Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Bargain Bruschetta

More bruschetta than bread?

Traditionally more of an appetiser, I like to double up and have these as a proper meal with a bit of salad and mozzarella (if I'm lucky). There are lots of ways to save money here too.

Old bread - I had half a stale French stick that was perfect
Tomatoes - if using whole/ salad tomatoes, budget for about 1 tomato/ slice (I used 3 anaemic salad tomatoes + 5 squishy cherry tomatoes). I reckon you could use tinned tomatoes here if you strained off the liquid
1 small onion - red is better, but if you only have brown then go with that
1tbsp tomato puree if available
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Splash of oil (olive is better), about 1tbsp
Splash of vinegar (balsamic is better, but malt will do)
Basil - dried is OK but fresh is a lot better
My basil plant passes through a death/ regeneration cycle once a week when I remember to water it
Quantity variable - 1/2 a French stick gives about 8 slices

1) Slice up the bread and lay out on a baking tray. Preheat the oven to 180 deg C
2) Roughly chop up the tomatoes. I like to leave a couple of larger chunks in there too, and I'm not fussy about the seeds. Feel free to take them out if you are
3) Finely chop the onion (a mini food-processor is perfect if you have one)
4) Stir the tomato and onion together in a small bowl. Add the tomato puree if your tomatoes were a less-than-vibrant red like mine
5) Mince the garlic into the bowl
6) Add the oil and vinegar and stir so everything is evenly distributed
7) Scoop the mixture onto the bread. Sprinkle basil over the top if using dried
8) Cook for 10-15 mins. Add the basil leaf after if using fresh

Tomatoes = 50p
Onion = 8p
Tomato puree = 5p
Garlic = 5p
Oil = 4p
Vinegar = 5p
Basil = 2p if dried, less if fresh. I grow mine from a pot I got for £1, and it's given me >50 leaves so far
Total = 80p, 13p/ person if one each as an appetiser, 40p/ person if as a whole meal

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Cheat's Paella

Stage 11

If my Spanish and Catalan friends ever find out I wrote this, I will probably be dead to them. In my defence, I love paella but making it on a budget is very difficult for two reasons:

  1. There are so many ingredients. Seriously. 
  2. In traditional paella, there are 3 'meats' - chicken, chorizo and prawns, none of which are particularly cheap.
When I first made this, I based my recipe off the Delia version, and made some changes. I've marked essential ingredients with a *. Feel free to swap/ compromise as you go.

2tbsp oil
*2 large/ 3 small chicken breasts or equivalent e.g. chicken thighs (you can get away with even less because there is so much other stuff in here), cut into chunks
*1 onion, chopped
*2 peppers (or 1), in chunks without seeds
*100g chorizo sausage (if you can, get the 200g cooking version for £2.00 and not the diced one which is also £2.00 but only 130g. Whatever you do, don't get the salami-style slices. I've also seen normal sausages with pork and chorizo which might work out cheaper too). Take off the ammonia-smelling skin, and slice into rounds which you can then quarter
*3 cloves of garlic, crushed
Spices: *2tsp paprika, 1/2tsp cayenne pepper, 0.2g saffron (NB: this is super-expensive and in my opinion, not worth adding. My mixture ended up being really yellow anyway, but if you wanted that colour you could add a couple of drops of yellow/ red food colouring instead!) 
*200g tomatoes, in chunks without seeds (I reckon you could substitute tinned tomatoes here. If you do, make sure to sieve them to remove the seeds - how-to video here)
*2 pints of boiling water
*300g risotto rice (there are fancy paella versions out there, but we only had arborio risotto rice and it still tasted good)
*2 handfuls of cooked prawns (I used small frozen ones because they were reduced to half price. Use bigger prawns for a treat. If you use raw ones (grey) then make sure to cook them properly first, in a separate pan)
*50g of frozen peas 
Splash of lemon juice

Serves 6 (or 5 greedy family members)

1) Prepare all the vegetables and meat first (this will take a while)
2) Heat the oil in an enormous pan
3) Fry the chicken pieces until they are properly cooked
4) Remove the chicken, then add the onion and fry for 4 mins on low heat
5) Next add the chopped peppers and chorizo and fry for 5 mins (put the kettle on for the boiling water)
6) Bung in the garlic and spices and cook for 1 min
7) Tip in all the tomatoes and the boiling water
8) Put the chicken back in
9) Simmer for 15 mins
10) Add the rice, and leave to simmer uncovered for 15 mins (stir it occasionally)
11) Add the prawns and the peas and cook for 5-10 mins (if prawns are frozen, err on the side of 10 mins)
12) Sprinkle the lemon juice over it and you're done - serve in the pan for minimal washing-up!

Oil = 4p
Chicken = £3
Onion = 8p
Pepper = 70p
Chorizo = £1
Garlic = 6p
Spices = 10p
Tomatoes = 80p
Rice = 66p
Prawns = £1
Peas = 10p
Total = £7.54, £1.26/ person

Toast Pizza

One of my favourite snack creations - I'm eating it right now whilst typing one-handed.
Double it up for a simple lunch.

1 slice of bread
2tbsp ketchup (I used the homemade ketchup I made earlier in the week, but bog-standard is obviously fine)
15g of cheese (aka the manky double gloucester I found lurking at the back of the fridge)

Serves 1

1) Make toast
2) Spread ketchup on toast
3) Grate cheese onto toast

Bread = 8p
Ketchup = 4p
Cheese = 6p
Total = 18p

Monday, 29 July 2013

Spaghetti Bolognese (Spag Bog)

For some as-yet-undetermined reason, what the rest of the world shortens to 'spag bol', my family calls 'spag bog'. Fans of UK slang will understand why this is funny...

Second time round, I added courgette and some leftover mini corn...yum

There are a lot of recipes out there claiming to be the 'best' bolognese recipe, or that 'true' bolognese contains white wine, not red, etc. etc. Now, I don't know much about that. But what I do know is that bolognese is delicious. And great for making in a large batch and then freezing portions. I'm always flexible on the vegetable choice and tend to use up whatever I have left.

1tbsp oil (olive is best but not compulsory)
1 medium brown onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
500g beef mince
2 tins of tomatoes
Vegetables e.g. 3 chopped carrots, handful of mushrooms, handful of peas, 1 red/ orange/ green pepper, 2 celery sticks
1 pint of stock (beef or vegetable)
300g dried spaghetti/ other pasta

Optional extras:
4 rashers of streaky bacon, cooked and chopped up
1 glass of wine
Extra cherry tomatoes
1tbsp tomato puree
Herbs - basil, oregano, rosemary, mixed herbs
Parmesan gratings to finish

Serves 4-5

1) Heat the oil in a very large casserole dish or saucepan
2) Add the chopped onion and fry gently for 7 mins
3) Add the garlic and cook for 1 min
4) Tip in the mince, stir and cook - it will start to turn brown, then release water which you want to burn off. When the water and liquid is gone you will be left with the meat/onion/garlic mixture (add wine now if using, and boil off the ethanol). Boil the kettle to make the stock (fry the bacon if using)
5) Add the tinned tomatoes (and tomato puree if using)
6) Add all the vegetables (and cherry tomatoes and bacon if using)
7) Add the stock (and herbs if using)
8) Heat on the stove until it bubbles in the middle. I like to transfer it to the oven for about 45 mins at 150 deg C (make sure to check the liquid levels and add more stock if it is looking dry), but you can just leave it on low heat on the stove for about 30 mins
9) 15 mins before finishing, start boiling the water for the spaghetti. Cook the pasta for about 12 mins (see packet), then drain and serve

Beef = £4 (less if you buy it on offer, e.g. 3 for £10)
Onion = 10p
Oil = 3p
Garlic = 5p
Tomatoes = 70p
Stock = 10p
Vegetables (depends on what you use) = 40p ish
Spaghetti = 60p
Total = £6, £1.20/ person

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Homemade Tomato Ketchup

We had burgers for tea last night - it was the perfect opportunity for me to experiment with ketchup recipes, one of which I found here. The end-product is very different to Heinz - but still completely delicious!

2 cans of tinned tomatoes
1 medium brown onion
2 cloves of garlic
2tbsp oil
1tbsp tomato puree
Spices - I went with 1/2 tsp salt, 1tsp actual mustard (we were out of powder), 1tsp paprika, 1tsp mixed spice (if you have cloves, use those too), 1/2 tsp turmeric
100g brown sugar
About 70ml vinegar (I used cider vinegar)

Makes 2 medium-sized jam jars

1) Chop the onions whilst heating the oil in a large saucepan, then sautee for about 7 mins until soft and transparent.
2) Crush the garlic and add to the pan, cooking for 1 min
3) Stir in the tomato paste
4) Add all the spices, and stir thoroughly so they are evenly distributed
5) Add the sugar, vinegar and tinned tomatoes and stir
6) Heat gently for about 45 mins, until the amount of liquid has reduced
7) Use a blender (hand-held is best) to puree the sauce (NB: beware hot splashes of sauce - I wrapped a tea towel around my arm)
8) Transfer the sauce into clean jam jars - although it smells a lot like chutney when you're cooking, I doubt it would last as long on the shelf. But it's so tasty it wouldn't anyway!

Store in the fridge

Highly dependent on which spices you use, but the tomatoes, onion, garlic, sugar and vinegar add up to:
2 tins tomatoes = 75p (don't get the cheapest ones)
Onion = 10p
Garlic = 7p
Sugar = 25p
Vinegar = 8p
Total = £1.25

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Marshmallow and Chocolate Cookies

I found some stale marshmallows in the back of the cupboard this afternoon (you know, those mini ones you can put on hot chocolate) and thought I'd try to use them up. I created these cookies as an experiment, and they ended up tasting better than I could have ever hoped!

6oz plain flour
4oz soft marge (plus some extra)
2oz sugar
About 3oz mini marshmallows
2oz dark chocolate, cut into chunks

Makes 16

1) Pre-heat the oven to 160 deg C
2) Mix the flour, marge and sugar together
3) Tip in the marshmallows and chocolate and stir
4) Add some extra marge if it's not sticking together well - it should look a bit like shortbread
5) Shape the mixture into balls and cook on baking trays for 15-20 mins (longer makes some of the marshmallows go toffee-like which is delicious)

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Homemade Pesto

I can't believe I've only just discovered how great pesto is - it makes even the most boring pasta dishes exciting. This recipe is inspired by Delia's but I didn't have much luck weighing basil leaves. I tweaked the quantities, and substituted cheddar for the pecorino (I know, sorry) which worked surprisingly well.

As many basil leaves as you can get hold of/ approx. 1 handful
2 garlic cloves (I love garlic, but if you're less worried about warding off vampires then 1 clove is fine)
2tbsp pine nuts
4tbsp olive oil
Some grated cheese (ideally pecorino romano, but cheddar worked)

Serves 3-4 on pasta

1) Tip everything except the cheese into a blender and whizz it up until there are only small bits of basil leaf left (add extra oil if necessary to make it go further)
2) Transfer to another dish and stir in the cheese

Basil = £1
Garlic = 6p
Pine nuts = 40p
Oil = 3p
Cheese = 30p
Total = £1.79, 45p/ person

How to cook meat on a budget

It's difficult. No two ways about it.

But here are some ideas to get you started.

1) Celebrity chefs always say things like 'cook with offal', 'use the obscure cheaper cuts of meat', 'make friends with your local butcher'...blah blah blah. All very well and good. But I (like most people) don't like offal - and how convenient it sounds so much like 'awful'. And I also don't have time for faffing around, even though I know the meat from butchers tends to be better quality. Here are some cheaper cuts of meat that are readily available in your supermarket. They may need cooking slightly differently.
          Chicken thighs - cheaper than breast, and good if you're just going to chop it up anyway. The meat               isn't as white as breast meat, so it's good if you're going to cover it in sauce (see sweet and sour sauce           below, for example) or put it in a pasta bake
          Beef brisket - bit muscly so cook it for ages
          Lamb neck - ditto, good for stews and casseroles

2) As a follow-on from the previous point, whole chickens often work out to be a good amount of meat for your money. Roast a medium chicken and you will be able to feed four for two meals

3) Processed meats like mince and sausage are cheaper and often on offer

4) The 'reduced' section - my favourite hunting ground. Beware sell-by dates - after all, that's why the price has been reduced - but if you're just going to freeze it straightaway, what does it matter? N.B. Don't buy it if it's a funny colour or the packaging is damaged. I do not like green ham, Sam-I-am.

5) Frozen meat - if you're going to freeze it immediately, what is the point of spending more on fresh meat? I always buy my chicken breasts frozen, but experience with the value/ cheapest own-brand stuff is that they are pumped full of water to look better and weigh more. Obviously when you cook it, you lose the water and they shrink substantially. So it's worth spending a bit more so that you're actually buying a larger mass of meat.

6) Less is more. Or rather, less goes further. I will be posting recipes that help you make the meat you are cooking go further. Typically this involves bulking out with more vegetables and so has the happy benefit of being better for you!

Further suggestions on a postcard. Or in the comments section below.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Raspberry and Lemon Fairy Cakes

Slight departure from the budget theme - but these are very tasty and won't blow the bank. I wanted to combine lemon sponge and raspberries in the one cake.

4oz soft marge
4oz caster sugar
4oz self-raising flour (plus a little extra)
1tsp baking powder
1 medium/ large egg
1 lemon

2oz soft marge
4oz icing sugar (plus a little extra)
About 10 raspberries

Makes about 12

1) Preheat the oven to 160 deg C
2) Combine the marge and sugar and beat until pale and smooth
3) Add about half of the flour and baking powder, and fold in
4) Add the egg and beat in
5) Add the rest of the flour and baking powder
6) Add the juice of about 1/3 lemon, and add some extra flour to return to previous consistency
7) Spoon into baking cases and cook for about 12-15 mins
8) Puree the raspberries and then filter (sorry, sieve) them to remove the seeds to leave you with a bright red raspberry puree
9) Combine the marge and half the icing sugar, then add a couple of spoonfuls of the puree
10) Add the rest of the icing sugar, plus a little more to thicken it up. Return this to fridge to harden it up
11) Slice the rest of the lemon thinly for decoration
12) Let the cakes cool before icing

TIP: If you have leftover raspberry puree, you can use it up (like I did) in my frozen fruit fool recipe

Monday, 22 July 2013

Roast Vegetable Pasta

Great for when you feel like pasta but don't have any tinned tomatoes left - a colourful dish that works in summer and winter! I like it with root vegetables in autumn.

50g pasta (spaghetti/ those twirly ones/ etc. all fine) per person - the packets typically recommend 70g/ person but I have never met anyone able to eat that much pasta in one sitting
Oil for roasting
1 carrot/ person
1 parsnip/ person
2 cloves of garlic/ person (leave the papery skin on)
1tbsp creme fraiche/ soft cheese per person
Optional - 1/2 red pepper/ person
Optional - 1/4 onion (red or brown)/ person

1) Peel and chop the root veg into chunks about 3cm long
2) Set the oven to 180 deg C and roast the veg and garlic in the oil for about 45 mins, until soft
3) After 30 mins, boil the water and tip in the pasta, cooking for about 12 mins (see packet for details)
4) Drain the pasta, take the veg and garlic out of the oven and tip into the pasta saucepan (you might want to take out some of the oil if there's loads)
5) Stir in the creme fraiche/ soft cheese - you might need to heat the saucepan a bit until it all melts nicely
6) Serve!

Pasta - 3p
Oil - 2p
Carrot - 7p
Parsnip - 10p
Garlic - 5p
Creme fraiche - 10p
Total = 37p/ person

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Sweet and Sour Sauce

So much healthier (and tastier) than the supermarket or fluorescent takeaway versions - and surprisingly straightforward! It freezes nicely if you've got leftovers.

250ml orange juice
2tbsp vinegar (malt is fine)
2tbsp tomato ketchup
Squirt of tomato puree
2 tbsp sugar
2 carrots (diagonally sliced looks nice)
1 bell pepper (I like yellow because of the colour contrast but it really doesn't matter)
2 spring onions, chopped (optional)
Handful of mange tout/ sugar snap peas (optional)
Handful of pineapple chunks (optional because I can't stand pineapple)
3tbsp cornflour

Serves 5-6

1) Tip everything except the cornflour into a large saucepan and heat on medium until bubbling in the centre and the carrots are cooked
2) Put the cornflour into a separate bowl and gradually add small amounts of water, mixing in between, until you have a smooth white paste
3) Add the paste a spoonful at a time to the sauce and stir in until the sauce thickens and is gloopy
4) Heat for 5 more mins
5) Done!

Bake or fry chicken pieces and pour the sauce over at the end. Great with rice or noodles

Juice = 15p
Vinegar = 2p
Ketchup = 2p
Puree = 3p
Sugar = 5p
Carrots = 14p
Pepper = 50p
Cornflour = 2p
Total = 93p, 19p/ person

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Frozen Fruit Fool

Raspberry - I went to get a camera and someone tried it...
I froze it a bit too quickly (you can tell from the lumps), needed a bit more stirring

I invented this in the throes of what we in the UK like to call a 'heatwave' - it's been hotter than 25 deg C for a week so naturally the country is in meltdown! This refreshing dessert is a cross between frozen yoghurt and fruit fool. I've tried it with strawberries and raspberries, but I reckon it would work with blueberries, cherries, other red fruit, etc. too.

100g soft fruit
1tbsp icing sugar
200g fat-free Greek yoghurt
2tbsp caster sugar

Serves 4-5

1) Blitz the fruit in a blender until it forms a puree
2) Transfer to a container that can be frozen, and stir in the icing sugar
3) Add the frozen yoghurt and caster sugar, and whisk until mixed
4) Freeze and stir approx. every 30 mins until frozen solid - or remove earlier if a more liquid consistency is desired

Serve with a shortbread biscuit and mint leaves for a more sophisticated dessert.

Strawberries =  50p
Icing sugar = 3p
Yoghurt = 50p
Caster sugar = 5p
Total = £1.08, 22p/ person

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Fail-safe Tomato Sauce

One of my freezer staples - I'll make a big batch and freeze it in portions to whip out when I get back from the lab and am too tired for anything more challenging than reheating this, and cooking pasta!

It's really flexible - use up whatever veg you have left at the back of the fridge or freezer - and is a great way to get in several of your 5-a-day.

For a change, I won't list ingredients but instead suggestions of things to include. The only compulsory component is the tomatoes.

Makes 4-5 portions

1) If adding onion and/ or garlic and/ or celery, put 1tbsp of oil in the bottom of a large saucepan and fry gently for around 8 mins
2) Add the 2 tins of chopped tomatoes
3) Add everything else:
        Fresh veg - carrots, broccoli, mange tout/ sugar snaps, mini corn, bell pepper, celery,                         mushrooms
        Frozen veg - peas, sweetcorn, broccoli
        Meat - cooked bacon, leftover cooked sausages
4) Heat until the liquid in the centre is bubbling
5) Done - use straightaway or leave to cool

Obviously the final cost depends on what you put in.
2 tins tomatoes = 62p

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Best Flapjack Recipe

I must have made flapjack about 20 times in my life - recipes with flour, recipes without, recipes with fruit, recipes without...there is a surprising variety out there. But this one (adapted from a Delia Smith recipe, has to be my favourite - only 4 ingredients and 5 things to wash up (weighing bowl, metal spoon, saucepan, wooden spoon and baking tray, if you're counting). Quantities are fairly approximate - it's a pretty robust recipe.

8oz soft margarine
8oz light brown sugar
3tbsp golden syrup
10oz porridge oats

Optional extras:
Dried fruit like sultanas, cranberries, apricots, prunes...

Makes about 20 squares (1 baking tray's worth)

1) Pre-heat the oven to 160 deg C
2) Melt the margarine in a large saucepan
3) Add the sugar and golden syrup and stir
4) Mix in the oats so they're all nicely coated *
5) Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper, and tip in the mixture. Press it down with a spoon so it's even
6) Cook for 20-25 mins (until golden and bubbling)
7) Leave to cool in the tray before trying to cut it up

Tip: If it sticks to the greaseproof paper (a common occurence in my household), turn the flapjack upside down (paper side up), boil the kettle and splash some of the water on the paper. When it's soaked through, it should peel off nicely

* Add the dried fruit here if you want to, approx. 4oz or whatever looks right

Margarine = 30p
Sugar = 30p
Syrup = 10p
Oats = 18p
Total = 88p (5p/ square)

Recipe No. 1: Carrot Soup

My notoriously-picky family were initially highly suspicious of this vegetable-based concoction. But after much persuasion, I managed to get them to try it.
The verdict? 'Delicious and not too carrot-y' - whatever that means. Enjoy!

1tbsp oil (sunflower/ vegetable/ olive)
1 small/ medium brown onion
500g-ish of peeled carrots (start with about 1kg of carrots to achieve this end-weight)
1 medium white potato
1L stock (chicken or vegetable)
200ml orange juice

Optional extras:
Soft cream cheese or creme fraiche to finish
Bread roll

Makes about 5 portions (6 at a push)

1) Peel and chop the carrots, aiming for a thickness of about 3mm because they'll cook faster. It's best to do this step first because it's not speedy
2) Heat the oil in a large pan (casserole dishes also great)
3) Meanwhile, chop the onion (doesn't have to be too fine because the end product is going to be pureed) and add to the oil. Fry gently for about 8 mins, until it softens
4) Whilst the onion is frying, if you are using stock cubes put the kettle on to boil. Peel and chop the potato into small-ish chunks. Make the stock
5) Add the carrots and potato chunks to the onion and heat for about 5 mins with stirring
6) Add the stock and juice and leave the pan on the heat until the liquid in the centre starts to bubble. If you are in a rush, then leave the pan on medium heat for about 15-20 mins - until the carrots are soft when you stick in a knife in them. If you have longer and used a casserole dish, you can put it in the oven on a low temperature (about 120-140 deg C) for 30-45 mins - make sure to check the liquid level occasionally.
7) Turn off the heat and let it cool for 10 mins (washing-up opportunity!) *
8) Dig the blender/ hand-held food processor/ other pureeing gadget out of the back of the cupboard and use it to puree the soup. This will probably have to be done in batches and can get a bit messy
9) Done!

* If you are using coriander, add it in step 7 before pureeing

Meal suggestion: great for lunches and re-heating at work. It freezes well too.
Add a bread roll for a more filling meal. To finish it off, I like to add a spoonful of soft cheese (or creme fraiche if I'm lucky enough to have any left in the fridge) - the colours look delicious too!

Oil = 3p
Onion = 12p
Carrots = 80p/ kilo
Potato = 10p
Stock = 8p
Juice = 13p
Total = £1.26 for 5 people (25p/ person)
Total with cream cheese and nice bread roll = 50p/ person

Monday, 15 July 2013


Hello and welcome to my new blog! 

My inspiration was this article, which was popular on the BBC website a few days ago and which you can find here:
I read it, and two things sprang to mind:
1) The £1/ meal rule-of-thumb had already occurred to me a couple of years ago, and
2) the know-it-all that I am reckoned I could probably do a better job than this article did...

And once the idea had occurred to me, I kept obsessively returning to it over the next few days, mentally making lists of the recipes I'd include and playing around with snappy titles - generally while doing far more scintillating tasks like the ironing.

Having recently graduated (and therefore with slightly more time on my hands than I am comfortable with, at least for a few months), I thought this blog was worth the gamble - mainly because if it fails, nobody will notice. Win-win. 

Cooking became more than just baking variations of fairy cakes when I started uni - there followed much-mocked meal plans, and some inventive (if not always delicious) creations when the cupboard and bank account were looking bare (least successful combination: fish fingers, noodles and ketchup. Do not try this at home). 

I saw it as something of a challenge to experiment with limited ingredients on a budget, generating the minimum of washing-up along the way. I began to develop a healthy skepticism (some may say disregard) for recipes with exotic ingredients that I have to Google before fruitlessly searching for in the supermarket! Hence the title of this blog - my recipes will be simple, economical, healthy-ish, and use ingredients that you typically buy on your weekly grocery shop. Hopefully the results will also be tasty! 

This blog won't be exclusively recipe-based - sometimes there will be tips I've picked up about student cooking for one, or feeding many on a budget. Sometimes there will be a theme or a project, but basically it will be an eclectic mix of my musings. Your tips and suggestions are welcome. 

Let's go!