Darina Allen: Old thrifty ways are key to beating budget blues

Darina Allen: Old thrifty ways are key to beating budget blues

For the past few years the ‘fear of God’ was struck into us by Covid and just as we thought life was coming back to normal at last, here comes the cost of living crisis, with predictions of unimaginable price hikes in electricity, oil and gas and, of course, food.

Thousands of families who have already tightened their belts to combat the ‘back to school and college’ expenses are now faced with a winter of struggle and discontent. Everyone is hoping for some support in the upcoming Budget but nonetheless, it’s going to be tough, all the more reason to focus on producing comforting, wholesome delicious food for the family to tuck into around the kitchen table. We may need to shop differently, learn or relearn thrifty ways, how to use cheaper cuts of meat and off cuts of fish, use leftovers and completely eliminate food waste.

Just because one is short of funds is no excuse to resort to ultra-processed food. Better to invest your hard-earned cash in wholesome, nourishing ingredients.

I’ve already extolled the virtue of potatoes in several articles. Go to your local Farmers’ Market and buy chemical-free food directly from the farmer or producer and no, Farmers’ Markets are not way more expensive than supermarkets. That sweeping statement is usually made by people who don’t visit Farmers’ Markets.

It’s true some stallholders may not be able to compete with the ‘below cost selling’ of the discounters. Do you know how long it takes at least three months to grow carrots or beets from seed to harvesting. Would you be happy to look after something for three months and then be paid less than a euro for a bunch? Doesn’t take much to work out that it can’t be done without a ton of artificial fertilisers and chemicals and screwing the farmers.

Sadly, if this low or below-cost selling continues, there will be virtually no Irish vegetable growers in a year or two.

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

Have a chat with your local butcher — ask which cuts are the best value and while you are there, ask for bones to make stock. Start to experiment with lesser-known cuts: oxtail, ham hocks, lamb breasts, pork ribs. Talk to the fishmongers, and find out about the bargains on offer. Learn what fruit and vegetables are in season, when they are at their cheapest and best.

Irish apples are ripening now, friends may have a glut — make lots of stewed apple and apple sauce and freeze for winter.

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

Beef and oxtail stew

recipe by:Darina Allen

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

Beef and oxtail stew

Preparation Time

45 mins

Cooking Time

3 hours 0 mins

Total Time

3 hours 45 mins


  • 2 whole oxtails

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

  • 110g (4oz) streaky bacon

  • 25g (1oz) beef dripping or 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • 225g (8oz) finely chopped onion

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

  • 55g (generous 2oz) chopped celery

  • 1 tbsp homemade tomato purée

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

  • salt and freshly ground pepper

  • 150ml (5fl oz) red wine

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

  • 175g (6oz) mushrooms (sliced)

  • 15g (generous 1/2oz) roux

  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley


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

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

  3. Heat the dripping 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 into a casserole.

  4. Add the beef and oxtail pieces to the pan, a few at a time and continue to cook until the meat is beginning to brown. Add to the casserole. Add the wine and 150ml (5fl oz) of stock to the pan. Bring to the boil and use a whisk to dissolve the caramelised meat juices from the pan, bring to the boil.

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

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

  7. Bring the liquid back to the boil, whisk in a little roux and cook until slightly thickened. Add back in the meat and chopped parsley. Bring to the boil, taste and correct the seasoning. Serve in the hot serving dish with lots of champ.

Scallion Champ

recipe by:Darina Allen

A bowl of mashed potatoes flecked with green scallions with a blob of butter melting in the centre. ‘Comfort’ food at its best.

Scallion Champ


  • 1.5kg (3lbs) unpeeled ‘old’ potatoes e.g. Golden Wonders or Kerr’s Pinks

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

  • 300-350ml (10 – 12fl oz) milk

  • 50-110g (2 – 4oz) butter

  • salt and freshly ground pepper


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

  2. Chop finely the scallions or spring onions or chopped chives. Cover with cold milk and bring slowly to the boil. Simmer for about 3 – 4 minutes, turn off the heat and leave to infuse.

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

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

  5. Scallion mash may be put aside and reheated later in a moderate oven, 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. 

  6. Cover with parchment paper while it reheats so that it doesn’t get a skin and add the lump of butter just before serving.

Old Fashioned Rice Pudding

recipe by:Darina Allen

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

Old Fashioned Rice Pudding

Preparation Time

10 mins

Cooking Time

1 hours 30 mins

Total Time

1 hours 40 mins


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

  • 50g (2oz) sugar

  • small knob of butter

  • 1. 2 litres (2 pints) milk

  • 1 x 1. 2 litre (2 pint) capacity pie dish (it’s important to have the correct size dish)


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

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

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

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

  5. Serve with brown sugar and softly whipped cream.

Darina’s favourite apple and blackberry pie

recipe by:Darina Allen

Enjoy with a blob of softly whipped cream and soft brown sugar, it’s obligatory!

Darina’s favourite apple and blackberry pie

Preparation Time

40 mins

Total Time

1 hours 40 mins


  • Break-all-the-Rules Pastry:

  • 225g (8oz) butter, softened

  • 40g (1 1/2oz) caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling

  • 2 organic, free-range eggs

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

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

  • For the filling:

  • 600g (1lb 5oz) Bramley cooking apples, peeled and cut into large dice

  • 110g (4oz) wild blackberries

  • 150g (5oz) granulated sugar

  • To serve:

  • softly whipped cream

  • dark soft brown sugar

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


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

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

  3. Add the eggs one by one and beat for several minutes. Reduce the speed and mix in the flour slowly.

  4. Turn out onto a piece of floured baking parchment, flatten into a round, then wrap and chill. This pastry needs to be chilled for at least 2 hours otherwise it is difficult to handle – better still, make it the day before.

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

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

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

  8. When cooked, sprinkle lightly with caster sugar, cut into pieces and serve with softly whipped cream and sugar.

Hot Tips

Nell’s Wine Bar – Cork

You probably all know about Nell’s Wine Bar on MacCurtain Street in Cork. I popped in recently and greatly enjoyed several delicious small plates with a glass of orange wine. Flavours we so yummy that I enquired 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 Cookery School

Monday, 14th November 2022 from 2.30pm – 7pm.

Looking for something to do this Autumn? Gather a few friends together and join us. This is a great course to come and learn some practical hands-on skills and have fun for an afternoon. It gives a tantalising taste of the Ballymaloe Cookery School and provides inspiration for anyone eager to cook a variety of dishes with greater confidence.

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

Buy Direct

Organic and ethical meat boxes straight from the farmers. Get Googling — here are a few to start…

Read More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *