Friday, 2 May 2014

Frugal Friday...

This week, many bloggers have been blogging about "Live below the Line" - a week when you allow yourself £1 a day per person in the household for 5 days for all your food and drink, to raise awareness of the 1.2 billion people globally who live below the £1 a day line which the world Bank describes as "extreme poverty". This is a far cry from what is defined as poverty in the UK

I've thought about taking part in this challenge before, and indeed, I thought about it again this year - however, for various reasons I've decided against. Firstly - we prefer (and this is not intended to be in any way contentious) to donate to UK based charities. The current situation with an awful lot of the aid that goes overseas from this country is that too much of it doesn't end up directly helping the very people it's given to assist, and less money goes into the UK charitable pot as a result. We try to give as locally as possible, both by way of donations, and by using charity shops etc. I'd rather the limited amount of spare cash I have can go to help - for example - the hospice who were so wonderful when my Great Uncle was dying, or charities who have provided help and support to family or friends. The second reason for not "living below the line" is that in order to do so we'd have to compromise the way we've chosen to eat. We choose not to buy cheap jarred sauces, cheap packet bread, or jars of jams and similar loaded with additives - we choose to buy decent (and where possible local) meat, and free range eggs. I applaud the cause, but no, I'm not going to compromise by eating rubbish that I'd never normally dream of buying for this challenge.  Glancing through the blogs of some of those who took part last year I've seen the cheapest of cheap packet bread (our home made bread actually works out cheaper per loaf, but buying the initial ingredients to start us off would cost close to a week's budget for one of us, so that's out), lemon curd of such a violent and dubious shade of yellow I'd want to run a Geiger counter over it, and instant noodles of the type that look like a bad 1980's perm and come with their very own little sachet of chemicals as, not for us, thanks. Credit to anyone who can do this and still manage to eat high or at least reasonable quality food - there are a few out there, mostly those who are in at least some way self-sufficient and can incorporate that.

Keep your eyes open for an upcoming blog featuring these grand old ladies...
Anyway, in spite of deciding not to take part in the challenge, it did get me thinking about food stuff generally, and more specifically food that we have. In our larder, cupboards, and freezer. LOTS of it. Yes, I know that part of the purpose of Frugal February was to run down what we had in the freezers - and it worked, we managed to get the second freezer emptied, defrosted and turned off, and it's stayed that way since. we do, however, still have rather a lot of edibles knocking about, and that in itself means there is scope to spend comparatively little on food for a while longer yet. The second thing that made me think was that we used our food account (which accumulates a positive balance as we put into it more than we spend each month) for our spending while we were in Orkney, and have also extracted from there our holiday spending money - that's been paid across into the holiday savings account. As a result we came back with it having a rather threadbare appearance - and still with several weeks shopping to get from it before the transfer goes across to refill it. No problem though - we do after all still have one freezer crammed to bursting point with lots of food, don't we? Well....yes. And No, as it turns out. Lots of food, for sure, but not all of it very helpful when it comes to the "making 7 evening meals in a week" thing - we have sausages aplenty (thanks to a good deal recently on some very tasty local ones) but nobody can eat sausages every day, can they now. (NO MrEH - they CAN'T!). We also have lots of pots of stewed fruit, several bits of bread related stuff (think muffins, crumpets, tattie scones, garlic bread) and several pots of frozen chicken stock.  Time for some lateral thinking and a bit more digging, I feel!

Window at St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall
First thing out was a breast of lamb. Boned out and rolled, ready for roasting. A tasty cut, breast, and super-frugal too - if anyone wants more than about £2 for one laugh in their face and look elsewhere. Pop it in a small roasting dish, tuck some rosemary underneath, drizzle with the tiniest smigeon of oil and a light touch of salt & pepper. Seal the dish over tightly with foil and pop in a low oven long have you got? Ideally a good three hours, you'll get away with a little less, just expect a little more chewing. It can be fatty but the slow cooking renders all that out and just leaves lovely tender meat. That sorted Sunday lunch out there - with some Approved Foods bulgar wheat and some frozen veg. The other half of it (yes, when meat's this good and flavoursome you don't need so much of it - also a super-frugal tip) was cut into chunks once it had cooled, and added to gently fried chopped onion, mushrooms and a couple of handfuls of frozen sliced peppers, plus a tin of tomatoes. All simmered together for a while with a squidge of tomato puree and a shake of dried thyme. Finally stirred in was the last two blocks of frozen spinach from the freezer. Once it had cooled a bit I fed it into cannelloni tubes, lobbed the remaining sauce over the top, and set it aside to be baked for the following nights dinner. A great tip for getting use out of dried cannelloni tubes or lasagne sheets - make the dish up a day or so ahead and it means less cooking is required as the pasta is already softened. One £1.50 breast of lamb, two days main meals for two people, one of which is the often-expensive Sunday lunch - not bad eh?!

The two pots of chicken stock have also been used - providing the liquid for an Orzotto using some more from a bag of Orzo pasta that I had. Garlic bread was eaten with the cannelloni, and a loaf of turkish bread got demolished with salad. Finally this morning some of those sausages saw the light of day along with tattie scones, and some slices of black & white pudding - yep, we're having a fry-up tonight!

Cheese scones - surely one of the best storecupboard standbys ever?
We'll be continuing to go freezer-diving for food for a while yet -  I have my sights set on putting the final piece of the whole lamb we bought last year into a tagine for one day next week, and stewed fruit is coming out for adding to yogurt as weeknight puddings when we want them.

What are your storecupboard standbys for those times when you have a freezer full of food but nothing to eat? All inspiration welcome here!



Marksgran said...

I know what you mean about a freezer full of food but with nothing to eat in it! I'm currently trying to do an inventory of my freezer to see exactly what I've got in the way of 'proper' meals. I know I have lots of mashed carrot and turnip, coriander soup, mashed potatoes and some frozen donuts (don't ask) but there are also lots of other things too, I just need to get acquainted with what they are! I've recently rediscovered risotto which is a brilliant way to conjure up a meal out of next to nothing as you can add almost anything to it and it's tasty. I found a pack of frozen prawns left over from a party at Christmas and added them with some frozen peas to it and it was yummy. Your lamb sounds lovely, I'd like to try that. x

Gill H said...

I know what you mean about the 'type' of food and sometimes it horrifies me. The cheapest of mashed potato and tinned mince may well be cheap, but no, not for me.
Amazing what you find at the bottom of the freezer though that makes for the oddest combinations.
I've got some pizza dough that I need to use, but it won't go well with frozen mashed potato.

Robyn said...

Frozen donuts sound like a good thing to have in your freezer MG! You've reminded me - we've still got the last two double-choc caramel muffins I made a while ago in ours, might get those out for a treat tonight after our tea!
Gill - packet mash - the very thought of that makes me shudder. I know some people actually like it, but it's definitely not for me! Mashed potato pizza.....Hmmm, I don't know, in blobs so it goes crispy on the top, and with some sliced sausages and baked beans dribbled over, who knows! :-D