Just over two years ago I gave up my job in the city to be a stay at home Mum. It was not an easy decision to make as I have always loved my work but with rising child care costs, extortionate travel costs and the stress of trying to work full time and look after a young family we knew we had to make some changes to our lifestyle. Without a doubt the decision to stay at home has been the right one but, and it is a big but, the financial implications have been hard. My children are happy and love having their Mum around and both are blissfully unaware of the constant budgeting, re budgeting, planning and worry that goes with being on a tight budget. It has been easy to cut out the restaurant meals, trips to the movies, overseas holidays and replace them with cheaper alternatives but what I really try hard not to compromise on is good, home cooked meals. I may not be able to use the best cuts of meat anymore or to try out all the new exotic fruit and veg that is now so readily available but if you look around, there are always cheaper alternatives which can often be just as tasty and are probably more local and in season. It was while I was going through my pile of recipe cuttings that I found this recipe for Sausage Stroganoff. I have no idea where it originates from but has probably been pulled out of one of my South African magazines from about 15 years ago. It is a much cheaper alternative to the original beef or pork stroganoffs. I buy good quality sausages which contain over 85% pork at a cost of £2.50 and can easily feed the four of us. It is simple, quick, cheap and tasty – definitely worth a try.
I have lived in the UK for 14 years now and every year I am in awe of the generosity of the people who live on this island when it comes to giving charity for projects both at home and abroad. Comic Relief is a major charity based in the UK which strives to create a just world free from poverty and has raised a staggering £800 million since its inception in 1985. I was brought up in Africa and can honestly say that we were never encouraged as children to think about giving for charity. Quite sad when you think that Africa is on the receiving end of so much charity raised in other countries. On the contrary, children in this country are made aware of donating to charity from their early nursery year’s right through their school lives. Part of the Comic Relief campaign is Red Nose Day which falls on 15th March. The idea is simple – everyone has a laugh whilst raising money to help change countless lives across the UK and Africa. The children are allowed to dress up tomorrow and have been asked to make some cakes for the cake sale. We decided to make some truffles and decorate them with funny faces and a big red nose. The kids had lots of messy fun and I did a lot of cleaning up.
To make these Red Nose Day cake pops for the school cake sale we used this recipe for chocolate truffle balls. I found a pack of sticks and cellophane wrappers at Hobbycraft. The eyes are sugar balls which I had bought previously from my local supermarket, the noses are smarties and the mouths and pupils were done by using small tubes of readymade icing.
And here they are all packaged up and ready for the cake sale.
Most of my cooking and baking is done out of necessity. The usual healthy mid-week meals, the occasional school bake and the odd treat thrown in here and there. What I have allowed myself is one day a week to ‘play’ in the kitchen. To cook something that doesn’t necessarily fall into any of the above categories but to try something new because I will learn from it or because something just simply catches my eye. One such recipe is this one for marshmallows.
They just looked so pretty that I couldn’t resist.
Elizabeth over at Elizabeth’s Kitchen has challenged us to blog about recipes using up eggs. I wanted to try something a bit different to the obvious Pavlova and my egg white chocolate mousse was styled very much for Valentine’s Day so I didn’t want to enter that. Low and behold I discovered marshmallows can be made using egg whites. I am very diligent when it comes to freezing my egg whites in ice cube trays and have many a bag of them in my freezer but have never actually used any for cooking. What a good excuse to try them out. I measured everything out and was all set to go but my egg whites were frozen and I didn’t have the patience to wait for them to defrost. I thought a quick 30 seconds in the microwave would sort them out but ended up with cooked eggs. Another two egg whites came out the freezer and this time I placed them in a dish over some boiling water and within a couple of minutes they had defrosted. Lesson learnt – do not defrost egg whites in the microwave!! The sugar syrup was as hair raising as usual when you have small kids running around the kitchen. I used a sugar thermometer for the first time and would definitely recommend buying one as it takes all the guesswork out of boiling sugar. I also have a stand mixer which makes the process much easier as you can leave the egg whites to whisk away while you keep an eye on the sugar syrup. The whole process was fun but extremely messy and the outcome was delicious. They are pretty, soft and fluffy and much nicer than the shop bought ones but the unbelievable amount of sugar involved would probably put me off making them again. Well maybe just one more time …. Oh, and the frozen egg whites whisked beautifully.
25g powder gelatine (I used 2 sachets of Dr Oetker)
125 ml hot water
500g granulated sugar
250 ml water
Pink food colouring
Sift the icing sugar and cornflour into a bowl.
Lightly oil a 22cm x 22cm cake tin and dust completely with the icing sugar mixture. Reserve any left over for dusting the finished marshmallows.
Place the egg whites in a stainless steel bowl and whisk until stiff peaks. Set aside
Dissolve the gelatine in the 125 ml hot (not boiling) water. Set aside
Place the granulated sugar and 250ml water in a heavy based pan and heat gently until all the sugar has dissolved. Turn the heat up and fast boil until you reach a temperature of 260° F or hard ball stage.
Take the sugar syrup off the heat and add the dissolved gelatine mixture and stir until well combined. The mixture will froth up initially but with continued stirring will settle down again.
Add the sugar syrup mixture to your beaten egg whites taking care as the syrup is extremely hot.
Continue to beat the egg whites, adding your food colouring bit by bit, until the mixture becomes thick and fluffy but is still pourable.
Pour into your prepared tin and leave to set for a couple of hours in a cool place (not the fridge).
I found the easiest way to cut into pieces was to use kitchen scissors while still in the tin. Each piece should then pull out easily.
My kids eat a lot of fruit. 3 kgs of grapes, 1kg of blueberries, 16 plums, 12 apples, 6 bananas, 4 pears, 2 punnets of strawberries and a couple of oranges – and that’s just in a week! The first thing people say (apart from our dentist) when you tell them is “you’re so lucky,” and I agree but it is so, so expensive. And as much as they love fruit it has to be the freshest, crispiest, crunchiest fruit that you can buy, so no bargain buys for me. The problem I had this week was that a lot of the blueberries were a bit squishy and I have to admit that even I struggle with soft, squishy blueberries but at £4 a punnet I have to find a way to use them up. I don’t necessarily want to turn them into a sugar and fat laden dessert just for the sake of using them up so the healthiest option for me are these blueberry and orange muffins I found in Annie Bell’s Baking Bible. The kids still refuse to eat them because of the squishy blueberries but they are the perfect snack for me together with my much loved daily cup of coffee. There is no butter in them and I have used a blend of sugar and stevia to cut down the sugar content and of course my favourite ingredient of the moment is the delicious seeded spelt flour from Sharpham Park. These muffins are not necessarily frugal if you have to go out and buy the ingredients but if like me you have some over ripe fruit to use up then it is preferable to throwing the fruit out.
These muffins are deliciously moist and stay fresh for a few days and like most muffins will freeze really well.