Monthly Archives: February 2012

Making the Most of a Marmalade Mistake

Breakfast  Flapjacks

What a Comeback

The clementine marmalade I made caught slightly on the bottom of the pan. This is what comes of trying to cook and blog at the same time! I only took my eye off the ball for a couple of seconds, while I had a spoonful of the golden, orangey preserve waiting for the fridge test.

Most of the marmalade was fine, so I bottled it up. But there was about half a jar on the bottom which had gone too far. As you know, I cannot bear to waste food, and this is no exception. I won’t inflict this on my friends, but there is no reason why I can’t still use it.

Marmalade makes a great glaze for both sweet and savoury food. I did bake a yoghurt cake, and then melted 2 tbsp of the marmalade with a tbsp of water to make a glaze. I poured the glaze over the cake while both were still warm, and then left the lot to cool in the tin. Unfortunately, I have never made a yoghurt cake before, and clearly didn’t beat the egg, yoghurt and oil together enough, so it was too dense, so I haven’t photographed it. It was fine, when splashed with a little Cointreau (or orange juice would also be fine), and served with fresh Greek yoghurt.

I have also kept a little marmalade in reserve, because I have another glaze in mind, but this time for a nice duck, a wild one if I can get hold of it. I shall add shallots and thyme, and make sure I baste the bird as it cooks. I guess you can expect to see it here, if it is a success.

However, I left the lion’s share of the leftover marmalade for the recipe I am about to share with you now. The first thing that came to my mind when it was clear I would have some marmalade was flapjacks. I’m not really sure why, but I knew that I had to try it. I had a feeling that the thick cut, sticky marmalade would be the perfect foil for the oats. Both of them are traditionally associated with breakfast, and I really thought this could fly. I thought about it some more over the next few days, and it became clear that I could substitute the marmalade for the usual golden syrup.

There is a golden ratio for the usual kind of flapjack. As long as you stick with this ratio, then you can’t go far wrong. It also works for metric, imperial, volume, or if you prefer to measure your ingredients by a more eccentric means. The ratio is as follows:

  • 2 Golden Syrup
  • 4 Butter
  • 6 Brown Sugar
  • 8 Oats (or oats & other dry ingredients, such as seeds)

This is the ratio that I was taught as a small kid, and it has never yet done me wrong. You can then add more stuff, like dried or fresh fruits, candied peel or crystallised ginger, spices, chocolate, and so on. I always use a mix of whole rolled oats, and the finer, chopped sort that is best for porridge, because I find this gives it a better texture without falling apart. You can add seeds and other grains as well if you like, but you should adjust the amount of oats, so that you maintain the ratio.

These were unconventional flapjacks, not just in the sense of substituting syrup for marmalade, but I have to admit in this case, I also decided to adjust the proportions of the ratio as well. I wanted the orange to really shine in the mix, and the marmalade has a lot of sugar in it anyway. It may not please your grandmother, but it worked for me in this instance.

After a bit of fiddling, I settled on a 4:4:4:8 ratio, and the results worked really well. The bars are chewy, albeit in a slightly different, stickier way than regular golden syrup ones, but I like it.

I prefer my flapjacks on the chewier side, but if you are one of those people who like crunchier flapjacks, you may need to add some golden syrup, or possibly more butter to prevent the marmalade making the bar too hard in the  (slightly) longer cooking process. It is not something that I experimented with this time, but I would be happy to if others are interested. You don’t have to use up marmalade mistakes – ordinary marmalade from a jar will do just as well here.

The amounts I am going to give were enough for a 20 x 25 cm tin. I tend to line my tins with baking paper, because it makes the finished flapjacks a lot easier to remove from the tin, but you can just grease the tin really well, it is up to you. If I were a more dedicated baker, I would invest in that reuseable silicon parchment stuff, to reduce waste. I have got a birthday coming up, so who knows?

Recipe: Breakfast Flapjacks

Ingredients

160 g marmalade

160 g butter

160 g brown sugar (I used light muscovado and demerara, because it is what I had)

300 g mix of whole and chopped rolled oats

30 g pumpkin seeds

30 g dried cranberries

Method

Put your oven on at 180 °C.

Melt the marmalade, butter, and sugar over a medium heat, stirring so they don’t catch on the bottom of the pan.

Mix the oats, pumpkin seeds, and cranberries in a large bowl.

When the sweet goods and the butter have all melted and combined together well, pour onto the dried ingredients, and mix well to ensure that they are all well coated and no streaks of white oats remain.

Press the flapjack mix into the baking tray. You want to press it in fairly well, to help the mixture set into lovely bars. Then smooth it over with the back of a metal spoon, making the top smooth, and the flapjack layer as even as you can.

Bake it for about 25-30 minutes, depending on how chewy or crunchy you want it. Flapjacks are really forgiving, so they are easy to cook with other things, to maximise your energy use from the oven. They won’t collapse if you open your oven at the wrong time, and don’t really absorb other flavours. I haven’t tried cooking them at the same time as smoked fish, for example, but they are fine t go in with stews, other cakes, roasting meat etc.

When they are nice and golden all over, then remove them from the oven. You will need to mark them into the squares or rectangles that you intend to serve them in fairly soon after coming out of the oven. I got 12 bars from this amount of  mixture. Then they should be allowed to cool completely in the baking tray.

These flapjacks are really tasty, and the pieces of orange and cranberry really do add an interesting texture, as well as the marmalade, giving them a bit more kick than your average flapjack. Marmalade – it’s not just for toast, you know!

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Oh My, Darling Clementine Marmalade

Clementine Maramalade

The Business at Breakfast

Marmalade is pretty British, as far as preserves go. Even then, there is controversy as to whether you should have the zest chunky or fine, and some people even think that you should have no zest at all. They are entitled to their opinion, although I think that is really just a citrus jelly!

I find that it is not until you leave a country that you start to miss the things that you used to take for granted. Marmalade is one of those things, and I enjoy making preserves. However, I have not been able to find reasonably priced marmalade, and neither have I been able to find Seville oranges here either. Seville oranges are much sharper than their normal edible counterpart, and thus make the perfect balance of sweet and sharp that is required in most good preserves. They are also only in season for a short time, December to early February, so most marmalade production happens in the early part of the year, when it is too cold for planting, but the festivities over Christmas are out of the way.

Having resigned myself to the fact that I cannot make traditional orange marmalade, I am currently embarking on a series of experimental marmalades including lime, lemon, and grapefruit.

Heather at Breakfast by the Sea suggested that I try clementine marmalade. If you haven’t already seen it, I really recommend you have a look at her blog, it has great recipes and some really beautiful photography.

I hadn’t thought of clementines, but they are a better replacement for Seville oranges, if you want a sharp, but still distinctly orangey flavoured marmalade. This one is the perfect trial marmalade for a recipe that I am developing, which I hope to blog about later.

I found some lovely clementines on our local market with the glossy leaves still attached. This appeals in the waste-reduction geek in me, because citrus leaves make a really tasty tea. Give them a good wash, and then steep them in boiling water. Add a bit of cinnamon stick if you want to, it will be just as good.

As with many of my preserves, I used Pam Corbin’s Preserves book. I used the cut fruit method for marmalade, but amended the amounts slightly, for what I thought was suitable for the clementines.

Medium Cut Peel for Marmalade

Not as Fine as I Would Like

Recipe: Clementine Marmalade

Ingredients

1.5 kg clementines

3 l water

200 ml lemon juice

2 kg sugar

5 tbsp cointreau.

I probably took this a little too far while trying to get this batch to set, and it had gone from beautifully bright and orangey to having a more caramel flavour. If I had pushed it any further, I would definitely have burnt it. To compensate, and inject a little more orange, I stirred through the Cointreau after the jam was off the heat, but while it was setting before potting up. You can also leave the Cointreau out, if you prefer.

Having done a little reading up, it seems that clementines catch a little easier than Seville oranges. This being the case, you need to watch it like a hawk as it approaches the setting point. I would even take the unusual step of advocating stirring at this point, so that parts of the marmalade cannot catch and burn. As always, the setting point is reached when the jam reaches 104.5°C, or when it wrinkles when you perform the fridge test.

You need to leave it in the pan to set a little, so that the zesty bits don’t all sink to the bottom of the jars when you pot them up. Pot the hot jam into hot, sterile jars and seal immediately. Lovely, tasty orange marmalade. Really great on toast for breakfast. Thanks for the suggestion, Heather.

I left a layer on the bottom, in case I did catch any of it. This will feature in another recipe later on. Well, you didn’t  think I would throw it out, did you?

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Finding Food in My Own Backyard

Hairy Bittercress

Salad as Penance

I was a bit preoccupied with the market last week, and spent my time testing recipes and searching for good potatoes to bake. Funnily, the Dutch seem to prefer thin-skinned potatoes, which mash well for stamppot, but don’t really understand that a good jacket potato needs a thicker skin. I was surprised at the amount of stall holders that tried to convince me that their thin-skinned potatoes would be perfect for my needs.

Anyway, this leads to a confession. I completely neglected to eat or blog about salads for the salad challenge. Salad as penance seems like a fitting start to lent. To make up for last week, I  am using up the leaves that survived the snow all this week in my food.

After the first Salad Days, I spent a little while following the links at Veg Plotting, and have found a lot of really useful information, and a lot of inspiration. This year, I have been asked to help a few friends to create balcony gardens, as not many people here have gardens, but almost everyone has a balcony of some sort. I have a lot of ideas for vertical gardens, and windbreaks of dwarf beans and soon. Until now, I had been overlooking the salads. Some of these posts have reminded me that salad is a great start for first time gardeners, with quick results setting them up to feel good about their ability rather quickly. Really not sure why I haven’t thought of it sooner.

I also found a lot of inspiration for my own salads by following the #saladchat hashtag on twitter, and the links on Veg Plot’s newsletter, The Salad Bowl .

Jane Perrone mentioned some winter weeds from her garden that she was eating. I already knew about the hairy bittercress, which I had been avoiding weeding even before I knew about the salad challenge, so that I could add it to a salad of some  kind. What  hadn’t realised is that I also have creeping wood sorrel and cat’s ear. I had resolved that the next salad for the challenge would be made up of these.

Grden weed salad, Jacket potato and cream cheese

Salad as everyday lunch

However, the snow had done for quite a few things. So, this week, I am left with salads of hairy bittercress, and a few leaves of rocket. I also have a few potatoes and some cream cheese left over from the market. Together, the salad has made a great combination with the soft cheese and the potato. This is mostly what I am having for lunch this week. This is win/win/win/win for me. I am using up the cooked jacket potatoes; I have a quick, yet hearty lunch; I am weeding the garden in preparation for the plants that will soon fill it; and I have a tasty use for the weeds, so I’m reducing waste.  For me, it has more than made up for the fact that last week I took my eye off the challenge!

CAUTION: Wood Sorrel contains oxalic acid. This is the stuff that makes rhubarb leaves inedible. Wood sorrel is fine in small amounts, but can exacerbate rheumatism, arthritis, gout, and kidney stones, so it is best avoided at all if you have these conditions. Additionally, while foraging for weeds in your own back garden may mean that you know more of what has gone onto the plants (and if you use weedkillers in your garden, don’t eat the weeds in it), it is always a good idea to follow some basic foraging rules to keep you safe.

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This Little Blogger Went to Market

Edible Things Stall at Neighbourfood Market

Hot Potato, Hot Potato

Well, I did it!

On Sunday Edible Things stall had its debut at the Neighbourfood Market. It was a good turnout, despite changeable weather, which included both hail and snow at various points throughout the day.

The stall went well, and it was a lot of fun, despite first night nerves at the start of the day. Both kinds of Chilli were really popular. One person was really happy when she realised I could do her a vegan meal with olive oil instead of butter, that she also got all of her friends to come and order. I think offering hot food was just the ticket, considering the weather.

Jacket Potato with Veggie Chili

A Successful Practice Run

There were  couple of things that didn’t work out. Firstly, I couldn’t work out a way to keep the kale for the stamppot warm. I could have used other brassicas, but this would have had the same problem. I am sure we all remember the cabbage of our school dinners, that was over cooked by roughly a week, and unpleasant to eat and smell! I could also have used sauerkraut (zuurkool in Dutch) but I prefer kale. In the end, I decided not to offer it at all. This is the benefit of a test or two!

My First Customer

My First Customer (also a friend, which is not cheating)

Unfortunately, the homemade baked beans were not that popular as a choice. People with children appreciated them, because little people will often not like chilli (although one little boy of a friend couldn’t get enough chilli, so it definitely varies), but this is probably not one to offer to this audience in the future. Actually, that’s OK. I usually make tomato sauce from fresh, roasted tomatoes, and then usually have some in the freezer. Last year’s tomatoes got blight, due to us having the wettest summer since the 1920s, so I didn’t have any to hand. This meant I made the tomato sauce with passata, because I prefer not to encourage the use of the out of season greenhouse tomatoes you can get at this time of the year. As you would expect, this was not as tasty as the usual sauce. They are still superior to the tinned versions everyone is familiar with, but not as good as with my fresh tomato sauce.

More Happy Customers

More Happy Customers - also friends, but I had to take photos in the quieter times...

I didn’t get around to as many of the other stalls as I would have liked, but I did get talking to a few people who I hope will be able to give me some much needed advice. I was also the grateful recipient of a lovely cranberry and orange scone from Ben at the Calibakery, who was also doing his first market, as well as a food swap with Nina of Nina’s Kitchen.

All in all, it was a good day, and I had the support of some very good friends. I would consider it doing it again, although definitely not next month, as it falls on my birthday.I really put everything into it, and had to take yesterday to recover. I expect most of this was nerves, so this should be better next time. It is also why I am only posting about it now. I was shattered!

Things I will remember for next time include the white board to advertise my wares (we forgot it twice, then the big guy forgot the car keys before it arrived); to eat myself – I managed on a slice of toast and that scone for the whole day, but it wasn’t pretty; and finally if I buy sweet potatoes, I will remember to take them.

Does anyone have any good recipes for 5 kg of sweet potatoes, that will be good for someone who doesn’t really like sweet potatoes?

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Edible Things – Live and Cooking at Neighbourfood!

The Neighbor Food Market

The Neighbor Food Market

I have some exciting news, that I would like to share. You may remember that I was really inspired and excited by the Neighbourfood Market last month. I am delighted to let you all know that I have taken the plunge, and have arranged myself a stall for my homemade food. I have never done this kind of thing before, so I thought that this time I would try not to go overboard.

As I hope that you can tell from reading ediblethings, I love making home cooked food, from scratch. I want to do this for the people who come to the neighbourfood market, and share my love of food. Wherever possible, the food will be organic, but as I am just starting out, not all the food will be 100% organic this time.

I will be making Jacket Potatoes. There is not really a tradition of baking potatoes in the Netherlands in the same way as we do in the UK, at least in the shops and take aways, but so far market research has been promising. I want to do the ones we are used to, with a nice crispy outer skin. I have been experimenting with some jackets, and think I have the right one now.

The menu in full is:

Jacket Potato

or Baked Sweet Potato

with your choice of filling from:

Mexican Chile

Vegan Chile

Homemade Beans

Cheese & Chive

‘Stampotato’ with boerenkool- with or without rookwurst

There will also be a small selection of seasonal marmalade and citrus curds which I will be selling.

Because I am so obsessed with making jams and preserves, I am always on the lookout for jam jars. If you bring me jam jars, you can have a discount on your purchase from edible things, although I am still calculating costs, so details of how much will follow.

So, I really hope that you will join me at the Westergasterrein in Amsterdam this Sunday between 10 and 3. Of course, there will be loads of stalls, and other produce and food available, so why not check it out, even if potatoes are not your thing!

The idea is that we all have a mind for sustainability, so you are encouraged to bring your own plate and cutlery. Washing up facilities are provided. And they have made arrangements to donate the leftovers to the homeless. So, not only can you enjoy great food and a gezellig atmosphere, you will be reducing waste at the same time, and we all know how much I hate waste, don’t we?

Gezellig Good Food at the Neighbourfood Market

Gezellig & Good Food

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A Stock From Scraps

Vegetable Stock

The Basis of Many, Many Meals

Today’s recipe was inspired by a request from a friend who reads Edible Things. It is great to hear from people, so if you have any requests, let me know, and I can blog about those too.

If you have a recipe you’d like to see, or something to inspire, please feel free to get in touch or find me on twitter.

Anyway, my friend asked about how to make vegetable stock, particularly in reference to making stock from scraps. Obviously, she has come to exactly the right place. I never throw anything out if I can help it. I was accused of being from the 1950s when I admitted to an acquaintance that I make my own stock. He doesn’t know what flavour he is missing out on!

In my freezer, there is an entire drawer given over to scraps and offcuts of one kind or another.  I keep them separate in bags or freezer containers (for the meat products), ready to be used later. I routinely keep and freeze the stalks and outer leaves of cabbage; the tough outer leaves of fennel; carrot tops and peel; the tops of leeks; and the root and tip of onions that I have chopped for other dishes, and the stalks of any herbs where I have only needed to use the leaves.I would probably also keep the gnarly bits at the bottom of a head of celery too, if it weren’t for the fact that I have guinea pigs that eat them.

Frozen Food Trimmings

Stock Drawer

Currently there are also apple cores, lemon and orange zests, bones from a chicken, pork fat and rind, and a whole load of vegetable offcuts and peels. There will be a use for all of these in various stocks, jellies, sauces, or something.

I actually don’t like the term food waste when talking about unloved offcuts and trimming. There is so much you can do with them, up to and including composting, which I also do, but only when I have got the maximum value from them first.

Obviously, I know that most people do not have the freezer space or the geekiness to save stuff like I do, but if you do nothing else with your “waste”, do give stock a go. I guarantee that it really easy, and will really improve the flavour of soups, stews, sauces and gravies.

I make a number of different stocks, so I bag my veggies separately, because  I don’t want cabbage in a chicken stock, for example. If you have limited space, put them all into the same bag and chop them up a little. If you have no freezer space at all, you can make a quick stock using scraps, and supplementing it with the odd celery stick or whatever. The finished stock will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks, in an airtight container, so you can still add it to dishes (NB it will be shorter for meat stock), and have great-tasting stock.

You can pretty much use what you want in a stock. I know that some people use potato peelings in stock, although I personally don’t like the flavour it lends. Some people also choose to put the papery onion skins in, although this will mostly impart a yellow colour, so again, I tend not to bother. Similarly, beetroot tops and peel can be used, but it will both colour and flavour the stock.

I have used pumpkin, pea pods, lettuce that looks as though it is going over, the ends of aubergine, tomato skins, mushroom trimmings,asparagus ends, the leaves of celariac,  beets and carrots at different times. As long as you wash the vegetables thoroughly before freezing, or putting straight into the stock pot, it really is up to you, and experimentation is the key for your tastes, and the dishes that you cook with.

There are a few vegetables that you cannot use the leaves from, and this includes rhubarb (which are a vegetable, but used as a fruit), aubergine and parsnip leaves. I have used the vines of tomatoes, but not the leaves.

The basis for most stock is the triumvirate of celery, carrot and onion (or leek – they are the same family).This is the basis of both meat and vegetarian stocks. It is really a question of balance. In the recipe below, I have outlined the rough proportions that I used. For vegetable stock, I try to use a cabbage (or broccoli stalks, or chard or something similar) in my veg stocks, because it gives a depth of flavour.

As you get more used to scrap stock, you will also develop a sense of the proportions of each that you want. I can do it by eye now. It does not take long to gain confidence in this technique. And believe me, you will really be glad that you gave it a go.

Basic Stock Amount, by eye

An Eyeful

You also don’t have to wait until you have the same amounts as I do. You can make stock with the ends of one leek, the peel and tops from one carrot and a single cabbage leaf, if that is all you have. Really, nothing is set in stone for this, the ingredients are down to what you have.

Recipe: Vegetable Stock

Ingredients

250 g leek/onion trimmings(frozen weight)

150 g carrot peel

2 celery stalks, (it weighed about 150 g)

50 g herb stalks, including mint, parsley & thyme (if making meat stock, I would most likely leave out the mint stalks)

50 g cabbage stalks & leaves

100 g fennel leaves

2 dried bay leaves. I have a bay tree, so I usually use fresh bay, if you are doing so, double the amount given in your recipe

10 or so peppercorns

3 cloves

pinch salt

You can also use other spices. It will depend on what you want to use the stock for. I use pepper and cloves for a generic stock, but if I wanted an asian one, I would add cinnamon and star anise. But, when I want to make a pho, or something, I take my generic stock and add the spices at the time. Again, this is a matter of your own taste.

2½ l cold water (or enough to just cover the vegetables that you have, although bear in mind that they will float)

Method

I  use a very large saucepan for making stock (my stockpot), but even if you have an average sized one, you will need a well-fitting lid for it.

Put all of the vegetable trimmings in the pan. I chuck them in from frozen, having washed them before I froze them. You can also put fresh ones in, it doesn’t matter. Cover the vegetables with cold water, and put the lid on the pan.

Stock ingredients with water to cover

Put a Lid On It

Bring the water up to the boil, then turn it down to a gentle simmer. Keep the lid on the pan while it simmers.

A Simmer Plate

My Simmer Plate

I have a simmer plate, which I like to use, because I can turn the hob down to the lowest setting, and it distributes the heat more evenly across the pan. They are not essential though, so  don’t worry if you don’t have one. Let it simmer for about an hour (longer for meat stocks, depending on the size of the bone that you have).

Allow it to cool with the vegetables still in it, then strain the liquid. This is your stock. If you are still reluctant to throw away your vegetables, you can take a little of the stock and the veg, and blend it up, and you have the very tasty basis of a soup that you can either eat like that, or add more things to for bulk. Every aspect of making stock is about taste, not waste. If you are making meat stocks, obviously, you should remove the bones before you do this.

The stock can be used as is. If you have limited freezer space, you can boil the stock to reduce it by half, which will concentrate the flavour. Don’t use a lid on your pan for this stage.

I measure off half litres and put them in into individual containers (usually take away ones are fine, they stack and they have lids), which I label and freeze. I find that this is a convenient amount to use in most recipes.

They are easily defrosted on a worktop, or if you are less organised, you can heat them in a microwave or a pan ready for immediate use.

If you don’t have a lot of space, concentrate the stock, you can freeze them in ice cube trays, then transfer them to a bag once frozen.

Whichever way you freeze it, don’t forget to label, as there is nothing more irritating than forgetting them in the freezer, then scratching your head a few weeks later when you find them again.

So there you go; cheap, practically effortless, and really tasty stock, that you know is right for you. It doesn’t contain any hidden ingredients, so you know it will be suitable for your friends with special dietary requirements or preferences. And you have the basis for many soups, dishes, sauces and whatever you like really. This stock of scraps is really much, much more than the sum of its parts!

Update: I have entered this post into Turquoise Lemon’s No Waste Food Challenge, which is all about fennel for the month of April

Turquioise Lemon's No Waste Food Challenge

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Tabouleh or not Tabouleh?

That is the question.

Winter Vegetable Tabouleh

Salad as Substantial

The snow caught me out last week. I knew it was coming towards the end of the week, but it arrived a few days early, was preceded by a very hard frost, and caught me on the hop. I hadn’t harvested my salad greens, and they have been under a really good coating of snow ever since. I did manage to get the solitary fennel bulb that I had left, and had that in a risotto, so it didn’t make a salad.

I had also not got round to sowing microgreens, although I have now corrected that. I am waiting on radish, rocket, basil, chervil and beetroot to sprout and grow their first true leaves.

Sprouted Chickpea Bread

Salad as Bread

My poor planning left me with no other choice but to go for sprouted seeds. I put a sprouting mix (which looked like it contained chickpeas, aduki beans and lentils), and some separate chickpeas to work. I followed many of the other bloggers, who have been sprouting seeds for weeks now. Inspired by Joanna, who commented on the blog of Gilly in Ariege, I made bread with the chickpeas, and then added the mix to a sandwich that I made with it. I hope to share the bread recipe, but it needs a bit of work first.

Sprouted Salad Sandwich

Salad as a Sandwich

As last week was all about the sprouts, this week has been filled with thoughts of using flat leaf parsley. I have two pots that I sowed last year, which live on my windowsill, so that I always have access to parsley. The cold weather left me wanting, and with a desire for something more substantial than sprouted seeds.

I kept coming back to the idea of a tabouleh. They should be really leafy, and vibrant with flat leaf parsley, fine bulgur wheat, tomatoes and onions. Most commonly found as part of a mezze, it cleanses the palate, and is a fresh and light dish.

I already knew that I was going to make a lot of changes, because I wanted a more substantial dish, I didn’t have enough parsley to make it the star, and tomatoes are not in season. In addition to all of this, I had some pumpkin and an aubergine to use up, so the focus shifted to a more winter-based dish.

The dish still had the vibrancy from the parsley, but it also had bulk from using larger bulgur wheat, and winter warmth from using cooked vegetables and the spice. But, is it tabouleh?

Ingredients

Half a small pumpkin

Few sprigs of thyme

2 Garlic cloves

Small pinch of chilli flakes

Vegetable oil for roasting and frying

Aubergine

150 g Bulgur wheat

300 ml Vegetable stock

2 tbsp Lemon juice

Zest of ½ a lemon, finely grated

Extra virgin olive oil

½ tsp Sumac

Large bunch of flat leaf parsley, stalks removed & roughly chopped

Peel & deseed the pumpkin, and chop it into small dice. Put it into an oven proof dish, sprinkle with chilli flakes, thyme leaves and salt and pepper, and a splash of oil, along with a garlic clove still in its paper. Give it a good toss around, so that the oil and chilli can coat the pumpkin. Stick it into an oven at 180°C and leave it to roast until the rest of the ingredients are ready.

Chop the aubergine into small dice, of a similar size to the pumpkin. Heat a little oil in a frying pan. When the pan is hot, add the aubergine and cook until it is brown. You may need to add a little oil, as it is quite absorbent, but it will release liquid again as it cooks, so don’t add too much. You want this to fry, not braise. Don’t have the heat too high for this stage, let it fry gently.

Meanwhile, heat up the stock. When it is boiling, pour it over the bulgur wheat. The stock should cover the wheat by about a centimetre. Cover the bowl over, and set aside for about 15 minutes, During which time the bulgur will cook and absorb the stock.

Finely mince the second clove of garlic. You will need this a bit later.

Make a citrus vinaigrette with the lemon juice and the extra virgin olive oil. I always start with the lemon juice, and then slowly pour in the oil, whisking constantly to form an emulsion. I taste it regularly to see when I have a good balance between oil and citrus. Add salt and pepper to taste, and pour some over the bulgur wheat. Set aside for another 10 minutes, so the bulgur can take on the vinaigrette flavour.

Don’t worry if you have a bit of dressing left over, it keeps well in the fridge in a sealed jam jar. You could use it on next week’s salad challenge!

While the bulgur wheat is soaking up the vinaigrette, add the minced garlic to the aubergine, which should be nicely browned by now. The garlic will not take that long to cook, and will give the aubergine flavour.

Stir the aubergine and the pumpkin into the bulgur wheat, with a half teaspoon of sumac, the lemon zest, and the roasted garlic, which you should now be able to squeeze from its papery jacket. Stir through the parsley, and serve immediately.

I served mine with some sautéed mushrooms and leeks. It might not strictly be a salad, and it is definitely not a traditional tabouleh, but it was warm and satisfying, which was just what I needed tonight.

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Random Erwtensoep of Kindness

Busy Shipping Canal near home

So Cold, Even the Gulls are Ice Skating

I first heard about the Random Soup of Kindness Challenge on Vanessa Kimbell’s blog via Twitter. I was immediately drawn to it, because it is a brilliant idea, but also it reminded me of the people  that I used to work with in a former life, when I was an Energy Efficiency Advice Centre manager.

Every year in the UK (and other places, but it is marked in my home country) thousands more vulnerable people (i.e. the elderly and those with certain medical conditions) die in the winter than the summer. This is called Excess Winter Death (EWD), which claimed over 20,000 people in the UK in the winter 2009 -10. The figures are getting better, but it is still a shocking amount of people.

The causes of excess winter deaths are complex, but a good deal of it can be attributed to people in poor housing conditions being unable to  heat their homes, either for practical or economic reasons. This, in turn, exacerbates ailments and medical conditions, making them susceptible.  I have met elderly people who regularly have to decide if they have lunch or if they put their heating on for an hour.

People who cannot afford to adequately heat their homes are said to be in Fuel Poverty. It affects lots of households, not just the elderly, and the situation will only get worse with rising fuel prices and in the current recession. I am priviledged enough to never have been in fuel poverty, but I have live in a very inefficient rented home. I know first hand how miserable it is to be cold. It is not something that I would want for my neighbours, especially those who can’t move around much to keep warm.

Frozen Boat

Frozen In

I loved this challenge, because it is a really practical way that everyone can help someone address the issues associated with being cold. Please have a go at this easy way to reach out to the vulnerable people in our own communities, make sure they are OK, help them out in this desperately cold weather, and offer them internal heating and a good meal.Of course, not all elderly people are in the same position as I describe above, but who would say no to a friendly visit and some hot soup? It really can make a real difference to your neighbours, and won’t take too much effort on your part. And that is the least that you will get from having a go.

Having got the necessary, if somewhat shocking stuff out of the way, I’d like to tell you about my first foray into Neighboursoup. I say my first foray, because I got so much out of it that I am definitely going to do this again.

Frozen Canal View

Frozen Canal - Near my Street

I live in a great street where all the neighbours are pretty friendly, and we all have a chat if we see each other, or help out with the odd pint of milk, or bucket of water or whatever, here and there. I love it, it feels good to know that there are other human beings in your street, instead of just other people, if you see what I mean. It is the first time I have lived somewhere with such a sense of community since I was a little girl.

One such neighbour is an older gentleman, who is the most helpful man. He is always ready to lend a hand by taking you to the garden centre; or helping us find a scrap metal merchant when we discovered someone had dumped a ton of old metal pipes in our pond; or look out for the flat if we are away. He has been invaluable to us as a neighbour. I am always trying to give him something back, but he doesn’t often let me. He has occasionally accepted chutneys and jams from me, which he repays with more jam jars. I really feel that I owe him.

As soon as I heard about this challenge, I knew this would be the way that I could get to repay his kindness, do him a good deed, and one that he would not be too proud to accept. I also knew that I would have to make him a traditional Dutch soup, because he does seem to have traditional Netherlander taste (for example, he refuses to even try my marmalade!).

There is no Dutcher soup than Erwtensoep (pronounced ur-teh soup), which is a thick, stewy blend of split peas, pork and vegetables, served with a smoked sausage. I have to admit that I have never really fancied this soup, given that I hate peas, and I did try a really horrible version when I come here on a trip as a student.  But, I knew that it would be exactly the right soup for my neighbour, so I decided it was the right soup for the challenge.

Since I had no idea what a really traditional erwtensoep should contain, I had to go digging for a recipe. I stumbled across this one, which seemed like it was as good a place as any to start.

I remained pretty loyal to the proportions given in the recipe, but I had purchased a half kilo of split peas, and couldn’t see any other use for them, so I added all of it, and adjusted up the meat and water accordingly. I stuck with the amounts of the various vegetables, but I used larger ones than suggested too. So the actual proportions were:

500 g Split peas

2.5 l Water

1 Dried bay leaf. I would normally use 2 fresh, but I only have a small bay tree, which I am trying to be really kind to, having lost another one last winter.

500 g belly pork

3 large leeks

1 medium celariac

1 large carrot

4 potatoes

Handful celery leaves. It is common to find ‘leaf celery’ sold as a pot herb in the Netherlands. If you can’t find this, you can use the celeriac leaves, lovage, or flat leaved parsley, as a suitable substitute.

1 smoked sausage.

Because this is a really common dish here, I was able to find this sausage in my organic butcher’s shop. I have never seen it in a butcher’s in the UK, but it is basically the same as the smoked sausages you can get in the chiller cabinet  – e.g. this one from Matteson’s, although I am sure there must be others available.

First Stage of Making Erwtensoep

At this stage, I was still thinking it would not be for me

I followed the recipe, and found that it took about an hour on a low simmer for the pork to be cooked so that you could easily shred the meat. The original recipe does not make that clear, but I guess it depends on the cut of the meat you use (should be fatty meat, that benefits from slow cooking).

I did not want to reintroduce a lot of the fat and the rind back to the soup. Of course, hating waste as I do, that is currently in my freezer to wait until I have a ham bone to make stock with.

I would have put a ham bone in the pot with this lot, to enrich the soup, but it was -14°C this weekend, so I guess many Netherlanders were making the same soup, so the butcher had run out.

This amount made LOADS of soup, and it filled about two thirds of my huge stock pot. It was enough for quite a few batches, so I gave soup out to four elderly neighbours, and still had enough left over for us to have some too. Much to my surprise, I actually really enjoyed it. I hope that my neighbours also decide it is Lekker (tasty)!

Erwtensoep

Erwtensoep - Warming, Kind and Tasty - Who Knew?

It was brilliant to go and chat to people and practice my broken Dutch with them. People were very happy to receive their random soup of kindness. It gave me more of a warm glow than the soup itself did.

Unfortunately, my Dutch is not good enough to explain what a blog is to these elderly neighbours, so I gave up on the idea of trying to ask if they minded me taking a photo of them with said soup. You’ll have to imagine the look of joy on their faces.

So, I hope that you decide to join in the random soup of kindness. You don’t even have to have a blog to write about it on. You needn’t spend much money or time on a soup, but the sense of having contributed something really good to your community will be worth it in spades.

I am certain that you will get much more out of the experience than the time you put in. I have repaid kindness shown to me; met a few new people; been able to practice my Dutch; found out that I have been closed-minded to the delights of a pea soup; and have been glowing brighter than the readybrek kid because I did something nice for other people. I am already thinking about what soup I can do next that will be acceptable to my neighbours. I am thinking a pumpkin one, which I can also give to neighbours for whom pork may not be an option

Like with most voluntary acts, it really was a case of give a little, gain a lot!

Random Soup of Kindness Logo

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Tiramisu – Another Day Another Trifle

Tiramisu

A Mere Trifle

(c) J. Casper 2011

This is another take on  a trifle, of course, continuing in the spirit of eating well and using up what you have. This also appeared at the international Christmas dinner, but is great for any occasion.

The history of this dessert is uncertain, but it seems to be a lot younger than my family’s sherry trifle. However, purists would argue that my recipe is not a tiramisu, but at the time I served it, I didn’t think that “Coffee and Custard Layer Construction” had quite the same ring to it. Although now I see it written down, I am wavering…

The traditional tiramisu consists of layered sponge, soaked in coffee, and a  mascarpone and Marsala custard. But, I had some more spare panetone and I had made 2 l of custard, so I diverted from the original. I think that you can add a slug of Marsala, or even some Tia Maria if you want. I preferred a big smack from the coffee, and so didn’t want it mellowed in this instance. I certainly don’t think it suffered for it.

If you are an improvisational cook, like I am, you will enjoy getting the most out of what you have, so may well find other, equally good things in your cupboard, or fridge. It is good to know that you don’t have to stick rigidly to the old traditions, but that you can still produce great tasting food. You never know, if it is good enough, you could be starting a tradition for yourself!

Recipe: Tiramisu

Ingredients

180 g panetone

3 espresso coffees

6 egg yolks

100 g sugar

500 ml double cream

500 ml milk

½  vanilla pod

100 ml whipping cream

Cocoa powder to dust

Method

Make the custard, using the usual method, which is here, in case you need a reminder…

Leave to cool overnight in the fridge, if you can, but at least a few hours if you forgot that you are entertaining the next day, or have a pressing appointment.

Cut the panetone into strips of roughly the same size and thickness, and put in a dish, in a single layer if you can. I used a flat baking dish for this, not the final serving dish. Pour the coffee over it in as even a way as you can, you don’t want large portions of the sponge to remain untainted by the coffee.

Set the panetone aside to soak for about half an hour.

Once the panetone is thoroughly soaked, layer it into the serving dish (or individual glasses)  so that you have sponge, custard, sponge custard. I find that this is enough for two layers, but you may get more or fewer, depending on the width and depth of your serving dish.

Leave about 3-5 cm at the top, and refrigerate if you are not going to serve it straight away.

Just before serving, whip up the rest of the cream, and put it in a layer on the top of your trifle. Dust with cocoa powder, and serve it to guests who have already feasted on loads of food, but they won’t be able to resist just a small bit of this too.

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Sherry Trifle

Sherry Trifle

Sherry Trifle, for all Festive Occasions

(c) J. Casper 2011

In my family, a festive occasion is never complete without a sherry trifle – home-made, of course! We have a family recipe from my aunt’s mother-in-law, who was very particular about her recipe. She never, ever used fruit, and would frown upon versions that had superfluous ingredients. We have them for all manner of get-togethers, and a party wouldn’t be the same without one.

She passed her secret recipe onto my aunt. I have never asked her the exact recipe, but she has given me enough hints and tips that I have been able to come up with a good enough approximation. The exact recipe remains a closely guarded secret. Well, at least I imagine it that way, it seems nice to have a recipe that gets passed on to only a select few!

I have been meaning to post about the one that I made for our international dinner, but I had so much to post from Australia and since then, this is the first opportunity that I have had. I figure that this recipe is good for any party, and what better excuse than on your next snow day? Given the weather at the moment, I’m sure you won’t have to wait that long for the next one!

This version of sherry trifle has a few main differences to my normal one. Firstly, following our mince pie and mulled wine party, we had half a panetone left over that someone brought. I hate to waste things, so it seemed the perfect way to use this was to add it to the trifle instead of the usual sponge.

Secondly, I sent the Big Guy off to buy the sherry, and he came back with Pedro Ximinez. It does fit the brief of a sweet sherry, but it is much more interesting than the usual cream sherry, so beloved of elderly ladies, that is traditional in the family one.

Thirdly, the jam is usually strawberry or raspberry. I didn’t have any of those, and so I used some of the blueberry jam I had left from a trip to Sweden.

I am not sure that these amendments would have met the approval of the originator of the recipe, but it was certainly appreciated by my guests at our international christmas dinner!

Recipe: Sherry Trifle

Ingredients

6 egg yolks

100 g sugar

500 ml double cream

500 ml milk

½  vanilla pod

150 g panetone, cut into strips and spread with jam

100 ml sherry

200 ml whipping cream for the topping

Method

Firstly, you need to make a custard. It also need to be fairly thick, so I use half milk and cream. Normal custards can be made with just milk, but this one needs to hold up when you serve it, and not run everywhere, so the cream is necessary here.

You can make the custard using the step-by-step guide that I posted yesterday.

Set the custard aside to cool completely. If you can chill it overnight, so much the better.

Spread the jam on the panetone, and place it in the bottom of the serving dish. My traditional sherry trifle is served in a large bowl, from which everyone is served, but you can also arrange it into glasses for individual servings. Add the sherry to the sponge, and leave aside to soak in for 20 minutes.

Add the custard on top of the panetone. Spread it so it is as even as possible, but leave about 2-3 cm at the top of the bowl.If you are not going to serve this immediately, chill it again.

Just before serving, whip some cream to stiff peaks, and put it on top of the custard.

This is not a lightweight dessert, but it is a great treat. Especially for a celebration.

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