Monday, 22 October 2012

Leftover Pumpkin

A bit of a dull title I admit- but it might help Googlers and Safari searchers to find what they're looking for.

Not a dull vegetable though- not at all.

I was in the staff room last week and the conversation turned to pumpkin carving - in readiness for Hallowe'en. This is not my field of expertise, so I kept quiet. I couldn't hide a gasp of horror though when one colleague said : 'Make sure you throw away all that stuff in the middle though before it starts to smell the place out!'

That 'stuff in the middle' is FOOD! And delicious at that.

To prove it, this week's blog is dedicated to the pumpkin (but you can substitute sweet potato or butternut squash for any of the recipes.)

Many people think pumpkin is a watery, bland veg- but, like courgettes, aubergines and many other 'watery' vegetables - they become a different beast altogether if you simply roast them. The caramelization and addition of flavours ( garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, chilli flakes if you want) transform this from mushy to marvellous in a short space of time.
Just place the slices in a baking tray with lots of seasoning and a good glug of oil and roast for 20 mins or so until tender and beginning to brown. (I roast squashes with the skin on- but if it's already peeled because you hollowed it out, that's still fine for roasting.)

Once roasted, you can use the flesh in a variety of dishes, but the slices are a tasty accompaniment to roast meat just as they are. Pork and pumpkin are great partners.

Divide what you have left into two halves- one for rough chopping and one for ricing (if you have a pototo ricer) or mashing if you don't.

The chopped flesh is good in curries- here I've made a pumpkin and red pepper curry. Simply fry a chopped onion, and a roughly chopped red pepper. Add some jalfrezi or korma paste (or your own blend of spices) and mix it in. Pour in 1/2 can of coconut milk and 300ml of vegetable stock, add the pumpkin flesh (and I like to stir in some spinach leaves too) and simmer for 10 minutes until the flavours are blended. Serve with rice and accompaniments (here an onion bhajia).

Pumpkin and Pepper Curry

It is equally good in soups. I've made a spiced pumpkin and parsnip soup here: again fry a chopped onion and mix in a spoonful of curry paste, add the pumpkin and parsnips, a litre and 1/2 of vegetable stock and simmer for 25 mins until the vegetables are very soft and the flavours have mixed. Blitz until smooth and creamy. Add a blob of creme fraiche and some poppy seeds, if you have them (or roasted pumpkin seeds would be better). If you're clever you can make the cream into a spooky spider web pattern using a cocktail stick to move it around. I tried- but it doesn't show up so well in the photo. Perhaps because it wasn't very good!

Spiced Pumpkin and Parsnip Soup

The riced or mashed flesh is good mixed with mashed potato as the thatch for a cottage pie. Here I have a couple of pies bubbling under the grill:

Pumpkin Thatched Cottage Pies

Looks like my oven could do with a pre-Christmas clean-up!

Finally, try pumpkin gnocchi. The riced flesh mixed with lots of seasoning, an egg yolk (freeze the white for another dish) and a 2 tablespoons of flour makes a soft dough. Bring a big pan of salted water to the boil and then drop little walnut-sized patties of the dough into the water. In a very few minutes they rise to the surface and are cooked.

You can eat them like this- simply drizzled with melted butter and fried sage, or grated parmesan, or both. Or you can freeze them and bring them out (defrost thoroughly) - then re-fry in olive oil or butter- to serve with duck or chicken or pork (well, with anything really.) They are genius.

Pumpkin gnocchi

So- pumpkin: scary or scrumptious? You decide.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Fruit and veg to make you smile

Now, the key to successful frugal feasting is definitely to eat more vegetables.

However,  according to an article I read today, these humble foods also make us happier.

And 5 a day apparently is not enough-  other European countries suggest 7-10 as a recommended minimum. (In Japan 14 is the recommended tally!)

In my quest for an even more economical shopping basket I was planning to use more veg in this week's dishes- but now I'm challenging myself to make some recipes which contain at least 4 veg. (I'm assuming you can get your other 3-6 portions from fruit juice, sultanas in your breakfast cereal, salad with your lunch, fresh fruit for your pudding and so on.)

First up is Boston Baked Beans- containing (tinned) butter beans, cannelini beans, onions, carrots and celery- served on garlic toast with a green salad to accompany. (Even better if you make the green salad from a mix of spinach, lettuce and rocket or watercress.)

Mixed green salad

This costs just 79p (1 euro) per portion- and there are even enough leftovers to put in a baked potato for lunch with a little grated cheese.

Dice the onion,carrot and celery finely and fry in a little oil until soft, drain the cannelini beans and add them to the mix. Mix in 1 tablespoon black treacle (or muscavodo sugar and 1 tsp honey), 2 tsp of Worcester or chili sauce, 1 squirt of tomato ketchup, 2 capsful of cider vinegar and 1 tin of chopped tomatoes. When bubbling, add the butter beans with their water (the starchiness of the water helps to thicken the sauce) and adjust seasoning to your taste.To make a meaty version, at this point you can add chopped smoked ham, fried bacon lardons or chopped leftover sausage. I've added chipolatas here, but chorizo would be good or whatever you have. Turn down to a simmer and cook until the sauce is thick.

Boston Baked Beans

Meanwhile cut thick slices of baguette or ciabatta, toast on one side and then spread the other with garlic butter or garlic oil and grill. Dollop on the beans - and enjoy!

Next up is Vegetable Chow Mein (again, less than £1 a portion): choose a selection of vegetables such as peppers, beansprouts, carrots, onions, mushrooms etc
Fry in a hot wok for 5 minutes, sprinkle on 2 tsp Chinese 5 Spice Powder and 1 tablespoon of soy sauce (or more if you prefer). Add a splash of water and bring to the boil. The vegetables should be crunchy but not tough. Serve with egg noodles.

Vegetable Chow Mein

How about sweet potato or pumpkin gnocchi? Served with roasted vegetable ratatouille (and any meat/fish you fancy, if you want to make this a meaty meal. Good choices would be sausages, chicken, salmon or pork steaks). It stands on its own as a veggie meal though.

For the gnocchi : leave the skin on the sweet potatoes and cut them into quarters or use 1 small pumpkin cut into crescents. (You won't use all the pumpkin ( but there will be more leftover pumpkin recipes coming up next blog!)
Coat the pieces with olive oil,  crushed garlic and lots of salt and pepper, and roast in the oven at 170 degrees for about 40 minutes.

Roasted vegetables
 When nice and soft, peel off the skins and put the flesh and juices from the roasting pan into a bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of flour and one egg yolk (don't forget to freeze the egg white for another day!) and mix into the flesh to make a soft dough- add more flour if you need to, but be careful as you don't want them to be dry and stodgy.

Pumpkin gnocchi

Bring a pan of salted water to the boil, take out walnut-sized pieces of dough, flatten slightly with the tines of  a fork to give them their characteristic appearance and drop them one by one into the boiling water. They cook quickly- and you can tell when they are ready as they float to the surface.

You can eat them hot like this (delicious with a little grated parmesan and some sage butter on them too) or drain them on kitchen paper and then re-fry them in a little butter or oil when you're ready to eat.

I bought a pumpkin for a £1 (1.2 euros) (it is Hallowe'en soon after all)- and I reckon this uses a quarter of it.

For roasted vegetable ratatouille- first, roast your vegetables! Choose a summer mix of courgettes, aubergines and peppers or a winter mix of carrots, parsnips, fennel/sprouts and onions and roast them in some flavoured oil, garlic and salt and pepper as above. When cooked, mix them into a good rich tomato sauce.

Roasted vegetable ratatouille

Other good vegetable recipes on this blog include: Bronze Vegetable Curry, Tomates Farcies, Sweetcorn fritters, Butter Bean Mash, Twice Stuffed Potatoes, Vegetable Stew and Vegetable lasagne.

Fruit is easy to use in larger quantities if you make it into pies or crumbles. This week I did a pear and blackberry crumble- as these are still in season. Use whatever fruit you have- nectarine and raspberry is good for late summer, apple and pear for autumn, summer fruits (including strawberries which go well in a crumble when they are a bit squishy) etc

I make a crumble mix from 1 part plain flour, 1/3 part butter or margarine, 1/3 part sugar and a few  chopped nuts. Oats or dessicated coconut are good added to crumble mix too.

Another fruit pud idea- poached fruit, left to cool in its own syrup. Really simple but delicious with cream or ice cream.

And don't forget other fruit recipes on the blog- Summer Pudding, Sister Dolly's Pineapple Upside Down Cake, Red Fruit Salad, Fig Tart and Tarte aux Framboises. Just use the Search option.

By the way- this week's evening meals were Boston Baked Beans, Gnocchi with ratatouille, Curried Pumpkin and Apple Soup (recipe in the Halloween blog to come!), Salade Nicoise, Vegetable Chow Mein with Prawn Crackers, Cottage Pie with veg and All Day Breakfast Salad.

Total cost: (for four portions each meal): £19.15 (slightly down on last week- and dropping!)

It's enough to make anyone smile!

Monday, 8 October 2012

Feed Four for A Fiver a Day- or less?

I've just been listening to the news-  and they tell me food prices have gone up by 30% apparently over the last 3 years. Reasons for this are given variously as rise in energy costs, harvest problems due to extreme hot/cold/wet/dry weather and general inflation.

This has hit families hard- especially as, according to the journalists, fewer and fewer people know how to cook from scratch, and more and more people throw food away because they don't know what to do with it.

Stop all that right now!

Now I know that my blog followers are all pretty good cooks- but the word needs to spread.

So, I'm throwing down the gauntlet- to you and your friends/colleagues etc.

This week I made all the meals- breakfasts, packed lunches and a two-course evening meal each day - for under £40. This wasn't special- as you will see from the week's menus, most of the recipes are old favourites that I trot out week- in -week -out. (Sometimes I can go a bit off-piste, like the week I wanted to re-visit children's cooking and my poor family had to eat jelly, volcano shaped mash and smiley face pizzas for a week!) But not this week.

Here's the shopping list:
1 medium chicken, 2 salmon fillets and a pack of streaky bacon
6 eggs
300g cheese
4 litres milk
2 litres orange juice
1 pot cream
250g butter
6 yoghurts
1 loaf bread
2 part-bake loaves

Fruit and veg: new potatoes, parsnips, bananas, lettuce, watercress, tomatoes, spring onions, ncctarines, fennel, red pepper, onions, leeks

Frozen or canned: 1 can fruit, roast potatoes, peas, pastry

Dried or storecupboard:  1 box breakfast cereal, 2 cake mixes, 1 pack Quick Jel, rice, pasta shells, peanut butter, tomato sauce

(I didn't buy any tea, coffee, mayonnaise, jam or gravy granules- although I do use them this week so a bit of a cheat there- but I'm owning up to it.)

So, breakfasts are all pretty much the same this week and lunches are various filled sandwiches (peanut butter, chicken, cheese etc) with fruit or yoghurt.

Evening meals begin with roast chicken, potatoes, parsnips, peas, gravy.( Always cook more veg than you need so as to have it ready for other recipes during the week.)
Making the most of roast

I bought a bigger chicken than the one in the picture so the yield of leftover chicken should be greater -even allowing for some chicken sandwiches.

Next chicken meal is Chow Phan (what else?) with peas, spring onions, bacon, and egg.

Chow Phan

Third chicken meal is a chicken, bacon and leek pie.

Chicken, leek and bacon pie

Ploughmans Supper
Cream of Chicken Soup
Meal number four is chicken and vegetable soup made from the stock and leftover vegetables. (This needs more to make it a proper evening meal so we had it with a ploughmans supper (bread, cheese and salad.)

Salmon and Watercress tart with Fennel Ragout
The salmon fillets gave us the remaining three meals- a salmon and watercress tart which gave us two meals (one with salad and the other with fennel ragout and new potatoes) and salmon with pasta in a cream sauce.
Salmon in cream sauce with pasta shells
I added peas to the salmon and cream sauce  (to improve on this one.)

Puddings were : banana cake, trifle, nectarine tart and fresh fruit - spread variously over the week with either cream or custard to serve.
Banana cakes
Strawberry Trifle
Nectarine tart

Now- I wasn't really trying here. Some of the ingredients- salmon, fennel, nectarines, cream- are luxuries.

So -here's the challenge- if you can beat that ( and I'll allow you 50 euros, 60 Australian dollars or 65 US dollars) then the game is on!

I'll go lower next week. Just watch me!

Monday, 1 October 2012

A-z of Frugal Feasting

               Always plan your week's meals and shopping

Breadcrumbs, croutons, bruschetta- so many ways to use up bread!
Carefully reheat leftovers all the way through
Don't BOGOF on perishable goods
Egg whites freeze and re-constitute really well
Freeze leftover sauce, gravy and stew- even small portions can be useful again
Grate the last little bits of cheese in a pack and store in bags in the freezer
Have a go at making it yourself- pastry, crumbles, curry- it will always be cheaper
Ice creams and sorbets use up fruit and nuts beautifully
Jams, jellies, ketchups and chutneys likewise
Keep fresh herbs in damp kitchen paper in the salad drawer
Label your tubs in the fridge and freezer
Make a shopping list!
New family favourites are born from imaginative ingredient combos
Only throw food away when it is definitely past its use-by date
Pegs, plastic bags and tubs-a-plenty are the secret of successful storage
Quick suppers are quicker with already-cooked veg
Read up on what's in season- the internet tells you everything
Stock take your fridge each week and use those tubs of grub up
Tinned veg and fruit (like white beans,pears, mushrooms, lentils) are cupboard essentials
Use up fruit in cakes, crumbles and tarts
Vegetables- eat plenty more and spend plenty less

EXtract every last morsel from your roast by making stock
Yesterday's supper is todays's yummy lunchbox

Zzzzz! Am I boring you yet?