Beyond Baked Beans


Over the past few years I’ve become more and more concerned about the quality of the food we eat. I’m acutely aware that we are all living on inherited good health from our ancestors – good health they built up by eating simple fresh organic food – long before the term organic was invented. There are other factors of course. Farmers truly understand the importance of good breeding and are acutely aware that if they don’t feed and care for their animals properly, disease will soon follow. Will a diet of fast food and fizzy drinks nourish our young people so they can pass on health and vitality to their children – all the evidence points to the contrary.
Food is the fuel for our bodies, if you don’t put good petrol in the tank the ‘car’ won’t perform properly. Its ironic that so many of us look after our cars and motorbikes much better than ourselves. We wouldn’t dream of putting inferior oil or petrol in the tank, yet we shovel any kind of old rubbish into ourselves and then wonder why we are low in energy, feeling sluggish or lacking concentration. For most people the only criteria when choosing food is cheapness, never before have we spent so little a percentage of our income on food. In ? we spent ?, now it is ?.(Joe I am waiting to get these statistics)
Truth is very few people connect the food they eat with how they feel. If we did, we would make it a greater priority – after all – ‘much depends on dinner’.
Probably the time of one’s life when one is most at risk from a poor diet is during one’s student years – a crucially important period when one needs maximum nutrition to enhance concentration and provide energy and stamina for both the academic and social whirl.
A combination of low budget, lack of cooking facilities and minimum cooking skills often result in a dismal and deficient diet. Basic cooking skills are certainly a huge bonus. A friend who has been working with during school holidays for many years told me that she could live so much more cheaply and deliciously than her friends because she could cook. So, quick Mums and Dads give a crash course in basic cooking skills before your darlings head off into the sunset.
Buy a folder and a pack of plastic covers and provide them with a basic kit of simple recipes – filling and nutritious dishes made with inexpensive ingredients – pass on little tips you’ve learned about how to source good value. See Top tips.
If that all seems too much – there’s a brilliant new book called ‘Beyond baked beans – real food for students’ by Fiona Beckett, published by Absolute Press in Bath. Email
This is the sort of book that I would have just loved to have had access to as a student, fresh and inspiring , no patronizing tone, no ‘witty cartoons’, no same old predictable meal ideas. There are lots of funky recipes, great tips and brilliantly practical advice. This is a book which would work for the ‘hopeless away from home students’, or singletons either struggling to survive or wanting to impress. Recipes go from Best ever Cheese on toast’ to Vegetable Samosa Pie. There are chapters on Late Night fuel, What to eat when you are feeling rough, Seduction menus, advice on nutrition and food safety – How not to poison your friends, there’s even some advice on the right kind of food to eat in the build up to exams and a unique section called Beyond bad Booze. Beyond Baked Beans is a great find, I’ve bought several copies to send to nieces and nephews on their way to college – I’ll be cooking some of the recipes myself. Back to Top

Stir Fried Vegetables

You can stir fry a number of different vegetables but think about texture, colour and flavour before you make your choice. A good heavy frying pan will be fine for this recipe.
Serves 2-4

2 tablesp. spring onion, cut into thin slices at an angle
1 tablesp. grated or finely chopped fresh ginger
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 ozs (55g) mushrooms, cut into quarters and sliced thinly
22 ozs (70g) French beans, cut into 1¼ inch (3cm) long slices at an angle
3 ozs (85g) yellow or green courgettes, cut in half lengthways and sliced thinly
3 ozs (85g) mangetout peas, cut into small pieces approx. ½ inch (1 cm) approx. at an angle
2 ozs (55g) broccoli, cut into tiny florets
1 oz (30g) peanuts or cashew nuts, (optional)
Salt, freshly ground pepper 
A pinch of sugar
1 tablesp. freshly chopped parsley 
1 tablesp. freshly chopped mixed herbs - mint, chives, thyme or basil
1-2 tablesp. oyster sauce or soy sauce
Few drops sesame oil, (optional)

First prepare the vegetables. Heat the pan until it smokes, add the oil and heat again. Add the spring onions, ginger and garlic, toss around, then add the vegetables one after the other in the following order, tossing between each addition - 
mushrooms, French beans, courgettes, mange tout, broccoli and nuts. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar. Sprinkle with freshly chopped herbs, taste, correct the seasoning. Serve immediately in a hot serving dish.
If you would like your stir fry to have an oriental flavour add 1-2 tablespoons of oyster sauce or soy sauce instead of the herbs and sprinkle on a few drops of sesame oil just before serving.

Note: Cubes of Tofu may be added to this stir fry, sprinkle with soy sauce first and leave to marinade while you prepare the vegetables.  Back to Top 

Stir Fried Chicken and Vegetables

Add 1 chicken breast to the above ingredients. Wash the chicken breast and season well with salt. Cut into thin shreds. Sprinkle with soy sauce or fish sauce (Nam pla) if you like. Toss the chicken breast in the hot oil and then add the vegetables.

The Best ever Cheese on Toast

– From ‘Beyond Baked Beans’ by Fiona Beckett
Serves 1

“This is the best way I’ve found of making cheese on toast as the toast doesn’t burn or go soggy like it does in a microwave.” You can leave out the chilli and onions if you prefer.

A good chunk (75-100g/3-3½ ozs) Cheddar or Lancashire cheese
1 teasp. flour
1-2 mild green chillies
1 tablesp. finely chopped onion or a spring onion, trimmed and finely sliced (optional)
1-2 tablesp. milk (2 if you use more cheese)
A couple of thick slices of bread, preferably wholemeal
A little hot chilli sauce or a pinch of chilli powder or cayenne pepper

Grate the cheese, put it into a small saucepan, add the flour and blend together.
Cut the chillies in half lengthways and scrape out the seeds. Add the chopped onion if using and 2 tablespoons of milk. Heat gently, stirring while you make the toast. As soon as the cheese mixture is smooth pour over the toast and shake over a little chilli sauce.

Instead of chilli and onion you could add 1 teasp. mustard or ½ teasp. Worcestershire sauce to the melted cheese. Back to Top 

Spaghetti Carbonara with Peas

– from ‘Beyond Baked Beans’ by Fiona Beckett.
Serves 1-2

“Home-made is always better than a shop-bought carbonara sauce and dead easy. You can even leave out the peas and the onion – and it’ll still taste good.”

1 tablesp. cooking oil
6 streaky bacon rashers, rinded and chopped or 125g (4½) ozs bacon bits
1 small or ½ a medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
75g (3oz) frozen peas, soaked for 2 minutes in boiling water or microwaved
2 large eggs or 3 medium eggs
2 tablesp. freshly grated Parmesan or Grana Padano plus extra for serving
a handful (about 125g/4½ ozs) dried spaghetti
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium heat and fry the bacon until the fat begins to run. Add the onion, turn the heat down low and fry for another 5 minutes or until soft. Stir in the peas and leave the pan over a very low heat. Beat the eggs with 2 tablespoons of the Parmesan and season with freshly ground black pepper and a little salt. Cook the spaghetti in plenty of boiling salted water – following the instructions on the pack. Once its cooked, drain it thoroughly, saving a bit of the cooking water and return it to the pan, off the heat. Quickly tip in the bacon, onion, peas and beaten eggs and mix thoroughly so the eggs ‘cooks’ in the hot pasta. Add a spoonful or two of the cooking water, season again with black pepper then serve immediately with extra Parmesan.

Top Tips  Back to Top 

1.	Whenever possible buy with the seasons when food is fresher, better and cheaper. 
For younger people particularly its not always easy to tell when food is in season, particularly nowadays in supermarkets where one can buy beans, strawberries, broccoli …. all year round.
Local Markets are always seasonal and often cheaper and it’s a fun experience where one buys directly from the farmer or food producers. 

2. Supermarkets often reduce some of their food prices just before closing time, particularly on Saturday evenings, so if you’re really keen, that’s the time to look for bargains.

3. If you are on a tight budget avoid convenience foods – if someone else does the washing, chopping and grating for you its bound to cost you more. However, washed salad or a bag of ready prepared vegetables can be a terrific standby if you are living alone. Best though to invest in a decent sharp knife, a chopping board and a grater and do it yourself.

4. Go shopping with an open mind and keep an eye and ear out for bargain offers. Dried beans and lentils are an incredibly cheap and yummy source of protein and can be made into salads, soups or bean stews. Always worth having a few tins of tomatoes and a piece of Chorizo or Kabanossi Sausage in the fridge.

5. Make your own sandwiches or a salad or whatever you fancy for lunch, it may not seem so cool but it will save you at least €10 a week.

6. Plan ahead – sounds like a contradiction of No.4 but a half dozen eggs can make you three meals, an omelette, spaghetti carbonara and perhaps an egg and chive roll.
A tin of tuna can make you a salad, a pasta sauce and tuna pate. 

7. Its always worth cooking a few extra spuds, pasta or rice to provide the basis for an extra meal.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


Past Letters

  • Recipes