January Challenge ‘de-brief’

I am almost exactly a month into my life as a food blogger, and I have to say that this is definitely the most difficult post that I have written so far. Those of you who have been following me for the last month will know that I set myself a challenge at the beginning of January to ‘cook using only what I already have in my cupboards and freezer, plus what I can buy for £5 a week’;  you will also know that I like to communicate what I have been cooking with minimal ‘waffle’. Now that February has arrived it is time to reflect on my January Challenge and I really hope that I can do so in a concise and interesting way. Please leave me a message if you make it all the way to bottom!

Most importantly, I must say that I have really enjoyed giving myself a ridiculous budget for a month; it reminded me of how much fun it is to be creative with my cooking, and in addition it ‘reset’ my shopping habits and prevented me from producing any food waste.

What I would really like to get across to you is how well you can eat on a small weekly budget if you keep a few ‘core’ things in your storecupboard. If you are not used to this style of food shopping and cooking then there will be some upfront expenditure (but not much, see below how much I spent on topping-up my cupboards at the end of the month); but once you have initially stocked up there will just be a small ‘rolling cost’ as you replace things.

So here goes a short retrospective on my January Challenge:

What did I buy with my £5 a week?

My first £5 was spent on onions, carrots, mushrooms, some good British sausages, a lime & soda from my local pub, and some reduced bread for my freezer.

Lesson #1 – lime & soda is totally pointless and a waste of money!

During the second week I spent the princely sum of £4.88 on free range eggs, carrots, new potatoes, frozen peas and a British lamb shank.

Lesson #2 – a box of mixed-sized eggs is considerably cheaper than buying a box of identical eggs, and unless you are doing high-precision baking they are just as good.

For the last couple of weeks of the challenge I was more ‘bitty’ in my shopping (I didn’t have time for a ‘big’ £5 shopping trip!) and I was not quite so disciplined in writing up what I had bought; in summary I topped up the onions, potatoes, mushrooms and carrots, and I had a cup of tea at a church coffee morning for a whole 80p – decadent!

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What are my new favourite recipes?

As I mentioned above, one of the best things about giving myself a ridiculous budget was re-discovering my creative ‘make-it-up-as-you-go-along’ cooking flair! I think that my favourite was probably the Roasties with Garlic & Coconut Dip – this was a very spur of the moment ‘snack’ using some coconut yoghurt that a friend had left in my fridge, I will certainly be making it again.

If I had to choose another top creation it would be a difficult choice between the vegetable curry and spaghetti with tomatoes and poached egg.

Lesson #3 – if you don’t allow yourself to ‘pop to the shops’ for additional ingredients you will discover new and exciting (or sometimes just ‘interesting’) recipes!

Please do let me know what your favourite recipe has been so far, and do do do give them a try and let me know how easy or otherwise they are to follow!

What did I run out of?

Early Grey tea – disaster! Tonic water – disaster! Garlic – disaster! Cheese, milk, almond milk, vegetable stock, pasta…

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… and, as the observant amongst you will note, cheap gin! Don’t worry, I haven’t yet stooped to cheap gin; the reason I require it is to make Cranberry Gin… a recipe for another day.

Despite making a show of being organised, I actually managed to forget the shopping list when I went for my ‘top-up shop’ – so in the end I forgot a few things, got a few extra things, and spent about £30 (including the gin). Not bad.

What is in Kitty’s Storecupboard?

Having set myself a ridiculous budget for a month I have concluded that the following constitute the ‘core’ storecupoard ingredients which I would be hard-pressed to do without (although I’m sure I’d cope!); I hope that I have demonstrated over the last month that very little is needed in addition to these things to cook some rather delicious meals.

‘Dry Goods’

  • Lentils (Puy and Red-split lentils)
  • Rice (brown and white)
  • Pasta
  • Couscous
  • Oats

Tins / jars / cartons

  • Tinned tomatoes
  • Tomato purée
  • Chickpeas
  • Butter beans
  • Pesto
  • Milk (‘cow’ or otherwise – I am rather fond of Almond Milk)

Baking ingredients

  • Plain flour
  • Self-raising flour
  • Margarine
  • Sugar
  • Golden syrup
  • Baking powder
  • Bicarbonate of Soda
  • A selection of nuts and dried fruit

Freezer

  • Peas
  • Stock
  • Cooked vegetables for soup (from when I got portion sizes wrong!)
  • a bit of meat and/or fish, usually from the reduced section of the supermarket

Spices

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What can I say? A picture says a thousand words!

However, I would say that the ‘core’ herbs and spices for me are:

  • black pepper;
  • chilli flakes;
  • mustard seeds;
  • cumin seeds;
  • ground coriander;
  • mustard powder;
  • cayenne pepper; and
  • oregano, or some kind of mixed green herbs.

Garlic and onions are also very important!

and for my next challenge? I’ll keep you posted. In the mean time I have a number of January recipes to share with you which I ran out of time to write last month.

Well done for getting to the bottom of the page!

‘over and out!

Kitty

£4.88 well spent

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It’s that time again already – my weekly trip to Sainsbury’s (other supermarkets are available!) to spend my allotted £5 on food.

I went shopping and I bought…

  • 6 free range eggs (mixed sizes);
  • a big bag of carrots (reduced);
  • some new potatoes (reduced);
  • a British lamb shank (also reduced!); and
  • frozen peas

… all for the princely sum of £4.88.

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Buying mixed-sized eggs is a lot cheaper than buying either medium or large eggs; in the same way, cheaper vegetables tend to only differ from the more expensive ones because they are not in perfect uniformity. Who needs perfect uniformity?!

The lamb shank had today’s sell-by-date. It is already in my slow-cooker along with some onions, miss-shaped carrots (of course!), more frozen cider, frozen redcurrants from my mum’s garden, a little bit of ham stock from my freezer, pink pepper corns, a bay leaf and a little bit of wholegrain mustard. My kitchen is going to smell fabulous in the morning!

Finally, it is probably worth mentioning what I have left over from my £5 shop last week which will ‘carry over’ into this week. As you have probably noticed I still have onions; there will be enough to last me another week. I still have quite a few mushrooms which look as good as the day I bought them, so I must have done something right with how I stored them! There are also still two of the sausages and most of the loaf of bread in the freezer.

I hope I am beginning to convince you that, with a well stocked storecupboard, it is possible to eat rather well with a small weekly expenditure. I will write a post before long on what I have in my storecupboard and what the ‘upfront cost’ would be to stock the core things; once those magic ingredients are in your cupboards it won’t cost you much each week to keep your kitchen well stocked with the ingredients for some fantastic meals.

Happy cooking! If you have a go at any of my recipes please please do send me some feedback on how easy (or otherwise) they are to follow, and do send me pictures of your creations!

ta ‘ra for now,

Kitty x

just for clarity…

My January Challenge… to cook all month with only the contents of my store cupboard and freezer and what I can buy with £5 a week.”

Over the last couple of days I have been asking people for feedback on Week One of my blog. A few people have said that it isn’t obvious from my posts that my £5 a week includes breakfast, lunch and dinner and everything in between for a whole week; some people thought that it included only evening meals, and one person thought it was £5 a day!

So, for clarity, my £5 a week includes:

  • all meals: breakfast, lunch and dinner;
  • all snacks;
  • all drinks (so no cups of coffee in town or pints at my local); and
  • feeding not only myself but any visitors that I have over for supper or for tea and cake (despite living on my own, in the last week I have had people over for dinner 3 times and for a cuppa about 4 times and this is pretty normal for me).

My £5 a week does not include:

  • dog food and cat food;
  • cleaning materials and ‘sundries’ (I love that word!).

In my posts next week I will try my best to include a good variety of meals including a rather yummy and very quick breakfast, a family meal, some yummy healthy(ish) snacks and a girly evening meal in with a friend.

Keep reading, keep cooking, and please keep giving me feedback!

Kitty x

p.s. see below a picture of today’s yummy cooking; roasted carrots, onions, garlic and butter beans. yum! It’s very simple: roast the carrots, onion and garlic with some spices and salt (I’m fond of using mustard seeds and cumin seeds), when the veg are nearly done add the butter beans for the final 10 minutes. Sprinkle with chilli flakes when it comes out of the oven. I had it as a meal in itself with rice (with some spare for lunch tomorrow), but it is also rather yummy as a side dish to roast lamb or roast chicken.

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The spare 45p

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I have found something to spend my spare 45p on – hurrah! So I can now say that I have spent exactly  £5 on feeding myself this week.
I get through very little bread, so buying it reduced and then freezing it works really well for me. I mostly toast it from frozen; on the rare occasions that I make sandwiches to take to work I make them Australian style – i.e with frozen bread so that they are just right by lunchtime  (it also stops me eating them for second breakfast!).

In case you were wondering,  I have cooked some rather fabulous things over the last couple of days but have been too busy doing ‘real life’ to share the recipes with you. I will get on to it over the weekend, in the meantime see below a little sneak preview.

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My first £5

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So I have finally got around to spending  (most of) my first  £5. I had already parted with 50p whilst pursuing my other New Year’s resolution of joining the knitting group at my local pub – since when has lime & soda been 50p?! I’m sure that it used to be no more than 20p but what would I know, I’m not very good at soft drinks.

‘I went shopping and I bought’:

  • 400g Mushrooms, £0.85
  • 1kg Carrots, £0.60
  • 1.5kg Onions, £0.90
  • 6 sausages, £1.69

£4.05 well spent I reckon!  The sausages were from the reduced section and are made from British outdoor-bred pork – yum!

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So what next?
First, and this may be stating the obvious, deal with the reduced meat. I have just put three of the sausages (two for tonight and one for my lunch tomorrow) in the oven with garlic, onions, carrots & herbs from the garden and the rest are in the freezer for another week.
The onions will last me a good couple of weeks – so I’ll be able to buy something more interesting next week :).
I find that carrots go nasty quite quickly if I’m not careful; make sure that they are out of the plastic bag so that they don’t ‘sweat’ and keep them in a cool, dry place. Mushrooms can also sweat and get damp if they are kept in plastic so I always pierce the plastic film.
If you get towards the end of the week and think that the veg aren’t going to last much longer, cook them up and freeze them for soup later.
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And finally…

The beady eyed amongst you will notice that I have some additional fresh stuff in my veg basket; this is still left from Christmas – don’t worry, I’m not cheating! Also left are some eggs and some cheese, so if you catch me cooking with them you’ll know that I haven’t been doing some cheeky shopping on the side.

Over and out,

Kitty