Experimenting with my air fryer

air fryer

I mentioned my new air fryer in last week’s meal planning post. This week we have all been trying it out. I haven’t done anything very adventurous yet, but I thought I had better start with some basics. My air fryer recipes (if you can call them recipes) have mostly been potato based. It has been fun, with mostly successful results!

I was very lucky in being sent my VonShef air fryer from Domu for review. Quite impressed with it so far. It is so easy to use and also to clean when you have finished with it.

Tips

So far I have discovered that it is best to cut your spuds into even sized pieces and to shake the basket thoroughly half way through cooking. This air fryer cooks things more quickly than my oven, so I need to be careful to cut the cooking time and check fairly often that the food is not over cooking.

It is also important not to overload the basket, or the food doesn’t cook evenly. Only a small amount of oil is required, but it does need some.

Roast potatoes

air fryer

In the past I have tried making low fat roast potatoes in the oven. They are fine, but potatoes tend to go a little sweet when roasted with little oil.  This didn’t happen in the air fryer. I peeled and quartered each potato, dried them off on a tea towel and then mixed them in a bowl with about about a table spoon of olive oil and some salt. They only took 25 minutes to cook and came out brown and crispy.

They were so easy! I added rosemary half way through (when I took them out to give them a good shake), but it didn’t work as the herbs fell through the holes at the bottom of the air fryer! I think any seasonings will need to be in powdered form so that they stick.

Sweet potato fries

air fryer

Next, I had a go at air fryer sweet potato chips.  I cut them quite small and did them in exactly the same as the roast potatoes, but for about 20 minutes. This was too long as they were very brown, but they still tasted delicious and not at all burnt. I will cook them for 15 minutes next time.

Standard potato fries

Nothing different here. I cut them into chunky chips and they were fine with 20 minutes cooking. Delicious, in fact. My daughter also used it to cook some French fries from the freezer. She said they only took eight minutes and were perfect.

Baked eggs

air fryerMy one failure with my air fryer? Eggs! I attempted to cook them in that for breakfast one day. However, I did them for far too long! Initially I put them on for five minutes. Because they were still quite runny, I put them on for another five. They were pretty solid with a hard skin on top. Edible, but in no way the delicious breakfast eggs we usually go for with a nice runny yolk.

I will have another attempt some time and try them for around seven minutes.

What next for the air fryer?

We have been given a mass of courgettes, but I still haven’t got round to cooking those in the air fryer. Definitely something for this weekend! I intend to dip them in flour and egg, then cover them in breadcrumbs.

Overall, I am really pleased with my air fryer. It easily made enough of each of the potato dishes for the three of us. However, for a big family I am not sure this 3.5 litre model would be large enough. It would be easier to cook your spuds in the oven. I am sure larger models are available, though.

It is very quiet and doesn’t take up too much space on the worktop. An air fryer is also very versatile it seems.  You can use it instead of an oven to bake or roast. Apparently you can even bake cakes! An air fryer is not suitable for very greasy items such as sausages though.

I think it would be super useful for a student or for someone living in a studio flat. If you had this and a stove you wouldn’t need much else.

I intend to keep experimenting with my air fryer and will let you know how I get on. Does anyone else have one? If so, what are your top tips?

Meal planning and using my new air fryer!

I have an air fryer and I’m not afraid to use it! Actually, I am a bit scared. It is quite alien! I thought I would build some air fryer recipes into this week’s meal planning. I was totally inspired to try one by Katy Kicker, who uses hers regularly it seems (blog link below).

meal planningAfter scouring the internet for recipes, I have a few promising ones to try. Air fryers are  quite versatile, it seems. As well as cooking things with very little oil, you can bake, roast, grill and reheat too.

(Full disclosure: I was gifted my new air fryer for review purposes, a VonShef Digital Air Fryer 3.5L. A full review will follow when I have tried it out properly. This is an affiliate link.)

I love meal planning mainly because it saves me time and money. It is just so much easier when I am busy not to have to think about what to make for dinner. I can just get home from work and get on with it.

Meal planning this week

Saturday

I am going to use the air fryer to make some sweet potato chips tonight. Mr S has a lamb shank from the freezer and I have some mackerel. I will make a quickly parsley sauce to go with mine.  The sweet potatoes will be one of our five a day, of course, but we will also have some broccoli.

Sunday

It’s too hot for a roast at the moment, so we are having spaghetti Bolognese. I will make a meat version as well as a veggie version for me. Ages ago I bought some Quorn burgers on offer. I really don’t like them so they have been sitting in the freezer for ages. The plan is to chop them up for my veggie sauce. I hate wasting food! That is half the point of meal planning, after all.

Monday

meal planning

We have some home grown courgettes to use. For once they weren’t grown by us! We decided to have a year off growing our own as I felt so unwell early in the season. I feel much better now, thank goodness. Everybody else is growing them, of course, and a friend gave me some. I plan to make an old favourite from my Favourite Frugal Recipes page, courgette and tomato eggy bake. We will have this with some lettuce leaves in a salad, gifted by the same friend.

If I continue to be given courgettes, I will be dipping them in egg and breadcrumbs and air frying them!

Tuesday

A nice easy tea. Fish in breadcrumbs from Lidl with some home made air fryer potato wedges.

Wednesday

Minted lamb, which mysteriously appeared in the freezer. My daughter must have bought it whilst I was away. She and Mr S can have that with new potatoes and vegetables. I will have some salmon and perhaps a nice hollandaise sauce.

Thursday

I thought I would give these chick pea nut burgers a try from the BBC Good Food website. Some can go in the freezer. If no. 1 daughter turns up for tea, she will turn her nose up at these. Fortunately I keep some Aldi beef quarter pounders in the freezer. My family are such carnivores!

Friday

End of the week and it has to be simple. Spanish omelette with salad should do the trick.

I have found some good hints and tips on using my air fryer hereWhat are you doing about meal planning this week? Are you super organised or do you wing it?

This week I am linking up with Katy Kicker and the Organised Life Project. If you want more ideas on meal planning and saving money, take a look at their blogs. For more of my tips on meal planning, try  this post.

This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase I will receive a small commission. Thanks!

Cranks frugal flapjacks revisited

frugal flapjacksI have been messing around in the kitchen to find a cheaper alternative to the paleo type bars I have been taking to work to snack on. These healthy frugal flapjacks used up loads of bits I had hanging around in the larder. They are based on the lovely flapjack recipe in my ancient Cranks recipe book. It is absolutely falling apart because I have owned it for at least 30 years and still use it regularly. I made a couple of versions of flapjack – I even attempted a vegan one with oil instead of butter – but this is definitely my favourite.

frugal flapjacks

This quantity made 12 flapjacks. Whether they will get scoffed at home rather than making it to work remains to be seen!

Fabulous frugal flapjacks

Ingredients

200g oats

50g dried fruit (I used raisins)

50g mixed seeds

75g golden treacle

75g brown sugar

150g butter

1 tbsp ground mixed spice

Method

frugal flapjacks

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees, gas mark 4.  Place the butter, sugar and syrup in a small pan and heat gently to combine. Meanwhile place all of your dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix well. When the syrup mixture is liquified, pour it over the other ingredients and mix thoroughly.

Grease and line a 8 x 8 inch  deepish baking tray.  Spoon the mixture in and flatten with the back of a wooden spoon.

Bake for around 25 minutes. Leave to cool  before slicing whilst still in the tin into 8-12 pieces, depending on how large you like your flapjacks to be. If you attempt this when they are too warm they will fall to pieces. Leave to cool completely before you take them out of the tin.

These fabulous frugal flapjacks are crumbly and delicious. The addition of the seeds adds a touch of protein. I will definitely be making these again. You could substitute the seeds for chopped nuts and vary the dried fruit – dates or chopped apricots would be nice.

For more of my favourite frugal recipes, see here.

My eating from the larder meal plan

I have done a proper stock check of the freezer and barely need to buy any groceries this week. Because I buy cheaply when I find items on offer, I sometimes forget what is in there! To keep on top of food bills it is really important to know what you already have and plan it into your meals. Otherwise it is too easy to buy more and more and waste what you already have. I popped into Asda last night to get their version of lactose free milk, yogurt, fruit, cat food and a couple of other items. I am hoping not to need anything else for the week. Here is my eating from the larder meal plan.

eating from the larder
Eating from the larder

Saturday

I am eating out! I love getting my dinner cooked for me for a change. My friend Wendy is a fabulous cook so I am looking forward to a night with her and the girls. I have bought meringues and Lactofree cream to go with her fruity dessert.

It really is my turn to cook next time so I will get my thinking cap on to think about what I can make that is impressive but won’t break the bank.

Sunday

I still have the job lot of pork chops I bought reduced from Asda in the freezer. Mr S and darling daughter will have these and I will have some of the nut roast I forgot was in hiding behind a loaf of bread in the freezer. My daughter does a great marinade for the pork with soy sauce, honey and ginger.  We will have roast potatoes, some frozen beans, frozen broccoli and Yorkshire puds.

I like to keep a stash of frozen veg in the freezer for when the fresh stuff runs low.

Monday

I have potatoes that are looking a bit sprouty so I will make these into home made oven chips to eat with omelettes and some salad. We eat fewer potatoes in the summer so I buy small bags. Sometimes they do get forgotten about and I hate wasting food!

Tuesday

We shall have tuna pasta bake. This is a great eating from the larder meal. We always have pasta, tuna and tomatoes! Actually, my daughter brought a jar of sauce back from uni, so if I am tired I will use that up. There is a jar of black olives in the fridge so I will throw some of those in too.

Wednesday

Sea bass with vegetables and hollandaise sauce. This is in the freezer and had also been shoved to the back. I love fish of any sort and eat it once or twice a week generally. I have fresh carrots that I will use up but will also use some of the frozen veg again.

Thursday

eating from the larderSardine spaghetti. This is becoming a staple, although I vary the ingredients slightly each time, adding peppers if I have them or some chilli if I want a bit of a kick. It may sound unappealing but sardines make a really great sauce for pasta. Even my eldest daughter, who is fussy as hell, enjoys it. I will try this version I think, although I don’t have whole wheat spaghetti so will use the normal stuff.

Friday

Chilli chicken or salmon with roasted new potatoes and vegetables. The chicken was another yellow sticker bargain that I split into portions and froze. I also have a single portion of salmon so I shall have that. New potatoes are obviously delicious just as they are, but I really love them roasted with a little olive oil and garlic.

So, my eating from the larder menu plan is pretty straightforward and mostly uses what we already have.  I would love to hear what you have planned for the week. All inspiration gratefully accepted!

This week I am linking up with Katy Kicker and the Organised Life Project. If you want more ideas on meal planning and saving money, take a look at their blogs. For more of my frugal food ideas see here.

Cheap and easy vegetable curry

 vegetable curry

I made this vegetable curry as part of this week’s easy meal plan. It involves little more than chopping up some vegetables! My sort of cooking when I am feeling tired but in need of something healthy and delicious.

I actually kept the carnivores happy by cooking up some frozen chicken strips separately and adding them to half of the vegetable curry. You could easily vary the vegetables, depending on what you happen to have lying around.

Cheap and easy vegetable curry

vegetable curryServes 4-6

Ingredients

1 onion, diced

2 crushed cloves of garlic

3 sticks of celery, sliced thinly

3 carrots, sliced thinly

1 sweet potato, halved and sliced thinly

1 large-ish courgette, sliced

1 red pepper, chopped

2 oz frozen peas

1 400g can of chopped tomatoes

1 165g jar of curry paste (I used Patak’s tikka masala)

200ml cold water

Oil

Method

In a large pan (a wok is ideal), fry the onion and garlic in some oil for a few minutes, then add the celery, carrots and sweet potato and fry for five minutes more. Stir in the curry paste, along with 50 ml water. Cook  until the water has more or less evaporated. Add the courgette, red pepper and peas along with the tomatoes and remaining water. Bring to the boil, then simmer. Add some salt to taste, place a lid over your pan and cook gently for at least half an hour, stirring occasionally. (I like to cook it on a low heat for a little longer – about an hour.)

You can eat it as it is with rice if you want a vegan dinner, or add 150ml of cream or yogurt and heat through before serving. We like it with some crunchy poppadums and a bit of mango chutney too.

For more of my frugal recipes, see here.

This week’s easy meal plan

meal planningI am still feeling crazy tired and awaiting more tests to see what is ailing me. It’s a long old process! This means I continue to look at meals that aren’t too time consuming to make after work, hence the easy meal plan.

 Meal planning saves time and money. It is so much easier to make and stick to a budget if you know exactly what you need to buy. I love the fact that I don’t even have to spend energy thinking about it when I have an easy meal plan such as this.

Saturday

Sausages, jacket potatoes and baked beans. After a hard week, we need an easy Friday night tea! I will have a bit of fish in breadcrumbs rather than the sausages though.

Sunday

Curry night! I will make a good veggie curry then add some cooked chicken breast to the carnivores’ version. We will have basmati rice and poppadums and maybe go crazy with some mango chutney.

Monday

I found a large pack of pork chops in the reduced section in Asda recently. They were frozen individually. Mr S and darling daughter can have those with creamy mash and vegetables. I will have a nut cutlet with mine.

Tuesday

five frugal thingsEggs benedict with sweet potato chips.

Wednesday

Kipper kedgeree. This should be made with smoked haddock, but kippers are cheaper and work equally well.

Thursday

Home-made tuna pasta bake with black olives. We will have the remaining spinach from the eggs benedict with this.

Friday

Tortillas with loads of spicy vegetables and grated cheese. We will probably have home-made chips with these and salad if there is any left.

 So, that is our easy meal plan for the week. What will you be eating?

This week I am linking up with Katy Kicker and the Organised Life Project. If you want more ideas on meal planning and saving money, take a look at their blogs. For more of my frugal food ideas see here.

 

Brown rice cashew nut pilaf

According to Wikipedia, a pilaf or pilau is ‘is a dish in which rice is cooked in a seasoned broth.’ After that, you can chuck pretty much whatever you want into it, making it an easy dish to use up whatever you have lying around. My version is a brown rice cashew nut pilaf. It is both vegan and gluten free, making it great for those with food intolerances.

I enjoy this kind of easy and healthy food. It takes about 15 minutes to prepare and another 25 – 30 to cook through. I don’t eat onions, so just left them out. The vegetables should all be chopped quite small.

brown rice cashew nut pilaf

Brown rice cashew nut pilaf

Serves 4 as a main course

Ingredients

2 tbsp garlic infused olive oil (or 2 cloves crushed garlic and plain oil)

1 medium onion, chopped

2 celery sticks, chopped

1 red pepper, chopped

1 medium courgette, chopped

4 heaped tsp medium curry powder

1 heaped tsp smoked paprika

300g brown rice

50g frozen peas

50g frozen French beans

600g of strong vegetable stock (I used 4 heaped tsp of Marigold stock)

Black pepper to taste

300g toasted cashew nuts

Method

brown rice cashew nut pilaf

Heat the oil in a large frying pan or wok then sauté the onions and garlic (if using). Stir in the curry powder and sauté for a couple more minutes. Add the celery, pepper and courgette and fry for about 5 minutes. Throw the rice into the pan and stir well so that it is well coated with the spices and vegetables. Fry for a few minutes more.

Pour in your vegetable stock and bring to the boil. Simmer uncovered until the rice is the consistency you prefer. I don’t like brown rice too al dente so will cook this for about 30 minutes. Add more hot water if it starts to look a bit dry. Meanwhile toast your cashew nuts in a dry pan until just brown and crunchy. Add them to the pilaf as you serve it.

This brown rice cashew nut pilaf is good with a green salad, although Mr S prefers his with a bit of baked chicken!

For more of my frugal recipe ideas, see here.

A meal plan for food intolerances

Food intolerances are a pain in the gut! I generally don’t make too much of mine on this blog. In reality, they have got so bad this year that I am having to be more careful than ever about what I eat.

food intolerancesFood intolerances can be expensive, but they don’t need to be. What I find, is that the more I cook myself the more control I have over what I am eating. The upside is that the more scratch cooking I do, the cheaper it is.

Buying cheaper

It helps a lot that both Aldi and Asda now sell the lactose free milk that I drink. It is still more expensive than the bog standard stuff but is cheaper than the branded Lactofree that I have been drinking for years. This can cost as much as £1.65 for a litre! Aldi charge £1.15 and Asda £1.20. I still look out for the buy three for £3 type offers on Lactofree as well.

I eat a very low gluten diet. Rather than go for the expensive and not very nice gluten free versions of bread, I tend to avoid it altogether. I do buy gluten free rolls for picnics etc. and have found a couple of brands that I enjoy. I also make my own spelt bread. It’s not gluten free, but much lower in gluten than traditional wheat. Asda seems to be the cheapest for gluten free stuff, but Aldi and Lidl have some good specials.

I don’t eat onions; where you find them in my recipes, I will actually be substituting them for chopped celery. I avoid cauliflower, sprouts, cabbage and, most recently (and sadly) mushrooms. I can eat pulses in small quantities. I make my life more difficult by not eating meat, but I still have fish to give myself a break.

What I have found recently is that if I avoid processed stuff containing weird sounding additives, I feel a lot healthier.

I am continuing to eat low fat, as with last week’s meal plan. Meals have become a lot less fussy and more simple, which saves time.

Food intolerance meal plan

food intolerancesSaturday

Fish pie with vegetables. I use a mix of fish and some hard boiled eggs. I will make a white sauce with lactose free milk.

Sunday

Rice and cashew pilaff – I have an idea of what I will put in this so if it turns out OK, I will publish the recipe.

Monday

Just me, so I will have an omelette, a baked sweet potato and salad. I eat a lot of eggs!

Tuesday

Saag aloo and rice. I use a recipe from Jamie Oliver. I love spinach.

Wednesday

Cod in parsley sauce with new potatoes and veg.

Thursday and Friday

Vegetable casserole. I will make a big pot and chuck everything in. We can have this for two nights, maybe with mashed potato.

Lunches will be simple soups, salads or maybe a couple of gluten free rolls. We will snack on fruit, nuts, hummus and crackers.

So, this is my meal plan for food intolerances. I don’t think you would notice!

This week I am linking up with Katy Kicker and the Organised Life Project. If you want more ideas on meal planning and saving money, take a look at their blogs. For more of my tips on food intolerances on a budget see here.

Cheesy Mushroom Lentil Cottage Pie

On with the veggie fest! This cheesy mushroom lentil cottage pie is an old vegetarian favourite. Easy to make, healthy and tasty.

mushroom lentil cottage pieIngredients

Serves 4

1 tbsp veg oil and 1 heaped tsp butter
1 large onion, diced
2 stalks of celery, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
250g red lentils
250g mushrooms
2 tbsp tomato puree
1.5 pints of veg stock (I used 2 stock cubes)
1 sachet bouquet garni
1tbsp vegetarian Worcestershire sauce

1 kg potatoes, peeled, cooked and mashed with a little butter and milk
100g grated cheddar

mushroom lentil cottage pie

Method

Heat the oil and butter together gently and cook the onion, celery, garlic and mushrooms until soft. Add the lentils, stock and tomato puree with the bouquet garni. Bring to the boil then simmer with the lid on for around 20 minutes, stirring every now and then. Keep an eye on this mixture and add a little more stock if necessary.

When the lentils are soft, remove the bouquet garni sachet and season with salt, pepper and the Worcestershire sauce to taste. Put in a suitable oven proof container and top with the mash, then the cheese. Bake in a preheated oven at gas mark 4, 180 degrees until browned on top.

We had this cheesy mushroom lentil cottage pie with some  frozen broccoli and gravy. It was delicious!

You can find more of my favourite frugal recipes here.

 

Healthy, low fat meal plan

So we have been on holiday – eating, drinking and being merry! We did walk a lot, so that may be our saving grace. However, I am still planning a low fat meal plan this week. I will focus on light, healthy meals to try to lose a few pounds. You can’t tell when Mr S puts on weight as he is so tall but it tends to sit around my middle and make all my clothes feel tight.

I will be shopping mostly at Aldi, but will top up at Asda. Asda sell their own brand low fat lactose free Greek yogurt, which is delicious. It will be good with fruit for snacks and puddings. The plain variety adds a little low fat creaminess to savoury dishes too.

low fat meal plan

My low fat meal plan

Saturday

I bought a soft taco meal kit from Aldi to take on holiday with us. We didn’t use it so we shall have it with some chicken strips for Mr S, plus lots of peppers, sweetcorn and what ever other chopped vegetables look good. I will have a little cheese on top but will buy the reduced fat variety. My daughter left a bag of salad in the fridge so we will be using that up.

Sunday

Roast chicken pieces for Mr S and a Quorn fillet for me, with some garlic and chilli to spice them up. We will have lots of veg with this and some sweet potato wedges baked with some cooking spray.

Monday

Brown rice with Mediterranean vegetables. Another easy dinner as I’m not sure what we are doing on the bank holiday.

Tuesday

Chick pea curry with basmati rice. This is so easy and simple. I am back to work on Tuesday after a week and a half and it will be a busy day.  This takes just minutes to make.

low fat meal plan

Wednesday

I thought I would try this salsa spaghetti with sardines from the BBC Good Food website. I am not sure it is super low fat, but it is full of healthy omega 3s. I will keep the spaghetti portions small and make a carrot salad to go with it.

Thursday

Just me at home on Thursday, so I will keep it simple and have a Spanish omelette with whatever vegetables we have lying around. I will use tinned potatoes in the omelette but won’t have any more carbs with it.

Friday

low fat meal planSalmon and vegetables. Frozen salmon from Aldi with lots of veg, stir-fried with soya sauce.

To supplement my low fat meal plan, I intend to make a big bucket of vegetable soup over the weekend, which we can have for lunch most days.

I am a devil for snacking in the evenings. This is where I gain weight. A bag of crisps, cheese and biscuits or a bar of chocolate whilst I am chilling on the sofa soon increases your waistline! I will be buying some low fat hummus to have with carrot sticks and some fat reduced cheese triangles to have on my rice cakes. I know they are processed rubbish, but they won’t kill me!

So this is my low fat meal plan. Anyone else trying to shed the pounds? Please share your ideas for easy, budget friendly low fat meals. I have another couple of ideas here.

This week I am linking up with Katy Kicker and the Organised Life Project. If you want more ideas on meal planning and saving money, take a look at their blogs. For more of my tips on meal planning, try this post.

 

Holiday meal plan

holiday meal planHow to plan your meals when you are on holiday? Do you even need a holiday meal plan?

We are going self-catered – a nice week in beautiful Norfolk, leaving my daughter and the lodger to take care of Shoestring Cottage and the cats. It’s difficult to properly plan meals as we will eat out sometimes and haven’t planned our activities each day.  We will also be joined in the week by my parents and one of my daughters. So the holiday meal plan is more a series of ideas….

However, because meal planning is such a great way to save time and money, I can’t let it go altogether. Here is what I have in mind for our holiday meal plan.

Our holiday meal plan

Breakfasts

We do know that we will need breakfast each day. So we shall pack milk, cereal, bread, butter, jam and honey. When we get there we will buy eggs too.

Packed lunches

Our cottage is only a couple of hours up the road so we won’t pack a picnic for the journey. However, we will take a flask and some snacks. I have bought a load of cereal bars and crisps from Aldi, plus some rolls. As I eat mainly gluten free these days but only like one brand of GF rolls (Genius) I shall be stocking up on these at Asda. They aren’t always easy to find! Cheese and ham will also be in the cool box, plus some pickle.

holiday meal plan

Basic dinner ingredients

We always take some basics so that we can have a meal without needing to hit the shops immediately. I will pack pasta, rice, some sauces, tinned tomatoes, salt, tuna, pepper and some herbs. Sausages and veggie sausages will be packed in the coolbox too for tea when we arrive, with some new potatoes and broccoli.  I also picked up a pack of soft tortillas in Aldi, so will do something with those one night.

We will do small shops as we go along, so that we don’t buy more than we need. I certainly don’t intend to be cooking complicated meals every night, but we enjoy buying local specialities when we are away. I can see Cromer crab on the menu!

Do you bother with a holiday meal plan when you are self-catering? What have you got on your plan for next week? If you need some inspiration, check out my Favourite Frugal Recipes.

This week I am linking up with Katy Kicker and the Organised Life Project. If you want more ideas on meal planning and saving money, take a look at their blogs. For more of my tips on meal planning, try this post.

 

The Accidental Vegetarian: Book Review

You may know Simon Rimmer from the TV show, Something for the Weekend, but you probably don’t think of him as a vegetarian chef. So why has he published a book called The Accidental Vegetarian?

The Accidental Vegetarian – how come?

the accidental vegetarian

In this book Simon Rimmer explains how he became the owner of a vegetarian café in the 1990s. He isn’t a vegetarian and initially wasn’t even a chef. He and his partner bought Green’s café in Manchester intending to employ one, but soon realised they couldn’t afford to.

They had to learn quickly and, determined to make vegetarian food more exciting than the ‘brown stodgy food that was all a little bit worthy’. Rimmer experimented with vegetarian dishes from different cultures like Asian, Mediterranean and African, mixed in with more traditional European fayre.   Without formal training, he made a success of Green’s and says he is still learning.

In the Accidental Vegetarian he features some delicious and inspiring recipes to inspire even the most ardent carnivore. The book is divided up as follows:

Dips and morsels

Sticky rice and peanut balls sound amazing. Not low calorie as they are deep fried!  How about Thai spiced potato cakes with spicy coleslaw or Greek dolmades – vine leaves stuffed with rice and pine nuts?

Salads

Sun blushed nicoise salad sounds like a meal in itself and Coronation chick peas and potato salad looks super easy. I intend to try rocket, fig and pecan salad with creamy Lancashire Blue.

Small platefuls

Small platefuls feature the kind of quick and easy meal you can have for lunch or a light supper. Mushroom rarebit on brioche toast, anyone? Chinese mushroom pancakes?

Big platefuls

This chapter moves onto more substantial dishes. Some of the pastry dishes sound divine. Hazelnut and mushroom parcels or filo strudel with port wine sauce sound delicious enough for entertaining. Lancashire cheese sausages with onion gravy could solve my problem finding a decent veggie sausage that isn’t full of soya. Moroccan spaghetti brings fresh herbs and spices together with almonds and chick peas as an alternative to spaghetti Bolognese.

Side dishes

An ingredient I haven’t used in ages is caraway seeds! Simon Rimmer adds them to glazed carrots. Stuffed pimentos feature on the cover of the book and look lovely.  Parmesan roasted parsnips are another side dish I will be trying.

Puddings

The Accidental Vegetarian doesn’t skimp on the puddings. Peanut butter and jelly cheesecake, pecan and white chocolate pie and spotted dick with banana and toffee make stunningly decadent desserts.

What I like about the Accidental Vegetarian is that the recipes are short and clear. They are special without being too fancy and requiring a host of ingredients you will never use again. The photography is lovely too.

For more of my book recommendations, see here.

This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase I will earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Mainly vegetarian: this week’s meal plan

mainly vegetarianI am doing a minimal shop this week and intend to use up what we have. To this end, this week’s meal plan is mainly vegetarian.

Saturday

I picked up chilli and garlic rice dinner kit recently in Aldi, so thought I would give that a try tonight.  You are supposed to add peppers and chicken, but I am doing it with Quorn instead.

Sunday

Roast chicken for Mr S. I have some home made nut roast in the freezer that needs to be eaten. We will have roast potatoes and whatever veg I can find, plus Yorkshire puddings as there is a big bag of them in the freezer too.

We don’t often have anything much for dessert apart from yogurt or fruit, but we have rhubarb from the garden so I will be making a crumble.

Monday

mainly vegetarianCourgette and tomato eggy bake. We don’t have any of our own courgettes yet, of course, but they are cheap enough and Lidl always has big bags of nice tomatoes at a good price.  This is light and fairly easy to make on a Monday. We will have the leftovers for lunch on Tuesday.

Tuesday

Sausage and vegetable ragu. I have Quorn sausages in the freezer but I really don’t like them! They might taste OK in this kind of dish – I hope!

Wednesday and Thursday

Cheesy mushroom and lentil cottage pie. I have all the ingredients for this already, apart from the mushrooms. As it will just be me for dinner on Thursday, I will make enough for then as well.

Friday

Spaghetti cheese casserole. I love this! Even Mr S enjoys it, which is good, because he will be bemoaning the lack of meat at this point in the week! I might be able to find him a pork chop or something to go with it.

So, that is my mainly vegetarian meal plan for the week. I am making slightly more effort after last week’s ‘can’t be bothered’ plan! What are you cooking?

For more of my frugal recipes see here.

This week I am linking up with Katy Kicker and the Organised Life Project. If you want more ideas on meal planning and saving money, take a look at their blogs. For more of my tips on meal planning, try this post.

 

Ratatouille: quick and easy vegetarian

imageI don’t usually make ratatouille out of courgette season. In the summer I always have a glut so it regularly appears on my meal plans. However, they were very reasonably priced in Aldi and they also had some delicious looking red peppers. It had to be added to my meal plan! It is lovely served with rice or pasta and topped with grated cheddar. Healthy, yummy and still good value. I vary this and never use a recipe; however this is roughly what I include this time. Sometimes I chuck in an aubergine too.

Easy ratatouille

Ingredients

Serves 6-8

4 medium courgettes, sliced
2 onions, chopped (as I had red and white I used one of each)
3 fat cloves of garlic
2 chopped peppers – I used one green and one red
2 tbsp olive oil
2 400g tins chopped tomatoes
2 tsp dried basil
1 vegetable stock cube

Method

Heat the oil and sweat the onions and garlic for 5 minutes until soft. Add the courgettes and peppers for a further five minutes. Pour in the tomatoes and add the crumbled stock cube. Season well with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes and serve.

I had this with spaghetti one night whilst Mr S had Bolognese. Then we had it again the following day with nut cutlets. Ratatouille is quick, cheap and easy.  It freezes pretty well too, if you do happen to have any leftovers.

For more frugal recipes see my page here.

My ‘can’t be bothered’ meal plan

can't be botheredI know I am always going on about meal planning. Truly, if I don’t do a meal plan for the week, it all goes to pot. We end up eating omelettes and things on toast rather than perfectly good food that is sitting in the fridge or freezer.  But I can’t be bothered with cooking at the moment and it all seems a bit of a faff. Anyone else get that feeling?

However, my ‘can’t be bothered’ moments are exactly when meal planning is most helpful. If I spend 15 minutes making a meal plan and shopping list it actually saves me time. I can then spend more time doing the things that I can be bothered to do!

We have the bank holiday weekend coming up and the weather looks promising. We are likely to be out and about having fun, or working in the garden. I really don’t want to spend more time that I have to in the kitchen. Mr S is allergic to cooking so he can do the washing up!

This week’s ‘can’t be bothered’ meal plan

Friday:

Garlic mushroom Quorn steaks with vegetables (these were on offer a while back).

Saturday:

Spaghetti Bolognese and salad. I will have home made ratatouille as the veggie option. Mr S won’t mind if I use a jar of sauce for the Bolognese. Remember, it is my ‘can’t be bothered’ plan!

Sunday:

Pork chops/nut cutlet with more ratatouille. I will make a big panful to spread over two meals and save time. I bought the nut cutlets from Asda – they are really nice!

Monday:

Lamb chops (yellow stickered in Asda and frozen) and another nut cutlet for me, with roast potatoes and veg.

Tuesday:

Omelettes and salad/veg plus baked sweet potatoes. Work is likely to be busy after the bank holiday so opting for a super easy dinner.

Wednesday:

Chicken drumsticks with a Nando’s rub. I will have another garlic mushroom Quorn thingy. Whatever salad and veg needs using most.

Thursday:

We will be treating ourselves to a Toby carvery with my daughter to celebrate her new job. I hear they do a nice range of vegetarian and vegan options now.

So, there you have it. My ‘can’t be bothered’ meal plan. What are you cooking (or not) this week?

This week I am linking up with Katy Kicker and the Organised Life Project. If you want more ideas on meal planning and saving money, take a look at their blogs. For more of my tips on meal planning, try this post.

 

Meal planning and keeping it simple

As you know, I find that meal planning saves us so much time and money. Just 15 minutes spent doing meal planning is time well spent. Surely during the course of your busy week, you can spare this much?

It involves going through the cupboards, fridge and freezer to see what we already have and then having a quick look through our recipe books and online to see what can be produced. Then I write a shopping list. Simples!

Keeping it simple

meal planningI honestly don’t plan fussy and time consuming meals. Life is too busy to make a cordon bleu three course meal every night after work. Keep it simple and give yourself a break.

This week I have a foreign language student coming.  As well as being quick and easy to prepare, meals when I have a student tend to be fairly conservative and unadventurous. I have had enough teenagers in the house to know that they don’t like fancy food. Given the choice, most of them would be happiest eating burgers, pizza and pasta!

I am tired at the moment too. Maybe winter has just dragged on too long and I need some sunshine. I booked the day off work today. Instead of traffic, I had a nice deep bubble bath and an hour’s yoga to start my day. I feel better already!

So here is this week’s meal plan:

Friday:

Chicken drumsticks with baked sweet potatoes and salad. I have a huge sweet potato from last week’s shopping so will share that with darling daughter. It is only us for dinner tonight. I found the chicken drumsticks lurking in the freezer so they need using up. I will have a veggie burger, also from the freezer.

Saturday:

Chicken pasta bake. This should ease the student in fairly gently. There is a jar of sauce to use from Lidl and I always keep a ton of pasta. I will make two versions – a vegetarian gluten free one for me and the chicken one using standard pasta for everyone else. Mixed peppers from the freezer and cans of corn from the pantry will go in both versions.

Sunday:

Roast chicken thighs, roast potatoes, lots of vegetables, gravy and Yorkshire puds from the freezer. I will have sweet potato patties that I made a few weeks ago and froze.

Monday:

Beef burgers in buns (we have some nice brioche ones in the freezer), coleslaw and frozen corn on the cob. I will have another veggie burger from the freezer.

Tuesday:

Home made spaghetti Bolognese. I have Quorn so will make a batch for the freezer. The student will get a meaty version.

Wednesday:

Fish and home made chips, with peas. I have fish and peas in the freezer plus a big bag of spuds in the cupboard already.

Thursday:

Sausages and mash with gravy. Well, you have to, don’t you! I will have a veggie sausage or two.

Friday:

meal planningPizza and salad. I found two gluten free pizzas in the reduced section at Asda the other day so they are in the freezer. I wouldn’t pay full price for them though. They were reduced from £3 to £1.89 each. Even that’s expensive for a single pizza, but good for a gluten free one. I have a normal one for my student.

Puddings will be fruit, yogurt or ice cream for the student. I have some chocolate mini rolls in if the student or anyone else fancies one. I rarely bother with dessert – too bad for my waistline!

Meal planning linky

So this is my eight day meal plan. I won’t shop after work whilst the student is here as I need to be here to see her in from her classes. Luckily my daughter will be here for some of the week before she returns to university. Mr S is away with his mum, so he will miss all the fun!

I love having foreign students in the house. It is lovely to see their confidence growing and to learn about where they come from and all about their lives. This one is a 16 year old French girl. I hope she is nice and likes cats!

This week I am linking up with Katy Kicker and the Organised Life Project. If you want more ideas on meal planning and saving money, take a look at their blogs. For more of my tips on meal planning, try  this post.

Tuna penne with black olives

Tuna penne with black olives is a quick, easy and healthy dinner using store cupboard staples. If you don’t have any white wine, use a bit of water instead. I have used leftover rose before, which added a sweetness but worked fine.

tuna penne with black olives

Store cupboard staples from Lidl

I tend to have a pot of parsley growing on the window sill in the kitchen.  If you don’t have this, dried will be fine. Oregano is also good or just dried mixed herbs.

This tuna penne dish is a good budget dinner by itself but even better with a sprinkling of cheddar and a nice green salad.  Oh, and if you do have white wine, a chilled glass makes a it feel quite luxurious. This serves 4.

Tuna penneTuna penne with black olives

Oil, olive if you have it

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

Two 400g cans chopped tomatoes

1 vegetable stock cube or heaped tsp Marigold vegetable stock

A small handful of black olives, halved

3-4 tablespoons of white wine (optional)

175g can of tuna

A handful of chopped fresh parsley or oregano (or 2 tsp of dried)

Large handful of frozen chopped mixed peppers or a fresh one of any colour (optional)

400g penne or other pasta

Heat your oil in a large pan, then add the onion and garlic for 5 minutes. Add the chopped peppers for another 5 minutes if you are using fresh. Tip in the tomatoes, stock cube and white wine and bring to the boil (this is when I add my frozen peppers). Simmer for a few minutes, the stir in the olives and parsley plus salt and pepper to taste. Cover and cook for around 20 minutes, stirring regularly.

In the meantime, cook your pasta as per the instructions. Drain the tuna and add it to the sauce, then mix in with your drained penne.

If you like the look of my tuna penne with black olives, check out my other favourite frugal recipes.

Meal Planning for any weather

If you live in the UK you are doubtless feeling perplexed by our current weather. On Friday we had the most perfect sunny, spring day. They birds were singing, the insects were buzzing and all the daffodils were up. The following day we had snow!! As I have said in a previous post, I find meal planning essential. But it is hard to know the type of food to cook when the weather is so erratic and unpredictable.

Meal planning when the weather is weird

Meal planning

Lola and Dora are not amused!

Do we go for warm, comforting soups and stews or is it time to make some salads to suit the longer, lighter days and (theoretically) milder weather? I have hedged my bets and done a bit of both.

I love a bit of meal planning. Using up as much what we have already saves time and money on shopping and encourages us to eat healthier meals. Meal planning also enables us to incorporate what is in season and what we may be growing in the garden (nothing yet except herbs!). Being organised stops those moments when you have a fridge full of food but no idea to do with it. That’s when the urge to get fish and chips and be done with it can hit your budget!

I have a whole post on meal planning here.

My meal planning efforts this week are focussed on things I can batch cook to save time and money. I have gone for:

Sweet potato and Quorn curry

Meal planning

Saturday night ‘fakeaway’!

I have a jar of tikka masala sauce and inexplicably about 4 packs of Quorn pieces. A couple of sweet potatoes and lots of other veg will transform this into a fine ‘fakeaway’. Some of this will go into the freezer to make a quick ready meal or two.

Coq au vin

There is half a bottle of red wine sitting around and some chicken pieces so I will make this for Mr S, whilst I have a veggie version. Yes, those Quorn pieces will make an appearance again!

Tuna olive penne with salad

This is a quick and easy dinner after work. I bought salad so we need to eat it. Mr S can have his with some of the garlic bread hanging around in the freezer. I will post this recipe later in the week as it is an old family favourite, cheap and healthy.

Omelettes, home made wedges and salad

Home made oven chips are so quick to do and so much more satisfying than the type you get out of the freezer. You can make the healthier with a little cooking spray. I like to add garlic oil to mine, or a sprinkle of paprika. There is a bag of spuds to eat this week, so these are a good way to use them up.

Spaghetti cheese casserole

Talking of family favourites, this spaghetti cheese casserole is another one. I have been making this for years. The addition of a little white wine in the cheesy, carroty sauce makes it very moreish.

A ping meal from the freezer

A home made one, though! Only me for tea, so I will have a bowl of hot veggie stew with some of my home made spelt bread and perhaps a sprinkling of grated cheese on top.

Steak and vegetables

I bought a cheap pack of 4 steaks a while back and there is one left in the freezer. Mr S will enjoy that for his dinner. I will be having a vegetable burger from Lidl. There vegetarian range is pretty decent and ideal after a hard working week. Sometimes you need a rest, not a fuss.

So these are my meal planning thoughts for the week ahead. Are you organised with your meals? I know that Ilona over at Life After Money eats around her yellow sticker bargains rather than rigidly meal planning. This is a great idea if it is just you and you have the time to hunt out the reductions. If I find any when I am out and about I build them in to my plan and change things around. I don’t think this approach would work if you have a family, though.

meal planning

This week I am linking up with Katy Kicker and Naomi from the Organised Life Project. Hop over to their sites to see what other meal planning inspiration you can find.

Have a great week and I hope you aren’t too cold or snow bound where you are.

Food allergies on a budget

This post contains affiliate links.

If you or a member of your family has a food allergy or an intolerance, you will know how expensive it can be. Gluten free foods in particular are a horrendous price. So how can you cope with food allergies on a budget?

Free from comes at a price

Awareness of allergies and intolerances has finally hit the manufacturers’ commercial sensors. It is no longer difficult to find ‘free from’ products on the supermarket shelves. However, more availability doesn’t necessarily mean these items come cheap. How can you stick to your budget when you have to pay £4 for a loaf of gluten free bread, or £1.50 for some lactose free milk?

Fortunately, I don’t have any true allergies, but I am intolerant to most dairy and feel better on a lower gluten diet. If I eat toast for breakfast and a sandwich for lunch I bloat like I am 6 months pregnant and have other unpleasant symptoms that I won’t go into.

I won’t pretend to be any kind of expert, but I would like to share some tricks that I have found to help cope with food allergies on a budget so far.

Bake your own

I know! What a faff baking your own bread is. Or is it? I recently started baking my own spelt bread and, as I mentioned in this post, I accidentally discovered it was dead easy. The fact that bread makers exist made me assume it was all horribly complicated, but it isn’t, as I found when my bread maker died and I had to make it by hand.

food allergies on a budgetI know spelt bread isn’t gluten free, however. The best book I have found for baking without gluten is Gluten-Free on a Shoestring: 125 Easy Recipes for Eating Well on the Cheap, by Nicole Hunn. It is American, but has loads of recipes for great looking bread and other baked goods. You can buy gluten free flour, rice flour, etc in the supermarkets reasonably cheaply now. If you make a batch of bread or rolls they will store nicely in the freezer and work out much better value than the ready made varieties.

Consider other carbs

food allergies on a budgetYou don’t have to eat bread for lunch every day. Quinoa, polenta or rice make nice salads and are all gluten free. How about a delicious thick soup with plenty of veg and potatoes? I have become much more adventurous with my packed lunches since I cut back on sandwiches. Rice cakes with humus is one of my favourite lunch combinations!

Focus on what you can eat

Similarly, rather than worrying about what you can’t eat, focus on the foods that don’t cause reactions. This might mean avoiding processed and convenience foods, but this doesn’t mean the food you eat needs to be complicated and fussy. An omelette (if you don’t have issues with eggs), a nice piece of meat or baked fish with vegetables, a filled jacket potato or a roasted tomato sauce on gluten free pasta are all quick and easy dinners.

Think about how many store cupboard basics are suitable for your allergy or intolerance and meal plan around those items. If you are organised generally you save money on your grocery shopping and even more so if you are catering for

To save yourself even more time, batch cook as much as you can and fill your freezer.

Approved Food

I am a fan of Approved Food as regular readers will be aware. However, did you know they often have speciality foods for those with allergies and intolerances? Stock moves quickly, but they currently have quinoa flour, rice flour, pretzels and even gluten free jammy dodgers at massively reduced prices.

Lidl and Aldi

food allergies on a budgetKeep an eye on Lidl and Aldi for free from foods. At the moment Lidl has quite a few specials. I bought two packs of gluten free spaghetti and some ginger cookies yesterday. Aldi is always pretty good, with various non diary milks and their own, much cheaper version of Lactofree dairy milk – £1.15 a carton. They also sell lots of delicious gluten free cereal bars and snacks.

These discount supermarkets are both great for good quality, very dark and dairy free chocolate too.

Asda also now do lactose free milk at £1.20 a carton. They also sell delicious lactose free Greek yogurt in big pots, currently 2 for £2. Their own brand coconut milk is 97p. You can buy cheap soya milk and yogurt everywhere these days too.

I realise this post only scrapes the surface of the tricky subject of food allergies on a budget. I have found some interesting websites that are worth exploring too:

Free From Heaven features recipes to suit all kinds of dietary issues, as well as news about new products.

Gluten Free on a Shoestring is the blog to go with the book.

freefrom.com from the mum of a coeliac sufferer.

If you or a family member has a food intolerance or allergy, how do you manage? What are your tips to save money? Is it possible to deal with food allergies on a budget?

The frugal cook: making a meal from ‘nothing’

frugal cook

The frugal cook adapts recipes

Are you a frugal cook or do you find you have to rush out to buy expensive ingredients for a particular recipe? This can bust your budget and lead to waste if you don’t find a way to use these items up in other dishes.

I made a banana loaf the other day with some very black bananas that no one was going to eat. I used this Delia recipe as my starting point, but as I didn’t have any walnuts or oranges I substituted brazil nuts and dried cranberries. It was really delicious!

The frugal cook needs to be able to do this: either adapt recipes or make meals up to suit what you have. If you don’t have an expensive ingredient like sundried tomatoes try fresh or tinned with some tomato purée. No shallots? Use ordinary onions. If you don’t have dried porcini mushrooms, the usual fresh sort will work ok.

frugal cookTo be a frugal cook, make sure you have plenty of store cupboard staples. Flour and baking powder, tinned tomatoes, tomato purée, tinned or dried pulses, pasta, rice and noodles spring to mind.

Bargain buys for the frugal cook

Casserole sauces bought cheaply from places like Approved Food and Home Bargains are good for days when you can’t be bothered or don’t have time to cook from scratch. Tinned veg is handy to have. Canned tuna or sardines can make a good quick meal.

I also like to keep a stash of frozen vegetables. There is no waste with frozen and you can used just as much as you require. Eggs and cheese are good to have in the fridge, and a pack of bacon can add flavour and interest to all manner of dinners.

frugal cook

No food in the house?

What to do if you think there is no food in the house? I know there are some folk in dire straits who genuinely have very little. However for most of us, this just isn’t true.

Have a good look in the store cupboards. I bet there is a ton of food in there. You may not be able to make a meat and two veg type of meal, but how about a lentil shepherds pie or veggie curry for a change? If you can make a tomato sauce from onions and tomatoes, you can build it into a veggie casserole with courgettes , carrots, lentils, etc. and make some dumplings to go with it. Or use it to make a pasta sauce with garlic and peppers, or a bolognese with some mince meat. Add and taste as you go along.

Mess about with curry powder, cumin and chilli to add a bit of spice to what you have. Eggs can make an omelette, a quiche, or you can crack them over your tomato and pepper sauce and bake them the oven. How about curried eggs? If you have flour you can make pastry. What do you have that will go in a pie?

A veggie classic

If you have cheese, onions and potatoes you have a veggie classic: cheese and potato pie with no pastry needed. Mash the spuds and mix in sautéed onions , plenty of cheese and some seasoning. Yummy with baked beans !

Use up all the bits of veg in a stir fry with noodles or rice. Make all kinds of fillings for a jacket potato with whatever you can find. And if you really can’t be bothered to cook, there is nothing wrong with the odd ‘something on toast’.

Use recipes as inspiration and as a guide for quantities rather than feeling you need to slavishly follow them. Don’t be afraid to make something up. You might find you are a very creative frugal cook, able to summon up a great meal from an apparently empty larder.

Remember also to use up your leftovers! Food waste is a serious issue and is like tipping your money in the bin.

Are you a frugal cook? What are your top tips to make something from store cupboard staples?

This post contains affiliate links.

 

 

More ideas to help Reduce food waste

reduce food wasteReasons to reduce food waste

Regular readers will know that I am always looking for ways to reduce food waste. Wasting perfectly good food is like tipping your wages in the bin! It saves money when you reduce food waste. It also seems immoral to chuck perfectly edible items away when so many people don’t have enough to eat.

In addition, there are the environmental consequences. Much food waste ends up in landfill and produces methane gas. It is a crazy waste of our resources to throw away food when you think of the energy expended growing, packaging and transporting it.

Here are some of the steps we take to reduce food waste at Shoestring Cottage.

Bread

If you don’t eat much bread, keep it in the freezer and defrost slices as you need them. We only get through a sliced loaf a week so this works for us.

Make croutons and breadcrumbs out of stale bread and crusts. Toast bread that’s a bit stale. Revive day old baguettes in the oven. Make French toast by dipping in beaten egg and frying (this is a good way to use up eggs too!)

Make bread pudding! My favourite recipe for this can be found in this post.

Vegetables

Store your veg correctly. Keep spuds in a cool dark place. However you feel about plastic, I feel that vegetables store best in plastic wrap. If you buy items loose, you could put them into plastic storage boxes with lids so they keep their crunch longer. However, mushrooms are best kept in a paper bag to avoid them going slimy.

Add chopped spring onion tops to mashed potatoes or mix with cheese to fill a jacket spud.

Save your cauliflower, broccoli, carrot and cabbage trimmings to add to soups or make stock.

If you are on your own or have a small family, buying frozen rather than fresh can be a good option. We have started buying frozen peppers, for example.

Freeze leftover veg to thicken soups and stews. Mashed potato is great for this.

I also throw leftover salad items into my soups. No one notices a bit of limp lettuce when it is whizzed up!

Fresh herbs – if you can’t use them in time, try finely chopping them and freezing them with a little water in ice cube trays. You can pop a couple into your recipes as required.

Fruit

If you don’t use a whole lemon or lime in one go, freeze it in segments to pop straight into your G&T (or sparkling water if you are better behaved). You could also freeze the juice in ice cube trays for when you need it in a recipe.

Dry citrus peels for baking. Chop them up and spread them onto a baking sheet, then put them in a really low oven – about 80 degrees centigrade for around 2 hours. Allow them to cool completely before storing them in a glass container.

Chop up bananas and freeze to use in cakes and smoothies. We always seem to have the odd black banana. I wait until I have 3 or 4 then make banana loaf.

You can freeze chopped bananas for a couple of hours and then put through a food processor for an easy vegan ‘ice cream’.

Cook up wrinkly apples with a little sugar for compotes. These also freeze well. The can be used for crumbles or pies. I also enjoy them with custard or yogurt.

Keep fruit in fridge, especially in the summer. It lasts much longer.

If you have a glut of fruit, make some jam or jelly. There are lots of recipes online. I swear by my ancient copy of the Home Preservation of Fruit and Vegetables. I am amazed to find this is still available on Amazon new, but you might be able to pick up a second hand copy. As well as jams, it gives clear instructions on pickling and freezing and is a bit of a gem, in my view (this is my affiliate link).

Meat

You can refreeze meat if it has been frozen then cooked. However, make sure it is defrosted thoroughly before use and reheat thoroughly. The leftovers from your Sunday roasts are ideal for this.

You can use it in curries, pasta dishes, soups and casseroles.

Everything else

Leftover rice and pasta are great to thicken soups and stews.

Put day old doughnuts in the microwave for 20 seconds to revive them.

Omelettes and quiches are good for using up all kinds of cooked veg, ham, bacon and hard cheeses too.

Risottos are also perfect for using things up. You can chuck in cooked meat, vegetables and herbs.

So many things can be frozen. For example, you can freeze leftover wine for cooking. Hard cheeses can also be frozen. It’s a good idea to grate them first for ease of use.

There is some very good advice on how to safely store food on the NHS website. You might also like to read my post How to Prevent Food Waste – and save money too, about getting organised to reduce food waste.

How do you use up all the odds and ends?

 

Meal planning: the benefits to your wealth and health

I can’t believe that once upon a time I never thought about meal planning. However, once I had discovered just how much time and money it saves me, I never looked back.

Meal planning saves money

If you buy too much food on your grocery shop you can end up throwing some of it away. If you buy too little, you are likely to find yourself making extra trips to the shops. You might then be tempted by more items than you actually need while you are there. The times I have done this and come out with an armful of chocolate or crisps….no will power!

Meal planning helps you stick to your budget. If you have your whole week’s food planned (or even your whole month’s food for those of you who don’t mind deciding that far ahead) you are far less likely to give into fast food, a takeaway or convenience food on your way home from school or work.

meal planningNot that I am against convenience food per se. I work full time and will happily cut corners when I need to. I frequently stock up on items such as Bolognese or casserole sauces from Approved Food for those occasions when I have less time to cook. Then I make sure they get used by factoring them into my meal planning. (DISCLOSURE: this is my refer a friend link and if you click through to make a purchase I will earn a small commission.)

Meal planning saves time

If you buy all the food you and your family are going to need in one go that will clearly save time. You can do a weekly shop and cut out all the extra trips because you have run out of cheese, fruit or whatever.

You won’t be scratching your head when it comes to dinner time, trying to work out what to cook with some eggs and half a wilted cabbage.  Your shopping list will be based on your plan and you will have all the ingredients you need for that day’s planned meals.

You can factor in events that mean you need to produce a meal quickly. You are working late, need to cart children to swimming lessons, have a parents evening, are off to the cinema, etc.

Meal planning helps prevent food waste

I hate wasting good food. You might as well be throwing your hard earned cash in the bin, as explained in this post. Meal planning means that you only buy what you will eat during the course of the week. You are therefore less likely to let perishables spoil. When you check your cupboards to start your meal plan you can see what you have and use it up. You will avoid buying duplicates too.

Meal planning encourages healthy eating

When I was trying to lose weight, meal planning was essential. I was on a low fat diet and counting calories at the time. Having all of the ingredients needed for each meal really helped me to stick with my eating plan.

However, you don’t need to be on a diet to find meal planning beneficial to your health. You can plan your nutritious meals for the week and be much less likely to splurge on fast food and take-aways. You can factor in some treats too.  I actually think this is essential in order to stick to your plan and also your budget.

I always buy a bottle of wine, maybe a few crisps or nuts, some dark chocolate or maybe some of Aldi’s delicious but still healthy paleo bars. We also enjoy lots of fruit, rye crackers with cheese plus the odd biscuit to snack on. We are realistic! If I don’t buy a few treats we are much more likely to nip off to the corner shop and have a splurge! I do try to keep them pretty healthy though.

Where to start with meal planning

Begin by finding somewhere to write your plan. A chalk board or plain old piece of paper will do the job. Alternatively, you can download mine by clicking on the link below.

Weekly Meal Planner

meal planning

Next check to see what you already have and which items have the shortest dates. Plan those into the meals you are going to make early in the week. Make sure you look in your fridge, freezer and cupboards.

I keep a folder of meals that I have found in magazines or printed off the internet for inspiration. I have also started to save some interesting looking recipes on Pinterest.  It is a good idea to keep a list of meals that you and your family enjoy to refer to when meal planning.

Think about the week ahead. What are you going to be doing each day? Are you out in the evening? When do you need something quick and convenient and when will you have more time? I tend to plan our evening meals but have just a rough idea for lunches. I keep a stock of items in for those – eggs, rolls, canned sardines and tuna, home made soups in the freezer, etc. You might prefer to be less fluid. I don’t bother planning for breakfast as it is nearly always porridge or toast.

Once you have planned your meals, you can write your shopping list.

So, these are the benefits of meal planning. It saves you time and  money, prevents food waste and helps you to eat healthily. What are your tips for planning your meals?

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How to prevent food waste – and save money too

prevent food waste

I recently signed up to the bloggers #nowastewithin campaign, to encourage anyone who blogs about food to avoid and prevent food waste when making their creations. I am not a food blogger, but I do post the odd recipe, so I am happy to support this.

Waste of any sort is something that generally irritates me. If I have paid for something I want to get full use of it. I get quite annoyed with myself if I find spoiled and forgotten food lurking at the back of the fridge. We try to be organised enough in our eating habits that we prevent food waste generally. Mr S is quite good at hoovering up leftovers!

We can all prevent food waste

Although the #nowastewithin campaign is aimed at actual food bloggers – who perhaps prepare plates of fabulous food that is lovingly photographed but never eaten – we can all heed the message. There are plenty of actions we can take to try to prevent food waste in our own lives. Doing so can save you money too, so it makes sense to prevent food waste.

Here are some things we do to prevent food waste at Shoestring Cottage.

Do a regular stock take

Go through your cupboards, fridge and freezer regularly to remind yourself of what you have. Then you can make sure you use up the items with the shortest dates on them first.

Plan your meals

Once you know what you already have, you can plan some of these ingredients into your meals. There are a couple of websites that can help you with this, notably SuperCook.com. You can type in an ingredient and get a list of recipes to use that item.

Write a shopping list

There are so many benefits to writing a shopping list. You prevent food waste by only buying items that you need. You also save money and time!

Consider buying loose or frozen fruit and veg

It has taken me ages to realise that I no longer need a family pack of value peppers. The girls are no longer at home! Now I either buy single peppers or, more frequently, a pack of frozen peppers. I can then use just what I need in a particular dish.

Buying loose apples, carrots or whatever is a good idea for a smaller household.

Use your freezer

I wouldn’t be without my freezer. It is so useful for storing leftover food. I keep the following in mine:

Bread ends, either whole for bread pudding or whizzed into breadcrumbs;
Whole loaves of bread – we take out individual slices as we need them to prevent food waste;
Bits of left over mashed potato and cooked vegetables that I chuck into soup or casseroles;
Leftover dinners that make handy ready meals when we are late back from work;
Gluts of fruit and veg we have grown or found in bulk at reduced prices;
Yellow sticker bargains that we can’t use quickly.

Use all of it

When you trim vegetables, use as much as you can. For example, if you don’t like broccoli stalks as a vegetable then save them and the leaves to use in a casserole or in soup. You can also make vegetable stock with all your trimmings and peelings, as explained by Chammy here.

If you are a meat eater, when you roast a chicken save the carcass to make chicken stock. It’s a lovely base for all sorts of dishes.

Only serve what you are going to eat

One of my daughters has a very small appetite. She rarely finishes what is on her plate. When she comes for dinner I often end up throwing her leftovers away, because I serve her too much! Now I let her take what she wants and only what she will eat.

It makes sense to only cook and serve what you know will be eaten.

Find ways to use your leftovers

There are many ways to use up leftovers. With a bit of creativity you can make all kinds of delicious dishes. I have a couple of ideas here and here. The Love Food Hate Waste website has a ton of inspiration too.

Store food correctly

I save glass jars, margarine and ice cream containers to store food, but have also invested in a lot of decent air tight containers. These store leftovers in the fridge or freezer, dry goods in the cupboard, etc.

I make sure loose vegetables are kept in containers to stop them going limp in the fridge. Once opened items such as cheese will also go in a container. Left over bakes beans or tinned tomatoes – in one of my little glass jars in the fridge. This approach will ensure the food lasts a few days at least and is more hygienic too.

Be wary of best before and use by dates

What an absolute load of nonsense most best before dates are! Are you one of those people who chuck perfectly good food in the bin because it has gone past its best before date? Hopefully not, as you are reading this.

Best before dates are just for guidance. They are more for the retailer than the customer, ensuring that older goods are moved to the front of the shelves and sold first. Use your eyes, nose and common sense.

I frequently deliberately buy items that are near or past their best before dates at Approved Food* at huge discounts.

Admittedly, you do need to be more cautious with use by dates. However, a yogurt doesn’t obediently go out of date the minute it reaches midnight on its use by. You can often eat this type of food a couple of days later with no ill effects.

Ilona over at Mean Queen practically lives off yellow sticker items. She buys them on their use by date and is still eating them a few days later! She lives to tell the tale.

Take home leftovers

If you are eating out and can’t manage to eat all the food you have ordered, ask for a doggy bag and take home the leftovers. It might even be worth taking some containers out if you anticipate this might happen. After all you have paid for the food and if you don’t eat it, where is it going to end up? In the bin!

Make compost

If you have a garden, it is quite easy to make compost from uncooked fruit and vegetable trimmings. Many councils also now collect waste cooked food. This can also be composted but not in your average garden heap. Check out your local facilities and, if your council doesn’t collect food waste, contact them to request that they do. People power!

A useful Facebook group

Zoe over at Eco Thrifty Living has a Facebook group called Reduce Your Food Waste UK. If you are looking for inspiration and ideas, go and join. If you are a blogger who writes about food, check out Zoe’s post for more information.

How do you try to prevent food waste? Share your tips in the comments below.

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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.

This review contains my Amazon referral links. If you use the link and purchase anything it won’t cost you anything and I will earn a small commission. Thanks!

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 of 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

 

 

 

Meal planning and how it saves me money

The pros of meal planning (there are no cons!)

There was a time long ago when I never considered meal planning. I would wander around the supermarket grabbing things that looked tasty and with only a vague idea of what we already had at home. This lack of meal planning lead to the following scenarios:

I came home with too much food for the week and it got thrown in the bin.

Items I already had were bought again and added to the stockpile, some of which would also end up in the bin.

Insufficient food was purchased and we ran out halfway through the week.

I forgot to buy items that we actually needed to make the meals I was vaguely planning as I went along, such as pasta or rice.

I had to return to the supermarkets mid week when I then got distracted by stuff I hadn’t actually gone in for and spent more money than I intended to!

It only takes a few minutes

Sound familiar? I am sure we have all done this from time to time. I have found that spending 10-25 minutes each week meal planning and writing a shopping list really pays off and saves me a lot of time and money.  If you need to reduce you food budget, I guarantee that you will when you start meal planning.

I go through the fridge, freezer and cupboards first to see what we already have and to ensure we have enough staples like pasta, tinned tomatoes, teabags, potatoes etc. Our meals are planned around what needs using up first. I frequently discover that I don’t need to buy as much as I thought at this point!

Where to find inspiration

I use my large shelf of cookery books for inspiration – and the Internet, of course. If you type in ‘what can I do with cabbage/bacon/ chorizo’, etc you will have a list of helpful suggestions for meals using them.

Today, I have a bag of sorry looking carrots in the fridge. The potatoes from last week are starting to sprout. I have two peppers. I also have some apples that are turning brown in places but are still usable. These will be built into my menu planner for the next couple of days so that I don’t waste them.

In the freezer I have some fish that I bought in the reduced section last week and for some reason I have masses of frozen spinach.

I also know that we are out one day and that I will be eating alone one night so I will factor that in.

This week’s menu looks like this:

Here are the recipes for Saturday’s carrot salad and Friday’s Spaghetti cheese casserole.

I have written the shopping list so that I only purchase what I need for the week. Now I’m off to Lidl!

Are you into meal planning and, if so, what are you eating this week?

 

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?

Think you don’t like pulses? Ten thrifty recipes that might change your mind

We all know that meat is expensive, so if you are trying to save money on your groceries it makes sense to eat less of it.  There are lots of thrifty recipes containing pulses that help you stretch your budget. However, I  have lost count of the number of times people have told me that they hate pulses whilst being known to happily scoff a nice pot of hummus, baked beans or a spicy lentil dahl!

There is also a substantial body of evidence showing that a well thought out vegetarian diet is healthier too. But you don’t have to give up meat altogether. Adding pulses will bulk out a meat dish nicely whilst upping the fibre content.

Here at Shoestring Cottage we enjoy a wide variety of meals, some of which contain a little meat and some that are meat free. We often include beans and pulses in our meals. As well as being packed with protein, they are low in fat and, as I said,  a great source of fibre. You can buy them cheaply in cans and sachets, so don’t have to spend a lot of your precious time soaking and cooking them.

Ten thrifty recipes containing pulses

thrifty recipesHere are some of our favourite frugal meals containing pulses (forgive my chick pea obsession):

Smoky chicken with chickpeas. This is mildly spiced with my favourite smoked paprika. The cheaper chick peas stretch the chicken.

Tarka dhal, a recipe featured by Jamie Oliver. This is nice as a side dish or it can be eaten with rice or bread for a simple, super frugal meal.

Chick pea curry. This is cheap, tasty and easy to make.

Red dragon pie. I have been cooking this for years from my old copy of Vegetarian Kitchen by Sarah Brown – lovely book! This recipe involves a lot of chopping but is much easier if you use canned beans, as I usually do. This link takes you to a nice little website called Sprinkles of Love, which is an online shared cook book. Sadly, nobody seems to be contributing any more. The book can still sometimes be picked up second hand on Amazon and I recommend it.

Spanish chicken with butterbeans, chorizo and tomatoes. One from the lovely Delia Smith. My friend cooked this for me at a dinner party one evening and it was delicious!

Chick pea burgers. Stick them in a bun with some salad and relish.

Cottage pie without the meat

Cheesy mushroom and lentil cottage pie. I like this with lots of veggies and gravy.

Quick beany enchiladas. One from the BBC Food website. I like to double up when making the filling and freeze if for a quick ready meal to use with rice. They use frozen peppers, although I tend to use fresh since I always have some in the fridge.

thrifty recipes

Another one from Delia, although you can find versions of this all over the Internet: Boston baked beans. As I am generally pushed for time, I always buy canned beans to use in this.  It needs long, slow cooking.

Finally, the recipe that launched Jack Monroe’s career as a cookery writer, carrot, cumin and kidney bean burger. How can you go wrong when you can make a burger for around 10p?

Give these thrifty recipes with beans and pulses a try. They can help you stick to your budget and improve your nutrition.

For more of my thrifty recipes see here.

 

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?