Thursday, January 25, 2007

Winter Warmers and Cool Dips

Yesterday, when I went to the butchers, someone came into the shop and asked for a sheep's heart. I was overjoyed that the 'forgotten' meats were still being cooked. Not so, it seemed that it was for the school to be dissected in a biology class. But they are cheap enough £1 a pound the butcher said, so I must look up recipes - just in case.
The butcher was selling Toulouse sausages, the first time I have seen them there, so I bought two as they are a traditional garlic-flavoured ingredient in Cassoulet, which is a great winter casserole and one I intend making when my friend is staying with me. The rest of the balance of the money set aside for meat was spent on several thin pork sausages. As I often say to my butcher, I have only x pounds left to spend, so just give me enough (sausages in this case) to cover that. I am never embarrased about being short of money.

It has occured to me that I rarely say much about breakfasts, brunch or lunch. But of course these are all taken into account. Generally, they just use up bits and bobs already paid for, and anything extra is also costed. My husband is now hooked on Ryvita for breakfast, I/we often have 'brunch', toast with cheese, pate or Marmite. Plenty of soups. Occasionally I have porridge, you may have seen oats mentioned in the costings. It costs less than 5p to make a good bowlful (the traditional way with water and salt). On the less chilly days I like to nibble dips with raw vegetables. But today it is cold and I have a mind to make some French Onion Soup. Maybe a spag.bol for supper, or Beloved may prefer Chilli con Carne. He is still fast asleep in bed, so I'll have to wait to find out.

The Goode Cassoulet: serves 4 - 6
8 oz (225g) haricot or butter beans, soaked
1 pint chicken stock
1 piece of pork - (pork chop, belly pork etc)
chicken winglets
2 garlic (Toulouse) sausages, sliced
1 carrot, thinly sliced
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 dessp. clear honey
2 tblsp tomato puree
1 tsp. dried herbs
2 slices bread,, crumbed
Drain the beans and cook for one hour in the chicken stock. Drain but keep the stock.
Place layers of beans, pork, chicken, sausage and vegetables in a casserole. Mix together the honey and tomato puree with the reserved stock. Pour into the casserole. Cover and cook for an hour and a half at 150C, 300F, Gas 2 . Remove lid and cover with half the breadcrumbs and the herbs. Cover and cook for half an hour then remove lid, press the breadcrumbs down into the cassoulet and sprinkle over the remaining crumbs. Finish cooking without a lid for a further half hour. Take the pot to the table and serve from the pot.
Tip: With only small amounts of meat (eg. 1 pork chop), then cut this up so that each person gets at least one piece. Ham shanks are also ideal.

A good dip to make when you have avocados that need using up.
2 ripe avocados
juice of one lemon
1 garlic clove
1 shallot or dessp. finely chopped onion
2 tblsp olive oil
dash of Tabasco
Mash the avocado flesh with the lemon juice. Finely chop the garlic and shallot and stir into the avocado with the oilive oil and Tabasco. Add salt to taste. Serve immediately.

14 oz (400g) can of chick peas, drained
1 -2 garlic cloves
2 tbslp tahini OR smooth peanut butter
4 tblsp olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
pinch of cayenne pepper
Put the chick peas, garlic in a blender or food processor and blitz until broken down, then slowly add the oil and lemon juice. Stir in the pepper with a pinch of sea or rock salt to taste. If too thick, slacken with a little cold water. Serve with crudites, or spread on hot toast.
Tip: Buy a pack of dried chick peas, soak half overnight then cook until tender. This works out much cheaper than the canned. Freeze in small packs ready to use to add to casseroles or to make hummus etc.
I had a comment sent re this - spray cooked chickpeas with oil and season with herbs, spices or curry powder, cook in a hot oven until crisp. Sounds a great idea.

As we've had discussions on making crisps, it's worth while mentioning that thick crisps are best for scooping up dips. Other 'dippers' (apart from vegetables) are breadsticks, tortilla chips, cheese straws, crispy potato skins, dried wedges of pitta bread. Even toasted crusts of bread. Don't dismiss the unlikely part of a vegetable. I was left with the root end of a lettuce and discovered the rib (base) part of the leaves absolutely perfect to use with a dip.

Pasta Carbonara:
Pasta shapes or (traditonally Spaghetti)
Double cream (or creme fraiche)
Parmesan cheese, grated
Cook the pasta in salted boiling water. Meanwhile fry some some diced bacon until crisp. Drain but leave the fat in the pan, add a little olive oil only if necessary. When the pasta is cooked, drain and put the pasta in the heated fat, toss to coat. Add the bacon and a dollop of cream (as a coating sauce), heat to almost a simmer then remove from heat and immediately stir in the beaten egg. The heat from the pasta will cook the egg. Stir in some Parmesan cheese. Season to taste and dish up. Add more Parmesan if required.
Note: no proportions of ingredients have been given, it is more a matter of adjusting to suit what you have. If you add the egg while the pan is over direct heat it may scramble.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Taking Stock

Yesterday's meal was Pasta Carbonara. Checking my stores I saw there was plenty of pasta left, I also have plenty left of that economy pack of bacon, so a few of the thicker pieces were chopped to imitate pancetta, all I needed then were eggs and cream (although I used creme fraiche), so all the makings were there.

For the purpose of the Challenge I keep a large ledger in which I have written down all the foods I have bought especially for this and which were delivered the week before Xmas although not started until the first of January. All details are included, the weight of each, price etc. Then I write down (or rather cross off) what I have used, then I know just what is left.
On another page I write down everything I have used from my storecupboard, by that I mean previously bought foods, and these are also costed. Apart from a couple of gaps in the freezer and a few in the cupboard, there is still a lot left. Usually it is only fresh produce (fruit and vegetables) that need replacing. Normally I wouldn't be checking so accurately, this is just for the purpose of the Challenge.

Fresh foods that are keeping very well are onions, butternut squash, celery, white cabbage,
carrots. I am still working my way through these even though I have had them now five weeks. Parsnips are needing to be used up, also potatoes. Lettuce keeps for up to three weeks and tomatoes two to three weeks. Meat and fish were frozen the day of purchase, so should last - apart from sausages. I have run out of these and will buy more today, thinner ones in the hope they last longer.
My milk bill is lower, because I have been able to occasionally (and not all in one week) cancel some cheese, Greek yoghurt, creme fraiche, but did once need to order more eggs and butter. Even so, overall it is well within my weekly allowance so should make a saving there.

Beloved is off on his winter holiday early next week (sailing a Tall Ship on the high seas), but this won't affect my Challenge at all as the day he leaves, a good friend arrives to stay and keep me company. Anxious to lose the 3 lbs Beloved has gained, I have been asked to keep portions low, so as it is such a cold day (still no snow), I think a good chunky vegetable soup should suffice for tonight's meal. Or maybe salmon fillet on lemon couscous. Or, or, or - I haven't yet decided.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Cold Comfort

Further to yesterday's low fat 'nibbles', I came across a cake recipe that uses no fat, and seems to be packed full of healthy ingredients, so hopefully will be of interest to many:
No need to bake - Fruit Cake:
1 small can evaporated milk
6 oz marshmallows
6 tblsp. orange juice
2 oz dates, chopped
6 oz raisins or sultanas
2 oz chopped walnuts
4 oz candied peel
2 oz glace cherries, chopped
1 lb biscuit crumbs, pref. digestive
1 tsp each cinnamon and mixed spice
Place marshmallows, evap.milk and orange juice in a pan, heat gently until the marshmallows have dissolved. Put all other ingredients into a large bowl and mix together.
Pour the marshmallow mix into the fruit mix and stir until well blended.
Put the mixture into a greased and lined 2 lb loaf tin. Press well down, cover with a lid of paper and then foil and put on a heavy weight and chill in the fridge for at least 24 hours. Turn out, remove paper and cut into slices.
Tip: As this makes a big cake, I suggest making half quantities and using a 1 lb loaf tin. The leftover evap. milk could be frozen for later use, or used up in a rice pudding. As long as the total weight of the fruit is the same, you can adjust using more of one and less of another if you wish.

Yesterday's intended supper of cold meats and salad was shelved due to the weather being so chilly. It seemed a bit unfair to serve cold meats and no 'hots'. Even so, I do tend to change my mind from day to day, regardless of the weather, I am not a creature of habit. Instead of the planned meal, I served up sausage, egg, baked beans, and chips. Much to Beloved's glee for he just LOVES that. And so do I.
We both had TOPud later, with cream, and I have to say it is one of the best puddings I have come across. It is amazingly filling, and as I said before, more than once, one 8" slab of pudding will cut into 12 portions. As I make it to freeze, I put a double helping of sauce on the top of the made pudding, before it is cooled, wrapped and frozen. Once solid, it fits well into the door shelf, standing on end. (No need to portion, it cuts easily enough). This means when a portion is put into a dish and microwaved (1 minute), there is no need to make extra sauce to pour on top.
Tip: When lining the tin for TOPs, make sure there is at least an inch of paper sticking up at each side, with no gaps in the corners, then when the topping is poured over, it keeps it in place. If the pudding is domed in the middle (as sometimes can happen) the sauce runs to the sides, so put half the sauce on first, then when that has set, pour on or spread the remainder over the centre.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Lean Cuisine

Swiss Roll:
3 eggs ,
3 oz caster sugar,
3 oz S.R.flour
Whisk the eggs and sugar together until very light and fluffy. Carefully fold in the sieved flour. Pour into a greased and lined Swiss Roll tin and bake at 220C, 425F, gas 7, for about 10 minutes or until golden. Turn out onto a piece of paper that has been sprinkled with caster sugar. Cool slightly, peel off the base paper and trim the edges. Spread with jam and roll up.
Tip: Make a thicker cake by an extra egg and 1 oz extra of sugar and flour. For a chocolate version substitute 1/2 oz flour for 1/2 oz cocoa. This cake, sliced, can also be used to make trifles.

Chocolate and Orange Slices:
1 sponge cake, using above recipe
1 - 2 packets of orange jelly
melted chocolate
Make up the jelly using half the recommended amount of water. Pour this into the same sized baking tin used to make the cake, previously lined (base and sides) with clingfilm. When the jelly has set firmly, place the cake on this. Invert onto a cake airer. Peel off the clingfilm. Pour some melted (cooling) chocolate over the jelly and spread to cover. Before the chocolate is fully set, mark through into slices then cut through once the chocolate is firm.

Coconut Pyramids:
2 egg whites, stiffly beaten,
6 oz dessicated coconut
3 oz caster sugar
1 dessp. cornflour
Mix together the coconut, sugar and cornflour and add to the beaten egg whites stirring together until a firm mixture. If too soft add a little more coconut. Form into pyramids (use your fingers, the only way), and place on a well greased baking tin. Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 until pale gold. Leave on the tin to get cold before removing (or they may collapse).
Tip: Add a bit of luxury by pouring some melted chocolate over each cooked and cooled pyramid and leave to set. Use the chocolate with at least 70% cocoa solids which they say is not just the best for cooking, but is also good for you.

This recipe for low-fat pastry works very well as long as the pastry is baked as soon as it is made, and also eaten hot (preferably freshly baked) on the day it is cooked.
Make, Bake and Partake Pastry
8 oz plain flour plus 4 tsp baking powder
8 oz self-raising flour and 2 tsp baking powder
good pinch of salt
1 -2 oz fat, preferably vegetable shortening
(for a sweet pastry add 1 dessp. sugar).
Sieve together the flour, baking powder and salt. Rub in fat (add sugar if used). Mix to rolling consistency with cold water. This pastry should be rolled out as thinly as possible as it rises a lot. Bake in a very hot oven 22oC, 450F, Gas 7 for about 12 - 15 minutes or until browned.

Yesterday my casserole had the addition of dumplings on top, by special request of Beloved (who had seen a photo of them in a magazine). Luckily I had some suet in the fridge. Must have had it for some months but it still worked. Just mixed a good handful of self-raising flour with half its weight in suet, then added plenty of black pepper, added some dried thyme leaves and mixed to a soft, sticky dough with water. Made rough, flattish balls with my hands (messy job) then popped them on the top of the casserole, covered and cooked (which steamed them really) for half an hour.
Tonight, because my husband is working (never knows what time he finishes, as he has to keep delivering until all the orders are complete) tonight's meal will be Cold Meat Platter, with salad. Probably a hot pudding to follow such as TOPud, which is lasting well. I did say it made 12 portions and freezes well, so Beloved just cuts off a chunk when he chooses then pops it into the microwave for 1 minute. Cream on top of course.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Too much too Soon?

Today I put on my accountant's hat and totted up what has been spent during the week. From the supermarket: 6 packs of Ryvita @ 34p ea., 2 packs of chicken livers @ 99p ea., and one pack of (3) peppers £1.48p. That totals £5.50. As to the oddments 'bought from myself' these were flour and porridge oats, so under 50p's worth. Plus 70p for bread.
So far so good. However, to be completely true to the Challenge, I also have to deduct the cost of the fish and chips (which came to 2 x £3.65 plus 55p for mushy peas = £7.85p). Making a grand total of £14.55. Hanging my head in shame I have to admit that in one week I have spent almost three week's allowance. At least it makes the Challenge even more of one. And that, at least, pleases me.

Some very good news. My husband went to the gym yesterday and came back quite upset because he had gained 3lbs. So he has asked me to serve him smaller portions. So yesterday evening we had a light meal, mainly dips with crudites. Strips of dried bread crusts also make good 'dippers'. Cheese and grapes to follow.
This means all the food I still have should now go further, maybe much further that I originally expected.
Tonight I plan to make a beef casserole, so now there will be enough left to freeze away two extra portions instead of one. Although not the recipe I will be using, the following hob-top recipe is a worthy one as it makes plenty.

Winter Casserole: serves up to six people
3 onions, each cut into 8 wedges
15 oz (450g) carrots, chut into chunks
6 medium potatoes, cut into chunks
1 lb (450g) minced beef (or less)
2 beef stock cubes
1 1/2 pints hot water
400g can baked beans (extra if you wish)
dash of brown sauce*
In a large pan, brown the mince adding a little oil only if necessary. Stir well until fully browned. Mix the stock cubes into the hot water and add to the meat. Finally stir in the prepared vegetables. Cover, reduce heat and simmer until the vegetables are tender. Stir in the beans, add a dash of brown sauce and simmer until heated through. Season to taste.
Tip: to cook mince quickly, fry a layer at a time so that it browns evenly. With this casserole
you can include other vegetables: parsnips, butternut squash, peas (add the peas towards the end), a dash of tomato puree helps to thicken and give depth to the flavour.
*Use basic brown sauce for an average boost, Worcestershire if you want more zing, and/or Tabasco for a real spicy kick.

The following recipe is for Drop Scones, a real family favourite. I would stand making these six at a time and they would all be eaten before the next batch was ready. There is something very pleasant about waiting for the bubbles to appear, when the first one bursts, flip the pancake over. Incidentally, for the price of a pack of 6, you can make 5 times the amount.

Drop Scones: makes about 20 (F)
6 oz (175g) self raising flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 oz (25g) caster sugar, add a little more if you wish.
1 large egg
approx 7 fl.oz (200ml) milk
Put the flour, baking powder and sugar into a bowl. Beat the egg into half the milk and add to the dry mix. Beat to a batter, then add enough of the remaining milk to make it the thickness of double cream.
Lightly grease a large heavy frying pan or flat griddle (usually called a girdle), and drop the mixture in spoonfuls (a soup spoon is the right size), leaving space to spread. When bubbles appear and pop, then flip over using a fish slice. Cook for a further minute then put each drop scone onto a cake airer, overlapping each and covering with a clean cloth. Cook more scones in the same way until the batter is used up. Serve warm with butter, jam or honey.
Tip: when cooking pancakes (of any type) always heat the ungreased pan for several minutes before using. This helps to prevent them sticking.
Don't leave out the sugar, this gives them a healthy tan, without the sugar they end up looking pale and uninteresting - and rather tasteless too.
Although best eaten freshly cooked and whilst still slightly warm, they eat well cold, so can be frozen and then thawed back to room temperature.

Week four coming up. It can only get better.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Lateral Thinking

Yesterday got as far as making an apple and blackberry crumble. It smelled so good that I couldn't bear to taint the kitchen with an aroma of fish, so sent my husband off to the local chippy to buy fish and chips. Yes, I know, you didn't expect I would do that. Neither did I, but I was desperate for a treat. This meant, not only have I now to take off the cost (just under £10) from my budget, I now have given myself the extra challenge of having to manage of less money than I had planned for. So worth it just for that. Those of you who know how I feel about challenges will understand.

Passion Cake:
4 oz (110g) sugar
4 oz (110g) margarine
2 eggs
1 dessp. black treacle
6 oz (175g) self-raising flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
6 oz (175g) carrots, finely grated
2 oz (50g) walnuts, chopped
Beat the sugar and marg. together and add the eggs and the treacle. Sift the flour with the baking powder and cinnamon and stir into the mixture. Fold in the carrots and nuts. Pour into a greased and floured loaf tin and bake for one hour at 180C, 350F, gas 4 or until cooked (it will rise, be firm on top and shrink slightly away from the sides).
Traditionally the top is spread with cream cheese mixed with a little icing sugar and a bit of softened butter. Omit the topping if you wish.

Muesli Bars: makes 16
8 oz (225g) margarine
8oz ( 225g) gran. or demerara sugar
2 tblsp. golden syrup
6 oz (175g) muesli, any type
4 oz (100g) porridge oats
Melt the margarine with the sugar and syrup, then stir in the muesli and oats. After mixing well tip into a greased roasting tin 12" x 9" and press flat. Bake for 30 minutes at 160C, 325F, gas 3. Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes then mark into bars and leave to cool before removing with a fish slice. DO NOT OVERCOOK or they will be too hard to eat.
Tip: To press sticky mixtures (such as the above and flapjacks) use half a cut lemon. After using, just wash the lemon and it can be used for something else.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Needing Encouragement?

Yesterday's intended fish pie didn't materialise, probably because I didn't really feel like making it. This often happens. Instead we had liver, bacon, cabbage and a can of new potatoes (because I didn't have any small ones )..

This means that fish (but can't promise) should be on the menu tonight. After all, it is a Friday (anyone as old as me will remember that it was obligatory for Friday to be a fish day). But which fish dish? Whether it is the howling gales, which always puts me in a bad mood, or the Challenge, for some reason I am feeling a bit mardy today and not wanting to do what I should. It makes sense to serve Fish Pie as I have potatoes starting to sprout that need to be used up. But I much prefer to make either a Kedgeree or a Paella. On the other hand - if I made a Chowder, potatoes could go in that.
Another reason I have the hump is that I asked Beloved to bring me in a packet of crisps to cheer me up and he said he wouldn't because they were not included as part of my Challenge. Hoist with my own Petard, as the saying goes.

In truth it is much easier to save money if meals for the week are planned ahead, this giving the chance to 'sort of' share ingredients between dishes. And I did do this at the start of the Challenge. But I am a happiest being a 'spur of the moment' girl, content with not knowing what Beloved would like for supper until the day itself.

Roman Risi E Bisi:
1 pint frozen peas, thawed
1 pint chicken stock
half pint measure of long grain rice
2 - 3 rashers of bacon*, diced
Bring the stock to the boil and add the rice. Simmer for 10 minutes, adding a little more stock or boiling water if necessary. Stir in the peas and cook for a further five minutes or until the rice is just tender. When at this stage, turn off the heat and cover.
Meanwhile, in a small pan fry the bacon adding a little olive oil. Fry until lightly crisped then stir, including any oil, into the peas and rice.
* this makes good use of those scraps of bacon you find in an economy pack.
Tip: Make this go further and taste even better by stirring in or topping with finely sliced and crisply fried onions.

Another good recipe to use up those chunky bits of bacon from the economy pack is:
Bacon Hashed Potatoes:
Allow a potato per person and a rasher of thick bacon. Peel and boil the potatoes until tender, and fry the bacon until browned, remove bacon from pan but keep the fat. Mash the potatoes with the bacon fat and a little milk until fluffy. Stir in the bacon bits and season with pepper.
Form into flat cakes and fry until golden on each side.

Transformation Sauce:
Use this to disguise any cooked and shredded poultry - perfect for using those scraps from the carcase after making stock.
2 tblsp Dijon mustard
1 tblsp toasted flaked almonds
half a pint of halved seedless grapes
6 oz mayonnaise (or 3oz each mayo and Greek yoghurt)
This amount will make enough for 1lb cooked chicken.
Serve with rice or green salad.
Tip: Instead of mustard, use 2 tsp Korma Curry paste, some sultanas instead of grapes, and blend a little mango chutney into the mayo/yoghurt. Serve with cold rice.

Crunchy Toppings:
To make the boring more interesting.
Top rice pudding with a layer of dark brown sugar and brown under the grill until bubbling. Take care - it will be very hot. Leave to cool and it will set to a caramel.
Cover a cream or yoghurt dish with a good layer of demerara sugar and leave in the fridge overnight. It will dissolve into the cream and set to make a crunchy top.
Crumble meringues and sprinkle over (or mix into) fruit and cream or ice-cream.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Doorstep Deliveries

Yesterday, the main meal was the ubiquitous Cold Meat Platter (home-cooked chicken and ham, corned beef, sausages, lettuce, tomato and oven chips). As I was too full to eat any more, Beloved fill his remaining gap with TOPud and cream. Don't know how you feel about this, but somehow the meals seem really substantial given the budget of £12.50 per head per week. But early days yet.

A slight blip this week when some shopping was needed. More Ryvita was bought while on offer - we now have enough to last the remaining nine weeks, which will save me several £££'s worth of bread mixes. But as the 2 tubs of frozen chicken livers (45p each) that I needed were not available, my husband was guided to the fresh meat display where he was shown packs of fresh chicken livers (double the weight of the tubs) @ 99p each. He brought back two. As it happens, they looked better quality than the ones in the tubs, and as they could be frozen 'on day of purchase', each pack I cut in half and re-wrapped to freeze. Certainly some will be used to make more pate, but others can be used in a main course dish. And very economical they will prove to be. As you will see in later postings.

As I have cottage cheese that needs using up, plus a bit of low-fat cream cheese, not to mention yoghurt and a rather sad lemon, this recipe might just help me out.
Uncle Sam's Cheesecake:
4 oz (110g) crushed digestive biscuits
2 oz (50g) butter, melted
1 (25g) sugar
8 oz (225g) cottage and/or cream cheese
1 oz (50g) sugar
3 fl oz (90ml) double cream
3 fl oz (90ml) Greek yoghurt
juice of 1 lemon
Blend together the biscuit crumbs, butter and sugar and press into the base of a 7" loose bottomed deep pie or cake tin (*see tip below). Put cottage and cream cheese (or just the cream cheese) into a bowl with the sugar and mash with a fork to remove lumps, even better whizz in a food processor. Mix in the cream and yoghurt, and whisk in the lemon juice. Spoon out onto the crumb base and leave overnight in the fridge to set.
To remove from tin, ease around the sides with a knife then push up the base and place dessert onto a plate.
Tips: *If you haven't a loose bottomed tin, then form a ring from cardboard, overwrapping with foil and then line just the sides with clingfilm. Place the ring directly onto the serving plate, then use as above. When set, lift off foil ring then peel away clingfilm from the cheesecake.
To make a wider and/or deeper cheesecake, dilute a packet of lemon jelly with 16 fl.oz water and, when cold, whizz all but 4 fl.oz into the mixture, then pour the remaining jelly on the top.
If you have a banana that wants using up, this can either be whisked into the mixture or sliced and put on the top covered by the jelly.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Food Facts and Figures

With the second week of this year almost over, time for another audit. Last week's panic about running short of money has abated. My new allowance of £5 a weeks to cover food 'bought from myself or from the shops now seems more than adequate. This week's attack on my storecupboard worked out at £2.58p (couscous 20p), tomato puree (10p), flour (1p), canned tomatoes (17p), bread mix (70p), custard powder (10p), mango chutney (20p) baked beans (17p). pkt. jelly (28p), banana 5p, trifle sponge (5p), sherry (5p), short pastry (50p), sugar (10p) From shops, £1.02p for three packs of Ryvita. Total £3.60.

My milk bill allowance of £10 per week also seems to be underspent. The Greek yogurt lasts for up to three weeks, the creme fraiche sometimes two. I've got two tubs of cottage cheese untouched, so won't need that next week. Likewise can cut down on the hard cheese and butter. As I keep all my milk bill receipts, these will be totted up at the end of the ten weeks.

Yesterday was easy as far as meals went. The leftover spag.bol meat sauce for me with a salad, and a large leftover helping of (frozen) beef casserole for Beloved, with a jacket potato. Tonight's meal will be chicken curry with rice. Puddings during the week have been TOPud, sherry trifle, banana and custard, jelly and custard, ice-cream, apple and blackberry pie with custard one day, cream another. The blackberries were free by the way. Picked from bushes last year.

There are many lovely recipes out there worth trying, so let's find some.

Bean 'n Banger Bake: serves four
8 sausages
2 onions, sliced
1 can baked beans in tomato sauce,
about 200g canned or home-cooked mixed beans
1 heaped tsp. tomato puree
dash HP or Worcestershire Sauce
dash Tabasco sauce
Skin the sausages and cut each into five or six pieces. Roll each piece in floured hands. Put some oil in a frying pan and fry the little sausage balls for a few minutes until just beginning to crust on the outside (they will finish cooking in the bean sauce). Remove the sausages, and add the onions to the pan. Fry until light gold. Add the puree and the sauces and stir. Then add the baked beans, stir again, and finally add the rest of the beans and the sausages . Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
Ring the changes by serving with mashed potatoes, jacket potatoes, chips, rice or noodles.
Tip: The cheapest baked beans are best for this dish as they usually contain plenty of tomato sauce. If necessary, add a little more liquid by way of chicken or beef stock or just water. A pinch of mixed herbs gives more depth of flavour.

Five Minute Flan: serves four or more
1 7" pre-baked pastry case
2 tblsp. mayonnaise
2 tblsp. Greek yoghurt
8 oz (225g) cooked fish, white or smoked
2 oz (50g) cooked peas
2 oz (50g) cooked carrots, diced
2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced (optional)
2 tomatoes, thinly sliced.
Flake the fish (removing skin and bones), and fold into the mayo and yoghurt with the peas and carrots. Season to taste. Pile into the flan case, smooth the top and decorate with the sliced eggs and tomatoes.
Variation: Instead of the flan case, fold the fish and vegetable mixture into some cold cooked rice. Decorate with quartered hard-boiled eggs and quartered tomatoes, plus a sprinkling of parsley.

Pasta, Peas and Home-cooked Ham: serves four
This is a great way to use up any chunky bits from the joint of Xmas ham.
4 oz (110g) butter
4 oz (110g) frozen peas
4 oz (110g) ham cut into small strips
12 oz (350g) pasta bows, or any shape you have
grated cheese
Melt the butter in a pan, add the peas and ham and cook until the peas are ready. Season to taste*. Meanwhile cook pasta as per packet directions. Drain and mix with the peas and ham. Either add or stir in grated cheese of your choice.
Tip: *When using salted butter, season only with pepper. Use less butter if you wish but it does add flavour and remember - butter is a natural product. Margarine isn't.

not your average Bread and Butter Pudding:
Try changing the flavour next time you make and B & B pud. Make sarnies using chocolate spread instead of using just the buttered slices. Or add cocoa to the custard sauce to make a chocolate version. Try marmalade spread on the buttered bread and add orange zest to the custard. Or make banana sandwiches, or even jam with banana sarnies before covering with custard.
Tip: If possible, once the egg/milk mixture has been poured over the bread, leave it to soak for several hours before baking. It can either be baked just in the dish, or the dish can be stood in a bain marie and cooked for longer at a lower temperature, in which case the pudding will be less crusty and have more of a souffle texture.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Mums the Word

This week the results of a survey was published and it turns out that 'mothers spend three years of their lives making meals for their families'. Or, looking at it another way, churning out 45,990 meals in that time, which worked out spending around one hour a day in the kitchen. Dear oh dear. What is so wrong with that? Does it make us martyrs?
The article did say 'that all that time spent in the kitchen does at least ensure mothers are able to provide a healthy diet'. As it can take all of one hour to heat up the oven, then cook a bought ready-meal, I suppose that implies we could and should make better use of the time.

One surprising fact was that in many households, different meals were plated up each day for different appetites. Have to admit I often spend more time on my husband's supper and make an alternative for myself, but that is my choice. With picky families I'd feel inclined to serve an assortment in big bowls and let everyone help themselves.

Meanwhile, I'm going to carry on cooking and while I'm at it, make sure I enjoy myself. Just to give that us all some extra 'me time', here are recipes that take less than half-an-hour from start to finish.
Tuna Rice and All Things Nice: serves four
12 oz (350g) long grain rice
6 rashers streaky bacon, chopped
4 oz (100g) frozen peas, thawed
4 oz (100g) canned sweetcorn, drained
1 tblsp. each diced red and green peppers
200g can of tuna, flaked
2 tblsp soy sauce
Cook the rice, following packet directions. Drain and set aside. Meanwhile fry the bacon until crisp. Remove and set aside. Add a little oil to the pan and stir in the rice and peppers and cook/stir for 2 minutes. Add the peas and sweetcorn and cook/stir for a further 3 minutes. Finally add the tuna and soy sauce and heat through. Serve sprinkled with the bacon.

Lemon and Honey Chicken Escalopes: serves four
2 chicken breasts
juice and zest of 1 lemon
runny honey
dried breadcrumbs
Slice the chicken breasts in half lengthways, open out and divide each into two pieces. Place each piece between sheets of clingfilm and bash with a flat object (or your fist) to spread the chicken out to twice its size. Mix the lemon juice with a tblsp of honey and brush over each side of the chicken. Add the lemon zest to the breadcrumbs and dip the coated chicken into the crumbs. Fry in a little oil for 3-4 minutes on each side until cooked through. Serve with a mayonnaise dressing, new potatoes and peas, or with a mixed green salad.

Sardine Pate:
1 tin sardines (or pilchards) in tomato sauce
1 slice toasting bread
1/2 tsp horseradish sauce (optional)
lemon juice, if needed
Mash the fish in its sauce. Break up the bread and soak in water for a minute or two, then squeeze out as much water as you can. Add to the fish, then add the horseradish or, if too bland, some lemon juice. Mix well and put into a dish. Serve with hot toast.
Tip: For party presentation, pile the fish pate into empty halved lemon shells, removing a thin slice from the base of the shell to allow it to sit upright. Empty shells can be frozen to keep for a dish such as this.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Something Fishy ?

With almost more than a gale blowing outside, and worse to come, this evening's meal will be a variation on my Captain's Chowder. A useful dish as it can be served with alternative fish and/or vegetables, in a dish as a chunky 'soup', or with the liquid thickened, the whole lot put into a dish and topped with mashed potatoes or pastry to make Fish Pie.
Captain's Chowder Mark 2: serves four
1 onion, finely diced
2 oz (50g) butter
1/2 pt (300ml) fish stock* or water
1 dessp. double cream or creme fraiche
1 large potatoe, peeled and diced (1/2")
1/2 each red and green pepper, de-seeded and diced
OR 2 tblsp. green peas and 1 de-seeded and diced tomato
1 small can of sweetcorn, drained
1 lb either smoked haddock or cooked salmon or white fish
parsley to garnish
Saute the onion in the butter until golden. Pour in the milk, stock and creme and simmer for five minutes. Add the diced potatoes. Keep the heat down, this shouldn't boil. When the potatoes are cooked, stir in the chosen vegetables then the flakes of cooked fish. Simmer for a further five minutes, then serve in bowls garnished with chopped parsley.
*Fish Stock: When you cook with fish save any fish trimmings, skins and prawn shells. Freeze until needed then simmer with onion, carrot and celery, in water with white wine if you have some. Drain, boil down to concentrate the flavour then freeze as fish stock. Alterntively use a fish stock cube !
Fish Pie: As the above, but thicken the liquid with cornflour to make a sauce. Add a little mustard to this if you wish, certainly add plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Put into a dish and top with mashed potatoes or a short or puff pastry lid. Bake in the oven at 180C for about half an hour until the potatoes are crusty or the pastry is golden.
For extra bulk, add more peas, diced cooked carrots, even a few prawns. Grated cheese in or on top of the mashed potato adds even more flavour. With a big family to feed - go for it !

This recipe makes a good party starter, or even a luxury lunch munch:
Salmon Mousse: four servings
approx 10 oz fresh salmon
1/4 pint fish stock (made with wine)
6 oz cream cheese
8 oz smoked salmon
2 tsp dill, finely chopped
Put the salmon in an ovenproof dish and pour over the stock. Add a pinch of dill, cover and cook in the oven for 15 minutes until cooked (alternatively this can be cooked in the microwave). Keeping the liquid, remove fish and flake.
To the fish, add the cheese, the remaining dill and a little of the liquid, to make a softish paste.
Line four small ramekin dishes with the smoked salmon, leaving enough to wrap over. Divide the salmon paste between the dishes and fold over the ends of smoked salmon as a wrap. Cover with cling film and chill for several hours, best kept overnight in the fridge. Serve either in their dishes, or turn out onto a plate. Eat with toast or crispbreads.
Tip: Line dishes with clingfilm to make them easier to turn out.

The Variable Steamed Pudding: makes six servings (F)
To the basic sponge batter, add the variations given below.
basic sponge batter:
4 oz (100g) butter
4 oz (100g) caster sugar
3 oz (75g) self-raising flour
1 tsp. baking powder
3 oz (75g) fresh white breadcrumbs
3 eggs, lightly beaten
Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs. (at this point you can add other ingredients), stir in the sifted flour and baking powder, then fold in the breadcrumbs. Spoon into a greased 2 pint pudding basin, cover with a layer of greaseproof and then a layer of foil, both pleated (to allow rising), tie securely around top of basin, place in a steamer and cover. Steam for 2 hours. Cool slightly before turning out and serve with custard. OR spoon into greased individual moulds (teacups would do), and these take far less time to steam - (about 30 - 40 minutes).

Honey and Ginger: Mix 2 tblsp honey with 1 tblsp ginger syrup and pour this into the bottom of the basin before adding the batter. Also, add 1 tsp ground ginger to the flour.
Orange Marmalade: Spoon one tblsp. marmalade into the basin, then stir two tblsp. marmalade into the batter after adding eggs and before adding dry ingredients.
Lemon Pudding: Add the grated rind and juice of one or two lemons to the creamed mixture, before adding dry ingredients. For good measure, pop in a couple of tablespoons of lemon curd into the bottom of the basin.
Fruit Sponge:Add some sultanas (which could have been soaked overnight in rum) to the batter, and serve with custard flavoured with rum.
Chocolate sponge: substitute 1 tbslp. cocoa for the same of flour. Serve with a chocolate sauce.
Tip: As this pudding feeds six, then any leftovers can be reheated in the microwave. It should also freeze.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Vegetarian Day

With all the 'fresh' food I have in the fridge/freezer, it is surprising how often I need to fetch something from the storecupboard to improve a dish. Small amounts maybe, but for this challenge I need to 'buy them from myself'. On Monday it was just the couscous - total 6p. Yesterday - to add to the Chilli con carne - I needed homecooked red beans (7p), chilli powder (4p), tomato puree (4p). For pudding there was a choice of ice-cream, or a trifle: 1 trifle sponge (5p), half a jelly (14p), custard powder (3p), sugar (2p), banana (5p), drizzle of sherry (5p) . Total 49p. The trifle was chosen.

Today will be vegetarian, and a dish that my husband likes anyway, so that's the easy part. Also, apart from flour and mustard, nothing else from the stores, as the pudding (ice-cream) has already been costed.

My dish of the day uses both cauliflower and broccoli hence the name:
Stilton and Brocciflower Cheese: serves 4
Half a small cauliflower, broken into florets
Similar amount of broccoli florets
for the sauce:
1 oz (25g) butter
2 tblsp plain flour
10 fl.oz (300ml) milk
1 tsp made or dry mustard
3oz (85g) stilton cheese + 1 os more
Steam the vegetables until tender. Meanwhile, make the sauce by putting all the ingredients into a pan, and heat gently, whisking all the time, until thickened. Simmer for two minutes.
Put the vegetables in a shallow ovenproof dish, season to taste with pepper, then top with the sauce then sprinkle over the remaining cheese. Grill for 5 - 10 minutes until bubbling and browned.
Tip: As Stilton is not in my budget, I will be using grated mature Cheddar and some Leicester Cheese and sprinkling some of the cheese over and round the steamed vegetables before topping with the sauce and the remaining cheese. Melting cheese round the hot florets makes them taste even better.

This alternative vegetarian dish uses ingredients only from the pre-costed foods (plus home-grown herbs). No further 'buy from stores' expenditure necessary:
Creamy Butternut and Herb Pasta: serves four
1 tblsp olive oil
1 oz (25g) butter
2 sprigs rosemary, sage or thyme
1 - 2 tomatoes, quartered
2 onions, cut into chunks
1/2 a butternut squash, peeled, deseeded
8 oz (250g) quick-cook pasta penne
250 tub of cream cheese
freshly grated parmesan
Cut the prepared squash into small chunks. Put the oil and butter in a pan with the chosen herbs and heat until the butter has melted. Put in the squash and toss to coat. Add the onions and roast at 180C for about half an hour, then add the tomatoes and cook for a further 1o minutes.
In the meantime, cook the pasta for required length of time, drain. Remove dish from oven, stir in the pasta and season to taste. Serve sprinkled with parmesan cheese.
Tip: Other vegetables which go well with this dish, and can be included using a lesser amount of squash, are red onions as well as the white, celery and mushrooms (but add the m'rooms towards the end of the cooking time).

Some weeks ago I gave you my favourite verson of the Sicilian Cassata. Here is a very similar dish, which can be assembled in much the same way, but quite different in flavour.
Tiramisu for You: 6 - 8 slices
Line a small loaf tin with cling film. Cut trifle sponges in half horizontally, then place a layer, sugared side down along the base. Sprinkle with the flavoured alcohol and place half the filling (see below for details of both) on the sponge. Sprinkle with grated chocolate and (optional) crushed macaroons (recipe given in a previous posting), top with more sponge and repeat, finishing with a layer of sponge. Wrap over the ends of the clingfilm, then press down with a weight and leave to chill overnight. Turn out, and served sliced.
This can be decorated by spreading creme fraiche or cream cheese over the top and sides and finishing off with chocolate curls.
filling and coffee flavour
Make about 2 fl. oz strong coffee and stir in a dessp. of Tia Maria, rum or brandy. This is used to sprinkle over the sponge layers.
For the filling, beat together a tub of cottage cheese with about half a tub of cream cheese plus 1 oz icing or caster sugar. Stir in a tablespoon of either whipped cream or creme fraiche. This completed dessert can be made a few weeks ahead of time and frozen.
Tip: ~This is much improved if you can add the crushed almond macaroons (I've given the recipe so why haven't you made any??) between the layers which will soak up more of the alcohol. In which case make extra.
To make chocolate curls, it helps if the choc. bar is at room temperature, or give it a couple of seconds in the microwave to soften only very slightly. Then draw a potato peeler or similar along the bar to make large curls and pile these on the top of the finished dessert.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

And for my next Trick !

Tip: Meat will cook to tender at a lower temperature than vegetables, so allow plenty of cooking time when adding root vegetables to a simmered stew/casserole. If using a slow cooker, which is perfect for those cheaper cuts of meat, part cook vegetables before adding.

My final choice for yesterday's supper was the Salmon with Couscous. The addition of the lemon zest and juice really made a great difference to what could be a boring staple. For afters it was banana and cream, and an extra late snack of pate on toast for Beloved.
Tonight's meal should be vegetarian, but Beloved is wearing his caveman hat this week and meat has been requested again. Chilli con Carne please - I can use the red beans I cooked and froze, and also one of the avocados needs using, so will add slices of this to a side salad. Not sorted out the pudding yet, but ice-cream sounds good with Chilli.

As usual, my good intentions never saw the light of day, so no cake was cooked yesterday, and no cheesecake either, but the good news is that I can make them another day. I have only just realised, the less goodies I make now, the more I can make later - like during the ninth and tenth week when things might be getting desperate.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Better than Expected

After yesterday's panic attack re running out of money, I now realise that £5 a week will more than cover the extra bits and bobs I need to 'buy from myself', the rest already having been paid for. You may well say - all in store has already been paid for - which it has, the difference being quite a lot was purchased before I began surviving on this very strict 10 week budget.

Yesterday's meal of beef casserole: (8 oz stewing beef, one large carrot, one parsnip, 3 medium potatoes, 4 mushrooms, flour and water plus a tsp. Bovril, and some thyme) made enough for 3 good helpings, so one can be frozen, or perhaps kept in the fridge for a couple of days and whizzed to make soup.
Tip: When cooking parsnips for a long time, there is no need to remove the woody centres as they will soften.

Noticing I have plenty of creme fraiche and Greek yoghurt in the fridge to use up, despite cancelling both last week as not sure which was due (I have each delivered on alternate weeks),
plus a couple of cartons of cottage cheese and pineapple (a weekly delivery), methinks I will make a cheesecake or that Sicilian Cassata - the recipe given in a much earlier posting.
My mind is now working at full speed - thoughts are moving in the direction of 'would need sponge cake for the Cassata, in which case I could bake a large flat one (Swiss Roll type) and save the trimmings for a trifle, use half the cake for the Cassata, and the remainder sandwiched with jam - intended to be heated up in the microwave as a faux 'steamed pudding'. Already I am itching to get started.

Today should be a fish day as was last Monday. I have more salmon than other fish, so may well serve that again, but not as a Paella. This recipe has taken my fancy:
Salmon with Lemon and Couscous : serves four
16 fl.oz (450ml) boiling vegetable stock
6 oz (175g) couscous
1 tblsp. olive oil
1 small onion, very finely chopped
1 lemon, zest and juice
few frozen peas
1 tomato, deseeded and finely chopped
fresh parsley, chopped
3 salmon steaks
Put the couscous into a bowl and pour over the boiling water. Cover and leave to stand for 10 minutes. As the couscous soaks, put the oil in a pan and saute the onions until soft. Add the peas and tomatoes. Stir the fried vegetables into the couscous with the lemon zest, juice and parsley. Set aside and keep warm. Brush oil over the salmon fillets and put into a preheated flat pan and cook over medium heat for 4-5 minutes on each side.
Divide the couscous between four plates and top each with a salmon fillet.
Tip: As well as adding flavour, the tomatoes and peas make it a colourful dish, so finely diced red and green peppers could be used instead. Or sweetcorn with finely diced cucumber (with the skin on).

Another fish-dish, using 'wot I've already got', is
Tuna Pasta bake: serves four
12 oz (350g) pasta penne
2 tblsp olive oil
250g pot of creme fraiche
190g tin of tuna (drained and flaked)
1 small onion, finely chopped, and fried
2 large tomatoes, chopped
Parmesan cheese
Cook the pasta, drain and stir in the olive oil and creme fraiche. Add the tuna, the onions, and the tomatoes. Spoon into an ovenproof dish and scatter over about 75g grated Parmesan. Grill until hot and bubbling.
Tip: When using tuna canned in oil, this oil can be used instead of the olive oil.

And a couple of other salmon suggestions:
Make a marinade of 3 tblsp runny honey, 5 tblsp soy sauce, and 2 tblsp. sugar. Mix well and pour this over salmon fillets. Leave for at least half an hour. Then grill salmon, not too near the heat, skin side up for five minutes, then move closer to grill and cook for a further couple of minutes until skin is crispy. Serve with a Stir-Fry.

Salmon Sticks:
Remove skin from salmon* and cut the fish into finger-sized portions. Dip each into flour, then beaten egg, and finally dried breadcrumbs (or finely crushed crisps or cornflakes). Deep fry until cooked and golden. Serve with dips.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Looking at Cooking - the Books !

Yesterday, the eggs (2), sausages (2), baked beans (1/2 a can) and chips went down SO well, and my huband was a very happy bunny. My pizza also was great athough I didn't bother with the 'sides'.
The chips were bought 'oven' type, Beloved bringing me in a larger pack than requested because it said 25% more on the bag. But they will last. It necessitated me having to move things around the freezer to find a space for it, but I discovered things I had forgotten about. Other items were bought which he thought I needed (in other words that he wanted), such as grapes.
Tip: Keep grapes in the fridge and they last a lot longer.

Yesterday saw me trying to cost out the food used from stores and the food bought during the week. The latter list was easy to work out, lettuce (79p), tomatoes (94p), bag chips (£1.99),
2 avocados (99p), 1 big box value mushrooms £1.18), grapes 99p. A total of £6.88.
But to that I have to add £5.11p for the salmon, and 52p for the two cans of new potatoes previously bought.
Both added to the initial expenditure (£58.97) it seems that ALREADY £71.48 has been spent, and no foods yet added as 'bought from store'.
Here I have to admit a problem. Do I buy a whole bag of flour from myself, or just cost the ounces used? Likewise, do I charge for a whole bag of walnuts, or only a few? What about the frozen prawns, I used three. Do I cost each prawn separately or pay myself for the whole bag?

It is tempting to just add the odd penny here and there to show that I will have money left at the end, but for some items I have charged full price - things that I know will be used up within the ten weeks, like a whole jar of mayo (and thank goodness that was a bogof - because when I use the next one that will be the freebie), but need to cost things like prawns separately (they worked out at 5p each- bought at reduced price), as I may not use them all.

Here is the 'buy from myself' costing as taken from store this week:
Baked beans (17p), 1 jar Mayo (99p), bread mix for two loaves and one pizza base (£1.70),
I tub chicken livers from freezer (45p), 3 frozen prawns (15p), flour (as used - 16p), 1 can pineapple (25p), sugar: granulated and dark - (50p), nuts (30p), tomato puree (as used) (10p), can tomatoes (17p). Dried fruit- as used (30p). 4 bananas (20) p Total £5.27.
Grand total: rounded up to £77.00 to allow 25p for oddments such as a spoon of port, the dash of HP sauce, etc.
Not a lot left of the budget, is there? Oops.

On the good side, there is some money left from the meat allowance, and also the milk bill as I have been able to cancel Greek yoghurt, and one pack of butter for this coming week, and last week cancelled some milk and cheese. This has left me more than enough money from the milk allowance to order more eggs, and some potatoes.

But now I must tighten purse strings. Whilst chicken liver pate sounds expensive, it has proved not to be. But avocados, grapes, even lettuce and tomatoes are now to be looked upon as pure luxuries. There are fruits and vegetables far cheaper. In any case I still have plenty.
This coming week, shopping is banned (except from my own stores). Maybe also the following week. For the time being no more fruit cake will be made (the one I made was intended to have lasted a month if Beloved hadn't munched his way through it). With nine weeks to go and only £43.00 left this means less than £5 a week to play with.
Trying to find light at the end of the tunnel, even if I do go over budget, there should be quite a lot of food left at the end of the challenge: canned foods, meat etc, and the cost of these will be deducted. All I can say is stick with me and we will see just what happens. If anything, this is turning out to be a much harder challenge than expected (due to me trying to be clever and adding extra weeks), but then I do enjoy a challenge !

Today's meals will be a 'brunch' (can prove slightly cheaper than breakfast AND lunch), probably a soup or pate or even the remaining beans on toast. The main meal (supper) will be a beef casserole: stewing beef, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, served with some broccoli. Ice-cream to follow, but only if we have room. With these meals all ingredients will already have been accounted for. Thank goodness.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

All in the Mind

On to yesterday's supper. Cottage Pie. Very much enjoyed by my husband. He asked that the mashed potato topping be really crusty. And real potatoes please, not the instant kind, and no lumps. As not sure what time Beloved would be home (his day to work at the florists), I put the cottage pie in the oven at 170C covered by a tent of foil, and then when he arrived home, removed the foil. and put the hot and bubbling dish under the grill to finish browning off beautifully. Little squeaks of glee from the other end of the table proved that this had worked to his complete satisfaction.

The end of the first tub of ice-cream was finished for 'afters'. Later I noticed the last piece of fruit cake had also disappeared. During the day I had poured over another layer of the fudge topping for TOPud. What I originally expected would cut into six portions (from an 8" square tin), now it seems will make twelve. We have each had one small portion on two days, and believe me, one - with cream- is quite enough. The remainder is kept frozen.

My plan for today was to be pizza, dips and sides , but beloved has asked for eggs, sausage, beans and chips. Well, why not. The makings are to hand. I was getting a bit worried about all those tins of beans not yet touched. All I need do is role-play chef for the day, and cook both. Fry up for him, and pizza (ham, sweetcorn, pineapple, assorted cheeses, plus dips and 'sides') for me.

Have decided not to buy chicken carcases this week as no room in the freezer for the stock and cooked bits. Still have loads left from the last batch, and - as it's free - doesn't affect the budget if I use that instead.
But first - bake bread as I need some of the dough for the pizza base. My Saturday has begun.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Comfort Eating

On to yesterday's meal - Vegetable Curry. This worked well with reservations. Personally I didn't feel that Jalfrezi was the right sauce to use. Maybe Tikka Masala which is our favourite would have been better. Plus a handful of cooked chickpeas would have given it more 'body'. Despite piled-high plates, I left the table feeling comfortably full but without having to undo my belt a notch, which can only be a good thing.

Today I had planned a fish-dish. But with Boris (aka the fridge-freezer) groaning with meat and pleading with me to remove some, I will be making cottage pie for tonight's supper. Serving it with parsnips and carrots. I had thought of mashing the parsnips and potatoes together to use as a topping and putting a layer of mashed carrots between the meat and the topping, so that it could be cooked in individual dishes, but Sir wants the vegetables separately (overcooked? Not!) But the first idea would have been good.

A further note in my diary reminds me to work through this week's recipes (taking the coming Saturday and Sunday into account) and find out how much I have had to 'buy from myself'. Add to this anything else not in my original shopping delivery, not forgetting the meat bill, and then I can find out what money is left. With still nine weeks to go, I may need to spend it all. But not yet.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Having Fun

My 'Rule of Four' was devised some many years back when I discovered that foods fit into four categories: (1) dairy, (2) meat/fish, (3) fruit and veg. (4) groceries. The idea then was to each week divide your food allowance by four then go out and shop, trying spend a little less than one quarter on each category. It wasm and still is, a good way to find out more about which foods are the 'best buys', and also a way to start saving.
Because, for this challenge, I am shopping in bulk, I can spend a lot less that a quarter of the £250 budget on meat and fish. This is because the more I have in store at any one time, the less I seem to need overall. As I have said before, I don't know why, but it does seem to work. This is why my meat budget waas set at £30 to last us for ten weeks, and yesterday saw me spending £28.34p at the butchers coming home with:
2 lbs quality beef mince - £5.50
1 lb minced pork - £2.70
2 lbs diced stewing steak - £7.00
1 lb diced mutton - £3.85
2 lbs diced chicken - £7.30
1 lb lambs liver - £1.99
Being quality meat, the cost is more than we would pay at the supermarket, even though that would leave us with more cash to spare. But we're not happy with second best, are we?

The meat was packed away in small amounts '- putting my hand in a small plastic bag, grabbing a handful of meat and then turning the bag over onto it, thus hands never actually touch the meat. One big handful is around 8 oz which is more than enough (together with other ingredients) for two portions and always, always I make it stretch to three (and even four).

The stewing steak will be used in casseroles and curries; the minced pork was divided into four to put with an equal share of the minced beef - for spag.bol meat sauce which will be cooked with finely diced vegetables making loads and loads to be used for various dishes, the remaining minced beef maybe for chili con carne, cottage pie etc.
The mutton was for a Rogan Josh curry, and maybe a Lancashire Hot-Pot; the diced chicken mainly for curries or stir-fries.
The liver was divided into small packs, each of which, once partly thawed, will be cut into narrow strips (called 'gougons' if you want to impress and meat is easie to slice or cut if still slightly frozen), to then be tossed in flour and fried for a very few minutes in the bacon fat (served with bacon, potatoes and cabbage).
One must not forget the 'free' chicken carcases (to be collected from the butcher this Saturday (he hadn't any on Wednesday) - to make stock and to gather more cooked chicken from the bones.
The fish, well - not enough money left to allow for much , but quite a bit has already been bought from the supermarket, and the price taken into account, so not too concerned about that.

Yesterday - as mentioned, we had a plateful of cold meats and salads. The home-cooked chicken and ham were excellent. With two slices each of chicken and ham, two slices of corned beef, one big sausage, a variety of salads, and a jacket potato, there was so much that my husband's portion was served on a small meat plate. My more modest portion ( one slice each of ham and chicken, two of corned beef and one sausage, plus salads and jacket potato) overfilled my dinner plate. We both struggled to finish. Despite this, later in the evening my husband managed to force down a helping of TOPud. With cream. Me - I couldn't manage another mouthful.

Today's main meal will be vegetable curry. Almost certainly using up some of the onions, butternut squash, cauliflower, potatoes, carrots. Taking the easy way out by using half a jar of curry sauce (decant and freeze the rest for later). Plenty of side dishes to tuck into - mango chutney, raita, dessicated coconut, flaked almonds, sultanas, hard-boiled eggs, maybe even sliced banana. Rice, pre-soaked and cooked with bay leaves for flavour, plus some crushed cardoman seeds.
Possibly the end of the first tub of ice-cream to follow.
I had thought of making samosas, and using the naan bread I have in the freezer, but too much too soon will deplete my stocks. I want to finish the MCC with a bang. A week of feasting in mid-March. So am keeping tight hold of the reins for the first few weeks, and just enjoying myself. See you tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Self Control in the Kitchen

Yesterday's meals were fine, always eat Chinese food with chopsticks if you can, it takes so much longer. They do say, and it is true, that after twenty minutes of eating (and that can mean slowly, so chew each mouthful 36 times if you haven't much on your plate) then you will feel you have eaten enough. Mind you, with Chinese food, after half an hour I always feel I can eat another plateful. Perhaps it doesn't take much digestion. Let's not go into that. For afters (eaten long after the main meal) Beloved had ice-cream, I ate a piece of fruit cake.

Today we will be having CMP (aka Cold Meat Platter). Perhaps followed by TOP (Ticket Office Pudding). You had better get used to these abbreviations.
The CMP will consist of a pack each of home-cooked chicken and ham, some corned beef (the remainder to be sliced and frozen for another CMP), home made coleslaw and Waldorf (do you know I have the feeling I have said all this before but I can't at this stage go back to see what I wrote about yesterday so forgive me, but I will continue). Jacket Potato and a little lettuce and tomato. I was going to make a cheesecake with some cottage cheese and the pineapple taken from a tin opened yesterday (to add to the Stir-fry), but I am now so flustered with not remembering what I said to you that I have gone off the idea.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Balancing the act.

After a week of festive meals, yesterday's supper- despite it seeming meagre- was more than enough for full tums. Beloved was delighted by the appearance of his plate, gleaming rice 'with just enough butter for it to taste how how he likes it' and 'the salmon, prawns and parsley made the rice look really attractive'. He has been asked to criticise and normally he is very picky, but yesterday went well. He didn't taste mine, but I can say it made good eating and was quite filling.

To balance the scales, today's main meal will be Chinese Stir-Fry composed entirely of vegetables: sweetcorn, peas, shredded cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower florets (their stalks shredded and included). Some shredded red and green bell peppers (another recent purchase), onions, carrots and celery (and anything else I can think of).. Served this time with noodles (to be costed). Also will be opening a tin of pineapple rings that I seem to have had for ages (to be costed at today's prices), one ring to be chopped and added to the stir-fry, the rest drained and frozen separately. Maybe some pineapple juice to go into the sauce, the rest put into small tubs and frozen. Aiming for a great plateful. Doubt we will need a pudding, but expect my husband will settle for a yogurt.

Already planning the week ahead, I will be trying to balance things a little better. So tomorrow sees me serving Cold Meat Platter (a pack each of home-cooked chicken and ham, some corned beef (the remainder to be sliced and frozen for the next CMP), plus a couple of cooked sausages, so my carnivore husband should be satisfied. The remainder of his plate will be filled with coleslaw (shredded cabbage and grated carrot bound with mayo and yogurt), his favourite Waldorf salad (apple, celery and walnuts - the fruit and nut part to be costed), and a jacket potato (with butter). Possibly a pineapple cheesecake for dessert. Or Ticket Office Pudding.

Am planning a vegetable curry for Thursday, followed by an Indian dessert or maybe another helping of home-made ice-cream. Friday will be another fish dish, yet to be decided.

With milk to spare I have cancelled some this week and asked for more eggs, thus not increasing my milk bill, in fact it will be slightly less. Porridge can always be made with water and I'm now changing from drinking coffee to (green) tea without milk. With three packs of cheese delivered each week am sure we are getting enough calcium.

With the aim being to serve a fish dish one day, a vegetarian another, followed by meat, then maybe vegetarian again, then back to the fish, I'm hoping to provide a good balance of interesting meals. On vegetarian days, the lunchtime meal would be protein based with a choice of chicken pate, cheese, scrambled eggs or even sardines on toast. On meat days the lunch would be Soup du Jour, perhaps a pea and lettuce soup, or carrot and orange, or chunky vegetable. And others.
Once we have a good assortment of ingredients, they can be put together in so many ways (for anyone who watches Ready, Steady, Cook you get the idea). You may wish to try a recipe I've given, or make up one that you know will be more to your family's taste. All I am aiming to prove is that even on a tight budget, starting with a good amount of supplies, we should all have the makings to eat well and (hopefully) in the manner to which we would like to become accustomed to.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Mean Cuisine starts here !

Began with making chicken pate. This made over half a pint of pate in total, so enough for several helpings. Cost less than £1. One pot was put in the fridge, the rest frozen. Covered with a layer of melted butter, it will keep in the fridge for at least a week, but use up a couple or so days once started.
Whilst the pate was cooking, I set to making another fruit cake. As I really hoped for a further egg white I was pleased to read the recipe required 2 standard eggs and my eggs were a bit larger than that, so I broke one egg into a dish, just adding the yolk from the second. This worked splendidly. Using four eggs I had spread them between the pate (two yolks), the cake (one egg plus one yolk) , and finally - leaving three whites to make the ice-cream.
While the cake was baking I then made the ice-cream, mint choc chip as requested by my husband. The recipe was given yesterday. Using three egg whites and 7 oz sugar + 7 dessp. water, plus flavourings, cream and yogurt it just about filled two 1 litre ice-cream boxes. The cost to make the two tubs came to less than £1. Allowing my husband to lick the spoon and bowl I then made him promise 'no more than three scoops at any one time, and not every day'.
If all this sounds labour intensive, much of the work was done sitting at the table and all completed, baked, and/or frozen within 2 hours

Didn't get around to making any bread as we still have half a loaf of bought to use up. The bread I will make today and possibly a batch of 'Ticket Office Pudding'. Maybe also a fruit pie or crumble, then that should give my husband a good selection to see him through most of this week.

In yesterday's TV supplement there was a feature on the size of a portion of food. I've known for years my husband eats enough for three and this proved it. Eating the correct size portion is healthy, but not only that it can help with the budget. I'm all for it. In the case of ££ v lbs it will be a case of win some lose some. Think of a portion as representing something else:
cheese = size of a matchbox
cereals = small wineglass
salmon = size of a chequebook
cooked rice or pasta = size of a tennis ball
fruit cake = a cassette tape
meat = a pack of cards
but you can eat as many fruit and vegetables a day as you wish and preferably more vegetables than fruit.

Now for Day one of the Challenge. Breakfasts and lunches will rarely be mentioned as we eat much the same thing every day. Porridge for me, muesli or porridge for my husband, and - as we run out I will make more. Otherwise we eat toast spread with marmalade or Marmite, or even just toast. Sometimes even just a coffee will suffice. Lunches are either 'something on toast' (a choice of cheese, Marmite, or scrambled eggs), if we have omitted breakfast, this comes early as in 'brunch'. In the winter months we are more likely to have home-made soup with a slice of home-made bread. If on my own I tend to favour a jacket potato with some baked beans. To this list I can now add the occasional serving of chicken pate.
Most of these goodies are eaten by my husband, I am easily satisfied with the plainer things in life.

Today's main meal (the bit you have been waiting for) will be a his and hers. He will be eating my version of a poor man's Paella, and I will be eating a pasta dish. Details below. His put will bewith 3 scoops of ice-cream, and I probably won't want anything else.

Poor Man's Paella: (in truth, not even that) for one serving
1 piece of salmon (size of a pack of cards), freshly cooked
1 chicken drumstick or 3 chicken wings, freshly cooked
3 large (frozen) tiger prawns,
one portion of cooked rice
butter, and chopped parsley
black pepper
Remove skin from salmon and break into thick flakes. Remove cooked flesh from drumstick. If using chicken wings, these can be tucked whole into the rice.
Put a walnut of butter in a frying pan, stir in the cooked chicken flesh, followed by the rice to coat the grains. Fold in the salmon and (if using) the cooked chicken wings, finally the thawed prawns. Cook on until the prawns have turned pink. Season with plenty of black pepper and scatter over the parsley. Serve, eat and enjoy.
Tip: This is economical because I used the free chicken wings from the butcher. The price of a whole pack of frozen tiger prawns will be included in the final costing. Instead of tiger prawns, add more of those smaller ones. Peas can be used instead of parsley, or both.

Shirley's Supper:
One good helping quick-cook pasta,
1 rasher bacon
2-3 oz cheese grated (Red Leicester this time),
4 mushrooms, thinly sliced
the dregs of cream (see below)
black pepper
Snip the bacon into smaller pieces. Fry gently to release the fat then add the mushrooms.
Stir in the cooked pasta and the cream. Finally stir in the cheese. Mix the lot together , season well with the pepper, and dish up.
Tip: when making the ice-cream a little cream was left over stuck to the lid and sides of the carton, this I scraped out and saved to add to the above.