Vegan chocolate is much cheaper in bulk!

(Relatively speaking, that is.)

If you are a vegan/milk-avoider who enjoys chocolate you’ll know that it’s usually not cheap. It’s possible to buy 100g of plain Value/Basics chocolate for around 30p, but most of those contain milk (I’m told Morrisons sell a bar without milk listed in the ingredients) but when I tried a non-milky one several years ago I was not at all impressed with the taste. If you’re going to have a luxury food, it has to actually be a pleasure to eat, or what’s the point?

I’ve always been a fan of Plamil’s range of dark chocolate chips. If you buy a small pouch of their diary-free chocolate drops they’ll cost over £3 for 175g (you might think that’s reasonable if you only want a small amount, especially if you have allergies, as they’re made in a dedicated dairy and nut-free environment), but if you look at their bulk options the price gets a lot more attractive. They will sell you a kilo of organic, fairtrade baking chocolate drops for £8.63, so 86p per 100g. If you buy over £25 worth of goods, they don’t charge for postage. They also offer 10% off for first time orders, and once you’ve registered your email address with them (and this is what prompted this post – hey, direct mailings do sometimes work!) they also offer 10% off deals throughout the year, such as for this Bank Holiday weekend.

Where the savings really come in is when you start buying their catering packs of 7.5 kilos. At the moment they are selling  ‘Free From’ Baking chocolate drop Catering Packs of 7.5kg, 53% cocoa, for a reduced price of £45.89. Take 10% from that and it will cost £41.30, so 55p per 100g, for something that actually tastes nice eaten straight up. (NB – If you want 10% off you must either be a first-time customer or buy this weekend or the next time they run an offer!)

If you want fairtrade organic, the 7.5 kilo bulk boxes are £52.13 for the 53% stuff, which is £46.92 with 10% off, making 100g cost 62p.

It’s quite a bit of money to find in one go, but if you’ve got a cool dry place to store it chocolate will last for a long time. You can also split the cost of an order with one or more friends or neighbours.

I know I sound like a blaring advert for Plamil. I swear I am not affiliated with them in any way, I’ve just ordered from them several times and I’ve always been pleased with the service and pleased that I splashed out the money. That amount of chocolate will keep me going for more than a year and is brilliantly handy for making gifts for birthdays and festivals. When you consider how much a 100g bar of allergy-friendly chocolate normally costs, this seems a much better option in the long run.


Very easy chocolate muffins (vegan)

I don’t remember posting this recipe before, and that’s strange because it’s the easiest cake recipe I know and my go-to most of the time. Maybe I didn’t think it was worth posting because there are a huge number of vegan muffin recipes out there already, who needs another one, right? But this has been my favourite for many years because it’s so easy to remember the ratios that I never have to look it up. It’s also very pantry-friendly in terms of ingredients and it tastes good and chocolatey.

Very Easy Vegan Chocolate Muffins

The recipe below makes about 15 or 16 cupcake-sized muffins. (I quartered the recipe this evening and made 4 cupcake sized muffins by using a 1/4 cup but following the measurements as if it was a cup – it’s the ratio of ingredients that counts, that’s why you can make this recipe anywhere. I’ve made it with teacups or empty hummus containers before!). I guess this is similar to many wacky or dump cake recipes, but without the vinegar.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups self raising flour (or use plain flour and add a heaped teaspoon of baking powder)
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups water or non-dairy milk of choice. (Water lets the chocolate flavour shine through, milk mellows it.)
  • 1/2 cup neutral oil (I used canola/rapeseed)
  • pinch salt
  • vanilla extract/chocolate extract to taste. Suggest at least a teaspoon.
  • 1/2 cup add-ins – chocolate chips, walnuts, sultanas etc. (I used walnuts this time and sprinkled a few chocolate chips over the top)

Method:

Preheat the oven to 180/350/gas 4

Line a muffin tin with papers or get your silicon muffin cases ready.

Add flour to a suitably-sized mixing bowl. I usually dig the first cup of flour out of the bag using the cup measure, dump that into the bowl, pour 1/2 cup flour into the measure and then top up with cocoa powder until the top of the measure is reached. Use the same cup to measure the sugar and add into bowl on top of the flour. Mix together with a dessert spoon.

Using the same, now-empty cup to save on washing-up, about half fill it with oil, then top up with water/milk. Add that on top of the dry ingredients. Fill the cup again with water/milk and add it in. Chuck the extract and salt in, and your nuts/chips/fruit. Mix it up with the spoon until you can’t see dry ingredients any more.

Spoon mixture into your cases about 3/4 way up. Bake for around 20 minutes (check after 15 to make sure they’re not burning, and that they’re all baking evenly. Turn the tray if necessary).

Leave to cool, then eat, preferably on the same day they were baked. Or eat them warm if you prefer, but they’ll stick to the cases!

chocolate muffin

(P.S. I don’t know if the previous title of this post will continue to show up on the WordPress feed. In case of confusion, I changed it because I suddenly realised I might be unintentionally insulting other bloggers, which was not my intention at all!)


Not-hummus pizza

In my last entry I posted a recipe for sunflower-seed and chickpea spread. After I had finished my lunch I changed my mind about putting the spread away as it was, that amount of sunflower seeds made a very rich smooth spread, but I decided it was a bit too rich so added about 2/3 cup more chickpeas, more lemon juice, garlic and water, so there’s been plenty to keep me going over the past few days.

Some got turned into a sour-cream and onion dip for crisps and tortilla chips by adding in a few spoonfuls of Tesco plain soya yoghurt, along with dried onion powder, cider vinegar and nooch, but I still had a tub left. Since I was making bread today anyway it was no hassle to make a pizza base from some of the dough, chop up some onion, yellow pepper, a few mushrooms, a couple of cloves of garlic, add a couple of spoonfuls of chopped tomatoes and some dried mixed herbs, pinch of salt, mix that all up with a splash of oil, cover the base with the veg and then dollop a few spoonfuls of chickpea spread and smush it onto the top, along with a few halved olives. This went into the oven while it was pre-heating for the rest of the bread – I know conventional pizza-making wisdom says make sure your oven is smoking hot before putting your pizza in, but I defy convention :p

pizza topped with veg and chickpea-sunflower spread

I am under no illusions that this is a pretty picture. Not bad for about 5 minutes of actual hands-on cooking though! :)


Sunflower not-hummus

I wouldn’t want to risk enraging Ottolenghi by calling the creamy chickpea dip component of my lunch hummus. This has never seen a sesame seed, but it gets a good dose of seed-based oil and fibre from sunflower seeds. It’s not exactly low fat, but the fat that is in there is un-heated and unrefined (if that is important to you). Spread on crackers, topped with cucumber and red pepper slices, I’d say this does the job of filling-in for hummus quite nicely, thank you very much.

Sunflower not-hummus

Ingredients:

  • 2/3 cup hulled sunflower seeds
  • 2/3 cup chickpeas
  • 2/3 cup water
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/3 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cloves of garlic (I like garlic!)
  • 3 or more black or green olives, pitted (optional, but I like to add a subtle olive taste without quite so many calories as using olive oil).

Method:

Put the sunflower seeds and water into a blender and blend until they make a paste. Add the rest of the ingredients and carry on blending, pausing to stir now and then until everything is nice and smooth. Add more lemon juice/salt if necessary, or a splash more water if it’s too thick. Garnish with smoked paprika, chopped herbs, chopped olives etc.

This makes a good batch, I’ve got enough to stick in a tub in the fridge for a few sandwiches next week. I’m pretty sure this was cheaper than making regular hummus too, since I got the sunflower seeds in bulk from Currant Affairs, I think they were about £3.20 for 1 kilo. I don’t know if you can get tahini for that price, but I doubt it. And despite being a bit unbalanced when it comes to essential fatty acids, sunflower seeds are pretty good in terms of nutrition. The chickpeas were £5 for 5 kilos from Tesco, which works out cheaper than split peas.

As an aside, I was planning on having this with what I thought was left over bread in the freezer from Below the Line and gherkins I bought from Lidl. When I’d actually defrosted the “bread” I discovered it was an experimental peanut butter and jam cake I’d made in my practice run before the challenge! I did toy with having it anyway (a la brioche bun with a burger or one of those terrifying doughnut burgers) but then I couldn’t get the gherkin jar open either, so it ended up on rosemary crackers instead!


Worth the salt

I’ve still got most of the kilo of salt I bought for 25p a month back for the challenge (this is not a surprise when you think about it, I would probably be dead if I’d eaten that much salt in so short a time period!). Now, I’m not exactly a salt snob, I’ve always owned a big plastic container of the next stuff up from Basics (I think it’s worth paying about 12p more for the convenience of not having to heft a large plastic bag of salt around, and being able to close it up easily so bits don’t accidentally fall in it or a huge avalanche come out if it’s picked up wrong), but I also like to buy bags of proper sea salt when I’m on holiday, particularly in places that specialise in salty treats, such as Lanzarote with their salty potatoes, and if I see some smoked salt, or fancy pink Himalayan salt cheap on sale you know I’m going to buy it, so I was already pretty well stocked up.

Meanwhile, I’ve been on a huge baked tofu jag recently. I can get about 600g for £1.30 from one of several places around Leicester (usually Asiana or The Farmlands) and I’ve been dicing that up and coating it in combinations of sesame oil, soya sauce, smoked paprika, pepper, liquid smoke, allspice, Herbamare, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, ginger and garlic. Sometimes I’ve made one batch, let it cool enough to scoff half and fridge the rest and then gone on to make another batch in the same Pyrex roasting dish. Consequently, the flavouring was really baked onto the dish as well as the tofu and despite soaking overnight I had a huge struggle trying to clean the dish today. Then I remembered the salt I’d decanted into an espresso cup to make it easier to use. There were about 3 tablespoons left, and I poured half onto the burnt pan and used the previously-ineffective scourer with the salt and a squirt of washing-up liquid to give the burnt-on grease a beating it won’t forget in a hurry!

I’m sorry I didn’t take before and after pictures now, it was a very satisfying transformation. I know salt isn’t news for dish cleaning (especially if you have a dishwasher. I don’t, but I’ve seen them in action), but I was happy to realise I had this low-cost and high impact way of tackling the problem. Now to go out, buy more tofu and begin the whole cycle again!


A new low for oats…

…in a good way!

lidl oats

I noticed earlier this year that a Lidl store was “under construction” on their store-finder 0.7 miles from my house. I’ve been checking the site every couple of weeks since then and it finally showed as open when I looked today, so I eagerly trotted over to check it out.

I found a few good bits and bobs. I got a can of coconut milk that is actually mostly coconut (rather than 48% plus thickeners and water, like some I have seen) for 79p, 4 big bulbs of garlic for 89p and some cashew nuts at £1.49 for 200g (so just under 75p per 100g). They also had some of the lowest prices I’d seen for a few staples I didn’t buy at this time but wanted to note for future reference. I didn’t buy the oats pictured above, but in a real penny-watching situation the information that 500g bags are available for 39p is useful. These packets didn’t say what country the oats are from that I could see, but I did find some Scottish porridge oats at 99p for 1kg, which is also a pretty good price. Other highlights included big jars of gherkins for 65p (I’ve had them before and they’re really nice, and the jars are a good size for re-using), and 1kg sugar for 49p, which is the lowest price I’ve seen sugar for quite a while (EDIT: I’ve since been to Aldi, who are also selling sugar for 49p and theirs is produced in the UK, a bonus for my next challenge which is going to be a local eating one).

Lidl is good in marking a lot of their own brand stuff suitable for vegans, even if you have to take a magnifying glass to the label to spot it sometimes, so that’s another plus for them. They also had a not-too-bad selection of Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance certified goods and one or two organic items as well.

I’m pleased to add this option to the already wide choice of supermarkets nearby, especially as it means I can now walk there then wander around for hours on my own, price-checking stuff and peering at labels and telling passers by that this is a great price (yes, I did that to some poor man nearby when I spotted the oats today!), rather than having to con someone into giving me a lift and then trying their patience so they eventually resort to “herding” me towards the tills!


I <3 peanut butter!

Eating peanut butter every day on the Below the Line challenge in no way diminished my fondness for the stuff. As a child I found it unpleasantly claggy and did not enjoy the taste, but as an adult something changed and now I love peanut butter in both savoury and sweet recipes, crunchy or smooth.

I found I had just over 100g left of my value jar, and since the rest had gone into savoury crackers and salad it was time to bring on the sweetness. I whipped up a batch of simple cookies with the help of some brown sugar and a dash of rum.

Ingredients:

175g self-raising flour

105g crunchy peanut butter

45g vegetable oil

50g water

125g brown sugar

10g rum (optional, or you could use vanilla. I’m finding the alcohol base in flavour extracts goes a long way to boost baked goods, regardless of the ostensible flavour, and using supermarket brand rum is about half the cost of vanilla extract).

Method:

Weigh peanut butter into mixing bowl. If it’s the last of the peanut butter in the jar, add the oil and water to the jar and shake vigorously to help dislodge the last of the stuff hanging on to the bottom and side of the jar. Scrape into mixing bowl. Add the rum and sugar, and mix it all up to a runny paste.

Add enough flour to make a soft dough. In my case this was around 175g, you might try a bit more or less. Mix in with a table knife or spoon until no dry flour is left.

Take spoonfuls of dough and roll into the obligatory walnut-sized balls. Flatten down a bit and place on a lined baking sheet in a 180c/350f/gas4 oven with a cm or so space (they do spread a bit) for around 15 minutes (check after 10 to make sure they’re browning evenly and not burning) until just beginning to turn brown. This length of baking turned out crunchy-topped biscuits which are still a little soft and cakey on the inside, if you want them crunchy all the way through turn the heat down a notch and bake for longer.

These are a simple cookie which I think would go nicely with a banana milkshake. Sultanas and/or chocolate chips would be a great addition as well. Maybe next time!

peanut butter sweet cookies on a blue and white patterned china plate

peanut butter sweet cookies on a plate


What’s left in the cupboard after Below the Line

In terms of surviving I did fine on this challenge. I have hayfever or some kind of seasonal blossom allergy which is lessening my appetite anyway, which I guess was a kind of silver lining last week! Even so, I got quite sick of some of the things I had chosen – it’s going to be a good long while before I can face a pickled onion again, although if I was having to eat on less than £1 a day long-term they are definitely a valuable flavour addition (just not for nearly every meal!).

Here’s the list of items left at the end of 5 days:

  • approx 30g tomato purée
  • 20 teabags
  • approx 125g mustard (about 2/3 of the jar)
  • approx 200g pickled onions & pickling liquid (just under 1/2 of the jar)
  • 230g cornflakes
  • 810g flour*
  • 250g carrots*
  • Maybe 70g peanut butter (about 1/5 of the jar)
  • 378g red cabbage (plus about 1/2 a tupperware container of slaw leftover, and maybe 200g of the stuff I cooked)
  • The vast majority of the salt!

* 330g of the flour is in the freezer, along with about 250g of the carrots, which made spectacularly brick-like carrot bread. I had been planning to take this bread on my journey but it was too heavy and unpalatable, so I will defrost it some time to use as something like beanburger bulk filler.

There are no potatoes or split peas left. Unfortunately I did not consume all of the split peas, I had an accident where I dropped one of the containers and at least half of the cooked peas spilt over the cooker and the floor and I didn’t feel they could all be saved (although I did rescue and wash off what I could of the ones that fell on the counter-top).

This means over the course of 5 days I’ve consumed

  •  690g flour (2450cal, about 65-70g protein, some calcium, iron, niacin and thiamin)
  • 1500g potatoes (1155cal, 30g protein, some vitamin c, iron, b6 and magnesium)
  • about 280g peanut butter, 290 minus 10 for what’s left of the slaw (1898cal, 73.9g protein)
  • 270g cornflakes (1007cal, 20.25g protein, an average of 45% rda per day of vits B1, B2, niacin, B6, folic acid, b12 and pantothenic acid, and 30% rda of iron)
  • about 220g carrots, 250 minus 30 for what’s left of the slaw (90cal, 2g protein, beta carotene to make vitamin A – sources vary really widely in their estimates, I’m going to guess I averaged 50% of the rda, but that’s a very very rough estimate)
  • 542g red cabbage, 892 minus 150 for what’s left of the slaw and about 200 left of cooked cabbage (168cal, 7.6g protein, about 100% average daily vitamin c rda)
  • Approx 500g cooked split peas (590cal, 40g protein, 22mg iron)
  • And a few odd calories and nutrients from the onions, mustard and the greens I foraged.

Calorie total for 5 days is approx 7358, which divides to 1471 per day. I lead a fairly sedentary life although I do a reasonable amount of walking, and I’m not tall. To maintain my weight I probably would have needed to eat about 200-250 calories more per day. I certainly could have done this if I hadn’t been scared of running out of the peanut butter and rationed it more carefully than needed, or if I’d managed to eat more cornflakes.

Protein total for 5 days is approx 223.25g, which divides to 44.65g per day. That’s a bit low, I would have been okay if I hadn’t dropped the split peas, or been miserly with the peanut butter.

I hadn’t expected to hit the targets for everything, I don’t think I did, and that’s fine for this length of time. If I had been doing this for 10 days, or had combined with someone else so there was £10 to spend for 30 meals rather than £5 for 15 the whole thing would have been a great deal easier and more palatable, but doing it this way has made me even more grateful than usual that I don’t live in a food desert!

Once again, I should stress that I am exceptionally lucky to live in a big city, within walking distance of several large supermarkets with ‘value’ ranges of foods, and who need to price their other items competitively. I have easy access to the internet so I could price-check most of the items I was interested in online (the only one I had to visit in person to view the prices was Aldi). I’ve been looking at the World Bank’s report on extreme poverty and realised anew that I can’t begin to conceive of the kind of life that people living on less (sometimes much less) than £1 a day are having to put up with. Many of the countries with large percentages of their population living at this level have average life-expectancies of 50 or less. The percentage of people with access to the internet, television or even radio is far far less than in my country. I feel helpless when I see how vast the situation is, and yet according to that report there are less people in what they class as absolute poverty than there were 30 years ago.

I don’t know what the solution is, at all. I really wish I did. I hope that donating to poverty-alleviating charities does reach the intended targets in a timely fashion, and I will continue to save where I can so that I can donate what I can, and hope others will do the same. It’s also worth considering what volunteering work could be done, either in charity shops for organisations providing aid, or in food banks to help communities who are struggling closer to home – if we can lift our own societies out of relative poverty the government will have even less excuse to reduce aid they provide to those in countries who need it most. And if you’ve read this far and have any pet schemes for helping to raise people out of poverty, please let me know in the comments section!


early supper, day 5

Since I had been hoarding the peanut butter and had so much left I decided to splurge on it, and had a nice early supper with the last of the baked potato, which I sliced up and spread quite thickly with peanut butter then heated up in the toaster oven until the edges of the peanut butter were beginning to bubble. I gathered a few more dandelion leaves, washed and tore them up and then put about 1/4 teaspoon of mustard on a fork and sort of swirled it around the wettish leaves to approximate a dressing. It wasn’t a gourmet meal by any means, but I feel better for it.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

I really should finish off the rest of the coleslaw if I’m to get enough vitamin C (100g dandelion will give about 60% rda and I think I’ve only had about 20g. I doubt there’s much left in the potatoes since those were baked Tuesday evening and it deteriorates with both heat and time) but I’m not sure if I can face it today. I might go to a supermarket and spend my last 30p on an orange!


Halfway through day 5!

I had to go and visit my parents on Wednesday and only just got back home today. This was a bit of a challenge for continuing with LBtL as I was travelling by coach then tube then train, and I thought I was going to be away until next week, so I had to carry a couple of changes of clothes, but I knew I didn’t want to give up on or postpone the challenge, especially since a few people have donated to the JustGiving page I set up (thank you!), so I packed up as much food as I thought would keep me going until the end of the challenge: I baked all of the potatoes,  took the rest of the snack crackers, made some more tomato bread and made that into a couple of sandwiches with some of the coleslaw (and took the rest of the coleslaw in a tupperware container), the rest of the jar of peanut butter, and made a sort of spread by blending up the split peas with some pickle juice, a bit of mustard and about half of the remaining tomato puree.

I thought the latter item would make a passable soup if I mixed some water and whatever greenery I could forage into it (which ended up being a couple of handfuls of hedge garlic). I also chopped up one of my potatoes to add. This might have worked if I hadn’t added the pickle juice to the pea goo, but I’d put too much in and I regret to say that the overall effect was revolting, and actually ended up making me feel sick. I ate as much as I could by trying not to taste it but the last 2-3 spoonfuls went into my parents’ compost bin, I’m sorry to confess.

vile soup

Yesterday evening was better, I had the second coleslaw sandwich (I’d had the first on Wednesday), some more hedge garlic, some dandelion leaves and another cold potato. Today I’ve eaten dry cornflakes and finished off the snack crackers. I’ve still got quite a bit of coleslaw, which I bought back with me, 2 halves of potato, there’s about 1/4 red cabbage left in the fridge, and I’ve got lots of cornflakes and flour left too, and about half of the peanut butter still.

I’ve also got about half of the teabags left, and I’ve been extremely grateful to them, but coffee has been the hardest thing to go without, followed by salad (I made a salad for my parents, and it was quite difficult not to pop a stray leaf of lettuce or bit of cucumber into my mouth). The time of year has helped though, with the abundance of fresh greenery which is available on common land at the moment. As well as the dandelion greens, cleavers and hedge garlic I’ve also pinched a few leaves from the lime trees in the park, they’re very pleasant-tasting when they’re young.

Roll on tomorrow, and the French Press!


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