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CASA’s Maria Broadbent serves up some culinary cost-cutting tips



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Given the global situation based on what’s happening in Ukraine, it was quite hard deciding what to put in my column this month.

At a more local and national level the most immediate concerns are around the cost of living and fuel prices.

Many of us will be needing to look even more carefully at not wasting money. Whether that is as a domestic household or as a business, the cost of gas, transport and the price of food is very concerning.

Shopping basket with fresh food. (55341499)
Shopping basket with fresh food. (55341499)

So let’s start with some simple but cumulative cost saving tips, many of which will resonate with older generations.

Cost saving tips:

1. Cooking the same meal at the same time for the whole household.

2. Don’t plate food up, let family/friends help themselves from the pan! This way leftovers are ‘fresh’ and can be popped into the fridge and used tomorrow.

3. Don’t waste food – rummage in the fridge and freezer to use up ‘stuff’ before it goes off. There are lots of apps that will suggest recipes if you are nervous about experimenting.

4. Shop smart – use seasonal, UK produced food.

5. Start or expand growing your own vegetables.

6. Simple things like putting a lid on a pan reduces energy consumption,

7. Buy less processed food as this will involve less packaging (most plastic packaging relies on the petroleum chemical industry).

8. Plan your meals (you will spend less if you plan effectively).

9. Make your own and children’s packed lunches – healthier and tastier.

10. Substitute meat with pulses at least some of the time.

11. Don’t shop when you’re hungry!

12. Use cheaper cuts of meat and use everything.

Simple tomato sauce (55341777)
Simple tomato sauce (55341777)

A family affair

When I was growing up the preparation around a meal involved the whole family. Whether that was washing and preparing vegetables, setting the table or being allowed to stir the pot. It is well documented currently that all of us, but particularly children, have way too much screen time. So by involving others in the household in the preparation of a meal it makes it a less cumbersome task for the Chief Cook and Bottle Washer, but equally importantly it shares a skill set.

It is a worrying fact that fewer and fewer people know how to do the basics in the kitchen. There was much talk during the lockdowns of how much more people were cooking. However, the word should have been baking rather than cooking! The actual number of people who were learning to cook from scratch did not increase significantly. Engaging with baking is a good first step, but it is important that all of us know how to cook the basics.

The chicken, the whole chicken and nothing but the chicken

Apologies to the vegetarians out there for the upcoming example. . . but it is just that, an example.

I continue to strongly believe that these things should be taught in a school. However, it hasn’t been for a while and I’m not sure it’s coming in any time soon. So in every article I write in 2022 there will be a section like this with the logic on how not to waste food by planning carefully.

The first thing when buying the chicken is to buy a larger chicken as the meat to bone ratio is better the larger the bird you buy.

Once you have the chicken home, the first thing to do is to decide whether you are going to cook it whole and then divide it after it’s cooked or you’re going to joint it and use it in separate dishes. For a relatively novice cook, I would go for option one and cook it whole – the other alternative to this is to buy it from a butcher and ask them to joint it for you.

Cooking a whole chicken means having the oven on and only one shelf utilised. So use the other shelf to cook some roasted veg, gratin potatoes or a pasta bake that could be portioned and frozen.

If your family are ‘breast only’ then use the breast meat for a chicken dinner, Coronation salad or sliced for sandwiches. Then use the other meat for any of the following:

Chicken curry

Quesadillas

Coronation chicken

Chicken soup

Chicken salad

Stroganoff

Pad Thai

Chicken noodles

Chicken and bacon pasta

Chicken and leek/mushroom pie

Many meals require less meat than you think.

The bones that are then left after you’ve picked all the meat off can be boiled up to make chicken stock. Lots of goodness and bucket loads of flavour. Use it to make a hearty homemade soup. My mum used to have a soup pot on the go all week and would boil it up daily for about 10 minutes – adding any leftover veg from the previous night's dinner. It was always delicious and if you have hungry mouths this with some bread will make your main meal go further.

Go to work on an egg

. . . as they used to say on the adverts back in the late 70s!

Egg tip

Boiled egg for breakfast? Leave a few more in the pan to continue boiling for hard boiled eggs. Make into egg mayonnaise for sandwiches or make eggs mornay by making a simple white sauce and adding cheese. This was the dish I had to cook in my cookery lessons at school aged 12!

Go to work on an egg. . . (55341824)
Go to work on an egg. . . (55341824)

You hard boil the eggs, make a classic white (bechamel) sauce, add a cheese of your choice – better still a combination of leftovers! Peel and halve the eggs and put them on an oven proof (gratin) dish. Pour over the sauce and cook in the oven at 180 for around 20 minutes until warmed through. This does not need to be piping hot.

The versatility of yoghurt

Yoghurt tips and ideas:

Buy big pots of natural yoghurt rather than small individual pots which are less environmentally friendly and less versatile. You can then add:

Fruit

Jam

Honey and toasted almonds or granola

Mint sauce for raita

Cucumber and dill for tzatziki

Spices for marinades

Pasta tip

When cooking pasta, cook extra and always cook for 2 minutes less. Plunge into cold water to stop it overcooking. This will keep in the fridge for four days. When making pasta sauce, add the pasta to heat through and finish cooking. Saves time on a busy day and you only use the hob once, plus it takes on the flavour of the sauce. Make more tomato based pasta than you need for a simple packed lunch with some grated cheese. (See Simple Tomato Sauce recipe below.)

SIMPLE TOMATO SAUCE

Ingredients:

2 tins chopped tomatoes

1 onion

2 garlic cloves

Salt and pepper

Pinch dried herbs (eg rosemary, herbs de Provence or oregano)

Pinch sugar

A little oil of your choice

Method:

Chop the onion and fry gently on the oil until soft. Add everything else and simmer for about 20 mins. You can serve it chunky or blitz it with a stick blender or liquidiser.

Maria Broadbent is owner of Mediterranean restaurant CASA in Risbygate Street, Bury St Edmunds

Call 01284 701313

Visit www.casabse.co.uk