Thursday, 29 November 2012

Fabulous falafels and tasty tabbouleh ~ more vegetarian crowd pleasers

Falafels are one of those excellent foods that can be enjoyed any time anywhere.  They can be prepared in large batches ahead of time and stored in the freezer all ready to go into the pan at a moments notice.  I find this most useful as when I'm hungry I'm not good at waiting around.  Here's a nice photo to tempt your appetite! 

They are not in the least difficult to make, but when making them initially it is helpful to plan ahead as the main ingredient, chickpeas, sometimes called garbanzo beans, can take quite some time to cook.  We allow 50 minutes.  The length of time they take may depend on how much they have been dried.

  • Chickpeas, cooked and drained - 4 cups
  • Bread - 2 to 3 slices of wholemeal bread.  Stale bread and crusts are fine.
  • Parsley - pick a large bunch which could fill a cup once chopped
  • Garlic - 4 to 5 cloves
  • Sweet basil - half a dozen leaves if you have it fresh, or a teaspoonful if you are using dried flakes
  • Cumin, powdered - 1 teaspoon
  • Turmeric - 1 teaspoon
  • Baking soda - 1 teaspoon
  • Salt to taste - 1 to 1 and a half teaspoons
  • Pepper to taste 
  • Water - about a quarter of a cup
  • Eggs - 2
  • Two tablespoons of plain flour
A food processor can be used for making these but is not essential.  
  • Make your breadcrumbs, either in the food processor or with a grater, and put these to one side in a large bowl.
  • Put the cooked and drained chickpeas into the food processor with all the herbs and spices along with about a quarter of a cup of water, and whiz it until it takes on the appearance of crumbs. 
    • If not using a food processor a potato masher works well, but the chickpeas need to be hot and cooked soft for this to work well.
  • Add the chickpea mixture to the breadcrumbs in the bowl.
  • Beat the two eggs.  You can use the food processor for this as well.
  • Mix all these ingredients thoroughly
  • Add the flour, which will help it all hold together.  If the mixture is still too crumbly add more water; if it's too wet, add more breadcrumbs or a little more flour.
Your felafel mixture should look something like this:

Forming the mixture into shapes:
Many recipes suggest rolling it into balls, but this requires that they be deep-fried.  Moulding them into flattish little fritter shapes is fine and although frying still requires that the bottom of the cooking pan be well covered less oil is needed. 

Rewi likes to use a dessertspoon which he dips into a small bowl of cold water before using it to shape each one.  This makes them easier to handle and reduces stickiness.

Freezer storage:
Here is the latest batch on their ice cream container lid nearly ready to be slid onto a plastic snap-lock bag.  They can then be shelved in the freezer.  This make-shift tray inside the bag is a very good storage method, keeping them separate and easy to handle as well as containing the inevitable smell of garlic; when they are needed we can easily see where they are and lift them out without having to excavate for them.

In the photograph below you can see how I've used this method with frozen vegetable greens, a tip which I shared in my earlier article about packaging:

Cook now:
So you'd rather eat them straight away?  Fine!  Fry each side until golden brown, and they are ready!  Standing them on a paper towel can help absorb any extra oil.

Felafels are traditionally eaten with Tabbouleh, a simple salad made of:
  • Bulgar wheat, or cracked wheat or some similar grain or bean
  • Chopped tomatoes
  • Plenty of finely chopped parsley
  • Finely chopped mint
  • Lemon juice
  • Olive oil
  • Garlic and Onion
  • Salt.
I'm impatiently waiting for my mint to grow so that I can eat both together!  I will add a more exact recipe once I've achieved that.

Finally here is a little musical accompaniment of the tabbouleh variety to set your toes tapping after all that food preparation: food should be fun as well as delicious and nourishing!

It's an anxious time in the East at present, and seeing this humorous video lifted my spirits; it also provides a window into a different angle on eastern culture than we see on the news, so thank you, GoRemy!

My other food articles can be found via the link below:

Gooseberry shortcake ~

It is now the beginning of the gooseberry season, and I have had the great good fortune to be given a bag of this delicious fruit by a friend.  I love them as preserves and jam but decided to celebrate the beginning of the season by searching out a new recipe.  I found one similar to this and adapted it.  It is scrumptious.

Here it is dusted with icing sugar and ready to serve.

~ RECIPE (slightly) REVISED DECEMBER 2014 ~

I bake the shortcake in a round pie tin which is 20cm / 8 inches in diameterThe recipe fills this sized tin perfectly.  It could also be baked on an oven tray

The shortcake is a form of short pastry, and very light and delicious:
  • Flour, plain / standard: 225 grams / 8 ounces / 2 cups
  • Butter: 125 grams / 4 ounces
  • Baking powder / 1 teaspoon
  • Egg: 2
  • Sugar: 2 dessert spoons
This is the filling:
  • Gooseberries, chopped in half: I used approximately 230 grams / 8 ounces.
  • Sugar to toss with chopped gooseberries - I used about half a cup / 125 grams
  • Some fresh, finely chopped mint leaves if you feel inclined - I love mint with gooseberries!
(Note that this is a fruit-to-sugar ratio of about 2 to 1, whereas the ratio I use for preserves is 3 to 1.)

The mint is a special ingredient: it makes an excellent combination with gooseberries, drawing out their delicate flavour!

  • Finely chop the mint leaves - if you want to include them
  • In a medium sized bowl combine the mint with the sugar
  • Chop the gooseberries in half and add them to the sugar and mint and toss them
  • Set these aside while you make the pastry, stirring from time to time, which will coat the gooseberries with the sugar and mint.  The sugar is likely to liquify somewhat.
  • Grate the cold butter, put it in a bowl and then put it back in the fridge if the day is warm and it may have softened while being grated.
  • While you have the butter out take a knob of it and grease the pie tin with it. 
  • Set the oven to heat to 200 degrees Celsius
  • Sift flour and baking powder
  • In a separate bowl beat the eggs and add the sugar to them, then continue to beat until they have  thickened and gone creamy.  Keep aside a few tablespoons of it.
  • Combine the chilled butter with the floury mixture.  I use first a knife and fork, then a serated knife.  Pastry dough should be handled as little as possible to prevent it from becoming tough.
  • Add to it the larger amount of the egg and sugar, using firstly a knife or similar and then kneading it very lightly with the fingertips until the pastry adheres to itself and can be rolled out with a rolling pin.  If the dough doesn't seem damp enough add a small amount of cold water.  I may add up to a quarter of a cup if needed.
  • Note that the pastry is much more successful if it starts out a little too damp rather than a little too dry, and you can dust a little additional flour over the pastry as you are working with it to make it just right.
  • Divide the pastry in two halves; if using a tin for baking make one a little larger than the other.
  • Dust with flour the board or bench surface on which you will be rolling it out, keeping perhaps half a cup of flour to one side in a bowl to continue to dust the dough as you roll and turn it so that it doesn't stick to your working surface.
  • Take the larger half of the pastry dough and roll it into a circle large enough to line your tin.  It can be about half an inch thick although I usually make my pastry thinner.
  • Lift it into the baking tin.  You can either make a proper pie case (with sides) or simply cover the base of your tin leaving enough room around the edges so that the top cover can be pressed down into the base
  • Now use the small amount of egg and sugar that you have set aside to brush the inside of the pastry case, including the upper edges where it will meet the pastry used to cover the top.  This will seal in any liquid from the cooking gooseberries so that the base doesn't go soggy.
  • Note that milk brushed onto pastry will also assist edges to join which are pressed together. 
  • Spread onto this pastry case the chopped gooseberries, sugar and mint that have been standing to one side
  • Roll out the second round and place it over the top
  • Press the edges of the two layers together with your finger tips, trimming any excess which can then be made into decorative shapes for the lid.
  • Place these decorations on the lid after dipping them in milk 
  • Brush the lid with milk to enhance the golden colour it will turn when baked - if you feel like it
  • Slash the pastry lid with a sharp knife so that steam can escape
  • Place into your heated oven and cook for at least 30 minutes.  
Ovens vary considerably so your own judgement will be useful in deciding when your shortcake is fully baked.
The pastry should be golden and the fruit juicy.  It may be starting to ooze.  The fruit does need to be well cooked.  If it isn't the fruit will have considerably less flavour.
Tip: if you find that the fruit isn't adequately cooked whereas your pastry is, you can even things up by placing portions of it in the microwave for a brief burst.

Once cooked to your satisfaction remove your shortcake from the oven and let it stand until it has cooled sufficiently to be able to be lightly handled.  Turn it out onto a serving dish, dust with icing sugar, slice into wedges and serve with whipped cream.

Turning cakes and pies out of their tins:  
I use this method for the shortcake:
  • Check that the cake is free from the sides of the tin by carefully running a knife or thin spatula around the inside edge, gently easing it inward as you go.  
  • Next, place a large dinner plate over the top of it; then, holding the tin and the plate firmly together, turn the cake tin upside down.  The cake, pie or shortcake will now be sitting on its head on the plate and hopefully free of the tin which can be then lifted off.  
  • (If the cake doesn't come free from the tin when it is turned upside down, I turn it right way up again and once again use the knife or thin spatula to ease it away from the sides.) 
  • Next, the serving plate is the placed on base of the upside-down cake. 
  • Now, firmly holding both plates which now have the cake sandwiched between them, reverse them once more, lift the plate off the top and there is the cake, the right side up again!  
I have no idea how other people get their cakes the right way up after removing them from their tins - I've just always done it this way.  Cake racks can be used in place of the plates of course, but not everyone has them.

My other gooseberry recipes can be found by following the link below:
To find my other articles about food and working in the kitchen click on the link below:

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Packaging gone mad ~ refuse (say No!) reduce re-use & recycle

Most of our household rubbish is packaging, which I consider to be a crime against nature, and also against our intelligence.  We can do much better than this.  Why do we have so much packaging, especially, why do we have so much PLASTIC packaging?  Not only is much of it unnecessary and but also the continuing use of so much plastic is completely mad: it places an unacceptable burden on our environment and ultimately on us, the consumers who occupy that environment.  Let's be clear about this: any separation of ourselves and our environment is artificial - we do in fact occupy it.  Do we want to live in a rubbish dump?  No?  Well then, we need to take responsibility for it!

Part of the answer is to say No (thank you) to packaging in the first instance where possible, and also to recognise the potential for re-use in some of it, and so reduce at least in part our society's rampant consumption of packaging products, which is what I outline here.

The proliferation of packaging, especially the plastic variety, is a fairly recent phenomena, as can be seen in this photograph taken in the 1960s - not a shred of plastic is in sight:

At that time our milk was delivered to the gate in glass bottles - which were collected on a daily basis and re-used, and as school children we collected the aluminium tops for school fund-raising projects.  Our bread, which was also delivered to the gate, wasn't wrapped at all.  This photograph shows how true this was!  Our milkman resented the placement of the delivery box which was a short distance up the drive and the row of bottles reflected his feelings most eloquently! 

In recent months I've attempted to rid my shopping of plastics and to reduce the amount of packaging accumulated.  Refusing plastic shopping bags has been one tactic, and it's a start, but I've become uncomfortably aware that plastic packaging and / or components are present in very nearly all consumer goods and with food items in particular.  Next time you go shopping you might like to count the number of items which are not packed in plastic and are entirely plastic-free.  My own tally is woefully small.

Packaging is big business, and storage containers are part of that.  For the storage of food my own preference is for glass, stainless steel and china / ceramics, which can be relied on to pose no threat to our health.  The environmental hazard of plastics is huge, and I'm sure that in the future it will be seen to have compromised our health as well, possibly for generations to come.  However, since we do have so much plastic, most of which we get whether we like it or not, it makes sense re-use those containers where they fit the purpose well. 

I re-use everything I can until it really is completely useless, so while I abhor plastic packaging some of the good quality sort can be very useful.  Sometimes I even buy such things second hand:

I can pick up six of these plastic ice cream containers for $2 at a corner store which sells it by the scoop in cones.  These 5 litre containers are the standard size for shop display cabinets.  They are useful for all kinds of things.  We bake all our own bread so they are useful for the large amount of flour that we like to have to hand.  The lids fit well which makes them good for food storage:

Space in our pantry is very limited so they also make good storage containers for various foods in smallish packets or bags which would otherwise take up valuable shelf space.  Spot the leopard-print shelf liner!  Not my choice but it makes me smile!

We have even used them for rising the bread dough (on occasions when we are rising it more than once).  They are relatively airtight, which saves the dough from draughts, and don't transmit cold in the way glass, metal and china do, and are just the right size to take dough for two loaves each.

I use the lids like trays for easy food storage in the freezer. 
These slide into snap-lock bags which seal them nicely.  In the photo below these greens have been lightly steamed and placed in portions onto the lid in before the whole thing is put into the freezer.  Portions can later be added directly to stews, curries, or to a steamer to eat as is.

Plastic snap-lock bags can be washed with the washing up, rinsed, and pegged out to dry on the clothes line.  With a little care and effort they can be re-used many times.  In my opinion they should be safe for food storage as long as they are discarded before getting visibly worn.

Those empty flour and sugar bags can be put to good use:
Five kilo bags of flour and three kilo bags of sugar are commonly packed in sturdy, double-thickness paper bags.  Fold the top back and you have an excellent rubbish bag for your kitchen waste, or for the storage for your potatoes once they are dug.  The crumpled newsprint in this one was put there was on its way to the compost heap.  It was later torn up, soaked in water and added to the compost heap where it rotted down along with garden rubbish.

Old newspapers or newsprint and even advertising brochures can be used to make handy containers
I've given details of how to fold these shapes in an earlier article:

Walnut shells make good fire kindling and can go on to the fire in this:

A little box for clipped sewing threads and shreds of material can be a useful thing to have on the table when sewing:

A used lunch wrapper can be used to make a little packet for left over scraps:

Oh those glass jars:  
Do think carefully before you throw these out!  If they have pop-top lids they can be re-used many times for jam and preserves.  I've written about how to do this in my popular article

Pop-tops have a distinctive little dome or button in the centre of the lid which looks like this:

Even those jars which don't have pop-top lids can be re-used for other sorts of storage.  Your local charity shop may take them so if you can't find a use for them yourself, consider giving these people a call.  Beyond that, at least glass is fully recyclable, and will be taken by bottle banks or the local recycling collection.  In places where these services are provided there is NO EXCUSE for tossing them into rubbish collections destined for land-fills.

Many plastics as well as metals and papers can now be recycled, which is good, but do bear in mind that recycling itself is energy intensive, both in transportation and in re-manufacturing.  The small steps outlined above go some way to mitigating waste and unnecessary energy consumption.  

This article is a companion to the previous one:
Related news article on the Stuff website:
My other articles about housekeeping and shopping can be found by clicking on the link below:

Friday, 16 November 2012

Supermarket bags ~ say NO to plastics & make your own!

~ Article updated 8th July 2015 ~
One way to reduce waste is by not getting it in the first place.  One of the easiest things NOT to get are plastic shopping bags.  Make your own!

As we all know such bags are useful for many purposes

The easiest way to get a pattern that works is to snip apart one of the plastic ones, think about what dimensions suit your purpose and draw the shape onto a handy piece of paper.  I do not copy the pleats of the plastic bags as they are unnecessary and the extra thickness would take longer to dry.  However, broad handle straps make for comfortable carrying.

I find the wrappers of A4 packs of photocopy / printing paper excellent for making pattern pieces as they are nice and strong:

A single simple pattern piece is all you need:

Cutting out:
Material can be cut either in two pieces - as per the photo above, or, from one, which reduces the construction required.  To cut in one, fold the material to double thickness and place the pattern piece with the tops of the handles of the paper pattern piece on the fold.  Pin the pattern piece in place and then cut out, being careful not to cut along the tops of the handles.
For the simplest possible construction: 
  • Zigzag stitch the edges around the top and the handles to prevent fraying before you do the side seams.  
  • If you have cut the material into two pieces stitch the tops of the handles to each other, linking the two pieces of material to each other.  If unsure as to what is meant here have a look at your plastic supermarket bag.
  • Construction is created by a single seam: down one side of the bag, along the bottom and up the other side - easy!
  • Zigzag stitch this single seam to prevent fraying.  
When using these for food storage I have the seam allowance on the outide to prevent food particles from lodging in them
When using them for carrying I prefer to have the seam on the inside as I think it looks a little smarter, but really it doesn't matter at all.

If you want your bags to be a little bit smarter and maybe last longer you could follow this slightly longer method:
  • Zigzag stitch all your 'raw' edges
  • If you have cut your bag in two pieces sew the tops of the handles to each other - in the same way that plastic supermarket bags are joined.
  • Turn over the edges of the handles and upper edges of the bag itself about a quarter of an inch (half a centimeter) and iron them flat
  • To do this at the base of the handles you will need to clip diagonally into the corners - you may wish to 'stay stitch' these corners first.  Stay stitching is to prevent tearing or fraying and is a row of small stitches made where the final stitching will go over the top of it, or in this case the fold line itself. 
  • Turn your bag piece or pieces so that the 'outside' of the bag is uppermost, and the narrow seam allowance underneath
  • Top-stitch very close to these folded and pressed edges
  • Turn the material so the the outside of the material is innermost and pin the sides of the bag together 
  • Stitch along one side seam, along the base and up the other side in a simple 'U' shape
  • Reverse it so that the right side is outermost, iron it and you're done!
You can see a little of this detail in the photograph below:

If this works for you, remember that you read about it here first, because yes, the design is original.

I have made most of my bags out of old polyester sheets - worn in the middle, but still perfectly good around the outer edges.  The excellent thing about using this durable lightweight material is that it washes like a rag, dries rapidly and requires no further fuss and care.  One big drawback of many  reusable shopping bags which are commercially available is that they are difficult or impossible to wash.  Not so with these.  I use mine once, then toss them into the wash so they are always clean and fresh.

It is a huge help to make different sizes in distinct colours as this helps you find the ones you want when you need them.  

Ideally any household needs sets of these bags in at least two different sizes: one for carry bags, and the other for fruit, vegetables and other such items.  However, as I already use plastic crates instead of carry bags my slightly smaller cloth bags are used for fruit and vegies.  

It's marvellous not to have to do battle any more with rolls of flimsy plastic bags which tear with the least stress and are difficult to wash and re-use.  And I like being able to loop one of my own bags over my arm while I fill it with apples or onions or whatever it is.  Finally, they weigh very little, so I'm quite happy for the shop assistant to put them on the scales with my produce inside them.  They may well weigh a small amount more than a plastic one, but my conscience is clear - I am not contributing those particular items to rubbish dumps. 

What about the little snap-lock plastic bags provided at the self-serve units for nuts and other such food?  I use small paper bags provided for bag-your-own coffee beans or mushrooms.  I write the name of the item and its code on it and secure the top with a couple of cunning neat folds.  You can find instructions for how to do this in my article linked to below in which photographs show this step by step.

Meanwhile, have fun making your bags, or maybe look over those few old sheets you somehow haven't managed to clear out of the linen cupboard - what luck!  Make them for yourselves, make them for friends and give them away.  Now that's a nice Christmas present - hand made and with a green theme.  What could be better!

Since making a whole swag from old sheets I've used nylon fabric to make others:

Here is the bag I made for my swimming gear:  

I purchased the material for it at 'Spotlight'.  It is called 'parker nylon' and cost $10 a metre.  One metre was enough to make three bags across the width.  I chose this bright yellow so I can easily find the bag in the back of the cupboard.  

Tip: an easy way to check the degree of waterproofing is to place the material against your lips and see if you can blow through it.  If you can't blow through it at all, it's likely to be reasonably water resistant if not actually waterproof.

Companion articles about bags and packaging can be found here:

My other articles about housekeeping and shopping can be found by clicking on the link below:

    Sunday, 4 November 2012

    Muesli ~ variation on a simple theme

    Most muesli is loaded with sugar; this one has none - and yet how delicious!  I have written about muesli before and am adding this one in which I enlarge on the theme of simple and sugar-free cereals.  In this version the seeds are soaked in hot water rather than toasted as that's what suits my digestion best, and I've left out the dried fruit entirely.  It sounds rather plain, I know, but has become a household favourite.  Here it is:

    Ingredients for two servings:
    • 1 cup of rolled oats
    • 1/4 cup of shredded coconut
    • About a tablespoon of vegetable oil
    • 1 tablespoon of sunflower seeds
    • 1 tablespoon of pumpkin seeds
    Place seeds into a cup or small jug, pour hot water over them and leave them to stand while you toast the rolled oats and coconut.  To do this heat the oil in a pot, add the rolled oats and coconut to it and stir it until it smells lightly toasted.  Take it off the heat.  You may wish to serve it immediately to stop it from cooking any further.  Drain the water from the seeds and spoon them on top of the toasted muesli.  That's it!  

    I like mine with home made preserves - that's a jar of apples at the left of my muesli bowl, some banana and a dollop of cottage cheese if I have them, and milk.  Rewi has given a decided thumbs down to the cottage cheese, which I really like, but however you serve it you have the basis for a substantial, flavoursome and nourishing meal.  And it's economical - bingo!

    My previous article can be found here:
    Other articles about food are listed on the following page: