FOR many families around the country, these are frantically busy — not to mention — expensive weeks. Kids of all ages are starting or going back to school or college. Both parents and students excited and apprehensive in equal measure.
Mums of college kids tell me their main worry is “How will they feed themselves?”. This week I’ll dedicate my column to easy nourishing inexpensive dishes.
In order to cook one must have some basic equipment, so perhaps I’ll include a ‘Student wish list’ — the equivalent of a wedding list that could be circulated to grandparents and aunties and uncles who may want to give a little present but not sure what would be useful.
Some items, for example, a whisk, only cost a few euros; others like a good cast iron casserole, will cost over €150, but will be invaluable for making a fine pot of stew, and can also double up as a cake tin and ultimately be part of their ‘bottom drawer’.
A Bamix blender will purée soup, whip cream, make mayonnaise and whizz up a smoothie. It’s a brilliant electrical gadget that makes short work of otherwise laboursome tasks.
A couple of decent knives, a sharpener and a good chopping board are essential, and if there is a gas cooker, a wok is the ultimate multipurpose cooking utensil. Stir fry, boil, steam, poach, scramble — one can even make an omelette in a wok.
Then there is the store cupboard list. No one can rustle up a meal if the cupboard is totally bare, but some basic foods are so much more nourishing than others.
Porridge (cheap and satisfying) lentils, chickpeas and haricot beans — buy them dry and when soaked they double in volume.
Tinned tomatoes are invaluable for pasta sauces, soups and stews. Potatoes are filling, cheap and nourishing. Cabbage is great cooked or in salads.
Onions, garlic — the basis of everything. Pasta is ok — cheap, cheerful and handy, but fairly empty calories.
What they’ll miss most is home cooking, so try to send them off with a copy book of hand-written easy-to-follow family recipes that can be gradually added to.
It will soon become a treasured possession.
Everyone loves a comforting crumble. The fruit can vary with the seasons, plums, blackberries, rhubarb and strawberry, gooseberry.
1½ lbs (675g) Bramley Seedling cooking apples
1½-2 ozs (45-50g) sugar
1-2 tbsp water
4 ozs (110g) white flour, preferably unbleached
2 ozs (50g) cold butter
2 ozs (50g) castor sugar
1 oz (25g) chopped almonds or hazelnuts (optional)
½ tsp cinnamon (optional)
2 pint (1.1L) capacity pie dish
Peel the apples, cut into quarters, remove the core and cut into large cubes.
Turn into a pie dish. Sprinkle with sugar. Rub the butter into the flour just until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs, add the sugar and cinnamon and chopped nuts if using. Sprinkle this mixture over the apple in the pie dish. Bake in a preheated moderate oven 180C/350F/regulo 4, for 30-45 minutes or until the topping is cooked and golden. Serve with whipped cream and soft brown sugar
1 egg, free range if possible
2 tbsp milk
1 – 2 tsp sugar
2 slices decent white bread
A little clarified butter
Whisk the egg in a bowl with the milk. Add the sugar. Pour onto a plate and dip both sides of the bread in it. Melt a little clarified butter in the pan; fry the bread on a medium heat, when golden on one side turn over onto the other. Put on a hot plate, top with sliced banana and a blob of chilled yogurt, drizzle with maple syrup or honey and scatter with a few chopped walnuts. Serve immediately.
Omit the sugar and finely chopped onion and add some chopped chilli and coriander season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Perky and delicious.
Michael Pollan wrote in his Food Rules an Eaters Manual ‘Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother would not recognise as food’. She certainly would not approve of some of the weird breakfast cereals on offer nowadays, but she’d agree that a bowl of cheap and cheerful porridge is a perfect start to any day.
5½ ozs (155g) Macroom oatmeal
32 fl ozs (950 ml) water
1 level tsp salt
Obligatory accompaniment: Soft brown sugar
Bring 4 cups of water to the boil, sprinkle in the oatmeal, gradually stirring all the time. Put on a low heat and stir until the water comes to the boil.
Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the salt and stir again. Serve with single cream or milk and soft brown sugar melting over the top.
Left over porridge can be stored in a covered container in the fridge. It will reheat perfectly the next day.
Great to have an all-purpose recipe for stew. Beef, chicken thighs or shoulder of pork can be substituted for lamb. Ask the butcher for neck of lamb chops. They are cheapest but still sweet and succulent.
4 lb (1.8kg) neck or gigot or rack chops from the shoulder of lamb not less than
2.5cm (1 inch thick)
12 ozs (350g) green streaky bacon (blanch if salty)
Seasoned white flour, preferably unbleached
A little butter or oil for sautéing
1 lb (450g) onions, (baby ones are nicest)
12 ozs (350g) carrot, peeled and thickly sliced
1¾ pints (750ml) approx. lamb or chicken stock
8-12 ‘old’ potatoes (optional)
Sprig of thyme
Roux — optional
1 dstsp freshly chopped parsley
Cut the rind off bacon and cut into approx. ½ inch (1cm) cubes, blanch if salty and dry in kitchen paper. Divide the lamb into 8 pieces and roll in seasoned flour.
Heat a little oil in a frying pan and sauté the bacon until crisp, remove and put in a casserole. Add the lamb to the pan and sauté until golden, then add to the bacon in the casserole. Heat control is crucial here; the pan mustn’t burn yet it must be hot enough to sauté the lamb. If it is cool the lamb will stew rather than sauté and as a result the meat may be tough. Then quickly sauté the onions and carrots, adding a little butter if necessary, and put them into the casserole. Degrease the sauté pan and deglaze with the stock, bring to the boil, pour over the lamb.
Cover the top of the stew with peeled potatoes (if using) and season well. Add a sprig of thyme and bring to simmering point on top of the stove, cover the pot and then put into the oven for 45-60 minutes, 180C/350F/ regulo 4. Cooking time depends on how long the lamb was sautéed for.
When the casserole is just cooked, strain off the cooking liquid, degrease and return degreased liquid to the casserole and bring to the boil. Thicken with a little roux if necessary. Add back in the meat, carrots, onions and potatoes, bring back to the boil.
Serve bubbling hot sprinkled with chopped parsley.
Onions, garlic, potatoes, carrots, eggs (free range if possible).
Flour: plain, self raising, strong brown, strong white and coarse brown.
Oatmeal, pasta, noodles, spaghetti, macaroni, shells, penne etc, grains, couscous, bulgar, long grain Basmati rice.
Tinned tomatoes, mature Cheddar cheese, Parmesan cheese, chicken stock/cube.
Butter, extra virgin olive oil and sunflower oil.
Some whole spices eg. coriander, cardamom, nutmeg, cumin, cloves, chilli flakes.
Dried fruit and apricots, homemade jam, Irish honey, marmalade.
Tortillas and pitta bread.
Soy Sauce, Nam pla – (fish sauce), sweet chilli sauce, salami, chorizo.
Discovery of the Week — Luke Murphy’s goat cheese, an Irish chévre log with a furry white coat, ready to eat after three weeks. Luke’s mammy, Jane Murphy, who makes the Ardsallagh goat cheese, is very proud of this and so she should be. Tel 021-4882336.
A Date for Your Diary – Slow Food Ireland Apple and Craft Cider Festival, Cahir, Co Tipperary, Sept 22-23. You can compare and contrast the various styles of craft ciders, and as a rare treat you can try some commissioned traditional Irish cider, made to Dick Keating’s recipe and guaranteed to lift the fur off your tongue. www.slowfoodireland.com/ciderfest.
Waterford Harvest Festival ends tomorrow, the close of a week-long festival. The GIY (Grow it Yourself) gathering is on today and tomorrow in the Theatre Royal, Water-ford. www.waterfordharvesfestival.ie.
Choose from a brilliant selection of chickens and fancy fowl at Marrans, Blackrock, every first and third Sunday of every month, beside Two Mile Inn between Midleton and Castlemartyr.