6 August 2015

Tips, Hints, so you can save time and money (oh yeah, & some crafts)!

After a while you begin to pick things up as you go along in life – some come to you only years after you’ve been doing the same thing day in and day out.  Others you find in your travels – either watching some program on telly, surfing the web for that all important detail, reading it in a cookbook, etc.

Here I’ll try and put some of my best tips that have been honed over time and help me in doing what I want – cook but also not spend so long in the kitchen.  I like it but hey – we have to have a life right?!?
First tip – when making your own pasta there are some rules I adhere to.  First I let the pasta rest for at least 30 minutes before working with it.  This gives it time to form the all-important gluten within the flour/semolina.  I use Jamie’s recipe of 100gms of flour to 1 large egg.  I tend to do a 50-50 ratio of pasta flour to semolina and you can do as you like but I’m not keen on 100% semolina.  Then when I’m working with it initially in the pasta machine I use corn flour (corn starch on the other side of the pond) to keep the pasta from sticking to the rollers.  I don’t heap it on but just dust lightly as I go – you won’t need too much.  Then when I’ve got my finished product be it noodles or pierogi I dust them again with a liberal amount of corn flour.  This keeps the past from absorbing any more moisture and they do not stick together.  I usually set it onto a cookie sheet for this purpose – it’s easy to wrap all up with cling film when done and it’s ideal if you want to freeze them this way.

This is apparently a Chinese technique to keep wonton wrappers from sticking together – well it works great and allows me to make my pasta noodles in the morning and not cook them until later in the day – time saver!  I’ve also read that you can make your wrappers and put corn flour in between and then freeze for later use.  Not tried that as yet…still have not gotten around to make my dumplings (or Dim Sum)…but soon!

My second tip is save your bones for soup.  This sounds a bit odd but it does work.  If I have a whole chicken I roast it for dinner, usually we have the legs and then the white meat is left.  I will use this to make what I call Mystic Chicken.  This is usually just some sauce I’ve made with the chicken and served with rice.  I add whatever is in the fridge that needs using up.  I save the bones and any pan scrapings (I usually add water to the pan and scrape up and save with the bones – this is where all your flavour is!) to make stock.
I then can use this stock for risotto, doodle-noodle soup (my version of cup a noodles but way better!) or whatever I need stock for in the week.  I never, ever throw out bones without doing this.  Save them in a container in the freeze until you have a healthy supply and voilà instant stock!  I also use them for my garbage soup – this is what I make when I’m at the last of everything in the fridge – that lonely carrot, stalk of celery, last onion, bits of parmesan rinds (again kept in the freeze until needed) and some beans from a tin all make a hearty warm soup.  There is no recipe for this – it’s just thrown together and gives me enough meals for the week.

My third tip is save the parmesan rinds – I put these into soups (mentioned above) but I also add to risotto if I want an extra kick.  They never go off in the freeze and I usually get quite a collection of them so have them to hand.  I leave whole so I can fish out later but J loves them as they are chewy and full of that umami flavour. 

My fourth tip is freezing herbs.  I’m all for fresh herbs when you need them but I tend to freeze mine as I find them reduced all the time.  I have successfully frozen parsley, coriander, thyme, lemon grass –whole and chives.  Rosemary does well if you chop it up and have a small amount – otherwise leave the leaf whole and chop when you’re ready to use.  I’ve found mint doesn’t work well – it loses its oomph.  Chillies are the same – they lose their intensity.  This is OK if that’s what you want but this is what I’ve found.  I never use garlic or onions frozen – they aren’t that difficult to do yourself and never taste the same at least I find.

My fifth tip is make your own sauces for pasta when serving as a side dish.  There’s a famous brand here in the UK which I tried but it was way too salty for my taste but also it really wasn’t nice.  So I now make pasta, save some water that it boiled in and add my own flavourings.  This depends really on what I have in the fridge that need using up.  Sometimes I have some cream cheese left over, some single or double cream so in that will go or a knob of cheese and then some herbs – use the pasta water to thin or bring it together.  Voilà a sauce that’s 100 times better than any packet.  I also use lemon juice, garlic, and butter as another.  I’ve tried a bit of tomato puree and some cream with parmesan again lovely.  Do not limit yourself – I’ve put in veggies like peas, courgettes, green beans chopped up in small bits, just about anything I can find goes in.  These are the bases I use and really you can alter them as much or as little as you like to your tasting. 

My sixth tip is making your own herb-y cream cheese.  I did a posting about this and it’s now a firm favourite in our house.  I add what I like to plain cream cheese and in no time flat (especially if you’ve got them frozen – it’s like seconds into the bowl) you have a delicious treat.  I have also done a cinnamon/nutmeg version for bagels and it’s fantastic as well.  It really kicks up the flavour for cinnamon bagels.

My seventh tip is making croutons!  I never, ever buy them – the mark up on them is extreme.  I always have a bit of bread left over from something and they too make great croutons.  I usually chop into smallish bites and then top with oil and my seasoning's.  This is up to you what you want to add.  I usually go for salt, pepper, garlic powder or onion powder.  I then add some dried herbs such as oregano and some cumin or coriander.  It’s really up to you and what the final salad it to be.  I usually keep for about a week in an air-tight container but usually they don’t last that long.

My eight tip is make your own sushi ginger.  It couldn’t be easier and it absolutely a million times better than the store bought stuff.  I tend to make it in the fall/winter and let it sit in the fridge all this time till I crave it in the summer months.  It’s mellowed and it is lovely.  I re-use some of the old liquid when I make a new one – the old liquid I don’t pour down the drain – oh now.  I use the liquid in my home made salad dressings it gives it a special ginger kick. Yes, I am thrifty to the nth degree!  I also take the peels and make ginger tea - usually adding whatever tea - black or green I have in the house to it and voilà - iced tea!

And my last ninth tip is hard boiled eggs.  Usually when I make a big salad as I call it for dinner – anything that needs to be used goes in.  I always put a few hard boiled eggs on the top and usually buy some small pasta (orzo, stars, etc.) and cook at the same time the eggs come to a boil.  I usually save my eggs that I know will be older and thus easier to peel for this job which is good. 

However, sometimes I am in the mood for potato salad (American kind not the junk I find here) as well as macaroni salad.  Hard boiled eggs are difficult to peel if they are new from the store.  However, read a tip on line to put one teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda in the water and this will loosen them inside from the white membrane.  Well yes, it does and thank you to the Gods for this tip!  It works so well but can really only be used when you are doing a large portion of eggs or no pasta like I do (which I do to just save on pots). 

Now the crafts – I’ve been making my book roses now for a while and doing the pearls on them.  So had to find something else to try and this is part of the result so far.  I got some watercolour paints and coffee filters and well it just happened!  I saw this link on-line and thought I can do that surely.  I’ve mastered the book paper – how hard can they be?  

Well not hard but they are a bit more time consuming to say nothing about space to dry all of them.  I found them easier to leave whole first, dye in the paint (I even used chalks – they too came out great) and then spiral cut and roll.  I found cutting them made them just too difficult to do the dying and I’m kind of an impatient girl!  In any event, the white filters are obviously better but the natural ones work too.  I found some of the white ones on eBay quite cheap and they were very large - so made a bigger flower than normal.  I found depending on how strongly the watercolour paint is this makes a difference in the final colour.  I used an old plastic tray to keep the paint contained.  I then just littered the window sills with newspaper to dry all the filters on.  I found a sunny day best for this aspect and I did all the dying in one day and did the rolling in another. 

Now onto the best bit - found a load of fruit in the store reduced (as you can see) and made some jam.  I got seven pundits of fruit and this made about 6 jars of jam.  I like it a bit looser than most and also I had about half a kilo more fruit than the sugar which since these were sweet didn't matter.  Lovely!  I sure will enjoy it in the winter months on my toast.  
The total cost for the fruit as well as the jam sugar was the princely sum of £6.22 so it cost me £1.04 per jar to make.  I think it was worth it and to have my fruit whole or nearly is so much better than shredded fruit which is what I seem to get in most jars of the commercial stuff.
And this is J's birthday dinner - yes, he's in love with the sushi!  And at least it was warm this year for us to enjoy it - some years it's not and that's terrible for early August! 
Well that should keep you all going for a bit.  I’ll think of a few more and post later on, yes I cannot stop there as it’s now just a habit that I’ve kept up with.  Come and join me!  Enjoy!

31 May 2015

As always busy living and being...

Oops...it’s again been a long time since posting.  I guess with work and home and just trying to do what has to be done I get caught up in the moments and forget to post something here for posterity.  I’ll try to be better but cannot promise – life is for living.  I admire those who dedicate time to make or create and then post weekly or even daily.  I don’t know how you do it as I know I find it difficult.


I have been busy with work and being on-call one weekend a month does mean less time doing what I want cooking/shopping wise but such is life.  I spent a good portion of the winter months rolling roses – to decorate my packages.  I know I’m onto a good thing – I can at least make them and they come out so cute!  Here are a few different pictures that I took of ones I did recently.

I then tried a new recipe for crab meat cannelloni – yes, I did get the tin of crab meat reduced and had been keeping for just such a dish.  I made my own pasta for this one and the rest was quite easy to whip up.  
I think the only difference I would do is use single cream instead of double cream – I found that the original recipe was too rich as well as too thick – it needed to be a bit thinner in consistency for me.  However, something that I’d make again and I would probably use more herbs in addition to the chives as I didn’t use the rocket on top – I just served with a small salad in one meal and the other was broccoli as it made two meals for us.  Also since I used home made pasta I’d freeze it instead of keeping in the fridge (although it was OK it did get a bit ‘wet’).

That's it for the moment.  I have a few other projects I'm working on and I finally got to go out with a friend of mine charity shopping for a day.  We went from one end of Rayleigh to Shoeburyness - it was pouring down but we didn't care.  I got loads of items and it's probably been the best charity shopping I've done in ages.  Stay tuned - more to come yet!

25 December 2014

Happy Christmas!

Yes, I did play with my food a bit to get this but what fun! I got this box of Alpha Bites on offer but had them this morning and thought could I find enough letters to say Happy Christmas - I did and more as you can see!

Well it is Christmas and I just wanted to show you a bit of what I've been up to lately.  I've been busy the past two weekends baking my socks off as all my presents this year were home-made in some way or other.  I bought only one present that at least was made here in the UK and the rest made by my hands.  I did a vaiation on hot chocolate mix, vanilla shortbread, butter mahagony toffee crunch, and yes, double-chocolate flapjacks (I'll do a posting later on these).  All have passed muster with J (they cannot make it out of hte house until they've passed this tough critic!) and hopefully are being enjoyed with their recipients.

We also took the time to reflect on how lucky we are to have each other and to have what we do that we decided to give locally to the chairty that works around here to provide food and help to families who cannot afford to have a Christmas or life as they should.  We took what we didn't spend on presents and gave them the money to hopefully make it a better time for them.  We also donated to our usual charities that I do each year instead of sending out cards to colleagues. 

I took this picture as J usually makes us porridge at the weekends when it's cold.  It sure does get you going and keeps you going the whole day.  Anyway, a while back I found some flavoured porridge reduced - it was organic and one was chocolate and the other was vanilla/banana flavoured.  I got it like for £0.50p a box so bought a number of them as it was going into winter.  Anyway, we tried them and while they were OK I thought I can do this.  So below is the result of porridge which has 2 cups of oats with 2 heaping tablespoons of cocoa added (this is enough for two - scale up for your needs).  I soak the oats overnight or at leat 15 minutes before cooking - it does make a difference - it comes out so creamy.  I have to say next to cinnamon and rasin this is my next favourite.  Please do try - it really is lovely!
This is a cake by Mary Berry called Cherry Cake.  I made for one of the people leaving work earlier this month.  I had seen it in The Great British Bake Off and looked and sounded so good that I thought I've got to try that recipe. I had to improvise with the self-raising flour as I don't normally buy that kind - but in the end I found a conversion so did that and it came out really lovely - or so everyone told me.

This is a small tree I made out of buttons I had around the house.  I did another one the same in white buttons with green pins - came out cute but forgot to take a picture of it before I wrapped it up as a gift. I thought it came out really cute - and it was so easy to make and put together.  I did a paperback book which I decorated with glitter and pearls.  I've got a picture somewhere - just have to find it and when I do I'll post it.
And this finally is my reduced haul although not all of it as the cheese (fresh mozzerella) and a few other bits were in the fridge by the time I got around to taking the snap.  The lamb roast is Christmas Day dinner (along with reduce parsnips, roasted potatos), the fish and lamb mince are in the freeze for dinner on other days, the eggs - well they always come in handy with a mad baking woman in the house, and the bagels and blueberrys will be breakfast during the days I'm off.  The blueberrys will go into making some corn / blueberry / almond muffins one morning - I'll have to devise a way for the recipe as I tend to just mix it in my own way - measuring is sometimes the last thing I do.  What a way to warm the house.  
Well that's all for the day - enjoy your special day with family and loved ones.  It is after all what the time is about.  Enjoy!

12 October 2014


I know that’s not a word but what else can one say about something so simple in ingredients – Flour, Salt, Yeast and Water that make something so lovely.  The only thing you have to do is wait – patience is the virtue and cannot harm your bread. 

I just took this out of the oven and it looks so lovely had to share a photo of it.  I use my usual starter (as I do with anything I make) and added a bit of rye to the whole mix just to add texture and flavour.  I mix it up each time I bake – why keep to the same recipe?  I never tire of trying something different – sometimes it’s wholemeal, or brown, or whatever is in the cupboard that needs using. 

And the smell well that too doesn’t go wrong and the radiant heat that stays in the flat also makes it homey.  I just love baking bread – it is what gives you life!  Enjoy!

4 October 2014

That time of the year again...

Well it’s birthday time again this year and as usual I made my favourite White and Chocolate Pistachio cake.  I just kept adding the chocolate until it ran our - I hate to waste it and after all this isn't a professional bakery but home baked goodness!  I love it because the frosting isn’t too sweet but also light.  The cake with the raspberry vinegar in it makes it just that bit different.  This year I made some homemade raspberry vinegar as I could not find it for love nor money at the grocery store.  I found it on-line but the cost was really more than I care to pay to be honest. 

Here's the recipe I used to make it and really this is all that is on the ingredients listing - red wine vinegar and raspberry juice in varying strengths - how hard is it to make your own - not very!   
Homemade Raspberry Vinegar
2 cups fresh, organic raspberries
3 3/4  cups white wine vinegar

• rinse raspberries. pat dry.
• place raspberries in a 1 quart ball jar.
• pour vinegar into jar, covering the raspberries completely.
• place lid tightly on the jar.
• store in your pantry, 2 weeks.
• after two weeks, place a mesh strainer over a 2 quart glass measuring cup and strain the liquid.
• discard the raspberries.
• transfer vinegar into a clean glass container and store indefinitely.
And no sooner had I found this recipe did I yes, find organic raspberries reduced at the store – well this was a sign!  So of course I made it and you know it came out really nice.  I gave it away to another friend who like me enjoys the taste and we both had some of this lovely ingredient for our recipes. 
The cookies (or biscuits as they are called in the UK) are ones I baked for work – in the UK if it’s your birthday you bring in the goodies for all to enjoy.  I suppose this is a good thing if all abide by it – which happens that not all do but this was my contribution.  I used King Arthur’s black cocoa powder (a shirt did get a burst of it – which thankfully washed out!) which makes them appear nearly black.  If you keep to 10 minutes in the oven they come out perfect if you like moist and chewy cookies. 

I added chocolate chips to mine as I had loads of them left over from another project and I cannot stand to waste anything, so in they went.  If I had some nuts I would have added those too but sadly, all out.  I found them quite nice and J certainly loved them too.  I have to say we got some ready-made ‘homemade’ style cookies from the store a few weeks ago so he had something to contrast to it with and of course mine won hands down (they cost only £0.14p for one so you can see why he wanted to try it!).  

That's it for now - more to follow as usual check back soon. Enjoy!

27 September 2014

Recent Projects and their results!

Thought I’d give you a few updates on some of my projects I’ve been doing around the house lately.  So you know from a previous post some of my paper roses.  Well I’ve expanded them as you can only imagine (if you know me you know this is true!).  So I found some really cute paper that is iridescent and made those into roses and then I decorated two presents I had to give recently. 

The first was just some plain Winsor Newton paper which was 160gsm – it was hard cutting it as well as keeping it rolled but I can say it came out quite good. This one you have to use a hot glue gun to get it to stick.  I tend to do the paper ones with PVA glue - it isn't hot and doesn't burn my fingers.  I also like that it allows the paper to unravel a bit and they all come out different.
The second picture was of the iridescent paper – all three the green, blush and purple papers (they were about 120gsm in weight) which I glued to a present I wrapped in velum.  I’m really pleased with them both
My second project was to get away from commercial fabric softener.  I had seen many recipes on these both on-line and in magazines.  We have finally gotten rid of all of our store purchases and kept the bottles for this purpose.  So we tried it and really I have to say it was quite good.  The clothing came out quite soft and yes, there was a *hint* of vinegar smell – but nothing overt in your face and while I’m not adverse to this I mention it for those who might try this so you expect it.

Once the clothes are dry however, there is no smell – nothing at all.  The clothes I have to say were just the same as those with the commercial kind only better and softer as I did my own side-by-side test feel.  You’ll have to do the same when you try and I certainly like the much lower cost on my budget.

The recipe I used is enough to do about 3-4 loads which I found to be enough – you can double the recipe if you want more but I felt I wanted the softening ability of the bicarbonate of soda which I think peters out after a bit if left to sit too long.  We tend to do full loads so while we can have 2-3 loads in one go this is an ideal amount for us.  With this amount of a recipe you can at least try it and not commit yourself to too much hassle – if you don’t like it then you can just chalk it up to an experience.  I’m glad I gave it a try as it certainly will help on saving those pennies!

Homemade Fabric Softener

1/4 cup baking soda
1 1/2 cups vinegar (white kind not malt!)
2 cups water
Essence of choice – 5-10 drops

Add vinegar and water to bottle; shake to mix as well as possible.  Carefully add vinegar (it will bubble) and again shake to dissolve baking soda (be careful as it will bubble and shoot up the bottle!).  Add essence of choice if desired, shake and dispense into your softener drawer.  I used the max the drawer held and this seemed enough for a full load - use less if you do partial or half loads.

20 September 2014

Nothing Fishy Here....

When browsing the aisles I found some fish I’d never had before of course reduced.  As you can see each fish cost me £0.88p each – so for my main meal it was £1.76 for us both.  That didn’t include my other bits but in total the whole meal (food and fuel) cost me £4.00.  I don’t have a particular price point for my meals – this would mean I’d be limiting myself.  Sometimes I find things reduced and just have to try them – this was gurnards.  I just couldn’t pass them up. 

I hadn’t a clue about what to do with them – thank goodness for Rick Stein’s Seafood book!  It showed me what to do and while I had a few recipes I kept it simple with just some parsley, white wine and a knob of butter (OK – some Old Bay Seasoning might have gotten in there too!). 

I hope the next time you see something reduced and don’t know what to do you’ll think again and get it and give it a try.  I’m very glad that I did and yes, I found them again at an even cheaper price and yes, got them again!

blog template by suckmylolly.com