Tag: food

Grow your own Oyster mushrooms! Back GroCycle Kickstarter campaign

Grow Oyster mushrooms from coffeeJust a quick post about this fantastic kick starter campaign!

We are already big fans of the GroCycle Oyster mushroom kit, we have one growing in our bathroom. They use old coffee grounds to grow Oyster mushrooms directly from, without much hassle at all.

Seeing as Oyster mushrooms are generally quite expensive and we have an abundance of old coffee grounds, this seems like the ideal solution. The only loser here is our wormery and the compost bin. Initially we are using their kit, but we hope to learn how to do this ourselves soon, as they will be offering courses on how to!

They have 46 hours to go and need our support! The link is below if you wish to pledge your support

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1514164848/grocycle-help-secure-our-urban-mushroom-farm

Budget busting bacon misshapes, money saving

Bacon misshapes from the butchersWhilst trying to find ever more frugal ways to cut back on our grocery shopping, we were looking at how much we spend on meat, especially as its one of the most expensive product lines in our weekly shop.

We’re a big fan of bacon, who isn’t? (Apart from the Veggies, sorry this post is not for you) but I think we’re all aware that today the price of meat is continually rising year-on-year.

Not that we want to delve into economics,  supply/demand, cost of grain, supply chains and the price of oil, but all these commodities and geo-political factors are keeping an upward pressure on the price. This in turn is making it harder for the average family to afford eating meat on a regular basis, whilst this can be good in some respects; it is also becoming in essence a privilege of sorts to eat it every day.

So what can we do to continue enjoying the simple pleasures in life, whilst not breaking “Porky”, our piggy bank! (yes crappy pun intended).

Bacon misshapes are the super scrimpers choice

We have found several simple but effective ideas, but for this post I want to talk about scrumptious bacon misshapes, those ugly and unloved off cuts of bacon that are sold off at sensational bargain prices. While the “basics” range from your local supermarket certainly sells their ugly range of bacon misshapes and the price per pack is much cheaper than the average packet of bacon by on average £1.50.

We want to let you in on our little secret, well ok I am sure many people already know what I am about to tell you, but the question is how many people can be bothered to spend a little time getting their hands dirty?

The local butcher always seem to have bacon misshapes (offcuts)

Each time we visit our local butchers in Tilehurst, the first point of call is straight to the fridge at the back of the shop, whilst quickly scanning the shelves for those giant packets of bacon misshapes. For only £1.69 you receive (over a kilo in) this vacuum packed bundle of goodness that provides you and your family roughly:

  • 3 packs of bacon lardons
  • 3 packs of bacon, each containing a good 6 slices each.

There is almost no consistency in slice thickness, but quite honestly who cares? You get all that bacon for half the price of one single packet from your local super market!

Sort it & chop it – A little effort and a lovely reward!

It’s not exactly challenging and only requires maybe 10 minutes of your time and 6-8 freezer bags. Once you open a bag of bacon misshapes, you will be surprised to see how much bacon is densely packed into one vacuum bag. The next job is to sort it into two piles:

  1. Potential bacon rashers
  2. Scraggly misshapen offcuts

We would normally chop up the offcuts into smaller pieces for use as lardons in spaghetti bolognaise or maybe a cheap-n-cheerful linguine. Before I get too side-tracked thinking about dinner choices (I am very hungry at the time of writing) we just bag them all up into meal size portions and voila!

Hang on, are the bacon misshapes any good?

Quite honestly they look and taste great to us; think of it from the butchers perspective after trimming all those pieces of meat, do they really want to throw the offcuts away as shrinkage? Nope, I am sure they would rather sell them for something, than throw them in the bin. The issue I am sure we can all see is, what happens when everyone else catches on….

[ois skin=”1″]

Stop the press; you just saved yourself a pink pig flying 82%!

Based on current  (own brand) prices at the time of writing and doing a like for like weight comparison, picking the average equivalent across several UK stores, let’s say we are looking at:

  • Tesco’s 200g lardons: £1.28 per pack
  • Sainsbury’s 225g back bacon 6 slices per pack: £2.00

Which roughly (yes roughly) equates to a total cost of:

  • 3 x £1.28 = £3.84
  • 3 x £2.00 = £6.00 (includes promotional discount)
  • Total: £9.84 worth of bacon

You will have to bear in mind this is based on reasonable assumptions and fair market prices, but we believe through purchasing and sorting our butchers bacon misshapes we saved a gob smacking:

  • £8.15 which is a budget busting 82% saving!! 

Doesn’t that sound like the ultimate super scrimpers saving? Just imagine if you could save the equivalent on each of your weekly meat purchases.

Do you have super grocery saving scrimps?

Or have any other fabulous cost cutting tips when purchasing meat for your families weekly shop? We would love to hear about your endeavours and we hope you liked our tip about purchasing budget busting bacon misshapes from your local butcher.

Garden cooking, Dutch oven & a brace of conies

Dutch oven cooking over DIY fire pitWe were pondering whether or not we should invest in another brand new and shiny garden BBQ, as the cheap and cheerful ones you pick up from the supermarket or local hardware store never last for long.

This year I wanted to scrimp and save by creating our own and keeping it very frugal, for a while we were playing with the idea to use an old metal drum or maybe a full brick BBQ, as we had plenty of left over bricks. Decisions decisions…. or maybe a Dutch oven?

A DIY Fire pit, holy smokes

The issue we have in our little urban garden is space and after some deliberating we opted for making our own DIY fire pit. As we are both keen on practising a little home bush-craft and also cooking with limited cooking equipment.

Before i started digging up the lawn, we had ‘a little chat’ on how this would be managed over the longer term, if i was allowed to proceed. After a great deal of negotiation, we went for the sunken fire pit, so it is both tidy and we could remove the Y frames and the balance beam to mow the lawn (our gardens borders are curved).

As you can see from the self-explanatory gallery of pictures further down this post, it was really very easy to DIY it, well apart from the turfing and digging up the garden on a hot day! Thirsty work…

So without a BBQ grill, we needed the all essential Dutch oven

8 litre dutch oven
We previously bought an 8 litre Dutch oven, these are incredibly versatile cast iron cooking pots (or casserole dishes) that can cook a wide range of ‘oven cooked’ meals (roasts, stews and casseroles) on any naked flame.

We previously made various damper breads on our recent bush-craft course, but apparently you can also cook pizzas, cakes, biscuits and pies too. We will have to try some of the more ‘challenging recipes’ some when soon and blog about either their success or epic failure(s).

Hopefully not the latter…

There’s only one way to eat a brace of conies

Food from plenty cook bookPrior to Samwise Gamgee in the film Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers, we had never heard of  Rabbits referred to in that way. Though from a quick Google search we tried to find out where it originates, we know that its a hunting phrase for two rabbits held together by I think their fur.

Anyway not to get side-tracked, we wanted to try out a new recipe: rabbit with mustard and tarragon stew from one of our favourite “left over” cook books Food From Plenty by Diana Henry.

Our first impression was hmm not sure how well that will work, but BOY we were surprised just how tasty it was. (since then we have had it a couple of times cooked in the trusty Dutch oven)

DELICIOUS!!

To sum it all up, was it worth it?

The fire pit was easy enough to do, just a bit of digging really. If you don’t have any bricks laying about they are cheap enough (varies around 50p a brick) to pickup around 20-25. We had considered using large pieces of stone as an alternative to surround the outside wall. The stone lining at the bottom, can be from small stones from around the garden, in our case the soil here is littered with pebble sized stones.

** Safety note, make sure there are no tree roots, as apparently it can cause a tree to catch fire through drying out their root system!

The best bit is that its the ultimate urban scrimp, as it did not cost us a penny apart from a few hours of time/labour one sunny afternoon and we can use it for years to come with minimal maintenance.

Ok, ok I lied a little… the best bit was actually the extremely tasty cooked stew. As you can see from the pictures we had a great time, but wow that is one tasty recipe, thanks Diana!

Have you made your own BBQ or cooked in a Dutch oven?

Please comment below, we would love to hear your thoughts and ideas with your outdoor cooking experiences.

From garden to plate in less than 15 mins

Boiled eggs with asparagus

Home grown asparagus spear soldiers!!

Ahh home grown fresh asparagus! They taste so much better than what you buy in the supermarket and we are not just saying that, they are sweeter, juicier and have a much stronger flavour. Though neither Sherrie nor I have ever used an asparagus spear as a soldier substitute when dipping into boiled eggs, what were we missing!? They were absolutely yummy, though after a great debate whilst devouring our prey, we decided the next set of spears (ready in a week or two) will get the hollandaise treatment!

Unless of course we come across any other recipes that look even more tantalising!

So are they worth growing?

We would have to say yes, admittedly this is the first time we have eaten our own home-grown asparagus, we have been waiting 3 years until the crowns mature enough to be harvested and unfortunately we only have two plants (at the moment). You can buy mature plants and moving forward, it is tempting to quicken the process for a greater yield without the wait, but obviously they do cost a little more. The great news is that they will continue providing spears for up to 20 years!! So they are well worth the investment in the long haul.

Is patience a virtue? This sounds far too long

5 asparagus spears

Asparagus spears ready for combat!

Yes, now we have finally managed to eat them it was worth the wait, but each year we were been tempted to pick them, however, we managed to stay true to the instructions and hold off the annual pillage! There is nothing to stop you eating them before the first 3 years, but it does mean that the amount of spears that grow in the following years will be thin, spindly and the yield will be drastically reduced, as they need time to mature their crowns.

Depending on the price, we are considering investing in a couple of mature crowns so that we have even more next year. As now we have tasted home-grown asparagus, we are not sure we can wait another 2-3 years LOL.

On average it’s around £10 for 3 crowns and upto £20 for 12 crowns, depending on the varieties available. There is a nice selection available at Dobies website.

Two crowns and that’s all you had to eat?

growing asparagus spears

Many more spears popping up

No no, we only picked a few spears, there are plenty more spears coming up at the moment and we expect to get quite a few more this season. Though they never all come at once, well enough for meal and you don’t want them losing their fresh flavour sat in the fridge for a week. What’s left in the photo is what is still growing, plus there are more about to erupt from the soil that cannot be easily seen in the picture.

They should continue to produce spears until mid June, then they should be left to build up their energy for next year.

Are they easy to grow in a small urban garden?

We would say yes, the only tricky bit is setting up the trench as they like good drainage channels. In short you basically dig a trench around a foot deep, create a mound or ridge in the middle that the crowns sit on and you dangle their roots into the channels either side. Fill the hole up with soil, soak well and that’s it really, no other maintenance required except at the end of the season each year, cut the stalks off until maturity. Obviously it’s beneficial to feed them fertiliser or well-rotted farmyard manure annually. With a mature crown, once they are in the ground it’s just a case of eating them when they pop up.

From what we have seen, there are now available Asparagus patio planters to grow them in sturdy bags in small spaces, which looks very easy. We don’t know which method is superior, but would love to hear any of your experiences.

Can you go in more detail?

We are by no means experts on the subject  but if anyone would like to more, we will happily share what we have learnt and can write up a post with what we did step by step, please let us know in the comments below.  Or if you are a seasoned pro and we have overlooked anything we would also love to hear your thoughts and expand our knowledge on best practices.

2 new dwarf trees: Peach & Apricot

dwarf fruit trees - peach apricot

New additions! Left: Peach – Right: Apricot

Well we went out for a ‘quick look’ at one of the local garden centres on Saturday, which turned out not to be quick at all! Though we (ok i) came back with two dwarf fruit trees, a Peach and an Apricot!

I got permission from high command to approve the use of a little garden space for these two new additions to our edible family. Well I think we nearly have every possible fruit tree available and only in a small urban garden, it’s a good job they are of the dwarf variety lol…

I cannot wait until they start to produce fruit this autumn! Though I am not sure we will get anything from the Apricot this year.  Yummy!

We have so many small trees:

  1. Fig
  2. Nectarine
  3. Pear
  4. Apple
  5. Cherry
  6. Greengage
  7. Apricot
  8. Peach

I think in the years to come we could end up being in trouble when most of them become giants!

Finally, potatoes planted out

potato seeds

Chitting what? ooops we forgot.

Most of the potatoes have now been planted out, we were a little behind schedule (to say the least). They should have gone out a couple of weeks ago and were starting to get a little leggy and grown through the netting. Ooops!

Yes our chitting regime has been left a little by the wayside, instead of well sprouted tubers we opened the box to find them their long triffid ‘tendrils’ trying to escape through the gaps. Most of the years prior  we have been pretty good at saving our egg cartons and getting the potatoes chitted, but this year we were so busy we fogot time and time again.

Varieties of seed potatoes we have in our line-up

This year we decided to invest in organic varieties for our seeds and the chose our “tuber champions” (hopefully) which are:

  1. Robinta – Late Maincrop:
    (1978) The most disease resistant red potato ever. Very productive with smooth red skin and cream flesh. Short oval tubers retain their shape well when boiled. Good resistance to blight, scab and potato cyst nematode. (Source: The Organic Gardening Catalogue)
  2. Bambino – Salad Potato:
    Small round white tubers with light cream flesh and superb taste. Good resistance to foliage and tuber blight, scab and blackleg. Less waxy than other salad potatoes so don’t overboil. Early maincrop maturity. (Source: The Organic Gardening Catalogue)

Let’s hope that the poor chitting won’t affect our harvest too much and they still produce plenty of spuds! (Fingers crossed).

Which potato planting method works best?

potato sacks

Our potato sacks are ready to go

Generally we plant our spuds in green potato sacks, slowly topping up the soil as they grow and generally they yield fairly well. Well except when we have utterly washed out summers…

Quite honestly we don’t know which method is best, results have varied year to year. Also there seems to be mixed opinion out there on the tinter-web. One thing is for sure, dont forget to chit your potato seeds (LOL).

We have so many potato seeds and not really enough space to plant them all out, so we planted out a third of them into our potato sacks, the other third went out into our veg plot and we have the final third left over without a home. As we have to rotate the crops we plant our veg plot, this year the spuds managed to get a little more real estate and got a spot in one of our plots!

We still have potato seeds left over, anyone interested?

Unfortunately we still have a couple of dozen of each variety left and nowhere to put them. It would be a shame to throw them away, so if anyone lives near Reading and is interested in some free potato seeds, let us know ASAP! They won’t last too much longer.

UPDATE: 18 August 2013 – Sunday harvest

homegrown potatoes

Potato harvest part 1

We decided to see how two of our potato sacks were doing and to our surprise the Bambino’s did fairly well, though the Robinta’s were not quite as productive. As you can see in the pic there is almost twice the amount grown. Next year we are certainly considering building a potato tower, that should be interesting!

We have 1 sack and 1 large bucket to empty, plus 4 rows of potatoes in the vegetable plot, so we have plenty to last us into the winter. So at least that will save us £4-£5 every 10 days or so, we try to shop no more than 3 times a month if possible.

Keeping our mushrooms fresh

Covering your mushrooms with kitchen towel

Covering your mushrooms with kitchen towel

As with keeping most fruit and veg at their best, we all tend to put most of them in the fridge, well apart from maybe potatoes, onions and garlic. However over the last year we have found all sorts of tricks to extend the life of different foods that were previously unknown to us, beyond the realm of the fridge/freezer.

First stop…preserving our super healthy and very tasty shrooms!

Extending the life of our mushrooms

Take mushrooms for example, refrigeration is the best way right? Well yes, but leaving the plastic film over them causes them to go off quicker and become slimy due to the build-up of moisture. Piercing several holes in the plastic will increase their life by a couple of days, but no more than the general 4-5 days life span. However, there is in addition to refrigeration a very simple trick to extend the life of your mushrooms well beyond the ‘best before’ date. Now this might be common knowledge, but we had never heard of it before.

How to keep our shrooms fresher for longer

You simply cover them with a piece of kitchen towel or even toilet paper (maybe double layer it) to reduce the amount of moisture accumulation by absorbing excess moisture and limiting movement of air. You can go to more extreme lengths by individually wrapping each mushroom which is probably the best method, but you will waste time and plenty of kitchen towel. Wasting kitchen towel is not scrimping! and wasting precious time, well that’s not good either.

It’s simply amazing, on average they will now last a good week longer, but so far we have extended their life just under two weeks beyond the ‘best before’ date. Obviously it can depend on your fridge temperature, what state they were in when purchased and how long they were at room temperature before being refrigerated.

Additional fungi suggestions

  • Obviously try to purchase the youngest, freshest looking mushrooms
  • Get them into the fridge asap preferably away from the light
  • To reduce mould growth, do not wash them prior to storage; leave that until you are about to use them.

Alternatively for even longer preservation…

Alternatively you can always dehydrate them by drying them out, then pop them in an air tight jar for long term storage and then rehydrate your shrooms when needed! We are planning to start dehydrating fruit and veg that we grow, as during a harvest you can never eat it all or you get bored of eating the same thing day in, day out.

Your thoughts…

Has anyone had any other successes with storing their frugal fungi?

 

 

Growing food in an urban setting

Growing food in raised beds is easy!

Just came across this post on the Waltons blog and thought it was worth a quick share… for all those urban dwellers who would like to grow their own food at home, but dont think they have the space. It’s a short and sweet start up guide for those who need a little nudge to get started! 🙂

http://waltonsheds.co.uk/2013/04/10/growing-in-an-urban-setting/

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