Where growing, making & good living come together

What are your favourite recipes to batch cook?

Posted by on Friday 1 July 2011 in cooking, Featured, frugal | 9 comments

I mentioned in passing the other week that we’ve got a bit more freezer space these days and I’m keen to fill it with homemade ready meals and good food, so there is no room for processed stuff (or vast quantities of ice cream) from the supermarket.

John and I don’t particularly batch cook but we do generally cook large portions of things – nearly everything that takes longer than, say, 20 minutes is made in double portions (so it’s two dinners for the two of us) but a pasta sauce or curry might be eight or ten portions (two fresh dinners for us, the rest frozen for future use). Making a large batch of pasta sauce or curry doesn’t take any longer than a small one but the leftovers only take a few minutes to reheat next time.

But then I hear about people doing proper en masse batch cooking and I feel like such a homemade ready meal amateur. For example, this wonderful lady managed to make 46 dinners for her family of four, from things that cost just $96 in a reduced-to-clear meets batch cooking extravaganza.

I’d like to start batch cooking more – making eight to ten portions of any one thing at a time – but I’d like a bit more variety — the aforementioned curry (usually keema & chickpea achar) and pasta sauces are great, as are soups and versatile bean chillis, but I’d welcome more ideas for a bit of a change, and also to have ideas in mind so I can take advantage of more reduced-to-clear type bargains.

Do you batch cook? Do you set aside an afternoon/evening every so often to do it or do you just do it as you’re going along? What are your favourite recipes?

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Quick tomato soup with chorizo and beans (recipe)

Posted by on Tuesday 31 May 2011 in cooking, Featured, recipes | 3 comments

A common tip for people trying to eat less meat for frugal, health or environmental reasons is to use meat as a flavour not as an ingredient to add volume/bulk to the meal. I love chorizo for this purpose – the smallest pieces provide plenty of flavour. This soup doesn’t taste like a slice of neat chorizo, but the sausage adds a lot of depth to what is otherwise a pretty basic tomato soup.

Like our spicy tomato and lentil soup, this is a quicky and aside from the chorizo, is made from standard store-cupboard ingredients – so is a great last minute lunch soup. It’s not quite as frugal as the lentil one (because of the chorizo) but it’s still pretty cheap for something so easy and tasty :)

Quick tomato, chorizo and bean soup recipe

Makes 4-5 good lunch sized portions
Costs about £2 in total, or 50p a portion (would be cheaper using dried beans, they just need rehydrating first)

Splash of olive oil
An onion, finely chopped
A clove of garlic, minced
Chorizo – about 50g finely chopped or 10 pre-sliced slices chopped/torn up
A can of chopped tomatoes
About 300g (drained weight) pinto or borlotti beans
A litre of hot vegetable stock
3 tbsp of tomato puree
1 tsp mixed herbs
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp chilli flakes (optional!)

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Some recent treats from blogland

Posted by on Thursday 5 May 2011 in frugal, growing, personal finance | 0 comments

I seem to have spent nearly all of today reading. No, not our many many books but blogs. I’ve read some great stuff so thought I’d share:

  • First up, Failure Is An Option by The Greening of Gavin‘s Gavin. Oh my yes. I have “failed” so many times over the last few years – and every single time I learnt a lesson and will not repeat that mistake. I rarely use super expensive seeds and compost/pots can be reclaimed so it’s only costing my time to try, fail and learn not to do that again. I like hobbies which allow free/super cheap do-overs (I have frogged certain yarns oh so many times). Yes, failure is frustrating and it makes it feel like a waste of time but if you treat it as a learning curve then it’s not a waste, it’s a building block of knowledge.
  • And speaking of minimising time expenditure, Fiona, The Cottage Smallholder, has been writing about perennial veg recently – tree cabbages and orach. (The latter isn’t perennial but is a self-seeder, and has a very long harvesting window.) Two interesting veggies to think about when I’ve got my “miniature forest garden” planning hat on.
  • Changing the topic, I liked this post about avoiding slipping into the trap of always having to make the ultimate healthy homecooked food for every meal – especially when you’re just starting out. I’m a fan of gradual but steady changes that’ll stick rather than extreme shifts which might not. Looking back now, I’m amazed at some of our old habits or the way we used to cook things – but like with gardening, they were steps along the path which is taking us forward.
  • It’s not a wise, overreaching philosophy for life like some of the other posts above but I really enjoy Jono’s Real Men Sow updates each month, working out exactly how much money he’s saved by growing his own. That’s how I’m going to keep track of our output this year too.
  • And sticking with the super practical, I’m going to treat ManVsDebt‘s latest action list as a to-do list for the next few months. There is, obviously, an irony that some of my favourite recent blog posts have been all about action while I’ve been reading rather than acting today…

Have you read any good blog posts recently? Do share!

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Chocolate Coffee Mousse recipe

Posted by on Wednesday 23 February 2011 in cooking, Featured, recipes | 5 comments

I stumbled upon this recipe a little while ago and it’s become a favourite in the Peach household – not only is it one of the nicest, richest desserts I’ve ever eaten, it both uses up eggs (a good thing!) and is really pretty easy & quick to make as well.

It’s easy because it cheats by starting with ready-made chocolate. I’ve tried making it with both fancy 70% chocolate and cheaper plain stuff (I mean really cheap plain stuff – Netto, two 200g bars for £1.50) – there is a difference, the former was obviously a lot stronger and richer, but you know what? the cheaper stuff did pretty well too. The intense strong chocolate is nice but can be a bit overwhelming – I’d certainly make it again with the cheaper stuff, especially if the people eating it weren’t major dark chocolate fans.

Regarding the coffee, John is a coffee snob so we have very good beans in the house pretty much all the time and he makes it using an Aeropress which apparently removes a lot of the bitterness (I don’t like to drink coffee but I like it as a flavour in cakes & desserts). Since it was being mixed with other things, he didn’t use his super expensive stuff but used a blend of “old” beans (admittedly no more than a few weeks old) to make the espresso. I dare say the fact it was good coffee to start with added to the flavour of the finished dessert.

Aside from that though, eggs is eggs, a little sugar is a little sugar. If the eggs are homegrown (as ours are), the only real cost is the chocolate, with an extra 20p or so for the fancy-smancy coffee. For a super rich dessert for four, I think it’s pretty reasonable.

Dark Chocolate Coffee Mousse recipe

Makes enough to fill four to five ramekins

200g of plain chocolate
3 tbsp of freshly made espresso/strong black coffee (or more/less to taste)
4 room temperature eggs
1-2tbsp of caster sugar, depending on how sweet the chocolate is

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Things from yesterday and today

Posted by on Tuesday 8 February 2011 in growing, meta | 3 comments

I started my potatoes chitting yesterday. Well, they’d already started chitting all by themselves but I took them out of their nets and put them in egg boxes. Now to remember which is which…

Today is the first time in about a week when it’s not been blowing a gale so I’m tempted to spend the afternoon away from my computer and sow some seeds. Weee!

I collected six eggs this morning – we usually get five max. Being realistic, I think it was probably just a late one from yesterday and today’s five – but one was a little small, so maybe Lime’s coming out of moult.

(Buff has yet to provide us with a single egg (she’ll lay white ones, the rest lay light to mid brown ones so it’ll be clear when she does get around to it) and is getting noisier. From what I’ve read, it’s not uncommon for Leghorns to be late starters, and I guess winter will exacerbate that, but I’m worried she thinks she is a boy – or actually is a boy. Nothing obvious yet but *paranoia*.)

Our meal planning made it to Day Two before failing completely. Yay us. There is a reason though – we had both completely forgotten that John’s attending a talk in Manchester tonight so not only will be out for dinner but will need more substance at lunchtime than soup will provide (he’s unlikely to be eating dinner until after 9pm). And also half his company came for lunch today either en route to the talk or just because there was mention of fish and chips and everyone loves fish and chips. I will probably still end up making the sausage & lentil casserole because the sausages will go off otherwise, but I’ll freeze tonight’s portion instead.

I made the spicy butternut squash soup before we realised the change of plans so I’ll have that for dinner tonight. I made approximately 3litres of it. I might freeze some of that too ;)

A book on vegetable-oil soap making that I’d been umming and aahing about buying for ages arrived this morning – can’t wait to give that a go.

Some embroidery fabric (bought on eBay) also arrived so I can start on my next big stitchery project. Going to wait until I’ve finished the blanket (which is now wide enough to keep me warm while I’m crocheting it :) ) rather than get distracted but I’m working on my pattern. It’s going to be an evolving piece actually – it’ll never be finished-finished – which makes planning interesting!

We shaved & bathed the dog last night. (Not a euphemism.) She feels like silky velvet at the moment and while it’s not a perfect job, it’s certainly passable. It would have cost us at least £45 if we’d paid someone else to do it. She slept through all the clipping and got an egg afterwards for being a good girl.

There has been a few clumps of small brown mushrooms growing on the garden steps (covered with wood chippings) recently and I picked one to identify yesterday. It looks very much like a Deceiver (Laccaria Laccata) but it seems far too late in the year/early in the next one to be those. I will keep looking through my books to see what else it might be but any other suggestions would be gratefully received :)

What have you guys been up to?

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