Thursday, May 05, 2011

A Chance to do Better?

During the last war, when everyone who had a garden needed to grow as much produce as possible to help feed the family, front lawns were dug up so that potatoes could be planted, marrows grew on top of air-raid shelters, every last bit of soil was used to produce something. After rationing, people put their gardens back to growing flowers again, although a few still continued to grow veggies, but whatever, gardening then became more a bobby than anything else.

It seems we need a reason to do anything 'sensible' like providing for ourselves. Why can't we do this all the time? At least - with the current recession - the nation is again beginning to become more self-sufficient, and enjoying it more and more as time goes by. This says a lot about the pleasures we can find once we start to 'deliberately' save money.

As well as 'growing our own', another bonus of the 'credit crunch' is that more and more people are weaning themselves off the 'ready-meals' and back cooking meals from scratch in their own kitchens, the whole family enjoying better tasting (and cheaper) food than ever before.

Same goes for other 'lost' crafts. We see the members of the public on the current 'thrift' programmes, thrilled to bits because they've managed to make something from almost nothing. Yet we've always been able to do that, it seems that the pressure of advertising by manufacturers has (in their own interests) persuaded us to forget our innate skills and we should allow them do the work for us.
No wonder the nation was getting more and more discontented with life. With all the fun taken away from us, the only way to find enjoyment was to spend, spend, spend, and continue doing so in an attempt to fill a gap in our lives.
We all hear about people who have bought 100's of pair of shoes, yet mostly they are unworn. Same with handbags, or lipsticks, and - of course - wardrobes of clothes, again mostly unworn. No-one seems to have twigged that more pleasure comes when we DON'T spend, than when we do. Just as long as we don't waste our time doing nothing.

Nothing really gives us as much pleasure as creating something ourselves, be it growing something that is either beautiful to look at or tasty to eat. Or maybe cooking up a feast for the family that hasn't cost a lot. Even making our own soft furnishings and adapting clothes for ourselves and our children that had been bought from a charity shop. And for goodness sake, let's make the children's toys instead of buying them. We all know that toddlers much prefer to play with the box a gift came in than the box itself.

Whether it is now a 'fashionable' thing to do to become self-sufficient, or whether we really have re-discovered the pleasures forced upon us by the recession, will we still continue once things improve and more money again lines our pockets. Let us hope so, but while the going is good, we really should grab this chance to keep these 'skills' going, and teach our offspring (and others)to keep up the good work.

Perhaps it was seeing a double spread in the newspaper yesterday (all to do with food of course) that moved my thoughts in this direction, for reading it urged me 'to do better'. Not that there was any need to 'do better', for the idea was - or at least appeared - pretty good. A real winner in fact. But I do tend to read between the lines, pull any suggestion to bits, search for the faults.
You could ask why - now we can afford to buy more expensive foods - do I still persist in trying to find the cheapest way to eat very well indeed? Probably because I enjoy doing so. Some might call this a bobby, for me it is definitely a way of life, perhaps a 'vocation', for I work hard enough at it - mainly by thought processes (involving pocket calculators and reams of paper working things out) than doing actual cooking (which strangely I don't enjoy doing THAT much, unless experimenting). Others do this sort of thing as paid work. Beloved would love me to be paid for what I do. But that would defeat the object.

The above mentioned article was an ad by Sainsburys headed by "feed your family for £50" under which was then printed "Four people, One week. Only £50. How good is that?". The rest of that and the facing page was full of photos of the meals (breakfast, lunch and supper) for each day of the week.
In the footnote is given details of a website ( we can find our more, and on checking this it didn't seem to apply but persevered and on page 2 of 'search', but did find what I was looking for, and the correct details to type in 'search' are: and this will then take you immediately to the correct page/s.

This site gives a really good info for those who wish to keep their budget under control and makes it so much easier for the novice cook as someone else has done all the costing, and nothing has been left out, the shopping list also given plus recipes. What more do we need other than the £50?
Er - yes, something HAS been left out. No mention of tea or coffee, and four pints of milk to last four people seven days? And no puddings? But we can always drink water, and refuse puds.

Me being me, finds it difficult to be objective, but it does seem that if £50 is ALL we have to feed a family of four, although this certainly does mean this is enough to give us better meals than wartime folk managed to put on the table (however much money they had, rations were rations - everyone having the same minuscule allocation, and had to make the best of the what was not very good).
Of course - to make the suggested meals, we are expected to buy from Sainsburys, many of the ingredients being 'on offer'. But then we tend to base the cost of our meals using foods on offer anyway. Doesn't really matter which store we buy from, we could still manage to put a week's meals on the table for the £50.

The very suggestion that we can feed a family of four for a week on this (set) amount seems very enticing. Had I been 'normal' (am beginning to think I must be very eccentric at times) would have been very tempted myself, and therefore this does mean it can be a helpful idea to show how people can control their budget and also do a bit of home-cooking a the same time.

It was when I decided to 'pull it to bits' (the website helping by breaking down daily costs - as shown below)
Monday: £6.10p
Tuesday: £8.00p
Wednesday: £6.50p

that this got my little brain cells working. The amount of money allocated PER DAY seems quite (relative to the meals served)quite expensive. Toast and jam for breakfast a few days of the week does not make a good breakfast (porridge would have been both cheaper and more substantial) - although there were alternatives. Sarnies for lunch - possibly OK, and the suppers reasonable enough, but one course only. Where's the pudding Mum?

So what I'm asking now is "does £50 to feed the family" still seem as good as it first appears? To many who normally spend a lot more this may be the next best thing to sliced bread, but readers of this site will almost certainly start thinking "can I do better?" because that's the way we are.

My mind was taken back to an article that Family Circle once asked me to write (a full six pages on how to 'feed a family of four on £24 a week' (think that was the amount). A couple of years back unearthed the mag and found that it would now cost more, pretty obvious in the light of rising prices over the years, but even still worked out well under £50 (lots under), and with every meal for the day shown in photographs and every recipe given, plus the shopping list, it proved then that it doesn't cost that much to serve economical meals. My meals included drinks, and it was not just a basic breakfast, lunch and supper - there was also something to eat at tea-time, and of course ALWAYS a pudding after the main meal of the day.

The point of all this is trying to show the danger of being made to believe that £50 is a very thrifty way to feed the family for a week. Which of course it is, but it's not THAT thrifty. Obviously the way some people splash their cash when it comes to buying food, this probably does seem like economy at the lowest level, but to others - this is the very top of the parsimonious ladder and we should all be able to spend even less yet still good meals.

There is the small print at the bottom of the above-mentioned ad that should not be missed:
"all items subject to availability, based on a family of 4. Prices correct at time of going to print from 4/5/11. Prices and lines very in Sainsbury's locals, centrals, and online."
What is good is reading: "we've worked with ensure this menu is nutritionally balanced for adults and older children...". After all, that is the most important part of catering for a family, and it is good to see a store has gone to so much trouble over this 'package'. It's not the menu that I'm criticising, it's just how much it costs.

The very mention of a 'set price' puts my little grey cells into overdrive. Perhaps I have an obsession that when someone says they can make it for 'X' pounds (or pence) then have to try and go one better. I've even made a completely 'free' meal from 'food waste' and 'foraged foods'. Just to prove I could. But unless we try to reach the almost impossible, we will never learn very much, and when it comes to food - feel that for those who are dedicated enough - the impossible can often be achieved.

To give us a chance to try something we may not yet have thought of making, here are a few suggestions/recipes that can be very useful when we have run out of something, or don't wish to go to the expense of buying, remembering ALWAYS that when we run out of something, each time we go to replace it on our shelves we tend to buy something else at the same time 'just because'. The more we can stay out of shops, the less money we end up spending (this may seem obvious, but you know how tempting shops can be...).

Creme Fraiche
Take equal amounts of natural yogurt and cream, heat the cream to 'not quite boiling', then stir this into the yogurt, cover and leave at room temperature for 24 - 48 hours - or until thickened. DO NOT STIR. When ready, store in covered containers in the fridge. It should then keep well for up to 2 weeks - possibly longer.then cover and leave overnight in the fridge.

5 tblsp skimmed milk
2 heaped tblsp powdered skimmed milk
half tsp salt
12 fl oz (350ml) sunflower oil
Put the milk, dried milk and salt in a blender and start the machine running at the lowest speed, then slowly add the oil, continuing to blend until the mixture is thick. If you wish for an even thicker consistency, add a little more dried milk.
Pour into a container, cover and place in the fridge. This 'margarine' will harden once chilled.

Cottage Cheese:
1 pint 12 fl oz (1 ltr) milk (pref full cream)
2 tblsp rennet (or lemon juice)
1 heaped tblsp buttermilk or yogurt
3 tblsp cream
pinch salt
Heat the milk to just under boiling (30C/85F). Then remove from heat and stir in the yogurt and then the rennet or lemon juice. Cover and leave at room temperature for 12 - 24 hours without disturbing it, and by then a firm curd should have formed.
Slice the curd through with a knife into chunks, then pour the whole lot (now called 'curds and whey' into a colander lined with muslin (this standing over a large bowl) and leave to drain for a couple or so hours, before tying the corners of the muslin together to make a bag, and then hang this over the basin to continue dripping. Once they drips have stopped, untie and the cheese will then have become dry. Dissolve the salt in the cream and stir this gently into the cheese. Cover, chill, keep in the fridge and use within three days.
The whey that has dripped out can be used in cooking - makes good soda bread and scones.

'Dijon' Mustard:
Mote: 1 cup holds 8 fl oz
1/3rd cup dry English mustard
1 tblsp caster or icing sugar
good pinch salt
2 egg
2/3rds cup tblsp tarragon vinegar
Mix th mustard, sugar and salt in a small pan. Beat the eggs with the vinegar and slowly stir this into the pan of dry ingredients, the slower the better. Cook over low to moderate heat, stirring all the time, until the mixture is thick and smooth. Cool before pouring into sterilised pots or jars. Cover and store in the fridge.

Although easy enough to buy spiced sausage (chorizo, salami etc), sometimes it is good to know how to make our own version. What I call 'spice' is not included in the following recipe (by spice I mean chilli powder, cayenne or paprika pepper), nevertheless there is plenty of flavour, and we can always adapt the recipe to remove (perhaps) herbs, and add a bit more 'spice' (of our choice) if we wish.
Spicy Italian Sausage:
8 oz (225g) minced lean pork
8 oz (225g) minced and fatty belly pork
2 oz (50g) grated Parmesan cheese
4 fl oz (125ml) white wine
2 tsp fresh oregano, finely chopped
2 tsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
2 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp salt
pinch dried thyme
freshly ground black pepper
freshly ground nutmeg
(sausage casings - opt)
Combine the minced meats/fat and place in a bowl. Dry roast the fennel seeds then crush in a mortar. Mix into the meat with the remaining ingredients, using your hands to mix making sure they are well combined.
Take a teaspoon of the mixture and form this into a wee 'burger', then test for flavour by frying this in a little butter or oil until cooked. Add extra seasonings if more flavour is needed.
Either stuff the mixture into sausage casings (you need a gadget to do this) or form into sausage shapes. Either way, leave in the fridge for 24 hours to allow the mixture to 'set'.
To cook: if in skins, prick the sausages and put a little water into a frying pan, heat this to simmering, then add the sausages, turning them constantly until the water has evaporated, then reduce the heat and allow the sausages to brown in their own fat.
If left unskinned, put a very little oil into a frying pan, and cook the sausages over low heat until their own fat is released, then raise the heat slightly and cook until browned and cooked through.

If wishing to cook meat 'properly' it's worth getting a meat thermometer, and here are details of the internal (safe to eat)temperatures of roast beef:
start oven at 250C gas 9 to sear meat for 15 minutes, then reduce to 190C/375F and continue roasting for the time given below.
RARE: 10 - 12 minutes per lb.
Internal temp: 45-47C/113-117F
MEDIUM: 14 - 16 mins per lb
Internal temp: 55-60C/131-140F
WELL DONE: 20 - 22 mins per lb
Internal temp: 65-70C/149-158F
Fan ovens should have the oven temperature reduced by 15-25C.

Starting with a very hot oven helps to seal the joint and prevent its juices escaping. Reducing the temperature then cooks the meat more evenly all the way through.
A large joint will continue to rise in temperature by up to 5C, after removing from the oven, hence the need to let it 'rest' in a warm place for at least 20 minutes (it doesn't cool down rapidly). This allows the meat to become moist and tender all the way through. Kept warm (see below) it can be rested for a whole hour.

Meat (esp steak and roasts) should not be sizzling hot when served, as the full flavour is much more appreciated when served warm. Steaks can be kept warm for up to half an hour, and roasts up to a full hour in a warm oven (with no fan) set at 60C.
If an oven does not have this low setting, then turn off the oven once the roast is cooked, leave the door open to let out some heat, then replace meat in oven and shut the door. It should stay warm at the right temperature.