Thursday, February 22, 2007

Poundstretcher Living

Frustration comes weekly now as flyers from the local supermarkets are thrust through the letterbox offering loads of BOGOFs that I would normally be grateful for. I could almost weep when I have to tear them up. But the offers will come round again, and again, and again.... I am sure that, with judicious shopping, we could all buy everything from a supermarket at a reduced price throughout a year.
This is great when on a low income, but could we shop elsewhere without paying much more? Is the produce sold at Farmer's Markets cheaper or more expensive than if bought at the supermarket or even corner shop? And if it is the edibles that we are mostly concerned about, what about non-foods? Surely it makes sense to buy these as cheaply as we can.

I do have a problem with this, as to shop around I need transport. Having a car would increase my carbon footprint (whatever that is), so I am doing without. Without a car I am housebound, (no bus route or shops within walking distance near enough for me to hobble to), but the supermarket will deliver and for me this is a blessing as even the highest delivery charge of the week (usually at weekends) is less that it would cost me to have a taxi there and back. In any case the taxi and delivery vans will produce noxious fumes as would my car. So even an organic box delivered to the door doesn't help the environment as much as the Green Brigade would have us believe.
Would that I could go back to the 1960's, when the only heating we had was a coal fire, and in the morning woke to see the wintry windows covered with icy fern patterns. The milkmen had electric floats to carry their bottles, the greengrocer and baker would call several times a week, the grocers would deliver for free. Sometimes the coal was delivered by horse and cart. Not forgetting the rag and bone man with his pony and trap. The dustmen came down the drive to and fetch the bins AND brought them back. Outdoors the pleasant sounds of hedgeclippers and the push/pull lawn mowers occasionally muffling the sound of the skylarks. Owls hooting at night, absolutely no burglar or car alarms, virtually no burglars or car thefts. No computers, no mobile phones, no washing machine, no TV (at least we had none), but we did have a fridge. All our electric aids: vacuum cleaners, the fridge, radios, hair dryers still kept going for up to 40 years after purchase. Our towels and bed linen I am still using.
Joy oh joy, there were no supermarkets then, so no ready-meals (apart from Vesta Curries). But then we had fresh air, fresh (in many cases local) foods, always home-cooked meals. An Indian restaurant at that time could serve only mild, medium or hot. For amusement we all played cards and board games (still do) and did jig-saws and read books (still do). During the summer and winter the adults and children went for lengthy, healthy walks to build up an appetite and make for sound sleeping, so no picky eaters or late bedtimes. Most housewives could knit and sew and cook and clean and grow their own fruit and vegetables.
It has taken less than 40 years to ruin centuries of sheer pleasure. But perhaps my idea of pleasure is not everyones. But like the clothes we keep in the wardrobe for 20 years, suddenly things come into fashion again. At least let us make a start with home-cooking. Simple Snacks for Starters:

Creamed Mushrooms on Toast: serves 4 (V)
2 oz (50g) butter
1 onion finely chopped or grated
juice of one lemon
8 oz (250g) closed cup mushrooms, thinly sliced
3 heaped tblsp. creme fraiche
1-2 tsp. curry paste, pref. Korma
salt and pepper
4 slices brown bread, toasted and buttered
Fry the onion in the butter until softened. Stir in the lemon juice and the mushrooms and cook gently for five minutes. Stir in the creme fraiche and curry paste and heat through. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon the creamed mushrooms over the toast and garnish with chopped parsley (optional).
Tip: If you haven't any creme fraiche, blend 3 tsp. cornflour with half a pint of single cream and stir into the mushrooms. Heat through until thickened.

Asparagus Rarebit: serves 4 (V)
1 can asparagus spears (drained)
2 oz (50g) Cheddar or Wensleydale Cheese, grated
4 slices wholemeal or granary bread, toasted and buttered
Put the toast on a baking sheet. Top each with the asparagus spears and top with the cheese. Place under a pre-heated grill and cook for 4 -5 minutes until the cheese is bubbling and slightly brown. Dust with a little pepper, serve and eat hot.
Tip: Canned asparagus is a useful storecupboard ingredient. Make an easy Asparagus Quiche by whizzing the asparagus stalks together with the eggs and milk, then top this quiche filling with the asparagus spears.
For Asparagus Vol-au-vents use a can of condensed asparagus soup, finely chop the asparagus spears and fold into the undiluted soup, fill the pastry cases and top each with a small pieces of an asparagus spear.

baba ghanoush (aka Aubergine Dip); serves six (V)
3 medium aubergines
1 - 2 tblsp tahini
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3 oz (75 g) Greek yogurt
juice of 1 large lemon
Pierce the skin of the aubergines with a knife and grill under medium heat until the skins are black and the flesh is soft (approx 20 mins). Remove from heat, cover with a towel and leave to rest for 5 minutes then peel off the skin. Put the flesh into a sieve and press out any juice. Mash the flesh with a fork (or blend), slowly adding the rest of the ingredients, checking the taste as you go. When satisfied with the combination, Put the dip into a bowl and garnish with olive oil, olives and chopped parsley.
Tip: the above is based on a traditional recipe. Another variation uses creme fraiche instead of yogurt, and adds a dash of Tabasc0.

Thai Red Curry Sauce: serves four (V)
1 teacup of coconut cream
2 -3 tsp Thai red curry paste
4 spring onions, finely sliced
2 tblsp fresh coriander, chopped
1 red chilli, deseeded and very thinly sliced into rings
1 tsp soy sauce
juice of 1 lime
1 oz (25g) dry roasted peanuts, finely chopped (as garnish)
sugar, salt and pepper
Stir the curry paste into the coconut cream. Add the spring onions, chilli and coriander, then stir in the soy sauce, lime juice, a pinch of sugar and salt and pepper to taste. Pour into a serving bowl. This can be prepared in advance and kept chilled. Serve, sprinkled with the peanuts.

Smooth Pepper Salsa: serves 4 (V)
1 each red and yellow pepper
1 tsp cumin seeds, dry roasted and crushed
1 red chilli , de-seeded
2 tblsp chopped coriander leaves
2 tblsp olive oil
1 tblsp red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
Grill the peppers for about 10 minutes until their skins have blackened. Cover with a towel and leave for five minutes then peel off the skins. Blitz the flesh in a blender with the rest of the ingredients. Serve at room temperature. Keeps a couple of days if well chilled.

Chilli Relish: will keep for a week in the fridge. Enough for 8 servings. (V)
6 tomatoes, skinned and chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 red (sweet bell) pepper, chopped,
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tblsp olive oil
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp. chilli flakes
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp salt
3 oz (75g) light muscovado sugar
5 tblsp cider vinegar
1/2 tsp black pepper
Put the olive oil in a saucepan and add the prepared onions, pepper and garlic. Cook gently until the pepper is softened (6 mins). Add the tomatoes, cover and cook for a further 5 minutes. Stir in the cinnamon, chilli flakes, ginger, salt, sugar and vinegar and bring to the simmer, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Simmer for 20 minutes until thick and pulpy. Cool and store in a glass jar and keep chilled.
Tip: To make a thinner, dipping sauce, blitz in a blender and add more vinegar or water.