Cheap eats: Quiche

 

I love a quiche, I do. Quick and cheap. Makes dinner plus lunches the next day. Great for using up the last of the tinned sweetcorn and curling ham slices and a sad half pepper and some tired mushrooms. Easily bulked out with frozen veg. Can be eaten hot or cold, summer or winter. Mum used to make one at least once a fortnight and I understand why.

The pastry for this costs pennies. Cream costs about 75p and you’ll need about 50p of grated cheese, plus 2 eggs. So about £2 plus whatever other ingredients you choose to include.

What you need

  • 225g plain flour
  • 100 butter, diced
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 100ml cream
  • handful of grated cheese
  • Protein fillings: try chopped ham, crispy bacon, smoked salmon
  • Veg fillings: I’ve used tinned sweetcorn, frozen peas, diced peppers, cherry or sundried tomatoes, asparagus tips, broccoli, sliced mushrooms, spring onions, diced courgette, diced butternut squash, artichokes in olive oil, olives. (Blast peppers, courgettes and squash in the microwave to soften first.)

What you do

  1. Make the pastry by sifting the flour into a bowl and adding the butter. Rub with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs, add the salt, then chill in the fridge for 20 mins.
  2. Roll the pastry out into a pie dish, prick the bottom and blind bake at 180C for 15-20 mins followed by 5 mins uncovered, until just brown.
  3. Mix together the eggs, cream, cheese and fillings. Pour into the pie crust and bake for 20-25 mins until the filling is just set.
  4. Serve with salad or green beans, if you like.

Make it veggie: Leave out the meat and fish. Add some feat, perhaps
Make it low-carb: You can bake the filling without a crust
Make it child-friendly: Let the kids choose the veg, and make them in muffin tins for child-sized portions

Cheap eats: Sausage and spinach pasta 

I try not to eat too much pasta but it’s definitely a cost effective way of feeding the family. I also got some new pasta bowls for my birthday (not the one pictured which came from a pound shop about 10 years ago) which are just screaming out for a big tangle of linguine or tagliatelle.

I used just two pork sausages for this from a pack of 8, plus half a bag of baby spinach and a few spoons of creme fraiche. It will depend on how good the sausages are, but I estimate this cost about £2.00 for two portions.

What you need

  • 2 pork sausages, skins removed
  • Half a bag of baby spinach
  • A clove of garlic, crushed
  • 2 fat tablespoons of creme fraiche
  • A teaspoon of wholegrain mustard
  • Enough long pasta for two people
  • Splash of olive oil

What you do

  1. Put your pasta on to cook
  2. Fry off the garlic in the olive oil, then crumble in the sausage meat and brown
  3. Add the creme fraiche and mustard to the pan, then add the spinach and cook until it wilts
  4. Add the cooked pasta to the pan with a drop of the cooking water and mix together. Done.

 

Make it veggie: Hmm, probably not worth it. You could try Quorn mince but I wouldn’t bother, frankly
Make it low-carb: LOL. Pasta.
Make it child-friendly: Use a mild mustard.

Kid-friendly meals: Savoury mince and vegetable pie

Big G has very strict rules on what constitutes a pie. It should have both a pastry top and bottom, none of this “casserole with a pastry lid” nonsense. He’s not alone – there was even a petition about this a few years ago.

But time is of the essence, so this pie only has pastry on the top. Sorry, Big G.

This pie is the food of childhood. Your mother probably made one; your grandmother definitely would have done. It’s very plain, using basic mince, but so tasty.

Feeds a family of four with plenty of leftovers.

What you need

  • 500g beef mince
  • 1 brown onion, finely diced
  • 1 cup of diced vegetables
  • 250ml beef stock
  • Tablespoon of flour
  • Tsp tomato puree
  • Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • Block of ready-made pastry
  • 1 egg

What you do

  1. In a little oil, soften the onion.
  2. Add the diced veg and cook until soft but still firm. I used sweet potato, carrot and frozen peas. Mushrooms would have been good but Big G doesn’t eat them. I see a lot of recipes suggesting tomatoes and celery; I say, it’s not a bolognese. Once cooked, set the vegetables to one side.
  3. In the same frypan, brown the mince until all moisture has evaporated. Stir in the flour, tomato paste and Worcestershire sauce.
  4. Add the veg back to the pan and pour over the stock. Simmer for 20 mins, until thickened.
  5. Pour the mixture into a pie dish and allow to cool.
  6. Cover with a pastry top. Decorate with pastry shapes, if you like, and make a small slit to allow steam to escape. Brush with beaten egg then bake for 20-25 minutes until the top is brown and crispy and the filling is hot.

There is enough in the pie that you could serve it alone, but I served it with mash and creamed spinach.

Make it veggie: Quorn would be the obvious substitute here, but with enough ‘meaty’ veg you could omit it. Try lots of mushrooms, kidney beans and finely diced sweet potato and swede.

Kid-friendly meals: Tortilla nachos

I know, I know, nachos are pretty junky. But they’re such a nice Saturday evening tea – perfect before a movie night, and you can eat them with your fingers.

So I  made this version with whole tortillas, instead of shop-bought corn crisps, and a homemade sauce. There was much less sugar than there might have been, only what’s in the tortillas. And I got a surprising amount of veg in: tomatoes, kidney beans, sweet corn and avocado. Which is pretty good going for a Saturday night.

G Major did nearly all of this herself as well, under supervision, so this is a  nice one to do with the kids.

What you’ll need (Feeds 2 hungry children and one hovering adult)

  • 3 mini tortillas or 2 regular sized ones
  • 250g beef mince (I froze the other half of the pack for some distant bolognese)
  • Small tin of kidney beans
  • Half a brown onion, finely chopped
  • Sprinkle of paprika and ground cumin
  • Small tin chopped tomatoes
  • An avocado
  • Grated cheese and sour cream, to serve

What you do

  1. Cut the tortillas into small triangles. Put them onto a baking tray and drizzle over a tiny bit of oil, then bake in a moderate oven for about 20 minutes, giving them the occasional shake, until crisped up
  2. Chop the kidney beans to roughly the same consistency as the beef. I did a short burst in the food processor but go easy – you don’t want mush, just unidentifiable bean-y bits
  3. Heat a little oil in a fry pan and brown the onion and then the mince. Sprinkle in the paprika and cumin
  4. Add the chopped kidney beans, the tomatoes and sweet corn and cook for another few minutes
  5. Meanwhile, mash the avocado. You could add a splash of lemon juice if you like. This isn’t proper guacamole, FYI, just a cooling accompaniment; if you want to make authentic guac, go for it
  6. Plate up. Traditionally you layer up the corn chips, put the mince mixture on top then cover in cheese before grilling. I couldn’t deal with  the drama of hot plates, though, so I served the meat in the middle and tortilla chips around the edge to scoop
  7. Let the kids help themselves to cheese, avocado and sour cream

Make it veggie: Use Quorn mince or just stick with the beans

Kid-friendly meals: Creamy chicken and sweet potato pie

My family loves fish pie and cottage pie, but the Gs eat both most weeks at nursery. I wanted something a bit different that didn’t need pastry.

Frankly, there’s not much that can’t be improved by the addition of mashed potato. So this takes all the best elements of a fish or cottage pie – meat cooked in a creamy sauce and clouds of mash on top – and adds more veg and tasty chicken thighs.


What you’ll need

  • 6 chicken thighs, cut into small chunks
  • Half a cup of frozen peas
  • Half a cup of sliced mushrooms
  • 3 or 4 shallots, finely sliced
  • About 50g butter
  • 1/2 cup plain flour
  • 500ml chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp dijon mustard
  • A decent glug of cream
  • 3 medium sweet potatoes, plus  butter to mash

What you do

  1. Peel, chop and boil the sweet potatoes until soft. Mash with plenty of butter and seasoning to taste and put to one side
  2. Using half the butter, brown the chicken pieces then set aside
  3. In the same pan, heat the rest of the butter then cook the shallots until soft. Stir in the flour and cook for another 2 minutes
  4. Off the heat, slowly whisk in the chicken stock. Return to the stove and bring to the boil
  5. Add in the cream and mustard, the chicken pieces and the vegetables and cook until the sauce thickens
  6. Pour the mix into a pie dish and cover with the sweet potato mash. Bake at 180C for 25 minutes.

I served this with green beans on the sides for me and Big G but the Gs just ate it as it came.

You can prep all of this in advance to make life easier – I made mine before we went to swimming in the morning then put in the oven for supper.

You can also freeze all the elements if you wanted to make double – just take the filling and mash out in the morning, let it defrost in the fridge all day then assemble half an hour before dinner.

What to take when you visit a new mum

So your friend has had a baby. You’re heading over for newborn snuggles. You have the cutest baby-gro ever for the new arrival. But what do you take for mum?

Food! Food is the correct answer. But you need to take HELPFUL food. Whenever I see this discussed on parenting forums, people suggest cottage pie. Which is nice, except then your friend has a bloody great cottage pie taking up room in their fridge, which they have to eat for three days until they’re sick of it.

What your friend really wants is small portions of food they can freeze and then use to build bigger meals. Food that is simple to make, tastes nice and is nourishing.

Two dear friends have had babies this year. One is a first time mum, so it’s all new to her; the other has a two year old so needs to feed child 1 easily, as well as look after child 2. So I took a few portions of my easy microwave cheese sauce and a few portions of my hidden veg pasta sauce to them both.

The cheese sauce can be used for macaroni cheese (pour over cooked pasta, bake, serve with salad) or as a gratin sauce (pour over cooked cauliflower and broccoli, bake, serve alongside minute steak or sausages).  The pasta sauce can go straight over pasta, be added to mince to make a bolognese of sorts, or spread on pizza bases.

Here are some ideas for other meal bases you could take. Marinate or part cook at home, then freeze, ready for your poor, tired new mum friend to just defrost and go.

  • Marinated chicken thighs. Defrost, bake, serve with rice or potatoes and frozen veg. I love BBQ chicken thighs
  • A vegetable soup base of roasted veg, cream and stock. Defrost, heat, blend
  • Generic mince, onion and tomato mix. Defrost and eat as is over baked potatoes; add beans and spices to make this into chilli; or add carrot, celery, a bay leaf and seasoning to make bolognese
  • Pie filling of cooked chicken or beef, with appropriate cooked veg plus a gravy. Defrost, top with a puff pastry lid and serve. Here’s my lazy chicken  pie recipe
  • Asian-style marinated prawns, beef or chicken strips. Defrost and stir fry quickly with a mix of green Asian veg
  • Sausage roll filling. Defrost, roll in puff pastry, bake. Try my veggie version
  • Burgers. Defrost, fry, put in bun with cheese and salad. I like the bean burger recipe here
  • Meatballs, Defrost, bake, serve with mashed potatoes or with pasta and tomato sauce. Try a turkey version

And don’t forget, while you’re visiting, make your own tea, do the washing up and fold any clean laundry you see sitting about.

What did friends and family do to help you when you had a newborn?

Hidden veg pasta sauce 

I freely admit that this is nothing new. There are hundred of recipes for hidden vegetable pasta sauce.

And that is because it works. You can hide a load of vegetables in a pasta sauce and feed it to your fussy eater and they will wolf it down and bang the plate on the table for more. Because every toddler likes pasta. And no toddler cares about the vegetables they can’t see.

So here you go: my completely unoriginal and completely successful hidden vegetable pasta sauce.

What you need

A mix of veg
Tin of chopped tomatoes
Seasoning
Stock
Pasta

What you do

  • Finely dice your veg. I used onion, celery, peppers, mushrooms, courgette and fresh tomatoes.
  • Heat some olive oil. If your kids will eat garlic, add some of that and cook off, then add all the chopped veg and cook gently over a low heat until soft
  • Add the chopped tomatoes and just enough stock to cover
  • Simmer for 20 minutes until the sauce thickens then season
  • Meanwhile, cook your pasta
  • Take a hand blender and smoosh the sauce up. How liquid you go depends on your child – you may skip this step all together. I left some lumps but blended it enough so the veg weren’t easily identifiable.
  • Serve the sauce over fresh pasta, with grated cheese if you like.

This sauce freezes well. You can also add mince to this, or ham or chicken.