Our plastic world

The plastics crisis is more urgent than you know. Recycling bottles won’t fix it:

It is not enough to single out plastic bottles, coffee cups, or the microbeads found in cosmetics. We urgently need the government to form a comprehensive plastic action plan. Banning all plastic bags and single-use packaging would be a good start, but we need to go way beyond that. Plastic production has to be reduced, just as alternatives should be encouraged.

The earth will go on after we have destroyed ourselves. If we don’t want to destroy ourselves, we must do something. Straws aren’t usually necessary. Plastic carrier bags aren’t usually necessary. Plastic packaging protected by plastic packaging is definitely not necessary. Plastic has a place and a use in modern life, but we have gone way beyond that.

Crusty no-knead bread

A gadget we bought my mother-in-law the first Christmas we were in the UK was a bread maker. As far as I’m aware, it’s still plugging away, over a decade later. I’ve been umm-ing and aah-ing about getting one myself — if you bake your own bread, you don’t end up with single use plastic bags you have to dispose of or recycle. But I don’t like the hole you get in the bottom of the bread when you use a bread maker, so I’ve never been completely persuaded to get one.

I reckon it’s been around six months and I’ve tried the food processor method as well as a more traditional method, i.e. lots of kneading. I’ve also made pita breads with Eliza one day when we were at a bit of a loose end. I think our yeast was too old, so all my efforts have been somewhat… dense. Yesterday, I decided to give a no-knead recipe a go — one that is supposedly quite famous, but behind a paywall. Thank you other people, who have posted the recipe on Genius Kitchen (plus an adapted version on A Stack of Dishes).

It works! The resulting loaf was rough and ready, but tasty and soft. I was ready to suggest getting rid of our cast iron casserole pot, but it’s definitely staying around now that I can use it to bake decent bread.

This is time-consuming, but there is actually very little hands-on attention required, which is perfect. My next task is to figure out how to make this and create as little washing up and waste as possible.

Only a look

“I need cake. I need caaa-aaaake!”

“You want to share some cake?”

“Yes. I big piece, you little piece.”

*crickets*

“Er, I little piece, you big piece.”

Good to know she fully understands the nuances of non-verbal communication.

(I baked three small traybakes yesterday. Two are for a school fundraiser, this one I only added half as much sugar as I should have.)

Applesauce

Recently, I made applesauce. First, I seriously underestimated the size of pot I would need to cook down two bramley and two granny smith apples. I chopped them up into roughly inch-sized chunks, leaving out the seeds.

Applesauce, before
Apples stuffed into a pot

Then I turned on the hob and cooked it down. I squeezed in the juice of half a lemon, mainly because I had half a lemon hanging around in the fridge*. It took a while before they softened and turned to mush.

applesauce, cooked
Applesauce after cooking down

What’s most important is I didn’t have to change pot. It halved in volume, and I also stuck them in the food processor so that it would go smooth (I always keep the skins on, so this is a necessary step for me).

My plan for the applesauce is to use it:

  1. as a sweet spread, i.e. jam;
  2. as a sweetener in plain yoghurt; and
  3. as a snack on its own

You can also use the puréed applesauce to make your own apple fruit roll (leather). But that’s another topic for another time.

* I don’t think you should add any additional fruit you like, because they may not go together. I used my lonely lemon because it helps stop things like apples from going brown.

22 essential tools in the Grudging Cook’s kitchen

… a bit less if you don’t cook Chinese food.

Before you get cooking from scratch with as little hassle as possible, you need some basic tools. There are also some other gadgets that I use, electronic or otherwise, that are time-savers.

  1. Stainless steel saucepans — we have a set of old ones from Tefal. They’re pretty robust, unless you put eggs on to boil and forget about them. *ahem* Then they get scorch marks.
  2. Steamer basket — my mum bought one from Denby, it fits on the lip of our saucepans, and uses the lid from our largest saucepan.
  3. Frying / saute pan — we’ve had non-stick, but they just flake and have to be thrown out, so we’ve been using cast iron instead (I think they are pre-seasoned, and are from Denby and IKEA).
  4. Wok — if you like a stir-fry, a wok is important. I have a dislike for the flat-bottomed ones, but as we didn’t have a proper burner for a wok, we had no option. Ours is carbon steel from Typhoon, probably a decade old.
  5. Baking trays x2 — these work for pizzas, crackers, biscuits, vegetable crisps, and fruit leather. I got enamelled ones from ProCook.
  6. Roasting trays x2 — these have higher sides than a baking tray. I use our Denby stoneware trays for roasting and baking random things. They are easy to clean!
  7. Oven gloves and tea towels — tea towels are so multi-purpose!
  8. Mixing bowls — one large, one small. Preferably stainless steel or Pyrex.
  9. Sieve — for sifting flour and draining stuff.
  10. Chopping board — With limited work space, I can only use one at a time, and I tend to favour the small bamboo cheeseboard (Christmas present over a decade ago), but if I need more chopping space, I have one from Lone Ranger Woodcraft.
  11. Stainless steel knives — Neil loves a kitchen knife (we even have one specially for tomatoes), but you really only need one big and one small. Serration isn’t important — however, if you intend to bake bread, buying a bread knife is a good investment. We got ours over a decade ago from ProCook.
  12. Knife sharpener — I run the knives through the sharpener (also from ProCook) every time I use them. Neil also bought a proper sharpening steel, but I don’t use it.
  13. Box grater — these are the ones with four different grating holes on each side. Mine’s unbranded.
  14. Wooden spoon — for soup and congee. Easily available.
  15. Wooden turner — for frying. I think this came free with our wok.
  16. Measuring cups — ours are unbranded and stainless steel. An eBay special, I believe.
  17. Tablespoon — for measuring, obviously. I don’t own special measuring spoons, I use our tableware. One tablespoon is 15ml. Our tableware was purchased back in 2003 from Robinsons in Singapore.
  18. Teaspoon — Again, from our tableware. One teaspoon is 5ml.
  19. Food storage containers — We use old Bonne Maman jam jars, as well as borosilicate glass containers from Pyrex and ProCook. We also have larger plastic boxes (for rice, cereal, and so on) from before Neil became a hippie. Sistema is pretty good.
  20. Rice cooker / slow cooker — we have an 8-in-1 cooker from Tefal, and we mainly use it as a rice cooker and slow cooker. Some of my friends have started using the Instant Pot.
  21. Food processor and blender — Kenwood, it comes with all sorts of blades. We used to have a hand blender as well (wedding present), which was very convenient for soups, but it burned out after several years’ service, and we never replaced it. We’ve also got a Nutri Ninja, but you really only need one blender.
  22. Thermal cooker (UK version) — gifted to us by my mum when Anne was born, this is an energy-saving slow cooker (it’s also called the wonder cooker in Singapore, I call it the magic pot). You basically get things up to a boil (it needs to be wet, like a soup, stew, or congee), then let it simmer for around 20 minutes, before taking it off the heat and shoving it in the vacuum sleeve to continue cooking.

The Grudging Cook

I’m starting a new ongoing series here, in yet another attempt to revive my neglected almost 17-year old blog (one more year and it can drink, and vote). It’s called Grudging Cook, because that’s what I am. A number of factors have contributed to this phase in my life that I fear has marked me for life:

  • We have two children.
  • Two members of our family suffer from atopic dermatitis.
  • Neil watches too many Netflix food and environment documentaries.

My dream kitchen used to be all empty worktops and storage for gadgets like toastie makers and electric grills — basically, the less work I had to do, the better. I could probably count on one hand the number of times we cooked at home throughout our three years in China.

Over the last half-decade, I have ventured more into home cooking — and the last year or so, leaning heavily towards plant-based real foods. It has been a challenging learning curve.

My belief is, if I can figure it out, anyone can. I still don’t particularly enjoy the process of cooking, but I reckon I am reasonably competent these days — mainly because I haven’t poisoned anyone recently.

So this series will cover the things I’ve learned, in case it helps anyone who finds themselves in the same position: having had kids, they want to eat more healthily as a family, but have never been terribly interested in how to go from raw to cooked.

Irony. He has it. Without knowing it.

The Week used this quote deliberately, surely (Donald Trump sets his sights on tougher libel laws):

Donald Trump has said he wants to strengthen libel laws, after a controversial book detailed the inner workings of his White House.

If libel laws were stronger, he said, “you wouldn’t have things like that happen where you can say whatever comes into your head”.

Does this mean that at some point in the future, he will question the authenticity of his verified Twitter account? And he will do it via Twitter?