Sunday, April 5, 2009

Lasagna-20 portions!

I made Lasagna and Macaroni Cheese tonight. Not all the kids like lasagna so I thought they could have a choice. I make my own sauce and cook the beef for an hour and a half so that it is very tender. This batch makes approx. 18-20 portions and works out approx. 50 pence per portion. The recipe is as follows:
Lasagna- I always make large portions as it freezes beautifully and is very cost effective in bulk.
2 packets mince, large (730g each today)
Pasta sheets x 2 packets
Olive oil
2 onions
4 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons tomato puree
3 cartons (500g) passata
200ml stock or water
1 tbs sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Butter 100g
Milk 3/4 pint
2 large tablespoons flour

Tomato Sauce
Puree onions and garlic in a processor until mushy. Heat a good splash of olive oil in a non-stick pan and pour in onion mixture. Stir, bring to the boil, stir again and then simmer for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. These should not go brown. Once cooked, add puree and passata. Stir then bring to the boil. Let it bubble away for a few minutes then turn down heat to a good simmer. Add 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 teaspoon salt plus a really good grinding of black pepper. Stir.

Sprinkle in a good pinch of mixed herbs (dried) and a dash of red wine. Simmer with lid on for approx. 10 minutes or until mince is ready.

Minced Beef
To prepare mince, add a little olive oil to another pan and over a medium to high heat, fry mince until completely brown, stirring continuously. (I had to do this in two batches). Drain and add to sauce. Bring to a boil, then put lid back on and simmer on a low heat for 1.5 hours. Stir every 15 minutes or so. Once ready, add a good grating of nutmeg.

Bechamel Sauce
Melt butter in a pan over a medium heat. Add flour and stir constantly until a roux is formed (looks like a soft paste). Add a dash of milk and incorporate into roux. It may look a little curdled, don't worry, keep stirring! Keep adding milk, a little at a time, quickly stirring all the time. Once the desired thickness has been achieved. let it simmer for a minute, then add a sprinkle of white pepper and a good grating of nutmeg.

Prepare Lasagna:
Layer meat sauce on bottom of lasagna tin/tray. Layer pasta sheets on top and then pour over some bechamel sauce. Repeat and finish with bechamel sauce and sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan. Place lasagna in oven at 180 degrees C and cook for 30-35 minutes.

Once cooled, slice into portions and place into foil trays. After eating this for dinner and having seconds, we had 14 portions left.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Last week's menu.

To give an idea of the food I've been cooking, here is last week's menu:

Day 1: Lemon and Herb Roast Chicken
Free-range chicken, medium sized, stuffed with half of lemon and sprinkling of salt plus rosemary and thyme from the herb pot. Rub with a little butter and olive oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper and thyme. Roast in oven at 210c for 1.5 hours.
When 35-40 minutes left to cook, add quartered or halved (depending on size) Maris Piper potatoes, with skins on. Shake to coat in the lovely, lemony fat. Turn once (although not really necessary). Remove chicken onto warmed plate when ready and cover with foil for 10 minutes to rest. Turn heat down in oven and leave potatoes in. Only remove when ready to serve, with a pinch of salt.
Steam vegetables for a few minutes and toss in a sliver of butter and a pinch of salt. Serve with gravy by adding a tablespoon of juices to granules or adding a splash of wine to juices and let bubble away, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon to make sure all the golden, crunchy, tasty bits are incorporated.

Day2: Macaroni Cheese and Home-made Garlic Bread
Boil macaroni as per packet instructions (takes 10-11 minutes).
To make cheese sauce, melt a little butter (10-15g) in a saucepan and add a tablespoon of flour. Mix well in a fast, clockwise direction over a medium heat for a minute or two until it starts to bubble and slowly add semi-skimmed milk (anywhere from 5-10 fl. oz.; it should at least coat the back of a wooden spoon), stirring all the time, until sauce is of desired thickness.
Add two large handfuls of mature, grated, cheddar cheese, a quarter at a time. Stir continuously until melted into the sauce and bring to a gentle simmer. Turn of heat, add some freshly grated nutmeg (I add at least 5 good gratings)and a sprinkle of white pepper. Mix well with cooked macaroni and put into oven-proof dish. Sprinkle with cheese and place in hot oven until cheese melts.

Another version of this is American Mac and Cheese; simply blend together a slice of bread and a handful of grated cheese and sprinkle over the macaroni before baking in the oven, until golden brown on top.

Slice loaf or baguette of choice, not all the way to the bottom, so that the bread stays in one piece. Mix together 100g butter, add some sea salt to taste, 1-3 cloves of crushed garlic to taste and a grinding of black pepper. Mix well with a fork until fully incorporated. The easiest way to fill the slices with the butter mixture is to make sure hands are cleaned thoroughly and take the equivalent of a rounded teaspoon onto the hand and spread inside each slice, repeating until all used up. Alternatively, use a palette knife or plastic knife.

Place in oven on tray for 8-10 minutes, alongside the macaroni.

Day 3: Salmon Fishcakes
Take 1-2 salmon fillets (10 or 20 fishcakes), drizzle with olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice, grind of black pepper and cook in a hot oven for 8 minutes.
Boil Maris Piper potatoes until soft. Mash with butter and milk. Once mashed, mash again with a fork to ensure no lumps. Flake salmon and add to mash. Add a sprinkle of fresh, finely chopped parsley. If you want, you can add a finely chopped spring onion. Put into bowl, cover with clingfilm and chill.
At dinner, coat in flour (you can use breadcrumbs if preferred) and fry in a small amount of olive or sunflower oil over a medium-high heat for a few minutes and transfer to an ovenproof dish. Scoop fishcakes up quickly to stop them breaking up. Place in a medium oven for 5-10 minutes. Steam broccoli and serve with fishcakes.
You can make home-made oven chips with this if you like; chop up a few maris piper potatoes into large chip size, keeping skins on. Coat lightly in a tablespoon or less of olive oil, a sprinkling of sea salt and some paprika. Cook in oven for 25-35 minutes, on a medium heat.
I like a little mayo with the fishcakes and the kids like a little tomato sauce.

Day 4: Linguine with Feta
Boil linguine as per instructions for five. Toss with the following ingredients; 4 tablespoons of olive oil, juice and zest of lemon, 6 tbs freshly grated Parmesan, couple of sprigs of thyme, leaves removed from stalk, 2 tbs toasted pine nuts, and two handfuls of crumbled feta cheese. This is my own version of a Gordon Ramsay recipe. It is lovely.

Day5: Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding
Beef joint, either brisket or whatever is preferred. Coat with a little seasoned flour and fry in a hot pan, turning to brown each side. Once done, remove and place in tight fitting casserole dish. Add some roughly chopped onions to the pan, cooking for a minute and then adding to the beef. Add some red wine, about a half of small wine glass, to the pan and stir to gather in all the remaining flour and flavour. Let it bubble until reduced to a few tablespoons and then add some beef stock: fresh, home-made, bisto or oxo....any of these are fine.

Pour mixture over beef and add a bay leaf, a few thick slices of carrot, cover with foil, tightly and add a lid, if you have one. Place in a hot oven for 15 minutes and then lower to 160-170. Cook for at least 3 hours. Once cooked, remove from stock, place on chopping board and cover with foil. After at least ten minutes, slice if using immediately, otherwise, if you leave it to get cold in the fridge, slicing it is really easy. To reheat, cook gently in stock of choice, either the liquid it was cooked in or, what I usually do, a mix of bisto and the cooking liquid, with fat removed (if you leave it to get cold, the fat will rise to the surface and turn white...simply remove with a spoon).

Yorkshire Pudding Recipe that never fails, thanks to Nigella Lawson, will be posted soon. This meal is served with mashed potatoes, boiled carrots and peas and sometimes, mashed turnip.

Day6: Stovies
Place peeled and chopped potatoes (around 6-8 large) into a little boiling chicken stock (quarter way up pan). The potatoes should be all different sizes, some large chunks, some small. Add a large, chopped onion (large pieces), thickly sliced carrots (2-4, depending on size) and sausages, at least 2 apiece. Boil vigorously with a partial lid on for around 15 minutes, and then cook on a simmer for around an hour on the stove. The small potatoes should have disintegrated and the large chunks should break easily.

Day 7: Leftover Chicken and Cous-Cous
The leftover chicken from Day 1 had been placed in a bag and frozen. This was removed overnight and placed in chicken stock (sometimes gravy) and simmered gently for around 5 minutes.

The cous-cous was made by melting a little butter in a pan and stirring the cous-cous (6oz) into it, cooking for a minute. I then added 6 fl. oz. chicken stock, stirred, turned off the heat and left to soak. After five minutes, I turned on the heat and cooked gently whilst stirring, adding more stock or water if it looked a little dry. On this occasion, I added a bit of extra water. I took it off the heat and added a good squeeze of lemon juice, a tablespoon of stock/gravy from chicken, a handful of chopped cucumber and spring onion. I separated and fluffed the cous-cous with a fork.

This was served with steamed broccoli and green beans, coated in a little butter and a sprinkling of salt (I only add salt if not added to water first).

The Mac and Cheese that was left was placed into a plastic container and used for lunch the next day, alongside the leftover garlic bread and a salad. Sometimes, it will be placed in a foil container and frozen.

There were approx. 10 salmon fishcakes left for another meal; this was split into two containers to have for two meals, with extra accompaniments.

There was at least a third of the beef left. This was sliced; some was sliced thinly and placed in fridge for sandwiches with mustard, some sliced slightly thicker for another dinner use. This was placed in a bag, tied shut and frozen. Three Yorkshire puddings were also left and these freeze really well. They too were placed in a plastic freezer bag and tied tightly before freezing.

I always make a bit too much mash so that too is frozen in a plastic container.

The leftover cous-cous is given to the kids as part of their lunch at school-alongside some cold meat, they love it.

Lemon Syrup Cake
Madeira Cake
Cornflake and Rice Crispie Cake.

All of the above (with the exception of Rice Crispie Cake) were made with cupboard ingredients (flour, sugar etc.) and butter, eggs, milk. I've not yet worked out the cost to portion ratio (I will!) but I know a packet of flour and sugar lasts about at least 5 cakes each, if not more. Each cake has approx. half a block of butter (55p) and eggs are approx. 24p each for free-range large. A large cake therefore costs approx. £1.50....this is just a rough estimate....but it is a great price for a home-made cake, knowing what ingredients are being used and how fresh they are with no added surprises.

I've discovered Asda Price cornflake and rice crispie mix with added vitamins for pennies! It comes in a bag rather than a box and is perfect for mixing with melted milk chocolate (dark chocolate just won't do with these). A bar of asda good milk chocolate added to the crispie mix provides a minimum of 24 large muffin sized cakes.

Pancakes (sometimes made with choc chips or buttons)
Bacon Rolls
Leftover Lemon Cake
Nutella Sandwiches

Other Lunches
Chicken Noodle Soup
Home-made lentil soup
Cheese and Ham Toasties
Pasta Salad
Meat and Cheese Platter
Fresh Fruit

Feeding a Family of Five for Fifty Pounds

Can it be done? I wasn't sure. Considering my usual weekly food bill was well in excess of £100, particularly since the rising cost of food, I was doubtful. But I was also resourceful: I looked for bargains and found ways to use up leftover ingredients. I always checked the price per gramme or per item against other brands to get the best deal. I took some chances on cheaper ingredients and tried out some dishes that I might not usually have cooked. I think I learned quite a few things;
  • I learned that cooking in bulk with fresh ingredients is a lot cheaper than cooking small dishes every day and a lot of food tastes better with age so cooking large quantities doesn't just save money.
  • I've found out that a medium sized free range chicken can last two meals, if not more.
  • I'm delighted to have realised that all leftover food can be made into at least one of 3 dishes: a soup, a pie or a casserole.
  • I saw that some items need to be purchased at the higher cost to ensure quality but equally, some non-brand, cheaper items are just as good, if not better.
Some weeks, I found myself way below the fifty pounds; this was due to bulk preparation on meals that take to a freezer really well, e.g. lasagna, curry, stews. Other weeks, I was a little above but used what I had saved from previous weeks shop. All in all, I stayed within the fifty pounds. I'm still a novice however and will continue to find new and innovative ways to save money on family food bills.