Good enough to eat: Body Scrub

It was called pampepato and it was going to be the answer to all my Christmas present woes. I’d found the recipe for this medieval Italian treat – a kind of panforte – and bought all the ingredients. I set aside an afternoon in my tumbledown kitchen and imagined all the grateful recipients sighing with joy as they bit into their handcrafted festive treat.
Then I took the finished products out of the oven.
“Oh,” my flatmate said, peering over my shoulder. “It looks like a whole lot of cowpats.”

I’ve since learned that Christmas plus stress plus the best will in the world will not necessarily equal success. By this stage in the game it’s far too late to make chutneys and jams, but you can make this – a no-cook, no stress body scrub. And your friends and family will love you for it.

Chocolate Olive Oil Body Scrub
I snitched this recipe from Melissa at Tiny Happy, who has a really gorgeous blog about the things she makes for her shop. I’ve changed the proportions a tiny bit and added cinnamon for a bit of festive spice. It’s moisturising and exfoliating (especially good for getting rid of dodgy fake tan streaks) – and possibly the most waistline-friendly way to get a serious chocolate hit. Enjoy!

1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup brown sugar (not raw sugar, unless you have the hide of an elephant)
1/2 cup cocoa
2tsp cinnamon

Mix everything together until well combined. Add a little more oil or sugar to get the consistency you desire – it should be a nice blend of grittiness and viscosity. Pack into a small glass jar and decorate in a festive fashion.

Emergency rations: Pantry Pasta

Across the blogosphere, just like in real life, there’s a kind of Christmas mania setting in. There are lots of lovely people who are describing all the plans they’ve made and all the presents they’ve carefully crafted, sitting up late to embroider children’s names onto hand-quilted stockings and the like.

Reassuringly, there are also lots of people like me, who are suddenly realising that there are just 10 DAYS until Christmas and that it might be a little too late to take on all those festive projects. These people are probably sitting in their kitchens thinking about blogging and remembering to pay the phone bill and realising that they forgot to ring their sister for her birthday. After a while they might notice a slight smell of burning and remember the tray of Christmas mince pies they put in the oven to take to a work party. They will be tempted to shout and scream, but they will instead share a recipe for an emergency dinner – the sort of thing people like them need at this time of year when there is little time to waste and lots of things to do.

Emergency Pasta
When I’m stressed I crave salty, creamy carbs. This almost instant pasta sauce is just the ticket. Add or subtract ingredients to suit your own storecupboard. Whiz it up in a processor and you’ve got a fabulous topping for crostini or a dip for posh crisps.

For two people:

About 100g cream cheese
185g tin tuna, drained
A couple of handfuls of olives, stoned if you can be bothered
1Tbsp capers
4-5 sundried tomatoes
lots of freshly ground black pepper
Fresh herbs – basil, parsley, rosemary – if you have them
zest of a lemon

Throw everything into a big serving bowl and mix well to combine. Cook enough spaghetti for two people (about 220-250g), then drain  and add to the bowl. Toss through the sauce, taste for seasoning and serve. Very good with a soothing glass of rose.

The green green grass of home

I don’t know about you but at this time of year I seem to exist on a diet of sugar and toast. In times of old this was supplemented by canapes and champagne (sigh) but those days are long gone. There is plenty of early summer produce about and our miniscule garden is beginning to earn its keep, but there’s no escaping the, err, sweeter side of pre-Christmas.

Alfalfa, flax and fennel sprouts, looking like they’re about to do the dance of the seven veils

Luckily, I’ve rediscovered one of my favourite kitchen magic tricks, sprouting. It took me ages to hunt out some sprout-able beans and seeds (not because it was difficult but because it was way down on the list of Important Things To Do). Then I scoured our local charity shops for the right sort of jar, which took another few outings.

Sprouting the seeds themselves was too easy. It’s a brilliant way to get nutrient-rich greens in an instant – to scatter over a salad or tuck into a peanut butter sandwich – no matter what the weather’s doing.
Here’s how:

1.Put 2-3Tbsp of seeds of your choice in a large glass jar.
2. Half fill the jar with water and cover it with a piece of muslin (or tulle, or other thin fabric that water can drain through easily) and a rubber band.
3. Soak for 10 minutes (for small seeds like alfalfa or fennel). Medium-sized ones such as mung beans will need to soak for four hours and larger ones such as chickpeas should be soaked overnight.
4. Drain the water and leave in a cool, airy place out of direct sunlight. Rinse the seeds twice a day.
Your sprouts will be ready to eat within four to seven days. When they’ve grown enough for your tastes, store them in the fridge where they will keep for a week.

In my pantry (again)…

Ever since the Christchurch earthquake the Boy Wonder has had a bee in his bonnet about getting an earthquake kit organised. You have to love a man who is so concerned for our safety (or, at least, I have to love him), but this kit is a bone of contention. I’m quite happy for him to stockpile toilet paper and rubbish bags and torches, but we’re having trouble deciding what ‘non-perishable’ food items to store.
In the meantime, I’ve pulled open the pantry door for Debby’s meme. Her pantry is a vision of ‘orderliness and harmony’ – I think mine is more of a work in progress…

Wine, pasta, teabags – there’s no need for anything else!

 1. Nigella Lawson keeps a secret stash of pigs ears in her freezer that she deep-fries for a crispy, solitary snack. Do you have anything similarly sordid in yours?
Crumbs, I can’t compete with that. At the moment our freezer is very wholesome, with loaves of bread, homemade chicken stock and assorted frozen slabs of meat, plus the all-important frozen peas. I think frozen peas are the greatest invention ever and feel uneasy when there are none in the house.
But I do have my Nigella moments. Back in June, after we had a decadent winter solstice dinner, our freezer held two large leftover pottles of very posh chocolate ice cream that had been augmented with Grand Marnier-soaked dried cherries. I used to sneakily eat it for lunch sometimes (and then wonder why I felt like a nap afterwards!)
Until about a month ago I regularly stocked the freezer with various baby-friendly purees and mashes, but the Small Girl is too grown up for them now. I do love having a freezer full of easily defrosted leftovers – casseroles and sauces and the like. Perhaps it’s hereditary – we used to joke that my great aunt Makiri’s freezer was full of individually wrapped roast potatoes – but I like to think of it as the culinary equivalent of money in the bank!

2. What foods would I always find in your fridge and why?
Milk, yoghurt, cheese (of various sorts), mustard and apples. The milk is largely for the Small Girl, but all three of us eat cheese and yoghurt like it’s going out of fashion. I am planning to start making my own yoghurt before the year is out, but in the meantime we buy the plainest, least tampered with kind. Oh, except Catherine and Terence bought a tub of Apple Crumble Yoghurt around on Saturday night and we are now hooked on it. When it comes to cheese, the Boy Wonder is strictly a cheddar man (it could be worse, he could eat the plastic sort he grew up on), but I like it as stinky and runny as possible. At the time of writing, the Small Girl favours cheddar but will happily eat room-temperature Brie (she turns her nose up at it straight out of the fridge). We always, always have a jar or two of French mustard, partly because it makes the BW nostalgic for the year we spent driving around France with a jar of Dijon’s finest in the glovebox, and partly because it’s an essential accompaniment to sandwiches, steaks and sauces. The apples are mostly for me – when we lived in the UK I always looked forward to New Zealand Braeburns appearing in the shops even though the airmile factor was horrific. They’re not very good at this time of year, having spent months in cool storage, but I can’t give them up.

3. Do you have a standby, never-fail recipe that you like to have the ingedients on hand for unexpected guests?
We eat a lot of pasta and Asian-ish noodle dishes, so we always have them in the house. My version of Nigella’s linguine with mushrooms and thyme is my current fallback dinner, but the BW’s idea of an easy dinner is a traditional roast chicken. I think he gets it from his mother, who claims a roast with masses of potatoes, pumpkin and parsnip, is the easiest thing to cook even in high summer. Anyway, we usually have a chicken in the freezer just in case.

4. What is your favourite comfort food?
If I’m cooking myself a special treat, then it’s chicken livers dredged in seasoned flour and gently sauteed in butter, then finished with a splash of wine. If the cupboard is bare or I’m feeling especially fragile, it’s bread and butter. Proper bread, cold butter, and maybe a dollop of honey. Usually eaten standing at the kitchen sink while I wait for the kettle to boil or wonder if I should have a glass of wine.

5. Do you have a chocolate drawer or secret hoard of sweet or savoury snacks?
The Boy Wonder used to eschew chocolate for crisps, but now he’s given them up and has taken to eating my 72% cacao Whittakers Dark Ghana chocolate, which is why there’s none to photograph! I treat myself to a square or two when the Small Girl has her afternoon nap. I also eat a lot of dried fruits, nuts and seeds (which go very well with chocolate!)

Sublime to the ridiculous

6. What’s inside your store cupboard? I wonder if like me you too squirrel things away like a little mammal preparing for a hard winter? Or maybe you favour zen-like sparsity. Don’t you just love nosing inside someone else’s cupboards?
One of my sisters once said that you knew you were proper friends with someone when you could wander into their house and open their fridge in search of something to eat. I think cupboards are the same. Our old house had an enormous walk-in pantry and I felt very much the Domestic Goddess when I opened it and saw the shelves neatly stacked with packets and tins. I still don’t feel particularly well stocked here, despite spending great sums at various supermarkets and grocers. At the moment our pantry is a mix of the prosaic (pasta, rice, olive oil, useful things in tins like tomatoes and tuna) and the exotic (various Asian condiments and noodles, Spanish smoked paprika, French chestnut puree, a tiny tin of foie gras I got for my birthday). I always have a bag of flour and the wherewithal for some kind of baking (sugars, raising agents, cocoa, spices), both because it’s handy to be able to whip something up for visitors and I find baking very soothing. One of the things I miss most about living in London is that I don’t have the same access to all the things I became so used to having. All those lovely European and Middle Eastern foodstuffs I used to casually toss into my basket are either unavailable or prohibitively expensive, which is terribly annoying. But as long as I can get frozen peas and dark chocolate, I think I’ll cope.

Now, how do I get into this packet?

What about you? What’s in your cupboards?

In my pantry…

Clever Debby, who blogs at Cooking Up A Storm In A Teacup, has started a brilliant meme looking at pantries (and their contents). Her post about it is really beautiful and the photos of her pantry are enough to induce fits of jealousy in the most well-mannered of KitchenMaids. As Debby says, “Don’t you just love nosing inside other people’s cupboards?”.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what’s in our cupboards lately, because we’ve had to start from scratch due to moving house. I keep opening the pantry and realising that, damn, we don’t have any cinnamon/orzo/cornflour. Then, this morning I left the pantry door open and my little kitchen helper discovered a bag of icing sugar… she sat there happily (and so quietly) for ages, like a little cocaine addict getting her fix (and was quite cross when I vacuumed it all away!)

So when I’ve restocked properly, I’ll invite you back to come and have a look. In the meantime, take a look at what Caz has in her pantry. Have you ever seen such an impressive line-up of breakfast cereals? Go on, why don’t you show us what’s in yours?