Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Spaghetti Bolognese - half soya, half beef

Spaghetti Bolognese, another family classic. We don't have much money at the moment so I'm trying to keep costs down. My theory is as long as I don't skimp on a few key tasty ingredients I can make a really cheap meal that tastes like it cost a lot more!

I've substituted half the mince with rehydrated soya mince which is a lot cheaper. You could of course use all beef mince, or all soya mince depending on your diet and budget, or mix with a different ratio to 50:50. My plan with mixing the types of mince was to fake the meatiness so my family didn't notice the difference (and it worked).
To keep the taste I've cooked the spaghetti in olive oil and used Schwartz Perfect Shake for Pasta to flavour the sauce. 

1 tin of chopped tomatoes                                                         34p
50g of dried soya mince rehydrated with 150mls of water          27p
200g of beef mince                                                                   80p
1 medium onion                                                                        16p      
1 beef stock cube                                                                       2p
Schwartz Perfect Shake for Pasta                                            18p

Spaghetti  (half a pack)                                                              10p    
Olive Oil                                                                                     6p      

Grated Cheese to top                                                                30p

Total                                                                                       £2.23
Cost per serving (based on serves 6)                                           37p


1. Start the Spaghetti boiling. Once fully submerged in the water add 5-10mls of olive oil. Cook as per packet instructions

2. Finely chop the onion and brown the onion and beef mince in a sauce pan.

3. Make up the beef stock as per instructions. Add the beef stock and soya mince to the pan. Cook for 5-10 minutes allowing the water to reduce and the soya mince to absorbed the flavours from the stock and the beef mince.

4. Add a generous helping of Schwartz Perfect Shake for Pasta.

5. Add the chopped tomatoes and simmer for a further 10 minutes.

6. Drain the pasta and serve immediately. I love to top my spaghetti bolognese with a generous helping of grated cheese.

Everyone really enjoyed the meal and it was a very tasty Spag bol. The combination of meat mince and soya mince cut a bit off the cost of the meal but you couldn't tell. There were just enough meaty chunks of beef mince that it felt as if the whole dish was the real thing. I did tell my husband I'd made it 50:50, but he was very impressed and said he couldn't tell. The children gave no indication they could tell either. 

The flavour from the Schwartz Perfect Shake for Pasta made for a very tasty sauce. It was very easy to use and a had just the right blend for the dish! Also a very quick mid week dish to make. 

Pricing: I've worked out the price of the mince approximately based on Tesco fresh value mince and the soya based on Holland and Barrett. The price of the Schwartz Perfect shake is based on RRP using a 10th of the jar, which is probably more than you would need. Olive oil is Tesco own brand, Onion is the single price quoted on Tesco for an onion and other costs worked out from using Tesco Everyday Value products. I do however buy my meat and vegetables locally but have costed from Tesco as not everyone is lucky enough to have such good local shops as I do. Prices are correct at time of publishing. 

Disclaimer: I received the Schwartz Perfect Shake for Pasta for free and for the purposes of reviewing on the blog. The recipe idea is my own and pretty much what we had planned for tea anyway! 

Monday, 24 March 2014

Meal Planning Monday

In an attempt to save money, eat better and eat down the massive amounts of tins and frozen stuff we have I've decided to be a lot stricter about menuing the week.

Lunch time is a bit of a free for all so I haven't planned for that. We've been having slightly bigger breakfasts that keep tummy's fuller for longer, including a cereal and a protein each day, but not going as far as a full English every day. Tea time is still the main meal of the day and we are eating as a family again, having spent a few weeks with the kids and grown ups eating at different times.

The nice people from Schwartz have sent us some Flavour shots and some Perfect Shake so they will feature in some meals this week. I'm also hoping to replace mince with soya protein for some meals to keep costs down though I'm thinking half meat, half soya to being with.

Here's the plan for this week:


Bacon Sandwiches

Spaghetti Bolognese



Chicken Jalfrazi
Garlic Fried Rice
Naan Bread


Eggy Bread




Jacket Potato


Egg Sandwiches

Fish Pie



Another slightly more complicated curry meal, to be decided! We love curry! 


Full English

Roast Lamb

Meal Planning Monday

Friday, 21 March 2014

Corned Beef Hash

Very simple and cheap food. A family favourite in our house.

700g potatoes                                         57p
1 medium onion                                      16p
340g tin of Corned Beef                      £1.69
Cheese to top (optional)                          30p

Total                                                   £2.72
Cost per serving (based on serves 6)      45p


1. Peel and roughly chop the potatoes. Boil until cooked, but don't let them over cook and go too soft. Drain and leave to dry for a couple of minutes.

2. Finely chop the onion and chop the corned beef into chunks. Brown the onion in the frying pan and then add the corned beef.

3. Add the potato and mix.

4. As the meal cooks continue to mix. The corned beef will break down and mush into the potato. If some of the potato pieces look a bit big feel free to chop them in half with the spatula, but avoid mashing the potato itself allowing some of the lumps to remain.

5. When the potatoes begin to turn a little golden transfer to a pyrex dish. If you are looking for comfort food cover with cheese, but this can be left off if going for a slightly healthier option (not that corned beef hash is something I'd call "healthy")

6. Brown in the oven for about 10 minutes. Serve with baked beans for proper comfort food, or alternatively with vegetables and gravy. 

Monday, 17 March 2014

In Search of Dinosaurs around Oxford - part 1 The Oxfordshire Museum

Abigail has recently celebrated her 4th birthday. With little money for a birthday day out we went in search of free entry activities that the children would enjoy. As I have a couple of little dinosaur enthusiasts we decided on a Dino Day around Oxfordshire.

First Stop was the Oxfordshire Museum and here is our review.

Situated in the very pretty town of Woodstock, just north of Oxford has a range of displays of local history. It also has the most amazing Dinosaur room, aimed at the younger visitors which was our primary reason for visiting.

Upon arrival at the museum the children were quick to spot the dinosaur picture and have a guess at what was inside.

We spent some time exploring the Victorian display and talked about what it might have been like in the olden days.

And looked at the animals in the Countryside display.

 We then went to meet the dinosaurs!!

The Dinosaur Room is aimed at the pre-school, early primary school age group and is full of dinosaur related activities. This included a lot of children's dinosaur books and a dinosaur puppet theatre.

Poking their heads through are two dinosaurs who you can feed. One is a carnivore, one a herbivore. When you feed them the right food the roar!! The children found it very funny to run around screaming in pretend fear every time the dinosaurs made a noise.

Abigail was a little worried about feeding the dinosaur at first, but eventually got her confidence up.

Then we got really brave and stuck our heads in the dinosaurs mouths!!

There are also some dinosaur costumes for the children to dress up in. Here is Abigail modelling the Pterodactyl.

..And Theo attempting to model the Triceratops.

There is a little cafe there selling the usual at the usual kind of museum prices. Outside are benches in the garden which provided us with the perfect picnic spot.

Just on the other side of the wall were we had our lunch was a life size model of a Meglosaur.

After they'd eaten the children found it fun to see how brave they could be and go and see the dinosaur!

There was also lots of space outside for the children to run around.


Gift Shop: packed with dinosaur type take home toys and some other bits and pieces.
Toilets: nice and clean and modern. I didn't see the baby change but suspect there would be one in the disabled toilet.
Parking: We did get parked straight outside and it was free. But that was after circling the car park a few times and in a pretty small spot. So limited numbers of spots and not all the best when you have small children in car seats.
Food: Museum cafe selling drinks, sandwiches, cakes. And space outside for your own picnic, as long as you don't mind sharing with a large dinosaur!

Entry: Free, but donations welcome.

The Oxfordshire Museum
Fletcher's House Park Street
OX20 1SN


Overall the children had a lovely morning at the Oxfordshire Museum. The activities in the dinosaur room where perfectly age appropriate for them and allowed them to learn whilst playing. I would say the viewing the rest of the museum took around 30 minutes with about another hour of play in the dinosaur room, followed by a picnic. So enough for a morning or afternoon out. As its set up as a play activity its also the kind of place you could return to over and over again and is probably a nice place for local mums to meet up during the week. The staff were also very friendly and helpful which always makes for a nicer visit! I'm sure we will be popping back next time we are in the area.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Not just "the VBAC lady in room 5". Planning the birth of baby number 3.

When your're expecting your first baby you probably fit into one of three categories when it comes to planning the birth; "Natural as possible", "Go with the flow", or "Just give me everything"!! But after the first baby everything changes and the experiences from previous labours impact on planning for the next. If you started from the "Go with the flow" perspective and had a straight forward birth I suppose its a simple case of doing the same again. Perhaps you planned for every pain killer under the sun, had a complicated delivery and you feel a planned c-section is best for your second labour. For me, I started with the "Natural as possible" perspective but have gone on to have two reasonably complicated labours, leaving me with a variety of risks factors. However my thoughts on birth still lean towards as natural as possible and now I'm trying to find a way to balance my risks and obstetric history against my ideal birth. Mostly I'm hoping for a positive birth experience and a positive post natal recovery.

My first baby was born by c-section. I was 42 weeks pregnant when I went into labour, at least according to my 12 week scan. I'd declined induction and went into labour spontaneously. As I'd planned a home birth my midwife asked me to still go in for the monitoring scan arranged the day before as part of my post term care, so in early labour I spent 2 hours on the maternity day unit waiting for a scan that showed "everything was fine". I was allowed home to labour, but I'm sure the upset slowed down my labour considerably, my plans for early labour where bath's, mobilisation, bouncing on the ball and aromatherapy... not the waiting room of the maternity unit! During the afternoon the midwives arrived at our house and within a couple of hours it was established my baby had a high heart rate and I was rushed into hospital. Once in hospital I had an epidural, waters artificially broken and a hormone drip all designed to speed up my labour and get baby out sooner as her heart beat was so high. Ultimately they didn't work. Her heart rate got higher and they decided a c-section was the only way she was getting out in enough time to not end up really poorly.

How I spent my first labour

Knowing my second baby would be a VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarean section) I did plenty of research and planning before hand. I swapped hospitals and arranged a birth plan to give me more freedom of movement that would normally be "allowed" during a VBAC. But the baby was back to back. I went into labour only an hour after going to bed, but ended up with a long latent labour where it took many hours to be properly in labour, a lot of which I spent lying on my side in the hospital bed trying to rest. I'd agreed to 30 minutes on the CTG monitor when in established labour. Established labour didn't happen until 12 hours or more after I began contracting. So once on the bed with the CTG running and gas and air, having only had 1 hour sleep in the past 30 hours I stayed there. And baby stayed back to back. When I started pushing the midwife told my mum and husband that it would take a while and offered to make them a cup of tea!! When the baby started have drops in his heart rate and they got the doctor I'd already given up and told them to "just do an instrumental". He was born by forceps, facing upwards having never turned in labour. Following his delivery I had a PPH (Post Partum Haemorrhage) and lost a lot of blood. I went on the have some retained products which gave me an infection a couple of weeks after delivery and eventually required an operation.

Moments after the delivery of my second baby. 

I'm definitely not "low risk" any more. When you've had a c-section there is a scar on your womb which can rupture. One of the most common signs (though not the only sign) of this is changes in the fetal heart rate which is why they like to monitor you during labour. There's also a risk of the same things that happened in my second labour happening again, another back to back baby and the need for forceps and another PPH. To prevent baby from staying back to back and from that impacting on the labour I believe I need to be upright and mobile and not on the bed. But this is in conflict with the need to be monitored on the CTG. Yeah, you can move around near the bed space with the CTG machine on, but you have nowhere near the freedom you would without it.

So this is my conflict. The circumstances of my first labour mean constant monitoring is recommended. The circumstances of my second labour mean the best way of preventing history from repeating itself is to be upright and mobile. If I am not monitored I increase the risk a rupture isn't picked up straight away. If am not mobile I increase the risk of slowing my labour and ending up with forceps again. I need to find a birth plan and a birthing location that allows me to balance these risk factors.

My risk factors mean that I am recommended to deliver in a hospital consultant unit. There often appears to be a certain high risk attitude on a consultant unit. Women are there with risk factors and abnormal is the norm. I become extremely compliant in labour and adapt to the environment. So if they are expecting to put me on a bed with an epidural and a CTG I don't tend to fight it once in labour, however I felt about it before hand. There is also a higher chance of interventions in labour when on a consultant unit and I want to avoid as many interventions as possible, especially another instrumental delivery.

Although I'd still very much like a home birth I am worried about having a PPH at home. When I was in hospital all I did was lie in bed hugging my newborn while the hospital staff stopped the bleeding and set up drips and such. I don't remember it being that traumatic as it was all dealt with for me. Where-as if it happened at home and there was a need to transfer in I can imagine it being all the more traumatic. Also, I don't have a special bed at home, with a special blood catching bucket underneath!! Another factor against home birth for me is that I am loud during labour and the children would be at home, albeit in another room. I thing it could be distressing for them.

But a Birth Centre attached to a consultant unit, now that appeals. Delivering in a home from home environment, but just a quick ride to the consultant unit if I need it. The biggest problem is that generally Birth Centres don't accept you when you are not low risk. Where I used to live, when planning my second birth I was told "no". I could deliver at home against medical advice, or I could deliver in the consultant unit with certain restrictions (such as I wouldn't even be allowed in the shower during labour). It felt as this amazing natural supportive birthing environment of the Birth Centre was reserved for these specially privileged women who were "low risk". The rest of us had to go and do as we were told in the consultant unit. I don't know if it was the case but I felt as if all the natural birth resources and attitude was reserved for birth centre and that it wasn't allowed on the consultant unit. How could I ever get a natural birth when the resources and naturally minded midwives were reserved for women in the birth centre? My response was to refer myself to another hospital which just had the one unit and didn't segregate the services and had an all in one unit. Yeah, they had all the resources in one place, but the room had a normal labour bed and a CTG machine and somehow I just ended up towing the line.

I want to have my baby in a place where I feel safe. I want to be able to make a birth plan before and for that plan to be considered important. I want the staff and the environment to be able to make that birth plan a reality if the labour progresses normally, and to preserve what they can if things go wrong. I don't want to fight during labour. I don't want the institution and the environment itself to be against my plans and lead me down a route I didn't plan. If the labour changes my plans then so be it, the safety of me and baby is what's most important, but the expectations of how a woman "should" behave in labour and how a certain type of birth should be, should not impact on my plans. I'm not just "the VBAC lady in room 5".