I can’t begin to tell you how good it feels to get into the kitchen and know something tasty will come out of it, especially when the budget is so tight. I can now look at the meagre offerings in the cupboard and feel confident about producing something filling, presentable and moreish. Ok, so I’m never going to win Masterchef, or enter GBBO, but I’m also never going to rely on a convenience meal, either.
Over the weeks, I’ve tried all sorts of dishes, to varying degrees of pleasure. I’m not a cook, so I’ve relied on the expertise of others to see me through. Here are my top ten, along with the websites I found them.
- Bread. There is nothing more satisfying than learning how to make bread. I used the recipes on the side of the bread flour packets, but I used the advise of the likes of Paul Hollywood and my instore bakers to perfect the method. I’ve learned to separate the yeast from the salt when putting in the ingredients, to use honey instead of sugar, especially in brown bread, and to be patient with the proving. To help things along, I wrapped the dish of dough in clingfilm and placed a warmed up welly warmer (don’t fret – it’s never seen the inside of a welly boot) on top of the clingfilm. Heat may rise, but nothing rises more than my dough under a welly warmer
- The 9p burger. If you’re going to learn how to make bread rolls, it’s important to put something tasty in them. Jack Monroe is a genius, and I’ve pored over her recipes for weeks. I was a latecomer to this burger, only making it this week, but it is simply delicious and set to become a weekly favourite. Here’s one I made earlier:
- Easy Lemon Curd Cake. This one is so delicious, I even made one to share with my work mates. I didn’t bother putting the lemon drizzle on the top, as it’s sweet enough for me.
- A roast dinner. TBH, my week started with a roast, with the meat being stretched out to other meals to reduce the cost. I tried it with a pork tenderloin, cooked in a slow cooker, a pork shoulder – less successful as it is too fatty and only the dog likes pork crackling – and a beef brisket. I discovered that my local supermarket has lots and lots of meat discounted first thing on a Sunday morning, all of it from their fresh meat counter, all of it in perfect sizes for two people. I made my roast with roasted tinned potatoes, mashed carrots and broccoli.
- Pasties. Here is a gorgeous recipe for a cornish pasty, but I made mine from leftover scouse, mainly, adding a dash of Chinese 5 spice to lift it.
- A tray bake. As my confidence grew, I started to experiment. Instead of lemon curd, I used some old drinking chocolate in the recipe, and made it in a tray, rather than a bun loaf. When it was fresh out of the oven, I smeared a softened spoonful of chocolate spread across the top, and cut it into 16 slices. I don’t think it ever lasts long enough to photograph
- Fish pie. Once again, I’ve tweeked this recipe, omitting the sardines, and using sweet potatoes, but it’s another staple which gets made when I’m on a late shift, and Ben is left to dine alone. When he gets home from college, it is ready to be put in the oven to go brown and he can help himself. It means I know he’ll eat more than a tray bake. Here’s my version:
- Pancakes. Such a versatile dish, which can be for breakfast or brunch. On a Sunday morning, I’ve made American pancakes, topping them with bacon and maple syrup, but usually I simply use one cup of plain flour, one cup of water, one egg and a pinch of salt, mixing together well to make a batter, heating a pan and cooking them up one ladle full at a time. It is literally five minutes of prep, and breakfast is served
- Smoothies. In a bid to keep costs down I’ve given up tea and coffee, and use dried skimmed milk in place of the fresh stuff. Adding the milk to honey and apples or pear – or frozen berries – makes a tasty treat on a day off.
- I could go on and on, I’ve realised, as I’ve built up such a diverse array of foodstuffs, but my top favourite dish – the one I eat daily – is Peanut Butter granola. Like Jack, I’ve started to make my own peanut butter (using cashews instead) and have added a dollop of chocolate spread to the mix, but this was one recipe which altered my thinking. I was never a granola eater; in fact, I was never really a breakfast eater. But this, with sultanas and a banana, fills me up until lunchtime, whether I’m working flat out at work, or doing my best to cook up even more recipes.
I started this blog to challenge myself to eat for £10 pppw (meaning our family of 2 had £20 pw to spend), inspired by the Sports Relief endurance endeavours people like Jo Brand, Eddie Izzard and Greg James have embarked on. Six weeks on, and my food lifestyle has changed beyond recognition. Tea and coffee are a thing of the past, as are bars of chocolate and crisps. My sugar fixation has disappeared and I have lots more energy and a calmer disposition. It’s now time to tackle all the other areas of my life which are out of control