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.

Recipes during scarcity – making what you have go further

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A selection of  what I have bottled over the last 10 days.  When I get stressed I like to be doing something, and recently that has translated to preserving.  From left:  Quinces, mixed peaches, “blackboy” peaches, “golden queen” peaches, gherkin pickles, tomato chutney, homemade tomato pasta sauce, and bottled pears.

It has been a quite while since I have been able to post a blog.  Writers block, combined with the general rush and exhausting frenzy of being a Mum with three kids and a part time job, has really affected my writing output.  Since my last post I (like the rest of New Zealand and the world) find myself facing a new and surreal situation.  Here in NZ we are locked down in our homes, united in our isolation as we face the new reality of Covid-19.  This is an unprecedented situation that none of us have faced before.  It is frightening and unknown.  We are unable to leave our homes except for supplies and medical needs, and the world has shrunk to the size of our houses and backyards.  Schools are closed, normal life has ground to a complete halt.  Each day I read the news with increasing apprehension and yet it is hard to look away. I keep reading with disbelief.   We are staying home to save lives, by staying home we all become heroes.  Faced with no libraries, no playgrounds, no socialising, and no cafes, what are we all going to do?

So far our time here has been spent chopping wood, and preparing our winter vegetable garden.  We are well into autumn in NZ, but we still have warm days so things should be able to get a good start before the weather turns properly miserable.

I thought I would share a few ideas to help you find some activities to keep busy and potentially stretch out your supplies.  Particularly regarding making what you have go further.   To that end I am re-sharing my bread and stretched butter ideas from previous blogs.  Simple but effective, I hope you find them as useful as we do.  I am also sharing some ideas for preserving what you might have in your garden or might be able to obtain from a neighbour.

Bottle your own fruit: 

Many people have fruit trees in their gardens (sometimes they are completely forgotten), and many of them will still be covered in fruit.  Our peach tree has just yielded its last fruit and our pear is covered in fruit that is yet to fully ripen.  Usually during the week you (like me) might find yourself too busy to do anything other than gather a few things for the fruit bowl.  But now…. facing four weeks at home, perhaps there is a fruit tree laden with fruit that might otherwise go to waste.  Suddenly there are a lot of people are thinking more about self sufficiency.  One way to be more self sufficient is to bottle and preserve your own fruit.  Or you might find you have a last crop of tomatoes, why not try making chutney or relish?  It is super easy and it looks great, and the chances are you can do it all at home without leaving the house. There are lots of recipes online to give you ideas.    Have a go see what you can make, bake and preserve using what you have.  Perhaps one of your neighbours might have a fruit tree and would be happy to pick a bag for you and leave it at your letterbox.  Sort through your recycling to find your old jam jars and pasta sauce jars if you don’t have preserving jars.

To bottle fruit you need:  jars with “popping” lids that seal (or screwbands and new seals if you have them), fruit, sugar, and water.

I use the basic method for hot pack bottling from the Edmonds Cookery Book.   The Edmonds Cookbook has the proportions of sugar to water for different fruits, and all the tips and tricks you need.   It sounds complicated to a lot of people, but it is really not so hard once you know what you are doing.   If you are uncertain try finding recipes or watching some video’s online.

Freeze what you can’t use now:

Another idea is to freeze any garden produce so you can retain the last of the gardens summer bounty to use later.  Beans and celery freeze well, so do diced carrots.  Even tomatoes can be frozen to cook with later (though not to eat in salads as freezing makes them mushy).  Beans, celery, and rhubarb should be blanched before freezing.  I do that by chopping  them and dropping them into a pot of fast boiling water for one minute before draining and plunging them into cold water.  Chop up pumpkin into 2cm chunks and freeze for later use in soups or for roasting.  If you have blackberries, raspberries or strawberries, you can freeze those to use throughout the year in baking, smoothies, desserts or to make into jam on cold rainy days.

Make your own tomato pasta sauce:

To make your own tomato pasta sauce you will need – tomatoes, onion, basil (dried or fresh), oil, garlic, black pepper, salt, and some jars with lids that seal.

This homemade pasta sauce is simple and easy to make and it tastes absolutely wonderful.  If you have jars and tomatoes you have pretty much everything you need.  Other veges can be added or omitted depending on what you have to hand.  I got my initial recipe from a book called Coromandel flavour – a year of cooking at the bach.  I have found this recipe to be so flexible and easy to adapt that I can add all kinds of things.

You will need: Roughly 1kg of tomatoes (preferably not cherry tomatoes, you really want something a bit bigger if you can get your hands on them).  A couple of tablespoons of oil (olive oil if you have it).   A good sized clove of garlic.  One medium onion.  About 10-12 fresh basil leaves if you have them, otherwise a teaspoon or two of dried basil.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Simply cut your tomatoes in half and remove the core at the stalk end.  In a large pot or frying pan heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil (or cooking oil if you don’t have olive oil).  If you have onion and/or garlic chop and add it, if not never mind because when you come to open the jar you can always add the onion when you are preparing the actual meal instead of when you are bottling the pasta sauce.  When the onion is translucent, add the tomatoes and half the basil (roughly chopped or dried depending on what you have) to the pot/pan.  Cook uncovered on a low heat, stirring regularly to prevent sticking.  The tomatoes will give out their juices and the skins can be picked out as they roll up and separate from the flesh as they cook. The skins are pretty easy to spot because they are a darker red.  When the sauce has reduced to a thick jam-like consistency add in the last of the basil, and either serve with pasta or bottle the sauce to use at a later date.  I sometimes add chopped capsicum and celery to my sauce to add variety and use up other things in the garden or fridge.  If you don’t have jars with lids, your could freeze it in suitable quantities in plastic containers to be thawed at at later date.

Make your own bread:

Facing 4 weeks in lockdown there is no better time to try your hand at making your own bread.  I shared my bread recipe in a blog post a while back.  Nothing is more wholesome than the smell of fresh hot bread and your family will demolish it before you can blink.  It is truly filling and well worth the effort.  If you have yeast then have a go and you won’t look back.  I know that not everyone has yeast at the moment since people have cleared it from the supermarket shelves during lockdown panic buying, but never fear, there are other ways to make bread.

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Homemade soda bread, so called because it uses baking soda instead of yeast.  I used Jamie Oliver’s recipe to make this loaf.   Spread with “stretched” butter, it tasted amazing.

He is a link to Jamie Oliver and his little boy Buddy making soda bread during the lockdown in the UK.  Soda  bread uses baking soda instead of yeast.  I tried it with the very last of our wholemeal flour and it worked beautifully.  I did a google search and turned up a recipe for soda bread using only white flour, so don’t worry if you haven’t got wholemeal flour.  Get the kids to help kneading and measuring.

Stretched butter: 

Butter is something we are struggling a bit to get hold of during lockdown.  In our family butter is something we go through incredibly fast, so now that it is harder to get, I have begun “stretching” my butter again.  This way we can extend the time between trips to restock.   The way we do this is to “stretch the butter” using an old WW2 rationing trick that I wrote about in an earlier blog. This brilliant trick means you can make your butter last twice as long, and it is soft and spreadable.  All you need is butter, oil, and water.  What could be better?  Follow the link to my earlier post with the recipe and instructions.

If you are homeschooling your kids during lockdown, getting them involved with measuring ingredients is one way to cover off maths work.  Measurement is measurement after all, and it is a lot easier to do maths if you can eat it, than with a pen and paper when there are lots of things to distract you (like the lego box).  Following recipes help kids with reading and sequencing as well as measurement.  Learning in the kitchen is very popular with my kids.

Being alone with my own thoughts doesn’t scare me at all…. in fact, as a mother, I treasure the moments when I get to spend even a few minutes just thinking without interruptions (not that I don’t love the interrupters with all my being).  Never-the-less as I have absorbed the new locked-down world I find myself in, I have found a little ray of hope shining though.  This is what humanity can do.  We can actually unite.  We can all band together to do the same thing at the same time.  Perhaps there is hope for a global response to the climate and environmental emergency’s that are engulfing our planet.

We have to survive the pandemic first, but this is a demonstration of the best that humanity can offer.  Our ability to love and care for someone or something other than ourselves.