Odds and Sods Soup

I have decided that it is time to go back to my £5 a week food budget – I have become lazy recently, and although I have maintained the discipline of not wasting food it has become too easy to spend more than I need to and to do ‘lazy cooking’.

I have not yet spent my £5 this week, and I did not top up my storecupboard before commencing my budget cooking – no cheating! Before I spend my £5 I need to use up some fresh ingredients; my lovely lodger is working away for a week and has left me with a fridge full of yummy things which I cannot let go to waste, so what I have to start with is:
– a couple of rashers of bacon
– a bag of green salad
– an avacado
– salami & parma ham
– red peppers

Thanks Amy!

I also have carrots which very much need using up, onions, garlic, a lonely potato, a lonely tomato, fresh bread, and of course my trusty spice cupboard.

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So of course I started with soup.

Ingredients

– one onion
– one potato
– one big tomato
– one red pepper
– six carrots
– 2 cloves of garlic
– smokey paprika
– stock from the freezer (or a vegetable or chicken stock cube)
– salt and pepper to taste

Method
Finely chop all of the vegetables apart from the tomato. Fry in a large saucepan with the paprika and a little oil or butter.
Put the tomato in a bowl of boiling water straight from the kettle; when it has been in there a few minutes you will find that the skin peels off easily.
Add the tomato to the other vegetables along with a pint of stock – I used my turkey stock from the freezer, but you could equally use a vegetable stock cube.
Simmer until the vegetables feel soft when you put a fork in them – about 20 minutes – then blend using a food processor or hand blender.
Return the blended vegetables to the saucepan and continue to cook on a low heat, adding more liquid (water or milk) if you think that the consistency is too thick.
Taste, and season with salt and pepper if required.
Serve with toast and lots of butter.

… and I have plenty left for lunch tomorrow – hurrah!

Penne pasta with ham, spinach and crumbly cheese

As you must have worked out by now I hate to waste food. This was an impromptu ‘using up’ meal; I had some white crumbly cheese which my parents left with me before they went on holiday, plus some spinach and ham which my lovely lodger had not managed to finish off before she went away for a few days, and would not have lasted (don’t worry,  I will replace it!). A very cheap and yummy lunch for a wet, stormy Sunday.

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Ingredients
This fed one person:
– 1 cup of Penne pasta
– a splash of Olive oil
– a teaspoon of dried Oregano
– a couple of slices of Ham
– two handfuls of Spinach
– 1/2 cup of crumbled white cheers  (I’m not sure what it was – I’ll have to ask my mother!)
– Black pepper
– a sprinkle of Chilli flakes

Method
Bring the pasta to the boil. Follow the instructions on the packet;  not all pasta takes the same length of time to cook.
While the pasta is cooking, crumble the cheese, rinse the spinach and shred the ham into small pieces.
Drain the pasta and add a splash of oil and the oregano. Next add the ham, spinach and cheese and put the lid back on the pan so that the spinach wilts, the cheese melts and the ham heats through; the hob does not need to be on at this point, it should have enough residual heat from cooking the pasta.
After a couple of minutes add some black pepper and give it a good stir.
Serve with a sprinkle of chilli flakes.

Easter Nests

Easter Nests

Easter nests; a firm family-favourite and as far as I am concerned the only good use of shredded wheat!

This recipe made nine nests.

Ingredients
100 g bar 70% Dark chocolate
1 tablespoon Golden syrup
25 g Butter
150 g Shredded wheat

(at least) 16 ‘mini-eggs’ or similar – I used Traidcraft little speckled eggs which are delicious and ethically sourced.

Method

Line a muffin tin with paper cases – pretty ones if you have them.

Slowly melt the chocolate, golden syrup and butter in a bowl over boiling water. The bowl shouldn’t touch the water.

When the above is melted and combined, crumble the shredded wheat into the bowl a bit at a time and stir in until well coated with the chocolate mixture.

Spoon into the paper-cases, making a little ‘well’ in the middle for the eggs.

Place in a cool place; try not to scoff them all immediately  so that the has time to chocolate set!

Dairy-free Peanut Butter and Dark Chocolate Biscuits

These Peanut Butter Biscuits are dairy free, delicious, and pretty healthy as biscuits go.

As you may be aware I have given up supermarket shopping for Lent. This has in general been a positive experience so far; however, right now when I haven’t been shopping for a few days it it is a bit of a pain because I have run out of what I usually consider to be a ‘basic’ baking ingredient – butter. Biscuits are required this evening because I have people coming over for a meeting, and having nothing to offer would be plain rude! However, every challenge is an opportunity and having successfully baked using olive oil in little cakes a few days ago I decided to trawl through my recipe books to find something I could easily adapt.

I used groundnut oil for this recipe because I happened to have some in the cupboard and I thought it made sense with the peanut butter, you can substitute in different oil if you like. Whilst on the subject of substitutions, the recipe which I (loosely) based these biscuits on asked for brown bread flour whereas I used Rye flour, again, because that is what I happened to have in the storecupboard.
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Ingredients

Makes about 20.

  • 3 tablespoons Peanut Butter
  • 140 ml Groundnut Oil
  • a few drops of Vanilla Essence
  • 1 Egg
  • 125 g / 4 oz demerara sugar
  • 125 g / 4 oz White Bread Flour
  • a pinch of Salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Bicarbonate of Soda
  • 125 g / 4 oz Rye Flour (or wholemeal)
  • 100 g Dark Chocolate, chopped

Method

Preheat the oven to 180oC.

Whisk together the peanut butter, oil and vanilla essence and then beat in the sugar. Add the egg plus a teaspoon of flour and beat well.

Sift in the white bread flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda and fold in.

Mix in the chocolate followed by the rye flour and knead until the dough holds together.

Roll small pieces of the dough into balls and place on oiled baking tray, leaving room for spreading. Flatten with a fork in a criss-cross pattern and bake for 20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

peanut butter cookies
peanut butter cookies

January Challenge ‘de-brief’

I am almost exactly a month into my life as a food blogger, and I have to say that this is definitely the most difficult post that I have written so far. Those of you who have been following me for the last month will know that I set myself a challenge at the beginning of January to ‘cook using only what I already have in my cupboards and freezer, plus what I can buy for £5 a week’;  you will also know that I like to communicate what I have been cooking with minimal ‘waffle’. Now that February has arrived it is time to reflect on my January Challenge and I really hope that I can do so in a concise and interesting way. Please leave me a message if you make it all the way to bottom!

Most importantly, I must say that I have really enjoyed giving myself a ridiculous budget for a month; it reminded me of how much fun it is to be creative with my cooking, and in addition it ‘reset’ my shopping habits and prevented me from producing any food waste.

What I would really like to get across to you is how well you can eat on a small weekly budget if you keep a few ‘core’ things in your storecupboard. If you are not used to this style of food shopping and cooking then there will be some upfront expenditure (but not much, see below how much I spent on topping-up my cupboards at the end of the month); but once you have initially stocked up there will just be a small ‘rolling cost’ as you replace things.

So here goes a short retrospective on my January Challenge:

What did I buy with my £5 a week?

My first £5 was spent on onions, carrots, mushrooms, some good British sausages, a lime & soda from my local pub, and some reduced bread for my freezer.

Lesson #1 – lime & soda is totally pointless and a waste of money!

During the second week I spent the princely sum of £4.88 on free range eggs, carrots, new potatoes, frozen peas and a British lamb shank.

Lesson #2 – a box of mixed-sized eggs is considerably cheaper than buying a box of identical eggs, and unless you are doing high-precision baking they are just as good.

For the last couple of weeks of the challenge I was more ‘bitty’ in my shopping (I didn’t have time for a ‘big’ £5 shopping trip!) and I was not quite so disciplined in writing up what I had bought; in summary I topped up the onions, potatoes, mushrooms and carrots, and I had a cup of tea at a church coffee morning for a whole 80p – decadent!

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What are my new favourite recipes?

As I mentioned above, one of the best things about giving myself a ridiculous budget was re-discovering my creative ‘make-it-up-as-you-go-along’ cooking flair! I think that my favourite was probably the Roasties with Garlic & Coconut Dip – this was a very spur of the moment ‘snack’ using some coconut yoghurt that a friend had left in my fridge, I will certainly be making it again.

If I had to choose another top creation it would be a difficult choice between the vegetable curry and spaghetti with tomatoes and poached egg.

Lesson #3 – if you don’t allow yourself to ‘pop to the shops’ for additional ingredients you will discover new and exciting (or sometimes just ‘interesting’) recipes!

Please do let me know what your favourite recipe has been so far, and do do do give them a try and let me know how easy or otherwise they are to follow!

What did I run out of?

Early Grey tea – disaster! Tonic water – disaster! Garlic – disaster! Cheese, milk, almond milk, vegetable stock, pasta…

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… and, as the observant amongst you will note, cheap gin! Don’t worry, I haven’t yet stooped to cheap gin; the reason I require it is to make Cranberry Gin… a recipe for another day. (Retrospectively, here is the Cranberry Gin recipe)

Despite making a show of being organised, I actually managed to forget the shopping list when I went for my ‘top-up shop’ – so in the end I forgot a few things, got a few extra things, and spent about £30 (including the gin). Not bad.

What is in Kitty’s Storecupboard?

Having set myself a ridiculous budget for a month I have concluded that the following constitute the ‘core’ storecupoard ingredients which I would be hard-pressed to do without (although I’m sure I’d cope!); I hope that I have demonstrated over the last month that very little is needed in addition to these things to cook some rather delicious meals.

‘Dry Goods’

  • Lentils (Puy and Red-split lentils)
  • Rice (brown and white)
  • Pasta
  • Couscous
  • Oats

Tins / jars / cartons

  • Tinned tomatoes
  • Tomato purée
  • Chickpeas
  • Butter beans
  • Pesto
  • Milk (‘cow’ or otherwise – I am rather fond of Almond Milk)

Baking ingredients

  • Plain flour
  • Self-raising flour
  • Margarine
  • Sugar
  • Golden syrup
  • Baking powder
  • Bicarbonate of Soda
  • A selection of nuts and dried fruit

Freezer

  • Peas
  • Stock
  • Cooked vegetables for soup (from when I got portion sizes wrong!)
  • a bit of meat and/or fish, usually from the reduced section of the supermarket

Spices

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What can I say? A picture says a thousand words!

However, I would say that the ‘core’ herbs and spices for me are:

  • black pepper;
  • chilli flakes;
  • mustard seeds;
  • cumin seeds;
  • ground coriander;
  • mustard powder;
  • cayenne pepper; and
  • oregano, or some kind of mixed green herbs.

Garlic and onions are also very important!

and for my next challenge? I’ll keep you posted. In the mean time I have a number of January recipes to share with you which I ran out of time to write last month.

Well done for getting to the bottom of the page!

‘over and out!

Kitty

Pasta! … a quick lunch for a busy, tired girl who is low on blood-sugar.

Note: this was an early post in my blogging ‘career’, and as you can tell I had not at that point got my head around food photography! It was considerably more delicious than it looks!

The intelligent amongst you will no doubt consider that I can’t be that busy or I wouldn’t have time to write a blog post. The truth is that I am having a ‘little lie down’ in between moving pots, pans, plates and food around Stroud and then heading to Cheltenham to pick up some more lovely donated food (don’t worry Mother – I am delegating the heavy lifting!).
Why am I doing this? Tomorrow we are launching an exciting project to feed the  people of Stroud using only lovely food which was going to be thrown away – read all about it here! 
Needless to say, I am rather tired from all the running around and was in need of a quick, high carb lunch followed by a little rest!

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So, what to tell you about pasta and  pesto that you don’t already know?!
It’s very quick and filling and there isn’t very much washing up; once you have cooked the pasta and drained it you can throw everything else in, let it heat through and eat.  There are a number of variations on this theme; I like to add Creme fraiche if I have some  (I didn’t), a handful of pine kernels gives some added protein  (I didn’t have any of those either, so I used sunflower seeds), I usually also add frozen peas, a sprinkle of chilli flakes and grated cheese. This time, I had a little bit of leftover red cabbage salad which already had peas in it so I chucked that in.
Simples!

Onwards and upwards,
Kitty

Spaghetti with tomatoes and poached eggs

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Cheap, quick, easy and yummy – four of
my favourite things!
This fed two adults and a child (approximately 1/2 a tin of tomatoes per person and an egg each).

Ingredients:
1 Onion, chopped
1 Clove garlic, crushed
A few mushrooms, chopped
Black pepper
1 tsp Oregano
1 & 1/2 Tins tomatoes
A couple of squirts of tomato puree
3 eggs
A handful of grated cheese
Spaghetti

If I had them I might also have included bacon or anchovies, olives or capers.
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Method:
Fry the onion, garlic, black pepper and herbs in olive oil until beginning to soften. Add the tinned tomatoes, tomato puree and mushrooms and simmer until the mushrooms have cooked.

While the sauce is simmering away put the spaghetti on to cook, following the instructions on the packet for the quantity and cooking time.

When the pasta is nearly done crack an egg into a mug, make a little well in the sauce and pour in the egg; repeat so that there is one egg per person. Note, if your pan is not non-stick you will probably need to put a bit of oil in each well before you add the egg.

After about a minute, turn each egg with a spatula and then sprinkle the cheese over the sauce.

Drain the pasta and divide between shallow bowls. Put an egg onto each serving of pasta and then share out the rest of the sauce.

Enjoy!