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The Truth Comes Out

The bad news is that after a few back-and-forth emails between me and “Eliza” at Mint, I found out that, unfortunately, transfers to credit cards do NOT trend as “spending” transactions on their little graph things, so I still need to shave down my budget somewhat. If all goes according to plan, however, I’ll at least be making a couple small changes in August, one to my phone bill and one potentially to my cable provider. Fingers crossed that one works out, because I love free stuff — but more on that later.

Saving with Mint

The good news is that — fingers and toes and legs and arms crossed! — I may pull out ahead anyways this month, even though apparently my numbers are still a bit wonky. I’ve adjusted them a bit already, but at least now I know there are more bars and lines I need to watch other than just how I’m doing in each category, and the want-versus-need theme will hopefully shine brightly when it comes to shopping, at the very least. I don’t want to have to take money from the “baby supplies” category OR my meagre “personal care” fund, but any cuts will certainly have to come out of there before I start getting really creative with gas and other necessities. Not even a month has passed, and yet this has been an incredible learning experience already. Learning about myself and my tendencies, strengths and weaknesses as well as learning about exciting ways to save without sacrificing has been almost like a game — it keeps you on your toes and, although it can be tedious and nerve-wracking at times, it can also be fun and interesting.

Budgeting also seems to make the days and weeks go by more quickly. Not that any of us need to be reminded of how quickly time flies, but I do need to be reminded every so often that the best things in life are free — whether it’s being invited to a last-minute baseball game or going for a morning walk with your kids, sometimes I personally need to get out of my head a little bit to remember that life does not revolve around trips to Tesco. I have to find that perfect balance between being a bargain hunter and remaining confident that whatever happens, we’ll be fine. And I work at it every day — so even if I do get a little too excited about scouting sales on maple syrup and agave, the bottom line is that everyone in my house is safe, happy and healthy. That’s a plus whether the day is just packed or you feel like time is standing still, and with summer already winding down, I seem to have suddenly gotten over my longing for fall and am desperate to enjoy the dog days.

When Saving feels more like Sacrificing

There is a difference, oh yes, there is a difference, between saving and sacrificing, and only one of them is good for you, in my opinion.

Saving is good. Saving makes you feel good; missing out on buying something on a Saturday just to see the price go up on a Sunday stinks. But getting that bargain rectified — for example, going to Tesco for a price adjustment, even if it’s just a couple of pounds — that’s like a financial pat on the back.

Saving and Sacrificing

Sacrificing, although often used in religious terms with positive connotations, can make you feel bad when it comes to everyday, repetitive, habitual acts. It’s this modern struggle we have between putting others first (she and I, not I and she) and taking care of ourselves. “Indulging” in alone time, a mani-pedi, reading a book instead of doing the laundry — today, these tasks are often looked upon as necessities, not luxuries. And while I agree that a little space for head clearing is most certainly necessary, what I’m really getting at of course relates to food, budgeting and shopping.

I’ve noticed that since I started to save money and eat more healthfully, I’ve actually experienced MORE anxiety about money than before. Now, on some levels, I know that makes sense and may even be a good thing — ignorance is not always bliss. However, let me explain some of the differences, specifically related to the innate contrasts between saving and sacrificing.

During these past few weeks, it has felt good to save on food expenses by using only cash for consumables, by sticking to my budget, and by being extra careful about what I buy not just in terms of its value but also with regard to whether or not we actually eat it, how it tastes, whether we enjoy it or whether next time we need to cook it differently, taste it first, try a different brand, etc. I’m just a week away from finishing Month 1, and I feel confident and glad that we should be able to come in right at the £300 mark.

At the same time, however, trying too hard to save can actually make you feel like you’re sacrificing. Just focusing so much on how much I have to spend, when I can spend it and even just the word “budget” itself can cause tension and anxiety, which, to be productive or helpful in any way has to be manifested in new savings strategies or plans, not adrenaline-filled hours of clipping coupons, matching website sales to fliers and envelopes, buying things I don’t need just because they’re on sale AND there’s an extra $1 saving if I use my club card. It’s what some call the “dark side” of using coupons — a version of hoarding, on a minute scale, just because you can’t pass up a deal. But sometimes, passing up that deal on something you normally wouldn’t buy or use IS the difference between “saving” on that purchase and “sacrificing” later, when you’ll go over budget if you buy that one special item you really wanted because you already spent your money on extra rolls of paper towel and three tubes of toothpaste. Saving is possible for the long haul; I’m not so sure about sacrificing.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: When you know you have a problem, and you’re doing something to fix it, it’s important to support yourself in your efforts and not self sabotage by comparing yourself to others, following trends or falling prey to typical traps and temptations. Know thyself. It can truly mark the difference between saving yourself a lot of grief — and money — and feeling like you’ve sacrificed too much — whether it’s £5, or your sense of self, or your Sunday afternoon. Trust your instincts, decide if something enlarges your life or makes it feel smaller, and don’t let it confine you in any way. Enjoy the journey. The destination will always be there, unchanging, no matter what path you take to get there.

Cuisinart All Purpose Blender and Soup Maker Review

Soup makers can differ in size and shape thereby inducing confusion in terms of which design is better and which one is not. Today we will be looking at the Cuisinart All Purpose Soup Maker in detail to see how well this performs in terms of what the manufacturer has stated.

The Cuisinart Soup Maker is easy to use and is an excellent product to have in your kitchen.

First things first, the design of this resembles that of a blender. But, this product is more than just a blender and definitely has more about it than just tackling fruits and ice for smoothies and milkshakes. As the name suggests, it is an all purpose machine that tends to do a lot more than first seems because of the blender-like design. In fact, the main function of this product is to make amazingly hot soup within 20 minutes of time.

It has several functions that will enable you to do this quite efficiently. First of all, there is the huge 1.4 litre capacity that will make enough soup for the entire family. This will not only be hot but the glass jug will also keep it warm for a prolonged period of time. There are several blades inside of the glass and these will aim to not only break down the food but also stir them when required. There is a timer, a non-sticking cooking plate and also a setting that will let you change the temperature.

I must admit the non-stick plate is highly beneficial because it can make the entire process of cleaning up so much easier. If you end up buying this product, you will also receive a recipe book to help you get the hang of using this.

When looking at this electric soup maker in a bit more detail, there are several pros and some cons too. Admittedly, the design is quite excellent and has several features that place great emphasis on efficiency of performance and safety. I definitely found it extremely easy to use and those who are not very tech savvy will find that the instruction manual can be followed very easily.

This all-purpose blender is very useful for making soup at home.

One of the main advantages that I observed with this product is the different settings available for you. You will be able to use different temperatures to simmer or sauté the food. In addition to making soup, this can also act as a high quality powerful blender. When you get a all purpose appliance, sometimes one feature lets you down when the other succeeds. However, this is one product where all of the features did brilliantly well.

The glass jug is quite wide so you will find it very easy to clean after cooking your meal.

Along with the benefits, there can often be several drawbacks too. The one downside to this is that the product overall is quite bulky and heavy, which will make it fairly difficult to store it in the kitchen.

This is probably one of the main drawbacks that I have noticed when reviewing this. Along with this, the glass jug cannot be placed into the dishwasher and this may make the cleaning a bit time-consuming and complicated for you. Despite this, I would probably say that this is the best soup maker on the market right now though there are some other products that run it quite close.

Obviously like every electronic appliance, there are some drawbacks of this product too. However, I have found the performance to be excellent and I think this outweighs the drawbacks that I have observed. There are lots of similar products available and it’s highly important to compare this particular product to the other ones that are available.

I must stress the importance of this because you might not like something that I like so you need to look into each individual product yourself. But hopefully, this quick review gave you a rough idea of what you can expect if you get this electric soup maker. It’s not cheap but it will make your life in the kitchen a lot easier.

Delicious Tofu Skewers with Satay Sauce

The satay sauce goes really well with the tofu skewers.When you see the words ”Mock Chicken” printed on the side of a bright blue can hidden away in the darkest corner of your favourite Asian grocery store, chances are the contents of said can are unlikely to be high quality food. However, in saying that, I have been to many vegetarian restaurants that serve mock meat and have never been disappointed.

So, when I began craving one of my all-time favourite pre-vegetarian treats this week – satay chicken skewers Yum Cha style, I was determined to try anything to recreate this delicious dish!

Over the years I have had many culinary disasters, with one of the most memorable being a shiitake mushroom pizza, but this week’s attempt to recreate the once cherished Yum Cha chicken satay skewer now takes the cake!

I have never cooked with seitan (mock meat) before and I must admit I attempted this recipe from scratch, without doing any research on how to prepare seitan. I think that if I had been more prepared, the results may not have been so disastrous!

After opening the can, and staring dubiously at the contents for a few minutes, I tipped the brown, wrinkly ‘chicken’ pieces into a strainer to drain and prepared a mixture of cornflour and salt & pepper.

I tossed each piece of seitan in the flour mixture and then threaded a number of pieces onto pre-soaked bamboo skewers before popping them into hot peanut oil. I fried them for about ten minutes, turning continuously to ensure even cooking, and then soaked them on a paper towel before taking the first taste test.

After looking forward to sinking my teeth into a scrumptious satay stick all day long, I was so very disappointed with the dry, tasteless dish I had created. Seitan is made of wheat, and has a very bizarre texture when not prepared correctly, and as I have now learnt, is best if marinated prior to cooking.

Of course it was not all blood, sweat and tears, as the accompanying satay sauce was divine. So, I spent 10 minutes preparing some delicious tofu skewers and served them up instead. The result was a definite keeper, and I am very happy to share the delicious recipe with you.

Ingredients for Peanut Sauce

  • 100ml of coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons of brown sugar
  • 300 grams of dry roasted, unsalted peanut, crushed
  • 3 tablespoons of peanut oil
  • 1 stalk of lemongrass
  • 1cm of root ginger
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 dried chilli, soaked
  • 6 shallots, chopped

Cooking Process for Making the Peanut Sauce

Place shallots, lemongrass, chilli and ginger into a food processor and process into a smooth paste.

Heat peanut oil in a deep pan and fry paste for 10 to 15 minutes.

Add crushed peanuts and coconut milk and simmer for 20 minutes.

Stir in sugar and season with salt.

Ingredients for Tofu Skewers

  • 300 grams of firm tofu
  • ½ cup of cornflour
  • 1 teaspoon each of salt & pepper
  • ¼ cup of peanut oil

Cooking Process for Making the Tofu Skewers

Mix cornflour with salt & pepper.

Cut tofu into 1cm cubes and toss in flour mixture.

Thread tofu pieces onto bamboo skewers (soak in water for 20 minutes before use).

Heat peanut oil in a pan and fry tofu skewers until crisp and golden.

Serve with brown rice and peanut sauce, and garnish with fresh chilli, green onions & fresh lime.

Mushroom & Tofu Kebabs with Roasted Pepper Quinoa Salad

This gorgeous recipe is great when you are craving salad but are too cold to even contemplate eating it. The salad is warm and full of bold, complimentary flavours – lemon zest, mint, roasted peppers, raisins, parsley and red onions mixed into soft, nutty quinoa and served with a tangy lemon and mint dressing. The flavours of the mushrooms and marinated tofu work wonderfully together and are the perfect partner for this tasty salad.

Ingredients for Mushroom & Tofu Kebabs

The Kebabs:

  • 1 large piece of tofu
  • 500 grams of button mushrooms

The Marinade:

  • 1/4 tablespoon of sweet chilli sauce
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh mint

Cooking Process for Making the Kebabs

Cut tofu into 1-2 inch cubes. Mix marinade ingredients together and marinate tofu for at least 30 minutes.

Alternatively thread mushrooms and tofu onto bamboo skewers (which have been pre-soaked in cold water for at least 20 minutes) and grill on BBQ or griddle for 3-5 minutes on each side.

Ingredients for the Salad

The Salad:

  • 2 cups of quinoa
  • 1 red capsicum (pepper)
  • 1 small red onion – finely sliced
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh mint
  • Zest from 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup of raisins soaked in boiling water for 10 minutes

The Dressing:

  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon of brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon of fresh ginger – grated
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of sweet chilli sauce

Cooking Process for Making the Salad

The Quinoa salad complements the Mushroom and Tofu Kebabs really well.I always prepare my quinoa in the rice cooker. This is the best way to ensure it is perfect every time. You simply cook it the same way as you would rice, with equal quantities of quinoa and water.

Slice red pepper/capsicum into large pieces and brush with olive oil. Then, sprinkle with salt & pepper and place under a grill until the skin blisters and the flesh is tender. Slice when cooked.

Then, place the cooked quinoa, red pepper/capsicum, lemon zest, raisins, red onion, parsley and mint into a bowl and stir gently to combine. Mix the dressing ingredients together in a separate bowl and add to salad (I only ever put half into the salad and serve the remaining dressing on the side so that guests can add more if they prefer).

Place salad onto plates, top with mushroom and tofu kebabs and sprinkle with fresh mint and parsley.

Vegetarian ‘Sausage’ Rolls

Bulgur is a wonderful little grain. So versatile – I use this Middle Eastern staple in a lot of recipes (especially salads) because I love its great texture and nutty flavour. It is great in tabouleh or mixed through oven roasted Mediterranean vegetables. In this recipe for vegetarian ‘sausage’ rolls, I have used bulgur as the main filler. If you do not like bulgur, you can use lentils instead but personally I love, and so do my kids. You can serve them with a salad for lunch or dinner, or as an appetiser at your next BBQ.

Ingredients for 24 Vegetarian ‘Sausage’ Rolls

  • 2 Sheets of Puff Pastry
  • 1 cup of course bulgur
  • 1 zucchini – grated
  • 1 carrot – grated
  • 1 small onion – finely diced
  • 1 small capsicum – finely diced
  • 1 tablespoon of crushed garlic
  • 6 (dried) shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 cup of boiling water
  • ½ cup of finely sliced cabbage
  • Olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of vegetarian oyster sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of paprika
  • 1 teaspoon of dried mixed herbs
  • 1 egg (optional)
  • 1 vegetable stock cube
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Cooking Process once Ready

These sausage rolls are meat-free and simply taste delicious.Place bulgur in a saucepan and cover with cold water – bring to boil on the stovetop. Boil for 10 minutes and then drain well. Place shiitake mushrooms in a bowl with 1 cup of boiling water and soak for 10 minutes. Once softened, remove the stems from mushrooms with a pair of kitchen scissors and then add to a blender with half of the water and process until smooth. Then, Dissolve vegetable stock cube in remaining water.

Heat oil in a frying pan and add garlic, capsicum, cabbage, onion, carrot and zucchini. Cook over a medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Add cooked bulgur, paprika, mushroom mix and stock and continue to cook for five minutes.

Add vegetarian oyster sauce and dried herbs. Allow mixture to cool slightly and if you wish you could mix through an egg once cooled– optional (it helps the mixture bind together a little better but is not necessary. The recipe will still work well without the egg).

Cut two pieces of puff pastry in half to form four rectangles. Place mixture down the centre of each rectangle the fold pastry to enclose mixture. Place each roll seam side down and cut into six equal pieces.

Place individual sausage rolls seam side down on an oven tray, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with sesame seeds and bake in a 180°c oven for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown.

Serve with your favourite tomato sauce or chutney.