From one parent to another, here’s a little piece of advice: never sit down and work out exactly how many meals you’re going to have to provide for your kids over the course of the holidays. I did it once, ahead of the loooong seven week summer break, and almost keeled over in horror. School holiday or otherwise, parenting is a never-ending catering operation that requires a large slice of planning (to make sure you’ve got the right ingredients in), a big dollop of patience (especially when your children don’t like to eat the same things as each other) and a splash of creativity (to move beyond cheese on toast/pasta/baked potatoes every night).
I love cooking, but I don’t always love cooking for my kids. They’re getting better, but the fact that they’ve been at the picky end of the eating spectrum has made meals pretty dull (pasta with cheese again, anyone?). And try as I might, there’s only so many times that I want to slave over a more ‘exotic’ meal for them (pasta with veg, for example), only to have it thrown back in my face (not literally, as yet).
So I was very excited to discover a new York business that I hoped might lighten the load: C A K E G I R L Catering. Run by Acomb-based entrepreneur and cooking enthusiast, Jane Lonsborough, C A K E G I R L specialises in home cooking, baking and bespoke catering. As well as catering for parties and other special events, Jane also has a delicious range of homemade ready meals that are ideal for busy families. She invited us to try a selection and I jumped at the chance faster than I could shout ‘teatime!’ up the stairs.
What’s on the menu?
There’s a lot of choice on the C A K E G I R L menu, even for a family of vegetarians, and there’s a selection of portion sizes to choose from (individual, two-person and family) with prices ranging from £3.99 to £16.50. Jane kindly delivered us a variety of dishes to try, including lentil dahl, red lentil chilli, loaded cauliflower bake and roast veg lasagne with fresh pesto. Meaty options include luxury fish pie, beef lasagne, cottage pie and meatball marinara. We stored half in the fridge to eat soon, with the rest stored neatly in the freezer for future meals. As it turned out, we polished it all off within a couple of weeks, for two reasons.
First, it was so convenient. Having a couple of meals in the fridge or freezer that we could heat up and serve with some veg or other side dish and very little extra thought was brilliant. We heated up the lentil chilli after swimming lessons, serving it with rice, grated cheese and guacamole (it was pretty spicy but the kids managed some of it); we had the creamy, garlicky tartiflette as a side to some veggie sausages and broccoli after a long week at school, and the children tucked into the cheesy cauliflower bake that I heated up while finishing off some work.
They’ve never really enjoyed the supermarket-bought ready meals that I’ve bought for them, but they did enjoy the C A K E G I R L dishes that they tried, probably because it tastes homemade. Our boy – a big dairy fan – loved the cauliflower cheese and tartiflette while the girls liked the roast veg lasagne and sweet potato and coconut stew best. It was a great way to encourage them to try something new without the frustration that goes with having spent a whole afternoon making it for them, only for it to be potentially rejected.
…and it tastes good
The second, most important, reason that we ate it all so fast was that it all tasted really good. It was clearly very fresh, attractively presented (and it takes some skill to make something in a foil container look pretty) and didn’t have that familiar ‘ready meal’ flavour to it. Unlike my slapdash approach to home cooking, where I miss out key ingredients because I can’t face yet another trip to the shop, the recipes have been carefully crafted with herbs, seasoning and texture in all the right places.
Mr Viking and I very much enjoyed the sidekick curry and lentil dahl one evening when the kids were finally in bed, embellishing it with a few accompaniments and a beer or two. None of the hassle or grease of a takeaway, and definitely cheaper. We both agreed that having a few meals ready to go in the fridge or freezer took some of the relentless pressure off having to cater for five people seven days a week. The fact that it’s all pretty healthy meant that we didn’t feel guilty about it either.
If you’re wondering about the ‘cake’ in Cakegirl, we mustn’t go without mentioning the amazing selection of cakes that were delivered alongside our meals. We were lucky enough to try an array of different treats, from a beetroot ‘power brownie’ (much nicer and less vegetably than it sounds) to a gorgeous peanut caramel brownie and crowd-pleasing rocky road. Surprisingly, the star of the show was the less glitzy Portugese custard tart with a cinnamon swirl at the bottom which the kids almost came to blows over. Never judge a cake by its cover, kids.
We liked everything about C A K E G I R L: having good, home-cooked meals on hand; encouraging the children to try something new and supporting a local business too. In the past, we’ve bought supermarket dine-in deals at the end of a long week, but they’re often bland and disappointing (not to mention fairly random when it comes to the token veggie offering). Now we know there’s a good alternative, we’ll be doing that instead: C A K E G I R L to the rescue!