Friday, 26 May 2017

£1-a-day Food Challenge 2017: Day 2

As you will see, if you read about Day 1, Day 2's menu on my £1-a-day Food Challenge is quite similar. In fact generating variety has proved one of the more difficult aspects of the challenge. I don't mind a certain amount of repetitiveness in my eating but I can well see that one might tire of eating the same things over and over for a period of months or even years. A reminder that the huge variety of foods at our disposal in the western developed world is something to be genuinely appreciative of. It is also, of course, now recommended for good health that we eat from as wide a range of foods as possible. On a very restricted budget that is very difficult so eating to maintain good health, as well as simply surviving, raises the stakes to an even higher level of difficulty, if you are living on no more than £1 per day for a long period of time.

I suppose to call my drained yoghurt "cheese" is stretching things a bit but it tastes like a very young, fresh, cream cheese, it spreads like cheese and it works with other ingredients like cheese, so cheese it is. I use a small jar of homemade yoghurt for this, made from a litre of UHT semi-skimmed milk from Aldi (49p) seeded with a jar of homemade yoghurt left over from a previous batch seeded with commercial live yoghurt (overall cost 13p). The cost of each jar in this second batch comes down to 9p and in a subsequent one to 8p but by then you really need to seed the homemade batch with commercial yoghurt again. For the cheese. all I do is tip a small jar of yoghurt into a sieve lined with muslin over a jug, pop a small saucer on top and a weight and leave it to drain in the fridge overnight. The next day most of the whey will have dripped through the muslin into the jug leaving a mass of creamy white cheese to use as you wish.

It's still quite loose in texture but it's very good, sprinkled with a pinch of salt and pepper on fresh homemade wholemeal bread and topped with herbs or salad or a sliced tomato.

Tomatoes, even cheap ones, are off limits on the challenge but herbs and / or cress are not. It's repetitive having the same thing for lunch each day but still good and I'm changing the plate for variety!

The thrifty spiced bun recipe is really a variant on a hot cross bun that I made this last Lent. Similar to the ones I usually make but with one or two differences and the recipe was quite susceptible to being tweaked to reduce the cost so even though Eastertide has virtually come to an end, I am afraid I am still eating Shrovetide buns!

Thrifty Spiced Buns

2tsps yeast ("Dove's Farm" from Waitrose) 4p
250g wholemeal flour (homeground)
250g strong white flour (Lidl) 13p
1 tsp salt 1p
50ml sunflower oil (Aldi) 5p
50g soft brown sugar (Aldi) 7p
300ml whole milk (from Aldi 4pt bottle) 13p
90ml water / whey from draining yoghurt
120g raisins (Aldi) 31p
120g homemade candied orange and grapefruit peel 12p
1 tsp ground mixed spice (Aldi) 2p
1tsp ground cinnamon (Aldi) 3p
1tsp ground anise (from a gift from a German friend I know through work; ground anise is difficult to obtain in the UK. You could use more of the other two spices or add nutmeg instead.)

Homemade candied peel is a whole different story from the commercial variety - forget those dry tubs of uniformly cubed, nondescript "mixed peel" and meet meltingly fragrant, citrus chunks that retain all the distinct aromatic qualities of the individual fruits they come from. I use the recipe in Jane Grigson's Fruit Book which is very good. The two separate boilings before you put the peel anywhere near the sugar really are necessary so that the finished candied peel is tender and not tough. You can shorten the time by using a pressure cooker - 7 minutes under pressure for each boiling. I store the finished peel in the freezer as I've found it doesn't keep very well in a jar.

I make the dough for these buns in my bread-maker, using the wholemeal raisin-dough programme. When the dough is ready, I divide it into 12 pieces, place them on non-stick baking parchment on a baking sheet and cut a deep cross in each one with a knife dipped in flour before each cut. I leave them to prove while the oven heats up to 195 C and then bake them for 14 minutes until well risen and nicely brown.

As with all my yeast baking, on taking them out of the oven, I shunt them off the baking sheet to cool on a wire rack. Fresh from the oven they don't need butter or anything else on them and what I don't immediately need, I freeze and just defrost as required. If you don't freeze them, they will go stale quite quickly but will be fine for a day or two, if you're going to toast and butter them.

Away from the £1-a-day food project I use more raisins (150g) , more candied peel (150g) and more of each of the spices (1½ tsps). I also like using almond oil and maple syrup in place of the sunflower oil and soft brown sugar but the thrifty version is good enough to make me think that this is an unnecessary extravagance.

The buns are delicious and filling without being dense. Neither are they too heavy on fat or sugar so they're a good recipe for anyone wanting to cut down, not just on cost, but also on sugar or fat.

Total cost 91p. Makes 12 buns, each costing 8p.

Chilli sin carne

224g red kidney beans, soaked overnight and cooked in a pressure cooker with 2½pts water for 20 minutes (Sainsbury's) 52p
20ml sunflower oil (Aldi) 2p
2 small red onions, peeled and finely chopped (Aldi) 12p
2 tsps chilli powder (Aldi) 5p
salt / black pepper (Waitrose) 1p
2 large (400g) tins chopped tomatoes (Aldi) 58p
c 500ml homemade vegetable stock 1p
oregano (from garden)
parsley (from garden)

To make:
In the base of a large cast iron casserole, sweat the chopped onions in the sunflower oil until softened. Stir in the chilli powder and a grinding of black pepper. Add the tins of chopped tomatoes and plenty of fresh oregano. Drain the kidney beans, saving the cooking liquid, and add the beans to the pan. Pour in the stock and about the same quantity again of the bean-cooking liquid, to make quite a sloppy mix. Add a bit of salt if you think it needs it. Bake in the oven at 170 C for about three hours or so, until the liquid has substantially reduced into a nice thick sauce. I leave the lid slightly ajar on the casserole to encourage evaporation.

Check towards the end of the cooking time to make sure the chilli is not drying out. If it seems on the dry side, you can add a bit of boiling water and leave it in the oven, or you can take it out a bit early - everything's cooked by now - just do whatever suits your schedule.

Serve sprinkled with fresh chopped oregano and parsley, on top of some rice and, if you are not on so tight a budget, garlic bread would be nice too. Freed from the constraints of the challenge I would maybe use an extra onion, and possibly a wee bit more chilli powder. A good fat dollop of tinned tomato purée would not go amiss either. You could also add other vegetables such as celery or fennel to the onions if you wanted to make it go further. For preference I would be using olive oil, not sunflower.

Total cost £1.31. Makes 5 portions each costing 26p.

For the challenge I used Aldi's cheapest possible rice which works out at 4p per 125g. The rice could have been better - I much prefer proper Basmati rice - but for 4p per serving, one can't possibly complain and I have to say that the whole thing was unexpectedly good this evening. In other circumstances it's not what I would necessarily have chosen to cook on by far hottest day of the year so far, but it kind of made up for itself, despite that. I shall be making it again away from the challenge.

Today's piece of culinary bad news relates to my rhubarb which just doesn't seem to have regenerated properly after my last picking a few weeks ago, despite being well-watered and spoken kindly to. There was just enough to make a batch of rhubarb compôte with 100g Aldi soft brown sugar (14p) - enough for six portions at 2p each so long as the servings were minuscule. I am relieved for the purposes of the challenge that there was just enough and know that next week I can buy it, if I want to. Not an option, if you have to manage on this budget permanently, I remind myself.

I had to divide it up equally into small pots immediately as I knew if I just spooned it into bowls as required, I would over-serve to begin with and run out. 10ml cream sounds no more than a token but it goes a long way as you can see in the pic. Despite this, opprobrious remarks were made at supper about needing microscopes and the fact that I appear to be serving meals for fleas! But I don't think fleas eat rhubarb...! And we're at the end of Day 2 already!

A small square of Scottish tablet to disguise the taste of that unpleasant Earl Grey tea? I think so!

Today's total is a penny more than yesterday's at 94p but still well within bounds. Now for the weekend!

E x


  1. Well done, I am going to give the yoghurt cheese a try.

    1. Thank you! Do give the yoghurt cheese a whirl - it's very easy (and healthy!) E x

  2. Perhaps a few leaves of Jack by the hedge (garlic mustard) could be added to the cress for a slightly different lunch. I agree about home made candied peel - it is completely different to the tubs of dried up peel that you buy.
    It will be interesting to see how many of your thrifty habits you continue, such as the sunflower oil and brown sugar replacements. Sometimes I look at a recipe and wonder how much difference the expensive ingredients make.

    1. Good thinking there! Thank you - I shall add some to the cress tomorrow if there is still some Jack-by-the-hedge in the garden. Yes, it will be interesting to see which habits persist and which revert. I can tell you now that the current "no gin regime" will revert as of Wednesday! With or without knock-'em-dead homemade tonic water! Sorry, that's a bad joke in view of the potential dangers of cinchona bark but you know what I mean! E x


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