Wednesday 26 December 2012

Jellied ham and parsley terrine

The problem with leftovers is that they can easily look like exactly that but this crafty way with cooked ham - an anglicised version of the French jambon persillé - looks like you've made it from scratch*. If you want it to look really fancy you can make it in a loaf tin and unmould it but I reckon that's far too much of a faff at this time of year.

Although I've given quantities you can adjust them depending on how much ham you have over. Or replace some of the ham with cold turkey as per the original recipe in the Frugal Cook book. You may not need all the stock.

Serves 4-6 depending what else you're serving.

450-500g piece of cooked ham
4 tbsp dry white wine (a neutral white like Pinot Grigio or Chablis is ideal)
6 sheets of fine leaf gelatine (or whatever amount is recommended to set 500ml of liquid)
425ml strained ham stock 
A large handful of curly or flat leaf parsley
Freshly ground black or white pepper
A pinch of mace (optional)

You'll also need a medium sized (about 1.2 litres) bowl

Put the wine into a shallow dish, add the gelatine and leave for about 10 minutes until the gelatine softens.  Heat the ham stock, remove from the stove and stir in the gelatine until dissolved. Leave to cool for 30 minutes.

Remove any fat from the ham and cut into largeish chunks about 2cm square. Finely chop the parsley and mix with the ham. Season with pepper and mace (no salt - the ham should be salty enough.)

Pour half the cooled stock into the bowl, mix in half the ham and parsley mixture and refrigerate until it just begins to set.  Add the remaining ham and stock** and refrigerate for a further couple of hours.

* Of course you can make it from scratch. A ham hock should contain just about enough lean meat to make a small terrine.

** If the stock has jellied you can warm it again gently.

Friday 14 December 2012

12 things you need to start your 5:2 diet

It’s pretty obvious that any diet is doomed to failure if you have the wrong things in your fridge but it’s slightly more tricky with the 5:2 diet where you eat ‘normally’ 5 days a week. The temptation to pitch in to that half open bottle of wine and leftover cheese can be overwhelming. To counter it you need to have some food - and drink - to hand that won’t cause you problems on fast days:

Assuming you have basics like eggs, spices and herbs anyway this is what I’d lay in:

Low fat yoghurt or fromage frais
Surprisingly low in calories so perfect for breakfast along with some fruit - though choose your fruit carefully (blueberries are a good choice). The yoghurt I’ve got (Waitrose organic low fat natural live bio yoghurt) is just 57 calories per 100g - which is a fair amount of yoghurt. Fat free fromage frais is even lower at 50 calories per 100g

Fizzy water
You need - or rather I need - something to drink at the time you might normally be having a pre-dinner glass of wine. Chilled sparkling mineral water on the rocks with a dash of angostura bitters and a slice of lemon does the job. Most of the time, though I found I was craving a sherry tonight.

In tea or water as above. Good for squeezing on stir-fries and salads too

You need something for the times when hunger pangs become intolerable (in my case about 4 in the afternoon). Low calorie crispbreads come to the rescue. I have two - Ryvita Multi-Seed Thins at 37 calories a slice and super-tasty Peter’s Yard crispbreads at 34 calories each which compensate for not having bread.

Some kind of low calorie dip or spread
Surprisingly there are more than you’d think - some not even labelled low fat like Waitrose’s oddly named ‘Distinctive crab paté’ which is only 78 cals for 42g. So about 28 calories for a tablespoonful. Sainsbury’s annoyingly twee but quite tasty Be Good to Yourself red pepper houmus is 65 calories per 50g and Garlic and Herb Philly Light, for which I must confess a guilty weakness, 46 calories per 30g. So a crispbread and a smear of one of these will get you through a wobbly moment.

Cucumber - good for dunking in the above - just 10 calories per 100g

Red and yellow peppers - ditto though slightly more calorific at about 32 calories per 100g. Good for stir-fries too

Instant miso soup
Comforting when you’re starving and when a coffee or tea just won’t do. The brand I’ve got (Clearspring) is only 17 calories per sachet

Fry Light or other low calorie olive oil spray
One of the hardest things I find is doing without olive oil and salad dressings. (Think about it: a tablespoon of oil is over a fifth your daily allowance on a fast day.) This will at least make sure whatever you’re cooking doesn’t stick and give it a bit of flavour. And only 1 calorie a puff

Balsamic vinegar
I was really surprised at this one. Balsamic vinegar is only about 5-7 calories a teaspoon. Which will basically dress a small watercress or watercress, rocket and spinach salad which are virtually no calories at all.

A pack of frozen prawns
Preferably the small North Atlantic ones which will give you the illusion you’re eating more than 2 or 3 king prawns will. 61-67 per 100g.

Some decent tea
So long as you have it without milk, tea - and infusions - are the friend of the 5:2 dieter. Maybe make this the time you get into leaf tea if you’re not already. The whole ritual of making yourself a pot feels like a treat.

What would you suggest for the 5:2 storecupboard - or fridge?

Tuesday 11 December 2012

How do you handle fast days on 5:2?

Given the interest in my post on the 5:2 diet I thought I’d post again passing on the accumulated wisdom of . . . er . . . just over 2 weeks dieting.

So, how often do you eat? Seems to vary a lot. Some seem to manage an entire day without eating before they have their evening meal. Others including Michael Mosley don’t eat between breakfast and dinner. That has the advantage you can have a decent breakfast, a bowl of porridge, say or a couple of boiled eggs but I still find it a long time to go without food. Maybe that will ease over time but I find being hungry immensely distracting and can’t think about anything else.

So I eat - just as I normally would. 4 times a day. Breakfast, lunch, tea and supper. I’ve tried doing without anything between lunch and supper but get ravenous around 4-5pm. So I have a snack of a crispbread and some low calorie hummus. (Low cal red pepper hummus has less than the original kind)

For breakfast I’ve tried a boiled egg and a crispbread - a bit meagre even though the crispbreads are the wonderful Peter’s Yard’s. (A seeded Ryvita would be a cheaper alternative). I prefer a bowl of low fat yoghurt and blueberries, which keeps me going for several hours.

For lunch I’ve experimented with soup (low cal but not particularly filling), big salads and crispbreads, raw veg and hummus. Cheese, for me, is a no-no. You can’t really have more than 30g and I find that incredibly frustrating.

Dinner is a bit more cheering. Stir-fries work best I think (prawns are really low cal) or some steamed or baked fish and veg though obviously you can’t allow oil (119 calories a tablespoon) or butter (205 calories an ounce) anywhere near it. Or potatoes. Or rice . . . . (You can see one can get quite tetchy by this time of day) Large Asiany soups (without noodles) are also quite satisfying. And if you haven’t blown 300 calories already you could have a calorie-counted ready meal.

If you’re looking for inspiration there are some delicious recipes from food writer Xanthe Clay who is also on the diet here, some 200-400 calorie recipes on the BBC Good Food website and a good ebook I’ve discovered called The 5:2 diet book by Kate Harrison, downloadable from Amazon at £2.56. Money well spent.

Sunday 9 December 2012

5:2 - the perfect frugal diet

I told you I'd be back sometime and here I am. Back to frugal eating but with a slightly different slant. Semi-fasting 2 days a week, otherwise known as Intermittent Fasting, the 2 day diet and the 5:2 diet. Ironically I’ve actually lost 5 lbs (just over 2 kg) in the first 2 weeks which is rather apt.

A food writer friend of mine had lost a similar amount and was raving about it as perfectly suited to the indulgent lifestyle we foodies enjoy. (Not expecting any sympathy, obviously, but it’s taken its toll and my weight has been creeping up relentlessly over the last 5-6 years.)

Apart from a brief spell on Weight Watchers after the birth of my son I’ve never managed to diet successfully but 2 days a week - even with a limit of 500 calories (men are allowed 600) a day is totally do-able.

The theory is that fasting twice a week rather than 24/7 confuses the brain and prevents it conserving fat rather than burning it up. (Normally as you lose weight your metabolic rate slows.) it also apparently discourages it from producing the hormone IGF-1 which makes the body focus on repairing and renewing cells rather than making new ones. No, I don’t fully understand all that either but read this article by Dr Michael Mosley, whose Horizon programme kick-started the craze, for  clarification.

So what can you actually eat? Not a lot if truth be told, unless you want to save up your allowance for one relatively normal meal - as many do. Effectively no cheese, no booze, no bread, no butter, very little meat and not much fruit. You can however fit in eggs, fish, low fat dairy and dips and loads of veggies. And there’s always the cheering thought that you can resume normal eating the following day.

When I say 'normal' of course I mean most people’s normal not a massive blowout to compensate for what you missed the previous day. I find it’s made me more conscious of what I eat and so I’m reining back a bit generally although this two week period has included a hugely indulgent weekend in Portugal.

I haven’t felt dizzy - some apparently do - though I felt a bit light-headed on the first fast day. I have felt hungry so find I need 3 meals plus some kind of snack which means the maximum I can eat at a sitting is 200 calories. I've actually quite enjoyed devising ways of getting round that. I've also felt much more clear-headed and energetic.

The other benefit is you eat less therefore you spend less. So frugal in the conventional sense too.

I’ll be posting occasionally to let you know how I’m getting on and pass on any useful tips.

Tuesday 8 May 2012

The Frugal Cook is taking a sabbatical!

It's happened before and will no doubt happen again: I've got too many balls to keep in the air at the moment so I'm going to have to take a break from the blog until things calm down again. Hopefully not for too long.

The killer has been revamping my website which does what it says on the tin: suggesting wines to match dishes you may be cooking and, occasionally, food to match a bottle you've been keeping for a special occasion.

Although there are some quite grand wines on the site occasionally it's mainly about the sort of wines  - and other drinks - you might buy to share with friends. I include beer, cider and other drinks too so I hope you'll find it useful.

There's another reason for visiting the site right now. To celebrate the relaunch we have a competition to win a case of Louis Roederer champagne. All you need to do is sign up for the newsletter to be included in the draw. As they say, you have to be in it to win it ;-)

Bye for now . . .  x

Tuesday 17 April 2012

Asparagus carbonara

Asparagus has come so early this year - a good month before the beginning of the official English asparagus season - that there's a danger you may be fed up with it already and be casting around for creative things to do with it. This is a good way to use up the thin asparagus called sprue or those misshapen spears you sometimes find at farm gates which don't meet supermarkets' exacting standards.

Asparagus carbonara
Serves 2

A bunch of asparagus
1 tbsp olive oil
A slice of butter
1/2 a bunch of spring onions, trimmed and sliced
1 tbsp fresh tarragon or 1 tsp dried tarragon (optional but good)
200g tagliatelle, fettucine or spaghetti
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
4 tbsp grated parmesan or Grana Padano + extra for serving
A spoonful or two of double or whipping cream (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cut the bottom quarter to a third off the asparagus spears. Cut off the tips and set aside then roughly chop the rest of the stem.

Heat a frying pan, add the oil then when that’s hot add the butter. Tip in the chopped asparagus and sliced onions, add the tarragon and stir for 2-3 minutes. Add the tips to the pan and fry a few minutes more until tender then take off the heat.

Meanwhile bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, add salt and cook the tagliatelle for the time recommended on the pack. Spoon off about 3 tbsp of the cooking water into the asparagus then drain the pasta and return to the pan.

Tip in the beaten eggs, parmesan and cream if using and mix well. The heat of the pasta will cook the egg but shouldn’t scramble it. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Quickly reheat the asparagus and toss with the pasta. Serve in warm bowls with extra parmesan.

Thursday 5 April 2012

The best of the supermarket Easter wine offers

There’s a bit of a backlash against supermarket half price wine offers at the moment with which I’ve every sympathy. To artificially inflate wine prices only to heavily discount them sails perilously close to the wind legally but if the wines have been on offer in at least some stores at the full price they're in the clear. And this kind of discounting will go on unless the public boycott special offers in their droves (unlikely) or the Government sees fit to ban it (almost equally so).

So many of the following offers don’t look as good as they seem but at the price they’re being offered the wines are worth buying. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Don’t be fooled by the size of the discount and never pay the full price for wines that are regularly discounted.

Asda Mas Miralda Cava £5 - well above average supermarket own brand Cava; Extra Special Fiano and Pinot Grigio, both £5; Rigal, The Original Malbec £5; Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon , Chile £5; Campo Viejo Crianza £6

Charles de Cazenove champagne is on sale at £15.99 - certainly not worth the original £31.99 but a fair deal at this price. The light, creamy Torres Vina Sol is also a decent buy at £4.99 if you’re looking for an everyday white.

Marks & Spencer
A well-priced Italian pair: Vermentino £5.99, Chianti Colli de Rasenna £5.99. Also 6 for the price of 5 on all bottled beers. Offers last until April 7th.

Not the easiest supermarket to check out online but the Ventoux red (£4.98), Calvet Sauvignon Semillon (£5.49) and Warres LBV £6.99 would all be worth a punt. And Innis & Gunn Oak-aged and Rum Finish beers at 2 for £3 is a good deal along with Morrisons The Best Vintage cider at £1.99 for 750ml. Beware ‘Better than half price’ offers in general though.

There are reductions on some of the Taste the Difference range including TTD prosecco £7.99, and the TTD Languedoc Red, TTD Languedoc white and TTD Touraine Sauvignon Blanc which are worth buying on a 2 for £12 offer

See my recommendations in last week’s Guardian column

Bredon Brut champagne is down to £13.99 again - a good buy if you want fizz for a wedding. Other deals: Lindauer Special Reserve Brut is £8.99; Baron de Ley Club Privado Rioja £6.32; Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc £6.66; Muscat-de-Beaumes-de-Venise, Carte d’Or £4.99 a half bottle
And if you miss them? Don't panic - there will be more 'special' offers as soon as Easter is over plus the usual seasonal wine fairs.

Sunday 1 April 2012

Eggs and asparagus, Istrian-style

You might not think there's a lot to say about eggs and asparagus that hasn't already been written but then you probably haven't been to the northern part of Croatia that's known as Istria at this time of year. (No, nor had I.)

Over the three days we were there we had it three times - each served slightly differently. The most popular way to cook it is simply to saute the asparagus in a little olive oil then add some lightly beaten, seasoned eggs but it tasted like no other scrambled eggs - or asparagus - that I've ever eaten.

That's partly because the asparagus is wild with a more herbal, bitter taste than you get at home, partly due to the intensely grassy, green olive oil and partly the eggs which were super-fresh with deep yellow yolks. I reckon the best way to replicate the taste would be with the fine asparagus called sprue, maybe adding a small handful of shredded wild rocket.

Another way to serve it is with a chopped egg sauce and some fried ham or bacon as we did at a restaurant called Nono in Umag.

What's great about the dish is that it's so seasonal, made out of ingredients any smallholding had to hand or could forage for themselves. The period from now until May 1st is celebrated as 'Istrian asparagus days' - asparagus is regarded as an aphrodisiac and a protection against snakes, according to the website Colours of Istria. "Apparently, if you eat the raw tip of the first asparagus you pick at the beginning of the harvesting season, you will be safe from snakes in the forest for the rest of the season." Which must be a relief.

What I particularly like about this promotion is that the Croatians are perfectly happy to put a humble dish like scrambled eggs on a menu at a smart restaurant. Why to goodness can't we?

Sunday 11 March 2012

How to cook shortribs - with brilliant leftovers

Just before winter finally disappears (although looks like I may already have missed the boat) here's a wonderfully warming dish of braised beef shortribs I made last weekend when I was having a bit of freezer clearout. To be honest I'd forgotten about them - as you do. They were a bargain I'd picked up in one of our local Bristol butchers Ruby & White for under £10, I seem to remember. Impressive as there was enough for two generous meals.

First I followed the recipe below from The Frugal Cook which gave us two socking great ribs to feast on on Sunday night. I left them in the AGA overnight, cooled and skimmed them the following morning then reheated them for dinner along with some roast carrots.

You don't have to use a whole bottle of wine for the dish (I'm lucky enough to have a ridiculous number of open bottles due to the day job) - if you replace half with stock it will still be delicious - but more gravy-like.

Braised beef short-ribs
Short-rib is a classic American and French cut which used to be quite hard to find but which is increasingly widely available. They’re thick chunky wedges of beef on the bone and need long slow cooking.

Serves 4-6
2 tbsp oil
1.2kg beef short ribs
2 medium onions, peeled and roughly chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
2 level tbsp tomato purée
1 rounded tbsp plain flour
600-700ml full-bodied red wine or wine and stock combined + an extra half glassful
2 sprigs of thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large ovenproof pan or casserole and brown the ribs on all sides. Set aside. Turn the heat down and fry the chopped onions and carrots in the oil until beginning to soften (about 7-8 minutes). Stir in the garlic and tomato puree and cook for a minute over a low heat then stir in the flour. Gradually add 500ml red wine then heat, stirring, until the sauce has thickened. Season with salt and pepper. Return the ribs to the pan, adding enough extra wine, stock or water to ensure they’re covered with sauce and bring to the boil. Turn the heat right down and simmer on the lowest possible heat or transfer the casserole to a low oven (140°C/275°F/Gas 1) for 3 1/2 to 4 hours until the meat is falling off the bone. Check the casserole every hour or so to make sure it isn’t cooking too fast. The surface should barely tremble. Remove from the heat and cool then refrigerate overnight. Skim the fat off the surface of the casserole then return the ribs to the liquid in the casserole. Add another half glassful of red wine and reheat slowly.

The following night I made the dish I'd actually been gagging to make - a simplified version of the beef shin macaroni (aka macaronnade) in the Hawksmoor at Home cookbook in which I had a hand. You simply shred the remaining meat and fold it and the sauce - of which you need a fair bit - into some freshly cooked short or 'elbow' macaroni. The kind you use for macaroni cheese. I bought mine loose in a shop called Scoopaway in Gloucester Road.

Then you layer it up in an ovenproof dish with a good sprinkle of freshly grated parmesan between each layer and bake it at about 190°C for half an hour or so. About 60-75g of parmesan in total - you need to be quite generous with it. I won't say it's the world's most beautiful dish (not helped by this murky low-lit photo) but it is insanely good. Like the best spag bol you've ever tasted. Feeds 4.

Thursday 8 March 2012

Why you should try Fairtrade wine

I meant to post this before but there's still a chance to try some Fairtrade wines at a discount before Fairtrade Fortnight ends this Sunday. The best place to go is the Co-op which not only has the widest range but has knocked 20% off across the board on all Fairtrade goods including bananas, chocolate, tea and coffee*.

I've been critical of Fairtrade wines in the past (see my Guardian column last year) but they do seem to have improved, especially the reds. This year I recommended the exuberant, fruity Co-operative Fairtrade 2011 Bonarda Shiraz (down to £4.99) from the La Riojana co-operative in Argentina, a great wine to serve with a robust pasta sauce or a Friday night pizza, the smooth, lush Fairtrade Carmenère (also £4.99) from Chile which, odd though it might sound, is a good wine to serve with a meaty curry like a rogan josh and the rich, full-bodied Fairtrade Gran Reserva Malbec 2011 (down to £6.39 from £7.99), again from Argentina, which would be ideal for a Sunday roast or a steak. In fact it would actually benefit from laying down for a year or so if you've room to stash a few away.

I'm slightly less grabbed by the whites but if you're in search of a light inexpensive chardonnay the Fairtrade Chardonnay from South Africa (£5.99) is perfectly decent and the Torrontes/Chardonnay from Argentina which blends Chardonnay with the indigenous Torrontes grape (£4.99) has an appealing floral twist that would make it a good match for light Asian dishes like stir-fries and salads.

If you've not tried Fairtrade wines before give them a try.

* Actually I've discovered that some of the Co-op offers carry on till March 20th so you've got another week to take advantage of the discounted prices.

Friday 2 March 2012

How 'product shrinkage' increases prices by stealth

Take a look at these two bottles. The one on the right - bought a few months ago - contained 500ml of red wine vinegar. The significantly smaller one on the left, which my husband just picked up from Tesco for £1.23, has only 350ml.

I'm pretty sure I paid around £1.19 for that larger bottle which worked out at 24p per 100ml. The new size works out at 35p per 100ml - a whopping increase in a short period.

I can't for the life of me see why we should pay so much for vinegar. French supermarkets have it at a fraction of the price. In many branches you can't even buy an own brand vinegar now though I notice from that Asda has a 350ml bottle for 67p - that's 56p a bottle cheaper than the Aspall branded one.

Product shrinkage has of course been going on for a while but it seems to me it's got way more prevalent recently as this report from Which? last year suggests. I've noticed fewer teabags in some of the packets I buy, for example. Have you spotted any incredible shrinking products lately?

Monday 20 February 2012

Braised chicory with Roquefort

Having spent the last 10 days in France it's struck me again what a mystery it is that you can't order more vegetable-based dishes in French restaurants. It's not that they don't have the produce. Down in the Languedoc they have gorgeous leeks right now and great bagfuls of chicory which is something you rarely find in the UK - or not at a reasonable price. Yet the only greenery most restaurants seem to offer - and have done for the past umpteen years - is salade de chèvre chaud (grilled goats' cheese salad).

Anyway I took advantage of some very good prices (about €2.50 a kilo) to buy 5 heads of chicory to make a side dish to go with yesterday's roast chicken. This is roughly the recipe.

Braised chicory with Roquefort
Serves 4-6
5-6 heads of chicory
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp olive oil
20g butter
About 125ml chicken or vegetable stock
50g Roquefort or other blue cheese. Or almost any leftover cheese for that matter - Comté would be good.

Cut the heads of chicory in half lengthwise and remove any damaged outer leaves. Fill a large shallow pan with water, bring to the boil and add the lemon juice to stop the chicory discolouring. Add the chicory, reduce to a simmer and cook for 4-5 minutes then remove with a slotted spoon.

Discard the water from the pan, add the oil and then the butter. Once melted lay the halved chicory heads in the pan and fry until well browned, turning them carefully halfway through so as not to break them up. Lay them cut side upwards in a shallow baking dish, pour over the stock and crumble over the cheese. Cook alongside whatever roast you're cooking for another 10-15 minutes until the cheese is lightly browned and the stock pretty well evaporated.

I also made a dish of leeks vinaigrette for which I posted a recipe on the blog a couple of years ago. Good to be reminded how good it is though and leeks are very tasty at the moment.

Sunday 5 February 2012

Dukka (or Dukkah)

If you're someone who never manages to use up the nuts or spices you buy for a recipe dukka (aka dukkah) could be your salvation. Basically it's a ground up mixture of roasted nuts, spices and dried herbs in which to dunk bread or raw vegetables. It appears to originate from Egypt though has become very fashionable in Australia. And it's dead tasty.

To keep down the cost if you're making it from scratch buy one of those packs of mixed chopped nuts. I'm not mad about their flavour normally but if you roast them and mix them with spices they taste fine - just nicely nutty. And - hopefully it doesn't need saying by now - buy your spices from a ethnic grocer rather than from the supermarket. You'll pay a fraction of the price.

Makes about 250g mix - enough to feed a group of six to eight though obviously check no-one has a nut allergy.

100g chopped mixed nuts
75g sesame seeds
25g coriander seeds
10-12g cumin seeds
1 level tsp dried oregano
1 level tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp black peppercorns

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4

Spread the nuts and seeds on separate baking trays or tins and roast them in the oven until lightly coloured and fragrant - about 7-8 minutes for the nuts, 4-5 minutes for the coriander and seeds and 3-4 minutes for the sesame seeds. (It might sound a faff roasting them separately but you don't want to overcook them. You could toast the cumin seeds in a dry frying pan if you like. The main thing is to watch them like a hawk).

Set the nuts and spices aside to cool. Put the nuts and peppercorns into a food processor or spice grinder, pulse a few times then add the coriander, cumin and sesame seeds and oregano and salt and pulse again. Don't overdo it - you want a rough textured mixture that looks like coarse breadcrumbs (see below). If you haven't got a food processor you could use a pestle and mortar to grind everything up but that's obviously harder work.

Serve with good olive oil, chunks of bread or warm pitta bread and raw veg like carrots and radishes. It's also great as a sprinkle over roast vegetables or you can use it as a coating for soft goats' cheeses - or a topping for roast fish. You could add a few chilli flakes if you want to spice it up but this version is better for kids (provided, just to stress it again, they're not allergic to nuts).

You can keep any leftover dukka for a week or two in an airtight tin or plastic box though you might want to refresh it in the oven for 2-3 minutes before you serve it.

By the way the beetroot dip in the rather messy pic above (suddenly remembered I should snap it half way through eating it) is made from a couple of vac-packed beets - a recipe I adapted from Stephen Markwick's A Well-Run Kitchen. You simply chop them up and whizz them with 2 tbsp Greek yoghurt, 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, about a teaspoon of ground roast cumin, a pinch of hot pimenton or cayenne pepper and 3 tbsp olive oil and season well with salt and pepper.

Sunday 29 January 2012

The Great Fresh Herb Rip-Off

I've banged on about this before and probably will again but I just wanted to have another moan about the extortionate price of fresh herbs in supermarkets. Witness this 25g bag of flat leaf parsley that was on sale at Waitrose yesterday for 89p. That's £35.60 a kilo, more than the cost of fillet steak.

I can buy a bunch roughly 10 times that size from my local greengrocer for just over £1 and so, I'm sure, can you. It's really time supermarkets stopped ripping us off.

That said I did find quite a useful product in the frozen cabinets as part of Waitrose's Cooks Ingredients series which was a pack of Thai mix - a mixture of lemongrass, coriander, ginger, chilli and garlic - which would be quite handy to keep in the freezer. It won't pack quite the punch of fresh ingredients but is probably more economical than buying them individually, certainly for a single dish. Normally £1.49 a pack at the moment they're on offer at 2 for £2.50. You can also buy frozen coriander that way.

Do these pesky packets of fresh herbs annoy you too or is it just me?

Saturday 21 January 2012

A weekend to buy whisky

With Burns Night coming up this week and many celebrating it this weekend, now's a good time to stock up on your favourite whisky brand. Almost all the supermarkets have got special offers. Here's my pick of the bunch (meaning the best deals, not necessarily the best whiskies - see comments!)

1 litre bottles of Famous Grouse for £16 instead of £18.97 - standard bottles for £13.47 (£16.50-17 elsewhere)
Glenmorangie 10 y.o. for £21.97 (£33-£34 elsewhere)
Isle of Jura 10 y.o. for £19 (£28-29 elsewhere)

Grants £12.99 instead of £14.99

Halves of Famous Grouse for £7.29 instead of £8.29
Whyte & Mackay £12 instead of £15.79
Talisker at £25 instead of £31.99
Glenlivet French Oak reserve at £25 instead of £34.79

Aberlour 10 y.o. for £21 (£25-27 elsewhere)

Ardbeg £34.50 instead of £40.50
Knockando £24.75 instead of £30.75

Booths also seem to have some good whisky offers with £10 off a number of leading malts including Ancnoc 12.y.o. and Old Pulteney 12 y.o., though they unhelpfully don't say what the discounted price is on their site. Apart from Isle of Jura 12 y.o. which is down to £20.95 from £30.95.

And Lidl has a decent own brand whisky called Hunter's Glen (yes, naff I know but it's fine) for £11.99.

Sunday 15 January 2012

How to make the best marmalade you’ve ever tasted

I’m not a great one for ‘the perfect this’ or ‘the perfect that’ in recipes but if you’re a marmalade aficionado I promise you this is as good as it gets. Intensely fruity, thick and sharply flavoured.

OK, I’m biased. It was my mum’s recipe so it carries a bit of emotional baggage. I can remember the kitchen filling up with a warm, comforting marmaladey fug and sitting alongside her as a child slicing the oranges. She wasn’t a wonderful cook but this was her pièce de resistance. I still have the original written neatly in blue ink on a piece of Basildon Bond notepaper.

I’d got out of the habit of making it but she died just after Christmas so I wanted to make it in memory of those companionable times. Besides seville oranges are in season so now’s the moment.

First a few practicalities to keep down the cost because you can of course buy marmalade much, much more cheaply than it will cost you to make it. But it won’t taste anything like as good.

* Assuming you don’t have a preserving pan you need a large saucepan. A large stainless steel pasta pan is perfect. The bottom of a pressure cooker will do.

* You need jars. You can buy them from sites like Jam Jar Shop but that does add to the cost so beg or borrow some from neighbours. Not pickle or chutney jars in which the smell of the previous contents tends to linger. The jars need to be as clean as possible. Old recipes suggest sterilising them by putting them in a hot oven but I find a recent run through the dishwasher will do the trick.

* You need a muslin square or something to act as a muslin bag (I used a J Cloth). See why below. Oh, and some fine string

* You need waxed paper discs if you’re to keep the marmalade any length of time. And labels. Again from a specialist like Lakeland or the Jam Jar Shop.

* You need a couple of saucers in the fridge to test the set

* and finally, and most importantly, you need seville oranges, unwaxed lemons and sugar in the following quantities. The original recipe states preserving sugar but this is now so hard to get and twice as expensive as granulated so I would (and did) use that. No problem.

1.35 kg (3lb) Seville oranges, preferably organic
1 large or 2 small lemons, preferably unwaxed
1.7-1.8kg (3 3/4-4lb) granulated sugar

This makes about 7-8 400g jars but your jars will probably be all shapes and sizes and the quantity always turns out different depending how long you boil the marmalade so make sure you have slightly more than you need.

Wash and scrub the oranges and lemons with a vegetable brush and put them whole into a large pan with 1.3 litres (2 1/4 pints) of cold water.

Cover the pan with a lid or a large sheet of foil and bring slowly to the boil. Simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, turning them occasionally until they are soft enough for you to pierce the skins with the end of a teaspoon. (You can probably remove the lemons after an hour and the oranges progressively after that). The kitchen will smell heavenly.

Remove the fruit and measure the remaining liquid. If there is less than 1.1 litres (just under 2 pints) add enough fresh water to bring it up to that level and return to the pan.

Cut the fruit into quarters, scoop out the pulp and separate out the pips. Cut the skins into small thick slices and add along with the pulp to the pan of water. (I've since discovered that leaving the fruit to soak in the water for an hour improves the set.)

Tie up the pips in a piece of muslin (there’s a useful video here) and hang it over the handle of the pan and into the cut up fruit. This might seem a bit of a faff but the extra pulp and pectin helps the marmalade to set.

Put the sugar in a warming drawer or very low oven to warm up. Bring the fruit up to boiling point then remove the bag of pips and squeeze and scrape the outside of the bag to release any remaining pulp. Add the warm sugar to the fruit and leave over a low heat, stirring occasionally until dissolved.

Bring back to the boil and boil the marmalade for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent it sticking. Skim off the thick yellowish foam that forms round the edges from time to time.

Test a little on a chilled saucer after 25 minutes to see if it’s set. It should crinkle when you push it with your finger. If it doesn’t continue boiling it until it does. As the marmalade reaches setting point it will darken and grow thicker.

Once the marmalade has reached setting point, remove from the heat, skim off any remaining scum and allow to cool for about half an hour.

Warm your jars if they’re not already sitting in the dishwasher and ladle or pour the marmalade into them (I find a small jug is easiest for this). Cover with a disc of waxed paper, if using, and seal with screw top lids or clear covers. Wipe any splashes off the side of the jars while they’re still warm.

Leave until cold before labelling otherwise the labels won’t stick.

Feel smug and happy.

You can of course cut the amount of work involved by mincing the peel but I like proper looking chunks in my marmalade. Just get someone to sit alongside you as you do it. It’s a nice thing to do with your kids, a mum, gran or sister or a friend. Actually my husband helped me with this batch while we listened to Bob Marley. Good marmalade music.

Oh, and a final tip. You can freeze seville oranges successfully if you haven’t time to make all your marmalade in one go or run out of jars. Just wash and dry them before you freeze them, use them from frozen and increase the boiling time until they’re cooked through.

Is this how you make your marmalade or do you reckon you have a better version?

Friday 13 January 2012

Waitrose Low Alcohol Cider

If you're finding it hard to give up booze for the month you might want to snap up a bottle or two of Waitrose's low alcohol cider which is only 1% ABV.

Now I'm not saying it's the best-tasting cider ever - it's a little too thin and too sweet, for my palate at least* - but it does taste recognisably like cider in a way that apple juice doesn't and if you were drinking it with roast pork, a chicken casserole or even a nice hunk of cheddar it would rub along fine. It's actually made in Herefordshire in old oak vats so I'm guessing it probably comes from Weston's.

The price is pretty attractive too. It only costs £1.15 a 500ml bottle - online at any rate. I somehow ended up paying £1.21 for my bottle in store, maybe because it's classified as a 'Little Waitrose'. Not a huge outlay anyway.

* However my neighbour who just popped in tried it and said 'really nice'. So there you go. I should also have pointed it's 180 calories a glass so it's not exactly a low calorie option - though not much more than a large glass of shiraz.

Tuesday 10 January 2012

Change of domain name for Beyond Baked Beans

Following yesterday's post the good news is that my student cookery site Beyond Baked Beans is back up and running but at a new domain name

If you link to the site please change your link. And if you don't, do link to it which will help students - and other first time cooks on a budget - find it more easily.

Monday 9 January 2012

What's happened to Beyond Baked Beans?

Some of you may have arrived at this blog looking for my student website I'm sad to say it no longer exists. (See update on my more recent post. There is a happy(ish) ending. It now has a new domain name

Due to my inattention and a mix-up on who should renew the domain name it's expired. Someone else has snapped up the name and is running ads on it. It was never a moneymaker so I can't afford to buy it back. The domain registration site GoDaddy even wants to charge me commission for finding the buyer (surely they know?) and negotiating a sale. On top of a fee. I can't afford to pursue that.

It's a sad day. The site, which was founded at the same time as my first cookbook came out in 2003, has been going for over 8 years, encouraging students to cook and eat healthily. But it's not all bad news.

* There is a Beyond Baked Beans Cooking Page on Facebook which I'll be updating more frequently while I sort out what's to be done

* The books - Beyond Baked Beans, Beyond Baked Beans Green and Beyond Baked Beans Budget are still around and available for next to nothing on Amazon. Plus there's a full-colour illustrated compendium of all the best recipes called The Ultimate Student Cookbook which also contains recipes from three of our ex-students James, Sig and Guy.

* Plans were already in hand to pass the website over to the students of Bath Spa university to give it a comprehensive makeover. I'm sure a better, more interactive site will result.

* And there are plenty of simple, low-cost recipes here on this blog for students or anyone else on a budget.

But it's a useful warning if you have a site of your own - don't ignore reminders about domain name expiries and make sure the credit card you pay with is up to date.

And if you're the person who bought the site, just think about it. The site helped many young people to learn how to cook. It would be nice if you gave it back.