Autumnal eating

My apologies. My commitment to daily postings was hindered by working hours and the fact my local library is closed on a Thursday. That’s the downside to free internet, you are at the mercy of those who provide it for you.

The challenge officially ended on Wednesday, with me withdrawing extra money in order to visit the greengrocers. The lack of fresh produce was too daunting to bear. However, I am still on strict economising lines as I still have a week to go until pay day. The freezer and cupboards are still my primary sources of meals/ingredients. Nothing is wasted.

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For example, I had a big Bramley apple that had been sitting pretty for at least a week. I also had a couple of Pink Ladies that were slowly but surely turning an unappetising shade of brown. But luckily, this was only on their skin. Both types of apples were peeled, diced and thrown in a pot with some brown sugar, mixed spice and a little water. The rescue mission was a success.

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There is only one sensible thing to do with stewed apple in November, and that is to make a crumble. I made the crumble mixture in the morning, put it into a jar, put said jar into the fridge and went off to work. There was a big part of me that felt hugely smug to come home to an apple crumble in the making. All I had to do was sprinkle the crumble mix on top and pop it in the oven. Considering I had already prepped my veg and was having leftover savoury mince from the freezer for dinner, it was a speedy meal. Truly, it’s easy once you know how and can spare a few minutes in the morning to get things ready. All I had to do when I came home from my shift was to turn the oven on. And make packet custard of course. Crumble without custard is treason, I’m sure.

PS Another meal out of leftovers; old bread, a cold sausage, rocket, carrot curls, cucumber with the seeds scooped out, all drizzled with mustard and garlic oil dressing. A perfect lunchbox.

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Lean Cuisine

I do so love the library. Not only does it provide free internet access for up to two hours a day, it’s also full of books! I’m slowly but steadily working my way through the cookery section, having previously devoured the entire WW2 section. It’s a brilliant way to sample cookery books that I may have been tempted to purchase, but am now relieved I didn’t.

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If I was browsing on Amazon, this delightful book may have fallen into my virtual trolley. After reading it, I’m very glad to have saved the money. Naturally, it was the title that drew me in, focusing on two of my favourite things: Economy Gastronomy. Co-written by Allegra McEvedy and Paul Merrett, it was a dream to read – very witty and humorous, with helpful advice to boot. But the recipes somehow felt out of reach. The idea of cooking once and making the most of the leftovers was solid, but undeniably geared for families. Little old me would be eating lamb for a month if I bought a whole leg! Some of the ingredients listed went straight over my head, but the photography was stunning. All in all, I think you could tell it was written by chefs, a bit out of my league.

But the book inspired me to get in the kitchen and make sure nothing went to waste. The facts contained in the book were shocking, talking about how nonchalant our culture is about throwing away food. I set out to rescue my on-the-turn vegetables into a simple curry.

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The cauliflower and potatoes were set on to steam. I mixed a third of the potatoes with the last bit of light mayo, cress and chopped basil to make a cold potato salad for me to take in my lunch box to work.

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I gently sautéed an organic onion and the remaining half of a green bell pepper in some garlic oil. I folded through the potatoes and cauliflower and went crazy with the spice tin – coriander, cumin, chilli, organic curry powder, salt and pepper all went in the pot. I used the stock created from steaming the veg and brought it up to the boil. Then I added a decent amount of red lentil, put on the lid, turned the heat down and let it simmer for half an hour.

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Basically, I create six meals for the week ahead out of practically nothing. It’s my kind of lean cuisine, lean in terms of monetary costs to make. It was economical on fuel too, and meant that nothing went in the bin, aside from a few dodgy peelings. Thank you McAvedy and Merrett; that is a lesson truly learnt.

PS Tuesday was a no spend day – hurrah!

Frugal Fridays #21

Out of all possible meal scenarios of one day (elevenses, brunch, supper and midnight snack included), afternoon tea is my favourite. Not only is it an opportunity for cake-based delights and gallons of tea, it’s a chance to use all the delicate and beautiful china I’ve been hoarding collecting. It’s actually quite a thrifty meal, especially if you adhere to the following tips.

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Make your own sandwiches with whatever is in the fridge. Shop-bought sandwiches are never up to scratch. Plus, it seems counter-productive to specifically buy ingredients when you already have a selection in the house. The magic comes with how you cut them. I did fingers of cheese and pickle, triangles of raspberry jam and trimmed my cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches with a cutter. The two different breads I used were bought from the reduced section, not that my guest needs to know that!

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Make your own biscuits. Yes, my home made gingerbread does look quite rustic, but I was complimented on the flavour. I know scones are more traditional, but you can knock up biscuits with minimal ingredients, thus decreasing the cost. I also quite like the different texture biscuits bring to the table.

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If you do buy your cakes, try to get ones on offer. I ran out of time to bake my own, and I’m not entirely confident with gluten-free cake anyway. Luckily, these finger cakes were two packs for £3. Standard cakes are much cheap, and once you add a little garnish (like my raspberries), who would know the difference?!

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Afternoon tea is an indulgence, gosh yes, and by no means a necessity. But it is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon in the company of a good friend.

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I’m reading a fascinating book at the moment, borrowed from the library, naturally. It’s called Consider the Fork, by food writer and historian Bee Wilson. I’m only a couple of chapters in but this history into the nature of the tools intrinsic to our kitchen habits is fascinating. So far, Wilson has discussed pots and knives, two vital components in the modern kitchen, not necessarily the case in years gone by.

She was discussing one pot cookery and those paragraphs certainly leapt out at me. Food in a pot, bubbling away and smelling delicious is primal. Nothing is better in this wet, wet, wet November we’re currently experiencing than a hearty one pot meal. The best of the bunch? Soup. Hands down. In Autumn and Winter, soup becomes one of my main food groups, which also includes wine and roasted parsnips. Not to mention being incredibly cheap to make. My latest batch of curried vegetable and lentil soup, as seen above, probably costs around 30p per portion. And that’s for a decent sized bowlful.  My latest batch of soup was a good one, but they all follow the same basic principle.

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1) Dice vegetables. Add to pot.

2) Add stock to pot.

3) Add spice, seasonings and flavouring to pot.

4) Bring pot to boil.

5) Simmer for a nice long time.

6) Blitz to a creamy loveliness.

This isn’t fancy soup with crème fraiche or chopped fresh herbs or pre-cooked veg sautéed in bacon fat. That would be a delight, sure, but this is more basic, more instinctive, simple and delicious. That’s my favourite kind of food.

All the leaves are brown

All of a sudden, it seems to be, it has gone dark and cold and wet. I’ve braved the elements too many times this week that I dare not count. I don’t think I’ve been properly dry since last Monday. But the one good things that raises out of the foul weather is the accompanying food.

Salads and strawberries are all very well when the sun is shining. But there is something intrinsically more enjoyable about the warming dishes that come along with the cooler months. Take soup for example. So simple, so cheap, so delicious.

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The vegetables were chopped and boiled with the homemade stock I was saving. Then I added a little spice and seasoning, although, in honesty, it could have done with a bit more. Practice makes perfect and I will know for next time. The whole dish was blitzed and a silky, thick soup was created. It was filling and nutritious, what more could one ask for when the rain is pouring.

I have my eye on making a hearty beef stew next. But first, graduation.

Flat Number Five

Friends, I have made it to the other side. After a lengthy day of exertion, three of us managed to move my worldly possessions into a studio flat in Southampton. I cannot tell you how pleased I am with this outcome.

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Choosing to live on your own immediately after graduating is not a simple path. But it was always destined to be the right one for me. After other options were discussed, this was the direction that I was drawn to the most. I wanted to live by myself due to many contributing factors, but this choice is not without its sacrifices.

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Luckily, water and gas central heating are included in the monthly rent, but I still have a hefty council tax bill to deal with every month. There is no roommate in which to fall back on – it’s up to me. I have to pay a round pound coin to the little box under my kitchen counter in order to continue using the electricity. I cannot afford to own a television and personal broadband is a luxury beyond my means. So I will go without.

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But this is no true hardship. In a sense, it very much appeals to my thrifty nature. I’ve always enjoyed budgeting and such, it’s just now the stakes are higher. I like to see how much electricity I can use before adding another coin. I’m writing to you from the local library, who offers free use of their internet for up to two hours five days a week. I’m reading more and dancing to the radio every chance I get. Just because I don’t have a Sky box leaking money in the corner doesn’t mean I am in any way deprived.

The cooking is yet to begin in earnest, but I have batch cooked a Bolognese for hot meals this week. I’ve also saved some vegetable water with the intention of making soup on my next day off. I can see much of my free time being spent in the kitchen, it’s my favourite place to be. And besides, I have a freezer to fill!

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I’m off to battle the rain and continue with my chores. I hope you all have a wonderful start to the week.

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It’s easy to see where I get my thrifty habits from. My mum is an artist when it comes to budgets, coupons, saving for special occasions and the like. She passed on the baton of bargain hunting on to me and my sister and we have both benefited from this knowledge through the years. She was a wealth of advice when I first went to University and was in control of my own expenditure for the first time. We shared a lovely day together yesterday, and she brought supplies.

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Gluten free products are expensive, so when Mum spotted this little lot reduced at her local Waitrose in Wells, she snapped it up! Many of the boxes of biscuits cost five times the price of what she paid. Best of all, they’re all still in date, with most of the products having a “best before” (whatever that means) of 2015. Whilst in Southampton, we bought things for lunch and she left a bag of salad and a few slices of good deli ham for me to enjoy at a later date.

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It just shows that you don’t have to spend a fortune to show your children you care. I truly appreciate the thoughtfulness that connected the gluten free gifts to me. Thank you Mum!

 

In other news, a new rationing period begins on Monday. Through my calculations on my spreadsheet, I managed an average weekly spend of £19.54 for the five weeks in August. That is bang on for my target of £20 a week, although I did start to slip nearer the end when contraband foodstuffs were providing me with quick, cheap energy. But now the cupboards are well stocked, I should be able to keep this month’s grocery bill to a minimum. I’m sure there will be a post in the near future about the details of the rationing plan that I personally follow, just in case anyone was interested.

I hope you all have a joyous weekend.