Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Sharing the Load

For once, yesterday was a productive time spent in the Goode Kitchen. The grocery delivery arrived late morning, a much smaller order than normal due to the problems ordering on the revamped supermarket site. Even so, more by luck than judgement, had managed to order foods that were on special offer, which led to 'promotional savings' of one fifth of (20%) taken off the total cost. So was well pleased. Double points too.

Many of you will frown at some of my purchases, but have got to the stage where quite often it seems too much hard work to make everything from scratch, and have at least managed to work out that however hard I try to make them myself, some things are still better when bought.
So a few 'convenience' mixes do end up in my virtual shopping trolley, and am not ashamed to say I use them. If a manufacturer can help share the load with me, then am always grateful, especially when the end result is better than I could have done left to my own devices.

The way I see it is that a meal should always start with using fresh produce, of the best quality that can be afforded. After that, any specific flavourings (curry etc) might be best left to those who offer more experience. It is not as though the meal would end up as 'junk food' if such products are used, and if a reader is happy to buy and eat HP sauce, or tomato ketchup, mayonnaise and make custard using powder, then he/she is not the one to throw the first stone at me. We are in the 21st century, and however much we are being urged to start 'home-cooking' again, this doesn't mean home-cook everything.

One of my purchases was a 225g (8oz) pack of chicken livers. No one should be frowning at that for these are not a convenience food - but a protein packed and exceptionally worthwhile buy as they cost only 37p. The livers on their own can be quickly fried in a little butter for only a very few minutes and then served scattered over a crisp green salad. Enough to feed two or three served this way - and think how inexpensive this would be. As a pate the livers should make enough to serve four to six. They are also good when chopped finely and added to minced meats to make a variety of dishes.

Was able to buy the smoked streaky bacon that Beloved likes so much, also plenty of different cheeses (all at special price - as wanted extra to grate some), and one of my dives into the convenience pool was to get some canned new potatoes to put on my larder shelves. Tend to use these when potatoes are expensive, or when I have inadvertently run out of the small ones, or we are snowed in and cannot go out. In any case, these are cheaper than the 'fresh' new/small potatoes, being only 25p for a 567g can. This is the total weight of the can, when drained the contents weigh less, but even when drained the fresh spuds would cost 25% more.

These canned potatoes eat well when diced and added to a frittata (or Spanish omelette), also when heated then fried in a little butter until browned slightly. Also make quite a good speedy potato salad. They can also be added to a casserole towards the end of the cooking time. Fresh are best, but canned potatoes certainly save both time, money and they don't sprout! Maybe convenient, but they save money and also time when time is short.

My main purchase was 3 x 1.5kg chickens on offer for £10. This is where you are all jumping up and down shouting 'hypocrite', and you would be right to do so. For despite me saying buy the best we can afford, have to admit to viewing this chicken purchase purely from the economy angle.
My excuse is that Beloved really loves to eat chicken, if possible at least twice a week. As he also loves to eat quality meat on other days (this I now buy on-line when on offer because it is excellent and am prepared to pay for this) decided the chicken offer was the only way I could afford to keep Beloved content.
Perhaps my morals seem to be a bit mixed, and when wearing my both my economic and nutritionists hats know that cheaper chickens - weight for weight - are no worse or no better than free-range (same goes for eggs - although am prepared to pay more for these) - this does mean that I can keep my man healthy and food-happy on a limited income. You could say this B's happiness is my main reason to be, despite how much I appear to moan about him most of the time.
We have had the debate (heatedly) in the past re the cheaper chicken v free-range. We each are free to choose what, how and why we buy. Other than my pointing out the economics, let's leave it like that.

After weighing each bird, decided these had turned out to be good value as one was an ounce short of 4lb, the other two slightly less. Much more than the 1.5kg they were each supposed to be. Jumping from metrics to imperials is not always a good idea, but either way it showed that I seemed to be getting more for my money.
Why buying whole chicken from a supermarket, even if all are sold as the same weight (say 1.5kg), check the cooking times - usually printed on the front of the wrapping - for these will have be different if the bird is heavier than stated. The longer the cooking time (even if by only a few minutes) the heavier the bird will be. These are the ones to buy.

Two chickens were put into the coldest part of our fridge to be dealt with today, the third I set about jointing up. As usual I trimmed the fillets from the breast and managed to scrape off several other chunky bits from the carcase - these pieces were saved for B's supper. The joints/breast frozen separately and the carcase also put into the fridge to add to the others - then turned into stock. At one time used to remove the skin from all the joints, but yesterday left the skin on one chicken quarter as this can be cooked as an individual chicken 'roast', where the crispy skin will please Beloved.
Chicken wings are frozen in pairs, as these often save the day when my supply of chicken stock has run dry for the wings alone make excellent stock without the need of a whole carcase, so a bagful (six at least) will be kept in the freezer are 'back-up'. The wings can also be cooked as buffet 'nibbles'.

As well as the above, the gammon joint was put into water and simmered until cooked, then left to cool in the stock. Today will be weighing it before slicing, and also be comparing this against the price (by weight) of pre-cooked sliced ham sold over the counter. Tomorrow will be able to tell the the amount that has been saved by 'cooking our own'.

Due to me jointing up the chicken yesterday afternooon, (never have managed to do this cleanly), decided to do a 'quickie' supper for Beloved. Firstly fried half an onion in a little oil, then added the two chicken fillets (cut into chunks) plus the other scraps. After a few moments frying, stirred in 1 tblsp Thai Red Curry paste, and cooked that for a minute, then poured in a quarter of a pint of coconut milk (made using dry coconut powder and hot water). After a good stir, left it to simmer while I packed and froze the chicken joints, then decided there wasn't enough meat in the curry to satisfy Beloved, so fetched some small prawns from the freezer, quickly defrosting them in cool water. Decided not to bother with cooking rice AS WELL (how lazy can I get?), so went and fetched a pack of 2 minute microwave Thai Sweet Chilli Rice from the larder, and popped that into the microwave to cook. Meanwhile threw the drained prawns into the curry, and finally stirred in the last of the double cream from a pot in the fridge (about 3 tblsp).

It is not like my Beloved to rave over something, but yesterday rave he did. "You can make this again" he said, "lots of times". He loved the rice, especially liked the creamy sauce, and when I suggested squeezing a little lime juice over (to my taste the sauce was a bit too creamy), he found this improved the dish even more. Other than a quick taste of the sauce (which is why I suggested the lime juice) myself did not taste the rice, but obviously it was good.
For such a quick meal (even using convenience foods) this turned out memorable enough for B to comment (which he rarely does with such great feeling), so I have no reason not to cook it in exactly the same way again, and again, and again... (memo, write Thai Sweet Chilli rice on my shopping list).

When serving chilli con carne (was it the previous day?) Beloved dolloped yogurt on the top of his portion to help reduce the 'heat' of the dish. Yesterday asked B if the yogurt was alright (having made it myself using a bio-Greek EasyYo sachet) he said it was really lovely, and he was surprised it was 'home-made'. Home-made only with the help of EasyYo, but even so - cannot really call that a convenience mix. Or should I? Either way, an easy way to get a litre of yogurt that will keep for at least 2 weeks in the fridge, and cheaper than buying it ready-made.
Next time I order from Lakeland will get one of those assorted packs containing fruit flavoured Bio-EasyYo (1 pack each Strawberry, Cherry, Lemon, Raspberry, and Mango), then might be able to wean Beloved away from the more expensive fruit flavoured yogurts he keeps bringing in for himself (and that I end up paying for).

Went over to BBC 4 to watch the second (and last) episode of Fat Man in a White Hat. An American Chef's tour of France. We watched a famous baker make his bread - and oh dear, the baker wore dirty clothes that he never seemed to change, blew his nose on a tiny hanky which barely covered his fingers, then immediately prodded his finger into the dough - funny how health rules and regs don't seem to apply to France. Nevertheless the bread he made was wonderful, served in top restaurants where people often asked for an extra roll to secretly pop into their pocket and take home to enjoy later.
Even the baker's bread did not conform to exact sizes or weights. French sticks came out a bit wonky, loaves were all sizes, and experiments were made using different flours. No-one quite knew what would be on sale each day, it was how the baker chose to make and shape the bread. It all tasted wonderful, and that was all that mattered.

In truth, all good food can be simply made and cooked. We do not need any refinements such as manufactured products to help us on our way. Perhaps we ourselves are becoming too refined in our choice of dishes we wish to eat.

Another good prog. last night was 'Grow your Own Drugs' and this series continues highlighting the way Mother Nature has provided us with herbage that can illeviate many of the health problems we may have. Interesting to learn that because peas give us 'gas', when we eat mint with it, this herb eases the problem. Traditionally mint and peas have always been served together, and this could possibly be the reason why. A programme worth watching, either 'live' or on IPlayer.