Sunday, September 20, 2009

Take An Eggcup...

When it comes to saving money by way of home-cooking, in some ways youth has its advantages - such as endless energy - so cooking from scratch is a manageable chore. The older we are the more difficult things can be. Remember myself starting to teach myself how to cook and I was around 40 even then, but seemed to cook for four teenagers; dug, planted and harvested veggies and fruit from the garden; any spare hours my right arm was whizzing back and forth on a knitting machine, and hours spent at the sewing machine, making knitwear for all and shirts, skirts and dresses for the girls. Even seemed to find time to make sundry things to sell in craftshops. Now I find it difficult to feel inspired to make anything at all.
This does not mean I cannot still sit at a table and use the sewing machine. Also can sit at a table and paint pictures. Could sit in the garden at a table and pot up seedlings (or even do this indoors) and like I do now, sit at a table and prepare the food for baking and meals. I could even sit and read books.
Trouble is, much of the time is spent sitting and watching TV, so must make a start and use my spare time (and what a lot of that I have these days) more efficiently. Starting today.

Lord Kitchener's famous poster of the man pointing a finger at us with the words "Your Country Needs You" was meant to encourage men to sign up and fight, but it would work equally well today, and here I am thinking about women 'signing up to home-cook'.

Eggcupfuls of a wide variety of produce really are enough to make a meal such as a 'full-on' omelette, or cooked and added to rice when making a risotto. Alternatively use to make a soup, stir-fry, or even a vegetarian pie.

Another different way to make a light meal is not to use a tortilla to fold around the filling (they call these 'wraps'), but to use an outer, crisp iceberg lettuce leaf. Some leaves are almost the size of a tortilla, and - if the leaves are small - then use two leaves. Makes for a healthy snack or packed lunch, and the fillings can be varied.
One suggestion would be to lay slices of cooked chicken on a lettuce leaf, top with a slice of ham, maybe some other filling on top (sandwich spread type), and then roll the lot up like a Swiss Roll. Depending upon the filling, after wrapping and chilling, this will slice up to make attractive looking discs suitable for serving as canapes.

When slicing two tomatoes for my mid-day sarnie, tried slicing them in different directions. With one I placed the round tomato on its side and managed to get five slices from it. The second tomato (exactly the same size as the first) was placed with the stem end facing down, and - as has happened before - was able be to cut giving two extra slices. Possibly this is because the stem end is flatter, so makes the tomato easier to handle.
As the first and last slices always tend to be skin on one side and rounded with it, these often slide out of a sarnie. Well mine do. So tend to save these, put them in the fridge for a couple of days, adding other 'ends' (I eat tomatoes every day) and then chop these finely and add to bolognaise or other tomato based sauce or soup. Very finely chopped end-of-tomato, added to little finely chopped gherkin, and bound with some mayonnaise (better still salad cream) will make a good 'sandwich spread'. Other chopped veggies and herbs could also be included.

When wishing to make my own version of a favourite manufactured product, I always read the ingredients printed on the label - the one that comes first has the highest percentage, and the others follow in deceasing order - then chances are my version is not a million miles away from the original. Never quite the same, although have to admit (modestly) very occasionally better.

It was once said that a famous brand of Tomato Soup included peaches to help with the flavour. As not having bought it in years, do not know if this is shown on the label, and maybe this was just a myth, but anyone who makes their own tomato soup could try blending in a little fresh or canned peach to find out if it improves the taste or not.

Also WILL be purchasing 3 of those £2 chickens. Just think of the savings: for a cost of £6 this will give me 6 chicken thighs, 6 chicken drumsticks, 6 chicken breasts, 6 chicken fillets cut from the breasts, 6 chicken wings and three carcases to make stock that will probably give me about 12 oz - 1 lb cooked chicken flesh when picked from the bones.
There will be at least 2 pints (after reduction) of rich chicken stock, and a small pot of chicken fat (scooped from the top of the set stock - and I include chicken skin when making the stock to get more fat) that can be used for frying. As with lard, chicken fat will reach a higher temperature than most fats, so very useful when frying as the food then will be sealed almost instantly and not absorb as much fat as when at a lower temperature.

Ideally, when it comes to the working cost of above chickens, we need to ask ourselves how many meals can we make out of them. Normally 100g of protein (that is the weight of meat without bone) is more than enough per serving, but we can get away with less - especially if we take in protein in other forms during the day (eggs, milk, pulses etc) - so when it comes to casseroles, curries, or pies, chicken drumsticks and thighs will go a long way. In the same way, one chicken breast can be split in half and beaten thinly to make two escalopes (one per person), these cook rapidly so easy on the fuel. Or the 'escalopes' could be folded over a stuffing, then egg and crumbed to make Chicken Kievs. And because Kievs are 'plumped up breasts' visually they look more enticing. Ask any man.

The wings can be marinaded and baked to give a glazed coating (great eaten with salads etc). So with the flesh taken from the carcase (good for pies), we are looking at more than 24 servings from the 3 birds (this works out at 40p a head) and we can feed a lot more when we use the stock as a base for soup. The more meals we can make from the bird/s, the cheaper each portion of chicken per serving will cost.

Have always found that the meat sold from a good butcher is far and away more flavoursome than any sold in a supermarket, so worth paying top dollar for the extra quality, but to make it work for the money it has to be extended as far as possible. The more flavour the meat has the less we need to use when making casseroles, so prefer always to buy the cheaper cuts of quality stewing meat.

The one exception is chicken. A free range may have slightly more flavour (but even this is open to debate), and it is because of this - and purely for economy, knowing there the meal would not be less because of it - usually buy the cheapest (and heaviest).
The thing about chicken is that it has little flavour at all, and we can improve a dish no end by including flavour in other ways. Maybe serving the meat with stuffing balls, or spoons of cranberry jelly. We can stuff herbs, mushrooms and/or garlic between the skin and flesh of the bird before cooking, and likewise fill the body cavity with lemon shells and more herbs. We can even brush honey over the surface of the skin before roasting, or sprinkle it with a Cajun or similar spice. There is no need for a chicken to lack flavour, and it works out far cheaper and we end up with more flavour if we are the ones that add it.

In the same way, can never really notice the difference between the flavour of free-range eggs and battery laid ones. Unless perhaps when eating them plain boiled. With me it is the colour of the yolks that has more importance. The free range always seeming paler and therefore not that attractive. The colour of the yolks are important when it comes to making things like hard-boiled eggs, certainly lemon pie and lemon curd, the yellower the yolks the better.