Thursday, July 31, 2008

Positive Thinking

For once, seem to have quite a few things to chat about today. Firstly the missing archives: members of my family have said the archives appear in the normal way when they log on, perhaps it is just this computer that is playing up. Would appreciate it if you would let me know if the archives are missing when you log on, or you have to access the archives via the 'search blog' box (as suggested over the past few days). If the problem is this end then no need for me to keep giving reminders.

Janet's comment referring to even more rise in the price of gas gave 'food for thought'. When this blog was started, the aim was to prove that if we needed to find that little bit more money, it could be easily done by cutting costs in the kitchen. Now that bubble has burst. We can still save money - when we know how - but it has now become a matter of struggling to keeping level with our food budget, than just using different and cheaper ingredients, making it all the harder to save the necessary pennies to put towards the winter fuel bills. Even the cost of fuel used in cooking now has to be considered.

Last night watched the repeat of the sandwich programme. Did try to bring it up on via as you suggested SweeterRita, but it wouldn't come up due to not having the correct setting on this comp.. so instead watched it on More 4 late in the day. As with many 'ready-to-eat-foods', it seems things are not always what they seem to be. Was shocked to see how one large 'sub' contained as much salt as ten packets (or was it more?) of salted potato crisps. Have to say that made me feel a lot better about eating crisps if that is the case.
Have never felt the need to buy pre-packed sandwiches apart from once when I wanted to find out how much cheaper it was to make the same thing myself. The results of this, and recipes are on 14th Oct. '06. Prices have risen since then, but on checking, we will now save even more making them ourselves, and at least we are in control of what goes into them.

Yesterday wanted to watch three cookery programmes on TV, so decided to make a chilli con carne for supper, make it earlier in the day so that it could be reheated. Left it a bit late and then was a concerned I might nod off in front of the TV (often do),so not able to stir the meat from time to time, and it could burn. So decided instead to cook the chilli in a different way. Normally onion is fried, the minced steak added, that fried off, then tomatoes added, spices etc. This time I put the meat in a pan, covered it with water and separated the mince with my fingers so it did not cook into clumps, then added a can of plum tomatoes, chopped those up into the mince, added one beef stock cube and cooked the lot (lid on) over a slow simmer. Have to say - even without the onions - this worked like a charm, no need to keep running back to check every few minutes, and of course no oil was needed for cooking (healthier and cheaper). After a couple of hours, the liquid was reduced somewhat, so turned off the heat and went back to watching other people cooking.
Nearer suppertime I added the spices, plus a little bit of dark chocolate, heated up the chilli then turned it into a large frying pan to cook off the surplus liquid (the wider the pan the quicker the liquid is reduced). Surprisingly, there seemed to be no difference in flavour between the fried version (with onions) and the stewed version, but there was a marked difference in texture for the meat was much more tender. From now on this is the way I will be cooking chilli.

If anyone was watching 'Eating for the Enemy' (wouldn't a better title be 'Cooking for the Critics'?) they would see James Martin showing how to cook meringue. Not a normal meringue, but Italian meringue made by whisking boiling sugar syrup into the egg whites - and this is exactly how the meringue for my soft-scoop ice-cream recipe (mentioned earlier this week) is made.
The critics kept saying how difficult it is to make profiteroles, but then I find them so easy, far easier than making a good shortcrust pastry. Cannot see what is difficult about it. Perhaps I am lucky.

Then of course they really looked down their noses because one of the ingredients used was curry paste from a jar, and the spices were not put together in the studio kitchen. Just as well the amateur cook hadn't used one of those cheap cans of curry sauce. Why not cut corners when you can? It is great to urge everyone to get back to cooking, but please - let's make it as easy as possible, not give the impression that everything has to start from scratch.

On BBC2 at 7.00pm there was a new programme on growing our own produce, and this made wonderful viewing. Was amazed at how heavy the crop was from Jerusalem artichokes, and did not realise how tall they grew and hoped the flowers would last when cut, for there is nothing like vases (or even jam pots) of fresh flowers around the house. For anyone who missed it, it may be repeated during the week or can be picked up on IPlayer. The start of a series, so all you budding gardeners out there, please watch it - one of the most inspiring programmes seen recently.

When out yesterday (hairdressers - and to save money have now cut this down to once every two weeks instead of weekly), read through my favourite mag: The Week. They gave me a copy I had read previously, but there is always enough in there to give hours of reading. Zoomed in on the food page and was reading what the critics said about three different eating houses and the food served there. One thing caught my eye - a mention of an amuse bouche which I believe is a something like an edible appetiser. This was a chilled soup served in a small glass (think it is called a shot). It wasn't the soup that caught my eye, it was the chive straw served with it - to use to drink the soup instead of a spoon. If my chives are anything to go by, they would be no good, HOWEVER, do have some sprouting onions, and cutting the shoots from these and removing the tips, they would make perfect straws. So there is a different approach for us. Cannot wait to try this out myself.

Now to the positive thinking. However bad things get, if we can keep being optimistic about things, nothing is really as bad as it could be. Optimists will survive more happily than the pessimists - who, it has to be said, are rarely happy about anything, even when life is good.
When we first moved up to Yorkshire, it did seem that the Yorkshire people seemed rather dour (compared to us Midlanders who are happiness personified) . I would pop into the garden, cheerily say hallo to our neighbour and say what a nice day it was, and he would always and very grumpily come back with "Oh, it's bound to rain later", or "What's nice about it? Still have the bills to pay", etc, etc. Mine you he did come from a bit further north, so perhaps that made a difference.
A close friend of mine, soon after I had first met her many years ago, called to see me on one of those early days, around the time I was trying to survive on nearly nothing, and found me thrilled to bits because I had made a four course meal from about tuppenceworth of ingredients and the crumbs found down the back of the couch. She sat there and said, very sourly, "you won't find it fun when you have to keep doing it every day". She spoke from experience I know, but I wondered then why she couldn't have found it an agreeable challenge. Now, some thirty years later with barely a break, am still 'keeping doing it' - it has always remained fun and hope always will be.

Yesterday the estate agent phoned again to ask us to reduce our house even more, this time by £20,000. If we do that we still have to pay moving costs, agents and solicitors fees etc. They won't reduce their charges. We just cannot afford to keep lowering the price, if we did, people will still wait to see if we will lower it even more, and we are now just stuck between a rock and a hard place. Looks like we will be hear for another year or two before things improve.

That doesn't sound very positive at all, but every cloud... the way I see it is that it is yet another challenge to meet head on, and challenges I really love, so in some ways I couldn't be happier. It would be so easy to get depressed about what life is serving up on a plate at the moment, but whatever it is eat and enjoy what you've got I say. Things could be worse.
Who knows what will come next, but when it comes to food, at least we can still afford to mix and match our food purchases and - while the supermarkets are still chasing customers - there are enough bargains there to buy plenty within our means. We cooks are the lucky, LUCKY ones, for we always have a choice of ingredients and control over what we cook and what we serve. Non-cooks who rely on ready-meals and take-aways are just about forced by the manufacturers to eat what they give us. And watching a lot of recent programmes, who knows what that really is. Am pretty sure pet foods give better value for money.

Over the months (nearly 2 years now) this blog has offered over a couple of thousand recipes, and nearly all as economical as you can get. Plus plenty of hints and tips. When I scroll down to look up a recipe, there is tendency to want to find out what comes below, so continue scrolling further down and surprise myself sometimes. Modesty not being my strong point, there appears to be plenty of good reading further back. Possibly more interesting than recent postings (because am fast running out of suggestions). Even so, let's continue seekingto recipes that can be adjusted to suit both the pocket and the palate.

This first is a recipe for a savoury cheesecake. One of the ingredients is a liver pate, and this could be home-made chicken liver pate, or even one of those 'sausages' of liver and bacon spreading pate that cost around 40p! and considering the texture it is bound to be preformed something, but we quite like it spread on toast, so I don't read the label too closely. A chicken spread/pate could easily be made at home by processing some cooked chicken (picked from the carcase) with some butter, nutmeg etc. Or why not use smoked mackerel pate? Just because some may shudder at liver pate doesn't mean that another pate couldn't be used instead.
Because this is a savoury dish, any sort of broken cheese biscuits could be used for the base, even cream crackers or Ryvita. Instead of Cheddar, any hard cheese would do or a mixture. As always use the recipe as a guide.
Country Cheesecake: serves 6
5 oz (150g) bran biscuits or other, crushed
3 oz (75g) butter, melted
4 oz (100g) liver pate
4 tblsp mayonnaise
2 tsp tomato ketchup
1 shallot, grated
5 oz (15og) Cheddar cheese, grated
2 oz (50g) celery, chopped
2 oz (50g) red bell pepper, chopped
salt and pepper
Mix the butter and biscuit crumbs together and press into the base of a 7" loose-bottomed, clingfilm lined, flan tin. Chill. Mix together the mayonnaise, ketchup and shallot and put 4 tblsp of this mixture into a bowl and blend in the pate. Stir in the remaining ingredients, adding seasoning to taste. If the mixture is very still add a little more of the mayonnaise mix. Spread this mixture over the crumb base. Chill for 2 hours before serving. Garnish with sliced tomatoes, radishes, watercress, spring onions.

This next recipe is for an unusual pate in that it contains no meat or fish. Ideally, aspic (savoury jelly) is used, but a jelly made from gelatine crystals could be used (or agar agar if vegetarian). The cost of eggs may now put this in a higher price bracket, but eggs can still be bought for 10p each. The eggs from my milkman (free range large @ 15p each) delivered last week were all double-yolked. For cooking purposes these still have to be counted as one yolk, as they are always small. On the other hand, are perfect for serving to children, one yolk each.
Classic Egg Pate: serves 4
5 fl oz (150ml) made aspic jelly, cooled
6 eggs, hard-boiled
6 level tblsp mayonnaise
1 - 2 tsp mild curry paste
half tsp lemon juice
salt and pepper
stuffed olives
Finely chop the eggs, then mash them with a fork, together with 3 fl.oz aspic, the mayo and curry paste. Stir in the lemon juice, season to taste and divide the mixture between 4 ramekin dishes. Chill for half an hour. Slice a couple or so olives finely and arrange these on the top, then pour over remaing aspic to seal (the aspic may need reheating slightly if set). Chill and serve with melba toast.

A couple of recipes coming up that have honey as an ingredient. The roulade uses no fat, but the refrigerator cake more than makes up for that. Honey is not cheap, but it keeps forever and often is one of those foods that people bring as a gift. Anyone who grows parsley can make their own 'parsley honey' and this could be a good substitute for the real thing. I cannot reach my recipe index at the moment, but if I find the recipe will edit the date in shortly after this posting has been published. Otherwise will re-print it later this week.
Honey and Walnut Roulade: 8 - 10 slices
3 large eggs, separated
2 tsp water
3 oz (75g) caster sugar
3 tblsp runny honey
4 oz (100g) self-raising flour, sifted
3 oz (75g) walnuts, finely ground
10 fl.oz (300ml) double cream
1 oz (25g) walnut pieces, lightly crushed
walnut halves for garnish
Lightly beat the egg yolks with 2 tlsp of the honey. Whisk the egg whites with the water until very firm and white, then gradually whisk in the sugar a spoonful at a time. When very stiff, fold in the yolks and honey.
Mix the ground walnuts with the flour and fold this into the egg mixture, pour this over a lined, greased and floured Swill roll tin 9" x 11" (or thereabouts) and level off the top. Bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 12 minutes or until firm to the touch. Turn out onto a sugared piece of greaseproof paper, trim the edges of the roll and roll up together with the paper. Leave to cool.
Meanwhile, beat the cream until thick and fold in the walnut pieces and the final tablespoon of honey. When the cake is quite cold, unroll and remove the paper. Spread the cake with the cream mixture and re-roll.
Decorate with a sprinkle of caster or icing sugar and walnut halves.

Not necessarily cheap, but a good way to use up odds and ends of fruit, biscuits, booze. Instead of all butter, use half and substitute melted chocolate. Any crushed sweet biscuits will do, and almost any dried fruits instead of or with the candied peel/glace cherries.
Refrigerator Honey Cake: 8 - 10 slices
8 oz (225g) digestive or other sweet biscuits, crushed
6 oz (175g) butter
2 tbls runny honey
2 level tblsp cocoa powder
2 tblsp sherry OR...
...1 tlblsp chosen liqueur
4 oz (100g) chopped glace cherries
4 oz (100g) chopped candied peel
Cream the butter and gradually beat in the honey. Stir in the remaining ingredients and press into a greased and lined 1 lb (450g) loaf tin - or an 8" cake tin. Press down firmly and chill for several hours. Serve cut into slices.

Back to the savoury. This next is a party dish, so serves a goodly number of people. It is quite simple to reduce quantites to serve a family, and also the amount of the expensive ingredients (chicken, ham) can be cut down to keep costs low. Just add more of the cheaper ingredients. Fresh nectarines are part of this dish, but probably it would be cheaper to buy a can of apricots (drain off the juice, use this to make a jelly), and often canned sliced peaches can be picked up really cheaply as a 'loss leader'. Going back to the chicken/ham. Those of us who cook our own will already know that a goodly amount of cooked meat can be picked from a carcase, and so just take 'breasts' as a guide, not mandatory. When slicing our own ham (preferably using a slicing machine as you get a lot more that way) the end scraps can be used for a dish such as this.
Chicken Salad with Ham and Nectarines: serves 8 - 10
equivalent of 5 cooked chicken breasts
8 oz (225g) ham cut into strips
3 - 4 nectarines
1 bag mixed salad leaves
6 tblsp olive oil
2 tblsp fresh tarragon, chopped
3 tblsp white wine vinegar
2 tsp runny honey
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
salt and pepper
142 carton creme fraiche or sour cream
If using cooked chicken breasts, cut them into thin strips (the thinner the strips the more it looks), or shred up pieces of chicken taken from the carcase. Likewise, cut the ham into 'batons'. Remove stones from the fruit and cut these into strips.
To make the dressing: whisk together the oil, vinegar, honey, mustard and garlic and season to taste, stir in the tarragon. Then whisk in the creme fraiche, taste, adding more seasoning if necessary.
Mix together the chicken, ham and fruits and toss these in half the dressing. Spread the salad leaves over a large platter and pile the meats on top, drizzling over the remaining dressing when ready to serve.

Having given suggestions on how to cut down on the expense, above recipe is given more for contemplation than suggesting we all go out and spend, spend, spend. Many months ago costings were done to find out the difference in price between home-cooked sliced meats and bought (usually vacuum packed). My goodness, the savings were so large there would be enough to buy an electric slicing machine with money left over. So I bought the slicer and very glad I did (it also slices bread, and excellent for slicing frozen bread as thin as you wish). For anyone with room in the freezer, and who loves quality cooked meat, (that has no 'extra added water', or salt, or any other preservatives - in fact as pure as you can get) do the family a favour by roasting a joint now and again and carving it when cold, as thinly as possible (this is where the electric slicer does all the work, giving far more slices than we could manage to carve by hand). Ham joints can be roasted, but find them more succulent if covered with water and simmered for the recommended cooking time - then left to cool in the water to prevent drying out. Again cannot remember the dates of the above trials, probably late '06 or early '07.

Once we slice oir own roasts, there will always be the bonus of scraps and end bits that can be turned into meat pastes, or even added to the dish such as the above. Not only that we have the drippings from the joint - the fat skimmed off and used for cooking (roast potatoes in beef dripping or Beloved's favourite, beef dripping on toast sprinkled with salt - an evil chuckle from me when I think of what the nutritionists and health experts would make of that). Plus the other meat juices to turn into gravy, real gravy, none of the packet or stock cube stuff. Good gravy is also worth freezing away until needed. Just thinking about is making me sniff the air like a Bisto Kid, and can actually recall the smell of beef roasting (reminds me to trial out something today. If it works will tell you. If not, may still tell you).
My guest last week, who is 'a lady that lunches', was telling me about one of her weekly pub lunches she has with a friend who has completely lost her sense of taste and smell. Yet she tucks into hearty meals and says she enjoys them because she can remember what they taste like. Memory is a strange thing. You would think it would be a good way to diet (friend of friend is always wanting to lose weight), if we could just sit and look a picture of a favourite dish and remember what it tastes like without the need to eat. Would also save quite a lot of money. Must try that (says she stuffing her face with toast and Marmite that Beloved has brought in).

Meanwhile, time for me to finish for today, still have much work to do on my recipe index, cross referencing by typing the major ingredients in the box at the side of each recipe, many with odd names I have to keep going back to the blog site to refer to. Taking me ages, but if any of you want a recipe for a certain ingredient, then it is easy to pull out only the recipes that use it.

Keep the comments coming, and enjoy your day.