A week’s worth of shopping….

Some key groceries for a weekly shop

First of all: thank you! Thank you to everyone who emailed, commented, Tweeted, followed, pinned and got in touch after the Observer Food Monthly piece. We were overwhelmed by the amount of debate, discussion and support it received. We’ve found some amazing new blogs, talked to some great people and had a wonderful time. Even the notorious Comment is Free was positive!

So to say thanks properly I thought I’d give you a sneak peek to the bits of the original article that didn’t make the final cut at Food Monthly. Not content with taking over the entire magazine, I did in fact write more than you saw and while I’m thrilled to have had so much published, a little bit did get lost in the edit. A few people asked if I was using organic for my recipes because it didn’t seem right that they came to £20 per head for that many dishes, but in fact there was a lot more food in my basket and I’m going to give you a cut-out and keep guide to see where I bought food for this week and began building a storecupboard for future ones.

I costed out my basket using Sainsbury’s online as I wanted to use a baseline that the largest number of people across the UK could have and an online ‘big four’ supermarket was the best for that. Not everyone can reach an Aldi, Lidl or a proper market, and online shopping removed regional variations. Using a discount retailer, local greengrocer, market or getting reduced products at a supermarket can help you cut the budget. Remember it’s a guideline, not a diktat.

I allowed for a bare minimum of storecupboard items: salt, pepper, one chilli product (powder, hot sauce, Tabasco, your choice), smoked paprika, one dried green herb of your choice, Worcestershire sauce and mustard powder. The fresh herbs and ground ginger mentioned were optional as was the parmesan and olive oil. I didn’t include butter in the basket as it’s an essential to me, nor  did I include milk as the amount you buy depends on your tea and coffee consumption.

We’ve listed everything you need to buy to do the 7 day menu I wrote for OFM, and in the future I’ll be giving you some more ideas for using the store cupboard items you’ve built up from here.

P.S. At the bottom of the post is a version you can print out if you’d like – it’s just the ingredients list in black and white, with space for your own notes. It prints two copies of the list per sheet of A4 paper, so one printout can be used over a couple of weeks.

Fruit and veg

Bananas – Basics Fairtrade  x8 £1.15

Potatoes – white 2.5kg              £1.95

Leeks 1kg                                      £2.59

Beetroot – Vacuum pack            £0.70

Celery – untrimmed                    £0.90

Carrots – loose 1kg                     £0.90

Onions – 1kg bag                         £1.10

Apples – Basics bag                    £0.82

Parsnips – loose x2                    £0.48

Savoy Cabbage                            £0.80

Swede (turnip)                            £0.90

Garlic (2x bulbs)                        £0.46

Mushrooms – sliced 1kg           £2.50

 

Frozen

Garden Peas  – frozen bag 910g      £1.60

White fish fillets – Basics 520g      £2.00
Tinned and dried goods

Butterbeans – 400g tin                         £0.69

Kidney beans – Basics 400g tin         £0.27

Chopped tomatoes – 400g Basics       £0.35

Condensed milk 379g                           £0.99

Lemon juice 250ml                               £0.59

Creamed coconut 200g                       £0.99

Semolina 500g                                     £0.89

Pearl Barley 500g                               £0.55

Porridge Oats 1kg                               £1.29

Popping corn 500g                            £1.09

Rice – Long grain rice 1kg               £1.39

Plain flour – Basics 1.5kg                £0.65

Ryvita 250g                                        £0.99

 

Meat, fish and dairy

Chicken – whole approx. 1.75kg              £5.00

Low fat Natural yoghurt – Basics              £0.65

Eggs – 12 free-range                                     £2.65

Double Cream 600ml                                  £1.68

Total:                                                            £39.95

If you wanted to buy the store cupboard essentials from Sainsbury’s I’ve included what they would cost below:

Store cupboard essentials

Worcestershire sauce 150ml    £1.19

Mustard powder 57g                  £1.35

Olive oil 500ml                           £2.00 (offer price)

Smoked paprika 50g                  £1.19

Ground ginger 32g                     £0.59

Bay leaves 10g                          £0.60

Fresh tarragon 20g                    £0.80

Tabasco sauce 57g                   £1.69

Sea Salt 350g                             £0.55

Black peppercorns 100g           £1.78

Butter – own brand 250g            £1.50

Total:                                                               £12.16

It shocked me when I costed this out. For me, these are the absolute bare basics of a herb, spice and condiments cupboard and with the exception of the fresh tarragon, they’d all last for ages, but they add another 30% onto the cost of your shop just to get some flavour into those fresh foods you’ve bought. You could save some serious cash here by shopping around if you can. Asian grocers or ‘ethnic’ supermarkets will usually have bags of peppercorns, bayleaves and ginger at twice the size and half the price. Bottles of hot sauce will be cheaper than big brand name Tabasco but everyone likes a different heat so it’s hard to advise what to buy. Olive oil often crops up in pound shops or on offer. Smoked paprika is often cheaper in delis in the cute little tins when you look at price by gram. But if you can only get to a supermarket, products like this really add cost to your shopping.

You’ll use nearly all the fresh vegetables in the course of the week, but should have some of the frozen ones left. Other items like the flour, porridge oats, pearl barley, coconut, rice and popping corn will last for ages and form the basis of following weeks’ meals and snacks. I’ll be talking you through the ways the meals came together and how with a bit of planning you don’t have to be tied to a cooker all week but still enjoy your food and your spare time on a budget. In the meantime, what are your number one herbs, spices or flavourings? Could you give up cumin? Is soy sauce essential? Go without garlic?

Click here to get a PDF version of the shopping list

grocery list

Damsons: not just for gin…

damson_gin_crumble-01

I don’t believe in doing a dry January. It’s a long bleak month, made grey by the weather and the removal of those lovely twinkly Christmas lights and decorations. The rest of the world withdraws from society, exhausted after the festive season and starts detailing every morsel they do or don’t eat with a side helping of shame and the Special K diet. So frankly I need a drink just to deal with them.

I don’t mean going out and drinking every bar in the borough dry, but I do enjoy a winter time tipple, usually just before bed to warm the cockles properly. And luckily my family always comes up trumps with just the ticket over Christmas in the shape of homemade fruit gins. Mister North tends to specialise in damson gin and our mum tends to go for sloe gin, which is a family tradition dating back to my childhood. However the weather in 2012 was not good for sloes, so both of them went for damson gin this year.

Warm and jewel coloured, this plum rich sweet liquor warms you better than an electric blanket and with much more style. Sipped slowly in front of fire, it softens and soothes you to sleep well when you get to bed. Served long, tall and cool over ice with tonic to cut it, it reinvents the gin and tonic in a way that’s not just for Christmas. You can even, oddly enough, douse fish in it to make a sultry salmon gravlaks.

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Christmas Chestnut Caramel Shortbread

shortbread

When I was growing up, I associated certain tastes with times of the year. Chestnuts were the taste of celebrations at Christmas when my mum made a gorgeous frozen pudding similar to a Nesselrode pudding with sweetened chestnut puree and we occasionally had marron glacee at my granny’s house round the open fire. But caramel shortbread was the taste throughout the year. None of this ‘millionaire’s shortbread’ malarkey, caramel shortbread was the traybake of choice in our house.

Weirdly though, I’ve never made it myself. I tend to dip into my less well known Northern Irish repetoire of wee buns and bakes when I’m making anything like this back in London, but everyone has heard of this treat so I’ve neglected it for a while, but a recent conversation gave me a Christmassy craving for caramel and when Zoe and Tim from Brixton Blog gave me a tin of chestnut spread last week, I knew I had to combine the two tastes and this classic a new lease of life.

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Date Ripple Ice Cream

A few months ago, my eye was caught at a local shop by a branch with what looked like yellow velvet mini apricots on it. A sucker for slightly Disneyfied foods, I picked a branch up and enquired as to what it was of the shopkeeper. He explained that they were fresh dates, brought in for Ramadan when iftar or the breaking of the fast is traditionally performed with a date and water. Not only do they look fabulous, they are less sweet than dried dates, so I thought I’d definitely give them a go. A bit of Googling told me they are known as barhi dates and that they are pleasantly fresh and cleansing.

Forgoing the small sherry I often have as an aperitif, I decided to try a fresh khalal date instead. Plucked from the branch, they were as silky smooth as a perfect peach with a serious crunch when I bit into it. And then all the moisture was sucked from my mouth in a startling fashion that pursed my lips like the Grandma in George’s Marvellous Medicine. My mouth felt as if it was first thing in the morning after a heavy night on the sauce and as if I’d scoured it out with oxalic acid for funsies first. My teeth were on edge, my mouth tasted foul and I had to brush my teeth several times to remove the sensation. It was one of the worst things I’ve ever eaten.

Sulking slightly, I left the dates to sit on the windowsill as punishment for letting me down and went away for a few days. When I came back, the dates had wizened, shrunk down and deepened in colour to a wonderful glossy shade of amber that just gleamed with natural sugar. They looked much more appetising than those lifeless things you see in trays around Christmas with their own fork. I ate quite a few just off the branch and revelled in their candy like feel, but wondered what else I could use them for. As usual, when in doubt, I thought ice cream…

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Maple Rosemary Popcorn Pie

Maple Rosemary Popcorn Pie

Maple Rosemary Popcorn Pie

At this time of year, although Hallowe’en is to me a very Irish celebration, I do like a spot of Americana in my stomach as the autumn nights draw in. Glorious orange pumpkins, soups and stews spiked with smoky frankfurters or the same sausages battered and served up as corndogs, glistening sticky pecan pies and handfuls of crispy popcorn. They seem to have the right flavours for the season and sheer greed and a slightly abstract conversation made me wonder if I could perhaps multi task and turn the latter two into one dish for ultimate eating?

I wanted something slightly more grown up that the crunchy toffee coated popcorn I so desired as a child on cinema trips which now seems sickly sweet and artificial. Reading recipes for caramel corn made me think mine needed the adult twist of sea salt for sure,  but I wanted something else to lift it and my memory went back to this lovely post for Rosemary Sea Salt Millionaires’ Shortbread that I’ve been meaning to make for yonks. Seeing that my rosemary bush was the only thing in the garden to survive the summer of slugmageddon decided it for me and that woody floral flavour would be my secret weapon.

Maple Rosemary Popcorn Pie: makes one 9″ pie (or 4 small ‘uns with tonnes leftover like me)

  • 250 g sweet shortcrust pastry
  • 3 tablespoons popping corn
  • 1/2 teaspoon coconut oil
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 50g golden syrup
  • 50g maple syrup (use all golden if you don’t have maple)
  • 150g golden caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • large pinch of sea salt (enough to just taste the salt)
  • tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

First start with your pastry. You can just use bought stuff for this, but if you’re making your own, may I recommend the sweet shortcrust by Dan Lepard in Short and Sweet? I’ve always had issues with my pastry shrinking no matter how well I chill it and this recipe is foolproof. I’m not going to write it all out because Dan explains it well elsewhere if you search, but really because if you’re buying a cookbook, it should be this one. Call it an early Christmas present…

Line your tart tin and chill the pastry again before blind baking for 15 minutes at 180℃ or until just colouring the palest golden shade. Leave to cool while you make your filling.

Place three tablespoons of raw popping corn kernels in a paper bag (I use leftover flour bags) and the smidge of coconut oil and fold the bag over loosely and microwave for about just under 2 minutes (I usually whip it out at 1.45 or it starts to burn) and voila! You have the quickest easiest popcorn possible. If doing something as delicious as this just carry as normal, but you’ve skipped the whole washing up stage.

Now melt the butter, sugar and syrups together in a pan. I’ve used unsalted butter because it’s too easy to overdo the salt with regular butter and then adding more salt, so have gone for a blank canvas, but obviously, you can improvise if you only have salted butter. Take the mixture off the heat and add in the chopped rosemary and the salt. Allow the mix to cool for about 10 minutes. Don’t skip this stage or your mix will be so liquid to pour in the case, you’ll stick everything in the kitchen to itself, you and the tart case as I did the first time.

Once the mix is cooled slightly, beat the eggs in it. They won’t curdle now you’ve reduced the temperature of the mix. Then stir the popcorn into the mix. You’ll need to do this fairly carefully and repeatedly as popcorn floats quite well and resists dunking unless really coaxed. I originally used this caramel corn which made it easier, but a) really isn’t very nice or worth the washing up and b) made the pie so sweet, the Scottish person I tried it on couldn’t eat it. Once your popcorn is entirely coated, pour the filling into the tin making sure you don’t overfill or the whole thing will stick. Bake the large case at 180℃ for about 40 minutes whereupon it should be golden brown but still slightly soft in the middle.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool and set slightly. Both this pie and the pecan pie it’s based on are best served slightly warm but not hot unless you want to remove several layers of skin from your mouth with molten sugar. This pie calls out to be served with clotted cream or really good vanilla ice cream. Just don’t expect as much crunch as pecan pie and you’ll love it. The popcorn is both soft and sugar coated crisp and the filling is like proper butter toffee with bite. The salt should be just enough to enhance the sweetness and the rosemary adds just enough interest to leave you guessing what the extra flavour is. Once I’d toned the sugar down, this was great.

If you like popcorn, you’ll love encasing in butter, sugar and syrup and then crisping it right up. If you don’t love popcorn, you’ll think this is just another American oddity, but to be honest, that’s why I rather liked it!