As I prepare to spend less time acting and more time waitressing I am also holding my breath in anticipation of that horror that is life on a minimum wage. I love eating in restaurants and even more than that I love wine so times like this bring a sad sigh to my lungs as I drag myself past delis and favourite haunts of the city, promising them and myself that it’s not forever.
So I’ve decided to do that really irritating thing and put on, not just a brave face, but a cheerful, can-do face for all to see. I shall make a virtue of budget cooking, and by doing so prove that life on a shoestring is not about cup noodles.Let’s see if I can convert you. I don’t want to be patronising and some of you probably know all this already, but I think the following five points could really help you:
1: Make better use of your time.
Primarily I bake because I find the process relaxing, and the results are so rewarding. But another virtue is that the money spent on a baked good from a shop or even a supermarket will buy enough for at least double that in store cupboard ingredients. Of my two days off I tend to spend one day food shopping, cleaning and doing all the household chores, then the next day I lie in, make plenty of coffee and at noon start prepping for the week’s meals. To feel less cheated I bring the laptop into the kitchen and catch up on my week’s viewing and radio.
2: Get out your calculator.
We’ve all that that student moment when we’ve suddenly realised that there is only a fiver to make it through the week. Avoid that moment by assessing your monthly expenditure in advance and don’t cave in once you arrive at the supermarket, no matter how lovely the pastries, or in my case, the cheese and wine look.
3: Use your freezer.
It’s not just for pizzas, peas and chips. Buy some sandwich bags and use it for meat, fish, pastry, biscuit dough, soup, vegetables, bread, butter, the list goes on. Keep things like mince in individual portions so nothing is wasted. If you’re a recipe hound like me most recipes online will point out if and at what point a dish can be frozen.
4: Shop around.
Not so easy if you live in a more restricted area but most small towns now boast at least two supermarkets. Compare your prices and try shopping online. But please don’t forget markets, proper greengrocers and butchers and specialist shops. A small quantity of good quality produce cooked cleverly will keep longer and it will go much further. If you live in a city try oriental and Asian supermarkets, where you can bulk buy dry goods, pastes and sauces, not to mention garam masala, curry powders and other spices.
5: Cut down on meat.
Don’t leave! Stay with me here it’s not the end of the world! I know us English have a mania for meat and two veg, but let’s face it, the doctors say we don’t need much protein, environmentalists say raising the livestock is a strain on the planet and it costs. If you need persuading then use Madhur Jaffrey’s recipes, which represent proper Indian cooking that shows you how much flavour and texture you can get without meat. What meat you do buy make use of it all, make stock from Sunday roast chicken for sauces and soups and put leftovers into pies. Decent mince goes a long way if you’ve lots of people to feed, as do any cured or seasoned meats, so hams, bacon, sausages and in particular chorizo. Just one 225g sausage in a dish will easily feed four. With fish there are usually cheaper alternatives to the old favourites, such as buying pollock instead of cod and langoustines instead of prawns. Look for special offers and stock up your freezer.
If you want to start thinking about some reallu useful recipes, then Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s River Cottage simple bread loaf is inspirational. On the Channel 4 website you’ll find the original episode so you can see how Hugh does it. 1.5kg Allinson Strong White Bread Flour costs £1 and 125g Allinson Dried Active Baking Yeast costs 64p to make two loaves and enough yeast to last you for months. One Tesco’s Finest Farmhouse loaf costs £1.30 and doesn’t fill your home with the smell of freshly baked bread.
There, was that so hard? I’ve not bothered mentioning ready meals only because it’s been so long since I bought or ate one I’m not really in a position to comment. As for takeaway, forget it. You’ll feel better for it, I promise.
Alice Forrest trained as an actress, and has been working as one since 2005. As a student at Leeds University she had the good fortune to live with two accomplished cooks, who showed her that there was more to life than pesto and that it was totally acceptable to drink wine every day. She has been writing her blog since June 2010 when she moved to Bristol as a response to the wealth of the City’s theatre, music, art and most of all food. She waitresses, acts, sings, bakes and blogs, though rarely in that order. She still likes pesto.