> So you’ve done your personal spending review and tightened up your budget.  What can you afford for dinner? Lovely sausage stew!

Nutrition is very important, especially as the days get colder and the ‘flu makes its rounds of the campuses. Food is one of the single most important things that goes into your budget every week; yet how many of you are subsisting on whatever easy-cook supermarket meals that you can afford?

Processed food is one of the great evils of our society: causing bad health, obesity, depression, sugar-highs (and lows) and energy slumps. Believe it or not, these problems can be solved with simple and very easy changes to your diet and shopping habits.

First of all, where do you buy your vegetables? (assuming you buy any) The supermarket? It is convenient and cheap is it not? Think again. Consider this collection of fruit: eight nectarines, half a pound of British plums, two mangos. Ok? Got that? This, in a local supermarket:

two mangos = £2.00,

eight nectarines = £1.89,

unripe plums = £1.00.

Leaving a grand total of £4.89.*

So now let us look at the total price of these items in a local fruit shop (drumroll please) – they came to a grand total of £2.15. Now, fruit shop prices vary according to the season, the harvests, the time of day, but a savvy shopper who buys seasonal produce can save a good deal of that budget by being smart about their choice of supermarket or local shop. The good thing about buying in a local fruit shop is that you do not need to know what is seasonal, but simply pick up those items you find cheapest. You save money, save waste (because you only buy the amount you want), save the environment (because these shops do not over-package their food) and help support those poor, friendly shop owners who are squeezed out by giants like Tesco.

Students have very little time, true: why not order a weekly vegetable-box delivery? google ‘veg boxes, Bristol’ and you are presented with a plethora of delivery services; who, for a small fee will deliver weekly boxes of vegetables direct to your door. They often come in various sizes, so what better way to get your five-a-day than with something so low effort? Perhaps you could even share your box with house-mates?

 *prices correct 16 October 2010 from various supermarkets, source: www.mysupermarket.co.uk

 Now for the recipe:

 Warming Autumn Stew: Serves 1 (for at least two meals)               prep time: 20 mins

                        Cook time: 1hr                            

 1 large meat-rich sausage (try Castellano’s, Fishponds: opposite Manor Rd, U3 bus route, St Matthias stop)

1 small butternut squash

3 small potatoes (or one large potato)

some small sweet onions or shallots

vegetable oil

apple cider (optional)

salt and pepper

1/2 cup pearl barley

dried (or better still, fresh) herbs: thyme, sage, rosemary, bay leaf

any hard green vegetables: broccoli, spring greens, courgettes

 Method:

  •  Cut the sausage into inch-long pieces and brown lightly in a thick bottomed deep pan on a medium heat. They do not need to be cooked at this stage, when browned lift out of the pan and put on a dish.
  • Take off the tops and tails of the onions and peel them. If they are shallots or small, leave as they are. Larger onions should be chopped into chunks. Put these in the pan with the sausage juices and begin to wash and chop the potatoes and squash (the squash will need peeling, but potatoes that have healthy skins do not).
  • Place the potatoes and squash in the pan and fry on medium heat along with the onions. When they have all become a little brown, turn the heat up higher and splash in about 1 cupful of the cider (or water, if you have no cider).
  • The pan will fizzle and boil the water/cider away fairly quickly. As this happens, throw in the pearl barley and add some hot water from the kettle (this stops the cooking process being slowed by a temperature drop).
  • Wash and chop your green vegetables while the pan boils gently for 5-10 mins. This prepares the barley for cooking. Place them all in the pan with the sausage pieces, a pinch of salt and about a teaspoon each of the herbs. Turn the pan down to low simmer and leave.
  • Check and stir intermittently to gauge temperature – do not let the pan boil dry. Cook for at least one hour, although more time only improves the dish. Tasting before you serve allows for extra adjustment of the flavour – keep a crumbled stock cube and some salt and pepper handy just in case.

 When you are ready to eat, leave off the studying and simply spoon into a bowl! Drink the cider, leave the stew on the cold cooker to be reheated for lunch the next day. Hey presto! You have cooked a delicious meal.

 This recipe does not really require specific amounts of the ingredients, and does not even require the ingredients listed. Substitute squash for sweet potato, parsnip, swede or any other hard root vegetables. Substitute green vegetables for carrots, cabbage, fresh beans or anything firm that does not really work in a salad. You can experiment with the herbs and seasoning, use stock instead of cider, buy meat instead of sausages and even insert some mushrooms or dumplings if you wish. Let me know of any exciting variations you discover!

 To serve more people, simply add more ingredients or serve with bread!

 When the pan is empty, soak with soapy water for 15 mins or even overnight, wash quickly the next day and begin again!

 * Never leave a pan unattended or leave the house while cooking.

Samantha Ashman