Mr Frugal’s money saving kitchen tips
We haven’t heard from Mr Frugal for a while – he’s been busy with research into penny-pinching, scrimping and hanging onto cash. But here he is, with a money saving culinary adventure.
I know that it has been a particularly trying time for you all recently. That you have been almost – and unfortunately in a few cases, given that this is a website for the over-50s, actually – wetting yourselves with uncontainable excitement, incapable of concentrating on anything other than awaiting an answer to the big question: “Mr Frugal, how was dinner with Mr Lavish?”
At the end of my last communique from the coalface of genteel poverty, I broke the astonishing news that my opulent friend had agreed to, temporarily, forsake The Savoy, Claridge’s and The Dorchester in order to undertake a brief state visit to my humble little abode in south-east London.
How on earth was I going to aspire to the gastronomic standards of the high life without having to break open the rainy-day piggy-bank? I was a worried man.
It had in fact been Mr Lavish’s own suggestion that we should have dinner together, a touching gesture of the noblesse oblige variety.
Originally he said he wanted to take me out. But I was keen to avoid that, and I persuaded him instead to dine chez moi.
You must be thinking: why would Mr Frugal turn down the chance of a free meal? Frankly, no one should be asking that question, for surely by now we all know that there is no such thing as a free meal, particularly if the hospitality has to be returned.
If Mr Lavish had taken me to one of his posh haunts, I would have felt obliged to reciprocate in similar fashion.
It is painful just to imagine the financial ruin that London rip-off restaurant prices would have caused me.
Mr Lavish may choose to conduct his own round of entertaining in a place where even the maitre d’ seems upper-class, but that’ll be his affair. When the time comes I shall be relaxed in the knowledge that I have already welcomed him into the bosom of my family home and done my little bit to bridge the social divide.
But now the bad news – the bugger didn’t turn up. To be fair, he gave me a few days’ warning of the cancellation. I have no idea why he couldn’t make it. For all I know, he may have been preoccupied with depositing bungs into a Monaco bank account. Of course he was very apologetic and promised to come some other time. But in truth I was inconsolable.
Let me clarify that last remark. It wasn’t the non-appearance of my guest that upset me. To be honest, I was in some ways rather relieved. No, what I found so difficult to accept was that I had lost a rare opportunity to impress him on the cheap.
You see, he was supposed to visit me on January 25, which, as even Sassenachs know, is the birthday of Robert Burns, Scotland’s national bard.
Food-wise, Burns Night is just about the only occasion in the social calendar when it is perfectly respectable – nay, compulsory – to serve up culinary crap.
I refer of course to haggis, the poet’s “great chieftain o’ the puddin’ race”, that big bulbous sausage stuffed with parts of the sheep’s anatomy which, if served to you whole, would convert you in an instant to staunch vegetarianism.
What a devilishly cunning masquerade a haggis is. Put the disgusting heart, lung and windpipes through a mincer, disguise the fleshly mush in a mass of highly spiced oatmeal and you have a tour de force of thrifty cooking rooted in a peasant society where by necessity nothing was ever wasted.
It’s a modern frugalist’s dream concoction.
With a few bashed-up neeps [swede/turnip] and tatties [potatoes], I could have given this inexpensive dish to Mr Lavish and he would have been joyous in the aptness of the celebration, little realising that my real motivation was cost-cutting.
Now this window of opportunity for parsimony sanctioned by tradition has gone. Unless I can re-arrange our fixture for Pancake Tuesday (I have a packet of pancake mix I’m keen to shift before its use-by date), I’m snookered.
Ah but there’s hope and it comes in the form of my recently acquired electric slow cooker. A contraption which, we are told, uses no more energy than a light bulb – a piece of advice that begs a couple of questions: are we talking about an old- or a new-style bulb, and is doing the equivalent of leaving a electric light burning for at least eight hours really all that economical?
Anyway, I can happily make any number of allowances for my new slow cooker, as it is a thing of surpassing beauty. I had something similar many decades ago – it was heavy and clumsy and difficult to clean. What a difference these days.
Its modern successor has been re-born as a sleek oval of shiny stainless steel. That’s just the outside.
The cooking is done in a ceramic pot that sits inside the steel casing. When the food is ready, the pot is good-looking enough to take straight to the table for serving. In a supermarket it cost me only £12. If I hadn’t dithered for so long over the purchase I could have got it when it was still on offer for £9. But even at the higher price it’s worth every penny – high praise indeed from an inveterate penny-pincher.
From the skinflint’s perspective, the most important point about a slow cooker is that it can tranform even the lowest-grade meat into something with the taste and texture that you’d expect from an expensive high-class butcher.
The stuff that you would hesitate even to give to your dog ends up, after prolonged exposure to a low heat, indistinguishable from the best cuts.
And, my goodness, it works wonders. One evening recently I gave a lady friend a beef casserole, with which she was immensely impressed.
During the meal I was extolling the joys of slow cooking and of the wondrous alchemy it performs on cheap, tough meat. “Of course,” I quickly added, “that doesn’t apply to tonight’s meal – I bought only the best beef for you, my dear.” She was completely taken in by my blatant lie – I had bought for £3 from a supermarket freezer a bag of sinewy scraps hacked out of a worn-out old milch-cow.
Get the point?
Even without the benefit of a slow cooker, my thrifty cuisine has in its time achieved a modest renown among the cognoscenti of the kitchen.
On one occasion some years ago my friend Jenny was visiting and expecting to be fed but there were no provisions in the flat other than what could be found in the store cupboard and an almost bare fridge.
I laid out before us a sorry array of scanty ingredients: some pasta shells, an onion, a sliver of garlic and a past-its-best piece of Parmesan cheese.
The scene was like that of a poor man’s Ready Steady Cook: make what you can out of that lot; your time starts now.
While the pasta was boiling, I gently fried the onion and the garlic in plenty of olive oil. I put the whole lot together and mixed in lashings of Parmesan.
It was embarrassingly basic and yet the aroma and the taste were amazingly Mediterranean. My friend, even before she had finished eating, announced that it was one of the most delicious meals she’d ever had. From then on, whenever she was invited for dinner, she’d almost invariably say “Please can we have that pasta dish?”
Well, news of this novel addition to the cuisine of Italy circulated around her network of friends, among whom was the food writer Becca Watson. Imagine my surprise when Becca’s book Perfect Pasta was published and taking its place alongside such classics as Spaghetti alle Vongole and Rigatoni Pizzaiola was a recipe called That Pasta Dish!
When Mr Lavish finally sits down at my table, somehow I don’t think I’ll be subjecting him to the austerity of That Pasta Dish.
But I am pretty confident that the wizardry of my new slow cooker will cast a most gratifying spell over his taste-buds!
Read more from the odd couple of Mr Frugal and Mr Lavish.
- Mr Lavish breaks the bank in Monte Carlo
- Mr Frugal’s glamorous road trip
- Mr Frugal’s Christmas tips
- Christmas Day with Mr Lavish