Cassiefairy's thrifty lifestyle blog

Cassiefairy's thrifty little lifestyle blog – DIY crafts, sewing, food & fashion – what more does a girl need??


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Light my fire & win solar lighters!

A few weeks ago I investigated the concept of solar cooking during one of my Pieday Friday cooking blog posts and I discussed how the sun’s power can be harnessed to achieve a solar-powered oven to barbeque meat, cook a casserole or even bake a cake! There are lots of different types of solar devices for cooking outdoors and most work like a BBQ; directing heat towards a central cooking rack. The solar ovens look like something from outer space with futuristic fins and reflectors channelling the sun’s rays into the middle, which can reach conventional oven temperatures and safely cook a meal for the entire family.

As you probably already know I’m keen on anything that can save energy and therefore save me money but I was sceptical about these devices until I watched the many YouTube videos and saw a sponge cake being cooked on a solar BBQ! There are entry-level pop-up cookers available (which would be good for camping!) which would be a cheaper way to try out solar cooking at home, but I’m starting even smaller and trying out a solar lighter to see how I get on with that!

bfly solar lighters

My B*Fly solar lighters from IDCook (see previous model here)

I got these B*Fly solar lighters and they are just like a mini-version of a solar cooker; they have two reflectors which direct sunlight into the centre point and anything in the middle of the lighter will be ignited by the heat. I tried out the lighter by stuffing the centre with some dry twigs and pointed it towards the evening sun. Even though the sun was already setting, the reflectors seemed to intensify the sun’s glare and it was easy to see where the hot point is – it was glowing! Within a few seconds the twigs were smouldering and caught on fire – pretty cool huh?! These lighters would be great for camping because you can use anything flammable that you have to hand; dry leaves, grass, newspaper, charcoal etc – they all burn well in one of these lighters. I watched a video online which shows all the types of materials being lit by the sun’s rays and it is pretty impressive – check it out here:

As you can see, it’s quite straight-forward to use one of these solar lighters and I’ve added one to my camping kit, one with the BBQ and one in the kitchen so I’ve always got one to hand for every eventuality! If you wish to see more cool videos have a look here too: http://www.youaresolar.com/

And the great news is that you can win a set of three solar lighters! I have three B*Fly lighters to give away to one lucky winner (colours may vary) so if you’d like to win 3 B*Fly solar lighters, simply RT my competition tweet here and follow @Cassiefairy and @IDCOOK. The winner will be picked at random from all the entries on Friday 28th March! Good luck!


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Pieday Friday ~ British Pie Week

British Pie Week runs from the 3rd to the 9th of March and I see that as the perfect excuse to bake a pie over the coming weekend. I’ve listed a few of my favourite pie recipes so perhaps you’ll try out one of these tasty dishes below and treat the family to a hearty and sometimes surprisingly healthy meal – just click on the pink links for the recipe:

Ham and asparagus pie in a loaf tin

pieday friday ham and asparagus pie recipe on cassiefairy blog

Traditional fish pie with tasty cheesy topping

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Slow-cooked beefy pie - stew in a crust!

pieday friday beef stewy beefy meat pot pie recipe cooking

Spiced turmeric chicken pie – surprisingly yummy!pieday friday turmeric chicken pie cassiefairy

Leftover roast dinner Cornish pasties – which could easily be a pie in the right dish!

pieday friday recipe for pastry and cornish pasties

Shepherds pie crammed full of veg

steaming shepherds cottage pie recipe pieday friday cooking method

And if you like the look of these recipes, you can find many more recipes on the blog AND in my new Pieday Friday e-book, which I have been working on using  Blurb’s BookSmart programme. I will be launching the book this week completely free and it includes tons of recipes including soups, snacks and sweet treats !


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Pieday Friday ~ Chilli cheese pancakes

Wow it’s Shrove Tuesday next week – how did we get this far into the year already?? I love pancakes and can’t get enough of them, whether it’s Pancake Day or not! So today I thought I’d share one of the ways that I like to use pancakes in a main meal – as a chilli cheese wrap. It’s really easy to make and will impress friends and family if you have any guests over for a Shrove Tuesday meal on the 4th March. Here’s how it’s done:

Pancake ingredients: 100g plain flour, 2 eggs, 300ml milk, pinch of salt

Whisk the ingredients together in a big bowl until you have a thin batter mixture. Use a non-stick frying pan (such as small my copper-bottomed pan from Dunelm) and spray with fry light. Heat the pan before pouring in a couple of tablespoons of the batter. Swirl it around the pan to coat the bottom and cook for about 30 seconds before flipping over (or using a spatula like I did!) and cooking the other side for another 30 seconds – keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t burn. Pile up the pancakes on a plate with another plate on top covering them to keep warm.

pieday friday recipe for perfect pancakes

Chilli ingredients (enough for approx. 10-12 wraps): 250g Beef mince, sliced red pepper, sliced green or yellow pepper, diced white onion, 2 cloves crushed garlic, 2 tbsp mild chilli powder, 1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp paprika, 2 tbsp. tomato puree, 200g tin of red kidney beans or mixed beans, 200ml beef stock, tin of chopped tomatoes

Brown off the mince and cook through the onions and peppers until soft. Stir in the spices, garlic and tomato paste and fry for a minute or two but don’t allow it to stick on the bottom of the pan – when this happens add the tinned tomatoes and beans. Cook off for a little longer before adding the beef stock and allowing to simmer for 20 minutes or slow-cook it in the oven at 180 degrees to bubble away for 30 minutes or as long as you like – this will reduce the stock and make the meat lovely and moist. Get it out of the oven when you’re ready for it and you can serve it at the table for guests to wrap up their own pancake wraps or spoon the chilli into the centre of a pancake, sprinkle with grated cheese and roll up like a sandwich wrap. Serve with rice and sour cream if you like :)

pieday friday recipe for chilli cheese pancakes for shrove tuesday

I hope you’ll have a go at making a savoury dish on Shrove Tuesday and I’d love to find out what your favourite pancake creations are – leave me a comment or tweet me @Cassiefairy.


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Pieday Friday ~ Lamb tagine & tortilla wraps

Today I thought I’d share the recipes for an entire meal with you. This is the very same meal that my husband and I cooked for Valentine’s Day and we’ve since cooked it for the family too and it went down a treat, so I hoping that we’ve got the recipe just right for this lamb tagine! I’ve also had a go at making my own tortilla bread and when you try it out for yourself, you’ll never want to go back to the shop-bought wraps again!

Tagine ingredients: 450g lamb mince, 1 chopped onion, 75g sultanas, 1 tin of chopped tomatoes, 4 tsp plain flour, 2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1 tsp ground coriander, 1 tsp cumin, 2 tsp ground ginger, 2 tsp turmeric, 200ml vegetable, lamb or beef stock, 1 tbsp honey, salt and pepper

In an oven-proof pan, brown the mince and onions then add the spices to the pot. Stir in the flour and cook for a minute before adding the stock, honey, sultanas and tomatoes. Stir and season to taste then cook in an over at 180 degrees for around 45 minutes until the sauce has thickened and the mince is tender.

pieday friday recipe - how to make a lamb tagine and tortilla bread

Tortilla ingredients: 800g plain flour, 2 tbsp. butter, 2 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp salt, 350ml boiling water.

Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl then rub in the butter using your fingertips to resemble breadcrumbs or polenta. Add the water a little at a time, mixing it with your hands to make a dough – don’t add all the water at once as you may not need it all. Take a golf-ball sized piece of dough and use a rolling pin to roll it out to the size of your pan. Cook in a dry frying pan until the top is slightly puffy and bubbly then turn over in the same way that you would turn a pancake. These tortillas only take a minute or two to cook in the pan and are much more satisfying to make and eat than the shop-bought version!

We used a packet of mushroom flavoured couscous because we were feeling too lazy to make our own after all the tortilla rolling! It’s easy enough to add flavour to plain couscous – just add the juice of 1 lemon and 450ml of vegetable stock to 250g plain couscous then stir in a handful of freshly chopped parsley and mint before serving.


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Pieday Friday ~ Chicken brick

If you cast your mind back to a couple of weeks ago, you may remember I mentioned that my husband brought home a chicken brick. He’d wanted one for a few years but due to the price we’ve never really been able to justify the cost of one however, he finally found one in a charity shop – brand new and with instructions for under a fiver! I was delighted with his bargain and insisted that we try it out as soon as possible.

If you’ve never seen a chicken brick there’s a photo of it below – and it’s kind of like a big clay easter egg! The brick is soaked in water for around half an hour before baking and the chicken is placed inside the brick with whatever herbs or spices you’d like to flavour it with. We tried the recipe on the instruction leaflet and rubbed garlic, olive oil, rosemary and lemon over the chicken. The chicken brick is put into a cold oven and set at a very high temperate of 250C so that the brick warms through as the oven heats up. The instructions also suggest that you could just rub garlic cloves all over the inside of the clay brick to infuse the chicken with flavour without overpowering it so we are planning to try this technique next time.

Pieday friday recipe for clay roast chicken brick

The moisture within the clay from the soaking process steams the chicken to produce a very moist chicken but, surprisingly enough, the chicken is also browned inside the brick without any basting and the lid is never taken off during cooking. The whole process takes one and a half hours from putting the chicken into the cold oven and made one of the nicest roast chickens I’ve ever eaten – almost like a spit-roast chicken.

There are plenty of other options for roasting the chicken with different flavours, such as using salt and pepper, olive oil along with one of the follow herbs: thyme, basil, oregano, tarragon or rosemary. The instructions suggests using just one herb at a time to get a better flavour into the chicken rather than using a combination. I really like basil and I think this will create a very Mediterranean flavoured chicken so I think this will be my next attempt for Sunday lunch!


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Pieday Friday ~ Get out the solar cooker, it’s bbq weather!

Welcome to another Pieday Friday and this week I’m chatting about the concept of solar cooking. It’s possibly not something you’ve considered before and prior to this month I’d never even heard of solar cooking myself but I’ve been researching energy-saving ways to do everyday tasks around my home and stumbled upon this unbelievable idea and wanted to shared it with you all.

So, we all know about solar lights for the garden and I’m already using some solar-powered fairy lights in my little vintage caravan. My pals use a big black sack solar-shower on camping trips. My husband received a solar-powered windmill for Christmas from my brother which has been turning away on my windowsill ever since. You can charge phones and laptops with solar-charging packs and I even have a lucky cat with a solar-powered wave! You can also use a solar lighter to make a fireBut solar cooking? How does that work?

I’d heard about the idea of solar cooking and couldn’t really fathom how it would work but then found my way onto a website which had examples of solar cookers and it all snapped into focus. From what I can make out, solar cookers are like a space-age version of barbeques, which heat up by reflecting the sun’s rays and can cook complete meals in the garden – pretty amazing huh?

solar-barbecue-cookup200

Images courtesy of IDcook.us (or IDcook.com)

Although it’s a fairly new innovation, the research that has gone into the concept has been going on for the best part of a decade and aimed to find ways of harness the sun’s heat and light in order to develop products which sustainably preserve our planet’s resources. No longer will we need to use charcoal or gas for our summer barbecue cooking nor will we need to fire up a power station when we turn on our electric ovens in order to bake a casserole. And surely that can only be a good thing?

I have looked into the concept and there are two methods of cooking using solar power: concentration – which uses reflectors to direct the sun’s rays into a central cooking point and can achieve temperatures of up to 230°C – and greenhouse – which like a ‘normal’ greenhouse gathers the sun’s warmth and keeps it within a small frame and food is cooked in the centre.

solar-barbecue-cooking

But what about the weather, eh? Apparently this technology can be used in European climates and it doesn’t even need to be the sunniest of days for solar cookers to get up to temperature – if you think about solar lights in the garden, it can be overcast all day and still the lights will gather the sun’s rays and power the lights. The cooking time can be 2-3 times longer than a conventional oven, but does that matter when you’re not paying a penny to power it? Plus we all know that slow-cooking locks in the flavours and steaming is better our food.

Personally, I’d love to have a meal of pulled-pork that has been roasted for a few hours without spending any money on the cooking process!  From full-on BBQ girls and sturdy ovens to low-priced pop-up reflector ovens (which would be perfect for camping…) there’s lots of ways that we can harness the sun’s resources to cook our meals and I’m going to do some more research on the subject right now! Let me know if you’ve already come across anything like this – and what do you really think about solar cooking?


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Pieday Friday ~ Chinese New Year treats

Today is the Chinese new year and 2014 is the Year of the Horse – one of my favourite animals, so I am especially excited about this year and wanted to share some of the traditions and recipes for Chinese New Year. Usually the run-up new year will be spent cleaning the whole house to welcome in a fresh new year and decorating the home (in a similar way to Christmas decorations)  with red and gold garlands, lanterns and paper-cutting decorations.  Similar to Dec 31st, New Year’s eve on 30th January is the biggest day of the Chinese new year celebration when most families will have a big reunion dinner to celebrate, traditionally serving fish and dumplings.

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I’m using Chinese new year as an excuse to share a photo of my Maneki Neko collection – even though they are of Japanese origin, they are also a popular good luck charm for Chinese businesses here in the UK and you’ll see windows full of lucky cats if you head to any Chinatown! Also – worth a mention – just as I inserted this photo into the blog post ‘Turning Japanese’ came on the radio! I picked up a red paper lantern just before the Chinese new year last year when I was in Manchester and I will be hanging this on my window to welcome in the New Year while enjoying a nice (if somewhat tacky!) Chinese takeaway! Here’s my take on a sweet n sour recipe:

Ingredients: 500g chicken breast, Low calorie cooking spray, Salt and black pepper, 1 large onion, 1 red pepper, 1 yellow pepper and 1 green pepper, 2 large carrots, ¼ tsp Chinese 5 spice, 2 garlic cloves, 1 level tbsp cornflour, 4 tbsp tomato puree, 1 tbsp white wine vinegar, 4 tbsp light soy sauce, 150ml chicken stock, 400g pineapple.

sweet n sour chicken slimming world recipe cooking method

  • Slice the chicken and spray with low calorie cooking spray and season well. Stir-fry your chicken for 5-6 minutes or until cooked through before setting aside.
  • Spray the pan with low calorie cooking spray and add sliced onion, chopped pepper, carrot matchsticks or rounds and stir-fry for 5-6 minutes. Add the chicken to the pan and cook for a further 3-4 minutes until piping hot.
  • Mix 2 tbsp water with the chinese 5 spice in a bowl and add the crushed garlic, cornflour, tomato puree, white wine vinegar, soy sauce and stock. Pour this mixture into the pan, stir and reduce the heat to low. Cook for 3-4 minutes until the sauce has thickened, then add the pineapple chunks.

You can serve this yummy sweet n sour dish with boiled rice or egg noodles and you can always add any extra veg you have such a sugarsnap peas, mangetout, beans, even broccoli. Plus you can try using strips of pork or prawns instead of chicken or give the meat a miss altogether and have a veggie version!

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