Friday, September 17, 2010

Changing Our Ways...

When clearing out our house in Leeds, I came across several 'housekeeping' account books that I had noted in our expenditure over several years. This 'accounting' seemed to have been done only when money was short, perhaps because I needed to see where every penny went.
On one side was 'income', the other expenditure, and initially this just took care of my 'housekeeping' that my Beloved gave me each month. He never did get his head around the fact that it also had to cover, presents, clothes, children's pocket money, and everything else a mothers spends on her family. Food of course took most of the money, so it was here that cuts had to be made when something else needed to be bought.

Most of us these days probably don't keep household accounts any more - other than the 'running costs' of where we live (fuel bills, insurance etc). We rely on supermarket checkout slips to show where our food money goes (and how many of us bother to check these?).
Having food delivered does mean these come with a statement listing every item, weight and price, so these can be filed away and checked once a year to find out what has increased in price, and what has not. But it has to be said I don't often check - but think it is now time I took out my file, and found out just how much more is paid for the same things bought a year (and possibly even two years) ago.

Once we write down how much we spend on food - and this needed be every item, just the total spent on meat, fish, dairy, fruit/veg, groceries etc, then we can begin to control our spending. Allow only so much of our budge on each, then aim to spend a little less. Do we really need to spend (say) £25 a week on meat (and here am including bacon, sausages, poultry, fish... and when being really picky might even include corned beef, tuna, sardines...)?
All too often we decide we want to make a meal of chops on Tuesday, steak and chips on Saturday, maybe even a roast at the weekend (if that is the case better make it £30 budget for meat and the rest). We never think of looking for a cheaper alternative. Yet we could eat meat every day if we wished, as long as we change to cooking cheaper cuts (applies also to poultry and fish - don't forget canned tuna, pilchards...).
So - armed with our 'meat allowance', just go out and shop around for the best buys, ALWAYS aiming to come home with money left over. You will be surprised how much more you can buy and still end up spending less. So by buying enough (and only enough) for your needs that week, obviously you spend not just less, but a LOT less.
The same applies with the other categories. If we go into the supermarket, greengrocers or farmers market with only a £5 note, then see just how many more vegetables (and some fruits) we can buy than we expect.
Taking cash is probably the best way to limit our spending - paying with plastic means trolleys loaded with more food than we can really afford, and certainly more than we really need.

If we can stop being concerned about price rises, and think positively, tightening our belts can be a very good thing as if forces us to do more for ourselves instead of paying for someone else to do it. Perhaps due to my age - 'paying for someone to do something' has always been pure luxury. The sort of thing the wealthy can afford to do while they laze around on their yachts, or dine in their mansions. How many of us fit into that category? Yet we still feel we should eat and live like kings. Doesn't' really make sense.

Needing to cut costs down to bare minimum did help me learn many things. Reviving old crafts made presents to give, my old sewing machine made a lot of clothes, hand-knitting the 'woollies', kept the family warm. I got exceedingly good at finding places where fabric was sold cheaply (sometimes remnants given away), and wool was not that expensive. Even food was cheap enough in those days. Do I remember potatoes at 1p per lb, milk (or was it beer?) at 11p a pint, and bread at under a shilling a large loaf? Even a catering size (and that's LARGE) can of corned beef was only 15/- (75p in new money). All so long ago now. Bread at £1.50 (or more) a loaf seems to be the norm these days. Where will it end?

Now it seems everything is expensive, although there are those that say wages have risen to match, but this I doubt. Some people are still struggling. After a couple of generations being used to living beyond our means, having to tighten belts can seem dreadful. But the older readers who can remember lean time, know how easy and can be - and with the right attitude, downright fun. Yes, really!
Being able to spend money never will bring true happiness - it just fills a void for a time. Being at almost poverty level and rising above it due to our own efforts - then that brings a real sense of achievement that is more pleasurable than anything. Or so I care to think.

There is no single way to cut food costs for every family is different. Some seem to feel that £200 a week to feed a family of four is normal, others struggle to feed the same number on £50 a week - or even less. I say 'struggle', often it is not that difficult. Again, it is the cook that controls what is bought and what is made from it. A cheapo suet Roly Poly can make far more pleasurable eating than a Michelin starred mini dessert (that probably costs 50 times the cost of the Roly and about 50 times smaller - or am I biased?).

On the Internet there are sites that show us how to prevent food wastage, others that show us what to do with left-overs. Not sure if there is a site that tells us how to turn left-over left-overs into something that might also end up with a little left-over. Must give that some thought. But then a clever cook should never even get to the stage of having left-overs in the first place unless they are what I call 'deliberate' ones. By this I mean saving fuel by cooking extra to be used over the next couple or so days. "Planned leftovers" if you like.

It would be interesting to hear how readers tackle the problem of rising food prices. Do they still spend the same but end up with less food? Or spend less and (cleverly) end up with more? Without resorting to the really low quality foods (heaven forbid!) we can save quite a few pennies by changing to a cheaper brand - these often tasting just as good as the more expensive.

Many, many years ago discovered cheaper cans of sardines were just as flavoursome as those twice the price - and even then wait for them to be 'on offer' then stock up a dozen cans or so (their shelf life is AT LEAST 5 years). Cheaper corned beef has often proved to be less fatty as some of the dearer ones. Small cans being much dearer (by weight) than the larger. As corned beef freezes well, a good(e) idea is to first chill the can (easier to slice) then slice and freeze half to use at a later date.

But this is just the tip of the ice-berg. Almost every product we buy we can find the same brand cheaper in another store. Or we can find the same thing under a different brand name. Just start by buying the next cheapest brand to the one you normally buy, then if you can stomach that, move to an even cheaper one. Miracles can happen. Myself occasionally start from the bottom up - sampling the cheapest first and find that perfectly satisfactory, and - dare I say it - often nicer than the more expensive brands. You might also strike lucky and then need go no further.

It is suggested we 'shop around' before buying, and get foods sold at the cheapest price at one supermarket, then move to another store to get other foods they sell at a lower price than the first store, and continue doing this until everything on our shopping list has been bought for the lowest possible price (comparatively). There is an Internet site where we cah check prices in all stores, and even if we stay with one store, it can show us the cheapest store to shop in (but not everything will be as cheap as it could be bought elsewhere). Sounds sensible to shop around when (as proved) we can save AT LEAST £5 doing this - but all that time (and possibly fuel) wasted getting from A to B, as well as the hassle of finding the products, then the ever lasting queues at the checkouts.... Is it all this worth it? I'm not so sure. In fact not sure at all, for my opinion (for what it's worth - and probably not a lot if truth be told) is the time spent shopping could be better used if we stopped the eternal hunt for the cheapest, and set about making more things from scratch ourselves. Yes, it can mean we use more fuel, but not that much if we plan to cook several things at the same time. We may even be paying a few pence more for some ingredients, but will save far more money cooking in our kitchens, than by seeking out every bargain.

As food prices rise, we will all gain by hearing others views, so am asking readers whether they prefer to shop around, or do more home-cooking? Maybe some stalwarts do both - and if so, do they find this more stressful? It is always good to hear your views, ALL your views, and not just the few that bother to write it, because it is YOUR thoughts that are just as important to anyone elses, and anydifferent approach you might be making to overcome this continual problem of price rises, we are aching to hear about. Don't let us down..

Don't know if you are like me, but other than having to worry about rising fuel prices, once the cooler weather arrives, it is bliss to be able to serve economical dishes, using the cheapest cuts of meat, and the fairly inexpensive root vegetables. Not to mention the very inexpensive steamed puds. And all so much more tasty than those meals that cost a lot more (like B's rump steaks he liked to eat with his salads during the summer).
It would be interesting to find out if readers are cooking more offal these days, and if so - have they moved beyond the liver, kidneys, tongue, to the brains, heart and sweetbreads? Or even tripe? Does anyone eat tripe these days? In Leeds there used to be tripe stall in the market where different types of tripe were sold.
(Incidentally, our Labrador used to spend a week, sometimes two, at a kennels when we were on holiday. On her return home she was bright-eyed and bushy tailed with a gleaming coat. When asked what the dogs were fed on was told 'tripe'. So dog 0wners - stop buying expensive dog food - give them tripe instead. Some breeds may be more picky than others, Labradors will eat just about anything).

We should never forget the pleasure that the smell of food cooking can give us. The aroma of bacon frying for breakfast, or onions for the stew, or the roast beef in the oven. Home-made cakes and biscuits. Do remember once one young man who at that time was our milk-man, once walked past the open kitchen window and said "the smell coming from your kitchen is tantalising". So I gave him a freshly baked cake.
Those that prefer to reheat ready meals in microwave ovens miss these pleasures.

But back to the Goode life... Yesterday my visit to the clinic went well, my support stockings ordered had still not arrived, but the nurse did have a similar size in her drawer, so she gave me a couple as my right leg has now completely healed. These are the same colour (fawn) as a proper stocking, not dissimilar to the knee-high stocking I normally would be wearing (although normally prefer to wear black but could wear those over I suppose), but much more controlling, and very comfortable so am well pleased. My left leg is very close to being fully healed (this a miracle in itself for it has been nearly a year since a patch of skin rubbed off with no sign of ever returning - until constriction bandages were recently wrapped round each leg).

We went out for a meal yesterday evening at a neighbour's house - this in itself was delightful, for this is a rare occasion for me to have a meal that I don't have to cook myself (other than in restaurants which means money has to be spent - and this I hate knowing how much cheaper I could have made the meal myself). Despite having a tuna and mayo sarnie with salad and a good helping of chips at Hest Bank yesterday lunchtime (to celebrate my support stocking- well that's my excuse), when I got home then made myself a couple of slices of toast and a big mug of soup. Then got myself a tomato sarnie at tea-time, then we 'dined out', eating a three course meal followed by cheese and biccis starting at 7.30pm. Yet this morning I now weigh 3lbs less than yesterday. Must be all the talking that burned off the calories. Perhaps should get out and meet more people to chat to.

Thanks Sairy for letting us know about Hartley's MaMade cutting down on the varieties they sell. This would probably leave only the thin-cut orange on the shelves. Must get B to check in any supermarket he goes to whether the lemon is still on sale, and then get me a few cans.

Interesting to hear that you mill wheat LizBeth. Do you grow your own? We can buy domestic mills to do this here to make our own flour from presumably bought wheat, but doubt many people bother, although with the price of flour going up in leaps and bounds, might be worth setting a bit of the garden/allotment aside to grow wheat. We could make straw dollies from the straw left over after 'threshing', or even weave into baskets (like raffia work). So often we forget that something we grow has other uses as well as eating.
The barley we buy at the supermarket has been de-husked and cleaned. Fine in its own way, but worth us here in this country to seek out 'pot barley' - perhaps more often found at a health food store that sells food as well a as dietary supplements. Pot barleystill has the husks and therefore much more nutritious - also tastier. Any reader know where pot barley might be sold? Like in a supermarket?

As to other uses for crab apples Lesley than just for making apple jelly, being that they are much sharper in taste than a cooking apple, the apple jelly itself can be a base for making herb jellies (rosemary jelly, mint jelly, sage jelly serve with different meats). Being very high in pectin, possibly - after cooking - some of the strained juice could be use with fruits that are low in pectin, making for a firmer 'jam' set. As the same weight of sugar is used to (sweet) fruit, probably this will offset the sharpness of the crab apple juice.
More suggestions to use crab apples might be found on the Internet, or possibly readers can come up with ideas.

Soon will be giving more suggestions/photos of home-made Christmas decorations Jane, so hope you will find these worth making as well as the golden eggs.

Donna I have left until last as she has requested a recipe for a coconut tart that she ate recently but forgot the name. Impossible for me to know exactly what it was, but am giving two recipes using desiccated coconut one for a tart, and perhaps with jam spread over the pastry before adding the filling would make it more 'Bakewell'.
The second is a pudding that separates into layers during the cooking process, and extremely easy to make, so worth including.

This first 'tart' is one published on this site (28th June 'o8). If you don't have cardamom seeds, then leave them out. The amount of pastry used in the original recipe seems a lot (1lb/450g), so using less and rolling it out thinner would make a saving.
Coconut Macaroon Tart:
1 lb (450g) shortcrust pastry (see above)
1 tsp ground cardamom seeds
half tsp ground cinnamon
6 oz (175g) desiccated coconut
8 oz (225g) caster sugar
5 fl oz (150ml) water
1 oz (25g) butter
1 egg, beaten
First blind bake a 9" (23cm) flan tin lined with pastry. Remove baking beans an give the flan a further couple of minutes in the oven to dry the base, then set aside.
Put the spices, coconut, sugar, water and butter into a pan and heat gently until the butter/sugar has dissolved, then simmer - sirring continuously - for five minutes. Remove from heat and leave to get cold.
When ready to assemble, heat the oven to 180C, 350F, gas 4. Fold the beaten egg into the coconut mixture, and when well combined, spoon into the pastry case and bake for 25 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Eat warm with cream, yogurt, ice-cream or creme fraiche.

Thisis a pudding that divides itself into layers. Although it is more easily made using a food processor, the ingredients could be whisked together using an electric hand whisk (or even a rotary one). To keep the layers separate, this pudding should be served and eaten as soon as baked.
Annoyingly (for me) this recipe is American s0 the measurements are given in 'cups'. Not too much of a problem if we remember that 1 cup = 8 fl.oz. and this is not much different to an ordinary mug we drink our coffee from. Where possible I have also given imperial/metric equivalents.
Triple Layer Coconut Pie:
quarter cup (2 oz/50ml) soft margarine
1 cup caster sugar
half cup plain flour
pinch of salt
half tsp baking powder
2 cups (16 fl oz/450ml) milk
1 cup desiccated coconut
4 eggs, lightly beaten
Put all the ingredients into a food processor and whizz until just mixed, then pour into a pie dish and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 (timing not given, so suggest ready when firm on top). Serve immediately.