Friday, December 29, 2006

A Little Goes a Long Way

For more years than I can remember, I've collected 'useful' recipes - many of them being given to me by friends overseas. With a little twiddle here and there, and adjusting the weights and measures to something I can understand, many are proving to be really economical. Any country that believes in home cooking (you have only to look at Italy and France for a start), will be far ahead of us with the knowledge of what you need (or rather DON'T need) to make a great and inexpensive dish. Great home-cooks seem to have learned (at their mother's knee no doubt) to use as much seasonal food as possible, love your family enough to cook with a passion, and all sit at the table to eat together. Let's make a start.

Country Vegetable and almost Beef Casserole: serves four
Older cooks knew they needed to use very little beef if they included dried and cooked beans in this family dish as it gives all the protein needed.
2 - 3 tblsp sunflower or olive oil
half a red and half a green bell pepper, de-seeded
2 onions, sliced
4 oz minced beef
1 lb butternut squash peeled and cut into 1/2" chunks
8 oz canned chopped tomatoes
10 oz cooked beans, any kind (but not baked beans)
10 oz cooked chick peas
1 heaped tblsp tomato puree
2 oz water
2 tsp brown sugar
salt and ground black pepper
In a frying pan, saute the onions and peppers until brown. Spoon into a casserole. Fry the beef in the juices left in the pan, when brown add the rest of the ingredients. Heat until boiling then pour into the casserole and mix with the ingredients already in there. Cover and bake for 1 hour at 180C, 350F, or until the vegetables are just tender. Season to taste. Serve with a green vegetable such as broccoli.
Tip: This is the type of dish where you can chop and change, within reason. Omit chickpeas and add potatoes, celery and garlic if you wish.

Tuna-Rice Creole: serves four
6 - 8 oz long-grain rice
2 tblsp butter or margarine
3 celery ribs, chopped
1 onion, diced
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 tsp. brown sugar
salt and pepper
1 can (around 7oz) tuna, drained and flaked
8 fl oz water
Cook the rice as directed on packet. Drain and put aside.
In a frying pan over medium heat, melt the butter and add the celery and onion. Saute until tender. Then, taking a 10"x 6" baking dish (or 1 1/4pt shallow casserole) mix together the cooked rice, onion and celery, canned tomatoes, the water, sugar and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Gently stir in the flakes of tuna. Bake the casserole, uncovered, for 25 mins. at 180C etc until well heated through. Serve, garnished with celery leaves.

Spaghetti with Eggs and Walnuts: serves 4
This is similar to Carbonara without the bacon. And you do gain those 'free' egg whites!
1 lb spaghetti, or less if you wish
3 oz butter, softened
4 egg yolks, the freshest you have
2 oz Parmesan, grated
7 fl. oz cream
4 oz walnuts, chopped
Put a large pan of water on to boil. Add a couple of teaspoons of salt and commence cooking the spaghetti. In a bowl, put the soft butter, egg yolks, grated cheese, cream and walnuts and mix well together with a wooden spoon. When the pasta is cooked and drained, return the pasta to the pan and, over a very low heat, immediately stir in the egg mixture. Tossing to make sure the eggs are cooked. This should only take a couple of minutes max. Serve with an offering of more grated Parmesan.
Tip: Buy Parmesan in a block if you can, well wrapped it will keep for months. Grate as you need, or spend half-an-hour grating and keeping this in the fridge ready to use. Do not discard Parmesan rinds. These can be added to certain dishes to give flavour as you will later discover.

You will have noticed that garlic is not often included in my recipes. This is because my husband really does not like the taste although he will eat them after roasting (sucks them out of their skins) as they then become much sweeter. So I leave it to you to add garlic to any dish that you wish.
A word about 'the brown stuff'. By this I mean wholewheat bread, rice, pasta. This is more expensive to buy, but so filling, not to mention nourishing, we discover that we eat less than the white equivalents, so price-wise it probably breaks even. Once we've got the ten week Mean Cuisine Challenge out of the way, we can then move on to looking at ways to improve the quality of some of the foods we've been buying. Between you and me, I can't wait for January 1st to come.
Not long now, see you tomorrow.