Food just became more exciting: Agar jellies, Platters of Peppers, Spirit and Gimsel

Pretty, pretty jellies

Pretty, pretty jellies

a lovely started from Lindenhof restaurant, a flower stuffed with olive cream!

A lovely starter from Lindenhof restaurant, a flower stuffed with olive cream!

Even the packaging at Spirit gives joy

Even the packaging at Spirit gives joy

 

I haven’t written much for these holiday months, not about food or fiction nor even any questionable poetry. It’s not that I haven’t been cooking, learning or journeying into new foodscapes, it’s just that it takes me sometime to process the experience and decide what to write about. And sometimes I feel rather bored with my own food creations: how much tofu can you chop in a single day? Did it really work? Should I have used more miso paste?

I think now and then we need new people around, new food experiences, more chances to see how others do it, and an immersion into experience. We need inspiration or foodspiration. This holiday I think I got it, in droves. And have you noticed that there is a quiet revolution going on in your town. There is, here in The Hague: EcoRevolt, Den Haag in Transitie, more organic supermarkets, more knowledge being shared, more vegetarian restaurants appearing, more nut milks, more tofu products. It’s not so weird these days not to eat meat, dairy or gluten. In fact I might even go so far as to call it trendy.

 

Foodspiration

We were lucky enough to eat at a 2 star Michelin restaurant Lindenhof, where the owner/head chef delights in cooking for vegetarians (see above the photo of his lovely stuffed flower above served with its little orange sorbet). I loved the chef’s kitchen garden and his 5 star chook house: those hens couldn’t be dining at a better establishment indeed. I do question these Michelin temples of food worship though although at the same time I admire their dedication to the glory and power of beautiful food but it’s also so elitist and crazily expensive. I see a half way house at the Rotterdam Spirit cafe which we visited twice this holiday and reveled in it’s magic: the type of meal we love to make and eat but here you can chose from 3o of them and pay for it by the weight. I strongly urge all of you to visit it if you are in Rotterdam. As you can see above even the take away packaging has a food message of happiness and charm. Spirit makes me happy and I want to associate food with happiness and sharing! And while there, have a look at Gimsel, an amazing supermarket indeed. Which brings me to this months recipes and my holiday manifesto….

Within our family we have one ardent vegetarian thinking about going vegan (me), one vegan who has discovered a love of peanut butter, one keen carnivore and one now and then carnivore. This can lead to some dissent about what exactly the next meal should be. I would just like to say that one very good lesson I have learned is never, never cook more than one meal at a sitting. And if there be mutterings and gnashing of teeth, then let the darlings learn to cook! And then to clean up! Before the holidays started I suggested we have a holiday manifesto: that we would share making meals, cleaning up and shopping so meals didn’t become a burden in any way. Occasionally all went well, quite often it didn’t. I am still working on it but I am glad to see one thing. My kids can cook a bit, quite well when they try. Now that makes me feel happy.

 

A platter of market peppers to be roasted and made into sauce!

A platter of market peppers to be roasted and made into sauce!

agar

 

 

But on to using Agar Agar. Firstly what is Agar? It’s a mix of carbohydrates made from seaweed. It’s great to use as a setting agent and sets firmer than gelatine. Once set keep it in the fridge and don’t disturb it until you need it. It doesn’t like to oil or clingfilm, comes in both powder or flake form and we found it quite easy to work with. We experimented with passionfruit, raspberry and coconut to see how it tasted. We poured it into silicone moulds, chopped it up and generally had a lot of fun. It would be great to put into lunch boxes for snacks and make shapes for parties.

 

We used this recipe….

Raspberry Agar Jelly

Juice of one lemon or lime

400 grams of frozen raspberries – we cooked them with a tablespoon of maple syrup and strained them

2 tsps of agar agar powder

Warm up the raspberry or any puree in a small saucepan. Taste for sweetness adding more maple syrup if needed

Stir in agar agar powder and heat to boiling. Boil for 2 minutes and then pour into your desired container. In our case it was a mini muffin silicone mould. Easy peasy jelly! We then tried versions of other fruits but we all liked the raspberry best. See above for the extremely large agar container we brought. I think we may be using this for some months!

Energy Salad

We make a lot of what I call our standard “Energy” salad by mixing lentils, bulgar, giant couscous, quinoa and what-ever else is hanging about. I can’t tell you how much exactly but at a rough guess it is about a handful of each. And yes, it all goes into the same pot usually, because we are a bit lazy! But it works, it truly does. Start off your mixture by gently frying half an onion in some oil. Add in a few cumin seeds, some cardamon cloves, a piece of ginger or a garlic clove. Then you lentils, spelt, quinoa etc. Fry for a moment, then in goes the liquid stock. Make your own or use one of the organic boullion/stock cubes. Cover the grains with the stock and cook for about 10-15 minutes. Add in the bulgar and couscous just towards the end of cooking. Taste to make sure it’s all cooked and now add your extra flavourings. Pepper, salt, fresh or dried herbs. I make the date and red onion dressing often and pour over when cooled. Then serve with a mixture of tofu, grilled veggies, halloumi or paneer cheese, pomegranate seeds, sesame seeds, dried cranberries, nuts etc. A useful wrap filler or lunchbox salad which will not wilt!!! OK, it may not look a million dollars but it’s packed with protein, vitamins and minerals. Everyone but the 11 year old carnivore likes this salad by the way….

quinoa beluga lentil salad

Lastly, Tanya and I did a foodie tour of Amsterdam using The Happy Cow app, starting off in my fav foodie street Haarlemmerstraat, and discovered Vegabond on Leliegracht no. 16. What a treasure for goodies…. happy to take you there, if you are in that neck of the Dutch woods, contact me via the myschoollunch fb page.

 

 

Summertime and the Vegans are Easy, Inspiring and Quite Delicious!

 


I have had the most delightful visitors for the past week: author, story-teller, gardener, all round inspiring person, Waiheke Islander Tanya Batt and her long time musical partner in Story, New Zealander Craig Debham, currently based in Prague. I had just got back from a week of writing at Windmill Cottages, near Hansel in South Devon so words were already swirling in my head as were homegrown veggies, edible flowers, wonderful food (prepared by myself and my fellow writers) and new recipes were definitely on my mind! While in Devon we writers plucked all manner of gorgeous unsprayed, unsullied flowers to lace our salads: fuschia, borage, marigold, nasturtiums, pansies, pinks and chive flowers to add to our freshly cut salad leaves (see below)! We had a glorious time celebrating both food and words and I was ready to cook for my guests. Tanya is vegan and travels with her own kit of emergency vegan food for as we have discovered, pickings can be lean while traveling. She and Craig became my willing guinea pigs in between their very wonderful story shows which I catered for….
pretty salad

 

 

We reflected how it is absolutely possible it is to cater an event in an entirely vegan way using loads of fruit, veggies, and flowers and the punters went  mad for it!

It all was gobbled up, and nary a fizzy drink or plastic bottle in sight. This is what I made: Mini Morning Glory Cakelettes with coconut passionfruit frosting, filo and vegan pastry soy sausage rolls, vegan scones (used coconut oil to rub in, instead of butter) vegan ANZACS biscuits using coconut again. Our drinks were homemade Strawberry Iced Tea and Lemon/Limonade.  It looked a treat and franky it was she wrote in a modest sort of way!

 

prepping for story time!

We were fairly busy all week so I had to make some very quick vegan dishes. Here’s two of them: the first is my quick vegan hotcakes. These are as easy as pie, and can be whipped up for a quick week-day breakfast. Serve with plenty of fruit, roasted almonds and maple syrup.

vegan hotcakes

Vegan Hotcakes for 4

Sift into a large bowl, 2 cups of spelt flower (I got mine from Ekoplaza). Add in….

2 tsps of baking powder

a pinch of salt

a tsp of nutmeg or cinnamon or mix the two

Add in one grated apple and a mashed banana, the older and the ugliest you have! Bruised apples are entirely acceptable

Add in 2-3 tablespoons of oil. I used a rice bran oil, could use melted coconut cooking oil

Can add some muesli, granola, grated dry coconut if you want.

Add at least a cup of nut milk: almond, or rice or a mix of coconut and rice milk. We are very keen on the new Provamel Rice and coconut milk for cooking and using with cereals.

Mix to a slightly liquidly consistency. Do not overmix! You need to put scoops onto a hot griddle or onto a non-stick fry-pan. Make yours big or small but do use coconut oil to cook them in, either the “geurloos” (without the coconut flavour)  or the one that tastes of coconut. I love coconut so prefer that! Turn the hotcakes when you see bubbles begin to form on the uncooked side. Do use a good amount of coconut or rice bran oil or they will stick!

 

Date and Nut Burgers

These are based on my friend Jo Parfitt’s recipe from her Date Cookbook, but I have made mine with a ready made nut or falafel burger mix. As in all of my recipes use your favourite herbs, spices and flavourings. So far, everyone has liked these simple burgers, served with char-grilled red onion rings, beetroot, chutney, salad leaves and a good vegan mayo. The very best we have tasted this far, is the GranoVita Mayola, a vegan mayonnaise sweetened with apple juice which we purchased in the UK at Holland & Barrett.

 

Put the Nut burger mix (we used the Eko plaza’s Notenburger mix) and these ingredients into a food processor. Each burger mix will ask you to add in some liquid. This one uses 400 mls of water but do check the packet instructions.

Fresh herbs such as chives, coriander, parsley and mint.

A good cupful of mixed nuts, roasted or unroasted

8- 10 pitted dates

1 tsp of soy sauce

1 tsp of Thai chili sauce or one small chili pepper, de-seeded

1 tablespoon of tomato or some home-made tomato sauce

You may need to add in more liquid – water or tomatoes – to make it a fairly dense consistency. Taste for seasoning.

Shape into burgers and dust with flour or semolina and fry in olive oil carefully or they will burn. Serve with loads of salad, some hummus, chutney or make a burger in a bun. Great on the way food!

Last but so not least. I have been using a date and onion dressing for all my salads lately. It was given to me by my nephew Matt and I am happier than 3 things in a happy bag! Goes very well in a Quinoa, lentil and bulgar salad…

Date Dressing

Chop 4 dates very finely after removing the pit. Add in half a cup of rice vinegar or a some pre-made sushi dressing. Add in 2 tbsps olive oil, a squeeze of lemon or lime and some finely chopped red onion. Season with a little salt and pepper. Can add some sustainable palm sugar if you think too sharp. The longer you leave it the better it is. Works nicely with giant couscous as below…..

 

large cous cous

 

More info about Tanya Batt http://www.imagined-worlds.net – Hire her if she is in your neck of the story woods, wouldn’t miss her for the world! And if you are lucky enough to see her, and you like slightly frightening stories ask for one about the evil possum!

Watermill Cottages http://www.watermillcottages.co.uk – I can fully recommend!

Craig Debham’s New Zealand Band is http://www.facebook.com/Beyondsemble

Jo Parfitt, publisher and writer – http://www.summertimepublishing.com

Quick recipes from me on  the My School lunchbox facebook page, please like it and join me!

 

 

 

 

Vegan Dishes

 

beluga lentils

Vegan with a Vengeance!

I’ve been cooking vegetarian food for many many years. Although, I can always, always, learn more, I can usually put together a fairy tasty meal in a few, well maybe 20 minutes. However, I have been relying fairly heavily on eggs, cheese, and other dairy products, but no more, as we now have a vegan in the family. And she is deadly serious and for our planets sake I admire her tenacity and determination. We all know that the meat, dairy and fish industries are putting untold pressure on our fragile environment as are the now “year round produce” available in our supermarkets. Raspberries, strawberries and mangos whenever we so desire and yes, although I try never to shop in regular supermarkets, I too am guilty of purchasing out of season fruits and veggies! Oh, the greed of us human beings.

So, so much goes to waste everywhere, something that a local organization here in The Hague (DHiT) is trying to do something about by distributing slightly blemished fruit and veggies to the public at a very reduced rate. More on them and the scheme later.

For now though each recipe and packet is checked for eggs, dairy or honey –  a sandwich with dubious mayonnaise will be rejected outright as will most pastas. So, of course experiments were in order. Here are some of the ones we really liked. What’s important is to have some good oil/fats, and proteins in each dish. Vegan proteins? Are there any? Well, yes, loads………

First and foremost, yes folks, veggies contain protein. One cup of cooked spinach contains about 7 grams of protein, now there’s a relief for you spinach lovers! But there is also nut butters: cashew, almond, and peanut butter will give you 4 grams per tablespoon approximately. We have also been using a lot of Quinoa, easy to cook and great to put into salads and casseroles. Tofu is a standby and we’ve been buying the organic tofu from Ekoplaza. We particularly like the the olive stuffed tofu there which is fantastic in the grill pan and tossed into salads, sandwiches and wraps. Lastly, we are using beans and lentils like there is no tomorrow. They are our very bestest friends! We love em because 1 cup of cooked chickpeas yields a wonderful 14.5 g of protein (sources self Nutritiondata.self.com) so chickpeas forever.

Here’s a basic salad recipe which can be adapted in many ways. The soaked date dressing lifts any salad, and will taste lovely even if you think you are not keen on dates, like me and my kids. Just chop those dates very, very finely!

Beluga Lentil Salad

serves 2 at least

1 cup of Beluga lentils (dark black shiny lentils resembling caviar of course)

half a cup of red quinoa

1 small onion, chopped

cumin seeds

a good vegan stock, made up with 2 cups of boiling water

pomegranate seeds, fresh mint, flat leafed parsley, coriander.

dressing: 4 chopped dates,  half a cup of rice vinegar, olive oil, lime or lemon and a little palm sugar ( I am using the Aernga Palm sugar from the Ekoplaza which claims not to involved in that hideous deforestation. It supports the Masarang foundation and is only grown in mixed forests – but if anyone knows more about this, let me know please.)

Fry a small diced onion in a heavy based pot in a little olive oil.Add 1 cup of lentils with some cumin seeds and 2 cups of a good stock. Add in half a cup of red quinoa. Boil gently until lentils are tender to the bite (about 15 mins). Make sure it doesn’t burn but do drain any extra water off if any when the pulses are tender. Set aside until cool. Add in pomegranate seeds, chopped mint, coriander, and/or flat leafed parsley after it cools. Can add in extra bulgar at the boiling stage!

Make the dressing with finely chopped dates soaked in rice vinegar, a little oil, lime or lemon juice and some dark brown sugar. Mix and set aside. Can add some pomegranate syrup as well for extra flavour.

Add everything together. Taste for the right combo of sweet, sour and salty.  Also can add the olive tofu, fried in the grill for a few minutes on each side.

You can add in fried paneer, or some halloumi, or feta if you are not VEGAN! Garnish with herbs and edible flowers and enjoy.

Serve this with flatbreads and maybe some homemade hummus, a few salad leaves and you will be quids in for protein, fibre and taste!!!

I am still doing the Pop Up Cake Cafe at The Barbershop and try to include a vegan baked option everyday that I am there, Wed, Fri and Sats. More experimentation is needed but I find that the Morning Glory Muffin recipe adapts well to the No Egg substitute. And they have proved popular. Offering locals an alternative style of  “more healthy” baked goods has been a huge learning curve and I continue to learn. What I have found is that most humans are looking for a creamy looking cupcake thing which is just the sort of cake we were trying to avoid. So I have been making a vegan frosting with soy yoghurt, loads of coconut, minimal icing sugar or a bit of agave and those lovely freeze dried New Zealand powders my dear sis sent me: mango and passionfruit. They make a lovely icing on top of the morning glorys! Crumbles are easy as well, using melted coconut oil just as you would use a butter, mixed with my banana bread granola, extra oats, coconut and maple syrup. That’s it for now, pop in and see me at The Barbershop & Co and do look at http://www.denhaagintransitie.org to see what’s going on with local food, gardening, relearning old skills such as preserving and more. A lovely group of people indeed and their work is just what we need. First Barbershop & Co shared kitchen workshop has a date and a title. We are running a Sushi Made Simple workshop on May 31st at 15.00 to 18.00. Message me via My School Lunchbox on facebook to reserve your place.

muffins pear and pineapple

Link

Cakes Galore & More…., nothing ventured, nothing gained! We set up Shop in The Hague!

Raspberry friand made by Bintou of www.bintousbanquets.nl

Raspberry friand made by Bintou of http://www.bintousbanquets.nl

What a beautiful raspberry and almond friand made by my friend Bintou. A little morsel of edible art really. Even though I regard food such as this as “sometimes” food, I am only human. I, too, love the odd  bit of  special “sometimes” food, even though I don’t have a particularly sweet tooth and I may well by one of the few people in the world who isn’t that keen on chocolate (except a salty caramel dark choc to be taken with an expresso). (photo of friand by Christine Fischer)

But  what I do love is homemade, personal, well sourced ingredients, and cakes made with love and care. I also love it when those cakes, muffins, etc are made with organic or alternative flours, less sugar or even no sugars, using agave, maple, dates or stevia. I also think, just like Mary Berry, that a little scone, still warm from the oven, spread with good butter and homemade strawberry jam is just the bees knees, and I think I have my scone recipe (made with spelt flour) off pat. I might even be immodest enough to boast that my date & cardamon scones are the best in the city.

P1000636

I also believe that there is a shopkeeper in all of us. It’s just a thing humans like to do, trade stuff, sell stuff, talk about what we’ve made, what we love, be it knitting or food.We do love to be appreciated and to talk “shop”, don’t we? I’ve been writing about food, experimenting with it, developing recipes and sharing food for most all of my life and now I am about to put my muffin so to speak where my mouth is. We, my friend Bintou and I,  have a small 2 metre space in a start up venture called The Barbershop & Co in The Hague. We will join up with an Israeli/Palastinian duo called Love & Peas and a few others in a food hall, hoping our wares will find favour with the locals. We will use recipes, tried and tested that our friends and family love, and see if small and personal will find strike a note.

Our plates will all be second hand, knickknacks, and things lent to us by friends in an effort to be as sustainable as we can . We will try to buy nothing new to set up and decorate our little space. And we will see if we can complete against the large stores such as the newly opened Marks & Spencers who sell scones for 85 cents or the brioches at Albert Heijn – 6 for 2.98???  Although we can’t complete with such cheapness, we shall do our very best to make some beautiful food, so do pop in if you are in the area.

Our opening day is March 7 from 11 am to 15.00 at The Barbershop & Co on Torenstraat 35a. We will let you know what  and when we are cooking and what’s on offer on our FB page Cakes Galore – & more

Beetroot  & Dill Dip

And now a recipe. I catered for the launch of the New Zealand foundation KIN which will replace the KEA Netherlands chapter at their launch party on Saturday at De Wandelaar. I made a number of dips, hummus, tapanade etc but the most requested recipe was the very simple beetroot dip. Take a medium cooked beetroot, and blend with a small clove of garlic, some fresh dill, a squeeze of lemon or lime juice, some mint leaves and a cup of either creme fraiche (can use Greek yoghurt as well). Blend, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Sprinkle with black onion seeds  (Nigella seeds) t0 finish. Serve with sliced carrots, cucumber, crackers or strips of toasted lavas.


catering at KIN

More Pumpkins Than You Can Shake a Ghoul at…. and how to bring a glow to a grey day

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Thank goodness there is a bit of colour in our lives on days such as these, when grey skies are above and the world is damp and chill. Jack and I were entranced by the pumpkin display at Vlinders ann de Vliet in Voorshoten, so we had to stop and take a photo. So many types, so easy to grow and quite delicious to eat (some not all). One of our family favourites is the roasted butternut and sweet potato (kumara) pasta dish, mixed in with loads of herbs, blue cheese, olives, pine nuts and baby rocket leaves, prefect for serving piping hot on a dark, dank day. It’s a time of year where we need to be uplifted by colour, candle light, stories and warm music. 

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A wonderful friend of mine, Jo Parfitt (author and writer’s mentor – http://www.joparfitt.com) sent me this glorious glowing picture of spices from a market in Malaysia and it conjured up spicey memories of saffrony sauces, tumeric, cauliflour and coconut soups, minty cumin sauces and markets including our own Haagse Mart. This huge market open on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday is well worth a visit for any aspiring cook, just go early and take some bags and your largest shopping trolly! Fresh herbs, preserved lemons, flat breads, thick breads, nuts, dried fruit, you will find it all here and more.  

So what recipes will I offer you on an Autumn day as the last leaves fall soggily to the ground? The first is from a little catering job I did for the hockey girls last week and it is a request from my Norwegian friend Kurt. It’s a popular filling for sandwiches in our house and yes, you can make devilled eggs with it too! 

Curried Egg Sandwich filling

Note you can make this with a hint of curry or not but I like it with Jenny’s Tamarind Chutney which I will be using next Saturday the 9th when I make Kiwi inspired food for Jens Hack’s new Kiwi Shop de Wandelaar. 

4 free range organically farmed hard boiled eggs – I have always been told to remove them straight from the boiling water and plunge into cold to stop the yolks becoming discoloured and greenish. Now this could be an old and wishful tale but it seems to work. Peel underwater and make sure they are free from shards of shell. Place in a large bowl.

2 tablespoons (again up to you!) of a good quality mayonnaise. I use the lemon flavoured mayo from De Marqt organic store

1 tablespoon of soft salted butter

pepper/salt/celery salt

sprinkling of capers/finely cut celery

finely cut chives/spring onions and parsley to add flavour and colour

some milk for mixing

Using a fork, mash it all together, adding in some curry paste such as Pataks mild curry paste or some chutney or just season to taste with pepper and salt.  

Use on toasted bread or in rolls or for stuffed egss. Garnish with lettuce leaves, sprouts etc Image

 

Now for a weekly tip and one which will hopefully save time and give a tomatoey richness to the weekly dinners. Just about everyone I know is juggling: their time, work time, kids time, exercise time and learning time, not to mention, tired time! Some people tell me they just don’t have time to cook, others say they don’t much like cooking. This sauce will take you no time at all and hopefully will form the basis of many tasty dishes such as the tofu mince shepherd’s pie I made last night. 

 

Roasted tomatoes in the oven as a basis for pasta sauces, pizza toppings, mexican bean dishes etc. 

1 kilo of fresh tomatoes, organic if you can afford it

2 tbsp olive oil

some whole peppercorns or soft red peppercorns

coarse sea salt

a sprig of rosemary if you have some

2 – 3 large cloves of garlic, chopped in half – smell it in the shop, you will know if it is a wholesome smell or a chemically one! Also remember to smell the butternut and other pumpkins as well – I have really been quite horrified by unpleasant smells from some supermarket veggies of late.

1 red or white onion, peeled and quartered

1-2 Turkish peppers, seeds removed, sliced into 2 halves

Heat the oven to 185, place all the above into a roasting pan, roast for approx 20 -30 mins, check and savour the smell. Take out of the oven when the edges of the onions, peppers and tomatoes are just beginning to caramelize, and set aside to cool. 

When completely cool, remove the stems and skins of the garlic, tomatoes, and peppers plus the rosemary twig and blend in a jug with a wand. If you want a Thai style flavour add in some sweet chilli sauce or a chilli pepper.

Adjust pepper and salt to taste and use throughout the week in whatever way you fancy! You will not want to go back to a commercial variety of tinned tomato ever again. Enjoy and get cooking!  Will I see you at the opening of De Wandelaar in Amsterdam on Saturday November the 9th, hope so! 

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October Already – Birthday warm Fuzzies, Roasted Almond Pesto, Favourite Things, November 9!

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I’ve been working on developing some new recipes for an exciting new shop (www.dewandelaar.nl – but more on that later!) and thinking about food, food, food. There was yet another birthday to celebrate in our house (mine!) and this year I invited my friends to cook their current favourite food or bring a tried and tested recipe to afternoon tea. It’s so lovely to share beautiful food with wonderful friends!   It all ended way too soon for me so I have decided to do the same for next birthday. I made my usual carrot cake, with half the amount of sugar but with lots of pineapple, decorated with dried cranberries and fresh berries.

And delicious it was

And delicious it was

I also made some curried egg sandwiches, jazzed up with roasted almond pesto, and some of Jenny’s Tamarind Pickle (from Waiheke Island) and garnished with broccoli cress. My, but the spread was grand, Antonio surpassed himself with a Spanish style aubergine tortilla, Basma made Cheese Fatayer, a sort of yeast pastry with olives, feta, herbs and spices, Jilly made a beauteous banana cake, Fanny  baked a light as a bee’s wing, honey cake, Anna prepared some fresh tasting hummus laced liberally with loads of flat-leafed parsley, Sharyn made a carrot souffle, Ute stuffed dates with walnuts and cream cheese, Johanna, a pumpkin and walnut loaf, Nancy some coconut date balls, and Michele, a lime and lemon tart that everyone raved about, Carolyn,  a plum cinnamon cake – and I could go on and on!! Please forgive me if I have missed anyone out – all I can say was thanks, thanks and more thanks!

The food was varied, delightful and delicious, the conversation brisk. And really that’s what life is all about isn’t it: honest homemade food, good company, love and laughter! More please, more sharing and caring!

On a more serious note, it was Buy Nothing New month so I asked everyone NOT to bring a present or buy anything new. Thus Lily-Anne had “borrowed” some peppers, and roasted them, Elske had raided her garden for a magnificent bunch of flowers and I even received some used teabags for my composters!  Thanks Helen!

Red peppercorns, paua shells, cooking mags, sumac & flowers

Red peppercorns, paua shells, cooking mags, sumac & flowers

The Buy Nothing New Month began in Australia (check the expatsincebirth.com October 9 blog post) but is starting to catch on here in The Netherlands and I am a firm follower. Of course food may be purchased, in fact I positively encourage it, but like everything, it must be brought with care. I am asking myself constantly “Do I really need it? Will I use all of it? How can I best utilize it? I will admit I have a bit of a siege mentality and find myself shopping as if an impending disaster may happen at any moment!  Yes, the amount of lentils in my cupboards would see my family (and quite a few others) through quite a few weeks of any siege.  I’m working on changing that!

I am also developing some Kiwi style recipes for a new shop, selling a taste of the South Pacific without having to go the whole 18.000 kilometres to get to the land of the long white cloud! Happily, it’s all about food and wine –  it will sell  the very best of New Zealand’s artisan products which will marry well with local products. If you are keen to come and sample what’s on offer – and have a chat with me – I will be cooking! – then do join me on November 9 at 14.00 in the Oude Zuid of Amsterdam. See http://www.dewandelaar.nl for more details.

Now, a new discovery (for me at least) and a simple one, it’s already a new favourite in this house.

Roasted Almond Pesto (to serve with pasta, egg sammies, cheese toasties, on crostinis etc)

Half a cup of blanched almonds, roasted carefully in a fry pan until golden and aromatic – use a tiny spray of olive oil if you like!

A good bunch of fresh basil or flat-leafed parsley or a mix of both.

Some mild flavoured olive oil or half and half of lemon infused olive oil – use about half a cup

2-3 cloves of garlic depending on how strong you like your garlicky flavours, peeled

parmesan or percorino cheese (or frankly whatever cheese you fancy using that’s been hanging around the bottom of the fridge for a while!) – use half a cup chopped or grated, depending if you have a good hand blender.

Blitz the lot with a hand held blender. Taste, and season with salt if needed and freshly ground red peppercorns. I am buying some slightly soft but still crunchy red peppercorns and the flavour is surperb!  It will keep for a few days if you top it up with oil and keep it in the fridge in a covered jar.

I sent this to school with some pasta and Jack said it was the best lunch ever!

I leave you with some of my favourite things for the Autumn

Loving making simple quick Thai style soups with onoff spices (from the Ekoplaza, the Massaman is excellent!) So easy and uses up all sorts of bottom of fridge veggies.

Loving the feta roasted cauliflower recipe from Flash Cooking

Adoring using the Lime infused Avocado oil in my Mexican style Friday Night lentil soup (testing some NZ products for dewandelaar.nl – infused oils are some of them!)

Loving that my kids cooked me a secret “morning glory” birthday cake with fresh strawberry cream cheese frosting  – yah, they can cook! It has all been worth it then!

Laura Santtini's gorgeous Flash cooking cookbood!

Laura Santtini’s gorgeous “Flash Cooking” cookbook! Beautiful!

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Jamming into July, and the Best of all Tofu Dishes

Little wild strawbs ready for jamming!

Little wild strawbs ready for jamming!

straining the fresh jam into sterilized jars

straining the fresh jam into sterilized jars

Ready to try with spelt, orange zest and date scones

Ready to try with spelt, orange zest and date scones

So, an unexpected gift arrived this week in the shape of some pretty squishy strawberries ( 8 punnets) some of which were slightly past their best. “Jam” we said, and began tailing the tiny wee things. We added in some sugar but not too much, the juice of 2 lemons, and gently cooked it down to a pulpy mass. The smell was divine and went right to the top of the house, bringing a smell of summer even if the sky said, no, not yet, but very soon. We sterilized our extra jars and lids by simmering them in a soup pot for 5 minutes. And then we poured, ladled, prodded and tasted. Naturally we left a small sample dish to try and then we had to make scones, because you just do, don’t you. Three guests dropped by for a taste and some added in the whipped cream flavoured with vanilla pod they found in the fridge. The verdict – total deliciousness in both taste and perfume. How can we go back to commerically made jam ever? Go on try your hand at jamming. It will make your summer!

My favourite Tofu dish of all time (and I have tried a few!)

Garlic and Ginger Tofu

Garlic and Ginger Tofu

So, yes, Tofu is rather bland, well extraordinarily bland. Yet it is a great source of protein, particularly for vegetarian families or those who have cut back on meat! I only buy organic tofu so I don’t have to worry about the very many chemicals used to grow non-organic soy beans.  I have been experimented with this product for quite some times but it was Yotam Ottolenghi’s black pepper Tofu dish (from his book Plenty) which really showed me just how gorgeous soy bean curd can really be. Try it, it will literally blow your socks off with its 8 chillies and 5 tbsps of black peppercorns. Here I am erring on the side of delicate palates but I think this dish has enough oomft to win over a dedicated non-veggie. The secret is ginger and garlic so buy in liberal quantities of each, you won’t regret it.

Tofu

1 cm chunk of fresh ginger, peeled

1 large clove of glaric (or 7-10 small cloves)

finely chopped spring onions

1 tbsp light soy sauce

1 tbsp tamari

1 tbsp sweet Indonesian soy sauce

1 packet (for a family of 3-4) of organic pressed tofu not the silken sort, drained and chopped into small cubes of the same size. You can pat dry if it is particularly wet.

Fry the tofu cubes gently in Rice Bran oil or olive until it is crispy on all sides. Don’t be in a hurry, it may take 5 minutes of gentle frying to achieve this. Drain on kitchen paper and put aside.

In a small blender mince one of those huge cloves of garlic or if you can’t’ get hold of them, 7 small cloves of garlic and the peeled cube of ginger. Add in some water to make it a creamy blend and some whole peppercorns. If your small grinder is like mine, it will do a fairly good job but there may be one or two whole peppercorns left.

In a wok or heavy bottomed frypan  fry the garlic blend in some oil. Don’t let it burn but fry very gently for about 3-4 minutes. Add in the different soy sauces and cook slowly for a few minutes. Taste and adjust accordingly. You may like to add more of the soy sauces or some palm sugar.  You may like to add in some water to make more of a sauce or some lemon juice if you think it too sweet. Take off heat until you are ready to serve.

Cook some rice, couscous, udon noodles or bulgar to serve with the tofu dish.

To serve, add the tofu to  the soy mixture and warm through. Serve on top of noodles and garnish with spring onions, or coriander. It is just as good cold as hot. It has become a firm favourite in our family. Do let me know what you think!

Make a fresh Thai style cucumber and carrot salad to compliment this and a fresh honey lemonade. And yes, summer will come next week! I’m sure of it……. ingreds for lemonade

Summer, dear Summer, you are here at last!

peppers, herbsOh, it’s been a long time coming this year. Yes, there have been tasters, a warm day or three, the hazy sound of a lonesome bumble bee on the wing, but just as we went to put away our mittens and our heavy winter coats, there was a fresh burst of arctic air to keep us down and chilled. But now the plants are growing like the wind (as are the weeds), the birds are singing their hearts out and I am making a meal out of our small garden. It’s true the tomatoes are far from being harvestable but I can see the first beans, there are some little stalks of tender ruburb and celery, the chive flowers are ready for my goat’s cheese salad, the mint ready for iced teas and the lettuce leaves/herbs are being used everyday in sandwiches, bagels and salads.

 

garden is growingYou can see how my garden grows above, with the help of the Green Room’s organic anti snail pellets and a local toad or three to keep those slugs at bay and those plants are really powering along, which just shows you what you can do with a few metres and some earth. And below ladies, gentlemen, girls and boys is my very own organic compost (made with the help of quite a few hundreds of kindly worms) which will go into my little veggie gardens and enrich the soil. You can just see the traces of egg shells for that my good people, is our family left-overs, which I place diligently into my worm composters every morning.

I thought my clever little worms had frozen to death over that long winter but I have a healthy bin of them, breaking down the family scraps although I do worry about their coffee intake. They must be a little buzzy in there. Everything apart from bread, dairy products, meat or fish goes into 2 bins and therefore replenishes our garden after it is broken down – wonderful. No composter?  Never fear,for as a fabulous young woman explained the other day, blend up your leftovers (not stones or bones) and simply dig them into the garden directly but at least 6 inches away from the nearest tree! I managed to get on a http://www.cityplot.org edible gardens workshop this month and learned so much from the charming Suzanne about how little soil we actually need to grown a lettuce, 5 cms and a carrot, 7 cms and how we can all grow micro greens and our own sprouts. So, there is not excuse, grow we must!

compost

Lastly, this month I purchased a dehydrator which has been loads of fun. I have been dehydrating mangos from the market, cherries, peaches, strawberries, tomatoes, bananas and apples. They are a taste revolution and it’s as easy as cutting them up really. I continue to experiment but so far I can thoroughly recommend this new generation of small 5 tray dehydrators ( I got mine from the Sligro wholesale stores but am willing to bet that Amazon will probably do them cheaply).

fruits of my new dehydrator

Above, strawberries, white fleshed wildman peaches (are there any other), cherries, strawbs, and mango. Below cherry tomatoes in olive oil, thyme and rosemary, sprinkled with sea salt and black pepper. It’s fun, easy and delish and it makes me kinda feel a bit Heston Blumenthal if you know what I mean. Next time garlic and ginger tofu with bulgar salad and pomegranate pearly dressing! Enjoy, enjoy!

dehydrated

Super Squishers – Delish Spring Smoothies made by 10 teams of year 3 kids

ImageOh, it’s a grand thing to do. Work with eager young minds who are keen to learn, try, taste and enjoy, which is why I look forward to doing workshops with kids, even if they take place in halls, rather than fancy master chef style kitchens and stretch me, mentally  and physically.

Yes, there is a lot of bringing stuff hither and thither, unloading, reloading, shopping and schelping but you know it really is all worth it, particularly when kids try new stuff, like a pomegranate seed, a piece of pale green celery, a crimson piece of melon and when we talk about eating “a Rainbow”  they are all for it!  Two weeks ago I was back in another hall, working with 10 groups of six, a great band of teachers and parents amid the happy blending of various combinations of veggies and fruits. This time we made 2 lots of green smoothies using apple juice as a base and nut milk bags to squeeze the best of our green juices into our jugs.

This is what the kids called their smoothies: The Bubbly Banana Whizz (banana, strawberry, yoghurt, and a little honey), The Healthy Pink (banana, pineapple, raspberry, butter milk and honey), The Alien Surprise (pineapple, cucumber, apple, celery, mint, banana, spinach, and apple juice), The Sunset Smoothie (strawberry, pineapple, mango, and natural yoghurt), The Beach Smoothie (banana, apple, rice mil and mango) The Bitter Honey (watermelon, lemon, orange juice and honey), The Jazzy Razz Smoothie (raspberry, oatmilk, strawberry, banana and strawberry) and The Super Green Energy Smoothie (green apple, spinach, cucumber, water and honey)!!  Now, how is that for a great bunch of glorious, healthy, delicious drinks. That sure beats a blue drink, anytime! Well done, year 3 at BSN Vlaskamp and if I have missed any of your smoothies, do contact me and let me know. Remember you are now Master Smoothie Chefs, one and all!

Image

Image

And  is it worthwhile, teaching our kids about food. Oh absolutely, they will so need to know about what they are eating/drinking because there are huge companies out there determined to make them (me and you) buy fizzy drinks (and ‘foods’)  in flamboyant colours which are overprocessed, over-sweetened and over-coloured, plus non-nutritional!  The best thing we can do as parents for our kids is to cook with our kids from scratch, make lovely things that smell of real plants and gardens. So, how do you make a smoothie? The year 3 children from Vlaskamp are all experts and they will tell you.

Smoothies

There are no hard and fast rules and I do encourage you to experiment. I will give no measurements because you will quickly get the hang of how much fruit/veggies to use and what consistency you like.

Choose and prepare your fruit. We used mainly frozen fruit as summer is most definitely not yet upon us. Choose from fresh or frozen strawberries, raspberry, mixed berries, mango, banana and citrus. Prepare and peel, taking out cores and stones.

Add these frozen or fresh fruits to a water or fresh juice base with some ice if you have any. Or use a dairy or non-dairy type base. We experimented with rice milk, nut milk (can make it from soaked almonds or cashews using a nutmilk bag), oatmilk, butter milk, natural yoghurt and water), Blend, and taste for sweetness. You may need a little maple syrup or honey to sweeten your smoothie.

And Green Smoothies… honestly these are really, really good and you don’t need a fancy blender. I use a fairly normal blender and squeeze my green juices through a nutmilk bag. You can purchase these via ebay at myworld.ebay.co.uk/nutmilkbags for a very reasonable cost. You can also use these to make your own nut milk from almonds, cashews and brazil nuts as well. It is best to soak the nuts overnight before you make your milks.

Blend 2 chopped apples, cores removed but peel left on. Add in a variety of lettuce, spinach, cucumber, bok choy, courgette, water and ice. Blend  and place your nut milk bag into a large jug. Pour the green juice into the bag and gently squeeze the juice through. Adjust for taste and you may need to add in some more water. The result should be a lovely, clear green juice delicious for breakfast. Keep cool. Can add ginger and honey, mint to flavour.

Lastly, a tip from Jack. He asked for a hot drink last night and suggested that chocolate might form a part of it. Oh no, said I, Chocolate will not help you get to sleep. Instead we heated some milk, grated in a little nutmeg and cinnamon and called it a sleeping drink. Worked a treat on a cold, damp evening!

I have recently created a Facebook page to post quick recipes, ideas and workshops. Do please join it if you like via Facebook at My School Lunchbox! And do plant some salad leaves/herbs on your balconies or in your gardens if you are lucky enough to have one. I have a rather damp balcony full of various lettuces, red basil, dill, parsley, rosemary and chives which I use every single day. And at the market you will find 75 different herbs to experiments with!!!

Image

High Tea, ANZAC Biscuits and Being Sweet….

Hi ho, it’s been 14 days at home on school hols with the kids.  It’s also been chilly, greyish and hovering near freezing. My dreams of loading up bikes and heading to places unknown had proved unlikely. Plans of walking in daffodil yellow fields filled  neither my kids (or myself) with inspiration and even I had to force myself out into the small urban garden to plant a few beans and herbs. All and all we needed some sort of motivational tool to make this dull rainy afternoon feel radiantly spring like. So, I decided to celebrate our late spring with a high tea to be served only after rooms had been cleaned, jobs had been done and various things accomplished. It certainly cheered me up immensely and proved to be an excellent “clean room” tool. We practiced drinking tea in tiny cups with our pinky finger extended. I made up a recipe for apricot, cardamon and palm sugar scones, Jack pulverised the cardamon seeds and I served them with lemon curd, natural yoghurt and passionfruit. The combination worked very well (I was my own best customer!) …… oh and I cheated a little and purchased some of the sweetest little tea cakes from Philipe Galerne, in Statenkwartier….www.philippegalerne.nl

Gorgeous little cakes for high tea

Gorgeous little cakes for high tea

We served egg and radish open sandwiches, scones, fresh strawbs (a big treat from Ekoplaza), organic baby heirloom tomatoes, natural yoghurt mixed with lemon curd, lemon zest and passionfruit pulp and local salted butter from the Farmer’s market on a lovely old bit of linen with some cups from the second hand market! I haven’t met a better high tea in The Hague, except at my friend Jilly’s house!

I will also admit that I am developing a menu for a pop-up  New Zealand wine-tasting with shades of Kiwiana – Antipodean style – party finger food with an emphasis on Madmen, hostess trollies and paper doliles. I do so adore a paper dolilie and look what you can do with them – http://pinterest.com/questforbeauty/pretty-paper-doilies

The menu I am working on, will celebrate my home country, New Zealand and will take place on ANZAC day, April 25,  in The Hague so in honour of that, I am sharing the ANZAC biscuit recipe with you in this blog.

These are cookies with history – as wives and sweethearts sent these long lasting eggless treats to soldiers abroad in WWI, ANZAC being short for The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. Made with rolled oats, coconut, butter, sugar, and syrup, they are dead simple, smell of far off golden shores and never last long in our house.  If you are in the lowlands and want to come to a wonderfully fun event with 10 New Zealand wines to taste (and food from yours truly), email jarrod@cellar-door.nl for more details and to reserve. I am fairly excited about this event as it will allow me to showcase some great local products from The Netherlands while stirring up a pot full of New Zealand food memories.

ANZACs  are great cookies for a lunchbox for any soldier big or small, and you can healthy them up by experimenting with using different flours and sweetners – maple for golden, etc.

ANZAC Biscuits

Preheat oven to 175 fanbake and grease a biscuit tray

1 cup of spelt flour

3/4 cup of light brown sugar  – have used palm sugar as a substitute (note that most recipes call for a full cup but you could take this down to half a cup and they would still be sweet enough in my opinion)

1 cup of coconut

2 cups of rolled oats – place all these ingredients in a bowl and mix together

Melt 125 grams of butter with 2 tbsp of golden syrup (have used maple instead) in a pot on the stove top

When the butter and syrup has melted, add in 1 teaspoon of baking soda that has been mixed with 3 tbsp of boiling water – it will froth up. Add to dry mixture and form into small balls, placing on an oven tray that has been greased or has been covered with baking parchment. Flatten the balls with the back of a fork, and bake until golden at 175 for exactly 12 minutes. Do keep an eye on them as they can burn easily!

tea cakes

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