Tuesday, 28 January 2014


The grocery bill has started creeping up a bit again.  I have not gone over the new 50-a-week (reduced from the £250 a month that it's been for years) budget as yet, but I have also stopped putting in a chunk of money into the re-stocking account, and I would like to start doing that again.

Tiredness and ill-health is the main cause - when you walk past a couple of supermarkets daily, it's a lot easier to just grab a packet of cheese-topped baps (which I could eat myself in one sitting quite easily if I've not had the time or the energy to prepare myself something before going to work) and a multipack of chocolate bars for DD, as opposed to baking soft rolls and perhaps whipping up a batch of Florentines myself.  The fact that DD has hit a bumpy spot with hers studies and is needing a lot more help than I can comfortably give (yet I still give it, discomfort aside), and that my hands are not up to kneading at the moment does not help, either.  Even using the dough hooks on the mixer causes a bit too much vibration than I can contemplate right now.

But enough is enough and a bit of lateral thinking is needed to find a happy way out - so this week is a "Back to Frugal Basics Week".   This means, if you crave carbs, have carbs, but don't forget that there are carbs other than bread.  This means - use what you have in.  This means - a simple meal with a couple of ingredients is absolutely fine a couple of times a week.  This means - the freezer is your friend.

And there were soups - different flavours for different people, as they were all frozen in single portions.  DD had leek and potato, OH had pumpkin, I had a country soup batch-cooked from an Approved Foods mix. 

I had no bread left though, and barely an hour left till dinnertime.  Irish Soda Bread was my most realistic option, but guess what ?  No yogurt. Or buttermilk.  In fact, the only kind of cultured dairy product in the fridge was a jar of HM kefir.  Hmmmm..... Oh well. Who dares, wins, right ?  Kefir went in instead.  It was yummy :o)
Another meal was a favourite simple stodge concoction - crushed potatoes.  Peel (even that is not compulsory if the hands are not up to it though) a couple of spuds, quarter them and boil for 15  minutes. Drain, pop the lid back on and bash them about a bit.  Fry off a sliced onion and a bunch of sliced mushrooms. Mix.  The herb scattered over the top should have been parsley, but parsley grows outside, and the heavenly buckets were pouring out their contents in force, and basil grows on the windowsill.  No contest. Crushed mushroom potatoes with basil.

 And tonight it was pasta and veg - any pasta will do, and any veg.  We had fussili with leeks, because that's what we had a lot of, and the two go well together - the strands of leek intertwine with the pasta twists, bringing the whole thing together. A sprinkle of cheese on top for the teen


and a drizzle of home-made sweet chilli sauce for the adults.

In other news, I have just completed my squillionth re-read of the complete Terry Pratchett opus (it's traditional in times of stress and ill health), and have moved on to Stephen King.  IT seemed as good a place to start as any.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Slow Cooker Hotpot

It all started with Elaine's stovies.  Quick to prepare, versatile (from roast leftovers to corned beef), yummy and comforting.  Being a foreign bod, I have never had stovies prior to my first attempt at cooking them, but that did not stop them from becoming instant comfort food.
And then there was Snitty Kitty's revelation that Jocasta Innes's Bacon, Onion and Potato Hotpot (From The Pauper's Cookbook) can be done in a slow cooker, too.  So I did, and loved it.  And then I looked at one, and looked at the other, and saw the pattern. 
Potatoes, sliced thinly.
Onions, sliced thinly.
Flavouring, chopped up small... or indeed, sliced thinly.
Turn the pot on, and let it do the work.
And the possibilities are endless.  Beef, chicken, bacon, chorizo, thinly sliced sausages, ham, scraps, leftovers..... For veggies, mushrooms, courgettes, peppers, tomatoes, sauerkraut.... Anything you like, really.
And for liquid, gravy, or white sauce, or cheese sauce, or tomato sauce, or even just good stock, either meat or vegetable.  Additional flavour possible in the form of Worcestershire sauce, or soya sauce, or paprika (smoked paprika, even), or chilli, or any spice or herb of your choice.
A few weeks back, I had a bit of a glut of carrots, and I'd just sprouted and cooked a big batch of haricot beans, and I thought, well, why not ? 
 So, a little bit of beef dripping went in, melted - fats like dripping and lard do add another dimension to the hotpot, but they are by no means essential - a layer of thinly sliced potato went in, followed by a layer of onion....

.... then the beans, carrots, some thinly sliced chorizo (because chorizo and beans really, really like each other), a few bay leaves from the garden....

Followed by more potatoes, and more onions, and so on until the final layer of potato on the top.  The liquid was homemade tomato sauce from the freezer thinned with some hot water.
As for quantities, a medium potato and a large onion per person normally suffices, but do feel free to use more - the leftovers are as delicious as the dish on the first go. 

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Chopping Board

Some people say that wooden chopping boards are not terribly healthy - with wood being porous, and with chopping causing lots of little nicks and scratches, it's a breeding ground for bacteria and well, just asking for trouble - they say.  Except that they then tend to go on to say that you should use plastic instead.
And I'm sorry, but I really don't want to.  Keeping your chopping boards clean and dry, and using a separate board for raw meat really ought to be enough to keep the lid on harmful bacteria, so I choose wood.
But wood is porous, and one of the things that seeps into the pores is smell, none more than onion and garlic.  Now, I like my aliums, but I don't necessarily want the whole kitchen to smell of them, all the time - and this is what I do about it.
Take a tin of mustard powder.  Wash your chopping board as usual, then sprinkle mustard powder liberally over both sides and rub it in with your fingers.  Leave alone for at least ten minutes, then wash with washing up liquid.
All you should be able to smell now is a faint tang of mustard..... And by the time your chopping board dries, that will be gone, too.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Anti Inflammatory

... stir fry.  That is to say, a stir fry packed out with ingredients which are supposed to have properties that counteract any inflammation in the body.  As a part of my war on ill health - made slightly tricky as it's still a mystery what is actually wrong with me - I am keeping a close eye on my diet and making sure that I am eating as much as possible of things that are supposed to be helpful in conditions that might be the one that is affecting me.  So, anything that's good for painful joints, muscle spasms, general inflammation and non-existent energy levels, goes on the menu.

To start with, olive oil.  Yes, it's the most expensive oil.  No, I would probably not be buying it if my budget was £10 a week.  But it isn't, and whilst the cheapest olive oil I can buy locally comes to £3.60 per litre ( as opposed to £1 a litre for cheapest sunflower),  olive oil is the one single oil that both conventional and alternative healthy eating lines agree is really, really good for you, especially if your joints creak.... So olive oil it is.

Then there is a rainbow of vegetables - yellow peppers, orange carrots, white onions, yellow sweetcorn, green savoy cabbage.... I had nothing purple to go into the stir-fry, but there are purple grapes to snack on afterwards, so that's a tick.

And then there is garlic. Lots of it.  Ginger - ground is fine when there is no fresh, and as I used up the last of the fresh tonight, ground it will have to be until the next shopping day at least - and chillies.  Homegrown, home stored in form of sweet chilli sauce.

Meat - bargainous pork steaks from a Lidl half-price weekend - separated into packs of two and frozen way back when. 6 packs still left in the freezer - the benefits of pork ?  Like turkey, rich in zinc, which boosts immunity, eases muscle spasms, and if you're a bloke (which I most decidedly ain't), aids fertility.  Just sayin'.

And all of the above served with soba (buckwheat) noodles - another Approved Foods bargain (5 packs for a £1,  two thirds of a pack per meal) - delicious, and as an added bonus, gluten free.  This is not a consideration for me, but nice to know for anyone who does have to watch it.

Other recommended foods for anyone with similar problems:  oily fish; groundnut oil, all nuts but especially almonds, avocadoes, sunflower seeds (variously rich in Omega 3 essential oils and Vitamin E).

Then there are the herbs and spices - as well as garlic, ginger and chillies, basil, turmeric and cumin also hit the spot.  And of course, dairy for calcium, probably best consumed in the form of probiotics (live yogurt, buttermilk, kefir), but also calcium-rich bone broth (stock). And for magnesium - nuts, seeds, wholegrains, leafy green veg.  Round it off with at least 15 minutes of sunshine every day, or take cod liver oil (Vitamin D). 

Funny thing though.... We've always been eating more or less like this.  Dread to think how awful I'd be feeling if that hadn't been the case....

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Not a Sunday Roast

Every other Sunday, OH takes his son out for the day, which means that for us, a roast only comes once a fortnight.  Only, this month I am attempting to clear the food decks a little bit, and the freezer is a bit low on joints of meat, or indeed any meat at all. 
But what makes a roast ?  Clue: it's not the meat. The joint, just roasted on its own, could - and on subsequent days, does - become pretty much anything:  a curry, a soup, pasta sauce, salad, sandwich filling, pie....   Nah.  Nice though a joint of meat (or a whole bird) is, the Sunday roast is more - a lot more - about the roast spuds.  And veg, and perhaps Yorkshire puddings.... And of course, a jug of gravy. 
Well, spuds we have.  And dripping - whilst any fat will do, a fat that is hard at room temperature is what you need if you are after a properly crispy spud - and semolina (or cornmeal, or flour) to dip them in after parboiling.  Veg we have - corn on the cob, home grown last year, whilst not necessarily traditional, needs eating up, and well, it's just nice.  And healthy.  Yorkies can be arranged - there's eggs, there's milk (fresh carton just taken out of the freezer for the week ahead), there's flour....
But what about the meat ?  Well, a pie is always an option - a bag of that leftover turkey, some white sauce and a whole bunch of onions would have done just fine.  Only my hands and shoulders were not up to pastry-making, plus we are trying to eat slightly on the lighter side, so perhaps not pastry as well as the spuds and the batter....
Oh yeah, batter.  And in the freezer, still a few sausages from the big cheap bag bought to make stuffing for Christmas day.  So toad in the hole it was.
With roast potatoes, with corn on the cob..... And with gravy.


Saturday, 18 January 2014

Storecupboard Challenge

Evening all :o)

I have really hoped that this year I would be able to keep up with writing the blog a bit more regularly. So far, that hasn't happened - life has a way of, well, getting on the way, and life in the way got.  Equally, I have been rather rubbish about keeping up with the comments, but please do not let that discourage you from commenting on here - I am still rather in awe of the fact that people, in the crazy busy-ness that life so often is, will not only take the time to read my prattlings, but also make an effort to leave a line and say hello - so, I assure you that I read and appreciate every single comment left - and if you ask a question, I will answer it - eventually.

So, a question to be answered - sprouting beans.  Yep, I sprout 'em all.  Reason for that is that sprouting adds nutritional value, improves digestibility and reduces the gassiness that is probably the least appealing aspect of eating pulses, so unless you're after that musical effect for some reason best known ton yourself (Beans, beans, the musical fruit, the more you eat the more you.... toot....), it's well worth it trying to plan ahead a bit and soak them a couple of nights before you plan to use them, drain the water next day and leave them to sprout.  Wash again that evening, and by the next morning, unless your kitchen is exceptionally cold, they should be showing their first little sprouts and be ready to go.

If your kitchen is exceptionally cold, or your beans exceptionally elderly, then preparing them well before any possible use, soaking, sprouting, cooking and freezing in large batches is the way to go - and the more economical way to go at that.

Now, me, I love beans - and lentils, and chickpeas - but the rest of my lot are less convinced, especially if we are not talking haricots in orange tomato sauce that live in tins (toot!) so much as I use them liberally in my cooking,  using them as a bulking rather than a starring ingredient is the way it goes most of the time.

Tonight, for instance, it was the turn of the last frozen bag of aduki beans.  In fact, the whole dish was a cobble-em-together on the "storecupboard challenge" principles affair - well, this whole month's menu plan is a bit like that.

Now, being of a frugal disposition (I am making a helluva assumption here, but let's face it, you'd hardly bother reading me if you were not, at least theoretically, now would you ?), you probably know what a storecupboard challenge is, and are likely running one of your own - January, with the remnants of Christmas feasting still knocking about, is a good month for that sort of thing - but if you don't, it simply means that from time to time, that storecupboard you painstakingly assembled over a period of weeks, months, even years of canny shopping, needs running down and some of the less usual suspects using up.  It's the latter part of the storecupboarder's mantra "Store what you eat, and eat what you store".   Any savings made by reducing your storecupboard down and doing just top-up shopping for stuff like dairy and fresh produce can be, unless there is a more urgent call on them, swept up into a dedicated special purse or bank account, meaning that the next time Approved Foods are selling cases of couscous for next to no money, you can just stick your tongue out at them and go and stock-up on yellow-stickered chicken instead. But that's just me.

Anyway. Where was I ?  Ah, dinner.  Thai green turkey curry with aduki beans and turmeric rice.  Out of the freezer - a blob of Thai green curry paste, a bag of leftover Christmas turkey, and a bag of aduki beans.  The curry paste was one of those fabulous AF buys - a 3kg tin for 99p.  It looks soooo good when you are ordering it - 3kg of curry paste for less than a pound !  Unmissable !  But then the tin arrives and you realise just how big a tin a 3kg tin really is.... And for some inexplicable reason, you just don't feel like making a curry for 300 that evening - so what to do ?  Well, as ever, your freezer is your friend - many, many little freezer bags, and some patient spooning out of the paste, stuffing the little bags into washed out spread containers, and freezing.... And two years later, we've yet to finish the last of the blighter off.  No regrets though - food does not go off in the freezer, and while some food will eventually lose some of its flavour, anything with chillies in it will actually get more potent the longer it's frozen, thus making it go further.

A spoonful of coconut oil melted in the saucepan, a couple of small onions, a clove of garlic - a stick of celery, a handful of mini peppers, and two spring onions.....  And a block of creamed coconut.
Slice all the veg apart from the green onions (these are reserved for garnish once the curry's cooked)

Add the curry paste and a small chunk of creamed coconut

In goes the turkey

And the beans

A cup or two of water

Simmer for 5-10 minutes

                                                                        And serve.

Thursday, 16 January 2014


Is there really anything better when the days are grey and soggy and you are feeling squelchy right down to the bone ?

Well, if you're a feline and your human has gone out for the day and you have declined to go in when you were called, and it's raining, next door's bed (that'd be our bed) is probably more attractive.

But us humans, we'll stick with soup, if it's all the same to you.

A little bit of  forethought when you are stocking your freezer is always helpful - the Christmas turkey carcass, for instance, boiled into a crockpotful of stock on Boxing day and frozen in small portions; a potful of haricot beans soaked, sprouted (all you need is the tiniest shoot starting to peep out) and boiled; open frozen and bagged up in smallish bags, tucked into the freezer for later. 

And then later comes - a soggy day when OH is working from home and no sandwiches are required, and we can sit down together to have our lunch - and out comes an elderly carrot, a couple of wilted leafy celery sticks, a couple of wrinkled spuds, a humble onion and a clove of garlic, and a bit of chopping, and into the pot it all goes, a bit of extra water, a sprinkle of salt, a bay leaf.... And we have lunch.

Life is good :o)



Monday, 13 January 2014


Not doing very well with this whole writing lark at the moment, I'm afraid.  My body is playing silly beggars and not doing what it's supposed to, with the result that every day I wade through treacle anew - least, it's the way it feels.

But hey, my priorities for the times of crisis have been set in stone (of the metaphorical sort, that is) long ago, and - as might have well mentioned previously on an occasion or dozen - they are pretty simple and self-explanatory: food and laundry.  As long as that is taken care of, we are fine.

And where do challenges come into it ?  Well, to be honest, day-to-day life, even if it does concern little more than managing a three-hour day at work, provision of meals and washing of clothes and linen, is a bit challenging at the moment, but we are rising to it.  So far :)  

Also, I happen to be somewhat cognitively challenged at the moment, for which read: mind like a sieve.  My weapons in this particular battle have also been identified and put in place long ago: a massive pinboard in the kitchen, where food store lists, menu plans, shopping lists, currently used recipes and faciendas (which you might have well met under their other name - "to do lists") live;  a moleskine diary (which has a lined page for each week for lists and stuff); and a sheaf of post-its, stuck wherever they are most likely to be noticed for a relevant task, in order to remind me that such and such needs doing.

As an aside, a crash-course in how I menu plan: 
1. consult the freezer contents list
2. consult the storecupboard contents list
3. stick head in fridge
4. work out 21 dinners that can be made based on the above
5. distribute around the 21-day menu plan for variety
6. figure out a few lunches and breakfast and/or treats that can be made based on the above, add to the bottom of the menu plan list
7. take out the recipes for the week ahead out of the folder and stick to the pinboard
8. check if any ingredients are missing and add to shopping list

Now, all of the above works pretty well no matter how dopey I get at any given moment.... Because the system has been tried and tested, and crucially, in place prior to the crisis. By now it'd second nature, and in many ways, like a second brain when the one in my head just isn't doing the job.

As far as the rest of housework is concerned, I have a spray bottle of white vinegar and a stack of microfibre cloths, and things just get a spray and a wipe when they start getting grotty - glass and metal first, to make them nice and shiny, and then the rest just needs a wipe to make it hygienic, even if it's not sparkling.

So here is what I am challenging you to do today:  identify two areas of your life that are most crucial to keeping your family afloat, and put a system in place that will make it possible to keep floating through most crises.  Training family members to take over your duties is acceptable - indeed, desirable ;o)

Oh, and another thing - for six months last year, I have been doing the Royal Mail Survey.  In a nutshell, you post and receive test items, enter them into an online system, and get paid in stamps. Pretty good, especially if you sell stuff online and could do with some help with postage costs.  After six months, they make you have a rest for the next six, but if you're lucky, they might ask you to help out with some other aspects of their survey - I did one dealing with unadressed mail, and earned £30 in Love2Shop vouchers.

Well, they are recruiting now, so if you are interested, click on the following link: https://rmpri.research-int.com.

Sorry, no photos today - a challenge too far, I'm afraid !  But tomorrow, who knows ?  ;o)