Caitríona Redmond: Celebrating occasions together is cheaper
We are well beyond the midway point of the year but I feel like the August Bank Holiday marks a virtual waypoint between here and Christmas.
I’ve made it beyond the stress of high energy bills over the winter and the lag of long months where it felt like I was going 17 weeks without a payday.
For me, this weekend is one to let the hair down and celebrate making it this far.
As I write there is a steady flow of traffic in the house downstairs. We are getting ready for a celebration. One of accomplishment, friendship, and family, but best of all there’s no budget in mind.
I’ve no menu to set out to match a tiny fund. Instead, it’s a pooling of resources and those are the best type of parties.
In the North Americas, there’s a tradition called a ‘potluck’ party and I love this concept. If you’ve never heard of it, a ‘potluck’ is where every guest brings a dish or a plate of food to be shared at a party. Leftovers are also shared.
While the concept is simple, the organisation takes a little effort but not so much cooking.
At home in Ireland, we don’t really have a similar term although the idea is something we are more than familiar with.
Who hasn’t benefitted from a tray of sandwiches or a pot of soup at a funeral that was brought along by grieving relatives or neighbours?
Or have you heard of the focal “meitheal” which is often used when referring to farmwork but can also be applied to working as a community towards a common goal?
I used to brush away offers of bringing something to a family gathering. What a fool I was.
People love to feel helpful within their skillset. Perhaps a family member doesn’t cook but I’m sure they don’t mind picking up some coals for the barbecue. Maybe a sibling has a dynamite recipe for a salad that I can fall back on.
I’m filling my virtual menu from other people's signature dishes with so much less stress, that I wonder if I can ever go back to fully catering a large party. Probably not.
I know I would hate to arrive at a gathering with one arm longer than the other. This is also known as having nothing for the host.
If I offer to bring something and the host accepts then I breathe an inner sigh of relief.
This week I have two simple recipes that can be scaled up according to the occasion. They’re simple to prepare and budget friendly.
The berry roulade is a crowd-pleaser. I realise that cooked prawns from the chiller section of the supermarket are not cheap but you can also buy a bag of frozen prawns for half the price and cook them as you need them.
P.S. Thank you so much to everybody who got in touch after reading my column last week where I mentioned our big lifestyle change. I am so touched and glad that you understand how motivated I am to stay on budget every week.
recipe by:Caitriona Redmond
A tray of eggs, a bit of sugar, and some cream all come together with seasonal berries to make a very on-budget generous roulade that can freeze for a week or so and can be made in advance.
6 egg whites
180g caster sugar
400ml whipping cream
Handfuls of fresh Irish berries to fill and decorate
Preheat a fan oven to 140°C. Line a rectangular baking tray with non-stick greaseproof paper.
Using a stand mixer with a clean and dry mixing bowl, combine the egg whites and caster sugar and whip until you get a glossy pillowy texture. You are not aiming for stiff peaks here. The volume should have roughly trebled in size.
Gently spoon the mixture onto the lined baking tray and ensure it is evenly spread. Bake in the oven for 1 hour before removing from the oven and allowing to cool slightly. Once the meringue mixture is warm but not hot to the touch, gently tap on top with the back of a spoon to fracture the hard surface. This will make your roulade easier to roll. Leave the meringue to cool completely now and this will take about a further 30 minutes.
Once cool, whip the cream until you have doubled the volume and it has the texture of a light cloud. Visually divide the meringue into quarters. You will spoon half the whipped cream onto the middle two quarters (or half) of the meringue, leaving the end quarters empty for rolling purposes. Sprinkle on top whatever chopped fresh berries you have to hand. At the moment raspberries and strawberries are in season with the first of the blackberries beginning to appear.
Gently roll the meringue into a roulade shape. Chill immediately once rolled. Serve decorated with the remainer of the cream and more fresh berries.
recipe by:Caitriona Redmond
While I love the zen of having a kitchen to myself and cooking with abandon. I also love the simplicity of opening the fridge, press, and assembling a no-cook meal. Who says that eating well has to be complicated?
Juice and grated zest of 1 lime
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, chopped finely
3 scallions (spring onions), chopped finely
200g cooked prawns (shelled)
1 red pepper, finely sliced
½ cucumber, deseeded and finely sliced
200g dried noodles
1 tbsp sesame oil
In a large bowl, combine the lime juice and zest, soy sauce, garlic, and chopped green scallion stalks with a fork. This becomes your dressing. Add the prawns, pepper, and cucumber to the bowl and stir so that they are coated in the dressing. Taste for seasoning and add more at this point if you like. Set the bowl to one side.
In a second bowl crumble in the dried noodles. Pour boiling water on top, stir, then cover the bowl for 5 minutes or until the noodles have reconstituted. You can instead use ‘straight to wok’ style noodles instead and reheat these in the microwave.
Once the noodles have cooked through, strain off the water and add the noodles to the salad mixture. The warm noodles will soak up the juices from the salad dressing. Stir well so that they are well coated. Taste again for seasoning and add more if you would like at this stage.
Home Economics: Feeding a crowd on a budget
Dishing up a main meal for a crowd I find easy enough. I can cook a roast and bulk it out with fresh vegetables and even a tin or two of beans if I am stuck. It’s the picky bits that make the costs add up.
My tried and tested advice is to buy the own brand products and be proud. Go ahead and buy your own brand peanuts, chips, and dips, minerals, etc when you go shopping.
Tumble the tortilla chips and crisps into whatever fancy bowls you have in the house and they will look like they came from a premium greengrocer.
If somebody mentions that they like the flavour or they are particularly nice, say “Thanks Ownbrand” in the very same way that you say “Thanks Penneys” when you are wearing a nice top. Normalise making a fuss about your grocery savings just as much as you take pride in saving money when shopping for fashion bargains.
Making a cheese board? Every single one of the main retailers has a wealth of Irish cheese on a budget. You don’t even need a fancy wooden board to serve your cheese upon. A decent plate and a knife with crackers to the side is all you need.
When entertaining and feeding a crowd we can get caught up in the need to be extravagent. The act of entertaining is an extravagance. The food and drink on offer doesn’t need to be.
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