September 30

Thrifty Things To Do This Week: A Free Christmas Wreath And Thriftier Main Meals

Week 1 – September 30th, 2019

It’s the first week of the month: if you can make the time, Try A New Free Or Cheap Activity and Grow Something.

Do you have any shrub herbs (lavender, bay, sage, rosemary…) in your garden? If you don’t – do! Even if all you have is a window sill, these are easy plants to grow, give colour right through winter, smell amazing, attract bees and butterflies, and can make cheap meals taste fancy. Right now is an excellent time to plant them – mild weather to help them bed in but less dry than the spring time.

If you have some already, then it’s time to think about cutting them back. It helps keep them in shape, looking good for the winter (I like to think it does the same for me if I do it vigorously enough…) But it also helps to make them last longer which means you don’t have to replace them every few years, Which is pretty thrifty.

Obviously you are not going to just chuck the cuttings away. You are going to hang them up indoors somewhere warm and dry so you can have a free supply of herbs in the kitchen for the next year. So why not kill two birds with one stone by drying them as a wreath. That way in about three months time you can bring out your herb wreath, add a few festive touches, and hang it up for Christmas.

After Christmas you can dismantle your wreath and put your dried herbs in jars. Or, if you are as disorganised as I am, you can hang the wreath in the kitchen to remind you to get round to jarring up your herbs. And then spend the next six months just picking them directly from your wreath as and when you need them. I got to quite like the country-kitchen feel it gave – or maybe I am just making excuses.

Once you have turned your garden refuse into a wreath, try turning the meat eaters in your house into pulse-lovers. Pulses are the cheapest source of protein but not everyone is happy with a vegetarian main course. There is a happy compromise: this is it.

Free, Downloadable Thrifty Habits Planner To Keep You On Track

Click here to download your copy of this week’s free Thrifty Habits Planner.

So, you want to get into the habit of spending less without putting in more effort? You need something to remind you what to do and when, so you don’t have to keep thinking about it. The Thrifty Habits Planner is a simple tool to help you do just that. Use it to pencil in which thrifty things you plan to do this week and to pin yourself down to when you plan to do them. If you take control this way at the start of the week, you are far more likely to have stuck to your plan by the end of the week. Sticking your plan up somewhere you will see it every day helps you to stay on track too.

Take time at the end of the week to give yourself a little treat as a reward for your thrifty efforts. Little splurges will actually help you to stay thrifty – read this to find out how.

I will be back next week with a fresh Thrifty Habits Planner, a suggestion for a free family activity and some ideas to bring cheap colour to your garden at minimal cost to your pocket. See you then!

March 28

5 Ways To Turn Meat-Eaters Into Pulse-Lovers

One Simple Change To Cut Your Food Costs

vintage image of woman with binocularsI have been crunching some numbers – specifically the number of grammes of protein in different foods. Something Jack Monroe said on A Girl Called Jack chimed with me.  She points out that the most expensive part of a main meal is the protein while the starchy carbs are generally the cheapest.  That being the case, the key to thriftier dinners in Tartan Towers must be changing to cheaper sources of protein, yes? I decided to look into that.

BackToSchoolVintage-GraphicsFairyThis week I have spent an unreasonable amount of time looking up the protein content of all the foods I could think of. I worked out how many grammes of each made up 45g of protein (an adult’s daily intake, more or less) and then worked out how much that amount of each food would cost at a supermarket.  Then I ranked them. I need to get out more.

Thrifty Sources Of Protein

Money-savingThere were no surprises about which protein source is the most expensive. Meat costs most, and so it should – done humanely animal husbandry is high-maintenance and resource-hungry. Meat is followed – not especially closely – by fresh fish.  Frozen fish is less expensive, costing roughly the same per gramme of protein as eggs and nuts. Tinned fish and cheese are cheaper, milk cheaper still, but the winner of the cheap protein award is… pulses.

In fact, pulses also get nominated for the frugal fibre prize and the thrifty iron cup, as well as winning medals for low fat levels.  So swapping some of our meaty meals for bean-based ones will cut our costs AND improve our diets. Simple.

Thrifty Pulses And How To Get Carnivores To Eat Them

images (1)I don’t need any persuading here:  I love a lentil and cheerfully champion chick peas. The rest of the Tartan Household might get on board less willingly, though. At the moment, my tartan carnivores eat a pulse-based dinner once a week, but they do love their meat.  Tartan Dad in particular becomes despondent if there is no sign of a dead animal on his plate. (He claims it’s a man thing.) They do already eat certain pulse dishes quite happily though – baked beans on toast, lentil soup, dhal with a curry – surely I should be able to nudge them further into lentil-love?

I think the key to success is to keep five ideas in mind…

meat eaters - New Page

spanish-meatball-butter-bean-stew1  Mix pulses with meat to break your carnivores in gently.  Make a meat dish but bulk it out with beans.  If you cook the beans in with the meat they will absorb the savour. We already do this in chilli con carne – I am going to try the same approach with other meat stews., adding white beans to a chicken casserole, haricots to a beef stew, lentils to stewing sausages.  Or I might try this Spanish Meatball And Butterbean Stew from BBC Good Food.

chicken and bean stew2  Use cuts of meat with bones in. Cooked with the beans – as in this spicy chicken and bean stew – they will make the gravy and the beans so full of meaty savour that nobody will mind the fact that there is less meat.  They are cheaper too. And they will make the meat look bigger.  We carnivores are easily fooled.

chickpeas and chorizo3  Treat meat as a decoration rather than as a core protein source. Make the pulses the main event but add a little meat to stop carnivores wilting in despair. The chorizo in this chickpea dish is a very small portion of meat, but you are in no doubt that the meal has meat in it. This is an idea I first came across in Hugh Fearnely Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg but thrifty cooks around the world have been working this one for centuries – little chunks of meat in a broad bean risotto, dotted with scraps of chicken in a quesadilla, baked beans with odd chunks of bacon…

16recipehealth_600-articleLarge4  Add plenty oil for a ‘man-food’ feel.  One of the reasons we like meat is because the fat content helps to release flavour and signals to our brains that we are eating calorie-dense fuel. Replicate that with generous glugs of vegetable oils, butter or cheese. I would serve these pesto beans with big chunks of fresh bread to mop up the oils or spoon them into pita breads or wraps. Although, I wouldn’t try it at this stage of reprogramming my carnivores – to obviously meatless. So I will try them first with some scraps of chicken on top or maybe a tiny lamb chop.

Jamie Oliver aubergine dahl5  Go big to keep it interesting. A bland heap of beans or a blob of lentils can be a bit underwhelming so add texture and colour with chunks of veg, and excitement with big flavours – spices and herbs, wine, quality meat stocks… For me, this aubergine daal from Jamie Oliver fits the bill perfectly – unfortunately, for the rest of the Tartan Household it misses the mark because they all hate aubergine.  I am thinking we could try it with chunks of slow-roasted peppers or maybe wedges of roast red onion.

That’s my plan.  Will it work?  I’ll keep you posted.

October 14

Thrifty And Lovely Bacon and Tomato Sauce

Thriftier Than Ready-Meals, Saner Than Home-Cooking Every Day

retro-baking-vintageimage-Graphics-FairyFor several months now I have set aside time each week to cook one Big Production and then freeze the leftovers to bring on as Encores once a week for the next month.  Well, My Cook, Eat, Save Repeat strategy seems to be paying off – mainly because it stops me sending out for take-away or buying ready-made when life is too busy or I am too tired of cooking.  Sometimes though, life gets a little too crazy and I can’t find even enough time for that one weekly cook-in to keep my freezer stocked.  This week, dear readers, has been one of those times.

Which is one of the four reasons I love this Bacon and Tomato Sauce so much, because it takes less than five minutes hands-on-time to make a big potful.  The other three reasons are that it is delicious & nutritious, versatile, and very thrifty.  A shop-bought jar of pasta sauce is going to beat it (just) on cost but it won’t touch it on taste and nutrition.  Try it for yourself and see.  Here’s how.


Thrifty And Lovely Bacon And Tomato Sauce Ingredients

  • IMG_9561750g of bacon pieces
  • one 750g bag of frozen chopped onions
  • one 750g bag of frozen chopped peppers
  • 6 cans of budget chopped tomatoes
  • a few inches of pureed garlic from a tube – adjust to your own personal taste
  • oregano – dried is good, fresh if you happen to have it in your garden, is even gooder
  • vegetable oil – f you splash out on olive, mix it with another vegetable oil to raise the smoking point

The Big Production:  How To Make Your Bacon And Tomato Sauce

  1. IMG_9562Take a good-sized pan and put a generous slick of vegetable oil across the bottom, topped with the bacon pieces.  Put over a medium heat and leave to do its thing for five minutes.  Bacon pieces are what manufacturers have left over after they turn a side of bacon into rashers.  Because they would otherwise be thrown away, they are cheaper than rashers.  They are chunky and irregular, which, in my opinion, is a bonus when it comes to adding a little meaty texture to a vegetable sauce.  They also don”t require you to spend time separating them out and carefully cutting them up.  A bonus bonus!
  2. IMG_9571When the bacon has begun to sizzle gently, tip in the frozen onions and peppers.  Stir through.  Leave over the same medium heat for another five minutes, checking now and again that it is not sticking.  If it sticks, add more oil.  (The bacon will slowly give up some fat as it starts to heat and the amount of additional oil you will need is going to vary each time you make it because the amount of fat in your bacon varies.)
  3. When the frozen veg has heated up and is sweating gently in a bath of its own juices add the garlic to your own taste, 45ml dried oregano or 90ml fresh, and a generous grinding of black pepper.  DO NOT ADD SALT.  The bacon will probably be enough.  Stir through and add the tinned chopped tomatoes.   Turn the heat down to low, stick on a lid and forget about it for an hour.  It will gradually come to a gentle simmer and all the ingredients will cosy up to one another.
  4. Taste your sauce and add more garlic/oregano/a pinch of sugar to your taste.

What To Do With Your Sauce:  Bring On The Encores

That’s all there is to it.  When it is completely cool decant it into freezer bags and freeze flat on their sides.  This will mean that the coldest part of your frozen sauce is never more than 2cm from the surface so in an emergency it will defrost very fast.  You know, one of those tomato sauce emergencies you hear about on the news…  Anyway, here are the Encores.

  • gnochi and prawns in bacon and tomato sauce with melted mozarella on topreheat the sauce with a bag of frozen prawns, a pinch of chilli flakes and a handful of chopped fennel leaves in a frying pan; stir in cooked gnocchi and top with thinly sliced cheese; pop under the grill to melt the cheese then eat.
  • mix 15ml of sweet paprika with a little oil and add to the sauce, along with two cans of chickpeas, a few chunks of frozen spinach and 10ml dried oregano.  Heat through and serve with rice, topped with greek yoghurt.  The longer you can leave this to simmer, the more the chickpeas will take up the flavours in the sauce.
  • Toss with two cans of tuna and use as the ‘meat’ layer of a lasagne, topping with white sauce and grated cheese as usual. Or use the tuna and sauce mix to top spaghetti as a kind of student-food-of-my-youth tuna bolognese.
  • In a serious emergency, pop a frozen block of sauce in a pan with chilli powder to your taste and two cans of kidney beans while your throw some pitta bread in the toaster.  Layer up your hastily heated chilli bean mix with grated cheddar in soup bowls and serve with the toasted pitta to scoop out the spicy, savoury, gooey beans.  In my experience it’s best to do this in an empty room or only in the company of people you know really well… Alternatively pop the lot in an oven proof dish and top with a pack of tortilla chips and more grated cheese. Grill for just long enough to melt the cheese then serve.
  • If you have absolutely no time at all, reheat the sauce with a mug of water, half a stock cube and a splash of single cream and then puree with a stick blender to make an excellent tomato soup to go with fresh bread, butter and cheese.  Some basil leaves would make it even better, if you have them.



March 4

Thrifty, Healthy, Homemade Ready Meals

Cook, Eat, Save, Repeat

I’ve been batching snacks and lunches for several weeks now and it has definitely paid off, reducing both our food bills and my morning stress levels.  It turns out packing lunches in bulk is not much more of a hassle than just packing one day’s worth – it’s deciding what to make and getting down to it that takes the most out of you.  Reducing that to a weekly not a daily occurrence made the whole process seem much easier and less of a drag.

A Big Performance And Encores

So I am ready to roll the same principle out to our main meal.  Each week I am going to cook one meal that will then give me an additional three meals to freeze.  For example, if I cook a lasagne I will make extra of everything and freeze an uncooked lasagne, a portion of mince and a portion of white sauce to make a fish pie.  I will set aside a couple of hours (a Saturday morning, say) for this one Big Performance, and once a week for the rest of the month we will dine on the Encores from that meal.  If I do one Big Performance each week, then by the end of the month I will have gradually built up to four meals a week that are simply Encores – thrifty, healthy home-made ready meals.

Inspire Me

Happily for me I have been beaten to this idea by many food writers over the last five or so years, so there is no shortage of inspiration.   My two oldest favourites are Economy Gastronomy and The Kitchen Revolution, although I am currently reading Save With Jamie and finding it has plenty of new and interesting thrifty meal ideas to inspire me (and the option of watching him cook some of them online).  All three work with the same basic idea of taking one culinary Big Performance and using it as the basis of at least two other meals.  Kitchen Revolution also pushes the idea of eating seasonally to get ingredients at their cheapest and most nutritious and so presents you with 52 weekly menus grouped into months.   If you want someone else to make all your main meal decisions for you, this is the book to reach for.  It is detailed, easy to follow, the meals are appealing and varied and each week includes a complete shopping list.  The sheer volume of recipes puts it in a different league from the other two.  If, like me, you want to buy an ingredient at a knockdown price, hurry home with it and look up a recipe to cook it with, it’s a bit of a pain because it is organised by week not by ingredients.  The wealth of information in the book has been crammed in at the expense of any photographs which, I am not too proud to admit, is a turn-off for me.  Economy Gastronomy is my favourite.  It makes picking one ingredient (a whole salmon say, or a joint of meat) and creating a range of meals from it seem really easy.  That said, I have been enjoying Jamie Oliver’s latest free of charge, courtesy of the public library service and reckon it will save me enough money in the long-run to be worth buying my own copy.  Besides, it’s time someone else got a chance to read this copy for nothing.

I have also set up a Big Performance and Encores board on Pinterest to capture some of the online inspiration – please take a look.  If you follow me, I will follow you back!