Sunday, May 28, 2023

More kitchen frugality

I’ve had more kitchen adventures, and they were successful. The adventures were based on recent ones, but began because of where I wanted it to end up. There’s a story there.

The photo up top is of a special dinner I made Wednesday night. I said on my personal Facebook:
Tonight’s dinner: Roast beef, with roasted potatoes, roasted onions, Nigel’s creamed spinach recipe, and corn and peas.

It started because Countdown had bolar roast on special and I haven’t even seen it on sale for, what? A couple years? A long time, anyway. So, I bought a small one. The potatoes were made using Jamie Oliver’s method (boil them a bit before roasting), though I roasted them in a separate pan because there wasn’t enough room in the pan with the roast and onions (they turn out better that way, anyway—crispy outside and fluffy inside). I added horseradish sauce and homemade gravy (not pictured). I have plans for the leftovers—stay tuned!
When I ordered the roast, I was thinking that I wanted to see how many meals I could make out if it, just as I did with the “frugal chicken” adventures. While Thursday night I had ordinary leftovers—basically, the same as the night before—but I had definite plans for Friday’s dinner: The final beef dinner was an homage to my mother’s beef and barley soup (photo at the bottom of this post).

The problem I had was that I don’t have her recipe—in fact, I don’t even know if she had one. I couldn’t find one online that I liked, so I improvised based on what I remember (from maybe 50 years ago!).

I cut up an onion, a couple carrots, a couple stalks of celery, and gently cooked it in some oil to soften it. I added some garlic, some dried thyme, then I added frozen veggies (maybe a cup or so—what was left in the bag). Once that had thawed a bit, I added the cubed last of the roast, heated that, then added a litre of store-bought stock, and a couple bay leaves. I simmered it about a half an hour, til it got up to temperature, then added a tin of chopped tomatoes.

I let the soup simmer around another half hour, then added 3/4 cup of rinsed pearl barley. I had the soup on a low simmer until the barley was cooked, which took more than an hour (about which, more in a minute).

The soup was really nice—hearty like a beef stew. Actually, one recipe I looked at said the soup is like a beef stew, “only wetter”, which made me laugh. My own beef stew—the family recipe—is quite different. I think the soup was like what my mother used to make, but the last time I had that was so very long ago that I can’t say with certainty. If it wasn’t just like it, it definitely was close enough.

What I liked about the adventure was that I felt confident enough to just wing it—though it’s actually not very complicated. The only thing I could’ve done differently was the barley: I used to cook with it all the time in the US, but I’ve never bought or used it in NZ. The packet said that soaking it for 6 to 8 hours (!) would shorten the cooking time substantially. If I make this again, I may try that.

The truth is, though, that wasn’t all about seeing how many meals I could get out of one roast: Making the soup was actually the whole reason I bought the roast in the first place—having the roast dinner was a bonus (and so was the dinner of reheated leftovers and a roast beef sandwich for lunch Friday). Saturday’s dinner was the last of the soup.

It’s difficult to work out how much the various meals cost—separately or combined—because they were all a mix of stuff I bought specially and things I had on hand (like frozen veggies), and even something I made, but not specifically for the project: I made bread in the breadmaker on Thursday.

However, I know the roast itself was $33.63, and I think it’s reasonable to guesstimate that the combined value of the loose potatoes I bought for the roast dinner ($4.46) and the stuff I had on hand already probably totalled around $10, which would make a total of $43.63. I’ll round that up to $45 (today, US$27.21). The roast dinner was enough for three people, and the soup probably was, too. Plus, there was the sandwich and leftovers. I’ll call that the equivalent of eight meals, which would make them $5.63 each (US$3.40).

Obviously, this is just a very rough approximation, and not just because a sandwich isn’t the equivalent of one of the larger meals. The point is to get an idea of how it compares to other meals I make, and $5.63 per meal isn’t bad at all—although, most of what I make is considerably cheaper. It was planning everything out that no doubt help keep costs down, and ensured there was no waste. The only part of the roast that I didn’t eat were the little bits I gave to Leo.

This was a good experience, and I’m glad I did it. I’ve now finally convinced myself that I really can “eat well for less” if I’m willing to invest a bit of time and energy in meal planning. That’s a good trade-off, I think.

There’s one more thing, though: When I see “pearl barley” in a recipe, the first thing I think of is Pearl Bailey. But when I actually go to cook with it, I start singing, “won’t you come home pearl barley, won’t you come home” (adapted from the 1902 song, many versions of which are on YouTube LISTEN,).

Don’t worry, Leo thinks it’s weird, too. I just bribed him with beef scraps to put up with it.


Roger Owen Green said...

Food porn! You make the roast beef, in particular, look very good!

Arthur Schenck said...

Thanks—I've been trying to get better at it. I started taking close-ups because the lighting in the kitchen is weird—lots of odd reflections. A long time ago, I was studying Pinterest for ideas on setting up a station for taking food photos, which allows for light control and more varied shots. However, I don't have any room for that at the momenr, so the close-ups have to do.

I wasn't particularly happy with the soup photo. In real life, it was a browner sort of red, but I'd have had to got to my computer to colour-correct it, and it wasn't even on at the time. So, I decided it was close "enough".

Now, when I have a space set up to photograph stuff properly, oooooh, baby! LOL