Thursday, 14 December 2017

Madhouse recipe : Beef & pumpkin stew

I love it when you throw a bunch of pretty random things that you found in the kitchen into the slow cooker, leave it bubbling away while you get on with your day and lift off the lid to find an amazing dinner. It's a bit like magic - abracadabra, where did that come from ?! You may remember that I used up about 3/4 of our Halloween pumpkin earlier in the week in a twist on a Hairy Bikers' Caribbean Chicken & Pumpkin Curry. I used up the remaining pumpkin along with a pack of stewing beef from the freezer (straight from the freezer - it wasn't even defrosted when I tossed it in the slow cooker with gay abandon !) and some other odds and ends and it created a really hearty, warming, comforting autumnal stew. #KitchenClearout does it again !

Beef & pumpkin stew

ingredients :

a pack of stewing beef
2 onions
1/4 of a pumpkin
5 mushrooms 
3 potatoes
a bottle of passata
salt, pepper, garlic granules
2tbsp baharat, 2tsp Brazilian grilling spice (just use whatever you have - chilli powder, paprika, cumin, ...)

Chop the veggies and throw everything in the slow cooker. Cook on high for about 5 hours or low for about 7 hours. If you're around, give it a stir every now and then, but this isn't essential.

Taste and adjust the seasoning before serving with rice.

This was great for using up odds and ends that were cluttering up the cupboards and fridge - a bottle of passata from a Degustabox some time ago, the end of a tub of Brazilian spices and some more of my out of date baharat, plus the end of the pumpkin that was peeled and needed to be used up quickly - so it's definitely a contender for this month's #KitchenClearout linky.

Madhouse diaries : Festive Fun

We live in a smallish town just outside of Dunkirk called St Pol Sur Mer, but I've decided it should be renamed St Pol Sur Mer-ry Christmas  in the run up to the big day because they've just installed lots of illuminated figures in front of the town hall. We went along for a look today and they had a couple of mascots handing out sweets.

 As well as some very modernistic Christmas trees that reminded me of the giant pyramids of Ferrero Rochers at the ambassador's ball in the advert (!), there is a special post box to send your letters to Santa. Apparently, if you put your address on the envelope, he'll send you a reply.

 The kids wanted to sit on the giant chair but it was soaking wet as it was raining.

The reindeer was cute but looked a bit boss-eyed !

The giant teddy bear and penguin looked fantastic once the twilight started drawing in.

Even the town hall is lit up in the patriotic blue, white and red of the French flag.

There have been lots of other things going on locally lately, that we've been popping off to see but that didn't really merit a full blogpost. In some areas of France (including Flanders), December 6th is St Nicolas's Day - some kids get their presents then rather than at Christmas, although most get just a small gift (if that) and open the rest on Christmas Eve. I always think it's a bit controversial because he is accompanied by le Père Fouettard (the Father Whipper), who punishes naughty children or gives them coal while St Nicolas gives out satsumas and speculoos (cinnamon biscuits) and in Dunkirk, he is accompanied by Zwarte Piet (Black Pete), the Dutch version of Père Fouettard - there is a small protest about it being racist in the Netherlands (where he is more well known) but nobody seems to bat an eyelid here. Oh well, the kids enjoyed their biscuits, satsumas and hot chocolate, and Sophie posed with the much less controversial figure of Snow White ! 

We also went to a small Christmas crafts market a couple of weeks ago, which had a pets corner. We got to stroke some black Ouessant sheep (fom the Breton island close to Madhouse Daddy's hometown of Brest).

They also had this Lapin Géant des Flanders (a giant Flanders rabbit), which can grow up to 10kg in weight, but usually stops around 6.5-8kg. That's still a whopper hopper though !

Next were the donkeys ... you can decide if they're on the left or right hand side of the picture ! 

We'd never seen a white donkey before.

Or a chicken so white and fluffy that it looked like an abominable snowman !

I've already shown you the Christmas Parade and our wet and windy  visit to the Christmas in Dunkirk decorations with the Madhouse grandparents. I wonder what else we'll get up to between now and the end of the year !

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Christmas is a time for giving - how about offering a #SafeChristmas for someone who needs one?

It’s freezing cold, there's frost/snow/slush on the ground, a chill in the air – and you’ve seen someone sleeping rough on the streets. So what do you do? Turn the other way and pretend you haven't seen them? Give them money, while assuming it will probably get spent on drink or worse? Buy them a hot drink and a hamburger? It's always a tough call, but Centrepoint, the UK’s leading youth homelessness charity, have put together the following simple points to give guidance on how best to help young homeless people this Christmas. Latest figures reveal 16,000 young people will be at risk of homelessness this Christmas. Young people means 16-25 year olds. That's Sophie's age. The thought of her, or any of her friends, sleeping rough, worrying about which one of their friends will put them up for a couple of days or not having a safe place to spend Christmas is heartbreaking. It's so hard to know how you can help, but these tips from Centrepoint really can be used by anyone. Christmas is a time for giving and if you can give a #SafeChristmas to just one person, you'll have helped to make the world a better place.


Contact Streetlink

Streetlink is an app whereby you can immediately report someone sleeping on the streets to your local authority. You can download the app from Apple or Google – alternatively call the 24 hour helpline on 0300 5000914. Be sure to be as detailed as possible with their appearance and location to give the team the best chance of finding the individual who needs help.

Refer them to Centrepoint Helpline

Alternatively, if you know of a young person who might be at risk of becoming homeless, the Freephone Centrepoint Helpline is available for any young person aged 16-25 in England. Open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm – call 0808 800 0661.

Many young people do not realise they are homeless. The stereotype of the rough sleeper in the grubby sleeping bag can lead young people to believe that their situation is “not all that bad”.

However, research show that sofa-surfing’ is incredibly common, with over two-thirds (68%) of homeless young people having temporarily stayed with friends or extended family (compared to 10% of the general population).

If safe, ask them if they are ok

The decision of whether or not to give money or food is always a personal one. However, a small act of kindness can make a big difference: even if you have nothing else to give, a friendly face and acknowledgement will always be welcome.

As a follow-on from this, if you feel someone’s health is at immediate risk, ring the emergency services, who will be able to help

Get involved with Centrepoint

Centrepoint is urging people to donate this winter; just £18 could give a young homeless person a warm, safe room, hot meal and support in rebuilding their life. 

This last point is something to bear in mind when buying Secret Santa or Christmas gifts - there's always someone who is hard to buy for because they seem to have everything they want, so it's easy to fritter away money on something silly like a novelty toy or insipid box of chocolates/biscuits. Personally speaking, I'd much rather receive a charity donation in my name and know that it's done some real good to someone, rather than receive something that will end up taking up cupboard space or being donated to the charity shop !

Madhouse diaries : The Christmas Parade

Last weekend, on a bitterly cold evening, we wrapped up in scarves, coats and thick jumpers and headed into town to see the traditional Christmas parade. We chose to watch it opposite the big wheel that is part of the festive decor, so that we could take in the pretty lights while we waited.

As well as nine floats, there were hundreds of participants dressed up in festive costumes, walking, dancing and waving their way along the route.

Santa's elves led the way, followed by everything from alphabet blocks, chimney sweeps and Eskimos to gingerbread men ...

... as well as my favourites, the reindeer and polar bears, which were very cute.

With the accompanying music, it all felt very much like a Disney parade and you couldn't help but get swept up in the Christmas spirit.

The larger than life Eskimo fishing in the ice kept waving at us and doing thumbs-up when the traffic got held up just next to us, which made us laugh. 

The kids laughed that Mother Christmas's turkey was even bigger than Nanny's !

It's hard to really show it off with photos taken in the dark, but the ice queen or snow fairy or whatever she was had a long flowing dress that attached to the ice crystals and they were all lit up from the inside, which looked quite spectacular.

I'm not sure who had the biggest smiles - the spectators or the people taking part !

There was a squeal of excitement as the "flying" reindeer announced the star guest ...

Good Old Father Christmas closed the show.

Happy faces all round !

Especially when Juliette realised she had enough money in her pocket to buy a "chocolate kebab" - a pancake filled with chocolate sauce, squirty cream and real slivers of chocolate sliced off the turning "kebab" !

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Madhouse recipe : Pumpkin & chicken curry

This was the starting point for last night's dinner - our Halloween pumpkin ! This year, I picked up a pumpkin from Lidl a few days before Halloween but we were so busy, we never got round to carving it before the big day. It didn't really matter because it came with a spooky face stuck on and it actually had the huge advantage of reducing food waste because leaving the skin intact it stops it from going off. We're only a fortnight away from Christmas though, so I didn't want anything too Halloweeny, such as pumpkin pie. I turned to google for inspiration and found a Hairy Bikers' recipe for Caribbean chicken and pumpkin curry. I tweaked it quite a lot, making a quick midweek version without marinating the meat, so do go and have a look at the original recipe to see how it should be done with more time on your hands. It was still a perfectly acceptable, tasty and warming meal though, even as a rush job.

Pumpkin & chicken curry

ingredients :

1tbsp coconut oil (or a glug of olive oil)
1 clove garlic
2 onions
1/2 tsp ground ginger
4tsp South African (mild) curry powder
salt, pepper
1/2 - 1 pumpkin
4 chicken breasts
3 tomatoes
chicken stock

Melt the coconut oil in a large pan and gently fry the garlic and onions until they go soft and translucent but don't go brown.

I used South African curry powder that I found in the spice rack, but the Hairy Bikers recipe used Caribbean. Any mild curry powder would do though.

Stir through the salt, pepper, ginger and curry powder.

Chop the chicken into chunks and add to the pot. Cook until the chicken is white all the way through (about 10 minutes).

Chop the tomatoes and add to the pot.

Add the peeled and chopped pumpkin to the pot and cover with chicken stock.

Leave to simmer for 15-20 minutes until the sauce has reduced and thickened. Stir, adjust the seasoning (I added a drizzle of pomegranate molasses to bring out the sweetness of the pumpkin) and serve, with rice or just on its own.

Adding to this month's #KitchenClearout linky as it used up our Halloween pumpkin, as well as some over ripe tomatoes and a pouch of curry powder that was lurking in the spice rack.

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