I had a plan to try and feed my family on my butcher’s £20 meat for a week pack (which is really only designed for two people) and post the recipes on this blog. That was my middle class idea of tightening my belt and jumping on the economical cooking bandwagon.
But I was bought down to earth when I read about Jack Monroe’s attempt to live on £1 a day for the ‘Live Below the Line 2014’ challenge*. Now I like to think that I can produce tasty dishes even with cheap ingredients, but reading Jack’s shopping list and diary of meals it made me realise how much I rely on my store cupboard of spices, oils and sauces to make inexpensive ingredients taste good.
Jack Monroe was only able to afford lemon curd, stock cubes, chicken paste and tomato puree to liven up her meager dishes and some of the combinations she came up with in desperation sound truly disgusting. Like soup made with vegetable stock, chicken paste, rice, egg and lemon curd. I thought about the things I would use without thinking…oil, salt, pepper…but these would eat massively into a £1 a day budget.
I think if I had to live off such a tiny amount I’d lose heart with trying to concoct anything tasty (or healthy) and just eat plain rice and smart price baked beans.
Now I’m not like Nigella with her walk in store cupboard of Za’atar, lavender herb mix and pumpkin puree. And I do try to keep the cost of my store cupboard down. For example, I’ve just been on my biennial trip to the oriental hypermarket where you can buy huge bottles of store cupboard essentials like soy sauce and fish sauce for the same price as a tiny bottle in Tesco.
In light of the Jack Monroe piece I’m not sure this is in the best possible taste, but here’s a quick stir fry dish that celebrates my newly replenished store cupboard and makes me feel truly grateful that I don’t have to cook on a budget of just £1 a day.
PS. To appease my guilt I’m going to start contributing to a food bank every time I do a Tesco shop. This is my written pledge.
Chicken with cashew nuts
This is based on a recipe in my little Chiang Mai Cookery School book but it’s actually Chinese in origin.
- 2 chicken breasts (approximately 350g), trimmed of any fat or sinew and sliced thinly
- 100g cashew nuts
- 200ml of groundnut or other flavourless oil
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
- ½ onion, sliced
- A pinch of chilli flakes or 1 fresh red chilli
- 125ml of chicken stock or water
- 4 spring onions or welsh onions (which I have growing wild in my herb bed)
- 2 tablespoons of oyster sauce
- 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon of fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon of palm or brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon of whisky (Don’t leave this out, it’s only a teaspoon but it really enhances the dish. You don’t need a fine single malt just whatever you have to hand or can buy cheaply from the supermarket)
First of all shallow fry the cashew nuts by placing in a frying pan with 200ml of groundnut oil heated to a medium heat. Put the cashew nuts in the pan and stir until they turn a golden brown (this should only take a minute). Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a plate lined with some kitchen roll to absorb any excess oil. Set aside.*
Put two tablespoons of the oil you used to fry the cashews into a wok and place over a high heat. Add the garlic and fry for a few seconds then add the chicken and sliced onions. Stir fry for about 3 minutes stirring regularly until the chicken and onions start to brown and the chicken is nearly cooked through.
Add the water/stock and sauce ingredients and boil for another 2 to 3 minutes until the liquid has reduced by about a half.
Add the cashew nuts and spring/welsh onions and stir well.
Finally, remove from the heat and stir in the whisky.
Serve with plain rice.
*Don’t waste the oil, you’ll need two tablespoons to cook the chicken but the rest can be strained and used for other dishes.