Category: Chefs, Cooks and Recipes

Easy Pizza

Who doesn’t love pizza?

I remember going to Pizza Land (I think it was Pizza Land) on New Street in Birmingham. It was the mid seventies, and this was date night with my boyfriend. For us poor A level students this was a height of sophisticated dining. They had tablecloths and candles way back then. I think that was the first pizza I had ever tasted.

The UK was a bit of a food desert in the seventies (at least in Birmingham it was). We had heard there were Indian Restaurants in some parts of Birmingham (now the famous Balti Triangle) where you ate with your hands, but we didn’t go there because There Was No Cutlery. There were a few Chinese Takeaways where you got curry sauce and chips after the pub and your parents would take you out to a Berni Inn for a birthday treat.

His family would have none of that ‘foreign muck’ and were traditional and repetitive with their food choices, always steak on Thursday, roast for Sunday lunch and a proper Sunday tea with tinned salmon with limp lettuce and tasteless tomatoes, and evaporated cream from a tin poured over tinned fruit. My family were obsessed with Black Forest Gateaux and we’d go to all you can eat carveries, armed in advance with Tupperware to take the leftovers home.

As a way of rebelling against this blandness I introduced him to Vesta Curry. It was considered exotic and authentic and we happily rehydrated cubes of chicken and beef and boiled the bag of rice that accompanied it. We knew how to live in 1976.

With that culinary history it is a wonder that I ever managed to cook much more than beans on toast. But then I found Delia and set off to uni with a Kenwood Mixer that was my 18th birthday present.

There were a lot less supermarkets in the seventies.  I worked in Presto on the tills and I don’t recall anything more exotic than a pineapple and I am pretty sure you couldn’t buy a pizza. Of course, you can get hundreds of different pizza in the supermarket now, ranging from ‘value’ to ‘Specially Selected – yet many store bought ones have added ingredients that really shouldn’t be there and if you pay 99p for a pizza I guess that is to be expected. Of course you can order one online and get it delivered, which my son happily does – but I baulk at paying £12 for pizza that I can make at home.

Homemade Pizza

This recipe was given to me by my friend of 34 years standing, Anne. She and her daughter are excellent cooks and bakers. It does take some bread making skills and you do need to make the dough in advance. Unlike the naan it also needs proving time. This pizza gets the thumbs up from the son who usually orders in, and if you have veggie resistant children this is a good way to get them to eat more,  as when they decorate their own pizza they get tempted by the colourful peppers.

pizza

Ingredients
700 kg strong bread flour

1 packet dried yeast

Splosh of olive oil

250 ml cold water

250ml boiling water

pinch of salt

Topping for your pizza

2 tins of chopped tomatoes or a carton of passata

A couple of balls of mozzarella cheese, torn into small pieces and/or grated mozzarella

then, this is the fun bit, add what you want, this is not a definitive list

Bell peppers – as many colours you can find, chopped

1 onion, chopped I like to use red onion for colour

A selection of cold cooked meat – such as BBQ chicken, ham or chorizo – whatever you like

Pineapple

sliced tomatoes

basil

Prawns

BBQ sauce

Method

In a large bowl add the flour and yeast, then combine the hot and cold water so that it is hand hot, and gradually add it to the flour. Mix with your hands until it becomes a ball -not too dry nor too sticky – add additional flour or water if required, and continue to knead for about five minutes adding the oil to lift all the flour from the side of the bowl.

If you have a mixer with a dough hook you can add all the ingredients to the mixer bowl and let the machine take the strain. I used to but now I prefer to use my hands. It is very theraputic is kneading.

Cover with a cloth and leave to prove for about an hour.

While the dough is proving prepare the toppings. If using tinned tomatoes, simmer for about 20 minutes and let them go ocld.

Chop all the topping and put them in separate bowls so everyone can choose their own toppings.

After proving, divide the dough in half and leave one half in the bowl to prove again. You will be making a loaf with this half.

Set the oven to about Gas 8 or the setting appropriate to your oven – conversion chart here

With the other half of the dough, roll out on a baking sheet – floured or a sprinkling of semolina grains, which soaks up the moisture and gives you a crispy bottom.  You will get one large rectangular pizza this way – or you can divide the dough to two/three or four balls and roll out individual ones and transfer them to shallow cake tins or baking trays.

Spread the cold tomato sauce or passata over the base, choose the toppings, and put in a hot oven for around 15 to 20 minutes.

The other half of the dough will  have proved again by now, so after you take out your pizza, shape the spare dough on a baking tray, or pop it in a loaf tin and bake for around 30 minutes. The bottom should sound hollow when tapped when it is done.

Italian Pizza

 

 

 

 

 

Since I started making this I have had pizza at a place that James Martin reckons makes the best pizza in the world. He is not wrong. I strive to continually improve on my pizza dough. You can read about that pizza experience here.

 

 

 

 

 

Carrot, Potato and Coriander Soup

Soup is the ultimate winter comfort food

Soup in a mug

It so easy to make at home. And really cheap too.

I had a few potatoes and carrots in the fridge that needed using up. It is almost always cheaper to buy vegetables in bags rather than loose, in the supermarket at least. Markets too seem to be selling by the bowl, so it is easy to end up with a glut of veg in the fridge. Then you have to use them before they go soft, and, when there is only two of you in the house there is a risk that you end up with not so fresh veg that needs using up.

Once you have made this soup, experiment with other vegetables. Leek and potato is particularly good. Add some ginger, chilli or other spices if you want it to really warm you up.

My husband made this for me as I have had to be on a diet of soft food for a couple of days after a small op on my mouth. I am sipping small amounts from a mug as I write, and it is delicious. Great convalescence food if you have been ill or are fighting a cold.

Ingredients

Four medium potatoes

Six medium sized carrots

1 onion

1tsp of ground coriander

Vegetable stock cube (optional)

Seasoning to taste.

Method

Peel and chop all the vegetables up and gently fry in butter or a small amount of oil. Take care not to let them brown, just soften them.

Add the ground coriander.

Add a litre of water (and stock cube if using) and bring to the boil, then simmer until the vegetable are soft.

Let the soup cool then liquidise with a hand held stick blender.

Gently reheat, check the seasoning and serve with some fresh coriander if you have some.

 

Simple

And that is all there is to it. When I have made this soup in the past, I have always added a stock cube, but we had run out of them – and really it made no difference except that it needed seasoning with a little salt. Stock cubes usually have salt in them and if you use one you probably won’t need to add any extra salt. I don’t usually add potatoes either, but they needed using up and it gave the soup a thicker texture, more like a chowder.

All of the vegetables used are organic. I prefer to use organic where I can but I know that they are not always readily available and can be more expensive. Not so much if you buy them at Aldi though.

 

Naan Bread

Bread is easier to make than you think

Vintage Bread

 

I used to think it was complicated and manufacturers of bread making machines would have you believe so too. I am still a rookie at bread, and let me tell you this, make time to make bread. Don’t buy an expensive machine. Kneading dough, as Albert Smith of Ubuntu will tell you, is therapeutic. I have had the good fortune of being taught how to make bread by Albert when I commissioned him to deliver bread making skills for Smethwick CAN. Albert is currently featured in the Homemade in Smethwick  exhibition which is currently touring in Sandwell Libraries, so if you are local to the area, do go and see it.

Home Made in Smethwick: Liz Hingley

Through intimate portraits of individuals and families, Liz Hingley celebrates and documents the cultural diversity and the home cooking fusions of people living in the Victorian terraces of Smethwick, one of the most culturally diverse towns in England.

Back to the bread

I will share other bread recipes with you in the future. I chose this one first because if you have never made bread before and think you need complicated ingredients, rising time, tapping the bottom to check it sounds hollow – you know how Paul Hollywood make it all so difficult – well this ain’t that. Again I have to thank The Kitchen School and Smethwick Can Cook for this recipe.

Ingredients

250g plain flour

2 tsp sugar

1/2 tsp (half) salt

1/2 tsp baking powder 110 – 130 mls milk

2tsp vegetable oil plus extra for greasing

Herbs/garlic/sesame seeds for optional toppings

Method

Sift the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder into a large bowl.

In a small bowl or jug mix together the milk and oil.

Make a well in the centre of the flour mix and pour in the liquid mixture.

Slowly mix together the dough by working from the centre and incorporating the flour from the edges of the ‘well’ to make a smooth, soft dough. Knead well for 8 to 10 minutes, adding a little more flour if too sticky.

Place the dough in to an oiled bowl (I just splashed a bit of oil into the bowl I kneaded the dough in and kneaded it into the dough), cover with a damp tea towel (a clean one) and leave in a warm place for 10 – 15 minutes.

Divide the dough into 5 balls.

Preheat the grill to medium and place a heavy baking sheet on the upper shelf of the grill to heat.

Roll out the dough balls quite thinly, ideally in a teardrop shape, or a circle. Sprinkle over your chosen topping and press into the surface of the dough.

Place the naan onto the hot baking tray and grill for 1 – 2 minutes, or until lightly browned. Brush with melted butter or oil and serve.

Lentil dhal

 

 

 

 

 

I served mine with the dhal I made earlier this week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Red Lentil Dhal with Tomatoes

I love Lentils

I have store cupboard ingredients to use up. Some time ago I overstocked on lentils when they were half price in the local Co Op and I have been experimenting with dhal recipes for some months now. Some have been better than others. When I saw that Smethwick Can Cook had made a dhal, using a recipe by Jayne of The Kitchen School I requested the recipe. And it is the best dhal I have made so far. Not the best I have ever eaten I hasten to add as Dhal at Lentil as Anything is a hard act to beat.

Allow yourself plenty of time for the lentils to cook and keep an eye on them. A watched pot may never boil,  but take your eye off lentils for 5 minutes and they burn.

  • Lentil dhal

To make the Dhal

Ingredients

400 g red lentils

2 tsps turmeric

2 knobs of unsalted butter (or cooking oil if you are vegan)

2 tsps cumin seeds

1 small onion finely chopped

2 – 3 cloves of garlic finely chopped

1 – fresh green chillies finely sliced (remove seeds to reduce the heat of the chilli) or if like me you dont like it very hot add the chilli whole and pierce it with a knife

1tsp garam masala

1tsp ground coriander

thumb sized piece of fresh ginger, finely grated

2-3 fresh tomatoes, chopped into small pieces

Fresh coriander to garnish

All of these will be available in your local supermarket. However if you are lucky enough to have a small local shop that sells such ingredients it will be almost certainly be cheaper than most supermarkets. Cumin seeds in a jar from a supermarket were £1.25 in a local indie shop a large packet was 89p.

Method

First get all your ingredients prepared and measured out in advance before you start cooking. This was one lesson I learned when cooking with Jayne. I tend to be scatty and get things out as they are needed then realise I need a chopped onion and I thought I had one in the fridge and I don’t so have to run to the shops.

First rinse the lentils in a sieve a couple of times, then place them in a pan and cover with enough cold water to come about two inches above their surface. Bring to the boil and skim off any scum that rises to the top. Reduce to a simmer. Stir in the turmeric and a generous knob of butter. Cover and leave to cook gently.

In a small frying pan, dry-fry the cumin seeds over a gentle heat until toasted and fragrant (no more than a couple of minutes). Remove from the pan and set on one side.

Melt a second knob of butter in the same frying pan and gently fry the onions and  garlic until the garlic is golden then add the chillies, tomatoes and grated ginger. Add the toasted cumin seeds, garam masala and ground coriander.

Give the lentils a good stir. they should have the consistency of porridge – thicker than soup and looser than hummus.

Add more water if required. They can get thick very quickly with just a couple of minutes of cooking.  Then add the aromatic mix of spices and vegetables.

Season to taste.

Serve with basmati rice, a side of greens or some naan bread.

Garnish with fresh coriander.

More about lentils

Since I gave away most of my cookbooks I use the internet more than ever to find new recipes and cooking tips.

This BBC Good Food link about lentils is useful – I never know which lentil to use or why. You will find more information about lentils with links to other recipes.

 

 

 

Why I cook and why you should too

I share many photos of the food I cook

I love to cook, yet rarely share the recipes. Yesterday I posted photos of the dhal I was making and a friend asked for the recipe. Indeed that friend came round to the house today and took the left overs. Which got me thinking about adding recipes to the blog.

The recipes

Aware of copyright, the recipes I share will either be my own, or links to the recipes I use a lot. I have culled my cook book collection and use the internets more and more. I share recipes on Instagram and in a group on Facebook in an effort to share them and keep them handy so I don’t have to google them and then forget which one it is I like…

Recipes are meant to be shared

Often they are passed down through families. My nan never used a cookery book or recipe to my knowledge, she had it all in her head. My mother burned baked beans in a Melamine dish she put under the grill to heat and also melted the dish, so no family recipes here. Delia was my cookery teacher. If you like the recipes you find here, share them with your families and friends.

Inspired by Smethwick Can Cook

I met Jayne, chef and owner of The Kitchen School a few years ago at an exhibition at The Botanical Gardens in Birmingham. She was doing some cookery demonstrations – making soup out of left overs including vegetable scraps. I had just started work with Smethwick CAN a charity that, alongside other projects, manages Smethwick Foodbank. I got chatting to her, took some contact details and began to think how I could use her skills to deliver cookery lessons in Smethwick. Many months later Smethwick CAN secured a small amount of funding from Near Neighbours to run some cookery lessons. The focus of these were to have fun in the kitchen, meeting new people from other cultures and faiths, while learning to cook healthy, affordable food. What I had specified when writing the bid, was that as well as cooking, participants would sit down and share the meal they had prepared.

Food binds communities

Jayne agreed to deliver the course and I also persuaded Albert Smith, an inspirational baker, to teach bread making. Both were committed to building community and shared my conviction that food binds communities. The breaking of bread is something that happens in all cultures and all faiths. By cooking and eating together, without the distraction of social media or the telly, conversation happened. In the community kitchen at Raglan Road Christian Church, magic happened. All over the country, community kitchens in churches are under used. What we started here we hoped would spread to more empty kitchens in Smethwick. People baking bread together, eating together and making food for their local community. Food brings people out from the isolation of their homes

Making bread is easier than you think

Watching Albert make bread is a wondrous sight to behold. He doesn’t use weighing scales, but mugs. Tasting it is a treat. Warm bread, straight out of the oven is enough to encourage kitchen phobics to learn to bake. And they did.

What white sauce doesn’t have to come out of a jar?

Well that is not quite what was said – but after making a bechamel sauce for the first time, one woman said she did not realise how easy it was to make and after tasting it declared that she would never buy a jar of sauce again.

Be inspired

This project inspired me to now share not just photos of food, but recipes, cooks that have influenced me. Food I love and hope you do too.

Find the recipes from the first Smethwick Can Cook here.

Another good resource is Can Cook Kitchen – a food project in Liverpool. Their 2 can curry looks amazingly simple to make. I must try it.

Cooking with Ping at Chi Kitchen

Chi Kitchen

a contemporary pan asian restaurant created as an exclusive departmental brand for Debenhams

The menu for Chi Kitchen has been created by Group Consultant Ping Coombes, 2014 MasterChef UK winner.

I was fortunate to be a guest at a masterclass with Ping on Sunday 20 March 2016 at the restaurant on the third floor of Debenhams, Birmingham. As I could take a plus one I dragged my husband along. There was food – he was not so reluctant tbh even early on a Sunday morning.

While I didn’t get on with SE Asia on my travels, I did get on with the food. The fusion of Malaysian cuisine particularly impressed me, with so many influences, from Indian to Chinese. The hot curries in Little India, KL and the delicious steamboat in the Cameron Highlands are particularly memorable.

When this invite to the masterclass popped into my inbox I was delighted. While I love SE Asian food I am not very confident when cooking it nor familiar with the ingredients or the techniques. And now I was going to learn from a MasterChef. How brilliant is that?

And that is why on a sunny Sunday morning I was meeting Ping in Chi Kitchen, Birmingham, desperately trying to hide my excitement at meeting an actual MasterChef winner. I am an avid watcher of TV cooking shows and I was a little bit star struck.

Ping was delightful. She warmly welcomed me and my husband Phil and she recalled that I had tweeted about the event. She remembered everybody’s names, which is a great skill.

We all had a welcome card, with details of the food we would be making during the masterclass.

The staff at Chi Kitchen were friendly and attentive. Water was brought out straight away, tea offered while we waited for the other guests and nothing was too much trouble for them.

Meanwhile Ping was securing a couple of glasses of bucks fizz for us.

The Executive Chef was already making Roti Canai for us to snack on.  Ping told us that we would be making it later on.

Never I thought, could we produce this in one lesson.

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We did. Well Phil did, he made the dough comprising of flour, water, condensed milk and sugar and did a decent job for a first attempt.

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I thought making the Money bags would be easy.

I have seen women making these in the food malls in Melbourne, they produce hundreds in a matter of minutes,  it took me 5 minutes to make one. Not going to be getting a job in a food mall in Melbourne anytime soon.

Then it was on to the Nyonya Salad with King Prawns.

Lots of individual ingredients, rice noodles, bean sprouts, tomatoes, cucumber, onions all into one bowl and massaged.

Add the chilli sauce and massage some more, and you are left with a salad that zings. Beats the limp lettuce and tasteless tomato salads that I was brought up on.

Once we had finished cooking, more food was brought to us. Everything was delicious.  Fresh, clean, spicy, a riot of flavours, yet delicate on the palate.

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To be able to eat food of this quality, in a department store, demonstrated just how the food scene in Birmingham is improving. As a child, my Grandmother used to take me to Lewis’s restaurant as a treat. This was when we had waitresses in black dresses and white aprons serve us. Proper posh.  Then department stores restaurants adopted the canteen style of cafes, offering chicken nuggets, congealed lasagne and chips.

Debenhams has realised that this no longer good enough for the discerning diner. The food offer in department stores needs to be more than a refueling stop for shoppers, in store restaurants need to be a destination to meet friends over lunch or after work. They have also realised that Birmingham is the place that this can work. We Brummies are foodies and we want great food.

Over the past few years I have observed Birmingham’s food scene getting better and better. While the councils PR and Marketing will always mention the Balti Triangle and how Birmingham has more Michelin starred restaurants than any other British city outside London in every press release, as will any London based journo who writes about Birmingham, there is a middle ground for us foodies. And I am not talking Mr Egg.

The Birmingham street food scene brought us Digbeth Diner. This showcases the best street food in Birmingham, including The Original Patty Men (which I have yet to experience) Meatshack dirty burgers and Andy’s Low and Slow, to name but a few of the many wonderful purveyors of amazing food

Indies started to fight back and it became easier to avoid chains selling identikit mextex when Bodega and Habeneros came on the scene. Urban and Six Eight gave Brummies decent coffee. Jake popped up in his telephone box, opposite Starbucks, selling great coffee, amazing sausage rolls and cake. Jake also gave us Tfor2, a way for his customers to pay it forward and buy a suspended coffee for rough sleepers.

A food scene was slowly and surely being established in Brum. Hoo flippin ray and about time too.

And all of a sudden it exploded, in a good way.

Birmingham has some excellent Tapas restaurants, the aforementioned dirty burgers from Meat Shack, innovative burgers at The Original Patty Men in Digbeth, great bread from Peel and Stone and Loaf. And then there is the innovative The Wilderness. Add to that the Michelin starred Adams, Purnell’s and Simpsons and the Birmingham Breakfast Club, Birmingham we have got food covered. Almost. There is still a shortage of mid priced good food that is not Beef Eater but I am sure we will get them soon.

With the opening of Grand Central, Brummies who may not have braved Digbeth for street food, Chinatown for SE Asian food, or tried tapas in Spain, are stepping out of their comfort zone of fast food and are experimenting with new food experiences. This is a good thing. Having tasted pho and lush pork belly tapas, in Grand Central I hope they will want to explore the street food scene, visit the Birmingham Foodies Festival or the Colmore Food Festival, showcasing the best food Birmingham has to offer.

The choice of food at Grand Central is staggering. Yes, they are chains, some small chains, some family run. Yet this is food we used to only be able to get in London. My personal favourites are Pho, Tapas Revolutions and Leon. There are eateries to meet the requirements for almost everyone in a safe environment, restaurants without doors in a shopping mall. It is a food court, a good food court, above a railway station. There are no toilets (if there are I’ve not found them yet) which for family dining is a nightmare. They are all busy, which is good for the retailers, yet one often has to wait in line to eat at Tapas Revolution and Pho.

Well now you don’t need to. Leave Grand Central, take a short walk to the Bullring and visit Chi Kitchen in Debenhams.

Attentive staff, authentic food, good music, open kitchen, uncrowded with a big picture window, clean toilets and no queues. Yet.

Disclaimer

I was a guest of Chi Kitchen. I was not asked to write about the experience, I chose to. I was not asked to say only lovely things  when I told them I would be writing about them. Ping is genuinely lovely. She told me to say that.

I am that easy to read am I? I just wanna have fun and want the same for my guests 🙂

All the photos were taken by Phil and me. Please don’t steal them.

And we got a goodie bag.

 

 

 

 

 

Live Below the Line 2015

Up front, I break all the rules of Live Below the Line. I don’t go to the shop with a fiver in my hand and buy my food for the week. I had lentils in the cupboard and pretty much decided to base my food plan for the five days around these. I have calculated my budget on what it would cost me if I had bought them. My shopping list is at the end of this post.

Breakfast has been an egg and a slice of bread for me, and husband has had toast with home made bread costing under 27p per loaf.

I also had these waiting to be used before they went well past edible. I hate throwing away food.Tired veggies needing tlc

This is what I have spent this week. £9.52  I am cooking for 2 adults and one meal (sausage casserole) was for 3 adults.

So what have I been eating?

I used the flour to make bread and flat breads. At 27p this is better value than any cheap supermarket bread and a lot healthier.

Monday

Dinner was A Girl Called Jack chickpea and peach curry, costing 22p per portion.

I cheated a bit at lunch as I am facilitating a cookery course for Smethwick CAN, who I work for. We made 3 pasta dishes and bread and then we sit and share a meal. The portions per person we costed at £1.50 so I skipped the meat dish, and had one slice of bread, and a small portion of the vegetarian one.

Tuesday

Lunch: Leftover chickpea and peach curry

Dinner: Lentil casserole with onions and spices, served with rice.

Wednesday

Lunch. Leftover lentil casserole.

Dinner. Sausage casserole. This cost a totals of £2.56 serving 3. At 84p per portion it takes us over budget.

Thursday

Roasted vegetable soup

Lunch. soup made with roasted peppers, onions, celery and tomatoes.

Dinner. Lentil curry and rice.

Friday is going to be tricky as I am going away for the weekend. I know lunch will be soup, and we may have some curry before we head off.

Yes I have cheated, again. I have spent more that I am supposed to. My husband added butter and jam to his toast and had tea every day. I have used herbs and spices in everything I have cooked. I had a ‘free lunch’. I bought meat. I have however only had 2 cups of tea this week although the plan was to stick to hot water. I have gone hungry and have been light headed. I have missed vegetables and fruit but not meat as much as I thought I would. Meat takes you way over budget too. I have also re discovered that peach and chickpea curry is so lovely it will be on the weekly meal plan going forward.

In the past I have been critical of the menus suggested by Live Below the Line. I ranted on about the use of value sausages and cheap bread. This year, I have to praise the resources available. And I wish I had planned better.

Why do I so this challenge every year (and fail)? I did not sign up to raise money, I do it to raise awareness. I work for a charity that manages a Trussell Trust foodbank. What I have saved on food this week will be used to buy much needed items for Smethwick Foodbank. Over 1 million people in the UK were given 3 days emergency food by Trussell Trust foodbanks last year (2014/15). Other foodbanks, soup kitchens and food drives, temples and mosques are also feeding people in food crisis. That is scandalous. Get sad then get angry that children go to school hungry. I do and that is why I Live Below the Line.

I have written posts before about my Live Below the Line attempts and failures. If you want to see those, just click on the Food and Live Below the Line category tab on the blog or use the search box. If you want to. Also please comment, I like that. And if you can afford to donate food to a foodbank, please do so.

Shopping list (most items from Aldi)

Lentils 500 g £1.29

Onions £0.79

Chickpeas 35p

Tinned peaches 35p

Tinned potatoes 15p

Tinned carrots 19p

Tinned tomatoes 31p

peppers £1.17

rice 40p

sausages £1.99

Strong flour 75p

Yeast 59p

6 free range eggs 95p

celery 59p

tomato puree 37p

 

Cooking with Jack and Mary

For Christmas, as I am not accepting actual items into my home any longer, my good friend offered to give me a baking lesson. It has taken time, but I finally had a lesson in making shortbread.

We chose shortbread because:

  • My previous attempts have been rather disastrous as in over cooked, and too biscuity.
  • The good friend, is a big Mary Berry fan, and has made this shortbread twice with success.
  • My son likes shortbread.

I made it all by hand, which I think I prefer as it it quite therapeutic I find to crumble the butter and flour together. I had my doubts that I would achieve the dough, yet with patience I got dough, and then got it into a tin.

The verdict, well there is only half left, as we all dived in and ate almost half before it was even cool. The son, yet to be weaned off shop bought shortbread, with additives and palm oil, said it was better than Scottish Shortbread from Aldi. And I even managed to find a suitable tin to store it in. Traybake Shortbread

Of course the upside to this, was that I finally got to sit and have a cuppa with the good friend as we have hardly spoken since Christmas. And that is the way it is with good friends, we cannot always see them every day or week and that it ok, as when you do catch up, it is still easy.

And so to the Jack part of this post. I made soup with tired veggies lurking at the back of the fridge using this recipe for Simple Mushroom Soup. All made in a microwave and cost next to nothing. My greens were some pak choi, not cabbage. Lunch for both me and my husband for Monday. Out of things other people would have probably thrown away. Tasty Wastey!  The Real Junk Food Project would be proud of me. And one for the Live Below the Line challenge later on this year.Simple Mushroom Soup

 

Thrift is a choice for those who can afford it

to recommend thrift to the poor is both grotesque and insulting

Oscar Wilde. The Soul of Man Under Socialism 1891

He goes on to say :

It is like advising a man who is starving to eat less.

 

Yet isn’t that exactly what this government is telling us? To tighten our belts.

Food writers, TV chefs, glossy magazines, supermarket adverts are bombarding us with family meals on a budget, use cheap cuts of meat, grow your own veg, Save with Jamie and or Cheap and Cheerful recipes from James Martin.

The minimum wage for someone over 25 is £6.31 per hour.If you work a 40 hour week that is just over £252 a week, or £13124 a year, £1093 a month, before tax and other deductions. If you live in a council flat almost a quarter of your income will go on rent. I have checked a local authority for properties to let, and for a one bedroom flat the rent is between £75 and £83 in West Bromwich, Sandwell. If you rent from a private landlord the rent would be an average of £99. And on top of that there are utility bills and Council Tax to pay, about £30 per week depending where you live and time of year. Add to that travelling to work by bus, that is another £12 a week if you have a bus pass or £4 a day if you don’t. Numbeo have a cost of living indicator here on which I have based these figures.

After deducting these from your £252 pay packet you would be left with £135 for everything else. Food, clothes, prescriptions, entertainment, and saving for the spectacles you need, the boiler repair and the phone bill. I haven’t even added in the cost of a TV licence or internet connection or cable.

And then you become ill. Too ill to work. Or you get laid off. And then you have to rely on benefits. From the date of making a claim for Job Seekers Allowance and other benefits, to receiving payment, could take up to three weeks. Sometimes more if you have to be assessed for your fitness to work.

The gas bill is due and you cannot pay it. You cooker stops working and you cannot afford to replace it. To help you ‘budget’ your utility company installs a pre payment meter, which is the most expensive way to pay for gas and electric. Yet it stops you getting into debt by having bills you can’t pay. And then it snows, the temperature plummets and you have £5 to last the next three days.

What would you spend that £5 on?

And this is a scenario for a single person with no dependents. What if there were young children in the family?

Would you tell the young man working in a bar, on a minimum wage to be more thrifty?Could you tell a mom who buys food for her child and lives on tea with sugar to keep her energy levels to eat less?

To work harder?

The Living Wage Foundation work with employers to encourage them to pay a living, not minimum wage. The Joseph Rowntree Association have set a Minimum Income Standard based on what members of the public think is enough money to live on, to maintain a socially-acceptable quality of life. Both organisations agree that the minimum wage is too low.

I heard of a family that only had one lightbulb. Only light the room you are in. They were not practicing thrift, it wasn’t a choice to have one light bulb. They really could not to afford to put money in the meter to pay for the electricity.

And those of us who earn much more than the minimum wage, can make a choice to be thrifty. We can decide to save for a holiday abroad, a new kitchen, a rainy day we hope will never happen. How many of us have made a choice to not eat out or have takeaways for a few months to save for something special? Have you chosen to shop at Aldi instead of Asda?  Did you chose to shop at charity shops and feel triumphant when you got a designer dress for a fiver?

Some of us can afford to be thrifty. Others don’t have that choice, it is thrust upon them. They have already cut back and the cupboard is bare. They hang around supermarkets for when items are reduced and charity shops are not an opportunity to bag a bargain but are the only clothes they can afford. If the boiler breaks they hope the landlord will fix it. In the meantime you have cold washes not showers.

This is a reality for so many people in the UK today. If they are lucky they may get a a job that pays more, that gets them off benefits. If they are not they may get a referral to a foodbank from the Citizens Advice Bureau or Local Authority.

These are the figures from The Trussell Trust. Foodbank is not a lifestyle choice. Foodbank is a life line.

  • 913,138 people received three days’ emergency food from Trussell Trust foodbanks in 2013-14 compared to346,992 in 2012-13

Of course it will never happen to you. You have a good job, a house with a mortgage, a company car and a Final Pension Scheme. Life is good. And you go to Florida on a holiday of a lifetime. On the first day back at work you get a redundancy notice.

Six months later you are still unemployed. You savings have all gone.

Your children get Free School Dinners. A grant for a free school uniform.

Twelve months later you have to attend mandatory job club, with half a dozen other middle managers and directors who, like you, thought it would never happen to them.

Eighteen months later you get a job, on half the salary you were earning before. The bills are the same, the mortgage is in arrears, and so you spend the next one, two, three, ten years paying of the debt you accumulated when unemployed.

No, this could never happen to you.

But if you really want to know how it feels to be hungry, to have a child who was hungry, then read Hunger Hurts by Jack Monroe.

And then make a donation to your local foodbank.

Live Below the Line – Day 4

Yet again, A Girl Called Jack comes to the rescue for ideas for dinner tonight. Chickpea and Peach Curry.

A Girl Called Jack

I have made this before and that time I changed it slightly as I only had tinned mangoes in the cupboard. This time I used peaches, but yet again I tweaked it. We are away for a long weekend and I had a banana and some tomatoes that really needed using up. So I threw those in plus the scraping from a jar of chutney. I used one mug of long grain rice, which gave me four ample portions. At a guess, as the tins of peaches, chickpeas and tomatoes are all under 35p each at Aldi, with rice, this cost just over £1 to make. It provided a large supper tonight and a light lunch tomorrow for two adults. That is 25p per portion.

My version

For the rest of my meals today I had porridge with milk, home made soup and two teas, without milk.

I have not been hungry at all and I came in well below the £1 today.

What is more this is seriously going to change my attitude toward eating more meat free meals.