If you want to download the book version of this blog, so you can wander around with it on your phone or whatever, Amazon are now offering it for free from about 1200 GMT on 13 March 2016 for 24 hours. After that it goes back to the usual price of £1.99/$2.99 USD.
You can read it on a Kindle, iPad, iPhone or PC just by downloading the Kindle App, which is free. If you do download the book, it would be great if you could leave a review on the Amazon site. Every review helps to build the Austerity community.
We’re currently in talks regarding a US version of the book, so if you would like to know more about this, or have any topics you would like to see covered, please get in touch.
One of the most underrated cooking ingredients I know is the humble cocoa nib. These are a by-product of the chocolate industry, basically the outer shell of the cocoa bean. They give you quite a lot of the benefit of chocolate without the associated fats and sugars. Full of antioxidants and fibre, you can buy them in large packets from health food stores such as Holland and Barrett, and add them to smoothies, baking mixtures, or even eat them raw from the packet. Just as chocolate does, cocoa nibs act to improve mood, and for this reason I thought it was about time I developed something using them as an ingredient to take our mind off the national nervous breakdown we are currently experiencing here in the UK.
I therefore present <drum roll> the Brexit biscuit!
115g softened butter
5 oz stoneground wholemeal flour
70g golden caster sugar
70g soft brown sugar
175g cocoa nibs
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence
1/4 teaspoon salt
First turn the oven to 190C or Gas Mark 5 to pre-heat. Beat the butter and both kinds of sugar until creamy and fluffy. Break the egg into the bowl and mix it in along with the vanilla essence. Next, add the flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda and ix it all up again. Then add the cocoa nibs and stir them through until they are evenly distributed throughout your biscuit mixture. Finally take teaspoons of the mix, roll them into a ball in your hands, flatten then a little and then place them onto a greased baking tray. You will need to cook them for about 10 minutes until they have started to go brown. When you take them out of the oven, leave them to cool for a few minutes on the baking tray before removing them, so they don’t fall apart. Then move them onto a cooling rack.
Youngest child recommends them with a glass of milk, I prefer them with a nice cup of filter coffee. Crunchy loveliness.
We have just acquired a set of Pax at home and I was trying to think about idea for making them look more personalised. The IKEA Hackers website is an inspiration and I wanted to share the most impressive post here. Essentially the owner has built a plinth and cornice, added stick-on mirrors onto exiting panels, and installed lights. Detailed instructions are there if you want to try it yourself, and even if your carpentry skills are not great, it would be easy to get the stick-on mirrors cut to size, and choose some high quality knobs from a specialist supplier such as Willow and Stone (we chose the Beehive cupboard knobs to match our door handles, although the bolts supplied with them were a little long and will need packing at the back with a bit of extra wood, or you could buy some special bolts to fit at a building supplier).
Other ways of personalising or refreshing your IKEA furniture can include buying fitted covers, for example from Bemz, or you could buy stick-on decals for drawers, beds and cupboards from Mykea. Anything that helps people to be creative and stops things going to landfill has to be a good idea, right?
There is a wonderful thread on the parenting forum Mumsnet at the moment, which lists all the things you can make in a sandwich toaster apart from toasted sandwiches. You can see the thread here: http://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/mumsnet_classics/2585361-pancakes-in-the-sandwich-toaster-Ive-died-and-gone-to-heaven?pg=1 Apparently you can use things like batter, eggs, cake mix and puff pastry to create gourmet treats in minutes (I am sounding like a toastie machine advertisement writer now, I know). Students everywhere will surely rejoice and I understand many stores are selling out of the devices on the basis of the Mumsnet thread alone.
Top recipes on the thread include:
Victoria sponge triangles
Here is my (untested) contribution – cherry clafoutis. Make your usual pancake batter, add a dollop of two of some Bonne Maman cherry compote from the jar, then mix. Pour a little into each side of the sandwich toaster. Cook for 2-3 minutes and then check if it’s done. Serve dusted with icing sugar. You could add a slug of kirsch liquor if you want a more adult friendly flavour, and even serve with whipped vanilla cream as well.
I will test the recipe later once I have the ingredients to hand, report back, and post a picture.
As the sunshine starts to stream in through your windows, you might start to think of doing some spring cleaning to make sure your house is well maintained. How you do this will depend on the style and layout of your house, but the main areas you will need to concentrate on are probably as follows.
Bookcases – Take out all the books and ornaments, and dust the shelves. Dust the books all over very carefully before replacing. Take advantage of this process to declutter and rearrange your things.
Carpets – Use a special carpet shampoo or soapy water to remove individual stains. Pull out all the furniture and hoover behind and underneath. Consider using a carpet cleaning machine or wet/dry vacuum cleaner on as many areas as possible.
Furniture – Hoover hidden crevices in sofas and chairs. Feed leather furniture with special leather balm. Varnished furniture should be cleaned with smear-free silicon polish and brought to a shine with a duster. Polished, unvarnished furniture needs feeding with a beeswax spray polish or a specialist beeswax product.
Switches and sockets – Spray some polish onto a duster (not directly onto the electrical fitting) and wipe away fingerprints. Run cloth along the top to remove dust and dirt.
Walls –Hoover away cobwebs and dust. Then if the wall is painted, wash with a solution of washing up liquid and water, before polishing dry. Or even consider repainting if it’s very tired.
Windows – These can be easily cleaned with a microfibre cloth and a spray bottle of water, and a lot of elbow grease. However if you live near a main road, you may need to tackle outside windows with a solution of washing up liquid and water before rinsing carefully and then polishing to a shine. It’s not usually a good idea to clean windows in sunny weather as they tend to go streaky.
Woodwork – Using a damp cloth, wipe with cream cleanser and then rinse it off, concentrating on any areas with lots of fingermarks. Polish dry.
Here are some ideas for using leftovers in a simple, imaginative way.
Christmas pudding ice cream
Mix leftover custard with equal amount of double cream and stir in crumbled leftover Christmas pudding. Put in the freezer for 2 hours, then take out and stir before putting back into the freezer overnight. Take out an hour before serving. Tastes like rum and raisin ice cream, and great with a dash of Bailey’s over the top.
Boil turkey carcass in 2 litres of water with 2 sticks of celery, 2 peeled onions chopped in half, and 2 carrots, for about an hour. Strain into bowl and then pour into plastic containers for storage in fridge or freezing. Use for soup, stews or gravy.
Turkey and banana balls ( baby or toddler food)
Steam an unpeeled banana. Chop a few teaspoons of leftover turkey in a food processor and add the banana and a little butter. Remove the mixture and roll into little balls to make finger food for a baby or toddler.
Hot winter fruit salad
Boil satsuma or clementine slices in water, a little sugar and a bit of brandy or Cointreau if you have some to hand, along with anything to hand such as dates, grapes, and dried fruits. Serve with cream or ice cream.
Chestnut and coffee mousse
Mix together leftover chestnut puree, a small amount of instant coffee to taste, and double cream in a food processor or blender until the cream has thickened. Sweeten with vanilla sugar.
It’s a great time of year to pick up pine cones when you are out for a walk, so I am going to write about ways to use them for practical and wholesome purposes, including as Christmas presents. This week, I am using some pine cones eagerly collected in a Suffolk forest by my youngest to make ecologically friendly firelighters. I’ll keep one lot for us, and give another lot to a friend who had us over for a lovely tea last weekend (she doesn’t know yet!) Like us, they enjoy a log fire as they sit around with a glass of red wine trying to persuade themselves they like autumn and winter really, despite the damp and the dark mornings and the perpetual feeling of being slightly over- or underdressed.
First of all, put your oven onto 200C/ Gas mark 7, to heat up while you do the fiddling about part. Then put paper cases into a bun tin. When you have done that, get some tea lights and remove the metal surround, and put one tea light into each paper case, rather like this (I’ve almost got to the half way mark). I have used very cheap paper cases I got from www.approvedfood.com. You are going to ditch them at the end, so the cheaper the better. In terms of the tealights, obviously beeswax is the most smug in terms of its eco credentials, but rather than fuss about with pellets and trimming my own wicks, I am going for the cheap paraffin based stuff here, being austerity minded and all that. You can get 10 of them for £1 in many pound shops, or buy in bulk next time you are trailing around IKEA with one of the infamous blue bags.
Heat up the bun tray in the oven until the wax has melted. Keep a close eye on the proceedings so you don’t risk burning down your house. This part of the operation should take about five minutes. I then added a couple of drops of aromatherapy oil to each one, but this is an optional step. (Be cautious if you do perfume the wax, as you don’t want a conflagration. Burning down your house would rather ruin Christmas). You then need to move the wick gently to the side of the paper case, as gently as a brain surgeon, as in the third picture.
Insert a pine cone into each paper case. It’s important to try to get one roughly the same width as the case itself, otherwise the wax will look very odd, and make sure the wick stays over to one side, so you have something to light later. (Children can help with this if they are supervised. Even if a bit of wax splashes on them, they won’t lose a hand, let’s face it). When the wax has set, take them out of their paper cases, give the bottoms a quick wipe if you have added aromatherapy oil, and leave to cool.
Finally, package them up in cellophane bags with some attractive ribbon, suited to the season or the decor of the room they are likely to be used in. Here I have recycled the ribbon from a present I was given last year, but another option would be to buy a bag of ribbon offcuts from one of the many online ribbon merchants. I have used www.ribbons.co.uk in the past.