Thursday, March 13, 2008

Cooking for Pleasure and Profit.

Cooking for profit, in this instance, does not mean selling our wares or expertise. It is more the discovering which dishes please, and which are the least expensive to make. In other words having money left over that might normally have been spent.

With a dish, the main ingredients (and with most recipes this can be one or two) will be the most expensive, and this is where it is possible to cut down the amount used (this with almost any recipe) but still end up with a very similar dish that, by way of a little juggling, just happens to cost less. The remaining ingredients should be adjusted so the total weight ends up the same (or it won't feed as many) . Sometimes it is possible to alter one or both of the main ingredients, and still come up with a very similar dish.

Based on cooked chicken, the following recipes would work just as well using cooked turkey, beef, and possibly ham. Although battery farmed chickens are cheap enough, even so I would expect the best value (cost per pound cooked) would be turkey. And not being the Christmas season, this could be a good time to buya frozen bird. But always check prices. Don't do as I did last Christmas, buy a small frozen bird which - once thawed - leached out so much water it was barely the size of a large chicken. Go for a larger bird, which gives more flesh to the bone.
Cooked turkey meat keeps best when removed from the carcase, so remove all cooked meat from the bones. Wrapped well in greaseproof paperand then foil, it will keep refrigerated for four days. Even better, put in freezer bags and freeze in meal-sized portions. Keep the white and dark meat separate.

Firstly, how to go about adjusting a recipe to cut the cost. This first is for a sarnie, but one nourishing enough to eat as a brunch or lunch dish, but could be made using two slices of bread and half the ingredients as more of a snack than a meal. The recipe is given without attempting to lower the cost - so follow these hints and tips if you wish it to be more frugal:
Ideally, use the multi-grain (granary) bread, otherwise a good wholewheat bread, or - if you have to - just plain white. White bread would probably be cheapest, but comparing the costs slice per slice, savings would be minimal and the better option would be to use the healthier granary and make other cuts as suggested.
The recipe uses the large, open-cap field mushrooms. Lower the price by selecting the largest and most open mushrooms from smaller ones sold loose. Use less chicken. The rashers of bacon could be reduced by stretching out with a knife before grilling - this makes a rasher go further and takes a little less time to crisp. Change the olive oil to a blend of sunflower and olive and omit the lemon juice. And mix a little plain yogurt into the mayo. Use lettuce instead of watercress - and presto! - the sarnie is now much cheaper, but we still end up with much the same.
Chicken Club Sandwich: serves 1 (could stretch to 2)
2 large open-cap mushrooms
2 tblsp olive oil
1 tblsp lemon juice
2 slices granary bread
2 tblsp mayo
6 oz (175g) sliced cooked chicken
handful of watercress
First fry the mushrooms in the oil until starting to brown. Add the lemon juice and and cook over high heat for 1 minute, then remove from the pan and set aside. Lightly toast the bread. Start with one slice, then put on one of the mushrooms, top this with some mayo, followed by the half the chicken, then half the bacon, then top with half the watercress. Cover with the next slice of toast and repeat. Spread the top slice of toast with mayo and place this, mayo side down on the top of the pile. Spear with cocktail sticks to hold, and then slice in half diagonally. Serve alone or with a side salad.

This next uses flour tortillas, and is a cheat's way to get the flavour of Peking Duck. Ideally use the cooked dark meat from almost any edible bird. Alternatively used strips of cooked roast beef. Although a couple of the ingredients are not what you call cheap, they come from a bottle so the actual amount used can be counted in pennies. And with many bottled ingredient of this type, there is plenty left for later use.
Chinese Mock Peking wrap: serves 4
4 flour tortillas
Chinese hoisin or plum sauce
sesame oil
dark cooked chicken meat
finger length piece of cucumber, shredded into thin strips
4 spring onions (2 if plump), likewise shredded
Using a fork, tear the dark meat into strips, and place on a baking sheet, spread with the chosen Chinese sauce and sprinkle with a few drops of the oil. Put onto a baking sheet and grill for about 5 minutes until the meat is browned and bubbling. Meanwhile warm the tortillas. Lay each tortilla out and divide the grilled meat between them, top with the cucumber and onion, wrap the tortillas up pancake roll fashion, but open one end, and serve immediately.

This next is a hot, vegetable based chicken dish, which I believe would work equally well with turkey or ham, or even a mixture of both. At one time (and this may still be done) I used to go to the deli counter of the supermarket and ask for a ham-bone, left over after carving off the roast ham. Often there was quite a bit of useful ham left on the bone which could be pulled away, the bone itself was sawn in half to make stock. Ham scraps are useful for many dishes from quiches, pasta dishes and sarnies (remember, that if anything has to be torn or chopped up, such as ham, smoked salmon, bacon, it is often cheaper to buy and use packs of scraps rather than complete pieces). Other savings can be made by using different vegetables, and the cheapest of the seasonal range. Again this recipe has not been adjusted to lower the cost although I have added a choice of vegetable where applicable, it should really be up to the cook to use what vegetables they have, or what they can afford. Other savings could be made by grating up some left-to-get-hard cheddar to be used in place of the Parmesan, and making a white sauce to use instead of the creme fraiche.
Vegetable Gratin with Chicken: serves 4
1 lb (450g) cooked brussel sprouts (or broccoli florets) halved
2 leeks, blanched and sliced (or 2 onions, sliced)
salt and pepper
grated nutmeg
1 lb (450g) sliced, cooked chicken meat, pref breast
200ml pot creme fraiche
2 tblsp holegrain mustard
2 tblsp grated Parmesan cheese
Scatter the prepared vegetables over the base of a greased, shallow ovenproof dish. Season to taste and grate over a little nutmeg. Spread an even layer of the cooked chicken over the vegetables. Mix the creme fraiche with the mustard, if necessary adding a little milk to make a pouring consistency, and spoon this over the chicken and vegetables. Sprinkle over the grated cheese and bake at 190C, 375F, gas 5 for half an hour, or until golden brown on top.

Today's final recipe has, this time, been adjusted to cut costs (in brackets you will see the original suggested ingredients, so you can always substitute one or more of these if you can afford to be more extravagant).
Crunchy Chicken Salad: serves 3 - 4
2 tblsp olive oil (recipe says 3)
3 tblsp sunflower oil (recipes says 2)
3 tblsp lemon juice
2 tblsp runny honey
lettuce leaves (any kind)
2 " (5cm) piece of cucumber, thinly sliced
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 carrot, grated
1 - 2 apples, thinly sliced (or pear, mango, kiwi fruit)
approx 14 oz (400g) cooked dark and light chicken meat
2 tblsp roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
half tsp dried chilli flakes
First make the salad dressing by whisking together the olive and sunflower oils, the lemon juice and the honey. Put the lettuce leaves into a bowl (use the amount you feel will be enough), add the cucumber, onion, carrot and apples. Toss together with just a little of the dressing, then pile onto individual plates. Shred the cooked meat with a fork and scatter this over the salad. Finish with a sprinkle of peanuts and the chilli flakes. Drizzle the remaining dressing over just before serving.