Posts Tagged ‘food’


Using old cooking oil on New Year’s Day

January 1, 2011

Yeah, I know. I don’t care. I have a life too, you know?

Broke out the barbeque for the first time this summer, on New Years’s Day. It’s a charcoal grill, so that means a certain amount of boy scout ingenuity is required to get a good fire.

I’ve never liked firelighters or lighter fluid for this purpose. They smell funny, and although I suppose all the petrochemicals have burned off by the time you put the meat on, I find the taint of plastic off-putting and inappropriate.

Hitherto I have used crumpled newspaper and kindling to lay a conical fire in the approved manner. This can be a bit slow and I find it a little nerve-wracking. Today I had a brainwave. I have egg cartons, and I have old cooking oil. (Of course I have a jar of old oil from frying chicken in the fridge. Who doesn’t?) What would happen if I put a half centimetre of crummy rancid friend chicken oil in each egg cell, built a charcoal pyramid atop it, and lit the carton?

What happens is that you have a damned good fire. That’s what happens. How virtuous. Better than recycling it this way.

Oh yeah, don’t put fat down the drain either.


Secrets of the supermarket ninjas

October 27, 2009

In a previous post I claimed that we were “supermarket ninjas” and Mellopuffy asked how we managed on so little each week.

I’ve been thinking about this, and I think comes down to these things:

1. Kathy is a vegetarian, and I only eat meat dinners maybe half the week. When I look at our grocery bill, the priciest regular items are wine and meat. If we both ate meat in typical New Zealand portions every night, our grocery bill would be a lot larger.

2. We buy very little in the way of processed food. No biscuits, no cakes, no muesli bars, no pre-made sauce, no packet mixes or tinned soups. I make our bread from scratch, and usually our yoghurt. If I want baking to take somewhere, or for an occasion, I bake. I have a good repertoire of dinner dishes that don’t take much when I’m tired, so I don’t need sauce in a jar.

I think the bread in itself is good for about $10 in savings a week. We would normally go through three loaves and that would be over $12 at supermarket, whereas the ingredients for a home made loaf total less than a dollar.

Because of points 1 & 2, we incidentally have a pretty healthy diet, which is a happy bonus effect.

Of course cooking everything and avoiding treats is a lot easier when you don’t have children, and I know that plenty of grownups would balk at not having any snack food in the house. Well, tough. That’s how it’s done. My Mum always said if you weren’t hungry enough to eat an apple or make a cheese sandwich, then you weren’t hungry.

Cooking is like any other skill — if you do it every day, you can achieve a tolerable level of efficiency, whereas if you only do it when you have plenty of time, you will probably stay an inefficient bungler and packets really will always be easier.

Example super cheap, fast meal for low-energy  evenings:

Pasta with broccoli sauce. Chop broccoli into tiny pieces, mince a couple of cloves of garlic, saute in olive oil with pepper until broccoli is cooked (put a lid on the pan for the last couple of minutes and the broccoli will steam). Toss through rigatoni or similar with grated cheese on top and maybe some more oil. Should take 20 minutes or less, and is very tasty.

I find Italian cookbooks particularly inspirational because lots of country food from that region is cheap, fast, and based around seasonal vegetables, and tasty with a little sharp cheese, oil and pepper. An interesting thing I’ve found is that nice cheese and good oil seem like luxuries, but they’re actually condiments that you use in small amounts to make much bigger quantities of cheap stuff nicer. So I tend not to be so hard-arsed about olive oil and cheese.

3. I buy our fruit and veg at the market on a Sunday, and that’s about 30% cheaper than the cheapest supermarket I know of. It is another trip in my week, but on the other hand I enjoy the market as a social experience. I often spend some of the savings on a roti or a dim sum or something too…

4. We shop at the cheapest supermarket in the area. Last weekend I spent a New World gift voucher, and I noticed how much more expensive New World prices are compared to the Kilbirnie Pak’N’Save, confirming for me the claim that they are the cheapest supermarket in Wellington. I’m pretty sure I’d have to spend a significant amount in transport to go anywhere cheaper.

5. We are sensible buyers: we stockpile when staples are on special, diligently compare unit prices, and always use a shopping list.

6. We buy in bulk when we can. For example, I buy my bread flour in 5kg sacks. If I had suitable storage, I’d probably buy 10kg ones. Likewise I buy olive oil in 4l tins, onions in 5kg bags, and meat by the half carcass when the freezer has space. Moore Wilson wholesale is not as cheap as it used to be, I reckon, but still turns up some good prices on catering sized stuff. Basically, if it doesn’t go off before we can finish it, and we have room to store it, I’ll invest in any large portion.

In summary, I’d say it’s cooking our own semi-vegetarian diet that really makes the big difference. It’s the nice food from simple ingredients that backs my claim “we eat well.” But there are some other things that help too, allowing me to blow some money on wine and chocolate out of the surplus.


Making your own cottage cheese

October 12, 2009

Following hard on the heels of Stephen’s now-famous yoghurt-making antics, I thought I’d try out making cottage cheese, and see if the savings were enough to get me into the paper as well. I didn’t think that one would work twice, and thought I’d make do with the kind of crazy google hits were going to get off the frequent use of the word cottage.

If there is anything that makes me think of the 1970s it is cottage cheese. That and bean sprouts. But because around here we mostly stick to seasonal vegetables, getting greens for sandwiches is tricky, so sprouts it is. Likewise, with cheese being at times unreasonably expensive, cottage cheese is a good fat-and-protein addition to liven up lunches.

So how to make it? Easy. Put a litre of milk into a pot and apply heat, when it’s tipping 80-odd degrees, put one 1/4 cup of white vinegar into the mix and stir gently. The milk will curdle, and you strain the hot mixture through a muslin. And…. voila. Cottage cheese, or paneer, depending on your background.

I keep the whey and continually try to find uses for it, but let the curds cool in the fridge, mash it with a fork, and moisten it with some of that home-made yoghurt (you can’t use the whey, doesn’t work well). This makes it, to coin a phrase, just like the bought one.

And the savings. Well, I bought a litre of milk for this costing $2.09, and made 250g of cheese. 250g at the supermarket cost $2.35 the last time I checked. We’ll call that one “not a substantial saving”.

However, there are some key differences. My cottage cheese is incredibly simple to make, and is not time consuming. It is also without unnecessary packaging, and hasn’t been transported half-way across the country or world to my fridge (ignoring the packaging/transport of the milk, which I buy in bulk). Also, I know exactly what’s in it, something the me who has worked in food manufacturing knows is very, very important.

All in all you’d need decent access to a ready supply of cheap or free milk to make this one work well. But, there is satisfaction in making your own food, and in knowing that it has a low carbon-cost. Plus, you get to try celery sticks stuffed with raisins, and topped with cottage cheese! 1978 par excellence.


Easing back in with linky post

September 21, 2009

I’m taking some time off with the offspring for the next couple of weeks, so perhaps I’ll get my frugality blogging mojo back.

I expect I’ll also be bleating about the house-buying process soon too — we got pre-approval for a mortgage last week, so the search has begun.

Our housing choices presented as a Venn diagram

Our housing choices presented as a Venn diagram

In the meanwhile, frugal reader Heather sends us this link to some sound if US-centric advice on saving money on food.  I think my biggest beef with this analysis is the assumption that organic food is necessarily better for you, which is a contentious assertion in my book, but I’m right behind the idea that you can eat better and more cheaply by making stuff instead of buying prepared food.


Further yoghurt report

May 24, 2009

Since I first blogged about making yoghurt at home, I have made a couple of discoveries.

  1. You can use skim milk powder instead of fresh milk. This is a win on two fronts. It saves even more money, and it saves time, because you don’t have to waste time simmering the milk — you can just make it up with hot water.
  2. Cheesecloth costs about $4 per metre, and with half a metre you  have enough to strain your own Greek yoghurt, which is my favourite kind. You can use the whey that’s left in pancakes or scones or what have you.

In my unscientific way, I’ve noticed that the yoghurt mix sachet section in the supermarket has grown substantially recently. I theorise that yoghurty thriftiness is in the air, so to speak. Anyway, I don’t know what you get in a sachet that maes them better than using milk powder and old yoghurt starter. Enlighten me.


It pays to check

May 10, 2009

For a fair while now my spread of choice has been Olivani. It’s a good product, is reliably on the shelf at the supermarket, and always seemed reasonably priced compared to petro-chemical random-oil-based alternative like margarine. The main reason for eating it though is the lack of dairy.

Dairy being evil and all.

Ok, I admit that I’m a teeny bit lactose intolerant. But not enough to complain about. The main reason is to keep healthy. Why eat fats when you can eat oils?

Consequently I have to come clean and admit to performing the slavish behaviour I’m quick to criticise others for, and just buying a product because I’m in the habit. Now, not only is this bad, it’s downright stupid.

You can imagine my chagrin to discover yesterday that there is in fact a competitor on the shelf, and it is called Olivite. And… that it’s $2 cheaper for the same weight.

My name is Che, and I am a bad and stupid slavish consumer.


NYT article on freezing

May 8, 2009

One of my guilty bourgeois pleasures is the “Dining” section of the New York Times website. In particular, I am a big fan of Mark Bittman, whose pragmatic attitude to food and cooking accords with my own.

I see today he has a nice piece on freezing things. Lots of good tips on things that can be frozen — many of which are all about saving stuff you would otherwise have to biff out.

I approve. Be inspired to freeze. A full freezer uses less power too, because of the thermal mass of the stored contents. Freezing is frugal, kids. All the frugal folk are freezing.

Frozen anything good lately?


Yoghurt report

April 28, 2009

OK, I’m sold. The end product was delicious and thick.

On the frugality front, I think on balance making your own yoghurt is a winner in several ways. (Yesterday’s post has links to instructions).

  1. The actual time investment appears to be in heating and then cooling the milk. Specifically, you need to keep an eye on the milk and stir it if you don’t want a boiling milk disaster. Depending on the texture you want, and whether you’re prepared to risk the dormant bugs in pasteurised milk taking over, it appears from my reading that you can get away with not heating the milk past 40C — which would save you the cooling time. Anyway, I put the milk on while I was prepping dinner, so the miracle of multi-tasking meant this wasn’t actually an issue.
  2. There is no need for special equipment beyond what I normally have in the house.
  3. A kilogram of plain yoghurt is about twice the price of a kilogram of low-fat milk. Specifically, one saves about $2. We go through a kg of yoghurt almost every week, so that’s $100 annually. I’d like to find $100 in the cutlery drawer, wouldn’t you?
  4. The end result could be considered superior to the bought one, so there’s an added win.

Today I had a little look at Woolworth’s online supermarket just to remind myself of costs. I found this instructive. It’s much easier to scan their page than it is to be in a supermarket and scan a shelf. Have you noticed how hard it is to concentrate and do mental arithmetic in a supermarket? I’m sure they’re designed that way.

Want bifidus or acidophilus? Just use the dregs of your last commercial yoghurt for your starter culture. The posh special culture yoghurt is about $6kg rather than $4.50 or so. We can culture the bacteria ourselves when we make our own yoghurt, so it interests me that we are to pay $1.50 for special bugs. Are they that special? I suspect that this is actually an example of segmentation. People who are into yoghurt for “inner health” reasons are people who are prepared to pay a premium, which the manufacturers obligingly charge. I tend to feel this is a racket, so expect to see Dr Judd’s Cultural Treasure yoghurt in the dairy chiller soon. (My Dad is distinguished looking and has an actual PhD, so we’ll put his portait on the back of the container.)



April 26, 2009

Made batch of yoghurt just now, partly following the Tibby Method ™ and partly Harold McGee at the NYT. Full report tomorrow.

I’m not sure this is really that frugal, since yoghurt is basically only twice the price of milk and it takes a while, but I have high hopes anyway.


More reasons to luuuurve Moore Wilsons.

April 23, 2009

I found a 3kg tin of roasted capsicums for $12, and a whopping 700g tin of anchovies for $15!

Now, 80g tins of anchovies normally sell for about $5, so that’s too much of a deal to go past. Mind you, if you hardly eat anchovies then… don’t bother. But me I think they should be in almost everything.

The peppers are good in pasta dishes during the winter when peppers are both out of season and very expensive.