I often don’t get through a whole loaf of bread before it starts going dry. I hate to waste things so I have been putting dry-ish bread in the freezer for months, with the aim of eventually getting round to making bread and butter pudding.
Now that it is January I am in fridge and freezer emptying mode; I do this every year to try and use up Christmas leftovers and decrease spending for a while. A week into the new year we had a fantastic leftovers meal ofvegetable pie, invented by my mum, followed by bread and butter pudding made by Steve. A cheap delicious meal, no food waste, and an evening off from cooking for me – winner! Steve based the bread and butter pudding on a good-old Delia Smith recipe from our old family recipe book. He adapted the recipe to use dates instead of currants and candied peel, and omitted most of the sugar other than some lovely crunchy demerara sugar on top.
8 slices of bread, buttered
a handful of chopped dates
12 fl oz/ 350ml milk
A couple of tablespoons of demerara sugar
Grated rind of a small lemon
Pre-heat the oven to 180oC.
Rub butter onto the base and sides of a deep oblong baking dish (Delia Smith says a 2 pint dish, I just choose one which looks about right).
Butter the bread and cut it into triangles. Place a layer butter side up into the dish and sprinkle on some chopped dates, add another layer of bread and repeat.
Measure out the milk (you can add cream if you are feeling decadent or have some to use up, as long as it adds up to the correct volume). Add the whisked eggs to the milk and then pour over the bread. Delia adds sugar, the lemon rind and nutmeg to the milk, but I prefer to add them at the end for a delicious crunchy topping.
Sprinkle the sugar, lemon zest and nutmeg onto the top and then bake in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes. It should end up lovely and gooey in the middle with a crispy top. The crispy sugar and lemon is delicious.
It has become one of Steve’s Christmas traditions to make hampers for some lucky few friends. I made a small contribution (this year I made Delia’s Chicken Liver Pate) but it is mostly Steve’s hard work. He finishes his teaching for the semester and (mostly) finds it calming making delicious treats in the kitchen, of the type that I would find far too fiddly and time consuming.
One of the favourites are mint creams, but it seems that Peppermint Essence is hard to come by in Dubai which led to some good experimenting this year. We had raspberry creams for the hampers, followed by orange creams for my Christmas present. What could be more romantic than chocolate made by your husband?… that he uses his wedding ring as the perfect size cutter (well cleaned first of course).
The basic recipe is based on one from The Crafty Larder, chosen because it doesn’t use raw egg white. Here, in his own words, is Steve’s method for making chocolate creams.
Note that the quantity of water/flavouring may vary slightly and it may take a couple of attempts to perfect. If the mixture comes out too wet then add more icing sugar, if it is too dry then add a very small amount of water at a time.
1. In a bowl, mix the first three ingredients (plus food colouring if desired).
2. Add the icing sugar and then thoroughly mix together to form a smooth workable dough, if the dough crumbles add water, if it is too sticky add some icing sugar.
3. On a glass board sprinkle some icing sugar and then roll out the dough to a thickness of roughly 5 mm. During rolling sprinkle icing sugar to the surface regularly. You can place a sheet of baking/greaseproof paper on top to prevent sticking to the rolling pin. I however found this unnecessary. If the dough cracks during rolling then sprinkle more icing sugar.
4. Using a cutter (my wedding ring is just the right size, cleaned of course) cut the dough into small rounds and place them onto a surface which is sprinkled with icing sugar. Leave them to dry for half an hour.
5. Place a piece of greaseproof paper onto a tray that you can place into the fridge, flip the creams onto the greaseproof paper, then place them into the fridge overnight to continue drying.
6. The next day melt the chocolate and dip the mints. I use a fork for this which produces an even coat, with relatively thin chocolate. I slide the chocolates on the fork slowly on their side, and then flip them such that the side that touched the fork is upwards. Depending on the temperature and consistency of the chocolate this will produce a texture to the chocolate surface. Place the coated chocolates back onto the greaseproof paper. During this stage you may add food glitter or an identifier of some form to the surface if you are making multiple flavours of chocolate creams.
7. Place the chocolates back into the fridge to set. Once set they are done.
Using my wedding ring I make approximately 100 chocolate creams from this recipe.
It is then Kitty’s job to package them for the hampers, usually in greaseproof paper parcels tied with ribbon and a pretty label.
If you have been following my blog for a while you have probably noticed that I am interested in the origins of my food, love shopping locally and seasonably and try my best to use up what I’ve got and keep food waste to the minimum. I try my best to shop sustainably and ethically, get cross about pointless packaging and try to dispose of the waste I do make carefully. And now? This self-professed greeny has moved to Dubai! The land of excess. The city in the desert. The city of air conditioning and desalinated water. As you can imagine this is a challenge. How can I live sustainably in this place? Is it even possible? Do the little things that I do make any difference in a land where, if the whole world lived to this excess, we would run out of resources less than a quarter of the way though the year?
Inspired by an article I read recently about trying to be ‘green’ in rural America I have decided to share with you a ‘week in the life of’ me trying to live sustainably in Dubai. Some of the challenges are very different, some surprisingly similar.
This post is a little longer than my usual, but please stick with me and let me know your thoughts.
It is the beginning of the week (weekends being Friday and Saturday here) and Steve makes his first packed lunch salad for the week. We buy most of our vegetables from Spinney’s which is just a few minutes walk away (a very hot few minutes unless we go early or late in the day). A little while ago they were selling reusable cloth bags for vegetables, they seem to have stopped selling them but I am still using them. They are also happy for us to take pots back to the deli counter to refill. The vegetables, not surprisingly, come from all over the world. I remain unsure whether it is better to buy local vegetables grown using desalinated water or things brought in from overseas. A positive choice I can make is to avoid pre-packed vegetables.
Steve’s Greek Salad
Half a cucumber
a small tomato
Half a small onion
Baked chopped beetroot
Hard boiled egg
Line caught tinned tuna
We also do some of our shopping at the local organic shop, making use of their fantastic discount days to replenish the store-cupboard and buy some meat for the freezer. It is quite an expensive place to buy meat even when there is a good discount, but as we only eat it about once a week we can afford to be choosy. I also love that they sell some ingredients loose which cuts down on plastic.
It is hard in summer to entertain a little one here, it is too hot and humid outside. My friends and I take it in turns to host playdates at home, but sometimes we just need a change of scenery. Today I took baby to a soft-play area to meet some of his little friends (they were all awake at the same time for once – a miracle). I choose a decaffeinated ice mocha at the café there, it is served in a glass jar not a disposable plastic cup like many places – good. But… I am too slow in turning down the straw, and I notice that having decaf means that the coffee comes in an individual plastic package to keep it fresh. You win some you lose some I suppose?
I get home and the little one has a nap, worn out from his playing. Do I have a nap myself or do the washing up? The perpetual question of a stay at home mum. I go with the washing up. It takes a while for the water to come through hot enough, so while it heats up I collect it in old milk bottles to water my plants on the balcony. Growing up in the driest part of the UK and then spending time living in Australia has made me rather sensitive about wasting water. While on the subject of washing up – one of the easy small changes I made a while ago was to start using washable cloths rather than sponges, it’s not a hardship to put them in the washing machine so this is an easy way to reduce waste.
For the first time since starting on the large refillable bottles of water we have run out before our Wednesday delivery and have to buy bottled water – bother. We also need to buy a big bucket of yoghurt for baby. I don’t think that there is a good alternative to buying yoghurt in a plastic tub – I could make it myself but I would still need to buy the milk in plastic bottles. At least buying a large volume reduces the packaging and baby is excited to have another bucket to put his toys in, and for playing water at the beach.
Today our big refilled bottles of water are supposed to turn up. I could lie to you and say that everything went to plan… but I’m going to be honest and admit that I forgot to top up the water app with money so the bottles didn’t turn up. So, I had to go shopping for bottled water again. Fail.
So, drinking water. An interesting dilemma here in Dubai. Arguably we could do better than the refilled bottles and have a filter tap installed in the sink… arguably we don’t even need to do that. Dubai water is, I’ve been told, drinking water standard at source however people still don’t trust it; possibly rightly because in some buildings there can be issues with corrosion of pipes. What I would really like to do is to send a sample of our tap water off to a lab so we can find out whether we can drink it or not. I expect that this isn’t an option so for the moment I’ll stick to my big bottles and do a little more research into filter taps.
We have got back into the habit of using Steve’s bread maker again, which cuts down on packaging and means that there are no preservatives. The flour is packaged in paper and is an organic British brand, there doesn’t seem to be a more local alternative for Bread Flour. The oil and sugar are in plastic but bulk bought, yeast is in a tin but has a plastic lid to keep fresh. We still buy local Arabic bread which is incredibly cheap, fresh and great with salad and for dipping in hummus – it is packaged in plastic, but at least the bags are the perfect size for our bathroom bin.
It’s the weekend!
I have decided that I want a bikini. I have to say that I am not a confident bikini wearer, I much prefer the support of a full cossie when swimming; but it is too hot and humid to comfortably walk across the road to the pool with a swimming costume under my clothes (first world problem?!). Which brings me to clothes. A bikini is the second thing I have bought since we arrived here in March, I also got a light long sleeved cardigan which I can wear with almost everything – which is great because I dislike baring my arms which are two dress sizes bigger than the rest of me (and at times it is inappropriate to have bare arms here, so it’s very useful garment).
I don’t like buying new clothes too often. I worry about the sweat shop it was probably made in. I worry about the resources used to make it – oil for manmade fibres, the huge amount of water for growing cotton. I love inheriting preloved clothes from friends and finding lovely things in charity shops. I am not sure whether charity shops exist here, but I think that I will put some time into organising a clothes swap – I’ll keep you posted.
It is still the weekend, but the chores continue. Washing clothes seems never ending. Recently I have been reading about how we should wash clothes less in order to save water and lessen the micro-plastics getting into the water. This is difficult in such a hot climate and with a baby. Wearing more natural fibres would help (but I don’t want to buy new clothes, and growing cotton uses a lot of water so is not necessarily a good environmental option – difficult). Hopefully when it cools down in the autumn I can wash the grown-up clothes less. I could also be more consistent in separating out washing which just needs a quick ‘de-stink’ from clothes which baby has covered in food and… other nastier things. Having said all that, I don’t think that the onus should just be on consumers for reducing microfibres – this is an interesting article which discusses things which the industry could do before clothes even reach the shelves.
When we moved to Dubai I started using washable nappies. I would have liked to have done this from day one but I didn’t feel up to the task with a newborn, and then when I had things more ‘together’ the thought of having to dry them in a damp British winter was a bit much. Now I have finally have time, energy and a warm climate to dry things in – hurrah! Having said that I only use them when I am near home, I don’t like the idea of carrying a poo-filled nappy around with me all day.
Some final thoughts…
One of the points made in the article about being ‘green’ in rural America which really resonated with me was ‘some people feeling bad for decisions largely out of their control – and many people not feeling bad for actions they can control‘. Personally, I know that I am the kind of person who can easily start feeling guilty about things which I don’t do. Sometimes this is good and can lead to action, other times it just adds to the fatigue which often plagues me. When my little one was born I made a conscious decision not to use washable nappies and managed not to feel bad about it – I knew my limits and knew that I would probably surpass them with a newborn. Some environmentally conscious friends tried hard to tell me how easy it is to wash nappies, others supported the fact that I recognised my limits and was looking out for my mental health (thanks Kate!).
If you have got to the end of this post, thank-you – I hope that it hasn’t been too long and rambling! I would be interested in your thoughts – especially if you live here in Dubai and have any tips. I know that some of you will be of the opinion that I am over thinking things and that I should chill out a bit, and that others will think that I am not doing enough. There are lots of things that I haven’t discussed, such as all the flying you do when living internationally. Is there any point in the (arguably) little things I do day to day when I fly back to the UK a couple of times a year?! I think that is a discussion for another day!
This is the first recipe from my new kitchen… in Dubai! Yes, the ‘quiet year’ we had planned after the craziness of last year all went to pot when we moved half way around the world. Our possessions from the UK arrive today, hurrah! We have been rattling around in a rather empty apartment until now. As I have shared with you previously a kitchen with limited resources makes for some creative cooking… as does a frequently breaking fridge-freezer it turns out. grrr. I am never buying a second hand fridge-freezer again!
There is nothing quite like a broken fridge-freezer to inspire a new use-it-up recipe. Sometimes these dishes are a bit ‘interesting’, however this one I will definitely make again. Past successes have included ‘disaster jam’ (can’t waste frozen fruit). I wasn’t sure what to call this one, ‘disaster vegetable moussaka bread and butter pudding’ – doesn’t have quite the same ring to it!
Dry bread, buttered
Two aubergine (Eggplant), sliced
One red pepper
Stuffed peppers preserved in oil
Salt, pepper and chilli flakes
Pre-heat the oven to about 180oC.
Fry the pepper and tomatoes in some oil from the preserved peppers (the deliciously flavoured oil is too good to waste).
Place the bread butter-side down in an oven dish.
When the pepper and tomatoes have started to cook down add half to the dish as a layer over the bread. Add some of the preserved peppers, focusing on putting them in any gaps between the bread.
Add a layer of aubergine followed by the rest of the pepper and tomato mixture and the remaining preserved peppers.
Top with the last of the aubergine. Add a spoon of the flavoured oil onto each aubergine slice and season generously with salt pepper and a spice mix of your choice – I used BBQ chilli flakes.
This recipe has been sitting in draft since January – so we haven’t ‘recently’ returned from Australia. In fact, we are now in a different part of the world altogether (we have a very well travelled baby, more on that another time). Although this post lacks the ‘immediacy’ of my usual writing, which means that I am not completely happy with it, I have decided to share it with you anyway – both because the meal was delicious, and because it was made in one of my favourite places. If you ever find yourself travelling in the Australian State of Victoria make sure that you spend some time staying at Lochinver Farm; it is idyllic, and Alison will be able to point you in the direction of some fabulous places which serve local food and wine.
We have recently returned from spending nearly a month in Australia. Are we mad to fly around the world with a 6 month old baby? Maybe, but actually the most difficult part is now -dealing with a jet-lagged baby who wants to go to bed at 3.00 in the afternoon and wake up at 3.00 in the morning.
We spent our first week in Australia with our good friends the Williamsons who run a farm in country Victoria – the beautiful Lochinver Homestead. At Lochinver they raise sheep for both merino wool and meat, as well as offering accomodation in the old homestead and workmen’s cottages (well, ‘old’ by Australian standards at least!). On New Year’s Eve Mark cooked us roast lamb from the farm, and the following evening I took it upon myself to create something with the leftovers. What we ended up with was a middle eastern inspired dish, which also used up some fresh fruit and bits I found in the wonderful old-fashioned larder in the farmhouse kitchen.
Three handfuls of cooked lamb
A handful of raisins
A couple of teaspoons of Zaatar
Half a tin of chickpeas
A handful of flaked almonds
Chop the lamb into bite-sized pieces and put in a microwave-proof bowl with the raisins, zaatar and a splash of water. Microwave for about 3 minutes. Chop the nectarines into small pieces and fry them in olive oil, together with the lamb hot from the microwave, the almonds and the chickpeas. Fry for about five minutes, stirring frequently.
I served this with salad, couscous and an impromptu ‘tzatziki’, which I made by stirring mint sauce and chopped cucumber into Greek yogurt- when in a strange kitchen you have to improvise!
This was a delicious and very simple dish, made even better by the satisfaction of using up leftovers and of eating lamb at the farm where it had been raised. Please let me know if you give this recipe a go -I would love to know how you get on!
I love a guest blog post – this isn’t because I’m lazy (much), but because I love discovering and sharing other people’s recipes and writing styles. This recipe comes from the fabulously creative Kate.
Kate is, amongst other things, a Laughter Yoga teacher, a creative writer and seriously skilled at making cakes. Embracing the vegan lifestyle has, if anything, made her more creative in the kitchen and I always enjoying sampling the tasty treats she makes.
So without further ado, and in her own words (and with the help of playdough), here is Kate’s recipe for Vegan Sausage Rolls.
So… near the start of the month I had a vegan sausage roll from Greggs (pleasant warming snack).
But then I got obsessed with sausage rolls!
I wrapped a Linda McCartney vegan sausage in pastry… also good.
Then I made my own stuffing with bagels, chestnuts, pecans, sage, dried cherries and spices and made it into this super fancy braided sausage roll based on some random video that appeared on my newsfeed. And it is the best yet!
I wrote it into my titchy recipes notebook (started in 2002!) but here it is slightly more legibly.
Day one: make the stuffing and eat some of it with some roast potatoes and veg
Day two: turn the rest into sausage rolls.
Special skills needed: adding just the right amount of water to things.
(Stuffing fills a 15cm diameter, 7cm deep round oven dish)
200g ready to eat chestnuts
small handful pecans
8 dried cherries (I like the Urban Fruit ones as they aren’t sweetened)
6 sage leaves
pinch of ground nutmeg
pinch of smoked paprika
sprinkle of mixed pepper
sprinkle of mixed herbs
dessert spoon of vegan margarine
(to make three sausage rolls)
180g plain flour
90g vegan margarine
pinch of salt
cold water to mix
Blend bagels, chestnuts and pecans on a low speed until they are in crumbs/small pieces. Tip into a mixing bowl.
Boil the kettle.
Preheat the oven to 180oC.
Snip cherries into thirds, add to bowl (It is possible that using a different amount of cherries cut into different fractions will also work!).
Skip idyllically into your garden to harvest some sage leaves, wash them, then rip them up and add to the bowl.
Add the spices and smush around with your fingers.
Pour a splurge of boiling water on until the texture looks like stuffing. Add the margarine on top and stir to melt it in.
Cook in an ovenproof dish for 25 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 200oC
Make the pastry. Rub margarine into flour and salt. Tip a little cold water in until you get a dough, then roll it out and cut it into thirds. Top tip: don’t go back and forth over your pastry like a steamroller, just push it one way at a time then it won’t go tough.
Place a chunk of stuffing in the middle of each rectangle.
I didn’t have the opportunity to make another batch of pastry to demonstrate the braiding technique… but I did have some play dough and giant chalks (see below images for a step by step guide. ed).
Please do not consume chalk or play dough in a moment of confusion.
Cut the pastry in diagonal lines, wet the edges, braid it and do something rustic with the ends (or find a slightly more detailed tutorial if you aren’t a fan of super chunky pastry!).
Cook for 25 minutes.
Enjoy the wodge-tastic January comfort food goodness! Smile and then you can ingest your chestnuts in jest. Sausage ROTFL. Ha!
Little boy is four and a half months old (now 5 months) (… now 6 months!) and I’m going to attempt to finish my first blog post since he arrived. I did draft one a couple of months ago, but it turned into a rant about how people judge other people’s parenting skills. A shame really; what had started as a good day where I had managed to cook myself a delicious lunch from scratch (and even eat it while it was reasonably warm) turned into the day where I decided that the collective noun for mothers is ‘a judgement’. A parliament of owls, a murder of crows, a judgement of mothers… sounds about right. Today I am somewhat more positive, so here goes.
Not only is this the first post since baby arrived, it is also the first in my new kitchen. We took delivery of a new oven this week to replace the rather scary ancient gas contraption, so of course I celebrated by making pie!
This recipe was invented using inspiration from the reduced section of the supermarket and what needed using up in the fridge. I have rarely bought ready chopped vegetables in the past thinking it a bit lazy, which I suppose it is when you have time and energy. Now that I have a baby who will only let me put him down for limited periods of time I see the point of them! The chopped carrot and swede was reduced in the supermarket, as was the pastry. The spinach was in the fridge and wanted using, I wouldn’t have thought to buy it for this purpose but it worked.
Chopped carrot and swede
Half a pack of bacon, chopped
Half an onion
A few cloves of garlic
Teaspoon dried herbs – I used thyme and tarragon
A couple of handfuls of spinach
A splash of cream
A handful of grated cheddar cheese
Pastry – I used ready rolled
Preheat the oven to 180oC.
Finely chop the onion, garlic and bacon and fry together in a saucepan which has a lid – you will need very little oil because the fat will come out of the bacon. Add the chopped carrot and swede, herbs and black pepper. Do not add salt or stock at this stage – you will probably find that the bacon makes it salty enough. Add about half a pint of water hot from the kettle and simmer until you can put a fork in the vegetables. Stir in the spinach so that it wilts, then drain most of the liquid off (you can use this later as stock for soup). Stir in cream and grated cheese, taste and add salt and pepper to taste. Put the pie filling in an oven proof dish and let it cool before adding the pastry lid – pastry put on a hot filling often shrinks. Brush the pastry with egg and bake in the centre of the oven for half an hour to 45 minutes.
… and finally, I don’t like to waste things so I made some delicious little tarts with the leftover pastry and egg. I rolled the pastry thinly and used a biscuit cutter to make rounds which I pressed into a small muffin tin. These I filled with finely chopped mushrooms which I had stirred into the remaining beaten egg along with some dried herbs and salt and black pepper. These were baked below the pie for about 10 to 15 minutes.