The flexible, frugal cook


The blacker the better!

The blacker the better!

Being a yoga teacher in my spare time, I should be a flexible, frugal cook :). I made a banana loaf the other day with some very black bananas that no one was going to eat. I used the Delia recipe as my starting point, but as I didn’t have any walnuts or oranges I substituted brazil nuts and dried cranberries. It was really delicious!

The frugal cook needs to be able to do this: either adapt recipes or make meals up to suit your ingredients. If you don’t have an expensive ingredient like sundried tomatoes try fresh or tinned with some tomato purée. If you don’t have shallots, use ordinary onions. If you don’t have dried porcini mushrooms, the usual fresh sort will work ok.

store cupboard 1Make sure you have plenty of store cupboard staples. Flour and baking powder, tinned tomatoes, tomato purée, tinned or dried pulses, pasta, rice and noodles spring to mind. Casserole sauces bought cheaply from places like Approved Food and Home Bargains are good for days when you can’t be bothered or don’t have time to cook from scratch. Tinned and frozen veg is handy to have. Canned tuna or sardines can make a good quick meal.

Staples from Aldi

Staples from Aldi

Eggs and cheese are good to have in the fridge, and a pack of bacon can add flavour and interest to all manner of dinners.

What to do if you think there is no food in the house? Have a good look in the store cupboards ; I bet there is a ton of food in there. You may not be able to make a meat and two veg type of meal, but how about a lentil shepherds pie or veggie curry for a change? If you can make a tomato sauce from onions and tomatoes, you can build it into a veggie casserole with courgettes , carrots, lentils, etc and make some dumplings to go with it. Or use it to make a pasta sauce with garlic and peppers, or a bolognese with some mince meat. Add and taste as you go along. Mess about with curry powder, cumin and chilli to add a bit of spice to what you have. Eggs can make an omelette, a quiche, or you can crack them over your tomato and pepper sauce and bake them the oven. How about curried eggs? If you have flour you can make pastry. What do you have that will go in a pie?

If you have cheese, onions and potatoes you have a veggie classic: cheese and potato pie with no pastry needed. Mash the spuds and mix in sautéed onions , plenty of cheese and some seasoning. Yummy with baked beans !

Use up all the bits of veg in a stir fry with noodles or rice. Make all kinds of fillings for a jacket potato with whatever you can find.

Use recipes as inspiration and as a guide for quantities rather than feeling you need to slavishly follow them.

And if you really can’t be bothered to cook, there is nothing wrong with the odd ‘something on toast’!


8 thoughts on “The flexible, frugal cook

  1. I usually make walnut and banana bread from overripe bananas, but I will look at this recipe. I don’t buy ready made sauces as I have never liked any, they taste synthetic and very acidic as well, and are filled with all kinds of things more akin to a laboratory than a kitchen. But we do have veggie curry, which is delicious and veggie lasagne, and I have lots of store cupboard staples, such as pulses, flours, baking powder and so forth. And cans of beans – borlotti, haricot, red kidney, etc. I know some canned veg are meant to be good, but I still can’t bring myself to use canned carrots or peas. I use frozen peas (doesn’t everyone?) and turn that into minted pea soup – that can be made in 15 minutes, start to finish, totally yum!

  2. I often improvise in recipes. My husband says “This is nice but I don’t suppose we’ll ever get it again.” He’s right – because next time it will be something else that gets substituted!
    It’s always possible to put a meal together because I always have a selection of tinned and dried pulses in stock. Lentil cottage pie is one of my favourite meals. Other store cupboard stalwarts include cartons of tomatoes, pasta (which I don’t like but my husband does, tinned fish, cheese and eggs. I’m never without frozen peas or cauliflower. The latter is excellent when cooked until soft, mashed and used as a thickener for soups and casseroles.
    I make lots of soup with parsnip, apple and potato being my favourite.
    I love toast, preferably with marmite and cheese!

  3. The last thing I made using bits and bobs was a vegetable soup, actually more of a stew which I ate over some rice. Any leftover bananas go in the freezer for smoothies or as a base for popsicles.

  4. It’s good to hear that people use up leftovers and that we have the imagination to create something from store cupboard odds and ends. I keep reading about how much food we throw away but I can honestly say that food wastage in my house is virtually zero. I hate waste!

  5. 2 of the best tips I have found:
    1. Don’t bother buying ‘fancy’ beans; buy the cheapest supermarket tinned baked beans and rinse off the sauce with cold water – perfect haricot beans without any of the hassle of soaking.
    2. Buy the biggest punnet of budget-priced mushrooms; take out of plastic punnet and put mushrooms on newspaper overnight. This removes the internal moisture in the mushrooms and they will shrink a bit. Cover with tea towel. The mushrooms will dry out so you can put them in a jar and they will keep for as long as any shop-bought dried mushrooms – at a fraction of the price and just as intensified taste.

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