Thursday, March 22, 2012

Spanish Croquettes

Last night going home from work I was thinking about dinner... The pasta sauce with meatballs finished the other day so I was wondering what to put in our plates.

I remembered I had a pesto sauce jar that needed to be used and by adding some fresh cream I had the pasta dilemma sorted. However, the milk in the fridge needed to be used, but I didn't feel like making any biscuits... So then, Spanish Croquettes came to my mind. My good friend and neighbor showed me how to make them last summer, so I gave it a try.

Now, the recipe calls for:

Ham pieces
Olive Oil
Bread crumbs
A bit of Salt
Frying oil

Now, the point is to make a very thick besciamella sauce, by heating up olive oil and adding flour and milk. When the sauce is thick enough to be rolled in to small balls or "sausages", add the ham pieces and cover them with bread crumbs.
Once the rollies were done, I heated up the frying oil and fried them until they turned brownish.
Once ready I placed the croquettes on a napkin to make sure the frying oil would drain out of them.

My son appreciated the croquettes, and needless to say they were ready in less than 15 minutes :)

This recipe will work with soy milk and substituting ham with peas or corn for vegan and vegetarians.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Mighty Pile :)

Recently I have started stockpiling. Recently means last year, when we were in Italy for our holidays. 
I was in a supermarket with my mother, shopping for something special to eat that day and I saw a very good kind of pasta on special offer. So I told my mum if we could organize for the guy who brings to us Italians in Ireland all our tomato sauce, to bring a big box of pasta as well. She said it could be done and so I bought about 30 kilos of pasta, which equals to 60 packets. The thing is, here I can only find 3 varieties of pasta, and the quality is quite low. Actually very low. Unless you are prepared to spend 2.50 € a packet, which I am not.

So the stockpiling habit began. Once the pasta boxes arrived, I placed them all in a space under the stairs, close enough to the kitchen, on a small bookshelf. When I looked at all that food I felt a kind of security. It definitely makes me feel safe to have enough food to feed my family for at least 2 months! The pasta sits alongside my parents' homemade tomato sauce. More recently I have added to this, and increased the pile with olive and vegetable oil, vinegar, sugar, some pesto jars, vegetable stock cubes, salt, wine bottles, flour, pickles and sottoli, yeast, bicarbonate of soda, soda for washing, soap bars, toothpaste, evaporated milk, dried legumes such as beans, lentils and chickpeas, corn starch, potatoes and other things that now I cannot think of.

I find this habit to be a very good one. At least, it works for us as a family. Our trips to the supermarket have been drastically reduced. We go shopping once a week now, and we only buy bread, fruit and vegetables and yogurts for my son. On average, this shopping cost about 20 €. Once in the supermarket, I usually buy products to go in the stockpile. It is important for me to have always the same amount of items in the pile. They are rotated and obviously, the ones just bought go at the back of the shelf.

In the kitchen drawer I only keep the products I am currently using.

Last weekend I cleaned this particular drawer. It is my kitchen drawer, where I keep all the things I need in order to cook. I found 3 bicarbonate of soda packets open, so I decided to put all of the bicarbonate in one single jar, to protect it from humidity and have it all in one place. I also changed the paper that lies underneath the bottles and jars. I got rid of empty packages and I can now see what I have, what I need, what I need to buy and what needs to be refilled from the stockpile.

I also have the habit of washing and keeping glass jars when empty. I love them. Particularly because they come in handy all the time, believe me. I also buy bigger glass jars to keep things tidy.

I come from a culture of reusing, recycling and preserving. Every year in August, for example, I helped my parents make the tomato sauce. The bottles used for this operation usually come from the local bar, empty "Peroni" beer bottles that would be otherwise thrown away. The bottles are washed, filled with the precious sauce, sealed with new caps and placed on their shelf. Once a bottle is empty, my mother would thoroughly wash it, and place it on another shelf to be used next year. This means that we have glass bottles older than 30 years. Older than me. It is a virtuous cycle that gives a simple bottle a huge importance and a very long life. I have also always seen my mother use the freezer as a "treasure chest". Out of the freezer come all kind of things, such as legumes, vegetables, fruit and meat. This means there is always something to cook during the winter months, even if she doesn't go shopping for weeks in a row.

I am trying hard to apply all the teachings of my parents into the life I have now, working full time, living in a terraced house with an eclosed garden at the back. It is hard, but it seems to be working quite well. I try to take one step at a time, like a child discovers walking. When I thought I had no space for a stockpile, I managed to de-clutter the small space under the stairs, and that worked. When I thought I could never grow anything to put on the table, I found that growing in pots can be an option. When I thought I had very little time to cook, I learned to cook extra portions and freeze the extras. When I thought my son would need nappies for a while, before he was born I bought reusable nappies for a fraction of the price I would have spent on disposable nappies and without creating the huge amount of garbage the disposable would have. When I thought of all the chemical crap that comes in our washing powder and that inevitably ends up on our skin, I searched for a simple way to make washing powder.

I believe all of us can find ways in the everyday life to create virtuous habits. I believe that by showing and not telling our children what to do in order to save some money, avoid to create garbage or cook a simple meal, we can really make a difference in our life and theirs.

I needed to take control of our lives and our expenses, especially since we decided to buy our house, and I found that taking control of what we eat is the first step. The journey is still long, I have skills to learn and skills to rediscover. I have a lot of things to work on, and I will definitely do so, one at a time.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Easy Pasta Salad

The "nice season" is almost upon us, and our neighbors yesterday had the great idea of a barbecue to take full advantage of the sunny day. There is no summer in Ireland, only sunny days here and there, so when, by coincidence, the sun is out and the temperature is not too low, we all run to our gardens and start the barbecues!
When my neighbor called me yesterday, I said: "Wonderful! I'll bring salad!!!"
Then I realized, I had no salad in the fridge... Wooops :)
So I looked around the kitchen and saw I had bought some cherry tomatoes some days ago, and I had peppers in the vegetables bowl and I also had my brand new basil plant. Fantastic!

So I put on some water to cook 1/2 a kilo of pasta and sliced up the cherry tomatoes, the peppers and the basil. I added table salt, olive oil and some mayonnaise and left it all to stand while the water heated up to the boiling point.

I cooked the pasta just to the right point, which is a minute before it is ready to eat, drained it and put it back in its pot. Then I covered the drained pasta with cold water to stop the cooking process. That needs to be done every time you intend to make pasta salad, because otherwise the warm pasta will continue to "cook" even after it is drained.

I drained the pasta once again after about 2 minutes and mixed it with the salad mix.

And today I have a yummy lunch at work which does not need to be microwaved :)

The ingredients are:

Olive Oil
Cherry Tomatoes
Fresh Basil Leaves

Friday, March 9, 2012

Ham and Peppers Risotto

Last night I needed to pop in the shop for a few minutes just to get fruit and yogurt for my son's lunchbox. I ended up with 9 peppers because they were on offer. Once home I decided to try a risotto and this came out:

1 yellow pepper
10 ham cubes (I used Parma ham)
Olive Oil
1 cup of Arborio rice per person
1 cup of water per person
Parmesan cheese

First of all, as usual with risotto, I made the "base" by quickly frying the pepper cut in small pieces and the ham with a small onion chopped up. Once they started frying, I added a cup of water per person and salt. Do not overdo the salt because ham is salty already, so go easy at first and then taste it after a while to see if there is need for more.

This is the base ready. In a large pan, I placed another small onion, chopped, and let it get soft with some olive oil. I added the rice and toasted it for a few minutes, stirring it continuously.
After toasting the rice, I added the liquid part of the base and let the rice cook for the time needed. Once the rice is cooked, I added on the top the pepper and ham pieces and let the rice cook a bit more with some grated Parmesan cheese.
And this is the rice once in the plate :)
Obviously, without the ham, it's a good recipe for a vegan risotto.
Yum yum..

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Peas and Beans!

This morning, before coming into work, I have collected my peas and beans pots tray from a dear friend. She took care of them while we were away and I have to say, what a nice surprise! In just over 2 weeks, 38 pots have a plant in them. Tonight it's planting time! I can't wait!

My son and his friends in school have also started a vegetable garden with the help of one of the teachers. When he told me he was so happy, his eyes were shining!

Tonight, if the weather stays good, I will be building a small container in the garden, close to the back wall. It is a good sunny spot and I can attach a wire net to the wall where the peas and beans can be tied to, making sure all their potential develops.

We'll see!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Still Alive!

Aaaahhhh... We are back from a two weeks holiday spent fighting sicknesses and bugs of all kinds. We have survived!!! That is good. I cannot wait to try and make a speed-of-light Paella, as close as possible to the delicious one we ate in Barcelona.
I might give it a try tonight.
During the holidays, I have convinced my friend first, and my mother later, to give Home Made Washing Powder a try. Other friends I met laughed at my face. Not a bother at all. In my own house I do what I like and I do not intend to justify it in any way. I like it, it's perfectly legal, I do it. Simple, no?
The funny thing is, I was not even trying to convince them that making your own laundry powder is good, they just brought it up and laughed at me. Fine.

We've been to Barcelona and then to central Italy, to visit our families. I can tell now for sure that Spanish use the same ingredients Italians use in their cooking; they just combine them differently and that gave me many ideas to put into practice. I also feel the desperate need to grow nyora peppers, to make Romesco Sauce. We'll see where this goes :)
I have purchased three dried nyora peppers from a shop in Barcelona. If I'm lucky, some seeds will come out of the packet...

We had a good time despite the chickenpox, the fever, the cough and colds and I realized once again how strong we can be as a family, just the three of us. I just kept my parents amused for a few days, while laughing about our "bad luck holiday" :)

A quick update on my Apple Vinegar. I filtered it the day we left, just before loading the bags in the car. It smells delicious; I am a vinegar lover and I cannot wait to try it in a nice salad. We'll see.
I believe my mother will soon be making Pineapple Vinegar. She was very happy when I gave her the recipe, she is a woman who's curious of trying new things. And me too.
My sister was amazed at the idea of using the whole pineapple: the juicy inside to eat and cook, the core and peels for the vinegar making, and the top to grow a new pineapple plant. She's a very curious girl as well. I can see her growing into the woman she will be one day, and it is a beautiful sight.