Sunday, November 12, 2006

More Food for Thought

Over the past few days, supermarket brochures have been tucked in magazines or popped through our letterbox, tempting us to buy just about everything edible we need. In truth, some party nibbles seem so downright inexpensive I wonder why I even bother to think about making them myself. I'm in no way suggesting we shouldn't buy any, but for those who need to cut costs yet still wish to put similar things on the table, read on to avoid falling into some of the traps they set.

Nearly every £1 these days seems to have 99p added. and we do tend to concentrate more on the pound rather than the pennies because it seems so much cheaper than if rounded up. At £1.99p eight party nibbles (for £1.99 read £2, for nibbles read 'one bite'), do not sound expensive but would work out at 25p each, so - as it is customary to allow up to 10 nibbles (of that size) per head, times as many heads you have at your party, well, I'll let you work that out for yourself. You will be shocked. For anyone who really cares about their budget and regularly reads my journal, by now you'll know we can make much much more given that amount of money. If 8 Mini-Pavlovas (and by mini I mean tiny, tiny ones) each topped with a smidgin of whipped cream and an even smaller piece of fruit (one raspberry might overpower) then think of how many meringues we can make using one free egg white and 2 oz of caster sugar. A tiny dollop of creme fraiche instead of cream and small pieces of any fruit to hand and who would believe you hadn't bought them in the first place. Blackberries, raspberries or redcurrants from the garden-to-freezer would look good as garnish.
Tip: If you grow your own red-currants, then freeze some or all on their sprigs. These look so good as a garnish and thaw well. The frozen fruit is easily pulled away when needed for jams and jellies.

Another trap to fall into is the prices shown for meat. Something like a turkey crown. We think that is the price we would pay. Not so. In the small print we read 'per kg'. As a crown is turkey sans legs and wings, then we should be able to buy a whole turkey for less cost and remove the bits ourselves, to cook separately, and to later make stock.
Tip: At a busy time we often cannot be bothered to deal with stock-making, so put the bones in a bag and chill for a couple of days, or even better freeze to deal with at your convenience.

Then we come to the vegetables. Baby carrots, still with their green foliage, under £2 for 200g but again the small print giving the price per kg - working out at a horrific (just under) £9.00 a bunch. But do we really want or even need new baby carrots with a winter meal? And we can't eat the foliage anyway. My last purchase of (albeit standard winter carrots) cost me £1.19 for a 2kg bag and these are the ones I will be serving with our Festive Meal, improved for the occasion by some crafty shaping, maybe slicing diagonally then cooking in orange juice and zest. Finally stirring in a little butter and honey or maple syrup to give a glaze. Serve and enjoy.

Other brochures and magazines show things like packs of 8 'slow-fermented' small rolls, some plain, some granary, some with seeds etc. Costing 21p short of £2.00p (approx) 22p per roll, I should be able to make treble that amount for under £1. Thinking about it (now as I write) the best and easiest way to make these rolls would be by keeping some dough back from each breadmaking session, putting the main dough into a smaller tin for baking and using the saved dough to make and bake a few rolls which can then be frozen. For 'slow-fermenting' (don't you just love these phrases?) leave the dough in a cooler place to rise.
Phrases such as 'hand-torn' mozzarella, 'hand-formed' naan bread, 'crushed potatoes', soups with the 'home-made' taste, and quite a lot of things 'hand-made' are there to make our mouths water and tempt us to buy. Such is the power of suggestion. Would that they could use the words 'home-made'. But we can and hopefully, we put it into action. Another win-win situation?

I leave you with one brochure item that I first thought was the standard size Gingerbread House, after all it was £3. Then I read it was a Xmas tree decoration, meant to hang from the boughs so it can't have been that big. This type of gingerbread can be made up to four weeks ahead of eating, so at the end of this month I will give you the recipe which gives you the time to make one (larger) Gingerbread House and several gingerbread shapes to hang from the tree.
Tip:The advantage of the above mentioned brochures is that they are packed with photographs which show alternative ways to prepare the food we might already have, and also show how presentation can make the least expensive food look great.