Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Check twice, pay once

Feeling absolutely exhausted yesterday, even after spendings an hour sitting on our garden bench in the sun. With eyes closed it was like it was yesterday where - as a teenager - I sat on the very same bench shelling peas for our lunch-time meal. We kept the bench when my parents died and it has been with us ever since - almost as good as new (although needs a bit of teak oil). Felt all the better for the sunshine, but still got dizzy spells each time I got up after bending down. Also very breathless.

At the end of the day (when I was feeling like it was the end of my life) found a half-full bottle of iron pills in the kitchen drawer, so decided to take a couple. Would you believe in a couple of hours I felt back to normal again? Probably had a form of anaemia due to me not eating meat (I mainlyeat veggie protein, but am one of those people who 'need' meat and fish occasionally). Now have no dizziness, no breathlessness.

Even managed to stay awake to watch a late film "Once Upon a Time in the West'. Have seen it before but always nodded off half way through. This time saw it all. It has to be one of my most favourite films, partly because Charles Bronson and Henry Fonda are in it (love 'em both) and also because of the haunting music. It's one of those films (like Dirty Dancing, Brokeback Mountain, and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers...) that I can watch again and again.

So, not a lot was done in the kitchen yesterday, but did have an inspired idea re using up those unsweetened and heavy chocolate muffins. This also led to another discovery, but first things first.
Remembered that in the past I used to make Savarin/Rum Babas, with this yeasty 'cake' then left in the tin to be liberally soaked in a sugar syrup, so as I had a jar of home-made sugar syrup in the larder, decided to pour some of that into a shallow dish and stand several choc. muffins (sans paper cases) in the syrup. After leaving them for a while they had soaked up quite a bit of syrup. Felt it would have worked better if I had used hot syrup, but too late then.

Anyway, the last batch of sugar syrup I'd made had been obviously rushed, for the bottom of the jar had about an inch of sugar crystals in the base. This happens if the sugar has not been dissolved thoroughly, and even just one or two crystals left will start them 'forming' again. When melting sugar, we should always 'swirl' the pan and NOT stir, as just one or two crystals on the side of the pan or spoon can get caught up again when pouring/mixing.

So - decided to dissolved the remaining sugar in the syrup by putting the jar (sans lid) in the microwave for (an estimated) four minutes. Then wandered off to have a sit down while it got on with the job.
Some time later returned to discover the crystals HAD now dissolved, but I'd obviously allowed too long for in the jar was virtually 'golden syrup'. As I was hoping to pour some of this over the top of the muffins, had to add more water jar and then gave it short bursts in the microwave to bring it back to the thin syrup again - which did happen, although the colour still stayed 'golden'. Anyway, pouring some over the muffins really worked a treat. Beloved (he's allowed that name again today) had a couple, heated for a few seconds in the microwave, with cream poured over.
This way of turning sugar syrup into 'golden syrup' or 'caramel' seems an easier way than just boiling it for yonks on the hob, but would need constant attention when made in the microwave as it could burn very easily. But the potential is there, and something I may work on.

Incidentally, felt a bit alarmed when I read that Scarlet and Wen are intending to make muffins using summer fruits. Am hoping they don't use my banana recipe for the weights of ingredients will be different, and no bicarb is needed. Even so - would probably still end up with an edible muffin, but not the best.
In case I am in time, here is a muffin recipe that uses berries. If using self-raising flour, only one teaspoon of baking powder will be needed. If the fruits are very sweet you could use a little less sugar.
Use any berry fruits, alone or a mixture: blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants, cherries etc..
Summer Fruit Muffins: makes 10 -12
10 oz (280g) plain flour
3 tsp baking powder
good pinch of salt
4 oz (100g) granulated sugar
1 egg, beaten
9 fl oz (260ml) milk
3 fl oz (90ml) sunflower oil or melted butter/marg
5 oz (150g) summer berries
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir in the sugar. In a jug measure the milk and oil, then beat in the egg. Add to the dry mix, stirring until just combined. Gently fold in the berries at the end, using only 2 - 3 strokes.
Spoon immediately into muffin cases and bake for 20 - 25 mins at 180C, 350F, gas 4 (if using frozen fruit allow an extra 4 - 5 minutes.
Variation: as above but omit the baking powder and milk, and substitute 5 fl oz (150ml) soured cream or yogurt, and use 2 tsp baking powder plus half teaspoon bicarbonate of soda. If using self-raising flour use only 1 tsp b. powder and do NOT omit the bicarb.

You are asking why bicarb is used in the banana muffin recipe Cheesepare. Not sure why myself, I was just following the recipe. Different muffin recipes seem to use either baking powder on its own, or b.powder with bicarb. If self-raising flour is used, often the raising agents are omitted altogether. But each recipe is different.
As to your mention re 'apple jam'. In the new varieties to soon hit the supermarket shelves usually the apples are with another fruit. Apple 'jam' would only work if there were bits/chunks of apple suspended in the jam, otherwise it would be much like a thick apple sauce.
It's always been recommended that beansprouts are blanched before eating, but if you 'grow your own' just be aware that there is an ongoing problem with sprouting seeds at the moment. At least rinse them with cold water that has been previously boiled.

Pleased that your second batch of yogurt turned out well Sarah. Not sure if I mentioned it at the time, but when using your own to start a new batch, it's recommended that after about six or so batches it we use a 'fresh/bought' yogurt to begin another 'session'. Think the reason is the keeping quality is better when we do so, and less chance of it gaining a sour taste after a period of time.

Pleased to hear that Approved Foods met up with your satisfaction Mrs. Meaney. Having checked out prices this week it is horrifying how supermarket food prices seem to have risen across the board. The cheap sardines (that I keep mentioning) having risen a third in price over what seems to be a matter of weeks.

It does pay to keep a check on the price of food (and by this I mean each week!). At the moment Tesco's Value eggs are now down to 8p each (previously 10p each) for a box of 15. Buy them 6 to a box and the price then rises to 12p each. Still cheap, but - to those who cook with an eye to saving money - every penny counts.

With the jam season coming up, interesting to discover that Tesco's 'miscellaneous' sugar is 82p per kg bag. But buy a 2kg bag and it works out then at only 61 per kg. Larger bags don't always work out cheaper. A 5 kg bag of sugar is priced at 92p per kg, and not all granulated sugar is the same price (per bag), branded sugars can be very highly priced, possibly because some are made from sugar beet, others from sugar cane. Chefs prefer cane sugar, but to me sugar, is sugar, is sugar, and I always buy the cheapest when I can.
We do have to check all sizes of packaging, and also the weights per kg before we make our final choice.

Flour is another minefield when it comes to choosing which to buy. Notice that while own-brand plain flour is 52p a bag (works out to 1p per ounce if you are interested), branded flours are much more expensive. Saw that a 'fine plain flour' was more that twice the price of the same brand 'plain flour'. Not sure why I would use 'fine' flour (surely sifting the normal plain a couple of times is as good as), but that's how the cookie crumbles (no pun intended).

Was deciding to take advantage of an offer on a pack of 8 flour tortillas - to be used as 'wraps' instead of eating a normal sarnie. But even at the lower price these worked out at 13p EACH. Yet, if a sarnie takes 2 slices of bread and there are 20 slices in a loaf (thus making ), at the price of bread today, these would probably work out much the same as 10 tortilla 'wraps'. BUT, "how much cheaper would it be to make tortillas?", I asked myself. Very much cheaper. Very, very much. Even cheaper than baking a loaf. So - even when one thing compares with another (in way of use and cost when bought), often we can find a way to make at least one of them far cheaper. So always check first before buying, even better - have a think as to whether it is worth buying - especially when you KNOW you can make it yourself.

Looks like we could be having another nice day. After sweltering heat in the south east, apparently yesterday they had rain and thunder. We got away with just sun, sun and more sun - but were due for it. Means watering the container-grown plants each day, but after my iron pills think I can cope with that (B will do it for me otherwise).

Was a bit fed up yesterday when I checked on the courgettes planted outdoors. Those still in the greenhouse were twice the size, and at least two outdoor ones had been eaten completely by the slugs, so planted out more and stood their containers on bricks in a large tray of water (slugs won't cross water) in the hope they won't get munched. Already these larger plants have flower buds. Sowed both green and yellow courgettes, but blow me if I can remember which is which. Have to wait and see.

The Romanesco planted last year (if you remember ending up with all its leaves eaten by either slugs or caterpillars) was left in the container as a long stalk with a couple of leaves at the top. Just forget to uproot it. Find now that after overwintering in all that cold, snow and frost, the stalk has now grown a healthy head of new leaves, and with any luck a Romanesco 'brocciflower' may still appear.

Picked a bowl of strawberries yesterday, so that adds to my daily 'savings'. Am now keeping a record of money saved each day (although savings are not made every day, even writing them down inspires me to try and make more), and am writing this on the same page in my diary as the daily record where I write down the meals B has (yesterday he had roasted veg with a couple of Chicken Kiev's - the sooner I get rid of those the better). So far this week have saved £14.50 (not all by effort, some came from cancelling a hair appointment).

Am hoping to make lemon curd and ice-cream today (and take a photo of both as well) for this will 'save' a great deal compared to if these had been bought over the counter. You might say that on a strict budget we wouldn't be buying these anyway, but at least it shows we should still be able to afford to make them.

With the news that a lot more well-known high street stores are having to close, am wondering if we will ever get back to shopping how it used to be. Eventually it will be ordering everything on-line and having it delivered. Gone will be the days when we used to amble into town for a bit of 'retail therapy', and if we couldn't afford to buy, at least enjoy 'window shopping'.

Sometimes it's difficult for me to visualise how life is these days for the young. Maybe a partner out of work (or on less pay) and still young children to support, let alone mortgage payments to find. Yet - when young ourselves, B and I had it nearly as bad - almost to the point of the bailiffs hammering on the door. So can relate to most of today's issues. Now - as pensioners - with not much call to spend, spend, spend, at least find the State Pension covers our running costs. But for how long? Certainly the rising price of food (not to mention cost of fuel) is making me think long and hard, and very thankful that I've already built up a reasonable store cupboard 'just in case'.
Another good thing is that us old folk don't need to eat such large meals as we used to, so that's a saving in its own way.

On the other hand, although not sure what the child allowance is these days, this should certainly be enough to buy food to feed the whole family (the more children there are, the more the better in this respect). Yet - it always seems that it is the food 'budget' that has to be raided when other bills have to be met. Seems we all need to keep finding ways to eat even more cheaply.

Making muffins may not seem 'healthy eating', yet when made with bananas they could be, and certainly far better to munch a home-made muffin than a bag of crisps. As crisps are around 25p a packet (probably more), we could ask what else could we buy (or make) for that money? All the time we need to compare the price of one product with another. We need now to be sure we are getting the most for our money. Just as long as we don't fall into the trap of buying those 'junk foods' which are often on offer and seem a good buy at the time.

When it comes to our purchases - whether at the supermarket or corner shop - sooner or later we buy that 'little extra' (maybe just a bar of Kit-Kat) and think nothing of it, probably not even including it into our 'food budget', but these little purchases (over time) cost a lot of money. To avoid depriving ourselves of treats (and the need to comfort eat during this time of recession is pretty strong, so we shouldn't dismiss it entirely)), we can make our own for far less price. "But it isn't a treat if we have to bother to make it ourselves" I hear some of you bleat. Well - we can't have everything put on our plate. At least make the treats for someone else AS WELL. They'll love you for that.

Have to say readers, am really getting concerned at the price of food at the moment. In no way can I see the prices reducing again, except when 'on offer', and even thinking that wages will rise again this year to compensate is an improbability to say the least. At least am pretty sure the supermarkets will all fall over backwards lowering prices across the board, just to keep our custom. So we have to take advantage when we can. Otherwise we grit our teeth and carry on cooking. This way we know we can still serve the best for the price that others (who don't cook) will be paying for the worst.

Am almost talking myself into a state of 'it can only get worse'. Believe me - becoming self-sufficient (albeit in a small way) can turn out to be far more fun that having the money to buy what we want when we want. Truly. so let's get on with it.

Keep sending in those comments, let us know the savings you are making, what you grow, what you cook, as these will inspire others to do the same. As with anything mildly 'unpleasant' (like dieting), once a group of like-minded people get together to share their highs and lows, what was 'not nice' then can turn into 'great fun'. And having fun is the name of my cost-cutting game.
So keep writing in and am hoping that tomorrow we will all meet up again. See you then.