Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Leftover Chicken - Five Easy Ways.

On Sunday I made a chicken. We ate half the chicken leaving the other half and one wing to be used for other meals. After we had dinner, I picked it apart, set aside a container with leftovers (dark meat and the wing) for my husband's lunch the next day, and put the remaining chicken in another container. According to my menu plan for the next week I have a creamy chicken tomato basil soup and 'leftovers' for Saturday. I'll split the meat into half and use a half for each new meal. After debating over what I wanted to make with the leftovers I've landed on Chicken Pot Pie.

Here are five really easy things to do with leftover chicken. Each is simple and cost effective. If you try any, please let me know. I'd love to hear any suggestions too. These recipes are all very popular in my household.

Creamy Chicken Tomato Basil Soup 

I mentioned in an earlier blog post, which you can find here along with my easy pizza dough recipe.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

3-4 cups of cooked chicken, cut into bite size pieces
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 large onion, chopped
1 tbs olive oil
2 quarts chicken broth (which you can use a cube or boil the carcass to make)
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 avocado, diced
handful chopped cilantro (optional)
small can green chilies, chopped (optional)
juice from one lime
tortilla chips
shredded cheddar

In soup pot saute onion, garlic and chilies in olive oil for one minute. Stir in cumin and chili powder. Saute for 5 more minutes. Add chicken broth. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for give minutes. Add the shredded chicken. Cook until warmed through then remove from heat. Stir in avocado, cilantro and lime juice. Serve topped with a handful of tortilla chips and shredded cheese.

Country-Club Chicken Salad

3-4 cups chicken, cut into bite size piece
6 strips of bacon cooked until well done and crisp
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 stalk of celery, finely chopped
2 green onions, finely chopped
2 tbs soured cream
2 tbs mayonnaise
juice of one lemon
4 cups lettuce
2 tomatoes cut into wedges

Add chicken, bacon, onions, celery together in a large bowl. Add mayonnaise and sour cream (can be adjusted to you liking). Add lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Arrange lettuce on plates, add chicken salad on top. Garnish with Tomato wedges.

Chicken Pot Pie

2 pie crusts, rolled flat (I have a recipe which is coming soon but store bought is fine)
3-4 cups chicken, cut into bites size pieces
3-4 cups frozen veg (I use carrots, peas, corn and beans but any combo is good)
1 can cream of chicken soup or two cups of my recipe
1 tsp dried crushed garlic or garlic salt

Preheat oven to 190 degrees C. Place one pie crust in 1.5L deep baking dish so edges reach to the top of the dish. In large bowl mix chicken, veg, soup and garlic until completely combined. Do not add water. Pour chicken/veg mixture into pie crust, spread evenly. Cover with remaining pie crust, pinching ends together around the rim of the dish. If you have leftover dough, you may use cookie cutters to create a pretty design on the top (see Christmas tree design above). Pierce several times with a fork for ventilation. Bake in over for 45 minutes or until pie crust is golden brown. Allow to set for 10 minutes or more to set before cutting and serving.

Yummy Chicken Tetrazzini
1 packet egg noodles/spaghetti/linguini or other pasta (about 4-5 cups)
4 cups sliced mushroom (fresh or canned)
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups milk
2 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup sherry, vermouth or dry white wine (optional)
3 cups chopped cooked chicken
1 cup cooked peas
2/3 cups grated Parmesan
1/3 cups Swiss or cheddar
1/3 bread crumbs, crumbled crackers
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook pasta according to packet direction. Drain and set aside.

Preheat over to 185/gas mark 4.

Cook the mushrooms in 3 tbsp of butter over moderate heat, stirring until all the liquid has evaporated, about 10 minutes. Set aside.

In large saucepan, melt 1/4 cup of butter, stir in the flour and cook the mixture over low heat stirring, for 3 minutes.

Gradually stir in the milk, broth and wine/sherry. Bring to a simmer and cook over low heat, stirring for 5 minutes.

In large bowl combine well the past, the sauce, the mushrooms, the chicken, the peas and salt and pepper. Stir in the 1/3 cup of Parmesan and the 1/3 cup of Swiss or cheddar. Transfer the mixture to a buttered shallow casserole dish.

In a small bowl combine the remaining 1/3 cup Parmesan, the bread/cracker crumbs and salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle evenly over the tetrazzini, and dot the top with remaining 1 tbs butter, cut into bits.

Bake the tetrazzini for 30-40 minutes, or until it is bubbling and the top is golden.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Al Turning 2!

I've been running around like mad this week. I've got all my gifts for teachers, priest and others all sorted. I picked up a pack of 50 cute Christmas cards for my daughter to start signing cards for her class of 29 students. They cost £1 from the pound shop.

I was out trawling the Kilburn High Street and discovered Iceland today. Not the country - the grocery. I LOVE it there. My son's second birthday party was yesterday and I needed to find nibbles for 8 adults and 7 children. I picked up a 60 pieces hor d'oevres set with lamb kebabs, chicken roll ups and pork balls with sweet chili dipping sauce for £5. That's  for the adults. And the kids are getting hotdogs which cost me $3 for 16 plus buns, grapes, cucumbers and carrots.

As the party favour I found a pack of 10 sporty pencils with fancy erasers (footballs, monsters) for £1, and a 12 pack of candy canes also £1. I had some large mason jars and filled them with chocolate chip cookie dry mix. With a ribbon I tied the instructions to make the cookies, a pencil and a candy cane. You can find the mix here.

I'm doing  a lucky dip and picked up £1 packets of goodies for the kids to pull out of a decorated cardboard box. I bought packs of party themed plates and balloons all for £1 each. The entire party  cost £27 for everything. Why spend more if I don't have to?

The cake I baked from scratch but cheated on the icing as I had enough to do for one day. I bought two tins of icing for $1.50 each. I decorated it myself as well.  It's pictured above. What do you think?

Everyone loved it, the kids had a wonderful time and I can now go and put my feet up until the next one. Only seven months to plan Carol's fifth birthday. I won't get away with a $27 party at home for her so I better put my creative thinking cap on!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Thrifty Christmas Gift Ideas Part I: FOOD

This year we're on a budget but I have gifts I need to give. I've been looking everywhere for ideas of things I can make at home and give to the people on my list.I have three teachers, two assistant teachers, a priest, a few of my daughter's friends and my son's birthday party bags. Then there are a few friends who have been very good to me since we moved here.

I need to be creative here. I'm breaking the gifts into two sections: FOOD and BEAUTY/HOME. Food consists of several treats I put in jars with directions on how to make: chocolate chip cookie dry mix in a jar with the directions on a sheet, for example. Beauty/Home consists of a homemade sugar body scrub that costs pennies to make but would sell for up to £30 in stores and is JUST as good, lip balm, wine rack/wine, and candles.

Here is the FOOD part (Beauty/Home will follow in another post):

Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix in a Jar:

I received one of these a few years ago and loved it. The jar was just a jam/canning jar with a lovely label on it. It looked lovely and the cookies were fantastic! So I'm duplicating it here.

  • 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
Combine the flour, baking soda, white sugar, and the chocolate chips. Place 1/2 of the mixture in a clean quart sized glass jar, and pack firmly. Place the brown sugar on top, again packing firmly. Place the remaining flour mixture on top. Cover with a lid.
Packaging: Attach an index card with the following directions: Empty contents of jar into a large bowl. In separate bowl combine 3/4 cup of butter, 1 1/2 eggs, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Beat until creamy. Add to dry mixture. Drop by tablespoonful onto an ungreased cookie sheet, and bake in a preheated 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) oven for 8 to 10 minutes.
Hot Cocoa Mix in a Jar
4 cups nonfat dry milk powder
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup non-dairy coffee creamer
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 (4 ounce) package instant chocolate fudge pudding
Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl. If a finer consistency is desired, you can pour the mix into a blender or food processor and run it through that. Store in an airtight container. Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup (depending on your cocoa preference) of the mix to an 8 ounce mug of boiling water.

Packaging: Pour your drink mixes into a clean and dry jar. Tie with ribbon and attach the recipe so they can restock the mix when they run out. 

Chewy Granola Bars

4 1/2 cups oats
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup butter
2/3 cup lite corn syrup
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 cups chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Lightly grease a 9x13” pan. In a large mixing bowl, mix together all of the ingredients except the chocolate chips. Stir in chocolate chips. Press into pan, then bake for 18-22 minutes. Let cool for ten minutes, and then cut into bars. 

If you find the batter is too crumbly, you can add a little honey or extra corn syrup before baking to hold it together.  These are one of our family’s favorite snacks.   They are great for snacks, for breakfast, or to pop in your children’s lunchboxes. You can make these with any variety of ingredients so you don’t have to limit yourself to chocolate chips. You can them with butterscotch chips, white chocolate chips, raisins, dried currants—whatever you happen to have on hand.  They’re easy , go far and can be experimented with. For Christmas I use dried cranberries or red currants for a nice festive look.

Packaging: For gifts I pack them in decorative tins I buy at the pound shop and tie with a bow. Or stack and wrap in cellophane.

Homemade Chai Tea Mix
(This is a great gift as people will love it. It's so tasty and wonderful to just pour a cup and savour on cold nights. Make a batch for yourself too!)
1 cup nonfat dry milk powder
1 cup powdered non-dairy creamer
1 cup French vanilla powdered non-dairy creamer
2 1/2 cups white sugar
1 1/2 cups unsweetened instant tea
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp white pepper

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until it is a fine powder.  Place in plain jars with instructions: Add two-three tablespoons of mix to 8 ounces of hot water or milk


Lemon Curd 

6 oz (150g) granulated sugar
Grated zest and juice of 2 large lemons
4 large eggs
4oz (100g) unsalted butter

Place the sugar and lemon zest in a bowl.  Whisk the lemon juice with the eggs and pour over the sugar.  Add the butter cut into small pieces and place the bowl over a pan of simmering water.  Stir frequently until thickened...about 20 minutes.

Pour into glass jars and store in the fridge. Decorate and give as gifts. You might have a few suggestions on what they can use the curd for: lemon meringue pie, on croissants, etc.  The only issue with this recipes is that it must be stored in the fridge and used within a week. It can be frozen but it's not as good - it's best fresh.

Super Simple Shortbread
Double this recipe! One taste and you'll know what I mean. I can't keep this in the house once it's made. And it makes a fantastic gift either stacked and wrapped in celephane or in tins with tissue.

110g melted butter
50g sugar (the original recipe says caster but granulated works just as well)
150g plain flour
25g semolina

Mix the butter and sugar together.  Fold in the semolina and flour.  Mix and form into a dough.  Wrap in cling film and place in the fridge for a couple of hours, which helps to stop the dough from crumbling too much.
Flatten the dough and form or cut into shapes (I make bars).  Bake on a lined baking tray for approximately 15 to 20 minutes on 200 degrees.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Cleaning on the Cheap

I'm the first to admit I am not the best housekeeper. Ever since I had my first solo apartment in a high rise building mid-town Manhattan, I had a cleaner. It was an extravagance but I left for work around 7:45am and returned home around 8-10pm every night. The last thing I wanted to do late at night and on the weekends was to clean, do laundry and scrub the oven. So I spent $60 (£38) every two weeks for a housekeeper to come. It was wonderful to come home to a sparkling flat with clean laundry folded at the foot of my bed (which was remade with crisp sheets). Ah...those were the days.

Now, with our new economic situation, it's up to me. And I'll admit - I have a lot to learn. I've googled, read many blogs (favourites coming in a blog post soon!), pored over magazines (in waiting rooms and the few that I have saved for months), and even looked in a few books my mother ever-so-helpfully gave me regarding keeping house (honestly!).

With this new found information, I have tried and tested a few things to see if they work. I won't tell you about the ones that were disastrous - and oh, they were bad, but I did find a few gems that are cost effective, quick, eco-friendly and actually work wonders.

To save you the trouble of researching, I'm sharing a few of the winners here. I'm still on my journey to become wonder woman so please share any of your tips with me. I'm all ears here....

Removing baked-on hob (stove-top) stains: make a paste of baking soda (bicarbonate) and water and rub into the stain. The baking soda provides the abrasiveness you need to get he stuck on stuff off.

Cleaning your flat screen TV: you need to be extra gently while cleaning this. Use a soft dry cotton cloth to remove fingerprints and smudges from the screen. If this does not completely remove the dirt and splotches, use a small amount of rubbing alcohol on the cleaning cloth that has been dampened with water. A small amount of vinegar can be substituted for the alcohol). Spray the liquid on the cloth and never directly onto the screen. Do not use paper towels on the screen as they can scratch. Never use ammonia, or strong cleaners.

Cleaning the Microwave: Dampen a kitchen towel in water, then place it inside the microwave and run it for 30-45 second. Then, use the damp towel (careful, it will be hot) to wipe all the crusty food away.

Making Your Own Furniture Wipes: Mix equal parts water and lemon oil in a bowl and dip squares (6"X6") of cheesecloth into the mixture. Ring the square out so they are still slightly damp and store them in an air tight container - the next time you need to wipe down your furniture you're all set with eco-friendly wipes!


All-purpose Cleaner: Mix equal parts white vinegar and hydrogen peroxide Add a touch of tea tree oil. Put in a spray bottle (from your former store bought agent or buy at £ shop). Cleans and disinfects all bathroom and kitchen surfaces except granite (I do not have granite, btw). For the amount of ONE

Scouring Powder: Baking soda (bicarbonate) It does a fine job. It's a simple, less abrasvie way to quickly get all the toilets sparkling clean. Even cuts down on limescale!

Glass Cleaner: Add a few drops of pure lemon juice to plain water. Put in spray bottle and got. Ue is on windows, glass tabletops, mirrors, vases, and other other glass surface or object. It only keeps for a day or two and then you need to remix. I just make enough for one cleaning round each time, just in case.

A Few Tips for Easier Quick Cleaning:

I carry a small bucket filled with my spray bottles, an old toothbrush, a credit card (some free one that came in the post, rubber gloves, a reusable microfiber cloths and a sponge.

Toothbrush helps get into hard-to-reach areas and small crevices.

Credit card is fantastic for scraping up stuck-on gunk and dried foods

Rubber gloves I fold over to create a cuff on the ends to catch water. I don't like it when water runs down my arm and into the glove. Yick!

Microfiber cloths. I have a fine-woven one for glass and shiny surfaces and one large-loop clothes for general cleaning of dusty areas. they are a little bit of a cost, but they last forever. No more paper-towels or kitchen towels for me.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

First step - Menu Planning/Shopping lists

I thought I'd  have difficulty finding a meal planning calendar or system. It was difficult - but not because I couldn't find it - but because I found SO many! I was overwhelmed. I like to make quick decisions but for this - I was slow as molasses. Which one was the right one, which did I like best, which helped me along the most.  I spent hours ssearching, poring over pages, printing, testing and looking them over. This may be a case of 'still in denial'.

In any case, after taking stock, I made my two week menu and shopping list. Here is the menu:

Week 1:
Monday: Lasagna
Tuesday: mushroom pasta with salad
Wednesday: Pesto chicken with rice
Thursday: leftover lasagna
Friday: homemade pizza
Saturday: jacket potatoes with meatless chili
Sunday: Roasted chicken dinner

Week 2:
Monday: Taco salad (using my own taco seasoning mix)
Tuesday: sausage rolls with salad
Wednesday: Creamy chicken tomato basil soup with garlic bread
Thursday: Thanksgiving - going to friends
Friday: homemade pizza
Saturday: leftovers
Sunday: spaghetti bolognese with salad

If this sounds expensive - it's not. I buy pasta in bulk and store it in air-tight containers. I reuse the chicken leftover from the Sunday roast, the pizza dough is handmade (see recipe below) and each child/adult gets to put their own toppings on. I make my red sauce and use it for pizza, lasagna and spaghetti. I make my own soup (see recipe below). I grow a basil plant in my kitchen window and make my own pesto - sometimes with pine nuts, and often with walnuts (depends on which is the better price).

I also shop around for the best price, any offers from stores. I bought the ingredients for this two week menu plan for £48.75 at Tesco, Morrisons and the farmer's market at Carol's school (every Wednesday). I will have to buy some fresh salad greens for next week, but otherwise I will have fed my family of four on less that £55 for two weeks. That's £110 a month. But it takes work, looking for the best prices and then going to the stores alone is a pain. But I have a large Tesco near me, and my husband works by a huge Morrison's store.

I'm sure I can do better and I will keep trying. I'm still not at thrifty as I would like, but I am getting there. I'm starting to make my own snacks for the kids, which they are loving. That is coming soon!

Chicken Tomato Basil Soup

1 1/2 cups chicken chunks
2 cans (400g) of chopped tomatoes (pureed in blender)
1 large white onion, julienned
1 1/2  cups cream/milk (or to your liking)
1 large bunch of basil chopped
1 tbs olive oil

Saute onion in olive oil until translucent (about five minutes). Add the pureed tomatoes. Bring to boil, then turn heat down to simmer. Add chicken and milk. Stir through. Five minutes before serving, stir in basil until wilted. Serve immediately. Serves 2 large or 4 small bowls.

You can leave out the chicken if  you want a nice lunch with crusty bread or a toasted cheese sandwich. Depending on the milk you use - it can be quite rich and always filling. Don't slice the onion too small - long strips are best. It adds a nice hearty crunch to the meal. I often stir in leftover rice or pasta (orzo is great) to make it more of a dinner meal.

Homemade Pizza Dough

1.1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1 tablespoon white sugar
2 ½ cups warm water
2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon salt
½ cup whole wheat flour
5 ½ cups bread flour

In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast and sugar in the warm water. Let sit until creamy (approximately ten minutes). Stir the olive oil, whole wheat flour, salt, and four cups of the bread flour into the yeast mixture. Mix in the remaining flour, ½ cup at a time stirring well after each addition. When the dough has pulled together, turn it out into a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about eight minutes. Lightly oil a large mixing bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth and put in a warm place (I set this bowl in my oven) to rise until doubled in volume; about one hour. Deflate the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into three equal pieces and form into rounds. Cover the rounds and let them rest for about ten minutes. Preheat the oven to 210C degrees. Shape your dough using a rolling pin and top with your favorite toppings. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the cheese and crust are golden brown.

*Note that this recipe actually yields three crusts. Two of these can be frozen for later use in a freezer-safe bag. You can also increase the amount of whole wheat flour (for a healthier crust) and omit the same amount of bread flour. Play around with the ratios until you achieve the desired taste and consistency that you enjoy. This is a family favorite in our house. The two other crusts can be used for calzones.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Homemade spices, mixes and soups for little £

I used to spend a lot of money on cocoa/hot chocolate mixes, spices, soups and so one - staples that get used in many meals. It was costing a fortune. I started cutting back on what I bought and then decided I should try and make my own. 

So cruised the internet for homemade seasonings, mixes, soups and everything else I usually spend a lot of money on. 

Here is the list I’ve come up with over the past few months. They are all easy to mix, taste wonderful, are very handy and save lots and lots of £££!

I use the pancake mix a lot and the taco seasoning mix. The Chai Tea mix is ridiculously good and don’t get me started on the homemade hot chocolate! Divine.

You can get a lot of the  ingredients at a pound shop or in less expensive stores. If you know a good spice store in London that's reasonable, please let me know where. I used to buy spices in bulk in Manhattan but don't have a clue where to go here in London!

Try them out and let me know what you think.

Homemade Rice Seasoning Mix
¾ cup chicken bouillon granules
½ cup dried parsley
1 tbsp. basil
1 tbsp dill weed
2 tbsp, dried onion flakes
1 tsp seasoning salt
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp lemon pepper seasoning
1 cup almonds, coarsely chopped (optional)
Mix together and store in an airtight container. When preparing rice, combine 1 cup rice, 2 cups water, and three tablespoons of the seasoning. Bring your water to a boil and add rice & seasoning. Reduce to simmer and cook for eighteen minutes.

Homemade Baking Mix (AKA for pancakes and breads)

5 ½ cups sifted flour
1 tsp baking soda
3 tbsp baking powder
1 cup shortening

Mix all ingredients well until crumbly. Store in an air tight container.

Homemade Italian Dressing Seasoning Mix

1 ½ tsp garlic powder
1 tbsp onion powder
2 tbsp ground oregano
1 tbsp dried parsley
1 tbsp granulated sugar
2 tbsp salt (adjust to your own personal preference)
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp ground basil
¼ tsp ground thyme
½ tsp dried celery flakes
Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight container.  To prepare the dressing: Mix two tablespoons of the mix with ¼ cup vinegar, 2 tablespoons of water, and ½ to 2/3 cup olive oil or canola oil.

Homemade Croutons

6 slices of bread
¼ cup olive oil
1 tsp basil
1 tsp oregano, liberal sprinkling of garlic salt (to taste)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cube bread into desired size and toss into a bowl. Sprinkle all of the seasonings on top of your bread cubes. Drizzle olive oil over the cubes and then toss gently with your fingers. When all pieces have been coated, put cubes into a single layer on a cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for twenty minutes. Allow to cool. Place in an airtight container and these can be stored for up to weeks in this container.

Homemade Onion Soup Mix

¾ cup instant minced onion
4 tsp onion powder
1/3 cup beef-flavored bouillon powder
¼ tsp celery seed, crushed
¼ tsp sugar

Mix all the ingredients and store in an airtight container. To use, add two tablespoons mix to one cup boiling water. Cover and simmer for fifteen minutes.

Make-Your-Own Canned Tomato Soup

6 ounce can tomato paste
24 ounces milk
1 tsp salt
1 tsp celery seed

Put tomato paste in a small saucepan. Add the milk, salt, & celery seed. Cook on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally.

Homemade Sweetened Condensed Milk

1 cup instant nonfat dry milk solids
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup boiling water
3 tbsp melted margarine

Combine all ingredients and process with an electric mixer until smooth. This can be stored in the refrigerator until it is ready to be used.

Homemade Condensed Cream of Chicken Soup

1 ½ cups chicken broth
½ tsp poultry seasoning
¼ tsp onion powder
¼ tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp salt
¼ tsp parsley
Dash of paprika
1 ½ cups milk
¾ cup flour

In a medium-sized saucepan, boil chicken broth, ½ cup of the milk, and the seasonings for a minute or two. In a bowl, whisk together the remaining one cup of milk and flour. Add to boiling mixture and continue whisking briskly until the mixture boils and thickens.

Homemade Cocoa Mix

4 cups nonfat dry milk powder
1 ½ cups sugar
1 cup non-dairy coffee creamer
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 (4 oz) package instant chocolate pudding mix

Place all ingredients in a large bowl and mix together. Place mix in a sifter and sift to make a really fine powder (or you can use your food processor for this step). Store in an airtight container. Add ½ cup of mix to an 8 ounce mug and fill with hot water

Homemade Vanilla Chai Tea Mix

1 cup nonfat dry milk powder
1 cup powdered non-dairy creamer
1 cup French vanilla powdered non-dairy creamer
2 ½ cups white sugar
1 ½ cups unsweetened instant tea
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp allspice
¼ tsp white pepper

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until it is a fine powder.  Add two-three tablespoons of mix to 8 ounces of hot water or milk.

Taco seasoning

1 tablespoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

In a small bowl, mix together chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, red pepper flakes, oregano, 
paprika, cumin, salt and pepper. Store in an airtight container. 3 tbs per 500g of mince or chicken.
***Instead of buying expensive taco kits, I just buy a packet of tortilla chips and make it into a ‘nachos’ type dinner or salad. Layering lettuce, avocado, shredded cheese, tomato, onion, tortilla chips, mince, soured cream, etc. It’s delicious.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Budgeting may kill us

In my big shopping haul I compared prices with many items, including laundry soap. We have been using the same fancy soap since we arrived. It's gentle on skin, etc. which I needed because I  had a baby. It didn't have much of a fragrance and we were fine with it. It was on the pricier side so I decided to shop around as my youngest is two and a tough little man.

I noticed that a different soap, also name-brand, was on two-for-one special and a whole pound cheaper than one bottle of my regular. So, being the new thrifty minded gal I am, I snapped up two feeling quite pleased with this find.

Then I started doing laundry. My four-year-old daughter, Carol, is finally going to bed without pull ups, but she's been having a few accidents. So in the middle of the night we've been changing sheets and I've been washing them. She has three sets of sheets and they've all be washed at least two times in the last 10 days - in our new bargain detergent. These sheets, along with the blankets, comforter cover, pillow covers and her personal blankie - have also been tossed in.

Two days ago Carol broke out in hives - big, giant, scary blotches and red angry welts, all over her tiny little self. She had a mild fever and complained about her legs hurting. She was itchy and cranky. And I blamed the school, the new magnetic chalkboard we just painted in the kitchen, something she ate, God, and everything else. Until I took her to the doctor who came right out and asked, "Have you changed soap or lotions?"

Oh. Errmmm....yes. The problem is ME! I switched the powder to save a few pounds and my daughter is suffering because of it. Oh, the guilt. If Catholicism wasn't enough - now this.

I have to wash absolutely everything of the kids again, twice with the old detergent. I SO love doing laundry. This is a fine punishment and what I get for blaming God, Country and School.

Lesson learned: cannot cut corners on the kids. I'll pay full price for the fancy, expensive, dye-free, fragrance-free, sensitive skin soap. I'll just keep my eye open for store discounts and vouchers for that brand instead. Maybe Costco has it in bulk?! I'm soon to find out.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Taking Stock

First things first - I needed to take stock of my kitchen. Can't plan menus and start shopping on a budget if I don't know where I stand - right? So I hopped to it: I needed to clean out the pantry/larder - whatever you want to call it. We moved four months ago so I wasn't expecting to find much. As I went through the fridge, freezer,  pantry and cupboards I learned three important things about myself:

  • I am a borderline hoarder
  • I am not a good housekeeper
  • I seriously need to get better organized
Granted, everything in the fridge/freezer couldn't be more than four months old but some things were just - icky. I thought I kept a clean fridge, erm....no. That was a convenient state of denial. Housekeepers don't really clean fridges and I certainly didn't do a bang-up job - so what was I expecting? Certainly not the jars of moulded jams or the long, lost wilted celery sticks I found lurking in the dark corners. I never bent down to look at the back of the bottom shelf. It was like thunderdome down there - scary, rough and taking on a wild life of its own.

I cleaned like a madwoman until it sparkled. The fruit and veg bins glistened, the freezer was defrosted, wiped down and most of it's contents chucked. in the bin (freezer burn is just ugly I tell you). I threw out anything that looked suspicious or hadn't been used in forever - like that tube of tomato paste we brought from the last flat and a jar of capers that was nearly full but I was afraid to open (it's best to play it safe in these circumstances). But once I was done the fridge was worthy to receive food again.

Quite pleased with myself, I made a list of the remaining contents. All the basics were there: milk, butter, fruit, veg, condiments, eggs, wine - you know, the every day 'must have' stuff.

Keeping up the momentum, I eagerly moved onto the larder. Dry goods are trickier - I don't think to sort them. I chucked loads of spices like garam masala that I haven't used since the Tony Blair administration as well as some molasses that made the trip from NY with us. Then I put everything back, once again taking stock.

I need to get loads of containers, like the ones above because now that I'm taking a vested interest I want to see what I have without having to dig around. I want order and the photo above inspires me. I'm off to the pound shop later to get cheap plastic versions. My husband thinks that this is unnecessary spending but if I can get heaps for a £ or less, then it's not. And it's all for the greater good. Plus, we haven't started Project A Penny Saved 2012 yet. I'm still in prep mode. And I'm determined to make this work. You need to break a few eggs before you can make an omelet, no?

Now I'm ready to start making menu plans and budget shopping. Again, I have no clue what I'm doing. I'm sure I'll stumble but I will make this happen.

I know no one is reading yet so I'm going to do blog perusals for help. But if anyone is reading this - send help....or money....or wine.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

And we're off and running!

OKAY! I have no followers, have no clue but I'm officially off and running. It's my goal to participate in the Blog Carnival held by three well establish frugal bloggers. Here is a post running on all three blogs and it's all about living thrifty, sharing ideas, and finding new tips. I love it. Why haven't I done this sooner? Look for me in the December carnival. Better get crack-a-lackin' on the ideas!

No matter how frugal or thrifty you think you are, there’s always someone else with an idea to help you save a little more so Jen (from a thrifty mum), Becky (from Baby Budgeting) and Cass (from The Diary of a Frugal Family) thought it would be a great idea to get all bloggers brilliant ideas together in one place so we could all learn from each other and hopefully find new ways to save.  Each month they’re going to hold a Thrifty Families Blog Carnival and they would all love for us to take part.

It’s so easy to be join in – all you need to do is send in a post (on making or saving money, thriftiness or living frugally) that you’ve written in the past month and you’re in ;-)

Please send the link for November – to Becky by Tuesday 8th November 6 pm for the carnival on Thurs 10th November at Baby Budgeting

Send your links for December – to  Jen by Tuesday 6th December 6 pm for the carnival on 8th December at A Thrifty Mum

January – to Cass 10th January 2012 6 pm for the carnival on 12th January 2012 at Diary of a Frugal Family.  Her e mail is Cass@frugalfamily.co.uk

Please join in – don’t forget it doesn’t need to be a new post as long as it was published in the last month….

You’re welcome to use the badge if you want to.

Yay - I've started!

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Where to Begin?

In an act of unusual procrastination, I have been fiddling with the look and layout of this blog rather than starting the actual task at hand. The task being, we're going credit free. We will save money and we will budget for all of 2012.

I think I'm in denial.

Let me set the scene here: we are a family of four. There's me, Penny, my husband Eddie, our four-year-old daughter, Carol, and our two-year-old son, Al. We moved here from New York City to London over a year ago for my husband's job. I don't work in London so I'm a full time mom, or mum, as the Brits say. The first year here we learned a lot. London is expensive, much, much more expensive that Manhattan, and we're not on the fabulous American ex-pat package. We have to pay for our own housing, flights home, council tax, television tax and every other little tiny tax that comes our way. It stinks. It's hard. We're not saving anything. It has to stop.

We took a good long look at our expenses, savings, income and output. One exceeded the other - and not the good way. We were spending more than we were making. Savings were being dipped into, college funds not being contributed to, house fund sitting idol with no influx of cash. We were stagnant. Things needed to change. After much discussion, we decided we had to cut back.

Here's what we're doing:

  • Paying off the credit cards and not using them unless of an emergency
  • No housekeeper
  • We moved into a less expensive flat, that is not flash but is good enough
  • Cash only
  • Spending is cut to a limit
  • Budgeting for everything: groceries, hair cuts, meals, evenings out, sitters, etc.
  • Menu planning
  • Saving in UK pounds sterling (we only have US savings and investments)
  • Selling things on eBay
  • Learning how to use coupons, groupon, searching for deals, and trade-offs
  • Blogging about it

I know nothing about this. I've read articles about cutting corners, how to shop wisely, how to menu plan and shop at Costco, etc. But I've never put any into action. I love to cook but we like steak, rack of lamb, and other fancy things - I'll have to become inventive.

We  have two small children so they have to be entertained on the cheap (for the most part) and we have to have date nights out (mandatory). We are far from destitute, but we want to take this challenge and manage our spending for a full year. I worry I will fail and dash to the High Street to buy Kiehl's lotion for £50 in a fit of hysteria. I don't know if I can handle homemade facial scrubs. I don't know if I can menu plan and stick to it - what if I'm not in the mood for pork chops on Tuesday when it's on the calendar - and where do I find a calendar?

There's much to learn and I have less than two months to sort myself out before Operation A Penny Saved 2012 gets underway.  Wish me luck. And send me tips, questions, ideas, thoughts, support, criticism - I encourage it all.

Stick around. It could get interesting!