Bit of a different type of outing this time (unless you count The Book of Tea). It’s a cookbook! And one that covers my beliefs in life—magnanimous behaviour for the benefit of everyone.
And done so in a lively and engaging way, with a focus on mental health and good fun. Mega!
Alas! We’re in a world of such mindless individualism. And it makes it genuinely refreshing when someone goes out of their way to help others, which is exactly what Tin Can Cook is about.
It’s one of the reasons we’re so impressed by Monroe. Even now she’s found success, the core focus of her message hasn’t changed. And she’s even more active than ever! But this is due to her efforts being so sadly necessary.
The British government hasn’t done a thing to help and is only making the situation worse, as the Tories cut Universal Credit by £20 a week in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic.
And this is the core root of the problem. The reason why Tin Can Cook had to be published.
I’ve actually finished writing this piece just as yet another Tory sleaze row has erupted, where Tory MPs have been whining about their £82,000 p/a income (in the top 5% of wages) and how they need lucrative second jobs to pay for their (clearly) wildly excessive spending.
And this is the government we have cutting £20 a week of income for some of the poorest people in England. They could not be more hopelessly out of touch with reality.
The result? I feel this piece on Tin Can Cook is rather well timed.
Polemical Rant About the Tories
Hidden beneath the surface of life in England (the fifth richest nation in the world) is a poverty crisis.
Pro-capitalists have a bunch of soundbites ready for such occasions to breeze past complex socioeconomic issues with the minimum of thought. I see it online all the time:
- If they’re poor, they should work harder
- They need personal responsibility
- Start a business
- You make your own luck
Anyone who thinks poor people are poor as they’re lazy is either stunningly ignorant, hopelessly out of touch with reality, overprivileged, in total denial about the nature of modern capitalism, or all that lot combined.
Now, take a city like London. The housing crisis there is so appalling, you could be earning £30k p/a (which should be a great wage) but due to rental costs you’ll be battling poverty. You can’t save any money off that due to the modern cost of living.
People can have all the personal responsibility in the world, but when the average rent costs almost half a person’s income each month then it should be very clear what the problem is.
And mass poverty in England is a governmental decision. The Conservative (Tory) party landed austerity on the nation in 2010. And we’re still in austerity as 2022 looms on the horizon.
What the Tories have done since 2010 is hand out fantastic tax breaks for the wealthy. I spoke to a Tory voter on the Manchester Evening News comments section in 2019. “The Tories have served me very well.” He wrote.
And that’s right. They have. The Tories have served the wealthy very well. And voting for them is an act of individualism, to further prop up his bank account when he doesn’t even need it. At the cost of everyone else.
Unfortunately, everyone else is utterly screwed over and that’s not something he took into consideration. Of course.
In fact, he decided my criticism of the Tories must have been due to being poverty-stricken. And he started boasting about having four cars to try and make me jealous. And I’ve had that quite a few times online, with this very strange childlike reasoning from people barely hiding their sociopathy and/or narcissistic personality disorders.
That sect of the wealthy revelling in other people’s poverty as it boosts their pathetic ego. This is where we’re at with capitalism.
It’s a mindset born out of Tory propaganda (so rife in the tabloids here), 11 years of hard right governmental control, and the lasting legacy of Thatcher’s obnoxious economic policies.
Along with brutal austerity-driven budget cuts to the police force, NHS, local councils (800+ libraries have shut since the Tories came to power) etc. etc. Well, it’s been a pretty unpleasant decade for many people in England.
The Tories have been so catastrophic since 2010 they’re now engineering laws that’ll try to block journalists (and people) criticising the party online. All while the tabloids prop up their many disaster with basic level propaganda. It’s very easy to see through. Unfortunately, many people choose not to and continue voting for this corrupt government.
Just this week, at the start of November 2021, the Tories were caught in another sleaze scandal over Owen Paterson and Boris Johnson had to backtrack.
The reality of these overprivileged Tory MPs lauding oppressive rules over everyone is we have 20 million people living from paycheck to paycheck in England.
Jack Monroe was caught up in all of it, right from the start in 2010. And so she took action, creating a blog to help others create cheap meals on a miniscule budget.
The blog took off and, since then, Monroe has launched many cookbooks, been at the centre of many charity campaigns, and generally aimed to help those struggling to get by as best they can. Let us explore the dishes, whilst waxing lyrical about the push for equality.
A Bit About Tin Can Cook
The fact this book exists is testament to a national (in fact, global) crisis. Capitalism did indeed lift many people out of poverty. Decades ago.
But, especially since the recession in 2008, it’s now plunging tens of millions back into it.
In England, Monroe found herself out of work, with no money, and a young son to feed. With only a tin of peaches and some curry powder available, she used her creativity and went on to make a tasty meal.
Suitably inspired, she setup her blog. This was A Girl Called Jack to begin with, but it’s now Cooking on a Bootstrap. You can find plenty of her recipes there.
Although still largely tin-based, she does offer more advanced options with fresh veg etc.
Along with Tin Can Cook, she covers vegetarian and vegan recipes. But also chucks in meat recipes. However, as meat tends to be expensive (in the UK, anyway—chicken, beef etc. aren’t cheap) she veers around all that.
The goal with this first book, launched in 2019, is to provide super cheap recipes that are filling, tasty, and nutritious. And all for the absolute lowest possible budget.
It’s split into various foodstuff chapters, including:
- Breakfast & brunch
But I’m starting stuff off with a look at Cansplaining. It’s an introduction and takes a look at some of the longstanding snobby misconceptions about tinned foods.
Fine place to start, no? After that, I’ll run through some of the recipes. Including the results I achieved! Hurray!
The Need For Cansplaining
The opening for Tin Can Cook is where Jack Monroe covers her thoughts and opinions on the health benefits of tinned food. Backed up by facts and figures, of course!
Although not as ideal as eating fresh foods, tinning/canning foodstuffs does preserve most of their nutrients. So, you’re still eating healthy food.
The healthiest canned foods include baked beans, sardines, vegetables, and fruits. These are typically cheap and in wild abundance across worldwide supermarkets.
Better yet, the tinned nature of them means they last far longer than they would fresh (I just looked at a tin of Co-Op kidney beans and they’re fine until late 2024).
The poverty crisis in England remains so dire that foodbank usage has skyrocketed since 2010. And over five million people are in working life poverty, too poor to buy any food.
Add onto that the 20 million people living from paycheck to paycheck (plus, 14+ million confirmed as living in poverty after a 2019 UN report by Philip Alston). At the end of his two week visit to the UK in November 2018, he confirmed:
“In the past two weeks I have talked with people who depend on food banks and charities for their next meal, who are sleeping on friends’ couches because they are homeless and don’t have a safe place for their children to sleep, who have sold sex for money or shelter, children who are growing up in poverty unsure of their future, young people who feel gangs are the only way out of destitution, and people with disabilities who are being told they need to go back to work or lose support, against their doctor’s orders.”
The UN report stated Tory-led austerity was an, “ideological project causing pain and misery”. The May 2019 final confirmation of these results was even more damning.
And yet I still come across people online who claim there isn’t poverty in England. Or that poor people are lazy and lack personal responsibility.
The type of abhorrent, blissfully ignorance stance than ensures greed prospers. With a mass capitalist mentality, the poverty crisis is created. And big business has succeeded in brainwashing society into blaming those forced into destitution.
And this whilst we’re supposed to laud billionaires, the supposed “ultimate achievers”. And if you dare criticise them, it’s all down “jealously” rather than it being a pertinent and considered notion to point out such obscene wealth.
Of course, the Tories barely acknowledged the UN report, instead accusing Alston of left-wing propaganda. And that’s exactly the same line the right-wing tabloid press took.
Others (including MPs such as Priti Patel, the home secretary) did sort of acknowledge it, but blamed the issue on local authorities. The ones decimated by relentless Tory cuts since 2010.
And that’s Patel who used £77,000 of public taxes to get her eyebrows done, by the way.
The staggering overprivileged of these people leads to ridiculous excess like that, whilst leading to a haughty and condescending attitude to those less fortunately.
Take Tory MP Annunziata Rees-Mogg (on 29/07/20) who began tweeting about poverty.
Rees-Mogg is the daughter of a Baron, had a private school education, and had a brother worth £150 million. But (as with other Tories), she’s made light of poverty and that it’s easy to overcome. Cue bleating about “personal responsibility” after 10 years of austerity.
That’s exactly the type of overprivileged and clueless rant that’s created the poverty crisis in the UK to begin with.
Yet there’s the ongoing capitalistic stance that people in poverty simply need to try a little harder and use their brains to overcome it. A cavalier arrogance born out of privilege.
For her, a momentary consideration from the lifelong lap of luxury. And one she doesn’t understand, but has a superior complex enough to think she knows best about.
The wealthy and privileged trying to lecture the less fortunate, whilst adopting the predictable austere air of superiority, is a disastrously idiotic situation. But common online. When you have your head stuck up your arse, it’s easy to just sound off about something. Even if you know nothing about it.
Monroe responded to Rees-Mogg on Twitter. And then put together The Price Of Potatoes And The Value Of Compassion in response:
“If your response to people in crisis is to simply lecture paternalistically about how you would be better at being poor than they would, I suggest you put your money where your flapping great mouth is, and give it all away. To women refuges, child support services, food banks, and every other organisation trying to patch up the screaming great holes in the social security safety nets that millions of children are falling through. You may well know the price of potatoes, but in order to tackle food poverty on a real level, not just a pontification for a jolly brouhaha on the internet, you need to understand the value of compassion as well.”
Annunziata Rees-Mogg’s stance is nothing new. Tories MPs are overeducated and overprivileged, with little understanding of what real life is about for most people.
The party has managed to ingratiate its way into the tabloid press and now has The Daily Mail, Daily Express, Sun etc. acting as their “unofficial support wing” (as journalist Owen Jones put it in late 2019).
Reading those tabloids is an act of browsing through Tory propaganda—it’s disturbing.
But they have massive readerships. And during election campaigns, those readers head on out and vote for the very thing creating so many problems in this country. This is what it’s come to. The overprivileged creating a poverty crisis and then blaming it on those forced into destitution.
It’s this appalling state of affairs that’s rapidly driven me away from capitalism (which isn’t working in its current form) to a democratic socialist stance.
Of which you can see how deeply ingrained this issue is in Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London.
Seeing as the Tory government can’t be bothered to look after the public (except the wealthy), everyday people have had to do their bit. For themselves, but also to help others. What a shocking premise!
For the record, I’m not stating these are Monroe’s political ideologies. These are my observations over the last decade based on extensive research into governmental happenings. Monroe, in fact, tends to avoid “taking sides”.
She’s here to help people make cheap, healthy recipes—regardless of political leanings.
But there’s no denying austerity is where A Girl Called Jack started. With tinned recipes to help families, singletons, and others get by in life. The fact it ballooned in popularity again highlights how serious the issue is in England.
Monroe is eager to point out the benefits of tinned goods. And that starts with providing some facts for the foodstuff’s detractors.
“I knew as soon as I pitched the idea for this book that I would be deluged by critics keen to share their perceived wisdom about how ‘canned food isn’t good for you’. I’ve had this throughout my career as a good writer – from comments on my Guardian recipes, to emails, to a handwritten letter on fancy notepaper instructing me that I was a ‘dangerous woman’ for using tinned potatoes.”
She highlights a scientific study from the University of California, which does indeed confirm that tinned produce contains many nutrients.
As the reality is you can go to a shop and stock up on £100 of fresh, organic vegetables. But a lot of it will be rotting within a couple of days.
Most of it will be inedible after a week. Or if you can still eat bits of it, the nutritional value is waning.
Regardless, it’s still difficult to dispel the student-friendly image of tinned goods (such as baked beans). Or how it’s for lazy people—slop some spaghetti hoops into a pan and there we go!
There’s also the lingering sense of how it’s a product for an emergency. Such as a world war. In the film Empire of the Sun (1987), there’s a vivid scene where young Jim smashes open tinned goods to get at precious food. All so he avoids starving to death.
And there’s a similar moment in The Pianist (2002). Adrien Brody plays real-life composer Władysław Szpilman, who was starving and desperate. Ultimately, in late 1944 he received tinned goods from Nazi soldier Captain Wilm Hosenfeld (by that point with anti-Nazi ideologies).
Digressing, but this is how ingrained tinned food is in society. You walk into a supermarket and there’s a mountain of the stuff. What do you choose?
Well, pick carefully. It’s important to stress a lot of tinned food isn’t any good for you. Full tinned English breakfasts, for example, won’t do you any good.
And so Monroe clearly explains the many items you can purchase that are good for you. These include:
- Baked beans
- All manner of beans (black, kidney, haricot etc.)
- Coconut milk
The list goes on, but it’s important to highlight that very last one. The humble potato (in a tin) is what caused a ruckus, with someone labelling Monroe a “dangerous woman” for feeding her child spuds from a can. The horror!
Anyway, that’s my rant out of the way! Polemics, eh? But this comes from the frustration of a decade of government failures, which are being ignored by the tabloid readers as they’re unaware. I just wish for a government, left or right wing—or whatever else, that did a good job.
So, what not!? Well, I did try out a number of recipes from the book. And documented the results. For this review, I decided to work through chapter by chapter to pick up my favourite bits.
Tin Can Breakfast & Brunch
Cheeky corn fritters is the first recipe I homed in on. Being a fan of hash browns, but not wanting to gain 17 stone due to those monuments to slobbery, I went for the corn option.
These are a great alternative to “grits” that are super tasty and easy to make.
And that’s really the common theme for Monroe’s recipes. They’re not here to frighten you away with their complexity. Everything is on a cheap supermarket shelf somewhere. And easy to put together. With excellent results. Behold!
From my side, I don’t really cook or bake that much. I champion Yottam Ottolenghi’s brilliant cauliflower cake. And do an excellent homemade pizza.
But, otherwise, I usually heat stuff up. I really need to add more to my repertoire. And this is one fine way to do that! It’s really easy to sling together and only requires a few ingredients.
I’m not going to hand over many recipes from her book as it seems unfair to do so—it’s only £6.99 for 75 recipes. Bang for one’s pennies.
Anyway, these corn fritters are suitable for two to four people. And you’ll need:
- 1 small onion
- 200 grams of sweetcorn
- 75 grams (about six tablespoons) of self-raising flour
- 2 eggs
- 2 tablespoons of water, milk, or milk alternative
- Paprika (or turmeric, as I put into use here)
Easy stuff, really, you just chop the onion finely. Chuck it into a plastic bowl, add the flour, spices of choice (I crunched in a load of black pepper as well), sweetcorn, milk, and mix it together.
Then heat some oil in a frying pan. Dollop the batter mix into the pan and wait for 3/4 minutes on a medium heat.
Flip over the fritter and do a bit more waiting. This is the result.
Not at all bad, eh? Now, on Monroe’s website she documents how much each meal will cost. And the prices are usually staggeringly low.
Unfortunately, she doesn’t include that in Tin Can Cook. But the most expensive thing from that list will be the carton of eggs.
I was using self-raising organic spelt flour, too, instead of standard flour. Regardless, that was about £2 for 1 kg of the stuff, so it’s all at great value.
Also in this chapter is her recipe for homemade baked beans. Now, that foodstuff is legendary in the UK. About as close to any English person’s heart as tea, crumpets, and bellowing God Save the Queen each morning.
However, love them as we may the tinned stuff always has a weird gloopy sauce.
We realised just how gloopy and odd it is after trying out the Tin Can Cook version. That involves rinsing off the goop from the beans. Use a sieve for that.
Monroe then recommends adding in chopped tomatoes, a tablespoon of olive oil, and a finely chopped onion. I threw in some garlic and black pepper to add a bit more oomph.
You let this one cook for quite a while, which means 20 minutes or so. And the result is pretty mega—a big improvement over the tinned variety.
Really, I use Monroe’s recipe these days for baked beans. It’s hard to go back to goop when you’ve had a healthier and better tasting alternative.
Tin Can Soup
Now, some of these recipes are amazing. But, you’ll need a blender for them. Given how expensive some of those things are, they may prove beyond your budget.
There are some mini cheap ones at about £20 and Monroe points out they’re often in charity shops on the cheap.
Some of the epic recipes she offers include:
- Carrot and ginger
- Roasted tomato, white bean, and mandarin
- White bean, spinach, and garlic
- Spicy rice and two bean
From Monroe’s website, here’s a more recent example in the form of roasted carrot, chickpea, and garlic soup.
If you don’t want to get a blender, what’s the alternative? Well, you can just get tinned soup. These tend to be pretty cheap a lot of the time and they’re also very good for a nifty snack that’s filling (but low in calories).
Downsides? Yeah, tinned soup tends to be packed out with salt. To a really alarming extent. One 300g tin of soup can often make up half your daily intake of salt.
If you can live with that, there are some magnificent creations out there. Others are bizarre!
We have a big love for strange tinned foods and one of them turned up in time for Christmas 2021 from Heinz. And it is this. Behold!
This thing proved enormously popular immediately and sold out on the spot. I wanted to get one for this review, but there’s no sign of the bloody thing becoming available again.
Why do bad things happen to good people?! Nevertheless, I’ll review it on my other blog when I’m able to get my hands on one.
Tin Can Pasta
This section I’ve skipped over. Why!? Since January 2021 I’ve been on a major lifestyle overhaul to shift weight and get healthy. And that means avoiding stuff like pasta.
But, sure, pasta is very tasty and cheap.
And the tuna, sweetcorn, and mushrooms pasta recipe is certainly one I’d love to try out (on page 92). Monroe notes:
“Here I have used a classic combination of tinned tuna and mushroom soup – far more delicious than it sounds – and this one makes a creamy, soupy pasta with not a breeze block in sight. Make double if you like, as this freezes really well.”
It’s worth pointing out there are plenty of pasta alternatives these days. Vegan varieties—spelt, celeriac, onion noodles, eggplant etc.
All very tasty and usually much healthier than fattening pasta. But they do tend to be rather pricey.
If you fancy a whirl at some of those, you can head to your nearest Holland & Barrett or supermarkets with their vegan aisles.
Tin Can Fish
Sardines are a major part of Monroe’s meals, they’re omnipresent! And with good reason. Sardines from a can are incredibly cheap and extremely healthy.
It was a staple meal for us all the time a decade ago—sardines with toasted pitta bread with a houmous filling. The whole lot was absurdly cheap and very tasty.
And there’s a similar recipe right from the off with lemon roasted sardines. As simple as it sounds:
“Season with a little salt and pepper, and pop the dish into the oven for 30 minutes to roast. The whole dish can be eaten, including the lemon slices, which will be soft, tart, sweet and a perfect companion to the salty strong sardines.”
I’m chuffed to say Monroe endorsed (well… liked) a tweet of mine in response to one of her recipes.
As I fully get behind this whole sardine malarkey. They’re so wildly in abundance on supermarket shelves and the low cost is something to behold.
For other fishes, in Tin Can Cook there are many more recipes. Such as cockle spaghetti, salmon and sweetcorn chowder, and smokey roes one-pot dinner.
Again, all very cheap and accessible. The ease in which you can clearly cook some of these dishes remains part of the appeal.
Tinned fish/seafood is rather limited to tuna, sardines, mackerel, and salmon. The one we’re most wary of is tinned mussels, which you can imagine wouldn’t be on the level of the fresh variety.
Still, if needs must they do pack a nutrient hit for you. But, really, if you would the ultimate cheap meal it has to be sardines.
Tin Can Meat
I’m not a big meat fan, other than chicken, turkey, and fish. And the assortment of red meats in this section aren’t really for me.
They may be for you, though, so have a gander (by buying the book)!
We did like the sound of Monroe’s chicken and mushroom curry, which is nestled on page 127.
“There is a certain amount of sniffiness around premixed curry powders, but there needn’t be; they are simply a mix of garam masala and turmeric, and usually cheaper than buying them individually. Supermarket own-brand curry powder is one of my store-cupboard staples, used for pepping up potatoes and eggs, and here for transforming a tasteless tin into a warm, spicy and delicious meal in minutes.”
Chicken, lentil, and lime pickle curry is another marvel on page 135.
But if you’re vegan, or vegetarian, then Monroe has you covered with the likes of the glorious looking red mushroom curry. At 40p a go!
Splendiferous, no? I mean, I could eat that thing all day every day. I came to that recipe just today whilst finalising this post. And I’ll be making that plenty over the winder.
Tin Can Pudding
Desserts aren’t really something I ever do, it’s just not a part of my eating routine.
Boring, I guess, but I’m trying to be healthy. So stuffing a bunch of sugar into my face doesn’t appeal as much as it used to.
BUT! If you want to do so, there’s really nothing stopping you. Even a limited budget.
In this final chapter of the cookbook, Monroe takes us through fruit cocktail cakes, rhubarb and custard crumble, and cherry batter pudding.
All very good if you want to gift your kids or boyfriend/girlfriend something fancy.
My snack of choice these days is popcorn. This is actually very easy to make if you buy some corn kernels from a store and blast it up in a pan. Behold!
So long as you don’t slather the stuff in chocolate after, popcorn is a healthy snack to indulge.
My pet hamster, Murray, is also very fond of the stuff. Food for thought there, eh?
From Monroe’s site, she really highlights her incredible creativity with the courgette chocolate cake. This thing is 16p to get together and is a real treat for the eyes.
But, yeah, all I can recommend here is you have a tour through her website. As there’s some incredible stuff going on there.
And it’s food with a pertinent message. Let’s not forget! As this fun, engaging, and important cookbook is priceless for those working with a limited budget.
Tin Canned Conclusion
Various other cookbooks from Monroe are now out and available, such as Good Food For Bad Days (May 2020). She’s continuing on her activism in impressive form.
But the message behind Tin Can Cook is clear.
With the aftermath of coronavirus to contend with, ongoing austerity, the aftermath of Brexit upcoming, and a national housing crisis… it’s not exactly much fun here for most of the nation.
Unfortunately, this poverty crisis arrives at a time of peak capitalistic, neoliberal brouhaha.
So, we’re told poverty is a choice. Those forced into it are just lazy or too dumb to do anything about it.
And yet, just off my research, I find 20 million people in England living from paycheck to paycheck. In the US, figures from early 2020 show that’s 63% of Americans. Over 150 million people.
Yet I consistently come across people online with the total conviction capitalism works.
Last year, I debated with a libertarian who was incredibly dismissive of me. “Some people are successful, some aren’t”, was his intemperate rebuttal. That was set alongside his notions of the “free will” of society.
The immediate problem with that stance is minimum wage.
There’s very little free will for people stuck in a cost of living crisis earning income that’s simply not liveable. And in excess of 170 million people are stuck in that situation in England and the US.
So the guy’s snappy “Capitalism does work” comment to me falls a bit flat. Add in how destructive this economic system is to the environment, and the horrendous issues it poses for future generations, and this focus on mindless individualism isn’t doing anyone any favours. Well, except the wealthy.
Tin Can Cook doesn’t solve all of the world’s ills, but Monroe’s magnanimous approach is the type of altruistic, collective action wider society now desperately needs as the norm.
Sadly, we’re straddled with a Tory government that’s created this disaster and is only making it worse.
From my perspective, based on extensive research, it’s obvious the UK’s great problem is the Tory party. The next election isn’t until 2024, by which point a 14 year slog with this lot will have gutted the nation of many of its societal support structures.
And the Tories will probably win the next election, as they maintain a stranglehold on the right-wing tabloids and pump them full of inane propaganda. And it works! People keep voting for them, despite the corruption and incompetence.
Why? The Tories say a vote for the left will result in us all living in Gulags.
The right-wing press scaremongers tabloid readers into believing the left vote is for, essentially, Stalinism. And that’s how the left wants to live, apparently.
What’s bizarre is so many people believe that.
I rarely come across right-wingers who have any real understanding of what democratic socialism is. They think it’s wanton totalitarianism, with capitalism remaining the golden future for everyone. Where we’re all “temporarily embarrassed millionaires”, as the brilliant George Monbiot puts it, just awaiting our hard work to pay off for the fairytale ending we’re promised.
So, onward we go. Work hard. Keep blathering about working hard. Again, keep repeating “work hard” over and over because, even though it’s a stupid point that makes no sense, it drills into the nation the concept of pulling together by hard work and hardworking work hardering. Tally, bally ho!
Yet our remarkably lazy prime minister, Boris Johnson, doesn’t know the cost of bread. Although he does know the cost of champagne.
And he believes his overprivilege is down to him benefitting from his parent’s “hard work”.
Well, seeing as his government can’t be bothered helping the majority of people in the country, it’s down to creative souls such as Jack Monroe to offer some respite. To which I doff my non-existent cap in awe.
Here, in a £6.99 cookbook, are 75 recipes that are cheap, healthy (most of the time), and easy to make.
Mana from heaven for the millions of struggling families out there.