One weekend of thrifty, delicious and waste-free meals

This is basically what my man and I had for our evening meals, one weekend in January. The food is tasty, satisfying, warming and CHEAP! – perfect for the downshifer in France. The meals are also great ideas for serving to guests, whether their tastes are French or English.

Saturday: Chicken pot-roasted on a bed of garlic.

This is a superb and highly recommended traditional French dish. (From ‘European Peasant Cookery’, by Elizabeth Luard) The garlic goes gooey and sweet, while the meet is moist and fragrant. The roast vegetables and sauce are an addition.

In a pot with a well-fitting lid, put your trussed and gutted chicken or cockerel on a bed of un-peeled garlic cloves, pour over a wine glass-full of olive oil, sprinkle with plenty of salt and freshly-ground pepper, tuck some herbs (e.g bay, rosemary, thyme) around the bird, and put the lid on the pot. Cook in the oven at 200ºC for 10 minutes, and then turn the oven down to 180ºC, and cook for a further hour.

Meanwhile, boil whatever vegetables you are going to roast (e.g spuds, onions, garlic, parsnips, leeks, turnips, swede, celeriac, carrots), until they are cooked through. Boil them all together, with a bay leaf and, if you can pick them for free, a couple of dried juniper berries. DO NOT DISCARD THE WATER. Start reducing the water, adding a little seasoning and a glass of red table-wine. After about 1/2 an hour, this will be your gravy, once you are satisfied with the rich flavour. Put the roasting veg into an ovenproof dish, smother in oil, fat and seasoning, and put in the oven to cook, until brown and crisp in places.

Serve with toast (done over a log fire, if possible) to spread the soft garlic on, topped with chicken and gravy, and a green vegetable or green salad. And wine, of course.

(Serious but adventurous suggestion: you could have crispy chicken feet, done over the fire or in the oven/ under the grill, sprinkled with salt, as an appetiser.)

Sunday: Soup, hot pot and roasted fruit

In the morning, de-meat yesterday’s carcass, and make a stock with the bones, some onion, bay, a clove of garlic, a couple of pepper corns and a pinch of salt. Use 1/2 this stock to make a soup for this evening’s starter, with anything you have lying around, or with whatever flavouring you fancy. For example, a clear broth with vegetables, something tomatoey or fishy and spicy, or a green vegetable whizzed up with some nutmeg (nettles are free!) and perhaps some cream or a poached egg plopped in for good measure. To start the soup off, gently fry a chopped onion, until it is soft, and then start adding your ingredients.

Still in the morning, put some dried beans of your choice to soak until early evening. The quantity depends on how much meat you got of the bird this morning, as the beans will go in the stew with the chicken, to bulk it out.

For the stew, boil the beans for 2 hours with (once again), 1/2 an onion, a clove of garlic, various herbs, including a bay leaf, and a couple of pepper corns.…or you could use a tin or two of beans instead. Less hassle, but less flavour, too. Gently fry a chopped onion in a little oil, until it is soft. Pour in a few glugs of red table wine, 1/2 the remaining stock, all the left over vegetables and chicken from yesterday, the beans and their cooking liquor, and some fresh vegetables (e.g carrots, leeks, turnips). Cook slowly for as long as possible, in a low oven, tasting and adding seasoning form time to time.

Serve with a jacket potato (done in the fire, with a tinfoil covering, if possible), or buttery mash, and a glass or two of wine.

For dessert, if you still have room, roasted fruit makes a mouth-watering, light, sophisticated pudding – even if it’s just an apple. For maximum flavour, bake with winter spices, like cinnamon and even pepper, and some boozy drink of your choice, such as brandy or rum. Serve hot, with cream or crème fraîche, if you have some.

Monday: Rich pottage

Mash or blend any leftovers from sunday, with the rest of the stock, and add water, seasoning, this and that, as necessary, until you have a tasty, thick soup. Serve with hot toast and butter. (And wine).

© Gem Driver

Total Cost?

…largley depends on where you are, geographically (wine tax in the UK will add to your costs!), and in producing your own food. If you produce all your own vegetables, and keep chickens to eat, the menu will be almost free. But even if you have to buy all the ingredients, this menu will provide you with a few extremely economical feasts! If you are dowshifting a gear for quality of life, the cooking will be enjoyable, too.

Bon appétit!

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