Cheap eats

My children’s father came from a family where cash was tight, yet all the children grew strong and healthy. My late mother-in-law (my God, how I miss her) was an expert in making a little money go a long way, and she was famed for her huge family parties which cost very little.

She would spread Sunday roast with stuffing, so that the little meat goes a longer way, fed more people. Till this day, I make stuffing in honour of her. Her sausage rolls too had always been supplemented with breadcrumbs, carrots and apples, all to make the little meat stretch that little more. So even though I am not constraint by finances, my sausage rolls always have lots of additional bits in them, not just meat.

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My mother-in-law never wasted anything. Even carrot shavings had their uses, either in sausage rolls or cakes. I urged her to write a thrift recipe book, because there is something beautiful about ‘free’ food. I hate wastage.

One of the things my mother-in-law used to do with meat carcasses was to boil them down into nutrient-packed broth. Sometimes, she would add pearl barley to make a meal out of it; at other times, she would just make her children drink it. And yes, her children did grow big and strong – my sister-in-law, a marathon runner, was one of the torch-bearers at the London Olympics.

So I continue her tradition. I boil down meat carcasses with vinegar, so that no part of an animal that give its life goes to waste. I normally throw whatever I have lying around into the pot.

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Today, I made a clear broth. Feeling like trying something different, I added ginger, lemongrass stalks and coriander seeds to the pot, amongst my usual leftover fruits and veggie.

I ladled the fragrant broth over this and it was absolutely delicious Asian noodle soup, as well as being healthy and almost free.

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Roasted root veggies -a quick, nutritious sides

My family’s staple is potatoes, and I sometimes get bored with roast potatoes, boiled potatoes, mashed potatoes, jacket potatoes and oven-fries. Here’s my variation:

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  1. Par boil root vegetables (potatoes, carrots, beetroot, parsnips).
  2. Spread on a baking tray.
  3. Add chopped shallots, herbs (fresh and dried) and a sprinkling of salt.
  4. Drizzle generously with olive oil and bake in a preheated oven until cooked.

Because root vegetables grow underground, they absorb a great amount of nutrients from the soil. if you are bored with potatoes the classic ways or are grain-intolerant, try this.

Pie n mash for my ‘arf Cockney child

I am a strong believer in teaching children about their heritage, and as I have half-Cockney children, they must eat pie n mash (though I draw a line at making jellied eels).

There are pie n mash shops all over South East London and the ‘house’ recipe, handed down from one generation to the next, is fiercely guarded. It is said that this recipe can make or break a pie n mash shop, so there is no chance for me to obtain one. Therefore, I did it in the simplest way possible.

The ingredients are of two parts: the meat and the pastry.

The meat:

500 grams of minced beef
1½ tablespoons of plain flour
250 ml of beef stock (I used Bisto)

(no, you can add anything else if you want authenticity – no onions)

Fry the meat, sprinkle on the flour and when browned, add the stock. Cook for a few minutes. There must be thick, slurry liquid in the pan. Cool.

The pastry:

350 grams of plain flour
200 grams of suet (I used Atora)
½ teaspoon of salt
Water (at least 400ml)

Method: Sieve the flour into a large bowl and carefully mix in the suet using a knife. Mix in the water. Knead until it feels like clay. Leave in the fridge for 30 mins. Then roll it out to about 2-3 mm thickness, line a pie dish with it. Spoon the meat into a pastry. Add a lid. Pierce some holes on the lid for steam to escape. Bake at 170 degrees until browned.

And there you ‘ave it, them bleedin’ good pies. Bees’ knees, they are.

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Quick mini mince pies

For us, mince pies are the taste of Christmas. I don’t even like them, if truth is to be told, but they are so evocative of Christmas that I couldn’t resist making my cheat’s version (as I am unable to buy mince or suet where I am).

Ingredients:

1 portion shortcrust or puff pastry

4oz raisins

4 oz sultanas

4 oz currants

4 oz brown sugar

Grated rind of 1/2 an orange and 1/2 a lemon

2 tsp mixed spice

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

3 tbsp brandy

Apricot jam (for the pastry)

How to:

Mix the ingredients and allow to soak overnight. Roll the pastry and cut into tiny cups. Brush with warmed and sieved apricot jam. Spoon the soaked mince meat into the cups. You may decorate the cups with left0ver pastry. Brush with milk and sprinkle with brown sugar.

Bake in a preheated oven (180 degrees) until browned.

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“Best-est” pizza

We’d probably sit on the beach and eat a slice of cold pizza (washed down with some beer) for dinner. I can think of nothing better. I made this pizza 🙂

When my children were young and we lived in London, we would go for a treat to a restaurant called Made In Italy on the King’s Road for the “best-est pizza”. The pizza at this traditional, small restaurant wedged between two shophouses, was simply delicious – doughy base, oozing with olive oil and fresh flavours.

This is my pizza dough:

500g pizza flour (I used Farina brand)
One 7g sachet of yeast (I used Allinson’s)
10g salt
water

For topping I typically use: tomato passata or homemade pasta sauce, pesto sauce, ripe tomatoes, onions, lots of mozzarella and whatever cheese I have in the fridge, lots of fresh basil and occasionally some meat (bolognaise, salami, tuna).

Method:

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.
The flour, salt and yeast have to be accurately measured, whilst we can be more flexible with the water.
Make a well with the flour.
Sprinkle salt round the crater.
Make a paste with the yeast.
Pour the paste into the crater.
Mix with water, adding water slowly, as required.
Knead for about 15 minutes. It feels ‘bouncy’ when it’s kneaded enough (if you press gently on the dough with a finger, it should spring back nicely).
Let it rise for 3 minutes: put the dough in a bowl and wrap the bowl with cling film.
Pour olive oil into a pizza tray and rub it all over. Roll the pizza dough into the tray. Add tomato paste and mozzarella cheese. For that pizza flavour, sprinkle dried oregano on top.

Garnish with the topping of your choice. Bake for 20-30 minutes, ensuring that the dough is cooked through. Serve topped with more fresh basil and olive oil.

Note: the secret is in the quality of the olive oil and the fresh ingredients.

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An Asian Christmas Cake

Nothing like a rich Christmas cake to evoke the spirit of Christmas!

Being in Asia, it is either impossible or expensive to buy some of the key ingredients for the traditional Christmas cake, so my friend Jane and I modified the classical recipe slightly. I also used more fruit and more alcohol to prevent mould from growing (since I am in a tropical country):

2lbs dried cranberries
12oz sultanas
12oz raisins
4oz glace cherries
4oz candied ginger
An eighth a bottle of Cointreau, to soak the fruits in
1lb wholemeal flour (I like the heaviness)
1/2 tsp salt
1tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1tsp mixed spice
4oz almonds
1lb soft brown sugar
3 tbsp treacle
1lb unsalted butter
8 eggs
2 oranges, rind grated (careful not to add the white bits)
2 lemons, rind grated (careful not to add the white bits)

The easy method:

Soak the fruits the night before. If you are teetotal, use orange juice though the cake won’t taste the same obviously and will probably not last that long.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Carefully grease and line the baking tin with parchment paper (the quantities above will yield a 11 inch cake).

Cream the butter and sugar.

FOLD in the flour and the other powder stuff, alternating with the beaten eggs. Don’t beat it, or the mixture will trap air.

Add the rest of the ingredients and mix thoroughly. Transfer to cake tin. Cover with more parchment paper and bake for approximately 4 hours, until it is cooked through.

Cool in a wine rack. Once every three days or so, feed the cake with Cointreau until Christmas. If you smash one by accident, they taste good as rum balls.

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The mixture is soooo tasty raw!! You can see the goodies that went into each cake ❤

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Brown Windsor soup

It is good to read that sale of tinned soups is falling as people are opting for either more unusual or healthier versions. Soups are actually very easy and cheap to make.

Brown Windsor soup is one of the foods of my childhood that doesn’t sound good and doesn’t look good. Tried as I did, I could not get my Brown Windsor Soup to look appetising for the photograph, so you just have to take my word for it that it actually tastes more delicious than it sounds or looks. It’s the combo of marmite and Worcestershire sauce that rock it.

This is my version:

Stock bones                                                                                                                                                          Any meat you have, diced
1 tbsp Marmite
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 large onion, cubed
2 carrots, cubed                                                                                                                                                  1 potato, peeled and cubed
2 sticks celery, sliced
1 bay leaf
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon flour
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
Homemade beef stock
Butter
Olive oil

Brown the meat in butter until the juices are released. Add the rest (except the stock bones) and sweat for a bit, and then add the stock. Cook for two hours over low heat. Remove the stock bones. Adjust seasoning.

You could blend part of the soup for a thicker concoction, but I like mine just so. Serve with liberally buttered fresh bread. Simple, wholesome treat!

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Overnight French toast

I am a great believer that the most important meal of the day is the breakfast, and have always made it a habit – as far as possible – to have breakfast with my loved ones. I think it’s a sign of love to get up that little bit earlier to serve …. a beautiful start to the day.

This one is inspired by my Norwegian friend Bente, who mentioned in conversation that when she was a child, her mother would make oat porridge, wrap the pot in old duvet and when they came back from skiing, there would be warm porridge waiting for them.

This is my cheat’s version of a hot, cooked breakfast for the days you want to lie in bed: you make it the night before, and an hour before breakfast, you just put it in the oven in a bain-marie for the most delicious hot breakfast ever.

METHOD

Mix together the following:

4 eggs
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/w cup full cream milk
1/4 cup maple honey

Butter a loaf tin. Roughly cut a French loaf into cubes, layer the bread cubes with berries, and pour the concoction over the bread and berries layer. Ensure that the bread is immersed in the liquid. Leave overnight in the refrigerator. About an hour before breakfast, cook in a low oven in a bain-marie until the mixture and the bread meld together. Serve whilst it’s still hot, drizzled with honey and with a sides of fresh cream.

Made the night before:

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‘When you run out of butter’ cake

Having baked an apple cake yesterday, I saw that I had some over-ripe and blackened bananas in the fruit bowl, and in a cake-baking mood, I decided to bake a banana cake with the little butter I had left, I subsisted the dairy with sour cream (which was going off anyway, having been sitting around in the fridge for quite a long time):

I only had about 100g of butter left, so I used 100g (less a little for greasing the loaf tin) 1/2 cup sour cream
2 large eggs
3/4 cup organic brown sugar
1 1/2 cups unbleached flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
4 large ripe bananas
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a loaf tin. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix thoroughly. Pour into the loaf tin and bake for about 1 hour until the insides are no longer sticky when poked with a fork.

Very yummy indeed.

(I served mine with ice cream and drizzled with dulce le leche)

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Leftover Queens

My friend Jane and I jokingly call ourselves the Leftover Queens because we specialise in magicking up meals from leftovers.  Being British, our speciality is Bubble & Squeak, of course.

Why is it that leftovers always taste nicer than the original? My fondest memory (and favourite food) is my father’s leftover turkey soup that we would eat for days after Christmas. I don’t know what the secret ingredients are, but the soup is simply out of the world. When I asked my dad for the recipe (which I do almost every year, deviously sometimes), he won’t tell me. “You have to come back to my house for my soup,” he would say with a twinkle in his eye. “That’s my insurance.”

Nothing I make could ever taste as good as my daddy’s turkey soup made from leftovers – and expensive wine, no doubt.

Though I love my leftover cuisine. Not only does it save money, it saves a lot of time, too: whenever I am cooking something, I would put the ‘inedible’ bits in a container, to be boiled up into a soup by either adding some beef bones or chicken carcass. Sometimes, I would just boil up the vegetables for a clear consommé. These were the end bits that our rabbits used to eat in the days we had eleven rabbits, but now, it ended up in a healthy soup (the veggies, not the rabbits):

From this humble bits, you could make either a simple rice and grain porridge or a healthy alternative to instant noodles. The recipe for the instant noodles is here.

noodles

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So when you are preparing food next, don’t throw bits away – either bag them up for future use (freeze it) or chuck them into the pot to boil up.

One of the best kitchen tips I give folks is always have home-made stocks handy in the fridge. Because they are soooo easy to make, and they are the foundation of such delicious, simple, healthy dishes. Look differently at a carrot stub the next time round.