Create a Present Box

If you are anything like me, and definitely if you have children, it is really worth having a present box – an assortment of small gifts for all of the parties they get invited to, something for relative’s birthdays throughout the year, and so on.

This is the perfect time to buy those gifts – there are so many in the sales. I popped into Asda yesterday and they had the following at half price:

gift box 1

I got 5 nice presents for £11, which I was happy with.  They will be good for darling daughter 3, who is 15, and will save me lots of money as she gets invited to loads of parties!

I know some very organised people buy all of their presents for the following Christmas in the sales. This wouldn’t work for me as I buy very little other than for my daughters, and I can’t second guess what their tastes will be by then! If you have lots to buy though, Boots is always really good – some of their gift sets go for around a third of the original price at this time of the year.

I obviously hit Asda at the right time and came out with 5 lots of yellow stickered meat products as well, so we are sorted for a fortnight or so!

Anyone else found any bargains?

Two recipes for Christmas leftovers

risotto 2I am still steadfastly working through my meal plan and using up all the leftovers from Christmas, as well as some of the bits and pieces I found at the back of the cupboard.  Yesterday we had a sophisticated yet delicious Turkey and Mushroom Risotto, which darling daughter 3 declared ‘banging’. I think that was a compliment 🙂 This came from the Daily Telegraph. I doubled up the quantities overall but only used 25g of porcini mushrooms and added 25g of fresh mushrooms, which worked really well. I also used paella rice instead of proper risotto rice as that was what I happened to have in the cupboard. I would make this again, even without the turkey.

Here is the recipe, plus some others that are quite interesting looking:

Tonight we have a Chestnut, Parsnip and Mushroom Roast, with roast potatoes, carrots and sprouts. I adapted it from Sarah Brown’s Layered Cashew and Mushroom Roast in her book Vegetarian Kitchen. It is an old book, but very much worth getting hold of if  you every come across a copy.

Chestnut, Parsnip and Mushroom Roast

This is a bit time consuming, but worth the effort. It made a very moist roast, so if you prefer it crunchier add another 50-100g of chestnuts.

nut roast 2

Tbsp oil
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
250g shelled chestnuts
110g breadcrumbs (whizz the ends of the bread up)
1 egg
3 medium parsnips, boiled and mashed
1 tsp fresh rosemary (or half tsp dried)
Handful of fresh parsley, chopped up
(you could just use a tsp of dried mixed herbs if you don’t have these)
1 tsp yeast extract, dissolved in 150ml hot water
For the mushroom filling:
225 g mushrooms, chopped and fried in a little butter

Fry the onion and garlic for 5 minutes in the oil. Whizz up the breadcrumbs then the nuts in a food processor, and place in a large bowl. Add the egg, the mashed parsnips and the herbs, then the onion and yeast extract. Season to taste.

Grease a 2lb loaf tin and place half of the nut mixture into it, pressing down firmly, then add the mushrooms, drained so that you don’t make the mixture soggy. Add the rest of the nut mixture, press firmly again, then cover with foil.

Cook for one hour at 180 degrees, taking the foil off for the last 15 minutes to brown the top of your roast. Serve with gravy and vegetables. Yummy!

New Year’s Resolutions

I love the idea of New Year’s Resolutions: turning over a new leaf, wiping the slate clean, starting again with a new positive frame of mind. In order to stick to your resolutions you need a plan. You know what you want to achieve, but how are you going to achieve it? If you break it into bite-sized chunks and look at each one individually this can make it less intimidating and more achievable.

At the turn of the New Millennium my friend decided to give up smoking. He was seriously addicted. He had been smoking since he was 13, when he used to steal his parents’ fags. He had tried to give up before, many times, but never lasted more than a few weeks. Everybody in his family had smoked, but due to various illnesses they were all slowly giving up or trying to.

He didn’t make a big fuss about it this time. At the turn of midnight he chucked all his remaining tobacco in the bin, and resolved not to smoke for the whole of the next day. The day after that, he did the same. After a week, he continued, each morning telling himself ‘I won’t smoke just for today’. A year later, he could tell you exactly how many days he hadn’t smoked for, and was confident enough to call himself an ex-smoker.

I thought this was a great approach; breaking the goal down into achievable chunks to make it more manageable. Each day he didn’t smoke was an achievement in itself and a step towards his ultimate goal.

You could do this to achieve anything. Have an ultimate goal – to get your spending in check and pay off your debts, for example. Your mini goals towards this could be: I won’t buy anything today that isn’t necessary for my survival; I will get a better deal on my energy bills; I will set up a standing order to pay £xx off my credit card each month; I will set a weekly budget for food spending and stick to it; I will put away money for annual expenditure such as car tax, MOT costs, Christmas and birthdays – whatever works for you. As you achieve your goals  on a daily, weekly or monthly basis your resolve will grow stronger as you see your ultimate aim getting closer.

I broadly know my resolutions for 2014 – to be debt free and build up a cushion for a rainy day. To achieve this I will explore ways to earn more income – I already have a new yoga class starting in January to catch those who have resolved to get fitter, and have some other ideas developing too, including selling quite a lot on Ebay; I will save £180 a month towards my annual expenses; I will continue to plan each week’s meals and stick to my shopping budget but will make them as healthy as possible; I won’t buy anything that isn’t essential, and will make sure I get the best deal and have the money to pay for it before I do; I will pay off the small amount I still owe on my credit card.

After that, we shall see. I will continue to record my progress in this blog, so you can check I am doing the right thing and give me a kick if it looks as if I am faltering and have been on a spending spree somewhere!

Sausage, apple and herb stuffing

Finally, I have finished work and have had a lovely morning pottering around tidying up, wrapping a few last minute presents and planning tomorrow’s dinner, including this lovely sausage, apple and herb stuffing.

I have been through the Radio Times and there is some good TV on. I rarely sit around watching the box, but will make an exception over Christmas. I also have lots that I will record, including Gregory’s Girl – I love that film! I was going to buy it for me and DD3 to watch during our weekly film night but it was almost £20 on Amazon!

Also I am a sucker for a good costume drama, so will be forcing the family to watch Downton Abbey on Christmas Day and definitely Death Comes to Pemberley on Boxing Day. I am a big Jane Austen fan, and adored the classic series of Pride and Prejudice with the delicious Colin Firth as Mr Darcy . Sorry, Mr Shoestring, but I might still have to chuck you if he ever appears out of our pond in his shirt :).

Sausage, apple and herb stuffing

I have peeled the chestnuts, iced the cake and made the stuffing this morning. I could have the stuffing as a main course actually, it smells so good. Here is the recipe:

400g herby sausage meat
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 apple, peeled and diced fairly small
About a dessertspoon of butter
75g breadcrumbs
Handful of chopped herbs (I used parsley and rosemary as I have them in the garden, but sage would be nice too)

stuffingGently fry the onion in the butter for 4 or 5 minutes, then add the apple for 2 minutes. Add the sausage meat, breadcrumbs and herbs and mix well (it’s easiest with your hands). Make into balls and bake at 180 degrees for about 30 minutes, or use to stuff your bird.

I made 6 largish stuffing balls with half of this, and will use the other half in the neck of the turkey tomorrow.

Happy Christmas

Whatever you are doing today, I hope you are having a good day and have a brilliant Christmas. I might make it on here to blog tomorrow, but I might be too stuffed to move as far as the laptop! Actually I plan a late breakfast, everyone mucking in to get the dinner ready, eating it, then having a walk to work some of it off. Then back to clear up, have a Christmas tea of salad and cold cuts with some friends and an evening of games and TV. Complete bliss!

Cheat’s Christmas Chocolate Cake

I have slaved over a hot cake tin over past Christmases and spent lots of time and money making fabulous Christmas cakes that nobody eats. My lot just aren’t that keen!

So this year I asked them what they wanted and they said a chocolate cake.

photo (5)I could make one from scratch, but since I am working all the way through to Christmas Eve, I don’t feel guilty about cheating, and have made a delicious frugal cake that I know they will really enjoy.

The secret? Betty Crocker’s chocolate cake mix! This costs £2.25 for each cake, £2.25 for one pot of chocolate fudge icing, which will be enough to fill and top two cakes, plus around £2 for some decorations (I had some in the cupboard already).

Sure I could make chocolate cakes myself more cheaply, but I am short of time as well as money, so I don’t think less than £9 for two special cakes is bad….

Mixed Vegetable Gratin

Sometimes you just need something light and healthy that is quick to prepare. Last night was one such night. Darling daughter no 2 was invited back to her sixth form college for the annual awards evening. I am a very proud mummy as she worked really hard and got an A* and received the English award for academic achievement. It was all a bit of a rush, so before I left for work I made this easy vegetable gratin, which serves 4, and we had it with jacket potatoes, although roasties would be particularly nice.

image1.5lb mixed veg (I used a head of broccoli, 4 carrots and 3 sticks of celery), lightly boiled or steamed
1 pint milk
2 oz margarine
3 tbsp flour
8 oz cheddar

Place your cooked veg in a baking dish. Make your cheese sauce by melting the marg then adding the flour and cooking for a few minutes on a low heat. Whisk in the milk and turn the heat up a little until it thickens, then add 3/4 of the cheese. Take off the heat and season to taste, then pour it over your veg. Sprinkle over the remaining cheese. If I was eating this immediately I would stick it under a hot grill until the cheese browns. As I reheated it I warmed it in a medium oven for 25 minutes to half an hour.

Budget Cleaning

I love a bit of budget cleaning. There are so many products out there, and lots of them are expensive. I use as few as possible – I don’t want my house full of chemicals, and I don’t want want to pay the huge advertising costs of big business.

If you cut the expensive stuff and make some of your own, you save so much money. In addition, you and your family don’t have to inhale a nasty cocktail of chemicals that could be damaging everybody’s health, as well as the general environment.

budget cleaningProducts to avoid if you go for budget cleaning

Air fresheners – these don’t ‘freshen’ your air. How could they? All they do is mask smells with synthetic perfumes. They make me cough and give me a headache! If there is a bad smell, open the window for a bit.

Furniture polish – if you are lucky enough to own top quality wooden furniture, use a bit of beeswax on a cloth. If  not, a 50/50 mix of white vinegar and water in an old spray bottle will clean surfaces just as well.

Glass and mirror cleaning – again, vinegar works a treat with a cotton cloth or a bit of newspaper.

Bleach – OK, I admit to using this! Just a bit down the loo every now and again. If you want to be truly chemical free then white vinegar is OK, but I have found it isn’t as effective as the hard stuff. I buy the cheapest bleach from Aldi for 55p.

Best budget cleaning products

Bathroom and kitchen cleaning – If you want the natural approach then bicarbonate of soda is your best bet. Just sprinkle some onto a scourer, scrub away, then rinse off. If you have some really grubby areas, mix it into a paste with a little sea salt and a bit of washing up liquid.

I managed to find a large tub in a chemist in town for about a fiver a few months ago but this has run out now and I haven’t seen it since, so if anybody knows somewhere good for bulk buying it, please share! I also use good old fashioned cream cleaner. The Tesco version is only 78p.

Floors – half a cup of baking soda dissolved in hot water is a good floor cleaner. I use a capful of disinfectant in a bucket of water from time to time to clean the floors too. The Tesco Value stuff costs 30p a litre.

Budget cleaning for the oven

I can’t abide the strong oven cleaners you can buy. I don’t even think they work that well and they make the house smell awful. You have to use them in a well ventilated room, so they probably aren’t that good for you!

I found out by accident that soda crystals are great for cleaning ovens. I made a strong solution and was trying to scrub the old grease from the glass oven door when a friend rang. After half an hour of chat I went back to my cleaning to find that the grease came off really easily. So this is how I clean my oven now – sponge it on, leave it for a bit, then give it a good scrub with wire wool.

Soda crystals are also really good for unblocking drains. They aren’t always easy to find, so I buy 2 or 3 packs at a time when I see them. They cost about £1 a pack.

Budget cleaning is a piece of cake. You really don’t need lots of different products or to spend lots of money!

Eve’s Pudding

Using up the glut with a delicious Eve’s pudding

This morning I have been hard at work using up some of the glut of windfall apples, kindly donated by one of Mr Shoestring’s neighbours. They are a mixture of eaters and cooking apples. Because they are windfalls and bruised in places, they won’t store, so they need to be used or frozen.

applesI have made a simple but delicious Eve’s pudding for tonight’s dessert. This worked out at 16p a portion, but will obviously cost a bit more if you buy the apples. Try them in season from the market, where they will be cheapest of all. The other prices are all based on what I paid at Aldi, apart from the brown sugar, which came from Asda.Eves pudding

Serves 6

1lb/500g apples, peeled and chopped (free)
2 oz/50g butter (20p)
2 oz/50g brown sugar (20p)

For the sponge:

4 oz/100g self raising flour (3p)
4 oz/100g caster sugar (10p)
4 oz/100g margarine (15p)
2 medium eggs (31p)


Soften the apples by melting the butter with the sugar in a saucepan, and then adding the apples. This takes about 10 minutes. Make the sponge by creaming the butter and sugar together until the mixture becomes pale yellow, then whisk the eggs in one at a time. If you add a spoonful of the flour in with the second egg, this will stop the mix from curdling. Finally mix in the flour and stir until all of the ingredients are well blended.

Place the apples on the bottom of a suitable greased tin, making sure you drain off most of the juice to prevent your sponge going soggy. Then add the sponge mixture and spread it evenly.

Place the tin in the middle of a preheated oven, at about 180C/gas mark 4 for about 45 minutes.

Ready for the oven...

Ready for the oven…

I am looking forward to this! I have also made several portions of spiced apple puree for the freezer. I just add 3 oz of brown sugar and a couple of teaspoons of mixed spice to about 1lb of apples with 2 teaspoons of water and simmer gently for 10-15 minutes. Cool, then bag up or put into containers. You can eat it as it is, with yogurt or custard, or as a base for a crumble.

We are also having a super frugal vegetarian dinner of chick pea curry and rice. You can find the recipe here.

Shoestring Soup Making Factory

From this...

From this… this!

…to this!

I am working the late shift this week, 11.45 til 8, but I don’t mind as it gives me a few hours to get things done before I set off.  So this morning I chopped up the pumpkin that I had been ignoring on the  work surface for a week to make a batch of soup for the freezer. I came to work smelling of onions, but what the heck? I have lots of cheap and healthy lunches for the weeks ahead. I left it cooling, so when I get home I can  pot it up into my old butter and yogurt containers. The recipe is below if you fancy it. Today I didn’t bother with the spices as I was in a rush but it turned out super smooth, velvety and delicious.

One pumpkin made 17 good portions!

One pumpkin made 17 good portions!

 So, one small thing I have done to be frugal today, although I have also done a long day and worked two hours overtime. Every little helps at this time of the year! Now I need no unexpected expenses for the next few months so that I can get my finances on track for the new year!!!

Discounted Goods at the Community Shop…a sign of the times

I got a small Approved Foods order last night to help get me through Christmas and into the New Year without over spending. I got pasta, pickles, crackers, crisps and soft drinks for Christmas, casserole mixes for when I am working the late shift so my daughters can have something quick but healthy, soups, chickpeas, a big enchilada kit, even bargain teabags. I spent £17 plus £5 postage on goods that should have cost £40. If I had been more organised I would have shared an order and the postage cost.

Companies like Approved Foods, selling products beyond their best before dates but perfectly safe to use still, really do help folk on a small budget, and stop this food from being wasted. Years ago, I had a friend whose disabled Dad lived above a supermarket, and every evening he would help himself to the contents of their skip. The stuff that was thrown out was shocking – dented tins, tins with no labels (this was exciting – you didn’t know if you would get baked beans or cat food), fruit, veg, meat, cakes and bread only just past their use by date, would all get skipped. For him, it meant the difference between eating and not eating.

Now, there is an organised movement – people go ‘skipping’ in the dead of night as a form of protest at the amount of perfectly good food that supermarkets throw away. Fair play to them: it is obscene that we throw so much away when there are people surviving on so little because of the recession, not to mention terrible for the environment. Some mean spirited supermarket staff object to this, and have been known to spoil the contents of the skips by pouring bleach and cleaning chemicals on it so the skippers can’t use it *rolls eyes*. What is wrong with these people?

Now the supermarkets are starting to take a different approach. I read on the BBC news website today about the opening of the first community shop, selling heavily discounted products to people on benefits, donated by large organisations like Marks and Spencer, Tesco, Asda and Tetley. This seems like a common sense approach all round. Food isn’t wasted, hard up families get to stretch their budgets further, and a few jobs are created. I hope this is the start of a new trend.

You can read the full story here.

Tightening the belt even harder!

I will have a 22 inch waist by the time I have finished tightening my belt!

I couldn’t post yesterday because the electrics gave up. We managed to get the lights to work, but anything else caused the whole system to trip. So I have spent most of the day with the emergency electrician, and I am now £125 lighter. It could have been worse – we could have sat in the dark all night, but it was quite cold since the gas central heating system is controlled by electrics….

I quite enjoyed the quiet though – no TV, no radio, no noise from my daughter’s laptop – she tried to play a DVD on her laptop as we had no internet but it soon ran out of juice.

The electrician confirmed what I already knew though – Mr Bodger the Totally Incapable has been at work on the electrics and they need some repair. The lights and plug sockets in my daughter’s very cold downstairs bedroom (converted badly from the old coal hole and outside loo) no longer work at all so she will have to move upstairs to the room of darling daughter no two, currently away at uni.

So bang goes any opportunity to rent this room out (it is currently advertised on the Five Nights a week website) and I will have to save some money to get the work on the electrics done in the New Year.

I can’t feel defeated. I will have to spend nothing  unless it is absolutely essential, and keep the food bill to the absolute minimum. I have a new yoga class starting in the New Year and I will have to find more ways to make some extra money. I am off to list a few bits on Ebay right now!

three choices

Cheese and Pasta Casserole, 71p

This is an old family favourite – it is absolutely delicious and healthy too. It worked out at £2.86 overall, and fed 4 of us, so around 71p a portion. We had this with a mixed salad that was yellow stickered at Asda for 64p.

pasta cheese casserole350g pasta, 35p
3 small onions, 12p
100g mushrooms, 36p
1 clove garlic, 5p
100g cheddar, grated, 30p
400g can of chopped tomatoes, 33p
2 carrots, peeled and grated, 5p
Quarter pint of white wine, 40p
Small handful of chopped parsley, free from garden

Heat some oil in a large pan and fry the onions, garlic and mushrooms until they are soft. Add the grated carrots and white wine, bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes, then add the tomatoes and parsley. Simmer for another few minutes, then season to taste. Meanwhile, bring a large pan of water to boil and cook your pasta. When it is ready, add to the sauce with the grated cheese and stir it all together. Serve straight away with a salad and maybe some crusty bread if you are pushing the boat out. You could substitute stock for the wine, but it does add a lovely flavour if you have some.

Liver and bacon casserole, £1.91 for 3 large portions

I haven’t had liver since I was a child. Back then, eating offal was a regular occurrence in our household. Steak and kidney pud, chicken liver pate, I even have a vague recollection of tripe in some form. We ate what we were given as we were always starving by dinner time. My own spoilt children have declared that they will never ever eat liver. However, Mr Shoestring loves it, so when I spotted pigs liver in the supermarket for 66p for 420g, I had to give it a go. I got some smart price unsmoked back bacon too, and used the Hairy Bikers recipe. It was absolutely delicious and satisfying, and at 64p a portion, incredibly frugal. The recipe suggests using lambs liver, but the pork liver worked a treat. I left out the ketchup. This made three generous portions, but could have stretched to four.

liver and bacon liver

As well as 66p for the liver, the bacon cost £1.13 for 4 rashers, the onions about 12p, the flour and stock cube about 15p. Under £2 to feed 3-4 people is pretty good! I served this with creamy mash and cabbage, both of which were yellow stickered in Asda.

The recipe is here:


Bargain sites for Christmas

Darling daughter no 1 has put me onto a fantastic bargain site selling makeup and toiletries, Check out their 99p section! This would be great for small Christmas presents and stocking fillers. I also need some make up bits for myself so will definitely be exploring this in some depth. It offers free delivery on orders over £10.

Another favourite with me is always The Book People,, which is especially good value for box sets of books. They currently have The Hunger Games trilogy for £4.99, for example.

Approved Foods is also a possibility for Christmas presents as they have a large toiletries section. Sometimes they even have gifts too. I recently purchased some excellent books on there for 49p each which I used as birthday presents. I think they are worth checking out for chocolate, crisps and snacks, soft drinks and gourmet foods as well, which they sell at vastly reduced prices. (

Finally, and I have yet to use this but a friend recommends it, there is, which alerts you to good deals at various websites, although you have to check it regularly.

Where do you find your bargains on the internet?