Find out how I feed my family on a shoestring budget.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

End of June Feasts and Slow Cookers

I've got to go back to work! Sadly the happy interlude that is maternity leave is coming to an end. This means I won't be here to cook dinner at least three nights a week. That means S has to and he likes an easy life in the kitchen, so if it was up to hime we'd have oven chips every night. I can't let that happen, so my plan is to cook in bulk on the days I am around and leave a stash of food in the freezer. This means I need to be organised enough to get food out in the morning, but I plan the meals on a weekly basis so this is no problem.

The other thing is though that I have recently chucked away our microwave. To be honest the thought of microwaved food was making me feel uncomfortable so I had stopped using it. It was taking up space too, space that I could fill in otherways. So when I chucked out the microwave I bought a slow cooked instead.

I had a slow cooked a few years ago, but it was small and not very good. This time I did a bit of research and bought a good one with a large capacity. I am hoping that this will also help S out. I can chuck everything in the slow cooker in the morning before I go to work and then all he will have to do is cook up some rice or pasta and serve. Well, we'll see eh.

Anyway, this week I have three slow cooker meals planned. So here is this weeks menu.

Saturday - vegan chicken nuggets, chips and peas

Sunday  - pie, new potatoes and veg. And there was pudding gooseberry and redcurrant crumble (using allotment fruit) with vegan ice cream.

Monday  - BBQ tofu, veg and rice (slow cooker)

Tuesday - Stroganoff

Wednesday - Refried beans in tortillas

Thursday - Aubergine parmazano (well actually aubergine with Tesco vegan cheese)

Friday - Stew and dumplings (slow cooker).

It was a pretty good shop this week too. I spent £40 and somethign pence. I thought it would be much more as I bought vegan cheese, tofu, lots of fruit, Trex, veggie meat substitutes (chicken nuggets and cauliflower cheese grills) and lots of other expensive stuff.

And, the slow cooker is working out well too. I can smell my refried beans now and they smell good and everyone liked the BBQ tofu, especially N who has got really fussy lately.

Recipes to follow - E has just woken up!


No Knead Sour Dough

Bread, yum yum. I know, it's a guilty pleasure, I can't wean myself off toast. But do I need to? If I can make my toast with good quality bread, then that's OK right?

The thing is bread has got expensive and most of it is squashy, steam filled, additive laden rubbish. Artisan bread is expensive and not easy to get. I like a challenge though, and so making sour dough bread has been on my to do list for a while. I did have a stab last October, but the starter didn't froth eagerly, the loaves never really rose and in the end the starter smelled of paint! I gave up.

And then I had another go. . .

The big difference this time is that I've been using mineral water to get my sour dough starter going. When I looked into this last year I found posts saying not to as the minerals are too strong, but when I looked this time I saw mineral water being recommended as the chlorine in tap water can kill the yeast. Turns out that even though I was using filtered water my tap water is not conducive to growing yeast, so having overcome that hurdle I now have a lovely bubbly wild yeast culture. And despite what my web based research led me to believe, once I cracked this issue, cultivating yeast is surprisingly easy.

There's lots of good (and some confusing) advice out there. My favorite resource has been breadtopia. I have broadly followed the method for a starter here. I used a mix of whole meal and rye to begin with - no discarding, just two tablespoons of flour and two of water everyday for 8 days.
My frothy starter, not as frothy as usual though as I've just reawoken it from being in the fridge.

Since i've got my starter going there's been no stopping me, but my favourite method is a no knead one. I wrote about no knead bread a couple of years ago here, but I now use a method adapted again from Breadtopia.  

My recipe is a bit more intuitive and involves a small knead. As it's a wet dough I was finding it got stuck to the bowl after proofing, but an additional little knead, a bit more flour and prove sorts that out. So here, it is.

My method and ingredients

c. 3.5 cups of flour (I use a mixture of white, whole meal and rye) plus a bit more for dusting and kneading.

1.5 tsp of salt

0.5 cup of starter

2.25 cups of mineral water

Mix the flour and salt together.
Add the starter and water and mix. Add a bit more flour if it's very very wet. You should have a wetish, but cohesive dough. Might take some trial and error.

Dust with flour and place in a bowl covered with cling film. 

Leave to rise (ideally) somewhere warm for between 4 and 8 hours.

After the dough has risen, sprinkle on a bit more flour and knead a few times until smooth (say about 30 seconds, this isn't a laborious step).

Dust the bottom of the bowl with more flour and shape you loaf into a nice round shape. Place it back into the floury bowl and cover again with cling film. Put the bowl somewhere warm.

Turn on the oven and preheat to gas mark 8. Take a large oven proof pot with a lid and place in the oven. Heat it up for 30-40 minutes. At the end of this time put the bread in the pot, put the lid on and put in the oven for 30 minutes. Then remove the lid (be careful it's super hot) and bake for another 15 minutes. Voila! You have bread.


And actually, since originally drafting this post I have taken an even less rigid approach. Today I put a full cup of starter in my bowl (the starter had been in the fridge so I thought it might need a bit of extra yeast) along with 3 cups of organic white bread flour and 2 cups of water. When I mixed it it was a bit wet so I shook in some wholemeal flour until it was about right. I left it overnight (it wasn't particularly warm where I left it). This morning the dough was very sticky so I added more white flour until it was smooth and left it for about an hour to proove. Here is the result:

Bread - it nearly fills the bottom of my 5L pot!

What I should also say is that as I add extra flour and another proove my dough is less holey than it would otherwise be. Some people are really after the holes in sourdough, but I don't have a sour dough basket to help with handling, so I forego the holes. It still tastes good and is a good texture though.

And the very best thing is, this good quality sour dough loaf costs about £1, less if I use just wholemeal and not organic flour.

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Salad Days

Just recently I made a pledge to myself to eat more veggies. You'd think that as a vegan I'd eat heaps of veggies, but sometimes I don't. I may have cereal or toast for breakfast, beans on toast for lunch, and then maybe only a portion or two of veg for dinner. Sure, I snack on fruit in between, but I resolved to do better on the veg front.

The answer was simple, eat salad for lunch and so for the last 8 weeks or so that's what I've done every day. And I really look forward to my daily salad, which contains a rainbow of raw veg.

I weighed my lunch a couple of times, and it averages around 450-500 grammes - roughly the equivalent of 5-6 servings. This also means I make good in roads into my 7 a day quota.

And best of all what I've realized is, is just how tasty a varied salad bowl can be. My salad rules are to include some kind of leaf, veg of a couple of colours (the more the better), something crunchy and a nice dressing. Last week I had some bean sprouts left over from dinner, so I made an chinese nspired salad, with lots of bean spouts, crunchy carrots sticks, avocado and a tahini and soya sauce dressing. 

I also pretty much always add toasted seeds (usually a mix of sunflower, pumpkin and cumin) and I've just started making a dressing using a flax and hemp seed oil blend for added omegas. I like to have something special in the salad too, so griddled aubergine, or asparagus, avocado or toasted nuts often feature. I have also added in grains and beans if they're to hand. I'll go to my local greengrocer and have a browse to see what's in season and then chuck it in.

Three of last week's lunches, you can tell I had aubergine in!
And I plan on keeping up the healthy habit all year round. I'm looking forward to some hearty winter salads full of crunch to keep me bright and healthy later in the year.

In case you want to try it here's my tahini and soya sauce dressing recipe.

2 tsp of dark soya sauce
1 tsp of dark tahini
1 tsp of flax and hemp seed blend oil (sesame oil, or even olive oil would work well too)
2 tsp of fresh lemon juice

Put all the ingredients in a jar, put the lid on and shake. Pour over the salad (works well if the salad is nice and crunchy).

If you eat lots of salad, why not tweet it with the hashtag #saladaday and share the veggie love!

Sunday, 11 May 2014

May's meals

Menu this week (sorry didn't manage photos)

Saturday (spontaneous) Barbecue

Sunday Spag Bol

Monday Lentil Flan and Salad

Tuesday Shepherd's Pie

Wednesday Sausage casserole and mash

Thursday Baked potatoes, beans and sausages

Friday Bean casserole.

Err recipes another time I'm afraid, got to catch the wind in the washing!

Organic or cheap?

I've been having an internal tussle recently. Do I buy as much organic produce as I can for my family, at a greater financial cost, or do I try and save the pennies and buy the cheaper stuff? I spent a full five minutes on Friday picking up the normal brocolli and then putting it back and choosing organic and vice versa. In the end I chose the organic brocolli, it was 76p more than the normal stuff, but as I looked at E smiling at me in the trolley I knew what choice I wanted to make.

E suffers from ezcema and I've just made the decision to upgrade his vests and sleep suits to organic cotton for the next size. This is a pricey decision, but if it helps his skin then it's a no brained. And if I want what he wears to be organic then of course what he eats should be too. The question is will it make a difference?

I used to think organic was a waste of money - pesticides are still used, so it's not really any better. However, far fewer pesticides are used and crucially organic farming practices are different. Organic matter (poo) is an important part of the cycle, soil quality is important as is rotation. Many people have attributed modern industrial farming practices as one of the reasons Somerset flooded so badly in the winter.

Where does this leave my budget? Well, it means food is costing me a bit more. Me and E don't drink milk, eat cheese or eggs, but N and S do and I don't want them to have the hormone filled, super dairy, GMO stuff, both for health, social and political reasons. So I buy organic, but expect them to eat a but less of it.

Eating less veg is not an option though. In fact, I've been eating a large and varied salad everyday for lunch for the last six weeks and upping our veggie in take all round, so our veg spending is significant.

There is a budget busting light on the horizon though, summer is coming and seeds are a sprouting. We are very lucky to have an allotment. We've neglected a bit over the last few years, but this year it's looking good. We've got carrots, radishes, parsnips, leeks, broad beans and beetroot in now. There are redcurrants, blackcurrants, and gooseberries ripening on the bushes. In the garden we've got more radishes, rocket, mixed leaves and strawberries appearing. There are peppers, chillis, beans and courgettes germinating in pots on the window sills. Through all this we've greatly reduced our food miles, given the bees something to pollinate (we've got companion flowers too), and supplemented our organic vegan in take.

In addition I've been making no knead bread and started a sour dough starter. Organic flour is pricey, but cheap compared to organic bread.

Having said all this though I did buy the cheapest pasta and tinned tomatoes in the shop this week. It's all about compromise I guess!

Friday, 7 March 2014


I've sort lost track where I am. I've been away quite alot in the last fortnight, so haven't had two full weeks to report on our meals. However, the big news is that we've started weaning E. He's over 24 weeks old now, can sit up and was showing lots of interest in food. Well I say he was showing interest in food, he certainly seemed transfixed when we ate, but as he puts everything in his mouth I'm not entirely sure this counts!

We're going with baby led weaning - we did this with N too. It's messy, but fun and easy peasy and cheap. There's no need to buy specialist baby food and no need to prepare any purees. E just eats what we eat. We started Tuesday lunch time and this is what he's had so far.

Tuesday - Homemade houmous on rice cakes for lunch. A few pieces of mozarella pasta and some undressed tomato and cucumber from the salad for dinner.

Wednesday - banana mashed on a piece of rice cake for breakfast, avocado and a cherry tomato for lunch (I just cut a wedge of avocado off to suck straight from the skin). Some shepherd's pie (filling and mash) squidged on a rice cake, steamed carrots and a piece of frozen banana for tea

Thursday - peanut butter and banana mashed on a rice cake for breakfast. Avocado and vegan mayonaise mini sandwiches and plain home popped popcorn for lunch. Pasta in nut bolognaise sauce for dinner.

Friday - vegetarian pate on toast fingers for breakfast. Plain tofu and houmous on rice cakes followed by a piece of satsuma for lunch. Tarka dhal and rice on rice cakes and a small piece of home made onion bhaji for dinner.

E chasing satsuma and carrot
Most of the food ends up smeared on the table, E's bib or on the floor, but that's ok. Milk remains the most important food a baby eats for the first year - food for fun until they're one, the saying goes. This weaning malarky is about learning about taste, texture and importantly how to chew. I read recently that when you spoon feed a baby they learn to swallow first then chew, but with baby led weaning it's the other way round and that means the baby is in control. Our daughter was a brilliant eater (well until she found sweets sometime around the age of two) and I think that's because she was allowed to control the food herself - we certainly never had any fights over food with her as a baby or refusals to eat.

Check out the baby led weaning website for more info or Jill Rapsley's book on the subject.

My top tip would be don't worry about the mess and think of rice cakes, toast and celery as edible cutlery and plates. I will move on to splodges of mashed potato by themselves, but at this stage, when E is just learning and experimenting with getting the food to his mouth it helps if he has something edible to convey the food (I've already dispensed with plates as he tried to eat them too). 

I never cook vegetables, potatoes or pasta in salted water, I don't add salt to mash potato either and will from now on leave it out of stews etc (I had just started adding a bit back in now N's a bit older). Salt can be added at the table for people like me who have no taste buds left. This means the whole family can eat the same foods together. 

I did steam extra carrots on Wednesday for dinner and saved them for a quick snack later on - this means I have cooled food handy at a moment's notice too. That's the trickiest thing really, making sure the food for E is cool enough, but as long as I serve his food first it's normally not an issue. 

As I made my own houmous (so I know what's in it) and E loves it, I thought I'd include the recipe.

Half a can of chick peas
3 tablespoons of tahini
2 cloves of garlic
Juice of half a lemon
Glug of olive oil

Put the first five ingredients in a blender or food processor and whizz. 

Add enough water to reach a consistency you like.

Store in a pot

This makes about the same as a regular supermarket tub.


n.b. sorry about the orientation of the photo - I can't seem to rotate it and make it stick and haven't got time to sort it out now. Will try and amend later.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Not Quite Mozarella Pasta, Pizza and Shepherd's Pie

So this is my first retrospective week. We went to Aldi for our weekly food shop and spent just over £32, which is a cheap week. Although the other day I was looking back at some old posts and finding this would have been an expensive week, which just shows you how much food costs have risen in the last few years, oh well!

Anyway, what did we eat:

Saturday - Chiara's Mozarella Pasta

Sunday - Vegan Roast Beef and Yorkshire Puddings.

Monday - Chilli (from the freezer)

Tuesday - Our version of Stroganoff

Wednesday - Homemade Pizza

Thursday - N and S had cheesy pasta (real cheese) and I went out for a curry with friends.

Friday - Shepherd's Pie

I have a confession though. Although I officially spent £32 on the food, I made a sneaky purchase from my weekly allowance on some vegan melting cheese called Vegusto.  I bought a melting version (anyone who's tried knows that meltingness is not a strong point of vegan cheese) and it was expensive - a whopping £7.49. I had wanted to try a different brand I had already tried, but they didn't have that at my local health food shop. Anyway, I've worked out that I have had 11 meals (and extra snacks)  from this purchase, so at just over 70p per portion that's more acceptable. 

It actually tastes quite nice (also not guaranteed with vegan cheese) and melts in things reasonably well. I used it in the mozarella pasta to good effect. It didn't melt quite so well on my pizza, but it was acceptable. I would buy it again, but I still prefer Mozarisella so I'll be picking some of that up next time I see it.

We also had vegan roast beef for a second Sunday running. That's because my brother works in an independent health food shop and had two free packets to give me, which he sent via my parents who came for a visit. Thanks little brother. It also gave me the chance to perfect my yorkshire puddings. I used to make lovely light yorkshire puddings, but I don't know what recipe I used, and in this case the internet isn't much help (until now where I step in). I have tweaked a traditional yorkshires recipe, which I will share with you now.

4 oz of self raising flour
1 tablespoon of gram flour
1 tablespoon of soya flour
pinch of salt
4 tablespoons of water
half a pint of soya milk
Oil for the tin

1. Put a little oil in each of he holes of a patty tin and swirl.
2. Turn the oven up high (I go for gas mark 8) and preheat the oil in the tin for at least 20 minutes)
3. Mix the dry ingredients together.
3. Pour on the wet ingredients and give a good whisk to make sure all the flour is incorporated (I do this in a tall measuring jug).
4. Pour the mix in the patty tins and put the tin in the oven for about 20 minutes. DON'T open the oven door before this time.

This I am happy to say makes pretty good vegan yorkshires puddings. I will try and add a photo some time.