Dine like a king on a few dollars

By Colleen Thorpe


Sophie Gray's destitute gourmet mantra remains as relevant as ever as households continue to struggle to make ends meet. Colleen Thorpe asks Sophie about her secrets to feeding a family on a budget


IS PLANNING A MENU FOR THE WEEK AHEAD A MUST TO STICK TO A BUDGET?


Yes. It's also a stress buster - you know what you're cooking, you have the ingredients in stock, avoiding emergency dashes to the supermarket, and you can plan around what might need using up.

WHAT ABOUT A SHOPPING LIST? DO YOU EVER STRAY FROM IT?


I use multiple lists - lists for home, lists for recipe testing, lists for photo-shoot ingredients ... I am the annoying person in the supermarket diligently crossing off each item and I rarely stray.

HAVE YOU A GUILTY PLEASURE?


Marmite and potato-chip sandwiches and anything with pink icing.

MOST AREAS IN NEW ZEALAND NOW HAVE FARMERS' MARKETS ... HOW IMPORTANT ARE THESE TO OUR COMMUNITIES?


As a city dweller, the ones I have access to are more gourmet/boutique food markets and are expensive. But travelling in other parts of the country, I have loved the access to really fresh produce at great prices. We need our young 'uns to understand about seasonality and the growers are often expert at preparing and cooking what they grow, so you can learn firsthand how to store and serve what you have bought. Markets also provide opportunities for cottage businesses to showcase their products, introduce us to cultural specialties or new or unusual varieties we wouldn't come across in our local supermarket.

WHAT ARE THREE REASONABLY PRICED INGREDIENTS THAT CAN PACK A PUNCH?


Vinegars - sherry, balsamic, red or white wine vinegar, white or malt ...

Good sausages - a little bit of good sausage can flavour a whole dish - think soup, risotto, quiche, cassoulet ...

Fresh herbs - expensive to buy versus cheap and easy-to-grow and able to transform a dish from something everyday into something quite special.

WHAT'S THE KEY TO BUYING MEAT AND STICKING TO A BUDGET?


Choose recipes that use meat cuts you can afford. Save the premium cuts for special occasions and choose recipes that make your meat go a long way - stir fries, casseroles, curries, homemade pizzas, burgers ...

WHAT IS YOUR FIRST MEMORY OF FOOD?


Eating a piece of my mum's chocolate cake with jam in the middle with my big sister - must have been about 3 years old.

WHO IS YOUR BIGGEST FAN?


Hmmm, hard to say. My Dad, maybe - although some of my teenage son's friends are pretty enthusiastic when they happen to be around on a "shoot day".

WHO WAS THE MAJOR INFLUENCE IN YOUR LOVE OF COOKING?


The author Laura Ingalls Wilder. As a 7-year-old I read her book Little House in the Big Woods in which she described pioneer life in remote log cabin in the big woods of Wisconsin. A foodie book if ever I read one and packed with delightfully detailed descriptions of home butchery, preserving, sausage making, smoking game, making bread, cheese, butter - even maple syrup. Laura's Ma and Pa demonstrated that you don't need fancy equipment or ingredients to make good food. The pioneer spirit of making the best of what you have hand is alive and well in destitute gourmet ...

IN THE COOKING WORLD WHO DO YOU MOST ADMIRE?


Jamie Oliver - I think he deserves a knighthood for services to British health! Not everyone enjoys his style but you have to admire his bravery. His charity Fifteen and the Ministry of Food have changed and, in some cases, saved lives.

WHAT DISH DO YOU MOST LOVE TO COOK?


I love to make breads, buns, brioche, scrolls ...

WHAT IS YOUR SECRET INGREDIENT?


Instant yeast - brilliant!

IF YOU'RE NOT COOKING WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO?


Read, read, read and read! My most favourite occupation.

IF YOU WERE THE GOVERNMENT'S MINISTER OF FOOD, WHAT WOULD BE YOUR FIRST RULING?


That public planting in all suburban areas include fruit trees and other food producing plants starting in our lowest socio-economic areas so people can at least pull an apple, pear, peach, plum, tamarillo or kiwifruit off the trees on their way to and from school when the cupboards are bare.

WHAT THREE NEW ZEALAND FOODS ARE TOP OF YOUR LIST?


Lamb, beef and cheese - I love that our meat is free-range and still largely grass fed and we produce world-class cheeses.

TELL US THREE THINGS ABOUT YOURSELF PEOPLE MIGHT NOT KNOW OR MIGHT BE SURPRISED TO LEARN:


I have attention deficit disorder, am terrified of spiders and cry when I hear the national anthem in Maori.

WHAT IS IN YOUR FRIDGE AT THE MOMENT?


Pork and watercress sausages, a couple of leeks, leftover frittata, a dish of Kalamata olives, a jar of anchovies, something worryingly grey in a little container at the back of the top shelf and the usual, milk, spreads, yoghurt, cheese, bacon, some ham.


Feed the Family for $15 or Less by Sophie Gray, Random House, $35

- Hamilton News

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