Thyme Butterbean Mash


There are times when you feel that your life is on fast forward. Weeks slip by and boom! before you know it a month has past and you are left stunned as to where all the days have gone. This is just how I feel at the moment. Yesterday I was shocked (and happy!) when I was cycling through Hyde Park  to see that daffodils are now out. I’m sorry – when did Spring appear!?

And when I’m this busy I tend to find that something has to slip and often I find myself getting lazy in the kitchen and slipping back into my old routine of cooking standard quick, easy but ultimately rather boring dishes for dinner. Not necessarily because these meals save me time – I mean cooking a spaghetti bolognese will take the same amount as time to prepare, if not more, as say this more unusual Spaghetti dish with prawns and rocket – but more because the mental capacity to think to do something different is simply too great and I end up grabbing the first familiar ingredients when I dash through the supermarket on my way back from wherever I’ve been.

But this is no excuse. There are so many meals that are simple to prepare but don’t sacrifice on any flavour and enable me to keep experimenting when time isn’t on my side. And this dish is a prime example of this. Straight out of a can these butterbeans are heated through and then mashed with lemon, thyme, and garlic and in a matter of ten minutes they can appear on my plate faster than any mashed potato could.




When mashing butterbeans treat them just like you would mashed potato in the sense of adding flavours. I haven’t tried it but I bet they would taste great with some grainy mustard running through it, or adding some rosemary into the dish instead of the thyme, as well as throwing in some cheese like parmesan at the end. I’d also like to try using this as a topping for a fishermans or cottage pie next time I make one.


40 ml olive oil (plus 2 teaspoons)
2 clove(s) garlic, crushed
Handful of thyme, chopped
1 lemon, zest & juice
2 cans of butterbeans
1 pinch of salt and pepper (to taste)

SERVES: 2-3 people
COOKING TIME: 10 minutes

Put the 40ml of olive oil in a saucepan, and mix in the garlic. Add the thyme and the lemon zest and warm through.

  • Drain the beans and rinse under a tap to get rid of the excess starch and then add to the pan and warm through, stirring and squishing with a spoon until you have a similar consistency as lumpy mashed potato. You can also blitz them in a food processor if you prefer a smoother texture. Season to taste and serve.


Minestrone Soup


I’ve had mixed responses from people when I said that I was doing a series of blog posts on butterbeans. Some mocking, some rejoicing and some just plain blank. Granted butterbeans don’t sound all that thrilling, you definitely don’t get the same kind of excitement when you see them on a menu as you do with say a rump steak. But the humble butterbean isn’t meant to compete against the likes of a steak. As an ingredient it is not designed to overshadow but to  complement, add texture and bulk up a dish. And that’s why I love this recipe so much. It is so flavourful thanks to the smoked bacon, tomatoes, parmesan, garlic and onions, which stew for a couple of hours, and with the addition of butterbeans the meal becomes a really hearty dish which is especially comforting in Winter.


In terms of frugality this dish was fantastic. It’s uses only a small amount of meat and the rest of the dish can be made up of whatever happens to be in your store cupboard – you shouldn’t need to make a trip to the supermarket. Especially as there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to the recipe. For instance  Jamie Oliver uses a whole host of vegetables such as fennel, courgettes and chard in his version of the soup, whilst Nigel Slater takes a more simplistic approach but tags on a few ideas as to what you could add in depending on the season like broad beans in Summer, many of the recipes recommend using different kinds of beans from berlotti in Antonio Carluccio’s to cannellini in this BBC version, whilst Delia omits the beans altogether and instead uses macaroni as the main carbohydrate. And so with all this in mind feel free to switch in and out certain vegetables like the leek with celery, add an extra potato if you don’t have the pasta, or chuck in some additional parsley or a bay leaf, this dish is really very forgiving.




50g good quality smoked streaky bacon
20g butter
3 tbsps olive oil
2 large onions
2 carrots
1 small leek
1 medium-sized potato
3 garlic cloves
1 litre vegetable stock
jar of tomato passata
a short length of crust from a lump of Parmesan
2 x 250g tins butterbeans
50g pasta, any kind bashed up into small pieces
a handful of basil
half a small cabbage, cut into wedges
grated Parmesan

SERVES: 5 – 6 people

Cut the bacon  into short lengths and put it in a deep pan with the butter and the oil, set over a moderate heat. Peel the onions, halve them and slice them thinly. Once the butter melts and the bacon has begun to sizzle, add the onions and stir them from time to time until they soften.

Peel the carrots and cut them into large dice, then add them to the onion, followed by the leeks. Peel the potato, cut it into large dice and stir it in, letting everything soften without colouring, lowering the heat as and when you need to. Then pour in the vegetable stock and tomato passata.

Add the Parmesan rind and bring the soup up to the boil, then turn down the heat so that the soup gently simmers. Cover with a lid, but set it askew, so that some of the steam escapes. Leave to simmer, with only the occasional stir, for an hour and a half – by then, the soup should be thick, rich and heavy.

Drain the beans of their canning liquor and rinse them under cold running water. Add them to the pot along with the broken up pasta, and the cabbage. Continue cooking for 20 minutes.

Sprinkle with grated parmesan, a drizzle of olive oil and some torn up basil. Serve alongside some fresh bread.


Butterbeans: an introduction to frugal food


Thrift, prudence, frugal, economical, sparing. cheap; these are the words of the moment especially when it comes to food. Whether this is to minimise waste or reduce costs it seems to me that more and more people are paying attention to simple quality food which doesn’t bankrupt you in the process.

Now being frugal on the surface may appear to be a boring approach to food but this is not the case. A number of blogs dedicate themselves to this approach to food and prove that resourcefulness can deliver some delicous looking recipes to the table.

Take for instance Frugal Feeding, a marvellous blog that takes to heart the pleasure you can get when you put good quality locally sourced food at the heart of your cooking. When I asked Nick, the author, about his experiences about frugal cooking he responded, ‘I’d say that frugality is more about what you’re getting for your money rather than spending as little as possible.’ And I think that really hits the nail on the head, you can still eat fantastic food you just have to be a little clever about it – the saying ‘a little goes a long way’ springs to mind. Use cheaper cuts of meat and slowly cook them to tenderise them a perfect example of this is his Beef Bourguignon whilst pulses are cheap to buy, don’t go off and a bulk out curries such as this Autumnal Indian Soup.

Another of my favourite blogs on this subject is the The Skint Foodie; a blog that documents the journey of someone who in a previous life was ‘an affluent and avid restaurant-goer and home cook who spent a fortune on food to living as a homeless, hostel-dwelling member of the underclass: alcoholic, on benefits and in the care of my local mental health service‘ . This blog illustrates planning is key to keep eating the food that you love whilst on a budget. Mapping out the food you want to eat at the start of the week means that you won’t be tempted to spontaneously nip to the shop and splurge as wel as  reducing food waste as you can make sure that the food you buy is used up.

I think another key thing to recognise when trying to be economical and frugal is to also focus on seasonality. A source of inspiration for me is this beautiful The Year in Food. By cooking with food that is in season invariably the produce tends to be cheaper ,mainly because it hasn’t been flown half way across the world to reach your plate.

There are also some fantastic cookbooks out there too which provide inspiration for eating on the cheap. Take for instance The Complete Nose to Tail: A Kind of British Cooking, winner of the Food Book of the Year 2012, and written by the good people from St. John’s, this cookbook includes a plethora of recipes that are designed to make the most of the whole animal not just the prime cuts stating that, ‘It would be disingenuous to the animal not to make the most of the whole beast; there is a set of delights, textural and flavoursome, which lie beyond the fillet.’ Fashionable cuts of  meat, like lamb shanks, are priced accordingly so looking at the other more obscure cuts can mean being able to eat meat for less. It’s also a good approach to take to make sure that when you buy a whole chicken, for instance, you use every part of it – bones and all.

On a similar vein is April Bloomfield‘s A Girl and her Pig that celebrates the classics, in fact her twitter feed seems to sum it up pretty well ‘I like my animals whole and my veggies unpeeled’. Take the fuss out of cooking and you’ll be able to eat food which is honest, wholesome but not containing unnecessary ingredients.

If you want to read a food journal Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries II explores how on a cook approaches the kitchen on a day to day finding that sumptuous meals can be made using just a few ingredients. And Hugh’s Three Good Things illustrates that simple is best.

This leads me to my blog. Over the course of the next few months I’d like to use frugality as a theme for my blog partially because my bank balance hasn’t quite recovered from the hit  of Christmas but also because since starting this blog I’ve been spending so much money on food! Each month I’m going to look at ways of making cheaper meals, not by only buying tesco value produce, but by applying some of the philosophies described above, to ensure that I don’t sacrifice the flavour or excitement in my food. And first up on is butterbeans.

Special thanks to Frugal Feeding for his advice he gave me on frugal food which formed the starting block for this post.


Homemade Toasted Granola


I was foraging through my store cupboard yesterday morning and came across some oats, which had been lurking at the back of my shelf for about 6 months, some rock solid ‘runny’ honey which had completely crystallised, a random assortment of nuts and dried fruit, and a handful of dates that had been knocking about since my previous blog post. Independently all these ingredients didn’t excite me in the slightest but combined they make this delicious granola that is utterly moorish. Not only that but I also felt incredibly frugal. No trip the supermarket was needed, I was using up the odds and sods which had been hanging around for a while and I now have a batch of cereal which I can munch my way through for the next week.


Since starting this blog I’ve noticed that I’ve become a little bit like a squirrel. Hoarding away random bags of nuts, seeds, syrups, spices, pulses all in a general effort to keep a continuous stock. Whether this is something to do with it being Winter and wanting to feel all cosy and nest at home, but whatever the reason I’ve really been enjoying having these kinds of ingredients to hand so that when I’m cooking I can just throw a handful of nuts into a salad, add a scattering of  raisins into some cous cous, or whip up a stew.  It really does allow you to play around with what you are cooking and add extra flavours and textures to your food.


Do freestyle with this recipe, chuck in whatever you happen to have in your kitchen. Almonds can replace the hazelnuts, the dates could be swapped for prunes, dried figs, or apricots  and some granola recipes also add in other things such as dessicated coconut as well as spices such as cinnamon or ginger.


4 tbsp honey
4 tbsp golden syrup
300g rolled oats
40g sunflower seeds
40g pumpkin seeds
75g hazelnuts, chopped
5 dates, chopped
Handful of raisins

SERVES: 8-10 people
COOKING TIME: 45 minutes

Preheat the oven to 150C/gas 2. Heat the honey and golden syrup in a saucepan and spread the oats, seeds and nuts over a large baking tray. Pour over the warm honey, mix with a spoon and pop in the oven for 20 minutes. Give it a stir every so often.

After 20 minutes, add all the fruit, stir once (and try not to touch again until it is cool) and put it back in the oven for another 10 minutes. It should be clumping together nicely.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool before breaking it up. Serve with yoghurt and fresh or poached seasonal fruit.

Make sure to keep it in an air tight container, that way it will stay fresh for about a month (not that it will hang around that long).

Tip: It infuriates me how expensive nuts and seeds can be (I mean seriously, how can a supermarket get away with charging over £2 for one small bag of hazelnuts!), so I tend to buy nuts and seeds from wholesale supermarkets or go online where you can buy on bulk for a quarter of the price.


Spiced Chicken with Dates


Moroccan food is well known, and loved, for its fantastic combinations of sweet and savoury food, where pomegranate seeds pepper fresh salads and prunes accompany dark meats to create rich sauces in tagines. This dish is a classic example of how with the addition of fruit, in this case dates, can enable take a relatively plain dish of slow cooked chicken with rice and lentils to become an altogether more sumptuous and exciting meal. In this dish there is something in the way that the fruit releases sugars which caramelises when cooking which then deepens the flavour of the chicken,

Of course sweet savoury combinations are not unique to Morocco, this coupling can be seen in all sorts of cuisines; Japanese food, like this Tempera soy dipping sauce which uses sugar to counteract the sharpness of the lemon with the salt from the soy sauce; Italians build salads with fresh figs and rich cheese;  Canadians add maple syrup to practically any dish from glazed hams to carrots; and, closer to home, here in England apple sauce is a happy addition to roast pork as is cranberry to turkey.

But it’s also important to remember that whilst this is a much tried and tested flavour combination the addition of sugar to savoury dishes needs to be within moderation. See, for instance, Jay Rayner’s review of Naamayaa Cafe which documented how swathes of sugar turned fragrant Thai food in to something “heavy and cloying“. Sugar can be an overpowering force. It can take away freshness, flatten flavours, and make dishes sickly to eat. To avoid this, as a rule of thumb, I try to abide by this rule that sugar can always be added, never taken away, and the addition of herbs and nuts at the last minute can provide a hit of freshness that can balance out some of those sugary flavours.


The dates pictured above were bought from Kofali Hot Nuts on Green Lane who sell the most amazing array of nuts and fruits at rock bottom prices. Amazing!

This recipe is courtesy of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall.


4 tbsp olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 pieces of chicken, thighs & drumsticks
2 onions, peeled and diced
2 bay leaves
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground cinnamon
150g long-grain rice
80g red or green lentils, rinsed
700ml chicken stock, hot
12 dates, pitted
1 small bunch fresh coriander, stalks removed, leaves picked and torn
Handful of halznuts, toasted

SERVES: 3-4 people

Heat the oil over a medium-high heat in a large casserole. Season the chicken, brown all over and set aside.

Lower the heat and tip the onions and bay leaves into the pan. Sauté, stirring from time to time, until the onions are soft and translucent, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, ground coriander and cinnamon, and stir for a couple of minutes. Add the rice and lentils, stir for a minute until everything is well coated. Return the chicken to the pan, pour over the hot stock, season, cover and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Stir in the dates, cover again and simmer for 15 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the rice and lentils are tender. Remove from the heat, taste and adjust the seasoning, and stir in most of the fresh coriander. Serve with the remaining coriander and hazulnuts scattered over the top.


Roast Butternut Squash Salad with a Date and Tahini Dressing


My journey to discover more about dates lead me to picking up some date syrup this week at a Lebanese supermarket. On opening the pot (which was mysteriously labelled ‘chilly willy) I was faced with a viscous substance the consistency and colour of black treacle and, on tasting, a sweetness not all that dissimilar to maple syrup. Feeling a little uncertain as to what to do with it a quick google lead me to this thread on Jamie Oliver’s website which gives some helpful hints and tips on what to with the syrup.

It seems there is plenty of scope to play around with it by adding it to dressings, tagines and stews, and all kinds of sweet treats such as flapjacks, simply  by substituting out regular sugars, like honey or golden syrup, and replacing it with similar quantities of the syrup. But having said that I’m curious to know what other ways people use it so please send through any suggestions.

This particular dressing in this recipe takes its components from a traditional Eastern dip called Dibis W’rashi which is normally served as snack with warm flatbreads.


1 Medium butternut squash
2 tbsp olive oil

3 tbsp date syrup
2 tbsp tahini
2 tbsp water
1/2 lemon

salt and pepper
2-3 spring onions, sliced finely
1 handful of coriander

SERVES: 2 people

Preheat the over to gas mark 8.

Peel and chop the butternut squash into 2cm x 4cm chips. Mix the butternut squash with the oil, salt and pepper in a bowl then transfer to a baking tray and cook in the oven for 40 – 50 minutes or until coloured. Take the squash out the oven and leave to cool.

Meanwhile make the tahini dressing. Mix together the tahini, water, lemon. It should be a fairly runny consistancy.

Assemble the salad with a layer of butternut squash, then drizzle with the date syrup and the tahini dressing. Sprinkle with coriander and spring onions.

Thanks to my sister Nicky for the beautiful plate (pictured above) which she found in a second hand store in Camden and then gave to me for Christmas this year. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to throw it away, but I guess the saying ‘another man’s rubbish is another treasure’. Nick, I love it and I expect it will be appearing a fair amount on the blog from now on.



Date, Fig & Pistachio Cake



I made this cake in the down time between Christmas and New Year and, when finished decorating the cake, I got to say I was pretty pleased with the outcome. It was moist, flavoursome, and looked attractive with the contrasting colours of the ruby red date cake to the green pistachio nuts. Yet, despite this, when offering up slices to my family I found it remarkably hard to shift. Now it’s not as if my family are not a fan of sweet things, quite the contrary in fact, but what it came down to was that general feeling of over-indulgence which tends to kick in post Christmas.

Personally I find it amazing how excited everyone gets about the prospect of all the delicious food at Christmas and how much planning goes into it all, yet after just a few days of eating all that rich food even just the sight of a goose fat roast potato makes you run/plod in the opposite direction towards anything green and leafy.

So in a lot of ways now out out of the festive period and having moved into the New Year it comes as a bit of a relief to no longer have to plough your way through the vast quantities of turkey and start cooking some different kinds of meals again and using those new years resolutions to open up cookbooks and try something new!


What’s great about this cake in particular is that the sponge has a familiar taste just like a sticky toffee pudding – rich and gooey – but the lemony creme fraiche on top gives the cake a lightness that is really refreshing, whilst the nuts give it a lovely crunch. You can easily adapt the cake by adding a mixture of dried fruits, from apricots, to cranberries or some prunes, or simply using 180g of dates and no figs at all. Basically, whatever semi-dried fruit you happen to have in the cupboard chuck it in. As well as this if you want you can serve the creme fraiche separately and just dollop on with a sprinkle of pistachios, when you serve.


100g dates, stones removed and chopped
80g semi-dried figs
200g light brown soft sugar
55g butter or margarine
250ml boiling water
220g self-raising flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 vanilla pods, seeds removed

200ml creme fraiche
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Zest of 1 lemon
Handful of pistachios, chopped

SERVES: 8-10 people

1. Preheat the oven to 200 C / Gas mark 6. Grease and line a 23x13cm loaf tin.
2. In a large bowl, combine dates, figs, brown sugar, margarine and boiling water. Let stand 15 minutes. Stir in flour, bicarb and vanilla. Pour batter into prepared tin.
3. Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes. Allow to cool.
4. Make the topping by combining the creme fraiche, lemon zest and juice. When the cake is fully cooled generously spread on top and finish with a sprinkling of pistachios.