For someone who lives on a tight budget I almost never ever meal plan or write shopping lists which are seen as the two cornerstones of economical eating. Instead I work on having a well stocked freezer and trying to make each meal slightly different with ingredients in the store cupboard or in season. When I was first on a frugal budget I did the meal plan and lists and ended up stressing myself out by removing creativity in the kitchen and forcing myself to eat the same meal too often which put me off some useful economy foods for ages.
I just can’t do the whole batch cook or plan days in advance thing because I don’t know how well I’ll be at any given time so this budgeting must have for everyone else actually led to me wasting much more food. Instead I now bulk buy meat, stock the freezer well and keep things in my store cupboards that are versatile instead and I feel like I eat interesting food while being creative and not chucking too much stuff out. But then again I don’t have a family and kids demanding dinners to their tastes so I can afford this approach and know it wouldn’t work for everyone.
One of my freezer staples is bags of frozen lamb chops. Bought originally to cook in the slow cooker where I thought it would be less noticeable if they were a bit tough, I actually find they are great flash fried and they’ve reminded that lamb can be a good budget option bought wisely because the strong flavour means it goes further so I’ve been keeping lamb mince in the freezer too a lot recently.
I can get five portions from 500g which makes it pretty affordable and yet it feels like something luxurious which is a good trick when eating long term on a budget. My food spend has gone up from around £15 per week when I wasn’t having to eat low fodmap to around £22 a week which doesn’t sound like much of a leap to most people but is as near as dammit 50% more expensive on the same income so I take any money saving I can manage.
So firstly this week I was using up things from the fridge. There were some chicken thighs left from the previous chicken n’ rice fest and it was cold miserable weather. I wanted my chicken with a gravy basically and when I saw mention of the (in)famous Slimming World Diet Coke chicken on Instagram, I thought the time had come to use up the rogue can of Pepsi Max ginger in my fridge before it annoyed me further.
Thanks to Nigella, we all know about ham in Coke for Christmas these days and even the Hong Kong dish of Coca Cola chicken wings so I was sure Pepsi Max would work fine. I rubbed the chicken thighs with Chinese Five Spice and added about 100ml Pepsi along with a teaspoon of brown sugar and some soy sauce and baked it all uncovered for 30 minutes in the oven at 200C.
I used a stove safe dish and took the chicken out and reduced the sauce down by half and served it all over rice with a quick carrot and pickled ginger and mint salad. And you know what? It was bloody lovely. The Pepsi had a nice spicy ginger flavour and ended up tasting really deeply savoury. I’d make this again for sure.
Tuesday night saw me accidentally gatecrashing a pub quiz in Catford after a trip to the Aldi there for their Jo Malone knock off candles (which FYI are excellent and worth the interminable bus trip for £3.99.) I also bought a well priced Brie de Meaux and then missed dinner in favour of some crisps and several gin and tonics which is why it took me all night to realise the odour in the pub was my now incredibly ripe brie and not something dead.
It did mean that despite getting a bus at night by myself across South London which is usually harassment-tastic I was left well alone so that was worth the price alone. It also meant I woke up hungover and exhausted to a house that really really needed a scented candle though…
I really needed some vitamins and roasted some yellow courgettes and tomatoes and dressed them in chopped capers and parsley with a pork shoulder steak on the side for a genuinely colourful dinner for once that perked me up no end and took little energy.
Thursday needed something simple and low energy too because I took a fit of the headstaggers and cleaned my entire house until it was sparkling and I had arms like wet noodles. Maybe that’s why I made rice noodles with pork mince in a soy and ginger dressing? I wanted to go a bit Vietnamese with this and add fresh mint and coriander but my bunches had given up the ghost in the fridge so I scattered some sesame seeds to make it look like I’d made an effort.
Bad move. I woke up next morning feeling as much of a state as that plate of food looks in the photo. Turns out I have no fodmap tolerance to sesame seeds despite there being a ‘safe’ level on the Monash app. A teaspoon of those tiny seeds had my head banging more than all the gin in Catford. I struggled through the day feeling like I’d been hit in the head with a shovel and in a murderously bad mood as fodmap hangovers either make me tearful and bleak or want to wreak revenge on the world. It’s terrifying the emotional impact they have on me.
All I wanted for dinner was lamb chops with bulgar wheat. This is my fodmap hangover dinner every time. One of the trickiest things about a complete dietary change was losing many of my comfort foods and it helped massively psychologically when I started having low fodmap comfort food associations. This plate of bulgar wheat with tiny vermicelli noodles with butter stirred through and a mound of fatty salty lamb well seasoned with Liquid Maggi hits the spot every time and I stopped wanting to hate everyone immediately.
Saturday brought me the valuable life lesson that when I have a banging almost throwing up fodmap headache and my whole body hurts it is not a good idea to walk to Clapham and spend an hour delving into painful life experiences in therapy. While it might be good for my soul long term, in the short term it makes me feel physically shit and spend the whole day in bed counting the hours between painkiller doses.
I needed more lamb frankly. But I couldn’t bring myself to repeat last night’s dinner in case you all judged me and I decided to try this quick flatbread recipe I had bookmarked after seeing a Turkish gozleme recipe on Pinterest during the day and deciding lamb mince was in my future.
And it was a good choice. The bread took 5 minutes to bring together and sat for 10 instead of the 30 minutes suggested but was still soft and pliable and easy to work with. I froze the other three balls of dough for another time since I can’t eat shopbought tortillas.
I fried the lamb mince while mixing some dried mint and a splash of vinegar into some cream cheese and then used the lamb fat infused pan to cook the flatbread in. I spread it with the cream cheese mix and lamb and added tomato and cucumber and in 15 minutes with bugger all washing up I had an excellent dinner on my plate.
I’m almost sure Sunday will involve the Pepsi chicken on those flatbreads to combine the two best dishes of the week if that’s not a spoiler alert!