Category Archives: Thrifty

The Dinner that was Practically Free! Lamb and Rhubarb Tagine

Well hi there!

It’s been a while again.  Wedding and work have resulted in a lack of inspirational cooking and thus an absolute dearth of blogging but I’m back (if only momentarily).  And what better excuse than to christen the beautiful tagine that my Auntie J gave us as a wedding present?!

Last weekend, A Husband and I went back home and raided gardens and allotments for freebies.  We came home with a couple of massive bags of apples, a huge amount of rhubarb, heaps of runner beans, half a dozen corn on the cob, some potatoes, a couple of onions and an enormous yellow courgette.

The courgette is actually bigger than the fire extinguisher.

The courgette is actually bigger than the fire extinguisher.

I love free veg!  I also love the 9p lamb which was in my freezer.  Free dinner?  Yes please!  It takes a long time to cook, but more or less looks after itself and is so worthwhile!  The lamb absolutely melts in the mouth and works so beautifully with the rhubarb.  An experiment that I’ll try again.

Lamb and Rhubarb Tagine

Lamb breast
2 onions
1/2 lemon
Courgette
Rhubarb
Juniper berries
Star anise
Cinnamon stick
Dried chilli
Dried mint
Dried parsley
Garlic
Honey
Fresh parsley

  1. Pop the lamb in a pan with some water, an onion, the lemon and spices of your choice.  I used peppercorns, cloves, allspice berries, star anise and a cinnamon stick.  Bring to the boil and simmer for around 1/2 hour.
  2. Remove the lamb from the water and slice into chunks, removing any bones.  Bring the water back to the boil, reduce significantly and remove all the bits.
  3. Drizzle a little olive oil in the bottom of the tagine and chop in the veg and rhubarb in big chunks.  Drizzle a few spoons of honey over the rhubarb.  Pile the lamb on top and ladle over a little of the stock.
  4. Grind the spices and dried mint and parsley in a pestle and mortar and sprinkle over the top of the lamb.  Place the tagine in the oven and turn up to 120C.
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  5. Cook the tagine for around 4 hours.  I cooked it for about 2 hours one evening, turned the oven off and left it in there overnight, then turned it on again for around 1 1/2 hours to finish it off.  Don’t lift the lid prematurely, just trust that it will be perfect when the time comes!
  6. I served with boiled rice and some runner beans, finely sliced, boiled with some butter and nuts mixed in.  Sprinkle fresh mint over to serve

Tagine

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Crumbed Garlic Ribs

I had my hen do this weekend (yay!) and had an amazing time.  I had (rather fortunately) booked today off of work too so that I could recover which was just as well as there was no way I would have been productive in the office, but I managed to get a fair bit done at home.

Over the weekend A Man went shopping and suggested that we should have ribs tonight as well as suggesting that lots of garlic may well be in order.  I also had some breadcrumbs in the freezer and decided to improvise a new way of cooking ribs.  It worked incredibly well – they were flavoursome and juicy and tender and I will definitely be doing this again!  The crumbs protected the top from drying out and the apple and water steamed them from the bottom so that the meat just fell off of the bones and the slow cooking just emphasised that.  All in all it was a wonderfully successful experiment!

Much love

Gemma xx

Crumbed Garlic Ribs

1 Rack of Pork Ribs between 2 people
2 apples
2 onions
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
At least 6 cloves garlic, more if you really like garlic!
Salt
Flour
1 egg, beaten
1 handful breadcrumbs
Dried thyme, dried oregano and fresh parsley, chopped finely
New potatoes
Olive oil
Spices of your choice for the potatoes (I used a Peri Peri mix)

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  1. Slice the apples, leaving the skin on and core in – you won’t notice them so there’s no need to go to the effort of removing them.  Slice the onions and place with the apples in a wide, shallow casserole.  Preferably a pretty teal-coloured one 🙂
  2. Peel the garlic and place in a pestle (or possibly a mortar…) with some salt and grind to a sloppy paste.
  3. Mix the breadcrumbs with the herbs.  Dredge the ribs in flour and then beaten egg and place on top of the apple and onion, with the meaty side up.  Spread the garlic paste over the top of the ribs and cover with a layer of breadcrumbs.
  4. Very carefully pour the vinegar around the edge of the dish.  Make sure it does not touch the ribs.  Pour some water around the edge too, to almost cover the apple and onion.  Make sure this does not touch the ribs either.
  5. Cover the casserole with a lid and put into the oven at around 120°C.  Cook for about an hour and remove the lid.  Put the casserole back in the oven uncovered.  Top up the water as necessary.
  6. Slice the potatoes into wedges and put into a bowl with some olive oil and the spices of your choice.  Add around the edge of the ribs and place back in the oven.  Cook for around another hour.
  7. Turn the heat up to around 160°C.  Cook for another half an hour to crisp up the breadcrumbs.
  8. Separate the ribs and plate up with the potatoes.  Mix the apple and onions together into a sauce.  Serve with some peas.

Happy Blogday to Me! Celebratory duck dishes and musings on stock-making to follow.

Hello hello hello

It’s officially been a year since my first ever blog post on recipeforprocrastination!  And in the spirit of celebration, I’ve returned to my roots and have been squeezing every single possible ounce of deliciousness out of a couple of ducks.*

As I am currently awaiting the start of my new job, I am due to have some visitors next week, including my mum and family friend Elaine.  This means I’ve got to try and cook something spectactular for their visit.  Whole ducks were on offer at the supermarket, and it seemed like a great excuse to buy a couple whilst I still had access to a staff discount card!

Why two ducks?  Because there will be four of us and I plan to serve a breast each.  As a packet of two duck breasts cost £7 and the whole bird was £8 (with 10% discount taking it to £7.20) it was an absolute no brainer to buy whole ducks instead.

Once I got home, I butchered the ducks (see this post for how I did it).  The livers were separated from the giblets and put in the freezer (along with some other duck liver and rabbit liver which are currently sitting in there) and the breasts were also frozen.  Unfortunately, that more or less exhausted all of my freezer space, and I still had the legs and the carcass to deal with.

One of the photos from my original duck butchery post.

The carcass was easy – I roasted the bones, along with the giblets and excess skin, until they had browned and the fat had started to run (roasting both improves the flavour of the stock and makes the duck fat useable).  The fat was poured into a tub for later use, and everything else was put in the slow cooker with a couple of carrots, a bit of leftover fennel (from my rabbit meal the other day) and topped up with water.  I cooked on low for several hours, in order to make a delicious smelling stock (see this post for my basic method).  Now, with the frequency that I make stock I had assumed that I knew everything there was to know about it.  However, recently I have started doing a few new things.

  1. Using the slow cooker rather than the hob makes a lot of sense because for one thing, the likelihood of it boiling dry is more or less nil and for another, I can leave it on overnight or while I’m out of the house.
  2. I’ve discovered that you can re-use the same bones when you make stock, up until the point that they basically crumble.  Chicken carcasses will only last for a couple of batches, but duck carcasses appear to be a little more resilient.
  3. Adding a couple of spoons of vinegar to stock will improve its mineral content.  Did you ever do that thing in science where you soaked a chicken bone in vinegar until it turned rubbery?  That’s because the acidity of the vinegar encourages the calcium to leach out.  Calcium’s good for you, and you can’t taste the vinegar in the end product, so this small addition is a great idea.
  4. Reducing the stock down concentrates the flavour and takes up less storage space.  This is an obvious one, but I’d never really thought about it until looking through the Ballymaloe Cookery Course book (yes, I know I mention that one a lot, but it really is a manual as well as just a recipe book).  Since I’ve started reducing my stocks, they’ve got better and better.

Another ancient photo to illustrate stock-making.

I do declare that the duck stock I currently have on the go is the best I’ve ever made.  It smells incredible, and just tastes of liquid duck.  It’s so gelatinous that it’s basically set hard in the fridge and I’m really looking forward to using it.

I still had to deal with the pesky legs though, as I couldn’t use them immediately, but didn’t have any room in the freezer for them.  Enter confit duck.  I’ve not made it for a while, and this time I actually had nearly enough fat to completely cover the meat.  I used primarily duck fat, but also some bacon fat from my carbonara and a roast gammon we cooked recently (both of which came from A Man’s dad’s pigs).  The confit duck legs are currently sitting in a casserole dish in my fridge, submerged in fat and covered with a lid.  See this post for my confit duck method.

A previous experiment with confit duck. I may well try out the green lentils again – they were perfect!

So there we have it.  I can cook stuff for a whole year, and still I’ll return to the same old things again and again.  Nothing much changes.  I’ll probably start hanging back on the food blog front now (I’m sure you’ve noticed me starting to slack off over the past couple of months already).  I start my new job on 29th October and will have less time to cook, and a lot of my free time is being taken up by wedding planning now.  I’ll pop back now and then though, if only when I manage particularly unusual or beautiful food.  It’s been fun though!

Massive huge love

Gemma xx

*As a side note, the duck thing was honestly completely unintentional – it just happened that way!  It did amuse me when I realised my first post was about duck, I checked and it happened to be a year ago.  Perhaps it’s providence (or more likely, I guess this time of year must be prime for special offers on ducks).

Spaghetti Carbonara

Hello there!

I actually made this recipe last week and completely forgot to write it up.  I’d spent the day shopping for clothes and wandering around IKEA, and by the time I got home I just could not be bothered to cook anything elaborate.  Luckily we had some excellent quality bacon, courtesy of one of A Man’s dad’s pigs in our freezer.  This bacon has around an inch of fat on it and had an incredibly rich flavour – it was perfect for this recipe.  I also happened to have just bought some pasta bowls which I was eager to use, so this seemed as good an excuse as any.

Carbonara should be silky, glossy and rich.  The key is to only cook the egg with the residual heat from the pasta, or you’ll end up scrambling it.  You can add onion, chillis, herbs etc if you fancy but I didn’t bother.

Much love

Gemma xx

Spaghetti Carbonara

75-100g spaghetti per person (fresh or dried is fine)
Good quality back bacon with a decent layer of fat
3 or 4 smoked garlic cloves
One medium sized egg per person
A good chunk of parmesan
Black pepper

  1. Cook the spaghetti according to the instructions.  Separate the fat from the meat of the bacon, and chop both into chunks.  Fry the fat in a pan on a medium-low heat to render it down.
  2. Smash the garlic cloves with the flat of a knife and add to the bacon fat with the chopped bacon.  Fry for several minutes until cooked and slightly crispy (but take care not to burn it).
  3. Beat the eggs together.  Grate the parmesan and add most to the beaten eggs with a little black pepper.
  4. Drain the pasta and put it back in the pan.  Add the egg mixture and stir well.  Add the bacon, garlic and a little of the bacon fat and stir until all the ingredients are well combined.  Serve immediately, sprinkled with the remaining parmesan, more black pepper and a side salad.  I saved the bacon fat and used on the Bunny Ballotines I made the other day.

Bunny Ballotine

Good evening good evening good evening.

Tonight’s dinner could be described as a little extravagant for a weeknight meal, but sod it – I’m celebrating.  Today marked my last ever shift at Morrisons and consequently the last time I will ever be required to preside over the self-scan checkouts, which easily has to be the most hateful job in the universe.  Thus I decided that I had a very good reason to cook something unusual, slightly labour-intensive and a little bit cheffy.  I was really pleased with how this turned out, and although it tipped the scales slightly in favour of being restaurant food (as far as my cooking ever does) it was really good value to make.

If you can get your butcher to bone your rabbit for you, I highly recommend it as I made something of a hash of it.  Also, this would work equally well with chicken.  You can read about my reasons for eating rabbit here.

I realise this isn’t technically a ballotine, as I didn’t stuff it with anything.  However, I decided that it was a better name than “Bunny in Bacon” which was the alternative.

Much love

Gemma xx

Bunny Ballotine

Boned rabbit pieces
Buttermilk
Salt and Pepper
4 rashers rindless streaky bacon per person
Fennel
Parsnips
Savoy Cabbage

  1. Marinade the rabbit in buttermilk seasoned with salt and pepper.  Do this overnight if possible, or for a couple of hours if not.
  2. Grease some squares of tin foil (one per ballotine).  I used some of the fat I rendered from using A Man’s dad’s bacon to cook carbonara the other day.  Lay the bacon rashers, slightly overlapping one another, on the greased foil.  Stretch the bacon slightly with your fingers to thin it out, but be careful not to break it.
  3. Lay the rabbit pieces on top of the bacon.  If you are anything like me, and end up with lots of little pieces of rabbit rather than simply boned joints, that’s OK because the bacon will keep everything together.  Wrap the bacon around the rabbit, and wrap the foil tightly around the bacon, securing the ends.

    Action shot

  4. Bring a pan of water to the boil and turn down to a simmer.  Cook the parcels for 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, quarter the fennel and parsnips (Peeling if necessary) and shred the cabbage.
  5. Add the fennel and parsnips to the water for 10 minutes.  Place a baking sheet in the oven and preheat as high as it will go.
  6. Remove the veg from the water, place on the hot tray and put it back in the oven to bake.  Unwrap the rabbit and keep warm on a plate.  Turn the oven down to a medium-hot temperature.
  7. After the veg has been cooking for around 10 minutes, add the rabbit to the baking tray.  Cook the cabbage and serve everything once the bacon is crispy and the fennel and parsnips have started to brown.
  8. Serve with a light gravy (preferably home made, but we had Bisto 🙂 )

Rabbit Stew

Aloha

One of the butcher’s shops in my town has recently been advertising wild rabbits, at £4.50 per kilo.  I have eaten rabbit before but hadn’t cooked it, so decided to give it a go.  Now I know that Brits often get squeamish about eating rabbits, primarily because they’re cute and fluffy and people keep them as pets.  I, on the other hand, have no such qualms.  Rabbit meat is high in protein and iron, but low in calories and fat.  Rabbits breed prolifically, and are considered to be a major pest by farmers.  Eating wild rabbit is therefore beneficial to the farming community.

In terms of taste, rabbit is (clichéd as this may sound) very similar to chicken.  Because it is very lean, it benefits from being paired with a rich sauce.  I made mine from home-made chicken stock which was enriched with bacon from one of A Man’s dad’s pigs – there was about an inch of fat under the rind.

And in case you think I’m heartless and cruel, you may like to know that I kept pet rabbits from the ages of 5 to 20.  I loved them to bits and (unless my parents have been keeping secrets from me for the past 15 or so years) didn’t eat any of them.  I don’t see this as being at odds with a willingness to chow down on their wild cousins.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s important not to detach yourself from the source of your food and not to be sentimental about certain types of meat, while happily gorging yourself on others.

Has anyone else got any good rabbit recipes for me?  I put half of it (along with the liver) in the freezer.

Much love

Gemma xx

 

Rabbit Stew

Wild rabbit, jointed (my butcher jointed mine for me)
1 or 2 rashers of fatty bacon
Onion
Fresh thyme (plus I used some thyme jelly)
Parsnips
Mushrooms
Chicken stock
Cornflour
Garlic mashed potato, to serve

 

  1. Chop the bacon into chunks and fry on a low heat to render the fat out.  Remove the pieces of bacon from the pan and reserve.  Brown the rabbit in the fat for a couple of minutes and remove from the pan.
  2. Dice the onion and fry in the bacon fat.  Add the thyme, dice the parsnips and mushrooms and fry off until the veg is starting to soften.
  3. Add the bacon and rabbit back into the pan and pour over the stock.  Cover and cook on a very low heat for about an hour.
  4. Mix a spoonful of cornflour with cold water.  Remove the rabbit from the pan and keep warm.  Add the cornflour to the stock and stir continuously until the sauce has thickened.  Serve the rabbit immediately on top of a mountain of mashed potato and covered with the sauce.

 

 

Quick and easy stir fried fishies

Evening

I came home from work completely knackered and did nothing this afternoon.  Seriously, I have no idea how 3 1/2 hours went by between me getting home and A Man getting home, but somehow they did.  I wanted to cook something super-easy, and it was between this and chilli, which I decided would be better tomorrow as that’s the evening I do karate and A Man kicks boxes.

As I’ve said before, A Man doesn’t really like fish, but he will eat salmon.  That and the sardines I had were short date and highly reduced, so I stuck them in the freezer after we bought them and defrosted them in the fridge.  It takes longer, but it’s technically safer, and less moisture leaks out of the flesh.  They were only in there 24 hours, anyway.

Making this also gave me a chance to try out my new sweet chilli jelly and the verdict is success!  But it’s pretty pungent so I really didn’t have to use very much (which is good to know, and also means it’ll last longer).  Most of the stir fried veg was actually some leftover salad which had been stuck in the fridge and wasn’t ideal to eat raw any more, but was fine for cooking.  It had been dressed in some olive oil, balsamic vinegar and wholegrain mustard, but I don’t think that added much to the final flavour.

Love love

Gemma xx

Stir Fried Fish

Fish of your choice (A Man had a salmon fillet and I had 3 sardines)
Noodles
Toasted sesame oil
Onion
Carrot
Pepper
Red gem lettuce
Root ginger
Sesame seeds
Sweet chilli jelly (or shop-bought sweet chilli sauce would do the trick if you’re not a crazy person like me and have home-made stuff)
Lime
Honey

A Man’s salmon, with its crispy crispy skin. He likes it a bit more well done than I do!

  1. Place the noodles in a bowl with a lid and cover with boiling water.
  2. Heat some sesame oil in a wok.  Chop the veg into bite-sized chunks and the ginger into matchsticks and stir fry for a few minutes.  Add some sesame seeds.
  3. Add the zest of the lime to the veg, and a spoon or two of sweet chilli jelly.  Stir through the juice of half the lime and a small teaspoon of honey.  Taste the sauce and adjust as necessary, adding a spoonful or two of the noodle water to loosen it.  Remove the veg from the heat.
  4. Heat a little oil in a frying pan.  Add the fish, skin side down, once the oil is hot and cook for a couple of minutes, until cooked to your liking, turning half-way through.
  5. Plate up the noodles and veg, and place the fish on top.  Cut the remaining lime into wedges to squeeze over the top, and season with soy sauce to taste.

And my sardines, which are somewhat less attractive.