Wednesday 18 March 2009

Credit Crunch Cooking... actually a misnomer, I think. Perhaps it's my scottish blood, but I've always believed that a significant element of being able to cook is about efficient husbanding of resources, and about producing optimal results from the limited raw materials available. Getting the most bang for your buck. It always sounds more elegant in the original french, but when all's said and done, any recipe which includes 'bon marché' in its name means nothing more nor less than 'cheap'....well, ok, 'good value' And I'm all for it. The current economic climate is more likely to encourage a general focus on good food for less money, I suppose - but I confess I've pretty much always been there, anyway.

Some guidelines for stretching the pennies, but without having to compromise on what you put on the table:

1. Shop opportunistically. If you see that something is reduced-to-clear, but still within its sell-by date, or there's a 'special' on offer, then adjust your menu plans to acommodate it, or buy it for the freezer (or even, buy more than you need right now, and freeze the surplus for future use). Equally, if travelling and there are things available which would be more expensive at home, then stock up while you can. It's on this basis that I have a freezer currently stuffed with Salmon Fillets and Duck Legs (all the result of reduced-to-clear labels) as well as Snails, and Frog Legs (from the supermarket in Tournus, where we stopped whilst driving the four-footeds back from Italy in January) and ready supplies in the cupboard of '00' flour and Carnaroli Rice, from the shop round the corner in Pisa. This approach was also the reason why we had boned Poussin for dinner, last night....reduced to £2.09 for the entire bird, it was a bargain!

2. Don't waste money on processed or ready-made products, when you can make them for yourself for significantly less cost (and probably get a better result, as well). Pastry (of any kind), pasta, stock, cakes, biscuits, sauces...the premium charged on most of these things is horrendous as well as generally needless. If you master the techniques involved in doing it yourself - along with things like boning poultry, which is another clear opportunity for significant economy - then you'll become a much better cook, as well as saving money along the way.

3. Plan ahead, so your meals over several days allow you to save time and money in aggregate: leftover cold roast chicken can be used subsequently in salad or a pie; one batch of pastry can go into three different courses over three or four days; chicken bones make stock on one day, for use in a risotto on the next; leftover sauce from a daube can later form the basis for a pasta sauce; egg whites left over from making a custard can be used for almond biscuits...
Whatever you do, NEVER throw any food or unused ingredients away! It's the cardinal sin, and basically means you screwed up on your planning if you have to. Why not just tear up banknotes instead?

And the pictures accompanying this post? Well, they were last night's dinner: Snails (delicious!), followed by boned Poussin and Carrots, with lattice-topped Rhubarb pie to finish. And the whole thing, for two people, came to under a fiver...with enough Poussin left over for a starter tomorrow, and half of the Rhubarb pie, which was polished off with coffee this morning.

Tonight's Dinner:

Tiger Prawns with Mango.

Braised Oxtail, with Cabbage & Juniper.

Lemon Tart.