Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Quick, Thrifty, Tasty

Yep that's me. Haha, no, I'm not that vain - I'm talking weekday dinners. Oh no, I hear you cry, not one of those smug 'much cheaper than a take-away' so-called easy weekday recipes that are actually nigh on impossible. I feel your pain; when I read features like that in magazines they drive me up the wall. This post reveals the truth behind my thrifty eating... the lazy, cheapo, truth. How to eat if you:

  • Work 12 hour days;
  • Also want to actually have a life;
  • Want to save money;
  • Don't want malnutrition.

First, before I bombard you with recipes and my attempts at food photography, my five 'golden rules' for quick and thrifty cooking:

1) Don't only search out 'quick' versions of recipes.

As well as varying dramatically in quality, these tend to be shortened versions of more complex recipes. Save the more complex ones for the weekend and look out for recipes (or even simply variations on basics) which naturally have fewer ingredients and shorter cooking time. For example, pasta with fresh tomato, pancetta (or chopped bacon), garlic and chilli is a punchy, simple dish - whereas 'quick' lasagna using cheats or fewer ingredients might leave a pasta-lover short changed. A cheese omelette, salad and crusty bread is another meal which is tasty because it's simple.

2) Factor in washing up.

My absolute non-negotiable cast in diamond rule. It was my major beef with Jamie's 30 minute meals- if the recipe takes long prep or several pans your kitchen time will increase. And it will increase in the boring, messy bit of the process. Think about it. Go for one to two pot meals, or use a large baking sheet for the main and potato in the oven.

3) Avoid buzz-word foods.

This is my number one money saving tip. Some foods (lamb, steak, asparagus, salmon, chicken breast etc') are expensive. Look out for these on offer and freeze them. Don't 'go without'.

Certain foods are not deemed 'expensive', but work incredibly well in traditional British fayre and in well spiced dishes. People assume they taste of less- or take ages to cook- because they are cheap. They don't. My favourites?
  • Trout, herring and other oily fish
  • Turkey 
  • For want of a nicer word, offal
  • Pork belly
  • Pulses (lentils and beans, canned is quicker and still quite cheap)
  • Frozen veg of various sorts (especially cheaper-because-they're-not-pretty stuff)
  • Mushrooms
  • Eggs
Dundee cake is nice...
...but 'quick and easy' it isn't.

4) Use your freezer 'for you'.

It is only worth doing the whole 'make loads on a rainy Sunday and freeze it thing' if you label the food correctly, remember to defrost the night before (or have a decent microwave) and make things you'll use. It depends on you and your preferences - curry in the bin and curry sat at the back of your freezer for three years are both wasted. We have a fridge-freezer and I am getting better at using it wisely. As well as canapes I've bought on January the 2nd at a vastly reduced price, my freezer tends to contain:
  • An entire shelf of frozen veg of different types. Yes, including chips. But mostly veg.
  • Luxuries bought on special offer (e.g. chicken, duck, ice cream, the aforementioned canapes)
  • Pollock, kippers, seafood 
  • Bulk-made stocks and sauces, with some casserole type things.
  • Ends of bacon, egg yolk/whites from baking etc' - which 'come in handy'.
Those are the three types of things I use - so it's worth my while freezing them. If you aren't into bake-n-freeze, don't do it and don't force yourself. I am a cook-from-scratch-quickly type, so having loads of veg, fish and a sauce in there suits me best.

Not all retro recipes
are outlandish!
5) Grandma knows best.

Rick Stein bangs on about food in Britain being rank before he came along. Nonsense. OK, there are some very, very odd recipes in my retro books but there are also some really useful ideas. Recipes are often marked for time and 'thriftiness'. If you seek out something endorsed by Good Housekeeping, Hamlyn, or associated with Marguerite Patten you can't go far wrong. Plus, you get to laugh at some of the more questionable photos and ideas. Often the ones with the least glamour and 'all colour' kitsch are the best for every day- I have discovered that many wartime recipes - with a bit more seasoning - are quick, high in veg, low in meat and filling.

Rationing means many vintage MoF
recipes are super healthy
I'm hoping to add to this series of my at-home tips with some (genuinely) quick recipes, low-cost ingredient lowdowns, a look at some of my best (and worst!) retro cook books and of course a few glimpses into my house - so do check my new page Inside The Undiscovered Palace for updates...


  1. Some great ideas on here! Thank you! X

  2. Some fab ideas, I am great one for a cook up and freezing, and I do use them. I also plan plan plan, it's boring but it works

  3. some great funny ideas amor!
    I like to cook from scratch and try to avoid frozen foods.

  4. I shop with a list always, and like Dora, try and make from scratch where possible and avoid prepacked crap - so making 4 portions and freezing 2 is a norm for me! I am also an avid rummager in the bargain bin too! :)

  5. Wonderful ideas!! I plan meals and plan my food shopping accordingly. I love the bargains as well! I used to rely on frozen, processed foods but since I lost over two stone 5 and half years ago, I am all for meals made from scratch!

  6. Good post and I completely agree about factoring in the washing up. I wish I didn't rely so heavily during the week on frozen quorn meals, should do something about that soon.

  7. Awesome ideas :) Keep posting stuff like this


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