You, Me and Teddy

Parenting adventures and activities in and around Neuchâtel, Switzerland.


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Introducing New Foods

I like offal: liver, kidney, sweetbreads. I am big on seafood as well including whelks and winkles. Scottish black pudding beats English black pudding hands down and Haggis is delicious.

I was brought up on “interesting” cuts of meat none of which I considered odd until I reached secondary school at 11 and people started eeeeeeeeeewing everything. Then I turned veggie for a while but that’s another story.

Unfortunately hubby is a little less adventurous than me. I mean he’ll try everything, which I applaud, but we have had a few, albeit rare, dashes to the bin for things he considers too revolting. There aren’t many things I haven’t been able to stomach in life; I can list them all on a couple fingers:

  • Jellyfish – It was just like eating rubber and I couldn’t figure out how to take a bite or even swallow it.
  • Tripe – I reckon I’ll try it again at some point but cooked in a clear broth was just too much texture for me on a first try.

I haven’t had to try many insects yet. I’ve eaten ants (in chocolate) but I don’t know how I would react to deep fried locust for example. I’d like to think I’d give them a go. I know a lot of it is mental and perception can definitely influence how we taste things but its hard to override your brain.

Fried crickets

Fried crickets

Now, I’m not saying you should like everything. I don’t really like onion, for example, and frogs legs can hop on. But its all about being open to new flavours. Did you know that children may need to be offered a new food as many as 10-15 times before they will eat it?

Probably, like a lots of things, there are tastes best acquired at a young age. One study showed that repeated taste exposure can increase liking for certain food products in young children.

This is why I am on a mission to introduce my kids to as many flavours as I can before they learn from their peers that somethings “shouldn’t” be eaten.

This week we had tongue. Ox tongue cooked in broth with carrots, celery, onions and boiled potatoes is one of my favorite childhood dishes. It is super easy to cook: Firstly you clean the tongue thoroughly and then you pop it in a large pot. Chop up 3 to 4 carrots in to batons, 3 sticks of celery into batons, one onion into chunks. Add all the veg to the pot with the celery leaves, 6 peppercorns and a bay leaf and then just cover all with some stock. Then you cook the tongue until the skin can be peeled off easily. This can take a few hours so I tend to pop it on at low temperature when I go out for the afternoon. While I am peeling the tongue I add my potatoes to cook in the stock. Then I slice the tongue and re add it to the broth to warm it before serving.

Tongue has an acquired texture but it has a great taste plus it is really easy for the kids to eat. I was determined that the kids would like it, and not snub it like their Dad, so I pulled out the big guns: the paint palate plates that I’ve shown you before. The trick is to make it as colourful as possible to make it more appealing!

tongue

Success! The plates were spotless and no complaints. M even had second servings of tongue.

What foods do you eat that others might consider odd? How adventurous are you with new flavours?

 

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Eureka!

I did it! I managed to create a decent substitute to Heinz baked beans!

baked beans and spud side
After promising baked beans and spuds for dinner panic stations hit when I realised I was totally out of supplies.

Now E is a pretty stubborn creature and, while she is a good eater, trying to get her to agree to a dinner which isn’t pasta based (her current absolute “favourite food in the whole wide world”) can be tricky sometimes. I was over the moon when she said she’d happily have baked potatoes without any argument.

There was no time to get to the shops. M was napping and besides the potatoes were already in the oven. Hmmm… I would have to improvise.

Looking in my cupboard I discovered I had: tinned tomatoes. Check. And, yes, tinned cannellini beans. Hoorah!

So here is my recipe:

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 10 sage leaves
  • 2 cloves of garlic or 1/2 a teaspoon of dried garlic
  • 400g tinned tomatoes
  • 50ml water
  • 800g drained and rinsed tinned cannellini beans (you could also cook dried beans)
  • 2 small tablespoons of low salt & sugar ketchup

Instructions

  • Heat the oil and fry the crushed garlic on a low to medium heat.
  • Add the tomatoes and sage.
  • Heat through and add the water.
  • Blitz the lot with a hand held blender (my absolute favourite kitchen gadget) and bring to a simmer.
  • Add beans and the ketchup (to give some of that authentic “Heinz” taste) and heat through.

beans in pan

It wasn’t the real deal but it was similar enough not to cause a fuss. You could probably get closer in taste by adding more ketchup but I think it was much tastier as it was, not to mention more nutritious!

It was so quick and simple to make and I will certainly be doing this in future rather than buying the beans ready prepared.

kiddie beans

Hope you are all well and having better weather than we are here.


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Wow! Garden Suprises Again!

Despite my utter uselessness when it comes to gardening we have actually been lucky enough to inherit an obviously previously very well-tended garden which keeps surprising us again and again.

The first summer we bought our house we had tonnes of apples. Seriously, it was insane. I had at least 20kg of them off of one tree and ended up composting all those that were slightly nibbled as there are only so many apples you can use. I even broke my juicer through over use! Since then harvest has been much less spectacular but then the poor old tree did take a beating when it had to be chopped back to put railings up to keep the kids from falling off the wall that runs behind it.

Last summer after we had moved in I also discovered scores of raspberries down the bottom of the garden which I made into icecreams, jams and even ate fresh or in jellies. They had to be used very quickly as they were very ripe when I found them.

raspberries

This summer for the first time we have had cherries (which the birds mainly got although the kids managed to get a fair few of the low hanging ones too). I wasn’t upset about the loss of the cherries though as I enjoyed having the birds in the garden.

This week on returning from our travels we have had the happy suprise of finding out that not only do we have one fruiting plum tree but we seem to have three!

plums

One is a Damson tree, another is a Mirabelle tree and is nearly ready and the other has what I believe to be Greengages on it. I managed to get most of the Damsons before the birds got them giving me about 2 kilos of plums to deal with. Unsure of what to do I started googling and quickly found some interesting recipes.

I didn’t particularly want to make any desserts as I have some other cake ideas on hold at the moment (there is only so much pudding you can eat). However, I did have plenty of fruit I had frozen before leaving to go on holiday and so some of the plums got de-stoned and added to the mix to make some Summer fruit jam.

jam batch

After all that de-stoning I was keen on something which required less work (Damson flesh tends to stick to the stone). It was a toss up between a cordial or a flavoured liqueur… Damson Vodka won!

It was a very simple recipe that I borrowed off Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in the Guardian.

Damson Vodka

Ingredients

  • 1kg Damson Plums
  • 500g Sugar
  • 1l Vodka (use good quality or else you’ll regret all your hard work).

damsons and vodka

Instructions

  • Prick the plums all over with a pin.
  • Place in a 2.5 litre sterile container (I used a 5 litre jar which I sterilised by baking  in the oven at 125°C for 20 minutes before taking it out to cool).
  • Add the plums and then the sugar.
  • Add the vodka.
  • Seal the jar and place in a cool place out of sunlight.
  • Invert the jar every week or two for 6 months.
  • After 6 months filter the mixture through a muslin.
  • Keep for another 6 months minimum.

damson vodka instructions

Easy peasy! My jar is now sitting in our cellar room and my phone is programmed with reminders so I don’t forget about it.

The fact that the kids get to grow up eating produce from our own garden is fantastic for me – although they definitely won’t be trying the vodka! Can’t wait for the rest of the plums to be ripe and I’m very excited about next summer!

I wonder why some trees don’t fruit every year?

Does anyone have any suggestions for Mirabelle or Greengage recipes? It looks like there are a lot more of them than we had Damsons!


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What Went On and Froggy Fun!

I told you how things were starting to kick off here in Neuchâtel as spring starts and we did our utmost to see as much as possible resulting in a busy but fabulous weekend!

quinzaine & jardins

Our weekend started with a wander into town to see the Quinzaine Neuchâteloise. We wandered through the Jardin Anglais which they have just finished replanting for this year towards. The dragon in front of the Casino was looking very smart in red and green and E gave him a roar just to show who was boss.

A little further down there was a brocante going on filled with second hand items in varying states of wear. We also stumbled across one of the Boîte à Trocs (a neighbourhood swap box) which you find all over Romandie. There are 6 in Neuchâtel and although I have read about them I haven’t actually seen one yet. I love the idea of having a place you can put books you’ve finished with or some of the kids old toys for someone else in the area to make use of. Unfortunately it was looking pretty empty so we will have to pop back and fill it up. Goodness knows the kids are growing fast enough to fill one with their clothes that are now too small.

Carrying on past the brocante the gardens turned into a series of lily pad arrangements complete with a flower fog and a golden princess who’s dress and hair were made of plants. A garden wreath design told us that this is to celebrate Neuchâtel’s 200th anniversary of it’s membership to the Swiss Confederation.

Town was packed with stands mainly linked with the shops taking part in the Quinzaine but there were also other stands which I didn’t expect to see including one by the Jardin Communautaire. Unsurprisingly they were also taking part in the Fête de la Nature that I also mentioned. The Jardin Communautaire is trying to create a communal garden on the rue du bassin in the centre of Neuchâtel with the help of the neighbours. Along with this project they are trying to create awareness of urbain flora and fauna and associate themselves with various cultural events. To celebrate the Fête de la Nature that weekend they were doing tastings of various plants made into cakes and cordials. Among others we taste Nettle (Ortie), Dog Rose (Églantier) and Lemon balm (Mélissa) cordials and even a nettle chocolate brownie – all of which the kids enjoyed thoroughly. The ladies were very busy but I managed to get them to pose for a photo before we headed on.

bol d'or collage

It was a beautiful day and the Bol d’Or was stunning to watch from the lakeside – unfortunately for them it was rather laking in wind so it was perhaps the slowest race they have ever had…

Festival goer

That afternoon the kids and I popped over to Cornaux to get a little preview of what was in store for the Corn’Rock festival that evening. A few local connections meant that we sneaked into the sound checks and had a play in the festival grounds soaking up the sun. Even Teddy got to join us on our outing as a rare treat.

stars and hearts

Treats continued as we made ourselves a rather spangly tea using all our biscuit cutters to create a rather appetising feast. If your kids ever decide to get fussy I’m almost willing to bet you can get them to try anything if it is star or heart shaped and colourful.

froggy fountain

That Sunday we decided that we needed to make the most of the fact that it was the Fête de la Nature and head up to the Botanical Gardens to see what exciting things were going on. However, when we arrived the place was so busy we headed on into the forest which was a lot calmer. On our stroll along the path from the Rocher de l’Ermitage (a large rocky outcrop above the gardens) we came across a little frog water trough which over ran down a little stream into a pond teaming with tadpoles.

Well one adventure turned into another and we ended up with a family of frogspawn to look after but that’s another story!

Hope you are all keeping well and stay tuned for news on our new tadpole babies.


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Herbs?

I am aware that many people don’t use herbs in cooking or are unsure with what to use and why they are using them. So after my last post I thought I might give you a little introduction to cooking with herbs and to those that I chose to plant in my kitchen garden.

What’s so great about herbs?

While herbs are great for adding an extra dimension to your dishes they also are great for your health. Herbs and spices have long been used in remedies and for preserving food. It is only now that we are starting to understand the full health benefits that they hold and how they can help with many of the most common diseases we suffer from today such as heart disease, arthritis, diabetes and cancer.

Why use fresh herbs over dried?

Quite simply because you get more nutrients from them (as with fresh vegetables) and often get more flavour. In making tea with fresh Lemon Verbena leaves I find the taste to be much more citrusy. One thing I love about having fresh herbs is that they can lift any salad. Most people know about adding basil to tomato salad or mint with yoghurt and cucumber salads, but I also like to chop any herbs I have lying about into everyday salads to give them a lift. Have an experiment.

Should I cook with fresh herbs in the same way that I cook with dried herbs?

Yes and no. You can add the same herbs to the same dishes but while dried herbs and fresh woody herbs (sage, thyme and bay leaves) should be added at the start of the cooking process, fresh tender leaf herbs (such as basil, chives, coriander, dill, and  parsley) should only be added at the end. 1 teaspoon of dried herbs generally is the same as 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs.

aromatic herbs

Curly leaf and flat leaf parsley are the most common forms of parsley out there. Flat leaf has a bit more flavour and is more peppery than the curly variety but the texture of curly leaf parsley is sometimes more desirable in certain dishes.

I often use parsley to neutralise the garlic I add to dishes. In fact parsley is a great breath freshener if you chew on some after a meal. Parsley is also good for cutting through rich dishes with lots of cream or egg. Parsley pretty much goes with everything and it’s great for decorating dishes. Heston Blumenthal has even paired Banana and Parsley check out his recipe here.

It is not only the leaves that are useful but also the stalks which you can use to make a bouquet garni for flavouring casseroles, stocks, sauces and soups. A bouquet garni is a little bundle of herbs that you tie together (or put in a little muslin bag) – think Bridget Jones and the blue string incident – and it acts a little bit like a tea bag in that you use it to infuse the dish and remove it at the end of cooking. It often includes parsley, thyme and a bay leaf although there is no set recipe and vegetables and pepper corns are sometimes added .

Coriander (Cilantro)

While it looks quite like parsley and is sometimes termed “chinese parsley” it is not. Coriander is a herb which does not keep and doesn’t freeze very well (unlike parsley) tending to lose its taste.

I use it mostly with Indian cooking where you tend to add it as a garnish at the last minute as it loses its flavour when cooked. There is nothing better than a lamb curry, daal (lentil stew) and raita (yoghurt based sauce) with plenty of coriander.

It also goes really well with Mexican cooking as coriander pairs excellently with avocado, chicken, fish and shellfish, peppers and salsa.

Coriander is also linked with many health benefits like most fresh herbs ranging from antioxidant properties to being useful in treatment of type 2 diabetes.

Dill

Dill has a fairly distinctive taste being a mix of fennel, anise and celery. It is most commonly added to fish or pickles. I mainly associate it with Scandinavian cooking where it is added to almost everything you eat: soups, grilled and boiled fish, gravlax, potatoes and vinegars. However it is not only the Scandinavians who love Dill: in Eastern Europe it is often added to hot and cold (creamy) borsht. They use it in salads (much like I describes above) or in creamy dressings and sandwich spreads. Dill sauce is also used for poultry, eggs and potatoes.

In Asian cooking Dill is also commonly used and in India they believe it has good digestive properties and is also often given to mothers after childbirth.

The Greeks also use Dill pairing it with yoghurt and cucumber in Tzatziki – Yum!

Feeling a bit braver with Dill yet? Next time you are preparing poultry, fish, eggs, salad or a creamy sauce add a bit and see what you think.

Basil

I reckon basil is the most used herb in western cooking thanks to the popularity of Italian food although the plant originally comes from Asia and plays a major role in their cuisine too.

The Italian basil I chose is the most commonly sold in the supermarkets and is known as sweet basil while the Greek basil is much more peppery and has a stronger flavour. I’d use the Greek for salads but the Italian one more for cooking or pesto.

One tip I learnt off an Italian ex was to never cut basil with a knife but rather tear it to release the aromas. Obviously this isn’t practical when making pesto but I try to stick to it when making salads.

Basil pairs excellently with tomato and most vegetables, as you probably know, but it also goes great with other fruit such as pineapple or strawberries.

Another basil tip to be aware of is when picking your basil never pick the tips of the shoots but select the larger leaves from below allowing further regrowth.

Basil is another well noted antioxidant and various studies have been done linking it with cancer preventative properties. Basil is also good for high blood pressure.

Verbena

I planted Lemon Verbena as I love using it to make teas, you just pop a few leaves in some boiling water and drink it as is. Lemon Verbena is also great to use in cooking as it adds a lovely citrus taste to dishes without the acidity.  You can add it to marinades, dressing or sauces and it pairs great with fish and poultry. I’ve also seen it being used in jams to add a freshness or summery aspect.

Verbena is galactagogue (which means it promotes lactation) so it is great for breastfeeding mums. I tend to drink it as a tea in the evenings after dinner as it aids digestion and has certain sedative effect. I’ve also heard that it has antibacterial properties and is effective against yeast infections. It is also good for menstrual cramps making it a good standard for any woman’s garden.

Camomile

Another soothing tea which tastes so much better fresh and helps with digestion. German chamomile, which I planted, produces daisy like flower which you should trim and make the tea out of. This one is not recommended for nursing or pregnant woman, however, as it can cause contractions. The flowers can also be added to salads or can be made into an herbal beer.

Chives

Funnily enough I’m not a big onion fan but I love chives as its much more of a delicate taste which cuts nicely through rich dishes with eggs or cream, for example, I’ll add lots of chives to my scrambled eggs. You can add chives to any dishes which you would normally put raw onion into such as salads. They are also great for decoration or even snipped into mash or soups.

Like other allium family members, chives possess thio-sulfinites anti-oxidants. Thio-sufinites breaks down to allicin when chives are processed. Studies show that allicin reduces cholesterol production and has anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal properties. Allicin is also a vasodilator compound which is great for those with high blood pressure.

Thyme (silver leaf and lemon)

Thyme is a lovely fragrant herb which I associate mainly with Provençal dishes. It goes great with with Mediterranean vegetables, pork, lamb, fish and game. I love thyme with eggs in omelettes or in mushrooms dishes.

You can use it in stews, stuffings, marinades, omelettes or even in scrambled eggs.

Lemon Thyme adds a citrus dimension to dishes which is especially nice with fish and can be lovely sprinkled into salads.

Thyme goes excellently in quinoa or rice dishes. Lemon thyme and mushroom risotto is gorgeous and very easy to make. I don’t generally follow exact quantities when I make risotto but I’ll try and write it down for you. For 3/4 people I tend to sweat down one onion and a tablespoon of olive oil in a deep pan and then add a clove of crushed garlic.  Once all of that is mixed and soft I add a tea cup of risotto rice and coat it with the mixture. Then add about 250g of chopped mushrooms and a tablespoon of chopped thyme and cook the mushrooms down. Risotto is a dish which once you start you have to stick with until it is ready as it needs to be constantly stirred. Keep the pan on the Next add about a ladle of stock and stir until the stock is absorbed then add another (I often add a slosh of white wine instead of one of the ladles at some point during the process). Continue in this way until the rice is cooked (it should be firm but with no hard bits remaining) and then add some grated parmesan (about 2 tablespoons) and stir through. You can add anything to risottos which is great for using up leftovers. If you have any left over vegetables or meat you can also stir it through at the end.

Tea can also be made from thyme by immersing a sprig in water.

Another herb with a lot of health benefits, Thyme has often been used throughout history to preserve food and to disinfect, the ancient Egyptians even used it in embalming. Thyme had also been linked with various anti-aging properties.

Oregano

Often know as the “Pizza Herb” I only discovered it relatively recently. The British recipes I grew up with always just substituted parsley and oregano was not readily available in supermarkets. This is one of the few herbs which actually has a stronger flavour when dried. Oregano is a sweet herb with some spiciness that adds warmth to any dish. It pairs particularly well with tomatoes, aubergine and lamb.

Oregano is a great barbecue herb and goes great with grilled meat or fish and vegetables. It goes well on Greek salads and Turkish cuisine you often find it as an extra seasoning next to the salt and pepper. You can even use a large bunch as a bed on which to roast a joint. Saying that oregano is generally added just at the end of cooking, so that it retains its pungency.

In Greece and the Philippines oregano is used to treat sore throat and coughs when brewed in teas. It is another herb with antimicrobial properties I have heard it is good for fungal infections.

Mint

English mint, which I planted is apparently less invasive than other mints although those roots are sprouting out all over the place and trying to take over already. It is a sweet, spearmint type rather than a peppermint mint and is very versatile.

Mint is a common ingredient in Thai food like rolls, as well as in Middle Eastern dishes such as tabbouleh, and in traditional mint tea from North Africa. It goes well with lamb, aubergine, desserts (such as chocolate), salads, vegetables, and fruit.

It’s not unusual to see mint used in jellies, sauces and cocktails. I planted my mint thinking mainly about the cocktails. I will be watching Wimbledon and making Pimms (a traditional English gin-based drink) this summer although I seem to be drinking it mainly in tea on a daily basis (keeping it cut back so that it doesn’t take over).

Mint is a calming and soothing herb that has been used for thousands of years to aid with upset stomach or indigestion it is thought to help to speed and ease digestion. Mint also contains menthol, which is a natural decongestant and it can also be effective in tea for relieving sore throats. One health benefit which I didn’t know about previously linked with the fact that mint contain an antioxidant called rosmarinic acid. Because of rosmarinic acid’s anti-inflammatory properties it has been studied for its effectiveness in relieving the symptoms of hay fever.

Sage

When I think of sage I remember one of our first holidays with E where we went to a lovely little place in Tuscany, Italy called Villa Pia. We found it through a site called Baby Friendly Boltholes when we where desperate to get away to somewhere child friendly which wasn’t a resort hotel. Villa Pia was a lovely communal setting, they really looked after us and even provided babysitters to keep the children while we could take an on site cookery class. During this class we made everything from meatballs to various sorts of pasta. One of these dishes was a gnocchi with a fried sage butter sauce. Never had I known something so simple could be so delicious.

Sage has a lovely strong flavour which is a good herb to pair with foods traditionally considered heavy, rich, and creamy. It goes great with poultry, sausages (or stuffing), pasta, beans and certain dairy products such as cheese and cream (ravioli with sage cream sauce), as well as sweet and savoury breads.

The botanical name Salvia is from the Latin for “to feel well and healthy, health, heal” referring to the herb’s healing properties. It has a long history of medicinal use and the Arabs associated sage with immortality. The praise for sage is not unfounded: It is often used as an herbal remedy for afflictions including gas, bloating, poor appetite and excessive sweating. Sage has also been seen to be effective in the management of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.

Leafy Herbs

So there you have it: my reasoning behind buying quite so many herbs and why I am so keep to buy more. I hope you find this post useful and I have convinced some of use to use more herbs if not for the flavour then for the added health benefits.

Thanks for reading and enjoy your weekends!