Thursday, 31 March 2011

Don't be afraid to experiment

This is a 'before cooking' view of a dish of sage and onion parsnips. We were heading off on holiday a couple of days after this was taken and I didn't want to have to buy anything new that might go to waste because we didn't have time to use it. 

I'd planned chicken and chips. It was a couple of leg portions of chicken that I'd frozen earlier (when I cooked a chicken a couple of weeks earlier). I defrosted them and gathered the remains of some spuds out of the cupboard. Then I had a gather up of what was in the fridge - two parsnips, half an onion and three tomatoes that had seen better days.

Here's how
Turn the oven on to 200 C to warm up. Put the chicken portions in a heatproof dish. Slice the spuds into chunks, place in a roasting tin and sprinkle a bit of cooking oil over them. Add some seasoning if you fancy it. Celery salt's good. Smoked paprika is too - though it might not go with the parsnips. Just a bit of salt and pepper would be good if you like. 

Cut the parsnips into chunky bits, slice the onion, chop the tomatoes. Put everything into an ovenproof dish and sprinkle it with a very small amount of oil. Add ground black pepper and some sage. (Sage and onion is perfect to go with chicken.)

When the oven reaches temperature, put the chips in and set a timer for 10 minutes. When the timer goes off, put the parsnips in and set the timer for another 10 minutes. When that one goes off put the chicken in and set the timer for 20 minutes. 

When that goes off stab the parsnips to see if they're cooked. If not, give it another five minutes and check again. Keep an eye on the chips to make sure they aren't burning. And there's your dinner.

I made this mixture because those were the ingredients I had. You can mix more or less any selection of veg and pick a different herb as you fancy.


Friday, 18 March 2011

Quick and easy: Soda bread

 Ever run out of bread and can't be bothered going shopping? Well this is the ideal stuff to solve your problem. Today I give you


You will need:
1lb flour (any old kind really. I mix plain and self raising)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder (or two each of bicarbonate of soda and cream of tartar)
1 oz margarine

10 fl oz (half a pint) milk, soured with 1 tabsp yoghurt

Switch on your cooker to 200C.
Measure out your dry ingredients then sift them into a large bowl.


Rub in the fat. And here's a useful tip. DON'T use both hands. If you use your non-dominant hand (my left) to hold the bowl and use your dominant hand to rub in the fat, if the phone rings, or someone comes to the door, you have a clean hand to use!

Next pour in the milk. You can add it all. I promise it won't be too wet. You might just need a dribble extra. Mix it in with a knife.


When it looks like this, turn it onto a floured board and knead it gently for no more than a minute.Shape it into a round and flatten it a bit before setting it onto a floured baking tray.

A pizza tray is perfect for cooking bread. After all, that's what pizza bases are.  Using a sharp knifecut a big cross in the top. You will see it start to rise straight away.

Bake it for 30 minutes till it goes brown. It will spread out like this. You should be able to slice it but ripping it apart is probably better. Great with cheese, meat, pate, jam, or practically anything that goes with ordinary bread!

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

I make a good soup

Introducing Potato Pete. He was a character from WWII who was designed to help people make more of the food that was available to them. Back then it was because enemy action prevented boats from bringing in supplies of foreign foods. These days it's useful to know because money's tight and getting tighter by the hour.

Luckily spuds are still cheap and plentiful and the weather's still cold enough to appreciate a bowl of soup. Soup's easy and even if you don't use potatoes as the main ingredient you can still use them to thicken other types.

1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 pint of stock (any kind)
1 tablespoon of flour
Glug of cooking oil
Salt and pepper
A few dried herbs (any you like)

Heat the oil in a heavy based saucepan and add the onions and potato. Fry gently for a few minutes until the onions start to soften. Add the flour and continue cooking for another minute or so. Stir well with a wooden spoon while you are doing that. 

Now add a splash of the stock and keep stirring until it blends in. Keep adding the stock a little at a time until it's all in the pan. If you don't add it a bit at a time and you don't stir well it will all go lumpy.

Sprinkle in the dried herbs and add salt and pepper.

Cover the pan and simmer the whole thing for about 20-30 minutes until the potatoes are soft. Allow to cool slightly then put it through a blender. Serve with a swirl of yoghurt or a sprinkling of grated cheese and a good chunk of bread.

* You can add any kind of vegetables you like at the frying stage. Leeks work well in place of the onion. Carrots give an interesting colour. Celery is good. Sprouts are great - add a few chopped walnuts at the end and see how that tastes.

* If you don't like the finished soup colour, put it back in the pan, add a squeeze of tomato puree and cook it for another couple of minutes.

* If you've used a meat stock you can add chopped meat after the blender stage. Heat the soup thoroughly before eating. Chicken is good. Use sage as your flavouring herb and you'll have a hearty bowlful!

* You can also add chopped cooked vegetables after the blender stage. Cooked pulses go well at this stage too. Small tin of chick peas or similar.

* Add some tomato puree to the blended soup and simmer for a couple of minutes then throw in some cooked pasta shapes. Small ones work best.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Rhubarb season

You're all aware that I'm a Yorkshire lass, right? And there are plenty of yummy things that come out of Yorkshire: the best fish and chips in the world, Yorkshire pudding; Taylor's of Harrogate tea; Betty's chocolate cake; lots of stuff. But at this time of the year it's rhubarb. It's a vegetable - yes it is! - that grows profusely in a triangle of the world based around Wakefield. This time of year it's forced (that means it's kept in the dark to make it grow quickly and tall and sweet) and it's sometimes called champagne rhubarb.  The best thing you can do with it is turn it into crumble:

4oz self raising flour
2oz butter or margarine
2oz sugar (or sweetener equivalent) plus about a tablespoonful for the rhubarb
3 or 4 sticks of rhubarb

Rub the butter into the flour until it looks like breadcrumbs (that means using your fingertips, a bit like you would if you were snapping your fingers, to mix the fat into the flour) then stir in the sugar.  Wash and trim the rhubarb to get rid of any leafy bits and the weird shaped bits at the bottom. Cut it into 1" lengths and put it into an oven proof dish. Sprinkle a bit more sugar over the rhubarb. Pile the crumble on the top and put it in a preheated oven (200C)  for 20-30 minutes until it's browned on top. Serve with custard.

Friday, 4 March 2011

How to save money when you're out shopping

Last night was shopping night. The vastness of my local superstore always looms scarily and I need to prepare myself for the onslaught. Everything about a supermarket is designed to make you spend more than you intended. The lighting, the store layout, the width of the aisles, the product placement, all have been carefully thought out by psychologists to encourage you to buy, buy, buy.

So you have to have your wits about you when you enter a supermarket and there are a few tricks you can use to help hang on to your hard earned cash!

Make like the Scouts: Be Prepared!
First of all you need to plan your meals and know what your staples and favourites are. If you want to have ready meals in your freezer that will save you money on bought ones and take-outs then you have to know what you can do and what will keep.

You need to keep an eye on how much space you have in your freezer. That huge bag of salmon fillets might work out at less than 50p each but unless you have room to freeze them you're going to end up throwing them out.

Beware of the BOGOF
When you set off for the supermarket make sure you have a list. Know what you want, how much you need, and stick to it. You think that BOGOF celery looks like a good deal? Well, firstly, do you LIKE celery? Enough to eat two whole heads of it in a week? Because it'll go off if you try to keep it much longer than that. But if you're planning to make soup to freeze, then it's a bargain.

In my case it's a waste of time, effort and cash to have deals on biscuits. They usually WILL keep longer than a week - but not in my house. I shall just end up having one with every meal and maybe just another little one, and perhaps a couple before bed? And before I know it I've eaten two whole packets in spite of my good intentions to make them last a month. This is no way to save money.

Bargain or bum?
By all means check the bargain bins and Oops shelves. But don't buy things unless you can use them. A couple of packets of near-their-sell-by ham is great if you're catering for the cricket team tea tomorrow. What are you going to do with them otherwise? (OK - I make sandwiches for packed lunches and freeze a week's at once but even I get fed up with ham if I have to eat it every day.)

You might find after bank holidays that the bargain shelves have some rare treats on them. Supermarkets buy in lots of luxury goods for festive seasons because people want to spend more on long weekends. But they can't shift things after life goes back to normal and the prices are exceptionally good because they need the space. I've picked up quite a few jars of anchovies for less than a pound that way.  What do I do with anchovies?  Wait till I do Storecupboard 3!
And is it a bargain? 'Was £3.45, NOW £3 is only a good deal if you actually want the contents of the pack. If you're buying it just because it has an old price crossed off you've just wasted £3!  Even worse - some supermarkets will offer you 'was £3.45, now £3.40'. Perhaps not.

Take a look around for the things that you DO buy and watch out for bargains on them. Don't be too tied down to your list. For example, if it says roast beef for Sunday lunch but they're offering duck at a really good price, leave the cow till next week and indulge yourself.

There's a reason you haven't heard of them
Don't buy brands you don't recognise just because they're half the price of the things you usually get. Unless they offer you a taste of them and you're sure they are just as good. I promise you that the second (and sometimes third) packet will sit at the back of your cupboard uneaten. If you really want to try something new just buy ONE packet - however good the offer looks.

How's your maths?
It seems obvious but check prices! That's a 500g box of something for £1.20 and it's reduced from £2.50 so that's a big saving, right? No, not if there's a 300g box next to it for 60p. (I'll wait while you work that out) And always check that the 'buy three for only £1' deals actually work out cheaper. Believe it or not people have been known to fall for '30p each or three for £1'.

Above all, keep a rough check on the cost of your trolley load as you go round. You know how much you have to spend and you can stop before you reach it. Add it up as you go along. Work to the nearest 50p and always round up totals. That way you'll get a pleasant surprise when you come to pay. If you haven't got everything on your list but you've over spent, decide NOW what you can leave behind. It's too late once it's gone through the checkout and you're facing the bill. You planned to spend £50 but the total says £76? You have no-one to blame but yourself.

It's not all that bad
OK so I won't end on a nasty nag. You CAN find some real bargains when you want to as long as you're careful. If you're flexible with your cooking you can take advantage of things in season. If you know that jam season is coming, buy a box of sugar each week so you can stockpile it for when you need it. Same with Christmas. Buy one thing extra a week from September onwards and you'll have a great store and won't be facing a huge shopping trip when the streets are heaving.