House guest

We have our first foreign language student coming on Sunday. This will mean that I need to organise her bedroom tomorrow and give it a thorough clean. It has become a bit of a dumping ground since DD2 went to university. The detritus includes a host of DIY equipment, suitcases, laundry and my daughter’s gecko, which is shut away because the kitten won’t leave her alone.

I am also planning my menus for the week. I am avoiding pasta as she is Italian and I don’t want to show myself up! I will stick to plain and plentiful I think.

She is only here for a week. Let’s hope she is as nice as last year’s bunch.

Grazing

I do tend to be a grazer as far as food is concerned. I have low blood sugar and get a headache if I go too long between meals (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!). However, nowadays I graze and still eat a full meal! This is why I am fighting the middle age spread.

A lot of people at work subscribe to regular Graze boxes; a genius business idea. You pay a small monthly amount and receive weekly boxes containing healthy snacks such as seeds, nuts and dried fruits with the odd bit of chocolate thrown in for good measure.

imageAll very well, but no good for penny pinchers! So this morning I made me and DD3 our very own graze boxes with some mixed berries, nuts and raisins and almond flakes, all purchased from Aldi to create the perfect cheap healthy snacking experience. No giving into the crisps and chocolate for the Shoestring girls today…

Offally Odd

Me and Mr Shoestring watched The Taste on Channel 4 last night, mainly because Mr S quite likes the beautiful Nigella. We were both fascinated and appalled because the theme of this week’s competition was offal. The chefs could choose tripe, brains, pig’s heads, blood – every part of an animal you could think of. When they showed a pot of lamb testicles, even I winced and crossed my legs!

The chefs made some really tasty looking dishes, I would have tried any of them perfectly happily. It did make me consider my own attitude – and British attitude’s generally – about eating animals. Why is it ok for most people to eat the meat/muscle but not the offal? Why is a deep fried pig’s ear a delicacy in some cultures and only fit as a treat for the dog here?

I recently cooked liver and bacon and it was lovely. But, as offal is cheap, maybe it is the time to take a good look in the butcher’s and try something else. After all, if we are going to kill an animal for food, shouldn’t we eat it all?

There is a related story in the news today about a butcher’s shop in Sudbury, not far from me, who has had to remove its display of dead animals, including pigs heads and fully feathered geese and ducks – because they had so many complaints from the public. Unless they are vegetarian, does it make sense to be offended by the sight of a dead animal that they would probably be happy to eat on a plate smothered in gravy?

I think we have a strange ability to disassociate the meat we are eating with the reality of what it actually is. I include myself in this! Off to find some recipes for brain and testicle stew …

 

Posh Nosh – Apricot Fool

Isn’t technology amazing? Mr Shoestring has an new phone that can take panoramic pix. Don’t worry, he hasn’t gone into a spending frenzy – he got it second-hand from eBay! It makes our living room look huge…

lounge panarama

I thought I would post my recipe for Boozy Apricot Fool, as it went down so well with everybody at the weekend. It’s not that cheap to make I suppose, and very calorific, but you have to push the boat out a bit when you are entertaining. You can substitute the wine for fruit juice if you prefer.

Serves 4
110g dried apricots
150ml white wine or fruit juice
About 3 tbsp lemon juice (I used half a lemon)
25g caster sugar
2 egg whites
150ml double cream, whipped until it forms soft peaks
Flaked almonds to decorate

apricot foolSoak your dried apricots overnight in the wine or juice, then simmer them gently in a covered pan for about 15-20 minutes (less time if they are pre-soaked). Let it cool, then zap to a puree in the blender. Whisk the egg whites until they are stiff, then add the sugar and whisk a bit more. Then combine your ingredients, folding in the cream and lemon juice. Spoon the mixture into 4 nice glass dishes (mine are in 1970s freebies from the petrol stations – if you are a certain age you will recognise them!). Sprinkle with flaked almonds and chill in the fridge for at least 3 hours.

This is one of my favourite naughty puddings!

Shoestring Sausage and Vegetable Ragu

This is one to satisfy the meat eaters in my family whilst being frugal and delicious. It is full of a rainbow of different coloured mediterranean vegetables, so is healthy as well. I used Aldi pork sausages, which are very cheap, but can be a bit fatty, so it is important to grill rather than fry them.

serves 4-6

image1 red onion, chopped
1 red pepper, diced
Half an aubergine, diced
1 courgette, diced
Olive oil
6 pork sausages
500ml passata
Tbsp tomato purée
100 vegetable stock or water
Pinch of chilli flakes
450g pasta

First grill your sausages.  Whilst they are cooking, heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large pan and add all the vegetables. Fry gently for about 5 minutes until softened. Add the passata, tomato purée, chilli flakes, stock and seasoning. Simmer gently and add the sausages, chopped into three or four pieces. Cook for 10 minutes. Cook the pasta in a large pan of water, drain and mix with the ragu. Serve straight away.

I am looking forward to grabbing a bowl of this before I shoot off to yoga tonight. An easy supper!

Here come the girls…

apricot foolOnce a month or so I get together with a group of girlfriends I have known for the past 16  years or so, since my eldest daughter started school. We take it in turns to cook, and spend the evening gossiping, drinking, reminiscing and generally putting the world to rights.

leek and potato soupTonight it is my turn to cook. I have already turned the leeks from the garden and the poultry stock, which turned out to be thick and glutenous and full of flavour, into leek and potato soup. I had a packet of dried apricots in the cupboard so they have been soaked overnight in wine, pureed, and mixed with double cream and whisked egg whites to make a boozy apricot fool. For our main course I am making chicken breasts in cream, garlic and white wine sauce, and will probably serve this with rice, mange tout and carrots.

All the ingredients except the apricots came from Aldi and, with a nice bottle of Cava, cost about £25. Not bad for a meal that will serve 5 of us plus the two daughters who are home. I could easily pay that just for myself if we went out to  a restaurant, so I don’t mind pushing the boat out for once.

Rubbish Customer Service!

I work in customer services and I pride myself in offering the best service that I can. I therefore get just a little irritated – no make that very annoyed – when I come across really poor practices.

I have recently had to attempt to communicate with my energy provider, First Utility, and each time I have had to BREATHE to get my blood pressure down. It isn’t the individual members of staff. If I manage to actually speak to someone they are always very helpful. It is getting through in the first place that is difficult. This morning before work I wasted an hour and a half of my life attempting to resolve a problem I am having with my meter. This was my third phone call so I knew what to expect and that I had enough time. First I waited in a queue for 15 minutes and was happy it was answered so quickly – last time I waited 25 minutes in my lunch hour. However it seemed I had the wrong department so I was transferred elsewhere, and waited for 20 minutes in the queue again. Finally I got a nice chap who was very helpful and sorted for an engineer to change my meter but said I would now need my payments adjusting and he would transfer me to the direct debits team. After 30 minutes of hold music I decided I must be in a phantom queue and that my call would never be answered so I dialled in again and waited 20 minutes more.

I have tried emailing them over the past three months and many of my emails have just been ignored, even one headed ‘official complaint’. When I have had a response the query hasn’t been fully answered so I have had to email again and wait weeks for a response.

If this was happening where I work, heads would roll! They obviously just don’t have enough staff. There are lots of young people needing jobs out there so it is not good enough. How did we get to the stage where these large companies think it is acceptable to treat customers this way? It wouldn’t happen if they could see us queuing face to face. There would be a riot!

Anyway, rant over and back to work 🙂

Poultry Stock: a great foundation

imageI have mentioned in a previous post that I have a big bucket of leeks that I pulled out of the garden ready to be made into delicious leek and potato soup. In preparation for this I pulled a couple of poultry carcasses out of the freezer to make into stock. One of them happened to be the Christmas turkey; it was high time I used that!

If you have never made stock before I urge you to try it. Why throw poultry carcasses in the bin when they are full of nutrients and flavour? Home made stock adds a certain something to soups and casseroles that the powdered stuff just doesn’t. You can make stock with any bones, or even just with vegetables. I happened to have a chicken and the turkey carcass in my freezer so I used those.

I put them in a big pot with a couple of carrots, an onion chopped in half, three sticks of celery, 2 bay leaves and about 6 black peppercorns and added enough cold water to cover. I put on the pan lid and brought it to the boil then left it simmering on a very low heat and came to work. DD3 had instructions to turn it off after 3 hours. When I get home I will strain it and it will be ready for my soup making tomorrow. Easy!

If the turkey carcass had been smaller I would have chucked it all in the slow cooker but there was no way it was going to fit 🙂

Making a little extra money

I work full time, and there are only so many hours in the day, but in the absence of any offers of jobs paying me lots more money I need to make a little extra.

In my case I have some foreign students booked over the summer, but will soon start to advertise for a lodger. This will mean filling in a self assessment form for the Inland Revenue, but I will be able to earn up to £4350 tax free through the Government’s rent a room scheme.

imageI am also a trained yoga teacher and I really enjoy this. I have started teaching one evening a week but have sent my cvs around to try to get a weekend class as well.

I have sold three sets of curtains recently on eBay. It is well worth the effort with these but I have found selling clothing is more trouble than it is worth as prices are generally so low. I need to make effective use of my limited time!

Not sure what  else I can do other than selling a kidney or renting out Mr Shoestring to the highest bidder!

Fingers crossed for that elusive lottery win …

Weird weather

Well, you don’t need me to tell you the weather is behaving oddly pretty well everywhere. This morning I popped into Asda for some bits and it was so warm and sunny I had to take my coat off on the way in. Literally 10 minutes later I came out to a rainstorm! This explains my crazy frizzy hair today; I had no umbrella and my crowning glory doesn’t like damp!

imageThe sun soon returned and with it a beautiful rainbow. There is something about a rainbow that is so uplifting; I didn’t find a pot of gold at the end of it but it is a reminder that something good can come from stormy times 🙂

imageOur kitten has just come back from the vet’s where she was spayed today. She is eating her dinner already so no harm done!