Budgeting, Buying and making the most of what we’ve got.

I have had a request from a friend who I met through another friend and we’ve actually only caught up once in person but with the wonder that is Facebook we speak at least a couple of times a week and actually have lots in common. She’s asked me to give some ideas on how I budget, what I buy and cook for the week with 2 children under the age of 3, so based on that here are my tips.

We are definitely on a budget which I try to stick to religiously, it doesn’t always work out like that but I aim to not spend more than $160 a week on groceries. Generally I find that I do manage to keep it to that although sometimes it’s a bit more and other times it’s less.

My darling hubby takes his lunch to work as well as breakfast & morning tea for two main reasons, firstly because he’s fussy & probably wouldn’t eat what he could buy in a shop & secondly because it’s cheaper. Whatever I cook for dinner I will make enough for him to take some for lunch the next day.

He also takes 2 pieces of fruit a small bread roll with either cheese & chilli spread or olive spread or peanut butter & jam etc & a piece of Joyce’s lemon cake.

So while I don’t really menu plan as such I make sure that I use up everything I have bought and our fridge is pretty much empty when it does come to market day. I shop at Aldi, the Preston Market & Istanbul Halal Meats, with the occasional trip to Woolworths for things like baking powder, huggies nappies which we use at night, light globes and a few other things that Aldi don’t stock. The trick there is to get in and out without buying things you don’t need. I have no doubt that switching to Aldi has saved us a lot of $$$. I also keep an eye on the catalogues for when tinned tomatoes are on special and go to UCG wholesale foods on Bell St to buy tins of Tuna.

Everything I’ve bought from Aldi has been great quality but I am careful when purchasing fruit & veg from them to make sure they’re not too bruised or marked.

To give you an idea this week I bought the following;

From Aldi:

3 x 3 L containers of milk, 1 500gm block of cheese, 1 pkt of nappies, 1 large container of Yoghurt & 1 organic raspberry yoghurt, 2 mangoes,  1 un ripe Avocado, 2 pkts of corn chips, 1 block of chocolate, party pies, 2 loaves of bread (1 normal & 1 fruit toast), napisan, 2 punnets of strawberries & blue berries, 2 potted herbs, 2 x Butter, 8 pears, 1kg of bananas & I think that’s all (can’t find the receipt) the total was about  $100 which is more than what we’d usually spend but the loaves of bread & corn chips will last for the month with the bread in the freezer.

At the market I bought 2 more avocadoes, a bunch of spring onions, 4 Lebanese cucumbers, 1 doz free range eggs, 1 red capsicum, 1 eggplant, 2 large field mushrooms, 4 under ripe vine tomatoes & a wedge of watermelon ($27.55)

18 Ciabatta bread rolls from the bakery $15, 2L of organic orange juice $6 & 2 large pieces of trevally $8. Some ricotta & brie from the deli and a Large container of split green olives which was $8 as well. I guess those sorts of things I do buy in bulk as I think they work out to be cheaper in the long run.

I also got 2 pieces of scotch fillet which was about $8 & 500g of mince from the butchers & 8 tins of Tuna from UCG $15.20.

So this week I went a bit over my budget, but I won’t go again until next Thursday or maybe Friday, I will see how we go and let you know.

Last night (Wednesday) we had the fish for dinner with homemade chips & salad. Hafid took a large piece for lunch with olives & bread.

Tonight we’re having Spaghetti Bolognese, tomorrow night H is out for dinner with the Moroccans for which I am cooking (Lamb Tangia) but they’ve supplied the meat. At this stage Saturday night is steak with a baked potato, Sunday night will be snatch & grab or maybe Nachos. I am thinking Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday nights will be either of the following:

Chicken & Mushroom Risotto with Tomatoes

Lamb meatballs with Eggplant, Salad & Rice.

A Lamb or Beef Tajine.

This will bring us back around to Thursday. I will try to give you a running idea of what we have, generally coming into summer we do have a lot of BBQ’s with either Rice, Potatoes in one way or another & Salad.

Now that I am writing this out I have realized that I forgot to get lettuce & sour cream, so really unless we have a major urge for something I won’t head to the market again until next week.

As I have previously mentioned I always have tinned tomatoes, onions, garlic, rice, pasta etc in my pantry, but I aim not to buy them again until we’ve either run out or are almost out, really the only exception to that is the tinned tomatoes as I prefer the Italian ones & buy them when they’re on special. I usually go to the butchers and do a big buy up and break it all down into meal size amounts e.g.; 4 bbq chops which gives us 1 for the kids & I (I don’t eat a lot of meat) 1 & ½ for H for dinner & lunch the next day.

When I buy fish, we eat it that night with the exception of prawns which we’ll sometimes have the next night, mainly because I don’t think it’s a good idea to freeze fish as it sends it tough, if the prawns are already frozen which most prawns already are and I want them for say Saturday night then I’d either buy them still frozen or go on Saturday and buy them.

The bread rolls have gone into the freezer – bread is a staple of Moroccan food and we eat it with a tajine, for lunch & with, well pretty much everything. They are about the length of your hand and I have made 8 of them into lunches as mentioned above and cut them in half so they’re in the freezer ready to go.

Most of what I cook can either be prepared with children either under foot and or helping, the helping will come from our 3 ½ year old and the underfoot includes the contents of the Tupperware &/or saucepan cupboard!

We will rotate through these staples in what I cook.

A Tajine – veggies & meat all in the one pot which takes about 20 mins to put together and at least 1 ½ hours to cook.

500gms of either lamb or beef mince meat made into either Spaghetti Bolognese, Meat balls, Kebabs or occasionally tacos.

Risotto with chicken or prawns, roasted pumpkin & olives.

Homemade Pizza’s

BBQ which could be Lamb chops, steak, fish or kebabs

A roast chicken – the leftovers can go into sandwiches or nasi goring or something similar.

Fish with Chips or Lemon Risotto

Paella either just with prawns and or chicken (depends on how many people we’re cooking for, although I do think this is a wonderful dinner party dish as it’s great value and tasty!)

I think the key to budgeting and menu planning is to only buy what you really need and make sure you use it all up, that way you reduce your waste (7.5 million tonnes of food a year in Australia) http://www.abc.net.au/environment/articles/2011/02/08/3123168.htm

Only buy things when they’re on special  – read the catalogues that come in the junk mail, buy home brand or generic particularly Flour, Sugar, Milk, Butter, Cheese even Woolies Home brand Cocoa is fantastic! It seems to me that the majority of things I buy from Aldi are Australian Made & have the logo. Buy in season and fresh, the only veggies I would buy frozen would be peas but now I am even starting think I am better off just buying what is in season & where possible buy from a market or farmers market, we walk into the green grocers & Zachie can name all the veggies and I really believe that’s one of the keys to getting your kids to eat well is to get them to participate in the buying cooking & preparing of their food (we’d grow it too and will when we have a back yard).

Buy the big 3 or 4 litre containers of Olive oil; you really shouldn’t be paying more than $23 for 4 litres of Spanish olive oil and about $17 for 3 litres of Australian Olive oil. I’ve also been buying Onions & Potatoes in Bulk and the quality has been really good.

Pasta is another great way of good value tasty eating, there are so many different sauces you can make from simple garlic & tomato to a creamy pumpkin with pine nuts. The sky is the limit really it just depends on what you like to eat.

I hope that helps with ideas and a bit of inspiration about how to keep your hard earned dollars in your pockets rather than someone else’s!


Easy Cheesey Nachos

You know how it is, you’ve been out all day or perhaps working on the weekend, gardening all day, you’ve been busy and the last thing you want to do is to think about what to cook for dinner, but you also want to keep your budget in check so no takeaway this week.

Then this is a recipe for you, it’s quick easy and most importantly very tasty! Kids love it and they could make it for you which is even better, at the least they can give you a hand in the preparation.

You really can top nachos with pretty much anything that takes your fancy, but in the interests of keeping it simple on Saturday night I went with the standard avocado, cheese, tomatoes, olives & sour cream. You could use refried beans, make a salsa from fresh tomatoes, olives, spring onions, some garlic & chilli, or even use left over bolognese sauce.

You will need:

1 packet of corn chips

1 cup of grated tasty cheese

1 ripe avocado

handful of pitted olives (I used split green ones) diced.

1 fresh ripe tomato

Juice of 1 lemon

salt & pepper

3 Tbsp Sour cream

Tabasco Sauce (optional)

Pre heat your oven to 170 degrees celsius. Layer the corn chips & grated cheese in an oven proof dish that you will serve the nachos in finishing with cheese on the top. Place in the oven and bake until the cheese has melted and just starting to brown.

While this is happening prepare your toppings. Finely dice the tomato & olives, place in a bowl, you could also add some finely slice spring onions or spanish onions to this mix as well. Season with salt & pepper to taste, set aside. Mash the avocado on a plate or in a bowl and season with salt & pepper, add the juice of one lemon and if you like it spicy a few drops of tabasco sauce, mix well and set aside.

When the corn chips are ready, remove from the oven and top with the salsa, then avocado mix and finally sour cream & dinner is served!

If you want to add other things like beans, mince meat etc just make sure you layer everything, I would put the meat sauce on first and then salsa, avocado, sour cream.

Home made Tomato Sauce

Usually we’d be making this towards the end of Summer to make sure we’ve got a cupboard full to last as long as possible. Last year was my first attempt at home-made passata, sugo or tomato sauce depending on what you want to call it. We (Mum and I) made two types, one with onions & tomatoes and one with garlic and tomatoes, I think from memory I made some with everything as well.

You need to be collecting jars through the year so you have enough to fill, but if you want to make some instead of using tinned tomatoes then the same technique applies. You also need to make sure if you are preserving the sauce that your jars & bottles are spotlessly clean & they’ve been sterilised in the oven. That you pour hot sauce into hot jars and seal them straight away. I sealed the jars with their metal lids and you will hear a click as the vacuum seal sucks in as the jars cool. If you don’t hear this then you need to re heat the sauce, re sterilise the jars and start again, as it’s the only way you’ll keep your sauce from going off, if you push the button down and it holds that’s the same thing.

Now just so you know this is the I have 2 small children and don’t have all day to spend bottling tomatoes cheats version, the purists out there will be tsk tsk tsking because I don’t take out the seeds etc, but it was delicious and no one complained so I am sticking with my formula.

You will need:

Ripe tomatoes

Brown onions


Olive oil

I worked on the ratio of 1kg of tomatoes to 1 onion & at least 1 clove of garlic & I didn’t bother with de seeding the tomatoes but you can if you want to.

Boil the kettle so you can blanch the tomatoes. Remove the core and cut a X across the bottom of the tomato. Place them in a large bowl and pour over the boiling water, this helps you to remove the skins very easily.

Place the tomatoes into a blender and puree. Mean while add a little olive oil to a large saucepan & gently fry the diced onion & crushed garlic, add the pureed tomatoes and bring to the boil and simmer for at least an hour or so, you want the sauce to thicken, but not be really thick. Think the same consistency of a store bought sauce. You can also add a little salt, pepper and sugar if required and to your taste.

If you like your sauce/tomatoes to be chunky then you diced the skinned tomatoes rather than puree them, it’s really up to you. That’s it, so easy, from memory I think we did about 5 or so Kg of tomatoes and ended up with about 12 odd jars of sauce, sadly they didn’t last very long in our house, but it was one of the best things I’ve done as not only is the sauce YUMMY it’s convenient as well, you can simply boil some pasta, heat the sauce and combine with some parmesan and you have a very delicious meal!

Spaghetti Marinara

This is my easy cheats version of Spaghetti Marinara made with just a few simple ingredients, as Hubby always takes last nights dinner to work for lunch the next day this makes for a very easy friday night dinner as left overs aren’t required.

I am usually making this for 2 adults & 2 kids, the kids mostly have just the pasta with tomato sauce and 2 or 3 prawns, so if you’re serving more just increase the quantities accordingly.

You will need:

A handful of Shelled Prawns

8 Mussels, cleaned with the beards removed

large scoop of Pippies, Clams or Vongole depending on what you call them

1 finely diced brown onion

1 garlic clove, crushed

1 400g tin crushed italian tomatoes.

handful of freshly chopped italian parsley

Salt & Pepper.

Olive oil

1/2 a pkt of spaghetti (or more depending on how hungry you are)

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. When it’s boiling add the spaghetti and cook until al dente. (approx 12-15mins) Heat oil in a frying pan and add the garlic & onions and saute until translucent, add the tomatoes, rinsing out the tin with a little water and add that to the pan as well.

Bring to a simmer & allow to cook so the liquid is reduced and the sauce thickens, add the cleaned seafood and stir, cover with a lid (or oven tray as my frying pan doesn’t have a lid) and allow to cook until all the shell fish have opened. Discard any that don’t open as they could be off and therefore make you sick. Sprinkle with chopped parsley.

Drain the pasta and either toss into the sauce or vice versa & Va bene dinner is served.

Just remember the purists among us will say no parmesan cheese with seafood (I think it’s because it makes the seafood taste sour)

Perhaps serve with some crusty bread to mop up the juices

Easy Sunday Breakfast

Weekends are the times when we’ll have something a bit gourmet for breakfast, and that might be both days or just Sundays when Hubby has worked Saturday, so this morning I had some Lebanese sausages that needed to be used up so I did a bit of a Moroccan – Halal Twist on Bacon & Eggs. Quantities are dependant on how many you want to feed & how hungry you are. There were 4 spare snags so that’s what I used and the Lebanese sausages from Istanbul Halal Butchers on Sydney Rd are about 1/2 the size of a normal sausage, obviously you can use any type of sausage you fancy.

You will need:

1/2 a brown onion diced.

Lug of Olive Oil

2/3 of a 400g tin of crushed tomatoes.

1/2 tsp ground cumin & paprika

3 eggs

Salt & Pepper to taste

4 small sausages

2 crusty ciabatta rolls

Gently fry the onions in olive oil in a frying pan, add the sausages & shake them around to brown all over, add the crushed tomatoes & spices stirring well. Simmer for 8 mins or until the juices have reduced to become thick, crack the eggs around the pan, if you have a lid for your frying pan put it on the pan and cook for 3 mins or so depending on how you like your eggs cooked. Check the sauce for seasoning & serve with crusty bread and a sprinkling of chopped parsley if you’re feeling posh!

Naturally coffee & orange juice are required accompaniments 😀

Raspberry & Lemon Baked Cheesecake

As promised here is my recipe for a Classic Baked Lemon Cheesecake, my inclusion of Raspberries is optional, you could use blueberries or just go with the classic!

It’s pretty damn sensational if I do say so myself and I tested it on family today and asked them to be critical and it was a success, I would love to hear what you think if you try it.

It will serve at least 8 people possibly more or less if you aren’t willing to share 😉

You will need:

For the base; 200g Roasted Almonds ground

1 cup plain flour

1/2 cup sugar

200g softened butter

For the cheese part;

500g Ricotta

500g Cream Cheese

1 cup sugar

3 Tbsp Lemon Juice

Finely grated Zest of 1 large lemon

250-300g Raspberries

3 eggs

1Tbsp Cornflour

1Tbsp Water

Combine the ground almonds, flour & sugar in a mixing bowl and rub in the softened butter, you should be able to take a handful of the mix and squeeze it together and have it stay in a ball.

Line & grease a 24cm diameter spring form tin, to line the tin don’t cut the baking paper in a circle, leave it square and have it stick out the sides of the tin, that way you have something to help you move the cheesecake from the base of the spring form tin to the serving plate.

Spray the sides of the tin with a non stick baking spray or grease very well with butter. Tip the base mix into the tin and push down into the base ensuring it is evenly spread out. Bake for 10 mins at 180 degrees celsius.

In a large mixing bowl combine the ricotta & cream cheese, whisk together and add the sugar, mix for a few minutes and add the eggs one by one, beat for at least 5 minutes. Add the lemon zest & juice, in a small bowl or glass mix the cornflour with the water and pour into the cheesecake mix and beat for another 5 minutes.

Pour the cream cheese mix over the baked base and smooth out so it’s fairly flat, lift the tin about 5cm off the bench and drop it a couple of times on your kitchen bench to remove any air bubbles.

Top with the raspberries and push some into the mix and leave some on top, bake at 150 degrees celsius for an hour or until just set, then turn off the oven and leave it for another hour. Refrigerate until cold.

This isn’t a really really sweet cheesecake especially with the raspberries. The consensus was that it was lovely and creamy, rich without being too sweet and over the top. If you were to make it and leave out the raspberries I would probably increase the sugar by 1/4 cup.

Tips: The low oven temperature helps to prevent the cheesecake from cracking – as you can see from the photo this wasn’t the case with our oven which is very temperamental. Some say you can’t make the cheese cake in a mix master, but I did, still tapped the uncooked cake on the bench to remove any air bubbles and we didn’t notice any so I figure go with what you have, if you want to you can make the mix in a food processor.


Joyce’s Lemon Cake

We have an abundance of lemons at the moment, I have made about 20 jars of preserved lemons & still have loads left over so seeing as we need to use them this is a wonderful way to do so.

I have made this cake quite a few times and it’s become a staple in our house, my hubby LOVES a lemon cake and I was making a pound cake, but it’s very dry for some reason so we’ve moved to this recipe which is divine, it’s light & fluffy, moist & very lemony which I believe is the whole point of a lemon cake.

The recipe comes from French By Damien Pignolet and I hope he doesn’t mind me sharing it. I double the recipe because I cut it up and freeze it for Hubby to take it to work for his morning tea. He takes his lunch every day because it’s cheaper, healthier and there isn’t anywhere nearby for him to buy lunch, oh & he’s fussy bum and says why would he eat out when his wife is such a good cook 😀

So I/we highly recommend this recipe and I hope your family enjoys it as much as we do. The quantities below are not doubled as I make it.

You will need:

125g Soft unsalted butter

200g caster sugar

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

2 large eggs

100ml milk

150g self-raising flour, sifted

Grease a 24cm square or round tin and line with baking paper,  pre heat the oven to 170 degrees celsius. Place the butter & sugar in your mixing bowl and cream together until very pale & fluffy. Add the lemon zest and mix, add the eggs one at a time mixing well between each addition. With the mixer running slowly add the milk, then add the flour & mix well ensuring you scrap the sides, but don’t over mix.

Transfer to the prepared tin & bake for 35 mins or until golden & when pricked with a skewer it comes out clean & dry.

Now Joyce apparently pours over a lemon syrup which will obviously increase the lemonyness we don’t, but I will include it as it does make it a bit special especially if you’re making it for a special occasion. Combine 100g caster sugar & 100 ml of lemon juice in a saucepan and bring to a simmer for 2 minutes ensuring the sugar is dissolved. It’s best to do this while the cake is baking. When the cake is ready remove from the oven but leave in the tin to cool for 5-10 mins. Use a bamboo skewer to pierce the cake all over then slowly spoon the syrup over the cake and leave until completely cool before turning it out.

P.S. I always double the recipe and the cake pictured is it. Double the recipe, line the tin & if you have one, use a springform tin. Enjoy!