Showing posts with label In the Kitchen. Show all posts
Showing posts with label In the Kitchen. Show all posts

Friday, 27 April 2012

I ♥ stoneware

 Aurora @ Island Dreaming

Two Christmases ago we were given a stoneware pizza stone; and it has proved one of the most useful presents we have ever been given. Our oven has a bottom heating element that creates a column of heat that turns the base of anything you are trying to cook black before the rest is even warmed through. This especially spells disaster for anything going in at a high temperature - bread for example. If you consistently fail at baking, it may not be your technique, but your tools. Glass, metal and Teflon (which we avoid anyway) just don't compare if you have an oven like mine.

Our pizza stone has changed all of that. It distributes heat evenly, but insulates the edges of the food from very high heat, giving the bread the best chance at rising and cooking evenly. It also 'seasons' to a smooth, genuinely  non-stick surface that requires very little oiling or lining. As well as loaves, we have also made pizza at least once a fortnight - quick, healthy (if you are frugal with the cheese) and easy to eat on the go if need be. We have since invested in a stoneware brownie tray, not that we eat a lot of brownies (though that might change!), but because it is the perfect size for baking and roasting small quantities of vegetables. I also envision a lot more trays bakes coming from our kitchen in the near future.

New stoneware is a fairly pale, unglazed variant of stone coloured. If it is to perform its non-stick duties well, it will need to be seasoned. An initial seasoning can be achieved by either brushing the new pan with oil and baking it empty at a high heat for an hour or so, or by making sure that the first few times it is used to cook actual food, that that food is quite oily. The latter method is the route we took, the initial result is not as even, but it soon evens out with repeated use and this method also saves energy. The stoneware will initially turn golden, becoming a deeper shade of brown with every use:

Once well seasoned, stoneware can be cleaned with soap if absolutely necessary, although by this time it will be so non-stick that a wipe with a warm damp cloth or short soak in hot water should suffice. Burnt on residue can be scraped off with an old debit card. You can cut food on stoneware, but be warned it will likely blunt your knife, not damage the stoneware itself. The only thing that will truly damage your stoneware is extreme changes in temperature - therefore it should not go from the fridge to a hot oven or vice versa, or be exposed to direct heat. Care should be taken to ensure that stoneware pieces are not dropped or knocked. They may remain intact, but will be weakened and may instead break whilst in use at a later date, when you least expect it.

If you want to invest in stoneware, as always, buy the best you can afford and buy the unglazed variety. You can buy everything from casserole dishes to muffin trays and we are gradually adding pieces to our collection as funds allow. Be prepared to show it a little TLC in the beginning and it will serve you well.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Rethinking Convenience Food

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Cooking from scratch doesn't necessarily come to mind when one thinks of convenience foods. We have been trained for several generations to purchase ready-made goods. It started out innocent enough, but now people are yearning to go back to an earlier time and sets of skills and do more for themselves. Whether it be cooking, gardening, farming, or other lost skills it's all the same, we thought we were saving time and ended up getting busier and busier with no time (we were told) to do for ourselves. But really we lost a lot by not paying attention. I call myself Throwback for a reason. I am a throwback to an earlier time, when tasks like cooking, sewing and all the ins and outs of gardening were common knowledge. I'll give the luck of the draw some credit, I grew up on a farm, my parents were older and still kept some of the old ways, likewise with their circle of friends. My husband and I joke that our habits are so old, that they're in again.

As I prepared soup for dinner today, I went about my work gathering ingredients. We grow most of our food and preserve the harvest in a multitude of ways to last us through the dark days until the growing season starts in earnest.

You know, it sure is convenient to just go to the fruit room, freezer or root cellar and go shopping for meal preparation. I grabbed home canned roasted tomatoes, garlic, onions and potatoes from dry storage, ground beef, peppers, cilantro pesto and corn from the freezer, and grabbed a quart of chicken stock from the fridge. This task made me realize just how convenient it is to have great ingredients on hand to prepare meals with. We grow our own, but if you're not there yet with your pantry stocking from your gardens, you can still load your pantry with purchased goods. The key is having it on hand. Many good meals have been made on the spur of the moment - as long as you have the basics you're good to go.

I guess what I want to say is, if you're a new cook or gardener slaving away trying to master the skills, it's worth it. We need to rethink the idea of convenience food, nothing is more convenient than having good food on hand for preparing a home cooked meal.

Here is the recipe for our dinner made possible by our pantry and my guess and by gosh cooking. This recipe is just a general idea that can be changed to match what you have on hand. In the summer my chilies, corn and cilantro are fresh, in the winter the freezer stores have to do. Pork or chicken are good in this soup too - just use what you have. This recipe is convenient too because of the long cooking time, I can leave this to cook on the back of the woodstove, or even in the slow cooker if I wanted to. Truly convenient.

Beef Stew with Cilantro

1 pound ground beef or stew meat
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup coconut oil or butter
1 quart whole canned tomatoes
1 pint roasted whole tomatoes
1 quart chicken or beef stock
2 pounds potatoes, coarsely chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 or 3 anaheim chiles, chopped
1/3 cup chopped cilantro or cilantro pesto
1 cup frozen corn
sugar to taste - 1 teaspoon or not?
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

In large saucepan over medium high heat, brown onion, garlic and chopped pepper in 1/4 cup coconut oil or butter. When onions are caramelized, add meat and cook until brown. Remove meat and alliums from pan and set aside. Over medium heat in same pan, add all other ingredients, bring to boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, add meat and alliums. Cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours over low heat, stirring occasionally. Remove the cover and simmer for an additional 30 minutes. Serve. Much better the next day.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Quince Paste

Written by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin and Little Green Cheese.

Any Cheese maker worth his salt should be able to whip up a few accompaniments for their cheese, so I gave it a go.  I stumbled upon a quince tree on a nature strip when walking around a country Victorian town called Talbot.  I asked the owner if I could take some, and he said "Take as many as you like mate".  Nice man.

I read somewhere that Quince paste was a really good complimentary flavour that goes with most cheeses.  Having never tried it before, it was a bit of a gamble, but one that paid off in the end.  The flavour is sensational, and I would recommend this fruit paste to anyone who is wondering what to do with a few spare quinces.

I found a recipe from and followed it exactly.  It worked fine, except that I added a full cup of water at the start because it looked like it was going to boil dry!  Pretty easy process.  Peel, core, chop, then stew.  After the chopped up quinces turned to mush, I blended them in the food processs whilst hot and then returned the fruit to the pot and added the sugar.

So that I could capture the long 3.5 hour process, I took photos at 15 minute intervals.

Quince Paste 091 Quince Paste 092
Quince Paste 093 Quince Paste 094
Quince Paste 095 Quince Paste 096
Quince Paste 097 Quince Paste 099
Quince Paste 100 Quince Paste 101

I just love the way it changes colour during the cooking process.

Then I lined 6 ramekins with plastic wrap and ladled in the paste, and when it cooled a little, we folded over the wrap to protect it as it set.

I left them on the kitchen counter overnight and we had some for lunch with a piece of ash coated brie and castello white cheese.  Unfortunately, these are not my creations, but tasted nice just the same.

The taste was great and it really brought out the flavour of the cheese.  A great accompaniments indeed.  I have found that it can be stored in the fridge, in the freezer or in a cold place as long as it is sealed like jam.

When it is quince season again (winter) then I will definitely be on the lookout for more backyard quince trees!

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Making Broth a Habit

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Being almost done with the holiday eating season, I figured an article about broth would timely. We can all use a few health giving and cleansing eating habits, not just to deal with holiday food overload, but everyday.

I've found in my kitchen that upping the nutrition level in foods can achieved easily by using more broth in place of water during the cooking process. This adds flavor to sometimes bland foods, broadens their appeal and makes food easier to digest.

In our household we go through about 7 - 8 quarts of broth or stock a week. What triggered all this was my husbands autoimmune problems. He needs every calorie to count, so all his meals and snacks need to be nutrient dense. I first had to attack this problem by making more broth and stock. What was an occasional foray in the kitchen with the results committed to the dungeon of the freezer became a weekly habit. I rarely freeze any broth and if I have any leftover, I can it so it is shelf stable and convenient. But for the most part I devote space in the refrigerator for the weekly broth. If it's there, I use it, and it's an added incentive to use it before it gets old.

We use broth for:

Soups and stews.

Hot broth for a quick pick-me-up on a cold day, or to begin the day.

Braising vegetables, or for adding a dash of liquid to stir fry.

Cooking grains.

How do you incorporate broth into your cooking?

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

A Stock Pot in Every Kitchen

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

I've blogged about making bone broth and stock before but it bears repeating. If you're not making stock already with bones from the meat you're cooking, Thanksgiving is just around the corner and lots of turkey carcasses will be gracing our tables and can be put to good use instead of being tossed.

I make stock every week because:

1) Of the health benefits.

2) It makes food taste better.

3) I don't like to waste anything.

This is what's left of one of our home raised chickens by the time I get done with it.

That handful of bone pieces is about the size of the chick when it arrives at the farmstead.

Rather than thinking of just filling the freezer for our needs, we concentrate on intensively pasturing our poultry after the brooding stage. By doing this, we are fertilizing our pasture at the same time we are growing our meat chickens.

Providing fresh pasture daily helps grow a healthy bird, and ensures a healthy nutrition profile for the meat and broth.

To make sure I use the broth in my cooking, I like to have it on hand, either in the refrigerator or in the stockpot that seems to be always simmering on the back of the stove. We consume roughly one chicken per week. We raise them ourselves, but they are still an expensive item for the pantry. To stretch those dollars, I squeeze the most out of each bird.

One chicken per week feeds our family of three plus two dogs in the following ways:

1) One breast butterflied and sauteed for my husbands lunches.

2) One breast cubed for fajitas.

3) Breastless carcass wet roasted in 3 - 4 quarts of water to yield 3 - 4 quarts of semi-gelatinous broth, and cooked chicken. (I roast my chicken in a covered roaster at about 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 4 hours.)

4) Remaining cooked meat makes at least 2 more meals of chicken salad, enchiladas or whatever you wish to use cooked chicken for.

5) After all that I take the carcass and make at least two more quarts of stock, since the bird has been roasted already, this stock needs no skimming and stays clear. I cook this for 12 - 24 hours with a glug of vinegar to help release the minerals and gelatin in the bones and gristle. Note: since the dogs will be getting the spoils I do not add onions to the stock. If you're not feeding dogs, onions are a good addition, as well as any other vegetable odds and ends in your kitchen. Carrot ends, celery trimmings etc.

6) Strain the stock for the kitchen and break down the skins and bones for the pups. Most bones will be soft enough for dogs, except the weight bearing bones of the bird. On these I squeeze the bone and marrow until I get to the hard part of the bone. Feeding cooked bones to dogs is not a good idea unless the bones are soft. They are very sharp (unlike uncooked bones) and may potentially puncture your dogs digestive tract. I personally inspect each bone and piece of chicken before my dogs get any of it. This go round yields about two quarts of chicken skin, leftover bits of meat and soft bones for the dogs. They love it!

What hasn't softened in the cooking process goes into our woodstove and is cooked into ash that goes to the garden. I suppose if you were so inclined you could pressure cook the hard bones and make them entirely soft, however for me, it's just one more step that isn't needed. My garden can always use some ash, and it is an amendment that I don't need to buy if I can make my own.

For more reading on the health benefits of bone broths and stock check out the Weston Price organization here:

The interconnectedness of farm and kitchen is an amazing and satisfying feeling. Stock warms your belly and your heart.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Thoughts on learning to cook

By Aurora @ Island Dreaming

I honestly believe that our food cultures offer us the biggest opportunity to improve our health and to reduce our impact on the planet. Food also makes up a large part of the monthly expenditure of many households. Knowing your way around a kitchen, a spice drawer and a produce aisle or box are therefore essential if you are going to cook frugally and sustainably. The aim is to not be a slave to ingredients lists and recipes, but to be able to make the most of what is available to you. Kitchen skills are hugely important and I know that many of you will have the basics and beyond. But equally, I know that many of you won't, or at least won't have confidence in  the kitchen. So how do you learn?

Necessity is the mother of all invention. At the age of 15 I began my five year vegetarian experiment - and was swiftly told by my mother that I would be cooking and buying my own food if I was going to be 'awkward'. I lived in a fairly rural part of Britain and new fangled frozen bean burgers and Quorn hadn't made it to the shelves of our local supermarket. I had to learn to cook. We don't have home economics lessons in schools here - rather, we have 'Food Technology' - which basically teaches you to design a ready meal to be sold to supermarkets - wholesome, I know. Armed with a cheap illustrated vegetarian recipe book, I made a start that very night trying to recreate the dishes as pictured. The first thing I cooked was a bolognese with TVP in place of the expensive (and as yet unheard of in my part of the world) exotic mushrooms the book called for. It was...revolting. The onions were diced too coarse, in spite of the 5 minutes I took to chop them carefully with a blunt knife, the carrots were still hard, the pasta mushy. 

Now, my mother did actually start to accommodate me again a few weeks later and cooked us both vegetarian food. But for a month I had to persevere and I made a lot of mistakes. I ate them all and many still linger in my memory. But I ate them with a critical palate - what had gone wrong? (everything). What could I add? (exotic mushrooms, probably). What could I take away? (TVP, for sure). Making mistakes is the best way to learn just about anything. Fear of failure will hold you back in the kitchen - and you will make plenty of them. Oven temperatures vary, ingredients vary, pots and pans vary, your attention span varies. It is a long road to confidently balance all these variables, recognize your own limitations and find solutions for them.

There are a few solid skills worth learning, either from a real life cook or from a google video search. Knife skills are perhaps the most important - from sharpening (a sharp knife is safer and faster than a blunt one) to chopping onions in seconds rather than minutes, to jointing a chicken, to slicing vegetables and filleting fish. All of these basic skills remove your dependence on a food supply chain that charges a premium for doing this simple (when you know how) work for you. Once you have these under your belt, the rest of the techniques - grilling, frying, baking and roasting can be built with each and every dish you make.

Technical skills are only one aspect of cooking, the easier part to acquire. A greater part of it is intuition - what flavours go together? What texture am I aiming for? How best to cut the carrots for the stir fry? These are things again learnt over time, with every dish you make and once again fear will hold you back. Be bold with sniffing and sampling the spices and condiments and add them liberally. Pay attention when things go wrong and write and make a note of what worked and what didn't. If you can cook together with others occasionally, you will expand your horizons. As a student I cooked with and for others a lot - and discovered in the process quite a few foods, spices and new techniques that improved my confidence.

Cookbooks can be useful inspiration - they can teach you basic flavour combinations from various culinary traditions, but again they are just a starting point. I always tended to veer away from the glossy tomes of celebrity chefs - if you are just starting out, the expensive, complicated showpieces they proffer are probably best avoided. Cooking shows (thanks to the internet,you can find shows from any tradition and dietary preference from anywhere in the world) can be helpful if you lack inspiration to get up and cook.

The most important thing is to really appreciate what food is, how it got to you and how it can enrich your life. If you have ever grown even a pot of herbs, you will appreciate the effort and resources that go into producing our food. Don't live to eat, but eat to live fully - take a little time to savour the flavours and the aromas and the textures and appreciate the chain of events that brought your food to you. Find a diet that you are passionate about, too, that fits with your ideals - you may want to cook as frugally as you possibly can, you may source pasture raised meat, you may be vegetarian or vegan, you may have special dietary requirements. When you are comfortable with your food choices, the rest will follow.

Friday, 21 October 2011

some thoughts on the value of food

by Francesca @ FuoriBorgo

Thank you for your comments and thoughts the other week on the cost and wastage of food (here).  I was going to focus on ways to limit the waste of food in our households this time around, but I'd like to share a few thoughts that stem from your comments.

thoughts on food

We all seem to agree that when we pay and/or labor more for our food, we're far less likely to waste it.  I, for one, am guilty of occasionally wasting store-bought bread that's gone stale. It doesn't happen very often, as I normally bake our bread, and only rarely need to buy it.  And I don't actually throw it away, it goes to my neighbors' chickens.  But it does happen: we occasionally waste store-bought bread gone stale.

However, I would never, ever waste the bread I bake, which costs far more than the store-bought kind both in terms of money - as it's made with a variety of organic flours and seeds, and baking increases my electricity bill, and in terms of time - to mix, knead, wait for the dough to rise, and bake.  The money, effort and time I spend baking the bread my family eats is not something I'm willing to compromise on, as I believe they're all an investment in our health, and the health of our planet.  Plus, the result is fragrant and precious bread that is eaten to the very last crumb - fresh or stale (we'll talk about how to use stale bread in a different post).  But the stale store-bought bread?  That I toss.  I toss it because I didn't pay much for it, because it's not very healthy, and because it doesn't taste very good.  I toss it, in other words, because that cheap bread wrapped in plastic that I picked from the shelf in a consumeristic logic is not worth trying to save and make something out of.

I think this is the root of the problem: since when has food been (culturally) devalued so much as to become expendable?   What happened to the concept of food as something precious that nourishes our body and souls?  I say "souls" because food is not just about a bunch of nutrients that we gulp down, it is also a matter of taste, and consuming food is a daily ritual that connects us with the land and the people who produce our subsistance, and the loved ones with whom we share it around the table.  I suspect that the fact that food has become cheap stuff that we pick from the shelf, often unaware of where it comes from, has something to do with the fact that from precious, food has become expendable, and liable to be wasted in colossal amounts.  What do you think?

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Spiced Meringues with Strawberry & Raspberry Cream

by Jemma at timeforalittlesomething

Nice to meet you all at the Simple, Green, Frugal Co-op! I'm Jemma, I live in New Zealand, and I love to cook and bake. I look forward to sharing some local, seasonal, healthy and inexpensive recipes with you.

For my first post, I thought I'd share this dessert recipe with you. I spotted some NZ raspberries and strawberries at our local community market yesterday and couldn't resist. I served them with these spiced meringues for dessert here at home last night, and it felt like our first taste of the warmer weather to come.

I love healthy food, so using cream is bending rules for me! But if you like the look of these, and want a healthier option, you could make the topping by mixing the fruit with low-fat vanilla yoghurt, or reduced fat fromage frais. You can also alter the fruit depending on what's in season near you, or what you have in your garden. Berries work beautifully, and frozen are just as good as fresh. Or how about some rhubarb lightly stewed with a little brown sugar?

Spiced Meringues with Strawberry & Raspberry Cream
Serves 2-4

1 egg white
50g caster sugar
1/4 tsp mixed spice

Cream Topping:
150ml cream
1-2 tsp icing sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla essence (or use extract or paste)
2-3 Tbsp plain yoghurt
about 100g strawberries or raspberries, or a mixture of both

Preheat the oven to 150 (c). Line a baking tray with baking paper.

To make the meringue, whisk the egg white until soft peaks form, and then whisk in the caster sugar, one teaspoon at a time. Once all the sugar has been whisked in, you should have a beautiful stiff, glossy meringue mixture. Whisk in the mixed spice.

Spoon the meringue mixture into mounds on the baking tray. I used this mixture to make two large meringues, but you could easily make three, or even four if you would like to make smaller sweets to serve with coffee. Use the back of the spoon to smooth the mounds into discs (see the photos to get an idea of the shape).

Place the tray in the oven and turn the heat down to 120 (c). Bake the meringues for 50 minutes, then turn the heat off. Leave the discs to cool in the oven. You can do this step in advance - the cooled meringues should keep in an airtight container for at least a day or two.

To make the cream topping, hull the strawberries and/or raspberries. Set aside 2-3 berries per meringue to use as a garnish, and hull the rest. Place them in a food processor and whiz to a puree. I don't mind the seeds in my topping, but if you prefer, you can pass the puree through a sieve.

In a large bowl or jug, whip the cream with the icing sugar and vanilla (use more icing sugar for tarter fruit). Fold the fruit into the cream, and spoon on top of the cooled meringues. Garnish with reserved berries and sprigs of mint.


Sunday, 28 August 2011

Processing elderberries.

By Aurora @ Island Dreaming
The urban hedgerows around here are heavy with elderberries right now - offering abundance to anyone willing to look up and take notice - seemingly very few people. This is a great shame as they are delicious. They have a nice fruity berry taste, if you can get past the astringency of the tannins they contain. The best way to do this is to cook them, usually with sugar or sweeter fruits. They make delicious jellies, preserves and pie fillings on their own or with other sweeter fruits, and good wines and cordials. I have no experience of this, but they can also be dried and added to baked goods.

This year we plan to make wine and jelly with them. I don't like taking too many bunches of berries from the same tree, or too many from the same area and so we have been collecting small harvests on walks across the city over the last few weeks, which we freeze for use when we have enough berries and enough time to do something with them. Only the ripe black berries are edible and they must be removed from the toxic stems. This is easier said than done as the berries are densely packed onto delicately branching heads that collect all manner of dust, debris and creepy crawlies whilst on the tree. Bunches tend to be of mixed ripeness, so going for the most uniformly ripe heads that you can find means less picking and less sorting later on. Once home, there are two main methods of removing the berries from the unwashed stems, both of which are fairly time consuming. If you can rope in a companion to help, the task will be infinitely more enjoyable.

Firstly, the berries can be gently rubbed off of the umbels between fingers and thumb. Green, unripe berries tend to stay attached to the branches, which means less sorting later on. This method is my preferred method, as it can be done with one hand, holding a baby or cup of tea in the other if necessary.

Another method is to use a fork to comb the berries from the stems. This second method of removing them is faster, but strips all berries, regardless of ripeness. Weaker stems also tend to break off, often with berries attached leaving more sorting for later.

Any obvious debris, unripe berries and young spiders can now be removed from the berry mountain. It is fairly easy to pick out large bits of debris - leaves, branch and unripe green berries. It also gives young spiders enough time to crawl out of harms way.

After this, it is necessary to wash the berries to remove dust. If you have several kilos it is best to process small batches at a time to prevent crushing, preserving as much of the juice as possible. Filling a bowl with cold water and then adding the berries to it prevents them being damaged by a blast of water from the tap. A few gentle swirls will lift the dust from them and any last bits of stem and unripe and spoiled berries tend to float to the surface where they can be skimmed off, and a few unripe berries and small bits left behind won't hurt anyone. Drain gently in a colander and store or cook as you wish.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

How stocked is your store cupboard?

By Aurora @ Island Dreaming

We have been in the process of restocking our store cupboard in recent weeks, in anticipation of my reduced income. For the past year we haven't had a particularly robust store, probably a couple of weeks of mismatched ingredients on hand that we topped up as and when we ran out. This is partly because morning sickness once again put me off all the wholefood staples I normally cook with; and partly because of a few large purchases we needed to make, leaving little money for bulk food shops. In the meantime, food price inflation (and just about everything else inflation) has steadily risen.

We did a shop to end all shops (OK, about 6 months worth of staples) the last time I went on maternity leave. It paid off, 2008 was the year of record food inflation. With hindsight, the 200 tins of cat food was overkill (it certainly was for the poor driver who delivered it to our door; though never before or since has a burly stranger been so admired and adored by our usually skittish cats) but the cupboard full of pulses, grains, frozen veg and tinned tomatoes stood us in very good stead.

There are several reasons that I like to keep several months worth of food on hand:
  • I don't have to shop in supermarkets with any regularity. I hate them, even online shopping is a chore for me. But there are no food Co-ops around here and for bulk shopping in the UK, the big retailers are the only real option for many. 
  • We save on fuel and delivery costs if we do fewer shops.
  • We eat much more healthily when we have a full store cupboard - lots more whole food basics, less impulse purchases at the local shop.
  • We eat much more frugally when we have a full store cupboard - lots more wholefood basics, less impulse purchases at the local shop.
  • It is a lot easier to develop good routines when you always have what you need to hand - bread baking only became routine when we started bulk buying flour, for instance.
  • We can make the best of genuinely good deals on staples - tins of tomatoes and strong bread flour have been recent wins.
  • In an inflationary economic climate, it has saved us money.
  • Knowing I always have food on hand to tide us over any lean patches gives me a sense of security that money in the bank doesn't match.
I know these won't apply to everyone -  for financial reasons some people may choose to build up a store cupboard gradually, whereas we are usually able to put money each month and do it all in one (or two, if we see any particularly good offers) shops every few months before our store is completely exhausted. I know that if I had to rely on public transport or my own two feet I would have to take a more gradual approach. The rest of these points I think remain true however. 

I have seen some passionate debates on forums about food storage and stockpiling - it seems more controversial in the UK than in the US or Australia. I don't understand why as we are the small island that gave the world the phrase '9 meals from anarchy' after the fuel protests of 2000. Some people see storing several months worth of food as alarmist, a symptom of mental illness and even downright immoral. To me it just seems like common sense - a hedge against personal laziness, inflation, unemployment, fuel protests, the wrong kind of snow on the roads or full blown zombie apocalypse.

The food parcel contained some oddities that I wouldn't normally bulk buy - I have about a year's worth of tinned sardines at our present rate of consumption, I haven't eaten corned beef since I was a student and finding a home for 10 bricks of coffee is going to be a challenge in our small kitchen (my hunch is they will end up under the bed), but we are very grateful for the help. We eat well from our pantry, supplemented by fresh produce bought in local shops within walking distance - and hopefully a little more homegrown from the allotment this year.

Personally I think a nation of well stocked cupboards is the way forward in these uncertain times - I would be interested to hear what you think?

Thursday, 28 April 2011


Posted by Bel
from Spiral Garden

Early sunsets and nature’s bounty set the mood for family feasts.

Gathering together is the theme of autumn. Traditionally, it is the time when we store food for winter, close up our homes and spend more time indoors. The Autumn Equinox was on 21 March 2011 (in the southern hemisphere) - a wonderful time to unite with friends for a harvest feast. It is a time of balance – equal sunlight and darkness. Harmony...

Taste – Cooler evenings see the return of soups and slow-cooked meals. The bountiful harvests of Autumn ensure that plates explode with colour, flavour and warmth.

Touch – Little hands delight in the varied textures of treasures found on nature walks. Nature sows as man harvests. Seeds are enchanting – great power in the palm of our hand. There is a chill in the breeze and we seek out jackets and shoes, amazed at how tall children have grown through summer.

Smell – Inhale the fertile soil when digging in the garden to harvest the last of summer’s abundance. Allow earthy scents to envelop you as you crunch fallen leaves underfoot. Absorb the sumptuous aroma of a simmering soup, or something baking in the oven.

Sight – The resplendent colours of Autumn are a celebration of nature: one last party before winter sets in. Notice how the golden pumpkins capture some sunshine to store through the grey days ahead. To compliment the brilliant hues of trees, the sky is bluer than in any other season.

Sound – Migrant birds call farewell as they leave for warmer climes. Autumn sounds are as crisp as the cold winds that begin to blow.

Feelings – Autumn is the time to preserve the living wonders of summer - try making jam, pressing flowers or drying herbs to give thanks to the waning sunlight. Soak up the last rays of warmth as summer disrobes and darkness creeps in. Relax and enjoy the fruit of your labours – your garden, your work, your family.

Activities – Autumn is a good time to clean up the garden and plant in readiness for spring. Depending on where you live, different crops will do well through the cooler months. Seed packets and catalogues have appropriate instructions, or ask a local gardener, as their advice will be the most valid to your locale. Most things you plant now will take quite awhile to reward you – bulbs, brassicas (the cabbage family), potatoes, onions, garlic and broad beans, for example. For fast results, try some sprouts or a terrarium indoors.

This season will provide many treasures for your seasonal tableau.Find a warm-toned cloth and adorn it with seeds, leaves, bark and pods.Dry some flowers and leaves to put into a little pottery vase. The hues of Autumn showcase nature’s splendour.

It’s time to come inside. The days are shorter, the evenings cool. The summer holidays are but a memory and each of us is settling back into our routines and rhythms for the year. This is the time to revive evening rituals neglected during the fast and fun summertime. Long story times and meals by candlelight are some of our favourites.

Craft in autumn can include Mother Nature’s offerings – simple bark and leaf rubbings, seed pod characters, arrangements of dry foliage or jewellery-making. It’s also time for fibre crafts – if you want to knit a scarf for winter, start now!

Enjoy this season of slowing down and reconnecting with home and family.

This is part of one (of three) Seasonal Fun Series I have had published in parenting magazines. I know many of our readers are in the northern hemisphere. For more seasonal inspiration, here are some relevant articles:
Spring #1
Spring #2
- for the northerners, and...
Autumn #1
Autumn #2


Sunday, 17 April 2011

Creative Ways To Save Money On Food

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

We've all heard some of the best ways to save money on food include: shopping with a list, planning your meals, taking a lunch to work, bringing cash to the supermarket and rarely eating out. All of those have lowered my own grocery budget significantly. But recently I wanted to cut my grocery budget by another 35% in order to live on an "Extreme Frugality" budget in this season of my life. I wasn't sure how I would do it, but I've found a few creative ways which have made a huge difference & are saving me time and money.

1. I remembered how important it is to shop at home first. I have a small kitchen and for a few weeks I skipped this step and it showed in my grocery spending. Shopping at home first works because I don't purchase items I already have, I'm more aware of what I'm low on {and therefore able to look for good deals to stock up}, I'm able to cut down on food waste & I can visibly see how much I already have to use up and plan my meals around!

2. I've completely cleaned out my fridge, organizing it so that everything is clearly visible and organized. No more thinking I don't have enough to stretch, because I can actually see that I have a lot I can use up. I've found this also helps me see what I can substitute. I may not have leeks for a soup, but I have celery. A clean fridge really has helped much more than I thought it would.

3. I've learned that I need to focus on what is right in this season of my life. I blogged recently that I felt this overwhelming guilt {for about 10 minutes} that I don't make my own ketchup. But in my household, ketchup is probably used less than 5x a year, so it makes no sense to make it. Remembering to think about the time/money balance has really helped me focus on what I can do which will have the biggest impact on my food budget.

4. I've enjoy slow cooker Wednesdays & soup night! Generally these are both very frugal veggie recipes making use of lentils, chickpeas & veg that needs using up. What's more they pretty much provide my lunches for the week and add to my freezer stock pile!

5. I've joined a lunch co-op group in my building at work. We basically all bring a salad ingredient and make a massive healthy salad one day per week. Generally I contribute about $1 worth of food {radishes, cucumbers, onions etc} and have a really lovely salad to enjoy & good company to boot! If your work/building doesn't have a lunch club, think about starting one.

6. When friends suggest eating out, I suggest a pot luck. It's a great way to socialize & spend time with friends, without having to come up with the money to eat out.

7. I'm in the process of joining a food co-op, I donate 2 hours of labor a month and I get a significant reduction on locally sourced foods.

8. Where possible I try to buy eggs from people who have chickens. Where I currently live this is nigh on impossible as people aren't allowed to raise chickens, but where I used to live I was able to source local eggs and support local hobby farms while saving money. It was a win-win-win situation.

What creative ways do you use to save money? Do you have any tips to share?

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Experiments with Culture

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
I've got six bale-topped bottles lined up in front of me, sterilizing bleach water in the sink behind me, when my husband walks in to make himself something for dinner. "Could you please wait a couple more minutes, until I'm finished?" I ask, and he heads back into the living room. I'm bottling a batch of kombucha and, as with all fermented or cultured foods, care must be taken to avoid cross-contamination with rogue bacterias. And we do share our home with quite a few different cultures that need care and feeding just like the animals.

My kitchen alchemy experiments started with cabbage. Living then above 10,000 feet, my gardening attempts never produced very much, but one year I ended up with way more cabbage than I thought I could eat fresh. With salt and a bit of time, however, I watched fascinated as the cabbage transformed into sauerkraut. And it was so good! I'd only tasted supermarket stuff dumped out of a can - this was crunchy and fresh-tasting instead of tinny and limp. I still try to make a batch each fall. There's a half-gallon jar of fresh, never canned, kraut in my refrigerator right now.

Next up, after I'd moved to Nevada, was a sourdough culture, shared with me by an elderly neighbor twenty years ago. I don't know how long she'd kept it going, she's been gone for quite a few years now. But I've dutifully kept it fed and healthy ever since.

I'm not the only one fermenting and culturing stuff around here, either. I gave my husband a little 2-gallon beer-making kit one Christmas. He caught the fermenting fever and now, every couple of months, we have a five-gallon fermentation bucket bubbling away on the corner of the kitchen counter. Last fall, he made a batch of beer using our first home-grown hops harvest. As soon as the beer was finished and bottled, we crushed a bushel of gleaned apples for a batch of hard cider. When a friend offered me the four cases of empty Grolsch beer bottles stored in her garage, I was there in a heartbeat. With new neoprene gaskets, it's easy to use the same bottles over and over - just fill and snap closed.

Once I had access to apple cider alcohol, trying my hand at cider vinegar seemed a logical next step. Every fall, we like to make the trip across the Sierras to Apple Hill, a day spent wandering around the area checking out the harvests, craft fairs, and shops. One of my favorite places has lots of flavored vinegars for sale. I got to talking with the owner about vinegar-making, and he was kind enough to give me some vinegar mother from one of his barrels. It now lives in a jar in my top cupboard. Every once in a while, when I'm down in the cellar, I'll bring up a bottle of cider to feed "mother".

After reading about kombucha, a fizzy beverage cultured from sweetened tea, I thought I'd like to try making it. I asked for the culture on my local Freecycle website, and had two responses within a day. When I went out to pick up the culture, that nice lady also offered me some kefir grains. The kefir I keep alive by making a batch occasionally, and storing it in the refrigerator between times. The kombucha, I love! A gallon jar makes enough for six bottles plus a bit more to add to the next batch, and I've had a batch going pretty much continuously for the past year.

Last summer, with a glut of fresh cucumbers, I decided to try fermenting them into sour pickles. This one is definitely a keeper! I moved the crock full of pickles into the cellar last fall. I have to pull a layer of scum off the top of the liquid every week to 10 days, but that's no problem as I'm down there that often anyway. It holds together almost like a firm gel, so I just pinch it to pull it out and toss it. Every couple of weeks I bring a big pickle up to keep in a jar in the refrigerator, cutting off slices as needed. They're so much better, and crisper, than the salty, vinegary dill pickles I used to make.

Just about the only cultures I don't keep going on a regular basis are yogurt and buttermilk. I've heard it's best to start those with fresh cultures every so often anyway, and both are easy enough to come by in the store. One of these days, I might have to try cheese-making. My fellow blogger here, Gavin, has piqued my interest with his posts. A home just can't have too much culture, can it?

Monday, 7 February 2011

Rejuvenating Popcorn

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

It's hard to grow corn reliably in our cool, mountain setting but we do love an occasional bowl of popcorn as a treat. So it is one of the things we buy to stock the pantry. However, not using popcorn too often usually results in un-popped corn or old maids as we call them. I'm getting a little long in the tooth, so finding one of those by mistake while watching a movie with rapt attention could mean a trip to the dentist.

But, there is a way around that and still have your popcorn too. Dry storage is great for items that need to be dry, but popcorn needs a little bit of moisture to pop properly.

To rejuvenate our popcorn, I just pour water in a clean storage jar, pour it out completely so it just remains damp and pour in the corn. Over a few days, the kernels will absorb the moisture and will be ready to pop. Store in a cool dry place or refrigerator and you're good to go on movie night.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Cast Iron Care

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
I love my cast iron skillets and pots. I have 10" skillet, 10" pot with lid that fits both, and an 8" skillet in my kitchen, plus an 8" footed camp oven in with my camping gear. With proper care, cast iron cookware lasts a lifetime - even centuries, if you're lucky enough to inherit the family heirloom pots and pans.

Cast iron is porous. To develop the coveted non-stick black coating on the cooking surface, the pores need to be sealed up, called seasoning. Once seasoned, and with proper care, the coating builds up with use, and your pan just keeps getting better and better. Soap, however, dissolves the non-stick coating, so if your pan has been washed with soap it will need to be re-seasoned. A new, or new-to-you, pan should be washed well, but just this once.

To season a cast iron pan, heat it on a stove burner until warm, and then rub the inside liberally with vegetable oil (or you can use a solid fat, such as lard or clean bacon grease). You want to thoroughly coat the surface, but with no pooling of the oil - the plan is to seal the surface, not set it on fire. Then put your pan in a warm (200ยบ) oven for an hour or two. Again, wipe out any pools of oil, and you should be good to go. Historical note: I can't vouch for this, but one of my old books suggests boiling potato peelings in a cast iron pot for an hour to season it - might work, sealing the pores with potato starch - but I'll stick with my tried and true, oil and heat, method.

No soap! Do not use soap, detergent, coated Brillo pads, or any kind of de-greaser! Plain water works just fine! (Can you tell I had this conversation repeatedly with my husband when we were newlyweds? After twenty years, and a few ruined meals and re-seasoning sessions, I think I finally have him trained). Don't leave cooked food in a cast iron pan - the acids in some foods can pit cast iron, and the iron absorbed by the food can cause a metallic taste if left overlong. Transfer food to a storage container or serving dish, and then clean your pan right away. It doesn't need to be soaked in a sinkful of water for an hour, either. Scrape or wipe out as much food as possible, set it in the sink, and run some water into the pan, preferably while it's still warm. I keep a long-handled nylon-bristled dishwashing brush for cleaning my cast iron - just swoop around the inside of the pan, and rinse. If you really *need* some scrubbing power, pour in some salt or sand, moisten with oil, rub in with a dishcloth (or plain steel wool), and rinse (this method will also remove rust). As an absolutely last resort, I've read that you can fill the pan with warm water, drop in a couple of denture tablets and let set for an hour, and then rinse, without having to re-season it - not so sure about this one.

Drying the pan immediately is crucial too. Rust is the enemy of cast iron. Just like my grandma did, I dump out as much water as possible, and then put the pan back on the burner (or on the top shelf of my oven if I'm baking something), until all the dampness is completely gone from the inside of the pan. Let it cool before storing.

To keep rust away, cast iron is best stored so that no moisture can get inside. For my covered kitchen pan, I put the lid on the pan upside-down, a rolled towel between pan and lid on one side to provide an air vent. For my camping pot, I do the same, along with crumpled newsprint inside to absorb any chance moisture, and then loosely tie it in an untreated cotton canvas bag (also to keep any ashes on the outside of the pan from getting all over the rest of my camping kit). The skillets live in the drawer beneath my oven. If you use a pot rack, and wish to hang your cast iron, first make sure that your rack, plus its attachment to wall or ceiling, can withstand the weight. If, by chance, you do get rust on your cast iron, try removing it with the sand and oil treatment described above. Using naval jelly is a last resort remedy for removing rust - wash well and re-season before use.

I prefer to not use any silicon-based non-stick sprays on my cast iron. Over time and use, a black natural non-stick coating builds up inside the pan. I do keep canola oil in a little refillable dispenser (ok, it's an old rubber French's mustard bottle with a pop-off lid and a twist-close spout) and use a little squirt of oil before cooking most things, tilting the pan cover the bottom as it heats up. Over time, a black scaly crud will build up on the outside of the pan. This doesn't affect either the food or the pan, but if you just have to get rid of it, wait until autumn. Find someplace that still allows burning leaves, and bury your pan in the pile before setting it afire. Dig the pan out of the cooled ashes, wash, and re-season before use. You can also burn the coating off a pan in the embers of a campfire, but resinous woods such as pine can leave an aftertaste if any gets inside the pan.

One last note: All of a cast iron pan gets hot, and holds heat longer than most other cookware. So always use felted wool or heavy-duty cotton pot holders until you're sure the handle is cool. I found out the hard way that cheap, polyester-filled handle holders melt, taking a hot panful of skillet-sizzled cornbread out of the oven - I had to pick and scrape off the ugly little bits of white melted fluff. I also have melted little ridges into the plastic handles of my spatulas, leaving them resting upside-down against the edge of the skillet. Let's be careful out there.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Farm eggs

by Francesca

farm eggs 2

We buy our eggs from our farmer neighbors, who keep laying hens in a large chicken coop by the side of our house. These eggs are so fresh that they're often still warm when we get them. Each egg is different in color, texture and size, depending on the age of the hens, their diet, and the time of year. Young hens lay smaller eggs. Sometimes our neighbor warns us to handle them with extra care because the shell is thin and frail, and he'll need to add some calcium to the chicken's forage.

farm eggs 3

These eggs are never clean, but our neighbors have taught us not to wash them before storing them. In fact, eggshells (when they're intact, and come from healthy animals living in sanitary conditions) are coated on the outside with a cuticle, a protein-like covering, which helps protect the contents of the shell from dehydration, and from bacterial infection through the shell's pores. Washing eggs removes this cuticle, which makes it easier for bacteria to enter the egg.


Eggs must be refrigerated. In wintertime, we store our eggs in a basket hanging in an unheated part of the house (centuries-old stone houses are refrigerator-cold in the winter!), but in the summer we keep them in the fridge, stored in a sealed container to avoid possible contamination.

farm eggs 3

Just before we use our eggs, we wash them carefully. Health experts advise to use eggs within two weeks of the time they were laid, and to cook them thoroughly (and not to eat them raw).

Further reading on egg facts and safety here, here and here.

Please don't forget to add the name of your favorite seed company in your country to the list of international seed catalogs here!