31 May 2012

Keeping Track of Books, Movies and Music

It's nice to have a collection of books to read and DVDs to watch and CDs to listen too, and it's a great idea to share them amongst friends and family; it's a very frugal entertainment. The problem with sharing is that it is very hard to keep track of them to make sure they are returned.

One way to be sure they'll come back, or at least the Lendee will know who to return them too, is to put an address label on each item and for DVDS and CDs, one inside the case.

Then, keep a note of who and what you lend in a notebook or on your computer so you can follow up.

It's no guarantee you'll get the item back but with your name and address on it there really is no excuse.

30 May 2012

A Running Inventory on the Side of the Freezer

I find when I am busy, I don't very often have time to check through the freezer for what is already in there before going shopping - which means I often double up and purchase things I already have! (And if I'm honest, I also really hate this job, especially in winter, because it makes me feel cold!)

So, last night, after yet again buying things I already had (and noticing that the DH and teenagers hadn't eaten the frozen leftovers for snacks/lunches as planned) I came up with a plan.

I grabbed a whiteboard marker and on the side of the fridge listed everything that I had stored in the freezer. I have listed in categories (meat, ready made, leftovers, fruit and veg, breads and pastry) and have noted how much of each (e.g. bread loaf x 2, whole rabbit x 1).

Then, whenever anything is added or removed, we will just update the list on the side! This will save time, money at the supermarket, as well as the 'there is nothing to eat' argument often had with teenagers! Just make sure you use whiteboard marker so that it can be wiped off again (and maybe test in an inconspicuous place first).

Contributed by Claire, Maryborough

29 May 2012

California Chicken - a Slowcooker Recipe

This is an emergency slowcooker recipe. That may seem a little odd - emergencies usually require speedy action, not something the slowcooker is renowned for.  I've classed it as an emergency recipe because it uses a processed ingredient. While most of the ingredients are fresh (as they should be when you cook from scratch) there is one that is bottled for convenience. That convenience adds $2.29 to the cost - convenience does come at a price!  Use this recipe when you know you have a busy day and need a spectacular dish for dinner and don't want to have to go and spend $30 on extra food. It is good, colourful and tasty. And not $30 - around $11, a saving of $19.

California Chicken
Cost: $11.29
Serves: 6  ($1.88 per serve)

1.5kg chicken fillets (breast or thigh), cut into chunks - $7.50
1 large onion, halved and sliced - 25c
1 large carrot, cut into 2cm chunks -10c
1 large zucchini, cut into 2cm chunks - 35c
1 red capsicum, cut into strips - 50c
Quarter head of cauliflower, cut into florets - 50c
1 bottle Italian salad dressing - $2.29

Spray the crock with cooking spray. Add the chicken and vegetables. Pour over the salad dressing and gently toss to make sure all the food is coated in the dressing. Cook on low for 6 hours or until the chicken is cooked through.

Serve over steamed rice with a salad on the side.

You can get the cost of this dish down by using frozen mixed vegetables, and lower it even more by using home grown produce.

28 May 2012

Organize Your Freezer with these Freezer Labels

One of the jobs I was able to cross off the to-do list last week was defrost and re-organize the freezer, and I was very glad to get it done.

Keeping a freezer organized, especially a chest freezer, can be quite a feat, especially when it is almost always packed tight.

To help keep my freezer neat and tidy, and to stop food getting lost and ruined, I use "green" bags and cute little labels I made using the computer.

The bags are different colours according to their contents:
  • Red - red meat
  • Green - vegetables
  • Yellow - chicken
  • Black - roasts
  • Pink - fruit
  • Blue - sweets and pastry
On the handle of each bag I've tied a label. They are tied on so they can easily be moved to another bag in the future. You could staple or stitch them on if you want something more permanent.

I printed the labels off onto an A4 sheet, cut around the shape and laminated them in business card sized laminating pouches (because I already had them). You can cut them out and then space them onto an A4 laminating pouch, run them through the laminator and then cut them out (or go to the expense of buying business card sized pouches, but why would you?).  Once they have been laminated punch a hole in the pointy end, slip through the twine or ribbon and they are ready to use.

Use this free template to make your own freezer labels (look under the Tools and Guides section).

1.  Download and open it in Word. 
2.  To add an item to a label click in the centre and type into the text box.
3.  To change the background colour of the labels click on the label and then choose a new fill colour.
4.  Print, cut out and laminate. Punch a hole through the point of each label to attach to freezer items.

25 May 2012

Dairy Can Be Frozen!

A lot of dairy products can be frozen and still maintain their texture, taste and quality when thawed. This is especially helpful when dairy products come on a really good sale or you constantly run out of milk. Having milk in the freezer stops those trips to the shop to buy the proverbial $30 bottle of milk, just pick it all up when you do your weekly, fortnightly or monthly grocery shop and freeze it.

To freeze milk, pour 3 -4 cm from the bottle, re-cap and freeze it upright. Milk expands a lot when it freezes and not pouring off will result in a sticky, frozen mess in your freezer. 

You can also freeze block, sliced and grated cheeses, yoghurt and cream successfully. Block cheese will be crumbly after thawing so slice and wrap it before freezing and whip cream before freezing, it thaws better this way.

24 May 2012

Banish Clutter with Clutter-free Habits

Keeping a house clean and tidy is impossible if that house is full of clutter. You can't clean when you don't have clear spaces and dust and dirt love to hide in clutter. If you are struggling with keeping your house clean and tidy, and remember you only have to keep it to your standards, then perhaps you need to develop some Clutter-free habits.

1.  Don't let piles build up. Put things away as soon as you are finished with them. And teach other household members to do this too!

2.  Deal with things as soon as they come into the house. One of the most beautifully kept homes I have ever been in is home to a family of 13! Celia's secret is to handle things once and once only. Mail is sorted as soon as it comes in, junk to the recycle bin, bills to the Bill Paying Folder, school papers are signed and returned, newsletters filed, invitations RSVPd, shopping is put away, laundry actually comes into the house folded and is put away immediately.

3.  "A place for everything and everything in it's place." That old idiom works. Set a time each morning and evening when you prowl your home picking up the things that aren't in the right spot and return them to their home. It's impossible to keep things tidy if they have nowhere to live. And when everything in your home as a spot where it belongs, there is no excuse for anyone else to not put things away.

4.  De-clutter! Once you've found a place for everything you need and want, move the excess on. Donate, Freecycle, sell or just toss but don't keep the clutter.

I love the William Morris quote "have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful." Think of this as you de-clutter to make an unpleasant chore an very easy task.

It takes just 21 repetitions for something to become a habit so stick to the four clutter-free tips and develop four very good homemaking habits.

23 May 2012

Spend Only What You Have

I was talking with young man yesterday who confessed to being terrible with cash. He could control his spending during the week, when he was busy with work, but come the weekend money just flowed through his fingers like water.

My advice to him was simple: don't carry money in your wallet that you can't afford to spend.  This applies to the weekends, evenings out or even taking the kids to the park.

There are two ways to do this. One, set yourself a pay day and withdraw only the cash you need (and can afford).  Two, and this is for if you don't like carrying cash, get a debit card (not a credit card). It functions the same way as a credit card, but the funds you spend are your own, so no debt and no interest. Only keep the amount you can afford to spend in the account linked to the debit card. Either way, once the money is gone, it's gone. No more spending until your next pay day.

It may sound harsh, but it gives you some spending money and forces you to stick to your Spending Plan.

22 May 2012

Basic Beef Stew Slow Cooker Style

1kg stewing steak
3 tsp olive oil
1 large brown onion, sliced
1/2 green capsicum, diced
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
2 cups beef stock
410g can diced tomatoes
125g mushrooms, sliced
1/3 cup barbecue sauce
3 tbsp cornflour
1/4 cup cold water

Oil the base and sides of the slow cooker. Sauté the capsicum, onion and garlic in the olive oil. Next add all the ingredients, except the water and cornflour, to the slow cooker. Stir to mix well. Cook on low setting for 8 to 10 hours.

Just before serving, mix together the water and cornflour. Add to the slow cooker and stir to thicken.

Serve over a bed of rice or with mashed potato and steamed greens.

21 May 2012

Sinkers Grow, Floaters Don't

Before you throw away those seeds you've had for a while test their viability. Fill a bowl with water, add the seeds and let it sit overnight. In the morning skim off the floaters - these seeds won't grow. Pour the water through a fine sieve and plant the seeds that are left. These are the sinkers, and these seeds will grow. The "best before" date on the packet is just an indication, so before you toss, test.

18 May 2012

Grocery Shopping Tips

For many people heading out to do the grocery shopping is like moving to a foreign land.  There senses are bombarded from all directions with colour, light, smell, even odd placements so that they end up slightly confused. That's the plan of course because when you are slightly confused you tend to think and act on your emotional rather than your practical personality. And that's when you find your grocery budget is out of control.

Anyone can stick to their grocery budget, no matter how large or small it may be, and it's not difficult at all.  Here's how:

1. make a list and stick to it.
2. don't be afraid to buy generic products
3. don't be conned into thinking bigger is always cheaper.
4. don't shop when you're hungry.
5. find a local "bargain bin" or grocery outlet and use it.
6. shop the perimeter of the supermarket.

Stick to these 6 simple rules and you will be able to stick to your grocery budget.

17 May 2012

Keep Your Cat Busy

If you have a cat that is home alone all day, avoid the boredom that encourages mischief and keep him (or her) busy with this very simple and inexpensive toy. Take an empty tissue box and remove the plastic film over the opening (if it's there, my current tissue box doesn't have it). The take two table tennis balls and drop them into the tissue box.  Leave the box on the floor for your curious kitty to find. He will spend hours trying to get the balls out of the box through the opening and you'll come home to a happy cat.

16 May 2012

How to Save $1 a Week

When it comes to saving money, you might think that $1 here and there won't make much of a difference. Add up all those single dollars and before you know it you have saved a considerable sum.   Just remember: money isn't saved until it is safely in the bank. Until then it's just not spent so make sure you do put your dollars aside to be banked.

You can save $1 a week by:
• Hang the washing on the clothes line rather than using the dryer – saving $0.65c/load
•  take your morning coffee in a thermos mug – saving $2.50 plus/coffee
• borrow magazines from the library – saving $3.00 plus
• wash in cold water – saving $0.25 per load
• turn lights off – saving on a 60w incandescent light bulb $0.84/hour
• switch to compact fluorescents – saving $0.69/hour for 60w equivalent
• buy petrol when it's at it's lowest – save up to $0.10/litre
• make your own chips – saving $ 1.50/kg
• buy cans of soft drink in bulk from supermarket – saving $1.00/can

You can save $10 a week by:
• Taking your lunch to work just one day a week - save $8
• Have one vegetarian meal a week - save $7 or more
• Cancel the newspaper on weekdays- you can read it online for free - save $6

You can save $100 a week by:
• Using cash - put away the credit cards and stop paying interest on your purchases
• Review your annual bills - insurances, phones, Internet, electricity and gas and switch to a cheaper provider
• Switching from brand name to generic products for the things that don't matter (flour is flour, sugar is sugar regardless of the name on the packaging) and save around $30 a week
• Create takeaway style meals at home and save $25 (or more) a week
Not one of these things will cause a major lifestyle change and on their own they won't save you much. But combine a few of them and the savings add up. Remember the old saying "take care of the pennies and the pounds take care of themselves"? In this instance, they really do!

15 May 2012

Aunty Mary's Beef Casserole

I've been making this casserole for years and years and years and every time it goes down a treat, never leftovers with this flavoursome dish.

It is also one of the simplest casseroles I've ever made, and very economical too. Oh, and it's also a great way to use up those jars of plum jam you have stashed in the pantry from last year's jam making.


500g chuck or stewing steak
1/2 cup plum jam
1/4 cup tomato sauce
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
Steamed rice to serve

Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.  Oil a 2 litre casserole dish. Cut the steak into bite sized chunks and place in casserole dish. Combine jam, tomato sauce and Worcestershire sauce and pour over the steak. Place lid on casserole and cook 1 1/2 hours or until sauce has thickened and the meat is fork tender. Serve over steamed rice.

14 May 2012

Toddlers Treasure Bag

This little bag brought back memories of my boys and their treasures. We would go for a walk almost every day and of course along the way we would pick up leaves and flowers, sticks and stones, grasses and on the odd occasion a bug or two. Having a treasure bag like this would have been a great help, and saved one mother from carrying all manner of nature's wonders.

Liane Strawhorn sent the instructions. Here is what she wrote:

I recently made my 3 year old grandson a treasure bag to take on his nature walks and trips to the seaside. He is living in California for two years and I always have plenty of ideas to sew for his little sister but find boys a little harder, however this bag proved a real hit.

Take a piece of plastic fly wire measuring approximately 30cm x 60cm (my piece came from a piece that DH took out of window and replaced with new wire), if you don't have fly wire you could use strong net or even old lace curtain.

I then took a scrap piece of fabric and embroidered DGS' name and the words "Treasure Bag" on this square of fabric (approximately 10cm square).

Fold the fly wire in half, 30cm end to meet 30cm end, centre name panel on one side, open out and stitch panel in place. I used a leather needle in my machine and just regular sewing thread.

Fold net in half again, this time with the name panel inside. Sew both sides together with a straight stitch to make a bag shape. I sewed each side twice to make the bag strong.

Turn bag to right side out. To complete bag sew bias binding to the top edge. Pin it to the top edge, half inside and half outside if that makes sense, leaving a nice smooth edge on the top. Sew this in one step with a zigzag stich.

To finish the bag I attached 2 webbing handles to the top of the bag, these were claimed from a recycled webbing belt of DS3 that he no longer used.

This bag is great as the treasures collected can be viewed for any wildlife by the adult companion, sand and grit falls out of bag before it gets into the house, it can be hosed down outside without emptying. Hope this makes sense. I included a small book in my gift for DGS about birds and a sweet little carved wooden squirrel I found in the op shop (his favourite animal). 

12 May 2012

Spending Too Much Money on Weekends?

We enjoyed a picnic lunch on the bank of this river on one of our drives
Oh the weekend…it’s two days we seem to almost live for. I start praying for Friday evening on Sunday night. I love the weekend, we don’t have to work and Saturday and Sunday become a celebration for five days of hard work.

They can also become the two days we break our diet, forget our exercise routine and forget all about your Spending Plan. While the diet and exercise part can be easily recovered from (well in theory anyway), forgetting your Spending Plan can have lasting effects.

It is very tempting to splurge on the weekend. You've worked hard all week and deserve a treat or two (or three or four or five….) and not worry about the Spending Plan.  If you find money flows like water on the weekends and you’re going a bit crazy with the spending, take a look at your Spending Plan and adjust it so you have a weekend allowance. Take out the amount of cash you’re allowed to spend on the weekend and spend only the money you have in your purse or wallet. This will help you stay on track and will help you control your money on the weekends.

In fact, when you head out, don’t even take your debit and credit cards with you; leave them at home. If you don’t like carrying cash, then get yourself a Visa gift card from the Post Office with $50, $75 or $100 on it. Then you can use this to take care of your weekend spending instead of carrying cash.  And once it's gone, it's time to head home for some free fun.

Which leads me to this: substitute expensive activities for inexpensive or free ones. You don’t need unplanned spending to enjoy your weekend. For example, instead of going window shopping, which is never cost-free, you always buy something, or heading to the movies, go to the park or take advantage of festivals and free days at local attractions. Get outside whenever possible, even in winter. Going on a hike, taking a bike ride or even getting in the car and heading to explore a new area are all inexpensive and fun ways to spend a day.

Wayne often suggests we go for a drive on a Sunday afternoon. It only takes a few minutes to boil the jug and fill the thermos, while that's happening I pack some fruit and perhaps some muffins or cake or even sandwiches, put them all in the picnic basket and we're off.  We usually don't have a destination in mind, just wherever the road takes us is good enough.

Our spontaneous road trips have led us to some beautiful spots, right on our doorstep. We've found some lovely camping spots and marked them on our map for future summer weekends, met some lovely people, and just enjoyed being together in the bush. After a couple of hours we head on home, refreshed and relaxed and just plain happy.

We are not big on eating out, saving it for a special treat (like Mother's Day, we are going to our local Chinese restaurant tomorrow night) but If you like to eat out then plan on going out to eat only once each weekend. Eating out can eat up money incredibly fast, destroying a Spending Plan in just one or two meals if you are not very careful. A Sunday morning brunch, with the newspapers, watching the people go by, will fill in a couple of hours and is a less expensive way of enjoying eating out. Or be super savvy and look for coupons in your local paper, online or even in the junk mail.

Instead of eating out all weekend, why not use the time to make food in? This can be both an inexpensive activity and a great way to save money. With so many cooking shows on TV and recipes online it is very easy to replicate restaurant meals in your own kitchen, for a fraction of the price.  I heartily recommend Rilka's Feasts by Rilka Warbanoff and Sally Wise's From My Kitchen to Yours for some delicious, easy and very budget friendly recipes - just be aware that although they are budget friendly, they could blow your diet.

For many of us, avoiding the shops over the weekend is almost impossible. When you work full-time shopping at the weekend is often the only time available. So I recommend you shop with a list. I know I must sound like a broken record on this, but it really does save you a lot of money. The weekend is often when we take care of the grocery, household and clothing shopping that needs to be done, and it’s so very easy to shop impulsively when you’re in a beautifully lit and decorated shopping centre. Don’t let this happen. Make a list before you head out and only buy what’s on your list. Remember, if it's not on the list, you can't buy it!

I found over the years that the easiest way to not spend money over the weekend was to simply spend time with my family. Family time at home making crafts, playing games and just getting together and hanging out is free. And you don’t need to be doing something frivolous - working together in the garden and around the home can be just as much fun as watching a DVD or playing a board game. It's not only a lovely way to enjoy your children but you are teaching them that you don't need to be out and about, spending money to have fun.

As your children grow, your family time together changes. Spending time with them will become more social, perhaps more family dinners and barbecues. Then they start bringing home friends, who become girlfriends and boyfriends. If you have an established pattern of family time, be it in the kitchen, around the table or in the garden, they will still want to spend time with you.  You have taught them from an early age that being together, enjoying each other's company, is more fun than spending money. Psychologists may call it bonding, I call it being a family.

Yes, the weekends are a time to take care of errands, to celebrate a productive workweek and to enjoy yourself. However, that doesn’t mean you have to bust your Spending Plan. Stay on track and have fun and really enjoy your weekend.

11 May 2012

Make-do Kitchen Tools

In line with the Saving Revolutions UWMW creed (Use it up, Wear it out, Make do or Do without) today I am going to look at some kitchen gadgets that serve more than one purpose, often being used for a job completely alien to their original use.

It is easy to get caught up in the hype surrounding kitchen gadgets, especially this time of year around Mother's Day. The junk mail has been full of gadgets, all designed to make life in the kitchen easier and prettier. And they do.  But sadly many of these gadgets end up sitting in drawers or at the backs of cupboards forgotten and unused, wasting money and space simply because they are advertised and marketed as a single purpose item, often an item that might only be used once or twice a year.

That is a huge waste of money and of cupboard space.

For example I have a lemon juicer, the metal type where I put the lemon half in upside down and bring the top of the juicer down and it pushes the lemon inside out. It was advertised as a lemon juicer. Next to it were a lime juicer, an orange juicer and a grapefruit juicer. They all do the same job. The only difference was the size - the orange and grapefruit juicers were a little larger. We don't like grapefruit so I don't have to worry about fitting them in the juicer.

I bought the lemon juicer and it gets used for lemons, limes and oranges.

I can imagine though, someone buying all four because they haven't thought the purchase through.

Before you buy any new gadget ask yourself these questions:

1.Do I really need it?
2.Will I use it often enough to warrant the purchase price?
3.Do I already have something that will do, or can be adapted to do, the same job?
4.Do I have the cash to pay for it?

If you answer yes to questions 1, 2 and 4 and no to question 3, then perhaps it is worth your while buying it.

But if you don't, then apply the $100/24 Hour Rule (even if it's just a couple of dollars) and wait. Chances are, as with most spontaneous purchases, you'll find you either don't want it, can't be bothered going back to get it or will find something you already have or cheaper.

So what are some UWMW gadgets?

Biscuit, Cookie and Pastry Cutters - they are really cute in all those pretty shapes and sizes but really a drinking glass or small jam jar serves the same purpose and costs nothing. Use a saucer or bread and butter plate for cutting pie crusts, measuring tortillas etc. Egg rings can be used to make English muffins and small crumpets, cut both ends off a 185g tuna tin to make a larger crumpet ring.

Cake Rack - use the rack out of your baking dish or turn a muffin tin upside down and cool your sheet cakes on it. Cake racks are expensive, so why spend the money if you don't have to?

Rolling Pin - a long neck wine bottle does a great job as a rolling pin. And you can chill it in the fridge if you are going to use it to roll pastry.

Garlic Press - handy to have but hard to clean!  Use a large, flat bladed knife to give the garlic cloves a whack. They'll break open easily, you can peel them and then dice or crush them.

Icing Bag - use a (clean) ziplock with one corner snipped off to pipe icing and cream. If you have piping tubes they will slip into the corner so you can pipe decorative shapes.

Funnel - paper coffee filters make great funnels for dry goods. Snip the end of the filter off and place it into the jar or bottle you are going to fill. For wet items cut the top off a clean, empty soft drink bottle.

Vegetable Steamer - put some water in the bottom of a saucepan. Line the saucepan with foil that has had some small holes punched through it, hanging foil over the sides of the saucepan to create a basket. Put the veggies in the basket, place the lid on the saucepan and steam.

Necessity really is the mother of invention.

Next time you think you "need" a kitchen gadget, stop and think carefully. Use your imagination and get creative. Take a good look at the gadgets and tools you have and think about how you can use them to your best advantage.

And keep your money in the bank.

10 May 2012

Miracle Spray

I was talking to Michael Smyth on ABC Radio 891 in Adelaide on Tuesday afternoon. He was asking about things Cheapskaters do to save money - or rather the extreme things we do to save money. He seemed to think that making my own washing powder was extreme, which made me smile. I've been doing it so long I think buying washing powder is extreme.

As we talked I mentioned Miracle Spray. The name alone was enough to have him hone in on it. He wanted to know what it was and how it was made, what it was used for and how much it cost. His listeners wanted to know to. I'm still getting emails asking for the recipe.

Since the day Joyofquilting posted this recipe it has been a hit with Cheapskaters. We love it because it is a MOO, it is very, very cheap at around 35 cents a litre to make, and is an all-round super cleaner. It can be used in the kitchen, bathroom and laundry, makes short work of outdoor furniture and barbecues, it even cleans up joggers and dirty sport shoes. Use it in the toilet, on floors, to clean painted surfaces, to clean showers and tiled surfaces.

It was dubbed Miracle Spray and the name has stuck. This cleaner really is miraculous.

Miracle Spray

1.5 litre water (1 cup boiled)
300ml vinegar 
60ml dishwashing liquid 
25ml eucalyptus
3 dessertspoons "Lectric" soda (washing soda)

Mix washing soda with about 1 cup boiling water to dissolve, add remaining  ingredients, pour into a 2 litre bottle (I use the vinegar ones). That's it folks!!!

To Use:
This nearly fills the 2 litre bottle, then I decant (don't you just love that word) into spray bottles for benches and laundry, and refill old toilet cleaner bottles to squirt under the rim in the loo etc.  It's also good to spray on the floor on tough stains, you know the stuff you dropped when cooking that dried. I originally found the recipe from another site and just tweaked it a bit. I love it, as I try to minimise the use of chemicals around the house. With the collars and cuffs, try to spray and leave to soak for a few minutes works best I've found, so I spray as I sort, then do the whites second rather than first load to give the spray a chance to work. 
Contributed by Joyofquilting

Here's an example of just how miraculous Miracle Spray is. I deliberately let the kids' shower get grungy - actually it's more than grungy, it's slimy and horrible. They've been complaining for weeks about the state of it, but I couldn't ask anyone if they had a revolting shower that needed to be cleaned, so theirs it was. As you'll see in the first picture, it had everything: soap scum, mould and mildew, verdigris built up on the shower floor - erk!  A few squirts of Miracle Spray, five minutes of rubbing with one of my favourite scrubbers and voila - sparkling clean and a pleasure to use again.

The filthy, revolting shower before Miracle Spray

Clean and bright, after Miracle Spray and about 5 minutes effort

Miracle Spray has proved so popular some Cheapskaters are making it up in double batches because they can't bear the thought of running out of it.

It certainly has been a hot topic in the Member Forum, with it's own threads and hundreds of posts dedicated to it.

I made up a Tip Sheet for Miracle Spray and it's in the Printables library. Members can download it and either save it to your computer or print it out and keep it in your cleaning cupboard so you'll always have the recipe and instructions on hand.

09 May 2012

Control Your Day to Day Finances

1.  Quit playing the lottery.

2.  Pay off those credit cards to get away from the interest payments.

3.  Put yourself on an allowance.

4.  Keep a spending record. Jot down every cent you spend in a small notebook you can carry on you.

5.  Do not carry emergency cash around with you.

6.  Pick an amount to have in your savings account and make that the "zero" line.

7.  Forget using ATMs if you are charged a fee.

8.  Take money directly out of your bank by physically going there - you are more aware of what you are doing.

9.  If you still use a cheque account, make sure you keep a sufficient amount in it to avoid fees.

10. Look for bank accounts that pay interest on your money and then use them.

11. Have your pay direct deposited so you can automatically have part of it put into your savings account.

12. Have your pay direct deposited so you do not have to waste time and petrol driving to the bank.

13. Replacing items from a lost wallet or purse can be expensive. Make a list of those items and have phone numbers handy for lost or stolen credit cards.

08 May 2012

Pressure Cooker Lamb Shanks Braised in Red Wine

I was given a couple of lamb shanks yesterday and already had two in the freezer so I did a quick swap around of our meal plan and we had lovely, yummy shanks and mash for dinner.  As I focused on pressure cooker recipes in this month's Journal, I decided the pressure cooker would do a great job of braising these shanks.

I love braised shanks, but they are so expensive. It wasn't that long ago the butcher would give them to you as dog bones. Now they are trendy the price has gone up, making them a rare treat in our house.

When I see them on sale for around $6 - $7 a kilo I will buy them and stash them in the freezer, ready for winter stews, braises and soups. They are so delicious and a real winter warmer. If you've never tried to cook lamb shanks, give this recipe a go. It's so easy and very, very moreish.

With this recipe you can have delicious braised lamb shanks cooked and on the table in around 30 minutes. Cooked in the pressure cooker they are fork tender, with a delicious red wine gravy.

4 lamb shanks
1/4 cup plain flour
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
3 large carrots, cut into chunks
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp oregano
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tomato, quartered
3/4 cup red wine
1/4 cup water
1 beef stock cube


Heat oil in base of pressure cooker. Dredge lamb shanks in plain flour and brown all over in hot oil. Remove to a plate. Add a little more oil if necessary. Saute the onion, carrot, garlic and oregano until onion is clear, about 4 minutes. Add tomato paste, tomato, red wine, water and stock cube and bring to a boil. Add lamb shanks. Place lid on pressure cooker and bring to pressure. Once at pressure turn heat to low and cook 25 minutes. Use natural release to release pressure.

I served this dish with a potato/turnip mash and green beans, and ladled the gravy over the shanks once they were on the plate.

If you like a thick gravy add a little plain flour that has been mixed to a paste in some cold water into the juices after you remove the shanks from the pressure cooker.

And this dish would work well in the slow cooker too. I'd allow at least 8 hours on high to get the meat fork tender.

07 May 2012

A Warm and Cosy Shawl

This shawl is easy.  Worked in just garter stitch even a beginner knitter could very quickly create a beautiful shawl, just right for wrapping around your shoulders while you work, read or even knit!

Worked in a triangle, you start with just two stitches, increasing one stitch at the end of each row, until your shawl is done.

You will need:
4 x 100g balls 8 ply pure wool
1 7mm circular knitting needle

You will use the circular needle as you would a pair of straight needles. When you finish knitting all your stitches from the left needle to the right, you will switch hands and knit from left to right again. You will always be knitting left to right, but you need the length of the circular needle to hold all your stitches as your shawl grows.

Cast on 2 stitches.
1st row:  knit 1, yarn over, knit 1, 3 stitches
2nd row: knit 1, yarn over, knit, 4 stitches
3rd row: knit 1, yarn over, knit 3, 5 stitches
4th row: knit 1, yarn over, knit to end.
Repeat 4th row until you have 170 stitches on your needle.
Cast off.

You may need to block your shawl to square and even out your knitting. To do this lay the shawl out on a towel or blanket that has been spread out on a flat surface. Lightly mist the shawl with water, gently shaping it as you desire. Pin into place on the towel or blanket with dressmakers or quilters pins. Allow to dry flat.

As soon as I can get the camera out of the car I'll post a picture of my shawl - it's not finished just yet, but it growing beautifully, a little each night as I sit in front of the TV. I am watching, or rather re-watching, the Cranford series on DVD at the moment and thoroughly enjoying it again while I knit before bed time.

03 May 2012

Tempt the Senses

The advent of winter means for most of us that windows and doors are shut, the air is damp and heaters are running. And that means that sometimes our homes, no matter how clean, become a little stale.

Before you go out and buy mountain breezes in a can, try this. Soak cotton balls in concentrated essential oils such as vanilla, orange or lemon and tuck them behind photo frames, in small vases, inside cushion covers, on windowsills behind curtains - just about anywhere. If you have very curious small children or even pets, put them into small, plastic containers with childproof caps, punch lots of holes around the bottle and hide these throughout the house.

They are cheaper than fresh air in a can and you can quickly and easily refresh them by adding a few drops of your favourite essential oil every now and then.

The house will smell fresh all winter long, until spring arrives and you can open windows and doors wide to let the fresh air blow through.

02 May 2012

Shopping Lists

I'll say it:  if you go to the supermarket more than once a week you're not only wasting time, but money too. The first step to getting into a more regular shopping routine is to meal plan, the second step is to write an accurate shopping list. Over time you will get very good at predicting your grocery needs for a week, fortnight, even a month. Write your list in general categories i.e. meat, fruit and veg, dairy, baking, toiletries, cleaning etc and if you shop at more than one store or market write a list for each one. And a tip that will save you lots of time: try to write your list in aisle order so you are not backtracking all over the supermarket to pick up the items on your list. Once you have your list, stick to it. And if you see something that's not on the list - too bad! It has to wait until next shopping day.

01 May 2012

Boiled Chocolate Cake

This is one of the moistest cakes around. Not quite as dense as a mud cake, but every bit as delicious, it costs approximately $2 to make. It's so moist and delicious you don't need icing, just dust the top with a little icing sugar to serve.

1 cup water
2 tbsp cocoa
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
125g butter
1 1/2 cups SR flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda

Pre heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Grease and line a 20cm round cake tin. Place sugar, water, butter, cocoa and bicarb soda in a saucepan and stir over a low heat until the butter melts. Bring to the boil and simmer 5 minutes. When the mixture is cool beat in the eggs and flour. Pour into prepared cake tin and bake for 1 hour. Allow to cool in tin 5 minutes before turning onto a cake rack to cool completely.