Mastercheap Raw Day 2: Stewed, Mashed, Grilled

Day 2 of the Mastercheap Raw challenge was Sunday: no need to go anywhere, and a host of vegetable-centric dishes to prepare. But first let’s talk about breakfast.

Today’s menu

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

Lunch: Sweet carrot mash

Dinner: Grilled potato fritters, steamed beans with margarine

Snacks: 3 pieces shortbread

Hot drinks: 8 cups black tea

My breakfast strategy

My usual breakfast is a serve of store brand muesli with skim milk, which is actually what I had during the last Mastercheap challenge (though I don’t have to be as careful with the milk usually as I did then, when I would carefully measure 100mls each day). That’s not purely a question of being stingy: research by CHOICE suggests that store brand muesli is just as good as the pricier alternatives. However, it’s not an option for Mastercheap Raw, since the aim is to make everything myself. Making my own muesli would be fun, but the budget wouldn’t stand for it.

The breakfast which comes closest and stays affordable is quick oats. I know from prior experience that eating it on its own would be dull. I could sweeten it with sugar (there’s plenty left over from the shortbread I made on day 1), but that also seems an unhealthy strategy and more importantly, it’s not something I usually do. Eating on this kind of budget involves compromises, but I don’t see that it has to involve eating something you wouldn’t ever contemplate normally.

Ultimately, I settle on buying a couple of apples, stewing them up (with water and a very little of the sugar) and using those as a garnish. Two days in, I’ve settled on cooking the oats for 60 seconds (rather than the suggested 90). The super-cheap option would be cooking them with water, but that tastes less good and milk is my only notable source of calcium this week.

It’s a pleasant enough start to the day and very filling, but in all truth I can’t imagine choosing to continue with it when the week is over.

So many vegetables

When I planned the menu, I knew Sunday would be the day I’d be at home, so I could set lunch options that wouldn’t be feasible in the office, and a dinner that wasn’t something I was super-confident in cooking. On workdays, I’ll be tired enough to not want to try anything too elaborate, though “elaborate” is an extraordinarily relative term here. I also want to save my big protein hits — the tuna and more of the eggs — for the working week.

Carrots are one of the three staple vegetables I’ve purchased: largely as snacks, but also for occasional meals. Sunday is one of those days. After a few sessions of Googling, I settled on sweet carrot mash: four carrots, cooked together, then mashed with a little table spread, milk and sugar. I don’t have a lot of flavouring options, so using the sugar is a good choice. It’s a palatable dish which I could imagine serving as a side dish, though adding cinnamon (as most recipes suggest) would definitely improve it.

Dinner takes in two of the other staple vegetables: a bed of green beans with grilled potato fritters on top. That sounds much fancier than the reality: grated potato formed into clumps with a little butter and flour, then grilled. It looks astonishingly ragged, but it tastes really good — and it’s as close as I’ll get to a bread-like texture this week.

A note about the tea

Yeah, eight cups of tea sounds like a lot: even back when I did Mastercheap, seven was the highest I went. But one thing I should point out: for all these drinks, I used one teabag in a teapot, each of which produced two serves. So it’s not quite the caffeine overdose you might think.

Some commenters have questioned whether the tea was a worthwhile investment. Hot drinks are very much part of my daily routine, and I genuinely don’t think the disruption of trying to drop them would be worth it. The alternative would have been coffee, but cheap tea is, in my experience, much nicer than cheap coffee. It’s also much lower in price! As it stands, I’ll have more than half the teabags left for next week. In a month-long budget, I’d have gone the 200-pack, which would have been even less expensive.

Tomorrow’s a different challenge: a full day in the office. How will that go?

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

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