“Serge, we have to stop spending all our money at the Ritz”, I say, but he ignores me, puts his shades on and stares out of the window at the rain. On the table, a game of Five Hundred is underway. The playing cards are soft and creased at the corners. Serge lights another cigarette. I sigh. I wish we had some food to eat, but we’re starving artists. I consider him. Serge loves me, I muse idly, but he doesn’t respect me. Outside, rain falls on the rooftops of the Rue de la Murmuhurmurhur.
Yes. When I’m broke, I daydream that it’s only because I’m dedicated to my art, my tricky and radical art, which is sadly unappreciated by the masses. Also, Serge has expensive tastes, which makes it difficult to budget.
As well as daydreaming, I also take guidance from Delia, as is right in lean times.
Which Delia do you prefer? 1990s Delia with her chic, minimalist boil-an-egg cuisine? Or strident, opinionated 1970s Delia, enamoured of margarine, encouraging ‘housewives’ (as she heartily addresses her readers) to present their families with a diet of saturated fat and potatoes? I know which one I prefer. Mmm potatoes. This week I’ve been living it up like it’s 1976, with the help of this book, which I picked up in a charity shop for 99p:
Delia first offers a gentle upbraiding, in which she instructs us to remember that ‘the less you have of something, the more special it is’, and moreover, when cooking frugally, ‘we shall still be well-off compared with the greater part of the world, which is not to say that we should feel guilty about cooking good food, but rather that we should have some responsibility to make the most of it and not squander it’.
Truly she’s got style. This month I’ve been living on a very small budget, and this precise and unassuming philosophy of Delia’s has meant that the eating has been plentiful and rich: Bolognese, fried fish, fluffy homemade cakes, and butter in just about everything. She hilariously dismisses nutritionists as talking a load of nonsense, and proceeds to offer the most heart-poundingly fattening meals imaginable. But hey, this was the 1970s. It was an alarming time. For a week living on very little money, I feel like I’ve been fed like royalty.
Below are my favourites. If you make a batch of each of these and freeze some dinners and lunches in advance, I’m sure you could dine for very little indeed. To balance out the richness of all this, I’ve been snacking on crudités (I believe that’s the French word for raw carrots).
Haddock fried in oatmeal
Delia suggests herring (cheaper) but I got some discounted smoked haddock, which worked a treat. Like really posh fish fingers, but much healthier.
Season the oatmeal (I used Tesco value porridge oats) with salt and black pepper. Wash and dry the fish fillet and press it into the oats until coated. Get a pan of butter hot and sizzling and then fry the fish for a good long while. It will make a lovely crackling sound while it’s cooking. Serve with sticky brown rice and some finely chopped spring onions. Pour the excess butter over the rice. I have heard my dad go off in to an extended reverie about herring fried in oatmeal, and now, I get it. Heavenly stuff.
Alternatively, serve with potatoes for the ultimate Presbyterian experience.
Cheap but bonafide: this is the real deal, because it includes liver. I realise the world is divided into everyone who hates liver and about 3 people who think it’s almost acceptable, but stick with me here. Offal will have it’s day. (A catchy slogan, no? No.) Liver is, obviously, iron rich and full of vitamins, and it makes Bolognese taste fairly luxurious. Probably not one to prepare if you’re squeamish, though. Just watch you don’t get blood everywhere (muhuhaha).
Heat a pan of oil and fry some chopped streaky bacon, garlic and finely chopped onion, until the onion is soft, and then add about 250g lean mince and the chopped liver. Stir swiftly until the meat has browned, then add a tin of chopped tomatoes, about 3 tablespoons of tomato puree, and some seasoning (salt and pepper, basil, red wine if you’re Serge). Let it simmer for half an hour until nicely concentrated. Serve with brown rice and side salad to be healthy, or alternatively, serve with potatoes.
My own potato recipe
Finally, let’s get down to business. If you have attempted a week of cheap eating by buying 1kg of potatoes, now is your time to shine. For a break from protein rich meals, here’s a fresh, clean-tasting potato salad recipe. Slice potatoes and boil them, then drain. Finely chop a raw courgette and add to a bowl with a squeeze of fresh lemon, salt, pepper, and butter. Add the still-hot potatoes and give it a good stir until the butter has melted. Simple but utterly delicious, and raw courgettes give it a bit of bite. When you’re rich, you can add chicken, or indeed, solid bars of gold, like they don’t even matter to you.
The best lemon drizzle cake recipe ever.
I’ve included this one (at the link above) for a way of using up leftovers. Firstly, there is absolutely no other recipe in the entire world that you could make with an excess of eggs and lemons, which would be edible. This is the only one. Go forth with your baking tin and spatula. Secondly, lemon drizzle cake is the nicest cake in the world. Thirdly, I love the wholesomeness of baking a cake to add to the week’s eating, like it’s perfectly standard to always have a big cake on standby. Just in case you have to impress at the school fete, or something. Obviously I’ll just be impressing myself, and then eating it all.
Lastly, I leave you with the advert on the back of Delia Smith’s Frugal Food, for another book she brought out, back in the day. Delia sees that you’re single, and she wants you to know that it’s ok. Set the table for one, and dine alone again.