Sunday, September 13, 2009

'Bringing Home the Bacon'

For anyone wishing to save money, it is always worth building up stores and then think of these as our own personal 'shop'. It is important to think this way, for instead of pushing a trolley around a supermarket, if we now take a basket and fill it with items from our own stores to make the dish of the day (and other culinary delights), the sense of 'shopping' is still there (if that is what you enjoy), but without the hassle and going through a checkout. Also there is no way we can get tempted to buy something else.

True, from time to time we do need to go further afield to replace the milk, butter, eggs, and salads (possibly bread if we don't make it ourselves), but simpler (and usually cheaper) to get another member of the family to purchase the necessary, for this keeps the tempting 'offers' and BOGOFS out of our sight, and if they succumb to temptation, at least we can say they have to pay for these themselves as "I didn't ask you to bring them".

Buying in bulk does cost more, but then what has been bought can - and should - last a very long time. My last bulk buy from the butcher was the week we moved here and after two and a half months only half (if that) has been used. For two of us the meat bought should keep us going for up to 6 months, so it shouldn't be difficult to save the money ready for the next bulk purchase.

It seems to make more sense (to me) to buy an assortment of meats in one go rather than a weekly joint, a few chops and some mince. Like supermarkets, butchers have 'offers' and it is worth taking advantage of any going. My personal bulk-buy consisted of a few pounds of minced steak and a slightly lesser amount of minced pork, plus a couple of pounds of stewing beef, two lamb shanks, a dozen or so large pork sausages, some lambs liver, two chickens, and four large slices of very thin rump steak. The largest single item was a piece of silverside. All these gave me the chance to serve a wide variety of dishes anytime I wish. The silverside was the only piece of meat close to a 'joint', and after slow-roasting and chilling it was sliced and frozen for sandwiches and to add to a Cold Meat Platter - with some slices left thick enough to be reheated in gravy to serve with potatoes, carrots and sprouts as a 'proper roast beef meal' once or twice over the weeks.

After getting the meat home it was divided into smaller portions, with a good handful of mince going into each small bag, and this was enough for two when making a chilli con carne, spag bol, Cottage Pie, for it is worth 'stretching' the meat by adding extra vegetables. The sausages were wrapped in pairs so that a whole 'bunch' did not have to be thawed when needed. Liver also wrapped a few slices at a time, and the shanks frozen separately.
The raw chickens were jointed and thighs, breasts and drumsticks each wrapped and frozen separately. The fillet strips from the back of each breast were chopped and bagged up and frozen for a later casserole or curry. The winglets and carcases went into the stockpot with a carrot, piece of celery, an onion and a couple of bay leaves, and water to cover. Simmered slowly for a couple or so hours this turned into good stock leaving plenty more flesh to pick off the bones to make another dish. After reducing the stock, this was frozen in small tubs.

When storing, whether on open shelves or in a cupboard, it is best to keep together ingredients that work together. By this I mean keep all raising agents, flour, dried fruits and other cake ingredients in one cupboard. Keep packs of assorted rice and pasta together in another. Line up the jars/packets of assorted dried beans, peas, lentils, pearl barley, quinoa, and other grains that form the carbohydrate part of a meal and store these together. Sauces, stock cubes, gravy mixes and spices can also form another collection. This way few things get pushed to the back of a cupboard and forgotten about and usually we don't need to spend a lot of time looking for things, we can usually remember where they are.

It costs very little (per week) to build up a good storecupboard, especially when buying only one or two products at a time. But buy something more to put on the shelves each time you shop and keep doing it until you have all you need. Once you get to this stage you will find you can stop shopping altogether for quite a long time.

What does 'lift' an economy dish is the addition of something like fresh herbs, freshly grated Parmesan, a dash of wine in the gravy, the subtle introduction of a spice or three. These may seem expensive to buy, but when thinking thrift we then grow the herbs from seeds. But if not wishing to wait, then bought plants once transplanted into larger pots (or in the ground) will grow into much larger plants. Its a bit like planting a penny and then picking a pound (£).

Buy Parmesan by the block and grate as needed. A little goes a very long way and the ends of Cheddar cheese that has been left to go hard can also be grated as a 'mock' Parmesan, or mixed with Parmesan to make it go further.

When opening a bottle of wine freeze some in ice cubes to add to a gravy or casserole. Understand that when the price of a bottle is divided by 75 the answer is usually the price of a dessertspoonful. So wine on offer at £3 a bottle works out at 4p the spoon - lets say 10p for a tablespoon of wine. This sort of brings it down to size doesn't it? Worth freezing a couple of cubes at a time.