Being “cheap” takes time …

I realised (following prompting) that once again I’d neglected this blog.  My main problem is a combination of poor time management and being “Yorkshire” which, together with having the attention span of a cocker spaniel, combine to make having a good chunk of time to write anything vaguely readable a bit of a challenge.

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In effect, we’ve had lots of expense over the last few months that I’ve spent vast amounts of time trying to reduce to a minimum.  We’ve ordered a new car to replace the one that we’ve had for about 15 years and now is developing its own version of old age  – most problems for which the garage can’t find an easy solution.  We’ve had a computer that needed replacing, and a graphics card on another that also needed replacing – new school uniforms to buy (yet again!  grrrr), a college to sort out and decisions to make over what to do during the summer school holidays.

Being proudly “Yorkshire” originally, where the folk are renowned for having “short arms and deep pockets” (ie, they don’t like spending money!), I’ve spent huge amounts of time scanning the internet for various deals, vouchers, cash-back offers and doing research on all options.

We’re also, of course, in the growing season – admittedly here in the North of England it started off fairly late with the sun only deigning to appear within the last few weeks – so we’ve been harvesting and trying to work out what to do with a variety of home grown food including strawberries, raspberries, white currants, rhubarb and new potatoes.  We’ve also now got beetroot, two different types of beans, peas, courgette, salad leaves, sweetcorn, tomatoes and squash growing, that we’re hoping have had a suitable boost over the last couple weeks of sun.  Because looking at the current weather and the forecast that may be all they’re going to get!

I’m trying to make an effort to be organised .. I regularly write myself lists of things to do, I have a Google calendar that syncs up to my computer and phone that is chock full of things we need to do on certain days, together with “tentative” events that I know need to be done, but haven’t firmed up when, yet.

In between all that, I’m having to do the usual housework and tackle an ironing pile that just seems to grow of its own accord.

There is usually something wandering around the internet that talks of someone who starts off their day with just one thing to do, yet in the process keeps finding other things to do – finally reaching the end of the day and realising that one thing – it’s still waiting to be done.  That’s usually me, only there’s never only ONE thing!

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Easy Courgette Pasta

We’re currently in the middle of a glut of courgette (otherwise known as zuccini) and trying to find all sorts of different ways to use it.  This is a recipe I came across recently (and then amended slightly) that is quick and easy.  Obviously you can amend it to suit your taste .. and if you want something REALLY quick, substitute the beetroot for something else.

You will need:

  • Enough pasta to serve 4 … I use pasta twists, but anything will do.
  • 2 medium courgette, washed and ends chopped off.
  • 1 large beetroot, rinsed and ends chopped off.
  • about an inch long piece of chorizo (I use the spicy type)
  • Some grated cheese, to taste.

To prepare:

  • Pre-heat the oven to around 190c.
  • Chop the beetroot into inch sized chunks.  You don’t need to peel it.  Place the pieces on a baking tray and season with salt and pepper.  Normally you would cover with a bit of oil, but I forgot and it turned out that dry roasted is very nice .. so I would recommend leaving out the oil.  Put in the oven for around 30-45 minutes, until it has started browning on the edges and is fairly soft on the outside, but still a bit of bite in the middle.
  • Grate the courgette using a fairly large sized grater, and place in a colander over a bowl.  Sprinkle some salt and give it a mix, then allow it to drain some of the moisture off for around 10-20 minutes.
  • When the beetroot is done, remove and allow to cool a bit, before chopping into smaller pieces .. around 1cm in size.
  • Once the courgette has had time to drain, give it a good squeeze to get as much moisture out at possible.
  • Prepare the pasta as per the packet … usually boil for around 7-10 minutes.  Then drain.
  • Chop the chorizo into little pieces, add to a hot dry non-stick frying pan and fry until it starts to brown and the oil is coming out.
  • Add the grated courgette and fry for a few minutes, then add most of the grated cheese.  Keep cooking until the cheese has melted, and add the beetroot.  add in the cooked pasta and give it a thorough mix.
  • Serve in bowls with a little more grated cheese over the top.

Comments:

I added beetroot simple because we had some in the garden that needed eating, but it added a nice sweetness to the dish, and offset the spiciness of the chorizo.  Our beetroot were golden ones, so didn’t “bleed” – I haven’t tried it with normal red ones, but I’d expect the red to colour the dish somewhat.

You could simplify the dish further by not including the beetroot .. I would suggest instead either red or yellow pepper to add colour, added just after the chorizo.

I used the spicy (picanté) chorizo, but if you find this too spicy, feel free to use the mild version.

Dieting, Dieting sites and losing weight …

So … I’m overweight.  I’ve been overweight for years and years.  It didn’t happen all at once, it kinda crept up on me.  Initially I blamed the washing machine for shrinking my stuff, or Christmas (or any other special event) for putting on a little extra.  I had friends who were heavier than me and seemed happy, and decided that it didn’t matter what I looked like, as long as I was happy.

But there’s the thing … overall I was still generally happy, but I was restricting myself more and more as to what I would and wouldn’t do – the heavier I became, the less active I  wanted to be … I didn’t want to go out, because I didn’t want to show how exhausted I was when I walked up that little hill; I didn’t want to go shopping because I struggled to find clothes that fit; I didn’t want to wear short skirts or short sleeved tops because I didn’t want to show off my arms and legs … and this was all compounding the weight gain.

I was overtaking heavier friends, or they were losing weight, and I  was getting more depressed about it .. and then I’d eat to make me feel better.

Then a few things happened at once.

My husband, who likes to watch cookery programmes (a form of torture, if you ask me!), started watching a series by the Hairy Bikers, who were a couple of overweight cooking “celebs” who loved their food, who decided to lose weight by cooking more healthily; we came into a little bit of inheritance about the same time as our dishwasher died and flooded the kitchen, so we decided to get a new fitted kitchen; we decided to get the garden done at the same time, and had some raised beds put in, and space for a greenhouse (which we’re still to get, because, well, we’re tight, and greenhouses are expensive!).

Prompted primarily by the Hairy Bikers, we decided to follow their recipes together – we set ourselves targets, made the decision to weigh ourselves regularly and note those weights down, and to try to stick to a calorie controlled diet.

I have to stress at this point that we’ve tweaked the idea of “diet” in order to fit in with our lifestyle, and decided that simply “going on a diet” would not work for us … certainly not for me.  The concept of a diet for me seemed to be that you ate less, ate a restricted diet, until you got to your target weight, and then you went back to how you ate before.  You’d pay for a gym membership and spend weeks sweating buckets, then get to your target weight and stop.

But I didn’t want to do that – I wanted a “diet” that would be for life .. something that didn’t cut out all those nice things completely, that had space for cake, wine, chocolate, crisps and all the nice stuff, that didn’t require me to completely change my life, I didn’t want to be getting up at silly times in the morning to go jogging, spending hours on treadmills .. basically, I didn’t need a “diet”, I needed a change in my attitude towards food … otherwise I knew that, at some point in the future, I’d simply give up on the diet and go back to where I was before.

So .. we’re on our own version of the 5:2 diet .. 5 days a week we try our best to stick to the calorie counting.  The other two days, we let ourselves relax and eat (and drink) what we want.  Although I have to say, as the months rolled on, we still generally stick to the right foods on our two days “off” – we just tend to add a few glasses of wine into the mix!!

Because of the kitchen and garden refurbs, I enjoy spending time in the kitchen now … which is probably just as well, considering the amount of stuff we grow in the garden … we had only three raised beds put in, but boy, they produced a lot of food – and all of it healthy and low in calories.

I’m not losing the weight fast … and for a few months around Christmas time I hit a kind of plateau, although that seems to be dipping again now … but I am losing it fairly steadily.  I see people who say they’ve lost 3 stone in three months and feel a little jealous, but even thought my way is slow, the weight is dropping off and I am feeling much better.

The thing that prompted me, really, to write this post, is the amount of “clubs” out there that want a subscription for joining, and helping you diet.  I’m a bit “tight” when it comes to money .. if I see it and want it, I try to ask myself if I actually need it, and if there is a decent free alternative.  Obviously there is a reason for people paying month after month for diet clubs – and I can kinda understand it for those where you actually turn up on a weekly basis, get weighed, see presentations, mingle with others in the same boat .. but I really don’t understand paying for an online service.

Because we’ve become such fans of the Hairy Bikers Diet books, I’ve “followed” them in a few places, and received an email a while back saying they were putting together an online diet club and would I be interested … it would have forums, recipes and various weight tracking tools.  I liked the idea so, when it launched, I was straight there to sign up .. only to realise that all this stuff was locked behind a subscription service.

Well .. I’ve already paid for the books, use them regularly, so I’ll just bide my time for those extra recipes .. no doubt at some point they’ll stick them all in another book – and I’ll probably buy that.

The rest of the stuff … well I’ve been using a free site for quite some time called MyFitnessPal … it has the forums, the tracking tools .. it even has an app you can use on your smartphone to help you track calories (zap the bar-code and it’s automatically entered into your daily log, for example).

I just feel a little saddened that people, who no doubt are already making plenty of money off their TV shows, public appearances and books, seem to feel it’s fine to exploit those who really just want to get fitter and healthier … surely this is something that should be freely accessible to all?

So .. in conclusion … thanks for the kick up the bum I needed to get going, Hairy Bikers, but bigger thanks to MyFitnessPal for providing the means to track it all, for opening my eyes to how certain individual foods are stupidly bad for you, and providing the tools for free … big thumbs up 🙂

Runner Bean Chutney

DSCF3417We bought some runner bean um .. seeds? beans? to plant this year – along with most of the other things we bunged into the ground, it was a massive experiment.  We’d never grown them before and really didn’t know what to expect.  Well .. we had a rough idea as my Dad grows them regularly .. but its a different pole of beans growing them and tending them yourself, as opposed to looking at his huge contraptions draped in green stuff.

I bought a bunch of canes and basically made up some sort of framework for them to grow up, but my Dad had mentioned he’d only had less than half of his beans come up, so I thought I’d increase my chances and plant double what I needed.  I hadn’t realised I’d bought the bean/triffid cross variety …

They went mental.  You could virtually see them growing.  They got to the top of the framework I’d built and, even when I’d snipped the tops off, they still kept going up (apparently they can keep growing from below and push the tops up).  I probably missed a few tops too, because every single bean sprouted and it got difficult to keep track.  On the plus sides … we’ve not had ANY need to buy beans this year.  The flowers are lovely and the bees have been in buzzy heaven.

On the down side .. I’m really not THAT keen on runner beans – I prefer French Beans .. only at the time I hadn’t really worked out the difference!

Anyway .. one of the recipes we discovered early on (my sister-in-law had made some from her crop the year before) was this chutney … it’s gorgeous.  It’s sweet and spicy with just enough crunch.  It goes really well with ham, sausages, pork pies and various sandwiches such as cheese or bacon … we’re regularly discovering new ways to enjoy it!  Which is probably just as well, considering the crop we’re getting!

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Ingredients:

  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 tsp cardamon seeds
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp fenugreek seeds
  • ½ tsp chilli flakes
  • 120 ml vegetable oil
  • 225 g sugar
  • 100 ml white wine vinegar
  • 750g runner beans, topped & tailed and chopped into fairly small chunks
  • salt & pepper

Method:

  1. Soften the onion, garlic and spices in the vegetable oil for 3-4 minutes.
  2. Add the sugar and vinegar and simmer for 2 minutes.
  3. Add the beans and simmer for 30 minutes.

I would recommend starting off with about 1kg of beans, as you reduce the weight when you top n tail.  Also .. for those larger beans, I tend to use a peeler to run along the edges to remove that “stringy” bit you sometimes get.

I cut mine into fairly small chunks .. perhaps 1cm long … but it doesn’t really matter .. it is down to your preferences.  Just remember that it still needs to be easily used later!

This makes around 3-4 standard jam jar sized jars.  Pack the beans down well, and fill any gaps with the liquid left.

Enjoy 😉

Spiced Beetroot and Orange Chutney

One of the things I mentioned recently was a glut of extra produce we’ve had in the garden this year.  It has been the first year we’ve grown more than a few tomato plants and a few bits n bobs, so we were (still are) complete novices about how much different plants grow and produce.  I guess some of it depends on technical things like soil conditions and weather, etc, but we have learned quite a bit this year about different vegetables in particular – and we’ve also had to work out what to do with what we’ve grown!

Personally, I’m originally a “Yorkshire lass” – and do try to stick to those values as much as possible, mainly because they make sense to me .. primarily to try to be canny with my money and not to waste stuff.  That has lead us to trying lots of new recipes and spending hours researching what we could do with all this extra food.  Chutney is one of the main things with a lot of stuff, and so far we’ve made three different types – green bean, green tomato and beetroot.

They all have different things going for them and all have distinctive flavours and textures .. but currently my favourite (perhaps because I only just made it yesterday!) is the beetroot one.

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As far as time taken is concerned .. it takes less time than green tomato chutney (last time I made that it was a whole day job!), but more than the bean relish (about an hour, including preparation).

It is one of the most gorgeous smelling chutneys … it reminds me of Christmas … all those spices and orangey goodness.  Yummm 🙂

So … for your delectation, should you have a glut of beetroot, here is the recipe I used:

Ingredients:

  • 1½ kg raw beetroot, trimmed, peeled and diced (wear gloves!)
  • 3 onions, chopped
  • 3 eating apples, peeled and grated
  • zest and juice 3 oranges
  • 2 tbsp white or yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 tbsp coriander seed
  • 1 tbsp ground cloves
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 700ml red wine vinegar
  • 700g golden granulated sugar

Method:

In a preserving pan or your largest saucepan, mix together all the ingredients well. Bring to a gentle simmer, then cook for 1 hr, stirring occasionally, until the chutney is thick and the beetroot tender.

While the chutney is cooking, prepare your jars by running through a short hot wash in your dishwasher. Or wash thoroughly by hand, then put in a hot oven to sterilise for 10-15 mins. Once the chutney is ready, let it settle for 10 mins, then carefully spoon into the jars and seal while still hot. You can eat it straight away but it will be even better after a month. Will keep for up to 6 months in a cool dark place. Once opened, refrigerate and eat within 2 months.

A few tips that may be of some use … remember to cube the beetroot into “chutney” size chunks; I’m really not very glove friendly, so I simply used some barrier cream on my hands (and allowed to be absorbed) before chopping.  It didn’t stop my hands getting coloured completely, but it certainly prevented the worst of it and, less than a day on, there is no sign of any staining left.

We had a little bit left over, so we had it, still warm, with a beef stew and some mash, and it was gorgeous 🙂

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