Tuesday, 19 July 2011

A pasta supper to reward tired walkers.

For the longest time, I've been desperate to undertake a long distance hike, and there's been one trail in particular that I've wanted to follow: the Southern Upland Way, which sets off from the Southwest coast of Scotland, and ends up 212 miles, or 341km away, on the East coast.

I don't have any hiking friends, though, and am not the kind of person that could be so completely alone for the length of time that it takes to complete a walk like that. I was incredibly lucky, therefore, that last summer I bumped into a hiker in the beautiful city of Dresden.

My darling friend David was mad enough to come with me to Scotland and hike with me. Thank God he did, because just a few days ago, aching, sore, sunburnt and bitten, we staggered into the sea at Cockburnspath, 16 days after setting off from the West coast. The walk was the best and most rewarding experience of my life.

It looked something like this.

I learnt a lot on the Southern Upland Way. I learnt about distances, and how far one kilometre is. I learnt that my body can do a lot more than I ever gave it credit for. I learnt that when ants bite, they really bite. I learnt that olive oil makes everything better, and I learnt that a broken Spork can be a disproportionately demoralising event.

Hiking certainly taught me to appreciate food. After 16 days of high calorie, lightweight dinners, everything tastes very strange. I'm craving salt and fats like mad, and upon my return I needed something really delicious, but very quick to prepare, (did I mention how much my ankles are hurting?).

This pasta dish is something else. It's so much more than the sum of its parts.  It's really cheap as well, try it.

Pasta with bacon and breadcrumbs.
Adapted from Nigel Slater's "Appetite"

Enough long pasta to feed you, (I used tagliatelle, but you could use spaghetti or similar too)
A glug of olive oil
A few slices of streaky bacon
A nice chunk of white bread, (I used a two inch piece of baguette, which was easy to prepare)
About 5 cherry tomatoes
2 cloves of garlic
Some mozzarella
A handful of fresh basil

First things first. Get some water boiling for your pasta and chuck it in. Cook it for as long as the packet says.

Meanwhile, cut the bacon into little pieces and fry them in a little olive oil, until they are beautiful and golden and delicious looking. While they're doing their thing, get out your cheese grater and grate your bread into breadcrumbs, honestly.

Try and aim for different sized crumbs. It's nicer that way. Once your bacon looks good, throw the breadcrumbs in the pan too and toss them until they're golden and toasty and crispy.

Halve your tomatoes and add them to the pan, also add the garlic; just crush it with the palm of your hand and remove the skin. Fry it all off, it'll start looking lovely now.

When your pasta's cooked, just toss it with the breadcrumb mixture and throw in your mozzarella, and your basil leaves, all torn up. Season with salt and pepper, add a glug of olive oil, and your dinner is ready!

This is a combination that just works. It's very good, I promise. Also, it costs around £2.30 to make the entire meal, which is perfect for when one is returning from a holiday that cost a bit more than one may have anticipated!

Thursday, 9 June 2011

An aromatic and very special soup for a friend.

As I'm sure you all know, there are some dangerous types on the internet. We've all heard horror stories about foolish types who have been too trusting and got themselves into a pickle with a stranger that they've met online.

With this in mind, I was suitably cautious when posting a Gumtree advertisement for a new flatmate in January 2009. I waited anxiously, having described in detail the available room and my personality, hoping that I would get a response - preferably from someone on the right side of sane.

When I answered a call one afternoon, from a breathless and excited woman, I didn't realise that this person would become one of the most valued and admired of my friends, someone that I would grow to love, and to consider one of my very best friends.

I showed Gemma around the flat as she sold her personality to me in what I later recognised as true Gemma style: effectively and without pause for breath.

She moved in with me a few weeks later, and history was made.

Gemma and I live separately now. We both moved in with our lovely boys earlier this year: she stayed in East London with her man - and I moved to North London with Mr Meat.

So nowadays, we obviously don't see each other as much as we did when we were flat mates. I know though, that we share special bonds with those with whom we have lived, and I still feel very close to my friend Gemma. For this reason, I know that I will be weeping with happiness for her and her new husband when she gets married next year.

I wish them both every happiness, and hope that their future is the place of sunshine and laughter that they deserve.

A few months ago, I had Gemma over for dinner. I cooked her an aromatic fish soup, with apple tarts for dessert. She was kind enough to compliment it, as she is always kind about my food, and asked how to make it herself.

Here's the recipe, a special treat fish soup. You'll need a food processor, stick blender or MagiMix for this one, sorry!

Gemma's fish soup.
(From Nigel Slater's Appetite - my favourite book)

For the spice paste:
1 or 2 chillies
2 or 3 cloves of garlic
An inch of root ginger
About 2 stalks of lemongrass
A few coriander seeds
A handful of fresh coriander
1tsp ground turmeric
A glug or two of sunflower oil, (or something else with no flavour)

And the rest:
500ml stock, (make it homemade or very good quality, this dish relies on a tasty stock)
1 tin coconut milk
1 lime
About a teaspoon of Nam Pla, (fish sauce)
A handful of mint
1 medium sized piece of cod, or similar white fish
Enough noodles to feed you
1pkt of king prawns

Prepare the bits and bobs for the spice paste. Halve and seed the chillies, peel the garlic, peel the ginger, chop it up and slice the lemongrass into disks. Throw it all into the food processor with the rest of the ingredients for the paste. Don't forget a few glugs of oil to lubricate it all and to let the blade spin properly - but not too much!

Once blended, the paste will be a beautiful, rich shade of green:

Put a deep saucepan onto a high heat and fry half of the spice paste, (put the other half in the fridge for another time), moving it around the pan. After a couple of minutes, throw the stock and coconut milk in there and bring it all to a boil. Turn the heat down and allow the soup to simmer for about ten minutes.

Meanwhile, cook your noodles according to the instructions on the packet, and cut your cod into bite sized pieces. Once the soup has simmered for its allocated time, add the fish and then the prawns. Remember that they don't need long to cook, just a couple of minutes.

Season the soup with salt, lime, the fish sauce and the mint leaves, divide the noodles into bowls and ladle the hot soup over the top. It will be delicious and aromatic.

This is not a frugal supper. It's a very special treat.

Congratulations on your engagement, Gemma and Gary!

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Something silky.

Summertime usually means one thing for Mr Meat and I: we're skint.

There are no student loans to see us through, (especially not since Mr Meat is about to graduate, congratulations to him!), and we've shelled out for holidays, sunblock and sandals. The summer months are tight ones for us. Never mind - I suppose that this means that my posts will have to become more creative and frugal, by necessity!

I did a reasonably frugal spaghetti carbonara for dinner tonight - using up various odds and ends from the week. I chucked a courgette in there, used up the bacon that we had at the weekend, grated up some pretty hard parmesan and chopped up slices of a sprouting onion. Now my fridge is clear for the big shop tomorrow night, and I can rest peacefully in the knowledge that I have wasted nothing.

This dish is great for gather-up dinners. As long as you have two eggs, some cream, milk and some kind of cheese - as well as pasta in one shape or another - you can't go wrong. Use any cured meat instead of bacon, (ham, for example), and throw any vegetables into the sauce for bulk, mushrooms would be good, but you could also use wilted spinach, chopped green beans or even fried aubergine. 

What I like about this recipe, (adapted from the Sainburys' £50 meal plan), is the use of low fat milk in place of half the cream. Adding egg yolks to the cream and milk mixture ensures that the eventual sauce is silky and rich tasting, without being quite so naughty as a sauce that uses only cream, with no milk.

This was a cheerful, tasty dinner, and one that satisfied Mr Meat's meaty cravings, (without breaking the bank or actually containing much meat).

Spaghetti Carbonara
(Adapted from the recipe included in Sainsburys' £50 meal plan)

1 onion
A few rashers of bacon, chopped
A courgette, very finely sliced, (I used a potato peeler - great tip!)
A few cloves of garlic
2 egg yolks
100ml single cream
200ml skimmed milk
Some cheese, (I used a few grates of parmesan and a handful of grated mozzarella)
Enough spaghetti for your appetites
A handful of frozen peas, if you like

Get your onion and bacon frying with a glug of olive oil - you want the bacon golden and crispy and the onions golden and soft. Once that's done - about 8 or 10 minutes, on a medium/high heat - throw your courgettes in there, and any other vegetables you're going to use. Fry them until cooked through and delicious looking.

Stick your pasta on to boil with a good amount of salt and get cracking with your sauce. In a large bowl, whisk the two egg yolks with the cream, milk and cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper and wait for the pasta to cook, adding a few peas before the time is up...

Once the pasta is al-dente, pull it straight out of the pan and into your milky creamy mixture. Don't bother putting it through a colander - this just adds washing up and the pasta water actually helps the sauce to stick to the spaghetti. Add your cooked vegetables and meat to the pasta and mix it all through. I found that at this stage the sauce was still quite liquid, and so I broke the one rule of carbonara that I remember from school. I put the sauce back on the heat.

I assumed that the eggs in the sauce would scramble and go horrible, but actually the sauce thickened and coated my pasta nicely.

I make this meal out as costing £2.88 in total. Sainsbury's reckon about £5, but theirs feeds 4 people, and mine just does two. Pretty good going either way!

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Fruit that's too good to be good for you.

I always seemed to have nectarines in my lunchbox during the last few weeks of school. Now, one bite of this tender, aromatic, delicate fruit communicates an unmistakable message to me: summer is here.

Summer seems to have been here in Britain for ages - it's been coming and going. This weekend though, I bought my first punnet of summer fruits for 2011. There were about 9 nectarines in there, just beginning to soften. Being the frugal foodie that I am, the thought of these little bundles of deliciousness going mouldy and being wasted brought me close to tears, so I delved into my books in search of a way of using them up without losing any of their flavour or summeriness.

I found the perfect solution in my favourite book, Nigel Slater's Appetite: poached fruit.

Nigel suggests using peaches, but I thought that with few tweaks in flavouring, nectarines would work just as well. This is a very simple way to use up summer fruit - I actually feel that the fruity experience is improved with the addition of a sticky pink syrup.

Poached summer fruit.
(Adapted from Nigel Slater's Appetite)

Some sugar
Flavouring, (I used a couple of pieces of lemon zest and a little vanilla paste - but Nigel also suggests lime leaves, cinammon, or a few pieces of root ginger. It's up to you and your judgement.)
Some summer fruits, (nectarines, peaches, plums...I could go on)

Cover the base of a deep frying pan with sugar, and pour about four times as much water over the top. Put the pan over a low to medium heat and allow it all to dissolve. Let the syrup cool down a little and give it a taste. Is it too sweet? Add more water. Is it not sweet enough? Add more sugar and allow that to dissolve too. While the sugar is dissolving, use the time to prepare your fruit - half it and remove the stones.

Bring the syrup up to a boil and add your chosen flavourings. I found that the citrus of the lemon zest complimented the nectarines beautifully, while the vanilla paste added warmth and a little depth to the flavour. Put your fruit into the sugared water, turn the heat down and simmer for about twenty minutes.

Serve with a scoop of ice-cream for dessert, or with yogurt for breakfast. What a treat. My packet of nectarines was £2, everything else was in my kitchen anyway - and worth pennies. Make these tomorrow.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Something impossible.

I'm British. I can't help that.

It's an affliction which means that I shout at contestants in The Apprentice once a week and then delightedly discuss their mistakes with my colleagues, with my friends, with my Mother.

My nationality is also apparent through, (what I like to think of as), my good manners. I know the difference between a soup spoon and a dessert spoon, thank you very much. Furthermore: I apologise when strangers bump into me.

Incidentally, being a Brit also means that I have a weakness for curry that I've made from a jar. Yes, I know that I could make something more authentic with a tin of tomatoes and a few onions, and yes, I should know better since my lessons with Beena, (my cookery teacher in Jaipur, I talk about her here). Sometimes, though, I just want some miscellaneous curry. Sometimes I want something made with non-specific meats, vegetables and spices, that I can ladle on my plate and munch on while I watch Lord Sugar lay into some big-headed business bigots. (I could have called the contestants boring - just to continue this alliteration charade - but we all know that's not true.)

You may have heard, and possibly disbelieved, the legends of 9p curry sauce from the Sainsbury's Basics range. If you did believe the stories, then you probably wrote the product off as something disgusting and probably toxic. I'm here to show you that you were wrong. You can make a tasty and altogether enjoyable dinner out of curry sauce that costs less than ten pence.

Using a cheap sauce does mean that you need to put a tiny bit of extra work in, though. I like to think of Basics curry sauce as something that I use instead of tinned tomatoes, (and at 1/3 of the price). I still fry onions, garlic and chilli, before adding a few spices and my vegetables - followed by the 9p sauce. While the curry simmers down, I add water, tomato paste and yogurt, and I season the food thoroughly with pepper before serving it, (the sauce doesn't need much more salt, you can just add that to taste).

Try not to judge before you sample this recipe. After all, if you really don't like it, you've only wasted 9p. Look down the back of the sofa and you'll probably replace your lost money.

Super cheap curry.

A glug of sunflower oil
1 onion
3 cloves of garlic
1 chilli, (I used 1 cube of frozen chilli)
Various vegetables, (I used 1 potato, 4 mushrooms, a few green beans, spinach and peas)
Whatever spices you have knocking around, (for example, cumin, coriander powder, cayenne pepper, turmeric...)
Leftover meat, (I used leftover roast chicken)
9p curry sauce (!)
1tbsp tomato puree
A few globs of yogurt

Get your onion, your garlic and your chilli chopped up and cooking happily in a frying pan. Get them looking beautiful and golden before throwing your veg in there, cut up however you like.

Allow it all to cook down a bit, get it looking tasty and golden, then add whatever spices you have to the pan. Curry spices obviously, not the allspice you used for your christmas cake. Fry them off - this allows the essential oils in the spices to warm through and impart their flavour to the rest of the ingredients.

When you think you're ready, take a deep breath and get the cheap curry sauce out of the cupboard. This dinner will be nice, I promise.

I hate sultanas in curry, they remind me of school dinners. Unfortunately this 9p sauce has got sultanas in it, so I normally sieve them out. This adds an extra step and a little bit more watching up for Mr Meat to do, but it greatly adds to my enjoyment of my dinner. If you pop a little bit of water through the sieve, you'll ensure that you don't waste any of the sauce that's stuck to the sultanas.

 If the sauce looks too thick, add a little water and allow everything to simmer until your vegetables are cooked through. Add your tomato puree and stir it in, then take the sauce off the heat and chuck the yogurt in there too. Hopefully your pan isn't so hot that the yogurt splits, but even if it does, it doesn't affect the flavour.

Serve with rice, I hope it's nice!

I make this meal out at costing £1.95. That's ridiculous.

P.s: I hope, dear reader, that you have noticed my literary prowess in this blogpost - namely, my use of rhyme and alliteration. I'm rather proud of it.

P.p.s: I hope that my generalisations about what being "British" means don't cause anyone any offence, they were merely added for dramatic effect.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

A summertime stew and a week in Almeria.

Phew...it's not half been warm! All over Britain last week, women donned their bikinis and men turned their legs pink. There are rumours that we've already had the hottest day of 2011. All of the idiots that went abroad for their Easter holidays ended up with less sunny memories than those that stayed behind.

Well, my mother and I were among the idiots the jetted off: we spent Easter week hiking in Almeria, on the south coast of Spain. We had an incredible time, walking through desert mountains, breathing the thyme scented air that surrounded us, and falling in love with that beautiful part of the world.

I don't regret missing the sunshine here in the UK.

So having filled you in, oh imaginary reader, on why I haven't posted for over a week, I am free to tell you about today's recipe.

Anyone who has ever been skint knows that beans are the best friend of the frugal cook. They're filling, full of protein and cheap. Not only that, but sometimes I get a real and significant craving for them. Frequently, these days, I seem to lust after the creamy, earthy texture of pulses.

Following the lead of my Father, who seems to do nought these days but cook pork and bean stews, I satisfied my craving for beans with a rich and tomatoey dish, full of flavour and texture.

I helped to make this stew a little cheaper by buying a pack of pork shoulder steaks for just over £2.50 and chopping them up myself. The marbling in this cut of pork is perfect for a stew, (all the fat melts away and leaves the meat tender and juicy), and it's always cheaper to buy and chop, as we know.

Pork and bean casserole.

1 onion
4 pork shoulder steaks - chopped
1tbsp flour
1 tin mixed pulses
A glug of red wine
1 tin tomatoes
A squirt of tomato puree
A handful of spinach

Chop the onion into wedges and chuck them with a glug of oil into a reasonably deep pan with a lid. While that's happily sizzling and softening, start cutting up your pork steaks into sizeable chunks. Throw them in with the onions and let them brown.

Once that's done, add the flour to the pan and stir, to coat all of the meat. Drain the pulses and add them to the pan, along with a glug of wine, if you can. Allow the wine to cook off a little and add the tin of tomatoes, a squirt of tomato puree and about a mug of water. Mix well and bring to a simmer. The flour should cause the liquid to thicken but everything will still look a little thin. That's fine, just pop the lid onto your pan and leave the whole thing on a fairly low heat for about 45 minutes.

Because the lid's been on, the sauce should look quite thin still, so take it off and turn the heat up to a simmer again. Let the liquid reduce, once it's looking the sort of consistency you want, chuck your spinach in, allow it to wilt and season. Your rich and meaty stew is ready! I served mine with pasta, which was delicious.

This dish is comforting and warming, but not too heavy, which makes it a great summer dish. The amount served Mr Meat and I for two dinnertimes and one lunchtime, with generous portions all round. I calculate that it costs around £5 to make this whole thing, which works out at £1 per portion: get in.

Friday, 15 April 2011

An apology, and a special treat.

I've not been posting lately, and for that, I'm sorry, oh imaginary reader. My only excuse is that April is a terrible time of year. For students I mean.

Since I'm studying full time, but also working in a University, I'm acutely aware of the academic calendar. Easter-time is always manic, with late nights in the library, huge piles of exam timetables and mountains of essays to get through. This week I've written three, and I've not got a big workload.

But I'm sorry, reader, to have let you down. It's been beautiful and sunny in Britain, spring is finally here. We seem to have all spent the last couple of weeks in parks and green places, desperately trying to soak up as much sun as is humanly possible. We're such stereotypes aren't we?

So I expect everyone's been cooking beautiful spring-y dishes and I've not been here to jump in with a recipe or two. I'm sorry, but I will be updating you on my kitchen antics in the next few weeks, I promise.

So just a quick one for today, and it's a fish recipe. Fish is a bit of a treat for Mr Meat and myself, it's terribly expensive lately, and there are rarely leftovers, which I don't love. It's a very important part of our diets though, and it would be stupid to turn down all of the brain-assisting properties offered by our fishy friends at this terribly academic time of year. So if you've splashed out on a lovely bit of fish, here's a way of really showcasing it's freshness and it's fishiness.


Simply cooked fish

A beautiful bit of white fish, (I used one 400g bit of cod, which I cut into two bits for me and Mr Meat)
A lemon
A bit of butter
Root ginger

Although it's not an ingredient, you need some tinfoil or greaseproof paper for this.

Pop your bit of fish onto a square of tin foil or greaseproof, about a foot across. Grate over some salt and pepper, squeeze over the juice of a quarter of a lemon and top with a couple of slices of lemon, the chopped up ginger and garlic and a slice of butter, (I used olive oil in this picture because I'm on a health kick, but butter is tastier).

You know that dinner will be brilliant when it looks that beautiful and the process is so simple.

Crunch up the sides of the wrapping, whether it's tin foil or greaseproof. Screw up the edges nice and tight; you don't want any of the steam to escape when your dinner is cooking.

Give it 20 minutes in the hot oven, the fish should be crumbling and flaky. Delicious. Serve with salad and new potatoes. If you've paid around £4 for the piece of fish, like I did, then I think it's important to cook it in a way that shows off the flavour and freshness of it. 

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Spring chicken.

I'm desperate to get Mr Meat eating salad. I know I sound like a really bossy lady but I hate the thought that he misses out on such a lot of lovely dishes, because salad is not just about leaves. The change of season has made this clearer to me, because no-one wants to eat stews when it's warm! Today's dish is a spinach, potato and pea salad, served with chicken.

I don't know whether it's the parmesan, the herbs or the white wine vinegar on the salad, but there's something very fresh in the flavours of this dish. Everything balances beautifully, the flavours just seem to work.

I implore you to try this. It's a really nice way to prepare chicken breasts, (which seem to have got cheaper lately, or is it just me?), and they cook really quickly under the grill.  It's a great dinner for when you're tired or in a hurry, because it only takes about 25 minutes to do.

So without any further ramblings...

Parmesan chicken with spring salad.
Adapted slightly from the BBC Food iPhone application.

Two chicken breasts
1 egg
A few grates of parmesan
A handful or two of fresh spinach
A handful or two of frozen peas
Enough new potatoes to feed you both, (I used about 6)
A glug or two of olive oil
A glug of white wine vinegar

First, get the potatoes on to boil, give them 10 minutes. Break the egg into a bowl and whisk it up, seasoning with salt and pepper - I added herbs de provence too - and grate the parmesan onto a plate. Dip the chicken breasts first into the egg, then into the cheese, then whack them under the grill for 6 minutes on each side. The cheese will turn beautifully golden and the meat will feel firm to the touch.

Once the potatoes have had 10 minutes, add the peas and give it all another 3 minutes together. Drain them and pop them in a bowl, along with the spinach. Glug in the olive oil and the vinegar and sprinkle some salt and pepper over, then give it all a good toss, (you tosser!). Pile it onto a plate with the chicken on top.

By my reckoning, this meal costs £4 to make, pretty tasty! And just look at the colours, what a difference something green makes. Mr Meat loved it, I was chuffed!

A substitute summer.

I have had a manic week. It's been mental. Luckily, the beginnings of spring has cheered me and I'm feeling very positive. Isn't it amazing that a few buds on the trees can make everything suddenly seem so achievable? It's marvellous.

If summer's coming, then it's time for a picnic!

When Mr Meat and I were first together, he worked late shifts. We could only see each other in the evenings after ten o clock. During a rare heatwave, Mr Meat complained to me that he was missing the summer. Because I was feeling romantic, I decided to surprise him with a night picnic, with loads of picnic type treats laid out on a blanket in my living room. He said that it was the nicest thing that anyone had ever done for him, which may have been an exaggeration, but it made me happy. It was a nice thing to say.

Because it's not very warm in the U.K. yet, it's not quite time for a park-picnic, so I've settled for a carpet-picnic for now. Hopefully it's warm enough where you are to enjoy a picnic outdoors, here are some of my suggestions for nice picnic fare.

My perfect picnic foods

Fried halloumi
Tomato salad
Crusty bread
Pizza muffins
Cured meats
Chopped up fruit

How to make them

Fried halloumi

Cut the halloumi into slices about a centimetre thick and fry them in a good glug of olive oil. Squeeze lemon juice over the top while it's cooking, if you like.

Tomato Salad

(Really nice served with the halloumi and crusty bread.) Just chop up some nicely ripe tomatoes, season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil.


Fry some king prawns in butter with a couple of crushed garlic cloves and a chopped up chilli.

Pizza muffins

200g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
2 eggs
A few big glugs of olive oil
A pinch of salt
A few tomatoes, maybe 3 or 4
Some dried oregano
Half a mozzarella ball
A few grates of parmesan
1tsp tomato puree

Preheat your oven to 180c. Mix together the flour, baking powder, salt and oregano, before beating in the eggs and enough olive oil so that everything starts to loosen up. It'll still be thicker than normal muffin mix though, so I added a couple of tablespoons of water. Just keep going until you get the right consistency, (which should be like thick double cream). Once that's done, tear up the mozzarella, chop up the tomatoes and add them to the mixture along with the tomato puree and a couple of grates of parmesan. Mix it all to incorporate, pour into a muffin tin and bake for about 20 minutes, until they're beautiful and firm and golden.

These things make up my perfect picnic, which I think is a glorious thing. What a treat.

Happy summer.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Birthday cake?

Baking a cake always reminds me of a childhood friend. Our games growing up always seemed to involve food. We'd buy a load of sweets and chocolates from the corner shop and make some sort of concoction with them, or, more often, we'd bake a cake. When I'm baking these days, I always think about the moment when my friend said these fateful words: "Why do we need to follow a recipe? Just put in a bit of flour, a bit less sugar, some eggs, some butter, mix it up until it looks right, then bake it in the oven."

And lo, my style of baking was born.

I knocked one together last night for a fellow lover of Germany, Justine, whose birthday it was. I'm convinced that there's no nicer cake than birthday cake, and I think that she was pleased with it!

Baking is incredibly simple - don't let anyone tell you otherwise.


125g Flour
125g Sugar
125g Soft butter
2 Eggs
Vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to about 180c. Mix all of the ingredients together in a big bowl with a wooden spoon. Pour into a greased cake tin, or two greased sandwich tins and bake for about 25 minutes or until golden and shrinking away from the edges of the pan.

That is how easy it is to make a cake. I iced mine with strawberries. For the filling I whipped up half a pot of cream and a couple of tablespoons of sugar, then I folded a few chopped strawberries into it. For the icing on top I mixed one tablespoon of jam, two or three tablespoons of icing sugar and some boiling water.

Baking your own cake is such a fun and rewarding way to cook. It's really easy and cheap to do too, so why not do some baking on your next day off?

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Leftovers Lasagne.

I love lasagne. Something about the combination of rich and oozing cheese sauce and the tart umami flavours of the ragu is just so satisfying and calming. This is a dish which is really easy to sneak extra veg into, and since the meat is shredded, it's easily bulked out with lentils. 
Since moving in with Mr Meat, I've been thinking up and researching ingenious ways to use leftover meat, in order to develop recipes that are rich in animal protein, but go easy on the wallet. One of my tactics is to serve a big roast dinner on the weekend, something like chicken or pork, and use up the leftovers to make cheap suppers later in the week. That's how I get milage out of my meat.

My favourite way to use up leftover roast pork is to shred it up and use it in a ragu, which I put into lasagne. The texture is so much more chewable and satisfying than an ordinary lasagne made from minced beef, and the flavour is meatier and more savoury.

Please forgive me though, dear reader, for not using fresh basil in this dish. Sainsbury's didn't bring me any on the last few online shops that I have done. There is no basil in my house, otherwise it would be included. If you've got some, then rip it up and add it to the ragu sauce. Lovely.

Don't be tempted to use a jar of sauce here, by the way. A jar of "Classic Lasagne" from Dolmio costs £1.90.
£1.90 for a load of oil and sugar? No thanks. Spend 30p and buy a tin of tomatoes instead, then feel smug that you have cooked your dinner all by yourself.
As for buying white sauce in a jar? Don't get me started. White sauce takes less than ten minutes to cook.

This lasagne is one of my favourite dishes, you won't be disappointed. It's delicious.

Jen's leftovers lasagne.

1 Onion
A few cloves of garlic
Leftover vegetables, (I used chopped red cabbage, which added a lovely colour and texture, but you could use anything really)
Leftover roast pork, (or mince if you have no leftovers)
Lentils of some kind
1 tin of tomatoes
Balsamic vinegar
A glug of red wine
About a tablespoon of butter
Two tablespoons of flour
About a pint of milk (though probably less)
About a two square inch piece of a cheese of your choice, (I used gloucester)
Lasagne sheets

Chop your onion up and get that frying on a medium heat until it's soft and golden, then throw your garlic, finely chopped, in there too, along with your leftover veg. Let it all cook for a few minutes while you shred your pork. Simply lay it on a board and chop it as finely as you can, until you have a reasonable amount of meat to use in your ragu.

When your meat is ready, add it to your pan along with your tin of tomatoes, a splash of balsamic vinegar and a glug of your red wine. Get this up to a simmer and cover.

While your ragu is simmering, make your white sauce. Pop your butter into a small saucepan, melt it down and add some flour. It should form a very thick paste, almost a dough. Cook it for a few minutes until it turns straw coloured, and add your milk. You need to do this bit by bit, stirring all the time, (I use a whisk), as the mixture is prone to lumps. Bring the liquid to a simmer for a few minutes.
If it's looking too watery, simmer it until it thickens. If it's too thick, just add some more milk. If you're worried about it because it's got loads of little lumps in it, try not to panic too much. Adding cheese to the sauce helps the lump situation, and remember that you're baking the whole thing, so any mistakes won't be too obvious!

Once you get your sauce to the consistency that you want, (it should be lovely and thick, like double cream), add the cheese, salt and peper. Stir it all through until the cheese melts into the sauce and give it a quick taste. Add more of anything if you think it's needed.

Check on your ragu. Is it nice and tomatoey, are the vegetables tender and are the lentils cooked? Yes? Then add salt and pepper and taste for seasoning. If the sauce is too watery, simmer it for a few minutes with the lid off to thicken. You definitely don't want a watery sauce in there!

Preheat your oven to 180c; you're ready to build your lasagne.

Cover the bottom of an oven-proof dish with about half of the ragu sauce,  ensuring that it's completely covered. Layer lasagne sheets over the top. Pour just under half of the cheese sauce over the lasagne sheets and grate a little parmesan over that, then arrange a pile of spinach on top. Cover the spinach leaves with the rest of the ragu sauce, using every last morsel, then pop some more lasagne sheets on there. Finish with the rest of the cheese sauce, some more grated cheese, salt and pepper, and pop into the oven.

After about 45 minutes, you should have a beautiful, golden, bubbling dish of pasta, tomatoes, cheese and meat. What a joy to behold.

This meal feeds Mr Meat and I handsomely for two nights. The overall cost of the whole lasagne is around £3.50, which works out at £1.75 per meal! I reckon that's pretty frugal. Well done me.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Roast pork and all that came after.

I'm not feeling very well today. The combination of great friends, great music and disgusting amounts of alcohol has resulted in quite a delicate and slow paced Sunday.

I suppose that's what Sundays are all about.

Lots of love to the girls, there are three of them. The girl who got bled on, the girl whose camera was stolen and the girl who disappeared. It was a pleasant evening.

Perhaps the night was such a success because I began it with a fantastic dinner. Start as you mean to go on.

Pork shoulder is pretty affordable. It's normally about £4, but there are loads of leftovers. This little piggy will make sandwiches and a lasagne before it's done. This roast is delicious too, I hope you like crackling.

Roast pork with gravy
Adapted from Jamie Oliver's recipe.

A pork shoulder joint
Salt and pepper
Red wine

Score the skin of your pork: make cuts about an inch apart that aren't deep enough to reach the meat. Rub salt into the skin and grind some pepper on. Season the underside of your pork as well.

Now heat your oven to 220c and pop the piggy wig in for half an hour. After that time is up, cover it with a double layer of tin foil, turn the oven down to 160c and pop it back in for four and a half hours. After this time the meat will be falling apart. Remove the foil and put it back in the oven again for another hour.

Aah, beautiful melting meat. Hello.

Take the pork out of the roasting tin and lay it on a serving plate, cover it to keep warm while you make the gravy and sort out the other bits and bobs that you'll be serving for dinner.

Pour a some boiling water into the roasting tin and try to get all of the browny black bits scraped up, add about a teaspoon of flour to this and give it a few minutes to cook off, then transfer into a saucepan. Pour in a good glug of wine and a bit more boiling water and bring the gravy to the boil. Allow it to reduce down to the consistency that you want it, season and serve.

In 6 hours, you have turned an ordinary piece of meat into something beautiful. Enjoy.

I like to serve pork with red cabbage, because it reminds me of Germany, a country that I love.

Red cabbage with apple.

1 onion
1 eating apple
Half a red cabbage
Balsamic vinegar
Apple juice

Fry the onion until it goes soft and golden, then chuck in the apple, peeled and cut into cubes, and the cabbage, cut into chunks. Give it a few minutes, then add about a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, about half a cup of apple juice, salt and pepper. Turn the heat down, plonk the lid on and leave for an hour or two. It will turn from this:

To this:

It's delicious, I promise.

Now you have something truly spectacular to serve with a nice mound of mashed potato, I can't think of many things that are better.

Now that, reader, is a dinner and a half.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Memories of India.

A couple of years ago, I went on a cooking trip to India. It was incredible. I was inspired by the amazing apititude for food that the people there seem to have. Everything that I ate during those weeks seemed a thousand times more flavoursome than anything that I ever had back at home. I can't wait to go back.

This child knew how to eat a mango.

I spent a lot of my time in India in Beena's kitchen, watching her cook. Beena was my cooking teacher. She didn't really speak any English and so most of my lessons were conducted through the art of mime.

Although we didn't talk much, I liked Beena. She enjoyed cooking and she was really very comfortable around food. She laughed at my attempts to make chappati; I had nothing like her effortless ability.

I think about Beena every time I cook Indian food at home, mainly because I still use the beautiful spice box that she gave me, but also because I feel a little bit guilty that my dishes are not as authentic as I know that they should be. That's why I've used the word "style" in the name of this dish; because I know that what I've cooked is not quite chicken tikka.

It's still pretty good though.

I made this curry this morning using the thighs and legs from the whole chicken that I bought and jointed earlier this week. It's such a cheap way of eating chicken, if you want to try it, there are instructions here.

I've packed this dish into a lunchbox to eat while I do the late shift tonight at work. I left lots in the fridge for Mr Meat to heat up when he gets home. Is he lucky or what?

Chicken tikka style curry.

Chicken thighs and drumsticks
Tomato paste
Garam Masala
Sunflower oil
1 Onion
3 Cloves of garlic
Cumin seeds
Coriander powder
Chilli (I use frozen but fresh is obviously better)
A tin of tomatoes
Sweet potato (I normally put normal potato into a curry but I was feeling flush this week)

Marinate your chicken. Put the bits that you're using into a tupperware box or into a bowl, mix together a few tablespoons of the yogurt with the tumeric, garam masala, the tomato paste and about a tablespoon of sunflower oil and pour the lot over the chicken. Close the lid on the tupperware and give it a shake, or if it's in a bowl, stir it around until everything is coated.

Leave that in the fridge overnight for best results.

When you want to cook your curry, finely slice the onion and chop the garlic. Fry in the sunflower oil on a low heat until it all goes golden and caramelised. While you're doing that, pop the marinated chicken into a hot pan to brown and turn your oven on to 180c.
The skin needs to be crispy and flavoursome, give it plenty of time on each side and don't move it around too much; you want the meat to pick up gorgeous singed bits.

Lovely. By now, your onions and garlic should be ready. Pop the cumin seeds, coriander powder and chilli in there, along with a little bit more garam masala. Fry for a minute to allow the oils in the spices to warm through, the kitchen will smell really nice now. Pour the spiced yogurt that you marinated the chicken in into your onions and spices and cook off for a few minutes. It will start to look like it's splitting, but trust me, it'll taste brilliant by the time you're done with it!

Throw your tin of tomatoes in there, if they're not chopped ones then break them up a bit. Add about a cupful of water, a handful of lentils and your sweet potato. Bring to the boil and turn down to a simmer.

Is your chicken looking lovely and brown and finger-licking? I hope so. Chuck it into an ovenproof dish and cover with foil, shiny side down, before putting it into your pre-heated oven. Leave it in there for about 30-40 minutes while your sauce simmers, just to make sure it's cooked through. You can't be too sure with chicken, and the marinade will help to keep it moist.

When the time's up, you're ready to serve. Spoon some sauce onto a bed of rice and lay the chicken on top. I like a bit of plain yogurt with my curry so I always pour some over, followed by some black pepper.

Beautiful. This meal costs around £3.19 if you joint a chicken for the drumsticks and things. If you buy them, it'll cost around £3.69, I reckon.

Chicken soup for the soul.

I seem to always be cooking heavy, rich meals to fill my man's belly. He says he likes "shovel-able" food; stuff that takes little effort to take from plate to fork to mouth. That's all well and good, (very satisfying, in fact, during the cold winter that we've been having), but with the scent of spring in the air and the beginnings of leaves on the trees, I wanted something fresh to fill my bowl.

Chicken noodle soup is a meal that lifts my spirits. The zingy citrus kick that comes from the lemon juice, the deep savoury flavours that come from the sesame oil and the soya sauce... This is a thing of beauty.

As usual, this is also a meal of frugality. It makes me quite angry to think of all the households across the world that throw away the carcass of the bird that they ate for sunday lunch. How wasteful. They obviously have never been taught how to make stock! It's the simplest thing, and yet it's so rewarding.

The result of this process can be used in countless different ways. Use the stock to make a casserole for a really meaty flavour, or to make a risotto that's so much more thick and glutenous than anything you could  achieve with a cube.

You could always simply use the stock to make an incredible soup, full of flavour and goodness. That's what I've done with it on this occasion.

I am not suggesting by any means that we should always use real stock in the place of a  cube when cooking, as that would make so many dishes arduous and expensive to make on a weekday. Some things, however, really need to be made with real stock. For chicken noodle soup, the broth is the focal point of the meal; it's where all of the flavour lies. Even with the best ready-made stock that you can buy, you'll never find anything as satisfying as the one you that make yourself. So roll up your sleeves guys, it's soup time!

Chicken noodle soup.

Two chicken breasts, skin removed
Soya sauce
Sesame oil (not really crucial but does give an authentic flavour)
A few cloves of garlic
Two onions
A few bay leaves
About 8 peppercorns
Chinese five spice
Chilli, (either fresh or frozen, I use frozen)
Any veg you fancy, (I used mushrooms, frozen peas and fresh spinach)
1 nest of noodles per person
A chicken carcass, leftover from your roast chicken

Find your biggest saucepan and put your chicken carcass in there. Add one onion, halved (don't bother with peeling; you won't be eating it, it's just for flavour), a couple of bay leaves, a few peppercorns, if you have them, and some salt. You can put anything else in there that you like, or that you have lying around: celery, leftover leeks, leftover carrots, tomatoes, lemon halves. I actually put the rind from a block of parmesan into this batch, it's a good way to use it up and lends a great depth of flavour to the stock.

Fill the pan up with water and set it to boil, then turn the heat down. As the lovely Nigel Slater says: "this is important - the liquid bubbles only very gently. What you should hear is a blob, blip, blop rather than hubble bubble." Well said Nigel! Follow this advice and leave the pan for about an hour and a half or two hours. The liquid should be a clear amber colour and should smell richly chicken-y. You can do this a few days in advance if you like. I sometimes set my stock boiling while I'm watching a film or something, it's a really low maintenance thing to cook.

Marinate the chicken. Pop the breasts into a normal soup bowl and add a tablespoon or two of soya sauce, another few tablespoons of sunflower oil and a teaspoon of chinese five spice. Mix that up and put it in the fridge for an hour or two until you need it again.

Once your stock is nearly ready, or whenever if you made the stock the night before, start preparing the veggies for the soup. Slice your onion and your garlic and put them into your second largest saucepan with a glug of sunflower oil. Fry them on a medium heat, stirring often, so that they turn a beautiful golden colour. Chuck your veg and the chilli in there, (apart from frozen peas and spinach if you're using them, as they're best to go in last), let it all cook for a few minutes. Once it's looking lovely and flavoursome, add some chinese five spice and some sesame oil. It'll start to smell lovely now.
Pour your stock in there and mix it all up. Get it boiling and add some soya sauce, before throwing your noodles in too.

Give your noodles a few minutes to cook, mine needed 4 but check the instructions on your packet. Your soup is nearly ready! Let it simmer while heat up a griddle pan - or a frying pan if you don't have one, it's only to make pretty ridges in the meat.

Thank you to Mr Meat's mum for the beautiful Le Creuset griddle pan that she bought me. It goes to excellent use.

One your pan is lovely and hot, carefully lay your chicken breasts into it and don't touch them for a few minutes. You don't need to put oil in the pan, you put oil in the marinade, remember?

I don't know about you, but I find it really hard to judge when chicken breasts are cooked, so I tend to err on the side of caution in terms of timings, and I cut into the meat just before serving to check that it's not pink in the middle.

After about 5 minutes, turn the chicken over, if you're using a griddle, it should have beautiful lines on it. I put a little slice of lemon on mine to impart a little bit of flavour. Plus it looks pretty in a photograph.

When your chicken is cooked through, put your last minute vegetables into the soup, if you're using any. Things like spinach will only need a couple of minutes. Take your cooked breasts and lay them on a chopping board, slice them thickly with a sharp knife - this is a good time to check that there are no pink bits in there.

Take a few forkfuls of noodles and put them into a shallow bowl, lay your sliced chicken on top and cover the whole thing with a couple of ladlefuls of broth. Your delicious dinner is ready. Enjoy!

I make this meal out to cost £5.77. The chicken breasts are the expensive part, without a doubt. There are a few ways around that.

  • You could use leftover shredded meat from a roast chicken. 
  • You could use any cut of chicken, including thigh which is very cheap.
  •  You could do what I did: buy a whole chicken on sale and joint it yourself. 
My whole chicken was £3, therefore the breasts come to about £1.50. The real cost of this meal for me was £4.27, and there are plenty of leftover noodles for my lunch today.

I wonder if Mr Meat enjoyed his dinner?

Ah. That'll be a yes then.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

A simple supper of glory.

Some dishes are just right. They sometimes hold childhood memories, they sometimes epitomise comfort, sometimes a dish is simply what you want.

Spaghetti bolognese was all of those things and more for me last night. It seemed that I really needed the comfort of the buttery pasta and the ray of sunshine that comes from the tangy and fresh, yet deeply savoury sauce.

I'm sure that spaghetti bolognese was a childhood favourite of yours too, and I'm sure that you've made it before. According to the daily mail, 48% of us eat spag bol at least once a month. The reason that I'm posting this recipe is that it's perhaps a tiny bit different; I like to emphasise the umami flavour of the tomatoes with a splash of balsamic vinegar, and of course I bulk the meat out with plenty of vegetables.

If this is a staple dinner in your home, but you usually make it out of a jar, I hope to convert you to home cooking with this recipe tonight. Not only is it cheaper, but the home cooked bolognese sauce is much less fattening and miles tastier. I hope that you agree.

Spaghetti Bolognese.

1 onion
2 cloves garlic
Any leftover veg that you have lurking around, (I used a leek, some mushrooms and a few red lentils)
1 pkt beef mince (Sainsbury's always seem to have a 2 for £5 offer on)
1 tin tomatoes, (I use peeled tomatoes because they're normally cheaper)
1/2 a stock cube
A glug of red wine
A splash of balsamic vinegar

Warm a good glug of olive oil up in a nice deep frying pan and slowly fry your onions and your garlic until they soften. If you're using a leek like me, chuck that in now too.

Once everything is starting to look lovely and soft, put your packet of mince in there. Break it up and get it nice and brown. Chop up your veg and pop them in the pan. Give it all a few minutes and then add your tin of tomatoes. If you've gone for peeled ones, just break them up as the sauce cooks.

Give it all a stir to incorporate, add your wine and your vinegar. (If you have to only use one, I would go for the vinegar.) Pop about a cupful of water in there too, and the crushed up stock cube. Give it all a stir and allow to simmer and reduce...

After about half an hour, or perhaps a little longer, it will start to look beautiful and rich and it will smell fantastic. Give it a quick turn of salt and pepper and your dinner's ready! Serve the sauce on a bed of spaghetti, as is standard. I like to melt a little knob of butter on top mine. That's the way it was served to me on holiday in Italy once and it was lovely.

Of course, we all know what the perfect accompaniment to this dinner is...

Garlic bread?!
(Watch this video if you don't get that reference.)

A small baguette
About 4 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp soft butter
Salt and pepper

Chop the garlic up very small and beat it into the butter, then season the mixture well. Slice your baguette into a sort of concertina: make cuts half an inch apart nearly to the bottom of the bread but not quite, so that it stays together. 

Shove a knifeful of the garlic butter paste between each slice of the baguette. Wrap the bread in tinfoil and bake it in the oven on high for about half an hour. It will be golden, crunchy and glistening. You will never buy ready made garlic bread again.

Doesn't that just look gorgeous? Garlic bread from a packet costs £1.50. A small baguette costs 40p. The other ingredients would probably be in your kitchen anyway.
My spag bol costs around £3.58 to make and it fed us for two nights. Yes please.

Seriously, would you say no to that dinner? No, you wouldn't. Nor would Mr Meat.