Now I have time I find that I can cook more cheaply and economically. I still keep the odd ready meal in the freezer for those days when I simply cannot be bothered, but cooking fresh and/or using ingredients you already have is just so much cheaper.
Last week I was in my local Co-op store. It is local and I use it a lot for odds and ends and a small shop to shore up the large one I do once a month where I spread my spending around between the Superstores. Last week they had an offer on chicken breasts, chopped up and ready to go. I usually avoid these as one pays for the chopping more than anything else but this time the packet was on offer at £1.50. So I bought two and one is in my freezer as I write.
One half of these pieces went into a stir fry. You can either stir fry fresh veg or frozen and I always have a packet of stir fry mix in the freezer as it is very useful. So bunged in some of this and the chicken and got stirring. While stirring I put some Basmati rice in the microwave to cook. I never cook rice in a pan now, this method is so much quicker and you don't end up with a pan to soak. Ditto pasta.
When it is all cooking nicely I pop in some black bean sauce and stir and then leave to simmer for a few minutes to make sure the chicken is cooked through. Serve with the rice and I worked out that this meal, which was delicious and took about fifteen/twenty minutes to prepare, cost in the region of £1.25.
The other half of the chicken was used up a few days later. I put some chopped leaks in olive oil and left to cook until soft, put in chicken to cook. Add a spoonful of flour to soak up oil and then some milk to make a roux. It will look all sticky and horrid but keep stirring, adding a little more milk if it gets too thick. I sometimes chuck in some bacon if I have any when making a pie like this as the combo of chicken, leek and bacon is one of those three in a bed partnerships that are made in heaven in my view.
While simmering away I made shortcrust pastry, 4oz plain flour and 3oz lard (ratio of fat to flour is higher than the recipe but always find it makes better and shorter pastry) and after resting it in fridge, rolled it out and found I have enough for two pot pies. Cooked one and had for supper that night with spuds and veg. Cost again around £1.25. The other pie is in the freezer.
So out of a packet of chicken costing £1.50 I produced three meals at a total cost of around £4 if my maths is correct.
Yesterday I cooked a roast dinner as my friend Rosemary came round for lunch. This was a piece I bought when it was on offer at Christmas time and I am already calculating the number of meals I am going to get out of it.
And I also made treacle tart. More on that another day..