Thoughts from a gardener / cook

Herbs

Fresh herbs are expensive to buy in the supermarket and often come packed in plastic. It's worth having a few pots of herbs in the garden or on a balcony. Some herbs I find useful and have growing in my garden are:

Rosemary Thyme
Rosemary - the bees love the flowers too! Thyme

These are easy to grow and many herbs will grow year after year - check out Naomi's Tiny Veg Patch to see how you could grow them yourself.

Meal Planning Tips

I always find it really useful to plan my meals in advance and I plan a week or sometimes two weeks to help me use the vegetables I have.

Here's what I do:

  • Firstly I look in the fridge to see what I have left over to use up.
  • Then I check the garden to see what I can use.
  • Then I create a list of the days of the week and ideas for meals

Tip: I use a little notebook where I jot down ideas for meals as I think of them and a list of items as I use them up so I am building my next shopping list as I go

I make a shopping list so I only need to buy what I am going to use.

Because of the current situation what I order isn't always what turns up so sometimes a bit of improvising is called for so it is good to use recipes where ingredients can be swapped for others, for example when making a vegetable soup - if you can't get broccoli, use cauliflower instead, can't get leeks, use onions, etc.

Storecupboard meals

When planning meals I try and include one meal a week which is made up of ingredients that I have in the cupboard, so that if our plans change we won't be left with loads of fresh ingredients that might get wasted. An example of this would be a lentil dahl which uses dried lentils, carrots and onions which I always have on hand, spices which I always have and rice which is a store cupboard essential. This meal is also useful if you are between shopping trips and don't have many fresh ingredients available.

Tip: With fruit and vegetables, the most nutritious part is just under the skin so for example when using carrots in recipes try scrubbing them with a nail brush rather than peeling them. I keep a nail brush just for scrubbing veggies.

Recipe Scrapbook

Recipe scrapbookStuck for meal ideas? Bored with the same old meals? I'm always on the look out for new and interesting recipes! Here's my scrapbook of recipes made up from supermarket recipe cards, recipes in magazines, shared by friends and online websites - these are my tried and tested recipes that never fail. Start your own scrapbook of favourite recipes!

And don't forget - we have lots of lovely recipes on the Food4Families website!

The Hungry Gap

Gardeners often call this time of year (May) the 'hungry gap' because winter vegetables are finishing and the spring crops are not ready yet. Winter crops include leeks, parsnips, carrots, swede, turnips, beetroot, cauliflower, cabbages such as savoy and everyone's favourite - sprouts!

Vegetables that are starting to come into season include spring greens, kale, radishes, rhubarb, rocket, spinach, spring onions.

Check out the Tiny Veg Patch for ideas of things that can be grown now.

The Cost of Home Cooking

There are many reasons why I enjoy cooking at home, for instance I like the flexibility to use vegetables that I have grown in the garden. I also like to know what it is in my food and to eat (reasonably) healthily. Another reason is the cost of cooking your own food. It is nice to eat out for a treat and I appreciate that restaurants have overheads but I begrudge paying £10 for a main course, knowing that the ingredients cost £1!

All of the recipes I have posted so far should be fairly cheap to make. This week I posted a recipe for vegetable bolognese. The ingredients in the recipe should be enough to make four portions and I have roughly calculated the total cost of the ingredients (assuming lentils are used) to be about £1.61 which works out at 40p per portion! I used vegemince which is more expensive and makes the total cost £3.84 which works out at 96p per portion/person so still very cheap and much cheaper than a ready meal in the supermarket! I also used some goats cheese which was an additional £2, so 50p extra per portion. Here's a breakdown of the costs:

1 tablespoon olive oil 10p
1 onion 10p
2 cloves of garlic 7p
1 carrot 6p
1 stick celery 5p
A few mushrooms 20p
2 bay leaves (if you have)  
½ a bunch of fresh thyme or oregano or 2 teaspoons dried mixed herbs  
75 g dried Puy lentils/can of green lentils 27p
2 tablespoons tomato purée 10p
400 ml vegetable stock 11p
1 x 400 g tin of tomatoes 30p
1 tablespoon soy sauce (if you have it) 5p
150 g wholewheat spaghetti 20p
cheese (optional)  
Total £1.61

I will try and remember to include the cost of the ingredients in future recipes to persuade you to cook your own, eat healthily and more cheaply! And the more you can grow yourself, the cheaper the meal becomes so check out Tiny Veg Patch for ideas.