Saturday, April 03, 2010

Tipping the Scales

Although the cheapest way to live would be to make everything from scratch, few of us have the time or inclination, and - after all - there are other things to do than slave away in the kitchen. Cooking well for a large family can be nearly a full-time occupation, and although in the past cooks had scullery maids, chefs have always got someone else to do much of the preparation, clearing up, and washing all the pots, domestic cooks - apart from being able to use some labour- saving gadgets treat cooking more as a chore than a pleasure. We need to get the balance right.

It was an article commented on that said that people buy most of their sauces that made me wonder how far we will go to cut costs. Not having read it myself, do not know if 'sauces' covers everything, or whether it meant sauces than many of us do make from scratch such as 'mint sauce' or 'cheese sauce'. Taking the blanket version, and even though most of the following could be made in the domestic kitchen, most of buy Tomato ketchup, HP (brown) sauce, Tabasco sauce, Hot Chilli Sauce, Tartare Sauce, Horseradish Sauce, and Salad Cream (which is also a type of 'sauce'). Many people prefer to buy prepared curry sauces, and often the flavoured tomato based pasta sauces. I even admit to buying small jars of Tartare sauce and Horseradish sauce.

In the past I have made most of the above (or versions of), and most did not end up out as good as 'the real thing', and making sauces from scratch can take some time. Time is money, so prefer to spend this making something more worthwhile. The one good thing about just once having a go at making everything we normally buy, is that when our money runs out, and we have the makings in our store cupboard, then we know we can still serve 'what we had before'. This is one reason why I believe that keeping a well-stocked store cupboard is essential to a cook. Not hoarding, you understand, always using the stores regularly, and re-stocking when items are on offer. In the Goode larder, gaps on shelves are looked on in horror, and re-filled a.s.a.p. But that's just me.

Shopping today is becoming more and more a mine-field. We can either take the easy route (trodden safely by others many times before) where we plan a week's menu, write out the shopping list and then go out and buy the necessary. Because temptation is not part of this approach, we can control the spending. But planning ahead we rarely get the advantage of buying something at a lower price - maybe a different joint of meat, or brand of baked beans - that might be on offer or at a reduced price for only that week. It all depends upon whether we need to save money.

When it comes to juggling the housekeeping budget, we can hope to keep within its limits, or as prices rise, cut out a few treats, or take more time finding the foods that cost less. To really save money, we need to spend time finding the bargains and then working a menu around these. But not only that. We need to find the store that sells the products we wish to buy - at the lowest price.

Few of us have time to shop in several stores in one week, so we have then to read closely the flyers that come through the doors, the ads in the paper and on TV, and then decide the best purchases for that week. It is often worthwhile buying more than we want, just as long as it has a good shelf-life or can be frozen. The next week we do the same thing shopping in another store. Over time, our shelves and freezers then stock foods that have all been bought at reduced prices, and often we can live off these for many weeks (as has been proved on this site), and a yearly audit would show that we have probably been able to cut our housekeeping budget by at least a third.

All this sounds far too complicated to be bothered with, and why most supermarket shopping is done by habit (as mentioned in the recent programme - read yesterday's blog re this). But we should remember that anyone who cooks the food they buy has absolute control over purchases, and like chefs in top restaurants - even though they buy quality foods - they always shop around to find the cheapest prices - often foods in season. Running a kitchen is like running a business.
Role-play manager of a catering company, or hotel (these too have fixed budgets of how much can be spent on food) and you will soon find you are looking to make a profit, and aware that 'portion control' helps to cut costs and save waste.
Tipping the scales only works they land heaviest on our side - not the supermarkets. If not interested in kitchen 'efficiency', then just aim for a balancing act.