Archive | May, 2013

IT’S MY BIRTHDAY… and I got given this beautiful, delicious cake… I LOVE JAM SPONGE CAKE.

31 May

Birthday CakeThis was the birthday cake I got given on Friday 10th May, ready for my birthday and party on Saturday 11th May.  I literally could not believe my eyes.  It was completely and utterly wonderful, not only because of the fabulous decoration and the lovely personalisation but the cake itself tasted delicious, moist, spongy and overall stunning.  I was one VERY happy lady, VERY spoilt lady.  My favourite things, flowers (specifically Gerbera’s) and cake.  EPIC.

The cake may have been a ‘simple sponge cake’ but that was a huge understatement.  Everyone thinks they can make a Victoria sponge cake and they can… it’s easy, but getting a ‘simple sponge’ to be indulgent and worthy of a birthday cake isn’t an easy task. It takes a while to perfect the basic recipe and the baking technique, but once you have got it – as Leanne Camilleri certainly has, you will be away.

Have you ever had a birthday cake from the supermarket… has it felt ‘fluffy’ in your mouth?  I have, and it did.  It also left a strange taste in my mouth and did not leave me wanting more.  Basically, the cake is made from non-fresh ingredients, so keep manufacturing costs low and to increase the profit margin.  So your lovely birthday cake will contain a range of dried milk, pasteurised eggs, syrup and raising agents – which does NOT say HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME.

Here is an ingredient list of a standard sponge ‘birthday cake’ from one of the leading retailers…

Sugar , Wheat Flour , Pasteurised Egg , Vegetable Oil , Buttercream (9.6%) [Unsalted Butter, Sugar, Glucose Syrup, Flavouring] , Raspberry Jam (8.4%) [Glucose-Fructose Syrup, Raspberries, Water, Gelling Agent (Pectin), Acidity Regulator (Citric Acid), Flavouring] , Glucose Syrup , Dextrose , Water , Emulsifier (Mono and Diglycerides of Fatty Acids) , Wheat Starch , Raising Agents (Diphosphates, Sodium Carbonates) , Maize Starch , Salt , Stabilisers (Xanthan Gum, Tragacanth) , Preservative (Potassium Sorbate) , Humectant (Glycerol) , Acidity Regulator (Citric Acid) , Colours (Anthocyanins, Carotenes, Titanium Dioxide, Lutein) , Vegetable Concentrates (Algae, Safflower, Beetroot) , Dried Egg White.

My lovely cake from Leanne Camilleri did not contain any of these unnecessary dried/pasteurised ingredients, it was very obviously made from fresh ingredients and this was obvious from the very first bite.  So I am going to provide you with a very lovely, very simple sponge cake recipe so that you to can make all your own sponge cakes from now on.  DO NOT BUY FROM THE SUPERMARKET, it’s easier, tastier and cheaper to make it yourself.

MY BIRTHDAY CAKE (a few images for you here!)

cake 7

With candles and complete with all my friends singing away!


… it’s time to make a wish!

cake 5

Time to cut the cake. Believe me I felt very guilty about this!

cake 4

The first slice is out…

cake 6

… and wow 4 layer! NOW TO EAT.

Leanne Camilleri makes cakes like this as a hobby, so if you would like a cake similar to mine, or maybe something more specific, do let me know and hopefully I can put you in touch with Leanne who can make you one of these wonderful, incredible, tasty, beautiful cakes.  I cannot thank her and my lovely friend for the generous thought enough.  You truly made my birthday.


Nigella for breakfast anyone? Oh sorry… I mean a NIGELLA RECIPE MASH UP – Eggy Cinnamon Bread with Jam

30 May

20130529-071711.jpgTo say May has been a busy month would be a slight understatement! I have had family visiting for birthday adventures as well as friends each and every weekend. Although I would change nothing about the last few weeks, I do (after a while) start to run out of ideas of what to feed people as I start to become bored of the same repertoire – eggs and bacon every morning for breakfast. Now I fully understand that this is a ‘classic ‘ not to be messed with and certainly not a dislike, but there is only so much cholesterol one person should consume in a weekend.

Consequently I did a ‘Gemma’ and started to search around for something new… I knew I wanted to make some eggy bread as I love it, but I wasn’t sure how to vamp it up. Luckily Nigella had the inspiration I required and I started to play around with her recipe to create this little gem…


COOKING TIME: 15 minutes

MAKES: 4 portions


  • 3 eggs
  • 40ml full fat milk
  • 40ml single cream
  • 4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 nutmeg pod/seed and a grater/zester
  • 3 tsp icing sugar
  • 6 slices of stale bread – white or brown is fine, but obviously brown is best as it is healthier than white
  • 1/2 punnet of raspberries
  • 2 tbsp sugar


We start by breaking 3 eggs into a measuring jug. To this add the milk and the cream and whisk well. You may be using your only measuring jug, if so, place this with the eggs in, onto your weighing scales and ‘zero’ them. Now you can pour in 40g or milk and 40g of cream. This is because ml and g are virtually the same – one is a millilitre, a measure of the volume of a liquid and the other is a gram which is a weight. Try measuring 10ml and then weighing this 10ml in grams. I promise you it will be the same….


Next add the cinnamon and the icing sugar and whisk again. Now you can pour this mixture onto a plate ready to dip the eggy bread in.


Cut the stale bread into half slices and then dip into the eggy mixture, allow to soak on one side for 30 seconds and then turn the bread over and allow to soak for 30 seconds. When the bread is completely eggy and gooey, you can pop it into a warm/hot frying pan do not use any oil (you just don’t need it) and cook for a couple of minutes (until the bread turns golden).


Eggy cinnamon bread laid out in the frying pan, cooking on one side…

If you like nutmeg, this would be the time to grate a little nutmeg on the top of the eggy bread… Whilst one side is uncooked. Just use a little nutmeg, as eating nutmeg is toxic and eating a lot of this could be harmful to your health – especially for pregnant women.


Grate the nutmeg onto the uncooked/eggy side of the bread before turning over.

Once the bread is cooked, and has turned golden on one side, turn over and repeat on the other side. Your bread should now look like this…


… beautiful, golden eggy cinnamon bread!

Depending on how much eggy cinnamon bread you are making, it’s going to be best to do them in batches and keep the cooked batches warm. So place the cooked eggy cinnamon breads on a plate or baking tray and place in the oven on a low heat – approx 50 degrees will be fine.


In a large pan place the punnet of washed raspberries, to this add 1 tbsp of sugar. Cook this on quite a high heat for about 5 – 10 minutes, or until the sugar dissolves, the raspberries break up and the juice reduces a little bit. Place in a mug/jug/cup and serve on the side of your eggy cinnamon bread. Place the other 1 tbsp of sugar in a cup and allow your breakfast guests to sprinkle over there eggy cinnamon bread! YUM!


Serve and ENJOY!

Alternatively you could serve the raspberries cold on the side of the dish and sprinkle over a little sugar. The choice is yours.

Alternatively (take 2) you could use a different fruit such as blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, cranberries or gooseberries!  You could use a selection of these, or just one or you could mix it up and use a different one each time you make this dish… it’s exciting isn’t it!

Most of all, enjoy your breakfast/brunch and ensure you get lots of praise and thanks from your dinner guests.

ABC, 1..2..3… with SIXTEEN SiZzLinG Sausages, sizzling in a pan…

21 May

photo‘Why am I calling this an ABC recipe?’ I hear you ask… well… this recipe was sent to me by Anna Buttery and it’s a Casserole!  But making this recipe is also as simple as ABC, 1… 2… 3.  The ingredient list looks lengthy and potentially quite ambitious, but I assure you it isn’t really.  It is all about having the confidence to ‘have a go’ and even if you don’t do everything to the letter, it doesn’t matter as with something as simple as a casserole you can’t really fail.

Follow these simple steps and make a delicious, hearty dinner that you will be extremely proud to show off to your friends and family.  I made it this weekend after Anna recommended it to me, as my parents were visiting London and I had them and 2 hungry house-mates to feed, so the 5 of us sat down to dinner and really enjoyed this meal.  The herbs, wine and balsamic vinegar gave the casserole a fabulous flavour and I found that the recipe wasn’t too expensive make, so I could happily feed everyone for under £10.

I bought some garlic bread and baking potatoes (which I roasted in the oven at the same time as the casserole) as my carbohydrate and they complimented the dish well.  On finishing the meal I still had 4 sausages left, so I had 2 meals for work too.  Just sublime!

PREPARATION TIME: 20 minutes (including cooking the sausages)

COOKING TIME: 1.5 hours

MAKES: 8 portions (to feed your family, or to freeze)

COST PER PORTION: 91p… this gives everyone 2 sausages, lots of beans and casserole sauce and if you then add a carbohydrate to this you want to add an extra 25p per person for a potato or some garlic bread or maybe even some rice.


  • 16 Cumberland sausages – I bought 3 packs from Sainsbury’s for £5 and used 2 packs, using these offers is a great way to save money – £3.34
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes – 69p
  • 1 bag Sainsbury’s cherry tomatoes – £1
  • 200g tomato passata – 24p
  • 3 gloves of chopped/crushed garlic – 4p
  • 4 whole garlic cloves – 5p
  • 2 large onions (red or white)
  • 2 rosemary sprigs – from my garden so free to me!
  • 1tbsp fresh thyme – also from my garden so free to me!
  • 1 can of cannellini beans – 69p
  • 1 can of baked beans – any brand will do, I had a spare tin of Heinz, Branston are cheaper and have more flavour but the Sainsbury’s own are the cheapest, so the choice is yours – 70p
  • 150ml Red wine – only use this if you have a leftover bottle lying around, I did so this went in.  If I hadn’t I would not have opened a bottle for this, as I just cannot afford to.  For this reason, and because we are using up leftovers this is pretty much a freebie!
  • 4 tbsp balsamic vinegar – 30p
  • 1 red chilli with seeds or 3 tsp chilli powder – this is a store cupboard ingredient, or if you have a chilli plant in the garden it’s pretty much free!
  • 1 tsp paprika – this is a store cupboard ingredient, so we don’t need to include this in the costings.
  • 1 Kallo stock cube – beef or pork is fine, use Kallo as they are organic, have less salt and more flavour, cheaper stock cubes mean you are paying for expensive salt! – 12p
  • 2 stalks of celery – 10p
  • 100 ml water – if you do not use the red wine increase this to 200ml


So, the first thing to do is to cook the sausages! Lets get them going in the frying pan, turning them a quarter turn ever couple of minutes so that they become nice and golden/brown all over.  This should take about 10 minutes.  Once done remove them from the pan and place them on a plate to rest.  Do not throw all the ‘sausage juice’ left in the pan away, as this is where most of our flavour is going to come from.


…my sixteen sizzling sausages, sizzling in the pan!

Next, peel and chop the onions in to 8ths and separate a little.  Throw these into the pan with all the sausage juice and cook until golden.  To this add the little pieces of celery, the chopped/crushed garlic and then the pressed, whole garlic cloves in their skin. Cook for 3 – 4 minutes and then add the chilli, the chopped up rosemary, the thyme (leaves only, not the twig bits as these will get stuck in your teeth).  Cut the cherry tomatoes in halves and then add to the pan and leave for another 5 minutes.  Now add the balsamic vinegar and the red wine and allow to cook for a further 5 minutes.  IMG_5414

Finally add the stock cube, the tin of chopped tomatoes, the baked beans and the cannellini beans.  I would also add the water at this stage, as in the oven the sauce will reduce somewhat and you don’t want a dry casserole!


Stack the sausages, as per the picture in your casserole dish.  This will allow the sauce to get in between the sausages and allow everything to mingle nicely together.  To this add the casserole sauce, and if there are any sausage juices on the plate where the sausages have been resting, put these into the casserole and mix a little.  It should look a little bit like this now…


Cover this with tin-foil and bake in the oven at 180 degrees for an hour.  If you want a jacket potato wrap this in foil and put this in the oven now too. For the last 30 minutes remove the tinfoil, reduce the heat in the oven to about 140/150 degrees and allow some of the liquid to evaporate off.  The sauce will become all sticky and gooey in this time and become extra tasty.  Now you are ready to serve – with the carbohydrate of your choice.  YUMMY.


The final casserole… all scrummy and ready to eat. It may look like an ordinary casserole, but believe me it’s a taste sensation. THANK YOU ANNA BUTTERY xxx

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to ME… It’s my birthday MONTH… so let’s eat cake & celebrate!

15 May

IMG_5335This month is my birthday month… so it’s only right to celebrate with cakes and lots of them.  All my friends will testify that I am the baker and for everyone’s birthday I always provide a cake.  I love making them, giving them and generally spreading the LOVE.  Which neatly takes me onto the cakes I made last night for the girls.  I decided (on getting home from work) that I would just quickly rustle something up and 45 minutes later (including decoration time) the cakes were made… and they tasted scrummy!

In true ‘gemsfoodgems’ style I decided to make these cakes healthier than just a normal sponge cake/cupcake, so I rifled through the baking cupboard (yes we have one of these in our house) and decided to change my normal recipe for this one… (see below).  The dark brown sugar gives quite a ‘fruity’, ‘rich’ taste and the wholemeal flour increases the fibre content but also makes it a slightly less ‘airy’ sponge.  Its a little more doughy and it tastes luxurious.

I then went to town on the decoration with a block of regal icing, some white chocolate icing tubes and some coloured sprinkles and (without blowing my own trumpet) I created a little bit of a masterpiece…

… quick, simple, pretty, yummy cakes.  What more could a girl want?

MAKES: 12 small buns


  • 5 minutes to make the cake mixture.
  • 30 minutes to decorate the cakes, depending on how elaborate you want the cakes to look.

COOKING TIME: 15 minutes


For the cakes…

  • 100g margarine
  • 100g dark brown muscavado sugar
  • 2 free range eggs
  • 50g plain self raising flour
  • 50g self raising wholemeal flour
  • 12 cake/bun cases

For the decoration…

  • 100g ready-to-roll regal icing
  • 10 – 15 drops pink food colouring
  • 1 tube of white chocolate icing (or any icing tube you have)
  • 1 pot of multi-coloured sprinkles
  • 1 love heart stencil/cutter (or you can freehand like I did)


Preheat the oven to 180 degrees / gas mark 4 and place the cake cases in a small bun tray – they are about half the size of a muffin case/muffin tray.

First cream together the margarine and the dark brown muscavado sugar in a large bowl.

Next break the 2 eggs into the margarine and sugar and mix together well.

Sieve the white flour and the wholemeal flour into the mix and stir in until there are no lumps of flour left.  You will need to stir right down to the base of the bowl, to ensure that you have got all the flour mixed in.

Place a dessert spoon size of mixture into each cake case and then bake in the oven for 15 minutes.  Insert a knife/skewer into the cake and if it comes out clean then the cakes are cooked.  If not pop them back into the oven for 2 – 3 minutes and test again.  Carefully remove the buns/cakes from the tray and place on a baking tray to cool.

Whilst the cakes cook, you can start preparing the decorations.  Cut approx. 100g of icing off the block of regal icing, cling-film the rest tightly and you can save this for another baking day.  Add 10 – 15 drops of food colouring (start with 10 first) and then start folding the icing over the colouring using your fingers until it is all mixed in.  The colouring/icing will start to marble at first but just carry on.  If the colour is as dark as you want it then fine, if not add some more colouring and continue.

Your hands may be warm and starting to feel a little sticky.  The ONLY thing to stop this is cornflour, so sprinkle some of this over your worktop/table and rub some into your hands.

Place the ball of coloured icing in the centre of your workspace and cover with a little cornflour, turn over and repeat.  Rub cornflour all over your rolling pin and then gently begin to roll the icing.  Roll 3 times and then turn 90 degrees – this will keep the icing loose and prevent it from sticking.  You will also need to keep rubbing cornflour underneath the icing to ensure that it isn’t sticking, so do this each time you turn it.

Personally I don’t like extremely thick layers of icing, especially not on such a small cake (its also pure sugar, so its not exactly healthy!) so roll the icing out until it is about 3mm thick.  If you want to copy my patterns, then use this love heart below (print out the stencil) and cut it out the gently place on the icing and using a sharp knife cut around the template.


Perfect sized love heart for the top of your little bun/cake.  Print this off, cut around it and use it as your template.

Once you have cut out the love heart shape, gently free and place to one side.  Make 12 of these and then once the cakes are cooled you can get creative and start decorating your cakes.  So, squeeze a pea sized amount of the white chocolate icing, from the tube onto the top of your cake and then place the love heart on top of this.  Then you can use the white chocolate icing and sprinkles to decorate as you please.  These are some of the designs I made…


Use the white chocolate icing to make a little ‘u’ shape in the corner of the love heart, following the outline of the love heart and then sprinkle lots of sprinkles across the top, then pour the rest off, back into the pot.


Follow the outline of the love heart, about 5mm in from the edge with the white chocolate icing. Place sprinkles all over the top (a lot of them) and then pour back into the pot.


You could write some letters using the white chocolate icing. I wrote the word LOVE and then apply the sprinkles and shake off, back into the pot.


You could even stray of the love heart path and make something else, like this bow. Its simple and easy… you need 2 tails, one bow shape and one thin piece to put in the centre. Done. Glue onto the cake with the white chocolate icing and then you can decorate with icing and sprinkles as you like!

The most important stage of all though is in the eating… so give to your family and friends.  Impress them with your skills and ENJOY eating your cakes, with love and birthday greetings from gemsfoodgems.



I’m not French but French Onion soup I am… with very scrummy, very cheesy *CHEESE CROUTONS*

8 May


From the feedback I have received for my last post in my ‘Living Below the Line’ series, I decided to make a slightly more ‘extravagant’ version of my French Onion Soup, for those of us who would like to indulge a little bit and eat this soup like the French do… with CHEESY CROUTONS.  The best cheese to use for this is a traditional Gruyère cheese, as this has a rich cheesy flavour with a stringy, soft texture (when melted).

When I was in Paris last year, I made sure that I had this soup as a starter or as my lunch each day.  I wanted to see how different restaurants made it and after ordering it for my lunch on the first day, and trying the traditional soup for the first time I was not only delighted, but I was hooked. It was THE most incredible French onion soup I had ever eaten and I have wanted to recreate it for a while now, but haven’t dared in case I did not do it justice.  But, this recipe was amazing and it took me straight back to my first day in Paris.


COOKING TIME: 1.5 hours

MAKES: 4 portions


  • 3 large white onions
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 40g butter 
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 2 tsp brown sugar
  • 2.5 pints of boiling hot water
  • 275ml white wine (this is a really important ingredient to get a really authentic tasting soup)
  • 2 beef stock cubes
  • approx. 1 tsp black pepper (or to taste)
  • 1 small ciabatta bread
  • 80g Gruyere cheese


Let’s start by preparing the onions.  So, chop in half, peel and then slice.  We are going to make half moons of the onion so that we have large pieces of onion in our soup. Delicious.  The onions are the star of the show after all.

Heat the oil and the butter in a pan until the butter has melted and then add the onions and cook on a high heat.  You will need to keep stirring this and then letting it cook for a minute, stir, cook, stir cook so that the onions do not stick, but just allowing them enough time to soften and caramelise.  Once the edges of the onion are just starting to become golden, like this…

soup 1

.. the onions with the butter and the oil, just becoming golden around the edges.

We can move onto the next stage where we are going to get as much flavour from the onions as we possibly can.  So, we need to pay close attention to the onions as they could burn and if that happens we will have to start again from scratch.  We are going to turn the heat down to low – as low as it will go and allow the onions to cook for a couple of minutes and then stir and repeat.  Ensure you are scraping the bottom of the pan each time you stir to make sure NOTHING is stuck to the bottom.  After half an hour the onions should be golden brown and have reduced to quite a small quantity in the bottom of the pan.  If this is the case you are ready to add the stock.  If not, keep going for another 10 minutes or so.

Now add the 2.5 pints of boiling water, the 275ml of white wine and the 2 beef stock cubes.  Turn the heat up to high and once the stock cubes are dissolved and the soup is at a rolling boil reduce the heat to low and allow it to reduce for 45 minutes.  This will allow the soup to thicken a little as the volume of liquid reduces.

soup 2

The onions have coloured the soup and added a fantastic deep brown/golden colour to the soup. The stock cubes, water, wine and pepper have now been added and we are ready to reduce the soup for 45 minutes.

Whilst the soup reduces, slice the ciabatta bread to create giant croutons – if you are making this soup to serve 4 people I would make 8 croutons, therefore 8 slices of ciabatta, so that everyone gets 2 croutons. Ciabatta bread is the best to use as it is a slightly more hardy bread… if you were to use white sliced bread it would completely disintegrate in the soup and you would be left with crouton mush.

Place these onto a baking tray and grill, until they are just slightly golden.  Turn over and repeat on the other side.  Whilst the croutons are being toasted you can grate approx. 80g of Gruyere cheese.  If you use the smallest grater this will be best as the cheese will melt more quickly.  Once the croutons are toasted remove them from underneath the grill (using your oven gloves) and sprinkle with approx. 10g of cheese on each one.  Place back under the grill until the cheese is melted.

Once you have reduced the soup and it is looking thicker than when you first added the stock, then you are ready to serve the soup.  Use a ladle to spoon the soup out into the bowl and then place 2 croutons in the centre of the bowl.  You are now ready to eat… ENJOY!


My version of French Onion Soup with Gruyere cheese, CHEESY CROUTONS.

I thought I would take the opportunity to show you a few little snaps from my trip to Paris… and most importantly the French Onion Soup from the *Cafe du Centre* – it was truly incredible.  I hope this recipe inspires you to make this soup.  It is a real treat and not too indulgent if you are watching your waistline.

Cafe Paris French Onion 1 Me ParisLou Paris

Live Below the Line – Part 2: I’m not French but French Onion soup I am…

6 May

french onion 1My first recipe in this series came in a lot higher than I wanted it to, so I thought I would maybe try a soup next.  This has coincided with me having a real craving for French Onion Soup and my reminiscing about my trip to Paris last year, where I ate possibly the best French Onion Soups I will ever eat.  This soup is also a firm favourite of my fathers, so I am writing about this in the hope that it will a) cost a lot less than my first recipe; b) be incredibly tasty and my father will also be inspired to make it; and c) that the flavours will take me back to Paris, if only for the evening and within my memories.

This soup is traditionally served with Gruyère cheese croutons on the top of it, but as we are living on £1 a day I think we are going to have to forgo the croûtons and simply enjoy this delicious soup.  I have added some black pepper and thyme to the recipe to increase the flavour, in the hope that we won’t miss the croûtons to much.  Let’s have a go…


COOKING TIME: 1.5 hours

MAKES: 6 portions

COST: 29p – I am much happier with the cost of this recipe, it is all about portion size and eating a little less.  Ideally this soup would feed 4 people, but we are stretching out to serve 6 in order to keep the cost a little lower.  You could have my couscous for lunch and this soup for dinner and still have 12p left for breakfast and snacks.


  • 4 large white onions – £1 for the 3 onions from Sainsbury’s local, however you could get these much cheaper in a local grocery store.  I needed 4 onions so this cost me £1.33
  • 1tbsp olive oil – this is a store cupboard ingredient, so we are not going to include this.  Granted you would have to buy this at some point and it is quite expensive, but for the sake of this challenge, we are going to have to cut a couple of corners, sorry.  You don’t NEED this, so if you are low on olive oil you can leave this out.
  • 35g butter – Asda own brand butter is £1 for 250g, so this is a snip at 14p
  • 3 cloves of garlic, roasted – it was 20p for the bulb and 2 cloves will set you back a mere 3p
  • 2 tsp brown sugar – at Tesco I found dark brown sugar for £1.39 per 500g, so this will be approx. 2p
  • 2 tsp plain white flour – 1.5kg of Asda Smartprice flour is a mere 40p, so a couple of teaspoons of this will be about 2p
  • 3 pints of boiling hot water – free… woooo!
  • 2 beef stock cubes – it is always best to buy in bulk, so if we get a large packet of these which include 24 cubes, one cube will set us back 9p and 2 cubes will therefore be 18p
  • approx. 1 tsp black pepper – free… this is a store cupboard ingredient
  • 1 tbsp freshly picked thyme leaves – free… wooo!  I am lucky enough to have these in my garden, so I am going to pick theses and use these.  I know not everyone can do this, but if not then it isn’t an essential ingredient so you can leave it out.


Let’s start by preparing the onions.  So, chop in half, peel and then slice.  We are going to make half moons of the onion so that we have large pieces of onion in our soup. Delicious.  The onions are the star of the show after all.  Now heat the oil and the butter in a pan until the butter has melted and then add the onions and cook on a high heat.  You will need to keep stirring this and then letting it cook for a minute, stir, cook, stir cook so that the onions do not stick, but just allowing them enough time to cook.  Once the edges of the onion are just starting to become golden, like this…

soup 1

.. the onions with the butter and the oil, just becoming golden around the edges.

We can move onto the next stage where we are going to get as much flavour from the onions as we possibly can.  So, we need to pay close attention to the onions as they could burn and if that happens we will have to start again from scratch.  We are going to turn the heat down to low – as low as it will go and allow the onions to cook for a couple of minutes and then stir and repeat.  Ensure you are scraping the bottom of the pan each time you stir to make sure NOTHING is stuck to the bottom.  After half an hour the onions should be golden brown and have reduced to quite a small quantity in the bottom of the pan.  If this is the case you are ready to add the flour.

Add the 2 tsp of flour and stir it into the onions so that there are no lumps.  Now add the thyme, pepper, cook for 2 minutes and then add the boiling water and the 2 stock cubes crumbled up.  Ensure everything is mixed together well and then turn the heat back up.  Once this is on a rolling boil reduce the heat to low and allow it to reduce for 45 minutes.

soup 2

The onions have coloured the soup and added a fantastic deep brown/golden colour to the soup. The stock cubes, thyme, flour and pepper have now been added and we are ready to reduce the soup for 45 minutes.

Once you have reduced the soup and it is looking thicker than when you first added the stock, then you are ready to serve the soup.  Enjoy!

french onion 2

The tastiest soup I have had in a while… YUM!!

(If you have had a very low cost lunch you could stretch to a slice of toast with this… but no butter and please ensure it’s wholemeal bread.)

…a little less frugal and a lot more indulgent *ROASTED VEG, CHICKPEA & FETA COUSCOUS*

6 May

couscous 1

I love the roasted vegetable couscous recipe I uploaded yesterday, as a potential recipe in my ‘living below the poverty line on £1 a day challenge’, but as I mentioned there are a few things I would do differently if I were not trying to cut corners and make this recipe as cheap as I possibly could.

I understand and appreciate that there are people in our country who are not as fortunate as I perhaps am, and would only just be able to afford my 59p recipe never-mind this slightly more indulgent recipe.  But yesterday I was thinking to myself what the cost of a bottle of water is in my local supermarket (approx. 89p) and what I paid last week for a lemon water drink (£1.95) when I was gasping for a drink in central London and it was all I could find.

I was actually pretty shocked at this and thought if I am paying £1.95 for a drink which lasted me half an hour and simply quenched my thirst, then surely I could spend a little more to make this lunch even more healthy, nutritious and enjoyable whilst still only spending a pound or so a day for my lunches.

I have friends who pop to Pret each day for a sandwich, drink and bag of crisps, this must cost around £7 each day?  And, I know others who pop to our local salad bar at lunch for a £4.50 a day salad.  None of these my budget will allow for, but this recipe with a few additions it will, so by goodness I am going to go all out!  Get ready folks we are about to get a little more jazzy with the couscous…


COOKING TIME: 30 minutes

MAKES: 4 portions

COST: £1.07 per portion – which is quite a significant difference to my £0.59 recipe, but it is still much better than buying one drink for £1.95 or lunch for £4.50.  Eating this for lunch for 4 days would be do-able and actually it would make for a cheap lunch, in comparison to what you could be paying for this in a restaurant.


  • 250g couscous – this costs £1.25 in Tesco’s for 500g, so although you would need to buy the whole bag, you would only need half of it, which would make it 63p . Try to find the whole-wheat version for a slightly healthier version.
  • 1 and a half red peppers – now this cost me 80p per pepper as I bought it from my local Sainsbury’s.  You could shop around for this and get it for a lot cheaper in a local grocery shop or market stall (the bowls of peppers for £1 will get you 3 or 4 peppers). Mine cost me £1.20.
  • 2 red onions – look through all the bags/onions and ensure you get a large one if they are all the same price, this is what I do!  60p
  • 2 courgettes – I bought a packet with 2 courgettes in for £1
  • 1/2 a tin of chickpeas (200g) – I shopped around for these a little and found them at Asda for 62pI think these may be cheaper to buy somewhere like Aldi.  It is much cheaper to buy these dry and soak them yourself, though this will add some extra time to the preparation of this recipe, as they will need to be soaked overnight. So these cost me 36p.
  • 1/2 a lemon – it was 30p for a whole one (again shop around and you will get this cheaper!) 15p
  • 2 cloves of garlic – the bulb was 20p so approx. 2p
  • 1 stock cube – it was £1.09 for 8 stock cubes so this makes it 14p per stock cube
  • 300ml boiling hot water – this one you can have for free as we all have the right to water and I am sure you can make it hot (there has to be some cutting of corners here)
  • 80g of vintage/aged feta cheese – I have choose a vintage version of this as it will have a deeper/stronger flavour and therefore you will need less cheese to get the flavour and consequently it will be slightly healthier.  Feta cheese is quite expensive, but the cheapest I have found was in Waitrose (ummmmm I know!) for £1.69 for 250g, so for this recipe I spent 54p
  • 15 mint leaves – very specific I know, but if you roll these up like a cigar and then finely chop them, they are an excellent flavour enhancer, but too much and we have mint couscous and nothing else.  A bag of mint leaves was 80p, so use about 1/3 of this and it will cost approx. 26p
  • 1 tbsp olive oil – this is a general store cupboard ingredient so we aren’t going to cost this one (as I am also running out of money!)
  • 2 tsp chilli flakes (again a store cupboard ingredient!)
  • 2 tsp paprika (store cupboard ingredient)


First we need to make the couscous, so make up the stock using boiling water and dissolving the stock cube in this.  Then weigh out the couscous, place in a large bowl and pour the stock over the top.  Cover with a clean tea towel and place to one side.

Wash the vegetables and then chop them into slices… they can be left quite large at this stage.  Peel the garlic cloves, peel the onion and chop into quarters and leave in its quarters (otherwise it will burn).  Drizzle with 1 tbsp olive oil, 2 tsp chilli flakes and 2 tsp of paprika and rub together to ensure all the ingredients are coated in spices and oil.

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Roughly chopped vegetables coated in olive oil, paprika and chilli flakes.

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes until all the vegetables are soft, slightly brown/golden but definitely not burnt.  Allow them to cool, whilst you use a fork to break up the couscous, mix this well and then we can ‘mince’ all of the vegetables.

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… beautifully roasted vegetables – even if I do say so myself!

Mincing is a chopping technique, so place all your vegetables (and garlic) onto a chopping board and then, using a large knife ‘rock’ the knife over the top of them in different directions, until all the vegetables are finely diced/minced.  Add these to the couscous.

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My roasted vegetables once ‘minced’… look at those fabulous colours. YUM!

Now we are going to make the dressing, so in a small bowl zest 1/2 the lemon, then roll it on your chopping board using the palm of your hand to release the juices.  Chop in half and squeeze the juice of 1/2 a lemon into the bowl.  To this add 1 tbsp olive oil and mix well.  Roll your mint leaves into a cigar shape and then finely chop these, you can use the rocking technique to make them even smaller and then add to the olive oil and lemon mixture. Pour this over the vegetables and the couscous, then open your tin of chickpeas, drain, add to the mix.

Finally crumble your 80g of feta cheese into the couscous, mix well and then we are DONE!  Now you can enjoy this lovely hearty roasted vegetable couscous…


From humble beginnings to a delicious, nutritious meal with all of our food groups… dairy, carbohydrates, protein, fruit and vegetables; and a little fat/sugars, but good fats from the olive oil. DONE!