Monday, 29 May 2017

£1-a-day Food Challenge 2017: Day 5

There's been a lot of watering down and out in the last five days - watering down the soya milk I have in my tea, watering down the tea itself, watering out milk bottles and soya milk cartons, watering down milk for cooking and baking, watering out tins and cartons of tomatoes and passata, watering down soup, watering down and out jugs of whey etc, etc. Diluting stuff in order to make small volumes of ingredients go further. Not a joyful part of the project, for the most part. You'd think that where the volume of liquid is the same, it might not matter much if it's diluted heavily but it does. With some things more than others, of course. Foods taste "thinner"; obviously their nutritional value is less too and after a few days, you do notice it. 

One of the things that I will appreciate most at the end of this challenge is being able to go back to having unwatered-down milk, soya milk and soup. I will, however, continue to wash out milk bottles and tomato tins and use the results, where it genuinely doesn't make much difference, so that nothing is wasted. In fact I've always done that with tins of tomatoes but the principle, judiciously applied, can be extended, I feel, to other containers so long as you don't use too much water. Do you wash things down and out with water and use the results in cooking? 

The brown jug in the pic is my soya milk jug in which I carefully measure out the amount I can have in my tea each day on the challenge. I then add quite a bit of extra water, give it a good stir and know that I can use that freely, but no more, each day. It's not a lot but it stretches out the maximum of what the budget permits. I tend to leave the jug out, as it's only a day's worth and it's convenient to have it to hand. But now that the weather has warmed up significantly, the kitchen has had a stream of unwanted pesky fly visitors. It's unavoidable, living in the country. I do not like flies. Their personal hygiene is atrocious and their habits disgusting - I certainly don't want them alighting on the lip of my jug or taking a quick dip in my soya milk. 

The jug needs covering, obviously, but I have given up buying cling film. It's not good for the environment and I always end up with the box falling to pieces before the roll of film is anywhere near finishing, with that feeble, serrated strip that you're supposed to tear the film against, hanging off at a drunken angle and being no use at all. Very annoying when you are in a hurry; (which I usually am). So I've taken to using old china saucers and odd plates to cover bowls and basins. These work well as an alternative to plastic film. Jugs, however, have a hilly contour around their perimeter, which is not friendly to balancing a china saucer upon. So I took a leaf out of the Victorians' answer-book to pesky flies and made a beaded jug-cover. It may look a bit twee and old-fashioned, but never mind that, it's not there as an aesthetic piece, it's there to do a very practical job and it's doing it perfectly. 

I was too lazy and in too much of a hurry to crochet the whole thing but in my kitchen drawer were two lacy circles of fabric that had once covered little pots of orange conserve given out as wedding favours - as delightful an idea as I think I've come across as far as wedding favours go. 

I found a pattern for a beaded crochet doily-edging, adapted it quite significantly, to simplify it and make it fit and voilà! - one highly effective jug-cover that deters all winged invaders. It's easy to wash through by hand, in some hot soapy water, at the end of the day; I hang it up up overnight and it's dry again by morning. The beads I had in my sewing box for some years and have been waiting for a happy use - I'm rather pleased that they've found one.  The watery soya milk does not exactly fill me (or my tea) with joy but using this old French jug my grandparents bought in France well over half a century ago and making this thrifty little solution to my fly problem gives me no little delight. I know... tiny things etc etc! 

Same again! Enough said!

Green split pea and wild green soup

15ml olive oil (Aldi) 10p
1 small red onion, peeled and chopped (Aldi) 7p
3 sticks celery, washed, trimmed and chopped (Aldi) 22p
200g green split peas (Sainsbury's) 28p
1.5 litres homemade vegetable stock (as Day 1) 3p
a large colanderful of greens (wild and cultivated from the garden) I used some bolted spinach left over from last year, lovage, dandelion, Jack-by-the-Hedge, oregano, chives & parsley

To make:
Heat the oil in the base of a pressure cooker and cook the onion and celery for a few minutes. Season with black pepper and add the stock and split peas. Bring to the boil and cook under pressure for 7 minutes.

Release the pressure and stir in the greens which will immediately wilt and collapse down in a bright green mass. Remove from the heat and allow to cool a little. Whizz to a thick, bright green purée in a blender. Serve immediately or cool and reheat as required. Try not to reheat for too long or the vivid green colour will fade.

Total cost 69p.   Makes 5 portions, each costing 14p.

Thrifty Carrot and Banana Muffins

250g carrots, peeled (Aldi) (You can save the peelings for stock-making) 11p
2 large ripe bananas, peeled (Aldi) 24p
170ml sunflower oil (Aldi) 19p
170g light soft brown sugar (Aldi) 23p
2 dsps (40g) honey (Aldi) 11p
280g white self-raising flour (Aldi) 8p
1 tsp baking powder (Waitrose) 2p
1 tsp mixed spice (Aldi) 2p
6 bantam eggs (or use 3 large ordinary hens' eggs)
70g raisins (Aldi) 18p

Preheat the oven to 190 C. Coarsely grate the carrots into a large bowl and set aside. Put the bananas, oil, soft brown sugar and honey into the food processor and whizz until smooth. Add the eggs, flour and mixed spice and whizz again to make a smooth batter. Scrape and pour the batter into the bowl containing the grated carrot. Add the raisins and gently fold the mixture together with a large spoon. Spoon the mixture into about 14 paper muffin cases and bake for about 25 minutes until well-risen and golden. Cool in the tin. These freeze beautifully.

Total cost £1.18. Makes 14 muffins ie 8p each.

In other news, we have also been preparing to feed the garden as well as ourselves on less than £1-a-day and making gallons of comfrey tea. D has cut down a vast load of the comfrey taking over the flowerbeds and left it to wilt overnight in the wheelbarrow.

Today we spent a happy Bank Holiday afternoon stuffing it into old, jute potato-sacks (as you do!)

These we then lowered into a small bargain water butt bought for the purpose at the local garden centre, (at a drastically reduced price, because it had faded, while on display). The butt has been prudently placed as far away from the house as possible, in a secluded corner, by the woodpile where, hopefully, the only ones to be assailed by any aroma of decomposition will be the huge, rugby-boot-wearing spiders who lurk among the logs and I don't mind if they are seriously offended and take themselves elsewhere (although not into the house obviously!)

In a few weeks' time we will turn on the tap at the bottom and out should come a very rich, (if smelly), liquid fertiliser to feed the vegetables and various pots. The smell is, apparently, the only drawback. The reason for putting the comfrey into the jute sacks rather than simply adding it loose to the butt is because otherwise the leaves can block the tap and then, as the website, where we found instructions for preparing comfrey tea, tells you happily, "you have to lower your watering can into the stinky barrel" to extract it. Hmm!

I have suggested hopefully to D that when it comes to removing the comfrey "tea bags" and emptying out their putrid contents, that particular job has his name on it, not mine! So far, bless him, he has not objected but we'll see how bad the stinkiness gets! It's reputed to be pretty bad but the fertiliser itself is second to none, as comfrey puts down very long roots that extract nitrogen and other plant goodies from deep below the soil surface that shorter roots never reach and comfrey tea is meant to be the plant equivalent of an all-in-one health tonic.

Nearly at the end of the challenge and the cupboard is almost bare.

Thank you for reading my rather repetitive posts these last few days - I am aware they are somewhat esoteric, not to say eccentric! Only one more at the end of tomorrow's final day and then there will be a breathing space, I think, for a bit!

E x

Sunday, 28 May 2017

£1-a-day Food Challenge 2017: Day 4

Thrifty cinnamon honey

Someone kindly gave me a wonderful jar of Hungarian cinnamon honey last Christmas. A spoonful of it on top of my weekend slow-cooked porridge is unbeatable but it's fiendishly expensive to buy in the UK at £8 a jar. Yes, I know - eye-watering! Even if you only have a teaspoonful, this costs out at about 20p per tsp. In the run-up to my £1-a-day food project I wondered if I couldn't make my own. After all, how hard can it be to mix my own honey and cinnamon together? It turned out to be very easy so I pass it on for you to try. Believe me, whether you spoon this onto slow-cooked porridge, spread it thickly on hot buttered toast, English muffins and crumpets or stir it into thick Greek yoghurt, you will thank me! So will your purse! In the first pic, which I took yesterday, you can see it's quite stiff - perfect for spreading gently onto toast and staying put but for porridge it's better slightly runnier so I stood the jar in some hot but not boiling water for a bit this morning just to make it slightly more pourable and easier to stir in.

To make your own thrifty cinnamon honey you need:

1 454g jar of set honey (Aldi) £1.25
20g ground cinnamon (Aldi) 28p

First, sterilise some small, clean jars (or one big jar) with tight-fitting lids by washing in hot soapy water, rinsing and then standing in the oven at 110 C for ten minutes.

Remove the lid from the honey and stand the whole jar in a small pan of hot, not boiling, water to loosen it and make it pourable. Remove the jar from the hot water once you can see that the honey has begun to liquefy round the edge and carefully pour and scrape all of it into a separate, clean, dry pan. Add the cinnamon and stir gently. Leave on a very low heat for 15 minutes or so to encourage the flavours to integrate. On no account should the honey get anywhere near boiling.

Now pour the cinnamon honey into your sterilised jars and allow to cool completely before screwing on the lids.

Total cost £1.53 for 474g ie 2p per teaspoonful.

As you can see, my lunch today looks pretty well identical to that of the last few days. It is pretty well identical to that of the last few days! I did take Anne's suggestion up and hunt down a few Jack-by-the-Hedge leaves to supplement the cress to change it up a little. It's just as well that I really do like this yoghurt-cheese-leaves-and-a-roll lunch or it could get rather tedious. I am beginning to dream of tomatoes and and a few black olives slyly peeping round the corner of the cress though! 

Boston baked cannellini beans

110g dried cannellini beans, soaked overnight and cooked in a pressure cooker for 20 minutes (Sainsbury's) 25p
10ml sunflower oil (Aldi) 1p
1 small red onions, peeled and chopped finely (Aldi) 6p
½ carton passata (Aldi) 18p
1 tsp demerara sugar (Aldi) 1p
1 tsp wholegrain mustard (Waitrose) 4p
1 tsp red wine vinegar (Waitrose) 1p
a handful of fresh lovage (from garden)
a fresh bayleaf (from garden)
salt, black pepper and 1 clove (Waitrose) 1p
c 400ml homemade vegetable stock 1p
chopped fresh herbs (from garden) to serve

To make:
Heat the oil in a heavy cast iron casserole and cook the onions until softened. Add the passata, demerara sugar, mustard, vinegar, a seasoning of salt, black pepper, a single clove and the stock and mix well. Add some of the bean cooking liquid to give a sloppy mix. Cover but leave the lid slightly ajar and bake in the oven at 170 C for at least 2 hours until the liquid has reduced to a thick sauce. Check the beans are not drying out too much towards the end of the cooking time and add some extra boiling water from a kettle, if need be. Or if the sauce needs to reduce more, cook the beans for a bit longer.

To serve spoon onto jacket potatoes and sprinkle with fresh chopped herbs.

Total cost 58p. Makes 3 portions each costing 19p.

Away from the challenge I would add a stick of celery and maybe a carrot and reduce the amount of lovage. I was a bit heavy-handed with the lovage today - it's quite a strong herb. But the beans were good and will ride again. Possibly a little grated mature cheddar on top would be a nice addition. The thing that surprised me about this meal was the cost of the potato. I thought potatoes would work out pretty cheap but they don't, not at this time of year anyway. I am reminded again about how easy it is to become detached from the seasonality of food. In the autumn this meal would have been the cheapest of the lot using homegrown potatoes but now in May it's proved the most expensive. I thought I was quite tuned in to the seasonality of food but I am not sure I am as tuned in as I thought I was.

The rhubarb compôte is just 1kg rhubarb - every single stalk I could see in the garden - washed, trimmed, cut up, sprinkled with 100g soft brown sugar and baked in the oven in a lidded cast iron casserole for an hour at 170 C. Gorgeous - I just wish there were more of it!

As a Sunday treat I decided to use some of my precious stash of free home-produced eggs to make a custard to go with the tiny portions of chilled, syrupy rhubarb.

And I'm pleased to report that, with a bit of teeming and lading, in other words using semi-skimmed milk, not whole milk or cream and some ancient powdered vanilla past it's use-by date, and not drinking Earl Grey tea at tea-time to leave a bit more slack in the budget for supper, I've managed to squeeze it within my limits.

It feels like the most precious treat even though in normal circumstances I make this quite often without really thinking about it. And yes, I am afraid I did lick the custard spoon and scrape out the pan assiduously once I had spooned the custard into a jug to chill - it would have been wasteful not to!

Old-fashioned vanilla custard

6 bantam egg yolks (whites saved and frozen for meringues next week when fresh summer fruit and cream will be back on my menu)
800ml semi-skimmed milk (from Waitrose 6pt bottle) 34p
2 tsps cornflour (Waitrose) 3p
40g sugar (Aldi granulated) 2p
¼ tsp vintage vanilla powder (bought on holiday in France four years ago and whose use-by date was 2014!) estimated cost approx 4p - the equivalent of 1 tsp homemade vanilla extract

To make:
Heat the milk gently in a heavy-bottomed pan with the vanilla. Whisk the egg yolks, cornflour and sugar together in a bowl until pale and fluffy. Sorry, this is not a very good pic - taken with one hand on the whisk and one hand on the camera. When the milk is hot but not boiling, pour it over the egg yolk mixture, whisking as you go.

Pour the whole lot back into the pan, return to the heat and stir gently and patiently until the custard thickens enough to coat the back of your wooden spoon as you can see in the pic.

This takes some time so be prepared to stand at the hob for a while. The custard shouldn't curdle because the cornflour stabilises it but keep the heat under control and don't crank it up too hot too quickly. Once the custard has thickened, remove from the heat and stand the pan in a couple of inches of cold water to cool it down quickly. Then chill and serve with fresh or stewed fruit or to accompany a summer fruit crumble. Absolutely delicious!

Total cost 43p. Serves 6 generously ie 7p per portion.

Outside budgetary constraints, I use whole milk for this, maybe even with some cream in there, golden caster sugar (why do I do that when bog standard granulated sugar is a fraction of the price and you really can't detect any discernible difference in the finished sweetness?) and a quarter of a whole vanilla pod, split open to expose and release the tiny black seeds of vanilla. A proper vanilla custard should be flecked with these and off the challenge, my first instinct is that I would still think it worth using the vanilla pod.  But then again this thrifty version was so delicious, is it worth it? Maybe I should compromise and make some vanilla sugar with a vanilla pod buried in a jar of sugar that could then flavour a good deal more than just 4 batches of custard.

So happy to end the day with a proper cup of Earl Grey tea! There's one more of these scavenged tea bags. I shall save it up for Tuesday evening as something to look forward to at the very end of the challenge.

94p seems to be my average score so far for the day's totals which, with sixpence spare, is well below the £1 limit. Wondering how many days at 94p I'd need to clock up before there was sufficient credit of spare sixpences for a gin and tonic or a glass of wine. Rather a lot, I suspect! But today I am just happy to settle for a decent cup of tea as opposed to the distilled silage of the Aldi Earl Grey.

E x

Saturday, 27 May 2017

£1-a-day Food Challenge 2017: Day 3

At weekends, instead of my quick everyday porridge of porridge oats ground finely, mixed with milk and blasted in the microwave for a few brief bursts, I usually make a slow-cooked version with proper oatmeal, apple and spices. I've tried this in my slow-cooker but although the oatmeal comes out deliciously creamy and soft, the apple pieces retain what, to me, is a not-so-nice al dente texture. I like the apple to be meltingly soft so I prefer to cook this in the ordinary oven, preparing it the night before, and setting the automatic timer on the oven to start and finish the 2½ hours cooking, in time for breakfast. If the oven has been on the previous evening, of course, it's too warm to leave the uncooked porridge in overnight so then I park it in the fridge and beetle downstairs and put it on manually, very early in the morning.

I really wanted to include this in my £1-a-day food project but it's not nearly as cheap as my everyday version - proper oatmeal from an ordinary supermarket is twice as expensive as porridge oats and Aldi don't stock it at all - so it took a bit of work to source some really cheap oatmeal in order to give it a chance. I thought I was also going to have to omit the apple to keep to my budget but, in the nick of time, Aldi included a bag of apples for 65p in their weekly "Super Six" offer which saved the day. It's OK without the apple but much nicer with it.

Weekend slow-cooked porridge

½ a cup oatmeal (92g) - I use a 50/50 mixture of medium oatmeal and pin-head or coarse oatmeal (from 5kg bags) 11p
½ tsp ground cinnamon (Aldi) 1p
pinch grated nutmeg (Waitrose)
1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped small (Aldi Super Six Offer - bag of 7 for 65p) 9p
200ml semi-skimmed milk (from Waitrose 6pt bottle) 9p
300ml water

To make:
Mix all the ingredients together the night before in a small lidded casserole - the oatmeal really benefits from the overnight soaking. Pop the lid on and either place in a cold oven and set your oven timer to come on at 110 C for 2½ hours before you want to eat it or leave the oatmeal in the fridge and take it out and put it in the oven manually in the morning. Either way works fine.

Serve the porridge with brown sugar, maple syrup or ideally cinnamon honey. (I'll post the recipe for that tomorrow). D likes it with a neap tide of cream lapping around the top! I've come up with a thrifty version of the cinnamon honey but the cream is out on this project!

Total cost 30p. Makes 2 generous portions each costing 15p

Thrifty wholemeal scones

150g wholemeal flour (homeground)
150g white SR flour (Aldi) 5p
2 tsps baking powder (Aldi) 3p
50g soft brown sugar (Aldi) 7p
1 tsp ground cinnamon (Aldi) 3p
44g cold unsalted butter (Aldi) 21p
180ml semi-skimmed milk (from Waitrose 6pt bottle) 8p
c25ml water (or whey from draining yoghurt)

Preheat oven to 230 C. Place the flours, baking powder, sugar and cinnamon in a food processor and whizz briefly to aerate and blend. Add the cold butter in small cubes and pulse in brief bursts until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. Dilute the milk with the water, or whey, in a jug and with the motor running pour in a thin stream into the mix - you might not need all the liquid. That's OK just leave any spare in the jug for now. Continue to whizz just until the mixture clumps together in a nice ball. Remove from the food processor onto a floured surface. Press the dough out gently into a flattish rectangle about 2cm deep - no need to use a rolling pin. Cut out into 9 scones with a fluted cutter or use a knife to make triangles if you prefer. Brush with a little extra milk or the milk and water mixture left in the jug. Place the scones on a baking sheet lined with non-stick baking paper and bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes or so until beautifully risen and golden. Cool on a wire rack.

Total cost for 9 scones 47p ie 5p each.

Thrifty asparagus soup

I made a Georgian lamb casserole from the Caucasus called "chanakhi" at Easter and my thrifty asparagus soup was a happy, if rather labour-intensive, accident resulting almost entirely from the leftover vegetable trimmings from the casserole and the asparagus from the garden that I served alongside it. I seized the opportunity to cook the soup and freeze it ahead of time. It would have been thriftier still, if the purchased vegetables I had had to hand had been from Aldi but this was before I'd really got up to speed on the shopping lark, so they weren't.

1litre homemade vegetable stock made from the trimmings of 2 red onions, the bottom 2 inches of the trimmings from 3 bunches of Spring onions, 98g carrot (Waitrose Essentials), 174g celery (Ocado), 2tsps salt, some rosemary, thyme and a bay leaf cooked with c 1 litre of water in the pressure cooker for 20 minutes. Total cost of stock 42p.
14 ml sunflower oil (Aldi) 2p
the rest of the trimmings from the 3 bunches of Spring onions, washed and chopped
a big bunch of leftover asparagus stalk bottoms - about 600g, washed, trimmed of any soiled ends and chopped into 1" lengths (from the garden)
1 large potato (225g) (Waitrose Essential baking potatoes), peeled and cubed 19p
black pepper and a pinch of grated nutmeg

To make:
Sweat the chopped Spring onions and asparagus stalks in the oil in the base of a pressure cooker. Season with black pepper and nutmeg. Add the potato and then the stock, rinsing out the stock jug with a little extra water. Bring up to the boil and cook under pressure for 10 minutes. Allow to cool a little before whizzing to a purée in a blender. Unless you like string soup, it's then necessary to sieve the purée to remove the fibrous bits. This is rather hard work and time-consuming. The resulting soup is velvet smooth and delicious but after all that work, so it should be!

Total cost of soup 63p. Makes 4 portions each costing 16p.

Dandelion Honey and Milk Jelly with Raspberry Coulis

This is based on Anne's recipe for Elderflower Milk Jelly here. Adapting it slightly to fit the challenge, I  used:

4 leaves of gelatine ("Costa" from Waitrose) 40p
400ml semi-skimmed milk (from Waitrose 6pt bottle) 17p
25g homemade dandelion honey 2p

For the coulis, I dug out a bag of last year's raspberries from the garden from the back of the freezer (a bit over 300g) and heated them in a pan with another 25g homemade dandelion honey (2p) just until the juices ran, then they were whizzed in the food processor, sieved and chilled.

Total cost of jelly and coulis 61p. Makes four teensy weensy portions costing 15p each.

This pudding is slightly more form than substance. I was shocked that the gelatine works out so expensively and that meant that in order to fit the budget, the portions of jelly had to be elfin - no more than 100ml in each ramekin. Without the boost of the coulis it would have been thin pickings indeed by way of pudding. On the other hand, it's very summery, looks delightful and satisfies my need for more seasonal fare. My original menu plan had ground rice pudding billed for this evening which I adore but it's just not the pudding for a warm summer evening.

This on the other hand is exactly the kind of pudding for a warm summer evening - something cool that glides off the spoon smoothly and tastes both intense (the raspberries) and creamily bland (the jelly). Anne's original recipe specifies whole milk which would have been much better than semi-skimmed but I didn't have any and in any case I need to use my 6pt bottle up.  Away from the challenge I would definitely use whole milk, or even cream, although I know that is veering more towards panna cotta perhaps than milk jelly. I think I might infuse the milk with more than the dandelion honey too - Anne uses elderflowers in hers which I would have followed but the elderflowers round here are not quite ready to pick. A piece of vanilla pod split open would also be a nice alternative, off the challenge.

Total cost for Day 3 exactly the same as yesterday - 94p. So far, so good. I've definitely felt hungrier today but nothing unmanageable and I've been quite busy with work which has been a good distraction. But again, I have no doubt that managing on this régime long term is totally different from an isolated few days, when one has the benefit of proper nutrition, both behind and before one.

Anyway, half-way now which feels more of a relief than I was expecting, I have to say. It's quite a lot of hard work keeping it all on track and juggling it alongside work and other domestic stuff is proving quite taxing. Hoping a second wind will kick in tomorrow on the downward stretch of the second half of the challenge. So, onwards and upwards, or rather onwards and downwards!

E x