Saturday, 1 January 2011

What I made with my bargain buys

First of all a very happy new year to you all. I hope you had a good Christmas and have managed to wade through the leftovers!

You might indeed wonder what I got round to making with my bargain buys - or even if I ended up chucking them away (no, I didn't!)

The turkey was roasted and kept us in cold turkey and fry-ups with madeira-spiked gravy (our youngest son's favourite way of eating it, devised by his dad) for days. (I should say our youngest is 25.)

I made a turkey and leek pie filling with the last of the white meat which is sitting in the freezer. I prefer to make it as a filling so we can have it how we choose - with a pastry lid, with rice, with potatoes or even as a pancake filling though that seems like a bit too much hard work right now after Christmas. And there are two big tubs of turkey stock in the fridge for a reviving bowl of noodles or broth.

But the £4.94 leg of lamb was the big triumph. I made a Lebanese recipe called Ouzi from Claudia Roden's Arabesque which involved rubbing the lamb with spices (cinnamon, allspice, cumin and cardamom), roasting it for 20 minutes then adding half a head of garlic, an onion and a litre of water to the pan and cooking it very slowly for 3 hours. Result, amazingly tender, delicately spiced meat with a delicious fall-apart texture.

It was served, as recommended with a dish of mince, rice and nuts using many of the same spices plus some nutmeg. The only downside was that it was all rather brown so I cooked some multi-coloured carrots I'd bought from the local greengrocer with a little ground coriander, folded in some chopped parsley and piled them up on the platter too (as seen in the quickly snatched and rather blurry shot above).

It's one of those dishes that can be cheap or expensive depending on what you have in the storecupboard. I didn't have to buy any extra spices and had the recommended pinenuts so the only extra expense was some pistachios which were ironically about half the price of the lamb.

As I've said before it is easy to feel you must go out and buy the ingredients recommended in a recipe but you have to think about why an ingredient is there - for texture or flavour. Nuts and spices would obviously be fairly cheap in the Lebanon but they're not here. If pinenuts, say, are too pricey you could use cashews. If you can't get whole almonds at a reasonable price you could use flaked ones. And I'm not sure that you really need the mince. But I am a believer in having a wide range of spices you can use to jazz up inexpensive ingredients (best bought from a specialist shop rather than a supermarket).

I reckon you could also make the dish with shoulder of lamb which would normally be cheaper than a leg.

Anyway my new year's resolution - or one of them - is to try and go through some of the food in my freezer and storecupboard this month rather than keep buying new stuff. What's yours?


Jean said...

Happy New Year to you! That lamb dish looks amazing - I love lamb, it's my favourite meat. Do you think it could work with a different cut of lamb, as my budget won't stretch to a leg?

Robert Giorgione said...

Lovely article Fiona and Happy New Year to you too! Personally, for this recipe, I would use shoulder, as I believe this cut is not only cheaper, but also very suitable for slow-cooking with flavoursome aromatic spices. A good tip for cooking leg is to add some finely-chopped anchovies, which just melt into the meat and season it during cooking. Tastes yummy!

Adrian Bell said...

You don't say how you came by your cheap leg of lamb. If it was reduced, fair enough - but at that price, whoever produced that lamb won't have covered their costs.

Fiona Beckett said...

You'll spot I suggest shoulder towards the end of the post notSupermum (still a bit woozy after NYE?!)

Great idea about anchovies Robert. I love anchovies and lamb.

And the lamb was on offer from the Co-op Adrian, and then further reduced because it had reached its sell-by date though you raise an important issue which is should we be buying cheap meat at all? I know a lot of people who read this blog want to so I do write about the bargains I find - from supermarkets and from butchers - and pass on what I do with them.

mr stevethemeat said...

Been in the meat trade for many years. i wouldnt worry too much about the cheap legs of lamb guys. im pretty sure the farmer would have got the price he wanted for the whole lamb.and it would be the supermarket that would lose the profit.although they really only have to put 1 penny on a tin of beans to counteract the losses.
ive seen legs of lamb going for £4 per put that into some kind of perspective a case of legs of lamb(8 legs in number) purchased from a wholesaler.recently cost £5.98 per kilo.OUCH! its no wonder our independent traders are vanishing!

Claire said...

Re Adrian Bell's comment:
Is it my responsibility, as a consumer, to ensure producers make a living?
If I see an offer or a promotion, should I refuse to buy because the producer may have been commercially coerced?
Speaking as a penny-watching buyer, I cannot always afford to buy meat at full price.
I set my own "moral boundaries" (no caged eggs, no generic cheese, no poultry products from a recently-deceased poultry tycoon...), but in all honesty, the producers' costs do not figure in the equation. I cannot justify buying lamb (and other meats) at the prices shown before a sell-by-date reduction or a promotion and I do without.

If the the producers' costs were to make an apparition in my list of "moral boundaries", I would expect the same producers to take my own purchasing powers into account.

This could be an interesting discussion...

S said...

happy new year, Fiona. i love Claudia's book - this leg of lamb must have been scrummy. x shayma

Fiona Beckett said...

I'm sure it's pretty standard stevethemeat but yes, it explains exactly why so many butchers are going out of business.

You make my point exactly Claire. There are a lot of people (including me) who simply can't afford to buy the more expensive cuts unless they're reduced. So you either look out for special offers or buy the cheaper cuts and the latter isn't a viable option for people who can't or haven't got time to cook.

I used to have a very good butcher down the road who was brilliant at putting out bargains but a lot of places now simply sell the expensive cuts. Ideally you should the kind of relationship with your butcher where he knows what you're looking for and what you like but that sort of butcher is rare these days.

And if you're making the recipe Shayma I'd up the quantity of spices by about half in order to cover the lamb thoroughly.)

Jean said...

Ah yes, i see it now....

It's no coincidence then that I've decided to have an alcohol free January!

Fiona Beckett said...

Actually you should take a look at my article in the Guardian this week notSupermum

Adrian Bell said...

Claire - your moral boundaries on other fronts are admirable, but why shouldn't you also embrace fair prices for producers as another tenet? You're already making decisions about buying eggs which have been farmed more sustainably and in a more welfare-friendly manner - don't you think a producer who takes trouble to ensure his lambs are well-produced is also entitled to a fair price?

I have no objection to buying good products when they are already reduced; as Steve said, it's more likely that in those cases it's the retailer who's taking the hit, rather than the producer.

But if you don't look after the producers who have a conscience about the food they produce, and the food you like to eat, they won't be sticking around for long...

Claire said...

Adrian, it comes down to a simple matter of affordability.

I can afford to spend an extra £ or so making sure I buy free-range eggs, but I cannot even contemplate buying a leg of lamb or a roast at full price.

My "moral boundaries" exist only within the limits of my everyday purchases. I have none for what I cannot afford to buy.

I wish I could afford to buy with all the right motivation in mind, but between concerns about fair trade, healthy eating, carbon mileage, farmers' livelihood and whatever else I have forgotten about, this consumer is feeling overwhelmed by the potential consequences of her (limited) buyer power...

Anonymous said...

I'm in the 'if you care and do your best with the resources you have (time, money, availability) then a person is already doing much more than your average has-no-idea-and-doesn't-really-care-that-much-really' camp.

Many butchers now only sell plastic packaged mass produced pink goo. I won't buy - but aren't I supposed to be supporting local businesses?

It's as complicated and tangled as a ball of glass noodles in a glass house, so if someone is trying their best, I leave it at that.

As for the leg of lamb, I haven't had that in years. Too expensive. Eaten is better than land fill which is the alternative.

Fiona Beckett said...

You're right. It is complicated. And not a question of black and white. I want to support local farmers but don't always manage to do so sometimes for financial reasons, sometimes for reasons of time. I buy Fairtrade tea, coffee and chocolate most of the time. I buy organic produce when I can afford to but would rather buy produce I know is fresh and locally produced.

This blog however is primarily about showing that whatever your budget you can eat well. For many people the only shop they have access to is a local supermarket so supermarkets have always featured and will continue to do so, I'm afraid Adrian. Along with posts like this

TrillianAstra said...

Is this a recipe from your book at the end here?
Article titled: Can switching from wine to beer cut your alcohol intake?
Recipe is Sierra Nevada Chicken
From An Appetite for Ale by Fiona and Will Beckett (Camra, £19.99)

Fiona Beckett said...

Indeed it is. Try it - it's a good 'un!