Now I’m a bit of a semi vegetarian, I don’t each much meat, in fact big pieces of meat are a complete and utter turnoff but for some weird reason when I was menu planning for this week, I suddenly got attracted to loads of dishes with meat in. I think possibly because I’m having one of my semi monthly “oh my god, I need to get me / the family to eat more healthily” and I’m aware we probably don’t get enough protein and I do feel sorry for them because thanks to the cook of the family being semi vegetarian (i.e. me), they don’t get to eat that much meat either.
One of the things that puts me off meat is the expense, I don’t like the idea of eating horribly farmed animals, so I always try and buy organic and fairly farmed meat, if I can and that’s more expensive. So, a recipe book called Frugal Feasts should fix that. Frugal Feasts is a book from Delicious, a collection of their recipes, I’ve had it in my collection for ages and had not cooked from it. In my justification, my copy is an iBook and it’s slipped down my bookshelf page, so it’s easy to forget it’s there. I remember though buying it in a fit of frugality, which is ironic really because if I’d been really frugal I would have reminded myself that most Delicious recipes are free online.
Anyway, the first dish to be tried was pearl barley, bacon and leek casserole (see, I told you the recipe would be online) and as well as being not much of a meat eater, I’m also not much of a casserole eater either, probably because I normally associate the two together. But in the spirit of trying to cook food that might appeal more to the rest of the family, I gave it ago.
Now, one of the things that stops me being a full vegetarian is bacon, so I thought I’d be okay with this. But although bacon is in the recipe title and it is an option, the recipe actually calls for slices of pork belly and when I was cutting it up, I already knew I wasn’t going to like it.
The recipe was easy enough but I did have to add more liquid and even then it had still burnt viciously on the bottom of the pan. I also had to give up on the dumplings, I’d never made dumplings before and although they were easy enough to make and did look and smell like they were starting to cook, I wasn’t convinced that I wasn’t just heating up some nicely smelling, expanding balls of glue, they just didn’t look right. So I fished them out and didn’t serve them up. Fishing them out took a good chunk of the casserole with it too. So with a large chunk of the casserole gone with the failed dumplings and a good chunk of it burnt to the bottom, it was good that the recipe had turned out to make loads to start with and even then we all only really wanted small portions each, it just wasn’t “ooh want that!” enough.
When I was dishing up, I made sure my portion didn’t have any meat in, the result was a bit like a pleasantly flavoured risotto and maybe if I had put actual bacon in it, it would have been okay but I probably won’t be making this again.
Quick baked gnocchi with chorizo, spinach and mozzarella, also from Frugal Feasts, turned out to be surprisingly nice. This is just a dish for two (although you could stretch it to three, with maybe some salad), so I made it for me and Girl Lacer. I had substituted the tinned tomatoes with passata, so the sauce was a little on the thin side but it tasted yummy. Girl Lacer wasn’t impressed with the spinach though, Mr. Lacer didn’t like the idea of the spinach and I ate most of mine, although spinach isn’t really a favourite (although you couldn’t really taste it anyway). I think I’d probably make it again, maybe substituting the spinach with peppers or something, to make it more palatable to everyone.
I made the chicken and chorizo paella just for me, Boy Lacer wouldn’t have eaten it anyway (he hates rice and will even eat his arch nemesis pesto, if the school meal choice is between either that or rice), Mr. Lacer was late at work, Girl Lacer was off having a social life and the chicken was about to go out of date. As it was just for me, I added slightly more of the red pepper and missed out the green beans and cherry tomatoes. I also missed out the stock, as I realised, as I reached into the cupboard for it, that I’d used it all up with the casserole. The lack of stock made the resulting rice quite bland and really the red pepper would have been nicer if it had been fried for a bit first. Also, as I had used risotto rice (as suggested by the recipe, although I could have used paella rice), I think, as I was cooking this, I was hoping for it to be quite risotto like by the end and it wasn’t really. I probably won’t make again.
The cooking of the meat was getting a bit too much, there’s still some gammon steaks in the fridge that I had planned to use but they’re still in date, so I made something veggie, pearl barley risotto with roasted squash. There is also meant to be red pepper and rocket in and I didn’t have any of either (and the rocket would not have been popular with anyone other than me). Anyway, this was really nice, simple and comforting, I suspect probably a bit healthier than normal rice risotto too. It was a pleasure to cook too, the veg, once in the oven, required virtually no thought and it was very relaxing to potter in the kitchen, the pearl barley bubbling gently in the pan. I will be making again, if anything because I just made this for me and Mr. Lacer and Girl Lacer was very annoyed I didn’t make any for her.
Having cooked from Frugal Feasts for a week, was I being frugal? To be honest, for us as a family, I don’t think we were. We don’t normally buy that much meat, so to buy more than usual worked out a bit expensive, although I can imagine if you’re a big meat eating family, switching to some of these recipes instead, might work out cheaper. The other ingredients though were quite frugal and I do like how you see the same ingredient in multiple recipes, so you cook lots of things from one purchase (for example, the pearl barley, which is not an ingredient I would normally buy, so I had to buy specially, has been all used up – I will be buying more). Also, weirdly, most of the ingredients were on special offer when I did my online shop, so saved money there too.