frugal

Beneficial beans

Beans and pulses can be super cheap and a great way to increase fibre and protein in your diet. Due to the high protein content they are very filling, even for those members of the family who may baulk at the idea of a meat-free meal. They are also high in iron, although it is nonheme iron so it requires vitamin C to be absorbed properly. This is easy enough to do by including a fruit or vegetable high in vitamin C such as lemon or capscicum (bell peppers) in the dish. I’m currently anaemic due to my late stage of pregnancy and I’ve been increasing the amount of beans and pulses in our meals as there is only so much meat I can eat (and afford to eat!).

Soaked beans

I prefer to buy my beans dried. They are usually cheaper this way and it means I can store and prepare them the way I like. As I rarely drive they’re also easier to carry home- much lighter than a bunch of cans! If you are planning on using dried beans I cannot stress how important it is to soak them overnight! Soaking prevents that unpleasant gas and bloating effect that one can experience from eating beans (it’s one of the big reasons I like to prepare them myself as I find canned beans can produce discomfort). It also reduces the cooking time. If beans aren’t something you regularly include in your diet it’s also worth building up the amount you consume slowly, to allow your gut to adjust to the increase in fibre.

Bean packet

Rinsed beans

Beans in pressure cooker

I used to just prepare the amount of beans I needed for a recipe however I finally figured out it’s more effective to prepare a whole batch at once. I soak the whole packet over night, rinse the next morning, then pop in the pressure cooker with fresh water. It’s actually a very quick process. It only takes a minute to pour the dried beans into a bowl and cover with water before you go to bed, rinsing takes seconds, and the pressure cooker makes cooking super quick. Once they’re cooked I set aside the beans I need for my recipe that day, the rest I freeze in recipe sized portions (usually about a cup). This saves time and energy (gas used by the stove and electricity used by the freezer as a full freezer operates more efficiently) which equals dollars in my pocket!

I love having beans on hand in the freezer to toss into all sorts of meals to bulk things up. What’s your favourite meal using beans or pulses?

 

The Obliging Op Shop

One of the most expensive aspects of parenthood is clothing constantly growing children. Purchasing (or making) good quality clothing ensures it will last for more than one season and child but the costs can still be extravagant. At the beginning of each season I visit a couple of op shops (opportunity shops, also known as thrift shops overseas) to put together a wardrobe for my daughter. The op shops usually oblige with sturdy items that have been outgrown before they were worn out. I have an aversion to the sickly pink that tends to smother the girls section but beautiful and quirky items always turn up. Many still have the original tags attached- unwanted gifts or thoughtless purchases that were never needed. Plain basics such as leggings and singlets are often harder to come by, perhaps because they are worn out completely, and these I source from the usual channels.

Today I popped into a local St Vincent De Paul shop for a quick browse of their kids’ section. Although I only do two big shops a year I find a quick browse when I pass by an op shop often turns up great pieces one would otherwise miss. Today was just such a day.

Opshop

The haul:
Woollen cardigan with country scene (including sheep- my daughter loves sheep!) $8
Denim overall/pinafore dress $5
Floral corduroy dress $3
White kaftan-style top with blue embroidery (never been worn, new with tags) $4
Pink bangle with strawberries $3

I also picked up a lovely peach bangle for myself for $4. It matches a pair of earrings I already own perfectly.

A pretty good bag of bargains if I do say so myself! I’m hoping the new bangle will mean my darling daughter will stop “borrowing” mine and the new additions to her wardrobe will certainly extend its wear. Apart from the cardigan the other pieces are rather trans-seasonal. They can be warmed up with long sleeved tops and leggings/stockings in winter and in warmer weather worn on their own, or with short sleeved tops, and bare legs/shorts.

The other wonderful aspect of op shopping is the environmental benefit. It is so much better to reuse what is already out there before purchasing something new. It saves resources and energy and challenges our preoccupation with having the newest and best.

Do you frequent your local op shops? What are the best bargains you have discovered?

Midweek Meals- Pressure Cooker Risotto

Risotto is a great winter meal. You only need one pot, some arborio rice, stock or broth, and whatever flavourings you like. What makes this dish extra easy is a pressure cooker. Seriously. The first time I made risotto in the pressure cooker I was dumbfounded. Then I got on the phone and called my Mum because I just had to share how amazing this was. It was so easy and so quick! No stirring. No watching like a hawk. Ingredients go in, lid goes on, seven minutes later you have perfectly cooked risotto. That’s right, SEVEN MINUTES! Who knew?!

Ingredients:

1 cup arborio rice
2 cups stock
1 onion diced or 1 leek sliced
Olive oil and a knob of butter
Parmesan cheese
Salt & pepper

Method:

  1. Heat the butter and olive oil in the pressure cooker
  2. Add the onion/leek and cook until translucent
  3. Add the rice and and stir to coat, cooking until the rice changes colour
  4. Add the stock, stirring quickly to deglaze the pan, then put the lid on
  5. Once the cooker has reached the appropriate pressure (high) cook for 7 minutes
  6. Once the time is up remove the lid and stir to allow any excess liquid to evaporate if needed
  7. Grate some parmesan into the pot and add salt & pepper to taste

Variations:

  • Increase/decrease the recipe using the ratio of 1 cup rice : 2 cups stock
  • Replace half a cup of  stock with white wine (use this to deglaze before adding the rest of the liquid)
  • Add protein such as chicken or bacon when you cook the onion/leek
  • Add any veggies you like, such as mushroom, pumpkin, peas etc.

leek

sliced mushrooms

leek, mushrooms, bacon

add the rice

Stock goes in

After 7 minutes

parmesan

give it a stir

Pressure Cooker Risotto

Risotto is a bit like soup in that you can use up whatever veggies and protein you have lying around and you bulk it up with the rice. This makes it very cost effective, which is great for those of us on a budget! Have you noticed most of my recent posts have been about food? Sorry about that. I think it’s the pregnancy- I’m obsessed with food! I’ll get onto something different next post, I promise!

Midweek Meals- Perfect pakoras

Being pregnant I crave all sorts of food and become repelled by certain things just as easily. Last night it was meat, I couldn’t stand the thought of eating it for dinner so a vegetarian meal was on the cards. I hadn’t planned for this of course so I had to make do with what was in the house. A quick glance in the vegetable crisper confirmed my worst fears- it was rather lacking in enticing veggies with only a single cob of corn, a quarter of red cabbage, and a lonely cucumber. There are few recipes based on a single veggie but happily I had recently seen a program featuring pakoras, this was my chance to give them a go!

I decided to make the corn the feature of the pakora and bulked it up with some frozen corn & peas from the freezer.

Pakoras

Ingredients:
150g Besan flour (chickpea flour)
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp tumeric
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
Corn
Spring onion (or in this case red onion as that’s all I had!)

Method:

  • Mix dry ingredients together
  • Add water mixing quickly (it will fizz a little) until you get the texture of thick cream
  • Add vegetables to the batter (corn kernels and finely diced red onion)
  • Fry in oil (I used coconut)
  • Sprinkle with chopped coriander leaves

pakoras

I served with a raita to dip the pakoras in (homemade natural yoghurt, grated cucumber, crushed garlic, and salt), cabbage salad (shredded cabbage and mint leaves), homemade mango chutney, brown sesame rice, and spiced chickpeas (recipe below). What started off looking like a bare cupboard ended up producing a delicious and generous meal! Bonus- it was oh so cheap!

Spiced Chickpeas

Ingredients:
Cumin seeds
Carroway seeds
Coriander seeds
Chickpeas (from a can or cooked from dried)

Method:

  • Toast the seeds in a dry skillet then crush in a mortar and pestle
  • Add chickpeas to the skillet and a little oil or butter and toss with spices to combine

 

Mushroom Foraging

My oh my, it’s been a while since I last posted! A series of unfortunate events (including the death of my rather old and beloved computer) and a rather excellent event (falling pregnant with our second child) have prevented me from posting but now I’m back and blogging and hopefully you, my lovely readers, will forgive my absence 🙂

I thought it would be nice to get back on the downshifting wagon by getting back to basics and it doesn’t get more basic than foraging! Foraging is even easier than growing your own fruit or veggies because mother nature has done all the work for you, all you’ve got to do is show up ready to reap the delicious bounty!

When I was a little girl we would visit my Nan and the rest of my Mum’s family each Easter. They live out in central west New South Wales and one of my earliest memories is troops of cousins, Aunts, and Uncles piling into various vehicles, driving out to someone’s property, and collecting the wild field mushrooms that had sprung up after the Easter rains. My sister and I were reminiscing the other day and she recalled being given a cute little basket in which to collect her mushrooms whilst holding Nan’s hand, as she was one of the youngest. I had to do with an old plastic ice-cream container. Go figure.

So back to my more recent mushroom foraging adventure. As I’m located in Sydney wild field mushrooms aren’t that easy to come across and more importantly my Nan is still an eight hours drive away so unable to oversee my mushroom identification. I find it’s always best to learn foraging skills and knowledge from someone standing next to you. The wonders of YouTube and Wikipedia can only take you so far. Luckily for me the rather amusing Diego from Wild Stories runs pine mushroom foraging workshops from Sydney each year. There were multiple benefits to me taking this course:

  1. pine mushrooms were not something anyone in my family was familiar with as they are not native to Australia so it would increase our collective knowledge rather than duplicate it
  2. they are very distinctive so I knew I would be confident foraging alone after completing the course
  3. they are found close enough to home (the State Forest) that I would actually be able to make use of my new skills, and
  4. pine mushrooms are crazy expensive to buy at farmers’ markets etc so the course would pay for itself after the first or second forage.

The day started bright and early in Enmore as our small group clambered into a minibus and headed down south to the State Forest. At our first stop Diego explained exactly what we were looking for (Lactarius deliciosus or Saffron milk caps and Suillus luteus or slippery jacks), where to find them, and how to collect them. Some interesting points included the use of baskets (for spore distribution rather than aesthetics- though it is rather quaint to stroll around the forest with a basket), and how to cut the mushroom off at the stalk leaving the base to help generate more mushrooms. As mother nature provides the free bounty it’s up to us to collect and share it responsibly. We then collected some of the mushrooms in the area and came together to share what we had found. The vast majority were inedible and it was very valuable to be able to compare those we were aiming to collect (pine mushrooms) to those we were avoiding (everything else, see photos of amazing but unsafe and in some cases hallucinogenic fungi below). Then it was off to another two locations to seek our prey.

donteat1

donteat2

donteat3

donteat4

donteat5

It was so peaceful walking through the forest, the grass and air still heavy with moisture from the morning dew. It was almost intrinsic scanning the forest floor and gathering the copper fungus. It felt wholesome. I felt centred.

Forest

Soon I would also feel full as Diego lit a fire and demonstrated a hearty mushroom meal cooked on the woodfired BBQ. The pine mushrooms were wiped clean of any debris, sliced, and tossed with a little garlic and fresh rosemary. The BBQ was given a liberal splash of olive oil and those beautiful ochre morsels sizzled away. Served simply on paper plates (later added to the fire to help it along in the drizzly rain) with a slice of fresh bread we were happy with our reward for a morning’s forage.

BBQ

Reward

Soon after we piled back on the bus to Sydney and before I knew it I was back home cleaning and preparing my remaining saffron milk caps. I cleaned with the aid of a cloth and a pastry brush (perfect for flicking out any bits of dirt from the gills), then sliced and cooked in batches in my cast iron skillet. I added olive oil and garlic but not too many herbs as I froze most in small serving sizes for later use in various recipes (apparently the best way to keep them as they don’t store well).

haul

pinemushroom

range

The mushrooms start small and round with the edges curled under then open up as they grow older. You don’t want them once they’re too large as they’re not as flavoursome. You’ll also notice they bruise easily when handled and the bruises are green!

babies

cleaning

saffrommilk

You can see why they’re called saffron milk caps! The colour of their milk or sap is bright orange when freshly cut. It stains your fingers too.

gills

cooking

The last big batch served on top of creamy polenta for dinner. So delicious!

polenta

Natural air freshener DIY

Natural Air Freshener

The key to a fresh smelling house is ventilation, keeps those windows open people! Sometimes you want to add a little extra fragrance though, for a special occasion or just to lift the mood. Here’s how you can do so without resorting to chemical-filled cans or plug-ins. The bonus is you can make it ahead of time and simply heat when the time comes to use it!

Natural air freshener DIY

All you need is a jar, water, and whatever smells good to you! I included citrus peel, a sprig of lavender, a rose geranium leaf, dried liquorice root, and a couple of drops of essential oil. Crush the botanicals a little to release their fragrance, pop them in the jar, top up with water and add any essential oil you fancy. You can keep it in the fridge for about a week and heat it up multiple times. I simply pop the jar in a bowl of hot water (I usually make myself a cup of tea and the leftover boiling water gets put to this use) and once nice and warm remove the lid. If you have a microwave you could give it a quick zap, minus the lid of course!

It’s lovely to enjoy the beautiful scent permeating your home knowing there’s nothing sinister accompanying the fragrance. Due to the nature of sourcing the scents (flowers, fruits etc) your air freshener will almost aways be seasonally appropriate which I really love. That and the practically non-existant cost!