Category Archives: Entertaining

A birthday celebration

Such a busy day today! We are going away for Mr S’s birthday on Tuesday, so thought we would have a few friends and family round for dinner today. He said he didn’t want a fuss, but you’re not 50 every day so I had to give him a little  bit of a treat 😀. 

I have been cooking all day – an Indian themed dinner, as it is easy to feed a crowd with curries and rice. I have made a chicken curry, lentil dahl, saag aloo and a chick pea curry, with some naans, poppadums and dips. I have three vegetarians and a coeliac amongst the guests and Indian food is frequently vegetarian and gluten free anyway, so it seemed a good choice.

A friend at work made a birthday cake, a splendid lemon and lime extravaganza with piped meringue and buttercream. I hope it tastes as good as it looks. I have also made a gluten free chocolate cake using the Betty Crocker mix I found in Aldi the other day. It looks nice so I shall be interested to see how it tastes. 

I have made enough to feed a small army so I hope they are hungry.  I will let you know how it goes!

Eating out? It’s tempting, but…

It’s so tempting to spend loads going out to pubs and restaurants when there is a celebration or you just feel like a treat. My friends seem to do it all the time. A lunch out or cake and tea when they are shopping, maybe a meal followed by the pub five or six times a month. We hardly ever do this. The budget won’t allow it and I prefer to eat at home with friends and family anyway. I would rather do this than risk spending half my food budget on a single meal that might be less than satisfying. The pix are from a very nice meal out we had on holiday, so we do have the odd treat!

I also had two meals out over Christmas. One was absolutely fantastic, at a small family run Italian restaurant,  and one was mediocre meal at a well known pub chain. Because I so rarely treat myself to a dinner out I really resent paying for something I could do better -and vastly cheaper – at home. I emailed a letter of complaint to the latter a month ago but have so far heard nothing. Just remembered about this so will follow it up!

I do enjoy hosting the odd dinner party. It is quite possible to do this without breaking the bank – some home made soup, coq au vin and rice maybe, some fruit, cream and meringue. My low spend January won’t allow that this month but maybe next month.

If I had lots of money I would be happy to eat out more often I am sure. I don’t mind supporting someone else’s employment, especially if I don’t have to do the washing up!

What about you? Fancy dinner out?

To socialise or stay at home?

A very rare occurrence! As I type this I am sitting eating in MacDonalds. I have popped in straight from work before I meet some work colleagues for someone’s leaving drinks. It is cheap and has free wifi so I can cope just this once! I can’t go to the pub on an empty stomach.

We are about to move into the season of festive socialising. This can be tricky for the money saver. Should I accept every invitation and beggar the expense? Should I chose one or two and budget for those, or should I appear totally bah humbug and refuse the lot? In truth we go out very little. It costs far too much, and we are pretty lazy really. We  prefer to snuggle up at home and watch a good TV drama. But at Christmas I feel I should make some effort, particularly with colleagues. So I will take the middle ground. During December I have a meal planned with my team and one with the other managers. It’s good to spend a bit of relaxed time with workmates once in a while. 

The problem with invitations is that they tend to all arrive at once. I have also been invited out for a meal with friends tomorrow. That won’t cost me anything at least as its at someone’s house. I will need some wine to take though.

I won’t be out late though – too much to do at the weekend as usual! How do you feel about spending your funds socialising? Are you always at the pub or are you a home bird?

Best gluten free chocolate brownies

imageI have mentioned previously that I bought two nice looking little gluten free cookery books last week. One is Hamlyn 200 Gluten Free Recipes by Louise Blair and the other is BBC Good Food Everyday Gluten free Recipes. They both look really promising and seem to use ingredients that are easy to buy in the local supermarket.

Yesterday was my first chance to try out a imagerecipe and I thought I would start with some chocolate brownies from the BBC book. Actually they should have been made with fresh raspberries too, but they aren’t easy to come by this time of year so I decided to stick with just chocolate.  My local Co-op only had milk chocolate so that is what I used. They were delicious! They weren’t cheap to make however so I will save this recipe for treats. Here is the original version. Next time I will be more prepared and use Aldi’s cheap dark chocolate – today I used Cadbury’s!

imageChocolate and raspberry brownies

Makes 15 squares

200g dark chocolate broken into chunks
100g milk chocolate broken into chunks
250g pack salted butter
400g soft brown sugar
4 large eggs
140g gf plain flour
50g cocoa powder
200g raspberries

Heat oven to 180C or gas mark 4. Grease and line a 20x30cm baking tin. Gently melt the chocolate, butter and sugar in a saucepan, stirring well. Remove from heat and whisk in the eggs one at a time. Move to a mixing bowl and sieve in the flour and cocoa powder. Whisk together, then stir in half the raspberries. Pour the mixture into the tin and scatter over the remaining raspberries. Bake for 30-35 minutes until set but nice and squidgy. Cool and then cut into squares.

I have put half in the freezer as they are best eaten within three days.

We had them still warm with a cup of tea but they would be fab as a posh pudding with a big dollop of cream.

I want to try some corn and cheese muffins next which are made with polenta and look scrumptious!

The morning after the night before…

So….woke up with a headache after my lovely evening getting fed beautiful and amazing food at my friend’s house and guzzling rather a lot of Christmas cheer! I stopped at 4 glasses as I am a serious lightweight.

The food was more or less gluten and dairy free. She made delicious looking blinis with tzatiki for starter so I was good and avoided those and instead got stuck into the olives and nuts.

Dinner was smoky chicken with chorizo and butter beans – very spanish inspired. This reminded me that I love butter beans so they can go back on the store cupboard shopping list. They took on lots of the chorizo and tomato flavours and were very filling. I will be making this dish once I prise the recipe out of her. Pudding was red fruit compote with piles of meringue, then just when I thought I couldn’t possibly squeeze in another thing she brought out this:

imageNot dairy free! But who could resist such a beautifully presented plate of cheeses with a fig, grapes, baby tomatoes and home made chutney? Not me…I can eat hard cheeses with no issues but Brie … Well I couldn’t refuse it or the little crackers that were definitely not gluten free! So I had the tummy ache before I had even said goodnight, but I knew what would happen and I did it anyway, same with the wine, but hey. Everything in moderation and it is Christmas!

I don’t think I will be doing anything too strenuous today apart from get the decorations out of the loft and write some cards, which will make this another no spend day. Not bad for a weekend as we charge towards Christmas!

Low Cost Dinner Party

I see a group of girlfriends every few months – we go out for dinner or cook for each other. This time it is my turn to cook. They are a discerning bunch and always produce something delicious and, quite often, expensive. That wasn’t an option for me, so I have been mulling over what to cook that will impress without breaking the bank.

I decided on:
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Tomato and basil soup (using a combination of the home grown tomatoes that I roasted and froze a few months ago, tinned tomatoes, and basil that I bought in a pot ages ago and repotted. It has been growing on the kitchen window sill ever since. I had all of the ingredients for this.

imageMaple roasted chicken with roast potatoes, mashed sweet potato and cabbage (recipe below).

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Pavlova with whipped cream and fruit

I got the chicken recipe from an old Waitrose booklet. It is meant to be cooked in the slow cooker, but the bird I have bought is too big for mine, so I am going to slow roast it in the oven.

Serves 6
Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C
1.8-2kg whole chicken
The finely grated zest and the juice of an orange (save the shells)
4 tbsp Maple syrup
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
4 cloves garlic
4 sprigs of rosemary (I have this in the garden)

I only had to buy the chicken and the orange as everything else was in the storecupboard.

Place the chicken on a baking tray and push the orange shells into the cavity of the chicken. Beat the syrup, mustard, orange zest and juice together and pour over the chicken. Make slits in the chicken and push the garlic into them, then tuck the rosemary in around the legs and wings. Cover with foil and cook on a very low oven for 4 hours, or until the juices run clear.

If you want to use your slow cooker, do exactly the same thing but cook on high for 6 hours.

I have also bought a bottle of Aldi Prosecco, which was on offer for £5.99 this morning, and I won a bottle of sweet dessert wine in the Children in Need raffle at work yesterday so I will serve that with the pavlova. The girls will all bring wine too, so let the party commence!

Have a good night, whatever you are doing.

Cheap nights out?

It’s difficult to have a marvellous social life when you have no money.  I can’t afford lots of trips to the pub, theatre or cinema, and meals in fancy restaurants are a no-no. I certainly can’t afford to spend lots of money on ‘going out’ clothes that sit in my wardrobe unworn most of the time. So, how to counter this? I don’t feel the need to go out often; most of the time I am tired after work anyway and happy to have cheap days out and walks at the weekend. Sometimes, though, it feels as if there is a whole world of fun and entertainment passing me by.

I go through phases of inviting people round and doing a frugal dinner party. These are fun, although you can only be so cheap when you are doing this. A better option is a pot luck supper, getting everyone to bring a contribution. This is great if you know some like minded and impoverished souls but doesn’t work so well when your friends are mostly middle class high flyers, as mine are.

Tesco vouchers are very good for converting to cinema tickets and we have done this. However, I only use Tesco for my phone so it takes a while to build up the points! We have also had some good deals from www.vouchercloud.com – I really like Pizza Express and offers frequently pop up. Toby restaurants are really good value too if you like a roast (£6.99 per person): http://www.tobycarvery.co.uk/carvery/. Our local theatre has a brilliant youth theatre group. They are doing a production of Grease this month. Tickets cost £14.50 for a pretty decent seat. Ok, it’s not the West End, but it is up the road, excellent entertainment and there are no West End prices or train fares to London involved. If you are Essex or Suffolk based, check it out:

I’m not a massive drinker; if we go to the pub it is usually just for one drink. It is likely to cost the week’s shopping budget if I stay in a pub all evening!! I would prefer a night in with a cheap bottle of wine and Downton Abbey, to be honest.

What do you do for a cheap evening out? All suggestions from you clever frugal folk gratefully received…

 

Hula Hooping on the Lawn

I’m not a big drinker, in fact I am a serious light weight when it comes to alcohol. I don’t have the money to spend on going to the pub anyway. However I do enjoy a really cold glass of white wine, or a small beer if I am feeling wild :-).

Last night after my busy stressful day in an over heated office I thoroughly enjoyed cooling off with Mr S in our very own ‘beer garden’ just outside the back door, looking at the flowers and trying to ignore the weeds! A couple of little blonde beers from Aldi were enough to finish me off.

This evening I intend to create my own wine bar on the lawn. I have to be careful though as after two glasses of Prosecco at my sister’s I ended up hula hooping!image

Getting a new energy supplier

I managed NOT to save money on my energy bill today and I really don’t mind!! I was scouring the energy comparison websites for a decent looking deal with a company with good reviews on their customer service all lunch time and I came up with a small company called Green Star Energy. So. I have switched on the basis that they cannot be more useless than First Utility.

FU, as I fittingly call them, have still not sorted out my on going complaint that is with the energy ombudsman. I was going to switch when it is resolved but I just don’t trust them to record the meter readings I give them accurately. I currently have no idea of how much I actually should be paying. I probably owe them money but I can’t get a figure out of them. I hope it won’t interfere with my switch – we shall see!

I got home to find that DD3 had made a spaghetti bolognese and emptied the dishwasher. What a love! She is on half term but revising for her GCSEs so I don’t like to overload her with chores.

Plenty to go round!

Plenty to go round!

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We had an entertaining but tiring day entertaining family yesterday so I need a quiet night. The huge pasta bakes and chilli went down a treat and amazingly nearly all
got eaten. They all had lunch and pud then went back for seconds a few hours later!

Dinner for 12

I love a family gathering. We have all of Mr Shoestring’s lot coming over on bank holiday Monday so we are hoping for good weather. So how to entertain without breaking the bank?

imageI have decided to keep it simple but plentiful. I am going to make a vatful of chilli and rice, macaroni cheese with leeks and bacon, a big green salad and some bread. Someone is bringing a lemon cheesecake and I will also do a big bread pudding and custard. I will get the wine and soft drinks from Aldi tonight and hopefully they will bring whatever they want to drink too. Not that glamorous but tasty and filling!

It’s a shame the hall isn’t quite finished. I am planning to order the carpet next week though so we are getting there.

What are your cheap recipes for entertaining?