Award Win

Award Win
Top Tweeter Award

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Happiness in a pan

Let's clear two things up. You cannot actually find happiness in a pan, and this recipe is made in a rectangular casserole dish, but if happiness could be found at the bottom of a glass receptacle, this recipe comes close to it.

It is basically home-made three-layered party dip, and I got the idea from a family friend who is called Helen, and who served a version of this several years ago, to my great delight. Helen actually calls it something else, but this is a family blog, so I can't repeat what she calls it.

This makes an excellent and filling party dish, serving approximately 10 people, and can be made for very little cost.

Bottom layer: spicy chunky salsa
Two tins chopped tomatoes (25p each from Tesco), strained to remove superfluous juice.
1 red pepper, diced.
One finely diced red onion
Some fresh parsley, chopped.
3-4 small dried chilies, finely chopped. Use more or less according to taste.

Mix everything and set aside in a long dish. I use one nine inch by 21 inch 'pan' so it is fairly big.

Second layer: cool cream and chive
2 pots of sour cream
1 pot of cream cheese
Chopped chives.

I grow my own chilies, chives and parsley in wee pots on my kitchen windowsill - if you have the motivation to water and tend to these regularly you can save a lot of money.

Top layer: grated cheese
I buy mature cheddar in bulk to save money and grate it myself. It lasts much longer and is more cost-efficient than buying bags of pre-grated cheese.

Sprinkle the top of the cheese with paprika or freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Buy some corn chips/nachos to dip into it. I tend to use various supermarkets' own brand or budget bags of corn chips, as these are really good value for dipping and you can buy several big bags for £2, which works out in terms of volume and cost to be much better value than spending £2 on one bag of Doritos.

And that's it - just get dipping, right down through all those layers!

The teenagers I often have round really love this - they are always asking me if I am going to make it. And I love it too. Which is why I'm fat. Well, one of the reasons anyway...

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Pan-fried chicken with spinach and pine-nuts

I love the versatility of chicken, and I am addicted to spinach. So this recipe of mine is a way to use two of my favourite ingredients for a healthy and filling meal.

The best thing is this can be made for approximately 90p per portion, so it is perfect for someone on a budget who only has the use of a hob-top, and it takes only 20 minutes maximum to cook.

This should serve four people.

Chicken, spinach and pine-nuts
You will need: 
1 large, deep frying pan (or wok)
4 chicken breasts - we use Tesco frozen chicken breasts, 8 for £3.25. These are perfect for families on a tight budget as it works out about 40p per chicken breast.
1/3 bag of fresh baby spinach (£1 per bag) - approximately 30p worth
2 tablespoons of pine nuts (£2.80 for a bag - lasts for ages).
1 brown onion
Dried herbs if available
Salt, pepper, butter/spread.

How to:
Defrost the chicken breasts.
Chop the onion and fry in a little butter/spread. Add the seasoning and herbs. Stir well.
When the onions are beginning to brown, dice the chicken and add this and a little more butter/spread to the pan. Keep stirring until the chicken is well-cooked (and not pink in the middle). It will take about 15-20 minutes depending on the heat.
Add the spinach and pine nuts, stir on a low heat.

This can be served with potatoes (served various ways), rice, other grains such as cous-cous or salad.

I used to make this and similar meals when I was a lowly student living on a very tight budget, and it always has a lovely 'wow' factor, despite how simple it is.


Thursday, May 5, 2016

Award win for Crunch Munch tweeter

Afternoon all!

I've just found out that I have won an award for my usefulness on social media.

I have been awarded the following accolade from PanaceaAdviser for the money-saving hints, tips and tweets I regularly put out throughout the day.

This is quite an honour, given that I beat a prominent journalist on the Financial Times to achieve this Twitter Tweeter award!



Monday, April 11, 2016

Pizza. With Fruit? It must be - Fruit Pizza


I am not a great fan of doing any unnecessary work in the kitchen. Most of us live extremely busy lives, balancing work, family and social events so the idea of having to slave over a table making pastry or labouring to create the perfect icing is simply unappealing.

While I am all for doing things on a budget – and making pastry or icing from scratch is cheaper in the long-term – there has to be a limit to being a domestic goddess. Not all of us have kitchens the size of a supermarket, despite what TV chefs would have you believe.

Not all of us are so wealthy that we can afford not to work so live a life of baking luxury. There has to be a line drawn between doing it yourself and doing yourself in.

And this is where my fruit pizza comes in. It’s simply called Fruit Pizza. I believe I made this up out of my own head, having tried a recipe for making my own savoury pizza, and deciding that I could make a dessert along the same lines. I certainly have never seen this recipe anywhere else!

Fruit Pizza
This recipe will have your friends, family and even children oohing and aahing and getting all excited, despite the fact they are basically eating fruit – lots of it.

It looks amazing when it comes out of the oven, in all its sizzly, sweet, sticky glory and tastes divine. You can mix and match fruits to your heart’s delight – but a word to the wise, oranges, clementines and satsumas do not sit well with the other fruit. Leave the strong citrus fruit alone and stick with berries, bananas and orchard fruit.

You will need:
1 large, flat pizza tray, circular or square, lightly oiled
1 sheet of Jus’Roll puff pastry OR BETTER STILL make it yourself - recipe for this is elsewhere on this blog.
2 large apples
1 cup of blueberries
1 cup of strawberries, sliced lengthways
1 cup of blackberries
1 cup of raspberries
½ cup of custard – pouring custard will do but you can make it yourself and keep it in the fridge until you’re ready to use it. Don’t allow it to be too thick-it has to be spreadable.
Two tablespoons of icing sugar to dust
Some cream – Elmlea low-fat pouring cream does the trick

What to do:
Roll the pastry out over the pre-oiled tray – whether square, round or rectangle, it doesn’t really matter. Score a distinct line about 1cm away from the edge of the pastry all round – this will help the edges to rise up in puffy goodness and go all brown.

Don’t make the base too thin – the fruit juices will penetrate the pastry base otherwise.
Take the cold custard and spread it over the base as if you were spooning tomato puree over a savoury pizza base. Sprinkle some nutmeg or Allspice if you like.

Start laying the fruit onto the custardy base. Have fun creating faces, patterns or just being liberal-handed. It doesn’t matter.

Cook it for 20 minutes on gas mark 6 or the electric equivalent. Personally, cooking with gas is just the best thing in the whole wide world, until the government announces that we’ve run out. I’ll cross that ecobridge when I come to it.

When the edges are all puffy and goldeny brown, take it out of the oven, dust it with the icing sugar and serve immediately at the table, using pizza cutters and a slice. If you leave it too long before you get to the table, the icing sugar will have dissolved.

Serve with low-fat Elmlea double pouring cream (30% less fat than normal cream) or go the whole hog and serve with vanilla ice-cream.

How to be extra:
People at school used to say I was “being extra” if I drew in the margins of my essays. If you want to be extra, crush a meringue nest into pieces and put that over the top. These usually come in packs of eight and you can use the other seven for another fabulous dish like cherry meringues or Eton mess. Or just eat them by your own, when nobody but the cat can see. And he can’t tell a soul…..

How to save money
1) Berries freeze brilliantly if you are using them for baking or for smoothies. So I tend to buy bulk whenever there is an offer on for blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries. So if you freeze these – and they keep for ages – you can save money and time when you make this in the future. Apples can also be cut up into nice slices and, if sprinkled with a little lemon juice to prevent oxidisation, can also be frozen. However, strawberries do not freeze well AND keep their shape afterwards, so best to buy these fresh.

2) Make your own custard – but not from scratch, using vanilla pods and all that. Who has the time? Insanity. But do always have a tub of custard powder and granulated white sugar in your cupboard. This will help you save lots of money as buying a carton of pouring custard is exceptionally costly – you use it once and it’s gone.

And that's basically it! Enjoy.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Coffee walnut cake pops

Everyone has this moment of revelation, this wide-eyed Epiphany, this poignant moment of awareness that fills the visionary with equal measures of delight and wonder.

To wit - one discovers there’s half a tub of Betty Crocker chocolate frosting hidden in the fridge.

I know, I know, I do usually make my own frosting but some days you just need a quick fix, and one day in January I was doing cupcake decorating with my youth group and brought some pots of BC deliciousness in for them to use. I also had taken them home (how noble of me) and stashed them in my fridge.

Hello Betty Crocker. What are you doing in my fridge?
There wasn't enough for a full cake and it was too late on in the evening to make cupcakes just for the sake of it, but it was a joyous conundrum on which to ponder. I know I am not the only one to have seen the hallowed light (from opening the fridge door), and wondered what to do with all this chocolate frosting, for a friend recently posted a picture of her chowing down on the glorious goo.

But when there’s a good amount of leftover cake in the house, the possibilities of what can be achieved with that aforementioned half-pot of loveliness, increase significantly.

Thankfully I did not have to throw it out or sit there in front of Dirty Dancing and eat it with a spoon, which was my first thought. For in the fridge, wrapped in foil, I still had the top of my husband’s coffee walnut birthday cake that I had cut off in order to ice it smoothly (see my previous post on the Gravity Defying Cake).

And, with a little mixing magic, clean hands and no double-dipping, I turned a slice of leftover cake into a bevy of beautiful cake pops.

I simply crumbled the cake into a dish, and folded the frosting into it with a cool spatula, having left it for ½ hour to warm up after being in the fridge so long.

Messily, crumbly, stickily, I rolled about 14 balls of chocolatey walnut cake, and left them in the fridge overnight in my Lakeland cake pop mold to set solid. I stuck plastic lollipop sticks into them (which I had bought from Lakeland a year or so ago), and resisted the temptation to peek.

The next night, I melted some 80 per cent dark chocolate and some milk chocolate that was left over from some Rocky Road tray bakes I had made the previous week, and dipped the cake pops into them until they were covered smoothly. I had to do a lot of twirling over a sheet of grease proof paper to ensure they were coated properly and not dripping everywhere. If you have tips on how to prevent too much drippage, please do let me know, I'd be grateful!

Just before they dried, I coated the top with a few golden stars to add some cake-pop pizzazz and boom! 13 glorious chocolate walnut cake pops. From leftovers to lusciousness in a few easy steps.

Having some clear plastic bags that I use for my small handmade cards, I covered the pops up and tied them shut with a little silver tag. Perfect for taking to the office or storing for a teatime treat!

Chocolate cake pop. Source: Instagram via SimoneySunday

Note: I thought about taking them to share with the office. Honest, I did. But my husband and I ate every single one, and we're not sorry. Just a little ... fatter ...


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A gravity-defying surprise for the birthday boy

Every year my husband and I have been together I've made him an unusual birthday cake - the first was a triple-layer chocolate cherry cake; three years ago he got a white chocolate and strawberry cake, and two years ago I made a chocolate explosion cake (see the pic at the bottom - from 2013). But this time, I thought I'd push the boat out a little and try out one of my new Lakeland toys which I'd been given at Christmas.
Coffee Walnut with Buttercream Icing. And Maltesers!
I decided to make him a coffee walnut cake with coffee buttercream icing.This is a very basic cake to make but can pack a wonderful flavoursome punch depending on how much coffee powder you use. I figured I'd need an easy cake to bake as I would be spending a lot of time decorating it - and I only had a few hours from the time I got in from youth group on the Friday until he came home from his friend's birthday party.

I tend to be lazy when it comes to baking cakes. None of this having to use a certain mixing dish or what-have-you. In fact, I don’t even like having to pound butter or spread until it’s soft enough to combine with the sugar. Nah. I just whack half a tub of Flora Light into a large saucepan, and melt it together with the right amount of brown sugar until it is combined perfectly.

When it has cooled down, I add the eggs and continue to put the ingredients together that way. It saves me at least 10 minutes of preparation time. It will revolutionise your cake-baking life, even if it makes Mary Berry faint in horror. And you know what? IT MAKES ABSOLUTELY NO DIFFERENCE TO THE TEXTURE OR TASTE OF THE CAKE AT ALL. 

I also can never be bothered to bake two small cakes to piece together. I use one big cake dish and then when the cake has cooled, I cut it carefully in half with a serrated bread knife. When it's covered with icing, NOBODY KNOWS....

So, here’s the recipe for Coffee Walnut Cake
50g walnut pieces (smoosh them up with a rolling pin to get ‘em small)
250g soft brown sugar
250g soft unsalted butter or Flora Light (plus some for greasing)
200g self-raising flour
3 large eggs
4 teaspoons instant coffee granules, melted into 1 tablespoon of boiling water.
Pinch of baking soda

Combine the ingredients and pour into a large round, well-greased dish. Cook for 40 minutes on 180 or until a knife inserted into the centre comes out clean.

It should be well-risen thanks to the self-raising flour. I know SF flour can make cakes a little dry, but with the extra butter/spread it should not be a problem. Because the cake will rise a lot, it will enable you to have enough leeway to cut it in half later on, when it has cooled, and to top-slice it ready for decorating.

For the buttercream frosting
500g icing sugar
200g soft unsalted butter
4 teaspoons instant coffee powder (again, melted in just 1 tablespoon boiling water)

Mix together until soft and a perfect consistency. When the cake has cooled, use a sharp, serrated bread knife to cut the cake in half carefully, and to cut off the top of the cake to create a smooth, flat base for icing. Set the top half aside in tin foil – you never know when you are going to need it!

Use some of the buttercream frosting inside the cake to create a scrumptious sandwich. The rest needs to be set aside to cover the cake.

For the decoration
One Lakeland gravity cake rod
Chocolate sprinkles
1 bag Maltesers (or any chocolate of your choosing)
Melted chocolate (warm but not hot)

Follow the instructions and stick the rod through the cake. Once it has been positioned into the cake, it is time to ice it.

Spread the buttercream frosting around the cake. Start at the top and work your way down the sides, letting gravity help your spreading and smoothing efforts. This, to me, was the most painstaking task of all and a few angry words were exchanged between me and the spatula. I am sure you will have better success than I did.

Be liberal in your application of the chocolate sprinkles around the cake. Then you’re ready for the Malteser mountain. Simply use a pastry brush to build up layers of sticky chocolate around the rod, and use as ‘glue’ for the Maltesers until they form a peak around the cake rod. Use chocolate to stick the empty packet to the top of the rod and voila! One gravity defying coffee walnut cake.

And yes, it was delicious and yes, I did eat most of the Maltesers off the cake when it had been put away. I tried to help myself but I considered that, at least, I would be helping DH to lose weight by gaining it myself.

Oh - here's the 2013 Chocolate Explosion cake. MMM.

Chocolate explosion cake 2013








Friday, January 29, 2016

Comfort pie

Growing up in the late 1970s and early 1980s, we did not have much money, so mum was always to be found busy in the kitchen, creating filling and delicious dishes for us out of whatever she had in the cupboard or fridge.

One such dish was what I came to call ‘comfort pie’, so-called because to me, it is the best word in tasty cooking on a tight budget – warm, comforting and delicious. And it was always something that whenever I was blue or sick, she would cook for me especially, as a treat. For example, when I once had an awful week at work and went round to her house to see her before I headed off to Bible study, she presented me with a bubbling casserole dish full of comfort pie, its potato ridges in stiff, browned peaks.

It has just three ingredients:
1 tin Corned Beef 250g
1 tin Baked beans
Mashed potato

The corned beef is to be diced up and put into the bottom of a casserole dish. Baked beans are then poured on top of the corned beef, followed by a mound of freshly-mashed potato. For an added taste punch, grate cheese and layer this between the beans and the potato for a dairy surprise.

Put it for 20 minutes in the oven at 180 degrees, and then it’s all ready.

It’s perfect for a budget meal – and can serve four people, together with some peas and carrots. It’s also adaptable enough to be cooked by people who do not have an oven – a recipe that I have shared with some of the people who come to our church’s food bank. Many of them have just a kettle and a microwave in their hostel rooms and do not have recourse to an oven or even a hob top, so this can be perfect for them, too, particularly as it only uses three ingredients, is filling, cheap and easy to make in a microwave.

Instead of having to boil and mash potatoes, they can use Smash – a perfect budget cupboard staple – to top the pie. In a microwave, the pie would take 15 minutes to heat up. Of course, it won’t get that crispy oven-baked texture on top of the mashed potato, but it still works. The best thing of all is that for four people, it can cost as little as 90p per person.

And for those Smash snobs – don’t be too proud to use Smash, or at least keep a tub in your cupboard in case of emergencies. I’ve used this sometimes when I’ve been too lazy to peel potatoes after I come home from work, and it bakes well in the oven. Add some salt, pepper and butter, and dust with paprika, and it creates a gloriously seasoned potato topping, or a base for home-made croquette potatoes, covered with egg and crispy breadcrumbs.