Tuesday 24 May 2022

£1-a-day Food Challenge 2022 - 10 Takeaways

So these were my totals for my recent £1-a-day Food Challenge. No overspend and in fact 91p spare that, looking at my summary would easily have catered for a seventh day. That corresponds more than favourably with my totals in 2017 which came out at a total of £5.63 for six days containing the same number of meals. To say this was unexpected is something of an understatement. I really expected catering for myself on £1-a-day in 2022 to be virtually impossible five years down the line but what do you know? Thinking about this, various things have floated to the surface that I thought I might share here in the aftermath of the challenge, for the sake of completeness, if nothing else. 

My initial reflection, as I talked about at the beginning of my post about the final day of the challenge here, was about how the experience felt at the time - the initial enthusiasm and engagement of the first couple of days giving way to a low point of disenchantment and the temptation on Day #3 to throw in the towel but then picking up a second wind and sufficient momentum to mean that the final day almost came as a surprise. I felt initially (and still feel) that's because any kind of artificial challenge like this, is an extremely condensed experience and even with a degree of preparation and having done it before in 2017, it's a shock to the system, if you're not used to operating within such tight parameters. Writing about it here I enjoyed very much and made me feel accountable which was helpful as an incentive to keep going but in order to make it more interesting to write about (and hopefully to read), my menus included more diversity than they might otherwise have done and the work-load in the kitchen was at times slightly overwhelming. However, (see 5 below) I felt the week's menu was still quite repetitive and more so than in 2017. Perhaps I'm getting lazy in my old age!

But a bit further down the line, what are the takeaways? It's perhaps too early to assess the seriously long term impact but these are my 10 Takeaways so far:

1 It's reset the lens through which I view all sorts of costs. By that I mean, I've started seeing cost not in terms purely of numbers of pounds but in terms of units of a day's meals. For example, stopping for a cappuccino on a recent visit to our local farm shop café last week, I was taken aback to see that the cost of said cappuccino was £2.85. Not at all unreasonable for a coffee shop coffee, these days. But the numbers I saw were no longer just representative of pounds and pence - they suddenly registered as three whole days' meals on the basis of my challenge which made me sit up and think. I think all of us have become, or are becoming, more thoughtful about where we are spending our available funds - is this purchase really necessary? Do I really need this or that? Is this something for which I am prepared to deplete my precious resources and potentially go without something else? Sometimes, of course, the answer will be, and should be, 'yes' but the challenge has definitely accentuated that process of questioning and thinking through what I spend money on which is no bad thing bearing in mind I probably do too much shopping and not just for cappuccinos like this one last week!

2 Before this year's challenge ever started I knew that my habits around shopping for food, as well as cooking and eating it, had shifted, quite drastically in some areas, over the five years since my 2017 challenge but I wasn't aware of quite how much until I had completed this year's. Despite it being five years on and the fact that we are in the middle of spiralling price rises for food and everything else, the fact that the total spend on this year's challenge, for exactly the same number of days and meals, came out  54p cheaper than the total in 2017 of £5.63 really brought me up short. Why was that? For sure, it wasn't because individual items I was buying in the shops were costing less. Being able to draw on home-grown / home-preserved fruit in terms of fresh rhubarb, bottled and dried apple from the garden, frozen foraged blackberries and home-pressed grape juice and dried home-grown tomatoes was a major factor - in May 2017 although I did have a little bit of rhubarb in the garden, it was scanty; I also had a few frozen home-grown raspberries and foraged blackberries but again very little and I had to buy a certain amount of fruit and all my vegetables (apart from some mustard and cress grown from some elderly date-expired seeds) to include any in my meals. Even using the cheapest possible options this immediately pushed the cost of my 2017 meals higher. If ever my ventures into food-preservation needed validation this has been it. 

3 The same thing goes for growing stuff - there isn't a huge amount available to harvest at this time of year for free - April and May weren't traditionally called 'the hungry gap' between what was left of last year's harvest and the arrival of the new one to come, for nothing, but my home-grown walking onions and rather sorry-for-themselves, woody leeks, ground elder patch, herbs and baby courgettes were a godsend and punched way above their actual weight. During WW2 under pressure of short supplies of food and rationing, people dug up their gardens and planted vegetables wherever they could. We aren't all able to do that but, if we want to cut our food costs, then anything we can grow, we should,  - in the garden, on a balcony, or just on a window-sill. And that includes weeds - 'Love your enemies, Eat them & Save money' should perhaps be 2022's equivalent of WW2's 'Dig for Victory'! 

4 For this year's challenge I invested in a pair of micro scales. They weren't terribly expensive and I found them invaluable for weighing out tiny amounts of spices, tea etc Their accuracy and smaller calibration made it possible to use very small quantities of items that I would have rejected out of hand as being too costly and this I think, paradoxically, helped to keep costs down overall. 

5 On balance, there was, I think, less variety in my meals in this year's challenge than in 2017's which also helped to keep costs lower. The risk with too much repetition is boredom, of course, and in order to make the challenge sustainable, it was really important to combat that. Things like using very small quantities of different spices as well as lots of different herbs from the garden helped to keep things interesting and repel the big B-factor.

6 My actual eating habits are probably slightly more budget-friendly these days - for example I don't drink as much tea as I used to; in particular, I don't drink nearly as much tea with soya milk so it was much easier for me to switch to homegrown mint tea this time which I could make for free.

7 I began to be bothered about the energy costs involved in the cooking on the challenge and to worry that may be I was only spending £1 per day on ingredients but a lot more on the fuel I was using to cook them. If I do the challenge, or a version of it, again, I think one of the ground rules I will impose on myself is a limitation on cooking times, especially cooking times in the oven. Homemade breads, crackers or buns may be cheap on ingredients but they need a stonking hot oven in which to bake them. 

8 Similarly, I felt uneasy that I wasn't counting ingredients such as a teaspoon of salt, or a grinding of black pepper costing less than a penny, at all. I think another time I will make a notional allowance for this. In fact, as I had 91p left over in my budget I am sure that more than covers what I used in this way. By definition, we are talking peanuts (figuratively!) after all. Alternatively, I might weigh out a set amount for the period and include that cost divided evenly over the number of days. 

9 Perhaps the simplest and yet also most valuable takeaway from a challenge like this is the renewed appreciation that comes on the back of it for the everyday things it's very easy to take for granted. A budget that is not normally restricted to £1-a-day for food and all that goes with that. The availability and quality of ingredients and the infrastructure I have at my disposal - unrestricted (if now increasingly expensive) fuel, clean water from the tap, a garden to grow stuff in, the experience and the kitchen kit I've accumulated over the years that makes cooking from scratch, even on a very limited budget easier, quicker and more fun. Much of this is identical to what I felt on the back of my 2017 experience but it does no harm, and actually quite a lot of good, to reacquaint oneself afresh with it, I think.

10 This year's World Hunger Day on 28th May has a new urgency about it bearing in mind the impact of the war in Ukraine and the blockade of Ukrainian wheat exports to countries that in normal times have been reliant on Ukraine's huge grain harvest so I'm pleased to be donating this year the money I've saved on my challenge and a bit more to The Hunger Project. A drop in the ocean, of course, but every little helps.   

Thank you so much for reading and / or commenting after my long absence from the blogosphere - I've enjoyed being back in the zone of writing here and taking photos very much so I'm toying with the idea of returning more regularly - we'll see how things go! 

E x

Wednesday 18 May 2022

2022 £1-a-day Food Challenge - Day #6

I arrived at the last day of my 2022 £1-a-day challenge almost by surprise. I noticed this happened in 2017 that the first couple of days of the challenge had a steady pace and were lifted by the novelty value - costing recipes, cooking slightly differently and recording it all have an engaging quality to start with; Day #3 is not so good - the novelty has worn off and one starts to flirt with the idea of busting out and raiding the pantry for a very large bar of budget-busting chocolate, or just abandoning the whole project as a waste of time and energy. The realisation dawns that there are still three more whole days to calculate, cater and cook for in addition to the current one and it all seems a bit much. By Day #4 however, you have a little bit of a second wind - you think to yourself, "It would be a shame to abandon ship now, after completing three whole days successfully." And by Day #5 things are going more smoothly, so smoothly that, in fact, Day #6 creeps up on you, almost by stealth. 

It's worth remembering, I tell myself, that while human beings are extremely versatile and can adapt to circumstantial stringencies in the most extraordinary way, if they have to, that doesn't mean that adapting to new ways and patterns of living is easy, nor does it happen overnight. These things take time. A project like this one essentially, concertinas artificially into a few days what, if it applied as a given reality, would, in all likelihood, be a much longer term situation. 

I am all too aware that managing on a very limited food budget in the longer term comes with a whole host of other problems, some of them very significant and intractable - it's one thing managing like this for a short while but a whole other story once a few days becomes weeks, or months, or even years - but nevertheless a longer time span allows more space for the process of adapting and adjusting to take place.

It's an old aphorism that Rome wasn't built in a day but it is still true, in so many ways. Something that can feel quite counter-cultural to the 21st C mind-set hell-bent on instant results and high on instant gratification. I am privileged not to have to manage on a £1-a-day food budget as a general rule, but it's good to tuck away in the back of the mind that yes, it would take time to acclimatise and adapt but it is possible. 

Not ideal, for sure - the amount of time and effort to make these six days' meals conform to the budget has been, quite frankly phenomenal, for starters - but it is possible, even in today's spiralling cost of living crisis. And in a world where so many of the certainties that we previously regarded as inalienable and non-negotiable have been shown to be shaky, without foundation, or simply made of smoke and mirrors, and it's easy to think that we're powerless to combat much of that, I think anything that fosters a sense of self-reliance and resilience is a profoundly good thing, whatever budget we're working with. 

I felt I wanted to end with a little bit of a celebration meal for the final evening so most of my efforts for Day #6 went into that which means the rest of the day was rather repetitive, I'm afraid. Breakfast was therefore, yes, you've guessed it, porridge and bottled fruit again. 

Elevenses - strictly speaking, this was superfluous and could have been skipped but having been out cycling this morning I really needed something more than plain tap water to drink on getting home again and the bottle of masala chai I made on Day #1 was still alive and well in the fridge. 

I don't know why but Sainsbury's semi-skimmed milk froths up far better than any other. I assumed that all supermarket semi-skimmed milk was pretty much interchangeable but I've found that simply is not the case. If you want frothy milk for your cappuccino or, like me, for masala chai, Sainsbury's semi-skimmed milk beats everybody else's semi-skimmed milk. Just saying! I presume that the fat content is perhaps marginally higher in Sainsbury's semi-skimmed? If anyone has any more informed ideas - I'd love to know.

"Please may I have elevenses too?"

OK, Littlie, since you asked so nicely...!

Ever opportunist, Cicely and Sweeney Todd* get in on the act!

* Sweeney Todd, the bantam in the front of the pic, is so named because during 'Flockdown' in the winter of 2020-21, she developed the unpleasant habit of feather-pecking her companions, probably through boredom and / or depression. We managed to wean her off the habit last summer but over this last winter, when they again had to be confined to barracks because of the DEFRA regulations to prevent avian 'flu, she went back to her bad old ways and now anyone who doesn't move out of the way sharpish gets an unwanted haircut, as you can see the caramel-coloured Faverolle bantam at the back has had, in the pic below. Cicely (the White Sussex bantam) and Littlie (the last of our original Belgian Millefleurs Barbu d'Uccles bantams, now aged 13 and slightly unimaginatively named because she was the smallest of her bantam cohort) move to get out of harm's way too quickly to be victims but Sweeney's four Faverolle sisters are all sporting 'short back and sides' haircuts, I'm afraid. 

Lunch - what do you know? The same as the last four days!

Except for the fact that it was warm enough to take it outside and eat it as an impromptu picnic with a nice view. Everything tastes different and better outside, as we all know, even if it's exactly the same food (again)!


As I wrote at the beginning of this post, I wanted this evening's meal to have a slightly celebratory feel to it so it had three courses, not two and I just could not face stewed fruit and yoghurt for pudding again so there was a proper, unashamedly traditional pudding. Interestingly, I chose the kind of pudding I would never normally light on when rifling through a cookery book for inspiration as to what I might make on any given occasion. It's a thoroughly old-fashioned, steamed pudding with blackberries both at the bottom of the pudding and in the sauce to go with it. Although the recipe includes blackberry sauce as an integral part of the of pudding I also made an egg custard to pour over the top. Because, if I used bantam eggs and milk instead of cream, there was just room in the budget for it, and because why not?!

The first course was incredibly simple. Emboldened by the success of my wild green soup on Saturday, I raided the ground elder patch again and filled a colander with the stuff. Steamed briefly to wilt the leaves and lightly cook the stems, I served this up as it was, drizzled with a little French dressing made from 14g olive oil, 7g apple cider vinegar and a pinch of salt and black pepper. Split between two of us -  cost per serving 5p. It was surprisingly good - a wonderful vibrant green as you can see and with a pleasant spinach-like flavour. I was concerned it might be very fibrous but it wasn't. I'm glad I added the dressing though - lifted it no end and made it seem like serving (and eating) a proper dish rather than just sitting down to a dreary pile of cooked weeds!

The main course was a risotto. I had to fiddle around with the ingredients and quantities to get this to fit within the budget, bearing in mind I needed slack for my pudding (not forgetting the all-important custard) so I did a bit of teeming and lading and the end result was made up as follows:

10g sunflower oil (Aldi - this is like gold dust now with the war in Ukraine making the export of sunflower oil impossible and it's virtually unobtainable in UK supermarkets but I had a bottle of it on the go anyway in my kitchen so I used it. 1p)
94g onions (from a bag of Aldi Wonky Onions 4p)
3 slim walking onions (from the garden 0p)
224g risotto rice (Sainsbury's Arborio rice 44p - I could probably have used a bit less actually but D loves risotto and was happy to have rather more than me)
c 750ml homemade vegetable stock (made from vegetable trimmings saved from the last few days, plenty of herbs and 4g Sainsbury's Cooking salt nil)
180g frozen peas (Aldi Garden Peas 10p)
a handful of lemon thyme from the garden (nil)
a pinch of salt and a grind of black pepper (Sainsbury's / Aldi nil)
2 baby courgettes (the first of the year from the garden - so pleased that they were ready in time for this - I had not expected them to be but the rain of the last few days has accelerated them very happily - nil)

Total cost of risotto 59p ie 29p each for two. The budget also just allowed 4g of Aldi Grana Padano cheese for sprinkling on top of each serving. (3p)

The pudding was taken from The Hedgerow Cookbook by Wild at Heart Foods (aka Caro Willson and Ginny Knox) and it's called Bramble Pudding.

I made half quantities for the sponge bit and divided it between three individual pudding basins but used the full quantity of blackberries for the sauce so that there was plenty to go round. Having tweaked the recipe slightly to fit my budget, this is what went into it:

62g salted butter (from Marks & Spencer 500g pack 39p)
62g granulated sugar (from Sainsbury's 5kg sack 4p)
1 bantam egg (nil)
37g whole milk (Ocado 4pt bottle 2p)
275g blackberries (from the freezer - foraged last summer nil)
80g granulated sugar (from Sainsbury's 5kg sack 5p)
200ml grape juice (from the freezer - harvested last September nil)

Total cost of pudding including blackberry sauce 52p ie 17p per ⅓

The custard was made from 
3 bantam egg yolks (nil)
20g granulated sugar (from Sainsbury's 5kg sack  1p)
6g cornflour (Sainsbury's 2p)
400ml whole milk (from Ocado 4pt bottle 22p)

Total cost of custard 25p. It made just under 400g in total which allowed a generous serving of around ⅕ of the total (ie 80g) per person (5p each) to remain within the budget. 

I steamed the puddings for 5 minutes in the pressure cooker and then cooked them under pressure for 7 minutes which saved a lot of time and fuel - steamed puddings cooked conventionally are notoriously heavy on cooking times. I have to say it was absolutely delicious and such a treat with which to end the challenge. I shall definitely be making these again come the blackberry picking season. 

This marks the last of the six days of my £1-a-day Food Challenge for 2022. I'll do a summing-up post in a day or two - there's quite a lot of reflecting to do on the experience this time round but I need to digest it first. I know this challenge has been an artificial thing but I hope, if anyone is reading this and finding it heavy-going to put good food on the table with a very limited budget, it may encourage you and cheer you on - while these days have been hard work in the kitchen, the results have not just been cheap as chips, they've been nutritious, filling and joyful. 
E x

Tuesday 17 May 2022

2022 £1-a-day Food Challenge - Day #5

Breakfast was back to porridge again for Day #5. I made it with slightly less water so that the drizzle of fig-leaf syrup stayed on top a bit more which looked nicer and the porridge tasted slightly less thin. 


Lunch as per Day #3 with basil. Still very good despite it being the fifth day on the trot eating the same thing.


One of my little drives over recent years has been to reduce my refined-sugar intake a bit. As you will be aware if you've dipped into these pages before, I have a sweet tooth and a cup, (or preferably a pot), of tea and a piece of homemade cake, or shortbread, or whatever, are often what make up my happy place in the day. I'm never going to be someone who eliminates all refined-sugar from their diet but reducing it for health reasons is another matter and I've tried to adapt my eating patterns to reflect that. One of the things that this includes is making yeast-raised buns to eat at tea time in the afternoon when I need something to eat that is more than a tiny nibble. I've found that most such buns rely on a simple bread dough enriched with various additions that while they usually include sugar do not major on it. Certainly not in the way conventional cakes or biscuits do. The repertoire of these kinds of buns is extensive and although they share some basic similarities, there's plenty of variation and I've found it a happy hunting ground in my quest for lightening my refined-sugar load on a day to day basis. 

Many of these buns include dried fruit as well as a variety of spices and the combination of these provides a varied palette for experiment that can equal any cake repertoire. I'm thinking, yes, of hot cross buns but also South African mosbolletjies like the ones I made the other day, traditionally flavoured with grape juice, brandy and aniseed, Bath buns dotted with fruit and speckled with ground mace or nutmeg, miniature panettoni scented with orange or lemon zest, simple, vanilla-flecked Swiss buns (though these normally have icing which isn't exactly low sugar), stollen bollen that are miniature versions of German Christstollen with a small nugget of golden marzipan hiding inside each one, lussekatter, Swedish buns made traditionally for St Lucy's day on 13th December, fragrant with cardamom and saffron, choereg,  Armenian Easter buns, mysterious and wonderful with ground mahlepi and aniseed not to mention the stickier delights of Chelsea buns or cinnamon rolls. I could go on but you get the gist! 

Not all of these buns are suitable for this challenge - because of the spices for one thing and other additions such as a lot of dried fruit or ground almonds which are not cheap. One that is suitable however is an Italian bun - pan di romarino or rosemary buns. These are flavoured with fresh rosemary and citrus in the form of candied peel boosted with orange zest. 

Good quality candied peel is a) difficult to obtain in the UK-  even at Christmastime it's not easy to track down candied peel that comes in whole pieces rather than those ubiquitous tubs of chopped peel that are quite frankly nasty and b) even if you can obtain the good stuff, it's expensive. 

The good news is that candied peel can be made very cheaply and easily at home and the results are better than anything you will ever buy. It does take time however and I've learned (the hard way) that it can't be rushed. But set aside a morning or an afternoon when you can be around in the vicinity of the kitchen and it's not difficult. You don't need to be hands-on with it either the whole of that time, just around to check on it and respond when it's ready. It is also a way of using up something that would otherwise be thrown away. Citrus peel can't be added in large quantity to garden compost - worms don't like too much citrus and while they'll deal with the odd half lemon hull, a whole load of orange or grapefruit peel is too much for them so candying the peel for subsequent use rather than putting it in the bin is eco-friendly too. 

Preparing pink grapefruit peel for candying. Peel as you would an orange and eat the fruit for breakfast.

I use Jane Grigson's basic method in her Fruit Book but this one looks similar if you want something OnLine. You need to cook the peel twice in plain water before it goes anywhere near the sugar and this I shorten by using my pressure cooker which saves a great deal of time and fuel. For orange peel I cook the segments in about 700ml water under pressure for two lots of seven minutes each (changing the water between lots) and for grapefruit peel I cook the segments for two lots of ten minutes. From then on, I follow Jane's method. The trick is to let it candy slowly. If you rush it, or take the peel out too soon, you risk burning it or it remaining sticky, instead of becoming dry to the touch which makes it difficult to store and handle. Of the two pitfalls, it's better for it to be sticky than burnt! You can still use it if it's sticky but any burnt sections you'll have to throw out.

Pink grapefruit peel emerging from its second cooking in the pressure cooker ready now to be introduced to the syrup.

Pink grapefruit peel bubbling away in the syrup - quite some way to go yet before it's ready.

Pink grapefruit peel completely candied and with the sugar syrup crystallising on the surface cooling on a wire rack lined with baking parchment. The peel should ideally feel dry to the touch when cool.

This is what your pan should look like just after removing the peel to cool when the sugar has completely candied it ie there should be virtually no visible syrup left at all. Turn the heat down as you approach this point to avoid burning.

Anyway back to the pan di romarino. They're made from a simple white bread dough slightly sweetened and flavoured not just with rosemary but with orange zest. This can be had basically for free using leftovers by dehydrating discarded tangerine peel and then blitzing the results to a fine powder in a clean coffee or spice grinder. Tangerine or clementine peel works best rather than orange peel as it's thinner and easier to pulverise to a powder. 

Ingredients for pan di romarino

3tsps (8g) dried yeast (Dove's Farm from Ocado 8p)
500g strong white flour (Ocado 35p)
1 tsp salt (from Sainsbury's bag of 1.5kg bag Cooking Salt nil)
50g sugar (from Sainsbury's 5kg sack 3p)
40g room temperature butter (25p from Marks and Spencer 500g lack of salted butter)
1 tbsp fresh rosemary finely chopped (from the garden nil)
2tsps dried tangerine peel powdered (nil)
2 tsps dried tangerine peel powder (homemade from leftovers nil) 
1 bantam egg (nil)
200ml milk (from Ocado 4pt bottle of whole milk 11p) 
150ml whey or water (nil)
100g sultanas (Aldi 21p)
3 segments (c 180g) candied pink grapefruit peel (homemade - see above 12p)
½ an egg white to glaze before baking (Clarence Court egg from Ocado 10p)

Total cost £1.25. This quantity of dough divides, like the mosbolletje dough, into 12 so each bun costs 10p. Away from budgetary restrictions I would use 50g butter not 40g and I would glaze the buns with  whole beaten egg and sprinkle with poppy seeds before baking. 

Supper was for two of us as H is away in Madrid for work. Slightly ambitiously, I thought I'd see if I couldn't come up with a thrifty version of pissaladière, the Ligurian / Niçois version of Neapolitan pizza. Both pizza and pissaladière in their places of origin are frugal food developed to feed many mouths on very little. I opted for the northern version rather than the southern as mozzarella is outside my budget and pissaladière never has cheese on it. Instead it has anchovies and black olives both of which Aldi supplied me with very cheaply - a tin of anchovy fillets in olive oil for 49p and a jar of pitted black olives for 49p. The tin of anchovy fillets also supplied me with oil for the pissaladière dough which was a happy freebie. 

Strictly, a pissaladière has a base that is more onion than tomato but I've used a tomato-heavier one here made with the following:

220g walking onions (from the garden nil)
1 stick celery (Aldi 2p)
1 carrot (Aldi 5p)
1 red pepper (from a bag of four Wonky Peppers Aldi 24p)
rosemary, oregano and summer savory (from the garden nil)
6g Puglian olive oil (Aldi 4p)
1 tin chopped tomatoes (Aldi 28p)
a pinch of salt and black pepper (Sainsbury's / Aldi nil)

Total cost 63p for 600g tomato sauce of which I only needed to use 200g for two pissaladières ie 10p per person. 

I only used half the anchovy fillets and half the olives so it cost 12p per person for the anchovies and 11p per person for the olives. 

The dough is made from

½tsp dried yeast (2g) (Dove's Farm from Ocado 2p)
300g strong white flour (Ocado 21p)
1 tsp salt (Sainsbury's Cooking Salt nil)
oil from the anchovy tin - see above (Aldi nil)
210g whey (left over from homemade yoghurt making nil)

Total cost 23p. ie between 9p and 13p per person depending on appetite. I made a smaller pissaladière for me using only 220g dough so that worked out at 9p. D's used 300g and cost 13p.

Overall the pissaladière cost 42p per person. More expensive than some of my previous main meals but still within budget. To go with it, I managed to assemble the world's teensiest salad from some regrown Cos lettuce stumps and a few radish micro greens that I sowed too thinly to produce much substance. More of a garnish than a salad really but it was nice to have it nonetheless.

E x

Monday 16 May 2022

2022 £1-a-day Food Challenge - Day #4

Breakfast - not porridge today for a change! 

As a Sunday treat I broke out and made some oatcakes to have with my dandelion honey. This may not sound like much of a treat but believe me, it feels like one after the last three days which have been a great deal of hard work in the kitchen on fairly thin rations. Delicious rations mostly, to be sure, but thin. 

I'm rather fussy about oatcakes - too many of them taste cardboardy to me. The best I've ever eaten came from an unassuming, local bakery in Beauly near Inverness in 1996 and on returning south I did my best to replicate a recipe for them. I've been making the results ever since. They really benefit from the mixture of grades of oatmeal - pinhead for crunch, medium for body and fine to hold the dough together as well as a good balance between salt and sweet. The quantities of salt and sugar I've given work for me but you may want to tweak the amounts to suit your own taste. 

I like them best loaded with proper bee honey - a good heather or wildflower honey or a dark, aromatic French miel de campagne made from chestnut flowers or fleurs de garrigue. But a sliver of mature, slightly crystalline cheddar sits atop them very well too. The dandelion honey was good on them however although it was a bit too runny to stay on top of the oatcake as you can see!

To make the oatcakes, you need:

174g pinhead oatmeal (from a 2kg bag from Buy Wholefoods Online 22p)
196g medium oatmeal (from a 2kg bag from Buy Wholefoods Online 23p)
30g (+ another 20g or so for rolling out so 50g in total) fine oatmeal or porridge oats blitzed to flour in the food processor (Aldi porridge oats 3p)
2 tbsps (38g) soft brown sugar (Aldi 5p)
1 tsp salt (Sainsbury's Cooking Salt nil)
56g salted butter (from 500g pack Marks and Spencer salted butter 35p)
6 tbsps boiling water (nil)

Total cost 88p. This made 19 oatcakes yesterday so 4p per oatcake. You can halve the quantities if you don't want so many but I like to have a stash in a tin in the cupboard, if I'm making them.

Put the butter and water in a pan to melt over a low heat. Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Once the butter has melted, tip in the dry mixture and stir to form a stiffish dough. Roll out thinly but not too thinly - about ⅛" in depth, no thinner - on a surface floured with the remaining fine oatmeal and cut into 3" rounds with a fluted cutter. Bake on a lined baking tray at 195-200℃ for around 15 minutes until the edges darken a little and the oatcakes are crisp. 

Lunch - the same as yesterday apart from substituting dill for the parsley and basil. 



Supper was pasta again, thanks to the bantams - bless their feathery trousers!

This time it's an Italian  recipe that I only discovered a few weeks back for pasta e piselli con pan grattato - pasta with peas and breadcrumbs which I've adapted to fit the constraints of the £1-a-day budget. It's a very simple thing - the sauce is just frozen peas cooked briefly with a generous handful of chives and then whizzed up to make a creamy purée with some hot vegetable stock, olive oil, a splash of apple cider vinegar, and salt and pepper and spooned over tagliatelle or whatever pasta you like.

The pan grattato, known in Italy as 'Poor Man's Parmesan', is sprinkled on top of the sauce either instead of, or ideally as well as, Parmesan cheese or, as I'm using, Parmesan's poor relation, Grana Padano. It's remarkably good  and makes a lovely, piquant and crunchy contrast to the creamy sauce which has no cream in it. 

It consists of stale sourdough bread whizzed to crumbs and mixed with finely chopped herbs which are then fried in olive oil until crispy and brown. I've only tried them on pasta but they would be nice over a salad or on soup too. They are a fantastic way to use up stale sourdough bread. 

To make this, start with the pan grattato for which you need:

80g stale sourdough breadcrumbs from homemade sourdough loaf 5p
about 1 tbsp of mixed fresh herbs finely chopped - I used tarragon, lemon thyme and rosemary from the garden (nil)
a pinch of salt and black pepper (nil)
18g Puglian olive oil (Aldi 13p)

Total cost 18p. This is enough for 3-4 servings but it's quite moreish so probably works out at about 6p per person.

Mix the breadcrumbs, herbs and salt and pepper together. Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the crumbs and cook over a medium high heat moving the crumbs around with a spatula to stop them burning. Once they are golden brown and crisp, remove from the heat, decant into a bowl and leave to cool down and crisp up further.

For the piselli sauce you need:

250g frozen peas (from Aldi 900g bag of Garden Peas 15p)
22g Puglian olive oil (Aldi 16p)
a big handful of chives from the garden (nil)
¼tsp salt (from 1.5kg bag of Sainsbury's Cooking Salt nil)
a grind or two of black pepper (Aldi nil)
1 dsp homemade apple cider vinegar (nil)
c125 ml homemade vegetable stock (nil)

Total cost 31p. This makes two generous portions ie 15p each.

Bring about a litre of water to the boil. Add some salt and then the frozen peas and chives and simmer for a few minutes until the peas are cooked. Tip the contents of the pan into a sieve set over a big jug to collect the cooking water which can be used to cook the pasta. In a small but deepish pan heat the vegetable stock and tip in the strained peas and chives. Add the oil, salt and pepper and apple cider vinegar and then blitz to a roughish purée with a stick blender. Thin with a bit of boiling water if it seems too thick. Put the pan back on the heat to keep warm while you cook the pasta. Once the pasta is cooked and drained, ladle into bowls and spoon on the sauce. Top with the pan grattato and a little Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese. 

I think I left my sauce reheating for a bit too long - the colour has lost some of that lovely, vivid green it had just after blitzing to a purée. Note to self - only do the puréeing at the last minute!

The impetus to cook this was wanting to find another pasta dish that I could use on my very limited budget but it's been a happy discovery regardless of the budget - delicious and a bit different. Definitely in the to-be-repeated category.

E x