Treasure Hunting on a Shoe String!

This week I’d like to I introduce you to the endless culinary possibilities found in the reduced area of your local supermarket or anywhere else you may shop.

Unless you’re Simon Cowell, everyone is on a budget and with a little thought and creativity, delicious meals can be made without breaking the bank. I know some of you may want to run a mile at the prospects of foraging through the ‘cheap counters’, but believe me when I say all it needs is a breath of new life.

Here’s some ideas:

Browse the ‘reduced’ vegetable area for anything that could be transformed into something delicious yet doesn’t burst the purse strings. Produce like bean sprouts, mixed vegetable stir fry packs, mushrooms, and broccoli, are often a common feature. Just at a glance it all seems like ‘stir fry city’, but I urge you to be become more adventurous.

Take the bean sprouts and mix vegetable for example. The obvious choice would be tossing it in a pan with garlic and a sauce of some description. Whilst this doesn’t lack taste, it’s doesn’t exactly scream exciting! Beans sprouts are great in a salad with a dressing of sesame oil, light soy, topped with crushed nuts and sesame seeds. You could even throw in a few hard boiled eggs or even some cold meat, fish or tofu that’s been languishing in your fridge.

The pack of mix veg and broccoli can be turned into deep fried fritters with the addition of flour, white pepper, salt and water and served as a starter or alongside a meal. I love the versatility of mushrooms with it meaty like texture and is just perfect in curries and sauce of any kind.

One dish that I make quite often with mushrooms that have seen better days is browning off some chopped inions, garlic, ginger, mustard seeds, cumin seeds and a dash of curry powder, add the mushrooms and mix well. Served garnish with some fresh chopped coriander and nan bread (ready made), it’s a quick meal that only takes minutes to prepare and can be rustled up even after a hard day at work.

Ruddy looking aubergines are my absolute favourite find and I make a dish that’s courtesy of my mum and a hit with the family. Slice the aubergines thickly lengthwise and rub some salt, ground black pepper and grill until tender. In a separate pan, fry some chopped onion and garlic, then add dark soy sauce, water, teaspoon of vinegar, salt, sugar, and some corn flour. Simmer till its slightly thickened and pour over the aubergines with a scattering of chopped spring onions and hey presto it’s ready.

Half dead tomatoes can be made into chutneys and an easy recipe is to chop them all, throw in a large pot, add whole spices like cinnamon sticks, star anise, and cloves, along with some vegetable oil, salt, sugar and vinegar. Simmer on a low heat until reduced and resembles a jam like consistency which can then be jarred and enjoyed with cheese, crackers, and cold cuts. 

Meat and fish

I suspect that most of you will be extremely cautious when venturing into this particular spot as meat and fish approaching their expiry date can pose a concern. Not least because they don’t look as fresh, but more so because there will be the worry of food poisoning. However, supermarkets have to adhere to legal requirements and as long as you check the date, you can either elect to purchase for freezing to be used later, or cooking it on the day itself.

For me, this is the ideal opportunity to buy high cost items like oxtail, beef cheeks, lamb, salmon, monk fish, sole, prawns, and whatever else that may be nestling amongst the pile. I have even been known to shamefully push my way through some elderly people just to get my mitts on a bargain! How rude! 

Seafood of any description can simply be steamed with a topping of finely sliced ginger, garlic, soy and a drizzle of sesame oil which makes a lovely, healthy and speedy meal served with white fluffy rice or noodles. If you don’t possess a steamer, it can be bunked into the oven in a cocoon of foil for equally brilliant results. If you’re a spice monster, then the option of some finely chopped fresh chilli is also a great addition.

Tougher cuts of meat are the perfect solution if you have a slow cooker and long working hours. Curries and stews can all be dumped into the cooker and then left until your return ready and waiting to be devoured. There is no shame in using appliances that can make life easier especially in this day and age when time is of the essence and money is scarce for most of us.

I bought a rack of pork ribs only last week that was huge and reduced to £3.50 which would originally have been £10.99. Being rushed for time gave it a dry rub of salt, pepper, mixed herbs, some leftover bbq sauce and baked it until tender. Whilst it was sitting in the oven, I had a shower and a gin! 

You don’t have to be of Master Chef calibre to be able to let your creative juices go wild or even resort to ready made meals when life is hectic. Sometimes the simplest of things can taste the best and of course the bonus is not paying full whack wherever possible. What I’m really trying to convey in a round about manner is to think beyond the box and look at venture into places you haven’t thought of before.

Happy seeking and cooking!

Mariae xxx

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