Monthly Archives: August 2013

Making It Yourself – Sweet & Sour Sauce

This is part of a semi-regular series of posts tackling how to make some of the things that we often end up buying pre-made.  Things that we think of as basic ingredients, that aren’t ‘ingredients’ at all but are actually processed in some way for us.  Things like bread, jam, butter, ketchup, baked beans and pickled ginger. Not everything is cheaper to make than buy, yet when you make it yourself, you know what’s in it.

sweet and sour 2

I swithered about whether to include this in the ‘Making It Yourself’ series as I made the sweet and sour sauce the easy way, using ketchup – I’ve been meaning to try making it totally from scratch but decided to make it on an impulse when I was a bit rushed.  I know using ready made ketchup kind of violates the spirit of this series but I wanted to show just how easy it is to make your own stirfry sauces in minutes.

So I hope you’ll forgive me for cheating – the sauce is tasty and really easy to mix up, so hopefully that counts for something?!  I promise I’ll try making it without the ketchup and will report back when done.

I used the sauce with stirfried tofu, veg and noodles, but you could use chicken, cashew nuts or whatever you want.  As a side note, I used the half a block of tofu I’d stuck in the freezer a couple of weeks ago, and it turns out that freezing then defrosting really improves the texture of tofu, making it much ‘meatier’ and chewier.  It also seemed to soak up the sauce really well.  Definitely recommended.

sweet and sour

Sweet and Sour Sauce (serves 2)

  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp vinegar (I used cider vinegar, but most kinds will work fine)
  • 6 tbsp ketchup
  • 1/3 tin pineapple chunks, drained
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1-2 tsp soy sauce, to taste

This could not be easier.  Mix all of the ingredients in a small saucepan, heat gently and cook over a low heat for 5 minutes, until well combined.  Taste and adjust depending on what you like (e.g. if it’s too sweet, add more vinegar; not salty enough, add more soy).

Cook your stirfry ingredients as usual (adding meat, nuts, tofu, veg, noodles or rice as preferred – I used 1/2 block tofu, bag of value stir fry mix and fine egg noodles) and dress with the sauce.


Leftover duck and cherry tomato pasta


Carrying on with the ‘leftover’ theme from last night – here’s a quick, tasty and easy dish to make with leftover roast duck.  In fact you could make it with leftover chicken, or leftover roast veg, or whatever you have on hand.  But I have to say it was especially good with the duck.

Only change I’d make would be to make it a bit saucier – I left it in a tub in the fridge overnight, so some of the juice evaporated, and, since I didn’t add more water when I cooked it, it was a little dry for the quantity of pasta cooked.  But I think a little extra water or stock would have solved this without needing to change the amount of tomatoes used or anything.

Since I tend to use tinned chopped tomatoes for all pasta sauces, it was a lovely change to use fresh, but if you really feel you can’t justify it, tinned would work fine too.  Oh and this meal is way too ‘veg-light’ for my usual tastes so next time I’d add some wilted spinach or peas or roasted peppers or something, or at least serve with some kind of veg side dish.

duck pasta header

Serves two (£2.07 per portion)

  • 250g cherry tomatoes, halved 71p
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed 6p
  • beef stock, to cover (think I used 1/4 cube made up) 3p
  • Handful basil and/or oregano (free from windowsill)
  • 200g leftover cooked duck (or whatever you want to add) £3.25
  • 150-200g spaghetti or other pasta 11p
  • 1/2 tbsp vegetable oil 1p

Heat the oil in a saucepan and add the garlic, gently cooking for a minute or two.  Add the tomatoes and just cover with beef stock.

Simmer for 15 minutes or so, until the tomatoes are soft and have started to lose their shape, so that you can gently mash them with the wooden spoon into a thick sauce.

Add the duck and any veg you want, along with the chopped fresh herbs, and serve on spaghetti cooked your usual way.

This looks expensive at £2.07 per portion, but it’s a good way of stretching some leftover meat to two dinners, so I guess the cost is a little misleading.  I’ve just included half the cost of duck for simplicity as it did two meals, but we probably ate more meat when we had it as a roast, and we also got stock out of it, so not as terrible as it looks.  It would be cheaper to have chicken, even free range chicken – just use whatever you have left over.

What to do with leftover vegetables

Before I went shopping this week, I pulled out all of the vegetables that were left in the fridge: a few very much past-it carrots, a handful of radishes, two spring onions, a wrinkly green pepper, an onion, a few potatoes, a quarter of a swede, some cherry tomatoes and one and half courgettes.

leftover veg

I wanted to use all of this up without wasting any of it, so the challenge was on!

First off, some of the potatoes and the spring onions made champ for Sunday night’s dinner – there’s nothing more comforting than creamy mash and it was completely delicious.

ham and champ

I made roast ham to go with the champ – preboiling it before glazing and roasting.  Boiling it (which I did in my new pressure cooker) gave me a nice pot of lovely ham stock, which gave me an idea to help use up some of the rest of my veg.

So secondly, I made lentil and vegetable soup, using the swede, carrots, onion and some more potatoes – all I had to add were the lentils (well, not forgetting the ham stock!).  It was delicious and made five portions of really good soup for lunches this week.

lentil and ham soup 2

Finally, I got back in the kitchen today and used up the green pepper, cherry tomatoes, lime and most of the courgette, along with a few store-cupboard ingredients, to make around three portions of veggie chilli – two for dinner on Wednesday and one for lunch one day.  It’s the first time I’ve made chilli with fresh tomatoes instead of tinned and while it’s generally a more expensive way to do it, it saved the fresh ones going to waste.veg chilli

This just leaves the radishes – which I’ll use up in salad over the next week or two – and a bit of courgette, which I’ll chuck into the stir-fry tomorrow.

So what do you do to make sure veg doesn’t go to waste?  Soup’s the classic of course – what else do you make?

Mealplan and Spending Update 25/08


My August challenge ended yesterday and the September one started today.  I’m so surprised and pleased to report that we came so far under budget in August (only spent just over £160) and we still seem to have a good amount in stock (just not much meat).  I’ve upped the budget for this month to £185 to account for the fact that it’s a five weekend month, so we’ll end up spending a bit more.

I did my usual bit of cooking today, though not as much as I had planned, as I was feeling lazy in the morning.  Made 12 bread rolls (though burnt them a bit on the top, annoyingly); poached a whole chicken in the pressure cooker, picked all the meat off (over 600g worth, so should make 3 meals for the two of us), stashed the bones in the freezer and reduced the poaching liquid down to make a good stock; cooked a gammon joint in the pressure cooker (then roasted it); and made lentil and veg soup with the ham stock.


Sun 25 roast ham with champ, veg and gravy

Mon 26 chicken pie with potatoes and veg

Tues 27 – tofu and veg stirfry

Wed 28  – vegetable chilli with rice

Thurs 29 turkey burger or bean burger with chips and salad

Fri 30  – gnocchi with pesto and roasted veg

Sar 31 homemade pizzas with salad

August Spending Update (£161.79 / £175)

Whole milk 4pints £1.50
Pizzas x3 £3
Discos 6pk £1
Tampons £1
RTC Goats cheese x2 £1.50
RTC baking camembert £1.25
Cream crackers 43p
Spreadable butter £1.69

September Spending Update (£40.12 / £185)

Fruit & veg £8.89
Savers unwashed potatoes 2.5kg £1.75
Carrots 765g 69p
Onions 1kg 85p
Bananas x5 54p
Savers mushrooms 375g 75p
RTC spring onions 80p
Broccoli 300g 62p
Peppers 4pk £1.89
Salad leaves £1
Savers stirfry mix 50p

Meat & fish £11.79
Free range chicken 1.4kg £5.79
Gammon joint 1.2kg £6

Dairy & eggs 99p
Savers butter 99p

General £5.00
Savers tinned kidney beans 27p
Savers tinned pineapple 20p
Savers chopped tomatoes 31p
Savers pasta 32p
Strong brown flour 1.5kg £1.27
Savers individual orange juice 3pk 45p
Cornflakes £1.49
Dried oregano 69p

Household £12.95
Toilet roll 18pk £2.99
Deodorant £1
Gillette disposable razors 20pk £5.97
Shaving foam £1
Savers towels 74p
Bin bags 10pk £1.25

Eating less meat to save the pennies

pressure cooker soup

One thing I’ve been wanting to talk about for a while is my experience as a vegetarian and how you can save money if you don’t eat meat.

I didn’t eat meat for about four and a half years (I started eating fish again very occasionally about three years in) and I have to say that I loved being a vegetarian. People used to ask me if I ever missed eating meat and I really didn’t – which is quite surprising considering I used to be such a carnivore beforehand.

I stopped eating meat partly because I wanted some new culinary challenges (I’d never really cooked meat as an adult) and partly because Dave was changing from shift work to 9-5 and I wanted us to be able to share the same meals (he’s actually really good and likes veggie food, but needs meat 2-3 times a week or he starts to moan). Counterintuitively, it saved us money too because I do lots of money saving tricks like stretching meat in meals and making stock from bones. If Dave had to cook his own meat meals, he’d probably end up buying expensive and unhealthy processed rubbish fairly often.

sweetcorn fritters

However, for most people they’ll find they save money if they cut down or give up on their meat consumption – if they bear a few simple rules in mind.

Beans and lentils are the cheapest vegetarian protein sources, and you should make the most of them. Nuts are expensive, but you only use a small amount at a time, so they can be surprisingly cost-effective (peanuts are the very cheapest and good for stirfries) and the same goes for tofu. Cheeses, especially fancy ones like halloumi, are probably the most expensive (and least healthy) way to get your protein fix, so use them sparingly. It can actually be more expensive to use a fancy than the equivalent amount of meat would have been!

Of course, all the normal tips for saving money apply to a vegetarian diet – avoid wasting food, try meal planning and try shifting down a brand when shopping.

So if you’re a new veggie and want some cheap and tasty recipes, where’s the best place to look?

tarka dal 3

Even though I’m not a vegetarian anymore, I still love vegetarian food and only eat meat a couple of times a week, so there are plenty of vegetarian recipes here on the blog, and I’ve listed a few below:

Vegetable fajitas
Mushroom & lentil lasagne
Vegetarian chilli
Sweetcorn fritters
Roasted vegetable arrabiata
Mushroom stroganoff
Tarka dal

You could also check out the Vegetarian Society’s recipes as a starting point.

So what’s your favourite vegetarian meal? What are your thoughts on eating less meat to save money – or is there no chance of you doing that?

P.S. you’ll see I don’t talk about ‘fake meat’ like Quorn, Beanfeast etc- that’s just because I try to avoid processed food and so don’t eat it myself. But if you like it, it can be a good way of getting cheap protein into your meals.  I guess the best thing to do with Quorn and veggie sausages and the like is to try and get it on offer, just like meat, but I don’t have any tips apart from that.

Summer Barbecue Recipes – Tomato and Cucumber Salad

This is part of a semi-regular series about making tasty, healthy and exciting recipes for the barbecue – on a budget.  The series will included lots of salads and sides, as well as meat and veggie recipes to get you cooking and eating some lovely outdoor food this summer.

summer barbecue header thin

Salads are the most neglected dishes at barbecues.  It just lacks the appeal and drama of big piles of meat charred over the coals.  Plus, I suppose you can eat salad any time, while you don’t get many opportunities to eat barbecued meat in sunny Scotland.

I don’t care what everyone else thinks though – I love salads and half the time think they’re the best bit at the barbecue.  If they’re done right, that is.  A bowl of limp, warm Iceburg lettuce is not an example of a great salad.

The salad/salsa below is what my stepdad used to serve with fajitas when we were growing up, and it’s definitely one of my favourite salads.  I don’t get to eat it often enough (Dave’s allergic to uncooked tomato and cucumber, so I call this ‘death salad’ to him), but I try and make it for potluck dinners and shared lunches at work whenever I can.  It’s full of flavour and hopefully will tempt everyone at the barbecue to at least get a spoonful of veg with their meat.

Oh, I haven’t included quantities here – I only make it for big groups of people, so just fill a bowl up.  I just try and keep equal quantities of tomato, cucumber and onion.

charcoal challenge 13

Tomato, Cucumber and Coriander Salad

  • Tomatoes, chopped
  • Cucumber, chopped
  • Onion, chopped
  • Big handful fresh coriander, chopped
  • Juice of a lemon
  • Juice of a lime

I don’t really need to give you instructions for a salad, do I?  Mix all the chopped ingredients together, dress with the lemon and lime (you can add a bit of oil if you want, but I often don’t bother) and season well.  Enjoy with anything, but especially in fajitas or as a side dish at a barbecue.

Butter bean and cabbage soup

pressure cooker soup

I was so excited to get my new pressure cooker going at the weekend (yes I know this is a tiny bit sad) and I decided to make some soup as a nice, easy trial recipe.  I have loads of soaked and cooked beans accumulating in the freezer (my experiment of soaking and cooking the whole bag at once is working out really well – I currently have butter beans, cannellini beans and chickpeas in stock) so decided to make a butter bean soup to use some of them up.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this, but when you make soup – you don’t need to follow the recipe exactly!  So if you want to make this, do what I did – rummage around in your fridge and pull out veg that’s getting limp, wrinkly or just needing used up soon.  The only things that are essential are the beans and cabbage, I guess.

This recipe makes six small lunch portions (or serves, say, three or four for dinner with plenty of bread) and took hardly any time to cook in the pressure cooker.  I’ve given directions below, but please do check your own pressure cooker’s guidelines and make sure you know how to use it before following them (I’m hardly an expert given this was the first time I’d used mine!).  If you don’t have a pressure cooker, fear not – you can easily make this in a normal pot by simmering away until all the vegetables are tender (adding the cabbage half way through cooking is probably a good bet here).

pressure cooker soup 2 header

Serves 6 (22p per portion)

  • 1 tins-worth butter beans, cooked if dried or rinsed and drained if tinned 22p
  • 1/2 savoy cabbage, chopped 50p
  • 3 small carrots, peeled and chopped 12p
  • 1/4 swede, cut into small cubes 15p
  • 1 onion, chopped 12p
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed 6p
  • 1 1/2 litres vegetable stock 15p
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil 2p

Heat the oil in the pressure cooker and gently cook the onion, carrot and swede for around 5 minutes, or until soft.  Add the garlic and cook for a further minute.

Add the stock (I added one litre here but then had to add extra at the end to thin it down) and the cabbage, put the lid on and bring to pressure.  Cook for five minutes at full pressure and then use the quick release method (run cold water over the lid for mine, but check your pressure cooker instructions).

Remove the lid, add the beans (and top up with more stock if too thick) and return to the heat for a minute or two until the beans have warmed through.  Season well, especially with pepper, and serve with bread.