Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Lentil stew - no, don't click to another site yet!

Lentil stewTimes are hard and we all have to save money wherever we can. One of the places that a lot of people waste money is on office lunches. Yes, I know it's easy to nip down to Pret and treat yourself to a brie and bacon wrap (or whatever) but before you know it you've spent five or six quid a day and that's a whole lotta cash!

Auntie Anne makes her own (and Uncle K's) sandwiches at the weekend and freezes them in poly bags. Batch-making sarnies is quick and easy and it saves time in the mornings as well as cash. Just take a bag out before you leave in the morning and it'll be defrosted in time for lunch.

Any kind of cooked meats (ham, corned beef, chicken, turkey) can be frozen for a few days without suffering a loss of texture and flavour. Choose different breads each week, and vary the fillings by adding pickles and chutneys, mayo rather than spread, Marmite, Gentleman's Relish, etc. Tinned fish works well mashed in with mayo and a bit of tomato sauce too. Or you can even grate cheese and make yourself a cheese and onion or cheese and pickle sandwich. Don't be tempted to try and freeze tomato slices though - it really doesn't work.

But right now it's a bit chilly isn't it?  And maybe you fancy something a bit more warming as you sit at your desk Facebooking your mates in your break. This only works if you have access to a microwave at work, of course.

Here's how to make it
Get yourself some green lentils. They are incredibly cheap and go a very long way! 

Pour a handful of dry lentils per portion into a sieve. Give them a quick once-over to make sure there's no small stones in among them. (Depends where you get them - some are less likely than others to have stray bits.)  Now rinse them well under cold running water for a couple of minutes.

Put them in a pan and cover with fresh, cold water. DON'T ADD SALT! Bring it to the boil, stir once, then turn down the heat to a simmer, cover and let them cook for about 20 minutes.  Skim off any scum that forms on the surface (though if you washed them well it probably won't). Eat one to test if it's cooked. (Think baked beans for the required texture.)

While they're cooking, chop up whatever veg you have handy into small cubes - mushroom stalks, green beans, carrots, onion, leeks, sweetcorn kernels, parsnips - and fry them off with some garlic in a little oil. You can also add whatever herbs or spices you like/have in your cupboard. Add a good squidge of tomato puree if you've got some and put in some water. Simmer it together until you get veg in a sort of tomato sauce. Leave on one side till the lentils are cooked.

When it's all done you mix the lot together and now's the time to salt it if you need to. Portion it up and freeze it, or pack it up for tomorrow's lunch. If you make a big batch you can do both.

It's cheap, filling, tasty and easy. And all your colleagues will want to know what you're eating because it smells divine!

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Greetings cards

Thank you card

What did you do with your Christmas cards this year? Have you still got them stashed away somewhere? Did you put them in the recycling bin? Worse still, did you throw them in the landfill rubbish? Because you could save yourself some money if you use them wisely and make cards and gift tags for next year.

It is perfectly acceptable these days to send home-made cards. Some people even pay good money to buy cards that are home made by someone else! Making cards is easy and you really don't need much artistic talent to do it. The really good part is that you can tailor your cards to your exact needs.

Take the one in the photo.  It was made to say thanks to the neighbours for a highly enjoyable drinks and nibbles party. And this is how:

There's a big business grown up out of card making and, if you aren't careful, you could spend a lot of money on buying the ready-made trinkets they sell for that purpose. But this is about saving money, not spending it.

I admit that the card in the photo is a pre-cut blank but I could just as easily have made it from some recycled card and folded it myself.  The base paper is a bit of old white printer paper that I've splatted with paint to make it spotty. It's really easy to do - simply load a paint brush with some water colour or ink and then shake the brush over the paper about 15 cms above it. Make sure you cover your table with lots of newspaper and wear old clothes because it goes everywhere! But it is fun.

The brown paper was also from a craft supplier (because people know I do this kind of thing and I get them as gifts sometimes) but I could just as easily have used leftover wrapping paper for that bit. The 'good food' sign is a photo I took on holiday some years ago. I've got it digitally now (scanners are wonderful things) so I haven't lost it - just recycled.

And the wine glass was cut out of a magazine. I don't buy many magazines but I seem to get a lot of advertising things, either through the post or just pushed through the letter box. I always scan them for potentially useful pictures before I put them out for recycling. I keep the retained scraps in an old shoe box to sort through as necessary.

The stars are stickers and I can't remember where I got them, but I could have drawn them or even left them off completely. And if you don't feel confident enough to write a 'thank you' sign for the card design you don't need to have words on your work of art at all!  Just put your message inside.

Don't wait until you need to make a card - start collecting now. Go through the papers that have arrived through your door and tear out anything that looks interesting. You probably have lots of holiday brochures arriving at the moment - they're always good for pictures of wildlife, food, drink, foreign buildings, and lots of other things.  You can even cut words out of the headings if they say things like 'good' 'fun' 'happy' or whatever.