Five frugal things to help you save at Christmas

five frugal thingsHow has your week been? Christmas preparations are well in hand here at Shoestring Cottage. I am joining in with this five frugal things round up as Christmas is the perfect time to focus your spending and save where you can.

The decorations are in place, the presents are all purchased and mostly wrapped and I have been buying a few Christmas treats for a couple of months now. I set my budget for Christmas back in October, I have been saving all year. Now I can spend and not feel worried or guilty, and without putting it all on a credit card.

1. Only buying what we need

I don’t go crazy and try to buy only what I know we will eat. This year I decided to finally stop buying things that are traditional but that no one really wants, as proposed by Faith at Much More with Less. We actually enjoy some of the foods she has decided to ditch. However, dates sit around for ages as no one really eats them much – Mr S will usually dutifully consume them at some point, but it’s not about duty, is it? We also have a ton of hazelnuts in their shells that came from a friend’s tree,  so we don’t need to buy any more. They also tend to sit around for months before they all get eaten.

Nobody eats Christmas cake so that is off the shopping list.

However, we all love Christmas pudding so that is staying firmly on the menu. I usually buy a couple reduced after Christmas because Mr S loves it with custard any time of the year.

2. Using up all the leftover veg

vegetabl soup five frugal thingsThe very cold weather always means one thing here – soup! I love it! Soup is great for using up any bits and pieces lurking in the fridge. Into mine last Sunday went potatoes (including some frozen leftover mash), carrots, celery, frozen spinach, half a can of sweetcorn, the end of a bag of frozen peas and lots of Marigold vegetable stock.

We ate it after our freezing cold snowy walk last Sunday and it was just the job for warming our cockles! It was great for work lunches all week and there are still a couple of portions in the freezer.

3. A simple vegetable bake

I posted a recipe a couple of days ago for a vegetable bake, adapted from one of Delia’s in Frugal Food. It is so simple and cheap to make. Another good one for using up vegetables as you can add more or less whatever you have in the fridge. We had it for dinner with spinach. The meat eaters had a couple of chicken drumsticks with theirs, but I enjoyed it as it was.

I love the cheesy breadcrumb topping, which is a good way to use up the ends of a loaf of bread. I made a whole lot of breadcrumbs and what I didn’t use for the bake went into the freezer.

4. Making my own Christmas gift tags

I always keep my Christmas cards from the previous year and recycle them to make Christmas gift tags. It’s such a simple thing to do, I never know why everyone doesn’t reuse them in this way. It is quite nice to reread the messages from last year from friends and family too.

5.  Savvy Savers in the Sun

I was pleased to be asked to give some top tips for money saving at Christmas to the Sun, along with some other UK Money Bloggers. My contribution was to suggest that people consider buying second hand presents, particularly for small children. They wouldn’t notice or care. Looking on Facebook Marketplace, I can see all kinds of large ride on toys, dolls houses, bikes, scooters, dressing up outfits, etc. They mostly seem in great condition, but cost a fraction of their as new price.

I did this all the time when my kids were small. I have bought second hand phones and an ipad, computer games and a console, DVDs and many books second hand as presents.

There is a little bit of embarrassment about buying second hand as a gift but I don’t understand that. As long as the item works and is in good condition, where is the issue? And if it helps you stick to your budget, even better!

An early Christmas

nut roast en croute five frugal thingsWe are having an early Christmas dinner today with my extended family. My sister is off to see my nephew in Thailand so this will be our only opportunity. I am road testing the vegetarian nut roast en croute I found on the Sainsbury’s website. If it works, that will be my veggie Christmas dinner. The recipe is here. It smells lovely so I have high hopes.

 

Vegetable bake – quick and cheap

This is a very simple vegetable bake based on Delia’s  Leek, Carrot and Potato Pie, which features in my original copy of Delia’s Frugal Food. It was perfect after a freezing day – warming and comforting. I used tinned potatoes to save time – they are 15p in Aldi and I couldn’t buy fresh for less – and also a packet of bechamel sauce that cost 10p from Approved Food. Half of the leeks were from the garden – the last of them – and the other half came from Aldi from their Super Six range and cost 59p.

Vegetable bake

200g carrots, chopped ( I don’t bother peeling them)
2 x 420g tins of potatoes
50g butter
100g mushrooms
500g leeks, washed and chopped
1 small onion
1/2 pint white sauce
150g cheddar, grated
2 tbsp breadcrumbs, made by whizzing up half a crust of bread with my hand blender
2 pinches cayenne pepper

vegetable bakeCook the carrots in boiling water until cooked but still al dente. Sweat the leeks, onion and mushrooms in some butter until soft. Season well to taste. Drain the carrots, reserving 1/4 pint of water to make up the sauce, then follow the instructions on the packet but replace half the suggested milk with this water (or make a bechamel from scratch so that it can be gluten free if necessary). Slice the potatoes. Arrange the vegetables in layers in a deep casserole dish, finishing with a layer of potatoes, seasoning as you go. Combine the breadcrumbs with the cheese and cayenne and sprinkle on the top. Bake in a medium oven (180C) for about 40 minutes until the topping is golden brown.

This vegetable bake is cheap and easy comfort food.

Cheap and easy vegetarian

Ooh, should I call myself a ‘cheap and easy vegetarian’? Sounds dodgy!

Cheap and easy vegetarianNow that I have given up meat and gone back to being a veggie, I have been digging out some of my old vegetarian cookbook favourites. They are well thumbed as I never stopped using them. Even when I was eating meat we always had vegetarian food twice a week.

Going back to the greats

Many of my vegetarian cookbooks are practically vintage. The one that provoked the title of this post was Cheap and Easy by Rose Elliot. She was THE veggie food writer when I first gave up meat  in the late seventies. This one appeared in 1988.

I was having a browse through it last night with my vegan lodger. There are many very good recipes in there which, as the title of the book suggests, are cheap and easy vegetarian food and  quite a few vegan recipes as well.

Some old favourites

Some of the corners of the pages are turned over where years ago I marked dishes that looked particularly interesting. I am going to give some of these old recipes a try.

Glamorgan ‘sausages’, made with breadcrumbs, cheese, onions and lots of herbs appear promising and I remember eating lentils and mushrooms au gratin a lot (we called it lentil slop, but it was really delicious!). Vegetable rice with roasted nuts is a kind of veggie paella and easy nut burgers will be worth making in batches for the freezer.

Rose Elliot on the Internet

Finding this old book made me wonder what happened to Rose Elliot. I was delighted to discover that she is still going strong and has her own website.

She still sells lots of books but Cheap and Easy seems to be unavailable there, along with another  favourite, Not Just a Load of Old Lentils (which I have lost). However, she does have a promising looking collection in the Rose Elliot’s New Complete Vegetarian . If I am lucky enough to get vouchers for Christmas I am going to buy it!

In the meantime, I had a look on Amazon and found Not Just a Load of Old Lentils, so bought it for a mere £3 including postage. Bargain! If you fancy it, Cheap and Easy: Essential vegetarian collection is on there too from 1p plus postage.

I am really happy to have rediscovered this great writer. Her books will help me to be a cheap and easy vegetarian on a budget.

Does anyone else have recommendations for interesting vegetarian food writers?

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Going vegetarian: why I’m finally giving up meat

Back to weird: going vegetarian

For 16 years, from the age of 16 to 32, I was a vegetarian. That was over 20 years ago – how time flies! In those days the nearest thing to a vegetarian meal you would find in a standard pub or restaurant was a cheese omelette, or something that was accidentally vegetarian, like macaroni cheese. Going vegetarian was still considered a bit weird. I would be grilled by well meaning friends and relatives about why I was a vegetarian and forced to defend my position, when actually I just wanted to get on with my dinner! If you are vegetarian or vegan you will be familiar with the questions and comments, such as ‘So, if we all stopped eating meat, what would become of all those sheep?’

Going vegetarian: photo of me as a 16 year old

My veggie 16 year old self

Vegetarian restaurants existed because us veggies needed to eat out occasionally and have something worth dressing up for. However, you would only find them in cities. I worked in one in London for a while: Food for Health in Blackfriars. We searched for it recently and it is now some kind of office. A vegetarian friend of mine ran a veggie catering business and I often helped him out at events, including Glastonbury Festival one year. Fun times!

A change of heart

So what happened? What made me start eating meat again? Life got in the way. I got married and had three daughters. My then husband ate meat and so did the girls, so I was frequently cooking two meals. With a busy family life and a job, my priorities changed and I started eating fish, then chicken and eventually whatever everyone else was having. I also suffer from IBS and, truth be told, literally couldn’t stomach the largely pulse based meals I used to eat. But I always felt like a vegetarian who ate meat. Strange but true!

The research and benefits

Now that the girls are all off my hands and it is mostly just me and Mr Shoestring, I have decided it is the right time for going vegetarian again. I actually enjoy vegetarian food more than meat and we have always eaten it twice a week or so. It tends to be cheaper too, so useful for those of us on a budget.

Healthier

I think I will be healthier – there is quite a lot of evidence to back up the health benefits of a good vegetarian diet. For several years when I was a veggie, I took part in some research that the Oxford University was running and had to send in  blood tests every now and again for analysis. I just Googled this research and found a report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, that backs up claims that vegetarians live longer. At my age, that is good news!! Just wish I could persuade Mr S to join me.

Greener

Whilst I was tracking down the research results I came across an interesting article on the University of Oxford website, Veggie based diets could save 8 million lives by 2050 and cut global warming. This is appealing on so many levels. I am a bit of a greenie, as regular readers may have noticed, so if my vegetarian diet produces less CO2 that is a huge bonus. At a time when there is so much pressure on the NHS, a healthier population is also something to aim for.

Kinder

I am an animal lover too. Although animal welfare in farming is much better than it was in the eighties when I was a vegetarian, I have always had an underlying feeling of guilt about eating meat.  In the end, no matter how kind we are to the animals, they are going to die because we choose to eat them. It is a difficult moral argument. I have no intention of trying to push my feelings  onto anyone else – it is a matter of personal choice.

Doing it differently

Going vegetarian: photo of a cheesy quinoa and broccoli bakeGoing vegetarian these days is so much easier than it was when I was 16. As well as being able to find a decent meal in a restaurant, there are so many options for vegetarians and vegans these days when shopping. Even my preferred budget supermarkets have sections selling food free from meat. There are ready made pies, nut roasts and bakes in the freezer section for when you don’t have time to cook, and tins of pulses – no more soaking over night and cooking for hours.

I am not a massive fan of Quorn, but it is handy to have some of this in the freezer to bung into a quick stir fry or Bolognese after work. I had never heard of quinoa until a few years ago but now you can buy it everywhere. It is super nutritious and high in protein, so excellent for a vegetarian diet. I made this quinoa and broccoli casserole for dinner the other night. It was nice but a little on the dry side. If I make it again I will add a layer of white sauce or some tomatoes.

New inspiration

I still have a shelf full of old veggie recipe books, including my fabulous original copies of the original Cranks books, some Rose Elliot classics and the Vegetarian Kitchen by Sarah Brown. I have never stopped using these.  However, I am also enjoying some of the new writing on vegetarian food online, include some great looking recipes on the Vegetarian Society website. If you want to eat more veggie food, there are plenty of ideas in my Favourite Frugal Recipes section.

I am not ready to go vegan, even with its currently popularity. I am also still prepared to occasionally eat fish as this will make it easier if I am going to friends’ houses for dinner. But I am enjoying the challenge of finding and creating new recipes that fit my budget and IBS issues. Going vegetarian is making cooking and shopping interesting again!

Save with Jamie – review

Save with Jamie review - book cover

When I first picked up this book I was sceptical about it saving any money. It is big and glossy with a lot of nice colour photos. But Save with Jamie is a useful addition to my frugal bookshelf, with some lovely recipes. Here is my Save With Jamie review.

Can this book help you save money?

Save with Jamie review. A photo of the inside pagesWhat would Jamie Oliver know about saving money, you might ask? He has never had to live on a very tight budget. I am sure this is true, but he does know how to run a kitchen for profit so is aware of ways to reduce food waste. He is  also a creative chef, which means some of the recipes presented in this book are very different from anything else I have come across.

Puff pea and potato pie, squash houmous, aubergine daal, and savoury Japanese pancakes are on my hit list to try.  I regularly use Jamie’s saag aloo and hit and run tray baked chicken already.

Love your leftovers

Save with Jamie review. A photo of the inside pagesI like the way the book is organised, with a key recipe for, say pork, with lots of ideas about how to use the leftovers. Alternatively he will take an ingredient, such as squash or chicken stew, and give you four ways to use them.

There are pages aimed at preventing food waste spread throughout, which is great for the budget cook. What to do with stale bread, dripping and leftover wine (as if!) are useful sections.

Shop smart

There is a chapter on smart shopping, which won’t tell you anything you don’t already know if you already shop on a budget. We know we need to meal plan, shop with a list and not go to the supermarket when hungry.

However, his chapter on the freezer is good. I find the sensible use of mine to freeze leftovers, home grown fruit and veg and yellowsticker bargains does save money.

I also like the cheap and simple ideas in the bonus recipe section.

Expensive ingredients

Occasionally the ingredients pose an issue for the truly frugal cook, however. For example, lamb is too expensive for many families on a budget and beef is reserved for high days and holidays in our house.  Salmon is also not likely to be on the poor cook’s shopping list often.

Despite this though it is overall a bumper book full of delicious looking recipes. Save with Jamie: Shop Smart, Cook Clever, Waste Less would be a very nice present for a young couple moving into their first home I think. If you can get it at a decent price it is worth having.

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Eight of the best frugal food blogs to help you save money

best frugal food blogsI love food and experimenting with recipes and, just because I am on a budget, I don’t want to eat badly. Glossy cookbooks and food programmes are all very well, but sometimes require fancy ingredients that are expensive. This is why when I want inspiration I go to my favourite frugal food blogs. (Incidentally, some of my own frugal recipes are to be found here.)

Here are some of the best frugal food blogs, in no particular order:

Cooking on a Boot Strap

Master of the budget recipe is Jack Monroe. It started with A Girl Called Jack, but you will now find the blog at Cooking on a Bootstrap. What I like about Jack is the recipe descriptions – there is often a story behind a particular creation – and the way the cost of each recipe is so carefully calculated. The cooking here is all vegan now, but that makes it interesting and very cheap.

Frugal Queen

Jane at Frugal Queen is a legend. She is a huge inspiration to me and one of the reasons I began my blog. I enjoy her no nonsense approach to food and everything else. You won’t find any fancy recipes, just decent, cheap home cooking. As she eats gluten free, everything can be adapted for those with a sensitivity or Coeliac’s disease.

Diary of a Frugal Family

Cass at Diary of a Frugal Family is a recent find.  She emphasises the importance of meal planning, which is my mantra too for those attempting to stick to a budget. This is good, family food and includes plenty of delicious home baking.

Thrifty Lesley

Thrifty Lesley shows you how to feed yourself for £1 a day. The recipes are interesting and healthy too. Lesley uses very little meat, which is how her food is so cheap I think. This is a clever and well organised blog. She has written menu plans to help you stick to the £1 a day budget, whatever your circumstances. There is even a no power meal plan, aimed at people who have no power in their accommodation. This is serious stuff and really useful.

Reduced Grub

Kelly at Reduced Grub is well worth a visit. She has loads of recipes on her blog. They aren’t as cheap as some of the other blogs I have mentioned, but still good family food on a budget.

Utterly Scrummy Food for Families

A brand new blog to me is Utterly Scrummy Food for Families, which has an emphasis on budgeting and meal planning. Michelle presents plenty of inspiration and advice on using leftovers, reducing your food bills and producing delicious meals on a budget. I particularly fancy this potato and vegetable bake. My kind of frugal food blog!

The Skint Foodie

I love the Skint Foodie blog. It has some seriously sexy recipes for a small budget! This is extremely well written by someone who has struggled with alcohol, homelessness and unemployment. He wanted to prove that eating well wasn’t the preserve of the wealthy, that planning and imagination meant he could still eat fabulous food with very little money. It is witty, informative and eye opening.

Frugal Food

Faye’s blog, Frugal Food, does what it says on the tin. She focusses on producing frugal meals with quality ingredients. Being frugal doesn’t have to mean being cheap! Some recipes are quite adventurous, but sound delicious, such as Toro Rosso pie, made with minced beef and Hungarian sausage hot pot.

Which frugal food blogs inspire you? I hope you enjoy my suggestions and have a frugal foodie weekend.

 

 

 

Not another courgette recipe! Spicy courgette stew with fresh tomatoes

courgette recipeHere is another courgette recipe for the glut! We have a ton of tomatoes in the greenhouse at the moment so this gets rid of those as well. It is a kind of ratatouille invented to use what we had in the fridge.

Spicy courgette stew with fresh tomatoes

1 large onion, chopped

2 sticks of celery, sliced

1 medium aubergine, cut into cubes

About three medium courgettes, sliced

3 cloves garlic, chopped or crushed

2lb/900g fresh tomatoes, skinned and chopped (or two 400g cans)

2-3 tsp ground cumin

A dollop of tomato purée

2 tsp Marigold vegetable stock

Salt and pepper to taste

Olive oil

Put a good glug of oil into a large wok or frying pan and get it quite hot. This stops the aubergine from absorbing so much of the oil. Throw in all of your veg apart from the tomatoes and stir fry fairly gently for 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cumin and fry for two more minutes, then add the tomatoes, stock and tomato purée. Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes more, stirring and adding salt and pepper to taste.

courgette recipeSo easy! We had this simple courgette recipe with some baked chicken thighs and roasted new potatoes, but it would be nice served  with rice.

The courgettes are nearly finished now and I am almost relieved! We still have a few runner beans arriving and the odd cucumber, but the tomatoes are growing at full throttle. They are so nutritious and versatile that I rarely have a problem using them. If all else fails I will make another batch of tomato soup for the freezer.

I don’t use any particular recipe for this. I usually fry up some onion, celery and garlic, add as many tomatoes as I need to use (skinned and roughly chopped) and then cover with vegetable stock. They produce a lot of juice so I don’t add too much, just enough to cover all the veg. I cook it for about 10-15 minutes, seasoning to taste, then blend it.

Do you grow your own and what are you fave seasonal recipes?

Bara Brith – cheap and delicious Welsh tea bread

Bara brithWe go to Wales most years on our frugal holidays and have a few cups of tea and bits of cake out – as you do. A favourite treat is a moist and fruity slice of bara brith, which translates as ‘speckled bread’. It was traditionally made with yeast, but it is so easy to make this yeast free version. Bara brith is really lovely buttered and served with a nice cup of tea.

You need to start the previous night, as the fruit needs soaking.

Bara Brith

2lb loaf tin, lined and greased

500g dried mixed fruit (I used Sainsbury’s Basics, only £1)

1/2 pint strong black tea

250g brown sugar

Bara brith450g self-raising flour

1 large beaten egg

2-3 tsp mixed spice

Place the fruit in a large mixing bowl and pour the tea on top. Cover and leave overnight. In the morning, preheat the oven on a low heat – about 170 C, gas mark 3. Give the fruit a stir and start to beat in the other ingredients, in no particular order. When everything is combined spoon the mixture into the loaf tin. Place in the oven for about an hour and a half. Check to see if it is cooked through with a skewer and cook for a further 10-15 minutes if necessary.

Allow to cool in the tin.

I love this! So cheap and easy. I will take it to work this week as a snack.

A relaxing weekend

Although I made the bara brith at the weekend, we didn’t eat any until today. That is because we had our second afternoon tea out in a row on Sunday. We are still using up all Mr S’s birthday treats before the vouchers expire. On Sunday we had a fabulous spa day, which included the tea. It was at Bannatyne’s Spa in Bury St Edmunds, which was really lovely. We used the pool, Jacuzzi and steam rooms, went off for our food, then topped it off with a neck, shoulder and back massage each. It was divine!

We have another day out next weekend. We are off to the Shard in London and will have afternoon tea at Brasserie Blanc. Life is so hard!! Ideally, we should have spread all these treats out a bit but c’est la vie. We need to use them or lose them.

I will be about half a stone heavier after all these treats…

 

The joys of a well stocked larder

Taking stock

Looking at our stocks of food, I won’t need to do a shop this week. I always keep basic supplies in so that I can throw a nutritious dinner together, from cans and frozen items if necessary. In addition, I stock up when I see these basics on offer. In fact, I have loads of fresh stuff too. It is almost impossible to run out of food at this time of year. We are still harvesting from the veg patch. We have a lot of courgettes, runner beans, spinach, chard, tomatoes and cucumber, with pumpkins on the way. The soft fruit is finished and has been frozen. The freezer is also packed with home made soup, frozen courgettes and runner beans, some chicken, fish and mince.

Saving money

Amongst the stocks in the cupboards I have tins of tomatoes, tuna, sweet corn, pulses and soup. I also have flour, potatoes, onions, celery, cheese and tons of milk. Lactofree milk was on offer so I stocked up. Every now and again I look on Approved Food to see if there are some good basics to buy. I like to have some casserole and Bolognese sauces in for those lazy nights when I can’t be bothered to cook. If I see those I will buy several jars, which keep us going for ages. I don’t need anything from Approved Food at the moment, although they do seem to have some amazing bargains on there. I am quite tempted to get some of the Christmas stuff and gifts.

Having a well stocked larder is all well and good, but I don’t want my food supplies sitting around for ages,. To avoid this, every now and again I plan meals around what we have and eat from the stores. I top up with items like fresh fruit, milk, bread and cheese if we need them.  This week I barely need to purchase anything at all!

Tonight I will sit down and do a meal plan, using up all of the ingredients with the shortest use by date first. This way I won’t waste anything and can stretch my provisions for as long as possible.

The benefits of the well stocked larder

Buying food on offer or in bulk from the supermarket or places like Approved Food, growing our own, doing a regular stock take and careful meal planning all help to save money. Sometimes I don’t have the time or the inclination to shop, and with a well stocked larder I don’t have to. If I feel tired or unwell I will always be able to rustle up a quick, nutritious meal and won’t be tempted by a takeaway. If you live in a remote area, having a well stocked larder means fewer long trips to the supermarket. Stocking up makes sense for anyone trying to save money, since the less you go the less you are tempted by stuff you really don’t need.

Do you keep a well stocked larder or do you buy food as you need it?

 

Courgette glut recipe: courgette and tomato eggy bake

Courgette glutIt is such a pleasure to grow and eat your own delicious fruit and veg. However, there is always too much of something and we have had a courgette glut for weeks. The freezer is packed with them in various forms. Actually, the courgettes have finally slowed but I am still dealing with the glut. Now the tomatoes are coming thick and fast. This seasonal vegetarian recipe combines the two.  It makes a nice change from courgette soup!

Courgette and tomato eggy bake

Serves 6

2oz/50g butter

1 lb/400g courgettes, thinly sliced

1 lb/400g tomatoes, thickly sliced

2 medium onions, chopped

Two medium peppers, chopped

3 cloves garlic, crushed

Heaped teaspoon dried mixed herbs

Half a pintwhite wine or cider

1 tablespoon Marigold vegetable stock

Pinch dried chilli flakes (optional)

4 or 5 hard boiled eggs, sliced

4oz/100g grated cheddar

Salt and pepper to taste

Firstly, preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Heat the butter in a large frying pan or wok and sauté the onions, garlic, pepper and courgettes for 5 minutes or so, stirring regularly. Add the white wine, stock powder, herbs and seasonings and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10 minutes. Add the chilli flakes if liked.

courgette glutNow start to layer up. Place the courgette mixture into a large baking dish. Add the sliced tomatoes.

courgette glut
Finally, add the sliced eggs and top with the grated cheese

courgette glut
Bake for around 30 minutes. This goes really well with some crispy roasted new potatoes.

Anyone else got a glut of anything? How are you dealing with your tomato or courgette glut?

Love your Leftovers: spinach cheese frittata 

Love your Leftovers

This is the second in my occasional Love your Leftovers series.

You know how it is when you cook fresh spinach? You think you have enough in the pan to feed the five thousand then you cook it and it disappears to a small bowlful!

I tend to over compensate for this and cook even more than I think I need. I love spinach and I know there are plenty of ways to use it up. You’ve got to love your leftovers!

love your leftoversUsing up leftover food is also helping me to stick to my £35 a week grocery challenge for August. The spinach, as well as some leftover canned sweet corn, went into this cheesy spinach frittata for a quick and easy dinner. Obviously, you can vary the ingredients for this type of dish, depending on what you have available or what needs using.

These quantities serve 2.

4 medium eggs

A splash of milk

About a cupful of chopped, cooked spinach

A couple of rashers of bacon, chopped

2 tablespoons canned corn

About 2-3 ounces grated cheddar cheese

Salt and pepper

Oil

I tend to use my wok for this as it is a good size and is non stick. It needs to go under the grill but obviously not a plastic handled one!

Fry the bacon in a little oil until cooked, then spoon it out and set aside, leaving some oil in the pan to cook your frittata. Whisk the eggs, milk, salt and pepper together then add the bacon. Pour back into your pan and cook gently until it starts to set. You can push the egg mixture around a bit to speed this up. Don’t allow it to catch on the bottom of the pan. When it has mostly set sprinkle the corn, spinach and finally the cheese on top. Place under a medium grill for around five minutes to cook the top.

This frittata is quick, cheap and easy, and a good way to help you love your leftovers. Have you any good recipes for cooked spinach?

Love Your Leftovers: chicken risotto

Love your Leftovers You need to love your leftovers!

I thought I would start a new occasional series called Love Your Leftovers. I hate food waste, so I try to use it all up. It saves lots of money too!

I also find a love your leftovers approach makes me more creative, and try food combinations that are a bit different.

Last night I decided to use the leftover chicken from the Sunday roast in a risotto. We also had leftover cooked runner beans and courgettes from the annual glut, so obviously they had to go in too! I found a 400g box of risotto rice in Lidl the other day – I knew it would come in handy!

I started by using the carcass, along with a couple of others I had stored in the freezer, for home made stock, but you could use a couple of stock cubes.

Here is the recipe, which serves 4.

Chicken Risotto

350g risotto rice
300 fl oz chicken stock, ideally hot
Left over cooked chicken, however much you have
1 red or yellow pepper, diced
1 small courgette, diced
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic
2 tsp smoked paprika
A handful of fresh parsley, chopped, or 2 tsp dried parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
About 10-15 black olives
Any other left over veg you may have hanging around!
Olive oil

Saute your chopped vegetables in some oil for around 5-10 minutes. Add the rice and stir for a minute or so. Add about half of the stock and stir. As it starts to be absorbed, add the remainder. Stir frequently so that it doesn’t stick to the pan. Add the paprika and season to taste. When the rice is almost soft enough to eat, add your leftover chicken, olives, parsley and any other veggie leftovers.

This is pretty much a meal in itself but is also nice with a salad or green vegetable.

Do you love your leftovers? What would you do with the excess meat from the Sunday roast?

 

 

Why you Should Make a Meal of Leftovers

LeftoversI was shattered when I got home from work yesterday, so I was happy to have a quick and easy dinner planned. Jacket potatoes with leftovers from the freezer; in this case some bolognese sauce and/or beef casserole. It may sound an odd combination but it was filling and tasty. A can of Smart Price sweetcorn ensured at least one of our five a day. With a little planning it is so easy to make a meal of leftovers.

How to make a meal of leftovers

I rarely throw food away. Even small amounts of mash or veg can be frozen to use to thicken soups and stews. Wrinkled apples make an excellent puree to mix with yogurt or serve with custard. Bread pudding is better made with stale bread (and I use the crusts). I also whizz up slightly stale bread into breadcrumbs and leave a bag in the freezer – you never know when you might need these. If yogurts are getting near their use by date I freeze them – when the kids were small I would put a lolly stick in the bottom of small fromage frais pots for a treat on a warm day. If I roast a chicken I usually deliberately get a larger one than I need and turn the excess into curry or make a creamy chicken pasta sauce. The carcass goes back into the freezer and when I have a couple I make stock.

Ignore best before dates

I ignore best before dates (and frequently buy from Approved Food, which sells food near or past its best before date at a hugely reduced price. In addition, I use my eyes and nose before chucking anything out that has a use by date. If you use my referral link I will earn a small commission.

I shop with a list and always have at least a week’s meal plans, so I don’t buy food that won’t be used. I do a regular stock take of my fridge, freezer and larder to see what needs using up, then plan meals around what is there. If I am working late, my plan will take that into account and I will either throw a meal together in the slow cooker or defrost something from the freezer. This way I am never tempted to get a take away when I get home late and tired. We will also eat something healthy.

I never guess how much rice or pasta to cook – I always measure 3 ounces of pasta and 2-3 ounces of rice, depending on how hungry we are. Sometimes I cook too much on purpose so that I can take some for lunch the following day.

Love Food Hate Waste

It is shocking what people throw away, not just because it is a waste of money, but because it seems immoral to be so cavalier about food when so many people in the world don’t have enough. There is lots of information, guidance on how to avoid wasting food and recipes at Love Food Hate Waste.

If you have stale bread to use up, here is my favourite bread pudding recipe, from my trusty and ancient Cranks Recipe Book. They don’t sell this fab book any more but Amazon has the one below, which according to the reviews has a fab selection of classics from the original (disclaimer – this is an affiliate link).

Spiced Bread Pudding (I always double up this quantity – it gets scoffed very quickly)

Stale bread, 8 oz (225g); half a pint of milk (284ml); mixed dried fruit 4 oz (100g); grated butter 2 oz (50g); brown sugar 4 oz (100g); mixed spice 1 tbsp (15ml); 1 egg; 4 tbsp milk (60ml); pinch of ground nutmeg

Break up the bread and place in a mixing bowl with the milk. Leave to soak. Add the dried fruit, butter, suga and mixed spice. Beat well. Whisk together the egg and milk and add to the bread mixture. Turn into a greased shallow ovenproof dish, level the surface and sprinkle with ground nutmeg. Bake at 180 C (350F/Gas mark 4) for about 45 minutes, until set (in my fan oven 35 minutes will do). Really delicious!!

There are more ideas for how you can make a meal from your leftovers, here, here and here.

 

Five reasons why you should teach your children to cook

Teach your children to cook and one day they will cook for you

Teach your children to cook!

Tonight my 19 year old daughter made me the most delicious dinner. I left her very vague instructions: do something with the pork and the apples in the fridge. She sautéed apple slices in a little butter then added the pork loin fillets and cooked them for 10 minutes. She popped in a heaped teaspoon of Dijon mustard, about half a glass of white wine and salt and pepper. That was cooked up for a further 5 minutes or so. It was absolutely yummy! So the first reason you should teach your children to cook is that one day they will cook for you!

This got me thinking. There are so many reasons to teach your children to cook. If you cannot cook yourself, then I hope this post will inspire you to learn and then pass on the legacy. There is no good excuse not to. Great cooks share their skills all over the Internet these days. Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook and You Tube are awash with ideas and instructions.

Having fun and improving motor skills

My three daughters can all cook well. I started encouraging them to get involved from a very early age, getting them to chop up soft ingredients like fruit, veg and cheese with a knife (not a sharp one) from about three years old. They loved it! We baked and decorated cakes, made crumbles and biscuits, sandwiches, omelettes – anything and everything. They learned a lot about weighing ingredients, how to safely use a knife and other kitchen implements like a peeler, where ingredients were stored in the kitchen and, importantly, how to clear up!

Learning about nutrition

Another good reason for teaching your children to cook is that you can use it as an educational opportunity. As we went, I taught mine about nutrition. Which foods contained fibre, which were high in salt, sugar or fat and should be used sparingly, how items such as cheese and bread are made, and which foods contained lots of vitamins. I don’t mean I gave them a lecture; I mentioned this is passing. For example, ‘We are making our own oven chips as these are lower in fat that fried ones’. They may not all stick to it, but they know what a healthy plate of food looks like and how to have a well balanced diet.

Increasing independence

Two of my girls have already left home and the third is about to start university. I don’t have any worries about them living pale and undernourished on ready meals and takeaways. One of them frequently tags me in fabulous looking recipes she has found on Facebook and is about to try, one cooks for a couple of hours each Sunday for the week so she has a decent dinner when she gets back from work and the other…well, she is still at home and frequently cooks my tea! I have never forgotten dropping daughter number 2 at university and finding the freezer full of home made meals from one of her new room mates mothers. She clearly didn’t see the point of teaching her children to cook and was worried her son would starve to death!

Saving money

Home cooking is essential if you need to stick to a budget. Convenience foods and ready meals are so expensive. If you know how to pull together a quick casserole, pasta sauce and or roast dinner you are set for life. However, much or little money you want to spend on food, you will always be able to eat well. The more you cook, the more you can cook, so start your children early. As they grow, their skills and confidence will grow.  Look at recipes with them, write a shopping list and let them help you to do the food shop too, then they will understand how much the ingredients for their fabulous creations cost.

If you teach your children to cook, they will thank you for this amazing and useful life skill. It will help with their health, their bank balance and, very likely, their social lives!

“Cooking is at once child’s play and adult joy. And cooking done with care is an act of love.”
Craig Claiborne

 

 

 

How to get your five a day on a budget 

A basket of fruit showing you can have five a day on a budgetWe eat very cheaply here at Shoestring Cottage. However, not at the expense of our health, so we always eat our five a day on a budget. In fact, we eat a lot more than five portions of fruit and vegetables. I have around eight most days because I eat a lot of fruit. This has become easier since I gave up sugar. (Well, I have had the odd lapse but I have eaten very little, but that’s a post for another day!).

Check out your local market

It isn’t difficult to eat your five a day on a budget. There are so many ways to get some extra fruit and veg into your diet without breaking the bank. In the past when I was saving money I purchased from the greengrocer’s stall at the local market. If you have a good market and the time to get there this is still brilliant value. Now that I work so much I have little time to go into town, so I tend to get my fruit and veg from the discount supermarkets like Lidl and Aldi. Their specials are excellent. I also look out for yellow sticker reductions if I can get to a store later in the day. I always freeze these or use them up straight away. 

Canned, dried and frozen count towards your five a day on a budget

This includes canned tomatoes, sweet corn and pulses. We always have these in the larder. Canned veg such as peas, mushrooms and carrots are really inexpensive and quite good in casseroles.

Pulses can replace some of the more expensive meat in dishes like bolognese – who will notice a few lentils thickening the sauce? Or you can leave the meat out all together and have a mix of beans in a chilli sauce over your rice. How about a can of chick peas in with your chicken curry?

Canned fruit can be more expensive, but fruit cocktail and peaches are reasonable and make a nice dessert with a bit of custard. If they come in syrup I tend to wash this off – too much sugar!

Dried fruits are also worth considering in small quantities . A little pack of raisins in your lunchbox can be nice if you fancy something sweet and I have them on my porridge instead of sugar.

Another small treat I enjoy that count as one of my five a day on a budget is an Aldi Foodie Market raw fruit bar. They consist of cold pressed squished fruit and are around 90 calories a bar. I love the black currant and cherry flavours particularly. They cost £1.49 for a box of five. Much cheaper than a chocolate bar and so much healthier!

How do you get your five a day on a budget?

Using it up to save money

My food shop was minimal last week. I haven’t really spent anything on groceries apart from £8 on some yellow sticker stuff I found in my local Co-op.  We seemed to have quite a lot of food and it makes me more creative when I have to use up what we have.

We used the fish cakes for tea on Saturday with some salad. They were delicious but I wouldn’t have paid the original price.  On Sunday we had the chicken pieces, roasted up with some of the carrots and lots of fresh veg that was hanging around plus half a tin of potatoes that needed eating. We had this one tray supper with the spinach and it was lovely!

The kiwis still aren’t ripe – I just can’t think why they were reduced at all! We have apples and oranges to use up anyway as well as frozen berries.

I am saving the whole chicken as we will have a roast over the Easter weekend. I will need to get some shopping before then but I do intend to go to the supermarket on Saturday evening to see if I can get some big reductions before Easter Sunday 😀.

So I  am saving money on my food bill by finding bargains, not wasting fresh food and using up what we have in the cupboards and freezers. How about you?

My Zero Waste Kitchen: reduce food waste

I am always happy to encourage people to reduce food waste. I have said before in this blog how much I dislike the pervading waste culture. We are a throw away society. It appears we no longer seem to value our possessions or how much they cost in financial and environmental terms. Easy come, easy go!

This also applies to food. I remember learning about wartime rationing at school. Food was scarce but nobody starved in the UK because nothing was wasted. Now we are guided more by use by and best before dates than common sense and a lot of perfectly edible food is thrown away with barely a thought.

I am generally careful to avoid waste like this, but I am not perfect and could definitely try harder, so I was delighted to receive a copy of My Zero Waste Kitchen from Dorling Kindersley. If it helps people reduce food waste then all well and good.

It is a prettily designed, small hardback book and good value at £6.99 I think. The advice given is clear and simple, although probably aimed more for those who have just begun to think about reducing food waste rather than the seasoned waste free cook.

Lots of tips to reduce food waste

I like it though – there are a lot of useful tips that I hadn’t come across before, such as the page on eggs. Did you know you could use crushed eggshells as a stain remover or as a calcium supplement? Or that you could revive stale cake by putting it overnight in an airtight container with a slice of bread?

Why not put apple cores and kiwi skins in your smoothie? I am sure they would taste just as nice and add nutrition. I was less convinced about adding banana skins, however, as I think they would be too bitter.

If you want to get maximum value from your lettuce, you can cut off the end and root it in water to start a whole new plant. I have never tried this and I am sceptical, but might give it a go.

Recipes to reduced food waste

The recipes in the book look interesting. I like how a base recipe is presented such as hummus or flapjacks alongside ideas for foods you could add to save wasting them. I will definitely be trying the Waste-not want-not savoury muffins, as they look yummy.

If you want some fresh ideas on how to begin to reduce your family’s food waste, or you want to teach your children more about the subject, then this book will be a great place to begin.

If you decide to buy this book using the link below, I will receive a small commission from Amazon.

Lentil vegetable stew: A Simple Supper

lentil vegetable stewLentil vegetable stew

I have been visiting my mum in hospital after work and my daughters have been great at organising dinner. Last night darling daughter no 2 made a really tasty lentil vegetable stew with crusty baguettes. She adapted it from a Nigel Slater recipe to suit what she could find in the fridge, as follows:

2 onions
2 tbsp veg oil
2 tsp rosemary
2 bay leaves
3 medium carrots
4 parsnips
2 sticks of celery
125g mushrooms
2 small sweet potatoes
150g red lentils
2 tbsp plain flour
750ml hot veg stock
2 tbsp redcurrant jelly
Large handful of spinach
tbsp wholegrain mustard

Chop all the vegetables and fry up in some oil until the parsnips are starting to turn golden. Stir in the flour and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the stock to the pan with the herbs and lentils and bring to the boil, then simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the spinach, mustard and redcurrant jelly and stir then leave for a further ten minutes for the spinach to cook. This lentil vegetable stew would be good with rice but we enjoyed it with some ready to bake crusty baguettes from Aldi.

Update on mum

I was able to take my mum home today. She has a lot of cramp in her new hip joint, but other than that she is doing well. My dad sorted her tea and I left her in bed as she didn’t get much sleep in hospital so needs to catch up. One down, one to go – my dad’s op is on Sunday.

It was a glorious day today with daffodils and primroses everywhere. I love spring! Until tomorrow, bye for now.

I am sweet enough: sugar free chocolate cake

sugar free chocolate cakeMy lovely daughter decided to experiment with a sugar free chocolate cake for me yesterday, and made a sponge. She used half gluten free and half ordinary flour (just to use the gluten free stuff up) and it works surprisingly well. Otherwise the ingredients were the sort most of us would have in the cupboard. It does contain a little honey as she didn’t realise that I wasn’t eating it, but no refined sweeteners. I don’t want her to think I don’t appreciate her kind efforts, so I am eating it anyway. It is really quite nice. I think I may try some more sugar free cake recipes, perhaps using some mashed banana or stewed apples to add sweetness.

She is her mother’s daughter. She found a recipe online and adapted it to what we had in the cupboards. This is it:

Half cup of cocoa powder
Quarter cup of gluten free self-raising flour (can use ordinary flour)
Quarter cup of plain ordinary flour
2.5 tsp baking powder
Pinch salt
Half tsp cinnamon
6 eggs
Half a cup of honey
Half a cup of olive oil
Half a cup of milk
1 tsp vanilla essence

Preheat the oven to 160 C. Combine the dry ingredients with the wet ones and whisk well. Pour into a 9 inch greased and lined cake tin and bake for 50-60 minutes. Test at 50 minutes as you don’t want it to be dry. If you aren’t avoiding sugar you could ice it, but we have eaten this sugar free chocolate cake with a little Lactofree cream and chopped banana and it’s very nice.

sugar free chocolate cakeAn unexpected benefit

I was hoping to lose a few pounds, but I have discovered another unexpected benefit of cutting out refined sugar. I am a lot less bloated! Without going into unnecessary detail, I suffer from IBS and know that it is mostly caused by what I am eating. Over the years I have identified dairy products (not hard cheese, which is fine), soya, onions, beans, leeks, cauliflower and cabbage as trigger foods. Luckily Lactofree milk, yogurts and soft cheese are now available  (more expensive than the usual stuff but taste just the same), I use celery where a recipe calls for onions and the other stuff is easy enough to avoid.  However, it never occurred to me that sweet things caused an issue. I am not saying I would give them up altogether, but perhaps only eat small amounts at any one time or on any single day.

Money matters

I managed to sell 6 items on eBay this week, mainly clothes that my daughter was getting rid of. Not huge amounts of money, but every little helps! I have spent very little on anything since I was waiting on a new bank card, but since I buy practically nothing these days anyway it didn’t cause me any stress! A trip to Lidl is needed for some groceries for the week but other than that I haven’t spent anything at all.

I checked my bank balance this morning and my statement looks very uncomplicated. There isn’t much on there that isn’t a direct debit or standing order against a particular bill. A spring clean is in order with a long, hard look to see if there is anything I can get rid of. I would like to wave goodbye to the TV package I have with Virgin but I have a year on the contract. My plan is to buy a Freeview box when the contract expires and just stick with the channels on there plus Netflix.

I am working on a books page for the blog now, to be titled My Frugal Bookshelf. There are so many inspiring books out there and it is good to share. If you have any you can recommend, let me know. I will try to get hold of a copy to review.

Have a happy Sunday!

More with less

more with lessAges and ages ago, I bought the More With Less Cookbook by Doris Longacre. I read the introduction, loved the ethos of the book, but none of the recipes appealed to me much so I put it on my bookshelf and forgot about it. I thought it was time to revisit it to find ways to do more with less!

It was commissioned by the Mennonite Central committee in America. The book was a reaction to the extreme overconsumption of food and an obesity epidemic at a time when people in other parts of the globe were going hungry.

More with less: a simple approach

It preaches a more simple approach: eating more fruits and vegetables and less meat and processed foods. It was first published in 1976 and my copy is the 25th anniversary edition. The current popularity of veganism might suggest some of the rest of the world is finally catching up with the health message, but the obesity epidemic is even worse and people still go hungry.

So, the message is still relevant, but what about the recipes?

There is nothing fancy in the presentation or the content. Many are vegetarian or use just small amounts of meat. Many of them will seem quite alien to the UK or European reader, but others are quite international.

The measurements are in US cups – I invested in a set of these some time ago and they have proved their worth. You will need them if you follow the recipes in this book.

More with Less is a classic text and I am making a resolution to try some of the food in this book. It totally fits with my frugal approach to eating!

Has anybody else got the More With Less Cookbook? What do you think of it?7

This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and purchase anything it won’t cost you anything I will earn a small commission. Thanks!

Using it up! Clearing out the larder

Do you like to have a regular clear out of the larder? Using it up is the aim, not throwing anything away.

using it upToday my no spend January begins in earnest. As well as buying nothing except necessities such as food and petrol, I am aiming for a low spend month – even on groceries. To this end I will be making meals using up everything in the fridge, freezer and larder I will be buying only what I need to make meals out of what we already have.

using it upUsing it up – make a chicken stock

Yesterday I cleared out all of the frozen chicken carcasses and bones to make a good stock. I then pulled out a couple of bags of frozen courgettes and all of the slightly wonky veg lurking in the fridge to make a huge pan of soup. This will do us for lunches for the whole week and I have also put about half of it back in the freezer to eat as and when.

using it upI had two bags of apples taking up far too much space in my fridge. They have been there for months and had kept really well but I hadn’t got around to doing anything with them. So I made two big pots of stewed apple. This is also now in the freezer. I will take some to work instead of fresh fruit once we have eaten everything in the fruit bowl.

This morning I will be making banana loaf as we have 4 bananas past their best as well as plenty of bits left over from Christmas.

Bargain hunting

Yesterday I managed to get a great bargain. I have been generally ignoring the sales in preparation for my no spend January but I spotted a pair of lovely leather boots.  They were reduced from £60 to £40 , which was still too much, but my daughter had a 20% staff discount so I thought they were worth trying on.

The lady at the till then pointed out that they had a further 25% off for one day only so I couldn’t resist. When she rang them through she discovered they had been reduced even more so in the end I paid £14.50! Not bad! Good job January hadn’t started so I could justify the spend 😀.

I did actually need some more boots as I had to glue the sole back onto my other pair for the second time last week. I

How are you reducing your food waste? Are you using it up?

My ten best cheap and easy dinners

cheap and easy dinnersWhy do we need cheap and easy dinners? Well, June and July have been financially taxing months, with seven family birthdays, including my daughter’s 21st, a new car that had then to be taxed and insured and our recent holiday to Wales. I had money put by for all of these things but now I have completely used up my reserve and need to start saving straight away. So I am tightening the belt!

Fortunately I have some language students booked in over the next six weeks and yesterday I sold four dresses in one day on eBay – kerching! It will all help but I need to stop any inessential spending and stretch the groceries as well. I always revert back to a few cheap and easy dinners when I am saving money.

My top ten cheap and easy dinners:

Jacket potatoes with tuna and salad or veg from the garden.

Chick pea curry and rice.

Omelettes filled with cheese and whatever is sitting in the fridge – I often have mushrooms or sweetcorn lurking that need to be used up.

Vegetable bake – again this uses up the veg in the fridge or freezer. I add cheese sauce to cooked veg, cover with cheese and breadcrumbs and stick it under the grill to brown, or I might stick some cooked sliced potatoes on top and out it in the oven.

cheap and easy dinnersLiver and bacon casserole. I enjoyed this Hairy Bikers one recently.

Sausages and mash – easy comfort food. I use Aldi sausages and serve with beans or peas.

Macaroni cheese. I will add bacon to this if I have any.

Red dragon pie from my old Vegetarian Kitchen cookbook by Sarah Brown. I found it online here. It’s not quite so quick so I would make this at the weekend rather than after work. It’s really tasty!

Smoky chicken and chick peas, recipe here.

Vegetable paella or risotto. This Slimming World one is nice.

What are your go to cheap and easy dinners?

Courgette and celery soup  – and beating the rag and bone man

 Last year’s courgette harvest is still feeding us. I am down to the last few bags in the freezer. I thought I would combine them with celery and it made a good combination. If you use frozen courgettes, like me, start with just a litre and a half of stock and add more if you need it. They are quite watery and can make your soup too thin. Here is the recipe I used today:

2 large onions, chopped
5 sticks of celery, sliced
6 tsp of vegetable bouillion power dissolved in 2 litres hot water
2lb courgettes, sliced
4 medium potatoes, chopped
1 tbsp soy sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
2tbsp oil

Hear the oil and sweat the onions, celery and potatoes for about 5 minutes. Add the courgettes and fry  for a couple minutes more. Pour on the stock and bring to the boil. Simmer with a lid on the pan for about half an hour. Add the soy sauce, salt and pepper to taste, then whizz in a blender.

This makes a large pan and you can put it into old margarine or ice cream containers and freeze for when you need it.

We had to take our student to meet her bus back to France this morning. She seemed to enjoy her week with us. On the way home we spotted a broken wooden garden bench and a heavy cast iron parasol outside our neighbour’s house. The bench seat was broken but the frame seemed sound so we asked if we could have them. They seemed delighted to be rid and they were close enough to Shoestring Cottage for us to walk them home. The bench is little project for Mr S but it won’t need much repair. With a lick of paint it will be perfect in the garden.

An hour or so later we heard the bell of the rag and bone men. We were lucky to have beaten them to it!

Bootstrap cooking

I am trying to eek out this week’s groceries by being creative and using things up. It’s good to do this every now and then as it makes me look properly at what is in my freezer and cupboards and use ingredients that have been hanging about a bit. I am lucky that we still have broccoli, spinach and chard in the garden too so I haven’t had to buy much veg. I did pop out to get milk from the local Co-op yesterday though and picked up parsnips and peppers reduced to half price. I will make a spicy parsnip soup for lunch today.
I don’t have much meat though so we are eating more vegetarian dishes. The other night I made a stew out of pretty much everything we had in the fridge: celery, sweet potatoes, parsnips, carrots, mushrooms, peas and garlic with a tin of tomatoes, brown lentils, dried herbs and some vegetable stock. It was lovely with brown rice and a bit of grated cheese. I do like easy, no fuss dinners when I have been at work all day.

Last night we had some chicken thighs from the freezer in chicken chasseur as I had red wine that was a bit old for drinking but fine for cooking. I always use the recipe from A Girl Called Jack: 100 delicious budget recipes (my affiliate link). This is one of my favourite cook books ever. I have the second one but it doesn’t appeal to me as much. I have also signed up for her third which was crowd funded through Kickstarter. I should receive a signed limited edition copy for my money next month some time. I know Jack has become a vegan on the last few months so it will be interesting to see how this affects the recipes on offer. It wasn’t billed as a vegan cookbook but I don’t mind as lots of meat makes cooking more expensive. It is called Cooking on a Bootstrap.

As with anything related to Jack Monroe there is an interesting story behind the use of crowd funding to get the book out. It will actually come out with a ‘proper’ publisher in 2017. You can read about the saga  at https://cookingonabootstrap.com.

Off to the garden now as I have more seeds to start for the garden. Happy Sunday!

Bring on that wonky veg!


As promised Asda have very kindly sent me one of their Wonky Veg Boxes to review. I fully support this idea. Like many people, I have been appalled to learn how many perfectly good vegetables are wasted by the farmers supplying supermarkets because they are considered the wrong size, slightly discoloured or misshapen, a peculiarly first world point of view I feel!

Asda has certainly received a lot of very good publicity for this move so hopefully the other supermarkets will soon follow suit. I really don’t care if my food isn’t a uniform size or shape and I am quite sure most people feel the same. I just hope that Asda extend this scheme quickly as it is quite hard to get hold of the boxes. I have yet to find one in my local branch, although my daughter has spotted them there a few times.

They are exceptionally good value at £3.50. The cynic in me says this price will go up if they become too popular as this will impact on the amount of non-wonky veg we all buy. We shall see. What would be ideal is a situation where wonky veg us the norm and none of us bar an eyelid!

I like the fact that my veg arrived in a nice recyclable cardboard box with no plastic packaging on any of its contents. I am looking to reduce the amount of plastic waste I create through my various purchases so this was a bonus.

The contents of the wonky veg box

5 carrots
A cucumber
2 parsnips
Cabbage
3 red peppers
3 leeks
9 potatoes
Lots of red onions

The cabbage was a little the worse for wear – probably from sitting around in a warm press office I think! I was relieved to see that the other veg was actually a little wonky as I had read other reviews saying it was fine! It was all perfectly good quality.
 So…what to do with all this lovely stuff? Tonight I will begin with Spanish eggs – a kind of ratatouille base made with peppers, garlic, onions and tinned tomatoes. That goes in a baking dish and I will make little wells in this and crack an egg in each, cover with a little cheese and bake.

A spicy carrot and parsnip soup is a possibility or a parsnip gratin. Leeks and potatoes go well together in loads of things too: soup again or maybe a leek, potato and bacon bake. There are so many onions I gave some away! I use them a lot but already had some in the fridge.

The cabbage will be stir fried with onions and whatever else needs using up and, since my daughter munches on cucumbers like sweets that will disappear pretty quickly.

What would you make? Anyone else managed to get hold of a wonky box?

 

This is not a sponsored post. However, Asda did send me a box of vegetables free of charge. All opinions are my own.

Low Fat On A Budget?

low fat on a budgetIs it possible to eat low fat on a budget? I think it is. I made this yummy Slimming World recipe over the weekend, crustless bacon and mushroom quiche. The recipe says it will serve two but I would say  three as two of us couldn’t eat it all: recipe here.

So-called ‘slimming foods’ can be expensive in my experience, but all of the ingredients for this came from Aldi and it was quite a cheap supper. We had the left over cottage cheese and bacon over the weekend, so no waste there.

Low fat on a budget is possible

Logically if you are eating less you shouldn’t be spending more. People tend to buy more healthy fruit and veg and lean meat and less of the cheap stuff like sausages and processed food when they are dieting. But if they also purchase fewer treats, less alcohol and gave up the takeaways you would think it would even itself out!

I am encouraged at the number of nice looking veggie meals that are either low fat or can be adapted to be lower fat than usual. A meal based around pulses, vegetables and grains will generally be cheaper than eating meat.

Another nice dish which happens to be vegetarian is vegetable paella, another Slimming World one which is low fat on a budget. Delish and packed full of peppers and other veg so lots of antioxidants too. Replace the saffron with turmeric, use dried parsley and use ordinary rice instead of risotto  rice to make it a bit cheaper. I used mushrooms instead of courgettes as that was what I had. Use frozen instead of fresh peas and beans.
low fat on a budget

1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1.5 pints veg stock
1 red and 1 yellow pepper, sliced
2 courgettes, sliced
454 g tomatoes, skinned and chopped (I used a tin)
349g risotto rice
1 tsp paprika
0.5 tsp saffron, soaked in 2 tvsp water
110g green beans
110g peas
salt and pepper
3tbsp chopped parsley

Put the onions and garlic in a large pan with half a pint of the stock and simmer until the onions are soft. Add the peppers, courgettes and tomatoes and cook gently for 5 minutes. Stir in the rice and paprika. Pour in the saffron and add the peas and beans. Reduce the heat to a bare simmer and cook very gently, adding stock as it is absorbed and stirring regularly until all the liquid is absorbed. Season to taste and add the parsley just before serving.

I will definitely be making both these again! Do you eat low fat on a budget?

Can you eat really healthily on a tight budget?

Can you eat healthily on a tight budget? In a word, yes! You don’t have to buy an organic veg box every week to eat a good diet. You just need a decent understanding of nutrition and to be willing to try different  foods.

eat healthily I know I go on about Aldi and the money it saves when I shop there. Lidl is similar. They both have their specials on fruit and veg for a start. This week Aldi is offering as part of their weekly super six selection mushrooms, oranges, apples, onions, mange tout and grapes – 59p for a pack of each. Lidl has aubergines, rocket, cherry tomatoes and broccoli for 39p each.

Pulses help you eat healthily

Tinned pulses cost very little wherever you buy them and the dried kind cost even less. They are packed with protein and fibre and low fat to boot. Kidney beans are pretty much a super food too! I have found nuts and dried fruit to be very expensive in health shops and the bigger supermarkets but great value in Aldi. I take them to work to snack on rather than falling foul of the chocolate machine.

They sell a decent range of fruit and green teas. Their fruit juice is a bargain and nicer than the value range from Sainsbury’s or Tesco I have found.

If your budget is really tiny you may not be able to eat much meat. I have found that adding a small amount of bacon or chorizo to a dish can add flavour and stop carnivores feeling deprived. It won’t break the bank, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest a vegetarian diet is good for your health. You could leave the meat out altogether, chuck in loads of vegetables to soups, casseroles and pasta dishes and there is no need to feel deprived.

If you can afford a bit of meat or don’t want to go full on veggie the chicken thighs in Aldi are amazing value. If you are feeling flush they even sell free range.

 A treat at the moment with cheese or some hummous is the seeded crackers. They are exactly the same as Dr Karg’s, which I love, only about half the price 😀.

Aldi sell plenty of low fat and natural yogurts and even organic milk.

The eat well plate for healthy eating

The eat well plate looks like this:

Lots of fruit and veg, healthy carbohydrates, a smaller amount of protein and dairy and tiny portions of fat and sugar. You can buy all of these types of foods at the discount supermarkets and most within the value or basics ranges at the larger ones. So, yes you can eat healthily on a tight budget!

I am trying to teach my daughters what constitutes a good diet and they all have good basic cooking skills. They all eat too much chocolate, but they do have me as a mother!

Cheesy potato bake with parsley, rosemary and thyme

cheesy potato bakeWe had a cheap and filling late lunch today, a cheesy potato bake served with Aldi sausages and vegetables. As we were going to the cinema I wanted to keep it simple. This is how you make it.

cheesy potato bake900g potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 large onion, halved and sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Heaped tsp dried rosemary
Heaped tsp dried thyme
Large handful fresh parsley, chopped finely
1/2 pint milk
Salt and pepper
100g grated cheese

cheesy potato bakePlace the spuds, onions and garlic with the milk in a large saucepan and bring to the boil, then simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in all of the herbs and season well. Grease a large casserole dish and pour the potato mixture in. Cover with the grated cheese and bake at about 180C for 45 minutes. Eat as an accompaniment to sausages or as a vegetarian main with some vegetables.

This cheap and easy cheesy potato bake is also vegetarian and gluten free.

We saw the Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything tonight. What a great story and an excellent film. I really recommend it if you can get to see it!

Vegetable bake and a good day’s work

Before...dirty and rather tatty

Before…dirty and rather tatty

I had the day off today to start the refurbishment of an old dresser. My parents had it made in the seventies and gave it to me when I bought my first house. Back then honey-coloured pine was all the rage – I remember this dresser in the family kitchen with its matching table and benches. At some point I painted it blue, but for the past 3 years it has been at the back of Mr Shoestring’s workshop gathering dust.

 

It is a cute little dresser and is the first part of our planned redecoration (on a shoestring, of course) of our kitchen – Mr S is going to remove the ugly breakfast bar to make space. We chose a chalk finish pale green. Today I sanded it, washed it thoroughly and applied the first coat. It is looking very encouraging so far! Hopefully I will get the final coat on tomorrow and will wax it over the weekend.

Mid transformation!

Mid transformation!

Because I knew I probably wouldn’t fancy cooking when I got in, I prepared the dinner before I went, a very simple veggie bake based on Delia’s  Leek, Carrot and Potato Pie which features in my original copy of Frugal Food. It was perfect after my day freezing in the workshop – warming and comforting. I used tinned potatoes to save time – they are 15p in Aldi and I couldn’t buy fresh for less – and also a packet of bechamel sauce that cost 10p from Approved Food. Half of the leeks were from the garden – the last of them – and the other half came from Aldi this morning from their Super Six range and cost 59p.

200g carrots, chopped ( I don’t bother peeling them)
2 x 420g tins of potatoes
50g butter
100g mushrooms
500g leeks, washed and chopped
1 small onion
1/2 pint white sauce
150g cheddar, grated
2 tbsp breadcrumbs, made by whizzing up half a crust of bread with my hand blender
2 pinches cayenne pepper

veggie bakeCook the carrots in boiling water until cooked but still al dente. Sweat the leeks, onion and mushrooms in some butter until soft. Season well to taste. Drain the carrots, reserving 1/4 pint of water to make up the sauce, then follow the instructions on the packet but replace half the suggested milk with this water (or make a bechamel from scratch so that it can be gluten free if necessary). Slice the potatoes. Arrange the vegetables in layers in a deep casserole dish, finishing with a layer of potatoes, seasoning as you go. Combine the breadcrumbs with the cheese and cayenne and sprinkle on the top. Bake in a medium oven (180C) for about 40 minutes until the topping is golden brown. Serve with a green vegetable and enjoy!tinned spuds

The girls complained at the lack of meat, but since they both presented me with clean plates I don’t think they suffered too much 🙂

Fabulous Easy Fruit Cake

Thanks for all the comments on gluten free baking yesterday. I have had much more success with my baking today!

Today I made my favourite easy fruit cake. I make it about once a month. As suggested by Kate in the comments yesterday, to make it gluten free I substituted the wheat flour for 75% Dove’s Farm self raising and 25% ground almonds. I also added 1 fl oz more milk as I have read that GF flour can take more liquid than the regular stuff. The recipe was given to me about 15 years ago, and I have it stuck to the front of one of my baking books. It was a huge success in its gluten free form – as you can see, several pieces had gone before I even got round to taking the photo!

easy fruit cakeHere is the recipe, in old money so apologies to those of you who are strictly metric:

8 oz self raising flour or 6 oz GF self raising with 2 oz ground almonds
1 tsp mixed spice
5 oz brown sugar
2 eggs
5 oz butter or margarine
12oz dried mixed fruit
4 fl oz milk, or 5 if using GF flour

Gas mark 2/150C for 1 1/4 hours (check after an hour as you don’t want to over cook it)

Grease and line an 8 inch round cake tin.
Place all ingredients in a large bowl and beat well until mixed.
Place the mixture in the tin and smotth the top.
Cook until firm.

This easy fruit cake couldn’t be simpler and is fail safe as long as you don’t cook it too high.

Not a total disaster

I also discovered that yesterday’s cheese muffins weren’t quite the disaster I thought they were. When they were hot, the feta tasted awful – really overwhelming. This morning, tasting one cold, they were much nicer. The recipe suggested refreshing them in the microwave for 30 seconds before eating, so I tried that and my muffin was really quite good. Better for lunch with some soup or a salad than the dry GF rolls I have been buying in the supermarket. I have frozen them in batches of six to take to work and left some out to eat over the weekend.

Mr Shoestring and his brother spent much of the day on the roof finishing off. They have done a splendid job. The roof now appears to be completely water tight and cost about £200, rather than the £1500 we feared a roofer would charge us.

Greek Salad

What to take to the Christmas buffet?

We had the work Christmas buffet today. Everybody takes a contribution  and it is always a fantastic spread, with leftovers to last a few days as well. Money seems to be getting sucked continuously out of my purse at the moment with all the Christmas celebrations. I wanted to take something healthy  that wouldn’t break the bank. I decided on this frugal version of a Greek salad.

There are always lots of carbohydrate at these events – sausage rolls, sandwiches, pork pies, crisps, etc – so I thought a Greek salad would be welcome. It was very easy to make last night and the ingredients weren’t expensive. I bought them from Sainsbury’s on the way home from work and the salad cost £3.50 not including the dressing.

greek saladGreek salad

1 med cos lettuce, £1
half a cucumber, cubed, 25p
Half a pack of cherry tomatoes (about 150g), halved, 50p
half a bunch of spring onions, chopped, 30p
1 pack of Sainsburys Basics feta cheese, cubed, 85p
A small jar of black olives, 60p

From the store cupboard for the vinaigrette I used 3 tablespoons of olive oil, half a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon of cider vinegar and salt and pepper.

Combine all of the salad ingredients. Mix the oil, vinegar and mustard together in a jug and add seasoning to taste. Pour over the salad just before serving and mix well.

This Greek salad went down a treat! The feta – cheap because it is made with cow’s milk so isn’t the genuine stuff – is just as good as the real thing at about a third of the price.

I took mine in a lovely big ceramic bowl that I bought recently in my favourite charity shop for £1.50.

Best gluten free chocolate and raspberry 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 gluten free chocolate and raspberry brownies from the BBC book. Fresh raspberries 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!

imageGluten free chocolate 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!

Chicken and Chorizo Casserole

chicken and chorizo casserole

Fry up the onion, celery and garlic

I mentioned that I went to a friend’s for dinner last week and she made a delicious chicken and chorizo casserole with butterbeans.  I loved it, so recreated it yesterday.

I had a look at a few similar recipes on the internet, then adapted it to what I had. It is amazing how tasty a butter bean becomes when it is stewed with chorizo and smoky paprika. I put mushrooms in to use them up, but think it would work well with a chopped red pepper instead. This is lovely served with plain rice and salad or a vegetable. Yum!

chicken and chorizo casserole

Add the paprika and mushrooms

Chicken and chorizo casserole

Serves 4-6

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees

Pack of 8 chicken thighs, skins removed
Large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 sticks of celery, chopped
4 oz mushrooms, sliced
400g can chopped tomatoes
400g can butterbeans
80g chorizo, diced
2 dessertspoons of smoked paprika (or just paprika if that’s all you have)
200ml chicken stock
Salt and pepper to taste

chicken and chorizo casserole

Ready to serve!

Heat some oil in a large pan, and add the onion, garlic and celery and sweat gently for 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and paprika and continue to fry gently for a further 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, stock, butter beans and seasoning and stir. Place the chicken in a large casserole dish and pour the sauce on top. Cover and cook in the oven for about an hour.

This is quite inexpensive for entertaining and I will definitely be doing this again. DD 1 isn’t keen on chorizo, so I might replace that with bacon.

I made double so no cooking for me today – I don’t mind the same thing two days in a row, especially when it is really tasty!

Check out my Frugal Recipes page for other ideas.

Not a complete disaster!!

Yesterday I blogged about my attempt at making a gluten free chocolate cake. It all went a bit wonky as my oven shelf tipped as I put the cakes in and I didn’t notice. This meant they were fat one end and thin and biscuit like at the other end. Undeterred, I took them out of the tins and sandwiched them together with chocolate spread.

Not a beautiful cake, but an edible one....

Not a beautiful cake, but an edible one….

Well, this cake doesn’t look pretty, that’s for sure! It is rather crumbly at the edges and completely uneven. However, it does actually taste quite acceptable. Me and DD3 each had a piece. But cake should be scrumptious and delicious, not just acceptable. It has a nice light texture, but is missing something. I think I will attempt it again but this time, instead of adding cocoa powder, I will melt some actual chocolate and mix that in. Hopefully that will solve the crumbling issue and make it taste richer. If that works I might go the whole hog and whip up some cream to add to the filling. I think I need to experiment a lot more!

I used the Dove Farm flour that I bought in Sainsbury’s the other day. The recipe for the chocolate cake was on the packet. The only thing I added was some Xanthan gum, since I had it and it is supposed to make gluten free cakes lighter.

It is going to be trial and error but hopefully I can find some decent recipes for the basics over time.

I had to go to a meeting in Chelmsford today. I knew there would be biscuits which I wouldn’t be able to eat so I bought a gluten free seed bar on the way in. I thought it might be fit for the birds, but actually it was lovely as well as healthy. I will buy one again! If you see these and want a healthy treat, give one a try!

Pumpkin cake

I finally got round to making a huge batch of pumpkin soup at the weekend. I added curry powder and it was delicious. So lots of frugal lunches packed away in the freezer  for Autumn.

imageI also used some of the pumpkin flesh to make pumpkin cake. If you like carrot cake you will certainly like this. I left out the orange peel because I didn’t have any and used standard icing rather than the cream cheese variety. It has made a lovely moist cake. If I make it again I will freeze it in slices for our lunch boxes, probably without the icing though.

The recipe is here.

I have thought of some more things that you can reuse rather than throw away or recycle:

Egg boxes – save for seed trays or kids crafts. If you know someone who keeps hens they may also find them useful
Carrier bags – try not to collect them in the first place, but if you do, they are good bin liners
Envelopes – stick a label over the address and reuse. Collect together and use for writing notes and shopping lists
Banana skins – I have heard that you can use these to polish leather shoes but have yet to try it!

This is an ongoing list so feel free to add your ideas.

Using up the leftovers and indulging in some curly veg

Watch out, they taste curly!

Watch out, they taste curly!

I have had a very productive weekend, although there are still a lot of things I would have liked to do. I did have a lie in this morning though – I made a point of it. What a luxury to chill out a bit on a Sunday morning!

I made some scrumptious banana bread. I always use the Delia Smith recipe here, but this time I substituted the orange and lemon peel for some toffee chips I bought a while ago to decorate a cake and it worked incredibly well – toffee and banana is a winning combination. I was also a lot easier than faffing around pulling peel off fruit and then wondering what to do with the fruit itself!

banana breadWhilst the oven was on I used the week’s bread ends to make bread pudding. Mr S took half for his Mum, and the rest will be used for lunches and puddings through the week.

For dinner I used Frugal Queen’s cheat’s meatballs recipe, which was very nice with home grown beans, carrots and chard. I made double for tomorrow’s dinner too. It was dead easy and certainly cheaper than a roast.

shedI sound as if I have done nothing but cook all day, but we did manage to get out and do a bit of tidying up in the garden, plus picking the veg for tea. I have no idea why the carrots turned out to be curly as we grew them in big pots so there were no stones. Still, they tasted nice! Mr S continues to make his sheds look fabulous, putting an old enamel sign he came across on the wall of one of them. I think he has plans for a woodburning stove and a veranda. He will be on George Clark’s Amazing Spaces next 🙂

To top it all, the new series of Downton Abbey started tonight. Brilliant as usual and an excellent way to finish the weekend. What did you all get up to?

Easy Banana Muffins

black bananasI love these! And I have some very over ripe bananas sitting looking at me accusingly. No one is going to eat them now, but they will eat banana muffins, so, a job for later. This makes a large batch so that you can freeze some for lunchboxes, etc. If you don’t want to do that, halve the ingredients.

500g self-raising flour
125g sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
2 medium bananas, mashed
240ml milk
160ml oil
2 eggs
Cake cases

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade (gas mark 4). Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, soda, salt and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl. Then start to slowly whisk in the milk, oil and egg until well combined. Finally, fold in the mashed banana and combine well. Spoon the mix into your cake cases and bake for around 15 minutes, until golden and springy to the touch.

These are lovely warm, but equally nice cold. However, you can reheat them for about 15 seconds in the microwave.

Brown Rice and Mediterranean Vegetables

Another chuck it together healthy tea. We had this brown rice and Mediterranean vegetables with baked chicken but it is a perfectly good veggie supper with grated cheese stirred in.

brown rice and Mediterranean vegetablesI am still using up the huge courgettes I got in Sainsbury’s! I like the flavour soy sauce adds to these.

Brown rice and Mediterranean vegetables

Serves 6

1tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
I green pepper, chopped
1 large or 2 small courgette, diced
100g mushrooms, sliced
325g brown rice, cooked with a veg stock cube
600g (1.5 cans) chopped tomatoes
2tbsp chopped parsley (or 2tsp dried mixed herbs)
1 tbsp soy sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Grated cheddar to top (optional)

Heat the oil and gently fry the onion and garlic until softened. Add the courgettes, mushrooms and pepper and continue to cook for 5 minutes, then add the tomatoes. Simmer for 10 minutes then add the parsley and soy sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve your brown rice and Mediterranean vegetables with a good sprinkling of grated cheese.

image

We were out getting the best from our RHS membership today. Once it finally stopped raining the sun came out and it was boiling, so we took a drive to Hyde Hall Gardens in Runwell in Essex.

This is the fourth time we have been this year and it has been fantastic to see the garden changing and developing through the seasons. This is one of the four main RHS gardens and we are lucky to have it half an hour’s drive from home. It never fails to inspire!

rose2

Loaves and Laundry

imageI really needed a dry sunny day today, as I had so much laundry! However it was drizzly all day so instead I used DD3’s room as the drying room – luckily she is at university again and I have no student at the moment. I hung it everywhere I could and stuck the dehumidifier on for a bit to help it along.

I managed most off the cleaning, made two delicious banana and walnut loaves, got my hair cut and rang to try to sort the mortgage, or try to anyway. It is a work in progress!

imageMr Shoestring even persuaded me out for an early evening cycle ride to finish me off.

The banana loaf recipe is a Delia one and brilliant with over ripe bananas. You can find it here:

http://www.deliaonline.com/recipes/cuisine/european/english/banana-and-walnut-loaf.html

 

 

Apricot Fool – posh nosh

Apricot fool

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.

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 station – 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 delicious apricot fool is one of my favourite naughty puddings!