Monday, January 02, 2012

A Penny Saved is a Penny Earned!

Yesterday saw me cooking up minced meat and veg (plus flavourings) to make up a
a batch of spag bol meat sauce, and also a batch of chilli con carne. I'd barely got the veggies on the table before I decided to write down what was done because my tendency is to use so many cost-cutting ways that are not usually mentioned with recipes given. With me it is just automatic, but realised - perhaps for the first time - it is these hints and tips that help me save the money.

Although the photos are not THAT interesting, at least it gives an idea of what was used, and - although costing out a meal is not part of the challenge, this time have done so as it proves how we can make food go even further than what we already thought.
This first photo shows the
ingredients. One and a half
large carrots, two cooking
onions and three sticks of
celery chopped up finely in
the food processor. The veg
trimmings were put into a
jug to later make stock.

The veggies (when chopped) nearly filled a 2.5pint bowl. At the side of this bowl is another containing 1 lb minced beef. Behind can be seen a packet of Mexican chilli 'Beanfeast', a can of chopped tomatoes, a bottle of Worcestershire sauce, ditto HP sauce, a can of red beans with a Bovril stock cube sitting on top.
You can also see a glass of water containing little bits of vegetables. This is my first tip. When blitzing up veggies in a food processor etc, after emptying it, there are always a few bits stuck to the sides and blade. I put cold water into the bowl, swirl it around and it rinses out the bits and the bowl is then clean enough to either just wipe dry or put into the washing up bowl with no bits to clog up the drain. This water and 'bits' I add to what I am making (needed extra water anyway)..

I've also cost out the ingredients to within a penny or two (rounding up makes it easier for me to divide, and this means the portions won't have cost quite as much as they seem (much? ha, that's a laugh - wait and see). The total comes to less than £2.00!! And that's including the 'extras' added to give more flavour (mentioned later).

How I cooked the meal (which includes more tips) comes after this next photo which shows the end result - three good portions each (that's B size portions) of chilli con carne, and three portions of spag bol sauce. Each weigh a fraction under 8 oz (say 220g) and work out at around 34p each. Compare this with the cost of a similar 'ready-meal' (some may include pasta).

The three 'chillis' and two spag bol meat sauces were cooled and frozen. One tub (the open one on the right) was saved for B's supper. Intending to be served with pasta penne and a sprinkling of Parmesan, expected this would make a good helping to satisfy B's appetite. Then suddenly had an inspiration.
For a change why not fill some cannelloni (pasta) tubes I had in a kitchen cupboard (been there months and never uses), so I got down the pack and there was enough meat sauce in the one contaner to fill 8 tubes (each about 5" long) - silly me didn't take a photo, but can assure you that after putting the filled tubes into a shallow and greased ovenproof dish, then covering with a cheese sauce, more grated cheese on top, and - after cooking in a hot oven until the cheese was brown and bubbling , this - served with a small side salad - made a very good supper for both Beloved AND me (B had five tubes, I had three - and believe me three was almost too many). So that 34p 'portion' of spag bol sauce served as 'cannelloni' then worked out at 17p per head.

Now the way I cooked the above. The veggies were put into a frying pan with a very little little oil (not costed) and sauteed for several minutes under cover (this way they 'steamed' rather then fried). The meat (normally fried) was put into a saucepan with the veggie 'rinsings', plus the can of chopped tomatoes and the beef stock cube. Cooking mince this way keeps all the 'grains' separate (then tend to clump together when fried).
After simmering both pans for about 10 or so minutes, then removed a third of the veggies from the frying pan and set this aside. Got a slotted spoon and removed most of the minced beef from the saucepan, adding this to the 2/3rd veggies in the frying pan. Stirred together then added a good dash of W. sauce and also HP sauce. As it tasted a bit bland, did add a couple of teaspoons of Bisto Best gravy powder to give a more meaty flavour, also a couple of 'ice-cubes' of tomato paste that I'd frozen with some chopped basil. It then tasted fine.

To the saucepan of 'tomato liquid' and beef 'grains' left in it, added the pack of Beanfeast. Cooked that for 15 minutes (needed to add a bit more water). Felt it lacked 'umph' so added a little chilli powder (could have used Tabasco), then finally added the can of (drained) red beans. Job done on both counts. All that was needed was to divide the two up equally between as many portions as it would make. (There was probably enough for half a portion more, but as I kept 'taste-testing' as it was being made, blame me for eating that!).

When it came to using the can of chopped tomatoes, a little cold water was put into the can and rinsed out to be added to the pan. Same with the beans. The HP sauce bottle was just about empty. But the dregs have been kept, as next time will remove the lid, rinse it out with water and add this to either a casserole or next batch of 'meat sauce'. I do the same with almost empty tomato ketchup containers, as all 'gloopy' sauces leave residue stuck at the bottom and sides, but easily rinsed out (add a bit of warm water and give a very good shake). All these add flavour. Why throw it away?

I'd mentioned to B that I was aiming to make his portion of spag.bol sauce for 50p. Think he felt he'd not get much for that. However, his five cheese-sauce coated Cannelloni with a small side salad (the salad being the end of a bag of w'cress, baby spinach, rocket (needed using up) with the last third of an 'old' red bell pepper, really made a good plateful (and now wish I'd photographed it for you to see, but will make it again from one of the frozen spag.bol portions, so you can see a pic then) and he came and told me how good it was. I'd even dressed the salad with some balsamic and cranberry 'drizzle'. Our daughter gave me a bottle of this bought at Barton Grange some many months ago, and it was really gorgeous, so when the bottle was empty, filled it with half and half balsamic vinegar and some cranberry juice (from a carton) and after giving a good shake it made my own version, and it really tastes very good.
To make sure B felt he'd had a good meal, suggested he microwaved one of the small individual Christmas puddings we have left and eat that with some extra-thick cream. Which he did. He was quite a happy bunny after all that! Think he was even too full to make himself his usual snacks, even though I had cooked a loaf during the day. Yes managed to do that to - the whole supper from start to finish, plus a loaf, all done in less than 3 hours. Ues. well, suppose if you are a reader who prefers to shove a bought ready-meal in the microwave for speed, suppose 3 hours is a long time, but then as the above has made five more meals that will thaw and reheat in the microwave in about the same time a 'ready-bought', have plenty of days when I too can sit and twiddle my fingers, so yah boo and all that to those who just can't be bothered.

This current challenge - just making do with what I've got - isn't really a matter of how much any meal/portion will cost, it is just making the food go as far as possible. Yesterday the 1lb minced beef (normally the amount to feed four) was then - with the help of veggies, beans and TVP made into six portions. One portion now proved to feed two (a la cannelloni). Just thought you might find the costing interesting, and how it came about. Don't expect a blow by blow version of every meal made. Sometimes may only give it a mention. But you will know what is made each day so you can - if you can be bothered - work out how fast (or slow) my stores are depleting.

Regarding the absence of costing, as another meal may cost LOADS more than the above (example a lamb shank in the freezer will have cost me £2.50 (Tesco's packs of 2 for £5 - still cheaper than from the butcher and take less time to cook) not counting the cost of any veggies, the cost of each meal comes under 'swings and roundabouts'. Some are cheap, some very cheap, some almost free. With an expensive one served now and again. With this challenge it's all about how long the foods already bought will last, not how much each portion cost. As long as my money stays in my purse, that's all I care about.

Incidentally, as I'd filled the cannelloni tubes in the morning, and knowing the pasta would swell and split if left as-is, made up the cheese sauce and spooned this over the filled tubes (ready in the buttered dish) to keep the pasta moist. When cool, sprinkled grated cheese on top. When ready to cook supper, put the dish in a cold oven so it would heat up the filled pasta as the oven warmed up, and then brown off the cheese topping when at the right heat (200C). This saved a few minutes 'fuel' time when cooking.

Today am making up some candied peel. Probably also some biscuits/cakes. Maybe some crumble mix to store in the fridge, and that may mean a fruit crumble for supper.
By the way, forgot that there was a punnet of seedless green grapes in the fridge, these should have been included with my fruit 'display' yesterday. B tends to eat some with his cheese and biscuits, so doubt they will last that long.

Have not yet decided what the main meal will be tonight. Not beef as we had that yesterday, so probably chicken. Maybe a chicken curry as pack of chicken 'fillets' (trimmed from the back of chicken fillets bought in bulk a month ago - so counted as 'almost free') fell out of the freezer when I opened the door yesterday. Shoved it back, but it obviously is unstable as it doesn't have a place to fit securely so might as well use it. Should make enough for me to have some too, and if the curry is padded out with carrots and onions, could even make an extra portion to freeze (and yes, it's OK to freeze meat that had already been frozen as long as the meat is frozen raw, then thawed and cooked). All I have to do is decide which jar of curry sauce should be used. Am beginning to enjoy this challenge. Let us hope after the first week is over the fun won't go out of it. We will have to wait and see.

Some (sort of ) good news. B came back from his social this weekend where one or two ladies there said how gorgeous my marmalade was, and my gingerbread was to die for (both made recently for their 'craft fair'). Towards the end of this month the club is having an 'Italian' meal, so B has suggested I make the Tiramasu, and he also asked me if could I make more marmalade and gingerbread for him to take? He said he would pay me for the ingredients, but as I already have them, said it would be my donation (if necessary he can pay for the eggs and fats, the rest of the ingredients - sugar, flour, spices, syrup, Mamade....have in abundance). Am then hoping to get orders for marmalade and cakes in the future. Costing much less than any sold over the counter.

Think I'm getting the hang of this 'use it up', better this year than in previous years - ideally using some fresh veg, some frozen meats, some cans or ingredients from the larder, then put the lot together. Otherwise the fresh - which includes frozen meat/fish - goes too soon and all I'm left with are cans and dry goods.

Some interesting comments today. Lynne has mentioned making spag.bol to use up some mushrooms. Myself toyed with the idea of adding mushrooms to yesterday's spag bol sauce, but decided against as I can use the mushrooms in another dish. Anyone who has mushrooms that are almost past their best can either dry them off in a low oven to keep in airtight containers and reconstitute in water later, or very finely chop them, add them to a very finely chopped shallot, and gently fry off in a little butter until all the moisture has evaporated (can take up to an hour), this makes a type of mushroom 'pate' (aka 'duxelles), which can be then frozen away in ice-cube trays to later be added to a beef casserole to add flavour, or thawed and spread on top of beef fillet before being coated in puff pastry (Beef Wellington - although I can't afford to buy fillet so it's just a suggestion), or even - when thawed, used as a 'toast topper'.

Where do I store my veggies asks Campfire. Lettuce, white cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese leaves, bags of small spuds are all kept on one shelf in the fridge. Still in their wrappings, although some (like cauli) are partly wrapped. With the wrappings off they would dry out too fast. As there is room above, place on top of the heavier veg the lighter ones such as the punnet of mushrooms, maybe a bag of mixed leaves or watercress, bell peppers, cucumber....
In the salad drawer beneath the shelf store the carrots - still in bags, but the bags split to allow some air, otherwise the carrots can go soggy and mouldy. Removed from bags they then dry out, so do need some protection. Same with parsnips also kept in the drawer. Celery kept there too - in its wrapper, one end open. Vacuum beetroot kept in the drawer although it could be anywhere in the fridge. Bell peppers keep better in the drawer than on the shelf above for some reason, and I also keep individually cling-wrapped lemons and limes in the drawer.
The food photographed looked quite a lot, but apart from that kept elsewhere, it all fits onto one square shelf and in one small square drawer.

The onions are kept in an open basket on top of the washing machine in the kitchen. Unused butternut squash also kept in the basket (once cut it will have the cut end covered with cling-film and then kept in the fridge). By piling up the onions towards one end of the basket gives me more room, so can also store my tomatoes there too, as don't like to keep them in the fridge - it doesn't improve their taste.
Large baking potatoes are kept in a small cloth sack (bought from Lakeland) this at the moment sitting in a small deep basket on top of our small freezer, although the bag is often put elsewhere, even under the kitchen table. As I said before, the baby 'new' potatoes are kept in the fridge.

It is said that keeping spuds in the freeze eventually makes the starch change to sugar. Perhaps it does, but I find that even six weeks or so in the fridge doesn't seem to change their flavour. These are also kept in their bags or they tend to soften.
The small potatoes, especially the 'salad' spuds are waxy. The large baking potatoes are floury.
Sometimes we are able to buy bags of cheap spuds that are middling size - or small - and don't really know which they are. Although not always necessary to know it can help for the 'floury;' ones break up easily when cooked for a long time, the waxy ones don't, and so use the floury ones for thickening a casserole. Some recipes use both, the floury to thicken and the waxy to stay whole.
So - if you're not sure which type of spuds you have (floury are high in starch so good for mashing and baking), or waxy (lower in starch, so good for boiling and salads), dissolve 2 tblsp salt in 11 fl oz (300ml) water and drop a potato into it. A floury spud will sink, and a waxy one will float (you can store this liquid in a bottle for testing many times - but remember to label it). Medium-starch potatoes, commonly described as 'all-rounders' are best for roasting and for making chips.

The TV prog 'Housewife '49' has Victoria Wood playing the part of Nella Last (the housewife) and anyone who saw the programme would certainly enjoy her books (diary of her war years and beyond).

Thanks for letting us know about Heston B's programme (series?) on Channel 4 Les. Am sure you will be interested to know that the new Lakeland catalogue is showing a kit where we can do Heston-type experiments, such as making food bubbles, foam etc. It comes with a DVD to show 'how to', this I believe can also be watched on the Lakeland website. Am sure you - of all our readers - will the one most tempted.

Know what you mean about finding fruit etc at the bottom of your freezer that needs using up Alison. The easiest way with a glut is to make jams and preserves.
When we lived in Leeds had 100lbs of apples from just one tree each autumn, and add to that a garden infested with bramble bushes growing under every hedge and also right down the drive,(giving lbs and lbs of huge juicy berries), we also had loads of redcurrants, raspberries, rhubarb, blackcurrants so you can visualise I too then had shelves and shelves full of different jams and jellies, not to mention marmalade, many of these having to be given away. At that time I hadn't been diagnosed with diabetes, so could happily work my way through at least some of them side by side with B.
Still love making jams and marmalades, although - perhaps luckily - we don't now have so much home-grown fruit, so the supply is just about right for B and some 'give-aways'.

Not sure how heavy your £6.99 gammon weighed Susan G, but have a 1.5kg one in my freezer that cost me £7. (This was top price as it was close to Christmas, previously have seen them sold at half-price, and this is when I would normally buy). Having an electric slicer means this size ham goes much further than when sliced by hand. Some months back took a photo to put n my blog that showed how many slices could be got from one of this weight, and can always show it again if anyone wishes. The idea then was not to cook the gammon as a 'roast', for eating in 'chunky' slices, but to compare with the price of pre-packed ham slices. Naturally the home-cooked worked out far, far cheaper.

So that's it for today, now must toddle off into the kitchen to start today's 'use it up' and tomorrow you can find out what I've done. Hope you will be interested enough to log on and find out. If so, see you then.