Wednesday, 7 October 2015

saving money in the supermarket

When it comes to food shopping I think I've got it covered. I've figured out where's best to buy what, what items give the best value for money and importantly how to cook tasty, healthy meals without breaking the bank. That said, it's taken me a while. When I first started uni I took the typical student response to the fear of food shopping alone - buying a combination of (overly) expensive branded products and inexpensive smart-price which lacked quality and substance. I lived off spaghetti bolognese for the first term which whilst this isn't the worst thing that could have happened, I lacked imagination and quickly became bored. Whether you're a student or not, saving money doesn't have to be about buying smart price, freezing the same meal in batches and having beans on toast on every other occasion!

Here are my five best money saving tips for food shopping.

1. Shop around. This does require a little patience and time, but can be done very easily... and quickly once you get into a routine. There are certain shops I go to for certain things - usually Lidl/Aldi, Sainsburys and Asda.

I go to Lidl or Aldi for my main weekly shop; meat, veg (Aldi is much better than Lidl for veg I find), fruit, dairy, lunchbox snacks, bread, etc. We don't spend a fortune on this and if I know what I need to get this takes under 30 minutes.

There are some items I can't pick up in Lidl/Aldi however, so either on another day or on my way home I go via Sainsburys to pick up the rest - branded products, the granola I like, frozen shortcuts (see 4) and some of the things I need to buy that are specifically low fat etc; these can be hard to find in Lidl/Aldi. This might be an extra 20 minutes hassle, but over the last year since I've been doing this I have saved at least £10-£15 on my weekly shop - that adds up!

If you want to really save the pennies, doing a monthly Asda online shop is a great idea. I find Asda to be the cheapest for branded items, and their own brand products are also (often) cheaper than Sainsburys etc. We do this for things such as loo roll, tins of beans/chopped tomatoes etc, cereal/cereal bars, yogurt (you get 10 Muller Lights for £3 at Asda rather than 6 for £3 in Sainsburys!)... the things that have a longer shelf life. If we do this, it usually cuts out the need to do the 'top up' shop at Sainsburys after Lidl/Aldi.

2. Think about the meat you buy. I very rarely buy chicken breast these days - we much prefer filleted chicken thighs. They're cheaper, you get more for your money and they are so much tastier. One of our favourite mid-week meals is coriander chicken which is perfect with thigh meat. Similarly, turkey mince makes a great change to beef mince; cheaper, leaner. These turkey meatballs are quick and easy - and a bit of a spin on shop bought! If you're making a slow-cooked casserole or goulash then buy cheaper cuts of beef - if it's cooking for hours it'll have plenty of time to tenderise. You wont taste the difference and it'll save you £££.

3. Make a big batch, but switch it up. I'll make a big batch of bolognese mince (mince with onions, chopped tomatoes, garlic, basil, dijon mustard, a glug of wine) and then freeze in portions. When it comes to eating, you can create some variety. For chilli, thaw and heat through with a tin of kidney or cannellini beans and a couple of teaspoons of chilli powder. For burritos, pour over a packet of burrito spice mix. For stuffed peppers, pour the bolognese into semi-cooked peppers and top with cheese.

4. Use shortcuts. A while back I started a Kitchen Shortcuts series, which included ideas like freezing herbs to reduce waste, using flavour pastes like coriander, garlic and ginger paste which save buying fresh each time, and finally looking at preserved items like lemons and peppers. I use all of these shortcuts to this day, but have one more excellent shortcut to help save money - frozen vegetables. I routinely buy frozen chopped onions, frozen spinach, frozen chopped peppers, frozen Mediterranean veg, frozen chopped chillis - all of which you can buy (usually as a multibuy offer) from Sainsburys and other supermarkets. This not only saves a whole heap of time, but also saves buying things fresh which you think you won't use all of or wont keep stocked in your cupboards. Remember, even Delia said it was ok to cheat!

5. Plan your meals. I know, snooze. But by spending 10 minutes at the start of each week planning what meals you'll have each night (remember, account for any nights you're out etc) you'll be able to save time food shopping and save money by ensuring you're buying what you need rather than what you think you need! If I go food shopping without a list, even with the best of intentions I can often come back with a whole load of lovely bits and pieces... but maybe nothing to make 5 decent meals with. Plan before hand, check ingredients, check your cupboards and make a note of what you'll need. This means you wont keep buying things you already have in the cupboard - saving money and space.

We have a few go-to dishes we eat almost every week/fortnight which makes planning a lot easier. Check out this post I put together a while back which has a list of easy mid-week meals I know you'll love. We also love these noodles, this chicken curry and this low fat carbonara.

So - nothing too radical here, but some of the ways I save money each week on food shopping. No beans on toast 5x a week and shopping in the reduced section, but meals you can enjoy without worrying about breaking the bank!

*this post is written in collaboration with TSB - all words my own

Monday, 5 October 2015

salted caramel chocolate pots

There are some occasions when nothing short of pure, unadulterated indulgence will do. 

Salted caramel chocolate pots.

These little pots of gorgeousness are heaven sent; a rich dark chocolate top hiding a salted caramel secret underneath. I've kept them small - trust me, they are incredibly rich so don't overwhelm with a large pot. I'm using recycled Gu Puds ramakins which make the perfect receptacle. This recipe will make 4-5 perfect little pots. 

For the salted caramel sauce...
70g salted butter
110g dark muscovado sugar
60ml double cream
1/8 teaspoon salt

For the chocolate...
200g dark chocolate (approx 75%)
300ml double cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon caster sugar

Start by making the caramel sauce. Melt the butter, sugar and double cream in a pan on a medium heat. When the mixture starts to bubble, ensure the mixture is fully combined and allow to bubbly carefully for three minutes. Keep stirring with a wooden spoon to ensure it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan! Remove from the heat and stir in the salt. Leave to cool for 5 minutes before pouring into the ramekins evenly. 

For the chocolate, melt the dark chocolate in a pan on a very low heat (or in a bain marie if you'd prefer). In a different pan bring the double cream slowly to the boil. Pour the cream over the chocolate and combine using a wooden spoon. Add the vanilla extract and caster sugar - the sugar is optional; the chocolate will be quite bitter as it's dark but if you like this then you won't need to add the sugar. Give it a taste and see! Using an electric whisk, whisk the mixture for no more than 30 seconds. Leave to cool for 10 minutes and then pour over the salted caramel mixture. Pop into the fridge to set for 1 hour. 

Note: you may notice the pots have formed some fat over the chocolate after setting in the fridge. Remove this using a teaspoon and some kitchen roll. 

After an hour, remove from the fridge and leave at room temperature until serving. Sprinkle over some flaked sea salt and serve with a dollop of the remaining double cream, whipped. 


Friday, 2 October 2015

curry club

Ok, I'll put my hands up and admit it. Up until a couple of months ago I'd never eaten Pad Thai. I know, for someone who loves Asian cuisine, this is unheard of! But after trying at both Waga's and then Dim T some months ago I new it was love, and was desperate to recreate at home. 

I wanted to include this as part of my curry club series; what makes a dish a 'curry'? I don't know, but to me this fits into my curry/Asian affair quite neatly. 

After a bit of online searching for an appropriate recipe, it soon became clear that there isn't really such thing as a 'common' Pad Thai recipe. Each site I went to I found different variations - some using tamarind paste, others sweet chilli sauce, others soy sauce... some even tomato ketchup! I found this article showing just how much is up for debate. Blimey. The recipe I ended up using was on the back of the straight to wok Pad Thai noodles packet from Sainsburys.

The bad news? It just wasn't right. The tamarind paste and fish sauce dominated and I was left with an overly strong salty-fishy taste which just wasn't pleasant.

So this is my plea to you: please can you tell me your fail safe Pad Thai recipe? Help a sister out!

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