Friday, 15 November 2013

Thrifty Ideas for the Kitchen

Getting ready for Christmas!

Well, we are now well and truly into November! The excitement of Autumn washed away by days and days of drizzly weather! Welcome to reality.....the wet Welsh winter! Oh well, we’ve had it good ‘till now, with the clocks turned back, we now have to face the facts, dark evenings, and sometimes dark afternoons, either wet weather or cold weather! In other words, a great time to cosy up by the fire, or face it head on, with wellies, a warm coat, hat and a flask of piping hot soup! We have a simple choice, take it or leave it!

I’m looking on the bright side, Christmas is fast approaching, bringing with it the shortest day, and from there on, day by day, as the earth tilts, we gain daylight hours right through till spring! That’s great news. I love christmas, but it is an expensive time.     
The annual cutting and sticking to create  personalized Christmas wish lists has started in the Fearn family! 

It started as a bit of fun, a learning and craft activity when the children were small. It involved sitting, reading, cutting, sticking, naming (with name of shop and price!) and these lovely pieces of works of art would then be proudly displayed on the fridge. A useful reminder of what I should get for the four, six, eight, ten and twelve year old! It saved a lot of Christmas shopping hassle on my part, and they loved the activity! 

Now, with most of them well into their teens, the lists have got shorter and shorter and have almost disappeared. That’s a good thing, I hear you say!  A good thing? Oddly enough, the shorter the list, the larger the price tag!!

However, there are great ways to save pennies between now and the big day! By being careful with weekly food basket we can easily make life easier and save ourselves some money. Being thrifty may sound old fashioned, but being thrifty is also being clever! It doesn’t mean compromising on standards or quality, it simply means you get more for your money. 

I’ll write these as points so that you can tick them off as you read through - pin them to the fridge next to the christmas wish list!!

Make a list - Check what you already have in the fridge and in the cupboards before you leave for the shops. This prevents overstocking and buying too much of the same. 
This is especially true for perishables, the things that have a short shelf life such as soft fruits and salads, herbs and juices. When you see what you have already, that’s also the time to conjure up a recipe idea to use up what’s about to go off, for example a banana loaf, a mixed fruit pie or a salad for tea.

Bread - Don’t just throw the stale loaf ends away, blitz them in a blender or food processor to make tasty bread crumbs. Blitz french sticks, paninis, or a focaccia bread for tasty and different flavoured bread crumbs for making stuffing and pie toppings. Use them to top stuffed peppers and mushrooms, and home made chicken nuggets, or garlic croutons for soups and stews - they will come in handy, I promise!  PS Stuffing the Christmas turkey in 5 weeks time!!  Don’t forget how tasty a good bread and butter pudding can be, even made with stale fruit buns!

Lemons - If you have half a lemon in the fridge, don’t leave it there till it’s all dried out and ready for the compost bin...... Slice it up thinly, and freeze, ready for Christmas drinks. Use the lemon straight from the freezer and this way the lemon stays fresh and it cools the drink at the same time!

Store things well - Root veg and certain fruit store better in a cool, dark place rather than in the fridge. Never put bananas, avocados and basil in the fridge, as they will turn black and soggy. Root veg such as carrots and parsnips, swede and potatoes are better stored out of the fridge, but somewhere cool and dark.

Herbs - rather than put herbs in the fridge in the hope that you may use them eventually, chop them up and place them into small bags or containers and pop them straight into the freezer. Use them in soups and stews. 

Herby butter - A great way to save and preserve summer herbs such as basil and garden mint for use in the winter, is to make your own herby butter. Chop the herbs up and mix well into some soft butter (left at room temperature). Place the soft butter on a sheet of cling film and carefully roll to make a sausage shape. Twist the ends and refrigerate until firm, then slice into little patties and store in the freezer until needed. Don’t forget to label the pot, once frozen you wont be able to smell the herb, or identify one from the other! 

Double up - It’s as much work to make one lasagne as it is to make TWO lasagne! 
So, when you make a tray bake or a stew or a soup, try doubling up and making two.  Eat one and put the other in the freezer for another day. Easy! This won’t necessarily save you lots of pennies, but it will save a lot to your time and energy. There is nothing better that tucking into a delicious meal that you didn’t even make that day!! Coming home to your very own ready meal, means you don’t have to call in the supermarket to buy something on the way home, and there are no pots and pans to wash either. 

Chicken - Go for a whole bird not just the thighs or breast portions. Kilo for kilo or pound for pound it is far cheaper. Invest in some decent scissors or meat and poultry shears and carve the bird up into portions and freeze them ready for another day. 

Cheese - Most cheddar cheeses and stilton freeze perfectly. Buy it in bulk, cut up into chunks and freeze until you need it.

Meat - Try buying cheaper cuts of meat such as stewing lamb and brisket, they are packed with flavour and make delicious dishes when slow cooked.

New recipes - Experiment with new recipes that allow you to vary the ingredients to suit what you like and what you have in the fridge. I love recipes such as a frittata or Spanish tortilla (posh name for Spanish omelet!) that allow me to use up what I have left over or unused in the bottom drawer of the fridge. 

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

A Half Term Treat

A Half Term Treat

Fed up of pumpkin soup?? Fed up of bonfires, fireworks and toasted marshmallows?  How about  multi coloured autumnal leaves and Conkers? 
Well, we've had a long autumn! Yes, of course autumn is always the same length in days and weeks, but this year it feels longer. It's been exceptionally mild and dry, apart of course for the blip of a storm that whipped at the end of October. 
This year, I bet the majority of us didn't even think about the heating until November was upon us.  It seems to have been autumn since forever, but that's a good thing! A long autumn extends summer and shortens the dark winter months. 

During half term, I visited Wassenaar a lovely little town in the Netherlands. We discovered it  as a family over a decade ago, and have returned as often as possible ever since. Wassenaar is a little known but beautiful town in the middle of a woodland, and surrounded for sand dunes along the Dutch coastline south of Amsterdam. It's a town that celebrates autumn to the full, in the most natural and simplistic style. There is nothing fancy.

In the Netherlands, pedestrians and cyclists take priority. Cars are forced to travel slowly and always stop for cyclists. Every road has a cycle path alongside it, and it certainly appears that everyone cycles! Young children, too young to ride a tricycle ride in special child seats, in pull along trailers or sit in specially made trolleys in front of the bicycle!  When they are old enough, children sit on an additional seat alongside Mum or Dad and by the time they're four ,they have a bike of their own! The system encourages this lifestyle, no shortage of paths and parks, plenty of street lighting and of course, reasonably flat land!! At any one time, five or six bikes could be cycling past in both directions, the cycle paths are as busy as the roads. As a pedestrian of course, you are as likely to be run over by a bike as a car!! Step into the cycle path at your peril......these cyclists are serious commuters and travellers. They have a destination in mind.. The road systems in and around the towns are slightly 'toy town' with dainty little paths here and there, quaint markings, and raised crossings. It seems like a very healthy way of life, it all seems very perfect! 

As winter approaches and clocks go back (yes, they even go back in Holland) shops and houses seem to celebrate winter with the same enthusiasm as we celebrate Christmas.  Winter lights and candles decorate their doors and windows, and cafes offer blankets and fleeces to those who chose to enjoy their coffee and spiced apple cake outdoors in the winter sun.  The cakes, pastries and biscuits all take on a warming comforting feel, mildly spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg. The cool crisp air seems to justify the goffres, (waffles) the syrup and pure chocolate dipping sauce.  They really know how to celebrate winter.

Even wind swept and cold, the Dutch jump on their bikes and enjoy life.  They cheer themselves up with large bowls full of home made soup and garlicky croutons. It's simple but effective. Yes, the grass is always greener, but if there's one thing I can take away from our mini break, it's to enjoy the moment, enjoy winter; come hail or shine! If it takes winter lights and candles, spiced cakes, warming drinks, and a log fire to bring a smile to my face, then so be it! 

I don’t wish to bring Christmas forward, nor see Christmas decorations in the shops in October, but surely, there's no harm in brining the joys usually associated with Christmas forward by a month or two. We are a country with four usually, very distinct seasons, we really do need to learn to celebrate them to the full just as our continental neighbours do.  To make the most of the weather, the colours, the foods and the spirit each season brings.