Half Scottish, Half Japanese. Tempura Mars bar?

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I began writing this blog in October 2010 as a new father documenting food in his family. Before I knew it, I was in the final of MasterChef 2012. Now cooking is no longer just a hobby.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Live Below The Line Part 4

Well, I can confirm it only gets tougher. It was hard enough working out how to spend just £5 per head on food, but now comes the reality. My first observation is that with a limited budget and a limited range of ingredients, food becomes about sustenance. Eating becomes as mundane as having a shower, putting your clothes and going to the loo. There is no great pleasure in it, no breaks in the day to look forward to.

On Monday, I did two main jobs to prepare us for the week ahead. First, I portioned a chicken and made a stock out of the bones. Second, I made a hummus, by cooking and pureeing yellow split peas. As I blitzed it in the blender, I added a little rapeseed oil, some salt, the juice of a lemon and some cayenne pepper for kick. It looks like hummus and it is certainly edible, but it doesn't have garlic, olive oil and tahini (ground sesame seed paste).

Yellow split pea hummus (serves lots)
200g yellow split peas
1-2 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 tsp salt
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1. Rinse the split peas, cover with plenty of water and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, or until cooked.
2. Blitz the peas with the oil, salt, lemon and cayenne pepper in a smoothie maker. You can make it as coarse or smooth as you like. I like coarse. You could add some curry powder or some garlic salt if you have them, but I quite like it lemony.

Lunch on Monday
Lunch on Monday was particularly challenging because we went to Foodies Festival at Hampton Court and couldn't try any of the delicious smelling food. We were pleased it was raining because we had an excuse to go home and make chicken sandwiches! I had removed the mini fillets from the chicken breasts and gently poached them in the chicken stock for a couple of minutes. It was pretty bland, so I added some very thinly sliced onion and a few turns of the black pepper grinder.

Supper on Monday
On Monday evening we made a version of jerk chicken with rice and peas, inspired by one of the stalls at the Foodies Festival. I'm sure it wasn't nearly as good and we didn't have jerk seasoning, but we made do with cayenne pepper and ras el hanout.

Crispy spicy chicken thighs with rice and peas (serves 2)
2 chicken thighs, boned (put the bones in the chicken stock)
1 tsp veg oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ras el hanout (or other spice mix)
Dash of cayenne pepper
1/2 onion, sliced
1 tbsp veg oil
2 large pinches of salt
120g rice
150g tinned peas
200ml chicken stock
500ml boiling water

1. Preheat the oven to 200c and boil the kettle.
2. For the crispy chicken, rub the veg oil over the thighs, then sprinkle with salt, spice mix and dust with cayenne pepper. Roast the chicken for about 20 minutes while you cook the rice. I turned the grill on for the last couple of minutes to get the skin to crisp up.
3. Fry the onion slices in veg oil and salt until they have some colour to get flavour into the rice. Add the rice and the chicken stock and cook until all the liquid has been absorbed. Keep adding boiling water as required and check frequently for seasoning and bite. Add some spice powder if you want some extra flavour. Don't stir too much as its cooking - you want to keep the rice separate and you'll also probably leave rice on the side of the pan where it won't be able to absorb water. When the rice is just cooked, add the peas and warm them through.

Lunch on Tuesday

While the mini fillets made sandwiches for 2, one of the chicken breasts (poached in the chicken stock) provided enough meat for 5 or even 6 sandwiches (when sliced very thinly!). I enlivened them by rehydrating 10g of Paxo stuffing (about 4p from my store cupboard budget).

Supper on Tuesday
We actually made Tuesday's supper on Monday evening since it used many of the same ingredients but cooked with slightly different techniques. I also wanted to make sure the other chicken breast was cooked, so that we didn't find that it had gone off later in the week. While we made rice and peas in a frying pan so that they were quite spread out, I like to make risotto in a pot. Because of budget constraints, we were using long grain rice, which is less starchy than arborio or carnarolli rice. To try and mimic  risotto rice, we cooked it in a pot and stirred it continuously, to encourage the grains to rub against each other and become creamy. A bit like casseroles (some even say pizza!), it benefited from spending a day in the fridge. It tasted better and the texture was stickier, more like risotto rice and less like long grain rice.

Chicken and pea risotto (serves 2)
1/2 onion, diced
1 tbsp veg oil
2 large pinches of salt
140g rice (preferably risotto rice!)
750g chicken stock, hot
1 chicken breast, diced into 2-3cm cubes

1. Sweat the onion in a small pot with veg oil and salt.
2. When the onions are on the verge of browning, add the rice and coat all the grains in the oil.
3. Add a couple of ladles of chicken stock and stir gently. Keep stirring as frequently as you can, adding stock as you go. Stirring the rice helps give it a creamy consistency without adding cream.
Keep the stock hot so you don't keep reducing the cooking temperature of the rice.
4. After about 10 minutes taste the rice for seasoning and bite. When it is a bit too al dente, add the chicken with another ladle of stock.
5. For the last minute or so of cooking, add the peas and a large pinch of spice mix, if you still find it too bland.


  1. Wow, I'm impressed at the creativity.
    £1 a day per head is so very low, and prices for food so very high, and rising all the time.
    I've got a few blogger friends doing this and take my hat off to how much thought and effort they are putting in to sticking to the brief.
    It's an astonishingly low budget to work to.

    1. Thanks, Kavey. Pleased to hear there are others doing it! Let me know their blogs, I'd be interested to see how they've approached it.

  2. The chicken thighs look great!