WWW. Cheap to Glorious Burgers and Frozen Cakes.

Seeing as Jon’s work is now very different, the Wok will be a little different. Rather than making the nicest, most elaborate or most interesting meal on Wednesday, I will make them as and when he needs them and choose the best food of the week for the Wonderful Wednesday Wok instead.

This week, the main’s some burgers that I made turning cheap, value brand, reduced price beef mince into something with the bite and texture of steak mince and the flavour of a BBQ patty. And the pudding’s an ice-cream cake in a cup I made for Valentine’s day. There were five flavours: pear, blackberry, pear and currant, strawberry and peach. I had the pear and currant one as a carby treat on Valentine’s, but the rest were Jon’s for the week.

The rest of the Valentine's meal.

The rest of the Valentine’s meal.

Cheap to Glorious Burgers.

Ingredients:

-500g cheap mince; ground beef is not suitable, but cheap, unfrozen pork mince or turkey mince would work too

-1 egg

-2tsp herbs

-2tsp onion granules

-2tsp paprika

-2tsp salt

-1tsp pepper

-1tsp soy sauce

-butter or tallow for frying

Utensils:

-mixing bowl and fork

-frying pan

Recipe:

1: With high quality beef you’re told not to overwork the mince or the burger will lose its consistency. With cheap mince you want to do the opposite. Mash it together before adding the spices and the egg. Mash thoroughly until everything is mixed in.

2: Form patties by making a ball, flattening it in the palms of your hands and pinching the middle so it’s got a little “bowl” at either side. This ensures good browning and even cooking.

3: Heat the fat in the pan at medium temperature until all melted. Add the burgers.

4: Cook for 5 minutes either side.

5: Serve with sides of choice. I went for salad, Jon went for beans and cheese.

The burger’s texture is firm and meaty, the taste is subtle, salty and very beefy, the grease levels are minimal and the crust on the outside tastes of soy sauce BBQ.

burgj

burga

Fruity Ice-Cream Cake in a Cup.

Ingredients:

-1 conference pear

-1 peach

-15 blackberries

-8 strawberries

-40g mixed currants

-150ml double cream

-50g 85% chocolate

-80g 55% chocolate

Utensils:

-microwaveable bowl and a fork (not to be put in microwave, obviously)

-chopping board and knife

-mixing bowl and blender / food processor

-jelly molds or other freezable cups/pots

Recipe:

1: Crush the 85% chocolate and share between the bases of the containers.

2: Cut up whatever mix of fruit you like and share between the bases of the containers, leaving room for the chocolate ice cream to drip through.

3: Microwave the cream and 55% chocolate together on medium until they form a smooth chocolate paste.

4: Share the paste between the containers, making sure to get it down into the chocolate later and to cover the fruit. Freeze.

5: Blend the remaining fruit into a smoothie-like paste.

6: Once the chocolate ice cream is frozen, add the fruit paste on top and refreeze.

7: To serve, gently warm the container’s sides only, turn it upside down and squeeze or tap until the cake is released. Leave a little to soften for easy eating.

Pear and currant version.

Pear and currant version.

So those were, in my opinion, the best meals we had this week. What was the best meal you had this week? Recipes, anyone? 🙂

TTFN and Happy Hunting!

How To… cook with cheap vegetables.

I am a big advocate of doing everything as cheaply as possible. On the other hand, anyone who ever bought 40 avocados or 5kg of broccoli because it was cheap can confirm that sometimes we buy cheap food and make a dog’s dinner instead of a meal.

Too many avocados!

Too many avocados!

Here is some step-by-step advice to help you buy and use cheap vegetables.

1: Learn the warning signs. There is nothing worse than buying a load of cheap mangoes, only for them to be fibrous and inedible. Learn how to sniff the produce and smell the freshness, how to press the skin or tap the shell to gauge the ripeness, how to check the colour and texture for assessing quality. A few bruises, a soft patch or even a dot of mold can be cut off. Stone-deep rot, dryness and hollowness aren’t usually fixable. Have a good search for the favourite or most expensive produce in your home and how to tell when it’s perfect to eat.

2: Look out for reduced sections. Supermarkets will mark down produce long before it’s overripe or going off, so buy that. Vegetable stalls and grocers aren’t quite so kind, so have a good look at anything you buy. Usually it will just be a little “ugly”: soft apples and dry cabbage being good examples. But sometimes you won’t be able to work with it.

All reduced price.

All reduced price.

3: Only buy what you can realistically use. A family of 5 may be able to eat 10kg of tomatoes in various forms over a week, but don’t push it to 20.

4: Plan ahead with whatever you’ve got. When I come home with tomato, aubergine and courgette, I want to know I can prepare more than one or two variants on meals with it. Ratatouille, mince and rice, salad, vegetable bake and curry, in this case. If you’re not sure, sit down and write out a list of recipes until everything would be used up.

20140219_071852 DCIM100MEDIA

5: Once you’re confident checking quality, finding cheap produce, buying to suit your family and meal planning, try only using cheap plant foods. It saves so much money and even saves time to have an amount of perfectly ripe fruit and veg around the house.

6: Learn to store the produce. Slice and freeze fruit and vegetables. Make vegetable base for stews and freeze or can them. Make jam and chutney and pickles. Make a load of pasta sauce and leave it in the fridge. Dry fruit. Anything, just learn to store it so that when you find an amazingly good deal you can buy it all. We have salad leaves we freeze and use in stir-fries, jams in jars and sliced fruit in the freezer. Be creative.

Pie with home-made jam.

Pie with home-made jam.

So that’s how we find, buy and use cheap produce. I hope it’s reasonably enlightening. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments!

TTFN and Happy Hunting.

WWW. Meatballs and Ratatouille.

Sadly the pudding didn’t turn out quite as I wanted it to, so it won’t be featured. 😦

Meatballs and ratatouille.

20140820_125240

This recipe should yield even if the ingredients aren’t very high quality. We used reduced-price courgettes and peppers, boxed tomatoes, carrots past their prime and cheap frozen mince and it was still delicious.

Ingredients:

-500g mince

-2 eggs

-400g chopped tomatoes

-2 small carrots

-1 small courgette

-1 small onion

-1/2 yellow pepper

-1/2 green pepper

-1 clove garlic

-1tsp hot chilli powder

-2tsp salt

-some oil

Utensils:

-mixing bowl and fork

-frying pan

-small pot

Recipe:

1: Finely dice the pepper and garlic, roughly chop the onion, carrots and courgette. Boil until tender.

2: Mix the meat, eggs, chilli powder and 1tsp of the salt. Roll into 6-24 meatballs, depending on how large you want them.

3: Heat the oil in the pan. Add the meatballs in small groups, ensure they are sealed on all sides before adding the next group.

4: Once all the meatballs are sealed, add the veg and the tomatoes, followed by the remaining salt.

5: Simmer until everything is well-done.

Money-Saving Book: Sneak-Peek.

So, it isn’t quite finished yet, I don’t have a proper title yet and everything is likely to be polished up and changed a little, but here’s an excerpt from the book I’m writing on money-saving tricks, tips and techniques.

All feedback appreciated and, if you’ve personally tried any of these tricks, feel free to leave a testimony/review, as it will be added to the book. 😀

From what’s currently chapter 3: “FOOD”.

1.- Supermarkets: Scams, Scroungers, Savings!

Too many people nowadays seem to think that supermarkets are a necessary evil. Yes, they draw you in with “Offers” and then shove what they actually want you to buy in your face, but what can you do? They’re the only place where you can find everything you want at a medium price and just get it all over. Necessary Evil.

Except they aren’t either: not necessary, but not evil either. But more on that in the next chapter, just hold the thought! First, we’ll assume you don’t feel up to going to an outdoors market, or to specialized stores for everything you want. Let’s say you want to use the supermarket, you just don’t want to be conned.

Something I quickly found was that brand names do in fact, mean very little. For example, my boyfriend and I would usually only drink a certain brand of energy drink. It didn’t take long to figure out that, on offer, it was £2 a litre and, full price, sometimes £4 or more! What were we using it for? The taste? That was the main difference between our favourite and the cheaper brands and we used them largely for the odd (or daily) boost in the morning. So, we started getting some cheaper energy drinks. We quickly saw that cheaper brands were, at most £1.30 a litre, sometimes even cheaper than that! And, to be honest: you aren’t going to tell the difference at that time in the morning.

Another issue was baked beans. There is a certain, well-known brand of beans that does, according to my boyfriend, taste rather different to others. He prefers it. However, a preference isn’t a need and we soon found out that a splash of curry-paste or paprika in a cheaper brand did wonders! Plus, it goes really well with sausages. Yum!

Admittedly, there will be things everyone hangs onto. I still buy the expensive energy drink because I like to enjoy it with my boyfriend, it has connotations for us that make it pleasant. I also sometimes get a certain type of chocolate, as a treat. But these are odd treats: you don’t have to have it all the time and, even if a certain brand is truly “irreplaceable”, that doesn’t have to be how it is for every item in your house!

But what about offers? When is a deal really too good to miss? Well, there are two types of offers, as far as I’m concerned: offers on a product you usually get (same or different brand) and offers on something you haven’t ever got.

So: products you usually get. If it’s the exact same item you usually get, same brand, same size box… etc. and it’s just been discounted, it’s a no-brainer: get it. But what if it’s a “multi” offer? Where you have to buy more than you’d usually get so as to make a save? There are three main variables: perishability, quality and cost.

How perishable is it?
You’re more likely to get away with buying 12 cans of tomatoes than 12 actual tomatoes (unless your family are true tomato-lovers!). Think about how long it would take to use it all up. For example, as I am usually at home on my own, I wouldn’t ever get more than 10 bananas: I just can’t eat them that fast! However, if there was a deal of “12 for the price of 6”, I may get the 12 and just make sure I eat A LOT of bananas. Basically: know your limits. If it’s 1 for £1.20 or 2 for £2, ask yourself: Is there any humanly possible way we can get through two before they go off? Do we want to? Depending on your answer, you’re halfway to seeing if it’s worth buying!

How good is it?
If it’s the same brand you always get, you won’t have to ask this, but, sometimes, you see a new or different brand on offer and wonder “Would this work?” I often find myself looking at discounted new or popular brands and try and weigh the pros and cons of getting it. So, here’s a check-list to see if it’s worth being adventurous and getting those 12 cans of unknown-brand tomatoes!
– Is it something fairly generic?
Good example: apples. Apples are apples are apples. As long as you can see what it is on the outside, you can have a quick guess as to whether these Granny Smith’s are better or worse than your usual choice.
– Does it have the same (or better) stuff in?
You don’t want to be swapping your favourite, wholesome pasta-sauce for one filled with preservatives if you can avoid it!
– Could we eat our way through it or make it work if it turns out we don’t like it?
Not necessary if you can return it, but returning is a major annoyance and most people I have known wouldn’t return something just because they don’t like it.
– Is this something everyone eats?
Why bother getting 2kg of pork when Bobby is a vegetarian, Mommy is dieting and Luke won’t eat anything that isn’t reared to his standards? (Unless, of course, Daddy is going through a bodybuilding/strength-training phase.)

How expensive is it?
Needless to say, if your weekly food budget is £40 and those tomatoes would push you into £45, they’re probably staying on the shelf. Something I advise, specifically for this sort of occasion, is to always have a small amount of change that you can throw onto a shopping bill. It may seem frivolous at first, but, if it saves you £10 over three weeks, would it be such a bad thing to have an extra fiver in pennies?

Tips for trying new stuff:

Return dates! If you are happy to make a return trip: do it within a certain time-limit! It’s very hard to return perishables much later than the next day. For non-perishables, return within a week or by the date given on the receipt!

Don’t experiment with staples! It’s hard to get through bread you hate when you’re having it for the next week and a bit.

If you don’t like it, try and swap with friends/family/neighbours! You may not make all your money’s worth back, but something is better than nothing.

But what if you haven’t ever got this item before? Here, I recommend the same cautions as with the untried brands… and even more! If at all possible, buy a “sample” to take home and try. You may find that certain products are on “loop-offers”: offers that they make and then repeat in a few month’s time. I found out that Lidl often keep a certain well-known brand of beans on a “loop”. The offer they were on made them cheaper than the cheapest brands! So I tried them and then, as I liked the taste, later stocked up on them. Now I alternate using that brand and cheap beans with paprika! But this was another brand issue. I would never consider swapping from say, potatoes to brown rice, if I’ve never tried the rice! I’d have to try it first, see if it works with what I usually have at home before I stocked-up on discounted rice.

Recipe Corner. 5 Budget-Friendly Healthy Dishes.

Phew! For the first time in my life, I think I can legitimately say I am a busy woman. I shall ignore the fact that having children will absolutely make me revise this statement and, for now, just feel satisfied that housework, tutoring, DIY, cooking, shopping, workouts, writing, reading and sewing makes me busy.

Also, I am currently nibbling on a “Peaches and Cream” tart which is divine and I shall share with you tomorrow, because I’m nice like that. :p

Yum. :D

Yum. 😀

Anyhow, onto the recipes.

I used to run a blog where I would make meals for £1/portion or less. I wound up a bit too busy to plan out every meal, as £1 was a bit restrictive in terms of what I wanted to eat (kcal count, variety, volume, etc), so I eventually gave up. But budget-eating is still very much important to me If anything, that blog showed me how well I could eat for very little, so the principles have been carried-over into my current cooking. Of course, the food isn’t quite as cheap as it used to be, not all the time, but Jon and I eat heartily due to our activity levels, so it wouldn’t be. In fact, that WAS the very reason I had to leave the previous blog. Yet considering he initially wanted to give me £50-60/week (that’s $83-100) for our food and toiletries and that at the moment I’m spending £20-30/week ($33-50) and still providing us with 1800-3500kcal/day, I’d say I still have the magic touch.

So, in the spirit of my old blog, here are five budget-friendly, healthy meals, complete with the cost. The cost is for the total we make and I will include how many portions we get out of it, though someone with a small appetite may get more and a bulking bodybuilder may get less. I’ll leave it up to you to decide how many servings it makes. Besides that, the costs haven’t been translated into any other currency because:

a: My blog’s readership is too varied.

b: The cost of things is too variable even within the UK.

It’s just there to give you an idea of my expenses and how I keep them down. 🙂

These are all things that show up on our table regularly or semi-regularly, are tasty and cheap.

Recipe 1: Lamb’s Liver Curry.

currylambliver

Pros: very quick and easy.

Cons: pre-made sauce or curry mix, not much variety of veg, kids may find lamb’s liver too strong.

Ingredients:

-400-500g/14.1-17.6oz fresh lamb’s liver (Sainsbury’s, reduced: 55p)

-1 large leek (market: 12p)

-1 onion (Sainsbury’s, family bag: 5p)

-100g/3.5oz broccoli (market: 12p)

-25g/0.9oz grass-fed butter (Kerrygold: 20p)

-2tbsp curry powder (Asian store: 5p)

-1tsp smoked paprika (Sainsbury’s: 5p)

-100g/3.5oz rice (Sainsbury’s, basics: 4p)

Total: £1.18. Makes us two portions.

Utensils:

-chopping board and knife

-frying pan

Recipe:

1: Wash and slice the vegetables. To include broccoli stalks, slice as thinly as possible.

2: Pan-fry the vegetables in a little of the butter until the onion and leek are limp and translucent, but not caramelizing. Take off the heat briefly.

3: Put the rice on to boil.

4: Slice the liver as desired. Add to the vegetables alongside the seasoning and remainder butter.

5: Return to the heat until the liver is as cooked as you like it.

6: Serve with rice.

Recipe 2: “Hellmince” bolognese.

spagbol

Pros: can make a lot of it, instant winner with all taste buds, not much washing-up, little involvement once the pot’s simmering.

Cons: not as nice if you aren’t eating pasta or rice.

Ingredients:

-8-10 medium carrots (Sainsbury’s, basics: 50p)

-200g/7oz celeriac/swede/squash/beet (variable: let’s say 25p)

-1-2 large onions (Sainsbury’s, family pack: 10p)

-2 courgettes (Sainsbury’s, basics, reduced: 50p)

-900-1000ml/around 30-35floz chopped tomato (Sainsbury’s, basics, one carton, one jar: £1)

-1kg/35oz “hellmince” (Sainsbury’s, basics, frozen: £3.15)

-5tbsp olive oil (Sainsbury’s, reduced: 25p)

-4 crushed garlic cloves (Sainsbury’s, basics: 10p)

-smoked paprika

-salt

-pepper

-mixed herbs

Total: £5.85 discounting herbs and spices. Makes us around 6-8 servings.

Utensils:

-chopping board and knife

-large pot

Recipe:

1: Wash and dice all the vegetables. Keep the tuber and onion fine and the carrot and courgette chunky. Crush the garlic.

2: Mix them in a pot with the tomato, about one cup of water and the seasoning.

3: Bring to a boil and then turn down. Add the olive-oil. Leave to simmer for 40-50min.

4: Add the mince. Continue simmering for 20min.

5: Serve over pasta or rice, or just as a stew.

We served ours with spelt spaghetti, but I may thicken the sauce a little with rice flour, so it sticks better next time.

Recipe 3: Mixed vegetable chips.

chips

Pros: lots of nutrition, better than your average chip, kids should like.

Cons: not much protein, better as a side or a snack.

Ingredients:

-2 large carrots (Sainsbury’s, basics: 10p)

-1 large parsnip (Sainsbury’s, loose: 20p)

-200g/7oz celeriac (Co-op, reduced: 20p)

-200g/7oz swede (market: 10p)

-rendered lard or tallow (leftover: free)

-salt, pepper, onion powder

Total: 80p, give or take. Makes two or four servings, as it’s usually a side-dish.

Utensils:

-knife and chopping board

-small pot

-baking tray

Recipe:

1: Wash and peel the vegetables.

2: Slice them into evenly sized pieces.

3: Put them in the pot, add water and boil until they’re tender, but not falling apart.

4: Drain them and leave them on paper or in a colander to dry.

5: Once they’re drier, toss them in the fat and seasonings and place them in the baking tray.

6: Set the oven to 180C/355F and cook the chips until they’re browned. This should take around 25-30min. You will need to give them a shake or stir a couple of times.

7: Serve with freshly ground salt on top.

Recipe 4: Bubble and squeak.

Pros: delicious, cheap, good way to use leftovers, kids like it, good as a side or a main.

Cons: none, it’s marvelous.

Ingredients:

-200-300g/7-10.6oz roast or boiled potatoes (leftovers: free)

-leftover cabbage, carrots, onions and any other veg, around 200g (leftovers: free)

-200g/7oz bacon (Sainsbury’s, basics: 38p)

-25g/0.9oz butter (Kerrygold: 15p)

-salt and pepper

Total: 53p extra expense on the leftovers. Two servings.

Utensils:

-chopping board and knife

-frying pan and spatula

Recipe:

1: Chop up the assorted vegetables and mash up the potatoes. Dice the bacon.

2: Warm the butter in the pan. Fry the bacon until the fat is rendered from it.

3: Add the vegetables and cook until the potatoes are browned.

4: Add salt and pepper before serving.

It’s normal for this dish to make squeaking, crackling and popping sounds whilst it cooks.

Recipe 5: Chicken liver curry with rice.

Pros: nutritious, quick to cook, very cheap, good staple.

Cons: it’s still liver and some may disapprove, low calories.

Ingredients:

-250g/8.8oz chicken livers (Sainsbury’s, frozen: 50p)

-1 large onion (Sainsbury’s, family bags: 5p)

-300g/10.6oz mixed veg (Sainsbury’s, basics, frozen: 22p)

-100g/3.5oz rice, cooked (Sainsbury’s, basics: 4p)

-50g/1.8oz butter (Kerrygold: 30p)

-2tbsp curry powder (Asian store: 5p)

Total: £1.16. Two servings.

We sometimes add chopped leftover chicken or bacon to it, as the kcal content is a bit on the low side.

Utensils:

-chopping board and knife

-frying pan

Recipe:

1: Mix the butter and spices in the frying pan on a low heat.

2: Slice all the vegetables finely and fry them in butter at a high heat.

3: Finely slice the liver and add it to the mix.

4: Add the rice and some tomato puree or water.

5: Cook until everything is thoroughly curried.