Thursday, November 30, 2006

Tales of the Unexpected

On Monday I was reading through a 'Gluten Free' cookbook and saw a recipe for pastry that was made with cornmeal and decided to try it using rice flour instead. Quite a few interesting things happened. This pastry didn't need nearly as much 'flour' and butter as normal, and the butter was rubbed into the rice flour more quickly and easily. Adding the other ingredients made it look like pastry dough, and when rolled between two sheets of cling-film, it rolled easily.
Then came the snag. It also breaks easily. Next time I use it I will roll it directly onto the base of my loose-base flan, leave a little pastry round the edge, put the base into the tin and then roll strips to put round the inside rim.
The good thing is that I was able to jigsaw the bits of broken pastry into the flan tin. It pushes together very well I have to say, as it can be moulded like putty.
As it didn't contain gluten, I decided to try baking it blind without any beans, but did line it with just tinfoil so the bottom wouldn't get too brown. Then cooked it for 10 minutes at 200C. Halfway through I lifted the foil to see if it has risen, it hadn't, so left it to cook on without the foil.
A quiche filling was made, put into the pastry case and cooked on for a further 25 minutes.
Perfect. When cut cold, the base had not gone soft as can happen with a quiche. Altogether a success apart from it seeming 'heavier' than pastry made with wheat flour, but as my normal pastry is like cardboard, there was very little difference. As long as there is moisture in the flan or pie, it seems this keeps the pastry from drying out completely.
Gluten-free Pastry: to fit a 9" flan ring
150g rice flour,
50g butter,
1 egg
Rub the butter into the flour and stir in a beaten egg. Add a few drops of water if needed to combine. Roll out between sheets of clingfilm, remove top film and invert over the baking tin used. If it breaks, just press it together, but handle as little as possible.
Tip 1: Whichever flour is used, normal or gluten-free, if any small cracks have appeared in the base after baking blind, then brush over beaten egg and return to oven to set before adding any fillling. To fill larger holes, dampen some scraps of uncooked pastry and cover holes. To prevent a pastry base from softenening, brush a layer of beaten egg over the base and return to the oven for a couple or two minutes to set.
Tip 2: To prevent fruit juices from seeping into any pastry base, or falling to the bottom of a fruit crumble, sprinkle some ground almonds or semolina over the base before adding the fruit. This will thicken and cook along with the fruit.

Serendipity Sauce:
Take one good dollop (such as 1 heaped tblsp.) of Greek Yoghurt, and the same of Mayonnaise. Blend together with 1 tsp. horseradish sauce (only add enough horseradish to just give a hint of heat - unless of course you want more bite to it.) If necessary thin down with a little of the liquid that appears in a tub of part-used yoghurt, or just use water. Then serve in a little dish for the diner to add to his meal.
Tip: Kept thick, this would make an ideal dip. Thinned down, apart from using as the above sauce, it would make a great binder for a pasta dish, for potato salad, cole slaw...

It is on days like this I swoon with pleasure for it is always great to know there is always something more to discover, and - like most things in life - alway when you least expect it.
Have a happy day.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Burger Queen

Beefburgers are one of the easiest things to make. All you need is quality minced steak, salt and pepper, and nothing more. No self-respecting cook would add anything else. Unless of course it's me.
Best steak is expensive, no getting around that! But it is false economy to use any other as it would then be too fatty, have too much gristle. I prefer to extend the meat by adding grated onion, breadcrumbs, an egg yolk (might as well keep back the white to use for something else), some chopped parsley. This way the cost of each 'burger should work out no dearer than those rather yukky ones often for sale in freezer cabinets.
Buy your meat from the butcher, he will even mince a cut specially for you if you wish, and always ask for the best quality. Don't forget 'burgers can be made with other meats as well as beef - minced lamb, chicken, turkey and there are many vegetarian options.
Here are a couple of top-of-the-range 'burger recipes to make and freeze for those special occasions. To reduce the cost, just use a little less meat and a little more of the other ingredients, You know the way my mind works when it comes to economising!
Stilton Burgers: makes 12
4 oz (100g) Stilton or Danish Blue cheese
3 lb (1.5kg) minced steak
1 small onion, finely chopped or grated
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. Dijon mustard, or 1/2 tsp English mustard
Crumble the cheese as finely as possible and mix with the other ingredients. If wishing to freeze, form into 12 round flat cakes then open freeze before bagging up. If wishing to use within 24 hours, cover bowl and keep chilled in the fridge to allow flavours to develop. When ready to use, form into burgers and cook under a pre-heated grill for 4-5 minutes on each side.

Peanut Burgers: makes 4
1 lb (500g) minced steak
1 small onion, grated
1 heaped tblsp. crunchy peanut butter
1 dash Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper to taste.
Just mix everything together and divide into four equal pieces. Form these into burger shapes. Grill for 4-5 minutes on each side.
Tip: If there is only smooth peanut butter in your larder, you could include some finely chopped unsalted peanuts to give added texture.

Meatballs (F)
The above recipes can also be used to make meatballs, only this time add breadcrumbs and egg to bind the lot together. Use 1 oz (25g) breadcrumbs and 1 egg to 1lb (500g)meat. Whether or not you use these 'extenders' to the burger recipes, with meatballs just mix them in to bind. A quick way to make the mix is to throw all the ingredients in a food processor and give them a quick blitz. This gives a smoother texture, perfect for meatball but not suitable for burgers.
Either fry the meatballs in a pan on the hob, or roast off in a hot (200C) oven for 15-20 minutes (they can be frozen at this stage). Then pour over a tomato or other sauce and heat through to serve.
Pork Balls with Pasta
Try skinning quality sausages, then forming the meat into tiny balls, giving them a quick fry then stir them into a carbonara type pasta dish.
Tip: Flour or wet your hands before forming the balls to prevent the mixture sticking to you.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Step by Step

Sometimes there seems so much to do that making lists (then sticking to them) is the only way to cope. Wnen it came to organising and cooking and preparing food for a buffet for 140 people, which I did for a society for many years, believe me I needed to make lists of lists. This would start with what a few members could and hopefully would provide and very gratefully received I can tell you, followed by lists relating to my part of the action: filling the gaps. As the savoury spread was virtually all gaps, this meant providing rather a lot. Enough to say it wasn't a finger buffet, but a full blown sit-down meal. Although the food was laid out on a help-yourself basis, several hot dishes were often provided: curry, stir-fry, chill con carne, jacket potatoes etc.

Sounds daunting, but the easiest way was for me is to make lists. Lists to do with the food that needed to be bought, subdivided into what could be bought ahead of time and what needed to be fresh. Lists to do with advance preparation, again subdivided into what would freeze and what could be done two or three days ahead. Lists for what should be done the day before, and what needed to be prepared and cooked on the day of the buffet. What could be prepared at home and what could be left to deal with once I had to go the venue kitchen. Other list of non-foods needed: 'silver' platters, serving spoons, knives...
As making lists is a sit-down activity, this is not so labour-intensive as it sounds. But next comes the harder bit - working through each , one at a time. The secret is, when it comes to the stand-up work - mainly the food preparation and cooking, (believe me I manage to sit down through a lot of that as well), the best way is to concentrate only on the job in hand, never thinking about what needs to be done next until it is time to do so. Buffet for hundreds, or a meal for two, this tip WORKS!

Which leads me to what I really wanted to say today. Plan your Xmas shopping - make a list of what you can buy in advance, to lessen the load nearer the day. Cans of lager, bottles of lemonade, wines and spirits if you are that way inclined. Buy enough non-foods to keep you going for weeks: loo rolls, kitchen paper, kitchen foil, washing-up liquid, washing powder, shampoo, soap, toothpaste, paper hankies (we use boxes of tissues which are much cheaper and just as good), tea lights, candles and matches to light them. Don't forget the paracetamol, plus extra strength flu medication just in case, sticking plasters in case you cut yourself. Bottles of disinfectant or bleach.
Then, the week before Xmas, all you need to concentrate on is the food, but make sure you have listed everything. But if something major has been omitted, what the heck - just improvise!
Don't worry about the cost of it all. What cost? Stick with me and you'll end up quids in.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Rising Cost of Food

Yesterday, in our daily paper, was a feature listing increased prices on some of over 1,000 food products, many of which have risen in the last four weeks. Some fruit and vegetables have even doubled in price. This does make it difficult, even impossible to cost out a dish and then expect it to stay the same for the next six months or so.
However, there are a couple of items in the list that will always work out cheaper when home made. One is bread: a supermarket 400g Crusty White Loaf has increased from 60p to 74p, home-made, even using a quality bread mix, works out at less than £1 for two loaves of that size.
Orange marmalade 454g (1 lb) has risen from 98p - to £1.06. Home-made, using a can of prepared oranges, works out at 38p per lb. Even adding finely diced preserved ginger to the orange, or lime zest and juice to the lemon variety only adds a few coppers more per pot.
Tip: With the tins of prepared marmalade, I use 2kg sugar instead of 4lbs, and one pint of water instead of 3/4pt, and get around 7lbs of marmalade instead of 6, and it still sets perfectly.
An extra good tip: wait for special promotions, with any luck the favourite brands will be back down to a much reduced price. Especially if we stop buying them in the meantime.

Mo has asked me what I do with the mounds of paper-work. There is not as much as it seems. Once I have worked out costings I can usually remember them - such as:
1/4 pint of reconstituted milk (5p) ,
1/2 oz sugar (1p),
a serving of porridge oats (3p),
then I know a bowl of porridge will cost me 9p max. But dilute the milk (the Scots make their porridge with water alone) and it will be even cheaper.
A medium loaf (£1) has 20 slices, including crusts (5p slice) , so a complete breakfast of porridge and 1 slice of toast with home-made marmalade (3p + 4p for butter), and a mug of coffee (3p for the granules), need not cost more than 25p max.
On the other hand my husband likes home-made muesli, which does add a few more pennies. But if a box of Special K has risen from £2 to £2.58 (and how many servings is that? Will somebody let me know as that will save me buying a pack to find out) , I am sure my breakfast gives better value for lower cost.

Naturally, a full English breakfast (bacon, sausages, tomatoes, mushrooms, fried or scrambled egg, fried bread) will cost more. Even so, there is sense in the saying : "At breakfast eat like a king, in the evening dine like a pauper." When you need strength to labour through the day, by all means begin the morning with a good meal and burn off those calories while you work. At night sleep all the better after a lighter meal. Whichever way round, the cost for the day should not alter very much. A lot of the way we eat is by habit rather than by what is best for us at that time.

Because this recipe uses just the yolks of eggs, this gives me the chance to point out that a lot can be done with just the leftover whites, so always take advantage when you have them. In this instance I would probably make up a batch of Italian Meringue (which is the base for the soft-scoop ice-cream in an earlier posting), then take out spoonfuls to to dry off in a cooling oven, to be stored in tins for future use. They keep almost indefinitely given the chance. Into the remaining meringue I would fold in yoghurt and whipped cream plus any flavourings etc. to make a tub of ice-cream. Not quite three for the price of one, but getting there.

Avgolemono Soup
50g (20z) long-grain rice
1 ltr (1 3/4 pt) chicken stock
3-4 egg yolks
juice of 1 lemon
chopped parsley for garnish
Put the stock and the rice in a pan and bring to the boil. Simmer for 12-15 minutes until the rice is tender. Remove from heat. Put the egg yolks and lemon juice into a bowl and beat together. Beat in a little of the hot stock, then pour this into the pan containing the rice and remaining stock. Whisk until the broth has thickened, but do not boil or the eggs will curdle.
Serve hot with the parsley sprinkled over.

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.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Good enough to Eat

Although healthy foods should have priority, on breakfast TV today there was a short clip of a single parent in a supermarket, complaining of how it was impossible to buy healthy foods such as fruit and veg. on a low income. He had small children with him and it did seem that the first foods he felt he needed to put in his trolley were large packets of crisps. Each of these would probably cost around £1 a pack, and this does make me sad for you can buy a lot of good food for that money. Start buying the sensible stuff first, leave the snacks to the end and then only if you can afford it and not at all if you can get away with it.

After all I've said, today I'm giving you the treat I promised. Gingerbread. This version is a type of firm cookie which can be made into houses, or cut into shapes to hang from the Xmas Tree. If used for decoration, best eaten with a week of making, otherwise they dry out too much. In Germany, they make them up to a month in advance then leave them in the open air. After using for decoration only, they are wrapped in cling-film and stored to used for display the following year, and maybe years after that. From many recipes, this is the easiest:
Lebkuchen - (spice biscuits)
2 oz butter, softened, 3 oz soft brown sugar
1 egg, beaten, 7 oz plain flour
1/2 tsp. bicarb. soda, 1 tsp mixed spice
1 tblsp. runny honey OR golden syrup
Beat the butter and sugar together until light, then beat in the egg. Sift the flour with the bicarb and the spice and fold in. Add the honey or syrup. The mixture needs to be quite firm. Put in a polybag and chill for several hours, or you could make it now, freeze it and thaw it out to bake nearer Xmas.
Tip: If using for decoration only, you could omit the spice. To make a darker shade use half syrup and half treacle.

Roll the dough out on a floured board to 1/2cm thick, then cut into required shapes. If needing to hang from a tree, then make a hole near an edge with the end of a chopstick, or end of a biro (first wrap in foil). The simplest shape for a house is first to cook the gingerbread in one piece, then cut when cold. To form the house, follow the instructions after baking.
Put the shapes onto greased and floured baking trays and bake at 180C/350F/Gas 4 for 6-8 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. If you want them just for decoration, and you feel they are too soft when cool, you can return them to the oven for a further 2 -3 minutes.
To assemble a house: The simplest way is to cut the shapes in card and then use these as a template. Draw a line on the card to the width you want (suggest 4") then draw a line up from the middle to about 6" - 8". Draw a line from each end of the base line to the top of the middle line and you get a triangle (is that called an equilateral triangle?). Cut two of these to make the ends of the houses. If possible, have a piece of gingerbread larger than the completed house to use as a base.
For the roof, cut two oblongs from the gingerbread, the depth of each the same as the side of a triangle and as wide as you want. Pipe on windows and doors with icing (you can buy this in tubes), and stick the roof to the ends with some very firm water, royal, or tube icing leaving a little bit of the roof overhanging the front. Leave to set before finishing.
To complete the decoration, pipe on more icing to look like icicles, and stick small sweets (such as Smarties) on the roof and around the door, using blobs of icing as glue.
It is even better decorated with home-made royal icing which can be poured over the roof to set to look like snow and icicles.
Tip: to make royal icing soft enough to cut without shattering, beat in a few drops of glycerine.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Helps and Hindrances

On the news this morning was a piece about school meals. Seems no-one will eat a dish containing broccoli, however disguised, so thought I'd look it up in my Food Bible, and it did show that cauliflower is a worthy substitute. My husband doesn't like broccoli, but he will eat a lot of cauli, in cauliflower cheese, in a stir-fry, made into a curry, also fried in batter as a side dish to curry, and raw cauliflower as part of crudites with dips.
Tip: Remove florets from a head of cauliflower, and put into a plastic bag. No need to add water. Lay flat with the side open and microwave for about four to five minutes at full heat. The cauliflower will then be tender and full of flavour. Take care when removing because the bag will be full of steam.
Trim the discarded stalks and slice these to use in stir-fries.

My main topic for the day is the non-food side of the kitchen. Utensils, gadgets, and useful tips.
This week I tried opening a can of the more expensive chopped tomatoes which had a ring-pull - that broke off even before it got properly started. So had to open it with a tin-opener.
I do have one of those plastic gadgets which aid opening cans like these, but as ever, it got mislaid.
Tip: An extra couple or so pence is added to the price of a ring-pull can to cover the cost of the convenience. As we don't eat the ring, then don't pay the price. (For once, don't do as I do, do as I say!)

Then we come to corned beef tins. Time and again I have bought a couple or three of these and find that one of the keys has dropped off. So do check. I now keep a spare key (unwound after opening), so that I have one in emergency. These tins are not easily opened with a tin-opener.
Tip always chill cans of meat before opening, this makes the contents easier to remove.

When you don't have the right size baking tin - improvise. I have baked cakes in greased and lined large sweet tins, once cleaned the cooled cake can be stored by standing it on the lid with the base used as a cover (just remember not to turn it up the right way). When short of baking trays, cover one with several thicknesses of foil, then remove the tray and fold over excess foil at the sides to give extra strength. This works well. For extra bottom strength, interleave the bottom sheets of foil with cardboard.

If you have a good can-opener, this will remove a lid without leaving a sharp edge. These tins can then be cleaned and used either for baking small cakes, or with the base removed, for using to make ring-stacks of all sorts of thing as we see so often prepared by TV chefs.

A lot of things get throw out when houses get sold and the elderly pass on. In my own kitchen I have two breadboards and two mincing machines, belonging to my mother and mother-in-law. Likewise rolling pins and pastry board and hand graters. Who needs new things when the old are perfectly adequate?
The shallow baking tins of old seem fine, but the ones bought more recently do tend to warp. This is a common problem and it does seem to happens when the temperature is over 200C. The round tins (for baking pizzas etc) don't warp. I asked my husband why, and he said because they don't have any corners. That sounded silly to me, but I could be true.
Tip: Bake vol-au-vents on round tins so they rise evenly. Remove the lids and any uncooked pastry from inside of the case. To keep crisp for a couple or so days, put a layer of salt over the base of a large air-tight container, cover this with a piece of kitchen paper, then fill the tin with the baked cases. Put on the lid. The salt will absorb any excess moisture.

Tip: When baking something that might break when removing from a shallow-sided baking sheet, (a quiche baked in just a ring-with-no-base for instance) then turn the baking sheet over and stand the item on the up-turned bas eand it can then, after baking, easily slide off onto an airer or plate.

For many years I used a pressure cooker, but have always maintained they save time, fuel, but are short on flavour especially where meat is concerned. Slow-cookers are far superior as long as you remember to switch them on early in the day.
Microwaves - great for vegetables, esp. jacket potatoes in a hurry, for making custard, melting jellies (using a small amount of water), for de-frosting and also for re-heating ready-made, by this I mean HOMECOOKED meals. but I don't use it for much else. Perhaps I should. Somehow I prefer the aroma in the kitchen of food cooked in an oven.
Tip: When baking, moving to another room after setting the timer, once I begin to smell whatever it is I am cooking (particularly cakes), I have found it is just about ready to take out of the oven. With meat, I am aware of it when it is at the not-quite-medium stage, which is how some people like it. Perhaps this is the way it has always been and we don't have to worry too much about what is the required time as ovens do vary. Anyone else found this tip works?

Like most people, I have the usual sandwich toasters and ice-cream machines tucked away at the back of the cupboard along with an electric slicing machine which more than pays its way. Using this I am able to slice so much more thinly, which makes the meat go much further. At this time of the year it will be brought out to use again when I cook ham and beef. It will also cut bread. There are many times I wish I had more counter space then everything would be ready and waiting for me.
Tip: Anything visible is more likely to be used. So keep those food-processors, breadmakers and the large mixers-with-bowl-and-blender right there in your face.
A final tip: next time a bottle of wine is opened, save an inch at the bottom of the bottle and pour into an ice-cube tray. Freeze, bag up (label of course), and use in casseroles or jellies or what you will. The flavour adds immensely to a dish and - if you look at it the way I do - it's virtually free.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

What's it Worth?

As my mind is already planning the frugal food for next year (although it won't be costly, there are some cracking recipes for you - you will never have eaten so well), yesterday I decided to count out how many rounded teaspoons there were in a 200g jar of instant (quality) coffee granules. I double checked and it came to the same - 125. My husband pointed out that he uses a level teaspoon when making me coffee, but then I don't like it as strong as most people. But whatever, those rounded counted spoonfuls worked out at only 3p per cup/mug excluding milk and sugar. Therefore mine must have been even cheaper.

Using a limited budget, to be able to buy the most food, I would need to buy the cheapest (usually the store's own brand). With a lot of foods, this is not a problem as long as the nutrition is roughly the same as the higher priced brands. Branded products usually taste better but then any home-made meal will taste better than a ready-meal, so spend the money where it matters most, like meat from a butcher, fruit and vegetables from a town or farmer's market or the local greengrocers when you can.

An early start for me today as I came up at 6.30am to do a trial pricing of seven products from my store's grocery lists. The results are well worth sharing, so here is my 'shopping basket' with the cheapest price (normally store's own) given first followed by the dearest (branded):

Plain flour - 27p/81p; baked beans - 17p/59p; coffee - £1.38p/£3.78p; bread - 28p/96p; chopped tomatoes - 15p/57p; pasta-37p/94p; and canned fruit cocktail - 22p/72p.
As the total for the cheapest came to £2.84p - and the quality brands came to £8.37p this shows a whopping difference of £5.52p. Makes you think twice, doesn't it?

We usually get 'flyers' through our post-box from one or another of our local supermarkets, these usually give half-price reductions and bogofs (same thing really), on branded products when purchased over a short period of time. Then a couple of weeks later comes the next flyer with other price cuts. These are the best times to stock up, maybe doubling up a purchase or two so that the quality of our stores slowly improves without having to pay top prices. This is helping me a lot as this week I can get get my husband to bring me in some soft margarine (something I normally don't buy) which will be used later for baking purposes. Ditto coffee, reducing the price per cup down to 2p or less. As it says on my money-box lid "A PENNY SAVED IS A PENNY EARNED". Remember that!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Retail Therapy?

Already I am revving up for the start of my challenge. A flyer from another supermarket is doing a lot of 'bogofs' and so am stocking up on cheese biscuits and washing up liquid.
Tip: When the detergent bottle has only about 1/2" left , squeeze the air out of the bottle and hold it under a hot or cold tap, release the air and it will draw in enough water to dilute, then give it a good shake. Don't oversqueeze when it's used and it will last much longer.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Time to Take Stock

I'm hoping that keen cooks will already keep flour, raising agents, some herbs and spices, sugars, honey, mustard and stock cubes (to name but a few), in their cupboards. It might seem that by using what that I already have, this will be cheating. But once stocked up, I will then play two roles - the 'shopkeeper' and the 'customer', buying from myself every ingredient that is needed. This will give the true cost of each dish or meal and, at the end of the experiment, we can then find out what we need to know.

It is only fair to open my kitchen doors so that you know the type of foods I would like to keep in store. Note: I do not have all of them all the time so it is not as bad as it looks. Anyway, none are expensive until we get to the fresh produce. I'm hoping to include some foods listed to be used during the ten weeks as they can play a large part in the great scheme of things. Looking at the list it even I think it appears I am rich as Croesus affording so much, but it has all been assembled over many months through judicious shopping whilst still keeping a tight hold on my purse. Many items have a long shelf life, and when it comes to 'best before' dates, I know darn well most will be 'not-so-different' after.
Please understand that the reason I 'hoard' so much is because I like to try out new recipes, and there is nothing worse than finding out I haven't got one ingredient I need. I do remember, seeing Nigella Lawson (on TV) showing up her larder (almost a room), with so much in store I felt positively deprived.

These are my favourite storecupboard items.: baked beans, plum and chopped tomatoes, tomato puree/passata, corned beef, tuna, sardines, salmon, canned fruits, a selection of curry sauces, curry pastes, mayo, ketchup, brown sauce, a couple or so tins of condensed soups. Malt vinegar, white vinegar, pickling vinegars - all these play a major role in my cooking.

I do have things that can turn a boring, tasteless dish into something special and of course costed when used: Tabasco, soy, various chilli,Worcestershire and other sauces. Selection of 'tracklements' - mustards, mint and horseradish sauces. Pickles, redcurrant jelly, herbs and spices.
Not forgetting the basics: Custard powder (did you know that was the first convenience food?), cornflour, cocoa, tea bags, coffee. Jellies. Everything needed for cake-making. Also honey, golden syrup, treacle. Dark chocolate. Peanut butter, Bovril, Marmite. Home-made jams and marmalades.

On open shelves I have jars and containers of: red lentils, pearl barley, red beans, chickpeas, butterbeans, other beans. Stock cubes. Rice, pasta, cous-cous, burgul wheat. Dessicated coconut, flaked almonds, walnut pieces, sultanas/raisins/mixed fruits. Granulated sugar/caster/dark and light muscovados/demerara. Dried apricots, dates, porridge oats. By Xmas most of these will need reordering.

Also I will need a good supply of Plain flour, S.R. flour, white and brown bread flour and also bread mixes, semolina. I do have cornmeal (polenta), besan (chickpea flour) and rice flour, but they are not essential. Things like cans of marmalade mixes are a help. Trifle sponges are more a convenience as I could (and probably will have to) make my own.

In the fridge useful items will be: Greek yogurt, creme fraiche, thick cream, fruit yogurts, Red Leicester, mature Cheddar and Mozzarella cheese. Parmesan. Smoked streaky bacon. Chorizo sausage. Iceberg lettuce, cucumber, bell peppers of various colours, carrots, parsnips, cauliflower, salad/baby potatoes. Other vegetables in season. Vacuum packed beetroot. Always celery. Seedless grapes. Milk, fruit juices. Goose fat. Butter.

On a kitchen unit I always keep a big basket full of assorted sized onions, shallots and garlic, tucked in a corner is butternut squash, white cabbage. Other baskets contain tomatoes, eggs, and when I can afford it avocados/lemons/limes/kiwi fruit. There is a small cloth sack containing large baking potatoes.
A bread bin will hold home-made loaves. A big container of porridge oats and next to it a big tin of home-assembled muesli should satisfy us for breakfast.
In the hall is always big bowl of fruit: bananas, apples, pears, bananas, oranges when at their best.

In the freezer (oh for more room) there are at the moment, boxes of red and black currants, blackberries, packs of pastry: short, puff and filo (I am no good at making pastry). Some white fish, sometimes smoked fish, tiger prawns, lamb shanks, minced beef and lamb, lamb's liver, mutton, stewing beef, diced chicken, chicken breasts, sausages, belly pork. Those free chicken winglets. Bags of peas, sweetcorn, home-cooked chickpeas, whole string beans. Ovenchips. Nuts (keep longer in the freezer), naan bread, pitta bread. Containers of home-made chicken stock.
Tip: Separate fresh sausages and open freeze before bagging up, then no need to defrost a complete pack when you only need one or two.
As long as I can keep within the £30 butchers allowance the contents would remain much the same.

Along a dark wall I keep my oils and vinegars: extra virgin, sunflower, a lighter virgin oil, walnut oil, sesame oil, grapeseed oil. White wine vinegar, red wine vinegar, balsamic and cider vinegar.
Some will need re-ordering.
On the kitchen windowsill are pots of mint, basil and parsley, and - in the porch - I keep pots of sage, rosemary, chives and thyme. In the garden, near the back door, is a huge bush of Bay. This began in a small pot and was replanted many years ago, since then it has gone wild and needs regular pruning. None of it is thrown away, the butcher takes a load and friends and family take the surplus.
This is the time of year to sow some Lambs Lettuce and Wild Rocket which should be ready by the end of January through to March. These will also be grown on in the porch. I have already saved seeds from Butternut Squash, and tomatoes to grow on next year.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Contingency Plans

This is leading to my preparations not just for Xmas, but for the winter months ahead, and a new challenge.
Spending no more than £100 at a time from the supermarket, initially intended to last a month, has already been mentioned in earlier postings and I still find this will last much longer.
Of course more fresh fruit and vegetables are bought during this time, but not a lot else other than what the milkman can bring me.
The supermarket does deliver my order, so I am not weary with the trolley pushing and the loading, and there are still plenty of 'bogofs' and reduced prices on offer if I want them. Booking a time slot is always useful, some days are cheaper than others, but the money-back points system more than covers all the delivery charges. The delivery man will take back the empty bags (from the previous time), and I may now well hide other supermarket packaging in them as I certainly don't want it

My next order I am planning to be delivered the week before Xmas. Already I will be putting some items into the supermarket 'virtual' basket so that I can book my time slot well in advance - I am sure everyone will be virtual shopping that week- then I have time to add or subtract items at will until the day before delivery. By keeping an eye on the final total, some of the pricier products may have to be deleted in favour of a cheaper brand.

There will be no preliminary cheating - my Xmas order will still be confined to the £100, which will include some fruit and vegetables, and I expect to pay no more than £30 to my butcher during that time. Also a maximum of £100 to the milkman (I get eggs, butter, cheese, cream, yoghurts, cottage cheese, potatoes as well as milk). That already totals £230, so let's round it up to £250 beause I will have some basics already bought that I can use, then say it all has to last ten weeks because this makes it easier to divide. As this seems to work out at only £25 a week to feed two (plus guests), it seems obvious that I will need to spend more. But how much more???
This will be purely a challenge to me, but hopefully an eye-opener to anyone who really needs to find a way to cut costs. Quite simply the more thought and time put in, the cheaper a meal can become, but I don't expect anyone to do what I do. Look on it as a way we can find out how to cope only if we HAVE to. Plan G if you like.

In the next post I'll give a run-down of foods I will be ordering. Also the essentials to keep in the fridge, and my choice of what I keep in the freezer.
Tip: Not all foods need to be kept in the kitchen, cans can be stored in boxes under a bed or in a wardrobe if short of shelf-space.
Do let me know how you feel about my suggestion of giving you a daily blow-by-blow account of living on a shoestring? Of course there will be other things I'll be writing about, but at least it will give me a purpose in life.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Keep Stirring.

A news item has been about preventing the advertising of junk food for kids. Now, I'm finding it difficult to understand why children have suddenly become so picky. Searching through my memory cells I recall my mother serving me many foods I did not like (stewed prunes, soggy green cabbage, fish, egg custard, sago pudding) but I was expected to eat them. The only food I would and could not eat were mushrooms although I love them now. Also, I think it was less of a problem because we spent more energy, never had snacks between meals, and came to the table hungry.

When I was first married I remember the first casserole I made and my husband pulling a face and removing all the pieces of onion to the side of his plate. He told me he didn't like onions, his mother (although I doubted it) didn't put onions in, so would I please leave them out in future.
The next time I made the casserole he said it didn't taste nearly as good as the first. I replied "that's because I didn't put any onions in as you requested." Face dropped. The third time, the onions, this time finely chopped, went back in and everything was eaten without any criticism.

When our children were born it was common practise at that time to make baby foods at home. So after the Farex and teething rusk stage, and following the recommendations in the baby books, pureed foods started to be served. These were usually made from what we might be eating ourselves, potatoes, carrots, gravy etc. with no salt. Soft-boiled eggs were commonly eaten sadly not recommended today. Babies do have dislikes, but it is easy enough to disguise one food with another and, unless I was very unfortunate, my brood would eat everything put before them. This could be due to them having ravenous appetites, and with no central heating and plenty of outdoor exercise a body naturally craves for fuel. They also had a strict routine which caused no problems at all. Early to bed at set time, I think this was initially for all of them (I did have three children while the first was under three) but as they grew older, around six years I think it was, at each birthday they were given an extra half hour. And how smug they were when their siblings retired and they didn't have to Mind you, we had no television then. Perhaps that is the cause of many of the problems today.

You may like to hear how I coped with chores for children. When we moved here (with four children by then) the eldest was thirteen. Try as hard as I could they would argue about doing any chores especially the washing up, excuses excuses all the time, yet one daughter, bless her, would come in from school calling out 'I'll put away"'. Such a kind offer. Why couldn't the others be so thoughtful? It took me some time to realise that unless her brother and sisters washed and dried the clever girl knew she never would have anything to put away.
So I sat down and made a chore chart. At the top of the chart the chores were listed (washing up, drying pots, putting away pots, emptying the kitchen bin into the dustbin, feeding the dog, taking the dog for a walk, hoovering, and a few others now forgotten). At the side were listed the days of the week. Then, in the columns, I would write the name of the child chosen to do a set number of chores each and every day, and these were shared around so it didn't get monotonous (if you washed up one day, then someone else did it the next and so on.) By the way, I listed myself as one of the workers so that all was fair in love and war. For a bonus, each week one child had a day off. This they thought was great, as there is nothing like sitting with your feet up watching everyone labour.
Once the chart was pinned up, in truth they couldn't wait to begin. All of a sudden it became so much fun and although they never realised it, they did far more than they had ever (grudgingly) done before.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Professional Housewife

When I first ran out of money, (because my husband paid me my housekeeping monthly and as it had been Xmas, I had spent the lot on presents as well as food), it would be a whole month before I was given my next allowance. Even with the weekly family allowance - all of £1.50 - two adults, four children (two in their teens, but ALL with teenage appetites), one ravenous labrador dog and grandma who lived around the corner all needed to be fed. I was prepared to exist from the leftovers, as a few stone dropping off me could only be an improvement, but mainly it was terribly important to me no-one in the family knew of my dilemma.

Thank goodness that I did have a good amount of basic foods. Mainly because I never used them much anyway. Some must have been there years.
So I began to prepare dishes from what I had - mainly dry goods, but things still in the fridge and a very small amount in the freezer. When the bread ran out, I made bread, when the yogurt ran out I made yogurt. When the pasta ran out I made pasta. When the dog biscuits ran out I made dog biscuits. True.
I very soon discovered that serving three courses - soup, mains and pudding - worked out less costly than two courses. This is because a starter (usually soup) and the pud - often a steamed or milk pudding can be very filling. The main course could thus be smaller. Very soon the youngsters began to rush to the table at meal times, looking like little birds in the nest, beaks open. "Why are we now eating better meals?" one asked. I pondered, then spoke the truth "because I've been thinking more about it. Also everything is now home-made."

I'll never know why it occured to me to do this, but it was one of the best things I've ever done and that was, from the start, I began working out how much ingredients cost, by dividing the weight into the price. Discovering that 6oz of own-brand flour works out for less than 4p (today's price) is enough to get anyone started. On packets and labelled jars were written the amount, often the protein content (as with lentils), and when it was time to cook it was like playing a dual role of both shopkeeper and customer.
At that time, because I knew so very little about it, cooking was turning out to be more like hard work than fun, and when I don't enjoy doing something I try role-playing (perhaps today I run a guest-house, or tomorrow I could be a chef, or a home economist). Another approach was to turn it into a game (make a main course for under £1, or how much can I make for 50p?). Setting a price for a meal I found was extra good fun because I could sit there with pen and paper and a recipe, and work it out without having to do any cooking at all if I didn't feel like it.
After a month's hard labour and some paperwork I discovered that the real cost of all the food I had prepared from stores, including a very few other items that needed to be bought, was less than HALF of what I had previously been spending.

With the next housekeeping due it was time to work out what was worth buying and what was not as I was not intending to work quite so hard for the rest of my life. Many manufactured products are worth using. Stock cubes, custard powder, ketchup, brown sauce. Cheese. It takes a gallon of milk to make a pound of cheese. Recipes were adapted to fit into my budget, a little less meat, a lot more vegetables. Extra protein by way of eggs and milk. While costing was my main pleasure, all of a sudden I was finding cooking to be enjoyable too. From a less than average housewife and mum, all of a sudden I had got the professional approach - looking for a profit and banking the proceeds.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Start the day well

This morning, my husband left early, which gave me the chance to experiment with a recipe I had discovered yesterday. It is fantastic! I have eaten the end product for my breakfast, leaving two to eat cold later.
What I was aiming to do was find a use for all that rice flour I had bought so I substituted this instead of the cornmeal as given in a gluten free recipe. Also substituted yogurt instead of creme fraiche. Best of all, with a little bit of juggling I managed to balance the ingredients so that the amounts are easy to remember.
Sweetcorn Pancakes - makes five
1 egg,
1 rounded tblsp. Greek Yogurt
1 rounded tblsp. rice flour
100g. canned and drained sweet corn
1 tbslp oil (but don't increase this when making more).
First put a dry frying pan over a medium heat whilst you prepare the pancake batter.
In a small bowl, beat together the egg and the yogurt. Stir in the rice flour making sure there are no lumps. Finally fold in the sweet corn.
Put the oil in the pan, let it heat for a minute then spoon in tablespoons of the pancake mixture.
When they are golden underneath (about 3 minutes) then turn and cook for a further minute. Remove and drain on kitchen paper. Repeat with the remaining mixture.
Tip: Even though these are made with healthy ingredients, as long as you don't mention the dreaded phrase, children will love them, especially with a dollop of tomato ketchup on top (also proving to be good for you). Adults may prefer to season with pepper before or after cooking.

Zoe has asked if margarine could be used when making Lemon Curd. There are some recipes that are not worth making when using a cheaper product. In this case, always use butter. Remember also that lemon curd has a short shelf life, some recipes say 1 - 2 weeks. Others give a bit longer. Amd keep refrigerated. Has anyone tried freezing lemon curd? If it works, please let us know.

A suggestion to cut the cost of milk (expensive in the Channel Islands would you believe), use dried milk in cooking. Add the dried powder to dry ingredients, then make up with water instead of milk. The same works when making porridge. Half reconstituted milk mixed with 'real' milk is virtually undectable by taste.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Boys Joys

This week I have been giving my husband great pleasure plying him with experimental desserts. He does love his puddings, as do most men. More, more, more he is pleading. And heck! It's only Tuesday. By the end of the week he might even be persuaded to buy me a dishwasher.
The recipes today are similar only as to ingredients, but quite different when it comes to the eating. Also extremely easy to make. Here goes:

Caribbean Comfort Food:
butter, muscovados sugar, bananas, rum
In a small frying pan put a knob of butter and 1 rounded tblsp of muscovados sugar. Heat gently until the sugar is dissolving. Peel and cut the banana across in half, then cut the halves through the middle to make four long pieces. Put these into the butter syrup, turn and heat through. Finally add a dash of rum. Ignite if you wish. Serve in a shallow dish with the syrup poured over and a good dollop of cream. Add more bananas if you wish to feed more than one.

Lick the Plate Treacle Mousse:
1 170g tin of evaporated milk, chilled
150g muscovados sugar
banana and cream to serve
Put the evaporated milk into a bowl with the sugar and whip until very thick. This will take about 6-10 minutes. Pour into a shallow 8" buttered dish and bake at 200C, 300F etc for 10 minutes. It will have risen slightly and be firm on top. Leave to get cold and chill before serving with sliced bananas and cream. This is so incredibly rich it could serve at least four to six people.
Note: As I left the kitchen yesterday, I looked back to find my husband licking his plate, hence the name!
Tip: The Treacle Mousse I feel has a lot more potential - maybe beating in an egg yolk and folding in the beaten white before baking might make it lighter? Could some be used as-is (without baking) as a pouring sauce? Could it freeze to make ice-cream? Have a go yourself and see what you come up with.

It occured to me last night that a mention of the financial side of our Goode Life might help to visualise how we cope as I know people do say "well, it's alright for her, she must be rolling in it, all that TV work." Not true. We live in an Edwardian house with a small garden, all kept going on very nearly a basic state pension (with an additonal 35p a week because I did pay Nat. Ins. during the few TV years). After retiring, my husband gave me control of the household affairs as I am so better at it than he is (modesty is not my middle name) and, as he said, all the less for him to worry about. But I enjoy any challenge. With some devious chat I managed to get the council tax down one band, and also had a water meter installed (made a GREAT saving there), A dual fuel package for pensioners was signed for because then we never need to worry about how much fuel we use. The yearly charge (I pay by D.D. each month) differs according to how many rooms and how many people in the house. However, because of the high price of fuel, the price has risen every year and especially this last year. When we first signed on it cost us less than half of what we had been paying about 12 years ago, but over the years has doubled so we are back to square one.
On average, after paying all the household bills, the money left, which is around £200 a month, often less, has to cover food, presents, (we have four children and nine grandchildren), clothes, hairdresser (my one luxury) , postage stamps, computer server costs, phone bills, and - up to mid-September, the running costs of my own (20 year old) car. Sadly, at MOT time, this needed so much repair that I could not afford, it has now gone for scrap. But this does means an additional £10 a month in the kitty. On the good side, once a year the pension appears twice on my bank statement and this is a real bonus. We also get a fuel allowance from the Government, plus a meagre £10 extra at Xmas. What would that be worth if it kept pace with inflation I wonder?

For pocket money, my husband works a couple of days a week delivering flowers for a florist, and this money pays for his holidays. As part of the able crew, usually as Watchleader, he sails with the Jubilee Sailing Trust - who have two Tall Ships designed to carry disabled crew. Other costs are running his (also very old) car which unfortunately I can't drive because i can't squeeze behind the wheel), paying for the papers (cheaper to buy from the shop than have them delivered), subscribing to a wine club (yes, a luxury but why not?), and to a gym. And anything else he fancies I suppose. Needless to say, neither of us smoke.

So that's us, warts and all. Any questions?

Monday, November 13, 2006

Use it or Lose it

It was many years ago I realised by discarding the bits a recipe told me I should, they had still been paid for. Did this mean, over a year, I could have been throwing away £££s into the bin? Can't bear thinking about.
From then on I began to read recipes more carefully - and the words 'discard' came up often. I then decided it was time to find other uses for the seemingly unnecessary.
There are many recipes which call for just egg yolks, or, vice versa - whites only. Make up your own recipe collection which can deal with these individually. While you are at it, crush the egg shells and put them on the garden to deter slugs.
Tip: If you can get white eggs, then blow the eggs (using the contents in a recipe of course), rinse the shells and paint them with water or poster colours. Spray with hair laquer to set the paint. These can be very decorative and make good presents. OR paint stripes of glue and sprinkle over glitter, hang them from the Xmas Tree.

When making bread sauce, remove crusts from the bread and bake these in the oven. They can then be ground to make crumbs, or left like bread sticks to use as 'dippers'.
Bread Sauce
Milk, onion (to be used twice) , breadcrumbs, mace or cloves, butter, pepper
Pour milk into a pan, add either a few blades of mace, or stick a few cloves into an onion. Put the onion in the milk and bring to the boil. Turn off heat, leave to stand overnight. Also spread the crumbs on a baking sheet to leave out overnight to dry slightly. Next day remove the onion (KEEP THIS) . To make the sauce, add enough of the milk to the crumbs for the consistency you need, season with pepper and reheat, folding in a knob of butter at the end. Any cold bread sauce can be eaten with cold meat the following day.
Remove the cloves from the onion (yes, you can discard these) , cut the onion up into small pieces and add to a home-made or even ready-made stuffing mix.

In an earlier posting I mentioned the dual use of pearl barley when making barley water. The left-over barley could then go into another dish. Normally I would add it to a chicken casserole or soup, but barley in its own right can be used instead of rice. Try making a risotto with barley From raw, it takes longer to cook but is a very satisfying dish.

Even vegetables can offer more. I have seen pumpkin recipes where the seeds have been saved to be eaten (not sure if they need toasting first, must look it up). Vegetable peelings can be collected (I have a bagful in my fridge) to make vegetable stock. Onion skins help to turn the stock a darker brown colour.
Broccoli and cauliflower stems can be kept to slice into strips and used for stir-fries. White cabbage cores can be grated to use for cole-slaw. Celery stumps used when making chicken stock. Pea pods can make soup - along with the outside leaves of lettuce.
Tip: When using a food processor to make cole-slaw, first put the dressing into the machine so that it blends the grated carrot, cabbage and onion in one go. I use half and half mayo and plain yogurt for a dressing. If necessary thinned down with a little milk or water.

Apple peel and cores can be boiled down and pureed giving an extra source of pectin when making preserves.

Use butter papers to grease pans or to lay across a dish that you don't want to brown too quickly. Open sugar bags to shake out those remaining teaspoons of sugar caught in the folds. Use tea-bags more than once (it works), then put them at the bottom of flower pots to stop the soil draining out.
Use layers of newspaper covered by one sheet of kitchen paper when draining fried foods.
Keep large coffee pots or tins for storage containers. Use attractive containers (golden syrup or treacle tins) to hold small pots of herbs.
Scour the printing off large plastic (yogurt) pots, using a Brillo pad and hot water. Make holes in the base with a skewer. Use for growing plants.
Tip: The scouring removes any shine from the plastic so makes a perfect base for painting the name of a herb for instance. A collection of home-grown herbs makes a good present.

The clear plastic lids that cover some pots of cream for example are the perfect size to use as coasters for mugs or glasses and even be used as a cover for a mug to avoid spillages when on the trot
I could go on, but am sure you MUST have some suggestions of your own. Please share.

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.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

More TV trauma plus a Recipe or Two

The recipes for the day deal with more Festive Fare. Remember that chicken winglets can sometimes be included in the freebie chicken carcase package your kindly butcher will give you. But always worth removing them from fresh chickens before cooking, to freeze and store.
Spicy Buffalo Wings makes 2 dozen
24 chicken winglets, tips removed
12 oz bottle of chili sauce
2 fl.oz each lemon juice and black treacle
2 tblsp. Worcestershire sauce
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tblsp chili sauce (if you like it hot)
3 -4 drops Tabasco (ditto)
If the winglets are large, divide into two. Put them in a slow cooker, combine the rest of the ingredients and pour over. Stir to coat. Leave to cook on low for 8 hours. These can be done in a low oven for a shorter length of time, but keep covered and check the sauce doesn't get too sticky or they burn. If there is too much liquid when cooking in a slow cooker, drain this off and boil down to a thick syrup to spoon over the chicken.
Chestnut and Chocolate Slice (F)
This is worth making well ahead of time as it freezes so well. Unmould and defrost for 30 minutes in the fridge before serving.
10 oz (275g) dark chocolate
1 x 435g can of chestnut puree
6 oz (175g) softened butter
6 oz (175g) caster sugar
grated rind and juice of 1 orange
2 tsp orange liqueur
Melt the chocolate in a bowl which is standing over hot water. Meanwhile beat the chestnut puree in another bowl until light and fluffy then gradually beat in some of the melted chocolate alternately with the softened butter. Finally, beat in the orange rind, juice and liqueur.
Line a loaf tin with clingfilm, smoothing out the creases, then pour in the chestnut mixture smoothing down the top. Fold over clingfilm to cover top, or cover with greaseproof paper and freeze. When ready to serve, remove top covering, upend onto a plate and peel away the clingfilm.
Tip: If you only need a single slice, then remove from tin, fold back cling-film and cut through the frozen block with a knife dipped in hot water, re-cover and return immediately to the freezer.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Bit Between my Teeth

A mention of the rising cost of bread in today's TV news inspired me to chat about this and offer alternatives. This led to me hunting out a recipe for tortillas and next to that I discovered a recipe for a tortilla filling using - and here I nearly wept with pleasure - shredded cooked chicken. So yet another use for those scraps from the carcase. Further on was a pudding recipe made with coconut milk and rice flour. Have to say that once I start discovering new ways to use basic ingredients, I can't stop searching. It seems that almost every country (but ours?) has a long tradition of cooking the most economical and tastiest of meals.

Unleavened bread is my suggested alternative, with many countries having their own version, chappatis, amd tortillas are good examples - both made in much the same way. Tortillas make good 'wraps' around chosen fillings unstead of the ubiquitous sandwich.
1 lb wholewheat flour, 2 tsp. sunflower oil
warm water, butter
Mix together the oil and the flour adding just enough warm water to bind into a pliable dough. Knead for five minutes or longer (the longer you knead the softer the end product).
Divide into apple sized balls and dusting the hands with flour flatten the ball slightly. Roll out on a floured board to 4"- 5" flat discs. Heat a dry frying pan, toast the discs on this until the surface shows bubbles. Turn and press down to cook evenly. When brown spots appear they are done. Remove and smear with a very little melted butter, keep warm by wrapping in foil. Serve with curries.

8 oz cornmeal (or wheat flour),
pinch salt, 1/2 pt. cold water.
Sift the flour and salt and gradually stir in most of the water. Knead, adding a few drops of water until the dough is firm and has stopped sticking to fingers. Divide into four and roll each out between cling-film until really thin (recipe states 1/16th inch). Using a plate or pan lid cut into 5" rounds. Stack between layers of greaseproof paper. When all the dough has been prepared, cook on an ungreased frying pan for 2 minutes on each side, turning when the base has become light golden, reduce heat if browning too fast. These may be cooked up to 3 hours before needing if stacked in dozens then wrapped in greaseproof paper, a damp cloth, and finally foil and kept warm in a low oven. To reheat cold tortillas. dampen both sides with water and reheat in a dry frying pan.

In Britain, we might roll or stack pancakes with a meat and tomato filling, then cover with a cheese sauce. Italians use pasta, and in Mexico they use tortillas.
Most bought tortillas have a recipe for enchiladas on the back of the pack, but here is my version. Take a tortilla, roll this around a chosen (cooked) filling, then dip into a spicy tomato sauce. Lay, seam side down, in a shallow dish. Pour more spicy tomato sauce over and sprinkle the top with plenty of grated cheese. Bake for 15 minutes (180C etc) until the cheese has melted and turned bubbly and brown.
Enchilada filling:
1/2 lb approx, cooked chicken, shredded
4 oz cream cheese
1 small tub creme fraiche
2 oz grated onion, or very finely chopped.
Beat the cream cheese until softened then work in the creme fraiche. Stir in the onions and the chicken. Season to taste. Place 3 tblsp. of this filling in the centre of a tortilla and roll up to form a cylinder.
Tip: Substitute very finely chopped spring onion including the green part. Use any left-over cold cooked meat instead of chicken. Adding chorizo sausage would give it extra bite. Using a pinch of common sense, we should be able to come up with a variety of fillings to suit all tastes.

Thought for the day: remember that bread was made long before there was machinery. Some of the best dishes were made before we had machinery. Even now the best tools we have are our hands. With these, a sharp knife, fork, spoon and a grater, plus a couple of bowls and a saucepan, plus heat to cook with, we should still be able to make almost anything. All that gadgets do is save a lot of time and labour. Short of gadgets? Think positive, the more work, the more calories burned up. Who needs a gym?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Pates to Profiteroles

The following recipes are often believed to be expensive and even difficult to make as they normally are served as Posh Nosh. Believe me they are so simple, so cheap, freeze well and taste sublime. So have a go.
Chicken Liver Pate : two versions
(1) Thaw and trim one pack of frozen chicken livers (cheaper in the supermarket than fresh from a butcher). Soak overnight in milk. Either lightly poach or fry the livers for a few minutes, they need to still be slightly pink in the middle. Drain and rub livers through a sieve or Mouli Mill*. Season with a little black pepper and a dash of brandy to taste and work in some softened butter (two parts of pate to one part of butter). Pot into a container or individul dishes and serve with toast.
(2)Put soaked, trimmed but uncooked livers into a blender with one egg, a tbslp. brandy, 3 juniper berries, one thick slice of bread and 1 rasher of smoked bacon (opt.) and blitz together. Pour into a greased loaf tin, cover tightly with foil and cook in a baine marie for one hour at 180C. Turn out and rub through a sieve or Mouli then follow the directions for pate no. 1.
Because of the additions to the livers, this does make more so any surplus can be put into small containers, covered with a little melted butter and frozen.
*A Mouli Mill is a kitchen gadget worth its weight in gold. It comes with several discs from coarse to fine and is an easy way to sieve and puree. I always used one when making baby foods.
Choux Pastry- Profiteroles (F)
This mixture does not have to be made and baked all in one go. The initial 'pastry' mixture can be covered and left to get cold before using. A chef told me that the choux pastry is far better made with a blend of butter and hard block margarine. There is a scientific reason for this which I would not understand even if I knew it.
1 oz each butter and hard margarine
5 fl. oz water
2 1/2 oz plain flour, sifted
2 eggs, beaten
Put the fats and water into a saucepan and heat gently. When the fat has melted raise the heat to boiling. Add the flour all in one go, remove from the heat and, using a wooden spoon. beat until the mixture leaves the sides of the pan and forms into a ball. Cool slightly then beat in the eggs, you can either use a wooden spoon or an electric whisk at this stage.
When the mixture has turned into a smooth paste you can use it at once, or chill, cover and use later.
Take heaped teaspoons of the mixture and place them well apart on lightly greased baking trays, then bake at 220C, 425F, Gas 7 for ten minutes, then reduce heat to 190C, 375F,Gas 5 and continue to cook for a further 20 minutes until risen and a golden brown. Working quickly, split the profiteroles with a knife and return to the oven for a further ten minutes, leaving the door very slightly ajar to allow steam to escape.
Cool on a wire rack. At this point I whip some double cream with a little icing sugar and pipe this into each profiterole. These can then be frozen. Either dip into melted chocolate to serve or into some boiled down sugar syrup to make a glaze.
Piled around a cone shape, these glazed profiteroles then become a Croquembouche - which is a French Wedding Cake.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Let's Party

Sorry this will be a lengthy posting, but to prove how I made party food for 20p a head (at today's prices read 50p - good bread is now a luxury), I need to go into a bit of detail. Much depends upon how many have been invited. The more there are, the cheaper it works out, and the more food you can offer. As hardly anyone eats everything, think of it more as providing an assortment.

First the good news. Guests usually arrive clutching bottles of wine and numerous cans of lager. Hide away a couple of those bottles, serve the white wine with lemonade (spritzers), add plenty of ice cubes and everyone should be happy. You end up with bottles worth more than the party cost in the first place. OK call me mercenary. I look on it as cook's perks! Incidentally, there is no bad news. Unless you count having to actually do some preparation yourself. And the washing up. Always keep in mind that anything bought, like a bag of crisps can cost more than a huge plateful of home-made nibbles.

The important thing about a buffet is, that- however inexpensive - it should taste good, and - perhaps even more importantly, look good. A true feast for the eyes.
Begin planning by listing all foods that use the least expensive ingredients and especially those that can be prepared well in advance.Today I'm just giving some a mention (recipes starred ** already given in previous postings), other recipes will follow later.
Meringues: made from 'free egg whites' - store well in airtight containers. Serve a Pavlova or Meringue Crunch**.
Choux Pastry: make sweet or savoury Profiteroles (filled, they freeze well).
Chef's Tip: make with half butter and half hard block margarine instead of all butter.
Samosas: Small triangles of filo pastry filled with spiced lentils, onion and peas. They can also be frozen to cook on the day. Baklava can be made with left over filo.
Canapes: small savoury biscuits**, spread thinly with butter and toppings of your choice (cucumber and prawn; liver or sardine pate**; tomato and pesto; etc).
Vol au Vents: small square cases filled with either mushrooms, tuna or chicken in a thick sauce (I use condensed soup as a 'sauce').
Tip: Use 'free' chicken meat taken from a boiled carcase.
Spicy Buffalo Wings: again using 'free' chicken wings (freeze and collect until needed).
Quiches: make in Swiss Roll tin and cut into squares or fingers.
Celery Sticks: Fill the curved cavity of a celery stalk with a well flavoured cream cheese (maybe a little Stilton mashed with cream). Cut into chunks to serve.
Tomato Bites: cut small tomatoes in half, scoop out seed and fill cavity with cream cheese.
Tomato Classic: alternate slices of tomato and mozzarella cheese arranged around large plates, sprinkle torn basil on top, or drizzle over a little olive oil blended with pesto.
Savoury Sandwich Gateau: Buy the cheapest uncut loaf you can afford. Remove crusts and slice lengthways into four or five layers. Fill with assorted fillings: minced cooked (free) chicken bound with mayonnaise; flaked canned tuna bound with mayo: hardboiled eggs finely diced and bound with mayo: cream cheese and chives. Wrap the re-formed loaf tightly with foil and chill. To serve, spread with cream cheese softened with a little milk or cream and decorate top with chopped chives or what you will. Serve sliced, each slice could be further sliced into three if you wish.
Dips and Crudites: Serve at least three dips; curry**, raita type**, butter bean ** and/or hummus. These are extremely attractive garnished and surrounded by batons of carrots, strips of red, green and yellow peppers, sliced mushrooms, sugar snap peas, cauliflower florets, home-made bread sticks and bowls of oven-fried potato skins for dipping.
Chicken Liver Pate: Incredibly a tub of supermarket frozen chicken livers costs as little as 45p and once the pate is made it will freeze. Serve with thin slices of toast, or spread on the savoury biscuits.
Smoked Salmon Bites: packs of smoked salmon trimmings are relatively inexpensive, carefully pull the pieces apart and either wrap around cucumber sticks, or line an egg cup with cling film, then arrange pieces of the smoked fish around the sides. Fill with a teaspoon of cold scrambled egg seasoned with black pepper. Fold over ends of fish, press down and chill. To serve, upend onto a plate. ( Tip: packs of smoked salmon will freeze).
An alternative presentation is to peel ribbon strips from a cucumber which are loosely dropped onto a plate, then scatter salmon pieces between them. Anything grated or finely peeled looks a lot more than it really is.
Eggs Mayonnaise: always a favourite. Just halved hard-boiled eggs (one half per person) placed cut side down on a plate, then spoon over each egg a blend of half mayo half cream or yogurt followed by a sprinkle of paprika.

Hot Dishes:
Hot Jacket Potatoes: bake small ones, split and add a teaspoon or so of filling: chilli con carne or spag.bol meat sauce; (free) chicken and sweetcorn; scrambled egg and smoked salmon: (free) chicken and tuna in a mayo sauce. Prawns in a Marie Rose sauce (blend of tomato ketchup, mayo with a dash of Tabasco and black pepper to taste.
Lasagne: Use a small amount of bolognese meat sauce layered between sheets of pasta (home-made is cheapest and best) with a thick cheese sauce and a tomato sauce). This can be frozen, then thawed and bake with cheese sauce and grated cheese on top.
Vegetarian Curry: Use chunks of pumpkin or butternut squash, potatoes, cauliflower, courgettes, lots of onions, all fried off in a chosen curry sauce. Serve with cooked rice or cous-cous. Samosas as a side dish.
If there is money to spare, make giant tins of Sticky Toffee Pudding - so rich you only need to serve small portions. Serve hot and bubbling with a dollop of whipped cream poured over. For an even cheaper version serve home-made ice cream instead of whipped cream.

Most of the above ingredients are very cheap and usually kept in store or the freezer so you don't have to fork out all the money in one go. A few luxuries are included, smoked salmon and/or prawns, and cream. Anything like bread, butter or substitute, milk, eggs, can usually be bought at a low price from supermarkets. Look out for reduced prices on things like cream etc. Hope I've managed to prove that it needn't cost a lot to put good-looking food on the table.
Tip: The reason butter or chosen fat is spread on bread or biscuits is to give a protective layer between the topping or filling otherwise damp foods (tomatoes, cucumber etc) would make the end product very soggy. With pate for instance, you could probably do without.
An extra good tip: A pinch of salt added to melted chocolate really enhances the flavour. It also does a similar thing with fresh pineapple. A pinch of sugar sprinkled over tomatoes or any dish containing tomatoes counteracts the acid in them, and also sprinkled over lettuce improves the flavour. Black pepper ground over strawberries works magic too.

Monday, November 06, 2006

More in Store

Up until the 1970's it was the norm for me to serve potatoes with every main meal either as jacket, chips, roast, mashed or plain boiled. Then suddenly the price of potatoes rocketed to far more than I could afford to pay. This meant some fast thinking. Down came the cookbooks and I discovered savoury dishes using rice, pasta or flour. Until then rice to me had meant pudding, pasta meant macaroni cheese or pudding. Flour mostly stayed in the bag. I began making all sorts of different and previously untried dishes which we all enjoyed these so much that we never ever went back to eating potatoes as often as before

Up until then, apart from the useful cans of baked beans, tuna, sardines, corned beef, tinned fruits, jars of ketchup, brown sauce, stock cubes and instant coffee, I had seen no need to keep much else in my cupboards. But around that time there also started to be lorry drivers strikes and food shortages. There was even a shortage of bread (something we also ate every day) so, when I read about someone paying £5 for a loaf, I decided it was time to take control of my own kitchen, stock up and not be held to ransom by anyone. Strange isn't it? If we had had no strikes, no shortages, I would still be serving potatoes every day, making rice puddings, maybe for a treat serve macaroni cheese but certainly not be sitting here chatting with you.

From the 70;s onwards, my store cupboard began to hold more and more basic 'dry goods' . Flour (esp. own brand) is incredibly cheap and with it can be made so many different types of pastry, pasta, pancakes, bread, biscuits and cakes that it has to be a 'must'. Beginning with plain and self-raising, once I'd discovered its potential, I moved on to try cornmeal, oatmeal, rice flour , wholewheat, strong, and rye...some I gave up using, some I continue with. The same with sugar, first the granulated and caster, followed by demerara, caster, soft brown, light and dark muscavados. Kept dry, all sugars keep forever, some I've had for ages. Golden syrup, black treacle and honey are also good to keep in store.
Foods worth using, especially for their nutritional content, are the pulses - lentils, pearl barley, red beans, butter beans, dried peas, split peas.... and these are always stored on my open shelves to remind me that I have them. Anything kept in a cupboard can be easily forgotten. With rice, I began with long-grain, and moved on to include Arborio (for risottos), basmatis (curries), pudding rice (for puddings), brown rice (for health). With pasta there is a wide variety, lasagne, spaghetti, pasta penne being my favourites and if possible the quick-cook type to save time and fuel, but as always what suits me may not suit anyone else, so it is always down to the individual as to what they choose to keep in store.

Where does the money come to buy all these I hear you ask? The trick is to start saving money by using what you already have in store (even if just flour), then with the money saved buy just one or two new items each time you shop. As most 'dry goods' are only used in part, each will last for many weeks or even months, so very soon the store-cupboard will be full. As all basic 'dry goods' are very inexpensive, if and when used to their full potential, they can cut the cost of a week's meals by half.

Soda Bread
1 lb (450g) plain flour (white, brown or a mixture)
1 tsp. each bicarb. of soda and salt
10-15 fl.oz. sour milk OR
fresh milk with a spoon of vinegar OR
half milk, half plain yogurt
Mix the flour with the soda and salt. Pour in half the liquid and stir with a wooden spoon, adding more milk until the mixture is soft but not sloppy. This can be baked in a greased and floured loaf tin, but traditionally it is placed as a ball on a greased and floured baking sheet, flattened slightly and a cross cut partly through the top of the dough with a knife. Bake either way for abut 45 minutes at 200C, 400F, Gas 6 or until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the base. Cool on a cake airer and cut when cold.
Note: using own brand flour, and supermarket milk, at the time of writing, this bread works out at 20p -25p.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Fishy Business

Some many years ago, because we were so hard up, I used to buy the fresh fish trimmings that the fishmonger sold for making stock and for cat food. I emphasise the 'fresh'. It seemed to make sense to me as if I wished to cook a dish that needed an assortment of fish bits, then why not buy them ready chopped? Maybe these can still be bought. Worth seeking out.

Here are some recipes which can be used with just white fish or an assortment.
The Captain's Chowder
12 oz (350g) white fish or fish pieces,
15 fl oz fish stock* (use skin, heads and bones to make this)
4 oz (110g) potatoes, peeled and diced
diced bacon bits
1 onion, diced
t tblsp. plain flour
5 fl oz milk
pepper, and chopped herbs (parsley, chives)
Poach the fish in the stock until it flakes. Remove the fish and cook the potatoes in the stock. Meanwhile fry the bacon until crisp. Remove and drain on kitchen paper. Add the onion to the bacon fat and fry until softened.. Stir in the flour, stock and milk stirring all the time. Bring to the simmer and cook for 3 minutes. Add the potatoes and fish. Season to taste and serve garnished with the herbs and bacon.
* Fish Stock: Just pop the bones, skin and trimmings of fish into a pan with a small bunch of fresh herbs (bay, thyme and parsley). Add some sliced onion, the juice of a lemon and the stalks of a few mushrooms. Cover with a mixture of water and white wine (save the end of a bottle of wine and freeze for a stock such as this). Simmer for about half an hour then strain, use, cool or freeze.

Grandma's Jewels (aka Fish and Red Bean Salad)
Amounts are approximate.
1 lb (1/2 kilo) cooked white fish, flaked
same weight of cooked red beans and sweetcorn
1 green bell pepper, deseeded and diced
Mix everything together and serve cold with a lemony dressing, salad and hot crusty bread.

Lemony Dressing
3 tblsp olive oil
1 tbslp lemon juice
freshly ground black pepper
Put the ingredients into a jam jar, screw on the lid and give a good shake.

Sardine Pate:
1 can sardines in oil
1 hardboiled egg
juice of half a lemon, ground black pepper
Drain and keep the oil from the sardines. Mash the fish and .egg together until it is a smooth paste. Mix together 1 tblsp of sardine oil, the lemon juice and pepper, stir into the pate until well blended. Put into a dish and chill for a few hours. Serve with hot buttered toast.
Tip: For party people this can be served in hollowed out lemon shellls. Keep some empty shells in the freezer for this purpose.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Fuel Saving

There are many ways to cut down the fuel we use when cooking or heating foods. The less we use, the lower the fuel bills. Here are some suggestions:
Use a pressure cooker - not my favourite but it does use a lot less fuel.
Use the residual heat when a cooker is turned off*.
Pour unused boiled water from the kettle into a thermos flask to use for later drinks, cooking vegetables etc. (as done in stately homes - they also use their tea-bags twice, I know, I've been there. Playing Bridge opens most doors to me.)
Use a slow-cooker. - I really do think these are brilliant.
Use a set of 'stacking' steamers.
A microwave oven. Good for quick jacket potatoes, and a few other things.
To boil eggs: Put eggs into cold water and switch off as soon as they boil. Leave to stand five minutes and you have a soft-boiled egg. For hard-boiled, turn off heat after boiling for four minutes and leave to stand for 10 minutes.
When boiling rice and pasta, turn off heat after 2/3rds of the cooking time, cover and leave to stand for the rest of the time plus a bit longer.
Hay-box - the old method of cooking. Bring a casserole to the boil and tuck it into a box filled with packed hay. Top with more hay and put on the lid. Leave it all day and the meat will be tender by suppertime. A modern way is to line a box (an old cold box is ideal) with polystyrene, thick blankets or old woolly jumpers, and tuck your casserole in this.
Don't believe that ready-meals always take less fuel to 'cook'. Home-made can often be cooked in exactly the same time or LESS.
Although ovens should be pre-heated (it says on the pack), I often put frozen meals in the oven when it is switched on as it then begins to thaw as the oven heats up, as to my way of thinking it is not going to start 'cooking' (or re-heating properly) until thawed. I allow an extra five minutes to make sure it is heated thoroughly. This way I save the 15 minutes heating up time. Someone is bound to say I shouldn't do this, but it works for me.
When your oven has been on high, use the residual heat by drying breadcrumbs, baking oatcakes, and making meringues* once the oven has been turned off.

Meringue Crunchies
2 large egg whites
5oz (150g) caster sugar
6 oz (175g) 'crunch' -this can be a mixture of crisp cereal, broken biscuits, muesli, chocolate nibs, nuts etc.
Beat the egg whites with the sugar until really thick. Fold in the crunchy bits. Line 3 baking sheets with foil and spoon on a third of the mixture onto each. Smooth to a circle which fits the sheet then place the sheets in the oven (before you turn it out). Shut the door, turn off the heat and leave for at least 8 hours, overnight is even better. Do not open the door.
Peel off the foil and store in an airtight tin. Layer together with whipped cream or softened cream cheese and soft fruit (fresh or canned). Top with more cream and fruit. Orange wedges and Kiwi fruit are ideal for this.
Tips: To remove skin from Kiwi fruit, cut a small slice from the top and bottom and work a teaspoon in between the skin and the flesh . Hold and turn the fruit in one hand and slide the spoon round with the other until all the skin has been loosened. Then the fruit should pop out.

Keep a tin or jar to store the broken bits from the bottom of the biscuit tins. Sweet biscuits can be used in various desserts (cheesecake bases, refrigerator cake etc). To crush, put into a polybag, open end facing away from you, and roll bag with a rolling pin. Cheese biscuits can be crushed and used as a coating for fried foods instead of (or with) dried breadcrumbs.
Desserts such as fruit crumbles can be part cooked to just browning, and then left in the oven to finish after the oven has been turned off. I have an electric oven (gas hob) so cooling off times may be different with a gas oven.
Any other fuel saving suggestions would be appreciated so that I can pass them on to you.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Counting the Cost

In the past, whenever I have done what I am about to tell you, people raise their eyes to heaven and mutter 'Get a life Shirley, get a life!. Sadly, or not, this is my life and a good(e) life it is turning out to be.
Yesterday, I decided to work out the difference between the price of one small 220g can of butter beans, which I drained and counted, and the same number (not weight) of dried butter beans. .
Luckily for me the maths part was easy as the small can contained 44 beans, and the 500g pack of dried beans contained 440. This meant 10 cans of butter beans would have cost me £2.70p yet the same amout dried was only 80p. Nearly a £2 saving and no cans to dispose of.
Apart from red beans and chick peas, most dried, soaked and cooked beans taste very similar and are used mainly for the appearance so recipes can be mixed and matched.
All beans (except mung, aduki, split peas and lentils - they need 1 hour) should be soaked for at least 8 hours and then boiled for 10 minutes before simmering for up to an hour until cooked. After boiling they can be cooked on in a slow cooker.
Never season beans until after cooking as salt toughens their skins.
To save fuel/time/money cook a whole pack of soaked beans - the red ones and/or pinto beans for chilli con carne, mixed bean salads etc., butter beans to add to dishes and to make pates, and chickpeas - great in Moroccan dishes and to make hummus. There are many other pulses, but those three are my favourites. These are then drained, cooled under running water, and patted dry in a towel, spread over a baking tray and frozen - (they then break up into 'free-flow' to be bagged or boxed and kept in the freezer.
Red beans are said to contain the same amount of protein as meat. But to extract this you need to eat grains or an animal protein with pulses. So use less meat and more red beans in your chili for cost effectiveness.

Butter Bean Dip
Cooked butter beans (or any white beans)
Horseradish sauce, or Tabasco
olive oil, juice of 1 lime or lemon
salt and pepper,
crushed garlic (optional).
Put chosen amount of beans in a bowl and mash with a fork or potato masher. Flavour with a few drops of Tabasco and lime juice, or lemon and horseradish sauce. Garlic if you like. Season to taste. Pile into a small bowl and serve as a dip. The horseradish version makes a great sandwich with slices of roast beef.

Chicken and Butterbean Casserole
1 tblsp each olive oil and butter
4 chicken thighs or drumsticks
1 onion, sliced thinly
2 -3 rashers of bacon, chopped
sprigs of thyme and a couple of bay leaves
1 tblsp tomato puree
1/2 pint sliced mushrooms
1/2 pint cooked butterbeans
1/4 pint red wine and/or chicken stock
Put the oil and butter in a pan and fry the chicken pieces until golden. Remove to an ovenproof dish. Add the onion and bacon to the pan and fry until softened. Spoon these over the chicken. Add herbs and season to taste. Mix tomato puree with the wine and pour over, adding enough stock to cover. Bring to the simmer, cover and cook in the oven at 175C, 350F, Gas 4 for 90 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms and beans and cook on for a further 15 minutes. Remove herbs before serving.
Tip: Serve the remaining wine with the meal, or freeze in ice-cube trays or small containers to use for later dishes.