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Everything must go

​I’ve been ignoring a large, black, plantain in my fridge for the past week. I’m presuming it was left by one of the Airbnb guests we had to stay over the festive period. Who knows how long it’s been in there. Perhaps it was a parting gift from the first guest (over a month ago), and ever since then the others have warily let it be. At least we haven’t had any bad reviews.

It’s always a bit NERVE WRACKING getting back after a long rental period. Once I’ve established that the building hasn’t burnt down, I head straight to the kitchen to see what goodies, or not, have been left behind. Back in November, I was DELIGHTED to come home, late in the evening and hungry, to leftover beetroot, smoked mackerel and an avocado. Superfood midnight special.

This time, aside from the plantain and a bag of onions, the only perishable was a bottle of strawberry Yop, which I threw out immediately. I have my limits. There was also a little stash of tinned chickpeas, red beans and tomatoes. Someone hunkering down for a chemical attack? People in Paris have been a bit jumpy lately. DS was pleased, as he’s been meaning to build up his canned goods collection for that very reason.

We now have SIX boxes of cereal, which is six too many. Thankfully one of them is a packet of rolled oats (Kosher, brought from Israel). Always useful. I might give the Frosties and Choco Flakes to my brother next time I go to London (should have kept the Yop!). I suppose I could make some cornflake crispies next time I’m catering for a children’s birthday party? The two boxes of special K will be winging their way shortly to the local food bank. Just what they need in a soup kitchen in sub zero temperatures, I’m sure.

So. In an effort to free up precious kitchen space and throw out as little as possible (I am my mother’s daughter), I based my cooking for a few days around what was within arm’s reach. This coincided with some essential January frugality, a spate of cold weather and a (corresponding) dearth of social engagements. They are recipes for hibernation and lengthening out the rations. For the days when you’ve got a bit of time at home and the extra heat from the oven is a welcome bonus. There are a couple of quick and oaty breakfast ideas too, so you could feasibly stay inside for about 48 hours. No judgement.


Vegetarian chilli and whole baked celeriac

Makes about 6 portions, takes 20 minutes prep time plus a couple of hours bubbling and baking

main / winter / autumn / easy peasy / nothing fancy /vegetarian / vegan / gluten free / dairy free / on a budget / party / detox / store cupboard

Chilli needs no introduction. Spicy. Hearty. Good. This is a guideline recipe – you could add ground coriander or cayenne, or use rehydrated or fresh chillis. Add pumpkin or squash for more veggies, or of course minced meat if you want the original ‘con carne’. If you’re using meat, add it along with the onions. Like many saucy things, this dish only improves with time. It will be really tasty the next day when the flavours have had a chance to mingle and get friendly.

* Onion – 1 large, peeled and diced

* Coconut oil – 1 tbsp (or other oil)

* Cumin – 2 tsp

* Cinammon – 1 tsp

* Chilli powder – 2 tsp (or more if you like it HOT)

* Paprika – 1 tsp

* Carrot – 2, sliced

* Garlic – 3 cloves, peeled and sliced

* Coriander – a bunch

* Chickpeas – 1 can

* Red beans – 1 can

* Cocoa powder – 2 tsp

* Salt – 1 tsp

* Tinned tomatoes – 2 cans

In a large, heavy based saucepan, fry the onion, oil and spices over a medium high heat. After about ten minutes, add the carrot and garlic, along with the chopped stalks of the coriander (preserve the leaves). Stir well, cover the pan and leave for another five minutes.

Next, add the remaining ingredients and bring to a low simmer. If you think you need a little more liquid, add a splash of water. Cover the pan and leave to cook for at least an hour.

Serve the chilli with a handful of fresh coriander. It’s good with a dollop of natural yogurt or sour cream, too.

Whole baked celeriac

Serves 3, takes 5 minutes prep time and 2.5 hours oven time

side / perennial / easy peasy / nothing fancy /vegetarian / vegan / gluten free / dairy free / on a budget / party / detox /

Celeriac is a wholesome and nutritious alternative to rice or baked potatoes. It takes a while, but if you pop it in the oven when you put the chilli on, you can then go off and do whatever you do for a couple of hours.

* Celeriac – 1 whole, stalks and leaves removed

* Olive oil – a glug

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C.

Scrub the celeriac all over with a vegetable brush (if you don’t have one of these, get one. You’ll save time peeling, produce less waste, and eat more vitamin packed veggie skins. Also, check out this for what to do with vegetable offcuts. Thanks, CB, I've started my collection).

Rub a little olive oil into the celeriac and season with salt. Wrap the whole vegetable in tin foil and place on a baking tray in the oven. Position the fold of the tin foil facing upwards to avoid a messy baking tray. After two hours, lower the temperature to 200 degrees C, fully open the tin foil (careful of the hot steam escaping!) and cook for another half hour to crisp up the skin.

French onion tart

Serves 4-6, takes 30 minutes preparation, plus chilling and 2 hours cooking time.

main / starter / vegetarian / perennial / easy peasy / quietly smug / on a budget / baking / store cupboard / party

It may not sound glamourous, but sweet soft onions and crumbly crumbly pastry make an insanely scrumptious meal. It really IS worth making your own pastry. If you’ve got a mixer, you can whip up a batch in 5 minutes.

Traditionally onion tart in France is latticed with anchovies and olives. I had neither, so we had ours plain. For something unctuous and a bit richer, you could layer a few slices of cheese over the top – taleggio would be lovely, or smoked mozzarella.

* Short crust pastry – 1 batch (see below)

* Onions – 5 large, peeled and finely sliced

* Olive oil – a generous glug

* Garlic – 2 cloves, peeled and finely sliced

* Red wine vinegar – 1 tbsp

* Sugar – 2 tsp

* Dried oregano or thyme – 1 tbsp

* Booze (sloe gin/ sweet wine / madeira) - 1 tbsp, optional

* Egg - 1, beaten

Start by making the pastry. See below.

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees C.

Fry the onions and olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium high heat. Once they get hot, add the garlic, vinegar, sugar, herbs and alcohol, and season well with salt and pepper. Lower the heat, cover the pan and leave to steam for about 45 minutes. The onions should be really soft and starting to caramelise when you take them off the heat.

Meanwhile, roll out the pastry (see below) and press it into a 25 cm metal tart tin, or into a well greased and floured ceramic dish. Try to avoid any air pockets between the tin and the pastry. Trim off any excess pastry from the sides (save to make a mini pear tart, see below) and use a fork to prick a few holes in the base. If the pastry has been out of the fridge for quite a while, it’s a good idea to pop the whole thing in the freezer for a few minutes now to cool it down again. Then bake in the oven for 15 minutes.

Brush a layer of beaten egg all over the pastry (this will keep it crisp once you put the filling in) and return to the oven for 10 minutes, or until starting to colour.

Once the onions are soft, tip them into the prepared pastry shell and bake for another 30 minutes, until golden brown.

Try this with a green salad and roasted caraway carrots.

Short crust pastry

Takes five minutes (promise), enough for a tart

If your pastry is well rested, it behaves better. Like so many people I can think of. If you’re making it on the day, it needs to chill in the fridge for at least half an hour before you roll. Refrigerated and wrapped in cling film, it will keep for up to a week. You can even store it in the freezer and defrost it when you feel a tart coming on.

* Plain flower - 170g

* Salt – a pinch

* Unsalted butter, cold -120g chopped into small chunks

To make the pastry:

Put the flour, salt and butter in a mixer and pulse until the texture is like fine breadcrumbs. Add about 1 tbsp of cold water and keep pulsing until the dough clumps together in one piece. Add a touch more water if needed.

Use your hands to gather up any stray bits of dough and press it together into a flattish, circular disk. Wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for at least half an hour.

To roll out the pastry:

Sprinkle some flour over a clean work surface, over your rolling pin and on top of your dough. Start to roll out the dough, flipping and rotating it regularly to prevent it sticking to the countertop, and to get an even shape. Sprinkle over more flour each time you flip. You can use the rolling pin to help you as the pastry gets thinner, by sliding it under the dough and rolling the pastry around it.

Super quick mini pear tart with left over pastry

Serves 1, takes 3 minutes, plus 15 minutes oven time

dessert / autumn / winter / easy peasy / ready in a jiffy / vegetarian / on a budget / quietly smug / baking

An idea for left over pastry bits.

* Left over pastry – a golf ball sized piece

* Pear – ½, peeled, cored and sliced lengthways

* Ground almond – 1 tbsp

* Sugar – 1 tsp

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Roll out the pastry to a 10cm diameter circle, a couple of mm thick. Sprinkle the almonds over the pastry and arrange the pear slices on top. Then sprinkle over the sugar. Bake on grease proof paper in the oven for 15 minutes.

Refined sugar free flapjacks

Makes about 8 bars. Takes 10 minutes, plus 50 minutes cooking

Brunch / dessert / gluten free / dairy free / nothing fancy / easy peasy / perennial / on a budget / ready in a jiffy / detox

Sure, you could use bananas here, but if you happen to have a plantain lying around, (preferably an old one, for mashing ease) use it. These are nutritious and everything 'free' but still feel like a treat. I used what I had in the kitchen - throw in any sorts of nuts, seeds or dried fruits. A little melted dark chocolate drizzled over the baked bars would be an excellent addition.

* Plantain or banana - 1, ripe (large banana)

* Desiccated coconut - 1 cup

* Pistachios - 1/3 cup, chopped

* Dates - 1/2 cup, chopped

* Rolled oats - 1/3 cup

* Toasted sunflower seeds - 2 tbsp

* Cinnamon - 1 tsp

* Water - 1/3 cup

* Sea salt - 1/2 tsp

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

In a large bowl, mash the plantain or banana into a paste with the back of a fork. Add the remaining ingredients and stir well.

Scoop into a loaf tin lined with baking parchment and bake for about 40 minutes, or until golden brown.

Overnight oats

Enough for two large or four small breakfasts. Takes 5 minutes, plus overnight soaking.

Brunch / gluten free / nothing fancy / easy peasy / perennial / on a budget / ready in a jiffy / detox

Here's another oaty goodness breakfast. Like the bars above, you can put in whatever you have to hand – different chopped nuts, dried fruits, or toasted seeds. Chia, flax and linseed are all the rage. Serve with fresh banana or a little maple syrup for a sweeter bowl. I used sheep's yogurt and almond milk, but you could use regular if you prefer.

* Rolled oats – 1 cup

* Apple – 1, cored and grated

* Almond milk – 1 cup (or regular)

* Natural yogurt – ½ cup

* Toasted sunflower seeds – 1/3 cup

* Cinnamon – 1 tsp

* Dried cranberries – 1/3 cup

Combine all the ingredients in a medium sized bowl and mix together. Store in the fridge overnight.


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