It’s oh-so-tempting at this time of year to want to fill up on warming ‘fast food’ where you don’t have to stand in a cold kitchen for what feels like hours, preparing things. Well rather than wasting money on calling a local take-away, why not think about making your own dishes that don’t might be even quicker than waiting for a pizza to be delivered?
Your best friend at this time of year can be your slow-cooker – If you’ve not got one then consider investing in one. The beauty of the slow cooker is that it takes very little energy to run and you can ‘bung’ everything in, switch on, and leave it to ‘do its do’ while you get on with something else, like whacking a film on a lying on the sofa in front of the TV?
Always try to use food which is in season as this is generally cheaper and doesn’t have quite the same impact on the earth as something which has had to travel many miles to get to you from where it should be being eaten. Pay a visit to your local greengrocer or farm shop, especially near to closing time as you are likely to pick up even more bargains then. Don’t turn your nose up at fruit or veg which isn’t up to those ridiculous ‘Tesco’ standards (apple’s that fall into the perfect diameter and all that rubbish). It seems to be prevalent in the UK for supermarkets to only sell things which have the right ‘look’. When you are chopping something to add to other ingredients, who cares whether it is perfect or not? I certainly don’t and nor should you.
Think foreign supermarkets: They’re veg might be ugly but at least you can smell it when you get into the veg section?
Also pay a visit to your butcher as you will often find that they are cheaper than the supermarket and they can also tell you exactly where the meat has come from. Befriend your butcher and never be afraid to ask for advice. They are the experts when it comes to using cheaper cuts of meat, and they will tell you the best way of cooking something to get the most taste and flavour.
Look at buying things which were popular a few generations ago. When there weren’t supermarkets, people had to shop on a daily basis, people were experts at making a meal which would last for more than one day in order to save carrying heavy bags back. This was extremely useful when kids were young and not so easily transportable. And often buying in bulk can work out far cheaper. Most butchers will do a deal for you if you can afford to buy a month’s worth of meat in one go.
So back to the slow cooker: Many slow cooker recipes start with a basic ‘soffritto’ which is generally a mix of onions, carrots and celery and works as the base to your stew. Try to prepare a big batch at a time and part cook in a large pan or wok. Allow to cool and then divide into portions and freeze for future use. This is really handy and you can just pull a bag out of the freezer the night before you need to use it. Do the same with a pack of mince. Chuck one of each in the slow cooker adding tinned beans/tomatoes and whatever flavour you like and you have an easy-peasy Bolognese or chilli with minimal effort.