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Friday, 25 January 2013

Make do and Mend!

So this year we have finally started saving for our new house.  I am excited about the prospect of a garden, and dream of my own vegetable patch and possibly even a few chickens, but I'm not so excited about the whole saving saga.  We need at least 17k to have a chance at buying a wee house, hopefully we should free up 7k from selling our flat, but I know that I cannot depend on this figure as the market is so unpredictable at the moment.  For those of you that don't know, I am an interior and home selling addict!  Sarah Beeny and Ann Maurice are my idols and Phil Spencer is my selling compass ;)

I understand the realism of our task and am trying to save every single penny possible - after joining Money Saving Expert last year, all the tips and advice are being put to use.  We now use a thermos to store boiling water from the kettle and use this throughout the day for tea, cooking etc.  I'm battling my squeamish side and showering at the gym to save my own hot water - my gym membership needs to justify it's expense as I can't bear to part with it!  Lights and appliances are being turned off when not in use (I'm the worst culprit for this) and after being introduced to a plug in energy monitor by my Father in Law, I am very tempted to get one.  Electric suppliers are being compared and for the first time ever, I have paid in full for my annual car insurance - this has cut down my monthly outgoings and saved about £60 in interest fees.  

Shopping has a strict budget of £45 a week (including delivery), when we come under this amount the difference between is paid into a separate ISA which means we have leftover money for shopping top ups.  We have always meal planned, but now I am tackling it in a whole new light!  Scouring the cupboards and freezers to take note of food items that can be used up in the week ahead and adjusting my menu accordingly.  Milk is being frozen and taken out to defrost for use before the old one runs out - it's scary just how much extra money is wasted from popping to the shops for milk as it's never just milk we come out with!  So far we have come under budget each week (sometimes only by a few £s) and we have enough money building up in the ISA to top up shopping should we need it :)

I'm really driving both businesses hard.  The last year has enabled me to take a step back from Nursing to focus on the behind the scene business running and I loved it!  Sadly this was only making enough money to just about pay the bills - no extra and definitely no safety net.  As much as it pains me, I am being sensible and putting myself forward for daily hours.  The jewelry business is still ticking along, and the new plan is to deduct expenses and place all profit straight into the house deposit ISA, have managed it with a few orders and although it is only the odd £10 here and there, it will soon add up!

So, with all of this saving in mind, I was in a bit of a jam when my bathroom storage unit decided to give up the ghost for good :(  It's 4 years old, was a cheap flat pack unit purchased from Argos, which pretty much died during the last move in 2009.  Because it was relatively new when we moved (18 months old) I refused to buy a new one on principle, now though it has got to the point where opening a drawer risks having the whole structure collapse.  The January sales were on and there were prettier models on offer for under £20, only downside is that Chris needs one too basically doubling the figure.  In a lightbulb moment, I decided to get out the glue gun I had stolen borrowed from my Mum and see what could be done!

As you can see, the middle shelf was pretty much none existent.  The wooden struts had broken in such a way that they just wouldn't stay in - this was what was causing the collapse of the unit whenever a drawer was opened.

On closer inspection, I was a dowel missing and a couple of struts broken on the upper and lower shelves too :(

Using my trusty glue gun, I trimmed down an unused lollipop stick to dowel size and glued it in.  I then glued in all dowels and fixed all broken shelves with the sticky stuff!  Make sure you put down protection for work tops as the glue likes to leak!  In true thrifty style I used junk mail that was destined for the recycling bin ;)

The glue dries pretty quick - just 10 minutes and it was ready for re-assembly!  Word of caution, you won't be able to remove the dowels once glued, meaning that you need to make sure everything is in the correct place before you glue and be aware that the furniture will not flat pack anymore.

I won't say as good as new, because it still has superficial scratches etc that the cheap veneer wont allow me to buff out, but it does have a few more years life left in it!  My only boo boo was that I didn't tap one dowel in far enough before the glue set - when I re-assembled it pushed through the wooden veneer, but it is hardly noticeable!

Next task is to tackle the other unit in the main bathroom - that one was no-where near as bad as mine, so can wait a little longer ;)

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Doggy walks at Poole Quay and Baiter

Okay you've got me!  I'm hoarding posts again ;) I had gotten good at updating once a week, but have been very naughty last week and neglected to update!  For a rare few days we had some January sunshine and I managed to persuade the littlest pup to come out for a walk to Baiter.

Cookie is a lot more outgoing then her big sister, she only has to hear the word walk and she is off to fetch her lead.  Boo on the other hand will hide under the sofa until she is quite sure there is no risk she will be made to attend the doggy frolics.

My poor little Cookie is not as elegant and sleek as Boo, add to this a black gingham harness and everyone is convinced she is a little boy :(

We had lots of fun on our walk, and Cookie even had a go at chasing the birds - well until she realized they could fly ;)

The playful Cookie posing in her gingham harness

Views down towards Poole Quay

Very rare to see Baiter this empty on a sunny day - although it was only a few degrees out

Views towards the lovely Whitecliff

Across the water is Brownsea Island

Cookie being very well behaved and keeping close by - she doesn't seem to understand that she has a retractable lead so could run ahead

I love this little wooded area

The recent rainfall had made some parts of Baiter into mini lakes, had to stop the Cookie Monster from wading through

Back from our walk and Cookie is angling for a pick up and a cuddle, Boo decides to find out about the walk by sniffing her sisters butt!

We had just started the routine of just me and Cookie spending some quality time together on a walk (Boo likes to play Mummy and nit picks at Cookie constantly), but sadly Cookie has managed to dislocate her hind leg.  She managed to do this to the opposite leg in September and had to have corrective surgery, for which she took a while to recover.  Last Thursday she had the same operation carried out on the other leg and is now waiting to have stitches removed.

Although she is recovering well she is having to be crated and is not a happy bunny!  We have already had a few heart in the mouth moments when she has escaped and decided to lunge onto the sofa or our bed.  To give a little perspective, Cookie and Boo are about 20cms tall when stood - our couch is about 2 foot off the ground and the bed is 2 and a half.  Quite a leap for an injured pup!

I miss my walking buddy - 2013 is supposed to be about me getting healthy.  I have a fitbit (posh pedometer) that tells me I must walk at least 10,000 steps a day - Cookie was helping me to achieve this goal.  Now I'm having to resort to the treadmill at the gym, a lot less fun!

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Super Speedy Cheese and Pepper Bread Tutorial - Ready in 1 hour 30!

Well after last weeks bread maker review I had lots of lovely people telling me they were off to purchase a bread maker!  Sadly I think that Argos may be depleting the last of their stock as lots of lovelies have told me how much they have struggled trying to source one. (none in my nearest 10 stores!) Some cheeky chappy is also selling the same model on Amazon for £100!  And people seem to be paying that price, just goes to show how fantastic the bread maker really is.

So now I have lots of new converts, it seems only fair to share with you one of the easiest, quickest and tastiest bread recipes that we use - for those that have the Cookworks bread maker manual, this recipe is included, however as usual I have tweaked it to make it appeal even more to us.  If you don't have a cookworks bread maker, you can still use this recipe providing you have an ultra-fast setting on your machine.

Ingredients for a 2lb loaf

300ml water (2 parts cold to 1 part boiling)
75g soft/cream cheese
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp sugar (Shockingly this huge amount really is needed, don't be tempted to add less - it is due to it being a quick cook loaf)
1 1/3 tbsp black pepper
520g strong white flour
4 tsp Dried Active Yeast (the one that looks like large round balls rather then granules)
2 tbsp oil (I use extra virgin, but vegetable oil will be fine)

Activating the Yeast

As I mentioned in last weeks review, my yeast of choice is not usually recommend for bread makers.  I think this is simply as it needs to be activated first and then used whilst at the right temperature.  Providing you use these directions, I promise you that your bread will be so much nicer and your whole home will smell of glorious yeast! (or as my husband calls the aroma; beer!)

Each recipe will require you to use a different volume of water - whatever the recipe calls for, you need to mix 1 part of boiling water to 2 parts cold.  In this recipe I need 300ml, so 200ml is cold whilst 100ml is boiling - this ensures the water is at the correct temperature for the yeast.  Too hot and it will die, too cold and it will not activate.

Once you have measured out the water into the jug, stir in the amount of sugar needed (depending on the recipe).  This needs to be fully dissolved before adding the yeast.

Once you have dissolved the sugar, add the yeast and make sure it is fully stirred into the water.

The jug now needs to be put somewhere warm for 15 minutes - I pop a tea cosy over mine as we lack a warm airing cupboard.

Preparing The Bread Maker

Make sure the bread kneader is securely placed in the loaf pan.  If you don't do this, then you risk a flat inedible bread.

Measure out all of the other ingredients and place them in the pan.

Once the yeast has had it's 15 minutes, you will be left with a beautiful frothy mix.  Using a fork, quickly whisk the mix and then pour it into the bread maker.

Set the bread maker to the Ultra Fast setting and make sure you have selected the 2lb loaf size.

Let the bread maker work it's magic and no matter how tempted you are, do NOT lift the lid - you will risk letting out all the heat.  As this is a quick cook loaf, the heat needs to be kept in.

58 minutes later, your bread will be finished!

Take the loaf out of the pan immediately, and remove the hook from the bread (if it's become baked in).

If possible, cool your bread on a rack - if you don't you will have a soggy loaf :( - Or as the wonderful Mary Berry calls it; a soggy bottom ;)

Nom Nom!

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Cookworks Stainless Steel Bread Maker Review

About three and a half years ago I considered buying a bread maker.  The debate on bought vs homemade had been raging for years, and I was slightly hesitant.  After saving up my treat money for a few weeks, I decided to take the plunge with an entry level maker.

My weapon of choice was the Cookworks stainless steel bread maker, a steal at only £35!  To be honest, I wasn't expecting much, so when my first attempt turned out perfect I was smitten!  There are only two of us at home, which meant that two loaves would last us a week!  Having freshly made bread on tap was heaven.  Sadly Chris was diagnosed as a coeliac in 2010 - our much loved bread maker was shelved and although we successfully made gluten free bread in the maker, it just couldn't live up to the scrumminess of the original recipe.

We found an amazing recipe for gluten free pizza dough and knocked this up by hand at least once a week.  One day our online shop substituted our usual easy bake yeast for dried action yeast - Chris didn't think it would be a problem and so accepted the substitution.  I hate waste and so was loathe to throw it away (some may say cheap).  After reading the directions, I decided to try and give it a go, definitely better then the easy bake!  Feeling buoyed by the recent change, I decided to look into making pizza dough in the bread maker - it could be done, but they recommended easy bake yeast.  Sticking to my guns, I decided to still use the 'new' dried action yeast - but activated it in water first.

I will never forget Chris's face when I served him this altered dough - he was in heaven, he even commented that it was better than Dominos!  (He is the ultimate Dominos fan).

Just before Christmas Chris found out that he had been misdiagnosed as coeliac (the air was most definitely blue) - a gluten feast ensued, helped by our bread maker.

I am still using my original machine;

I can not recomend this highly enough!  Not only does it make bread, it also has settings for dough (pizza for us), jam, ultra-fast bread (2lb loaf cooks in under an hour) and even cake!  We only use the various bread settings and dough, but I have no-doubt that the cake and jam modes will be just as good.

My machine also has a delay setting - if you want to wake up to perfectly made bread, simply stick in the ingredients the night before and set the timer for a few hours before you wake up.  You can make both 1.5lb and 2lb loafs and even decide how dark you would like the crust.

I'm not going to say that every single loaf has been a success - but those that haven't been, are usually down to me messing something up rather than the machine.

Everyone knows the shocking amount of additives, sugar and salt that goes into shop bought bread, if you make your own, you know exactly what is going in.

This year we are cutting down on our food shop which means that the bread maker will be pretty much in constant use - Some people actually argue that it is cheaper to buy shop bread - it isn't.  I grew up in a house where having branded bread was considered a luxury, knowing that a 2lb loaf of fresh home made bread is actually cheaper then Mr Ts basic bread is awesome!

Don't believe me?  Here are the figures ;)

A basic recipe for white bread consists of the following ingredients;

Salt      - 1 teaspoon / roughly 5g
Sugar   - 3 tablespoons / roughly 45g
Oil       - 2 tablespoons / 30ml
Flour    - 510g (bread flour)
Yeast   - 1 teaspoon / roughly 5g

Having a quick look at Mr T's site, I found the prices of each ingredient and broke down the costs for each amount needed.

Salt      - 1kg 34p - 0.00017p
Sugar   - 1kg 99p - 0.044.55p
Oil       - 1ltr £1.45 - 4.35p
Flour    - 1.5kg 66p - 22.4p
Yeast   - 125g 64p - 2.56p

People may argue that the electricity will more then make up for the excess cost of shop bought, actually a bread maker costs on average 6p per loaf.

Total per loaf - 35.35472p or to round up 36p!

How does this stack up to shop bought (similar size to 2lb)?

Economy 'basic' bread - 50p
Stores Own - 79p
Uncut 'fresh' bread - £1.30
Branded bread - £1.35

The average family buys two loaves of branded bread a week - this adds up to an annual cost of £140.40 (excluding offers) similar cost for bread maker bread - £37.44, a saving of £102.96.

Not bad eh?  If you are inspired and want to have a go yourself, my original machine is still being sold at Argos (and has great reviews) for only £34.99 - even taking this cost into account, you can still save £67.97 this year on bread alone.  If you are a regular pizza eater, imagine how much more you could save ;)

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Finished Hampers

Happy New Years to you all!

Apologies for being AWOL over the last 11 days - Christmas happened and despite the businesses being technically closed, I still managed to find lots of work that needed doing ;)

So on my last post I shared some of my Christmas bakes, so now I thought I would share some of the finished hamper pictures.  These went down an absolute storm and I think it was mainly due to the gorgeous packaging.  To me personally, the thing that takes a home baked presents from being seen as left overs to a thoughtful gift is the packaging.  This year I thought long and hard about how to present, and I am really happy with the results - have I mentioned how much I love my Silhouette Cameo? ;)

 On my last post I explained how I transformed the retro glass sweet jar - this is the finished article (complete with home made gift tag) and I think it is pretty easy to see why I adore it so much!  This was for Chris's Grandparents food hamper - they love Shortbread and were looking forward to trying the recipe that their daughter had been raving about.

These boxes turned out to be a perfect fit for the truffles - I really love the Christmas ribbon and I think my candy-cane gift tag complemented it well.

We did a smaller food hamper for Chris's Auntie - Instead of the sweetie jar filled with bakes, I had this smaller box.  I loved the 3D effect of the snowflake, even if it did make it a pain to try and fasten the tag!  I originally wanted a blue lid with a white base, but I was running low on white and had to make do with the red.  I think it actually turned out better then my original designs.

This is the grandparents finished hamper - the tins were from poundland and a perfect size for adding all the jars.  I have a bit of a cellophane fetish - I personally think that they make a gift look more professional, plus it helps to keep everything together for transportation.

Aunties hamper was a lot harder to wrap due to the hexagon box shape.  I couldn't find a sturdy base that was big enough to fit everything on, the air was blue whilst trying to cellophane this.

The lesson learned has to be forward planning.  I didn't decide/make the packing until the actual morning that I needed to give the presents - big mistake!  Next year, all packaging will be made by August - I'm not kidding!