Friday, 20 March 2015

Making Stock

Making stock. 

I think, if you are going to pay good money for a nice roast, best to get every single scrap of value from it.

There are many, many recipes on the interweb about making stock, some more involved than others but, really, do any of us have the time or energy to dedicate to making gourmet stock?   I certainly don't want to spend my Saturday afternoons standing over a pot of stock, do you?   Thank goodness for the crockpot! 

Stock in a crockpot is actually super easy to make and will save you from having to buy little pots of over-salted, meat flavoured stuff.  Sure, store bought stock is much more convenient but the whole point is to not waste anything, right?    Not to mention, homemade stock has less salt, preservative and god knows what else. 

Just out of curiosity...Why don't we have a closer look at store-bought stock?   

Let's look at a very popular brand of cube stock available at every major grocery retailer. 
24 cubes for £2.20. 
1 cube will make 100ml of stock. 
100ml of stock has almost 1GRAM of salt! 
That translates to 16% of your daily salt intake in just the stock alone. 

This means that one little box contains almost 5 teaspoons of salt.
Salt. Bad.
Now, let's look at the ingredient list: 
Wheat Flour (with added Calcium, Iron, Niacin, Thiamin), Salt, Maize Starch, Yeast Extract, Flavour Enhancers (Monosodium Glutamate, Disodium Guanylate), Colour (Ammonia Caramel), Beef Fat (4.5%), Autolysed Yeast Extract, Dried Beef Bonestock, Flavourings, Sugar, Acidity Regulator (Lactic Acid), Onion Powder

Do you see it??  MSG.   Not to mention a load of other things I'm not sure I want in my stock.  

So let's do it ourselves, shall we?  

The first thing to know is stock doesn't have to be made in one particular way every time.  There is no set recipe and this means you can play around with flavours and find one you like.  I usually keep a mental list of ingredients which *could* be used in a stock then just chuck in whatever I have on hand when the time comes.    Less stressful !!

That said,  there are a few "must haves" for a basic meat stock. 
  • Bones - obviously.  
  • Cold water - makes a difference  
  • Carrots, Onions and Celery - as a base
  • Mixed Herbs or bouquet garni 
  • Salt & Pepper
These basic ingredients can be thrown in a slow-cooker and left to simmer.  Some hours later, you will have the stock mostly done.  Strain, skim the fat and boil the bejesus out of it  to reduce and voila - you have stock.   Good stock will turn to jelly when cooled so if that happens... YAY!  You did it!

If you'd like to see what I normally do.. read below.   Don't forget to check out the end of the recipe for clever storage ideas.

You need:
1 Large Carrot
1 Large bit of celery
1 medium onion
Splash of white wine or tomato paste
1. Throw ingredients in a crock pot and cover with cold water. 
Rough chop 1 celery stick and 1 large carrot.  Quarter an onion and chuck that in. 
(Don't bother peeling the veg, just make sure they are clean because you are going to take them out later anyway.)

Throw in 1-2 bay leaves and a bouquet garni, if you have it.  If not, just chuck in a tsp or two of your favourite herbs.  (Tip: I find adding a little cumin amps up the flavour so try starting with a good pinch and see what happens.) 

Add some sort of acid.  It's not essential so don't worry if you don't have any. 
However, if you do and you want rich brown stock, try adding a tablespoon of tomato paste.   If you want a lighter stock or if you are making fish stock, use a splash or two of white wine. 
Season lightly with sea salt and black pepper.  If you feel fancy, just throw some whole black peppercorns in.
(you will adjust the salt/pepper to taste later)
Turn the crockpot on high and leave it for a good 3-4 hours, minimum, or you can leave it on Low overnight. 


If you are making stock from fowl or shellfish,  give your bones a little bash with the meat mallet or rolling pin.  Cover with a towel or cling film first to prevent meat flying everywhere. 

Don't go all Rocky Balboa on it either, killer.  If you beat it too much you may shatter the bones which will leave very sharp, tiny shards in your food and this definitely won't get you invited back to the family pot-luck.

If you happen to be thinking "hmmm... tiny shards of bone could kill people...."  AND you happen to have a family pot-luck dinner coming up;
"I don't know you and I have no idea what you are talking about."
If going with the stovetop method, you will do the same except don't let the water boil!  Just let it simmer gently. 
I used to boil the crap out of the bones, thinking I was going to have some lovely soup for lunch only to find my soup ended up looking and tasting like old dishwater.   But not anymore - hah haaa!! 
When it's finished, you should have a nice rich colour and it will smell awesome.


2.  Strain liquid, Skim the fat and harvest the meat.
Strain the stock, putting the liquid into a saucepan, and set aside to cool a bit.    You will need to skim the excess fat before you reduce it. 

While it's cooling, pick through the bones to get the good meat chunks out.  These can be put back into the finished stock to make soup or used for pies, goulash, pasta salad, given to the dog or cat.  Point being, don't waste it.  It's still good, tasty meat.  Use it!
Go back to your liquid and skim the excess fat from the top and get rid.   Throw the bones and veg in the bin.  (You can compost the veg if you like but not the bones... it's up to you if you want to increase the PITA Factor and separate the two for composting.)


3. Reduce liquid, adjust seasoning
Once skimmed, boil vigorously until the liquid has reduced by half or more depending on how strong you want your stock.   Have a quick taste, adjust the seasoning or reduce further if needed. 
Take off the heat and let cool.

Now,  this is the clever part.  

4. Storage
Unless you are going to make soup straight away... you will need to keep the stock preserved and handy for when you need it.   You are also not going to need all of this stock at once.  So, pour into ice cube trays and pop it into the freezer.  When it's frozen, you can pop out the cubes and store in freezer bags until you need it.   

If you don't have any free ice cube trays, try freezing the (cooled!) stock using one half of a plastic egg carton.   Once frozen, pop out and store in freezer bags.  Remember to use the plastic ones, not the cardboard ones.  ;o) 



Photos courtesy of

Thursday, 19 March 2015

I LOVE Freegle

It's all Kirstie Alsopp's fault!! 

I was spending a nice evening on the couch watching one of Kirstie's many crafting shows and she drops a bomb into my world.  The F-bomb.  The Freegle bomb.

She's evil in perfectly matching patterns and cute shoes. 

Kirstie introduced me (and possibly millions of other people) to the world of Freegle.  It's been both a blessing and a curse.  If you ask my partner, he'd likely side with curse.   He gets this look on his face when I say I'm heading out to collect something I got from Freegle...  not sure if it's pain or resignation.   Either way,  I'm pretty sure he's not as ecstatic about my Freegle finds as I am.  

That said, however,  after seeing the things I bring home, he usually comes around with a compliment, eventually. 

For those who don't know of this place... 

Freegle is a lovely online world where loads of people advertise their free stuff.  It's a mishmash of just about anything you can think of. 

Let's have a look and see what the first 5 things on the page are today... 

A slightly rusty microwave
3 wooden pallets
20 sheets of greenhouse glass
Ecotherm insulation offcuts
A working but old dishwasher

This is a pretty good indication of the sorts of things which appear on Freegle daily.   You also get lots of old furniture in various states, leftover tiles, bricks, fence panels and more. 

You also find lots of people looking for stuff for free.  Bricks,  paving slabs, bicycles, appliances, phones, baby stuff and furniture.

Very occasionally though,  you can find a gem or two.      

Sewing Machines, camping gear, good garden furniture, aquariums, chicken/rabbit/guinea pig runs, chicken wire, fabric, seating or bedding foam and good condition bicycles just fly out the door.  Be prepared to be very quick or very lucky if you ever try to snag one of these items on Freegle. 

As with everything of this sort,  Freegle depends on a community of people who will participate in the exchanging of free stuff with goodwill and integrity.  Meaning, don't take the piss you jerks.  Be honest in what you are offering and show up to collect the stuff you agreed to take, when you agreed to take it. 

This is part of the unwritten etiquette to being a "Freegler"

Other points of etiquette:
  • You should be prepared to offer some things as well as take. 
  • You should not harass the posters with multiple emails.  Send one and if you don't hear back, you can assume you didn't get it. 
  • If you use the Fair Offer Policy, actually use it.  Wait at least 24 hours before contacting people about the item.
  • Be polite and remember this is an item which is FREE.  It's not going to be perfect and may not even work properly....  this is why it's free.  Don't complain.   Although I will say I was less than impressed with the woman who advertised a single blow up mattress but "forgot" to mention the gaping hole in the side of it. 

So, if this place is so great,  what gems have I uncovered?

Let's see,  I've gotten:

A gorgeous old school desk with chair - my very first Freegle score and it's amazing.  Solid wood, flip-top desk with brass ink well (bottle missing), cast iron legs with original wood chair with metal reinforcements.  It's luuuuurvely.   Kirstie would be chuffed to bits, I think.

Pond weed - because I cleaned out the pond but needed something in place to clear the water and keep it from stagnating over the winter. 

An apartment sized clothes dryer - it's old but despite what the family said, it does heat up rather well!  I only had to take the back off it and clean out the crap from the heating element.   Easy peasy.  We can't dry an entire washload of clothes in it but it does a great job on munchkin's school uniforms, underpants and the odd bit we need dry in a hurry. 

The single blow-up mattress with a gaping hole in the side.  Luckily I had some rubber left over from the pond repair kit I bought and fixed the hole.  2 years later... it WAS still holding until my two children... (the 5 year old and the 47 year old) decided to use it as a bouncy castle.

A double blow-up mattress exactly the type we used as floating beds in our grandma's pool.   No gaping holes.   

A box of leftover orange wall tiles - Contrary to my partner's opinion, there is a plan in mind for these.  I am still flirting with the idea of using leftover wall tiles to tile the upstairs bathroom.  Mosaic style.   Look out for that blog MUCH later. 

A box of jars for canning - Intended to be for making jam and stuff but are now sitting in the shed.  (It's not always a smash hit)

An old German coffee grinder - Just because I wanted it.  It's not as pretty as I'd hoped which is probably why I can't remember where it is right now. 

A massive, solid wood wardrobe - it's gorgeous.  Yes,  it's battered and worn but it's a heavy, quality made piece which will be with us forever.   At some point, I will refinish it and change the knobs but I'm actually not allowed to do that until the 400 other DIY jobs I've started get done.

Paint cans - tin cans that munchkin and I are going to use for a project which will appear here later.

Most recently, I've acquired a massive office credenza which is going to feature in another blog post by July and a pretty big sheet of plexiglass with a couple offcuts.    The plexi was a real coup because you never see that sort of thing on Freegle.   I posted a "WANTED" ad on the site and had a response from a lovely man named Mike about an hour later.   I'm so happy because it's exactly (EXACTLY!!!) what I needed. 

 The credenza

For the most part,  I've met some really nice people who were happy to have a little chat and were genuinely interested in what you have planned with their old stuff. 

You should try it.  or you can try Freecycle if you are not in the UK.  

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

The PITA tax

Before I get going on more blogs, it might be helpful to understand one of my own underlying theories about saving money, recycling, upcycling and the like.  

It's called "The PITA Tax"   Or...  "The Pain In The Ass Tax"

This is the difference in cost between what you could be saving  and  paying full retail price.   If you are paying the PITA Tax, it means you are paying more than you need to for something in order to avoid any real or perceived "Pain In The Ass Factor".   

The PITA Factor is simply how much of a pain in the ass you think something is or is going to be. 

This factor depends on many, many things.    Whether you can easily get what you need from alternate sources.  Does it go on sale often?  How long can you wait before getting said item or service?  Do you have time, style, colour, size, shape constraints which are unmoveable?  Do you have the time or energy to source everything you need?  Do you have your kids with you?   How tired are you?  How hacked off?  Have you just crushed your iPhone in the car door and really need a replacement this minute?? 

Let's say we have a 1-10 scale, although in reality it is much more complicated than this, but let's go with this, for simplicity's sake. 

IE:  I would like new curtains in my bedroom.   I could either;

A) go to a nice pricey design store, have them measure, cut and install a nice pair of curtains
PITA Factor = 0
PITA Tax = 10  (meaning the most expensive option)

B)  Go to John Lewis and pick out curtains off the shelf which are as close as possible to the right size and colour.
PITA Tax = 8 

C)  Buy the fabric I want, cut and sew the curtains myself
PITA Tax = 2

D)  Troll charity shops and discount websites for a few weeks until I find something I like.  Cut and sew curtains myself.

So you see,  the PITA tax generally goes down as the PITA Factor goes up.   Of course, this is assuming you would find making your own curtains a giant pain in the ass.  And even if you did, would the PITA Factor be high enough to make you pay the PITA Tax?

Does that make sense?   You will hear this term used a lot in future blog posts.


Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Starting Afresh. New focus. New name.

Starting Afresh.

I know it's been a long time since I've blogged about anything.   Truth is,  there hasn't been much to blog about lately.    About 18months ago, I went back to full time employment once our daughter started full time school... so there hasn't been a great deal of DIY going on. 

I've also realised I want to change the focus of this blog a little.  I've realised that being "economical" (my partner would probably say "cheap") is not something that everyone does or maybe knows how to do.  It only struck me when a big group of people I know spent good money on something that takes about 10 minutes to make.

In my head,  I'm thinking, why would you do that?  Why would you spend the money when you could do it yourself for free??   It doesn't make sense to me. 

Me...  I don't get out of bed for anything less than 50% off and I'll go on holiday to Bermuda with the money I saved, thankyouverymuch.  

So,  I decided I'm going to start blogging about it.  Where to save money,  how to "do-it-yourself" to save money, how and where to look for the best value and whatever else I can think of.   This is going to be anything from recipes for leftovers through to how to renovate your bathroom for next to nothing. 

My grandfather had a little sheet of paper he kept in a drawer which he would take out every time someone said "oh when I get around to it".   This is what it said. 

Welcome to my new blog.  A Round Tuit.  

Wish me luck and I hope you enjoy.    Please feel free to send me questions or comments!