Big Budget Challenge – Weeks III & IV

As it was the half term school holidays last week, which began with a mini break to Sherwood Forest followed by Lil’ L’s 8th birthday, I didn’t get round to posting an update for Laura’s Big Budget Challenge.  Many apologies Laura!  To make up for this, I’ll give a rundown of my ‘money saves’ over the past two weeks vis-a-vis my 5 budget rules

1. Avoid waste. I’m pleased to say that I’ve managed to avoid throwing away any food over the past two weeks 🙂  There was a close call with a bag of spinach that was starting to look sorry for itself, but Laura’s post on Monday inspired me to make a spinach, butternut squash and chickpea curry.  I even roasted the squash seeds (for the first time ever) and we had them with the hemp burger and roasted squash dinner on Monday.  No seeds will ever get thrown away again… they’re so nice lightly roasted! 🙂

2. Shop around for cheapest deals. I’m planning to do another big online grocery shop tomorrow and I’ll definitely be using www.mysupermarket.co.uk again.  It saved me quite a few pounds on my last big grocery shop and I’m intrigued to see what I can save this time round 🙂

3. Make use of home grown foods.  We’ve been eating lots of home-grown apples (still not sick of them 😉 ).  We’ve also had some very generous donations of home-grown produce from friends and family, including these amazing courgettes/zucchinis.

As well as using the zucchini in lots of savoury dishes (roasted veg & pasta; lasagna; fajitas), I made some wicked date and zucchini brownies last week, which I pictured in yesterday’s post.  (I’ll be writing up the recipe and posting it very soon).

All the donated produce has been used up now, so I’ve turned my attention to some rather unusual home-grown produce… dandelion leaves and nettles.  I didn’t intentionally grow these, but as they’re growing so beautifully in my garden, it’ll be fun to see whether I can turn them into something tasty 😉

4. Go foraging! Whilst cycling round Sherwood Forest last week, I couldn’t resist a quick pause to collect sweet chestnuts.

The cases are so prickly!  I used my feet to squeeze the nuts out of the shells, while M adopted a more hands-on approach.

I didn’t have a bag with me, so I crammed as many as I could into the back pocket of my cycling jacket.

You won’t believe how many I actually managed to cram into that pocket!

I absolutely adore roasted chestnuts!  They really remind me of childhood Christmas Eves when my Dad would roast chestnuts, sprinkle them with salt and tip them on a newspaper.  We’d then sit on the living room floor and tuck in!

Today, I decided to use some of the nuts to make a sweet chestnut casserole with herby dumplings.

The dumplings were flavoured with fresh rosemary from the garden.  This is one of the few edible plants that the slugs and snails actually leave alone!  It’s a really easy herb to grow and seems to look after itself.  Our plant has been here the whole time we’ve lived in Bath (11 years now) and it hasn’t need any attention at all. (That’s SO my sort of plant 😉 )

5. Make use of vouchers and deals. We used our Tesco vouchers again on Lil’ L’s birthday, saving us £21 on the entry fee into a sea aquarium.  I’m glad we didn’t pay real money for this trip as the aquarium was awful (in my opinion).  The image of the snake-headed turtle pounding up and down its tiny tank is still haunting me 🙁

So that’s my big budget challenge update for weeks III and IV!  Have you had any great money saves in the last month?  If so, I’d love to hear them! 

Scrummy Vegan Chocolate Birthday Cake

For the past two birthdays, Lil L has asked whether we can make a home-made vegan chocolate cake as his birthday treat, rather than one of those fancy shop-bought birthday cakes.

Three reasons why I’ve considered this to be great news…

1. It means he actually likes the cakes I make 🙂
2. It’s saved me a small fortune 🙂
3. It means I get to spend some quality time with him in the kitchen 🙂

This year, he got heavily involved in all stages of the cake-making process, including the sieving, the mixing and, of course, the bowl licking. No guessing which bit he enjoyed the most 😉

Last year, he chose to have a plastic Frankenstein stuck in the top of the cake.  This year, we went for something slightly more sophisticated… berry and cherry spread in the middle, raw chocolate fudge frosting on top and 8 candles 🙂

The chocolate and fruity filling flavours went really well together.  For me, the cake also had the perfect consistency (moist, not crumbly, easy to cut).  In summary, this cake was totally delish! And, most importantly, Lil’  L loved it! 🙂

UPDATE NOVEMBER 2013… This cake has now been surpassed by the 2013 Vegan Chocolate Birthday Cake! The birthday cakes seem to be getting better every year 🙂

Vegan Chocolate Sandwich Cake