Friday 31 October 2008

Roast pumpkin and pecan pie

I hesitated before uploading this recipe because it's much longer and more time-consuming than the recipes I normally post and also rather more extravagant. BUT it's a) really delicious, b) a great way to use up the pumpkin you'll have left over from your pumpkin-carving session later today and c) the perfect recipe for Thanksgiving. (It comes from my book Food, Wine & Friends, which I know my publisher will want me to mention ;-)

If you're short of time you could make the purée and freeze it then make the recipe for Thanksgiving in four weeks' time. If so, don't add the eggs, flour and cream at this stage. Just blitz the roast pumpkin, add the sugar, honey, spices and booze and freeze the purée in a plastic container.

You may well have more than 500g of pumpkin in which case you could also try my young food writer friend Signe's yummy Hallowe'en butternut squash muffins on the Beyond Baked Beans site. She also has a really good blog of her own, Scandilicious.

For the pumpkin purée
500g pumpkin flesh
1 tbsp bourbon or dark rum
1 tbsp light muscovado sugar
1/4 tsp mixed spice
15g chilled butter

For the pie filling
The pumpkin puree as described above
100g light muscovado sugar
1 tbsp maple syrup or clear honey
1 1/2 level tsp mixed spice
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
A pinch of salt
1 tbsp bourbon or dark rum
3 medium-sized eggs
2 level tbsp plain flour, sifted
150ml double cream

For the topping
50g shelled pecans
1 tbsp light muscovado sugar

For the pastry
250g plain flour
1 tsp ground ginger
2 tbsp icing sugar
110g chilled butter
25g Cookeen or other vegetable shortening
1 egg yolk (save the white)
Pinch of salt

You will also need a deep flan tin 23cm across and 3.5cm deep

First make the pastry. Sift the flour, ginger and icing sugar into a large bowl. Cut the butter into small cubes, cut the butter into the flour then rub lightly with your fingertips until the mixture is the consistency of coarse breadcrumbs. Mix the egg yolk with 2 tbsp ice cold water, add to the pastry mix, mix lightly and pull together into a ball, adding extra water if needed. Shape into a flat disc and refrigerate for at least half an hour. (You can also, of course make this in a food processor)

Next make the pumpkin purée. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6 Scrape away all the pumpkin seeds and fibrous pumpkin surrounding them and cut into even-sized chunks. Put the chunks on a piece of lightly oiled foil. Sprinkle over the bourbon, sugar and mixed spice and dot with the chilled butter. Bring the foil up round the sides and fold over carefully to form a loose but airtight package. Place on a baking dish and cook for 40 minutes until the pumpkin is soft. Carefully open up the foil, cool for a few minutes then tip the pumpkin and juices into a food processor or blender and whizz until smooth.

Roll out the pastry and lower into the tin. Trim the edges and press the base well into the tin. Prick lightly with a fork and chill for another half hour. Cover the pastry case with foil and weight down with baking beans or dried beans. Bake at 200°C/400°F/Gas 6 for about 12 minutes then remove the foil and beans, brush the base of the pastry with the reserved egg white to seal it and return to the oven for about 3-4 minutes. Remove the flan case and lower the oven temperature to 190°C/375°F/Gas 5.

Add the sugar and maple syrup to the pumpkin puree, then the spices, salt and bourbon. Add the eggs one by one, beating them in well then sift in the flour and mix lightly. Finally add the cream and pour the filling into the flan case. Put the tin on a metal baking tray, transfer to the oven and bake for about 50 minutes until the filling is just set and firm, reducing the temperature to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4 after about 25 minutes.

About 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time chop the pecans finely (by hand, not machine - you don’t want to reduce them to a powder). Put them in a pan with the sugar and warm gently till the sugar starts to melt. About 5 minutes before the tart is cooked Sprinkle the caramelized nuts evenly over the surface of the tart and return to the oven for 5 minutes. Take the tart out of the oven and cool for at least 20 minutes before cutting it. Serve lukewarm with lightly whipped, sweetened cream

Wednesday 29 October 2008

What to do with a butternut squash

As my husband's been away this week I've been exceptionally frugal, living largely off the contents of the storecupboard. (I eat a lot less meat when he's not around!)

The starting point for several meals was a butternut squash I'd forgotten about. Fortunately they last an age. I'd planned to explain on my student website Beyond Baked Beans how to cut up and cook one (now done) but have managed to stretch it into several days eating for one.

First I cut it up (the bit that puts so many people off, I think) and roasted it, half as a whole piece and half cut up with some wedges of red onion and a sweet potato I also found lurking in the veg rack. (I seasoned these with ground coriander seeds and some chilli flakes - butternut squash needs spice IMO.)

I made some soup with the whole half (that sounds wrong but you know what I mean) and put half the cut up roasted squash and other veggies in a small oven proof dish mixed with some steamed sprout tops I had left over. Then I laid over some slices of Maroilles I was checking out for the cheese book and flashed it under the grill. That was REALLY good! Those slightly stinky washed-rind cheeses are great with squash - and greens - but you could easily use Cheddar or even Brie.

The next day I chopped up the rest of the roast veggies and mixed them with a bit of cooled couscous I'd made up with some light vegetable stock and chucked in some toasted seeds and chopped coriander (I could have used parsley). Nice too and quite different from the previous night's meal.

I could also have made a butternut squash risotto if I'd felt so inclined but that didn't seem worth doing for one.

Anyway I got four meals out of it and it probably would have stretched a bit further if I hadn't been quite so greedy . . .

Monday 27 October 2008

Waste-watching with the WI

It's never occurred to me to join the WI (I'm not much of a joiner, to be honest) but they certainly seem to be putting the 'Jam and Jerusalem' image firmly behind them these days. First there was 'Calendar Girls', now it seems they're in the vanguard of efforts to cut down on the nation's food waste.

According to a report in the Independent on Sunday yesterday they've pioneered 10 'Love Food' local groups across the country, with the help of the Love Food, Hate Waste campaign and have been swopping tips and inspiring each other to help cut their food bills. One mother of four has cut her monthly bill by 50% from £800 to £400 (though £800 does seem a fair amount to be spending on food in the first place).

You can find accounts of how the groups were set up and some great recipe and storage tips on the WI website and a Love Food Champions Workbook here.

There's an interesting list too of the fruit and veg we waste most often which are, apparently, apples, potatoes, bananas, oranges and tomatoes. I'd agree about potatoes which very rapidly go green these days and bananas are hard to retrieve once they go really mushy but I don't tend to find the others too problematic. What about you?

Sunday 26 October 2008

Lobster wars

News in the papers today that Lidl is selling £4.99 lobsters. And - not surprisingly - that they're being snapped up.

It's a bit like the stunt which Woolworths pulled a year ago, selling a 'basics' champagne for £5 a bottle: much less about perceived market demand (we can all live without lobster, for goodness sake) but getting new shoppers into their stores.

Lidl has something else to gain which is to steal a march on its rivals Aldi which has managed to create the impression that it has the best quality offering of all the discounters (and is now selling cut-price lobsters too, I am informed, as is Tesco . . .)

Of course, as any frugal cook knows, this is not a real bargain. There's not much meat on a lobster. You'd need a whole one for a main course which, if you were serving it to 5 guests (plus yourself) would result in a bill for £30 for that course alone - never mind the champagne you'd want to drink with it. Just think how many prawns you could get for that!

What do you think of Lidl's offer and would you be tempted by it?

Friday 24 October 2008

Brussel tops rock!

I've got a bit of fixation about sprouts at the moment having discovered they are quite ridiculously healthy. Not only does an average 80g serving contain more vitamin C than an orange but they apparently contain higher levels of cancer-fighting compounds than any of their fellow brassicas including broccoli.

People hate them though, don't they? And for good reason. If they're boiled too long - as they generally were when I was a kid they go disgustingly soggy and sulphurous. I don't like them raw, I must admit, which is the best way to eat them from a health point of view but I've taken to stir frying them which works really well with either garlic, ginger and soy or with onions and bacon.

And then there's brussel tops (or should it be brussels tops?) which are at the tip of the plant and until recently were discarded or fed to cattle, my local greengrocer told me yesterday. He was selling them for 48p a lb (he steadfastly refuses to go metric) and the head above - enough for two - cost me just 17p.

I love them. The leaves are sweeter than cabbage, delicious steamed and tossed with butter or shredded and added to a soup or a stew. Enough to make you feel smug on every count - taste, health and cost!

Wednesday 22 October 2008

Jazzed-up sardines

Annoyingly my husband is just as smart a shopper as I am, if not even more frugal (unlike me, he doesn't get easily distracted from the task in hand). His bargain buy this week was three tins of sardines for £1 in Somerfield.

He likes sardines. I do - sort of. I know we're all supposed to eat a couple of portions of oily fish a week but I struggle. They just taste very . . . oily and fishy and look rather miserable and unappetising unless you jazz them up a bit with other ingredients which is what I did with two of the tins (above).

You simply break them up roughly into a bowl, add a little grated lemon rind and a squeeze of lemon juice, a little chopped onion or chives and a couple of spoonfuls of chopped parsley, season with salt (not too much) and a generous grind of black pepper, pile them on wholemeal toast and you've suddenly got yourself quite a tasty little lunch for two particularly if you scatter a few cherry tomatoes round the plate.

How do you get on with oily fish? Are you a sardine-lover or a loather?

Monday 20 October 2008

How to cook ox cheek

I finally managed to track down some ox cheek, not from Waitrose which has so far failed to stock it locally despite a barrage of publicity a couple of weeks ago, but in my local butcher Sheepdrove. They’d obviously responded to the Waitrose offal initiative: an assistant told me they’d never sold ox cheek as a separate cut up to now - it just got chucked in with the mince - but they’d had several requests for it.

I bought 485g for just £2.52 which is amazing for organic beef but found I ended up with quite a bit less once I’d trimmed off all the connective tissue of which it has rather more than the average braising cut. Then we invited a couple of friends to supper so I had to make it stretch for four - in the time-honoured frugal way by cutting the meat up small, making a lot of sauce and serving extra vegetables.

Ox cheek needs long slow cooking which is fine with me, at the end of which it has a meltingly tender texture. I cooked it with a rich dark beer which worked really well though you could equally well cook it daube-style with leftover wine. Or simply with beef stock. I also added a dollop of fig chutney which was rather nice (you need a touch of sweetness when you’re cooking with beer) and a counter-balancing dash of acidity in the form of a spoonful of malt vinegar.

The end result was delicious, every bit as good as a stew made with a more expensive cut. Hopefully ox cheek will remain a bargain but somehow I doubt it . . .

Ox cheek and Old Peculier stew
Serves 4
450-500g ox cheek
2-3 tbsp cooking oil
2 medium onions, peeled and roughly chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
1/2 tsp ground allspice or mixed spice
1 1/2 tbsp plain flour
A bayleaf (if you have one)
300 ml beef stock or stock made with 1 tsp Bovril or half a beef stock cube
150 ml Theakston’s Old Peculier or other full-bodied ale, porter or stout
1 tbsp fig relish (I used Tracklements) or date chutney or malt extract or dark brown sugar
1-2 tbsp malt vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 140°C/275°F/Gas 1. Cut the beef into small cubes, carefully removing any large bits of sinew or connective tissue (there’s quite a lot so just take out anything you think looks tough). Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the cubes quickly until lightly browned and transfer to a casserole. In the same oil cook the onion until starting to soften then add the carrots and cook for a few minutes more. Stir in the allspice and flour then add the stock and beer and gradually bring to the boil. Stir in the chutney and 1 tablespoon of the vinegar, add the bayleaf if you have one then put a lid on the casserole and cook in a low oven for about 2 1/2 -3 hours until the meat is tender (slightly less if you’re going to cool and reheat it). Check and stir the stew from time to time, turning the heat down a setting if it seems to be cooking too fast and half-opening the lid if the sauce needs reducing. When the meat is cooked check the seasoning, adding a little more vinegar if you think it needs it and an extra splash of beer to taste. I served this with a tray of roast sweet potatoes, onions and carrots and wedges of steamed Savoy cabbage but it would also be great with baked or boiled potatoes.

Friday 17 October 2008

Chocolate cappucino cake

The food news story of the past few days is that we're all getting back into baking. I'm not sure that isn't one of those slightly whimsical ideas the media gets into its collective head (I can't smell any baking smells wafting from our neighbouring flats) but it's a nice, comforting thought anyway.

I must confess I'm not an avid baker - which is just as well otherwise I'd be the size of a house - but I did come up with a really great recipe for The Frugal Cook which I adapted from a splendid book called Best Kept Secrets of the WI: Cakes and Biscuits. It's not terribly thrifty (or healthy, let’s face it) but even frugal cooks deserve a treat. And it does involve economies. Leftover coffee. Cocoa instead of chocolate (for the cake at least) and buttermilk spread instead of butter. If you're planning to join the ranks of the New Bakers, give it a go.

Makes 12-16 squares or bars (so a good weekend bake for a crowd)
1 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tbsp hot strong black coffee
200g unrefined caster sugar
225g hard buttermilk spread (e.g. Willow) at room temperature
4 medium eggs at room temperature
225g self-raising flour sifted with 1 tsp baking powder
For the icing
90g milk chocolate (Belgian rather than Cadbury's - see tip below)
40g butter or buttermilk spread
2 tbsp strong black coffee or milk
125g icing sugar

You’ll also need a medium-sized shallow rectangular cake tin about 18 x 32 cm lined with baking parchment (if it's not non-stick)

Turn the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4. Sift the cocoa into a large bowl, pour over the hot coffee and stir. Add the caster sugar, stir then tip in the spread, eggs and half the self-raising flour and beat thoroughly together with a wooden spoon or an electric hand whisk. Fold in the remaining flour. Spoon the mixture into the tin and level the surface. Bake for about 35-40 minutes until well risen and firm to the touch. Leave in the tin for 10 minutes then carefully tip out on a wire rack to cool. To make the icing break up the chocolate and put it in a basin with the butter and coffee or milk. Place the bowl over a pan of hot water, taking care that it doesn’t touch. Once the ingredients have melted remove from the heat and beat in the sifted icing sugar. Return the cooled cake to the tin, spread the icing evenly over the surface and leave to set for a couple of hours. Cut the cake into 12-16 squares or bars - or smaller pieces if you prefer.

A thrifty tip: Buy your milk chocolate in the bakery section rather than from the confectionery shelves. It tends to be cheaper

Wednesday 15 October 2008

Head to head with Delia

Great news: I've finally got a couple of advance copies of the book which looks really amazing. This is the 18th book I've written (must be mad!) but it's always a thrill when you finally get your hands on the first copy*. A bit like having a baby - it makes all the pain worthwhile!

The not such good news is that Delia is reissuing her Frugal Food at the end of the month which means we're up against the mighty Delia publicity machine - tough for a small publisher and a non-celebrity author. In Borders yesterday there were posters trumpeting 'Delia's back!'

I gather it's basically a re-issue of her 1985 paperback, presumably with photography given the cover price of £17.99. Loads of people will buy it simply because it's a new Delia but I do hope they - and the media - give 'Frugal' which is very much written from a 2008 perspective, a look-in too.

Matt, the designer, has done a really terrific job on it as you can see above.

* You'll have to wait a couple of weeks longer, I'm afraid. Books should be in the shops by the end of the month.

Monday 13 October 2008

Our £2 pheasant feast

Our best buy at the Dartmouth farmers’ market we shopped at on Saturday morning was two trays of pheasant legs at £2 each. (£2 a tray, not £2 a leg!) From a real farmer which, it has to be said, is unusual at farmers’ markets these days.

I don’t know about you but I’m getting more and more disillusioned with them. Most seem to be full of stalls offering overpriced cupcakes and chutneys. Very few offer genuinely local food. And why is it that the only cooked food being produced seems to be burgers and sausages? Surely someone has the wit and imagination to produce something a little different - like the raclette I wrote about on my cheese blog the other day.

Anyway, I digress. My husband being a much better game cook than me was in charge of the pheasant and produced a fantastic stew with a few onions, a lot of red wine, a dash of sweet sherry and an extraordinary concoction of spices which included (I pressed him to remember) cumin, coriander, sweet pimenton, thyme, oregano, bayleaf and cloves. Which I suppose makes this dish not quite as frugal as heralded and why, being more of a realist, I’m the cookery writer and not him. (It’s a very male way to cook ;-)

My contribution to the proceedings was some braised carrots (3 from a kilo bag from Tesco which cost only 45p) and some sprouts from the farmers’ market (about 45p worth) which I stir-fried with a splash of light soy sauce, some water and a few drops of sesame oil (OK, I admit that was a bit of an indulgence too) Total cost, provided you’ve got a well-stocked store cupboard and some leftover booze, £1.50 a head. Not bad for a slap-up Sunday night supper.

Saturday 11 October 2008

B & B's are the new boutique hotels

Well, that's what I'm predicting anyway. Who's going to be spending a couple of hundred quid on a snooty designer hotel when a homely B & B (Bed & Breakfast) offers equal comfort for a third the price?

We've just been down to Dartmouth for the annual food festival and I promise you I can't think of any hotel I've been to that has a better view than the guesthouse we stayed in (Mounthaven). We breakfasted above a terrace that overlooked the whole of the town and the Dart (above), a dazzling kaleidoscope of gold and silver, shimmering in the morning sun. You wouldn't have got a better view on the Italian riviera

And the price - just £76 for two including a more than generous English breakfast (below). A happy end to a somewhat scary week.

Thursday 9 October 2008

In the Indy's 10 best autumn cookbooks!

Great excitement this evening. Call from a friend to say The Frugal Cook is listed among the Independent's 10 best autumn cookbooks along with Jamie, Nigella, Gordon and Rick. It's tough to get into that sort of list if you're not a celebrity so this is a fantastic boost. Many thanks to Sharon Browne (of BBC Good Food who compiled the list)

And it is, I hear, finally on its way. It's being printed overseas, as most books are these days - in 'Frugal's' case in Dubai - and should be in the bookshops in the next couple of weeks. I hope . . .

Online money-savers

Just a useful link from the Guardian's money pages today - 50 ways to save money online.

Monday 6 October 2008

Bring back quiche!

I was testing recipes for my new cheese book at the weekend and made this really scrummy (though I say it myself) Leek and Stilton quiche. Quiche, note, not tart. (Another example of francophobia that we consider the idea of quiche hopelessly outdated)

Well it couldn't be better suited to these hard times. Home made short crust pastry is cheap and simple to make. Leeks are in season, Stilton curiously underpriced compared to other blue cheeses, eggs and single cream (I could have used milk) still reasonably priced. There was easily enough for six.

The downside again is time. You have to make the pastry, rest it, line the flan tin, ideally chill the case, bake it blind, first with baking beans and then without then finally bake it with the filling and cool it down. (Cold or room temperature quiche is much nicer than hot quiche.) But it's a nice thing to do on a Sunday afternoon and if I wasn't in the middle of testing umpteen other recipes I'd probably have made two.

So when did you last make a quiche? Are you a fan or do you find them just too much of a palaver?

Thursday 2 October 2008

Omelette paysanne

It's a sign of the disfavour into which French food has fallen that we'd rather talk about frittatas than omelettes these days. Even though they're virtually the same. We also buy pancetta cubetti rather than bacon bits - at about 3 times the price. There's a lot in a name.

Anyway, this simple meal was prompted by good old bacon - a small bag of offcuts that I spotted in a local butcher yesterday for just 35p. I also had a leftover cooked potato and some parsley to use up, some eggs and an onion (which one should never be without).

I went through the bacon offcuts and trimmed off the excess fat then tipped them into a frying pan in which I'd heated 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and fried them for a couple of minutes. (If the bacon had been watery I'd have discarded the liquid at this point and put fresh oil in).

I then added a large chopped onion (probably about 200g) and fried the mixture for another 7-8 minutes or so until the onion started to brown. I added the sliced potato and carried on frying for another couple of minutes then tipped in 5 large eggs, beaten with a handful of chopped parsley and seasoned with salt and pepper.

I left the pan on a low heat, pulling up the edges of the omelette as they cooked to let the liquid egg run down to the base of the pan. Then I heated the grill and put the pan under the grill to brown the top. (That took about 4 minutes.)

It should have been enough for three, even four with a salad and some bread but we managed to demolish it between the two of us (thus breaking my own rule that one should always set aside leftovers and not leave them lying invitingly on the table)

Even so, it was a good cheap lunch.