Sunday, June 19, 2011

Getting There!

Thanks for comments, seems that some of you are already discovering the early missing blogs have now returned. After spending the whole day yesterday editing the earliest blogs, can now say that all the months from the start (late Sept. 2006) to June 2007 are now back! Have deleted postings of no culinary interest whatsoever, and also removed most of the 'chatty bits' from others, confining them to useful info and recipes.
At least the important details regarding the Challenge - from late 2006 and lasting into March 2007 are now able to be read. This includes the food bought, prices paid and meals made. During the 10 weeks there was very little shopping that needed to be done, there was money left over and also food left over.

Although this is a daily blog, there will now be missing days that have been removed, and also days when I was in hospital, house-hunting, and seasonal breaks. This helps to reduce the posting each month, but am finding it more difficult to reduce the content of the months when there was no break. However, by deleting some recipes that are really not that interesting (and I know have been repeated since) feel that eventually most of the postings will have returned.
As I did so well yesterday, am hoping that today will see all of the missing 2007, and also some of 2008 also brought back. So finger's crossed.

As today is mainly a 'ramble', most or all of this page will be deleted, but not for some weeks - have to allow time for you to catch up.

What I forgot to mention the other day was that the EasyYo lemon flavoured yogurt is one well worth making for it eats very well with yogurt (instead of using the natural yog), so could be used to make Raita, also that Indian drink called Lassi (just add ice cubes and water to the yog and give a blitz). Not only that it makes a very good alternative to mayo (although can be blended with a little) to make a creamy salad dressing.

Very pleased you are already able to read the early blogs Woozy, and also to hear that you have now got your marmalade to set.

Believe a welcome is due to Witchy Witch, who agrees with me about the over saltiness of manufactured stock 'gel'. For all sorts of reasons, it does make sense to make our own stock whenever possible. They do say that adding a peeled potato to over-salted water/soup etc helps to remove some of it.

Pleased to hear that chicken stock made in a slow-cooker was a success Anon/F.A (who may be a regular reader, if not welcome). Wonder what it was your mother added to make hers taste that little bit different. Possibly the poultry and veggies used in those days tasted so much better? My mother always used a boiling fowl to make stock (and pies), as in those days most chickens were reared just to give eggs, and a 'roasting' chicken was expensive and only served at high days and holidays, so possibly an older bird would give more flavour.

Was very pleased to discover and replace the details from the Family Circle article (where I fed a family of four on £21 a week), so now I can check how prices have risen since the time of publishing (think this was in the '80s), even though within a week or two the prices may have risen even more.

Mentioned the other day about ordering a grocery 'trade mag'. After four weeks, none had been delivered, and yesterday the newsagent told B that she was having difficulty ('they were not reliable'), so she kindly gave me her own copy for this week.
You just wouldn't believe the shinanigans that go on in the stores to keep our custom, but think most of us are now wise to their schemes. Is there good new or bad on the grocery front? All I can say is that the mag says:
"baked beans feel squeeze as tomato prices go up". With a mention of all tomato products being hit by 'low processing stocks and tight global supplies, threatening to push wholesale prices up ever higher, a hike in retail prices could well be on the cards soon".

Now - without wishing to have us all scampering off to strip the supermarket shelves, if we do see any offers on baked beans, canned tomatoes, ketchup, tomato paste... we might be advised to 'get some in'.
There were other warnings: "butter prices hikes loom in the wake of drought", and "shortages in one store's own-brand sweetcorn due to to result of floods in Thailand" (where presumably the own brand corn is purchased as it is probably cheaper than elsewhere).

The good news is that "supermarkets are offering shoppers greater savings that any time in the past three years". And there has also been a shift away from the bogof deals. Just love the term used by one member of the industry who calls these deals "buy one, watch one rot".

Still uncertain as to whether to cancel my order for the trade mag (it is £2.50 per week), or whether to just 'go with the flow' and accept the prices rises as they come, without any advance warning. Have to think about it.

In the Daily Mail yesterday there was a full page on the "5 years squeeze on families" showing price rises on certain foods/drinks (and also clothing, fuel and the rest). The front cover of the paper had the headlines: "Families need an extra £900 a year just to stand still". Followed by "inflation is likely to rise above 5% - well ahead of the 2.8% growth in wages. The resulting gap would see the disposable income of the average household fall by £858 this year."

What is meant by disposable income? Having always believed this was left AFTER all the household bills had been paid, then surely it is 'luxury money'. Not actually NEEDED to keep us fed and watered, with a roof over our heads. So what harm can it do us to 'deprive' ourselves of some of those 'extras' we have got into the habit of expecting as our right? As (was it) Harold McMillan once said "We have never had it so good". Unfortunately the 'good' was expected to continue, and like everything (including our weather) the natural balance is between good and bad, and at the moment, we are on the downward spiral. But (we oldies) have been there before, and survived (perhaps because we had learned how - courtesy of our parents who also had their highs and lows).
Lets just go back to basics and enjoy life as it used to be, with lots of 'home-mades', and family outings (picnics) etc. People were far happier in the days when being 'bought something' was expected only on birthday and at Christmas. Fresh foods were seasonal, so there was always something to look forward to. And hard work meant that you'd earned the right to live another day. Let's start putting our lives into perspective, and be glad for what we have rather than what we now can't afford to have.

Returning to the list of foods that have risen in price since 2008 (most have risen by over half, some have doubled, yet still it is easy enough to find foods to buy that don't stretch our budget. Thankfully, we are blessed with enough alternatives to be allowed to make choice. Those worst off will be the ones who are 'set in their ways' and won't try eating anything other than their favourite (and now expensive) foods they have been eating for years (and years, and years).

One interesting article in the trade mag was about how people now cannot afford to 'eat out'. There is a decline in restaurant eating, and a rise in the 'pub grub' trade. More importantly, many now prefer to 'dine at home', maybe in the company of friends, and so there is a marked increase in 'home-cooking'. Well, the industry call this 'home-cooking', but what I read is that many more ethic 'ready-meals/boil-in-the-bags/microwave rice, and varieties of sauces (Mexican, Chinese, Indian, Malasian, Japanese...), plus 'kits' to make your own Fajitas, Burritos etc, are flying from the shelves. Seems that what the restaurant trade lose, the supermarkets gain.

Yes, well I too use a 'made' sauce from time to time. Yesterday being one of them. Our daughter gave us two jars of a Mole (chilli type) sauce that had been reduced in price, and yesterday Beloved asked me to use one, so I made a Chicken Mole (fried onions with cubed chicken breast, then poured over the jar of sauce (rinsing the jar with a little water, adding this to the pan), and left it to simmer very slowly until B was ready to eat it. As he was serving himself, let him eat the dish with a 2.minute microwave rice as he is quite able to heat this up himself. Asked him to only eat half the Mole (as had made enough to serve 2 good helpings. The remainder has been frozen for another meal, another day.
And yes, this was easy, it was speedy, but in no way was it all 'home-cooking'. Perhaps it doesn't always HAVE to be. Even so, let us not get caught up by the supermarkets dangling all these 'convenient to cooks' products in front of us, because they will always be more expensive than if we made these dishes from scratch ourselves. We just have to ask ourselves if we can be bothered. If not, then perhaps (in the light of the price 'hikes') we would be better choosing another - and cheaper - dish to make.

It's also interesting reading about how the manufacturers themselves are doing everything possible to keep costs down. Most realising that they have to cut their own profits to do so, as supermarkets put more and more pressure on them to reduce their prices to keep their own prices as low as possible.
Interesting to read about the 'impulse category' (that means those of us who go into a supermarket to buy only what we want, and then 'on impulse' buy many other things we don't want, with "stores have found it possible to increase (impulse) purchases by offering more deals". Probably why we see so many 'junk foods' on offer in those 'flyers' that come through the door. Some people (my B included) will buy almost anything that has been reduced in price. Just because.
At least the canny and cautious of us won't fall into that trap. Or will we?

Where do we go from here? Obviously keep our larders well stocked with food regularly used (bought only when on offer), always keeping our eyes and ears open so we are aware of any price rises that might happen due to food shortages caused by drought, or increased prices due to various reasons (higher transport charges etc). Anyone with a garden and enough energy to cope should start concentrating on growing fruit and vegetables rather than only flowering plants and bushes. Many edibles being extremely pretty when growing, so why not enjoy looking at them as well as eating?

Those who live near the sea can go fishing (for free), those who live near the country (and even in some towns) can forage for 'free foods'. Or we can just adapt to what we can afford to buy and continue cooking good and tasty meals using these. Really, things are not THAT bad. Yet!

Am giving a few 'economical' recipes today - these may be the only ones that end up on this page once I've had my pruning shears out, as am now editing out everything (sooner or later) that has little to do with cost-cutting. This way there will still be plenty of recipes to draw upon.

This first is a traditional stew that uses one of the cheaper cuts of lamb (scrag end is ideal), Ask the butcher for some (hopefully free) lamb bones so you can make your own stock. Otherwise use one of those dreaded stock cubes).
Irish Stew: serves 4
1 tblsp sunflower oil
4 oz (225g) smoked streaky bacon, cut into chunks
approx 1 lb (500g) of stewing lamb, cut into chunks
2 large onions, sliced
3 carrots, cut into chunks
2 bay leaves
3 oz (75g) pearl barley
1 pint (600ml) lamb stock (see above)
4 medium potatoes, cut into chunks
Heat the oil in a frying pan over low heat and fry the bacon until crispy, then raise the heat, add the lamb and stir-fry for about 6 minutes until browned all over. Then remove contents of the pan (using a slotted spoon) and set aside. Add the onions, carrots and bay leaf to the pan, reducing heat and allow to cook for a few minutes until softened, then return the meat/bacon to the pan, add the pearl barley and stock, then bring to the simmer. Pour into a heat-proof casserole, and top with the potatoes, then cover and braise in the oven (160C, gas 3) for about 1 1/2 hours or until the meat is tender. Remove from oven, and dot surface with a little butter, then take the dish to the table and serve immediately.

Next dish uses Puy lentils, but the green/brown or split red lentils can be used instead. This is a good recipe for those who buy the cheaper packs of 'bacon pieces' - although bacon rashers or 'lardons' could also be used.
As to the flavour and number of sausages, this depends upon their size and how many you can afford to serve per portion, so ignore the generous amount stated in the recipe, work with what you have (or even less). One sausage can look a lot more when cut into chunks (or skinned and the meat rolled into small balls).
Sausage and Lentil One-Pot: serves 4
1 tblsp sunflower oil
4 oz (100g) cubed bacon or 'lardons'
1 - 2 pkts (or less) quality pork sausages
1 large onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 - 3 cloves garlic (to taste), crushed
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
7 oz (200g) Puy lentils (see above)
1 pint (300ml) hot chicken stock
2 tsp white wine vinegar
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
salt and pepper
chopped fresh parsley for garnish
Heat the oil in a large frying pan, then fry the bacon and sausages for 10 minutes, turning the sausages from time to time so they brown evenly. Using a slotted spoon remove contents of the pan and set aside.
Add the onion, carrots and garlic to the pan, and continue frying for about 4 minutes until the veggies are beginning to soften, then return the sausages and bacon to the pan, adding the rosemary, lentils, hot stock, vinegar and tomatoes, with seasoning to taste. Bring to a rapid boil, and cook for 5 minutes, then reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook for 40 minutes, stirring now and again, or until the lentils are tender (some take longer than others). Remove lid, and pan from heat, scatter parsley on top and take pan to table to serve.

This next dish freezes very well, so worth making extra. Use chicken thighs (cheaper than breast and have more flavour (esp when cooked on the bone, although boneless are used in this dish. Use the skin and bones, plus veggies trimmings to make the chicken stock needed). Because beans contain vegetable protein, as far as nutrition goes, then less chicken could be used. Make up the (weight) shortfall by adding extra vegetables.
As always it doesn't have to be the type of bean suggested in the recipe, any similar 'pulse' can be used instead.
Chicken and Bean Stew: serves 4
2 tblsp sunflower oil
14 oz (400g) chicken thighs, skin and bones removed
1 onion, finely chopped
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
2 sprigs fresh thyme (or half tsp dried thyme)
1 bay leaf
1 pint (600ml) chicken or vegetable stock
2 x 400g cans haricot beans, drained and rinsed
salt an pepper
about 1 tbslp chopped fresh parsley
Chop the boned chicken into large chunks and using a large frying pan, fry in the oil until lightly browned. Add the prepared vegetables, frying for a further 5 or so minutes (to soften slightly), then stir in the bay leaf and stock. Cover and cook for 40 minutes, then add the beans and simmer for 5 minutes to heat through, then add seasoning to taste. Stir in the parsley, then serve immediately with crusty bread to mop up the juices.

Final recipe today is one that is easily adapted. Using quinoa (a high protein grain), another grain could be used such as rice, or the even cheaper pearl barley. The size of chicken breasts vary, so although the recipe uses one each, two larger ones should be enough to feed four. Balti paste is used to flavour this dish, but any other curry paste could be used instead (my choice would be the mild to medium rather than the hot). Peanuts could be used instead of cashews, or even cooked chickpeas (which resemble nuts in both flavour and 'chewiness'.
Chicken Balti: serves 4
1 tblsp sunflower oil
2 large onions, fairly thickly sliced
2 - 4 skinless chicken breasts (see above)
3 - 4 tblsp Balti paste (or see above)
8 oz (225g) quinoa (or other grain, see above)
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
1.75 pints (1 ltr) chicken stock
2 oz (50g) roasted cashew nuts
chopped fresh coriander (opt)
Put the oil into a large frying pan and fry the onions until softened and turning golden, then remove and set aside. Add the chicken breasts to the pan, and fry for a few minutes on each side to brown, remove these to a plate. Stir the balti paste and quinoa into the pan juices, then add the onions, chicken. Pour over the chopped tomatoes and stock and mix everything together. Leave to simmer (uncovered) for about 25 minutes until the chicken is cooked and the grain used is tender and 'saucy'.
Stir in the cashew nuts an most of the coriander (if using), then scatter remaining herb over the top and serve immediately.

Not having time to venture into the garden yesterday, and being a sunny day, was fully prepared to have to go out and water my containers, but having woken to rain (and it is still raining - with of course high wind, so no doubt that rules out sailing for B), seems the weather had done the job for me. Bless.

This leaves me more time to carry on 'pruning the older postings'. Not sure about supper tonight, the only idea come to mind is sausage, egg, beans and chips. It's proving really useful keeping a diary of the main meals served every day. This time last week B had Lamb Rogan Josh.
We need another loaf making, but B has asked if he can make that, so one more chore taken from my shoulders. How long will it take for B to get fed up with making bread? Give him six weeks (or even six days!!).

Leaving you earlier than usual I know, but not a lot happened yesterday other than me working at the comp. and looks like the same thing today, so had better get on with it, the sooner the missing posts are brought back the better. Hope that whatever the weather you all have a good weekend, and are able to send in a comment or two. Until tomorrow....see you then.