Saturday, February 28, 2015

A family wedding....

Cake made with love....

A pretty riverside setting...

Frou-frou from a friend....

More next
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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Preparing meals ahead to save big $$$$...

Yes it's true.
Some of my friends do believe me to be quite insane. Especially when I start talking about insourcing and preprepping meals and stuff. They just shake their heads and say 'but they sell that already done at Coles'. Yes. I know. But not the way I do it ;-)
Here is my bit of insanity from saved me about $200 on my grocery bill, bought lunches and snacks. Now that's a good insanity!
I have a background in Catering and Event Management and worked with chefs for many years, so I have learned to multi-task. You can have chicken simmering, casserole bubbling, quiche baking, cookie dough mixing and be cutting potatoes all at the same time. It's just get one thing going, move on to the next, then the next. You kind of start with the thing that is least complicated, moving on to the more complex. So here is the order I tackled my preparation, and what you can achieve, with practice, in a single two hour session.
1. As soon as I got in the door with the groceries, I put on the stock for poaching the chicken and turned on the oven to preheat. Once it was boiling I dropped the chicken breasts in, popped the lid on and switched the heat off .... 3 minutes. Leave for twenty minutes....not peeking...and they'll be perfectly succulent and moist. See the full method in my 'Recipes in four sentences' section.

2. While the water for the chicken was coming to the boil, I put on a big pot of rice as per my method in Recipes in Four Sentences. Similar to the chicken, once boiling, I covered it and turned it off.... 3 minutes.

3. Continuing to unpack groceries as I go, I found the butter and left it out to soften and trimmed and packed the bacon when it came to hand in the same bag....5-10 minutes. I trim most of the visible fat from my bacon, and coil it into little rounds, storing it sitting up like that in a plastic container. The little coils are easily removed individually for cooking. The rinds and fat are kept in a ziplock bag to flavour baked vegetables. Layed over the surface of cut vegetables on the baking tray, they replace other oil, and add a nice robust flavour to pumpkin, sweet potato and potatoes.

4. I finished unpacking the groceries, only leaving out what I needed to work with at one end of my kitchen bench. Next to it I arranged all of my containers and implements. I set up the food processor on my other tiny bench. Note that I only have two small benches and a sink to work on, so not much room, but I do have a dishwasher, and I'm fastidious about rinsing, stacking, washing up and putting away as I go. About 15 minutes maximum to find all the containers, knives and baking dishes and set them out.

5. I sliced and divided all of the remaining chicken breasts and bagged them in my own marinade which I randomly squirt into small ziplock bags, standing up already open...15 minutes. Into the freezer they go.

6. Next, I trimmed the rump which was already sliced, and popped it in to large or small ziplock bags with marinade and extras like slivers of garlic and quartered onions...longest time of all...about 20-25 minutes. Then into the freezer.

7. I cracked 2 dozen eggs into a large bowl and whisked with 2 cups of Gluten Free flour and 4 dessertspoons of baking powder, as well as some crumbled chicken stock cubes, salt and pepper, 2 cups of natural yoghurt and 1 cup of milk. I sprayed 2 pie dishes and a casserole dish with cooking spray, then tossed in some of that 'diced bacon' that comes already done. I also sprinkled in some dried onion flakes and some dried granules of garlic. I then divided the mixture evenly between the three dishes and popped two into the oven. The third one I baked later with the Gluten Free biscuits. As soon as they were done I cut them into pieces to fit the containers I had, and froze them in layers with baking paper between them. I can fit half a large quiche in one deep takeaway style container. This took about 7 minutes to prepare and get into the oven, and 10 minutes to pack and freeze.

8. I sliced a wombok (Chinese cabbage) with the mandolin and refrigerated it in a lined and covered lettuce keeper. 3 minutes. This forms the base for all of our salads for the week, and stir fry towards the end of the week. I'll add other ingredients as the week wears on for each individual salad. The wombok keeps really well compared to bought salad mixes.

9. I then peeled and sliced the onions for a batch of my onion confit using the mandolin, and removed the chicken from the stove to the bench to allow it to cool before refrigerating it. I got the confit going and then used the food processor to prepare the relish and get it simmering. This took maybe 15 minutes.

10. I made the sandwiches next which took no more than 10 minutes. No butter. Just the ham and cheese (which I'd sliced up myself last week using a cheese slicer) and packed in pairs in ziplock bags. The family just butter the top slice before putting in the sandwich press. Butter inside is unnecessary.

11. I rinsed out the food processor and blended the butter for the butter blend. Five minutes max.

12. Now that the butter is nice and soft (I use reduced salt home brand butter for the bikkie dough), I use the electric beaters to make the cookie dough and refrigerate it. Five or ten minutes. I bake them later or the next day once the dough is chilled.

13. Then I stored the remainder of the chicken breast not used for the toasties and the rice in large ziplock bags and froze them....Three minutes?

14. I had bought washed potatoes, and I simply cut a dozen or so with an apple corer and segmenting tool. You get them in the kitchen shops for around $10. It looks a bit like a wheel with spokes, and you just pop it on top of the potato and press down hard, and it cuts your wedges for you. You also get these really cool looking cylinder shaped ones that, if it were an apple, would be the core. Just another tool that makes really quick work of a task. I then put them into to large ziplock bags along with glugs of olive oil and herbs that I like, and tossed them around in the zipped bag before refrigerating them for dinner that night. Note that I use these fairly quickly as they don't respond well to freezing and defrosting.

15. Finally I made the casserole, which took only a couple of minutes to dust with flour (I'd already prepared all the rump remember), pan fry in the wok, and then add a bottle of passata and some herbs and chicken stock to, and it simmered away for an hour until ready, so it was probably the only thing still on the go, but I didn't even look at it.

So, with cleaning up and storing the casserole, I'd say it was probably 2 1/2 hours if I look at it properly. But definitely two hours of actual preparation. And remember, I've been doing this for a long time, and I know my way around my kitchen. I've got the containers and the appliances and the nice sharp knives and utensils which ALL makes a difference. So work your way up to the task.

I also make sure that I have sufficient storage space in the fridge and freezer before I even start. We have a spare small fridge with a smallish freezer in our garage too, so that gets stocked up at the same time.

Now while that might all sound daunting at first, the key is to just start, and keep going. Do not sit down, don't answer your phone. Wear comfy shoes and an apron, and just go for it. You can do it!

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Monday, February 23, 2015

This weeks Insourcing #3....

Insourcing is becoming something of an obsession here.
With our trip looming ever closer, (London, Venice, et I come), I'm finding parting with any dollar that could go towards an interesting 'something' abroad, pretty hard to part with.
So here's my list for the week....
Mended...yes mended...The Divas dance pants. Dang that child. How does one get a hole in lycra???
Baked brownies, cupcakes and Queen of Puddings.
Had breakfast for dinner (eggs, leg ham, hash browns, oven dried tomatoes) and dinner for lunch (leftover risotto...very nice too).
Put my hand up to make costumes for the school musical (God help me....there's over 300 costumes for 170 students...I'm glad there's more than me helping!).
Painted a previously painted pair of ballet shoes ballet pink. They had to be that ugly camel colour for concert last October. Now they're pink again, and I've saved buying a new pair for The Divas classes.
Haggled with the optometrist over the price of my new lenses for my cleverly sourced optical frames from last week. Saved a packet.
Cooked dinner every night even when I was so tired that even McD's was looking good. Mucho savings here as I keep saying.
Made Bento Box dinners or as we call them 'Lacquerware Leftovers' out of odds and ends. Always a great strategy and looks so impressive in framed by red and black and eaten with gold embellished chopsticks.
Estimated savings....hmmm....$500?
So not the most brilliant week, but certainly nice savings towards some Venetian Glass or some other special thing for me.
I'm happy :)
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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Gourmet worthy, budget friendly desserts...Queen of Puddings...

So here's my gourmet worthy, budget friendly Queen of Puddings.
Really...that's it's name. Queen of Puddings.
I can't tell you why except that it has all my favourite things, so they must have been someone elses favourite too, hence the elevation to royal status!
It's really a simple thing. A bread and butter pudding layer, topped with jam, over which is smothered a decadent layer of fluffy meringue with a light crisp surface.
So here's how.
You need:
A loaf pan
Electric beaters
2 bowls
Microwave safe bowl or jug of 400ml capacity at least
A baking dish large enough to hold the loaf pan and some water
And also:
3 slices of bread, cubed (I use gluten free fruit loaf)
2 eggs, separated into the two bowls
300mls of milk (or cream if you want to be really naughty)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla paste or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or essence
 1 dessertspoon sugar
2 teaspoons brown sugar (this gives a gorgeous sticky surface to the meringue)
4 tablespoons of your favourite jam
Then just:
Preheat the oven to 180C.
Spray the loaf pan with cooking spray. Spread the cubed bread over the base of the pan.
Put the egg whites in the bowl into the fridge to chill.
Heat the cream or milk in the microwave safe jug for 50 seconds to take the chill off it.
Whisk in the egg yolks, dessertspoon of sugar and the vanilla, and pour it over the bread in the pan. Allow this to sit for about 20 minutes so that the bread soaks up all that lovely custardy goodness.
Sit the loaf pan into the baking dish and pour water into the baking dish until it comes about halfway up the side of the loaf pan.
Bake for 25-45 minutes or until firm to the touch. Mine seems to vary according to how much bread and custard I've used!
Remove from the oven. and spread the jam evenly over the surface of the pudding. Set aside.
Remove the egg whites from the fridge, and whip them until firm peaks form, adding the brown sugar a teaspoon at a time towards the end and beating well to incorporate it.
Plop spoonsful of the meringue onto the surface of your pudd, and smooth it out evenly. Form little peaks by holding the back of a spoon on the top of the meringue and lifting quickly with a deft little swirl of your wrist. These brown up beautifully and make your pudd look all lush.
Put the pudd back into the oven for about 10-12 minutes or until it's lightly browned on top.
Yum, yum and yum.
Who imagined that stale bread, sugar, a couple of eggs and a bit of jam could turn into something so delicious and more-ish!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Mimi's Savings Secrets....Insourcing tally for the week #2

Hello everyone! Thankyou so much for sharing your insourcing efforts last week.
This is such an important idea for me. Once I realised that I could save more money for my family by insourcing, than I could at my daytime job, I was off and running! And for anyone thinking 'I can't do that...I could never replace my income', I will say that I was in a senior management role in media, my time was charged at $300 an hour, and I thought I was at the pinnacle of career girl life.
However, I was exhausted, stressed, and never seemed to get to the end of my ever growing list of tasks. Weekends were spent shopping and cleaning and by Sunday night, all I wanted to do was flob on the couch.
Socialising was more about outdoing one another than enjoying each others company, and what I spent on wardrobe, hair, and parking is no doubt the reason I never got ahead financially!
My decision was thrust upon me with my youngest son's diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy. Suddenly, I had other priorities, and damned if I wasn't going to give my son the best life he could possibly have. It's amazing how events beyond our control, sometimes change our lives in ways we could never have anticipated. Suddenly my wardrobe full of designer corporate gear was irrelevant. You can't shimmy around in a bashed silk two piece suit, doing therapy on the floor with a two year old that can't sit up by themselves.
Whilst I miss the wardrobe of pretty clothes and high heeled shoes now and again, I've never regretted my decision to put my energies where they were most needed. And the older I get, the more proficient I become at insourcing and challenging myself to find new ways of saving money. And FYI, my son is now nearly 24, lives independently with a team of carers who are remunerated by way of a hard won funding package, and is the envy of other people with similar disabilities. This was only achieved by treating the planning of his life with dogged determination and the belief that it could be done, no matter how many times we were told 'no'.
But I digress.
The other idea that is really key here, is accepting that no matter how much money you have, everyone's (well, nearly everyones) income is still finite. I have two good friends who have frittered away their career earnings on a bigger and better this or that, and find themselves approaching retirement with far less than they had planned...if anything at all. It's heartbreaking.
So...without further ado...this weeks insourcing included:
Sourced some new optical frames on eBay saving anything up to $1000.
Gifted my daughter a pearl pendant inherited from my Mum, for Valentines Day, saving $150 on a similar one. She loves it and I think Mum would be thrilled.
Made school lunches saving $100 and probably my daughters good health.
Made a seafood dinner for Valentines Day saving up to $400. Our meal included oysters, crab, and salmon, so that's not out of the ball park at all.
Made onion confit for my sons for Valentines Day.
Held my sons team meeting at his home instead of at a coffee shop, and had the pleasure of seeing him chair the meeting in an admirable fashion, whilst saving me $65 in coffees and cake. I provided my coffee machine and my lush chocolate cake instead and everyone was happy.
That's a total of around $1700. And really that's conservative.
If I added in the snacks and lunches I packed for my daughter for her weekend of rehearsals for theatre and school musical, the cake I baked for the cast at theatre, and the meals I made for the week with no takeaway or restaurant meals sourced, I'd really have to add another $200-$400.
And again, that's not unrealistic when a cake of a similar size would be $40 at least, sushi and snacks would be $15 a pop multiplied by four, and meals like 'Seared rump roast served with roasted garlic mash and seasonal vegetables', 'Chicken Florentine with wild rice and steamed garden greens', and 'Souffle omelette served with caprese salad' graced our menu last week. I'm nothing if not a proficient cook! BUT, I only got to be so, through not having to devote time to an external career.
I feel good about my week.
How about you?

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Five Star Frugal Linkup #5...

Mimi's Savings Secrets....the way to a Mans Heart is through....

My Mum always said that the way to a mans heart is through his stomach. I'm not sure she was entirely on the money there....hehehe....but food sure figures largely in our lives after 18 years of wedded bliss!
One of the Musician Husbands most favourite things, is my Onion Confit.
It's a much loved family favourite and we adore it on baguette with soft cheese, with meats and roasts of all kinds, on a Ploughmans platter, with crackers on a cheese board, or with oven roasted salmon.
Cooking it is a special guilty pleasure as it scents the house with the most amazing earthy aromas.
Buy up onions of any kind when they're cheap and do big batches of this to keep on hand for blokey gifts for husbands, partners, brothers and Dads. They all love it. Mind you, so do the wives, sisters and Mums!

You need 4 decent sized (about 250gm) washed and sterilized jars for this amount.

Note: you can also prepare this in the slow cooker, by adding 125gms of butter to encourage caramelising, but it does render a slightly softer and not quite as aromatic, result. Given the choice I'd do it on the stovetop. In my older slow cooker, six hours on high and six on low was about right.

1 kg onions. Different onions give a different result.
Try red, eschallots, pickling onions or brown ones.
2 tablespoons oil
250 gms sugar
300 mls vinegar (different vinegars will also give a slightly different result in colour and flavour, so try balsamic, white, apple cider, sherry or even red or white wine or sparkling wine)
3 tablespoons honey or golden syrup
1/2 teaspoon each nutmeg and cinnamon
2 whole cloves
1 teaspoon each salt and pepper

Peel and slice the onions thinly. A mandolin slicer will make very quick work of this step.

Heat a large frypan over a medium heat and slow cook the onion until it's limp, about 5 minutes.

Add the other ingredients and mix well.

Reduce the heat to very low and simmer, stirring regulary to prevent sticking for one hour.

Cover the pan and continue to cook over a very low heat for a minimum of 45 minutes but up to several hours depending upon the depth of flavour and the consistency you're after, stirring regularly. I have simmered mine virtually all day on a very very low heat, and after 10-12 hours, they are divine.

The confit is ready when there is no liquid, and the onion has been reduced to a chunky paste.

Spoon into sterilised jars and refrigerate.

Gift on it's own, or in a basket with crackers, a sharp cheese and a good port or whisky.

Keeps for up to six months. That's if your Valentine doesn't scoff it all this weekend!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Mimi's Savings Secrets....keepsake jewellery...

Does anyone but me have a jewellery fetish?

I love my jewellery. Real and costume. I wear it all. Not all at once, but I wear different things every day, and love them equally. I have inherited pieces, gifted pieces, things I bought myself when I was younger. My affection for different pieces never wanes, and I always wear at least two including my wedding rings (although I have different versions of those too!), but never more than four.

Today I am wearing an antique French Georgian pendant that my husband gifted me. It is jet and seed pearls set in gold, and has a matching pinky ring.

Yesterday, I wore a pear shaped crystal pendant set in gold, also a gift, with tiny gold stud earrings. So I don't mind a bit of fake bling when the mood takes me either!

We were taught from an early age to appreciate beautiful things. My first real jewellery, like many girls of my era, was a gold ID bracelet with a bluebird of happiness on it. A matching pendant was added later, and a signet ring in my teens. These were expensive even back then, and goodness knows how Mum, with seven children, could afford it. But perhaps it was because we didn't have the discount costume jewellers and so on, and we only wore those genuine pieces, not the showy stuff. She possibly layby-ed them with the same family jeweller at which we shopped for many years, and which sadly, no longer exists. Knowing Mum, she paid them off gradually over many months.

My daughter, now 15 has a couple of genuine pieces. A tiny gold cross on a very delicate chain (also from my Mum who was still alive then....a christening gift), a tiny pair of rose gold huggie earrings which she wears daily, and an opal ring that we gave her for her birthday this year. This was purchased as a memento of her Poppy who used to mine opals in his younger days, and who would have left her one in his will, had he not been burgled shortly before he passed away.

The point is, that 'good' jewellery for me, is all tied up in memories. I'd like it to be the same for my daughter and grandaughters. I'm gifting my daughter a piece that was Mums for Valentines Day. It's a tiny pearl pendant set in gold. She can re-use the chain that's currently on her cross to wear it. Mum would love that.

It's my older granddaughters third birthday on Sunday. She's getting a bluebird bracelet, just like the one I had at her age. I hope she'll treasure it for many years.

So I guess my question is, do you value these more expensive items too? They're all important to me, not for their financial value, but for their sentimental value. I love antique jewellery for the same reason and it's a cost effective alternative to the shiny stuff in the shopping malls. I love that someone else has worn and loved that piece as much as I do.

This Valentines Day, think about gifting something special, something that has memories attached to it, and that has the potential to hold your own memories for you to pass on to precious ones in your own family. Check out antique dealers, pawnbrokers, and private sellers on eBay or Etsy. Even better, ask within your own family whether there may be a special much loved piece that is worthy of being passed down. You might be thrilled at what you can find, that's pre-owned and pre-loved.

After all, what price can you put on 'sentiment'?
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Monday, February 9, 2015

Mimi's Savings Secrets.....Insourcing tally for the week....

Photo credit: Pixabay

I'm encouraging you to insource as much as possible this year.

DIY is good. It saves money and time. It gives you a sense of satisfaction. It makes you believe in yourself and your capabilities. When my Nanna and Grandpa needed something fixed, they did it themselves. I'm trying to emulate them and their can-do outlook on life, because finally, of course, it can save you lots and lots of lovely money!

How much money, you might ask? Well, here's an example.

This last week, I insourced the following:

Washing machine repair (the filter was clogged) saving $150 in callout fee + repairs.

Manicure and Pedicure saving $70.

Baking for school lunches and packing a healthy lunch for my daughter every day saving up to $100 in equivalent food from the school canteen.

Homemade Fish burgers saving at least $15.

Homemade spicy chicken fillets saving at least $20.

Purchase of portion controlled meal containers at half price from Woolworths saving $550 on a months worth of LitenEasy to remind me of what a 'portion size' looks like!

Walked twice a day for 30 minutes each time saving $65 a month on a gym membership.

Used a Fat Blaster chocolate shake (which I don't like doing but which I finally acknowledge is a great way to lose a bit of weight quickly to keep my motivation up), for a week. It was on special at $14.99, I've made it up with half whole milk, half water instead of skim milk, eaten lots of salad and veg (which I prefer to fruit), drank water, taken my vitamins and am happy to report that in conjunction with the walking, I've lost 2.2 kgs. 17.8 to go before we head off on our cruise in Mid June. That's under a kilo a week, so I think I'll be fine.

Trimmed, conditioned and did a toning treatment on my hair saving $100.

A grand total of.....$1085!!! Just by making 'DIY' my first port of call, rather than outsourcing things that I know others would not think twice about! Granted, the LitenEasy total would have been for three weeks, but only for myself, so I figured it was fair to include the total, considering I would have still been shopping for The Diva, The Musician Husband and The Dog :)

I'm VERY happy with that week!
I'll be sharing recipes for my lunch box fillers, my spicy chicken fillets and my super delish fish burgers over the next few days, so stay tuned!

Meanwhile, please share your insourcing for the week. I'd love to hear from you.