Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Surprise yourself

Goodbye 2014, it was a good one.  Hello 2015. Happy New Year to everyone when it comes!

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Post Christmas Thinking

Did everyone have a lovely Christmas?  We had a very laid back one.  So different from the ones where I cooked a 5 course meal from scratch for 12 people and had them stay for several days too!  I enjoyed our simple meal of soup, turkey with all the trimmings and Christmas pudding (or blackcurrant sorbet for those who didn't like pudding!)

Despite the cupboards and fridge groaning with food (leftovers!) I had to pop to the supermarket this morning for a few essentials (like toilet paper!!)  I picked up a large bag of clementines (17 of them) for 24p and 2 boxes of gluten and dairy free fruit cake slices at half price.  OH has a sweet tooth so these will last a few weeks.

Lots of us seem to use this time between Christmas and the New Year to think and reflect on the past year and look forward to the new one.  I have a feeling I'll quickly know what 2015 will be like the first week back at school!  But I want to be prepared for all the possible outcomes of the interview. 

So, when I'm done thinking I'll get writing! :-)

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Christmas Wishes

I've got soup bubbling away on the stove, blackcurrant sorbet freezing in the freezer, Nigel Slater on the telly and dogs lifting their noses to all the Christmas cooking smells.

Tomorrow it's just me and OH with 4 of our kids for dinner.  A very simple but traditional turkey dinner.  Just what I wanted.

May your Christmas be peaceful and joyful xxx

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Re gifting

Do you re gift?  A quick straw poll with friends suggests that this question has a clear yes or no answer. 

Some people consider it rude but on a practical (and frugal) level it makes sense to pass on gifts you know you won't use.  The tricky part is not offending the gift giver or, as in the extreme cartoon above, the recipient!!

For example, I was given lots of lovely gifts from the children in my class, many of them edible things that I cannot eat.  So when I was making up some Christmas baskets with my marmalade and chutney I was able to add in some posh biscuits and chocolates as well.  Win/win!

I was also given red wine.  I've never been able to drink red wine (it triggers a migraine) so I took it to my lovely mum who does like it.  And I told her it was a gift I couldn't use.  She doesn't mind, she likes nice wine!

Other presents I know I won't use I generally pass on to the charity shop.  They might be just what someone else wants and the charity benefits too.

In recent years I have told my family not to buy me anything.  I genuinely don't need anything. I'm still sorting through the last of my boxes from moving house over a year ago which is full of stuff I've been given.  The easiest way to avoid clutter is stop it from making itself at home in the form of unwanted gifts!

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Whisky Marmalade

At the start of the year OH bought 2 bags of oranges only to discover when he got them home they were Seville oranges.  He figured I'd be able to use them so they got popped into my freezer and stayed there until my clear out last week.  So, today I made marmalade using a combination of recipes.
Whisky marmalade
1kg of Seville oranges
1.6kg of preserving sugar
juice of 1 lemon
2 litres of water
3 tablespoons whisky
I used the recipe on the bag of preserving sugar as my starting point.  It said to boil, cover and simmer the oranges whole for 2 hours.  To save energy I put them in my slow cooker with the lemon juice and water for 5 hours on high then left them overnight to cool.

This morning I scooped out the flesh, pith and pips and put it all in my jam pot with the cooking liquid.  I boiled it for 6 minutes then passed it all through a sieve back into the pan.

I added the finely shredded peel to the pan with the sugar and stirred it on a low heat until the sugar dissolved.

It was then boiled for 20 minutes until it reached setting point. I left it to cool for 20 minutes before adding some Glenfiddich whisky.  Then I potted it into sterilised jars.

It made a lovely dark caramel tasting marmalade and only cost me 12p for the lemon (note the bottle of Pear liqueur!)

The oranges were a gift as they were a mistaken purchase by OH, the preserving sugar was included in my free food shop and the whisky came from my stash of miniatures that I collected from many black tie dinners in my old life. 

I'm going to make up some food baskets for Christmas presents.  They'll have some marmalade and Apple and plum chutney and maybe some crackers or biscuits.

I was in Lakeland today when I spotted this gluten free bread mix.  At £4.19 it makes 2 loaves which is cheaper than the other bread mix I use  and has recipes ideas for a few other items.  I bought several things including the lovely bottle which now contains the finished Pear Liqueur (which is rather delicious) and spent enough to get a £5 voucher off for January.  If the bread mix is successful I'll use it to stock up on more mixes.

First present delivery is scheduled for tomorrow so looks like I need to get wrapping!

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Secret Santa and partying

Yesterday was the last day of term.  Woohoo!! Like most places we do a Secret Santa instead of giving gifts to each other.  This was mine!  I was really touched at the effort that someone put into it. A wee basket full of gluten and dairy free goodies and a wee bottle of wine.  I really do work with some fabulous people and fingers crossed I get the job.

Last night was our staff night out.  We went to a local hotel for a party night (dinner and a live band)  These can either be a great night out or pretty awful.  Luckily for us, it was a great night out.  The food was good (clearly labelled gluten free options) and the band were good (if a bit past their sell by date!!)  My stage partner (who is younger than my 2 oldest sons!!!) had been stressing all week about what to wear.  Me, I just pulled out my one reasonably trendy but smart dress and kitten heels that must be about 8 or 9 years old, tousled my hair and put on some lippy.  And I didn't look out of place!

This morning I have ringing in my ears (music was soooo loud!!) and my feet are sore from dancing.  I don't really do parties or 'nights out' any more, preferring to snuggle up on the sofa with OH at the weekend.  I had a great time but won't be rushing to repeat the experience soon :-)

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Gluten free sausages for free

Finally got round to using my M&S vouchers.  I had £11 this time (previous voucher goodies) Next time I should have a lot more as I paid for the Singapore flights and hotels using my M&S card.  As long as I clear the balance every month (and I do!) I stay debt free and collect my vouchers :-)

I got sausages.  Not just any old sausages.  Look closely and you'll see the gluten free logo on the front :-)   I didn't know that M&S sausages and burgers are gluten free.  My eldest DS says they're ALL GF but I need to confirm that.  Certainly everything I looked at was GF.

So, that's the chipolatas for Christmas Day meal sorted.  3 of us eat GF and the rest eat whatever I put in front of them ;-)

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

More Sainsburys bargains

I had to go Sainsbury's to collect a prescription and just happened to get there as the yellow stickers appeared.  Broccoli and a wee rosemary plant reduced to 10p :-)

Also came home to a voucher in the post tonight that seems to be ok to use on a normal shop.  So another wee saving!

Sunday, 14 December 2014

£95 worth of 'free' food

Yep, that's right.  I redeemed my nectar points in a massive shop this morning.  I have been saving them all year.  I had a list and I stuck to it (more or less).  The main items on it were meat and freezer stuff.  I took aaaages to work out the best meat deals but think I got my money's worth.

I also got some chips (McCains original straight cut chips are GF, not all of them are!), 2 packs of Genius chicken pies (4 pies in total), 2 packs of fish fingers (20 fingers) and some pigs in blankets (20) for OH's son.  Chips, pies and fish fingers are a real treat for us now so stocking up with gluten and diary free stuff can be expensive.

I also picked up stuff like extra cheeses and more eggs than I would normally use in a week so I can batch bake plus a few other 'treats' for the holiday period.  I also got some other store cupboard items that are pricey.

So, here's the breakdown:

4 x 660g packs of chicken thighs and drumsticks @ £1.50 = £6
4 x 750g packs of 10% fat minced beef @ 3.50 = £14
3 x 450g packs of lean diced beef @ 3 for £10
3 x 250g packs of turkey breast strips @ £2.10 = £6.30
2 x 1kg bag preserving sugar @ £2.20 = £4.40
2 x bottles Tamari @ £2.60 = £5.20
4 x bottles cooking wine @ £1.02 = £4.08
2 x bags chips @ 2.50 = £5
2 x packs chicken pies @ 3.50 = £7
2 x fish fingers @ £2.50 = £5
4 x pastrami @ £2 = £8
15 eggs = £2
Dried sage= £1.65
Sage and thyme seasoning = £1
6 pack of San Pellegrino water = £5.50
Cheddar cheese = £4
Goats cheese = £3.40
Ribena = £2
Tortilla chips = 50p

Grand total £95.03

So far I've simply baked all the chicken pieces, cooked half of the minced beef with onions/carrots, put the diced beef into the slow cooker with carrots/onions and 1 of the wee bottles of cooking red wine and the turkey strips are marinating in the fridge with the juice of a lemon and a packet of fajita seasoning.

Later I'll be making some quiches and mini egg muffins to put in the freezer for the Teenager (that's why I bought 30 eggs!!!)

Last week I bought these veg in Morrisons in their 3 for £1.50 deal.  The sprouts are already prepped, blanched and frozen for Christmas day (they'll be served with chestnuts from my storecupboard). The carrots are in the beef stew and minced beef dishes as above.  The cabbage will be shredded and stir fried and some made into bubble and squeak.
Actually rather chuffed with myself!! And it proves that planning is the key to saving money.  I really must make more of an effort.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

This week's round up

I haven't had much luck with the yellow stickers recently but did pick up some reduced bananas and pears this week in Morrisons.  I don't usually shop there as it's the other side of town for me so an unexpected bonus when I picked up some dry cleaning.

Lots of people in blogland have been opening their sealed pots recently.  Here's ours.  We only fill it with 5p, 2p and 1p coins so it's not a lot of money saved over the year.

This year's total was a grand £19.42!! Not exactly a fortune but it all adds up :-)

Today I decided to do a major clearout of my cupboards and chest freezer.  These are my onions.  They're lasting well.  I just stored them under the sink in a basket.  Seems to suit them!

Oh dear!! This is the freezer contents *insert embarrassed face* Lots of un named items and many with no dates.  I'm afraid I was ruthless and chucked out a lot of stuff.  I found a few things at the bottom that I don't even remember buying. 

I've also cleaned out my store cupboard although it's not actually tidied yet.  I've finally made a gluten free shelf and a Teenager shelf so we can each see at a glance what ingredients and 'treats' we have in stock.  Actually more than I thought!! And several opened packets of the same thing!! Oops!

I've totalled up my Nectar points and I have around £94 worth this year.  So that's almost £115 included the sealed pot contents.  I'm going re stock my freezer for Christmas, make a load of meals for my oldest DS to keep in his freezer for when he's not well enough to cook and get some Christmassy foods for the local food bank. 

And finally, I heard yesterday I've got an interview for both jobs at my school :-) It's in January so I'll have the holidays to swot!!

Monday, 1 December 2014

Applying for a job

Applying for my own job that is!!! The teacher I'm covering for will be returning to work in February but wants to job share.  As there is a vacant job share position in the school she will automatically get it.  That means her old job (ie the one I'm doing right now) is being advertised as a full time PERMANENT post.  So, I'm applying for my own job.

There is also a temporary post available in school at the same time, covering another maternity leave for a year.  I'm also applying for that.

I'm hoping that as I'm an internal candidate I'll get an interview but there are no guarantees.  The new head teacher might want to bring in some young blood.  I have a feeling I've got a better chance of getting the maternity cover but a permanent post is what I really need to secure my retirement.

I've sent my 2 applications tonight.  Deadline is Friday so maybe by next week I'll know if I get an interview.  Keep your fingers crossed for me please!

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Butternut squash and apple soup

This is one of our favourite winter soups.  And really easy to make.  Recipe here if you want details (last recipe on that post).  I sometimes add soy cream or coconut milk to take the heat out if I've been over zealous with the chilli flakes!

I've currently got the above goodies roasting in the oven while a batch of Helen's Brilliant Bread is rising. 

That's today's lunch sorted!

This afternoon I'm trying to make bao, those wee steamed dumplings we had in Singapore.  I'm going to attempt a few Chinese ideas for our family dinner tonight.

At least there will be soup if it goes horribly wrong!!

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Hot Water Bottle

When it's cold I love to snuggle up in bed with my hot water bottle.  I've never liked an electric blanket (The Teenager loves his!!) even though they only cost pennies to run. I recently bought a few new bottles for Christmas presents but they didn't come with covers.  So today I finally dug out some felted tartan and quickly made a cover.  This is the first crafting I've done since school went back in August!  I really enjoyed it. It's not perfect but it's just for me. I'll road test it tonight to see how it performs before I go into production!

A cautionary tale.  Please please never buy a cheap hot water bottle that doesn't have the BS kite mark (or whatever legal safety mark your part of the world uses) and never over fill it.  And regularly check the rubber to see if it's perished. Earlier this year, OH's son had a very serious accident when a filled bottle exploded at the side seam and gave him very serious burns.  His arm, chest, back and cheek took months to heal but luckily he didn't need skin grafts. 

It gave us a huge fright at the time so now we're extra careful using them.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Cooking therapy

The weather here has become rather cold and damp.  Dark mornings turn into dark days and early nights.  Not my favourite time of year.  I love it when it's cold and crisp but the damp seems to turn me into a miserable cow and I just want to hibernate!  Best way to cheer myself up is cooking therapy and if it includes wine so much the better!  Last night's tea was Chicken and Broccoli Risotto.  My basic recipe is here on my old blog although now I use Pure spread instead of butter, Alpro cream and goat's cheese to make it dairy free.  There's loads leftover to make risotto cakes for my brunch today.

I had to pop into Sainsbury's last night to pick up some things for my oldest son who doesn't keep well.  I always have a quick look at the yellow stickers and found some packs of lean casserole steaks reduced.  I got 4 x 450g packs for £10.76 instead of £16.  There were 10 steaks in total (2 of them quite small) so definitely will be able to make 8 or 9 generous meals from them served with dough balls or pastry.

This morning I chopped 4 onions and about 6 carrots and threw them into the slow cooker.  I coated the steaks with GF flour and layered them on top.  I poured in some hot stock (made from Marigold powder) and red wine to cover.  I'll cook it on low for about 8 hours checking it every now and then.

I didn't want to buy a whole bottle of red wine as I can't drink it (gives me a migraine) so I saw this and thought I'd try it.  It cost £1.02 for 250ml, contains 60% de alcoholised wine and 40% 'normal' wine.  Also contains salt!  I'm now wondering if I would have been better just buying a cheap £2.99 red from Lidl and freezing the remains for the next time. I'll report back on the taste.  Kitchen smells lovely already after an hour so I hope it tastes as good as it smells.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Potatoes, tatties, spuds....

What can you do with a 2.5kg bag of potatoes that cost only £1.25?
Make rosti by grating 2 large potatoes (skin on), squeeze out the excess liquid, season well and fry in small heaps in oil until crispy and brown. Be brave and don't turn them over until they're really brown on the first side.  I made 8 but some got eaten before I got my camera out!!

Make stuffed cheesy baked potatoes by baking 4 potatoes until the skins are crisp and the insides soft.  Cut them in half and scoop out the flesh.  Mix with butter and grated cheese and pile back into the shells.  Reheat until the tops start to brown.  This is a family favourite :-) They also freeze.

Boil the rest and turn into mash to top one individual cottage pie (using yesterday's batch
cooked mince), one decent sized pie for 2 hungry people and a portion for my lunch at work today.

Honey and Tamari baked chicken mini fillets ready for stir fries

Lots of cheap nutritious filling meals for not much money and just a bit of effort.  I'm going to try to make more of an effort at weekends to stock up on meals for the week ahead and for the freezer.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

And back to normal blogging

Okay, just one last holiday pic!  Indoor sky diving!! Totally amazing experience.  I don't do heights and would be too terrified to jump out of an aeroplane at 12,000 feet to sky dive so this was a unique opportunity to experience sky diving without the dangerous bit.  I loved it!!

And now back to normal blogging!  I got 3 x 500g packs of Scottish beef mince for £10.  So I browned them along with 3 large diced onions and 3 grated carrots (to bulk it out a bit), a goodly shake of mixed herbs and a tablespoon of stock powder, then it simmered for about half an hour.  It's currently waiting to be portioned up into bags for cottage pie, bolognaise and tacos with the appropriate seasonings and extra veggies. 
I also got a couple of bags of British frozen chicken mini fillets (2 x 1kg for £6).  These will be drizzled with honey and Tamari and simply baked for about 20 mins.  I use these chopped up for my lunch with some veggies or in a stir fry for my evening meal.  That's a few meals for this week sorted out and some for the freezer.

Finally a very simple makeover.  This has been annoying me ever since I moved in.  My dining table is too big (it seats 10) but I didn't want to get rid of it and buy a new one.  When we moved in it was positioned horizontally in the alcove.  It fitted, just!!  But you couldn't walk round it and anyone sitting at the back had to climb over seats.  So I had the idea of turning it round.  It's basically a large piece of glass (very heavy!!) that sits on 2 solid pillars.  Last night we had enough people to manoeuvre it into its new position.  Huge improvement!! And I was able to bring my Rennie Mackintosh style table out of the garage too.
No cost makeover, the best kind!

Saturday, 15 November 2014

A Chinese Wedding

Of course the main reason for our holiday was that OH's brother was getting married.  Chinese weddings can last all day with various events so it was wonderful to be part of something completely different from a Scottish wedding.  Although there were some elements that were similar.
There was a family and friends dinner on the Saturday evening (I guess a bit like a rehearsal dinner that Americans have)  This was in a local restaurant used by the locals so completely authentic cuisine, not modified for tourists.  Sadly I didn't get any decent pics but we had the mostly amazing tofu dish, chicken dipped in a potato flour batter and prawns to die for.

On the Sunday morning we arrived at the bride's parents flat where the groomsmen and groom are then locked out and have to perform tasks to win the bride.  There was lovely lady (an aunt I think?) who explained to me that this is a local custom.  Tasks included drinking beer spiked with chillies, a wasabi sandwich, picking up beans with chopsticks to make a heart shape and a few other challenges.

The chopstick challenge
The groom then has to pay the chief bridesmaid a dowry to be given to the parents.  Negotiations were tough! She'd get a job with the UN easy peasy!!!  When the groom gains entry he has to make his vows and convince his bride to come out of her room.

Once she has agreed to be his bride the most important part of the day takes place.  They acknowledge the family shrine and then begin the tea ceremony. Traditional ceremonies can last hours.

The bride and groom present tea to their family thanking them for bringing them up and supporting them through their lives.  As this was all in Chinese I wasn't sure what was said.  This is OH with his tea. His brother thanked him for putting up with him as kids!! 
The bridesmaids and groomsmen then get a gift from the couple and all the children get an envelope with money.

Once the tea ceremony was over it was time for lunch!  There was a fabulous professional caterers buffet laid out with lots of food.  Despite my dietary restrictions I still managed to stuff my face!

Luckily there were rice noodles as well as rice
After lunch everyone goes home.  Or in our case, back to the hotel for a swim and a snooze.  Then there was formal dinner in the evening at a very beautiful restaurant on the quayside.
This is me in my wedding outfit that didn't cost me a penny.  The Teenager is wearing a suit jacket and shirt he got last year for his school dance and is actually wearing his school trousers! The only item bought for either of us was a pair of shoes for him as he's still growing!

Being vegetarian The Teenager is used to having limited choice but they brought him some lovely vegetable fried rice with steamed veggies on the side.

This photo really doesn't do justice to the beautiful restaurant.  If anyone wants to check it out it's the Peony Jade in Clarke Quay, Singapore.

The happy couple pouring champagne in a tier of glasses which was then shared with family and a toast is made to the couple.

This is the banquet menu.  It was called Elements of Infinity Banquet.
Peony Jade's Signature Crispy Suckling Pig Platter
Chilled Scallops Salad Mayo with Tropical Fresh Fruits
Roasted Crackling Skin Suckling Piglet Sliced
Deep Fried Dragon Beard Roll
Marinated Sea Blubber
'Cheng Du' Spicy Cold Chicken
Peony Jade's Signature Sautéed Fresh Prawns with Salted Creamy Yolk
Braised Golden Pumpkin Broth with Seafood and Bird's Nest
Steamed 'Soon Hock' Fish Honk Kong Style with Premium Light Soy Sauce
Fillet of Tea Smoked Duck served with Mini Flower Buns
Stewed Fragrant Rice with Premier Shredded Conpoy, Dried Octopus and Diced Chicken in Lotus Leaf
Chilled Fresh Mango Puree with Pomelo Sacs and Sago Pearls
Excuse the level of detail but I loved this menu and have been finding out more about some of the unfamiliar things since we got back.  Although I didn't eat everything on the menu it has reignited my interest in Asian cooking and I'll be researching how to re create some the above dishes.  I'll pass on the sea blubber though (it's jellyfish!!!)

I really enjoyed the day.  This was why we took our kids out of school for a week (very naughty I know especially as I'm a teacher)  But what they gained in experience couldn't be replicated.  Not all learning takes place in the classroom.