As promised in my last post the next few posts will be full of frugal ideas. Before we know it we will be constantly reminded about Christmas. Unfortunately most of us will be working and wondering how we will find the time, or the money, to be the perfect host on a budget when we want to impress our family and friends.
What I do is not rocket science; being a control freak I like to be organised! When I was working in the bank I had a colleague who would always ask me what I was cooking for dinner. I'm sure she never believed me when I told her what I was doing that night. She couldn't understand how I could perform all day in a stressful job, go home and spend time with my boys and make a delicious meal. The secret? It's all in the planning. Simply learn a few tricks to save some money, eat fab food and never buy a convenience meal again. I admit these ideas are about a bit of work when you have time so you can cheat later. Be sure to save any plastic pot like ice-cream ones so that the freezer is not a complete mess of bags and don't forget to label them.Oh... you may be wondering why the picture of the sunflower? My lovely neighbour brought me over a huge bunch of these today from his garden and they look a lot better than this picture of the frozen food! So here is my Top Ten Tips for frozen, frugal food.
1. After carving a roast chicken or duck there are always little pockets of meat left on the carcass. When it's cold take off every shred of meat and bag it or box it. Pack the skin, carcass and other bones separately . Take out the bones, cover with water, add a quartered onion, a carrot and 2 bay leaves and boil for two hours to make stock for soup or sauce. The shredded chicken can go in soup, rice dish, omelette, pizza, pasta or a pie. The list is endless!2. If you have any left-over pork chops, slices of roast pork, sausage or ham chop them and bag them. Ideal to scatter over a pizza or mixed with 5 Spice to stir through cooked rice as a Chinese dish.
3. Sometimes only a fresh lemon will do, especially for the zest where the magic flavour is. Don't ditch your squeezed halves. Stick them in a bag in the freezer and when you are having roast chicken pop one in the cavity. Get your chicken out from the freezer in the morning and put it in the oven with some jacket potatoes when you get in and go and bath the kids or have a bath yourself! The whole house will smell of lemon. The lemons can also be used when cooking rice or couscous. I also freeze whole limes if they start to look a bit sad in the fruit bowl to squeeze over curries.
4. Have you seen those nasty lurid breadcrumbs in the supermarket? We sometimes have left-over bread (not often in France!), but whatever you have, baguette, sliced, crusts, simply blitz it in a food processor and stick it in the freezer. Once defrosted it can be used for stuffings, meatballs, burgers or dry it in the oven for ten minutes and use as a coating for chicken. Flour your chicken, dip in beaten egg and then roll in seasoned toasted breadcrumbs with your choice of seasoning. Bake in the oven to be virtuous or fry. This is really quick with chicken escalopes.
5. If you've gone to the effort of making shortcrust pastry it seems a shame to throw out what is left and there is always something left, yes? Keep a patty tin in the freezer and use the leftovers to cut out another round. Then , if you have unexpected guests you can always whip it out the freezer and add an egg mix for instant mini quiches with cheese and bacon or salmon and spring onion or whatever you fancy. They are also great for lunches or tarts. I do this towards Christmas to save time. You can also freeze whole balls of dough if well wrapped or line whole pie dishes.
6. We are lucky enough to have markets and shops stocked with fruits de mer and when we lived in England we were close to the harbour in Portsmouth so we could buy at the quay. We love eating and it is always cheaper to buy it in the shell but please don't throw the shells out. Shove it all in a bag in the freezer and you can make some amazing fish stock for bouillabaise or bisque. It is amazing how much flavour is hidden in the shell. I also always reserve a few mussels when they have been cooked and freeze them in the liquor. Use within a month. Great for a last minute paella or Blanquette de la Mer or salad.
7. I love my veggie patch but I know not everyone can have one. When you are buying peppers, chillies or fresh herbs and you have some left that you won't use then please don't throw it on the compost. You can slice or chop the peppers and bag them to freeze. The same with the chillies but you can also leave them whole and chop from frozen. Herbs can be chopped and packed with water in ice trays. My favourites to freeze are mint, basil and coriander.
8. Get out in the countryside now! We are currently picking rosehips. Wash and freeze now to make cordial later. It is extremely high in vitamin C and easy to make with a sour-sweet taste. Wash and freeze sloes and clackberries or brambles for sloe gin and blackberry vodka; both are ideal as Christmas gifts. Freeze blanched plums, apples and rhubarb ready for jamming or tarting later when you have time. It's great when it's free! Don't forget to collect chestnuts ready for Christmas. Simply make a cross on them and bring to the boil. Turn the heat off and remove the shells, leaving them in the water as you peel each one. They are great in sweet dishes or chopped in stuffings or mixed with Brussels sprouts.
9. Be a supermarket stalker! Know when your supermarket reduces items nearing their dates and buy the lot. My husband is often embarrassed when I do this but I re-wrap the meat in portions when I get home and we can enjoy some luxuries like fillet steak or duck that we wouldn't normally buy.
10. Freeze your leftovers. Slice roast potatoes for omelettes. Sometimes you want a bit of pineapple for a pizza and only have a large tin of it. The same happens with sweetcorn or other jars and tins so just freeze the rest. Don't waste money buying a can of kidney beans or chick peas. Buy the dried ones and cook the whole lot as instructions then just freeze portions. This saves time and money.If you are making a one pot meal make double the quantity to freeze for later.I'm sure that many of you out there already do some of these things. I'd love to know what tips you have for making the most of your freezer. Thanks, Amanda xx