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09/10/2013 09:46:00

Save With Jamie - Can You?
Win a free copy of the Save With Jamie Book and see if you can make any savings.

On Monday, Jamie Oliver's TV series "Jamie's Money Saving Meals" finished its run of six programmes on Channel Four, and the accompanying book "Save With Jamie" is now out.

The series aims to help us to "Shop Smart, Cook Clever and Waste Less".

If you've watched any of the series, you'll have a rough idea of the approach Jamie is taking and may be wondering whether or not the book is a good investment.

Read the following review of both the series and the book and this will give you an idea whether it's for you. At the end I will be giving away a hardback copy of the book for one lucky reader.

What To Expect From Save With Jamie
I'm going to start by saying up front - I have got a lot of time for Jamie Oliver. I think he has done some brilliant things, and I admire that he is prepared to put his neck on the line for things he believes in, even if that means being shot down or sometimes getting things wrong. I am very grateful for the way he has shone a light on school food, and is trying to get ordinary people to change their eating habits. Yes, of course there were lots of other people working to improve school food long before Jamie made his TV shows (Jeanette Orrey, who writes the foreword to The Foodies Books, being a very notable one). And yes there are lots of people working at grass roots to improve dietary understanding in low income communities. But being sniffy about someone who makes a worthy cause more media friendly and takes it out of its own sphere to get everyone talking about it is, in my opinion, churlish. His tireless input and refusal to let the issue drop has been invaluable. So I personally think we have a lot to thank Jamie Oliver for, and the work of the Food Revolution team is making some genuine headway which is worth celebrating.

I also love the fact that he has demystified food a great deal. The Naked Chef idea still runs through all of his cooking, the feeling that anyone can have a go at cooking, that even a novice chef can throw things together and it might actually be edible, or (gasp!) perhaps even better than the takeaway you might have bought instead. Jamie Oliver makes food look do-able, you don't have to leave it to 'experts' in a food factory to make for you, and I think that is a tremendous message to get across.

On the other hand, I have a confession to make. I have never bought a Jamie Oliver cookbook. When I visit friends' houses, I love leafing through his beautiful books, and have tried the odd recipe, but have never been tempted to buy one, because I knew I wouldn't cook many of the recipes. The reason? Too many of the recipes are too expensive and they rely too much on meat. I've always enjoyed thumbing through the books and thought they would be lovely for the kind of family who eat seabass on a weekday or a whole leg of lamb for Sunday lunch, but that just isn't us. It used to be that I found a lot of the recipes too rich as well, but since his immersion in the healthy eating arena his recipes have been much lighter and healthier, and more suitable for an everyday meal. His 15 Minute Meals franchise was the closest I came to buying in, but in the end when I looked through the book, there still weren't enough "us" recipes to warrant the whole book and I just wrote down the recipes I liked from the TV or his website and made those.

So I was actually really excited to see that Jamie was planning a frugal food book and show. At last, I was hoping, we would get the characteristic passionate but relaxed approach to food, with the healthy perspective thrown in, but now with an affordable everyday twist. This would be the Jamie Oliver incarnation I could not only admire, but actually do for myself.

So, were my high hopes rewarded? Well, not really but sort of. No, because I think I was naively hoping for something different than what was ever going to materialise. And yes, because once I'd got my head round that, it IS the first Jamie Oliver book which I might cook quite a few recipes from.

At first, when the book arrived, I have to be honest and say that I was a bit disappointed. There are some lovely meals in the book, but most are not my idea of money saving meals. But as I saw Jamie on TV explaining what the series aimed to do and who it was for, and I watched the series itself, I realised that my disappointment was down to the fact that I had been a bit nave. I am not the target audience for this series, but it is a well designed product for the people whom it is aimed at. Hopefully my explanation will help you to decide whether you are the target audience or not and whether to give it a go.

So who is it for?
When Jamie appeared on the One Show to launch the series, he explained that he had developed the book in collaboration with lots of fans who had pestered him to make a money saving series. So first of all the impetus came from existing Jamie Oliver fans, the kind of households who like his other food, but who want to save money. He went on to describe how lots of people spend a tremendous amount on ready meals and takeaways, and he wanted to give people an alternative which might cost less and taste better.
If you have watched any of the programmes, you'll have seen that each week he features a household who wastes food and gives them practical tips on how to waste less, and in each show he creates a cheaper home made takeout substitute for a self confessed takeaway addict friend. So all in all, it is for people who like the kind of food he has in his other books, who wish they cooked at home more and spent less on convenience food, and who know that they throw too much away.

Who is it therefore not so useful for?
If you already use your leftovers effectively, know what to do with a freezer and a storecupboard, don't throw food in the bin at the end of the week, can cook with cheaper cuts and vegetarian meals, and consider takeaways a treat, rather than a weekly (or more) event, you probably won't save any money with this book. You will, however, find a few nice recipes you hadn't come across before at a similar cost to the kind of food you already make.
If you are genuinely in financial difficulty and need to keep your food really economical, this book is not a good investment for you, although some of the cheaper recipes might be useful, in which case you can use the library copies he has made available (see below). You might instead like to try Jack Monroe's excellent blog and her forthcoming book.

What are the costs of the recipes?
The average price per portion across the book is said to be £1.38. In reality the largest proportion of meals come in between £1.50 ish and £2.50 ish, offset by a really useful vegetarian section at the start which come in under a quid, and a few pages of quick meal ideas at the back for under £1.00.
This is why I say it is good for the people he says he is aiming it at. If you buy a takeaway a week at £20-40 a pop, then clearly a £2 per head alternative is a brilliant idea. Obviously a home made pizza at just under £1 a head is going to be cheaper than a delivery pizza, and sticky chicken wings at a fiver for four people will beat a KFC bucket on the telly adverts hands down. And if you're one of the average households spending £150 a week at the supermarket, then £2 a head for your main meals - thus costing £56 for four of you over the week - is going to be way less than what you're spending right now.

If, like us, a £2 per head meal is one of the expensive meals, then it helps a lot less. We eat meat or fish about 2-3 times a week and only one of those is a 'cut' of meat costing around a fiver for the four of us. Mostly it is a bit of sausage or bacon, or some cheaper cuts bulked out with other things. Lots of our meals use dried grains and vegetables and come in at (or under) the £1 a head mark. We only spend about £50-£75 a week on everything from the supermarket, including washing powder, loo roll and cat food and so on. Granted, we grow a lot, and if we didn't that bill would go up by another £10-20. But if we spend £2 per head every evening meal, £56 would be more than we currently spend on our entire food shop, without room for breakfast, packed lunches for work, drinks, puddings and snacks. So for us it would raise rather than lower our food bill. It also would involve a lot more meat than we'd personally be comfortable eating, as we're a bit into our sustainability and we try to stick to a smaller amount of higher welfare meat when we can.

What are the recipes like?
The main thrust of the book aims to get people to go back to the old fashioned home economics of our grandparents - cook a larger amount of the best cut of meat you can buy on a weekend when you have time, and then use the leftovers creatively through the week (or subsequent weeks if you use your freezer) to make other meat meals more economic. Jamie calls the Sunday roast type meal the "Mothership" and then gives other things to make with 100g to 200g of the leftovers. The same approach was used in another book I bought in hopeful naiveté some years ago called Economy Gastronomy by Allegra McEvedy and Paul Merrett.
The TV series was built around these mothership recipes with a different one featured each week - Brisket of Beef, Shoulder of Pork, Side of Salmon, Roast Chicken, Roast Lamb and Ham Hocks.
The mothership recipes are all (bar the chicken) based on 6-8 people eating them and cost between £10 and £15 to make, which for our family budget kicks them straight into the "celebration meal" category, regardless of how easy it is to use the leftovers, it's just too much initial outlay for a normal Sunday meal for us. Some of the trickle down leftover recipes from these in the book are really good, but I would prefer to make them with just a small amount of the meat from the butcher, rather than fork out the original tenner for the mothership. Instead it's recipes in the book which use a slightly cheaper cut from scratch, such as chicken thighs or minced beef, which are for me more successful.
There are SOME great lower cost recipes in here. The spinach and squash rotolo for four to six people is very tasty although it only comes in under £1 if it's shared between six, and in our house with sporty adults and growing children it only fed the four at £1.28 each. The beetroot fritters are lovely with lentils at 80p, and the Gangnam style chicken wings at £1.14 each is a nice version of a classic cheaper cut feast. The Snake in the Hole - a curly snake made of mince instead of sausages- is a bit of fun for a family meal and comes in under a quid. And the Dim Sum pork balls look lovely, although we haven't made them yet, and do a good job of bulking out the meat with veggies and dough to bring the cost down to 83p per person.

What about tips and advice?
The book does give some fairly basic advice on being more economical with food, not just in the sense of saving money, but in terms of not wasting food. There is advice on stocking a store cupboard, making lists, making friends with your butcher or greengrocer, how to use your freezer effectively, and so on. It has some cute tips, although there were more interesting ones on the TV shows where he helped people who were wasting half (HALF!!!) of their food each week. I am going to try the idea of grating chillies which have been frozen straight into food, as this makes a change from dried or pickled. On the show he gave a salad-binning family the idea of making up a mixed salad at the start of the week and wrapping it in a towel in the fridge to keep ready for days, so you're more likely to eat it. And the idea of cooking salad leaves before they go off is a good tip for those who haven't come across it before (we love cooked lettuce and when it's growing like crazy in midsummer it's a godsend). There are some interesting things to do with stale bread, although obviously if the bread you buy is value sliced bread it will go mouldy before it goes stale, because of the flour additives to make it last on the shelf, so you need to make sure you don't process and keep breadcrumbs which have started to mould.
On the whole the advice is not going to rock your world if you already manage your kitchen effectively, but then, it's not really aimed at you. It is aimed at mostly middle income families who don't plan their meals or use proper lists and wish they did and want to start.
Some of the advice given reinforces that this is not mainly geared to families on the lowest incomes. Many families in real financial difficulty live in areas where the only source of food is a supermarket, there may not be a butcher, greengrocer, or market in bus or walking distance, much less a fishmonger. So advice about getting your butcher to give you secret cuts is a bit irrelevant if the only meat you can get is pre-packed in polystyrene. I'm not knocking the fact that it gives advice about how to buy meat effectively, by the way, and I'd be delighted if people who DO live near a butcher would use them properly. I'm just pointing out that it won't be useful advice for everyone.

If you're a busy family and you know you've probably been chucking money in the bin because you're a bit disorganised with your food, this would be a good place to start. If you're a mostly meat eating family who likes a big family meal at the weekend and wants quicker, more interesting meals during the week which might use up leftovers, this could be really helpful. If you end up buying take away or ready meals more often than you'd like and would like something tastier or cheaper and to put the money saved to something at the end of the year, there are some good ideas in here. If that describes you I would definitely consider buying this book.

If you're a family who already plans your meals, you know how to shop and you don't throw lots of food away because you already have some ideas for leftovers, you're not going to learn much from this book, but you might find some nice recipe ideas. I would suggest you consider it, but you might find LoveFoodHateWaste's recipe section and their waste reduction tips more practical because you have got the basics right already.

If you're a family who is genuinely struggling for money and making hard choices between feeding everyone and buying other basics, this book only has a few useful recipes for you. Jamie Oliver has donated a copy of Save With Jamie to every public library in the country, so you can check the book out in your local library and see which recipes are worth noting down and trying out for yourself. For genuinely frugal recipes I would recommend the ideas on LoveFoodHateWaste, the recipes on A Girl Called Jack's blog which all cost pennies, and the ideas on Frugal Queen's blog too.

What's the most frugal way to get this book? Win it! I have a copy of Save With Jamie to give away to a reader of this blog.

To enter, simple leave a comment here, telling us your favourite food to make when you're skint and trying to save money.

It doesn't have to be gourmet - cheese and beans on toast is totally acceptable! If it's a proper recipe from a chef or book that you've found put a link to the recipe in your comment. I'll put them together into a list and post them here for people to print off. Maybe you'll give each other some good ideas.

Leave your comment by end of Friday 18th October 2013. We'll put all the names from here into a hat and draw one out at random. When leaving your comment, make sure you include your email address in the email box. No one else will see it, but we'll know how to tell you if you've won.

Looking forward to hearing your cheap eats.
Good luck!

Thanks for all your entries - the lucky frugal foodie drawn out of the hat by my son this morning was....
Mary Rumpf! Congratulations, Mary, I will email you shortly to arrange delivery. Everyone else thanks so much for your ideas and taking the time to comment. You can get quite a few of the recipes on the series website. 


09/10/2013 14:21:00 by Sarah Howard

You can't go wrong with jacket potatoes in our house. We always have some in so any leftovers can be put on top of a spud.

11/10/2013 10:14:00 by D H Jones

My dad always made a big pot of spag bol with red lentils in and half the meat at the weekend. Then during the week we'd have spag bol, chilli with rice, sauce on jacket potatoes, and the last few bits in a pasty.

11/10/2013 10:31:00 by Mary Rumpf

Burgers, the next day use left over patties to make a stew or chili.

11/10/2013 11:30:00 by Caiti

When money's tight we always love lentil-picker 'pie' - tinned toms, onions cooked up with some (poss smoked) paprika and/or sweet chilli dip sauce, add cooked lentils. Simmer. Top with cheesy (only a little cheese needed) mash. Bake in oven till starting to brown.Yum! Costs about 1 per head. For a few pence more, serve with cabbage, or peas.

11/10/2013 12:27:00 by Anne Pascall

If I'm cutting down on costs I'll use pulses more - lentil dhal with rice is a favourite. If I've time I'll make some yoghurt flat breads - just plain flour, pinch salt and plain yoghurt made into a dough - rolled out and then griddled in a hot frypan for a few minutes each side.

11/10/2013 12:31:00 by Amber Morgan

I cook a large roast chicken with roast potatoes and veggies. A great family meal them we use the rest of the chicken the next day in a pie, curry or something similar.

12/10/2013 20:34:00 by Janet Staerck

Pasta with Tomato Ragu Sauce with lots of vegetables and grated cheese on top.

13/10/2013 18:52:00 by wendy stanger

a good old bowl of veggie stew & dumplings. Any leftovers can be whizzed up for a soup the next day

18/10/2013 09:44:00 by @Gourmetmummy

I like to buy a ham hock/ham shank and cook it in the slow cooker with some root veg. This feeds my family of 5 with left overs the next day and the brith makes and amazing soup-only costs 4!

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