Get thrifty in the kitchen

Getting thrifty in the kitchen

Use what you have and use it wisely

Are you feeling the heat on your household budget right now? 

I suspect most of us are, and looking for savings wherever possible.

Cooking at home can be a big money saver, especially if you get into some thrifty habits.

Thriftiness is an attitude: a willingness to put perfection aside, and think outside the box instead.

The basic premise: use what you have, and use it wisely.


Use it up

Start with looking in the back of your your fridge and cupboards: useable food is usually hiding in plain sight!

Here are some creative ideas:

* Implement a weekly 'chuck it all in' meal (see below).

* Forgotten spices and condiments: don't wait for the next speciality recipe to use them: just taste and add where you see fit.

* Use common sense with dates on food. In my house, if it looks OK and smells OK it's edible.

* Stretch your ingredients with leftovers to make them go further:

  • Add leftover veggies (or a tin of lentils) to your curry, bolognese, lasagna or burgers and you'll need less meat (if any).
  • Chuck leftovers into the next meal (e.g. yesterday's stir-fry in today's chilli)
  • Jazz up leftovers with a fresh sauce or topping (a soup with a swirl of pesto or a swirl of cream makes for a completely different experience)

* Use all parts:

  • Cauliflower leaves, broccoli stems, kale ribs, carrot & fennel greens, beetroot leaves, even banana skins... are all edible! (plenty of recipes out there, just search)
  • Freeze veggie off-cuts, stems and peelings, as well as roast meat bones in a ziplock bag. Keep adding to, then make a big batch of stock (freeze in portions)

* Use the 'bad' bits

  • Spotty squishy fruit fruit can be stewed to make a delicious compote.
  • Shrivelled veggies are perfectly edible. Soft or mouldy parts can be simply cut off.
  • Squishy tomatoes can be cooked or baked to extend their life (and intensify their flavour!)
  • Parmesan rinds (or any stone hard cheese bits) make for a great flavour boost in any soup or stew (just throw in, let it do its umami magic, fish out at the end)

Chuck it in

'Chuck it all in' dishes are great for using up food you have. But freestyle cooking doesn't have to be random - here's my method: 

Most everyday, one-pot meals follow the same 3-step pattern.

1. Chop and soften chopped onion (and any other aromatic veggies, e.g. carrots, celery, etc) in some cooking fat: this base layer adds important depth of flavour!

2. Add everything else by order of time it takes to cook (the dense stuff first, the delicates later). Make sure you season well and add some spices for extra flavour!

3. Finish by rounding off flavours with things like fresh herbs, lemon juice, condiments, and toppings (these are important details!)

Five easy examples:

Curry, chilli, stew or casserole: simply follow the pattern above!

Soup: as above, just add liquid to desired volume. Leave chunky or blend smooth.

Stir-fry: as above, cook dry & quick on high heat. Grate or strip-peel to quickly cook even root veggies! Finish with a dressing.

Fried rice: Stir fry ingredients (or use cooked leftovers). Add cooked rice. Finish as above

Frittata: start with onions & veggies as above. Whisk together some eggs (use plenty to give the dish some body), mix in the veggies and bake until set and golden on top. Leave to cool a bit to set, then cut into slices. Keeps well for a couple of days!


Worried about what goes with what? 

Don't fret - here's how to make 'random' flavours work:

  • Think of the bigger picture: flavour is like a composition, with a background rhythm, a main melody and contrasting accents. You need both harmony and contrast: use salty, sweet and acidic colours to paint your picture.
  • Geographical flavour patterns are a great way to guide your direction: just a few flavourings can take your dish into, say, Italian, Thai or Indian territory, whatever your ingredients.


Do you have your own 'chuck it all in' favourites? I'd love to know!


PS. Mastering the above 3-step method to cook with anything in your kitchen is the topic of my Effortless Cooking Workshop, now available with instant access!

Categories: (RE)THINK, EXPLORE


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