Eating well while spending less

A while ago I heard about a woman who gave herself a challenge once a month to use every last thing in her cupboards while allowing something like $25 for fresh ingredients. This week, partly out of a fear of shops at Christmas time and partly out of money saving necessity I've been trying not to buy food. I've actually found a lot of pleasure in stretching out the food we have. It feels clever and tricksy to make one packet of sausages last two meals. I enjoy the smug feeling I get from it.

I'm not sure the rest of the family enjoys it as much. Ah well. Since it's almost that time I've decided that having a regular food stretching week will be one of my resolutions for the coming year. I don't just want to eat cheaply though, I want to eat well. That will be the challenge.

Here are some of the things I've served up over the last 7 days, with varying success.

Eight Sausages into Two Meals

This is one of my favourite tricks. All my adult life I thought you had to use one packet of meat from the supermarket for a main meal. It wasn't until about two years ago that I learned how to stretch it out and halve my meat bill.

I bought 1 pack of 8 organic, free range sausages for $5.99. They were also skinless but you can remove the skins yourself.

Four of the de-skinned sausages went into a bowl with a chopped onion, grated carrot, chopped celery stick, 2 cloves of garlic, some herbs, 1 C of LSA mix (ground nuts and seeds) and a tablespoon of tomato paste.  I scrunched that up with my hands and then pressed it firmly into a small loaf tin. You can add an egg or some breadcrumbs if you can eat them. Over the top I spooned a mix of tomato paste, soy sauce, water, and brown sugar. It was cooked at 190 degrees with some foil over it for 30 minutes, and then for a further 30 minutes with the foil removed.

We had it with some rice and steamed vegetables. Not your most glam dinner but it was family friendly and cost around $4.50 for our family of four.

For the second dinner I mixed the rest of the sausage meat with some cooked, cooled, white rice, some tomato paste and seasonings. I formed them into "hedgehog" meatballs (named for the rice 'spikes' poking out of the meatball) and put them into a casserole dish. Over the top went a tin of crushed tomatoes, some more tomato paste, some brown sugar, salt, and herbs. I put the lid on and cooked for 45 mins at 180 degrees. We had these with some crispy roast potatoes and vegetables on the side.

You can follow this principle with minced meat really easily. If you add pureed tinned chickpeas (drained) to some meat it'll go much further in a shepherds pie. Add brown lentils to mince in a bolognaise and no-one will know. Mexican dishes that are heavy on the beans and light on the meat are really budget friendly and better for you.

Vegan, Gluten Free Chocolate Cake

Who doesn't love chocolate cake? My theory is that you should always have really yummy baking in the house when you're stretching your food. Plain meals are happier when you have a slice of cake to look forward to afterwards.

This cake is made with cheap ingredients and uses no butter, milk, or egg.

190g flour (plain or GF)
200g sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
20g cocoa powder

(mix together)

235 water
80ml oil
5ml white vinegar
(mix together)

Combine the wet and dry ingredients and beat until smooth. Cook in a 175 degree oven for 45 minutes.

It's moist and chocolatey and yummy.


So today we have finished the German rye bread that I made on Saturday and there's almost nothing for lunch. I could go out and buy stuff but I thought I'd bake some bread rolls and save the money.

Rolls ready to prove for the second time
This is Jamie Oliver's basic bread recipe which is available here: Mr Oliver's Bread Recipe. I halved the recipe.

A nice hot bread roll with butter and marmite doesn't feel frugal. It feels like luxury!


I know.. soup is a bit blah. And not very summery. But then again, it's not that summery outside is it?
I bought a pumpkin this week for $2.38 and roasted it with some olive oil, ground nutmeg, and salt. Once it was nice and  gooey I took off the skins and put the flesh in a pot with some chicken stock that's I'd saved from a chicken casserole earlier in the week before blending it up with a stick blender. It was creamy and yum and perfect with some cheese toast on the side.

Of course it's Christmas and probably not the time to skimp on nice food. We have our huge grocery shop arriving on Thursday (thank you online shopping!) and there are lots of treats to be had in there. It's always worth knowing how to stretch your food and save some cash for when you need to (or want to).

Marmalade for Cheats

I know a lot of people who are scared of making jam. When I started, I was a little afraid myself. Here's a fool proof recipe for making the best marmalade you'll ever eat and it's all done in the microwave! Fruit season is on its way so if you're a novice then this is the perfect recipe to get your confidence up before trying out other jams and chutneys.

Here's what you need:

2 oranges
1 grapefruit
1 1/2 C water
3 C sugar
2 jars

  • De seed your fruit and chop it up finely, including the peel. You can give it a quick chop in a food processor but don't chop it so much that it's pulpy. Put it in a microwave safe bowl.
  • Add the water 

  • Cook on high for 10 minutes or until the fruit is cooked. It's going in again so if there are some uncooked bits don't worry.
  • Add your sugar and stir until it's all dissolved. I'm always a bit alarmed at the amount of sugar in jam recipes but I figure that you only use a small amount, and at least this recipe is free from preservatives and colours unlike some store bought jams.
  • Cook again for 15 - 20 minutes or until setting point is reached.
  • ** If you don't own a microwave you can follow the same process using a pot.

A word about setting points. I think setting jam is probably the main reason people are unwilling to give jam making a go. If you have a thermometer you can use that - most recipes have a setting point temperature in them. My favourite method is to put a teaspoon of hot jam onto a cool plate and wait a minute before running my finger through it.

When it's ready the line will stay defined on the plate and the jam on either side won't bleed back together. Easy peasy! And if you get it wrong it's not a disaster. You can just spoon it back into a bowl and give it another few minutes in the microwave.

All that's left to do now is leave the mix to stand for 3 or 4 minutes and then spoon into hot glass jars. If I was keeping these for a few months I would use proper preserving jars and I'd sterilise them first by boiling them for 10 minutes or putting them in a 100 degree C oven for 10 minutes. I'm going to use these jars of marmalade now so I just washed up some jars that I had saved.

This recipe made 2 jars of marmalade. If you don't like the chunks in it you can strain it through some muslin or over a sieve first and you'll be left with a lovely marmalade jelly. 

Super quick and easy and great for a last minute present for someone special.

Red and White Christmas Part 1

I'll be the first to admit that I've struggled to get into the Christmas spirit this year. This will be our first year spending Christmas with just the four of us and I'm feeling the distance between our home in Australia and our families in New Zealand now more than ever.

I was emailing my sister about it and she fired back a list of things to do to get that Christmas feeling going. My sister is has an extraordinary talent for list making.

As I began to tick off some of the things on her list - sort out some food to donate to Christmas Hampers at the food bank, make a family Christmas video to share, find recipes for cookies - I started to feel a glimmer of excitement.

Despite it being a small affair, I'm determined to make the 25th a special day. As I look around our house I can see my lack of enthusiasm on the bare walls and windows. It's time to make some decorations and get this house looking festive.

In October I was at Ikea with my sister and I found some Xmas gift wrap that I really loved. I bought three rolls and I've wrapped everything in it so far. I love the classic, simple design and the contrast of the red and white. I've decided to base my decorations this year on the patterns and colours.

Here are some of our presents all wrapped up in this gorgeous paper:

Next step was to make some decorations with the kids. I decided to make some basic salt dough ornaments because they're cheap and fun to make.

The recipe is 2 C plain flour, 1 C salt, and 1 C of water. You make a dough and knead it as if you're making bread then roll it out on a floured surface until it's quite thin. Once you've cut out your shapes you'll need to press a hole through the tops of them for the ribbon. I used a chop stick. Then they go into the oven on a lined baking sheet at 100 - 120 degrees (centigrade) for 3 - 4 hours to harden.

We painted ours red and then decorated them with little felt reindeer and silver glitter glue.

Once the ornaments were ready I needed something to hang them on. Our Christmas tree is already bursting and I wanted these decorations to be something a bit different that I could use as a table centrepiece on Xmas Day. I found a branch outside and painted it white with some leftover house paint I had before securing it in floral foam inside a vase. I wrapped some red felt around the vase to hide the floral foam and popped some off white felt scraps inside.

I've been really inspired by images of Scandinavian Christmas decorating this year (too much Ikea perhaps?) and I'm hoping to come up with something clean and simple along those lines for our Christmas table this year.  Tomorrow the kids and I are making red and white fabric garlands using fabric scraps that we'll be recycling/upcycling into decorations.

So we're making a start on feeling festive. A bit late perhaps but better late than never!

The Tree

When I was little getting the annual Christmas Tree was one of my favourite traditions of the year. I loved going out with mum and my sisters to find the perfect tree with a good shape and the right amount of bushiness. When we got home we’d all scramble around the backyard for rocks to hold it upright in the bucket and then it was time to decorate! I don’t remember mum buying many decorations over the years, but we always seemed to have a huge amount to go on the tree.  Baubles (eventually) dished out fairly amongst the three sisters, tinsel arranged, and it was time to turn on the lights. Satisfied with our work, we'd compliment each other on how pretty it looked before collapsing on the sofa for a well earned piece of Christmas cake.

I’m now in the position of making this happy little tradition a reality for my own two kids. And boy, do they love Christmas Trees.  Their enthusiasm for Christmas Trees borders on unhealthy. The funny thing is, when you’re the mum, rather than the kid, you start to see that getting a Christmas Tree can be a wee bit stressful.  With the perspective of a mother I’m starting to recall the other bits – the not so great parts that your brain conveniently forgets over time and replaces with The Cosby Show version of how it went down.

Like the fact that mum was always a bit strung out by the time it was the day to get The Tree.  Oh mum, I know the feeling.  My kids have been asking me about Christmas since September. When I simply could not hear ‘Mum, when can we get a Christmas Tree?’any longer I stupidly told Jemima we’d get one last Saturday. Rookie mistake.  Turns out it’s kind of hard to find a tree when it’s still NOVEMBER!

Then there’s erecting the tree. Last year, as I was skewered alive under a blanket of pine branches needles while holding the trunk (‘Left.... no right a bit... no left... yep, yep.. now forward. Not that forward!!’)  a familiar sensation washed over me. I remembered from my childhood the oddly shaped grey rocks that we jammed into the bucket to make our tree stand upright and when they didn’t work – the concrete bricks. The banged up fingers that happened in the process.  I remember everyone getting a bit exasperated with holding the tree in place.  They don’t call them needles for nothing.

Another thing you don’t realise as a kid – they cost money. Quite a lot of it as it turns out.

And then there’s the Real vs. Fake  debate. When I was a kid I swore I would never, ever, have a fake Christmas Tree. I thought they were the ugliest things I’d ever seen. They broke our tradition of finding the perfect one. And what about the smell?

I still like a real tree. But I’m also realistic. We have two people in our family with hay fever. And when it’s a contest between $60 and an hour trip vs. $25 and a quick drive to the shopping centre I’m afraid Kmart wins.

Jeremy was concerned that a fake tree wouldn’t be the same for the kids. Jemima didn’t mind what we bought. She just wanted something to hang tinsel on.  It could have been a broom for all she cared. She had it in her head that we were getting a tree, and she wasn’t going to let it go until something coated in plastic balls and sparkly fringing was standing in our living room. When we went out to look in some shops she was so obsessed with the idea of getting a tree that she suggested stopping a stranger in the street to ask them if they had any.

I thought we had it all sorted but then as we got in the car to buy our ‘plastic’ tree Ben started to get upset. Apparently he does care. He wanted a real tree. He said he would even have a small one if it meant it could be real. I should have known. You can be guaranteed that if one kid agrees on something, the other one wants the opposite. It’s kind of a parenting rule.

Ben was outvoted and this year it's fake tree for us.  It looks OK. It’s not as beautiful as a real one, and it doesn’t have the smell of course, but really, it’s so covered with sparkly stuff that you can’t see what’s underneath anyway.


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