One of my new years resolutions was to try out more recipes. I think I intended to try at least one new recipe a month. I haven’t exactly kept track but I know I’ve tried far more new things than that, just by experimenting a bit! I’ve been using up some things that have been knocking around for a while.
I’ve had these two cartons of passata forever – so long that they were approaching their expiry date. They seemed so handy but I’ve always preferred chopped, tinned tomatoes instead. I made a sauce by dicing the onions and frying in a smidge of oil. I chopped and deseeded the tomatoes (which I’d given up all hope of ever ripening), a squirt of the garlic puree, the two cartons of passata and a couple of handfuls of lentils. I then made up a jug of vegetable stock and kept adding some when it seemed like the sauce was getting too thick. The lentils still weren’t soft after I’d used up the first jug of stock so I made up another and added that all. I popped generous portions into 6 plastic bowls and put them in the freezer. Husband and I had a portion each with pasta for dinner tonight and were really impressed. I’ll be making this again!
Half a packet of risotto rice moved house with us and it had been with us for a very long time prior to that. I wasn’t sure if my daughter would like it and it seemed like a lot of effort to go to if she didn’t. Fortunately she did! I’m also not massively keen on booze in food (it is great in certain dishes but mostly I’m not keen) and I don’t like parmesan (smells exactly like Husband’s feet) – both of these seem to crop up in most risotto recipes I’ve seen. I cooked the risotto with a pre-cooked, diced sweet potato and some onion and mushrooms – no wine, no parmesan, just a bit of cheddar (see bowl in foreground of above photo). It was great. The other bowl in the picture has some tomato and cannellini bean soup which I also made a batch of, mainly to take to work for packed lunch. It’s my current favourite ‘thing’ (next to apple and custard danish pastries which I am doing my best to avoid).
I’m sure there are plenty of other things that I’ve had for far too long. I’ll be hunting through the cupboards again this week!
Is the fairy cake the baking world’s equivalent of the red squirrel? Has it been driven into near extinction by the increasingly dominant cupcake? I love cupcakes and I have made them many times. I even have the special, deeper tins and the larger cupcake/muffin cases. I love making cupcakes from the Hummingbird Bakery recipe book (one of my all times favourites). And yet, the fairy cake wins my vote every time. They are smaller (thus better for waistline and teeth) and require less ingredients (thus better for the purse). And they are so dainty and traditional! All of the birthday parties of my childhood were not of the ‘book a hall or novelty act’ variety but the kind where there were sandwiches and fairy cakes laid out on the kitchen table and a party mix playing in the background where everyone would play musical statues and pass the parcel. They were brilliant and fairy cakes still epitomize that sense of fun for me.
We make a lot of fairy cakes in this house. A lot. Since we’ve moved we have people over all the time and I like there to be something nice to offer as a little something to go with tea and coffee. Plus they are so quick! Win, win, win. On Sunday we made these…
I topped these with naughty but very nice butter cream icing and some pretty, pearly sprinkles that were reduced. We were nearly out of sprinkles (one of my daughters favourite parts of the cake making process and therefore critical) and I spotted these Dr Oetker sprinkles reduced from £1.29 to 97p. Their sell by date isn’t until September so I’m sure they’ll all be used up well before then! I like to use this lovely Portmeirion plate for cakes – I love seeing the circle of green leaves peeking out around the edge. About 12 years ago a colleague and his wife were having a clear-out and gave Husband and I (who had just bought our flat and were young and broke) a massive stack of old crockery. In turn we’ve passed it on to friends just starting out but we’ve hung on to the three pieces of Portmeirion that we were given. My colleague, who was also a friend and something of a mentor, died nearly ten years ago. I think of him every time I use them.
Back to the fairy cakes. I think these are the perfect thing to make if you have a couple of people coming over or just if you are in the mood to bake. They require less than half the ingredients of a Victoria sponge (which – don’t get me wrong – I am also a big fan/frequent maker of) so are also a good option if you are short on supplies for whatever reason. Here’s the recipe I use (so often that I know it off by heart – it is very easy to remember):
100g butter / butter substitute
100g caster sugar
100g self raising flour
- Mix the butter and caster sugar until completely combined and nice and creamy
- Add the eggs one at a time and mix well
- Add the flour bit by bit and mix until combined with a consistent, smooth texture
The above takes me less than 5 minutes. I’m fussier/more likely to use the food processor when mixing more ingredients, as with a larger cake. However, for fairy cakes I like to use a bowl and a spoon as I find it easier and also because my daughter has fun mixing with a spoon (and licking it afterwards).
- Put 12 paper cases on your cake tray (preferably the kind with 12 ‘dips’) and spoon the mixture into the cases.
- Pop into a preheated oven for 15 minutes at Gas Mark 5.
Sometimes we eat them plain but we usually go for the icing/sprinkles option!
How about you – do you still rock the fairy cake or do you cupcake?
It’s always good to have a few tricks up your sleeve in case you haven’t had chance to go to the shops/have been snowed in/can’t be bothered. Earlier today I made a heavenly soup using:
- 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
- 3 handfuls of red lentils
- 1 stock cube made up with 1 litre of water
- random dried herbs
That was it! I kept glancing at it suspiciously while it was cooking, thinking ‘Surely this can’t be any good. It looks horrible.’. You might remember me saying the same thing when I happened upon my Serendipity soup a while back. Well this was a goodun as well! The amount of times I’ve been disappointed with the results of a complicated recipe…
It made three, good sized portions so I’ve kept some out for tomorrow and the other one has gone into the freezer.
I’ve been trying to use my ‘winter reading’ shelf but all that happens is that I don’t read anything because I’m not in the right mood! Instead I’ve been dabbling in a guilty pleasure – historical novels. I know, I know – they’re either your cup of tea or not. I’ve got an endless facination with the Tudor court and have read many fiction and non-fiction books on the subject. A friend has just lent me some new ones so I might be sat here typing this but, in my head, I’m about 500 years in the past…
I love making soup – such a great way of using up odds and ends of veg so they don’t go to waste, plus so nutritious compared to a sandwich! However, my results are sometimes mixed when I (as I often do) take the throw-it-all-in-a-pot-and-see-what-happens appproach. This week I had a real jumble of veg to hand (due to the demeted shop last week). Into the pot went: olive oil, an onion, the end of a courgette (from when I made the tomato, courgette and basil pasta sauce), a leek, 2 carrots, nearly a whole pack of celery, half of a large sweet potato (from when I made the casserole), 3 small, bendy parsnips, some dried mixed herbs and a couple of stock cubes. There might have been other things in there too that I am forgetting. Basically I kept rooting through the fridge, finding things that needed to be used, chopping them up and throwing them in. I was a bit suspicious about this particular batch – I couldn’t imagine it tasting particularly nice but since I’d gone over budget there was no way I was going to chuck the food out! Plus I really needed a soup for my lunches as we were nearly out of salad stuff. The end result was gorgeous.
I love little moments of cooking serendipity like that. I doubt I could ever exactly recreate the soup again but I guess that’s the whole point. Thus it has been christened ‘Serendipity soup’. I anticipate there being a wide variety of serendipity soups being produced on my hob this winter as I make the most of a very cheap, nutritious way of having lunches and try not to let anything go in the bin.
I use various methods for making soup depending on the recipe. However, when I’m freestyling I tend to fry up on onion with a squidge of garlic puree and bit of olive oil until the onion turns golden. I give the onion a quick stir now and then while it is frying and use the rest of the time to start chopping, adding veg as I go along. Then I quickly make up some stock (generally using stock cubes or powder) and add enough to that the veg is almost covered, sprinkle on some dried, mixed herbs, pop the lid on and cook until the veg is cooked. Once cooled I give it a blitz with my hand held blender and tuck potions away in the freezer. (Note: you can add salt and pepper. I don’t like pepper so I don’t use it and I tend to find that the stock cubes add enough salt for me. It’s a personal taste thing though!).
We’re just coming up to the time of year when soups and casseroles will be taking the place of salads. As I type the rain is hammering down and it is so dark it might as well be evening. I’ll be having a bowl of serendipity for lunch and hoping for a few more sunny afternoons before I have pack my sleeveless tops away and find my boots!
Remember how I said the food shop went wrong last week? It went even ‘wronger’ this week. I decided to go to Tesco instead of Co-op as I hadn’t been for ages and Co-op seems to be even more expensive than usual lately. Maybe it was because the things I like were so much cheaper but I went beserk. Thankfully I’d received £9 of Tesco vouchers otherwise it would have been even more disasterous. As it is I spent so much I only have £2 for next weeks food shop! Clearly this is not going to happen. I’ve gone over and I’m going to have to take some extra cash out of our ‘dipping into’ fund which I am really annoyed about. I’m going to do everything I can to make sure I have to use as little as possible. I’ll need to buy milk, bread, fruit and veg next week but as little as I can get away with. Grrr.
Anyway, this called for a big cooking session as I really can’t afford to let any of it go to waste – it’s got to last! I bought two MASSIVE courgettes and so I used one and a bit to make a Tomato, Basil and Courgette sauce to go with pasta.
I’ve always got some of this in the freezer. To make it I use: 2 cartons of passata (very cheap and gives a smoother texture than tinned, chopped tomatoes), garlic puree (I use this a lot these days as it keeps way longer than it says on the tube), fresh basil (my basil plant is the only plant I haven’t killed), a little bit of olive oil and one or two courgettes depending on their size. I heat a dash of oil in a pan, add chopped courgette, the garlic puree and chopped basil and stir over the heat until the courgettes have a bit of golden colour. Then I add the passata and heat until it reduces a little. That’s it – no fuss. I don’t add any seasoning at this point because I usually reserve some for Baby to have with pasta. I portion it off into Baby’s plastic bowls (see above – they came from IKEA, cost pence and are blinkin’ marvellous) and, once cool, pop them into the freezer. When they’ve frozen I ease them out of the bowls and put them into a large freezer bag so they take up as little space as possible. It is great having these portions handy and it consumes less time and energy when cooked in a batch. We usually have this once a week but I like to have a couple of these in the freezer at all times as when you have a stash of dry pasta, you’ve always got a meal to hand!
I also made Macaroni Bake as I’ve had some macaroni kicking around for ages. While the macaroni was boiling, I chopped up the rest of the courgette and an onion and gave it a quick fry with a dash of olive oil. I debated about whether to use up a packet of cheese sauce I’ve had for ages but decided against it as I wanted to keep some back for Baby and I’d rather she had cheese sauce I made myself. Thus I also made up some cheese sauce (using butter, plain flour, milk and cheddar) and stirred it into the pasta (once it was cooked and drained!), mixing in the courgette and onion and also some chopped, fresh tomatoes. I spooned the mixture into a dish, topped it with grated cheese and baked it in the oven until the cheese had melted and turned golden and crispy. This gave me 3 adult sized portions and 3 small portions for Baby.
I also made 4 adult sized and 3 ‘Baby’ portions of beef casserole with dumplings. I haven’t spent so long in the ktichen in one day for a long time! I really need to get some more cooking done but I’m out of steam for today. I’ve just about got the energy to go and portion off the pack of chicken drumsticks and thighs to go in the freezer and then I’m done 🙂 .
A few more things are coming in to season now, as well as a few that cropped up on the April list, including:
- broad beans
- new potatoes
Last month I was excited to see rhubarb on the list (I know, excited by rhubarb – must be the hormones), quickly dampened by the fact that, despite looking all month, I couldn’t find any anywhere. I finally tracked some down a couple of days ago and am going to be trying out a new recipe for rhubarb crumble this evening – I’ll let you know if it is any good. This weekend I also tried out a new, very simple recipe for celery soup which is something I’d never made before. I was slightly suspicious (I don’t know why) but it was actually quite nice. It was also very cheap to make as, other than buying a pack of celery, the rest came out of my storecupboard and general kitchen staples. In case anyone fancies a go:
- 300g celery (approx one of the packs you get in supermarkets after the top and bottom have been discarded), chopped
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 400ml chicken or vegetable stock
- Heat oil in saucepan and cook the celery, onion and garlic on a fairly low heat for around five minutes until softened
- Add the stock, bring to a boil and then simmer for 10-15 minutes
- Use a hand held blender or food processor and blend until smooth
Next time I might try reducing the amount of stock and replacing it with a bit of milk for a creamier taste/texture. Still, it tasted fine as it was – very fresh and healthy!
I’ve had a day off today, mainly to get a few things done around the house and to collect an order from Argos. However I’ve also found time for a spot of baking…
Banana cake is a real favourite in our house and I am inexplicably fond of cakes that can be made in a loaf tin, maybe because the recipes seem to be so simple. Husband loves this one and it is a great way to use up over-ripe bananas.
BANANA LOAF CAKE
- 150g sugar
- 60g butter
- 240g self-raising flour
- 3 eggs
- 3 or 4 ripe bananas, mashed
- Chopped walnuts and/or sultanas
- Pre-heat oven to Gas Mark 4 / 350 / 180
- Grease tin
- Cream together the sugar and butter
- Add the eggs, beat in until consistency is smooth, then beat in the mashed bananas
- Add the flour and beat in well until it is incorporated into the mixture
- Stir in the walnuts/sultanas and trasnfer the mixture to the tin
- Bake for 1 hour or until skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean
- Transfer to a wire rack and slice when cool
Now all I need is a pot of tea and a good book…
In the interests of sticking to my food budget for the next four weeks I got up and did a spot of cooking this morning – all things that can go in the freezer. I had an almost full bag of carrots that needed to be used by today left over from last weeks shop. Using my favourite recipe, I made four portions of Carrot and Corriander soup so they didn’t go to waste. I expect it will come in handy next time I can’t get going in the morning well enough to make a packed lunch! I also made…
SIMPLE BEEF CASSEROLE
- Two packs of casserole steak (around 1kg)
- Beef stock (around 1 pint)
- 2 tbsp plain flour, seasoned
- 2 parsnips, chopped
- 3 carrots, chopped
- 1 large onion, chopped
- Dried, mixed herbs
- Packet of dumpling mix
- A little olive oil
- Cut beef into chunks and coat with seasoned flour
- Heat oil in saucepan (or casserole dish if it is hob proof), then add the beef
- Transfer to casserole dish, add vegetables, stock and herbs
- Cook in oven (on around GM 4) for 2 – 2.5 hours
- Make dumplings according to instructions on packet
- 20 minutes before ready, add dumplings and put back in oven
There are hundreds of variations on this plus lots of other things that could be added – anything from garlic to other veg to pearl barley. I was going for quick and easy today! I’d love to think that one day I’ll make dumplings from scratch…until then I must admit that those mix packets make cooking very simple. This made four portions which have also gone in the freezer.
Believe it or not, I’ve only just started labelling food that goes in the freezer. I kept getting in a muddle, not only about what was in the freezer (frozen food can look fairly mysterious – is it soup? A sauce? Curry?) and how long ago I made it. Now I cut up address labels so at least I know what it is, how many portions and when it was made! Most things are fine for at least a month so I try to use them up within that sort of time frame. My freezer has four drawers and is now looking pretty well stocked. Since my remaining budget is £26 a week for both of us this should help.
We’re off to see ‘The Lovely Bones’ at the cinema later. Like a good Shoestringer I used the internet to check where it was on and the cost of tickets. Prices seemed to go up to £7.75 per adult though I found a listing at a cinema not too far away for £5.50, so £11 for both of us. There is also free parking nearby and I bought snacks and nibbles at the supermarket yesterday so it should be a thrifty night out!
Here’s a little something I made for Husband earlier…
While this was baked in honour of Valentine’s Day I think it would work equally well for a birthday or, you know, just because you fancy cake! It is ridiculously easy to make…
- 100g/4 oz butter or margarine
- 100g / 4 oz caster sugar
- 100g / 4 oz self-raising flour
- 2 medium eggs
- 250-300ml whipping cream (I suppose you could use squirty cream from a can if you are short on time but I wouldn’t try mixing it with the icing sugar)
- 2 tablespoons of icing sugar
- Pre-heat oven to Gas Mark 4 / 180 C / 350 F. Grease two 7 inch sandwich tins
- Cream butter/marg and caster sugar until fully combined
- Add first egg and little bit of flour and mix until combined
- Add second egg and little bit more flour and combine
- Mix in remaining flour
- Divide cake mixture between the two tins and bake for 20-25 minutes
- Remove from oven and leave to cool
- Whip cream until it begins to thicken, add 1.5 tablespoons of the icing sugar and continue to whip until really thick and forming peaks
- Spread half of the cream onto the first sponge and then add a layer of thinly sliced strawberries
- Place second sponge on top of the first, then top with the remaining cream and more sliced strawberries
- Dust the cake with the remaining icing sugar using a seive
Flapjack is one of my favourite things to make. Not only are Husband and I big fans of it but you can usually throw a quick batch together using things from the cupboard and it is so, so easy to make. I know a lot of people who say they can’t bake so flapjack is a great compromise – it only takes about ten minutes to get everything together and then another 15 minutes in the oven.
I also love the fact that it is so versatile. I usually throw in some raisins or sultanas (because we’ve always got them) but I’ve also used dried apricot or chopped up a bar of chocolate with great results. Here’s a recipe that was given to me years ago by the wife of a colleague whose packed lunch boxes were the source of much envy:
- 150 oz butter
- 150 oz soft brown sugar
- 1 tbsp golden syrup
- Any extras you might fancy such as dried fruit, chocolate, seeds etc
Heat oven to 180 degrees/ gas mark 4. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a low heat then stir in sugar and syrup until dissolved. Add the oats (and any extras) until the mixture is really thick. I keep adding oats until I am only just able to cover them. Transfer mixture into a greased tin and pop in the oven for 15 minutes. Cut into pieces while still warm though don’t try to take the pieces out of the tin until they are cool and fully set otherwise they fall apart. By the way, don’t be fooled into thinking it hasn’t been in the oven long enough because it seems soft. If you leave it in the oven longer than 15 minutes it will probably break your teeth as it sets as it cools down!
For ages I didn’t have a large baking tray so I used two cake/sandwich tins. The above recipe makes around 12 pieces. They last for days in a tin or airtight container so they are great for adding to packed lunch boxes. I also like making a quick batch if we are visiting friends or people pop over on short notice.
On a completely different note, I’ve managed to get some good bargains in Boots this week. Their Christmas stock has now been reduced by a whopping 75%. I bought myself a gorgeous make-up bag to keep in my handbag. It was reduced from £15 to £3.75 and came with 4 make-up brushes, some eyelash curlers and a cute pair of spotty tweezers. My make-up bag had been looking a bit sorry for itself so I was very pleased with this! I also bought a perfume set reduced from £16 to £4 and some lovely wrapping paper reduced to 75p – a serious bargain. I had a couple of £5 No 7 vouchers so I got some eye make-up remover reduced from £7 to £2 and also a pack of wipes (that cleanse, tone and moisturise in one go) reduced from £6.50 to £1.50. I don’t usually use them but I thought they might come in handy in a few months when I’m pushed for time/sleep deprived. Anyway, there are some great buys to be had in Boots at the moment (though I imagine stock will vanish at the speed of light) so it might be worth having a look, particularly if you want to get some birthday and Christmas presents to stash away. I saw nice little sets of make-up and skin care starting at just £1.50!