Cost: about 50p for meringues to serve 16, plus £1 for cream and a bit more for fruit, depending on what you use
Lofty, yet indulgent, meringues with whipped cream are a dessert I have always adored but for years feared to make. My mother and I used to try different techniques at home, faffing about with hot sugar and different sugars, producing batches of cracked meringue, orange permatanned meringue, flat, despondent meringue and once, in a misguided attempt to save energy by cooking the main course and dessert in the same oven, meringue that tasted strongly and unmistakeably of roast pork.
I kept on trying though, partly because, along with macarons and egg-white omelettes, meringues are an excellent way of using up egg whites left over from mayonnaise or patisserie cream or similar – as well as being the kind of dessert that pleases everyone. Particularly with a big group of people (who by the law of large numbers often include dairy-free or gluten-free restrictions) I’ve found that it’s a really easy, pleasing pudding – we put out a tower of mini-meringue nests stacked onto a plate, a bowl of squidgy whipped cream (with a small extra bowl of whipped dairy-free cream) and another of fruit, and let everyone help themselves.
Meringue nests with cream and fresh raspberries
In case you were wondering how my meringue breakthrough happened, I probably came close to giving up completely when I couldn’t get my egg whites to make any kind of peak, so would pour the mixture out into a sad puddle that would bake into a rubbery disk. What changed? The hot water to our kitchen was fixed, and I had the unwelcome realisation that for the last few months, my bowls had never been completely grease-free. Moving swiftly on, things changed a few months ago – and the age of Reliable Meringues was ushered in by our good friend Tchern, who is a research postdoc and the best home cook I know. He came round for dinner and I asked him to walk me through the meringue process. The method below, which I have made many times since with consistent results, is his.
Cost: about £1 for 5 jellies (600ml total volume) but it depends on the juice and fruit you choose
These little jellies are jewel-bright and intensely fruity – with no added sugar and zero fat, they are an extremely healthy treat. And they are super-satisfyingly wobbly. A great treat for kids…and a useful gluten-free and dairy-free dessert option for guests with dietary restrictions.
Posted in Budget, Celebration, Dairy-Free, Dessert, Fruit, Gluten-Free, Healthy, Leftovers, Make ahead
Tagged budget, dessert, diet, fruit, gelatine, healthy, jelly, kids, make ahead, party, raspberry
Cost: £2 per generous serving, based on using the £6 frozen cooked lobsters from Lidl.
Chopped salad – all the healthy, virtuous charm of uncooked vegetables but without the ungainly challenge of wrestling leaves onto cutlery and into mouth. This salad is a crunchy confetti that carries the flavour of fancy schmancy lobster and fresh prawns, and served over wholewheat pasta or on toast, it’s an economical way to make special ingredients go further.
Posted in Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free, Healthy, Main course, Make ahead, Seafood, Vegetarian
Tagged healthy, lobster, prawns, salad, seafood, seasonal, summer
Cost: incalculably low, as a 500g bag of popcorn costs about £1, and makes a vast amount, about 8 stock pots of popcorn. Also it’s hard to measure a serving size as whether it’s just a snack for the two of us, or served with drinks before a dinner party, or put out in bowls on every surface before a party, we seem to just keep going with it until there isn’t any left…
This popcorn is not only delicious, it is extremely economical and much healthier than the fancy crisps we used to buy.
Normally, if we were having folks round for a casual dinner, I’d always pick up a large bag of crisps on the way home (sour cream and chilli Kettle Chips, if you were wondering) and by the time I was chopping things up, or at least when I’d got to stirring pans, or maybe once or twice when I was wondering how to heat the plates, I’d have ripped into the bag and kept coming back for more, leaving at most a bowl for our guests.
Posted in Budget, Celebration, Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free, Healthy, Mass catering (party!), Quick, Vegetarian, Weeknight dinner
Tagged budget, popcorn, quick, snack, storecupboard, weeknight
Cost: Oh my. One of the cheapest meats per kilo – £4.60 for a 1.6kg thigh-and-drumstick at Morrisons. Substantially cheaper, and healthier, than red meat and easier I think to carve than chicken. Per portion – this made two helpings for a main meal (with a starch and vegetables), two pies which fed two couples for 2 meals each, and I reserved a small portion of the meat to brown in a frying pan and top the turkey soup made with the bones and served with noodles and pak choi (leftover soup became the base for a stew with butter beans and bacon…you get the idea). So average cost per meal per person would have been something like 60p for the meat, plus pennies for vegetables, pastry ingredients, noodles and so on.
It’s March, and therefore the season for turkey! By which I mean, it is not Christmas or pre-Christmas, when turkey is expensive and often out of stock at the local supermarket(s). Until this winter, I’d only ever experienced turkey in the context of institutional Christmas dinner – it’s not a feature of our festivities at home (goose and beef…I’m not sure whether to be proud or embarrassed that the “and” is not an “or”). My impression of turkey was that it was dry, pallid and (ironically) joyless, more fuel than food, for exercise-lovers rather than food-lovers. My best friend had the same idea…but after tasting this she exclaimed, “I didn’t realise turkey could be this tasty! You made turkey taste like…chicken!” I’d be lying if I claimed that had been the plan all along.
Posted in Budget, Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free, Healthy, Main course, Make ahead, Mass catering (party!), Meat, Poultry, Slow cooking, Sunday lunch
Tagged budget, dinner, make ahead, meat, party, pastry, stock, turkey
Cost: £9 for duck, £3 for vegetables and about £0.50 worth of butter, cream and milk. Served 4 but I think really should have been a meal for 6-8!
For the last six months or so, since my siblings have been working in London, the four of us (brother, sister, husband and I) have become more than family – we are an impromptu dining club, taking turns to treat each other to world-class steak at Hawksmoor, neighbourhood meat artistry at Smokehouse, lobster and steak at the top of Heron Tower, tonkotsu ramen at Bone Daddies on an almost-monthly basis. But having lost my job over Christmas, we at the Low Ceilinged Kitchen household are on a pretty tight budget (expect many more low-cost recipes!) and so I thought we would have to sadly withdraw from Dining Club….unless my siblings were happy for us to taken our turn with dinners at home?
Last night they came over after work for Dining At Home Club – just as we lit the fireplace and a chubby loaf of sourdough emerged from the oven. We caught up on the weekend’s episode of The Voice over mojitos, rhubarb gin and tonics and the following menu:
Sourdough with salted butter and a tin of foie gras (a gift from a friend)
Slow roast duck stuffed with mashed potato, purple sprouting broccoli and frazzled leeks
Chocolate fondants with frozen berries and sour cream
The duck recipe is a word-of-mouth method from a chef called Johnny working for Theo Randall at the Intercontinental, who put on an amazing roast duck and pork lunch at a pop up before Christmas. He was kind enough to tell me his method, which is what mine was based on, although his duck was unstuffed and garlanded with fluffier, golden fat, unlike the glazed crisp carapace of mine. This duck yielded surprisingly little fat, with no layer of squidgy stuff in between the shattering skin and melting meat; I poured off the juices from the pan into a small jug and the top layer of fat (stored in a jar for roasting future potatoes) only measured a few tablepoons. The idea of stuffing with mashed potato is from a Simon Hopkinson recipe, but the method is different.
Posted in Budget, Gluten-Free, Main course, Meat, Poultry, Slow cooking, Sunday lunch
Tagged budget, dinner, duck, entertaining, meat, roast, slow cook, stock
or, The Pre-Shepherds Pie
…because this is another set of meals that starts with a cheap cut of meat, too big for two, and ends up with a couple of different spinoff meals made from the leftovers.
The first meal is a meltingly soft roast lamb, where beneath a thin layer of crackling, the meat falls into tender shreds at the touch of a fork. It’s cooked low and slow with some aromatics and liquid, but still retains the characteristic sweet flavour of lamb, and this method makes lashings of savoury dark gravy to eat it with.
In terms of my low ceilings (lack of time, money and expertise) this is an easy meal, made with one of the cheapest cuts of lamb – but it does take a long time in the oven, although only about 10-20 mins actual preparation time. Lamb seems to have increased in price by more than beef, pork and chicken over the last year or so, and so we don’t buy it often, but when we do it’s normally half a shoulder (blade side rather than shank side, for easier carving) or a whole shoulder which would feed about 8 people as a Sunday roast. The nicest lamb I’ve found is at the local butcher in Penrith, Lake District, but back in Islington this is the kind of occasional purchase I would rather make from the fancy butcher, where it is £13.98/kg for a free range grass fed lamb (about half this price at the supermarket). For no particularly rational reason, if I’m going to be partaking of the bone marrow as a cook’s treat (and there is a lovely nugget of it in this cut), I’d rather buy from the butcher. But the supermarket lamb also works brilliantly here – I’ve made it with frozen lamb from Lidl and the results have still been delicious. This week we cooked a whole shoulder which made:
- this meal for two
- a shepherds’ pie for a family of 6 (but one is a newborn who did not eat) where I’m told that two of the children had thirds
- a moussaka for two.
Posted in Budget, Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free, Main course, Make ahead, Meat, Slow cooking, Sunday lunch
Tagged budget, lamb, make ahead, meat