An unexpected Christmas present changed Michael Williams’ life in more ways than one. A little effort produced remarkable results on his bank statements and turned him into a budding Gordon Ramsay too.

A couple of years ago I opened a hefty looking Christmas gift fully expecting to find a games console, only to discover a copy of The Silver Spoon, a collection of traditional Italian recipes that have been passed down for generations between Mamas and their bambini. The book sat on the shelf gathering dust for a while but eventually my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to try my hand at something a little more adventurous than cheese on toast, my usual signature dish.

Avoid the supermarket – It pays to shop around

After perfecting a couple of easy antipasti recipes, I progressed to more adventurous dishes. Soon, Roast Pork with Orange, Chicken Cacciatore and Sea Bass with Fennel were all miraculously appearing from my kitchen. In my quest for the freshest ingredients I found myself visiting farmer’s markets, butchers, fishmongers and greengrocers, and without even trying I found myself shaving pounds off of my weekly food bills. Now I’m even considering turning half of my garden into a vegetable patch for bigger savings and the ultimate fresh produce.

Shop later in the day for bigger bargains

I soon learnt that building a rapport with the various traders gave me the opportunity to try a spot of haggling, particularly if I shopped just before they were about to pack away. Best of all, I noticed that the food I’d bought at the markets didn’t go off as quickly. Even the fish and meat lasted longer, and as I could choose exactly which cuts I wanted, there was virtually no waste. Although the supermarket produce seemed cheaper it was actually costing me more in the long run.

A little effort in the kitchen can save you a lot

The advantages of real home cooking didn’t end there. Dishes such as Pot Roast Chicken were so big they couldn’t be finished in one sitting, so they were left to cool and put away in the fridge to be reheated a couple of days later, when they tasted even better. An hour or so of cooking produced enough food for two big meals. I virtually stopped eating out at lunchtimes, preferring to take my own creations into work. A few slices of leftover home-braised beef in a sandwich were heaven compared to what I’d been buying on the run.

The icing on the cake

I’ve now turned my hand to creating desserts and cakes. A few pieces of fruit, some flour, butter and caster sugar produces a cake that lasts for days – healthier, tastier and far cheaper than packets of biscuits or chocolate.

If you get a recipe book as a gift this year, get stuck in and make the time to shop around rather than take the easy option. You’ll notice the difference in your taste buds and your pocket. Who knows, one day your cooking prowess might not just be saving you some cash, but making you pots.

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