Archive for the ‘Frugal’ Category

For the last year I have collected glass jars. At first this was because some friends of mine were getting married and they needed many jam jars for decorating the venue, but then the venue changed and I just kept collecting jars. I carefully scrubbed the labels off pots of mustard, sundried tomatoes, honey and cocktail gherkins. It turns out I eat a lot of cocktail gherkins, enough to make me worry that I might be damaging myself with all that vinegar. But anyway, I digress.

Yesterday I realised that there was no more room in my jar cupboard and something would have to be done. I also took a moment to wonder what 18 year-old me would think about 28 year-old me having my own cupboard full of jars.

I selected a jar and pickled some spring onions and fennel adapting a Jamie Oliver recipe from the December issue of the Sainsbury’s magazine. I don’t think of these as a wintery condiment though. They belong to early spring when the days are getting longer and the suggestion to eat outside is an eccentric one rather than just plain mad. They are exactly the right colour.

To make some pickled vegetables measure out enough white wine vinegar to fill a jar, bearing in mind the veg will take up some room. Heat the vinegar in a saucepan along with some fennel seeds, a cinnamon stick, the peel of a clementine and a teaspoon of sugar. For one large jar of pickle I used half a teaspoon of fennel seeds, half a cinnamon stick and the peel of one clementine. Bring the vinegar mixture to the boil. Sterilise the jar you will use (just boil it in a pan or put it in the sink and pour boiling water from the kettle over it). Place the prepared vegetables in the jar and pour over the boiling vinegar mix. In about a week the pickles will be ready to eat. Jamie says they will keep for a few months unopened but, being the kind of person who happily eats around the mould on old cheddar, I would easily double that.


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I’m quite surprised that I haven’t already posted a recipe for pizza before as it is something I make at least once a month. Why you might ask? Well, I refuse to pay more than £5 for a supermarket pizza when that money could buy a bottle of wine. I am also deeply uncomfortable with the takeaway process.

If I were to order a takeaway pizza I would spend the entire 30 to 60 minute delivery time panicking that the driver had not been able to find my front door or that perhaps my doorbell had broken. Then there is the whole tipping palaver which is why I also hate going to the hairdresser and staying in hotels. Tipping a helmeted delivery boy is not easy. Should I shake his hand? Slip it in his pocket whilst he hands me the pizzas? Wink? All in all it’s much easier to make it myself.

This is a completely bastardised pizza recipe of course. Actual Italians don’t use Wright’s Ciabatta mix, I am sure. Much experimentation over the years had told me that this is by far the best bread mix for pizza. Don’t bother with pre-made pizza bases, they are horrid.


So, just open a bag of Ciabatta mix and pour out enough for your needs. To make a pizza to feed four you would need about half a bag. Probably more if you aren’t having salad. Add a glug of olive oil then enough hot water to form a dough, which is not very much water. Cover with a tea towel and leave in a warm place for 30 minutes to rise.

Whilst the dough is doing its thing fry a garlic clove in some oil until golden, add some dried oregano and a tablespoon of tomato puree then some balsamic vinegar or red wine. Finally add a tin of chopped tomatoes and simmer for 20 minutes or so then leave to cool.

Once the dough is ready roll it out to a rough square because square pizzas are better than round ones, fact. Top the base with your chilled tomato sauce and whatever else you are using.

Let me talk you through this pizza here which is the invention of my sister Felicity and the best home made pizza ever. It is topped with some roasted and skinned yellow pepper and mozzarella before cooking. It takes about 20 minutes in a hot oven. Once out of the oven add more chunks of mozzarella and strips of Parma ham before flinging over some rocket and a drizzle of oil.

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I am a complete sucker for vintage jam pots and tins from Asian markets. I love anything that looks like it could be at home in Sophie Dahl’s pretend kitchen.

This tin of smoked paprika is a good example. I fell for its packaging and bought it despite not needing any paprika

When I saw Sophie Dahl pick up an identical red jar on her cookery programme a few months later I nearly wet myself. Anyone would think we’d both visited the same spice market in Marrakech. I can’t remember how she used this aromatic powder, I’m sure it enriches stews and the like.

Until recently I had barely used the stuff. When I read something about adding regular paprika to tomatoes I tried the smoked variety in a cherry tomato salad with lots of chopped spring onions with a balsamic dressing. I usually condemn the utterly excessive use of balsamic vinegar which borders on addiction in some of London’s more leafy enclaves, however I made an exception for this salad. Since trying this I haven’t had a tomato salad without paprika in weeks.

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I woke up this morning with a burning desire to make Chilli con Carne.

This isn’t a dish I have ever made before or eaten many times so the sudden impulse was surprising. Sure, I’ve had plenty of average chilli slopped over rapidly softening nachos but it has never been more than a bar snack or an overly heavy starter in a naff Mexican restaurant. Chilli has not meant a great deal to me and I have not meant a great deal to chilli.

The only reason I suddenly needed to make chilli, I realised as I ran my finger down the index of my Good Housekeeping 101 simple suppers (thanks Grandma), is because I stayed up until three in the morning reading The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit and at about the point where I could keep my eyes open no longer Tom Rath ate a bowl of Mexican chilli in a dingy restaurant on Sixth Avenue. Better food bloggers than I eat according to the seasons but I eat according to my bookshelf.

It all started with Enid Blyton and a passion for tinned fruit, if not tongue, that I have never managed to shake off. I am ashamed to say I prefer tinned fruit to fresh and I am sure one day my supplies of peaches will sustain me through an adventure on an island frequented by smugglers.

My long and at times rather serious adolescence was characterised by fixations with certain authors, the most sombre of which was Zola. The epic French feasts described were really the only high points in what was otherwise a bit of a misery-fest. Sure, these peasants were trapped in prisons of despair but when they took a break from prostitution, murder and falling off roofs they knew how to eat.

Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim is the reason I drink to excess frequently. Patrick Hamilton introduced me to the joys of Gin and French. I didn’t know what Plovers’ eggs were until I read Brideshead Revisited. Turkish Delight, well that’s a bit of an obvious one.

Maybe this could be my overarching narrative: books and food. I eat my way through the classics. Right, chilli’s ready and I need to fix myself a martini.

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More than two months have passed since my last post. It seems like even longer since I was buckling under the weight of the campest cake ever in a North London pub. I am now holed up in my new flat in Crystal Palace ready to regale any friends who will make the trip south east with tales of burning palaces and dinosaur statues.

Eventually I will buy a table and then people can come for dinner. For now I am just pleased to finally have the internet. It only took eight weeks.

Rest assured, to those who were concerned, that my absence was only due to lack of internet access. I have not stopped eating. Three meals a day and additional snacks is still my routine and I have a shiny new kitchen to make a mess of plus a host of new food shops and restaurants to explore.

One of my New Year’s resolutions that has lasted was to start making soups to take into work for lunch. This has lead to much experimenting with flavours and sieving techniques. I like a smooth soup and when I have cut corners and only liquidised the hot broth I have found the result disappointing on both a textural and a flavour level. Perhaps something in the slow process of pressing liquid and mulch through a fine mesh sieve brings out depth of flavour. 

 My two favourite soups are a Roasted Red Pepper & Tomato and a Butternut Squash, Bacon & Chestnut. It all sounds very Covent Garden but home-made soup tastes so much better than that.

You don’t really need to follow a strict recipe for a soup and I certainly haven’t kept any measurements when I have made them so all I can offer is a rough guide.

Roasting seems to me to be a great way to add depth of flavour if you are lacking the good stock that will elevate your soup to a higher level. If this was the olden days and I had a family then I would be boiling bones all day and I’d have stock coming out of my ears. As it is I use Swiss Bouillon powder because I refuse to use those disgusting plastic sacks of posh stock that look like bags of saline.

The recipes follow.


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A Christmas Chutney


Around this time of year my Mother often asks herself where she went wrong to produce three children who are so completely and utterly in thrall to the wonder that is Christmas. Her despair implies a concern that our obsession with the festive season is but a thin veneer hiding some dark, dark chasm of emotional instability. Is cynicism so entrenched in our culture that even my mother has come to view enthusiasm for Christmas as tantamount to being mentally retarded?


Pollyanna is usually used as a derisive moniker these days even though she was adorable and lovely (I’m thinking Hayley Mills here). I am not very Pollyanna-like most of the year, more of a weeping Cassandra, but I reserve the right to become incredibly happy and filled with JOY from November to December without being thought of as a complete loser.


Please don’t get me started on commercialisation either. The herds who bleat on about the commercialisation of Christmas are just miserable gits who have been gifted the modern ‘curse’ of commerce as a reason to excuse their perpetual irritability and lack of independent thought. I think their entire philosophical outlook must be moulded by reruns of Grumpy Old Men and Jeremy Clarkson columns (for he is their God).



If you are one of these individuals who suddenly finds themselves coming over a bit communist around late November then why not just start making your own cards, give all your loved ones a (collectively farmed) satsuma and don’t watch any TV so as to avoid any of the dreaded commercialisation. You should probably spend the rest of the year in a remote yurt so as to avoid reaping the rewards of our commerce-driven society. Nobody likes a hypocrite.


I can’t imagine many people who enjoy food and drink could really hate Christmas. They might profess to but would they actually turn down the mega roast on the 25th December on principle, or the endless mince pies throughout the festive period or the chance to live as a socially accepted alcoholic until January?



Christmas, or rather the contemplation of it and preparation for it, is my absolute favourite time of the year. I love the smell of red cabbage and cloves, the fairy lights and angel hair, Mariah Carey on repeat, the Father Ted Christmas special, children about to wet themselves with excitement, a good ham, Baileys and Dubonnet, children actually wetting themselves with excitement, arguments and tears, teenagers with ASBOs singing God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen aggresively, going to Mass a bit drunk and confessing an annus of sin, brandy butter, chipolatas, and oh so many condiments.


This post might seem somewhat premature but it isn’t if you are making chutney which needs a good month to mature. I have recently made Christmas Chutney using a Delia recipe which can be found here. I last made it a couple of years ago and it smelt as good as I remembered. Apparently you can use a food processor to dice the dried fruit but I like to cut it myself even though it does take about an hour. I think I may have been a luddite in a previous life. It’s a delicious fruity chutney which is amazing with ham and damn good in a cheese sandwich.


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Sloe gin




Last weekend my sister and I visited my Grandparents in Bournemouth. Food and drink being the leitmotif to my family life I found myself sitting opposite my sister as we determinedly rated meat in order of personal preference. Felicity was easily able to list her holy trinity of beef, pork and lamb in that order. I however struggled because I really like lamb when it’s in season, but pork offers so many options and who doesn’t love a steak? I even quoted Ogden Nash at one stage, The Pig being the only poem I have ever managed to memorise.* Nash didn’t clarify matters because the pigs’ undoubtedly diverse contribution to the world of meat shouldn’t be a factor in the meat top three. Chicken wasn’t in the running at all although I did have a few good words to say about thighs.




As I dithered too long we moved onto vegetables. My top three has been long established as aubergine, fennel and carrot with honourable mentions to celeriac and chicory. Felicity could name her number 1 (courgette) but then the conversation drifted to vegetables we don’t like. I was surprised to discover a lot of ill-feeling towards the leek in my family. Later on in the day, alone on a very slow train from Bournemouth to London, I formulated more top threes in my head including one for spirits.




Whisky I ruled out immediately, it’s like swallowing a match. Tequila invokes memories of 1,000 bad decisions and a strong gag reflex. Coming in at the rear in third place was brandy because you can’t flambé all manner of wonderful things without it. Vodka took second place because it’s indispensable in certain cocktails I like. Furthermore it is an essential form of heating for the denizens of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Number one, and the winner by a country mile, was beautiful juniper-infused, botanical-rich gin. I love gin and I’m pretty sure gin loves me.




After a successful sloe berry picking excursion with Sylvie I spent a few evenings last week bottling some of Asda’s cheapest gin with random mixtures of sloes and sugar. I didn’t use a recipe to make my sloe gin; I plan to taste it around Christmas to see if it needs more sugar and then leave it for another year. To make sloe gin you can wait for the first frost before picking the sloes or else you can do as we did and freeze the berries at home. The benefit I have found in doing this is that they split on defrosting and so it isn’t necessary to individually pierce every sloe.


Once the sloes have been pierced or have burst on defrosting place them in some sort of glass bottle or container then add sugar and gin. Shake, label with the date then turn the bottle every other day for a couple of months. Mature for as long as possible, a three month minimum for alcoholics or 2 years for the temperate.




* The Pig by Ogden Nash

The pig, if I am not mistaken, supplies us sausage ham and bacon,

Let others say his heart is big, I think it stupid of the pig.

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