Frugal food

From the back of the store-cupboard


One of my new years resolutions was to try out more recipes. I think I intended to try at least one new recipe a month. I haven’t exactly kept track but I know I’ve tried far more new things than that, just by experimenting a bit! I’ve been using up some things that have been knocking around for a while.

I’ve had these two cartons of passata forever – so long that they were approaching their expiry date. They seemed so handy but I’ve always preferred chopped, tinned tomatoes instead. I made a sauce by dicing the onions and frying in a smidge of oil. I chopped and deseeded the tomatoes (which I’d given up all hope of ever ripening), a squirt of the garlic puree, the two cartons of passata and a couple of handfuls of lentils. I then made up a jug of vegetable stock and kept adding some when it seemed like the sauce was getting too thick. The lentils still weren’t soft after I’d used up the first jug of stock so I made up another and added that all. I popped generous portions into 6 plastic bowls and put them in the freezer. Husband and I had a portion each with pasta for dinner tonight and were really impressed. I’ll be making this again!


Half a packet of risotto rice moved house with us and it had been with us for a very long time prior to that. I wasn’t sure if my daughter would like it and it seemed like a lot of effort to go to if she didn’t. Fortunately she did! I’m also not massively keen on booze in food (it is great in certain dishes but mostly I’m not keen) and I don’t like parmesan (smells exactly like Husband’s feet) – both of these seem to crop up in most risotto recipes I’ve seen. I cooked the risotto with a pre-cooked, diced sweet potato and some onion and mushrooms – no wine, no parmesan, just a bit of cheddar (see bowl in foreground of above photo). It was great. The other bowl in the picture has some tomato and cannellini bean soup which I also made a batch of, mainly to take to work for packed lunch. It’s my current favourite ‘thing’ (next to apple and custard danish pastries which I am doing my best to avoid).

I’m sure there are plenty of other things that I’ve had for far too long. I’ll be hunting through the cupboards again this week!

Categories: Frugal food, Recipes | 1 Comment

Keeping pace

Another deeply domestic, local and low budget day here on Shoestring Alley. I wrapped my daughter up again, popped her in the pushchair and went for another walk. I used the map tools website again to plot the route in advance as I wanted to try to do another 3 miles. I decided to have a wander around a residential area that I’ve only ever driven through (I have lived in this town nearly 13 years!). I recognised a couple of houses that have been on the market in the last few years which would have been contenders had we been in the position to move. It made me really glad we ended up with the house we’ve got. The roads were eerily deserted and there was a really empty feeling to the place. I didn’t like it. Also I didn’t like how on top of each other the houses felt and the way that all of the houses and the roads looked the same. It would be really easy to get lost down there. I imagine that the estate (if that is what it is) all got built in one go and that’s why it all looks the same. I guess some people wouldn’t like to like on a main road like we do. I never used to like the road we live on. Actually being here is surprising though. All of the houses are set well back from the road and we barely ever hear a car. I’m looking out of the window as I type and there are zero cars. I like the fact that there are all kinds of houses on our road. Ours is a plain 1970s semi but within a few hundred yards are 1930s houses (where our friends live), a long rown of terraced cottages and a couple of houses so new that no-one has lived in them yet. I like the jumble!  Anyway, leaving small town suburbia behind us, we powered down to the seafront again.



The beach huts have been put out in the last couple of weeks. My daughter fell in love with this one with the fish painted on the door…



On the way home I undid all of my good work and bought buns in the bakers. I am unable to resist the bakers on our way home. It is the old fashioned kind that sells iced finger buns and other such loveliness. Very naughty. The financial cost was only about £1. The cost to my waistline is another matter…

The rest of the day was spent on cleaning, tidying, sorting and then batch cooking a huge saucepan full of bolognese sauce. I made so much that I used some of it to make two lasagnes – one family size and two individual portions. There was enough sauce left for tonight’s dinner plus two family size portions to go in the freezer. I find it tricky to work out costs per portion because my two year old eats roughly half an adult portion of a main meal. Basically I made four ‘family’ (ie 2.5 portions) meals and two adult meals and the total cost was roughly £11. I’ve had a fairly successful slashing of the food spending but that deserves a post of its own. I’ve managed to switch a lot of things down to Tesco’s everyday value range and am generally rethinking how I shop. More on this another time! My favourite bits of the day were the breaks between cleaning and cooking where I got to read a few sneaky pages of my book and dance around with my girl. Hopefully tomorrow will hold more hanging out and less cleaning!

Categories: Domesticity, Frugal food | 2 Comments

I’ve found a pulse

I’m trying to make a concerted effort to eat less meat. It’s expensive, most studies show that eating a lot isn’t particularly good for you and I’ve got issues with the whole industry. Around the time that I started this blog I started cooking for scratch much more than I did before and I also started batch cooking. The trouble is, most of my batch cook recipes are meat based and I have trouble thinking up vegetarian ‘batch-cook-and-freeze’ options. I made an ok vegetarian lasagne last month and some veggie pasta sauce but it wasn’t great. I’m not going vegetarian…I’d just like to be think up some more meat free meals without replying on pasta too much.

Recently I’ve been reading Ilona’s wonderful ‘Mean Queen’ blog and I’ve been impressed by her hearty sounding vegetable stews. I’ve been thinking of how I can tinker with this idea because I already eat a lot of vegetable soups and I don’t want it to be getting too ‘samey’ as I know I’ll get bored. I’ve also been thinking about how to get more (and cheaper) protein into my/our diets. So I’ve bought these:


The large bag of red split lentils was £1.99 (my second ever bag of these!) and the yellow split peas were 49p (my first ever bag!). I thought that a vegetable stew made with the peas and / or lentils would make quite a substantial, nutritious meal. I’m not sure what the other members of the household will make of it but even if just I like it I’ll consider it a ‘win’.

If anyone has any ideas for ways to use these (or other tasty meat free – preferably freezeable – recipes) please let me know!

Categories: Frugal food | 10 Comments

All hail the fairy cake

Is the fairy cake the baking world’s equivalent of the red squirrel? Has it been driven into near extinction by the increasingly dominant cupcake?  I love cupcakes and I have made them many times. I even have the special, deeper tins and the larger cupcake/muffin cases. I love making cupcakes from the Hummingbird Bakery recipe book (one of my all times favourites). And yet, the fairy cake wins my vote every time. They are smaller (thus better for waistline and teeth) and require less ingredients (thus better for the purse). And they are so dainty and traditional! All of the birthday parties of my childhood were not of the ‘book a hall or novelty act’ variety but the kind where there were sandwiches and fairy cakes laid out on the kitchen table and a party mix playing in the background where everyone would play musical statues and pass the parcel. They were brilliant and fairy cakes still epitomize that sense of fun for me.

We make a lot of fairy cakes in this house. A lot. Since we’ve moved we have people over all the time and I like there to be something nice to offer as a little something to go with tea and coffee. Plus they are so quick! Win, win, win. On Sunday we made these…


I topped these with naughty but very nice butter cream icing and some pretty, pearly sprinkles that were reduced. We were nearly out of sprinkles (one of my daughters favourite parts of the cake making process and therefore critical) and I spotted these Dr Oetker sprinkles reduced from £1.29 to 97p. Their sell by date isn’t until September so I’m sure they’ll all be used up well before then! I like to use this lovely Portmeirion plate for cakes – I love seeing the circle of green leaves peeking out around the edge. About 12 years ago a colleague and his wife were having a clear-out and gave Husband and I (who had just bought our flat and were young and broke) a massive stack of old crockery. In turn we’ve passed it on to friends just starting out but we’ve hung on to the three pieces of Portmeirion that we were given. My colleague, who was also a friend and something of a mentor, died nearly ten years ago. I think of him every time I use them.

Back to the fairy cakes. I think these are the perfect thing to make if you have a couple of people coming over or just if you are in the mood to bake. They require less than half the ingredients of a Victoria sponge (which – don’t get me wrong – I am also a big fan/frequent maker of) so are also a good option if you are short on supplies for whatever reason. Here’s the recipe I use (so often that I know it off by heart – it is very easy to remember):


100g butter / butter substitute

100g caster sugar

100g self raising flour

2 eggs

That’s it!

  • Mix the butter and caster sugar until completely combined and nice and creamy
  • Add the eggs one at a time and mix well
  • Add the flour bit by bit and mix until combined with a consistent, smooth texture

The above takes me less than 5 minutes. I’m fussier/more likely to use the food processor when mixing more ingredients, as with a larger cake. However, for fairy cakes I like to use a bowl and a spoon as I find it easier and also because my daughter has fun mixing with a spoon (and licking it afterwards).

  • Put 12 paper cases on your cake tray (preferably the kind with 12 ‘dips’) and spoon the mixture into the cases.
  • Pop into a preheated oven for 15 minutes at Gas Mark 5.

Sometimes we eat them plain but we usually go for the icing/sprinkles option!

How about you – do you still rock the fairy cake or do you cupcake?

Categories: Domesticity, Frugal food, Recipes | Leave a comment

My pantry

One of the things I was most excited about when we bought this house was the cupboard in the hall. The lady that lived here before had it set up as a kind of walk-in cleaning cupboard. There were a few shelves and some bags hanging on the wall full of carrier bags and odds and ends. As soon as I saw it I knew exactly how I’d use it if it were mine. When were in the process of buying we had the usual list of bits and bobs the vendor might like to sell for a bit extra. We hardly bought anything but we did buy the under-counter freezer that she had in the kitchen. It looks like new and we only paid £10 for it. Since I already have a fridge-freezer this has doubled my freezing space. The day we moved in one of the first things we did was to shuffle the freezer from the kitchen into the cupboard in the hall. It’s great to have an extra freezer in a place that is easy to access and out of the way all at the same time.

The freezer fits nicely under the three shelves which had been covered in the same minging wallpaper that we currently have in the spare room. Lovely isn’t it?


This weekend I ripped all of the wallpaper off and properly sorted the content of the shelves. Ta da!


As you can see, I’ve now got plenty of room to do a bit of bulk buying if I see a good offer on.

I caved in this morning and went to Tesco. I had been dithering about whether to go since I had a ‘£5 off a £40 shop’ voucher. We were desperately low on some of our staples (and completely out of cling film, clothes wash and that type of thing) but I also didn’t want to spend any more money until the end of the month when I would release our new food budget for April. In the end I decided that it would be better to take money out of the budget a bit early to make the most of the offer – it seemed daft to miss out on saving £5 just for the sake of buying them 6 days early. It also means that I don’t have to do a big shop during Easter Bank Holiday weekend just when the supermarkets will be heaving. Tesco had their 3 for £10 offer on meat so I bought £20 worth. I ought to be able to make that last the whole month. I need to do a bit of an inventory to see exactly what I’ve got and make sure I’m using everything up. I would have done it this afternoon but we had friends over for tea and cakes this afternoon which was much more fun! Must stop baking though. I’m expanding at an alarming rate :-/ .

Categories: Domesticity, Frugal food, home improvements | 4 Comments

A new saucepan and finding affordable meat

Each month we put back an amount into what I refer to as the joint slush fund. This tends to be used for random things that crop up though, equally, when there are enough funds available  we might use some of it on something like a day out. This week we had to dip into it as our big saucepan died. I was about to make some soup and it started making the most awful cracking and banging sound. I quickly took it off the heat only to discover that the bottom was black and completely warped. I have no idea what would have happened if I hadn’t taken it off the heat but I wasn’t going to give it a go to find out! We’ve had our set of saucepans for over 10 years and they were a ‘good’ set bought by my family not long after we got married. I was disapponted but couldn’t deny that we’d had good use out of it, particularly considering that the big saucepan gets used the most (any batch cookers out there will know what I mean!). Anyway, it seemed to make sense to buy another ‘good’ one and I was glad to have the funds available. The new one has come with a 25 year guarantee which I have carefully tucked it away. I wonder if it really will last me until I’m – gulp – 59! Anyway, I christened it with a batch of leek and potato soup, most of which is now residing in the freezer…

I wonder if it will still be so shiny after 25 years! It is absoloutely huge – the biggest one I could find and even bigger than the one I had before. It could be used as an effective weapon should the need ever arise…

The food budget is still precarious – I’m just waiting to see how it pans out really! I was determined to keep the shop under control yesterday and was very careful about what I picked up. I wanted to get some chicken to make a stew and was amazed at the prices of chicken breasts. Tesco had an offer with three ‘trays’ of meat for £10. The trays of chicken breasts each contained two portions of meat so at £10 for 6, the cost per chicken breast would have been £1.66. The only option that was slightly cheaper was chicken from their Value range but I didn’t even consider that because the meat was from Holland. I have no idea about what standards they have in Holland but I assumed (perhaps wrongly but I had no information to hand) that since it was cheaper in spite of being imported that they have lower standards for welfare. I was adamant that I wanted British chicken. Fortuntely I managed to find some in the reduced section. Even better, each portion was ready wrapped to pop in the freezer.

The ‘offer’ (I don’t know how much I buy into the original price!) was £7.99 down from £9.99 but I got it reduced to £5.99 because it needed to be used the next day. As there were 8 chicken breasts in the pack, each portion was just 74p – less than half the price of the others! I made a stew with four of the breasts and the other four are in the freezer. If it hasn’t been for the reduced section I might not have bothered with buying any meat at all. Most of the meat I’ve bought recently has been reduced due to the date. Tonight we’re having organic beef steaks that I defrosted today and bought a couple of weeks ago. The pork medallions mentioned on a previous post were frozen and eaten later that week. I swear they taste better because I know I got a bargain!

Categories: Frugal food | 5 Comments

Seasonal food for January

Since I’m continuing to focus on eating in season as much as possible I’ll be filling my shopping basket with:

  • apples
  • broccoli
  • brussels sprouts
  • carrots
  • cauliflower
  • leeks
  • onions
  • parsnips
  • pears
  • potatoes
  • pumpkins
  • swede
  • turnips

I say I’ll be filling my baskets with the above but, actually, I doubt there will be any turnip or pumpkin because I’ve never found them particularly inspiring. Or swede come to that! But the rest? Yum. As usual there will be plenty of soup making which should help counteract the disasterous effect that the festive season has had on my waist line!

Categories: Frugal food | 4 Comments

Is it still cheaper to cook from scratch?

Is it still cheaper to cook from scratch? I mean, really? I’ve worried about this a bit recently. A month or two ago I spent longer than usual in my local supermarket having a good look around. There are certain aisles that I never go down because a) I don’t buy ready meal type stuff and b) you can’t be tempted by what you aren’t looking at! However, I thought I’d have a look to see what was available and I was amazed at some of the prices on things like pies and pizzas. They were so cheap and would be so filling that, regardless of how junky they might be, you can totally see why someone really hard-up would fill their trolley with them. Looking at some of the things available, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to make them myself for any cheaper – it would actually be more expensive. I found this pretty depressing.

However, I think that this is far from true in most cases. It does depend on how much time you are willing to put in overall to save what just seems like a few pence here and there. I was talking to someone the other day about soup. Both of us have soup for lunch most days. Mine is home-made while hers is tinned. I worked out that my substantial bowl of lentil and tomato soup had cost 14p whereas her tin of soup cost 89p – a 75p difference. My soup was very healthy and had no preservatives apart from anything you might find in a stock cube whereas I know from experience that tinned soup is very, very salty by comparison and has a long list of ingredients that I wouldn’t even be able to pronounce. If I reckon on having soup for lunch 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year then I save £195 annually by making my own soup. My friend could argue that she doesn’t have the bother of making and storing the soup which would be right. Her main point is that 89p is still a very cheap way to have lunch. This is true – particularly when you think that you could easily spend £2.50-£3 on one of those ‘meal deals’ that include sandwiches, crisps or a chocolate bar and a drink. It is also healthier, even though it is processed. And those meal deals are cheaper than going ‘out’ for lunch. And so on and so on. It is all a matter of choice and how far you are willing to cut back before you aren’t comfortable. My 14p soup is about as cheap as I can get! However, we are far from ‘perfect’. Making our own bread would be cheaper but that wouldn’t work for us. We don’t eat bread quickly enough for it not to go stale and I wouldn’t want to give up freezer space to bits and bobs of bread (on a large scale anyway). That’s why I wouldn’t dream of criticising my friend for buying tinned soup instead of making her own – she is probably more economical than me in something else she does. Making soup is easy for me because it fits in with the way I do things and the way I eat. Making my own bread doesn’t.

That said, perhaps I should put a bit more thought into what else I could save on by making from scratch!

Categories: Frugal food | 5 Comments

Super simple storecupboard soup!

It’s always good to have a few tricks up your sleeve in case you haven’t had chance to go to the shops/have been snowed in/can’t be bothered. Earlier today I made a heavenly soup using:

  • 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 3 handfuls of red lentils
  • 1 stock cube made up with 1 litre of water
  • random dried herbs
  • salt

That was it! I kept glancing at it suspiciously while it was cooking, thinking ‘Surely this can’t be any good. It looks horrible.’. You might remember me saying the same thing when I happened upon my Serendipity soup a while back. Well this was a goodun as well! The amount of times I’ve been disappointed with the results of a complicated recipe…

It made three, good sized portions so I’ve kept some out for tomorrow and the other one has gone into the freezer.

I’ve been trying to use my ‘winter reading’ shelf but all that happens is that I don’t read anything because I’m not in the right mood! Instead I’ve been dabbling in a guilty pleasure – historical novels. I know, I know – they’re either your cup of tea or not. I’ve got an endless facination with the Tudor court and have read many fiction and non-fiction books on the subject. A friend has just lent me some new ones so I might be sat here typing this but, in my head, I’m about 500 years in the past… 

Happy weekending!

Categories: Book love, Frugal food, Recipes | 2 Comments

Food budget madness and an emergency list!

I seem to have spent almost the entire food budget for the month. With, um, more than half the month to go. Oops (this mismanagement of the food budget is becoming a habit). I’m going to blame sleep deprivation (which is improving thankfully. I am now stuck in that awful thing where Baby isn’t waking up with the teeth but I can no longer sleep for more than 2 hours at a time – argh!!! It will settle down again I know). Anyways, although I’ve spent a lot I have got plenty ‘in’ (ie I didn’t blow it all on biscuits). I also have some things I’d like to use up so I’ve compiled a meal list to last us until pay day:

  • Bacon, spinach, cherry tomatoes in some sort of sauce made out of soft cheese and/or yoghurt with pasta
  • Sausage casserole using a pack of frozen sausages that have been lurking in the freezer since June, butterbeans, tin of tomatoes, mushrooms and broccoli (this should do us two nights in a row)
  • Chicken Korma with cous cous for Husband / Beans and eggs on toast for me
  • Lamb casserole (home-made, frozen) with extra, steamed vegetables
  • Nicoise salad: eggs, tuna (tinned), green beans (frozen), salad leaves and new potatoes
  • Mozeralla, tomato and basil salad and also savoury rice (I have no idea why I bought 4 packets of savoury rice earlier this year but I want to use them up!)
  • Beef casserole (home-made, frozen) with extra, steamed vegetables
  • Fish pie for Husband (from freezer) / Pasta with tomato, courgette and basil sauce (home-made sauce in freezer)
  • Pies (from freezer) with vegetables, mashed potato and gravy
  • Smoked salmon, pea, peppers (sliced, frozen), onion, lemon and soft cheese/yoghurt with pasta
  • Jacket potatoes with tuna mayonnaise
  • Chicken Korma with cous cous for Husband / Pasta with home-made tomato, courgette and basil sauce for me (sauce from freezer)
  • Prawns (from freezer), cous cous, peppers, onions etc with some sort of honey-lemon dressing
  • Spaghetti bolognese

We have plenty of healthy cereals for breakfast and can have sandwiches, soup or basic salads for lunches. Baby has her own section of the freezer which is well stocked up with meals. I’ll need to buy fruit, veg, bread, milk, eggs and yoghurt as and when they run out which I should have enough money for. I did order a chicken from a farmer though which is going to have to be paid for. Eek! Well, judging by the list above we aren’t going to be going hungry anyway!

Categories: Frugal food | 4 Comments

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