Messy Gnocci (50p)

This is the last of my transfers of recipes from Facebook to Cooking For Nothing. The posts will now go back to their normal frequency.

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Facebook post 2 Nov 2016.

polish-flagHad these not infrequently in Poland – how I miss that country – but they were not a particular favourite, being rather squidgy and tasteless. Not a criticism of the chef, just something my palate is not used to or keen on. Had a go at the recipe in A Girl Called Jack, with modifications.

The ingredients:

  • 1 egg.
  • 500 g tinned pots.
  • Big pinch of dried parsley.
  • 100 g flour

Jack said boil the pots, mash them with the other ingredients, roll the mixture out like dough, cut into shapes – drop them in boiling water and when they float, they’re done. Not quite so …

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The mixture was ridiculously sticky, so I kept added more flour, 100g or more, until it was manageable. The ‘cooked’ gnochettes tasted half-raw (I’d made them too big), so had to boil them for another 10 minutes. And messy! A lot of clearing up afterwards, flour and gnocchi dough all over the place.

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Gnocchi are bland things on their own, so made a sauce with what was to hand – a fine chopped onion, tin chopped toms, good pinches of oregano, thyme and paprika, spoon of horseradish, crushed garlic clove, all fried and mashed together.

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It worked. With the mandatory mug of tea and including electricity, tasty and 50p a meal.

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Lamb and Chili Bean Casserole (80p)

Facebook post 23 Oct 2016.

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I was very kindly donated a lamb breast joint to experiment with. After meticulously removing as much fat and connective tissue as possible from the raw joint, was left with ½ kilo of meat. Wore surgeon’s gloves to dissect the meat. Took 45 minutes with a very sharp knife, but it’s really worth it for the quality. Browned it off in a pan.

2016-10-23-lamb3Soft-fried two onions. This went into the slow cooker, plus a tin each of chopped toms, kidney beans and garden peas, ½ teaspoon each of oregano, thyme, mint and parsley and a mug of chicken stock. On ‘high’ for 4 hours.

My slow cooker simmers at that setting, different makes vary so may need shorter or longer – just make sure the meat is cooked. (Thanks, Anna, who gave me the thing. I’m a convert already.)

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It worked! The lamb was tender, not chewy. I’d accidentally used ‘beans in chile sauce’ (not the usual red kidney beans that have to be rinsed) and they worked really well.

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I boiled the potatoes separately to preserve their flavour and visual appeal. Pleasantly surprised that this came in at under £1 – at equivalent Tesco price for the meat and including electricity, four servings at something like 80p each.

The Slow Cooker (AKA Crock Pot)

Facebook post 19 Oct 2016.

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Someone has kindly gave me a ‘slow cooker’, although I don’t really have any idea what it is or how to use it. Did some internet digging …

Originally a 1950s invention (inspired by a Jewish custom) intended for cooking beans and called a ‘Simmer Crock’ or ‘Naxon Beanery All-Purpose Cooker’, the modern slow-cooker appeared in 1971 under the brand name ‘Crock-Pot‘. A bit like ‘hoover’, originally a brand name with a capital letter, the term ‘crock-pot’ is has become a noun for these things in general regardless of the actual brand.

They work by cooking at a low temperature over a long period. No boiling or simmering, but just hot enough to cook the food – slowly. It is the second cheapest way of cooking after a microwave. If something costs 5p to cook in a microwave, it’ll cost 10p in a slow cooker, 25p on the hob and 50p-£1 in the oven.

Definitely the most economical way of cooking ‘cheap’ meats – the long time at a low temperature tenderising them well – and poultry (thanks to my virtual brother-in-law for this information). Just drop the whole bird in, no need to add water or anything, and it cooks in its own juices. When taken out the meat almost literally falls off the bone.

I have used my slow cooker many times since then and love it. The simplest way to cook a raw chicken – 7 hours overnight does it. Reputedly not the best way to cook vegetables because the long cooking time reduces flavour and nutrient value, but as I prefer my vegetables raw or only lightly cooked, I’ve yet to put that to the test.

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He’s fine, by the way, purely used for modelling purposes.

How (not) to dry mushrooms

Facebook post 15 Oct 2016.

My Polish ex-mother-in-law spent much of the autumn drying the mushrooms she’d collected in the forest in her kitchen. This was done by a humming electric device which blew warm air over them day and night. The electricity cost of such a device prohibitive for me, so tried to find another way, thinking how convenient it would be to have a supply of dried mushrooms.

Tried drying them on a tray on a storage heater, but they were still surprisingly soggy after 24 hours, so put them in the oven, but couldn’t get them to dry evenly – some still soft, some as dry and thin as onion skin – and the oven time was costing me money.

These remains spent another night on the storage heater, but they simply refused to dry out and the whole flat was beginning to smell mushroomy, plus I kept finding bits of mushroom stuck to various surfaces and objects.

I gave up at this point and lot went in the bin, the whole experiment having cost about £2.50 in lost mushrooms and electricity. If I used dried mushrooms frequently they perhaps I’d persevere. However, I’ll stick to fresh.

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Bacon, Pea and Mint Casserole (75p)

Facebook post 12 Oct 2016.

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Bacon, Pea and Mint Casserole, based on https://agirlcalledjack.com/…/16/ham-pea-mint-casserole-30p.

  • 300 g bacon.
  • Tin of peas.
  • Teaspoon each of dried mint and parsley.
  • 12 new potatoes.
  • 2 white onions.
  • Chicken stock cube.

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Really struggling to get close to Jack’s claimed prices, this coming to 94p a serving (£1.11 including electricity, bread & butter and a cup of tea). One reason is that being in a semi-rural area, prices are hiked and choice limited. The bacon I used, for example (http://www.tesco.com/groceries/product/details/?id=292312017), is £1.50 a pack, not even the £1.35 they claim online.

Fried the bacon and onion separately. The bacon shrank down to less than half its original size on cooking through water and fat loss. It’s one-seventh added water! They add water!! They’re charging us for water!!!

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Boiled the potato with the herbs and stock, adding everything else when it was almost done, and kept it bubbling until the potato was cooked through – needed to add extra water from the kettle.

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It was really tasty and there was enough for four. Even though full, I felt I could eat another lot.

Pickled Eggs

Facebook post 11 Oct 2016.

Today’s venture – pickled eggs. Hard-boiled in 8 minutes, shelled, then put in a jar of distilled vinegar with ½ a teaspoon of salt. Sealed, they sit for a day or two before opening, but once the jar is open it should go in the fridge. Just had my first one with a doorstep-sized slice of bread with butter and a cup of tea, the whole lot costs 33p.

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Recalls experiences of occasionally trying the suspicious-looking pickled eggs that sit behind pub bars. Mine definitely tasted better! I think the best use would be sliced with a salad though.

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The distilled vinegar (or ‘spirit’) has a sharp, sour taste – white wine vinegar (which Jack recommends) has a more complex flavour, being literally white wine that has acidified. I prefer the tang of distilled vinegar rather than the ‘vinegary’ taste of wine and other fermented vinegars.

Cheese on toast (22p)

The next few posts are ones originally posted on my Facebook page, which I’m going to copy to Cooking for Nothing so it’s easier for me (and others) to find them. This means there’ll be several posts in rapid succession – apologies if this temporarily floods anyone’s email inbox or blog reader with my recipes, but it’ll only happen this once.


Two slices of homemade bread (click here for recipe) with a sprinkle of grated cheese and cup of tea – a meal for 22p.

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