Thursday, May 08, 2008

Food for Thought

A meal for £1 a head'. Keeping within this budget for a main dish ( serving four), over a week, this comes to £28 which sounds very reasonable. This does not allow for other daily edibles, such as breakfast, lunch, puddings, snacks, but even the cost of these can be kept under control, so a pound-a-head is worth aiming for (always assuming you spend more in the first place). It certainly isn't difficult to make a main course to feed a family for £4. As it is often easier on the purse to work on averages, over a week some dishes costing less could be alternated with other dishes costing more. We do not need to be frugal all the time, just some days more than others.

With the main ingredient in many dishes being meat, this is the most costly, so earlier today I checked out the prices of chicken portions (being the least costly of all the meats for reasons we all know why). There are various priced packs of drumsticks and thighs, some packs with both, and it seems quite possible to buy chicken thighs for 30p for each thigh (value pack costing).
This reminded me of the oriental way of eating less meat per head than we do in this country, so certainly - in the recipe I give today - one thigh (or drumstick) per portion would be quite enough. As the recipe also contains hard-boiled eggs, being extra protein, we could get away with using even less chicken, adding more eggs. Or just use eggs alone and no chicken.

But even before I give the recipe, a word about the carbohydrates. Normally served with rice, curry could also be served with Naan bread alone, or chapatis. Even with couscous (always worth trying something new). With the rapid rise in the price of rice, we should begin looking for cheaper carbohydrate alternatives to go with curry (or other dishes) and worth taking time out to cost each.
Curried Chicken and Eggs: serves 4
4 chicken joints (thighs or drumsticks)
1 tblsp plain yogurt
1 tsp korma curry paste
1 tblsp lemon juice
2 tblsp sunflower oil
2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
1 tblsp dried milk powder
5 tblsp single cream or coconut milk
5 tblsp natural yogurt

tblsp finely chopped coriander or parsley (opt)
Remove skin from chicken and slash the flesh in several places. Mix the lemon juice and yogurt together with the curry paste (if using), spoon this over the chicken, working the mixture into the slashes. Put the chicken into a bowl, spooning over any remaining sauce. Cover and chill overnight if possible, to allow the chicken to absorb the flavours. Just before cooking, sprinkle the joints with a little salt.
Put the oil in a frying pan and fry the joints until pale golden on all sides, then transfer to a casserole dish together with any juices from the pan. Cover and cook at 180C,350F, gas 4 for 45 - 60 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Remove to a serving dish and keep warm.
Pour the juices from the casserole into a pan and boil for a few minutes until reduced and thickened, then stir in the milk powder, cream and yogurt. Heat gently but do not boil. Tuck some of the eggs between the chicken joints, pour over the sauce, and garnish with remaining eggs. Sprinkle over the herbs and serve with what you will.

These days it seems we now have to discover which is the least expensive protein: fish, meat or cheese, for weight for weight there doesn't seem much in it. Whichever we choose to cook, there will always be differences in the price according to the type/quality/variety. So if we prefer to cook with the more expensive minced steak, then we could 'pad it out' by using a lesser priced cheese for instance.
This next recipe takes up this suggestion, and pork, chicken or quality minced steak could be used for this dish, so first check prices before deciding. Emmenthal, or Jarlsberg cheese is recommended as it does melt easily, but no reason why not to use an English hard cheese. As ever use what we have rather than buy something special.
Cheese-stuffed Meatballs: serves 4
12 oz (350g) minced pork, chicken or steak
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
half tsp paprika pepper
pinch salt
2 oz (50g) cheese (see above) diced into small cubes
oil for frying
chosen vegetables: creamed spinach or leeks
Mix the meat together with the herbs, paprika and salt, Using wet hands, form a small walnut size ball of meat, then press a piece of cheese into the middle, closing the gap with meat. Roll between the palms to make round balls of even size and fry in shallow oil over low to medium heat for 10 - 12 minutes turning until brown all over.
Serve on a bed of creamed vegetables. Equally good served on a bed of freshly cooked pasta with a covering of a tomato (bolognaise type) sauce poured over.

Everyone loves to eat home-made biscuits, and they often disappear within minutes, so however much this is a compliment to the cook, the cook doesn't always feel so pleased. They were meant to last longer. However, here is one way to make biscuit-making easy: make one large batch of biscuit dough, then cooking only some of it, keep the rest in the fridge (or even stored in the freezer) to be used as and when, preferably when the oven is on for something else. This way a few biscuits can be baked at any one time, rather than a large number, so no chance for the lot to be scoffed when your back is turned. This recipe, based on an American one, uses strong plain flour and suggest using this or at least a half and half mix of strong plain and plain flour. small amounts of other flours could be included: rice flour, oatmeal, cornmeal. But when experimenting, always make the smallest amount you can handle, just to avoid ending up with something that didn't work as well as it should. Remember, even one egg can be beaten then measured and used by the teaspoonful (any leftover can be added to other eggs to make an omelette or used for glazing pastry - throw it away and you'll have me to answer to!).
Refrigerator Biscuits: makes approx 6 dozen
4 oz (100g) butter
7 oz (200g) caster sugar
1 large egg
grated zest of 1 orange*
8 oz (225g) strong plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp mixed spice**
half tsp salt
Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in the egg. Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and spice and stir into the flour together with the orange zest. Chill for half an hour to make it easier to handle.
Flouring both hands and pastry board, roll the mixture into 'logs' about 2" (5cm) thick, roll each in clingfilm or foil and chill for at least 3 hours before baking, but this will keep for at least 2 weeks in the fridge before using.
To cook the biscuits, using a sharp knife, slice off thin rounds and arrange on a baking sheet leaving room to spread. Bake at 375C, 190F, gas 5 for 7 - 9 minutes until pale golden in colour. Remove from baking sheet with a fish slice or palette knife and leave to cool and crisp up on a cake airer.
Note: * change the flavour by adding grated zest of lemon instead, or add a few drops of vanilla or other flavouring. ** change the spice to ginger or cinnamon.
Tip: The time the biscuits take to cook depends on the thickness (and oven temperatures also vary). Don't leave the biscuits cooking until crisp, they should firm up when cooling. If any biscuits are removed from the oven too early and end up softer than intended, they can always be returned to the oven and cooked for another another couple of minutes or so.