Cheap Dinners: Tomato Risotto with Butter Beans.

Lately I’ve been feeling less and less like eating meat. I haven’t given up eating it but I just don’t feel inspired by cooking meat dishes.

I also find that if I need a quick meal, meat is not my friend. I tend to buy meat cuts that are better cooked long and slow, because they are cheap. I rarely have chicken breasts in my fridge or freezer.

However, I ALWAYS have tinned tomatoes, rice and usually some sort of tinned bean. Together they can be combined into a simple, nutricious supper.

Here is what you need.

1 onion diced

2 small cloves of garlic diced very finely

tablespoon of tomato puree

25g butter

1 tbs oil

250g risotto rice

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 tin butter beans

IMG_5034Gently fry the chopped onions and garlic in the oil and butter until soft. It’s very important to do this well because you don’t want hard, sharp tasting onions in the final dish.

Add the rice and mix well. Fry the rice for a few minutes and then add the chopped tomatoes a splash of boiling water and a tablespoon of tomato purée.

Allow the mixture to simmer and stir frequently or it will stick. You may need to keep adding a little more boiling water.

When the rice is cooked it should be soft and without ‘bite’. Stir in the beans and allow them to heat.

Season with salt and pepper. I garnished mine with a little grated parmesan and a small blob of wild garlic pesto but basil pesto would be nice too.

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There are a million ways you could change this recipe – more onions, different beans, some herbs, diced chopped vegetables, a few frozen peas or sweetcorn. In it’s most simple form it is cheap, cheerful, tasty and nutritious – I’m sure I heard someone once say that all the amino acids a person needs can be found in a combination of rice and beans. So, if you’re stuck for a quick meal, this could be just the thing.

What to do with left over egg whites?

Last week I finally made some gooseberry ice cream. The recipe I use calls for egg yolks, but not the whites. Unfortunately I miscalculated the quantities I was making so when all the ice cream was packed away in the freezer, I had eight egg whites to use up.

whisked egg white

Lemon meringue pie? Making a pastry case is too much effort.

Lots of egg white omelettes? Nice, but no good if you want to use them all up at once.

Angel food cake or some other whipped cake? Apparently the egg whites need to be at room temperature for a good result and mine were chilled.

Coconut haystacks? Just the thing, quick, easy and I happen to have bought a large amount of desiccated coconut recently.

This recipe is from a children’s cook book we were given a few years ago. I don’t feel too guilty about repeating it as it is a pretty generic, basic recipe. It does lend itself to baking with children because the whisking and mixing are pretty straightforward.

Coconut Macaroons

The basic ingredients are egg white, caster sugar and desiccated coconut.

I will give you the quantities for one egg white and you can multiply it up depending upon how many you need to use up.

1 egg white, 35g caster sugar, 70g desiccated coconut. This should make about seven.

Whisk the egg white until it forms stiff peaks. Whisk the caster sugar in a third at a time. Your mixture should now be quite shiny. Gently fold in the coconut using a metal spoon and a figure of eight motion trying to keep as much air in the mixture as possible.

Mould the mixture into heaps using an egg cup, removing them with a tea spoon. They should hold their shape well when cooked so you can fit quite a few on a baking tray at a time. We bake ours on a good quality non-stick tray but you could line a regular tray with some parchment. In either case a very light coating of oil will reduce the risk of them sticking.

Bake them for 15 minutes at 140C or gas mark 3. They should be golden brown on top when done. Lift them off using a spatula or palette knife and place them on a cooling rack.

coconut haystacks or macaroons

When they are cool, melt some chocolate by breaking it up and placing it in a bowl resting on top of a pan of boiling water. Either dip the macaroons into the melted chocolate so that half is covered or drizzle them with lines of melted chocolate.  Leave to cool again on a piece of greaseproof paper.

coconut haystacks macaroons chocolate

Enjoy as a gluten free treat with your coffee.

 

The best and easiest ice cream ever

strawberry ice creamThis recipe came from my sister-in-law and like most of the recipes we use in this house, it is quick, easy and adaptable. For the basic ice cream you will need:

Half a pint of double cream

400g tin of condensed (sticky) milk

Whip the cream until it forms stiff peaks. Be careful that you don’t over whip the cream as it can turn to butter in the blink of an eye. Fold the condensed milk into the cream and freeze.

That is it. No churning or mixing. Just freeze.

Now, the fun thing about this recipe is that you can flavour it in so many ways. My sister-in-law usually adds crushed crunchy bars to her ice cream so that was one of the first additions we tried. The combination of smooth ice cream and sweet, crispy, toasted sugar is delicious. Here are some of the other variations we have tried.

Chopped up After Eight mints (a bit like eating the mint Vienetta of my 80’s youth)

Chopped caramel bars (not so good – the caramel is too sticky).

Rum and raisin. The raisins were soaked in warm rum first and then folded in. Delicious.

Lemon curd. I think The Husband mixed some lemon curd right into the cream and he also  added some lemon ‘ripples’. Also delicious

Strawberry jam. As lemon, above and just as successful.

You can also adapt this recipe to use up excess fruit. For example, I’ve harvested over 15kg of strawberries in the last two weeks. We’ve been enjoying eating them on breakfast cereal, with clotted cream and scones and in smoothies but mainly, I’ve been making jam. However, one of my batches of jam never quite made it to the setting stage so I sieved it using my new/old vintage Kenwood mouli attachment and used it in a batch of ice cream. You could get a similar effect by using fresh strawberries. In fact, I used this recipe a few years ago and it was very good. It’s the same basic recipe as I got from my sister-in-law.

If I ever get around to picking the many gooseberries in our allotment I may try that variation too.

I hope you enjoy experimenting with this recipe. It’s not exactly healthy, but you only need a little bit of it for a very indulgent treat.

P.S. It’s too good for children.

 

Simple, leeky, cheesy risotto

In the interests of getting the allotment ready for spring, all our leeks have now been pulled up. Some of them were reasonably sized but mostly they were on the slim side. However, as with many things in life, size is not everything and our leeks were full of flavour. I have been enjoying them in various forms since the turn of the year (lemon, goats cheese and leek tart was my highlight) but last week I turned them into a cheesy risotto. What I really wanted was some pasta in a cheese sauce with sautéed leeks but having given up wheat for Lent, that was off the menu…

IMG_9311Here is my recipe. I ate this quantity all by myself (in my defence I have been running a lot further lately and that makes for hunger) but it would be enough for two if accompanied by a chunky salad.

150g leek

1 clove of garlic

5g butter

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

100g arborio risotto rice

125ml of white wine (optional – just add 125ml more stock if you don’t have any wine)

200ml of vegetable stock (I just use basic stock cubes)

50g mature cheddar cheese, finely grated (or whatever cheese you fancy, parmesan would likely work)

a few chopped walnuts to garnish

The first thing you must do with leeks is wash them very carefully. This means splitting them lengthwise from a few cm into the white part right through the leafier, green part. Put them, upside down, under cold, running water and gently clean the inner parts of the leaves, making sure there is no dirt or grit remaining. Shake the leeks to get rid of excess water then slice them. I like mine about half to one cm wide and I use the whole leek, white and green.

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Melt the butter in the vegetable oil and gently fry the leeks and garlic with the lid on the pan, lifting it now and again to stir.

When the leeks are softened, add the rice and stir well for a minute or two.

Add the wine and cook everything gently, stirring regularly so that the rice doesn’t stick. As the mixture becomes drier add more hot stock. Keep stirring and adding stock until the rice is cooked. It should be soft but still retain some bite. About the time that you add the last bit of stock, add the grated cheese too. It doesn’t matter if you put it in at the end, it will melt with the heat of the cooked rice.

Taste your risotto and add any salt or pepper you think necessary, or indeed, more cheese.

Serve with a sprinkling of chopped walnuts. Or a great big handful, like I did, if you prefer.IMG_9537

 

 

 

Cunchy, nutty, oaty, wheat free treats

Lent has never really meant much to me. I’ve never been one for ‘giving up’ but a few years ago I decided to give up wheat. The experience was an interesting one, interesting enough for me to repeat it last year and again this year. Although I can give up bread, biscuits and cake, it’s nice to have a little treat now and again. I have been playing around with this recipe for a while now. The original version is from ‘Yoga Mind and Body’ by the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre who also publish a yoga cookbook. It started life containing wholewheat flour and peanuts but they have gone now. If you are looking for a wheat free, egg free, dairy free recipe these flapjack style  biscuits are perfect.

flapjack mixture

Ingredients

250g oats

100g ground almonds

100g chopped nuts  – any you like, I have used pecan, brazil, hazel in various ratios

100g brown sugar

1 1/2 tsp mixed spice

1 1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon of baking powder

150ml vegetable oil

50ml milk,soya etc is fine if you want dairy free or water is fine.

Method

Heat the oven to 180 degrees C and lightly grease a swiss roll tin. Mix all the dry ingredients well. Add the oil and stir. Add the milk or water a little at a time, checking as you add it to see how well the mixture is sticking. It should be able to hold together reasonably well (see picture above). Press it into the tin, squashing it flat with the back of a spoon. Bake until it is golden brown, probably for 15 to 20 minutes. When the flapjacks come out of the oven they will still be soft. Mark them into appropriately sized pieces with a round bladed knife. Remove from the tin when they have cooled and hardened. Enjoy!

Note

You can play around with the proportions and types of spices that you use. Personally, I like quite a lot of ginger and not too much cinnamon.

flapjack in tin baked flapjack cut flapjack

Mud lovin’ puddin’

The husband has developed a taste for ‘mud running’. Today he did his second event, the Newcastle Stampede, which is organised by the British Heart Foundation. This is the state of his kit.
IMG_8444Since it was a cold, wet, grey day to be running and I needed to put the oven on for dinner anyway, I decided that he should have one of his favourite puddings. Baked rice pudding, like Mama used to make.

Baked Rice Pudding  ::  Serves 2-3 generously

2 oz or 50g pudding rice

1 oz or 25g sugar

half a pint or 225ml of milk

half a pint or 225ml of evaporated milk ‘Carnation’

butter to grease the dish

ground nutmeg sprinkled on top

Grease a shallow, lidded, oven-proof dish with the butter. Add the remaining ingredients and stir. Put the lid on and place in the oven at 160C, 325F or gas mark 3 for 2-3 hours. It is done when the top has formed a golden skin and the inside is creamy.

Mine was probably in the oven for a little bit too long. Such are the perils of taking the children out to a swimming party after you have turned the oven on.

IMG_8443No complaints were heard from The Husband though. Even I enjoyed it with a good splash of double cream on top and I detest tinned rice pudding. This is the real deal and it could hardly be easier to make. If your oven is going on anyway, for something like a slow cooked casserole this is the ideal dessert to pop in at the same time. Two dishes for the price of heating the oven.

What to do with courgettes

I love courgettes but they do have a tendency to appear as a glut. Especially when you have seven plants.

IMG_7709This was my haul last Friday.

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We have almost managed to eat up this batch. They have been sliced and fried in butter; griddled, layered with tomatoes and cheese and cooked in the oven like an aubergine parmigiana;

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IMG_7755 baked with a topping of smoked cheese and parmesan;

IMG_7757and grated into a chocolate cake.

IMG_7752When the courgette glut really gets going I like to preserve some of them in lemon juice and olive oil. We managed to make a batch of these last week when the weather was still at it’s warmest. The photos below show the process, the recipe is at the bottom. It takes quite a long time to complete the whole process but it can also be broken down into chunks of activity and as you may be able to see from the photos, the whole family can get involved. Even Babykins likes to brush the sliced courgettes with oil, though it is Son Number One who is in the picture.

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Courgettes Preserved in Lemon Juice and Oil

Juice and rind of 3 lemons. 

Up to 2.5kg of courgettes (big or small)

1 large onion, finely diced or 300g shallots

about 6 cloves of garlic (or up to a whole bulb if you are brave)

salt

fresh or dried herbs such as thyme, bay, oregano and perhaps a tablespoon of peppercorns

Approximately 500ml of olive oil, plus more for brushing over the courgettes before cooking

1. Slice the courgettes into long-ish pieces, 1/2 a cm thick and layer them in a bowl, sprinkled with salt. Rest them for about an hour then rinse and dry them.

2. While the courgettes are salting, finely slice the onion and garlic and sweat over a gently heat until translucent. Remove from the heat and set to one side.

3. Mix the lemon juice and rind with a tablespoon of salt in a large bowl. Add the cool onions and garlic and plenty of herbs.

4. Wash your jars in the hottest soapy water you can find. Rinse and place on a baking tray, the right way up. Put them in the oven and turn it on to 100 degrees C for at least 5 minutes. Ideally you want the jars to be hot when you pack them with the courgettes. You can use any recycled jars if the lids are clean and fresh. Personally, I find the golden syrup jars that Tesco sell their value golden syrup in are an ideal size. They are the round ones on the right in the picture below.

5. Before you cook the courgettes, brush them on both sides with oil. Heat up your griddle pan or fire up the barbecue. Cook the courgettes on both sides, covering them in nice, black, criss-crossing lines.

6. When the courgettes are cooked, place them in the lemon/onion/garlic/herb mixture. When they are cool enough, toss them all together, with your hands if necessary and then strain the courgettes, retaining the lemony juice in a measuring jug.

7. Begin to pack the courgettes into the jars. Use the end of a wooden spoon and some tongs to do this. Try to pack them in as tightly as possible. Fill the jars but not completely to the top. Leave a space so that they will be completely covered in oil.

8. Add olive oil to the lemon juice until you have 500ml of liquid. Place it into a pan and heat it to 80 degrees C (the oil will begin to boil) mixing it thoroughly, ideally with a whisk. Pour the hot oil/lemon mixture over the courgettes, sharing it out as equally as possible.

9. Make sure that the courgettes are completely covered with oil. Top up the jars with more if necessary.

10. These jars should store well right into the winter and make a quick and easy meal when mixed with pasta. They are also good on their own as a sort of antipasti.

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Sweet and creamy coconut, chickpea and vegetable curry

I am not a vegetarian but I really do like vegetarian food. I think that we probably eat a vegetarian main meal at least three times a week, sometimes more. Eating a vegetarian diet is linked with better health and it is usually much cheaper. I’d like to say that a vegetarian meal will have a much lower carbon footprint but I guess that depends on where your veggies come from. Apparently this week is National Vegetarian Week, so in honour of that, here is one of my most recent dinners.

I was inspired by this recipe at Attic 24, having used it quite a lot. I wanted an easy going meal, i.e. no last minute trip to the shops. Rummaging in my cupboard, fridge and freezer I found the following ingredients:

IMG_71171 large Red pepper (capsicum)

1 Courgette (zucchini)

4 Spring onions (scallions)

1 Tin of Chick peas

1 Tin of Coconut milk,

1teaspoon Ground Coriander

1teaspoon Ground Cumin

1teaspoon Garam Masala

About a 2cm ‘squeeze’ of Garlic Puree

1 Vegetable Stock Cube

1 tablespoon of mango chutney

1 tablespoon of coriander leaf (frozen)

As you can see, I chopped up the veg, ready to fry it gently, in a large pan, with the lid on. I think this is what cheffy types call ‘sweating off’. I also added the garlic and spices at this point. If you like your dinners a bit hotter, you could add your preferred amount of chilli at this point. If I was making this for just me and The Husband I would probably add about a teaspoon of mild chilli powder and about a quarter to a half a teaspoon of hot chilli powder. I think using both types gives depth of flavour and a bit of ‘kick’.

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When the vegetables were softened and the spices had released some flavour, I added the tinned chickpeas and coconut milk. I also added a vegetable stock cube and allowed everything to simmer for a while. Adding the mango chutney was an afterthought really that I remembered from the Attic 24 recipe. I just felt that more sweetness was needed. The last thing I added was the frozen, chopped coriander leaf. By the time that had defrosted I was ready to dish up.

I served it with boiled rice and steamed cauliflower. Again, if this had been a grown-ups only meal I would probably have added the cauliflower florets with the chickpeas and coconut milk but not all my children like them. I wish they did. We are experiencing a cauliflower glut at the moment. You can see them going to seed in the picture below.

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A word about rice. I only ever use easy cook rice – 1 cupful of rice to 2 cupfuls of cold water, bring to the boil and simmer until done. I have never had success when cooking basmati but if you want to try there are tips to be found here and here.

The thing is, a store cupboard recipe like this can be endlessly adapted. You can change the balance of spices for a subtly different flavour or add your own favourites. The vegetables you use will depend on what you’ve got to hand. I’ve used regular onion, spinach, butternut squash and aubergine for example. You could use a different kind of bean or lentil to provide the protein. It is also a good way to use up left-over meat if vegetarianism is not your thing. Finally, I think this qualifies as both vegetarian and vegan, being dairy free if you fry in a suitable oil, rather than butter.

So, happy National Vegetarian Week everyone!

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Cheap Dinners: Parsnip and Pea Risotto

IMG_6213This is a recipe more or less pinched from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Year book. The only difference is I tend to use basic ingredients and faff around less . Parsnip is lovely and sweet, which is often a good thing when it comes to feeding children. My lot scoffed their dinner last night without a single question. I estimate that it cost about £2 to make enough for my family of 2 adults and three young children (there must have been easily enough for 4 adults). You could add a bit more if you like grated parmesan cheese on top.

Ingredients

350g Arborio Risotto Rice

1 onion, finely diced

approximately 6 medium parsnips with the woody core removed and diced

1-2 cloves or garlic

150g frozen peas

vegetable stock (I think it was about a litre but I could be way off there)

Method

Cook the onion, garlic and parsnip in a large pan on a fairly low heat with the lid on, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Hopefully you will be softening them without adding colour and retaining plenty of moisture at the same time.

While you are doing this, get your stock ready. I make mine with either oxo cubes or powdered vegetable boullon. I make it in a jug and don’t worry about keeping it boiling like the purists say you should.

Now add the rice and stir it well. I’m sure traditional risotto recipes get you to gently cook the rice in butter etc but I just make sure it’s well stirred in.

Add a good slosh of stock and stir well. You should have just about covered the rice.

Keep the lid on the pan and let it simmer away gently but keep checking on it and giving it a stir – YOU DON”T WANT IT TO STICK TO THE PAN!!!

When the first lot of stock has been mostly absorbed, add the peas and another slosh of stock. If you are inexperienced with risotto you will have to add smaller amounts of stock and keep checking it more often. If you are used to making it you will probably have a handle on how much stock it will take to cook your rice.

Keep adding stock, stirring the rice and testing it regularly until the liquid is mostly absorbed and the rice is cooked. It should be soft but still retain a bit of ‘bite’. It will be sticky –  that is a good thing. Add salt and pepper if you like it.

Serve in a nice bowl with some parmesan cheese on top and a side salad or some steamed green vegetables.

Other Ideas…

The great thing about risotto is that you can fling pretty much anything at it. I think I added a little chopped red pepper last night. If you had some white wine that needed using up you could replace some of the stock with that. This is a good dinner for one – just use less of everything. If you like to prepare your meal in advance, you can chop the vegetables, measure out the rice and probably make the stock too. Then all you need to do is put it together and keep stirring. I must have done this many times with a baby on one hip (probably not a good idea really, either for you spine or the risk of burns). Finally, if you are feeding a baby or toddler it can be a good meal to practice using a spoon. The rice is so sticky that generally it stays put when they try to feed themselves.

Sorry this recipe is a bit vague. That’s the way I like them. Enjoy.

 

 

 

Quick comforting treats for Cold Days

I had a phase of making these dropped scones a few weeks back. They are very quick, very yummy and a bit like the little scotch pancakes you can buy in supermarkets. The main downside is that you have to keep small children well away from the making stage because it gets HOT! I must confess that this is not my own recipe, it is lifted from the Be-Ro Book (every home should have one – if you follow the link, you will find our how to order one). However, it must be such an old and generic recipe that I don’t feel too guilty about reproducing it here. Dropped Scones

100g (4oz) Self Raising flour

pinch of salt

50g (2oz) caster sugar

1 egg

milk to mix, approximately 4 tablespoons

Optional extras: – few drops of lemon essence – handful of dried fruit

1.Mix the flour, salt and sugar in a basin, add the egg and gradually beat in the milk to make a thick batter

2. Add any of the optional extras if you fancy them and mix well

3. Bake a few at a time (not too many they don’t take long) by dropping spoonfuls of the mixture on a hot, well-greased, heavy based frying pan or a ‘girdle’ if you’ve got one (not the Playtex 18 hour kind your granny used to wear). The Be-Ro book says the pan should be heated “until a little water sprinkled on the surface skips about in balls, evaporating.”

4. Cook until the underside is golden and there are little holes forming on top (see above) – it should only take a minute or two and you should be able to lift it with a palette knife or spatula. You should also see it rise slightly as it cooks.

5. Turn over and cook the other side.

6. Let them cool slightly and then eat, with or without butter.

Enjoy!