Do you find yourself buying food every couple of days? Sophie Morris does, so she tried out a new cookbook that explains how to shop once to produce a week’s meals. Here’s how she got on
Ian Haste is on a mission to simplify our lives by simplifying our shopping habits. His first cookbook, The 7-Day Basket, includes plans for 10 weeks of shopping, each with seven meals. The idea is that you go shopping once, buy everything on Haste’s list, and you will have the ingredients for a meal for two every night of the week, along with leftovers for lunch and the freezer.
I am very picky about where I shop and hate to plan in advance. What if you’ve bought the ingredients for a fish pie and come home dreaming of pasta? I have always liked to decide what I am going to cook on the day, and pick up the ingredients on my way home from work. At least I did enjoy this creative and spontaneous approach to cooking until I moved away from a high street, and thus now have to drive to the shops. Plus, I work from home so I don’t pass the supermarket on my non-existent commute. Shopping has become a chore. If Haste can help with this, I’m all ears.
The recipes in his 10 “baskets” are themed. There’s Warming, Round the World, Relaxed, Veggie, Comforting etc. I choose Summer, optimistically, which includes a pea, feta and mint frittata and a salad niçoise with fresh tuna. Everything looks healthy, and there are no puddings, but there is a prawn curry, a chicken shashlik naan, and a Sunday roast of peach and sage stuffed pork fillet with garlic roasties.
Haste, 43, began studying people’s supermarket habits when he was in between homes and living with his in-laws some years ago. “I’d started doing the food shop at a Tesco Metro, which was next door to the University of East Anglia in Norwich, and I would see the same people buying the same thing every few days.
“As a chef, if I see five or six ingredients, I see five or six meals, but it became obvious that people were just buying stuff to fill up their baskets, then didn’t know how to use it the next day.”
He thought he could help them to do better and encourage them to cook healthy, balanced meals. “I kept in the classics,” he points out. “They are jazzed up somewhat, but people tell us that they don’t want to have seven random meals. There are twists on healthy takeaways towards the end of the week - and every week ends with a roast.”
I decide I’m going to try to do a Haste-style shop and maintain my focus throughout. There’s no point committing to his carefully thought-out shopping list, written in the order you should find the ingredients in the aisles, if I’m distracted by the sight of reduced-price bananas and start planning how much cake and ice cream I could make with them, then end up in the baking section searching for dark brown sugar.
My first sticking point is that I can’t buy everything from one shop. I can cut some corners, but not all of them, because I’m not a student. I work out that I can buy everything apart from the tuna, pork fillet and seasonal produce at Sainsbury’s and manage to be in and out of there in a record40 minutes. I didn’t buy the pork because I felt it would be past its best by the end of the week. Haste agrees but points out that you can freeze anything that might go off.
He has also written the recipes to use up the perishables first: it’s salad and veg at the beginning of the week, chorizo, mushrooms and potatoes towards the end.
I haven’t been a fan of buying fresh tuna for years because it is such an ethically complex purchase - and expensive. Avoiding it seemed the easy approach. Sainsbury’s has two types of fresh tuna, one at £25/kg and one at £27.08/kg. I find some for £20/ kg at the fishmonger and it’s delicious and worth every penny. Any recipe-phobe could have rubbed it in oil and salt and slapped it on the grill for a few minutes.
I also baulk at paying more than £8 for two chicken breasts when I could get a good quality whole chicken for a few pounds more, but those breasts end up as a huge pile of meatballs, feeding two of us a generous portion with the same amount in the freezer.
All of Haste’s recipes are very simple. He wants them to be accessible to anyone, even if you’re scared of cooking. Some of them take a bit of time, such as the Maldivian chicken curry (one of his favourites), which asks for a bit of time preparing the spices then around an hour on the hob.
I fret about the amount of plastic in my shopping basket, even though I bought the seasonal produce at a farm shop. There are chillies, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, sugar snap peas and green beans that I cannot buy in other packaging.
Instead of “200g of mango pieces” on the list, I buy a whole mango. We all know that the inaction of supermarkets is keeping us from pushing ahead in the fight against single-use plastic.
Haste admits this isn’t something he was able to tackle in the book. Instead, his soapbox is food waste - and the idea of the weekly baskets is to show us how to cook a variety of meals without anything ending up in the bin.
“I’m a big believer in batch cooking,” he says. “I hate sandwiches. Why not eat something you made the night before, which is a lot better for you?” I’m not convinced that we need to return to the dogma of a weekly shop. Our eating habits have changed: we want to make last-minute decisions and choose fresh produce. However, the part of the experiment I enjoy most is the bit I was dreading: being told what to make each evening instead of having free rein.
Forget wanting to shop in five different stores, having a mealplan I stick to instead of chasing dinner dreams on Instagram is undoubtedly where I save the most time.
FETA AND CHICKEN MEATBALLS IN LEMON SPAGHETTI Serves 2 chicken breasts, chopped 1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed 15g basil leaves, finely chopped 20g chives 80g feta ½ slice of wholemeal bread 4tsp olive oil, plus a splash for the spaghetti 200g spaghetti Juemon, cut into wedges Salt and pepper Add the chicken breasts, half the garlic, three-quarters of the basil, salt and pepper, chives, feta and bread to a blender and mix into a rough mince (don’t overmix, and add a dash of oil if sticking).
Roll mixture into small balls around the size of a table tennis ball. Add the oil and meatballs to a heated frying pan and cook for about 10 minutes, turning regularly to get an even colour and cook all the way through. Remove and keep warm.
Meanwhile, add the spaghetti to a pot of boiling salted water and cook until al dente. Drain (reserving a little cooking water) and add to the frying pan over a high heat with a splash of oil and the lemon juice, the rest of the garlic and chopped basil. Add a splash of the pasta water, then add half the Parmesan.
Serve with lemon wedges and the remaining grated Parmesan.