I wanted to share with you a great tip I tried this week. I love sun dried tomatoes, but they are expensive to buy. Recently I got told a really great way of making them yourself. All you need is a warming tray, I have an electric one I use mostly at Christmas. Lay some tinfoil or baking paper on it. Slice some cherry tomatoes in half (cheapest you can find and no problem if they are over ripe). Place on the tray and leave until the tomatoes have dried out. Covering them with more tinfoil or baking paper will help speed up the drying process.
These look great added to olives, covered with olive oil. I added some chopped garlic, chillies and fresh herbs. In jars these make great gifts and I added mine to the hampers I have been making for friends and family.
Below shows the last few months have paid off as I have been able to create some great gifts at a fraction of the price you would pay in the shops
This will be my last post until the New Year but for some great ideas on how to use Christmas leftovers please see my earlier blogs:
In the New Year I will be giving you some ideas for healthy low fat recipes and how I reduced my cholesterol count from 7.2 to 4.2 in a matter of weeks!
Have a great Christmas and I will see you all in the New Year!!
A really easy way to make Gravy for Christmas in advance is to buy some Chicken or Turkey stock cubs, dissolve in boiling water as per instructions on the packet and then pour into a saucepan adding a finely chopped carrot, a potato and a small parsnip. Boil on the hob until all the vegetables are tender and then blend with a hand blender. If it is too thick add another stock cube dissolved in water until it is the consistency you prefer, some people like their gravy thick whilst others less so. You can add a few chopped herbs and a splash of white wine to taste and then pop it in the freezer. I usually take it out of the freezer before I go to bed on Christmas Eve.
Mulled Wine Sachets
Mulled Wine Sachets
I love mulled wine at Christmas, this Christmas we are having neighbours round for mulled wine and mince pies on Christmas Eve. However mulled wine sachets can be very expensive. To make things less expensive and stressful I made my own mulled wines sachets in advance.
As a child we always had the instant add boiling water stuffing which I have grown really fond of. So I prepare my childhood favourite in advance.
So those delicious Christmas drinks have all started becoming available at most high street coffee shops. Now, whilst I do love my Gingerbread Latte I also know it piles on the pounds and hits the pocket. So I have created my own version for home. I make my coffee as per usual (I use one of those expresso makers for the hob as they are cheap and also make the best coffee) then I mix in some of my honey and ginger syrup.
This is simple to make, combine some grated fresh or powdered ginger with some honey. Use the ratio that suits your taste buds and keep some ready made in a jar for the next time you want a coffee with that festive feeling. Ginger and honey are a much more healthy alternative to what you buy in the high street coffee shops. As well as tasting great they will help fight off all those nasty pre-Christmas bugs and viruses.
Yesterday I put the slow cooker on and started the main course I will be serving up on Boxing Day. I cooked some chopped braising steak and onion in a red wine sauce. This has now been frozen. I will take it out of the freezer on Christmas Eve and pop it in the fridge. Come Boxing day morning I shall put it in a pie dish and roll out some pre-bought puff pastry to pop on top. With some roasted vegetables this should be enough to feed all the in-laws on Boxing day without me slaving away in the kitchen all day!
Before writing this I had just finished making my Cranberry sauce for Christmas day and to give away as gifts. For the recipe please go to:
I will re-publish my count down to Christmas blog next week as it is my bible at this time of year to remind me of everything I need to do.
On a final note for this week. Last night I bottled and sampled some of the homemade Christmas Liqueur I have been making over the last few months. Cheers everyone!!
Cooking for Christmas can be time consuming and expensive.
Here are a couple of ideas which are not just easy to make, but also easy on the pocket, especially when cooking for large groups of people.
Millionaire's short bread
This is a great easy to prepare recipe and can be made in advance
1. Remove the label and pierce the lid of the condenses milk before placing it in a saucepan of boiling water for a couple of hours making sure the tin remains at least half way submerged in the water.
2. Once the condensed milk has cooled remove the lid and place a teaspoon of caramel at the bottom of each pastry case.
3. Cover with chocolate mousse or melted dark chocolate
4. Serve with a sprinkling of golden brown sugar
Store in an airtight container in the fridge, removing half an hour before serving
When looking to prepare nibbles and canapés for parties Olives are always an easy and inexpensive option especially when drizzled with olive oil and chopped basil. Adding some grated garlic is also a nice touch or some fresh or roasted tomatoes and/or sliced roasted vegetables. By buying the jars or tins of olives (I usually go for the extra large variety) and adding your own accompaniments this is much cheaper and tastier way to serve them, rather than buying the more expensive pre-pared variety. They can also be prepared and stored in the fridge days before the guests arrive.
As we lead up to Christmas everyone is trying to save money where they can and also keep the weight off in order to be able to properly indulge over the Christmas period.
I have founds some great ways to do both.
My first discovery was buttermilk it is a great alternative to yogurt, is cheaper and much easier to cook with. I have started to use it in my smoothies using all that luscious fruit I picked and froze during the summer months. It is a great way to start the day and full of vitamins to fight off those nasty colds everyone seems to be catching at the moment
Buttermilk also makes a great salad dressing and can be used as a main ingredient for sauces. Here are some I found online and use regularly
(The pasta sauce recipe is particularly easy and cheap to make)
Oats are another cheap and great way to feel fuller for longer. A bowl of porridge in the morning with a spot of honey (a natural antibiotic) will help keep that cholesterol down and stop you from snacking mid-morning keeping that waist trim and pockets fuller!!!
Also remember the packet of root vegetables you can buy for a £1 from most supermarkets that I mentioned in a previous blog
Well this is another great way to save pounds and also get rid of a few extra kilos before Christmas
By chopping up and roasting these vegetables in olive oil they make a great alternative to roast or mashed potatoes. They’re full of nutrients, you can roast everything in one dish and save on the washing up as well.
As always spinach is cheap, easy to cook and full of iron making it a great accompaniment to most meals!
Each week I am buying a little something towards Christmas whether it be a special offer on chocolates, or some cheese I know will mature nicely ready for the big day. This helps me spread the cost so December doesn't hit my bank balance quite so hard.
I have already made and frozen my 'Repton Pudding' an alternative to Christmas pudding.
I used to travel to Switzerland a lot for work and I loved my Bircher Muesli. It gave me the energy to kick start my day as well as keeping me fuller for longer. What I didn’t realise was how easy and cheap it is to make. The ingredients can be varied depending on your taste and there are very healthy options if you want to keep the calories down.
To serve 4-6 people you will need:
I started preparing for Christmas early the year my eldest was born. We knew there was going to be complications and as her due date was the 18th December I realised as early as September that I needed to get myself organised, especially when told that from November onwards I could be admitted into hospital. In those days there was no online shopping, so that tells you how long ago it was. Preparing early was a revelation in the amount of money I saved. So between now and Christmas I will be sharing with you some lessons I have learnt over the years.
For the last few weeks I have been saving glass jars for homemade Jams and Relishes. These are a great Christmas gift for friends and family as well teachers and neighbours. If these are the perfect gift for the Duchess of Cambridge to give to the Queen, I don’t see how anyone can complain.
Homemade relish: Relishes are simple too! There are some fantastic recipes on the internet but the main ingredients are onions, sultanas, apples, vinegar and brown sugar. Today I made some with some blueberries which needed using up and the other ingredients mentioned.
Tip: If the relish isn’t sweet enough add some more sugar, if it becomes too dry add some more vinegar, if it is too runny add some more mixed spice. Relish is all about personal taste so don’t be afraid to experiment.
Mulled wine sachets: I quite often put together hampers for Christmas, within which I include homemade mulled wine sachets. I use netting bought from haberdashery shops such as Dunhelms, using remnants they sell off at a reduced prices. Cut it into squares, add some crushed cinnamon sticks, crushed nutmeg and some dried cloves.
Tied with some pretty ribbon they are easy to make and so much cheaper than anything you can buy but taste as good if not better!!!
When I am working in London which is at least three times a week, I have a two hour commute each way, which altogether takes up 4 hours of my day. So the last thing I feel like doing when I get home is a load of cooking and washing up. Nor do I want to be buying convenience food that is expensive and will blow my weekly budget. The only option I have is to create my own convenience food so I get some work life balance.
I will also add the cooked vegetables and meat to couscous, pulses and grains and with some chilli sauce it also makes a hot nourishing meal on a cold winters evening.
These little packets of goodness can also be added to pasta and sauces to make quick and nutritious meals.
Click here for some more great meals in minutes from the BBC Good Food website:
Alternatively take a look at my A-Z of recipes for some more quick, easy and cheap meal ideas.