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?

One for all you students – 5 ways to feel like you’re winning the toastie game

DSC_0110No word of a lie, toasties are still one of my favourite fast foods. During my university career I ate countless toasties due to my sheer love of cheese in all forms. My poison of choice: cheddar cheese, mushrooms and mayonnaise on brown bread. Anyway, here are a few suggestions of what you may have in your cupboards to liven up your mealtimes (a true toastie fan knows they can be eaten around the clock). Obviously ingredients can be substituted and I’ve tried to keep realistic with ingredients. I know student loans only stretch so far.

  1. Make your own tuna melt. I personally never use a full can of tuna in one go, so this is a great way to use up any leftovers. Mix your tuna with a bit of mayonnaise (I usually use light mayo) and season with salt and pepper. Add to any cheese you like.
  2. Use up leftover pasta sauce or enchilada sauce by adding it to a toastie with mozzarella or other mild cheese. A great way to save money and reduce food waste.
  3. If you have 1/2 avocado, sliced avocado, chilli sauce and cheese is dreamy.
  4. Cooked chicken, pesto and strong cheddar (or feta cheese). Mediterranean vibes, even when its raining, you’re sitting in your pyjamas and you have an essay to write.
  5. Try a dessert toastie. If you want to pretend to be healthy banana and Nutella (because of the fruit), otherwise marshmallow and chocolate button is the one. Especially handy to know if your flatmate has had a horrible day and needs cheering up.

If you’re a student returning to university soon, or you’re a Fresher this year have a great year. Even if you aren’t a student, you just love toasted sandwiches; I hope you enjoy these easy ideas to make one of the most simple snacks even more dreamy.

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Mini Frittatas

It is often said that necessity is the mother of invention and lately this has been true of my weeknight cooking. Being busy at work means I’m constantly on my feet in the lab which means I’m coming home more tired than usual. Its easy under these circumstances to shove something in the oven (or even give into the temptations of the excellent chip shop down the street). However, there is something stopping this becoming a nightly occurrence and that is that I am stubborn. I don’t want to get out of the routine of cooking something decent and healthy after work and the satisfaction that gives me. Fortunately, that’s where the wonders of the internet come in, I saw these a couple of times online and decided to give my own version a whirl.

To make Mini Frittatas I used

A muffin tray (if you have a silicone one you don’t need to line it, otherwise use cake cases to stop the egg sticking)

Eggs (1 per every 2 muffin sections)

Splash of milk

Bacon

Cherry tomatoes (1 per muffin section, halved)

A handful spinach

Sundried tomatoes, cut into small pieces

Feta cheese

Salt and pepper

(These are so flexible though so feel free to mix and match the ingredients)

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Place the spinach at the base of the muffin tray then split the bacon, cherry tomatoes and sundried tomatoes between your desired number of muffin sections crumbling over your cheese last.

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DSC_0097DSC_0098DSC_0100I served mine with sweet potato fries and more salad. I made extra as the leftovers can be eaten cold for breakfast or lunch.

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What to do with leftover roast chicken – chicken, bacon and leek pie

Buying a whole chicken and using it to make different dishes is so much more economical than buying, say, individual packs of chicken breasts. Whether you joint your chicken and use it that way, or cook if first and use the leftovers to make different things you cannot deny that is works out cheaper (and sometimes the brown meat just works better in some things).

This pie recipe can be knocked up in around 45 minutes with minimal effort and is incredibly tasty. I made this for my boyfriend and every time my back was turned he couldn’t resist having a bit more pie.

To make your own pie you will need:

1 pack puff pastry

A knob of butter

1 onion

2 leeks

Approx 200g streaky bacon diced

Around 1/2 a small cooked chicken, it depends on the size of the bird, cut into small pieces

2 teaspoons cornflour

150ml chicken stock

1 tablespoon low fat mascarpone or creme fraiche

 

Peel and slice your leek and onions and fry in your butter until soft.

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Add your bacon and fry for a couple of minutes and then add your cooked chicken for another couple of minutes.

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Add your chicken stock and allow to reduce for about 5 minutes. Add your cornflour and mix well. The sauce should have chickened by now.

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Stir in your mascarpone/creme fraiche once your chicken sauce mixture has thickened and add to your pie dish.

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Roll out your pastry and use this to top the pie. Remember to add steam holes to the pie and decorate the pie as you wish. Beat your egg and use this to glaze your pie.

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Bake in a 180°C oven for about 20-25 minutes until the pastry is golden brown. Serve with the vegetables of your choice – we had this with green beans and brocoli.

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If you have any leftovers these can be taken to work (or your partner’s work) to be eaten while watched by envious pie admirers.

Wholemeal bread – basic, no mucking around bread

I have recently got into baking bread in a big way this year. I find it a relaxing weekend afternoon activity with the added bonus that my house is filled with the wonderful aroma of fresh bread. In addition I love that you can make a delicious loaf for a fraction of the price that you would pay for something similar inan upmarket bakery or deli.

For some reason this loaf works really well with saltier foods such as ham, smoked salmon or tuna and for this reason I tend to top it with herbs or sea salt crystals. However, I also occasionally (or more than occasionally) enjoy eating this with Nutella. For some reason the combination of chocolatey spread and salt works.

To make your own wholemeal loaf you will need

400g wholemeal bread flour – plus a bit extra for dusting

100g white bread flour

1 sachet fast action yeast

10g sea salt

40g butter

320ml lukewarm water

Olive oil

Optional

Extra sea salt, pepper or any fresh or dried herbs of your choice

Put the flour and butter in a large mixing bowl with the salt on one side of the bowl and the yeast on the other. Add 3/4 of the water and start to mix the dough with your fingers. Keep adding the water until all the flour comes away from the side of the bowl. You’re aiming for soft dough, if you need to add more water do so, but be conservative as you don’t want soggy dough.

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A hideously unflattering photo of my arm

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Add a light coating of olive oil to your work surface. Turn your dough out on the surface and knead for about 10 minutes until your dough is smooth. Dough kneading time is prime Sunday afternoon daydreaming time. Once your dough is smooth put in an oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave to prove for at least an hour until the dough has doubled in size.

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Knock your dough back and roll it into a fat sausage shape, around 30cm long. Tie the dough into a knot and place on a baking tray lined with baking parchment. Leave to prove for another hour.

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My sausage looks strangely like a manatee

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Preheat your oven to 220°C and heat a baking tray in the bottom so your bread can be heated from below as well as above.

Rub the dough all over with the extra flour and whatever you want to adorn your bread with. Bake for 30 minutes until your loaf sounds hollow (like you’re tapping on a table I suppose).

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Allow to cool before eating. Serve your freshest slice with really good butter. You shouldn’t need anything else.

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The perfect buttermilk scones

As is well documented by this blog I am a fan of sweet treats. Scones are no exceptions to this rule. Occasionally I watch the Vicar of Dibley and I laugh when the Vicar says something about being greedy and it strikes a chord with me. In this case the quote,

Jesus did a lot of things right, didn’t he? I mean men’s bottoms are lovely. But he could have made mouths scone sized

is very like something I would say. I do love a good scone, however I am much a fan of chocolately recipes I never get round to making them very much until I give up chocolate for Lent and my love affair with jam is revived.

In addition to my growing addiction to raspberry conserve and lemon curd I think scones are a wonderful recipe as they are both delicious and economical. I made mine for under £3. Plus you don’t use eggs to make the dough meaning that if you are intent on baking on a tight budget you don’t have to compromise on buying eggs of a lower welfare standard. With jam they would be the perfect teatime treat for any student (plus baking is perfect procrastination!) The only thing remaining is the debate over how to pronounce the word scone.

To make buttermilk scones you will need:

450g self-raising flour (plus extra for dusting)

¼ tsp salt

100g butter

85g caster sugar

284ml buttermilk (1 pot in most supermarkets)

2 tsp vanilla extract

splash of milk

To serve

Butter

Jam

Clotted or whipped cream (optional)

Preheat oven to 220°C (200°C in a fan oven). Dice your butter and put the flour, salt and butter into a food processor and pulse until you can’t feel any lumps of butter. If you don’t have a food processor using your fingers to rub together the butter and sugar to form breadcrumbs works just as well.  Pulse or stir in the sugar depending on whether or not you’re doing everything manually or with the aforementioned food processor.

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Gently warm the buttermilk and vanilla (keep the pot, you’ll use it later).

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Using a large bowl, quickly tip in some of the flour mix, followed by some of the buttermilk mix, repeating until everything is in the bowl. Use a knife to mix everything together in the bowl. Stop once the dough has formed. Overmixing will stop the scones from puffing up in the oven.

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Tip onto a floured surface and gently bring together with your hands a couple of times. Pat down carefully to around 4cm thick and cut out circles with a 6cm or 7cm cutter. Gather together any trimmings and reshape until all the dough is used.

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Spread out on a lightly floured baking sheet or two. Add a splash of milk into the buttermilk pot, then use to glaze the top of each scone. Bake for 10-12 mins until golden and well risen. Cool on a wire rack.

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Scones are nicest while still warm from the oven.

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I forget which counties in the South West prefer jam first on scones and which prefer cream first so I did one of each to be diplomatic

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Oh and if you really wanted to know I pronounce scone to rhyme with “On”.