Healthy Eating on a Budget

This post is a long time coming and I am surprised I have not written it sooner, especially given its a bit part of my weekly food shopping mantra. Healthy eating has an often unfair reputation as being expensive. It can be but then again I think its pretty expensive if you regularly eat takeaways or buy ready meals. Although from the outset cooking from scratch can feel expensive, once you have your store cupboard ingredients you’re pretty much good to go.

I am aware most people who like cooking are pretty good at these, but this post is for those wanting to change their lifestyle but feeling overwhelmed.

  1. Your freezer is your friend. I’ve been surprised by the frozen vegetables you can buy now (I keep thinking of growing up in the 90s when it was peas, carrots and corn). Frozen fish and fruit is also really useful to have in as it means you only have to defrost what you need and it tends to be cheaper to buy.
  2. You don’t have to completely steer clear of food trends but be aware  that it does make your food shop more expensive. Be realistic. Can you justify spending the money on something you might not like, especially if you are prone to buying something, trying it once and then ignoring it while it takes up valuable cupboard space.
  3. Look at your protein alternatives and embrace vegetarian and vegan food. Quorn is our new household favourite. (Can I just say here the people who make Quorn should take a bow, it has improved so much). Not only is it generally lower in fat, it works out as less expensive too. Think about having beans and pulses and adding nuts or eggs to stir fries.
  4. Get your dried fruit from the baking aisle. Seriously, its cheaper buying the bigger packs from here than getting it from the fruit aisle.
  5. Buy your fruit and veg by weight where you can. Again, this stops you spending more than you need on vegetable that you might not finish and not only does it reduce food waste but you spend less.
  6. Plan your meals. Whether this is a vague plan of what you’ll eat or more detailed. Being aware of what you will eat on what night prevents you from buying more than necessary.
  7. Buy yourself some snacks. There will be some days where its just too long between meals. If you buy yourself stuff that you like it’ll prevent you overeating as you’ll feel satisfied. Plus buying more at once can work out cheaper unless you eat an entire multipack of crisps in one sitting (and that my friend is a lot of salt).
  8. Try new recipes. How are you going to enjoy your new healthy lifestyle if you don’t embrace the magic of variety?

Have you got any tips to enjoy healthy eating on a budget?

Giant scone cake

I’m ready to admit it. Blogging can be a funny business. While some people do really well cooking up elaborate meals and writing about them, I always find the most success in terms of number of visitors based on recipes that are straightforward to make at home with ingredients with easy to substitute ingredients; rather than the much more elaborate cooking I originally did when writing this blog.

On that note, I can spend hours making and decorating a cake and, yes, quite a lot of people will show interest. Then on another occasion I can make a giant scone cake due to burning something else, which takes all of 45 minutes to make, bake and decorate and it gets the most interest of any cake recipe I have made. You really cannot predict blog views!

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This cake recipe as mentioned before is really quick to make. Nobody expects a pretty scone so it doesn’t need hours of elaborate decoration. This recipe is also eggless, pretty low on sugar and can be easily adapted into a vegan recipe if you switch the milk and butter for non dairy substitutes and use this gem instead of whipped cream. Pretty much a winner for several dietary requirements then.

To make a large scone cake you will need:

450g self raising flour

100g salted butter

85g caster sugar

Approx 300ml milk

50g sultanas

2-3 tablespoons raspberry jam

200ml double cream

1 tablespoon icing sugar

Heat your oven to 200°C. Line 2 cake tins with grease proof paper. In a large mixing bowl use your fingers to rub the butter into your flour. Add your sugar and sultanas. Pour in about 2/3 of your milk and then gradually add the rest of your milk until just before the point when the mixture goes too sticky and soggy. If this happens add a little flour to stiffen up.

Diving your scone mix between the two cake tine and spread the mix to the edges as scones do not really spread during baking. Bake for about 11 minutes until the scones go golden brown. Allow the scones to cool.

To decorate whip the icing sugar and cream until thick and spreadable. Spread jam on one half of the scone and spread cream on the other half. Sandwich together et voila. A giant scone!

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This is a great crowd pleaser, especially amongst my Yorkshire friends. My grandma served this cake with champagne (this cake was a moving present for her and my grandpa) but it also goes really well with tea of coffee – as scones are traditionally served with tea.

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Butternut squash macaroni cheese

This culinary experiment was brought to you by the woman who saw a picture of a healthy butternut squash based macaroni recipe but did not want to trek to the supermarket for any specific ingredients.So basically a lazy but healthy recipe without much washing up. Winner.

Basically much as we all love creamy or cheesy pasta sauces, they are more something to be enjoyed once in a while. However, pasta is cheap and fills you up for a long time and unless you have dietary reasons for avoiding gluten isn’t a food you necessarily need to avoid. In addition, if you really are watching the calories you’ll be please to know, when cooked down the texture of butternut squash goes lovely and creamy. You’ll be pleased to also note that my very hungry 6ft3 caterpillar found this filling enough after a workout; so its great for those who are watching their weight but do have a larger appetite.

To make enough macaroni for 3 servings you will need:

250g dried macaroni pasta

1 vegetable stock cube

Boiling water

150g butternut squash (frozen chunks are our new mealtime saviour)

50g sweet potato

1 red onion

1 clove of garlic

Salt and pepper

1 teaspoon dried marjoram

2 large tomatoes or 7 cherry tomatoes (chopped)

25g smoked cheddar (if you follow a vegan diet you could substitute with vegalife, or even try topping with breadcrumbs or chopped nuts)

Slice the onion and crush the garlic. Heat until soft. Add your sweet potato and squash and heat until the edges have started to soften and come away. Add your stock cube, salt, pepper, marjoram and enough water to more than cover everything. Allow the stock cube to dissolve into the water then add the macaroni and tomatoes. Top up the water if it doesn’t cover the pasta by 1/2 an inch.

Boil the pasta in the stock, stirring to make sure that nothing sticks. Keep topping up the water as needed. Once the macaroni is cooked use your spoon/spatula to squash the squash (heh heh heh), tomatoes and sweet potato. Spoon the pasta into a heat proof dish. Grate over your cheese and put under the grill (or in the oven at 200°C) until the cheese begins to crisp. (If using nuts wait until the nuts brown nicely).

This can be served as a side dish or as a main meal. It is entirely up to you.

Sausage and feta meatballs

I feel like at the moment a lot of recipes I post are quick ones for people who are busy or don’t want to spend ages in the kitchen. What can I say, I’m really busy at the moment (both in my day job but also getting some pretty great opportunities on this blog) and yet I still want to eat balanced meals with D.

Anyway, I sent D and I both to work with these meatballs and cous cous salads for lunch and they were perfect. I think its safe to say we were both full until tea time (its all about those slow release carbs.

Anyway, this is a perfect lunch or teatime idea as it takes about 5 minutes to cobble together the meatball mix and shape and about 15-20 minutes in the oven. Good for when you’re desperate for some sofa time!

For 12 meatballs you will need:

4 pork and oregano sausages or similar

2 sliced spring onions

1/4 egg (optional, if you you have it left from some other cooking)

1 teaspoon dried rosemary

80g crumbled feta

Salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to 180°C. Remove the sausages from the skin and add to a large bowl. Crumble over some feta and add the onion, egg, and seasonings. Use your hands to smush together the ingredients. Shape the meat filling into the meatballs about 3cm in diameter. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the sausages have browned.

If you’re cooking this to have in a salad allow to cool. If its to go into a sauce add it at this point. Serve with the sides of your choice. For us it was dukkah spiced cous cous. Just remember, fast food doesn’t always have to mean you compromise on flavour or nutritional value.

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Quick banana and chocolate cookies

In some ways this cookie might be considered dangerous – it took me less that 20 minutes to whip up a batch. However, being able to create something so delicious in such a short time makes me feel something of a domestic goddess – these are perfect for those times when you need to produce baked goods at short notice (think work charity bake sale or mum’s coffee morning). They are also made from ingredients most people have in their cupboards – bananaphobes please note that you can substitute the banana chips for raisins should you wish to do so.

Anyway, the key with these cookies is to be cautious on the timing. Once the edges of these go golden brown remove them from the oven and allow them to cool, rather than letting the whole cookie brown, that way you have the nice contrast between crispy and soft in the cookie.

To make approx 26 cookies you will need:

1 mug soft brown sugar

125g salted butter, softened

1 egg

1 mug self raising flour

50g banana chips

2 tablespoons chocolate spread

Preheat the oven to 180°C and line 2 baking trays (you will probably still need to take the cookies in batches). Using an electric whisk, wooden spoon or food processor beat together the sugar and butter until it is thoroughly mixed. Beat in the egg. Add the flour and crumble in the banana chips. Last, whisk in the chocolate spread so that it has a marbled effect.

Using a teaspoon place small amounts of the cookie mix onto your lined trays. Make sure you leave room for the cookies to spread; even if you have to bake in batches.

Bake for around 11 minutes, until the cookies are golden. They will come out of the oven very soft so be careful removing them from the baking tray. Allow to cool so the cookies can harden.

These cookies can be kept for several days in an airtight container.

Banana and pineapple loaf

I’ve really started enjoying fruit recently. I have a (somewhat deserved) reputation as a chocoholic within my friendship group, but I feel my fruit consumption of late might have redeemed me. I got sent a selection of Nature’s Finest fruit pots a little while ago and it was just a bit too easy to take the majority of them to work for lunch. I also appreciate anything that stops me having to wrestle with a pineapple, or decipher when a mango might be ready.

Anyway, we always have a stash of bananas in the house and I sometimes think simple is best I made a more tropical themed banana loaf (especially in time for the first week of the Great British Bake Off cake week). It turned out pretty beautifully because the banana and pineapple kept the cake soft, even after 40 minutes of baking. I made this last night and D has been eyeing it up for hours while he was waiting for me to get in from work.

To make a banana and pineapple loaf you will need:

140g butter

140g caster sugar

2 large eggs

2 bananas (slightly over ripe is best)

140g self raising flour

200g pineapple chunks (keep back the juice)

50g icing sugar

Approx 20g dessiccated coconut

Heat the oven to 180°C. Line a loaf tin. Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the bananas and eggs (if doing it by hand mash the banana first). Once the wetter ingredients are mixed beat in the flour to form a creamy mix. Finally, add the pineapple chunks.

Add to the loaf tin in a smooth layer. Bake in the middle of the oven for 40 minutes, until a skewer comes out of the cake cleanly. Allow the cake to cool.

To prepare the icing add about a teaspoon of the juice the pineapple came in to form a smooth paste and thinly cover the loaf with this. To finish, sprinkle over the coconut.

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Usefully, this cake keeps for several days in an air tight tin, if you can keep the people you live with’s hands off it for long enough!

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Natures’ Finest fruit is available in most big supermarkets. It comes in coconut water or fruit juice, rather than syrup so it makes it a preferable baking ingredient and a healthier snack when you’re on the go. I was sent samples of this to try. For more recipe suggestions visit here.

Sausage, sweet potato and spinach lasagne

This recipe is one for those days when only something a bit more carb heavy and comforting will do, but at the same time you don’t want healthy eating to go completely out of the window. It was actually born because me really really craving lasagne but only having sausages in and not really being entirely enthusiastic about the whole rigmarole of making bolognese and bechamel sauce on a Thursday night. Still out of laziness comes a lot less food waste and overhearing D telling his friend about a really night lasagne I had made for him, so the recipe seems to have been successful in our house.

To make enough lasagne for 4 people you will need:

1 red onion

1 clove garlic

400g pork and leek sausages removed from their skins

3 large handfuls sweet potato chunks (I used frozen sweet potato)

3 large handfuls fresh spinach

1 teaspoon marjoram

1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes

150ml creme fraiche (I used low fat but all types work)

20g parmesan (plus extra for the top)

Salt and pepper

Approx 230g passata infused with herbs

125g buffalo mozzarella

4-5 lasagne sheets

 

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Peel and chop the onion and peel and crush the garlic. Fry on a gentle heat until soft. Add the skinned sausages and sweet potato chunks and season with the salt, pepper, marjoram and chilli. Cook over a medium heat, breaking up the sausage to smooth out, until the sweet potato has started to soften and the sausage is cooked.Add the spinach, creme fraiche and parmesan and stir until the spinach has wilted and the parmesan has melted into everything.

In a medium casserole dish make a smooth layer of this mixture. Top with your lasagne sheets (no need to pre cook). Pour over your passata. Break your mozzarella over the passata and grate over more parmesan and pepper.

Cook for about 20-25 minutes until the cheese on the top is golden.

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I think this will become part of our regular repertoire.