Thursday, 23 October 2008

Frugality vs. cheapness

Getting ready to head to the borders tomorrow, to the Herefordshire Food Festival (and possibly the Cowbridge one as well). So I thought I had better make some room in the freezer. Dug out a pack of mince I'd added chopped onion to before freezing, some sweetcorn and green beans and the remains of a butternut squash that had served as a doorstop for a couple of weeks. Added seasoning and spices, including a more generous than usual dash of chilli and set it on a low heat. Once this was cooking away I chucked in a can of own brand baked beans and some tomato puree. Once ready garnish with grated cheese (what else?)

A decent chilli in next to no time and fairly low cost. Could have stretched it with rice, but the point was to use up some stray bits and bobs.

Last week I spotted a chunk of perfectly good Stilton cheese in the reduced aisle. Like Brie, when Stilton is reaching its Use By date in the eyes of the supermarket, it is in fact just coming into its prime. That small block of cheese turned into three good dishes - Stilton & walnut pasta, Stilton and bacon risotto and a Stilton and bacon toasted sarnie on black rye bread. There was enough of the pasta and risotto to do lunch the next day. Five meals from one wedge of cheese. Not bad at all.

The point is, being frugal does not mean always buying the cheapest option. I remember years ago, when I was jobless and living alone, I could do a weekly shop for a tenner. My cupboards were mostly full of lentils, pot barley, pasta, rice and tinned tomatoes, but some things I would never downgrade on, then or now. And of course these days I'm able to grow a good proportion of the fruit and veg ration.

A good quality artisan loaf of bread will taste better, be more satisfying and probably more nutritious than the average commercial loaf. If you've never tried any, have a slice of sourdough bread spread with a little butter. After that, the standard Chorleywood method shop bought loaf with have the taste and texture of a washing up sponge.

And while we're on it - butter is a far better option than margarine. Ignore the saturated fats argument - how much can you really get through in a day? Even without going into the industrial process required, the ingredient list on a tub of margarine should alarm you.

Eggs have to be free range - just use wisely.

If you eat meat, supermarkets are not the best place to shop. All you get is the most profitable cuts, pre-packed and flabby. I'm lucky enough to have a good butcher nearby, and I'm able to get the cheaper cuts over the counter, in whatever size portion I need. They are often able to tell me the farm, and sometimes even the field the animal came from. Many of the cheapest cuts of meat are at their best cooked slowly, with loads of vegetables - ideal for Winter.

Above all, never scrimp on cheese. A small amount of well flavoured top quality cheese will go much further than a cheap slab of non-tasty mild "cheddar".

Damn sight more fun than chicken nuggets and oven chips.

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