Saturday, May 24, 2014

The recipe box...

I am sitting here with a gale blowing outside and rain pelting down outside my window. My dogs are very unhappy as it was walk day but now they are trapped inside because I am not negotiating with their pleading no no...too cold, too windy too wet! My mind is turning to a warm fire, hot chocolate and brownies.

I am sure we all have a recipe file filled with recipes sent to us by family and friends or collected over the years of homemaking, yes?

I have a recipe box that I started 22 years ago and it holds some special memories. Inside it is Aunty Joy's hot milk sponge cake recipe. She has now gone to be with her Saviour, Jesus, but every time I make a birthday cake and use this recipe I think of standing in her kitchen planning my wedding cake with her.

I have a recipe for Boston Beans given to me by a faraway friend living on a farm outside Ladybrand which I dug out and made last week. I thought of her long distance love and missed her terribly.

There is a butter and condensed milk cookie recipe in here too from a once upon a time friend who is now in New Zealand. She came alongside me as a new mom and was a never ending source of help and encouragement.

Today I am longing for Beth's Brownies. Beth is now in the USA and a mommy of 8 kiddies. She used this recipe to bake batch upon batch of brownies to sell to a home bake shop 21 years ago when they were still in Cape Town. Beth was my very first Christian mentor and prayer partner. Her brownies paid for two return tickets to the UK back then for her and her husband to have a holiday as he was in Bible school and they lived off her income.

Special memories open up in my mind every time I open up the recipe box.

Here is Beth's brownie recipe:

Mix together 100g self raising flour and 250g of sugar
Melt 1 00g of butter with 6 squares of dark chocolate
Mix together 3 eggs (well beaten) and 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence

Combine all of the above and add 250g chocolate chips.

Put it into a greased baking tin and bake at 180 deg C for 20 30 minutes until the tester comes out clean.

Don't wait too long to eat them with your family....remember sharing is caring :)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Save with Jamie – Book Review

 I am a fan of Jamie Oliver. I think it was more than 10yrs ago when I picked up a book of his at a friends home and read it in bed at night. Superman and I have also watched a few of his TV series, when I was still watching TV that is. And every now and again when I feel like it I will watch something of his on Youtube.

That was how I found his series on saving money with food without compromising on taste and health. (Go to Youtube and key in “save with Jamie” for a whole range of saving tips.) I only had to watch a few of his videos where he cooks the meals from his book by the same title: Save With Jamie, to know that it was a book I wanted in my collection.

Having used the book now for about 6 months I feel that it brings such enrichment to my home that I have to encourage others to add it to your shelf.

The top eight reasons I love this book:

We have slowly moved to a low carb diet since 2009 when Superman was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. I struggled for a long time to give up baked treats and puddings as I love/d baking. There is also something so satisfying about a big bowl of pasta or creamy mashed potatoes. It’s not that we never eat these foods, but they are rather eaten rarely.

Giving recipes based around cheaper cuts of meat like pork shoulder and beef brisket and showing how to cook them for maximum taste and tenderness can help any other omnivore to save a little on what is always the most expensive item in a food budget.

The way we have worked with this book is that either on a Sunday or Monday evening we make a big roast – 2 chickens or 1 large shoulder of lamb or pork or a beef brisket – and we enjoy that with all the trimmings. For the chickens we will eat the dark meat and save the breast meat for a meal through the week and the carcass for stock. For the lamb, beef and pork, we will save half the meat for a meal later on in the week.

For instance, on Monday my son made a gorgeous roast lamb with savoy cabbage, peas and roast potatoes. Half the lamb was saved and used in Jamie’s biryani recipe on Tuesday, which was stupendous. The winner meal so far is left over beef brisket in Korean stir-fry. Nom Nom Nom!

Stocks & dripping!
Obviously these roasts have bones left behind and he encourages the home cook to make stock and use it in later recipes and soups. Always a high scorer on the nutrition scale! Dripping is also saved and used to add extra flavor to risotto, soups, gravy and stir fry.

Buying and storing bulk!
At the beginning of the book (like most of his later ones) he has a pantry and stock list. These things may seem pricey to buy up front (sesame oil etc) but you use so little of it that they last a long time. You can also spread the pantry stocking over a few grocery shops so that the first is not overwhelming on your wallet. His freezer tips are also a winner and as he rightly points out, buying frozen veg (if you don’t grow and freeze your own) is often cheaper and has more nutrients than 5-day-old grocery store fresh veg.

“Old” fashioned tips
Truly the age of our grandmothers is coming back when it comes to thrifty food. Waste not want not is a big thing in this recipe book. How to use up sagging veg in pickles, soups and stocks…how to freeze chillies and herbs…why dripping is a delicacy and needs to be saved…so much more!

He also intersperses shopping tips and why supporting the little butcher or fishmonger shop or the local farmers and markets is a wiser choice than the big chain stores.

Saving money!
This is not a book on how to use beans for protein. This is whole foods, across all the food groups but how to do it frugally and without waste. So if you are a vegetarian or vegan this book is not for you and if you are not prepared to rethink how you shop and cook, then skip this one. However if you are like us that enjoy food, love making it, smelling it cooking and try to do it in the most ethical and organic way, then give it a go.

Time saving – sort of!
Sort of, because some of the meals take long slow roasts in the oven but the finishing off is quick and also as he uses all the leftovers, you can do one big meal on an evening when you have more time and then have 2 quick meals from left overs on other nights of the week.

The nom-nom-nom factor
A friend once told me I am obsessed with food…and I am. Not any food though – good food, tasty food, food that makes my family smile, food that I can serve to dinner guests, food that’s funky for my younger fussy eater, food made from scratch and leaves my loved ones and I saying that was a good meal.

We have a saying in our kitchen, when I am making a recipe that asks me to do something that raises my eyebrows (like making a rice pie crust!!!): “Don’t argue with Jamie”. To date there has not been one recipe in this book we do not like, even though we are half way through testing them.

So if you are feeling a little despondent or unenthused with your culinary skills at the moment, I encourage you to give this book a try! And if you need to see a meal take a look at this favourite of ours

Happy cooking! Oh and if you are a Cape Town reader and you are looking for high quality affordable organic meat, take a look at my elder children's business Funky Chickens

Monday, May 12, 2014

Easy foundations for nutritious meals

When I started turning my attention to real nutritious whole food my youngest was still in utero. He is now 12 years old. But as each year passes I add a bit more to my repertoire.

Our first moves were from white shop bought bread to whole wheat bread then to making our own whole wheat bread then onto buying the grains and grinding them and making our bread. It was a process of good-better-best. The goal was to always be growing and learning how to be wiser stewards of our bodies.

It can be so overwhelming when starting to switch onto whole foods and real ingredients that when we think we have to do it all at the beginning we give up before even taking one baby step.

My advice is always to just make one change and when that change for the better is part of your routine, add another and then keep going. With that in mind, one of the easiest things you can do is make these 5 easy foundational parts of most recipes and keep them in your fridge or freezer until you need them.

Meat stocks

Chicken, beef and lamb stocks can be made and frozen in Ziploc bags or plastic containers. We use loads of chicken stock so I just keep 3x 1 liter jars in the fridge all the time. We eat roast chicken once a week (I roast 2 and we have leftovers for salads, soups and sandwiches) the next day. I keep all the bones, cartilage and skin to make stock. If I debone a chicken (it’s cheaper than buying mixed portions) I also keep the carcass for stock.

I get beef and lamb bones from the organic farmer who supplies my children’s business with their products and make stock from those.

Meat stock recipes here. (Lamb and beef are done the same)

Vegetable stock 

For vegetable stock, I will save carrot peels, celery bits, onion bits and any other vegetable offcuts every now and again for vegetable stock. They can be frozen in a container until you have enough unless you are doing a big cook up then use them fresh.

Uses for your stocks:
Spaghetti and lasagna mince

Tomato and vegetable sauce
This is a much quicker but still tasty way to have tomato sauce on hand for recipes. It is much more nutritious than cans of tomatoes.

Obviously its great if you have a glut of homegrown organic tomatoes, but any tomatoes can do great things in this sauce.

2kg tomatoes quatered
2 bulbs of garlic, peeled
3 large carrots, grated
1 large bunch of celery, chopped
A selection of herbs (rosemary, thyme, oregano) 

Wash and prepare the vegetables. Add to a large pot with a drizzle of olive oil. Bring up to a boil while stirring. Reduce the temperature and let it bubble away for an hour until soft.

Add 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Blend up with a stick blender and once cooled store in jars in the fridge or freeze in containers or bags.

Uses for your tomato sauce:

Bolognaise Sauce

Bonus idea…

Have you heard about Artisan Bread in 5minutes a day? It was the rage about 3 years ago. It’s a great way to make your own bread a couple of days a week.


Saturday, May 10, 2014

7 easy supper recipes

After my last post I have been thinking about woman who find the kitchen intimidating. I don’t know if you are one, but if so this is written to you. I realize that for some, the way Jamie Oliver writes his recipes are simply overwhelming. I get that! He chats his recipes, more than writes them and this is quite confusing.

I am no Jamie Oliver, so these are not those types of recipes. The 7 that follow are simply great easy filling nutritious ones that you can cook from scratch with whole ingredients. They are my favorites for nights when I know we will be in late. I would get the longer cooking items started around 3pm before we leave for afternoon activities and then spend 20 minutes finishing them off.

Just a note – we eat very little potatoes, rice and bread at the moment, as it is best for my husband’s blood sugar levels. Last time we checked he was clear of Type 2 diabetes. So if this is not a concern for your family, then you can add the carbohydrates.

Lamb Stew
500g lamb knuckles, neck or cubes
1 onion, chopped
1 teaspoon crushed garlic
Olive oil
6 tomatoes, chopped
1 can of lentils
Beef or vegetable stock
250ml wine
250ml water
Salt and pepper
Variety of vegetables cleaned and chopped (carrots, potatoes, courgettes, green beans)

Brown the onion and garlic in the oil. Add lamb and brown. Add the other ingredients. Turn heat down to a gentle simmer. Allow to cook for about 2 hrs until tender. Add vegetables and cook for a further 20 minutes.
Serve on basmati or brown rice.

Shepherds Pie

500g beef mince
1 onion chopped
1 teaspoon garlic
250ml beef stock
250ml frozen peas, corn and carrots (or fresh chopped)
6 potatoes peeled and cubed.

Make your mash by boiling the potatoes until cooked. Mash with some milk ad butter. In the meantime fry onion and garlic and brown the mince. Add the stock and season with salt and pepper. Add the veggies. Transfer to an oven proof dish. Add the mash to the top and cover over the mince. Use a fork to make tracks on the top. Bake for 30 minutes on 180 deg Celsius.

(*We make cauliflower mash now using 3 large heads of cauliflower, steamed, and blended with salt pepper, parmesan and butter for the topping.)

Bunny chow in rootis

I make my own rooti (chapitis) but you can buy ready made wraps or rooti from most stores.

500g mince
1 onion finely chopped
1 teaspoon garlic
Mixed frozen veggies or whatever your garden is yielding.
250 ml Beef stock
Brown the onion in some hot oil. Add the garlic and beef mince. Brown well. Add the veggies, spices, stock and cook for 15 minutes. Allow sauce to reduce. Spoon some into the centre of your rooti and roll up to eat.

Speedy Mexican Meal
This is a handed on recipe from my dear friend Elastic Mom.

1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1T oil
½ red pepper chopped
½ t chilli powder
1 ½ t cumin
1 t oregano
½ to 1 t salt
1 can baked beans
300g finely sliced chicken
1 large packet corn chips (Nature's Choice is the most friendly for your body)
Cheese, grated
Lettuce, shredded
Spring onions, chopped
Sour cream / yoghurt
Salsa sauce (optional)
Olives, chopped
Avocado, sliced


Sauté onion, garlic and chicken until chicken is cooked. Add pepper and seasonings. Cook until pepper softens. Add beans (and tomato paste if necessary). Heat through and serve with remaining ingredients.

Chicken Pita Breads

6 deboned skinless chicken breasts
8 pita breads
Kikkoman sauce
Sliced lettuce
Chopped tomato
Plain yoghurt
Grated cheese

Working with slightly thawed chicken breasts, slice them very thinly along the shortest width. Place them in bowl and pour the Kikkoman on to just cover.

Make your tzatziki sauce by grating your cucumber and letting it lie in a colander to drain. Mix the cucumber with 250ml of yoghurt and ¼ teaspoon fresh garlic.

Heat some olive oil in a frying pan. Add some garlic and some of the chicken pieces. Fry until cooked through. Set aside and fry the next portion. When all chicken is fried add it all back to the pan and pour the Kikkoman into the pan. Reduce.

Toast your pita breads. Slice off the top and let everyone fill their pita’s with the fillings.

Thai Chicken Curry

500g chicken breast fillets diced or sliced
2 carrots julienne
4 baby marrow (zucchini) julienne
1 red pepper sliced
1 can coconut milk
1 packet of cashew nuts
Green curry paste – 1 teaspoon or more depending on your tolerance.
Oil for frying
Basmati rice
Coriander (cilantro)

Fry the chicken breasts with the green curry paste. Add the veggies and cook until cooked but still crunchy. Add the coconut milk. Add cashews. Allow to reheat. Serve on basmati rice.

Coriander yoghurt – finely chop coriander and stir into the yoghurt. Serve as a side portion with chicken curry.

Basil & Parmesan meatballs with spaghetti
500 grams beef mince
1 cup grated parmesan
½ cup chopped fresh basil (use dry if you have to)
Olive Oil
8 fresh tomatoes finely chopped
Garlic and Oregano
Mix the beef, parmesan and basil together and make into little bit sized meatballs.

Fry gently in some olive oil.

Cook the spaghetti.

Put the tomatoes into the pan with the meatballs, sprinkle with oregano, salt and pepper. Cook until the tomato forms a chunky sauce.

Serve on a bed of spaghetti, sprinkle with Parmesan. Serve with a salad.

(We will make our own vegetable “pasta” with the spiralizer we bought. This is a great way to use up abundant marrows (zucchini) when you have planted too many J )

Monday, May 5, 2014

Reasons for cooking from scratch

I have been watching Jamie’s USA Food Revolution on YouTube. I enjoyed the UK series so much a couple of years ago, that when I stumbled onto the USA one the other day I decided to give it a go.

I know this was filmed 4 years ago in 2010 and I do hope they have seen long lasting change from what Jamie sparked. The problem of the USA school food system is not all at the door industrial food giants; it’s a compound issue, in my opinion.

Right at the start let me say that I have "met" many moms, mainly stay at home homeschooling moms, who are really diligent with their families health and eating. Please do not think that I have a skewed perspective on every American Mom because I have now watched this TV series :) What follows are simply my thoughts.

Starting at the core, with Mommy being out of the home working long hours to survive, food has become a necessity, not a gathering of the family to enjoy one of our basic needs. So fast food, ready to heat meals, convenience foods, empty calorie stomach fillers are the norm in the home.

I am saddened that those little ones did not know a beetroot from a cauliflower, a tomato from a potato. They have just never been taught. It was clear in the show that it was not even in the school curriculum for tots to learn the basic food vocabulary besides what they pick up naturally being French Fries, Hamburgers and Pizza.

At the top of the pile of blame seem to be the USA school food guidelines, for which I suppose the conspiracy theorists would have a great explanation! I think that the industrial food giants are simply supplying what the shoppers are demanding in their ignorance – or perhaps in their need for convenience. The fighters of the real food cause in the USA – Michael Pollan, Joel Salatin, Jordan Rubin etc – have some fabulous books, YouTube documentaries and ideas for anyone who is looking for the truth behind most health problems.

So add the three things together – industrial food, moms out of the home and a lack of education - and you end up with the compound root of the problem. Many mom’s are not equipped with knowledge either on how to cook from scratch with real ingredients, they do not have the time to do it and because they do not have the knowledge, they cannot pass it on to their own children. Whether they are stay at home, or work out of home, there are many reasons to cook from scratch.

This is not a heavy on moms. I am one too. I know how hard it is to always do the right thing, and there are obviously times when we all want a break. I have always believed in an 80/20 rule. 80% of the time I make sure that we eat the right food, exercise and stay away from junky treats. 20% of the time which includes when my children are not with me over meal times, when they are out with friends or when we have a real craving for decadent chocolate brownies or wheat flour based pancakes J then we indulge and enjoy, guilt free.

I thought I would share a list of things that I believe are some of the best things about cooking from scratch and I have some resources listed below for you to consider.

1. Cooking from scratch becomes a family affair. I always have one, two or three of my children to help with peeling, chopping or stirring. This started when they were very young and has continued through to their teen years. Even my eldest’s betrothed is roped in when he visits. And now Superman comes to help in the evenings too and we chat while we chop and dice.

2. You use real ingredients that do not have alphabet codes followed by a string of numbers. Even bread which is made from flour, water, fat, yeast, salt and sugar made at home is glaringly different from the ingredients listed on the back of packets of shop bought bread. I decided years ago to not put something into my body if I didn’t know what it is.

3.  When cooking from scratch with young ones, you have the wonderful chance to pass on your knowledge, as much or as little as it is, to the next generation. I am not a "prepper", nor a doomsday prophet, but I know that real food is going to be harder and harder to come buy as we come the end of the age. If we can equip our children, who will equip theirs in turn, to source, prepare and cook real ingredients, we are setting them up to survive in a world vastly different to what we currently live in.

4. Because cooking from scratch demands real raw ingredients you are voting with your Rands and Dollars for the farmers. You are buying carrots, potatoes and tomatoes from Farmer Joe. Farmer Joe can feed his family and keep on growing real food for you and your kids. If you want to step this up, buy from local food markets. You are then keeping your money in the place where you live and make a huge difference to the local community. While we choose organic raw ingredients as far as possible, this would not necessarily be feasible for everyone, but just buy buying what farmers grow, not what industry produces, you are helping keep food real.

5.  Sitting down to a meal that you and your family have made from scratch together, gives a huge sense of satisfaction to everyone. There may be more dishes to wash (sometimes), more time may have been spent on making the meal, but you know that what you are putting into your bodies is good for it and will not compromise your health or the health of your family. That’s peace of mind.

6.  Following on from this is that as you make the meals and sit at the dinner table to enjoy your work, you begin to create a food culture. Something that will stay with your family for years to come. 

7. Cooking from scratch is more frugal. Even when you add organic bacon, organic bananas and homemade mozzarella to a homemade pizza base it is STILL cheaper than buying a ready-made pizza from the local delivery joint or even Woolies Foods. 

8. As your skills improve with cooking from scratch you will probably begin to think about growing something of your own. For beginner gardeners I think the best thing to do is to grow your own culinary herbs. While they are not going to fill a plate, they can turn a plain meal into something spectacular. Rosemary crushed with salt, pepper and garlic rubbed onto a chicken for roasting, or handfuls of chopped basil and oregano into a bolognaise sauce, immediately transforms the meal.

9. Learning to cook from raw ingredients has another added benefit in that you eliminate food and packaging waste, or at least reduce it. You will have less tin, plastic and cardboard in your recycling bin and less wet food into your domestic bin.

10. Lastly, when you cook from scratch you begin to develop a home mentality. If you work outside of your home you probably come home exhausted from a challenging day. Laundry still needs to be done, meals prepared, the house tidied up. These things can become a real bind when you are already dead tired. The thing is that we can all go without our favourite jeans if the laundry is not done, but we cannot go without food. When we start to rank meals higher on the agenda and we see the blessing that proceeds from this simple act of making wholesome nutritious food, we begin to see our homes as not just a pit stop in a full busy day, but the centre to our families activities and lives.

Resources for those wanting to develop cooking skills:

Jamie’s 30 minute meals (ignore the 30 minutes – just make the recipes)
Jamie’s 15 minute meals (as above)
Save Money with Jamie (my latest favourite cookbook!)
Down to Earth Blog (Rhonda has a wonderful simple encouraging blog)
Budget Bytes (Delicious tasty thrifty quick easy meals)

Equip yourself further by reading:

Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
Michael Pollan’s Food Rules
Down to Earth by Rhonda Hetzel
The Makers Diet by Jordan Rubin
Any of Joel Salatins books

Do you have any other reasons for cooking from scratch? Please feel free to share in the comment box! I would love to hear from you!