“Come on over for a meal,” my friend said. “I’ll cook a chilli”.
A time and date was agreed and hubby and I were really looking forward to it.
On arrival, we presented our hosts with a bottle of red wine and I offered to help in the kitchen.
Imagine my surprise when I noticed a variety of boxes, jars, and tins representing our chilli littering the worktop.
‘Oh, sorry about that,’ she said, and promptly threw them in the trash can.
First and foremost, at that time I had never made chilli so had nothing to compare it to, and whilst our meal was all very nice, it set me thinking. I had always admired her accounts of the menus she prepared for her frequent dinner parties but judging by our conversation over dinner, it would appear that my culinary friend made all of her meals out of a box.
I’m not knocking it! I can’t make custard for toffee so it comes out of a packet plus boiling water.
I also hold my hand up to buying those lovely little jars of sauces for curries, sweet and sour dishes and black or yellow bean varieties that go so well with chicken. We keep a good tin store of veg, tomatoes, new potatoes, baked beans, kidney beans, soups, fruit and spam (yes spam, I have a brilliant cook book for it), plus at least half a dozen packets each of dry spaghetti, pasta and rice.
I’m not a bad cook. However, I do love to cook, and so does hubby. We have a good arrangement that whoever cooks doesn’t wash up, and as I hate washing up, I tend to do most of the cooking! To be honest though, as I’m dishing up, he’s washing up (or vice versa) so it all works out rather nicely.
On an economy drive, (I was made redundant actually) we had to cut back on things and naturally the ready made stuff had to go. Ditching the TV dinners (3 for £5, so we had to get at least 6) wasn’t that much of a hardship but oh how I missed those saucy jars! The alternative was to make my own, so we sneaked a look at the labels for ingredients in the shop and bought what we needed. It helped a lot that the price of said little jars had almost doubled, so we couldn’t afford them now anyway!
I confess to cheating and buying a container of curry powder (to which I add tumeric), though we have a variety of herbs and spices in the cupboard to mix our own, and you cannot improvise for the coloured beans, so we forgot about them. We both liked sweet and sour, and my first effort was really good. However, as time has progressed, not only have we forgotten what the little jar tasted like and do not have chinese takeout anymore, my sauce is now pineapple and ginger, having got a little carried away one day with the spice and we actually preferred it that way. My bottle of soy sauce will last well over 2 years and as that alone is the cost of one little jar now , it’s a great saving.
I still have a jar of tomato pasta sauce in the cupboard. It’s the last of a job lot when I was into my pasta bake phase. Thanks to the rising cost of tinned tuna (however Dolphin friendly it may be), I now make a tomato pasta using just home grown tomatoes and onions, a couple of veg stock cubes, some Italian seasoning and a dollop of ketchup. This mix is then poured over cooked pasta quills and topped with a bit a grated cheese (recipe already posted). No doubt I will find a use for the jarred stuff eventually as I cannot abide waste. Similarly, my spaghetti bolognese is again using homegrown tomatoes and onions, plus 100g of minced beef and beef stock cubes instead of veg, but same herbs and ketchup. Now replace the Italian herbs with a teaspoon of chilli powder, add a 410g tin of rinsed red kidney beans and you have a Two-fer (2 days for the 2 of us) chilli! I serve mine with rice. All good stuff, and cheap too, especially when you’re on a budget.
I don’t bother much with desserts, though with a groaning apple tree and the availability of so many wild blackberries, I am the Queen of crumbles, had with aforementioned custard of course! I also do a microwave stodge, which is like a steamed pudding but in only 2 minutes instead of hours in a saucepan, and totally fat free as I don’t use any. We both like jelly (jello for you American readers), but if I’ve been cooking apples, I use the excess water from that as part of the liquid, and it’s surprising the difference in texture and taste. Tangy or what!!
So, in conclusion, we all probably use packets of something or other to make something else, but at least with basic ingredients, you can mix and match. If we ever have visitors for a meal, we always have something ‘safe’, something that never fails us as it doesn’t matter what you throw in it, it will always taste good……….yep, CURRY!