Vegging Out

Alas, it would seem that the organic fruit and veg boxes, delivered fresh from the field to our doorstep every week, have literally changed our lives. An overstatement, you might think? To which I rhetorically reply with a categorical no.

Having found so many new and exciting crops within the confines of our cardboard box, combined with the fun and excitement that comes with raiding the cookery books (and the larder) to find innovative and tasty ways to use the entire contents (as per the challenge, lest not forget), it has come to pass, by some harmonious means, that Hubby and I have taken rather fondly to becoming a pair of ‘not the whole hog’ vegetarians.

By this we mean we’re eating predominantly vegetarian, but won’t turn our noses up at eating or cooking meat (indeed, hog, come to mention it) or fish whilst in company or out and about, should a carnivorous need arise. But none the less, we’ve stuck pretty strongly to our new-found fancy for the last couple of weeks and not only do we feel pretty darn satisfied with our veg-based diet but we have dished up some delicious dinners in the process.

What is more, another major benefit that much pleases the purse and elicits entirely The Pinny Project ethos is the fact that the cost of our weekly food bill has considerably reduced.

With a two-person veg box and fruit bag coming in at just pennies over £17 combined (and they most certainly do feed two, plentifully, for an entire seven-day stretch across lunches and suppers), we’ve found that all the supplementary raw, natural (and unprocessed, I hasten to add) additions we need from the shops, such as oats, pasta, cheese, yoghurt, nuts and herbs, are really only all we need to create menu for a week, with the total totting up to £20 at most. That’s got to be a frugally fabulous tally in anyone’s books.

On top of this, we have free-range eggs and organic milk delivered by our friendly local milkman every week (which costs barely £3) and I’ve been busy whipping up staples from scratch that I would at one time, (pre The Pinny Project) have bought, such as breads, pestos, muesli, ketchups, veg stock, jams and mayonnaise, which is further helping to drive down the cost of eating whilst upping the flavour and adding to the satisfaction that everything is made by my very own hands and is as natural as it should be.

And so for around £40 per week, I’m able to don my pinny and spend much-loved time in the kitchen with my head buried in cook books, flicking through both the familiar and barely explored. Later I emerge with a raft of new recipes, inspiring ideas and renewed vigour as I create and cook healthy, inexpensive breakfasts, lunches and suppers that bring about a happy tummy, positive mind and a smile to the face.  You could say that we’re embracing veggie living the whole hog after all then, really…

A great way to cook cauliflower:

If you’ve got a cauli in the fridge and inspiration for how to cook it is lacking, try this little trick for turning it into a cheap, nutritious and delicious dinner for two, as suggested by the King of River Cottage, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, in his Veg Everyday book (with a little adaptation or two from me):

Cut up the cauliflower into florets and soak them in water for 10 minutes. Chop up all of the outer leaves and set to one side.

Gently fry an onion in a couple of tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan or wok until soft and golden. Add two chopped garlic cloves and a teaspoon of ground ginger.  Fry for a minute, then add the drained cauliflower plus around a quarter of a cup of the water. Place the cauliflower leaves on top of the florets, pop a lid on and allow it all to steam for around 4-5 minutes.

Remove the lid and add 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, a tablespoon of sesame oil and 2 tablespoons of sesame seeds. Stir it all together, divide into two bowls and enjoy.



Sweet Sunday: Tarting it up

My husband loves a good tart. Of the pastry variety, naturally. And today’s offering, to finish off a laid-back Sunday lunch for two, was of the Bakewell ilk.

You can’t beat a good thick layer of raspberry jam, sitting snugly on top of a golden pastry base, before being smothered in frangipane and topped with ribbons of glace icing and flaked almonds.

My mother’s pastry recipe (which was, in turn, passed down to her by her grandmother) has stood me in good stead, and indeed it has fared well for my mother and her mother before that too – and aside from the very occasional miss – it’s proven to be a hit.

Whether it’s a sweet or savoury tart, this recipe is one that will befit any occasion. I hope it transcends throughout the generations of bakers in your family in much the same way as it has in ours.

Nanny Jones’ Perfect Pastry

225g plain flour

100g cold butter, cubed

Pinch salt

Cold water 

2 tablespoons sugar (if making a sweet base)

Place the flour and salt into a bowl and give it a brief mix. Using your fingertips, gently rub the butter into the flour until it resembled breadcrumbs and no large clumps of fat remain. (It’s best if you have cold hands for this – and try not to rub using your palms as this is the warmest part). If you’re making a sweet pastry, now add the sugar.

Taking a tablespoon or so of water at a time, start mixing the liquid into the mix until it starts to come together to form a dough – be conservative at first as it’s always easier to add water than it is to remove it!

When the pastry forms a soft but not sticky ball, wrap in cling film or greaseproof paper and chill for at least half an hour in the fridge.

When ready to use, roll out on to a floured surface to the desired shape and size, then line your tin with the pastry, using a little of the excess rolled up into a ball to push the pastry into the corners (This helps to avoid your fingers or nails making rips or holes!)

Leave a little overhanging, say 1cm or so, then trim off the excess (don’t be tempted to throw this away though – use it up making jam tarts, or pop it in the freezer for another day!). Chill for a further 30 minutes, as this will help avoid shrinkage when you bake.

If filling with something hot, prick the bottom and pour in the hot filling, then bake the tart for the time required of the recipe. If, on the other hand, you’re baking the pastry ahead, or are filling it with something cold, you’ll need to blind bake.

To do this, simply prick the bottom with a fork, pop a piece of baking paper on top and fill with baking beans (if you don’t have these, you can use lentils or rice, or even the crusts of some bread – essentially anything that won’t ‘cook’ but will be weighty enough to hold the pastry base down).

I tend to blind bake on 180 degrees (160 fan, gas 5) for 10 minutes. Then I remove the baking beans and grease proof paper and finish it off for another 5. Naturally, your oven may vary, so my best advice is to check it regularly so as to avoid an uneven colour…or worse…burnt edges.

Then fill and either chill, or bake, according to what the recipe demands.

Now it’s time to enjoy a nice piece of tart. Of the pastry variety, naturally.

Bakewell Tart made with Nanny Jones' Perfect Pastry

Broccoli and Cheddar Risotto

From field to plate: Seasonal suppers from the week that was

Staring in earnest at the variety of the vegetables we’d had delivered last week, it soon became apparent that the weekly food bill would somewhat increase dramatically if we were to merely treat these organic delights as supplementary flavours within a dish.

It’s often been the case that I have tended to select a source of protein, such as fish or meat, and then cook up some veggies or serve up a salad to go alongside. But what if these inexpensive items, produced solely by Mother Nature (with the help of a raft of friendly farmers) could be the heroes? What if meat and fish were cast aside to allow these seasonal stars to shine? Sounds interesting, I thought. Let’s do it. And let’s start with Swiss Chard.

It reminds me of a cross between celery, spinach and pak choi. I could be completely faltered in my thinking. But none-the-less, this little bunch of stems and leaves was an ingredient I had never tried before, let alone cooked with.

After a long time spent rummaging through my cookbooks (unsurprising, seeing as I now own 107…) and flicking straight to indexes to hunt this vegetable down, I realised that actually, there is a lot you can do with it, from roasting to stir frying, tossing it a sauce, turning it into a gratin…you name it, you can cook with it.

But what really caught my eye was how it can be substituted for other ingredients in recipes, without causing any detriment to the former guise or the new creation. Cauliflower cheese without the cauliflower? Easy, if you switch it for Swiss Chard, as the awe-inspiring, king-of-the-kitchen-garden, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, advises in his River Cottage Veg Everyday cookbook (which, as a word of note, has become my veg-based bible and which, as a second note, is proving to be worth its weight in gold).

So Wednesday night’s tea was Cheesy Chard, which I added to slightly by turning it into a pasta bake, simply by throwing in a handful or two of cooked wholewheat penne. Absolutely delicious and it cost no more than about £1 a head (if that…if I could be inclined to work out the exact maths. Which I probably should, actually).

Then came Saturday night – the evening of the week where time is less pressured and you can potter about in the kitchen, cooking up something tasty and satisfying with very little constraint. I always like to celebrate a Saturday with a more substantial meal – what I would call a real ‘dinner’ (unlike our weekday meals, which are simpler and supper-sized in their proportion). Last night was no exception.

I’d been aching to get my hands on the tender stem broccoli all week. Usually, as previously suggested, it is most often categorised as a portion of ‘green’ that sits alongside a more substantial, perhaps meat-like counterpart, but under the new regime, it was time to create a dish that truly centred upon this cruciferous creation from the soil.

And thus the Broccoli and Cheddar Risotto was born. And boy, was it a mighty-fine discovery. Stalks and all went into a bubbling base of Arborio rice, onion, garlic, white wine and good-quality vegetable stock, just about halfway through its cooking time. Once the rice was aldente, I added a generous handful of grated extra-mature cheddar, followed by a splash of seasoning and a few stirs. Into a bowl and onto the table it was placed, where it went down a storm, quite frankly.

Broccoli and Cheddar Risotto

Much like the Cheesy Chard, it was an inexpensive, fulfilling meal that really showcased just how creative you can be with your cooking when you focus your attention on those arguably under-appreciated elements.

There’s much to be said for making a humble vegetable the hero ingredient on your plate. Not only is it cheaper (which is a hugely important factor for The Pinny Project challenge) but it’s also a great way to make your meals robustly nutritious. Indeed, what I’ve discovered to be even more inspiring, is the fact that it can offer a whole new approach to meal planning and cooking; one that you might have barely considered before.

Boxing Clever

It’s been a very busy and somewhat revolutionary week in Pinny Girl’s kitchen; so much so that the lack of blogging is testament to what can only be described as an enormous shift in food-oriented focus.

The reason? It comes in a recycled cardboard box and is delivered fresh to our door once a week: it’s a Riverford Farm veg box. That’s right…Pinny Girl is boxing clever.

Upon a recent visit to some very good friends in York, I was introduced to the concept of home-delivered veg boxes. Naturally, I was aware of their existence, but until then, had never really contemplated the use of them. Why? Because ultimately, I had never been sufficiently inspired enough to give them a try.

But that weekend, I learned a great deal about Riverford from my very trusty (and equally food-savvy) friend, and perhaps more significantly, I learned about the benefits of organic produce, not only to health and to the environment, but also the good that comes from supporting an independent, family business.

The Pinny Project is centred upon producing healthy meals from scratch, using seasonal produce.

Having discovered a great deal about this culinary category from my worldly-wise pal in the north, it became utterly apparent that the values and rationale behind buying and eating organic fruit and vegetables sit in complete synchronicity with my ultimate aim: to cook and eat food that hasn’t been mass produced, pre-prepared, peppered with preservatives, poured over with pesticides, covered in chemicals or adulterated with artificial ingredients.

From that moment of revelation, I was completed hooked on the idea. As such, shortly upon returning home, Husband and I joined the organic revolution and ordered our first veg box, starting a new era with a ‘seasons’ box from Riverford, on the basis of a trusty recommendation.

No potatoes; simply 8-10 varieties that the fields at Sacrewell Farm in Peterborough yielded that week. Enough for two people. For just shy of £14. Ideal.

And so last week, our inaugural organic bounty arrived. Within it, we found the most tempting array of items, from Swiss chard and spring greens to courgettes, soft-leaf lettuce, tomatoes and tender-stem broccoli; the anticipation of preparing, cooking and tasting this seasonal fare was incredibly exciting.

The aim of adopting a veg box as the sole supplier of our weekly seasonal medley meant only one thing; it’s a numbers game: One delivery, a £13.45 bill, up to ten varieties, feeding two people for seven days, for three meals a day.

And so the challenge I’ve laid is to use only the vegetables, fruit and salad we have delivered and use them up in their entirety, to make healthy meals that feed my husband and I throughout an entire week (with a little help from the ingredients found in our fridge and larder).

The pinny is on and it’s time to let the creative juices flow.

First delivery

Dunking Time

When she got there, the cupboard was bare…

Last weekend was one of those times when all that was left of the weekly shop was a few scraps in the fridge. Not such a bad thing – merely an excuse to reach into the back of the cupboards and pull out a can of haricot beans, a carton of passata and a few dried herbs. Add in half a carrot, a spot of bendy celery and a clove or two of garlic and there’s a quick and easy veggie soup. Done.

After which, a desire for something sweet descended. As a keen bread-baker and cake-maker, I’m never short of a plentiful supply of the usual suspects: butter, flour, sugar, eggs and the like. Following the root through the cupboards, what before my wandering eyes should appear but oats and raisins. In other words, fate had presented itself with the opportunity to whip up a biscuit or two.

Which I did. And they were delicious.

There’s a lot to be said for ‘running on empty’ – getting by on the last few waifs and strays from your previous weekly shop – as it makes you look beyond the obvious and encourages you to be inspired by seemingly very little.

The Pinny Project challenge is helping me to realise a fair few things about the way I shop and cook in order to get the very most out of everything we buy, but of late, it’s never been more obvious to me that living on the culinary bread line is a rather good thing. Humbling almost. It makes you realise that you need very little to concoct something healthy, tasty, unprocessed and wholesome, and equally, very little time and effort too.

Frugality is a concept I’ve always admired, and now my intention is to take it one step further; to really challenge myself and stretch the weekly shop to a whole new level without compromising the values that matter to me most. And I’ve nothing more than some bendy celery to thank.

A new wave is about to begin…and it starts with a cardboard box…