Housesitting also means home cooking, and during the holidays this is more than welcome. For us this is one of the reasons to housesit during the Christmas period. Just doing your own food shopping in the supermarket, cooking your own meals and dining at a cozy table with candlelight and a glas of wine.
We also have a thing for supermarkets. It is always surprisingly interesting to discover what you can buy in another country, and especially to figure out what you can cook with it. You encounter a lot of “foreign” looking products, but even the products you do know are not always easy to obtain. Firstly, you often can’t find them, secondly they are sometimes way too expensive. Trying to cook a simple homey dish, can turn out to be too costly or you have to get creative with the ingredients.
Once we stroll around a foreign supermarket we always have a ball. Especially here in Sai Kung where the supermarkets have a wide range of Western(style) products, be it sometimes a bit more expensive than in Belgium. Of course we found a budget solution for this problem as well. In Belgium, products that near their expiration date just get thrown away, here they sell them for next to nothing. Between Christmas and the New Year there are loads of deals to be had, partially because they overstocked on luxury Western foods and partially because they have a lot of Christmas themed items that apparently cannot be sold after Christmas day itself. That way we can score some great stuff and are able to prepare true feasts on a budget for Christmas and New Year’s eve.
Christmas Day Menu:
Paté with brioche bread and cranberry jam
Melons with smoked Parma ham
Steak with a mushroom and cream sauce, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce
Poached Belgian pears (poached in ginger, cinnamon, lemon zest, red wine, sugar, honey and a mulled wine spice mix)
A bottle of white and a bottle of red wine
(everything was cooked in a small oven and on the rooftop BBQ, as our gas stove temporarily stopped working on Christmas day)
New Years’ Eve Menu:
Dill pancakes with smoked salmon and dill & mustard cream
Chicons au gratin (endives rolled in ham covered in cheese sauce & browned under a grill) with mashed potatoes
Poached Belgian pears
A bottle of white and a bottle of red wine
In Belgium this might not be the most festive of menu’s but once you have been travelling for a while you start to crave such homey dishes and as we have mentioned above, we can’t prepare everything we’d like to because of the excessive prices (for our budget) of some products and the complete absence of others. To give you an idea of some high prices around here, a bag of ground supermarket cheese of around 125 grams is easily 5 €, 1 litre of supermarket milk starts at 2 €, 250 ml of cream or 3 pieces of endives are each 3,5 €. On the plus side: Belgian pears can sometimes be had for less than half a Euro for 6 (thanks to Russia’s trade ban) and Lotus speculoos (Belgian caramelised biscuits) is pretty cheap as well. The budget friendly option for cranberries is buying them at Ikea :-). Ham is cheaper and better at the local Filipino bakery, where they start slicing a freshly made honey glazed ham each day. But hey, as they say: you’ve got to work with what you’ve got.
We even found a great cheap wine store in Sai Kung, which makes our holiday meals and afternoons on the sunny terrace extra festive. Andy from the Winerack (www.winerack.com.hk) always has some great recommendations within our budget.
What other foods do we miss while travelling? We made a good ol’ spaghetti Bolognèse, a homemade lasagna, macaroni with ham and cheese sauce, batches of muffins (banana, pear, raspberry, blueberry, chocola), just plain homemade baguettes, sandwiches, etc… Maarten even makes a great version of Belgian pork stew for Boxing day. To reproduce the sauce we have to be creative: we use the reduced juice of our poached pears and speculoos instead of Belgian gingerbread. Luckily we did manage to obtain the key Belgian beer ingredient pretty cheaply. Delicious with our leftover mashed potatoes and Ikea cranberries. Luckily this place doesn’t seem to have a bathroom scale …
What would you long for when you are far away from home? Just hurry to the supermarket and start cooking! No idea what you would like to cook or lack of time? Have a look a this great cooking blog of a young mother with a lot of zest www.aubainmarieke.be (Dutch only, but even the pictures can give you great ideas). Her weekly menus are a little bit more inspiring, more fun and healthier than ours :-).