A small announcement…

Miss South's piece in the Observer Food Monthly, 20th Jan 2013

We’ve got some exciting news for you. Just as our blog enters its fourth year, an article and series of recipes I’ve written is published in this month’s Observer Food Monthly!

Based on my piece about food poverty and eating on a budget not being just as simple as it might seem, I’ve written another piece and a week’s worth of recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner and a treat or two for them. They’ve very kindly published the whole lot, both online and in the magazine itself.

I’ve budgeted that everything feeds 2 for £20 a week each, priced at Sainsbury’s online. There’s a minimum of energy costs, kitchen equipment and herbs, spices and condiments; but the opportunity to add in the things that you absolutely can’t do without to flavour your food. I’ve intended it as a guide–not gospel–and tried to make frugal food seem fun.

I’m so pleased to have been given the opportunity to do this and at risk of sounding a bit like I’m giving an Oscar speech, I’d like to thank everyone for the overwhelming support and encouragement they gave me over the first piece. Many of you took the time to tweet and email me personally as well as leaving personal, thoughtful, honest comments that created a real discussion on the subject. Some of you even went out of your way to suggest a piece by me to the Guardian/Observer and I hope I’ve thanked you personally.

Both Mister North and I would like to thank you all for the fun, support and encouragement we’ve had in our blogging career. It’s been brilliant so far. I’m certainly a much better and resourceful cook than I was and it’s introduced me to wonderful people and opportunities. Here’s to many more years!

Miss South's article online for Observer Food Monthly, 20th Jan 2013

60 replies
  1. Janet/Plantaliscious
    Janet/Plantaliscious says:

    Hi, I’ve just found you through the Guardian articles you wrote – congratulations! You write honestly and practically about eating on a tight budget, and as someone catering for myself and my husband on ESA benefits thanks to both having ME, I found your writing encouraging and inspirational. We both really like our food, and I am always on the lookout for new tasty recipes, so I will be trying your cobbler this week.

  2. Alan
    Alan says:

    Congratulations my darling – well deserved. Your blog is always a joy, and now it looks like even more people are going to be joining you for the ride!

  3. Andrew
    Andrew says:

    Hello, in the winter vegetable and barley soup recipe can you tell me what to do with the rest of the stock? It says to make 1.2 litres of stock but to only put 570ml in the soup. Is that a misprint or am I supposed to do something with the leftovers.?

    Thanks for this, I have now dived wholly and utterly into the £20 for a week of eating challenge.

  4. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    Hi Andrew, not sure what’s happened there with the stock. I’d put more than a pint in as the barley swells up a lot, but maybe not the whole 1.2 litres that poaching the chicken makes as the rest of it is for the risotto and the chowder for dinner throughout the week. Hope that helps?

    Let us know how you get on trying the recipes!

  5. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    Hi Janet: the cobbler is a lovely warming dish with very little washing up making it nicely spoonie friendly so I hope you enjoy. Not everything on the blog is £20 per week but not much outside of Christmas stuff is expensive. Mister North and I both like hearty good value food that makes the kitchen warm and smell good…

  6. Lily
    Lily says:

    Ive just read your article in the Observer, and what a refreshing change to the normal “they are poor and shouldnt eat cake” articles that are normally published when talking about food and poverty- I can see the situation worsening under the con-dem goverment over the next two years and many folk having benefits stopped and eventually being out on the streets, unable to access food and shelter.
    Keep up the good work 🙂

  7. NotFondOfCooking
    NotFondOfCooking says:

    I’ve just found your blog through your article, and it seemed the most sensible thing I’ve read in a long while about food on a real budget when you mightn’t have much cooking ability. Your blog has some really great articles too, thank you. It has reminded me of something I’ve been meaning to chase up – hay oven cooking.
    When in Guide and Scout organisations, I tried stuff from hay ovens once or twice, and they were fine. You can do the same sort of thing you’d do in a slow cooker, only it’s cheaper to make a hay oven than it is to buy a slow cooker. Unfortunately, I never got around to making one (too busy working, looking after folk, etc.). Your blog has just inspired me to search out the information again, as I’m getting really squeezed on the food budget by all the other bills. I believe some charitable organisations are promoting them in various guises (made in baskets, barrells, boxes, and insulated by all sorts, not just hay) in developing countries where there are fuel shortages. You boil your food, put it in your insulated box and leave it for hours. So long as you reboil dishes that contain meat when you take it out of the box, it works perfectly. If you build a good oven, that is. There are lots of websites out there with hints on how to build a box, including an old American book called The Fireless Cookbook from 1913 available as a pdf online. It has recipes as well, with suggested cooking times. Now if I can just work up the time and energy to actually make one!

  8. I-say
    I-say says:

    What a good piece of writing in The Observer Food Monthly, full of good ideas, have now subscribed to your blog and hope that your recipes are picked up and paid for by the big supermarket chain(s)

  9. Dave
    Dave says:

    Congratulations on getting published in OFM! Great writing and recipes so you deserve it. I make a chicken crumble along the same lines as your cobbler, the scone topping might be a better option though, will give it a try.

  10. Kavey
    Kavey says:

    I know I wasn’t alone in sending your post to the Guardian team and suggesting that THIS was what we needed to read more about — the reality of food poverty and how to eat well on a budget — written by people who live it.
    Not those who preach about it, but are able to spend hours and hours (not to mention money) traipsing gaily around a hundred different shops and markets to buy their “bargains” and then rack up enormous energy bills making their slow cook recipes for the cheaper cuts. Shopping around and slow cooking have their place, but as you point out, not everyone has the time or physical ability to lug a 5kg bag of rice home from the Indian shop in one direction, then visit the market in the opposite direction just before it closes, for fruit and vegetable bargains.
    It’s why all the comments I’ve seen lately about how “these poor people” wouldn’t need to worry about what was in their burgers if they made their own from scratch make me cringe. All food, including the value range stuff, should be held to the same standards of safety and accurate labelling.
    Congratulations for a beautiful selection of recipes and here’s hoping there is more to come.

  11. Anna
    Anna says:

    Really pleased to find your blog (via Guardian). I brought up three children on benefits back in the 80s (key ingredients pasta and lentils and judicious splashes of olive oil) and after a brief encounter with solvency now find myself back on benefits. I look forward to reading and learning with you.

  12. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    Thank you Lily! I also worry what this welfare ‘reform’ will do to people’s ability to feed themselves well. The 1% uprating is paltry when food and energy prices are rising so fast. Changing Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payment will hit people who need specialist diets due to ill health or disability hard. I know mine helps a lot with my current gastroenterologist and dietician advised low fibre diet where (sob!) I can’t eat pulses or much veg.

    I know one blog post can’t solve it all, but it’s important to talk about this!

  13. Kathryn
    Kathryn says:

    Congratulations on the OFM article and, more than that, for all the awareness of the reality of food poverty. You’re pretty darn amazing.

  14. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    Notfondofcooking: this sounds great. Can I use hay from a pet shop?

    I-say: thank you. Not sure the supermarkets will enjoy me saying they’re too expensive, but here’s hoping!

  15. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    Dave: thanks! Is that crumble on your blog? I couldn’t see it and I like the idea of something crunchy with soft sauced chicken and leeks…

  16. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    Kavey: you’ll be giving me a swelled head if you keep these compliments up!

    Totally agree with your points about value and economy ranges. Food safety is paramount even if it’s not something you’d consider eating yourself. And speaking of value versus ‘Finest’ ranges: very rarely do I see the provenence of the meat in the posher stuff mentioned. It’s not free range or organic or grass fed, it’s just a different bit of the same beast and thus not immune to mystery meat getting into your ‘Bistro’ moussaka. I can’t imagine the panic if middle class ready meals succumb next!

  17. Michael
    Michael says:

    Congratulations on the Observer piece – esp. liked the references to the Titanic, George Best et al – please don’t feel too homesick for Belfast, thanks to the idiots and their flag protests, it’s not a place to feel nostalgic about just now!

  18. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    Anna: hope we’ve got some ideas for you. Not everything is totally budget, but we’re economical cooks at heart!

    Kathryn: thank you!

    Michael: I think it might be absence making the heart grow fonder!

  19. Christine Lindop
    Christine Lindop says:

    Congratulations on a fine piece. It’s a potentially emotive subject, but I thought you got the tone just right. Really good recipes too. Real food for real people!

  20. Wendy Gwynne
    Wendy Gwynne says:

    I have nevr written to a blog before but I just had to say congratulations. This is not ‘cheap’ food but good food. Well done!

  21. Nina Williams
    Nina Williams says:

    Loved your Observer article today and will now follow your blog! Spent three wonderful years living in Belfast and now also live in SW London! Love love love potato farls and got my English husband into them as well. Happy cooking and will let you know how I get on with your recipes…am starting with the soup.

  22. Joanna
    Joanna says:

    How funny! I have the paper downstairs but I haven’t opened it yet but I do subscribe to your blog so I am going to race down and read it right away. Congratulations, well deserved and here’s to more wonderful writing from you 🙂

  23. Sarah D
    Sarah D says:

    I also want to congratulate you on your article in The Observer! I found it a really interesting and inspiring read, as it showed a great understanding (acquired through personal experience) of the impact that real poverty has on one’s ability to feed oneself well. At the same time all of the recipes showed a real passion for interesting tasty food and (luckily for me as I am one!) a lot were vegetarian. I’ll be trying them all. I’ve also signed up to your blog and will be following it with interest. I hope that the days where your health is poor are few.

  24. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    At last, the Observer has printed some recipes for real life. I’m with you on getting as many meals out of a chicken as you can and will be cooking the cobbler this week. Oh – and I’ve saved today’s potatoes for farla and fried eggs in the morning. Great article.

  25. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    Christine: thank you. Lovely to have feedback on tone. I was worried I was going to be whiny or bitter…

    Wendy: welcome to the world of commenting! Love your distinction about cheap versus value!

  26. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    Nina: have a wee look at our stuff here then if you enjoyed some of the food in Belfast as we are quite inspired by our background. There’s potato apple bread you’ll love. And please let me know any good SW London stuff I’m missing. I’m a Brixton bore these days and really venture out of the area!

  27. NotFondOfCooking
    NotFondOfCooking says:

    Miss South, you can use anything that insulates: hay, polystyrene, old jumpers, a duvet, shredded newspaper, so long as it’s vaguely hygienic. I think it works better if it holds air, like hay does, but I’m not an expert on insulation. It needs to be snug around your pot. Bring the pot to boiling for a while (depending on what you’re cooking), don’t move the lid as you put it in your haybox (or the heat’ll escape), cover it over with more insulation and leave it. It might take a half hr or you might leave some stuff there for several hrs. I’ve heard it works much like a slow cooker. If you google it, you’ll see the huge variation in what containers and insulation are used. The charity organisations even have reports on tests they did on various insulators. One example is made in a basket, so you can carry it to work while it cooks. I reckon pet hay would be clean enough.

  28. Laura
    Laura says:

    Loved your OFM article, it’s refreshing to read a realistic take on budget planning instead of the usual broadsheets ‘slumming it’ approach. Recipes looked great.

    It’s introduced me to your blog, so I’ll keep popping back!

  29. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    Laura: thank you! We decided when we started the blog to keep it economical and good value (with the odd splurge) as that’s how both of us cook and shop anyway. And no one ever noticed it was a ‘budget’ blog which thrilled both of us as it proves you can shop, cook and eat well without ‘slumming’ it or having to make it feel worthy! Look forward to seeing you here again!

  30. Paul
    Paul says:

    Hi, Liked your article in the OFM, this is waht brought me here. I am a keen if not very expert cook, very interested in budget cooking, even if this is not such a necessity for me and my partner. Anyway I have signed up in the hope that I can get some tips on good local shops as I also live in South London.

  31. Anna
    Anna says:

    I found your article on the food monthly yesterday. In the past I had to count each penny (grosz) to survive. Your stuffed cabbage is something similar I have made many times – very nice. Will be following your blog now.

  32. Tony
    Tony says:

    Another big thankyou for your article in The Guardian, it is so refeshing to read an article that tells the truth about living on a low wage/benefits and in poverty. In our case, I am a carer for my wife who is on ESA and I am only able to work part-time. Please carry on telling it as it is; we have signed up to your blog, just like many other sensible people. Tony and Sarah

  33. craftiliciousyorkshire
    craftiliciousyorkshire says:

    Loved your article in this Sundays paper so went looking for your blog and love that more so am subscribed. Can’t wait to try your cabbage rolls with my next risotto leftovers – inspired cooking on a budget. Whilst I do have the luxury of not worrying too much about what food I buy, I am a Yorkshire lass at heart, and have always cooked with leftovers both for the economy of time and money and love to stretch a chicken to 3 or 4 meals for 2 so am thrilled to find a blog with shared passions which coupled with your brilliant writing style is going to make you one of my faves in my blog reader I’m sure.

    As for your debates about haybox cooking – I saw them do that on the recent BBC series “Wartime Farm” and Ruth did use pet hay in that as well as newspapers and she filled an old pillowcase with hay for the lid. I tried to find a video clip but couldn’t but this shows you the finished version which gives a good indication how they worked http://www.spiritburner.com/fusion/showtopic.php?tid/28666/post/last/m/1/

  34. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    Sue: thanks! Let us know how you get on with things!

    Carla: glad to hear you’ve got your blog mojo back. Have added you to my RSS and will be settling down with a cup of tea to check your site out. hope to get some tips from you as I’m no expert in cooking for more than one or two people and definitely need to expand my horizons!

  35. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    Paul: hope we can offer you some useful info. i also blog over at Brixton Blog where I talk more about shops and local things, but feel to ask questions or give me tips. I rarely leave SW9 these days but am always keen to branch out a bit more!

  36. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    Anna: I love stuffed cabbage. It’s so cheerful looking as much as anything which really helps feed the soul as well as the stomach!

  37. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    Tony: I hope you find some useful stuff here. Not everything we do is utterly basic as it’s nice to blog the treats and fun things but everything is value and most of what we cook is low on effort and washing up so hopefully useful for those who don’t have much time or what to use their efforts on things that are more fun than Fairy Liquid!

  38. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    The Crafty Cook: lovely to hear from you. Have also added you so I can share some of your tips as I do love good Yorkshire no nonsense food and eating. Hope we get to chat more about various ideas!

    Thanks for the haybox link. i knew I’d seen something recently but coulcn’t think where. Loved ‘Wartime Farm’. Gave me endless preserving ideas!

  39. Sharon
    Sharon says:

    I’ve never posted on someone’s blog before but want to tell you how amazing your article in the observer was. Inspiring, well written and very smart. Well done.

  40. Esmeralda
    Esmeralda says:

    Came here after reading the article … and will come again.

    Made the soup last night (although I probably blew the budget by adding toasted sourdough rubbed garlic & olive oil); it was jolly nice. Thanks!

  41. simba
    simba says:

    Just found your blog through the Observer article, like so many others here. It’s one of those lovely rare times recipes advertised as ‘budget’ were actually cheap, had easily got ingredients, and sounded tasty. Now there’s a trifecta if ever there was one. You had me even before the, what, six meals from one chicken?

  42. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    Sharon: thank you!

    David: that’s an excellent point about restricted diets on a budget. I know several coeliacs and since they were diagnosed, I’ve become more aware of looking at labels and I’m amazed at the odd places where gluten can lurk like dried herbs and spices or baking powder that can render any prepackaged food like stock cubes potentially dangerous. But I admit I haven’t really thought about the cost implications of that so thank you for drawing my attention to it.

    Glad there is some useful stuff on the blog. I rarely tag anything gluten free as I’m not sure exactly what is and isn’t, but would love to hear tips or information that would make it easier for GF people to use our stuff or adapt it!

  43. Tom Belte
    Tom Belte says:

    Really enjoyed your article in the magazine, very refreshing. It’s made me question my own food purchases, only last Monday I bought a good but relatively modest sized hunk of Parmesan from my local deli for £6 and since then it’s left me feeling a little confused on what I should spend, what’s worthy of a price and what would be more financially suitable. Your article evidenced the suitability of price with still very good cooking. Highly commendable.



  44. Caro
    Caro says:

    I love your OFM article! You write beautifully – down to earth, warm, quietly humorous – and your recipes are so well thought-out and practical. You’re spot-on about the emotional significance of food, and the pleasure to be gained from cooking.. it’s that feeling of creating something while at the same time looking after oneself that you just don’t get from opening a packet..

    Both making and eating your delicious banana pancakes has really brightened my week (I substituted cardamom for the ginger and was thinking about using coconut milk next time..) and this weekend am looking forward to making potato scones for the first time. I love them fried up with a bit of bacon but inexplicably it’s never occurred to me to make my own. My mother used to make them regularly, having been favoured with my father’s favourite aunt’s special recipe (secret ingredient: Smash!)

    Looking forward to following you from now on.

  45. Jean Francis
    Jean Francis says:

    Absolutely loved your brilliant article in OFM. You are one talented lady. Any plans to write a book? I’d buy it!!! 🙂

    Good luck and wishing you improved health for the future.

  46. Diana
    Diana says:


  47. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    Tom: lovely blog! I certainly don’t want to make anyone feel guilty about their food purchases as my ethos is about value not cost per se. For example I think white cheddar is damned expensive because it tastes of nothing but a good sharp mature cheddar is good value because you can use a small amount and get real flavour. Plus everyone has their must haves so it can be compared like for like!

    Anne: I have to say I do love a lentil, but I deliberately went for non pulse based dishes as we’ve all seen more than one idea for dal if we’re on a budget! I’ll need to give them some love soon to show no hard feelings!

  48. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    Caro: thank for this comment. It’s made me smile from ear to ear. Love the idea of the cardamom and yes, coconut milk works nicely in the pancakes, especially with some pineapple on top for a retro feel! I often buy basics tinned pineapple so I can pretend I’m in an Enid Blyton book!

    I’ll let you in on a little secret. I always keep own brand Smash in the cupboard these days having discovered what a good gluten free ‘crumb’ it makes for chicken or aubergines. So I will have a go with it for the potato bread when I haven’t got mash to hand and need some carbs quickly!

  49. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    Jean Francis: blushes gently. If the book fairy brings me opportunities, I’ll let you know!

    Diana: good choice starting with the ice cream. It’s my favourite!

  50. Caro
    Caro says:

    Top tip about Smash! (I didn’t know if you could still get it and had to do a quick Google..)

    Potato scones (my Scots roots won’t let me call them anything else) tomorrow – all being well to celebrate a Murray victory!

  51. Brenda Durham
    Brenda Durham says:

    Hello – I’ve just been reading your blog after reading your articles from last week’s Observer Food Monthly. I agree with our ethos – I am a pensioner (youngish) on a fixed budget and try to eat as healthily as I can and cook from scratch. I love your blog however I found it difficult to identify the links due to the pale green colour unless I clicked on them. Don’t know if there’s anything you can do about this but now that I’ve found you I will keep reading with interest!

    Many thanks, Brenda

  52. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    Brenda: sorry you had difficulty with the links. Hope it doesn’t put you off reading or commenting in the future!

  53. Surinder Bains
    Surinder Bains says:

    Just adding my pennethworth – great piece which I have only just sat down to read properly. I clocked the recipes at the weekend and made the Chicken cobbler tonight which the (teenage) boys are wolfing down, right now. Going to send the link to my daughter at Uni too.

    Really enjoyed reading the piece at full length tonight. Well done. You’re a great writer and the recipes are brill. Here’s to more success.

    Now, must put my feet up and read your Blog.

  54. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    Surinder: I am chuffed to hear that hungry teenage boys are devouring the cobbler. That’s a proper seal of approval! And thank you for your kind words. Hope you find more things on here to try and to encourage your daughter with. I cooked pretty much everything from scratch in my first year at uni which simultaneously made me a bit odd and very popular with other hall dwellers. I wish I’d known more about shopping though beforehand!

  55. Richard
    Richard says:

    Hi – love the blog, articles and recipes. One question – in the winter vegetable and barley soup recipe, it says 1.2 litres of stock in the ingredients but then only suggests you use 570ml – what should I do with the rest of the stock? Thanks.

  56. Mister North
    Mister North says:

    Hi Richard, thanks for your lovely comment! Miss South recommends using the rest of the stock for a couple of other recipes which are in the OFM piece, to make it go as far as possible.

    The first is a pearl barley risotto with beetroot (which is a wonderful winter warmer in its own right and also forms the basis of the stuffed cabbage leaves). The second, to use up the remainder, is a corn chowder, which is quick and delicious too. Hope you get good mileage from your stock…

  57. Richard
    Richard says:

    Thanks – but I don’t really understand this. It’s pretty clear in the list of ingredients for the soup that you need 1.2l. Then in the method for the soups, it says add 570ml of stock.

    When I made it I was unsure what to do. I started off by just adding 570ml. But I ended up with a fairly dry mixture of veg, not really a soup. So I added enough extra stock to make up 1.2l at the end. The soup was then fine. I think the recipe should be amended to make it clearer as surely this is an error?

    That said, the finished soup was delicious so thanks, I’ll be making this again.

  58. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    Hi Richard, I think explained before that it was a typo which sadly I have no control over, but I’d have suggested doing what you did and simply adding more stock to your preference. i Like mine quite thick so use less. About a litre to get several portions of soup. Hope that helps!

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