Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Cost of Convenience

Starting today with a photo of the tomatoes and raspberries picked yesterday. You will be getting fed of up seeing the continuing harvest of these two - but am hoping it will prove that just the one tomato plant and the six raspberry canes planted this year have more than paid their way, and hopefully encouraged those that have not begun 'growing their own' to make a start (for a good crop next year some fruit bushes are best planted in autumn).

In the forefront of the picture is an ice-cube tray that was filled with tomato puree after a jar had been opened, this then frozen to use later. Each 'cube' takes about two rounded teaspoons of puree, and as the larger tins and jars of tomato puree usually work out much cheaper (by weight) than the smaller ones, this is a good way to store the surplus as onnce opened the puree doesn't have a very long shelf life even when chilled in the fridge. Freezing the puree means no waste. The cubes do thaw out rapidly when in contact with hot food or liquid.

Once frozen, the tomato puree 'cubes' can be popped out and kept in a bag or freezer box, to use as required, or you could leave the cubes in the tray and just keep the tray in a freezer bag, popping out a cube or two as needed. Myself prefer to store them in a box as I need the tray for other thing like chicken stock, reducing it down then freezing it in the tray to make my own 'stock cubes'.

The problem with me is that I tend to see the wider picture when it comes to initial expense. Buying a record player in the old days meant more money had to be spent buying records to play (this we could ill afford), and suppose the same thing is happening now with DVDs. When computers arrived on the scene, it wasn't long after before computer games followed, and we all know how expensive these can be today. And very necessary to keep buying them if we listen to our children's demands.

No doubt the advent of the basic microwave was intended to save fuel when we cooked, but a lot of things cook better in a conventional oven, and so many now spend more money buying ready-meals to reheat in the microwave (or like myself packs of 2 minute microwave rice to heat up - as this is about as far as my Beloved can tackle when cooking rice for his supper).
True, the microwave can make superb lemon curd, cooked jacket potatoes rapidly, melts jelly and chocolate, and defrosts. Also heats/cooks baked beans and frozen peas rapidly. Can't say I use it for much else, and certainly don't NEED it. But we didn't have to pay for it, so who am I to complain?

Everytime we buy a gadget or utensil it is usually to save us time or labour, a convenience that we normally don't need (just want). Each purchase leaves less money to spend on food (or other things), so the cost of convenience should take a place in our household accounts. As long as we regularly use what we buy, then it has a purpose. Shoved to the back of the drawer or a shelf and never sees the light of day from one month to the next - then it could be a waste of money.
True - some things in our kitchen ARE use more 'seasonally' than others - like my Victorian type apple corer/peeler/slicer. With a 100lb of apples from our tree to prepare - this certainly saved time. The preserving pan is only used about 3 times a year - but necessary for making all the jams and marmalades (usually made in bulk). Our slow cooker is used more during the winter months (casserole time) than others, likewise our ice-cream maker is used only during the hot weather (and not this year at all - as have made soft-scoop using my hand mixer). In the conservatory is a wicker picnic basket full of 'oddments' brought from the Leeds kitchen, that I still wish to keep but will rarely use. Obviously as none have been used since we moved here, hardly call them 'essential'.

Maybe I used to waste money on unnecessary gadgets, but now concern myself by not buying more, and concentrate instead on making the best use of what I already have - and this applies to food as well as 'gadgets'. Realised that recently I have gone over to buying ketchup and brown sauce in plastic bottles, especially the type that stand upside down so the contents are always at the top of the bottle ready to squirt out. But these are still sold in glass bottles, and when empty and sterilised - these bottles can be used to store our own herb oils and herb vinegars (or even ketchup). At very least glass will end up in a bottle bank - whereas the plastic bottles probably end up on a waste tip.
As ever, suppose the decision of what type of bottle to buy depends upon the price charged, and would blame no-one for buying anything if sold more cheaply in plastic rather than glass - but if the price is much the same, then feel we should dump the plastic and go back to buying foodstuff packed in glass when we can. Anything to help the environment.

So much has happened in less than a century, and still happening. Even when it comes to food there have been great advancements, although not all good - processed ready-meals and all those additives etc - yet most of the interest in food occured after the last war when there was an the improvement in travel (flying), with more people going abroad and sampling the different cuisine. With the advent of chilled compartments or freezers in ships and planes, a lot of produce is now able to be imported that never could have been earlier last century. So in many ways we are blessed, on the other hand should always remember that we can often do without most of them. The cost of our food budgeting always dictating what we should buy.

Our basic steamed sponge pudding made with 2 eggs with their weight in flour, sugar and butter, plus 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda and 2 tblsp jam ( same ingredients for a Victoria sponge cake ) - when all beaten together and steamed in the usual way for an hour and a half - this used to be called 'Kiss Me Quick Pudding' - a name I much prefer.

Two recipes I give in full - partly because I love their names, but mainly because they are so economical to make. Often I find giving an unusual name or traditional reason to serve a low-cost dish makes it more enjoyable to eat, perhaps because this way we can slip back in time and eat foods that our great-grandparents used to enjoy. But at least if we have a special day or reason to serve a dish - and it is cheap to make - then perhaps we should still do so. At least it adds a bit more history to chat about while eating it.

The first recipe is a Welsh dish, normally cooked on a Monday (the traditional day to do the washing - even if pouring with rain outside - as often happens), and the way to use up cold meat from the weekend joint. The traditional name for this is given as it sounds more enticing than 'Washday Pie'.

Poten Ben Fedi:
2 lb (1kg) potatoes, freshly boiled
1 oz (25g) butter
1 tblsp wholemeal flour
8 oz (225g) cooked meat, minced
1 rasher bacon, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
Strain the potatoes and mash with the butter and the flour, then stir in the meat. Fry the bacon and onion in the bacon fat (add a little oil if the bacon has little fat), and when golden, mix into the potato and meat mixture, then put this into a greased pie dish and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for half an hour or until the top is golden.

The second recipe is a suet pudding. Again a pudding that uses relatively cheap ingredients, and possibly this was the pudding to make when an unexpected (but welcome) guest arrived during the morning and the unexpected then expected to be invited to lunch.

Welcome Guest Pudding:
2 oz (50g) whole blanched almonds, roughly chopped
2 oz (50g) shredded suet
4 oz (100g) breadcrumbs
2 oz (50g) sugar
1 oz (25g) candied peel
1 gill (5 fl oz/150ml) milk
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
Mix the first five (dry) ingredients together. Beat the milk, eggs and vanilla essence together, then mix this into the dry ingredients. Pour into a greased pudding basin, cover with pleated greaseproof tied down, and steam for 1 hour 20 minutes.

With the recent mention of liver, my old cookbook has come up with a useful way to use this - especially the less tender (but cheaper) pig's liver - and possibly ox liver also. In England we would call this dish 'Savoury Ducks', but this version is traditional to Pembroke sp feel that its Welsh name is far more appealing. I do not know the correct pronunciation, although am proud to say about 30 years ago a Welshman taught me how to say the name of that very long Welsh place (takes about 10 seconds to say it) - and can still remember it even now.

Ffagod Sir Benfro:
1 1/2 lb (675g) pigs liver
2 large onions
3 oz (75g) suet
4 oz (100g) breadcrumbs
1 tsp salt (it said 2 but I reduced it)
half tsp pepper
1 - 2 tsp sage
half ounce (12g) flour
boiling water or vegetable stock
Mince the raw onions and liver, then mix this into the suet, breadcrumbs, seasoning and sage. Form into small balls and bake in a moderate (180C, 350F, gas 4) for about 30 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, remove balls to a serving dish and keep warm . Stir the flour into the pan juices, adding boiling water or stock to make a smooth gravy , add seasoning to taste and pour this over the liver an onion balls. Good served with mashed potatoes and a green vegetable.
Could also eat well with pasta and the same gravy that has some tomato puree added.