Saturday, November 25, 2006

Telling it as it is

Yesterday my husband, after having the 'flu and pneumonia jabs, was feeling rather poorly, and was not all all interested in thinking about what he'd like for supper (I always leave it to him to choose what he would like). However, when he came home just after lunch he had brightened up and I asked if he would like a cooked supper after all, and yes he would. I checked the freezer and a beef casserole was agreed. "You can give me a hand, if you like" I said in the spirit of togetherness, but Sir suddenly felt a bit weak again and said he might lie down for an hour or two.
Once the casserole was simmering on the hob (sliced onions and carrots, gently sauteed in a little oil, some water added, and I have to admit I did later add a casserole mix (well we all do it some times, don't we?)), I decided to spend the whole afternoon in the kitchen doing more paperwork, and - as I was going to be there - take the opportunity to make some bread. After putting yeast, mix and water into the bread machine on the dough setting I have 45 minutes to twiddle my thumbs, then follows a further hour's rising time in the tin , so decided to make a trial low cost dessert (or 'afters' as I generally call it) and dissolved a strawberry jelly (own brand 12p) in a little water in the microwave and then stood this in a pan of cold water to cool down, making it up to a near pint before putting it in the fridge to set.
The non-stick pan I used to cool the jelly was one destined for the tip. Some weeks ago I had put on some plums to simmer and had nodded off as per usual and they had boiled dry and stuck to the pan. I used every strong detergent I had to remove the 'glue' with no success. Left to soak overnight I tried again. Still no good. So I hung it back on its hook and ignored it. Yesterday I noticed the gunge in the pan had now turned into flakes, and using a fish slice it was easily removed. So never give up.
As the pan was in use again, I was able to put on to simmer some beetroot (for several hours and I forgot it again but it was OK) .

My husband came back into the kitchen during the afternoon while I was busy with pen, paper and a calculator. "What are you doing?" he asked. "it's called multi-tasking" I replied, getting up to give it the casserole a stir, with my other hand lifting the lid of the pan next to it to see if the beetroot was simmering, then pointing to the bread rising in the container (which has a clear rolltop lid and was sold as intended to store cheese, but I also use it for germinating seeds in the spring, keeping flies off food when eating al fresco, and hardly ever for its main purpose), and said "I'm also costing out your afters, having already prepared the necessary". It's not often I get the chance to show that meals don't appear out of thin air, and boy, did I make the most of it.
My beloved had brought in a bottle of red wine to drink with the meal, which he opened to breathe. We each had a glassful to taste. A Bordeaux, lovely. Even lovelier as he had left the bottle near where I was sitting, so I poured myself another. Working in the kitchen during the afternoons has a lot going for it. All I had to do to finish off the casserole was pop in the remaining peeled potatoes my husband had bought in error, and finally some frozen peas.

Making the 'after's' was just a matter of layering three ingredients (chopped strawberry jelly, strawberry yoghurt, and crushed meringues,) into individual serving dishes. The jelly cost 12p, the yoghurt 21p, 3 home-made meringues 2p total (whites are free, remember), and this enough to serve 3. Not much more than 10p each. Even served with thick cream , it can still cost less than 20p per head. Admittedly not much nutrition there, but as long as the first and/or main courses take this into account, then what is wrong with a treat at the end.

Using ingredients that cost little or nothing only proves that something can be made from them, which may be nutritious, or maybe not. If not, we can, by spending only a little more, serve something more worthy, perhaps - in this instance - by making up the jelly with fresh fruit juice instead of water, by folding more fresh fruit into the yogurt, maybe serving low-fat creme fraiche instead of cream. But at least knowing the lowest starting price, we then can move onwards and upwards still keeping an eye on our budget.
A Costing Tip: reconstituted dried milk works out at 20p a pint or less.