ArchiveSeptember 16, 2006

Beyond Baked Beans – Budget by Fiona Beckett

Let’s face it, cheap food has had a pretty bad press, often justifiably so.
I regularly voice my concern that the price we are paying for much of our food is not adequate for the farmers and food producers to deliver healthy wholesome food and stay in business.  However, the reality is that while some people could afford to spend more money on their food there are many who don’t have the option.  Nonetheless, it is perfectly possible to feed the family healthily on a small budget, not only can it be done, it can be fun.

To pull this off , one needs to learn two fundamental skills – how to shop and how to cook.

In her brilliant new paperback, ‘Beyond Baked Beans – Budget’, Fiona Beckett gives 10 golden rules on how to budget –

Plan your shopping trip
Shop twice a week
Scrimp at the start of the week
Buy things as you need them
Learn what things cost
And what’s in season
Avoid convenience foods
Don’t scoff the leftovers
Save on fuel
Be more adventurous
Choose the type of shops carefully – local butchers in general are cheaper than supermarket meat counters, ‘ethnic shops’ and these are growing in number nowadays, are full of bargains, particularly if you are adventurous.

Health food shops can be good value for nuts, beans, pulses, miso, tofu…….

If you want to enjoy rather than just endure your food shopping, seek out your local market and bring the kids, it is likely to be the cheapest place to buy your fresh vegetables and fruit in season.  The extra bonus is the convivial atmosphere.

On-line shopping is fast becoming a real option, so for those who don’t have a car or who are buying for a student house, this can be a real bonus and you eliminate the temptation to buy ‘bargains’ you may not need on impulse.

One could even band together with a few neighbours and split the cost of delivery. 

Fiona has lots of advice on ‘how to bag a bargain’, a terrific store-cupboard list,  suggestions for kitchen kit, how to make food stretch, a series of meal planners and how to store food safely, in this little gem of a book.

The main part of the book is divided into three categories, survive, share and splash out.

A great present for anyone, but particularly useful for students and others who are interested in healthy delicious food on a budget.

Beyond Baked Beans

– Budget by Fiona Beckett – published by Absolute Press – 5.99 stg.
Meals with Mince
Budget Bolognese 1
Serves 4

Apart from the Marmite this is a reasonably authentic Italian recipe – a modest quantity of meat, bulked out by a generous amount of veggies.   The only downside is that it takes a long time to cook – but you can leave it simmering away just like a stew.

4 tbsp. olive, sunflower or vegetable oil
250-300g minced beef
2-3 slices back or streaky bacon (about 75g), rind removed and very finely chopped (optional)
1 medium onion, (about 125g), peeled and very finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and very finely chopped
1 medium carrot (about 75g), peeled and very finely chopped
1 stick celery, very finely chopped (optional)
2 tbsp. wine vinegar
1½ tbsp. tomato paste
1 x 400g whole tomatoes
150ml stock made with ½ tsp Marmite
Salt and black pepper
400g spaghetti
Parmesan or cheddar cheese to serve

Heat a saucepan or casserole for 2-3 minutes until hot, add 1 tablespoon of the oil and fry the beef until lightly browned on all sides.  Scoop the beef out of the pan with a large spoon, leaving the fat behind, then discard the fat*.   Add 3 more tablespoons of oil, heat through for a minute then add the onion, stir and cook for 3-4 minutes over a low heat until the onion starts to soften.  Add the garlic, chopped carrot and celery, cover the pan and fry for another 5-6 minutes.  Return the meat to the pan, fry for a couple of minutes then pour in the wine vinegar and bubble up for a minute or two until evaporated.   Stir in the tomato paste and mix well with the meat and vegetables.   Add the tinned tomatoes and break down with a wooden spoon.   Pour in the stock, stir and bring to the boil.  Turn the heat right down, partially cover the pan and leave the sauce to simmer for 1½ - 2 hours, stirring the sauce occasionally.  About 15 minutes before you want to eat, put the spaghetti on to cook in a large pan of boiling, salted water, following the instructions on the pack.

Spoon a little cooking water into the sauce.  Drain the spaghetti. Check the seasoning for the sauce, adding salt and pepper if necessary.  Divide the spaghetti between 4 plates, spoon the sauce on top and grate over a little Parmesan or Cheddar.

*( Don’t pour the fat down the sink – it may block it!  Its better to pour it into a cup or bowl, let it solidify then wrap and dispose of it.)

Budget Bolognese 2.
Serves 4

An alternative Bolognese – lighter and creamier – based on turkey or pork mince, both of which tend to be cheaper than beef mince.

2-3 tbsp vegetable oil
450g pork or turkey mince
A thin slice of butter (about 10-12g)
250g mushrooms, rinsed and very finely chopped
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
½ a 400g tin whole or chopped tomatoes or 150ml creamed tomatoes or passata
Just over 100ml stock made with boiling water and ½ tsp Marmite
400g spaghetti
A small carton of whipping cream or double cream
Salt, pepper and lemon juice or white vinegar to taste
2-3 tbsp finely chopped parsley if you have some

Heat a frying pan and add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil.  Once the oil is hot, fry the mince until browned then remove it from the pan with a large spoon letting the fat drain away.   Pour off the fat into a bowl.   Add the remaining oil to the pan then add the butter.  Tip in the mushrooms and stir-fry over a high heat for about 3-4 minutes until any moisture has evaporated.  Turn the heat down and return the mince to the pan.  Add the tomato paste and garlic and cook for a minute then add the tomatoes or passata.  (If using whole tomatoes break them down with a wooden spoon or a fork.)   Add the stock, stir and leave the sauce simmering over a low heat while you cook the spaghetti.  Once the spaghetti has drained add about two thirds of the cream to the sauce and heat through gently.  Season the sauce with salt, pepper and a few drops of lemon juice or wine vinegar.  Stir in some chopped parsley if you have some.  I don’t think this needs cheese but feel free if you fancy it.


– Baked and Otherwise
Despite the title of the book and its predecessors, Fiona says ‘I have nothing against baked beans.  They’re a good wholesome food that provides protein, fibre and some useful minerals such as iron.  Here are various ways of enjoying them’…

Chilli Baked Beans
Serves 1

1 tbsp oil
½ a medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed (optional)
½ a red pepper, de-seeded and cut into strips or a handful of frozen peppers
1-1½ tsp mild chilli powder or 1 tsp paprika
Half a 400g tin of baked beans
Fresh parsley, chopped (optional)

Heat the oil in a saucepan or small frying pan and fry the onion over a moderately high heat for about 5 minutes until it begins to brown at the edges.  Turn the heat down a bit and add the garlic, if using, and peppers.   Stir and cook for a couple of minutes.  Add the chilli powder and beans, stir and cook for another couple of minute until heated through, adding a little water if the sauce seems too thick.   Add the parsley if using.  Good with wholemeal toast, sausages or a baked potato.

What to do with the other half of the tin.
Curry Beans

Fry a small or ½ a medium onion as described above, add a clove of crushed garlic and ½ - 1 teaspoons of curry paste or 1-1½ teaspoons of Moroccan Spice Mix (see recipe).  Tip in half a tin of beans and heat through.  Add a squeeze of lemon or a few drops of wine vinegar and a heaped teaspoon of fresh coriander or a handful of fresh spinach leaves. (Or some frozen leaf spinach, cooked, well drained and squeezed dry.) Serve with rice.

Must-have Moroccan Spice Mix
As you might buy four different spices to make this it might seem extravagant but they will make enough to last you a whole year.

Mix up in small batches: 2 tablespoons each of ground coriander and cumin, 1 tablespoon of turmeric and 1-2 teaspoons of chilli powder, depending on how hot you like it.  A teaspoon or two is brilliant added to a simple tomato sauce with veggie stews or with fish.

Red Kidney Beans

You probably bought them to go in a Chill Con Carne. Here’s what to do with the rest.

Red Bean and White Cheese Salad

Serves 1

2 tsp lemon juice
5 tsp sunflower oil or light olive oil
½ a 400g tin of red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1-2 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced, or a finely chopped slice of onion
50g Caerphilly, white Cheshire or Wensleydale cheese, cut into small cubes
A heaped tbsp finely chopped parsley and a little mint if you have some
Salt and ground black pepper
Spoon the lemon juice and sunflower oil into a bowl, season with salt and pepper and whisk together with a fork.  Add the kidney beans, sliced or chopped onion, cheese and parsley and/or mint, if using, and toss together.

Mexican-style Re-fried beans
Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a frying pan and add small finely chopped onion. Fry over a moderate heat for about 4-5 minutes till beginning to soften. Add a clove of crushed garlic, ½ teaspoon of chilli powder and a chopped fresh or tinned tomato, or a couple of tablespoons of passata, stir and cook for another minute. Add ½ a tin of drained and rinsed kidney beans then turn the heat down, cover the pan and cook for 3- 4 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and mash the beans roughly with a fork. Season to taste with salt, lemon juice and a pinch of cumin if you have some and stir in a tablespoon of chopped fresh coriander. Cool for 10 minutes or so then use the mixture to stuff a pitta bread or wrap together with some sliced cucumber, tomato and onion.

Stir –Fries
Stir-fries are great student food – fast and healthy – but they can be pricey too, particularly if you buy those read-made stir-in sauces.  For a basic stir-fry stick to the cheaper stir fry mixes and use soy sauce.
Basic, Simple Stir-Fry
If you want o serve rice with it; cook it beforehand.

2 tbsp oil
½ a small bag of stir-fry vegetables (about 150g)
A cooked chicken thigh, skin removed and cut into thin strips or 75g of cashew nuts (optional)
2 tbsp light soy sauce

Heat a wok or large frying pan until it begins to smoke.  Pour in the oil and immediately tip in the vegetables and the chicken or nuts, if using.  Cook for a couple of minutes, moving them about continually so they don’t burn. Add about 3 tablespoons of water and cook until evaporated.  Add the soy sauce and cook for a few seconds more.  Taste, adding more soy if you think it needs it.  Serve up.

What to do with the rest of the stir-fry veg.

If they’re absolutely fresh – ie you’ve just bought them and they have a couple of days to go to the ‘eat-by’ date you could use them to make a Spicy Chicken salad.  Otherwise you could use them in a spicy Asian-style soup.

A homemade sweet and sour sauce is surprisingly good.

2 tbsp soy sauce
1 chicken or turkey breast or fillet, cut into fine strips
2 tbsp oil
1 small carrot, peeled and cut into thin strips
½ a red or green pepper, deseeded and cut into thin strips.
½ a bunch of spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced or a small onion, peeled and finely sliced
1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
½ a small (227g) tin of pineapple pieces in natural juice
1 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tsp lemon juice or vinegar if needed

Put 1 tbsp of the soy sauce in a bowl, add the chicken or turkey strips and mix together.  Heat the oil in a frying pan or wok.  Add the chicken, carrot and pepper and stir fry for about 3 minutes.  Add the spring onions and garlic and fry for another minute.  Drain the pineapple, reserving the juice.   Add half the pineapple and all the juice to the stir-fry, along with the ketchup and remaining soy sauce.
Taste and add the lemon juice or vinegar if needed.  Serve with rice or noodles.

 Leftover Pineapple?
Eat the rest of the pineapple for breakfast with some low-fat fromage frais, yoghurt or add it to a fruit salad.

Foolproof Food

Spicy Chicken Salad
(aka Coronation Chicken – this recipe was invented to celebrate the Queen’s Coronation in 1953)

1 cooked chicken breast – (skin removed, cut into strips)
¼ of a cucumber, peeled, deseeded and cut into strips
½ a carrot, peeled and cut into fine strips
2 spring onions, trimmed, quartered and cut across into short pieces
Crisp lettuce leaves
A few chopped cashew nuts or unsalted roasted peanuts (optional)

For the dressing
¼-½ tsp mild to medium hot curry paste or powder
½ tsp tomato ketchup
1 heaped tbsp mayonnaise
1 heaped tbsp plain yoghurt
1 heaped tbsp apricot jam
A little salt

First mix the ingredients for the dressing thoroughly together in a bowl, adding a teaspoon of water.  Pour over the prepared chicken and vegetables and toss together.  Lay few crisp iceberg or Little Gem lettuce leaves on a plate and spoon over the salad.  Sprinkle over a few chopped nuts if you have some.

Hot Tips:

Youghal Celebrates History 22-24 September 2006
The theme of this year’s Conference is Sir Richard Boyle, the first Earl of Cork and father to the world famous scientist Robert Boyle. Richard Boyle was an amazing man – the wealthiest man in the world in his day, it is said - Talks, Choral Service, guided Garden Tour, Classical Concert, Quilt Competition ….For details Tel 024 81010 

Back to Class at The Good Things Café, Durrus, West Cork
Autumn term starts on Tuesday 26th September with morning classes on the Tuesday and evening classes on the Tuesday and Thursday.  New Wine Appreciation Class with Michelle Syron, Searson Wines to accompany the delicious food being cooked.  Friday 13th October Party Night. or ring 027-61426


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