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


  1. At least today's meals were a little less brown, which seems to be the theme of thrifty eating! It made me smile that Waitrose Red Wine Vinegar comes under their Essentials range - such a middle class essential :)

    I agree about the cost effect of the seasons. I've been wondering which would be the cheapest season for this project and decided you'd probably picked the worst month. It's certainly my most expensive time for everyday food shopping when there's almost nothing to pick from the garden and the staple root vegetables of winter are less appealing.

    1. Yes, I know exactly what you mean about brown, nondescript-looking, thrifty meals although I have tried to battle this as best I can. You can buy cheaper red wine vinegar vinegar at Aldi actually - I don't know what this says about their clientele! - but I don't use it often and it seemed criminally wasteful to buy a whole new bottle just for a teaspoonful! And yes, i agree again about the timing of this challenge - May is definitely not the easiest month but then there has been rhubarb (just!), and the herbs and leftovers in the vegetable patch have grown sufficiently to use in some quantity so it could be worse. I reckon mid-September would be the easiest time to do it here in the UK. Hope you've had a nice relaxing Bank Holiday! E x

  2. Well done yet again you certainly are doing well. I will certainly be giving the cinnamon honey a try.

    1. Thank you! The cinnamon honey is really good - definitely worth a try although you might want to use a runnier honey than I did to begin with and you could use a bit more cinnamon too, if you love it! Hope you've had a nice Bank Holiday! E x

  3. Chère Elizabeth, j'admire la façon dont tu suis sérieusement ce défi. sans aucun doute, cela doit te demander beaucoup d'efforts et d'astuce, mais je crois que c'est une bonne façon de ressentir dans la vie quotidienne (et dans son estomac!) ce que veut dire vraiment la pauvreté. Nous qui avons la chance de manger à notre faim et de pouvoir nous autoriser de temps en temps des petits "luxes", nous avons bien du mal à réaliser l'extrême tension que représente une vie où il faut faire attention à chaque détail, à chaque instant.
    Tu dois connaître le livre de Richard Hoggart "33 Newport Street". Je l'ai lu récemment. Je trouve qu'il montre bien le quotidien d'une famille qui doit compter le moindre centime.
    Je suis sûre que ton défi t'apportera beaucoup. Et merci de partager tes recettes, tu réussis à rendre la frugalité bien appétissante !
    Christiane xxxx

    1. Chère Christiane, merci! Oui, tu as raison, le défi exige beaucoup plus que je n'en avais cru! Et ça ce n'est pas mauvaise chose. C'est trop facile à oublier, je crois, tout simplement, les bénédictions quotidiennes dont nous nous en servons tout le temps. Le défi m'en a rappelé et j'en suis très reconnaissante. Non, je ne connais pas "33 Newport Street" - tu m'intéresses! Je vais le rechercher! Bonne soirée, Christiane à toi et à la famille! E xxx

  4. I am slowly catching up with your challenge. You are doing fantastically well but can I sense a longing for a special treat? x

  5. Thank you, Christina! And yes, you can definitely sense that! E x


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