Monday, 15 December 2014

Pink Porridge, Green Soup, Lentil Bake and Roses

This is my pink-ish porridge that I had for breakfast. 

A sachet of golden syrup porridge bought ages ago from Approved Foods, a few yellow-stickered blueberries from Morrisons (100g packs for 19p, I bought 6, gave 3 to DD2 and froze the other 3), and half a tub of Shape blackberry yogurt (2 x 4 pack for £2 in Morrisons). No milk because I added the yogurt once the oats were cooked.

This is my very green soup. 

Yellow-stickered courgettes (25p for 3 large ones in Morrisons), a small onion from a 49p bag from Aldi, 50g frozen peas, a clove of garlic, dried chives and tarragon, salt and black pepper, and 2 potatoes sitting at the bottom of my veg basket. Boiled up in my soupmaker with a veg stock cube and some water and then blitzed until smooth. I'll stir in a couple of tablespoons of fat free fromage frais before reheating for my lunch.

This is the lentil bake made in my halogen oven. I made 2 so that I could freeze one.

I now have 2 of these ovens, the one from Aldi and one I bought on an excellent offer from Ideal World after watching their demontsrations. I loved my first one so much but wanted the rotiserrie function on this one. I haven't used my stove top or gas oven for weeks now, using a combination of the halogens, microwave, slow cooker and soup maker. I find the halogens are excellent for most things that need grilling or baking (although DH's birthday cake took a bit of juggling until it was cooked right through). My Aldi halogen makes excellent chips because it has a stirring paddle, but the Ideal World one seems to cook things like sausages and other meats better and it gets to a higher temperature.

I am a little disappointed that the coating in the Aldi one is already showing a few scratches. The Ideal World one seems to have a tougher coating. I have even made macaroni cheese from scratch in the halogen, putting the pasta in boiling water and cooking it uncovered for about 10 minutes and then stirring in half fat creme fraiche and the cheese and chopped chorizo, and topping it off with more cheese. The halogen does grill cheese amazingly well and so quickly compared to my regular grill. I quite often do cheese on toast in it.

Lastly, these are the roses I rescued from Morrisons. 

Not having a garden I often look at the flowers in the supermarkets and fancy treating myself to a bunch, but even £2 seems an unnecessary extravagance. These lovely roses were yellow-stickered at 29p yesterday, just stuck in a bin with very little water and looking extremely wilted and bedraggled. I took pity on them, brought them home, clipped the ends off and split the stalks, put the plant food that came with them in the water and voila, they soon started to perk up and look lovely this morning. I'm really pleased with my inexpensive treat.

Okay, now I'm off. It's only 10.30, I've been up since 7.30, done all that cooking and a load of laundry and now I'm about to hang a second load of laundry and then nip to Aldi for a few bits. This afternoon I'm out with DS2 for a couple of hours...and I still have my Xmas cards to write and post the few that can't be given by hand.

At least the weather's cleared up; it's cold but sunny here at the moment. Hope you all have a good day. Love, Helen xx

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Still here

Hi all, just popping in to say I'm still around, and thank you to essexgran for asking about me. 

MIL's funeral was really beautiful and all our kids made it down to Bridgend, but it's taken a while for us to get our brains back into normal life mode...and now it's nearly Christmas so I have to get my holiday-time head on.

Since the funeral stuff was over I've been trying to catch up on all the Christmas preparations I'd put on hold. Up until last weekend I hadn't bought a single pressie, but thanks to the internet and a couple of trips into town I've now got everything sorted. There are a couple of things that might not be delivered in time, but everybody has more than one pressie to come so at least each person will have something to unwrap on the day. I've even managed to wrap about half of them this afternoon using paper I bought cheaply in the sales after last Xmas. I do need a few more gift tags but I have a card making cd rom with tags to print out so I'll do that tomorrow and get a few more pressies out of the way.

As we're going to DD3's for our main Christmas meal I haven't had so much food to buy this year so my £50 in Morrisons' savings stamps has more or less covered that side of things. But,yes, with all this internet buying, my credit card statement is horrendous at the moment (I've been tracking all my purchases online) but my sealed savings tins contained £338 in various denominations of coins and I will make up the remaining couple of hundred £s from other savings so I will pay it off in full and I won't start the new year in debt. January 1st will herald a new start to my budgeting as I try to replace some of the savings that got spent on funeral costs and other expenses whilst we were in Wales.

I would have had enough saved specifically for Xmas but I have spent more than intended buying flowers to be delivered for all of DH's relatives who helped so much when MIL was in hospital and while DH couldn't get there to be with her, and also for the wonderful staff in the care home where she spent the last few years of her life. I bought them through Flying Flowers who I've used for years and have found to be reliable, but I did use a voucher code to get a 20% discount and also purchased via Quidco so I will also get cashback at some future date.

I've had a busy day today. Apart from the pressie wrapping and cooking dinner etc. we had a visit to Deal, a walk along the seafront there and a coffee and mince pie in St. George's church in the High Street where they were holding their annual Christmas open house. Boy did we need that hot drink; it was freezing along the prom. We didn't stay to watch the kids sing carols as we only had 2 hours free parking, but it was lovely to see the children all excited and the church all decorated up. We put a £5 donation in their collection box for good causes...well, it would have cost us at least that for a coffee and cake in one of the cafes.

Well, it's 11pm and I need my beauty sleep. How are your preparations going? Nearly finished...or starting to panic? I'm already making a new year's resolution to start crafting things for Xmas 2015 in January. I wonder how long that resolve will last! 

Good night everybody. Sleep tight!

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Loving my Multi-Fryer

I cooked sausages and bacon in my multi-fryer last night and they came out great. I had a whole 600g pack of bacon (about 16 rashers) and 8 pork sausages. They took longer than expected but then I realised I should have had the heat a bit higher, plus I opened it every few minutes to turn the bacon, or to take out the cooked rashers and replace with raw ones. I did also try cooking fried onions in the base under the racks containing the meat, but with all the fat dripping down on them they only softened and didn't brown so I drained all the fat off them and finished them off in a frying pan. Because they were almost cooked already, they only took a couple of minutes extra on the hob to brown nicely.

Tonight I'm making macaroni cheese that will mostly be done by my usual method, but I'm going to try and brown the top of it in the fryer.

I have to say I'm pretty impressed with this machine and can see me using it for all sorts of things that I would normally do on my cooker top or in the oven. Of course, it won't cook everything and you can't cook things that require a lot of liquid, so I will still be making good use of my slow cooker and soup maker for soups and stews, and using the microwave for really fast cooking. I can see me using the multi-fryer in conjunction with these other methods, such as cooking baked potatoes in the microwave and then crisping them in the fryer and, like the macaroni cheese, finishing things off in the fryer instead of heating up the whole oven just to brown the top. It will be a bit of a learning curve getting used to timings and heat settings etc (especially as my main oven is gas, not electric) but so far I'm enjoying playing with my new toy.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

I have fallen

Confession time. I have blown that tight budget I was talking about a few days ago.  

With everything being so strange and out of sync with my normal routine with my MIL passing and all the funeral arrangements and trying to coordinate accomodation and travel arrangements etc. for my 5 grown kids and their partners from Dover and Basingstoke to Bridgend for the funeral next Wednesday, I've been rather out of sorts for the past couple of days and fell into the trap of feeling I needed a treat to perk me I succumbed and bought one of these.

It cost £69.99 from Aldi, half the usual price of similar ones by Tefal or Phillips (although Argos have a Tefal one for around £94 at the moment) and a more versatile machine, I think.  With only 4 of us to cook for now it's 1kg capacity is just the right size, although it can cook larger quantities using the wire racks and extension ring.

I have wanted something similar for a while so I can cook things like real chips and fried chicken but with virtually no fat. Usually we have oven chips but they really are not the same as fried ones, and with this machine I won't need to heat the whole oven just to cook a few chips and some chicken grills. In theory I can cook a whole roast chicken in it with the roast veggies underneath and I will be testing that at some later date. 

Last night I just tried chips. I made proper ones with real potatoes, soaked them and rinsed and dried them a few times, and added just 1 tablespoon of oil to the fryer. They took 10 minutes longer than the suggested time but then I had made them quite thick. They didn't go as golden as I expected but they were paler, more like chip shop chips and very tasty. They were certainly more like real chips than oven chips are, and only took about the same length of time to cook. I think I might buy frozen 'fry' chips next time and try those. With the high price of potatoes, buying frozen chips, already peeled and prepared for me, is possibly even more economical than using fresh spuds and certainly more time-saving.

Today I'm going to be trying bacon, sausages and fried onions in the machine. I'm hoping to put the bacon on the top wire rack, the sausages on the lower rack and the onions in the base with the stirring paddle to keep them moving. We'll see how that goes and I'll report back. If this is a success then I'll be able to make a whole host of meals using just this machine, my slowcooker, microwave and soup maker, without ever having to turn on my main oven. There are even recipes in the book to make cakes in this machine, and I might give it a try.

We'll be away most of next week, back down in Wales. The funeral is on Wednesday afternoon, but DH and I will travel down on Tuesday and will probably stay until the end of the week. He's been marvellous sorting everything out, feeling it was his responsibility as an only child to deal with all the arrangements, but I want to try and get him to relax over this weekend as he's been running around all over the place since Monday. He says everyone he's had to deal with has been amazingly helpful and understanding but its obviously been a stressful time and he needs a rest. He's taking all next week off work but might have to take it as unpaid leave...thank goodness for those rainy day savings so we can ride out a reduction in next month's salary.

I think that's all I have for now. I'll report back on the successes (and failures) with my new toy.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Quick Update

Just to let you good people know that my mother-in-law passed away peacefully in her sleep this morning. 

DH had driven down there yesterday so was able to be there with her at the end. I did feel a bit guilty for not being with him but said he was glad to have those last few hours alone with his mum even though she probably didn't know he was there. 

And today I was glad I stayed behind as, although my children are all adults, some were very upset to lose their nan and needed their mum. Apart from DD1 who is in Basingstoke, and who I've spoken to several times on the phone today,  they all came home early from work and we got together for a drink and lunch in Weatherspoons in Dover. It was a lovely family time despite the sad occasion. We exchanged reminiscences of their nanny and I am so proud of my lovely kids that they are all there to support each other when necessary. DH is getting the same support from his cousins in Wales who have taken him out for a meal, and because they have also known his mum since they were children he could share memories with them from a time before I came into his life. 

I'm not sure when the funeral will be but DH is hoping to get everything arranged over the next few days and then come home at the weekend and we will all go down again for the actual service. 

So, tonight I'm remembering a stubborn old lady who, despite suffering for years with angina, chest infections, uterine cancer in her seventies and various other health issues, refused to give in until this, her 94th year. If I drank gin (her favourite tipple) I'd raise a glass and say Cheers Vie, wherever you may be tonight!

Friday, 7 November 2014

Hi! I'm still here!

Hello, everyone, long time, no see.

Sorry for the prolonged break; I'm not abandoning this blog, there's just been a lot of family stuff going on lately, some good some bad. We've both been pretty stressed out plus DH had another bout of bronchitis and I'm recovering from yet another monster migraine. 

The main bad news is DH's mum is really not well again. She's back in hospital, this time with pneumonia, and it's not looking good. He spent nearly a whole week in Wales over half term spending the majority of his time at the care home with her, but had to come home eventually for work. He feels really guilty at the moment that he can't be down there with her, and that so much emphasis is on his cousin and her husband (who are being absolute angels) to visit her and take in anything she needs...and to keep him updated on her condition as the hospital isn't very forthcoming with information when he phones. 

Of course, if she takes a serious turn for the worse we'll be in the car and off down there in a shot, and he has warned the school where he works that that might be necessary. At nearly 94 she really hasn't had much quality of life the past few months; her mind is now going whereas up to a short while ago she was bright as a button, and she constantly has one infection (either chest or urinary tract) after another, plus she's now had 3 falls, including breaking her wrist. It's very hard on DH as he's an only child so has no one but his cousin to share the burden of worry and care with, and she and her husband are already looking after her mother who has Alzheimers. Given the fact that he's in a stressful job too, and has to travel 2 hours a day to and from his current school, I'm keeping an eye on him and hoping he doesn't have another breakdown like he did 4 years ago.

We've also had car trouble which hasn't helped with the stress. DH's school is difficult to get to on public transport so he relies on our old VW Polo to get him to and from. It did pass the MOT at the beginning of last month, but started playing up after that. We've now forked out for a full service and - touch wood - it seems to be running a lot more smoothly. 

Hopefully the car will play nice this weekend because we're off to Basingstoke to visit DD1. Her wife is with the army band and is currently in Germany so we're going to keep DD1 company for a couple of days, driving down early tomorrow morning and back late on Sunday. It will give us a chance to catch up with DD and to see their new house since they recently moved from army accomdation near Winchester. DH can keep in touch with whatever's happening with his mum and we're taking spare clothes in case we have to dash to Wales and stay for a while, and Basingstoke is closer to Bridgend anyway.

Having had so much to pay out for on the car, plus other unexpected expenses (including going to Basingstoke) this month I'm really belt-tightening. I did have money put by for the car but have had to dip into other savings and I want to replace them, not keep spending, so my budget for the next two weeks until DH gets paid again on the 25th (not including the cost of travelling to Basingstoke and one lunch out with DD1) is £50 a week housekeeping, £60 a week for DH's petrol for work, and £25 for his dental treatment. That's £245 plus I'll allow a £15 float for the 3 extra days over the 2 weeks. £115 housekeeping for 17 days isn't a lot for 4 people (3 of them men) plus 2 greedy cats, when I've already run down my freezer during October, but I've made a menu plan of sorts (which went to pot this week with me in bed for 2 days with a migraine) and it's definitely do-able, as long as we don't get any more nasty surprises! 

Good news on the money front, I've taken out a new deal with Scottish Power online until 2017 which freezes the price of my gas and electric. It means I pay a little more now per KWH or whatever they call it, but with prices continuing to rise I'm hoping to reap the benefits of freezing it later on. Plus, because we had built up a lot of credit by paying by direct debit, my monthly payments have been reduced by about £25. My water charges have also reduced by a few pounds since DD3 and BF moved out.

Sorry is this sounds all doom and gloom, not a lot ot shout about at the moment, but we are really looking forward to our mini break this weekend and hoping we get enough dry weather to take stroll by the Basingstoke canal.

You notice I haven't mentioned the dreaded 'C' word. I haven't even started on my Christmas prepartions beyond saving £50 in Morrisons stamps for food and my sealed savings tins which I'll open on 30th of this month. We're going to DD3 and BF's for Xmas dinner, anyway, and she's so excited to be hosting her first family Christmas. We're hoping everyone will manage to be there and we haven't all been together since June.

After taking time out to write this mammoth post I'd better get on and catch up with all the things I haven't done while I was ill. Sorry again for the doom and gloom and I hope all is more cheerful in your neck of the woods despite the weather.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Repost - Frugal Queen: How much should a family of five spend on food a week?

Please click on the link below for sound advice as always from Frugal Queen. 

I'm sure a lot of people would think some of the suggestions given are too extreme but if you really need to cut back on spending then you have to get organised and make some drastic changes and there's no use moaning about it. 

Let's face it, mostly we're extremely lucky in this country to have enough to eat and a safe place to live without all the extras we feel we deserve. There are millions worldwide who'd love to have the apparent luxury of even our most frugal lifestyles but for them no matter how hard they work they just about survive day to day and that coffee treat at Starbucks is definitely not on their list of things they can't do without. 

Sorry if that comes across as preachy. 

 Frugal Queen: How much should a family of five spend on food a week?