The smell of cooking rice is so comforting to me. I love it and luckily I get to cook rice a lot. And I mean a lot! Bobby basics rice is about 44 pence a kilo bag. It has a few broken bits in but really, it's absolutely fine and in my usual up-eating stylee, I can spesh rice up very readily.
The picture to the left shows off a mega budget meal of sweet and sour rice that came in about £2 for 4 people. Peppers, carrots, courgettes and mushrooms are cut chunky and gently fried with ginger, garlic, onions and chilli to make a basic sweet and sour dish which I cut with red wine vinegar to add the sour. At the end add a tin of basics pineapple, a few bits of corn from a frozen bag and let it and bubble through. Eat with plain rice and fresh coriander. Its a great way to eat something very fresh and tasty without the gloopy sauce you buy and with the rice to mop up the sauce, its a good cheap-eat.
Other ways with rice are more of the risotto-ey variety and involve gently frying whatever you have lurking in the bottom of the fridge with the basics rice and then adding a few stock cubes, a splosh of wine or wine vinegar and leaving to bubble through into a soupy richness that you can eat spoonful by spoonful from a big bowl. Add a grating of hard cheese or some melty brie, some finely chopped herbs and a blob of butter and this is an amazingly cheap way to construct a spesh dish from a simple staple.
Some more rice-y risotto-ey flavours are roasted tomato rice finished with white wine, mozzarella and fresh basil and a stronger flavoured one with celery, blue cheese from the basics range and some toasted walnuts on the top. By starting with a very cheap base you can add on some more expensive bits and still keep the overall cost relatively cheap. Try to keep and odd ends of cheese and bung them in a freezer bag. once you've got a good fistfull lob them into any rice dish with a stock cube and some juices and bubble them well to make a good cheesy rice mix. Use this mix to stuff peppers or courgettes, fry in little cakes and eat with a fried egg and some homemade sweet tomato sauce... If you have cold rice leftover then simply fry onion, ginger and garlic, a bit of fresh chilli and then lob in the rice and some beaten egg. Stir and stir until the egg has fried and add a swill of soy sauce and you have a lovely bowl of homemade egg fried rice which you can spesh up again with some toasted cashew nuts if you need a bit more of a substantial dish... Another fave is the former rice mix but with chickpeas, tamarind and coriander added instead of the egg and soy sauce. A curry-ish style quick rice dish that goes down very well with a dollop of yoghurt on.
Of course, rice can be made to simply bulk out or mop up the juicy bits of dishes. Curries being a good example of this. A very basic potato curry is a dish I return to again and again. Ginger, garlic and onion fried with turmeric, black salt, cumin seeds and chilli. Fry until softened, add a tin or two of cheap-ass tomatoes and a load of potato chunks. Add a bit more liquid if necessary, cover, turn down and wait until the potatoes are cooked through. So, so good and very simple. Just rice and this is a massively cheap and comforting dish that can be dressed up with fresh coriander, more chilli, yoghurt, grated apple and mango or just stretched for another day with the addition of chick peas and, for an amazebombs brekkie treat,with a fried egg on top...
Cheap rice also works well when done as a sweet dish. Basics rice, basics evaporated milk, brown sugar..... a long, gentle cooking (use the slow cooker, this works really well). Finish with creme fraiche, a grating of fresh nutmeg and there you have a dreamy, creamy pudding. Keep it plain and eat it with a blob of good jam on it or add some grated apples, cinnamon and raisins. You can add cardamon, toasted almonds and a bit of rose water for a fancier finish. Another great way with this sweet rice is to add diced pumpkin (post-Halloween there are loads of mega cheap pumpkins lurking about) and cook until very tender, add a dash of cinnamon, nutmeg, a teensy bit of clove and more evaporated milk. This makes a golden-hued sweet pumpkin pie that you can do in one pot and finish under the grill with a bit more brown sugar. It tastes really, really good, it's dead cheap and if there is any left you can let it go cold and slice it like a cake. Neeeeeeed!
Last post I went through a few things that tend to always have shelf space in my cupboard and I hope that was useful. Building up some decent cupboard items means you can magic some staples into some specials very easily. Here are a few recipes and ideas for flavour pairings which is more how I tend to assemble things rather than specific or overly laborious step-by-steppers....
Simple Tomato Soup:
This always goes down well, and can have lots of stuff added. This can make use of either cheap tins or the squashy, fragrance-rich offerings that are about to collapse and tend to get sold very cheaply in boxes at the grocers or market (or that you fish out of the bin outside the supermarket!). They are the best ones to use but do what you can. You can batch make this and freeze it and keep it very thick and use as a sauce or of course, thin down into this delicious soup.
- Onions, garlic, bay leaves, rosemary or thyme or even a bit of mint; the herbs (fresh if you can, but dried will do) add a dimension of taste that is hugely important.
- Fry the onions garlic and herbs until soft but not coloured in olive oil with celery if you have it or if you have been reading this blog, use the frozen parsley stalks that you have saved instead of celery...
- Then add the tomatoes and some tomato puree if it seems needed. Always add a cube or two of brown sugar. Or even a spoonful of honey or jam if needs be, but tomatoes, especially the cheap ones, need sugar to bring out the fruitiness. Honestly, you'll miss it if you don't add it in. Not tons but a bit.
- Bubble away until well amalgamated and then for magic ingredient number two, a slosh of white or red wine vinegar. Even balsamic (though it might seem a little extravagant for soup but it would certainly work). This is the technical term known as the 'twang' which features heavily in my cooking. There is something yummy about the sweet-sharp combination where they add to rather than overpower the dish. So, just a slosh is needed along with some stock, to bring about a lovely melding of sweet and juicy flavours that seems to be universally greeted with enthusiasm.
- If you want to blend this then take out any stalky bits of the herbs and whizz through until silky.
I tend to eat with a swizz of decent olive oil on the top and bread toasted and rubbed with a raw garlic clove. If paired with some salty cheese or some ricotta this can make for a really nice little meal.
To make this another way you could omit the herbs and instead add chilli, crumble some cumin seeds in and maybe some smoked paprika and serve with yoghurt. Or add in a dash of turmeric and some orange juice instead of stock for a warmer and fruitier flavour. Fresh basil or bought pesto goes well with this soup and if you get some mozzarella and sandwich it between two slices of bread, squidge it down and fry in olive oil this makes an amazing cheese toastie to dip into the soup.
Another way is to omit the herbs and add in a star anise and a dash of cinnamon to make a really grown-up, smoky, complicated flavour that is super nice when you need warming up. And one more might be the apple and tomato combination where you can use apple juice instead of stock or even just make the soup and serve it with a dollop of apple sauce and yoghurt on the top. By the way, if you have some apple juice, try adding a teeny spoonful of cider vinegar to it; it tastes much better and more 'apple-y' that way and with that in mind if you go for the tomato and apple soup you can use cider vinegar for the twang.
Chickpeas, cooked rice and pasta can all be added to these soups to make them into something more filling if needs be, though I'd rather have it with some kind of toasted cheese offering.
I'm all about scoffing and slurping and plate-licking enjoyment of food. I also happen to have been on income support, job seekers allowance, I've been made redundant in the past and currently earn less than £15,000 a year. Yet I still eat very well and manage to be a great hostess to anyone that rocks up at my house...
My basic condition is to spend money on things that make meals better rather than expensive foods. I'm talking about anchovies, butter, parmesan cheese, fresh herbs and decent vinegars....I have rustled up many a mighty meal from basics that have been crowned with some spesh bits and bobs that have transformed the staple into a special...
Take the picture to the left of some fancy, super tasty fish cakes that came in at about £2 for about 10 fish cakes with minty peas and a lemon wedge or two... I'll add the recipes in a specific post on budget recipes but they illustrate my point very well. By using basics and adding fresh herbs and a fresh lemon wedge, the basic instant mash and tinned sardines combination is elevated into something you'd be happy to serve up to guests. They can be made in advance and frozen in batches for later and you can vary the flavour combinations to use up leftovers, use up odd tins of things and generally make to suit your taste buds....
I'll post up some variations on pasta, potatoes, rice and bread as these are the things that most people eat and that kids tend to like.. But for now, here are some things worth buying that are good stock cupboard essentials. Red wine and cider vinegar. Butter- always a staple in my fridge. I really think a bit of butter is good for your health and elevates spaghetti, spuds and rice into something spesh. Anchovies- even if you don't think you like them, you should try them in anything that you want a smoky, salty flavour in. Once cooked the fishy-ness goes. Believe me, anchovies are great. Tins of chickpeas- get these in bulk from Asian supermarkets as well as many other beans like black bean or butter bean. These cheap staples can be mashed into burgers, fried with spices, whizzed in soups and sauces and doused in tangy vinaigrettes. Tinned tomatoes- always live in my cupboard. Strong cheeses go further flavour-wise and keep the rinds to add to soups for a bit of extra welly. Tinned, cheap fish- sardines, pilchards. Just think of them as flavours rather than full-on foodstuffs and you can fry a few with lemon zest, garlic and black pepper and make a fab, oily sauce for pasta and rice. Olives- go to the Asian supermarkets for big jars of these and marinade your own with chilli's, lemon zest, rosemary springs and garlic cloves and then finely chop and smush down with anything from cheese on toast to tomato rice dishes. Spices- buy in the Asian supermarkets in small packets to keep them fresh and look out on the back of the packs as they usually have a little recipe you can use. Lentils! Ye gods how many nights have I been comforted by the slow bubble and creamy nuttiness of the humble lentil? Countless times the incredible, edible lentil has been teased out for a whole week of much-cheeeeapness cooking... Coco-nutty red lentils for breakfast with buttered toast? Nutty brown lentils braised with red wine vinegar, parmesan and shredded cabbage? Creamy chana dhal with orange juice, yoghurt and fresh red chill on top? I love lentils long time and I still eat them every week. When my daughter was little I made coconut and red lentil dhal at least three times a week, and topped with butter-fried onions and garlic, they are amazingly good and super cheap. Also keep couscous, quinoa, pearl barley and giant couscous in the cupboard. Think of them as vehicles for whatever flavour you want to create and they will assist you in bulking up a meal to make it go further or in mopping up sauces and thickening stews. Instant mash- do not turn your nose up at instant mash- dead cheap from the basics range. This can be fancied up with oodles of things and it does the mopping, vehicular thing very well. Great stand-by cupboard favourite that has saved me on many a chilly night with it's warming, butter-soused magnificence. Oats- porridge is cheap and filling and can be speshed-up with smashed almonds fried in butter and brown sugar, cocoa and marmalade, cinnamon and hot honey and countless other spesh bits and bobs. I always buy full-fat, organic milk and the gold-top stuff too and use the creamy bit to top porridge. You can also make a super duper breakfast by leaving the porridge in milk overnight in the fridge to fatten up. You can add a variety of toppings like grated apple and almonds, peanut butter an honey or frozen berries... For a proper bit of up-fooding try cold overnight oats with some hot, mashed up banana, salt, cinnamon and brown sugar... Like a hot fudge topping but slightly healthier. Eggs- the humble boiled egg with a dash of celery salt is a wonder to eat and an unprocessed, healthy wholefood too. Salt- decent sea salt is good for you can add a dimension of taste that assists cheap basics to levitate off the bottom of budget shelf. Fresh herbs- grow them or buy in bunches and chop and freeze in bags to add to soups, stews, dressings and sauces. Keep parsley stalks for flavouring soups and up-cycle cheap vegetable oil by marinating them with rosemary and thyme sprigs. Dry chilli's keep for ages and can also be used to flavour cheap bottles of oil. Chill's also boil up magically with sugar and vinegar to make a sweet chilli sauce that keeps for an age in the fridge.
Blimey, it's like unleashing and encyclopaedic fountain of foody goodness asking me to think about how to make sure you eat well on a limited budget. Even if you have money to spend, surely it's better to stay frugal with foods and splash the spare cash on other things? More to follow....
When the weather is this super hot not only do you need something to cool you down, you also need it to happen without hours of toil in a steaming kitchen.
Simple Cucumber and Herb Salad
Roughly chop a peeled cucumber and add chopped chives, mint and parsley.
Add a splosh of olive oil, a grating of lemon zest, a squeeze of lemon juice and then season.
Leave in the fridge for a bit, then eat.
This goes very well halloumi and a few bits of fresh, red chilli. If you are feeling like something more substantial add to boiled potatoes and eat with capers and some thick yoghurt.
Enjoy the sunshine!
Mmmmm crispy, melty, chargrilled bowls of delight in pepper form filled with a juicy mix of courgette and spinach lolling enticingly on a bed of nutty, buttery beans....
Really easy and really tasty... Spinach and Courgette Roasted Peppers
Grate courgette, fry in olive oil with onion, a grating of nutmeg and garlic then add spinach and wilt down until soft and well-cooked. Don't let it dry out, it needs to be able to survive a roasting Lots of seasoning. Fill pepper halves with courgette mix, drizzle with more oil and top with mozzarella then bake until the cheese has gone crispy and the pepper has softened and blackened.
Eat with Quinoa with Tomato, Paprika and Butter beans
Fry onions, garlic and a bit of smoked paprika in oil. Add the quinoa. Cook the quinoa mix with stock and add a tin of chopped tomatoes and a squeeze of tomato puree. Add a grating of lemon zest. When the stock has evaporated and the quinoa is cooked stir through a tin of butter beans and then slosh a good glug of olive oil over proceedings to lubricate things. This is best eaten warm.
You can substitute grated carrot and red onion for the filling, add a few raisins, a sprinkle of cinnamon and top with feta. Eat with lemony couscous, black olives and chickpeas. Add a bit of mint and you have yourself a nice bit of scoff.
Or if you are feeling a bit more crazed for something melty fill the peppers with greek yoghurt, loads of black pepper, chopped chives and lemon zest and roast. Mop up the subsequent squidgy fare with some fresh Turkish bread.
Sweet Baby Jesus! This is good and pretty goof for you too. Very simple to assemble and it was demolished in less time than it took to make.
I made this for the Notts Nosh local food celebration at Sneinton Market this weekend.
For those that missed to chance to apply this to your face on Saturday, here is the recipe.
Summer Fruit Assembly
Whatever soft fruit you have, I had strawberries, cherries, blackberries and raspberries, layer on the bottom of a dish and sprinkle with vanilla sugar. Add a load of lemon curd and stir through a bit. Layer with really thick greek yoghurt. Add a scattering of toasted almonds. I sprinkled with raw coconut sugar but you could use muscovado sugar too. The little pink bits are freeze dried strawberry. This was to tart things up but obviously you don't need them. Grate a bit of orange zest on top then climb up onto a diving board and belly flop into this dish of summer goodness knowing there is both fruit, nuts and some good bio-cultures to nourish you.
Wowsers, I love it when a plan comes together. Here is a super-easy summer recipe that has lots of nutritious ingredients but comes together to taste far more decadent than it should.
Take a packet of oatcakes and blitz them down with a bag of pecans and half a pack of butter, press into a tin and chill, then bake until golden.
Then blend a couple of packs of ricotta with a couple of packs of crumbly goats cheese, some fresh herbs and season, then add 4 eggs until it resembles a thick batter and then pour on top of the base and bake in a medium hot oven until it is brown on top, slightly set but still wobbly.
Take out and allow to cool slightly before devouring. We had ours with chutney and an avocado, cucumber and parsley salad. (This recipe was adapted from the one on http://twinnydip.blogspot.co.uk/ ) I will be making another one of these but with walnuts in the base and blue cheese instead of goat's cheese. Another winner might be an almond base with feta and mint and an juicy olive and roasted tomato salad. Expect more photos of savoury cheesecakes to follow...
I have also been talking to Philip Cambell (@philcampbell) about his new venture: http://thepistreet.com/ which is a brilliant idea developing social signage into a storytelling medium that connects local independent stores to their customers and to each other. The basic idea is that the strength of local independents is their stories and their relationships with customers, and the pistreet project shows us a way to strengthen and develop these things using technology in the form of social signage screens. We are super excited about this project and can totally see how this would work in the Family Cafe setting, so please have a look on his site to find out more.
Yammy! I love grated salads and I make them out of all sorts of stuff. Somehow the grating of stuff seems to make more surfaces available to coat with dressing and this is a good thing. Grated salads are piffle to make and produce maximum health and colour benefits.
Try these ones on for size: Grated carrot, grated red cabbage, grated white cabbage, thinly sliced red onions and lots of chopped chives. Dress with a mixture of orange juice, grated orange zest, red wine vinegar, olive oil, black pepper and a dash of celery salt.
Or this fine May mixture: new salad leaves, chopped spinach and rocket, grated cucumber, shredded mint, parsley and chopped chives, grated courgette and finely sliced onion. Dress with cider vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice, a smidge of mustard and black pepper.
When the bread gets tough, the tough get..... Baking it? Into a squidgy, cheese topped bake of delight? Oh. Yeah!
Here is the recipe: fry onions, garlic, thinly sliced peppers and whatever the hell else is lurking in the back of the fridge and layer the mix between buttered slices of bread. Mix up an eggy batter of milk, eggs, grated cheese, thyme, black and white pepper and pour over the assembly and wait for it to soak through.
We had some sweet tomato sauce leftover so we topped it with that and then added another layer of grated cheese. But you could do without that. Bake it in a medium hot oven and check after a wee while; once the underneath-bread is bouncy but not soggy and the top is crispy then it is ready to consume.
Fried cabbage, fried leeks, mushrooms, spring onion, kale or grated carrots could all make an appearance here. I think this is pretty spesh and a great way to use up stale bread. If you have a few crusts then bag them up and freeze them, soon enough you'll have enough breaded bits and bobs to make one of these. And an ace version of this if you want to posh it up a bit is to use granary bread and alternate the layers of bread with very thinly sliced sharp apple and make a creme fraiche and thyme batter and top with lots of sharp cheese and eat warm with chutney...
I'm Vic, and I run the Secret Kitchen Cafe in Sneinton, Nottingham. This is where me or Marsha post our updates on events and other happenings.