Monday, 25 June 2012

Snags! And other super-simple suppers

Well, we're off on our holidays next week - very excited, we haven't been away for a week as a family since 2008... And we were only a family of 3 then. So, the four of us are heading off to Schull (or "Pirate-Schull", as the girls have christened it) for a week with my brother and his family.  We are planning a long stop in Cork, as a "half way" post; I've promised the girls a MacDonalds and promised Himself a trip around the English market to stock up on olives and sun-dried tomatoes and parmasean cheese shavings and other spurious items we don't really need but which are essential for sipping white wine on holiday. 
We're very much looking forward to it, but I thought it was a good opportunity to get to grips with the freezer (I've been feeling guilty about this since Margaret's stock-takes and list making). I reckoned there had to be at least one dinner in there for the girls, that I could use for the big "travel day" - they'll want something when they arrive, and I will feel the need for it be something reasonably nutritious as a sop to my conscience after the MacDonalds! I'm sure there's a freezer bag with a natty label telling me that's there's 2 kid sized portions of bolognaise contained within...

Well, yes - that is what I found. I also found a good few unlabeled UFOs (Unidentified Frozen Objects) so Himself and I will be having a couple of mystery dinners this week. Some of the labels have quite old dates - at least a year. Oh well, I'm strong and young(ish) so I'll risk it. And several bags containing one chicken leg or thigh - they'll be useful too. And what's this ... Woo Hoo! A packet of Aldi "Garlic & Herb sausages". Excellent. I know exactly what to do with them; sausage and bean bake. 

I got this recipe originally from my friend Linda, and I read and thought, "ah no, not really". Then, on one of those recipe exchange chain emails (you might have seen them, you get the first mail from a friend, who has copied another friend in the CC line - some one you don't know. You send on a recipe to this random person), I get this recipe back again, this time from Linda's sister I think. Finally I decide there must be something in this, if everyone in a whole family is wittering on about how good is it (and I know Linda is an excellent cook, by the way). Anyhow, I tried it. I was seriously impressed. It really is the ultimate store cupboard dinner - a tin of tomatoes, a glug of Worcestershire sauce, a pack of sausages that you could get at the corner shop or local garage... This is a really handy recipe to have for that for the day you come home from holidays and the cupboards are bare (DAMMIT! I didn't think this one through, did I?!) It's also the ultimate moveable feast of a dinner, the first day I made it I had neither a tin of any sort of beans (well, I had both kidney and baked beans but I just didn't think they'd work!) and also no garlic. I substituted a sweet red pepper instead (you know them, the ones that look like a chili pepper on a huge amount of steroids) and it was delicious. Himself was in seventh heaven, he is half German and his love for the sausage is boundless, in any shape or form. 

So, back to my snags, as Himself calls them. These Aldi garlic ones are quite strong, but I think they'll be excellent in the casserole. I always have a tin of tomatoes, and I'm sure I have a tin of some sort of cannellini or borlotti beans or similar (since that day I was caught out).

I can't wait - I am going to be so popular, the brownie points I'm going to get when Himself gets home and finds out that it's snags for tea!

Here's the recipe; it is, I think, via Rachel Allen (I saw it in a friend's recipe book when I was flicking through it) originally, but this is Linda's take, and mine too. Enjoy, it's a great one that even fussy kids will enjoy - I mean, who doesn't love a snag?!

Sausage Bean Bake
·         Glug olive oil
·         1 onion peeled and sliced
·         3 cloves garlic crushed
·         salt & pepper
·         400g tin chopped tomatoes
·         410g tin haricot beans,66 draineded
·         few pinches sugar
·         8oz sausages, 12 pack
·         glug Worcester sauce

1.         Brown all sausages in pan, finish with glug or Worchester sauce in pan, remove cut in slices, set aside
2.         Add garlic and onion to pan, cover and cook 5-8- mins, add tomatoes and beans, boil, taste, season with sugar, salt, pepper
3.         Add sausages to mixture, then tip into pie dish and bake for 40 mins @ 180°C, can top with grated cheese and breadcrumbs mixed with a little melted butter, or add water if it seems a bit dry (I do it in a frying pan with a lid, which stops it drying out - take the lid off 5 mins before the end and sprinkle the topping on, if using, and brown under the grill till the cheese has melted)
This meal is a complete “moveable feast”. The first time I made it, as per note above, I had neither garlic nor beans, so I added in sweet red peppers. It’s gorgeous made with “fancy” sausages, but it’s a great store cupboard dinner as it’s just as good made with a pack of Denny’s from the corner shop. And I never have tinned haricot beans, so I usually use cannellini beans instead – I’ve been known to use a tin of chick peas. I usually serve this with pasta

And here's another one for you, slightly healthier in that it doesn't have the fat content of the sausages. It's a Darina Allen recipe from her "Simply Delicious Fish" book ... first made for me by my Dad, it's a truly delicious meal that you could serve to anyone and it is really the easiest dinner in the world; quite literally you poach the fish and make a vinaigrette. That's it. 
It is suggested as a starter, but we usually have it as a main course (3-course dinners not being that commonplace round ours of an evening!) served with vegetables and potatoes. You can also use any firm white fish - for a more "mid-week" version, I usually use hake or cod (hake is very cheap and often on offer at the fresh fish counter in SuperValu, and we've already discussed in previous posts how cheap the cod from Lidl is!)

Monkfish with Red Pepper Vinaigrette
(Darina Allen, “Simply Delicious Fish”, pg. 51)
Serves 4 – 6, as a starter
·         12oz / 340g monkfish fillets cut into ½ inch chunks (we used 600g for 3 adults as a main course)
·         ½ red pepper, diced
·         4 tablespoons good olive oil
·         2 tablespoons sunflower or rapeseed oil
·         2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
·         Salt, pepper & sugar to taste
·         Finely chopped chives

1.       Put the diced pepper flesh and vinaigrette ingredients into a bowl and mix well together. Taste for seasoning and keep in a warm place
2.       Steam or poach the fish in boiling salted water til just cooked (1 teaspoon of salt to 2 pints of water). Watch carefully – it should take about 4-5 minutes. The fish should look white and no longer opaque.
3.       Drain the fish on kitchen paper and place in hot plates. Spoon the vinaigrette over and sprinkle with the chopped chives. Serve immediately

Sorry for the lack of pictures - I've yet to actually cook anything today. But give these two a go, they are both quick and easy and nutritious meals, perfect for busy families and harrassed mums

Sarah xx

Monday, 18 June 2012

Quiche Lorraine

Okay, I confess – I was seriously slack on the Father’s Day front this year. Despite repeated searches, I couldn’t find the card I bought for my girls to give their Dad anywhere… A final early morning search on Sunday had me suddenly remember that the one I was going to buy wasn’t that nice so I left it and said we’d get another, oops. He did get a lie-in (he’s glued to “The Hunger Games” at the moment) while I addressed the failings of our dishwasher (it’s thinking hard about going on the blink, there was quite a lot of washing up to be done as a result). So I kinda needed to make it up to him. He asked me last week for a quiche, but I never got round to it, so after he’d kindly tidied the older girl’s room, hoovered it and hoovered the car, as well as getting the girls dinner ready (what can I say, he’s great!), I sent him out for a run (the older, 5 yr old girl, kept telling me what a meanie I was, but he wanted to go!) and set to with the pastry, in preparation for a quiche. I did made a sort of a quiche (with asparagus) for some vegetarian friends once, but it was a really long time ago – 6 or 7 years, and was only so-so, so while the pastry was resting I set to, looking for a recipe.

I didn’t do so well, though. Delia Smith let me down – her recipe is one of her “cheat” ones, and of course I had none of the cheat stuff available. So I went to that other great foodie recipe site, BBC Food. However, that search was brilliant either, the Hairy Biker’s recipe was okay, but the quantities were too big, and I didn’t really have time to check out the other recipes, as I was also trying to coax the 3 yr old that yes, she did want to eat her potatoes and NO! She did not need me to feed her the beans…

Crust "missing in action"!

Anyhow, it turned out pretty good in the end, I made one error – I didn’t leave enough pastry at the edge of the pastry case when lining it into the tin (to allow for shrinkage, when the pastry cooks). I copped on pretty quickly and remedied the situation, but when I was pouring in the filling some did breach the dam, as you can see from the photo (I chose this photo on purpose, to show the lack of crust in one point). However, I cooked it for long enough and I managed to avoid the dreaded “soggy bottom”. It was hard to know how long to cook it for, opinions were divided between Delia and the Bikers, but in the end it was closer to 30 mins – I’d say, check it at 25mins and take it from there.

So, here’s the recipe…

Pastry quantities – 2oz flour, 1oz each of lard and butter (rock hard), make the pastry as per original blog post; Tarty Lady

For the filling:
·         100g streaky bacon, chopped up and fried off (or lardon pieces, if you have them)
·         2 eggs, beaten
·         200 ml crème fraiche
·         3 tablespoons of strong, vintage cheddar, grated (I think gruyere would be lovely too, probably more authentic)
·         1 tablespoon parmesan cheese
·         Pre-heat the oven to 180°C and place a baking tray in the oven
1.       After the pastry has rested in the fridge for 30 minutes, roll out nice and thinly and fit into the bottom of a lightly greased 8 inch, loose-bottomed tart / flan tin, making sure to prick the pastry all over with a fork and fitting it in nicely to the edges of the tin and trim the excess – make sure to leave a good quarter of an inch or more around the top edge, to allow for shrinkage. Brush with a little of the beaten egg and then bake blind for 20 minutes, checking half way to ensure the pastry isn’t rising – if it is (and mine was, a little) prick some more with the fork and push it back down with your fingers
2.       Beat the eggs, and gently fold in the crème fraiche gently – you don’t want to lose the air, then season with salt and pepper
3.       Once the pastry case has baked, sprinkle the bacon pieces on the bottom, followed by the grated cheddar, then the egg mix. Finally sprinkle the parmesan on top, and bake for about 25-30 minutes, til golden and wobbly on top with the setting nicely set (mine took closer to 30 mins)

Serve with a good salad – it being late on Sunday evening, the pickings in my fridge were pretty slim, comprising of half an elderly cucumber (over a week old, as it certainly pre-dates our trip to the in-laws in Bristol last weekend… It repeats on me, so I don’t eat it very often), an out-of-date packet of tomatoes and 2 wilted scallions. I chopped them all up; de-seeding the cucumber first as apparently this stops the issue with it repeating, seasoned with lots of pepper and a little salt and made a quick dressing (1 part oil – the rapeseed oil again, still have nothing else in!) to 2 parts vinegar (just regular white wine vinegar – nothing fancy) and a good dash of Colman’s mustard powder. It was a super supper!

Posting this on our Facebook page last night as I cooked, I was asked to post the recipe, so here goes. You probably won't hear from me now again for a month!

PS – the trick with de-seeding the cucumber worked.

Sarah xx

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Yet More Cake...

Well, I was asked for my own coffee cake recipe, so here goes....

First of all, let me start by saying that my love of baking comes from my mother. She was a “home cook”, but very good. Pavlova was her speciality dessert (I’m sure I’ll blog it before too long!) but she baked daily – brown bread, tarts, cakes, buns, crumbles, not to mind all the cooking of dinners and the like. However, by the time my own interest in baking was sparked, I was living in London … it’s hard to get a lesson on baking brown bread or pastry- making over the phone! When I was home, she’d take me through her bread making process and I started from there.

Unfortunately, just at the time I was moving back to Ireland, my lovely Mum died an untimely death at just 61 years of age. That’s 10 years ago this September, and it is still bringing tears to my eyes.

Anyhow, of all my mother’s cakes, buns, tarts and desserts, my own favourite was always her coffee cake. After cracking buns, I thought I’d give cake a whirl. To say it didn’t go well is an understatement! Actually, the first cake I made turned out fine, but everyone after that was terrible – undercooked and flat as a pancake. They’d look great as you took them out of the oven, but as they cooled they would deflate and flatten into two, thin, inedible discs.

So I turned to the cook I should have consulted in the first place (in the absence of my own mother, of course). Why didn’t I think of it sooner – Delia Smith! I really must say to anyone who is wary of baking or cooking, really do consult Delia; if you follow her instructions to the letter, you cannot fail. She tells you what size pan to use, explains all the terms, shows you how much eggs need to be whisked to be soft or stiff peaks, tells you how to line a tin – all the things your mum would’ve shown you, if only she was there. If you want something very advanced and flash, then perhaps there are other cooks to go to, but for the basics, for the absolute “how to”, Delia rocks. And her website is brilliant, all the “how to” bits are included (even how to cook toast – do ignore this, obviously that’s a step too far!).

"Irel" chicory & coffee essence
In the first of Delia’s “How To Cook” series is a recipe for an Austrian coffee cake. I read the recipe and realised that I didn’t really want to make that cake, it was not the coffee cake of my childhood. However, I could see that basic cake recipe was totally straight forward, so I used that (it’s just the regular, all-in-one sponge cake) and added an ingredient I remember my mother used to flavour her coffee cake – “IREL”, a sweetened chicory and coffee essence, used in the 1950s and 60s to make coffee when it wasn’t readily available in the west of Ireland. I think the UK product “Camp” is similar. You should be able to buy it from the baking aisle of your local supermarket.

Anyhow, it’s great. It gives the coffee cake a lovely sort of a butterscotch flavour. If you want a “true” coffee cake, by all means follow the recipes that use lots of real coffee (although having tried a few, I have to say that a good quality instant coffee gives the best results, made very strong – one part coffee to one part boiling water) but for something a little different, a little softer, give the “Irel” a go.

A couple of quick remarks before we get started – it is vitally important in baking to have the ingredients at room temperature before you start. Consequently, I never store my eggs in the fridge, and the butter needs to be taken out ideally the night before. If, like me, you always forget (or decide to bake at the last minute), then the best thing to do is to weigh out the butter, chop it into small cubes and leave somewhere warm – for me, this is the windowsill above the radiator, it usually softens then quickly enough. It needs to be soft enough that a regular kitchen knife would push down through it with ease (Delia's website has pictures). Don’t be tempted to stick in the microwave, this just melts it. Also, the oven must be pre-heated and the tins must be the right size. For this recipe, two 8 inch (20cm) round sandwich tins are required, lightly greased and the bases lined with parchment paper (the type that has been treated with silicone).

Sarah’s Coffee Cake (with a big nod to Delia Smith)

For the cake
A well annotated cook book
·         6oz (75g) self raising flour
·         6oz (75g) softened butter
·         6oz (75g) caster sugar
·         3 large eggs
·         1½ teaspoons baking powder
·         1 dessertspoon Irel
·         1 tablespoon milk (optional)
·         40g chopped walnuts (optional)

For the butter icing
·         150g softened butter
·         300g icing sugar
·         2 dessertspoons Irel
·         20g chopped walnuts & some walnut halves, to decorate

Pre-heat the oven to 170°C / gas mark 3

1.     Firstly, cream together the flour, butter, sugar, eggs and baking powder – if the butter is nice and soft, all you do is go in with an electric hand whisk / beater and beat them all together for about one minute, then beat in the Irel
2.     The mixture should now be at a nice “dropping consistency”, that is it should drop off the spoon when given a sharp tap on the edge of the bowl. If you at all concerned, add a tablespoon of milk
3.     Fold in the walnut pieces (if using), or you could use pecan nuts either
4.     Spoon the mixture into the prepared tins and pop in the oven and bake for 30 minutes – DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN! 
5.     After 30 minutes, check the cakes – I find the easiest method is literally to touch the top of the cake, is should be nice and springy to the touch; if it seems a bit too wobbly, pop it back in for another few minutes and make a note for the next time (see my very abused cookery book, above). Alternatively, a skewer inserted in the middle should come out clean (huh?! This confuses me! How clean is clean?!)
6.     Leave them in the tin on a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes, then remove and leave to cool fully, while you get on with the icing
7.     Beat the butter til creamy, then beat in the icing sugar (you might find that 250g icing sugar is enough, as it really is tooth-meltingly sweet)
8.     Add the Irel and beat again
9.     Assemble the cakes – you might need to cut a bit off to make them nice and flat. Place one cake on a pretty plate and  spread with plenty of icing. Place the other cake on top, spread with even more icing (you might have some leftover, don’t worry it stores perfectly for weeks in the fridge, just warm it up to room temperature and maybe beat it before using again), and decorate with walnut halves and chopped nuts (if using)
Here's the finished cake, without walnuts

Sarah xx

PS - I really should have put that cake on a nice plate for the photo, shouldn't I? Lesson duly noted and learned...

Friday, 15 June 2012

Cake Obsession

There I was, last Saturday morning week, enjoying my usual late leisurely breakfast with the Irish Times to hand – sports section for him, weekend magazine supplement for her, free range of the remote control for the juniors – all happy. I always enjoy Roisin Ingle’s column, a look at the “hot & cold” list and a wee chuckle at Ross O’Carroll-Kelly, and then the real pleasure… the recipes. Deep joy then, last week, to find a 6-page special going on. Lots of inspiration, and then I turn the page to the cake section, and there’s nirvana – lemon and raspberry. You probably don’t know, but lemon and raspberry is a little bit of a passion / obsession with me, ever since I discovered Nigella Lawson's “damp lemon and almond cake” which she suggests you serve with raspberries – it is fabulous. Then came my DinnerLady colleague with her lemon posset (I suggest you try it with raspberries instead of blueberries, devine) which I’ve made 3 times now. So I knew I had to give this a whirl.

Juicer & Zester
So, I assemble my ingredients and realise the recipe calls for sunflower oil… Dammit, I only have rapeseed. I looked at the recipe again, there was the author’s twitter handle, the lovely Eunice Power (@eunicepower). I’ve never done this before, but thought I might as well try, so I tweeted her and she kindly replied, saying that it should be fine but potentially a little heavy. Ah feck it, I thought, I’ll crack on. Using my favourite implements (the zester and the juicer, see right) I got started. I did once try a cake recipe that used oil instead of butter, it was an unmitigated disaster so I was somewhat trepidatious.
Anyhow, despite my absolute best efforts; such as forgetting to add the raspberries (luckily it was only in the oven about 5 minutes, but it was rather comical seeing my trying to shove them down into a cake that was already starting to cook, not to mind that cardinal rule of baking – do not open the oven, let alone take the cake out of the oven, til the cooking time has elapsed) and icing it before the cake was cool (a visiting 5yr old, drooling at the mouth and a Mum waiting to leave and get their own dinner started - I couldn't disappoint them!) ... Anyhow, it turned out brilliantly – if I do say so myself!
As the recipe is suggested as a traybake for a school cake sale or similar event, I have to say the only “downside” was that the recipe made rather a large amount of cake. I'd imagine it would easily scale down - although having tasted it, I'm not sure I really want to. Also, the ladies and gents of my eldest daughter’s school Parent’s Association meeting that evening didn't complain either and it certainly made me popular!

Here's a link directly to the recipe - there's also a great recipe for a coffee tray bake cake and some chocolate fairy cakes, look for them in the weeks to come as I am itching to try those too! I've also transcribed it below.

Lemon & Raspberry Tray Bake
·         For the cake:
·         350g self raising flour
·         1tsp baking powder
·         250g caster sugar
·         Zest of 2 lemons
·         250ml natural yoghurt (I used one of those ultra low fat ones, was marginally :
·         5 large eggs
·         250ml sunflower oil
·         1 punnet of raspberries
·         For the lemon drizzle:
·         200g icing sugar
·         Juice of 2 lemons
·         Pre-heat the oven to 170ºC / gas mark 3, and line a 23cm x 32cm cake tin with parchment paper – there’s a knack to this, here’s how if you’re unsure)
1.    Sieve the flour (sorry Eunice, I didn’t bother to sieve!) and baking powder into a large bowl and make a well in the centre.
2.    In another bowl, whisk the sugar, oil, lemon zest, yoghurt and eggs. (I used the electric hand beater for this)
3.    Pour the mixture into the well in the flour mixture (don’t be alarmed if it seems to overwhelm it, all will be fine) and stir well.
4.    Pour the mixture into the lined tin and dot the raspberries over the top (ideally before it goes in the oven!)
5.    Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 50 minutes, until golden brown, then turn out onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely before icing (I left mine in the tin to cool for 5 mins first)

Enjoy the cake!
Sarah xx

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Cod Bake

This one is “the holy Grail”of dinner dishes… relatively cheap (depending where you buy your cod), nutritious, tasty enough to serve at a dinner party, easy to make AND it’s fish (maybe it’s just me, but don’t we all feel guilty that we don’t eat enough fish?). The flavours are quite simple, so children should enjoy it too (if they are less picky than mine).

This was first served to me by my very talented super-cook father, he regularly cooks a big casserole or bake for his 6 off-spring and partners at various family events, this dish is now a regular on the list, so you can scale it up very easily. The recipe comes from Darina Allen’s “Simply Delicious Fish”. 

For the bacon, I use the bacon “lardon” pieces available from various supermarkets in a wee packet – just by the by, these are a lot cheaper in Lidl / Aldi than the bigger, more luxury shops. Ideally, you could get a thick piece of streaky bacon from the butcher and chop it up yourself (as my dad does) as the big chunky bits of rasher are lovely in it… or you can go the easy route! I often just use a pack of streaky rashers and chop them with the kitchen scissors. I would recommend streaky over back rashers though – the fatty texture is rather the point (and really is not adding that much calorific content and a whole heap of taste). Fresh dill is also hard to come by, so I regularly just use a shake of the dried stuff – just don’t go too potty, remember you need a lot less dried herb than fresh.

Cod Bake (Darina Allen, “Simply Delecious Fish”)
serves 4

·         6 – 8oz bacon (preferably pancetta, otherwise streaky rashers, cut thickly if possible)
·         1 medium onion, diced
·         1½lbs of cod, skinned and boned (fishmonger will do this) – cut into 4 or 5 chunky pieces
·         1 tin of tomatoes
·         Bunch of fresh dill
·         ½oz butter
·         1oz breadcrumbs
·         4oz cheese, grated

  1. Fry the bacon, then the onion and spread the mixture across the bottom of an oven proof dish
  2. Layer the (raw) cod on top
  3. Layer the tomatoes on top again (remove some – about ¾ – of the juice first or the dish will end up too watery)
  4. Sprinkle fresh chopped dill on top (can use dried, but use less)
  5. Cover with foil and bake for 30 – 40 mins at 180ºC
  6. Melt the butter, add the crumbs and grated cheese and leave on a plate to cool
  7. Remove the foil, cover with the crumb mixture and grill for 5 minutes
  8. Serve with floury potatoes, or whatever you damn well please!

Margaret's Footnote.....

Sarah has been eschewing the virtues of this dish for quite a while now, so given that I had a few ridiculously cheap portions of cod in the freezer (€2.79 for two pieces in each packet - Lidl) I decided to cook the dish as an experiment. To add extra pressure I invited a friend for supper and off I went.
True to my usual style (I never follow a recipe exactly) I decided to add some chopped chorizo into the bacon/onion mix and I have to say it was absolutely delicious. In hindsight, one piece of cod each would have sufficed (it really is rather hearty and filling) but that's not a bad complaint...


ps I served mine with steamed new boiled potatoes, green beans and carrots!

Thursday, 7 June 2012

She's making a list...

It's been a few weeks now since the very lovely Caitriona of did an amazing guest post for us and its high time I reported back on how her way of thinking has changed the modus operandi of my household....

But first, I have to confess that I'd come around to Caitriona's way of thinking way before she guested with us. Back when I first joined 'the Twitter' one of her tweets drew my attention to her own blog post on the subject. Therefore, months later when the Dinner Ladies was born, I just knew I wanted to arm our followers with her knowledge.

I know very few people that are not stuck for cash these days. We are all trying to spend less and on our beloved parenting website Rollercoaster, thread after thread is created asking for advice on how to cut down on the dreaded grocery bill. And yet, I can almost guarantee you two things - the first is that each of these households throw out huge amounts of food every week and the second is that very few of these households could tell you whats in either their freezer or their store cupboard at this very minute.

These are the same people that trawl through the supermarket every Friday, aisle by aisle letting their eyes dictate what they buy. They buy by tradition, firing six-pack tins of beans and breakfast cereals into the trolley because well 'thats what we buy every week'. Then theres the dreaded BOGOF offers which tempt shoppers towards items they don't need with the added lure of being 'good value'.

With Caitriona's way of thinking, the weekly shop practically becomes extinct. Yes you'll need your fresh fruit, veg and meat, and yes, you'll need to go to the supermarket but your days of buying stuff you don't need will be over. Why? Well because you'll know exactly what you DO need! You'll know because you'll have a list - in fact you'll probably have two lists, one of what you have and one of what you need. You'll shop armed with the latter and the former you'll use to make meal plans for the week. In fact, since the days of the list, I tend to shop with my eyes on the floor, refusing to look up until I know I'm in front of the item I need to buy...

You need to know what you have, and I know, in our case, where we fall down on this is our freezer. The dreaded chest freezer does not entice one to check its contents very often, in our case practically requiring someone to hold you by the ankles why you delve in head first. So to combat this, I have pinned a whiteboard next to the freezer and the concept is simple - strike off as you use, add as you buy. It's not rocket science.

And neither is one final tip (coming from me this time) Stop being precious about food. 'Oh I need red peppers for that and I only have green' I want to make Lasagna but I've only turkey mince in the freezer' - for the love of God - use what you have!!! You're cooking for family, not Tom Doorley (to be fair I'd say he'd agree with me - right Tom?) And actually Tom & Johann Doorley have written an entire cookery book showcasing fantastic recipes on a low budget (see our review of same). I know some of my friends don't agree, but recipes are an approximation (ok, I make an exception for baking). Use your imagination, use your judgement, but above all USE WHAT YOU HAVE!

So go to Caitriona's blog, print out her stock lists and get cracking. There's really no excuse not to. It will change your life, your eating and your pocket. (For another fellow foodblogger's take on her conversion by Caitriona see Mammy's Kitchen's post on the same topic)

Above all, remember that meal planning means you EAT BETTER! Less last minute takeaways, less wastage and less spent on last minute dashes to the shop. And anyhow, it's more fun trying to work meals around what you actually already posesss....

After all, look what I found in my recent stock take, can't wait for Saturday night!!!