Economy Gastronomy: A Whole Pumpkin

I carry around with me a sordid little secret that only those closest to me are privy to. It weighs heavy on my soul and mocks me from a relentless and endless base of ammunition. Whether its the half-full packet of chicory that I bought for just one recipe, slipping further from its sell by date or a plate of cold cuts that grow drier and drier with each passing day, everything screams at me in protest as its swept once more unloved into the abyss. To paraphrase: “You cruel and deplorable wretch! Does thou know no end to thy gluttony?” That’s right, I am a chronic food-waster.

I’ve tried to right this over the last six months but in all honesty I have found it a struggle to build any real consistency in my efforts. My one ham-fisted weapon being either to bung all of the remaining veg into a mega pasta or a stir-fry dish on a Monday night. I knew there were far more exciting things I should be doing but I suppose the forward planning aspect (bulk buying/menu planning/freezing) had put me off.

As I’ve now got a dauntingly enormous mortgage just around the corner, I thought it would be a good time to revisit this in earnest and that’s when I remembered this book that I had procured on first moving up to London with a promise of saving money through eating more intelligently. A whim that died off as quickly as many others over the years.

Although Economy Gastronomy contains a huge array of recipes, the cornerstone of the book is built around the following premise:

– Invest good money in a high quality ‘Bedrock’ ingredient on a Sunday for a hearty weekend lunch/dinner.
– Bedrocks include things like: leg of lamb, shoulder of pork, a whole salmon or a ton of chickpeas.
– Follow the recipes in the book to create 2/3/4 meals more out of the bedrock ingredient throughout the week.
– Each time you cook a recipe, you are cooking in bulk and then freezing the leftovers.
– Thus creating a constant stash of home-cooked, frozen ready meals that can be reheated when you have no time to cook.
– And so, keeping you away from expensive and unhealthy options elsewhere (i.e. the takeaway).

So I began on my first. The pumpkin…

A 4 kg pumpkin plus all the other stuff required for this course of recipes set me back roughly £30 which is pretty amazing considering it yielded the following:

4 portions Pumpkin Risotto with Roasted Walnuts, Red Chicory and Gorgonzola (2 eaten, 2 frozen)

The Risotto

The Risotto

4 portions Pumpkin Cannelloni with Sage and Ricotta (2 eaten, 2 shamefully binned)

The Cannelloni

The Cannelloni

The Cannelloni

12 portions Spicy Pumpkin Chowder (2 eaten, 2 fridged, 8 frozen)

The Chowder (not sure why this isn't just called soup, because it definitely is just soup)

The Chowder (not sure why this isn’t just called soup, because it definitely is just soup)

And ready for freezing…

That is a whopping 20 portions of food at roughly £1.50 a portion. Granted yes, there is no meat present which would normally drive up the cost but I did push the boat out a bit on the other ingredients (top range cheese, organic etc) so its still spectacular value. Especially when I probably average about £10 to £15 per visit to the Sainsburys Local on the way back home for a single meal for the two of us.

My one issue with this was that (bar the soup, which was amazing) none of this really tasted that great. I do however think that this was my fault for not following one of the key principles of the book which is implicit when it tells you to invest in a high-quality bedrock ingredient (the pumpkin) as it will inform the rest of the dishes.

Incidentally, and counter-intuitively, Halloween time is probably not the best time to be cooking with pumpkin. The shops are flooded with cheap and enormous orange beasts such as my 4 kg one above. In retrospect, I realise these are terrible to eat as they are not designed to be consumed.

This is coupled with the fact that the pumpkin I used was the one that had been sitting on our windowsill for a few weeks after Halloween had passed. Laura hadn’t got around to carving it so it sat facing out of first floor lounge, a limp offering to All Hallows Eve. It was fine to eat in terms of decay. I think.

I’d recommend either finding a guarenteed high quality pumpkin to make the above recipes or using 3/4 kg worth of butternut squash which should be more readily available.

Still, I’m pushing on this week to the next batch of recipes which involves a 1/2 collar of gammon. I’m hoping this proves my theory correct, that a higher quality bedrock ingredient will yield much more consistent results, and not Laura’s insight that the ‘recipes in the book are just crap’…

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Pheasant, liver and a rude awakening

A couple of Saturdays ago, I had made plans to have some of the chaps round for dinner. It would be an all male affair and I was keen that the food reflect this. Having watched Braveheart only a few days before (which unbelievably Laura, 26, had never seen), I could not think of a more suitable theme than Scottish.

I also wanted game to play a part. Another forbidden meat group during our midweek cooking, a dispute I often cry freedom from as I cut into yet another chicken breast.

It didn’t take me long to find the perfect recipe. One that I envisioned garnering sagely nods of approval in a dimly lit room, around a table strewn with empty glasses, heroic tales and half-baked banter.

Golden Pheasant & Chicken Liver Hash, with a Rack of Lamb and Pearl Barley Risotto

Golden Pheasant & Chicken Liver Hash, with a Rack of Lamb and Pearl Barley Risotto

It so happened that the Saturday coincided with us house hunting in East Dulwich so I took the opportunity to drop in on a butchers that I have often admired from afar but never actually been inside. William Rose Butchers on Lordship Lane.

Even though the queue was fairly sizeable (and having been back I realise now that it is every Saturday), to say I was not disappointed would be a serious understatement.

Can you spot the pale ghost of Lordship Lane?

Can you spot the pale ghost of Lordship Lane? (hint: its not the ginger kid)

Not only was the selection top drawer, the meat enticing and the produce all locally sourced but the real winner for me was the service. Incredibly helpful, friendly and (despite it being absolutely rammed) still very much up for a chat. Very different from our local butcher Moen & Sons that I’ve fallen out of love with over the two and a bit years I’ve lived in Clapham.

After some pootling around houses and down potential roads, we ducked into The Palmerston (top pub) for a swift half, me clutching my pound of flesh.

The food that evening I thought turned out rather well with the pearl barley risotto packing the surprise package. Creamy, cheesy and with a bit of al dente chew that tends to get lost a little in a lot of regular riced risottos when they are overdone even slightly.

Have to say the pheasant and liver hash with a twist of bitter marmalade at the end really reminded me that Christmas wasn’t far around the corner.

Piccalilli (no matter how delicious and homemade) does not go with cheese. Fact.

Piccalilli (no matter how delicious and homemade) does not go with cheese. Fact.

We finished the meal with a cheese board and a bottle of port (sure). I imagine this caused Dyson’s cursory nap minutes later in the lounge. It was a carbon copy of about a year ago when he fell asleep in exactly the same position and fell foul of exactly the same fate.

This is after having his mouth smeared by a chopstick covered with Pain 100% Hot Sauce. My favourite bit is when he tries to drink the candle…