”

“This isn’t about eating meat,” she said. “I just wanted to pray that you would start making Spaghetti Bolognese again soon. I’m not that keen on you experimenting after all.”

You can email me at EllenWiddup@journalist.com or find me on Twitter @EllenWiddup

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