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Every third Saturday of the month is Ashby de la Zouch farmers market. I love to go along and check out all the lovely stalls, sometimes I treat myself to a freshly cooked burger whilst browsing. There’s a real mix of characters and I always ask questions of the stall holders as they have such a wealth of knowledge between them that they are willing to share. Most of them stand out as being really passionate about what they do. I buy from them and feel happy to know a little about the meat I’m buying.
There’s a man there who sells roosters. I always make a beeline for him as rooster is a fantastic alternative to chicken. Unfortunately in today’s society of egg farming and high output production there is often no place for the males. The chicks are sexed at a very early age and the males are often destroyed as they are no use to the egg farmer and to keep them alive would cost as they need feeding. Anyway that’s a debate I don’t want to get into here….
The roosters that I buy lead a good life. They sit around all day looking manly and keeping watch for danger, get up for a spot of dinner, maybe strut their stuff if they have the urge and then its bedtime! The meat of the rooster tastes like chicken but much stronger if that makes sense. The rooster doesn’t have to stress its body by using valuable energy and nutrients in the process of egg making each day which results in a wonderfully flavoursome meat. The stock from these birds is a thick gel that smells divine and is so deep and rich that it lifts any dish that it is used in. The rooster isn’t an expensive bird. I find it cheaper than an equal sized organic chicken in the supermarket.
I also bought some wonderful rare breed beef. I tend to buy a piece larger than I need so I can use the leftovers to make a meal for the next day. I treated us to some fillet steak too but we haven’t eaten that yet as I’m saving it for a nice weekend meal with a ton of onion rings all smothered in a mushroom sauce… I’m getting hungry just thinking about it!
I bought a couple of nice pork joints, chops and tenderloins for the freezer and some good streaky belly and shoulder to make into sausages. I shall be doing a sausage making entry shortly if anyone is interested?
Here’s just a selection of the meat I bought before I portioned it up for the freezer.
Another really good buy is the lamb pieces. I get a decent sized pack of gorgeous free ranging lamb pieces for a couple of pounds. I freeze them and use them for casseroles or curries. The flavour is so different to what you get in the supermarket and probably works out cheaper!
I came away with a real haul and hopefully that’s the families meat supply sorted until the next market. I also bought veg and ordered some oat groats as I like to mill them myself for porridge and muesli bars.
If you get the chance to visit a farmers market then I highly recommend it. Its such a relaxed atmosphere and I’ve noticed that lots of people go with their families and treat it as an afternoon out. No one seems to be in a rush and there’s always plenty of time to just browse and read the labels and information boards to find out more about where the products come from. There’s always children running about and quite a few people bring their dogs. I daren’t take my two boxer dogs as they are fed a raw meat diet and I have visions of them running around with sausages in their mouths being chased by angry stall holders in that Benny Hill style…. bless em!
So here I am with a well stocked freezer full of locally grown, thoughtfully raised meat. I feel good supporting the local community and feeding the family with ‘happy food’ Oh dear I’m sounding a bit Delia Smith now, well before she lost the plot and brought out her new book…. another entry for that one methinks!
I only buy organic chicken which as you know can work out rather expensive, so I like to stretch it out a little bit further by using the final leftovers for stock. Homemade chicken stock is a real delight, not like those salty stock cubes you can buy in the shops.
I use homemade stock as the base for soups and sauces, flavouring gravies, its great added to chicken lasagne to bulk out and flavour the white sauce. Also if you’ve never tried Delia Smiths leftover dish from her Christmas book titled Turkey en Croute then I heartily recommend giving it a shot. I make it year round with leftover chicken and homemade stock… its heavenly!
I start the stock by looking in the vegetable drawer in my fridge and I chuck in anything I can find. Onions, carrots, celery, the leaves from the cauliflower, whatever happens to be hanging about. Don’t waste your time chopping the veg nicely, just cut it in half and whack it in the pan. As you can see, its not an exact recipe! I then throw in about a dozen peppercorns to season it.
I use all the parts of the leftover chicken, including the skin. Break it up and pop it in, its all good stuff!
This is what mine looks like when its cooking. My son says it looks vile (he is a veggie) but I like it!
Now as I don’t like to keep watch over the stove for hours I simply make the stock in my slow cooker. I make it up in a morning and put it on a low heat setting for about eight hours. The smell of the slowly cooking chicken wafts through the whole house and creates such a welcoming setting….. what could be a better aroma to greet you at the door on a chilly evening!
Once the bones have broken up and the veg looks all wilted and emptied of its goodness, turn the slow cooker off and let it cool. Sieve the ingredients and put the strained liquid into the fridge. Next morning you will find the stock has set into a jelly like state. Don’t be alarmed, this is perfectly normal. If you aren’t going to use the stock straight away, bag it up into portions and store in the freezer. I also freeze some in ice cube trays so I can easily pop a couple into a gravy or sauce to pep it up a bit.
You will notice a layer of fat has settled on top of the stock. Just spoon this off if you are watching your diet. (I spoon it off, warm it up and add flour and use to thicken gravy) Its the little things like using homemade stock that takes cooking into another league. You simply cannot get such intense flavours from cubes.
Please give this a go as its so worth it. You’ll never use stock cubes again. I try to respect the animals I eat and use as much as possible. It would be a crying shame to throw a perfectly good carcass into the bin….
A few years ago I bought a dehydrator. It wasn’t an expensive one, I bought it from Tchibo for £25 but its incredible what you can do with it.
I keep my eye on the reduced section in the supermarket and often see tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers etc reduced down to a few pennies. Now I used to wonder how I could use these things up in a short period of time. There’s a limit to how much food you can give the family at once!
So I came up with the idea of drying and storing them. I started off drying them in the oven but when I came across the dehydrator I grabbed it at that price.
I dry them and pop them in separate airtight pots. The children love the little cherry tomatoes as drying them makes them incredibly sweet. I pop them into a pasta sauce and its a fight for who gets the most in their dish!
I use the dried veg in tons of different recipes. Garlic, celery and mushrooms added to a tin of tomatoes makes a great pasta sauce base and its incredibly tasty as the dehydrated veg has such a concentrated flavour.
I also grind down a mix of peppers, mushrooms, onions and a little garlic and use as a seasoning for potato wedges. Or take the same mix and add breadcrumbs for a tasty coating for chicken pieces.
Throw the veg onto a pizza to help the kids get their five a day or just pop in the pan to liven up stews and casseroles.
Its an incredibly cheap way to keep in a stock of essential ingredients that may otherwise go off in your fridge.
Fruit leathers can be made by mashing up fruit and pressing a thin layer onto the dehydrator. I dont make them in this house as fruit makes the children suspicious!
At Christmas I had a few oranges that were way past there best so I sliced them and dried them on the dehydrator, threaded a bit of string on them and made decorations. They look great around the festive dinner table too!
Cream cubes are a great idea for when you have just a bit of cream left in your pot and you don’t want to throw it away.
Simply pour the leftover cream into ice cube trays and freeze for 24 hours. At this point, chuck them all into a freezer bag or a little box and just take them out whenever a recipe calls for a small amount of cream.
I add a few cubes to mash potato for extra creaminess and the best bit is I dont even have to defrost them first. Try adding a few cubes in a white sauce… or my favourite way of using them is to pop a couple into the pan when making porridge. My favourite winter breakfast!
This is also a useful tip for lemons. Our local market sells fruit by the bowlful so you get around 10 lemons for a pound. I juice them up and freeze them the same as the cream. You’ll never have to rush out to the shops at the last minute when your recipe calls for the juice of half a lemon…
Now that Martin from moneysavingexpert.com/it pays to watch has given me the go ahead to give a link to my blog on there I want to welcome over my friends from MSE.
We have a great foodie forum over there and it got me thinking ‘what is your least expensive meal’ I can answer this myself straight away – its cheesy pasta. The cheesy pasta is a great comfort food and we have it at least once a week as the children love it.
I’ll work out some costs first of all and then I’ll put up the recipe.
Dried pasta. The one from Aldi is 100% durum wheat and is a good quality one. I use half a bag for the four of us so that works out at about 30p
Tin of tomatoes. Lidl had them on offer at just 15p a tin so I bought loads! They have the same tomato content in as more expensive brands so worth looking at when the 15p offer is on.
For the cheese sauce.
I used buttermilk from butter-making. I had frozen lots of this at Christmas when I was able to get cream reduced to 10p for a big carton. I froze it in half pint size bags to make it easier to defrost and use. I use about one and a half pints so I shall say the cost was 25p
Butter for the roux approx 5p
Flour for the roux. I mill my own so lets say 5p for the wheat.
Cheese. I do use quite a lot in the sauce and as a topping so 40p should easily cover that.
Of course I use salt/pepper etc but I’m not going to cost those in.
So I make that a grand total of £1.20 or just 30p per head!
You may notice from the picture that I added ham to this dish… Ok so I cheated, I popped in a packet of sandwich ham. Add 50p to the total cost… but it is delicious!
Yesterday I went to the supermarket and managed to find an organic chicken reduced to just £4. I got some other bits as well including two pots of cream (for butter-making) and some pigs liver for 50p, a treat for the dogs. Did I tell you that my dogs only eat raw meat? Remind me and I’ll post on that later.
So yesterday’s dinner was roast chicken with Yorkshire puds (I’m a Yorkshire lass, we have puds with everything!) and loads of veg. I had quite a lot of chicken left so I chilled it in the fridge for making a meal tonight with. I popped the carcass and skin in my slow cooker with a few carrots, onions and a leek to make a stock. This freezes nicely and makes a good base for soups or chicken pie.
I had some leftover butter milk from my butter making so that was the base for my white sauce. I also had some mushrooms lounging about in the bottom of the fridge so dinner was sorted!
I made a chicken and mushroom lasagne.
Simply make up a white sauce. Fry up your mushrooms. Grate a bit of cheese for the top. I lined the dish with lasagne sheets and placed half the chicken and mushrooms on top. Pour on half the white sauce and then layer the rest of the ingredients on top, finishing off with the grated cheese.
Pop it in a hot oven for about half an hour and serve with a salad or to make it go further, peel a few potatoes and have it with home made chips.
I estimate that the lasagne worked out at about 60p per head. The family really enjoyed it… not bad to say I was just using up leftovers!
Someone once told me that when margarine is made in the factory, its actually black but they colour it yellow to make us buy it. Now I dont know if this is true but its sure stuck with me!
A couple of years ago I started buttermaking. Its very simple really, you just need a pot of double cream and a vessel to mix it in. Butter can only be made from double or whipping cream, single cream will not work.
Cream is best when its almost on the ‘turn’ by that I mean it will have gone off if you leave it a day or two more. This suits me fine as I can buy the pots in the supermarket that have reached their sell by date and are reduced to silly prices. I managed to get loads over the Christmas period for 10p a pot!
Take the cream out of the fridge about an hour before you are going to do your buttermaking. This gives it chance to come up to room temperature and makes it easier to mix. Now I make my butter in a food mixer but you can even make it in a jar with a marble in, just make sure the jar has a secure lid…. unless of course you actually want your dogs licking cream off the walls for the next week! Hey it gives them something to do and stops them chasing the hens!
I put the cream in my mixer and put the cover over it to stop it flying out everywhere. Turn the mixture on and once its mixing nicely, turn the speed up. You will notice the cream goes through a few stages. First it just looks like whipped cream and then it takes on a kind of scrambled egg consistency. Keep your eye on it at this time as it wont be long before you hear the sloshing sound as the butter separates from the buttermilk. Turn the mixer speed right down as soon as it separates and just let it mix slowly for a few seconds. You’ll probably notice the butter clinging to the beater.
Stop your machine and drain off the buttermilk. Do not throw this away as it is delightful used as the liquid in scone making or in sauces. I usually plan to make a cheesey pasta bake for tea on buttermaking days so I can use the buttermilk up. Buttermilk tastes like very creamy milk but is low in calories as the fat has gone into the butter. If you cant use the buttermilk right away, simply freeze it and use it in cooking at a later time.
So on to the butter. It now needs rinsing to get out all the remaining buttermilk. If you dont rinse it you will find that the butter goes off very quickly. I pop mine in a colandar and pour running water onto it. Once you’ve rinsed it, now its on to drying. I place three sheets of kitchen roll on my worktop, pop the butter on to it and then add another three sheets so its in a kind of butter sandwich and then squish it down with a piece of wood. This flattens it and gets out any remaining water.
The butter is now almost ready to be used. You can add salt to it at this time if you like but I prefer to keep mine unsalted.
Now the really fun bit…. hitting it as hard as you like with a couple of wooden butter pats! I find it a great way to get out all my frustration. I beat it up a bit and then when I get bored I shape it nicely into an oblong block and either put it in my butter dish for instant use, or freeze it if i’ve taken advantage of the supermarket reduced section and bought fifteen pots to make it in bulk!
The taste of homemade butter is something special. So rich and creamy. I havent bought butter or margarine in years, it just tastes so ‘plasticky’ I’m sure that once you have made your own, i’m going to be seeing you in the reduced section from now on….
Sorry about the ‘rustic’ looking butter but I wanted to add a picture and I only had this bit in my dish. I promise to put a nice oblong block of butter on soon