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Waste Not, Want Not – Savings in the Kitchen

There’s little doubt that we live in a throw-away age. Having said that, there is still no reason for so much waste in the kitchen. With a little forward planning, the food we buy can last longer. Add to this a cost-conscious shopping strategy and the savings will be considerable.

Buying food in bulk, particularly when "specials" are on offer, is a good way to save money in the long term. It pays to find out those days when the stores mark down their goods, so that you can take advantage. Always ensure, however, that you can use what you've bought before it goes off. There’s little sense buying four heads of broccoli because they are half price, only to end up having to throw three away. In many respects, the freezer is your best friend here. As soon as you get home, split up the bulk-buys into convenient portions, then prep, bag and freeze. There are plenty of cheap books and magazines around covering methods of preparation with advice on how long different frozen foodstuffs will keep. Vegetables usually have to be blanched (scalded in boiling water), but there are those with a high water content which simply have to be washed, cut and bagged. Onions are one of these – before storing, put the bags in an air-tight container, otherwise the smell will invade the freezer. Capsicums and chillies just need washing, seeding, then quartering before freezing. You won’t be able to use them in salads, but they are ideal for cooked dishes. Tomatoes can be simmered until the skins split. Remove these, along with the top where the stalk was attached. The remaining fruit can then be packed whole, diced, or crushed.

As with anything you put in the freezer, make sure you remove as much air as possible from the bag before sealing. If using an air-tight container, line it with a bag first, extract the air and tie before closing the lid. Label bags and containers stating contents and date of freezing. Writing with a felt pen directly onto bags doesn't work too well because it tends to rub off after a short while, and indelible marker is often hard to remove from plastic without damage. Stick on strips of masking tape, then write on this. It is easier to see and as long as the tape is removed from containers as soon as they are taken from the freezer, there will be no glue residue.

Obviously, use-by dates need checking, but also be careful of buying items, especially meat, that may already have been frozen, then thawed for sale. These items should be cooked as soon as possible for serving immediately, or re-freezing after cooking. Blocks of vacuum-packed cheese often have a long fridge life, and this can be extended by freezing. Once thawed, however, it can be crumbly and difficult to slice. If you find the cheese straight from the store is like this, chances are it too has been frozen.

When you're on a tight budget, larger joints of meat can seem too expensive, but they can be surprisingly versatile and are often cheaper in the long run. A local independant butcher will very possibly give you a far better deal on this than the supermarket. Price per kilo can be considerably less than the pre-packed cuts such as steaks and stir-fry strips. It can be divided up into small joints, steaks, medallions or whatever you fancy in sizes that suit you and your family. The odds and ends can be diced, or minced if you have a meat grinder. And all of it can be bagged, tagged and frozen. If preferred, joints can be roasted prior to slicing and packing into meal-size portions for freezing. Whenever possible, always defrost meats slowly in the fridge and use as soon as thawed.

Try cooking up larger quantities of meat in one go. A kilo or more of cooked mince can provide the basis for a number of meals. From about 350g of beef mince, I can make 4 individual serves of shepherds pie with enough left-over mince for a spaghetti Bolognese, or a Nacho sauce - that's 3 separate meals for the two of us!

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