Friday, April 13, 2007

Stop before you Shop

One tip re saving on food - which I hope came across in the recent Challenge, is - when you feel you need to stock up again - first aim to use up food you have in store. Ten to one there will be enough there to keep you going for at least one more day, and - with thought - even several days.

You remember my last on-line grocery order (for the Challenge) was delivered just before Xmas? Well, I still haven't restocked. The only things bought over the past few weeks have been fresh fruits and vegetables, and one pack of bacon. Plus four cans of sardines in tomato sauce (for me), bran flakes and diet yogurts (again for me), mushrooms and some bread. At the moment, the milkman brings only milk and yogurts. Cheese, butter, eggs I found in the fridge on my return from hospital ( this was mainly because my husband had gone off his food while I was away. But whatever - there is enough left over from the original purchases to keep going and still keep going. Even though I have been out of baked beans, corned beef, sausages, and numerous other ' essentials', I now realise they are not essentials at all.

As it is not like me to have gaps on my cupboard shelves, each week I feel I should place another order, but then decide not to. Yesterday I checked my frozen meats - I still have two packs of diced mutton, one of minced beef and pork, two of diced chicken, about a dozen chicken wings, some cooked chicken, three little packs of chicken livers, and a couple or so chicken joints. All from the original Challenge which includes the chicken freebies from the butcher. With most of my second bag of carrots still intact, numerous onions, Chinese leaves still untouched, one head of celery - plus a few cans of chopped tomatoes in the cupboard all I need to replace are the salads. Well, perhaps not need, more like want. On my open shelves I still have plenty of quick-cook pasta and rice, not to mention dried beans, lentils and other pulses - who needs the supermarket I am now asking myself.

When it comes to meat, as I have mentioned before, in most cases I buy from the butcher then make it go as far as possible. Planning dishes which include plenty of vegetables I work on 2 oz (50g) meat per person. This is half the amount which most recipes call for, but good meat gives plenty of flavour and this can work right through anything cooked with it. So for economy, add a can of chopped tomatoes and plenty of diced carrots, celery, onions to your meat sauces. To make it go even further add a tablespoon of porridge oats - they take up the meat flavour and you won't notice them. If you want more of a beefy flavour add a stock cube or a spoon of Bovril. For a pasta meat sauce add finely sliced mushrooms and a dash of Worcestershire sauce and HP sauce. For a chilli con carne add chilli powder and a goodly number of cooked red beans.

Likewise with a curry, use half the amount of meat normally used (either beef, chicken or lamb), and add sliced or diced carrots and loads of sliced onions to make up the shortfall. Stir in a jar of curry sauce (curry paste works out cheaper as you use it by the teaspoonful, not the whole jar),and simmer until the meat is cooked. If you wish to add peas, add them about five minutes before serving or they can lose their bright green colour and turn a nasty khaki.

As meat is one of the most expensive ingredients, aim to serve it less often. Nowadays they say twice a week is enough. Instead turn to roasted vegetable dishes, vegetarian curries, maybe try Quorn (is that cheaper or dearer than the meat it replaces?) and serve more fish (although that is expensive enough) . With the hot summer we are promised - who need to slave over a hot stove. Have one weekend of cooking a selection of meats then when cold slice and freeze to serve later with salads. For more economy we should make our own beefburgers from quality minced steak and grated onion. We could even make our own sausages (at one time I used to).
Tip: Meat cooked on the bone has much more flavour then when cooked without, so when buying a joint such as leg of lamb, ask the butcher to first bone the joint and then replace it.
After cooking it is should be removed then the joint can easily be sliced. Don't forget - an electric (or hand) slicer is a gadget that more than pays for itself in a very few weeks. It will also slice home-made bread easily and tidily.
Lakeland stocks a very good slicer at a very reasonable price.