Tag Archives: cooking

Shopping on a tight budget – five top tips

Shopping takes on a new dimension when you have low or no income.

Recently I was a student and my shopping budget was £17.50. Currently I am waiting for benefits to start so I am getting by with my savings.

So how do you manage? Here are some tips for getting the best deals.

  1. Skip Shopping (known as “skip diving”).

No, I don’t mean give shopping a miss altogether, I mean shop from a skip. Seriously. It beats “dumpster diving” (salvaging items from shop bins is a step too far for me). It is not illegal to take items from a skip as it is rubbish and it is in an area accessible to the public. There is always one in our neighbourhood. I look over its contents quickly as I walk past. If I see something, I wait until I go back home via the skip. I check to make sure the street is empty (for the sake of my dignity) and then I whip out the item as quickly as possible. I have so far retrieved a leather Michael Kors handbag, a lacy black top and a flowery mug from two skips. These items are completely free of charge and all they require is a thorough and careful clean to restore them to their original glory. I simply sponged the handbag with soap and water and used some make-up wipes to remove any makeup on the inside. The mug went in the dishwasher and I am waiting to see how the top looks after a good wash. Getting the handbag (worth approximately £100) from the skip gave me the same dopamine hit as finding a cut-price bargain at TK Maxx. Priceless shopping is just what you need when you’re on a tight budget.

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2. Get back to basics

If you shop at Waitrose when you are on low income or unemployed you either live off your partner/trust fund/inheritance or you are delusional. Waitrose was the first shop I crossed off my list when I became a student. Say goodbye to the pink Himalayan rock salt and culinary experiments. I stick to the economy/basics section of most supermarkets or I shop at Aldi. I still haven’t found cereal cheaper than their £1.15 granola.

But be warned, other supermarket basics are often a similar price. Retailers sometimes just sell less food for the same price. My diet mostly revolves around the 30p bag of pasta and the £1 bottle of pesto.

The secret is to buy in bulk. I bought a 5 kilo bag of rice for £5. It requires 30 minutes to cook instead of the 3 minutes for microwave rice, but it is at least three times cheaper and I have the time now that I am unemployed. To make that into a meal, I combine it with a sliced frankfurter from a jar or packet (whichever is cheapest) and a 15p tin of tomatoes with herbs from Aldi. You can also buy a tin of frankfurters in tomato sauce and have that on toast if you don’t have the preparation time. I actually like tinned ravioli as well.

You can make a meal out of instant noodles by adding spinach, ham and even a boiled egg, ramen-style. For a snack I do nachos with a packet of mozzarella for 80p and a tin of tomatoes, with a small pot of sour cream (cheaper than guacamole).

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3. Shop savvy with “discounts”

Newsflash. Just because it’s reduced or on special offer doesn’t mean it’s a good deal. Sometimes the shops use this as a psychological grab because most people presume that this means it is much cheaper. If the discount doesn’t make the item at least £1 cheaper then forget it, it’s not a good deal and you’re just buying something more expensive than the basics variety. My mum taught me this trick and it’s really helped me look after the pennies (and the pounds will take care of themselves).

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4. Want new clothes? Let family/friends know, go to a clothes swap or charity shop.

Recently two friends have had a wardrobe clear out and I have accumulated a new one as a result. The only problem with those clothes are that they are past season. They fit, they look great and I now have more than one day dress. Charity shopping is about knowing when to go. The best time is in late June or July when students move out or return home.

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Credit: The Tamburlaine Hotel, Cambridge

5. Special offers and vouchers

Use vouchers as often as you can for as much as you can.

If you are on 3 Mobile you occasionally get a free tea/coffee, a free film or even free chocolate! The free tea offer encourages me to get out of the house and gives me much-needed caffeine for the job hunt.

 

 

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Hunger Day

As I write this there’s a constant feeling of hunger in the background…today I haven’t eaten anything since dawn.

It all started after doing a 10K charity run for Cancer Research. I wasn’t going to do another charity event this year, after raising £187 for a Multiple Sclerosis rehab centre.

But then my friend’s dad, who has myeloma (bone marrow cancer) asked me to do a 10K. The money goes towards research he is participating in at Hammersmith Hospital in London. If you would like to help me out with a donation our link is here. 

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I asked some Muslim colleagues to help out and they said they’d sponsor me double if I did a day of Ramadan with them. Fasting has lots of health benefits, among them lowering cholesterol, levels of stress hormones in the blood and boosting brain cell production. So I thought it’s only a day, I’ll give it a go.

I’d never fasted before except two days when I was eight and travelling and got ill from the flight food. We’d gone to New Zealand on a non-stop 36-hour flight and if I wasn’t suffering from food-poisoning it was travel-sickness. We stopped in Abu Dhabi and I remember we were told not to eat anything at the airport as it was Ramadan, but I was so ill I didn’t want to. I remembered the hungry eyes of the turbaned wrinkled man sitting on the tiled bench there.

The closest I’ve come to not eating in more recent times was the 5:2 diet, which I followed for a few weeks (two days of eating 400 calories), but then I could drink as much water as I wanted. I had been inspired by Mike Mosley and lost 2kg. I was doing it to improve memory and alertness. I didn’t notice a change in either, but maybe I didn’t try it for long enough.

Ramadan is really strict. No water, no food and because it’s summer, you have to do that for 18 and a half hours.

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The only time I haven’t appreciated the sun

I thought that it started at sunrise, so I excitedly got up and finished my toast and cereal breakfast for 4.40am for sunrise at 4.41am. I was reminded of the days of midnight feasts. I thought eating that close to the time was really smooth until I went to work and was told that they stop eating two hours earlier for morning prayers. This is intense.

The hardest part was at lunch. I was acutely aware of people eating, so I spent my time checking out local takeaways planning dinner (I’d be too weak to cook and I needed to have something to look forward to). I also normally snack at 10am, so I got hunger pains then. As I have IBS I was also belching and burping quite a bit at work which was really embarrassing.

After about 1pm, the hunger feeling faded to background noise and was easier to deal with. By the end of the day I was getting quite distracted. Seeing food or hearing about it did not make me hungry, the smell did. It was like part of my brain was disassociating itself for self-protection.

I felt weak and a little like I was floating when I walked. But apart from a slight ache in the belly I was fine. I had expected to have a drier mouth.

I wouldn’t do it again unless I had a similar charity deal. I’d rather appreciate those who have less than myself by enjoying what I do have.

It’s getting harder as it gets later. I started counting down the hours at 6pm.

Now I can’t wait to break this horrendous hunger with a buy-one-get-one-free pizza deal. Veggie and fish of course so I don’t eat non-Halal meat…

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A Morning Treat

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I call it Hangover Breakfast. Whenever I’ve been out in Leeds I go to O’Neills, the Irish pub, as they do the best and there is never a wait. There’s nothing like a traditional Irish/English breakfast. I like mine with egg, beans, bacon, black pudding, tomatoes, mushrooms, spinach and hash browns.

This morning though even that couldn’t help me. I did a 15 mile bike ride last night, 40 minutes of it uphill to get home, and I’m still exhausted. It shows I cannot wake up in the morning fully without a cup of tea. As it is my only day off this week I am treating myself to a full body spa massage later as well. My back and shoulders are a bit sore. But that wasn’t even half the distance I’m doing for charity!

A lady in my cycling group told me about it. I went along and 70 people turned up! We all had our night lights and fluorescent jackets on, it was quite a sight. Every time I looked back there were little moving lights stretching as far back as I could see, like an alien invasion as it was so dark sometimes you couldn’t see the riders. There was a great upbeat, community atmosphere. People cheered at us and we rang our bells back. We went to a sweet shop and stocked up on sugar for the ride home. On the way back we passed through a tunnel where there were loads of cheap souped-up cars and young men standing about trying to look tough. They looked incredibly silly, but they were good-natured enough.

I recommend a cooked breakfast in the morning. Researchers have found that starting the morning with a fatty meal may boost the metabolism for the rest of the day and prime the body to burn fat more efficiently. 

A study from the University of Alabama, in Birmingham, U.S., found that mice who consumed high-fat food in the morning and a lighter, lower-fat meal in the evening showed lowered incidence of metabolic syndrome – a precursor to diabetes and heart disease. All the more reason to enjoy this guilt-free.

The meal is high in B vitamins, protein and fibre, and offers three of your five a day. The Daily Mail article on the subject offers advice on making it lower in fat, and you could always use Quorn meat as a substitute.

Treat yourself on your day(s) off. This helps you appreciate them more and leaves you feeling more relaxed for work. It doesn’t have to be expensive. It can be as simple as getting outdoors for a walk or cooking a nice meal. Make the most of the spare time and you’ll feel better for it.

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A Decent Dessert and Drink in one

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Something I have just discovered is the beauty of stewed fruit. Peaches, nectarines and plums are in season in England right now so it is a great time to do this.

It is healthy, easy, cheap, tasty and uses up leftover fruit. The plums I had were hard for ages and then went mushy before I got a chance to eat them all. But luckily with this recipe you don’t need to throw them away.

You simply put a plum per person in a pot with a tablespoon of water per plum. Add a sprinkling of brown sugar (well apart from that it’s healthy!) and then for a treat halve a vanilla pod, slice it finely and pop it in. Add a sprinkling of ground cinnamon too.

Simmer until soft and enjoy the sweet fruity aroma. When it’s done, you can drain the fruit juice off into a mug and enjoy it with the plums, which you can add to yoghurt. I’d recommend enjoying it with vanilla or plain yoghurt. It also goes well on toast, on muesli or on pancakes. Delicious!

  

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A Mighty Marinade!

kind of my steak dinner

I tried a Jamie Oliver recipe today and have to say I was a bit disappointed. It didn’t really live up to expectations.

However, the other night’s meat marinade certainly beat it in the taste steaks. In fact, I would steak a lot on it beating a pasta bake off. The carbonara this evening was a bit of a misteak in comparison.

Waitrose may be expensive for most things, but there is such a variety in the large stores. You can get things which simply aren’t available anywhere else where I live. I picked up a frozen thai spice packet with a garlic and ginger packet. Two for £2.20 and the packets last several months, so not expensive. The frying steak was a mere £4 for two servings. The night before I put the steak in a bowl and added two tablespoons soy sauce, some frozen garlic, ginger and thai spice (which is coriander and chilli) and popped it in the fridge.

The next night I served it up with stir fry vegetables and my boyfriend was highly complimentary.Probably the best steak I have done, previously I found the meat can often be dry without a sauce. I would recommend serving it with coconut rice, you can get it as boil in the bag rice for about £2. It was really quick too, taking only about 5 minutes.

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This year’s English Spring…

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I opened the back door today to this, the coldest spring since 1962. I saw some great snow photographs in The Metro, which I still enjoy on my way to work. Most seem to be outraged by the relentless wintry onslaught, especially when the calendar says that we should have daffodils not bare branches. Others however are using it as an opportunity to showcase their creations or fashion-sense. It didn’t stop my boyfriend going on a “10.62” km run last night!

I was glad to hear that The Duchess of Cambridge managed to get up to Windermere in the Lake District to spend time with Beaver and Cub Scout groups. Some of the footage for which was shot by my boyfriend’s housemate! He is one of the leaders of a group that attended. Luckily the Duchess went back early by train (Virgin of course), whereas the cameraman had to endure a 6 hour journey home. Although Kate looks down to earth in the photographs, the Telegraph is quick to point out that she is wearing £300 wellies.

The weather is in stark contrast to last March.

Meanwhile in New Zealand my relatives have been enjoying their best summer for years.

This is our fourth snow dump of 2013. I must really love this country to be 037putting up with this

But it gives me the perfect opportunity to make the most of the time indoors with a curry weekend. I intend to cook a korma tonight (ok I admit this one’s with a ready-made jar of sauce) and tomorrow a proper home-made dahl with red lentils and mushrooms. I had an M & S microwave one last night which was fantastic, but nothing beats healthier home-cooked food.

It was certainly better than the lamb tikka bhuna I had when I last went out to an Indian restaurant, which consisted of a couple of pieces in a watery thin sauce. With all the other meat on the menu being chicken it was clear to see that meal quality had been sacrificed in favour of cost-cutting. This could be another case where trusting reviews let my boyfriend and I down, or perhaps I just ordered the wrong dish, his was delicious.

Red Lentils

With heating costs rising it’s even more important to save money, and at around £1 per kilo these are great value. You only need 1/4 cup per person! I 027usually do 250g each time so I have plenty for leftovers and to freeze. Simply wash through like you do with rice and cover with boiling beef stock in water and add a tin or two of chopped tomatoes (one tin is enough for two servings). Boil for 5 mins, then simmer for 15 mins with a teaspoon each of various herbs and spices (I added mustard seeds, cumin seeds, cinammon, garam masala, coriander seeds and frozen coriander. You should also add tumeric or curry powder) and any vegetables you want, I used pretty much everything I had!  Fresh coriander on serving was great too. I’d recommend about 200g of spinach added just before you take it off the heat. If it needs sweetening up add more cinammon.

I chose to slow cook mine for a more intense flavour burst – it really made a difference! Overall it’s a cheap, healthy, high in fibre and filling meal. I have only recently discovered this and felt the need to share. I cooked the above dish from this recipe. If you try it do let me know how it goes.

As for the bizarre weather, there is some debate about whether this is due to climate change or the arrival of another Ice Age…what do you think?

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No Horse-Play with Local Meat

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There’s a lot to be said for keeping it local. Now more than ever, as it was found yesterday that horse meat containing a banned vetinary drug had entered the food chain from Britain.

“Six contaminated carcasses were shipped from Britain to France”

Traces of the substance phenylbutazone or bute, an anti-inflammatory drug were found, but it is not harmful in small doses. Six contaminated carcasses were shipped from Britain to France, and half had already been processed and is on its way to supermarkets. After previous scandals with our meat, such as the mad-cow and foot-and-mouth disease, it’s a wonder our neigh-bours across the sea still accept our exports.

In France the meat was much less common and considered working-class fare. Now though, it seems they want to see what all the fuss is aboutFrench equine butchers have seen a 15% rise in profits – they still enjoy eating horses for courses but they want it drug-free. Here there has been curiosity about it too, Findus beef “100% horse” lasagne was being sold for £70 on E-bay before sellers were reigned-in.

Although we have shouted about it til we’re horse, many people have already consumed vetinary drugs recreationally – ketamine (K), a tranquiliser causing incontinence, remains popular with 200 000 using it last year, according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales. I once saw someone hallucinating with it, hiding under a table, in another world. Perhaps this scandal will affect its popularity.

We already knew ready-meals were bad for us, being high in sugar and salt, but maybe more people will cook from scratch now. I was not caught up in the hype – you never really know whether suppliers have horsed around with your bolog-neihse when when you eat processed food anyway. I was not surprised 200px-Donkey_from_Shrekthat products were beefed up. Then we discovered we’d really been an ass buying cheap meat as donkey was found. Animal DNA kit manufacturers must be ass-tounded by the sales increases.

An upshot of this is that people are supporting their local shops more – The National Federation of Meat and Food Traders reported a 15% increase in sales at independent butchers, as people turn to sources they can trust.

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When I went to my local farm event this week most of the shoppers were interested in the meat, 100% from animals who roam free (less fat).

Reasons to support your local butchers and greengrocers:

1. It may be slightly more expensive, but you get what you pay for – food which is generally tasty, wholesome and organic. My friend and I found that prices were about the same as supermarket organic food, and some products were actually cheaper.

2. Small shops have a vested interest in providing quality products – they need the business, unlike supermarkets who need to get rid of a certain quota. There will always be enough customers for supermarkets, whereas independent stores have to work harder to keep their patrons.

3. By buying local, you’re supporting your community – the farmers, shop owners, and the local customers who rely on the convenience and quality just as you do. The profits go back into your area.

A friend gets a weekly vegetable box delivered which is filled by nearby farms. The products are full of flavour, ready-to-eat and a good size.

I have got into cooking recently and the extra time spent making meals from scratch is well worth it. Using fresh ingredients makes a healthier and tastier meal. Jamie Oliver recommends organic produce but recent studies indicate this is no more healthy or environmentally-friendly than standard varieties. They do taste better though, and you often get more for your money. His Ministry of Food book is inspiring in getting beginners to have a go. It’s easily accessible and he has made an effort to use simple, cheaper ingredients. I would recommend using truffle oil as a treat sometimes though – it adds a rich flavour.

Click this link for more horse jokes.

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