One day to go: Live Below the Line

live below the line

Could you live on just £1 a day?

Today I’ve been busy getting ready for the Live Below the Line challenge, which kicks off tomorrow, Monday 28 April. I’m taking part along with my family – my husband Jason and our two daughters Jessie (9) and Mia (6). The aim of the challenge is to spend just £1 each a day on all our food and drink for the next five days. For more on why we’re putting ourselves through this, read my earlier post.

Along with eating as much as humanly possibly in an attempt at stock piling, the first job was to sort out a meal plan. With a little help from some blogger friends (such as the lovely Louisa at Eat Your Veg who suggested the Chicken Brodo to make the most of the free chicken carcasses donated to me by my favourite butcher in Wells) and a bit of online research, I came up with a plan and then a shopping list and headed off to my local(ish) Aldi over in Shepton Mallet.

Here’s what I bought:

Frozen garden peas – 89p
4 pints semi-skimmed milk – 95p
Cream cheese with garlic and herbs – 55p
Blackcurrant and apple squash – 99p
3 leeks – 69p
10 onions – 69p
7 bananas – 68p
2.5kg white potatoes – £1.89
14 carrots – 59p
1kg porridge oats – 75p
9 apples – 89p
1 kg penne – 58p
Packet of ginger nut biscuits – 25p
4 cloves of garlic – 39p
1 kg long grain rice – 40p
Strawberry jam – 29p
2 tins of red kidney beans – 50p
1 cucumber – 39p
6 free range eggs – 89p
6 tomatoes – 39p
3 loaves sliced wholemeal bread – £1.35
6 wholemeal rolls – 55p

Total spend at Aldi = £15.54

I couldn’t find any cannellini beans or redbush tea at Aldi, so popped into Tesco for these. I was also convinced I’d be able to find some cheaper chopped tomatoes at Tesco compared to the ones I found at Aldi. It turned out I was wrong, but I couldn’t be bothered to go back again. So my mini shop at Tesco consisted of:

4 tins chopped tomatoes – £1.36
1 tin of cannellini beans – 50p
Redbush teabags (Jason and I are allowed two each a day) – 50p

Therefore our family’s total spend so far comes to £17.90. When you divide that by the four of us, that comes to £4.48 a day, equating to just over 89p each per day. I’ve left ourselves a little wriggle room as we will also need to factor in proportional costs for things like cooking oil, spices and seasoning.

I’ve never shopped at Aldi before, as I do most of our grocery shopping online (I’m not a fan of supermarkets) and Aldi don’t offer an online service, but I was pleasantly surprised at how far our budget stretched. I didn’t expect to be able to afford much in the way of fresh fruit or vegetables for instance, and I certainly didn’t think I’d be coming away with free range eggs, or biscuits.

live below the line

I was adamant though I wouldn’t buy any meat, and instead I’ve spent this evening boiling up the free chicken carcasses from my butcher and picking off a surprising amount of meat to use in Tuesday’s evening meal. That will be the only meat of the week.

So here’s our Living Below the Line meal plan for the week:

live below the line meal plan

People on Facebook and Twitter have commented that it looks quite a tasty menu and I must admit to being quite chuffed with what I’ve come up with. But it was bloody hard work. It took ages to come up with the plan, making sure ingredients required for one dish would be useful on another day, and then it took ages to do the actual shopping, adding up the cost of every item as I went along and looking out for all the cheapest offers. I really wouldn’t want to have to do that every week.

I should also point out that I’ve only included lunches for Jason and I. Jessie and Mia normally take packed lunches to school on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and have hot school meals the other two days. I’ve decided to let them carry on with this. My reasoning is that if we were on the poverty line in the UK, then I’d hope the girls would be in a position to receive free school meals. So I’ve taken their lunches eaten at school out of the equation.

It’s getting late now. I’ve just cooked up the leek and potato soup for mine and Jason’s lunch tomorrow, plus a big pot of veggie chilli, along with the chicken stock, and there’s a large pile of washing up awaiting. I’ll be back tomorrow to let  you know how our first day goes.

Oh, and if you fancy supporting our efforts, you can do so at the Rees Family’s online fundraising page.

Highs and lows in the Bangers & Mash kitchen – part 6

So far July has been an interesting month for me as a food blogger. For the first time, I’ve stepped up into the exciting world of hosting blog challenges. It is so lovely to see such a wide range of dishes being entered and getting to meet a whole host of new food bloggers.

Food writer and blogger supremo Karen Burns-Booth from Lavender & Lovage kindly let me loose on her popular Herbs on Saturday challenge this month. Herbs on Saturday is a lovely way for bloggers to share their dishes that celebrate cooking with herbs and we’ve received lots of wonderfully tempting recipes.

My second blog challenge hopes to raise awareness of a fantastic family cookbook produced by a charity called TACT, which is the UK’s largest fostering and adoption charity. I’ve worked with the Bristol and South West branch of TACT for the last four years or so, and I am constantly amazed and inspired by the incredible support they provide to many of our most vulnerable children and young people.

The Care to Cook recipe challenge is calling on people to submit their recipes for food they’d cook to welcome someone into their family. We’ve only had a handful of entries so far, but I’m hoping the prize of a copy of the Care to Cook recipe book signed by TV chef Lorraine Pascale (who happens to be TACT’s celebrity patron) might encourage a few more. If you have not entered yet, please do! The closing date is 12 August.

In the kitchen, it’s been rather exciting too. Writing this food blog has pushed me to be so much more creative and adventurous as a cook. And luckily most of my experiments seem to be working out well and the family is enjoying the food. Of course, there are plenty of safe, easy, every day meals in the mix, as you’ll see from the meal plans below. As a mum and a freelancer, I just don’t have time to spend hours in the kitchen every day. But when I can, I do like to have a go at something a little bit different.

Recent successes include…

Roast duck and rhubarb compote

Chicken and noodle salad with coriander and mint

Homemade hummus and aubergine dip with olives, salad and pitta bread

Caribbean pot roast chicken

Courgette, carrot and cheese scones

Butternut squash and bacon chowder

Bean casserole

Pork escalopes in balsamic vinegar

As well as some tasty food, I’ve had two other reasons to make me smile recently. The first was when one of the other mums at school came up to me to tell me she’d cooked my chicken and noodle salad after seeing it on the blog, and how much she’d enjoyed it. It’s always lovely to receive positive comments on the blog, but it’s something very special to have someone tell you in person they like your food. That really made my day that did.

And then the other thing that made me chuckle lots was when my daughter Jessie insisted on photographing her dinner plate before she would start eating! She’s just begun work on her very own blog Jessie’s Art and she plans on putting her photo up there sometime soon. Like mother, like daughter it seems.

In case you need any ideas, here are my meal plans for the last few weeks…

Monday 25 June
Lunch: pasta salad
Dinner: stir-fried Swiss chard with ginger and noodles

Tuesday 26 June
Lunch: ham salad rolls
Dinner: lamb casserole (F)

Wednesday 27 June
Lunch: rice salad with broad beans
Dinner: ham, egg and chips

Thursday 28 June
Lunch: tuna mayonnaise rolls
Dinner: salad wraps and homemade hummus

Friday 29 June
Lunch:  garlic mushrooms and salad
Dinner: chicken noodle salad with mint and coriander

Saturday 30 June
Lunch: aubergine dip, hummus, pitta bread, olives and salad
Dinner: fish cakes, new potatoes and vegetables

Sunday 1 July
Lunch: Caribbean pot roast chicken 
Dinner: bread and cheese

Monday 2 July
Lunch: beans on toast
Dinner: cheese and onion quiche, new potatoes and salad

Tuesday 3 July
Lunch: cheese and chutney rolls
Dinner: noodle soup with dumplings

Wednesday 4 July
Lunch: ham salad rolls
Dinner: spaghetti Bolognese

Thursday 5 July
Lunch: hummus salad rolls
Dinner: ratatouille and pasta

Friday 6 July
Lunch: rice salad with grilled chicken and artichoke hearts
Dinner: bangers and mash

Saturday 7 July
Lunch: roast duck with rhubarb compote, rice, broad bean and parsley salad
Dinner: bread and cheese

Sunday 8 July
Lunch: butternut squash soup
Dinner: Chinese chicken and rice

Monday 9 July
Lunch: Marmite and cucumber rolls
Dinner: egg fried rice with courgette and peppers

Tuesday 10 July
Lunch: garlic mushrooms and salad
Dinner: warm new potato and sausage salad

Wednesday 11 July
Lunch: potato and sausage salad
Dinner: bean casserole

Thursday 12 July
Lunch: pasta salad
Dinner: butternut squash and bacon chowder

Friday 13 July
Lunch: courgette, carrot and cheese scones
Dinner: pasta with bacon and tomato sauce

Saturday 14 July
Lunch: sausage and cabbage bake
Dinner: bread and cheese

Sunday 15 July
Lunch: pork escalopes in balsamic vinegar, new potatoes, beetroot and nectarine salad
Dinner: salad wraps

F = from freezer

Highs and lows in the Bangers & Mash kitchen – part 4

It’s been a busy but fun couple of weeks in the Bangers & Mash household. Despite racing around like a crazy thing most of the time, life feels good at the moment.

The sun has been shining, which always puts people in better moods. Our veggie patch is thriving; the hedgerows are full of beautiful wild flowers; the housemartins have returned to rebuild their nest in the eaves of our roof; the Olympic flame has passed through Somerset (my husband took the girls to see it in Wells); the bunting and flags are up and everyone’s getting excited about their Jubilee celebrations; and yours truly is becoming a bit of a local celebrity as a result of being a finalist in the MAD Blog Awards.

There’s been a piece on me in the local paper and I did an interview on BBC Radio Somerset’s breakfast show. I was terrified beforehand but actually rather enjoyed the interview in the end. The host Matt Faulkner was very easy to talk to and seemed genuinely interested in the ins and outs of meal planning and feeding a family on a budget.

Talking of budgets, ours got a little tighter this week. I’ve just finished my temporary stint at Bath Spa University, which is sad as I really enjoyed it there. But working from home again will make life a lot easier. And my husband has just finished working at a local primary school and is about to start retraining in IT. So on one hand it’s fantastic that we’ll both be at home much more and able to spend more time together as a family, but on the other hand we’re going to have to be incredibly careful with the pennies. Cheap eats are definitely the order of the day.

Foodwise I’ve been keeping things pretty simple because I have been rushing about so much and haven’t wanted to spend hours in the kitchen when it’s been so hot. Saying that, my mum and I did spend an afternoon baking this Jubilee cake on one of the hottest days of the year.

Jubilee party cake

Yes, it’s completely OTT but I think it’s a great cake for children’s Jubilee parties.

Another culinary highlight was this delicious Oyakodon, a Japanese chicken and egg rice dish, the recipe for which I found at Under The Blue Gum Tree. As my mother is half Chinese, we tend to eat lots of oriental flavours in our house and with mum visiting for a weekend I thought this would be a good dish to try. It was a big hit all round, although the flavours were quite different to what I was expecting; much softer and more subtle, very clean and light. I could eat this dish again and again, and probably will.

Oyakodon from Under The Blue Gum Tree

With the mini heatwave in the UK, it’s only natural that salads have featured highly on our menu. One simple meal we had recently was fried chicken served with a red cabbage and beetroot slaw. The chicken was fairly dull really, but the slaw was very tasty and such a beautiful colour. It keeps well for a couple of days, and we used up the leftovers at our barbecue.

Beetroot and red cabbage slaw

 Our herb patch is looking glorious. The rosemary, thyme and oregano are all in full bloom and the sage flowers are set to open any day now. I read somewhere recently that oregano flowers work well in salads, so I decided to add some to a lovely salad I made with courgette, mozzarella and baby plum tomatoes. It looked and tasted fantastic.

Courgette and oregano flower salad

Rice salad is a regular in our lunch boxes and I try to play around with ingredients so the kids don’t get bored. This week I included grilled chicken (marinated first in a mustard vinaigrette) and artichoke hearts. The lunch boxes came home empty. Need I say more?

Rice salad with grilled chicken and artichoke hearts

Always on the look out for new meat-free dishes, I came across this spinach roulade on Thinly Spread. Initially I thought the rolling of the roulade was going to be a bit of a tall order for me; I’m a walking disaster zone when it comes to dainty presentation. I really am the clumsiest person I know. But it was actually incredibly easy. And oh, so tasty. I’ve got to make this dish again when friends come over as it looks so much more difficult to pull off than it really is, and so a great one for impressing dinner guests.

Spinach roulade from Thinly Spread

And finally, because it looks like the weather has turned again and the rain is pattering against the window as I type, I include a picture of our barbecue last weekend when mum was over from Spain. Come back mum and bring the sunshine back with you!

Bangers from the barbie – lovely!

So time for those meal plans…

Monday 14 May
Lunch: pasta salad
Dinner: spinach roulade with new potatoes and salad

Tuesday 15 May
Lunch: ham salad rolls
Dinner: lamb meatballs and rice (F)

Wednesday 16 May
Lunch: pitta bread with hummus and salad
Dinner: pork chops, mash and vegetables

Thursday 17 May
Lunch: cheese and cucumber rolls
Dinner: omelette and salad

Friday 18 May
Lunch:  rice salad with grilled chicken and artichoke hearts
Dinner: pasta with bacon and tomato sauce

Saturday 19 May
Lunch: baked sausages with fennel and butternut squash
Dinner: bread and cheese

Sunday 20 May
Lunch: kohlrabi and spinach gratin
Dinner: carrot and coriander soup

Monday 21  May
Lunch: olive and mozzarella muffins (F)
Dinner: courgette, mozzarella and oregano flower salad with crusty bread

Tuesday 22 May
Lunch: salad wraps
Dinner: wild garlic pesto and spaghetti

Wednesday 23 May
Lunch: pasta salad
Dinner: poached eggs on toast with asparagus

Thursday 24 May
Lunch: ham and salad rolls
Dinner: Oyakodon with steamed pak choi

Friday 25 May
Lunch: garlic mushrooms with salad
Dinner: southern fried chicken with beetroot and red cabbage slaw and potato wedges

Saturday 26 May
Lunch: pub lunch
Dinner: bread and cheese

Sunday 27 May
Lunch: barbecued sausages and chicken with salads
Dinner: bread and cheese

F = from freezer

Highs and lows in the Bangers & Mash kitchen – part 3

Talk about highs and lows this week – more like the sublime to the ridiculous!

I just can’t stop smiling!

I haven’t come down from the ceiling since Thursday when I discovered I am a finalist for a national blogging award. Don’t worry, I won’t go on about it again here. I’ve been doing enough of that already on this blog and on Twitter, so suffice to say I am really rather chuffed.

I’m not the only spod in the family though. Just a few days earlier my daughter Jessie received a Blue Peter badge for a poem she had sent in. She’s already working out how to achieve her next one. I was a huge Blue Peter fan when I was little, so as you can imagine I’m a very proud mum…

But back to the food. I’ll get the hideous low out of the way first.

We had good friends over to stay at the weekend, who have really encouraged me in my blogging antics. There was a lot of good humoured banter in the week running up to their visit about high expectations of the culinary delights in store.

So I thought I’d impress them with a retro feast of posh ham, eggs and chips. While the home-baked ham was very good, my homemade chips were an absolute disaster. They completely disintegrated on attempting to serve. Wrong kind of potato possibly, or was the oven too hot or too cool? Serves me right trying to make my own chips for the first time instead of doing what I usually do and cooking the shop-bought frozen variety. At the last minute I had to send the lads out to the local fish and chips shop in order to salvage the meal. Whoops.

Thankfully though the ham got a big thumbs up. I did Nigella Lawson’s ham in cola again – I last tried it at Christmas and absolutely fell in love with it. I know it sounds crazy but baking a ham in coca cola is fantastic and you end up with a beautifully moist, smokey, almost barbecue-flavoured piece of meat.

My next high point in the kitchen was a potato, cabbage and smoked bacon soup. I accept it doesn’t sound exactly like food porn but it was incredibly tasty and very satisfying.

Another highlight was my oregano and roast tomato pizza. I slow roast the tomatoes for about five hours in the bottom oven of the Aga, giving them an incredibly intense flavour and gorgeously sticky, slightly chewy texture. Simply sublime.


So now time for the detailed meal plans. Oh and if you do have any tips for homemade chips (in the oven rather than a deep fat fryer), I’m all ears!

Monday 30 April
Lunch: butternut squash soup
Dinner: pasta with wild garlic pesto

Tuesday 1 May
Lunch: cheese and chutney rolls
Dinner: sweet potatoes stuffed with cream cheese and spring onions

Wednesday 2 May
Lunch: pitta bread with hummus and salad
Dinner: fish pie

Thursday 3 May
Lunch: wraps with carrot, sultana and coriander salad
Dinner: potato, cabbage and smoked bacon soup

Friday 4 May
Lunch: Thai-style cauliflower soup (F)
Dinner: chilli con carne

Saturday 5 May
Lunch: bread and cheese
Dinner: cola ham, egg and chips followed by raspberry chocolate mousse

Sunday 6 May
Lunch: pub lunch
Dinner: bread and cheese

Monday 7  May
Lunch: pasta salad
Dinner: oregano and roast tomato pizza

Tuesday 8 May
Lunch: salad wraps
Dinner: wild garlic pesto and spaghetti

Wednesday 9 May
Lunch: pitta bread, hummus and salad
Dinner: cous cous, courgette and broad bean salad

Thursday 10 May
Lunch: ham and salad rolls
Dinner: bangers and mash bake (recipe to follow)

Friday 11 May
Lunch: grilled chicken and rice salad with artichoke hearts
Dinner: mushroom omelette

Saturday 12 May
Lunch: slow roast beef, roast potatoes and vegetables, followed by rhubarb crumble
Dinner: bread and cheese

Sunday 13 May
Lunch: warm bean and potato salad with leeks and smoked bacon
Dinner: bread and cheese

F = from freezer

Leeks and greens springtime pie

I’m a big fan of the weekly veg box. There’s something quite exciting about not choosing your own produce but simply going with whatever is in season and is in good supply.

The veg box didn’t always suite my lifestyle though. Back in my crazy 20s when we lived in Bristol, in the days before children, when I was working full-time yet still partying hard, I first ventured down the veg box path.

It was around the time that I was just beginning to develop an interest in food and cooking, and the idea of a weekly delivery of fresh organic vegetables seemed a right-on thing to do.

Problem was the vegetables would arrive and I simply had no idea what to do with them, or indeed what some of them actually were. I’d get home from work, wanting to make a quick supper before meeting friends at the pub, and end up just staring blankly into the fridge at a gnarly celeriac or pile of sweet potatoes and having not the slightest scooby what to do next.

And eating greens week-in-week-out just wasn’t turning me on. It took me right back to my Cranks childhood

But life is very different now that I’m all grown up. The veg box suits me and my family. As you have probably spotted already, I’m rather into meal planning. Each Sunday night I sit down at my laptop surrounded by recipe books, plan out my family’s meals for the week, and place my online order for all the groceries needed.

No meal makes it onto the plan though until I’ve consulted the Riverford website, where they list the contents of the coming week’s veg boxes. I love reading through the list of produce and letting my brain whir into action as it comes up with meal ideas.

But sometimes inspiration doesn’t arrive of its accord and the Riverford website itself is a marvellous treasure trove of recipe ideas for every vegetable (and fruit) under the sun. And because I was running short of ways to cook leeks, I came across a Riverford recipe for Flamiche, which turns out to be a Belgian leek pie.

I don’t think I’ve cooked a Riverford recipe yet that has disappointed, and this was certainly no exception. The creamy, buttery leeks combined with tarragon and nutmeg, encased in a light shortcrust pastry made for a tasty supper on one of our regular Meat Free Mondays. We ate it cold for lunch the next day and it was equally good, so I reckon this pie would be great for a picnic.

So here is my slight variation on the Flamiche, which has some spring greens thrown in, just because I happened to have those in the fridge too. It’s ever so easy to make, particularly when you use ready-made pastry. And no it’s not cheating – everyone does it!

Leeks and greens springtime pie

Serves 6

500g ready-made shortcrust pastry
600g leeks, washed, trimmed and sliced
200g spring greens, washed and shredded
6 tbsp creme fraiche
60g parmesan cheese
1 tbsp chopped tarragon leaves (I couldn’t find fresh so used dried, which worked perfectly well)
nutmeg, freshly grated
salt and pepper
1 egg yolk, beaten

Preheat the oven to 200ºC/gas mark 6.

Gently cook the leeks in butter until soft and translucent. Add the spring greens and stir into the leeks until the greens wilt.

Pour the leeks and greens into a large bowl and allow to cool.

Butter a quiche dish. Halve the pastry and roll out one half into a large circle and line the dish. Prick the bottom with a fork. Roll out the other pastry half into another circle the same size and cover with clingfilm for later.

When the leeks and greens have cooled, add the creme fraiche, nutmeg, parmesan and tarragon. Season well. Spread the mixture evenly over the pastry base.

Next brush some egg yolk over the exposed edges of the pastry, and place the other pastry circle over the pie filling and pinch the edges to seal.

Brush the top with more egg yolk and use a sharp knife to make a cross-shaped slit in the middle so that steam can escape.

Bake in the oven on a baking sheet for 30-40 minutes until the pastry is golden. Serve warm or cold with a side salad.

Meal plan: 1 April 2012

Easy meals have been the order of the day in the Bangers & Mash kitchen now that I’m working pretty much full-time. Life is manic; it feels like everything has stepped up a gear. Or two. Or three.

Of course, the extra work is a good thing. As a freelancer, and particularly in the current economic climate, work is very much welcome. But it does rather tend to put a strain on family life.

So my latest meal plans have been full of quick suppers and pre-prepared meals from the freezer. I’m not a naturally organised kind of person, but I’ve learned it does pay to plan ahead. On a day when you do have the time, cook up some big batches of tasty grub and freeze them in individual portions. There’s something very rewarding about getting home after a hectic day at work and simply heating up a homemade pie or stew.

One Monday evening I spent a good few hours in the kitchen with a few glasses of wine and some banging tunes on the stereo. As well as cooking that evening’s supper, I also made a big pot of ratatouille, the girls’ favourite chicken rice, and a vat of spicy cauliflower soup. I know it sounds a bit full on to do so much cooking in one go but it’s worth the effort and helps me to retain my sanity.

Here are the latest ups and downs in the Bangers & Mash kitchen…

Cottage pie is one of my all time favourite meals, especially when my husband makes it. That’s part of the beauty of meal planning. Not only do I get to decide what we eat, but who cooks it and when. For some reason my husband’s best dishes generally feature minced beef: cottage pie, Bolognese, chilli con carne. Is it a bloke thing? Anyway, that made for a delicious mid-week supper after a long day in the office.

My husband’s cottage pie – complete comfort food

You may recall me raving recently about a recipe for Chicken Thigh Yakitori from Dom at Belleau Kitchen: sumptuously tender chicken in a sticky leek  and soy sauce. When I saw his next chicken thigh recipe post I just had to give it a try; Moroccan Chicken Thighs. It was very good but didn’t compare to the Yakitori I’m afraid – just a tad too sweet for me. I did like the idea of it though, so will try again but may leave out the apricot jam and carrots next time…

Moroccan chicken thighs

If you want a quick supper, cous cous is perfect. I started making this chicken, courgette and cous cous dish when my oldest daughter was getting to grips with proper solid food. It’s an adaptation of an Annabel Karmel dish. It started out as something I’d make especially for Jessie but when I realised how good it was, it became a regular family meal. Plus it’s perfect when you’re short of time.

And here are those weekly meal plans in all their glory:

Monday 19 March
Lunch: cheese and pickle rolls
Dinner: Moroccan chicken thighs

Tuesday 20 March
Lunch: scallion and sweet potato soup (F)
Dinner: cottage pie

Wednesday 21 March
Lunch: pasta salad
Dinner: chicken and courgette cous cous

Thursday 22 March
Lunch: spicy cauliflower soup (F)
Dinner: kids – tasty chicken rice (F); adults – wraps with beetroot, carrot and apple salad

Friday 23 March
Lunch: hummus, breadsticks and salad
Dinner: cauliflower cheese and garlic bread

Saturday 24 March
Lunch: sausage and cabbage bake
Dinner: garlic Portobello mushrooms and salad

Sunday 25 March
Lunch: Mia’s birthday party picnic
Dinner: ratatouille and rice (F)

Monday 26 March
Lunch: hummus and salad sandwiches
Dinner: Flamiche (Belgian leek pie)

Tuesday 27 March
Lunch: baked potatoes, ham and cheese
Dinner: beef casserole (F) with rice and broccoli

Wednesday 28 March
Lunch: pasta salad
Dinner: cauliflower curry (F) and onion bhajis

Thursday 29 March
Lunch: spicy cauliflower soup (F)
Dinner: chilli con carne (F)

Friday 30 March
Lunch: carrot and coriander soup
Dinner: grilled chicken and salad

Saturday 31 March
Lunch: OUT
Dinner: pappardelle with courgette, basil and lemon

Sunday 1 April
Lunch: roast chicken followed by rhubarb crumble
Dinner: bread and cheese

F = from freezer

Meal plan: 18 March 2012 (and how to poach eggs)

In the words of dear Britney, oops I did it again.

It’s been a fortnight since I last posted a meal plan. And I’m ‘supposed’ to put them up at the end of each week. I don’t suppose the world is going to crumble as a result now though is it?

The last couple of weeks have been really busy. I’m working full-time at the moment, three days in-house for a client and the remainder working from home on a number of freelance projects. It’s proving really rather challenging fitting in the blogging around the working and the cooking and the being a mum and a wife. And trying to fit in some semblance of a social life.

But what I have discovered this last fortnight is just how much I enjoy blogging. When I haven’t very much spare time, I’ve found that blogging has been one of the things high up on my priority list. What started as a bit of an experiment is turning into a bit of a passion.

But something I’ve also promised myself is that I won’t beat myself up on the days when I find it hard to fit in the blog.

Anyway, time for the highs and lows of the last couple of weeks in the Bangers & Mash kitchen…

The highs

It was my birthday last weekend and to celebrate my husband cooked one of my favourite dishes: Elizabeth David’s poulet a l’estragon. It was a gorgeously summery dish on a beautiful spring day. Superb.

Tarragon chicken for my birthday lunch cooked by my husband. I'm a very lucky girl.

Everyone knows how popular sausages are in our house. They appear regularly on our weekly meal plan and I’m always looking for new ways to cook them. We tried out this sausage, onion and potato bake from Lavender & Lovage and it was an instant hit and one I’m sure we’ll be cooking again and again.

Sausage potato and onion bake. Cheap and cheerful, this truly is fabulous family food.

Eggs are in my eyes a real super food. If you have a carton of eggs in the cupboard, you can fix yourself a meal in minutes. I love eggs cooked all ways but think I’m addicted to poaching these days, particularly for a weekend breakfast or brunch.

Just a couple of months ago I wouldn’t have dared poaching an egg. But at Christmas I offered friends staying with us a cooked breakfast in the morning and asked how they wanted their eggs, fried or scrambled. Jake asked instead for a poached egg. When he saw my face, he went on to give me the best ever instructions on how to do it.

I'm rather partial to a poached egg

There are no tricks other than using the freshest eggs possible. Simply crack your egg into a pan of boiling water and cook for three minutes. Don’t worry about how it looks. When you come to serve it, the egg white all comes together on your serving spoon. I was amazed at how easy they are. No vinegar. No swirling the water. And now I’m making them all the time.

Pasta appears regularly on my meal plans as a quick mid-week meal when my husband and I are both working. I tried this pasta, peas and pancetta dish from the Legal Tart, and highly recommend it. It’s very easy and very tasty.

Pasta with peas and pancetta - a great quickie dinner

The lows

I’m quite pleased to say that from 14 days of eating I could only come up with one low point. I cooked a beef pie and had very high hopes for it.

In the morning I put the casserole in the aga to slow cook while I was out at work and it was smelling fantastic when I returned home. I popped on a simple pie crust and I was almost there. I had the camera out ready to get some great close-ups when it came out of the oven. And then I went and burned it. It was still edible. Just. But not particularly pretty.

And now it’s time for those meal plans in blow-by-blow detail…

Monday 5 March
Lunch: ham salad rolls
Dinner: homity pie with spring greens

Tuesday 6 March
Lunch: hummus and cucumber rolls
Dinner: Chicken with mushrooms and cream, boiled rice

Wednesday 7 March
Lunch: tuna pasta salad 
Dinner: grilled chicken breast with baked fennel

Thursday 8 March
Lunch: carrot and coriander soup (F)
Dinner: cauliflower cheese

Friday 9 March
Lunch: rice salad
Dinner: beef casserole and cornbread

Saturday 10 March
Lunch: leek and potato soup with garlic bread
Dinner: sausage onion and potato bake

Sunday 11 March
Lunch: poulet a l’estragon
Dinner: cream tea

Monday 12 March
Lunch: chicken sandwiches
Dinner: spaghetti with tomatoes and peas

Tuesday 13 March
Lunch: cheese and salad rolls
Dinner: pasta with peas and pancetta

Wednesday 14 March
Lunch: chicken pasta salad
Dinner: beef and vegetable pie

Thursday 15 March
Lunch: hummus, breadsticks and salad
Dinner: chilli con carne

Friday 16 March
Lunch: ham salad rolls
Dinner: pumpkin and parsnip cassoulet (F)

Saturday 17 March
Lunch: hot cross buns with Cheddar cheese
Dinner: homemade pizza

Sunday 18 March
Lunch: pub lunch for Mother’s Day
Dinner: cheese and beans on toast

F = from freezer