The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Developing new recipes: Tears and laughter

Photo: Stir fry spinach

Photo: Stir fry spinach

A carrier bag preceded Danny’s return from the post run this evening.
“I’ve got two East Anglian pork chops and a Finest sirloin steak. Both were on the CFC for a third of the normal price. So we could have steak and chips this evening.”
His smile was upbeat and encouraging.

I wavered. Hunched over a saucepan of puy lentils I was trying to pull round a new dish that I had started last night. Recently I’ve twigged that loads of our recipes use similar ingredients and although they work well I really needed to hack a different route through the culinary jungle. I was trying to make a low meat dish without tomatoes and sweet peppers

Way outside my comfort zone, I had teamed veal mince with loads of   mushrooms, courgettes and Greek basil. I lifted the lid of the slow cooker in the morning and wanted to cry. Vegetables and a bit of mince suspended in unappetising gruel. Even though it tasted a whole lot better than it looked the sauce was thin and shrieked.
“Beware. I’m a budget dish.”

I fiddled around with the dish before I went to work. Danny waived a plaintive sideways thumb, neither up nor down.

During the day I scraped down the metal rails on a balcony, deep in the heart of the country and considered the new dish. If I drained off the gruel – no hanger appeal – I could simmer some puy lentils in this to add a bit more texture to the dish. The rest of the gruel could be dumped or frozen as a mushroomy stock. I had 250ml of cheese sauce left over from the cauliflower cheese that I’d made the night before. Mixing this in might pull everything round as it would add creaminess and body without using cream (moussaka and lasagne were nodding from the sidelines).

Danny had no notion of these desperate plans. He had spent a ragged day feeling like Oliver Twist with the prospect of gruel pie for supper.

So when he proffered his bargains, I rejected them. Explained that I was half way through cooking. That I had plans. Exciting ones. That I didn’t want to start a brand new supper. Secretly, I would have killed for a steak or a pork chop. But I hate wasting food and I just had to try and pull this dish around. I added the cheese sauce, a little lemon juice and some mushroom ketchup.  The lentils were tasty and bridged the gap in the ingredients. His hunched shoulders had made me doubly determined to make the new dish sing.

It worked. D loved it.
“I can’t believe that you’ve turned this dish around.”
As it took some time, D is cooking for the next two nights. Tarragon pork chops tomorrow and seared sirloin steak on Friday. With all the trimmings.

  Leave a reply


  1. Another Puy lentil fan here! Cooked until justtender, then seasoned while hot with chopped spring onions or chives, mint, olive oil, plenty of black pepper, and a dash of balsamic vinegar, they make a wonderful base for soft poached eggs, curls of crisp pancetta, and grilled choriza sausages

  2. Fiona Nevile

    Hello Pamela

    I must try your dish. Thank you. Harissa paste is such a boon.

    I love Puy lentils and they are much cheaper when I buy them from the food cooperative in Cambridge.

    One of the best meals that D and I ate in London when we first met was calves liver with a Puy lentil sauce – it was superb.

    Hello Veronica

    Puy lentil salad. That sounds tempting. Like you I love the texture and flavour.

    Hello Amanda

    I’ve looked at the Belazu rose harissa but not sampled it. I must try some. I think that our Waitrose stocks it.

    Danny cooking for two nights was a joy!

    Hi Pamela

    I like the sound of being a localvore!

  3. Beluzu Rose Harissa is great but not a budget item, lucky you Amanda getting it on sale. I am currently finishing off a jar of Al’fez harissa which is excellent and have just bought a jar of Mr Vikki’s Fiery Lemon Harissa which is made in Cumberland – I’m trying to be more of a locavore these days. I also found out recently that just down the other end of my road there is some excellent chorizo being made so I may go down and investigate, see if they have a shop.

  4. You did it! I love it when you can save a dish and it doesn’t get wasted.

    Also furthering what Pamela said, harissa is something I often turn to. I’m a little addicted to it and can put it in everything if not kept under control. I really love the Belazu rose harissa and was lucky enough to buy lots of it recently in our Waitrose as they’re going to stop stocking it and had reduced it to get rid of it.

    Enjoy your dinner for the next couple of nights. How nice to think Danny will be cooking it all. Hope you do something good with that free time and don’t just work late.

  5. Veronica

    How brave! I don’t think I would have found such inspiration to pull round something so unappetising 🙂 Enjoy your steak — you earned it!

    PS like Pamela I love Puy lentils in their own right — I think they are my favourite pulse for texture and flavour. Now the weather’s getting warmer they make a lovely substantial salad.

  6. Puy lentils are great. I cooked something with them last November when I had a friend to stay. He claimed that they go to a mush, I disagreed and proved my point. I wonder how long he cooked them for? If you are looking for a budget dish, have you tried 3 bean chili? I haven’t made this for ages but I make it with a tin each of kidney beans, chick peas and baked beans and my usual chili seasonings. Harissa paste is my secret ingredient and gives such a depth of flavour. I think it is my favourite vegetarian dish.

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