Wednesday, 28 December 2011

cucumber wakame salad and fish sandwiches

hello lovely readers! long time no speak. i hope you all had a very wonderful Christmas, and are looking forward to 2012 :)

Christmas was incredible this year, so much fun was had! instead of taking photos galore, i did lots of cooking and eating - helping Farmor cook the usual smorgasbord for Christmas Eve, then we had duck for Christmas lunch, and then a marvellous array of nibbles for dinner... it was yummy. there was nonstop family arriving and departing of course, but that's how i like the festive season to be!

so, i thought i'd share a few of my most recent eats with you, as well as a funny little video:

aubergine carrot noodles with wakame cucumber salad - random weird meal that turned out to be very delicious. i think i have a new found love of wakame... i purchased some dried in Oz, and brought it back with me, and it's so tasty.

more brown rice congee! i seriously love this stuff... i could eat it every morning (if i didn't love oats and buckwheat loads too!)

plenty of walks with little Bruno have been had the last couple of days...

the ultimate fish sandwich, made by my brother's fair hands... crispy fish, boiled egg, radish, cucumber, spinach, mayo, toasted cranks. serious yum.

if you really want to know how to make this sandwich, then check out my latest Youtube video!!:

my favorite gifts this Christmas were my favorite perfume and dark chocolate from my boyfriend Pete (yes, this is the first time you're hearing about this...more later!) and a tiny silicone spatula from my friend Emily, which i've already used 3 times.

so, how was your Christmas? what's your favorite thing to do when you're bored?

currently listening to: dedication to my ex by lloyd - love the beat.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

wild mushroom foraging

a few weeks ago i mentioned that my brother, jonny and i had been out foraging mushrooms from the wild... so today, i thought i'd share some photos, and a little info about what occurred that fateful afternoon.

firstly, it's probably very important to say that you have to be extremely careful when mushroom foraging - some are very poisonous and even deadly. BUT, there are really good guide books and a great wealth of online resources to help guide you to know whether what you've found is actually edible, so it's worth giving it a go, because they can be super nutritious, very tasty, and are of course, FREE.

jonny and i have been meaning to go mushroom hunting for a long time now, and one sunny wednesday afternoon we just decided to go for it. bag in pocket, dog on lead, wellington boots on, off into the local fields and forests to search for fungi.

and we found some nestled in some nettles, in a field full of sheep.

we found two other varieties, but decided that they were too small, and too questionable to bother picking (one lot was growing on a rotting tree stump, the others were randomly growing by the footpath where dogs run, hmm). the ones that we found were massive, so even though we didn't know what variety they were, we figured they were in a good location, and because they weren't red with spots on, that we'd be at least 50% of the way to knowing they were probably edible.

when we got back home, we did some serious online research, checking photo after photo to make 110% sure that we weren't going to poison ourselves. wild about britain was very helpful, as was
this foraging guide to mushrooming. we decided that our mushrooms were shaggy parasols (macrolepiota rhacodes) and that therefore they'd be fine once cooked!

we were absolutely terrified that we might poison ourselves, and so jonny decided that the only way to try them was to cook them very thoroughly, to be on the safe side and avoid 'gastric upset' which can sometimes occur with shaggy parasols.

so what did we do?

firstly, jonny fried them in butter and mixed in some herbs and cream cheese to make a mushroom sauce type thing, which we had with swede fries, swedish red cabbage and chilli chutney. the flavour of the shrooms was very intense, and delicious!

then the following day, we made a mushroom omelette. which was divine! rich flavours, simple, wild ingredients. and i'm sure lots of extra goodness from their having been grown in the outdoors near some sheep.

so next time you fancy a little free wild mushrooming: be appropriately cautious, be thorough in your research for identifying them (make sure to check regional websites for tips on what grows locally and where - UK mushrooming guides will vary from the US and France, for example) and then go for it! but probably don't eat them raw.

have you ever been mushrooming? what's your favorite way to eat mushrooms?

currently loving: the january issue of Vogue - so so pretty...

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

cherry almond mince pies with a buckwheat crust

happy advent everyone! today i want to share with you the ultimate homemade mince pie - which happens to be sugar free and gluten free too, as well as packed full of delicious fruits and nuts.

these are so good that my highly critical brother scarfed 3 of them in about 2 minutes, and then proceeded to get one from the local bakery to test, and returned to tell me that mine were superior in all aspects...not too sweet, and with a lovely flavourful crust.

actually, i happen to agree with him. it's very difficult to eat a shop bought mince pie after you've made them yourself. and so i've been making my own for the last few years. it may seem like a long process, but it will be so worth it!

cherry almond mince pies with a buckwheat crust

for the crust:
240g (1 1/2 cup) buckwheat flour
1/4 tsp salt
125g butter, cubed and cold
1 beaten egg (+1 for egg wash)
1 tsp vinegar
3 Tbsp iced water

1. begin by aerating the flour and salt by lifting the flour through your fingers.
2. rub in the cold fat, until it resembles breadcrumbs.
3. beat together the egg, vinegar and water, then stir into the flour using a knife to cut, stir and bring pastry together.
4. form a slightly sticky ball of dough with your hands.
5. knead lightly for 2-3 minutes.
6. flatten and refrigerate. this will keep in the fridge for at least 24 hours, if not a couple of days. or you can make ahead of time and place in the freezer.

for the cherry almond mince meat:
250g (1 1/2 cups) sultanas or raisins
1 lemon, grated and juiced
1 cup hot water
100g (1/2 cup) almonds, finely chopped
2 tsp mixed spice
2 apples, grated
a little freshly grated nutmeg
100g (1/2 cup) canned cherries, drained
1 Tbsp marmalade
1 dsp vanilla extract
100g (1/2 cup) suet (you can use traditional, gluten free or vegetarian)

1. soak the sultanas/raisins in the lemon juice, zest and hot water for about an hour, until plump.
2. mix all the other ingredients in, and then place in a saucepan to simmer for about 1 hour, until pulpy and glossy.
3. this will keep in the fridge for a fortnight, due to the sugar content and the suet. made ahead of time, it will allows the flavours to enfuse even more! you might even have a little leftover for another batch...

to assemble the mince pies:
1. divide your pastry into 4, and roll out until the width of a coin.
2. cut circles out to fit your tart tin or cupcake tray, and smaller ones to act as lids
3. place the large circle in the tray, fill with mincemeat and cover with a lid.
4. brush over with egg and sprinkle with pearl sugar or edible glitter.
5. bake in the oven for 15 minutes or until golden, at 180c

cook's notes: these freeze beautifully. so make lots, and keep some in a container in the freezer until Christmas Day to enjoy with the family.

i hope you enjoy making these - i love the process, and the smell as they cook, as well as how good they taste reheated and served with a little greek yoghurt or creme fraiche.

 currently listening to: the christmas song by nat king cole - the most gorgeous and warming Christmas song ever!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

lessons in saving money and budgeting

otherwise titled, 'what i learnt from the big budget challenge'. thanks to Laura for being a wonderful host for the last two months, and for doing round-ups of everyone's very interesting and helpful posts.

i've personally learnt loads from having done this challenge, and so today i want to share with you all some of the wisdom i've gained, and a few practical tips for ways you can reduce your grocery budget. because, really, it'd be a little pointless if i didn't share my secrets with you all!

first though, let's look at some numbers that have accumulated in the last 2 months...
  • 39 receipts from 11 different places
  • 16 of those were from Waitrose, where a total of £150.60 was spent, with an average of £1.36 per item
  • 9 of those were from Lidl, where a total of £136.93 was spent, with an average of 80p an item
  • 5 of those were in Tesco, where a total of £56.73 was spent
  • the others were from the market, local Nisa, Well Natural, Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury's, the local Garden centre and tool shop - totalling £55.71
  • all in all £399.97 was spent over 2 months for all the food and household items for 3 people. that's £6.45 each day, or £44.44 each week.

things i learnt:

1. we are so very blessed!
2. using herbs and spices to their full potential is key.
3. that using what you have in stock, or what's on offer is far cheaper than planning your meals.
4. foraging wild produce is exciting, delicious, easy and free!
5. eating seasonally is essential for health, happiness and your wallet. local markets are the best place to find good deals on seasonal fruit and veg.
6. growing your own veg is ultimately rewarding.

7. keeping things simple is key - simple flavours, simple combinations, simple meals.
8. that Lidl's is awesome!
9. that shopping around is the best way to get a good deal, and by keeping receipts or a cost book you can figure out where is the cheapest place to buy essential staples.
10. beans and lentils truly are the cheapest and healthiest sources of protein out there, and can be used in a variety of different and exciting ways.
11. making things from scratch is way cheaper.

12. i really don't need any more clothes for a long time...
13. it's easier to be healthy if you spend less money, because you'll be reducing your expensive meat and dairy intake, and increasing the amount of cheap veg and fruit.
14. i don't NEED an everyday intake of dark chocolate and yogurt to keep me going! my body is well equipped to survive and thrive on whatever sustenance i give it :)
15. free exercise is the best exercise!

check out each weekly post in detail for more info on exactly what was spent where and why:
week 1 - in which i lay down my rules for the challenge, and tell you how much we used to spend on groceries...
week 2 - where i bought antique knives for £1 at a local fair, made chickpea marrow torte and foraged lots of blackberries from hedgerows near our house
week 3 - learnt to make barley chappattis, finished my patchwork quilt and went to my first car boot sale where i purchased a huge jumper for only £1
week 4 - where i realised that what we spend on food is ridiculous in comparison to those who have NO food, and we cut our weekly spending budget by £15.
week 5 - when i made raisin oat bannocks, foraged wild apples by the side of the road and enjoyed a hot picnic feast at the allotment with ginger parkin.
week 6 - i discovered sweet red bean paste, had a delivery of woodchip at the allotment and discovered pinhead oatmeal
week 7 - when i made brown rice congee, bought our Christmas ducks for the freezer and roasted allotment squash
week 8 - in which i foraged mushrooms with my brother from an obliging field, sold a coat in a trade store and at chili chutney with everything

currently listening to: god rest ye merry gentlemen by annie lennox - yes, the Christmas playlist has now commenced!