Thursday, 2 December 2010

Food Glorious Food

Deborah recently wrote a wonderful blog post about weight-loss. In it she mentioned my love of (frugal) cookery, so I thought I might write a little about it here.

Long before I fell ill, I developed a series of food allergies and intolerances. My symptoms are in no way life threatening, but some (notably some food colourings and dairy products) can be very nasty indeed. To this day I am very nervous of things that make me dizzy because, having had a great many Easter eggs under doctors orders, I had a rather nasty fit at the age of 7 or so during which the entire world seemed to be spinning at a rate of knots.

I am also somewhat allergic to the wanton spending of cash. Especially when it's my own. I've tried to explain it away...but it's true. I'm tight. Clearance, Bargain and Value feature highly in my yearly account sheet. If I can save a few quid, even if it requires a bit of work, then I will do. While away from home recently to see a production of the Lysistrata (more on that in a later post), I ended up logged on to the internet, saving £2 on a dvd boxset. And it wasn't even for me.

This extends to my taste for food. It's not that I don't enjoy expensive food. I once had some extremely expensive champagne which was truly lovely. Smoked salmon is one of my favourites. And there's a date and walnut 'loaf' made by Pastilla Nash which is unbelievably nice.

My problem is that whilst consuming these delicacies, I can hear the pound coins rattle down my gullet and it can get in the way of the enjoyment. Something akin to going to Glyndebourne whilst listening to Gogol Bordello on your iPod *. If I can enjoy something and also have the warm feeling of frugality burning away in my heart, everything feels golden. Even if it is only 9ct plated.

So here are the cheap cooking tips I will share for free. Further information will be available in the forthcoming cook book 'Frugal Food'.

  • Get a slow cooker - cheap on fuel as well as being easy to use with cheap cuts of meat. Try slow cooked liver with a spicy tomato sauce. Plenty of onions and peppers.
  • Don't be afraid of the Value range - sometimes value means plain awful or unethically produced. There is no point saving money if you're trampling on your ethics or making food that's just not good. But often value food is just graded products. Mushrooms that are funny shapes and sizes, for example, are sold in nice big trays at tesco for a pittance. Sliced and diced these babies are just as lovely as their expensive brethren. Remember - never judge a book by it's cover.
  • Cook BIG - it's often cheaper to cook in bulk and then freeze. When it comes to things like chili and curries, this can actually help the flavour. This also gets you into a mind-set where you're not ever going to waste any food - you're making as much as possible and then dividing it out into portions rather than making a little too much, popping the left over in the fridge and never getting around to finishing it.
  • Be excited by food - it's easy to think that the only time that food is exciting is when visiting an expensive restaurant. Food is such a gift! There are so many exciting flavours. Those flavours can be combined. Textures then can be bought into the mix. And temperatures. And it's all in your power to explore it!

So lets get some examples of my own personal favourites;


Rye Bread Bacon sandwich with onions, tomatoes and gherkin

The rye bread is made of 100% rye flour in a Panasonic bread maker. Smoked bacon is fried in a pan with no oil at all. Half a small red onion is sliced very finely indeed and added to the pan. A small tomato is also sliced and added at the point the onion is almost cooked. The rye bread is toasted and spread with a little mustard (english or wholegrain...preference would by the english for this dish) and then a single small gherkin (crunchier the better) is sliced and added on top of the bacon and onion/tomato relish type mix.

REMEMBER - for a sandwich to be good there should be no possible way of eating it without making a complete mess. If you have clean fingers at the end you're not trying hard enough.


Smoked Salmon Omelette

Two eggs and two tablespoons of milk are whisked until frothy. Frothy eggs give a light omelette. In a small frying pan, fry off half a small red onion (the half you had left having done the sandwich the day before) with some oil from a jar of sun dried tomatoes. There are all manner of things you can add at this point. But I'd say the only essentials are a couple of sundried tomatoes chopped up and a mushroom sliced if you have it. Once they're cooked up, put in some tesco smoked salmon trimmings. Honestly, this is such a good idea - using up the scraps from the factory is doing everyone a favour, especially your wallet. Uncooked the trimmings can sometimes be not quite as enjoyable as the proper slices, but with this kind of thing they're perfect. Pour the eggs on top and jiggle everything about to get the eggs to the bottom of the pan. Add some cheese on top and wack under the grill. Serve with green salad.


Fried River Cobbler / Basa Fish

River Cobbler (also known as Basa Fish) is farmed mainly in Vietnam and looking at a photo might put you off trying it. I have a few problems with the food miles involved, but at the same time, the farming of this fish is giving villages an industry and I approve of that. I also approve of the fish which has a firm flesh which is very hard to ruin. I enjoy frying fish which I've cut down to small fish finger sized portions, marinated in the juice of a lemon with a generous teaspoon of cayenne pepper and then coated with some seasoned cornflour. Again, I make more than I could possibly use and then freeze what's left. It can then be popped under the grill. Trust me - a fish finger sandwich done with this is absolutely out of this world. And a note on fish finger sandwiches - they may be expensive, but if you want to treat yourself, buy some capers. Just six or seven in a fish finger sandwich add such a little lift.


Bon apetit!

*Not that I have an iPod. I have a Sony MP3 player which I bought partly because it was much better value.