February 8

Invest In Stock: Make Soup; Save Money

Soup Doop Doop Soup De Doop

victorian alphabet umbrellaI live in Glasgow – I have experienced more wild, wet and windy weather than a woman ought to wot of. But this winter has maxed me out. Enough with the wind and the rain and the cold already! People are trying to cosy up here. Jeez.

I want sunshine. I want encouraging signs of spring bursting forth here and there. I want one whole week without flooding on the national news. And, in the absence of any of these, I want soup. Comfort in a bowl.
Thrifty Habits PlannerIt’s not just the weather. There is a better reason Make Soup is a year-round weekly thrifty habit for me. Soup fills you up very cheaply – which means you can reduce the size (and cost) of your main meal simply by serving soup as a starter, or reduce the size of your lunchtime sandwich by serving a flask of soup on the side. Our grannies knew this – how did we forget?
vegis-leeks-graphicsfairy009bThis week I have been warming my soul with Living Well Spending Less’s Easy Slow Cooked Split Pea Soup but if you want more inspiration, take a look at my Make Soup board on Pinterest. And if, like me, you sometimes struggle to muster up any urge to chop vegetables or make stock from scratch, take a look at Thrifty, Lazy, Tasty Soup – My Hunt For Low Wattage Pottage for some frugal fillers with zero prep.

Happy slurping and may your wellies be unworn this week. The rest of this week’s Thrifty Habits, and a free Thrifty Habits Planner to download are here.


January 10

Batch A Packed Lunch – Lentil Soup & Cheesy Cornbread

Cook, Eat, Save, Repeat For Thriftier Lunches

Last week I posted a new, thrifty Packed Lunch Planner.  If you are joining me in saving money by following that plan, here are instructions and links for batching the Lentil Soup and Cheesy Cornbread for Mondays each week, and the Salmon And Cream Cheese Croissants for Tuesdays.

lunch jan 15 - New PageI will be batching up one lot of packed lunches each week and by the end of January will be back up to full, frugal, lunch-producing speed.

Packed Lunch Planner BlankIf you don’t want to follow my plan to the letter (or at all) you can download the blank planner and use it to create your own menu of packed lunches to stash away in the freezer and cupboard ready for you and yours to enjoy every day.

Monday Lunch: Lovely Lentil Soup and Cheesy Cornbread

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's chilli cheese cornbreadCornbread is very, very easy to make – bung ingredients in a bowl, stir up, pour into a baking tin, bake, done.  (I am no stranger to kitchen disaster, and even I have never had a cornbread go wrong on me.)  I will be using Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s Chilli Cheese Cornbread recipe but will omit the chilli or the little Tartans will refuse to eat it.  When it has cooled, cut it into bars and wrap in cling film before freezing.

796_1_1350299034_lrgLentil soup needs no recipe – a bit of chopped bacon, an onion and other veg, lentils, stock cubes, some common sense… But just in case, you can’t go wrong with Jamie Oliver’s version here. When your soup has cooled pour it into four plastic tubs with lids and freeze.

Defrost your box of soup overnight.  In the morning, pour it into a pot and bring to the boil.  At the same time, boil a kettle.  When the soup is bubbling, pour the boiled water into your flasks and then pour out again.  Turn off the heat under the soup, decant into a jug and then pour into your flasks.  Heating the flasks with boiled water will stop them from absorbing heat from the soup.  This is especially helpful if you are using metal flasks.

It’s up to you whether you use fresh pineapple or tinned – I go for whichever is cheapest (it varies) but make sure to buy only fruit that is tinned in juice.  I put it in little plastic pots, taping a cocktail stick to each lid for easy spearing.


Tuesday Lunch: Salmon And Cream Cheese Croissants

aldi croissantsFor these, I like to use the bags of croissants sold in Aldi and Lidl.  At 99p for eight they are much cheaper than the freshly baked supermarket or bakery offerings, a more manageable size for little hands and mouths and, in my opinion, much tastier, with a soft rather than flaky texture.  Their slightly sweet flavour works nicely with the salty fish.  Split the croissants before freezing in bags.

utencil-spoon-vintage-GraphicsFairyTo make the salmon and cream cheese pate, buy a bag of budget smoked salmon trimmings.  (Lidl are my favourite for texture and flavour but most supermarkets do a decent version.)  Combine these in a food processor with two packs of full fat cream cheese and black pepper. Put the salmon pate into sandwich bags, one for each week. Freezing the pate separately means that you can give it a quick stir once defrosted to restore its proper creamy texture before spooning it quickly into the split croissants. Different brands of cream cheese vary in how well they freeze, with some coming out a bit crumbly.  If stirring alone doesn’t fix it, add a little mayonnaise.  If the texture looks fine, just snip the bottom corner off the freezer bag and pipe the pate into the croissants like icing.  Wonderfully pink icing with a surprising aroma…

1acarrotsgfairy005Smoothies freeze well, and I find putting them in the lunch bag straight from the freezer helps to keep the salmon and cheese mix fresh.  Little cartons are easy to use, but big cartons decanted into your own bottles are cheaper. Chop carrots into small sticks and pop them into little plastic tubs.  Or use baby carrots and avoid fiddly chopping altogether.

HandNoticeVintage-GraphicsFairyClick here to download this week’s Thrifty Habits Planner.


May 1

Scotch Broth In A Hurry

bathinglady004It is the first day of May, it is raining and it is cold.  I want summer.  In the absence of summer, I want a bowl of Scotch broth.  My mum used to cook us Scotch Broth every weekend.  (This is probably not true:  she probably bought tinned soup four weeks out of five. But it was the broth that stuck in my mind, and to my ribs.)  Scotch Broth is the risotto of the north, a satisfying, grain-based, meat-stretching, vegetable-rich bowl of thriftiness.  I want a pot of scotch broth wafting thrifty nostalgia over my kitchen.

cupboard-lady-Image-Graphics-Fairy2I have half a packet of Vegetable Broth Mix and lamb stock cubes in the cupboard.   It will make a broth that tastes fine, but the scent of childhood weekends will be replaced by the faint whiff of dried onions.  Not what I am after.

vegis-leeks-graphicsfairy009bI could make a ‘proper’ Scotch broth:  hand-chopped root vegetables,  broth mix, stock made with the bones left over from our Sunday lunch.  This is THE way to do it:   a big, satisfying potful of Home.   Homemade stock has substance and savour and depth that stock cubes lack, not to mention little bits of meat.   And, had we had lamb for lunch on Sunday, that would be the way to go now.  We had toasted cheese.

Actually,  I don’t even have in enough fresh vegetables.  I rummage in the freezer and find a bag of Morrison’s Casserole Vegetables bought by mistake.   I never, never buy frozen root veg.  All the frozen root veg I have ever, grudgingly, eaten looked like tiny orange dice.  Dice don’t say wholesome, earthy goodness to me:  buying lamb bones and fresh vegetables to make broth doesn’t say leftover-exploiting thriftiness. Hmmm.

I cook half of it with a lamb stock cube, pearl barley and a bay leaf.  At the very end I add frozen peas. I worry that it will be bland and watery.   But the vegetables look chunky and hand-prepared with a tiny amount of bite and some flavour. Much prettier than the unconvincing slivers that dot packet broth, and tastier.

packet mix brothSo I get my bowl of broth without extra cost, and discover (again) that frozen veg is the thrifty cook’s friend.  I also discover that Gordon Fearnley Oliver is right:  in the land of Real Soup homemade stock is king .   But if you don’t happen to have fresh vegetables and a chunky lamb bone to hand, frozen and a stock cube is still worth eating.

By the way, although it pains my tartan heart to say this, you can make a tasty broth with other meat stocks too.  They won’t be authentic, but then, neither is tartan.

February 8

Thrifty, lazy, tasty soup: my hunt for low wattage pottage

How Hard Can It Be To Make Soup?

I thought introducing a weekly soup-making habit was going to give me a bit of New-Thrifty-Habit-breathing space because, you know, soup is so easy.  Soup is so easy but I really have struggled with this habit.  I think I find it easier to put aside time to do a Big Task than find a few minutes to get on with a little veg-chopping.  And January has been a busy month.  And I have had all these other new habits to get into…

Anyway, I refuse to admit defeat and laugh in the face of laziness.   (Laziness can’t be bothered to respond.)  I might be too busy (or idle) to make soup properly, but we are still going to get into the habit of eating soup at least a couple of days a week because it really does

  1. taste good
  2. reduce the amount of other, pricier food we eat at the same meal
  3. get an extra portion of veg into us.

Jamie Oliver, in Save With Jamie, champions frozen veg because it is “great value, nutritious… and you can just grab a handful of what you need when you need it.”  All true.  It’s also true that frozen veg is often packed already chopped.  Now that’s the kind of vegetable preparation I can get behind.  Lentils and tinned beans are equally hands-free and highly nutritious.  I am not going to pretend to you that a stock cube is highly nutritious.  I am also not going to make a proper stock before I make soup, if I am honest.  Tinned beans, frozen chopped veg and stock cubes are going to put soup on our table every few days for the next month.  Here’s how.

  1. Cock-a-leekie:  this is a traditional Scottish soup not an episode of Embarrassing Bodies.  Ideally you start with a raw whole chicken and take it from there.  I will be starting with a raw, whole chicken stock cube, adding it to boiling water, popping in a good handful of long-grain rice, a lot of frozen sliced leeks and another handful of ready-to-eat prunes and some dried mixed herbs.  If I happen to have some leftover chicken that will be chopped and added at the end.  Will it be authentic?  No.  Will it be tasty, thrifty and very very lazy?  Och aye.
  2. Butterbean and bacon:  smoked bacon bits and frozen onions sweated over a gentle heat for ten minutes; tinned butterbeans, a chicken stock cube, hot water and dried mixed herbs brought to the boil and simmered for another five minutes.  The whole lot pureed with a hand-held blender.  Eaten, ideally, with rosy cheeks after a Saturday morning’s sledging.  I have tried this one already and can report that if you are too lazy (I was) to even sweat the bacon and onion you can put all the ingredients in a slow-cooker and forget about them.  It is marginally less tasty.  Marginally.  Alas, no sledging in Glasgow this winter but who knows what surprises the summer may bring?
  3. Slightly spicy sweetcorn and pepper:  it’s up to you how spicy you want it, but here in Tartan Towers we all have delicate little mouths so I go easy on the ginger and chilli.  Start by sweating frozen onions and sliced frozen peppers for ten minutes.  Add a little ground ginger, a squirt of pureed garlic from a tube and a few flakes of chilli and stir through.  Barely cover with boiling water, add a stock cube, and half a can of coconut milk.  Chuck in a stalk of lemon grass sliced lengthways and a couple of lime leaves.  (I found fresh lemon grass and lime leaves in the fresh veg section of Morrisons:  both freeze well.  Coconut milk from their ‘ethnic foods’ aisle was thicker and cheaper than the stuff in their ‘foreign foods’ aisle.)  Simmer for half an hour and then add frozen sweetcorn and simmer for another five minutes.  Add lots of chopped fresh basil to serve  Or a squirt of Very Lazy Basil from a tube.  It is less thrifty than fresh basil but more thrifty than never making soup: take your pick.
  4. Smoky pepper, tomato and chickpea:  frozen onions and sliced peppers, sweated for five minutes.  Add a squirt of garlic puree and a generous heap of dulce pimenton, stir through and then add two cans of chopped tomatoes, a handful of dried oregano and the ubiquitous chicken stock cube.  Or maybe beef – I have always made this with chicken but right now I am thinking that beef could be pretty tasty too…  Chuck in a tin of chickpeas or a handful of red lentils and add water.  Simmer it all for half an hour and then blend with a stick blender.  Stir through some single cream.  Done.


January 25

Very Lazy Soup

One of this week’s new habits is to make soup.    I loooove soup.  It is flavour and texture in the most edible format.  Put it in a cup and you don’t even need a spoon.  And it is perfect gloomy weather food.  (Apart from gazpacho – is the fact that I am from Scotland responsible for my dislike of cold soups?)  And it is a very easy way to get an extra portion of vegetables (healthy, cheap, fills up tummy space otherwise filled with pricier foodstuffs – what’s not to like?) into the family diet. In an ideal world I would make soup ever day.

1acarrotsgfairy005In the real world I don’t make soup everyday.  Why is that?  Is it the hassle of chopping up onions and other veg?  Surely a little chopping and sweating (the onions, not me) is not too much to ask for such a great return?  Soup is so simple and can cook in under twenty minutes, only about five of which actually require my presence in the kitchen.

I have no excuse for not making it most days, but I am trying to Deal With The Real Not The Ideal so I decide that if a few minutes of chopping is putting me off making soup I will start with something completely hands-off.  I spend a pound on a bag of frozen sliced leeks, tip them into a pan, add green lentils and a couple of bay leaves from the garden, top up with cold water and a couple of chicken stock cubes and leave them all to make friends over a low heat.

vegis-leeks-graphicsfairy009bAn hour and a half later I return and add a tiny splash of cream.  That’s it and I am relieved to report it was tasty.  It is unlikely to appear on The Great British Soup-Off but it provided a healthy pop of fibre and protein from the lentils, along with all the nutritional benefits of the leeks, for a few pence less than a small carton of Covent Garden Soup.  And it broke my soup block because two days later I actually chopped some vegetables willingly and made a proper soup with them.