Saturday, 10 November 2012

How I cook part 2 - Shopping and cooking.

So following on from yesterday when I showed you my full store cupboard today I move on to part 2.

I know that a lot of you frugal types swear by menu plans. I am fully behind this idea and know that it makes a lot of sense and makes sure you only ever buy what is needed for that week and nothing goes to waste.

Having said that I don't really do this myself.

First things first, I always write a shopping list. Firstly because I invariably forget what I need and also because it stops aimless browsing in the supermarket, which is when the danger of impulse buys takes over. Also it is a much quicker way of shopping and I like to get in and out in record time, life is too short to spend it in supermarkets.

I have a very bad memory for what is on my list, but a very good memory for what I have in the house, what I have in the freezer and fridge and I know the meals I like and what goes a long way. If it comes to stuff that actually has a sell by date that you need to adhere to, such as fish or chicken, then I will buy these things either knowing when I am going to cook it, or at least knowing that I am putting it in the freezer for a future date.

So the first thing that I do when going shopping is making a list. I start by putting all the things that are on my blackboard at the top and then I think about any specific occasions, ie, if I have a guest for dinner at any point or something like that, if so, what I am going to make.
Next I will think about the meals that I fancy that week and go through anything that I may not have in already. Hopefully I have most of the ingredients and only need a handful here and there. This way, I find that I can often get my weekly shop down to as little as £10 unless I happen to need a lot of things that I have run out of. Rarely will it go over £20 and often I find that I have managed to get two weeks worth of food because I had enough in the stock pile anyway. I am lucky in that I only have myself to feed, so I am flexible, this is one reason why a specific menu plan is not really necessary for me, I think when there is more than one person in the equation menu plans are really important.

I am also very very happy to eat the same thing more than one night running, even 3 nights running is fine by me. Well why not? If I like it enough to cook it, then I certainly like it enough to eat it more than one night on the trot. I don't always eat like a king, sometimes some cheese and biscuits or beans on toast will do me. It is never very difficult to throw some pasta and make a quick tomato sauce and this really does cost penny's.

The final thing to do when I shop is to make my way to the reduced section aisle. Here it is easy to be swayed by something you don't necessarily need and sometimes the savings are not that great, 30p off something that cost £2.50 is not a brilliant saving, £2 off is. It is easy to fall back into impulse buying in the reduced section, so important to keep your head on. On the other hand, if it is something like good reductions on meat, then I am happy to come completely off the shopping list and stock up the freezer for next month. Spending now can mean savings next month.

So this is my shopping routine. This way, shopping is quick, cheap and efficient.

When I cook, I don't really generally cook for one, I cook as though it is for many people and then portion it up. That way I have, in effect, created ready meals for myself. A pasta sauce will be divided into individual portions, one portion may go in the fridge for tomorrow, and the other portions in the freezer, labeled for another time. When I made a batch of shepherds pie the other day, I ate one portion, put two in the fridge which I had on the following two days, and put one in the freezer wrapped in foil and labeled. It is still there now, just like a ready meal. 30 minutes or so in the oven and it is ready to eat. Home made, good ingredients but no effort. My freezer has in it some bolognaise sauces, tomatoe sauces, home made pork burgers, ready to throw in a frying pan, fish portions, stews and a lasagne. Sometimes I will buy a whole cooked chicken and just strip all the meat off, put it in little bags of portions size and pull them out to add to a stirfry or something like that. I usually have spring onions in the fridge, so I will fry them up with some chicken and any veg I have lying around, make a quick sauce from peanut butter (value size) soy, honey, garlic and chilli and have it with noodles or rice. Really this sort of meal costs pence to put together and takes about 10 minutes to make.

I am also a make-do-and-cook sort of bloke, if I haven't got an ingredient that is either expensive, out-of-stock, or impractical, ie, hasn't got many future uses, then I will substitute. Herbs are a good example. I have growing rosemary, thyme, sage, parsley and mint, and will happily substitute one of these herbs for something that recipe asks for, no way am I buying a little pack of herbs that will soon go off for 90p when I have good herbs in the garden. If it is something that comes up again and again, then I will think about growing it instead.

I especially keep a strict eye on the items in my fridge. I can always tell you what is in there and about how many days it has left. I absolutely will not waste anything, I take it as a personal failure if something goes off. Celery was a good one for this. Often I would need some to make something, but only need 2 sticks or so. I would find that the rest of it would molder away and go nasty. Not any more. I decided that freezing it in portion sized bags was worth a try, and you know what? it works like a dream. I now have portions of celery in the freezer for making a stew or bolognaise, of something like that. Waste is not an option.

Well I hope that you enjoyed this little insight into how I live my culinary life. I enjoy cooking, I enjoy experimenting with flavours and learning what goes together. I eat very well but I really don't spend a fortune, far from it, on average about £40 to £60 a month, sometimes much much less and rarely much more. My stock pile of food has taken since last January to get to where it is now, just by buying extra tins of things here and there etc. I use value products for the most part, unless I think that they are seriously substandard, I bake my own bread for only a very small amount of money per loaf and I don't expect to eat masses of completely different, exciting meals every day. Simple is the key and being organised.

Today I did more DIY, I seem to be on a roll. More on that tomorrow.


  1. Sounds rather like us, except that there are two hungry mouths here. I don't have a huge freezer so space is limited; on somebody's blog, I read that if you keep a head of celery wrapped up in foil it keeps for about 6 weeks. It works really well, although I will keep your idea in mind especially in winter. Somewhere I read that you can freeze raw, chopped mushrooms. I buy a huge punnet of value ones, wipe and chop them and freeze in bags. I cooked two whole chickens tonight; one leg and one breast with roasties, veg and gravy tonight; another leg and breast for a similar meal; the rest for curry and stir fry; then stock/soup, of course.

  2. Ditto, sounds like us aswell. I hate to waste food and will concoct meals out of left overs. Tomorrow we will have chicken casserole with rice. We'll have it with chips the day after and if there's any left I'll make a sauce and we'll probably have it with pasta the next day.
    Love from Mum

  3. I usually keep in the freezer some bags of cooked rice, one cup per bag. Big effort saver. Also big bags of grated cheese. Easy to use and then back in the freezer. Will try the celery.

  4. Pizza tonight, so I'll make four bases...three to freeze, then I have the choice of using them for pizzas or focaccia bread.
    Jane x

  5. Dan, with your many champagnes you have lying around, you could make chicken with champagne cream sauce. Just google for the recipe. Just a thought?
    Nat from Australia, the Adelaide Minimalist.

  6. i hate waste,i just cook for myself now,and i alway's cook for about 10 people,it's a habit!and freeze it into meal's1i live off of a very small amount of money per month,$140.00,and i eat like a Queen!i bake my Bread,grow my Herb's and some Veg all grown in pot's!i seem to make lot's of Meal's just from left over's,they just seem to keep on going on!i'm so grateful i live so well on great produce i can buy here in Adelaide,and from what i grow!love your post1i wish my Son was like you!

  7. If I don't use a full onion I will chop it all up and the rest I put into a freeser bag and freeze it, same with peppers. I also keep chunks of peeled fresh ginger in the freezer as it makes it easier to grate whilst frozen.


  8. I favourite recycling tip as from viz
    "keep your dead gran's teeth after she's buried
    They'll make lovely pastry cutters"
    boom boom

    ps I would buy that bench! seriously

  9. my fingers are going too fast I meant to type
    MY favourite recycling tip IS from Viz

  10. Awesome advice, thank you! You cool much like I like. Just sort of wing it and have some extra for another time and always try to have great ingredients on hand. I call it "cooking without recipes". ;-)

  11. I bought a mincer with a sausage attatchment and am waiting for the rest of the stuff to arrive (sausage skin and rusk) in order to start experimenting with left over meat and reduced meat items.