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

Sunday, 19 January 2014

What's in the cupboard

I want to talk about store cupboard staples this week, but first I'll start with this week's menu:

Saturday - Shepherd's pie (freezer) and sweetcorn

Sunday  - Crunchy pie (freezer), brussel sprouts, mange tout, roast potatoes and carrots

Monday - Butternut squash Thai Green Curry

Tuesday - Sausage, mash, peas and onion gravy (this is one of my favourite meals ever)

Wednesday - Nut spaghetti bolognaise

Thurdsay - Chips etc

Friday - Pasta bake

This week's shopping was a wee bit over at £46.

I would also like to add my onion bhajis last Friday were a triumph. Here's the recipe I used.

Ingredients (these are approximate)
About a cup full of gram flour

About 3/4 cup of SR flour

Bit of salt

2 tsps of cumin (I didn't have any ground, so I toasted some and ground it in a pestle and mortar)

2 tsps of tumeric

1 tsp of cayenne pepper

1 tsp of garum masala

Lots of sliced onion (I used 4 small onions)

Enough water to make a gloopy batter

Oil for frying

I heated about 1 cm of oil (I used sumflower) in a frying pan until it was really hot.
Meanwhile I mixed the dry ingredients together and then added the onions, mixing them about so they were coverd. I then added the water until it was a thick batter.

I added desert spoon sized dollops to the pan, let them set on one side and then turned them, once or twice until browned. I then drained them on kitchen paper.

These quantities of ingredients made about 15 onion bhajis. Yum!

But the store cupboard, yes, that's the point of this post. . .

I think having a well stocked cupboard is essential to making cheap meals. Sometimes I only need a bit of flour, or a spoonful of raisins, to make something, but if  I had to buy everything I needed for every recipe it would be an onerous task shopping for all this cooking. It does make it hard for me to cost things out though. I forget what a packet of rice costs, let along diving that cost by the small amount I've used. What I do though is try and balance things out so the cupboard is always stocked with essentials and these are bought within the weekly budget.

So what are the essentials? They are (in my humble opinion) as follows:

Plain flour, self raising flour, gram flour and soya flour
Long grain rice
Sugar (icing sugar and golden granulated as standard - I know you're meant to use caster for cakes, but I'm not a stickler for this)
Vanilla essence (although I've run out of this at the moment, but I do have vanilla pods)
Raisins or sultanas
Cocoa powder
Seeds (usually pumpkin and sunflower)
Red lentils
Pearl barley
Dried beans and/or chick peas
Other grains such as millet, quinoa, cous cous and/or bulgar wheat
Sunflower oil
Olive oil
White wine vinegar
Malt vinegar
Chopped tomatoes
Tomato puree
Baked beans
Soya sauce
Yeast extract
Course sea salt
Pepper corns
Cayenne pepper
Peanut butter
Vegetarian gravy granules

I also have peas in the freezer, onions and potatoes and oats in the pantry.

Various other bits come and go in the cupboards, other herbs and spices, stock powders, oils, vinegars and nuts, but what I have described above is my starting point. With these ingredients I can add a few other fresh things and make a meal (or even resort to what's here if needs be). So I make sure I don't run out of these things. I wonder what your staples are?

Monday, 13 January 2014

Why Do I Write This Blog

As I made my random granola I started to wonder why I write this blog. My granola was inspired by Jack Monroe's recipe. Jack writes a very succesful blog which documents her frugal food journey - much more frugal than mine and more accesible (a lot of her recipes are vegetarian, but she does include meat and fish) - who really wants to hear about my weird vegan food? Jack also calls herself a writer and justifably so with a column in the Guardian and a book deal. Do I want to be a writer? Yes, of course, a little bit. It was a childhood dream and I'm sure I've got a book in me, but I know I'm not really a writer. I haven't got the skill or the patience - this blog isn't an exercise in getting noticed by publishers or honing my craft.

So what's it all about then?

Well, I guess a little bit of me hopes that people I don't know might stumble upon this and find out something they wanted to know. Many of my ideas for my weird vegan diet and experiments to find natural cleaning and body products come from people's blogs I found through Google searches.

And it's a little bit about showing how you can eat cheaply (my food isn't the cheapest around, but less than £40 a week for 63 meals isn't bad). I know many people won't want to eat lentils, nuts and beans as often as I do, but as many of my meals substitute these things for meat, they could be reversed again.

It's also about writing stuff in general for other people to read, not as a career move. I'm lucky enough that I already have a career I quite like and don't have the pressure of needing to be good at this.

But most of all it's a project for me and I love project's (especially the ones that are a bit like school homework - what a geek). I can ramble on about food and turn it into a project - it doesn't hurt anyone or cost me anything. I get to have a go at blogging and when I've got some more time I look forward to looking properly at the design and maybe even do a bit of coding (I can be a super geek sometimes). So yes, it's pretty self-indulgent and I thank anyone who's reading this for indulging me, and cyber space for giving me the opportunity.

So if you find this blog and find something useful on it, then I am very pleased, but if you don't, then I don't mind either, I'm still having fun writing it and thinking about it.

Homemade Granola

I was inspired yesterday by A Girl Called Jack's peanut butter granola. Brilliant. I love peanut butter too and I really like granola, but find it hard to justify eating something so sugary in the morning, so this was a great solution.

Anyway, I thought I'd adapt it to suit my own needs, tastes and store cupboard. As a vegan I don't eat honey, but a mix of agave syrup and maple syrup (which I have in the cupboard) would work.

So here's my recipe:

agave syrup
maple syrup
coconut oil
pecan nuts
dessicated coconut
sunflower seeds
dried cherries
peanut butter

I'm afraid I haven't got any measues for this, and to be honest the ingredient list just comprises what I had. You could pretty much substitute anything (except the oats, it wouldn't be granola without the oats) for what you've got. Here's how I made it.

Chuck a big spoonful of peanut butter, a spoonful of coconut oil, a squeeze of agave syrup and a drizzle of maple syrup into a pan and melt together.

Add in any other stuff you want (nuts, seeds, dried fruit).

Add a good shaking of oats and mix.

At this stage I didn't think it looked like I had enough oats, so I threw in some more. Then it looked a bit dry so I added some more peanut butter and coconut oil.

Spread on a baking tray and bake in a medium oven (gas mark 6 here) until it smells cooked and looks slightly toasted.

Give it a stir and put back in the oven (turn it off if you're a scatter brain like me and have other things to flit to) to dry out.

Store in  an air tight container.

I'm guessing mine costs more than Jack's 10p a portion, due to the inclusion of stuff like coconut oil and maple syrup. To be honest though, I haven't got a clue, these were all things I already had and I only used a wee bit of each (I'm really good at eeking). I don't spend alot on food, but I do keep a stock of stuff like this.

What this made me wonder is why I write this blog, so perhaps I should explain. Got to dash to do a puzzle with N, but I will explain in my next post and I'll put up a pic of the granola.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

The Wonderous Properties of Tea

Our menu this week started with sausage kebabs. N requested kebabs after watching ‘I Can Cook’, so how could I refuse. I cut up the veg and N and I threaded the kebabs together. I made my own version of a barbecue glaze and we had a very nice dinner thank you.

I also experimented with store cupboard stables as beauty products again. Currently, bicarb, vinegar and oats are all featured in my toilet bag, but now I’ve also added tea – to dye my hair! I use the no-poo method of washing my hair and so I didn’t want to ruin that regime with chemical hair dye, but I’ve just had a fringe cut in and now a few straggly grey hairs loom on my forehead. So after a quick google around I decided tea would be just the thing. And it worked. OK, so I know there are still grey hairs there, but they are far less visible and from what I can gather, regular use of tea as a treatment works best. In fact, mix in a bit of sage and it works even better. All I did was brew up some really strong tea and rinse my hair in it after I washed it. I left this rinse in and let me hair dry. Brilliant.

Anyway, here’s this week’s menu.

Saturday – Veggie Sausage kebabs with rice and salad
Sunday – Nut roast (freezer) with roast parsnips, carrots, sprouts and green beans
Monday – Vegetable and bean stew and dumplings
Tuesday – Vegetable chilli and rice
Wednesday – Cauliflower cheese grills (S)/Bean burger (me and N) and chips
Thursday – Stroganoff
 Friday – Tarka Dhal and homemade onion bhajis.

Shopping bill - £37.55

Sunday, 5 January 2014

I'm back!

OK, I’m back. I’ve been away for a year and a half (busy finishing my thesis and having babies, well, a baby), but I’m ready to start blogging again.

So, lots of changes here. I got pregnant, lapsed into eating dairy again. My son was born, I returned to the fold of veganism, finally had my thesis approved (and so got the green light to restart my life) and most importantly for this blog, upped my food budget from £30 to £35 then £40 (prices have gone up and I’m trying to eat more organic food).

So there it is. My new purpose is to feed my family of four on £40 a week or less eating mainly vegan food (completely vegan for me, vegetarian for N and S and eventually E when he starts eating). I would like to add to that an aim to eat more foraged food. I had this as a New Year’s resolution, but pregnancy and aversion to eating vegetables (weird, I know) meant I had to delay my resolve. However, I plan to give foraging a go again this year. I also hope to grow a bit more at the allotment too. It was brilliant summer last year, but being hugely pregnant and extremely tired impeded my efforts, Hmm, we’ll see how practical this is with two small kiddiwinks!

So this week I spent £32.94 on food (but I’ll need to spend a little more when I top up with bread and fruit). I even managed to replenish my dried beans and seed stores. Fortunately, I didn’t have a big things to buy (like washing powder). I bought value range chopped tomatoes and soya milk instead of organic this week (in an effort to spend less following the excesses of Christmas), I’ve still got lots left from Christmas ( e.g. brussels on the brussel tree and cheese), stored apples and leeks in the garden.

This is our menu for this week:


Saturday – Cashew nut stir fry
Sunday – Vegetable cobbler (from the freezer)
Monday – Red lentil flan
Tuesday – Veggie burger and chips
Wednesday – Nut spag bol
Thurdsay – Shepherd’s pie (freezer)
Friday- - Bean and tomato casserole

Here’s the recipes for my stir fry and nut spag bol

Cashew nut stir fry
c. 125g of cashew nuts
Half a red pepper
Half a green pepper
2 sticks of celery
1 onion (sliced)
2 carrots (cut in battons)
6 brussel sprouts (sliced)
Rice or noodles
Tbsp of tomato puree
2 tbsp of vinegar
I cup of pineapple juice
3 tbsp of soya sauce
2 tbsp of cornflour

1.      Mix the vinegar, soya sauce, tomato puree and pineapple juice in a small saucepan.
2.      Use a little of the liquid to slacken the cornflour in a bowl.
3.      Add the cornflour to the saucepan, mix thoroughly and heat until thickened
4.      Toast the cashew nuts in a dry pan and set aside.
5.      Heat a little oil and stir fry the veggies (I’ve used the combination above, because that’s what I had but you could vary them).
6.      Boil the kettle and cook the noodles or rice.
7.      Add the sauce to the veggies when the rice or noodles are cooked. Serve the veggies over the rice or noodles.

Nut Spag Bol (thanks Mum, this is her recipe)
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 onion, chopped
Half a pepper
1 stick of celery
1 carrot, grated
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tbsp of tomato puree
Herbs (I used dried basic and oregano)
Half a packet of chopped nuts

1.      Boil the kettle and cook the spaghetti.
2.      Sauté the onions, garlic, celery, pepper and grated carrot.
3.      Add the chopped tomatoes, tomato puree and herbs.
4.      Season with salt and pepper, reduce a little
5.      Drain the pasta
6.      Add the chopped nuts to the sauce and serve.

N and S have their with a sprinkle of cheese. I have a sprinkle of nutritional yeast flakes and fresh parsley.