What can you do to help? Buy someone #22mealsforacoffee (That’s 22 meals for the price of a £3 coffee…)

While typing my previous post, I had a bit of a brainwave.

And I wonder if I can get something going here, with almost 10,000 Twitter followers, 5,000 Facebook fans, 2,000 Facebook friends, 3,000 email subscribers…

I wonder if…

If, instead of spending £3 on a coffee today, tomorrow, this week, you could do this instead.

Go to your nearest supermarket, and buy the following: (I’ve priced mine at Sainsburys, but other major supermarkets are similarly priced):

2 tins of baked beans – 22p each
1 jar of fish paste – 32p
1 can of sardines – 55p
1 tin of chopped tomatoes – 31p
1 tin of carrots – 20p
1 loaf of bread – 50p
1 jar of jam – 29p
1 bag of pasta – 39p

TOTAL: £3.00

And go and put it in a carrier bag and take it straight to your local food bank, or a friend or neighbour in need.

Because one latte = 16 slices of bread and jam + 6 portions of beans on toast + 2 portions of pasta with fish paste + 4 portions of pasta with sardines and tomatoes.

One latte = 22 meals.

No, not nutritionally perfect, but better than hunger. If you have the extra cash, replace the jam with peanut butter. Add some tinned spinach or more tinned tomatoes, some stewed steak or tinned meat. I don’t care what you spend that £3 on – just skip one, just one, bloody latte; and buy someone TWENTY TWO meals instead.

Jack Monroe. Follow me on Twitter @MsJackMonroe. Find me on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/agirlcalledjack

A Girl Called Jack is available to order here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/A-Girl-Called-Jack-Monroe/dp/0718178947

Hunger Hurts – Still. A year on…

Today is exactly one year since I typed out, on my battered old Nokia, the words that have been reblogged and repeated in international news reports again and again and again over the last twelve months.

The post, entitled ‘Hunger Hurts’, starts with the line:

“Today has seen fourteen job applications go in…for care work, shop work, factory work, minimum wage work, any kind of work, because quite simply, this doesn’t work…”

I repeated the words in Parliament last month to a shocked, silent assembly:

“This morning, Small Boy had one of the last Weetabix, mashed with water, with a glass of tap water to wash it down with. Where’s mummy’s breakfast? He asks, all blue eyes and two year old concern. I tell him I’m not hungry, but the rumbling of my stomach calls me a liar. But these are the things that we do.”

Publicly falling apart at the seams, I continued:

“People ask me how I can be so strong.
People say to me that they admire my spirit.
Days like today, sitting on my son’s bed with a friend, numb and staring as I try to work out where the hell to go from here, I don’t feel strong. I don’t feel spirited. I just carry on.”

And I did. I carried on. Hunger Hurts was my turning point – the rock bottom that I hit, the night I decided to hold a big open house sale and sell everything that I could in my home to raise the money to clear my rent arrears. It’s the night I resigned myself to sacrificing everything I had in the way of material possessions, in order to keep four walls around me. I cannot read those words myself, without my stomach twisting, as I remember the cold bloody winter, sitting in a flat with no heating, the Christmas Day spent by myself because I realised my son would have a better time at his fathers than in a freezing cold flat with no tree and no presents – as I lay on my sofa without him and sobbed, alone.

Hunger Hurts is the most-read post on my blog to date, and as relevant today, as half a million people are reported to rely on food banks here in the seventh richest country in the world, and I urge you to read it and reread it until you can possibly comprehend what life is like for those half a million people – and those many, many more who do not receive the help that they so desperately need.

The timeline of events over the last twelve months has been a roller coaster, surreal as Xanthe Clay from the Telegraph came over for Morrocan-Not-A-Tagine for lunch, leading to the article My 49p Lunch With A Girl Called Jack. That article led in turn to a recipe book deal with Penguin, and subsequent appearances on Sky News, the BBC and ITV to talk about food and poverty. The Guardian described me last week as ‘The face of modern poverty’ – and indeed, I have been to the G8 summit, and spoken in Parliament on poverty issues. With that comes a public backlash, with hurtful comments about my weight, my appearance, my sexuality, my former landlords choice of decor, my parenting – as some people forget I am a person, and I hurt, and I feel, and I cry, too.

I also moved from my two bedroom flat, into one bedroom in a house I share with five people. I tuck a mattress under Small Boy’s single bed, and heave it out at the end of the day. Sharing a bedroom with a three year old is an interesting experience – but I tell myself that it isn’t forever.

I no longer claim Housing Benefit – the payments were suspended when news of my book deal reached the Housing Benefit department at the council – before any payment from my publisher hit my bank account. So I moved, to somewhere half the price, for some sort of security, at last. Less than ideal circumstances, but security all the same.

And for those that regularly ask me – yes, I still spend around £10 a week on my food shop. I’m learning to indulge again – but indulgence for me these days is a jar of black olives, or some (value range) salted cashews – I think once you learn how to eat great food on a low budget, it’s impossible to go back to spending £50 a week on food again.

Although my circumstances have changed somewhat in the past year – I have a job, am self employed, and a recipe book deal – I cannot put down the mantle and stop campaigning, or forget where I have come from. I am an ambassador for Child Poverty Action Group, and I have raised over £6,000 for charity this year through two extremely personal challenges, sleeping rough in a car park for the YMCA in March, and Living Below The Line for Oxfam in June.

Regular readers will be able to recite that closing sentence – as true today for half a million families in the UK as it was for me, typing through angry tears on the 30th July last year, that poverty isn’t just having no heating, or not quite enough food, or unplugging your fridge and turning your hot water off… Poverty is the sinking feeling when your Small Boy finishes his one Weetabix and says, More Mummy? Bread and jam please Mummy? As you’re trying to work out how to carry the TV and the guitar to the pawn shop, and how to tell him that there is no bread and jam.

A year ago, I was angry about my personal circumstances.

Now i’m angry about everyone else’s.

For those asking ‘what can I do to help?’ – well, donate something to your local food bank. Tins, nappies, baby formula, UHT milk, cereals, toiletries, pasta, rice, tinned fruit and vegetables… Volunteer at a children’s centre or a play group – I found the ‘free’ things to do with Small Boy were literally a lifeline to me when I had nothing to do in my day, no money, nothing to look forward to. Visit your local volunteer centre and see how you can help, someone, somewhere. Donate old clothes, shoes and blankets to your local homeless shelter. Don’t step over people in the street – give them the £3 you might have spent on a latte.

I almost have my happy ending. Almost. But hundreds of thousands of families in Britain are starving – and they don’t get a book deal, and they don’t get to roll onto the Sky News sofa and shout at politicians about how it is, so until Hunger Hurta becomes an antiquated, Dickensian fable of what life WAS like in quaintly-titled ‘Austerity Britain’, while Hunger Hurts is still true for just ONE family, let alone half a million, while people like Lord Freud can get away with pontificating on the ‘unnecessary’ nature of food banks, I must carry on. As an ambassador for Child Poverty Action Group, writing for Oxfam, raging against the machine, shouting at the rain, meeting with Government advisers and repeating again and again and again and again until they get it:

“Half a million people in the UK are relying on food handouts. Food banks are not the answer. They are a sticking plaster. There comes a time when you need to stop just pulling people out of the river. You need to go upstream, and find out why they’re falling in.”

Jack Monroe. Follow me on Twitter @MsJackMonroe. Find me on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/agirlcalledjack

A Girl Called Jack is available to order here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/A-Girl-Called-Jack-Monroe/dp/0718178947

Behind the scenes at the book shoot…

So today was the first day of shooting my book with the team from Penguin, and it’s been a fun – if exhausting – day. I’ve managed to smuggle my own plates and crockery into the shoot, so eagle eyed readers may recognise some of the bowls, plates, wooden boards and pretty forks salvaged from local charity shops and boot sales over the years…

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However, my humble kitchen doesn’t have nearly enough crockery to fill a cookbook, so i’m lucky that we were lent some too! And by ‘some’, I mean quite a lot!

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This is us, at the end of Day One! Left to right – Designer: John Hamilton, Author: Jack Monroe (me!), Editor: Lindsey Evans, Food Stylist: Rob Allison.

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Photographer: Susan Bell (below) – whose work can be seen at http://www.susanbellphotography.com

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I had a brilliant – if exhausting – day, and will be joined throughout the week by a host of exciting people – so watch this space!

But for now, a cup of lavender tea beckons, and a long, long sleep…

Jack Monroe. Follow me on Twitter @MsJackMonroe. Find me on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/agirlcalledjack

Skint Foodies: Jack Monroe on Radio 4, Sun 28 July at 1230

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Just a quick heads up for anyone that wants to tune in, I’m on the BBC Food Programme today at 1230 with Sheila Dillon.

From the BBC Radio 4 website:

“Sheila Dillon meets the cooks specialising in great food on small budgets, part of a world of food blogging influenced by life of benefits, periods of homelessness and shopping budgets that can be as little as ten pounds a week.
One of the highest profile blogs is “A Girl called Jack”, written by Jack Monroe, a single mum who lives in Southend-On-Sea. Out of work, having complications with benefits and reduced to feeding her small boy Weetabix mashed with water, she went online to share her experience and started writing about food.
What followed was a record of some of the most savvy shopping tips to be found anywhere, from dishes that can be cooked for 27p a portion, through to a forensic guide to every supermarket shelf, freezer cabinet and fresh produce aisle.
In a recent report by Oxfam, the numbers of people now using food banks has reached 500,000, linked, charities say, to recent reforms of the benefits system. The government disputes this link, but food insecurity is increasingly found in every region of the UK.
Others who have taken to writing about their efforts to cook and eat well on low budgets include
Belfast born, now London based, Miss South who along with her brother, who lives in Manchester, Mr North, share recipes and pictures of the food they enjoy. Miss South recently came out as being “properly poor” in a blog posted last November and her writing has inspired others who need to cook on food budgets hovering between £15 and £20 a week.
The third blogger in the programme is Tony, aka Skint Foodie. Once a high flying, restaurant going professional, his writing documents a determination to eat well despite losing everything to alcoholism.”

Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe. Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/agirlcalledjack

“This woman here has tattoos, and mirrored kitchen tiles. People like this show the same behaviour as crack addicts.”

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I don’t normally respond to online comments to news articles, but I have been astounded over the past few days by some assumptions and ‘advice’ on the Guardian forums.

Apparently having tattoos and mirrored kitchen tiles makes me akin to a crack addict.

1. Those mirrored kitchen tiles were put in by the landlord that owns my previous flat. They’re pretty, sure, but they don’t affect the rent rate nor can I eat them.

2. I haven’t had a tattoo since I was unemployed. And I covered them for job interviews, so no, they didn’t affect my chances of employment. I deliberately rolled my sleeves up for the shoot because I have tattoos and I am not ashamed of them – and they do not make me ‘low class’ as some commenters would suggest. I got my first at 18 and my last before life went tits up.

And to the other commenter – i’m not going to ‘get a husband’, because firstly, it’s not a sound solution to ones household economy, and secondly, I’m a lesbian.

Jack Monroe.

Twitter: @MsJackMonroe. Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/agirlcalledjack

Photography by Susan Bell: www.susanbellphotography.com

CREAMY SALMON PASTA WITH A CHILLI-LEMON KICK

This speedy fish supper – really simply a tinkering with a cheap jar of fish paste – takes just a few lazy minutes to put together and tastes absolutely divine. The sharpness of the lemon complements the salmon flavour, and the yoghurt lends a creamy subtlety. When I first put this recipe on my blog, over 100 people tried it, admitting disbelief that such simple ingredients could make such a yummy meal.

Serves 2:

160g pasta
1 onion
1 red chilli or pinch of dried flakes
a fistful of parsley
1 tablespoon oil
zest and juice of half a lemon or 2 tbsp bottled lemon juice
150ml natural yoghurt
1 x 75g jar of salmon paste

Bring a medium saucepan of water to the boil, and add the pasta. Reduce to a simmer and allow to cook for 8 to 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel and finely slice the onion, and very finely chop the chilli and parsley. Put into a pan with the oil, lemon zest and juice, and cook over a medium heat to soften.

When the pasta is cooked, remove from the heat and drain. Quickly stir the yoghurt and fish paste into the onions to warm through. Tip the pasta into the pan and coat with the sauce, and serve.

Creamy salmon pasta with a chilli lemon kick recipe from A Girl Called Jack by Jack Monroe. Available to order from The Hive, supporting your local independent book shops. Also available from major retailers and supermarkets.

Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe. Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/agirlcalledjack

 

Photography by Susan Bell: www.susanbellphotography.com

Photography by Susan Bell: http://www.susanbellphotography.com

Fishes!

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I’m editing and adding to my ‘fish’ chapter today, and decided to venture away from the sardines and frozen white fish fillets (and occasional bargain trout!) that I normally rely on.

I’m old enough to remember when a can of tuna was just 27p – and I also remember a few years ago the cost skyrocketed to just over £1 per can.

These days, a 185g tin of tuna from Sainsburys will set you back 80p – lower than recent years, but still a large chunk of money compared to what I’m used to spending.

From the top, all prices Sainsburys, correct at time of purchase:

Fish paste (salmon and white fish), 32p for 75g (43p/100g)

Sardines, 55p for 120g (46p/100g)

Smoked salmon trimmings, £1.50 for 120g. (£1.25/100g)

Herring roe (middle), £1.20 for 125g (96p/100g)

Seafood sticks, 89p for 150g (59p/100g)

Tuna, 80p for 185g (43p/100g)

Pilchards in tomato sauce, 95p for 425g. (22p/100g)

The large tin of pilchards in tomato sauce is by far the best value for money – with the versatile fish paste a close second…

I’m going to disappear into the kitchen now, and see what I can come up with. The herring roe looks as though it might be an interesting one!

Jack Monroe. Follow me on Twitter @MsJackMonroe.

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/agirlcalledjack

Mixed bean goulash, book preview!

This is my mixed bean goulash recipe adapted from the found-and-loved notebook I discovered in the bottom of my wardrobe earlier, and although I intended to cook it for tea tonight, I am still squirrelling away at my book draft, typing up the aforementioned notebook, and contemplating a peanut butter sandwich instead…

So, I promised I would blog the recipe this evening, so here it is, in “book draft” format, so a real sneak preview!

“I will never tire of this quick, simple meal. Originally adapted from a beef goulash recipe, and tweaked, and tampered with, in the way that all recipes are, it has become a sweet and spicy staple in my household, and never disappoints. Eat warm on toast, with rice, or stuffed in a pitta bread with lashings of cheese for lunch. Eat from a bowl, water it down and eat as a soup, or eat it straight from the pan in the name of ‘testing.’
I use cheap baked beans in place of haricot beans, as they are simply haricot or borlotti beans slathered in that bright orange tomato sauce – but usually for a third of the price of a tin of plain haricot or borlotti beans!

Ingredients (serves 4-6):
4 tbsp oil, vegetable or sunflower will do
1 onion
3 tsp paprika
2 x 400g cartons of chopped tomatoes
1 fat clove of garlic, or a generous shake of the dried stuff
400g can of red kidney beans
400g can of baked beans
1 vegetable stock cube
1 tsp honey
1 tsp marmite or vegemite paste

Method:
Firstly, drain and rinse the beans. Empty the kidney beans and the baked beans into a colaner, and blast under cold water to get rid of the tinned taste, and the cheap sauce from the baked beans. When well rinsed, set to one side.
Peel and chop the onion, and peel and finely slice the garlic. Place in a sauté or large non-stick frying pan with the oil and paprika, and fry on a low heat until the onion is softened.
Add the chopped tomatoes, the marmite, crumbled stock cube, sugar, and half a can of water, and stir well. Simmer gently until thickened and glossy.
Tip in the colander of beans, stir to mix well, and heat through for 10 minutes. Serve, devour, have seconds, and enjoy.

Tips:
To make it cheaper, leave out the marmite and use a beef stock cube instead of the vegetable one.
Save leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch, stuffed into pitta breads with grated cheese for something cold and portable.
Blitz half in a blender with a little extra water until smooth, and stir in the reserved half to make a chunky, spicy soup.
This also freezes beautifully, if allowed to cool and stored in an airtight container, or keeps in the fridge for 2-3 days.”

Follow me on Twitter @MsJackMonroe and find me on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/agirlcalledjack

Mixed bean goulash, then and now.

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How times change. I just found one of my old notebooks – back from even I had a decent, well-paying job in the 999 control room at the Fire Service – that I used to write my recipes down in. There’s 14 of these in total, and I have most of them in grabbing distance, but this one was unearthed from the bottom of my wardrobe this afternoon, snug in a box of assorted things left over from the recent house move.

This is my old mixed bean goulash recipe – replete with balsamic vinegar and smoked paprika – both conspicuously absent from my store cupboard these days…

The bouillon was long replaced with 15p stock cubes, and the tin of mixed beans with a can of value baked beans with the sauce rinsed off…

However, minus the fancy ingredients, this is such a hearty favourite dish, that it’s definitely, definitely going in The Book. I’ll blog it later – after I’ve had it for tea.

And for the bitchy commentator on *that* online forum that said I “clearly don’t like food” – 14 filled and filthy tomato-spattered notebooks from 8 years of experimenting says you sort of lost that bet…

Jack Monroe. Follow me on Twitter @MsJackMonroe

Baked trout in best tomato sauce, with lemon and herb rice. 33p.

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People often ask me why I don’t buy items from the Reduced chiller at the supermarket: well I do, I just don’t tend to blog about them, on the basis that they aren’t dependable, and price reductions vary from supermarket chain to supermarket chain, and even store to store. However, on finding a packet of trout in my local supermarket for 70 pence this evening, it was too good not to share.

You can substitute the trout in this recipe for white fish fillets: Sainsburys do a frozen bag of white fish for £1.75, for 520g, which would make the fish in this recipe 81p for a 240g portion, so only 2-3p more expensive per head than my bargain trout.

Ingredients: (Served 4 at 33p each)

240g trout, (normal price £2.41, reduced 70p) or 240g white fish fillets (£1.75/520g)

1 tablespoon sunflower oil, 3p (£4.50/3l)

400g chopped tomatoes, 31p (31p/400g)

1 onion, 11p (each)

1 chilli, free

200g white rice, 8p (40p/1kg)

Fistful of parsley and basil, free

Juice and zest of half a lemon, 8p (84p, bag of 5 fruits)

Method:

Firstly, prepare the tomato sauce. Peel and dice the onion and add to a saucepan with the chopped tomatoes. Place on a low heat and allow to simmer.

Pop the herbs into a tea cup (my preferred method of chopping them!) and chop into them with kitchen scissors until they are finely chopped. Grate the lemon zest in, half the lemon and squeeze the juice from one half in. Tip most of the herbs and lemon mixture into the tomatoes and onions, and reserve some for the rice.

While the onions are gently softening in the tomatoes, and the herbs infusing the sauce with their own special wonderfulness, now would be a good time to pop the rice on to boil. Bring a saucepan of cold water to the boil, add the rice, and reduce to a simmer.

Set the oven to 150C, pop the trout on a baking tray skin side down with a smudge of oil to prevent it from sticking, and bake for 10-12 minutes until opaque and pinkish. By this time, all being well, the rice should be nice and fluffy…

Drain any excess water from the rice, and tip in the remaining lemon and herb mixture. Spoon onto plates or into bowls. Break up the trout into large chunks with a fork, (tip any excess juice or oil into the tomato sauce and give it a quick stir). Serve the trout next to or on top of the rice, and top generously with the tomato sauce. Garnish with extra herbs if available, and enjoy the melty goodness…

Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe

Great British Chefs: Jack Monroe’s Pasta Alla Genovese

In a new series of blog posts for food website Great British Chefs, I have rejigged my Pasta Alla Genovese recipe, and photographed it on my favourite plate…

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For the full article, click here: http://www.greatbritishchefs.com/community/budget-pasta-alla-genovese-recipe

Jack Monroe. Follow me on Twitter @MsJackMonroe

How to dry chillies, well, sort of…

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This afternoon I decided to take my abundant chilli plant in hand, and instead of picking one or two for a recipe here and there, snipped off all of the ripe and ready red ones that I could see – 42 in total! They are clearly enjoying being in the ground instead of in a pot on my window ledge!

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I was initially torn between drying them and roasting them for oil, but decided to dry and crush this crop, as I only have one shelf in the fridge for me and it’s currently hoarding several different types of cheese, so space is tight. The cupboard, however, is quite empty – as usual!

I’ve never dried chillies before – so winging it, I snipped the green stalks off, and rolled each one between thumb and forefinger to pop the seeds out, or as many as I could coax out! I popped them into a nearby glass – as I am sure I will find a use for them, perhaps even trying to grow some more chilli plants!

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When de-headed and de-seeded, I put them on a crisper tray (It’s amazing what kitchen equipment other people have got, I found it in a cupboard and had to Google ‘baking tray with holes in’ to see what it was. I have never claimed to know everything!) and left them in the sun for a few hours to start to dry out.

When it became apparent that that would be a very long process, unsuited to even the hottest of English days, at 5pm this evening I brought them in, and popped them in a 180C oven for 20 minutes to crisp. The smaller ones took less time – when they crumble easily in your hand, they are good to go.

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I took them out of the oven, popped them into a trusty teacup, and chopped into them with my kitchen scissors. And coughed and swore as I breathed in chilli dust – so please be careful when doing this! Chilli dust up ones big Greek nose is not an experience that I recommend…

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Anyway, when they were done, in bigger flakes than you’d get in the supermarket and a darker red too, I popped them into a spice jar, and took a picture. There. Dried chillies. I’m not sure if it’s how you’re meant to do it, but there you go.

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And I am astounded that it took 42 chillies to fill a teeny tiny jar. I’m not going to measure out in ‘pinches’ to see whether it’s more or less efficient than using fresh ones, but it will be interesting to see how long it lasts. And it’s certainly more efficient than buying a packet of supermarket chillies, or letting the fruits on my abundant chilli plant go to waste.

Now, what to do with the next crop… And what to do with these seeds and tops kicking around? Dry them out and use them for oil, or steep in vodka for ‘chilli essence’? Answers on a postcard, chilli lovers…

Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe

Creamy Greek cheese and courgette pasta

This classic combination of Greek cheese and courgettes crops up again in a simple pasta dish that is perfect for lunch all year round. Eat cold in the summer, or warmed through in the winter to melt the cheese into a soft, delicious sauce.

Serves 2

1 courgette
a fistful of fresh mint, plus extra to garnish
a fistful of fresh parsley
1 tablespoon oil
zest and juice of 1⁄2 a lemon or 1 tablespoon bottled lemon juice
1 fat clove of garlic, peeled
50g Greek cheese (goat’s cheese or feta)
100ml natural yoghurt, plus a little extra to taste
70g fresh or frozen green beans, trimmed
160g pasta

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4. Chop off the stalk and end from the courgette. Dice and toss into a shallow roasting tin.

Pop the mint and parsley into a teacup and chop finely with kitchen scissors. Pour the oil over the herbs, add the grated lemon zest, squeeze in the juice and press in the garlic. Stir well and pour over the courgette in the roasting tin, shaking to coat it in the mixture. Pop the dish into the preheated oven for 30 to 40 minutes to roast.

When the courgette is cooked, tip out into a bowl, pouring in all of the juices from the roasting tin. Crumble the cheese over the roasted courgette, and mash roughly with a fork. Stir in the yoghurt, and set to one side.

Bring a pot of water to the boil and put in the spaghetti. Cook according to the packet instructions – usually simmering for around 8 to 10 minutes. After about 4 or 5 minutes, add the green beans to the pot, crank the heat up and cook them in with the pasta until soft but still a vibrant green.

Drain the spaghetti and green beans, and tip the cheesy courgette sauce in. Mix well to coat, adding extra yoghurt if you want a runnier sauce. Serve in deep comforting bowls, with additional mint leaves to garnish.

Tip: If you are short of time or don’t want to use the electricity/gas for roasting, simply grate the courgette instead of dicing it, mix with the rest of the roasting marinade ingredients and let them sit together whilst the pasta cooks. The flavour will be less intense but still utterly delicious – and super quick!

‘Creamy Greek Cheese And Courgette Pasta’ from A Girl Called Jack by Jack Monroe.

Twitter: @MsJackMonroe Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/agirlcalledjack

Roasted courgette and feta potato salad

Like many of my recipes, this was a toss-together of some ’fridge stuff’ – some rogue Greek cheese and a courgette that was kicking about. harking back to my Cypriot roots for what was initially going to be a tzatziki, this ended up as something else entirely. The sauce or dip, or whatever it should be called, is immensely versatile, but my favourite thing to do with it is toss it with pre-boiled tinned potatoes as in the recipe here. These quantities are easily halved for smaller households, or doubled for parties and potato fiends.

Serves 4 as a snack or 2 as a main meal

1 courgette
a fistful of fresh mint
a fistful of fresh parsley
1 fat clove of garlic or 1⁄2 an onion
1 tablespoon oil
zest and juice of 1 lemon or 2 tablespoons bottled lemon juice
50g Greek cheese (feta-style or goat’s cheese)
120ml natural yoghurt
500g tinned potatoes (drained weight)

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4. Chop the stalk and the bottom from the courgette. Dice and tip into a shallow roasting dish.

Pop the mint and parsley into a tea cup and chop finely with kitchen scissors. Peel the garlic or onion. Pour the oil over the herbs, add the grated lemon zest, squeeze the lemon juice in and press the garlic in. If you don’t have any garlic, then very finely chop the onion and add it to the dressing. Stir well and pour over the courgette pieces, shaking to coat them in the dressing. Pop into the preheated oven for 20 to 30 minutes to roast.

When the courgette is cooked, tip into a bowl, pouring in all of the juices from the roasting dish. Crumble over the cheese and mash roughly with a fork. Add the yoghurt and mix well.

Drain the potatoes and toss through the sauce until coated, then serve.

Tips: If you are short of time or don’t want to use the energy heating the oven, simply grate the courgette and mix with the rest of the dressing ingredients. The flavour will be less intense but still utterly delicious. This dish is very similar to the Creamy Greek Cheese and Courgette Pasta, so why not roast your courgettes at the same time and make both.

‘Roasted Courgette And Feta Potato Salad’ from A Girl Called Jack by Jack Monroe.

Twitter: @MsJackMonroe Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/agirlcalledjack

Mumsnet Guest blog: ‘Food banks are feeding families – the government needs to face its responsibilities’

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To read the full article, click here: http://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/bloggers/1796011-Guest-blog-Food-banks-are-feeding-families-the-government-needs-to-face-its-responsibilities

Published on Mumsnet, Blog Of The Day, 5th July 2013.

Jack Monroe. Follow me on Twitter @JackMonroe

It is the state that is shirking its duties, not the parents, Mr Gove.

As half a million people are reportedly reliant on the distribution of emergency food from food banks, the Government seems adamant to blame feckless parenting and a ‘scrounger mentality’ for the rise of food poverty in Britain.

First, Lord Freud commented in the House of Lords this week that there was no link between the recent welfare cuts and the rise in demand for food banks.

In a gross slur against the desperate families referred to food banks for help, he claimed that people were turning up just because there was ‘free food’, and not out of necessity – which simply isn’t true.

Surveys show that one in five people suffering from food insecurity would not consider turning to a food bank for help, as they find the stigma attached to ‘asking for food’ humiliating.

Then in today’s news, Michael Gove blames child poverty and hunger on reckless, irresponsible parenting and, in doing so, distracts from and denies the reality that most people using food banks are doing so as a result of benefit delays, sanctions, low income and unemployment. Other factors such as illness and domestic abuse certainly play a part, but these are the key causes, cited time and time again by food bank users.

Many parents tell of going hungry themselves in order to feed their children, as the biting austerity measures wound family incomes – or lack thereof – deeper and deeper. It’s hardly the picture of ‘feckless parenting’ that the Education Secretary paints.

I was a food bank user myself for six months, while unemployed, seeking work and surviving on just £10 a week for food for myself and my son.

He did not go hungry during that period – but I did, frequently, sobbing in bed at night in a freezing cold flat, suicidal, desperate, and alone – but adamantly clinging in for the sake of the then two year old boy fast asleep in his bed.

In the US, food banks are an integrated part of the welfare provision, a permanent fixture.

If food banks are here to stay, the responsibility for feeding the poor and vulnerable will have shifted from the shoulders of the Government, to the shoulders of charities and not for profit sector. Although it is admirable that these organisations are coming together to meet a real and desperate need, they should be seen as a temporary sticking plaster, and not a license for the Government to shirk its civic duties towards its citizens.

In terms of feckless parenting, it is this Government, and not the casualties of the shrinking welfare state that are shirking their duties – and sending its children, its citizens, to school, to work, and to bed hungry.

Gove, Freud et al need once and for all to look child poverty and hunger in its hideous face, and commit to tackling the underpinning root causes, instead of casting around to see who else can be blamed.

The Government ought to be taking steps towards investigating and tackling poverty, rather than tossing the blame around from Labour to the Tories, from those rogue charities handing out free food, to the feckless parents squandering it on God only knows what. It’s easy to say ‘it’s not my fault’. It’s more difficult to come up with solutions. Or is it? Because I came up with fourteen off the top of my head in Parliament last month, and I’m sure there’s more if I think hard enough.

Increasing social housing. Paying housing benefit monthly instead of four weekly to align with rent and mortgage payments and assist with cash flow problems. Payment of benefits quickly upon application, especially with the death of the Crisis Loan earlier this year. A commitment to a living wage would mean more families paying tax, less claimed in benefits, and a better living standard for all.

We need to stop just pulling people out of the river.

It’s time to go upstream, and find out why they’re falling in.

Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe

Brie and bacon risotto, 26p

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While testing recipes for my book this week, it was inevitable that I would start to put leftover ingredients together to come up with accidental dishes. This speedy and satisfying late lunch was born of some scraps of cooking bacon left over from Spring Piggy, and some sad looking Brie from the Courgette and Brie gratin.

I have been criticised in the past by online commenters for using ‘posh cheese’ on a limited budget, but at £1.09 for 200g, a rich flavour, and creamy versatility, I find a hunk of Brie far more satisfying for my stomach and my wallet than plain old cheddar any day. Besides – I can’t get £1.09 of cheddar from my local supermarket anyway…

(Serves 2 at 26p/portion. Prices Sainsburys Basics, July 2013)

100g cooking bacon, 16p (£1.09/670g)
1/2 an onion, red or white, 6p (11p each approx)
40g Brie, 22p (£1.09/200g)
140g rice, 6p (40p/1kg)
1 chicken stock cube, 2p (15p for 10)
500ml boiling water
Fistful of parsley , free (grows in the garden)

Optional: cranberry sauce to serve

Method:

Chop the cooking bacon into small pieces – 1cm approx. Place into a colander and rinse under cold water for five minutes to remove some of the salty taste.

Put into a shallow frying or sauté pan. Peel and finely chop the onion, and add to the pan with the bacon. Bring to a low heat. No additional fat is required: the fat will ‘leak’ from the bacon as it heats slowly, so make the most of it!

Soften the onions in the bacon fat. When they are almost translucent, add the rice and stir in well to toast the edges.

Make up 500ml of chicken stock. When the ends of the grains of rice have started to turn clear, add half of the stock and stir in. Keep adding the stock gradually as it is absorbed by the rice. (You may find that you do not need all of it – a good risotto should have a soupy texture, but be slightly al dente).

Just before serving, chop the Brie and stir through until it is mostly melted, and scatter chopped parsley through to lift the flavour.

Enjoy! If you have any apple or cranberry sauce kicking around in the cupboard, a teaspoon on top would be divine.

Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe

MPs pay rise scandal: “They said pretend we’ve got no money…”

"They said pretend we've got no money, they just laughed and said that's really funny... I don't see anyone else laughing, do you?" - Common People, Pulp.

“They said pretend we’ve got no money, they just laughed and said that’s really funny… I don’t see anyone else laughing, do you?” – Common People, Pulp.

HALF a million people are reported to be relying on food banks in Oxfam’s Below The Breadline report taken to the house of Lords for debate this afternoon – dismissed by Lord Freud, but more on that later.

In what could easily be mistaken for a woefully out of touch parallel universe, Members of Parliament are considering giving themselves a pay rise, in addition to their £65,000 a year salaries, and expenses. You know, the moats and the Laura Ashley curtains and the like. The valuable use of the taxpayers money on making second and third homes “nice”. If you ask me, I’d rather have an extra member of staff at the local Sure Start children’s centre, but nobody asked me. But why did nobody ask me? Or you? Or any of us? I thought this was a democracy – but it seems the only people that want the MPs to snort more taxpayers money out of the alarmingly short public purse, are MPs.

In January, an Independent Parliamentary Standards Association revealed that 69% of MPs think that they deserve a pay rise. As the poll was anonymous, it is suddenly impossible to identify whether those clamouring through the press that they wouldn’t accept the raise, were those eagerly (anonymously) deciding that they should be paid over £100,000 a year. The average results of the poll were as follows:

LABOUR MPs thought that they deserved an average salary of £77,322 per year.

LIBERAL DEMOCRAT MPs thought that they deserved an average salary of £78,361 per year.

And with no surprises, CONSERVATIVE MPs thought that they deserved an annual salary of £86,740 a year.

8% of them thought that they deserved over £100,000 a year.

Our current “public servants” seem to have forgotten that they were initially paid a wage at all in order to encourage working class people to represent their communities.

Their current wage, £66,000 a year basic rate, not including additional payments for sitting on committees, expenses, or allowances, is approximately three times the national average wage.

I haven’t done a poll, but how many firemen, teachers, nurses, postmen, shop assistants do we actually have in the Houses of Parliament? And how many professional politicians, that went from University to an internship at the Houses Of Parliament, or to work for an MP, and have never done anything else?

How many MPs have even been to their local food bank – (mine has, James Duddridge, Conservative MP) – let alone have any idea what life is like for the half a million people struggling below the poverty line and reliant on handouts every day? And what are they doing apart from photo opportunities and lip service, if they’re capping benefits at 1%, but giving themselves a £10,000 pay rise?

But we’re all in it together, remember. Leader of the Lib Dems Nick Clegg might whinny to the national press under pressure that he “wouldn’t accept” a pay rise, but will he whip his members into doing the same? Or will he turn it down because he can live comfortably on his hefty salary, and it will be good PR for him to look “like a man of the people.” Please. Reduce your salary down to minimum wage and live in a council house on £71 a week for all bills and food for a month, and then tell me that you’re a man of the people and you’re doing the right thing.

I had the same outrage at Iain Duncan Smith, claiming that he could live on £53 a week. Of course he could, in his wife’s big posh house, with his big posh things, a nicely stocked larder and all the home comforts a man could possibly want or need. Try doing it in a single bedroom, with your child sleeping on a mattress on the floor, with no food in the cupboard and no heating to turn on. Try it then, and tell me that we’re all in it together. Tell me how easy it is.

Job seekers and people on income support receive £71 a week for food and bills. MPs receive £140 a week for food, and can claim their bills as expenses.

They say there’s no money for libraries, for children’s centres, for police officers and benefits – yet they can justify an unstoppable pay rise for themselves? How?

As I have said before – we are not a country of middle aged, middle class white men with private educations – so why in hell are we governed by them? Are we really not collectively angry enough at how it’s all playing out, to go to the polling stations and vote them out?

But we’re all in it together, remember. It’s just that some of us are apparently in our living rooms with the blinds drawn to ride out 52” HD 3D TVs and fiddle jobs and nine illegitimate children that we’re claiming every type of benefit on earth for, and some of us are too busy guzzling away at the trough to notice the underpinnings of a decent society is collapsing around their knees.

I was asked a few weeks ago, completely seriously, if I would stand for Parliament in Southend.

I said no, because I’m currently writing a book and doing 101 other things that mean that I wouldn’t be able to commit to the election campaign for the next 18 months as much as I would like to. I am often told to go into politics, by blog readers, friends, strangers – and I agree that there is only so much shouting at the rain and raging against the machine that I can do.

But right now, the thought of joining that Parliament, with it’s ridiculous salary, corrupt culture and complete lack of values, saddens me. That culture and lifestyle will only attract a certain type of person, and it isn’t me. It needs to change. They make a murmuring noise every now and again about having more “real people” in Parliament – but then alienate those “real people” by deciding to give themselves pay rises, while the rest of us scrabble to feed our children in biting, wounding austerity.

As the great Billy Bragg said:

“The factories are closing
And the armies are full
I don’t know what I’m going to do.
I’ve come to see
In the land of the free
That there’s only a future for the chosen few.”

Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe

Airy Fairy Easy Peasy Soda Bread

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Think you can’t make bread? Or that you need a fancy pants bread maker to do so? RUBBISH. You have a natural, free bread maker in your palms and your knuckles – and this easy recipe with no proving or rising time is a great place to start.

A lot of soda bread recipes use whole meal flour, salt, and yoghurt – but true to my usual style, I’ve pared it back to the basics – but basic doesn’t mean disappointing. Gorgeous warm with red fruit jam, or butter, or dunked into hearty soups and stews. It goes without saying that this is one of my favourite and most tried-and-tested recipes, doesn’t it?

Ingredients, Serves 4:

200g self raising flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
200ml milk (soya or almond for vegans, cows milk if you’re not)
Juice of half a lemon

Method:

Squeeze the juice of half a lemon, or 2 teaspoons bottled lemon juice, into the milk. Stand to one side to allow it to sour.

Meanwhile, weigh the flour and add the bicarbonate of soda, and mix through.

Make a well in the centre of the flour mix, and pour most of the milk-and-lemon in. Mix well with a wooden spoon to form a sticky dough. Use your judgement, if it looks dry, add the remaining liquid.

Tip onto a floured work surface and pat into a round shape, kneading ever so lightly. The trick to amazingly light soda bread is not to fiddle with it too much.

Pop it into a loaf tin, score it across the top in three places, and place in a 180C oven for 40 minutes. It should sound hollow on the bottom when tapped, and feel ridiculously light.

Break into chunks and serve warm with butter, or allow to cool completely and wrap in clingfilm to keep fresh.

Jack Monroe. Follow me on Twitter @MsJackMonroe

Let the cookbook cooking commence…

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Today begins the first of ten days straight cooking, (hahaha – maybe ‘straight’ isn’t the right word!) as I road test every single recipe that’s going in my forthcoming cookbook.

After a quick brainstorm last night, when I realised that I’d be cooking 200+ dishes over the next two weeks, I put a Facebook plea out for the local food bank and homeless services to get in touch for anything that they would want for free, as well as friends and family for a small donation, which will go to charity.

The response on my Facebook page was overwhelming and planted a small, bonkers, but powerful idea about a ‘free’ or ‘give what you can afford’ pop up cafe in Southend – a group of us are planning to meet this week to discuss it and see if we can make it work.

In the meantime, I’m kicking off today with lavender and lemon scones, inspired by a gorgeous cake I was treated to by a friend in Leigh On Sea last weekend, the lavender plant on my window sill blossoming nicely, and a lonely little lemon kicking around the bottom of the fridge…

Happy days. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some serious cooking to do…

Jack Monroe. Follow me on Twitter @MsJackMonroe