Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Foodie frugality... for people who (like me) really love god food.

 1) Meat is not compulsory! I must say that I have never really been a massive meat eater. I'm not vegetarian by any means, but I find big slabs of meat pretty dull. If you are used to building your meals around large portions of meat, then reducing it might be a challenge. Eating meatless meals a few times a week is a huge money saver. Pizza, pasta and sauce, egg and chips, are all everyday, meatless meals. Lentils and beans are great alternatives to meat. When you do eat meat, use it as a seasoning rather than a main ingredient. For instance, a bit of bacon can go a long way to add flavour to a risotto. A little chorizo can pack a flavour punch in a pasta bake. A slice of ham can top a pizza. 

2) Indulge in simple treats. Just because you are eating frugally doesn't mean your diet needs to be bland and tasteless, just move away from the idea that treat foods have to be expensive. A bowl of English strawberries at the height of summer isn't going to cost much, but wow, what a flavour! Make meals special. A bowl of homemade soup can be served at a candlelit table and savoured every bit as much as a fresh lobster! Take care with the preparation and presentation of food, and make it feel special every day.

 3) Learn your craft. Cooking well isn't rocket science, but it does take a little practice. You can save a lot of money by learning how to cook well. By that, I don't mean that you have to have the skills of a professional chef, but make sure that you can make your favourite things.

 4) Don't you love it when a plan comes together? Cooking and eating well and frugally does take a bit of planning. Don't leave yourself in the position where you have no other option than a last minute dash for a ready meal or take away. I usually plan out my week at the weekend. I'm not keen on having strict meal plans, but I think about what sort of activities I have to fit in, and try and shop accordingly. So, for instance, if I know I'm going to be late in, then dashing straight out again for an evening meeting, then I'll make sure I have something really quick and easy like pasta and pesto. If we have the sort of night where we might all be needing to eat at different times, then I'll get a casserole into the slow cooker for that day, so we can help ourselves when we need to. I also check what I have in the kitchen before I shop, so I avoid food waste wherever possible. 5) Get ahead wherever you can. When you make a meal, makes two. Put one in the freezer, and you have an easy dinner for another night. Prep as much in advance as you an, when you have the time. Last night I peeled the potatoes and chopped the veg for tonight's dinner before I went to bed. 6) Bake. Cakes and treats, especially good quality ones made with 'real' ingredients, can be very pricey. Baking your own can save money, and really impress your friends and family. I have maybe five or six faithful recipes, that I can produce quickly and easily time and time again. These include a basic muffin recipe which can be flavoured any way I like, a lemon drizzle cake, a flapjack type bake, and a million variations on tiffin!

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Fishnet stockings, aramanth biscuits and abduction...

...or in other words, a trip to my local library. I love my library. It's not very big or fancy, but its friendly, and they make every effort to organise various community events like book clubs (for kids, teens and adults), knitting groups, IT support, family history research days, etc, etc. when I popped in last night there was someone from the council discussing some planning issues with an elderly couple. But I wasn't there for any special event, I was just taking advantage of one of their late nights to pop in and borrow some books. I hadn't been in for a few weeks, and it was one of those occasions when there were loads of books I fancied reading. So, I came home with... 3 cookbooks (one by Tom Parker Bowles, the Bake Off Showstopper book, and one about natural super foods) An autobiography called 'Abode of Love' about growing up in a religious cult Have A Little Faith, by Mitch Albom (I haven't read any of his non-fiction before, so I'm looking forward to this) Girl, Missing by Sophie Mckenzie (its a kids book, but I'm a teacher, so that's my excuse) A trilogy of memoirs by Margaret Walker. In the book shop, I probably wouldn't have bought any of these, but borrowing from the library means you can try things that you are unsure about. I've discovered lots of great authors in the library, and have gone on to purchase many of their books, but borrowing first helps avoid costly mistakes - and my budget doesn't have room for mistakes!

Fresh and Fruity...

...that's the name of my local green grocers, isn't it a great name? I like to buy my fruit and veg there for a number of reasons. First, I like to support local, independent business. My own little town has a number of empty shops that just never seem to be filled, and if I don't use the shops that are there, then I expect I will loose them too. Secondly, the fruit and veg there is always good quality. I might not be able to get all the exotic varieties that a supermarket can offer, but I know that there is a quick turnover of stock and that it is all fresh. Thirdly, I can save money shopping there. The prices of most things are at least comparable to ordinary supermarket prices, and I can buy exactly what I need, thus avoiding waste. Each day the staff at the shop pick out any items that are a bit bruised or ripe and need using quickly, and bag them up into mixed bags which they sell off very cheaply. These can be really good value.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Get ahead...

...when cooking from scratch.

 When you make up a batch of short crust pastry, make double or even treble the amount you need, and freeze the rest, ready for next time.

Grate a big block of cheese. Keep it in the fridge in a sealed bag ready to use, or freeze portions of it.

 When you make pizza dough, make double, and freeze for another time.

 Lots of meals start with fried onions. When you have a bit of time, chop up LOTS of onions, and cook them slooooowly in some oil, until they are rich and soft and flavoursome. These can be frozen in little bags, and will give a delicious flavour to many meals.

 Use the slow cooker to make up a big batch of tomato sauce. Use this one night to have with pasta, the next to top some fish fillets, and use up the last bit on your frozen pizza bases, with your frozen, ready grated cheese for a super quick meal.

 Cut chicken into strips, sprinkle with spices and seasoning, and freeze it in a bag along with sliced onions and peppers. Take a bag out before you leave for work, and you have chicken fajita fillings, ready to go, when you come home.

 Crumble topping (flour, butter and sugar, rubbed into crumbs) freezes brilliantly, and hardly needs any time to defrost, so you can make up a huge batch when you have some time to spare, and freeze it in bags. When you want to use it, you can take it more or less straight out, crumble it over fruit with your finger tips, and bake.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Exploring new...

...meal ideas.

I really need to go shopping soon. The cupboard, fridge and freezer are looking woefully empty. However, a combination of laziness and obstinacy makes me want to push on and make it for just one more day....and then maybe one more!

I've just prepared tomorrow evenings meal. Sweet potato bake. Basically, its just sweet potato, sliced and steamed, then piled into a baking dish and smothered in a cheesy, mustardy white sauce, and topped with bread crumbs. It looks very tasty. I will serve it with various bits and pieces from the freezer, including some vegetable samosas. It might not be something I would have put into a meal plan, but I think it will turn out to be a pretty decent meal.

Using up stale bread.

It's either feast or famine in my house, as far as bread is concerned. I am either dashing to the shops last thing at night to get bread for tomorrow's packed lunch, or I have a freezer full, and loaves sitting out going stale.

Here are a few ideas for using up stale bread;

Whiz it into crumbs in the processor, bag them up, and freeze them. They can be used for bulking out meatballs, topping a bake, baking a treacle tart, etc, etc.

Toast it. Slightly sale bread will toast well, and can also make lovely toasted sandwiches.

Bread and butter pudding. This is a really old fashioned, rib sticking pudding. Take a few slices of bread, and butter liberally. Cut, and arrange in a baking dish. Sprinkle with dried fruit ( or, alternatively, spread with jam, marmalade or chocolate spread and peanut butter). Mix an egg or two with half to one pint of milk (cream or evap would be god too), and pour over. Leave to soak for a bit, cover and bake for about thirty mins. Uncover to brown for a few mins at end, but don't let it burn.

Make a bread salad. Tear up bread into chunks, sprinkle quite generously with salad dressing, and leave to soak while you cho up tomatoes, cucumber and other assorted salad veg. Mix with the bread, and serve.

Tear into croutons, drizzle with oil and bake. Use these to top out or salad.

Make a summer fruit pudding. Use frozen berries if its not summer.

Make a war time bread pudding. Soak 10oz sale bread for ten mins in a little water, then squeeze out most of the moisture. Mix with 2oz butter, 2 oz dried fruit and 1 oz sugar, and a teaspoon or so of cinnamon. Mix in an egg, and enough milk to make it sticky. Spread out into a baking dish, and bake for about an hour. It's nice to sprinkle some sugar on top. You can serve this hot with custard, but its also nice to have a cold slice with a cuppa. You can use any dried fruit you like. It's also nice if you grate some apple, or pear, and mix that in. Since mincemeat left over from Christmas would be lovely too. You old use ginger insteadof cinnamon.

Monday, 18 February 2013

"The underground guide to living frugal" available on Amazon for Kindle for FREE!

Its kind of a classic, and I don't know how long it will be available for free, so if you can, get it now.

Never say no... a freebie.

 Went round to visit my mum after work this evening, and she had a few items that she wondered if I would like. First, a couple of men's rugby shirts. Mum is a huge rugby fan, and loves buying souvenir  shirts. However, she is my weightwatcher buddy, and many of them are now far too big. These two had been worn maybe twice at most, and if I hadn't taken them, they would have gone in the bin. They will probably fit my husband, but if not, I will ale them to the charity shop. She also offered me a shopping bag on wheels. I already have a shopping trolley (a fantastically retro orange creation, which I love), and I almost said no thanks. Then I remembered that my lodger, a primary school teacher, regularly lugs huge bags and boxes of planning and books to mark home with her, and I realised that the bag on wheels would be perfect for her.

I am always thrilled when people offer me their unwanted items, and I almost always say yes. If I cannot use them myself, then I pass them on to people who can. Many years ago, I worked at a night shelter for homeless people, and I've kept in touch with various organisations that work in that sector, so I can often pass on household items to someone who really needs them.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

The bane of many lives...

...packed lunch!

Packing a lunch is, we all know, the frugal choice. Like many working mums, I am responsible for making packed lunches for myself and my family and if I am honest, it often feels like a ball and chain around my neck! However, I do like knowing that myself and my family have something tasty and reasonably healthy to eat each day, and there is no way I could budget for buying lunch out everyday.

I've been making packed lunches for myself, my husband and my daughter for many years, and I thought I would share some ideas that have worked for me.

1. Sandwiches...
The good old sarnie is the backbone of most packed lunches, isn't it? I usually make them the night before, so I steer clear of anything that will go soggy or smelly! I don't often put salad into the sandwiches, because I find it often makes them soggy. However, I quite often put some sliced cucumber and tomato into a little plastic tub and put them into my sandwich at lunch time. As far as fillings go, I tend to stick to the basics, like cheese and cooked meat. I find wraps and pitta breads very useful, because I can buy them well in advance, and they will keep for a long time in the cupboard or freezer.

2. Instead of a sandwich...
I sometimes give my daughter sausage rolls instead of a sandwich. I often have some in the freezer, and they come in handy on days when I have run out of bread or fillings, or just for a bit of variety.
My daughter rally enjoys a pasta salad instead of a sandwich sometimes. Just some cold pasta mixed up with mayonnaise, with some chopped up protein, like cheese, chicken or ham, and some vegetables like sweetcorn and cucumber. At home, she loves a big pile of salad leaves, with dressing and grated cheese, but she won't have that at school, because she worries about getting bits of green stuck in her braces!

3. A hot dinner...
Both my husband and myself have access to a microwave, which opens up a whole world of possibilities! I often make some veg soup at the weekend, using up odds and ends, and freeze a few portions in old margarine tubs. I'm happy to have that for lunch, but my husband is not a soup fan. I will quite often pack up leftovers from the previous nights meal for my husband. This works out pretty well most of the time, and he much prefers it to a sandwich.
Jacket potatoes make a nice lunch, with a bit of something to fill them, like a dollop of coleslaw. I usually cook them before hand, then just heat them up in the microwave at work. That way, I'm not tying up the micro for too long when other people might need it.
I do sometimes pick up a ready meal or two, especially if they are reduced. They are not a regular lunch, but are handy to keep in the freezer as a back up.

4. A savoury 'extra'...
I often pop a treat or two in our lunch. Sometimes sweet, sometimes savoury. I'm not adverse to a packet of crisps now and then. Not every week, because they have a lot of salt in them, but I might pick up a multipack if they are a good price. My daughter only really likes to take ready salted crisps to school, she is worried that other flavours might make her breath smell.
We all like olives, so a few in a little pot always go down well.
I have a couple of little tubs with a sealable pot in the centre, and I will sometimes fill it with a dip of some kind, surrounded by cucumber and carrot sticks.

5. A sweet 'extra'...
I like a yogurt, which is nice and simple. I look out for whatever is a good price. I'm quite happy to eat Smart Price /Value yogurts.
I bake quite often. Simple muffins, maybe with a chopped up Mars bar mixed in, or a lemon drizzle cake. I might freeze individual portions, and bring them out as I need them.
I look out for special offers on chocolate biscuits, like penguins or kit Kats.
We eat a lot of fruit, too. If I take an orange to work, I slice it up at home first.

6. Drinks...
Water. Plain and simple, in a reusable bottle. Very infrequently, I will give my daughter a small carton of fruit juice in addition to the water, but none of us are very keen on fizzy drinks, so they never feature in packed lunches.

Home and hungry...

...with nothing planned.

I usually try to plan ahead for Sunday lunch. We don't get in from church until about two most weeks, often with guests, and always starving. However, this week it is just me and hubby, as daughter is off on a mission trip with the Youth, and I hadn't planned a thing. So, I poked around in the fridge and came up with....

Onion, fried until golden in spray oil, wilted spinach, spritzed with lemon juice, and served topped with a great big dollop of hummus. Some carrot and cucumber sticks on the side, and a slice of seedy, whole meal bread cut into soldiers. Delicious, and I am stuffed :-)

I've said some stupid things... my time,

But at least I'm not Terry Deary.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

And with the rest of the chick peas...

...I made falafel.

I had cooked up a bag full of dried chick peas to make the hummus. I bagged up enough for a future bowl of hummus, and popped that in the freezer. That left me with about two bigs mugs full of chick peas, and I decided to use them to make falafel. I've no idea if my recipe is authentic, but it is simple, frugal and tasty.

The chick peas went into the processor, along with a large onion that I had chopped and fried, a generous couple of spoons of cumin, about the same amount of dried coriander. If I had any fresh coriander or parsley, I would have put that in, but I didn't. A clove of garlic and a couple of eggs went in next, and then it was all whizzed up to combine.

I put the mixture in the fridge to firm up, then when it was ready I shaped it into little patties, and shallow fried them until golden. I left the falafel to cool, then bagged them up and froze them. They reheat really well in the oven, but I will probably use them for packed lunches next week. With a pitta bread, a bit of salad and maybe some hummus, they will be really nice. Actually, I love them served with a dollop of good old fashioned English chutney.

The finest hummus... the world!

I'm making this right now, and my mouth is watering at the prospect. Vicious with garlic and lemon, this is my idea of food heaven.

In the food processor, whiz up 250g of cooked chickpeas, 2 tbspns of tahini, 3 garlic cloves, 125ml lemon juice, and a pinch of ground cumin. If its a bit thick, add a little dribble of cold water.

And that's it.

Simple, gorgeous loveliness :-)

Of course, like all recipes, you could mess about with this to your hearts content. Mix in some fried onions for the last 'whiz', or some roasted peppers, or some olives, or some chilli. Add the zest from your lemon. Mix in a dollop of yogurt, or soft cheese. Drizzle with olive oil, pine nuts, paprika...

Serve with warm pitta breads, or carrot sticks, or in a sandwich, or on a jacket potato, and enjoy.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Do not...

...educate your child on how to be rich,
Educate her on how to be happy.

So when she grows up,
She will know the value of things,
Not the price.

Author unknown.

Store cupboard hospitality...

...or, feeding guests when you can't be bothered to go to the shop.

 So, we got home late last night after our little trip to the Big Smoke, and I wasn't in any hurry to get up this morning. But I knew that we had friends coming round for lunch, so I assumed I would have to get myself out to the shops.

 Then, while waiting for the kettle to boil, I started to poke around the kitchen and decided that I could probably make do with what was already there. In the freezer was some rich, garlic-y tomato sauce that I had made from some over ripe, yellow sticker tomatoes, and some cheese. So, there was the basis for a simple but tasty pasta bake. I had loads of duck eggs from a trip to the garden centre last week, a bag of tiny new potatoes and a head of broccoli which both needed eating, so there was a frittata just asking to be made. I almost took a fruit pie out of the freezer, before my husband reminded me that our guests were bringing pudding. So, with the addition of numerous cups of tea, and glasses of Vimto, there was a rather nice little lunch for seven, without so much as stepping out of the door :-)

Noodles, sushi, pretty shoes...

...and men painted gold.

Last night we returned home from a couple of days in London, and we had a wonderful time.

We soaked up the atmosphere in Covent Garden, and even on a freezing cold Tuesday in February there were several street performers to entertain us.

I explored the Shoe Galleries in Selfridges. I do have a bit of a weakness for pretty shoes. Not that I would consider paying for a designer pair even if I could afford them, but I approached the experience as though I were just looking around an art gallery, and I thoroughly enjoyed looking without craving to own.  The shop assistant in Louboutin was lovely. When he approached to offer me help, I made it quite clear that I was only there to look and dream, but because there were no other customers he insisted on talking me through the range, just for fun. What a nice guy.

We ate out a lot, but we had budgeted for that, and for us that is a our favourite part of going on holiday. Living in a provincial, Northern city, our choice of eateries is quite limited, so we love to experience other cuisines whenever we can. Japanese food is a favourite, and we made the most of being able to get it in London!

We took the Emirates Airline cable car over the Thames (thanks for the tip!), and loved the view.

We spent some time in Greenwich, looking round the market, and the Naval Museum ( free entry!). I had the chance to try on replica armour, so of course made the most of that photo opportunity. Greenwich was a lovely breath of fresh air after the hustle and bustle of central London.

We even enjoyed zipping around on the underground. I imagine that if you lived in London, battling your way to and from work would soon become a chore, but as a tourist I just love the whole experience.

Best of all, my husband, my daughter and myself got the chance to spend two solid days in each others company. That doesn't happen too often, and it was great :-)

Thursday, 7 February 2013

London, baby!

Next week will be half term, and yesterday my husband announced that he was taking us on a trip to London!
We are travelling down on Tuesday, setting off very early in the morning, and arriving at lunch time. We are taking the Mega Bus, which is actually only a bus for part of the journey. You then get off the bus and get onto a train for the rest of the trip. It does take longer than just the train, but it costs considerably less. We are then spending Tuesday night at a hotel near the O2 arena, and travelling back home on Wednesday afternoon.

 Our budget is fairly tight. We really enjoy eating out, and don't want to skimp on that aspect of the trip. My husband will check on line for any special offers at restaurants we like, such as Yo Sushi, and a really good deal might influence our decisions on where to eat. We will also be taking plenty of pack up to eat on the journey down to London, and we will be taking full advantage of breakfast at the hotel!

 We can't afford to spend much on entrance fees to attractions, nor do I consider trailing around shops a good time. Personally, I could spend all day looking around the Natural History museum, but I've taken my daughter there so often I think she might rebel! We have never been to the Museum of London, and that looks like it might be worth seeing.

 If the weather was better, then we would take some skates and roll around Hyde Park, but I think that in February we shall need plenty of indoor activities!

 If anyone has any suggestions for activities that might be fun for me, my husband and my teenage daughter, then I would love to hear them!

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Feel like doing something different....?

How about getting hold of a few sticks of chalk, and writing inspirational quotes on the pavement?

Or pack up your evening meal, and go and eat it in the park? I know it's cold outside, but as long as it isn't raining you can wrap up warm. If it is just too cold outside, then sit in the car and look out at a nice view.

Send a message in a bottle.

Write an inspirational message in a pretty card, and leave in under the windscreen wiper of a random car.

Put a romantic note in your husbands packed lunch.

Put a silly joke in your child's packed lunch.