We all love to Jam with a Scone, Butter up to a Loaf….

Scones, scones, glorious scones You may think that I am super strict about what I will allow my kids to eat. And you may be right. I certainly very, very rarely buy any sweets, lollipops or jammy dodgers (sorry Dr Who). I must be one of the few people in the world who would rather eat carrots than chocolate and brownies have no hold on me! Maybe it is because of my old profession and all the drilling and filling I did!  See below my old office which I spotted in a New Zealand museum last time I went home. To think my former dental chair was in a musuem! Now how old does that make me feel?

Anyway I do allow myself and the kids to eat CAKE and COOKIES (or biscuits) but I much prefer it when they eat homemade baked goods. At least then you know what is in them and can “health” them up a little by using wholewheat organic flours, less sugar or even a sugar substitute such as maple sryup, apple puree or ripe bananas. I make scones once a week at least and vary them by adding apricots, fresh apple, grated pear, dates, cranberries and so on. Scones are easy as long as you stick to the basics of not over-mixing (leads to rubbery scones) remembering to add a little salt (very flat tasting without) and having an extremely hot oven. Hot from the oven with a very good jam or using the time tested frozen strawberries and maple syrup to create your own jam substance, how can they be beaten. I think too that the smell of baking brings comfort especially on a grey, grim day. We are also partial to ANZAC cookies which are excellent lunchbox fillers. And we all like a loaf, sliced and buttered up served on a lace doilly. Loaves remind me of my mum, morning teas for hay-makers down on the farm and lace table clothes. Loaves are really very, very easy to make and you can freeze half all ready for another week. They do stay fresh in a tin for a few days and are great for popping into that snack or lunch box. We have a lot of apples to use up as the harvest was excellent this year in our small urban space so here is a recipe I have adpated from Delia Smith to use up a few of ours.

Apple and Apricot and Nut Loaf

175 grams organic dark dried apricots cut into quarters

175 grams apples chopped into small chunks

175 grams pecan nuts

a pinch of salt

1 and half teaspoons of Baking powder

2 teaspoons of cinnamon

110 grams of whole wheat flour

110 grams of plain spelt flour

110 grams of softened butter

100 grams of brown sugar

2 eggs beaten

about half a cup of milk

To top dark brown sugar and cinnamon or a bit of museli

Heat oven to 180 c or 175 fan

Place raw nuts on a tray to roast for 8 minutes when oven is warmed up. Remove and set aside.

Sift into a mixing bowl the flours, the salt, cinnamon and baking powder – lift the sieve high to get some air in!

Add in sugar and butter and mix – can use an electric mixture or a spoon. Then add in the fruit and mix in lightly. Add a little more milk if you think it is too dry!

Spoon into your greased loaf tin or silicone loaf tray.  Sprinkle some sugar or cranola on top.

Bake about 35 – 45 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Leave in tray for 5 minutes and then turn out onto cooler!

Serve this with Dutch cheeses, quince jelly, jams, butter! Delicious!

I love baking but I accept many people don’t so I will add this last little tip – go and try one of the cakes at Baklust on the Veenkade in The Hague where the charming ladies above turn out lovely Carrot cakes, rich cheesecakes and nice soups and omlettes. Lastly a word on the cake or is it a cookie of the moment, yes the rather wondeful macaroons that cost a fortune and melt in the mouth.  I agree that even for a non sweet tooth like me, they are quite lucious and light. I haven’t attempted to make them as yet but I did use some of Phillipe Garlenes in a trifle inspired by Donna Hay and it seemed to be appreciated.

I continue to suggest we refer to these sweet things as “sometimes” foods rather than treats. The Food Forum’s take on cakes is the following: they are not for every mealtime but as we are only human we do eat them now and then. And when we do we only want the very best which is most often home-made with a few, a very few exceptions! Enjoy!

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Be Your Own Pizzeria – delicious, frugal, social and easy…

Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy!

On Friday nights we gather with good friends to become our own Pizzeria. Sometimes there’s only a few keen partakers, sometimes we feed up to 25 people who know we keep an open house from after school onwards. Everyone offers a contribution and it brings an end to a busy school week. I try to make the dough in the morning if I get a chance and the sauce the day before. It is easy, peasy, lemon squeezy and it takes approximately 4 minutes to get enough dough ready for up to 8 people. It’s one heck of a lot cheaper than taking 8 people out to dinner, that’s for certain and the kids are encouraged to make their own shapes and experiment with different toppings. Sometimes we run to dessert, maybe an apple & strawberry crumble, or sometimes some locally made ice-cream,  or we toast marshmallows on an open fire. But we all look forward to catching up and taking time to talk, sit, roll dough, and savour the warm delicious smell of pizzas cooking. Please give this recipe a try. It never fails and because you make it, you are in control of what goes in and on. If you live close to me I will willingly give you a demo, if not please let me know how it went.

 

First make a delicious and easy tomato sauce.

 

You can make it in two ways. Take some raw tomatoes (not the best in town) and either fry gently in olive oil with some roughly chopped onions and garlic until they are mushy, then blend or roast slowly with rosemary sprigs, garlic cloves, onion in a medium oven with olive oil, sea salt, and a sprinkle of black pepper-corns until  tomatoes are slightly blackened around the edges. Cool and blend. Taste for seasoning and set aside. I blend it in a jug and leave it in the fridge until needed. Naturally you can also freeze it when you have a glut of tomatoes. Now for the dough….

Pizza Dough in a completely wholemeal way!

(for up to 4 people who really like pizzas and who doesn’t?)

500 grams or half a bag of wholemeal Farina Flour (I  buy this from  the Italy deli on Piet Heinstraat in The Hague)

half a cup of fine semolina

3 teaspoons of normal ground sea-salt

3 tablespoons of a mild olive oil

2 sachets or 14 gram of dried yeast – my favourite is Hovis yeast

approx 400 mls of hand hot water

That’s all you need. Mix all the dry ingredients. Add in the olive oil. Mix in most of the warm water to make a dough. Add a little more water if you need it or flour if the mixture is too wet. Bring it together with your hands. Knead for a few minutes and then set it aside to prove. Cover and leave in a warm place for a few hours. The dough should have risen unless your forgot the yeast so punch it down when it has doubled in size and knead some more. It’s very relaxing, pushing and pulling on bread dough and an excellent stress buster. I divide into small balls ready to roll out and then cover until we are ready to roll!

NB: I make two batches for up to 8 people and in the highly unlikely event of left-overs you can pop it into a container in the fridge overnight and make a flat bread in the morning to have with boiled eggs.

Preheat the oven to 230 degrees. The hotter the better for pizza. We have a big SMEG oven which takes yonks to heat up but is fiercely hot when it does, perfect for pizzas but not delicate little friands.

Very, very lightly flour your rolling surface and roll out one of the dough balls. Feel free to do a little more kneading before rolling for good measure. Oil your pizza tray – we like the round ones with holes and let your imagination run riot. Our best joint effort (Dad and kids) was a pirate galleon, but we have made pizza daleks, stars, calzone with egg, diamonds, squares and even the odd round one.It’s much easier if you put your shape onto the tray and stretch it out with your finger tips so you get a really thin, crunchy crust.

Toppings. Please use good quality toppings but be sparing with your cheese and add fresh herbs after the pizza is cooked.Your home made tomato sauce with add loads of good flavour especially if you blend it with raw onions, basil, and thyme.

Now add on your favourite toppings such as chargrilled aubergine, mushrooms, the fumagalii range of organic salami, parma ham, oregano, thyme, goats cheese, manchego, young pecerino, taleggio, mozzerella, salmon, garlic, feta etc. Sometimes we dollop a wee bit of olive oil and sea salt on top. Often after cooking, we pile on fresh tomatoes, rocket leaves, oil and a spray of balsamic vinegar. If we are feeling rather decadent we grate some fresh autumn truffle on the cooked pizza (get them from Natashcha at the market for around 3-4 euros if you are in The Hague!)

Bake for around 12 minutes in your very hot oven, making sure adults are around to remove the piping hot pizza with thick oven gloves. Please do remember to put the timer on as they are easy to burn!

We serve with a simple salad and insist that our kids have green with their pizzas. Our rule no green, no pizza! Everyone loves a good bit of carbohydrate, the trouble is we eat a few too many of them so the idea is to balance them with fresh salads and veggies. Simple but sometimes not easy. Friday is Pizza night

Above, studious pizza makers at work!

If you have leftover uncooked dough place in fridge overnight. Roll out flat in the morning and  top with black onion seeds, a smear of left over tomato sauce, or sliced tomatoes (with seeds removed) crumbled feta and pin-nuts. Place in a hot oven – 215 for 15 minutes. or until golden brown and it sounds hollow if you knock it with your fingers. Drizzle olive oil and sprinkle with a few flakes of salt. Disappears fast in our house! Enjoy! Next blog I will be looking at home-baking for lunch boxes, apples recipes (we had a huge crop in our small urban garden this year) and suggesting tips for great lunchbox containers!

A Long Luscious Lunch … but the holidays are over….

  • Oh, it’s been a lovely long holiday with almost too many lunches to write a blog about… Firstly,  there was the lovely Lunch that a group of us prepared for TedX The Hague on July 13th. We made a fusion udon noodle salad dressed with kaffir lime leaves, couscous with grilled vegetables and feta cheese, and pasta and pesto all served with delicious sour bread dough made by Esther at Baklust cafe on Veenkade, piping hot buttery naan breads and tarka dahl from Chef India on Prins Hendrikstraat, power juices and scones from the hugely hospitable Quirkys cafe on Prins Hendrikstraat not to forget the chutneys and crackers from Kelly’s Expat store on Piet Heinstraat. The salady goods, mushrooms and vegetables above came from my friends at the organic market held every Wednesday on the Hofplaats in The Hague. I was lucky enough to be able to give a talk at TedX as well about my pet love – you guessed it… food! Here it is if you fancy a listen….http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5gsMSXhumBY&feature=share

I thank all the volunteers who helped create a lovely lunch for the 150 + participants at the TedX The Hague conference! We successfully celebrated local businesses such as La Buena Vida on the Fahrenheitstraat 582 who supplied a gorgeous pasta and great cooks such as those from Baklust and Chef India, and those at the market who grow or gather the most stupendous produce for us to share and eat! Please do support local food growers and producers and a staunchly personal style of shopping. It’s so lovely when you can discuss your purchase with the storekeeper and glean knowledge and wisdom.

Changing the World One Lunch at a Time….

My talk was entitled Changing the World One Lunch at a Time in which I stressed the meaning of food in terms of personal, cultural and historical and how it is more than just survival but an art form, a message of love, of care, of nurturing and ultimately something we should all be thinking way more about! I also believe that the time we spend preparing and eating it should be a time to communicate with friends, family, neighbours and even strangers! If we can spend 20 minutes in our busy day sitting at a table in a semblance of calm (OK, I know that’s highly unlikely!) attempting to find out about each other, our ups and downs, our highs and lows, our triumphs or conflicts, then I absolutely believe our world would be a better place. We might try it tonight and maybe one thing you and your family could discuss is the inequality of how food is distributed in our world: 8 billion of us go to bed hungry, the same number are overweight. What goes on? Do have a look at Ellen Gustafson talking about two sides of the same coin on http://www.Ted.com. I like her point of view!

Here is my equation for making our world a slightly better place.

People @ a table + good, wholesome food (sustainably produced) + 20 mins = communication

Travels and Food Trends

Our family had a lovely time traveling to London (luscious lunch at Ottolenghi’s, fusion at The Tapa Room  by Peter Gordon on Marleybone High streets) a fab time fossil hunting in Lyme Regis ( more lunch at the Mill House Bakery where our love of bread was fully indulged), crabbing in Padstowe (the best Cornish pasties at Rick Stein’s deli!) and spotting seals at St Ives. Jack delighted in fishing for crabs in Salcombe and caught loads of prawns as well. Humans do love to forage and we all had great fun blackberrying, seeking out plums and mulberries alongside the Avon canal and buying roadside homegrown veggies.

British food has got a lot better and there are plenty of local artisans making beautiful products in the UK but (and this is a big butt!) there are some very worrying trends as well. Chips are often served with everything even when you ask for them not to be…. Children’s menus are everywhere offering the worst of over-processed foods and not a green bit on their plates. Advertisements offer kid’s meals for free… careful! As my dad would have told you.. there is no such thing as a free lunch and these lunches will offer you nothing very nutritious. I also notice a new trend of which it is easy to fall headlong into, literally. It is what I call the nosebag style of eating and this I observed constantly. We just don’t stop eating. We seem to have a fear of not having a continual supply of something to gnaw upon, so we eat and drink virtually all day. Can we remember a time when we didn’t snack between meals? Do you remember when you said to your mum and dad: “I’m starving, what can I eat??”

And they replied with some severity – Wait for dinner! Go out and play!

We are constantly bombarded with food in abundance in the so-called developed world. Not so long ago we took picnic hampers wherever we went.  Today we are forced to buy 3 for the price of two and our portion sizes are getting larger and larger as are we and our cars! Crisps and sports drinks are not to be confused with food; they are not. Teach your kids well – it’s easy to be taken unawares by those who would have us eat more and more of overly proccessed food.

The good news released this week is that potatoes are apparently good for us! Not the chipped variety though. I am hoping the mashed and roasted in olive oil aren’t too bad. And the other good news is there are plenty of kohlrabi at the market. Cut them into strips and serve with finely chopped white cabbage, cranberries, crushed garlic, olive oil and lemon juice: lovely. I am not going to do a recipe for this blog. Instead I would like to suggest a return to simple meals such as a perfectly boiled egg with whole wheat soldiers (get frozen whole-wheat bagels to make the soldiers from Kelly’s Expat store). Ours below we sprinkled with sumac for a change, a sourish, critussy sort of flavour which is tricky to describe by worth a try! Make an omelette with cheese, spinach and herby fillings and serve with a crisp salad. Try a cheese souffle with the same. Do a special mystery tasting with your family. See who can spot a cheese with cumin, a cheddar, a brie. Serve your cheese board with a fresh sweet sour apple, chutney, and rice crackers. Introduce unusual dried fruits such as mango and peach with the cheese. Make some dips and serve with fresh cauliflower, broccoli and carrot batons! Make your own from ‘scratch’ popcorn and flavour with lemon or lime zest or garlic with black pepper and sea-salt. Good food doesn’t have to be difficult at all. Exploring and explaining new tastes such as sour, sweet, salty can be loads of fun. Cooking is always great fun with your kids. Take time to shop for, prepare and explain about food.

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