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: 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.

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


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!


Rhubarb, rhubarb

So wittering on Twitter in my usual fashion and I got into conversation with Grown With Love. In case you’ve not heard of them, @GrownWithLove is the twitter tag for Barfoots – a sustainable farm business based in the South of England
Anyway, upshot of the conversation was that they very kindly offered to send me some rhubarb. Now I don’t know about you but I LOVE rhubarb – something about those sharp, pinky green stems really works for me. And of course now is the time to eat the homegrown stuff.

picture of rhubarb

Rhubarb from Grown With Love

Rhubarb is in fact a vegetable, but like the tomato (strictly speaking a fruit that is eaten as a savoury) it is treated in the opposite way ie as a sweet item. It matches beautifully with ginger, cardamom and vanilla spices; and likes orange, almonds and strawberries. Of course, you can keep things simple and just gently poach the rhubarb with a little water and sugar to taste, which will make a lovely rhubarb compote perfect for swirling into plain yogurt.

I like to make rhubarb jam – this year I’ve mixed it with cardamom to create a gorgeous pale pink, orange spiced jam that goes rather well with a scone. Wash 1 kilo of rhubarb and slice into 1/2 inch chunks. Put in pan with a splash of water – literally just enough to stop the fruit from sticking to the pan base as it heats. Crack open 6 cardamom pods in a mortar and pestle and give them a good bashing to smash up the seeds and husk. Add to the rhubarb and let it simmer on a gentle heat until the rhubarb releases all its juices and becomes soft strands. Add 650g granulated sugar and the juice of 1 lemon. Bring to a rapid boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, and cook until the jam is thickened and drips off the spoon in big flakes – or use the wrinkle test – dollop a spoonful on a chilled saucer (taking jam off the heat while you check for the set or you’ll wind up with toffee) and let it cool, then push with your finger to “wrinkle” the surface – if that happens, the jam is ready, if it’s still runny, cook a little longer. This jam doesn’t set particularly hard but you want to spoon it not drink it…

I wanted to try something else though, I toyed with the idea of a rhubarb cake but hey, I always make cake. Then I thought about almonds. More specifically, a rhubarb frangipane tart, maybe with a little splash of Amaretto? See where I’m going with this? Patisserie is not my forte – I can make it taste good, but glamorous fiddling about with precision decoration isn’t me. So excuse the pictures of the tart – others will make it look far better but I can assure you it tasted very very nice indeed.

Rhubarb Frangipane Tart

Pastry Case:

(Shop bought pastry gives me indigestion – so I make my own but feel free to use a good ready made sweet crust pastry – no judging here!)

175g plain flour

25g icing sugar

125g unsalted butter, chilled and diced

1 egg yolk

2 tablespoons cold water

Frangipane Filling

3 tablespoons rhubarb jam (or use raspberry or strawberry)

400g roasted rhubarb – wash and chop into 1 inch pieces and roast in 180C oven for 15 to 20 minutes until tender.

3 eggs

1 egg yolk

110g caster sugar

110g unsalted butter, melted

110g ground almonds

2 tablespoons of Amaretto (optional but NICE)

Handful of flaked almonds.

Make pastry by sifting together flour and icing sugar. Rub in cold butter with fingertips or using a food processor until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Mix egg yolk with cold water and add to the flour/ butter mix to bring it together into a soft dough. Handle gently! Shape into a flat disc and chill for half an hour. Roll out the pastry and use to line a 23 cm loose bottomed tart tin. Prick the base with a fork and put back in fridge to chill and firm up for another half hour. Preheat oven to 200C/ 400F or GM6.  Line pastry with baking parchment and fill with dried beans or scrunched up foil. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove the parchment and cook for a further 3 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Turn oven down to 180C/ 350F/ GM4

Ready for the oven!

Ready for the oven!

Make filling by mixing  eggs and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Add Amaretto if using and the melted butter. Mix well then fold in the ground almonds.  Spread jam over the cooled pastry base, and top with the rhubarb pieces. Spoon over the frangipane topping and smooth.

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes.  Remove from oven, sprinkle over the almonds and return to the oven to bake for another 10 minutes until the filling is golden brown and just set – it should wobble a little.

Serve with ice cream

Served with ice cream



Serve with lashings of cream or vanilla ice cream.

Thanks again Grown With Love!

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.


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.