Austerity Housekeeping eBook now for sale on Amazon!

You can now download the eBook of this blog from Amazon for the austerity friendly sum of £2.99 Read it using the Kindle app on PC, Kindle, iPhone, or iPad. Walk around the supermarket with our menus  shopping lists on your smartphone, have our holiday packing lists on your iPad, mug up on fashion and beauty tips while you are waiting for the kids. Everything you could possibly need to enjoy a fulfilling austerity lifestyle.


Easy things to take to pot luck gatherings

So, you’ve been rushed off your feet with the kids and work and the house and so on, and you realise at the last minute you’ve promised to take something along to a pot luck supper or gathering. What to do, what to do? Here are some suggestions.

Watermelon cut into wedges – always popular.

Berry dessert – mix fresh or defrosted raspberries with a bit of sugar (vanilla sugar is best) and whipped cream and/or Greek natural yoghurt. Ricotta cheese is another good option. Serve with shortbread biscuits.

Kebabs – put cubes of halloumi cheese and cherry tomatoes onto bamboo skewers. These can be grilled as well, and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil before sprinkling with freshly ground black pepper.

Nibbles – for a modern take on the 1970s, put gouda cheese and seedless black grapes onto cocktail sticks. Another quick and clever offering is to fry up some shelled mixed nuts in olive oil with chopped dried rosemary and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Even better if you can wrap them in foil and serve them warm.

Cocktail sausages – buy pre-cooked ones and serve with wholegrain mustard or salsa as a kind of dip.

Finally, if you really want to impress, and you know someone who is visiting Germany or Austria, get them to bring home  a packet of Dr Oetker Tarte au Chocolat or Tarte au Citron mix. Add four eggs and some softened butter and you have a magnificent cake that looks like you spent all afternoon in the kitchen.

Image: graur razvan ionut /

Jam, Jerusalem and school fetes

I spent a lot of time wondering over the years why schools ask parents to provide cakes and so on for fetes, considering that they often sell them for less than the cost of the ingredients.  My reasoning went like this. If the onus falls on women to bake things, even though many of them are in full time work, is it not more sensible just to ask for donations from busy people and cut out the extra workload? I then realised that an alternative model of accountancy was at work here, a kind of social accountancy rather than financial. By getting parents involved in making things and thinking about the school, and coming along to the fete to join in with the communal side of things, it builds a better sense of co-operation and community amongst the families and teachers involved. Here are some standard recipes and ideas for packaging so that you can join in as well.

Sponge cake

  • 8 oz butter or vegetable spread
  • 8 oz caster sugar
  • 4 beaten eggs
  • 8 oz self-raising flour
  • 2 spoons jam (preferably home made)

Experienced sponge makers will realise this is twice the usual quantity of ingredients. This is because a lot of us find it hard to get sponger cakes to rise, and if you use double the quantity it gives the impression of success!  The technique goes like this. Line two 7” (18cm) non-stick sponge tins with baking parchments to give a perfect result.  (You can also use a deeper tin and cut the cake horizontally later on). Cream together the butter/spread and sugar, beating it with a wooden spoon until it is light and fluffy.  Now you need to be extremely patient for the next stage. Add the beaten egg little by little, mixing it in carefully between pourings, so the egg is incorporated into the mixture. If you rush this process, it will curdle, but do not fear, because adding a tablespoon full of flour will put that right. You will lose some of the lightness in the process though, which is the trade-off.  When you’ve managed to incorporate all the egg, fold in the flour very carefully using a metal spoon, until you’ve got a proper cake mixture. Now pour into your baking tin(s) and cook for  25-30 minutes at about 160C until the sponge is risen and golden brown. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN DOOR TO CHECK THEM HALF WAY THROUGH OR IT WILL SINK IN THE MIDDLE! When it’s ready, the top of the cake should spring back when you press it. (If it has risen up like the peak of the Matterhorn with a crack in it, your oven was too hot, by the way). It should also have shrunk away from the edges of the tin ever so slightly. Take it out and allow it to cool for a few minutes before turning it out on a baking rack. When it’s cool, you can do any of the following exciting things to it.

  • Sandwich the two halves together with some jam, preferably home made.
  • To make it even more indulgent, make buttercream icing from beating together equal parts of butter and caster sugar, and spread that in the middle as well to complement the jam. Or you could use whipped cream instead of buttercream.
  • Sprinkle with icing sugar. Do this through a paper doily for an artistic effect.
  • Tie a colourful ribbon around it.
  • You can turn it into a birthday cake by rolling out a slab of ready made white icing, cutting out a circle slightly smaller than the circumference of the top, securing it with jam, and writing on it with special writing icing tubes. You’ll need candles as well, of course.

This mix will also make a couple of dozen fairy cakes in paper cases. Vary the mixture by:

  • Replacing  1-2 oz of the flour with cocoa or a few spoons of melted chocolate for a chocolate sponge cake
  • Adding 4 oz glace cherries tossed in flour (so they don’t sink to the bottom) for a cherry cake
  • Adding 4 oz sultanas tossed in flour for a sultana cake
  • Pouring the sponge mixture over sliced apples for apple cake. You can also add some cinnamon to the mixture to complement the fruit.

Pack little cakes, biscuits and scones in clear cellophane bags with seasonal ribbon around the top for a good effect – red or tartan for Christmas, yellow for Easter and green or raffia for summer.  Children also like buying mixed bags of little fairy cakes, biscuits and sweets for 50p, as I found out recently at a cub scout fete.

Image: Keattikorn /

Austerity summer party menu

Further  to various requests, here are a couple of recipes for a summer party for 12-15 people. These dishes can be cooked the day before and reheated.

Chicken – 3 x 600g packets chicken drumsticks and thighs (£3 a pack in Tesco this week); 12 large shallots (peeled and chopped); 6 bay leaves; 3 packets smoked bacon lardons; 6 dessertspoonfuls wholegrain mustard; bunch of tarragon; bottle of cheap white wine. Pour some olive oil to line a roasting tin, brown the chicken drumsticks and thighs, and then scatter on the shallots and lardons and brown a little further. Meanwhile whisk together the wine and mustard and then pour it over the chicken, adding the chopped tarragon and scattering the bay leaves through the mix. You may need to divide the mixture between 2 or 3 roasting tins. Cook at about 150C for about an hour or so, until the chicken is really tender. Cover with foil if the chicken starts to get too brown during cooking. Serve with boiled baby new potatoes and a tomato salad.

Fish – 4 bags frozen Alaskan wild salmon; 1 whole celery (chopped); 4 shallots (peeled and chopped); bunch of flat leaf parsley (chopped); 2 lemons. Grease roasting tin with olive oil and then place salmon steaks in rows. Once again, you may have to divide the mixture between a couple of roasting tins. Sprinkle over all the other ingredients and cover tin with a double layer of tin foil. Bake for about 20-30 minutes, depending on thickness of salmon steaks.  Serve with boiled new potatoes and cucumber salad.



Do you want to ride your bicycle?

Here’s a simple check list for getting your bike up and running now it’s the better weather.

You will need

A pump that actually fits your tyres. This might have a little tube thing that comes out of the end and screws onto both  the wheel and the pump, in which case it’s designed for a Schrader valve. If you need to screw the pump straight onto the wheel, and there’s no removable tube thing,  it’s called a Presta valve. Some pumps will have an adaptor so they can be used for both types of valve. Keep it handy in your hallway or garage.

Some WD40 spray oil in a can, or cycle oil.

Batteries for your lights.

A cycle tool or set of hex keys and spanners to fit your bike.

A bucket of warm water, a cleaning cloth, non stick pan scrub and some Cif.

How to do it

1. Wipe down the main areas of your bike with the Cif to remove any mud. Avoid cleaning the chain. Rinse, and polish dry.

2. Tighten up anything that appears to be rattling, reposition anything that seems to be rubbing on things that it shouldn’t. For example, if your brakes are squeaky, it may be that they have got knocked and just easing them to a central position will solve the problem, adjusting the brake pads carefully so they don’t touch the rim of the wheel when in motion, but are near enough to do so if you decide to brake. If your mud guards are rattling, again, ease them into a central position or tighten up any nuts. If your seat or handlebars don’t feel completely secure, a couple of twists with a spanner should do it.

3. Pump up your tyres so you can only just press your thumb into the top where the tread is once they are fully inflated. Don’t overfill them, otherwise the inner tube will burst. If you underinflate them, you will wear the inner tube out.  Get into the habit of pumping them up at least two to three times a week for optimum performance. Carry a small pump with you when cycling for emergencies.

4. Replace the batteries in your lights so they are ready for use and don’t run out unexpectedly.

5. Give the chain a couple of drops of oil, or a spray or two of WD40. You might also do this for your bicycle lock.

Organising family cycling – top tips

Make sure everyone has a parcel carrier and/or a basket so they can carry their own gear, however young they are. Even our smallest child has a basket on the front of his Postman Pat tricycle for his cagoule and teddy.

Teach children independence by getting them to lock up their bikes safely and securely (so they don’t fall over or get knocked) whenever they park them, and attaching the locks to holders on their bikes when they are riding them. Combination locks can be a little unreliable but are easy for children to use, and can be complemented with an adult D-lock on family trips, when you can lock several bikes together.

Have a box with spare pumps, light, batteries and basic repair kit readily to hand, so you can easily repair things if you are in a hurry. There’s nothing worse than embarking on the school run only to realise someone has a flat tyre, but that another family member has lost the only pump.

Make friends with your local bike repair person so they are more willing to mend a flat tyre for you in a hurry.

Children always need to wear helmets, even on bike paths, as they come off more often and hit their heads, and their skulls are soft. Adults need to wear helmets in traffic, or when doing sports cycling, or if unsteady, but statistically are more likely to break an arm or a leg in other cycling accidents, so strictly speaking have more of a choice in whether a helmet is truly necessary for them, depending on a risk assessment of the cycling conditions. Keep your family cycle helmets on a shelf in a row or hanging from a row of hooks, so they are easily accessible.

Image courtesy of

Stop press! Free friends and family railcard!

Make the most of the better weather with this free Friends and Family trial railcard, that lasts two months. You need to have at least one child aged 5-15 with you to use it, but you’ll get 1/3 off adult fares and 60% off children’s fares, so it is well worth borrowing a child if you don’t have one. ;.)

Perhaps use it to visit some National trust properties. You can try using the code F14001 to get 25% of an annual membership. That makes it £73.50 for two adults and all the kids in the household.


Weekend Cook Fest 4

Roasted vegetable side dish, vegetarian pasta sauce








  • 3 lbs assorted vegetables (see below)
  • Olive oil for drizzling
  • 2-3 crushed garlic cloves
  • Balsamic vinegar for sprinkling
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 oz grated parmesan
  • Marscapone or double cream (small carton)
  • Fresh herbs, such as basil, oregano or tarragon

Technique and organisation:

STEP 1 – Roasted vegetables

Prepare 3 lbs of the following vegetables, any combination: sweet potato wedges, parsnips, sliced peppers,  carrot batons, red onions cut into wedges, beetroot,  courgette slices. Pour a coating of olive oil into the bottom of a deep baking tray and scatter the vegetables on top, drizzling a bit more olive oil over them so they are well covered. Crush 2-3 cloves garlic and mix amongst the vegetables. Sprinkle some balsamic vinegar over the top. Roast in a hot oven for 20-30 minutes, covering with foil if they start to look too brown. Reserve 1/2 of the vegetables to serve with your roast dinner.

STEP 2Roasted vegetable pasta

Just before you want to eat, toss a third of the remaining vegetables into hot cooked pasta and add a few tablespoons of Marscapone or double cream to make an impromptu sauce. You can also add some fresh herbs if you have them, and some grated parmesan. Sprinkle with black pepper if you like.


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