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


  1. Before I get any further into your post, I MUST inform you that I have been eating oatmeal most mornings for the past months. So then I looked and saw nutmeg and apple, a spice and a fruit never yet tried in the brave world of oats. So I "staged" breakfast prep just now with nutmeg and apple. All thanks to you. I shall think of you when enjoying the flavor and scent of nutmeg.

    And I am still reading on the Celtic book you sent; for me, this is a difficult theme and I go slowly.

    1. Nutmeg and cinnamon go beautifully with apple, I think. It's one of my favourite spices - dull and ridged and scentless on the outside but with that beautiful brindled cross-section inside revealed once you start grating it and releasing that aromatic heady scent that is fresh, woody, tangy and sweet, all at the same time. I believe in huge quantities nutmeg is hallucinogenic but even a small pinch makes me happy without going for the mind-changing amounts! Enjoy your spiced oatmeal - I shall think of you too when I eat mine. Really glad you are enjoying Anam Ćara - John O'Donohue is a wonderful writer. E x

  2. I have noticed how labor (or labour) intensive this challenge is. If you were truly living on this budget, imagine how much time is taken up in the process and planning! It is kind of an eye opener! On the other hand if you lived like this regularly you would perhaps have some things done already and some different shopping and reserves. It is a lot to think about isn't it? I appreciate your sharing so I can sit here with my regular diet and philosophize on yours! ;)

    1. You are so right, Kathy! The sheer amount of time and effort involved has rather taken me aback. But yes, I guess you're right, if you were living like this all the time, you'd develop short-cuts and probably more efficient ways of doing things. You probably wouldn't eat different meals every evening for starters so one big batch of chilli sin carne or whatever might do you all week. Boring but less work! Thank you so much for reading and commenting - it's lovely to have your company! E x

  3. This experiment sounds more like hard work with every post! I think I'd be hanging about the supermarket at the end of each day when the person comes along with their price gun to mark down the prices, in the hope of scoring a bargain, though even then, I'm not sure I'd come in under budget.

    1. You are so right! I am beginning to flag somewhat! But the end is now in sight (so is a gin!) and I've learned a lot. A humbling amount actually. E x


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