Saturday, 31 December 2011

Chestnut, chorizo and lentil soup

I meant to post this just after Christmas to suggest what you might do with your turkey stock and other leftovers but events overtook me (including rather disastrously spilling a glass of wine on my computer) and here we are on New Year's Eve. Still, this is a great soup, whether you have turkey stock or not, which I've adapted from Sam and Sam Clark's excellent Moro cookbook.

The point I was going to make about turkey stock - and which you might like to bear in mind for next year if you haven't thought about it already - is that it's really rich and strong and therefore doesn't lend itself well to delicate soups or sauces. This one includes chestnuts, though in lesser quantities than the Sams use, chorizo and saffron and I also added some outer Savoy cabbage leaves I'd saved after making a slaw to go with the ham on Christmas Eve which adds a bit of colour as well. When I heated up the leftovers of the soup I dropped some torn pieces of sourdough toast which were also a good addition. (Note: this is less of a soup than a stew. You won't need much else, if anything, to eat!)

Serves 4-6
3-4 tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions or one large one, roughly chopped
1 carrot, chopped into small pieces, roughly the same size as the onion
125g semi-soft chorizo, chopped (Tesco has a good one in its 'Finest' range)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp chilli flakes or a crushed whole red chilli
1 tsp finely chopped thyme leaves or 1/2 tsp dried thyme or oregano
1/2 a 400g tin of chopped tomatoes or a couple of whole tinned tomatoes, chopped
200g vac packed or roasted or boiled chestnuts, roughly chopped
75g green or brown lentils
a pinch of saffron threads infused for 10 minutes in 3-4 tbsp hot water (optional*)
about 1 litre turkey stock or water
4-5 outer cabbage leaves or cavolo nero leaves
salt and black pepper

Heat the oil in a large pan, add the onion, carrot and chorizo, season lightly with salt and cook for about 10 minutes over a low to moderate heat until beginning to brown. Add the garlic, cumin and chilli flakes or crushed chilli and thyme and cook for a minute, then add the chopped tomatoes, chestnuts, lentils and saffron, if using. Add the stock or water, bring to the boil then turn the heat down and simmer for about 15-20 minutes until the lentils are cooked. Remove the central rib from the cabbage or cavolo nero leaves, shred finely and drop into the soup about 5 minutes before the end of the cooking time. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

* If you haven't got any saffron you could use half a teaspoon of turmeric which I'd add at the same time as the cumin. If you want to keep the soup veggie use 1-2 tsp sweet pimenton or paprika instead of the chorizo and maybe a touch of hot if you've got it.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Unstuffed stuffing

I'm never convinced of the virtue of stuffing a turkey. It just increases the cooking time and makes it harder to get the breast cooked at the same time as the legs. Maybe a bit in the neck but that's never quite enough to meet the family's stuffing needs. So here's a simple stuffing to make on the hob which also has the virtue of getting it browned and a little bit crusty. Yum.

Pan-fried pork, apple and prune stuffing

Serves 6-8 with a turkey or chicken

A 454g pack of sausagemeat or traditional English sausages (e.g. Cumberland) with the skins removed
About 3-4 tbsp dried natural breadcrumbs (i.e. not the bright orange ones)
1 medium egg, beaten
1/2 a small onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 small flavourful apple (e.g. Blenheim or Cox), peeled and finely chopped
100g ready to eat prunes, finely chopped or snipped (it's easiest to cut them with scissors)
1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp oil

Put the sausagemeat in a bowl with the breadcrumbs and the beaten egg and mix thoroughly together. Prepare the rest of the ingredients then mix them in too. Heat the oil in a small to medium size non stick frying pan and tip in the stuffing. Pat it down with a wooden spoon or fork until it resembles a cake then let it cook over a moderate heat for about 6-7 minutes, covered with a lid or foil. Turn the stuffing over. (Don’t worry if it breaks up, just mash it together again) Continue cooking for another 6-7 minutes or until till the stuffing is lightly browned and cooked through.

(No picture I'm afraid. Old recipe.)

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Two good champagne buys this weekend

Christmas is always a big discounting time on champagne at the supermarkets but as I've pointed out in the longer piece I've just posted on my website you need to be careful about ridiculously cheap offers on brands you don't recognise.

Here are two that I think represent the best value this weekend - Sainsbury's creamy Blanc de Blancs Champagne at £13.99 down from £20.99 and the toasty Champagne Bredon Brut which is on sale at £13.49 (down from £26.99) at Waitrose until the shops close on Monday 19th. This has now reverted to its 'normal' selling price. The best offer from Waitrose now is the Duval Leroy Fleur de Champagne at £14.24, also a good deal. Updated 21.12.11

If you don't have a branch of either of these stores near you here's what the other supermarkets have to offer, along with some good deals on vintage fizz and a rather spectacular magnum from - guess who? Lidl!

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Hill lamb hotpot

Returning from high summer in Oz to the weirdest of weather back home in Bristol (this morning we had hail, thunder and bright sun, all in the space of five minutes) I feel the need for comfort food and can't think of a better option than a hotpot. Unfortunately I'm unlikely to have time to cook one until the weekend but thought you might fancy trying it too.

The recipe is from my book Meat and Two Veg and the very professional photo not by moi but the talented Jason Lowe. It's not authentic - no self-respecting Lancastrian would use something as poncey as white wine - but it is very tasty especially if you make it with hill or rare breed lamb. (How frugal that is of course depends where you live and whether you can source it direct from a farmer or farmers' market.)

The white pepper does make a difference with this kind of old-fashioned dish so do use it if you've got some.

Serves 4-6
6 lamb shoulder chops (about 750-800g)
2 level tbsp plain flour
3 tbsp vegetable or light olive oil
40g butter
3 medium to large onions, peeled and thinly sliced (about 450g)
1 large carrot (about 125g), peeled and thinly sliced
1 medium turnip (about 110g) peeled and thinly sliced
750g waxy red potatoes (e.g. Desiree)
125ml dry white wine (e.g. basic French vin blanc, muscadet, pinot grigio)
300ml chicken stock, preferably homemade
2 bay leaves
Salt and ground white pepper

You will need a large round or oval lidded casserole

Trim any excess fat off the chops and pat them dry with kitchen towel. Put the flour into a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Dip the chops into the flour, lightly coating both sides. Heat a large frying pan, add 2 tbsp of the oil and 15g of the butter. Once the butter has melted brown the chops on both sides (about 2 minutes a side) and set aside. Add the sliced onions to the oil and butter mixture and fry gently for about 5 minutes, stirring. Add the sliced carrot and turnip and any remaining flour, stir well and set aside. Peel and finely slice the potatoes.

Heat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6. Pour the remaining oil in the casserole and wipe it round the base and sides. Put a good layer of sliced potato in the base of the casserole then a layer of vegetables, seasoning each layer lightly with salt and pepper. Arrange the chops on top and tuck in the bayleaves. Tip over the rest of the vegetables spreading them out evenly then arrange the rest of the potato slices on top.

Heat the wine and stock in the frying pan and pour carefully over the hotpot. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Melt the remaining butter in the frying pan and pour it over the potato slices. Cover the casserole and place in the oven for about 25 minutes until bubbling gently.

Turn the heat down to 150°C/300°F/Gas 2 and cook for a further two hours, spooning the juices over the potatoes half way through.

Turn up the heat back up to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6, remove the lid from the casserole and return to the oven for 30-40 minutes until the potatoes are well browned. Serve with something green and leafy like brussel tops.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

The Frugal Cook is away

No credit crunch drinking recs this week or next I'm afraid as I'm away on a work trip to Australia. (Yes, jammy, I know) Normal service will be resumed after December 11th.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Pears in mulled cider

Given how much leftover wine we have in the house (I'm also a wine writer for those of you who don't know) I normally poach pears in red wine but I tried them again the other day in cider and I'm not sure I don't prefer them that way. It seems to preserve the pear flavour better. (You could also use an off-dry perry, of course)

This is a great way to use those greenish brown conference pears which never look very appealing but have a superb flavour. You want them not quite ripe enough for eating but not rock-hard either. I'd pick them out by hand rather than buy a bag of them even though they tend to be cheaper that way. You can tell the stage they're at by pressing the top of each pear gently by the stem. There should be a tiny bit of give.

A great dessert for when you’ve had an indulgent carb-laden main course like a pie!

Serves 4

4 evenly sized, not quite ripe conference pears
330ml medium dry cider
4-5 heaped tbsp unrefined caster sugar
A fine strip of lemon peel + a little lemon juice to taste if needed
1 small cinnamon stick
Pouring cream or vanilla ice cream to serve

Keeping the pears whole remove the peel carefully with a small sharp knife, leaving the stalk on. Fit them side by side in a medium-sized saucepan and pour over the cider. Add enough water to cover the pears. Remove the pears from the liquid and set them aside.

Add 4 heaped tbsp of unrefined caster sugar and place the pan over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Taste the liquid and add a little extra sugar if you don’t think it’s quite sweet enough (ciders vary).

Return the pears to the pan along with the lemon peel and cinnamon stick and bring the liquid to the boil. Turn down the heat, cover the pan and simmer for about 45 minutes until the pears are soft. Remove them carefully from the pan with a slotted spoon and transfer to a shallow glass dish.

Remove the lemon peel and cinnamon then turn the heat up and boil the remaining liquid by about two thirds until thick and syrupy. Check for sweetness adding a little lemon juice if needed. Pour the syrup over the pears and leave to cool.

Serve just warm or at room temperature with double cream or vanilla ice cream and some crisp home-baked biscuits or shortbread.

Oh, and a happy Thanksgiving to my American readers. I suppose this should have been a pumpkin pie really but I'm sure you've got zillions of recipes for that. This might make a nice change ;-).

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Wine of the Week: La Metropole Rouge

It's always good to have a standby wine that will go with virtually everything and La Metropole rouge fits the bill. Sure, the 'ooo-la-la' label isn't going to impress wine snobs but the content - a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Cabernet Franc from the Roussillon region of southern France - is more than generous for the £4.99 price tag. They suggest drinking it with rich stews such as Lancashire hotpot or boeuf en daube or with simple grilled meats - I'd add stalwarts like sausage and mash, shepherds pie and lasagne. Just the sort of lipsmacking red you need for everyday drinking.
Although I wasn't overly impressed by the accompanying La Metropole Blanc when I tasted it back in the spring, it may well have settled by now and at the same price it's worth a punt too. It's a typically southern blend of Marsanne, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Viognier with a touch of Chardonnay and should work well with robust seafood dishes like grilled prawns with garlic or Spanish-style fish stews.

And while you're in the Co-op you might try a bottle of the Crouzes Old Vine Carignan, which is currently on offer at £4.39. I haven't tried the 2010 vintage but it's a reliable stalwart - a big chunky southern French red that would again work well with dark beefy stews or pies. Or as a base for mulled wine.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Tacos: the perfect food for kids

One of the biggest problems about bringing up four children was getting them to eat the same food. Indulgent you might say - they should have eaten what they were given - but it doesn’t somehow work like that these days. There were meals that 3 out of 4 liked like sausage and mash but even then my eldest son bewilderingly disliked the mash. MASH! Who dislikes mash?

The most popular meals (apart from roast chicken and spag bol and even they didn’t work when the girls periodically went veggie) were dishes they could assemble themselves, top of the list being pizza and homemade doner kebabs. To this I’d have now added tacos which strike me as the perfect kids food. And thrifty too.

True you have to have the tortillas and I’m afraid wheat ones won’t do. There’s something about corn tortillas that turns this from a sandwich into an exotic, snack that makes you feel as if you're on holiday. You can of course make them yourself and that would be a fun thing to do but just as you don’t always have time to make pizza from scratch it’s good to have some ready made tortillas on standby.

I’m lucky enough to have a shop up the road in Bristol called Otomi that sells two kinds - one long-life product imported from Mexico and one from the Cool Chile Co which also sells them online. I tried both the other day and preferred the flavour of the Mexican ones but the texture of the Cool Chile ones was much better. (In both cases you need to warm them in a dry frying pan otherwise they’ll snap when you attempt to wrap them round the filling.)

The filling is the cheap bit. You can basically use what you have though I consider a fresh tomato salsa (and therefore some fresh coriander and lime) essential and some avocado nice.

As I had some chorizo, onion and potato I decided to use those, borrowing an idea from Thomasina Miers excellent Mexican Food made Simple. I’d also bought a small tin of chipotles en adobo from Otomi (£1.50) which gave them a nice smoky edge.

Chorizo and potato tacos
Enough to fill 6 tortillas
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 large potato, peeled and cut into small dice
110g semi-soft chorizo (Tesco has a good one in their Finest range)
1 finely chopped chili from a tin of chipotles en adobo + some of the juice (optional) or a teaspoon of mild chilli powder or smoked pimenton
1-2 heaped tbsp fresh coriander
Salt and pepper
1 avocado and the juice of half a lime
6 soft corn tortillas
Heat a small frying pan, add the oil and fry the onion and potato over a moderate heat until soft and beginning to brown (about 8-10 minutes). Add the chorizo and finely chopped chilli and fry until the chorizo starts to char a little. Take the pan off the heat, season with salt and pepper and stir in the coriander. Peel and cut up the avocado and toss in the lime juice. Warm the tacos one by one on both sides in a hot dry frying pan (i.e. without any oil) and top with the chorizo mixture, some salsa (below) and chopped avocado. Eat in both hands. (They’re dead messy)

Salsa fresca
1/2 a small mild onion or a shallot
6 small to medium-sized ripe tomatoes, skinned if tough
juice of half a lime
1 fresh chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped
2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
Salt and pepper
Finely chop the onion, tomatoes and chilli, if using and mix together with the fresh lime juice and coriander. Season with salt and pepper. Eat with tacos or tortilla chips

This is a good veggie version. Home-cooked beans would be even better.

Red bean tacos
2 tbsp oil
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
1-2 cloves of garlic, crushed
A pinch of ground cumin
1 finely chopped chili from a tin of chipotles en adobo + some of the juice (optional) or a teaspoon of mild chilli powder or smoked pimenton
1 tbsp tomato paste or 2 tbsp passata or other tomato-based pasta sauce
1 tin red kidney beans, drained and rinsed or an equivalent amount of home-cooked red or black beans
1-2 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
Salt and pepper
Grated cheddar or a white cheese like Wensleydale or Cheshire or some feta
6 soft corn tortillas
Heat the oil and fry the onion until beginning to soften and change colour. Add the cumin powder, crushed garlic and chili or chilli powder, stir, then add the tomato paste and cook for a minute. Add half a glass of water, tip in the beans and leave on a low heat while you make the salsa and prepare the avocado, as above. (The bean mixture is actually better left to cool down a bit before you use it to fill the tacos. Mash it up a bit first so the beans don't go rolling all over the place.) Heat the tortillas as above and top with the beans, grated cheese, salsa and avocado (for those who want it).

You can also make great tacos with shredded beef or chicken as they do on the taco trucks that are so popular in the US (and increasingly here) Now, kids would absolutely love that.

For more ideas for taco fillings check out Thomasina’s chicken tinga tacos which it strikes me would adapt well to turkey leftovers and Baja California fish tacos (which I reckon you could cheat and make with fish fingers and a spiced up homemade slaw). Or, even better, add the book to your Christmas list. It's got lots of other recipes I want to make.

Have you ever made tacos for the family or what dish do you find all members of the family like?

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Wine of the Week: Vidal-Fleury Côtes du Rhône 2009

Here's a really good bottle to put on your Christmas table - or pull out for supper with friends. It's a smashing Côtes du Rhône from the excellent 2009 vintage - a warm, generous, spicy blend of grenache, syrah, mourvèdre and carignan. It would work brilliant with roasts, beef stews, hearty bean dishes like cassoulet and cheese.

It's normally sells for around £10-11 but is on offer at Majestic at the moment at £6.99 if you buy two bottles as part of their current 20% off Rhône offer.

As you have to buy six bottles at Majestic (if you pick them up from a store - 12 if you order online) two other good buys are the classy Wither Hills Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (on offer at £6.99 - Majestic always has good offers on New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc) and Anakena Single Vineyard 'Deu' Pinot Noir 2010 (£7.99) a heady, sensuous pinot that knocks spots off any burgundy at the price.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Cauliflower cheese with parmesan and almonds

They had some really nice cauliflowers in the greengrocer the other day which prompted me to make this cauliflower cheese with a twist. My husband isn’t mad about cooked cheese anyway so I decided to cut the amount of cheese and top it with flaked almonds which I reckoned would go well with cauliflower. (They really do). I think some chopped ham would be nice too if you want to make it more substantial.

The main thing is to use a strong, dryish cheese so you don’t have to use too much and can keep the flavour and texture light. I used some mature Old Winchester which I happened to have after a cheese festival but you’re probably more likely to have parmesan which would be fine. (Frugal cooking is, of course, about using what's in the fridge.)

Serves 2-3 as a supper dish, 4-6 as a vegetable

1 medium-sized cauliflower
30g butter
25g plain flour
350-400ml semi-skimmed milk
25-30g mature Pamesan or Grana Padano or 50g strong hard cheese like Old Winchester, Comté or Cheddar, grated
2 tbsp light cooking oil
50g flaked almonds
Salt and white pepper

Cut the outside leaves off the cauliflower but keep any tender, inner leaves. Cut the florets off the stalk and divide them into even sized clusters. Steam or boil the florets and inner leaves until just tender (about 6-7 minutes), drain and tip into a shallow buttered baking dish.

Melt the butter gently in a small non-stick saucepan, stir in the flour and cook over a low heat for about 30 seconds. Take the pan off the heat and gradually add the milk bit by bit, stirring between each addition. When you’ve added half the milk you can pour most of the rest of the milk in one go, holding back a little to see if you need it.

Bring the sauce to the boil, turn the heat right down and simmer for 5 minutes until thick and smooth. Take off the heat and add most of the cheese. You should be able to taste the cheese but it shouldn’t be overwhelmingly cheesy. Add more if you like then season with salt and white pepper to taste. If the sauce is too thick add the remaining milk or a couple of spoonfuls of the water you’ve used for cooking the cauliflower. Pour the sauce over the cauliflower florets.

Preheat the grill to a medium setting. Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the flaked almonds over a low to moderate heat until they begin to colour then sprinkle them over the cauliflower. Place the dish under the grill (not too near the heat) until the almonds are light brown and the sauce starts to bubble.

Do you have any favourite additions to cauliflower cheese or do you prefer the classic version?

Friday, 4 November 2011

This week's best drink buys

You might be the kind of person who thinks the beginning of November is FAR too early to start planning what you're going to eat and drink over Christmas (me too) but the supermarkets have decided otherwise.

When I walked into Sainsbury's yesterday the drinks deparment was packed with special offers - and some quite spectacular ones too. Leaving frugal options aside for the moment you can pick up the particularly lush Glenmorangie Nectar d'Or whisky at the moment for just £25 instead of £39.99 (and £42.95 at Aged in Sauternes casks it's a lush cross between a sweet wine and a whisky that would be superb with the Stilton and maybe - though I haven't tried it yet - with mince pies. A terrific gift for any whisky lover.

They also had a couple of good champagne deals: Heidsieck Monopole Blue Top for £14.99 instead of £29.99* and the much improved Lanson Black Label for £21.99 instead of £31.99 - but then Morrisons currently has it for £15 according to The Wine Detective.

In terms of budget buys you probably couldn't do much better than Dow's Trademark port - that's also reduced by 50% in Sainsbury's from £13.43 to £6.71. The style is referred to as Finest Reserve which means it's halfway between a basic ruby port and a Late Bottled Vintage in quality. If you're looking for a sweet, brambly warming Christmas port from a reputable producer it would fit the bill perfectly. (I also like adding a dash of this style of port to a mulled wine).

Rather less good value is the current offer on Baileys cream liqueurs which are reduced in Sainsbury's from £19.79 to £9.89. I know it's a good reduction for a litre bottle but since when did they go up to that kind of price? Asda's regular price for the same size bottle is £14 and they currently have it down to £9 but there are loads of perfectly good own label versions around for a fair amount less.

Marks and Spencer, for instance, has its new Toffee and Pecan Cream liqueur on offer for £6.99 currently. I don't much like cream liqueurs but I must admit I did find it a bit moreish. M & S told me this week that toffee and pecan flavours are HUGE for them.

Anyway if you miss these offers don't panic. There will be plenty more where they came from over the coming weeks but don't leave it until the week before Christmas when I'm pretty sure a lot of the prices will shoot up again

* Asda also has it for £15

Note: this prices applied the day I wrote this post but may well have changed by the time you read it.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Sausage, potato and dill pasties

I suddenly realised we were almost half way through this week and I hadn't posted a recipe. Not having done any cooking for the last few days (long story) I've had to dig out an old one but an apposite one as it's British Sausage Week.

To tell the truth I'd completely forgotten about it but I do remember it being extremely tasty. It comes from my book Sausage and Mash and was inspired by one of The Ginger Pig's butchers Paul Hughes who told me they used to make a Swedish potato sausage flavoured with dill. Apparently there wasn’t huge demand for it so they dropped it but it seemed a brilliant idea to me and one that would make a great filling for a pasty.

The pastry is really easy and well worth making from scratch. The technique comes from Delia Smith’s Cookery Course, published back in 1978.

Makes 6 pasties

For the filling
425g new potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled
6 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
25g butter
400g coarsely cut traditional pork sausages, at least 85% meat
2 rounded tbsp finely chopped dill (about 5g)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the pastry
200g butter
50g vegetable shortening e.g. Cookeen or Trex (I think they still do it - if not use lard)
350g plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
6-8 tbsp iced water
1 medium egg, lightly beaten, for glazing

Measure out the butter and shortening for the pastry, wrap it in foil and put it in the freezer for half an hour.

Put the potatoes on to boil in boiling salted water. Cook for 7-8 minutes then drain.

Heat a large frying pan, add the oil then the butter. Fry the onion for a couple of minutes until softened then turn off the heat and roughly crush the potatoes into the pan. Season with salt and pepper and leave to cool.

When the fats are really cold, measure the flour and salt into a large bowl. Coarsely grate the semi-frozen butter and shortening into the flour, dipping each block into the flour as you go, and lightly working it in with a flat-bladed knife.

Cut the fat into the flour until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs then make a well in the centre and add about 5 tbsp of iced water. Work the pastry mix into the liquid and gradually pull the pastry together, adding as much extra liquid as you need to form a ball. Turn the pastry onto a floured board, pat into shape, put in a plastic bag and refrigerate for half an hour.

Take the sausages out of their skins, break up roughly and add to the potato mixture along with the dill. Take the pastry out of the fridge and divide into four. Roll out each portion thinly into a circle then cut round an 18cm plate or flan tin base, saving the offcuts. Pile 2 tbsp of filling into the centre of the circle and form it into a lozenge shape. Brush round the edges of the pastry with beaten egg. Bring the edges together in the middle, seal firmly then crimp to get a wavy line down the centre.

Repeat with the rest of the pastry then roll the offcuts to make two more pasties.

Refrigerate the pasties for at least 30 minutes then bake at 225°C/425°F/Gas 7 for 20 minutes. Turn the heat down to 190°C/375°F/Gas 5 and cook for another 30-35 minutes until the pasties are thoroughly cooked and well browned. Cool for at least half an hour before eating but don't refrigerate them.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Six wines under £6 from Sainsbury’s

This week it’s Sainsbury’s turn to knock 25% off any wine in their range if you buy six bottles. I thought their wines were showing particularly well at their recent press tasting, especially their own label ‘Taste the Difference’ range. Here are six bargains under £6

Macon Villages ‘Les Côtes Blanches’ 2010 (down from £7.99 to £5.99)
A good chance to pick up a very decent basic white burgundy at a knockdown price. Very useful Christmas drinking - would work particularly well with Christmas leftovers and smoked salmon.

Taste the Difference Coolwater Bay Marlborough Sauvignon 2011
If you’re a Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc fan you’ve got to go for this. It’s already down from £8.49 to £6.49, now £4.87 when you buy 6 bottles. (That doesn’t mean I think you should take advantage of the other cut price offers being advertised on top of the 25% off deal which are by and large pretty dull.)

Taste the Difference Tuscan Red 2009 (down from £5.99 to £4.49)
At the full price this is a good value Chianti alternative. At the discounted price it’s a steal. Great drinking with pasta and pizza

Flor de Nelas Seleçao, Dao 2009 (down from £7.99 to £5.99)
Portugal is currently offering some of the best value drinking in Europe and this is a rich, spicy characterful red that you should enjoy if you’re a fan of wines from the Rhone. Good with roasts, braises and pies - posh enough to serve at a dinner party

Taste the Difference Fairtrade Carmenère 2010 (down from £6.99 to £5.24)
A typically Chilean red - very lush and ripe so possibly not for you if you’re a fan of more classic French styles but a great wine to drink with spicy stews and curries - and even with the turkey. And it’s Fairtrade which is always worth supporting.

Chateau David Bordeaux Supérieur 2010 (down from £6.49 to £4.87)
Bordeaux under a fiver? Yes, hard to believe but it’s true. An attractive young fruity claret that would drink well with cold turkey, ham and other Christmas leftovers. Or with hard British regional cheeses like cheddar.

If you don't want to buy six bottles Sainsbury's also has a 'buy 4, save 10%' offer on its range 'in selected stores' (but not locals) which will save you a bit but I'd go for the six if you can run to it. Both offers finish at midnight on November 1st.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Hachis parmentier (aka French shepherd's pie)

I've been thinking of making this French take on shepherds pie for a while but what prompted it was having a large bunch of parsley in the fridge. (You can't win with herbs - either you get a ridiculously small packet that costs the earth or a huge bunch that you end up wasting.)

There are of course many ways of making hachis parmentier which is basically a leftovers dish. A lot of recipes base it on a stew but you can make it with mince which is what I've done here having picked up a cut price pack in the Co-op reduced from £2.50 to £1.65. You can add some fried onion and garlic to it (which I did) and some finely chopped carrot and celery if you want. You don't really want it gravy-ish so chuck in half a glass of red wine if you have some and a splash of beef or chicken stock. (It's worth keeping frozen stock in an ice-cube tray when you need this kind of amount.)

The parsley is a touch I remember from a French cookery writer called Mireille Johnston who presented a BBC series back in the 90s. The books that accompanied the series were great but I left the relevant one in France so had to cook it from memory. If your kids don't like 'green bits' as many children don't you could cut the amount of parsley back to a single layer or mix it up with the mince so they don't (hopefully) notice, although, of course, the little blighters always do.

I can't remember if it had a layer of mash at the bottom of the dish but it's a good idea because you get some delicious stuck on crusty bits at the bottom of the pie.

Hachis Parmentier
Serves 2-4 depending on whether teenage boys are involved
2-3 tbsp light olive or sunflower oil
450g minced beef or lamb
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 level tbsp tomato paste
75ml beef or chicken stock (or frozen stock cubes)*
75ml red wine (or 1 tbsp red wine vinegar and an extra 75ml of beef stock)
Pinch of cinnamon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A good big handful of fresh parsley, stalks removed and finely chopped

For the potato topping
800g boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into even-sized pieces (halves or quarters depending on size)
25g soft butter
A good splash of warm milk (about 3 tbsp)
40g comté, gruyère or cheddar cheese (optional)
Salt and pepper

You will also need a medium sized shallow baking dish (I used a rectangular dish that was 26cm x 21cm)

Heat a large frying pan, add 1 tbsp of the oil and fry half the mince until lightly browned. Remove the meat with a slotted spoon, letting the fat run back into the pan then discard the fat. Add the remaining mince to the pan, brown it and drain off the fat in a similar way. Add the remaining oil and fry the onion over a low heat for about 5 minutes until soft. Stir in the crushed garlic and tomato paste and cook for a few seconds. then add the wine, if using and beef or chicken stock. Tip the mince back in the pan, bring to simmering point then season with salt, pepper and a pinch of cinnamon. Turn the heat right down and leave on a low heat for about 20 minutes. (If it gets a bit dry add an extra splash of stock or some of the potato cooking water.)

Meanwhile put the potatoes in a saucepan, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Cook for about 20 minutes until you can stick the point of a knife in them easily. Drain the potatoes, return them to the pan and cut them up roughly with a knife. Mash them thoroughly with a potato masher or fork. Beat in the butter and warm milk. Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6. Butter your ovenproof dish well and cover the base with a thin layer of mash (just over a third of the total). Sprinkle half the parsley over the top (as above) then cover with the mince. Add the remaining parsley then and spread the potato evenly over the top, roughing up the surface with the prongs of a fork. Sprinkle with grated cheese, if using. Place the dish on a baking tray and bake for 25-30 minutes until the top is crisp and brown. (If you make it ahead and cool it down before baking it it'll take more like 45 minutes)

* when you make a batch of stock it's worth reducing it then freezing it in an ice cube tray when you need a small amount of stock for a recipe like this

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Wine of the Week: Sainsbury's Moscatel de Valencia

Moscatel de Valencia, a sweet wine from Southern Spain, has always been good value but it's extraordinary that it still costs only £3.89 a bottle (in most branches of Sainsbury's). A whole bottle, not a half, like most other dessert wines.

OK, it's not particularly fashionable but it tastes just gorgeous. It has a deliciously orangey character that would make it a fantastic pairing for apple tart, pie or crumble (served with cream rather than custard), light chocolate desserts (plain rather than with berries) and - thinking ahead to Christmas - Christmas pudding which is always a tricky one to match. You could also partner it with a Spanish style 'flan' or crème caramel.

As the name indicates, it's a muscat, fortified with a little spirit to bring it up to 15%. Drink it nice and cold.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Aggie's Granny’s scones

It's taken me a couple of days to get the recipe I promised you from Aggie MacKenzie's new book. I went for these scones because they look so delicious and involve so few ingredients. I suspect there's more to them than meets the eye - they look so fabulously light but have a go. This is what Aggie says about them:

"These are legendary. My mother’s mother made them almost daily (bread was a once-a-week delivery in the remote north-west of Scotland) and they were eaten with crowdie, which is a cream cheese that’s sharp and dense. My mother does these too, and they are the talk of the area. And of course it’s the recipe I always use. A few ingredients to get together, sure, but my goodness the results are unbeatable."

Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: around 10 minutes
Makes 16 scones

40g/1½oz/3 tbsp butter
1 level tbsp golden (light corn) syrup
1 medium egg
300ml/10fl oz/1¼ cups buttermilk 
(if you can get it) or milk
450g/1lb/3¼ cups plain (all-purpose) flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1 heaped tsp cream of tartar
1 heaped tsp salt

Preheat the oven to the hottest setting (Have checked this with Aggie who says 240°C/Gas 9) 
and place a large baking sheet inside. Melt the butter and syrup together in 
a pan. Mix the egg and buttermilk together. Put the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add both the wet mixtures to the dry 
ingredients and stir with a large metal spoon. (If you use milk instead of 
buttermilk, the mix might seem too wet 
but fear not.)

Have lots of flour on your work surface 
and empty the mix on to it. Sprinkle on a good layer of flour. Gently roll out into a rough circle about 2cm/¾in thick. Cut up into 16 pieces; some will be square, some will be corners, but they’ll all taste 

Arrange on the hot baking sheet (no need 
to grease), spaced 
a little apart. Put in the oven for about 
7-8 minutes until nicely golden. Cool on 
a wire rack.

From Aggie's Family Cookbook, published by Pavilion Books, price £20.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Six wines for under £6 at Waitrose

Waitrose has one of those increasingly popular 25% across the board discounts if you buy six bottles offer (12 if you buy online) which lasts until next Tuesday. Trawling through my tasting notes I must admit I struggled to reach my self-appointed target of six bottles to recommend under £6 which shows how much prices have crept up lately but here's a half dozen I think you'll enjoy:

Cuvée Chasseur 2010 (down from £4.35 to £3.26)
This warm southern blend of carignan, grenache and merlot is a reliable standby at its full price but well worth snapping up at this reduction if you're planning to mull wine for Hallowe'en, Bonfire Night or even Christmas. Fine with robust pasta dishes and stews too.

Castillo la Paz Tempranillo/Shiraz 2010 La Mancha (down from £6.99 to £5.24)
Something of a poor man's rioja though to be honest there's a lot of cheap rioja around the £5-6 mark at the moment. Has that appealing gentle soft cooked strawberry fruit that's typical of Tempranillo - with a generous lick of vanilla. A good wine for roast lamb or a cheeseboard.

Chapel Hill Pinot Noir 2009 Hungary (down from £6.99 to £5.24)
It's hard to find a good sub £10 Pinot Noir but this is a real steal. Quite light and delicate it could easily pass for a red burgundy twice the price. If you're lucky enough to be able to source cheap pheasant or rabbit this is the bottle to serve with it. (And if you miss the 25% off deal it will be on special offer at £5.24 until November 8th)

Inycon Grower's Selection Fiano 2010 Sicily (down from £6.69 to £5.02)
If you like chardonnay you'll love this rich, full-bodied Sicilian white which would go well with creamy chicken or pasta dishes or recipes with butternut squash. Good party drinking too.

Excelsior Heritage Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2011 Robertson, South Africa (down from £7.29 to £5.47)
A slightly different style from New Zealand sauvignon blanc - less gooseberryish, more citrussy with a lovely streak of lemon peel - this would go well with all kinds of seafod especially dishes flavoured with chilli and coriander. A lot of wine for the money. (Also available on offer at £5.79 from the 19th to November 8th if you miss this offer.)

Tabali Encantado Late Harvest Muscat 2010 Limari Valley, Chile (£7.79 down to £5.84)
You might find this slightly less useful given that it's a) only available in half bottles and b) only in 173 branches but if you can lay your hands on one as part of your cut-price haul it's a real treat. Exotic, honeyed with a fresh lemony finish - and just a touch of orange - it would be delicious with a whole range of desserts from apple crumble to Christmas pud.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Aggie's Family Cookbook: review

You may be thinking 'not another celebrity cookbook' and, if so, I don't blame you. If I didn't know Aggie MacKenzie I'd probably be thinking that too.

But it may surprise you to learn her background is in food rather than hygiene - I used to work for her on Sainsbury's magazine and Good Housekeeping before she became famous for How Clean is Your House. So the cooking thing is not just made up to trade in on her fame.

And this is a real family cookbook. Of things she cooks, her sons cook, her mother cooks and even, her ex and her late mother-in-law cooked (now that is saintly!). It's as if your best friend who's a fantastic cook just handed over all her favourite recipes.

There's lots of fun stuff that's suitable for kids too like 'My take on chicken twizzlers' and Clissold Fried Chicken (a Stoke Newington version of KFC) and tips on how to get your kids cooking. The baking section is particularly good - I'll be posting a recipe later this week, hopefully - but love the sound of Tear-and-share Cheesy Rolls, Scottish Morning Rolls and her 'legendary' Granny's Scones.

The reason why I'm reviewing it on this blog is that - unusually for a celeb - she keeps the cost of food very much in mind, witness the Baked Chicken Casserole she makes "when I need to see off those lonesome bits at the bottom of the fridge", A Great Veg Dish for Leftover Cheese and Eggy Bread with Fudgey Plums "dead quick when you haven't planned a pud." And there are loads of useful tips on meal planning and saving money when you're food shopping.

This is a brilliantly down to earth cookbook that you'll use again and again. You can currently buy it for just over £11 on Amazon but even at the full price of £20 it's well worth the money. One for the Christmas list, defo.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Wine of the Week: Gran Vega Garnacha

I was thinking of making a white wine my wine of the week this week but since the weather has turned chilly and now finally feels like autumn I'm reverting to red again. This time from Asda which seems to permanently have its entire range on special offer.

Don't let that encourage you to go mad in the aisles. There's some pretty dreadful stuff on Asda's shelves but here's one that's a fantastic bargain, even at its full price of £4.18.

It's a modern Spanish red called Gran Vega Garnacha from Bodegas Borsao in the Campo de Borja region, a big lush, ripe blockbuster of a red that would make great drinking with hearty stews or gutsy plates of sausage and beans. And it's currently reduced (until October 17th) to £3.78 which is ridiculous. Make sure you get the 2010 vintage (it needs to be drunk young) and lay in some for mulling on bonfire night.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Rosewater cupcakes

So scornful have I been of the world's obsession with cupcakes I'd conveniently forgotten that I included a recipe for them in my book Food, Wine & Friends back in 2007. And when I was trawling through my photographs just now I didn't think they looked too bad. Even though they were - for heaven's sake - pink.

To be frank they're more like a fairy cake - they haven't got the ludicrous amount of icing of today's pumped up specimens but I think they're the better for it. Try them and see.

Rosewater cup cakes
Makes 24 cakes
250g soft butter
250g caster sugar
4 large eggs, beaten with 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
250g self-raising flour, sifted twice
125ml milk (whole, not semi-skimmed)

For the icing
50g soft butter
a few drops of pink food colouring
200g icing sugar, sifted twice
1/4 tsp rosewater
A small pinch of salt (about 1/3 of a tsp)
2-3 tbsp whole milk
sugar roses or other floral cake decorations (obviously the simpler the more frugal. Or you could just dot them with silver balls)

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4

You will need two x 12 hole muffin tins and some slightly kitsch paper cases

Tip the butter into a large bowl and beat with an electric hand whisk until smooth. Add the sugar about a third at a time and continue to beat until pale yellow and fluffy. Add the beaten eggs and vanilla essence gradually, adding a spoonful of flour with the last few additions. Fold in the remaining flour alternately with the milk taking care not to overmix. Spoon into the paper cases and bake for about 20- 25 minutes until well risen and firm to the touch. Remove the baking trays from the oven for 5 minutes then transfer the cakes to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Rinse and dry the beaters then make the icing. Beat the butter until soft. Pour a few drops of pink food colouring onto a teaspoon (easier to control than pouring straight from the bottle) then carefully add to the butter, pouring back any excess into the bottle.

Gradually add the sifted icing sugar 2-3 tablespoonfuls at a time. Add the rosewater, salt and enough milk to make a spreadable consistency. Spread on the tops of the cupcakes and decorate with the sugar roses or flowers. Leave for 2 hours before serving.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Storecupboard spaghetti with garlicky prawns

One of the few advantages of being under the weather is that you don't want to go to the shops and make do with whatever you have in the fridge, freezer and cupboard. Hence last night's spaghetti which was also designed to blast through a cold.

It's not the most beautiful creation, I admit - if I was making it again I'd definitely add something green - most probably some chopped coriander or snipped chives but it's dead tasty. A slightly ritzed up version of the thrifty Italian classic spaghetti aglio olio e peperoncino

Serves 2-3*

2-3 large cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
1 fresh chilli, de-seeded and finely sliced (or 1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes)
3 tbsp olive oil
1/2 a small glass of white wine (optional)
A few drops of fish sauce (recommended - a bottle lasts for ages)
180-200g frozen prawns (the cheap North Sea ones not pricey king prawns)
A good chunk of fresh ginger, peeled
200-250g spaghetti depending how hungry you are
Salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon if you think it needs it
A couple of tablespoons chopped coriander or fresh chives (optional but looks good)

Heat a frying pan, add the oil and tip in the sliced garlic and chilli. Cook over a very low heat until the garlic begins to change colour. Add the wine if using, reduce by half then add the fish sauce and prawns. Stir and cook over a low heat until the prawns are completely thawed and hot through (about 4-5 minutes) then take off the heat.

Meanwhile pour a kettleful of water into a large pan bring to the boil, add salt and cook the spaghetti for the time recommended on the pack. Drain, saving a couple of tablespoons of the cooking water. Put the prawns back on the heat, grate in the ginger and heat through with the reserved pasta water. Season with salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice if you think it needs it. Stir in the coriander if using then tip in the cooked spaghetti and toss together. Serve in warm bowls.

If you wanted to do a veggie version you could replace the prawns with broccoli which I'd cut into small florets and stir-fry in the garlicky/chilli-laced oil.

* We managed to get 2 reasonably-sized portions out of it plus 1 to warm up for today's lunch. Which is why it's in a frying pan.

What's your favourite food when you've got a cold?

Saturday, 1 October 2011

6 good wines to buy at Tesco

Unless, like the residents of Stokes Croft in Bristol, you wouldn't be seen dead stepping through the doors of a Tesco supermarket it's the place to be buying wine this weekend. They've got their autumn festival on plus a 25% off offer if you buy any six bottles from them online.

That doesn't mean you should snap up everything you can lay your hands on. A lot of the bottles are priced at an artificially inflated level so the 50% reductions aren't nearly as good as they look. Still, there are deals - here are six that would tempt me. (Offers end on October 4th)

Tesco Finest Picpoul de Pinet 2010 (above, down from £7.99 to £5.29)
I thought we'd left summer behind us but not at all. If you're down by the sea or just eating fish and chips this crisp, fresh-tasting white from the south of France will fit the bill perfectly.

Sketches Chardonnay Semillon, S.E.Australia (down from £7.99 to £4.99)
Semillon-Chardonnay used to be a popular Aussie blend that's slightly fallen out of favour so it's good to see it back. The semillon grape adds a touch of freshness to the rich chardonnay. A bright breezy white that would make good party (or barbecue) drinking. (I'm not so keen on the red which is a bit jammy.)

Chukker Argentinian Torrontes (£36 a case of 6 from Tesco Wine)
Torrontes is a fragrant floral white from Argentina that you'll enjoy if you like riesling and gewurztraminer. Great with mild seafood curries and kormas and spicy Indian nibbles like pakoras. I don't rate the Malbec under the same label as highly, though.

Tesco Finest Touriga Nacional 2010, Alentejo, Portugal down from £7.79 to £5.79
A big, warming gutsy red made from one of the grapes used in port. A good wine to drink with hearty casseroles and braises. One to save for colder days ahead

Tesco Finest Howcroft Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (down from £8.99 to £6.49)
Another good red from the Finest range - a delicious smooth, blackcurranty Australian Cabernet. I wouldn't normally advocate buying an inexpensive red as old as this but this should have the concentration to be still drinking well. Perfect for a steak pie.

Tesco Finest Amontillado Sherry down from £5.49 to £4.12 for 50cl
And the biggest bargain of them all if you like sherry. Gorgeously rich and nutty, it's a great buy at £5.49 but totally unmissable at £4.12. Stock up if you find it*

*Note: Tesco now has some 2500 outlets so you won't necessarily find these wines in smaller branches - including ones like my local Metro (unfortunately) and possibly in Scottish branches given the new legislation outlawing wine promotions.

Incidentally if you want to keep tabs on offers on your favourite wines check out Find Top Wines

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Half a duck = 2 meals for two

One of the things I like best - and I guess why I ended up writing the book and this blog - is finding cheap ingredients and conjuring up something tasty from them. So I literally fell on this half duck at the Co-op which was reduced from £5.37 to £2.75.

What to do with it? Well I was thinking of duck burritos (mmmm) but then settled for a slow roast duck with braised peas and chorizo (below). Extra expenditure: a bag of frozen peas, a chorizo ring and a soft round lettuce all of which could be used for the following night's meal.

We didn't stint ourselves either. I had half the breast, my husband the other half and the leg and a good helping of peas. Mash would have been good too but we're trying to lay off the carbs.

The following night, I decided I would make a version of the Portuguese dish Duck Rice so I stripped the meat from the carcass and made a stock from the bones (overnight in the Aga but you could easily make it on the hob).

I then chopped about 75g of chorizo (still leaving half the sausage for another meal) and fried it in a little fat, adding a finely chopped onion once it had begun to brown. Then a scant teaspoon each of ground cumin and coriander and a good pinch of oregano, and the finely chopped duck meat fried for another 3-4 minutes. I tipped in 125g of basmati rice, stirred it and poured in 250ml of the duck stock then transferred it uncovered to a hot oven for about 10 minutes, forked it over, added the leftover peas from the previous night and gave it another 5 minutes. The thing about duck rice is that it needs to get a bit crusty. We had it with the remaining leaves from the previous night's lettuce + a few extra salad leaves

You can do this kind of savoury rice or pilau with anything you have left over - a bit of chicken or pork would also be good or you could use bacon instead of chorizo. You do need an onion and some kind of spices though and a few mushrooms never go amiss

There's still enough duck stock to make a tasty soup - probably an onion one as that's what I've got hanging around in the kitchen at the moment but if you've got a couple of beetroot it's perfect for a borscht.

Slow roast duck with peas and chorizo
1/2 a duck, split lengthways
Salt, pepper and a touch of 5 spice if you have some
For the peas
2 tbsp olive oil
50g chorizo or bacon
1 onion or half a bunch of spring onions
A pinch each of smoked paprika (pimenton) and cumin (optional)
350g frozen peas
250ml hot vegetable stock made with a tsp of Marigold bouillon powder
3 to 4 outer leaves from a round lettuce

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Trim any excess fat off the duck (but not the covering fat), stab it a few times with a sharp knife then place it on a roasting rack in a tin and pour boiling water over the skin. Leave it to dry for 10 minutes or so then pour away the water, pat it dry with kitchen towel and season with salt and pepper.

Put a little oil in the roasting tin so the base of the duck doesn't stick then place the duck in the tin and roast for about 15 minutes until it begins to change colour. Turn the heat right down to 140°C and continue to cook the duck for about 3-4 hours turning the temperature down a bit more if it seems to be cooking too quickly. (I left it in the Aga lower oven for about 5 1/2 hours.)

Meanwhile cook the peas. Heat the olive oil in a pan and fry the chorizo or bacon until it starts to colour. Stir in the chopped onion and cook until soft. Add the smoked pimenton and cumin if using then tip in the peas, stir and add the stock. Half cover the pan and simmer until the peas are cooked - about 20 minutes. Wash and shred the lettuce and add to the pan then adjust the seasoning.

If you like you can remove the skin from the duck and crisp it up in a dry frying pan or a hot oven but it cooks so long I don't think you'll find it tastes fatty.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Wine of the Week: Tagus Creek Trincadeira Shiraz 2010

Yet another great value Portuguese wine. This one struck gold at at the Decanter World Wine Awards where it picked up the trophy for the best red blend under £10.

I tried it yesterday and could see why. It has that deliciously lush brambley fruit that tends to characterise Portuguese reds - almost like a lighter version of port. You could drink it with spicy meat dishes like chilli con carne, barbecues and even meat curries such as Rogan Josh. It would also be a great red to serve with a cheeseboard.

The best deal on it comes from Tesco Wine where you appear to be able buy it for £27.30 though (unsurprisingly) it's currently sold out. Keep an eye on the site though in case it comes back. You should also be able to find it in Tesco stores, Morrisons and Booths for around £5.99. Waitrose has another blend of international and local grape varieties from this producer, a gutsy Cabernet Sauvignon/Aragonez for the same price. 

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Why it's worth buying organic bananas

It might seem strange on this blog to advocate spending more on an ingredient but frugal eating is not about buying the cheapest food you can find but eating as well as you can on a limited budget.

I spend over the odds for organic milk and eggs, real bread from a local bakery, Italian-manufactured pasta (as opposed to own brand) and some organic vegetables like carrots because there is such a marked difference in taste - and in the case of ingredients like bread they stretch further.

To that list I'm now going to add organic bananas.

I bought them by accident the other day thinking they were Fairtrade and couldn't believe how different they tasted. Even the green ones my husband insists on buying because he hates speckled bananas tasted sweet. Just really banana-y, as you'd expect.

I also recall that conventionally grown bananas are heavily sprayed then treated with more chemicals to ripen them - a practice reported on here in the New York Times and here in the Sunday Tribune, India

Organic bananas are not a ridiculous amount more expensive than standard ones: £1.85 a kilo in the Co-op compared to £1.15 which came to £1.35 for 5 bananas or 27p a banana. You couldn't buy a chocolate bar for that.

What foods do you think it's worth paying extra for? And - as a matter of interest - do you like your bananas green, yellow or speckled? ;-)

Friday, 16 September 2011

Sampford Courtenay elderflower cider

No wine of the week this week because there's a great cider deal to highlight - 25% off all ciders at Waitrose.

That brings the delicious Sampford Courtenay Elderflower cider I tasted earlier this year down to a very affordable £3.74 a full sized bottle instead of £4.99. I'm not normally mad about flavoured ciders but this is a natural product made from apples picked on the Sampford Courtenay estate in Devon and free from artificial flavours, colours and sweeteners and elderflowers picked and steeped in their own spring water. Or so the blurb says and I've no reason to disbelieve it. Although this is a quintessentially summery drink I'd still be happy to drink it for the next month or so (I suspect Waitrose was banking on a hotter summer, hence the promotion). It's available in 204 branches and also from North Coast Wine.

Other good deals would be Waitrose's own range (particularly the perry) which is always good value and the excellent Orchard Pig which are made on our doorstep here in Bristol - possibly only available in selected West Country stores.

Monday, 12 September 2011

How to entertain on a budget

Before my holiday fades into the mists of time I want to tell you about a meal we had on the way home at the Auberge de Chassignolles in the Auvergne, my new favourite place in France.

Their evening meal is a no choice, 5 course prix fixe dinner which basically makes use of local ingredients they've bought from local suppliers or grown themselves. At 24 euros (£20.62) they're not making that much of a margin on it, particularly when you bear in mind that includes service*.

The meal that evening included:

A ham, fig and rocket salad (above). Slivers of country ham - probably not much more than 30g per person, I'd say - home-grown figs and rocket.

A fresh tomato and basil soup. Could have been home-grown but even if they'd bought the tomatoes they'd have been dirt cheap at that time of year (end of August). Soup is a great filler.

Lamb boulangère. Probably the most expensive part of the meal though I imagine the lamb was sourced from a local farm and the potatoes and onions of the boulangère (potato bake) would have been cheap. That was served with a green salad - more home-grown leaves.

A local cheeseboard. Cheese too is costly but again they probably bought it direct from the producer. You could help yourself, though, which was generous.

Apricot soufflé - a wildly impressive dessert but cheap as chips. Home-grown apricots, I'd guess, eggs and sugar.

It was a delicious, balanced, healthy meal which perfectly reflected the time of year and goes to show if you make use of produce which is in season - and are lucky enough to grown some of your own - you can entertain your guests royally at very modest cost. All you need to know is how to make the best of it . . .

* If you're staying there for a few days you can get a half board rate of 110€ per day, per couple for dinner, bed and breakfast

* Afterthought. Are these kinds of meals are easier to put together in France than in the UK? I think not - it's just a question of the mindset with which you approach them - but what do you reckon?

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Wine of the Week: Vina Decana Tempranillo Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

A fantastic deal this week from Aldi whose wine department you should definitely check out if you haven't already done so.

It's the Vina Decana Tempranillo Cabernet Sauvignon Crianza 2008, a rioja-like red from Utiel Requena in Valencia in southern Spain. With its old-fashioned presentation it's obviously designed to look like rioja, right down to the gold netting that covers the bottle but it's the taste that's so impressive - a really smooth red, with soft, ripe plummy fruit.

You could easily serve it for sniffy guests who would think it cost at least twice as much as it does. Which is just £3.99. Amazing.

It would go with a wide range of food but would be particularly good with roast lamb.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

A taste of The Frugal Cook

If you want a taster of The Frugal Cook you can find excerpts in this month's Vegetarian Living and Fabulous Food both of which carry recipe features on the book.

Fabulous Food has my caramelised cauliflower soup, seared salmon with creamed leeks and chives and peach and blueberry cobbler while Vegetarian Living went for the pizza giardiniera, spicy cashew and mushroom rice and carrot, oat and cinnamon muffins.

And while I'm in bragging mode if you know anyone who's off to uni this autumn my Ultimate Student Cookbook has just been listed in the Independent's top 10 student cookery books.

Actually all this is just an excuse to use the 'Grab' function on my Macbook which enables you to take a shot of any window you have open. Fun.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Wine of the Week: Bons Ventos Tinto

At £6 a bottle, this Portuguese red from the Lisbon region isn't bargain basement, I know, but it's here for a reason. Which is that it marks a change of direction for the 37 remaining branches of Oddbins which went belly up earlier this year.

It used to sell for £6.75 which, since duty and VAT as well as other costs have gone up in the meantime, reflects a significant reduction. No longer are Oddbins going to base their pricing on the fact that you get 20% off if you buy six bottles, I was told by the temporary manager of our local store in Bristol. And there are to be no weaselly 99p's hence it being priced at a clear and honest £6.

The wine, which is made from local Portuguese grape varieties - a blend of Castelão, Camarale, Tinta Miuda and Touriga Nacional, since you ask - is soft, appealing and brambly, a good wine to have around for the autumn days ahead. It would be good with sausage and mash, stronger cheeses like cheddars and blues and even a meat curry like a rogan josh, I suspect.

If you've got an Oddbins nearby (you can find the list of branches here) it's a good value option. Oddbins is a pale shadow of its former self but at least it's around in some shape or form rather than leaving us entirely at the mercy of the supermarkets.

Friday, 2 September 2011

In what way is a tub of cheese sauce 'essential'?

Coming back on the ferry from France yesterday I spotted two full page ads promoting Waitrose's budget 'essential' range and how easily you could run up a ham and leek pasta bake with it.

Most of the ingredients were fair enough. A pack of penne, a pack of sliced ham and a couple of leeks (though £2.70 a kilo isn't particularly cheap) but then I spied not one but two 350g tubs of ready-made cheese sauce at £1.59 each which would bring the cost of the dish to well over a fiver.

OK, I get where Waitrose is coming from - we're all short of time these days but how long does it take to make a cheese sauce? Particularly if you use the Delia all-in-one method which couldn't be easier. And which instead of costing you £3.18 would probably work out just over £1, even allowing for the fact you'd have to buy a pack of cheddar.

The fact that Waitrose is spending so much promoting this way of cooking also underlines how determined supermarkets are to wean us off low value basic ingredients and onto 'value added' ones. By implying we don't have the time or knowledge to make a cheese sauce they undermine less experienced cooks' confidence in their ability to make a meal from scratch and make them spend more than they need.

I don't know about you but I think that's a shame.

PS another thing that's odd. How come the recipe has a five star rating when no-one appears to have rated or commented on it? Just askin'.

Monday, 29 August 2011

How not to waste open jars and packets

One of the main things that stops me - and I guess you - being frugal is the tendency to use an ingredient for a single recipe then fail to use the rest of it. The problem is it requires constant thought - remembering it's in the fridge (or cupboard) and incorporating it into - or even letting it inspire - another meal.

But this week on holiday in France with slightly less on my mind I managed it.

When we arrived at the house we found there wasn't much to go with the sausages we'd picked up at the local shop. We had a tin of haricots blancs, a jar of red peppers, some garlic and a few shallots. I sweated off a couple of the shallots and a clove of garlic, sliced about a third of the peppers and added those to the pan along with the rinsed beans. French tinned beans break down more easily, I find, so you get a kind of rough-textured garlicky purée that's particularly good with sausages. A holiday staple.

The next day I made a piperade (spicy scrambled eggs - above) with another of the shallots, another third of the peppers and a pinch of hot paprika, let it cool slightly then stirred in 5 lightly beaten eggs and scrambled them. You need to cool your pepper mixture first otherwise it turns the eggs an unappealing shade of salmon pink or, worse still, pink and green. Hot peppers and eggs are a great combination.

And the next I concocted an impromptu hors d'oeuvres with hard boiled eggs, sardines, some tapenade toasts (toasted leftover baguette spread with olive paste) and the remaining peppers which finished off the jar.

Part of it I think is being aware you have limited time in a place so you don't want to stock up with a lot of food you can't use. And maybe being too idle to go to the shops in the heat. (Sorry, shouldn't rub it in. It has been gloriously hot and sunny here.)

But it's a good way to eat and use up what you buy.

How good are you at using up leftover ingredients? Any two or three-way recipes you can recommend?

Friday, 26 August 2011

Wine of the Week: Tesco Finest Manzanilla sherry

I make no apologies for being a sherry fan. In fact it amazes me that it's still so unpopular and still so underpriced.

This classic style from Bodegas Barbadillo is a real treat. Ultra dry, nutty and ever so slightly salty, it's designed to be drunk well chilled with tapas such as nuts, olives and slices of chorizo (Tesco has a good one which works well in cooking too). It's also really good with fried fish.

This is the first of a weekly slot where I'll highlight a wine I think offers good value for money. At £5.49 a 50cl bottle (£5.21 a bottle if you buy a case online) - enough for 5-6 glasses - this is bang on the mark.

Available in 286 (i.e. larger) Tesco stores.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Now Credit Crunch Drinking posts will appear on this blog too

I've come to the conclusion I have too many blogs. Five, at the current count which is ridiculous.

The logical step is to drop Credit Crunch Drinking as a separate blog and incorporate it here. Regular readers will remember I did this once before then rather weakly resuscitated it.

I should have stuck to the original decision. After all if you're interested in keeping down the cost of your food shopping, chances are the same applies to wine and other drinks. And if you're a fan of the Credit Crunch Drinking blog you may appreciate a few frugal recipes too.

So win/win, I hope. There will continue to be posts like this under £6 selection of bargain buys from M & S which ends on September 4th and this well-priced cider from the Co-op. Let me know if there are any drinks you'd particularly like me to cover.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Two great things to do with corn

As I'm away on holiday I'm taking the easy way out and posting links to two inventive recipes for sweetcorn which is cheap and in season right now.

One from Helen Graves of Food Stories who says she paid just £1 for 5 cobs last week. She barbequed them over hickory chips as you can see from her post here and served them with paprika and lime-flavoured butter.

And a delicious-sounding Roasted Corn Custard from Saveur which dropped into my inbox this morning.

Grilling undoubtedly adds a smokey edge to corn which offsets the sometimes excessive sweetness of new varieties. I shall be trying them out when I get back from France.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

How to cook purple potatoes

Having whinged about veg boxes for years, I'm now giving them another try. Why? Because I've found a really good scheme on my doorstep. Well, 7 odd miles away at the Barley Wood Walled Garden in Wrington.

This week's box (amazingly good value for £10) included purple potatoes so I've been debating for a couple of days what to do with them. My friend Elly had told me they disintegrated quite fast and ended up paler than she'd expected but I wanted to see if I could keep more of the shape and colour. (A similar challenge to my recent chiogga beets experiment.)

My initial idea was to buy a bunch of beets and combine them with the potatoes which I hoped would stain them a deeper red but when I cooked them (slowly, and for a shorter time than conventional potatoes) they actually looked quite pretty on their own.

I dressed them with a mustardy dressing, scattered over a few pieces of the red onion I was cooking with the beets, crumbled over some feta-like sheeps cheese in oil that had been lurking in the fridge, drizzled over a few drops of balsamic and a little extra oil and scattered over some parsley. A few edible flowers would have provided the perfect finishing touch.

I did however prefer the flavour of the roast beet and potato salad combo (see top of post) wich streaked the potatoes with an amazing magenta colour. I also added in the roasted potato skins, a super-thrifty touch which accentuated the potato flavour and crunch. My husband and I were discussing what would go well with this and came up with Stilton (or other blue cheese) and leek tart, German style sausages or other salty/smokey porky products and smoked mackerel. Not all on the same plate, obviously.

Anyway, try it for yourself:

Roast beetroot, red onion and purple potato salad

Serves 6-8

2 large beets or 3 medium-sized ones
500g purple potatoes
2 red onions
About 2 tbsp chopped parsley
A few chives
For the dressing
1 good tsp Dijon mustard
1 large clove of garlic crushed with 1/2 tsp coarse salt
1 1/2 tbsp red wine vinegar
6 tbsp light olive oil or 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil and 3 of sunflower oil
A little balsamic vinegar (optional)
A pinch of cumin
Freshly ground pepper and more salt if you need it

Set the oven to 190°C. Cut off the beet leaves*, scrub the beets clean and wrap loosely in lightly oiled foil. Place on a baking tray and roast for about an hour to an hour and a quarter, depending on size until you can pierce them with a sharp knife.

About 20 minutes before the beets are ready peel and cut the onions into quarters or eighths, place on a baking tray, drizzle with a little oil and roast for about 15-20 minutes. Set the beets and onions aside to cool.

Meanwhile scrub the potatoes and cut into even sized pieces (small potatoes whole, bigger ones into halves, still larger ones into quarters, etc). Place in a saucepan cover with boiling water and bring to the boil. Add salt and simmer (not boil) the potatoes for about 10 minutes until you can easily pierce them with a knife. (They don't take as long as conventional potatoes.)

Make the dressing. Put the crushed garlic and mustard into a bowl, whisk in the wine vinegar, ground cumin, salt and pepper then gradually add the oil or oils until the dressing thickens.

Drain the potatoes and set aside until cool enough to handle and remove the skins. (You'll probably already find them peeling away as above). Put the skins on the baking sheet you used to roast the onions, trickle over a little oil and crisp them up in the oven. Remove and cool.

Cut the potatoes into large chunks, tip into the dressing and turn them carefully so they are well coated without breaking up.

Peel the beets and cut into large dice and add to the potato along with the roast onion, most of the crisp potato skins, parsley and chives if using. Tip onto a plate and decorate with the remaining skins and a scattering of herbs.

I reckon the basic purple potato salad would also be good with raw rather than roast onion and perhaps a few capers if you wanted to ring the changes. And you might get an even better texture and colour if you steamed them.

* You can use the leaves as suggested in my recent post here.