Birthdays are Big where I come from…..

Above, the preparation begins with those roasted tomatoes of course!

We’ve had a full on week of prepping, cooking and celebrating and it’s been a slice. We started by celebrating Jamie’s International Food Revolution Day on May 20 by making Raw Choc Brownies from mynewroots.blogspot.com which is a delighfully easy recipe using only Medjool dates, walnuts, raw organic cacoa, almonds and a pinch of sea salt. They were rich, decadent and deeply, darkly, secretly chocolate and the kid jury was out on them. The adults were for the main delighted by the richness but the 13 year olds at hockey found them just too, too datey.

I will continue to try to convince the trooops but may have to titivate the recipe and cut back on the dates. I also made http://www.101cookbooks.com’s Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies which are totally delish and gained much applause. Heidi Swanson’s recipes are always fantastic but as usual I cut back on the sugar and in fact used palm sugar instead. Coconut Palm Sugar is reportedly better for you (there is debate on that though) than other sugars with a lower GI- but it is difficult to find a report which proves this exactly. However, it has a wonderful taste with a complex, tropical flavour which I think it prefect in baking. I buy it at Asian stores or else buy Jaggery which is dark unrefined sugar – try it, you may be pleasantly surprised. It was a friend’s mum who passed on the fact that most baked goods recipes will still work a treat if you reduce the amount of sugar by a third. Thanks Kay! I also made, again from MyNewRoots blog the raw foods Raspberry Dream Cake except I changed the topping to strawberry and it looked just lovely. Again while they loved the raw foods cake most of the kids thought it “rather different” in flavour. I wonder if our kids (and us) are so used to large amounts of processed sugars and trans fats and are sort of wired for high sugar, high fat flavours. I loved the gentle coconut perfum of the oil used to bind the nuts and vanilla, mmm. Anyway I will continue to experiment with baked goods, raw foods and recipes using as many natural low sugar flavourings as is possible.

Strawberry dream cake

As I said in my family Birthdays are Big and if it’s yours, you get to choose your menu. We don’t want patat (French Fries or Chips) and Chicken nuggets, fizzy drinks etcl, we want real food for real people. We believe that celebrations should begin and end with real food and creating traditions. And that everyone should take part in making the feast.  Jack wanted a Cheese Souffle which strangely is what I used to request at the same age although I had called it a Shuffle. And for his party we agreed on a mixture of his favourite goodies with parental controls inserted of course. So, we served homemade raspberry lemonade, retro stuffed eggs, quails eggs, quinoa pasta with two sauces – a simple roasted onion and tomato sauce and a almond and basil pesto, carrot sticks with lemon hummus, lime zested popcorn and loads of watermelon, blueberries and strawberries. Lucy made a chocolate guitar cake which we  matched with Australian Vanilla ice-cream and cacoa dusted pofiteroles – oh, what a feast!!!

The retro 70 stuffed eggs were a hit with the adults especially. They really are such a cinch and they are great for a picnic. I predict you may be taking to the beach this weekend and maybe a family picnic is on the cards. If so maybe this would be a good snack in between beach combing and surfing. Enjoy! We are off to London and hope to try favourite cafes SAF and Ottolenghi’s on Longacre! Can’t wait..

Stuffed Eggs
10 organic eggs, hardboiled (for 10 minutes)
1 tablespoon at least of Washed and diced chives, parsely, coriander depending on what you fancy
1 tablespoon of that lovely lemon mayo from Marqt (or similar)
1 teaspoon of a curry style chutney or curry paste/curry powder – we love the selection from Mama Djamboes (available at La Buena Vida on Fahrenheitstraat 582) – try the First Wives Club!
a pat of butter
cracked pepper
sea salt

Cool and peel the boiled eggs. Slice in half. Scoop out the yellow part of the egg and place into bowl. Mix with other ingredients and mash to make a creamy mixture. Add a little milk if too dry and season to taste. Either place in piping bag and pipe back into the halved eggs or spoon mixture into the eggs. Garnish with herbs and serve with baby tomatoes – easy. Oh, it brings me back!

The Home Garden is Growing – First Harvest!

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Our  little garden is growing and we harvested our first salad leaves for our school lunches today. Young salad leaves plucked from the garden.  I have been tussling with some monster pigeons and a snail or three, but after cunningly placing a few colanders over my precious little plants they are growing like ‘weeds’. The showery weather has delighted the garden if not us!

Today I made a gluten free lunch for Jack just to see if he could take life without his wholemeal bagel! He wasn’t best pleased with the idea so will evaluate it when he gets home. I made a bento style arrangment with boiled eggs, peeled carrots, falafel balls, homemade tomato sauce, dried apple, and a special treat, organic blueberries. I wrapped the falafel balls in the washed and dried home grown salad leaves.eggs, falafel, salad, carrot and apple

 

It really isn’t rocket science growing your own salad leaves, and if in fact you live near Voorschoten and pop into the Outlet Garden Store you can buy a big pot of already growing salad greens for 5.95 for about 10 fine gustily growing lettuces. I think you will be quids in after forgoing a couple of salad bags from AH!  And you simply can’t get fresher or better. We are also growing chives, mint, basil, rosemary, rocket, edible flowers such as borage, pansies and nasturtiums, plus broccoli, shallots and tomatoes! We’ve put a smattering of salad seeds in pots scattered all around the garden. We’ve popped in snow peas and beans so now it’s just a race against birds and snails. Although, we have 5 tomatoes of different varieties on the go, I have found they don’t ripen up quite as I would like, but if you pick them green and place in a warm splot indoors they will colour up and be great for sauces etc. I seem to be constantly roasting tomatoes to make my own sauces for pizza, Italian dishes and to serve with paneer and rice.  Such an easy and quick thing to make and so much better than most of the tinned varieties.

 

I invented a rather yummy dish last week, using up cold brown basmati rice, adding in lemon juice, pomergranates, cubes of  lightly fried paneer which had been marinated in a mild curry paste, roasted hazelnuts and some fresh mint from the garden. I can’t stress how important I think it is to use loads of fresh herbs in cooking – they are full of goodness, heighten tastes and give delicious aromas to food. They are quite simple the herbal icing on the food.  Grow on….. and if you have space, grow an apple, plum or a pear tree.

 

There’s a new organic supermarket on the block. Now Den Haag boasts its own Marqt and I can see the attraction although I hope it doesn’t steal customers from my favourite farmers market on Wednesdays. Organic shoppers have never had it so good – we have the afore mentioned farmer’s market, Ekoplaza, Gaia, and various other “Natuur Winkels” – I think they all have their place but can only say that my fav shopping spot is the market with its friendliness and sense of commonality. But Marqt has some lovely products including their smoked mackerel, Brood’s bread and their very gorgeous lemon mayo (use sparingly) and finally organic quails eggs. I believe that Ekoplaza has the edge on fruits and vegetables though which are always displayed beautifully, particularly in their new flagship store on Kerkplein. Wherever you shop and spend your precious dollars or euros I wish you good honest food that rings with honesty, goodness and taste!

Before I leave, I would like to pose the following questions: Do we need vending machines in schools? Do you have them in your schools or workplace? What do you think of the products they vend?

Go Jamie Go! International Food Revolution Day, May 19 – Let’s Get Cooking ++++ Proper Good Picnics

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May 19th – the first ever International Food Revolution Day!

Good on ya Mr Oliver, you certainly don’t do things by halves. You take the bull by the horn (or in this case the school by the board) and you run with it. We are so, so with you, you and all the other sung and unsung food heroes, such as David Kessler (The End of Overeating), Michael Pollan (In Defense of Food), Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (Fish Fight, River Cottage), Chef Anne Cooper (lunch lady extraordinaire), Annabel Langbein (The Free Range Cook), Stepanie Alexander (School Gardens program), Heidi Swanson (101cookbooks.com), Yotam Ottolenghi (Plenty) SAF (Raw Food Restaurant in London and Istanbul), and so many, many more.

Add in a few slightly less famous names such as the head at my son’s school who allowed us to go in and try out our successful “Eat a Rainbow” cooking lessons, my friends like Jo, Antonio, Janet, Eva, Lisa and Bintou who like me love, love, love food cooked from scratch with tastes and flavours that sizzle and spring with joy in the mouth.

So, May 19th is the first ever International Food Revolution Day  – see http://www.jamieoliver.com – and we support it from the bottom of our stomachs! Jamie suggests a number of things to celebrate the day – organzie a local food event, host a dinner party, find an event near you. This year May 19th falls on a Saturday so we won’t be doing a school event but what we will do is bring some really healthy gorgeous snacks to our usual hockey and rugby matches. How about fruit kebabs, morning glory muffins, blueberry and apricot scones and some mini club sandwiches? This will put those crisps and hotdogs to shame (virtually the only food offered at our Dutch Clubrooms)  or so we can but hope! And yes as the weather begins to clear (fingers and toes crossed) my thoughts are turning to picnics, picnics on beaches, picnics in gardens, picnics under woodland leaves and under stars. So, if the rains hold back we will be having a family picnic either on the edge of a sports ground or beside the blustery North sea, watching the surfies.

A few BIG, BIG wishes for local Food Revolutions (they are quite Large!)

One is that our kids demand healthy, gorgeous food from our senior school canteen with no compromise (and that they begin to understand that although good food doesn’t have to be really expensive, it shouldn’t be cheap) and school vending machines with healthy alternatives!

Two, that our school runs a summer fair that is a Good Ethical Food Fair with no candy floss or cheap hotdogs and spongey white bread!

Three, that sports & party centres stop stocking food like this stuff below- overprocessed, overcheap and over -yellow really!

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So, here’s one of my favourite picnic pie recipes to share with friends, relations and those who may become friends.

Spinach and a bit of Everything Filo Pastry Pie (top pic, not the one above!)

1 packet of filo pastry – thawed overnight in the fridge (I like the really long packs of filo not the small squares)

3 large organic eggs

300 grams of feta, crumbled or can use of mixture of feta parmesan, hard and soft cheeses such as mozzeralla

One box of EKO frozen spinach, thawed, and squeezed dry of excess water or a large bag of fresh spinach wilted and squeezed dry.

A quarter of a cup of pinenuts, gently fried in a heavy based pan with a tiny spray of olive oil

A handful of blanched almonds if you fancy

Sprigs of mint, washed, dried and torn (or coriander)

Some basil or fresh thyme

One large onion, chopped finely and fried until translucent

Pepper, freshly milled and a pinch of nutmeg

( and if you have some crusty bread past its best but not mouldy, pop in the food processor and whizz until it becomes crumbs)

A teaspoon of melted butter for brushing

Preheat the oven to 185 fan-bake. Lightly oil a baking tray or shallow pie dish.

This is a really simple recipe and will work as long as your frozen spinach has been squeezed dry of excess water. If you are using fresh spinach, wash carefully as it is often sandy then steam it in a little water and drain in a colander. Basically, you want a moist cheesy spinach mixture to place in the pastry, but if you think it’s too runny then add some breadcrumbs or some more herbs and nuts, if you think it too dry, add another egg or some crème fraiche.

If you haven’t used filo pastry before, the thing is not to let it dry out, so don’t open the packet until the egg mixture is absolutely ready.

Beat your eggs in a largish bowl, add in the spinach, feta and any other cheeses, nuts, herbs, and mix well. Give it a generous shake of pepper and if you like some lemon zest. Mix well – it should be quite thick and not too runny.

Melt the butter and have a pastry brush ready.

Open the filo packet and spread 3-4 sheets on the bottom of the baking tray or in the pie dish. Arrange your egg mixture on the sheets, leaving a good edge for folding up around the edges. Tuck the pastry around the mixture and now lay 2-sheets on the top of your mixture and tuck under the bottom. Brush gently with melted butter and add in a few more layers of filo and tuck around to form a rectangular pie. Brush butter on top. Bake in the centre of the oven until golden brown, some 25-30 minutes. Remove, allow to cool and wrap up in foil or place in a cake tin, ready for the picnic.

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I like to serve this pie with a minted yoghurt dip, some onion chutney or a fresh coriander chutney and a really good salad. Here’s an easy yoghurt sauce

Half a cup of Greek yoghurt

Half a cucumber, peeled, deed seeded and grated and set in a colander to drain excess water.

A sprinkling of black onion seeds, some torn mint, basil and/or coriander leaves or my new favourite spice – sumac (comes from a berry from a wild bushy shrub which grows wild in the med and the middle east – sort of soury, salty, sweet and hard to describe really!)

Black pepper and salt to taste

Mix all the ingredients together and taste to adjust seasonings. Chill in jar to serve with pie.

And a few of our favourite things for picnics…… are retro 70’s stuffed devilled eggs, sun ripened tomatoes, homemade mini pizzas, morning glory muffins, ANZAC cookies, coleslaws and mini ham/veggie burgers served with salad and tapenade, carrot and ginger dip, braeburn or cox’s orange apples and melty camenbert, scones with strawberry jam and cream etc, oh, it’s just endless…..

Extra fancy special picnics may require a visit to The Cheesecake Company for a really gorgeous birthday cake or to Baklust, Phillip Garlenes for a messy but delicious chocolate pie, Brood for a brownie or olive bread  -great with all the afore mentioned dips – lastly, don’t let the weather put you off. If it is truly yukky outside try a picnic at home on a rug in the middle of the floor – enjoy!

Below a pic of Rebecca’s devilishly good classic “made with her own hands” cheesecake decorated (by us) with mango, peach and mandarin! A super special birthday cake for every once in a while! See http://www.cheesecakecompany.nl!

But do remember, we can all cook and cook we must for life is delicious!

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