Gnocchi-topped Fishy Pie

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I’m a big believer in the benefits of eating fish. Luckily my kids (like me!) love the stuff; my middle child would happily eat seafood and particularly shellfish every day if I let her. But it is EXPENSIVE. My love for fish is deeply at odds with my food budget.

I have begun stalking the reduced section at Lidl – they often have a decent selection of meat and fish with 30% off, to be chucked in the freezer and used at a later date.

Today’s offering is by no means cheap. But it is a frugal way of buying and eating fish. And is delicious. That helps.

I saw a recipe for a gnocchi gratin in a Nigella Lawson recipe book and mentally filed it away in my brain for another day. Today, I decided that I would use up my yellow-sticker fish and and combine it with this recipe to make a gnocchi-tipped fish pie of sorts. Here is the result:

I used Lidl and Aldi ingredients, including reduced fish to make this dish. It still cost less than a fiver (just!), which I’m chuffed about.

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I tipped two packs of gnocchi into boiling water for a moment or two, drained and then set aside.

In a little pot I melted a 250g tub of mascarpone cheese in a good splash of milk, grated a handful or Parmesan in and then added se fresh black pepper and nutmeg.

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In an oven proof casserole dish, I placed my chunks of fish (I used a mix of smoked haddock, salmon and white pollock). Then I topped that with my gnocchi. I poured the sauce all over the dish, added another handful of Parmesan over the top and sprinkled with breadcrumbs (or in my case, two bashed up breadsticks haha).

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I did this at lunchtime, and it was ready to pop in the oven at teatime to be served with some steamed veggies.

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Cowboy Quesadillas

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I don’t know why we call them this, they are probably horribly inauthentic 😉

Anyway, tomorrow is payday. Isn’t January just an awful month?? This is a scramble-in-the-cupboards teatime, yet feels like a real treat. My kids love things they can eat with their hands too.

I used: about a third of a chorizo ring, an onion, a tin of chickpeas and a tin of kidney beans, a squeeze of tomato purée, some diced squash, paprika (I used sweet and smoked, but plain old paprika is fine),wraps. And served with cheese, sour cream and pepper sticks. I would have made guacamole too, had the bloody avocados ripened in time.

Finely dice your squash and chorizo and cook off in a little oil. Add a finely sliced onion. Let it all sweat for a minute or two. Add your two drained tons of beans, the tomato purée and a good teaspoon of paprika. Splash in some water to help the cooking of the squash and to prevent it drying out. I did this stage whilst my youngest was at nursery today, so all I have to do is five mins of assembly at teatime.

I dry-fried mine, so popped a tortilla wrap into a large pan on a medium heat and then spooned the mix on (not too much, spread it thinly!), and topped with cheese. I popped another tortilla wrap on top, then flipped it over to toast that side. They were done for about 90 seconds each side.

Cut into quarters, and serve with sour cream (and guacamole, if you are more organised than me!). My kids had slices of raw pepper too. Clean plates and happy days.

I reckon this cost about £3.10 to make, and it fed five with some mixture leftover for lunch another day. So less than fifty pence per serving?

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Sunshine Crumble

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As we were eating our tea last night, it occurred to me that it was Sunday and it would be lovely to have a special pudding. But we were almost finished and I had nothing up my sleeve (and more crucially,  in the oven). I used this fact to my advantage, telling my children that I would concoct a dessert worth waiting for… If they tidied their rooms in the meantime. It worked! Tidy bedrooms. And this was the result of half an hour, winging it in the kitchen.

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2oz butter
8oz plain flour
Brown sugar
Desiccated coconut
Flaked almonds
Tin of pineapple

Firstly, rub the butter and flour together to make crumbs. Stir a little brown sugar through it, a little more desiccated coconut,  and some flaked almonds. Pop this mix onto a baking tray covered in baking paper. Chuck in it a preheated oven (200° or so)

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Then, pop your grill on. Lay your pineapple out on some foil, and sprinkle with a little more sugar. Chuck it under the grill.

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At this point, I put the juicey syrup liquid from the tin of pineapple in a milk pan, reducing it down under the heat.

Keep checking your crumble mixture, using a fork to turn over the mixture ensuring it all gets brown. I kept adding a little more coconut, feel free to play with the ratios to suit your taste buds.

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When the pineapple has caught colour and the crumble mix has browned and crisped up nicely,  you are ready! Pineapple goes on the bottom, give it a splash of reduced pineapple syrup,  and pop your crumble mix on top. We had it with a carton of Lidl’s custard.

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Lamb Keema Curry (with Pennies Chapatis)

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I bought a pack of lamb mince in Lidl last week, 30% off down to £1.64. I chucked it In the freezer and have since been wondering what to make with it. This weekend has been miserable; grey, windy and torrential rain. We needed something warming and substantial. And so I made lamb keema curry. The whole thing cost less than £3.50, fed five and I’ve got some leftover for a small person’s lunch one day 🙂

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An onion
A teaspoon each of cumin seeds,  coriander seeds, garam masala and turmeric. If you like a good kick, some chilli powder too.
Fresh ginger, coriander, garlic
Lamb mince
A tin of chopped tomatoes
Lentils
Frozen peas
Oil

Gently fry off a garlic clove, some fresh coriander, half a thumb of ginger and the onion, all finely chopped. Add your spices. Add your lamb mince, browning it off in the fragrant spices and veg. Add your tomatoes, a couple off handfuls of lentils (the quantity is no matter really – add lots to stretch it out if you need to) and some water.

Let it all blip away. Keep an eye on it – the lentils will swell and thicken your sauce,  and you may need to add a splash of water here and there. Give it half an hour, adjust seasoning if necessary. Five minutes before you want to eat, stir through some frozen peas and serve. My husband and kids like theirs with a splash of natural yoghurt, I prefer without.

I served this with rice and chapatis – Paul Hollywood’s recipe. They cost pennies and are far superior than anything bought in the shops.

250g wholemeal bread flour
20ml oil (PH states olive oil, I use sunflower and it is fine)
160ml

Combine them all together in a bowl, then kneed the dough for 5-10mins on a lightly floured surface. Leave it to rest in a lightly oiled bowl for a bit – half an hour anyway, but today I left it for three hours today and it was fine. Cut the dough in half, and then again until you have six small balls. Roll them out until they are thin and roughly circular. Using only the tiniest of oil spread thinly, heat over a moderate heat. Give them a minute or two either side, and serve.

Fruity Breakfast Pancakes

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Sometimes, especially after a long holiday and a return to school and early mornings are looming, children need some extra motivation to get up in the morning. I also like it when my children leave the house with full tummies,  and pancakes are ALWAYS a winner in this house. This is our method for Fruity Banana Pancakes.

Take a cup or mug of self raising flour and put it in a mixing bowl. Using the same mug, fill it with milk and pop it in the bowl. Crack an egg into it. Whisk up well.

Add your fruit; mashed banana is really good (I add two), grated apple or pear works well too. Finely chopped peach slices is worth a try. Blueberries are especially good – they sometimes pop and their juices bleed to make fantastic purpley splodges in your breakfast.

Heat up a wide pan, throw in a know of butter. When sizzling, dollop your mixture into the pan using a large spoon. They need 1-2 minutes on each size, flip them over using a spatula or fish slice when they are golden brown.

Stack ’em high and drizzle with honey.

Leftovers Pilaf

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This Is a recipe adapted from one I found in Nigella’s kitchen – I had no dried thyme and simply omitted, and have also added some finely diced squash to add colour and veg. This is the kind of cooking i love – mindless chopping, a little stirring and then leave to cook. Minimal effort for maximum gain. It’s also easy, which is of crucial importance when you have five hungry, impatient mouths to feed. It’s the kind of food my children love to eat too; colourful, and easy to shovel in with a spoon.

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2 small onions
1 spoon of cumin seeds
1 spoon of coriander seeds
Basmati rice (white or brown)
Some finely diced squash
Chicken stock (cube is fine)
Some cooked meat
Pomegranate seeds
Flaked almonds
Fresh coriander

Finely dice the onions, and cook off in some oil (I used sunflower), adding the spices. Let them cook off for a bit, until they soften. Add a little more oil, and then and your rice. I have not specified how much,  only you will know how much to make for the mouths you want to feed. I always add extra and then have the leftovers for lunch. Push the rice around in the oily onions, coating them in oil.

Add the squash, and then the shredded cooked meat. Tonight I have used the last of the Boxing Day roast beef, and some cooked chicken I found in a tub in the freezer. Butternut squash is a vegetable I buy every week, and I just whack off a slice and chuck it in lots of dishes. My children have stopped noticing that they are eating it, which was the intention really 😉

Add your stock, enough to generously cover your rice and veg with an additional splash for luck. Check it every so often,  it may need a splash more.

I cook this in a cast iron casserole dish, and at this point I transfer mine into the preheated  oven with the lid on. It’s just as good on the hob though. It needs to cook until the rice is fluffy and does not crunch in your mouth! When you test it, adjust seasoning according to your
preferences.

When ready, fork through the pomegranate seeds, the flaked almonds and some coriander to garnish.

I realise pomegranate seeds and flaked almonds are not exactly frugal ingredients, but one cannot live on meals-for-pennies everyday. And because the meat came from the depths of the freezer, I already had the almonds in my baking tin, and I grow fresh coriander on the window sill…it actually felt pretty cheap!

Where Does All Our Money Go??

Last month, my husband (who is notoriously terrible with money) sat down with a biro and an envelope and ‘worked out our money’. “Look!”, he exclaimed, thrusting the hard evidence over the kitchen table. “Look! Look at how much disposable money we should have each month. Where does all our money go?”

He was not accusing me of trickling off my own shoe fund spends. He was genuinely perplexed. Where does our money go?

I looked at the numbers.  Made a few adjustments. Totted it up again. Was nearly sick. WHERE IS ALL OUR MONEY GOING??

And so, we have embarked upon an experiment. We (who am I kidding, I) have created a spreadsheet with all our monthly outgoings. Everything. Direct debits,  allowing for swimming and ballet lessons, a reasonable budget for food and petrol, there is even a hundred quid put aside each month for miscellaneous purchases (hoover bags, light bulbs,  you know the kind I mean). There is a column which totals our incoming money. And a final column, doing some fancy maths work, which produces the final number of our saving potential that month. What we could potentially have to save, to spend on a holiday, to keep…were it not for the fact that our money seems to evaporate as the days and weeks march on.

It’s going well. I shall keep you updated. We keep our spreadsheet updated. Every time a payment comes in or out, we mark it off and our boxes are adjusted accordingly. Our final box is looking very healthy at the moment.

Please,  please,  let me find that extra money! There is a dress I’m just desperate to buy…..

Banana Muffins

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Yesterday morning my youngest arose at 6.35am. Delightful. After watching Frozen for the fifty-seventh time, we realised we still had half an hour before her older siblings woke up. She brought me through two bananas to peel, and both were overly ripe and bruised. Banana muffins it was, then.

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400g SR flour
100g sugar
125ml oil (I used sunflower)
250g milk
2 eggs
2-3 very ripe bananas

Mash your bananas. Add them to the rest of the wet ingredients, and the sugar. Whip up well, until the sugar is dissolved and the eggs and milk/oil are well blended.

Make a well in your flour,  and add your wet mix. Roughly combine until lumpy. Do not over mix.

Half fill your cases, and pop in the oven. Alas, I have misplaced my muffin tin and so used a smaller cake ones. This recipe yielded 24 mini muffins, so would probably give 12 large ones. Bake at 180° until golden brown on top. 

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This batch I made half my mini muffins plain banana, and added dried cranberries to the other half. Delicious. I prefer my muffins to be less sweet than some, preferring the fillings of choice to provide moments of sweetness. Banana works well, but dried cranberry and white chocolate is also excellent. You can use this recipe as a base for any muffin variety,  simply omitting the bananas and substituting another filling.

The Jammiest of Tarts

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Baking with my Small People is one of my most favourite parenting activities. What luck when it can be combined with a decluttering of the pantry cupboard! I was given jars of lemon curd and marmalade for Christmas that would otherwise go unused,  and jam tarts seemed somewhat inevitable.

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120g plain flour
50g cold butter
A little glass of cold water.

Rub the flour and  butter into fine breadcrumbs. Try to keep your hands cool – you can always stop, rinse them in cold water and return to the mix. Then adding a little water at a time, stir with a cool metal spoon until you for a rough dough. It usually takes me 5 or so tablespoons.

Wrap your dough in clingfilm and pop in the fridge. Preheat your oven to 180°. Lightly grease your fairy cake tin. Get ready your assorted jams and spreads.

After 5-10mins, retrieve your dough. Roll it out with a little flour, until approximately 0.5cm or a little less. Using a cutter, cut your pastry circles to fit snugly in the spaces. Pop them in, and then half fill with whatever spread you fancy. Don’t overfill, the filling will bubble and spread.

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Bake until the pastry is lightly golden. Remove from the oven and let cool (or at least until the jam is not dangerously hot! )

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This was based on the Jack Monroe cookbook, based on her brilliant blog ‘A Girl Called Jack’.

Autumnal Sausage Casserole

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A little autumnal experiment today,  it turned out beautifully!

I finely chopped up four smallish red onions, and cooked them off with some finely chopped chorizo ring. Then I added a pack of good quality sausages, and browned them off with the onions and chorizo. At this stage I added a large spoon of plain flour and gave everything a good stir, this thickens the sauce up well.

I added two tins of drained chickpeas and one of red kidney beans. Two tins of chopped tomatoes. A decent spoon of both paprika and cumin. A little glug of balsamic vinegar and a larger glug of red wine 😉 Two tins of water, some salt and pepper.

Leave to simmer for a couple of hours (or whack it in your slow cooker and forget about it!).

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I also made Paul Hollywood’s wholemeal loaf today – best bread I’ve ever made. I’m a ‘make by hand’ convert.

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This wasn’t super-frugal, but still cheap enough for a more-special-than-normal Sunday affair. I reckon it cost about six quid, which fed five amply and has given us some lovely thick flavoursome sauce for the freezer, which I’ll stir through some pasta or top a pizza with another day.