Monday, 27 September 2010

Eating Good Food on a Budget

That's something we all want to do, however we tend to think that eating on the cheap means only eating cut-price ingredients, pulses, pasta, rice, couscous, and eggs hardly ever eating meat and in no way having treats. Its makes eating a bore instead of being a joy and cooking becomes tedious and shopping for your groceries a mind-numbing nightmare.

With a bit of thought and planning you can change all this and shop for, cook and eat mouth-watering food that is not going to hit you in your pocket, is a delight to prepare and what’s more important, anyone can do it from gourmet chef’s to students and its green.

What we have to do is follow some basic principles

Leftovers; we love them “Waste not want not”, so the old saying goes. Throughout the war years when rationing made every mouthful valued. It was considered a crime to waste food, so meals such as bubble and squeak, shepherd's pie, bread and butter pudding and good nourishing soups were all on the menu, and our grandparents and parents carried that over and taught us that there was and is nothing to be embarrassed about by using leftovers.

When cooking for Lord and Lady Hanson we always used the leftovers for them, Lord Hanson had been brought up that way too and always spoke about his mother with great affection especially about her cooking.

As a matter of fact, we plan our main weekend meal whether it’s a roast, a casserole or even a Lancashire Hotpot in such a way to provide us with leftovers, expensive meals like the Sunday roast should earn their place by using the leftovers to make more meals, we can remember that when we were young the Sunday meal was always planned so that it would be able to give us more than one meal and it was / is not only the less well off that do this Lord and Lady Hanson, Lord Sieff and Lord King were great advocates for the planning and use of leftovers

When planning your week, balance eating more costly foods at some meals by eating cheaper ones at others. Remember there are lots of cheaper cuts of meat (lamb shoulder, lamb scrag, pork belly, pork cheeks, and stewing meat) that you can make great tasty dishes from. Furthermore, beef, pork, and lamb mince produce so many varying dishes that you could serve them almost everyday and not have the same meal twice.

Now we come to my favourite saying, “Eat seasonally” no matter what is in season it will always be cheaper and will taste better than when it is not in its natural season.

For a case in point take strawberries in January they taste of nothing, are expensive and don't make the best use of the world's resources, but when in season ooh baby!

Make the best of ingredients when they are plentiful use summer soft fruits you’ve bought at a the market at the end of the day (when they are cheaper) to make jam which will bring the sun into your house in winter, pickle cherries you've bought at a pick-your-own farm and eat them all year round with pâté and cheeses; turn a glut of cooking apples into chutney or apple jelly, and the same with herbs it is rather fun experimenting with different herbs to make herb jellies.

Buying fruit and vegetables in their own season you can make all manner of jams, jellies, and marmalades as well as freezing and bottling them. We always make our own preserves with fruit and vegetables we have bought at the market especially during the summer when British produce comes into its own

If you can eat wild food, it's free; this doesn't mean becoming an expert on foraging or buying a shotgun. Anyone can pick blackberries, sloes, crabapples, damsons, and wild garlic, Pheasant, even if someone else has shot it, is going for a song at the height of the season and rabbit is inexpensive year round.

If you change your attitude to cooking, open up the choice of ingredients you use and make a search of the different cultures to find dishes that are not only exotic and mouth-watering, but also inexpensive.

Be flexible about pulses and grains, grains in particular are really fashionable and you don't have to stick to rice, there's also quinoa, bulgar wheat and faro. Equally, there are staples we should spend more on you can think about bread in this way a good sourdough may cost more but it tastes better and lasts longer than a sad sliced loaf.

What is better is that making your own bread means you can buy the ingredients for home baking even cheaper, and an investment in a good bread making machine means that you can even make small amounts of jam to spread on your bread

Eat vegetable dishes as a main course; you don't have to have meat every day although Maureen may have something to say to me about that.

When I was growing up people took delight and pride in inventiveness; it was enjoyable to look in the cupboard and fridge, catch sight of a couple of things that needed to be used up and contemplate what to do with them.

Leftover roast beef, lamb, and turkey went into a curry or a pie of some sort especially lamb or beef which went into a cottage pie if we had roast chicken or turkey, the carcass would be boiled to make stock for a heartening soup, and the meat could be used, along with chopped leeks and some ham, to make a pie, and the ham would invariably be from a hock.

Moreover, we still do all these things and once you are in the right mind-set it becomes a habit and believe me you will find that shopping for groceries once more becomes a pleasure as you hunt out the best deals you can get to prepare the tastiest meals for your family as well as beating the recession.

You know I think, that these days we are predisposed to think in terms that we should be only having one dish at one meal; there isn't any connection and flow between meals during the week.

This isn't the case in other countries. The French call leftovers 'les restes' (Nothing flows, nothing is lost) and take delight themselves in using them, the Italians are just as inspired with stale bread if you have never had the little gnocchi they make with breadcrumbs, fried bacon and onion and served with melted butter then you are missing out on a great supper dish. They sauté breadcrumbs with garlic, chopped anchovies, currants and pine nuts and scatter them over cooked cauliflower to make a main course that can be eaten on its own or tossed with pasta.

So shop carefully and open your mind to what is achievable to cook with the food you have bought, (think that the kilo of mince you might buy would make burgers, meatballs and a cottage pie, that’s three meals from just a bit of forward planning) and you and your family will eat well and never feel you are missing out and a good feed.