Ideas for isolation – more recipes for scarcity

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Hearty homemade soup and overnight bread.  An easy way to stretch your resources and produce simple nourishing food your family will love.  A great way to avoid food wastage and make do with less.

Around the world people are grappling with a new world view.  After nearly 5 weeks in lockdown we in New Zealand are about to emerge slightly from the extreme rules of the level 4 restrictions.  We have learned (and I mean my family personally, but hopefully all of us collectively as well), that things look different from inside our “bubbles”.  Our bubbles have provided an odd sense of perspective that perhaps our busy lives have been lacking.  An enforced slowing of the normally frenetic pace of life.  Things that seemed important (getting to the shops after school, fitting in play dates, birthday parties, and sports practices, buying cloths, or take away coffee), don’t seem as pressing when you are looking at the world from the (hopefully) safe confines of your bubble.  A collective purpose to protect the vulnerable members of our families and communities is more than enough reason to sacrifice our freedom temporarily.   Perhaps you (like us) have had time to discover the joys of being with your kids, having time to play lego, enjoy board games and family jigsaws, have movie nights and snuggle longer  in the mornings.  

This new world of bubbles is definitely not easy, and homeschooling kids is mind bending.  I have taken to educating by stealth – hoping they won’t notice they are learning and studying until they look back later.  Add to that, working from home and it can feel exhausting.  That’s because momentous change is exhausting.  So I reckon its import that we go easy on ourselves and just do what we can.  There is no point in comparing yourself to anyone else.  Their  situation is not the same as yours.

Covid-19 has ushered in a desire in many people to be more self-sufficient and to rediscover the joy of cooking.   Going forward, the traditional ways to feed our families may not be as reliable or easy to access.  As the coronavirus spread, so too did the panic buying – toilet paper, pasta, flour, yeast and even seedlings and seeds.  Obviously people were suddenly visualising a future where greater self-sufficiency might give them greater security.

Because of the abundance of time on our hands, it seems many New Zealanders have suddenly turned to the idea of a home garden.  I think this is a hugely positive step for the population to be taking.  Every person who has pots or a tiny patch of garden can start producing nutritious fresh produce to supplement their families diet.  If you have enough space then you can actually grow pretty much everything you need to eat.  I encourage everybody to take the time to start growing food.  It is good for the soul and good for the body. 

I know that one of the things I have found hardest in lockdown is the need to cook mindfully.  By that I mean rationing butter and other ingredients to make sure they last as long as possible so that our trips to the supermarket are infrequent.   Also making things from scratch takes a bit more planning and time than I have often had in pre-corona times.  Everyone seems at least to be enjoying the meals coming from my kitchen so that is a blessing.

One of our go to dishes for the winter months is a good hearty soup.  I call it elbow soup because the amounts that I put in are estimated by the “feel in my elbow”.  No soup is ever the same twice because I very rarely have the same set of ingredients to hand.  My Grandma used to keep a pot of soup on the stove and throw all her leftovers into it.  She was a renowned soup maker.  She taught my Mum, and Mum taught me.  Now I am teaching my three kids.  This has turned out to be one of our easiest lockdown lunches.  It is flexible and works with whatever I have handy.  What I love about soup is that it gives us the opportunity to change our perception of useless or inedible by turning disparate scraps into a rich new creation.

Every soup I make starts with good stock.  I do buy dried stock powder, but wherever I possibly can, I always make my own.  Vegetable, or chicken stock is my go to soup starter, but you can also use beef stock.  Soup stock is something you can make yourself, it doesn’t need to come in individual plastic containers or in a plastic jar.  A simple way to make a healthy meal for your family also has the added benefit of using food scraps that would otherwise go to waste, and saving you a trip to the shop and potentially the environmental impact of plastic packaging.  I hope you find these recipes simple and useful during the strange times we are living through.

Homemade soup stock:

Next time you have a roast chicken (or any chicken actually), save the bones and boil them up.  Boiling the bones is where the flavour and goodness comes from.  We always boil up the remains of a roast and I will usually get two boilings off one chicken frame.  The first is more meaty than the second boiling and so I tend to add more veges and herbs to the second boiling to bulk it up a bit.  I create a bouquet garni, which consists of a sprig of rosemary, thyme, oregano, half a teaspoon of black pepper corns and maybe a bay leaf.  Sometimes I add parsley, but I am not traditional about this, I just add what I have to hand and what I think will add a nice flavour.  You are supposed to tie them into a muslin bag or tie them together in a bunch, but I just throw them in the pot with the bones (or vegetables) and strain the lot through a sieve when the stock is finished.  I also throw in a roughly chopped clove of garlic and and a slice or two of onion.  Sometimes I put in carrot peelings, celery leaves, and mushroom stalks.  All these things add to the flavour but you can just go with the basic herbs and pepper together with garlic and onion.  Cover the bones with water and bring to the boil before reducing the heat and simmering slowly until the liquid has reduced by about half (or until the flavour is good).  Sieve the stock into a clean container with a lid (discard the bones and bits or if you are going to boil them a second time start over adding fresh herbs and veges etc and repeat), allow to cool and then freeze it.  If you are using the stock immediately to make a soup, then decant it into a large pot and progress with the soup. 

I make vegetable stock by throwing into the pot everything as before (except the bones obviously).  I add more garlic, onion and celery (You can use celery leaves in stock).  Then I add anything that is a vegetable that I have to hand.  Odd bits of pumpkin, celery,  potato and carrot peelings and ends, mushroom stalks etc and boil up as for chicken stock.  

My “elbow”soup recipe:

Once you have your soup stock (instant stock powder or cubes is fine if you haven’t got a homemade stock) you are ready to begin your soup.  I always cast about the bottom of the vegetable bin for old mushrooms, slightly wizened looking carrots (with a bit of life), bits of limp looking cauliflower or broccoli.  In short anything that might be a little past its best that might otherwise be discarded. I put those in first, Chopping into 1cm chunks if I intend to end up with a chunky soup, and throwing in bigger chunks if I intend to mouli, sieve or blend it.  Then I cast around in the fridge for any leftovers and throw those in.  I use leftover rice, stir fry, pasta, pasta bake, spaghetti bolognaise, sausages or chicken.

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I usually put in some or all of the following:

  • tomatoes, (however many feels right to me – but usually between 2 and 8 depending on size and availability.  If I have a half used tin of tomatoes or pasata sauce I will put that in too.
  • a chopped onion and a couple of cloves of garlic.  If I lack garlic I have sometimes used garlic salt.
  • one or two medium potatoes or left over mashed potato
  • bits of bacon (I am always sparing with the bacon and I use it for flavour rather than bulk).
  • a sausage or two.  I either cook them up especially for the soup or use any that are left over from previous meals.  Simply slice them and add.  Frankfurters are good too.
  • a carrot, grated or sliced
  • frozen corn if I have any
  • left over baked beans
  • pearl barley, red or brown lentils
  • left over porridge or a handful of porridge/rolled oats
  • sour cream
  • smoked paprika
  • a teaspoon of mixed herbs
  • some fresh ground black pepper
  • salt to taste
  • celery
  • spring onions,
  • pumpkin or kumara
  • pasta or rice (leftovers get used first to save wastage).
  • chives
  • parsley
  • mushrooms
  • a nice fresh courgette but I don’t use too much and always add near the end of cooking so they retain their colour and flavour.

Once I have finished adding the ingredients, I bring it to the boil stirring to make sure nothing sticks and then I reduce the heat and let it simmer on a low heat for as long as I can stirring every now and again.  I find the longer the better for flavour development. Add extra water if it is getting too thick.  If  the soup is to be moulied check things like lentils are soft and tender and that harder ingredients like carrot and potato are soft. Then I mouli the lot.  Sometimes we like to have noodles in our soup so I add cooked pasta after I have moulied it.  Sometimes I moulie the soup pasta and all.

Taste the soup and adjust the flavours to your taste.  My Mum always says soup tastes better if left overnight but soup isn’t safe in our house for long and so we very rarely have soup left to sample next day!

Overnight bread:

To go with your amazing soup you could try making your own bread.  During lock down, getting hold of flour and yeast has been more difficult that usual.  We have enough but are trying to make our supply stretch for as long as possible.  I was also concerned about friends and family trying to make their flour and yeast stretch the distance so I did some looking and found a recipe for overnight bread.  It is the simplest bread I have made yet.  No knead, no fuss, just simple and delicious.

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You need a casserole dish with a lid ( the deeper the better) or a dutch oven.  If you don’t have something with a lid use a deep oven dish and cover with tin foil instead.  You will also need baking paper.  I have found that I can reuse my baking paper several times before it reaches the end of its life.  

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups of flour (standard white flour nothing fancy)
  • half a teaspoon of active yeast (granules) or one teaspoon of Surebake.
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 1/2 cups of water.   I have used both luke warm water and straight cold water from the tap.   I think the warm water is better if it is a really cold night but both work fine

Simply mix the ingredients together in a bowl.  It makes a very sticky dough much wetter than my usual dough.  Sometimes when I am mixing it it seems a bit drier than usual so I add a little bit of extra water (say a tablespoon or two) in little dribbles until all the dry flour is mixed in.

Then cover with a plate and leave on your bench overnight.  I leave mine for between 8 to 12 hours, and on occasion even 24 hours.  It is very forgiving and so far I haven’t noticed any difference in the finished bread.  

Next day after 8 (or more) hours scrape the dough out onto some baking paper that you have sprinkled liberally with flour, and using floured fingers or a spatula shape it into a roughly circular shape.  This doesn’t have to be perfect, just rough. 

Leave for 30 mins to rest.  While the dough is resting, turn your oven on to 220°C and put your casserole or dutch oven or oven dish into the oven to pre-heat. 

When the rest period is over, use a serrated knife to cut a rough cross into the top of the dough, remove the preheated casserole from the oven (carefully because it is super hot) lift the bread dough on the baking paper and drop the whole lot into the casserole, cover with the lid, and place in the oven for 30 mins.

After thirty minutes carefully (it will be VERY hot) remove the lid and return the bread to the oven for a further 15 minutes.

Remove from the oven and lift out of the casserole using the baking paper and place on a wire rack to cool.

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Finished!  It just needs to be lifted out to cool on a wire rack.  It smells incredibly good.

It will make a very crusty and super yummy loaf to go with your soup, or to simply enjoy with stretched butterI have no idea how well it keeps because it never lasts our family of 5 for more than one meal!  I do note that it is easier to cut when it is cooled a bit. 

I hope these recipes are helpful and inspire you to try making your own soup and bread.  Let your kids try making their own bread and soup for the family.  This is a skill they will definitely be grateful to have when they are flatting in the future.  In the mean time, look after yourselves, stay safe, and be kind.

Kia kaha (stay strong), this too shall pass.

Easy homemade bread – packaging free straight from the oven.

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The irresistible finished product.  Hot fresh bread, ‘stretched’ butter and a homemade beeswax wrap, no plastic in sight.

If you are trying to reduce your plastic consumption, then you will have noticed that bread these days is virtually always packaged in plastic with a plastic bread bag tag.  Not only that but it is nothing like homemade bread.   Whenever I can I like to make my own bread.  I don’t own a bread maker, I make it by hand, the old fashioned way, or I use the food processor to start the dough and then finish it by hand.  My Mum used to make bread the old fashioned way through much of my childhood and I vividly recall the smell of fresh bread wafting through the house.  There is something about the smell of freshly baked bread that is irresistible and wholesome. It’s a skill we seem to have lost and I think it is time more of us rediscovered it.

Every time you rush down to the shop to get some bread you use petrol (which we all know is unsustainable) and then you have to dispose of the plastic bags and tags.  The supermarket bread we are familiar with is a relatively new product (the machinery necessary to make it was introduced in 1961). This new bread-making process uses less flour, and is made possible by the addition of various additives that are not used in home baking.  Some people suggest that the process is partially responsible for the increase of gluten and wheat intolerance.  There are less vitamins and minerals in supermarket bread and in general it is widely known that cheap $1 loaves are actually incredibly poor nutritionally.  In today’s day and age, people have less and less time to do things despite technology constantly coming up with labour saving devices.  In reality with a bit of forward planning, and by that I mean don’t start making bread half an hour before you have to take the kids to their swimming lesson, you can actually make your own bread.

I don’t really understand why more people don’t make their own bread.  You don’t need a bread maker to make it easy, because it is simple to make without one.  Many people have said to me that they wish they had time to make bread themselves, as if it is a time consuming, complicated and arduous activity.  My response is always “give it a go, your will be surprised how easy it is”.

So here are my tips and recipe for simple homemade bread.  I plan for it to take roughly an hour and a half from start to finish.

You will need:

  • A loaf tin (if you are making a loaf of bread) or a baking tray if you are going to make bread rolls.  Actually if you don’t have a loaf tin you can just shape it into a loaf shape and bake it on a tray.
  • Baking paper if you are making rolls so they don’t stick to the tray.  Alternatively you can grease the tray with butter and then lightly dust it with flour.
  • Something to mix up the liquid in.  I use a 500ml pyrex jug because it has measurements on the side, but you can use a bowl.
  • A food processor with a dough blade or dough hook, or a large sized mixing bowl.
  • A clear space on your bench for kneading the bread dough.

Ingredients:

  • 3 and 3/4 cups of flour. I usually use mostly white flour but often substitute a cup of plain flour for a cup of wholemeal.
  • half a table spoon of sugar (white or raw)
  • half a tablespoon of salt
  • one rounded tablespoon of Surebake yeast
  • a good sized knob of butter or a tablespoon of oil (olive or sesame oil works well)
  • 100 mls boiling water
  • 200 mls cold water

Preheat your oven to 50°C

Mix together the 200mls of cold water and 100mls boiling water to make warm (blood temperature) water.  Add the 1 tablespoon of surebake yeast, stir together.  Put the knob of butter or table spoon of oil in the water and set aside.

Method One – for using a food processor:

Put the flour, salt, and sugar into the food processor  (fitted with dough blade or dough hook) and pulse briefly to mix a little.

Turn on the food processor and add the yeast mixture giving it a quick stir with a fork first to make sure the yeast is mixed properly and not stuck to the bottom.  After a short time the mixture should form a dough ball.  If the mixture seems dry and after a while is still not really forming a dough ball, add a teaspoon or two of warm water and shift the mixture around a bit with a fork before replacing the lid and turning on again.

Method two – mixing by hand:

Put the flour, salt, and sugar in a mixing bowl, mix briefly with a wooden spoon.  Make a well in the center of the flour.

Pour the yeast mixture (making sure to give it a stir first) into the well in the flour and mix with a wooden spoon or fork until it gets sticky and the dough starts to form.  When it gets hard to mix with the wooden spoon, turn out onto a floured surface (bench, table top) and form the dough up by hand until it is a firm ball.

Kneading:

Once you have got your dough ball your are ready to knead the bread.  I don’t know what the technique for kneading is supposed to be but I push it around, fold it back onto itself, stretch it out a bit and fold it back down using the heals of my hands.  You need to put some weight behind it, really use your upper body.  I am sure there are youtube videos that will be able to demonstrate techniques if you are uncertain. My recipe books say that you should knead for 7 minutes, but I never knead for that long.  I usually knead vigorously for roughly 4-5 minutes until the dough is silky and springs back when pressed lightly.  Kneading like this is strangely calming and I actually enjoy it.

Once you have finished kneading, the dough needs a short rest period.  Oil a bowl and put the dough in it making sure that the oil covers the surface of the dough to avoid it drying out too much during the rest period.  Then put the bowl in the preheated oven (50°C) and leave it for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes remove the dough from the oven, and turn out onto the bench (it doesn’t need to be floured this time) shape it roughly into a roll that will fit your loaf tin.  Put it into the tin and push down into the corners.  Return the loaf tin and bread dough to the oven (still at 50°C) and leave it for 20-25 minutes or until the dough is starting to rise up above the level of the tin.  At that point raise the temperature of the oven to 180°C and put the timer on for 25 minutes.  After twenty minutes check if it is looking cooked.  It should be a warm deep golden brown when it is done.  When it is cooked it will pull away from the corners and edges of the tin a little bit and it should sound hollow if tapped on the top.

If it isn’t cooked properly put it in for another few minutes.  When it is cooked turn out onto a wire rack.  If the bottom looks a little pale and underdone, put it back in the tin and pop it back in the oven for a few more minutes.

Once you are satisfied it is cooked, leave it to cool on the wire rack and when it is cooled a little get a sharp knife and cut a slice!  Perfect with butter melting over it. Or you could try the ‘stretched butter’ recipe.

If you want to make bread rolls, then following the rest period you will need to divide the dough up into 16 equal sized pieces and shape them into rolls.  Place them on your prepared oven tray so they are spaced out evenly and put into the warm oven to rise at 50°C until doubled in size, I usually wait around 20 mins.  Then raise the oven temperature to 180°C and cook for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

Turn out onto a wire rack to cool.

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Homemade oven fresh bread, and a jar of ‘stretched butter’ covered with one of my homemade beeswax wraps.

So there you have it, easy homemade bread with no plastic bags!

This recipe is very forgiving, and it works brilliantly with variations.  Here are some ideas; add a couple of tablespoons of kibbled grains, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, or sunflower seeds.  Try replacing the butter with a tablespoon of sesame oil and adding sesame seeds.  You can add rolled oats (1/4 cup), and you can substitute a cup of wholemeal flour if you prefer.  Try adding a couple of teaspoons of mixed herbs for a more savory bread.  You can brush the top of the bread with milk and sprinkle cheese, sesame seeds or some rock salt on top.

If you want to make your own pizza bases use the plain white flour and add a teaspoon or two of mixed herbs.  Knead as usual, but omit the rest of the steps.  Instead divide into 3 or 4 equal sized pieces. Roll out on a floured surface until it is 3mm thick and then put onto a floured baking tray, add your toppings and cook each pizza at 250°C or 8 mins or until perfectly cooked.

It’s so easy and rewarding to make your own bread.  I really recommend it.  Best of luck with your bread baking.