The best frugal food blogs to help you save money

I 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?

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.

 

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?

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!