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Friday, 30 November 2012

Meal Plans - The week ahead

It's been a really hectic week, and the weekend is looking similar, but here is our meal plan for next week. Thank goodness it's pay day today!

Monday: Chilli Con Carne with Garlic & Coriander Wraps (Double portion - eat one, freeze one!)
Tuesday: Rustic Chicken with Mash & Veg
Wednesday: Lasagne
Thursday: Lasagne Leftovers!
Friday: Homemade Pizza & Chips
Saturday: Bacon Pasta Bake
Sunday: Stuffing-topped Roast Chicken with Roasts & Veg

Watch this space over the weekend, I've got recipes, crafts, shopping lists and much more I'm hoping to get posted!

Have a great Friday!

Food shopping, family fun and Christmas Lights Switch On for us today!

Friday, 23 November 2012

Christmas on a budget

Christmas can be a very expensive time of year, especially if you have children or lots of relatives. I have a friend who is mega organised and buys most of her Christmas presents in the January sales ready for the next Christmas. I have never had a particularly flush January so have never been able to do this, but I have started buying things throughout the year in the last couple of years.

If I see something on offer, or a pre loved toy at a good price then I get it and store it away. This year I had most of the presents bought before October, leaving time to buy the elements for Christmas Dinner each month to spread out the cost. I have a big bag in my wardrobe with all the presents in and keep adding to it. I have more in there than I need, but that's useful with two small children. I've found that as the weather gets worse throughout Autumn to Winter, it's great to be able to pull out a new toy every now and then to keep boredom at bay!

We have a number of family birthday's between October and January, so this also adds to the expense. We have produced a number of home made presents over the last few years, from Kilner Jars filled with home made biscuits, to photo frames with a hand designed quote or picture in, to family trees and celebration cakes.

As the girls get older we will be able to make a lot more, doubling up as rainy day fun too. I have a sewing machine and have decided to make some Christmas Sacks - I saw some lovely ones that were £25 each but that's £100 for 4!!! I have to admit, this will be the second year of making them if I don't get on with them soon, but that aside, I think they will cost far less than £5 each to make. I happened upon some red and white striped pillowcases in the IKEA bargain corner a while ago, together with a matching double quilt cover. The only thing wrong was that there was one pillow case missing. So for three pillow cases (Mr Strong and I will share one) it was £1.50 - so I don't even have to make the sacks! I have bought some scraps and remnant pieces of material off ebay for under £5, and some ribbon for £1.50 to sew on to tie them together at the top. I will post them once I've completed them!

The idea is that rather than having a stocking, depending on the budget for each years Christmas, they may have just Santa presents in their sacks, or they may have all of their presents in there - I'm hoping this will be a great alternative tradition to them expecting full stockings and lots of presents each year! No matter the budget, they will always have a Christmas Sack to open.

Next year we are hoping to make jams and chutneys for presents, probably with something else with them. We missed the boat for fruit picking this year as we were moving house, but will be organised next year!

A Thrifty Mum has a great blog detailing savings for Christmas and great ideas for everyday, pop over and take a look!

I always used to enjoy spending large amounts on presents for people, and love everything about Christmas, but I'm now enjoying doing Christmas on a budget! Making personal things for people is very rewarding, especially when no one else has one like it!

I'm looking forward to learning more tips as the years go on!

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Parenting is already hard enough!

I had my supermarket toddler update booklet delivered the other day, and as I had a quite moment (both girls eating) I thought I'd have a flick through. It's one of the free magazines you get if you sign up to a supermarket baby and toddler parenting club giving you information on what they can sell you for your child's current stage of development, product reviews and general articles.

I found myself drawn to a short article about a toddlers eating, and how it was important not to give them cakes, crisps and biscuits, but give them healthy options. It went on to say that it has been proven that a child who has a healthy balanced diet before the age of two will have a higher IQ when they are older by 2 points.

Now don't get me wrong, I am an advocate of healthy eating for my children and try to give them a balanced diet with the odd treat but I have to say I immediately felt like a bad parent! Erin is particularly adament that she will not eat vegetables, and although she was never keen on veg when weaning, she ate most things up until the age of one.

Just before her first birthday she seemed to develop this fear of food and wouldn't touch anything she was unfamiliar with. On top of that, literally overnight, she decided she was going to be in control of what she ate and refused most of what I gave her for about 2 weeks. Most of the problem seemed to be texture so I embarked on a mission to try and figure out what she would and wouldn't eat. People said "It's a phase, just stick with it, give her what she wants with a bit of what she doesn't and she'll come around in another week or so". Well.....nearly a year on she has improved slightly but will still eat a very limited diet.

She has recently decided she likes apples, and yoghurt coated raisins. She will happily eat chicken nuggets or goujons, although for a while she'd pick the coating off so she just ate the chicken. Cook her some roast chicken on it's own and she'd point blank refuse. She used to LOVE mashed potato and baked beans, they were my saving grace - alas that changed when she was one too.

She has gradually agreed to eat roast potatoes, and will try a pea every now and again, so I can see progress, despite it being very slow. But by no means does she get what she wants every mealtime. I did that for a short while but now give her what we have or a proper alternative meal if it's not toddler friendly. Every few days she'll have something like chicken nuggets or fish fingers and roasts etc so that I know she's getting a good meal. She'll happily eat breakfast and lunch so I know she won't be going hungry all day, and she won't let herself starve. Having read a large number of articles on the subject of toddler eating, I am now comfortable that I am offering her a balanced meal, I just can't MAKE her eat it.

...But when you read things like the article above, telling me that it is my fault if my daughter doesn't reach her potential IQ because of her diet, then it's no wonder mothers today carry such a guilt around that they could do more. I will not force feed her vegetables in the first few years of her life, making meal times traumatic for both of us, for the sake of articles like that.

I recently went to a Care For The Family event called "Mum's The Word", and one of the best things they said was "Don't take all the credit, don't take all the blame. Just do what you can". Whilst I have no doubt that there are some angelic toddlers who love vegetables, I would bet my life that there are other mums out there with toddlers like mine, just wishing they would eat one stick of carrot (c'mon, just one mouthful, look mummy's got one too!") and feeling the pressure that they are solely responsible for that little person's future eating habits. That each mealtime is one more confirmation that they are not doing the best for their child.

But you know what... Supermum DOES NOT exist! You are doing your best, you are treating your child with respect by not forcing anything down them, acknowledging that their opinions matter and  loving them anyway. One day, they will eat that carrot, and it'll just be something else that piles the pressure on.

The important thing is that we do what we can, how we can, and love our children no matter what. If for some reason Erin does lose out on 2 points of IQ, I think she'd be more grateful that I didn't rugby tackle her to the ground every mealtime!

"We do our children a wonderful service if we send them into the world with an unshakeable belief that there is at least one person who, irrespective of their grades, weight, or athletic genius, loved them - anyway. It really is the greatest gift. Most of us, as adults, are still searching for somebody to love us like that." Taken from The Sixty Minute Mother by Rob Parsons.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Caramelised Cranberry Relish

As is my tradition, I bought the Christmas Edition of the Good Food Magazine, and found a number of recipes that I can't wait to try! One caught my eye, and I decided to have a go the other weekend.

I was so impressed with how nice it tasted even though it was really quick and easy. Below is the recipe I made, slightly adapted as I couldn't buy the exact amount the original recipe required. Working on the basis that most people only have a heaped dessert spoonful of cranberry sauce I think it would stretch to 10-12 people. I split the quantity in two, one for 4 adults on Christmas Day and one for 5 Adults on Boxing Day. I have put it in the freezer ready for Christmas - one homemade thing completed ahead of time that will make a tasty difference on the day.

Ingredients:

1 x Large Orange
1 x Small piece of fresh ginger (I used a Thumbnail size piece after guidance from my mum!)
120g Golden Caster Sugar
600g Fresh Cranberries (I would have used frozen if I could find them - they'd probably cost less!)

Method:
  1. Zest the orange and finely shred the ginger, putting to one side.
  2. Juice the orange and tip into a saucepan.
  3. Add the sugar and stir well.
  4. Boil gently until you achieve an amber-orange caramel.
  5. Add the orange zest and the ginger, leaving to cook for a minute or so.
  6. Add the whole, washed cranberries and cook on a high heat.
  7. After about 5 minutes the cranberries should be starting to split but still have their texture.
  8. Continue to cook for another 3 minutes or so until you have a soft but textured sauce.
  9. The sauce will thicken slightly as it cools. Once you have roughly the consistency you want, take it off the heat and allow it to cool.
  10. Once cool either put in the fridge until you need it (the original recipe suggests it will keep for a couple of weeks) or freeze it.
Tip: The original recipe suggests a splash of Port if you fancy it, this is added together with the cranberries.

Pasta & Meatballs

This is quickly becoming a regular in our house, versatile, great for all the family, quick and easy!

Ingredients: (Feeds two adults, a toddler and a baby!)

20 x Meatballs (You can make your own but I cheat and buy ready made ones!)
300g Dried Pasta or Spaghetti (100g per adult plus extra for children)
200ml Passata (Or half a 500g carton)
1 x 400g Tinned Chopped Tomatoes
1 x Large Onion
3-4 Cloves of Garlic (chopped or crushed)
1 x Pepper (preferably Yellow, Red or Orange as they are sweeter)
1 x Beef Stock Cube
1 Teaspoon Basil
1 Teaspoon Oregano
1 Teaspoon Paprika
1/2 Teaspoon Mint
1/2 Teaspoon Thyme
1/2 Teaspoon Rosemary
3 Teaspoons Tomato Puree
Black Pepper
Olive Oil

Note: If you only have mixed herbs and garlic that's fine, just add 2 Teaspoons of Mixed Herbs and the garlic. If you want to make this for 4 adults, double the amount of meatballs but keep the other quantities the same as there is a lot of sauce with this recipe. You can also add a small amount of gravy instead of the beef stock cube if you don't have any. If you find tomato based sauces too acidic, add a little sugar (to taste) to counteract this. I don't cook with salt so that it is suitable for our daughters - I add salt and pepper to taste once it is served up.

Method:
  1. Fry the meatballs in a wok, large saucepan or frying pan, in a little olive oil, all the dried herbs and the garlic. Meanwhile boil the water for the pasta.
  2. Once browned well all over, drain off any excess oil or fat from the meatballs, then add the chopped pepper and onion.
  3. Add the tinned tomatoes, passata, tomato puree, beef stock cube and ground pepper to taste.
  4. By this time the water for the pasta should have boiled. Add the pasta and cook for about 10-12 minutes or until cooked retaining a little "bite" (i.e. not soft and soggy!). Cover and simmer the meatballs and sauce whilst the pasta is cooking.
  5. When the pasta is cooked, drain it, pour boiling water over it to rinse off the starch and drain again.
  6. Serve and enjoy!
Tip: Top with a little grated cheese and serve with garlic bread for the ultimate Pasta and Meatballs combo!

Monday, 19 November 2012

Cheesy Beans

I'm having a hungry day today! It's nearing payday and therefore the cupboards are starting to look a little bare. I suddenly remembered I hadn't had cheesy beans on toast for ages, something my mum used to do as a quick meal.

This is great for using up left overs, especially for when you've tried to buy a cheaper brand of beans on offer and they taste awful!lol! It is very quick, cheap, uses leftovers and very filling!

Ingredients:

1 x 400g Tin of Baked Beans
1 Teaspoon of Basil
1 Teaspoon of Oregano
Grated Cheese (as  much or as little as you like!)

If you don't have basil or oregano, 2 Teaspoons of Mixed Herbs is fine.

Method: (Seems a bit ridiculous really!)
  1. Mix all together in a saucepan and cook over a low heat until all the cheese has melted!
  2. Serve on top of a jacket potato, toast or whatever you fancy!
Tip: Experiment with other herbs - I sometimes add a little garlic and pepper to give it a boost!

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Triple Layer Chocolate Cake


When making cake, I find that if you weigh the eggs you get a much better cake. It's not much more effort and the results are worth it! A triple sandwich cake mixture has three slightly thinner layers than my normal double layer cake, and is usually based around 350g of Flour, Marg and Sugar. Weigh your eggs until you get around the figure of 350g (more is better than less!) and use the same amount of self raising flour, marg and caster sugar in the recipe as follows.

Ingredients:

350g Self Raising Flour
350g Marg (Stork or equivalent)
350g Caster Sugar
350g Egg (See comment above)
Note: Medium eggs are usually around 50g each, large eggs around 70g each.
100g Cocoa Powder
3 Teaspoons of Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon of Vanilla Flavouring (will need more if using Vanilla Essence)
150 - 200ml Milk
4 Tablespoons of Nutella

Extra Marg to grease tins

3 x Round Sandwich Tins (approx 8in diameter), greased with marg and lined with greaseproof or baking paper. (You only need to line the bottom of the tin, not the edges.)

Method:
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C Fan).
  2. Weigh eggs into a mixing bowl and add same amount of marg and caster sugar.
  3. Mix with an electric mixer if you have one, then add the self raising flour (same amount as the eggs),the baking powder and the cocoa. Do not worry about sieving the flour or cocoa.
  4. Gradually add the milk (a little at a time until smooth but not runny consistency), Nutella and vanilla flavouring.
  5. Mix until the mixture has gone from a dark brown colour to a paler brown and is a smooth consistency.
  6. Grease the tins and line the bottoms.
  7. Split the mixture roughly equally between the three tins.
  8. Cook in oven for approx 22-27 mins, or until a cake tester / skewer comes out clean.
  9. Leave to cool for 10 mins and then run a palette knife or spatula around the outside of the tins to release the cakes.
  10. Turn the cakes out onto a cooling rack and leave to cool completely.
  11. When cool fill with buttercream, chocolate spread, jam, or whatever you fancy and ENJOY!
Tip: You can freeze this cake. Once it is cool, wrap it in clingfilm and then in greaseproof / baking paper, and store in an airtight container. Put it in the freezer and it will keep for up to one month. Leave to defrost for a few hours at room temperature and then ice or decorate. It tastes just as good as the day you baked it!

You can also make muffin size cakes or cupcakes with this recipe, just reduce the cooking time.

One portion of my Buttercream recipe will fill this in both layers and on top.

Buttercream (Vanilla and Chocolate Versions)


Buttercream is so easy to make, although I do confess to buying it bought when I am particularly pressed for time but it's worth the small amount of time taken to make it yourself. This amount will generously fill the inside and cover the top of two sponge cakes (4 layers) following my basic vanilla sponge recipe.

Ingredients:

250g Unsalted Butter
500g Icing Sugar
Vanilla Flavouring
Milk (No more than 100ml)

Note: For Chocolate Buttercream add 75g Cocoa Powder and 4 Tablespoons of Nutella as well as the above!

Method:
  1. Leave the butter to come to room temperature or melt a little in a mixing bowl in the microwave for about 20 seconds.
  2. Whisk using an electric mixer if you have one, or with a spatula.
  3. Gradually add the icing sugar, if you find it doesn't mix well add a couple of tablespoons of milk. (Add Cocoa and Nutella too if making Chocolate Buttercream).
  4. Keep mixing until it is combined and a smooth consistency.
  5. Add a vanilla flavouring to your own taste and add more milk if you want a runnier consistency.
  6. Ice your cake and enjoy!
Tip: You can freeze this butter icing, I tend to use half and freeze the rest in an airtight container. It will keep for 2-3 months in the freezer. Defrost at room temperature the day before you want it. Makes it easier when you need to make a cake quickly!

Basic Vanilla Sponge Cake

 

When making cake, I find that if you weigh the eggs you get a much better cake. It's not much more effort and the results are worth it! A good sandwich cake mixture is usually based around 225g of Flour, Marg and Sugar. Weigh your eggs until you get around the figure of 225g (more is better than less!) and use the same amount of self raising flour, marg and caster sugar in the recipe as follows.

Ingredients:

225g Self Raising Flour
225g Marg (Stork or equivalent)
225g Caster Sugar
225g Egg (See comment above)
Note: Medium eggs are usually around 50g each, large eggs around 70g each.
2 Teaspoons of Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon of Vanilla Flavouring (will need more if using Vanilla Essence)
Extra Marg to grease tins

2 x Round Sandwich Tins (approx 8in diameter), greased with marg and lined with greaseproof or baking paper. (You only need to line the bottom of the tin, not the edges.)

Method:
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C Fan).
  2. Weigh eggs into a mixing bowl and add same amount of marg and caster sugar.
  3. Mix with an electric mixer if you have one, then add the self raising flour (same amount as the eggs), the baking powder and the vanilla flavouring. Do not worry about sieving the flour.
  4. Mix until the mixture has gone from a warm creamy colour to a pale cream and is a smooth consistency.
  5. Grease the tins and line the bottoms.
  6. Split the mixture roughly equally between the two tins.
  7. Cook in oven on the same shelf for approx 22-27 mins, or until a cake tester / skewer comes out clean. Do not worry if they are not particularly brown, as long as the skewer comes out clean in a few places then it will be fine - the lighter the sponge, the more moist it will be!
  8. Leave to cool for 10 mins and then run a palette knife or spatula around the outside of the tins to release the cakes.
  9. Turn the cakes out onto a cooling rack and leave to cool completely.
  10. When cool fill with buttercream, chocolate spread, jam, or whatever you fancy and ENJOY!
Tip: You can freeze this cake. Once it is cool, wrap it in clingfilm and then in greaseproof / baking paper, and store in an airtight container. Put it in the freezer and it will keep for up to one month. Leave to defrost for a few hours at room temperature and then ice or decorate. It tastes just as good as the day you baked it!

You can also make muffin size cakes or cupcakes with this recipe, just reduce the cooking time.
 
Half of my Buttercream recipe will fill this and cover the top.

Supermarket sense!

As many families are already aware, shopping around means you get the best prices, and benefit from the latest offers but with one car and busy family life, we don't have the time to do this - convenience is key for us in the life season we are in.

When we lived in Loughborough, we had easy, local access to large supermarkets, an array of "poundshops", the local market and could check out prices easily. I also had the luxury of having the car in the day as Mr Strong travelled to work by train. Since moving to Norfolk, Mr Strong now needs the car for work, and our local supermarkets are significantly less in choice and size. We can of course travel into Norwich and visit the large supermarkets but they are all over the city and at weekends the last thing I want to do is price match!

Before we moved we had tried a number of supermarkets but have found that by shopping at Aldi we significantly reduce our food bills. I am a bit of a food snob and if you ask Mr Strong he will confirm that I will always choose the most expensive option as a natural reaction but I have had to learn that I can't do that anymore!

I have reluctantly tried cheaper cuts of meat, and different meat available at Aldi and can honestly say most of it is nicer than the expensive supermarkets. There are certain things that I buy elsewhere, that are more cost effective - I buy Asda's Big Value 24 Pack of Toilet Roll - it is better quality than the cheap stuff therefore lasts longer (!!) and is the cheapest deal I've found. I am sure if you have access to wholesalers you could do better still. I prefer Asda's Deli Packs of ham, they last longer and it's better quality carver ham. And toilettries are bought from wherever they are on offer! Finally, I much prefer Asda Little Angels nappies and wipes, they are excellent quality and in my opinion better than the branded ones (although we do use Pampers Baby Dry at night).

We have recently discovered the local farm shops and their benefits - it is always much nicer to know your veg is fresh, and that you are supporting the local economy. We spent less than £7 on a sack of potatoes and a big bag of onions - far cheaper than supermarkets, much better quality and last longer!

If you haven't tried Aldi, I encourage you to! To do a massive shop with the trolley piled high, included lots of meat, is usually around £100 - last week I bought the meat we needed for 3 weeks as well as some other things and spent only £70. The other day I went to Tesco, bought a basket worth of bits and pieces and spent £35 - it wouldn't have lasted more than two meals!

Friday, 16 November 2012

Welcome!

Welcome to my blog!

I am a wife to Mr Strong, and a mother to Erin and Lara, I spend most of my days trying to be Supermum, juggling the balls of the daily washing, cleaning, tidying, cooking, sticking to a tight budget and entertaining my young children, trying not to go mad at the upteenth request for "Peppa!?" and if I'm lucky I might have time to put some mascara on!

In the last year or so Mr Strong and I have decided to work towards becoming debt free, and with that comes a tight budget. Families all over the country are facing difficult financial situations, whether that is due to the lack of pay rises, change of personal circumstances, or just an awareness that things could be reined in a little. We are having to re-evaluate even the smallest expenses that were once considered normal before the "pinch".

I hope to help those who are in a similar situation by sharing the things we are learning along the way. And if you have any suggestions, recipes or tips, I would love to hear them.

I will aim to post my weekly plans and shopping lists, and will leave template resources, tips and useful info on the specific pages. Happy reading!