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Making one meal at a time is the most expensive way to cook. Doubling up and having one for the fridge and one for the freezer automatically saves you time, money and food waste. But most of all, batching allows you to get rid of the dreaded daily thoughts of, ‘What’s for dinner tonight?’, ‘What do I have in the cupboards?’ and ‘Do I need to stop at the corner shop?’. Following my method will show you how to make fast, simple, homemade, portion-controlled meals that can be prepared in advance, then frozen ready for when you need them.
My top tip for shopping on a budget is to stick to a list. Remember that supermarkets are designed to make you spend money, so go with your own plan of attack. Decide what to eat that week and what you need to buy at home – that way, the supermarket can’t sway you. Also, try to only go food shopping once a week as you’re more likely to spend extra money on unnecessary products the more often you go.
To keep costs low, swap out secondary ingredients rather than the main event. For example, don’t swap Kellogg’s Cornflakes for a cheaper brand as you probably won’t like them. But do swap basic ingredients like flour, sugar and spices as you really won’t notice the difference. Also, swap fresh veg and fruit for frozen where possible – it’s 20% cheaper to buy frozen and it will last longer, especially if you’re buying berries.
When batch cooking, it’s essential to have an organised fridge and freezer. Spend ten minutes each week sorting out the fridge, so you know what needs to be used first and what needs topping up. Take a look at the freezer each week as you may be able to use things up that will free up space and reduce your shopping bill. Ziploc bags and a chalk marker are a must for batching. I also like to keep freezer lists, so I know what meals and ingredients I have.
To ensure food tastes great when you defrost it, follow recipes that are designed for the freezer. The methods and cooking times are often very different to a fresh meal. For example, in a pasta bake the pasta is only half cooked before it goes into the freezer, so that when it is cooked from frozen the pasta is perfectly cooked, and the same goes for risotto dishes.
If you’re trying to eat healthily this month, make ‘fakeaway’ meals at home. It’s cheaper and you will automatically eat healthier. Also, add in two handfuls of frozen veg to each meal as it’s a great way to bulk it out and help you reach your five a day. I love a one-pot pasta bake at this time of year. It’s easy, cheap, warm and comforting, and can be done in so many variations.
Some of my favourite recipes from the book including giant vegan samosas, halloumi fries, sharing shish kebabs, falafels, and ham and cheese croquette cakes. With this budget cookbook, I wanted to make the recipes fun and modern, as so many budget recipes can be really dull. If you’re after a sweet treat, I recommend my sticky toffee apple pudding. My family also love a traybake – try the caramel crunch ‘speculoose’ recipe. However, be warned, it’s highly addictive!
Inspired? Here, Suzanne shares three recipes from her new cookbook…
Aubergine & Peanut Curry
This makes a great meat-free option for those evenings when you want to put something full of flavour on the table but with minimum fuss. It’s also great for easy Friday night entertaining when you might have otherwise reached for the takeaway menu.
IF YOU’RE SERVING NOW: Simply spoon the curry into serving bowls and serve with cooked basmati rice and naan breads alongside.
IF YOU’RE MAKING AHEAD TO FREEZE: Set the curry aside to cool to room temperature, then ladle into a large, labelled freezer bags and freeze flat for up to 3 months.
Then, remove the bag from the freezer and leave to defrost in the fridge, ideally overnight. Once defrosted, tip the curry into a large pan and warm over a medium heat until piping hot all of the way through. Serve as above.
Chicken & Mushroom Humble Pie
This is the kind of pie that cold days are made for – plus, it’s easy to prep and assemble from frozen if you get organised and make the filling ahead. I like to keep a batch of this in the freezer ready for comfort food emergencies.
IF YOU’RE COOKING NOW: Preheat the oven to 180˚C/350˚F/Gas Mark 4. Pour the pie filling into a large, ovenproof baking dish smaller than the sheet of pastry, then lay the pastry over the top of the filling and tuck in the edges. Brush the top of the pie with the beaten egg, then transfer the pie to the oven for 30-35 minutes, until golden and well risen. Cut into generous wedges and serve hot with mash and veg alongside, if you like.
IF YOU’RE MAKING AHEAD TO FREEZE: Leave the filling mixture to cool to room temperature, then ladle into a large, labelled freezer bag and freeze flat with the sheet of pastry alongside for up to 3 months. Then, remove the pie filling and pastry sheet from the freezer and leave to defrost in the fridge, ideally overnight. Once defrosted, preheat the oven to 180˚C/350˚F/Gas Mark 4 and assemble, cook and serve the pie in the same way described above.
Sweet Potato Miso Medley
This delicious one-pot meal can be prepped ahead and is ready for the freezer in a matter of moments. If you’re not familiar with miso, don’t be scared – it brings a delicious savoury edge to the dish that works wonderfully with the sweetness of the vegetables.
IF YOU’RE COOKING NOW: Put all the ingredients in a large pan over a medium heat and stir to combine. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and leave to cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Spoon into serving bowls and serve hot.
IF YOU’RE MAKING AHEAD TO FREEZE: Tip all the ingredients into a large, labelled freezer bag, then give the contents of the bag a gentle stir to combine. Freeze flat for up to 3 months.
Then, remove the bag from the freezer and leave to fully defrost in the fridge, ideally overnight. Once defrosted, tip the medley into a large pan over a medium heat and stir to combine. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and leave to cook, stirring occasionally, for 15-20 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Spoon into serving bowls and serve hot.
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