Darina Allen: Old frugal ways are key to beating the budget blues

Over the past two years the ‘fear of God’ has hit us with Covid and just as we thought life was finally getting back to normal, here comes the cost of living crisis, with forecasts of price hikes unimaginable for electricity, oil and gas and, of course, food.

Thousands of families who have already tightened their belts to fight “back to school and university” expenses now face a winter of struggle and discontent. And to top it off, there’s talk of the possibility of having no Christmas lights and putting fossil fuels to shame. Everyone is hoping for support in the next budget, but nonetheless, it’s going to be tough, all the more reason to focus on producing delicious, healthy and comforting food for the family to enjoy around the kitchen table. We may need to shop differently, learn or relearn thrifty ways, use cheaper cuts of meat and fish, use up leftovers, and eliminate food waste altogether.

It is not because we lack money that we resort to ultra-processed foods. Better to invest your hard-earned money in healthy and nutritious ingredients.

I have already extolled the virtues of the potato in several articles. Go to your local farmer’s market and buy chemical-free food directly from the farmer or producer and no, farmers markets are not much more expensive than supermarkets. This sweeping statement is usually made by people who don’t visit farmers’ markets.

It is true that some merchants may not be able to compete with the “loss selling” of discounters. Do you know how long it takes at least three months to grow carrots or beets from seed to harvest. Would you be happy to take care of something for three months and then be paid less than a euro for a bouquet? It doesn’t take much to figure out that this can’t be done without a ton of artificial fertilizers and chemicals and fucking the farmers.

Unfortunately, if this low or loss selling continues, there will be virtually no Irish vegetable growers in a year or two.

Another thrifty tip: do some research to find contacts for farmers who sell their meat directly. You’ll get a nice box of mixed cuts of beef, lamb, pork and a variety of game birds, very often organic and sometimes with a well-tested recipe pack included.

Talk to your local butcher – ask which cuts offer the best value and while you’re at it, ask for bones to make broth. Start experimenting with lesser-known cuts: oxtail, pork shanks, lamb breasts, pork chops. Talk to the fishmongers and find out about the bargains on offer. Find out which fruits and vegetables are in season, when they’re cheapest and best.

Irish apples are ripening now, friends can have a glut – make lots of applesauce and applesauce and freeze them for the winter.

Cabbage is ridiculously cheap but super nutritious, brilliant for salads and soups as well as cooked with bacon or a pork knuckle. It’s so easy to cook a great, tasty dinner from just a few simple ingredients. It’s not rocket science, just follow these simple recipes.

Beef and oxtail stew

Oxtail costs very little and makes an extraordinarily rich and flavorful winter stew, considering how inexpensive it is.

Beef and oxtail stew

Preparation time

45 minutes

Cooking time

3 hours 0 minutes

Total time

3 hours 45 minutes


  • 2 whole oxtails

  • 450 g (1 lb) beef shank or stewing beef, cut into 4 cm (1 1/2 inch) cubes

  • 110 g (4 oz) crispy bacon

  • 25g (1oz) beef jus or 2 tbsp olive oil

  • 225 g (8 oz) finely chopped onion

  • 225 g (8 oz) carrots, cut into 2 cm (3/4 in.) cubes

  • 55 g (generous 2 oz) chopped celery

  • 1 tablespoon homemade tomato puree

  • 1 bay leaf, 1 sprig of thyme and sprigs of parsley

  • salt and freshly ground pepper

  • 150 ml (5 fl oz) red wine

  • 450 ml (16 fl oz) homemade beef stock or 600 ml (1 pint) beef stock

  • 175 g (6 oz) mushrooms (sliced)

  • 15 g (generous 1/2 oz) roux

  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley


  1. First, cut the oxtail into pieces through the natural joints – joints are made of cartilage, so you won’t need a saw. If this seems too difficult, ask your butcher to strip the oxtail for you.

  2. Cut the bacon into 2.5 cm (1 inch) cubes.

  3. Heat the cooking juices or olive oil in a frying pan, add the bacon and sauté for 1-2 minutes, add the vegetables and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer to a casserole.

  4. Add the beef and oxtail pieces to the skillet, a few at a time, and continue cooking until the meat begins to brown. Add to the casserole. Add the wine and 150 ml (5 fl oz) of broth to the pan. Bring to a boil and using a whisk to dissolve the caramelized meat juices from the pan, bring to a boil.

  5. Add to the casserole with the herbs, broth and tomato purée. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and cook either on the stove top or in a preheated oven (160°C/325°F/Mark 3) very gently for 2-3 hours, or until the oxtail and vegetables are tender. very tender.

  6. Meanwhile, cook the sliced ​​mushrooms in a very hot pan in a little butter for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir into oxtail stew and cook for about 5 minutes. Transfer the beef and oxtail to a warm serving platter and keep warm. Remove and discard bay leaves, thyme stems and parsley.

  7. Bring the liquid back to a boil, stir in a little roux and cook until it thickens slightly. Add the meat and chopped parsley. Bring to a boil, taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve in the hot serving dish with plenty of scope.

shallot champion

A bowl of mashed potatoes sprinkled with green shallots with a drop of melting butter in the center. “Comfortable” food at its best.

shallot champion

Preparation time

5 minutes


  • 3 lbs (1.5 kg) unpeeled ‘old’ potatoes, such as Golden Wonders or Kerr’s Pinks

  • 110 g (4 oz) chopped scallions or spring onions (use the bulb and green stem) or 45 g (barely 2 oz) chopped chives

  • 300-350ml (10 – 12fl oz) milk

  • 50 to 110 g (2 to 4 oz) butter

  • salt and freshly ground pepper


  1. Rub the potatoes and boil them in their jackets.

  2. Finely chop the green or spring onions or the chopped chives. Cover with cold milk and slowly bring to a boil. Simmer for about 3 to 4 minutes, turn off the heat and allow to infuse.

  3. Peel and mash freshly boiled potatoes and while hot, mix with boiling milk and onions, beat in butter.

  4. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve in 1 large or 6 individual bowls with a knob of melting butter in the center.

  5. The green onion puree can be set aside and reheated later in a moderate oven, 180°C/350°F/Mark 4.

  6. Cover with parchment paper while reheating so that it does not have a skin and add the piece of butter just before serving.

Old-fashioned rice pudding

A creamy rice pudding is one of the greatest treats on a cold fall day and costs very little to make.

Old-fashioned rice pudding

Preparation time

10 minutes

Cooking time


Total time



  • 100 g (3 1⁄2 oz) pearl rice (short grain rice)

  • 50g (2oz) sugar

  • small knob of butter

  • 1. 2 liters (2 quarts) milk

  • 1 x 1. 2 liter (2 quart) capacity pie dish (important to have the correct size dish)


  1. Preheat the oven to 180˚C/350˚F/Mark 4.

  2. Put the rice, sugar and butter in a pie dish. Bring the milk to a boil and pour over it.

  3. Bake for 1 – 1 1⁄2 hours. The skin should be golden brown, the rice underneath should be well cooked and soaked in milk, but still soft and creamy.

  4. Time it to be ready just in time for the pudding. If it has to wait a long time in the oven, it will be dry and dull and you’ll wonder why you bothered.

  5. Serve with brown sugar and lightly whipped cream.

Darina’s Favorite Blackberry Apple Pie

To taste with a hazelnut of lightly whipped cream and brown sugar, it’s mandatory!

Darina's Favorite Blackberry Apple Pie

Preparation time

40 minutes

Total time



  • Pastry that respects all the rules:

  • 225g (8oz) softened butter

  • 40 g (1 1/2 oz) powdered sugar, plus extra for dusting

  • 2 organic free-range eggs

  • 350 g (12 oz) plain flour, plus extra for dusting

  • 1 organic free-range egg, beaten with a dash of milk

  • For the filling:

  • 600 g (1 lb 5 oz) Bramley baking apples, peeled and roughly diced

  • 110 g (4 oz) wild blackberries

  • 150g (5oz) granulated sugar

  • To serve:

  • lightly whipped cream

  • dark brown sugar

  • 1 deep square mold 18 cm x 30.5 cm x 2.5 cm (7 x 11 x 1 inch) or 1 round mold 22.5 cm (8 3/4 inches)


  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350˚F/Mark 4.

  2. To make the batter, cream the butter and sugar together by hand or in a food processor.

  3. Add the eggs one at a time and beat for several minutes. Reduce the speed and add the flour little by little.

  4. Turn out onto a piece of floured parchment paper, flatten into a circle, then wrap in cling film and chill. This dough needs to be chilled for at least 2 hours otherwise it is difficult to handle – better yet, make it the night before.

  5. Roll out the dough to about 3 mm (1/8 inch) thick, then use about two-thirds of it to line the pan.

  6. Fill the pie to the top with apples and blackberries and sprinkle with sugar – brush the edges with water.

  7. Cover with a puff pastry lid, press edges together to seal. Decorate with sheets of puff pastry, brush with the beaten egg mixture and bake for 45 minutes – 1 hour until the apples are tender.

  8. At the end of cooking, sprinkle lightly with caster sugar, cut into pieces and serve with lightly whipped cream and sugar.

Practical advice

Nell’s Wine Bar – Liege

You are probably all familiar with Nell’s Wine Bar on MacCurtain Street in Cork. I recently walked in and thoroughly enjoyed several delicious small plates with a glass of orange wine. The flavors are so delicious that I inquired about the chef – apparently Epi Rogan from Iceland is in the kitchen.

  • For more information see nells_wine_bar on Instagram

Just Cook It – November at Ballymaloe Cooking School

Monday November 14, 2022 from 2:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Looking for something to do this fall? Gather some friends and join us. This is a great course to come and learn some practical skills and have fun for an afternoon. It imparts a tantalizing taste of Ballymaloe Cookery School and inspires anyone who wants to cook a variety of dishes with greater confidence.

Limited number, €215 per person. Recipes and tastings of all dishes included.

Buy directly

Boxes of organic and ethical meat coming directly from breeders. Googling – here are a few to start with…

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