Holly Bell
0 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
David Loftus

Times have changed

Everyone is strapped for cash. A few years ago it was common to suggest that the key to feeding a family well was spending a lot on core ingredients and then doing little to them, but now that advice feels out of touch. There’s a pride in our revived make-do-and-mend gumption. You like my dress? Reduced to £10. This soup? 10p a portion. Saving money is savvy. Shopping well is savvy. Using a book with killer recipes that makes food taste amazing for a good price (not cheaply; I don’t profess to be an economy gastronomy expert) is the ultimate in savvy.

We’re going back to the age of my grandmother’s youth where women (and men) took averagely priced ingredients and did ingenious things with them to make them taste wonderful. That is what this book and my blog are all about. And they don’t rely on offal to do it. I started my blog over three years ago because I read yet another ridiculous recipe in a national newspaper. I’m a stay-at-home mum with two little boys and am fed up with reading recipes that involve a specialised shopping trip and an outlay of at least £30 – while professing to be a weeknight supper for regular people. I just don't believe that this is how families feed themselves. So I started to document what I cook for and with my family, and for my beloved friends, through a blog: Recipes from me, a normal mum, for other normal mums and dads. And what is normal? Well it was supposed to be poking fun at the way I and so many mums describe ourselves. Does anyone know? Whatever it is, there’s no denying the blog has struck a chord with readers from all over the world.

I try to make sure that the recipes are economical, tasty and the kind of dish that’s requested again. If the core ingredients do cost that bit more then they’re for recipes that produce leftovers or feed a crowd. I get inspiration from everywhere – they spring from memories of flavours from my youth, family favourites and even dreams (don’t laugh!). But mostly they come from trial and error, testing them on my taste team, consisting of an almost forty-year-old man who thinks a meal without meat is a form of abuse, a five-year-old with a varied palate and a three-year-old with strong opinions that change often. And this is all done with not much time and a modest budget.

You’ll find a few recipes that are on the blog purely because they’re so popular it seemed foolish to leave them out. But there are also lots of new recipes which provide inventive, economical and simple answers to the question ‘what can I give them?’. I’ve divided my recipes into chapters that reflect the varied themes and occasions in our lives. We are all pulled in so many directions, myself as a wife, a mother, a daughter, a friend, a writer… that we need a go-to recipe book that truly is a helping hand. Whether it is baking for your children’s parties, economical recipes for when faced with feeding a very large, hungry crowd, or speedy grown-up weeknight suppers, as well as ideas for when you need to feed little people quickly, this is a book you can turn to no matter what aspect of family life you’re approaching that day.

Doing it your way

It took me a few years of motherhood to find my feet in terms of how our family conducts itself. Some of the things I did and allowed in the early days make me blush now. We all have to find our way as parents and negotiate what’s acceptable, what isn’t, where we go the extra mile and where we take shortcuts. A big part of that is feeding. We’re all obsessed with what goes into our offsprings’ bodies. Nurturing is food.

Obvious though it is, it’s worth reasserting that all children are different and so too are all parents. When it comes to feeding I think it’s useful to draw a marker between savvy and worthy – decide where your line lies. I don’t grow my own veg, but you will find me baking my own bread and making edible presents to save a few pennies.

I also try not to let stress infringe too much on meal times. The chat is kept light, the food is often familiar and as long as they try new things now and again I’m happy. Sometimes they spill drinks, and sometimes they don’t like things that only yesterday they adored. This will pass. And there’s a bonus to serving up familiar food. It creates rituals and routine that will ultimately be passed on to their own children.

A few of my favourite things

I don’t have a big kitchen so every single item has to earn its right to stay.

Freezer: I love my freezer; it’s my main store cupboard. It houses caramelised onions in ice cube trays, Parmesan rinds to chuck into soup, breadcrumbs, red berries, scones, soup, stock, bread rolls, milk, butter, grated cheddar cheese, peas, prawns…

Food processor: My processor is large but it saves me having to chop and grate. I’ve managed to buy one for under £35 in the past.

Handheld stick blender: I think my love for this lies in how easy it is to clean. I mainly use it for soups, pastes and making purées for babies.

Microwave: I’m not a fan of ready meals but for zapping leftovers, giving jacket potatoes a head start and conjuring speedy cakey puddings, there is no other way.

Digital scales: My baking improved hugely when I invested in a set of digital scales. This is obvious but don’t forget to reset back to 0 before you add each new ingredient.

Slow cooker: I love mine, but only once I accepted its limitations. Slow cookers don’t so much save you time – you still need to fry the ingredients and brown the meat, but they do cook whilst you’re out all day and they cost less to run than the oven.

Non-stick frying pan: Mine cost just £5 and I find I need less fat when using it.

Sandwich toaster: Last year my husband bought me a deep-fill sandwich toaster for Christmas and for me it was up there with diamonds. I love toasties in all their guises.

Sharp knives: It’s obvious but I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve soldiered on with a blunt knife. Accidents happen more with blunt knives as they slip and slide across food.

Sharp scissors: I use scissors more than most in the kitchen. I use them for snipping off pieces of pizza dough, to cut bacon sandwiches and to chop herbs into a dish.

Soup ladle: Makes for less mess and less cleaning, and that makes me happy.

Silicone spatula: This scrapes absolutely all of the batter out of the bowl.

Microplane grater: These are super sharp and make short work of hard cheese, garlic, ginger, nutmeg and zest. Easy to clean too.

Dough scraper: Order these online – plastic ones are about 50p and are better than metal as there’s less chance of scratching your work surface.

Oven thermometer: If you consistently find recipes fail then try an oven thermometer, as you may be surprised at your oven’s interpretation of 180°C.

Cooling racks: These help baked goods cool without getting soggy bottoms. You really need to have two. Delicate sponge will stick to a cooling rack when warm, ripping the top off as you peel them, so line with greaseproof paper first.

Good greaseproof paper: I love the white greaseproof paper that genuinely does not stick and it also doubles up as excellent tracing paper.

Disposable, easygrip icing bags: A roll of these lasts me a long time. Annoyingly, fabric ones often seep icing. Wash the disposable ones really well for another use. As for nozzles, I only use a star tip, a Wilton IM.

Cake lifter: This little gem was introduced to me by The Great British Bake Off team. It’s a huge flat paddle used to lift cakes from their spring-bottomed bases or to prise tarts and quiches from theirs without them breaking or spilling their contents.

Tea strainer: The type that clamps together like little jaws. Use it to dredge loaves in flour pre baking, tap icing sugar over cakes and pastries and pour boiling water over fresh mint and ginger for a refreshing tisane.

Stand mixer: I love my KitchenAid stand mixer. These are not essential and certainly a considered purchase but they do make life simpler. I look at kitchen purchases the same way I do clothes; cost per use. So despite costing £300 I already have the mixer down to 50p per use. And that cost will only reduce as the years pass.

A no-muscles-required corkscrew: Goes without saying doesn’t it? Cheers!

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