Thursday, April 29, 2010

Stretching the Pennies

If you remember, yesterday mentioned a comment I had read on's forum where there was a query as to whether enough food could be bought for a budget of just under £14 to keep a person fed for a week (there being only two cans of beans, some rice and other 'oddments' left in their own larder).
As you know, this is just the sort of challenge I love, so spent a few happy moments yesterday typing in what I thought would be foods I would myself choose to buy, and checked the prices on Tesco's on-line site (which may not necessarily be the cheapest prices- but saves shopping around).
It was amazing what a large amount of non-processed food could be bought within that budget, and although quality was not - this time - of prime importance, certainly enough to put enough food on the table.

As the ME forum was asking for suggestions as to what could be bought, then went onto the site with my 'findings' , but then discovered I couldn't comment without being a (free) subscriber -which I am not - so was not able to add my own comment, but if any reader of this site is an ME subscriber - feel free to 'suggest' any of the below if you feel it might be useful. In my eagerness to 'help' have to keep reminding myself of how this can sometimes be thought of as patronising, so tend to back off when perhaps I should share my experience. Please remember that many of the foods bought in the lists below will last longer than one week, almost certainly two - if not more. Prices given are as at yesterday, possibly even lower in other stores or when reduced/on offer.

Firstly I would start with breakfast. This would HAVE to be porridge (58p for 1kg), as this is very nourishing and also extremely cheap. The milk bought for the week would be (reconstituted) dried milk (£1.91 for 454g).
On alternative days would serve toast (50p an 800g loaf) with poached or scrambled eggs (15 eggs for £1 45p) . Another day could be bacon (99p for 275 pack) and eggs with fried bread. With a couple of cans of beans in the lady's larder, beans on toast - or even egg on beans on toast is another option.
The eggs, together with the bread and milk, would make a bread pudding. Also - with some vegetables and bacon - make a Spanish omelette or tortilla.
So far - £5.43p spent.

My choice of vegetables would be: carrots (45p a kg pack); a portion of white cabbage (31p for 454g); a pack of diced onion (50p for 275p); pack of frozen peas (76p); canned potatoes 28p.
Any money left over could go towards celery, salads, tomatoes or whatever was 'reduced/worth buying'.
Veg. total: £2.30p - total spent now £7.73.

It is at this point we need to work out what would actually be used of the above. Probably all the bread, but only a quarter (if that) of the porridge oats. Maybe not all the dried milk, and certainly less than half the eggs and bacon. Definitely peas, carrots and cabbage would last more than one week - probably three.

Meat to fit into the above 'budget' is more a matter of personal choice, and the amount we can buy is related to the money left in the budget (approx £6), although this amount can vary according to whether we choose to work out the cost of a week's meals by the amount that is actually used, or work out the total expenditure and not use all the food. The first suggestion 'frees' more money to be spent, so I give a small selection of meats - as with this we cannot be too selective (chops are out) and zoom in only for those that appear to give the most for our money. But as we already have animal protein by way of milk, eggs and bacon, we are hardly in need of too much more. Many are 'value packs' and usually have as much nutrition as the more expensive, but not the quality.
A 2kg bag of chicken portions can be bought for £2.79p; a 225g tub of chicken livers for 40p; a 900g pack of minced lamb for £1.99p. Some of these could also last longer than a week.

Reminding readers that most butchers freely GIVE their chicken carcases (and sometimes winglets) to their customers, we could also ask for some of these to make a good stock to supplement our meals (maybe even being able to retrieve a few ounces of cooked flesh from the bones) - and this with veggies and some pearl barley (39p for 500g) will makes a nourishing broth in its own right.

Fats (butter, marg, oil) have not been included, but with careful buying of meat, there should be some pennies left in the kitty, and myself would prefer to buy a 250g pack of cream cheese (92p) as this is just as good eaten spread on toast instead of a dearer butter, and also more nutritious (esp. if lower in fat). Possibly some oil is already in the larder which helps. Otherwise use a non-stick pan and fingers crossed. Myself would try to include at least one of the cheaper cans of chopped tomatoes - even if giving up on the pack of carrots and only buying a few loose ones.
Neither has tea/coffee been included, but when money is tight, it should go on nutrition first, and we would all be healthier if we spend a few days drinking water instead of anything more costly.

No doubt there are missing 'necessaries' in the above listings, but feel that those that have been bought would make more than a good week's supply of meals. The lady who wrote the comment already had rice, so adding half a can of Tesco's cheap curry sauce (sometimes sold as low as 4p - but at the moment is 19p) to some of the lamb (or chicken) even an inexpensive curry can be made.
As I always keep saying - it is what we do with what we've got that can make such a difference between one meal and another.
It would be good to hear your suggestions as to what you would buy and make keeping within the above budget. And for that matter - are these sort of challenges worth doing at all?

Have to leave for the clinic shortly, so another 'chat time' now curtailed, but will be back again tomorrow. See you then.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Different Views

Looking at the newsletter, it does seem that prices are rising over the board, if it isn't fuel it is food. So need to shortly cut down my protein purchases. Make the most of it while I can is the name of the game at the moment.

A mention was given in the above newsletter of a food challenge - someone had written in saying they had only two tins of beans in their cupboard and had under £14 to spend on food for the week. How could they manage?
It did turn out there were other things in the cupboard - noodles were mentioned later, then this changed to 300g rice, and also plenty of 'flavourings': salt, pepper, spices, soy sauce etc.
Comments had been sent in with suggestions, the most sensible being start the day with porridge (oats are very cheap but also very nourishing). But this challenge gave me food for thought, and over the next few days will try and discover how much 'useful' food £14 will buy. Dare say if we all set ourselves this task, we will find out that it is very easy to live on this amount. With some advance planning (sow mixed salad leaves for example, and get free chicken carcases from the butcher) we could increase the amount we eat and spend even less.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

More to Store?

Although I used to cook several varieties of beans, then store these in the freezer - they do take up a lot of space, so am thinking about buying cooked canned beans (these are cheap enough) which will sit in the larder, leaving me more room in the freezer to take advantage of meat, fish, poultry and vegetable 'offers'. These saving me far more money that home-cooking the beans - which although can still work out cheaper than the tinned, the savings are only a matter of pennies. I prefer to save the pounds.
When space is limited, whether in the garden or in the freezer, we should aim to grow and store the foods that save us the most money. Sometimes these may be 'luxuries' and very seasonal, like raspberries, but the savings are great and the berries freeze well.

Aiming to get a kitchen running both productively and profitably means tackling it with a more professional than domestic approach, but the more we 'manage' our culinaries, the more savings we can make or, depending upon the way we look at it - spend less. Hope that I've been able to prove over these past few years that - given the right approach - we can end up raising our standard of eating, but still spending less than before.

Really good fishcakes are made using equal quantities of flaked cooked fish and mashed potatoes. Perhaps some chopped parsley is added and a little seasoning, but like the best beefburgers (where only tender beef is minced with a little onion and nothing else) these can prove expensive to make.
So today am giving a recipe for fishcakes made with canned pink salmon (buy these when on offer), mashed potato and a good variety of other inexpensive 'storecupboard' ingredients. This is one of those recipes that states a price - and at under 55p a serving - well worth making. If you use canned tuna (again bought on offer), these may work out even cheaper.

More than just Fish Cakes: serves 4
2 teaspoons sunflower oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 oz (50g) frozen peas
2 oz (50g) frozen sweetcorn (or could use canned)
1 lb (500g) mashed potato
salt and pepper
2 tblsp chopped fresh parsley (opt)
1 x 213g can pink salmon, drained and flaked
1 oz (25g) plain flour
5 oz (125g) slightly stale (but fresh) breadcrumbs
2 eggs, beaten with 2 tsp cold water
Gently fry the onions in the oil until soft, but not coloured. Stir in the peas and sweetcorn (pref thawed) cover, and cook for 2 minutes. Then set aside.
Put the mashed potato into a bowl and season to taste, add the parsley (if using), the salmon, and cooked vegetables, and mix together until well combined. Form the mixture into 20 small balls (or make less but larger), and lay them on a baking sheet, flattening each slightly.
Put the flour in a shallow dish, the eggs in another, and the breadcrumbs in a third. Dip each fishcake first into the flour, then into the egg, and finally into the breadcrumbs.
Fry a few fishcakes for 3 minutes each side in hot shallow oil over medium heat until golden, then drain on kitchen paper and keep warm. Repeat until all the fishcakes have been cooked.
These can be eaten alone with tartare sauce and a squeeze of lemon, or served with a crisp green salad.

As a bonus you get an extra recipe, mainly because it is similar to the above in that it uses mainly mashed potato, but this time with cheese instead of fish, and cabbage instead of peas. This should be easily be adapted to use a different leafy veg, and soft cheese.

Melting Cabbage Balls: serves 4 - 5
11oz (300g) Savoy cabbage, thinly shredded
1 shallot, finely diced
1 lb 12oz (800g) mashed potato
salt and pepper
1 pack mini-mozzarella balls, drained
2 eggs, beaten
4 oz (100g) fresh breadcrumbs
Cook the cabbage in salted boiling water for five minutes, then add the shallots. Simmer a further 2 minutes then drain well.
Put the mashed potato into a large bowl, add seasoning to taste, then add the cabbage and onions. Mix together thoroughly.
Divide mixture into 20, and the mozzarella balls into 20, and wrap the cabbage 'mash' around each piece of cheese, making sure it is completely covered. Repeat until all balls are made and then chill for 1 hour (or longer if wishing to make in advance).
To cook, dip each ball into the egg, then into the breadcrumbs, then preferably deep-fry a few at a time for about 5 - 6 minutes until golden brown - although they could be shallow fried in hot oil, if turned regularly, Drain on kitchen paper and keep warm while the rest are cooked, then serve immediately with salad (or chips) or salad AND chips.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Flower Power

- not every savoury dish has to have a vegetable included, and even though some cakes and desserts are leaning in that direction(carrot cake, beetroot cake, courgette bread, beetroot ice-cream... today am offering two recipes without a veggie in the ingredient list.

The first recipe is a savoury, and although it can be made without vegetables, the inclusion of a little finely diced onion and celery fried before adding the rice, and a few peas towards the end of the cooking would add extra flavour and colour, and turn this breakfast dish into an enjoyable supper.
A reminder that eggs can be poached hours ahead of being needed - drained and put into iced water, then into the fridge. When wishing to use, remove with a slotted spoon, and place each egg into very hot water, leave for one minute to heat through, then serve. This pre-cooking of poached eggs is common practice in the hotel and catering trade.

Breakfast Risotto: serves 4
2 tsp olive oil
1 oz (25g) butter
7 oz (200g) Arborio (risotto) rice
5 fl oz (150ml) white wine
1.75 pints (1 ltr) hot chicken stock
5 oz (150g) fillet smoked haddock, skinned and chopped
grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 oz (50g) grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
4 eggs, poached
Put the oil and butter into a large frying pan over medium heat. When the butter has melted, stir in the rice. Cook for a couple of minutes then pour in the wine. Once this has been absorbed, stir in a ladle of stock, allow the rice to absorb this before adding another ladle, and continue adding stock in this way.
Once the rice is nearly cooked add the smoked haddock pieces, and lemon zest. Cover and cook for a few minutes. When the rice is ready, stir in the lemon juice, the Parmesan and - if you wish - a knob of butter. Remove from the heat, cover and leave to stand for 5 minutes while poached (or re-heating - see above) the eggs.
To serve, spoon the risotto onto four shallow plates and top each with a poached egg.

This next recipe is a very easy pudding to make, and made in much the same way as ganache
(used to make truffles) only the proportions of chocolate to cream are different. Truly a store-cupboard dessert (if you count cream in the fridge as 'stores'). This I will definitely be making for Beloved's 'after dinner' dessert tonight.
Mocha Cups: serves 4
4 oz (100g) quality dark chocolate, chopped or grated
10 fl oz (half pint/300ml) double cream
2 tsp caster sugar
1 tsp instant coffee powder
1 tsp icing sugar
2 - 3 drops vanilla extract
2 tsp cocoa powder (for decoration)
Put 2/3rds of the cream (200ml) into a saucepan with the caster sugar and the instant coffee. Heat slowly, stirring occasionally, then bring it to the boil. Remove from heat and add the prepared chocolate, stirring until the chocolate has dissolved and the mixture is smooth.
Pour into four small coffee cups or ramekin dishes, leave to cool, then place in the fridge for at least 2 hours (can even leave overnight) until set.
To serve, beat the remaining cream with the icing sugar and vanilla to the soft peak stage, then spoon this on top of the filled cups and dust with cocoa powder. Place the cups on their saucers, not forgetting a teaspoon (to eat with), and serve with crisp tuiles or thin shortbread biscuits.

If you remember - some time back made some dough to make some pitta bread, and froze the surplus dough in balls ready to use later. This made very good pizza bases, and have decided tonight to make Beloved a mushroom, ham and onion pizza using the last two balls of dough, some of the home-grown mushrooms, some chunks of home-cooked ham, a couple of small red onions that need using up, and also some of the mozzarella cheese that I 'preserved' in oil some weeks ago. Truly a supper dish made from 'these have to be used up items'. The only other item needed is tomato sauce which will be half a can of chopped toms, mixed with a few dried herbs, and cooked down to a puree.
Using a pre-heated baking sheet ensure the pizza base is cooked from below as well as above. But if getting the pizza onto the hot baking sheet is a problem, then use a cold baking sheet, place the unfilled pizza base on this, then add the topping. Just allow a little longer cooking time.

Mushroom and Ham Pizza: serves 1 - 2
1 oz (25g) butter
1 tbslp olive oil
1 red onion, finely sliced
4 oz (100g) mixed mushrooms, sliced
1 batch pizza dough
tomato (pizza) sauce topping
2oz (50g) ham, chopped
salt and pepper
2 oz (50g) mozzarella cheese, sliced or crumbled
Put the butter and oil into a frying pan over medium heat. Fry the onions until tender. Remove onions with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the mushrooms to the pan, raise the heat and cook until soft and golden.
Put the oven on to heat at 200C, 400F, gas 6 and place a baking sheet in the oven to heat up at the same time.
Roll out the pizza dough on a floured board, spoon over the tomato sauce, spreading it nearly to the edges of the dough. Then arrange the mushrooms, onions and ham over the top, add seasoning to taste, then finish with slices or crumbs of cheese. Fold up the sides of the pizza if you wish for a thicker base.
Remove the heated baking sheet from the oven, and - using a fish slice - carefully slide the pizza onto the sheet, then immediately replace the sheet in the oven and bake the pizza for 15 -20 minutes or until risen and golden and the cheese melted.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Pot of Gold!

Jack may not have been far wrong when he sold the family cow for a bag of beans. The more seeds sown, the more I'm realising how profitable they can be once grown. Truly pots of gold.

Yesterday, spent some serious time in the conservatory, re-potting more plants (the tomatoes especially seem to need re-potting every two weeks. More seeds were sown, this time: radish, dill, marjoram, basil, cherry tomtatoes, courgettes, and the cut-and-come variety of lettuce - called Salad Bowl/Lollo Rosso. As one of these when grown will produce enough leaves for umpteen salads, the pack of 300 seeds should keep us going for years!

In the conservatory we already have growing: pots of mint, chives, parsley, sage, tomatoes, bell peppers, mixed Salad leaves, Romanesco, and mushrooms. Outside we have rosemary (the only edible here when we arrived - other than the apple tree) and now that we've planted potatoes, rhubarb, raspberry canes, blackberry canes, a redcurrant bush and small pear tree - we have something to look forward to in later months. Not bad for one who was considering only growing only a couple of pots of herbs and one tomato plant since we moved here.

Thing is - apart from the sacks of compost (B's contribution), the outlay on seeds has been remarkably low - less than £10. For despite me counting thirty packs yesterday (although some were the same or similar - assorted salads etc, radish, herbs...and many still unopened) very few were full price. At least half were free (given Lakeland catalogues, and gardening mags), five even came free with another free offer. Also got a job lot of 15 assorted packets of vegetable seeds for around £6 in a sale.

Considering many of the packs contain up to 1,000 seeds (such as lettuce), and these keep viable for several years, then - over time - these could bring forth 1,000 plants. If one fully grown lettuce can cost around anything from 50p to ~£1.50p (dep. on season and type) when bought, then this means one pack of seeds should save us £500. And that's just one seed pack. The more varieties we sow, the more money we save.
Even Mixed Salad Leaves, scattered in number, will still produce up to the equivalent of four or more bags of pre-packed mixed salad leaves which are very expensive to buy. At the moment am still harvesting the mixed leaves that have grown from a free pack (and another freebie still left to sow).
Packets of tomato and courgette seeds (and other veggies) have fewer seeds, maybe only 10 in a pack - but then visualise the crop. Again a massive saving.
Perhaps edibles are sold in seed amounts, according to how much they are expected to save us in money when sown and grown. So we could be looking a thousands of £££s saved in less than 3 years, always supposing the weather, pests, and our own good selves treat the plants with respect. All we can do is keep a record of how much it cost us to buy the seeds etc, and then work out how much savings have been made when we harvest the crops. If all readers of this site who now grow their own would keep a record, we could compare them at the end of the various seasons. We may then discover which are the very best crops to go to gain the most savings (I personally feel carrots are cheap enough to by, and the space better used to grow a more productive edible).

It will be interesting to find out how much money is saved growing potatoes (and which variety) for there were 8 Rooter spuds that had sprouted then planted (from those bought for eating) and five more of a different variety (that came free with a sack - courtesy of a gardening mag), and a couple more large sprouting spuds that were left over from a recent purchase. Each (originally bought) potato planted probably worked out at 25p each, so am using this is a guide to work out how much the crop will be worth when gathered. As long as each sprouting spud gives us back two, of the same size (or more than the original weight) then a saving will have been made.

The mushrooms were a gift, and still growing fast. They are 'brown onions' (as it says on the box, and the caps are coffee coloured), so are perhaps what we call 'chestnut mushrooms? Will weigh when gathered then assess at the end (which may be a few months before the kit runs out) whether they have worked out cheap enough to continue growing them. If so, may turn our dark and damp outhouse into a mushroom shed.

Keeping the few pots to hold the larger plants, all sorts of things are now being used to grow seeds. The large plastic boxes that held 'Value Mushrooms' really work well, as when filled with compost they hold a large amount of flourishing Mixed Salad Leaves, as well as other 'first transplants'. Egg cartons are used to start off single seeds in compost, the shoots then transplanted to small cartons or boxes saved (yogurt, creme fraiche, cream etc, plastic food containers...).

Yesterday wished to plant radish seeds singly (easy to do as these are easily handled), so got two small cardboard boxes, lined each with bubblewrap (recycled packaging - as were the boxes themselves)), then filled with compost. In one was pressed a pencil to make a 'furrow', and in this was sown a few of the Salad Bowl lettuce seeds, the rest of the box taken over with separately planted radish seeds (pencil end pushed into the compost and each seed dropped into the hole). Once the 'row' of lettuce comes through and when large enough, each will be transplanted to a separate pot so that it will make a larger plant and throw off more leaves. The radishes will be left in the box to grow to maturity.

The second box was divided into two sections, each growing a different herb, these too will be transplanted as necessary, the dill apparently growing up to 10 feet high - so will probably have to find a space outside to grow this.

Whatever container used, names are written on (or labels stuck in the soil) so that I would remember what they are, for most seed leaves all look alike. Now that I have transplanted some of the earlier sown tomatoes that were originally marked, thought I would remember, so didn't put in a label, and so now have to sort out the indoor/outdoors varieties and also whether they are for container growing or up sturdy poles.

We also seem to have quite a number of oblong plastic open solid-mesh 'boxes' - a bit like the small baskets we used when shopping in a supermarket. Again discovered in the garage, and these could also be lined with plastic (spiked with a fork to allow for drainage) and more flowers or veggies could go in these. Our garden may end up full of flowers, looking really pretty, but not that 'traditional'.
We even have two deep polystyrene boxes which could be used (another we keep for the boot of the car to hold chilled bought products when bringing home in the summer).

In fact have enough packs of different salad leaves (rocket, chicory, the mixed leaves, cut-and-come again lettuce) not to mention the edible leaves of the radish and beetroot - and assorted herbs - to keep us in salads a whole twelve-month (or longer). Just a matter of scattering a few seeds at the start of each month, and the supply will be endless.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Naughty Steps

With any recipe we read, we should always try to adapt so that we can use what we have rather than what the recipe says we need. The more experienced we are, the easier this becomes, but generally veggies are leaf, root or the podded variety, the onion family varied, meat is meat, stock is stock, pasta is pasta, assorted pulses are interchangeable and grains are grains. Even pastry is - basically - pastry. So normally easy enough to make substitutions as long as we keep to the same 'type' of each ingredient. Using a lot of substitutions, the flavour/texture might not be quite the same as the original recipe - but could even be better.
The more we can adapt a recipe to use up what we have, the more money we will save. So keep experimenting!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Food Matters

Having been 'lucky' enough to have lived at both extremes, can honestly say that there has been far more happiness in my life when poor than when well-heeled. Possibly more to do with my love of challenges. Having what I want, when I want would be far too boring. Much prefer to try and reach my goals the hard way - then it is appreciated that much more. But then, that's me. Not everyone is the same.

Had an 'ad' sent via my email box and couldn't believe what I was reading. Perhaps another sign of the times. Seems it related to a new way of eating to improve our 'game play' when using computer games. Apparently the extra energy we gain by the suggested eating plan will give us the edge over our competitors. And we will then more easily beat them. Which reminds me - computer games are also now part of our standard of living. There are now many people out there who have an even better life than the Queen. At least we have more freedom of choice.

Last night caught the end of a political chat programme fronted by Andrew Neil. Jay Rayner (food critic) was a guest and of course the subject of food shortages caused by the volcano came up. As he rightly said (or perhaps not), only those who eat fresh pineapple will probably be affected. One of the other politicians cried out "oh, and I love pineapple chunks!".
There was one interesting bit of info... Apparently in this country we produce 62% of the food we eat. Some of that must be meat, but we would be able to grow more arable crops if necessary. A mention was made of over 90% at a pinch. We have only to see the fields full of yellow flowers to realise how much land is now given over to growing rape (for rape-seed oil). With our rainfall and green fields we have exactly the right conditions to grow good crops, even though they will not all be the same as the imports from other countries. The main thing is if push came to shove, we wouldn't starve.

One person mentioned how we are now all being urged to 'grow our own', and this was scoffed as of little worth at all. "what use is an allotment?"as though we would each be expected to grow enough to feed the five thousand. Economics apart, growing food for our own consumption is never a waste of time.
An allotment was originally an allotted piece of land just large enough to grow all the produce necessary to keep a family of four fed for a whole year (not such a large variety was grown in those days, but nevertheless still enough of a wide and seasonal assortment). Nowadays, these allotments are often divided into two as they are easier to manage, yet can still provide enough food to cut our costs dramatically.

Readers who are growing their own produce can affirm that even a small garden, patio or just a windowsill will produce edibles, and quite a number even in a small space, so obviously the more we grow the less we need to buy. Whether an economical choice or a 'forced upon us' need, it doesn't really matter. We should be growing own own produce (as has been done for centuries until recently) if only as a means to take some control of our own destiny, for if it comes to the crunch - who else can we rely on to provide? Having said that, we should still look out for those less fortunate. Share what we have, give and take and all that. It worked in wartime, so can still work now.

Today, woke to a brilliant blue sky with small clouds scurrying past, pushed along by a north wind which perhaps has blown away some of the volcanic dust - for at least the 'haze' seen during the past few days seems now to have disappeared. But still no rain. Luckily we have full water butts, and any spare clean household water is saved for the indoor plants (by this I mean the cooled water in the EasyYo jar - if it hasn't been boiled up again for the next batch). Or water used for steaming veggies. Even water left in a vase after the flowers have been removed.

You never know - this could be the year of the drought, and then when water is in short supply, another reason to complain. However strong the British spirit in times of disaster, we are very good at complaining. If it isn't one thing it is another. We just have to remember never to take things for granted, and learn how to cope if cope we eventually must.
If we have too many dry days ahead forecast, we can prepare for this by watering plants late evening so there is less chance of evaporation. Mulch the ground after watering, this also prevents sun drying out the soil next day.
On the other hand we may have a wet summer (so what's new?) then start cursing because the tomatoes won't ripen. Or slugs have eaten everything. Apparently slugs don't care for the smell of garlic, so plant these around a plot, or (my suggestion) sprinkle a little garlic salt around a tender plant.

One little experiment along the way. Wished to make a salad dressing that had more liquidity than the mayo normally has. Couldn't be bothered to make a proper French dressing, so instead 'watered down' some mayo with the sweet-and-sour liquid from a jar of Peppadew - this being composed of mainly water, vinegar, sugar and a few other things. This also has a sharp 'bite' - from the peppers I suppose. Blended with the mayo until it dripped from the spoon, it made a very good and flavoursome dressing.

Within days of buying large potatoes they now start sprouting. As do the small spuds if given the chance and why I keep these in the fridge to prevent this. So not worth buying potatoes in any amount until past their growing season - which is next autumn. Buy only what we need, and if any do start to sprout, rub these off immediately - they should then keep a few days more in good condition - and in the dark. Otherwise plant each spud in an odd corner of the garden.

If you have a very large potato throwing off several clumps of shoots, then this can be divided into chunks, each with shoots, and when planted each grows as it would if it was a small chitted' potato. Useful when planting directly into land rather than in a container. Do remember when growing potatoes in garden plots, if a very small potato has been left in the soil, it will then grow the following year into another potato plant. We even had one growing in a compost heap, either from a teeny weensy spud still fastened to the plant that had been pulled up and thrown with other herbage onto the compost, or could have come from a potato peeling that had a sprout attached.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Cook's Thoughts

While cooking is almost my first love (growing the food now coming a close second), my suggestion today is to rethink pancakes (because they cover both loves). These are SO cheap to make, and cannot understand why we don't eat them as often as we do. By 'we' I mean the Goodes, but expect many families also eat pancakes only on Shrove Tuesday.

When we add things to pancake batter, they become more interesting, more substantial, more nutritious - and a lot more useful. So next time, add finely chopped fresh herbs or wilted and chopped spinach to the pancake batter. Cook in the normal way, and then use pancakes as a 'wrap' around a chosen filling. These can be eaten hot or cold, and also cooked as we do pasta - rolled round a filling (as cannelloni), or layered as in lasagne. Topped with a cheese sauce and heated in the oven these 'pasta alternatives' have less (often no) carbos, and contain more protein.

In the very early days of this blog, gave a suggestion for a dish that makes use of both pancakes and 'left-overs'. Perhaps one of my favourite dishes, and not just because it is so economical. It also eats well.
All we have to do is take about 6 or so ready-made pancakes (these can come from the freezer), and stack/layer with assorted fillings, such as left-over spag bol meat sauce, a thick tomato (pizza) sauce, some 'greens' in a white sauce, and so on. Keep it colourful and repeat/alternate the layers finishing with a final pancake. Spoon over a cheese sauce, add grated cheese on top and heat through in the oven. How long depends upon whether the fillings are heated first or layered cold. The stack needs to be heated through thoroughly before cutting into wedges then served.
Using plain pancakes was the original recipe, but using alternate plain and herby flavoured gives the above suggestion another dimension.

Even a dessert pancake can be given a new lift by adding cocoa powder to the flour to make a 'chocolate' flavoured pancake. So experiment. Make a batch of sweet or savoury pancakes, interleave and freeze ready to use another day. Removed separately they thaw out almost instantly.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Food with Attitude.

Back into the kitchen (you could call this my comfort zone), and the mention of herbs has brought to mind a really lovely summer soup that makes good use of the prolific herbs that are now starting to flourish in our garden or on windowsills. Remember, the more we cut, the more they grow.
Although we normally use only the leaves when cooking herbs, the stalks have just as much (sometimes even more) flavour, so worth using when making stock, and keeping the leaves to add to salads or use as a garnish. When adding herbs to any dish, the leaves are best prepared and added just before serving as this keeps their freshness and individual flavours. Use the milder herbs when making soup (parsley, chives, tarragon, marjoram, basil, chervil...), the stronger tasting (sage, mint, rosemary etc) tend to go better with meats.
Note: When herb leaves are chopped with a knife, they bruise and begin to weep, so can lose a lot of their flavour quite rapidly. Ideally, tear the leaves by hand as this gives a cleaner look, with no loss of colour and they keep most of their flavour, and as said before - best to do the preparation just before using/serving (unless a recipe states otherwise).

Fresh Herb Broth: serves 4
handful of each of several chosen herbs (see above)
1.5 pint ( 750ml) chicken or vegetable stock
2 oz (50g) butter
1 large potato, diced
1 large leek, sliced into rings
salt and pepper to taste
squeeze of lime juice (opt).
First remove the leaves from the herbs and set aside. Put all the herb stalks plus a few assorted leaves into a pan with the stock. Bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for five minutes. Remove from heat and leave to stand for 15 minutes to allow the stock to become infused with the herb flavours.
In another pan, melt the butter and add the potato, then cover and cook over low heat for 5 minutes. If the spuds begin to stick to the base of the pan, add a little of the 'herby stock'. Then add the leek and cook - uncovered - for a few minutes. Strain the herby stock over the leeks and potatoes and bring to the boil and simmer until the vegetables are tender, add seasoning to taste and a squeeze of lime juice (if using). Either leave as a 'soup with chunks', or liquidise to give a creamier texture. Chop or tear the herb leaves (see above), stir into the soup and serve immediately.

Whenever we go somewhere where there is a restaurant, Beloved makes a point of asking for a menu to bring home. Most are happy to provide one. He picked up one from Barton Grange yesterday. The advantage to us cooks (me anyway) is that a menu gives inspiration to make dishes that we might have chosen to eat when 'dining out'. Why - if the meals cost that much - can we afford to make them anyway?

Well - think about the asking price for a starter of Home-Made Soup with Crusty Home-Baked Bread. Or Chicken Pate with Melba Toast. Then work out how much either would cost ot make at home. Pennies instead of pounds. Same goes for all the courses, and I shake my head in disbelief when I read how much it would cost for a slice of Treacle Tart, or a couple of scoops of Ice-Cream. This has very little to do with the cost of ingredients, more to do with the overheads of running a restaurant, and paying staffs wages. In domestic kitchens we are both staff and chef - and work for free. Even our 'overheads' can be ignored as we live there and if we are going to cook something anyway we can serve 'restaurant quality' meals in our own homes without any fear of not being able to afford to.

Those of us who are now 'kitchen gardeners', have the edge over most restaurants in that the produce we harvest will be fresher than any bought that day from suppliers. If we can begin thinking on the lines that by using the home-grown, plus more home-cooking - which in itself leads to more savings - we then have money left to spend on better quality. Yes, have said this all before, but if by doing this we can then afford to serve meals that millionaires would be prepared to pay the earth for, then why not make the effort? It is as easy as that.

Fortunately for us, a lot of 'foods in fashion' - now served in top restaurants - are what our grandmothers used to cook. Obviously cheap to make then, and relatively cheap to make even now, but have so much flavour that people now prefer to eat these rather than the more 'cheffy' dishes. Wouldn't you rather have a slice of Treacle Tart or Sticky Toffee Pudding than a Champagne Sorbet? Know I would.

Am almost writing myself into a day of kitchen activity - starting with making a tub of my soft-scoop ice-cream using egg whites, home-made yogurt and whipped cream. Then using the egg yolks to make microwave Lemon Curd. Thinking ahead to supper, this will probably be Jumbo Prawns with Marie-Rose sauce sitting on a bed of avocado and home-grown Salad Leaves. Followed by the last of the Sticky Toffee Pudding (so had better make more).
Might as well make a granary loaf while I'm at it, which will eat well with some of the Herby Broth for my own supper (having leeks and potatoes that need using up not to mention home-grown herbs and home-made chicken stock) - perhaps followed by some smoked Cheddar and oatcakes. Or instead (or as well as) eat some of the home-made strawberry yogurt with some of those fresh strawberries bought yesterday.
Wonder how much a restaurant would charge for the above. Yes, sometimes it is worth doing a bit of home-cooking.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Little of What We Fancy...

Even though this first recipe expects us to buy ready-packed cooked meat (and we know how expensive this can be), for economy my adaptation uses home-cooked chicken sliced or - even better - stripped from the carcase after eating the main meat in the normal way. Slices or shreds all are quite suitable. Or use cooked turkey or ham. As chicken and ham go well together, why not use shreds of both. Use only the amount of meat you have to spare, adding extra salad leaves/tomato even grated cheese to make up the shortfall.
Later in the year, avid gardeners can make this using home-grown veggies, and the remaining ingredients come from the store cupboards.

The second recipe makes a couple of dozen biscuits, using small amounts of ingredients, so another economical recipe to add to your collection. Despite the 'cheapness', these biscuits make a quality 'nibble'.

Bang Bang Chicken Wraps: serves 4
up to 1 lb (450) cooked chicken, in strips or shredded
2 tblsp light soy sauce
3 tblsp sweet chilli sauce
4 tblsp peanut butter
4 flour tortilla 'wraps'
2 spring onions, trimmed and sliced
piece of cucumber, deseeded and cut into strips
1 red bell pepper, deseeded and cut into strips
Mix together the soy and chilli sauces with the peanut butter, then spread this over each tortilla, leaving a small gap around the edges.
Lay the vegetables and cooked meat over the top, the strips all going in the same direction, then roll up into a cylinder. Slice each diagonally in half and serve.

Ginger Thins: makes 24
2 oz (50g) butter, pref unsalted
2 oz (50g) caster sugar
1 tblsp golden syrup
3 oz (75g) plain flour
half teaspoon ground ginger
2 tblsp mixed peel, very finely chopped
Put the butter, sugar and syrup into a pan and heat gently until dissolved. Sift the flour and ginger together, then mix this into the liquid in the pan, also adding the peel.
Drop tiny teaspoonfuls of the mixture - spaced well apart - onto baking trays lined with parchment (you need several trays or cook in batches). Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 8-9 minutes until golden. Leave on the tray for a few minutes to cool and firm up before transferring to a cake airer to get cold. Can be stored in an airtight tin for up to a week.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Be Your Own Chef

- am giving today a couple of recipes where an appliance makes the preparation so much easier, but this does not mean to say they cannot be made by hand. These are recipes that will 'lift' a meal, and particularly good to use when entertaining, but there again why keep the best only for guests? They always say never serve to guests something we haven't made before, so a good excuse for a practice run, and treat the family at the same time.

The first recipe makes home-made bread rolls, and when guests are served home-made soup, a basket of assorted shaped rolls (both brown and white) to choose from really do add that extra 'something'. The dough is easily made using a bread machine, but there are many readers who enjoy making bread by hand, and this recipe works either way.
Use one basic bread dough mixture to make a variety of shapes, or make two batches using different flours, then decorate with a choice of seeds, oats, and cracked wheat.
Dinner Rolls: makes 22 (F)
1 1/2 lb (680g) strong white bread flour OR...
...wholewheat flour or combination of both
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 sachet easy-blend yeast
3/4 pint (15fl oz/450ml) warm water
2 tblsp olive oil
to finish:
beaten egg, melted butter, assorted seeds, oats etc.
Sieve the flour and salt into a warmed mixing bowl, stir in the yeast. Mix the oil and water together and add this to the flour mixture, then stir together to make a soft, pliable, but not sticky dough. Add more flour or water if necessary.
Turn onto a floured surface and knead well for 10 minutes (a bread machine does this work for us), then shape the dough into a bowl, place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with oiled cling-film. Leave in a warm place until doubled in size (can take from 3/4 hour to twice that long) depending upon room temperature.
Knock back dough and divide into 22 pieces. Shape each into balls, mini-plaits, French loaves, Coburgs, or cobs. Arrange well apart on greased baking sheets, cover lightly with oiled cling film, then leave to rise again in a warm spot to double in size for between 15 and 30 minutes.
Glaze the rolls with egg wash then sprinkle each with chosen seeds, oats etc.
Bake for 15 - 20 minutes at 230C, 480F, gas 8 until lightly browned and sound hollow when tapped underneath. Cool on a cake airer.
Eat the rolls the same day, or freeze up to 3 months. Thaw at room temperature for 2 - 3 hours then serve slightly warmed.

This next recipe is for 'duxelles' and one that has been given before but probably missing at the moment. Although chefs often make this using mushroom skins and stalks alone (mainly because this an excellent way to use up what would not normally be served), and it then domestic kitchen is the best way to use mushrooms that are 'past their best'. The mixture can also be frozen in small quantities (ice-cube trays if you only need a little at a time). This is the 'pate' that is spread on top of the beef before being wrapped in pastry (aka Boef Wellington).
This Duxelle is a kind of mushroom 'hash', with a very strong mushroom flavour and can be used as a 'toast-topper', stirred into casseroles and soups, and great stuffed into jacket potatoes.

This recipe requires that the mushrooms are chopped very, very finely. This can be done by hand, but much more easily done in a food processor. Put the mushrooms into the processor bowl and pulse on and off until very finely chopped. Do not blitz continually or they end up as a puree, which is not what is wanted. Depending upon the amount of mushrooms used, these may need to be done in batches.
For the most intense flavour use a combination of various mushrooms: cultivated mushrooms, chestnut mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, field mushrooms, and shittake (if using the latter, trim away their tough stems).
Duxelles: makes half a pint (280ml)
1 small shallot, very finely chopped (opt)
12 oz (340g) mushrooms, chopped (see above)
4 fl oz (115ml) vegetable stock
2 fl oz (50ml) sherry
dash soy sauce
1 tsp dried tarragon crumbled (opt)
salt and pepper to taste
Put the chopped mushrooms into a deep frying pan with the shallot (if using). Add the stock, sherry, soy sauce, and tarragon, and stir well. The mushrooms will be barely moistened.
Cook over moderate heat, stirring from time to time. The mushrooms will release much of their liquid, so when the mixture appears much wetter, raise the heat to a brisk simmer, and still stir occasionally, until the mushrooms are dark, very thick and quite dry. Season to taste, cool, cover and store in the fridge for up to 24 hours, or freeze when chilled.

We have only to watch The Best of British to see how chefs make the most of the kitchen appliances they have. Yesterday was intrigued to see how one chef ran crustless sliced bread through the rollers of a pasta-making machine to make it really thin. This was then wrapped round a fish filling, and either fried or toasted to give a crusty finish.

Have also seen chefs using the same pasta machine to 'roll' out strips of pastry. One way to get it as evenly rolled as possible, and also thinner that we might manage by hand.
Many years ago - when I bought my pasta machine - they were not THAT expensive even then. Now they are far cheaper. So if you like making pasta - then another worthwhile buy.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Applying Ourselves

The other day realised how many lovers of DIY (usually men) surround themselves with tools - often duplicated - even when they are rarely used. Even though a hedge may be small and cut only twice a year, any man can tell you buying an electric hedge trimmer is justified.
Yet the same man might sometimes dig his toes in if his OH requests a labour-saving appliance in the kitchen that would be used at least once a week and cost half the price. Boy's toys are one thing, women's needs another.

If we feel a twinge of guilt spending money on a labour-saving appliance (when OH is saving for a bigger car), we should always remember that the kitchen is OUR workplace, and the more 'help' we have, the easier the works gets, and the better the results. The way to a man's heart is still through his stomach.
In the old days, even the lower middle class could afford to have at least one maid who did most of the work the kitchen appliances do today. The days of us being a skivvy is over, eating crumbs from our master's table. We don't even need maids. Just buy an appliance and press a switch.

What we have to remember, is that unlike some weekend gardeners, most females of the species (and it has to be said - also many men) tend to work in the kitchen each and every day. So no-one needs more helping hands than a cook. We are after all in the 21st century, and however much we like to play at 'doing things the old way', this is only fun for a short time. In any case, kitchen appliances can do more for us than we realise, for - used wisely- many can also save us money. Over time, quite a lot of money. Which can then be spent on buying another appliance.

Using a food processor, foods that might normallybe thrown in the bin, such as stale bread, ends of hard cheese...can be easily grated and stored in the fridge/freezer. That's some money saved. 'Ready-mixes' (pastry mix, crumble mix, scone mix, shortbread mix...) can be home-made in bulk, chilled or frozen for instant use. Cheaper than the manufactured packs, so more money-saved. Left-overs from an evening meal can be pureed and made into soups. Even more savings. And so it goes on.

Several times over the years I've saved up to buy one of the more expensive 'gadgets', and been thankful for it. The important thing to remember is that once bought they should not be pushed to the back of the cupboard, but used regularly. Only this way can they work for their living. In other words - pay for themselves. My family love cold meats, and packs of sliced ham, beef, and chicken are not cheap to buy. Buying an electric slicing machine to carve up home-cooked joints saved me more money in the first three month that the machine cost. The same goes with many other appliances.

My bread machine has (and still is) proving invaluable. Home-made bread is the best thing since sliced, and almost worth it for the aroma alone wafting through the kitchen. Also cheaper than the quality bread on supermarket shelves. Another money-saver. The loaf can even be sliced using the 'leccy slicer' if I wish.
My slow-cooker, is another money-saver, despite it being around 30 years old. The cheapest stewing meat never gets ruined when cooked at such a low temperature, and is so very tender with wonderful flavour (even better flavour than fillet steak). The fuel saving is remarkable as compared to a confidential oven, as the slow-cookers use only as much energy (or little more) as a light bulb.

My EasyYo yogurt maker is another 'best buy'. Once made, the yogurt keeps well in the fridge (at least 2 weeks), and straining the yogurt it can be turned into soft cheese. Again cheaper than buying the ready-made. More money saved to put in my piggy-bank.

As you know, money has always been - well, let's say minimal - when it comes to the Goode kitchen budget. So when I buy something it has to be for good reason, and if I couldn't afford it - then made 'deliberate savings' until I could.
A 'deliberate' saving is putting a little bit more thought into where our money goes. This can either be making something from scratch that we might normally buy, or be a canny shopper and keep our store cupboards stocked only with foods that were sold 'on offer.

A well-stocked storecupboard is a thrifty cooks pot of gold for the earlier months of this year - this mentioned again mainly for newer readers of this site - was able to prove that by living out of the store-cupboard and not crossing the threshold of any shop for at least a month, the 'emergency food fund' (£10 a week) did not need to be spent and so was then able to be used for something I would not normally have been able to afford - which was that superb quality beef that was on offer from DR. One more step up the ladder of good(e) eating without any extra expense. All we have to do is make these 'deliberate' savings, then spend these wisely and our standard of culinary life will improve in leaps and bounds.

In days long past, when there were no 'appliances', a lot of time and elbow grease was spent whisking, beating, blending, crumbing, grating, shredding, chopping and pureeing. No wonder then that meals were fairly 'ordinary'. Only cooks (who had kitchen maids to help) had time to make something more elaborate. In a one-person kitchen, the less preparation needed, the better. Now a food processor can do almost all the above, sometimes within seconds. All too often we take these appliances for granted and do not use them to their full potential. Think of them as a way to save money. Keep them on the unit tops ready to be used, not pushed into a cupboard.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Weekend Starts Here

My food processor has been taken from the cupboard where it used to lurk, and is now placed on top of a small cupboard next to a run of electric sockets. This means it can be quickly plugged in and lifted to the table at the side, where I can sit and use it far more often. As done yesterday when I managed to make the Millionaire's shortbread as planned. That's a first, for how many times have you heard me say "I will be making such and such today" - and then never do.

A slight change of plan in that I expected the recipe to make shortbread to fill an 8" x 8" square baking tin, so as I intended using a larger foil tray-bake tin (Lakeland sell these in sets of ten and they are wonderful as they can be washed and used again and again) measured out double the ingredients. Should have read the instructions more closely, as the recipe was for a Swiss roll sized tin anyway - so ended up making enought to make two trays of M's shortbread. On the good side, only needed to use one batch of the 'fudge/caramel' to cover both shortbreads.

If you wish to have a go at making one trayful, the instructions are as follows. My version gives slightly thinner layers of shortbread, caramel and chocolate than the norm for this 'biscuit' - which is no bad thing as it is so rich that a little goes a long way. Using the caramel ingredients as shown is enough for one tray.
This time am giving only metric weights as it just seems to make it easier.
Shirley's Millionaire's Shortbread:
250g plain flour
175g butter
75g caster sugar
Put the above into a food processor and blitz together (or mix the flour and sugar together in a bowl and rub in the butter with your fingersuntil like fine breadcrumbs). Tip this into a Swiss roll tin and press firmly down, levelling the surface. Bake at 180C for 20 minutes or until just beginning to be tinged with gold. Then remove and cool in the tin.
50g butter
50g light brown muscovado sugar
1 x 397g (or might be 379g) tin condensed milk
Put the butter and sugar into a heavy pan over low heat, stirring until dissolved, then stir in the condensed milk. Bring to the bubble, then simmer for 5 minutes, stirring to prevent it burning on the bottom of the pan. Cool slightly, then pour over the shortbread, levelling the surface.
chocolate topping:
Break one bar of 70% (or other) dark chocolate into pieces, then place in a container standing over hot water. Leave to stand until softened, then stir until fully melted. Spoon this over the set caramel, and smooth the surface. As difficult to get the top perfectly flat, I tend to run a fork up and down the chocolate to give a wiggly pattern.

One tray was covered with the chocolate topping late yesterday evening, Beloved kept hovering over it and asking if it was ready. "Not yet" I replied, and a few hoverings later "Won't be ready until tomorrow", and his face fell. My own feelings will be worse when the biscuit is sliced, for myself cannot have any at all. All that sugar. Even one crumb would make me want to eat more and more and more...
Today, will cover the second tray with more chocolate, half of which will be white chocolate, and swirled with the dark, aiming for a marbled effect. No doubt this M's shortbread will keep fairly well in an airtight tin, but will give our daughter half anyway.

Anyone with a food processor will find making the shortbread 'mix' (flour, sugar and butter) so easy to do, and this could then be stored in the freezer ready to make shortbread when the oven is on for something else.

Returning to the use of weight and measures. It now seems that now, all newly published recipes use only the metrics. This annoys me because I still prefer to use the imperial, although by now have had enough practive to be able to convert one to the other fairly easily. Also have a gadget with a set of dials so that I can alter grammes to ounces, kilos to lbs, and millilitres to fluid ounces. It also gives both the C, F and gas equivalents for oven temperatures.

My aim is to give a recipe in the simplest way possible. But perhaps not quite a simple as the way I jotted down the recipe for the above shortbread. For my own purposes wrote down weights of flour, butter and sugar, then bracketed these together and wrote at the side "blitz tog., press in tin, bake 180C for 20". The caramel ingredients were also bracketed together and "melt, simmer 5 then pour" written at the side. The chocolate I remembered how to melt, and knew it needed spreading over the top, so no need to write down anything re that. My version of culinary shorthand perhaps.

However complicated a recipe may appear at first, it can become much easier to understand if we re-write the method again in our own words. Sometimes it seems as though cooks give far more information than is really necessary. Yet much of it is, especially for novice cooks - such as creaming fat and sugar together 'until light and fluffy', as the lightness of the creamed mixture is important when baking a cake, but a fairly experienced cook would probably only need to jot down 'cream fat & s tog.".

Trouble with me is I scribble down recipes on backs of envelopes, and then these get mislaid, lost or thrown away. So have to start again.
Somewhere have a ring binder full of hundreds of recipes, often five or more printed on just one side of a sheet of A4 paper. Proof that we don't always need a lengthy method to make something.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Tipping the Scales

Although the cheapest way to live would be to make everything from scratch, few of us have the time or inclination, and - after all - there are other things to do than slave away in the kitchen. Cooking well for a large family can be nearly a full-time occupation, and although in the past cooks had scullery maids, chefs have always got someone else to do much of the preparation, clearing up, and washing all the pots, domestic cooks - apart from being able to use some labour- saving gadgets treat cooking more as a chore than a pleasure. We need to get the balance right.

It was an article commented on that said that people buy most of their sauces that made me wonder how far we will go to cut costs. Not having read it myself, do not know if 'sauces' covers everything, or whether it meant sauces than many of us do make from scratch such as 'mint sauce' or 'cheese sauce'. Taking the blanket version, and even though most of the following could be made in the domestic kitchen, most of buy Tomato ketchup, HP (brown) sauce, Tabasco sauce, Hot Chilli Sauce, Tartare Sauce, Horseradish Sauce, and Salad Cream (which is also a type of 'sauce'). Many people prefer to buy prepared curry sauces, and often the flavoured tomato based pasta sauces. I even admit to buying small jars of Tartare sauce and Horseradish sauce.

In the past I have made most of the above (or versions of), and most did not end up out as good as 'the real thing', and making sauces from scratch can take some time. Time is money, so prefer to spend this making something more worthwhile. The one good thing about just once having a go at making everything we normally buy, is that when our money runs out, and we have the makings in our store cupboard, then we know we can still serve 'what we had before'. This is one reason why I believe that keeping a well-stocked store cupboard is essential to a cook. Not hoarding, you understand, always using the stores regularly, and re-stocking when items are on offer. In the Goode larder, gaps on shelves are looked on in horror, and re-filled a.s.a.p. But that's just me.

Shopping today is becoming more and more a mine-field. We can either take the easy route (trodden safely by others many times before) where we plan a week's menu, write out the shopping list and then go out and buy the necessary. Because temptation is not part of this approach, we can control the spending. But planning ahead we rarely get the advantage of buying something at a lower price - maybe a different joint of meat, or brand of baked beans - that might be on offer or at a reduced price for only that week. It all depends upon whether we need to save money.

When it comes to juggling the housekeeping budget, we can hope to keep within its limits, or as prices rise, cut out a few treats, or take more time finding the foods that cost less. To really save money, we need to spend time finding the bargains and then working a menu around these. But not only that. We need to find the store that sells the products we wish to buy - at the lowest price.

Few of us have time to shop in several stores in one week, so we have then to read closely the flyers that come through the doors, the ads in the paper and on TV, and then decide the best purchases for that week. It is often worthwhile buying more than we want, just as long as it has a good shelf-life or can be frozen. The next week we do the same thing shopping in another store. Over time, our shelves and freezers then stock foods that have all been bought at reduced prices, and often we can live off these for many weeks (as has been proved on this site), and a yearly audit would show that we have probably been able to cut our housekeeping budget by at least a third.

All this sounds far too complicated to be bothered with, and why most supermarket shopping is done by habit (as mentioned in the recent programme - read yesterday's blog re this). But we should remember that anyone who cooks the food they buy has absolute control over purchases, and like chefs in top restaurants - even though they buy quality foods - they always shop around to find the cheapest prices - often foods in season. Running a kitchen is like running a business.
Role-play manager of a catering company, or hotel (these too have fixed budgets of how much can be spent on food) and you will soon find you are looking to make a profit, and aware that 'portion control' helps to cut costs and save waste.
Tipping the scales only works they land heaviest on our side - not the supermarkets. If not interested in kitchen 'efficiency', then just aim for a balancing act.