Friday, 3 October 2008

Great Taste on a Budget the 21st Century Housewife's Way

I’m not terribly good at economising. My family and I travel a lot, we love to eat in nice restaurants, and if you are a regular reader of my blog on you’ll know I have a taste for designer handbags and shoes that is anything but frugal. However, we all need to tighten our belts these days, and happily I have found that by saving on things you don’t notice there is a lot more money to spend on things that you do. In short, if I can save money in the kitchen, I’ll have more money to spend outside of it. But as someone who loves good food and good eating, I don’t want to compromise on taste or quality. Thankfully the word “compromise” has never been used in my kitchen and I have no intention of starting to use it now.

Most supermarkets today have a dazzling array of ready prepared sauces, dressings and spice mixes to tempt you when you go shopping. These are often on special offer – buy one get one free or something like that – but of course it’s never really free and the price has probably already been inflated to cover the supermarket’s costs. Despite this, up until recently I used to find my shopping trolley full of these supposed time savers and my grocery budget going through the roof. To be fair, these ready prepared items can be very helpful. The trouble is, as we’ve already established, they are expensive and furthermore, they don’t go very far.

Having said that, it can be very costly to buy the ingredients to make sauces, particularly if you are cooking more exotic recipes. But with a bit of experimentation I’ve managed to develop ideas that will help you get round this and also avoid buying a lot of expensive bottles and jars that you do not really need. I must say, the freshly made versions of these usually taste a lot better than their bottled counterparts anyway.

I make a wonderful sauce for stir fries from 3 tablespoons of sweet chilli or plum sauce and 3 tablespoons of soy sauce. Just mix them together, stir in at the end of cooking and allow to heat through. A jar of sweet chilli or plum sauce and a bottle of soy sauce will make enough for about four stir fries, unlike one jar of stir fry sauce which makes enough for only one.

Instead of buying expensive ready prepared chicken marinades, just mix together 2 tablespoons olive oil, the juice of half a lemon, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, 1 chopped clove of garlic, and salt and pepper to taste in a large zip lock bag. Put the chicken in the bag with the marinade ingredients and place in the fridge for at least thirty minutes. (You can make this marinade in the morning and marinate the chicken all day in the fridge if you like.) You can then bake, broil, fry or even barbeque the chicken. This marinade works particularly well for chicken breasts, keeping them moist and delicious.

If you fancy fried chicken, leave the shake in bag mixes on the shelf, and instead dip your chicken in a beaten egg and bread it with matzo meal or bread crumbs seasoned with salt and pepper or a crumbled stock cube. You can then either shallow fry or bake the chicken. This breading works equally well for turkey or pork escalopes, although these are better shallow fried rather than baked.

And then there is salad dressing. Forego the attractive bottles lining the grocery shelves and try this. It’s a basic template recipe for dressing green salads. Mix together 2 tablespoons oil, 2 tablespoons vinegar, 1 teaspoon white sugar, and 1 generous teaspoon Dijon mustard. Shake together and serve over salad greens. Possible oil and vinegar combinations include olive oil with white wine or balsamic vinegar, or walnut oil with cider vinegar or Canola oil with red wine vinegar. Just add the mustard and sugar to the oil and vinegar combination of your choice and you are set to go. When I make the walnut oil and cider vinegar combination I like to scatter some chopped apple and walnuts over the salad. It’s delicious and real nod to Autumn’s bounty.

And finally, I do shake my head when folks say that stock cubes are not a good idea. Seriously, who has time to make homemade stock? Plus, they are great for seasoning your recipes, particularly if the cost of buying individual spices is prohibitive. This is a great tip for students or those just starting out. Try crumbling a beef stock cube over your mince beef while you are browning it for chilli, spaghetti with meat sauce or shepherd’s pie, or crumble a vegetable stock cube into your risotto recipes. The possibilities are endless. Of course, you won’t need to add salt if you are using stock cubes as they tend to be high in salt so go carefully, particularly if you are watching your sodium intake.

You don’t have to compromise on taste or convenience to save money in the kitchen in these difficult economic times. All of these ideas include basic ingredients that are easy to obtain and don’t cost the earth. If you try them, you will find that you can save your pennies for the more important things in life whilst still enjoying the very best of good taste from your kitchen.

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