This pandemic has revealed so many chefs-at-heart, as you can see from all the scrumptious looking home-cooked meals being posted all over social media. However, some people may be having a difficult time right now because of all the uncertainty – some people may have been furloughed or have lost their jobs all together. Even in these strange and challenging times though, there are still ways to create food-enviable meals on a budget.
I’m married to a chef, and he’s been furloughed since the end of March. We’ve been living on a budget (not a very tight one, honestly), so we’ve had to be really creative with our food. When I say we, I mean he’s been creative. If I were in charge, we’d be having rice, meat, veg everyday for all our meals. Or Korean instant ramen. LOL
Here are three tips I learned from him, which I think you might find helpful:
TIP #1: Shop in the Reduced Section
When we go to the supermarket, we always look at what’s in the reduced sections first. If there are any good bargains, we buy it even if it won’t fit our menu for the week.
- If it’s fresh meat, fish, poultry, or anything else, we freeze it as soon as we get home to be used another day.
- If it’s fresh fruit or vegetables, we add that to the upcoming lunches and dinners we’re going to have.
We only buy food we may not need for the week as long as they are good bargains — less than £1.
During the first few weeks of the lockdown, there were some packs of Octopus for £0.80. £0.80! I suppose not a lot of people like it. But it was so good! We had deep fried octopus for dinner that night as a starter.
If you’ve never tried octopus before, try eating it deep fried, breaded, and dip it in a crème fraiche and lemon sauce. That’s a pretty safe gateway I think 🙂
TIP #2: Batch Cook
My husband cooked a big batch of mince in tomato sauce and spices, divided it in portions for two people, and froze them in plastic tubs. Every so often, we’d take a tub out and use it in a different way —
- Cooked it with some peas and made cottage pie.
- Poured it onto pasta, and
- Added it onto a lasagna.
There are a few more tubs left in the freezer and I can’t wait to have them again. It was just so comforting, and it tasted like home! We can use this to make chili, picadillo, tacos, etc.
In this specific batch, we used frozen mince. It was the only thing available in the supermarket at the time (and it was cheap!). I think it was a great idea, especially for days when you just don’t feel like making a fuss in the kitchen.
There are lots of other things you can make in big batches and freeze – vegetarian chili, soups (for quick and easy lunches on rainy days), adobo, etc.
TIP #3: Purchase whole pieces of meat
We bought some pork belly and whole chickens from our local butcher. My husband cooked the pork belly whole with loads of spices in the oven, but you can use a BBQ grill, a slow cooker, anything you want. We used the pork belly in so many different dishes —
- Poured on some East Asian-y sauce and added vegetables and rice,
- Added the pork belly on top of cauliflower cheese (as we didn’t have enough cauliflower, my husband added some lasagna sheets leftover from when we made lasagna),
- Barbecued the ribs on the grill and had it with some garlic bread,
- Added the pork belly onto sinigang (this was my fave way of using pork belly), and
- Mixed the last few slices of pork belly in with some mushrooms, asparagus, other left over veg and had it with croutons and avocado.
That’s five very different meals for two people (or 10 meals for one), with just one slab of pork belly. Another thing you can cook whole is chicken, which is cheaper to purchase whole anyway. With the chicken, you can boil it and use up the chicken broth for instant ramen, shred the meat and add onto curries, adobo, and then fry the rest until it’s crisp and add it to salads, cook in sweet and sour sauce, etc.
I think in times like these, one of the easiest and best ways you can help your community is to support your local businesses. So if you can, please purchase from your local butcher (and bakers).
BONUS TIP from ME: Plan a Menu
Normally, we decide what to eat about a few hours before the meal and go to the shops to pick up a few things we need to “complete” the meal. Since the lockdown, though, I insisted that we have a proper planned dinner menu so we can at least cut down on the number of times we go to the shops. This is limited to dinner because we will almost always have left overs for lunch. Once the menu is set, make a shopping list.
This practice has helped cut down costs as well since we are able to go into a shop, run straight through our list, and walk out. We don’t really dilly dally, finding random interesting things to buy as we’re searching for what we really need for our dinners.
That’s all for now! I’ll continue to write more as I learn more tips and tricks from my husband. Let me know if you’d like me to share some of his recipes so I can try harder to get it from him. He often just dumps things together – usually whatever it is we have in the cupboard- without measuring anything. I ask him, “how long should that be in the oven/ simmering on the stove?” and he’ll invariably say the most annoying and unhelpful answer – “until it’s cooked.”