Monday, 28 January 2013

Chicken & Ham Pie

This is a lovely recipe, its very spoonie friendly as it doesn't involve making pastry. Its also low fat, tasty and filling. If like me you love pie but want to watch your weight too then I hope you enjoy this recipe.

Spoon Use 2
Skill - some kitchen skills
cost £4  - halve the ingredients for 2 people

Serves 4  adults (if you have a small appetite or children this pie could serve 6)

Heat proof  deep Pie Dish - if you dont have a pie dish a cake tin will do
Pastry brush (if you don't have one use your finger or a clean small paint brush)
Electric food chopper - if you need one
sharp knife & board

2 chicken breast (you can use boneless thighs - use 4 large or 6 small) - remove the skin
2 slices of ham
1 medium leek
1 onion
1 vegetable stock cube
1/4 pint of milk
1 packet filo pastry
small amount of vegetable or sunflower oil

Make 1 pint of stock - (using the stock cube and boiling water)
finely chop the onion (use electric chopper if needed)
thinly slice the leeks
cut the ham into pieces -  roughly 2" squares

1. put the chicken breasts into a saucepan (i cut them in half to reduce cooking time) pour on the stock, bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer - poach gently for 20 minutes.  This keeps the chicken moist and the cooking liquor wont be wasted. Once poached turn off the heat and leave to cool

Rest once you have put the chicken on to poach

Making the pie filling

1. cut the chicken into bite size pieces (don't throw away the liquid) then set aside
2. put the onions and leeks into a fryingpan and cook gently, you don't want them to colour. Cook for 5 minutes until soft

4. Put the pan with the cooking stock back on the heat, add the milk and season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil

5. Mix 2 heaped tea spoons of corn flour with cold water so it forms a paste, pour into the stock - whisk constantly and turn the heat down, the liquid should thicken - you want the consistency of thick double cream. add more corn flour if it doesn't thicken enough. keep whisking until thick - remove from heat.

6.  Take the onions and leeks off the heat, add the chicken and ham pieces. Pour on enough sauce to coat the mixture - you don't want it swimming in sauce.Leave to go cold Don't be tempted to put the filling in the pie case while its still warm, you will end up with a soggy bottom - the same will happen if you use too much sauce. 

** I freeze the left over sauce to use another time. 


Make the pie

Turn on the oven - 180C gas mark 5

1. Take the filo pastry out of the packet - use 4 pieces of the pastry for the base of the pie. Using the pastry brush very lightly brush oil in the 1st piece of pastry, and lay the second piece on top in the opposite direction so it sort of forms a cross (filo pastry is oblong) brush the second layer and add the third and fourth at at angle so it forms a star shape- *see diagram

 lay the strips into the pie dish as you go, you want the edges overlapping the dish - don't cut them you want these bits in a minute.

Add caption
2. Put the cold filling into the dish spread evenly

3. split the rest of the filo pastry,  lightly oil and scrunch up a piece and put it on top of the pie - repeat until you have covered the pie in the centre

4. pull the overlapping bits of pastry and use this to seal the pie, again brushing with oil if you need it. Its a bit like paper so if you handle it gently you can manipulate it ok.

This is easier to do than describe :)

5. put the pie in the centre of the oven and cook for 30 - 40 minutes

6 while the pie is in the oven cook the veg you fancy having with it, we had mash, cabbage and carrots

Note: This pie freezes very well  - you can also make small individual pies. I have used filo pastry as its low fat and gives a nice texture. You can make short crust pastry, or if you dont fancy pie at all its lovely on its own.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Orange and Cranberry Skinny Cupcakes

This is a lovely and very simple low fat recipe - Ive adapted it from the Hairy Dieters Lemon and Blueberry cup cake recipe.

This recipe will make 12 deep cupcakes or 24 small fairy cake size (perfect for lunch boxes) I love this recipe not just for its low fat credentials, but also its ease and simplicity.
The cupcakes are a cross between a traditional sponge and muffin. You don't need a huge amount of skill to make them. from prep to oven in less than 5 minutes.

The cakes keep extremely well for a week in the air tight box.
Spoon Usage - 2 
Skill - some cooking knowledge
Cost  18P per cake (9p if you do fairy cake size)

Gadgets -nothing specialist
Muffin/cake tin
Paper cake cases (deep or shallow)
Mixing bowl
Measuring jug
measuring cups (these measure out teaspoon etc if you don't have some well worth the £1 outlay)
big metal spoon

200G self raising flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda  
75g soft Brown sugar (if you don't have any use white caster sugar)
100g cranberries
1 small lemon
2 large eggs (or 3 medium)
50 ml veg or sunflower oil
150g natural yogurt
2 tbs milk
100g icing sugar

Prep - 5 minutes
weigh out all the dry ingredients
grate the orange rind (thats the skin if you are new to baking) use a fine grater don't go down to the pith (the white bit)
measure out the wet ingredients
put paper cases into the tin
turn on oven to 200 C or gas mark 6


Mix the dry ingredients

1.  sift the flour into a large bowl
2. Add in the sugar
3. add bicarb of soda
4. add in cranberries

5. stir until combined evenly

If needed take a little rest here

Mix the wet ingredients

1. Beat the eggs until smooth, you want them to be light, fluffy and slightly pale
2. pour oil into the bowl 
3. add natural yogurt
4. add milk

5. give a good whisk so all the ingredients are combined - don't worry if it looks a little curdled

Mixing ingredients

1. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients (flour etc)

2. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl

3, take a large metal spoon working quickly, using a figure of 8 motion, mix it together so its just combined (dont over mix or beat it together ) once all the flour is combined this is enough. I find using a big spoon it takes 3 - 4 stirs to do this.

Hope you can see its just dont want to knock the air out
4. using a tea spoon - fill the paper cups about - so they are 2 thirds full

my hands wobbled - messy cook :)

5. place in the centre of the oven for 16-18 minutes

 rest and pop the kettle on in anticipation

set your timer and once cooked - you can tell they are cooked if golden brown, and slightly springy to the touch - if your not sure insert a skewer or thin knife if it comes out clean then they are cooked

leave to cool 

6. put the icing sugar in a bowl, cut the orange in half and squeeze the juice from 1 half into the sugar..stir until smooth. you can go for thick icing or thick and syrupy your choice. If you fancy it then use orange butter icing

7. cooks privilege eat the 1st one with a cuppa

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Frugal Chicken Pot Roast

This recipe is a firm favourite in our house - not only does it taste good but its perfect for days when you have no spoons, its low on prep time and great for the slow cooker. If you dont have one you can do it in the oven.

Im cooking this in the slow cooker

Skill - Novice
Spoon Usage - 1
Cost approximately - £2.00  £1.00 per portion  ( i say approximately because it depends on how much the chicken is - we buy whole chickens and chop them up - which makes it cheaper - will post how to do that soon)
Servse 2 adults (double quantities if more people - or 1 for you and 1 for freezer if your solo cooking)

I like this dish, it light and herby, you can be a little more adventurous if you like by making cheese scones or dumplings to have with it, or thickening the stock if you want a thicker gravy.
We often have it with mash, so if you fancy that don't put the potato in and make mash with it.

If like us you are trying to watch your weight, you can remove the skin - this reduces the calories significantly, chicken legs don't tend to dry out as much, so you can get away with it. - I haven't taken the skin off today - as didn't have the spoons.

2 x Chicken legs (you can use thighs  or a thigh & drumstick combination)
2 x medium Carrot (use frozen or fresh pre-chopped)
2 handfuls of frozen peas (fresh or tinned is fine)
I large onion or 2 small
1 Litre chicken stock (use stock cube if you don't have fresh - or make a thin gravy)
1 large potato
Tarragon (or mixed herbs if you don't have tarragon)
Salt and Pepper

Prep - less than 5 minutes 
The beauty of this recipe it takes moments to put it together, there is no lengthy spoon sapping standing, stirring or processes.

1. roughly chop the  carrots into large chunks (note if you use a slow cooker you need smaller chunks than for an oven)  - or use whole frozen carrots, or pre cut carrot sticks or chunks (you can use tinned carrots too)

2. do the same for the potatoes, i don't peel them as its too painful and i like the skin, but its your choice - you want the potatoes to be a similar size to the carrots*

Tip: if you are new to cooking -  root veg like carrots & potatoes cook at a similar rate so making them a similar size means you don't have to cook the dish longer because one of the veg is still raw.

3. roughly chop the onions

4. make the stock or thin gravy if you don't have fresh stock.

 5. get peas out of the freezer :)

Putting dish together

1. put all the veg into the slow cooker pot mix them up so they are evenly mixed up (easier for serving later) season with a small amount of salt and pepper

2. pour on the stock so it just covers the veg, there should be enough liquid for the chicken to just sit in the stock
my hand wobbled a bit so slightly more tarragon than intended

3. season (salt and pepper) then sprinkle on tarragon (or herb of your choice) you can add garlic if you want to

4. pop the lid on and turn it on 

Cooking time

Slow cooker -  6 - 7 hours if you are using whole chicken legs, it depends on  the size of your slow cooker,
 if you use small thighs and chop the veg up into smaller pieces you can reduce the cooking time.

Oven - cooking time 1 hour gas mark 5 180C - again depending on oven

How do i know its cooked?
you should be able to push a knife into the veg with ease, place the chicken on a plate and if the juices comes out clear its cooked.

If you like more veg than add some on the side, i still have cabbage left over so will steam that.


Monday, 21 January 2013

Store Cupboard/Bottom of the fridge Soup

The basis of this soup is Minestrone - a quick but hearty soup. I named it "bottom of the fridge" soup years ago, when it was made with what ever ingredients I had knocking about at the end of the week.

I have typed up the recipe with a spoonie in mind see this page (Skill level & Spoon Usage)
If you dont have to pace activities then ignore all the tips, hints and alternatives and just follow the recipe straight through

Cooking skill - Novice
Spoon Usage- 2 spoons (takes about half hour with a rest)
Total cost £2.00 approximately (as i used up stuff i had) so 50p per portion 

Serves 4 adults 

Ingredients - I used
1 Tin chopped tomatoes (use 1Lb fresh if you have them)
1.5 (ish) Litres fresh chicken stock - make equivalent with a stock cube if you don't have fresh stock
1 onion
small handful of long spaghetti broken into short lengths 
2 - 3 handfuls frozen mixed veg carrots and peas (use 1 large fresh carrot if you have one)
1 small courgette
half small cabbage - prefferably savoy, kale will do just aswell
25G (2 handfuls) soup mix - red lentils, pearl barley
2 cloves garlic
Dried basil
grated hard cheese

The beauty of this recipe is other than the tomatoes and stock you can pretty much put any veg in it - hence its name store cupboard/Bottom of the fridge Soup

Gadgets - Utensils - this recipe requires a level of dexterity or electric chopper
You replace whole veg for fresh or frozen pre-cut veg
Large Pan
sharp knife or electric food chopper
garlic press
chopping board

Prep - 5 minutes
Chop the onion - can roughly chop if you prefer chunky soup
dice the carrot
chop the courgette - decent sized chunks 
shred cabbage
peel and chop garlic - or have it ready for squishing in the press
open can of tomatoes
Make the stock if you don't have fresh
Rest - I sat down for 10 mins (but take as long as you need, just pop the prepped veg in the fridge)


1. Heat the pan for a few minutes - add a small amount of oil or water, add the onions and lower the heat. you want to soften them but not brown them too much.

2. once the onions are soft (see through|) add the:

Give it a good stir and cook on a low heat

sweat down the veg for 2-3 minutes

3. Add the:
    * pearl barley, red lentils or dried scotch broth mix (optional)
    Season to taste with salt and pepper
    Pinch of basil
    Add a dollop of tomatoes puree - about a dessert spoon
    Spaghetti broken into small pieces about 2" long 

turn up the heat and bring to the boil, once boiling turn down to a fast simmer (so its not boiling madly but still bubbling) cook for 10 minutes - until the lentils and pearl barley are plump

Hubble bubble

While the soup bubbles - REST

4. stir the soup and add the cabbage - taste and add  more seasoning if you think its needs it  - leave the soup of cook for a further 5 minutes - can leave it for 10 if you prefer your cabbage well cooked and soft. and yes Sit down and pop your feet up

5.- Turn off the soup and serve

6. you can add grated cheese, some fresh basil or croutons if you fancy it

Finished soup

Please let me know if you enjoyed it, and if writing the recipe out in this way was helpful.


Sunday, 20 January 2013

Store cupboard staples - where to start?

I have a store cupboard - it contains all the essential building blocks of a meal.  By its nature, cooking frugally means you just can't afford to go for the best cuts of meat, or the latest food fad.  Knowing how to make the most of a pack of cheap mince, flavour-wise, is an essential skill.  I call it a skill, when really it's about knowing how to pack food full of flavour so you can enjoy the end product and forget it's not made with finest steak mince (unless you scored a win in the bargain section of asda* - more on that later).

Most people have at least a stock cube lurking at the back of their cupboard, but unless you are a passionate cook or just a hoarder, spices, herbs and flavouring are not something you always think about when compiling your weekly shopping list. I'm not advocating you rush out and buy everything on my staples list, that would instantly break the budget.  What I am saying is if you don't have one, its worth considering  building one up over time. I am well aware before you throw your hands up in horror just how little money there is for food when you live below the bread line.

When i say we have a budget of £40, it is often less and on occasions we have as little as £10 a head for the week. Having these staples can help pack your cheap meals with flavour and make a little go a long way
and make food fun and interesting..not just frugal and worthy

So what goes into this gold mine of taste?

Here are my basic essentials:

There are lots of herbs and spices you can use, and many recipes call for specific ones, so often Ive been put off a recipe because the ingredient list is so long and has a big list of expensive items, i don't have and will never use again.

If you can grow fresh ones in a window box or pot in your garden then great but if you cant a few goods ones to go for are:
if you cant afford indovidual herbs - most places do a cheap mixed herb pot so go for that

there are bound to be others - but having those will allow you to add flavour from an Italian inspired dish to roasted veg.

I freely admit LM is the spice king in our house, we have a few unusual spices that im unsure of - but here goes, try and go for whole spices like black pepper corns, cumin seeds etc, they last longer and are often cheaper. If like me using a pestle and mortar is a chore, use a small food blender. and if you don't have one the ground spices are fine.

Chili powder
Cumin (seeds or ground)
Coriander (ground)
Black pepper
Garam Masala as a pack contains a load of spices giving you the building blocks of a curry

Worcestershire sauce
Peanut butter
Soy sauce
Vegetable/sunflower oil
jar of chilli's or dried chili flakes gives different heat to powder
marmite or yeast extract

Sauces & Stocks
Brown sauce
Gravy powder
Beef, veg, chicken stock cubes
Hot pepper sauce*
Sweet chill sauce*
lemon juice

Food Staples
Food staples are the kind of things i reach for when i deciding what to cook or meal plan, its the stuff you don't buy often but all add to the basic building blocks

Plain Flour
Self Raising Flour
Corn flour
Lentils - red lentil even if you dont like them bulk meals out
baking powder
bicarbonate of soda
sugar - caster, granulated
cous cous* - its cheap and bulky but not every ones fave
rice - I buy cheap long grain
dried pasta  - again i buy cheap and cheerful
popping corn
cocoa powder or ***cheap dark chocolate bar

Meal basics
 I'm really talking about some tins, packets and short cuts. Just because i try hard to avoid processed not standing over a hot pan making fresh custard..i know how to, i just choose not to..packet custard is just fine

Tinned tomatoes, I find its a false economy buying the absolute cheapest tins,- sometimes cheap is not good, you end up using loads of tomatoes puree to get flavour - you may as well have bought a decent tin in the 1st place. we always check out the bashed tin section
Kidney beans
Butter beans
Cannelloni beans
Baked beans
Tinned Rice pudding* ok i just love rice pudding
packet custard mix
jelly cubes
tinned fish - tuna, sardine, mackerel - that kind of thing
vegetable packet soup

 Fridge staples - this is a matter of taste really
cheese - go for strongest flavoured cheese you can afford - super cheap mild cheddar has little flavour - by using a strong flavour, its goes further so you use less.
baking marg block* if you ever make pastry
mayo or salad cream* not an essential but useful
tomatoe puree

That's it - I know its a bit of a list and im sure you might be reading it and thinking but she's not mentioned something or i hate marmite, or im a vegan or what ever im sure everyone will have your own ideas what constitutes a store cupboard essentials list. what i have tried to do is cover the flavour building blocks, for instance i know from memory a dollop of ketchup, splash of Worcestershire sauce, honey and some soy sauce will make a great cheap bbq type marinade for chicken drumsticks.

As i said earlier I'm not advocating you go buy all of the above in your next shop, or that you have to use any or many of them. build up your own stock of key things. I never buy branded stuff  (unless its on offer) and find the world food aisle in my local asda a godsend..if you live near an Asian area then head for their mini markets for cheap spice heaven, if you don't and your only option is online buy a few key things.

If I was pushed to choose from that list of herbs, spices and condiments id go for - because i know i could add flavour to many dishes from that list. like anything its knowing how they go together that's key.

Worcestershire sauce
veg stock cube
corn flour
salt & pepper
chili powder
mixed herbs
soy sauce
garam masala mix (mix of spices which are the basis of curry)

the rest are nice to have and i do use them, but i could live without if i couldn't get hold of them - personally id rather replenish my store cupboard than buy a treat..but then that me, mind you id i was presented with

I have found over the years that having a few staples in, I can make my money go a bit further and if my benefits are messed around, I cant get out or i have more week than money, having a few things on hand to eek my food out so i dont go hungry makes a big difference.

 ***My top Delia style tip :) - the best cheap dark chcolate ive ever used for baking is the Sainsburies basic dark chcolate at 30P for a 100gram bar its brilliant, its has a great bitter edge, melts brillinatly and is my choc of choice.

My food passion - Where it all began..

I don't recall ever being taught to cook, i just observed how, my nan was a great cook always making something  - her roast dinners were a treat and cakes a pleasure, my mum is a great cook food was always there.

It is my greatest pleasure and although i cant manage to cook in the same way i once did, and my husband LM (lovely man) does much of the actuall cooking now, we make a good team he is Jonnie to my Fanny (go look up the cradocks) - chopping and staying wonderfully patient,as i supervise in a frustrated control freak kind of way on days my body just wont cooperate.

I'm not obsessive about many things, or indeed passionate but food, cooking and people having confidence in the kitchen is one. I would spend my life teaching people if i could, sharing what i know and maybe some of that passion might wear off.

I'm not a foodie in the sense of interesting and unusual ingredients, I'm less adventurous than id like to admit...I count the Hairy Bikers and Tom Kerridge amongst my food heroes along with the late Elsie Worthington (my nan)

I am a good honest Devon farmhouse type of cook, I live on a tight budget we spend about £40 a week between 2 of us sometimes less, add in my illness and the lack of spoons and dexterity i have to be creative.
I can only do that because i have a good grounding and confidence in my ability to know what to do with a shin of beef or 1 limp carrot and an onion.

We were poor in a 70's kind of way, yet we always ate well..I loved cauliflower surprise..little did i realsie then the surprise was what ever mum could afford to put in it, pasties were glorious and maid of honour tarts a delight.

I was thankful for that when i found myself a single parent living on benefits with a small child and more week than money, I fell back on all the aquired knowledge i had, and yet never remembered gaining, Once again im falling back on 40 years of knowledge, cooking and living as thriftily as possible..I did the conveinence foods, threw away uneaten and uncooked food in a wastefull way. Not something im proud if - but there you go.

It makes me so sad to hear people who feel thay cant cook, or dont know where to start..I hope you find some inspiration to try it for yourself..

I aim to add recipes, ideas for adapting and the amount each meal costs to make.

There are some amazing food bloggers out there, and in this time of austerity, rising food costs and a generation where few people just learned to cook like i did - i plan to be part of the food revolution that goes back to foodie basics.

You can live on less, but it takes planning, ideas, a touch of passion and sharing - from joining with others and buying in bulk to making friends with your butcher and not being embarrased to just buying 3 sausages at the meat counter.

I was inspired to finally write this blog post after reading my spoonie food heroine Miss South's excellent article in the observer Eating well on a tight budget

So welcome aboard - check back for some recipes and where to start if your not confident in the kitchen..if you are an experienced cook then do follow Miss South and her Brother Mr North..Fab Foodies