Mastercheap Raw Day 1: Prep, Pasta, Punish

The Mastercheap Raw experiment has begun! I've spent my $25 and it's time to start actually cooking and eating. How much advance preparation am I going to need, and how will I cope with going to a fully-catered event on the very first day?

Today's menu

Breakfast: 1/3 cup of quick oats, cooked with 1/2 cup milk and served with 2 spoonfuls stewed apple

Lunch: One serve steamed mixed vegetables with margarine, 2 boiled eggs

Dinner: One serve home-made pasta, tomato and onion sauce

Snacks: 3 pieces shortbread, 1 carrot chopped into sticks

Hot drinks: 6 cups black tea

Preparing the night before

My Mastercheap diet began on Saturday, but I had to do a stack of preparation the night before. When you're working with limited resources, advance planning is essential, and two of the foodstuffs I'll get ready on the first day will have to last throughout the week.

In an ideal world, I'd do all this on the Saturday morning (for most people, weekends present the best combination of free time and energy for advance cooking). However, after I'd set the dates for when Mastercheap was happening, I became aware of WordCamp Sydney, and decided that I definitely needed to attend the first day. Accounting for that meant ensuring I scheduled a portable, no-cooking-required lunch for Saturday and also required me to do most of the prep work the night before.

Actually, the first stage happened straight after I'd shopped. Frozen vegetables are a nuisance when you need individual serves; as soon as the bag is open, the remaining veg tends to freeze into a solid block. So I divide my bag of mixed veg and of beans into five serves each, which will save me hassle later on.

Then on Friday night, I had to perform the following tasks:

  • Chopping up and stewing my two apples, to make a topping for my daily breakfast. (I'll talk more about my breakfast strategy in tomorrow's post).
  • Boiling two eggs for lunch on Saturday.
  • Chopping up my two onions and my chilli and frying them. This will be used as a flavouring base in several dishes throughout the week, starting with my Saturday pasta sauce.
  • Baking a tray of shortbread. Shortbread is one of my baking staples, and it works well for Mastercheap because it requires just three ingredients: shortening, sugar and flour. Ideally, it would be butter rather than table spread and caster sugar rather than raw sugar, but the budget doesn't stretch that far. Once cooked, I cut it into 21 pieces, which gives me three a day to use as either snacks or desserts. (I'll share the full recipe I used later in the week).

All told, that took close on 90 minutes at a fairly leisurely pace. It's a relatively big investment of time (especially as I don't get to eat any of it straight away), but it will pay off on workdays, I imagine.

A day on the road

So Saturday morning arrives. I make myself a big pot of tea and enjoy my oats and fruit. I'm gorging on the tea because I don't think there'll be any way of getting boiling water at the conference. There's a coffee cart at WordCamp -- indeed it's a fancy one from YQme, operating via a WordPress site and letting people order coffees in advance via their phones. The hot drinks are free, but I suspect (correctly) there'll be a long queue at every break. So I'm going to have to get through the day only drinking water.

I steam my vegetables, stir in a little table spread, then pack it to eat cold later in the day. I've also got the two boiled eggs, a piece of shortbread for a morning snack, and a carrot chopped up for an afternoon snack. It's been a long time since my lunch was in so many separate containers. The vegetables turn out much better than I expected. Normally I'd eat steamed vegetables hot, but the cold option is perfectly appetising, and I enjoy the eggs as well.

The day is busy and involving, and I can't say I'm ever conscious of being either hungry or deprived. That said, I don't deliberately punish myself. WordCamp includes a full lunch, but I'm not going to sit in a room and watch other people chowing down on food I can't have. So I sit on a quiet bench away from the main crowd. It's not great for socialising, but there will be occasions later in the week where I really am forced to watch other people eat. I don't have to start now.

Making the pasta

The feature element of my dinner plans is home-made pasta. I became a convert to this after seeing Jamie Oliver do it on stage years ago. It's great fun to do and feeding the dough through the machine is therapeutic, but it takes a lot of time compared to dried pasta (though the actual cooking is much quicker). For starters, you need to chill the dough (wrapped in cling film) for an hour after making it and before processing it, and I've found that trying to make the dough too far in advance dries it out. So that's an hour after I get home when I can't even begin working on dinner beyond making the dough.

I've been practising and experimenting with quantities in the run-up to Mastercheap. I like pasta (it was a major element in the original Mastercheap experiment back in 2010), and I can't afford to mess it up during this week. I've concluded that I can make myself a generous dinner serving of pasta -- enough for two bowls, in fact -- from 180 grams of flour and a single egg. Depending on the texture of the egg, I may also need to add a tablespoon or so of water. That proves to be the case tonight.

So you mix the flour, egg (and water if necessary) together, form it into a dough, and chill it. After an hour, you flatten it out, and then feed it repeatedly through the machine, gradually lowering the thickness until you have a long, single sheet. Then you cut it up using the cutter attachment. In theory, you can do it without a machine simply by using a rolling pin, but the machine makes it much easier.

The sauce is easy: I just heat the tin of tomatoes and add some of my onion/chilli mixture. The pasta takes just a couple of minutes in boiling water, and I'm done. Delicious, if I do say so myself.

Day one is done and dusted: so far, so good. Tomorrow I don't have to go out, but I also have to face a day largely dominated by vegetables and without the familiar comfort of pasta. Comments and suggestions, as always, are welcome.

Lifehacker’s Mastercheap Raw experiment sees editor Angus Kidman living for a week with a food budget of just $25 and only basic ingredients.


Comments

    A good time saver with the pasta is to roll and cut several batches at a time then freeze it. Adds a minute or two to the cooking time but tastes just the same.

      Good thought, but I was so hungry after making enough for dinner Saturday I don't think I'd have had the patience to continue!

    I need to get my pasta machine back out.. after 3 failed attempts I shelved it but you make it sound so easy i just have to try it again.

    And so it begins :) 3 eggs down 9 to go? hahhahha My advice seeing you have some spare time, visit a relative or friend around meal time, nudge nudge wink wink. When you get desperate,puree the left over frozen veg and make some V8.

    You should apply for the next round of Masterchef Angus you have a good cooking creative streak. Maybe Masterchef should do a $25 ingredient show, Coles and Woolies would love the extra house brand promotion :)

      As I've noted before, no begging of food is allowed -- otherwise I'd have had several croissants already this morning!

        Have you considered going to a market, or somewhere similar to source your eggs? You can often get a full tray of eggs for about the same price as the supermarkets charge for a dozen.

          Covered this in the shopping post -- no market near me (and, I have to say, the claims I hear for cheapness don't always stand up to scrutiny! but lack of access is the main issue)

    Just to be clear, you're writing two days in arrears right? Very interested in learning from this. I wanna go home and make some shortbread! Also, stewed apples FTW - will definitely be stealing that idea (with cloves) for my daily porridge.

      Yep, writing up on a two-day delay -- it's not a live kind of event :)

    I've never chilled pasta dough. I make a dry dough and spend about ten minutes going through the machine. Dust it in flour then use or refridgetate. I like Jamie but sometimes he makes things harder than they need to be. I use a twenty dollar Aldi pasta maker. That and my yoghurt maker (long life milk, powdered milk, last batch of yoghurt) are the best investments I've made.

      When I've tried it without chilling in the past, it hasn't worked as well. Quality of the flour could definitely be a factor here.

    You might find, that the traditional method for Pasta is 1 egg to 100g flour. Which is equiv to 1 serve. You mix in the flour until it forms a dough, then you knead it for a while, you don't want too much dough, it should be nice and silky. Add more flour until it stops being extremly sticky. But you will develop a 'feel' for the dough after a few attempts.

    Resting is important.

    I'd always thought that you had to use 00 flour and chill the dough to make pasta, but one time (while short of 00 flour and time) I just used normal flour and didn't bother with the chilling. It was just as good, and the pasta rolled just as easily. I wouldn't bother with either of those again.

    so what's your attitude towards free food? I think if you are living as if you we're a poor person, then you should relax the rules & be allowed to eat all the free food/drinks you come across. otherwise this could prove fairly torturous.

      As I said in the first post in this series, I don't want to take free food because I want to see if it's possible to eat and live when this is the ONLY option. As a journalist, I get exposed to rather more free food than the average person, so if I went down that road it wouldn't be an experience anyone else much could learn from.

    Hi Angus, if you put raw sugar in a blender it will blend to a consistency like caster sugar. Good luck!

    If you had say five, or ten dollars extra, what do you think you'd add to the list?

      Good question -- I'll touch on that one at the end of the week.

    Are you looking at the nutrition value of your meals ? So far so good I see, but just thought, it might have a negative impact on yourself during your week, with you diet change.Thinking of your health. Impressed so far, good work Angus.

      Unlike last time, I haven't done a detailed nutrition guide, partly because (ironically) that's fiddlier to calculate with fresh ingredients. As I'm doing better on vegetables than last time and am getting protein from the eggs, flour and tuna and I'm not adding salt, I'm not overly worried. But I will comment on this in more depth at the end of the week.

    I'm rooting for you Angus. As a poor student - this is the kind of diet I live by and it's nice to see someone from the other side experience it. I have to also agree on the eggs at the market thing. It's about 10-20% more, but I get at least a dozen more, so it's well worth the trip. And I live less than 15 minutes walk from a good market as well. I hope you also put this all up in a google doc like you did the last one, and I look forward to seeing the recipes.

    Had a quick look through some comments, don't think this has been pointed out yet...

    'Raw' might have been a poor choice of title. I understand that you mean 'everything made from scratch', but a 'raw diet' is generally accepted as being one that doesn't involve cooking food.

    I just wonder what you will call it when you try to do the same challenge, but on a raw diet?

      That I wouldn't try -- the raw food option doesn't appeal to me. I know those who enjoy it speak highly of it, but it wouldn't be for me unless I developed radical and unusual health problems.

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