Thursday, July 30, 2009

Man about the House

News yesterday that organic produce is no better for us nutritionally than non-organic, and to some extent have always believed this. Plants make their own vitamins, and how they are grown makes little difference there, it is the minerals they take from the soil. Someone made the case that organics have more vitamins and minerals so need not work out more costly as we would then eat less of them. Personally, if I use a carrot per person in a dish being made, then would still use the same amount. Call it habit, or lack of common sense, but serving the weight of food as suggested (by this I mean the total weight, maybe more of some, less of another) seems to give the correct serving and have not noticed that recipes using organic foods suggest using less of them. Serving less food is not a bad thing considering how obese the nation is getting, but how many of us would think about reducing the amount of fruit and vegetables we eat when we are urged to eat even more.

My hairdresser was telling me that now her son has left home, her meals are smaller. Cereals for breakfast, maybe a sarnie for lunch, and a ready-meal for supper. She is trying to lose weight. Yet her food bills remain high. I asked if she eats more fruit and veg, and she said she does. It seems this is where the money is going. She also says she doesn't spend time in the supermarket searching out offers. She knows what she want to buy then just gets in and out of the store as quickly as possible, so we had a good chat about the 'challenges' that I set myself and how they do seem to work when it comes to cost-cutting. Also told her about the 4p cans of curry sauce (remember those?) and bargains that can be found when searched for.
What it all boils down to is to give a little bit more thought when we shop, and take time to look at everything the store has to offer. Write a list by all means, but don't stick to it if something else is at a lower price (meat is meat is meat, it doesn't HAVE to be a lamb chop).

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Taste of Things to Come

Am greatly in favour of blind tasting, and when involved with Consumer Groups used to arrange several of these - mainly biscuits, cheeses, etc. In every case (price-wise) it was always the middle of the range (and often even lower) that turned out to be the ones most chosen.

Hugh Fearnley-W found that chickens did not need to be free-range or organic to taste good. Likewise Rick Stein did similar tests on chickens and turkeys (at different times) and his own personal choice was not the one he expected it to be. He was quite mortified. Cooked carefully, a cheaper bird can often be as moist and taste just as good as a more expensive one. Certainly my feeling is that even if there is an improvement in taste with a more expensive bird, there is not enough to justify the extra expense. We should always expect to get what we pay for, and not be shortchanged especially when it comes to flavour and quality.

When it comes to growing our own fruit and vegetables we are truly on the winning side, for how little they cost and how fresh they will be. Not even at a Farmers' Market or in a delivered organic box will the produce be as fresh. Consider the cost of a box of raspberries, blackcurrants blueberries, and even blackberries when we buy them. Growing our own (and so easily) we can save ££££s.

There was a mention in one of the comments about buying cooked meats from a supermarket, and this has given me the chance to urge everyone to cook their own, slice and freeze it ready to eat as and when wished. It was in the early days of this blog when I wrote about the advantages of doing this. Compared the cost of the meats (chicken, turkey, ham, beef...) when cooked and sliced to the prices charged for the same (weights) in the supermarkets. The amount of money saved was incredible, and the meat was much more flavoursome than the pre-packed bought from the shops.
Have to say I do buy the (smoked) gammon from the supermarket and not the butcher, just because it is cheaper and even so - still tastes good. A vacuum packed round gammon roughly costing £5 gives many slices. Takes just over an hour to cook and the secret is leaving it in the cooking liquid to cool before removing as this keeps it far moister. Sometimes I cook it with carrots, onions and celery to give added flavour, sometimes in cider. Believe Nigella swears by cooking it in Cola.

All meat to be sliced on a machine has to have all bones removed, so I tend to buy boneless cuts (such as topside or silverside of beef) and with chicken first roast the chicken, leave it to cool then chill it in the fridge before slicing by hand. Turkey breasts treated the same way, but as they are much larger can be removed whole from the bird, clapped together and then sliced on the machine.
Our electric slicing machine (bought from Lakeland) paid for itself after using it twice, as it can be adjusted to cut thinner slices than if the meats are carved by hand (although you may be able to carve thinly, I can't).

Even though (ignoring visitors) there are only two of us to feed, once every two to three months I buy either a beef joint, large chicken, or a ham to cook, and then slice when cold. Packed properly and frozen the slices will keep for at least six months, so we always have enough for sarnies, cold meat platters, or thicker slices reheated in gravy to make a main meal.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Fast Food

The suggestion of serving 3 courses instead of two works well when it comes to feeding a hungry family economically, but it can take a little more time than preparing just 2 courses. To time-save, make soups in bulk and freeze away the surplus for other days. Some pudding can also be made in large amounts and frozen away - my Ticket Office Pudding (aka Sticky Toffee pud) is one that - because of its richness of flavour - needs only small portions served (one 9" square will serve at least 6), and freezes extremely well. Crumbles can also be made, cooked and frozen.

Short cuts, such as making a bulk amount of crumble mix and storing it in the fridge or freezer means that a fruit crumble can be assembled quite rapidly and baked in the oven along with something else. Slow-cookers are ideal for working mums as they will cook a main course all day without it coming to harm and tenderise the cheapest cuts of meat to 'melt in the mouth' stage.

Extend meat by serving it with more vegetables, be it mince in a Shepherd's pie, or chunky meat and poultry in a casserole or curry. Many spicy dishes improve in flavour by standing overnight in the fridge after cooking, so the next day's meal can be cooked in advance if time is at a premium, and although we don't usually care to eat the same dish two days running, we can eat a casserole one day, and use any surplus cooked under pastry as a 'meat pie' one or two days later.

'Filling' foods help to fill hungry tums, and the best foods to do this is something like a bowl of porridge or a jacket potato. But not just the potato flesh, eat the skin as well as this is the bit that fills us up the most. Thick slices of bread can also be filling, ideally home-made and brown (even better, granary), and when toasted with a topping can make an ideal snack, or light lunch/supper. Go one step further and make French Onion soup, topped with slices of 'cheese on toast'. Now that IS a filling starter.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

New Routines

Nearly forgot to come and have my chat. Strange how a routine, almost set in stone, can alter so quickly. My (recent) past life seems to have no bearing on the present one. But after a cup of coffee and watching some baby seagulls in a nest between the chimneys in the house opposite, have come down to earth and come in here to write to you.

Thanks for the comments. Kathryn, apparently ducks lay eggs fairly regularly, and of course they are larger than hens eggs. In my youth we were told never to eat duck eggs, possibly for the same reason that we were once told hens eggs were suspect, but if cooked the duck eggs will be fine.
As to the differences between food processors and liquidisers/blenders. Generally the liquidisers will blitz up contents a lot more finely than the processors, making them more suitable for liquids such as soups and smoothies, and the food processors have attachments for grating and shredding. I do use a liquidiser to break down granulated sugar into caster sugar, and the caster sugar (in small amounts) down into icing sugar. This machine also makes a good batter for pancakes and Yorkshire puddings. and I have also blended the cream from Channel Island milk to make butter - leaving the buttermilk to use for scones and breads. The very name (either liquidiser or blender) gives an idea of the best use for it - mainly dealing with liquids.
Used 'dry' it will also chop nuts and grind up dry bread to make crumbs, although over-blitzing will turn them into powder, so according to needs possibly better done in a food processor. Some liquidisers come with a smaller grinder and this is good to grind up coffee beans, alternatively use this to grind up spices.

As you discovered, adding all the ingredients for cookies or cakes to the processor in one go can work, especially when using the 'all in one' cake recipes. Myself (again using only dry ingredients) use a food processor to make bulk amounts of pastry mix, scone mix and crumble.

You mention courgettes, and do know there are many recipes using this vegetable on this site, and suggest you look back over the past years in the July/August recipe listings to find a dish using them, and they will be in season now.

The trick with moving house Moira is to get the packing done well in advance and label each box, firstly which room it is to be placed on arrival, and also what is in each box. Having a few days break before you move will make it far less stressful for you. Then all a matter of unpacking once moved.

To look up muffin recipes on this site Silversewer go over to Archives and click on 25th May ('09) where there will be the 'cake collection' which also covers muffins.

Am pleased to report the last of our "kitchen" boxes has now been unpacked and my larder is full. A chair has been included and yesterday B saw me sitting in there and said "we will have to call the larder a SCZ (Shirley Comfort Zone)". It is so nice in there surrounded by all the food. The other day got B and my daughter to go in the larder while I sat in the kitchen and they called"where are the sardines"? "where is the gravy browning? and so on and so forth. I knew exactly where everything was (and still is).
Need lots of hooks to put under the shelves to hang utensils, as unlike our previous home, there is nowhere to hang things in the kitchen unless we cover a wall with hooks - and the only useful wall is too far away from the hob.

As you say, Moira laptops are not the easiest things to cope with. The keyboard is normally smaller than the ones with a larger comp. and hardly need touching. I tend to bash the keyboard as though it is a typewriter, having used a real typewriter since I was 17 and my firstborn gets so annoyed with me as my fingers continually rub the letters from the keys. Able to touchtype, this is not a problem for me. So many people do use laptops that I suppose it is just a matter of getting used to them.

AmythestDragon is a name new to me, so welcome. Agree the butcher in Bare is excellent (we live in Bare, barely a hundred yards away from the shopping parade), and the other day cooked a piece of silverside, then after it was chilled sliced it using my electric slicer and was able to get 50 slices from it. Some we had for supper (part of a cold meat platter) and have to say it had more flavour than topside and was extremely tender. The surplus was packed in either five or ten slices at a time and frozen away for later use.
The remains of the roast chicken were added to the platter and it also had a wonderful flavour (like the meat, bought from the butcher in Bare). As I had already made stock from the carcase and trimmings when I portioned out the raw chicken (frozen away for later use) was intending to discard the cooked carcase, but decided to bag it up, freeze it and make stock with it at a later date.
Thanks for letting me know about the Farmers' Market on the 4th Thursday of each month, am hoping to visit the next one.

The gas maintenance man came yesterday and showed B how the Combi boiler worked. Not sure that was a good idea for during the evening all the radiators started heating up and even though B turned down the thermostat knobs he forgot the one in the kitchen. This morning I took a look and 'sort of' managed to find the problem. B had set the radiator clock to come on morning and evening, but hadn't let the boiler know he didn't want heat during the summer. For some reason he thought it worked that out all by itself. We managed to stop the combi heating the radiators, but hope we haven't stopped it heating the water for the sink/shower. We will have to wait and see.

In one hours time I will have been living in this house for just two weeks. Surprisingly most things are placed where they should be, and we setting ourselves a new-ish routine. Sometimes it feels as though we have been here for years. Our upstairs 'neighbours' return from a holiday in the Baltic this coming Saturday, so we have to wait and see if there is any annoying noise. They say they have soundproofed many of the floors with the exception of their living room which has wooden floors and no carpet. But hopefully rugs. We can cope with a little extra noise having lived next door to a family that had three boisterous small children. The rooms above do not match ours. Their kitchen is over our dining room etc. etc.

Keeping our carpets clean was a concern. The complete ground floor apartment where we live is carpeted (even the kitchen) in much the same colours: pale fawn/cream/off white. Luckily we found huge pieces of carpet offcuts left in the house, so we have made runners and mats to put in front of chairs and over the carpet near the back and front door entrances and along the main walk-ways. Being the same type of carpet in each room they are not really noticeable. We also have some patterned rugs that have a background of a similar pale cream, so all in all are lucky in that respect. Still plenty of spare carpet left, so as one strip gets dirty (probably in the winter), we can replace it. Generally we leave and enter by the back door, so can wipe our feet on the carpet squares we have laid for the purpose. It goes without saying, we remove our outdoor shoes the minute we come indoors.

After a wet night, the clouds are moving away and am hoping to get the washing on the line and dry before the next shower arrives. The good strong breeze should speed up the drying. Not sure what we will be doing today. Feel that a drive and exploration might be on the cards for this afternoon.
Beloved is planning to put his collection of plates on the Delft rail in the dining room - hopefully this morning, and that will be one more job done. In a couple or so weeks we may be ready to have our 'house-warming' party, although personally am not in a hurry for that as my mind still has to bring itself back into cooking mode. Between you and me, microwave meals, take-aways (delivered to the door), plus a stack of Wiltshire Farm foods in the freezer, and 'eating out' several times a week could be a way of life I might find most enjoyable. No doubt I will soon get back to 'real cooking', but the sun and the sea keep enticing me out and am finding the garden, garden centres and the prom far more interesting than the kitchen at the moment. Instead of washing up at the kitchen sink, I prefer to sit in the sun and skim the pondweed from the pool.

My main attempt at cost-cutting is the amount of water that we might be wasting while we wait for the hot water to reach the tap. It takes almost a bucketful before it gets warm, so have a number of jugs put at the side of the sink, filling them up with the initial cold water and this can be used to top up the electric kettle, used for cooking vegetables, or for watering the indoor plants. Having a water meter makes me not wish to waste a drop. We also have a water butt outside the back door (with a cover over and flowering plants on top it looks quite attractive), and doubt we will ever need water for the garden shrubs. There will be enough rain in this region to take care of that I am sure. It will be interesting when the quarterly bills come in to see how much they differ from our previous property. At the moment amounts have been estimated to allow for Direct Debits to be paid monthly, but so far we have been asked to pay more for the water (but this should change for the better after the next reading), and our dual fuel (previously with Staywarm and now with British Gas) has been estimated to be half what we used to pay. Our house and contents insurance is less, and the council tax slightly less, so financially our running costs will be lower.

Must go and hang out the washing as I see the sun has just about reached the washing line, and with very high, almost mackerel, clouds should not have a problem with rain for a few hours. They say Morecambe has a micro-climate and it can pour with rain over the hills and still stay fair here, and so far this seems to be true. We did have a flash of lightening and a roll of thunder yesterday (or was it the day before?) but that was the only bit of the storm we had, although lying in bed last night kept thinking I could see lightening, but at first light realised it was just the little green light that kept blinking now and again on the carbon monoxide detector we had just bought. The combi boiler being in the bedroom, this also has to house the c.m.detector. With two telephone extensions in the bedroom, plus the boiler, detectorand the cold water stopcock, you can see this property is quite unusual. Who knows what we will discover tomorrow. Log on and find out. See you then.