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.