For the past two years the ‘fear of God’ was struck into us
by Covid and just as we thought life was coming back to normal at last, here
comes the ‘cost of living’ crisis. Virtually every radio, newspaper headline
and TV bulletin is full of doom and gloom with predictions of unimaginable
price hikes in electricity, oil and gas and of course food.
Thousands of families who have already tightened their belts to combat the ‘back to school and college’ expenses are now faced with a winter of struggle and discontent. And to cap it all off, there’s talk of the possibility of no Christmas lights and fossil fuel shaming.
Everyone is hoping for some support in the upcoming Budget but nonetheless it’s going to be tough, all the more reason to focus on producing comforting, wholesome delicious food for the family to tuck into around the kitchen table.
We may need to shop differently, learn or relearn thrifty ways, how to use cheaper cuts of meat and off cuts of fish, use leftovers and completely eliminate food waste.
Just because one is short of funds is no excuse to resort to ultra-processed food. Better to invest in wholesome, nourishing ingredients than spend your hard-earned cash on meds.
So what to look out for. I’ve already extolled the virtue of potatoes in several articles – go along to your local Farmers’ Market and buy chemical-free food directly from the farmer or producer and no it’s not true that Farmers’ Markets are way more expensive than supermarkets. That sweeping statement is usually made by people who don’t visit Farmers’ Markets and are looking for an excuse not to go…
It’s true that some stallholders may not be able to compete with the ‘below cost selling’ of some of the discounters. Do you know how long it takes to grow carrots or beets from seed to harvesting – three months at least. Would you be happy to look after something for three months and then be paid less than a euro for a bunch of 5 or 6. Doesn’t take much to work out that it can’t be done without a ton of artificial fertilisers and chemicals spray and screwing the farmers.
Sadly, if this low or below cost selling continues, there will be virtually no Irish vegetable growers in a year or two.
Another thrifty tip – do a bit of research to find contacts for farmers who are selling their meat directly. You’ll get a fine box of mixed cuts of beef, lamb, pork and a variety of game birds, very often organic and sometimes with a pack of well tested recipes included.
Go along and have a chat with your local butcher too – ask which cuts are best value and while you are there, ask for some bones to make stock. Start to experiment with lesser-known cuts – oxtail, ham hocks, lamb breasts, pork ribs… Talk to the fishmongers, find out about the bargains on offer. Learn what fruit and vegetables are in season – they will be at their cheapest and best then.
Irish apples are ripening now, your friends may have a glut – make lots of stewed apple and apple sauce and freeze for winter.
Cabbage is ridiculously cheap, but super nutritious, it’s
brilliant for salads and soups as well as cooked with a bit of bacon or a ham
hock. It’s so easy to make a fine tasty dinner from a few simple ingredients
but the reality is you must be able to cook.
It’s not rocket science, just follow these simple recipes…
Carrot and Spring Onion Fritters
These vegetarian spiced fritters can be vegan if you omit the egg. Change the vegetables with the seasons: try cabbage, parsnips, celeriac or sprouts.
Makes 16/Servers 4
80g (3 1/4oz) chickpea (gram) flour
4 tablespoons self-raising flour
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon paprika plus 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 organic, free-range egg (optional)
150g (5oz) carrots, grated
30g (1 1/4oz) spring onions, thinly sliced
extra virgin olive oil, for frying
flaky sea salt and pepper
Coriander Aioli, to serve
Mix together the flours, spices and a generous pinch of salt in a bowl. Whisk the egg with 110ml (4fl oz) water. (For a vegan version, omit the egg and increase the water to 150ml/5fl oz). Add to the dry ingredients and mix together – the batter should be the texture
of double cream. If it’s too thick, add a little more water. Cover loosely with a tea towel and leave to stand for 30 minutes.
Add the carrots and spring onions to the batter, stir and season until the vegetables are well coated.
Heat a little olive oil in a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. Drop a tablespoon of the mixture into the pan. Fry for 2–3 minutes on each side until golden brown and crispy on the outside and cooked in the centre. Season to taste. Fry three or four at a time, depending on the pan size. Serve 3–4 fritters per person on hot plates with Coriander aioli alongside.
225ml (8fl oz) homemade mayonnaise
1-3 cloves of garlic, depending on size
1–2 tablespoons of chopped coriander
Crush the garlic and add to the egg yolks just as you
start to make the mayonnaise. Finally add the chopped coriander and taste for
Ham Hock with Cabbage and Scallion Champ
They are delicious with so many things – cabbage and champ, lentils, a bean stew, shredded into a broth with diced vegetables or in a split pea soup. We also love to add chunks of quartered cabbages to the cooking water about half an hour before the end of cooking.
Serves 8 or more
4 fresh or smoked ham hocks
4 garlic cloves
1 carrot, thickly sliced
2 celery ribs, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 cabbage, sliced
Scallion Champ (see recipe)
Put the ham hocks into a deep saucepan, add the vegetables and seasonings. Cover well with cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for 2– 2 1⁄2 hours or until the meat is virtually falling off the bones.
Add the sliced cabbage and cook for 10-15 minutes. Save the cooking liquid as a base for tomato soup.
Serve with accompaniments of your choice and lots of mustard.
A bowl of mashed potatoes flecked with green scallions with a blob of butter melting in the centre, add the butter just before serving so it melts into the centre. ‘Comfort’ food at its best.
1.5kg (3lbs) unpeeled ‘old’ potatoes e.g. Golden Wonders or Kerr’s Pinks
110g (4oz) chopped scallions or spring onions (use the bulb and green stem) or 45g (scant 2oz) chopped chives
300-350ml (10 – 12fl oz) milk
50-110g (2 – 4oz) butter
salt and freshly ground pepper
Scrub the potatoes and boil them in their jackets.
Chop finely the scallions or spring onions or chopped chives. Cover with cold milk and bring slowly to the boil. Simmer for about 3 – 4 minutes, turn off the heat and leave to infuse. Peel and mash the freshly boiled potatoes and while hot, mix with the boiling milk and onions, beat in the butter. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve in 1 large or 6 individual bowls with a knob of butter melting in the centre. Scallion mash may be put aside and reheated later in a moderate oven, 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. * Cover with parchment paper while it reheats so that it doesn’t get a skin and add the lump of butter just before serving.
Beef and Oxtail Stew
Oxtail costs very little and make an extraordinarily rich and flavoursome winter stew, considering how cheap it is. This is another humble dish, which has recently been resurrected by trendy chefs who are capitalizing on their customer’s nostalgic craving for their Gran’s cooking. Use the leftover stew as a sauce for pasta, sprinkle with lots of grated Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley.
2 whole oxtails
450g (1lb) shin of beef or stewing beef, cut into 4cm (1 1/2 inch) cubes
110g (4oz) streaky bacon
25g (1oz) beef dripping or2 tablespoons olive oil
225g (8oz) finely chopped onion
225g (8oz) carrots, cut into 2cm (3/4 inch) cubes
55g (generous 2oz) chopped celery
1 tablespoon homemade tomato purée
1 bay leaf, 1 sprig of thyme and parsley stalks
salt and freshly ground pepper
150ml (5fl oz) red wine
450ml (16fl oz) homemade beef stock or 600ml (1 pint) all beef stock
175g (6oz) mushrooms (sliced)
15g (generous 1/2oz) roux
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
First cut the oxtail into pieces through the natural joints – the joints are made of cartilage, so you won’t need a saw. If this seems like too much of a challenge, ask your butcher to disjoint the oxtail for you.
Cut the bacon into 2.5cm (1 inch) cubes.
Heat the dripping or olive oil in a frying pan, add the bacon and sauté for 1-2 minutes, add the vegetables, cook for 2 – 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer into a casserole. Add the beef and oxtail pieces to the pan, a few at a time and continue to cook until the meat is beginning to brown. Add to the casserole. Add the wine and 150ml (5fl oz) of stock to the pan. Bring to the boil and use a whisk to dissolve the caramelised meat juices from the pan, bring to the boil. Add to the casserole with the herbs, stock and tomato purée. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and cook either on top of the stove or in a preheated oven 160°C/325°F/ Gas Mark 3 very gently for 2 – 3 hours, or until the oxtail and vegetables are very tender.
Meanwhile, cook the sliced mushrooms in a hot frying pan in a little butter for 2 – 3 minutes. Stir into the oxtail stew and cook for about 5 minutes. Transfer the beef and oxtail to a hot serving dish and keep warm. Remove and discard the bay leaves, thyme and parsley stalks.
Bring the liquid back to the boil, whisk in a little roux and cook until
slightly thickened. Add back in the meat and chopped parsley. Bring to the boil, taste and correct the
seasoning. Serve in the hot serving dish
with lots of champ.
Darina’s Favourite Apple and Blackberry Pie
Apple pie is virtually everyone’s favourite pudding. My famous break-all-the-rules pastry taught to me by my mum is made by the creaming method, so people who are convinced that they suffer from ‘hot hands’ don’t have to worry about rubbing in the butter. I make this pie year-round with whatever fruits are in season: pears, plums and damsons are also in season now… Enjoy with a blob of softly whipped cream and soft brown sugar, it’s obligatory!
225g (8oz) butter, softened
40g (1 1/2oz) caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
2 organic, free-range eggs
350g (12oz) plain flour, plus extra for dusting
1 organic, free-range egg, beaten with a dash of milk
600g (1lb 5oz) Bramley cooking apples, peeled and cut into large dice
110g (4oz) wild blackberries
150g (5oz) granulated sugar
softly whipped cream
dark soft brown sugar
1 x 18cm x 30.5cm x 2.5cm (7 x 11 x 1 inch) deep square tin or 1 x 22.5cm (8 3/4 inch) round tin
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350˚F/Gas Mark 4.
To make the pastry, cream the butter and sugar together by hand or in a food processor. Add the eggs one by one and beat for several minutes. Reduce the speed and mix in the flour slowly. Turn out onto a piece of floured baking parchment, flatten into a round, then wrap and chill. This pastry needs to be chilled for at least 2 hours otherwise it is difficult to handle – better still, make it the day before.
Roll out the pastry to about 3mm (1/8 inch) thick, then use about two-thirds of it to line the tin.
Fill the pie to the top with the apples and blackberries and sprinkle with the sugar – brush the edges with water. Cover with a lid of pastry, press the edges together to seal. Decorate with pastry leaves, brush with the beaten egg mixture and bake for 45 minutes – 1 hour until the apples are tender. When cooked, sprinkle lightly with caster sugar, cut into pieces and serve with softly whipped cream and sugar.
A comforting and delicious Rice Pudding
A creamy rice pudding is one of the greatest treats on a chilly Autumn day and costs very little to make. You need to use short-grain rice, which plumps up as it cooks. This is definitely a forgotten pudding and it’s unbelievable the reaction we get to it every time we make it at the Cookery School.
100g (3 1⁄2oz) pearl rice (short-grain rice)
50g (2oz) sugar
small knob of butter
1. 2 litres (2 pints) milk
1 x 1. 2 litre (2 pint) capacity pie dish (it’s important to have the correct size dish)
Preheat the oven to 180˚C/350˚F/Gas Mark 4.
Put the rice, sugar and butter into a pie dish. Bring the milk to the boil and pour over. Bake for 1 – 1 1⁄2 hours. The skin should be golden, the rice underneath should be cooked through and have soaked up the milk, but still be soft and creamy. Time it so that it’s ready just in time for pudding. If it has to wait in the oven for ages, it will be dry and dull and you’ll wonder why you bothered. Serve with brown sugar and softly whipped cream.