Friday 20 December 2013

Bernie’s Bargain Benefits Book

I have blogged before about Bernadine Lawrence and her Benefit Book – feed your family for £4 a day [here] I had heard that she’d updated the book – twenty five years after it was originally written – but not seen it anywhere until this week. I was in Coalville and went into Home Bargains [which I consider is somewhere between Poundland and Wilkos in terms of prices and products] and there it was – only 99p. So I bought myself a copy [having first flicked through it, ‘speed-reading’ to check it wasn’t identical but with a new cover]


I have since read it right through and I am very pleased, considering I have definitely got my money’s worth here. Some things are the same – basic recipes [sauces, pastry, bread etc] and her ‘typical weekly shopping list’ and her ‘suggested four week menu plan’ but there are significant changes

  • she has dropped all the pricings [which were irrelevant anyway, once the book was a few years old]
  • recipes are just metric, not metric/imperial weights
  • she has far more meat-based recipes than before
  • she’s updated terms [e.g. she used cornmeal a lot in the original – now it is polenta, and soya sauce is just soy sauce]
  • she has taken into account the changes in ingredients over the past quarter century – her bread recipe now uses fast action yeast, and she substitutes honey for sugar in some recipes.
  • she has included ingredients which were not so freely available in the 1980s [sweet potatoes, vine tomatoes, tofu]
  • recipes have more interesting names – “toast cereal” is now “honey-milk toast”, “chicken and vegetable curry” becomes “rich chicken and mixed vegetable curry”

The colour photographs in the original are not in the new one – but then a bowl of tomato soup, a quiche and a casserole don’t really need illustrating, do they? If you are endeavouring to become a more frugal cook, I would really recommend this one *****

I won’t share any recipes until I have tried them – but here are two from my own Big Red Book which may prove useful over the Christmas season. Both are quick to produce, as accompaniments for making the ‘leftovers’ meals more interesting

QUICK CRUSTY BEER BREAD – ideal with ‘leftovers’ soup

  • preheat the oven to 180°C.
  • mix together in a large bowl -  400g self raising flour, 1 tsp salt, 2 tbsp sugar . Slowly stir in 300ml of beer** till you have a wet, ‘gluggy’ mixture. [add more beer if too dry]
  • transfer to a well greased loaf tin, bake 40 minutes till top is crusty and golden brown. Cool for ten minutes then turn out. Eat within the day or it goes ‘heavy’ [but will then make good toast or bruschetta bases]
  • **Bob says ‘live’ beer is best – the recipe suggests Foster’s Lager

STICKY TOFFEE SAUCE – for puds, ice cream or poached fruit

  • in a saucepan, mix together - 200gm of soft brown sugar, 250ml of cream [single, double, or whipping] ½tsp vanilla extract and pinch of salt.
  • bring to boil, stirring, then reduce the heat and simmer 5 minutes.
  • gradually whisk in 2tbsp cold butter, which has been diced, whisking till glossy.
  • serve immediately, OR set aside and gently reheat when needed, OR cool and refrigerate for up to a week.


  1. There are so many situations in which 'add more beer if too dry' is a great idea.

  2. I think I'll try the beer bread, although as a member of CAMRA I feel duty bound to point out that beer and Fosters lager are two entirely different things!!!

  3. I too have the original book, I'm looking forward to hearing how you get on with the new recipes. We don't yet have a Home Bargains shop but I think one is coming to our neck of the woods in the New Year, I'll have to explore it when it does, that book's a bargain at 99p.
    I'm looking forward to trying out both of your recipes, but is salt optional or essential in the recipes? I don't use salt at all in any cooking, but don't want a complete disaster if I use the recipes without salt.
    Hope you have a good rest over the Christmas break from work, I remember the end of the Autumn term as being the most hectic and potentially stressful end of term in the year. All best wishes, Vee xx

    1. The salt in the sauce is simply a matter of taste, so you could skip it. Not sure about the bread though - but probably ok to go without.

  4. Thanks, Ang, I will be trying out the recipes soon, but may have to arrange to have left over beer!


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