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

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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!

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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.

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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

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!

Delicious Ducky Noodles

Duck has got to be my favourite meat. I nearly always pick duck if we go to a restaurant nearby (a rarity saved for birthdays!). I love it roasted, confit, curried,  in a salad or whatever else, I’m a huge fan. Unfortunately, it’s still an expensive meal so I’ve devised this dish which gives me the dirty, naughty taste of duck without costing a fortune which is light enough for hot summer nights and won’t wreck my diet! It’s really easy and even my meat mad husband doesn’t complain as I can fill him up with noodles.

Here’s what you need for 4 people:

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  • 2 duck breasts
  • 4 nests of noodles (I used rice noodles but egg noodles are fine)
  • 1 onion sliced
  • 1 red pepper cut into chunks
  • few spring onions sliced
  • sliced red chilli (optional)
  • 3 tsp 5 spice powder
  • sesame oil
  • 2 tsp garlic and ginger purée (or 2 cloves garlic and nub of grated ginger)

Here’s what I did:

  • First marinate the duck by slicing diagonally into the skin and massaging in the oil, ginger and garlic and 5 spice. Cover and leave in the fridge for 30 minutes.

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  • Take the duck out of the fridge 30 minutes before cooking and place skin down in a cold frying pan. Turn the heat on to medium and sear the duck for a few minutes until the fat oozes out and the skin is golden.
  • Stick it in the oven at 200 degrees, gas 6 for about 10 minutes, depending on how rare you like the duck .
  • Meanwhile pop the noodles in boiled water from the kettle and leave to stand.
  • Heat a tbsp oil in a wok and stir-fry the onions and peppers for a few minutes then add the spring onion sand finally the chillies if using.

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  • Let the duck rest for about 10 minutes before slicing thinly.

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  • Drain the noodles and combine with the vegetables and extra sesame oil if you like.
  • Arrange the sliced duck on top and serve.

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Tips:

  • Add a few raw prawns or small cooked ones (whatever you have in the freezer) to make it a special meal.
  • Use mangetout, baby sweetcorn, mushrooms, pineapple…whatever you have!

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  • Drizzle the duck with runny honey and sesame seeds for extra oomph and, of course, calories!

So here is my easy duck dish, full of flavour and the most time consuming bit is cutting up the vegetables. You could be really naughty and just use frozen ones!

Let me know how you cook your duck in the summer.