Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Top Kitchen Tips for Austere Times

Well, I've just deleted the introduction to this post, which was in fact a pretentious/boring/verbose analysis of the startling fact that George Bush has nationalised American banks. Gordon Brown does it, well it's okay, heck he's the leader of the Labour Party (can anybody else remember when they were happy to call themselves a socialist party? Seems like yonks ago, doesn't it?)! When George Bush follows his lead, well, we know that we must be in deep economic poop. But my motto has always been "hope for the best but expect the worst", oh, I have another motto too, just like a good Boy Scout it's "be prepared". So with these excellent mottos in mind, here are my top tips (learned on the coal-face of stay-at-home-motherhood) to cutting back expense in the kitchen, but not nutrition or enjoyment of food. So fellow huswives, get in those kitchens, save those pennies and cry "nil desperandum" at the world economy.

Learn to love lard and dripping
My dad, every now and then, still spreads a bit of dripping on his toast. If it is good it is very nice, and was often used in working-class households as an alternative to butter (expensive). Often good quality lard was used as a spread too, but I wouldn't necessarily suggest you send the kids of to school with lard an jam sandwiches like times of yore. However, lard is a natural fat, lower in saturated fat than butter and heats to a very high temperature. So if you are browning meat or sauteing onions it is an excellent fat to use and a very good, cheap, alternative to olive oil. I don't like to use vegetable and corn oils for frying as when overheated they are quite unhealthy. And talking of lard...

Learn to make pastry
The best shortcrust pastry is made with lard. Even if you think you are useless at baking, shortcrust pastry is EASY to make if you use cold lard, and let the resulting pastry rest in the fridge for half an hour before you roll it out. Pastry is the English cook's pasta. A tasty, filling, carb which makes any vegetable or meat stew go a very long way. You can make six, large, Cornish pasties with less than half a pound of minced beef. Even steak and mushroom pies can have the filling eked out with extra onions and mushrooms. Also, fruit pies make an excellent finish to a simple, frugal meal of homemade vegetable soup and garlic bread, something as cheap and simple as this is lovely when you finish with an apple pie with cream. Again, quiche is a good way of extending expensive pieces of fish, such as smoked salmon or smoked haddock. Importantly, everybody loves a pie!

Learn to bake
Even if daily bread-baking seems like a terrible chore have a go at making flapjacks, biscuits and the odd cake. Obviously, if you don't have sweet-toothed kids then don't bother, but if you do find yourself buying a packet of biscuits and cake every week, then you may want to consider making your own. Home-made baked goods are far healthier than cheap shop bought biscuits, and can be less expensive, but you have to be canny. Don't go for recipes which require sour cream, loads of butter, chocolate etc. Go for scones, flapjacks, banana cakes, brownies made with cocoa, jam tarts. I've always tended to make my baking days a bit of a family affair, kids love an afternoon of baking and it's cheaper than taking them to the Wacky Warehouse!

Learn to love legumes
Even if you don't buy the dried ones, but just go for canned, beans will always provide a cheap, healthy meal for the family. We like three bean chilli, cooked with tomatoes, cumin, tons of onion and garlic, bell peppers and anything else that looks good. We tend to serve it with flat bread, but rice is a cheaper alternative. Little bean cakes are nice too, especially if you make a salsa to go with them and beans can eke out any meat dish, just like pastry can. I often make a chicken stew with cannaloni beans and dumplings. Also, let us not forget homemade minestrone (you will need olive oil for this though) and lovely, lovely mixed dahl (hmm, my favourite). Which brings me on to...

Learn to love peasant food
Italian peasant food, Indian peasant food, Mexican peasant food and English peasant food. All good stuff. Get to know how to cook just one dish from each of these peasant cultures and you'll always provide a tasty table experience for your family. Pasta primavera, lentil curry, spicy bean burritos, Cornish pasties, oh, and what about chowder from America? The list is endless and these thing are often easy to cook, and fuel efficient one-pot meal.

Learn to love growing things
Even if you don't have the time or land to grow veg, grow herbs. Nothing jazzes up simple food like the inclusion of an appropriate herb. Lentils are transformed with fresh coriander, butter beans with tomatoes and garlic are wonderful when you add basil, sage and onion stuffing ekes out a small chicken, every stew is improved with a bay leaf...the list is endless and I think herbs are an essential ingredient to most vegetarian cooking.

Learn to love your butcher/understand meat
If you have a good, local, butcher use him. Sausages are lovely when you know that what's in them is eatable! Cheaper cuts of meat, such as belly pork and shin of beef are always better in bought in a butcher's shop. In terms of flavour you are better off buying a good quality piece of belly pork and roasting it very slowly than buying a cheap piece of loin from a supermarket. Also, if you are a culinary novice a butcher will be happy to tell you which cut is best for stewing and roughly how much you'll need. Good butchers give small freebies to regular customers: just bits of lard, a few sausages and so on, but it all helps. Old cook books often give detail instructions on which cuts are good for stewing, roasting, grilling etc.

Added extras
Buy lots of eggs (good, cheap protein, essential for baking, you can make a meal out of them if you have a bit of veg in the fridge), always have some olive oil on hand (but be judicious in using it), be creative with spuds (colcannon, bubble and squeak, champ, fish cakes, corned beef hash, Spanish omelet etc etc), don't be afraid of dumplings (easy to make, kids love 'em), use pasta (how I love thee), buy fruit and veg in season.

Now for the don'ts
  1. Don't buy cheap processed food. Nutritionally it just a no-go area.
  2. Fish and chips are the best bet for a fast food treat, especially if you have a good chippy near-by, they tend to be family run businesses too.
  3. Avoid shop-bought salad dressing. A better nutritional investment is a bottle of olive oil.
  4. Never, ever skimp on veg. If times are really tough, skimp on meat, but never veg.
  5. Don't skimp too much on a Sunday, have a nice dinner and relax.
  6. Avoid "two for one" offers unless you know the offer really is a bargain.
  7. Don't buy shop bought sauces, it is really easy to make your own.
  8. Avoid breakfast cereals. Try porridge instead.
Well, there you have it. I suppose this is my version of a public service announcement! I know many of my readers are very experienced cooks, so if you think I've missed anything out just shout out in the comments section!


Marie N. said...

I'm not the only one who decries the Feds purchasing stock in banks then! I'm eager to hear the "exit strategy" on this move. Thankfully, there is one -- a plan for the banks to buy back their stock from the feds. Let us now hope it actually comes to pass.

Dulce Domum said...

Hi Marie
I'm pretty gobsmacked that Bush/Poulson actually did it! To be honest, I just don't think it bodes well, when capitalist governments nationalise major banks it must mean things aren't good, the unemployment figures for the UK were out today and they're the highest they've been since 1991, we're headed for some tough times.

Sarah said...

Yup. I'm nervous too. Time to get some chickens.

Nan said...

I'm with you! Especially with the 'peasant' food- that's pretty much how we eat all the time. Simple, quick, nutritious. But no lard, for this vegetarian. :<) Great post.

Shropshire Girl said...

This is a really excellent post and I wholeheartedly agree with it all, I hope that it manages to 'reach' people who need as much help/advice as possible in these difficult times.
I am intrigued by 'bean cakes' and would love to know the receipe.

Jenny said...

The Australian government has decided that, as well as bringing forward all federal government spending on things like hospitals (why do they have to wait for a disaster to strike, the hospitals have been struggling for years with lack of funding),roads etc, everyone who has children or is on a pension or looking to buy their first home is being given extra money to spend to stimulate the economy and keep things ticking over. So the large budget surplus we have had over previous years is going to become a deficit for next year. Apparently it is good economic management to stimulate the economy before a recession hits and perhaps avoid it than to wait for disaster to strike.
I don't think we will be managing our household finances this way. Our bonus ($2000) will be going into the bank - or should that be under the mattress.

Cookbooks pre 1980s, especially those published by schools or the CWA ( like the WI) have a wealth of frugal recipes simply for the fact that they use simple ingredients and they don't overdo it with the chocolate, sour cream and so on. Also they have marvellous things like no egg cakes, 1 egg cakes and so on , written with the experience of times when provisions could be scarce or expensive.

Anonymous said...

Great tips...although I don't fancy dripping...hubby would though. Do you mind if I save your post for future reference? :)

Zillah said...

Great post, DD, but you know I need no persuading on the merits of lard!


Anonymous said...

Pan Haggerty is a cheap potatoey dish, very yummy.

Sarah (English version :)

Anonymous said...

Oh and beef dripping is essential for making Yorkshire pudding!

I am absolutely a believer that the nearer to nature a product is the healthier it is. All these low fat, low sugar stuff I believe is ten times worse for us in the long run than full-fat sugary options. Everything in moderation is key.

And it stands to reason that butter is better for us than margarine! :)

Zillah said...

And another thing . . . !

Suet. Don't get the packet stuff, the real thing is incomparable for suet puddings (including Xmas!). My top tip for dealing with the stuff, which is a bit of a faff, is to freeze it in convenient weight chunks (say 150g) then when you need it grate it straight from the freezer - it's a doddle that way.


Dulce Domum said...

Hi Sarah
It is a bit nerve-wracking and chickens are such soothing creatures.

Hi Nan
Peasant food is so comforting...even without the lard!

Hi Sandra
It's an old "Cranks" recipe (so good for Nan) I'll post it today if I have the time. You know, I just thing people are a bit scared of cooking, or don't have the time, everybody is so very stressed and rushed. Also, I think lack of kitchen skills is becoming a generational problem. Parents passing on lack of skill to their children.

Hi Jenny
Yes, keep that two grand under the floorboards or something. We bail out the banks and let small business go under, you lot are encouraged to spend, spend, spend. Although it would be nice for our government to put a bit more into the NHS. It all seems like such a huge mess to me.

Hi Tina
Of course you can save and peruse for later! There's nowt wrong with drippin' lass!

Hi Zillah
I do like a girl who can render her own lard.

Hi Sarah (UK)
I agree with everything you say. You're so right about Pan Haggarty as well, delicious and inexpensive! I'm so with you on beef dripping btw.

Hi Zillah
I shall do that this year (for the Christmas pud). Your superior knowledge of animal fats is inspiring, m'dear!

Left-Handed Housewife said...

What an interesting, useful post. A good kick in the pants, too--in the summer I'm much better about baking from scratch, making my own pasta, and featuring lots of fresh vegetables in my cooking. When the school year starts and time feels more pressed, I fall back on old habits. But I have been trying to cook more with beans, which are a great, low fat source of protein, and I do make bread on a fairly regular basis. Still, I could do better, and this economic crunch is pretty good stimulus to find cheaper ways to cook, that's for sure.

Gumbo Lily said...

"Deep economic poop" is exactly right! Your intro to this post was spot on!

Peasant foods are mainly what we eat here....Plain family-style foods that are hearty and delicious. Just made a delish chowder a couple nights ago (with only 3 pieces of bacon and the rest veg). So satisfying.

I really like your list of ideas and I agree with your thoughts on lard. So many are taken aback by it, but it's natural and makes THE BEST PASTRY IN THE WORLD.


BessieJoy said...

I really enjoyed this post. Sorry I missed your intro. I'm thinking I would have agreed.

Dulce Domum said...

Hi Frances
yup, when school starts I tend to visit Marks and Spencers more often than I would like. The credit crunch I suppose could be a good lesson to us all.

Hi Jody
You, Zillah and I should form an internet lard appreciation club. A much maligned and brilliant fat! i do love chowder, I have relatives in New England and they do a lovely clam chowder, but I often make one with bacon, corn and spuds, is that the one you do too?

Hi BessieJoy
Thank you for visiting. You may have agreed with the old introduction but you would've probably been bored to tears too! ...I have a tendency to be a little too verbose (ahem).

Still at Home said...

Finally, I made some flapjacks! I have been meaning to since I saw a picture on your blog. They are a bit like Anzac biscuits - without the flour and coconut.