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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The Apples Are Ready!

Today while I was attempting to tame the garden, and prevent my little boy from eating the rotten apples under the tree, I noticed that they were finally ripe as the healthy ones were starting to drop.

I quickly scooped up a bowl and with the help of E picked the remaining apples off the tree. I reckon we have about 5 kilos in total so not amazing but certainly good enough to do some baking. I have no idea what sort of apples they are but have a pinkish tinge and they turn to purée when cooked. I believe they are something related to a Duchess of Oldenburg apple thanks to this very useful website called the Orange Pippin but I’m no expert.

apples

This week I saw a brilliantly easy Apple and Sage Sausage Roll recipe posted by The Peachicks Bakery, a blog which specialises in dairy, soya and egg-free recipes. I do not have any need for specialist recipes but the lovely lady who runs it keeps her baking appealing to all. This recipe actually popped up on her Facebook page and I loved the idea so decided to give it a try with my new apples.

I adapted Midge’s recipe slightly to our ingredients, for instance, the closest we can get to British sausages is a a Saucisse Vaudoise, but this comes rolled in a spiral as one extra long sausage.

Firstly I made my apple sauce by peeling and chopping my apples and placing them in a large saucepan with enough water to cover half. Then I cooked them on a medium heat until they were soft and pureed. If your apples remain firm you could always puree them in a blender but it is nice to leave a little bit of texture in my opinion.

Sausage rolls
Ingredients
  •  2 Saucisses Vaudoises (or any sausage/sausage meat you like)
  • 10 sage leaves
  • 1 cup apple sauce
  • 1 roll of puff pastry
  • 1 beaten egg
sausage rolls
Instructions
  • Preheat oven to 220°C (200°C fan oven).
  • Firstly lay out your pastry and up it in half lengthways down the middle so you have two long strips.
  • Then spread the apple sauce on the pastry.
  • Tear the sage leaves and sprinkle on top.
  • Place the sausages on the pastry and roll them up into long rolls. Press the join together with your fingers.
  • Cut the long rolls to desired lengths and lay out on a non-stick baking sheet.
  • Lightly brush with beaten egg.
  • Place in oven for 25-30 minutes.

The preparation was simple enough that E could help which she loves and we served them for dinner very simply with some green beans (and ketchup for the addicts). The kids wolfed them down and even came back for more.dinner

They were really delicious, fabulously easy and all I can really say is thank you very much to Midge at the Peachicks Bakery!


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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’s going on?

Its a fairly happening weekend in Neuchâtel this week. Some of it is less exciting than others, for instance, the big Security Fair (SecuritExpo) next to the Maladière stadium. Nope, I didn’t know that sort of thing existed either. On a more exciting note there is also a music festival tonight and tomorrow evening, just 15 minutes down the road, in Cornaux called the Corn’Rock.

corn'rock

Tonight is the Fête des Voisins where those living in apartment blocks or places with shared gardens hold parties to get to know their neighbours better. The event is sponsored by the city and they even provide you with party ideas and invites to kickstart any initiative. Its a great idea as today many people find it hard to get to know their neighbours even in a small town like Neuchâtel.

fête des voisins

This weekend is also the start of the La Quinzaine neuchâteloise! During the Quinzaine participating shops give a discounts and tickets to take part in the raffle and there are numerous activities and shows organised in the streets. Officially it kicked off Thursday with an opening ceremony and late night opening of shops but the more interesting parts for those of us with children are yet to come.

quinzaine

This Saturday is the first Grande Braderie (Big Sale) which takes place from the rue de Seyon in the centre of town all the way down to the hospital by the Maladière Centre (10am to 6pm). The buses are all diverted out of town all day as generally most the shops in the centre put out stalls in the street and those selling food or wine do free tastings. There will be carousels and each quartier will be organising their own events so it will be fun to explore with the kids tomorrow.

Wednesday afternoon (2 to 5pm) on the Place des Halles there are more events for the kids as there is no school on Wednesday afternoons in Neuchâtel. They promise free carousels, a blind cordial tasting, crêpes, ice-cream and presents to be won!

Next Saturday there is another Grande Braderie (from 10am to 6 pm) and you can enter your ticket into the raffle by putting it in the big urn by the Hôtel de Ville  from 3pm. The main prizes range from an electric car to laptop and its free so what do you have to lose? After the raffle is drawn there will be a closing ceremony and music up at the top of the painted street in the free commune of Neubourg.

On the lake tomorrow and Sunday there is the 28th Bol d’Or Regatta where over 100 sail boats will race from Grandson up to Neuchâtel and back again on a 60km circuit. It should be a site to see if the weather stays clear and the thunderstorms don’t hit. They set sail at 11am from Grandson.

neuchatel boat

If you actually want to get out on the lake the boats finally start their tours again this weekend after their winter break including the old steam boat “Neuchâtel” which has recently been refurbished. Check out the timetables for “Neuchâtel” here. Otherwise you can take one of the regular boats.

fete de la nature

Finally it is also the 4th Fête de la Nature which takes part all over Romandie (French-speaking Switzerland) and there is lots going on the Neuchâtel Botanical Gardens this weekend. For the early birds who can get themselves to the Botanical gardens for 8:30am it begins with a guided walk to discover local mushrooms. The walk should last  2 1/2 hours and is suitable for anyone over 10 years of age. For those of us who won’t be up for a stroll through the forest that early there is also an indoors exposition of local mushrooms from 11am to 5pm up on the top level of the Gardens.

There is a fabulous walk tomorrow from 9am to 3pm for anyone over 5 which has been organised from Montmollin-Montezillon called Plantes utiles à croquer (Plants good to eat). It includes a culinary workshop and drawing activities. For those who want to stay in Neuchâtel town there is also the Belles à croquer exposition in orchard of the Botanical gardens with more information on edible plants.

From 11am to 12pm on Saturday there are also some rather intriguing sounding Jeux en forêt (Forest Games) up by the Roché de l’Ermitage in the woods above the Botanical gardens.

There are another couple of easy nature walks taking place tomorrow if you fancy a stroll: Balade pédestre : de la Ferme Robert à Champ-du-Moulin and Balades nature Valangin-Engollon-Cernier and an Elfen excursion Plat de Riaux, Môtiers.

Sunday brings with it yet more activities starting very bright and early at 5:30am at the zoo du Bois du Petit-Château in La Chaux-de-Fonds with a guided dawn chorus of birds (Les oiseaux de l’aube) suitable for those over 8. If you like birds but not in a 5:30am kind of way you could always go to the derniers Tariers des prés du Jura neuchâtelois excursion at 9:30 in Les Ponts-de-Martel.

actualites_parc_en_fete

There are more activities on Sunday too in the Parc du Chasseral including several based around edible plants: Cuisine sauvage (Wild Cooking) from 10:30 to 12 or 2:30 to 4pm and Miam! Une plante (Yum! A plant). You can even go an learn to build stone walls (Les secrets des murs de pierres sèches).

If you want to take part in any of the organised activities of the Fête de la Nature please sign up on the given pages as they all say to do so and I wouldn’t want you to turn up and be told to go home.

flute-enchantee-2014-724x1024

Anyways as I was saying Neuchâtel is a busy place this weekend and all of this is not even starting on the various opera and plays in the theatres. No excuses with not getting out over the next few days.

I hope I’ll have some fun pictures to share with you on Monday. Enjoy your weekends.


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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!