food glorious food

Family Smellie is very keen on its food and Thailand has not let us down once.  So we thought it was time that we did a little hands on cooking.   Rather than just stuffing our faces with the delicious food cooked by others, we would do some of the preliminary work ourselves.

Enter Toi, chef extraordinaire at Sea Dance.  She was chosen to bravely steer Family Smellie through the cooking process.  This is what awaited us when we arrived for our lesson.

 

Even if we didn’t cook it but just feasted with our eyes and noses that would have been a sensual journey in itself.  But Family Smellie needed to fill its bellies so onwards and upwards.

First up, as in any good project of any kind, is the preparation.  I was put on chopping duty and managed to impress Toi not only with my knowledge of nam pla but also my prowess with a mini machete!

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We began with seafood salad and followed with chicken green curry and chicken and ginger stir fry.  The Travellerwas not impressed by having to skin and scour the squid, but she did an excellent job.

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The seafood was left to marinade in soy sauce, nampla, chopped chilli, chopped garlic and palm sugar.  The Boss was in charge of chicken prep.

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First up was the green curry.  The curry paste was added to hot oil and the coconut cream added spoon by spoon.  I am used to chucking the tin in all at once, but this way the sauce remained thick and cooked more slowly, it was thinned with water or chicken stock later.

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Chicken first and finally vegetables.

 

The volunteer took notes.

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Stir fry was down to the Traveller and she was not convinced she could do the flip so expertly demonstrated by Toi, convinced that instead she would cover the Boss with a selection of chicken and vegetables.

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But she got the wrist action and managed a perfect stir fry flip with no stray veg at all.

 

And the finished products.

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And time to eat.

 

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A few days later I bumped into Toi in the gardens and she showed me around her kitchen garden.  Many of the vegetables used in the kitchen are grown on site and Toi is an excellent gardener as well as chef.  I also managed to impress her again with my knowledge of Holy Basil, there are hidden depths to me yet!  She not only grows a huge range of vegetables, salad leaves and herbs for the kitchen but also a comprehensive range of herbs for the spa as well.  And I can testify that the spa is as good as the kitchen!

Love Gillie x

 

 

Lessons from Dory … just keep swimming

How did you get along with the repurpose challenge?  For the final Friday challenge I repaired a photo frame that had been propped against a wall for eons and my knitting bowl that had a disagreement with the floor!  Not sure if it counted but I podded a bowlful of mangetout that had been allowed to grow on.  The peas are not great, a bit to marrow-fat for my liking but they made delicious soup and far better than putting them in the compost.  The chooks enjoyed burrowing for the handful I thew on the grass as well.

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This week has been Olympic week.  Especially exciting as we watched Duncan Scott who we have known since he was a wee tot win Silver medal in the 4 x 200m freestyle relay and set a new British record in the 100m freestyle.  The final for the latter is at 3.00 am UK time on Friday morning if you want to cheer him on!

 

Duncan Scott

L-R: James Guy, Duncan Scott, Dan Wallace, Stephen Milne (courtesy of Ian MacNicol)

Watching the Olympics it is easy to get caught up in the razzmatazz and excitement and forget about the all the hard work that goes into just getting there in the first place.  Duncan announced he wanted to swim in the Olympics when he was nine, that’s ten years of early starts, homework in the back of the car on the way to evening training.  Ten years of driving across the country to swim in qualifying heats.  Ten years of physical hard slog.  Furthermore it’s not just Duncan that had to make sacrifices, who do you think drove Duncan across the country, sacrificed family holidays for training and so on?  Then there are the sports clubs, the ones that train our Olympians.  They don’t run themselves, someone has to be official timer, keep the books, fundraise, all volunteers.  There is much more going on behind the scenes than we ever see on the screen.

So when you look at your plastic bags, or the recycling that didn’t make it to the recycling box; when you buy a takeaway because you are just too tired and too hungry to cook; when you look at all the stuff you have accumulated and wonder how on earth it got there, don’t worry, don’t give up.   It took ten years for Duncan to become an Olympian and he worked at it seven days a week, 365 days a year.  Nobody expects you to downsize, declutter, go plastic free, live off grid (delete as appropriate 🙂 ) seven days a week, 365 days a year.  You have other responsibilities, needs, goals, ideals to fit in as well.

Do what you can, maybe up the ante every now and then and nudge yourself on.  But don’t beat yourself up and give up because you haven’t achieved it all in a year.  Watch the Olympics and remind yourself that nothing is quite as easy as it may look and congratulate yourself on getting as far as you have already.

Love Gillie x

upcycling the kitchen disaster

One of the pitfalls I faced when I first began decluttering was the little economical eco-freak who sat on my shoulder and whispered little things in my ear like “you could keep that broken jug, break it up a bit more and use it for drainage in the bottom of your pot plants.”  Yes I could, but I knew I wouldn’t, by the time the summer came and I was planting out my seedlings I would have completely forgotten where I had put my collection of broken crockery.  I know my limits.

On the other hand there are somethings that I have no problem reusing or finding new uses for.  Using up leftovers is something most of us do by second nature.  More recently I have discovered I can use up kitchen disasters as well.

At the moment I only have an aga, my electric oven having died some months ago.  Lovely though it is, as every aga owner will know, you cannot smell anything that is cooking.  The opportunity to prepare a burnt offering to the aga god is frequently presented.    That is why on Saturday afternoon I popped some bread in the oven and went out to do some gardening.  It was over an hour later when I finally removed an exceptionally well cooked loaf.  Believing that even the chickens would reject it I left it on the kitchen surface and  went back to the garden to work off my frustration.  The Boss wasn’t going to let an overcooked loaf get the better of him and when I returned he had bashed it up and pronounced it an excellent alternative to Grape Nuts.

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The second culinary disaster was the yoghurt, also made on that same Saturday.  I left it too long and too close to the aga and it had curdled.  I poured off the whey (it went into the ill fated loaf) and mushed the residue around a bit.  It tasted like yoghurt, but the texture was all wrong.  Bingo Chocolate Coffee and Maple Brunch Cake (by Charlie Scott-King of the Durham Dales Clandestine Cake Club).

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While I don’t aim to have kitchen disasters, it is good to know that I can usually find someway of using them up.  Failing that there are always the animals.  The chickens loved my overdone granola 🙂

 

 

from haybox to wonderbag

Those of you old enough to remember the three day week and the oil crisis will remember sudden and unexpected power cuts and half cooked dinners.  My mother overcame this by making a haybox.  To be fair rather than using hay she used a sturdy wooden box and a selection of cushions.  The idea was that you brought the meal (usually, but not always, a soup or casserole) to the boil, popped it in the box, surrounded on all sides, top and bottom by cushions and left it to cook.

Fast forward some 15 years and I went out to work as a health education volunteer in Umtata in the Transkei with Project Trust.     It was an amazing experience, I hope as much for the people we worked with as it was for us, the volunteers.  As a side line if you are or know somebody who is looking for a volunteering experience in the developing world PT is not only one of the oldest, but also one of the best in the business.  They are not, unlike many, in it to make money.  They have been going since 1967 and have sent over 6000 carefully selected volunteers overseas.  But I digress.

One of the issues faced in the Transkei was the lack of fuel.  We built a simple haybox (this time using hay!) and with our trusty three legged potiji

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we went out to show people how to save on fuel and still have a hot meal at the end of the day.  We used it ourselves and it failed us only once, a particularly stringy goat at Sitebe.

Recently I came across this.

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My newly arrived Wonderbag.   Essentially it works in exactly the same way as my mother’s cushion box and our haybox.  But there are three fundamental differences:

  • For every Wonderbag purchased another bag is donated to a family in Africa.
  • The Shwe-Shwe bags are made by women in South Africa creating jobs and income.
  • The World Wildlife bags generate a donation to WWF for every bag purchased

It’s also great for:

  • Camping
  • Picnics
  • Students
  • Bulk cooking
  • Working families – cheaper than the slow cooker and no worries about leaving the slow cooker on whilst you are out.

If you are still unsure have a look at this.    What are you waiting for?

raw chocolate

In my determination to reduce our waste I am reducing what we buy and looking at ways to reproduce products at home.  So today I made chocolate.  Well, I might as well practice on something I eat a lot of!

I  have a school friend Sarah Wheeler  who set up Pure Melt Chocolate in Mulumbimby.  I bumped into her whilst I was in Australia (as one does) and she inspired me to have a go at making our own chocolate.  I purchased the cacao butter, agave syrup, pure cacao powder and dried vanilla and off we went.

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First melt the cacao butter.

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Then add the cacao powder

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Then add the vanilla.

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Finally the agave syrup.  According to the instructions it would take approximately 100 stirs to incorporate.  That was about right.  It became the most beautiful shiny mixture.

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Then into the moulds and the fridge.

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Less than an hour later we had this.

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Oh my goodness, it is the most delicious chocolate I have ever tasted.  Even the Singers and the Dancer are converted.  I am never going to buy chocolate off the shelf again.  I have a head full of ideas to try.  Ginger is close to the top of the list, I may crystallise some orange peel, or add some cacao nibs for cruch,  chilli is an option.  Too many to list.

how cut food waste, cut bills and see the back of your fridge

How often do you eat?  I rest my case.  You will spend a LOT of time in your fridge and larder (or food cupboards or wherever you keep the food that doesn’t live in your fridge, please don’t email me, larder is an easy word that you all understand 🙂 )

Is your fridge full of little bowls of leftovers, unidentified things in silver foil?  Do you take one look and think it would be easier just to pop out and buy a couple of chicken breasts for dinner?  How much money are you wasting on food?  Combine decluttering with the essential post holiday belt tighten and clear out your fridge.

Give it a really good clean whilst you are at it (a paste made from water or water and vinegar and bicarb is an excellent cleaner and gets rid of any unwanted smells).  Put back all the regular essentials (milk, butter, fruit juice etc.) and have a good look at what is left.  Divide it up into OMG how long has that been there , it is no longer recognisable as food, and the rest.  You can chuck the former.  This is the only time you will do that.  From now on there will be no more UFOs (unidentified food objects) in your fridge.

The rest needs to be sorted into what you have to eat fairly quickly, the open packet of bacon for example and what can hang on for a while yet, that hard heel of cheese.  Take the first group and work out what you could cook with them.  I tidied my fridge after the Christmas holidays, it was full of bits of leftovers and was driving me nuts.    The last bits of cooked ham, some cold boiled potatoes, some rather dried out sausages and the end of homemade terrine (ie I knew what was in it) was chopped up and added to the butchers scraps and cooked up for the dogs.  We had crunchy topped  cheese and squash bake using only leftovers from the fridge.  1 elderly and slightly worse for wear squash, 1 bowl of dried breadcrumbs, the remains of a pot of creme fraiche, the open packet of bacon and all the left over and rather hard heels of cheese from the holidays.  It was delicious.

If you really can’t think of what to cook with your assorted ingredients then hit the internet.  “Cabbage and cranberry recipes” alone brought up pages and pages of recipes.  So now you have tonight’s supper sorted you can put those ingredients to one side and look at the rest.

Again sort them into order of decay – i.e. use the ingredients that will last longest last.

Hey presto!  You have cleared your fridge AND written a menu plan for the next few days and you haven’t even spent a single penny.

If you are feeling brave you really ought to combine a fridge clear with a freezer clear.  With careful jiggling and swapping of ingredients you can take the hassle out of “what are we going to eat tonight”, save a fortune on groceries and find order in your kitchen.  What’s not to like?

I plan menus every week, it makes life so much easier and cheaper.  I don’t subscribe to the 15 (or whatever) circulating recipes.  How boring that must get.  Instead I start my shopping in my pantry and freezer.  Then I get out 2-4 recipe books and look for new recipes to try using the major ingredients I have found on my “in-house shop”.  I have planned every meal this week without having to purchase a single ingredient.  Last night we had pan fried steak and cranberry sauce using the left over cranberries and two rather small steaks from the freezer.  We are a family of five so cut the steak into strips after I cooked it, laid it over a mound of mashed potato, poured the sauce over the top and added lots of veg.

Once you have your recipes  allocate them to days of the week, taking into account any evenings where you will have to serve at different times to accommodate other people’s commitments or will have little time to prepare.  Baked potatoes and pasta (not together!) are our” no time to faff in the kitchn”meals.  The shopping list is made on the basis on the ingredients I need which are not in the pantry or freezer.

And this is what our fridge looks like now.

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Yes I know there are still some foil covered bowls.  One is the last of the brandy butter and my life is not worth living if I don’t keep that, but I know it will go.  The other is the meat from the remains of a game pie I made which I am keeping to pill Meg (an elderly springer spaniel not my daughter – she has six tablets twice a day and it can be a bit of a challenge persuading her to take them).  Oh and you know those little plastic punnets that you get with soft fruit?  I keep them and use them to hold little things like garlic, chillies, ginger, cherry tomatoes, shallots etc.  It stops them rolling around in the vegetable drawer and means I can see exactly how much I have left of anything.

Tonight is cauliflower cheese by the way 🙂

where did all that cheese come from?

I was going to title this post “leftovers”  but it sounded so uninspiring  I did think of “bits and bobs” (a phrase a friend uses when answering her children’s question “what’s for lunch?”) “endless little bowls and tupperware boxes” (which is what my mother’s fridge is often full of)  but as cheese is the decluttering item in question today I went for the one above.

The Boss and I were in Italy a couple of weekends ago.  Consequently (a) I filled the fridge with food for the girls lest they should starve (as they are very good cooks in their own right I am sure that was unecessary but hey I’m a Mum) and (b) we bought rather a lot of cheese and salamis, bresola and lardons back with us.  Combine that with my inability to throw anything away and the result was fridge overload.

The fridge is now neat and tidy.  I have one smallish chunk of once quite nice ham that is now well past its best which will be perfect for the administration of the copious amounts of pills our eldery Springer requires and the following:

  • Small amount of spinach
  • one leek
  • half an onion
  • half a packet of feta
  • mozarella that needs using
  • the heel of some gruyere
  • assorted heels of cheeses too small and hard to eat but I won’t throw away

Leftover cooking here I come.  First up is a made up cheesey bake.  You will note the lack of precise amounts because I just shoved in what I had.

  • Leek sliced finely
  • onion chopped
  • spinach
  • garlic
  • eggs (i used 4)
  • double cream (a healthy swig until the consistency looks right 🙂 )
  • handful of cherry tomatoes
  • feta
  • mozarella
  • gruyere
  • salt and pepper
  1. Sweat onion, garlic and leek.
  2. Cook spinach (I put mine in the microwave but feel free to steam or whatever)
  3. Beat eggs with cream until it looks about right.
  4. Add crumbled feta and chopped mozzarella.
  5. Add onion, garlic , leek and spinach
  6. season.
  7. Pour into oven proof dish (the size depends on how much you have,  you want it to be about 2″ deep at least)
  8. Halve tomatoes and place cut side up in mixture.
  9. Grate however much gruyere you have over the top.
  10. Bake in medium oven (about 170, I used the aga on 150 and it was fine) until firm to touch and lightly browned,

Try not to eat it all as soon as it comes out of the oven.  I am afraid I had a taste before I remembered to take a photo.  By now there is an entire strip missing.

 

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It was DELICIOUS.  Obviously you can mix and match to use whatever is in your fridge, most cheeses will be fine and  you could experiment with the vegtables.  I like the tomatoes because they give a slight edge to what could otherwise be a rather rich dish  (in the same way I add tomatoes to macaroni and cauliflower cheese).

Next up is cheesey tear and share bread.  Now this is a “proper” recipe as you can’t really guess with bread.  It’ from Jo Wheatley’s Home Baking.  I am only at the second prove stage so can’t  tell you what it tastes like but thus far it feels rather heavy.  It was a pain in the neck to knead (I always knead by hand) and never reached the light stretchy stage I would usually expect.  Having said that it rose well in proove one, I’ll let you know how it turns out.

  • 500 g (17.6oz) strong white bread flour
  • 7 g (0.2oz) easy-blend/fast-action yeast
  • 8 g (0.3oz) sea salt
  • 10 g (0.4oz) caster sugar
  • 10 g (0.4oz) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 handful of picked herbs, such as rosemary, thyme and oregano
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 120 ml (4.2fl oz) hot water
  • 200 ml (7fl oz) cold full-fat milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 100 g (3.5oz) mozzarella, grated
  • 150 g (5.3oz) Gruyère, grated
  • 1 egg, beaten with 1 tbsp milk
  1. Tip the flour, yeast, salt and sugar into the bowl of a free-standing mixer fitted with a dough hook, or a large mixing bowl. Mix together to combine and make a well in the centre.  I did this by hand.
  2. Combine the butter, herbs and garlic in a food processor to form a paste .  I did this by hand too – does this woman have an army of people to wash up after her?! Add to the flour mix. In a jug, mix the boiled water with the milk and egg and slowly add to the dry ingredients. Mix until combined, then knead for 6 minutes in the machine or 10 minutes by hand.
  3. Cover with oiled cling film and leave to prove for at least 90 minutes or until doubled in size. Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for 30 seconds to knock back the dough.
  4. Divide the dough into 14–18 pieces and roll into balls.
  5. Mix the two grated cheeses together and set aside one third. Make an indent in each of the dough balls, divide the cheese between them then seal up the dough. Place the balls on the two prepared trays: start with the middle rolls and build around them.
  6. Loosely cover with oiled cling film and leave to prove again for 1 hour
  7. Preheat the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/Gas Mark 6. Brush the buns with egg wash, sprinkle over the remaining grated cheese, and bake in the oven for 18–22 minutes until golden.

 

 

I will not be usuing mozzerlla or gruyere as I used them up in the last recipe and will instead be using a selection of  old heels of assorted cheese last seen mooching around the back of my fridge.

Finally Cheese straws.  I also happen to have some puff pastry in the freezer so the last of the cheese will be used up. 

What is lurking in your fridge?  What could you turn it into rather than feed it to the bin or the compost?