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.