What is Operation Jam Jar?

Operation Jam Jar is all about getting back to basics in the kitchen.

Check out my efforts at cooking from scratch - cakes, soups, biscuits

Learn how to make things that you would normally buy at the supermarket - wraps, ice cream, pizza bases

Try to live a more 'country' lifestyle in the city - making your own jams or relish

Get the skills to enjoy cooking in a thrifty way, and have a bit of fun while you do it

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Libraries….Shhhhh…..They’re Awesome

How long has it been since you went to the library? Since high school or university?

Honestly, I think that libraries are one of the biggest untapped resources around. Just to recap – you go in there, look around at the books, DVDs, CDs and magazines. And then they let you take whatever you want home!

Last time I went to the library I borrowed 15 books. Super nerd!

I like to go the libraries and borrow cook books & food magazines to get inspired. The good thing with food mags is that even the old ones are not really out of date (unless you are reading one from 1993 about how awesome foccacia, friands and sun-dried tomatoes are)

Even though it is not as nice as having your own cook books at home, what I do is photocopy the recipes I want to try and stick them in a notebook.

A library book that I really enjoyed recently was all about living on $21 a week for your groceries. No, not $21 every week for the rest of your life. Get real. Just sometimes, say if you got a big bill after getting your car serviced (like I did a few weeks ago). The idea behind it is that there are all sorts of sneaky meals lurking in our fridge, freezer and pantry.


The other thing they say is that a big part of the challenge is realising that every meal doesn’t have to be The Best Dinner Ever and sometimes eggs on toast is a fine choice.

This book also talks about the importance of planning ahead. Seriously I know it sounds like a pain to do that but it’s the best way to stop wasting money at the supermarket on things you ‘might’ need and then end up throwing out. I once had a serious pantry clear out (I know, the hours must fly by at my place) and found at least 10 cans of coconut milk. I used to just buy them every time I went shopping. The funny thing is I don’t even use it that often! The $21 challenge book even has whole sections of recipes dedicated to the things that everyone has always got in the pantry (tuna, pasta, eggs, rice). Awesome.

Have you got any random items clogging up your cupboards?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Na Na Na Naan

There are some things that are great to make from scratch but maybe you just didn't know how to do it. One of these for me has always been naan bread. I gorge myself on this when I go to Indian restaurants. Years ago when I was working in a pub while studying, I used to have a deal with the curry guys next door who would give me a naan bread covered in butter chicken sauce for $1. It tastes much better than it sounds I promise.

A few weeks ago I was having people over for dinner and thought I would give it a whirl. I think everyone liked the naan more than the curry! So next time you feel like cooking up a curry for a dinner party I would really really recommend making your own naan bread to go with it.

It’s more of a weekend thing as you need to let it rise for an hour, then another half hour. But honestly it is worth the effort as it tastes just as good as the bread you get in an Indian restaurant. I guarantee you won’t ever want to buy naan from the supermarket again.

Plus it is loads cheaper than buying them. This whole recipe costs you about $2.50 and you’ll have most of the ingredients at home already.

I don’t use quite as much sugar as they suggest, but up to you. You could even get everyone to roll and cook their own bread while you are setting the table

Home made naan bread (makes about 6 big naans or 10 smaller ones)

1 packet of yeast (7g)

1 cup warm water

¼ cup white sugar

3 tbsp milk

1 egg

2 tsp salt

4 ½ cups plain flour

2 tsp garlic (optional)

Oil for the bowl

Butter to grease the pan

1. Dissolve the yeast sachet in the warm water for 10 mins until frothy on top

2. Stir in the sugar, beaten egg, milk, salt and flour to form a soft dough

3. Knead for 6-8 mins on a floured surface until smooth

4. Oil the bowl you used to mix the dough. Place the dough in there and cover it with a damp cloth to rise for an hour

5. Punch the dough down and knead in the garlic if you’re using it

6. Roll the dough into big golf ball size and place on a plate. Should make about 6 balls. Cover with the damp cloth and allow to rise for 30 mins

7. Heat the frypan. Roll one of the balls out with a rolling pin to about 0.5 cm thickness.

8. Add a little butter to the hot pan and fry the bread on one side for 2-3 mins. When it looks nice and brown flip it over for another 2 mins.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

3 ways to save money without anyone else knowing

OK so my secret saving is out in the open now that I am writing this here but I figure it’s worth sharing. It’s funny how sometimes you can get into a habit of only catching up with friends over drinks at the pub, at a cafĂ© for coffee, or dinner at a restaurant. Here are some ideas to try:

1) Invite people over for afternoon tea

Aaaah good old afternoon tea. Those old people had it right all along, it’s lovely. It also means you can enjoy a yummy cake and know that you won’t end up eating it all yourself (I think we’ve all been there). You can get as fancy as you like, but most of my friends are happy with a nice coffee & a big slice of cake. You will normally get a big thumbs up for home made cake, but if you don't have time you could always grab something from the bakery

2) The joys of home made fast food

I was always a big fan of grabbing some fast food, especially on a Friday night when you are ready to sit on the couch. But there’s actually a few good options for making your own that taste pretty good. My favourite is home made pizza (yes even the base!). It’s easy and tastes unreal. Jamie Oliver has a good recipe that works every time.


The main thing my pal Jamie always says is not to overload it with too much topping. You can keep it simple with just tomato paste for the base, then ham, pineapple and cheese on top.

3) Dinner parties

A fun way to do this is taking turns cooking themed dinners for close friends. So for instance you could do Mexican, Thai, Italian, etc. For the Mexican night you could make some spicy guacamole & corn chips, burritos, and then make some sangria to serve when everyone arrives.

I have a sort of made up sangria recipe that always goes down a treat and is super cheap to make (lemonade makes cheap red taste awesome!). The good thing with sangria is that anything goes, so throw in whatever fruit you have - peaches or strawberries would be nice too if they are in season

* 1.5L red wine (I usually use cask wine, or 2 cheap bottles of any variety)

* 500ml lemonade or soda water

* 1 apple and 1 orange in small pieces (leave the skin on)

* A handful of mint finely chopped

Just stick it all in a jug and serve chilled with ice.

When you entertain at home you probably have just as much fun as going out, but other benefits include:

a) it costs less

b) you can stay in your trackies if you feel like it

c) you can make as much noise and hang around for as long as you like

d) you can reduce calories as you know what ingredients are going into it (I think we all know that the main reason restaurant food tastes so damn good is because of BUTTER) and

e) you can drink more and not have to worry about bouncers kicking you out for having too much fun

Does anyone have more tips for entertaining at home?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Skinny dipping

I love dip. A lot. 

Sometimes we have Turkish bread & dip for dinner. Don’t judge me, it’s awesome. Try it.  

A good way to save money & make sure your dip isn’t really unhealthy is to make it yourself. I had always put this into the too hard basket until I tried these 2 recipes – so easy 

Beetroot Dip 
1 can of beetroot, drained 
2 tsp horseradish 
1 tbsp lemon juice (use lemon squeeze if you don’t have fresh) 
1 cup light natural yoghurt 
Salt & pepper 

Put everything into a blender or food processor and blend. The end. 


Growing up I don’t think hummus existed, or at least not in my house. These days, I can’t get enough of the stuff 

1 can of chickpeas, drained 
2 tsp minced garlic 
½ cup light natural yoghurt 
2 tbsp lemon juice 
Salt & pepper 

Once again, put everything in a blender or food processor and blend. Too easy.

Sometimes you might need to adjust how much yoghurt you put into each of these, depending on the consistency of the yoghurt itself.

I’m about to try making my own natural yoghurt for the first time this week (thanks to my mother in law's advice). I'll let you know how it goes, but if it works out and tastes good, it would make these dips even cheaper. Talk about thrifty.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

mmmm potato bake

Potato bake is like a hug from your mum on a winter's day. It's the delicious combination of soft potato, creaminess and cheese that just works so well. I thought I would share my mum's made up recipe for the easiest potato bake (well, not just potato) that is sure to be a hit at your next BBQ. It is so so easy and you will probably get people asking you for the recipe. It's actually not too bad for your either.
1kg potatoes
3 onions
1 medium sweet potato
3 carrots
1 can light carnation milk
1 tsp chicken stock powder (or 1 cube)
250g grated cheese
1 large oven proof dish
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees
Peel the sweet potato and carrots and slice thinly.
Thinly slice the normal potato (I only peel them if they are the ones with dirt on them)
Peel the onions and slice into rings
Place all of the veg into the dish so that it covers the base and builds up from there. I usually try to have it about 5-6cm in height. Depending how OCD you are determines how neat the layers are. Mine are pretty slap dash, but it doesn't affect the taste.
Open the light carnation milk and tip a little over the veg to make room in the tin. Add your stock powder and mix it in with the milk, pour over the veg.
Evenly spread the grated cheese over the top.
Place in the oven, uncovered, for about an hour, or until the top has started to brown and the veges are soft when you poke them with a fork.
Notes -
You can make this the day before and just reheat it in a low oven
Be a bit healthier if you like by using light cheese
Add any veges you have around, I have used zucchini and pumpkin in the past too
You can omit the carrot and sweet potato if you want to go for a classic potato bake
I made this today and thought it might be nice next time to add bacon pieces to it

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The old me

In the past I would drive home from work with a feeling of dread knowing that I had no idea what I was going to cook for dinner. I used to go to the supermarket, buy what I thought I needed (& loads of things I didn't need, like Cheezels) and head home. I was doing this 4-5 times per week. Sometimes I would get home and realise that I already had some of the ingredients in the fridge. Or that I had forgotten a crucial ingredient. Or that I was so sick of chicken stir fry I wanted to cry.
Most of what my husband and I ate was fine, just a bit uninspired. So I started collecting a few recipes to try a few new things. I went to the library and borrowed a few cook books & that's when I found some books about getting organised in the kitchen.
The message was the same in most of these - plan ahead to save time and money. But I couldn't be bothered! I was busy! And tired! And why should I? I could afford to keep going the way I was. But to be honest all of those LIfestyle Food programs were getting to me. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and his River Cottage had got me thinking about food and our disconnection with it. And it made me feel kind of gross about the amount of food I was buying and wasting each week.
So the first week I put together a plan for what we were going to eat for dinner each night (& have leftovers for lunch). It looked something like this:
Monday - spaghetti bolognese
Tuesday - lamb curry
Wednesday - chicken burritos
Thursday - vege burgers
I didn't plan at that stage for the weekend as I wasn't sure what we would be doing.
Having this plan meant I could make a quick shopping list (something I never used to do) and head to the supermarket. That first time buying groceries with a list and knowing what I was going to make was really exciting, and I spent about $25 less than I usually did.
It also means that you can pre-plan to ensure you eat a variety of food (not chicken 5x per week which used to be me). I usually try to have 1 beef night, 1 chicken night, 1 vege night, 1 lamb night etc. At the moment with this cold weather I'm often including 1 soup night.
Now I plan our meals every week, stock up on meat when it's on sale, and never have those icky feelings on my way home anymore. When I say goodbye to my husband in the morning we talk about how much we look forward to whatever we are having that night (how nerdy is that). It makes you feel very organised and efficient - I can't recommend it enough!
If you're not already doing this, try it next week and see how you go