The munch crunch

Is it time to start saving on food bills? You can still eat well.

By Victoria Prever, October 17, 2008

Only an ostrich could have failed to notice the increasingly gloomy current financial situation.

With markets crashing around our ears, banks tumbling and financial commentators predicting a winter of discontent, media coverage is stirring up a fever pitch of insecurity. It does not take a genius to work out that it's time to rein in those luxuries and conserve the pennies.

As a community of food lovers, we do not skimp on meals. Open any Jewish fridge and it is likely to be packed to the gills - often with half the contents of Marks & Spencer's food hall. No danger of starving.

An obvious place to cut costs is on food. A ready meal is cheaper than eating out, for example. But for real savings you'll need to cook from scratch.

So here are some tips to help the haimishe cook maximise savings on home cooking:

Buy seasonally
Not only environmentally sound, but cheaper too. Do you really need strawberries at Chanucah? Save the berries and cherries for summer. If you do feel the need, frozen berries make good substitutes in puddings and baking.

Be a schnorrer
Cheaper cuts of meat (those bits of the animal that do more work and need a long, slow cook to tenderise them) make fantastic stews. Lamb shoulder is a budget cut. Invest in a slow cooker to make warming stews. Use the leftovers in pies.

Which Jewish cook makes just the right quantity for his/her guests? More often than not there will be enough food to feed an army. Leftovers are the basis of a second meal - Friday's roast chicken can go into Saturday's risotto or curry. Use the carcass and a few extra pieces of chicken for next week's soup. And the leftover mountain of vegetables will work beautifully in bubble and squeak or frittata.

Never throw anything away
You are gazing into the fridge but all you can conjure up are some random vegetables, slightly stale bread and brown bananas. No need for the bin: whizz stale (not mouldy) bread to crumbs, which you can freeze in batches to coat fish or meat, or even use in a treacle-tart filling. Grate and freeze leftover cheese for baked potato toppings or to mix with those crumbs for a gratin topping.

Ripe bananas and summer berries can be frozen, used for smoothies or for cakes, muffins and crumbles. Half-used bags of salad leaves can be whizzed and turned into soup. Elderly potatoes and other root veg can be cooked and mashed then frozen. Onions can be caramelised for use in tarts and omelettes.

Stock standby ingredients
Keep some of these in your kitchen and it'll be easy to knock up quick, cheap meals.

 Pasta, couscous and rice make an instant supper when combined with those random vegetables, cooked meats, fish. Tinned tomatoes will also turn leftovers into pasta sauces. Eggs, as omelettes and frittatas, are also perfect partners to vegetables, cheese, meats and fish. Puff pastry can turn leftovers into a smart main course or pudding.

Onion and goat's cheese tart

This recipe - which uses mostly store-cupboard staples - is a great standby. It will be even quicker if you have got some frozen caramelised onions. You can vary the toppings - try leftover roasted vegetables scattered on pesto sauce or tapenade:

450g onions (red or white), sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
l level tablespoon caster sugar
250g pack puff pastry
100g goat's or feta cheese, broken into bite-sized lumps
a handful of olives
a tablespoon of fresh or dried thyme

● Preheat your oven to 200°C/400°F/gas 6.
Heat the oil and cook the onions gently (covered) for about 10 minutes until they are soft.
● Uncover, sprinkle with the sugar, turn up the heat to medium and continue cooking until they're soft and browned - not burnt.
● Roll out the pastry to roughly a 20x30x½cm rectangle.
● Score a 3cm border all the way round. Place on a piece of baking paper on a baking sheet.
● Spread with the onions within the border and scatter over the cheese.
● Sprinkle with the olives and herbs if required.
● Bake for 30 minutes or until the pastry is crisp and golden.

Last updated: 12:51pm, October 16 2008