Category Archives: Making It Yourself

Making It Yourself – Easy Tomato Salsa

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.

salsa 2

I’ve been looking for a recipe for a tomato salsa using tinned tomatoes for a while.  I’ve made fresh salsa before (which is lovely), but Dave is allergic to fresh, uncooked tomatoes, so I always end up buying jarred stuff for when we have fajitas etc.

Having done a bit of a Google, I decided that it was possible after all to make salsa with tinned tomatoes, so really just mixed in the ingredients I thought made sense.  It was really tasty and you can use it in all the usual salsa-y ways – enchiladas, fajitas, nachos or just to dip crisps in when you have people round.  It’s not exactly like fresh salsa, of course, but it’s really like the jarred stuff you can buy in the crisps aisle, except nicer, fresher and cheaper.

If you have any fresh coriander in, feel free to add a handful, but you don’t need it if you haven’t got any.

salsa

Easy Tomato Salsa (makes about or just slightly less than a typical jar) 43p

  • 1/2 tin chopped tomatoes 17p
  • 1 small onion, very finely chopped 3p
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, crushed 6p
  • juice of 1/2 lime 15p
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (or adjust to taste) 2p

salsa 3

This one is about as easy as it gets – mix all the ingredients together in a bowl.  Serve straight away or keep in the fridge until needed (no more than a couple of days).

Use in Mexican dishes, to top burgers or as a dip for crisps or veg sticks.

Verdict – much cheaper than bought salsa and nicer too, plus incredibly quick and easy to make, so will definitely do this again.

Making It Yourself – Natural Yoghurt

[ED – this post was supposed to publish yesterday but for some reason it didn’t!  Grrr! Will follow with the weekly mealplan post tonight.]

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.

banana and yoghurt

A couple of years ago, I was bought an Easyyo maker as a present and while I used the sachets that came with it once or twice, I wasn’t overly keen on the taste – it seemed a bit artificial to me.  I’ve been wanting to make yoghurt again, but the old-fashioned way, for a while, but been put off by the fact that you have to be organised enough to start it off eight hours before you need it.

When I found out you could use Easyyo makers to make yoghurt without using the sachets, I was sold and dug it out again.  If you don’t have an Easyyo maker, the next best substitute is  a food flask, as it’s a bit too cold in Scotland to just leave it out warmly wrapped up like they do in warmer countries.

So how do you make it?

It’s pretty easy – all I used was 700ml whole milk (which was already in my fridge) and the end of a tub of live natural yoghurt.  In case you’re wondering, I used Savers natural yoghurt (45p for 500ml), and there was only about 1/5 of it left in the bottom (it was actually past its use-by date too, so it really was the very end of the tub).

Step one – bring the milk to the boil in a small saucepan.  Once it’s just started boiling, remove from the heat and allow to cool down to just about room temperature.

Note: If you put it in a food flask, you only want to cool it to the right yoghurt-making temperature to start with – x degrees – but it’s best to pop it in the Easyyo at room temperature as the boiling water in the bottom will bring it to the right temperature by itself.

Step two – when the milk has cooled, add the yoghurt, stir in well and pour into the middle container of the Easyyo (or your food flask).  Add boiling water to the outer section of the Easyyo, to the red stand the inside flask sits on, put the inside flask on it and close the lid.

natural yoghurt

Step three  – leave the mix for around eight hours (mine was a bit longer because I left it overnight and needed more of a lie-in than that!).

Step four (optional)  – when you check on your yoghurt, it should be properly yoghurty tasting, but a bit runny.  If you want it to be thicker, put a sieve over a bowl, line with muslin cloth or kitchen roll (I used kitchen roll because I didn’t have any muslin, and it worked great) and pour the thin yoghurt into the sieve.  Leave it for half an hour or until lots of clear whey has run out into the bowl.  Spoon the yoghurt left in the sieve back into the flask or whatever you want to store it in, then mix well.

straining yoghurt 2

Note: you can replace some of the liquid in bread or scone making with the whey, so you don’t have to throw it out.  I always thought that whey was really healthy, but the internet seems divided on this (bought whey is really concentrated, so your homemade stuff won’t have as much protein per measure, plus it does contain some sugar too).  It’s still worth keeping the whey as it seems to make your bread softer, much like adding milk to the dough does, but without the cost of milk.  I probably wouldn’t keep it around for ages, but I was making bread anyway the day I strained the yoghurt.

Verdict – the homemade yoghurt was really nice, if a bit sourer than the orginal, and I’ve used it in both sweet (with honey and banana) and savoury (with fajitas) meals so far.  Not sure how long it keeps, but Google suggests one to two weeks.  I’d recommend using your common sense – yoghurt smells bad when it’s gone off, so you should be able to tell.  Google also tells me that you can make more yoghurt with this yoghurt, for four or so more batches – then you’ll need to chuck it and get more starter yoghurt, as successive batches get thinner and sourer.  Oh and I also found that the strained yoghurt was slightly thin still to start with, but after a day in the fridge it thickened up.  So don’t assume it’ll stay as thin as it starts.

Cost – it was 44p for the milk and 9p for the starter yoghurt I used, making the total cost for the batch 53p.  I got about 350ml after straining (I didn’t measure the whey).  I should have weighed it because commercial yoghurt is sold by weight, not volume, so I’m not sure if it was cheaper – but I suspect the answer is that it’s much cheaper than normal yoghurt but not quite as cheap as the value stuff I normally buy.  It was easy to make and nice tasting though, so I definitely wouldn’t rule out making it again.

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.

Making It Yourself – Raspberry Jam

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.

raspberry jam

Raspberry jam is my favourite jam, both to make and eat. You can buy cheap jam miles cheaper than you can make it, obviously, but homemade jam is just a million times better.

You can save a bit on your jam marking by using home grown berries or ones that are ‘yellow stickered’ in the supermarket (but they can’t be completely bruised and overripe as it affects the set of the jam).  I bought a raspberry plant from Wilkinsons this year but it didn’t grow at all and just looks like dead sticks. (This is the third Wilkinsons plant this has happened too so I’m not buying them from there anymore!).

I’d heard that you could make jam with frozen raspberries, which are cheaper, so I decided to test it out for you guys.  The raspberries cost me £4 for two 350g packs, which made enough for 4 1/2 jars of jam (one was bigger so it’d have made 5 if they’d have been all the same size0, whereas the cheapest fresh raspberries cost £3 for 300g!  Not exactly bargain jam but a much better price anyway.

And the frozen raspberries worked brilliantly – the jam has a fantastic set and tastes perfect. So definitely worth using unless you grow your own!

raspberry jam 2 header

Makes 5 small jars, at 94p a jar

  • 700g frozen raspberries (or fresh if you have them), defrosted £4
  • 700g granulated sugar 70p

Start by popping a few small plates in the freezer, to test the jam at the end.  Put the raspberries in a very large pot and heat until warmed through (with fresh ones, you’re watching out for juices running, but the defrosted ones are quite juicy anyway, so it’s a little bit harder to tell).

Add the sugar and stir in.  At first, it looks like way too much sugar to dissolve in the tiny amount of juice, but after a minute of stirring the pot will be magically full of lovely red liquid.  Quickly rinse your clean jars and put on a plate, then pop in the microwave and blast for a couple of minutes to sterilise – you also don’t want to put hot jam in cold jars, as they’ll explode.

raspberry jam 3

Bring to the boil and boil for around 15 minutes.  Remove from the heat, take a cold plate from the freezer, and drop a tiny bit of jam on it.  Leave for a few seconds to cool, then push at the jam with your finger.  It should wrinkle on the surface and look and feel like jam rather than a runny mess.  If it’s still a bit runny, put the pot back on the heat and boil for another 5 minutes, then test again.  keep going until the jam’s set.

As a warning, the pot should be really big because the jam can double in size when it boils.  Hot sugar is also extremely dangerous, so be careful to avoid burning yourself.  Also, the reason you take the jam off the heat every time you test is it only takes an extra minute or two to make your jam set rock hard and taste burnt (as I discovered once, making pear and vanilla jam!).

Once the jam is at setting point, grab your hot, clean jars and ladle the jam into them right up to the top, putting the lids on straight away.  If you make jam a lot, investing in a jam funnel (a really wide-mouthed funnel) will make this job a bit easier and less messy (I love mine!).

Do you make your own jam, or do you think you get better value from bought stuff?

Making It Yourself – Sandwich Ham

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.

gammon

I usually buy pretty cheap wafer thin ham for Dave’s lunch sandwiches (I tend to have soup myself), but I was curious to see if it was cheaper to buy a big joint, cook it and slice it up yourself.

Since it was the first time, I didn’t want to get too big a joint (in case it was horrible, or I messed it up in some way), so I stuck with a 750g gammon joint from Asda, which cost £3.50. I usually buy free range or outdoor reared pork, but I haven’t been able to source any in Glasgow (even Waitrose didn’t have any last time I was in), and, since Dave isn’t that bothered, I just bought a normal joint.

I soaked the joint for a couple of hours to remove some of the saltiness, then replaced the water with clean water and boiled for 40 minutes. Apparently you can use the boiling water as stock, but as it was such a small joint, the water hadn’t flavoured that much in the short cooking time, so I ended up not keeping it.

I then preheated the oven to 200C and cut a shallow diagonal pattern into the fat around the edge of the gammon.

EDIT – I forgot to say I rubbed in a mix of honey and whole grain mustard here – must have been too sleepy when writing this! Used 1tbsp of each.

I roasted for around 25 minutes, rotating once during the cooking time. When I took it out of the oven, it was golden all round the outside, and cooked through. After leaving it to rest for 15 minutes, I used my new electric knife to carve into thin slices.

gammon sandwiches

I put aside 200g of the sliced gammon for our dinner that night – I served with apple sauce, roasted potatoes and veg and boiled green beans – then I split the rest into six portions, which I froze for Dave’s sandwiches. This works out to 44p per portion, which isn’t the cheapest lunch around, but it’s much nicer and better quality than the cheap ham I was buying before. It’d also be cheaper to buy a bigger joint of gammon, which I’ll do next time. The thinner you slice the meat, the better for stretching it – since it was the first time I’d used my electric knife, my slices weren’t very even – I reckon I could do better next time.

Making It Yourself – Seeded Brown Bread

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.

Though I’ve been making my own bread for a while, I’ve only just cracked making bread that’s light enough to be used for sandwiches.  While my bread has always been really tasty and perfect for soups, I’ve really struggled with getting it to rise enough, so it’s often been a little on the dense side.

Turns out that when they say ‘knead for ten minutes’ in recipes, they actually mean that.  Woops.

seeded bread 3

The first time I set a timer and kneaded for the full ten minutes (result pictured above), I was amazed by a) how long ten minutes is (seriously, I must have been kneading for about three previously) and b) what a difference it made to my bread.  It rose about twice as high as previous attempts and was so light on the inside.  This seeded bread contains a higher proportion of brown flour, so is very slightly denser than that loaf, but still light enough to slice and make sandwiches out of.  As in, I made Dave’s sandwiches out of it twice this week and he loved them (he is seriously fussy about homemade bread)!

So make sure you time yourself and actually knead for ten minutes – I can’t stress this enough.  Most reasonably up to date  phones even have a timer function (well my iPhone does – and yes, I know that an iPhone is not the most frugal phone choice), so you don’t need to buy a timer.

seeded bread 4

Use the seeds of your choice in this recipe.  In the spirit of ‘using what I have in’, I used sesame seeds and sunflower seeds, but poppy seeds. pumpkin seeds and linseeds are all nice too.

Seeded Brown Bread (makes one loaf)

  • 400g strong brown flour
  • 50g strong white flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp easy-blend dried yeast
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp mixed seeds (I used half sunflower and half sesame)
  • 1 tbsp seeds for the top (I used all sesame here)

Mix the yeast, sugar and salt with the flours in a large mixing bowl.  Add slightly warm water (I used around 300ml), mixing in with a wooden spoon and then with your hands, until everything is combined into an unsticky dough.

Tip onto a lightly floured surface and knead for ten minutes (use a timer!), until the dough feels smooth and elastic.  if it starts to stick on the surface, add a little more flour, but try not to add loads unless you need to.  I added the seeds near the end of the kneading time, because I thought they’d be a bit sharp when kneading but it might be easier to incorporate them if you add them at the start.

seeded bread

Pop into a clean bowl and cover.  Leave to rise for a couple of hours, or until doubled in size.

Knock back (that means punch it down slightly, don’t batter it though) and shape into a rough rectangle with your hands.  Roll tightly into a sausage shape and put into your loaf tin, with the join at the bottom.  Top with the rest fo the seeds and leave to rise until doubled again, maybe an hour and a half or so.

Preheat the oven to 220C and, once heated, bake the loaf for 20 minutes, then turn the heat down to 200C and bake for a further 15-10 minutes.  If you remember, you can put a tray with a half cup or so of water in the bottom of the oven when you put the bread in, as the steam helps give a better rise and crust.

seeded bread 2

When done, remove from the loaf tin and cool on a cooling rack.  Try to avoid cutting into it when it’s still warm (this is very difficult admittedly) as it apparently affects the texture of the loaf and it’s also harder for your body to digest before it’s cooled.

So what’s your favourite kind of bread to make yourself?  Do you knead properly, or do you prefer no-knead recipes? Or do you use mixers or bread makers to do your kneading for you (I do have a breadmaker but tend to only use it if I’m in a rush, because I really like making bread by hand).

Making It Yourself – Chicken Stock

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.

I make chicken stock all the time.  I’ve mentioned before that I almost always buy whole chickens rather than breasts/legs, so it just makes sense to make stock from the bones.  Homemade stock is nutritious, unlike stock cubes which are mostly salt, and it’s essentially free for the ingredients.  I’ve listed what to make below, but it’s really a technique rather than a recipe, so it’s not in recipe format.

chicken stock 5

When I get the chicken home, I generally cut the legs, breasts and wings off first (see an online video tutorial from Gordon Ramsey here), unless I’m making a roast dinner.  I’ll freeze these labelled for whenever I’m eating them.

What’s left is a chicken carcass with a good bit of meat still on, especially on the back (I find I get 2-3 portions from this depending what I’m making).  You can freeze this until you’re ready to make the stock, which is what I usually do – just defrost overnight in the fridge before making.

Pick a day when you have a few hours of free time.  Don’t worry – the stock mostly looks after itself, but you’ll want to be in the house anyway.  Or I’ve heard you can make it in the slow cooker, but as I don’t have one, I’m not sure what exactly what you do.

Pop the chicken carcass into a large stock pot.  Add any wrinkly veg you having lying around, though the best is really any combination of onion, carrot, leek and/or celery.  I usually just have onion and carrot in, so add 2 or 3 of each, peeled and cut into large chunks.  Add a bay leaf if you have any, and a few peppercorns as well, plus a little pinch or two of salt.  When we eat the chicken legs/wings, I also save the bones for the next time I’m making stock, so if we have any of these left I’ll chuck them in.

chicken stock 3

Cover with boiling water (it takes two kettlefuls for me) and simmer away for around 30 minutes or so, until all the meat on the chicken is cooked.  Pull the chicken from the water (leaving everything else in the pan), and when it’s cool enough to handle, preheat the oven to 200C.  Pick every scrap of meat from the bones and set aside for future use (you guessed it – you can freeze this too).

Arrange the clean bones on a baking tray.  Roast for 45 minutes, until golden (this step is optional, but makes your stock darker and richer in flavour).

chicken stock 2

Add the roasted bones back into the cooking water, bring back to the boil and simmer for a couple of hours, adding more water as required, until the stock is well-flavoured and a golden-brown colour.  Strain and throw out the bones and vegetables.  Leave the liquid to cool and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.

When you get it out of the fridge, there will be a layer of white fat set on top – scrape this off with a spoon.  If your stock is really good quality, the rest might have set into a jelly.  The first time this happened to me I thought something had gone wrong with it, but apparently it’s what you want!  Don’t worry if it hasn’t set though – it’ll still be nice and flavourful.   Freeze your stock until you need it, in a variety of differently sized tubs, so I can just get our what I need

It’s probably quite concentrated at this point, depending how much water you added in cooking, so you’ll probably water it down to use it.  Bear in mind it’s also very low-salt at this point, so you might need to salt the dishes you’re making more than you normally would.

chicken stock

Do you make your own chicken stock?  What about other types of stock?  Do you prefer homemade stock, or like the convenience of bought stuff?