Below The Line

A challenge from a Twitter mate – Sal Godfrey has led to me attempting to live below the line – ie below the poverty line on the princely sum of £1 per day for 5 days. Yup £5 for 15 meals.

My Shopping List

Chopped tomatoes 400g 24p

500g carrots 25p

Peanut butter 89p

Chicken stock cubes 30p

Plain flour 1.5 kilos 45p

Soft cheese 180g 49p

Butter 79p

500g penne pasta 29p

1 kilo onions 35p

4 baking potatoes 35p

Broccoli 35p

Total: £4.75 – Sal says we are allowed salt, pepper & herbs at 1p a pinch so am “spending” my last 25p on salt, pepper, oregano and smoked paprika. All I can say is thank goodness for Aldi and their Super 6 deals…

You’ll note there’s no tea or coffee, no wine, cake or treats. And definitely no gin. None….

So how to do this? Basic and repetitive frankly. One thing I know about myself is I get “hangry” – short tempered when not fed. So my 5 day menu is pretty carb heavy as I know it will fill me up and prevent Lucy rage. I bought flour so I could continue to make my sourdough bread, which although not using the spelt & lovely organic flour I usually spring for, will at least make a decent couple of loaves. Breakfast will be sourdough toast with peanut butter. And water. Yum.

Soup is my go to for the office lunch in any case but I do usually supplement it with lots of fruit and a nice yogurt. Not this week. Starting with a big pot of minestrone, made with carrots, onions, pasta, potato, broccoli stems, stock and a bit of wild garlic for additional flavour. I miss the umami hit of parmesan but cooked long and slow, the veggies do become full of flavour and the pasta adds a bit of bulk. Add a slice or two of bread (told you this was a carb heavy diet) and I’m set up for the afternoon.

First day supper, couldn’t be bothered faffing so baked a potato, scooped out the centre – mashed it with pepper & butter, added grated carrot and two teaspoons of cream cheese and shoved it back in the oven to crisp up. It was filling but a bit dull to be frank. Normally I’d have served something like this with a lovely green salad drizzled with ev oil and lemon. Instead I made do with more wild garlic (thank goodness it’s in season) some dandelion greens and half of my broccoli florets. No dressing. Sad face.

Day 2. Same breakfast & lunch so won’t bore with the details. Got a bit fancy for supper though with a creamy pasta bake. Achieved with 300g penne, an onion, a carrot, 1 pack of chopped tomatoes, a little butter, oregano, some more wild garlic and a dollop of the cream cheese. Topped with cucina povera style rough chopped breadcrumbs and crisped up in the oven with a little butter dotted over – an old Italian trick to deceive the mouth into feeling like you’re eating lovely crunchy melted cheese. Enough for three nights, that’s Wednesday and Thursday taken care of.

So how do I feel? Bored. Bit cross and missing my morning coffee. I don’t drink a lot of caffeine, I went off it last year when ill, but I do like a morning coffee when I get up. Breakfast is a favourite meal of mine, I like poached eggs, kippers, bacon, avocado on toast etc. Peanut butter on toast is hitting the savoury note I crave but I can tell I’m going to be fed up of it by Friday. What am I missing? CHEESE. Can I emphasise that a bit more? C H E E S E. Not that fussed about meat tbh, I can manage without slabs of it but I do like adding bits of bacon/ ham etc for flavour to much of the food I make. I’m also not much for sweets, so the lack of sugar hasn’t been too hard to deal with but not having fresh fruit has been tough to take. And of course, the minute you tell yourself you can’t have something, it becomes the one thing you want…

Thank God It’s Friday. Last day of this experiment and I’ve got no reason to complain. I’ve been fed, monotonously, but haven’t gone hungry. More importantly, I’ve chosen to do this, not because I have to. Tomorrow I can run off and buy lovely things and play in the kitchen because I’m fortunate enough to have a full time job that pays me decently. What have I learnt? That I’ll smack the next person who suggests people who are struggling on a low income don’t know how to budget. I’ve spent more time working out how to live on £1 a day for food and juggling my pennies than I normally ever think about when food shopping. I’m humbled. And angry that this is the “choice” for so many people in our country. I believe that food should bring joy and health to us all. It’s not just fuel and it’s wrong to treat it as such. Having just enough food in your tummy to fill you up and get by isn’t enough for the human soul.

I’ve found this week hard on several levels – one, I love cooking and making dishes, playing in my kitchen and feeding other people is my way to relax and have fun; two, it’s been boring eating the same thing, I wanted more flavour than my budget would allow; three, it’s been tiring, filling up on carbs is all very well but the lack of protein depletes energy levels, leading to tired grumpiness; four, you feel apart from everyone else, isolated in your little bubble of deprivation. Imagine that being your constant state of mind. No wonder we have high levels of depression amongst people on low incomes and asylum seekers. Doing this challenge has given me much food for thought. Thank you to Sal Godfrey from Sal’s Kitchen @Sal_Godrey for encouraging me to take part. I’ve chosen to make a donation of my “normal” food budget to Asylum Link Merseyside who support destitute asylum seekers who truly are living below the line. Find out more here: http://www.asylumlink.org.uk/ and do spare a few ££ to support your local food bank when food shopping if you can.

Fellow food bloggers who took the challenge are listed below.

http://salskitchen.blogspot.co.uk/

http://www.veggielad.com/

http://www.joeatslondon.com/

https://cateinthekitchen.co.uk

http://lepetitoeuf.com/

You can follow our week via twitter using hashtag: #fdbloggersBTL

“Recipes” below:

Cheat’s Minestrone

2 onions, chopped roughly

4 carrots, diced

Broccoli stem (not florets), diced

1 baking potato, not peeled but diced

200g pasta – ideally spaghetti but I used penne because that’s what I’d bought

4 chicken stock cubes

50g butter

Handful of wild garlic leaves

1 pinch oregano

2 pinches salt

2 pinches pepper

Prepare veg. Melt butter in large pan and add onions, cook til soft, then add carrots and broccoli stem. Cook for 5 minutes. Add in the potato and 3 litres of chicken stock made up with the stock cubes. Add oregano and salt and pepper, stir well and leave to gently simmer for two hours on a low heat. Add the pasta – break it up into small pieces and chopped wild garlic and cook for another 5 minutes or so til the pasta has softened. Serve.

 

Penne Pasta Bake

2 onions, chopped

2 carrots, diced

400g chopped tomatoes

30g butter

1 pinch oregano

2 pinches salt

2 pinches pepper

2 tbsp cream cheese

handful of wild garlic leaves, chopped

300g penne pasta

chicken stock cube

two slices of stale bread torn up into small pieces

20g of butter, diced

Melt 30g butter in an oven/ hob proof dish. Add chopped onions and carrots and sauté gently over a low heat for 10 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes, rinsing out the tin/ box with water to get every last bit out! Add oregano and chicken stock cube and leave to simmer gently for half an hour, until the veggies are tender and the sauce has reduced and thickened. Take off heat and stir in cream cheese and wild garlic. Set aside whilst you cook pasta to al dente (it cooks more in the sauce in the oven). Add pasta to the creamy tomato sauce, stir well and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle over the bread crumbs/ pieces and dot with butter. Place in a medium oven, 180C/ GM5 and bake for 15 to 20 minutes until the sauce is bubbling and the topping has crisped up. Serve.

Wild garlic potato gnocchi with cream cheese & broccoli

 2 baking potatoes

Flour

Wild garlic leaves

Cream cheese

Broccoli florets

1 onion

20g butter

Cook potatoes in their skins – either in the oven or boiling them until tender. Scoop the flesh out into a bowl and mash with a fork. Shred the wild garlic leaves and mix in. Whilst still hot, add flour slowly till you have a smooth dough. Set aside in a cool place to rest for half an hour. Dust chopping board with flour and turn out dough. Divide in half and roll out into two long sausages. Cut into half inch pieces, rolling in a little more flour and set aside to firm up in the fridge.

Make sauce – cook broccoli florets in a little water until tender don’t use lots of water because you want to use the water as part of the sauce. Mash with a fork and set aside. Chop the onion finely and cook in the butter til soft and golden, don’t allow to brown. Add the mashed broccoli mixture and then stir in the cream cheese to make a creamy green sauce. Season.

Bring a pan of water to a rolling boil, season with salt and drop the gnocchi pieces in one at time. They will rise to the surface as they cook, scoop out with a slotted spoon into a colander to drain. Add gnocchi to the broccoli sauce, toss gently and eat!

 

Wild about Spring

IMG_1428March is leaving us like a lion – wind, driving rain and the occasional frost. But the light has changed, dawn comes earlier with a blackbird’s song, and in the gardens and woods the greenery is spreading. Sometimes this time is known as the hungry gap, the stored winter vegetables are coming to their end and the seedlings of the new season are yet to sprout. Now is the time to go foraging, in search of fresh wild spring greens to add zing and flavour to meals. My favourite is wild garlic – the richly scented green leaves made into a pesto with hazelnuts and extra virgin rapeseed oil.

An “English” PestoIMG_1414

50g wild garlic – just cut the leaves, leave the bulbs for the next year.
50g watercress or young spinach
100g hazelnuts
Extra virgin rapeseed oil – I use Borderfields which has a lovely nutty taste to complement the hazelnuts.
salt to taste

Use a food processor – pack in the nuts & greens, set it going and begin to drizzle the oil in until you have a thick spoonable paste. Season to taste and pack into clean sterilised jars. Top with more oil to keep it fresh and seal. Keep in the fridge.

Uses:

Toss a couple of teaspoons of pesto through hot gnocchi, and add a handful of fresh spinach or watercress and a grating of Parmesan.

Mix a teaspoon of the pesto with creme fraiche and use to dress a piece of grilled salmon as a quick sauce.

Try with roasted lamb – use it as a rub before putting in the oven.

Mix with mashed potatoes and serve alongside a piece of gammon.

Use on bruschetta with a little feta or goats cheese crumbled over.

Butter Squashed

So. It’s the second weekend of January and I’m still using up the veg from Christmas week. Not because I over ordered (perish the thought) but because I got invited out to more dinners then expected – the joy of hospitable friends and family and to be frank, the lure of lovely shiny places like Salthouse Bacaro (www.salthousebacaro.co.uk) and Berry & Rye ….

Anyway. Back to the vegetable glut. I have two butternut squashes, a single parsnip, half a bag of Brussels sprouts, a cauliflower, some carrots, a bit of celery, a few potatoes and the usual pantry staples of onion, garlic and ginger. First thought of course was soup. But then I always make soup and one of my food resolutions for 2015 was to be bold and not just to stick to my comfort zones.

In search of inspiration, I perused Niki Segnit’s The Flavour Thesaurus – which takes the interested cook on a journey through categories such as Spicy, Woodland, Roasted, Earthy, Marine etc, suggesting pairings of ingredients based on their flavour characteristics and how they balance each other. As butternut squash is dominating my larder, I looked up what she had to say about it. Niki places butternut squash in tFlavour Thesaurushe Woodland category, alongside carrots, chestnuts, walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds. She points out that the sweetness of butternut squash means it works well with salty or sour flavours but its dense creamy texture means that it can also cope well with spices and herbs. Some of Niki’s suggestions include pairing it with bacon, blue cheese chilli, lime, seafood, rosemary, sage, or nutmeg.

Bacon has a tendency to grab my attention, especially as I know I have a pack of Savin Hill’s dry smoked bacon lurking in the fridge. I also like the idea of using the woody herbs such as rosemary and sage but the ingredient that’s really intriguing me is lime. It just so happens I have a few limes left over from the Christmas gin & tonics. Now I’m thinking about Asian inspired dishes, using lime and chili to sharpen up the sweet butternut squash. Decisions, decisions…

Being January, my herb patch is looking a little sad, but the sage is marching on so I decide upon using one of squashes to make butternut & bacon filled ravioli, served with sage butter. The other is destined for more exotic treatment, a Malay inspired Laksa with lime, chilli and coconut (yes I know it’s a sort of soup, but it’s a fancy one!).

Butternut & Bacon Ravioli Serves 4

Filling

500g butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and chopped into 4 cm pieces

3 tsp olive oil

salt & pepper

2 rashers of bacon*, cut into small dice (or use pancetta)

50g gorgonzola (or other blue cheese) grated or diced into small pieces.

Nutmeg

Pasta

300g 00 grade flour

3 large free range eggs

salt

Garnish

50g butter

2tbsp olive oil

handful of fresh sage leaves

 

Preheat oven to 200C/ 400F/ GM6

Toss the butternut squash pieces with two teaspoons of olive oil and season.Butternut squash Place in one layer on a baking sheet and put in the oven to roast for 20 to 30 minutes until tender. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool for 5 minutes before blending into a thick puree with the gorgonzola. (I needed to add a little cream to aid this) Set aside to cool.

Heat 1 tsp of olive oil in pan and cook the bacon pieces until crisp. Set aside to cool. Mix into the cooled butternut puree, with nutmeg and more salt and pepper as needed to taste.

pastaMake the pasta. Make a well of sifted flour and add a pinch of salt and the 3 eggs, lightly beaten together. Use a fork (or fingers) to lightly mix them together to create a dough. Turn out on to a lightly floured surface and knead well for between 5 and 10 minutes – pulling and stretching the dough until it changes texture from rough and floury to smooth and silky – it will have a slight sheen. Divide into 4 pieces, wrap in cling film and put in the fridge to rest for a good hour.

Pasta photo 2 photo 3

 

Once the pasta dough has chilled, take the first portion and roll it out onto a lightly floured work surface to about 1mm thick or roll through your pasta machine. (Note to readers: It is at this point I took the sensible decision to invest in a pasta machine. Rolling out pasta by hand is perfectly possible but you will develop Popeye’s forearms…)

photo 2 handrollingphoto 3

Using a pastry cutter 8.5cm or 3.5 inch in diameter, cut out 12 discs. Set aside and repeat the process until you have 24 discs. Divide the cooled filling into half and spoon into the centre of 12 of the discs – about a heaped tsp. Brush round the edge of the filled disc with water and then take another disc and lay it over the top, pressing down on the water brushed edges to seal. (Note to readers: I was paranoid about the filling bursting out, so I gently stretched the discs and then rolled the edges rather like a Cornish pasty. Not very authentic, but my raviolis stayed intact!)

Ravioli photo 2 photo 3

Once you have filled 12 pasta parcels, repeat the process with the remaining mixture and two balls of dough. Place on a floured board, and dust with a little flour. Cover with a cloth and set aside.

Make the garnish before cooking the ravioli. Roughly chop the sage leaves. Melt the butter and oil in a shallow pan and add the sage leaves, cook til they start to crisp, then remove from the heat.

To cook the ravioli, fill a large pan with water and bring to the boil. Add salt and turn down to a gentle simmer. Slide the ravioli into the water. They will sink to the bottom of the pan, and as they cook will bob to the surface. It will take about 3 to 4 minutes. Drain and toss in the sage scented butter. Sprinkle with black pepper and a scattering of grated Parmesan. Enjoy!

ready, cook! photo 4

*Note for Vegetarians – leave out the bacon and add a handful of toasted pinenuts instead.