Wednesday, 15 June 2011

A week's worth of meals for £35?

One of the many ways in which I find recipes is through a magazine published by the BBC called "Olive". It's like a less daunting version of "Good Food", and in fact the two publications share a lot of content.

A regular feature that they run is "7 meals for £35" and a couple of weeks ago we decided to test this claim - could you really get all that food for such a low price, and if we did, would it taste any good? We experimented with the July 2011 article.

Spicy salmon with tomato and mint salad
While it wasn't without fault, we rather liked the results. There's a good variety in there: some vegetarian, fish, chicken and meat; Thai, English, Italian. It even got me eating some dill, which some of you will know as my nemesis. (I may do an article on Russian cuisine at some point, which will contain recipes such as soup with dill, chicken kievs with dill, beef stroganoff with dill, blini with dill, salad with dill, chips with dill and sour cream with dill.) By judicious use of the contents of the freezer, we were able to supply most of the ingredients with some minor substitutions for £36.14 from a mainstream supermarket. It's not £35, but it's pretty damned good.

Some things that didn't go so well: it turns out that making ciabatta dough (from a mix, I'm not a baker) is a messy business. When both hands are covered in something that looks like half-dried Copydex and your dinner is stuck fast to the worktop it's tricky to do anything except stand and giggle. I did manage to extricate myself eventually, but not before it looked like I'd been doing Robert Englund's makeup in the kitchen.

I've also got a fridge full of half-used packs of herbs, a bin full of spinach that had gone off before I could cook it and some suitable guilt about the food miles of the out-of-season vegetables required. However, so successful was it that we've gone back to an old edition and done the same thing this week. Pictured in this article are two of the creations - spiced salmon with a tomato and mint salad (couscous added for purposes of filling bellies) and broccoli and goats cheese tart, which we served with new potatoes from the market.

Broccoli and goats cheese tart
My questions for you today - should I freeze the random herbs? How long will they last for? How can I make spinach last more than 3 days? How did that dough get behind the radio on the windowsill?


  1. Yes, freeze the herbs. You can even do this in ice-cube trays with a small amount of water so that you can just defrost a lump or 2 as you need them. Spinach - cook it and freeze it (I bought some in the Galapagos, did this and was still using it weeks later mid-pacific!). You can do this with brocolli etc as well rather than waste anything!
    As for the dough, I can't answer that but I have also found it on the ceiling of the galley before (perhaps I was bracing myself against a rogue wave mid-kneed though!)
    PS. Now I have a question: Do any of us that were in Russia together like dill now? I too think it is the devil's food!

  2. Ooh, thanks for that. I will try freezing them, though I've had another tip about chopping them finely and then freezing them. The problem with the ice-cube trays is that Master Jay's food gets put in those, and if we end up feeding him a chunk of chives or something he's not going to be impressed.

    I don't think anyone who has spent time in Russia likes dill any more. Although when I did use it the other day, I was suddenly transported back to St Petersburg - one of those "smell-memory" things - which I quite enjoyed.

  3. Hey!
    Great ideas, great recipes, great everything!!
    To answer your questions:
    -you can freeze the herbs after washing them, chopping them very finely with a very sharp knife and squeezing them in a clothe to make them as dry as possible. You can also put them in an ice cube tray... OR you can put them all fresh in a salade, chuck them in a bottle of vodka, make herb bread, put them to dry and use them as dried herbs...
    - To keep fresh spinach, you can wash it, dry it, properly and keep it in kitchen paper or do what you'd with herbs and freeze it.
    - Your ciabatta dough seems to have a life of its own: call Ghostbusters!!!!
    Not sure I'm being useful, but I like trying! :P

  4. hmmmm, vodka. I had a friend once who used to put red chillies in vodka, which worked well, and at a wedding last year I was introduced to the delights of rhubarb vodka, which was delightful.

    And on the contrary, you're being very helpful. Maybe I should buy some colour coded ice-cube trays to keep it separate from the baby food.

  5. Dill, still love it!!!!

  6. Also, while I know from experience that it feels like Master Jay will be eating his food from frozen mush forever, the truth is that in a few months he'll have moved on and you'll have your ice cube trays back again.

    On a related note, check out

    Baby led weaning (which is really not about weaning at all considering that we did it and are still nursing at a little over 2 years) has some great ideas for finger foods for little ones, instead of purees. It made dinner a lot easier for the grown-ups, and let us introduce more diverse foods.

  7. Hi Vagabondella, thanks very much for that link. Can you tell me how much this differs from the Annabel Karmel style of weaning? Apart from removing the step of pureeing? It's something that I've heard about before and I'd like to know some more about.

    I'm looking forward to Master Jay moving on, it's going to be great to introduce him to the world of food. He is currently at that stage where he thinks everything might be food, so it all goes in to his mouth. I'm feeling very glad that we got rid of the cat litter tray a few months ago....

  8. Um, we grow dill in our kitchen. It's mostly for Micah who apparently didn't have enough when he was a Young Pioneer in Moscow.

  9. If you do the chopping the herbs up and freezing them in ice cube trays thing, they are super useful to chuck into soups and stews as you don't have to defrost them.

    Mint ice cubes are brilliant in drinks.

    Saying that, I did once fill up a whole tray with parsley ice cubes that just sat in the freezer for about a year looking like something out of a pond before being thrown out, so the usefulness of this option is debatable.

  10. Mint ice cubes? Sounds good to me. I did see a recipe for Pimms jelly that looked rather fantastic, as soon as the sun reappears I might have to attempt it.

  11. You can also use up old lemons and limes you may find lurking in the fruit bowl by slicing them and freezing them flat on greaseproof paper. Once they're frozen you can scoop them all into a freezer bag and just get one frozen slice out each time you have a G&T - garnish and ice all at once!

  12. Now that's an idea I like. Apart from using them in G&T. Why would you do that to yourself?