Cheap Dinners: Tomato Risotto with Butter Beans.

Lately I’ve been feeling less and less like eating meat. I haven’t given up eating it but I just don’t feel inspired by cooking meat dishes.

I also find that if I need a quick meal, meat is not my friend. I tend to buy meat cuts that are better cooked long and slow, because they are cheap. I rarely have chicken breasts in my fridge or freezer.

However, I ALWAYS have tinned tomatoes, rice and usually some sort of tinned bean. Together they can be combined into a simple, nutricious supper.

Here is what you need.

1 onion diced

2 small cloves of garlic diced very finely

tablespoon of tomato puree

25g butter

1 tbs oil

250g risotto rice

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 tin butter beans

IMG_5034Gently fry the chopped onions and garlic in the oil and butter until soft. It’s very important to do this well because you don’t want hard, sharp tasting onions in the final dish.

Add the rice and mix well. Fry the rice for a few minutes and then add the chopped tomatoes a splash of boiling water and a tablespoon of tomato purée.

Allow the mixture to simmer and stir frequently or it will stick. You may need to keep adding a little more boiling water.

When the rice is cooked it should be soft and without ‘bite’. Stir in the beans and allow them to heat.

Season with salt and pepper. I garnished mine with a little grated parmesan and a small blob of wild garlic pesto but basil pesto would be nice too.

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There are a million ways you could change this recipe – more onions, different beans, some herbs, diced chopped vegetables, a few frozen peas or sweetcorn. In it’s most simple form it is cheap, cheerful, tasty and nutritious – I’m sure I heard someone once say that all the amino acids a person needs can be found in a combination of rice and beans. So, if you’re stuck for a quick meal, this could be just the thing.

Little spring birdies

IMG_9456A few years ago we started decorating our home for spring. Actually, we originally called the decorations ‘Easter decorations’ but who am I kidding? We are often away at Easter so as with all our decorations, they come out early, at the first sign of new leaves coming into bud.

Our decorations are simple – a few polystyrene eggs that have been painted, glittered and held up with ribbon and pins; fluffy chicks and rabbits that have been sent to us over the years and a few crocheted chicks made from this pattern. They hang on some branches that the children found and The Husband whittled so that they fitted into the holes he drilled into a piece of old worktop.

A few weeks ago I felt the urge to do a little sewing and decided to make some birdie decorations, based on the crocheted ones I already had. They are very simple, requiring only the ability to sew on some beads and buttons and do a running stitch. They are also very easily adapted to the materials that you have to hand.

You will need:

A small amount of cotton fabric, this project is ideal for using up scrap bits and pieces, my birdie was 11cm in diameter so that’s the minimum size you need.

A small amount of felt for the wings and beak.

A few beads and buttons for embellishing and making eyes.

Thread to match your fabric and buttons. And a needle and scissors.

A crochet hook, size 3 to 4 will do.

A small amount of double knit yarn to make the legs. You could also use string but I’m guessing that if you own a crochet hook, you own yarn.

A small amount of toy stuffing. If your birdie is a one off, you aren’t going to wash it and you don’t want to buy a whole load of stuffing maybe you could use cotton wool?

Some ribbon to make a hanger. Again, you could use a simple loop of yarn or thread instead.

Pinking shears.

What to do:

IMG_9474Use a small pot or something similar and a pencil to draw a circle onto your fabric, approximately 11 cm in diameter. Cut out the the circle using pinking shears if you have them. Fold your circle of fabric in half and iron it so that you create a crease across the diameter.

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Now cut out a smaller circle from some felt. This will form the wings so choose your template accordingly. Ideally it should be around 5cm in diameter. Cut the felt circle in half to form two wings. Lay out your fabric circle with the wings on top, as shown below. Their straight edges parallel with the crease you made and about 1 cm below it. Fold your birdie in half to get an idea of where they look best, pin one on and then lay it out again and repeat on the other side. You can attach the wings as you see fit but I decided to sew them on in one place only, near the ‘beak end’, by attaching a few buttons or beads on top. If you hate sewing, you could do this step with a glue gun.

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As you can see in the picture, I have also stitched on the button eyes and ribbon hanger at this stage. If you don’t have appropriate buttons, you can stitch an eye with black thread and parallel stitches that form a circle.

To make the legs, crochet a chain of about 30 stitches (or chain until it is twice as long as you want the legs to be). Make sure you leave a tail at either end. Trim the tail ends to about 1.5cm long and tease out the fibres to create the effect of feet. Stitch the middle of the chain to the inside of your fabric circle, close to the edge, so that when you fold it up again, the legs dangle down about halfway between the ‘beak’ and ‘tail’ end of your bird.

Cut a triangle from felt to form the beak of your bird. You can often squeeze this shape out of the offcuts from the wings. Fold your triangle in half, lining up the fold in the triangle beak with the crease in the body. Stitch the beak in place. Almost finished. Continue the stitching from the beak in a simple running stitch along the curved edge of the body. Leave a gap at the end so you can put the stuffing in. You should have something that looks like this.

IMG_9485IMG_9486When the stuffing is in, finish off the stitching up, right to the ‘tail end’. Tie the hanging ribbon in a knot (or stitch it). Your birdie is done. Now you just need somewhere twigs and maybe a few friends for it to hang around with.

IMG_9518If you have a lavender plant, you could harvest the dried seed heads and put some inside these birds to make scented lavender bags.

Recycled paper pots for growing seeds

I am flattered to have been asked to be the School of Thrift’s resident gardening expert. However, I think it would be more than a bit untruthful to describe myself as an expert. I would suggest ‘enthusiast’ is probably a better description. So, in the name of enthusiasm, here is a little post about a thrifty way to grow seeds.

Have you ever seen one of these?

IMG_9408The wooden pieces on the right are a little device used to make paper pots for seeds. I like the idea of starting seeds off in individual pots but I don’t like the idea of transplanting them. I’m not sure that the seedlings like it much either. It can’t be nice, having their delicate roots disturbed. Lots of gardening gurus recommend using small coir pots (made of coconut husks) that simply decompose when the seedling is eventually planted into the ground. These little paper pots do the same thing but you can make them for free and recycle your newspaper at the same time. Unfortunately I can’t tell you how effective they are because this is the first time I’ve tried them.

paperpotsYou simply roll a strip of newspaper around the cylinder part (not too tight) then starting at the seam, fold the bottom over. I found that three folds were enough to neatly close the gap. Next you press the bottom of your pot into the other part of the wooden former and twist. Finally, remove the pot from the wooden cylinder (this is sometimes a bit tricky and requires a bit of wriggling) and hey presto, you have a pot. Call me sad but I found making these little pots really addictive.

IMG_9511The next problem is how to store the pots once you have planted them up. Their very nature means that they are a bit floppy, especially after they have been watered. They also become slightly mouldy after a while, which is probably a good thing and all part of the decomposing process. I hunted around our shed for a suitable tray to put them in but all the proper seed trays had holes in the bottom. Not ideal for keeping leaky pots on a clean windowsill. Fortunately for me we had several old ice cream tubs out in our garage, waiting to be re-used. They turned out to be the perfect size for 12 little paper pots. Very satisfying.

My mind also skipped back to an image I had seen on Pinterest (you can take a look at my gardening board here) of a drinks carton being used as a plant pot. Rooting around in the recycling bag I found two empty cartons and chopped off one of the larger sides of each.

IMG_9510Bingo – just the right size for 8 little pots and the cartons themselves sit together on a windowsill or greenhouse shelf in a pleasingly snug sort of way.

So far I have sown sunflowers, leeks, sweetcorn, sweet peas, oregano and rosemary in these little pots and they are all germinating (well, except the rosemary, but that takes a notoriously long time).

Have you noticed my plant labels? I have been making these for a long time. I cut up old plastic containers, anything from margarine tubs to milk cartons and use them. They are probably not as durable as shop bought ones but they are free and I *think* the plastic in milk cartons is biodegradable.

Now, what I’d really like to see is someone ingenious enough to create a paper pot maker from recycled materials. Surely all you would need is a pipe to wrap the paper around and, erm, hmm, something to form the base. And that is where my creativity ends. Happy seed sowing everyone.

School of Thrift

Blogging is a great way to be more mindful. In the same way that writing a diary makes you reflect on your life, writing a blog gives you a nudge to think just that little bit more about what is important to you and recently, I have been nudged into thinking about the word thrift.

This all started when I noticed that the organisers of the Festival of Thrift in Darlington were looking for bloggers to join their ‘School of Thrift’. I had heard from a friend (thank you Susie Cottonsocks) that last year’s inaugural festival was a fabulous event so I was keen to get involved. But then I wondered about my lifestyle. Could I call myself thrifty? I had to look up a definition of the word to check. This is what my computer’s dictionary had to say on the matter.

Thrift: the quality of using money and other resources carefully and not wastefully.

That seemed reasonable to me. As a family we do try not to waste things. I still wondered if I could qualify as thrifty while owning a new iPhone and a car that is less than two years old. Perhaps it’s because I associate thrift with my Grandparents era of rationing and post-war austerity that I’m finding it hard to unpick exactly what thrift means to me. These days, when we choose to be thrifty, we are perhaps thinking more about separating ourselves from mass-production and our throw-away, disposable culture than our Grandparents, whose thriftiness was an essential skill rather than a lifestyle choice.

My computer also tells me that the opposite of thrift is extravagance and I don’t think that is a word that could be used in connection with my family.  After all, the sofa I am sitting on is over 20 years old and next to it are two chairs that belonged to our grandparents. I have no desire to replace any of them yet because they are good quality and comfortable.  So I think thrift is fairly integral to the way I make my purchases and live my life. Maybe it’s just that thrift is such an everyday occurrence in my household that it doesn’t feel like anything special.

So, this year, I will be contributing to the School of Thrift by adding as many thrifty posts as I can and I will be looking back over my previous posts to flag up any that I think qualify with a ‘thrift’ tag. Look out for recipes, gardening and crafty ideas. There will be lots of other thrifty goings on at the main School of Thrift pages over at Google+ (which is a whole new world for me) so head over there if you want to find out more.

Happy Thrifting!