When I discovered that Monday (13th November) was the start of National School Meals Week it made me chuckle.
The thought of having such a week when I was at school, which granted was a while ago, would have had everyone in hysterics.
When I was a kid, school meals were not something to look forward to. You queued up holding your plastic food tray (remember they had two compartments for your lunch and dessert) to be met by a an old battle axe of a ‘dinner lady’ who slopped mashed potato onto your ‘plate’, along with something that resembled a piece of meat and vegetables that had been cooked to within an inch of their life.
Generally the only saving grace was the puddings. Jam roly poly, spotted dick, rice pudding were all old school favourites and some of you may even remember pink custard, yep, that’s right, pink custard (no-one was worried about e-numbers and additives back in the day!).
As a parent I know that things have come a long way since then, hence the reason why we can now have a whole week celebrating school meals.
Thanks to a focus on nutrition (helped by the likes of chefs like Jamie Oliver) and many years of service improvements, modern school meals are now something to be enjoyed by children.
The food, on the whole, is prepared fresh every day for highly trained cooks, using locally sourced ingredients with less fat, sugar, salt and artificial colourings.
Children generally now also have a wider choice, so there is food from around the world, salad bars, soups, sandwiches etc.
Some schools also have online menus so parents can order their children’s meals in advance to ensure they are eating well and not duplicating what they may be having for tea, for example.
To coincide with National School Meals Week, on Wednesday 15th December, Roast Dinner Day will also be held. This will involve schools and nurseries opening their doors to parents, grandparents and members of their local community and enjoying a freshly prepared, locally sourced roast dinner together.
This is another great initiative and the inspiration for this week’s recipe:
Roast Beef Dinner with Yorkshire Puddings, Roast Potatoes, Carrots, Parsnips, Spinach and Gravy.
5kg beef roasting joint
3 sticks celery
1/2 bulb garlic
2 tbsp oil
The Yorkshire Puddings
200ml whole milk
150 g plain flour
50g beef dripping
The Roast Potatoes
1kg Maris Piper potato
100g duck or goose fat or 100ml/3½fl oz olive oil
2 tsp flour
1 bunch carrots
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp english mustard
1 tbsp maple syrup
4 medium-sized parsnips
3tbsp sunflower oil or olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tbsp plain flour
2 tsp ground black pepper
500ml beef stock
1 tsp mustard
50 ml double cream
1. Season the beef with oil, salt and pepper; put it on top of the vegetables cook for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes turn the heat down to 200ºC and cook for 10 minutes per 500g or until it is cooked how you like it (we suggest medium rare).
2. For the Yorkshire Puddings, whisk the eggs into the milk, then pour slowly into the flour. Season and cover with clingfilm.
3. Once the beef is cooked to your liking take it out of the roasting tin and let it rest. Then, place the vegetable ‘stock’ on a medium heat. Add the flour to the pan and coat everything well. Cook it for a few minutes and add the beef stock. Reduce over a medium heat for 15 minutes before sieving out the veg and adding the mustard and cream.
4. Peel and cut the potatoes into even sized pieces and add to boiling water. Cook for a 5-10 minutes. Then, put the goose/duck fat or oil into a hot roasting tin and heat it in the oven for a few mins, so it’s really hot.
5. Drain the potatoes and fluff them up a little. Sprinkle with the flour, shake and put them into the hot fat. Roast for around an hour, turning regularly. Season.
6. Blanch the carrots to soften slightly. Drain and add them to a frying pan with the oil. Cook over a high heat turning every 10 minutes. Combine the mustard and maple syrup and brush the carrots with the maple mustard glaze. Lower the heat and cook until cooked.
7. Peel the parsnips and trim off both ends. Cut them in half lengthways and place in a roasting tin. Add the oil, season with salt and freshly ground pepper and mix well to coat. Roast in the oven for 35 mins, turning occasionally until golden and tender.
8. Pour the beef dripping into a deep 10×20 tray, or so that it just covers the bottom of a tray. Put the tray into the oven for 5-10 minutes, until it’s hot, then pour the batter into the tray and bake for 15 minutes. Do not open the oven until the puddings are cooked.
9. Thinly slice the beef and serve.