A mother fed son on a shoe string budget for just £10 a week due to her impossible circumstances. As a result she now lands book deal for her breadline recipes to help other struggling mothers and father’s. As desperate times often call for desperate measures, the problems solved sometimes becomes a life calling. Necessity is the mother of invention so tough times require tough decisions. In the process of searching for a solution it often leads to breakthrough. So although in the beggining it is shocking, stressful, to be forced to adapt to a basic lifestyle from a previous standard of living. This can be difficult trying to figure out what to do under such circumstances. This is an encouraging story for people to have hope in adversity. She had to sell most of her possessions and survived by turning tins of food costing pennies into posh meals. This mum was forced to feed her son on £10 a week has landed a £25,000 book deal for her “below the breadline” recipes. Jack Monroe 25, had to sell most of her possessions and survived by turning tins of food costing pennies into posh meals fit to be dished up at any upmarket gastro-pub.
In July last year she was forced to quit her £27,000-a-year job as a fire brigade worker because her shift patterns played havoc with childcare and she simply could not afford the 40 mile round trip to work. The single mum then failed to land another job despite sending out more than 300 applications. Instead, she started her own craft business – but it earned her just £250 a month. And once all the bills were paid, that left her with no more than a tenner a week to feed Johnny, two. The Sunday People revealed Jack’s plight last December. But since then Jack, from Southend, has signed deal with publishing giant Penguin for a book of bargain recipes like the seven mouth-watering dishes we reprint here. She’s also launched an online blog that has become an internet sensation with 15,000 hits a month – and been snapped up by a local paper. She said: “I thought it was ridiculous when I first approached because I had people asking me to write a book but no one would give me a job. “But I was eventually offered a job and given a publishing deal and things happened quite quickly.” Yet only six months ago Jack was being forced to survive on £250 a month earnings and £570 in child and housing benefits.
Out of that she paid £675 in rent plus an average of £83 for power, £15 for water and £20 for toiletries and cleaning products. She would save cash by scrimping on heating in her sparsely-furnished two-bed flat and wrap up son Johnny in hats and gloves to keep him warm. There were nights Jack had to go hungry to give so Johnny extra pasta. Reflecting on change in her fortunes, she said: “You can’t just forget things like that so I’ll stick to my budget because you never know what the future holds.” Jack went on: “I’ve taken a significant cut in tax credits because of my book deal, my housing benefit has dried up because of government cuts and my earnings will be too much because of the book and the new job.”Penguin were so impressed by Jack’s style and the quality of her food they gave her a £25,000 advance to come up with more than 100 low-budget recipes in a book due to be published next March.
Jack Monroe Sunday People Fight Jack hit out in Sunday People in December. Although her ingredients come from the “value” range – which means a single veggie-burger of carrot, cumin and kidney-bean can cost as little as 9p – Jack claims her dishes are as nutritious as those with extravagant ingredients. She said: “I’ve had my share of people saying, ‘You can’t buy half an onion’ or ‘You can’t get 3p worth of flour.’“But I try to explain you buy an onion, use half in your risotto tonight and put the rest in a casserole tomorrow. “The same applies for the flour and everything else I put in my recipes. “All this is possible because I’ve been doing it and live by it day to day.”She went on: “It’s probably unthinkable to someone who stops by a café for breakfast, or another person who buys a coffee every day, or those who get their lunch from Tesco and dinner from a takeaway.
“People complain they have no money then buy a convenience meal for £3.“But if you buy a convenience meal you need to remember it’s made up of ingredients that are so much cheaper.”Jack added: “If you plan carefully, you really can save an awful lot of money on food.”She still vividly remembers having to search the flat for odd coins last summer to scrape together enough cash for a trip to her local Sainsbury’s superstore. She said: “It came to about £6.20, so I bought one of everything I could see in the basic range until I didn’t have any money left. “When I arrived home I had pasta, tomatoes and rice and wondered what I could make with all of it.“When I went back the next week I discovered there were some things almost as cheap – frozen spinach is a pound a bag and will last for ages.” She added: “You start to improvise because you have to and you have a child to think about.” Sonja Horsman said, Last time: Jack Monroe had just £10 a week for food. Jack said she slowly began to think of her favourite recipes – and would then replace expensive cuts of meat with beans or mushrooms.
Her jardaloo ma murghi (curry with apricots) is a favourite. But instead of pricey lamb she now uses chick-peas so that it costs an incredible 87p for four portions. Jack said: “I used to cook that a lot when I had decent job and it’s an adaptation from a lamb curry I made.”It was a very rich dish and from that I learnt to take some of my favourite recipes and pare them down to knock out ingredients I knew would be too expensive.“So I started replacing meat with mushrooms and chickpeas or beans.“You learn to adapt the dishes to what you can afford.”She added: “It’s definitely possible – in fact, everyone can do it.”* Jack’s blog is not just about food – it covers anything from politics to childcare. See http://www.agirlcalledjack.com
A week’s worth of recipes from Jack Monroe.
Earthy red wine and mushroom risotto, serves one. 36P
30ml Red Wine, 14p (Table Wine, £3.48/750ml)
50g Mushrooms, 12p (97p/400g)
50g rice, 2p (40p/1kg)
1/2 Vegetable Stock cube in 400ml water, 1p (10 for 15p)
Clove of Garlic, 3p (46p for 2 bulbs, avg 8 cloves per bulb)
Tsp Mixed herbs, 1p (14p for a jar)
Tomato purée, 2p (49p/200g)
Splash of oil, 1p (Vegetable oil £4.50/3l)
1. Heat a teaspoon of oil in a small frying pan – I use a 20cm pan but was only cooking for me!
2. Peel and finely slice the garlic and add to the pan. Chop the mushrooms into small chunks and add. Shake the herbs over and allow to cook together for a few minutes.
3. Add the rice, and stir to coat in the oil. When the rice starts to turn translucent, add the wine and tomato purée, stirring constantly to prevent any of the rice sticking to the pan.
4. When the wine is almost all absorbed, start to add the stock, a ladle at a time. Stir in until almost all absorbed, and repeat until either the stock is gone or the rice is cooked.
Add some additional herbs to taste and serve with crusty bread if you wish.
Jardaloo Ma Murghi (Curry With Apricots) 87p for 4 portions, or 22p each.
This is my favourite curry, my go to, my easy but perfect comfort food. I used to make this with turkey, which at £1.75 for a 600g drumstick would serve four people easily (pre-roast the drumstick and just peel it off the bone), or do as I do now, and make it with chickpeas instead.
100g dried chickpeas, 22p (£1.09/500g)
1 onion, 5p (part of a 1.25kg veg pack avg 20 pieces)
1 clove garlic, 3p (2 bulbs for 46p, avg 8 cloves each)
1 carton chopped tomatoes, 31p
5 apricots/1/3 of a 411g can, 20p (59p/411g)
Fresh coriander, free (window ledge)
Vegetable stock cube, 2p (15p for 10)
Shake of cumin, 2p (80p/46g jar)
1 chilli, free (window ledge)
Splash of vegetable oil, 2p (£4.50/3 litres)
First, pop your chickpeas in a bowl of cold water to soak, either overnight or first thing in the morning. They need at least 8 hours soaking time!
1. Drain your chickpeas and rinse them vigorously to get rid of the stagnant water that they’ll have been sitting in.
2. Pop them in some fresh water in a saucepan, and bring to the boil. Boil rapidly for a good ten minutes to boil out any toxins. (This sounds over cautious but believe me it’s necessary!)
3. Meanwhile, peel and finely chop the onion and garlic, and finely chop the chilli. Add to a saucepan with a splash of oil and a shake of cumin, and cook gently on a low heat. Allow the onions to ‘sweat’, not brown. If they burn, the burnt taste will permeate through your whole curry. If they sweat, they will add a delicious sweetness.
4. Chop the apricots into small chunks and add to the onion/garlic/chilli mixture with any juice from the can. Put the rest of the apricots in a bowl, cover and pop in the fridge to snack on, or make something else with tomorrow (recipes naturally to follow, seeing I have done just this!)
5. By this time, the chickpeas should have vigorously boiled all of their toxins out! Reduce down to a simmer.
6. Pour the chopped tomatoes over the apricots and onions, and add finely chopped coriander and a crumbled stock cube and stir in.
7. Reduce the heat to a low setting, and allow to cook gently for at least 30 minutes. This thickens the sauce and melds the flavours together – if chopped finely enough, the onions will disappear as they thicken the sweet spicy sauce.
You may need to add a cup of water to the sauce if it starts to thicken too much.
8. Drain and rinse the chickpeas and tip into the sauce. Stir through.
9. Serve! Can be served with rice (40p for 1kg bag = 3p per 75g portion* put on to boil 20 minutes before serving).
It’s also absolutely delicious cold the next day in a pitta bread for lunch… Keeps in the fridge for two to three days, and freezes well, if there’s any left!
Spring Piggy posh nosh! serves 4 for £1.34, or 34p each
This is an adaptation of a Nigella Lawson recipe for spring chicken, which was adapted in turn from a traditional rabbit recipe.
That’s the thing about food, we all fiddle with it and tweak and make it posher or make it cheaper and add our own twists as we see fit.
I didn’t have any chicken, but I did still have a generous hunk of that £1.09/670g bacon going begging, and a slightly pathetic half a savoy cabbage, so here’s what I did…
300g bacon, 48p (£1.09/670g)
1 garlic clove, 3p (46p for 2 bulbs, avg 8 cloves each)
1 onion, 5p (part of a 20pc mixed vegetable pack, £1)
1 carrot, 5p (part of a 20pc mixed vegetable pack, £1)
100ml white wine, 46p (Table Wine, £3.48/750ml)
1 chicken stock cube, 1p (10p for 10)
2 tbsp natural yoghurt, 7p (65p/500ml)
1 tsp English mustard, 2p (46p per jar)
Fistful each of thyme and parsley, growing on my window ledge
1/8 savoy cabbage, 10p (80p each)
50g green beans, 7p (£1.40/kg, frozen)
1. Dice the bacon, and peel and chop the onion and finely slice the garlic. Add all to a large sauté pan with an optional splash of oil (I dry cook mine on a low heat, as enough fat usually comes out of the bacon, but you need to keep an eye on it and stir it frequently to disturb the onions and garlic and stop them from sticking).
2. Add the wine and chopped thyme and parsley, stir through and leave simmering on a low heat.
3. Chop the carrot (again, I don’t peel my veg, a quick but vociferous rinse usually does the trick, there’s so much goodness just under the skins of vegetables that it’s a shame to waste them). Add the chopped carrot to the pot.
4. Add 500ml of hot chicken stock, and stir in the mustard. Cover and leave to simmer on a low heat for 20 mins, checking and stirring as you see fit.
5. Finely chop the savoy cabbage, and five mins before serving, add to the pot with the green beans. Stir the yoghurt through to make the sauce slightly creamy, this is optional but delicious.
6. Serve with mash or rice or bread. Also delicious tossed through spaghetti – in fact this works with most carbs!
Make It Posh variations:
It’s hard to improve on this, but use any baby root veg you have to hand. Sweet potato, baby turnips, swede, black salsify and parsnips all work well along with or instead of the carrot.
Add extra yoghurt or if you’re feeling flush, creme fraiche or cream work beautifully too. (I use yoghurt as its one of my food shop staples, instead of buying an alternative)
Add diced chicken the same time as the bacon, or chicken thighs on the bone a la Nigella – remember to seal on both sides before adding the wine and stock!
Will keep in the fridge for a few days, or freezer for about three months. If freezing, add a little extra stock or water to the sauce to allow it to coat the bacon and veg – this helps it to freeze better.
Mushroom, Bacon and Ale Casserole, 56p, serves 2 at 28p per portion
100g bacon, 16p (£1.09/670g)
Garlic clove, 3p (2 bulbs for 46p, avg 8 cloves each)
1/2 onion, 3p (part of a 1.25kg vegetable pack, £1)
1/2 potato, 3p (part of a 1.25kg vegetable pack, £1)
1/2 carrot, 3p (part of a 1.25kg vegetable pack, £1)
260ml bitter, 15p (4x440ml cans for £1)
1 beef stock cube, 1p (10p for 10)
50g mushrooms, 12p (97p/400g)
1. Peel and chop the onion and garlic. Add to a sauté pan or heavy bottomed saucepan.
2. Chop the bacon into small pieces, I do mine the size of tiny pancetta squares, but it’s up to you. Add to the pan with the onion and garlic and cook over a medium-high heat, stirring constantly to make sure nothing sticks to the pan. You can add oil as an optional extra but I prefer to do without, making this healthier and cheaper.
3. When the bacon is sealed (the outside edges are cooked and no raw bit of bacon are poking through), pour over the bitter.
4. Chop the potato and carrot, and slice the mushrooms, and add to the pot. Add the beef stock cube, fistful of thyme, and water to cover.
5. Allow to simmer for 30 minutes, covered, stirring occasionally.
6. Serve with mash and green veg – I’m going to do mine with some of the savoy cabbage kicking about in the fridge…
Make It Posh variations:
1. Add chopped tomatoes instead of water to step 4, for a more hearty base.
2. Play around with herbs. This would also work well with bay leaves, rosemary, parsley, sage or a combination of whatever you have growing on your window sill.
Will keep in the fridge for a few days or freezes for around 3 months.
Courgette And Brie Gratin, 51p for 2 portions (26p each)
1/2 courgette, 30p (£1.80 for 6)
1/2 onion, 3p (part of a 20pc vegetable selection, £1)
25g Brie, 14p (£1.09/200g)
75g Rice, 3p (40p/1kg)
1 Chicken or Vegetable stock cube, 1p (10p for 10)
Basil and Parsley, free (grow on my window ledge)
1. Dice the onion and add to a sauté pan with the rice. Add the chicken stock a little at a time, on a low heat, stirring frequently until absorbed. You may need to add more or less liquid, I find it varies slightly every time I do it!
2. Add the half carton of chopped tomatoes, and fresh torn basil and parsley leaves, and stir through. Remove from the heat.
3. Finely slice the courgette into 1mm slices.
4. Spoon the rice-and-tomato-and-onion mixture into two ovenproof dishes, ramekins, or bowls (I use two hardy soup bowls that I found in Oxfam, you may have seen them in other cooking photos on my blog!)
5. Dice the Brie into small pieces and scatter on the top.
6. Lay the courgette slices over the Brie so that they overlap, brush with a little oil (optional)
7. Cook in the oven at 180C for 15 minutes or until the courgette is cooked.
Make it posh variations:
1. Add grated Parmesan or hard cheese to the top.
2. Add pancetta cubes or 100g of chopped pieces of bacon (£1.08 for 670g) to the tomato and rice. Fry first in the sauté pan, then start from stage 1.
3. Add crushed garlic and lemon rind and juice for extra flavours.
I served mine with a chunk of home made garlic and herb bread.
Mumma Jacks Best Ever Chilli, serves 4 for £1.18, or just under 30p per portion.
Since Sainsburys have hiked up the price of kidney beans, I’ve bought dried ones.
I had a very bad experience with some dried beans once that I’d left to soak too long and they’d sprouted – I was so violently ill that I was convinced I was dying.
I lived to tell the tale but I’ve learned my lesson, I only soak beans first thing in the morning to use for my dinner that evening now!
Soaking beans isn’t much of a hassle; pop them in a dish, cover them in water and then some, clingfilm over the top and pop in a microwave or somewhere away from kittens and children.
75g dried black beans, 16p (£1.09/500g)
75g dried haricot beans, 16p (£1.09/500g)
1 onion, 5p (part of a 20pc vegetable selection, £1)
75ml red table wine, 34p (£3.48/750ml)
1 carton chopped tomatoes, 35p
3 squares dark chocolate, 6p (31p/bar with 15 squares in a bar)
Shake of paprika, 3p approx (£1.19/50g)
Shake of cumin, 2p approx (80p/46g)
1 small chilli, free (grows on my window ledge)
1 vegetable stock cube, 1p (10p for 10)
1. Firstly, soak your beans! As described above, pop them in a bowl, cover with cold water and leave to soak for 8+ hours. I do mine first thing in the morning so they’re ready for dinner in the evening.
2. Evening/meal preparation time! Drain and rinse your beans and bring to the boil in a small saucepan. Reduce the heat to a simmer and stir occasionally. These will need to cook for about 20-30 minutes, depending on how ‘well soaked’ they were.
3. Meanwhile… Peel and dice the onion and add to a large sauté pan with the chopped chilli.
4. Add the wine, chopped tomatoes, crumbled stock cube, paprika and cumin, and simmer all together on a low heat.
5. When the beans have softened, drain and add to the sauce. Add the chocolate and stir until the beans are heated through and the chocolate is melted.
I served mine with a large baked potato (5p, part of a 1.25kg mixed vegetable bag) but sometimes do it with rice (3p for a 75g portion, 40p/1kg rice)
Make it posh variations (not all vegan!):
1. Add the juice of half a lemon as you add the tomatoes, and add crushed garlic to the onion for additional flavours.
2. Serve with a dollop of creme fraiche with chopped chives in, or lemon rind, or a heap of grated cheese.
3: Use a beef stock cube in place of a vegetable one for additional depth.
4. Add a generous tablespoon of tomato purée to thicken and add extra tomato flavour.
One Woman Dinner: Pasta With Honeyed Savoy, Bacon, Carrot And Chilli. 25p for a generous bowlful.
Spaghetti, 50g, 4p (39p for 500g)
Savoy cabbage, large leaf, 4p approx (80p for a whole one, peeled mine apart and it had 22 leaves…)
40g Smoked Cooking Bacon, 7p (£1.09 for 670g)
1 tsp honey, 2p approx (99p for a jar)
1/2 an onion, 3p (Part of a 1.25kg vegetable pack, £1)
1/2 a carrot, 3p (Part of a 1.25kg vegetable pack, £1)
2 tsp of lemon juice, 2p (60p for 250ml)
1 chilli, free, (grows on my window ledge!)
1. Break the spaghetti in half and place in a saucepan with boiling water to cover. Simmer.
2. Dice the bacon, and slice the onion and chilli. Cut away the hard stalks from the middle of each Savoy leaf, and chop finely. Taking a separate sauté pan, cook the bacon, onion, chilli and garlic together on a low heat. I didn’t need to add any oil as I deliberately chose a more fatty cut of the bacon pack, but you can add oil if you feel the need to.
3. As the bacon cooks, add grated carrot and the chopped Savoy, and the lemon juice.
4. Stir honey through and serve hot.
Make It Posh variations:
Add cream and heat through before serving for an additional sauce.
OR: Replace the lemon juice with the juice and zest of half an orange, and add chopped fresh thyme.
OR: Replace the carrot with grated Parmesan, and the onion with a red onion, if you’ve got money to burn.
My Cakeys, 41p for 30!
50g cornflakes (4p. 35p/500g)
White Chocolate (31p per bar)
1 tablespoon peanut butter, 30g approx (6p. 62p/540g)
You will also need:
Petits fours cases or silicone square baking tray
This definitely doesn’t class as a recipe, more something cheap, fun and edible to do with the kids. It’s where I started off.
Small Boy hardly gets desserts etc, as it feels indulgent – a far cry from the old days when I’d be doing dessert every day after dinner!
But life without treats and sweets and cakes is a bit rubbish, and at such a low cost, it’s a fun way to introduce the kids to cooking as well.
1. Break the chocolate up into a medium sized, microwaveable bowl.
2. Add the peanut butter.
3. Put in the microwave on low or defrost setting for 2 minutes. It should all melt. Do NOT put it in the microwave on a high setting to make it melt faster, white chocolate goes quite funny if heated too fast, sort of thick and seriously smelly – what a waste of good chocolate!!
4. Stir the melted white chocolate and peanut butter together until well mixed and an even colour.
5. Crush the cornflakes a handful at a time into the bowl and stir. Keep adding cornflakes until you can’t coat them all any more in the chocolate and peanut butter mixture.
6. Spoon into the petits fours cases or if making a slab, spread along the bottom of the tin, flattening with a spoon.
7. Allow to set – will be quicker in the fridge! If making a slab, allow to set and cut into squares.
8. Will keep in an airtight container for about 4 days.
Make it posh:
There are many variations to the humble cornflake cake. Try some of the following:
Use almond butter instead of peanut butter, and add flaked almonds.
Add honey instead of peanut butter, and add flaked almonds.
Use dark chocolate instead of white.
Dark chocolate with almond butter and flaked almonds is also good.
Lemon Curd Sponge Puddings, 95p for 4 or 24p each
100g self raising flour, 4p (65p/1.5kg)
70g butter, 34p (£1.20/250g)
2 eggs, 44p (£2.65/12 free range)
50g sugar, 5p (89p/kg)
Splash of lemon juice, 2p (60p/250ml)
8 heaped teaspoons of lemon curd, 6p (22p/411g)
1. Place the butter in a microwaveable dish and heat on the defrost setting for 30 seconds until soft. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.
2. Add the sugar and a few shakes of lemon, and mix together until well combined. Break the eggs in, and add the flour.
3. Mix well with a fork or wooden spoon to create a smooth, glossy batter.
4. Lightly grease each of your pudding tins with a little extra butter to stop the puddings from sticking to the sides – which will ruin a seriously good dessert!
5. Dollop a generous blob of lemon curd in the bottom of each pudding tin.
6. Divide the batter between each pudding tin, spooning it on top of the lemon curd until each tin is approx 2/3 full.
7. Cook in the centre of the oven for 30 minutes at 170C. They should be risen, light and golden, and should come away from the tin easily to serve.
8. Tip into a bowl to serve. Can be served with additional lemon curd, warmed through to make a sticky sauce – that’s how I eat mine!