Sunday, April 23, 2006

Banana Bread Recipe

Banana bread, the bread that's really cake, but not too sweet, plenty of chew to it, perfect in the morning with a cup of tea. No need to ice it, in fact better not and just the thing to use up that bunch of overripe bananas in the fruit bowl, that are perfectly ok but no-one will eat cos they're just beginning to go squishy. It keeps well too.

Banana Bread Recipe

240g plain flour
125g butter
250ml/1cup sugar
4 ripe bananas, peeled and mashed
2 eggs
2ml salt
5ml bicarbonate of soda
65ml water
7ml baking powder

Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Stir in mashed bananas and beat to combine thoroughly. Beat in the eggs one at a time.
Sift the flour and salt into the mixture and stir in. Dissolve the bicarb into the water and stir in then add the baking powder stirring again. Pour the mixture into a greased and lined large loaf tin and bake at 180C for about 45 mins. It is done when a skewer comes out clean and the top is firm and springy. Cool in the tin.

The first rains of autumn have started this weekend, which meant a Saturday afternoon of keeping the children busy inside. It is funny how on a sunny day they are perfectly capable of keeping themselves busy inside, but if it's raining suddenly organised activity is called for. My answer is to put them to work baking biscuits.

The seven and five year olds can manage, with only a little help to weigh ingredients, then I leave them to it, shut my eyes and deal with the mess later. The three year old doesn't want to be left out, but only really wants to taste the mixture and cut out the odd cookie, so it is more an exercise in diplomacy than a culinary adventure. But the afternoon goes by quickly and they can proudly offer their own biscuits to visiting family later on. I used recipes, surprise surprise, from Nigella Lawson's 'How to Eat', which has a great section on cooking with children. The cheese biscuit recipe is very tasty and is our standard thing to take to school festivals and for kids parties, the adults scoff them down pretty quickly too.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Herbal teas for high cholesterol

My husband got back his test results for cholesterol levels...aaagh...way over the safety limit. Various conventional drugs seem to have drawbacks, so a phone call to our homeopath produces among other things the suggestion of homeopathic olea europea.

This sets off the thought processes, cogs whirr, olea europea is the olive tree, of which we have plenty growing in our herb garden.. check what Margaret Roberts (our South African herb and tissue salt guru) says on the olive tree. Hey presto, you can make a tea with quarter of a cup of leaves and sprigs to one cup boiling water, leave to infuse for five minutes and sip slowly, 1-2 cups a day. It is good for loads of things including: lowering high blood pressure, antiviral, antibacterial, lowering blood sugar, cystitis - get her book Herbal Teas for Healthy Living for the full run down.

Other herbal teas she suggests for high cholesterol are: basil, celery, fennel, green tea, parsley and turmeric. i assault my poor husband with olive leaf tea first, then try turmeric then finish him off with green tea, which is supposed to have miraculous properties too but makes him feel queasy. We'll stick to the olive leaf tea for a while and see how it goes - you're supposed to take it for 10 days then break for 3 days before starting again.

I was going to give a recipe for banana bread today too, as we had a load of bananas overripe to use up, but it'll have to wait till tomorrow now as it is kids' bedtime and stories are required.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Pasta Recipe

I've been trying to write down my quick and easy pasta with tuna recipe today for the website we are building. Discovered it takes far longer to write it than to cook it. All I usually do is put water on to boil for the pasta. Chop some garlic and ginger and saute in olive oil very gently, chuck in the tuna and some herbs, salt and pepper then toss with the cooked pasta. The trouble comes when I try to give exact quantities and allow for different possibilities such as adding some fresh tomato etc. My own made up recipes don't tend to be very exact, come out different each time I make them which is half the fun - variety being the spice of life and all that.

A major change in my life - my youngest has just started kindergarten, aged 3 and a half, so suddenly I have the mornings free for undisturbed work. A huge mental shift, accompanied by bursts of nostalgia for the days of babies and toddlers. Part of the challenge is ignoring the housework, which can be done with the children around in the afternoon, and sitting down at the computer for long stretches of time - sitting down to anything for any length of time is fairly foreign to a full-time mother - time to readjust to the ways of the working world. She is loving it, so far, in the same class as her big sister, she knows most of the children already and has been itching to get her hands on the toys for months.

A rhyme I heard which sums up our household:

Cleaning a house,
where children are growing
is like shovelling snow
while it is still snowing

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Eggs for Easter

Easter: a time, for mothers of primary school age children, of blowing eggs and then doing lots of baking to use them all up, so that we don't have to eat scrambled eggs again.

A silly Easter limerick inspired by the latest demand for eggs to decorate:

A cook who used lots of eggs
Said "I'm totally run off my legs,
For while I am beating
Everybody is eating
And leaving me only the dregs!

Well, my Simnel cake is finally in the oven. It had to wait till the children were in bed, previous attempts at mixing it being thwarted by various requests for help in the egg painting process, which means I'll be staying up late to take it out after its two and a half hours cooking. If I can stay awake long enough at least I'll get a chance to dip into the tempting stack of books from today's foray in the library. So far there hasn't been the chance to even riffle through one of them. The Simnel cake recipe I use is Delia Smith's from her Book of Cakes - ever reliable is Delia on the classics. It works every time. One tip: leave out the almond essence in the almond paste, unless you like it very almondy that is. I've converted a few anti-marzipan family members thus. It still has a gently nutty flavour but less in-your-face!

Monday, April 10, 2006

Recipe for Crunchies (or Flapjacks UK!)

I promised this recipe the other day and even though I've been to a children's party, feel sugared out and the last thing I want to think about is sweet syrup biscuits, here it is.

Oat Crunchies (or Flapjacks)
90g plain flour
180g rolled oats
125g dessiccated coconut
pinch of salt
125g sugar
2.5 ml/1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
125g butter
2 tablespoons golden syrup
5 ml/ 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
30 ml milk

Combine flour, oats, coconut, salt, sugar and cinnamon in a mixing bowl. Gently melt together the butter and golden syrup, then stir into the dry ingredients. Dissolve the bicarbonate in the milk and add to the mixture stirring well. Tip into a greased baking tray, press down all over till even, with the back of a spoon. Bake at 350F/180C for 15-20 mins until golden brown. Cut into squares in tin then leave to cool for a while before taking out of the tin.

The subject of birthday parties can wait until another day, but here is one tip: for children and mothers who have over-indulged on sugar and junk food at a birthday party, take one Tissue Salt No.10 - Nat Phos before, during and after the party. This should reduce the monster effects of party food. Keep taking them every hour until normality is reached!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

From Soup to Baking

Such are the vagaries of family life - yesterday I was making soup, as the only form of sustenance possible for a sick family - one child vomiting and headache, other two sniffles and chesty, husband all of the above - today, a clear cool sunny day, everyone is miraculously better, even all playing amicably together. I have time to work on the computer, help them with some sewing (felt creations for a family birthday imminent) and do some baking. Some days seem to stretch to accomplish all sorts of things, others shrink into nothing achieved and grouchiness.

Thankful that today was a good one, I managed to bake bread for the next couple of days (see my article Recipe for Rye Bread for the recipe), bake a cake for a visitor coming to tea (a wonderful recipe from Nigella Lawson's "Feast" for a Rosemary Cake. I do have books by other people but she is still my favorite, for practical delicious no-fuss recipes and I like her writing too!) and make a batch of crunchies for a children's play date tomorrow. Today I can polish up my Super-Mum halo, because sure as eggs is eggs, tomorrow will be another story.

There is a linguistic debate as to the crunchies in our family. We both speak good English, but it is on matters like these, that growing up in different countries makes itself felt. These biscuits (cookies in the U.S.), made of oats, syrup, butter etc are called Flapjacks in England, here in South Africa they are Crunchies. When we still lived in London I indoctrinated the children into calling them Flapjacks too, but now we're here in S.A. I'm beginning to lose the battle and surrender to the inevitable decline of standards! A recipe will follow in my next blog.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Soup kitchen

Beware sick child in the house! No work today, moans and groans issue from the sofa. A tummy bug has struck, one child down two to go, hopefully I'll get away without catching it too. Cooking goes by the board, something quick, easy and nutritious is needed. Easily digestible too. Luckily I've still got some turkey stock in the freezer, left from Christmas. Soup it is.

Chop two onions, fairly small. Garlic and fresh ginger very small. Olive oil and simmer gently to soften. Add some diced carrots and celery. Soften, then throw in the stock, simmer for half an hour then throw in a handful of small pasta shapes. Allow ten more minutes then serve - to the parents to stop them getting sick - the sick child of course turned up her nose at it. Try again during convalescence.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Fairy cakes for the market

It's market day tomorrow. Once a month I run a stall at the local market to raise funds for our kindergarten - mostly this means baking fairy cakes, decorating them garishly and selling them along with my surplus jam stocks and second-hand children's clothes. Sometimes we make a decent amount of money, but mostly we are there to let people know that the kindergarten exists.

Anyway my standard recipe originally came from Nigella Lawson's How to Eat, which has for a while been my culinary bible. I have used this recipe so many times that I feel like I've acquired squatter's rights in it - for all the background writing go and read her book, but I'll share my version of the recipe here and hope she doesn't mind. One thing about recipes is that they are handed down the generations of cooks, with adaptations here and there, ever evolving, so no one person ever has intellectual property rights over it - food culture is about sharing after all.

Fairy Cake Recipe
125g self-raising flour
125g caster sugar
125g butter
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
pinch saltl
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons milk

Put all the ingredients except the milk into a food processor and blitz. Add the milk, so it gets to a soft consistency. Line a muffin or tart tin with paper cases and put a generous dessert spoon of mixture into each. Makes 12. Bake at 200C for 15-20 mins. Cool on rack. Once cool, choose between tasteful and lurid decoration. My favorite is plain white icing (icing sugar with a little water added) topped with a Smartie and hundreds and thousands. Or you can do a grown-up version with two-tone chocolate and white icing piped on in different patterns.

Surprisingly or not, adults do like these. They are light and fluffy and if you are sparing with the icing, not too sweet. I get into trouble for taking them all to the market and not saving some for my husband at home. Must go and check the clothes for the market stall, my youngest daughter has a habit of reclaiming her outgrown clothes from the market stock and squeezing into them to assert ownership. It's hard being three.