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.
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
- Don't buy cheap processed food. Nutritionally it just a no-go area.
- 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.
- Avoid shop-bought salad dressing. A better nutritional investment is a bottle of olive oil.
- Never, ever skimp on veg. If times are really tough, skimp on meat, but never veg.
- Don't skimp too much on a Sunday, have a nice dinner and relax.
- Avoid "two for one" offers unless you know the offer really is a bargain.
- Don't buy shop bought sauces, it is really easy to make your own.
- Avoid breakfast cereals. Try porridge instead.