So today I decided to set myself a new challenge, to cook a like-for-like replica of a supermarket ready meal, but cheaper. Harder than it looks, as the ready meals are made in bulk using low priced ingredients – and I have to buy those ingredients at ‘retail’ price, not ‘wholesale’.
I decided on a basic macaroni cheese meal, 75p for a 300g single-person portion.
The ready meal ingredients were pasta, water, milk, cheddar cheese, cornflour, oil, mustard, salt, white pepper – so I attempted to replicate it as closely as I could with what I had in the cupboards and fridge…
Ingredients (serves two):
160g penne pasta
40g dried skimmed milk
50g hard strong cheese
1 tbsp plain flour
2 tbsp sunflower oil
Scant 1/8th tsp English mustard
First bring a pan of water to the boil and add the pasta. Reduce to a medium simmer and cook for around 8 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a separate small or medium sized saucepan, add the oil, flour and milk powder. Bring to a low heat and stir well with a wooden spoon – it will form a crumbly mixture like fresh breadcrumbs. (If using liquid milk instead of dried, add the flour and oil and mix together to form a thick paste, then add a splash of milk. Stir in to thin the paste and add another splash. Continue until all the milk is added and continue to the next stage.) If using the dried milk/flour/oil method, mix until it forms breadcrumbs, and measure out around 250ml water. Bring the heat up to medium. Add a splash of water to the mixture and stir in well to remove any lumps. Add the water gradually until the sauce has thinned – don’t worry if you seem to have a lot of water left, you will need it in a minute!
Grate the cheese into the sauce mixture, reserving a sprinkle if you want for the top.
Stir in the cheese and add the mustard. If the sauce starts to thicken too much (matter of personal taste to be honest!) then add extra splashes of water and stir in to thin.
When the pasta is cooked, drain and tip back into the saucepan. Pour the sauce over the top (or the pasta into the sauce pan if it is big enough) and stir to coat.
Either serve straight away, sprinkled with extra cheese, or allow to cool and keep in the fridge for two days or freezer for up to three months.
Some people like to bake their macaroni cheese for a few minutes before eating – I’m not too fussed but you can if you want to, it crisps the cheese on top and makes it a little more special…
I’ll be playing with this one tomorrow, adding extra ingredients to see what my 75p macaroni cheese would look like if I made one – but tit for tat, this isn’t bad! And in the interests of fairness, the supermarket one weighed 300g, and so did mine. (Well, mine was 310g, but I won’t gloat too much…)
So there you have it – it’s cheaper to make a ‘ready meal’ macaroni cheese dinner than to buy one from the shop – and is less than 10 minutes work. Not bad at all.
Now – what ‘ready meal’ should I tackle next? Maybe you have a favourite that you think wouldn’t be cheaper to cook from scratch? Go on, I love a challenge…
Ingredient costs (all Sainsburys or Sainsburys Basics):
160g pasta 12p (39p/500g). 40g dried skimmed milk 10p (£1.01/400g). 50g hard strong cheese 57p (£2.30/200g). 1 tbsp plain flour 2p 65p/1.5kg). 2 tbsp sunflower oil 5p (£4/3l). Scant 1/8th tsp English mustard >1p (25p/180g)
Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe. Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/agirlcalledjack