When I was asked if I would cook for the Live Below the Line event at the House of Lords on May 4, I thought it was a good idea and said yes without any hesitation as it was an honour.
All was well until 48 hours before the event, when people wanted to know what I would cook for all those Lords and Baronesses. Well, frankly - that’s when I started getting a little nervous, realising I would have to cook for 80 people at the House of Lords, having only a budget of £32 in total – a 40p meal each!
The planning began. I went through every cookbook I own to find a recipe that would be tasty, filling and most importantly, one that would suit the tight budget. I knew it had to be a recipe with a few spices (tasty), beans (filling) and preferably rice (a cheap and safe option in case somebody would be gluten or wheat intolerant).
However, there were still so many different choices out there and I was determined to cook something with a little more effort than just using a microwave. Little did I know about the kitchen at the House of Lords…
In the end I picked out three different recipes that I knew would work well for the event and started calculating the costs and amounts of the ingredients using MySupermarket.co.uk. Although they were all within the tight budget, the one that stood out for being easy to cook (I was told the kitchen was not well equipped), and therefore chosen for the night was the Three-Bean Dal, which also happened to be the cheapest – I spent £24.09 for 80 people (30p per meal). Score!
I’ve never cooked for 80 people before so it was quite challenging to figure everything out. There was a lot of planning involved – from the logistics of shopping and getting everything to the House of Lords to the pots, plates, glasses and other utensils required to cook this meal. “Do we prepare the onions, garlic and ginger the night before and take them cooked with us?” “Where are we going to soak the yellow split peas so they won’t require as much cooking to save time?” (lucky we did this) And most importantly, “Who is doing the shopping?”
There were lots of questions and issues requiring some thoughts and planning but we did get it all done in the end. Using MySupermarket.co.uk to buy and deliver the ingredients to the office (we needed 39 cans of beans and tomatoes amongst other heavy things such as 10kg of rice), and preparing the onions, garlic and ginger in the office kitchen so we didn’t have to take a knife through security, we bussed and taxied to the House of Lords. Everybody had their hands full of everything we needed to make this work, and we were also a little stressed as we were already running late.
I mentioned before that the kitchen at the House of Lords was “not well equipped”…. Well, little did I know how true that was. The kitchen has an induction hob – for which we didn’t have the required magnetic pots, two microwaves, not enough plastic/ glassware usable for microwaves, and one kettle. That’s it. Let me emphasise this to you: THAT’S IT! I had to cook a meal for 80 people using two ovens (at least I had two) and two microwaves (I could have done with more) without having enough dishes to cook in.
I basically used the microwaves to cook 8kg of rice, using two small plastic containers multiple times, and two cast-iron dishes for the ovens to “fry” the onions, garlic and ginger, add the spices and the rest of the ingredients and cook everything for an hour or so. Certainly an interesting method and it taught me to make the most out of the little I had – and a reminder of how hard it must be to survive on £1 a day without necessarily reliable electricity, fridges and all our conveniences.
The final verdict from the 80 participants gathered in the River Room of the House of Lords - well, I'll leave that Graeme Hodge from the Salvation Army, who recorded this short video blog as part of his Live Below the Line efforts:
If you'd like to take up the Live Below the Line challenge, you can find out more and signup here.