A vegetable-based pondering

We know the deal with meat. Local is good, local and free-range is better, then local, free-range and organic is best. But what are the rules with vegetables?

Both of my local supermarkets supply an array of organic produce. The prices are higher than standard, naturally, but at least there is a choice of products. But what if these organic carrots have been flown in from thousands of miles away? Surely it is more environmentally sound to buy the carrots grown conventionally down the road?

And why should I give my money to the corporate supermarkets? My local greengrocers stocks both home grown and imported produce, none of which is organic. They are very reasonably priced and a family-run business, a rare sight on the modern high street. I have a sneaking suspicion that my greengrocer sells things that do not pass the supermarket standard test. The stickers on the grapefruit look strikingly similar to the ones in Sainsbury’s. If it’s true, I think it’s a marvellous idea, ensuring nothing is wasted.

It’s a minefield, the vegetable aisle. Either you purchase chemical-riddled veg, bred to perfection and cheap to buy. Or you get squeaky clean, odd-shaped veg, all the way from goodness knows where. Of course, the best solution is to grow your own, thus ensuring the best quality with no chemicals or air miles. Sadly, this is not a possible choice when you live in a third floor flat like I do. I know the next step would be an organic vegetable box delivery, but then Dan and the guys at Long’s would lose a customer. For now, I’m going to continue to support my local shop, getting the best value vegetables I can, alongside quality meat. Maybe I’ll give Abel and Cole a call in the future.

The vile truth

This is the book that changed how I view the meat industry in an instant. And I can pinpoint the exact sentence that changed my perception permanently. Page eighty-seven, the introduction to the poultry section. The line reads; “Chickens are bred to grow faster and faster, making them crippled under their own unnatural weights.”

Isn’t that grotesque? To take something as natural as the process of growing and forcing greater intensity to the point where the animal is in pain, mutated from its original form. Besides the holistic notion of the animal’s feelings, manipulating the genetics of a chicken for our own satisfaction is an abuse of science and cruel. We’ve forgotten that we’re dealing with life and death, our new boundaries are yield and profit.

A comment on the blog recently suggested a vegan lifestyle and I can certainly see its merits. Just a few would be the reduced impact on the environment, cheaper and no grossly engorged chickens for dinner. But I am of the belief that we as humans are designed to eat meat. Whether or not you agree with me is a debate for another day. One thing I think we can all agree on is the meat industry needs to be accountable and respectable when dealing with livestock.

As I mention constantly, I don’t have a lot of money. But to eat cheap meat now, after lifting the lid on Pandora’s box, it would simply taste like sawdust. My own actions will contribute to the conquest of the meat industry, to turn the entire operation on its head.

Eating less meat. The most obvious solution had to go first. By cutting back on my meat intake, I won’t be lining the pockets of the dirty scoundrels. Then, when I do purchase meat, it will increase the profits of farmers and companies that actually care about the produce they create.

Quality over quantity. I shall buy free-range at MINIMUM, stretching to organic when my budget allows. I hope to attend a farmer’s market more regularly, but I do have to take a train to Winchester now, instead of just walking there. It’s an additional cost, but might be worth it for excellent quality meat.

Making the most of the meat I buy. Rachel de Thample’s book has so many great recipes. I borrowed my copy from the library, but I’m hoping to purchase one soon. Confession – I’ve never made roast chicken before but I’ve been inspired to do so after seeing what can be created with the leftovers. One whole chicken, one death, instead of multiple to just get the breast meat or legs. Where do all the carcasses go? Oh gosh, that’s another horrible thought, piles of dead chickens, still with meat on the bones because those bits don’t come as part of the 3 for £10 deal at the supermarket.

            My aim is not to upset anyone by using this imagery, but I do hope it makes you think. I can’t stop the fat cats on my own, but with the rise of local, sustainable, free-range foodstuffs becoming more available, we will soon all be heading in the right direction. That’s a road I wish to travel.

Autumnal eating

My apologies. My commitment to daily postings was hindered by working hours and the fact my local library is closed on a Thursday. That’s the downside to free internet, you are at the mercy of those who provide it for you.

The challenge officially ended on Wednesday, with me withdrawing extra money in order to visit the greengrocers. The lack of fresh produce was too daunting to bear. However, I am still on strict economising lines as I still have a week to go until pay day. The freezer and cupboards are still my primary sources of meals/ingredients. Nothing is wasted.

IMG_0648

For example, I had a big Bramley apple that had been sitting pretty for at least a week. I also had a couple of Pink Ladies that were slowly but surely turning an unappetising shade of brown. But luckily, this was only on their skin. Both types of apples were peeled, diced and thrown in a pot with some brown sugar, mixed spice and a little water. The rescue mission was a success.

IMG_0650

There is only one sensible thing to do with stewed apple in November, and that is to make a crumble. I made the crumble mixture in the morning, put it into a jar, put said jar into the fridge and went off to work. There was a big part of me that felt hugely smug to come home to an apple crumble in the making. All I had to do was sprinkle the crumble mix on top and pop it in the oven. Considering I had already prepped my veg and was having leftover savoury mince from the freezer for dinner, it was a speedy meal. Truly, it’s easy once you know how and can spare a few minutes in the morning to get things ready. All I had to do when I came home from my shift was to turn the oven on. And make packet custard of course. Crumble without custard is treason, I’m sure.

PS Another meal out of leftovers; old bread, a cold sausage, rocket, carrot curls, cucumber with the seeds scooped out, all drizzled with mustard and garlic oil dressing. A perfect lunchbox.

IMG_0651

Lean Cuisine

I do so love the library. Not only does it provide free internet access for up to two hours a day, it’s also full of books! I’m slowly but steadily working my way through the cookery section, having previously devoured the entire WW2 section. It’s a brilliant way to sample cookery books that I may have been tempted to purchase, but am now relieved I didn’t.

IMG_0642

If I was browsing on Amazon, this delightful book may have fallen into my virtual trolley. After reading it, I’m very glad to have saved the money. Naturally, it was the title that drew me in, focusing on two of my favourite things: Economy Gastronomy. Co-written by Allegra McEvedy and Paul Merrett, it was a dream to read – very witty and humorous, with helpful advice to boot. But the recipes somehow felt out of reach. The idea of cooking once and making the most of the leftovers was solid, but undeniably geared for families. Little old me would be eating lamb for a month if I bought a whole leg! Some of the ingredients listed went straight over my head, but the photography was stunning. All in all, I think you could tell it was written by chefs, a bit out of my league.

But the book inspired me to get in the kitchen and make sure nothing went to waste. The facts contained in the book were shocking, talking about how nonchalant our culture is about throwing away food. I set out to rescue my on-the-turn vegetables into a simple curry.

IMG_0638

The cauliflower and potatoes were set on to steam. I mixed a third of the potatoes with the last bit of light mayo, cress and chopped basil to make a cold potato salad for me to take in my lunch box to work.

IMG_0640

I gently sautéed an organic onion and the remaining half of a green bell pepper in some garlic oil. I folded through the potatoes and cauliflower and went crazy with the spice tin – coriander, cumin, chilli, organic curry powder, salt and pepper all went in the pot. I used the stock created from steaming the veg and brought it up to the boil. Then I added a decent amount of red lentil, put on the lid, turned the heat down and let it simmer for half an hour.

IMG_0643

Basically, I create six meals for the week ahead out of practically nothing. It’s my kind of lean cuisine, lean in terms of monetary costs to make. It was economical on fuel too, and meant that nothing went in the bin, aside from a few dodgy peelings. Thank you McAvedy and Merrett; that is a lesson truly learnt.

PS Tuesday was a no spend day – hurrah!

Frugal Fridays #21

Out of all possible meal scenarios of one day (elevenses, brunch, supper and midnight snack included), afternoon tea is my favourite. Not only is it an opportunity for cake-based delights and gallons of tea, it’s a chance to use all the delicate and beautiful china I’ve been hoarding collecting. It’s actually quite a thrifty meal, especially if you adhere to the following tips.

IMG_0626

Make your own sandwiches with whatever is in the fridge. Shop-bought sandwiches are never up to scratch. Plus, it seems counter-productive to specifically buy ingredients when you already have a selection in the house. The magic comes with how you cut them. I did fingers of cheese and pickle, triangles of raspberry jam and trimmed my cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches with a cutter. The two different breads I used were bought from the reduced section, not that my guest needs to know that!

IMG_0625

Make your own biscuits. Yes, my home made gingerbread does look quite rustic, but I was complimented on the flavour. I know scones are more traditional, but you can knock up biscuits with minimal ingredients, thus decreasing the cost. I also quite like the different texture biscuits bring to the table.

IMG_0624

If you do buy your cakes, try to get ones on offer. I ran out of time to bake my own, and I’m not entirely confident with gluten-free cake anyway. Luckily, these finger cakes were two packs for £3. Standard cakes are much cheap, and once you add a little garnish (like my raspberries), who would know the difference?!

IMG_0627

Afternoon tea is an indulgence, gosh yes, and by no means a necessity. But it is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon in the company of a good friend.

The cupboard of dreams

Since moving into my own home and having increased access to more storage space, I have come to highly appreciate the usefulness of a well-equipped store cupboard. Very little actual money has been spent this week. Any new products I have acquired have been from various points and vouchers. The majority of my meals are being concocted from what I’ve already got.

For example, breakfasts have consisted of reduced GF bagels lurking in the freezer, or berry porridge made with milk bought on points.

IMG_0568

Lunches have been made up of the range of loaves and rolls I’ve frozen earlier in the month. Add a bit of cheese and salad, a piece of fruit and a lunchbox has been made. For my sister’s visit, I only had to purchase an aubergine and a courgette to make this delicious ratatouille dish for us to share. The addition of the GF cous cous was perfection.

IMG_0598

When the days before payday are creeping by, I’ve learnt it’s important to focus on what you do have, rather than what you don’t have. I have no more peppers in stock, or tins of kidney beans. But I’ve still managed to make a hearty chilli, using bargain mince from a recent shopping trip, no peppers but a fat onion and no kidney beans, but a couple of tablespoons of red lentils. Thanks to the slow cooker, this humble meal should taste exceptional by this evening.

IMG_0601

IMG_0602

Necessity is the mother of invention. When my purse is fuller once more, I shall have to replenish my beloved store cupboard, so that next month, I’ll still be eating well right up to the end of the month.

All the leaves are brown

All of a sudden, it seems to be, it has gone dark and cold and wet. I’ve braved the elements too many times this week that I dare not count. I don’t think I’ve been properly dry since last Monday. But the one good things that raises out of the foul weather is the accompanying food.

Salads and strawberries are all very well when the sun is shining. But there is something intrinsically more enjoyable about the warming dishes that come along with the cooler months. Take soup for example. So simple, so cheap, so delicious.

IMG_0555

IMG_0556

The vegetables were chopped and boiled with the homemade stock I was saving. Then I added a little spice and seasoning, although, in honesty, it could have done with a bit more. Practice makes perfect and I will know for next time. The whole dish was blitzed and a silky, thick soup was created. It was filling and nutritious, what more could one ask for when the rain is pouring.

I have my eye on making a hearty beef stew next. But first, graduation.

Food parcel

It’s easy to see where I get my thrifty habits from. My mum is an artist when it comes to budgets, coupons, saving for special occasions and the like. She passed on the baton of bargain hunting on to me and my sister and we have both benefited from this knowledge through the years. She was a wealth of advice when I first went to University and was in control of my own expenditure for the first time. We shared a lovely day together yesterday, and she brought supplies.

IMG_0444

Gluten free products are expensive, so when Mum spotted this little lot reduced at her local Waitrose in Wells, she snapped it up! Many of the boxes of biscuits cost five times the price of what she paid. Best of all, they’re all still in date, with most of the products having a “best before” (whatever that means) of 2015. Whilst in Southampton, we bought things for lunch and she left a bag of salad and a few slices of good deli ham for me to enjoy at a later date.

IMG_0446

It just shows that you don’t have to spend a fortune to show your children you care. I truly appreciate the thoughtfulness that connected the gluten free gifts to me. Thank you Mum!

 

In other news, a new rationing period begins on Monday. Through my calculations on my spreadsheet, I managed an average weekly spend of £19.54 for the five weeks in August. That is bang on for my target of £20 a week, although I did start to slip nearer the end when contraband foodstuffs were providing me with quick, cheap energy. But now the cupboards are well stocked, I should be able to keep this month’s grocery bill to a minimum. I’m sure there will be a post in the near future about the details of the rationing plan that I personally follow, just in case anyone was interested.

I hope you all have a joyous weekend.

Urban foraging

“Bye for now,” said a housemate recently. “See you soon.” No one knew how soon that would be, but the next thing he said was music to my ears.

“Help yourself to any thing I’ve left.”

His generosity, and that of other housemates who are indifferent to meal planning, resulted in my practically free lunch yesterday. Potatoes, a sweet potato, carrots and mushrooms were combined with my items from my own stores (leftover broccoli, a small piece of onion, gravy powder and a little cooking fat) to make a hearty bowl of goodness. This meal can’t have cost me more than 50p.

IMG_0439

I can’t abide waste, and the vegetables would have been left to go mouldy if I hadn’t used them accordingly. Waste averted and a lovely meal enjoyed.

IMG_0441

Pay day graciously arrives tomorrow and I am completely looking forward to it. I spent my last few pennies on a reduced loaf of bread this morning, but there is still pleasure to be found without costing a coin. I went for a wander this morning to pick up a stack of books from the library, including more WW2 material. I got stuck into these accompanied by a free Waitrose coffee, courtesy of my loyalty card.

IMG_0443

Simple pleasures don’t cost the earth, but I will feel more at ease when my bank balance looks healthier. Roll on Thursday!

Ready, steady, cook!

My work load has increased for this week, a fact that I am grateful for. More working hours means more money earned and that, my friends, can only be a good thing.

But I needed to be prepared for the chaotic nature of this week, so it was to the kitchen for most of the day yesterday. I needed to stock the goody tin and fill the freezer and spend some time preparing food. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels cooking is good for the soul. Let me share the things I made that are good for the stomach!

IMG_0424

Firstly, I had to decide what to do with all of the odds and ends I had left in the fridge; the last of a pack of chicken thighs, half a butternut squash and someone else’s mushrooms that needed eating up. Add an onion, an apple and a fair amount of seasoning, and I had this delicious concoction bubbling in the slow cooker.

IMG_0425

I can’t actually share if the recipe was successful or not, as I’m eating the first portion tonight with piles of mashed potato. It certainly smelt appetizing last night.

Onto the baking section of today’s programme. From recent reading and research into rationing, I discovered oatmeal wasn’t rationed and the prices were controlled to make it a readily available product. So I spent 95p on a bag and got baking. I used 100g of oatmeal to 150g of porridge oats to make this batch of honey flapjacks, and they were very successful. They seemed to hold together much better than my first attempt. A winning recipe.

IMG_0426

I also had my first attempt at Scotch Shortbread, an “economical” recipe from a Marguerite Pattern book. Success! My previous exploration into g-f shortbread had been a miserable affair, but this was a delight. It only made a small quantity, but there would be no harm in doubling up if the fats ration allowed.

IMG_0428

During my shopping expedition yesterday morning, I of course spent a long time in the greengrocers. My best buy was three aubergine for 50p, all because of a couple of bruised bits. I soon chopped those off and set to work on a curry.

IMG_0427

Veggie curry doesn’t really create images of 1940s Britain, but I still had curry paste leftover from pre-rations so I made a big batch yesterday. In the mix is aubergine, onion, tomatoes, red pepper and red lentils. Even thought the jar of paste is gone, I still have plenty of spices in stock, so there will certainly be more curries in my kitchen.

IMG_0429

For dinner, I had the final chicken thigh with roasted butternut squash and sweet potato. I have no picture to share, because after an afternoon surrounded by food, I was ravenous!