Lemonade Pockets 

My husband tells me I have champagne tastes and lemonade Pockets.

I’m not ashamed to say I have something of a penchant for the finer things in life. I like nice wine at the weekend and champagne on special occasions. I like fancy cheese and artisanal gin. I wouldn’t dream of buying ‘spread’ instead of real, British butter. Unfortunately I have very little disposable income with which to buy these things I like so much. 

The problem is that the price of everything is going up and up and up and up but income is not. Inflation is currently at a four year high here in the U.K. meaning that normal, low earning households like mine are really feeling the squeeze. I won’t pretend I know much at all about economics but what I do know is that my money is getting me a lot less than it did this time last year. 

Over the last couple of years we’ve had to get pretty savvy when it comes to how we spend our money in order to make sure we have a little left over at the end of the month to have some fun. After all, what’s the point in working your arse off if you can’t even treat yourself once in a while?

 One of the easiest changes you can make when you look at reducing household spending is to spend less on groceries. Now I’m not suggesting you eat a diet of gruel and boiled lentils in order to save money for shoes and cocktails. Life is too short to make yourself that miserable on a daily basis. But I am going to share a few tips on how I spend less on groceries whilst still enjoying the food we eat.

Get Organised

Being organised is not something that comes naturally to me. I am a lazy bitch at heart but I work really hard to keep up the veneer of being an organised adult who has her shit together. I do grocery shopping once a week, usually on a Monday morning straight after the school run when it’s nice and quiet and there are less distractions.

Before I go there are a few things I do…

  1. Take a look in the fridge and the cupboards. I am notorious for buying the same things every week, even though I already have them. Make sure you know what you have in your fridge and plan to use it before it goes off.
  2. Look in the diary. There’s no point in me buying food for evening meals if no body will be in to eat them! 
  3. Have something to eat. Not only because of the dangers of hunger related impulse purchases, but because I get hangry. And there’s nothing like a supermarket to bring out my rage.
  4. Remember my shopping bags. It’s annoying when I forget and it costs me money. 

Make a plan and stick to it

Once I’ve looked in the cupboards and my fridge and checked the diary I start making a rough plan of what meals I can make that week, and how many I need to make. I know that if I have lots of carrots and red lentils, I can make a soup without having to buy anything expensive to complete the recipe. 

When I’m in the supermarket I’m always looking at what is on a special offer, what’s in season and what looks particularly good that week. The vegetable aisle is a constant source of inspiration when it comes to meal planning, especially as the seasons change. 

Once I get home from the supermarket I start planning what meals I’m going to make that week. I like a lot of variation in my diet as I get bored eating the same dinners week in, week out. I like to be able to look forward to cooking the evening meal for my family so meal planning is something I spend quite a lot of time doing. Thank God for Pinterest is all I have to say on that matter!

Reduce your waste

Every year in the U.K. we waste 7 million tonnes of food and drink. This works out costing each household an estimated £470 a year. Every time I waste food I imagine myself throwing cash straight into the bin. The odd forgotten packet of sausages at the back of the fridge may not seem like a big deal at the time, but it soon adds up. Being organised, knowing what you have in your fridge and when it needs eating helps to alleviate wastage. 

I also try to be careful with portion control, especially with things like pasta and grains. Using scales or measuring cups is a quick way of making sure you don’t cook too much for one meal. You’ll be surprised how much longer that bag of rice lasts when you pay more attention to how much you cook in one go. 

Eat less meat and more seasonal vegetables 

The first thing I changed when I started trying to spend less in the supermarket was the amount of meat we consume. You can get much more protein for your pennies by cooking with lentils, beans and other pulses. I make black bean chilli instead of using beef and we actually prefer it that way. You can find my recipe for chilli here

When I do buy meat I like to get good quality, high welfare meat and really make the most of it. If we have a roast chicken for Sunday supper I can use the leftovers for two more meals. The meat that you pick from the carcass can be used to make fried rice, a pasta bake or a stew. Once I’ve done that I’ll put the whole thing in a big pan with some celery, onion and herbs, cover with water and simmer for a few hours. Then I strain the liquid, get rid of all the bones and mush and I’m left with a really tasty and nutritional broth which I can use to make ramen or a barley soup.

I tend to buy the same things every week when it comes to vegetables because I know I will use them. Pretty much every stew or soup starts off with onions, celery and carrots. We eat a lot of peppers and tomatoes in this house, both in recipes and as a snack, and I always have sweet potatoes as they are so delicious and versatile. 

We also eat eggs instead of meat as they are full of protein, high in healthy fats and good quality eggs are not particularly expensive compared to good quality meat. This recipe for Eggs with Tomato and Cumin is cheap, fast and nutritious. 


Keep your larder stocked up

I don’t have a larder. I have an inadequate amount of cupboards and shelves. But I do make sure they are always stocked with dried and canned goods. There is never nothing to eat which means that on the occasions when we’ve paid all the bills and our bank accounts are empty I don’t have to panic about what we are going to eat. A bag of lentils, an onion and some spices is all you need to make a tasty dhal or a hearty lentil soup. A can of haricot beans, some tinned tomatoes and an onion and you’ve got baked beans. This also comes in handy for when I haven’t had time to do the groceries or we have more people than expected joining us for dinner. 

I tend to stock up once every six weeks, in a larger supermarket where there is a bigger selection than my local supermarket. 


Don’t be afraid to use spices

By using spices in your cooking, the simplest ingredients can be turned into a fantastic, tasty meal. Tinned tomatoes and chickpeas turns into a delicious Morroccan inspired stew with a handful of dried apricots and some Ras el Hanout. Some coriander seed and cumin makes a dull, red lentil soup taste lively and exotic. Spices are a cost effective way of adding interest to boring, cheap meals. 

I buy my spices in the Chinese supermarket, or the world food section of the supermarket. Spices in little glass jars may look nice on the shelf but they are incredibly expensive in comparison to the bags of spices sold in ‘ethnic’ food stores. I always prefer to buy whole spices over ground as they are cheaper and taste better. Store your spices in airtight containers in the dark and they will taste great for ages. 

To start off I recommend you have cumin, coriander seed, chilli powder, black pepper, smoked paprika and garam masala. These are the basics that I use frequently but if you enjoy using spices the list is endless. 


So I hope that you’ve found these tips useful. I’m sorry if you’ve read to the end and I’ve told you nothing you didn’t already know! If you’ve got any good money saving tips for the kitchen I’d love to hear them!

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Duqqa

Originating in Egypt, this delicious blend of nuts and spices is my new favourite thing to put on pretty much everything. Traditionally it is eaten as a condiment with bread or vegetables being first dipped into olive oil, and then in to Duqqa. 

The name Duqqa (or Dukkah as it is sometimes spelt) derives from the Arabic word for “to pound” as it is made by dry roasting and then smashing together sesame seeds, hazelnuts and a mx of whole spices. It isn’t fine like a spice, but it’s ground into an almost mealy texture halfway between couscous and Polenta. There are many versions of Duqqa sold in street markets in Egypt, and of course every family has their own recipe handed down through generations. I like mine earthy and strongly nutty with good heat from black peppercorns, but I also like a sweeter Duqqa with cinnamon for sprinkling over porridge.


Ingredients:

  • 200g hazelnuts, shelled, skinned and roughly chopped.
  • 100g of flaked almonds
  • 200g sesame seeds
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper corns
  • 1/2 tsp chilli flakes

Method

  1. Firstly toast the nuts and the seeds in a heav bottomed frying pan, over a low heat. Keep them moving so they don’t burn. Watch out for flying sesame seeds and remove from the heat when the nuts and seeds are nicely golden all over.
  2. Toast the whole spices and grind. I used an electric spice grinder for this and pulsed it until the spices were ground but not too finely. Place the spices in a mixing bowl.
  3. Next grind the nuts and seeds. I grind a third of the mixture to a similar texture to the spices, the next third to a slightly coarser texture and the final portion I pound by hand in the pestle and mortar to give a less uniform consistency.
  4. Mix all of the ingredients together with a little salt, tasting as you go.


This is just the way I like to make Duqqa. If you prefer yours spicier or less spicy, more fragrant or more sweet, experiment with different whole spices and dried herbs. Lots of variations include dried mint, dried marjoram and thyme as well as cinnamon and cardamom.

I like to use Duqqa as a garnish on soups such as Carrot and Lentil. It goes very well on hoummous and you can sprinkle it over salads for a different flavour dimension. To make a sweet Duqqa, I reduce the amount of cumin, leave out the coriander and black pepper, reduce the chilli by a little and add lots of cinnamon, a little nutmeg and all spice. It’s really good on porridge and yoghurt.