Velvet Smooth Soup to Ward Away the Easter Chill!

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I was feeling, oh so slightly under the weather as snow blew along beside the train to Amsterdam. I was heading off to a meeting with the Chair of KEA (Kiwi Expatriates Abroad) in The Netherlands and the portents were not good. The wind chill factor was arctic in nature, the sky was heavy with wet snow and frankly I just wanted to be back on that dry, summery Island of Waiheke composting happily and listening to the sound of the sea.

We were meeting at a previously untried cafe called Vinnies Deli on Haarlemmerstraat to talk about ideas, meetings, home and of course, food matters crept in just a morsel.

We walked in, decided what to order, liked the living room feel of the place, felt some Ottolenghi influences and settled down to a velvety soup of celeriac, fresh truffle and garlic croutons. Suddenly the day didn’t seem quite so dull, in fact it seemed full of promise. I came home and immediately started to try and re-create that delicious and heart warming soup. Although it wasn’t the same exactly, the recipe below made all the family very happy.

Celeriac is rather a plain, unglamorous root veggie but it has star quality. Go and try one now! It is apparently Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall fav root veg of all time and can be used in heaps of ways, salads, coleslaws, gratins, mash and of course.. soup. And if you are in Amsterdam give Vinnies a try. We were both impressed both by the friendliness of the service, the homely lounge room touch and most important by the FOOD! The sourdough bread was excellent as well. 

Celeriac Soup (for 4)

1 large celeriac bulb, peeled and cut roughly into cubes

1 large white onion, chopped finely

1 – 3 cloves of garlic depending one how much you like garlic

2-3 large floury potatoes, peeled and chopped in cubes similar in size to celeriac

I also had a stalk of asparagus, a bit of leek and some zucchini to use up so shoved that in as well. I think cauliflower would work as well.

1 litre at least, of a good stock (I made my own out of old veggie peelings and am organic stock cube)

100 mls of fresh cream (or low fat organic milk or you are off cream!)

seasonings 

favourite spices or herbs – cumin seeds, or a little sprig of thyme. Saffron would also be rather nice, I feel.

Fry the onions in a little butter and olive oil until translucent. Add in chopped garlic. I blended my soup a little with a hand blender but left a few lumps. It is entirely up to you, what consistency you like and you may find it good to add more milk, more stock etc to the finished product. 

Add in the cubed celeriac, and potatoes plus the cummin seeds, fry until fragrant. Pour in stock and cover the vegetables. Simmer until the veggies are softly tender. Add more stock etc if needed and remove thyme sprigs. Add in the cream and simmer again for awhile, then you can either cool and blend in a food processor or use a hand blender, or just mash it up a bit with a potato masher. I served it all up just like Vinnies Deli with garlic croutons. I made these with left over crusts from club sandwiches I made for a school do. Bake the crusts with olive oil which has had crushed garlic added, season with salt and pepper and bake for about 10 minutes in a moderate oven until golden bread. Don’t you just love frugal food? 

Now serve it up the family and ask them to guess what sort of soup it is… My family were at a loss and then I showed them the celeriac bulb. By the way the fussy family really did really like this soup, so try it out on the unbelievers (you know the veggie nay-sayers!).

If you want to make it really, really special, see if the ladies at the Portabella have a little spring truffle for a good price (I got a little spring truffle, there last week for around 7 euros). Now, here’s a fact I didn’t know – from the North African coast from Morocco to Egypt to the deserts of Iraq you can find truffles in the sand and while they are hugely expensive in Europe, a family in Basra may have quite a few of them hanging about.  Experienced gatherers simply look for a mound in the sand and gently dig them up – thanks so much, my friend Basma, for telling me all about them.  

I will leave you with a photo of the little cakes at Smith and Caugheys in Auckland, NZ and suggest you go to this blog to try out making some divine hotcross buns for Easter … I think you might just be tempted by these recipes from http://www.poiresauchocolat.net

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And if you are in Amsterdam, you might just fancy one of these little morsels below, at Unlimited Delicious who currently have the best salty caramel chocs I have come across in The Netherlands (also on Haarlemmerstraat at no. 122)

Enjoy the Easter holidays by sitting at a table with family and friends, talking about things that matter and things that don’t….

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There and Back again with Added Flavours – a trip away broadens the food horizon!

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Shellfish (called Pippies in NZ) dug up with toes from Blackpool beach

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Our home-grown peaches and avocados

big O

I have been there and back again in true hobbit sense and I confess my heart mostly lies there. It is taking me some time to adjust to my urban wintry skyscape and digest all that I have seen. Firstly let me say I know that I am lucky in the extreme to be able to call such a unique part of paradise my  home (at least when I am in New Zealand). I post the pictures above not to make anyone feel envious (no, really) but to show how it closely nature and food can be connected, well particularly in a warm temperate climate. Sadly the climate was almost too warm and dry when I was home, as on Waiheke, similar to many other places in New Zealand, we are reliant on rain-water fed tanks for drinking, washing and watering plants. It hadn’t rained for many, many weeks when I left and many farms have become dustbowls. But onto food…

The top picture shows a favourite New Zealand shellfish, similar to a cockle, usually dug up with ones feet, which we harvested from a little tidal beach not far from our house. We made them into the typical fritters with some eggs, flour and herbs. The New Zealand government allows you to take 150 per person per day! You are also allowed 50 sea eggs (Kina), 20 scallops or 50 mussles – when I was young I don’t remember any restrictions but these days limits have been set to conserve natural resources.

On the island (see pic above) you can fish off the  rocks and catch a snapper for supper if you are lucky. No license is required for sea fishing but the fish must be of a certain size, unlike the fish I saw being sold in Crete last year which would barely make a mouthful! There’s a lot of composting going on and many residents grow vegetables, fruits and are the guardians of beehives. There is what I call extreme recycling going on with grey waste water, and at the local dump where you can drop anything usable so others may benefit from your castaways. Island residents are very aware that non-recylables have to be transported off island at a high cost – so the least amount of waste the better. And at the market on Saturday everyone is doing a little honest trading with anything from sun-dried plums on sale, to cardamon and lemon tarts, to fresh herbs, lavender products, coconut buns, second hand books, locally made fashion – it’s the place where everyone meets for a chat and some fine, homemade food and coffee. See below for the lovely home-made tarts on sale. Waiheke is a vibrant community where people are doing what they can, to earn a daily crust, keep the earth as healthy as possible and get by. I did an Eco tour while there and learned much more about composting Bokashi style, about eco- style building, about grey water use and square foot gardening – the latter is entirely ‘doable” for us here in the lowlands, and I will be attempting it this year.

One man has built a Gaudi style Bio Backpackers out of home made mud bricks and old paper, madly interesting and an intense labour of love. Suffice it to say I was inspired by the food I tasted while home, the people who shared their valuable knowledge and I will do my best to pass it on to as many people as I can.

Not only was I gathering knowledge I was collecting recipes and sampling as well. My friend Linnet in Singapore was kind enough to share some of her favourite recipes with me and so I am now sharing with you. Given that we quinoa eaters are in danger of depleting  the locals main protein source, I leave it up to you to use quinoa or substitute it with bulgar as I did. This dish is good warm or cold, can be stored in the fridge for 3 days and is an excellent and substantial side-dish. I served it recently with Halloumi and pea fritters, a yogurt sauce and a crisp green salad – the punters were impressed.

I will call this Linnet’s Yummy Tahini & lentil Salad

1 cup cooked bulgar or quinoa

half a teaspoon salt

quarter of a cup of lemon juice

quarter if a cup of olive oil

quarter of a cup of tahini

same of warm water

1 clove of garlic

half a tsp ground cumin

half a tsp ground black pepper

2 cups cherry tomatoes

1 cup cucumber diced (optional to make it a more summery dish)

1 cup cooked drained lentils – green or cooked chickpeas etc ( I used roasted red peppers for a little sweetness!)

2/3rd cup of finely chopped parsley

2 finely chopped spring onions

Method

Mix the lemon juice, oil, tahini, warm water, garlic, cumin, pepper and salt together. Stir in the rest of the ingredients, toss and serve.

Linnet's yummy salad with halloumi fritters

Linnet’s yummy salad with halloumi fritters

Oh, I have loads more recipes to share but I won’t overburden you! Travel is wonderful to broaden the mind and the broad bean mash I met along the way was pretty jolly good too.

Thanks Tracey, Linnet, Jacinta, Jane, Fiona, Briar Sheryl, Tanya, my sister Dyanne, nieces Charlotte & Annabelle, nephews Sam and Paul for putting up with me and showing me a right royal time. New Zealand, Waiheke I pray to all the weather gods for a decent drop of life-giving rain for that dusty earth.

Apologies for the empty blog post earlier today, some tiny, weeny, over-eager typing fingers I fear!

Kathy Voyles

14 March, 2013

homemade gorgeous pies at the Saturday market on Waiheke

homemade gorgeous pies at the Saturday market on Waiheke

Our Bread and Butter – Buy Best, Waste Less!

We humans love bread, don’t we? What would we do without our daily bread? For many of us, it is the  basis for every meal particularly here in The Netherlands. But elsewhere too: toast soldiers with golden eggs for breakfast, bagels with salmon and cream cheese for lunch,  soup and garlic bread for dinner. Bread  is so human really.

Historically, we humans have been making bread for 3,000 years, beginning with simple cooked versions of roasted grain-pastes mixed with water. The first tough old loaves were probably the result of an accident and no doubt shattered quite a few teeth, as we experimented with different grains and starches. Today’s legacy of those early breads are the Lavashs, the Mexican Tortillas, Indian naans, chapatis, rotis, Scottish oatcakes, pitas, Johnnycakes etc. And we just can’t get enough of it! And now we have so much of it in the West that we are happily throwing it away. So much so, that we in the flatlands throw away one of every five slices we buy.

Now, I find that absolutely shocking. As the Dutch are known to be frugal so this is bad news indeed because it means that the other western countries are throwing away even more. So, I maintain that if some of the most frugal folks on the globe are happily chucking slightly stale bread to the seagulls or straight in to their rubbish bags, then either the goods are too cheap or the goods are bad.

Give us our daily bread

So can I humbly suggest we buy good, honest organic bread products from real bakers who know what they are doing.

Buy the Best, and Waste Less

Now, I have been sampling some pretty fine bread products in The Hague. And it’s good news all round, there are so fine breads out there – breads from the Gaia natuur winkel in Statenkwarter – the Kamut and spelt breads are lovely as is the Allinson, dense full of flavour with the right amounts of salt and an excellent crust and crumb. Lekker Brood spelt with sunflower seeds is my ulimate favourite treat in The Hague but sometimes their loaves sport a few air holes which makes you think that some of your hard-earned money just went up in smoke. Michel’s four grain round bread is delish but I found the organic spelt load just too crusty for my gnashers – those with false teeth would have no hope here, yet their baguettes I think rank with the best in the city. And so far my Chelsea buns are the best I have found as I am the only one making them. Please feel free to make them for me and call me up – I’ll be straight round with a huge smile. Lastly Kruiden Tuin in the Archipel has some wonderful rye breads. The afore mentioned breads are mainly to be found in artisan bakeries and organic supermarkets, thus are not cheap.

When you pay up to euros 3. 50 for a load it is rather doubtful that you will waste it. Just in case you were thinking of throwing even a crumb away, please read below to see what you can do with your daily stale bread….

Crumb it in your blender, adding in fresh herbs, garlic and maybe parmesan. Freeze it in some plastic containers and use for toppings of casseroles and in filo pastry pies or in burgers

Crostini  it on a grill pan with some olive oil. Brush with garlic oil, fresh crushed tomatoes, pepper and salt

Bake it in bite sized pieces with olive oil for 10 minutes to make croutons. Use with soups.

Make a bread and butter pudding.

Make toast baskets. Cut rounds of bread, force into greased muffin tins. Mix eggs, cheese, grated onion and herbs, season with pepper and salt. Add parma ham or chopped bacon or a half a cherry tomato. Bake at 175 for 10 minutes or until set!

3869786621_7ecda51bef_zMake French toast. Mix real vanilla seeds with half a cup of milk, zest of orange and an egg. Soak stale bread in mixture and fry in coconut oil or rice bran until golden brown. Serve with maple syrup, fresh banana, and sliced fresh fruit.

Lastly a request from a friend

choc prune cake for lucy

Chocolate Prune cake

I made this for a giggly bunch of 14 year old girls who probably haven’t eaten a prune knowingly ever – it was yummy!

1 and a quarter  cups of dried prunes without the stone

1 and a quarter cups boiling water

1 tsp Baking Soda

60 grams of butter chopped

three quarters of a cup of firmly packed dark sugar or palm/date/maple sugar

1 cup wholemeal self raising flour or add 1 tsp of baking powder to plain wholemeal flour

2 large eggs or 3 small eggs

half a cup at least of dark chocolate chips

Heat oven to 160 fan and grease/line your tin. We used a heart shaped tin of 20 cms.

Put the prunes, soda and hot water into the food processor. Process until liquid and stand for 5 minutes.

Add in butter sugar and process

Add in flour and any other ingredients. Finally add in chocolate and mix once more. Pour into pan and bake for approx 35 – 45 minutes checking to see if it is done in the middle.

Stand to cool and remove. We iced with melted chocolate. It was gone in a jiffy…… oh and Jack decorated it with great concentration to excellent effect.

This recipe is based on one from The Australian Women’s Weekly Food for fit and healthy kids cookbook – it’s a goodie, I recommend.

Now, must fly, I am off for a trip to my homeland, the land of the long white cloud. See you in a month!

The Best Banana Granola You Will Ever Eat + Waste Not – Want Not!

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We know that we are the wasteful generation, a throw away society, a people removed from the field and the farm but did we know it was this bad? 30 to 50 % of food thrown into black plastic bin bags, 30% of produce never makes it to the market place and food turning to mouldy dust in our fridges, in our warehouses, and our fruit bowls. And in our lunch boxes! There can be no doubt, we have lost our way to some extent. Our kids don’t know how to grow food or even where it comes from and we have forgotten how to use up leftovers by bottling, making chutney, or even freezing the slightly mushy fruits and veggies. My challenge this year to try to throw away nothing (unless it is glowing with bacteria in which case it will go into the worm composter) and to regularly check the veggie drawer and clear it. Those scraggy ends of cabbages, aubergines, courgettes, may turn into the best chutney I have ever made, the best filo strudel, the best gratin or the best soup.

We have had a bit of an early spring but I predict a return to cold wintry weather – I know, I know, doomy and gloomy – so it will soon be time to make luscious, creamy, gingery, garlicky soups. I suggest you keep a few curry pastes in the house and use them as a base for soups. You may be familiar with our ever popular chickpea curry soup recipe (probably our most popular soup as voted by family & friends) but that recipe can be adapted and developed into whatever you fancy. Add chickpeas or orange/green lentils to bulk up veggies, use coconut milk to make creamy, fresh ginger to bring comfort, and roasted spices such as cummin and mustard seeds for flavour. But on to the best granola you will ever taste. The wonderful Sarah Britton demonstrated this at her last Amsterdam based cooking course before she spoke at the TedXWomen conference there. See her excellent recipes on her blog http://www.mynewroots.blogspot.nl and of you ever get a chance do please give yourself a great gift by attending one of her workshops! We had such a lovely time and learned so much. Joyous! 

Here is my version of this absolutely, OTT, luxury granola, complete with dark sour cherries, snipped dried mangos, loads of coconut and dark lemony apricots. It is great to eat with thick creamy greek style yoghurt and pomegranate seeds, but it is also lovely to eat out of the jar (don’t tell the kids, I wrote that!).

3 – 4 cups oats

3 ripe bananas

half a cup of coconut oil gently heated with half of cup of honey or maple syrup (date and rice syrup would work as well)

ground cinnamon – how ever much you wish

vanilla – use the real stuff

Blend the banana, vanilla, coconut oil and honey together. Add in the cinnamon (and or nutmeg, allspice or you favourite sweet spice) and a pinch a sea salt.

When it is thoroughly blended pour it on top of the oats and mix well. 

1 cup of walnuts or pecans (or a mix)

a handful of a mixture of seeds: sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, hazelnuts, almonds etc.

half a cup of dried banana chips

half of cup of dessicated coconut

Mix well and place on a baking tray lined with baking paper

Heat the oven to 175 and set the timer to 7 minutes. Open the oven and turn the mixture with a spoon. Set the timer again and turn after 7 minutes and repeat under the mixture is slightly golden and smelling roasty. It should be roasted in about 15 minutes. Do keep your eye on it as the nuts burn very easily. 

As it cools add in snipped dried mangoes, chopped sour cherries, bright apricots, dried apple, dried cranberry, some extra coconut pieces. It will be beautiful. Enjoy

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When cool place in a jar and see how long it lasts.

 

 

A Few More of My Very Favourite Things….. spread the joy (or the tapenade)!

Chrissy tableauJack's Chrissy Tableau is up

lovely flowers

  • I have really never missed a meal. It is because I regard food as very special, very delicious and very full of love. I  am also rather greedy and very curious. I want to try new things, other people’s foods, experiment with recipes, lap up more and more cookbooks and also share what I know and learn more.
  • I am using bullet points because I feel this is a definitive festive blog and I hope it will inspire you, de-stress you and help you enjoy a lovely holiday with friends and family without guilt and with joy (plus I don’t know how to get rid of them, yet! )bentobox.jpg

Yesterday I met a fellow foodie who is developing a clever idea which sounds like something every teenager would love to munch on. I wish him much luck and hope his product will be on shelves soon (I will keep you informed), something to do with chocolate, crunchiness and oats…. there, now  I have your interest! Phew, got rid of those bullet things!

He told me I was the first food blogger he had met. Heavens, I felt quite a responsiblity to be wildly interesting in a foodie sort of way and to be very knowledgable. By blogging, I do really  hope that I am sharing something useful for you, something which might make our lives easier, more palatable. less guilt-afying (don’t we parents suffer from that guilt thing!).  I also try and pick up knowledge where I can, follow lots of food blogs, read loads of cookbooks plus medical research papers, and above all, I try and cook a lot!!!!!

One thing I have learned over the years is that often it is the simplest things that are best. Warm scones from the oven. Mushrooms on toast. Honey on greek yoghurt with homemade cranola warm from the oven. Boiled eggs with toast soldiers. A plate gleaming with gold such the japanese pottery above, on a dark warm wood table, waiting for soup on a cold winter’s day.  I have also learned that I can’t completely healthify everything nor can I micro-manage all foods my kids eat to make sure they are healthy. But I do try and teach my kids by cooking from scratch and offering them a rainbow of foods to try.  Best of all though is sitting down with friends and family on a festive day.

Here are my top tips for sprucing up your Christmas table, easing your entertaining and making your lives more delicious all round.

  • Get everyone to cook a dish for the festive table or at least give them a job. Even the littlest of the little people can help by laying a table. Do the family favourites, it doesn’t have to be a traditional Christmas dinner. We are making dishes from all over the world on December 25, Spanish, Vietnamese, British, Antipodean, we’ll be using them all. But you can also buy in a few special things to make life easier……

Order something from the festive menu at La Gone’s Christmas menu for lovely, well prepped Lyonnais cuisine (the citron tart and the Chocolate fondants are particular family favourites) and the baquette here is always good – Noordeinde 200.

Order a dark chocolate tart, Pecan Pie or Lemon Meringue pie and bread from Patisserie Phillipe Garlene, all I can say is seriously delish!

Michel’s baguettes and tarts are also rather divine on Oude Molstraat and of course there is our favourite spelt bread from Lekkerbrood (you may like to ask for a couple of deep frozen spinach pies for boxing day eats as well)

Get your special cheeses from either Ven or De Ruijter on Elandstraat 158. The wild mushroom tapenade at De Ruijter is also quite to die for, served on toasted crostinis.

For the fishavores, we’ll be ordering cooked lobster and any other fishy treats from Smitvis in Rotterdam, http://www.schmidtzeevis.nl. As we don’t usually buy any fish, we will be giving thanks to the sea gods for this extra special treat.

The carnivores will be buying from Matia Boucherie on Bankastraat 48 or asking the team at the Ven for their advice. My kitchen diaries recommend Slagerij P.J. van den Broek as well. Poultry and Quails eggs will be purchased from Marqt.

Buy in some mini or oaty bagels from The Natural Bagel Company at the Ven.

Grab an organic ready made fondue from the farmer’s market, Ekoplaza or Marqt. Make Welse Rarebit or serve as fondue with loads of fresh veggies and pickles on an icy day.

Buy Fresh flowers for your table without impacting too severely on the the environment at Flowers for Tomorrow on Noordeinde 100.

Check out the Glass house on the Grotemarkt which will be hosting an organic market on December 15,22, and 29th.

And if you do happen to pop to Amsterdam try the salted caramel chocs at Unlimited Delicious, Harlemmerstrat 122 or if in Brussels, Chocolates by Ingelbrecht , the Fleur Blue Earl Grey and the Tonka Bean ganache 70% are too die for – http://www.jyvara.be – they are simply the best chocs I have ever had!

And if you are not cooking then here are my picks for good food and service – do check to see if they are open on Christmas day and Boxing day. Often you will find there is a set menu but you will have to book in advance. You will be fed well and should enjoy excellent service at any of the restaurants below….

Han Ting

Mochi

Basaal

Set

SodaFine

My very last but most import tip –  is to eschew presents this year and instead choose a favourite charity such as Oxfam Unwrapped, Heifer.com or Mary’s Meals and spread the joy a little. You can buy flocks of ducks, a couple of goats, a shower, WC or food and education for those less fortunate in the world. That will save the bother of shopping in the festive rush and wrapping! Enjoy!

An abridged version of this will appear on Dutchbuzz.nl’s website over the holidays


truffle-heartsome yummy lunchy stuffraspberry tart in Antwerpchrissy candles

Frugal but Beautiful – Using up those wrinkly veggies…..

Choc hearts with dried strawberries and flaked hazelnuts

Choc hearts with dried strawberries and flaked hazelnuts made by Daniel & Jack

It’s the festive season and that means food, some good, a lot not, but whatever sort it is, it all costs money, your money! But you may be interested to know that we in the West are spending less and less of our income on food, which is mighty strange given the many failures of crops this year and the real cost of food production.

According to the Economist the most common form of greeting in China is “Have you eaten yet?” which indicates just how important food is for their culture. So, how much do we spend on food and how much do we waste?

The US spends only about 6 -8 % of their income on food while Chinese  families spend about 35 % on food. In the UK it’s about 9% and in Kenya, around 45%. It’s quite startling because we used to spend well over half of our income in the west on food.

And how much food do we waste? Well according to Wikipedia, the Americans and Australians waste around 110 kilos, per person, per year, while in South East Asia, it’s 15 kilos and in Sub-Saharan Africa it is a mere 5 kilos. I think these numbers need chewing over a little before I begin to write about my favourite things because one of my themes this year, given the recession, is food frugality. OK, it doesn’t really trip off the tongue does it but I really think, it is so, so important to think about it, act on it and teach our kids about it. Please do tell your children how much good food costs and why we shouldn’t waste it. Left-over bruised apples, squishy bananas, soggy tomatoes, we can upcycle it and use it! Left-over rice can be made into baked rice balls (see recipe below)  – they are scrummy and pretty easy to do. Just don’t throw good food away, please.

Unhappy Veggies

A gloriously mad pink cauli

A gloriously mad pink cauli (with a bit of mould!)

Some of my favourite ways to use up less than perfect veggies is to incorporate them into a soup. The curried chick pea soup is an excellent choice for any slightly worse for wear, parnsips, carrots, potatoes, celery, leeks, sweet potato, turnips or cauliflowers. Slice off any mouldy bits, fry with onion in olive oil with 1 tablespoon of pataks mild curry paste, add good veggie stock, some coconut milk or cream and cook till veggies are tender, adding in chickpeas and you have a fine soup! The darling little pink cauli above was found to be going a bit blue so I nipped off the offending bit and popped it into the oven to roast brushed with harissa and oilve oil, added some feta (see Flash Cooking by Lisa Santtini) and hey presto, it was saved! And there is always the roasting of the soft tomatoes in olive oil, with blackpepper, salt and rosemary!

Stale Bread and Rock hard bagels

You may know that spelt bread is my favourite and that I use a lot of wholewheat bagels in my lunchboxes. Although we try not to buy too much bread, unhappily, just sometimes it goes hard and dry. The bagels we cut as thin as possible to make bagel chips, roast in a baking tray with a little olive oil at a low heat until golden brown. The stale bread can be made into crostini or if your blender is up to it – crumb it with fresh herbs, a clove of garlic and/or parmesan and put into the freezer to use on the top of casseroles or as fritter coatings. You can also use stale bread in savorary strudels, pies or casseroles.

filo pie

Filo pies like the one above are great for using up random bits of cheese, breadcrumbs, nuts, veggies and herbs – and they are really very easy to make as long as you learn to judge the consistency of the filling and flavour. The filling should be neither too dry or wet with enough cheese or herbs to give flavour and depth. I have discovered that the best way to make it, is to roll it into a long large sausage shape and when cold it’s great for school lunches.

Freezing

When I was young, growing up in the grasslands of New Zealand where we had an abundance of fruit trees, a big veggie garden and naturally the odd chicken, duck, turkey, lamb etc. Any extra ripe fruit or veg (or creature for that matter) was diced up nimbly, put into bags and thrown into the 24 cubic ft freezer. The simply stoned and frozen nectarines  were better than any commerical iced lolly, their white frosted frozen flesh melted in the mouth. And my mum bottled, made chutneys, sauces and jams with any other left-overs. I now throw less than prefect, browned bananas into small containers ready for use in loaves, smoothies, ice-creams etc. Simply chop into usable pieces and hey presto, you can keep them for months. Any left over cauliflower, pizza dough, loaf, soup also goes into the freezer, waiting for another day.  Place your breadcrumbs mixed with parmesan, garlic and herbs into containers, ready to top casseroles and use up in other dishes such as the one below.

Rice Balls

Based on the Italian Arancini balls but using up both sushi and arborio leftover rice

Preheat your oven to 180 C

1 cup of bread crumbs, fresh, stale, panko or other

2 cups left over rice, sushi or other

salt to season

fresh herbs such as basil, parsley, coriander or chives chopped finely

half a cup of  parmesan, grated

2 eggs beaten

some mozzarella cut into small cubes

black pepper/minced glove of garlic/grated onion (as much or as little as you desire)

chopped sun-dried tomatoes

Mix rice, salt, onion, half of the breadcrumbs, parmesan and eggs with seasonings (herbs, sun-dried tomatoes) together.

The mixture should be sticky enough to shape into small balls but not too runny. Add more rice, breadcrumbs etc if too runny.

Shape into smallish balls around the cubes of mozzarella. Roll the balls in the rest of the bread crumbs or panko crumbs, then place onto a baking sheet which has been greased with olive oil. Use a pastry brush to do this. Brush balls with olive oil. Bake at 180 for 10 minutes. Turn the balls and put back into oven for another 10 minutes or until they are golden brown. Great for a snack or cold in lunch boxes. I served them with a fresh mint and coriander chutney, or a yoghurt and mint sauce.

Now, enough of the Frugal cook and onto a few of my favourite things be they books, products or blogs….

Herbs – educate your child’s palate and your own using as many fresh herbs as you can. I have this thing for holy or Thai basil at the moment. It is an aniseedy, rich, heavenly smelling herb worth its weight in gold. You can buy it in Asian supermarkets. Wash it gently as and when you use it, and place the rest in an air-tight container in the fridge. It bruises easily though and if it does freeze it immediately in some olive oil in an ice-cube tray to use in soups later on. Yes, I know it’s an import but I would happily plant a 100 trees to offset its plane journey. It smells like heavenly healing to me and I use it in Thai soups, curries and salads. Buy it at Amazing Oriental (after 12) or one of the other supermarkets on Gedempte Burgwal. Use mint, basil, coriander for pestos and flavourings, thyme and rosemary to roast with potatoes and tomatoes.

Books – I am inspired by Lucy Santtini, quick gorgeous food in a flash (Flash Food), literally! I still adore Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi and the Vegetarian Living magazine but on the whole I look for new ideas on food blogs and website. I continue to follow MyNewRoots.blogspot.nl where the fabulous Sarah Britton cooks up a healthy storm of glorious food and the ever interesting 101cookbooks.com and a new one which is fast becoming a favourite http://www.mydarlinglemonthyme.com written by a NZer who creates gluten free delights in Australia. I have also become a fan of Ms Marmite Lover (I like marmite too) or The English Can Cook - http://www.marmitelove.blogspot.com – she’s fun, an underground restauranteur who is throwing an Elevenses and High Tea: eat like a hobbit party in the shire of Highgate in London. I am also a big fan of http://www.cuisine.co.nz which has some gorgeous recipes and stunning photography.

Making your own chocs… it really isn’t so difficult…

Now the festive season is upon us, it’s time to make some pressies for those we love and admire. I recently purchased a little chocolate melting device from the Ven (euros 8.95) which melts chocolate pieces to the perfect temp. I admit I am a sucker for devices but it really does make it very easy to create your own personalized chocs to give away. Daniel and Jack used dried strawberrys and flaked almonds to make some hearts such as the ones above. Buy silicone moulds from Xenos and let your imagination roll. We used pure chocolate flakes from the Ven for our base, using small rubber spatulas and teaspoons to fill the moulds. Allow your pretty chocs to set at room temp (not in the fridge) and pop into glass jars, decorating the jars with ribbons and tinsel. Oh, so pretty!

Look out for my  fav festive products, charities (no presents this year please!) and places to eat over the holidays in my next blog and on podcast http://www.dutchbuzz.nl

Apricot Balls, Objects of Beauty & Desire and Simple As

ImageThere are some things I cannot resist. I guess we all have a our achilles heel and mine just happens to be dark, slightly sour dried apricots. I have to hide them in obscure places, in dark corners, behind less delicious foods. Trouble is I usually know where they are. My late mother loved making apricot balls with sweetened condensed milk which naturally she had to give up after she became diabetic. So, I have designed a new version using coconut oil to bind the mixture, some agave (or honey!) to sweeten and I think they are pretty yummy. Of course, you must have some liking for dried apricots, otherwise these will not appeal at all. I find they are great for lunch boxes. I keep them in tupperware containers in the fridge for up to 2 weeks (if they last that long!).

Apricot Balls

200-400 grams of dried apricots (my absolute favourite are from the farmer’s market on Wednesdays -ask the dry goods ladies for their secret stash of ‘zuur’ apricots.

1 small cup of dried coconut

half a cup of blanched almonds

2-3 tablespoons of runny honey (I like the ones with added lemon) or agave (from the health food shops)

half a cup of melted of very soft coconut oil (this is great stuff for cooking and used in many a raw foods dessert, keep it in the fridge and use for frying hotcakes, etc)

quarter of a teaspoon of vanilla syrup or some fresh vanilla seeds from the vanilla pod

and you can add some zest of lemon or orange if you like

Place everything in a mixer and mix until you have a consistency which sticks together. You may need to add in some more apricots(what a shame, not) or some more nuts. Try the mixture for sweetness – you may wish to add some more honey or agave if you are using that.

Mould apricot mixture into balls by hand using about a tablespoon of mixture. Roll in dried coconut and store in air-tight container.

Easy as pie, but possibly better for your iron levels!

The last weeks have been very busy and I have been buying some frozen spinach and feta pies from LekkerBrood on Piet Heinstraat and cooking them up for lunches in the morning. These are great for emergency lunches.They are too addictive. I made a tofu mince tomato sauce with mini mozzarella balls with wholewheat pasta today because it was grey and chilly. Suddenly it seems like time for melted cheese on toast or souffles. I keep thinking of Nigel Slater’s Toast so here’s a recipe to celebrate that great combo of melty cheese and bread. 

Cheesy Toasts for a glum autumn day

Beat together grated cheese and egg with any favourite green herb or grated onion.  Put the grill on high. Place rounds of bread with sun dried tomatoes shredded on top, dollop the egg mixture on and grill until golden. Eat right away or cool for later use in lunch boxes. 

Found a pot of carrots at the end of my rainbow

I like to tell kids to eat a rainbow. That is the Aubergine part of the rainbow right through to the Zucchini green part. My feeling is that most kids are limited to a vegetable palate of mainly potatoes and peas, and sometimes not even those. I hear so many kids saying ” I won’t eat that and I won’t try that!”  Yet there has never been so much food around and available to us (in the developed world anyway) but are we making the most of all that bounty? I would say, a big fat NOT!

Quite a bit of what is on offer, is pretty bad, especially that from vending machines and fast food joints and you can be sure anything said to be ‘kids food’ is probably the worst.  But there’s a whole world of gorgeous food out there which is good for us, particularly at this time of the year. I visited our local organic market yesterday and here’s what I got for the week ahead. It was glowing with colour and made me happy to the bottom of my heart. I took a quick photo as you can see and then sat down to think about what I would make with it.

Looks like soft spring rolls and corn fritters please!

Those of you who know how I cook will know I like to chuck in various ingredients and cross my fingers, hoping for the best.  I call this process ‘experimentation’ and 9 times out of 10 it does work. Every meal/recipe/sandwich requires a balance of sweet, salty, and even sour (unami) to make it shine with taste. For instance I oven bake tomatoes at least twice a week  to use in sauces, and casseroles. I spray the oven dish with olive oil, add a sprig of rosemary, some peppercorns/sea salt and cloves of garlic. Without the salt, pepper, rosemary and garlic, the tomatoes would taste probably quite bearable but with the addition of those few simple ingredients the taste becomes more complex and way more delicious. A gorgeous cookbook by Laura Santtini called Flash Cooking brings this mantra together in a prefect way. Laura, clearly a fan of Michael Pollan of “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants” fame, and has developed a simple, flavour bomb of what she calls Rubinades, pastes, finishing salts and yoghurts  – after dabbling in a few of her recipes I think she has it exactly right. Watch out Jamie Oliver, she might just eclipse you. Check her website on http://www.laurasanttini.com  Mmmm!

Anyway on to my humble recipe which I suggest would make a good school snack with a dipping sauce (such as the roasted tomatoes blended or an asian style dressing). This is an indian Pakora recipe really which should work with pretty well any left-over veggies. I used Rice Bran oil to fry with, straining it and re-using for Tempura another day. I don’t tend to do too much deep frying but this fritter/pakora batter is very useful for using up left-overs while being rather moreish.

Corn and Tofu fritters

left-over cooked corn on the cob (I had two cobs) cut off the husk with a sharp knife

half a cup of tofu, chopped into small cubes (this was left over from my soft spring rolls)

some left-over cooked peas

half a cup of herbs chopped finely – I used mint, coriander, holy basil and chives

1 clove of minced garlic, fried with a finely chopped red onion. Can use raw grated onion as well.

1 cup of chick pea flour, often called Gram Flour

half a teaspoon of salt (see tasting note)

half a teaspoon of pataks curry paste or some Thai chilli sauce/finely chopped red chilli if you like it spicy

half a teaspoon of whole cumin seeds

1 egg beaten.

Place in a bowl, mix and add a little lukewarm water if you think too dry. The mixture should be firm enough to mould in your hands and drop into the hot oil.

Warm the rice bran (or other) on the stove-top. Test for the right heat by placing a chopstick in the oil to see if the oil sizzles around it. When it does, the oil is hot enough. Have ready paper towels in a bowl to drain the fitters on. Fry one and turn with the chop-sticks when it is golden brown on one side. Taste the first one to see if you have the right balance of seasonings, and herbs. Hey presto, you’ve got yourself some fritters for later. Serve with a greek yoghurt mixed the zest of a lemon and some juice, chopped mint leaves and a little mango chutney or a dressing of lemon juice, chopped mint, parsley, coriander, some runny honey and a squeeze of ginger.

You could use grated sweet potatoes, carrot etc as well – just experiment a little and have fun.

Bottom of the Fridge cooking

I do like to look at my fridge everyday and work out what needs to be used up and base our meals around that. Sometimes I do find something rather unpleasant at the back of the fridge and this can make me feel guilty for days as I hate waste! I really am noticing a hefty increase in my food bill so I intend to absolutely use up everything I buy or grow. A great way to use up veggies that have seen better days is to char grill them and put into lentil or grain salads. My current favourite way to use them up, is to add them to quinoa, giant couscous and bulgar salads. This includes slow roasting slightly “has been” tomatoes etc.

I’m not sure about you but I always in a rush, taking kids here and there for sports fixtures, shopping for food and trying to get some writing done in between so I am opting for quick fixes that everyone (OK, just about everyone), likes. For me those quick fixes have to be healthy fixes as well. My quick fixes are the chick pea curry soup, the red lentil Mexican soup, and my grain salads.

Quinoa has been hard to sell to my family but it is worth persevering with as it has omega 3 fatty acids, antioxidants, oleic acids, calcium,  and loads of other good stuff. It isn’t actually a cereal at all but comes from the same food family as that as chards, spinach and beets. It has quite a distinctive flavour, slight nutty, slightly bitter at times but it comes into its own I think when added to grains  or used with chick peas etc (see June’s post). I always add a sweet flavour with pomergranate seeds, some chutney or dried cranberries. It’s simple to cook – place some lemon infused olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan, throw in your grains and quinoa, toast gently for a few seconds and then add enough water to cover everything. Add in a veggie stock cube crumbling it into the water. Alternatively add in a knob of ginger and a quarter of raw onion to bring flavour. Stay by the pan, tasting and adding more water if needed. It should be ready in about 10 minutes, the couscous and bulgar will be soft, the quinoa still slightly crunchy and you are ready to use it in whichever way you please.

Lastly, a great discovery thank to my friend Phillipa in New Zealand – a stunning blog with gluten and lactose free recipes http://www.mydarlinglemonthyme.com   The story behind why it is called My Darling Lemon Thyme is a lovely one and I am sure you will enjoy it.  As usual I must fly…. enjoy!

In our lunch boxes last week, we had some of the quinoa cookies from My Darling lemon Thyme, quorn cottage pie, red lentil soup, udon noodles and wok fried veggies, dried apples and home grown pears!

Yep, we’re are making those school lunches again! Soggy Sandwiches, humble pie and squishy fruit!

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I’ve been chatting to the odd mum and dad over the holidays, who say they get a sinking feeling about making school lunches. They do their best (at some hideous hour in the morning) to put together a snack and lunch only to find a returned soggy sandwich in the lunchbox at the end of the day. Or their lovely little creatures  might just say “I wanted the ….. and you gave me the …..! Or I didn’t have time to eat it…..

Shame on you, you dreadful parent. It’s your fault they didn’t eat their lunch. NOT!  I am willing to bet you are giving your utmost especially at that time in the morning and our darlings should appreciate you big time. I do. Give yourself a gentle pat on the back and make them part of the solution. It took me a while to realize that some my creations (shock, horror) were perhaps not quite as delightful as I thought they were according to my greatest critics – my kids. So, I made an extra one or two wraps, bagels, pasta salads, etc and tried them out myself. Those kids were right, the wrap was a tad soggy, the bagel filling was a little tasteless, the peach had started to go bad. So I ate a bit of humble pie, which leads us right into this post and the joy of continuous learning. Hopefully my upcoming recipes and tips will stop you falling into a quagmire (don’t you just love that word) of bad baps, sogginess, muddy flavours and lifeless lunchboxes.

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Tips

Tip no. 1 – if they don’t eat your lunches, suggest they may just like to get up earlier and make them. They will probably decide suddenly that you are the best lunch maker in town.

Tip no. 2 – Ask them what they want ( within reason and excluding chocolate, processed cookies, juice drinks (or worse!), crisps etc). By the way I am not ruling out homemade cookies using an alternative to sugar but I am suggesting that crisps, pop-tarts, iced biscuits and so-called juice drinks are not very helpful to your child’s nutritional needs.

Remind them that food is their fuel and it’s meant to keep their minds ticking over, the bodies in full throttle and they energy levels at an even balance. They need a good balance of different foods, particularly those of a low GL or Glycemic Load (spreading the energy load for longer). They need some protein, some good carbs, good fats and fibre-rich vegetables and fruits. Water is just great by the way and we need a good amount of it all through the day (imagine how much you will save money not buying juices and just by filling their water bottle).

Tip no. 3 – Test out a smidgen of your child’s lunch ( have a portion for lunch or afternoon tea) and see what it’s are like after a few hours in a warm environment. You may want to consider buying a gel salad container, or a better thermos or some small freezer pads. Check the internet for the best types of containers.

Tip no. 4 – Make you child part of the equation, yes, and share the knowledge. Food is expensive, good honest, organic food is even more expensive. The crop failure this season and last season will see a sharp increase in food prices around the world. Make your child understand that their lunch is a special treat to be valued. It has been made with a few yawns and much love. I will be looking at creating some fine, frugal dishes this school year to share with you all.

Tip no. 5 – Make it as colourful, and as beautiful as can be. Celebrate that lunch, and thank yourself for making it. It should be a treasure trove of good, delicious food.  OK, I know we are not talking haute cuisine here (see pic below of a salad made by my current favourite restaurant De Kas in Amsterdam for an example of fine, honest, arty food) but  by using the best containers and the right foods, your school lunch be something akin to a prefect picnic for body and mind.  By the way, Isn’t it just beautiful that salad – and it tasted just as good. But I digress!

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This is what we have been putting in our lunch boxes this week.

Snack – greek yoghurt with fresh raspberry sauce and an oatie cereal combo!

Snack – dried mango, banana, a spelt flour pinwheel scone and butter with Eva’s homemade raspberry jam (thanks Eva)

Snack  – separate small containers of blueberries, plums, watermelon chunks in a cooled thermos

Lunches – Jack requested his current favourites – toasted wholewheat bagel with smoked salmon, chives, lettuce and cream cheese or with paper thin prosciutto, with boiled egg, lettuce and sliced tomato.

Wholewheat pasta with pesto, peas and parmesan. We served all the lunches with locally grown organic apples and fresh clear water. Those lucky kids!!!

One of the food bloggers that I follow is The Botanical Baker. She does a lovely blog with gorgeous recipes at  http://thebotanicalbaker.wordpress.com

This month she is supporting the UK’s Better Breakfast Week (Sept  24 – 30), a great initiative which is asking for your ideas for fruity breakfast inspiration. Me, I adore breakfast and have been heard to say on more than one occasion “that it is the best meal of the day and surely the most important”. I leave you with a pic of our home-made cereal: dehydrated raspberries, hazelnuts, almonds, apricots, oats and dried cranberries, yumo!Image

School’s Out for Summer – Smoothies all round then…

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Our best summer smoothie

So, another school year over and our kids are home for the summer. I look forward to summery days ahead, loads of reading, the odd spot of writing and sitting on grass, on sand, in the garden or hammock, sharing good food and conversation. A couple of weeks ago I made smoothies with a group of 60 or so young enthusiastic cooks in year 3. We had a tasting competition and worked with lots of different ingredients to make smoothies. Occasionally they went a tad wrong: too thick, too thin, too many blueberry skins, too sweet, too sour. But some shone with great taste and lusciousness. Because that is what cooking is like. A sort of constant magical blending experience in which learning is the key. Our favourite smoothie is a combo of frozen fruit and fresh. We use freshly squeezed orange juice ( 3 – 4 oranges) 2 handfuls of frozen raspberries and if they are a bit sour a dollop of light honey. Blend and devour. It really has the taste of summer even if the sun isn’t out. Don’t forget to add water to get a pouring consistency. Jack added rice milk to the one above, but water is just fine. But do, above all, experiment.

I am not going to write a long blog today but I am going to leave you with a few of my favourite things from my local shops. I have been testing cereals and have decided the best are to be found at EkoPlaza – The Hari Crunch company’s Open Up I can breathe is absolutely full of crunch and deliciousness. It consists of 30 % rolled oats, 26 % corn flakes with beet sugar (alas) coconut, pumpin seeds, pineapple, cinnamon, eucalyptus, ginger, cloves and in an strange but interesting twist, tumeric and black pepper!  Everyone in our family loves it with lashings of homemade maple and raspberry sauce and some greek yogurt.

We think all of their blends are winners and we have to keep them under lock and key. Yes, they are expensive but not as much as the less yummy types we tried from both Marqt, and Eko Plaza. We weren’t so keen on the Rude Health cereal or the house blend from Marqt. Overly sweet we felt with some having more than 3 types of sugars in their ingredient list. Check out the ingredient lists on every cereal package, and you will be amazed how much sugar they are all putting in. It really is quite the scandal.

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Our other great discovery is the Raw Food Raw Bite bars available at Eko Plaza. I adore the lime bar and the coconut bar is pretty brilliant as well. We tried them cold from the fridge and although the kids were rather begrudging in their praise, I noticed they ate them up without too many complaints. I continue testing various recipes out on both my family and their friends. I am really interested to see if they are open to new foods, how they try them (with gusto or not) and how many foods are rejected hand out of mind simply because they look different. My advice keep trying and don’t make anything special for the fussier members of the family. They will come round in the end or else become very hungry.

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The Food Forum had a stand at the BSN summer fair this year giving out recipes, making smoothies and selling slices of cold watermelon and fruits. We had stiff competition from the cotton candy (candy floss), the lolli-pop and the sweet fizzy drinks – but in the end we sold out of all our ‘sweets’ of the vines and the trees. It really would be a great thing to see schools adopt a non-processed food policy at school events but alas it will be a long time coming as making a large profit seems to win out time and time again. Fingers crossed though for a fizzy drink free fair some time in the near future. If you should get a chance watch the BBC’s documentary about The Men Who Made Us Fat http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01jxzv8

It amazed me so many reports had been shelved by the government in the United Kingdom which pointed to the real culprit in terms of obesity/diabetes being white sugar and the effects of super clever marketing to get us all to buy more fizzy stuff, more energy drinks, more sweets and biccies. Sad stuff and so greedy really! Sad too that the main Olympic sponsors reek of over-processed food and sugar.

Still onwards and upwards. Let’s think of great alternatives for our summer larders – have loads of veggies, fruits, whole wheat crackers, good honest cheese, nuts and dried fruit to hand. We almost always have a watermelon handy, cooling in the fridge. Do try making salads with watermelon, adding feta, lime juice and mint. Do go to the Haags Market and buy loads of apricots, peaches and fresh herbs. Take the kids and teach them how to pick the best fruits and veggies.  We will be making lots of salads, the odd souffle for Jack (he loves them), Spanish style tortilla’s, checking out the produce at Marqt (Mike loves their smoked Mackeral) and trying to stay away from processed foods as much as possible. I am the new Food Correspondent for Dutch Buzz (check out their weekly podcast on http://www.dutchbuzz.nl) and I am doing Happy, Bright cookery course in my home kitchen (next one is Wednesday 18th July in The Hague, The Netherlands. Mail me via this blog if you are interested). Above all I wish you a happy, relaxing, unwired holiday with fine food and loved ones. Enjoy!

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