So simple. So yummy. So accidentally dug into it before I took a photo...

Carrot ribbon pasta, 30p (MICROWAVE) (VEGAN)

So simple. So yummy. So accidentally dug into it before I took a photo...

So simple. So yummy. So accidentally dug into it before I took a photo…

This recipe was one of my favourite, simple ones from my first cookbook, A Girl Called Jack. Originally borne of a way to use up a bulk-buy bag of carrots (in the days before the guinea pig!), and to make veg exciting for a then two-year-old boy, it’s a simple, bright staple in my home today. In fact, I’ve just had it for my lunch. It’s beautiful, simple and delightful, and can be enjoyed all year round. Use whatever herbs you have to hand for the green sauce, I usually like basil or parsley in this one, but the Chief Herb Buyer in our house accidentally bought a ton of dill last week for a cooking project, and I’m reluctant to buy anything else until I’ve made a dent in the dill mountain in the fridge. Turns out it’s really yummy with dill, but if you don’t have it in or won’t use it in a week or two, don’t buy it specially – stick to a failsafe herb that’s easier to use up, like parsley! The breadcrumbs on top can be swapped for hard strong cheese, for my non vegan readers, and leave out the pinch of salt – although I hear rumour that vegan cheeses are available quite widely these days…

Serves 1 at 30p

75g spaghetti, 5p
1 carrot (mine weighed 100g), 5p
a handful (2g) of fresh herbs, 6p
30ml oil (I used sunflower), 4p
2 tbsp lemon juice, 7p
2 tbsp breadcrumbs (I smash up the crusts I cut off for the kids, and the ends of the loaf, the stale badly-wrapped piteous pittas, etc, and store them in a jar next to the bread bin with a teaspoon of salt shaken through to keep them dry, for things like this), 2p
a good pinch of salt and a grind of pepper, <1p

First grab a bowl that’s microwave safe and doesn’t have any metal embellishments on (sorry to nag, but you might be new round here).

Break the spaghetti in half so it fits in the bowl, and place it in the bottom. Cover it with cold water, half-filling the bowl. Pop a plate on top, or cover with clingfilm, and pierce a couple of holes in it with a sharp knife (the clingfilm that is, not the plate). Cook on FULL power for 2 ½ minutes. Stir and leave to stand for a minute. Cook on FULL power for another 2 ½ minutes. Stir and leave to stand for a minute. It *should* be just cooked, but not all microwaves nor spaghetti are created equal, so if it is unpleasantly crunchy, give it another two minutes – but you don’t want it flobby and sticky, because it will have another minute yet….

Meanwhile, while the microwave is doing its thing, make the green dressing for your pasta. Finely chop the herbs (I put mine into a teacup and attack them with scissors, containing them all in one place and it’s pretty satisfying, too…). Add the lemon juice and oil and salt and stir well. Stand to one side. (The dressing, not you.)

To make the carrot ribbons, use a vegetable peeler to strip the carrot into long, thin ribbons, then stack them up and slice them carefully into thinner pieces. Or you can grate them, that’s cool too.
Pop the carrot ribbons in with the pasta for a last minute of cooking, then drain and toss in the green sauce. Top with breadcrumbs or hard strong cheese, a grind of pepper, and serve. Voila.

For a portable lunch, you can either make the whole thing in advance and pop it into a jar or container and take it with you, reheating it in the microwave if you like – but it’s yummy cold too. The dressing stops the pasta from clumping together when it’s cold, although it might need a quick ping to bring it to room temperature. Or make the dressing and ribbon the carrots, and combine the two in one container. Pop the pasta in another container and cook it at lunchtime, then toss the carrots/sauce/crumbs through. Hurrah.

And if you’re feeling super healthy, try it with wholemeal pasta, and add some ribboned courgettes, too. And sultanas. And basically do what you like. Veg is fun, kids. At least, that’s what I tell mine.

Happy eating!

Prices based on my most recent Sainsburys shop as it’s nice and close and handy and they sell all the usual useful things. Basics spaghetti 35p/500g. Basics carrots 75p/1.5kg. Fresh dill 80p/25g. Sunflower oil £4/3l. Lemon juice 55p/250ml. Basics table salt 25p/750g. Basics pitta breads 22p/6.

Jack Monroe. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MsJackMonroe and find me on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/agirlcalledjack

Simple cheesy yummy goodness....

Courgette, tomato and cheese gratin, 33p (MICROWAVE) (VEGETARIAN)

Simple cheesy yummy goodness....

Simple cheesy yummy goodness….

This recipe from my microwave series is based on a recipe from my book, A Girl Called Jack, that I see popping up on my Twitter feed and Facebook pages time and time again – it seems to be a definite favourite among my lovely readers! And so, I wondered if it was possible to make a portable microwave version, either for busy evenings, energy saving cooking, or even to pop into a jar in your work bag to stave off the boredom of yet another soggy cheese sandwich or expensive takeaway lunch.

The microwave version has fewer ingredients than the original, oven-bake recipe – trying to keep it simple. I’ll also confess that I’ve made it with a few different rices as an experiment; although the simple basic 45p-a-kilo white rice will always be my go-to budget staple, this dish IS delicious with nutty brown rice too, if it’s the kind of thing you keep in the cupboard, and if not then don’t worry about it.

Serves 1 at 33p*

75g rice, 3p
50g courgette, 9p
100g chopped tomatoes, 9p
200ml water
1/2 vegetable stock cube (or chicken if you aren’t a vegetarian for a sweeter, yummy flavour), 1p
a pinch of something green – I used parsley, but basil, coriander, thyme, rosemary, or even leftover chopped spinach would be super yummy – dishes like this are an idea place to smuggle the stalks of fresh herbs, very finely chopped, they have bags of flavour so don’t automatically throw them away! – optional
10g hard strong cheese, grated, 11p

Weigh the rice into a microwave-proof jug or container – nothing metal, remember!

Very finely chop the courgette – I did mine with a julienne peeler that my gorgeous friend Rena gave me as a present, it’s great for finely chopping vegetables but it bites, I bear many many tiny cuts on my fingers from this vicious little monkey. You can use an ordinary vegetable peeler to cut your courgette into ribbons, then stack them and finely slice them for the same effect, probably saving the skin on your fingers too. Any which way, you want teeny tiny pieces of courgette for this.

Finely mince a small garlic clove and add it to the mix – if the thought of a whole clove of garlic makes you nervous, add a little of it and pop the rest in a tiny jar or corner of an ice cube tray to freeze. If the thought of chopping one pesky clove of garlic makes your eyes roll to the back of your head, you can ping it in the microwave in its skin for 3 x 10 second bursts, then squeeze the cooked garlic pulp out – good to know, not so good if your microwave is in a corner of an office full of people who may not appreciate the garlic fumes wafting their way from the microwave vents.

Pour over your chopped tomatoes, water, and crumble in half a stock cube. Stir it all really well, then cover with a saucer or some clingfilm. If clingfilm, pierce a couple of small holes in it. If you’re using a saucer, don’t try to make holes in it.🙂
Cook on full power for 3 minutes, then leave to stand for 1. Stir well and repeat: full power for 3 minutes, stand for 1. The rice should be cooked through, but not all rice is created equal (nor microwaves for that matter) so if it’s not quite soft and fluffy, repeat once more.

Tip into your eating-receptacle of choice (mine is a mug), top with cheese, ping for 30 more seconds just to get the cheese all melty and a bit ‘grilled’, and devour.

The original courgette, tomato and cheese gratin recipe can be found here: http://agirlcalledjack.com/2014/09/01/courgette-tomato-and-brie-gratin-26p/

I costed this recipe based on my most recent shopping expedition to Sainsburys, because it’s the closest supermarket to me. Prices correct at the time of blogging: Basics white rice 45p/1kg. Basics Courgettes £1.80/kg (they seem to have come back, hurrah!) Basics chopped tomatoes 35p/400g. Basics garlic 35p/2 bulbs. Basics stock cubes 25p/10. Basics hard Italian cheese £2.30/200g.

Jack Monroe. I’m on Twitter and Instagram at @MsJackMonroe and Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/agirlcalledjack

If you like my recipes, there’s two whole books of ‘em too, available to buy from lots of great places but my favourite is Hive, supporting independent book shops and retailers (and they deliver, too!). Check them out here: http://www.hive.co.uk/book/a-girl-called-jack-100-delicious-budget-recipes/18105011/

'Come into my world of soft, sloppy comfort', it whispers... 'I am mac n cheese in a mug. I am five minutes of sitting on the worktop, eating with spoon and licking fingers. I am a little piece of peace and quiet. I am only yours...' <3

Marmite mac-n-cheese in a mug, 36p (MICROWAVE)

'Come into my world of soft, sloppy comfort', it whispers... 'I am mac n cheese in a mug. I am five minutes of sitting on the worktop, eating with spoon and licking fingers. I am a little piece of peace and quiet. I am only yours...' <3

‘Come into my world of soft, sloppy comfort’, it whispers… ‘I am mac n cheese in a mug. I am five minutes of sitting on the worktop, eating with spoon and licking fingers. I am a little piece of peace and quiet. I am only yours…’❤

Friends will know that my Marmite obsession is almost as out of control as my peanut butter obsession. In leaner times, I would substitute Marmite, which was well out of my budget range, for a paste made from a crumbled Basics beef stock cube, mixed with boiling water, and allowed to cool. Smeared onto toast with butter, it delivered that tongue-warming tingle and salty kick I used to get from my yeast-extract friend. These days, my cupboard has a jar of Marmite in for toast and snacks, and today, it went in here, too. If you’re a hater, not a lover, just leave it out – or of course, you could always cook your pasta in a stock made from a crumbled Basics beef stock cube, and we’ll call it quits…

Serves 1 at 36p per portion.

75g pasta, 5p
250ml water (or half a beef stock cube crumbled in – don’t knock it til you’ve tried it)
2 tsp butter (10g), 4p
20g hard strong cheese – you might want to use more, but I like hard and strong and scant myself, 23p
½ tsp (2g) Marmite or other yeast extract, 3p

Tip your pasta into a mug, and cover with cold water. Cover with clingfilm and pierce several times, or balance a small saucer on top – make sure neither mug nor saucer have any metal on please, the Fire Service are busy enough… Stand it in a bowl or jug – you’ll see why in a sec. Cook on FULL power for 2 minutes, then remove the mug. It’s usual for water to bubble up over the sides and drench the bottom of your microwave, so to save cleaning it up and topping it up again, which will slow your cooking time down, just tip the water back into the mug. Give it all a good stir and leave to stand for a minute. Repeat this step twice more, until your pasta is soft and swollen. You may need to add a splash more water here or there, which is fine – not all microwaves, nor pasta, were created equal.

Add your butter, stir in the Marmite, and grate the cheese over. Cook for one more minute on full power, stir well, and serve.

For a work-easy version, or a portable one, simply mix together oil instead of butter, marmite and finely grated hard cheese and pop into a small container – it’s not going to look the greatest, but it will taste absolutely fine when it’s cooked. Portion out your pasta, and take the pasta and the oil-cheese-marmite paste with you wherever you’re off to. Now all you need is to cook the pasta as instructed, stir in the paste, and voila. Nearly-instant lunch that doesn’t have to be kept in the fridge.

Prices worked out at Sainsburys and are correct at the time of blogging (March 2015). Basics pasta 35p/500g. Basics butter 90p/250g . Basics hard strong cheese £2.30/200g. Marmite £1.70/125g.

I’ve given up my oven for Lent and am exploring cooking with my microwave – I hope people will find this useful, and I’m certainly finding it very interesting! You can follow my progress here, or on http://www.instagram.com/msjackmonroe or http://www.twitter.com/msjackmonroe

My blog is free and always will be, but if you would like to buy a recipe book, they can be found on http://www.hive.co.uk/by/jack-monroe/ – they’re in all major bookshops and supermarkets too, but Hive supports your local independent book stores, which is important and super cool.

Jack Monroe. Twitter & Instagram @MsJackMonroe

IMG_9600

Simple mushroom soup, 37p (MICROWAVE) (VEGAN)



I love making a mushroom stock when I have a few shrivelling up in the drawer of the fridge, cooking them long and slow with some garlic and onion and some dried or fresh herbs, before freezing it to use as the base of a flavoursome risotto or stew… Pungent and almost truffley, at just a fraction of the cost. But, my most recent fistful of wrinkly mushrooms were destined for the microwave project, along with some more of that large green passive-aggressive cabbage still rolling around in the fridge, which may make an appearance in the next ten recipes. So without further ado, allow me to introduce my very simple mushroom soup… Slightly salty, reminiscent of miso without any actual miso in, and so good I made it two days running.


To make a more substantial meal, you could add 50-70g uncooked rice, and an extra 50ml water, and cook it for an extra 2-4 minutes. Basic plain white rice would work well, but if your budget stretches to it, brown would give a nutty, delicious flavour. I’m going to try it later in the week with pearl barley, myself… 

For a quick and easy work lunch, you could prepare all of the ingredients and cover with water, and simply ping it in the microwave to heat through. I carry soups around in jars with screw-on lids to be on the safe side (and no soupy paperwork) – just take the metal lid off before putting it in the microwave! Zzzzt!

Serves 1 at 37p each*

1 fat clove of garlic, 3p
30g onion, 1p
100g mushrooms, 24p
a handful of dark green leafy veg – I used cabbage, 8p
½ a vegetable stock cube, 1p

First peel and finely chop your garlic, and peel and finely chop your onion. Pop them in a microwave-safe container (NO METAL) and add a scant tablespoon of water. Cook on HALF power for 90 seconds, until softened but not burned, you just want to lose that raw edge to them.

Slice your mushrooms and thinly slice your dark green leafy veg, and add to the onions and garlic. Crumble over your stock cube. Cover with 250-300ml water, and stir well. The stock cube won’t dissolve until the water heats through, so don’t worry if it looks a little gross at the moment, it will all come together shortly.

Cover with clingfilm and pierce a few holes in the top to let steam escape and stop it from bursting/splattering your microwave with soup. Some people like to put a small plate on top instead, which works well too – use what you have and are comfortable with, there are many roads up the culinary mountain.

Cook on FULL power for two minutes, leave to stand for a minute, then repeat. And voila, a miso-y mushroom soup, ready in a flash, with very little effort. And huge amounts of deliciousness.

I worked out the cost of this recipe based on my most recent Sainsburys shop, because its my nearest big supermarket and where I do my weekly shop. Similar items are available at all the major supermarkets for around the same price – and things like loose mushrooms and onions may be cheaper at local shops or markets if you have any available in your area. Prices correct at the time of blogging but are subject to change. If you see any super offers on any of these ingredients at your local supermarket then please comment below as it’s good to share the bargain info. Basics garlic bulbs 35p/2. Basics onions 85p/1.5kg. Basics mushrooms 96p/400g. Savoy cabbage 80p. Basics vegetable stock cubes 25p/10. 

I’ve given up my oven for Lent and am blogging recipes here – it’s a world of discovery but I hope it will be useful for people with limited cooking facilities, whether at home or at work, and if you’re looking to save money on your energy bills. You can follow the journey atwww.agirlcalledjack.com/microwave-recipes/and on Twitter atwww.twitter.com/msjackmonroe and on Instagram atwww.instagram.com/msjackmonroe and on Facebook atwww.facebook.com/agirlcalledjack

And finally, if you like my recipes, there’s around 200 for free on my blog that can be searched for in the ‘Search’ bar, either at the bottom of each post or on the top right hand side of the page, depending on whether you’re reading on a phone, tablet or computer. Just type in something you have in your cupboard or fridge, and see what it suggests! 

Books are available to buy online at Hive Stores, supporting your local independent book shops – http://www.hive.co.uk/by/jack-monroe/21868634/

Thanks!

Jack xx

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Thai-inspired meatballs with coconut slaw, 97p (MICROWAVE)

Bear with me folks, because this baby sounds a lot posher and more complicated than it actually was. You can make it go further by blitzing a slice of bread in the blender or grating it, and mixing it with the mince to pad it out. There’s a scarce amount of onion and garlic in this, because of the short cooking time, so can be left out if you don’t have them lying around, I just always add them to my meatballs because that’s the way my Grandad taught me to do it. I’ve recently fallen in love with the small cartons of coconut cream in the World Food Aisle at the supermarket, especially since coconut milk seems to have doubled in price over the last few years. Coconut cream is cheaper, and condensed to a thick paste so it goes much further – bit of a no-brainer once you know what you’re looking for! I only use a small amount at a time, so freeze the rest in an ice cube tray for handy portions to use in the future…

Serves 1 for a light lunch, 97p

100g turkey mince, 70p
1 clove of garlic, 3p
20g onion, 1p
a very scant barely-there pinch of chilli, <1p

For the slaw:
Green leafy veg, cut very very very finely – I used green cabbage, but not the outer leaves, 8p
2 tbsp coconut cream (cheaper than coconut milk as it’s condensed so goes further), 11p
1 tbsp lime or lemon juice, 3p
pinch of salt <1p

First combine all of your slaw ingredients and get that sitting in the fridge or on the side if you’re going to eat it within the next 20 minutes. Finely mince ¼ garlic clove – you really don’t need that much of it as it’s going to be raw so will taste super strong, leave it out if you’re nervous but I love it… Mix it with the coconut cream and lime juice. Very very very finely slice your leaves. The easiest way to do it is to roll them up in your hand, then slice from one end the the other like you’re cutting the world’s thinnest, greenest Swiss Roll. Note it’s a slice, not a fancy-bollocks chopping action – slow and steady wins all your fingers left at the end here. Mix the coconut cream sauce with the greens, and stand to one side. You’ll see in the pic that I served the sauce and greens separately, but actually then I mixed them all up and it was YUMMY so scrap the separate thing and ignore the pic.

In a bowl, mix the mince with the garlic and very finely sliced onion, and the pinch of chilli flakes. Mash it all together in your hands to evenly distribute the ingredients; you don’t want to end up with one blow-your-head-off meatball and the rest bland and flavourless. Divide your mixture into 6-8 balls, erring on the side of smallness as they’ll cook quicker! Pop them on a plate and microwave at full power for two minutes. Leave to stand for a minute to calm down, then microwave at a slightly lower power for two more minutes. Leave to stand for another minute – stuff carries on cooking for a bit once it’s come out of the microwave. Drain off all the juices that come out, cut one in half to see if it’s cooked through (it should be, unless it’s ENORMOUS) – if it is, serve it with the slaw, and if it’s not, well, pop it back in for a minute.

And enjoy! This is my favourite so far. I had it for a light lunch, but if you want something more substantial it would be delicious with some rice (any colour, we aren’t prejudiced about our rice round here, it depends on what your budget is.) Cook the rice first and get it out of the way – basic white rice takes around 8 minutes in a bowl in the microwave covered in water and clingfilm, in 2 minute bursts to stop it from exploding. Remember to pierce the clingfilm to let steam escape and peel it off carefully to prevent steam burns. You can pop the meatballs in for the last few minutes of the rice cooking, but remember the more things there are in a microwave the longer they take to cook because the ‘micro waves’ need to work a little harder to get round everybody. Phew. This is definitely requiring a lot of thinking. Who knew?

Prices based on my most recent Sainsburys shop and correct at the time of blogging. It’s worth noting that I use free range meat (which is why I don’t eat very much of it and where all the veggie and vegan recipes come from) – if this is something you don’t do yourself then you will find much cheaper options available.

Free range turkey thigh mince £3.50/500g. Basics garlic 35p/2 bulbs. Basics onions 85p/1.5kg. Chilli flakes £1/32g. Green cabbage, 80p . Coconut cream 90p/250ml. Lime juice 55p/250ml.

I’ve given up my oven for Lent and am cooking in a microwave. It’s like learning to cook all over again. You can follow my progress at http://www.agirlcalledjack.com/microwave-cooking/ or on Instagram at http://www.instagram.com/msjackmonroe and Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/msjackmonroe

Hot sweet soft delicious goodness. I make no apology for this, it's atrociously delicious, especially considering it's next to no effort. This is dangerous knowledge, proceed with caution.

Quick ‘n’ Hot Banana Pot, 18p (MICROWAVE) (VEGAN)

Hot sweet soft delicious goodness. I make no apology for this, it's atrociously delicious, especially considering it's next to no effort. This is dangerous knowledge, proceed with caution.

Hot sweet soft delicious goodness. I make no apology for this, it’s atrociously delicious, especially considering it’s next to no effort. This is dangerous knowledge, proceed with caution.

It would be remiss of me not to include this ‘not really a recipe’, as I have eaten it almost every day since the microwave project began. It came around by accident, like so many of these things do – I was trying to make banana chips in the microwave and ended up with a hot banana mush… Undeterred, I scraped it up with a spoon and sighed to myself in a small blissful moment, at my accidental mid morning dessert hot, sweet, meltingly soft banana. The next day, I sliced the banana straight into a ramekin dish – all thought of banana chips banished now, I had to have this again. By day three, I was stirring in two squares of dark chocolate. It’s quick, simple, naughty, delicious, virtuously vegan and a dessert I definitely wouldn’t mind feeding to the kids…if only I can relinquish my sudden fierce ownership of Every Banana In The House…

Serves 1:

1 banana, 13p
2 squares dark chocolate (or milk or white if you prefer), 5p

Thinly slice your banana and pile into a ramekin dish or small microwave proof bowl. It doesn’t matter if you have more banana than bowl, as it sinks down when it’s hot.

Microwave on full power for 30 seconds, leave to stand for 30, and microwave again for 30. Remove – it should be soft and hot and juicy. If it isn’t, give it a stir and ping it for another 30 seconds.

Give it a good stir to make a hot, smooth-ish puree. Pop your chocolate on top and stir gently to melt it in. Find a comfortable chair, and a teaspoon, and devour.

I calculated my costs at Sainsburys, based on my most recent shop, but bananas and chocolate are widely available from other shops at other prices. Kids Fairtrade bananas £1.05/8. Sainsburys basics dark chocolate 35p/100g (15 squares). Correct at time of blogging.

Jack Monroe. I’m on Twitter and Instagram @MsJackMonroe

…and if you like my recipes, there’s two whole books of them available to buy, so far! This blog is free and always will be, but please consider helping me make a living too – and supporting local independent book stores – by checking them out at http://www.hive.co.uk/book/a-girl-called-jack-100-delicious-budget-recipes/18105011/ – thanks!🙂

Chillaf. Silly name but hey, we all need a little more silliness in our lives.

Chillaf aka Chilli Pilaf, 50p (VEGAN) (MICROWAVE)

Chillaf. Silly name but hey, we all need a little more silliness in our lives.

Chillaf. Silly name but hey, we all need a little more silliness in our lives.

I’m a few days into the microwave cooking project since I gave up my oven for Lent and I have to say, I’m having a blast. I’ve set up a test kitchen in a corner with a fridge, microwave and kettle, and it’s like learning to cook all over again. Today I poached an egg for lunch, and mucked it up – I am completely out of my comfort zone and learning new things all the time, but what I’m hoping to achieve at the end of it is a useful resource for people to take into their offices, workplaces and kitchens and cook simply, cheaply, and with a microwave. It’s nothing new, microwave cooking was big recipe book business in the 1970s, and I have a few rather old and slightly hilarious microwave cookbooks that I’ve spent the last few days reading – anyone for defrosted hash browns with Campbells soup and crunched up cornflakes on top? It’s a real recipe from Easy Livin’ Microwave Cookin’ by Karen Kangas Dwyer, called ‘Elegant Potatoes’… Hmm.

My 'new' kitchen! I've taken over a corner of the house with The Microwave Project, so this is my test kitchen - it's so much easier to clean...

My ‘new’ kitchen! I’ve taken over a corner of the house with The Microwave Project, so this is my test kitchen – it’s so much easier to clean…

One thing I’ve noticed from microwave cooking is that flavours change – it’s not as simple as flinging a recipe that I would normally cook on the hob, into the microwave. Garlic retains a tang of its raw taste if not cut up really finely, as does onion. Spices don’t have a long development and infusion time, so some need a little more than before, and some need less. Cumin seeds are basically a no, as they stay hard and crunchy with the short ping time as opposed to a long softening in a pan. Dishes retain a lot more moisture, so rice needs far less liquid to cook. Like I said, learning new things every day with this – and loving it. I’m also trying to strip the ingredients list back to be as simple as possible while staying as yummy as possible – some of my readers who have got in touch to say they only have a microwave to cook with, aren’t in a position to fill up their storecupboards, so I’m knocking out things that could be considered extraneous… And besides, these are meant to be quick and simple!

So with no further ado, here’s my microwave chilli pilaf – the chocolate lovers among you will be pleased to note it’s got extra chocolate in!

Serves 1 at 50p*

¼ smallish onion (about 40g), 2p
1 small clove of garlic – makes a change from me stipulating a fat one but the small ones have to go in something, 2p
70g rice (about an espresso cup sized), 2p
¼ tsp ground cumin, 1p
½ tsp paprika (sweet or smoked, depends on preference and storecupboard), 2p
200g chopped tomatoes, 17p
130g canned kidney beans (half a 400g can drained and rinsed), 18p
½ a vegetable stock cube, 1p
2 squares of dark chocolate, 4p
150ml cold water
a splash of vinegar (malt will do) and a pinch of salt to serve <1p

I cooked this twice, the first time without rice and by flinging all the ingredients in at the same time. It was delicious, but there was a very slight tang of raw garlic. When I cook chilli on the hob, and indeed lots of other recipes, I’d start by gently sauteeing the garlic and onion to soften first, then adding the other ingredients. So, I tried again, gently cooking the garlic and onion on a low setting in the microwave first to soften them, the same way I would when cooking on the hob. Seeing I was making it again, I decided to add rice to my chilli to make it a true one pot meal, and thus the chillaf was born. You can choose to throw all the ingredients in together if you like, but you might like to leave the garlic out, unless you don’t mind it super strong.

Finely chop your garlic and onion and pop them into your vessel of choice – I cooked mine in a jug and it worked really well, but think a tupperware or a bowl would work too. Remember, no metal, metal in microwaves sets fire to things, even the smallest amount of metal embellishment on a plate could be disastrous. Add a tablespoon of water to stop them from sticking, cover with clingfilm and pierce in a couple of places. Turn your microwave to around HALF power. Cook for 90 seconds, and leave to stand for a few more. Carefully peel back the clingfilm, starting with a side piece so you don’t get steam burns – rare but seriously painful.

Add the rest of the ingredients, crumbling the stock cube in to it dissolves rather than sits at the bottom in a lump, and add the water. Re-cover with clingfilm (remember to pierce it if you’re using a new bit), and cook on FULL power for 3 minutes. Remove, carefully uncover and stir really really well, cover again and pop back in for another 3 minutes. Remove, carefully uncover, and leave to stand for a minute before serving. If your rice isn’t cooked (just nibble a piece to check), then pop back in for two more minutes – not all rice is created equal. Basic white rice cooked in 6 minutes in my microwave with a 1 minute rest in the middle and a 1 minute rest at the end, but brown rice takes longer and black rice and red rice are somewhere in between. Add a tiny splash of and vinegar and a pinch of salt to serve, it just makes it.

Jug it. Cover it. Pierce it. Ping it. Stand it. Ping it. Stand it. Eat it. Simple.

Jug it. Cover it. Pierce it. Ping it. Stand it. Ping it. Stand it. Eat it. Simple.

Prices based on my most recent Sainsburys shop and correct at time of blogging. Other supermarkets offer similar products at competitive prices and if you find anything at a super bargain price please comment below and share the info so we can all rush there instead!🙂

Basics white rice 45p/1kg. Basics onions 85p/1.5kg. Basics garlic bulbs 35p/2. Ground cumin £1/42g. Paprika £1. Basics chopped tomatoes 35p/400g. Basics kidney beans 30p/400g. Basics vegetable stock cubes 25p/10. Basics dark chocolate 30p/100g.

I’m on Twitter and Instagram @MsJackMonroe and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/agirlcalledjack. If you like my stuff, check out my books on Hive, supporting local independent bookshops, and little me: http://www.hive.co.uk/book/a-girl-called-jack-100-delicious-budget-recipes/18105011

A tale of two chillis, Chilli Mk 1, and Chillaf. Chillaf won, despite its slightly silly name.

A tale of two chillis, Chilli Mk 1, and Chillaf. Chillaf won, despite its slightly silly name.

Breakfast sardines, spinach, and a mug-baked-egg, 71p (MICROWAVE)

Not the best looking egg in the world, but in my defence it made a bid for freedom and whooooooshed out of the mug and landed with a splat on the microwave plate. I wasn't going to waste it, no point in having a blog if you can't be your real self on it, broken dodgy eggs and all... ;)

Not the best looking egg in the world, but in my defence it made a bid for freedom and whooooooshed out of the mug and landed with a splat on the microwave plate. I wasn’t going to waste it, no point in having a blog if you can’t be your real self on it, broken dodgy eggs and all…😉

Baking eggs in the microwave is an egg-splosive roulette, where every second and wattage seems to count! I’ve done it for a few days running now, to try to test the waters before sharing my accrued wisdom on the subject, only to find I’m three days in and still none the wiser! I thought I’d cracked it (no pun intended, but giggle if you want), when this morning I heard a BANG! Thirty seconds in, and my egg had completely flown out of the mug and was sitting on the microwave plate, smugly going round and round, having decided to break free from its white china prison and make a run for it. I congratulated it…….by spearing a fork into it and eating the bugger.

So, eggs. From what I can work out, crack it into a fat-bottomed mug (the kind that make the rockin’ world go round…) My mistake this morning was using a mug with a skinny bottom, and the microwave pressure built up in the smaller space, and the egg made a run for it. Theoretically. Gosh, it’s actually like learning to cook all over again. Then pierce the yolk with a knife, fork, or your wit if it’s sharp enough – THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT. The yolk cooks faster than the white, so leaving the membrane intact will cause your yolk to make a bid for freedom under the pressure – and hey, we all know how that feels…

And when cracked and pierced, cook it on a medium heat if cooking it alone, for 3 30 second bursts. If you’re cooking it with Other Things, you can leave it on a high heat, as the more things there are in a microwave the less ‘microwaves’ they absorb and the more gently they cook. Confused? I’m just about hanging in myself…

This has become one of my favourite breakfast/lunch dishes not least because I’m a huge fan of sardines and the Local version of the big orange supermarket has tins of sardines for 45p at the moment. And all in, it’s about 2 minutes in the microwave, low carb, high protein, no effort. If the thought of sardines for breakfast makes you feel a bit queasy, replace them with very thinly sliced mushrooms, and proceed…

Serves 1 (easily doubled, tripled, etc), at 71p – greedy guts here ate the whole tin of sardines… You don’t have to…!

1 tin of sardines, 45p
1 free range egg, 14p
20g fresh spinach (frozen defrosted would be cheaper but Le Freezer has died!), 12p

First crack your egg into your fat-bottomed mug – please make sure it is microwave safe and absolutely does not have any metal on it, metal can’t go in the microwave, it will start a fire. Even the teeny little edges of metal rim on some plates and cups that look so pretty, will not look so pretty when they’re burning your house down. Pierce the yolk with a sharp thing, and cover the mug with cling film (again, not foil, do not flout the no-metal rule. I cannot say this enough, as a former emergency call handler for the Fire Service, how many effing 999 calls I’ve taken in my short lifetime for house fires caused by kitchen fires caused by something metal in the sodding microwave.)

Pierce the cling film to allow steam to escape, and pop the mug on your plate.

Undo the sardine can, and drain off any excess oil (mine lives in a jar in the fridge, and will be used for cooking other things in the week like fishcakes, or to make a slightly ‘essence of sardine’ salad dressing, or something like that. Waste not, want not!) Pop the sardines on your plate next to the egg-mug.

Add a fistful of spinach, and pop it in the microwave on full power for 30 seconds. Peek inside, check your egg, give it all a few seconds to breathe (important), then give it another 30 seconds. Your egg should be cooked and spinach wilted by now, but not all microwaves are created equal, so give it a brief rest, then another 30 seconds if not.

Peel back the clingfilm carefully carefully, staring with the end furthest from you – you don’t want a steam burn! Tip or spoon the egg onto your plate, season the lot to taste, and enjoy!

I’ve given up my oven for Lent and am exploring the possibilities of cooking with a microwave – I’ve made a separate brand new shiny section for it on my blog – and have been meaning to do this for ages! Any hints, tips, tricks, pointers welcome, it’s like I’m teaching myself to cook all over again, and wow, something as simple as cooking an egg has taken me three days to master. Taking nothing for granted in this, but hoping I can use this time to come up with some quick and simple meals for work lunches, NHS workers, and a growing number of people who actually only have a microwave to cook with or can’t afford to turn the oven on. It’s a challenge, but I’m going to try to do a new recipe every day – and I’m actually living this, not just blogging about it! Watch this space and follow the progress at http://www.agirlcalledjack.com/microwave-cooking/

I’m on Instagram and Twitter @MsJackMonroe, and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/agirlcalledjack

**Prices based on my most recent Sainsburys shop and correct at time of blogging: Tin of Portuguese sardines, 45p. 260g fresh spinach, £1.50. 6 free range mixed weight eggs, 85p.

Super-Express Portable Porridge, 9p.

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After last weeks porridge experiment, several of my readers got in touch to tell me that they do something similar, but with dried skimmed milk. Well, I rushed to the supermarket to pick up a bag, to solve another household problem.  So Thankyou dear readers for this ingenious idea – I’ve made a Super Express Portable Porridge pot from a clip-lock container from the 99p store, a pen, and a minutes work. And I’m pretty chuffed – as it almost halves the cost of the predecessor porridge! Wahey!

All prices are Sainsburys Basics, I have it on good authority that Tesco and Morrisons have 1kg of oats for 75p, so if you live near one, go get em and make me “well jel”, as we say here in Essex…

Ingredients (makes around 30 portions):

1kg oats, £1.19
400g dried skimmed milk, £1.01
250g sultanas, 42p (84p/500g)

(Add sugar, cinnamon or vanilla as required – or a smashed up bar of Basics chocolate, 31p, for a super indulgent treat).

Add all ingredients to a very large container with a lid. Shake well to distribute.

To make the ‘super express portable porridge pot’…

Find a cup or container that measures out your ‘perfect’ porridge portion – mine is a 90ml espresso cup. I use a ratio of 1:3 porridge to water, so measured one cup of water (pretending it was porridge) into the container, and drew the first line to indicate where to fill the porridge to.

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I added another three cups of water to make four (one’s posing as porridge, remember) and drew the second line.

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Add instructions as necessary😉

Go on – you know you want to! And if you don’t have a microwave at work, boil the kettle, fill to the line, put the lid on and leave for a few minutes to swell up. Stir well before eating!

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