Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Frozen Bread And Salty Yolks - The Cheapskates Guide To Groceries

Like most people, I go food shopping once a week.  That's when the big list gets made and when I know it's time to get more self-raising flour, eggs, bread or tomatoes.  Sometimes though, stuff just dies mid-week.  Got a bunch of spring onions?  Most of 'em floppy by Wednesday.  Ate half a baguette?  The other half goes stale, languishing in the bread bin.  NOOOooooo!

It took most of my adult life, but I finally became a Grocery Scrooge.  No more shall my onions wilt!  Yes, I shall freeze my perishable seafood!  Yeah, I'm making it sound like a bigger deal than it really is, but the truth is I hate wasting food because it's money down the drain... or in the bin.
Money that could be spent on shoes, illicit street drugs nail polish, or a can of Ortiz anchovies.

So here's what I do to get more food in my mouth, while saving some sweet sweet dirty cash.
  1. Italian Week = YES.  Italo-Mexi-Thai-Grecian-Chinese Week = Aww hell NO.
    I get that in the 21st century we home cooks are supposed to be as schmancy and cosmopolitan as James Bond's flight itinerary.  We've Got Skills and can wield both a wok and paella pan with equal dexterity.  Damn, has Marvel made a comicbook about us yet, because they should.  The ability to cook food stemming from different cultures and regions is a fabulous undertaking.
    However, I assure you there is no pressure to cook food from wildly different etymologies every night of the week.
    The great advantage of doing Italian Week, Spanish Week or Chinese Week is that many dishes within the cuisine share the same ingredients.
    If you're doing South-East Asian, that bunch of lemongrass you've got can go into a curry, a meat marinade and a laksa.  If you're doing British and have bought rosemary, you can use it to flavour gravies, add it to oven-baked vegetables and shove some inside a roasting chicken along with half a lemon.  Yay, no more lonely leftover herbs dying in the fridge!
    Cooking this way also helps if you are tired and time-poor.  I personally don't have the energy to grind laksa spices and roll vine leaves for dolmades within a few days of each other.  Devoting a week to one type of cuisine versus doing brand new things every day also makes the hunting-n-gathering process more streamlined.  Think about it - if you require both matzoh meal and dried shrimp paste, that's two different speciality stores you'll have to hit.  Plus, you'll have two non-complementary ingredients which go with nothing else.  They'll take up space in your pantry, forever alone.
    Another, more cerebral advantage is that you have a week to really get to know and understand the foundations of a particular cuisine, which begets those wonderful Zen-like moments of glorious-ass knowledge which makes you feel all smug and stuff.
  2. Mr. Freeze Is Your Friend
    I freeze bread, poultry and seafood.  The steps I take are a) Take it out of it's original packaging b) portion it up and c) wrap it really, really well.
    For a baguette, I slice it into thirds - that seems to be the portion size which works well for me and The Boyfriend.  Each third is wrapped tightly in aluminium foil then popped in the freezer.  An hour and a half before eating, I take what's needed and leave in on the bench to thaw.  Or it can be taken straight from the freezer and placed in a hot oven (180°C or 350°F) for 5-10 minutes.
    No microwaving!  This dries the bread out and unless you're making croutons, dry bread = sad bread.
    For shelled prawns and scallops, I take them out of their packaging.  Then I pat them dry, removing excess water or ice (scallops, especially, are unhappy when drowned).  They're then portioned up as needed and put in freezer bags.  If I'm feeling especially virtuous, I'll even label them before putting them in the freezer.  For more information about seafood storage, FISHline is da bomb.
  3. Save The Onion (The Green Ones, That Is)
    Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, I used to buy a bunch of spring onions (or 'scallions' for you wacky Americans) each week.  Then, no matter how many stir fries, banchan or rice dishes I made, I'd have a heap left over.  The heap would then expire and have to be binned.  Gah!  It was so crazy-making!  I don't care how cheap it is, if stuff ends up in the trash and not in my belly, I get so mad that my eyes start twitching funny and I start shaking my fist a lot.
    Then one day, my spring onion woes were over.  I found this bloody ingenious method of keeping spring onions fresh, courtesy of the glorious and wonderful WendyinKK.  My life is now free from Onion Rage because I get to keep 'em crispy fresh for a whole damn fortnight.  I dearly wish I could yell "Booyah!" right now like a sports fan, but that may be detrimental to whatever dignity I have left.
  4. Eggs Are A Bit Special
    Everyone has leftover egg whites or egg yolks.  The whites can be frozen as is, no problem - just make sure that whatever you freeze them in is completely, utterly oil-free.  If there is any oil present, the whites can't be used for meringues or pavlovas because they simply won't whisk up well.
    They'll keep for up to 12 months, frozen.
    Now, you can freeze yolks too, but they'll need a pinch of either salt or sugar beaten into them first.  Otherwise, they turn into these weird, tough gelatinous balls.  Trés icky.  You may also want to label accordingly, because nobody wants salty crème caramel or a sweet omelette! 

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