Three Things Thursday: 24 August 2017

My weekly exercise in gratitude – three things that are making me smile – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog [or Twitter account or Facebook page or diary or life in general] with happiness.

First, cabinets complete. After a slight issue with the cornice, the shelves are now completed, the cookery books back in the kitchen and the cupboards are being filled. I never thought that a kitchen cabinet could be such a thing of beauty.

Second, bread and butter. I have recently been reading about the processed food industry (more on this in a later post) and, as a result, I’m very grateful that we have the opportunity to make most of our own food from scratch and buy good-quality ingredients. We know exactly what’s in the bread that Mr Snail makes and our butter is just butter (milk and a little salt).

IMGP3926

simple, but delicious

 

Third, nasturtiums. Some years ago I sowed nasturtium seeds in the garden and I’ve never had to do so again. I know the flowers are rather blousy, but I do love to see them every year (and they look beautiful in salads too).

So, that’s what’s making me happy today. How about you?

-oOo-

Emily of Nerd in the Brain originally created Three Things Thursday, but it’s now being hosted by Natalie of There She Goes.

Taking the biscuit

As you may know, I have been trying to cut palm oil out of my life. Palm oil has certain properties that make it a great ingredient for manufacturers and it can be tricky to avoid unless you cook everything from scratch, particularly since it isn’t always listed as ‘palm oil’ in ingredients lists. Anyway, I discovered a few months ago that it’s in most commercially-produced biscuits (including my beloved digestives). The answer, however, was provided by two friends: Sue sent me three recipes and Kate sent me one. Since January, therefore, I have not bought any biscuits and I have made all the ones we have eaten at home. This not only avoids palm oil, but also greatly reduces plastic packaging since most of the ingredients (including the butter) come in paper or glass.

The key to a good biscuit (rather than a cookie), according to Sue, is to use a hard fat. The choice comes down to butter or hard white vegetable fat. However, it turns out that the latter (e.g. Trex) is made from palm oil. So, I’m sorry vegans, but all the successful biscuits I have made have contained butter.

I’m going to share the four recipes here, for those of you who also want to make your own. The measures are in the original units in which each recipe was written, so there is a mix of ounces and grams.

Ginger nuts

16 Biscuits 15

ginger nuts

 

8oz SR flour
2 heaped teaspoons ground ginger
4oz sugar (white or golden granulated)
3oz butter
4oz golden syrup
1 egg

Mix the dry ingredients, melt the butter and syrup, mix everything together. Shape teaspoonfuls into rough balls and press down a little, then arrange on greased baking trays with plenty of room to spread. Bake at 150C for 15 mins or until golden and becoming crisp. Cool on a rack and put in tin as soon as cold.

Shortbread Biscuits (Mr Snail’s favourite, especially dipped in chocolate)

16 Biscuits 3

We love shortbread biscuits

200g butter (soft)
100g caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
250g plain flour
50g ground rice

Cream together butter, sugar and vanilla, work in the flour and rice. Roll out to 1/4 inch thick, cut into rounds (or hearts) and bake at 160C for 15-20 mins.

Granny Boyd’s biscuits

16 Biscuits 11

lovely and chocolatey

 

250g butter
125g caster sugar
300g SR flour
30 g cocoa powder

Cream together butter and sugar. Sift cocoa and flour together and work into mixture. Form into walnut sized balls and arrange on trays. Flatten slightly with the back of a fork. Bake at 170C for 5 mins then turn the oven down to 150C for another 10-15 mins. The top should be firm and the inside slightly squidgy – they firm as they cool.

Digestive biscuits from a Victorian recipe

16 Biscuits 2

digestives

 

4oz fine oatmeal
2oz wholemeal flour
2oz white plain flour
2oz soft brown sugar
Quarter of a teaspoon of salt
Half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
3oz butter
1 egg

Rub the butter into the dry ingredients and then add the egg. Mix well. Roll out to about 0.25-0.5 cm, cut into rounds and place on a baking tray. Bake at 190C for 10-15 minutes. Allow them to cool and if they aren’t crispy enough I put them back in the oven for another 5 minutes.

I would add another recipe to my collection of favourite biscuits and that’s Delia Smith’s chocolate chip ginger nuts, the recipe for which is here. These are very rich and very delicious:

16 Biscuits 13

chocolate ginger nuts with chocolate chips

So, do you have a favourite biscuit recipe to share?

 

 

Keep it simple

One of the things that can help to increase sustainability is simplification. For example, simplify the food chain by buying direct from a local producer and you can reduce food miles and keep money in the local economy.

Something that has been niggling at me for ages is what I spread on my bread. Although lactose intolerant, I can eat dairy in the form of butter or margarine in small quantities and do use it on toast and sandwiches; plus Mr Snail-of-happiness is not lactose intolerant, so we’d use it anyway. Because I like to be able to spread the stuff, we have been using a dairy-based margarine that can be used straight from the fridge. However, it contains lots of things:

Vegetable Oils (31% Seed Oils), Buttermilk (27%), Salt (1.7%), Cream, Emulsifiers (E471, Sunflower Lecithin), Natural Flavourings, Colour (Natural Beta Carotene)

And I’m wondering whether  those vegetable oils (although not hydrogenated according to the manufacturer) include palm oil – I think they probably do, as I know they did in 2010. Anyway, all those ingredients must require lots of processing. What I’d really like to do is to have spreadable butter, preferably produced locally and organically. This also makes sense in terms of health benefits, since recent reports suggest that unprocessed fats, like butter, may well be good for the heart.

I was delighted, therefore, to come across a blog post a couple of weeks ago that seemed to offer the solution… a simple way of storing butter at room temperature, but without it being exposed to the air: a butter bell. It’s a French idea, involving a thing like a large egg cup that you fill with butter and a container into which you put water. The egg cup thingy is then inverted into the container of water so that no air can get in and, hey presto, you can keep your butter for several weeks at room temperature. I just had to have one:

Butter bell without butter

Butter bell without butter

Add water to one half and butter to the other

Add water to one half and butter to the other

Lower the butter bell into the water container and keep at room temperature for spreadable butter that won't be tainted or go off

Invert the butter bell and lower it into the water container then keep at room temperature for spreadable butter that won’t be tainted or go off

Sadly I had to buy a mass-produced one, because I just couldn’t find one from a local potter and I wasn’t clear enough about the design before I had seen a butter bell for real to be able to commission one to be made.

There is a slight problem at the moment, in that it’s not very warm in our house, so the butter in it is not very spreadable. I’m sure that it will function well for much of the year and I’ll just have to find it a slightly warmer spot for it to live (top of the fridge?) for these chilly months.

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