Monday 30 May 2011

Brined pork chops with crushed sage and apple potatoes

One of the biggest challenges of cooking on a budget is making cheap meat taste good. It can of course be done by long slow cooking but you don't always have the time. One solution, which works particularly well with pork chops is brining - leaving the meat in a lightly spiced salt and sugar solution* for several hours (although I suppose that takes a fair amount of time too. Or forethought at least). I'm sure the health police will get me for this but I have to say it makes a world of difference turning bland, tasteless, sometimes slightly tough cuts into tender, tasty but not overly salty ones. Give it a try.

Both recipes - the crushed potatoes make a really good accompaniment - serve 4

For the chops

75g coarse sea salt
40g unrefined granulated or caster sugar
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1/2 tsp juniper berries
a few allspice berries or a pinch of ground allspice
2 bay leaves
4 pork chops
2 tbsp light olive oil or sunflower oil
25g butter
Freshly ground black pepper

Measure out 1.5 litres of water into a saucepan. Add the salt and sugar and heat gently until both are dissolved. Add the peppercorns, juniper, allspice and bayleaves stir and bring to the boil. Simmer for 5 minutes then remove from the heat and cool.

Lay the chops in a single layer in a roasting tin or baking dish, pour over the brine and leave for 12 hours in the fridge. Preheat the grill to high. Rinse the chops and pat them dry with kitchen towel. Heat the oil gently and add the butter. Put the chops in a grill pan, brush generously with the oil and butter mix, season with pepper and grill for 6-8 minutes, depending on the thickness of the chops. Turn over, brush the other side with the oil and butter mixture, season and grill for another 6-8 minutes. Rest in a warm place for 5 minutes. Serve with the sage and onion spuds below
You can obviously also fry the chops which is what I did tonight.

For the crushed sage and apple potatoes

600g washed new potatoes
3 tbsp light olive oil or sunflower oil
1 bunch of spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced
1 medium eating apple (e.g. Blenheim or Cox)
A small handful of sage leaves, woody stalks removed
Salt and pepper (white for preference)

Cook the potatoes in boiling water for 8-10 minutes or until just tender. Drain and cool slightly. Heat a large frying pan and add the oil and heat for about 2 minutes. Add the onions, apple and sage and stir fry for a minute then slice the potatoes into the pan. Crush the potatoes with a wooden spoon or fork and fry for about 7-8 minutes, turning the mixture every couple of minutes until it's lightly browned Season well with salt and pepper

* This recipe originally came from my book Meat and Two Veg. Looking at it through more frugal eyes I can see that the spices in the brine might be a bit of an outlay if you don't already have them although you can get allspice quite cheaply from afro-caribbean grocers and juniper berries from health food stores and both last a good while. If you haven't got them don't fret just add a few more peppercorns.

Friday 20 May 2011

The new Frugal

Those of you who have been following this blog for a while may like to know that a new edition of The Frugal Cook has just been published. And for others who are coming across it for the first time I’d just like to say a bit about the approach I took in the book.

I got a bit of flak when the first edition was released for not concentrating enough on traditional recipes. One reviewer asked why I didn’t focus more on cuts like hearts, tripe and pilchards (because I don't much like them, is the honest answer). Another said “If the author thinks this is frugal she should have a word with my mother who cooked her way through the Second World War both domestically and running a night canteen for firefighters”. But that was nearly 70 years ago, I need hardly point out. Tastes have changed.

What I tried to do was create a budget cookbook that took account of the fact that people had less time, most probably less cooking experience and and access to a much wider range of ingredients. So there are Asian dishes like this Chicken broth with Coriander and Noodles (above) rather than an old fashioned chicken soup and a frittata rather than an omelette (below). There are meals to cook in bulk and make ahead (Basic Bolognese) as well as ones to rustle up from the storecupboard (Linguine with Stilton and Onions is a treat if you've got a piece of Stilton in the fridge)

There are tips for salvaging often discarded ingredients like spinach or broccoli stalks (Stalky Spinach, Pea and Mint Soup) or the leftovers from a barbeque (Chargrilled Chicken, Pepper and Herb Couscous Salad). And ones for cutting down the cost of family favourites like my Frugal Fish Pie. In fact there are tips for substituting ingredients and saving money throughout.

There are also treats - would I deprive you of treats? - like Empress of Puddings (a poshed up version of Queen of Puddings based on humble eggs, breadcrumbs and frozen berries as well as jam) and good old profiteroles. Who doesn’t love them?

In short there’s something for everyone whether you’re living on your own, feeding kids or entertaining friends and some lovely pictures (by Mike Cooper and Genevieve Taylor) to inspire you. At £9.99 - less than the original edition - it's cheap enough to treat yourself and a good gift for a friend. End of sell!

PS if you want to buy the new illustrated edition make sure it’s the one with the red cover not the green one!

Thursday 5 May 2011

How does Sainsbury’s Feed Your Family for £50 campaign stack up?

Can you feed your family healthily for £50 a week? That’s the question Sainsbury’s is posing in an expensive new advertising campaign which is plastered all over the papers today.

Obviously they wouldn’t be spending this kind of money if they didn’t think it would be profitable for them but could you stick to the Sainsbury’s meal plan which you can find on their website here?

I was one of three food writers The Guardian asked to contribute to the debate - in the ‘yes you can’ camp. As the comments below the posts from readers show it is doable though I have reservations as to how many families who are not already living on that kind of budget could manage. As I said in my post it’s not only a question of what you buy but whether you can persuade your family to eat it - and to eat round the table at the same time. And how used you are to cooking meals from scratch.

Now that I’ve seen the meal suggestions in detail I have to say it looks more appealing than I thought - a good deal better than the details one reader posted by mistake from a similar Sainsbury’s offer that was made several years ago which included bought meat pies and canned beef and vegetable soup.

Whoever has devised the plan has managed to cram a surprising amount of fruit and veg into the weekly budget though I haven’t scanned it in enough detail to see how they’ve worked out the costings. If they’ve costed carrots for example pro rata they must be assuming that people would by them loose which I’m not sure the majority would do. It’s managing to use up the food you buy that really saves you money.

There are also some imaginative suggestions. Whizzing up bananas with your breakfast milk to make a banana flavoured milk to pour over your cereal is a great idea as is sprinkling cheese on bread crusts and grilling them to make cheesy croutons for a tomato soup.

There are some surprisingly unfrugal suggestions though like putting on the oven just to roast some tomatoes for breakfast, using ready-made tomato and stir fry sauces rather than making your own with a can of tomatoes or using soy sauce and failing to use the carcass from Sunday’s chicken in some way to make a meal for Monday or Tuesday.

I’m not sure it stands up from a health point of view either. Recommending toast and jam as a suitable breakfast for hungry teenagers three days a week doesn’t seem particularly good advice. In fact I’m not sure how a strapping teenage boy would survive on these relatively meagre rations. And surely it would be better to serve more veggie options than dish up cheap frozen sausages twice a week?

There are also many ingredients that you could buy cheaper than the price Sainsbury’s is charging for them. Most market stalls and a fair few shops would charge less than 80p for a cucumber, for example.

Obviously the week’s plan will come in on budget if you stick to it - but that’s a big if. My guess is that Sainsbury’s is hoping that you won’t.

What do you think of Sainsbury’s menu plan? Do you reckon it’s possible to feed a family of four for £50 a week and what would be your best tips for economising?