Can ethical, healthy and wholesome also be budget friendly?

Sometimes, we go through rough patches.  When money is tight and only one of you is working, it can be hard to keep up with household expenses. The temptation to cut corners in order to save a few euro here and there is very strong, especially when food shopping.  Sure that chicken came from a battery hen farm, and even from here you can see the leg bones are bent from the terrible conditions she was kept in, but it’s only €3.99. . .

I hated the idea of having to compromise my beliefs about produce cultivation methods and animal welfare if there was any other option available.  I normally shop at a grocery store chain called Marks & Spencer who practice fair supplier contracts and observe high standards of produce and meat quality.  However, a normal week’s shopping at M&S can cost anywhere between €85 to €150 per week, and on one salary that just isn’t feasible!

There are other supermarket chains available in Ireland, such as Tesco, but I object to their producer contracts, which are limiting, strongly favour the supermarket and leave the farmer at a terrible disadvantage once they can finally exit the contract.  There is also the Dunnes chain, which has the added advantage of being Irish-owned,  but they have a terrible history of treating their employees very, very poorly (staff recently went on strike over their zero hour contracts, and within just a few days of their legally undertaken industrial action, Dunnes began targeting those who went on strike for unreasonable disciplinary action, further reductions in their hours and in some cases, lay-offs).  Until this chain puts the needs of its staff more on a par with their drive for profit, I will not shop with them.  There is a third option, the Super Value chain, however I find their selection of goods lacking and their produce questionable and rarely up to standard.

So what’s a girl to do?  Surprisingly, the answer lay in the local outdoor food markets scattered around Dublin.

I had always thought local markets quite gimmicky, but once I started to really look at what was on offer, I was surprised.  These markets take place in parks, purpose built complexes or sometimes even just in car parks, but they are filled with people who take pride in what they sell.  The butchers can tell you which farm their meat came from and even tell you about the farmer and his animals and the fish mongers can tell you harbour the fish were brought ashore in and how they were caught.  The fruits and vegetables (with the exception of the exotic fruits) are air-mile free and organic, music to my ears!

Cooked foods, confectioneries and other specialty items are also offered for sale, but without a doubt one of my favourite booths has to be Taste With Gusto, which offers pastas, pestos and other Italian treats.  I refuse to buy my pasta from any where else now.  Three bags of my favourite pasta cost €11, and with each bag containing enough pasta for three meals, it’s an unbelievable bargain for the best pasta I have ever eaten.

I love the variety, but how does it work out price-wise, compared to my usual shop?  Well, on the 16th of May:

I laid out €27.90 at the market for all nearly all the veggies we needed for the week (€7.40), four chicken breasts from an organic, free range butcher and a block of cheddar (€7.50), two thick bone in pork chops (€3) and two generous fillets of wild caught monkfish (our big indulgence, €10). Then got the rest of our bits and pieces from Mark & Spencer (€36.47) including a few more expensive bits that we wouldn’t normally get (smoked prosciutto and Port Salut cheese aren’t items we normally buy, and €21.27 on the things we couldn’t get in M&S (hazards of shopping late on a Sunday). Total for the week: €85.64.

My menu for the week was:

Saturday: sweet chilli pork chops, kohl rabi slaw and twice baked potatoes with cheddar and spinach.
Sunday: Stuffed monkfish (monkfish fillet stuffed with port salut cheese wrapped in basil and grapefruit mint then wrapped in smoked prosciutto) (recipe below) with buttered mixed campanelle pasta (plain, spinach, portabello mushroom, red pepper, tomato, carrot and squid ink pasta), garden peas with fresh basil, butter nut squash chips with tarragon sea salt as a starter and limencello tarts for dessert.
Monday: chicken and oyster mushroom risotto.
Tuesday: Wild, red and white vegetable rice with chestnut mushrooms and stripped pork.
Wednesday: pork and herb sausages with wholegrain mustard mash, steamed broccoli and garden carrots.
Thursday: red chilli pesto chicken, smashed beans and steamed sweetcorn with garlic butter.

Fridays we usually just have a pizza!

The monkfish was a real indulgence, one we don’t usually have but at a cost of only €11.65 a person for the whole dinner I didn’t feel overly guilty!

Overall, I was delighted that I could put together a menu like the one above and still spend less than I would normally on an average shop in M&S.    It’s certainly an experiment I’ll be repeating.

Stuffed Monkfish

Also known as: DELICIOUS
Stuffed monkfish with campanelle pasta

Serves 2

Calories: Approx. 375

You will need:

2 generous monkfish fillets

60g Port Salut cheese

handful of basil leaves

3 grapefruit mint leaves

4 wafers of prosciutto ham

Salt and Pepper

Set the oven to 180*C (approximately 375*F).

Finely chop the grapefruit mint.  Slice open the fish through the thickest part of the fillet, fold it open gently and line it with basil leaves.  Layer slices of the cheese on top of the basil, sprinkle the chopped grapefruit mint on top and fold the fish back over. Season the fish with salt and pepper.

Lay two wafers of prosciutto on the cutting board and carefully wrap the fish in it, then place it seam side down on a baking tray lined with baking paper.  Repeat with the second fillet and place in the oven.  Bake for 20 minutes and enjoy!

This simple recipe would also work well with most white fish, and it paired beautifully with the pasta.  I would also recommend using fresh herbs if at all possible.  I was blessed in that I could take the herbs directly from my kitchen garden!

Opinions, questions?  Leave me a comment below!

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