Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Napolitana Sauce

This is the obvious next sauce to consider; tomatoes and onions. Normally I recommend fresh ingredients, but tomatoes are the exception that proves the rule. You just don't get the gutsy flavour required out of the insipid supermarket offerings, which are bred for looks and shelf-life. Unless you have access to homegrown varieties selected for taste, use tinned tomatoes, and don't be ashamed of doing so. Anyway, here's the recipe:


Medium saucepan
Chopping board
Cooking knife
Garlic press
Cooker (1 ring required)
Can opener

Ingredients - serves 2

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium onions
3 cloves of garlic
2 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
2 tablespoons fresh basil
seasoning to taste

unauthentic optional extra - a good dash of worcestershire sauce.


As you would expect. The onions go chopped into the oil, and fry gently in the pan for a few minutes. They are followed by the garlic, tomatoes and herbs, and the whole lot is simmered for about half an hour, until the tomatoes are cooked and the consistency quite thick. Then, pour over your favourite pasta, or use as a base sauce for pizza topping, or as a layer in lasagne.

Best wishes, 2ndRateMind.

Incidentally, I have it on good authority that the Italians always bring the pasta to the sauce, rather than the sauce to the pasta. Well, that's foreigners for you. They don't even know how to serve their own cuisine.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Pasta Aglio e Olio

(pasta with garlic and oil)

One for garlic lovers, who don't have to meet important clients the following day!


Frying pan
Mortar and pestle
Garlic press
Cooker (2 rings needed)
Pepper mill

Ingredients - 4 servings

Fettucine for 4
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
10 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon crushed dried chillies, lightly ground
1 cup chopped fresh (ideally Italian) parsley
Fresh ground black pepper to serve

Optional extras:

Chopped cherry or sun dried tomatoes
Diced bacon
Diced red bell peppers (capsicums)
Grated parmesan cheese to serve


Cook the fettucine according to the makers instructions.

Simultaneously, fry the garlic, salt and chillies in the oil, until the garlic is lightly brown. It won't take long. Be careful not to over-cook the garlic, or the flavour will suffer.

Turn out the pasta into a serving bowl, pour over the oil mix, toss to coat thoroughly. Strew with the herbs.


Best, 2ndRateMind.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Buttered Spaghetti

Every so often I find I have month at the end of my money. When that happens, as it inevitably does, I tend to pad out the days with pasta. Pasta, of course, has risen in price by nearly three times over the last six months (due, I'm told, to a bad harvest last year), but it still represents good value and a useful tummy-filler. Anyway, this week, I thought I'd list some quick, cheap, and easy ways to serve pasta, without compromising on taste. I tend to find ways of using whatever store-cupboard ingredients I was sensible enough to invest in, earlier in the month, so everything that follows over the next few days will reflect that.


A spaghetti portion measurer
A large saucepan
A cooker (1 ring needed)
A sieve or colander
A pepper mill


A teaspoon or so of salt
Enough water
15g melted butter per portion
Grated hard Italian cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
A sprinkling of dried basil and/or oregano


Boil up the spaghetti in salted water according to the packet instructions. When ready (it's supposed to stick to the wall, when you fling a sample piece at it) drain into the sieve/colander.
Melt the butter in the same, still hot, saucepan.

Turn out the spag into your serving dish, and add your melted butter and herbs. Mix. Grind your black pepper, and sprinkle your cheese, over the top.

It sounds like poverty rations, but in fact it's very tasty, and allows one to appreciate the flavour of spaghetti in itself, something that rich and strong sauces often overpower.

Best wishes, 2ndRateMind.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Marinated Olives

Here's a recipe for marinated olives, which I find go well with the rice wine we looked at yesterday:


Mixing bowl
Garlic press
Stirring spoon
Mortar and pestle
Measuring Jug


100g pitted green olives
100g pitted black olives
2 fat cloves of garlic, crushed
Juice of half a lemon
40 ml olive oil
80 ml white wine vinegar
Half a teaspoon of ground crushed dried chillies
2 tablespoons of chopped fresh basil


It couldn't be easier. Just put everything into a mixing bowl, and stir to mix, ensuring the olives are all thoroughly coated.
Leave in the fridge to marinate overnight.
Serve with aperitifs, or put into attractive jars for an inexpensive but thoughtful, hand-crafted gift.
They should keep well for at least a week, sealed in airtight containers in the fridge.

Best wishes, 2ndRateMind.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Rapid Rice Wine

To eat food you've grown is just fine;
There is no better way you can dine
- I think it's just great
To fill your own plate -
But best is to drink your own wine.

I don't know about you, but I like a glass of something when I eat. Or cook. Or entertain. In fact, I like a glass of something, full-stop.

So here is a simple recipe for a wine that's ready in a mere three weeks, but will improve if kept longer.


A 5 gallon fermenting bin, sterile
A 1 gallon saucepan or stock-pot
A cooker (1 fast ring needed)
3 1 gallon demijohns, sterile
3 bungs with airlocks fitted, sterile
A siphon tube, sterile
A funnel, sterile
A nylon mesh, sterile
18 wine bottles and corks, sterile
A corking device
A long handled stirring spoon, sterile

Ingredients - makes 3 gallons, plus a little for sampling.

2 kg rice (cheapest will do)
1.5 kg raisins
4.5 kg sugar
3.5 gallons boiling water
wine yeast
yeast nutrient


The basic requirement for wine-making is to keep everything scrupulously clean, and even sterile, if it comes into contact with your fermenting or fermented brew.

Firstly, then, put your raisins (whole, no need to chop), and your rice into your fermenting bin. Boil up your first gallon of water in the stock-pot, and dissolve 1.5 kg sugar into it. Bring back to the boil, and then pour over the rice and raisins. Repeat, twice. Finally, boil up the last half gallon, and add it, neat. Fit the lid, and let everything cool over night.

The next day, add the yeast and nutrient according to the makers instructions. Stir. For the next 21 days, you need do nothing, except stir on a daily basis, and maybe siphon off a little every few days to taste, and see how it's getting along.

At the end of this time, siphon off into your demijohns, through the mesh and funnel, to keep them pesky raisins out of your wine. At this point, if your wine isn't sparkling clear, and you care about that, you can add finings to precipitate the cloudiness. Again, go by the manufacturers instructions.

Once your wine is clear, you can either drink it, or bottle it for keeping. Good luck!

I find 3 gallons costs me about £12.00 to make, including the cost of fairly-traded sugar, or about £0.67 per bottle. What's more, this wine can be substituted, without much compromise and in equal quantities, into any recipe that calls for dry sherry.

Best, 2ndRateMind.

Here's where to get gear, yeast etc, in Bristol: http://www.citikey.com/business/10039491/

Here's a few words on sterilising: http://thehungerstop.blogspot.com/2009/06/sterilising-jars-and-such.html

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Yes we can!

Well, we've looked at cooking Dahl, and it's various accompaniments. That was what I wanted to achieve for this week. Now, if you will humour me a little, I want to tackle the common idea that absolute poverty, famine, malnutrition and hunger are inevitable, and nothing can be done to resolve them. During my occasional reading, the following quotes stood out as particularly pertinent:

  • Thirty million people a year die of hunger. And 800 million suffer from chronic malnutrition.
  • The total wealth of the world's three richest individuals is greater than the combined gross domestic product of the 48 poorest countries - a quarter of all the world's states.
  • Food is not in short supply. In fact, food products have never been so abundant. There is enough available to provide each of the Earth's inhabitants with at least 2700 calories per day. But production alone is not enough...
  • The UN calculates that the whole of the world population's basic needs for food, drinking water, education and medical care could be covered by a levy of less than 4% on the accumulated wealth of the 225 largest fortunes. To satisfy all the world's sanitation and food requirements would cost only $13 billion, hardly as much as the people of the United States and European Union spend each year on perfume.

Ignacio Ramonet, 'The Politics of Hunger', Le Monde Diplomatique, Nov 1998. Quoted by Gary Alexander, eGaia, 2002, Lighthouse Books, Diss, Norfolk, UK

Once we all realise that the malnourishment problem is not production, but distribution, then I think we are well on the way to ending hunger, globally, for ever.

And we can end hunger, if we all want to, enough.

Best wishes, 2ndRateMind.


A Word About Boiling Rice

If you have your own method of cooking rice, (and most people do, and they are remarkably dissimilar) and it works for you, stick to it. Ignore this section - it is for people who are daunted by rice, perhaps because they have tried to cook it before, and it ended up a glutinous mess stuck to the bottom of their saucepan.

Cooking rice is nothing to be afraid of, but it is not something to do by remote control. Due care and attention is required.

Use a good quality rice - basmati for Indian dishes, Thai fragrant or similar for Thai or Chinese dishes.

Use a large saucepan. Rice likes freedom as it boils.

A cup of dried rice per person is about right. You need a ratio of three times the amount of water to rice, or more.

Begin by adding the water to your saucepan, with a teaspoon or two of salt. Bring to the boil. Add the rice, stirring with a metal implement to separate any coagulated grains. Bring back to the boil, and then turn down the heat to a lazy simmer. Then let it cook for 5 minutes.

The next bit is where care is required. Do not allow yourself to be distracted; there is a fine line between underdone rice, rice that's ready, and disaster. Test the rice in your mouth - if it's gritty, it needs more time. Keep testing, every minute or so. As you gain experience, you will be able to tell when your rice is done by eye - it goes an opaque white - and even by sound - the simmer becomes quieter. During this time, add more water as required, boiling from the kettle, to keep the rice entirely submerged.

When your rice is pliant to the mouth, and tastes and textures are what you would expect, turn it out into a large sieve. Shake off any excess moisture, and turn it out into your serving dish, fluffing it up as necessary.

It's that easy.

Best wishes, 2ndRateMind

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Chappattis at home

This section of the blog wouldn't be complete without a post on chappattis. These are the flat, round breads that go with pretty much any Indian meal. If you're skint, or out of rice, or both, they do quite well instead, provided you cook enough of them. They do, however, take a little practice. I suggest a dry run before seeking to impress your dinner guests, if you have never cooked them before.


Scales with a measuring bowl
A sieve
A mixing bowl
Some free, clean, working surface
A rolling pin
A frying pan (or, in an ideal world, a 'tava')
A cooker (1 ring needed) with a grill.

Ingredients - 8 chappattis

225g chappatti flour, or make your own, 3 parts brown to one part white flour
extra flour for dusting
110ml water, approx.


Measure out the chappatti flour. Sift it, through the sieve, into your mixing bowl. (I don't know why this works, but I always get better results when I do it). Add the water, a few drips or a good splish at a time, and work the flour and water together with your hands. Eventually, you will end up with sticky fingers and a wet, sticky dough. Rejoice! This is what you want.

Dust your working surface with flour, and knead the dough for 4 minutes. At the end of this time, neaten up your dough, and leave to stand for 15 minutes, to rest.

Divide your dough into eight pieces. Flour your hands, and roll into balls. Flour the surface again, if necessary, and flatten, and then roll out into flat discs, approx 15cm in diameter. As each is ready, place to one side, but don't be tempted to stack them. They will stick together, and you will need to start over.

Heat your pan onto a high heat, and turn up your grill to the max.

This is the bit that requires a little hand-eye coordination. Each chappatti gets 30 seconds on one side, and then a further 30 seconds on the other, in the pan, and then 10 - 20 secs under the grill. If you have the temperature right, you will be able to tell when the pan has driven the moisture out of the dough by the change of colour, and they will puff up pretty much immediately under the grill, and turn unevenly brown.

Serve immediately.

You'll never save a fortune cooking your own chappattis. They are readily available in packs of eight for about £1.50. The thing is though, your own chappattis don't need packaging in a 'protective' atmosphere, and don't come stuffed full of chemicals to extend their shelf-life. If you really must have convenience (and there are times when only convenience will do) then make some in advance, wrap them individually in foil, and freeze them. When you want them, they go into the oven, still frozen in their foil, for 20 mins at a medium heat.

Best wishes, 2ndRateMind.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Sterilising Jars and such.

This is very easy to do, and there are three main methods to choose from:

Hot Dry Method: Bake your jars in a low oven (130 C) for 20 mins or so.

Hot Wet Method: Boil your jars for 10 mins.

Cold Wet Method: Make up a sterilising solution of 1 heaped teaspoon of sodium metabisulphate, and 1 heaped teaspoon of citric acid, to 1 pint of tepid water. Immerse your jars for 2o mins, trying not to breathe in the fumes, which will make you cough like a raddled smoker. Rinse after, with tap water.

Sodium metabisulphate and citric acid are both available from home brew shops.

Best wishes, 2ndRateMind.

If you're in Bristol, this small but far from insignificant shop is well worth a visit, and not just for home-brew supplies:


Easy Lime Pickle

Well, reading through my last post I realised how unfair it was to suggest serving Dhal with lime pickle, and not tell you how to pickle limes. So here is one recipe for lime pickle, to rectify matters.

There seem to be as many ways to pickle limes as there are chefs, but some involve soaking limes for a week and then leaving them in the sun for a month, and such like requirements of dedication. This recipe seems to make a respectable pickle, allows you to vary the heat according to taste, and requires only a bare modicum of cooking. I hope you enjoy the results as much as I do.


A sharp! cooking knife
Chopping block
Cooker (1 ring needed)
Large saucepan
Large mixing bowl
Cling film
Sterilised preserve jars (4 of a decent size will be enough)
Sterilised seals
Sterilised jam funnel

Ingredients - makes 1.2kg approx

12 limes, chopped into 1cm cubes
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon garam marsala
2 tablespoons chilli powder (or 3 for firey hot)
6 fat cloves of garlic
2 large onions, finely chopped
2 teaspoons black mustard seeds
1 inch piece of ginger, finely chopped
2 tablespoons cooking oil or ghee
600ml vinegar (approx; malt, white wine or cider)


Mix the chopped limes, sugar, salt, chilli powder, garam marsala, crushed garlic and chilli powder together in a large mixing bowl. Cover with clingfilm, and leave in the fridge overnight.

Dry fry the mustard seeds in the bottom of the saucepan until they have started to pop. (30 secs or so). Add the oil, the ginger and the onions, and fry gently until the onions are soft. Add the lime mixture and, on a low heat, cook for 15 mins or so.

Add the vinegar and bring to the boil. Turn the heat back down, and simmer for an hour. Stir frequently, and make sure the mixture does not stick to the bottom of the pan and burn. During this time your mixture will reduce in size by about a half. You are not being cheated - just concentrating the flavour!

At the end, allow to cool, and spoon into sterile jars. Seal.

You can eat immediately, but like many preserves, this one improves with a little keeping. 3 weeks or so should do it, if you can wait that long.

There are no artificial preservatives in this recipe, so once you have opened a jar, store in the fridge and consume within 10 - 14 days.

As regards cost, when I recently made this recipe it cost me £5.20. That includes the premium I pay for buying organic where I can. Buying the same amount of branded pickle from a supermarket would have cost over £8.00.


Best wishes, 2ndRateMind.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Store-cupboard Standby - Easy Dhal

Dhal - lentil curry - is cheap, nutritious and convenient. For all these reasons it is a staple in India, and Indian cuisine is among the best in the world. It's a perfect standby, since all the ingredients (except, maybe, the onions) live in the store-cupboard pretty much indefinitely. This version is not entirely authentic, but it is tasty, veggie compatible, and very easy.


Small frying pan.
Mortar and pestle or spice grinder.
Cooking Knife
Chopping board
Measuring cup
Garlic crusher
Cooker (1 ring needed)
Half-gallon cooking pot.

Ingredients - 4 generous servings

2 tablespoons oil (sunflower, olive, whatever) or ghee
4 onions, medium, chopped.
1 cup red split lentils
1 cup green whole lentils
1 cup dried soup mix, or yellow split peas
3 cloves garlic, crushed.
1 teaspoon cloves, whole
1 teaspoon green cardamoms, whole
1 tablespoon coriander seed
1 tablespoon cumin seed
1 teaspoon cassia bark, or cinnamon.
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon crushed dried chillies (or more, to taste)
1 200g block of dried coconut, cut into small pieces
Quite a lot of water, as required.


Dry fry the cumin, coriander, fenugreek, and cassia for thirty secs in a hot pan, to release the flavours. Remove, and grind in the mortar and pestle or spice grinder.
Add the onions and oil together into the bottom of your cooking pot, and fry gently until translucent. Add the garlic, spice mix, cardamoms, turmeric and cloves, and fry gently, stirring to coat the onion.
Add the lentils and soupmix or peas, half a litre of water, and the divided coconut block. Stir well, to dissolve the coconut, and then bubble on a low heat for at least an hour. Check and stir frequently, and add more water as required to maintain the consistency you desire. Towards the end of cooking, add the crushed chillies, tasting as you go, to bring the fire up to the level you prefer.

Serve with any or all of the following: chappattis, hardboiled eggs, boiled basmati rice, lime pickle, a garnish of fresh coriander leaves.


Best wishes, 2ndRateMind.

Fellow Bristolians can get the ingredients - in the exact quantities you require - from here:

Saturday, 13 June 2009

An agenda for change

We are, someone once said, what we eat. If so, then we ought to eat things that are good, and nutritious, and ensure everyone else gets the same chance. But this blog is not about saving the world, except as a by-product. It is about good food that doesn't cost the earth in terms of resources, and doesn't send anyone into overdraft status at the end of each month. It's about supporting local producers, local farmers, and local shops. And saving a few pounds by doing so. It's a win-win situation - quality food at budget prices. You just need to cook it yourself, and, by doing so, satisfy both conscience and that primitive need to provide for yourself and those you love. The recipes that follow, and I plan one a week, each Sunday, are tested and documented by me, and as such, pretty much fool-proof. If a fool could mess them up, be assured, I would have done so. But if they succeed, the end of the process is tasty meals for you, a thriving economy around you, and humanity existing within the global ecological carrying capacity of the planet.

I have a dream, and it's contented, well-fed people. The rest of politics would seem to follow pretty much automatically.

Best wishes, for now.
2ndRateMind, Bristol, England.