Cookbook 172: Cooking on a Bootstrap

I backed Cooking on a Bootstrap by Jack Monroe a very long time ago, and it’s been on my “must cook from soon” pile for a while. So I did and it was good. Jack Monroe is:

…an award winning food writer and bestselling author. She works with Oxfam, the Trussell Trust, Child Poverty Action Group, Plan Zheroes, the Food Chain and many food banks, schools and childrens centres to teach people to cook and eat well on a low income, and campaigns against the causes of poverty and austerity in Britain and abroad.

https://cookingonabootstrap.com/

I love Jack’s activism, their passion, and their determination. I follow her on Twitter and love seeing what she’s up to, whether it be in relation to food, talking about poverty, or just describing a perfect day. I backed the kickstarter before I knew how awesome Jack was, and I’m now a huge fan.

So the book, Cooking on a Bootstrap is about inexpensive and healthy meals. From making very quick bread to feed a hungry child, to remembering the favourite recipes from childhood. Jack literally has all the receipts on how much food has cost over the last decade or so, and knows how to stretch a small budget to make healthy food. If your library doesn’t stock this book, ask them to get it. Of course food in Australia is priced differently (and more expensively) than in the UK, but many of the recipes, particularly the vegetarian ones, are still quite cheap. Overall I give this 4 out of 5 stars.

Corn muffins/bread (makes 8 muffins or one loaf of corn bread)

Ingredients:

  • 250g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 50g granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp chilli flakes or 2 pinches cayenne pepper
  • 70g tinned or frozen sweetcorn, drained
  • 1/2 small onion, very finely chopped
  • handful of fresh parsley or coriander, very finely chopped
  • 1 medium egg
  • 250ml milk
  • 50g softened butter, diced or 50ml of oil

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C, then lightly grease your baking receptacle of choice (be it a deep muffin tin, a 450g loaf tin or a 20cm shallow round cake tin – any will do but baking times will vary depending on what you are cooking in) to stop your delicious soon-to-be cornbread from sticking to it.
  2. Add the flour, salt, baking powder and sugar to a large mixing bowl with the chilli flakes or a pinch or two of cayenne and give it a stir. Mash the sweetcorn in a bowl roughly with a fork then fold through the muffin mixture – you can roughly blitz in a blender for a smoother consistency if you have fussy children, teenagers or even grown-ups in your household who will eye easily identifiable vegetables in bread with suspicion and realise it’s not the ‘cake’ you might have told them it was. Add the onion and parsley or coriander to the muffin mix; if you’re blitzing the corn in a blender or food processor, feel free to fling these in too for an easy ride.
  3. Make a well in the centre of the mixing bowl and crack in the egg, then pour in most of the milk and beat in the butter or oil to form a soft and slightly sticky dough – it should be looser than normal bread dough but a lot thicker than a batter (think scone dough) – if it struggles to fall off your spoon, you’re doing it right. If it’s too runny, add an extra tablespoon of flour. If it’s too stiff, add a splash more milk or a little water to loosen it.
  4. Pour the batter into the tin you’re baking in and sprinkle the top with flour. If making a loaf, score a split down the centre – in Soda Bread Theory, this is to let the fairies out, and I like the thought of fairies baking my break, so I always do this. If making muffins, make a small X in the top of each one. Place in the centre of the oven – a loaf will need 40 minutes to cook, the muffins around 18, but check after 15 minutes and insert a sharp knife into the centre to check that they are cooked through – it should come out clean with no sticky bits on it.
  5. Take out of the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes before removing from the tin. The bread will need a further 10 minutes of cooling to firm up before slicing, whereas the muffins are ready to eat almost immediately, if you have an asbestos tongue, that is. The muffins will keep for 3 days in an airtight container. You can also freeze the muffins or loaf as needed.

Notes on this recipe:

  • This made a big loaf of corn bread that we consumed over several days. It was a very moist and crumbly cornbread, and incredibly soft and flavourful. I would definitely make this again.

Onion and Lentil Korma (serves 2)

Ingredients:

  • 2 onions, finely sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 150g dried red lentils
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp cumin, seeds or ground
  • scant pinch of chilli flakes
  • 200g coconut cream
  • 100g frozen spinach
  • a fistful of sultanas
  • 2 tsp tomato puree (optional)
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • a pinch of salt and a bit of cracked pepper

Method:

  1. Toss the onion and garlic into a wide pan with a little oil. Over low heat, slowly soften the onions and garlic, you don’t want to burn them at this stage or the burned taste will permeate your whole dish, so take it slow and stir frequently to stop them sticking.
  2. Thoroughly rinse the lentils and, when the onion has started to soften, add them to the pan, with the spices and 250ml of water. Bring to the boil, skimming off any scum that rises to the surface and discarding it, and reduce the heat. Add the coconut cream and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring well.
  3. When the lentils have absorbed most of the liquid, add 250ml water, along with the frozen spinach, sultanas, and tomato puree (if using), and stir. Repeat until the lentils are cooked to your liking; some people like them with a little crunch, others soft, swollen and translucent.
  4. When ready to serve, dress with a little lemon juice to lift it; the coconut cream can be quite sweet and heavy, and a dash of lemon juice makes all the difference. Season to taste with salt and pepper if you use them, and serve.

Notes on this recipe:

  • This is a really nice, straightforward, and tasty dhal. Would definitely make again
  • Pretty sure I doubled it, because there were 4 of us, but can’t exactly remember. We also were careful with adding the extra water so it wouldn’t be too watery. It’s always easier to add more water later than try and take it out. If you like your dhal soupy, then add all the water, if you like it as it is in the photo, add the second cup of water slowly until it reaches your desired consistency.

Dad’s Chinese Chicken Curry (serves 4)

Ingredients:

  • 4 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • chuck of fresh root ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 4 fat garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 small red chilli, finely chopped
  • a pinch of salt and a bit of cracked black pepper
  • 2 tsp plain flour
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp cumin, seeds or ground
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 chicken stock cube dissolved in 500ml of boiling water
  • 300g chicken thighs and drumsticks
  • 100g frozen peas

Method:

  1. Gently heat half the oil in a medium pan. Add the onion, ginger, garlic and chilli (discard the seeds if you don’t like too much heat). Season and cook over a low, slow heat for a few minutes. Add the flour, and spices, and stir well. When the onion is coated in flour and spices, add a splash of stock and stir well to form a rough paste. Add a splash more stock to thin and stir through for a minute.
  2. Remove from the heat and blitz to a paste in a blender or food processor. Return to the heat and continue to add the stock, stirring vigorously to prevent lumps. Set to one side.
  3. Add the rest of the oil to a new pan and cook the chicken over high heat, turning it to seal the edges. Pour over the sauce, bring to the boil, cover, reduce to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, until it has thickened and the chicken is cooked through. Stir occasionally, and add more water if needed. Add the peas a few minutes before serving.

Notes on this recipe:

  • So I suspect there are a few mistakes in this recipe. The first being the 2 teaspoons of flour – that is not enough flour to thicken 500ml of water. I’d try this again with 2 tablespoons of flour. I also make this with boneless chicken thighs. 300g of boned chicken thighs and drumsticks is 3 of each (max), and that would require you to strip the meat from the bones to serve it to 4 people. So if making this, have as much boned chicken pieces for as many people who are eating the dish.
  • The flavours were good, so I’d stick with everything else

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