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!

 

Butternutty Soup

So here we are on the 3rd January 2016. It’s a grey, wet and frankly miserable day. The festivities are over, the tree is taken down, decorations tidied away and it’s back to work or school for many of us tomorrow. Cheering up food is required. Something tasty, bright and warming. Soup should fit that bill, and I have had a butternut squash kicking about the kitchen for the past two weeks that needs using up.

I’m taking part in an Ikea challenge – to Live LAGOM – which is all about simplifying your life, reducing waste and being more sustainable in all your activities. One of things I’ve put down as a personal challenge is to manage my store cupboards better. I’m convinced I was a starving peasant in a former life as I regularly overstock my pantry, secure in the knowledge that I can, if required, feed an army at short notice. However, as that army doesn’t rock up with the frequency I think it should, I end up with full cupboards and an occasional *cough* duplication of items because I can’t actually find anything in them…

With that laudable intent in mind, I spent a merry morning turning out two pantry shelves, listing everything I had, relabelling jars & chucking out things from 2008. Oops. I’ve got lots of odds and sods – some desiccated coconut, not enough for a cake; various small quantities of lentils; lots of bits of pasta; and a fine selection of nuts including unsalted cashews, pine nuts and hazelnuts. I do hate waste so I’m determined to make some meals using up these scraps.

Back to the butternut squash and the warming soup that’s so sorely needed. I don’t think I’m being particularly original in this combination of butternut squash, cashews and coconut but by gum it makes a yummy soup! Please forgive the slightly random measurements, this soup was rather chucked together, so you may need to adjust quantities to suit your own taste. I’ve also realised that I’ve created a vegan recipe, by accident not design, but one that fits nicely into January’s Veganuary theme for a few folk.

Butternutty soup

1 medium butternut squash

1 tbsp olive oil

3 cloves of garlic

1 tsp dried thyme

1 medium onion

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp dried chilli flakes

2 dsp desiccated coconut

a handful of unsalted cashews (or peanuts)

1 litre veg stock

Cut up butternut squash into 2 inch or so chunks – skin and all, but remove the seeds & fibre from the centre. Toss in a baking tray with 1 tbsp of oil, thyme and three slightly crushed but not peeled garlic cloves. Place in a medium hot oven – GM5/160 fan/ 180C and roast for 25 to 30 minutes until the squash is tender. Leave til cool enough to handle, then remove skin from butternut squash pieces and squeeze out the roasted garlic.

Meantime, roughly chop the onion. Add 1 tbsp of oil to a heavy based pan, heat gently and then add the onion. Keep the heat low and cook onions til soft and translucent. Add the chilli flakes and stir well. Add the butternut squash, garlic, coconut and cashews. Pour the hot veg stock into the vegetable baking tray to rinse out any lingering flavours and decant into the soup pan. Give everything a good stir and bring to a gentle simmer for about 15 minutes. Take off the heat, let it cool slightly before blending into a rich creamy soup. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed – salt/ pepper/ pinch of cayenne if it needs more heat etc. Serve garnished with more cashews.

Soup in preparation

Vegetables cooking before stock added

Picture of butternutty soup

Butternutty Soup

Celebrate Welsh food!

St David’s Day is the 1st March, and a great day to celebrate the glories of Welsh food & drink. Whilst perhaps not having the most well known cuisine in the world, Wales can be justifiably proud of the quality of its produce. Welsh lamb is legendary, and their beef is pretty spectacular too.  A great chunk of Wales is coast, so not surprisingly, the seafood is excellent, often served with Laverbread – a type of seaweed, which is also added to a traditional Welsh breakfast. Sea salt, harvested in Anglesey, was recently given protected status by the EU, lining it up beside Champagne, Prosciutto di Parma and Stilton as a product  only allowed to be identified as genuinely originating in that region. Check out www.halenmon.com for details of their lovely sea salts, including  smoked, vanilla, celery & plain.

Cheese is another fabulous Welsh product – Gorwydd Caerphilly – a citrussy, mild cheese; Organic Perl Las – softly blue and creamy; Cenarth Brie – a buttery brie ; Snowdonia Extra Mature Cheddar – rich creamy & salty; & Harlech  – flavoured with horseradish and parsley; are just some of the delicious cheeses produced here. Have a look at www.liverpoolcheesecompany.co.uk for details of their Welsh selection. Of course, cheese leads me onto the wonderful Welsh dish – Welsh Rarebit aka posh cheese on toast.  I make it old school style, melted in a pan and then poured over the toasted bread and browned – see below for the recipe.

What would St David’s Day be without a leek? A traditional symbol of Wales, this lovely onion relative has a milder flavour and is the main component of the velvety textured Vichyssoise soup, made with leeks & potatoes and served chilled in summer. As summer is yet some way off, I’ve given a recipe for a hearty leek & potato soup instead!

Bara Brith is a traditional Welsh tea bread, made with dried fruit and tea, and sometimes yeast but I confess to a weakness for Welsh cakes, a sort of griddle scone with spices and fruit, best served warm with lashings of butter…

Recipes:

Welsh Rarebit

Ingredients:

25 g butter

25g plain flour

100ml strong dark beer (Welsh)

150 g mature Cheddar, grated (try the Snowdonia)

1 tsp English mustard (yes, English.. sorry!)

1 egg

Melt butter in a small pan, add the flour and cook over a gentle heat until it’s starting to go golden. Slowly add the beer, stirring well to prevent lumps, and then add the grated cheese. Take off the heat and stir until all the cheese has melted into the beery sauce. If it’s not melting, put back on heat but don’t let it boil. Add the mustard and mix well. Leave to cool for 10 minutes, then add the egg, well beaten.

Toast 4 slices of bread on both sides, then spread the cheese mixture over the bread and put back under the grill until golden and bubbling.

Hearty Leek & Potato Soup

Ingredients:

50g butter

1 small onion, chopped

3 large leeks, cleaned well (!) and chopped into quarters, then slices

3 medium potatoes, peeled and diced

900ml of chicken stock

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves (1/2 tsp if using dried)

salt & pepper

100ml double cream

Melt the butter in a large pan, and add the onion and leeks. Cook over a gentle heat, stirring to keep from browning, until the leeks and onions are softening. Add the thyme and chopped potatoes, stir well and add the stock and bring to a simmer. Put a lid on the pot and let the soup simmer for about 20 minutes, until the potatoes are very tender. Take off the heat and use a potato masher to break up and thicken the soup (you can use a hand blender if you prefer a smoother texture). Add the cream and adjust seasoning to taste.

Welsh cakes  (recipe from: www.visitwales.com/explore/traditions-history/recipes/welsh-cakes)

Ingredients:

225g plain flour

100g butter

75g caster sugar

50g currants (or mixed dried fruit)

½tsp baking powder

¼tsp mixed spice

1 egg

A pinch salt

A little milk to bind

Sift the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, mixed spice) together into a mixing bowl. Cut up the butter and rub into the flour. Stir in the sugar and fruit, pour in the egg and mix to form a dough, use a little milk if the mixture is a little dry. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to about the thickness of a biscuit. Use a pastry cutter to cut out rounds. Cook the cakes on a greased bake stone or griddle until golden. The heat should not be too high, as the cakes will cook on the outside too quickly, and not in the middle. Once cooked sprinkle with caster sugar and serve with butter.

Hungover or just Hungary??

It’s the day after my birthday and I’m feeling a tad, ahem, delicate. Maybe that fourth Ginny Hendrix cocktail at Camp and Furnace’s food slam wasn’t such a good idea. So. What to make to soothe my pounding head and settle my somewhat disturbed internal organs? I’m going straight to my comfort zone – my Hungarian family’s recipes. A great big steaming pot of Gulyás is needed.

This isn’t the goulash some folk will be familiar with – a Western version of this Hungarian classic turns it into a thick beef stew with all sorts of unnecessary additions. No, this is what I consider the proper version – a hearty soup with chunks of potato, meltingly tender beef and a spicy paprika kick designed to feed, soothe and invigorate. It’s hugely economical as well. I used 250g of lovely organic shin beef from Forster Organics (based in St Helens – www.forsterorganicmeats.com), which cost me all of £1.81.

The Antal Gulyás recipe (see end of post for a veggie version)

250g shin beef

1 large onion

1 red pepper

2 large baking potatoes

1 litre of beef or lamb stock

1 tsp caraway seeds

2 tbsp paprika

1 dsp of lard

Halve, then slice onion thinly til you have a tangle of half moon slices.  Do the same with the pepper. Heat the lard in a deep, oven-proof casserole dish and add the caraway seeds.Once they start to pop and release their scent, add the onions and cook for 5 minutes over a low heat.

onions  stockpotato

Cube the beef and add to the pot. Stir well to brown the meat and then add 2 tablespoons of paprika. Keep the heat low – be careful not to burn the paprika and add the red pepper.  Season with salt and white pepper. Stir well and add the stock. Bring to a simmer, then cover and put into the oven to cook on a low heat – 160C/ 140c fan/ GM 2/ 325F for an hour.

Peel the baking potatoes and slice into thin chunks. Add to the soup and stir well. Leave to cook for another hour until the potatoes are tender. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Serve, steaming hot with a hunk of bread to dip. If you are feeling the need, add a heaped tablespoon of sour cream to each serving. Eat and feel much, much better.

 gulyas2

Ps, haven’t forgotten the non meat eaters – you can make a fab vegetarian/vegan version substituting veg stock for the beef stock, olive oil for the lard and 500g of field mushrooms (the big chunky ones) for the beef. Use 1 tsp of dried dill instead of the caraway seeds and follow the recipe above.