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?

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!

Slow cooked beef and mushroom one pot casserole

imageI managed to make dinner in 5 minutes flat yesterday morning, and threw it in the slow cooker before I left for work. No fuss winter grub. This serves 5-6. All of the ingredients were from Aldi.

Pack of three frying steaks (you could use stewing steak but as it happened this was cheaper)
Medium onion, chopped
2 sticks of celery, chopped
2 large carrots, sliced
Tin chopped tomatoes
1/2 pint beef stock
Large handful of chopped mushrooms
Tin potatoes
Heaped teaspoon dried mixed herbs
Splash of Worcester sauce
Seasoning to taste

imageChop it up and throw it on the slow cooker on medium for 6-8 hours. It was so easy and delicious, and the meat was really tender. We had some broccoli with ours.

I love my slow cooker! I frequently just tip it all in and rarely follow a recipe and it usually works perfectly.

What are you cooking in yours?

Mixed Vegetable Gratin

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

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

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

Cheese and Pasta Casserole, 71p

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

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

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

Leek and Potato Pie

photo 1So what to do for Saturday tea that is easy and filling? Searching in the freezer this morning, I found a pack of frozen short crust pastry that I must have bought for a specific purpose but didn’t use, so that was my starting point. I am trying to empty the freezer a bit for some Christmas meat that I plan to buy with my Sainsbury’s points, and also to make room for a new batch of pumpkin soup, so I will use up all the bits and pieces this week.

So, pastry. Lots of leeks in the garden. It had to be leek and potato pie!
I used up some bacon I had as well, but you could easily leave this out to make it vegetarian.
pie uncooked500g of shortcrust pastry
4 medium leeks, washed and chopped
Dessertspoon of butter
3 rashers of bacon
450g potatoes, peeled
Tsp of mixed herbs
130g cheddar, cubed

Preheat oven to 180C or equivalent. Cook the potatoes so that they are still slightly firm and chop into cubes. While they are cooking, melt the butter and add the leeks and chopped bacon, with the herbs. leek and potato pieCook gently for 15 minutes, or until the leeks are soft. Mix them with the potatoes and the cheese. Roll out the pastry and line the bottom of a medium pie dish. Add the filling, then add the pie top. Brush the pie with a little milk. Make a small hole in the middle, then bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes.
This served 4 of us with a pile of cabbage, peas and gravy.

Pork and lentil casserole – a real winter warmer

pork and lentil casseroleI dug out a classic of the kitchen yesterday, the Goode Kitchen, by Shirley Goode. She was the original queen of the frugal kitchen and, even though this book is from the 1980s, a lot of her advice is still relevant now. If you can find yourself a secondhand copy I recommend it.

She talks about how to cost the food you prepare like a professional chef, so you can accurately work out how much individual meals cost to make. She suggests that when you buy ingredients you take the overall cost and divide it up. For example, if you take a bag of flour, divide the cost of it by the number of grams in the bag to work out how much, say 100g, costs. Then write this on the bag. You can do the same with a single egg, 100g of cheese, 100 ml of milk, etc. You can accurately calculate the cost of every recipe you make and see if you can make it any cheaper! I certainly intend to start doing this from now on.

There is a recipe in the book called lamb and lentil casserole, which is great for stretching a small amount of meat. I adapted this and used pork instead, as it is cheaper than lamb, and added a few leeks as I am growing them in the garden. I used a bit more liquid than in the original recipe because it seemed a bit dry, and more potatoes to make it more substantial. I think this would work well in the slow cooker so I will use that next time.cooked pork and lentils

600ml good beef stock
100g green lentils
1 small onion, chopped
2 small leeks, washed and sliced
2 carrots, sliced
1 large potato per person, sliced
350g pork, cubed
Salt and pepper

Well, Mr Shoestring seemed to enjoy it!!

Well, Mr Shoestring seemed to enjoy it!!

Preheat oven to 180C. Bring the stock to the boil, put the lentils in a large casserole dish and pour the stock over. Brown the meat in a pan, then add the onions and leeks and soften. Place on top of the lentils with all the other veg. Season and stir, then cover and cook in the oven for about 1 hr 15. Check there is enough stock after 45 minutes and add more if necessary. Serve with a green vegetable.

Serves 4.

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Chilli Chicken: add a bit of spice to your life

view golfBit shattered today. I started my cleaning late as I had to take kitty to the vet for her second set of vaccinations first thing – she is a bit shaky, tired and sorry for herself now, as she was after the first lot.

Then I went to cover a yoga class at the local golf and country club as they were short of a teacher. I won’t say no to the extra money right now, no matter how busy I am. It was a beautiful morning and there was a lovely view across the golf course. The class members were very welcoming too, so it wasn’t exactly a chore.

Yesterday I told you about my new resolution to clean really thoroughly and more often rather than having a crazy rush round and a just about good enough clean on a Saturday. I started by cleaning about half of the windows – we have a huge problem with condensation in this house, so this involved cleaning a lot of black mould off the window frames first. What a difference sparkling shiny windows make to the look of a room! Mr Shoestring also attacked a bit of mould in my bedroom; it collects in the corner where the wall stands clear of the neighbours. I also cleared all the cobwebs from the downstairs rooms, polished, swept and mopped right through. I will do a bit more tomorrow and then through the week.

Tonight’s dinner had to be simple and warming. I defrosted some chicken over night, and decided to cook it in a chilli sauce. It was really good, if I say so myself, and easy-peasy.

chilli chickenAbout 4 portions of chicken (I used 4 thighs and 4 drumsticks) with skins removed
1 red pepper
1 large onion
2 cloves garlic
2 tins chopped tomatoes
4 oz mushrooms
1 tsp cumin
half tsp chilli flakes
1 heaped tsp mixed herbs
A good dash of Worcester sauce
Plenty of salt and pepper

Brown the chicken in a small amount of oil and set aside. In the same pan, add the chopped onions and garlic and fry for 5 minutes, then add the spices and stir in for a couple of minutes. Add the mushrooms, tomatoes, chicken, herbs and Worcester Sauce and bring to the boil. Turn down to a simmer, add salt and pepper and cover. Cook for about 40 minutes or until the chicken is cooked right through, and serve with rice.

Perfect Pasta

The last thing I want to do when I get home from work is start a major cooking event. Weekday food needs to be cheap and reliable and easy. You can’t go wrong with these two favourites to feed the hungry hoards.

Cheesy Pasta with Leeks, Peas and Bacon (serves 4)
12 oz (350g) pasta
2 large leeks, chopped and washed
1 pack of Asda Smart Price bacon or similar (about 6 rashers), chopped
2 oz (50g) frozen peas
2 oz (50g) butter
Cheese sauce, made with a pint of milk, 2 oz (50g) of flour, 2 oz (50g) butter, 6 oz (175g) cheddar cheese and a pinch of nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat the grill and bribe one of the kids to make a salad.

Cook the pasta in boiling water. Don’t overcook – you want it al dente. While this is cooking, make the sauce by melting the butter and adding the flour to make a roux. Cook for a few minutes so that your sauce doesn’t taste floury. Add the milk gradually, whisking any lumps out as you go. Keeping stirring as it thickens – don’t have the heat up to high or it will burn. Add about 4 oz of the cheese and stir until melted. Add the nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste.

Fry the leeks and bacon until softened in the butter, then add the peas and cook for a further 3 or 4 minutes. Mix with the drained, cooked pasta, then add the sauce. Place in an oven proof container and sprinkle over the remaining cheese. Grill until the cheese browns and bubbles and serve.

Tuna Pasta with Olives (serves 4)
12 oz pasta
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or crushed
Olive oil
A 400 gram can chopped tomatoes
10-20 black olives (I find I have to eat the whole jar once opened but you might be more disciplined!)
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
1 can tuna (200g)
4 tbsp white wine (this is almost as dangerous as the olives.)
Salt and pepper to taste

Gently fry the onion and garlic until softened but not brown. Add the wine and tomatoes and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Add the olives, herbs and seasoning and cook for a further 10 minutes. Meanwhile, cook and drain the pasta. Add the tuna to the sauce and mix in the pasta to coat it well. This is nice topped with some grated cheddar or parmesan if you happen to have some.

Pumpkins and a fabulous harvest

pumpkin soupChopped pumpkin

We had a veritable bounty of wonderful veg from the garden and greenhouse this year. This was the first year we had put so much effort into growing our own food; last year we managed a few courgettes in grow bags and some runner beans. This year we have had fabulous tomatoes (thanks to a bargain greenhouse purchased on Ebay and free plants from a friend), peppers, celeriac, onions, carrots, French and runner beans, peas, fennel, rhubarb, various courgettes and squashes, beetroot, leeks, a few currants and berries and best of all, some lovely big pumpkins. Now that Halloween is out of the way, it is time to make some more soup for the freezer. Pumpkins make the most glorious, smooth and delicious soup. Here is the recipe I use:

Roasted Pumpkin Soup

One medium pumpkin

2 pints of chicken or vegetable stock

3 large onions

2 sticks of celery

2 tsp of cumin

4 cloves of garlic

Vegetable oil

Plenty of salt and pepper

The first thing you need to do is roast your pumpkin. Preheat your oven to gas mark 6, 200C. Peel your pumpkin and cut into large chunks – about 2 inch squares should do. Put into a bowl and mix in a couple of tablespoons of the oil. Roast in the hot oven until the pumpkin begins to soften – about 25 minutes. Meanwhile, peel and chop the onion and garlic and brown for 5 minutes in a small amount of oil, then add the cumin and cook for a further 2 or 3 minutes. Add the roasted pumpkin and the stock, and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer for about 15 minutes, seasoning to taste, then puree and cool.

I save margarine, ice cream and large yogurt pots for my mega soup making sessions. I ladle single, double or larger portions, depending on the size of my container, label and freeze. Home-made soup is so much nicer than tinned, and a lot cheaper when you are using home grown veg as well as being a great way of using up a glut.