Sunday, 20 December 2009

Christmas cut-out biscuits

Edible presents are the best - suitably frugal for the purposes of this blog, and the pocket.  These bikkies are lovely and spicy.  If you want to make them into hanging tree decorations, cut a hole for a ribbon with a piping bag nozzle from the soft cookies as soon as they come out of the oven.  Once cool, ice them with a not too runny icing made from icing sugar and boiling water, and decorate with edible glitter.  But personally I like them just as they are...

  • 200g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp ground ginger (use a good one, like Barts Spices)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 75g unsalted butter
  • 75g golden caster sugar
  • 3 generous tablespoons golden syrup
  • Pre-heat the oven to 180C/350F.  Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.
  • Put the butter, sugar and golden syrup in a saucepan over gentle heat and melt together.
  • Whilst they melt, sieve the flour, baking powder, and spices into a mixing bowl.  Grind in the pepper.
  • When the butter and sugar mix is runny add to the flour and beat in thoroughly.  You may need to add a little milk to make the dough sticky enough, but it is a crumbly mix.
  • Gently kneed the dough together, it may keep falling apart in an annoying way, stay with it.
  • Once all the biscuit dough is together, start to roll it out on a lightly floured surface.  Don't try and move it around, it won't stick to the surface.
  • When you have it rolled to 1/2cm thickness (no less), dip the cutters in flour and cut your biscuits.  The dough will take a lot of squidging together and re-rolling, don't be timid.  Use a pallet knife to move the cookies to the tray so they don't collapse.
  • Bake the biscuits for 6 minutes until golden round the edges.  Don't overcook, they will harden on the tray.  Leave to cool and snaffle..

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Joy to the world...

Oh I have that Christmas feeling for sure now. All the twinkling lights, my new 'Home for the Holidays' Yankee candle, the ice cold air... I am full of seasonal cheer - my little heart is jumping at the joy of it all. Yes, Christmas truly is my FAVORITE time of year!

And how better to celebrate the daily advance of 25/12 than by filling the kitchen full of the heady scent of cloves and orange, and baking up a storm of little star-topped cranberry mince pies? And please note the nod to Channukah, starting tomorrow night, in the choice of a star of David. Well these will be going to my in-laws on Monday after all...

This cranberry mincemeat recipe is from Nigella Christmas (London GB, 2008) p. 189. It is lighter and sprightlier than traditional apple and suet mincemeat. I thoroughly recommend it, as I suspect many mince pie haters could be won over by these...

  • 60ml ruby port
  • 75g soft dark brown sugar
  • 300g cranberries, fresh or frozen
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 75g currents
  • 75g raisins
  • 30g dried cranberries
  • Finely grated zest and juice of 1 clementine or satsuma
  • 25ml brandy
  • few drops almond extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 x 15ml tablespoons honey
  • In a large saucepan, dissolve the sugar in the ruby port over a gentle heat.
  • Add the cranberries to the saucepan and give them a good stir, then add the spices, dried fruit, and zest and juice of the clem.
  • Simmer the fruit for about 20 minutes over a moderate heat, until everything looks pulpy and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Squash any rebellious cranberries with the back of your wooden spoon (note - this doesn't work with red silicon spatulas, however festively appropriate they may be!).
  • Take off the heat, and once it has cooled a little beat in the brandy, extracts and honey.
  • The mincemeat can be stored in sterilised jars for a month, or be frozen for 3 months. I made mine on Monday and kept the saucepan in the fridge, removing it to make a batch a day until it was all used up.
The Pastry
  • This is not the exact pastry Nigella Lawson recommends (on page 187 of the same book) but it is how I like to make it. You will need two batches of this to use up all the mincemeat, making 48 cupcake sized mince pies.
  • Measure out 480g plain flour. Cut 240g unsalted butter into small cubes and stir through the flour. Freeze the whole lot for about 20 minutes.
  • Remove the flour and butter from the freezer and pour into a food processor fitted with a double blade. Zest in 2 clementines and pulse the whole lot until it resembles dry sand.
  • Squeeze the juice from the 2 clems and add to the flour. Pulse again.
  • Add teaspoons of ice cold water down the funnel, pulsing cautiously, until damp course sand forms.
  • Empty the whole lot onto a cold surface and kneed firmly to bring it together - don't over-knead!
  • Divide the pastry into 2 disks, wrap them in cling and let them rest in the fridge for 30 minutes before rolling and cutting.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Autumn fruit cupcakes

My my, where does the time go? 2nd December already...and I have that Christmas feeling! Yesterday morning there was a white frost on everything, outlining every tiny leaf and pine needle, and snow on the Hillfoots. I bought 3 bags of cranberries from the local deli to cook up Nigella Lawson's cranberry mincepies, and lit a cinnamon scented candle.

But today is back to the soggy, muddy, 'this is Scotland and don't you forget it' form of winter weather, so baking these little cupcakes has created a pleasantly spicy fug for me to hide myself away in. A last taste of autumn before the Christmas excesses really begin.

The cupcakes will keep for 2 days in an airtight tin - after that they become a little sticky.

  • 115g unsalted butter, softened
  • 115g golden caster sugar
  • 115g self-raising flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 115g stewed apple (about 1 large desert apple, peeled and cored and cooked down)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 125g ripe pear, peeled and cubed
  • Preheat the oven to 175C/350F. Line a 12-bun muffin tray with cupcake papers.
  • Cream the butter, sugar, flour and eggs together with an electric beater until very smooth.
  • Beat in the apple sauce.
  • Carefully fold the pear cubes through the batter with a metal spoon.
  • Spoon the batter into the cases - about 2 desertspoons for each cupcake.
  • Bake for 25 minutes until golden and cooked. They will be very soft initially so let them stand in the tin for 5 minutes before carefully moving them to a wire rack to cool.
For the icing -
  • Sieve 1/2 cup icing sugar to remove any lumps.
  • Add 2 teaspoons maple syrup, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and a dribble of recently boiled water. Beat well until a thick, smooth icing forms - add a little more water if it is too thick to drizzle, or more sugar if it is too runny to sit on the cake and set.
  • Using a teaspoon, drizzle the icing over each cupcake, and allow to set.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

A proper beef stew

I cannot think of anything more comforting on a cold Saturday night, at the end of a long week of work, than a delicious, bubbling, fragrant casserole of beef and red wine. This one uses a whole half bottle - don't be stingy, sometimes it's just not worth it! Yum...

  • 4 fat garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 onion, coarsely chopped
  • 3 sticks of celery, sliced
  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
  • Rosemary needles, a scant dessertspoon-full, very finely chopped
  • 2 braising steaks, trimmed of fat and cubed
  • 1 tablespoon plain flour
  • Good pinch smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tin chopped tomatoes
  • Tin kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • Half bottle of good red wine
  • Pre-heat the oven to 160C/320F.
  • In a cast-iron casserole on the hob, heat a tablespoon of olive oil.
  • Add the garlic, onion and rosemary and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and fragrant. Add the celery and carrots and cook for another few minutes until the vegetables begin to soften.
  • Remove the vegetables to a bowl and return the casserole to the hob, adding a little more oil if you think it needs it.
  • In a shallow dish, mix the plain flour with the paprika and a good seasoning of salt and pepper. Stir the beef through the flour. Shake off the excess.
  • Add the beef to the hot oil and sear on all sides.
  • Return the vegetables to the pan, along with the kidney beans and tomatoes. Pour over half the bottle of wine and stir well. Bring to a bubble, cover and put in the oven.
  • Cook the casserole for 2 1/2 - 3 hours. After the first hour give the stew a good stir. After the second add the rest of the wine. The stew is cooked once the sauce is thick and winey, and the meat is very tender. You may like to turn the heat down after the second hour if your oven is very fierce.
Feeds 2 with greens.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Warm chicken liver salad

Chicken liver is the epitome of frugal food - barely £2 for 400g, and so versatile.  I love making pate or chopped liver at the weekend, or a delicious chicken liver sauce with linguine for a tv dinner.  This is a wonderful salad for the mid-week munchies.

  • 400g chicken livers, washed and patted dry.  (To kosher the livers, sprinkle with salt and grill over a rack for 2 minutes a side to draw out the blood).
  • 2 garlic cloves, 1 finely chopped and 1 peeled and squashed
  • 1 small brown onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons Marsala wine
  • 2 handfuls very small salad potatoes
  • 1/2 bag washed baby spinach leaves
  • 2 handfuls cherry tomatoes, halved
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Put the potatoes in a saucepan of water, bring to the boil, then simmer until just soft to the point of a knife.
  • Meanwhile, heat a good knob of butter with a little olive oil (or just oil) in a broad based pan.   Add the chopped garlic and onion with a pinch of salt, and saute gently until soft and translucent.
  • Turn up the heat a little and add the dry chicken livers.  Cook the livers, turning often, until they have lost all their rawness and are cooked through.
  • Add the Marsala and let it bubble away until reduced to a thin syrup.  Set the pan to one side.
  • Arrange the salad and tomatoes on two plates.
  • In a frying pan, heat a slosh of olive oil with the squashed garlic clove.  Drain the potatoes well and add them to the hot oil.  Stir and turn them for about 5 minutes until the sides begin to brown and crisp.
  • Quickly remove the potatoes from the oil onto the salad.  Share out the livers and onion mush between the plates.  Finally, squeeze over a generous amount of lemon juice and eat.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Pumpkin and goats cheese lasagne

We have builders in at the moment, restoring our bathroom after a deluge from a faulty shower in the 'Willy Wallace Backpackers' above us.  Thankfully it is all being paid by the insurance, which is quite a blessing!  However, I'm good with neither disorder nor dust, so this week is a real opportunity to develop some patience and good humour through a bit of 'stretching'...

I think this supper may help to restore my emotional equilibrium though: it is a bit of a crib from Nigella Lawson's Christmas book, released last year.  Her recipe consists of three sauces - a smooth tomato passata, pumpkin cooked in tomato, and a goats cheese and ricotta topping.  It also feeds about 20 people!  My version is greatly scaled down, it feeds 2 generously, and is rather more abstemious in the ingredients.  However, don't be put off!  It is perfect for a frosty autumn night.

A note on the pasta - I used dried lasagne sheets and was disappointed by the resulting clagginess.  Nigella uses fresh sheets in her recipe and I would recommend you do the same, as I will next time - they don't have to be hand made, check the chiller cabinet at the supermarket.

  • 1/2 teaspoon dried sage leaves, or a few fresh
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 plump cloves of garlic, squashed
  • 400g pumpkin (peeled and deseeded weight), chopped into 1 inch squares
  • Tin good quality chopped tomatoes
  • Pinch sugar
  • 1/2 bag prepared spinach
  • 2 teaspoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon plain flour
  • 400ml full fat milk
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  • Fresh nutmeg
  • Sheets fresh lasagne ( how many you will use will depend on the dimensions of your dish)
  • 1 goats cheese (I used a fairly soft rindless one from Somerset)
  • Heat a little olive oil with the sage leaves in a large saucepan.  Once the heat and scent rise up, add the garlic and onion with a pinch of salt, and cook gently for about 5 minutes until the onion is translucent and soft.
  • Add the cubed pumpkin and stir to coat with oil, then throw in the chopped tomatoes.  
  • Season the tomatoes with a little sugar, and some salt and pepper.  Depending on the brand of tomatoes you may want to add about 1/4 cup water.
  • Bring the pumpkin to a hearty simmer, and allow to cook for about 30 minutes, until the pumpkin is soft to the point of a knife but not collapsing, and the tomatoes have reduced a little to form a thickish sauce.  Once it is ready, add the spinach leaves, gently stirring and tamping them down with your spoon until they wilt into the sauce.
  • Meanwhile, heat the milk gently to body temperature.
  • Melt the butter in a small saucepan.  Stir in the flour until a smooth paste forms, then cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes until the colour darkens slightly.
  • Start to add the milk, stirring well after each addition so that no lumps form, until all the milk has been incorporated.
  • Keep the heat steady and stir continuously for around 10 minutes until a thick bechamel has formed.  The white sauce will form a coat on the back of a wooden spoon when it is ready.
  • Remove the sauce from the heat and quickly beat in all the parmesan, with nutmeg and salt to taste.
  • Pre-heat the oven to 200C/400F.
  • In your favorite lasagne dish (we all have one) start to layer the pasta - start with a good slosh of the pumpkin, top with pasta sheets, then smooth on some bechamel and crumbled goats cheese, top with some more pumpkin and lasagne.  Keep layering - how many layers you make will depend on whether your baking dish is wide and shallow or narrow and tall.  Finish with a good covering of the last of the pumkin.
  • Finally, break up the remaining goats cheese all over the surface and pop into the oven.
  • Cook for 20 minutes or until the tomato and bechamel sauces are bubbling up the sides and the goats cheese is brown.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Orange and cranberry chocolate brownies

First off the bat, please let me apologise for my unscheduled absence of 2 weeks and counting.  I never meant to let my posts lapse to this extent, but starting some part-time voluntary work has rather knocked me for six over the last couple of weeks, and my cooking has likewise suffered*.  I had a baked potato and cheese for supper tonight...

However, I fully intend with the enthusiasm of fresh resolve never to leave so long between culinary experiments again.  And here is my (re)starting offer - a chocolate brownie to 
begin the gentle count-down to Christmas.

Now, yes I know that Christmas is still 50 days away.  And more importantly as far as
 this blog is concerned, chocolate brownies are not cheap to produce!  However, in answer to the first criticism I would argue that good things should never be constrained by dates on the calender - such as the sublime combination of orange, almond, cranberry, nuts and chocolate.  And to the second I would say that although, yes, the initial financial outlay for the ingredients is not cheap, these brownies are so rich, and keep so well, that you should be able to make several gifts for deserving friends out of them, thus keeping to the frugal ideal of my blog.

*Gosh, quite a cricket-metaphor heavy opening paragraph - Dr K will approve!

  • 200g light muscovado sugar
  • 100g golden caster sugar
  • 250g unsalted butter
  • 200g very dark chocolate, broken into squares
  • 3 large eggs + 1 extra yoke, lightly beaten
  • 60g ground almonds
  • 40g very good cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • Zest of 1 orange (unwaxed or well scrubbed)
  • 50g dried cranberries
  • 50g hazelnuts, brazil nuts, or macadamia nuts (or a mixture), roughly chopped
  • Line the base of a square brownie tin.
  • Pre-heat the oven to 180C/350F.
  • Beat the butter and sugars together very well until really soft and fluffy.
  • Meanwhile, melt the chocolate in a bowl suspended over (but not touching) some lightly simmering water.  Make sure no steam mixes with the chocolate (which could cause it to seize) by covering the bowl with a saucepan lid.
  • Once the butter and sugar is well creamed, gradually beat in the egg in increments.
  • Fold in the melted chocolate with a large metal spoon, and then the ground almonds, cocoa, and baking powder, with a pinch of salt.
  • Lastly fold through the dried cranberries and chopped nuts and pour the brownie mixture into the tin.
  • Smooth the surface, and bake the brownies for 40 minutes, though start testing after 30 if you have a very hot oven.  When they are ready the brownies should have lost their wobble, but a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake should still come out a little sticky.
  • Cool in the tin.  Once cool cut into 20 little squares.
(Please note, this recipe is adapted from Nigel Slater's 'My very good chocolate brownie recipe' in 'The Kitchen Diaries', published by Fourth Estate in London in 2005, p.325-6.  All recognition for the original recipe should go to the author.)

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Hefty meringue cake for 2

Another exercise in pleasurable frugality today. I made baked custard for pudding earlier in the week and was left with 3 egg whites in the fridge.

There are many sorrowful little packets of frozen egg white in my freezer, languishing there as an eternal monument to good intentions. For that very reason I did not freeze these three, but kept them in a desert bowl on the first shelf of the fridge to glare at me accusingly whenever I searched for a yogurt.

Saturday seemed as good a time as any to indulge, and although I did fleetingly consider making lots of little meringues to give, generously, to all and sundry at church tomorrow, greed prevailed, and Dr K and I will be sharing this monster tonight, all by ourselves...

  • 3 egg whites
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 180g unrefined caster sugar
  • 1 heaped teaspoon corn flour
  • 1 scant teaspoon white wine vinegar
  • Few drops real vanilla essence
  • Whipped cream and fruit to fill
  • Pre-heat your oven to 180C/350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
  • In a clean, dry bowl, start whisking the egg whites with the salt (using an electric whisk unless you want to risk a nervous breakdown).
  • As the whites start to form satiny peaks, sprinkle in the sugar. Add in three increments, whisking well after each, until you have a very stiff and shiny meringue. The great test is to hold the bowl upside down - the meringue should not budge.
  • Sift the cornflour over the meringue, and drip in the vanilla and vinegar. Fold through gently with a large metal spoon.
  • Dollop the meringue onto the parchment in two equal mounds. Using a pallet knife, shape each into a rough circle and smooth the surface.
  • Pop the tray into the oven and immediately turn the heat down to 150C/300F.
  • Set a timer for 40 minutes. When it goes off, turn off the oven, but don't open the door until it feels completely cold.
  • Once cold, invert one meringue on to a serving plate and fill the cavity with whipped cream. Pile on your fruit (you might like to try the last of the summer berries; baked plums and a little of their juice; peeled and cubed ripe pears with a dark chocolate sauce; or ripe mango with finely diced stem ginger and a drizzle of the syrup from the jar).
  • Finally, spread some more cream on the underside of the second meringue disk and top the base.
  • Dive in.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Two tomatoes for a TV dinner

I wanted to counger up a little domestic warmth this weekend, and perhaps the scents and sense of a more Mediterranean climate as the barometer drops outside.

In the spirit of frugality I am attempting to limit my fridge waste. A treaty packet of mi-cuit tomatoes has done us well recently, with delicious stuffed chicken breasts, mozzarella and basil sandwiches, and a tasty rice stuffing. I thought of making tomato bread with the remainder, but when it came to it I found I was without yeast (a shocking kitchen omission I know). So the bread turned into scones, and was paired with this yummy soup, another exercise in 'waste not want not' using half a bunch of coriander left over from a Friday night curry.

Tomato, Lentil and Coriander Soup


  • 1 fat garlic clove, squashed
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • A small bunch of coriander, stems separated and chopped finely
  • 1 cup split red lentils
  • 1 tin cherry tomatoes in juice
  • 1 tin good quality chopped tomatoes
  • 750ml chicken or vegetable stock
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Heat a little oil in a saucepan with the garlic, until the smell wafts up.
  • Add the chopped onion and coriander stems and cook gently, stirring often, until soft but not golden.
  • Add the lentils and stir well to cover in a slick of oil.
  • Add both the tins of tomatoes and the stock, bring to a boil, and then turn down and simmer for 20 minutes or until the lentils are very soft and the liquid has reduced.
  • Add the coriander leaves. Turn off the heat and allow to cool.
  • Once cooler, remove three cups of soup to a blender and pulse until smooth.
  • Return the puree to the saucepan and reheat gently. Season with a good squeeze of lemon to taste before serving.
Feeds 2 hearty eaters for a TV dinner.

Cheese and Tomato Scones

  • 250g plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 40g unsalted butter
  • 150ml milk
  • Handful of mi-cuit or sunblush tomatoes, chopped roughly
  • 40g grated mature cheddar
  • Preheat the oven to 210C/410F and line a baking sheet with parchment.
  • Sift together the flour, salt and raising agents.
  • Cube the butter into the flour and rub in well using the pads of your fingers until fine sand forms.
  • Add the milk all at once and bring the dough together, first with a wooden spoon and then with your hands. Try not to work it too much.
  • On a floured surface knead in the cheese and tomatoes.
  • Roll out the dough to a thickness of 3cm and cut 6cm rounds using a metal cookie cutter. Place them on the baking sheet. With re-rolling you should get 6 scones.
  • Bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes until golden on top and cooked through.
  • Allow to cool on a rack before eating.
Makes 6.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Plum crumble cake for pudding

Autumn is here. Clear blue skies and frigid mornings, a blanket on the bed at night, and warming, stodgy food. We seem to instinctively crave the food which will support us through the seasons. I have been dreaming of rice pudding - sweet and creamy with a generous dusting of nutmeg.

But this week I had 4 wrinkly purple plums blaming me from the fruit bowl for their sad state. Baking fruit has always been a favorite trick of mine to restore less than perfect specimens. These were cooked slowly with honey and cranberry juice until soft and fragrant but holding their shape.

Unfortunately three days in bed feeling very sorry for myself found the plums still in the fridge, uneaten. What an opportunity to create a lovely pudding cake - and I'm genuinely very pleased with this one, with the sweet but tart fruit cutting through the vanilla sponge and nubbly almond topping. Enjoy with cream, or for the real Autumn experience, custard.


  • 4 plums, halved and stones removed, and baked until soft.
  • 125g unsalted butter
  • 125g unrefined caster sugar
  • 125g self-raising flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon real vanilla essence
  • For the topping: 1 cup plain flour, 1/2 cup ground almonds, 3 tablespoons caster sugar, pinch salt, large slice (c. 40g) unsalted butter.
Note: I give the topping ingredients in very rough proportions as that is the best way to make crumble in my opinion - some like more butter, others a very fine crumble, and it really has a lot to do both with personal taste, and the qualities of the flour you are using. Use your instinct.


  • Pre-heat your oven to 180C/350F. Line the base of a square baking tin with parchment.
  • In a processor or by hand, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy.
  • Sift the flour together with the baking powder. In a separate bowl beat the eggs together loosely.
  • Add alternating increments of the flour and eggs to the butter sugar cream, beating well after each addition. With the last of the egg add the vanilla extract.
  • Pour the cake batter into the tin, spreading evenly into the corners. Place the plum halves, cut side up, into the cake.
  • Make the crumble topping: mix together plain flour, almonds, sugar and salt; rub in the cold butter with the pads of your fingers until all the flour mix is incorporated and you have a texture you like. Scatter the crumble evenly over the surface of the cake.
  • Bake the cake for around an hour, until the crumble is golden and the sponge is cooked through.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Grannie's sticky ginger cake

Another family recipe for you, to counger up the nostalgia of history's kitchen. My maternal family is known for its fondness for spicy, not too sweet, cakes and biscuits. I can see from Grannie's notes that the original recipe called for about a third of the spices used, and topped the cake with candied fruits not stem ginger. This version is a dark delight, very moreish....


  • 50g butter
  • 1 rounded tablespoon treacle
  • 25g soft brown sugar
  • 125g stem ginger, drained of syrup and sliced into thick coins
  • 125g self-raising flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 level teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon each ground nutmeg and ground cloves
  • Pinch salt
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 125g very soft unsalted butter

  • Preheat the oven to 180C/350F
  • Melt the butter, treacle and sugar in a saucepan.
  • Arrange the ginger slices on the bottom of a loaf or cake tin (21cm diameter is about right). Pour over the treacle mix and tip the tin from side to side a little to spread the sticky goo over all the ginger.
  • Sift the flour, baking powder, spices and salt into a mixing bowl or the bowl of a food processor.
  • Add the caster sugar, eggs and butter, cubed, and beat thoroughly for 2 minutes until a smooth batter forms.
  • Pour over the ginger and treacle, which will spread around and up the sides of the tin, carefully covering all the ginger, and smooth the top.
  • Bake for 35-40 minutes until the cake is firm to the touch, and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  • Invert the cake onto a plate and cool before eating.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Ginger and old cookbooks

Recipe books from my grandmothers' generation must be the epitome of fun but frugal cooking. In the austerity years people wanted to entertain, and to celebrate life after all that death, but often remained constrained by limitations both economical and imaginative - cabbage blankets with grilled kidneys anyone?

Looking at my copy of 'Cooking with Elizabeth Craig', which I see from the fly leaf was given to my paternal grandmother for Christmas 1949, I am struck by the sub-title - it sums up the era so perfectly, and with a little adapting could work perfectly well for 2009: 'A cookery book for the housewife of modest income...' Well, that's almost me!

Thinking of both my grandmothers' kitchens, certain scents and flavours are particularly evocative - hot jam and boiled carrots from my father's family home (Granny wasn't the most imaginative cook), and nutmeg, stewed apple, and ginger from my mother's. These little ginger biscuits are adapted from Mrs Craig's recipe, and are sweet, light and comforting, more buttery than spicy. My friend Mrs Blue tells me they make excellent dunkers with a cup of milky chai tea...


  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 110g unsalted butter
  • 110g golden caster sugar
  • 1 large egg

  • Pre-heat the oven to 180C/350F and line two baking sheets with parchment.
  • Sift the flour and ginger together into a mixing bowl.
  • Dice the cold unsalted butter into the flour, and rub in using the tips of your fingers until the mixture resembles course damp sand.
  • Stir in the sugar.
  • Beat the egg and add to the mixing bowl, stirring together firmly.
  • Once the egg is amalgamated, gently knead until a soft smooth dough forms.
  • Break off lumps of dough about the size of a walnut in its shell, and roll into spheres between your palms, placing each ball about 2cm apart on the lined sheets.
  • Using the back of a fork, gently press the tines down on the dough to flatten into little biscuits.
  • Bake the biscuits for 12 minutes, or until just turning golden. Leave to rest on the trays out of the oven for 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  • Store any you don't eat right away in an airtight tin.
Makes around 24.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Cheap and cheerful enchiladas

My good friends Nara and Juan Pablo introduced me to the delights of Mexican cooking. The key, according to JP, is a combination of oregano, chili and cumin to give the essential flavour of a sunnier climate. Fun and fiesta in the kitchen...


  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 4 plump garlic cloves
  • Generous handful of chestnut mushrooms, diced
  • 2 large bell peppers, 1 red and 1 green
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
  • Tin mixed beans, drained and rinsed
  • Tin chopped tomatoes
  • Pinch each salt and sugar
  • Pinch dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 flour tortilla wraps
  • 1 cup grated cheddar, heaped

  • Pre-heat the oven to 180C / 350F
  • In a frying pan, gently saute the finely chopped red onion in a tablespoon of warmed vegetable oil, with 2 of the garlic cloves, crushed.
  • Whilst they are softening, empty the tin of tomatoes into a small saucepan, add the remaining 2 garlic cloves, crushed, the dried thyme, salt and sugar, and the olive oil. Stir together, put on the lid, and leave to simmer over a gentle heat for 20 minutes until rich and reduced.
  • Meanwhile, add the mushrooms and peppers to the pan and stir together. Sprinkle in the oregano, chili and cumin, and cook gently for 5-10 minutes until the vegetables are softened.
  • Stir in the mixed beans and warm through for a couple of minutes. Remove from the heat.
  • Get the 8 flour tortillas out of the packet. On a board, lay out one tortilla. Spoon 1/8 of the bean mixture down the right side of the wrap. Sprinkle over a little cheese and roll up, finishing with the seam side down.
  • Repeat the procedure with the remaining tortillas, and place all the rolls snugly into a rectangular baking dish.
  • Pour the tomato sauce over the wraps, spreading it about a bit with a spatula, then sprinkle over the remaining cheese (you should have about 1/2 a cup left).
  • Bake the enchiladas in the hot oven for 20 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and golden and a nice crust has formed.
Serve with salad to feed 4 people.

I'm off on holiday for 5 days now, so see you when I get back - I promise a sweet recipe to celebrate my return to the land of internet connection...

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Julie and Julia: a warning to bloggers?

We're just back from the cinema, and as I forgot to turn the boiler on before we left there is no hot water for our baths. So while I wait, I thought I would reflect on the lessons I have learned tonight.

Two posts in, and a quasi-deadline of 1 year to test my commitment to this food blogging thing, without the insane pressure of the movie Julie's target, but also without the safety-net of a book of recipes to follow. Will I stick it out until my book deal comes along...

I certainly love the call to 'get fearless' about cooking - how often do I read a particularly complex recipe, or eye up some extraordinary specimen of Scotland's watery deeps, and discount them out of habit - not enough time, not enough money...not enough commitment? On the other hand, it's not my idea of a dream evening to steam 3 live lobsters or make 7 aspic moulds. For one thing I don't even have a bundt tin.

Tonight I am thankful that my aim of creating fun food on a frugal budget leaves such delights as still crawling crustaceans and whole calves feet well outside my remit.

I am also a little concerned by the impact of all that frenzied food preparation, and consumption, on our Julie's marriage and sanity. I really don't want to drop the ball on either of those, I feel they may be important to the general quality of my life.

But then, she clearly found such fulfillment and joy in her cooking project - and that I understand. As, I suspect, will anyone who reads this. We are foodies. We love food. We think it, dream it, plan it, shop for it, indulge in it, prepare it, savour it and share it. I hope not in a gluttonous way, but with joy at all the vast variety created for us to enjoy.

And even whilst walking home, I have been planning what to cook tomorrow. So watch this space, Julie and Julia has not taught me to be cautious, the next recipe will be here soon.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Weeknight pasta to fill a hole

Weeknight food really needs to be quick to prepare and satisfying to eat. Particularly with the advance of the chilly season now upon us, I need after-work suppers that will calm and console me, and that can be flexible enough to serve to friends at the table followed by a nice pudding, or guzzled unceremoniously from a bowl in front of the box.

This pasta supper was made in honour of Dr K's passion for garlic. Faint-hearted? Do not attempt!

Ingredients (to feed 2):

  • 3 good quality butcher's sausages (I used beef, but pork or lamb would also be fine)

  • 1 bulb of garlic, cloves separated and peeled

  • Good pinch (or to taste) dried chili, crumbled or flakes

  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

  • 1/2 glass medium white wine

  • Good splash double cream

  • Salt and black pepper

  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts

  • 1/4 cup (lightly packed) chopped flat leaf parsley

  • Penne or other short pasta to serve (about 80g per person)


  • Gently heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large saute pan with a lid (or use tin foil to cover). Don't let the oil get too hot.

  • Add the whole garlic cloves, stir briefly and cover the pan.

  • Cook the garlic very gently for around 15 minutes, stirring occasionally and checking the heat level. You want soft, sweet cloves without any singeing that might cause bitterness. A little colour is fine though.

  • Whilst the garlic is cooking, put the pine nuts in a dry pan over a medium heat and gently toast them - stop when you can smell warm nuttyness, and their cheeks are turning golden. Remove from the heat to prevent them cooking further.

  • Put on the water for your pasta.

  • Once the garlic is soft, turn up the heat in the pan and add the sausages, skin removed and meat crumbled up, like tiny broken meatballs.

  • Brown the meat, and sprinkle in the chili and thyme.

  • While this is cooking, add your pasta to the boiling water.

  • After a couple of minutes, when the meat is browned and you can smell the herbs, pour in the white wine and let it bubble away for a few minutes, scraping any lovely crispy bits of sausage off the pan with your wooden spoon, until reduced by about half.

  • Stir in some double cream to make a calming pale sauce, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Do not let the cream boil.

  • Once the pasta is ready, drain it and add to the pan of creamy sausage sauce. Stir together well, taste again, and then sprinkle over the pine nuts and parsley. Dive in!

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

A spicy beef braise for the first day of Autumn

...and the start of a new project.

Over the next year I plan to meet the challenge of cooking exciting, flavoursome, and varied meals on a budget. 'Credit crunch' and 'recession' have been overused in the UK lexicon recently, but it is undeniable that many of us are experiencing economic dips of varying degrees.

At the time of writing I am nearing the end of a well-paid job that has kept my husband (Dr K) and me nicely insulated in a comfortable bubble of financial security. It is with excitement, even enthusiasm, rather than dread that we choose to face our financial future, in all its uncertainty...and potential!

Nonetheless common sense requires that as chief cook and bottle washer (except on the rare occasions when Dr K manages to park me in front of the tv and takes over the stove) I look for ways in which to reduce our domestic outlays.

But so often budget cooking, frugal food, and recession beating family meals are dull, repetitive, and distinctly uncheering. I am not someone who enjoys cooking 5 kilo of reduced price minced meat into pasta sauce and freezing it for a quick and joyless weekday meal. Who wants to buy baked beans in bulk, or pad everything with potato?

I am determined there must be another way, a path to joyful cooking on a budget, fun food that is still frugal. Join me in my project by commenting on my posts, sending me your ideas, and setting challenges. I would love to hear from you.

The First Recipe

Beef braising steak is cheap in Scotland, and a much better option than stewing steak. Give it a little tlc in a low oven for a few hours and it will tenderise beautifully, falling apart on the fork into rich, meaty shards.

On the first properly autumnal day we have had, damp and cold but still green, with only the tops of the trees starting to fade into russet, I wanted something warming but still reminiscent of the summer we briefly enjoyed...


  • Scotch braising steak, 1 per person

  • 2 tablespoons plain flour

  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika

  • 1/2 tablespoon english mustard powder

  • 1 red/spanish onion, finely diced

  • 2-3 plump and juicy garlic cloves, finely sliced

  • 1 medium red chili, finely sliced (deseeded if you don't like too much heat)

  • 2 stalks celery, finely sliced

  • Good pinch dried thyme, or 1/2 teaspoon fresh leaves

  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes

  • 2 bell peppers (I used 1 yellow and 1 orange) fairly finely sliced

  • Fresh chopped flat leaf parsley (for garnish)


  • Preheat your oven to 140 centigrade / 284 fahrenheit

  • In a shallow dish, mix the flour, paprika and mustard powder.

  • Heat a little vegetable oil in a cast iron casserole or frying pan. Dredge the steaks with the seasoned flour on each side, and brown.

  • Either removing the steaks from the casserole, or in a separate pan, heat a little more vegetable oil and add the onion, garlic, chili, celery and thyme. Cook over a gentle heat for around 5 minutes until all the vegetables are softened and fragrant.

  • Add the steaks to the vegetables in the casserole, or put the contents of both pans into an oven-proof dish.

  • Pour over the entire tin of chopped tomatoes, stir together briefly, and cover.

  • Cook the casserole in the oven for around 2 hours, checking the moisture level after 1 hour.

  • After 2 hours add the sliced peppers, stir together again, re-cover and cook for another 40 minutes - 1 hour. When ready the tomatoes and vegetables should have formed a tangy, spicy sauce and the meat should be very tender and richly flavoured.

  • Serve with freshly chopped parsley to contrast with the tomato.

We ate this with snappy green beans, and then shared a perfect fruit salad of ripe greengages and the tail end of the summer berries.