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.
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.
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!
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….
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.