Category Archives: Cooking

Goal #49: Our housewarming party

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Ah, now I know we are well and truly HOME! ūüôā

Ninja and I finally managed to arrange our housewarming party, two months after we’d moved into our new place. It took the format of a¬†tea party in the garden, because there was no way to squeeze 20-odd¬†visitors inside our little cottage! In answer to prayer¬†it was a gorgeous day out¬†‚Äď clear blue Joburg winter skies; windstill and sunny ‚Äď and so wonderful to have our dear friends gathering at our new address.

Continue reading…

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OK, I’m revolting!

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It’s true.

"Hmmm... you are revolting, Mommy!"

“Hmmm… you are revolting, Mommy!”

I’m revolting against the beauty¬†products I’ve been using up to now.

Thanks to recent¬†chats with a good friend and hours of research about the junk that¬†I’ve been slathering on my skin all these years,¬†I’m making some drastic changes¬†to my skincare and haircare products.

I’m tired of paying good money to buy lotions and potions¬†containing dozens of ingredients that¬†can actually¬†harm my body. Often these products have also¬†harmed a few lab animals before they got to me, and will harm the environment again after I’m done with them.

Some of these ingredients I can’t even pronounce! And it’s not just my cosmetics ‚Äď it goes for food too. But for now I’m starting on a healthier path by¬†making changes to my beauty products first.

I can’t believe I left it so long before I began questioning what goes into the things I buy. But thanks to a tip-off from¬†my savvy¬†friend, I discovered a wonderful solution: Faithful to Nature. Here’s a South African online store that sells a phenomenal range of natural, organic, eco-friendly and cruelty-free products. From healthy foodstuffs to natural skincare and everything in between, Faithful to Nature has made it a breeze for me to begin changing over to a greener lifestyle.

I placed my first order with them last week, and it¬†arrived in record time.¬†In each package the FtN team includes a few samples of other natural products you might like to try… and I just love that.¬†Unwrapping¬†all the goodies¬†felt like my birthday! I was super impressed with¬†FtN’s friendly and efficient service ‚Äď so much so that I spent the next few days browsing their site again, and placed my next order shortly after!

One of the best products I tried in my first order was the¬†Cred√©¬†coconut oil. Mmmm… never did I imagine that I could walk around smelling like my favourite cocktail! Coconut oil (CO) is often in the green news these days, with health gurus lauding its use in cooking and as a natural beauty product.

Now my poor Ninja was so put off by the coconut everything that we ate when I was doing the 21-day sugar detox, that I haven’t risked adding this oil to our meals (as yet)! But as a moisturiser and a conditioner it has no equal. I used it as a hair mask overnight (be sure to cover your pillow with an old towel if you try it) and it helped revive my poor¬†overworked hair.

I’ve also been using it daily as a marvellous moisturiser for my skin. (My ratties are quite delighted that I taste so good these days; in the pic above Voddy and Teddy are licking off all my CO handcream!) Next I plan to test the theory that coconut oil is even great for shaving. I’m so stoked about this product. It’s easily and quickly¬†replaced my¬†previous chemical¬†body lotions.

Anyway, so that’s a little snippet of what I’ve been up to of late. I’m excited about changing over to healthier choices, and¬†glad that the¬†Faithful to Nature team¬†has worked so hard to make affordable and varied options available. I still have a long way to go with this journey, but you can be sure I’ll be sending you postcards of my progress ūüôā

Spring Day feast

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Happy Spring Day to those in the southern hemisphere! Sorry my northern friends, I¬†don’t mean to rub it in that your warm weather is slowly seeping southwards ūüėČ

But winter isn’t over for us¬†yet ‚Äď it was absolutely freezing icy cold this morning. When we went to church we¬†joined huddles¬†of hunched-over¬†people¬†wrapped in¬†thick coats and jerseys. Even the heartiest singing didn’t warm us up today!

Thankfully, though, Jozi is usually sunny even when it’s cold, so as I write here this afternoon I have warm bright sunshine flooding my desk… and cheerfully¬†highlighting all the dust I haven’t got around to cleaning… Meh.

Anyway, enough of that. What I’m really here to write about is the delightful Spring Day feast I made for Ninja and my parents today. My folks were originally coming over to meet their new ‘grandrats’, but since that’s been delayed we just turned it into a celebration of the first day of spring.

Spring Day 2013

Spring Day 2013

For the decor I chose mismatched and cheerful colours, using what I had around the house instead of spending extra on new fancy stuff. For example, I had these bright orange paper cups in the cupboard, so I just prettied them up with spring-themed flower stickers.

For Marzipan

For Marzipan

I used my multicoloured bamboo placemats and colourful serviettes left over from my first special dinner. Ninja had also bought these cool 3D/holographic bookmarks for each of us, so we gave my mom the horsey one and my dad the eagly one (oops, couldn’t resist inventing a word there).

For Daz

For Daz

I also snipped a few sprigs off a jasmine bush to use as our centrepiece. I so enjoy the scent of those flowers: it always tells me my favourite season has arrived at last.

Jasmine

Jasmine

And now for the best part: the food ūüėÄ I made us a three-course meal as follows:

Spring Day menu

Spring Day menu

In case you can’t see the¬†text on the¬†pic, our starters were those mini pizza mushrooms that I first made for this dinner and then again for this dinner. I also recently hosted my in-laws for lunch and made it for them too. In fact,¬†I could quite easily make that starter for every fancy dinner for as long as I live, and never tire of it. Those ‘shrooms¬†are just so darn delicious!!!

The main course was ham and spring onion clafoutis with roasted cherry tomatoes and avocado with basil pesto mayo. This is where I had the most fun, since I love experimenting with new dishes and flavours. (I’m determined not to lose that interest even though I no longer have as much spare time for experimenting as I had before…).

I’d never made a clafoutis (say: ‘klafootee’)¬†before, but I based my recipe on this one and simply substituted ham and spring onions for the basil and tomatoes. I also used four¬†small ramekins rather than one big dish.¬†It’s such a simple and easy recipe, and my family enjoyed it (though we all added some extra salt, without which it would have¬†tasted far too mild and milky).

Tomatoes ready for the oven

Tomatoes ready for the oven

The roasted cherry tomatoes are an idea shared with me by my best friend. She first made it for me with pasta and wilted spinach (oh, how well¬†we ate that day!), but the tomatoes work perfectly on their own too. Simply wash them, pop them in an ovenproof dish, drizzle with olive oil and season with whatever herbs and spices you like (I used origanum, pepper, chives¬†and salt). Then bake them for 30 minutes at 180 ¬įC ‚Äď which was ideal in this case because that’s the same as for¬†the clafoutis, so I baked them together.

Savoury clafoutis with roasted tomatoes and avo with basil pesto mayo

Savoury clafoutis with roasted tomatoes and avo with basil pesto mayo

As you can see from the pic above, the poor clafoutis had no patience with me fussing with the photography… it started to deflate almost as soon as I took it from the oven ūüėõ Still delicious though.

The basil pesto mayo was also a hit (with everyone except my plain-eating husband, hehe). Since I enjoy basil but can’t eat the garlic they usually put in commercial pestos, I decided to make my own pesto. As a replacement for the pine nuts used in standard pestos, I added a few spoons of ground almonds. Hmmm. Didn’t¬†do much for me.¬†Then I simply mixed up low-fat mayo and milk, and¬†stirred tiny shreds of fresh¬†basil into the mix. Yum! A perfect complement to the plain avocado, with none of the disadvantages (for me at least) of using garlic.

And the dessert of fresh strawberries and hot marshmallow sauce? That’ll be my next post ūüôā

My favourite meal of the day

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Breakfast!

Breakfast!

Breakfast is definitely my favourite meal of the day :mrgreen:

Nothing gets me up and¬†out of bed like the anticipation of a good breakfast. While Ninja is one of those people who dislike eating too early in the day, I’m ready to nom as soon as I’ve opened my eyes.

Recently I’ve changed over from cold cereal as my standard start to the day, to a¬†warm bowl of cooked¬†rolled oats with a variety of toppings. Warm, healthy, tasty and filling… the ideal first meal of the day.

I loathed oats when I was a kid, but that’s probably because I only encountered them at church¬†camps and other strange places, where¬†they were cooked until they were grey and flavoured with salt as well as sugar. Gag. The oats I make for breakfast these days are gourmet in comparison!

The bowl pictured above shows one of the best combinations I’ve come up with so far. The¬†oats are¬†cooked in coconut¬†milk and water, with a dash of vanilla essence. Then I top them with dried cranberries, blueberries, raisins and goji berries, drizzle on some honey and sprinkle cinnamon and¬†a few flax seeds on top. YUM!

And when summer hits South African shores, I think I’ll stick to my warm winter cereal but top it with more fresh fruits instead ūüôā

Do you enjoy oats for breakfast? What toppings have you tried before?

Oriental pie with chutney, avo and banana

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I’m probably doing this all wrong, posting a¬†hearty winter¬†dinner¬†recipe when most of you are enjoying a long-awaited summer. But deliciousness must be shared, no matter the season! You could always bookmark it for wintertime in your hemisphere ūüėČ

Oriental pie with chutney, avo and banana

Oriental pie with chutney, avo and banana

Oriental pie filling

1 onion, chopped (or 2 T dried chives)

1 T oil

1 t curry powder, heaped

¬Ĺ t¬†ground ginger, heaped

1 garlic clove, chopped (optional)

¬Ī350 g¬†mince

1 bay leaf

3 ripe tomatoes, chopped

¬ľ C¬†vinegar

30 ml brown sugar

Salt and pepper

Method

1. Fry onions/chives in oil.

2. Add curry, ginger, garlic and mince. Fry until mince browns.

3.  Add rest of ingredients. Cook on medium heat until most of the liquid has evaporated.

4.  Place in a casserole dish. Prepare the topping.

Oriental pie is delicious served on a bed of brown rice

Oriental pie is delicious served on a bed of brown rice


Oriental pie topping

1¬Ĺ C flour

1 t baking powder

¬Ĺ t salt

1 t curry powder, heaped

40 g butter

1 onion, grated (or 1 T dried chives)

1 garlic clove, chopped (optional)

1 egg, beaten

¬Ĺ C water

Ingredients for the topping

Ingredients for the topping

Method

1. Sift dry ingredients together.

2. Rub in butter.

3. Add onion/chives and garlic.

4. Mix egg with water and add to mixture.

5. Mix well. Spoon over oriental pie filling.

6. ¬†Bake at 180 ¬įC for 30 min.

A warm and spicy winter dinner

A warm and spicy winter dinner

Notes

  • I’m not sure of the origins of this recipe; I suspect it was a Cape Malay dish, but my version comes from my mom.
  • As you can see, I’ve used dried chives because Ninja and I are allergic to onion and garlic.
  • You could make this dish as mild or as spicy as you like by varying the flavours to taste.
  • I always enjoy curried dishes with avocado, banana and fruit¬†chutney on the side. We use the South African classic, Mrs Ball’s Peach Chutney ‚Äď loved by South Africans and imported by expats everywhere!
Oriental pie

Oriental pie

A tog in training

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Tog as in photog. As in photographer. Okay, okay, never mind… ūüôā

Here are some of the practice pics I’ve been snapping lately as I bond with my beastie!

Meringue with strawberries and cream

I can’t take credit for the cooking on this one: my mom treated¬†me to¬†this¬†meringue with strawberries and cream when I visited her the other day. Yum, I love my mom! ūüôā

Aloe

Aloe

Classic South African flora: a flowering aloe plant.

Robin

Robin

This wild Cape robin-chat has ‘trained’ my parents to feed him whenever he¬†sings at their kitchen door… and he does this about seven times a day! Adorable free pet ūüôā

New fur for Flea

New fur for Flea

And speaking of pets, here’s our fuzzbutt Flea. Can you see how her fur has grown back pitch black in that patch under her arm?

The sweetest face

The sweetest face

I also have a bit of amazing news to share: I’ve been asked to extend my current¬†contract of office work until the end of the year, instead of wrapping up in August.

This offer from my boss¬†came as a major blessing and a big relief to Ninja and I, as it means I’ll be getting a few extra salaries this year above what we’d planned for… which of course also means that our budget will quickly recover from the knock it took with my camera. The Lord has been so generous to¬†provide this ‘safety net’ ‚Äď and all that after I’d taken the leap of faith to get my camera!

Anyway, that’s all from me for today. Hope it’s sunny where you are :mrgreen:

Sugar-free gluten-free coconut crumpets

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This 21-day sugar detox has been a surprising experience so far. Until I began this detox, I had no idea such a thing as coconut flour even existed!

Crumpets/pancakes made with coconut flour

Crumpets/pancakes made with coconut flour

Of course once I discovered it, I immediately wanted to try making my favourite food with coconut flour :mrgreen: As you know by now, my favourite food is crepes (called pancakes here in South Africa), with crumpets (called pancakes overseas) following a close second.

The various recipes I browsed through seemed to suggest that crepes would be a bit tricky (though not impossible) to get right with coconut flour, so I decided to try out a recipe for crumpets/pancakes instead. I came across this recipe, which seemed simple and used ingredients I had on hand.

I adapted it a little because I can’t have honey or other sweeteners¬†while I’m¬†on the 21DSD¬†detox, so this is what I used:

Ingredients

4 whole eggs

1/4 C coconut flour (finely sifted to remove all clumps)

1/4 C plain full-cream yoghurt

1 t vanilla essence

1 t mixed spice

Butter/oil/coconut oil for frying

Coconut flour pancakes

Ingredients

Most of the info I read about coconut flour referred to how quickly it absorbs liquids. Since I didn’t want these crumpets to soak up too much butter, I only used a little butter¬†and fried the pancakes¬†in a non-stick pan. It was perfectly easy:

Method

1. Mix all ingredients to make a batter.

2. Fry spoonfuls in a little oil/butter on a medium to high heat.

Fry crumpets in coconut oil, vegetable oil or butter

Fry crumpets in coconut oil, vegetable oil or butter

3. Carefully flip over when the bottom has cooked and bubbles start to form around the top edges.

4. Once golden brown and cooked through, remove from pan and drain (if needed).

Make sure both sides are golden brown

Make sure both sides are golden brown

5. Serve with your toppings of choice.

Coconut flour pancakes with green apple and pecan nuts

Coconut flour pancakes with green apple and pecan nuts

These turned out pleasantly delicious, but I did miss the sweetness I’m used to. To pep up these healthy crumpets, I enjoyed them with my daily allowance of one green apple, as well as some pecan nuts and desiccated coconut.

Not a bad way to make it through another sugarless day ūüėČ

The 21-day sugar detox? I must be nuts!

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Ohhhhh boy. What was I thinking?

Today I began 21 days of no sugar and¬†no¬†carbs ‚Äď read:¬†pretty much no comfort food of any kind ‚Äď and I did it voluntarily. In winter. For twenty-one days!

Detox

Day 1 and I feel a bit lost, really.

Me without sugar is like a sunflower without the sun. I run on sugar! Sweet treats are my staple source of glee. At restaurants I peruse the menus backwards, starting with the desserts. And in winter I gravitate towards breads, pastas, grains and rich sauces.

I guess¬†that’s exactly why this detox is a good idea for me ūüėõ

I was introduced to it by a friend at work and we’re tackling it together, so I’ll have support.¬†This is her second time on the detox, which is a good sign: she survived the first one!

The basic premise of the program is that our bodies are clogged up with an overload of unnatural, refined, processed carbs and sugars¬†and that this lifestyle is bringing on mood swings, tummy troubles, weight gain and a host of other unpleasant effects. As the author of the program, Diane Sanfilippo, puts it, ‘Somewhere along the way, we stopped eating real food.’

All things considered, I’ve coped with the first¬†day better than I expected to. Here’s what I’ve nibbled so far:

  • One semi-ripe banana with lashings of full-cream Greek yoghurt, mixed with¬†vanilla essence, pumpkin seeds, coconut and cinnamon
  • Celery sticks with cheddar cheese
  • A carrot
  • Two cups of unsweetened herbal tea
  • A serving of savoury¬†mince with mushrooms and tomato
  • A handful of salted pistachio nuts

That’s a lot of nibbling.¬†And I haven’t even¬†got to¬†dinner yet.

But I am still so hungry! Clearly I’ll have to increase my portion sizes of the allowed foods…

The nice¬†thing¬†about this detox is that dairy is allowed ‚Äď as long as it’s full cream. Proteins are allowed too,¬†and so are most veggies. The only things I’m cutting down/out are grains,¬†starchy vegetables, fruit and sweet treats. In other words, it’s not total deprivation.

I’ll let you know how it goes :mrgreen:

A pickle pictorial

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This will just be a quick post because it’s been a busy weekend and I have¬†tons of tasks to catch up on.

When I first made my own pickled beetroot, I didn’t properly¬†record the process. So¬†here are some pics from last night, when I made a new batch of beets:

Cooked and peeled beets looking shiny

Of course, I had fun peeling them and got bright pink fingers again :mrgreen:

Beetroot skins are easily rubbed off once the beets are cooked

Beetroot skins are easily rubbed off once the beets are cooked

One plate of whole beets turned into two plates of sliced beets…

From 3 small punnets of baby beetroot I got plenty to pickle!

From 3 small punnets of baby beetroot I got plenty to pickle!

As mentioned previously, the last batch was a bit too vinegary for my liking. This time I doubled the whole recipe but substituted lemon juice for half the vinegar. Will see if that tones down the tang.

Spices in the pickling sauce

Mmmm, spices add such pizzazz to cooking ūüôā

Straining the sauce

Straining the sauce

I bought myself two of these Consol jars with clever blackboard-paint labels. It’s easy to chalk up your notes and wash them off for the next time. Also great if you’re using the jars as gifts…

Proudly pickled by Zest!

Proudly pickled by Zest!

PS ‚Äď I reserved some of the water used for cooking the beets and added a little sugar and a dash of lemon juice to it. Once it had cooled, I¬†drank half a glass of that mixed¬†with half a glass of red grape juice. It tastes unusual but not unpleasant… and I’m hoping that that way I’ve salvaged some of the nutrients,¬†which often get lost in the cooking water ūüėé

Love feasts and other disasters

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Uh oh.¬†Tonight is a special bring-and-share¬†‘love feast’ gathering at our church. Normally I¬†enjoy this kind of thing.¬†But since¬†yours truly has been working hard on a proofreading job¬† obsessively researching¬†DSLR cameras¬† generally somewhat distracted of late, my dinner-and-dessert¬†contribution towards¬†tonight’s meal¬†is currently… still under construction.

I¬†know that the idea of a¬†love feast or ‘agape feast’¬†probably sounds a bit strange¬†to those out of the loop with church jargon. But it’s just a shared meal to celebrate as a church family something important¬†‚Äď in this case, Easter: the time we rememember Christ’s sinless life, His sacrificial death and (praise God) His victorious¬†resurrection. The love feasts are meant to be done¬†in the same¬†spirit as¬†of those old first-century saints who gathered together regularly¬†to share meals and worship the Lord.

So, something worth putting in effort for, right?

Except that I haven’t.

And now I’m in a flap to get things ready. And when¬†I’m in a flap,¬†I tend to do¬†unsaintly things.

Such as freeze my jelly pudding to try to rush the setting process. And then forget the jelly in the freezer, only to take out a bowl of raspberry icicles an hour later. Which I then proceed to whisk into wobbly pink foam, believing that the other guests will prefer a childish pink mousse over frozen icy jelly.

Disaster-recovery on raspberry jelly

Disaster-recovery on raspberry jelly

OK, so that’s my dessert half done, and back in the fridge to set. I plan to¬†tastefully cover that delightful pink mush with a thick layer of irresistable homemade custard. Hopefully the brethren won’t¬†think twice¬†when I say that my dessert is “just plain ol’¬†jelly and custard”.

Er… yum?

Of course it’s just typical that I think about what to make for dessert first.

Now for¬†the meal. We’re supposed to bring enough to feed ourselves and share the rest, but it’s not clear how many will be seated¬†at our table to dip their spoons in our dishes. On the one hand, I don’t want to seem miserly by¬†arriving with too small a portion. But on the other hand I can’t afford to create a lavish supersize dish to feed the 5 000!

So I’ve decided to make an enormous potato salad with special extras such as cheese, tinned tuna and toasted sunflower seeds. I know it’s not exactly a balanced meal, but at least it’s vegetarian ūüėȬ†And if it’s not quite what the church leaders had in mind,¬†here’s hoping the spirit of forgiveness will pervade our love feast this evening…

Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a fatted calf with hatred.

~Proverbs 15:17 ~

Jokes aside, though, my biggest concern in all this is that I’ll get so worked up about making a meaningful contribution to the dinner, that I’ll miss the¬†point of the¬†celebration altogether. Just as we so easily¬†get carried away at Christmastime, believing it’s more important to bake¬†fruit pies and prepare roasts than it is to focus on the reason for Christ’s birth.

And Easter is an especially precious time for Christians because if Christ had never died or risen again, our hope for salvation and the forgiveness of our sins would be void. So this is not the time to become distracted with superficial tasks. If we do nothing else this weekend, may we pause to consider the Saviour. The only God who reached down to man instead of expecting man to reach up to Him. May we remember why He came to earth. May we learn from His life, be humbled by His death, and be thankful for His resurrection.

Bless you all this Easter!

Zest