Recipe: Homemade Pesto

Pesto is one of the things I’ve poo-poo-ed about making at home. Such a faff, a bit expensive, and the jarred stuff is perfectly fine. Well the jarred stuff WAS perfectly fine until I made my own. Now I can’t touch the stuff. Homemade is so much fresher, so much more fragrant, and I can adapt it – I like mine chunkier and less oily, heavy on the garlic and slightly less cheese.

 photo Homemade Pesto Recipes 9_zpsbjfcpckm.jpg photo Homemade Pesto Recipes 1_zpsmdsxkrfj.jpgI love the fact that it’s super simple to make in bulk, and not exactly expensive – I often only buy fresh herbs when they are reduced, then will quickly whizz up a batch of pesto for the freezer. It’s adaptable to what you what too. No pinenuts? Just any kind of nut you have! No herbs? Try kale pesto. No parmesan? A punchy hard cheddar will do!

 photo Homemade Pesto Recipes 7_zpsbswpjwom.jpg photo Homemade Pesto Recipes 6_zps2a9pn7km.jpgRoasted red pepper pesto is my ultimate favourite, simply because it tastes as close to tomatoes as possible without actually containing them. I have a constant supply of a jar from Waitrose, but making my own has been a revelation – so much fresher, and as it’s got less oil it makes for a perfect crisp pizza.

Green pesto is just as delicious, and super lovely tossed through fresh pasta. I love it cold for lunch – and one of my ultimate comfort food dinners is a pasta bake made with chicken and a creamy pesto. Just yum!
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Roasted Pepper Pesto

Start by roasted off your peppers – whack the oven up as far as it will go, quarter and deseed the peppers and place skinside up in a tin. Roast for 10-20 minutes until blackened, then tip into a bowl and cover with cling-film until cool. Then just slip the skins off – as they have steamed whilst cooking it should be a pretty easy job.

Grab a frying pan and toast your nuts on a high heat (no oil) until beginning to turn golden. Add to a food processor along with a clove or two of garlic, your peppers and a good handful of cheese. Blitz until you have your preferred consistency, then use how you fancy. I love this as a pizza sauce, but it’s perfect tossed through pasta for a quick lunch.
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Classic Basil Pesto

The classic one this! Toast your pinenuts on a high heat, dry pan, then blitz with a handful of basic, cheese and a little garlic. Loosen with a teeny bit of olive oil if you want. I’d suggest freezing the classic pesto if you aren’t going to use it within twenty-four hours as I find the basil can go a little bitter – probably the issue with the jarred stuff!

I’m now craving a more summery meal of pasta tossed with fresh pesto, enjoyed in the evening sunshine. I have a feeling it will be a long time before I get to experience that again!

Have your ever made your own pesto? What’s your favourite pasta sauce?

Student Summer: What to Take to University #2

Food. One of the greatest loves of my life, as you can probably tell from this blog, and it was something I really agonised over before starting university. What food should I take to university with me? What will I cook after lectures? So this post is dedicated to the food shop, what meals you’re likely to be cooking, and what you should try and keep in your cupboards.

I’m lucky enough that my parents do my first shop of the school year, so I really stock up on goods that last then. I’ll also stock up on meat and spend the first few days batch cooking. Doing this really helps to keep my costs down for the rest of the year – generally I spend under £15 a fortnight, but even including my big shop my food spending is actually quite low. Now, in this list I’ve really only listed basics…in terms of this is what I always try to have in. Obviously you’re going to want other bits – green vegetables, other fruit, ready meals if you’re that way inclined…but I find if I have the following I can always make a good meal.

So, what food to take to university? And how long do you cook it for…?

Dried
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  • Pasta – in my big shop, I’ll always pick up a 5kg bag of pasta, usually penne. Then I’ll just grab some spaghetti. Value pasta is absolutely fine, I don’t see the point in spending more. Yes, fresh pasta is delicious, but having money is more important! Most pasta wants 9-10 minutes boiling in salted water, unless you are making One Pan Mac’n’ Cheese.
  • Rice – basmati is my go-to. Value rice is not fine, it is often far too starchy, to the point I’d rather have no rice. Again, 10 minute boiling in salted water is generally how I cook rice, just be careful to watch it as it can boil over.
  • Noodles – plain egg noodles are a must for me, as they are great in stir-fries and soups. I prefer thicker ones as they seem to fill me up more, and I also like to go for ones that just need soaking. I will usually soak mine for 5 minutes (just pour a boiling kettle over), and season with soy sauce.
  • Lentils – lentils seem to take very little time to cook, but they are great for bulking up meals and thickening sauces. A standard packet of red lentils lasts me just over a year – I will simmer a spoonful in with my bolognese or stew.

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  • Chopped tomatoes – if you’re a normal person and not allergic to them that is! They are obviously the cheapest way of making most sauces, so make the most of them if you can eat them!
  • Beans – whilst dried lentils are quick to cook, dried beans aren’t. I do prefer using dried beans, but for convenience’s sake its often easier to buy tinned as they only need heating up, though I tend to simmer with everything in chillis and stews.
  • Sweetcorn – I’m not a huge fan of sweetcorn, but I had a housemate who couldn’t live without it! Either buy tinned or frozen – I prefer tinned as I don’t eat it often enough to aware it freezer space. Again this only needs heating up.
  • Coconut Cream – cooking a lot of single-portion curries, it doesn’t make sense to buy coconut milk. Instead I buy coconut cream and stir a small piece into hot water before adding it to the dish. It’s not as rich, but it saves money and calories!
  • Sauces/pastes – if you have a favourite curry, stock up on the paste or ingredients to make it. I also always pick up soy sauce, sweet chilli sauce, and a Wahaca chipotle sauce.
  • Gravy – I’m Northern, gravy is something I have to have. I always have both onion gravy and chicken gravy in my cupboard. For one person – two rough tablespoons in a mug, top with boiling water and stir well. This makes quite a thick gravy, so adjust as required.

Spices

 photo IMAG1089_zps0s7ngtng.jpgA whole paragraph for this one! I’m slowly building up my spice collection, having added to it bit by bit over the last two years. I’d start off with cumin, curry powder, italian seasoning, and cajun seasoning. And salt and pepper, obviously. Then add as and when you can afford – coriander, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, cinnamon (really only if you plan on baking), crushed chillies, thyme, ginger…anything else you fancy really. Over my placement year I’m planning on really expanding my spices in an attempt to ‘finish off’ and having something that will let me cook any kind of dishes. I’m heading towards Beef Rendang soon!

Fruit & Veg
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  • Bananas – on days I have porridge for breakfast, I always eat it with a banana mashed in. I also use bananas quite a bit in baking (nutella muffins, anyone?) – they great thing is that if you take them out of the skins, they freeze really well. You wouldn’t be able to eat it whole, but mashed into things they are great.
  • Potatoes – the slight Irishness in me makes it impossible to live without potatoes. I generally stick to mash (I’m not huge on roasties); for the perfect mash peel and quarter potatoes (red ones are the best I find), and boil in salted water for 20 minutes. Drain, add butter, a grind of pepper and a splash of milk, and mash away. Tip: don’t buy a cheap potato masher. I’ve gone through several in university as they seem to bend. And pour boiling water into the pan and over the masher once you’ve served up. Believe me, it makes washing up 10 times easier.
  • Carrots – despite not being a fan of carrots, I virtually always have them. I hate them boiled and served up alongside a roast, but chopped up in sauces, meltingly soft in stews, spicy in stir-fries and raw in slaws – they are great. If you are cooking them as a side, peel, slice into rounds and boil for about 4 minutes.
  • Cabbage – I love cabbage, I buy savoy and red types. I tend to only eat red cabbage raw and in stir-fries, but savoy cabbage wants slicing, and boiling for around 4 minutes.
  • Broccoli – I’m a fan of crunchy broccoli, so boil for 2-3 minutes, but most people go for 3-5.
  • Onions and celery – the basis for most sauces. I love braised celery too – it feels so filling, but has hardly any calorific content.

Frozen

I don’t tend to buy many frozen things (apart from B&J’s when it’s on offer *shifty glance*) but I do go for frozen peas. Bird’s Eye Garden peas are the only ones I will buy though, again there are some things I would rather spend a little extra on or go without! Other than that I do try and have either fish fingers or fishcakes in the freezer, although that’s definitely not an essential for me!

Bread

1441238_10152069947758516_1130915187_nWhat can I say, I like my carbs! I’m a lover of wholemeal cobs (Leicestershire gal!) – I’ll make up my cobs with butter and ham and freeze for the entire week. Then I will also get a load of the part-baked rolls. These keep in the cupboard for ages, making them a great standby option. You can also make pretty awesome garlic bread with them too…

Meat

Ah meat, if only it wasn’t so expensive! At the start of term I stick to the basics; ham, bacon, sausages, chicken breast, mince. The chicken and mince gets batch-cooked into bolognese, cottage pie, and curry. Bacon and sausage get frozen into individual portions. Cobs are made up with the ham, and frozen.

Other

  • Crisps – I stock up on things like hula hoops (I’m a big child) and tortilla chips at the start of the year. Mainly because I hate buying them and walking home with them, they are so bulky!
  • Biscuits – can’t resist biscuits! To save money, buy a big value pack and keep in a tub to avoid them going stale.
  • Alcohol – obviously a must for most students, I admit I do rarely buy it. But when I do I either like some good vodka, or a nice wine. Yep, middle-aged before my time.
  • Squash – something else to stock up on at the beginning of term, I like to buy big bottles of double strength; one of these will last me a whole 12-week term.
  • Juice – to stop it going off, I buy individual cartons.
  • Tea/Coffee – again, stocking up at the beginning of term.
  • Milk – definitely not something to forget! I also try to keep a bottle of long-life milk in the cupboard too, just in case.
  • Cheese – I will always have a packet of parmesan, but occasionally I also buy mozzarella and cheddar too depending on what my meal plan is looking like.
  • Butter- generally I prefer to use real butter (not spread!) for sandwiches, but also for frying and obviously baking. Yes, not the healthiest, but I don’t care!
  • Cereal – I always go for porridge oats, I make it up with water so its a pretty frugal option!

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Cleaning  Stuff/Household Items

  • All Purpose Spray
  • Dish cloths/sponges
  • Washing-up Liquid
  • Laundry tablet
  • Kitchen Roll
  • Tin Foil
  • Sandwich Bags

So there you are – what food to buy at university. I obviously cook quite a lot – I’ve known people survive on ready meals though so its not anywhere near an essential list. But its what feels essential for me to have ! I also hope that I’ve helped with some of the cooking times!

What food did/do you eat at university?

Review: Summer Satchel from Yoshi*

You all know how much I love my satchels, so I was delighted when I was offered a Yoshi satchel to review. This wasn’t a company I had heard of before, but I’d seen one of their Coral satchels in the window of a local leather shop and fallen in love with the colour. After deliberating sizes I decided on the 14″ Belforte* (£65.00).

 photo 2014-06-16160119_zpsfc9e96af.jpgThe colour definitely didn’t disappoint when it turned up (bonus points for the company – it was the best packed satchel I have received, loads of bubble wrap, and a gorgeous cherry-print dust bag too) as its summery, bright and very feminine, but not quite as neon as it looks on the site. I fell in love with their Pale Green colour too, so I can only imagine how gorgeous this looks like in the flesh!  The one complaint I do have about the colour is that it isn’t particularly even – there’s a few little black specks on mine. I actually don’t mind them, it makes it look less perfect so I’m less pretentious about using it (with my main satchel I was paranoid about it until it received its first slightly scratch – five months in!).

 photo 2014-06-16160133_zps493afc61.jpgI find the leather quality to be high, although it is a little thinner than my others. Its definitely a lot more flexible, which is great as I can stuff a cardigan in there for chilly evenings, but despite the thinness the straps haven’t taken any noticeable battering during the first few weeks of use. I’m going to be doing a satchel comparison post soon, so you’ll be able to see more closely what I mean!

I’ve loved having a more summery-coloured bag for sunny days, its added an extra something to my outfit and as its more smallest satchel it means I’m carting much less rubbish around! Huge thanks to Yoshi for sending me this satchel to review (remember, all opinions are my own, and I’ve not been paid to write any positive comments) – they have some lovely satchels and clearly follow seasonal trends so I definitely recommend keeping an eye on the site. I’ve been informed their AW/14 Collection will be launching in the next few months so I’m keeping my eyes peeled…
Do you have a summer bag?

What’s Cooking Wednesday (#2)

I wasn’t the greatest at updating last week’s post, but I’m hoping to improve over time! I’m struggling for cash a little this week so trying to use up what I have, and  hopefully come up with some inventive recipes involving lentils at some point…

Thursday – Stir Fry

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I try and make a stir-fry a regular occurrence in my meal planning. I find them cheap (and a great way to use up vegetables), healthy, quick, and satisfying – something about noodles just screams junk food! I’ll often just use veg, but I cooked a roast chicken a while back, and when stripping the meat off the bones filled three freezer bags. I just defrosted some of this shredded meat and tossed in it.

Just look how colourful this was before I drenched it in sweet chilli and soy sauces!

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Friday – Sausages & Mash

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I love sausages and mash! I throw my sausages (completely uncooked) in the slow cooker with some gravy, and it makes a really easy dinner. Throw some carrots in too, and you’ve got soft and stewed carrots (the best way to have carrots in my opinion!), serve with peppery mash and a load of green veg, and you have a very healthy and easy dinner.

I didn’t have carrots with mine, as I forgot to throw them in with the sausages (and I hate carrots unless raw, stir-fried or slow cooked), but I did eat two types of cabbage and some broccoli.

Saturday – Wahaca

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I met my boyfriend and a friend in London, where we did some sight-seeing (far too early for so many Christmas displays Harrods!), caught a showing of Matilda (highly recomended), missed my last direct train back to Canterbury and ate yummy food. I will do a post soon on the newest offerings from Wahaca, as there are some fabulous things!

Sunday – Toad in the Hole

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It was fellow blogger Libby’s turn to cook our house meal this weekend, and she went for for Toad in the Hole. Check out my version!

MondayI will be going for a pasta dish, probably a tomato-free bolognese (recipe coming soon…)

Tuesday – Some form of lentil curry, ideas welcome! (I have red lentils and mung beans, curry paste, various spices and stock, if that helps?!)

Does anyone have any really cheap and healthy budget recipes?

A Love for Slow Cookers

Even I, as a totally abnormal student (we had a house party last Friday, and I played drinking games with a cup of tea…I will add I am taking part in Sober October!), will admit this is an odd post for what is essentially a student lifestyle blog. However I cannot post most of my favourite recipes without proclaiming love for the kitchen gadget that helps me create them, so for the time being we are going to indulge my middle-aged infatuation and talk slow cookers. Or crockpots for those who use that term.

I have no idea where my love for the slow cooker came from. My mum has certainly never used one. My maternal grandmother did…and thats exactly why my mum doesn’t. She is THAT bad a cook that she managed to both dry out the meat and make a watery sauce in a slow cooker. I still shudder with the memories. But for some reason I decided, whilst preparing for university all those months ago, that it would be an essential piece of kit. I was right, and I am SO glad I got one. So glad, in fact, that I now have two…

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Slow Cooker Beef Stew (with mashed potatoes and two types of cabbage)

 

So, why do I love a slow cooker so much. I’ve decided to write you a list! And here it is:

  • Convenience – it means I can fit meal preparation in whenever I’m free, and not have to worry about making a full meal when I get in just before 7.
  • Health/Diet – its a lot easier to hide vegetables when they are soft from slow cooking, so I always get a few extra portions in.
  • Cost – they make the most of cheap ingredients (including cheaper, tougher cuts of meat, as the slow cooking process renders down the fats and makes them soft) and are also low on electricity usage. Its much better to cook a slow for 8 hours in a slow cooker than in the over!
  • Smell – you will walk in to the most delicious smell of cooking food.
  • Cooking dried beans & pulses – I’m becoming a huge eater of these, but having to boil and simmer for a long period of time puts me right off. The slow cooker takes this annoyance away, and makes them a lot more convenient. I will say that I would never cook kidney beans in this way, as they can be toxic without a proper boiling (I always rely on the canned varieties of these!).
  • Cooking with my Tomato-Free Substitutes. I buy these occasionally, but they are thick and dry out easily, so rather than using several jars (as they are expensive) it works well to slow cook the meals using them, and this saves me money. I rather prefer how mince turns out in the slow cooker, although the preparation is actually quite labour intensive.
  • Ease of cooking. Mince type meals aside, I find that it is oh-so-easy to chuck this into my slow cooker, turn it on and go. I’m looking into a timer attachment to make this even better, and easier to work around my very awkward lecture timetable.

 

Student to student, I recommend one with a maximum of a 1.5 litre capacity. In general I can get two portions of a chunkier stew in this, or 3-4 portions of a mince mixture. Really anything bigger would be far too big, and my freezer would be more jam packed than it already is. It’s bad enough chiselling away to get into my drawer now, so more food would NOT be a good idea! If you are bigger family, or even cooking for two people with bigger appetites I would go for around a 3 litre one. I’m already planning to grab a 6l one when I start a family, and that’s a LONG time away. I currently have two of this cooker, and I really recommend it for the excellent price, compactibility, and the wonderful temperature control (so many smaller ones just have ‘off’ or ‘on’).

I also have another list to share with you, this time of tips on how to get the best out of your slow cooker:

  • You don’t always have to precook ingredients and brown meat. It doesn’t hurt the dish to do so, and in some cases it does look a little better if you do, but its not necessary.
  • If cooking with mince, brown off first, drain off the oil AND blot any grease with loads of kitchen paper. I didn’t do this step once, and the spooned off a whole cup full of oil off the finished dish. It kind of put me off!
  • Cut vegetables into as even pieces as possible.
  • For cooking dried beans – rinse the beans under the cold tap to get rid of any dust and grit, and add to slow cooker with approx 3x their volume of water. Cover and turn onto low, and cook for around 8 hours. Halfway through add some seasoning – I tend to go for vegetable stock, onion and garlic. If I’m cooking black beans to refry, I’ll start adding paprika and cumin at this point too. Don’t add salt or seasoning too early as the beans won’t soften.
  • If you are adapting a regular recipe, just use about 1/3 of the amount of liquid, but try to keep proportions of liquid the same.
  • If you do end up with something that is too watery, cornflour is your friend. Mix to a paste in a mug with some cold water, and slowly add to the slow cooker whilst stirring constantly. Stir regular, with the heat on high and lid off, until ready to serve. I like to ‘cook out’ my cornflour for around half an hour for the best texture.
  • I find I always have to add more seasoning to slow cooked meals, particularly spices. But obviously taste and do so to your own preference.
  • I prefer my meals to be serve with fresh vegetables, so will always do a pan of those alongside.
  • To clean your slow cooker, empty it (after cooling), freezing any leftovers, squirt in some washing-up liquid, add boiling water and soak overnight. It should come off easily when you wash up the next day.

So, there’s my preliminary list of slow cooking tips. I will add more periodically when I come across them. As part of my Student’s Survival Menu I am planning on publishing a lot of recipes in the next few weeks, and quite a few will be made in a slow cooker (though they can be adapted to ‘normal’ cooking methods), so please do keep an eye on my blog for these.

 

Does anyone own a slow cooker? What’s your favourite recipe?

 

Recipe: Potato Curry (+ Tomato Free Curry Pastes)

This was another recipe I made on a whim that turned out pretty damn amazing, even if I do say so myself. This time, luckily for you, I did decide to take photographs of the process, and so can share the recipe far more easily with you (rather than with this noodle recipe!).

I found this to be quite quick (definitely around the half an hour mark, and that was with taking photographs and trying to keep things tidy!), really filling (you definitely don’t need the rice with it, but I had a microwaveable packet that needed using up), and healthy. If I was organised I would potentially cook some lentils up the day before and add these, but it isn’t necessary, and would only serve to bulk it up a bit more. Mine tasted pretty much exactly like a takeaway bombay potatoes, and I’m definitely cooking it again. It’s cheap and healthy, where can you go wrong?

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Again, I will try and work out costings for you, but I reckon off the top of my head this will be pretty damn cheap!

Making Tomato Free (with the help of Marks & Spencers)

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I’ve always had a big issue with finding tomato free curry pastes. I don’t really want to make curries from scratch all the time, as I find the ingredients are expensive, and they are so time consuming. Sometimes I want the convenience of a paste. Thai curries, and Malaysian ones (I love, love, love Massaman curry, and really want to try making one at some point – does anyone have any recommend recipes?), always tend to be safe for my tomato allergy, but when you are craving an Indian style curry, only that will do! Marks & Spencer came to my rescue on this occasion – at the time of writing (please ALWAYS check the label yourself!) their Tandoori and Balti pastes were both free from tomatoes. I prefer their Tandoori one, as I find the extra oil means it keeps better once opened, but both are good and well worth the slightly extra pennies you have to spend for M&S products! If anyone has any other tomato-free pastes or products they recommend, feel free to leave a comment.

Ingredients & Costings

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  • Curry paste (discussed above) – you can get a decent one for under £2, and you use less than 1/4 of a jar (50p)
  • I used a new discovery for me – tinned new potatoes. I initially turn my nose up at things like this, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised. And at 15p for a big tin (which served me for two meals) from Aldi, you can’t go wrong (8p)
  • Half an onion – I buy four big onions from Aldi for 59p, but the average price for this amount of onion would not be more than 10p
  • Half a pepper – probably around 20p
  • Some oil (price negligible)
  • Half a bag of spinach (around 50p)
  • Optional – some dry spices, and lemon juice (around 10p, if that)
  • To serve – a naan bread. I buy 6 for £1, but average price maybe 20p

Price for the recipe: approx £1.70. I reckon you could easily make this for under £1.50 per serving though, by shopping around for curry pastes, and not using extra spices.

Method

Chop up your onions, and fry off in some oil, until softened. You don’t want crunchy onions here – they’ll take around 10 minutes.

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Meanwhile, drain and wash your potatoes (to get rid of any brine-y water).

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Chop your peppers and add to the pan – cook for around another five minutes. Keep stirring the pan occasionally (I should have mentioned this before!) to prevent sticking and burning).

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Choose your dry spices. I used these:

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Add your dry spices to the pan, and fry whilst stirring constantly for around 2 minutes until fragrant. This cooks them out and stops the finished tests from tasting powdery.

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Add your curry paste, and stir round.

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Throw in your potatoes, and mush up with spoon as they heat to make the consistency you want. Make sure they are heated through properly too – I recommend cooking for five or so minutes.

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I ended up with mine looking a little like this…

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Throw in your spinach and your lemon juice, and let it wilt, around 2 minutes maximum.

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Serve up with naan bread, and rice if feeling greedy, and enjoy your homemade takeaway!

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Does anyone have any yummy curry recipes?

Student Shopping: Tips on Auction Sites (And My EBay Addiction)

Sorry it’s been so long again. This operation really has taken a lot out of me, and coupled with trying to get on top of shifts at work (I don’t qualify for sick pay anymore, so wanted to make up for the shifts I missed!) I’ve had little time for blogging. I really have missed it, but my energy has been non-existent and the last thing I want is to be posting flat and tired posts. Hopefully this one won’t be too bad…

 

Over the few weeks between getting home and having my operation, I was tasked with clearing out my room. My parents aren’t planning on chucking me out anytime soon, but they are well aware I’m a little bit of a hoarder, and they also plan on redecorating my room next year. Embarrassingly, it took 3 trips to the dump to throw all of the non-decent stuff (and even more embarrassingly, only half of my room has been done – and it’s a small room!) and many black bags to house the various piles labelled ‘sell’ and ‘donate.’ Quite a decent pile of my stuff made its way to various charity shops, which always makes me feel like I’m doing my bit. I can’t say I give to charity as much as I’d like, sadly I can’t afford to donate often, but giving my unwanted goods for shops to sell makes me feel a teeny bit better. I also try and check out their clothing rails when I pop in – there’s often some excellent deals to be had!

I also had a lot of really, really good bits and pieces) that I felt I could get a bit of money for. I mean, most bits still had tags on! I have a really bad habit of buying things that I ‘might’ wear and then never wearing/using them, and although I’m growing out of that phase now (mainly as it’s my own money I’m spending!) it’s still left me with a lot of things to get rid of. Enter EBay. Not only did I find it an excellent way of getting rid of my unwanted things, I also found myself acquiring a few bits and pieces others didn’t want, which I did. This blog post will be a not-so-short guide to buying and selling on EBay.

 

Selling On EBay

  • Make sure it’s something that someone will want. Cheap items do sell, but is anyone really want to buy a broken Primark dress, pay postage, and repair it when they could buy a brand-new one for under £10. Special occasion items, like this here (I love it!), seem to sell well.
  • Set a reserve price just right. No point starting off your old ‘best’ leather jacket at 99p. But equally no point starting a well used t-shirt at £5. Judge it properly, and you’ll get interest.
  • Don’t charge ridiculous postage fees. It costs me £3 to post a small parcel (shorts/dress/t-shirt) and £3.50 for a pack of five postage bags. So to me, when someone asks for £5.50 postage for similar items, I get annoyed and put-off bidding. The ones EBay suggest are good estimates, and there for a reason, so do consider using them!
  • Take decent photographs, and lots of them. If you’re selling a patterned item, make sure your photos show it clearly. I also suggest taking photos of size/brand labels if possible, to avoid being accused of false advertising.
  • If selling clothing, please wash it before posting it off. I know people (me at least!) will most likely wash it when they receive it, but no-one will give you positive feedback for items with your dinner down them!
  • Make sure any items don’t smell. I won’t state which, but a clothing item I have received in the last few weeks had clearly been stored in a damp environment. Three washes and airings later it’s far improved, but I can’t stay I was impressed upon opening!
  • Don’t be disheartened if things don’t sell – list again, and again, and again, adjusting the reserve price if you feel it needs it. Remember that at certain times of the year (holiday periods) bidding will be less.
  • Ensure items are posted out quickly after payment is received. I always try to time my auctions to finish on a Saturday or Sunday, ensuring I have postage bags ready, so I know I can send them out the day after payment is received.
  • Keep an eye on items, as potential bidders may ask questions. It annoys me hugely when I ask a seller a question, they don’t respond, and so the item goes unbid on.

 

Buying on EBay

  • When searching, always try to be specific – don’t search for skirts, search for ‘floral skirt’ or ‘maxi skirt.’ No point wading through hundreds of entries you’re not interested in! Ideally, search for your favourite brands/shops too.
  • My biggest piece of advice is to include the size you’d want as a search term -you don’t want to find the perfect item and then it be miles too big/small for you.
  • Ask questions before bidding, especially if the seller won’t accept returns.
  • I don’t bid on things I like straight away. I add them to my watch list, set a phone alarm for just before bidding ends, and then bid at the last moment. This helps me to avoid a bidding war, and keeps me to a budget.
  • To keep to a budget, decide on a maximum bid and stick to it. Entering the auction with minute to go lowers the chance of you being outbid, and so removes temptation to spend more than you would have.
  • Don’t bid on everything you like – consider where it is from, and how well it will be made. I’m sorry if you think I’m a snob, but I would not buy a second-hand, used item from Primark for £5+postage, as I know perfectly well I could get one for the same price that hasn’t been worn before.
  • Last of all, always, always, please, please, please give feedback to your seller!

 

That’s my basic guide to selling/buying on EBay. I will admit the majority of things I have been interested in are clothes (I am a girl after all!) and here are the three items I have won this summer.

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A lovely vintage-style Urban Outfitters skirt. I just adore the different buttons on this, plus it’ll be far easier when I inevitably lose one!

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A less vintage, but equally lovely (and apparently one-off) unbranded skirt. This is a little on the tight side, but I got overexcited and ignored the ‘to fit sizes 6-10’ in the description as it was the first item I bid on.

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An absolutely gorgeous (the photograph doesn’t do it justice) mini-dress from Mango. I can’t wait until the winter to wear this with thick tights and boots!

 

I have also used EBay to try and find some items of sentimental value.

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Since I was very little, I’ve had one cuddly toy, and it’s the only one that I ever truly loved. It, or he, came everywhere with me, experienced things a bear shouldn’t have to experience (being stuffed in a drawer after getting lost in Marks and Spencer’s, and being posted from Cornwall for Leicestershire after I left him in a holiday cottage) and was basically glued to my hand when I wasn’t losing him. I loved, and still love, Bear. Yes, my bear’s name is Bear. I was an imaginative child (the story is, he was actually bought for my mum when she announced she was expecting me, I fell in love with him as a child, but I wasn’t allowed him until I said the word ‘bear’ – it ended up being my first word, and the name stuck). Anyway, I decided to search on EBay to see if I could find another, and found several straight away. I duly purchased, not to replace my Bear (he is irreplaceable!) but to store for the future day I have children, in the hope that they too have a cuddly best friend to see them through their childhood and beyond. See, EBay can be used for sentimental reasons too, and that just shows how soppy I am at heart…

 

For all of you Filofax fans out there (and I know there are a lot thanks to Philofaxy publicizing my blog on their round-up posts) EBay is also a great source of cheaper Filofaxes. I greatly aim to get hold of a vintage Filofax one day, and probably spend a little bit of time twice a week searching for these on EBay. I’ve not found the perfect one at the perfect price, yet, but I’m sure I will one day.  I want something like this…

Filofax

Image from here.

I will say though, I’ve seen a few try to sell non-leather folders expensively by mis-describing them. I’ve also seen multiple sellers listing other folders (i.e. cheap store bought ones) as “Filofax-style” in order to try and gain more money. So do be careful with what you are buying – Philofaxy has a great advisory post here. My biggest piece of advise if buying a Filofax is to definitely ask on Philofaxy, or on one of the Facebook groups, just to check that you are getting the real deal.

 

So that’s it, my rambly guide to using EBay. Hope that helps the potential bidders in my readers!

Making Halls into a Home

This post is again one I’ve been meaning to do for a long time. It follows on from here, where I talk about essentials for taking to university. I will continue to update that post, and probably do a less bulked up version, something easy to print out and take to the shops.  Here, I will show you pictures of my room in halls, how I organised it, what my essentials were, and what my tips are.

This blog post has been inspired by similar ones written by Apt Pupil (a blog I’d forgotten about until now!) and Rachel at Handbags and Cupcakes (which is quickly becoming a favourite). Thanks girls – your rooms look great by the way!

I got lucky with my university halls accommodation. I chose the cheapest available (and yep, it still exceeded my loan) for financial reasons, and was prepared to live in a box for nine months. I really wasn’t expecting it to be nice, big, comfortable or even very sturdy. But I was very, very wrong! Firstly, I ended up in a massive room, easily twice the size of my room at home, and much bigger than friends in the same halls. Secondly, the painting matched the colour scheme that I’d already decided on before university (so everything I’d bought matched…well apart from the hideous curtains and carpet!). Thirdly, it has recently been refurbished, and so the desk, shelves, drawers and bed were new, and completely functional. And my desk was hugeeee…it’s the thing I will miss most!

The next few photos were taken as I was unpacking, all the way back in September:

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As you can see, I had a LOT of stuff. To the extent that when we packed up the car, we had to make my mum and sister take the train. And daddy had to up-size his car when they came to pick me up last week. In my defence, he wanted a bigger car anyway…

I had pre-decided on a colour scheme of pink and green, mainly as those were the folders I had left from A-Level. I found two perfect duvet covers in Tesco (I really recommend them – cheap enough to throw away at the end of the year, but sturdy enough to last the fate of washing washed by the inexperienced!). I bought “velvet” cushions from H&M. These were about £5, but considering I had to buy the fillers they turned out quite expensive. I also bought extra pillowcases (plain ones) and pillows cheaply, as I love making a fort for myself to sleep in. My bed was also extra long (and those who know me will immediately say that that is completely unnecessary for me!) so I liked the cushions to make it look more like a normal size.

I bought everything to match, even the pop-up washing basket you can see in the photos, an extra waste-paper basket, and desk stationary (such as hole punch, stapler, tape dispenser, pen holder etc). One thing I really, really recommend is purchasing an additional lamp – the ones provided are often very, very bright, and I like a nice soft light to have on before bed, as it helps me to chill out. I bought mine from Tesco. I used my parents club-card vouchers, in a double-worth event, so ended up getting a lot of items very cheaply (i.e. I think we paid £1.50 for £50 worth of stuff). I bought one similar to this, but in green. I also recommend, particularly if you expect to have partners staying often (my boyfriend came around twice a term for a weekend), getting a double quilt for a single bed, or an extra blanket. I bought a fleece style throw, which I loved – it was definitely a necessity as my boy tends to steal the covers!

Now, onto the littler stuff, which made my room my home for the nine months I was there. Here’s a few pictures of my shelves, taken just before I started packing last week.

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As you can see from the first picture, I kept all of my cooking stuff in my room. My housemates weren’t the cleanest (that’s another blog post) and after a bought of food poisoning early on in the first term, everything stayed upstairs. With the amount of space I had, it wasn’t an issue, and next year I’m living with three other wonderful girls who I know I won’t have the same problem with.

After realising that I needed to store EVERYTHING in my room, I bought lots of jars, one of which you can see in the first photo filled with rice. These are lovely, pretty jars, and were extremely cheap at 99p each, from the local 99p Store. I was so proud of these bargains, and I know I’ll use this for years to come. The pink pot was a plant pot I painted myself, as I couldn’t find anything else big enough to hold my excessive (but totally necessary  – and I DID use them all) amount of cooking utensils. Almost all of my utensils came from Aldi, with  few silicone ones from a more expensive range stocked in department stores (all I can say is thank goodness for staff discount!). I also have a shop local in my home town which sells discounted branded home items, and this serves to occasionally fuel my addiction to Le Creuset kitchenwear. I love it! It lasts for such a long time, takes everything I throw at it, and is the perfect size – the only dish I currently have is wonderful for a single serving of pasta bake, or lasagne. I’d love more, but my student budget won’t allow it! *sad face*

Also in the top photo is my wonderful vintage-style alarm clock, also from Tesco. They’re currently selling similar versions like this one, but be warned; their ring is VERY loud. I have my knives, which I bought ridiculously cheaply in Switzerland last year. I can’t remember how much they cost, but it was so little I had to go and buy more chocolate to spend the rest of my currency before coming home. I also keep a little “ladies” Swiss army knife handy – it has a file, knife, and scissors, as well as tweezers and toothpick, and is wonderful for going into the handbag for dealing with clothes snagging and broken nails. You may wonder what the dog ornaments are – they are actually Cath Kidston Salt and Pepper pots which my parents bought for my birthday, as the brown one is the spitting image of my adored dog at home. That also explains the cushion on my chair in earlier posts – that also looks very much like him.

The second shelf was just above where I sat on my desk, so that mainly housed textbooks and stationary items. And a teapot, with a spout so dreadful it was impossible to use to make tea. I’m currently thinking of what it can store, as I don’t really want to throw it away! By the way, if anyone is studying maths at university, I highly reccomend the Schaum’s Outlines series of maths books – they are excellent. I have about 10 currently, and will be buying more. So helpful, with lots of worked examples! Also on this shelf are my two favourite perfumes – A Scent by Issey Miyake and the orginal Paul Smith woman. I desperately want See by Chloe this summer, but we’ll see if the budget allows it!

Also filling my room was storage in the way of lots of stackable boxes. Mine were actually from ASDA, but they are a pretty generic product that’s available just about everywhere. In these, I kept shoes, spare refills of pens and paper, toiletries, items of food I didn’t need at the time, belts, and just about anything I didn’t want cluttering up my room – they were also invaluable for packing up my room at the end of the year (and I hate the sound of cardboard boxes, it sets my teeth on edge) so I’d definitely suggest investing in some.

I bought over-door hooks, like these, which were another item that proved invaluable. I could hang my bulky coats on these, saving precious wardrobe space, and I also invested in some hanging cosmetic bags, which provided a cute way of storing everyday items – cleanser, toner etc. These were also great for hanging towels on after showering to let them dry – saved having to get my giant airer (which I hardly used) out and up.

One of my biggest points, however, is to make sure you have photographs. I’ll freely admit that most of mine are of my boyfriend and dog (although a talking point when university friends first came into my room was a prom photo – me in a fireman’s lift by eight guys) but they make me feel so much at home. One of my favourite sentimental objects was an I.O.U that my boyfriend gave me just after we started university, for our second anniversary of being together. I pinned it on the board in front of my desk, and it gave me an instant boost everytime I saw it:

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My top tips for making the most of your university halls are:

  • Try and co-ordinate everything
  • Don’t take too much (check it all fits in the car!)
  • Buy useful storage options, such as hooks and boxes
  • Be organised – have set places for everything. For instance I kept a space to the left of where I sat at my desk just for my Filofax. You have to be able to know where to find everything quickly.
  • Buy nick-nacks and homey things
  • Use photographs

If you liked this post, I suggest reading this and this.

Battle of the (Own) Brands

Let’s face it, students have to watch their pennies. Or in my case, watch their pennies leave their pockets as quickly as they’ve made it there (damn Canterbury rents being so expensive they swallow up my entire loan, and more…). So I thought I’d do a post on good-for-the-pocket-and-the-mouth food buys. And maybe some household and cosmetic items too.

So here it is, my cost-saving guide to shopping!

First of all, my first point is to always check the clearance shelves. You can normally find things that you would have considered out of your budget there – like two plaice fish fillets (fresh fish is SO good for you) for £1.20 as apposed to nearly £6. Okay, still not the cheapest meal option. But perhaps having a ‘treat’ meal on your shopping day will keep you satisfied with cheaper items.

I would also advocate looking in ‘cheap’ shops. Aldi is my favourite, along with Poundland, simply because I can easily get items from them.

My parents bring me my favourite from Aldi, seeing as the one here is unhelpfully located in terms of bus stops. I love their own-brand cereal and instant hot chocolate. Their branded bread tends to be far cheaper than other shops too. And according to my parents, their meat is the best quality they’ve had in the last few months. I’m unable to vouch for this, having not tried it.

Poundland is great for things like cereal bars, branded cereal (because who doesn’t like Chocolate Minibix…), and crisps.

I’m now going to completely contradict myself. PLEASE don’t avoid shops deemed as ‘expensive.’ And by that I mean Waitrose and M&S. They can have some seriously good buys, and in some cases work out cheaper than Tesco.

Who knows the much-longed-for Tesco deal of 3-for-£10 meats, mix and match? Its on for a couple of months, spread about throughout the year, or it is as far as I’ve noticed. Well Waitrose does the same deal. But it’s on permanently  And the choice is much greater. You can buy turkey breasts (healthier than chicken, unfortunately out of stock this weekend), and various cuts of meat. There is more weight in the mince and chicken included (550g mince as opposed to 500g). This weekend I purchased two packs of mince, and one of mini chicken breast fillets; this has made two portions of chicken/mushroom casserole (along with two portions of the sauce for pasta), two portions of chicken curry (two portions of the sauce made into vegetable curry), four portions of chilli, three cottage pies, and four portions of bolognese. I personally find some of their vegetables bigger and cheaper than Tesco too, though do check before buying – I notably saved money on the cabbage from Waitrose, and it was far nicer than Tesco! I also must mention that Waitrose do the best dried noodles ever!

M&S is less useful, and I mainly use it for their tomato-free curry paste (the Tandoori is lovely, the Balti is yet to be tried!). However, their Dine In For £10 is excellent, and is the monthly treat when my man comes to visit!

Now…(Own) Brand Winners!

Garlic Bread

Tesco Value (30-something pence a loaf, serves 3) is lovely, cooks great, not too strong, not bland, not greasy or dry – its a winner! Just avoid ASDAs equivilant…

Naan Bread

I must confess I have only tried Tesco’s, but it is very yummy. Their standard ones are the right size for a single portion, the garlic and coriander flavour is just enough, and they are 6 for £1 and freeze really well.

Yoghurt

For individual pots, ASDA is great. I like their 6x125g pots of low fat vanilla/toffee for £1. They do packs of 4 for a £1 too, with slightly more variety in flavour. For bigger pots, I like Tesco’s lemon, as it has just the right amount of bitterness.

Chocolate Mousse

Tesco is the clear winner here, at 24p for four value mousse, that are absolutely yummy. They’re also great frozen!

Scampi

I recently ‘risked’ some Tesco Value Scampi Bites, at £1.25 for two portions. I say risked, as cheap seafood scares me. However, despite oozing some dubious looking liquid during cooking, and having to be turned regularly to prevent going soggy, these were surprisingly nice, and definitely worth buying – I won’t bother with more expensive stuff until I can afford it! That said, if you don’t need to cut pennies too much, go for more expensive versions.

Southern Fried Chicken

Aldi and Tesco’s (both frozen) is very good, as is Waitrose (also frozen, and considerably more expensive).

Pies

Now, nothing beats a Pukka pie. Especially as they’re tomato free. Most other supermarket deep-filled ones are, so I tend to buy (when I’m not treating myself) the shallow puff pastry ones. They’re usually priced at around 2 for £1.10, and whilst they aren’t full of meat, they’re okayish. The chicken ones tend to be far nicer than the steak.

Squash

I love ASDA’s Lemon and Lime double concentrate. Be warned it is very strong, and tastes very nice with vodka. ASDA’s Blackcurrant high juice is another favourite and has been for several years – I don’t drink normal Ribena, only this.

Curry Sauce (Korma)

As I am allergic to tomatoes, I only have a few options here. Tesco Finest Royal Korma sauce has a very, very odd texture – it tastes floury. It is also very expensive! ASDA normal brand Korma is a bigger jar, smells amazing, and tastes okay. It is a little bland, but I tend to marinate my chicken in Mark’s and Spencer’s tandoori paste, which helps. As does adding onions, peppers and chillies. Yes it perhaps bumps the price up a little, but it also bulks it out, so the meat goes further – bulking out meals is something I really, really suggest when cooking on a budget.

Cream Cheese

Bit of an odd one. Philadelphia is lovely, lovely, lovely, and you can honestly tell the difference. But at 1/4 of the price, Tesco’s value version isn’t too bad, just buy the full fat!

Cookies

The best packet of cookies I have ever, ever bought is from Aldi. They are around 30-45p a packet for 20 cookies, and honestly taste far superior to Maryland. They stand up well to dunking into drinks too….

Hair Styling Product

One for the girls. If you have curly hair, humidity is a nightmare, and causes a lot of frizz (and tears). Boots Curl Creme (it is pink) is the only thing that helps me. Apply to wet/damp hair. Only use a tiny tiny bit and rub in between your hands first, so it goes white. It’s very, very cheap and lasts for ages. I have about 5 tubs as a few years ago there was a discontinuation scare.

Hot Chocolate

ALDI for the win! Their big tubs of hot chocolate are £1.09, as opposed to a more general price of £2+, and it does taste very nice. However their individual sachets are really not pleasant, and for here I reccomend Options, which are very pricey. I only buy sachets for taking to work, so it’s not too much of an issue, but definitely wouldn’t ‘live’ off Options hot chocolate as I do the Aldi stuff.

Washing-up Liquid

I personally would never, ever buy Value range washing up liquid, there’s something so sad about getting so little bubbles in the bowl. However, ASDA’s own Lemon washing up liquid is my current favourite. Very bubbly, cuts through grease well, and smells gorgeous (although coming from a family where citrus products are banned, maybe I’m just addicted to the scent!).

Tea Bags

I love Yorkshire tea. It’s my absolute favourite. I can’t afford it. Even after my student loan comes in, I know perfectly well that if I buy it I’ll drink a huge pack in a week, and that’s just too expensive. So I stick to Tesco’s standard brand, or Aldi’s. They are stronger though, so brew for less time.

Cheese

Please, please don’t waste your money buying cheaper stuff. It is awful, and really doesn’t taste nice. More expensive cheese really is the only thing to go, and thats why I save it for a treat (or when the parents pay for shopping!). If you eat a lot of meals that include cheese in the cooking, buy a packet of ready grated parmesan, provides cheesy flavour for a much lower price!

Things to AVOID

  • ASDA Smart Price Garlic Bread – just horribly strong tasting, but not strongly of garlic!
  • Own-Brand White Lasagne sauce – I’ve never found anything close to Dolmio!
  • Own-Brand Chocolate – it’s alright to cook with, but not for eating.
  • ALDI flour- makes Toad in the Hole soggy and watery, and makes pancakes sticky.
  • ASDA Smart Price chocolate mousse – so bitter its inedible!
  • Own brand pesto – bleurgh!
  • Value branded washing up liquid – no bubbles!