Cheesy Macaroni Soup

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I am ill. My head aches and my body hurts and my nose is like, well, it’s not pretty. I have no energy but I still have three children to entertain and cook. Home Alone on Netflix took care of problem one….and problem two was solved with cheesy macaroni soup. 

I had half a packet of macaroni pasta in the fridge, but doubted I had the strength or will to make a cheese sauce using a roux. This was a total improvisation, and whilst it won’t win Masterchef any time soon, it fed and pleased my three small people. 

I put the pasta on to cook in one pot. 

In another, I added about 200ml or so creme fraiche and slackened it off with some milk. Added some grated cheddar and Parmesan. It turned into a lovely sauce thin sauce with very little work. 

When the pasta was nearly cooked, I added some very finely chopped broccoli and some frozen peas. Drained it all, and added to the sauce. Served with some grated Parmesan to finish. 

  
Not particularly expensive. Three happy faces. Embarrassingly easy. And no meat, which I like. 

  

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Christmas Reading

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This year, we’re trying to cut down on buying stuff for the sake of buying it, and sticking to a few things they actually want/need. We’re using the ‘something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read’ rhyme as a guide. 

But, books are EXPENSIVE!

I’ve sourced two of our three book piles from charity shops this year. My middle child is getting a big set of Usborne books which I bought from eBay, and work out as a pound a book (she has twenty to open!). They are individually wrapped and will look lovely tied up with a big bow. These books are brilliantly-written and I know she will cherish them. 

 

Usborne collection for my 6yr old

 
For the other two, charity shops have been a godsend. I’ve not paid more than 50p a book, and I am sure they will love the titles I’ve chosen. And I’ve saved a fortune. 

 

books for my 8yr old

 
Some things you can tell are second hand (which is totally cool, I love second hand), but books don’t show the wear as much I don’t think. Some of these would pass as new. 

books for my 4yr old

Sausage Bolognese Pasta

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This is a recipe I’ve adapted from a Jamie Oliver one, it cuts down on the ingredients but still tastes great. It makes loads, and is a big winner in our family. My kids gobble this up. It’s pretty high on the veg front, doesn’t really have a lot of meat in it, and I work it out to be no more than 35p a portion.

  
In a food processor, blitz two onions, two garlic gloves, two carrots and two sticks of celery. Once it’s properly blitzed with no lumps, add the sausagemeat from four sausages. Pulse again. Add to a pan with a little oil, and cook off.

Meanwhile, cook some pasta. We usually use penne, and around 500g for the five of us.

Once the meat/veg combo is cooked, add a good slug of balsamic vinegar and then two runs of chopped tomatoes. A teaspoon of dried basil. A pinch of salt. And simmer.

  
^^^This amount of sauce will do two meals feeding five people. Before you add your drained pasta, take out half your sauce and freeze it for another time.

  
Mix cooked pasta through the remaining sauce, add a sprinkling of Parmesan and serve.

It would be super easy to add peas or sweetcorn to the sauce to up the veg count, if you wanted 🙂

Happy faces all round.

We buy good quality packs of sausages which have 12 chipolatas in them, for £5 in total. I used four, which costs 80p. The 1kg of pasta was £1. The tinned tomatoes were 31p per tin, and the veg would have worked out very inexpensive. Cheap cheap cheap!

Christmas is a-coming

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After a far-too-long break, I’m back!

It is less than six weeks until Christmas. The Fear as set in. We have three kids and many family members, and we’re also hosting Christmas dinner this year. It can be an expensive time, but there are definitely ways to curb back on the spending. Here are some of my top tips:

SPREADSHEETS. I have  a ‘Santa’ spreadsheet which I update every time I make a gift purchase, and I have an autosum thingie to keep track of how much we’ve spent so far. It allows me to keep a firm eye on we’ve shelled out, and stops me impulse buying at the last minute (“No Anna, they don’t need any more. Look. You’ve bought loads!’ type thing)

SPREAD THE FOOD SHOPPING. Buy one or two extra items in with your weekly shopping to spread the bill. Pick up some pigs in blankets and chuck them in the freezer. Goose fat for the roasties. A bottle of bubbles. Baking ingredients that won’t go off. The last thing you need is a food shop which totals hundreds of pounds the week before Christmas. Spread the cost. Also, ask people to contribute! If I’m cooking for twelve, I feel no guilt in delegating out dishes to bring. Please bring a dessert. Could you bring some smoked salmon? It’s Christmas, people are delighted to help.

DO FREE STUFF. I am horrified by the cost to our local city’s events. Taking my kids to see Santa, and a quick turn on the ice-rink would cost ONE HUNDRED POUNDS. Yes. I’m shouting. It’s insane. But there are loads of free things you can do! Walk round town and decide which store tree is your favourite. There are free choir shows on, all over the festive period. Today, in Edinburgh, we are going to the Putting on Of Lights. Its free, and there are fireworks. Hurrah! Write letters to Santa, and decorate them. Make your own decorations with salt-dough (I love this!). Bake some festive treats.

IKEA. DO you buy a real tree? Ikea sell beautiful trees for £25, really tall and bushy, and with it, you get a £20 KIEA voucher to redeem in January. SO essentially, your tree has cost a fiver. That’s a total winner in my book

What saving ideas can you bring to the festive table?.

Raspberry and Coconut Oat Slices

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This is quite similar to the Peach and Banana flapjacks I have blogged about, but different enough that I feel it warrants its own entry. These were an experiment in the kitchen, and oh boy did they turn out well!

  

Melt 50g butter with two very large dollops of runny honey, and two overripe bananas. Mash the bananas up with a potato masher, so it becomes mostly smooth. Add oats – I have absolutely no idea how much but enough that it combines with your butter/honey/banana mix to form a pourable but thick paste. It should be a bit like porridge? Add a carton of fresh raspberries and a generous shaking of dessicated coconut. 

  

Pour into a lined tray and bake in a preheated oven at 180 until they are all golden brown on top, and vaguely firm to touch. 

  

Score, then cool. When cool,cut into slices and serve. 

  

Easter Holiday Fun Times

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It’s the Easter holidays here – three kids at home to entertain! Yesterday we went to The Kelpies at The Helix: a park by the side of the motorway situated near Stirling. The Kelpies are an awesome sight, very majestic! And the park is brilliant. Our kids absolutely loved it. We took a Lidl picnic and had ourselves a lovely time – it’s all free there so it was a cheap day out! I’d definitely recommend it to local people. 

   

     

Pizza Pizza!

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Is there a more child-friendly food than pizza? I think not. You eat it with your hands. You can choose your own toppings, it has MELTED CHEESE ON TOP?!? Perfection. It is not hard to make your own pizza, and it is ridiculously cheap.  

  

We use Jamie Oliver’s pizza dough recipe, which is 1kg of strong white bread flour (I ran out and used 750g, topped with 250g plain white flour and it was fine), 4tbs oil, 14g dried yeast, 1ts salt and 1tbs sugar. And then 650ml lukewarm water. 

Using your fingers, bring it all together until you have a sticky dough. Turn it out onto a floured surface and kneed it. Give it five mins or so, then pop it into a lightly oiled bowl to rest. 

  

After a while (1-2 hours) take it out, knock the air out of it by kneeding again, and then tear off balls of the dough with your hands. Roll them out thinly – these are your bases. 

We pop the bases onto a lightly floured tray and bake for 3-4 mins, to begin cooking the base. Then pull out of the oven, and top. We use a spoon of tomato purée spread thinly over the base, and then a sprinkling of both dried oregano and basil. Some cheese (mozzarella and cheddar mix is great) and then toppings! My son likes veggie pizza so he often has sweetcorn, peppers and pineapple. My daughters prefer salami and roasted chicken meat with their veg. You choose! Back in the oven until ready (you will know!)

  

This yielded us enough pizza for three adults and three children with a small ball of dough for the freezer – perfect for a small person’s lunch one day. 

  

We used one pack of salami which was 79p, the mozzarella was no more than £1.50 for four balls from Lidl, a red pepper was 49p, the flour and yeast we’d combined can have cost no more than 60p. Tomato purée 30p. So even allowing another 50p for the other toppings , it’s only about £4 for seven portions. Really cheap! 

New student! And Pesto Chicken Stew with Parmesan Dumplings. 

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Yesterday we welcomed Blanca to our home for nine weeks – it’s lovely to have someone else around in the evenings when my husband works, and it will provide some extra cash for our upcoming holiday. 

For her first night, the kids and I made Pesto Chicken Stew with Parseman dumplings. This was originally a BBC Food recipe that has naturally evolved over time, and is now a similar but tweaked version that works for us. 

  

In a large pan (or ideally a hob-safe casserole dish) gently cook off some diced celery, squash and bacon. Add some chicken meat (stripped from a roasted bird). 

  

Add a large heaped spoon of flour and stir through your meat and veg mix. This thickens your sauce up nicely. Quickly add some stock, or some water and a crumbled stock cube. Then a dollop of pesto. 

  

At this point it can be transferred to the oven to cook away for a bit – maybe an hour? With the lid on. 

Meanwhile, make your dumplings. You need to make fine breadcrumbs out of 250g SR. flour and 140g butter. And then stir through some Parmesan – BBC FOOD stipulate 100g but I have never measured, just grating until I have a nice little pile. It’ll be fine regardless. Mix through, then add just enough water to form a dough dough. 

  

Take your stew out of the oven. Add a good bundle of frozen peas and stir. You may need to add more liquid too, it shouldn’t be too dry. Then mould your dough into little balls and place in the stew, with the tops showing. Bake again for half an hour or so, until the stew is bubbling and the dumplings are browned. 

We served this with extra veg but it’s a balanced meal in itself I reckon. My kids absolutely love this! We served with steamed carrots and broccoli, and I think that this must cover four of their recommended five pieces of fruit and veg a day. 

I approximate that this cost just a few pence over five quid. It fed six people, very well, and felt like a real treat. It’s not the cheapest meal but it’s also not expensive by any meals. A lovely Sunday special 🙂

Meaty Penne

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We eat a lot of pasta. What’s not to love? It’s cheap, quick and carries an infinite number of delicious sauces. This one is a winner. 

  

Put your pasta on. We eat a lot of Lidl value penne which is about 30p for 500g and is honestly really good. 

In a pan, add some finely diced chorizo(about a quarter of a ring), some finely diced squash (a third of a squash maybe?), and little balls of sausagemeat squeezed from the casing. I used the meat of four chipolatas tonight. Gently cool off. 

  

Add a tin of chopped tomatoes, and use the tin to add a half-tin of water. 

A teaspoon or so of paprika. Some balsamic vinegar. Salt and pepper. Let it all blip away together. Keep an eye, adding more water if it’s drying up. 

  

When your pasta is cooked, add to your sauce and then add some spinach leaves, letting them wilt through. I use about a quarter of a big bag. 

  

Done. Minimal effort. Maximum taste. I have done the math and think that this cost me a couple of pennies less than £2.50 to make. So less than 50p per person. I shop in Lidl. 

 

Christmas Tree Freebies (reason 5762234 why we love IKEA)

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Every year we get a real Christmas tree. Yes, it would be cheaper to buy an artificial tree and reuse it every year but to be honest, they’re just not as good!! The smell of a real tree, and the tradition of going to pick one are things I am not prepared to sacrifice.

For the last couple of years we’ve got a tree from IKEA. They cost £25, regardless of size (ours was nearly 7ft this year!) and when you purchase your tree you are handed a £20 voucher valid for the last week in Jan and first of Feb. Now, In fact.

It’s such a good deal!! Today Small3 and I went and spent our no minimum spend voucher. She had a lovely time wandering around the playground that is IKEA, and I got lots of bits for the kitchen which make us just a little more organised. Spot the purchases in my before and after pics!

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I also managed to get wooden ganders for all my clothes – I recently reorganised my wardrobe so that I have a capsule collection of less stuff, but more to wear. Everything goes with everything and I don’t have lots of items languishing away for ‘one day’. New hangers may be unnecessary, but it does look so much nicer and they were technically free anyway.

I think IKEA count on people forgetting where they’ve put the vouchers, or the short date window for spending. But if you keep on top of that, it’s such an excellent deal. Let’s be honest, even twenty five quid for a real tree is good, but throw in a twenty pound voucher and you’re laughing. Maybe next year I’ll buy two 😂