Thursday, 25 May 2017

£1-a-day Food Challenge 2017: Day 1

So this evening sees the end of Day 1 of my £1-a-day Food Challenge and so far, I'm surviving reasonably happily on my iron rations. Just have to see if I can keep it going! What I notice already is that the food itself is great but that some of the portion sizes are quite meagre. It hasn't been too noticeable today but I am conscious of it. And I remind myself that I only have to do this for five or six days. If I were to be living with scaled-back portions all the time, it would be a very different story. Sobering. 

Anyway, here, for anyone who may be interested, are my Day 1 details and the recipes I've devised from scratch or tweaked to fit the stringent budget. 

Breakfast is smaller than usual, but not very different from what I usually eat except that the milk to make the porridge is heavily watered down and I usually have a teaspoon of maple syrup on it instead of this new-to-me preserve, dandelion honey. (See my previous post for details.)

I often make apple purée for breakfast - I don't really like raw apple - and thought it wouldn't be too much of a problem to include a portion on the £1-a-day meal plans but even with the cheapest apples I could find (65p for a bag of seven at Aldi on their Super Six offer), it works out at 9p for a tiny bowlful. Later in the year when there are windfalls a-plenty in the garden and hedgerows, it will, of course, be free. In fact, doing the challenge now in May, I found that most fruit, unless it had been foraged and frozen last year, or grown for free like rhubarb, had to be eliminated because it was just too expensive to include. A bit of a shock as, normally, I eat a lot of fruit. Probably too much actually.

To make the apple purée, wash but do not peel or core the apples. Cut them up roughly and place in a pan with enough water almost to cover. In less frugal circumstances I often snip off an inch or so of vanilla pod, split it down the middle to expose the tiny fragrant seeds and add it to the apples as they cook which gives the resulting purée a delicious, creamy vanilla flavour but vanilla pods are off limits for this week.

Bring to the boil and simmer until really soft - about an hour. Then tip the contents (fruit, juice, skins, stalks, pips and everything) into a mouli placed over a bowl and turn the handle to press out the purée. The purée freezes well if you want to make a big batch and freeze some. I made this batch using 11 apples from Aldi's Super Six offer - a bag of 7 apples for 65p. It made 11 small portions so it comes out at 9p each.

Although I have managed to include a few Earl Grey tea bags in my budget, I had to switch to Aldi's own brand instead of Waitrose's. I have to say that it's the first completely unsatisfactory ingredient swap I've made. It tastes awful. If it's not made with floor-sweepings, it might as well be. I am supplementing it with fresh mint tea made from bright green, Moroccan mint in the garden.

I do like mint tea but it's not the same as my beloved, usual Earl Grey. Anyway at least it doesn't taste like the dregs at the bottom of a floor-washing bucket which can't easily be said for Aldi's offering on the tea front. Enough said but this will be one item I most certainly won't be buying long term.

Grain for grinding. Exactly as it came out of the combine harvester last August so it needs a bit of picking over to remove chaff, small stones and the odd dead insect but I love it - grown only yards from my front door and a free gift to boot.
Grain milled into flour, sifted and ready for baking.
The thrifty seeded roll recipe is a variation on one I often make. The ingredients are as follows:

1tsp yeast ("Dove's Farm" from Waitrose) 2p
270g wholemeal flour (ground at home from sack of grain given to me by my neighbour farmer last autumn) 
230g strong white bread flour (Lidl) 12p
1tsp salt 1p
8g skimmed milk powder ("Marvel" from Waitrose) 9p
10ml sunflower oil (Aldi) 1p
50g brown linseeds ("Tree of Life" from Waitrose) 14p
380ml water (plain or mixed with whey from drained yoghurt)

Total cost for 12 rolls 39p ie 3p each.

I make the dough in my automatic bread-maker on the wholemeal dough programme and then divide it into 12 rolls, place on a baking sheet lined with non-stick baking paper and bake at 195 C for 14-15 minutes. Once cooked, shunt the rolls off the baking sheet, onto a wire rack to cool. 

Normally I make these with an even 50/50 split between wholemeal flour and white, a mixture of seeds such as millet, poppy and sesame, more skimmed milk powder and 30ml not 10ml of a nutty British rapeseed oil . I've stuck with linseeds because they're filling, nutritious and the cheapest seed option and I like their hidden nutty taste. Obviously you could omit the milk powder entirely but it does improve the texture of the bread and provides an extra shot of protein and vitamins which is grist to my mill this week.

I know it's a weakness but if I am to carry on functioning reasonably sweetly for the latter part of the day, I need something to eat and drink around 4.00 o'clock in the afternoon. And not a celery stick or a handful of healthy chia seeds either, I am afraid. So one of the particular challenges of these £1-a-day meal plans was that I had to factor that in, which wasn't easy. As you'll see, I've hunkered down around wholemeal-based recipes which haven't cost me anything for the wholemeal flour and are relatively light on other ingredients. It has made for slightly unseasonal menus - today has been the hottest day of the year so far in the UK - almost 30 C here in Oxfordshire - so it feels slightly incongruous to be eating a toasted muffin more appropriate for a cold winter's afternoon, but no matter. The rose-hip and crab apple jelly is a 2013 vintage. Not quite as old as my basil and cress seeds but nonetheless venerable! Because the fruit was foraged for free, I've costed it out just for the amount of jam sugar used, so it's pretty cheap for a reasonably generous serving, which is good because there's not much slack available for any butter. 

The recipe for thrifty English muffins is another variation on an existing theme. The dough is very sloppy and sticky so if you are making it by hand you might well want to reduce the liquid to make it more workable. The high fluid content is what gives the muffins their loose, light texture though. I make the dough in my bread-maker on the pizza dough setting.

For a batch of ten muffins you need:

a starter made with one eighth of a teaspoon of yeast ("Dove's Farm" from Waitrose) and 180g strong white bread flour (Lidl) mixed with 170ml water and left covered for a couple of hours 9p
1 tsp yeast ("Dove's Farm" from Waitrose) 4p
206g wholemeal flour (home-ground as above) 
14g cornflour (Waitrose) 4p
1 tsp salt 1p
20g demerara sugar (Aldi) 3p
30ml sunflower oil (Aldi) 3p
140ml whole milk  (from 4pt bottle Aldi) 6p
c34ml water (or whey from drained yoghurt)
30g ground rice to dust the outsides of the muffins ("Whitworths" from Waitrose) 4p

Total cost for 10 muffins 43p ie 4p each.

Shape the dough as best you can (it's sticky!) into ten balls, dust them in ground rice (which helps with handling the sticky dough) and bake in non-stick muffin rings on a baking sheet lined with non-stick baking paper at 180 C for c 25 minutes. 

Lift off the muffin rings (carefully - they're hot!) and as before, shunt the muffins off the tin to cool on a wire rack. 

When not on the £1-a-day food challenge I would use 174ml milk instead of milk diluted with water / whey and I usually use an organic sunflower margarine such as Biona rather than the oil.

Carrot and lentil soup with cumin and coconut milk

c 1litre homemade vegetable stock (using trimmings from any vegetables you've saved, a few sprigs of herbs eg rosemary, thyme, lovage, bay leaf, 2 tsps salt and 2 pints water) 2p
12ml sunflower oil (Aldi) 1p
2 small red onions (140g), peeled and chopped (Aldi) 9p
770g carrots, peeled and grated coarsely (Aldi) 32p
140g red lentils (Lidl) 21p
half a tsp cumin seeds toasted in a dry pan and ground (Waitrose) 5p
pinch black pepper
large tin of reduced fat coconut milk (Aldi) 79p
fresh parsley (from garden)

Total cost £1.49. Makes 6 portions costing 25p each.

To make:
Sweat the onions and grated carrot in the sunflower oil in the base of the pressure cooker. Season with the cumin and black pepper. Add the stock, lentils and coconut milk, bring to the boil and cook under pressure for 7 minutes. Release the pressure and allow to cool a bit before whizzing to a purée in a blender. Thin with extra water if necessary. Serve sprinkled with a bit of chopped parsley and dill.

In less frugal circumstances I would use more carrots - up to a kilo, quite a bit more seasoning - up to 2 tsps of cumin and plenty of black pepper. I would also use olive oil, not sunflower, to sweat the vegetables in.

So my total costs for Day 1 amount to 93p. That includes "extras" which are not strictly necessary but which I felt would make the challenge more realistically sustainable. They may be small but they have a disproportionately cheering psychological effect, especially my end-of-the-day, small, twopenny square of Scottish tablet with a cup of the unspeakable, Aldi Earl Grey tea! 

E x


  1. Well done, I am very impressed, it is amazing what we can do when challenged isn't it!? I will be watching to see how the rest of the days go as well, such an interesting test.

    1. Thank you, Kathy! Yes, it's proving a really engaging enterprise with a sense of small but satisfying achievements along the way. I may have changed my mind by the end of it but we'll see! E x

  2. Thinking of you eating a toasted muffin yesterday almost brings me out in a sweat! It also looks hard work picking out all the bits from the wheat. I did that the first year and then asked my farmer for dressed wheat so that all the stones and bits of straw are removed.

    Another hot day due today so I hope you have a slightly more chilled menu, though of course salad ingredients are probably not cheap enough for your budget.

    1. Yes, I know, the toasted muffin was delicious but not what I would normally have chosen on a very hot afternoon! Bad planning or what?! You will laugh I think at today's supper - hardly ideal seasonal cooking for a hot May evening! Picking the wheat over is not too troublesome - the thing I am mostly concerned about is small stones as they will damage the grinding stones if I miss them but I've fished out the odd dead earwig too so I keep a weather eye out for erstwhile livestock as I don't particularly want to add this form of protein to my bread! This wheat is "Skyfall" so the bread here has been nicknamed "James Bond bread"! E x

  3. What is a Scottish tablet please?

    1. Scottish tablet is a kind of crystalline fudge. Very delicious and cheap to make but a bit temperamental to get it to set - see my post about it in February! E x

  4. I am so impressed with how you are rising to the challenge, I have tried several cheaper brands of tea and I have to say none are satisfactory. Well done, it really makes me thankful for what I have.

    1. Thank you! It's quite hard work, I have to say! The awful tea has not grown any on me today - am dreaming of a proper cup of Earl Grey already! Have a lovely weekend! E x

  5. I love the idea of your rolls, but have no bread maker! How would make them by hand?


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