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

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.

Homemade Soya Yoghurt

There's a big brand soya yoghurt available in most supermarkets, but it's sweetened and thickened and isn't that nice. It's also no good for making labneh (a sort of yoghurt cottage cheese).

So instead I make my own, it's easy peasy and very cheap.

I measure out half a litre of soya milk (I usually use organic soya milk, so that's about 50p's worth). I heat this until it boils and use a jam thermometer to measure the temperature. When the temperature reaches 40 degrees it's ready. A friend of mine without a thermometer just waits for it to cool a little and then pours it onto to her hand, when it's cool enough to hold she knows it's ready.

While I am heating the milk I fill a wide necked flask with boiling water. When my milk has reached the right temperature I stir in a couple of teablespoons of live soya yoghur, pour the boiling water out of the flask and replace with the milk mixture. I put the flask in the airing cupboard (not really neccesary, but it feels authentic) and wait overnight. The next morning I have lovely yoghurt.

I can keep a mix going like this for ages, but reknew the process with fresh yoghurt every once in a while. I use a good quality soya yoghurt from the health food shop as my starter and when I buy it, I use a couple of spponfuls, but freeze the rest in an ice cube tray to use later on.

Homemade yoghurt, homemade granola and extra raisins

I would like to make some coconut yoghurt, but I don't think you can use soya yoghurt to start it. I'll give it a go sometime and when I do, I'll let you know. 

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Chemical light toiletries

I've decided to make a bit of a change to how I post. I have been posting my weekly menu on a Sunday. Given that our meal plans run Saturday to Saturday so that means I can only post photos of Saturday's dinner. So I've decided to tweak things so I will post our meal plans retrospectively so I can include photos with recipes.

This means I have a week in hand, so I'm going to fill that gap with a post about chemical light/frugal toiletries. I did post about this some time ago, I having reviewed that post I see that I've gone much further now and I thought I'd share that with you.


I previously mentioned that I use a tooth powder mixture made of crushed myrhh, sage and bicarb. It's fab, cheap and most importantly fluoride free. Hmm, but isn't fluoride important for your teeth I hear you say. Well apparantly the science behind that assumption is highly flawed and in actual fact fluoride is seriously toxic and bad for you. Check out this post by Dr Jay Gordon, a Californian pediatrician for more details.

The powder is definitely an aquired taste and a bit salty for N. Instead she uses a nice fluoride free tooth paste by Green People.


I had my hair cut really short about two years ago and it was the perfect opportunity to give up shampoo. Why give up shampoo? Because it's full of parabens and phthalates, I knew I wanted another baby and I wanted to cut out as many of these nasty chemicals as I could. I wasn't ready to completely give up washing my hair so instead I chose a 'no-poo' method. Basically I wash my hair with about two tablespoons of bicarb mixed with a little water to make a paste. Then I spray a diluted mix of apple cider vinegar on my hair, leave it for a few minutes and then rinse. It doesn't make me smell of vinegar, instead my hair is shny and soft and I only need to wash it once, maybe twice a week. If I blow dry my hair it gets a bit dry, but I just use a bit of coconut oil and then it's smooth and shiny again.

It takes a bit of experimentation to find what works best and I admit I'm not loving my hair at the moment. I have to tell myself though, that's my hormones rebalancing and my hair would probably dissapoint me even if I washed it with pantene at the moment.

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago I use tea tohide my grey hairs. I've done a bit of experimentation with that and have tried coffee too, but the best mix for me is strong tea boiled up with some sage.


My initial push towards moving chemical light was a prograame on Channel 4 a few years ago called How Toxic Are You. I was really stunned by this programme and threw out most of my cosmetics as a result. To be honest I don't wear make up every day, but for days when I do I use Lily Lilo products.

Their mineral foundation is amazing, so light! And the minerals are good for you, so it actually counts as skincare.

I haven't tried their mascara yet, but I'm going to give making my own a go, using cocoa powder. I'll let you know how it goes. Actually, this is an interesting point. At first when I tried to go chemical light I looked for new products, but increasinly I find I have what I need already in  my food cupboards.

I also use food to wash and moisturise my face. I used ground up oats to simultaneously cleanse, exfoliate and moisturise. Amazing! If I need a bit of extra moisture or want to remove eye make-up I use coconut oil.


I use olive oil soap to wash and a crystal stick deoderant. It's the most effective natural deoderant I've used. It costs about £4.50, but literally lasts years. I also use oats in the bath and ground up as a body polish.

Women's stuff

Still being in that 'not quite back to normal' post baby phase I haven't had to think about sanitary wear again yet, but when I do I will go back to using my mooncup. Ok, so a menstrual cup sounds really weird, but probably not as weird as the normalised bleached products that I used to use. It takes a little practise, but then is much better and gives you a much better idea of what's really going on with your body. The initial outlay seems expensive, but given that two of these will probably last a woman's entire menstruating life, then they're really actually a very good deal.


N uses olive soap when she's dirty, but mainly I just use plain water, maybe with a few drops of lavender oil, in the bath for my two children.  N has some shampoo and conditioner from the health food shop, but I just use water on E's hair. I massage E everyday with coconut oil. I use homemade wipes with water to clean his bottom and reusable nappies. The wipes are just squares cut from an old towel double zig zag sewn around the edge. Squares of fleece also work well and I'll use fleece as resuable liners when he starts on solids. The great thing about reusable wipes is that I can just check them in with the nappies when I wash them and never run out.

So that's it basically, oats, vinegar, bicarb and coconut oild are our staples here. I also use a lot of these things for cleaning, but that's another post.

Monday, 10 February 2014

What’s the Point of a Fishless Fish Finger?

This week I bought a box of Quorn fishless fish fingers. I also have a packet of Quorn ham in the fridge, veggie sausage mix in the cupboard and soya mince, veggie bacon and veggie sausages in the freezer. I know what you’re thinking, “just what sort of vegetarian is this woman”. If you are a vegetarian yourself, you might be disgusted that I am eating these processed foods which are designed to resemble meat and if you eat meat you might be wondering why if I am prepared to eat something parading itself as meat why don’t I actually eat meat itself.

So, here’s my answer. I am under no illusion that my veggie sausages are anything like real sausages (having said that a fellow mum didn’t realise the sausage rolls at N’s birthday party were actually vegetarian) and I don’t care. I haven’t eaten ‘real’ meat for 25 years. I know I used to like the taste of meat (I became a vegetarian for ethical and financial reasons not for culinary ones), but I can’t actually remember what meat tastes like. I do know I don’t like the smell of meat now, so I am personally quite glad that ‘fake’ meat isn’t too close to the real thing. Fake meat does however, lend protein and variety to my diet and sometimes a welcome short cut.

I do like lentils, nuts, rice and beans and curiously, if cooking for non-vegetarians these are the sort of ingredients I’ll stick too. I only very rarely and with extreme caution give them ‘fake’ meat because although I do know some meat eaters who eat vegetarian sausages and mince through choice (it tending to be lower in fat than its meat counterparts), why compete in a losing race – I can choose meatless cuisines from all over the world that were designed to be that way rather than dressing soya up in lamb’s clothing.

Plus S really likes fake meat. He was a confirmed vegetarian long before we met, but he came to it at an older age than me and he’s not keen on cooking; he’d happily eat veggie burger and chips every day if I let him. I don’t, but cooking for a family’s is about compromise, so this week fishless fish fingers are on the menu.

Speaking of which here is the menu this week:

Saturday – Chiara’s mozzarella pasta and tomato, red onion and cucumber salad (with enough for the freezer)

Sunday -Steamed suet pudding (or stuffed marrow if there are any when I go to the allotment) with roast veg (parsnips, potatoes, carrots and beetroot)

Monday – Mixed pepper fajitas and guacamole

Tuesday – Fishless fish fingers, chips and peas

Wednesday – Veggie sausages, mash, veg and onion gravy

Thursday – Baked potatoes with cheese and baked beans

Friday – Pasta with (veggie) herb and meatballs

Crikey, there’s a lot of comfort food in there. I suppose that’s a feature of the nights drawing in!

Vegan Donner Kebabs!

Here’s our menu for this week

Saturday – Suet pastry crunchy pasties with boiled potatoes and peas
Sunday – Cheats roast beef with yorkshire puddings, roast potatoes and veg.
Monday – Vegan donner kebabs and chips
Tuesday – Thai Green curry (from a couple of weeks ago in the freezer)
Wednesday – Chick pea curry
Thursday – Stroganoff
Friday – Cashew nut teriyaki

This week’s spend - £38, but I had vouchers for £6, giving a grand total of just over £32.

The pasties were filled with a swede, onion, carrot, celery and red lentil mix. I used half marg and half veggie suet to make the pastry. I made 10 pasties, so that's at least two more meals stashed in the freezer.

Sunday and Monday’s dinners were made possible thanks to a vegan beef roasting joint. The ingredient list for this anomaly is pretty small and is based on wheat gluten. It’s not cheap at nearly £4.50 per joint, but my Mum spotted these in a well known health food shop before Christmas reduced to a £1 each, so I bought a couple and stashed them in the freezer. One joint will do two dinners for us – a roast on Sunday and kebabs on Monday (S says the veggie meat is quite like donner meat, but without the horror of having to eat an unspecified meat that’s been rotating for an unspecified amount of time. We’ll have these in pitta breads with salad and jalapenos.

I haven’t made teriyaki sauce before, but I’ve got some fresh ginger which needs using up and still have garlic from N’s mum and dad’s allotment, so I thought why not give it a whirl.

I’m hoping to supplement our diet with our first foraged food of the year this week, alexanders and hairy bittercress, but more on that another time. . . .

No Egg Cakes

Twice in the last week I have observed Facebook statuses which tell of baking crises during which baking is forestalled by a lack of eggs. No eggs, no problem, I say. On one occasion I recommended a tablespoon of vinegar for each missing egg (reacts with the bicarb in self raising flour to produce bubbles and hence a rise – you may need to add extra bicarb if using plain flour) and on another I promised to pass on recipes. So since the weather outside is stormy, I’ve decided to bake a cake with N and this is a perfect excuse to blog two of my favourite cake recipes for my eggless friend.

Both these recipes use citrus instead of vinegar, which gives a nice flavour, but I promise you, if you use vinegar instead (as many vegan chocolate cakes call for) you won’t taste it in the finished product.

Mum’s Lemon Cake

This is my mum’s invention and doesn’t call for any weird ingredients like soya flour (soya milk is readily available, but you could substitute for normal milk if you’re not concerned about being dairy free).

8 oz of SR flour

2 tsp of baking powder

3 oz of cornflour

Pinch of salt

4 fl oz of oil (I use sunflower)

2 fl oz of soya milk

Rind and juice of 2 medium lemons*

9 fl oz of water (including the juice of the above)*

6 oz of caster sugar*

*I couldn’t get unwaxed lemons so I used all lemon juice instead and in my efforts to reduce my sugar intake I cut the sugar down to 4 oz (futile really as I’m going to smear the cake with butter cream).

This is the easiest method ever!

1.                   Grease and line the cake tins.

2.                   Preheat the oven to c. 180 degrees or gas mark 5.

3.                   Weigh out the dry ingredients and mix.

4.                   Measure out the wet ingredients and pour into the dry ingredients.

5.                   Mix and pour into the cake tins.

6.                   Bake for c. 30 minutes.

7.                   Cool and sandwich with lemon buttercream (I use vegan marg) or lemon curd.

On reflection having made this cake, the cornflour makes the cake slightly chewy. Next time, as I have it in the cupboard, I'll use soya flour instead.

N did the piping on this. Not bad for a 3 year old.

Coffee Cake

This is one of my best cakes. Every time I make I get lots of requests for the recipe and I have been told by more than one person that it’s the best coffee cake they’ve ever tasted!

10 oz of SR flour

2 oz of soya flour (many big supermarkets sell this, or you can get it cheaply from your local health food shop – I’ve known people to just substitute flour or cornflour, I haven’t tried this myself)

1 tsp of bicarbonate of soda

8 oz of sugar

8 fl oz of oil

5 fl oz of orange juice

5 fl oz of boiling water mixed with a heaped teaspoon of instant coffee, then cooled.

1.5 tsp of vanilla essence.

1.                   Grease and line the cake tins.

2.                   Preheat the oven to c. 160 degrees or gas mark 4.

3.                   Sift the dry ingredients together.

4.                   Measure out the liquids and whisk.

5.                   Mix wet and dry ingredients together.

6.                   Bake for 30 minutes.

7.                   Cool and sandwich together with coffee butter cream and decorate with walnuts.

The consistency of the batters for these cakes will probably be looser then you are used to. Don’t worry, it’s completely normal and will bake fine.

Give them a try and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Sugar is the new tobacco!

So last week Horizon was about the ills of sugar, which is something I have considered before on this blog. In truth I have a love hate relationship with sugar: I have a very sweet tooth, but I am fully aware of how bad sugar is. When I was a kid and I used to ask for sweets my Dad told me how the people who make sweets didn't like me very much and he was right. Now he commonly refers to sugar as the 'Devil's Grains'. Anyway, despite knowing all this I still struggle with suagr addiction and so does N, despite my best efforts early on.

The chief offender is my well meaning Grandad. He's just so lovely, but comes from a time when you showed children love by giving them sweets. Since my maternity leave started he has literally showered us with sweets and chocolate. I've had to throw it away (although the idea of throwing food away goes against the grain we were inundated) more than once. Fortunately, I was somewhat protected by reverting to veganism, but poor N was constantly taunted by the sweets in the tin and the chocolate in the cupboard.

So after the latest clear out I decided to take action and restock with healthy snacks. My (re)discovery was toddler snacks in the pharmacy aisle at the supermarket - organic sugarless snacks - brilliant, but why do food producers think that wanting to be healthy stops after 2! Not for us at least, dehydrated banana chips (as opposed to driedf and sweetened), organic maize tomato snacks and fruit juice ginger bread went into the trolley. I also saw they had oat bars, but thought I could make my own.

My first attempt was recipe free and turned into extra granola ;-) So I decided to find a recipe. I'm sorry to say I can't remember where I found the recipe (so if anyone can rectify my plagiarism then please do), but this is roughly the recipe (as I can remember):

3 apples grated (skin, seeds and all)
300 ml of apple juice
160 g of raisins (I think)
30 g of seeds (I used a misture of pumpkin and sunflower)
200 g (I think of oats).
couple of teaspoons of cinnamon

Cook the apple in the apple juice until it's cooked to a mush.
Add all the other ingredients.
Press into a greased 22cm dish and bake at c. gas mark 4 for about 25 minutes (keep an eye on them as I can't quite remember the timings).
Leave to cool for 10 minutes then score in the tin and leave to cool.
Turn out and eat!

Brilliant, sugar free oaty snacks, yum.

Urgh, the weather is horrible. Comfort food is called for. Plus I am still nursing a cold which followed a really horrible virus (hence no post last week).

So the menu this week is as follows:

Saturday - S and N had pizza and I had, erm, can't remember, but something easy, some pasta I think!
Sunday - Homemade pie, mashed potato and assorted veg
Monday - Tofu hash
Tuesday - Tacos
Wednesday - Stew and dumplings (from the freezer)
Thursday - Fish fingers and chips (yes, vegan fish fingers really)
Friday - Kidney bean pasta

So there's a lot of soya and processed food this week, but as I said I am still nursing a cold and needing easy meals.

This week I went over budget - £46 but that followed a bargain shop of £32 the week before, so it's swings and roundabouts I guess.

Here's my recipe for tofu hash (I'll try and upload a pic too)

1 block of tofu,
3 medium potatoes
2 tomatoes
half a can of sweetcorn
half a packet of green beans
2 small onions

Drain the tofu, wrap in kitchen paper and press witha heavy book on a plate.
Cut the tofu into cubes and fry, drain on kitchen paper.
Peel the potatoes and cut into cubes, parboil.
Saute the onion and tomatoes.
Add the cooked potato, it will mush up a bit.
Lightly blanch the beans.
Add the sweetcorn and beans.


I also deglazed the pan with a bit of balsamic vinegar and put that on the side.

Hmm, I promise it was nicer than this looks. Must learn to take better food photos!