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

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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

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