Thrifty cooking is something that has always been close to my heart. Not just from the budget point of view but also as a method of reducing waste. I hate wasting food, even the tops and tails of veg aren’t wasted when I’m cooking at home, they make excellent stock.
Thrifty cooking starts with thrifty shopping. Before you even go to the shop, start with a weekly menu plan. I plan out roughly what I want to cook for the week, work out who I’m going to be cooking for and whether there is anything they don’t eat or anything they love that I haven’t cooked for awhile. From this menu I can make a shopping list of things I need based on what I already have in the cupboard. For me, as a cook on a boat, this is essential. It means I can let the crew know what’s planned for the week and anyone can raise objections before I go shopping rather than after I’ve cooked the dinner. It also means that when I come to cook the meal, I know I have everything in stock. There is nothing worse than wanting to cook something and realising you’re missing the main ingredients (like on Sunday when I desperately wanted to make brownies but there was no butter and ALL the shops were shut because this is France…).
Once in the shop, try not to buy anything that isn’t on your list. I know its hard, but its a quick way to ending up over budget and buying on impulse often ends in wasted food. Only buy as much as you need. Buy your veg loose if you’re buying just for one person – those multi-packs look like a great offer until you realise you only really wanted one courgette and end up chucking the other two away. Markets, butchers, fish mongers are great for this sort of shopping because you can decide, right I only need 50g of cheese for this recipe so that’s all I’m going to buy! Buying produce seasonally can also dramatically drop your spending as freighted fruit is way more expensive than apples in autumn.
Making good use of your freezer is an excellent way to reduce costs and waste. If there is a special offer on something you use a lot of, buy more and put it in the freezer. Especially good for meat. Buying good quality meat can be expensive and became a bit of a treat for me when I was living on a budget as a student. But if there was an offer on steak, I would treat myself and save another one for a treat in the future! Also a good way of buying roasting joints. I always have one in the freezer, bought during a special offer, so that I could invite people over for Sunday lunch without breaking the bank.
I also make use of the freezer for meals like spag bol, curry, soup, stew, lasagne, chilli con carne etc. These meals are always best cooked in bulk and the extra freezes well for another meal or three in the coming weeks. Especially good for those that don’t like eating the same thing for lunch and dinner three days in a row.
Hedgerows also have some tasty treats, especially at this time of year, and they are free! Blackberries for a crumble, mushrooms for a stew, nettles for soup in the spring and summer, sloes for gin for Christmas presents, apples for chutney.
So now for some super saver recipes, both aiming to reduce wasted food and wasted money.
Pasta and a vegetable
Pasta is so easy to cook and makes a great thrifty meal. Make too much – have pasta salad for lunch the next day. It is easy to cook on a budget too. One of the best things I learned to make while in Italy was pasta with broccoli. The broccoli can be replaced with most vegetables including squash, courgette, green beans, mushrooms, kale, tomatoes and many more. Experiment, its good for you.
Pasta, head of broccoli chopped into small pieces (including the stalk, its delicious), lots of garlic, onion, whole dried chili, rock salt, olive oil, Parmesan shavings.
Chop the onion and garlic and fry in lots of olive oil with the whole chili and rock salt. Do this slowly, you want the onions soft and sweet and lots of oniony olive oil to create a sauce for the pasta. You can help the process along with a little water, add a little at a time and stir well with the hot oil so it forms an emulsion. Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet, retain a cup of the starchy water when draining. Put the broccoli in the pan with the onions while the pasta is cooking, adding a little more water to create steam that will help cook the veg. Once the pasta is cooked, tip it into the broccoli and stir well, coating the pasta with the olive oil. Add some cooking water if things are a bit dry, pasta will continue to absorb any liquid for awhile after its stopped cooking. Serve with a sprinkling of dried chili and lots of Parmesan.
The most flavourful cuts of meat are often the cheapest, but only if you know how to cook them. Long and slow is the secret, get yourself a crock-pot and you’ll be on to a good thing.
Stewing lamb diced, celery, onion, carrot, tin tomatoes, rosemary, 50ml lamb stock and 50ml red wine per 100g meat, plain flour, olive oil, seasoning.
Roughly chop all the veg and rosemary and fry with a good glug of olive oil for ten minutes, until everything is soft and sweet. Coat the meat in flour and seasoning then fry until the outside has nice colour all over. Put everything into the slow cooker/crockpot/casserole dish with the wine, stock and tomatoes. Cook on a low heat until the lamb is tender, topping up with wine or stock if it gets too dry. Serve with mashed potatoes and minty peas.
You could use beef for this too but rather than rosemary add thyme and mustard, and maybe some mushrooms too if you’ve had any luck foraging!
Trout with pesto
A childhood favourite of mine, my Dad used to cook this for us when we went to visit. Pesto works beautifully as a sauce for fish and cooking it couldn’t be simpler.
Trout fillet, pesto
Pop the trout on a piece of tinfoil, place a teaspoon of pesto on the flesh and spread evenly over the surface. Make a parcel out of the tin foil and pop it in the oven at 180C for 15mins. Serve with cous cous or quinoa with some fresh tomatoes sliced on top.
This is not curry the way my step-mother makes it. I wish I was that talented. This is curry that’s using the leftover vegetables up from the fridge at the end of the weak.
I usually have: aubergines, courgettes, the sauce from tinned tomatoes, and potatoes leftover. Add, onion, garlic, curry powder, fresh chili.
Chop all the veg into chunks of the same size. In a dry pan, toast the curry powder then add oil and fry the onion and garlic. Add the courgette and aubergine and cook until they have a little colour. Add the leftover tomato sauce or a tin of tomatoes, and the potatoes. Stir in enough chili to give it a spicey kick. Cook until the potatoes are soft, longer is better though. Serve with rice. Obviously you can add meat to this if you like, I sometimes have chicken that needs to be used and so that gets added after I’ve fried the onions. To make it go further add a can of pulses; kidney beans, chickpeas and the like. Full of healthy protein, good for the heart and cheap.
Recipes already on here that are lovely and cheap yet wholesome and yummy include:
Other useful links: