Can you remember school dinners? Perhaps you've blocked them out. My memories of school food, I must admit, are rather rosy. Sure, it's institutional food, created en masse and for kids, too. Not a culinary peak, maybe, but not bad either. Still, over the years, school food has changed dramatically – in terms of quality and choice.
I was somewhat surprised, shall we say, when it was thought permissible to give schools frozen fast-food, such as burgers and pizza, and render Domestic Science a non-cooking lesson that focused on designing packaging rather than the differences between a courgette and a carrot.
A lot of the dishes I was fed at school have become restaurant and pub staples – steamed puddings, pies, and rice pudding are everywhere these days.
I'm pleased to hear that food and cookery will be returning as a compulsory part of the curriculum for most primary and secondary kids this September – it is, after all, a massive part of our lives.
Meat and potato pie
I have memories of a pie at school made with mince, served in a flat tray with pastry on top; I think it had a layer of mashed potato under the pastry, too. I've had a similar dish up in the north of England, so that's probably where it originated. We would normally be served this with mashed swede, which was a perfect match for me and this pie. Watery cabbage... not so much.
700-800g good-quality, lean minced lamb or beef, or a mixture of the two
Vegetable oil for frying
2 large onions, peeled, halved and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1tsp chopped thyme leaves
½tbsp tomato purée
1ltr beef stock (a couple of good stock cubes will do)
1tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 glass red wine (optional)
2 servings of firmly mashed potato
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the pastry
225g self-raising flour
85g shredded beef suet
60g butter, chilled and coarsely grated
1 medium egg, beaten
Season the minced meat with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat some vegetable oil in a large, heavy frying pan until it is almost smoking, and cook the meat in a couple of batches for a few minutes, turning it with a wooden spoon until it's lightly coloured, then drain in a colander to remove all the fat.
In a thick-bottomed pan, heat some more vegetable oil and gently fry the onion, garlic and thyme without colouring until they are very soft. Add the meat, dust it with the flour and add the tomato purée.
Cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly, then gradually add the red wine, Worcestershire sauce and the beef stock; bring to the boil and simmer for about 1 hour, until the liquid has thickened. Take it off the heat, check the seasoning and allow it to cool. >
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 5. To make the pastry, mix the flour and salt with the suet and grated butter. Mix in about 150ml of water to form a smooth dough and knead for a minute.
Roll the pastry on a floured table to about 1cm thick and cut out to about 2cm larger (all the way round) than the shallow pie dish you are using. Transfer the meat to the dish then top with the mashed potato.
Brush the edges of the pastry with a little of the beaten egg and lay the pastry on top of your pie, pressing the egg-washed sides against the rim of the dish and overlapping the rim.
Cut a small slit in the top of the pastry to allow steam to escape, or you can use an old-fashioned pie bird if you have one. Brush with beaten egg and leave to rest in a cool place for 30 minutes. Bake for about 40-50 minutes until golden.
Tapioca with raspberries
Remember tapioca? It was certainly the butt of many a joke at my school. It does look like frogspawn, but it can make a damn fine dessert. In fact, in some parts of Asia, it is seen as quite luxurious.
100g tapioca, soaked in cold water for 30 minutes and drained
60-80g caster sugar
Remove from the heat and leave to cool, stirring as it's cooling. You can add some more milk during cooking if the mixture is too thick, and add some more sugar if you like it sweeter.
Blend about a quarter of the raspberries in a liquidiser until smooth. To serve, spoon the tapioca into bowls, mix the raspberries with the purée and spoon into the centre of the tapioca.
Liver and onions with bacon
This is the dish that put most people off liver for life. Remember how it used to sit in those aluminium serving – and probably – cooking dishes for hours on end, acquiring that hideous tinge of green?
Liver doesn't need to be slow-cooked, quite the opposite, in fact; it just needs a quick flash-fry or grill for less than a minute on each side. You can ask your butcher to slice the liver for you, or do it yourself, but make sure you cut it on the angle, so you get fairly wide, thin slices. Also, remember to remove any visible sinew as you are cutting.
8 thin slices of lamb's liver, weighing about 50-60g each
Vegetable or corn oil for frying
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 medium-sized onions, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
60-70g pancetta cubes or a piece of smoked streaky bacon cut into 1cm cubes
6-8 spring onions, cut into 2 or 3, depending on the length
Heat a frying pan with a little oil and cook the bacon on a medium for 3-4 minutes, stirring as it cooks. Add the spring onions, turn the heat down and cook for a few minutes on a low heat until they wilt, then stir in the rest of the butter.
To serve, season the liver on both sides, lightly oil a ribbed griddle pan and cook the liver on a very high heat for 40-50 seconds on each side, keeping it pink.
To serve, spoon the hot onions on to warmed plates, place the liver on top and then scatter over the onions and bacon.
Another one from my school days, the Arctic roll, was almost certainly bought in, but always a bit of a treat when we were served it. You can cheat a little here, if you wish, by using ready-made strawberry or raspberry jam.
750-800g good-quality vanilla ice-cream, softened a little
120g strawberries, leaves removed and blended to a purée in a liquidiser
For the strawberry jam
150g caster sugar
350g strawberries, leaves removed and halved
For the sponge
4 free-range eggs
110g caster sugar, plus extra to dust
110g self-raising flour
To make the strawberry jam, put the strawberries and sugar into a heavy-based saucepan and cook on a high heat for 3-4 minutes, stirring every so often, until the strawberries are just starting to soften and there is very little liquid left in the pan. Now remove from the heat, transfer to a bowl and leave to cool.
Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 5. Line a 23cm x 33cm Swiss roll tin with baking parchment. Place the eggs and sugar into a bowl and whisk until light and fluffy and thickened.
Sift the flour over the mixture and fold in carefully with the whisk or a large spoon.
Pour into the lined tin and smooth over with the back of the spoon or spatula until evenly spread out.Bake the sponge for 10-12 minutes, or until just firm to the touch. Place a sheet of baking parchment, that is slightly bigger than the tray, on to the work surface and dust with some caster sugar.
Turn the sponge out on to the parchment paper, then peel off the parchment on the bottom of the sponge. Set aside to cool slightly.
To assemble the roll, spread the strawberry jam over the cooled sponge, leaving a 2cm gap around the edge.
Remove the clingfilm from the ice-cream and place the ice-cream on the sponge; carefully roll it up.
Either serve immediately, cut into 2cm-thick slices with a spoonful of the strawberry purée on the plate, or freeze until required.