Thursday, September 30, 2010

Each to His Own

Again a shorter blog has have today an early appointment for my annual 'free' chiropody session. This gives me a chance to reply to LizBeth about our 'free' medical care, as the money for this has to come from somewhere, and people who earn a wage/salary have reductions taken before they receive the money. A percentage is taken to pay tax, a set amount to pay National Insurance. Possibly another (set) amount if opting to pay for an extra pension over and above the state pension when retiring.

It is the National Insurance that pays for our free medical treatment (although now money has now to be paid for dental treatment and eye tests etc). Doctors, clinics and hospitals are free, and at one time so was prescribed medication, although now there is a set amount to be paid for that (but the elderly get this free).

However, even if people have never been paid a wage in this country - such as some mothers who have always stayed at home to bring up their children, and the ever-growing population of non-working asylum seekers - all get free health care.
With high unemployment and more people coming into this country, there is less money to go round and cuts keep being made. Hospitals have to work to a budget, and in sometimes a ward hase had to to be closed. This causes a delay in appointments, surgery and other hospital treatment.
Anyone can pay for private medical insurance, and this usually entitles them to speedy medical attention and surgery, although usually this would usually be in an NHS hospital, with a private room, and the surgeons would also work for the NHS. Although it can cost thousands of pounds (paid by the private insurance if the need is necessary - but don't think this covers cosmetic surgery) this means a queue is jumped, taking the place of someone who can't afford private insurance, and so has to wait longer for their own NHS treatment.

Perhaps - being a woman - feel that politicians never do seem to get the 'housekeeping' of our country right. At one time it seemed we were far better off when a lot of companies were nationalised. As soon as these were sold back to private companies, prices increased and keep being increased just so that the shareholders would get more money I suppose. Although think there were more strikes when an industry was nationalised. I can't keep track.

Believe also (like you LizBeth), that the old way - men working, women the home-makers, is the natural order of things, and perhaps this did work well as long as we women 'knew our place'. It was the Suffragettes in the early 19th century who wanted women to be allowed to vote, the two World Wars getting women out from the home into factories and on the land etc. Once finding they could still be individuals in their own right (called by name and not just 'mum') this gave a good feeling. Even now women still prefer to go out to work after having a baby, even though it costs more than they earn on child minders or a creche. Burning our bras was another of or female revolutions. Whether for good or bad - going out to work has led to a bit of a chain reaction - the need for convenience foods to save time, fast-food outlets for the same reason - credit cards to pay for everything when there isn't enough cash in hand - this itself leading to (probable) health problems and obesity. Not to mention debt. All could have been avoided if we had stayed at home. Who is to say what is right and what is wrong. Each to his own.

Some few years ago Donna, there was a programme on TV about plump schoolchildren going to one of the universities in Leeds, to stay for a week or so to learn about diets and also take more exercise. Wishing to find out more about this I type in 'overweight camps' in Google Search yesterday and was surprised to find out how many 'fat camps' there are running in this country. All voluntary - and a fairly large fee has to be paid. But further down that first page there is a website about the above mentioned TV programme, and it is worth reading. Towards the bottom of the page there is another about the Labour government in 2009 thinking about sending children to something similar (probably free this time) - but only with the consent of the parents. I would be almost unheard of to make a parent do something they don't wish to - although children have been taken in to care if they are not cared for properly.

How I agree with you Frugal Life UK, that we should leave other countries alone to do their own thing. Maybe I shouldn't even have mentioned the Jamie Oliver experiments. Do remember in this country when he first tried to get a school cooking something other than Turkey Twizzlers, the children's mothers used to buy fish and chips and hand them to the children over the school fence at lunch time.
Yesterday, on local (Lancashire) TV news, there was a bit about how a mother had included something 'unhealthy' to the very healthy packed lunch she had given to her son. A teacher had told the child he shouldn't eat this (it was something like crisps but forgotten the name), so he didn't. The mother was rightly annoyed as the rest of his meal was very good and this was just his 'occasional' treat.

However much we are interested individually about other countries - what they do right and what they do wrong (and this only in our own eyes), why is the larger nations seem to always want to interfere? If a nation has problems - then let them sort it out for themselves, unless directly asked for help, or at least 'interfere' in a different way other than sending in soldiers and killing civilians.
Perhaps this too is a naive way of looking at it. But often the 'help' given, leads to worse atrocities, and continuing fighting even today. It does seem the nations of the world are best run by rules set by Western politicians, even if these don't fit into the culture.

But enough of politics, obesity and the like. They really have no place on my blog, even though I like to vent my spleen from time to time. If we wish to improve things at all, then we have to start with our own country, and this is best done by starting with our own selves. Stop moaning about all the cuts that are necessary because the government has spent too much in the first place. To get ourselves back on track then money has to be found from somewhere - just as with a domestic budget. Grin and bear it I say. Going on strike during this credit crunch will never help - make things worse probably.

Let us get back some of the war-time spirit and all pull together. Those who have returned to more domestic duties (home-cooking, growing produce, recycling etc) are all 'doing their bit' for the nation's economy, and teaching themselves a lot on the way. We still have a very good life here.

Finally - thought for the day. We are now being encouraged to spend the little money we have so the various industries don't fall by the wayside. There is sense behind this - for here in Morecambe, lots of small shops have closed down, and more closing this autumn once the season is over. Driving along the front the other day noticed that the only shops now open seem the fast-food shops. Shows what we consider important in our lives.
But it's not just seaside towns, lots of High Streets now have only a few of their original shops open. Many still boarded up. Local shopping parades have lost their greengrocers, butchers, fishmongers, sweetshops, drapers, toyshops, grocers, bakers, being replaced by building societies, bookies, travel agents, estate agents, fast-food outlets, and Starbucks. Nothing really 'useful' (on a day to day basis) at all.

Must go now and promise tomorrow to be a good girl and not stick my beak into other countries affairs. We have enough problems in our own for me to fret about.
Keep commenting, and join me again tomorrow.

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.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Fishing for Compliments

Now that I've learned how to put photos on this site there is no stopping me. Sometimes I feel that almost anything will do a long as there is a picture to look at it. So yesterday decided to show how far one medium potato and one shallot could go (including in the first picture 'other things' that will be later mentioned).

You may remember that the other day I was photographing various empty jars and cans and suggesting various uses for these - even though they could legitimately go into the bin for 'cans' and the bin for 'glass' and not end up on a waste tip.
Forgot to show my 'flour sifter', this now seen above (with yellow lid). It is a small clear and solid plastic tub that once held something to do with cake-making (candied peel?). I heated a metal skewer and stuck it through the yellow plastic lid as many times as you can see (above) to make holes. When the tub is filled with flour, this is then able to be sifted through - as you can see from the forefront of the picture.
For this use it was necessary to push the skewer through from the underside of the lid to give a smooth finish so that the flour would fall through without being trapped by the rough edges of the plastic (now on the outside of the lid). If they were there just for ventilation, it wouldn't matter which side the holes were made.

I didn't need the flour when making supper, but it's there anyway just to show the effect when the tub is shaken. What I did wish to show was the medium potato and shallot used for supper - despite the small size, these - when sliced on the mandolin ( the veggies leaning on this) - it made quite enough to serve two..

The photo above shows the potato once it has been sliced (yes, all that from the one potato), with the shallot on the right of the picture. These were to be turned into 'potatoes dauphinoise', this dish normally cooked in the oven, but yesterday decided to cook them in a shallow pan on top of the hob (thus saving fuel) . A little double cream was poured into the pan, half the potatoes laid into the cream, slices overlapping. The shallot sprinkled in top, plenty of black pepper for seasoning, and the remaining potatoes again overlapped on top. A little more cream poured over and a glug of cold water, thenthe lid placed on. Left to simmer for a while - checked and found a little more water needed to be added - then lid replaced and cooked until the potatoes were tender and the cream almost absorbed (the water having evaporated). Grated Parmesan cheese was sprinkled over the top and popped under the grill to brown.
Served with hot poached salmon and green peas the 'dauphinoise' was much enjoyed by Beloved (he likes anything with cream). Myself just had the peas and potatoes, and have to say the spuds were very 'rich' in flavour, so did need plenty of seasoning (pepper) to offset this, but the creaminess would have complimented the salmon (which I didn't have) . Realise now that maybe some tartare sauce or horseradish cream could have been added to the cream before cooking to give the 'sauce' even more bite.

The mandolin is a very useful piece of equipment. I have had mine for umpteen years - just a cheap plastic one that had a spike-guard that could be pushed into whatever is being sliced - this protecting fingers (only that I have mislaid so have to be very careful). If buying a mandolin, always go for one that has a guard for the blades are so sharp they could easily slice into a finger. There are two sets of back plates with mine, and depending upon which is use you can get very thin slices, or some slightly thicker (the slices of potato shown were the thicker ones). Also - if the plates are turned round, the other sides will cut potatoes into chips, again thick or thin. Maybe newer mandolines can do much, much more. Mine being around 50 years old, it is pretty basic.

Eggy Bread and Beans: serves 2
1 egg
2 tblsp double cream
salt and pepper
1 x 450g can baked beans in tomato sauce
4 slices toasting bread (pref wholewheat)
2 oz (50g) or slightly less, grated cheese
salt and pepper
oil for frying
Beat the egg with the cream and add seasoning to taste. Heat the beans in a pan until hot and bubbling, then remove from heat.
Dip the bread into the beaten egg mixture and fry in a little hot oil in a frying pan until light gold on both sides. Remove and place on a grill pan, spooning over the hot beans and covering with the grated cheese. Grill for a couple of minutes until the cheese is melting and bubbling. Serve immediately.
variation: fry small button mushrooms and place over the beans before adding the cheese. Or spoon scrambled egg under the beans and cheese before grilling. Or do the lot if you wish for a more substantial meal. Served with a side salad the full monty would make a complete and very cheap meal for there is plenty of protein in the egg, beans and cheese, and carbos in the bread.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Worth More Than You Think

You could use plums, damsons or blackberries to make this (said to be) excellent wine, and perhaps - if you feel inventive - mix together some of each. If you are looking for a rich dark wine - use damsons.
Autumn Fruits Wine:
1 lb ripe chosen fruit (see above)
2 pints boiling water
Put the fruit into an earthenware bowl and pour over the boiling water. Let it stand for 5 days, stirring well each morning. Strain through muslin, squeezing the bag to remove as much juice as possible.
To every quart (2 pints) juice, add 1 lb (450g) sugar, stirring to dissolve, then pour into clean bottles, covering the tops with paper held tightly round the neck with string (or a rubber band). Prick the paper in several places with a needle to allow gases to escape. Leave bottles to stand for 4 weeks, then strain again, bottle and cork well. In a week the wine should be ready to drink.
Important Note: fermentation could still go on once the wine is bottled, so allow for this. Presumably, corked bottles will 'pop their corks' when under too much pressure. If using screw cap bottles, unscrew slightly (without removing cap completely - you don't want to let air in) every week to release any excess pressure, before screwing back up again. If there is no pressure, then check less often, but always make sure or you could end up with exploding bottles.

Have to say I'm a great 'rinser out'. The last dregs in the tomato ketchup and HP sauce bottles are always kept until time to have water added, to be - after a good shake - poured into the spag bol meat sauce being made, or a soup. Mayonnaise bottles will have a little hot water poured in, then again given a good shake - this makes a very thin mayo (to this a bit of yogurt could be blended) and poured over various salads to make a dressing that coats the food rather than the gloopy dollop that normally comes from the jar.

Almost empty Marmite jars - with a rinse of hot water - also make a good 'stock' to add to a casserole, and canned foods - especially chopped tomatoes - have a lot of the contents still stuck to the sides of the cans, and with water added, a shake given, poured into whatever is being cooked, leaving no waste and a clean can to dispose of.

Even detergent bottles - when 'empty' - will have a little hot water poured in, for there is always enough detergent still clinging to the inside of the plastic to ensure there will be enough to wash another load of pots. More often than not - when the container is almost empty, I squeeze it tightly and hold the top (with the squirty bit still fitted) under the hot tap and then release the pressure and the water is sucked into the bottle. Give it a good shake and then a lot more (weaker) detergent is there to be used.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Posh Nosh for Pence

We start with a photo of my jar of stock cubes. Meant to show it the other day with other uses for jars and containers - but forgot. Stock cubes boring? Well maybe, but one photo of something is better than none, and at least gives me a change to offer a few hints and tips.

Myself find it useful to collect all my stock cubes together, so that I can instantly see what varieties I have to choose from. Some stock cubes tumble out of the packet just wrapped in plain foil - as is the vegetarian one standing in front of the foot of the jar - as then have to use a pencil to indent the foil with a name or I would not remember what it was. You can just about see 'veg' on the cube above.

Normally I avoid cubes wrapped in plain foil, often - before I buy - peeking inside a packet to see if it the cubes have any symbols on them or coloured. As you see it is easy enough see the red (beef) OXO cubes in the above jar - and know the purple OXO is lamb flavoured. The best cubes are the ones that have the have the faces of animals on the wrapping - such as a cow, lamb, fish, beef, fish and even ham. These are the type I prefer.
To go into the larder to find the right pack then take out a cube, put the pack back , then go back into the kitchen takes time. Not a lot of time I admit, but having a jar of cubes on the worktop takes only seconds to find and remove the cube I want. Or perhaps 'efficiency' gets the better of me at times. However much of a slob I am around the rest of the house - efficiency and organization is the only way to get my kitchen working best.

One stock cube I never buy is chicken - as you know I always make my own - mainly because chicken stock cubes seem extremely salty compared to other flavours. Apparently some chicken cubes are now made with less salt, but home-made is so superior that everyone ought to make chicken stock themselves, as this can be used in a mulitude of dishes. When reduced down and frozen in ice-cube trays, we then have our own 'stock cubes'.

Stock cubes are really useful when wishing to add more flavour to a meal. Beef stock with lentils will make a good flavoured soup, and it bumps up the flavour when using a cube (or even half a cube) with a little mince (and a lot of veg) when making spag. bol.. If not vegetarian, then use a beef stock cube (or two) when rehydrating TVP mince. A ham stock cube cooked with split peas makes a very good soup (see recipe below), and saves a lot of time hunting around for a place that sells (cooked) ham bones.

At one time I used to have almost every flavour of stock cube sold - including the 'non-meats' such as 'pilau' or 'saffron' or 'chinese' cubes to add to rice and other dishes. Now buy only beef stock, vegetable, and lamb cubes.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Playing with Paper

As you can probably tell, I use a thousand words when one will do - so as today am having a chat about using up the junk mail we get through the front door, kitchen foil, and empty crisp packets, felt that scanning the diagrams in 'Have a Goode Year' would explain the 'how to's' far more simply than I can. Hope they have been printed large enough for you to read some of the instructions - but if not the diagrams should give enough info. Lots of photos follow to show what was made yesterday as these look even better in real life.

We begin with the page (p.91 if you have the book) that shows how to make magic lanterns, and for this I would use kitchen foil as the fold stays 'crisp' once unfolded. Otherwise use firm card. It is basically a matter of folding a sheet of foil/card/paper in half, then cutting with scissors through the fold up to a border at the edges, then unfolding, rolling it into a tube, fastening the two end strips together (you may not need to do this, it may hold its shape anyway), and then pressing down so the folded bit sticks out. The diagram shows this far more clearly that I can describe.

Below the 'lantern' is a diagram showing how to form a square mobile. Once cut and made into the shape shown, discovered yesterday that if two of the opposite 'sticking out' triangles, are lifted up and held together, this forms a rather fancy shape (almost a lantern) that looks even prettier dangling from something.

We come next to one of my favourite 'festoons', as originally made with plastic *supermarket) carrier bags (the stronger kind). When asked to demonstrate these on 'Bazaar' (TV series), the man who designed the studio sets was so taken with them that he went home, got some white carrier bags, painted strips of red and green on them, cut them up and decorated his own home that Christmas. Plastic can be slippery, and as - unbelievably - the cut pieces stretch out to a very great length, always best to hold the uncut folds in place with clothes pegs or paper clips so the cuts are even.
At that time used to shop around to find out who gave away the brightest carrier bags - M & S had green ones - which were very 'Christmassy', and think Safeways (at that time) had a lot of red on their bags. But even those mostly white can look good.

As ever (to avoid waste) first try making this using newspaper. The diagram below shows 'how to' (p.93 in the book). Fold in half lengthways, then fold again - and again if wide enough to do so. The more folds, the wider the 'mesh'. As I said, hold the edges/folds in place with clips, then begin cutting through the paper from one side only, leaving a border. Then turn the paper over and cut up from the other side, again not quite through - this again explained better looking at the diagram.
Remove the clips and you will see the paper with then unfold into a long and quite attractive strip in its own right. Worth folding a double thickness of foil twice and cutting to this stage - as the 'zig-zags' look good draped over a Christmas Tree, or even around a room/mantlepiece.

Another decoration we can make (not shown here) is to wind long thin strips of foil round a knitting needle (a tapered stick is even better), then carefully slide the foil down, and it will then hang in ringlets - these can look a lot like icicles and also good dangling from Christmas tree branches.

If using plastic bags or coloured paper, to make the 'mesh' festoons, carefully unfold until back into its original flat piece, they you will see it will stretch out into a 'festoon', and as plastic hags tend to roll into a lacy tube when the mesh is gently stretched, they look particularly good.

Some of us older ones may remember that trick of asking someone to walk through a postcard. The postcard folded in half, then cut through to the border - this then would open out to make a huge 'hole' that would easily be slipped over the head and down to the feet. In the same way, these 'festoons' stretch out to an amazing length.The festoons do not have to be made with plastic (supermarket) bags. Myself have made them using the large packs that numerous bags of crisps are sold in. But as you will see later one small bag of crisps has a reason to live beyond the munch.
The first photo shows the start of the square mobile, made using a square piece of typing paper, larger than normally used just so you get the effect. It was folded in half, then half again (as shown at the bottom of the first diagram) a visible line drawn to mark the border, then a line drawn down from corner to corner, and three more evenly spaced each side. The photo shows the folds, the lines, and as it looks after it has been cut through from the folded edges up to the border.

Unfolded, the paper should now look like the above photo. All that we do then is fold back alternate triangles of paper - as you work you will find the triangles on opposite sides have to be alternate to the other two sides to give the final effect is as shown below.
If you can find card that has a pattern - maybe a box that contained biscuits, or chocolates, even if white inside, these too will cut into very good 'mobiles'. Made a small one yesterday - and if it has not been thrown out (Beloved got fed up with all my bits of paper, asked me if I needed them any more and I said no - after photographing most of them) will show you this tomorrow .

Now back to the festoons again. The one shown below was made from a sheet of typing paper, not the whole length as I stupidly tore it across the middle, but you get the idea.

The festoon below is made from an empty packet of salt and vinegar crisps (the green colour being 'Christmassy'. Use 'ready salted' and the red packet would be even more 'seasonal'. Cheese and Onion come in a blue packet, so why not buy - and eat lots - and enjoy the effect).
Why crisp packets? Well the inside is shiny foil, and this reflects light when cut, and although some might say "if so short of money you can't afford to buy decorations, then you shouldn't waste money on crisps", there are other packets have foil innards. I say 'foil', but more shiny metallic as this type doesn't fold as easily as kitchen foil. Paper round bars of chocolate also have the same shiny insides. But suppose paupers can't afford to buy chocolate either, but there is always something that can be used - like the plastic bags that come through the letterbox asking us to put all our old clothes into it then leave it at the gate.
Or use the multicoloured pages from the junk mail that comes through the letterbox. Believe me - we have the necessary if we bother to look for it.

Even if we are not strapped for cash, does this mean we shouldn't take advantage of something that has potential? If children can see the effort we put in to make their Christmas enjoyable, then surely this means more to them that taking the easy way - putting your hand in your pocket and buying the ready-made? Or am I being old-fashioned again?
The photo above is not very clear, but you can see how the crisp packet has been folded just the once, then cut through from side to side in strips (again use a paper clip/clothes peg to grip the plastic as it IS very slippery). When opened out the effect is as above.
Below you see the same 'festoon' dangling from the larder door-knob (picture on its side as it fits better on this page, just twist your head round to see the proper effect). This shows how the inside (foil) and outside (colour of the packet looks really good, and you wouldn't know it started out as salt and vinegar - would you? Proving that a single set of loops can be just as effective as a large mesh (and somewhat easier to accomplish).

Snowflakes can be painted on windows using diluted Epsom salts (the liquid dries out back into crystals again), and coloured paper from old mail order catalogues cut up to make paper chains.

For children the more decorations the better, and they love making paper chains. If not able to buy a tree, then find some twigs, bind them with white paper or kitchen foil, tie them up into a tree shape, and hang home-made sweets and gingerbread shapes from the 'branches'.

With small children, very little money needs to be spent to make them blissfully happy, it worked in the olden days and still works now.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Don't throw out the Empties!

Some plastic containers I do find worth keeping - the sturdy ones can hold foods to defrost, and use to cook peas/baked beans etc in the microwave. Some are very good to place under flowerpots to hold water that may drain out after watering. The larger ones I fill with compost and use to grow Mixed Salad Leaves on the window-sill. If we have paid for something we can't eat (and yes, we always pay for more than the ingredients - once they are wrapped), then make use of it if we can. Even if only once.

Although realising that almost certainly I will be preaching to the converted - decided to give a few examples of cans and jars that have been kept for one reason or another. It goes without saying that most average sized empty jars will be kept to fill with home-made jam or marmalade, larger ones can be filled with pickled onions, pickled cabbage, or used as storage jars.

Last time I ordered coffee, the larger size jars worked out cheapest, so I bought four! For I cannot see the price of coffee going down. Does any price go down these days? This purchase coffee should last us AGES, perhaps more than a year (we like weak coffee and have no more than one or two mugfuls a day each). In the photo below you see one of the empty coffee jars - and this is a very good size to use as a storage jar. So now I will have four, will probably save them for this purpose.
Being quite shapely, can see this coffee jar could also double up as a flower vase. A friend of mine used to ask me for the coffee jar lids as she used to stuff them and cover with material to turn into pincushions that she sold at craft fairs.

In the same photo (above) you see an empty black treacle tin. This rinsed out with boiling water (this sweet liquid can be used in baking) and dried is used as a holder for my kitchen pens and pencils. The larger treacle and Golden Syrup tins are also saved as they can hold small plant pots.
Before I forget - some cream tubs have a plastic lid covering the foil top, and these lids make wonderful 'coasters' that exactly fit under the mugs we use. They also fit over the top of some of our mugs, so that they can be used to cover the liquid (to avoid spillage) when a drink is being carried around some distance - like down the garden path to the someone who is beavering away, digging up dinner. Or perhaps our own cuppa that we can take to the garden seat to watch others do the hard work.

By the way - you can also see at the back of the (above) photo, the bread that Beloved baked yesterday. He hadn't the patience to knead it as long as he should, or wait until it has risen enough (twice), but at least he made a loaf - and I told him that it was better than my first ever attempt (I like to think I lied, but it was probably the truth). Today I hope to sample this as a slice of breakfast toast.

The picture above shows one (empty) jam jar that has been filled with dried thyme leaves, still on their stems. This is much the best way to keep the flavour, and - as thyme when dry keeps its flavour - can remove some 'twigs' and strip the leaves off to flavour casseroles when I wish. The jar with the black lid (as you can see from the label) held the tiny pack of saffron that you can see in the middle front. The wee jam jar on the left is quite large enough to hold this pack, so it will be stored in this smaller jar. showing this mainly as an example of how we shouldn't judge a book by its cover - or in other words expect any container/packet to be full when we buy it. No doubt - once I have soaked off the label - will find a use for the empty spice jar.

Before I move on to other things we can make use of, want to show a photo (taken some years back) of bread that was baked in a very long tin - think this once held cooked meat (catering size). But no reason why small empty and cleaned cans cannot be used as 'baking tins' (large metal biscuit tins can also be used for baking large cakes).. The individual sized cans of tuna or baked beans would make very good 'cake' tins to use for individual fruit cakes (for that Christmas Hamper). If it is possible to remove both ends of a can without leaving sharp edges (some can openers can do this) then the shallow metal rings can be filled with something savoury (or sweet), liked mashed potato (or mousse) to present prettily on a plate as the chefs seem to wish to do these days. Some people find a short length of new plastic drainpipe can be easily cut into these 'cook's rings'. But if we have already bought the tin...
The picture above shows a loaf baked in the tall tin that is standing behind and to the right. A shorter (baked bean) tin standing at the side just to show difference in can sizes. In the forefront is a Golden Syrup tin holding a small Christmas Cactus.

We now come to one useful way to use kitchen foil (other than cooking). If used foil is clean, use that instead of new. The picture below shows a 'bell' made by scrunching up a ball of foil (seen at the side of the bell), placing this on top of the chosen 'mould' to give a rounded top, and then laying over a sheet of foil, pressing it down firmly, then lifting off and neatening the base by tucking ends under. To make a stronger bell, use a double sheet of foil.

Cleaned, empty yogurt cartons (basic shape), make very good 'moulds' for bell-making as they have a lip at the rim that gives a good 'bell-shape' to the completed ding-dong. In the two photos, an eggcup with the ball on top was used as the mould - as you see in the photo below.
Instead of foil, those small foil pie tins (round mince pies etc) could be used instead of kitchen foil, although I prefer to keep these to bake more pies in.

With a bit more careful smoothing, these bells look very good dangling from festoons, or collected in twos or threes and fixed to a wire coat hanger that has been formed into a circle (with the hook at the top) the wire first and first round with red/green tinsel. Two or three bells can hang under the hook, dangling in the centre.
Although a bit fiddly to attach, the scrunched up ball can be speared with a cocktail stick, then threaded up into the bell, the stick going through the top, to give the appearance of a 'clapper'.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Don't Leave it Too Late!

The best present a cook can give is a little 'food hamper' full of home-made goodies, maybe some jam, pickles, biscuits, a little packet of pot-pourri (using dried scented flowers from the garden), all can be made during earlier months, leaving things like lemon curd until the last moment.
The other week mentioned making pomanders (an orange studded with cloves, then dried and tied with ribbon). As these are sold in many shops - and very expensive too - being so easy to make feel that this is another gift worth giving, and yesterday discovered a photo of 'one I made earlier' (some years back now) andas I used to make these every year, had quite a collection. They do tend to become drier and smaller as the years go by, but put into a bag with a little cinnamon, then given a shake, this refreshes them and they still work as an 'aromatic' to stand on a windowsill or on a shelf above a radiator. Christmas decorations are another thing we could start preparing now. We should never need to buy any, for there is so much around the house that we can make use of. But more of these in a later blog.

The second photo today shows just the end of a gingerbread house that was made for display at Christmas and then later eaten. It makes a good gift for a family with young children, and although these can be bought ready made - always they are VERY expensive compared to the home-made. As you see. the one below is liberally trimmed with icing (dripping down to make icicles), Smarties and Jelly Babies. Think I also see a gold foil covered chocolate coin above the window.

A basic gingerbread house - using white (royal) icing to decorate - will dry out more the longer it stays at room temperature, and it is not unheard of for these cakes to be wrapped up and packed away to bring out again the next Christmas, and ones after. Never to be eaten, but used for decoration. Christmas tree 'shapes' can also be made from gingerbread and decorated.
A lot depends on the recipe as to the firmness of the gingerbread, and whether you wish the cake/biscuits to be eaten, best check on the Internet to find the recipe most suitable for your needs. Think it is called something like Leubchen (completely the wrong spelling but similar). This decorated cake brings more delight to young children than you would believe.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Pennies saved add up to £££s

Starting today by gathering up a few loose ends, in the hope (as they say) that pictures tell a thousand words.

The first photo shows the 'egg candle' mentioned yesterday (ignore the larger candles in the pic), you can see the red candle sitting in an egg cup with some of the red wax rind (that made the candle) saved from Edam cheese lying on the table at the side. If buying a cheap egg cup (even better a quality one on the cheap from a car boot or charity shop), adding the candle to the egg cup would make a very good gift. some Edam type cheese is coated with green wax, so this is also worth saving. Edam cheese is lower in calories than other hard cheeses, so those on a diet can save both calories and money if they use the cheese/rind to its full potential.

The picture below shows yet another use for parcel string. This time made into a doll's house mat. Learned how to make this after I had read my Beloved's book of Nautical Knots, this particular one called 'Ocean Plait'. If you look this knot up on the Internet, about three or four down on the first page will be shown a more defined (sharper) picture of a mat made this way, and also a demo giving instructions on 'how to make'. It is simpler than it first appears, but a bit fiddly. Probably easier making a full size mat than a tiny one. But if you have a grandchild with a doll's house - then this and another few home-made miniatures will make a very good present. It doesn't really matter how little a gift cost, just as long as it is right for the person. How many times we have been bought expensive gifts that we didn't really like, when (for me) a set of wooden spoons would have been much more acceptable.

It crossed my mind that mats like this could be made with the 'rope' formed when French Knitting (remember those nails stuck in the top of cotton reels?). Seems now children are starting to French Knit again, so with your help a daughter/ granddaughter might be able to make her own doll's rug from scratch. With wool, it is easiery to pin the loops together to hold them in place whilst weaving under and over.

We come now to photos of yesterday's 'free food' gathered and gleaned. Even using container plants (and not a lot of those it has to be said are in our garden) we are still able to harvest enough that - when comparing supermarket prices - prove we have saved a few pounds each week during the 'cropping season'. The first photo shows our last (growing) tray of mixed salad leaves - these are still young, but edible, and should keep growing and feeding us for a couple or so more weeks, by which time more seeds will have been sown. So an ongoing crop.

Asked Beloved yesterday to collect the apples that had fallen from the tree on to our lawn, adding "there maybe more underneath the tree in the 'shrubbery'. The picture below is what he brought back in, and there are still quite a few left growing on the tree. As they go a deep red on one side when fully ripe still have a few weeks to go, and will also grow larger. The largest fallen apple was rosy and the size of a Bramley (seen at the front of the bowl), several others quite large, and most were medium to small, a total of nearly 6lb in weight (the bowl larger and deeper than it looks), so again a lot of money saved.

We then come to yesterday's min-crops. The usual small courgettes (three) show below, with more to come, and if I had felt inclined could have stuffed the flower, plus another from one on the plant, to fry as yet another source of 'food'. The tomatoes are still producing plenty, we get a tub - seen below - at least twice if not three times a week, so as I eat them like sweets, am very pleased.

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.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Harvest Time

Today's photo shows yesterday' 'harvest'. Cannot not believe how many small cherry tomatoes are growing on just two plants, we seem to be picking the same amount every third day - as with the raspberries also in the bowl shown below. There is one tomato plant, the foliage completely eaten by slugs, that still seems to be providing a plum tomato now and again - as also seen below. The other tomato plants have been left to die off, but still growing tomatoes. Seems they can thrive even if neglected.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Extreme Cost-Cutting

Today starts with two photos of yesterday's 'harvest' from containers in our garden. Now that food prices are rising, it is very important to realise that what can be very expensive to buy will often work out as cheap as chips when home-grown (not that chips are cheap these days).

The autumn fruiting raspberries (variety "Autumn Bliss") , planted this spring, are ripening by the day, and this is the amount picked yesterday - three days after the previous picking (roughly the same amount). We have now been gathering the berries for a while now, and still a lot more to come. Not bad for six canes, and almost certainly the amount of berries gathered - if bought - would have cost us just as much as did the canes. So in the first year they have paid for themselves. Not only that, new canes have been growing, so next year there should be an even larger crop. The flavour is wonderful, far better than any bought ones.

The tomatoes too are now cropping well, so have decided to grow more next year despite my initial disappointment. Loads more small ones to come, and one neglected plant suddenly has thrown off the four rather strange shaped tomatoes seen in the forefront. Slugs have eaten all the foliage and now attacking the fruit, so gathered them while still green. Bet this variety would never be sold in the shops. Again money-saving for it would cost more to buy the cherry tomatoes than the packet of seeds.

Did pick one courgette yesterday, as the second plant is now producing them rapidly, and several more 'babies' are growing. Even the third plant has now decided to bear at least one courgette.
The pack of courgette seeds was part of a pack of five different vegetable seeds that I was able to buy at sale price of £3 for the lot. Think these were Italian in origin.
This morning fished out the courgette packet and counted the seeds left the packet - and allowing for those sown - the packet originally held 70. To make it easy on myself, worked out that if the pack of seeds at 'sale price' worked out at 60p, then each seed cost less than 1p, and so far two of the seeds (now grown into plants) grew into plants) have now produced at least 10 courgettes EACH. Wasn't there an old saying that went something like "ten a penny?" Seems that even in 2012 this can still apply.

The main theme of today's blog is the 'feed four for £1' that I said yesterday could still be possible so decided to start working it out. Mind you, it has given me a few more grey hairs. Even so - as long as you are aware that quality flies out of the window and brands we might normally not wish to buy are used - then not quite as difficult as it first appeared.

Much depends on the foods we keep in store, and stores we need, for we cannot keep within a budget if we have to go out and buy something when we only need a little bit of it. Often it annoys me (and it shouldn't) when I see "Main Meals for a family for a week for only £30", then read down the list of all the ingredients used, and discover half of them have been costed as bits of this, and teaspoons of that... Start buying the list from scratch, and we would need to spend over £100 - or more!

So - like 'Daily Cook's Challenge', where the chefs work to a budget, and cost out every last little thing used, this has to be the only way to prove we CAN put a three course meal to feed a family for just £1. And - like DCC - a few items from the store cupboard are allowed 'free' (salt, pepper, spices, oil for shallow frying etc).

Working to a tight budget such as this is more an explanation of 'how to' rather than have the menu written in stone, for it all depends on what each of us have in our fridge, freezer, and cupboards (or grow on our windowsill or in our gardens - or even forage from hedgerows) at any one time.
What I CAN do is explain exactly how I would go about putting together a menu from what I discovered yesterday, and then explain how adaptions can be made - again according to the individual. Also important to remember that we can do much to pave the way by advance planning - in other words making the most of what we have at any one time - and drying/preserving/freezing it away to use later.
Home-made chicken stock is an example. It has been mentioned many times on this blog that most butchers will give away chicken carcases to their customers, these carcases (the more the better) make really good stock (even without the veggies) and often a few ounces of cooked meat can also be removed from the bones once the stock has been made. All quality and all 'free'.

Before I even start, there is no point in writing back to me saying "we don't wish to eat such cheap food", or we don't like spices", or "we have no garden". You want a meal for four that cost £1, so that is what you are getting. Make up your own version if you don't like it, but don't blame me if it costs more for all of us have to cut our coat according to our cloth, and what is easier for one will always be more difficult for another. Just take this as a guide to how to go about it, and maybe it will prove easier than you think.
And - as there are limits to my frugality - for the purpose of this exercise, am not counting the cost of fuel it takes to cook any of the dishes.

With a fixed amount of money to work with, begin with the cheaper courses. These will either be the starter or the pudding (often both can be incredibly cheap to make) so perhaps not surprising that my suggestion for the first course will be soup, and for want of anything better am suggesting the cauliflower soup mentioned the other day, that can be made from the outer leaves and core saved from a bought cauliflower.
This is where we should stop and have a think. Can we afford the milk for the soup? Probably if using dried milk. Do we need to use all the leaves? Not necessarily. Somes could be trimmed, the green bits going into the soup, the hard 'rib' bit in the middle than sliced and used in a main course Stir-Fry. Or would it be cheaper making a split pea soup flavoured with a stock cube? (Cheapest stock cubes work out 10p for a pack of 10 = 1p each). If we already have these ingredients in our store cupboard then we are more than half-way there.
Or we could make an almost free (and very nutritious) soup by using home-made chicken stock to which has been added chicken scraps taken from the carcase. Or blend the chicken scraps with a smidgen of butter (or marg), add a pinch of nutmeg, and serve 'Chicken Pate' with Melba Toast as a starter (see below for the price of bread).

To go with the soup we need bread/toast *well, don't NEED, but it makes it more filling). My first thought was to make Soda bread (keeping some back to use for a Bread and Butter Pudding), but after checking supermarket prices and seeing their cheapest bread is 30p for a full size loaf (white, brown, medium and thick sliced), that seems the most sensible buy (as no need then to use fuel to bake bread), and although not quality, should be perfectly good for Melba toast (with pate) or croutons ( with soup), and for Bread and Butter pudding. Still more than half a loaf left to use another day.
Another starter could be 'Piss en Lit au Lard' = this being a classic French dish made with dandelion leaves braised in a little bacon fat, with a few crispy bacon snippets. We have the dandelions in the garden, but couldn't find the price of a pack of cheap bacon (offcuts) in Tesco's website, so you have to price this for yourself.
So that's the starter sorted.

If planning a light main course, as substantial pudding might well be B & B now that we have a cheap loaf to play with. The cheapest eggs, and reconstituted milk powder adding essential protein, but a lighter dessert might be a Granita - frozen sweetened black (instant) coffee. Or maybe jelly (cheapest 19p - serves four) layered with some toasted breadcrumbs and maybe a bit of home-made yogurt.

My first choice for the main course was Falafel (made with split peas instead of chickpeas) and served with home-grown Mixed Salad Leaves (seeds free with a Lakeland Catalogue) and home-grown griddle cherry tomatoes still on the vine. Now that's class. Cheap it maybe but doesn't lack quality. But not everyone is 'growing their own' so other suggestions further on.

Here is the Falafel recipe - remembering that spices etc are allowed as 'freebies' from stores. Am also not costing the fresh mint as this too is home-grown. All I can say is - if you haven't any mint, then why didn't you grow some earlier this year? To pare costs down to the minimum, we really should put in some effort. The less money we wish to spend on a (home-cooked) meal, then we need to plan. Like January when we should be thinking about what veggies to grow. So next year start sowing those seeds, and always keep an eagle eye open for supermarket bargains (like those 4p cans of curry sauce that we now all know and love).

Falafel: to feed 4
8 oz (450g) yellow split peas
half onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed (opt)
6 fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
half an egg
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
cayenne and salt and pepper to taste
Measure the split peas, then put into a bowl with twice the measure of water, cover and leave to soak for 24 hours, then drain well and mash. Mix in the remaining ingredients, then cover and chill for 2 hours before forming into small balls. Flatten each ball slightly, then fry in shallow oil on both sides until a rich brown colour.

According to what we have been able to buy cheaply, or what we grow - it might be cheaper to make a Chinese Stir-Fry, or vegetarian Indian curry. There are packs of noodles (which include a flavour sachet that can be used for something else - such as soup) for only 10p. Serve these noodles with the Stir-Fry. Make and serve chapatis or puris with the curry - instead of expensive rice.
Another reminder about that curry sauce that is occasionally on sale for 4p (yes FOUR PEE), for it has crossed my mind that if I served curried courgettes (my courgettes being 10 a penny) this could work out at less than 5p - and probably still serve four (sans chapatis).

Below is a selection of foods that are sold for really low price at Tesco - maybe other stores have even lower prices. Use one or more as a basis for a chosen dish.
Value Lasagne sheets: 30p for 250g
Value Spaghetti: 38p for 78g
Tesco Value Bread: brown and white - 30p for 800g
Oakhouse jelly: 19p pk
Noodles: 10p pack
Cheapest flour: 28p
Cheapest stock cubes: 10p pack of 10

Also made notes of how much certain products were per 100g (4 oz - this often being the amount used in a recipe). Some were canned (canned weight being more, but still cheap enough).
Cannellini beans: 16p per 100g.
Red Kidney beans: 8p per 100g
Oak Lane Baked Beans: 7p per 100g
Oak Lane Baked Beans and Sausages: 9p per 100g
Canned peas and Frozen peas: both 8p per 100g
Mushy peas: 6p per 100g

Was unable to price dried skimmed milk although different varieties/brands are on sale in the stores.

Just taking Baked Beans at the above price, cheap bread ( approx 1p per slice), and a 10p egg, quite a good breakfast of 'beans on toast with a poached egg on top' need cost no more than 20p. Yet if serving that for a 'main course' for four it would take up nearly all the £1 budget.

Maybe £1 is now far too little money to feed four, but by explaining how a filling first course, and a pudding - helps to satisfy our appetites, the main course need not be so substantial, and therefore cost little if we avoid using expensive protein. We could even serve just two courses (omitting either the starter or the pud), although it is a fact that three courses are more 'filling' even if small portions, than two larger ones.
It might well be the suggested dishes end up nutritionally unbalanced, and we don't eat our 'five a day', but on the other hand - this £1 experiment is not the sort of meal we would expect to serve every day.

The cheapest dishes will always be vegetarian, but - as mentioned above - we must not forget the chicken scraps that we can pick from a cooked carcass - these could be used in several of the dishes shown below, or be turned into chicken burgers (using breadcrumbs instead of potato), as well as chicken soup or pate.
So here are some 'cheap' suggestions for the main course.
Pan Fry Pizza
Pasta with home-made tomato or pesto sauce
Cassoulet (using cheap canned beans and sausages)

Dare say it would be possible to serve a three course meal using only 'foraged' ingredients (there for at no cost at all), and believe there are some folk out there who do like to live this way. Would that we could, but am now too old and lazy to do more than sow a few seeds and drag out my calculator to work out the costs, rather than actually making them..
However am planning to make some really inexpensive 'goodies', and will be taking a photo of each, so more cost-cutting to come.

Friday, September 03, 2010

More for Less...

Today's blog is packed with photos, and if you wish to save money - then please don't skip through, for each picture tells a story. The first three pictures were taken many years ago - around the time I gave demonstrations. The other photos were taken yesterday.

The ingredients that made the 16 home-made scones (seen above) cost exactly the same as the four shop-bought scones (on the right) still in their wrapper. Proving that we can have four home-made for the price of one bought.

Don't start bleating at me with "well it costs extra money to bake them at home" - because all I will then say is just plan to bake scones when the oven is on for something else. What I like to do is make up a batch of 'scone mix', keep it in the fridge, then add the required amount of milk to make and bake just a couple or three scones when the oven IS on for something else. This way no extra fuel is used and the scones will always be freshly made with none left over to go stale.

This next picture is another 'more for your money' demo piece showing the contents of a bought tub of coleslaw that had been decanted into the small bowl. At the side is a much larger bowl full of homemade coleslaw where the ingredients cost less than the bought. No fuel costs as no cooking.

The last of the 'demonstration' photos demos three different vegetarian dishes meals made using the same ingredients. The plate top left shows a plate of raw veg (crudites) to go with a dip - the bowl of tortilla chips in the centre was 'extra'. Bottom left shows the same veg made into a Chinese Stir-fry. Middle right again the same vegetables this time sliced thinly and layered in a pastry case. Once baked this is served in wedges (like a pork pie).

Being inspired by the 'nothing in the cupboard but...' (mentioned yesterday), was even more inspired by the coleslaw pic above. Decided to make not just coleslaw but also other things, using a few ingredients that most of us always keep - carrot, celery and onion (called by the cooks the 'Holy Trinity'). To these added a small chunk of white cabbage and the last of a large jar of mayo. These can be seen in the photo below. For those who wish to be precise about things, the large baking potato weighed 9 oz; the white cabbage 5 oz; the carrot 4 oz, the onion 6 oz; the rib of celery 2 oz; and there were three tablespoons of mayo.

It is always worth remembering that less always looks more when it is sliced thinly, grated, shredded or chopped. Useful when extra mouths need feeding and plates still need to look full. My plan was to make the most of the vegetables above and use each in more than one dish. So now comes the step by step approach.

Firstly the cabbage was grated and later mixed with half a grated carrot and some finely sliced onion (these then bound with dilute mayo to make the coleslaw). Five thin slices were taken from the potato and cut into matchsticks. Even the potato peel was to be used. The main part of the potato was diced and after cooking and draining, while still hot mixed with half the diluted mayo and half the finely sliced onion - this then making the potato salad. Alittle sliced celery added (because there was a bit left over). Oddments of potato trimmings (aka mis-shapes) would go into the soup.

The soup itself was made with half the carrot that had been finely diced, most of the celery - also finely diced, about a third of the onion (also diced), and the oddments of potato. Covered with water this was simmered until the vegetables were tender. Using hicken stock instead of water would vastly improve the flavour for non-vegetarians - otherwise add plenty of seasoning.

Above you can see those few vegetables after they had been prepared. Top row from the left: potato peelings, then 'matchstick' potatoes, the diced potato and a pile of shredded cabbage. In the centre is a bit of sliced celery and the potato 'mis-shapes'. Bottom row from the left: diced celery, diced carrot, grated carrots, sliced onion, chopped onion. At the back a small dish containing the mayo (ignore the other things on the table - just couldn't be bothered to clear the decks).

Here we see the result: top left a bowl of chunky soup, top right a big bowl of coleslaw. In the middle the fried potato skins. Bottom left the fried crispy matchstick 'chips', and bottom right is the potato salad (to this has been added a little sliced celery.

To recap: Cabbage, carrot, onion and mayo went into the Coleslaw. Carrot, celery, onion and potato used to make the soup. Potato, onion, mayo (and a bit of celery) made the potato salad. And remaining potato fried to make 'matchstick' chips, the potato peel also fried into crispy nibbles..

A word about the coleslaw - I like the crunchiness of finely shredded raw white cabbage, but if you prefer it softer, either blanch shredded cabbage in boiling water (or steam) for a very few minutes before refreshing under cold running water. Pat dry before making s 'softer' coleslaw. Grating the cabbage instead of shredding it also makes it less 'crunchy'. Same with onion, grate if you want it softer, shred if you wish to to be more 'crunchy'.

The mayonnaise was diluted with water to make a thick pouring consistency and shared between the potato salad and the coleslaw. Myself prefer a light mayo to bind vegetables, rather than the thicker 'gloopy' mayo straight from the bottle. Yogurt could also be added to mayo to give a creamier texture. For those who like more 'bite' to their mayo, stir in a little made mustard, or lemon juice.

When making potato salad, save cooking time by dicing the potato before boiling. then it should take only a very few minutes before the potatoes are tender. Don't let them get too soft. The waxier 'salad' potatoes make a better salad as they have a firmer texture, but the baking potatoes work well enough. After draining the potatoes, put them into a bowl and immediately stir the (diluted) mayo into them. This way the spuds absorb more flavour.

Although not easy to see in the picture above, there was enough potato salad to serve two, and enough coleslaw to serve three (or even four). It was a very generous portion of soup, and had this been blitzed more liquid would need to be added - this would then serve two. Sadly, there only enough 'matchstick chips' for one. B ate those (well, he would wouldn't he - just because I love them), but I was allowed to eat the fried peelings - and these I have to say were pretty good.

But my suggested use of the veggies needn't end there. Instead of making 'matchsticks', some of the potato could have been grated to fry as a sort of 'rosti', or half of the spud cooked and mashed then mixed with a small can of tuna (or sardines) to make fishcakes. Am sure you can all think of different ways to make the small selection go further.

Chicken or beef stock could be used instead of water when making the soup. Add a little shredded cabbage and maybe some broken bits of pasta and this would end up almost be a Minestrone. Alternatively make the already substantial 'chunky' soup, even more warming by including lentils or pearl barley.

So that was yesterday's 'thought for the day', and hope the above has been of interest, at least it explains how a few few vegetables can go further than we expect - and also in many different guises.