Monday, 7 January 2013

Eat well on a budget

Philip and I are not actively budgeting however we are both quite frugal by nature and this serves as well at the moment, seeing that we are living on one income and no financial benefits whilst I job hunt and learn Danish. We also love cooking and food - combine this with our frugality and hey presto, cheap and healthy meals which last.

I'm a member of a few internet forums where the European economic crisis is always called to topic; I was shocked on a recent thread on one forum where a few members had admitted that they had gone without meals in order to feed their children due to income issues.

All of which inspired this post. I'm not suggesting that one should be donning Masterchef whites and knocking up a mushroom ravioli with shaved truffles with a celeriac puree, I am saying that it is far easier to eat healthily and well on a budget than one would think.With this simple recipe, you'll find that you have both time AND money. Eating well doesn't have to be expensive or time consuming.

Pepper and tomato sauce - serves 4 adults and can be frozen
3 medium peppers of any colour
2 medium red onions or 1 large
1 can or carton chopped tomatoes
1 tsp tomato puree
Couple of rosemary sprigs
Squeeze lemon juice (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil

What you'll need
Hand held electric blender (Wilkinson do a basic one for £4.79 or a set for £15)
Large saucepan

1. Preheat the oven to 200C. Dice the peppers and peel & dice the onions. Arrange on a baking tray and drizzle with olive oil so that the vegetables are covered, but not soaked. Place the rosemary sprigs on top. Place in the pre-heated oven for 30 minutes.

2. When the vegetables have been roasting for 20 minutes, place the chopped tomatoes in a saucepan and heat gently. Do not bring to the boil.

3. Take the vegetables out of the oven and stir into the tomatoes. If you like, you can tear of the roasted rosemary leaves and mix them in. When fully mixed, take off the heat and blend with an electric blender to the consistency you prefer, being careful not to splatter yourself with warm vegetable juice! To get it smooth should take approx. 3 minutes. When you have it to the consistency you like, return to the heat and stir in the puree. Season to taste and add the lemon juice now, if you are using.

This sauce is perfect for:
Pasta - with a sprinkling of parmesan
Base for a classic bolognaise sauce
Prawns (recommend adding the lemon juice for this)

Ta-da! You have now made a homemade sauce which will serve four adults, though if you don't like much sauce it'll last you even longer. That's half an hour out of your day and can be made the night before. I'm planning to double the quantities above so I can freeze half of it in the freezer.

Total cost:
3 medium peppers - £1.65 (Tesco mixed peppers @ £1.65 for 3 pack)
Chopped tomatoes - £0.35 (Tesco value chopped tomatoes @ £0.35 per tin)
2 red onions - £0.40 approx (Tesco red onions loose @ £0.19 each but will depend on weight)
Tomato puree -  £0.29 (Tesco Tomato puree 142g @ £0.29 per tin)
Rosemary - £0.80 (Tesco fresh rosemary 30g @ £0.80 per packet)

Per person:
£0.90 maximum. That's £3.60 for four adults.
£0.97 max per adult portion if you add pasta - based on Tesco value pasta costing £0.39 for 500g and the average adult pasta serving being 100g.
£1.50 max per adult portion if you add pasta and bolognaise - based on Tesco value minced beef costing £2.34 for 750g

The per person is a back of a fag packet calculation as I haven't taken into account that you wouldn't use all the rosemary and tomato puree; taking this into account would make it even cheaper. To make the basic sauce is 30 minutes out of your day. If you have gotten to the bottom of this post and are thinking that you don't have 30 minutes then I challenge that - you've had time to read this, you probably have a programme that you don't know why you watch ... so why not put those minutes into cooking? Yes, straight out of a jar sauce is easier but it's not cheaper in the long run and not half as satisfying. Yes, ready meals are easier but, seeing as a ready meal seems to cost £3.50 per portion (again, based on Tesco prices), it definitely isn't cheaper. Plus, you have the satisfaction of knowing exactly what you have put into this sauce.

If you're still doubtful, just try it. I would welcome any feedback. But I will refuse to believe anyone that claims eating healthy is expensive.