30 December 2010

Three Ways to Make Food Last

Australians waste around $5.2 billion of food each year! No wonder our grocery bills are so high. Here are three simple ways to  keep common kitchen ingredients last  until you use them, saving you money, time and energy and stopping the waste.

Keeping garlic
To keep your fresh garlic for an extended period of time, peel and place the cloves into a glass jar. Pour olive oil over them and put the lid on top. Store it in refrigerator until you're ready to use it.  The oil can be used in salad dressings for a lovely, mild flavour and baked potatoes become something special if they are rolled in the flavoured oil before going into the oven.

Say goodbye to green cheese
Keep your cheese from growing mould by soaking a paper towel (or cheesecloth if you have one) in white vinegar. After opening, wrap the damp paper towel around the cheese before putting it in a plastic bag. This really extends the shelf life of your cheese.

Tasty crumbs
I save the crumbs at the bottom of cereal, cracker or chip bags and put them into a plastic  container. Later, I use these crumbs when making shake'n'bake, meatballs, hamburgers or meatloaf.

29 December 2010

The Dream Spending Plan

Everyone knows we need a Spending Plan for all essential items (bills, mortgage, insurance, minimum amount for clothes, groceries and a little bit for fun etc) so we can keep track of incomings and outgoings (and hopefully the incoming is less than the outgoing).  Once you have that up and running, create a "Dream" category in your Spending Plan for those things on your dream or wish list. You know, the things like that new lounge suite or the family trip to Disneyland you have always wanted.  Make sure you add to your Dream Spending Plan every pay day, even if it is just $5. We all have dreams, having a Dream Spending Plan helps us to stay focussed on our Spending Plan and our dreams.

28 December 2010

Rhubarb Delight

This is a lovely way to use rhubarb, especially in summer.

1 tbsp flaked almonds, toasted
1 bunch rhubarb, washed and cut into 2cm slices
1/2 cup orange juice
250g low fat ricotta cheese
1 cup natural non-fat yoghurt

Place orange juice and rhubarb in a medium saucepan and cook for 10-15 minutes, until rhubarb is soft.  Allow to cool. Beat ricotta cheese until smooth in a food processor or electric mixer. Add rhubarb and beat until thoroughly combined and mixture is an even pink in colour. Swirl yoghurt through rhubarb mixture and place in serving dishes.  Chill for several hours. Top with flaked toasted almonds just before serving.

27 December 2010

Recycled Card Coasters

Christmas is over, but don't feel guilty about throwing away all the lovely Christmas cards you've received. Get a little crafty and turn them into coasters to use for next year's Christmas parties or this summer's barbecues.

You will need:
Old Christmas cards (the coaster fronts)
Plain coloured paper (the coaster backs)
A drinking glass with a large base
A pencil
Glue stick or liquid glue
Laminator and laminating sheets or clear contact

What to do:
1. Place the drinking glass on top of the first Christmas card, and move it around until you like the image contained within the glass.
2. Then, trace around the glass with a pencil.
3. Cut out the circle, and set aside.
4. Repeat until you've created your desired number of coasters.
5. Use the glass to trace the required number of backing papers from the coloured paper. Cut out.
6. Place a picture onto a piece of coloured paper. Hold in place with a dab of glue.
7. Laminate or apply contact paper to each one.
8. Carefully trim around each coaster, leaving a 5mm edge between the coaster and the cutting line.
1. The verses and messages inside cards also make attractive coasters.
2. Use pinking shears or other fancy scissors to cut the picture out for a fancy edge.

24 December 2010

A Christmas morning treasure hunt

If your Christmas morning is a ten minute blur of frenzied wrapping paper ripping early in the morning, extend the fun and have a present treasure hunt instead. Let Santa hide the gifts and leave clues so the kids have to hunt for their gifts. The treasure hunt and the fun last the whole day by adding an extra task to each clue. For example the first clue leads to the first present and the second clue, part of which is having breakfast before looking for the next present and so on.

23 December 2010

Keep the Christmas Magic Alive

This cute idea is fun for your little ones on Christmas Eve. Let them put the reindeer food out just before bedtime.   All you need are some paper bags (brown paper lunch bags are ideal), some glitter (from a $2 shop), rolled oats and packing peanuts (if you have them, otherwise leave them out).  They are really quick to put together and cost just a few cents each to make and they keep the magic of Christmas alive for us all.

Reindeer Food
On a paper bag, write the poem and the instructions. Then mix some glitter with rolled oats to make the magic reindeer food and put it into the bag. Tie it off with a ribbon.

Tis' the night before Christmas
and since every year,
You feed Santa Claus,
now feed his reindeer!

1. Wait until Christmas Eve
2. Open bag and sprinkle reindeer food on the lawn.
3. Hop into bed!
4. Shhhhh!!! Listen for Santa!
5. Close your eyes tight!


Enough Reindeer food for eight tiny reindeer!

22 December 2010

Need a last minute Christmas gift?

Make a contribution to a charity in the name of your recipient. The organization will send out a gift card or email announcing your generosity. Any amount is appreciated however the exact amount of your donation is not typically disclosed. Try www.usefulgifts.org or worldvision.com.au if you are stuck for ideas.

21 December 2010

Cherry Ripe Truffles

200ml sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2tsp cherry flavouring
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup icing sugar, sifted
300g  shredded coconut
350g red glace cherries, diced finely
1/2 cup desiccated coconut for rolling
450g dark chocolate

Line a 23cm x 33cm (9 x13-inch) slice  pan with baking paper.  Combine condensed milk, cherry flavouring, vanilla extract, and salt in a bowl.  Add icing sugar and stir with a wooden spoon until fully incorporated.  Add shredded coconut and glace cherries and stir until combined.  Chill mixture in refrigerator for 1 hour. Take 1 teaspoon of mixture at a time and roll into balls, then roll in  desiccated coconut. Line a cookie tray with baking paper.  Melt the chocolate and dip the balls into the chocolate, covering completely, and place them on the prepared cookie tray. Refrigerate until set. Store finished balls in the refrigerator.

20 December 2010

Christmas greenery

If you love to decorate with fresh greenery at Christmastime, it can be expensive. Instead go to your local park and collect any fallen greenery or to anywhere they sell fresh Christmas trees and ask for the cuttings and branches that have fallen off the trees.  They may well give them to you, but if the trees are being sold for charity or as a fundraiser for Scouts etc there may be a small charge. And even if they give them to you, in the spirit of Christmas it would be nice to make a small donation. The greenery makes beautiful fresh wreaths and looks lovely tucked into flower arrangements. You could even tuck fresh branches in amongst the branches of your artificial tree to plump it out.

17 December 2010

Creative Gift Tags

Make your own gift tags out of leftover wrapping or scrapbooking papers or last year's Christmas cards. Ok, this is not a new idea, but try punching it up a bit. Add details by layering shapes over the base paper, use paper punches and scalloped scrapbooking scissors (99 cents from Riot Art and Craft) to add style, use a gold calligraphy pen to add names (pack of 3 for $1.98 from BG W). Or use the scalloped scissors to make old holiday cards into tags. Cut the tags into Christmas shapes by tracing around Christmas themed cookie cutters and cutting out. Add some sparkle by brushing the tags with PVA glue (PVA glue dries clear) and sprinkling with glitter. Do this over a sheet of paper so you can catch the excess glitter and pour it back into the jar, rather than spreading it all over the house.

16 December 2010

Load Up on the Loss Leaders

A loss leader is an item sold at a very low price to encourage you to buy, buy, buy. You'll usually find them in those lovely displays at the end of each aisle, facing the front of the store where you walk in. Retailers run loss leaders in the hope that you'll pick them up and be encouraged to buy the full priced items that complement the cheaper item to cover the "loss".  Be strong. If the loss leader is something you use and you have the money in your grocery budget or grocery slush fund to pay for it then go ahead. I'd even suggest you buy enough to last you six months or even a year if it has a long shelf life. Just remember, you are only buying the item on sale, ignore the others. They'll come on sale eventually and you'll be able to stock up on those at rock bottom prices too.

15 December 2010

Beautiful Gift Boxes

Cereal boxes make great gift boxes. Simply spray them with coloured paint (gold, silver, red or dark green for Christmas) and use them as gift boxes. You can also use cracker boxes, soap powder boxes etc. If you take a lot of medication, you can save the small boxes your tablets come in to use for small gifts such as jewellery.

14 December 2010


This recipes comes from one of Mum's friends, Henny. She always made these cookies at Christmas time and served them to us with a huge glass of icy cold milk when we would visit. They are one of my favourite childhood Christmas memories and worth the effort of making, as they are so much nicer than the bought speculaas.

2 cups SR flour
pinch salt
1 cup dark brown sugar (I just use brown sugar)
2 tsp Dutch cinnamon (or just cinnamon)
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ground cloves
125g unsalted butter
3 tbsp milk

Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Combine flour, salt, sugar and spices in large bowl, Rub butter in with fingertips. Add milk slowly and mix to a soft dough. Knead well. Cover bowl with Gladwrap and let the dough rest in the fridge for an hour. After resting time, roll dough into a rectangle about 5mm thick. Use cookie cutters to cut biscuits from dough. Place biscuits on a baking paper lined cookie sheet and bake 25 minutes, until golden brown. Let rest on tray 1 minute before moving to a wire rack to cool.

Saving Money is Easy! hits the shops

It's in store from today, my new book Saving Money is Easy!
You'll find it at ABC Shops and Centres and all good book stores around the country

12 December 2010

Orange skins and drink bottles

The wet, warm weather has brought slaters out in gardens all over the country and they are doing their best to eat every plant in sight. Here are two simple ideas that will help you control the slater invasion of your garden.

Orange Peel Bug Catchers
Citrus skins - put them upside down around the garden and catch slaters - then feed to chooks or throw out. 

Fix a Slater Problem
If you don't want to use insecticides in your garden, surround seedlings with either a milk carton or small plastic drink bottle that has had both the top and bottom removed to form a barrier between the slaters and seedlings until they are a little more advanced. This will also act as a wind barrier and frost protector during colder winter months.

11 December 2010

Fun things to do this Christmas

* Wait until dark and go for a walk around your neighbourhood to see all the Christmas lights.

* Attend the Carols by Candlelight at your local school, even if you don't have children there.

* Check with your local church for their holiday program. Many churches will have recitals and carols during the lead-up to Christmas and this is a lovely way to celebrate and be involved with your community.

* Go to midnight service on Christmas Eve, then come home and let everyone open one gift before going to bed.

* Have a Christmas movie marathon and watch one Christmas movie a night. Some favourites are Miracle on 34th Street (the original in black and white and the remake), It's a Wonderful Life, Holiday Inn (White Christmas) and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (for a little off-beat humour).

* If you have little children, let them bake and decorate a special cookie or cup cake to leave for Santa on Christmas Eve. And don't forget the carrot for Rudolph!

* Turn the TV off, gather the family around and read a different Christmas story every night, ending with the second chapter of Luke from the Bible, on Christmas Eve.

* Start a new tradition and only play Christmas music in the car during December. It's a great way to teach kids favourite Christmas carols and for you to learn some of the newer songs. Christmas CDs can be bought from dollar stores and come in a great variety.

10 December 2010

Can you guess what my week has been like?

Just take a look at the mess on my desk! On Monday morning it was as clear and tidy as it normally is.

Then life and work happened and it's been downhill for that poor desk ever since.  Thank goodness I use a laptop or it would be even worse.

So my job for the weekend is to get my desk back to normal because I just don't function properly in a mess. The books can go back onto the bookshelves. The filing can be done. All the pens can go back into the drawer. So can the stapler. The samples for upcoming Journals and How Tos can go into the sample cupboard where they belong. I can put my camera away. And that can of hairspray can go back into the bathroom (I can't even remember what I used it for now).

I know it won't take long to get everything back in order, 30 minutes at the most. And I know that once I start it will be a breeze. I also know that when I've finished and can sit at my desk to work again, I'll be motivated to get stuck in and get things done and I'll be very happy.

So why have I let it get to this stage? Yes, I've been very busy this past week. Radio interviews and a couple of newspaper interviews took some time. I've had three editorial meetings to nut out 2011 for the Cheapskates Club along with a couple of other business meetings. I've had articles to write and a brain-storming session for a series for 2011.

We have had school meetings, Hannah's awards night (did I tell you she won four awards - three distinctions and an award for effort), the usual school runs and other bits and bobs.

If I had just dealt with everything as it came in and put things away when I had finished with them then my desk would never have become an overwhelming mess.

Getting into the habit of putting things away, where they came from, is a good habit to develop. It's why my desk is usually tidy and "TV ready" as we say in our house. Most of you like your homes to be visitor ready, here I like it to be "TV ready" because I never know when I'm going to get a call for an interview.

Keeping the house TV ready isn't really that hard. We have a routine of sorts, of daily and weekly chores that need to be done to maintain our home to my standard.  It's a little like Super Shopping, a repetitive routine that keeps everything running smoothly.

My housekeeping schedule is broken down into daily, weekly and monthly tasks. I can rest easy knowing that the whole house is cleaned from top to bottom every week, so normally surprise visitors or TV crews or even overnight guests aren't a problem.

The house is usually visitor ready, not Home Beautiful ready, but I don't need to do a dash and stash when the doorbell rings.

And it's this way because of the routines and because things are usually put away, in the right spot, when we have finished using them.

So off to conquer my desk, I'll post an after picture too, so you can see the difference 30 minutes and actually doing something makes.

Freshen curtains and drapes without dry cleaning

My local dry cleaner charges $20 per drape for cleaning. When you add up how many drapes you have in your home that adds up to a lot of money each year for cleaning.  There is a simple and much more economical way to freshen your fabric curtains and drapes and remove dust and pet hair and you can do it yourself at home.  Take them down and put them into the clothes dryer for ten to fifteen minutes on the cool setting. Remove the curtains promptly and hang them back up immediately to prevent them from wrinkling. They will be fresh and clean and you'll have saved a bundle.  Don't forget to clean out any pet hair and fluff from the dryer lint trap.

09 December 2010

Finish the Christmas Table with Beautiful Serviettes

It's easy to make beautiful cloth serviettes for your Christmas table that don't cost a fortune, but look like you've spent a bundle on them.
  1. Choose a pillowslip in a colour to complement your Christmas table theme (you'll get eight dinner sized serviettes from one pillowslip).
  2. Cut the hem edge off the top of each side of the pillowslip.
  3. Turn the pillowslip inside out and carefully cut the seams off. This will leave you with one long length of fabric.
  4. Fold the fabric in half lengthwise, press with a hot iron. Fold in half lengthways again and press. You should have four neat creases.
  5. Open the length of material out and fold in half widthways. Press.
  6. This will give you your eight serviettes. Carefully cut along the folds.
  7. Measure in 2.5cm from each edge and rule a straight line from corner to corner using tailors chalk or a very light lead pencil.
  8. With your sewing machine on the longest stitch length, and using a matching thread, stitch along each line, turning at each intersection.  If you don't have a sewing machine you can do this by hand, using a small running stitch.
  9. Now form a fringe by pulling the loose threads from each side of your fabric square.

This is the basic instruction to make a simple fabric serviette. You can be creative and use different fabrics or decorate them with fabric paint or embroidery. You can even stitch a folded hem rather than fringing if you wish.

Then to finish the serviettes off, tie each napkin with a length of raffia, ribbon or tinsel to match your table setting. Slip a sprig of evergreen from a Christmas pick into each serviette to add a pretty accent. You can use the little leftovers that have fallen off your Christmas picks over the years for this rather than buying new ones. (Christmas picks are the little bunches of imitation holly and poinsettia used in decorations).

08 December 2010

Stocking Stuffers

Our children aren't really children any more. In fact the boys are both legally adults now and Hannah is quite the grown-up young lady at fifteen.

And yet they still drag out their Christmas stockings on the first of December each year. I made each of the stockings for their first Christmases and they bring back lots and lots of memories. Of little boys and trains, of a tiny baby girl sitting in the arms of her Christmas teddy that was three times her size.

And of the things that went into those stockings. Opening the Christmas stockings on Christmas morning  was the highlight of the day for the kids. Santa filled those stockings with so many good things. There would be Batman undies and socks, Wiggles toothbrushes and toothpaste, lollies, chocolate coins, a brand-new face washer with a picture of their favourite thing at the time, new PJs, coloured pencils and colouring books and lots of other bits and bobs.

Now they are grown-up we skip the Batman socks and Barbie knickers, and they think the Wiggles are a little passé so toothpaste and toothbrushes don't make it into the Christmas stockings anymore.

These days there are chocolate coins (it wouldn't be Christmas without them), little boxes of their favourite cereals, itunes vouchers (bought on sale during the year) and lots of other little things I've collected through the year.

There might be sampler packs of different chocolate drinks or coffee or samples of the latest perfumes and aftershaves, the latest edition of their favourite magazine or even movie tickets.

None of these things costs very much, often, as in the case of the samples, they are free.

Stocking stuffers don't have to be big or expensive.  In fact they should be easy on the budget. There are too many potentially very expensive things marketed as "stocking stuffers" because they are small enough to go into the stockings.  Things like gift cards, ipods, jewellery, DVDs are not stocking stuffers. They are gifts in their own right.

Some ideas for stocking stuffers are:
  • Hair tidies and ribbons
  • The mini chocolate bars (the ones that come in multi packs)
  • Candy canes
  • Christmas tree ornament
  • Craft paints or watercolour set
  • Crayons
  • Coffee, tea or cocoa packets
  • Cookie cutters
  • Deck of playing cards
  • Fashion doll clothes
  • Gel pens
  • Golf balls
  • Small cars
  • Small Lego kits
  • Supa balls
  • Lipstick or lip gloss
  • Lotion
  • Mittens
  • Nail polish
  • Oranges
  • Play-Dough tubs
  • Socks
  • Travel-sized game
  • Wine charms

When you're stuffing the stockings, remember that too many large items and you won't fit everything in, too many small items and the stocking won't be "stuffed". Try to choose a variety of different sized items. Depending on the size of the stocking three or four larger items in plenty, with the gaps filled by the smaller things.

One thing I have always done, and will do again this year, is wrap each item that goes into the stockings. It's a good way to use the wrapping paper scraps and it helps build the excitement on Christmas morning. Even grown-up kids love ripping the wrapping off lots of pressies.

So do you do Christmas stockings? What do you put in them?

Create a Recipe Card Book

This is a great way to recycle printer paper and makes a lovely gift too. When you find a recipe you love, take a photo of the prepared dish. Then copy the recipe onto used printer paper that is printed on one side. Adjust the print settings to 4" x 6" (10 x 15cm). Then cut the recipe, method and credit (so you know where it comes from) out and glue onto a photo of the prepared dish. Slip each photo into a photo album from a discount dollar store. These make lovely gifts for family and friends. We have even made them for Hannah's Home Ec teacher, using the recipes she taught through the year.

07 December 2010

Homemade Raffaello Truffles

The Cheapskates Club forum has been buzzing with lots of talk about homemade Ferrero Rochers for Christmas, so I thought I'd share this recipe for homemade Raffaello truffles. They are just as good as the Ferrero Rocher clones and make a delightful gift too.

1/2 cup toasted almonds, roughly chopped
1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
250g white chocolate
1tsp  coconut essence
60g rice bubbles, lightly crushed
500g white chocolate, extra
1 cup desiccated coconut

Melt the white chocolate with the sweetened condensed milk over simmering water or in the  microwave. Add chopped almonds and stir until well combined. Freeze until the mixture has stiffened slightly to be rolled into balls. Mold 1 slightly heaped teaspoon of chocolate almond mixture into a ball then roll in the crushed rice bubbles. Freeze again until the balls are firm.  Melt the extra white chocolate and coat each ball, draining off excess chocolate, then roll in desiccated coconut.  Set in fridge, about 20 minutes. Makes 3 dozen truffles.

04 December 2010

Decorating the Christmas Tree

Paper clips (plastic covered) make perfect hangers for your Christmas tree decorations. Choose green to blend with the tree or colours to blend with your decorations. They are easy to clip onto the tops of the decorations and slip nicely onto the branches. They stay on the branches too, so that little fingers can't accidentally pull precious ornaments off the tree.

Contributed by Michelle, Donvale

03 December 2010

Some Days are Just Lovely, Even if They are Ordinary

Have you ever had a day, just an ordinary day, that when you get to the end of it makes you stop and wonder at just how ordinary and lovely it was?  Yester day was like that for me.

Thursday is the day I spend with my Mum. We do her shopping and banking and bill paying and get doctors, dentists and hospital appointments out of the way. AJ usually comes with us to carry Grandma's parcels and help her with the steps and supermarket trolleys and I really appreciate his help. It's always a busy day, with lots of travelling to here and there and getting bits and bobs and I am always exhausted by the time we get home.

But yesterday was a little different. For starters it has been hot and steamy and stormy here, and I wasn't looking forward to crowded roads, shops and carparks. And then of course everyone seems to have suddenly decided that December 24 is the very last day the shops are ever going to be open again and are madly buying anything and everything they can get their hands on.

So I was not looking forward to our Thursday shopping day.

There was very little traffic on the roads, the shopping centre air conditioning was working well and it was cool and comfortable indoors. The car was parked in the shade. We even had our choice of tables in the coffee shop when we stopped for a drink.

What I found was that becuase it was hot and steamy and very, very stormy most people stayed at home. We found a carpark right out the front of all the stores we had to go to, something that never happens. And none of the shops were crowded. Mum found everything on her list with very little looking. Even the checkouts were empty, we walked right through in four stores and only had to wait for 1 person in the supermarket. Again, that just never happens.

It didn't even start to rain again until after we had dropped Mum home.

And best of all I wasn't exhausted. It was such an ordinary day, with so many not-so-ordinary things about it, that it was just lovely. Stress free. Peaceful even. I don't know what it was that made yesterday different from every other ordinary day, but it would be lovely if everyday was like that. Just plain lovely.

Easy Wrapping with Oven Bags

Approximate $ Savings: $5-$7
I have discovered oven bags for gift wrapping. I recently gave mugs with Minties and chocolates to teachers for Christmas. To buy cellophane by the sheet is a dollar or more. A generic brand of oven bags costs under $3 for a pack of 10. For a much cheaper price I was able to wrap the mug filled with goodies and tie it with curling ribbon. It was easier to put together than juggling four corners of cellophane and looks great. This would work well for any combination pack gift you want to put together. What about a bag full of baking goodies with a recipe! A selection of toiletries or stationery, bagged up and tied with inexpensive ribbon. Once you start, the possibilities are endless.

Contributed by Julie, Mt Riverview

02 December 2010

Gifting Your Favourite Things

I absolutely love when Oprah does her "My Favourite Things" show where she gives the audience all her favourite things. It usually consists of anything from cupcakes to cars! Inspired, I suggested to my best friend that maybe we should do something similar for each other for Christmas, on a smaller scale of course! I went to the discount store and bought some small cosmetic travel jars and pots and filled each one with my favourite body wash, facial scrub, hand cream, lip gloss and so on. I made a CD of my favourite songs and printed out my favourite recipes. I also included my favourite DVD and book, and also a few of my favourite plant cuttings. She gave me a gift of her favourite things, and we both adored our gifts from each other! It only cost us about $20 each overall, and we even learnt some new thing about each other. It was the best Christmas gift ever!

Contributed by Anita, Bundaberg

Own Your Christmas Challenge

With just 23 days until Christmas, things may be getting hectic, but there is still plenty of time to plan to own your Christmas this year.  This Christmas may be financially challenging, so we are here to help. Visit the Own Your Christmas homepage for inspiration and great ideas to save you money, time, energy and new debt this year. It's totally free, you don't have to register or sign up to anything and you can visit any time. Keep checking in as we will be adding more tools and tips every day.

New additions to Own Your Christmas: 
Cheapskates$50 Christmas Dinner for 6 (this plan is famous, and has been featured on ACA and Today Tonight for the last four years), and

6 Tips for an Enjoyable Christmas Shopping Experience - great ideas to beat the heat and the crowds this December.

01 December 2010

Let Retailers Know It's a Gift

I mentioned in passing that a book I was buying was a gift for a friend and the shop assistant offered to gift wrap it for me. This saved me buying gift paper which was the next thing on my list of things to do. I will always add it to my conversation from now on, it saved me time and money.

Contributed by Cheryl Wright

30 November 2010

Christmas Truffles

1 heaped dessert spoon cocoa
180g Copha, melted
1 egg, beaten
250g pure icing sugar
½ cup coconut
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
2 tablespoons rum essence
2 pkts chocolate slivers

Mix together dry ingredients. Melt Copha, add vanilla essence. Add to dry ingredients and mix. Add beaten egg and mix well. Roll teaspoonfuls into balls and roll in chocolate slivers. Set in fridge for at least 1 hour before serving.

29 November 2010

Beautiful designer Christmas baubles

Decorated baubles for the Christmas tree, either glass or plastic, are quick and easy to make. You can get boxes of twelve plain baubles in all colours from discount shops. Depending on the size they range in price from $2 - $7 for twelve.  Decorate with stickers and decals rather than paints. Use sheets of gold, silver and rainbow coloured stickers ($2.95/sheet) Each sheet does at least the twelve baubles, if not more. If you choose a coloured ball all you need to do is stick on your Merry Christmas decal. Add the year in glitter glue is a coordinating colour under the Merry Christmas. Or use double sided tape wrapped around the bauble lengthways and then sprinkled with fine glitter in gold, silver or a coordinating colour. You can make these personalized and unique baubles for around 65c each and they make lovely gifts wrapped in cellophane and tied with curling ribbon.

28 November 2010

A simple, economical flea shampoo that works

Keep fleas away and your dog healthy and comfortable with this dog wash mix. Mix one part Dettol, two parts dishwashing liquid and three parts water together. Store in a labelled bottle for future use. To use, thoroughly wet your dog's coat and then use enough of the mixture to get a good lather. Massage in well, and rinse off thoroughly.

27 November 2010

Old fashioned games

These are great for a really hot day when the kids can't play outside or on those really, long and boring wet days.

  • Dominoes
  • Old Maid
  • Snap
  • Draughts
  • Charades - they love acting out the answers to this one
  • Monopoly
  • Scrabble

Try playing a marathon with any or all of these games and see who the family game champion is.

26 November 2010

Successful price negotiating

When you're looking to negotiate a bargain basement price for that item you want, there are some simple things you can do to for a successful outcome:

  • Be friendly, not aggressive or grumpy
  • Get the salesperson on side (tell a chatty story for instance)
  • Tell them your budget range
  • Ask if they guarantee their prices
  • Mention that you are a loyal customer (I always tell them I must own the company with the amount of shopping done at their store)
  • Offer to pay cash
  • Be prepared to buy when your deal goes through
  • Be discreet!

25 November 2010

Budget All Purpose Cleaner

Buy a 1-litre no frills shampoo from a local not-quite-right or two-dollar shop for use in the bathroom. It will cost around $1.99 and last for months.  Dilute it 50 - 50 with water and use this mixture to clean baths, basins, showers, floors, woodwork, doors and the toilet. You'll find it easily lifts grease and grimy soap sludge and as a bonus your bathroom will have a lovely scent too.

24 November 2010

Be a great money manager - change your attitude

I haven't always been great at budgeting and saving. A family crisis changed my attitude and put me on the path to a debt-free life and a secure financial future.

If your goal is financial freedom and control of your money, there are five characteristics you need to develop:
1.Paying  your bills when they are due
2.Ensuring your assets exceed your liabilities
3.Not incurring any new debt
4.Sticking to your Payment Push to reduce debt

5.Being content with what you have right now and saving for what you want in the future.

23 November 2010

Sun Dried Tomato Dip

Try this simple but very tasty dip next time you have company over, it's just delicious.

250g tub spreadable cream cheese or 250g block cream cheese that has been softened
250ml sour cream
100g sun dried tomatoes, chopped
1 bunch spring onions, finely sliced (white and green)
1/2 tsp minced garlic
Salt and black pepper to taste

Beat cream cheese and sour cream together. Stir in sun dried tomatoes, green onions, garlic, salt and pepper. Chill in refrigerator before serving. Serve with pita chips.

22 November 2010

Christmas Card Tree Ball

This is a lovely way to use last year's Christmas cards to decorate this year's tree and it's simple, quick and so easy a child can do it.

You will need:

Last year's Christmas cards
Coloured paper fasteners (from a stationers, the are the type the split-pin type)
Coloured string or fishing line

Using last years Christmas cards, cut the fronts off. Cut each front into between 10 and 20 narrow strips. The width and number of strips will determine the spacing between each strip on the ball.

Stack the strips on top of each other and punch a hole through each end with a hole punch. If the pile is too thick, do a few strips at a time, making sure to line up the hole.

Once they have all been punched, insert a paper pin through each end and open out. Spread the strips evenly around the pin so they form a ball. Gently press the ball down between your hands to give it a rounded shape.

To hang, tie some coloured thread or fishing line under the head of one of the paper pins, knotting it tightly so it doesn't come undone.

21 November 2010

Paw it forward

If your beloved pet is a rescued, former pound puppy or kitten, occasionally buy an extra bag of treats or a toy or bed and donate it to the shelter where you found your pet. If you're not sure what to get, give them a call and ask, they will have a list of things they need. Old blankets and quilts and sheeting are also always needed. Just remember, if it's already full of holes and you think it's useless, then it probably is just good for rags. Don't use donating as a way to dump rubbish. It's a nice way to help other animals and their carers, and it doesn't have to be expensive or time consuming.

20 November 2010

Have an emergency gift stash

Sometimes invitations to parties, dinners etc are spontaneous or arrive at the last minute, leaving you no time to shop for a gift. Rather than having to run out and pay full price for something, buy gifts specifically to be used in such emergencies at sales throughout the year.  If you choose fairly generic and practical items you'll be able to use them yourself if they are not gifted in a reasonable time. Things like wine, nice books (buy from book club or any of the book retailers during their sales) or gourmet type jams and sauces are ideal. To build a small stash of gifts suitable for children look for coloured pencils, textas and pens, packs of coloured paper, small craft sets, hair accessories, DVDs on sale etc.  If you don't have children who will use these things if they are not gifted they can be donated to your local charity op shop. Clean your gift stash out once a year to make sure you're not holding onto anything out of date or stale.

19 November 2010

Make a deal

The age old art of haggling seems to have been lost in our day-to-day shopping. Somehow, somewhere we stopped asking for the best deal and it is costing us all money. Shopkeepers have to make money to stay in business, but depending on the items the mark-up can be up to 200 per cent. This means that often there is a reasonable profit margin and for those who ask, they can receive discounts and bargain prices for the goods and services they want to buy. You wouldn't buy a house without making an offer so why buy anything else? Remember, it's just a question and the worst thing that can happen in the seller says "no" and you walk away.

17 November 2010

Make some withdrawal rules

1. Decide on a minimum amount of cash you need for the week
2. Withdraw that amount on Monday and do not make another cash withdrawal until the following Monday.
3. If something important comes up, use your credit or debit card if you absolutely have to - just remember that  you have to pay that bill in full at the end of the month.
4. Keep saving for your goals. Every little bit adds up. When you get a windfall - for example a tax refund or a bonus at work - add it to your savings (after you have a fully funded emergency fund and are debt free of course!).

16 November 2010

Easy Rocky Road

With only five and a half weeks until Christmas, it's not too early to start planning for those homemade, edible gifts. This Easy Rocky Road looks fabulous broken into chunks and wrapped in clear cellophane, tied with red, green and silver curling ribbons.

500g chocolate (milk or dark)
1pkt raspberries (the jube-type lolly)
1 cup mini marshmallows - choose the coloured ones
1 cup chopped nuts - your choice of walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, brazil nuts, peanuts

Butter a lamington tray. Melt chocolate. Stir in mini marshmallows and chopped nuts. Spoon into lamington tray. Mark into squares. Set in fridge.

15 November 2010

Keep Kitty healthy and happy with this homemade dinner

I am often asked for a recipe for cat food so when you feel like spoiling your kitty a little, try this feline delight.

1 cup water
1/3 cup raw brown rice
2 tsp vegetable oil
2/3 cup ground turkey* or chicken
2 tbsp chopped liver (lambs fry)

Bring the water to the boil in a medium sized saucepan. Stir in the rice and oil and reduce the heat. Simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.  Add the ground turkey and chopped liver and continue to cook for another 20 minutes. Cool before dishing up to your cat.

*Turkey is becoming more and more readily available in most supermarkets. Look for the purple trays in the poultry/meat cabinet. Also ask at the deli counter for any scraps, sometimes they will sell them in bags for around $2 each.

14 November 2010

Starting a garden on a budget

If you are thinking of starting a garden for the first time, go slowly. Think about what you want to do, where the beds will go and what you want to grow. Do some planning and research before you rush out and start buying. It is very easy when you first start to be sold lots of things you may not need or even use. Instead talk to experienced gardeners, read the Gardening Tip Store and get online. Learn about your climate zone and the soil quality in your area and you'll find what works and what doesn't, avoiding costly mistakes. Just because the garden centre is selling a particular plant does not mean it will do well in your area. Enthusiasm is good, spending money for nothing isn't.

13 November 2010

Save eating out for a special occasion

When you fall into the habit of eating out often you tend to lose the enjoyment of the occasion. It becomes just another humdrum experience. Don't just go out for dinner. Great restaurants don't have to be expensive either. One of our favourite restaurants serves the best steak I have ever eaten accompanied by fantastic homemade chips and salad. We visit two or three times a year with friends and the four of us can have dinner and drinks for around $80.  Save up and enjoy the anticipation of a special experience that creates memories for years to come.

12 November 2010

Small appliance investment

Most kitchens are full of appliances and tools bought on a whim, or given as "useful" gifts.  Before buying any new appliances, big or small, for your kitchen consider carefully whether it will be used to it's full potential.  Think about your family's eating habits and your cooking habits and plan your appliance purchases around them. A yoghurt maker is wasted on the family who would never eat it, giving it a cost per use of it's full price. But it may well be ideal for the family who goes through two or three litres of yoghurt each week, bringing the cost per use down to just cents, making it a worthwhile investment.   Handy though appliances may seem, think carefully before you part with your cash or they may just end up taking up bench space as wasted money.

11 November 2010

Easy clean lampshades

A soft, natural bristle paintbrush, kept just for this purpose, works sonders on lampshades. Be sure never to use this brush for any other purpose. Always brush from the top to the bottom of the shade. A weekly dusting will keep your lampshades looking brand-new for years and years. And while you have the brush handy, give the light globe a quick dust too. It will shine much brighter if it's not covered in dust.

From Debt Free, Cashed Up and Laughing

10 November 2010

Visit manufacturer websites

Don't forget to visit the manufacturer websites of brands you buy regularly for promotions, free samples, special offers and discount coupons. If they have a mailing list sign up for early notification of upcoming specials, newsletter only special offers etc .

09 November 2010

Tabbouli Salad

This is a lovely, light salad, just perfect for these mild spring days. Serve it with grilled stead or chicken or on it's own with chunks of bread.

1 cup chicken stock
4 eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup couscous
2 cups chopped mixed fresh veggies (tomato, cucumber, grated carrot, broccoli florets etc)
1 spring onion, finely sliced including some of the green
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup Italian salad dressing
3 tbsp lime juice, fresh with grated lime zest (zest is optional)
1 tsp chilli powder (more or less to taste)
Salt and pepper to taste

In a sauce pan bring stock to a boil and slowly add eggs while whisking continuously. Cook until eggs are set. Remove from heat and stir in couscous – let stand 5 minutes. Combine remaining ingredients and toss with couscous mixture. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve or at least 30 minutes.

07 November 2010

Share the bounty and cut the costs

When you buy a packet of seeds, you'll almost always end up with more than you need. Instead of storing them until next planting season, share them with others by having a seed exchange.  You could also include garden equipment with members of the exchange, sharing the cost amongst everyone.  Then you can share the harvest, keeping gardening costs down for everyone.

06 November 2010

Herbal tea anyone?

Tea drinking has had a resurgence in recent years, with herbal teas being more popular than ever before. Tea boutiques have sprung up all over the country, selling delightfully packaged flavoured teas, which might lead you to believe that tea-blending is some kind of science, requiring years of practise and study. Herbal tea is, literally, just a concoction of dried herbs steeped in hot water.  Whether you use your own home-grown herbs or supplement them with some you have bought, you can easily make your own herbal tea blends. Simply combine equal quantities of each ingredient, adjusting to taste. To make them giftable, present them in a small jar with a gift tag and a tea ball.  Some delicious blends are:

Rosemary and lavender
Dried orange or lemon zest and aniseed
Hibiscus petals, rose hips and lemon verbena
Lavender flowers, rosemary, lemon balm, spearmint and cloves
Dried lemon zest and ginger

05 November 2010

Keep them apart

Ethylene is a natural gas emitted by fruits and vegetables and aids in the ripening process.  It can also lead to spoilage too. Fruits generally give off more ethylene than vegetables, which are more sensitive to it.

Ethylene producing fruits and vegetables are apricots, avocadoes, bananas, cantaloupes, honeydew melons, kiwi fruit, mangoes, nectarines, peaches, pawpaw, pears, plums and tomatoes.

Ethylene sensitive fruits and vegetables are apples, asparagus, broccoli, carrots, cucumbers, egg plant, green beans, lettuce and other salad greens, potatoes, zucchini and watermelons.

Store your fruits and vegetables in separate crisper drawers or veggie containers to keep them fresher longer.

04 November 2010

This is Exactly what an Emergency Fund is for!

So often new Cheapskates ask why they need to have an emergency fund when they still have debt. They don't see the necessity for it.

Well, this morning as I was taking Hannah to school I could smell a strange odour. Now the kids laugh at me when I tell them I can smell something strange, because I am always sniffing at "strange" odours in the house or the car or the garden or wherever we are, so I kept my mouth shut.

Until we were stopped at a level crossing and the odour was stronger and then I heard the noise - a gentle hissing sound. Off went the radio and down went my window. Yes, I could definitely hear something. And then as I turned my head the temperature gauge almost blew it's needle off!

To cut a long story short (I could tell you all about the frantic phone call to Wayne, the 35 minute wait for the RACV - he was so nice and very helpful, learning to use my mobile to find a phone number, driving to the radiator place and getting the bus home) two hoses from the radiator to the heater core had split and drained the radiator - onto my feet!

There were a couple of frantic phone calls while Mark (the mechanic) figured out what the problem was and when he could fix it. Thankfully he was able to fix it for me today, we picked the car up when Wayne came home from work. Best of all, because we have an emergency fund, we were able to pay for the repairs immediately, without resorting to credit and going into debt.

When you are carrying debt and don't have an emergency fund, when life happens, and it will, you'll have to resort to credit to get through, and you'll be right back where you started, in debt, paying it off and adding interest too. An emergency fund, no matter how small, helps you avoid the debt trap. When disaster strikes you can cope with the help of your emergency fund. You won't need to resort to credit and your debt load won't increase at all.

So that's why you need an emergency fund, even while you are paying off debt. Because life is uncertain and you never know when you're going to blow a couple of heater hoses (or worse) and need to pay for them.

A DIY Instant facelift

Everyone likes to look their best all the time, but there are the odd extra special occasions when looking better than ever before is important. You can give yourself an almost instant facelift, at home in your own bathroom. All you need to do is beat an egg white with a fork until it is frothy. Then apply it to your face and throat, avoiding your eye area. Leave it for five minutes. During this time the mask will tighten, you'll be able to feel it happening. Rinse off thoroughly with warm water, followed by a cool water splash. Not quite Botox, but it's cheaper and it works!

03 November 2010

Control impulse spending

It can be very easy to overspend, especially when using a credit card, but these three simple tips will help you control those urges to "put it on the card":

1.Think about the real cost of what you are buying - how many hours will you need to work to pay for what you are buying? If you can't pay it when the balance is due, how long will it take and how much more will it cost you?

2.Before you buy it, think about where you are going to put it and how often you are going to use it . If you can't think of where to put it or will only use it once don't buy it.

3.Use cash. Withdraw the cash you need for the week and use that for all your shopping. Once it's gone, you can't get anymore until next week. To stop impulse buying, leave your credit cards at home.

02 November 2010

Chocolate Peanut Slice

1 pkt Anzac biscuits (or 200g homemade)
125g butter
375g milk chocolate
150g smooth peanut butter

Line a slice tray with baking paper. Roughly crush Anzac biscuits with a rolling pin. Place butter, broken chocolate and peanut butter in a microwave safe dish and cook on high 1 minute. Stir to combine. Continue cooking in 30 second bursts, stirring well between each one, until everything is melted and well combined. Stir in the crushed biscuits  Pour into a lamington tray lined with baking paper and place into the fridge for 30 minutes to set. Cut into small slices to serve.

30 October 2010

Top 10 Stockpile Items

I am often asked what should be in a stockpile. Here are my top 10 stockpile items. You'll see they are all things that are used regularly and store well. By following the sale cycle and purchasing enough of each item when it comes on sale to last until the next sale, you'll be able to drastically cut your grocery budget.

  • Red meat
  • Chicken
  • Cereals
  • Cheese
  • Tinned fruit
  • Frozen vegetables
  • Tinned tomatoes
  • Pasta sauce
  • Baking supplies (flour, sugar, dried fruit etc)
  • Toiletries (shampoo, conditioner, soap, toothpaste etc)

29 October 2010

Shop at ethnic specialty grocers

Most large supermarkets have an international foods aisle, with basic Asian, Mexican and Indian foods, but they come at supermarket prices.  Why not go straight to the source and save even more money.  Most of these wonderful little grocers rely on word of mouth for their advertising, a great recommendation and are able to pass on great savings to their customers.  You'll find a much larger range of spices, rices, pastas, vegetables and other specialty foods than at your regular supermarket and even if the prices aren't better, the quality of the food often is.

28 October 2010

A personalized recipe book

If you don't have the time (or the inclination) to handwrite all those recipes you want to try into a personalized recipe book, here's a handy tip that will keep them for you.  Take all those clippings from magazines and newspapers, and all those recipe leaflets you've collected over the years and photocopy or scan and print them onto nice paper. Put each page into a sheet protector to protect them from spills and store them in a 3-ring binder.  Use an insert binder and you can use clipart to create a cover page and spine for your recipe book. The entire project should cost well under $10 and it's easy to make multiple copies at the same time to use as gifts for family and friends.

26 October 2010

Fruit Salad Cake

This delicious cake can be eaten as warm as dessert or cold for afternoon tea. And it's fat, egg and dairy free!

¾ cups sugar
1 cup SR flour
½ tsp salt
1 egg, beaten
410g can fruit cocktail in syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ cup brown sugar
½ cup crushed walnuts or almonds

Pre-heat oven to 160 degrees Celsius.  Mix together sugar, flour and salt in mixing bowl.  Beat in egg, fruit cocktail and vanilla extract.  Pour into shallow, greased 2ocm square cake tin. Combine brown sugar  and nuts and sprinkle over top.   Bake for 40 - 45 minutes.  Serve plain or with ice cream or whipped cream if you're not watching your diet.

25 October 2010

Bath Toys

Why spend good money on rubber ducks and floating tug boats when you already have great bath toys around your home? Simply recycle plastic drink bottles, cups and colanders. The measuring scoops from washing powder float easily for lots of bathtime fun, and the caps from liquid laundry detergent also make great float toys. And don't underestimate  the fun to be had with a plain old wet facewasher.

24 October 2010

What vegetables should I plant?

First, you should think of what vegetables you and your family usually love to eat. Then choose the most expensive from the list - perhaps red or yellow capsicums as they usually cost more than the green ones, mignonette lettuce as they are more expensive than good old ice berg etc. To keep your food interesting try different varieties of your favourites like Five Colour silverbeet instead of common Fordhook, or purple carrots instead of the more common orange (they actually turn orange when they are cooked).  Just because you are growing vegetables doesn't mean your diet has to be limited. There are literally hundreds of different varieties of every vegetable so you can have some fun with your garden as well as save some money.

23 October 2010

The perfect afternoon tea

Hannah recorded a Martha Stewart show during the week and we watched it this afternoon and I was a little surprised to find that I know more about something than Martha does!

Some of you may watch the show (shown weekdays on 7Two) hosted by the 21st century epitome of housekeeping, but I don't so you can imagine my glee when I realised she doesn't know how to make real scones!  Poor Martha, she had eggs and sugar in the dough and had the scones spaced about an inch apart on the tray.  Then she brushed the tops with beaten egg and sprinkled them with more sugar.  The recipe she demonstrated as "real English scones" only bore a faint resemblance to what we know as scones, although they did look a similar shape when they were cooked.

Now I can make scones, both traditional and my favourite Lemonade Scones, and they are always scrumptious and never last long. In fact if ever there are any left the next day the boys split them, toast them under the grill and either top them with honey or jam and cheese and wolf them down in no time.

The recipe for Lemonade Scones is very easy and absolutely no fail. If you're a beginner scone maker try this recipe first, you'll love it.

Lemonade Scones

1 cup of lemonade
1 cup of cream
3 cups of self-raising flour

Preheat oven to very hot 220C. Add lemonade and cream to flour, mix to form soft dough, then place mixture on floured surface. Knead dough to a 2 cm thickness and cut with a floured cutter. Place close together on tray, brush with whisked egg and bake for 10 - 15 minutes.

Here's my "traditional" scone recipe, also very easy and no fail. You'll notice I don't put sugar into these scones, I think the jam is sweet enough. It also means that they can be used for savoury toppings without tasting odd. Try them with pickle and grated cheese or cream cheese and salmon, they are just delicious.

Traditional Scones
3 cups SR flour
90g chilled butter (not margarine), cut into 1cm cubes
1 cup milk
A little extra milk, for brushing

Pre-heat oven to 230 degrees Celsius. Line a baking tray with baking paper.  Place flour in a large bowl. Tip chilled, cubed butter into bowl. Working quickly  and using your fingertips rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the milk and using a flat-bladed knife mix until just combined. Sprinkle a pastry sheet or benchtop with some flour and turn the dough out. Knead gently with your fingertips, shaping into a round. Using the palm of your hand flatten the dough to about 2cm thick. Cut into rounds with a scone cutter dipped in flour (this will stop it sticking to the dough). Place the scones onto the baking tray so they are just touching. Brush the tops only lightly with milk and place in oven. Bake for 10 -12 minutes until golden.

Serve warm from the oven with raspberry or strawberry jam and whipped cream.

My top tips for scone making:
  • Work quickly - from tipping the butter into the flour to getting the scones into the oven shouldn't be more than five minutes.
  • Always use butter - margarine will work but the flavour and texture are not quite as good.
  • Always use chilled butter so it rubs into the flour without melting. Soft butter melts into the flour, turning it to a greasy dough and producing flat, hard scones.
  • Use your fingertips when rubbing in the butter as they don't get as hot as your hands.
  • If you don't want to or are not able to use your fingertips, you can get a pastry cutter which will do the job for you. You'll find them at homeware stores for around $8 each.
  • Never roll the dough with a rolling pin - it will take the air out of the dough, making tough, dry scones.
  • Brush only the tops of the scones to help with rising.
  • Scones that are touching rise higher and bake more evenly than if they are spaced on the tray.

If you've never made scones, give them a go. They are so easy and you'll be the best hostess if you can whip up a batch of fresh scones with jam and cream for the perfect afternoon tea.

21 October 2010

Miracle Microfibre - It's Not Just Hype

Microfibre cleaning cloths are fantastic. But do they really save you money?  Research carried out by the University of California Davis Medical Centre way back in 1999 concluded that not only do microfibre cleaning clothes make your cleaning chores easier, they can save you a fortune. They studied the cost and performance benefits of microfibre mops against conventional mops and concluded that the microfibre mop, while costing more initially actually saved around 95% on cleaning chemicals, 60% on replacement costs over the lifetime of a conventional mop and approximately 20% on labour costs. They also discovered that using microfibre cleaning products uses less water too.  These days microfibre cloths range in price, but they all do a great job. Choose the cloth that best suits your budget and the cleaning job and you're sure to save a lot of money, time and energy.

I couldn't find any Australian research (apart from my own) carried out on the cost-benefits of microfibre v conventional cleaning. If you know of any, please let me know. I'd love to see it.

20 October 2010

How Fresh is Your Pillow?

I've seen it all now, folks.  Pillows that come stamped with a "change" date!

Tontine are now stamping their pillows with a "change date" so you'll know when it's time to buy a one. How handy is that? not!

Good pillows are necessary for comfortable and healthy sleep.I have nothing against new pillows and if you really want them and can afford them go right ahead. But whatever happened to using your commonsense? Surely you don't need a date stamped on your pillow to tell you it's time for a change. A distinctly ugly odour, a sore neck and a few sleepless nights should do the job.

I personally do not like new pillows. They are always too high, too soft or too hard - just plain uncomfortable, which is why I always take my own pillows when we travel (most of my overnight bag is pillows, even if I'm going to be staying in a great hotel). I would much rather renovate the pillows we have every twelve months or so.  It's a job for a warm, sunny day, just perfect for this time of year.  And believe it or not it's very easy to do if your pillows have a synthetic filling. Feather pillows and the new memory foam pillows take a little more effort but can be renovated yourself too.

Once a year seems to be the right length of time for my family, yours may need more frequent or less often treatment. You'll know what works best for you.

I just dunk them in the bath with warm, soapy water, let them soak, rinse and dry flat. The trick is not to wring them, that just ruins the filling, and to let them drip dry flat. That's why you are best to choose a warm day  for your pillow renovation. The next, and most important thing, to remember is to make sure they are thoroughly dry before you start using them. You don't want to end up with a mouldy pillow under your head.

Keep your pillows fresh between renovations by airing them in the sunshine once a month. Just peg them to the clothesline for the day and give them a good shake before you put them back on your bed. They'll smell like the sun and be delightfully fresh, and you won't have spent a cent.

The sceptic in me wonders at the helpfulness of Tontine and the company's concern about your health and well being. Personally I think this is such a clever marketing ploy - how many people are going to buy their stamped pillows and simply put them in the bin when the stamped date rolls around, irrespective of whether or not their pillow is doing a great job. And these pillows will go to landfill - for health reasons you can't donate them or sell them.  You can even register online to receive an email reminder when it's time to change your pillow!

It's another great way to convince those sheep-like people, who don't want to think for themselves or take responsibility for their own life, to buy new pillows. Pillows aren't cheap - even at $10 each we have 14 in our house (we all have two each, and four for the spare beds). That's $140 every couple of years, just on pillows! Actually in two years time it will be more, I'm sure they won't stay the same or drop in price.

Now I'm over my awe, I won't be buying any new pillows according to a change-by, use-by or best-before date, I'll be doing just as I always have and renovating until I feel my pillows are beyond renovation.

My advice to you is to use your commonsense, and give renovating your pillows yourself a go before you rush out and buy new ones.

Greetings Workshop at Home

If you are following our Christmas Countdown, you'll know that Christmas cards are done early in the countdown. You don't need to buy them, nor do you have to be particularly creative or crafty, as Cheryl's tip shows.

When our first child was born we made our own Christmas cards. We used "Greetings Workshop" software, but there are a lot of different types of software around. Using A4 paper we put a photo of us and the new baby on the front cover. We personalised the cards including other photos and printed a letter on the inside to let people know what we had been doing during the year. We had so many comments about the cards, we have done them this way every year since. Every year people 'watched' the children growing. It was cheap but more than that it was very personal and relatives and friends loved it.
Contributed by Cheryl

19 October 2010

Irish Potatoes

These potatoes are delicious and very easy. They also transport well so are perfect for taking to pot-luck dinners.  If you have any leftovers (highly unlikely, they are really good) fry them in a non-stick pan the next day and serve with a fried egg for a quick and tasty meal.  You won't need to add any butter or oil to the pan, there will be enough in the sauce.  The addition of dill adds a lovely flavour to this simple dish.

1kg potatoes, washed and cut into wedges (no need to peel)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup butter, melted
1tbsp lemon juice
1tbsp chopped parsley
2 spring onions, finely sliced
3 tsp dried dill
Salt and pepper to taste

Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Put the potatoes and water into a covered casserole dish. Place in oven and cook for 45 minutes, or until potatoes are fork tender.  Drain and return to casserole dish. Combine melted butter, lemon juice, parsley, spring onions, dill and seasonings. Pour over potatoes and return to oven to heat through, about 15 minutes.   Serve.

18 October 2010

Keep it Cool

When you need to grate a semi-hard cheese such as cheddar, pop it into the freezer for a half hour or so before grating. This prevents the cheese from turning into a total mess on the back side of the grater.  Chill and grate butter as well when a recipe calls for dotting the top of the casserole or when making pastry with butter.

17 October 2010

Lazy Sunday

It really has been a lazy Sunday here today. I didn't get out of bed until 9.30am! I didn't even hear or feel Wayne get up this morning. I usually wake as soon as he gets out of bed, but not today. The busyness of the last few weeks has finally caught up with me and I am tired.

So, instead of doing the laundry and ironing and some baking for the week I've spent most of today on the lounge, working on the website and my new book and getting some other articles ready for an upcoming project. I didn't even get lunch, Wayne brought it to me on a plate and I ate right here, where I am now.

It's still cool outside, not cold like it was yesterday, but cool and damp and a little windy. Every time the sun breaks through the clouds I think I'd like to get up and go and check the garden then it clouds over and looks miserable so I stay here.

Yesterday was so cold we lit the fire again and it's been going ever since. We are so blessed to have the fire. It does a great job of heating the whole house, but I use it to dry the washing (Hannah did a load of laundry) and keeps a pot of water almost on the boil all day, just perfect for a quick cuppa, washing the dishes or adding to the bath for a soak.

There won't be a roast for tea tonight, I forgot to take it out of the freezer yesterday. Instead I have ribs on the stove, bubbling away. I love ribs, the smoky bbq flavour of the sauce is one of my favourite things but no-one else is all that keen on them so they don't appear regularly.  We only have them now because they a cut that was included with the last side of beef we bought. This particular recipe is a "cheat" for bbq ribs and only takes two hours from start to servings. I'm going to make some seasoned rice to have with them, a lazy side dish option for a lazy Sunday. I wanted to get a photo of the ribs plated up but the hungry hoards couldn't wait so hopefully next time.

Cheats BBQ Ribs

2.5kg beef short ribs
250g tomato paste
1/4 cup water
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp dried onion flakes
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

Put the ribs into a large, heavy saucepan and cover with cold water. Cover and bring to the boil. Turn heat down and cook for 1 hour. To make the sauce place the remaining ingredients in a small saucepan, stir to combine and bring to the boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Turn heat down and simmer for 15 minutes. When the ribs are cooked drain and pour sauce over, turning to coat each rib. Heat a grill (bbq or heavy fry pan) and grill the ribs, turning frequently and basting with sauce for 15 minutes. Serve with seasoned rice.

I'll put this recipe in the Recipe File too, so you'll be able to find it when you want to try it because it really is delicious.

While I've been sitting doing nothing all day, I caught up on a whole lot of paperwork that's been sitting on my desk for days, and even managed to do some filing. For a world that claims to be moving towards being "paperless" I seem to get more and more paper every day, even without junk mail. I used to joke that our electricity bill would be a lot cheaper if they'd leave the junk out of the envelope and just send the bill, now I'm not so sure I'm joking.  We've moved to getting as many bills and newsletters as we can via email and still there is so much useless paper flooding our home day after day. Whether it's recycled or not, the environmental cost of all this useless paper is huge. If you know a way to control it let me know because I'm stumped.

Drought tolerant doesn't mean "don't water"

While we all want to conserve water and have nice gardens, just remember that while there are many plants labelled "drought tolerant" they still need water.  When planting, even drought tolerant plants, remember that they will need regular watering for at least the first year until they are established. After that, as long as you have selected the right plants for your zone, they should be able to exist on the natural groundwater and rainfall.

16 October 2010

The road trip isn't so long if the kids are quiet

It's easy to keep the kids entertained in the car, whether the trip is short or you're on an epic road trip, and you don't have to knock them out or travel at night either. Letting them have hours of Gameboy time isn't necessarily the best way to keep them quiet, but talking books are. Most cars these days have CD players and/or tape decks, so go to your local library and borrow some talking books. Choosing a couple of their favourite stories will keep them quiet between rest stops.  Another option is DVDs. If you don't have a portable DVD player, you can use a laptop computer for their favourite movies. There are adaptors you can get that will plug in to the cigarette lighter to keep the laptop charged - you don't want a fight if the battery goes flat.

15 October 2010

Variety is the Key to Menu Planning

You don't have to cook/eat big meat and 3 veg meals every night. Try having meat and 3 veg one night followed by stir fry, quiche, noodle soup next night. Omelettes, poached, scrambled eggs are great too. Try adding different fillings i.e. grated cheese, chopped tomato n herbs, tuna/salmon, leftover meats to eggs for flavour.

You can peel and cut up fresh potato, carrot, pumpkin, sweet potato cover with cold water and store in an airtight container in fridge. Boil, steam or micro vegies while grilling chops, steak or fish. Turn griller on first, get this cooking, have shower or cuppa or something stronger!!! Then start cooking vegies.

Use a packet sauce to make different flavoured gravies to dress up meat. Remember, its only 5 nights you need to prepare for each week. That's 1 meal of grill and veg, 1 meal of stir fry, 1 meal of quiche, 1 meal of meatballs, 1 meal of Asian noodle soup. You haven't even used an egg dish yet!!! Don't forget you can always grab a bbq chicken on your way home and micro those fresh vegies you've prepared ahead if you get stuck late at work etc. Home made toppings on a pre prepared fresh pizza base are good fun too! Freeze a few for quick meals too!

Contributed by Pauline

14 October 2010

Eggs-idental Spills

If you accidentally drop an egg on the kitchen floor, don't make the sticky mess worse by wiping it up. Instead, cover the egg glob completely with salt. Leave on for about 15 minutes. Simply sweep or wipe up with a paper towel.

13 October 2010

Drink Can Saving

A friend told me you could fit over $600 in $2 coins in a drink can which I found hard to believe so thought I'd give it a try. When the tab is pulled off the can you can only fit $2 coins in the opening...5 cent coins will also fit but the goal was to see how much a can of $2 coins would add up to. I washed and dried the can and started adding the coins. Low and behold by the time the can was full there was over $640! I ended up getting a larger beer can and that can holds over $700. I've got to the stage where I can't spend a $2 coin, which probably isn't a bad thing. After seeing the amount the drink can held my friend has been saving her $2 coins as well and it came in very handy with unexpected car repairs.

Contributed by Dianne Keen

12 October 2010

Slow Cooker Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole

Everyone needs a simple recipe they can pull together in a few minutes, but that looks and tastes as though they've spent hours in the kitchen. This casserole is it. You can assemble the whole dish in around 10 minutes, 5 if you're really quick, and then just leave it in the slow cooker to simmer away all day.

4 chicken breast fillets, skin off
4 slices Swiss cheese
4 slices ham
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup milk

Flatten chicken fillets. Roll a slice of ham, slice of cheese and a chicken fillet together. Fasten with a toothpick to hold closed. Heat butter in a frying pan and brown chicken on all sides. Remove from pan and place in crockpot. Mix chicken soup and milk and pour over chicken. Cook on low 4 - 5 hours. Add more milk to sauce if necessary.

Notes:  I have used tasty and Mozarella cheeses for this recipe with equal success. I would use whatever was on hand.  I also use homemade cream of chicken soup rather than a can, simply because I don't often have a tin of chicken soup handy. This dish works equally well with cream of mushroom and cream of asparagus soups.

11 October 2010

Camera Stable Table

Fill a small ziplock bag with rice and keep it in your camera bag. It makes a great stable surface to rest your camera on when you want to take time exposure photos or you want to be in the photo and don't have a tripod. Just put the bag on a stable surface and rest the camera on top. Voila, a steady camera and a steady shot!

Contributed by Stuart, Sydney

10 October 2010

What's to eat?

Do those words frustrate you as much as they do me? Seriously, AJ and Tom have lived with me long enough to know my answer. "Nothing".

The one thing we are never short of is food. The pantry is full. The fridge is full, ditto the freezer. The stockpile shelves and cupboard are full to overflowing. And yet they stand before me and ask "what's to eat?".

What they are really asking is "why isn't there a plate of food in the fridge with a note saying 'Tom, please eat me'.

There isn't because I'm not that nice a mother. And because they are 18 and 19 years old, well capable of finding something to eat for themselves. They just don't want to.

Maybe I am a nice mum after all. I took pity on them this afternoon and did some baking. Now there's a chocolate cake in the cake tin, a craisin (dried cranberry) cake on the cake stand and a batch of choc chip lunchbox cookies in the biscuit jar. There's also a dozen hardboiled eggs and a tub of hummus in the fridge. Surely they'll find something to eat now?

If you are wondering about the craisin cake, it came about because we are out of sultanas and I'm not due to go to the shops until next Thursday.

I used my Sultana Cake recipe, substituting craisins for the sultanas and skipping the overnight soaking. The cake is a pale shade of pink and smells lovely. It's still cooling so I haven't tasted it yet but I think it will be nice. I'm tossing up whether to do a cream cheese icing for it, but will probably leave it as is. Un-iced it will keep longer and won't need to go into the fridge.

At least it'll last until the boys find it - then I won't need to blink or it'll be gone!

Don't forget the flowers

A sure sign of a healthy garden is the birds, bees and butterflies flitting from plant to plant. But these garden lovelies need nectar, the nectar found in flowers, to survive in your garden and thus do their job.  While growing only edible plants or low maintenance and low-water gardens appears to be eco-friendly, these gardens do not offer the habitat these garden helpers need. Without some flowers or at least nectar and pollen producing plants, your garden cannot flourish.  There are any number of flowering plants that are both low-water and low-maintenance so remember to include them in your minimalist garden plan.

09 October 2010

Perfect Party Food

Keep it simple. The last thing you need on a busy day is for you to be running around like crazy trying to make cherries flambé or tiramisu with crème frache. However, with a little creative planning, you can make something spectacular and still be able to take great photos of the party guests and birthday child eating your birthday spread. There are so many recipes available at your fingertips that are not only delicious but easy to make with items you probably have in the house or can pick up in your local supermarket at minimal cost (another key!).  Our standard birthday party fare is all mini foods, simply because kids at parties just don't eat.  We have mini sausage rolls, party pies and mini quiche, fairy bread (the grown ups really go for this), dip and carrot straws, with birthday cake and frog-in-a-pond for desserts. A punch is easy to make and always popular - try Fairy Nectar or Precious Gem Punch.  Whatever party menu you choose, remember, especially for a kids' party, just keep it simple! 

Precious Gem Punch
Make ice cubes by freezing blackcurrant or grape juice. Just before serving add the ice cubes to 2 litres of apple juice and 2 litres of lemonade in a punchbowl. The precious gems floating on top will glisten and glow.

To make the “gems” even more special, use different shaped ice cube trays.

Fairy Nectar
3 litre can sunshine punch
2 litres lemonade
2 litres dry ginger
1 tin apricot nectar

Freeze small pieces of fruit (pineapple, strawberries, mandarins) in ice cubes. Just before serving add the ice cubes to the punch. Float some washed and dried mint leaves on the top of the fairy nectar.

08 October 2010

How long does food last?

Before you fill your cupboards with bulk items, you may want to review the average "life" of those products you are considering purchasing. Ask yourself if you have adequate storage space, freezer space, and how much your family enjoys the products you are purchasing.  This is a list of the average life of some common pantry and fridge/freezer foods.

Meat & Poultry - Uncooked:
Chicken/Turkey - 9 months
Steaks, beef - 6 to 12 months
Chops, pork - 4 to 6 months
Chops, lamb - 6 to 9 months
Roasts, beef - 6 to 12 months
Roasts, lamb - 6 to 9 months
Roasts, pork and veal - 4 to 6 months
Stew Meats - 3 to 4 months
Ground meats - 3 to 4 months
Organ meats - 3 to 4 months

Dairy Products:
Butter/margarine - 6-9 months
Cheese, soft and spreads, dips - 1 months
Cheese, hard or semi-hard - 6 months
Eggs in shell- Do not freeze
Ice cream - 1 months
Milk / Cream- 3 weeks

Dried Food Items - Shelf Life:
Baking powder/bi-carb soda - 18 months
Bread Crumbs - 6 months
Cereals - 6 months
Flour/cake mixes - 1 year
Gelatin/pudding mixes - 1 year
Herbs/spices - 6-12 months
Milk, nonfat dry - 6 months
Pancake/pastry mixes - 6 months
Pasta/noodles - 2 years
Potatoes, instant - 18 months
Rice, white - 2 years
Sugar, white - 2 years
Sugar, brown, -  4 months

07 October 2010

Get that Bling to Sparkle

A simple way to clean jewellery, particularly diamond rings, is to mix 1 part cloudy ammonia (found in the cleaning aisle of the supermarket) to 1 part hot tap water. Sit the jewellery in the mixture  for 15-30 minutes in a well ventilated area and then rinse off with warm water. Dry with a soft cloth and your jewellery will sparkle.  The ammonia can be used neat but the hot water seems to help loosen any grime.  Do NOT use on pearls or Mother of pearl jewellery.

05 October 2010

Chicken Pot Pie

This pie is delicious and is a nice way to serve leftover roast chicken too. Just substitute the leftover chicken for the chicken fillet. As it will already be cooked you can skip the first step in the method.

Serves 4 - 6
Cost $5.29


2 sheets puff pastry $1.20
1 chicken breast fillet $2.30
1 onion, diced . 20c
1 small carrot, diced .20c
1 stick celery, diced  .10c
1 tin cream of chicken soup  $1.29 (or use the equivalent of homemade mix)

Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Cook the chicken fillet, remove from pan and set aside to cool. Sauté the onion, carrot and celery in the pan the chicken was cooked in, being sure to scrape up the brownings. When the chicken is cool, shred the meat with a fork. Add to the pan with the vegetables, stir in the cream of chicken soup and mix gently until well combined. Grease a pie plate and line the base with one sheet of pastry. Add the filling and top with the second pastry sheet. Trim and crimp the edges to seal, either with a fork or using your fingers to pinch the edges closed. Cut four or five vents in the top of the pie.  Brush top with a little water. Sprinkle with sesame seeds if desired. Cook in a hot oven for 25 - 30 minutes or until golden brown on top and base is cooked through.

04 October 2010

Sewing, Craft, Fix-its and More!

Approximate $ Savings: $30
The ribbons that are sewn into the shoulders of clothing are very handy indeed! I personally don't use them and find them highly annoying so they are cut out of new clothing as soon as it arrives home! I keep them in a designated box so I know where to find them when needed. One of the best things about these ribbons is the variety in colour and the myriad of uses they have. They are great for scrapbooking, craft projects, hair decorations, quick fixes and so much more! My daughter has a strappy sun dress which she loves to bits. The strap from one shoulder snapped and I was unable to repair it. Rather than try to find the dress and replace it totally ($30 new), I got out my ribbon box and created 2 new funky straps for the dress so they would match. My daughter was ecstatic that she still had her dress and that it had received an upgrade. I was MORE than pleased with my handy-work and for saving over $30!

Contributed by Tenille Harrison

03 October 2010

A Wonderful Gift of Fresh Eggs

A dozen fresh eggs, what a wonderful gift
Thomas had some friends over this afternoon and one the boys brought me a dozen farm fresh eggs, straight from his own chickens. I was so thrilled when he gave them to me,  to think this young man knows me so well that he was comfortable enough to give me a dozen eggs as a hostess gift. Not that I think he knows what a hostess gift is, but he was pleased at my joy and I am more than pleased that my boys have such gorgeous friends.

Andre has 20 hens and as well as keeping his own mum and grandmother in fresh eggs he has enough to be able to give them away. When I suggested he could sell them he just shook his head no. He has the chickens because he just loves working with animals and he loves being able to gift something of his own to special people. In this materialistic, self-centred world, isn't that a nice attitude?

So, with a spare dozen eggs I did some extra cooking this afternoon. There's a lovely bread and butter custard for dessert tonight and 10 individual quiche of various flavours in the freezer for lunches. I gave the already recycled carton back to him and have just added 12 crushed egg shells to the bokashi bucket. Nothing  about this gift has been wasted.

It's Tomato Time

It's almost time to get your tomato seedlings into the ground. You can plant them out as soon as the risk of frost is gone.

Prepare the soil by digging over and removing any rocks and clumps. Dig in lots of compost and organic matter and water well.

If you space the plants about 1 metre apart you'll ensure good airflow, reducing the risk of disease. And remember to mulch well.  A simple trick is to plant them just a little deeper than they were in the pot to encourage a good root system and a strong stem.

And lastly remember to feed them regularly with liquid fertilizer like a seaweed mix or use worm castings or compost tea.

02 October 2010

Daylight saving starts tomorrow morning

Don't forget to put your clocks forward one hour before you go to bed tonight. Daylight Savings starts at 2am tomorrow morning for the ACT, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania.

And for those who bemoan the "lost" hour, you'll get it back on 3rd April 2011 when we put the clocks back!

Search Your Family Tree

Most of us know two or three, sometimes four generations of our family tree, but tracing our ancestry back any further can be a little confused.  A great activity that can include everyone in the family is to trace your family tree.  Start with what you know - you and your family, your parents and possibly grandparents. Then go back further by asking older relatives for their memories.  You can use resources like ancestry.com.au to fill in more blanks or contact your local genealogical society for help. You can add as much detail as you like and go back as far at you like.  There are plenty of computer programs around that can help you put the information together or you can use a simple spreadsheet.  Once you've finished put it all together in a book for family members.

01 October 2010

Buy Nothing New month

Today is the start of this month long challenge, the first Buy Nothing New month for Salvos Stores. Of course it fits perfectly with the Cheapskates philosophy too.

We live in a throw-away society, where very little is made to last beyond a couple of years or a few uses and nothing is made to be repaired. Instead, just about everything from paper plates to computers, clothes to washing machines, is disposable, made to be thrown away when it stops working.

This throw-away mentality hasn't made our lives any easier. Instead it has complicated them, adding significantly to the cost of living and creating stresses unknown just a generation ago.

So for the month of October, just 31 short days, the challenge is to ignore the tendency we all have to throw things away and buy a new whatever. This month we are going to extend the useful life of the things we buy, learn just how easy it is to find what we need second-hand, used, repaired, recycled or renovated.  Just so long as we don't buy anything new.

To help you get started here are 10 tips for Op-shopping:

1.Shop with a plan and a list.
2.Be open minded.
3.Look for quality.
4.Don't be afraid to try new, unknown brands.
5.Always try things on.
6.Leave the kids at home.
7.Know your local op-shops opening hours and sale days.
8.Go often and with cash.
9.Think creatively - look for ways to re-purpose the items you see.
10.Think ahead - stockpile great buys for future use.

30 September 2010

Spring Cleaning Tip: Let your clutter pay for itself

If you are looking to clear out some knick knacks or perhaps even some holiday decorations in order to make room for new ones, consider a trip to the local trash'n'treasure market. Everyone is looking for a bargain and they just may be looking for something that you no longer wish to own.  Otherwise, you can always sell items at internet auction sites, including gumtree.com.au and ebay.com.au

29 September 2010

Question Every Expense

We often think we just can't live without that unlimited mobile phone account, or the gym membership, or the kids' babysitting or daycare. But instead of taking everything as a given, go through your bills one by one and see what you could do without if you HAD to cut your spending in half. Most people won't be faced with that kind of drastic reduction in income, but many Australians are dealing with that very scenario right now for one reason or another. If you know what bills you can get rid of straight away then facing a sudden drop in income won't be quite so scary.

28 September 2010

Saving flavoured oils

If you use canned products such as anchovies, sardines, stuffed grape leaves etc that come packed in olive oil, save the oil. Instead of throwing it into the compost save it in a small container in the fridge and re-use it for cooking. It's also great for making a flavoured vinaigrette. Just remember to keep the oils in separate containers and label them - you don't want to fry potatoes in sardine flavoured oil, but it's great for cooking fishcakes. You'll save money by recycling the oil and by not pouring it down the drain (you don't do that do you?).  By adding it to your compost you are helping to keep our waterways clean and clear and enriching the soil.

27 September 2010

Slow Cooker

There is a great discussion going on in the Member's forum at the moment about slow cooker desserts so I thought I'd let you know that I have a new favourite book. You all know of my absolute love of my slow cookers - I have two - so it will be no surprise to you to learn that I have fallen in love with "Slow Cooker" by Sally Wise.

Some of you may already have Sally's other books A Year in a Bottle and Out of a Bottle, two of my other favourite books. Slow Cooker is just as delightful to read and use. If you don't have them or haven't read them, get them from your library and immerse yourself in a warm, old fashioned foodie heaven with a slightly modern twist.

Slow cookers aren't just for winter and they don't just cook soups and stews. I use mine at least twice a week all year round, even in summer. They do make beautiful soups and stews, but they also cook the perfect corned beef, wonderful roasts, delicous puddings and even perfect porridge for a warm winter breakfast. So when I found this book I stood and read it (always a good sign for the bookshop). I didn't just skim it, I read pages and pages before deciding I would use my mad money to buy it. And I am so glad that I did.

It was thrilling to find out that I am not the only nutter with a collection of slow cookers, something Wayne thinks I made up. He finds it hard to understand why I'd need, let alone want, more than one. But then I point out that I find it equally hard to understand why he needs so many trains and that end the discussion quick smart.

Right now Italian Vegetarian Meatballs are simmering in the crockpot for dinner tonight. They smell delicious and Wayne will be home from work soon and I know he'll have a smile on his face when he walks in and can smell dinner cooking. I'm going to put them over mashed potato and green beans (from the garden) tonight. Do you all know that you get the creamiest, smoothest mashed potatoes if you use some of the water they were steamed in and a quarter cup of milk powder to mash them rather than fresh milk? No butter or cream needed if you use the cooking water. Any leftover water can added to the soup or stock pot or frozen to use in gravies, sauces and so on later. Don't pour it down the sink and waste all those vitamins and minerals. If you don't want to use it yourself, pour it over your indoor plants for a treat.

You'll find slow cooker recipes for baked apples, bread and butter pudding and apple pudding in the Recipe File. They are all delicous and just perfect for the slow cooker but my favourite is self-saucing chocolate pudding.

Slow Cooker Chocolate Self- Saucing Pudding
100g butter, melted
½ cup milk
1 egg
1 cup self raising flour
2 tablespoons cocoa
½ cup caster sugar

2 tablespoons cocoa
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 cups boiling water

Combine melted butter, milk and egg. In a separate bowl, sift flour and cocoa together and mix in the sugar. Gradually add the wet ingredients into the flour mixture and mix well. Spoon this mixture into a buttered 6 cup pudding basin. Place a saucer upside down in the bottom of the slow cooker and sit the pudding basin on the top. Combine the cocoa and brown sugar together, sprinkle over the top of pudding. Carefully pour boiling water over the mixture. Cover and cook on High for 3 1/2 hours or on Low for 5-6 hours.  Serve hot with ice cream or custard.