Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Project Frugal: Day Two

I went to one of the numerous charity shops dotted around Headington a few days ago to gaze at their used books. I love the Helen & Douglas House charity shop which I walk past every time I decide to visit the local shops and it is one of those places where you can find beautiful items at cheap and cheerful prices. Automatically, the moment I enter a charity shop I bee-line to the books first. This time I plonked myself on the floor in front of the cookery books and happily started rummaging through them. The great thing with cheap cookery books is the freedom to buy books that are normally unaffordable in a shop which usually ends up with just a handful of practical recipes anyway. It is also a good way to try out new authors who I wouldn't normally choose to read, enter: Nigella Lawson. I love her TV Series when I happen to catch them, but I would say she is definitely aiming for the middle class audience who wouldn't blink an eye going to Waitrose to buy their finest ingredients. Not that I dislike Waitrose, I actually adore the place, but once again have to be sensible about what I end up buying, and I manage it with varying degrees of success.

 Uncooked Blackberry and Rhubarb Crumble

Going back to the point of this post though, I spotted a dirty copy of Nigella Lawson's book: How to Eat within the mass of Good Housekeeping and novelty cookbooks, and glanced through it.  I must say I was prejudiced but once I started reading the first few pages, I discovered I really love her writing style.  I was right in that she loves her designer food, and seems have an obsession with mentioning this one brand of eggs every few pages or so, but surprisingly her ingredients, although sometimes extensive were perfectly attainable, replaceable or easy to miss out with easy to follow steps.  Expecting a hefty price tag I was happy to see a sticker displaying £2, which I thought was a bargain even if I only ended up reading the book for pleasure.  As soon as I got home I tucked into the book and spotted a handful of recipes already I would love to try and which surprisingly with a little tweaking fit my frugal project. 

Rhubarb

For lunch today I decided to use my butternut squash up which has been hiding in my cupboard for the last few months.  I had decided to try Nigella's butternut squash and pasta soup (recipe below), but missed out the white wine as I didn't have any.  The resultant soup was a beautiful hue of orange, enhanced by the pureed butternut squash and tasted wonderful.  Simplicity really is the key sometimes I feel.  I made enough for two, but looking at the thin broth thought I might actually have to go for seconds.  Toward the end of my lunch though, I barely has room to finish it, lovely though it was.  Another winner in my book! I enjoyed this soup with some grated mature cheddar on top and nothing else.

My foraging bounty

Later on, I strolled down to work to get some books and on the way home took a detour to pick some blackberries as I was having a friend over tonight for dinner and a thrifty card making session.  The walk was pleasant despite the light spattering of summer rain which cooled me down a treat.  The only thing I would change next time would be not to wear a silk chiffon dress, apparently silk and brambles don't mix well.  Going home with a huge grin on my face, I snagged some lavender as well and hopefully tonight will turn out good with a free meal for two.  After much thought this afternoon, I decided against risotto and decided to make a vegetable toad in the hole instead with boiled sweet heart cabbage, potatoes and green beans with a blackberry and rhubarb (from the garden) crumble to finish (recipe below).  The dinner was a success, plates were cleaned and dessert was served with a toffee ice cream (what I found in my freezer) - so much a success I forgot to take photos until a good way through dessert.  Sated, we went upstairs to finish our night making birthday cards. Total cost spent today? Nothing.  Hurrah!

Butternut Squash and Pasta Soup:
(Serves 2)


Ingredients: 
  • About 250g Butternut squash, peeled and cubed (1cm)
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • 1 Small Onion, chopped finely
  • 60g Soup Pasta (E.g. Stellette)
  • 2Tbsp Mature Cheddar
  • 1/2Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 1/2 Stock Cube
  • 600ml Boiling Water
  • Pepper
Method:
  1. Cover the base of a medium heavy based pan with oil and add the onion to it.  Fry the onion gently for 5-10 minutes covered until soft and translucent and stir often to prevent browning.  I added a bit of water towards the end to add some steam.
  2. Add the 1cm cubes of butternut squash to the pan, coat in the onion mixture and fry for about 2 minutes.
  3. Add the stock, water and bay leaf, stir to dissolve the cube and bring the whole lot to the boil then simmer gently for around 10 minutes, covered.
  4. Take out a ladleful of the soup and blend until smooth and return to the pot, then add the pasta shapes turning the heat up to return the soup to a rapid simmer.  Continue to cook for 10-12 minutes until the pasta is tender.  Season with salt and pepper and serve in bowls garnished with grated cheese.
Vegetable Toad in the Hole: 
(Serves 2)

Ingredients:
  • 50g Plain flour
  • 100ml Milk
  • 1 Egg
  • 2Tbsp wholegrain mustard
  • 1 Small Onion, chopped into 8 wedges
  • 1 Clove Garlic, crushed and chopped
  • 2Cups worth cooked or frozen mixed vegetables (sweetcorn, carrot, peas, green beans, etc...)
  • 1 Tinned plum tomato (or 1 fresh)
  • 1Tbsp Fresh Herbs
  • Knob of butter
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt and Pepper 
Method:
  1. Make the batter by whisking together the egg, milk, mustard and some salt and pepper to taste.  Add the flour and mix together to form a thick batter.
  2. Pour enough oil to cover the base of a small oven dish and preheat the oven to Gas Mark 6/200C/400F.  Heat the oiled dish in the oven for 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, heat the butter and a bit of oil in a pan and saute the onion and garlic for about 5 minutes.  Add the tomato and beat apart with a wooden spoon and then add the vegetables, herbs and mustard.  Mix altogether and season to taste.
  4. Take the dish out of the oven, pour the batter to cover the base and spoon the vegetables into the middle of the dish.  Return to the oven for another 30-35 minutes.
  5. If you've made crumble, put that in the oven too.
Blackberry and Rhubarb Crumble:
(Serves 2)


Crumble with Toffee Ice Cream
Ingredients:
  • 200-300g blackberries
  • 1-2 stalks Rhubarb, chopped into 3cm lengths
  • 5Tbsp Plain flour
  • 1-3Tbsp Oats
  • 25-30g Butter
  • 4Tbsp Sugar
  • 1Tbsp Brown Sugar
  • 1tsp Ground Cinnamon
NB: I didn't actually weigh any of the ingredents, I tend to make crumble by feel.  I like my crumble to be buttery, so if the mixture holds together when you squeeze a handful without leaving grease it's my perfect! Also I just filled 2 ramekins with blackberries, so don't take the above weights literally.


Method:
  1. In a bowl, mix the butter with the flour, white sugar and oats with your fingers until you achieve a bread crumb consistency.  Taste the crumble, if it's too floury add some more butter, too greasy then add more flour, too plain, add more sugar! It's right when it tastes yummy.  Season with ground cinnamon
  2. In a pan, add a tablespoon of water, the rhubarb and the brown sugar.  Heat with the lid on until soft - about 3-5 minutes.  You can even skip this step and just put the rhubarb straight in with the blackberries but it mean you can fit less fruit in the ramekins.  Remove from heat, add the blackberries and mix together then distribute between two ramekin.  I used Le Creuset heart shaped ones.
  3. Top with as much crumble mixture as possible and bake for 30 minutes or so in a hot oven.  About Gas Mark 6/200C/400F.

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