Saturday, September 30, 2006

Shorter and Sweeter

Many recipes tend to go into unnecessary detail, so - when you fancy making a new dish but are put off because of what seems to be a lengthy method of making - first read through and then re-write in your own words. Any preparation can be put alongside each ingredient eg: 2 eggs - separated; 1 large onion - peeled and chopped, all this can keep the method as simple and as short as possible.
Here are two easy-method desserts, one an old-fashioned, inexpensive family favourite. The other, being my version of something really luxurious, won't cost a lot either.
Queen of Puddings - works out at under 15p a portion
3 oz breadcrumbs
2 eggs - separated/ 2 tsp. each granulated and caster sugar
1/2 pint boiling milk/ 1 tblsp. jam
Pour the milk over the crumbs. Stir in the gran. sugar, the beaten egg yolks and lemon zest.
Pour into a pie dish and bake in a moderate oven for half an hour. Remove and spread the jam over the pudding which will be softish. Beat the egg whites with the caster sugar until stiff and pile onto the mixture. Sprinkle over a very little caster sugar and return to oven for a further 15 minutes until meringue is golden and crisp.
Tips: Stale bread soaks up liquid more easily than very fresh. Save money by whizzing granulated sugar in a blender to make caster sugar (saves 3p per kg) and whiz further to make icing sugar (saves 22p).

Sicilian Cassata
In the traditional recipe a type of Madeira cake is used with ricotta cheese and double cream. To cap it all the finished dessert is spread with a rich mocha butter cream. Having to scrape the barrel and use what I had, my version turned out so well and is so much enjoyed by everyone that I feel my economising has done us all a favour.
1 pack trifle sponges (or use home-made fatless sponge cake)
1 250g carton curd or cottage cheese (see tip below)
1 tblsp. candied peel /1 tsp. icing sugar/ 1/2 small carton of mandarin yoghurt
1 tblsp. chocolate flakes (or grated choc) /1 -2 tblsp. orange liqueur (or orange juice)
Tip: rub cottage cheese through a sieve, or freeze - in which case it breaks down naturally.
Put the cheese into a bowl and mix in the yoghurt. Stir in the candied peel, sugar and the chocolate plus 1 tsp. of the liqueur.
Cut the trifle sponges in half lengthways to make thin slices. Line a 1lb loaf tin with cling-film and cover the bottom with one layer of sponge slices, sugar side down. Make sure there are no gaps. Sprinkle over half of the remaining liqueur. Spoon over half the cheese mixture. Top this with the softer (bottom half) of the sponges. Sprinkle over rest of liqueur and cover with remaining cheese filling. Finish with a final layer of sponge, fill gaps with broken bits. Fold over clingfilm, press down lightly and cover with a fitting piece of card. Place on weights ( small cans of beans for example) or a similar sized tin filled with water. Chill overnight (this enables the sponge to soak up any liquid from the cheese which helps to thicken the filling) . When ready to serve, fold back clingfilm and invert dessert onto a place, peeling off clingfilm. Serve sliced with pouring cream.

Orange liqueur
Into a clean jar put thin strips of orange rind (pith removed) and the juice of one whole large orange (measure this) plus 1 heaped tblsp of caster sugar. Top up with brandy - at least double the amount of the juice. Cover, give it a good shake and store in a dark place for a month, giving it an occasional shake. Strain to use/drink, but return the shreds to the jar for these can later be added to a beef casserole or a fresh fruit salad.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Take a Good(e) Look

When aiming to cut costs, it helps to stand back and ask questions. Do we use and appreciate the potential of low cost basic ingredients, or do they end up pushed to the back of a cupboard? Is there a way we can adjust a recipe to use less of the expensive and more of the cheaper ingredients? Can we stop throwing so much away?
Tip: Egg shells: always have a bit of white left in the shell. Smear this on paper and things will stick to it as it dries (children can play around with this),. Envelopes sealed this way cannot be steamed open. Paint egg white over grapes then dust with sugar for a frosted effect. Crushed egg shells put on soil will deter slugs and snails. Water that eggs have been boiled in contains minerals, use to water plants. (Nothing to do with food, but slugs hate going over hair, so ask a hairdresser for his sweepings,)

Many of my dry goods (pulses, rice, pasta, cous-cous et al) are decanted into plastic and glass jars and kept in full view on open shelves. Each day I am then reminded to use them.
Tip: some casserole recipes say to boil pearl barley and then discard the liquid. Other recipes - eg.lemon barley water - tell us to boil the barley, discard and use the liquid. Worth remembering that if most things have a second use, then use them - 'a penny saved is a penny earned'.

Although home cooking can save hundreds of pounds over a year, maybe the inclination still isn't there, so find a positive reason to be deliberately thrifty - think of the laboursaving kitchen equipment worth saving up for, or paying for a romantic weekend, even saving the money to give to a favourite charity. With money saved we then afford to indulge ourselves and buy better quality ingredients, instead of the cheapest, meat from the butcher, the occasional bottle of wine from the 'offy'. Even a bunch of roses. And incidentally, don't throw away rose petals, dry these and use them to make pot-pourri which can, over the months, bring a welcome reminder of a special anniversary.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Food in a hurry

Yesterday the last thing I wanted to do was cook. I'd have been happy with just a sandwich, but needed to make my husband a meal. Ended up by frying thinly sliced onion, some diced chicken, and tipping in a can of Tikka Masala sauce. Couldn't even be bothered to cook any rice, so instead tipped some cous-cous into a bowl, adding the juice and zest of one lemon, some flaked almonds and enough boiling water to soak. Glad I did for it made good eating.. Here are two quick and easy recipes, one using cous-cous, both using tuna..
Who Needs Lettuce?
Make up cous-cous (adding the juice and zest of a lemon) with boiling water, When soaked, (put into a sieve and press out excess liquid), Put cous-cous into a bowl with a little French dressing and some drained canned chickpeas and/or red beans and mix well. OR instead of the pulses, add flaked almonds and some sultanas. Stir in flaked tuna and serve with slices of cucumber and tomato. With cous-cous there is always room to experiment with flavours.

Pantry shelf Fish Bites
1 can of tuna, 2 tblsp butter 2tblsp plain flour 1/2 pt milk
1/4 pt. grated cheese Worcestershire sauce 1/2 tsp mustard
Melt butter in a small saucepan, stir in the flour, and mustard. Gradually add the milk, stirring until thick and smooth. Season to taste. Add cheese and the W.sauce. Stir until the cheese has melted. Fold in the flaked tuna. Heat through and serve on hot toast.
Tip. Using an ingredient for the first time, follow directions on packets of dry ingredients to work ut how much you will need.for one. Remember (or write on the packet) and then amounts can easily ne increased to serve two or more.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Looking good

However inexpensive the ingredients, the appearance of a dish is what 'sells' it to us and, when I was racking my brains last night to think about what to chat about today, suddenly the memory of my 'dart board' chocolate cake came to me. To make, take a chocolate sponge (baked in two sandwich tins) cut one in half across (to make a semi-circle) and spread with chocolate butter cream, placing the other cut half on top. Repeat with the other cake using a different flavour. Decorate by spreading each 'cake'with a different flavoured buttercream and coat with nuts, grated chocolate, dessicated coconut or cocoa according to your choice. Cut each 'half-cake' into three or four wedges and reform into a complete cake by placing the alternately onto a plate.
Flavours that go well with the chocolate are orange, coffee, coconut and mint.
Tip: These cakes will freeze which also makes them cut more cleanly.
When needing to split a cake in half throught their thickness, wrap cotton thread around the cake, halfway up, cross over the ends and then pull through. This cuts the cake cleanly and evenly.

When making a quiche in a large round tin, gain an extra portion by pressing a scone cutter through the centre until it cuts through the pastry. Using a knife cut portions up to the scone cutter - this forms flat-tipped wedges . Remove the scone cutter and serve.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Chicken feed

Continuing an earlier theme of using cooked chicken picked from the carcase (see an earlier posting for how to get free carcases), here are two really splendid recipes costing very little, one good enough for parties as it can serve 8 - 10 people. The other an everyday meal
Chicken Terrine
1 large carrot, cooked - cut lengthwise into thin strips
8 oz cooked chicken, minced and mixed with zest of one orange
8 oz cottage cheese, blitzed with 2 beaten eggs
4 oz spinach or peas, cooked and pureed.
Take 1/3rd of the cheese/egg mixture and stir in the green puree. Mix the remaining 2/3rds into the chicken.
Line a greased 2lb loaf tin with 4 or 5 overlapping large lettuce leaves, leaving enough to fold over.
Spoon in half of the chicken, pressing in half of the the carrots. Top with the green mixture, then finish with the chicken . Top with a lettuce leaf, folding the flaps to make a parcel. Cover with a fold of greaseproof paper and a lid of foil. Stand in a roasting tin half-filled with hot water and bake for 45mins at 180C, 350F, Gas 4. Cool in the tin and turn out to serve. Slice thickly.
Tip: Freeze a carton of cottage cheese and it will break down to resemble curd cheese.

Chicken Meatballs although the chicken has been cooked it will need reheating thoroughly
1 courgette, peeled and minced, 4oz minced cooked chicken
2 slices of stale bread, crumbed 1 tblsp. grated onion
pinch mixed herbs 1 egg,
Mix everything together, season to taste and with floured hands form into small balls. Fry in a little oil until evenly browned and crusty.. Drain off oil and pour over sauce of your choice, heat and serve with noodles.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Time is of the essence

Although I love cooking, I prefer to spend as little time as possible on the preparation of some dishes so bought products are called upon to save perhaps more labour than anything else. I'm not apologising, even chefs admit to using bought puff pastry.
There are some excellent brands of curry sauces that I use regularly and keep a variety that will go with meats I have in the freezer (beef, chicken, mutton), then all that needs to be done is fry some onions, adding and browning the meat and pouring over the sauce to cook on until the meat is tender. There maybe the addition of chopped tomatoes and sliced carrots to bulk it up (useful if short on meat and also to provide more helpings). Curries improve on keeping, so make ahead for the next day, cover and kept chilled, or make loads and freeze.

With curry there is always a bowl of assorted side dishes served alongside because they look so good and guests really tuck into them - not only that they also make the curry go further. Small bowls of thinly sliced tomatoes, dessicated coconut, flaked almonds, quartered hard-boiled eggs, mango chutney, and raita. Sliced bananas go well with chicken curry. Naan bread and samosas (home-made using filo pastry) freeze well, so these are made when I feel like bothering. If I don't feel like bothering, poppodums are served instead. Samosas, because their vegetarian innards are pre-cooked need little thawing before baking/frying.
When serving rice, soak for several hours to shorten cooking time (2 measures of rice to 3 measures of water) add a couple of bay leaves (not to be eaten) and a spoonful of cardoman seeds to give added flavour. No bay leaves - then add lemon zest.
Tip: Take away the heat from a spicy curry by eating yoghurt. Odd but true, a spoonful of sugar is also a good remedy.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

On the Bread Line

Seek out peasant dishes when you want to serve simple, delicious and low-cost dishes. This one is Italian and carries on the theme from the previous post, for in this recipe there will be tomato seeds one might NORMALLY throw away, not to mention stale bread, but very little is thrown out in the Goode household.
Tomato, Bread and Basil Salad
14oz/400g stale bread, brown or white,
4 large tomatoes, cut into chunks and seeds removed
1 red onion, thinly sliced
handful of basil leaves
4 tblsp ex.virg.olive oil and 2 tblsp white wine vinegar, 1/2 tsp sugar
Tear the bread into chunks and soak in cold water for an hour. Place prepared tomatoes in a bowl and add the onion. Squeeze the water from the bread and add to the the bowl. Make a dressing with the oil, vinegar and sugar and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pour over the salad and mix well. Chill for at least 2 hours then serve garnished with basil leaves.
Tip: Never throw away stale bread, blitz in a blender and then bag up and freeze to use for making bread sauce, coating rissoles, and for adding to any dish that needs breadcrumbs.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Food for Free

Even without a garden, many different herbs, fruit and vegetables can be grown on a sunny windowledge. Having had great success with cucumbers, aubergines, bush tomatoes, mustard and cress, rocket, Corn Salad (Lamb's Lettuce), and strawberries, plus many herbs, it is always
worth having a go. Both mint and basil root cuttings (even from a pot bought from a supermarket) root easily (pinch down to where a pair of tiny leaves sprout either side of the stem). Remove lower leaves from the cuttings leaving the top ones, shorten stems to finger length and stand in water. When roots appear, gently pot on into soil.
Do this regularly and you get plenty of pots of herbs. Use any surplus to barter - an instance, these last few weeks I have been given lettuce and tomatoes, the small ones (told the variety was Sungold which tasted as tomatoes should. Bliss). In return I gave a bag of apples and have promised a jar or two of jam and marmalade for the next trade.

Final tips, save the seeds from bought red bell peppers, and dry the seeds from tomatoes and almost certainly, when planted in early spring, these will grow into plants. Remember to label.
No need to buy pots, used cleaned small and large yoghurt cartons. Scub off the printing with a soapy steel wool pad if you want them to look like white ceramic.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Short and Sweet

Don't know if you are like me, but any recipe that contains more than five or six ingredients and I lose interest. Here are three recipes which have few ingredients, and easy to make.
Lemony Apple Curd - keep in the fridge for no longer than six weeks.
Take 2 cooking apples, peeled cored and thinly sliced - put in a pan with 1 tblsp water and cook until soft. Mash to a pulp. Beat in 4oz (125g) caster sugar, the grated rind and juice of one large lemon, 2oz butter (60g) , and 1 egg plus one egg yolk (or three egg yolks) - if you have a processor the ingredients can all be blended together. Put into a basin over simmering water and cook/stir for about 15 minutes until thickened. Pour into small sterilised jars, cover and keep chilled.
Tip: seek out lemons when they are at their cheapest. Grate the zest , put into a small container and freeze.. Squeese out juice and freeze in ice-cube trays. One cube of juice and one tsp. zest = half a lemon.
Sticky Lemon Cake
6oz (175g) each: self raising flour, caster sugar and butter
5 tblsp. milk, 2 eggs and the grated rind of 1 lemons (save the juice for the topping).
Put all the ingredients into a basin, beat together and put into a greased and lined loaf tin.
Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 40-50 mins until well risen and golden. Meanwhile make the topping: 3oz (75g) caster sugar and the juice of the lemon. Put into a small pan and heat until sugar has dissolved. Pour over the hot cake, running a knife between cake and the lining paper to allow some syrup to run down. Leave in tin until cold before turning out
Shirley's lemon Chicken
1 chicken breast 2 lemons 1 tablespoon of runny honey
Chop the chicken breast into strips or chunks and fry in a little butter until it has turned white. Remove and drain. Into a small pan put the juice from the lemons, add the chicken and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the honey and continue simmering until most of the syrup has coated the chicken (taking care not to burn at this stage). Serve with lemon rice (adding grated zest of lemon to the rice before cooking), with a salad or part of a Chinese meal.
Tip: to one measure of long grain.rice add one and a half measures of water. Leave to soak for several hours then it will take far less cooking time.

When packs of chicken breasts are on offer, seek out those that contain five breasts instead of four. Remove the chicken fillet from the back of each, these can be frozen to use in the above recipe or in stir-fries etc.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Scooping the rewards

This recipe, a great favourite, scoops easily once frozen, and you make a lot for your money.
Soft scoop ice-cream. Take care when using hot syrup.
To make a big tubful you need 3 egg whites, 6oz granulated sugar and 3 tablespoons of water. Also a 5.floz tub of either double or whipping cream and one 5fl.oz tub of plain or fruit flavoured yogurt. Plus few drops of vanilla essence.
In a small pan put granulated sugar and water. Heat gently until sugar has dissolved then bring to the boil for about 3 minutes..
While the syrup is boiling beat egg whites until thick.
When the syrup is hot enough to be gathered up into a soft ball (spoon a little in a saucer of water to find out), remove from heat and immediately start re-beating the whites pouring a very thin stream of syrup into the whites until all the syrup has been used up. Keep beating until the meringue has cooled. By then it will be very thick. (As well as using for ice-cream, this 'Italian' meringue can be baked in the oven to make standard meringues).
Beat the cream with a few drops of vanilla extract and then fold into the meringue together with 5 fl.oz of plain or fruit flavoured yogurt. Put mixture into a container, place on lid and freeze.

Tips: When frying eggs for a family, break one egg into a pan and into the white add only the yolk of another. Use saved whites to make the ice-cream. With whole eggs, use the whites for meringue and the yolks to make a quiche or Lemony Apple Curd - this recipe will be posted shortly.) The whites beat more easily if you add a pinch of cream of tartar.
To make Mint Choc Chip, omit the vanilla and substitute peppermint essence, adding a few drops of green food colouring to the water before boiling. Finally, fold grated chocolate into the ice-cream Before freezing,

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Not at convenient as you may think.

Ever considered the actual cost of ingredients in some bought ready-meals? Fact is, it could be around 25% of the price paid, sometimes even less. Which means that at least 75% is spent on something we can't eat and often can't be recycled. So it makes financial sense to cook in bulk and freeze away our own home-made meals. Here's a great money-saving tip : when freezing meals line a foil tin (or other container) with layering tissue (or clingfilm) before putting in the cooled food. Fold over this lining to protect the top before putting on the lid. (Do this anyway when tomatoes are an ingredient as the acid can eat into the foil).
Once frozen the wrapped package can be removed and put into a bag (remember to label) so that the container can be used over and over again. Just remember to discard the wrapping before thoroughly re-heating the food.
Good dishes to make in bulk and to freeze in single portions are: meat sauces, chili con carne, cottage pie, curries, sticky toffee pudding, fruit crumbles.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Longer the Life....

We are all familiar with 'use by' dates, and as regards 'best before', this seems to be on everything else. Quite a few ingredients keep for a very long time - long-grain rice is best used after it is ten years old, sugar (kept dry) keeps almost indefinitely, as does honey. In my experience Mung beans still sprout after 20 years of storage.
Foods that you would think would keep for ages are dried pulses, but the older they are the longer they take to cook, until they will never soften at all, so best used within a year of purchase. The one exception being popping corn - I have some which is over twenty years old and is still usable. Whether this is 'popped' in a pan with a little oil, or dry popped using a machine, a tablespoon of corn will make a relative large amount. Always pick the popped corn over carefully to pick out the hard dry unpopped pieces.and
Butterscotch Crunchy Corn
Into a pan put 2 oz (60g) each of butter and caster sugar together with 1 heaped tblsp. golden syrup. Melt over a low heat then bring to the bubble and cook for one minute. Pour over onto a bowl of popped corn and toss with a fork to coat the kernels. Spread the corn out in a single layer onto a non-stick baking sheet and bake at150C, 300F, Gas 2, for 10 minutes until a golden brown.. Remove from oven and as it cools it will become crunchy. Break into clusters and keep airtight. Eat and enjoy.
To make a chocolate version add a couple of teaspoons of cocoa powder to the syrup mixture before boiling.
Tip: For the very best flavour, seek out cocoa powder which comes from the Netherlands.

Looking to the Future

This is the time of year when things start to get busy, and it helps to hunt out recipes where ingredients can be prepared ahead and then cooked the next day.
Muffins are a perfect example, they make a great offering when those Trick or Treaters come round at Halloween (also popcorn - see next posting). To assemble, put the dry ingredients into one bowl, and the wet ingredients into a measuring jug (but not the egg) and these can be left overnight. All you do the next day is stir the egg into the 'wet' jug and pour that into the 'dry' . A quick stir (do not overmix), and spoon into muffin cases.
The 'boil and bake' fruit cake is another recipe where you can keep the wet and dry separate and assemble to bake the following day. By including chopped glace cherries, nuts and candied peel it is good enough to serve at Xmas. When cooked, spoon brandy over the base, and keep wrapped. Spoon over more brandy every couple or so weeks if you are that way inclined!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Flour Power

To make cookery more interesting, I like to set myself challenges. Many years ago I would maybe set a price to make a dessert say 40p) or set about making a three course meal for under £2 to feed four. This helped me learn the only way to serve up cost-cutting meals was to use the least expensive ingredients. Discovering what's cheap and what's not, it is far simpler to keep within a budget, yet still serve tasty and healthy meals.

Costing every dish is not usually a domestic chore, but has to be done in the catering profession so that they can find out how to make the most profit. Chefs presumably know down to the last ounce (or gram) how much ingredients cost, and once I'd learned this for myself it became fairly easy to find an economical recipe, and with a bit of adapting, cut the cost down even further.
Take flour for example - there are hundreds of recipes using flour being that is one of the basic ingredients of pancakes, biscuits, pastry, pasta, cakes, muffins, bread, sauces......
Milk and eggs also are not expensive, so making a pile of pancakes is not going to break the bank. Layered with parchment and bagged up to freeze, they are there ready to use whenever you want. So when you have leftovers make a quick Pancake layer. To impress guests (or just to spoil yourself, rustle up some Crepe Suzettes.
Pancake Layer - You need pancakes, cheese sauce, and leftovers.
Place one pancake on a baking sheet and spread over a thick tomato sauce (see preceding posting), top with another pancake and on this spread some left-over meat (bolognese or chili) sauce. Top with a further pancake and spread this with a cooked vegetable in a cheese saice (mashed cauliflower or broccoli, or cooked leeks etc). Then repeat once, preferably twice more, finally finishing with a pancake. Pour over cheese sauce and sprinkle over grated cheese and bake in a hot over for about 20 - 30 minutes until golden. To serve, cut into wedges as you would a cake.
Tip: This is a dish worth planning ahead to make after you have served spag.bol or cottage pie the night before. Just keep back a cupful of the meat sauce, thaw one tub of frozen tomato sauce, and make up a batch of cheese sauce (saving some grated cheese to put on top). Cooked vegetables can be done earlier in the day.
Crepe Suzettes
These are simply pancakes which can be sprinkled with sugar and then folded to make a wedgeshape. In a pan melt a knob of butter and add the zest and juice of a large orange. When heated, slide the suzettes into the pan and keep spooning over the liquid. Finally pour one or two dessertspoons of brandy into the pan and set alight (and please be careful when doing this). Then serve the pancakes with the sauce.
Tip: The most expensive part of this dish is the brandy. Canny cooks request a bottle of this as a birthday or Xmas present. Rum, vodka, sherry, kirsch and liqueurs also make good presents and can last for years when used only for cooking purposes.
I dessertspoon measures 1 cl. so check the number of centilitres in the bottle and divide into the price to see how much each spoonful with cost.
Cost out for yourself one or two recipes for steamed puddings. They can prove very inexpensive to make and quite filling. Serve with custard (another cheapie when made with custard powder- which, incidentally, was one of the first convenience products on the market).

Save time and money by making your own 'convenience' foods. Make bulk amounts of crumble, scone and pastry mixes, and box or bag up to store in fridge or freezer. When the oven is on hot, then making and baking a few scones to takes little time. If you have a bread making machine, make up bags of your own bread mix (each bag containing enough for one loaf) using the basic recipe that usually comes with the machine (strong flour, salt, dried milk, sugar, butter etc.) until you have bagged up enough for a week or more, then keep at room temperature. All that needs to be done then is tip the contents of one bag into the machine adding the yeast and water in the amounts and order recommended.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Quick and Easy

Contrary to popular belief, not a lot of time need be spent preparing and cooking a tasty meal.
Take chicken escalope (chicken breast cut nearly in half and opened out like a book) -put between sheets of clingfilm and beaten really thinly, egg and crumb then it takes only about five minutes to shallow fry, turning once.
My signature dish - pan-fry-pizza takes around five minutes from start to finish. I once had to make this on live TV and as they were running out of time, they cut my slot down to four and a half minutes - but the pizza still ended up cooked. Here's the recipe: you need to have the toppings ready, and the grill pre-heated.
Take one tea-cup of self-raising flour, add a level tsp. of bicarbonate of soda, and stir in enough plain yoghurt to make a dough. Roll this out thinly on a floured board to the size to fit a large frying pan. Heat a little oil in the pan then place in the dough. After one minute it should be golden on the underside, turn (adding more oil only if necessary) and immediately spread tomato (pizza*) sauce on the topped (golden) side, plus any other bits you want to add. Finally sprinkle over grated cheese. Still in the pan, put under the grill until the cheese is bubbling. Serve and eat at once. (To make it even tastier, add a pinch of dried herbs to the flour before mixing).
To make tomato(pizza) sauce fry a finely chopped onion and add a can of plum tomatoes. Break the tomatoes up with a wooden spoon and stir in a heaped teaspoon of tomato paste. Sprinkle over a tsp. of dried oregano/marjoram and half a teaspoon of sugar, then stir in freshly ground black pepper to taste. Simmer for up to an hour until really thick. This can be frozen, either pour away any water that appears once thawed, or mix it back in according to how thick you wish the sauce to be.
Tips: plum tomatoes are usually cheaper than chopped tomatoes, and any can with a ring-pull will be dearer than the same item without one.
Grate ends of hard cheese and keep this boxed in the fridge ready to add to pizzas, pasta dishes, cheese on toast and to sprinkle over salads. Include mozzarella if you like the authentic stringy appearance when cutting pizzas.
Another easy 'nibbles' dish is Curry Dip with Crudites. Take a tub of creme fraiche, (or you could use half creme fraiche and half yoghurt) and stir in one teaspoonful each of a mild curry paste and the syrupy part of a bottle of mango chutney (more curry paste if you want a stronger flavour). Serve with a good selection of raw vegetables: strips of carrot, courgette, celery, cucumber, red/yellow/green bell peppers. Button mushrooms, cauliflower florets, sugarsnap peas.
Please try these dishes not only will you find they are so easy to make, they can also be very inexpensive.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Cooking for a living.

Reading a comment re earning rather than saving (to me this can be the same thing - one time I used to keep deliberate savings I had made for my personal pocket money), there is often an opening for someone who enjoys cooking and is keen on presentation. Many years ago, (long before I did any media work, I wasn't that good a cook, but could at least make it look delicious) there was an ad. in the local paper for someone to present food to be photographed. This was for a mail order catalogue where the object was to sell the pans and dishes which would look more enticing if they had food in them. Not a difficult thing to do as it doesn't take much to put peas in a pan, I was suprised they couldn't do it themselves, but there you go - I got the job. Difficult only in that all I was given was the, one table, amd bucket of cold water to wash up. Luckily, I had taken my favourite knives, hand beaters and scissors with me.
A milk bottle was used as a rolling pin and the distance between my workspace and the studio must have been 100 yards, so over the days I worked there, I must have walked miles. Once, they needed a picture of just a hand holding a saucepan handle, so I offered one of my own. Declined as not beautiful enough, they booked a model to come and do it. (So if you have beautiful hands, - never mind about your face - there's another way to make money).
It all went well and the photographer, who later moved to the other side of the country, rang me more than once to work for him again - usually dealing with preparing enticing edibles for food hamper brochures.
That was a lot more fun although this meant me getting up at six in the morning to catch a train so that I would be in the studio for 8.30am. We worked as long as the photographer was satisfied with what he had done - this usually meant me leaving the studio no earlier than 8.00pm each day, arriving home shortly before 11.00pm. Several days of this on the trot meant I ended up exhausted, but it did pay very well indeed.

Another earner is to seek families who are looking for a cook to take with them on holiday - this may even be abroad. This is more a change of scene than a change of life, but with the great advantage of having some time off in an region or country not normally affordable, at the same time earling money.
It's always worth learning to cook. The way things are going, home-cooks could be the most sought after people around. So start young and stick with it.

Balancing the Budget

Having received a query (and thank you for that Ann) asking about the amount of fruit and vegetables we should be eating each day, also how many eggs are OK to eat each week, with regards to fruit and veg. a minimum of five different helpings (a helping is around 100g/app. 4oz) - preferably both fruit AND veg throughout the day and as fresh as possible. Not sure, but I think you can include fresh fruit juices, canned fruit, canned beans and canned tomatoes etc. but NOT potatoes - these are classed as carbohydrates If I've got that wrong, somebody please tell me.
A long time ago I was told that as long as you eat fruit and vegetables that are red, green and yellow/orange (think traffic lights) then the balance is right, latterly purple has been added to the superfoods colour chart (blackberries, blueberries etc). As to the query re eggs, I buy half a dozen a week for the two of us , but do use more if I have got the cake-baking urge come over me.
When I was younger, the advice was always to eat a balanced meal - which meant a serving of protein, carbohydrate and vegetables, and for some reason this sounded so to boring meal. In my youth, it has to be said, it was a but then there wasn't such a wide variety of imported fruit and vegetables as today. Nowadays we know the balanced approach makes sense.

One way to balance the food intake is to take a new approach to shopping. Several years ago I hit upon an idea which - when set as a challenge to an adult class at night school - proved successful in every way. All enjoyed doing it and all were thrilled to have saved money.
What it boils down to (if you'll excuse the pun) is to understand that food divides neatly into four categories: meat/fish - dairy foods - fruit and vegetables - and groceries (mainly bread and storecupboard ingredients). The challenge then is to divide your average weekly food budget into four (a quarter for each section) but aim to spend less on each. Depending on how much you start with, the savings may be large, or with a really tight budget, quite small. But savings you will make.

What happens is that instead of buying what we thought we would like to eat, we start looking instead for the cheapest cuts, the seasonal produce, the best buys. Why buy chops when minced lamb is cheaper? A whole chicken is almost always a worthwhile purchase when we realise it can last for several meals (not to mention making stock). We look for low prices rather than the products. This way we noticing that certain foods: lentils, pearl barley, flour, own brand beans.....are very cheap, and there are many items that have been reduced that could be useful. The discovery that it would be cheaper to drink tea for a week rather than coffee, and that althoug porridge oats make a satisfying breakfast for around 6p, this can also make your feel happier (oats, also peppers, contain a chemical that makes you feel good) as well as healthier- well, that's a bonus indeed.

If a lot of your shopping can be done at a town market late on a Saturday afternoon you will find fruit and veg. being almost given away.
We get so used to eating the same favourite foods that we have stopped looking to see what else is on offer. So am throwing out the challenge to you. Cut your budget and try something different. Let me know how you get on.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Milk and More

Considering milk is far cheaper from the supermarket, you would wonder why I prefer to have it delivered to my doorstep. But my milkman delivers much more than milk, and I can order eggs, yoghurt, a variety of hard cheeses, cottage cheese, thick Jersey cream, Greek yogurt, creme fraiche, freshly squeezed orange juice, butter and potatoes - and a whole lot more. Also I know that if the deliveries have not been taken in, my milkman will alert someone.
Apart from milk, all the above are either supermarket price or even cheaper, and on average, my milk bill is around £8 per week, often less.

One milk that is much cheaper from the milkman is Channel Island milk. Probably the only milk left where you can see the cream sitting at the top of the bottle, and many years ago, I tried a bit of suburban self-sufficiency and changed the order from full-cream milk (as we drank in those days), to Channel Island - albeit paying a penny a pint more. Using a turkey baster the cream was siphoned from the top (press the bulb before inserting it into the cream or air bubbles mix the cream with the milk) then decanted into a jug to keep in the fridge, more cream was added until I had at least a pint. Toppinp up the milk with cold boiled water, the bottle was given a shake and - hey presto, there was still a a pint of what had become (sort of) skimmed milk. The cream thickens slightly on keeping and can be poured over fruit pies, jellies etc, or put in a liquidiser and whizzed to make thick cream, or carried on further to turn into butter - the residual 'buttermilk' used to make scones. So by paying a few extra pennies we still had milk and the luxury of plenty of cream.
My children were very impressed the day I was able to serve up home-made scones, spread with home-made butter, topped with home-made jam and finally a dollop of thick home-made cream. I hope the memory stays with them as I don't think I have the energy to do it all again.

Around that time I also used to make my own yogurt, but latterly have started to use a dry yogurt mix with water. This does work well and making a litre at a time, lasts at least 2 to 3 weeks in the fridge given the chance.
Yogurt is a very useful 'ingredient'. Last week it was used for making Raita - a bowlful of Greek yogurt, folding in half a teaspoon of icing sugar*, some finely chopped mint and finely diced peeled and seeded cucumber. Served with a curry and much enjoyed. As the days go by there will be mentions of other great dishes using yogurt.
*Save money by grinding down granulated sugar in a blender - first it becomes caster sugar, then eventually icing sugar.

A final mention of keeping dried milk in store (keeps longer in the freezer). My family did not like the flavour, but I discovered by cheating (make up half a pint with water and then add it to half a pint 'real'milk, and pour it back into the bottle (to make them believe,that bit is important), they didn't even notice.

Supper from scraps.

Good news about yesterday's chicken scraps. Using half I made Chicken Patties which were served with roasted vegetables. The patties tasted good enough for my husband to say 'make them again please'. He can be very critical so that is praise indeed. The meal ended with cheese, biscuits and grapes.
To make the patties use equal weights of mashed potato and chicken scraps. Season with plenty of black pepper. Add two teaspoons of Thai sweet chili sauce, For more flavour I added ginger nibbles (aiming for an oriental taste but tomato ketchup and grated cheese is another version.). The main thing is to add flavours that you like as, on their own, potato and chicken can be bland. With floured hand form mixture into patties (if you have time, chill in the fridge) and fry until golden. As the mixture has already been cooked it is just a matter of heating through thoroughly.
Many years ago I discovered that made-up instant potato freezes far better than the ordinary mashed potato so it can be useful when making fish cakes, patties, and topping cottage pies that are destined for the freezer.
A tip for those with children who can prove to be picky eaters. When making your own chicken nuggets (diced chicken breast), egg and crumb with finely crushed favourite-flavour crisps instead of breadcrumbs before cooking (pref.oven baked) They will love them. The next time you can use half crisps and half crumbs until they have got so used to them you can omit the crisps entirely.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Growing Up

We have a small garden, much of that is paved, and - as any salads grown in soil are immediately eaten by slugs - all we have left are soft fruits. You wouldn't believe how much fruit you can get from two redcurrant bushes, one blackcurrant bush, one small gooseberry bush, two small blueberry bushes, blackberries which seem to grow just where they feel like it (thank goodness), one clump of rhubarb, and two very, very old apple trees, one of which fruits heavily. None really need much attention at all. I did once grow raspberries which ended taking over the garden so these were pulled out and I planted new canes a couple or so years ago, but my husband went out and cut down mostly everything that looked as though it wasn't doing anything and that he didn't recognise. This included the new raspberry canes. So this year he was sent off to a pick-your-own farm for both strawberries and raspberries.

The soft fruits make wonderful summer puddings - which do freeze if you wish to. I tend to make mixed-fruit jams - one pound of sugar to one pound of fruit. I freeze a lot of the fruit for jam so that I can make it when I want to not when I have to. More enjoyable that way.
Whilst on the topic of preserves, marrow and ginger jam is much loved by a friend of mine, and I must also take the opportunity to mention marmalade: I always use the cans of prepared Seville oranges and lemons using one pint of water and sugar by the bag instead of measuring it out - this is slightly more than recommended on the tin but it still works and makes an extra jar. To some of the lemon marmalade I can add the grated zest of a couple or so limes and their juice. To the orange I can add finely chopped preserved ginger. With a little thought it is easy to make improvements to the basic marmalade, and - as ever - home-made preserves are top quality for the cost of the cheapest on the supermarket shelves.

More on Meat

I've now bought a month's supply of meat from the butcher that has to last at least two months because my car has developed a fault and so I need more money.
Smaller sausages were bought instead of the thicker ones. Checked for size and price against quality ones from the supermarket, almost identical in appearance, the butcher's worked out very much cheaper. For those following my real-time cost-cutting, the butcher's bill came to just 0ver £28.
Chicken carcases I had requested (but don't expect freebies if you are a first time customer, that is hardly fair), the free bagful I had been given weighed nearly 5lbs. Included were many chicken winglets, 5 carcases (mainly the rib part) which the butcher would otherwise have discarded. Some winglets looked so meaty that I froze 6 along with one chicken drumstick I found in the middle of the bag.
The carcases plus remaining winglets were put in a big pan with three past-their-best carrots, one onion and a chunk of celery cut off the top of the stick (saving the young leaves from the centre to add to a salad) although I often save the root end just for this purpose. Adding four bay leaves, some thyme, and three pints of water, it was all simmered for several hours.
Once strained, the chicken flesh was carefully picked off the bones, and this alone weighed 20 ounces which could be made into chicken pies, chicken spread for sarnies, chicken burgers, coronation chicken.......At least I know we are going to have chicken for supper tonight.

The stock was first poured into a bowl, cooled and then put into the fridge overnight. This makes it easy to take off the chicken fat (which has its uses). The fat-free stock is now simmering down again to reduce by half so that it will set to a thick gel. Before it sets I will have poured it into small containers to freeze. When short on freezer room it is reduced down even further and frozen in ice-cube trays to make 'chicken-stock cubes'.

Last night for supper I served a plate of cold cooked meats (from the supermarket) with a couple of cooked sausages. The saved celery leaves were added to the lettuce and also on the plate was the last of the avocados, a tomato, cucumber, some cottage cheese with pineapple, and sliced cooked beetroot. My husband has a big appetite! Details of the meal are given to prove it is possible to eat a substantial meal on a shoestring.
Instead of leaving the remaining slice or two of cooked meats plus half a tin of corned beef for my husband to later snack on, as I normally do, this time the meats were wrapped and put in the freezer for another meal. So much money can be saved by doing this when you get the chance.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Planning ahead

I'm not a happy bunny. Our council tax and fuel charges have increased so much that I have to find the extra money from somewhere. This means more economies in the kitchen, so where do I start?
We have had family staying with us for the past week which was great fun as I love cooking for crowds (only four this time but better than just cooking for one or two). This just about depleted my stock of frozen meat from the last purchase some many weeks ago , so off to the butcher tomorrow to stock up . Am aiming to spend less than last time but make it last longer.
My butcher's meat is so good that it can be easily extended without losing any flavour and by alternating meat days with vegetarian then I can afford to pay that bit extra. They reckon that 4oz meat is adequate protein per head, per day, so the amount of meat I buy (mince beef, diced chicken, diced mutton, stewing beef, lamb's liver, sausages) needs to be enough for at least 33 single portions for the month. However, by adding red beans (add to chilli con carne), sliced mushrooms, and grated carrot, even some porridge oats (with bolognese sauce), together with the other normal ingredients (thinly sliced onions are a MUST), these will extend mince beef to feed not one, but two or more. Casseroles I can also pad out with root vegetables. Curries likewise. On vegetarian days I make sure of providing protein in other forms - eggs, milk, cheese, beans, lentils.....
Before freezing, doing one type of meat at a time, this is divided into small bags of around 4oz each. These are then put into a larger bag - together with a piece of paper saying which meat it is. Mutton can look very much like stewing steak once frozen. Even stewing steak and mince have been mistaken without the note to remind me.
(The times I have thawed liquids frozen in ice-cube trays to find that the chicken stock turned out to be apple sauce, or the apple sauce was egg can see the sense behind labelling!)
Incidentally - if you are short of room in your freezer, use a rolling pin and press down the mince beef in the small bags, they can then be frozen flat taking up a lot less room. If you only want a small amount (for soup etc) then you can easily snap bits off.
It is easier to open-freeze sausages before bagging as you take only what you need without having to thaw out a whole pack.
One great advantage of buying meat from the butcher is that he can provide quite a few freebies. A chicken carcase would normally be thrown away after he'd cut off the best bits, but as a butcher joints up several chickens each day the bones are generally given away to anyone who asks. These make a great stock and you can pick off some useful meat once it has been cooked (about 8oz per three carcases).
My husband loves eating beef dripping on toast, with a sprinkle of salt, and the butcher will give me a lump of beef suet fat to render down. Again free. This is also wonderful to use when roasting potatoes.
Please don't come back and say my husband eats unhealthily, he has regular checks and his blood pressure and cholesterol levels are actually low.. Not bad for someone who stuffs himself full of naughties. Personally I have always believed that not much harm comes from eating natural foods as long as you take plenty of exercise. And don't smoke.
It's going to be a busy week as I have been given two bags of plums, I have a freezer full of soft fruits and the apples are falling off the trees. Not to mention the blackberries picked daily. Oh, yes - my husband has asked me to bake bread today as well. See you later.....

Friday, September 08, 2006

Storecupboard rules OK

How much does it cost to feed one person per week? We all have our own ideas, but just for test purposes say £15 per week - which is round about £2 per day. I had a go at looking at the wider picture. Over four weeks that would work out to £60, and to feed two (as in my case) - £120.
This is the challenge I set myself. To keep within that amount of money - and spend around £80 from the supermarket (in one go). £30 from the butcher, and the rest on the dairy products delivered by the milkman.
Unbelieveably, the supermarket food lasted NINE weeks, and I used only half the meat. Some of the dairy foods I could cancel (more on this later), and over the two months our daily expenditure worked out almost in pennies.
Over the next week or so I will explain the secrets behind how it works. Please keep logging on and try it yourself.

Cost Cutting Cookery

Great News! Spend less and eat like a millionaire. Let me pass on the hundreds of tips I've discovered over many years and join with me following my weekly progress on each new challenge I set myself. Challenges make the chore of cooking much more fun, and that's what I hope you'll find out.
I'd love to hear from you and why not make this the Cooking is Fun Club.