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Thanks,

 

Amanda

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Ten Tips for Frozen, Frugal Food!

Hello!

As promised in my last post the next few posts will be full of frugal ideas. Before we know it we will be constantly reminded about Christmas. Unfortunately most of us will be working and wondering how we will find the time,  or the money, to be the perfect host  on a budget when we want to impress our family and friends.

What I do is not rocket science; being a control freak I like to be organised! When I was working in the bank I had a colleague who would always ask me what I was cooking for dinner. I’m sure she never believed me when I told her what I was doing that night. She couldn’t understand how I could perform all day in a stressful job, go home and spend time with my boys and make a delicious meal. The secret? It’s all in the planning. Simply learn a few tricks to save some money, eat fab food and never buy a convenience meal again. I admit these ideas are about a bit of work when you have time so you can cheat later. Be sure to save any plastic pot like ice-cream ones so that the freezer is not a complete mess of bags and don’t forget to label them.

Oh… you may be wondering why the picture of the sunflower? My lovely neighbour brought me over a huge bunch of these today from his garden and they look a lot better than this picture of the frozen food!

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So here is my Top Ten Tips for frozen, frugal food.

1. After carving a roast chicken or duck there are always little pockets of meat left on the carcass. When it’s cold take off every shred of meat and bag it or box it. Pack the skin, carcass and other bones separately . Take out the bones, cover with water, add a quartered onion, a carrot and 2 bay leaves and boil for two hours to make stock for soup or sauce. The shredded chicken can go in soup, rice dish, omelette, pizza, pasta or a pie. The list is endless!

2. If you have any left-over pork chops, slices of roast pork, sausage or ham chop them and bag them. Ideal to scatter over a pizza or mixed with 5 Spice to stir through cooked rice as a Chinese dish.

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3. Sometimes only a fresh lemon will do, especially for the zest where the magic flavour is. Don’t ditch your squeezed halves. Stick them in a bag in the freezer and when you are having roast chicken pop one in the cavity.  Get your chicken out from the freezer in the morning and put it in the oven with some jacket potatoes when you get in and go and bath the kids or have a bath yourself! The whole house will smell of lemon. The lemons can also be used when cooking rice or couscous. I also freeze whole limes if they start to look a bit sad in the fruit bowl to squeeze over curries.

4. Have you seen those nasty lurid breadcrumbs in the supermarket? We sometimes have left-over bread (not often in France!), but whatever you have, baguette, sliced, crusts, simply blitz it in a food processor and stick it in the freezer. Once defrosted it can be used for stuffings, meatballs, burgers or dry it in the oven for ten minutes and use as a coating for chicken. Flour your chicken, dip in beaten egg and then roll in seasoned toasted breadcrumbs with your choice of seasoning. Bake in the oven to be virtuous or fry. This is really quick with chicken escalopes.

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5. If you’ve gone to the effort of making shortcrust pastry it seems a shame to throw out what is left and there is always something left, yes? Keep a patty tin in the freezer and use the leftovers to cut out another round. Then , if you have unexpected guests you can always whip it out the freezer and add an egg mix for instant mini quiches with cheese and bacon or salmon and spring onion or whatever you fancy. They are also great for lunches or tarts. I do this towards Christmas to save time. You can also freeze whole balls of dough if well wrapped or line whole pie dishes.

6. We are lucky enough to have markets and shops stocked with  fruits de mer  and when we lived in England we were close to the harbour in Portsmouth so we could buy at the quay. We love eating and it is always cheaper to buy it in the shell but please don’t throw the shells out. Shove it all in a bag in the freezer and you can make some amazing fish stock for bouillabaise or bisque. It is amazing how much flavour is hidden in the shell. I also always reserve a few mussels when they have been cooked and freeze them in the liquor. Use within a month. Great for a last minute paella or Blanquette de la Mer or salad.

Rhubarb and ginger jam

7. I love my veggie patch but I know not everyone can have one. When you are buying peppers, chillies or fresh herbs and you have some left that you won’t use then please don’t throw it on the compost. You can slice or chop the peppers and bag them to freeze. The same with the chillies but you can also leave them whole and chop from frozen. Herbs can be chopped and packed with water in ice trays. My favourites to freeze are mint, basil and coriander.

8. Get out in the countryside now! We are currently picking rosehips. Wash and freeze now to make cordial later. It is extremely high in vitamin C and easy to make with a sour-sweet taste. Wash and freeze sloes and clackberries or brambles for sloe gin and blackberry vodka; both are ideal as Christmas gifts. Freeze blanched plums, apples and rhubarb ready for jamming or tarting later when you have time. It’s great when it’s free! Don’t forget to collect chestnuts ready for Christmas. Simply make a cross on them and bring to the boil. Turn the heat off and remove the shells, leaving them in the water as you peel each one. They are great in sweet dishes or chopped in stuffings or mixed with Brussels sprouts.

Chillies from the Garden

9. Be a supermarket stalker!  Know when your supermarket reduces items nearing their dates and buy the lot. My husband is often embarrassed when I do this but I re-wrap the meat  in portions when I get home and we can enjoy some luxuries like fillet steak or duck that we wouldn’t normally buy.

10. Freeze your leftovers. Slice roast potatoes for omelettes. Sometimes you want a bit of pineapple for a pizza and only have a large tin of it. The same happens with sweetcorn or other jars and tins so just freeze the rest. Don’t waste money buying a can of kidney beans or chick peas. Buy the dried ones and cook the whole lot as instructions then just freeze portions. This saves time and money.If you are making a one pot meal make double the quantity to freeze for later.

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I’m sure that many of you out there already do some of these things. I’d love to know what tips you have for making the most of your freezer.

Thanks,

Amanda

xx

The Bed’s Not Wet!

It’s been a hectic two weeks at Le Rêve as at long last we have a new roof! Although we have only lived here a year last June for the previous four years we came to the house throughout the year and always used to cross our fingers when it rained. Many nights we had to go to bed with a bucket placed strategically on the floor by the bed and listen to the plinkety-plonk of water seeping through the wooden ceiling and hitting the bucket in different places. It was very musical when you couldn’t sleep but more worrying still was the quiet thud of water hitting the bedding…. Suffice to say we had been looking forward to this moment for the last five years.

To keep the cost down we work with Daniel, the roofer. The thing is that we definitely have to watch every single cent. Part of moving to France was a search for a simpler life in exchange for leaving the rat-race. This means a massive reduction in income! The work for us involves helping to remove and dispose of tiles and old rotten wood and then lug the tuiles from the car park up to the barn which is a fair way. And I’m telling you, as pretty as terracotta tiles are, they weigh a ton!

Roof (2) Roof (3)

Well everything starts smoothly.The sun is shining, Daniel is singing as usual and my husband and son are heaving tiles. To save more money we had opted to just have new under tiles and to use the best of the old tiles as the over tiles. So far so good! Daniel starts tile hurling with his young mate Kevin until we hit un petit problème, all the tiles are porous and can’t be reused. This translates into a bill for eight hundred Euros on top of the estimate! Of course, by this time a good chunk of the roof is naked, Daniel is surrounded by broken tiles and my husband’s excitement  of the possibility of a dry bed has slightly waned. It’s not an insurmountable problem; I have a little money saved for a new kitchen so we can use that. I take a deep breath and tell him to go ahead and order more tiles. I hand over a signed blank cheque, against my better judgement after eighteen years of banking, and keep my fingers crossed.

The next day they have removed the old rotten volige and are ready to check the chevrons (rafters). They were expecting to  adjust them, but on  closer inspection they resemble bananas, rotten bananas. They all have to be replaced, of course. Another few hundred to fork out and another blank cheque. I am amazed at how you can walk into a shop and exchange goods for a cheque for a fair amount of dosh without identification!

By now you may be muttering ‘stupid woman’ or something similar, but I do know Daniel as he did some roofing for us last year. He is a wiry 57 year old who struts about on the roof as if he’s at a nightclub and spends his time calling me Madame ,which makes me feel very old, and also le boss!  My husband asked Daniel if it would keep the birds and rodents away from the roof, as they often have a late party going on….he said not.

Roof (4)Roof (5)Roof (6)

After a week the roof was finished. The bowed front edge was no more, all the rot was gone and new, but distressed tiles, laid in place. It was a massive relief tinged with sadness that my kitchen would be put back on hold. I know it’s not the end of the world,I mean, what’s a little rust on the oven, a tap that is almost removable, manky old units to someone who spends their life in the kitchen?

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It seems then, that to finally get my kitchen we will have to be yet more frugal. The next few recipes are ones my family love but are tasty, easy and more importantly, cheap!

Thanks for reading,

Amanda

x

Pecan Apple Croissant Wreath

Pecan Apple Croissant Tart

I don’t really do desserts. It’s not that I don’t like them, in fact I really do. The problem I have, is that being small in stature, I only have to sniff anything naughty and I gain a few more pounds. So I know, I know, it’s really really bad that I’m posting this. And yes, I am also guilty of eating it!

Pecan Apple

It wasn’t my fault. I had to make something when we had guests for dinner last week and buying something was not an option as they made a French delicacy of plum and Rum tart, which is local to the area, when we went to them. Now this is really easy, and, importantly decadently sinful. You’ve got to give it a go!

I have to hold my hands up and admit that the croissant wreath is an idea from Pampered Chef: http://pamperedchef.comI often make up my own savoury fillings but, as croissant dough is quite sweet, I thought it would go well with a sweet filling too.

Serves 6-8

Ingredients:

  • 2 tins of croissant dough
  • 6 apples, peeled, segmented and cut into three
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • lemon juice
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg (freshly grated is better!)
  • 50g packet pecans or walnuts, chopped
  • beaten egg to glaze

Directions:

  • Lay 1 packet of croissant triangles around a pizza stone with pointy ends out.
  • Lay the other packet opposite with pointy ends in. You might want to visit the site! (I’m not trying to sell anything but it’s not my idea!)
  • Put the butter, sugar, apples (squirt lemon on the apples while you are preparing to stop them going brown), and spice in a microwavable bowl and cook on full power for 4 minutes.

Pecan Apple (3)

Pecan

  • Spoon the mixture evenly around the dough ring. It doesn’t matter if it looks messy at this stage. It’s supposed to ooze out!

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  • Take an outside piece of dough and wrap it over at an angle and tuck in on the inside. Next take an inside piece. Repeat.

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  • Glaze with beaten egg and stick in the oven at 190 C or Gas 5 for about 25 minutes or until crisp and golden.
  • You could add a few chopped nuts to the top for extra crunch but be careful it doesn’t burn.

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You can serve this hot or cold but I like it warm,  served with vanilla ice-cream and the whole dirty lot drizzled with salted caramel sauce! Yes I know I could make it but it’s one thing that is easy to buy here so it would be rude to make my own!

Pecan (2)

I hope you like this and give it a go. It’s a great change from apple pie or crumble. Best of all, it always gets an ‘ahhh’ when it comes to the table. I guarantee that this is a plate clearer!

Please let me know what you are doing with apples this year as I have a tree full of them.

Thanks for reading,

Amanda

xxx

September is…..Picking, Pickling and Preserving.

September

Luckily it is still warm and sunny here with plenty more barbecue days to come. The main summer guests have left La Maison Verte and our family visitors have deserted us too. The pool is free for us to use when we want but the grass is still growing and needs to be cut every four days!

More importantly, it is harvest time.We have been regularly picking tomatoes, cucumbers, melon, and chillies, among others, but now we have a glut of everything and instead of having a rest we are manically picking and deciding what to do with everything.

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The chillies are easy. The green ones and some of the red are just washed and go straight into bags in the freezer. I can just chop them frozen to add to dishes as I need them. You might be asking why I bother but I can’t buy chillies in the supermarkets or anywhere near where I live. The rest of the red ones are being tied to string so they can dry out ready to be used in some curries or added to oils which makes a great gift.

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Yesterday I spent the afternoon freezing marrows for soups and stews. I just peeled and deseeded and chopped into 1 inch chunks and threw them into boiling water for 2 minutes then iced water for 2 minutes before putting into freezer bags. They can be used from frozen.

With the tomatoes I have pickled the tiny cherry tomatoes in jars with vinegar, made a tomato sauce to freeze ready for the winter, and made home-dried tomatoes, the recipe is coming up.

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One thing is for sure…there is still plenty to do!

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I’ve been working hard on my photography. Please tell me if I’m getting better!

Champignons à La Crème

We had our lovely French neighbours over for a meal at the weekend. Last week had been crazy with all the visitors and then a change of guests on Saturday. Alex, my eldest and his girlfriend Jenn left on Saturday too, after we all spent a fabulous day at Futuroscope with my nephew and younger son. I have to say I’d  started to reach burn out  so we decided on a barbecue. Ok, so it wasn’t me doing the actual cooking, it was barbecue after all, so my husband did the cooking (in the rain..). I’d made the salad and the wedges and prepped the meat but I wanted to try them with something French too to see what they thought.

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I discovered this salad of Champignons  à La Crème at the deli section a year ago. We love it but it’s around 3 Euros for a really tiny pot, so I perused the ingredients and added a bit here and there until it tasted right. The original doesn’t have tarragon but I often add tarragon to fried mushrooms so I couldn’t resist adding it. It’s a really different change to coleslaw and easy to do. There were eight of us but I reckon it would serve six comfortably.

Here’s what you need:

  •  10 wiped white button mushrooms, halved then sliced thinly
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 shallot finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp dry white wine
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2 tbsp chopped chives
  • 1 tbsp dried tarragon
  • 3 heaped tbsp reduced fat creme fraiche

It takes about 15 mins to prepare and there’s no cooking!

Here’s what you do:

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  • Combine everything in a large bowl except the creme fraiche and half the chives.
  • Cover and stick it in the fridge for 2-3 hours.
  • Give it a good stir every hour.
  • Stir in the creme fraiche and seasoning and top with the remaining chives before serving.

The mushrooms are ‘cooked’ by all the acid in the vinegar, lemon and wine, so should be softened with a little bite. You could add different herbs such as parsley or thyme or oregano. My French neighbours loved it!

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This would also go really well on a jacket potato or served with a chicken salad or sandwich. You could always use the green part of spring onions if you didn’t have chives.

Sizzling Summer Spatchcock Chicken

It’s been a mad week here! We have a gîte with a full quota of guests, my son and his girlfriend staying in the house, 4 friends staying last night in a tent and my nephew arriving today. So my first thought of the day is wondering how many I am cooking for that evening. Luckily tonight it’s only seven but I need a little break so this is a dish that is really easy and keeps the chicken really moist.

Here’s what you need for 4 people:

  • 2 small chickens
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 2 sprigs rosemary (about 1 tbsp when chopped) or 2tsp dried
  • 2 sprigs of tarragon or 2tsp dried
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • sea salt
  • ground black pepper
  • 4 cloves of garlic, crushed

Here’s what to do:

  • First prepare the marinade my mixing the lemon juice, zest, oil and  chopped herbs.
  • Sizzling Summer Spatchcock (4) Next prepare the chicken – it’s really easy. You can use poultry shears but I find it easier with a sharp knife. Put the chicken neck end down on a chopping board and holding the backbone, start cutting through the ribs. Repeat down the other side and remove the backbone. Either chuck it or freeze for making stock later. Flatten the chicken by pushing down hard on the breast area.

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  • Carefully separate the skin from the breast and squidge the garlic in. You could mix it with butter to make it very naughty.
  • Spread the herb marinade all over the skin of the chicken and pop it in the fridge for a couple of hours if you can.
  • Cook in the oven at 180 C or Gas 5/6 for about an hour and thirty minutes, depending on the size of your  chicken. You can also barbecue this slowly.
  • You can use this marinade on a normal roast chicken and this way you can stuff the squeezed lemon halves inside the cavity for extra flavour. It’s also great on a rotisserie.

DSC_0939Sizzling Summer Spatchcock (6)

So here’s a really delicious marinade that you could use on any chicken. Putting the garlic under the skin stops it from burning and allows it to get right into the flesh. If you are going for a virtuous option then omit the oil and mix the garlic and herbs together and then slather onto skinless breast or thigh and cook in foil. Open the foil for the last 5 minutes.

Sizzling Summer Spatchcock (2)

Simple Saucey Steaks

My family love steak. We don’t have it often as it is expensive in France, as it is in the UK, so we reserve it for special occasions. When my son went back to the UK last week part of his last meal here was steak. We managed to get some tender entrecôte steaks from Lidl which were good value and some samphire, or salicorne  in French, just because I love it. Now Will, like many teenagers doesn’t really do mushrooms, so we decided on a pepper sauce, which to be honest I hadn’t made before. I looked up a few recipes online and it was far too complicated when I was making the mussel starter. All the recipes seem to involve reducing stock and far too much faff, and as I said before, I prefer to cheat so here is my version of a steak au poivre.

Here’s what you need for 4 people:

  •  4 rib-eye steaks or your choice of cut
  • 2 finely chopped shallots
  • 1 clove of garlic crushed
  • 1 tsp Bovril or I beef stock cube dissolved in 250ml boiling water (if you don’t want to measure this is the equivalent of just under a mug)
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 capful of brandy
  • butter and oil for frying
  • 2 heaped tbsp low fat creme fraiche

Here’s what I did:

  • Cook the steaks to your liking and leave to rest while you make the sauce.
  • Melt about a tbsp of butter in a frying pan and soften the shallots for a few minutes.Keep stirring so they don’t brown.
  • Add the garlic for 1 minute then tip in the brandy.
  • Add the stock and creme fraiche.

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  • Stick in as much pepper as you like.

Steak au poivre

I served this with chips cooked in the oven and the samphire simply fried in butter for a couple of minutes. No salt required.

steak au poivre (2)This week we were able to have a few meals on our own, which might have been romantic if  our two Weimaraners weren’t salivating at the table! Whilst shopping a few backs we found some tournedos, which are the smaller part of the fillet. Often meat is sold covered in a protective layer of fat which I just take off after cooking. They were half price so we paid 3.50 in Euros for both, an absolute bargain. They were begging for a blue cheese sauce.

steak

Here’s what you need for 4 people:

  •  4 steaks
  • 2 tbsp low fat creme fraiche
  • 1 small packet (150 g) of Roquefort cheese roughly cut

Here’s what I did:

  • Cook your steak and leave to rest. I fried these in butter for a couple of minutes each side and then put them in the oven for a few minutes for medium rare.
  • Using the same pan, add the cheese, creme fraiche and pepper to taste. There is enough salt in the cheese.

Steak with RoquefortThis is almost a non recipe, it’s so simple. This time we had large sliced mushrooms with loads of tarragon and garlic which worked well too. Of course, even though I’ve used low-fat creme fraiche, both these dishes are decadent due to the amount of fat used.

Oh well, back on the diet then!