Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Pleasing your Purse

If you have an electric oven, then you may find it can take a long time to cool down. So you can either switch off about fifteen minutes earlier if cooking a casserole or joint, (or anything that is baking for a long time like a fruit cake), or use that heat when the oven is switched off - meringues can be popped in, and left overnight to dry out, croutons can dry out in a cooling oven, quick-to-bake biscuits such as oatcakes. When preparing a roast (which needs to stand for a while before carving), use the residual heat in the oven to warm the dishes for the vegetables (and also keep them warm) and also warm plates.
Any of you out there know of more tips to use a cooling oven?

Yes, I was inspired to be much more self sufficient after seeing The Good Life. Our kitchen is rather similar to their kitchen in the series, the back door and sink being in the same place, table in the middle, units at the end. Where their hall door was, we have a set of open shelves holding numerous plates, dishes and glasses we use every day, and on the higher shelves steamers, a cous-coussiere, spare saucepans, fondue set, Our hall door is in a different place and where Tom and Barbara had their range, we also have a place where a Yorkshire range used to be about 100 years ago, but which now houses our gas boiler. Like the Goods, we have a similar wooden table in the middle of the kitchen. Sadly no, our neighbours were nothing like Margo and Jerry, it would have been fun if they had been. But we have lovely neighbours on both sides.

Yesterday I cooked and strained some redcurrants ready to make jelly today. As I want the jelly to be clear it was a lengthy process insofar as it takes ages for the liquid to drip into a bowl. Had I used a sieve instead of a cloth it would have been speedier but the liquid would not have been so clear. The clarity is only for effect and does not make any difference to the flavour.
Left with pulped but dryish redcurrants in the bag (which you are expected to discard) I added some to a crumble I was making (rhubarb), also stirred some into a couple of yogurts I was going to eat for dessert (that worked wonderfully well). I could have frozen the pulp to later add when making jam, or to similarly use with other whole berries when making a Summer Pudding. If too many pips are a problem, then rub the pulp through a coarse sieve and most should get left behind. It really does pay not to throw anything away that can be later used.

One recipe for making the redcurrant jelly uses 4 lbs of currants, and 1/2 pint of water, both to be put in a pan and simmered for up to one hour until the fruit has collapsed. Then strain through muslin (or use a sheet of kitchen paper - peel to separate the sheet, most are usually two thin pieces fused together), and just use the one thin piece put into a sieve) . Leave until the juice has drained away (leave overnight if you can) and avoid pressing the fruit if you want a clear set. Measure the juice and to each pint add 1 lb sugar.
Put in a pan, bring to the boil for about 8 mins until at setting point. Pot in the usual way.

For a very firm set it was suggested you omit the water and add one and a quarter pounds of sugar to each pint of juice.
I am compromising. To 2 lbs of fruit (which is the amount I used), I used 1/4 pint of water and will add 500g of sugar to each pint of juice.

By the way, in the freezer I had two boxes of redcurrants. One contained fruit picked when they were seemingly ready (red bunches had been hanging on the bushes for a week or so), the other box contained fruit left a couple or so more weeks before being picked. These were much larger and juicier, perhaps because we had rain. So don't be too eager to bring in the crop, if unsure, pick in instalments, and you will then find the last lot could be double the size of the first berries. Same with black-currants.
Berry fruits can be extremely expensive when sold in supermarkets, and still relatively expensive from pick-your-own farms. As we are now urged to eat these berries because they are good for us I can't see the price coming down. Another great saving when we grow our own.

One thing I used to do when in the early days of self-sufficiency and DIY in the kitchen was to cost out how much money I had saved when bothering to make something instead of buying it as I had previously done. These savings were put into a jam jar and they mounted up so fast that it inspired me to seek more and more ways so that I could keep adding to the pile. Being able to see the jars fill up made me even more determined to continue. This money was used to buy useful kitchen equipment which then helped me save even more. Because I had only enough cash for a down payment, I bought our Kenwood Chef through a neighbour's mail order catalogue, putting down the initial deposit (only a few pounds - which of course came from my jar) and then paying off the rest weekly. This weekly payment was found by savings deliberately made during each week using the Chef so that when it was all paid for I could say it was (to my way of thinking) free - well at least it paid for itself. Nowadays I would first save (which I still do but not in the same way) and then shop around to find the best price.

Although there are not so many freebies around these days, we can all keep our eyes open to see what's on offer, and by using a little more thought (and a bit more effort - which uses up calories if you need more of an incentive) we can start filling those jars and fattening our purses.