Steel resolve

Posted May 28th, 2007 by Penny Wise

One week down on the Challenge! I'll be honest with you, I didn't QUITE make it; I ended up going over by a measly $1.43 but there was method in my madness. I figured it made better sense to splash out $5.80 on a big bag of potatoes rather than keep making a trip into town to buy one or two in order to stay within my $21. Even so I waited until the weekend to buy these and it was not a decision that was made lightly, especially when I'd had to use up every inch of determination on Friday and Saturday. On Friday morning I woke up with what felt like the hangover from hell, which I knew wasn't possible during $21 Challenge week and realised I must be sick instead. I ended up spending most of the weekend comatose on the couch in my special penguin polar fleece pyjamas, which are specifically reserved for sick or feeling-sorry-for-oneself-days only. I felt so bad on Friday afternoon that I thought there was no choice but to forego the Challenge and ask Noel nicely to bring home some takeaways on his way home from work. However, as dinner time approached I just couldn't bring myself to do it - I would not allow myself to give in so easily! Using the leftover pumpkin from the night before, I consulted my Sophie Gray cookbooks and had whipped up a delicious pumpkin curry in no time, along with a large dish of Indonesian rice to go with it, which used up the last of the wilting spring onions in the fridge. The kids had sausages with their rice, as they were still horrified that I had tricked them into eating pumpkin the night before and vowed never to touch the stuff again.

Yes, I achieved the impossible, I managed to get my children to eat pumpkin - and not just eat it, I mean WOLF it down! If there's one good thing about taking part in a $21 Challenge, it's that it makes the kids a lot more willing to try new dishes - mainly because they know there is basically no hope of being given anything else! In my last blog, I mentioned how I had found a recipe for Pumpkin and Feta fritters. They were super quick and easy to make but let's face it - they didn't sound exactly appetising - I didn't know if even I was going to like them, let alone the kids! So I put a token fritter on each of the boys' plates for them to try and stacked up the rest on a platter in the middle of the table. They demolished the whole lot before they had even touched their meatballs and then asked if there were any more fritters! They were indeed absolutely delicious and the boys were raving on about them with such enthusiasm that I could resist confessing as to their main ingredient. 'PUMPKIN?!! ERGH!!' they protested, but it was too late! These fritters are so good, I can't not share the recipe!

Pumpkin and feta fritters (makes about 10)

4 eggs

1 cup self-raising flour

1 cup pumpkin, grated or finely chopped, microwaved or steamed until just softened

1 tsp crushed garlic

1/2 cup feta cheese, chopped or crumbled

Freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup oil and 50g butter, to cook

In a bowl, beat eggs. Mix in flour to a smooth batter. Add pumpkin, garlic, feta and pepper (feta is quite salty so no extra salt is required). Heat oil and butter in a pan over medium heat until the butter has melted and is bubbly. Spoon a large tablespoon per fritter and fry for about three minutes, or until you see bubbles start to 'pop' on the surface. Then carefully turn and cook the other side. Drain on paper towels and keep warm while you fry remaining mixture.

I am so glad I found this recipe, I can see it's going to become a regular dish in our household, $21 week or not! Another bonus of doing the Challenge is that for some reason I enjoy cooking a lot more. I suppose there's more of a sense of pride in serving up delicious meals for the family when they have cost so little, or in some cases nothing at all. Unfortunately I didn't get to share my frugal culinary skills with Maxine and her family on Saturday as planned, as I was still too sick but I still managed to avoid getting takeaways and threw together a Cottage Pie (using a secret pantry ingredient my Mum told me about years ago - a can of condensed vegetable soup, it makes all the difference!) and French beans from Noel's garden; a much unexpected treat for this time of year! Mind you, if this week's Hint of the Week is anything to go by, I guess we should indeed start to be able to enjoy these kind of supposedly seasonal treats more often; I'm definitely going to try the Sweet Potato tip as soon as I can lay my hands on some spare pots!

It made me smile to see a recent Forum thread entitled 'Recipes from Gran's cookbook! I have been having a similar fun experience lately checking out and sampling one of my mother-in-law's old recipe books. It's actually The Australian Women's Weekly Cookbook and this version was published in 1970 so it's older than I am but it's an absolute goldmine of great recipes. Reading through the more than 250 pages, what struck me most was how many of the foods we now commonly use today did not appear in that book. It made me think that perhaps today's society is so caught up in impressing each other with arty farty foods that many traditional dishes no longer see the light of day. A real shame but after trying the AWW recipe for Egg and Bacon Pie, our family agreed it was the best one we had ever tasted and I was determined to get a copy of my own 1970 book! How easy was it going to be to get a 37 year old recipe book though? I decided to search Trade Me, NZ's version of eBay and happily found quite a few but they were all around the $10 mark and at least $5 extra to post this large, heavy hardcover book. I couldn't really justify spending that much on an old cookbook and had just about resigned myself to having to photocopy all the recipes I wanted out of my mum-in-law's book when I remembered a clever new hint I had seen in the Vault just a day or two before called 'Search for typo's on eBay and save and realised I could actually try this out. I had been searching for 'Australian WOMEN'S Weekly' but what if I searched for 'Australian WOMAN'S Weekly instead? I typed it in and found the exact same book with a dollar reserve and no bidders! I asked the seller if she would consider a 'Buy Now' and ten minutes later I had snapped it up for $1.50! She only charged $3.50 postage too, so my total cost was $5, compared to at least $15 had I not thought to use the tip! I have a feeling that my new purchase is going to save me a lot more than that too, with all the old-fashioned recipes and cooking from scratch hints. Should be a big help in future Challenges!

We finished off the first week of our Challenge with corned beef silverside, accompanied by Self Crusting Quiche a la Sophie Gray, using silverbeet and zucchini from the garden and eggs from our lovely hens. I have discovered lately that I can get Liam to eat pretty much any vegetable if it's chopped up in a quiche - although he may well be keeping a sharp lookout for pumpkin now! I would have liked to stay within the $21 but I still reckon $22.43 is not a bad effort. Apart from being ill, I found the whole week very easy but I'm not so confident this week; although it doesn't help when my friends tell me 'you're never going to do it - the cupboards are bare already! They're not Simple Savers though - they don't see what I see. My shelves might look bare to them but I still see plenty of meals there - so what if none of them come in a jar or packet? At first glance I see Weetbix and cornflakes; enough to look after not only our breakfast requirements but also baking needs. Thank you so much to everyone who helped me out with cornflake recipes, I have made the 'Choc-chip and cornflake biscuits' and Honey Joys so far from that thread and everyone loves them! Yet another good thing about the Challenge - the family love being guinea pigs when trying out all the new baking! Let's see, we also have lasagne noodles, rice, cous cous, potatoes, canned beans and chick peas, honey, jam, dried fruit and coconut, not to mention a whole pumpkin, a sack of potatoes and a freezer full of meat and frozen veges. Plus I have learned from Sophie Gray that you can make just about anything tasty and interesting with the addition of some simple sauces, herbs and spices. Tonight's dinner will be one of the kids' favourites, corned beef fritters to use up the rest of last night's meat and after that, who knows but I can see there's still plenty to be going on with!

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