When I left my job 8 weeks ago a lot of people said I was mad.
I will admit to feeling a certain amount of trepidation about it. Would I miss the thrill of the weekly status meeting? The quick-fire wit of a high octane conference call? The unparalleled joy of approving a logo on a Monday morning? Well, you’ll be pleased to hear that the answer is a resounding “nope”, “not a bit” and “aha aha ha ha ha ha ha!”.
But, one thing I was a bit worried about was how I was going to cope with having to curb my spending. While I’ve never really bought designer clothes or wanted a collection of It Bags, I did have a pretty bad Ocado habit coupled with a low-level deli addiction and a restaurant-obsession that necessitated significant and sustained investment. I found it appallingly easy to blow £150 on one Ocado delivery and still not be able to find anything for dinner 2 days later. I’d often find myself deliriously handing over mountains of cash for fennel-y sausages, nettle-flavoured-spaghetti and aged pecorino from Italian delis. And of course, it couldn’t continue…
So I now have a tiny weekly food budget and have to stick to it. And I have to say, it has actually been alright. Verging on the enjoyable actually! Fruit and veg from Whitechapel market is my best bargain – you can get massive bunches of coriander and mint for £1, big bags of red onions/peppers/carrots/whatever for less than £1 – it’s brilliant. And I’ve been pleasantly surprised by affordable meat. There are loads of cheap cuts of meat in the supermarket that are delicious and easy to cook. Chicken livers are amazingly cheap (a pack is only about £1 – even from Waitrose!) and super-tasty, a lot of the slow-cooking cuts of meat are really flavoursome like stewing steak or ham hocks and even chicken thighs which are so much tastier than more-expensive chicken breasts.
But sometimes you want something quick and easy that doesn’t need cooking for hours. So I’d recommend trying lamb neck fillets – they are cheap, but very tender and tasty – I bought enough for 4 people for about £5 from the butchers counter at Sainsburys, so I reckon you could get them for less from a proper butchers. I marinated mine in pomegranate syrup and then griddled them until blackened on the outside but nice and pink inside. I served it with red pepper, red onion and pomegranate couscous, a spoonful of creme fraiche and a sprinkle of dill and a pinch of sumac. A really yummy and quick dinner that looks quite pretty too!
Pomegranate lamb with red pepper couscous
2 lamb neck fillets (probably enough for 4 if thinly sliced after cooking)
Pomegranate syrup (you can get this in the supermarket now)
1 fresh pomegranate
2 red peppers
2 garlic cloves
1 red onion
Teaspoon of Ras Al Hanout (Moroccan spice blend)
Enough chicken stock to cover the couscous
Pinch of sumac (tangy, lemony spice)
An hour before dinner put the lamb fillets in a bowl and squirt some pomegranate syrup over the meat, move the pieces around covering the fillets in syrup, cover the bowl and leave to marinate at room temperature for an hour. After an hour, get the griddle pan on the heat. Heat the chicken stock in a saucepan. Blister the 2 red peppers (I do this on the gas hob, it sends the smoke alarm loopy), wait until cool and rub off the blackened skin. Pop in the blender with 2 garlic cloves, teaspoon of Ras Al Hanout and the hot chicken stock. Blend making sure you hold a tea towel over the top of the blender as the heat will force a lid off. Pour enough dried couscous into a large bowl and cover with the red pepper/chicken stock liquid and then cover the bowl with a plate for a few minutes. Meanwhile slice a red onion, brush with oil and place on the griddle. (More smoke alarm mayhem will ensue). When they’re charred on both sides thrown them into the couscous along with the seeds from one fresh pomegranate – fluff up the couscous with a fork and season. Put the lamb on the griddle pan and leave to blacken for about 4 minutes on each side – because of the sugar in the syrup the lamb will go very black but don’t panic, the charred bits are delicious. (Smoke alarm may pack bags and leave in despair at this point). Slice the lamb into thin slices and arrange on top of a scoop of the couscous with a spoonful of creme fraiche, a sprinkle of dill and a pinch of sumac.