Saturday 25 June 2011

Is shopping once a week the best way to save money?

Whenever a conversation about budget eating comes up, it almost always comes down to how often you shop.

My view has always been that doing a large weekly shop is potentially wasteful as you never know exactly how the week is going to pan out. I prefer to shop just before the weekend for what we're going to eat over the next three or four days then take stock once I see how much I've got left in the fridge or the storecupboard and when I know what our movements are for the coming week.

It's easy for me admittedly because there are only two of us at home now, I live in a town where the shops are open 'til late and I work from home. But I still think that buying food 7 days ahead can result in buying more than you need.

Against that you might argue that the more times you go to the shops the more likely you are to be tempted. And that if you're on a tight budget you need to cost things carefully and that's more easily achieved in one shopping expedition. There's also for many the cost of getting to the shops.

What may be worthwhile, either way, is costing exactly what you spend in a week as Linda of With Knife and Fork revealed she'd done recently on Twitter. (The answer was £7-10 a day for two. And she wrote down everything, including teabags!) And then try shopping an alternative way. If you go to the shops regularly try a weekly shop. If you do a big shop try two or three smaller ones as I do. See if there are savings to be made.

You might also try and have what I've previously described on the blog as a No Food Shopping Day - a day when you live off what you have in the storecupboard, freezer and fridge. I suspect a lot of us could manage for the best part of a week like that, essentials like milk and fresh fruit and veg apart - and even then you probably have frozen veggies you could use up.

What have you found is the most economical way to shop?

Saturday 18 June 2011

Making your own drinks

In all the time I've been writing about frugal food I've never thought of making my own drinks. Actually, I lie. I did post this idea for an apple lemonade a couple of years ago and very delicious it was too which makes my lack of interest in the subject even more lame.

If I'd had Susy Atkins new book 'How to make your own drinks' before now I might have been better motivated because it's full of brilliant ideas for cheap healthy, mainly non-alcoholic drinks you can make from seasonal gluts of fruit and vegetables. Or even - and as a townie without a garden this appeals to me - by bartering with others who have gardens or allotments in return for bottles of your finished potion. (You may get the better deal out of this.)

For those of you who feel nervous about the idea - and frankly I was a little too - the book is packed with clear and reassuring instructions about sterilising and sealing bottles and troubleshooting tips. Maybe start with drinks that can be made and drunk almost immediately like lavender lemonade (lovely for this time of year) and fruity ginger ale then progress to ones that need a bit more skill and patience like nettle beer, plum wine and mead.

Many drinks can be made for free from hedgerow ingredients - sloe and damson gin being the obvious examples - but I also love the sound of Susy's Crème de Mure (blackberry liqueur) and homemade rosehip syrup which apparently has higher levels of vitamin C than citrus fruit. ('Kids adore it' she says.) You can also make perfectly good drinks from frozen fruit which can sometimes be cheaper than fresh.

All in all this book a is good investment - with the added bonus of being a fun way to create your own delicious drinks. A great diversion, I'd have thought, for the forthcoming school holidays . . .

Have you ever made your own drinks and if so which ones?

Sunday 12 June 2011

How a Michelin-starred restaurant uses leftovers

I've just spent the past week on a work trip in Alsace (I know, I know, alright for some ... ) and stopped the night on the way back at a hotel we've often stayed in - the Hotel d'Angleterre in Chalons-en-Champagne. It's not as cheap as it used to be but we like it so much we occasionally treat ourselves.

What's particularly interesting about the place (and the relevance to this blog) is the fact that the bistro Les Temps Changent (times change) clearly uses the leftovers from the Michelin-starred restaurant alongside which enables them to keep the price of their set menu down to a very reasonable 21 euros*.

There were three dishes on the menu where you could spot this. A really delicious 'salad' of lightly cooked green beans (above) lined up over a finely chopped salad of cold roast beef, shallots and carrots dressed with a good gutsy dressing and topped with a sprinkling of garlic chips.

A fish terrine - almost certainly made from different kinds of leftover fish, some blitzed smooth, others left in bigger pieces. (More delicious than it sounds or looks!)

And a guineafowl breast stuffed with a boudin like stuffing that I suspect was made from leftover chicken. (I like the use of in season fresh cherries too.)

Of course I'm not suggesting that you slave away for hours to create similar dishes although the green bean salad is perfectly easy to achieve but simply want to make the point how well the French still do this sort of thing and what you can get away with if you present leftovers cleverly.

I still think there's a bit of a stigma though in serving up leftovers to your friends (shepherds pie apart though I always think that's better made with fresh mince). Personally I wouldn't hesitate but how about you? And what are your favourite leftover dishes?

* Bear in mind that price (English equivalent £18.55) includes service.

Saturday 4 June 2011

Thai trout and cucumber bake

I hesitate to put Thai recipes in this blog because they involve a significant outlay on ingredients but chances are if you're into Thai or other spicy food you'll have a fair number of them already. And if you haven't you can pick them up reasonably cheaply at an Asian store or stall.

I hesitated even more this time with cucumber in the spotlight over the recent e-coli scare but at the time of writing the connection has not been proved and so long as you wash and peel the cucumber there shouldn't be a problem. There's been absolutely nothing to link British cukes with health scares.

Trout I admit doesn't sound as nice as salmon (the very word is offputting) but it's generally quite a bit cheaper than salmon fillets. They do have a slightly coarser flavour but one you don't notice with the zingy marinade.

It's also low fat, low calorie and so long as you don't overdo any accompanying rice, low carb. Hooray!

Serves 4
350-400g trout fillets or salmon tail fillets
Juice and rind of a lime, preferably unwaxed
1 crushed clove of garlic
A small cube of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 tbsp Thai fish sauce
1 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp each water and sunflower or vegetable oil
1 small red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped (optional)
A handful of fresh coriander + a bit of chopped mint if you have some
1/2 a cucumber

Rinse the fish fillets and lay them in a single layer in a lightly oiled baking dish. Mix together the lime juice and rind, garlic, ginger, fish sauce and soy sauce and whisk in the sunflower oil and water. Add the chilli, if using together with the coriander stalks, washed and finely sliced. Pour the mixture over the fish and leave to marinate for half an hour.

Heat the oven to 180°C/Gas 4. Peel the cucumber, cut lengthways and scoop out the seeds with the tip of a teaspoon then cut each half into little half moon shapes. Chop the coriander leaves and mint if using then scatter the cucumber and herbs over the fish, spooning over a little of the marinade (See pic for what it looks like just before it goes into the oven) Cover the dish with foil and bake for about 15 minutes until the fish is cooked. Serve with boiled rice. (Also surprisingly nice cold.)

Do you ever use trout and if not what puts you off? Is it the T-word or the bones (not obviously a problem with this recipe) or don't you like salmon either?