£59.73

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…is the total I spent this month. Big spends were my £5 haircut, a screwdriver and the top up money on a meal out at Pizza Express where most of the bill was covered by Tesco clubcard vouchers. Most of the rest of my money went on food, despite my resolve to finish off the cupboards.

Bulk purchases of onions, chickpeas and lentils made in December have come good this month and been switched-up with five-spice, curry powder and different cooking techniques. I have been missing ingredients that would usually be in my cupboards though, and have had a running wish list, which goes something like this:

  • Lemons
  • Fresh coriander (cilantro)
  • Cumin seeds
  • Bouillon powder (probably rely on this too much but it’s so handy!)
  • Frozen peas
  • Dried apricots
  • Almonds
  • Hot sauce (although one of my intended projects was a diy one – anyone got a good recipe?)
  • Rice noodles
  • Cooking oil (ran out halfway through the month, and am down to last dribble of olive)
  • Wholemeal bread flour
  • Sugar
  • Leafy greens

So that’s my shopping list for tomorrow, plus laundry stuff.

January was successfully kept dry, though I did put a slug of vanilla essence into something early on without thinking about the spirit base. It’s really not been too bad a month, but a bit boring! Thinking about ways to make future ones better, I might try a mandatory activities budget combined with a no food except fruit and veg rule, because I’ve still got oodles of chickpeas, lentils, tinned chestnut purée and other bits and bobs, and the frozen fruit is holding strong. The apples have been wonderful in smoothies!

I was planning on finishing the month with a trip to the new Healthy Planet free bookshop recently arrived on Leicester High Street opposite the lower entrance to the Highcross Centre. It’s a lovely idea for saving books from landfill. Unfortunately they were closed when I got there this afternoon, so it’ll have to be a post for another day.

once baked, twice baked (tickle you under there!)

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The chickpea tofu and crustless quiche version of same got a second outing in baked form. I’d already baked the quiche-type-thing for a good 35 minutes previously, whereas I left the plain tofu to set in the fridge. In my opinion, twice baking is definitely the way to go. Cubed, tossed in a little soya sauce, cayenne and with a crafty squirt of liquid smoke, then baked for another 20 minutes or so, it was delightfully firm with a bit of chew and a hint of crunch, wheras the single baked stuff was more like baked polenta, where a thin layer of crisp gave way to a softer texture inside. Pleasant enough, especially maybe if served with a ratatouille-type sauce, but not a patch on the twice-baked for eating out of hand.

cubes of chickpea tofu in baking tray

Just the rest of today and tomorrow to get through in the challenge! Yesterday I was called at lunchtime to see if I’d urgently cover for someone who was off sick at short notice, so I hadn’t bought a packed lunch, and didn’t have much time to get anything. I’d had grain-based cereal for breakfast, so peanuts and some fruit seemed a good choice for lunch, but I was shocked at the rise in price of peanuts! I’m sure the last time I looked they could be had for around 30p per 100g, whereas all but the largest bags I could see at Tesco yesterday were around 50p per 100g. They didn’t have any Basics ones for sale, so that may have been the reason (edited to add that I’ve just looked at their online shopping prices and the Everyday Value ones are actually still only 24p per 100g. Phew! Must just have been in a poorly-stocked or rip-off-y branch!) but in any case I ended up paying £1.86 for food, which left me with just over £2 for the month. When I visited Co-op to look for clothes washing stuff, they had ‘simply value’ fabric softener (which I never use) for 55p, but no equivalent value washing powder or liquid. The cheapest stuff was £2. Seemed odd.

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Although I toyed with the idea of trying to just use fabric softener I didn’t think it was worth the risk to spend a quarter of my remaining funds, and I didn’t want to spend all of my money on the powder, so left it. Fortunately I had clean tights, so the no-clean-sock problem isn’t too urgent.

Jan62 day 28. More chickpeas, more cabbage.

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There are still plenty of chickpeas in the 5kg sack I bought back in December, so I’ve been keeping a look out for interesting recipes to use them in. One that continuously cropped up was for something called Burmese tofu, while many more people raved about pudla (kinda Spanish omelette made from chickpea flour with veg in the batter from what I can make out), and then I saw a few recipes combining those into a quiche, notably The Gourmet Vegan’s vegetable quiche which is based on the I-40 kitchen’s quiche idea, which also gives a recipe for the tofu. In the comments on that post, Hilda from Triumph of the Lentil commented that she had been experimenting and reduced the timescale of the original tofu recipe, and since I’m all for less hassle and more delicious food as quickly as possible I decided to try her method, divided in half to make the straight tofu and also a crustless quiche type affair. I made the process even simpler by just combining whole chickpeas with about half the water in my Vitamix, whizzing them on high speed until there was a smooth batter then pouring that straight into the remaining water once it was at a boil.

For the quiche, I chopped up about three red onions and sautéed them with a pinch of Herbamare in a little olive oil until soft, then added that to the remaining chickpea mix after pouring out the plain portion once it had got thick and cooked through. I threw in a pinch of kala namak salt for a whiff of egg (although I was actually never a fan of the egg taste. I bought a huge bag of this salt though, so am trying it out in a few things), then poured the mix into a baking dish I’d greased with a bit of olive oil and smoothed a dribble more oil over the top, then baked it in a medium-hot oven until the top was starting to brown.

I tried some of that warm and thought it very reminiscent of onion quiche of yore (though it’s got to be 17 years or more since I last had eggy quiche, so who knows how accurate my taste recollection is?), but not interesting enough to eat a whole pan of as is, probably mainly because I’d undersalted it, so treated the quiche as a tofu-like/polenta-ish substance as well for my lunch today, sprinkling with salt and pepper, pan-frying in olive oil and serving with the last of the red cabbage which was lightly cooked with half a carrot and a splash of balsamic and just enough water to stop it scorching.

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As noted on Triumph of the Lentil, don’t expect this to have the same texture as tofu, although I think the longer process does produce a slightly silkier product. However, this is a tasty protein-rich food which I can see having a lot of applications.

*****

For the remaining three days of the challenge I still have just over £4 left. The cabbage is gone now, so I’m going to see what’s cheap at the market tomorrow. I’ve also got no washing powder left, and am running out of clean socks. I hope I can get some greens and laundry supplies with the remaining funds!

5-spice lentils topped with balsamic vegetables

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If I were asked to give my top five tips on frugal living, they would definitely include one on onions. If you can get hold of a catering size bag of onions, they seem to be about half the price of smaller packs, they keep well and they form the base of savoury meals from all over the world. Having large sacks of red and brown onions available to me means I’ve never been at a loss for how to start a meal throughout these challenges. Chop up an onion or two and take it from there!

Earlier today I fried up about 2/3 cup of chopped red onion in a large saucepan, threw in some salt, five-spice powder and about a cup of red lentils, covered with water and boiled them for a few minutes, then put the lid on and left them for a couple of hours while I thought about what to have with them or add to the pot. I remembered still having half a red cabbage and a couple of carrots left, so I fried up another red onion in a different pan, added strips sliced from half a carrot and about a quarter of the cabbage, a glug of balsamic vinegar and some soya sauce and a few frozen peas for the heck of it. It’s not meant to be any particular style of food, but I really thought the whole lot came together very well, and I feel like it probably contained a few vitamins. It’s a pity I didn’t do this while it was still daylight as the colours came out very pretty, my phone cam under artificial light doesn’t really do them justice.

bowl full of lentils topped with vegetables

Jan62 day 26 – five days and less than a fiver left

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A friend was shooting a video for one of her songs yesterday and asked for volunteer “crowd” so B and I drove to the shoot (mildly exciting!). On the way back we were passing Aldi and dropped in to see if they had any flaked almonds. Unfortunately, they seemed to be out of almonds completely, flaked or otherwise, as they were last time I visited in December, but I did manage to pick up a kilo bag of oats for 75p.

bag of porridge oats

I wanted to see if my oat and coconut flour pastry would work in savoury format but had been low on oats, so it was good to get more to play with. I tried the pastry with a ratio of 2:1 oats and coconut, plus a splash of olive oil, pinch of salt and water to bind. I made a simple red onion and chickpea flour quiche-type filling. Seemed to work okay, though the coconut flavour is a little unexpected in a spiceless savoury dish.

You may be wondering what I’ve used to fasten up the bag of oats, although those of an urban-foraging disposition may already know. It’s a strip of bicycle tyre inner tube, tied to make a sturdy rubber band. I cadged loads of inner tubes from a local bike repair shop, and they were happy for me to take them as they were much punctured and repaired and would otherwise have been thrown away. Once I’d brought these home I cut them across once to make a tube, then slit the tubes end-to-end. I popped the tubes into the washing machine on wool cycle and they came out nice and clean, ready to be used for craft and DIY projects! They’re a perfect free sub for rubber bands as you can make them almost any length and they’re much less likely to perish.

Vegan white chocolate cardamon tart

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Quite a while back, I put in an order for six kilos of assorted chocolate chips from Plamil foods, a company with a dedicated dairy-free facility. Now, I don’t care if something “may contain traces” of dairy, I’m not severely allergic and it’s the intended ingredients that concern me, however I know it’s a big deal for people with allergies or just preferences not to have their chocolate cross-contaminated by unintended dairy, so I like to support this company, and a big plus for the budget-conscious is that they offer free postage over a certain spend, and their bulk packaged chips work out to a very reasonable price, especially if you catch them during one of their special offer periods.

My order was mainly for dark chocolate of varying cocoa content, however I thought I would give their alternatives to milk and white chocolate a try, so ordered a kilo of each. I’d been hoping to use them for truffles, however they didn’t behave quite as I’d expected them to upon heating. I was able to use the milk-chocolate chips in cookies and brownies in the end (rather than melting for couverture purposes, the rice-milk content makes it a bit too grainy/fudgy textured for that) but the white chocolate seemed to disintegrate when I tried to use it in cookies, leaving puddles of toffee-like goo in their place – perfectly tasty but not what I was expecting, nor very aesthetically pleasing.

In consequence, I’ve had nearly a kilo of white chocolate sitting around unloved for many a moon, and now I’m almost out of dark choc chips I thought some more about whether I’d be able to use the white ones for anything. As it turns out, they work brilliantly in a custard pie/cheesecake type application! I’m not over my pie jag yet, and have eyed up nearly all of the remaining ingredients in my cupboard with a view to pressing them into a pie dish. Being out of nuts (apart from cashews and about a tablespoon of walnut pieces), but discovering some dessicated coconut I thought I’d see how a coconut oat press-in crust would work, which resulted in a very rich tasting pie-crust which holds together surprisingly well.

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This recipe is very much a work in progress which I hope to refine, but I was very pleased with the texture of the custard, which is thick and luscious.

Vegan white chocolate cardamon tart

Crust:

1 cup oat flour

3/4 cup dessicated coconut, whizzed halfheartedly in a blender (that stuff is difficult to turn into flour! Too light, it just flies around the container!)

3 tablespoons marmalade (I expect maple syrup or agave or golden syrup would work pretty well, maybe better)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 tablespoon water.

Pinch of salt (maybe 1/4 teaspoon)

Pie filling ingredients:

1 cup white chocolate chips

1 1/4 cups soya milk

1/2 cup marmalade

1/2 cup cashews

2 tablespoons custard powder

2 or 3 green cardomon pods (Just use the seeds if you’re not sure how well your blender will cope with the husks)

Pinch of salt.

Method

Put the oats and coconuts into a mixing bowl, add the marmalade, oil and water and cut in with a knife until a crumbly dough is formed. Press into a pie-dish or individual tartlet cases and blind bake for about ten minutes in a moderate oven 180/350. This seems to burn quite easily so keep an eye on it to check it’s not getting too done. N.B. I don’t have the ratio of crust to filling quite right yet! You will probably end up with extra crust unless you make it very thick or have a wide but shallow pie dish.

Put all the filling ingredients in a blender and whizz them up until smooth. If you don’t have a high speed blender you might want to soak the cashews for a couple of hours, or boil them for a few minutes to soften them up, and just blend those with some of the milk to start with until they’re a smooth paste.

Pour the custard mix into the pie crust and bake for about another 20 minutes, until just beginning to get a golden top in spots. Keep an eye on it and reduce the heat a notch if it looks like it’ll start burning. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before slicing. The flavours develop after chilling for a while, so make the day before eating, if possible.

Jan62 day 21 – lentil bake and yet more pumpkin pie

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£6.57 still remains on day 21, so that’s just over a tenth of my original allowance to see me through the last third of the month. Fortunately, the extra work I’ve been offered later this week is within walking distance so I’ve no call to spend money on bus fare yet.

In case anyone is interested, here’s what I ate today:

Leftover marmalade cinnamon rolls (I didn’t get round to freezing them after all),

Toasted homemade bread, spread with leftover pumpkin seed sauce and mustard, topped with red cabbage coleslaw,

Smoothie made from frozen apple, frozen raw pumpkin (this goes really well in smoothies!), a tablespoon of flax seeds, a spoonful of frozen blackcurrants, a few sour dried cherries and a single piece of frozen rhubarb plus about half a pint of soya milk. This was an excellent combination, though it sadly finished off the expensive cherries. Must get more when February comes!

Lentil bake in a homemade roll with more coleslaw.

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The coleslaw was made yesterday. I used half the red cabbage bought on Sunday, a large carrot, and made the dressing from half a cup of pumpkin seeds blended with about a cup of water, a dash of olive oil, 2-3 tablespoons cider vinegar, a clove of garlic, a teaspoon of flax seeds and half a teaspoon of Herbamare seasoning. I was chuffed with how this dressing turned out once I’d blended it up, it worked really well to bring the coleslaw together in terms of both flavour and texture.

The lentil bake was of necessity. I’d tried making rissoles yesterday but hadn’t drained the lentils thoroughly enough and after adding sautéed onions and carrots plus some leftover jarred pasta sauce they were hugely mushy, so I then had to keep adding more and more ingredients to get the mixture to firm up – I started by adding a cup of breadcrumbs, then got some chickpeas out of the freezer and whizzed them to crumbs in the food processor. Still no good! Added in some oats and even more breadcrumbs and finally they were just about okay but by then I had so much mix I would have ended up with about fifty rissoles if I’d made them all up! So today I just shoved the remaining mix in greased Pyrex dishes and baked them until they were starting to go brown. I’ve frozen some, and there are four portions in the fridge, so that’ll keep me going for a while!

The pumpkin pie was to use up the last of the pumpkin puree, continue my experiments with marmalade and experiment with caraway (as I have a 300g bag that until today was unopened). I used roughly the same recipe as last time but added in a teaspoon of caraway and instead of lemon juice and zest I used 2 tablespoons of marmalade.For the press in crust I used walnuts in place of almonds as I’m out of those. Verdict: a success, although on further nibbling I’m not sure the caraway adds much to this. It’s useful to know marmalade stands in well for lemon in this recipe though.

marmalade cinnamon rolls

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So I bet you’re wondering where all my money went? So am I! I’ve learnt a good lesson this month, which is to not carry the whole month’s allowance around in my wallet (probably kind of obvious, but it was interesting to try a different way from October & November).

I do at least know where some of it went, and that’s the £2.80 I spent on 3 kg strong organic bread flour. It was on special offer at Waitrose when I went with my friends on Saturday to get the free coffees they offer to membership card holders. Ooh, they’re crafty alright! Come for the free coffee and newspapers, leave with a load of stuff you didn’t know you wanted until it beguiled you! I didn’t mean to buy anything after necking the coffee, apart from some potatoes, but my friends were going round the shop and I made the fatal mistake of looking down other aisles besides the produce section. Still, I do feel particularly naked in the cupboard area when there’s no strong wheat flour in there, and I’ve been able to make lots of breadly goodness, including these.

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I made dough using about 850g flour, a heaped teaspoon yeast, a teaspoon of salt and about 3/4 pint of lukewarm water. I used about a third of the dough to make these rolls (then the rest to make plain rolls and garlic bread to go with dinner tonight), so there’s only a very rough and ready recipe. I rolled out the dough into an oblong, mixed a heaped teaspoon of powdered cinnamon with about 5 tablespoons of marmalade, then because this is value marmalade they seem to have compensated for the low amount of fruit by using a lot of pectin, making it quite dificult to spread, so I added a squirt of golden syrup. Spread the sweet goop onto the dough, rolled it up, cut it into 8 pieces and squished each one slightly between my palms before putting them on a greased Pyrex dish and leaving them to prove for about 90 minutes. Then I baked them for twenty minutes in a fairly hot oven around 180/350.

We had these for pudding, and I heated them up for around 3 minutes again just to loosen up the sticky bottoms. I made a simple drizzle out of icing sugar and water to go over the top, but they were pretty gooey and delicious even without it. The value marmalade works really well precisely because they’ve been quite stingy with the fruit so it compliments rather than overwhelms the cinnamon. I would make these again, although maybe not at the same time as a load of other bready stuff! I’m going to see how they freeze…

pumpkin-seed pasta sauce

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pictures of pumpkin seeds soaking in water, sauce in a saucepan, and a plate of pasta in sauce, peas and coleslaw.

A while back, someone over at the Post Punk Kitchen forums started a thread about iron-rich recipes. Since I’ve been eating a lot of pumpkin over the past few months, including seeds, and because I like to check out the nutritional content of my food, I recently became aware that pumpkin seeds are a really good source of iron, and suggested a variant on the Post Punk Kitchen sunflower macaroni cheese recipe. I was asked if pumpkin seeds got creamy in the sauce and had to confess that I hadn’t tried it. Well, now I have, and they do!

I had to make a couple of subs/omissions due to the challenge: I didn’t have any nutritional yeast, which Isa mentioned in the recipe comments as being necessary for texture. I put a tablespoon of oats in the blender instead of that and hoped for the best. I didn’t have any tomato purée and couldn’t find any very small tins when I went shopping. I wasn’t going to buy a tube because I hardly ever use it, so I put in twice the amount of some jarred pasta sauce. Obviously I omitted the sunflower seeds and used pumpkin seeds instead, and I halved the recipe as I wasn’t sure how well it would work, however I was very pleased with the taste of the final pasta dish, which I served with leftover pumpkin coleslaw and peas.

I had to buy pasta and carrots for the recipe, which I got from Morrisons. I was also after some green veg, but after weighing up my options (literally weighing all the piece-priced items on the in-store scales), I opted for a red cabbage as the best balance between value and nutrient-density.

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I bought carrots for 85p, cabbage for 79p, value pasta at 29p and a not-strictly-necessary jar of value marmalade for 27p. I plan on using this last item for some baking experiments and then using the jar for some home-made preserves of some kind. It seems it’s way cheaper to buy jars this way than it would be to buy them empty, unless you’re getting tons of them.

That lot came to £2.20, so I’ve still got bus fare for a journey or two.

Jan62 day nineteen

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Of the £62 I started the month with, I now have £8.57 (edit on 21st – must have missed 20p, because spent £2.20 since but still have £6.57!) left. I blame December for softening me up! I need to buy green veg and would also like some pasta and a small amount of tomato puree for a recipe I want to try, so I’m off to the shops now, but need to come back with enough left in case I need to take a bus before the end of the month. Wish me luck!

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