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, August 29, 2010

7 things you don’t need to buy at the supermarket

When it comes to being thrifty, it’s not just about buying cheap cuts of meat or home brand jelly.  You can save money before you even get to the supermarket. 

Over the past few years we’ve all been brainwashed to think that cooking has to be quick & easy, and this has led to the proliferation of short cut products.  Many of them are supposed to save you time, but this usually comes at a cost: namely the price of the product & the nutritional value.  Here’s just a couple of ways that you could be saving each week.  They may take an extra few minutes, but they tend to be tastier, better for you, and cheaper too. 

1.  Pasta Sauce – at $2-6 per jar it’s much cheaper to just simmer down a can of diced tomatoes, add some herbs & spices, and a chopped onion if you fancy it

2.  Pre-Chopped Vegetables – ESPECIALLY the new McCain frozen pre-chopped potatoes. Those actually make me angry.  You’re paying extra for a machine to cut them, package them up & then market them to you. Just cut them yourself people, it takes no time at all and costs a ton less. 

3.  Meal Base Sauce Sachets – I used to be a massive fan, but once you get the hang of a few basics it’s really easy to do without these.  One of the tastiest sauces for a stir-fry is a bit of honey, soy sauce & garlic.  Or just use oyster sauce, it’ll last you for about 10 stir-fries, and costs about as much as one of those sauce sachet thingos.  For something like burritos or tacos, a mixture of chilli powder, salt & pepper, turmeric and cumin works really well as a dry marinade for your chicken or beef.   

4.  Dips – when you know what goes into some of the simplest dips like hommus and tzatziki you will see how much you can save by doing it yourself.  Much healthier too, as you can use yoghurt for creaminess instead of, well, cream.  Make tzatziki by chopping up a small cucumber and a bunch of mint and mix it into a tub of natural yoghurt.  Add a teaspoon of minced garlic, a squeeze of lemon, salt & pepper and you’re good to go. 

5.  Biscuits – it’s nice to have them as a treat & bake them yourself. Here’s a really quick and easy biscuit that you can whip up in no time – coconut macaroons.  Mix together a cup of coconut, half a cup of caster sugar, a tablespoon of cornflour, a pinch of salt and one egg.  Roll little balls of the mixture and place onto a tray lined with baking paper and bake at 180 degrees for 8-10 minutes.  Yum.  

6.  Ice-Cream – again, probably worth making yourself if you’re having it as an occasional treat.  I talked about a recipe for making strawberry ice cream last week.   Even easier is a chocolate ice cream that I made yesterday – melt 200g of dark chocolate and add it to 300ml double cream that you’ve whipped until thick. Freeze for 4 hrs.

7.  Frozen Desserts – you’ll get loads more love & appreciation from your friends & family if you serve up even a half-tasty home made apple pie than if you serve a frozen one.  A home made dessert really is worth the effort.  You could even just serve a few types of home made ice cream as a dessert, it’s really that tasty

Once you get the hang of it you might even start to wonder why you used to buy these things in the first place…well, maybe...

Have you got any tips on how to save at the supermarket?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Inside Scoop

When I was in England a few weeks ago I managed to pick up a few old second hand cook books. When I looked at the recipes, at first they seemed so old fashioned.  The types of things they suggested making seemed so basic that at first it made me wonder why they would be in there.  A recipe for custard, a recipe for mayonnaise. Meringues.  Puff pastry.  Gravy.  Crumpets.  Ice cream.  Marmalade.  Why would you bother, I wondered at first, when you can get all of these quickly and cheaply at the supermarket?

And then it all clicked.  Why can’t I make these myself? How did I get to the age of 30 without knowing that the only ingredients in mayonnaise were egg, oil and lemon juice?  Look on the back of a store bought mayo jar and you will see much more than 3 ingredients, most of which are unrecognizable as ‘real food’. 

Cooking from scratch – I mean really cooking from scratch – is something that just isn’t part of our lives anymore.  When did it all change?

A lot of people say that they don’t have time, they are too busy to cook – let alone cook from scratch. I actually see cooking as a good use of my time as I enjoy it & find it relaxing - but that’s just me.  I guess the truth is, if you aren’t the sort of person that enjoys whipping egg whites into stiff peaks then of course you aren’t going to want to make your own ice-cream when you can just buy it from the supermarket.

It got me thinking though, is it any wonder our great grandparents weren’t struggling with their weight, cholesterol or blood pressure?  They ate very little processed foods; and the foods that were made from scratch were made with love & effort, to be savoured and enjoyed on occasion - not scoffed on the way out the door or standing over the sink (or is it just me that does that?). 

I know I’m ranting quite a bit here today, but I think it’s a really important point to make.  Things that are made from scratch taste better, and are better for you.  Simple. 

Here is a little recipe for you to try out – home made strawberry ice cream. I always thought you needed some sort of special machine to make your own ice cream.  Turns out a whisk will do just fine.  What shocked me the most was how un-pink it is compared to store bought versions. My husband said it was the best ice cream he’d ever had.  Was he saying that just so I would keep making it? Probably.  Oh well, I don’t care, it’s delicious.  Enjoy!

Strawberry Ice Cream
115g ripe strawberries
2 eggs
85g caster sugar
300ml double cream

1.    Blend the strawberries with some of the sugar until smooth
2.    Separate the eggs and beat the egg whites until stiff
3.    Gradually add the sugar to the egg whites and keep beating until you get a glossy meringue
4.    In another bowl, whip the cream until it’s thick but not stiff
5.    Add the egg yolks to your strawberry puree and mix with a fork
6.    Fold the whipped cream into the meringue, then fold in the strawberry puree
7.    Pour everything into a plastic freezer proof container and freeze for 6 hrs.  It’s best to use a wider container rather than a deep one.
8.    Remove the ice cream to thaw for 10 mins before serving

Be sure to be quite specific with the ingredients & measurements so that you get the right consistency.  Next time I am going to try mango…mmmm  

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Got nothing in the house for dinner? Think again

So often you might think there is not enough food in the house to make dinner. It’s time to get creative! You don’t always need meat to make a meal. Actually, a great way to be a bit thrifty and save money is to reduce the amount of meat that you eat each week. There are loads of tasty vegetarian recipes but one that I use regularly is for lentil burgers – for some reason I always have a random can of lentils in the pantry. These freeze well too and are great for a last minute dinner. I usually make them as a burger but you could always just serve them with a side salad or some rice.

1 tin of red lentils

1 onion sliced finely

1 tsp minced ginger

1/2 cup breadcrumbs

1 egg

4 buns

Lettuce, beetroot and tomato

Natural yoghurt

1 tbsp sweet chilli

3 tbsp parsley, basil or mint (if you don’t have this, don’t worry)

Oil for the pan

1. Place the lentils in a saucepan with a cup of water, the onion and ginger. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 20 mins. Set aside to cool (I usually put it in the freezer for a while).

2. Combine the breadcrumbs and egg in a food processor (or just mix with a fork). Add this to the cooled lentil mix and stir together with a wooden spoon. Wet your hands and form the mix into 4 large patties or 6 medium ones

3. Heat the oil on the pan and cook the patties over a medium heat for about 4 mins each side, or until golden brown. They may fall apart a little but will still taste good

4. Toast the buns. Mix the herbs, sweet chilli and the yoghurt to use as a sauce. Place the patty and the salad onto the bun, and finish with the yoghurt sauce.

A good habit to get into is to put your stale bread in a food processor, then freeze for when you need breadcrumbs. I just started doing this recently, as I was always using my fresh bread, which seems like a waste.

I would love to hear about any of your pantry meals that you've made lately!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Mince…your new best friend

If you are already trying to be thrifty you probably know my mate mince. He is so good for so many things. I am just writing today to big up the humble mince, which for some people is just for Spaghetti Bolognese. Not so! There are so many great ways to turn mince into a great meal. If you are health conscious you can also get really nice diet or premium mince which has a lot less fat than traditional mince.

My top 3 mince meals:

1) Lasagna

2) Meatballs

3) Bobotie

Now most of you probably know how to make lasagna and meatballs. But Bobotie, I hear you ask, what is it? Pronounced ba-boor-tea, it’s a South African mince dish that my mother in law has been cooking for years.

Now don’t freak out when you read the ingredients. Yes there’s some sultanas. Yes you put a custard like mixture on top with some banana. Yes you have to mush up some bread in milk. But it’s delish! Trust me.

I was explaining the recipe to one of my friends the other day and she said it sounded like the episode of Friends where Rachel’s recipe for English Trifle gets muddled up with a recipe for Shepherd’s Pie. But seriously, stick with me and you will get a sweet and savoury mince that is totally moorish.

Ingredients –

20g butter

1 large onion, chopped

500g minced beef

1 tsp minced garlic

1 tsp minced ginger 

2 tsp garam masala

1 tsp curry powder

½ tsp turmeric

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

Salt and pepper 

2 tbsp apricot jam or chutney or relish (whatever is in the fridge)

1 tbsp tomato sauce

2 tbsp sultanas

1 apple, chopped

1 squeeze of lemon juice (if you have it)

2 slices of bread soaked in milk and crumbled

4 bay leaves

250ml milk

3 Large eggs

1 banana

2 tbsp desiccated coconut

Method –

Preheat the oven to 200C. Heat the butter in a saucepan and cook the onions until soft. Set aside.

Heat a large frying pan over a high heat and fry the mince, without oil, until golden brown.

Remove from the heat, add the onions, spices, herbs, bread, sauce, sultanas, apple, and jam. Mix well and put into a medium sized ovenproof dish. Press the mixture down with the back of a spoon.

Beat the milk and eggs together lightly and pour over the mince mixture. Thinly slice the banana and place on top of the mixture, along with the coconut and the bay leaves. Bake for 30–35 minutes or until the topping has set and is golden brown.

You can serve it with rice but we just usually eat it on it’s own

Sorry I don’t have a picture of it, but to be honest it tastes much better than it looks. If you imagine a sort of lasagna / moussaka type of look you’d be on the right track

Have you got any mince recipes that you’d like to share?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The best thing since sliced cake

If you feel like getting a bit of kitchen-cred from your family / friends / workmates / strangers on the bus, what better way than to bake a cake?

There are loads of top cakes that you can try. One that I love is the River Cottage Pear & Almond cake (check out the recipe on the River Cottage website http://www.channel4.com/food/recipes/chefs/hugh-fearnley-whittingstall/pear-and-almond-pudding-cake-recipe_p_1.html). When I made this for the first time my husband said “This is the best cake you have ever, or will ever make”. Not sure if that is a compliment or not? Either way, tasty.

My favourite cake at the moment is Daisy’s Carrot Cake. This recipe is from a little café in NZ where my sister in law Daisy worked. Aside from taking orders, making coffee and serving the food, she was also put in charge of baking all of the cakes & biscuits for the café. Luckily she made sure to pinch this recipe before she left. It is so so good, totally moist and delicious. I also love that you just mix everything together in a bowl. And most likely after you make it once you will have all the ingredients in the cupboard for next time. Well, except walnuts. Who ever has walnuts in the cupboard?

¾ cup self raising flour

¾ cup wholemeal plain flour

1 cup sugar

3 large eggs

1 cup vegetable oil

¾ cup walnuts

2 cups grated carrot

1 tbsp coconut

1 tsp mixed spice

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp vanilla essence

½ tsp ground ginger

½ tsp cinnamon

Put all of the ingredients into a big bowl and stir with a wooden spoon until mixed together.

Cook at 150 degrees in the middle of the oven for about 60 mins. Check it now and see how it looks, it most likely will need around 90 mins in total depending on your oven.

Place a tray underneath to catch any leaks (the oil can drip a little bit but don’t worry it will still be fine)

It’s ready when you can stick a skewer in it and pull it out clean

Once it’s completely cooled, make the icing:

60g cream cheese

30g butter

1 ½ cups icing sugar

Beat together the cream cheese and butter with an electric hand beater until light and fluffy. Gradually add the icing sugar and beat until smooth. Top with crushed leftover walnuts if you have any.

Try to make the time to bake a cake next weekend - and be prepared to be showered with love & affection!