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'.