Latest Posts

Sneaky Sprouts, from 29p

To serve 4 adults, from 29p each. See the full shopping list here.

500g brussels sprouts, 93p (93p/500g, Redmere Farms at Tesco)

2-3 small onions, 18p (60p/1kg, Growers Selection at Asda)

2 tbsp lard or cooking oil, 4p (39p/250g lard, Stockwell at Tesco or £1.09/1l vegetable or sunflower oil at Asda)

a pinch of salt and a little pepper, <1p

Warm your lard over a high heat on your small or medium hob ring until it starts to sizzle, then turn down to medium-low.

Peel and very finely slice your onion and add to the pan. Mandolin or finely slice your sprouts and add those too. Season with salt and pepper.

Cook on a very low heat for around 12 minutes, keeping everything moving around the pan so it doesn’t stick and burn. These can be kept warm or reheated but are best made right at the last minute and served immediately – I generally get this all sliced up and prepared ready, then put it on the heat as soon as the Yorkshire puddings go in the oven!

A version of this menu was originally devised and developed for The St Giles Trust Pantry, registered charity number 801355. You can support their vital work by texting PANTRY to 70460 to donate £5.

If you like this, you may like my books, and if you purchase them through this neat affiliate link you support me as the author AND support local bookshops too.

Ultimate Roast Potatoes, from 12p

Serves 4 adults from 12p each. See the full shopping list here.

1kg white potatoes, 40p (79p/2kg, Farm Stores at Asda)

1 tsp salt, <1p

Water to cover

4 tbsp or 50g lard, 8p (39p/250g, Stockwell & Co at Tesco)

Pinch of mixed dried herbs, 1p (30p/18g, Asda)

First lightly scrub your potatoes. I use either a boxfresh sponge scourer, or an all-purpose little cheap and cheerful nail brush, or a clean rough flannel. However you choose, gently remove any dirt lodged in the skin, because you’ll be using the skins later. 

Lightly peel your potatoes, with the lightest of touches, barely shaving the skin off at all. Put the skins in a bowl of cold water to keep them from browning, with a dash of vinegar or lemon juice and a hefty pinch of salt – you’ll be coming back to those later. 

Cut your spuds into thirds (see the picture attached.)

 Pop your spuds in a saucepan and cover with water. Generously salt it, bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer for 12 minutes. Make sure your oven is turned onto 190°C. 

Drop your lard into your roasting tin. Drain your spuds well and shake to rough up the edges, this makes them extra crispy but don’t shake them too much or you’ll end up with mash!

Tip them into the roasting tin while they’re still nice and steaming- the residual heat will soften the lard in the tin.

Place the roasting tin on the middle shelf of your oven, for 90 minutes, removing and carefully shaking after 45 minutes to cook evenly and crisp up.

When they’re ready you can pop them in the very bottom of the oven to keep warm until you’re ready to serve.

A version of this menu was originally devised and developed for The St Giles Trust Pantry, registered charity number 801355. You can support their vital work by texting PANTRY to 70460 to donate £5.

If you like this, you may like my books, and if you purchase them through this neat affiliate link you support me as the author AND support local bookshops too.

Turkey Meatballs, 53p [from ‘A Girl Called Jack’]

These meatballs are a classic recipe from my first cookbook, A Girl Called Jack, and they recently got a new and exciting lease of life when I taught Marcus Rashford to cook them in the kitchen of his old school, Button Lane Primary School, in Wythenshawe, Manchester a couple of months ago. And then I had to keep it a MASSIVE SECRET which god help me, has almost burst me with anticipation a few times over the past few weeks, especially when people have endlessly been asking on Twitter if we are going to be doing anything together. Serene emojis and poker faces all round. Video footage of that strange and hilarious and humbling and inspiring day is available on the GQ YouTube channel on their Men Of The Year awards video – and I’ll be posting my own video later on when I get the okay from the GQ team.

Marcus was a bit nervous about cooking, saying it wasn’t something he really did, but we had an absolute blast and he made an excellent job of it, so if you’re nervous about giving these a go, rest assured they’re super easy. And we fed a whole primary school hall of kids and teachers with it, so it’s fair to say they’re pretty popular as well!

I add the mashed beans to stretch the mince out and make it go further; when I used food banks to feed myself and my son back in 2012-13 I actually used much more baked beans than this, but this is the optimum amount for keeping the beans relatively udetectable while saving a decent amount of money in the process.

Makes approximately 20 meatballs, serving 4 from 53p each. Prices calculated at Asda as it’s where I shop, but similar products are available for similar prices at all of the major supermarkets.

1 x 400g tin of baked beans, 29p (29p/400g, Asda)

1 large onion, 9p (60p/1kg, Growers Selection at Asda)

2 slices of bread, 4p (49p/22 slice loaf, Asda)

1 tbsp flour, <1p (49p/1.5kg flour, Asda)

400g turkey mince, £1.88 (£3.75/800g, Asda)

2 tbsp cooking oil, 3p (£1.09/1l sunflower or vegetable oil, Asda)

1 x 400g can of tomatoes, 28p (28p/400g, Smartprice at Asda)

salt and pepper, to season, <1p

cheese, optional

spaghetti or pasta, to serve

First tip your beans into a ciolander or sieve, then run them under a cold tap, shaking gently or mussing them up with your hand if you’re not squeamish, to get all of the sticky orange sauce off. If you fancy being a little more advanced and a little less wasteful, you can tip the lot into a mixing bowl and add half a can of cold water, then pour the lot through a colander over a bowl to catch the orange suice, thinned down a little. Set this to one side to use in the tomato sauce for the spaghetti later.

Tip your newly-naked beans into a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer for around 10 minutes to really soften them up. Drain well, then tip into a large mixing bowl, and mash to a pulp. We didn’t have a masher to hand 9in the largest kitchen I’ve ever cooked in, which led to four panicked minutes of me skittering around on a pair of six inch block heels calling out ‘Masher? Masher? Anyone? A masher?’ to various bewildered members of staff and production crew. There’s always something! Anyway, we made do with a fork and some adrenaline-fuelled vigour, so if you don’t have a masher, just work yourself up a bit and go for it.

Peel and finely chop the onion, or grate it using the large hole side of a box grater. Toss into the mixing bowl with the mashed bean pulp. Tear up the bread into small pieces (or blitz it in a food processor if you have one for ease). Add the flour, and stir well to combine.

Remove the mince from the packaging, separate it with your fingers lightly, and add that to the mixing bowl. Beat all of the ingredients together well until they are evenly distributed – you may need to add another tablespoon or two of flour, depending on how fatty your mince is or how wet your beans are.

Lightly oil or flour your hands to prevent the mixture from sticking, and form it into walnut-sized balls. One generously heaped tablespoon makes a perfect child-sized meatball – much bigger and they take longer to cook through.

Heat a little oil in a large frying pan, and drop the meatballs in a few at a time. Jiggle the pan gently, being careful not to splash yourself with hot oil, for ten minutes, until evenly cooked on all sides and through the centre. If youy’re cooking pasta with it, bring a pan of salty water to the boil and add the pasta, as it will take around seven or eight minutes to cook.

Pour over your can of chopped tomatoes and allow it to warm through, then serve. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and add cheese if you’d like.

This recipe was originally published in A Girl Called Jack by Jack Monroe, which is available to buy, signed, directly from Jack at jackmonroe.bigcartel.com

Vegan Fake Bake, 90p [Veganish]

In 2019, Greggs (a UK high street bakery chain, for my overseas readers) launched a legendary vegan sausage roll, and I launched half a dozen of them into my face in one week alone. I started to fantasize about an entirely vegan pasty-and-cake shop – which I’m sure exists somewhere – and one thing led to another and I ended up here, with my own vegan version of their famous Steak Bake. I reverse-engineered this by physically dissecting a steak bake or two, then painstakingly recreating it in my kitchen at home. The jackfruit gives the tender meaty filling, the gravy fools your tastebuds into thinking it’s a proper steak bake, and the rest bolsters the flavour. Bisto red gravy granules are the best to use here, and also vegan at the time of writing, but Asda own brand ‘meat gravy granules’ are also vegan too. As with all things, do check the labels carefully, as products are subject to change over time.

Makes 4, from 90p each (This post contains affiliate links – I may earn a small commission if you click the links or purchase any products.)

1 large onion, red or white, 9p (60p/1kg, Growers Selection at Asda)

2 tbsp cooking oil, plus extra for greasing, 3p (£1.09/1l, Sunflower oil at Asda)

1 tbsp sugar, 1p (65p/kg, Silver Spoon at Asda)

1 tsp paprika, 1p (£1/100g, KTC or Natco brand)

½ tsp turmeric, <1p (£1/100g, KTC or Natco brand)

Salt and black pepper, to taste

2 × 400g tins of jackfruit in brine or water, £2.40 (£1.20/can Summer Pride at Asda)

3 tbsp vegan gravy granules, 7p (Asda gravy granules, 71p/200g)

1 tbsp light soy sauce, 5p (54p/150ml, Asda)

375g ready-rolled puff pastry, 90p (90p/375g, Asda)

Flour, for dusting, <1p (49p/1.5kg, Asda)

1 tbsp aquafaba (juice from a can of white beans)

First make your filling. Peel and finely slice your onion, and toss into a large non-stick sauté or frying pan. Add 1 tablespoon oil and the sugar and spices. Season with salt and pepper, and cook on a low heat for 10 minutes, until the onion starts to soften but not brown.

Drain the jackfruit and squeeze it in your hands to remove any excess liquid. Shred it with your fingertips until it is in fine pieces, and add to the pan. Add the gravy granules and soy sauce, and 125ml water, and cook on a low heat until the gravy has thickened. Add 125ml more water, a splash at a time, to loosen the gravy. Cook the filling for 25 more minutes, until thick and the jackfruit is tender and flavoured all the way through. Remove the filling from the heat and cool completely.

When the filling is cool, preheat your oven to 200ºC (fan 180ºC/400°F/gas 6).

Divide the pastry into four equal rectangles using a large sharp knife.

Lightly grease a baking sheet. Place one piece of pastry on it. Spoon the filling evenly on the bottom half, leaving 1cm around the edges to prevent it from leaking out as it cooks. Carefully fold the pastry over from top to bottom, pressing the edges together gently with your fingertips. Crimp the edges with a fork, around the three non-folded sides. Repeat with the remaining three pieces of pastry.

In a small bowl, beat together the remaining oil, aquafaba and soy sauce to make a glaze. Brush over each pastry generously. Bake in the centre of the oven for 15 minutes, until the pastry is risen, crisp and golden.

Serve warm. They will keep, cooled, in the fridge for 2 days.

This recipe first appeared in Veganish, a collection of 100 super simple budget vegan recipes, by Jack Monroe. Click here for my books!


All text copyright Jack Monroe.


This site is free to those who need it, and always will be, but it does of course incur costs to run and keep it running. If you use it and benefit, enjoy it, and would like to keep it going, please consider popping something in the tip jar, thankyou.

Anchoiade Devilled Eggs, 21p

Up until a few weeks ago, I had never had a devilled egg, let alone tried to make one. I had read about them with fascination in various novels, usually set in the American South or housewifely suburbs, passed around as canapes at fictitious afternoon parties by women who lived the kind of lives I could scarcely imagine, peppered with scandal and boredom, kitten heels and daytime martinis. Devilled eggs represented, to me, something otherworldly, something aspirational, something bordering on the celestially obscene.

Anchoiade, pronounced an-shoy-ard but very quickly, according to a French youtuber with a voice of clipped velvet with a laugh never far behind, was stumbled across on the Instagram feed of my former Daily Kitchen Live colleague, Matt Tebbutt. A passing mention on a restaurant menu, that I scrawled in a notebook, commenting ‘Oh, anchoiade!’ with hearts for eyes, as though I knew what it was. I didn’t, of course, but I loved the word already, and suspected I would love the thing itself.

Weeks later, with a Delia Smith recipe in one hand and a Mireille Johnston in the other, amalgamating the two in an act of culinary treason, my suspicions were confirmed. A perfect maelstrom of salt and sour, suspended in oil with the sharp gasp of raw onion and garlic, and the underpinning ferment of the little salty mink coloured fish, I immediately tripled the recipe I had scrawled on a piece of oil-smudged scrappy paper, knowing I would be using it in a lot of dishes in the immediate future. And that’s where this recipe came from; a sudden flurry of boldness to address the thus-far elusive devilled egg, and a surfeit of anchovy dressing to devil it with.

Should you need any further convincing, I made these three times in the same single week, once at 1am, carrying a plate of half a dozen stil-warm heaped-high halves to bed to devour beneath my duvet with my fingers and an Ian Rankin book. It may well be a coincidence, but every night I went to bed on a plate of these, I slept like a cat, undisturbed and satiated, which regular and long-time readers will be aware, is rarely my natural state.

Makes eight devilled egg halves. I would suggest two per person as a snack, but that would make me a hypocrite, as I generally have the whole lot myself. In my defence, it’s hardly worth devilling fewer than four eggs at a time, and neither my ten year old nor my cat are particularly interested. What can you do, eh, but eat them all yourself?

(This post contains affiliate links – I may earn a small commission if you click the links or purchase any products.)

1/4 of a small white onion, 3p (80p/1kg, Asda)

1 small clove of garlic***, 2p (69p/3 bulbs, Asda)

a small handful of fresh parsley, 5p (50p/living plant, Asda)

Up to four brown anchovies, depending on your taste for them, 14p (55p/50g, Asda)

30ml oil*, 3p (£1.09/1l, Asda)

15ml vinegar**, <1p (29p/568ml clear distilled malt, Asda)

1 tbsp mayonnaise***, 2p (65p/500ml, Asda)

4 medium eggs, 50p (75p/6 free range, Asda)

Plenty of black pepper, <1p (£1.25/100g, East End brand at Asda)

Notes on ingredients and substitutions:

*OIL. Traditionally you would use olive oil here, but I only keep sunflower to hand, and there’s so much else going on here it doesn’t seem to matter in the scheme of things, but if olive oil is something you keep in your cupboard, feel free to use it for a richer and more authentic vibe.

**VINEGAR. Strictures on vinegar seem to vary from recipe to recipe, so I used distilled white vinegar as it is my baseline for almost everything, but it is a touch sharper than say, white wine or cider vinegar. Some recipes use red wine vinegar, which I suspect is also utterly delicious, but I try to keep things to a budget as far as possible without compromising too much on the finished result.

***GARLIC. At the time of writing, three bulbs of organic garlic are the same price as three bulbs of regular garlic online at Asda, so do check out your local store if this is something that interests you.

First peel and finely slice your onion, and place into the small cup of a small but powerful bullet blender. Add the whole garlic clove, a few stems of parsley including the stalks, the anchovies. Pour over the oil, and add the vinegar, and blend to a smooth, emulsified sauce.

If you don’t have a small bullet blender, don’t worry, you can still make a rough anchoiade sauce – it just requires a heavy sharp knife, a grater, and some patience. Peel and finely slice your onion, and finely clice your garlic. Place on a chopping board with the parsley, and chop until minced to smithereens. And then chop some more. You may find it helpful to sprinkle a little salt on the lot, as the coarse grains help to break down the alliums and assist with transforming them into a paste, but be sparing with it, as the anchovies provide a rich salty base as well. Add the anchovies and continue to mince it all together, then transfer to a small bowl. Pour over the oil and vinegar and whisk briskly with a fork to combine and emulsify – the process whereby fats amalgamate with and become suspended in an acid base, turning both from transparent liquids to a cloudy one. Science. It’s great!

However you achieve your anchoiade, taste it to check it balances to your liking, and adjust with a little more fat (oil) or acid (vinegar) as desired. Pop it in the fridge until needed.

Fill a medium pan with cold water, just over halfway full, or enough that it will cover your eggs when they’re in the pan. I admit to being somewhat fastidious about boiling eggs, and dropping them carefully into the pan to reaslise the water is half a centimetre shy of covering them frustrates my meticulous timings (the eggs start cooking on contact with the boiling water, the addition of cold water adjusts the temperature so it has to be brought back up to boiling again, it’s all just but stressful) so I admit to placing the eggs in the pan FIRST, covering with exactly enough water and then a splash to allow for evaporation, and then carefully removing the eggs again. A moment more of effort, but extremely satisfying when it all comes together at the other end.

I almost always absent mindedly salt the water. Nobody ever mentions this, so if you do it too out of habit, don’t be ashamed. It’s an almost impossible one to break! And it’s not going to do your eggs any fear nor foul in the process.

Bring the pan to the boil, sans eggs, which should be luxuriating nearby awaiting their fate. Set a timer for ten minutes, or make a note of the time – I use the clock app on my phone and have preset timers input for soft boiled eggs (3m 40s) and devilled (10m 30s) but as I said, I’m fastidious about these things.

Bring the heat down to a simmer, and carefully lower each egg in with either a spoon or slotted spoon, as quickly as you can without damaging the shells. Start your clock.

While the eggs are cooking, remove your anchoiade from the fridge, and set to one side. Grab four bowls – fill the largest with the coldest water you can muster, and set the smallest aside to make the filling. The remaining two are for shells and naked eggs, to prevent little bits of one sticking to the other. Put a small sharp knife and a fork beside them.

When your timer goes off, quickly remove the eggs from the boiling water and drop them immediately into the bowl of cold. This stops them from cooking any longer, and also makes the shells easier to peel, meaning you’re less likely to end up with raggedy eggs. It’s not foolproof, but it mostly works!

Peel each egg and place it in the designated egg bowl. When they are all peeled, discard the shell and clean the ledge to make sure all stray pieces of shell are disposed of.

Taking each egg one at a time, halve cleanly down the middle, lengthways, and carefully ‘pop’ out the hardened yolk. You may wish to scoop them out with a teaspoon, but I find a gentle but assertive squish at each side, between finger and thumb, usually does the trick. Pop the yolks into the small bowl, and add the anchoiade and mayonnaise, a little at a time. Beat well with a fork to combine to a smooth, spoonable paste. Taste for texture and seasoning and adjust as required.

Place each empty egg white on a plate and carefully spoon in a heaped teaspoon of the filling into each one, dividing it equally between the halves. Season with salt and pepper as liked, and serve.

They will keep in the fridge for 24 hours, but it took a lot of willpower for me to test this theory. Best served at room temperature, although some people do like them fridge-cold.

Click here for my books! All text copyright Jack Monroe. This site is free to those who need it, and always will be, but it does of course incur costs to run and keep it running. If you use it and benefit, enjoy it, and would like to keep it going, please consider popping something in the tip jar, and thankyou.

Pangrattato Al Pomodoro, 31p [VEGAN]

Firstly, a confession. This recipe is a twist on an Italian classic, Pappa al Pomodoro, which is essentially a bread-crust and tomato soup, with olive oil, salt and pepper, and sometimes garlic and basil or rosemary, depending on whose recipe you consider to be sacred. This version eschews the traditional, using dried stuffing crumbs to replace the bread and herbs. But Stuffing Crumb And Tomato Puree Soup didn’t seem like a particularly appetising recipe name, so I translated it into Italian as a nod to the original.

Serves 1, from 31p, (This post contains affiliate links – I may earn a small commission if you click the links or purchase any products.)

1/2 a small onion, 4p (80p/1kg, Growers Selection at Asda)

1 tbsp oil, 2p (£1.09/1l, Sunflower oil at Asda)

1 stock cube, 3p (39p/12, Asda)

2 tbsp sage and onion stuffing, 4p (35p/85g, Asda)

300-400ml water

30g or 2tbsp tomato puree, 4p (27p/200g, Asda)

1/4 small bag of cherry tomatoes, 12p (49p/bag, Growers Selection at Asda)

1 tsp light coloured vinegar, white wine or cider are best but distilled malt vinegar will also work, <1p (29p/568ml, Distilled malt vinegar, Asda)

1 tsp sugar, <1p (65p/1kg, Silver Spoon at Asda)

First peel and finely slice your onion, and set to one side for a moment. Measure the oil into a heavy-bottomed saucepan, preferably a non-stick one, and warm it for a moment on a medium heat before adding the onion. Season with a little black pepper, and cook for 3-4 minutes, until starting to soften.

Quarter your tomatoes and add those too – when feeling meticulous I confess I cut them into eight apiece, but this may be a step too far for some people. Crumble over the stock cube, add the stuffing, and a splash of the water. Stir well, then add the tomato puree and stir again to incorporate it. Slowly add the remaining water, and a scant teaspoon each of vinegar and sugar. Bring to a simmer, then turn down the heat and continue to cook for around 20 minutes, until the stuffing has swollen and the soup is glossy and thick. Taste it and adjust the seasoning to your liking, then serve.

This will keep in the fridge for three days, or in the freezer for up to three months. You may wish to add a splash more liquid if freezing, as I find some dishes go a bit ‘thick’ in the freezer, so I tend to loosen them a little before storing. Defrost thoroughly and reheat to piping hot throughout to serve.

Cream Of Mushroom Soup, 48p [VEGAN]

I love mushroom soup and have made many of them over the years, but think this one is my best so far. If you don’t have celery to hand, or don’t like it, you can use extra onion. Mushrooms soup traditionally has a splash of wine in it, but I try not to keep it in the house at the moment – if you wanted to add some and it’s the kind of thing you have kicking about, do feel free, but I think it’s perfectly luxurious and delicious without. This cream is a delicate golden colour – or it was when I made it – which is a relief from the minky greys of mushroom soups gone by! I use full fat coconut milk here as you get more bang for your buck, but if you only have the reduced fat version available, double the quantity and reduce the water accordingly.

Serves two, from 48p each, (This post contains affiliate links – I may earn a small commission if you click the links or purchase any products.)

1 small onion, 9p (80p/1kg, Farm Stores at Asda)

2 stalks of celery, 10p  (50p/500g, Asda)

4 fat cloves of garlic, 8p (69p/3 bulbs, Growers Selection at Asda)

1 tbsp oil, 2p (£1.09/1l, Asda sunflower oil)

300g mushrooms, or thereabouts, 41p (54p/400g, Farm Stores at Asda)

1 rounded tbsp flour. <1p (45p/1.5kg, Smartprice at Asda)

1 tsp mixed dried herbs, 2p (30p/18g, Asda)

300ml water

1 stock cube, 3p (39p/12, Asda)

100ml coconut milk, 18p (69p/400ml, Summer Pride at Asda)

Plenty of black pepper, 1p

First peel and slice your onion as finely as you possibly can. Dice your celery nice and small, and peel and chop your garlic. Warm the oil in a large nonstick pan on a medium heat, and add all of these. Cook on a medium heat for a few minutes to soften, taking care not to let the onions catch or brown.

Slice your mushrooms, as thickly or thinly as is personal preference – I prefer some of each in a soup like this one. Add to the pan and stir in for a minute, then add the flour and herbs, and stir quickly to evenly coat the vegetables in a fine dusting of it.

Add a splash of water and mix well and quickly, then add a splash more. It’s important to add it a splash at a time so that the flour from the mushrooms forms a roux-style base, rather than a puddle with some floury lumps in, so don’t try to rush this step – it’s the work of a moment, but makes all the difference.

When the base liquid is smooth, crumble in your stock cube and add the coconut milk. Remaining coconut milk should be transferred to a glass or plastic jar, bottle or other container and stored in the fridge.

Stir well to incorporate the coconut milk and stock, and continue to cook on a low-medium heat for 15 minutes, adding the water gradually until your desired consistency is achieved.

Season with plenty of black pepper to taste; I find the stock makes it quite salty enough for my liking, but you may wish to add a little more.

 

 

You may serve it as is, or remove half and blend it to smooth, then return it to the pan and stir through – both are excellent.

Leftovers can be cooled and stored in the fridge for 3 days, or the freezer for 3 months. Some separation is normal when stored in the fridge, simply whisk or beat back together with a wooden spoon to combine when reheating.

Vegan Rainbow Dhansak, 31p

Authentic dhansak recipes that I’ve found sometimes include tamarind sauce or fresh tamarind, which I didn’t have to hand, so I replicated the slightly sour note with a dash of lemon juice instead. I am aware that I am extremely lucky to have found this particular bag of stir fry veg so cheaply, but I am often asked by readers what to do with them that isn’t a stir fry, so when I swagged this one from the markdown chiller today I thought it an ideal opportunity to address this particular conundrum. If you don’t have a similar bargain to hand, you can make similar by adding roughly equal amounts of red and green cabbage, thinly sliced or thickly grated carrot, and some sweetcorn. Or use whatever veg you have to hand, of course. If serving between four, this recipe contains four of your five a day. It keeps in the fridge forum to three days, or in the freezer for three months. Reheat to piping hot before serving – it is not advised to refreeze it once defrosted.

Serves 4 from 31p each, (This post contains affiliate links – I may earn a small commission if you click the links or purchase any products.)

Ingredients:

150g red lentils, 35p (£1.15/500g, Asda)
1l cold water
1 tbsp cooking oil, 2p (£1.09/1l, Asda)
280g onion, 22p (80p/1kg, Growers Selection at Asda)
4 fat cloves of garlic, 8p (50p/2 bulbs, Growers Selection at Asda)
1 rounded tbsp minced ginger, 2p (£1.50/500g loose, Asda)
2 tbsp garam masala, 8p (97p/92g, Asda)
1 tbsp curry powder, 5p (97p/80g, Asda)
A pinch of chilli, 1p (59p/28g, Asda)
1 stock cube or generous pinch of salt, 3p (35p/12 stock cubes, Asda)
800ml water
400g chopped tomatoes, 28p (28p/400g, Smartprice at Asda)
1-2 tsp bottled lemon juice, 1p (39p/250ml, Asda)
600g bag of stir fry veg, 10p (Yellow Sticker Bargain, Asda)

Steps:

First thoroughly rinse your lentils in a sieve under cold running water, then pop them into a medium saucepan. Cover with a litre of water and bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes until swollen and softened. If you cover the pan with a lid, foil, robust plate or even a larger pan balanced on top, it will retain the heat and cook them more efficiently.

Measure the oil into your largest nonstick pan and set on a medium hob ring. Don’t turn it on just yet or you might stress yourself out trying to chop your onions in the time it takes for the oil to warm! Peel and chop your onions into a medium dice or fine slice, whatever your prefer. Peel and slice your garlic, and grate or finely mince your ginger. Now warm the oil in the pan and add the onion, ginger and garlic. Wait a beat, or more accurately, two minutes, then add the garam masala, curry powder, and chilli.

Check your lentils and turn them down a little if needed.

Crumble the stock cube over the onions, ginger and garlic, if using, or scatter the salt in if you’d prefer that instead. Some people are a bit aghast at me using stock cubes in curries, but some Indian recipe writers and blogs also recommend it, so I think this, although strictly perhaps not entirely traditional in all circles, is a matter of personal preference. I like the flavourful undertones it gives, but if it really gives you the willies, salt is just fine.

Add 500ml of the 800ml water, the tomatoes and the lemon juice. Bring to the boil briefly, and then reduce to a simmer until the lentils are cooked in the other pan.

Drain the lentils and rinse thoroughly to get rid of the foam (also known as ‘scum’ but in a polarised and increasingly political word I find that term strangely aggressive for a wee pan of little orange pulses) and then transfer the lentils to the base pan. Add the remaining water as needed, cooking for a further 20 minutes to really soften the lentils and reduce and thicken the base.

When the curry is almost cooked to perfection, tip in the bag of veg and stir into the hot sauce. Cook for a further 5-7 minutes until the veg is softened, and serve piping hot.

 Click here for my books! All text copyright Jack Monroe.

This site is free to those who need it, and always will be, but it does of course incur costs to run and keep it running. If you use it and benefit, enjoy it, and would like to keep it going, please consider popping something in the tip jar, and thankyou.

Cheesy Tuna, Courgette & Mushroom Gratin, 65p

This recipe is a riff on the Courgette, Tomato and Brie Gratin from A Girl Called Jack, with some extra veg and protein added, and mushrooms for Vitamin D as the darker evenings draw in. You can use pretty much any veg you like in this; I toyed with a wrinkly red pepper in the fridge and fingered half a leek before deciding I could use them elsewhere and plumping for this particular combination. If you’d prefer a veggie version, simply swap the can of tuna for a can of beans or chickpeas to keep the heartiness and protein intact.

 

Serves 4, from 65p each. Prices correct at time of publication. Other supermarkets offer similarly competitive pricing – this is just my closest right now. (This post contains affiliate links – I may earn a small commission if you click the links or purchase any products.)

140g onion, 12p (80p/1kg, Growers Selection at Asda)

140g carrot, 14p (30p/500g, Growers Selection at Asda)

125g mushrooms, 25p (49p/250g, Farm Stores at Asda)

1 medium courgette – approx 180g, 44p (80p/330g, Growers Selection at Asda)

150g rice, 7p (45p/1kg, Smartprice at Asda)

600ml boiling water

1 chicken, fish or veg stock cube, 3p (35p/12, Asda)

40g tomato puree, 6p (27p/200g, Asda)

1 tsp mixed dried herbs, 4p (30p/18g, Asda)

2 tsp lemon juice, 2p (39p/250ml, Asda)

102g canned tuna (drained weight), 59p (59p/102g, Smartprice at Asda)

80g cheese, 86p (£1.60/150g, Smartprice at Asda)

Breadcrumbs, optional

First preheat your oven to 180C and ensure there is a shelf in the middle.

Peel and very finely dice your onion, and finely dice your carrot, mushrooms, and two thirds of your courgette. Warm a little fat – oil, lard or butter, whatever you’re comfortable with – in a large non stick pan, and add the diced veg.

Boil the kettle, and measure 600ml boiling water into a heatproof jug. Crumble in the stock cube, and stir in the tomato puree. Add the lemon and herbs and stand to one side for a moment. The jug, not you!

Add the rice to the veg pan, and stir in to combine. Add a splash of the tomatoey sauce, and stir in well. Add a little at a time, on a low heat, stirring frequently until each addition is almost absorbed before adding the next.

Very finely slice your remaining the remaining piece of courgette – this will form the ‘lid’ of your gratin.

Drain your tuna well and fold into the pan, along with most of the cheese, stirring to evenly distribute it throughout. Season well with plenty of black pepper.

Spoon the rice and veg mixture into a medium sized ovenproof dish. Top with the courgette slices and remaining cheese, and breadcrumbs if using.

Bake in the centre of the oven for 30 minutes, and serve piping hot.

If you like this, you’ll love this! (Affiliate link – I may receive a commission if you purchase this book but, uh, I wrote it!)

Click here for my books!
All text copyright Jack Monroe.
This site is free to those who need it, and always will be, but it does of course incur costs to run and keep it running. If you use it and benefit, enjoy it, and would like to keep it going, please consider popping something in the tip jar, and thankyou.

Instant Moonshine Mash, Tiny Veg, & Sausages, 58p

Moonshine Mash first appeared in Cooking On A Bootstrap, a bootleg riff on polenta made with potatoes and corn. I so named it because ‘hooch’, or moonshine, is typically made from potatoes or corn, and the idea of my own sneaky irreverent take on something usually considered quite special rather tickled me. This version takes the idea even further into the depths of culinary depravity, firstly by blending canned corn with its brine, with milk, to create a ‘corn milk’ – not dissimilar to the ‘carrot milk’ theory in the carrot cake oats in Tin Can Cook that equally delighted and horrified viewers of Daily Kitchen Live when I demonstrated it in lockdown. I then add instant mash, and the cheapest available variety, to this corn milk abomination, and you know what? It works really well. My son, who can be a frustratingly fussy eater at times, absolutely loved it. The corn gives an underlying sweetness, the skins that get stuck in our teeth are blitzed away to a much more manageable nothing, and the additional flavour bolsters and enhances the usually plain and laggy texture of instant mash to something genuinely luxurious tasting. I opted not to add fat to mine, simply because I only have lard in the house at the moment and I just didn’t fancy it, but you could enrich it with butter or a splash of good oil, if you liked.

Serves 2, from 58p each, (This post contains affiliate links – I may earn a small commission if you click the links or purchase any products.)

4 sausages, 20p (£1/20 frozen, Smartprice at Asda – defrost overnight before using)

200ml milk, 10p (48p/l, Asda)

100ml stock or water

120g canned sweetcorn (drained weight), 17p (35p/can, Smartprice at Asda)

1 tbsp lard, 1p (39p/250g, Smartprice at Asda)

80g broccoli stalk, 11p (50p/360g, Asda)

140g carrot, 14p (30p/500g, Growers Selection at Asda)

100g onion, 8p (80p/1kg, Growers Selection at Asda)

50g cooking bacon, 8p (75p/500g, Asda)

20g instant gravy granules, 3p (25p/200g, Smartprice at Asda)

1 cup of boiling water

48g dried instant mash, 12p (28p/120g, Smartprice at Asda)

8g hard strong dried cheese, 11p (£1.12, Asda)

 

First preheat your oven to 190C, and pop your sausages in a roasting tin. Place them on the middle shelf, and cook for 40 minutes. They release a good amount of fat, so it’s not necessary to add any more to the roasting tin as it’s – for want of a better term – gratuitously self-lubricating.

Measure the milk into a blender – I use a small bullet blender – and add the water and a stock cube, or just the water. Add the sweetcorn – this may sound incredibly slovenly but I don’t bother to drain it these days, a little brine isn’t going to do any harm here. Blend thoroughly to a smooth, buttersoft yellow liquid. Pour it into a saucepan, and leave it there for a moment.

Transfer your attentions to your vegetables. To make these this tiny mirepoix-style small and delicate pieces, I firstly sliced the broccoli stalk, carrot and onion on a mandolin slicer, then used my handheld veg dicer to make them pleasingly dinky and even. I appreciate that that’s a bit of work – although once adept at both of these gadgets it can be considerably faster than chopping them – so you can just dice them finely with a large, heavy sharp knife if you prefer.

Warm a little lard or oil in a griddle pan or nonstick frying pan, and add the veg. Reduce to a medium heat, and cook for around 10 minutes, seasoning sparingly with salt but generously with pepper. Add the bacon and continue for another 20 minutes, until the veg is soft and the bacon to your liking. Remove from the heat and set to one side.

Pop the kettle on to boil for the gravy, and measure the granules into a mug. Pour the boiling water over and stir well until the gravy thickens, and set to one side.

Now return to your corn-milk pan. Warm it through on a medium heat until it starts to simmer, but be careful not to let it boil as milk can be very temperamental when hot! Add the instant mash and cheese and stir briskly and continuously until it forms a smooth mash. It may be slightly loose at this point, but it will firm up as it cools slightly.

Serve the mash in the middle of the bowl, top with the veg-bacon mix, add a pair of sausages, and cover the lot generously with gravy. Serve piping hot, and enjoy!

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All text copyright Jack Monroe.
This site is free to those who need it, and always will be, but it does of course incur costs to run and keep it running. If you use it and benefit, enjoy it, and would like to keep it going, please consider popping something in the tip jar, and thankyou.

Sausage, Bacon & Many-Veg Casserole, 39p

For many reasons, I am returning to a very strict groceries budget for the foreseeable future. Yesterday I went to the supermarket – in two separate trips, as I was on foot with a backpack – with a budget of twenty pounds. I uploaded my receipts on Twitter, but for those of you not on Twitter, I will post them as a separate post here later on. I will try my best – other work and commitments permitting – to write up as many of the new recipes I make from that list of ingredients as possible. This one was made both with the sausages and bacon for my son, and without, for me. Although I am no longer vegan, I do eat more plant based meals than not these days, and as I tighten my budget again, that will continue to be the case.

This recipe was originally designed to fulfil five out of five of our five a day, making three portions, but it made such a large pan that I easily got four portions out of it, one each for tonight and one each for the freezer for another day, which means each of the veg portions is now slightly shy of the recommended 70g per person, but it’s still a hearty dose of a mixture of vitamins and minerals in one simple pan. 

My Small Boy, who at ten years old with dinner plates the same size as my own these days cannot be described as ‘Small’ for much longer’, declared this one of his favourite dinners and offered to help me make it next time. Possibly only because I batted him out of the kitchen for trying to pilfer a sausage, but perhaps because he’s developing an enthusiasm for cookery as well. We had ours with plain white rice, which worked out at 3p per portion.

Serves 4, from 39p each, (This post contains affiliate links – I may earn a small commission if you click the links or purchase any products.)

210g onion, 18p (80p/1kg, Farm Stores at Asda)

210g carrot, 13p (30p/500g, Farm Stores at Asda)

200g mushrooms, 39p (49p/250g, Farm Stores at Asda)

3 fat cloves of garlic, 6p (50p/3 bulbs, Growers Selection at Asda)

Fresh strong autumnal herbs such as thyme or rosemary

1 tbsp lard, or cooking oil, 1p (39p/250g, Smartprice at Asda)

6-8 sausages, 30p (£1/20 frozen sausages, Smartprice at Asda – defrost in the fridge overnight)

500ml boiling water

2 tsp gravy granules, 1p (25p/200g, Smartprice at Asda)

20g tomato puree, 3p (27p/200g, Asda)

1 chicken stock cube, 3p (35p/12 cubes, Asda)

100g cooking bacon, 15p (75p/500g, Farm Stores at Asda)

400g baked beans, including sauce, 22p (22p/400g, Smartprice at Asda)

2 tbsp dried stuffing crumbs, 4p (35p/170g, Asda)

A splash of vinegar, <1p (27p/500ml, Asda)

Garden bonus: a few large rainbow chard leaves. You can use spinach, kale, spring greens or dark green cabbage instead if you wish, fresh or frozen, or leave it out. Ha. ‘Leaf’ it out. 

 

First peel and dice your onion, then dice your carrots – don’t worry about peeling those, the skin is full of fibre and goodness, but if they’re a bit grubby, give them a good gentle scrub to dislodge any stubborn earth. Dice your mushrooms. Set all the veg aside for a moment.

Peel and finely slice your garlic, and roughly chop your herbs if using fresh ones, and set to one side.

Heat the lard, or cooking oil, in a very large nonstick pan, and add the sausages. Cook for 5-6 minutes on a medium-high heat to seal them, and also to release some extra fat into the pan. 

When the sausages are sealed, add your veg. Reduce the heat down to medium, and cook for 4-5 minutes, nudging it all around with a spatula or wooden spoon to prevent it from sticking and burning. Don’t add the garlic just yet as it may burn.

Boil the kettle, and measure your gravy granules and tomato puree into a heatproof jug. If you don’t have one, a large mug will do, but you will need to add another mug of water to the pan later on. Crumble in the stock cube, and add the herbs. Pour over the boiling water, and stir well to make a rich and delicious sauce for your base. The gravy granules thicken it and add a depth of flavour, and the tomato puree is for colour and a slight sweetness. You don’t need to add any extra salt to this dish, due to the salt in the stock cube and the gravy, which is why I didn’t season the veg above. I am painfully aware my palate for salinity is quite a greedy one, but I managed to resist here!

Chop the bacon and add to the veg pan, stirring intermittently for a minute, then add the garlic and stir briefly for a minute to knock the acerbic edge off it, then pour over the jug of sauce. Stir in the baked beans, including the sticky orange sauce – the sweetness of it disappears into this dish and balances it out beautifully, so if you are using beans without sauce in, add a pinch of sugar and a little extra tomato puree to counter its omission.

Bring the pan to the boil, then reduce to a simmer. Place a lid on if you have one, and simmer for 30-40 minutes, adding a splash more water if necessary, and stirring every now and again. 10 minutes before serving, add the stuffing crumbs, a splash of vinegar and a generous amount of black pepper.

TIP: I didn’t defrost my sausages before making this, and simply roasted them in the oven at 190C for 30 minutes and served them on top. My sink is a never ending revolving door of washing up, so one more roasting tin doesn’t make a blink of a difference in my kitchen, and also I chose to have mine without bacon or sausages so had to cook those separately. I’ve written this recipe as a one-pan all-in to make it simpler, and will be writing up the vegetarian version in its own right shortly.

 

Click here for my books!
All text copyright Jack Monroe.
This site is free to those who need it, and always will be, but it does of course incur costs to run and keep it running. If you use it and benefit, enjoy it, and would like to keep it going, please consider popping something in the tip jar, and thankyou.

Sticky Lemon Pudding, 30p

I couldn’t decide between making myself a sticky toffee pudding, classic in its stodgy saccharine comfort blanket, or a lemon drizzle, zesty and bright with its promise of sunny afternoons…so I took to the trusty barometer of reason, Twitter, to ask for help.

The poll came back as a 52/48 split, and we all know how contentious those are, so in order to try to satisfy both sides of the pudding referendum, I mashed the two options together. The sticky warm component structure of toffee pudding, with the flavour profile of a rich lemon drizzle cake. I wasn’t sure it would work (but was willing to give it as many goes as was necessary for the name of, uh, research), but to my delight, it came out perfectly first time.

[I made mine in a 135mm wide x 55mm deep x 165mm long mess tin, as after six cookbooks and eight years my solitary loaf tin has finally given up on me, and the mess tin holds a third less than a standard loaf tin or 20cm traybake. I’m assuming you don’t have an identical one, so you may want to adjust measurements accordingly. In order to do so, multiply each quantity by 1.3 and add around 10 minutes to the baking time.]

Serves 6 generously from 30p each, <i>(This post contains affiliate links – I may earn a small commission if you click the links or purchase any products.)</i>

For the pudding:
70g butter or baking block, 15p (55p/250g, baking block at Asda)
100g caster sugar, 7p (65p/1kg, Asda)
100ml whole or semi-skimmed milk, 5p (48p/l, Asda)
2 medium eggs, 30p (89p/6, free range at Asda)
3/4tsp bicarbonate of soda, 2p (69p/200g, Asda)
130g self raising flour, 4p (45p/1.5kg, Smartprice at Asda)
1 tbsp lemon juice, 2p (39p/250ml, Asda)
160g mixed citrus peel, 63p (79p/200g, Asda)

For the topping:

100g lemon curd, 29p (£1.20/410g, Gales at Asda)
2 tbsp (28g) butter or baking block, 6p (55p/250g, baking block at Asda)
40g mixed citrus peel, 16p (79p/200g, Asda)

First pop your oven on to 180C/160 fan/Gas Mark 4, and lightly grease your chosen tin.

Weigh the butter into a large mixing bowl, and add the sugar. Beat together until well combined – use a masher or a fork to get the butter started if it’s come straight from the fridge; this is where cheap baking block comes into its own as it never quite solidifies in the way that good quality butter does, making it perfect for the impatient baker. Add the milk a little at a time, mixing in well to form a smooth creamy paste. Crack in the eggs one at a time, and beat well to combine. It may look a little split or sloppy here, don’t worry about that, the flour will pull it back together in a moment.

Add the bicarb, and mix in well to evenly distribute, and then add the flour. When it forms a smooth and even batter, add the lemon juice a little at a time, and then fold in the mixed peel. Pour into your greased tin, and place in the centre of the oven. Bake for 30 minutes, or until risen and lightly golden.

While the pudding is cooking, make the sauce. Spoon the lemon curd and butter into a small heavy-bottom saucepan, and place on a low heat on the smallest hob ring. Stir as the curd starts to bubble and the butter melts, then remove from the heat. If you are feeling extra indulgent, and you happen to have some kicking around, add a splash of cream as it comes off the heat as a nod to the original sticky toffee pudding, but this is by no means essential – the whole thing is rich enough without it. Set the sauce to one side to cool.

When the pudding is risen and golden, remove carefully from the oven. Poke around 12 holes in it with a small sharp knife, skewer or cocktail stick, and pour the sauce on top. Sprinkle the remaining peel over, and carefully tilt the tin from side to side so the sauce coats the whole top and starts to sink into the holes.

Allow to cool and soak for an agonising 15-20 minutes, enjoying the heady citrus aroma that will permeate your home in the meantime, then dig right in.

This will keep for 4 days in the fridge, covered tightly, or up to 6 months in the freezer. Reheat to piping hot to serve.

Click here for my books!
All text copyright Jack Monroe.
This site is free to those who need it, and always will be, but it does of course incur costs to run and keep it running. If you use it and benefit, enjoy it, and would like to keep it going, please consider popping something in the tip jar, and thankyou.

You Don’t Batch Cook When You’re Suicidal

Whenever food poverty, obesity, or food in general comes into the media spotlight, I adopt a mental brace position, awaiting the onslaught of tweets that come, a plague of clockwork cockroaches, wound up and scurrying every which way into the light. Some are clumsily well-intentioned, most are not, yet here they come with their hastily-Googled prices of spring greens and potatoes, crowing about how! cheap! vegetables! are!

The latest was Annunziata Rees-Mogg, MEP and sister of sentient haunted Victorian coat rack, Jacob Rees-Mogg, pointing out that raw potatoes were cheaper to buy than oven chips. A 21st Century Marie Antoinette moment, ‘Let Them Eat Spuds!’ but sputtered into the vacuous echo chamber of Twitter, rather than a foundling moment of a revolution.

I know the price of a bag of potatoes, Annunziata. Having lived in grinding poverty and with its aching and unshiftable groggy hangover ever since, I know the price of potatoes at three different supermarkets through eight consecutive years. I know the price of potatoes that are fresh, frozen, loose, baking, bulk, tinned, chipped, powdered into instant mash, from the greengrocer, growing my own, and hauled back from the corner shop in five kilogram bags. I know that in 2012 a can of tinned potatoes from Sainsburys was 19 pence for 540g, and now it’s almost doubled to 35p and the Basics range has been renamed Hubbards to give it an aura of respectability in the Brexit-stockpile era. I know that if you really knew your spuds, you’d know that tinned potatoes are the cheapest way to buy them, because they don’t need to be stored in a fridge or freezer, and they make a cracking potato salad, saag aloo, dhansak, casserole and more. I know this, because I’ve been Properly Fucking Poor, and I can tell you the most economical way of buying literally anything. I had an Excel spreadsheet for that sh*t. I still do. But regardless, most people know that potatoes are cheap to buy in an unprocessed state. The difference between you and me isn’t the fifty three pence you claim to save by buying them raw and grubby instead of cuboid and lightly tossed in a smattering of oil. 

I was evicted from my flat with a toddler when my Housing Benefit was suspended because I was deemed to have made myself deliberately unemployed by having a baby within the confines of a job whose flexible working patterns were a paper policy rather than a reality. (My brother was in the RAF last time we spoke, a couple of Christmases ago, when he described Iain Duncan Smith as the best thing to happen to this country and told me I had chosen to have a baby outside of marriage so deserved everything I got. It’s fair to describe us as ‘estranged’ these days.)

I have spent the last seven years working with families who are still in situations similar to the one I found myself in, living in poverty in the sixth richest country in the world. I do almost all of this work for free, not because I can afford to (I can’t), but because that’s just the way it is at the sharp end. We proffer our Widows Mites in the shadows of the noisy Pharisees, and quietly hope it makes a small difference where it’s needed. And day to day, I hear and understand that there are many, many myriad reasons why people choose convenience foods over preparing their own from scratch. I cover a few of them here, in an essay I wrote called My Ready Meal Is None Of Your Business. Sometimes it’s a lack of time. Or a lack of equipment. Living in a bedsit, a B&B, a hostel, a refuge. Poor mental health. Working two or three low paid jobs to make ends meet in a society that is designed around a two median income family. Not believing in a future. Why would you batch cook when you’re suicidal? I know I certainly didn’t. F*cking waste of money cooking enough meals for three days when you’re hoping the fistful of sleeping pills and more that you managed to wheedle from your friendly local GP with your haunted eyes and mad demeanour will help you quietly, gently die in your sleep.

I am a bestselling author working on my seventh and eighth books now, and I rent my home because I cannot buy one. I’ve tried. It was humiliating. My credit rating is shot to pieces; CCJs that still haven’t expired block me from getting even a £50 overdraft on my basic bank account. I need a guarantor for my internet contract. I’ll have my forever home one day, for me and my boy. At last count I had moved house over twenty times in my lifetime. The bungalow I rent would cost 37x my annual living wage income to buy, so it probably won’t be this one, but one day, I keep telling us both, as though saying it aloud will manifest it into reality. One day we can paint the walls whatever colour we like. One day we will have a home that will really truly properly be ours. One day the pencil lines in the doorway that I measured your growing on won’t have to be painted over as we throw our things into boxes again. One day we can plant a hydrangea and still be here in the spring to see it grow.

I have the date of the last CCJ expiry burned into my conscious brain. I’m counting down to it, and saving up for it, because I’m so very tired of living my life on the run from the noisy wraiths of my past. An unexpected knock on my front door sends me running into a back room, pulling the curtains, making myself small in the corner, holding my breath. It’s a scene my son has witnessed for most of his life. I told him Mummy doesn’t like surprises. I try to laugh at myself afterwards so as not to alarm him. Paint a jolly face on your dolly face, atop your painfully thin ragdolly limbs as you try not to show where the trauma touched you, bending over double in a physical agony because the everyday vulgarities of destitution wrapped your guts in its cold and forceful hands and still won’t let them go. Tugging on them every now and then, just as a reminder. The bile in my throat when I put my PIN in in the supermarket, making a joke to the cashier just like I always did. Getting ready to cheerily promise to come back with another card in a bit, knowing you can’t and never will. The pile of post sitting in the hallway, unopened for months on end, because letters always meant bad things. Brown envelopes especially; I found some from 2013 last week that are still sealed. Sometimes I sit down and go through a pile in a moment of boldness, but there are too many now. And that brings its own headaches, penalties, mental clutter, paranoia, and acute feelings of failure as a parent, as an adult, as the head of a household, as a human being. Sometimes I just want to run back home and live with my parents, at the age of 32, and beg them to take care of me. I’ll be very quiet. I can cook, and I promise not to say f*ck in front of the children, Mum. I won’t fold the corners down on your books, Dad.

I move house so often because I never feel secure. I shuffle the furniture around every few weeks, restless, trying to make it feel right. It never does. It never will. As a grimly amusing aside, this led to one of the tabloids recently pooling a pile of my social media photos together to imply that I had a massively grand house because of all of the different rooms. I acidly pointed out that they were the same rooms several times over because I shift everything around all the time. They didn’t amend the article, but I suppose it’s a compliment to my interior decoration in a roundabout way. For the record, it’s a modest sized three bed dormer bungalow, and two of the bedrooms are very small because they’re in the eaves of the roof. Cracking great garden though, and enough room to do my job and have a nice family life with the lad, and it’s the nicest home I’ve ever rented on a very long list of addresses. I’m mostly happy here, but every now and again a white van will park outside and I’ll start searching my emails for the TV license number, or there’ll be an unexpected knock on the door and I’ll run away. Someone will pull into my drive in a three point turn and I’ll be flat to the wall, peering out of a crack in the many layers of voiles, trying to see who they are. A payday loan email pings into my inbox, and I’m momentarily tempted. I keep a literal stock check sheet of how many portions of every single cooking ingredient I have in the house at any given time, and am constantly mentally re-evaluating it to work out how many days meals I could survive on in a crisis.

I am an absolute Scrooge about the heating. The boiler and hot water are off for 23 hours of the day for most of the year. I have an electric fire in the lounge and an electric blanket on both of our beds, and we use those most of the time rather than heat the entire house. I can be frivolous in some areas – I have slowly finally bought some decent furniture for my rented home for the first time in my life, having spent a decade fishing it out of skips and carrying it home from thrift stores, and I own a few pieces of designer clothing that I bought with my first couple of book deal advances, but I don’t run a car (never finished driving lessons), still don’t have contents insurance (a hangover from poverty, I just wasn’t in the habit of insuring things and now keep putting it off, because paperwork terrifies me), and am not so much financially illiterate as simply chaotic. Partly severe adult ADHD, partly avoidance, partly monsters in my head. Give me a tenner for groceries and I can make it last a week. Give me a bank card and I’m a wreck. So I have a GoHenry account (hashtag-not-an-advert), designed for children’s pocket money, that is the only one I leave the house with. I set myself a small weekly spending limit for fripperies and groceries and my other bank cards are in a locked box in a locked cupboard. Because I’m never going back to the bad place again, and I will put whatever ridiculous measures in place I have to, to safeguard against that.

My route out of poverty was a fluke; a series of linked events and timely accidents and to be honest, a bit of a blurry timeline, but I’ll try to simplify it as best as possible for those that don’t know, with the caveat that it is a period of my life that I have buried deep inside a locked and cavernous part of myself, that a year in therapy has only really started to rattle the padlock of with a hairpin.

I had started to attend local council meetings and wrote about them on my online blog, called Our Southend at the time. A local councillor, Anna Waite, had grumbled on the front page of the local newspaper that ‘druggies drunks and single mums were ruining our town’. I wrote a letter to the paper that was so long they had to serialise it across three days, and one of my friends suggested I start a blog. So I did. And I wanted to know who these people were who were making the everyday decisions that impacted me, my child, my friends and my community. Who was threatening to shut the library that we wandered around in to keep warm? Who was closing the children’s centre that I would rely on for childcare if I found a job? Did any of these people look like me? 

The blog had a handful of readers, mostly fellow local politics buffs, and it was crude and tribal and mostly furious. I had always enjoyed writing at school, but left at 16 with four and a half GCSEs. The half was Short Course Religious Education, and an A*, to boot. I had no idea half a GCSE was even a thing before I was exactly that amount short of taking my A Levels and thrust into the cold world of minimum wage employment. My Wikipedia page incorrectly says that I have seven – I’ll clear this up once and for all. I sat seven GCSEs at school, having been pulled out of the others after being predicted ‘failure’ grades, which at the all-girls-grammar was classed as anything below a B so as not to upset their precious league table results. The Times did an expose on this practise last year and my Facebook was alight with women who had been in my year at school all saying the same thing – this has been happening for decades, why is it only being talked about now? Anyway, I sat seven GCSEs, and I passed four and a half of them. So there you go.

My Careers Advisor had boredly steered me towards the British Army recruiting office, suggesting entry level jobs in cooking, or the engineers. I went for an interview, at 16, cannon fodder with a skinhead, but for several reasons, didn’t sign up. I never considered pursuing writing as a career, and even now it astounds me that not only do I do it for a living with literally no qualifications for it, but my work is on the National Curriculum. Not bad, for a working class girl whose first job was cleaning tables at the local Wimpy on a Saturday and working weekdays in a chip shop.

Back – or forward – to 2012, and as my world shrank into a tiny flat, as friends fell away and I started to isolate myself from my family in shame and self-loathing and depression, the blog expanded to fill the space that human contact had left behind. I started to write about my day to day life, the mundane dreariness of living in a world of ‘no’. No you can’t have a comic. No there isn’t any afters. No you can’t have seconds. No we can’t go to the funfair on the seafront. No you’ll just have to wear those shoes for a bit longer and I’m sorry, I’ll stuff one of the free newspapers inside them to try to stretch them a little bit. No the heaters ‘don’t work’. No I don’t have any money to give you today, Mr Aggressive Bailiff Man. No I don’t have anything for you to take away, either. No I can’t come out for a pint. No, I don’t have the internet at home. No I can’t clear my rent arrears. No, please don’t make us leave, this is our home.

Then, in late 2012, Lisa Markwell was writing an article for the Independent about hospital food, back when it was a printed newspaper. I don’t remember exactly what was said but it was something about the cost of it, and maybe something about how for the money spent it could be better? Anyway, I tweeted her from my small, local politics and single mum fury twitter account and said that I had £7 for the weeks food for me and my son. She messaged me and asked if she could include it in the article. I said yes. It appeared as a gratifyingly brief single line in a short entry about the state of hospital meals, and Lisa stayed in touch with me to check how I was doing every now and then.

A couple of months later, a friend of mine sent me a press enquiry. ‘They’re looking for a Mum who’s going to have a really sh*t Christmas and I thought of you’ was the general gist of it. I bolted. Absolutely not; I’d managed to hide my situation from almost everyone I knew, there was no way I was talking to the national press about it. ‘They’ll pay you £250’, he added. It was a few days before Christmas. I had no presents for my son, no decorations, no tree, no cards, no heating, nothing. It was for the Sunday People. Nobody reads that anyway, I thought to myself, and reluctantly agreed to talk to them. As part of the interview, they asked me for a receipt from my weekly shop. I still have it in a box somewhere. The journalist sat in silence as she looked at the extremely short list of very basic groceries for a long and uncomfortable time. ‘What….do you make….with this?’ she asked. ‘Carrot and kidney bean burgers with that and that, then the same ingredients can be used to make a soup, and then…’ you get the idea. They included it in a sidebar on the double page spread, and I used the money from the interview to pay some bills and buy some £5 Mickey Mouse roller-skates for my son and a few festive bits and pieces. The world span madly on.

Then the Telegraph got in touch, asking if they could profile me for the paper. The writer seemed kind, and friendly, and so I said yes. Xanthe Clay came round for lunch, and we are still friends seven years later. She wrote a generous full page about my cooking, austerity cuts, and allowed me the space that the Sunday People had not to get a bit political and feisty. It was called My 49p Lunch With A Girl Called Jack and shortly afterwards, Penguin contacted me to offer me a recipe book deal.

I had applied for over 300 jobs since leaving the Fire Service. I had no confidence whatsoever in my ability to write a book – I didn’t even have a computer by now, having pawned it to pay some rent arrears – but what they were offering me was akin to a job. So I said yes. I didn’t expect anything from it, but it would give me a cushion to sink into while I found regular work. I took the phonecall while standing in the queue for the food bank, and literally collapsed with shock. Sitting in a back room with a volunteer and hot sweet tea and my bewildered looking child, I just cried and cried and cried. It was over, for a while. The cold and the fear and the hunger and the frightens and the door knocks, would be over for a while.

I wrote the majority of A Girl Called Jack by email on a Nokia E72. I still have it in my desk drawer, and every now and then I just stare at it, and its tiny awful buttons, and wonder how the f*ck I did it. Because I had no other choice but to. It was my one chance at escape, my yellow brick road, my shiny red slippers, and I took it. I remember, weeks after signing the contract, sleeping on the floor of a single bedroom in a house share I shared with five people and a bedroom I shared with my son, writing an email to Penguin begging them to release the initial signature payment because the local council had read about my book deal in the paper and withdrawn all of my benefits and I couldn’t pay my rent. To this day we (the council and I) remain in dispute about that period of my life. When one of my editors, a sweet Irish woman called Tamsin, discovered I was writing the book on my phone, she cleared a desk for me at their enormous great big office on the Strand with the big gold doors and insisted I come and work there to finish the manuscript. I had to wait for my signature payment to come through before I could afford the train fare, and some clothes that would be suitable to wear in an office environment, but she and everyone at Penguin were extraordinarily kind to me. Even when I produced a handwritten notebook of recipes and tried to hand it in as a completed manuscript, thinking that that was how real authors did things. (It is not, and do not ever do this to your editors, because it frightens the life out of them.)

A Girl Called Jack was a surprising success. And so – in the way that my calamitous life seems to work – my then-agency didn’t pay me my royalties for it. And they stonewalled every enquiry I made for months on end, claming amongst other things that I’d never been on their books. I was still a highlight on their website at the time. I have a new agent now, who fought a lengthy and frustrating battle to get some of them back to me. I think I had to sign a contract saying I wouldn’t mention it publicly. Oh well. We also had a contract saying that they would pay me what I earned, so we both know the value of a sodding signature, don’t we? It took almost three years to get back part of what I was owed, what I had worked for, what I had tapped out in the dark on my mobile phone night after night after night. I’m still angry. Recipes written from food bank parcels, by a single mother, in the cold wasteland of suicidal ideation and only-just-surviving. You would be angry too.

Anyway. The point of this was to point out that I am not a success story. I’m not an inspiration, and I’m not an example. I am a broken, f*cked up, messy rotten husk of a human being who almost died – several times – under benefit fuckups and austerity measures. I still live in fear, haunted by hunger and cold and failure and self-neglect. My mental health is an absolute shitshow. I have arthritis, diagnosed in my mid twenties, likely exacerbated by living in bitter cold and damp and mould for two whole winters and every day and night in between. I am cold, closed, and still angry. Post traumatic stress has cost me every single long term relationship ever since. I retreat into the basest of animal instincts when I am frightened, curling into a ball, howling, roaring, sobbing, clawing at the floor. That switch can flick from anything from a noise in the garden at night, to a missed bill payment starting a spiral of avoidance into red-topped letters, again. The fear never goes away. I understand now that it probably never will. Poverty has been proven to change the very makeup of a persons brain. I am damaged beyond reasonable repair. I know, because I have tried everything, from NHS therapists to a crisis care team to a stint at The Priory. Hypnotherapy, herbal tea, yoga, big walks, religion, vodka, talking, cardio, volunteer work, wounded healer nonsense, you name it, I’ve probably given it a go. So all I think I can do, and what I try to do, is use my experiences to make things better for other people in similar situations. I don’t always get it right, but I try my best with what I have and who I have become in this emotional wasteland. And then, I reason with myself, it was for something. Like kintsugi for the fibre of my being, crawling around picking up the broken pieces and trying to patch them back together with slivers of gold. Making something useful, and not altogether hideous, from the wreckage.

This is longer than I intended but I guess I had things to say. And my main point is that poverty and privilege are largely accidental. You don’t choose to be born into an income bracket, a country pile, a housing estate, a double barrelled name or a damp tenement bedsit. But ignorance is a choice. And choosing to use your privileges to patronise people whose lives are entirely beyond your experience and comprehension, is a choice. Choosing to use the powers vested in you by the constituencies you serve, to deprive those same constituents of light, heating, food and home security is a wilful and deliberate act. And it has to stop. Because I am one of millions of people who has lived in bitter, life-changing, cruel poverty in this country, and I will continue to tell my story with all of the uncomfortable details and horror and fury until that changes for the better.

And if your response to people in crisis is to simply lecture paternalistically about how you would be better at being poor than they would, I suggest you put your money where your flapping great mouth is, and give it all away. To women refuges, child support services, food banks, and every other organisation trying to patch up the screaming great holes in the social security safety nets that millions of children are falling through. You may well know the price of potatoes, but in order to tackle food poverty on a real level, not just a pontification for a jolly brouhaha on the internet, you need to understand the value of compassion as well.

The face of a charity campaign about poverty, either CPAG or Oxfam. Exhausted, hungry and very thin. 2013.

One of my shopping receipts, 2012.

My lunch, April 2013.

Weekly food shop, 2013. The mirrored tiles were my landlords decision, not mine, but I did like them. Shame the rest of the flat was a cold damp sh*thole, but the very tiny kitchen was alright.

Rice with lemon curd, chicken stock and mixed frozen vegetables. Accompanying carrot, kidney bean and cumin patty. Dinner, 2013.

Another measly receipt, 2013 this time.

Shooting A Girl Called Jack. (The late) John Hamilton, art director. Me. Lindsey Evans, my brilliant editor. Rob Allinson, food stylist. Pic taken by Susan Bell, photographer. We shot it in my tiny damp flat and it was fun and everyone was really kind.

Spring 2013. We did this a lot, coz it was free.

Absolutely bizarrely sent to the G8 summit on behalf of Oxfam to write about David Cameron’s keynote speech. Snuck into the big dinner and nicked a load of bread rolls. Got accosted by the PSNI in the press pit the next day because I ‘didn’t look like a journalist’. Don’t think they knew about the rolls but when four men with big guns tap you on the shoulder and tell you to go with them RIGHT NOW it’s an experience you don’t forget in a hurry. I made it back for the end of the speech, though.

Another variation on rice with mixed frozen veg, 2013. That measly bowl was lunch and dinner.

F*ck me this is a bit repetitive. And that’s the point.

Here we go again! My god there’s a reason I barely eat rice any more.

More rice and veg. 2013. And an apple. The sheer profligacy of it all.

A flat I was refused a viewing on, to rent, because I was on benefits. October 2012. I still remember how humiliated I was standing in their office being told I wasn’t the kind of tenant they wanted. A couple of years later I was elected as the tenants rep to an advisory group for local landlords and agents and I recounted that story in my thank you speech, in front of all of their peers.

Light of my life, and the boy I would do anything for. March 2012. Note the too-small trousers, the cold red face and hands and feet and the hard wooden floor, two tops and a jumper. Don’t talk to me about socks, kids are awful at keeping those on. Even now, eight years later, I have to pointedly tell him to put his socks on! But at least his trousers fit these days.

February 2013. Same nonsense, seven years ago. I’m so very tired. They called me Jackie because they thought their readers would think my name was weird. I think it’s weirder calling me something that’s not my name, but there we go.

Zero-Waste Banana Peel Ketchup, 43p

I first came across banana chilli ketchup while staying in a self catering apartment in Edinburgh. It takes a certain amount of planning to buy exactly enough food to sustain two adults for three days, wasting nothing, when your nearby shopping options are the Harvey Nichols food hall (ineffectual, expensive, but fun to walk around gasping at and making furtive notes at all the fancy pastas), or a Sainsbury’s Local, where fruit and veg are sold in large packets and nothing by the handful.

I found a banana habanero chutney in Harvey Nicks by Mr Vikki’s, a small Cumbrian company, and we wolfed our way through two jars of it in a weekend. I knew that as soon as I got home and into my own kitchen, I would be knocking up my own version. And I have done it many times since, each batch slightly different to the last, and each disappearing into the homes of various friends who are absolutely obsessed with it. It’s an ideal accompaniment to a curry, or grilled cheese, or dolloped on the side of a pile of mac n cheese, or spread on toast, crackers, eaten as a dip with vegetables or cheesy nachos – it’s extremely versatile! And once you’ve got the measure of it, you can adjust it to taste – add more heat by upping the mustard and chilli, or make it a little more sour with extra vinegar, or pad it out by adding a hefty amount of sweet softened onion to the base. So this is my base recipe, but I can honestly say it varies every single time I make it.

Nowadays I add the thinly sliced banana peel as well, which is perfectly edible and packed full of nutrients – and I feel that I owe Max La Manna an apology for noisily doubting him over this when we did a talk together at the Edinburgh Wellbeing Festival earlier in the year. Caught entirely by surprise by his revelation that he stir-fried his leftover banana peels, I almost fell off my chair in shock, but he’s right, and if you aren’t familiar with his frankly life-changing approach to zero waste cooking, you can check it out here.

(To be clear, the banana ketchup is 100% my recipe, I just added the peels after Max told me – and a few hundred equally sceptical people – that they were edible!)

Makes two decent sized jars from 43p each, (This post contains affiliate links – I may earn a small commission if you click the links or purchase any products.)

1 large onion, 7p (70p/1kg, Growers Selection at Asda)

4 bananas, peels and all, 52p (13p each loose, Asda)

4 fat cloves of garlic, 10p (30p/bulb, Asda)

100g sugar, 7p (69p/kg, Silver Spoon white sugar, Asda)

100ml vinegar, 4p (29p/568ml distilled clear malt vinegar, Asda)

½ tsp chilli powder, 2p (80p/100g, KTC)

1 tbsp mustard, 4p (37p/185g, Asda)

1 tsp nigella seeds (optional)

Peel the bananas and break the chunks into a bowl, then mash them with a fork until well broken up and a bit sloppy. Very finely slice the peel, discarding only the tough stalk at the top and the puckered end, and transfer to a medium-sized saucepan, preferably a non-stick one or one with a heavy bottom. Peel and finely slice the garlic cloves and add them to the pan, along with the sugar, vinegar, chilli and mustard seeds and, if using, nigella seeds.

Turn the heat up to medium and cook for a few minutes, stirring intermittently, and then add the banana chunks. Turn the heat down a fraction, and cook for a few minutes until the banana mixture starts to bubble and spit at you. Impetuous, I know, but that’s how you know things are happening.

Reduce the heat to low and cook for 30 minutes, or until the liquid has reduced by a third and thickened. Remove from the heat and pour into a clean (preferably sterilized) jar.

Seal and leave to cool before transferring to the fridge. If you would prefer a smoother ketchup, you can blend the peels and flesh together in a small bullet blender at the start, along with the garlic, sugar, mustard, chilli and vinegar, and cook it all on a low, slow heat for around 30 minutes, stirring intermittently so it doesn’t catch and burn. When I’ve done it this way the ketchup ends up a darker yellow, and sometimes a ruddy brown, so I add a dash of turmeric to pep it back up again and make it look bright and appetising. Both methods are equally as good – the chunky version is great in cheese sandwiches, whereas the smoother version is easier to smuggle past suspicious palates.

This recipe is based on the Banana Chilli Ketchup in Veganish by me, Jack Monroe, and if you liked it you should check out the book, here. (This is an affiliate link, but I’m guessing that since I’m the author, you probably allow for a degree of bias in me recommending my own work anyway! But I am obliged to declare that I may earn a small commission should you choose to make a purchase through any of the links on this page.)

 

If you like this, you’ll love my recipe books! There are quite a few to choose from now – click here for more details! This site is free, and always will be, but it does incur costs to keep it running. If you use it and benefit, enjoy it, and would like to keep it going, please consider popping something in the tip jar. Thankyou for your support! All text copyright Jack Monroe.

Vegan ‘Egg’, Tomato & Cress Sandwich, 68p [from ‘Veganish’]

This recipe is based on my favourite ever egg sandwich – the M&S Egg, Tomato & Salad Cream – but I challenged myself to create it as a vegan version when I was writing Veganish. My readers had specifically requested sandwich recipes for this book, seemingly unanimously tired of the solitary falafel offering in the supermarket compared to the dozens of meat and cheese options. So I made a list of both my personal favourites, and asked people for theirs, and tried to recreate as many of them as possible, as closely as possible to the originals.

And this was FUN. A whole lot more testing and retesting than most of my recipes, as well as side-by-side comparisons with the original. Literally a bite out of the M&S one, a bite out of mine. Proffering both at friends and asking them to guess which was which. Tweaks and adjustments and adding specialist ingredients in and taking them out again, until finally, satisfied, I ended up with this. I’m still undecided on the nutritional yeast, so I’ve left it in as an option, but what with all the other baseline rich and savoury flavours going on in there, I don’t think its necessary. However, some people absolutely rave about it, so if you have it in your cupboard, do feel free to add it, but if you don’t, there’s no need to buy it especially. A tub of it lasts ages, but it’s not particularly cheap to buy at the outset, even if the relative amount used here is inexpensive, it’s a bit of an outlay for something that doesn’t really bring much to this particular party.

The filling here isn’t just good for sandwiches; you can warm it through very gently and top a baked potato with it, fold it through cold pasta or potatoes for a deli-style lunch, spread it on crackers, or use it as a dip for crisps or sliced vegetables. It keeps in the fridge for three days, but due to the water content in the tofu, it may separate a little when it’s resting; this is perfectly normal, just give it a brisk stir to re-combine it all and go from there.

Makes 4 generous rounds of sandwiches from 68p per pair, (This post contains affiliate links – I may earn a small commission if you click the links or purchase any products.)

250g firm tofu, £1.26 (£2/396g, Cauldron at Asda)

½ onion, 4p (70p/1kg, Growers Selection at Asda)

Pinch of salt and lots of black pepper

½ tsp turmeric, 1p (59p/45g, Asda)

1 tbsp (10g) nutritional yeast flakes, optional, 28p  (£3.49/125g, Holland and Barrett)

2 fresh tomatoes, 25p (75p/6, Asda)

Lots of cress, 24p (24p/pot, Asda)

4 tbsp/60g Vegan Mayo, 42p (£2.99/430g)

1 tsp any kind of mustard, 1p (37p/185g, Asda)

8 slices of bread (to make 4 lots of sandwiches), 20p (55p/800g loaf, Asda)

 

First drain your tofu and firmly squeeze it over the sink to drain any excess juices. You’ll need to do this a few times to really press the liquid out, as if it stays too wet, firstly you’ll end up with a soggy sandwich, and secondly, it won’t be quite as rich in flavour as I intended it to be.

Slice it around 2cm thick, then crumble each slice into a large mixing bowl. If it doesn’t crumble, it’s still too wet, so try wrapping it in a clean tea towel and rolling it up gently, and pressing it to soak up any more rogue moisture. Repeat this step a couple of times until crumbly, then proceed from there.

Chop your onion very finely, then chop it some more, and add to the mixing bowl. Season with a generous pinch of salt and plenty of black pepper. Add the turmeric (and nutritional yeast, if you’re using it) and mix well to combine to a crumbly yellowy mess.

Finely slice the tomatoes, and then dice them, and add to the mix, along with the cress. Spoon in the vegan mayo and the mustard and mix well to coat the tofu-egg mixture evenly. Season generously with black pepper – the pepper really makes this, so go to town with it.

Spread on one slice of bread, generously. Pop the other slice on top, then halve or quarter it as you prefer, and serve. The filling will keep a couple of days in an airtight container in the fridge – see the intro for more details – but I wouldn’t recommend making the sandwich a day in advance as it could go a bit soggy.

Recipe adapted from Veganish by Jack Monroe, available here. This is an affiliate link so I may earn a commission if you make a purchase from it.

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