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.


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.

Easy vegetarian chilli

I was feeling a bit ropey last week so my meals were of the very lazy variety. The children had oven chips three nights on the trot (bad mother). One night I didn’t get my act together in time and poor Husband went off to play a game of hockey without having had his supper. There was very little fresh food left in the house because I hadn’t been shopping but I had to make something, I was hungry too! By the time he came back I had managed to concoct this chilli. I think we were eating it at about 10pm, that’s how behind I was.

This is a very adaptable recipe but in it’s basic form it is a staple, store cupboard standby. What is more, if you ever have a dinner guest who is a coeliac vegan, you will be able to feed them cheaply and easily.

The most important bit of kitchen equipment you need to make this is a tin opener, that’s how easy it is. This recipe was given to me at least 20 years ago by someone who said they had discovered it during their student days. I can’t say I’m surprised really.

Here are the very basic ingredients:

1 tbsp veg oil

1 onion, sliced or diced

1 tsp mild chilli powder or more chilli to taste

1/2 tsp chilli flakes (optional – I like this combination of mild chilli for flavour and the flakes for a bit of ‘kick’)

1 to 2 cloves of garlic or a squirt of garlic puree

1 tin red kidney beans

1 tin chickpeas

1 tin baked beans

1 tin chopped tomatoes

vegetable stock cube (check if your guest really is a coeliac, some stock cubes contain wheat)


Heat the oil in a medium sized saucepan and fry the onion gently.

When it has softened a little, add the chilli and garlic and fry for  a few minutes.

Now open all the tins of beans and tomatoes and add them to the pan.

Sprinkle the stock cube into the mixture and add a splash of boiling water

Allow the combined ingredients to heat through.

Serve with rice/baked potato/fajita wrap

Optional Extras….

Right, that was the very basic bare bones of this recipe. I almost always add other things. Here are some examples:

A splash of red wine after frying the onions and spice.

Extra vegetables, for example diced carrot, celery, peppers or courgette.

You can substitute or add any tinned beans, though I think the baked beans give the sauce a nice richness.

Sometimes I add some mixed herbs but what I like the most is fresh coriander. In the days when I was organised, I used to buy fresh coriander and chop and freeze any left over in ice cubes. Nowadays I just buy it ready frozen. It’s a very handy thing to have available.

When serving up, all the usual mexican style accompaniments are appropriate; sour cream, salsa etc. If we are eating this meal, the chances are the cupboards are bare so fancy additions are also unavailable. In this case we usually just add a sprinkling of grated cheddar cheese on top.


P.S. It freezes well and can actually be eaten just on it’s own as a bean casserole, I tend to thin it down a little with stock in that case.

Soup, it’s as easy as pie

Hi there folks, now that term has started again I am back into my proper routines. Heck, I’ve even been cooking today. I feel like I have been out of the kitchen for a few weeks because I tend to leave the Christmas stuff to the Husband. Don’t feel too sorry for him, he was a chef in a previous lifetime and actually misses getting his hands dirty. May I say, he did sterling work over Christmas, much better than I could.

Today, I decided that some soup was in order. There were several reasons for this.

Reason 1: I have ‘over veged’ in my shopping. I was a bit out of the loop with what food we had in the house, what with Husband doing the cooking and having been away for a few days. I didn’t realise how much of my Mum’s bargain (think 4p a bag), pre-Christmas veg was still around and in good condition.

Reason 2: After the feasting of Christmas, my system is crying out for some nice, simple, veg based food.

Reason 3: After the spending of Christmas, my bank account is crying our for some nice, cheap, veg based food.

Reason 4: Babykins has been living off jars of pre-made baby food lately. I’m not keen on that stuff and it is an expensive way to feed a child. However, he does seem to have quite a penchant for soft, mushy stuff at the moment and wolfed down the veg soup that Husband knocked up on Boxing day.

If, like me, you are feeling the pinch, either in the waistline or in the purse, soup is a godsend.

Here is my recipe for Carrot, Lentil and Cumin Soup and/or Baby Food:

275 of carrots, peeled and chopped

1 onion, sliced

2 sticks of celery, chopped

100g of dried, red lentils

2 tsp of ground cumin

1 vegetable stock cube or equivalent

small slosh of vegetable oil

Serves 2 or 3 adults

See, I told you the veg was 4p

Sturdy, sharp knives. No kitchen should be without them

Any veg stock will do. I just happen to like this one

Er, it doesn’t say anything about carrots

I had to slip a macro picture in somewhere

By the way, did you know that lentils are a good source of protein and iron? When served with rice, all essential amino acids are present. The iron in lentils is slightly harder to absorb than the iron in red meat. Whatever the source, vitamin C is required for the body to absorb iron. The carrots in this soup will provide some (though they are better known as a source of vitamin A) but you could finish your lunch with an orange, just to hedge your bets.

Gently frying the onion and celery

As you can see from the pictures, the veg was chopped fairly roughly. Since I always planned to blitz this soup, the size of the chunks wasn’t critical. Of course the more uniform they are, the more easy it will be to cook them without burning. If you are prepared to keep stirring at the frying stage it shouldn’t be a major problem.

After the veg has been prepared, gently fry the onion and celery in the oil in a medium sized pan. When it has softened a bit, add the cumin and stir for a few more minutes. Add the carrots, lentils, stock cube and enough boiling water to cover everything and then a bit more. If you are in doubt go for less water, you can always add more later. The lentils will soak some up during cooking. If you intend to use your soup predominantly as baby food, I would suggest using less water as you will obviously end up with a thicker result. You could also add a little rice (really, just a little, no more than two tablespoons), or more lentils. More on that later. Here is what mine looked like:

Let everything simmer away for 20 to 30 minutes or until the carrot and lentils are cooked. If you’ve never cooked lentils before, they should be soft and broken up, with only a little bit of ‘bite’.

Finally, blitz your soup in whatever way you see fit. I tend to use a simple stick blender because it is easy to use and easy to clean. If you are at the stage in life where you are preparing a lot of baby food, it is a great tool to have in the kitchen.

At this stage you should really taste your soup and decide if you want it to have salt and pepper, a touch more stock or water or maybe, if you are feeling decadent, a bit of cream. I was happy with mine just as it was.

Now, for the baby food part. There are different schools of thought on this. If you are an advocate of baby-led weaning, you will need to make your soup quite thick as your baby will be feeding it to him or herself on a spoon (see here if you don’t believe this is possible). If you are happy to shovel it in yourself, you can make it as thick as you think necessary. I’m afraid at the moment we are having a ‘shovel  it in’ phase, despite my best intentions. I let my soup down a bit with some milk, to make it a little milder and then thickened it with baby rice. If you made your soup thick in the first place you may not need to do this. Baby rice is a bit of a cheat. It’s relatively expensive but it thickens things quickly and easily.

I’m sure in a proper, fancy recipe book they would finish this soup off with a sprinking of toasted cumin seeds, a drizzle of ‘good’ olive oil, a blob of creme fraiche and a herby garnish. I just ate mine as it was and enjoyed it very much.

I’m pleased to say Babykins did too.

I tried to get a shot with him opening his mouth. Have you ever tried to get ‘that’ picture with a phone camera and feed a baby at the same time? I’d like to see your results.