frugal living


Posted on August 8, 2018 at 3:47 pm

Now that I have your attention…. here’s how to make a home made version of Velveeta, only from actual cheese!

  • 1/4 ounce packet unflavoured gelatin
  • 6 tablespoons powdered milk
  • 1 cup (240ml) boiling water
  • 1 pound (16oz/450g) shredded cheese
  • Line a loaf pan with plastic wrap.

    Put gelatin and powdered milk into a blender. Add boiling water and process immediately until smooth. Add cheese and continue blending until mixture is very smooth.

    Pour mixture into pan and smooth out with a spatula. Cover with more plastic wrap then refrigerate until firm.

    Use in any recipe that calls for melty cheese… with the added advantage that you control which cheese it is. I use a blend of cheaper orange block cheese for the bulk of the cheese, then add in a stronger cheese for flavour. You can totally play around with this, using offcuts and bits of leftover cheese to make a cheese loaf that suits you perfectly… then melt it over some delicious burgers, or use it for Mac N Blue Cheese….

    Print Friendly, PDF & Email

    Shortening substitute

    Posted on July 3, 2018 at 11:39 am

    I am trying to replace all the “weird” ingredients in my cooking with more natural ingredients. Shortening has been a particularly difficult one to substitute, as it has certain properties that no other cooking fat has.

    One suggestion I read was to try substituting clarified butter. In a spirit of scientific enquiry, I tried it with a blueberry coffee cake.

    Result? Oh my word. A lovely, short, buttery coffee cake. It was divine. And it was so easy to make the substitute!

  • 1 cup / 2 sticks / 225g butter PLUS
  • 2 tablespoons / 28g butter
  • Put all the butter into a saucepan. Heat over medium low heat until the butter begins to “sizzle”. This is the water beginning to cook out.

    Keep the heat under the butter until all the sizzling has stopped. Pour the clarified butter through a cheesecloth to catch any milk solids.

    Pour into a suitable 1 cup container and refrigerate. Makes 1 cup of clarified butter / shortening substitute. Use in any recipe that calls for shortening.

    (Do you have to refrigerate it? No, clarified butter is shelf stable. But having it cold helps when it comes time to make the dough.)

    Print Friendly, PDF & Email

    Cake Flour substitute

    Posted on June 23, 2018 at 12:40 pm

    Cake flour makes the best cakes; light, delicate, delicious.

    It is also expensive and can be difficult to find. So let’s substitute it!

  • 3.5 cups All Purpose (plain) flour
  • 0.5 cups corn starch
  • Put the ingredients in a container with a firmly fitting lid, and shake well to combine. (Pretend you’re playing the maracas…)

    Use in any recipe calling for cake flour.

    Print Friendly, PDF & Email

    Pancake syrup

    Posted on February 13, 2018 at 7:38 pm

    Based on my experiments with treacle and dark treacle, I decided to take on pancake syrup. With genuine maple syrup being quite expensive, and commercial pancake syrups being mainly high fructose corn syrup, I wanted something with ingredients I have in my pantry.

    One problem with the cheater pancake syrups on sites like Allrecipes is that they almost always re-crystallise, so I thought Id have a go with the golden syrup technique. Oh, yes, I am on a winner here: came out perfect, and no crystallisation after 24 hours!


  • 1lb white sugar
  • 1.5 cups water
  • Add the sugar and the water to a saucepan. Bring to a full, rolling boil then add

  • 1/4 teaspoon citric acid (check the exotic ingredients section of your local grocery store) OR substitute 1/4 lemon
  • Reduce the syrup to a low simmer for 40 minutes. This will allow the citric acid / lemon juice to invert the sugar syrup, which means no crystallisation. Take the pot off the heat then add:

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla flavouring
  • 1/2 teaspoon maple flavouring (optional)
  • Decant into a glass jar that has been thoroughly pre-heated with not quite boiling water. Serve generously over pancakes, waffles, etc.

    Print Friendly, PDF & Email

    Fresh custard recipe

    Posted on December 3, 2017 at 4:44 pm

    It’s funny how you can get a mental block about something. In my case, it was custard. I always saw custard being made from Bird’s powder, and even when I moved to the USA I carried on buying it, albeit at a stupid price.

    Then, recently, I decided to check out how to make custard from scratch.

    Wait… only 5 ingredients?!!? That I already have in my pantry?!! Sign me up!

  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 tablespoons corn (starch)/(flour)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Combine the first 3 ingredients in a pot. Slowly heat while whisking until the milk is “scalded” (just beginning to bubble at the edges, or a little steam coming off). Take milk off the heat while you whisk the eggs and vanilla together.

    Temper the hot milk into the egg mixture – that is, pour a slow stream into the eggs while whisking vigorously. This prevents you making weirdly sweet scrambled eggs, which is not what you are looking for.

    Once you have incorporated about half the milk mix into the eggs, pour the egg mix into the pot and cook for a few minutes until it thickens up and coats the back of the spoon.

    You should mentally stick a * next to each ingredient after the milk. You can increase or decrease the corn starch/flour to make it thicker or thinner. You can make it more or less sweet. You can make it more or less eggy, or swap out the whole eggs for 4 egg yolks which will make it much more rich and indulgent. You can add more or less vanilla, or other flavourings such as almond. Once you have mastered the basic recipe, go ahead and customise it to your heart’s content.

    Print Friendly, PDF & Email

    Instant hot chocolate

    Posted on December 2, 2017 at 9:25 pm

    Hot chocolate comes in two varieties: the ones worth drinking, and the ones that you can afford.

    With 4 simple ingredients you most likely already have in your pantry, you can make your own!

    3 cups dried non-fat milk powder
    2/3 cup sugar
    2/3 cup baking cocoa
    1/2 tsp salt

    Shake ingredients thoroughly to completely incorporate. Add 1/4 cup of the mix to 1 cup of boiling water and stir. Instant hot chocolate.

    This mix makes a little over a quart of instant hot chocolate powder. The extra mix over the quart? Well… you need to taste test it, don’t you 🙂

    Print Friendly, PDF & Email


    Posted on December 11, 2014 at 10:52 am

    “Hummus is delicious, but have you seen how much it costs? Even on sale it’s kinda pricy!”

    How many times have you had that kind of conversation, or versions thereof? Let’s look at a different way to sate your hummus addiction!

    Let’s start with Alton Brown’s recipe. I have made this many times and it is a great place to start.

    1 pound cooked Chickpeas
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
    5 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
    1/4 cup water
    1/3 cup tahini, stirred well
    1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving
    (I add around 1/4 to 1/3 teaspoon of ground cumin as well)

    Time to take the recipe apart and see how we can make this more frugally.

    1 pound cooked Chickpeas
    This would be a can of cooked chickpeas, or about 1/3 of a packet of dried chickpeas you have cooked yourself. Take a moment to consider what I just wrote: the amount of actual chickpea you get in a can is about 1/3 of a pound, the rest of the weight is water.

    1/3 cup tahini, stirred well
    Tahini is a sesame seed paste. It usually runs around $4 a pound where I am. You’re only using a smallish amount, but still, it’s pricy.

    5 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
    Yeah, I just use the stuff from a plastic container. I don’t usually have the budget to buy fresh lemons through the year!

    So, how can we make this more frugally?

    I always look at dried legumes going on sale or other silly price. I have managed to find dried chickpeas as low as $1 for a pound, more usually around $1.19, so let’s work on $1.20 as the price. Read again what I wrote up there about what weight of dried chickpeas equate to your 15oz can.

    What quantity of cooked chickpeas do you get from 1lb dry weight? And isn’t it a huge hassle to make them – all that soaking, waiting, etc?

    In reverse order, cooking them couldn’t be easier. Forget everything you’ve read about how to cook dried beans – I opened the packet, tossed them into my pressure cooker, rinsed, then added enough water to cover them about 4 times over (I just eyeballed the volume, it was roughly 4 times). Slam the lid on the cooker, pop the weight on, apply the heat and pressure cook for about 45 minutes or so. Take the cooker off the heat and let it cool down naturally. There you go, cooked chickpeas in less than 2 hours. I drained the chickpeas and weighed them. 2lb 12oz cooked weight, an almost 3 fold weight increase.

    What about the tahini?
    Peanut butter is a 1:1 replacement for tahini. I pay around $2.29 for 40oz from Aldi. I tried this recipe out on someone who doesn’t like peanut butter flavoured things and they couldn’t tell it was made with PB.

    Cost to do it yourself
    1/3 lb dried chickpeas – about 40 cents
    1/3 cup peanut butter, approximately 3oz – about 17 cents
    all the rest of the ingredients together – about 60 cents
    Olive oil – I just make it with the regular stuff and save the extra virgin for salads

    Total cost: let’s round it up and include a cost for the cooking of the chickpeas and running the food processor and call it about $1.30, or around half the cost of hummus when it is on Buy One Get One sale at your grocery store.

    By the way, as I cooked the whole 1lb packet of chickpeas I just rounded everything up and called it a 3 fold increase. 4lbs 9oz of home made hummus for under $4. How do I serve it? With stale bread or carrot sticks. Or off a spoon, for that matter!

    Print Friendly, PDF & Email

    Seasonal vegan dessert or breakfast

    Posted on June 5, 2012 at 8:12 am

    OK, time to rock your socks with a seasonal, vegan, healthy (…. ish!) breakfast or dessert. It’s also dirt cheap!

    As I have some blackberries and blueberries left over from my recent U-Pick experience, I thought it was time to make something fun. So, black-and-blue-berry pancakes it is!

    1 cup self-raising flour
    1 cup *milk
    1 tablespoon milled flax seed
    3 tablespoons water

    Frying pan
    Crumpet rings*

    Mix the water and the milled flax seed 10 minutes before you start preparation of the batter. Stir the *milk (of whatever variety you prefer) into the prepared flax seed. Gently stir the self-raising flour into the liquid, stirring as little as possible to avoid forming gluten strands. Your batter should be fairly thick and will almost certainly be lumpy. If the lumps bother you, refrigerate the batter for 30 minutes or so to allow the flour to absorb the liquid rather than trying to stir everything together.

    Prepare your frying pan with a little vegetable oil. Place your crumpet rings* (or you can use small food cans with the top and bottom cut out of them to form a closed-sided ring) in a small bowl with vegetable oil in it. You want to get the inside of the rings well lubricated.

    Place the lubricated rings in the frying pan once it is up to temperature. Place a number of black- or blue-berries into the ring. (How many berries? About what looks right to you ;).) Put just enough batter into the ring to barely cover the smallest berries.

    Once the top surface of the batter has begun to set up, gently remove the rings and place them back in the bowl of vegetable oil. Carefully test the pancake parcels until they come away from the frying pan surface, then flip and cook for another minute or so until the surface is just set. Serve with lashings of your favourite syrup.

    Repeat until there is no more batter. Or fruit. If you run out of batter before you run out of fruit… make more batter 🙂

    Print Friendly, PDF & Email

    Sweet potato and chickpea curry

    Posted on September 24, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    Sweet Potato and Chickpea Curry

    2 medium red onions, peeled
    1 clove garlic, peeled
    1 bird’s eye pepper, Thai chili or other very hot small pepper with its seeds
    1 2 ½ to 3 inch piece of ginger, peeled and cut into chunks
    3 tbsp vegetable oil
    ½ tsp hot red pepper flakes
    ½ tsp ground ginger
    1 tsp ground coriander
    1 tsp ground cumin
    1 ½ tsp ground turmeric
    3 cardamom pods, lightly crushed or 1 tsp ground cardamom
    Salt to taste
    2 pounds (about 3 medium) sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into ½ to 1 inch cubes (I am a scrub and chop skin-on kind of guy)
    1 ¾ cups coconut milk (one can)
    1 tbsp tamarind paste
    2 ¼ cups hot vegetable broth
    4 to 5 cups (about 4 cans) cooked chickpeas
    2 tbsp chopped cilantro leaves

    1. In a food processor, combine onions, garlic hot pepper and ginger. Pulse until finely chopped. Place oil in a large pan over medium-low heat. Add chopped onion mixture and saute until softened, about 5 minutes.
    2. Add hot pepper flakes and spices. Stir to mix. Add sweet potatoes and stir until well covered in spices. Stir in coconut milk.
    3. Dissolve tamarind paste in hot broth and add to pan. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until sweet potatoes are just tender, about 25 minutes
    4. Add chickpeas and simmer until heated through, about 5 minutes. Adjust salt to taste. Serve over rice.

    Note on spiciness: this dish comes out medium hot to hot in terms of spice. You can swap out the bird peppers for jalapenos, or even omit the added chilli altogether if you want to make it more to the medium spice. You can also add sour cream or yoghurt to the dish to reduce the heat.

    The chickpeas are rich in many trace minerals your body needs. The sweet potatoes are ridiculously good for you from the perspective of fibre, minerals, vitamins, etc. This recipe is also trivially easy to double in size if you need to serve a large group, or just want lots of leftovers. It also tastes awesome.

    Buying everything in the store (the no other option way)
    2lb sweet potatoes at 99c/lb (I often get them for half that price)
    onions – about 50c
    chickpeas – $1.19 a can
    coconut milk – $1.39 to $2.39 a can
    vegetable broth – tends to be around 79c a quart
    spices, ginger, etc – about $1
    Total store cost: around $10.50

    Doing it the Addicted To Canning way
    sweet potatoes – $2
    chickpeas – 2 pints – 50c
    onions – 50c
    coconut milk bought from ethnic stores – $1.09
    spices, ginger, etc – about $1
    vegetable broth – made from leftovers, so basically 0c
    Total AtC cost: around $5.09

    Just by canning your own chickpeas and vegetable stock, you can more than halve the cost of the dish.

    The cost per serving of this ridiculously good for you dish, based on 6 to 8 servings:
    STORE BOUGHT – $1.32 to $1.75 per serving
    AtC WAY: $0.64 to $0.85 per serving

    It’s cheap, healthy, vegan, tastes awesome, and if you serve it over basmati rice it is complete protein.

    What more can I say?

    Print Friendly, PDF & Email

    Complete protein

    Posted on May 25, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    What is complete protein?
    It is a protein that contains all 9 essential amino acids.

    What do you mean by 9 “essential” amino acids?
    They are 9 amino acids that your body cannot produce. They have to come from an external source.

    So what if I eat incomplete protein?
    You’ll get nervous, dizzy, and suffer from exhaustion. Protein deficiency is fairly rare in humans as our omnivorous diets supply complete protein from meat, fish, eggs, dairy, and a few others.

    So, who could suffer from a deficiency in complete protein?
    People who are on restricted diets. The restriction could be due to ill health, religious practices, or voluntary restrictions in the form of vegetarianism or veganism. This kind of deficiency is very rare, though, and is easily remedied by eating complete protein for a couple of meals a week.

    So how can I get the complete protein – the 9 essential amino acids – if I am eating a restricted diet?
    By combining multiple sources of incomplete protein :). Hummus is one example – chickpeas are not complete protein. Sesame seeds (tahini) are not complete protein. But the areas they are lacking overlap – the chickpeas lack the amino acids the sesame seeds contain, and vice versa. Whether you eat hummus with bread or slices veggies, it’s good for you as well as mighty tasty.

    Further reading:
    Bodyforlife2 (very nice graph)
    Livestrong (some examples of sources of complete protein)

    Print Friendly, PDF & Email