After Monday’s post I had a Facebook exchange with a friend about how to eat better for less. I mentioned to him that I’d been spending about £15 per week on food, even though I’m staying in, and therefore cooking more than ever. Granted I’m not eating much meat, nor drinking wine at home, which is unusual, and as I pointed out in January I am relying on this store cupboard. But, even so, my store cupboard is not exactly extensive, not compared to many people’s kitchens, which suggests that everyone should be able to reduce their bills and still eat well. Four things have helped me:
1) I start with what I have. So once I know that I have onions, cheese or bacon I then work out what to do with them, with as little additional shopping as possible.
2) I find recipes that match the contents of my fridge/cupboard rather than starting with the recipe and then buying ingredients. That way I use up what’s already in the kitchen, rather than adding to it then wasting what doesn’t get used in time.
3) I don’t eat anything processed, nothing. So no pizzas, pasta, biscuits or cereal. Everything that has come into my house in the last six weeks, bar the necessary bag of Haribo and a bar of chocolate, has been raw. Okay, a packet of sausages might count as non-raw but, hey, bet none of you have ever made your own…
4) I bake my own bread, cake and biscuits so I can still have treats but they don’t cost as much.
I realise that not everyone can, or wants to bake, and I’m not suggesting you should but I think the other points are probably the most important. The closer I get to a short list of ingredients, simple recipes based on what’s bought, not what needs buying, and raw ingredients, the less I seem to waste and the less I spend.
Here’s what I’ve bought/spent this week:
Supermarket: crème fraîche, milk, savoy cabbage, bacon, cheese, packet of sausages, orange juice = £12.22;
Greengrocer’s: bunch celery, red onion x 1, carrot x 1, bunch flat-leaf parsley, clementines x 5, garlic x 5 = £3.40.
The only recipe I had in my head when I bought this lot was Bill Granger’s sausage ragu. Then I realised that I could probably spin another three or four recipes out of the remains, once combined with the ingredients I already had. So that’s what I’m going to try and do this week. I’ve already planned what to cook: there will be risotto, soup, a tart and possibly a soufflé, plus two or three sides. That’s only five dishes, with the ragu, I know but a) that’s four more than I used to manage out of such a short shopping list and b) I don’t cook every night so it is representative of a normal week. As I said on Monday I’m finding this SO much more creative than my usual shop then cook approach; I hope it gives you some ideas too.
So, enough guff from me. This ragu is very simple and tasty and, although I made it with mash, and Granger recommends it with polenta you can just eat it in a bowl, with some bread or you could reduce it till it’s extra-thick and serve it over pasta. Try to remember the chilli; the kick really made it for me. But you can forget the parsley if you haven’t got it; I did first time round and I didn’t miss it. And the mash, well this is the mash that an Irish friend told me was the best he’d ever tasted. Praise indeed. I recommend it to you for this but also to go with the other half a packet of sausages with some onion gravy.
For the sausage ragu (for two)
olive or sunflower oil, 1 tablespoon
300g good sausages (about 4)
1 dried chilli
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
150ml red wine
400g tin chopped tomatoes
a handful of fresh parsley
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Peel and/or top and tail the onion, carrot and celery. Chop all three into small pieces.
2. Heat half the oil (so a dessertspoonful) in a deep sauté pan or large frying pan, add the chopped vegetables and cook over a medium heat until soft and just coloured. Remove from the pan and keep to one side.
3. Whilst the vegetables are cooking, remove the skins from the sausages (I find a neat snip with some kitchen scissors the most effective method for doing this) and chop the meat into chunks.
4. Heat the rest of the oil in the same pan and fry the sausage meat until golden.
5. Whilst the sausages are cooking, peel and chop the garlic, chop or crumble the dried chilli, and, if you can be bothered, pull the leaves off the thyme sprigs.
6. Once the sausages are coloured, return the vegetables to the pan, along with the garlic, chilli, thyme, bay leaves, wine and tinned tomatoes. Stir to mix well, bring to a simmer then lower the heat and leave to cook for about 25-30 minutes until the sauce has thickened.
7. Finally, wash and chop the parsley and sprinkle over the top of the ragu, season and serve.
This is lovely reheated the next day too.
For the mash (again, for two)
½ red onion
olive oil, about a tablespoon
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
4 medium potatoes (you alone know how much mash you can eat. Personally, I find 2 medium potatoes per person about right)
milk or cream, or a mixture about 50 ml
1. Peel, top and tail and chop the onion.
2. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat then add the onion and some salt and pepper. Stir well then turn the heat down and cook slowly, for about 20 minutes, until the onions are soft and golden.
3. After the onions have been cooking about 15 minutes, take the thyme leaves off the stalk (fingers are best for this) then, once the onions are cooked, add the thyme and stir in.
4. Meanwhile, peel and chop the potatoes into small pieces (they cook tons quicker) then cook in boiling salted water until tender (a fork should go into the middle sans resistance). Drain, return to the pan for a quick second or two over the heat to steam dry then tip out and keep on one side. Put the butter and milk/cream into the potato pan and warm gently, then add the potatoes, plenty of salt and pepper and mash them to a nice smooth purée.
5. Finally stir in the onions and thyme, check the seasoning and serve with the ragu over the top.