January, the month where we quit the booze, hit the gym and opt for healthier food choices. For many of us it is also a quieter period where we try to make our money go further following the expense of Christmas and New Year celebrations.
So instead of turning to discounted ready meals and the freezer section of your local supermarket, I've provided some suggestions of homemade meal choices that are tasty, nutritious and most importantly, won't break the budget!
Some of the staple family favourites include chicken breasts and mince and whilst there are tonnes of everyday dinners such as curry, stir fry or spaghetti bolognaise which can be made with these, I have a couple of other ideas that are a bit out of the ordinary but equally tasty!
When it comes to mince remember there is more than just beef mince. Pork, lamb and turkey mince can also be used and can add an extra dimension to meal times. Try turkey in a chilli or a beef mince tagine. The secret to a good tagine is spices so fry off your mince with onion and add cumin, cinnamon and turmeric. Vegetable or chicken stock should then be added and whilst the dish simmers throw in some apricots, raisins and cashew nuts. Serve with couscous or flat breads. A simple yet effective meal the whole family will enjoy.
One of my family's favourites made with pork mince is meatballs. Depending upon how the mood takes you they can be made and served with a ragu sauce and pasta or a more oriental flavour such as sweet and sour, served with noodles or rice. Meatballs are easy to make and I follow a recipe that combines the pork mince with breadcrumbs, spring onion, coriander and lemon juice. The mixture is then separated into little balls and shallow fried until they are cooked all the way through.
As it is such a lean and versatile meat, we find chicken breast is a popular choice all year round but no more so than in January. For those watching their waistlines, warm chicken salad is ideal. Try marinating the chicken before cooking and then add to skewers and grill. One simple marinade is garlic, wholegrain mustard and honey mixed together and smothered over the chicken. Looking for something a bit zingier? Combine garlic, lime juice, red chilli, paprika, soy sauce and muscovado sugar and leave to marinate over the chicken for at least two hours before grilling.
If like me you want something a bit more warming than a salad at supper time then I highly recommend a pie. Chicken and leek, chicken and ham or chicken and mushroom, they all top the comfort food charts. For something a bit special why not try a chicken curry pie? In this instance the curry mixture does not need to be overly convoluted and for ease I normally use ready-made pastry.
Firstly, get your pie dish and line the bottom with pastry, short-crust is my preferred for pies. Once the bottom is lined cover with greaseproof paper and add baking beans before baking the bottom - this is important to ensure the bottom of the pie doesn't go soggy when the curry mixture is added. For the curry, fry off onions, mushrooms and red pepper then add curry powder and the chicken, season well. Plain flour is then added to the pan followed slowly by milk to ensure the mixture goes from a paste to a smooth sauce. Once the sauce is at the right consistency for a curry add the mixture to the pie dish and cover with the remaining pastry. Brush the pie with egg yolk and bake until cooked.
Nothing beats home cooking for taste and price and whilst it may seem an investment from the start, batch cooking up meals and buying in bulk means the whole family will never be short of a nutritious meal this winter.