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Waste Not, Want Not – Savings in the Kitchen

Chicken can also be expensive if you want breast fillets; but when only using small pieces of meat in a curry or stir-fry, bulk-buying thighs and drumsticks can save heaps. Just beware of the packs of "chicken pieces" which are bound to contain wings - not much meat on them. As these cuts tend to be fatty and sometimes tough, they are best cooked separately first. Simply place the lot in a suitable pan, cover with water and simmer on the stove until cooked through. The liquid can then be poured off along with the fat then, ideally, flushed once more with boiling water. Once the meat has cooled, skin and bones can be removed easily. Whatever you don’t need for the stew or curry can now be frozen.

Preparation and cooking of meals takes time and all too often we have to fall back on take-away, or oven-ready, quick-cook dishes. These don't come cheap, and they aren't always the healthy option. But home-cooked meats and even meals can be frozen for use at a later date. You can make yourself a stock of pre-cooked meals with very little extra effort, and save on your power bills into the bargain! Although there are only two of us at home, I generally cook double the amount of the main ingredient (pie, meat-loaf, schnitzel, etc.) and freeze half. So, next time you are making a meal, especially one everyone enjoys, prepare and cook a double batch. Then, simply package and freeze half for thawing and re-heating later. This method works for pies, slices, curries, roasted and cooked meats. It is especially good with most sauces, including Bolognese-types. Although cheese-flavoured sauces may be a little grainy when de-frosted, slow heating with milk or cream added will compensate.

After gatherings such as dinner parties and barbecues when not all of the food is eaten, take the time to pack left-overs in suitable bags and plastic containers, label, date, then consign to the freezer. Larger quantities can be split into meal-size lots. These are handy for those occasions when lengthy preparation and cooking is likely to be inconvenient. Allowing sufficient time for de-frosting, just take out a few sausages, hamburgers, fried onions, whatever, then re-heat them and serve with salad, or some left-over vegetables and gravy – even that can be frozen. Ensure the re-heating is done properly – luke-warm is no good and might result in food poisoning.

Cooked vegetables can be frozen, but unless they are prepared specifically with that in mind – see the suggestions above about freezing vegetables - they tend to be mushy when re-heated, so I prefer to use fresh where possible. Some frozen vegetables such as potato, swede, parsnip and pumpkin don't always re-heat well, so avoid freezing stews, etc which contain them. You can, however, cook up any vegies, then add pre-cooked meat, flavouring, sufficient water and thickening for a really tasty stew that can be on the table, from start to finish, in half an hour. And if the meat was simmered for a while when first cooked, after the second heating it will be tender rather than chewy - diced meat for stews and curries, etc. can be pan-cooked on low in stock for about thirty minutes, then drained and bagged in meal-size portions. You can even freeze the simmer stock for later use as a base for sauce.

Rice is a good, cheap accompaniment to many dishes, and it doesn’t take all night to prepare. One cup of rice with two cups of water in a deep microwave container with a lid needs about 2 spins on medium (500) at 4 minutes a time, then another spin for 2 minutes, stirring after each spin. Once cooked, flush it with clean water – boiling water just before serving, or cold water when it is going to be stir-fried. This gets rid of the starch and help the grains to separate. I bag and freeze half for later use.

There are plenty of jokes about green furry things growing in the fridge. In truth, it isn’t really funny. Consider how it starts: not green at all, not even visible to the naked eye; yet it’s ALIVE and waiting to make you sick! Freeze your left-overs as soon as they are cool, or use them no later than the following day. If neither is practical, bag and bin them.

With respect to health in general, good hygene is essential. No doubt you ensure that you wash your hands before handling food, and the utensils, pans and surfaces used will have been properly cleaned; but how much thought is ever put into the state of the fridge or freezer? Please ensure that yours are cleaned regularly. Wiping the inside of the cabinet, shelves and drawers with a solution of water and sodium bicarbonate will clean, de-odorize and disinfect. Leave this for about 30 minutes, then simply wipe with clean water and dry.

Next issue:   Waste Not, Want Not – Savings in the Kitchen Part 2

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