Thursday, June 09, 2011

Taste Of Things To Come

Seems that my little grey cells will soon have to become more active than ever, for this winter it seems we will be faced with fuel bills far higher than expected, also food prices will continue to rise. If we have a poor agricultural summer due to drought, and a hard winter due to snow, then "poor us" is all I can say.

Yesterday my monthly bank statement arrived. Our only money coming from the state pension, this month the outgoings came to £7 more than the income. Luckily, the previous months of reduced food purchases had helped to build up a good balance (on top of what had already been saved) so not a problem there. The debit was slightly higher due to a couple of 'quarterlies' being paid, but even so - with rising fuel prices cuts will now have to be made.
Having said that have just placed an ongoing order for 'The Grocer' (a trade mag that I used to write for many moons ago). Not yet had my first one delivered and can't remember if it was weekly or monthly, but do know I will get as much pleasure reading it as any other magazine, and at least it will probably help me save money/pay for itself with the advance info on what crops failed, what prices are due to rise etc. Any of this I will of course pass on to you (for that's why I've ordered it - to share the knowledge).

As I pointed out to B, cuts will have to be made, and the best way (and only way for me) is to spend less on food, adding "that's why the larder and freezer is well stocked - to keep us going through the winter when the money has to go on fuel". Think he now is beginning to appreciate why.

Now that the heating has finally (let us hope) been turned off for the duration of summer and autumn, this will help to keep the annual total where it should be (although we pay the same amount each my by DD) and possibly even end up with a bit of credit (as we did last year), although having said that feel quite chilly at the moment, probably due to eating less food that I used to. The downsize of losing weight is the surplus flesh which normally helps to 'insulate' us, once gone sort of 'lets the cold in'.

What we can do is re-evaluate the food situation. If prices continue to rise, will the supermarkets still continue to play the war game and fight to keep our custom by offering many reduced prices? Yes, I think they will, but probably not always on the foods we wish to buy. So perhaps best to think to the future and stock up the larder with foods we normally buy - but again only when 'on offer'.

Meat is the obvious culprit when it comes to stealing our money. And the fashion within. What was once cheap meats - almost given away, such as lamb shanks - are now suddenly on every top restaurant menu (perhaps because they were cheap), and on many cookery progs, so now everyone wants to eat them and they have rocketed in price. At least belly pork is still extremely inexpensive (£1.15 per lb at our local butchers), and although is now becoming 'fashionable (we have only to open a cookery mag to see a recipe using it), it still hasn't risen in price. Yet!

Fish too is becoming very expensive, and I've half a mind (living near the sea) to start taking up fishing (only I would need someone to put the worm on the hook for me, and to take the hook from the fish and kill it for me if one was actually able to be caught). Here in Morecambe (fairly close to where we live) we see many fishermen fishing from the prom, but mostly the fish they catch is the flat-fish (which is not a fish I am fond of - preferring the more chunky - but any port in a storm).

Useful 'stores' to give us protein through the winter months are cans of tuna, salmon, pilchards, sardines, and corned beef. We can also stock up on vegetable protein with either cans of assorted beans or dried beans. Oats have a considerable amount of protein for a grain, as does quinoa. Eggs, milk and cheese other sources of animal protein. We should have no problem replacing expensive meat, and my advice is stick to the cheaper cuts that need long slow cooking. A slow-cooker (crock-pot) is a worthwhile addition to the kitchen (as is I suppose a pressure cooker), as both use less fuel than cooking the conventional way.

Remember, we should never feel we are depriving ourselves if we are forced to buy only the cheaper cuts, as these normally have a much better flavour than the more expensive, and cooked correctly can be even more tender. The only advantage with the pricey meats is they normally cook very rapidly (so save fuel - but if you can afford fillet steak you would probably have enough money to cope with rising costs).

We should now try to make some attempt to cut food costs during the summer by growing as much fresh produce as we can. Even if only a windowsill, a pack of 'Mixed Salad Leaves' seeds should be enough to keep the family in 'green salad' for several months of the year. Probably a whole year if only one or two to feed.
Add to that one or two other home-grown veggies and each time we harvest the produce that will be money saved - and the monthly budget should then end up with a healthy balance. This 'surplus' money can be kept in reserve to put towards the winter fuel costs and with any luck (and good judgement), we should still be able to keep our heads above water.
So let's start by replying to comments - which does take the above into account.

'Beef steak' is a bit vague Urbanfarmgirl. Does the meat you bought have any more info on the label as to what steak it is. Rump steak is very tender, braising steak needs longer cooking. There should be a label on the pack (often stuck to the underside of the box or lid) to give cooking instructions, timing etc - so this would be a guide as to type. Meat can be tenderised by letting it marinate in certain fruit juices: pineapple being the one most commonly used, but papaya also works well. A lesser known one (but worth using as it is a much cheaper fruit) is the kiwi. All that has to be done is cut a ripe kiwi fruit in half and rub the flesh side down over the meat and leave for half an hour (no longer than one hour) before cooking. It is said that half a kiwi will tenderise up to 5 lbs of meat. The remaining half of the fruit can be peeled and added to a fresh fruit salad, or even a green salad.
All the above fruits contain a digestive enzyme which digests protein such as egg white, gelatine and the protein in meat (one reason why a jelly made with fresh pineapple and gelatine will never set). Bashing thick cuts with a meat hammer or rolling pin (wash well afterwards) will also help to break fibres down and tenderise it slightly. Acidic liquids such as wine, vinegar, lemon juice also help to tenderise meats, as does a paste made with bicarbonate of soda. All 'tenderised' meat should be cooked at a high temperature (in other words not to be eaten 'rare') as this will is needed to neutralise the enzyme after it has done its work.

So pleased to hear that your husband gave 'thumbs up' for the beef spread you made Woozy. It sounded really delicious, and proves that even the tiniest scraps left from practically all cooked meats can turn into a lovely 'meat paste' to use for sarnies or to spread on toast (or even as topping for canapes). As ever, the more we look to scrimp and save, the more money we end up saving, and the better foods we end up eating. Win, win situation wouldn't you say?
Edam is a recommended cheese to eat when on a diet as this has a lower fat content than most other hard cheeses, although myself tend to prefer it grated then cooked rather than eating raw. However, there are now 'lower fat' hard cheeses on sale, and - having bought some myself because one was 'buy 1 get 2 free' found them almost undetectable from the full fat when eating as-is. The texture changed somewhat when cooked, ending up a bit more 'stringy' (like Mozzarella).
As myself loves cheese, tend now to eat a lot more soft cheeses and a lot less hard cheese. My favourites being either a stores own brand cream cheese or 'Philly', depending whether they are on offer or not. There are lower fat, reduced fat and 'light' versions of this particular type of cheese and have to say I can't find any difference between them, so now always buy the one with the least fat. The ones with added garlic or herbs are particularly nice to eat, but I also buy the plain as can use this to make cheesecakes etc.

Your requests for low fat desserts is noted, so today's recipes are all low in fat, including a fatless sponge, that although being fairly 'dry', as long as it has a moist 'filling', can still be delicious.
Trifle sponges are 'fatless' (or should be - if not make your own), and together with jelly, fruit, low-fat custard (made with custard powder and skimmed milk), and low-fat sweetened yogurt for topping (or use a low fat 'squirty' cream) makes a very good trifle.

One of the problems with low-fat dessert recipes is that they often tend to be a bit high on the sugar content (this containing more calories), but often it is not the calories we are too bothered about, it is the high cholesterol, so cutting out fat is a good start. Worry about the sugar later.

Here is a recipe for a nutty meringue (similar to a biscuit). The original recipe used pecans, but I've substituted walnuts as they are 'good for us'. Other nuts (almonds, hazelnuts...) could also be used, but make sure they are not ground down too fine or you'll end up with a paste. Nutty or plain meringues also - when crumbled - make a good topping to a dessert instead of cream. The cream of tartar helps the meringues to rise, salt also works, but either can be omitted if you wish.
Although the recipe suggests using jam, that's adding even more sugar, so my suggestion would be to have a bowl of thick yogurt and a few slices of fresh fruit (kiwi, strawberry, banana....) by the side of a plate of meringues so everyone could help themselves, spooning a little yogurt into the meringue 'shell', and topping with chosen fruit.
Chocolate Nutty Meringues: makes 16
3 egg whites
pinch cream of tartar
3 oz (75g) caster sugar
2 tlbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
half oz (15g) fairly finely ground walnuts, pecans (see above)
3 oz (75g) jam (your choice)
Using a very clean bowl, beat the egg whites until frothy, then beat in the cream of tartar and continue beating until stiff.
In a small bowl mix the sugar and cocoa together, then gradually beat this into the egg whites, until stiff, then fold in the prepared nuts.
Line a baking sheet with baking parchment, and spoon small mounds of meringue onto this - allowing space between. Using the back of a spoon depress the centres slightly so that the sides rise up to form a shallow cup. Bake for 1 hour at 120C, 250F, gas 1/2, and do not open the oven door during that time. Turn off the oven and leave the meringues to continue cooking in the residual heat. You can leave them there overnight if you wish.
Store in an airtight container. When ready to serve, fill the centre of each meringue with the jam.

Next recipe is an almost fat-free version of our traditional Gingerbread. I say 'almost' - as the recipe says there are only 2g of fat per serving. A large egg is needed to make this, and as often the tray of 'mixed size' eggs bought from Tesco for £1.50 (10p each) do contain one or two smaller ones, a couple of these could be used instead, or one medium one small - aim for a total weight of 3 ozs, or slightly more).
Slimmer's Gingerbread: makes 8 servings
5 oz (150g/ml) soured cream or yogurt
4 fl oz (115g) unsweetened apple juice
1 large egg (larger the better)
3 tblsp demerara sugar
2 tblsp black treacle
4 oz (100g) plain flour
4 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch ground cloves
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
good pinch of salt
Into a bowl put the soured cream/yogurt, the apple sauce, egg, brown sugar and treacle and mix well together.
In another bowl, sift the flour, spices, salt and raising agents together, then sift again over and onto the creamy mixture and fold together until just moistened. Do not overwork. The batter may be lumpy (as when making muffins).
Spread mixture evenly in a lightly oiled (or use a non-stick spray) 8" x 8" (20 x 20cm) baking tin, then bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 25 minutes or until the gingerbread has risen to the top of the tin and a skewer (or cocktail stick) inserted in the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin for at least 30 minutes before cutting. Can be served warm or cold.

Another 2g (per portion) beauty is this low-fat version of very high fat Brownies. Even putting dietary conditions aside, it makes sense to cook using as little fat as possible, as fat (esp butter) is expensive. We can make our own apple sauce (maybe have some already in the freezer ) instead of buying it ready made. Cut out the expensive ingredients and we can save, save, save.
Chocolate Chip Fudge Brownies: makes 15
6 fl oz (170ml/g) unsweetened apple sauce
5 oz (150g) plain flour
2 oz (50g) unsweetened cocoa powder
pinch salt
1 large egg
2 large egg whites
1 lb (450g) caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
half to 1 oz (15 - 25g) semi-sweet chocolate, roughly grated
Line a sieve with muslin and allow the apple sauce to drain for 15 minutes (aim for 4 oz/100g drained weight). Discard the liquid or add it to soups, jellies, fruit salads etc. Or even drink it! Now there's a thought.
Sift the flour, cocoa and salt together into a bowl. In a larger bowl beat the egg yolk and whites together until frothy, then add the sugar, drained apple and vanilla. Stir until the sugar has dissolved, then add the flour mixture, and the chocolate. Stir until the dry ingredients are just moistened, then pour into an oiled (or non-stick sprayed) 11" x 7" (28 x 18cm) Swiss roll type tin and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and place the tin on the rack to cool. When cool cut into 15 equal sized pieces.

Chocolate is always a treat, and as the semi-sweet chocolate/chips obviously don't contain too much fat (in the proportion used) here is a recipe for crunchy cookies that will help console dieters who feel they are missing out on the good things in life. Yes, butter (or marg) is included in this recipe, but as it makes 4 dozen biscuits, the amount used is minimal per biscuit - the total fat being 2g per biscuit. If you can control yourself, don't eat more than one at a time. Well, maybe two. If you only use semi-skimmed milk, this will increase the fat content, but only slightly, or make the milk up using skimmed milk powder/water.
Crunchy Chocolate Cookies: makes 48
5 oz (150g) self-raising flour
4 oz (100g) wholemeal flour
1 oz (25g) porridge oats
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
8 oz (225) sugar
4 oz (100g) brown sugar
3 oz (75g) butter or marg
2 egg whites
2 tblsp skimmed milk (see above)
1 tsp vanilla extract
6 oz (170g) semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped or chips
Mix together the flours, oats, soda and salt. In an other bowl mix together the sugars, fat, egg whites, milk and vanilla. Add the flour mix and stir until just moistened, then fold in the chocolate.
Drop rounded teaspoons of the mixture onto two greased baking trays, leaving room to spread. Bake at 190c, 375F, gas 5 for 10 - 12 minutes until lightly browned around the edges. Remove from oven and leave to cool on the trays for 10 minutes before removing to a cake airer to cool completely. Store in an airtight tin.

Although the penultimate recipe today may have been given before, it is worth a repeat. Basically a fatless sponge that is baked in a Swiss Roll tin, then rolled up to 'set' before being unrolled, covered with chosen filling, and then re-rolled to make the finished cake/dessert. The cake batter could also be baked in round sandwich tins and layered/filled to make the more traditional 'sponge cake'. This recipe is more a dessert than a 'cake', and almost any summer berries could be used. Because this is a 'special' this has a bit more fat content. A whole 4 grams per serving. Wow!
Summer Fruit Roulade: serves 8
3 large eggs
4 oz (100g) caster sugar
4 oz (100g) plain flour
1 tblsp hot water
7 fl oz (200ml) low fat natural yogurt
1 tsp almond essence
8 oz (225g) small strawberries or other summer berries
half oz (15g) toasted flaked almonds
1 tsp icing sugar
Put the sugar and eggs into a medium sized mixing bowl and place over a pan of simmering water. Whisk the eggs/sugar together until thick, pale and a ribbon falls from beaters when lifted. Remove from the heat and sift in the flour, folding this carefully into the eggs with the water - aiming to keep in as much trapped air as possible.
Pour the mixture into a parchment lined Swiss roll tin (14" x 10"/ 35 x 25cm) levelling the surface, and bake for 8 - 10 minutes until golden and set. Turn this out onto a clean sheet of baking parchment and peel away the lining paper, then roll up both the cake together with the paper it is lying on. Wrap in a clean tea towel, and leave to cool.
Make the filling by mixing the essence into the yogurt. If the yogurt is a bit 'sloppy' then put into a strainer to remove some of the excess whey. Leave to chill until ready to assemble. Then slice the fruit.
To put together: unroll the sponge, spread the yogurt over and top with the strawberries, then re-roll again (this time without the paper) and place on a serving plate. Sprinkle with the slmonds and sift over the icing sugar. Serve sliced as - is, or with a little sweetened fruit puree.

Final recipe is for doughnuts. "oh, fatty, fatty" I hear you say. But not these as they are not fried but oven-baked. These have the least of the fat content today - just 1g each. So you could eat 2, 3 or even more without feeling at all guilty.
Jam Doughnuts: makes 20
1 lb (500g) strong white (bread) flour
half tsp salt
2 oz (50g) caster sugar
2 x 7 oz sachets fast-action dried yeast
1 medium egg, beaten
4 fl oz (125ml) skimmed milk
5 fl oz (150ml) hot water
10 sprays low-fat cooking spray
finishing touches:
12 oz (400g) strawberry jam
4 tblsp caster sugar
half tsp ground cinnamon
Sift the flour and salt into a bowl and stir in the sugar and yeast. Make a well in the middle and add the egg. Mix the milk and hot water together to make a 'hand-hot' liquid, then add this to the bowl, mixing the lot together to make a soft dough.
Turn out onto a floured board and knead for 6 - 8 minutes until the mixture is smooth and elastic. Divide into 20 equal sized lumps and form into balls or flattish rounds. Spray baking sheets with low-fat spray and place doughnuts on these - allowing room to spread - then cover with clingfilm or a larger deeper tin, and leave in a warm place to rise. This should take about 40 minutes.
Bake at 200C, 400f, gas 6 for 12 - 15 minutes until risen and golden. Leave to cool (cover with a cloth if you wish the tops to stay soft), the make a small slit in each and fill with a tsp of jam. Mix the cinnamon and sugar together, brush the doughnuts with water and roll in the sugar until coated.

And that's it for today, hope the above may fill an empty corner of a fat-free(ish) diet. But all worth making whether we are dieting or not. Let's just call it 'healthy' treats for everyone.

Am grateful for readers requests for certain dishes, this really does help me focus my attention on what is needed rather than 'just' recipes. Whether it is a specific ingredient, or a meal to serve for that costs less than a £1, or perhaps a 'gluten-free' something. In the Goode 'study' there are more than enough recipes collected over the years to suit (hopefully) every need, so all you have to do is ask.
Please keep sending in those comments. The more the better - as I start my day by checking the comments that have come in during the last 24 hours - and it really does give me a lift when I hear from you.

The sun is shining here today, although there is still a strong breeze, and with only a few fluffy clouds in the sky might be able to find time to spend an hour or so outdoors. Fortunately my back is now much better, so will be more careful as to how much water I carry around.

Today sees the start of planning an even more frugal future (as it seems we all need to be doing), so keep logging on for more hints, tips and recipes to cut down our expenditure. Let's see what results come from today's start along this stoney path. Tomorrow you may find out. See you then.