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Live Below the Line: Tasty vegetable & BARLEY (but a little bit ugly) SOUP, ready for winter…July

28 Jun

20130628-070300.jpgSoup… a way to save money, loose a little weight and boost my vegetable intake.  So, why not!  I love soup, I really really do.  I hate soup when my tuppawear opens and it leaks all over my bag, but this is a very rare occurance and it is the ONLY time I dislike soup.  I cannot think of any reason why people should not make it and eat it in summer… it lasts in the fridge, the taste increases (for the better) overtime and I just love it… as I am sure you will to.

I think soup is a traditionally quite a nothern staple.  I know as a little girl we were served a smooth vegetable soup as soon as my mum thought one of us had even a slight cold (evidenced by a little cough or a sneeze that she noticed and prayed upon).  Rather than it being a torturous occasion to have this soup, we would relish it and if we were really good mum would either make some homemade bread to go with it, some baked chicken wings or (my personal favourite) a little cheese on toast.  I have  (over the years of living away from home) tended to experiment with soups and now, as an adult, see them as a great way to boost my vitamins, minerals and even my fibre intake – with added pearl barley.  I am also more than happy to order them for dinner in a restaurant, as they are generally inexpensive, heart warming and really really filling.

I love pearl barley, nearly as much as I love soup.  It really bulks out a dish, but it is a wholegain and is great for your digestive system, as it is high in fibre and wholegrain goodness (extra B vitamins and some essential fatty acids).  It is also very cheap and if fills me up, so there is not much more that I could want from a food product!  If you haven’t cooked with it before, there really is no need to worry.  It is extremly simple to use, you just need to ensure you cook it until it is soft (like rice!).

I have decided to make this recipe a part of my ‘Live Below the Line’ series, as it really is THAT cheap to make.  You don’t even have to add the chicken (maybe just add some more veg if you don’t) but if you don’t have a lot of money and want something wholesome, healthy and low in calories, high in nutrients then you really don’t have to look any further… here we go!


COOKING TIME:  45 minutes

MAKES: 4 portions

COST: 42p per portion (without the chicken it would be cheaper at 20p per portion)


  • 2 chicken thighs or 3 drumsticks (£3.00 for 6 thighs, so £1 for 2 – you could use a wing or drumstick, I prefer to buy de-boned thighs just to save me some time but using the drumsticks would cost about 88p)
  • 1 chicken stock cube (10p)
  • 2 carrots (12p)
  • 1 potato, or 5 new potatoes with the skin on (28p – see if you can buy them singulary or if there are any offers on large bags or reductions)
  • 1 large onion (if you buy a large bag of about 16 onions for £1 then use 2 of these as they are a little smaller – this will set you back about 12p)
  • 1 cup of pearl barley (59p for a 500g bag of this and you will need about 150g of dried pearl barley, so this will cost 17p)
  • Water (to cover, about a litre)
  • Black Pepper (to taste – a store cupboard ingredient)


The first thing to do is to finely dice your carrots and your onions and pop them in a large pan.  To this add a dash of olive oil and cook for 5 minutes until they are just start to soften.

Whilst the carrots and onions cook, soak the pearl barley in a bowl with boiling water and place to one side (for about 20 minutes).

Add the chicken, and the stock cube to the pan and then cover with water.  If you are using a medium sized pan, fill the pan until the water level comes to about 2cm below the top (it should be about a litre, but you may need more – it depends if you want a thick chunky soup or a slightly more watery, soup).  Place a lid on and bring to the boil.  Once boiling reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.  At this point the chicken should be cooked, so remove from the pan and place on a chopping board.  You need to cool the chicken down, so that you can shred it.  If you do this whilst it is still hot you will have very sore hands!

The pearl barley should now have softened a little, so pour into a sieve and then rinse until the water runs clear.  This will mean you have removed some of the starch, which is fine.  Add this to the soup and again return the soup to the boil.  Dice the potatoes (with the skins on for extra fibre) and then add to the pan.  You need to cook this until the pearl barley is soft… it’s a little like cooking rice.  If you don’t cook it through it has a hard centre which tastes bitty and unpleasant.  It will take about 20 to 30 minutes for the pearl barley to soften, so once boiling, reduce to a simmer and continue to cook.

Once the chicken is cooled, remove the skin and discard, then shred using a fork (or your fingers… after all they were they best tools we were born with) and then add this back into the soup.  Discard the bones and continue to cook the soup until all the vegetables etc. are soft.  I would add my pepper with about 5 – 10 minutes of the cooking time left and then taste to ensure I have added enough.

This soup should not be blended to a smooth consistency – which is why it is important to dice the vegetables nice and small.  Then serve… use a nice bowl to make it look a little prettier and if you wish serve with some nice chunky brown bread.  YUM!


The finished soup! I know it does not look that appetising, but that is because everything (the pearl barley) has sunk to the bottom and is all I could photograph was the watery soup… believe me it TASTES AMAZING!


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.)

Live Below the Line – Part 1: Roasted Veg & Chickpea Couscous

5 May

couscous 2I have been quite inspired this month hearing from friends and colleagues who are embarking on the challenge of living on £1 a day.  My initial thoughts were ‘pah… no way, I love food and I just could not do it’.  And then my mind started wandering and questioning my initial thinking…

… of the foods I make, how much do they actually cost per portion?  If I were to do this would I in effect be ‘dieting’ slightly?  Could this challenge be beneficial to my health?  I may eat more vegetables than I normally do? Other people have to do it, so why can’t I?  Could I help others who are have to live off £1 a day by providing some recipes? … and so it continued.

Having plagued myself with questions about the ‘living below the poverty line challenge’ for the last 2 weeks I have decided it may not be so bad after all and maybe, just maybe I could forgo some meals out with friends.  It would also help me save a little money on food and it would definitely be healthier, as I would not be able to eat very much cheese or cake and would need to use more vegetables and lentils.  So, when cooking dinner at home over the last week I have been pondering some of the more ‘simple’ recipes I make and really enjoy when times are getting slightly harder.  Such as my roasted vegetable couscous salad, pitta bread pizzas, quick pasta dishes and my all time favourite healthy/cheap meal in its self – soup.

I have decided to set myself the challenge of creating some healthy, meat free meals over the next few weeks, so I am going to be collecting a few of my favourite quick, easy and cheap recipes and trying them out, here, with you.  Ultimately some may not work and yes, I will be eating the resultant meal for the next week, but hey… we are living on a budget aren’t we folks?

If this all goes swimmingly and I find some lovely recipes (some will have to be desserts as I cannot live without the odd sweet treat) then I will complete the challenge myself in July and see if it is indeed possible when living in London, trying to be a sociable and seeing friends for drinks/dinner and simply enjoying life.  I think it may well be…

Without further ado, lets have a look at this little ROASTED VEGETABLE COUSCOUS recipe I love…


COOKING TIME: 30 minutes

MAKES: 5 portions

COST: 59p per portion (this is quite expensive, more so that I thought when embarking on this challenge… I am a little disappointed).


  • 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
  • 1 red pepper – now this cost me 80p as I bought it from my local Sainsbury’s.  Part of this challenge is definitely about where we shop, so perhaps we could shop around for this and get it for a lot cheaper in a local grocery shop?
  • 1 red onion – 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!  30p
  • 1 courgette – I bought one as the ones it packets all seemed smaller but more expensive, buying items when they are loose is definitely best for the budget, so this cost me 33p
  • 1 tin of chickpeas – I shopped around for these a little and found them at Asda for 62p.  I think these may be cheaper to buy somewhere like Aldi or Liddle.  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.
  • 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)
  • 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!)
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes (again a 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, 1tsp chilli flakes and rub together to ensure all the ingredients are coated in chilli and oil.

couscous 3

Roughly chopped vegetables coated in olive oil 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.

couscous 4

… 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.

couscous 5

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.  Pour this over the vegetables and the couscous, then open your tin of chickpeas, drain, add to the salad and we are DONE!  Now you can enjoy this lovely hearty roasted vegetable couscous…

couscous 6

Roasted Vegetable & Chickpea Couscous… DONE!


Overall the recipe looks and tastes great.  I am not sure I felt ‘full’ after eating this, but I think that, that is a feeling I will just have to get used to on the £1 a day diet.  If I were making this normally for my lunch/dinner I would probably have a little feta cheese with it (no more than 20g) or I would serve it alongside some chicken/fish (without the chickpeas).  So, it was a little odd eating it couscous alone for my lunch, though the chickpeas bulked the recipe out, filled me up a little more than just the vegetables and couscous would have done and added some much needed protein.  The flavours from the lemon, chilli, garlic and roasted vegetables really made this recipe tasty and delicious.

The overall cost has upset me… 59p per portion really is not good, as that leaves me 41p for the rest of the day.  I would have to ensure my dinner was very cheap (I am thinking a simple soup) and that my breakfast was a porridge without fruit.  I do however think that if I shopped around a little I could make this recipe much cheaper, so tomorrow I am going to pop to a fab little grocery shop near work and see if I can beat this budget.  I will update this recipe in due course.


I shall see if I can get all these ingredients cheaper and when/if I do, I shall update the recipe costs below.

Recipe one done!  Now… what next…