Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Things are never so simple

Yesterday began well but went downhill fast. As you know my intention was to have a big baking session and then report back on savings made. So began by assembling my ingredients on the kitchen table ready to make all sorts of things, beginning with chocolate muffins.
Then my husband (he does not deserve to be called Beloved at the moment) wandered in and asked me to make up some bread mix for him as he wanted to bake another loaf. In all honesty it was two packs of bread mix (one plain, one multigrain) that he wanted mixing together as he didn't like too many grains, and he should have been able to do this himself - but said he couldn't. This done, the mixture divided in half, one left in the bowl for him to use, the other half put into a bag with instructions written on it in marker pen as to how much yeast and water was needed (the two mixes on their own requiring different amounts, so I averaged).

Then I decided not to photograph my baking-session ingredients beforehand, just the end product (if we have the weights, we all know what flour, sugar, egg, milk etc look like).
As with all muffin recipes, weighed out the dry ingredients and sifted them into one bowl, leaving the sugar at the side to be added later. The wet ingredients went into a jug.

Then realised I hadn't got the muffin tin ready. Where was the tin anyway? After several minutes bending down looking into every kitchen cupboard we have, then felt dizzy so had to go and have a sit down for a few minutes. Husband went into the kitchen and came back with a 'muffin-looking' tin which he said was at the back of the cupboard where we keep the saucepans (never thought of looking there), but it wasn't the right one. Eventually it was found on the very top shelf (far too high for me to reach) under other things that almost hid it. It had been put there when my husband moved it from where it stood against the larder wall when he put in another shelf for me.
During that time husband came in to ask me "how much yeast do I need with this new mix?" I said I'd written it on the other packet. He went back into the kitchen, a few minutes later returning to ask "how much water do I need?" My reply being (with a great sigh) "it's written on the other packet".

By the time OH had set the machine working I had 45 minutes to make and bake the muffins, so said I'd be going back into the kitchen to finish my cooking. "Oh" said OH, "I've just moved all your stuff to clear the kitchen table, and sprinkled flour over it so that I can knead the dough when it comes out of the machine".
So my 'dry' muffin ingredients were then discovere in one corner of the kitchen, the jug of 'wet' in another, and no table to work on.
Eventually managed to make up the mix and find space to put the tin (now lined with muffin cases) and once filled put them in the oven to bake. When they came out they did not look as good as expected, but not that bad (after eating one last night realised I'd forgotten to put in the sugar - this my OH had moved to another part of the kitchen away from the 'dry' so why I forgot - and so will have to find a use for these muffins - which will not be difficult), but decided to make another batch - this time banana muffins as had several very, very ripe bananas that needed using up.

Luckily these turned out well, and you can see the end product in the photo beneath. The recipe will be given. Costings were taken as using the cheapest flour, cheapest eggs, the full price of the bananas even though these (being almost at throw-away state could probably have bought them cheaper from a greengrocer (maybe given free - so always worth asking), did cost the 'fat' at butter price (allowing 33p as could not be bothered to work out the cost of oil that I used instead - although it would certainly be cheaper) the rest average price, which brought the total cost to 76p for the nine (under 9p each).

Our local bakery sells muffins for 75p EACH, and have seen muffins priced at over £1 in a cafe. Am prepared to work with supermarket prices which are lower - and can vary - but average out at 40p each. So working on that, my nine muffins (and I have to say these are some of the best I've ever tasted) would have cost me £3.60p to buy. So home-made has saved me £2.84p.
Incidentally, these banana muffins are beautifully moist, so will keep better than the normal muffin that is best eaten the same day of baking. But as muffins freeze well, worth making a batch.

Yesterday, worked out that if we can save £20 a week by our own efforts, that means we could save over £1,000 a year. Perhaps a challenge that is a bit too difficult to accomplish (it would mean saving an average of around £3 a day), but already this week the muffins have already 'saved' me nearly £3, and have cancelled my hair this week, and if I make lemon curd and ice-cream today (the two are made together as you will find out), and marmalade later in the week, pick some strawberries and redcurrants....will already have saved two week's worth in just a few days.

Other savings can be made by planning ahead. Maybe scouring car-boot sales and charity shops to find the perfect Christmas or birthday present that might normally have cost ££££s more if bought elsewhere. And don't forget the Christmas Hampers we cooks can make up to give away as gifts. Filled with small pots of what we probably had made too much of anyway, you could say these cost virtually nothing to put together. Incidentally, if you have a paper shredder, then shred up anything that has a metallic lining (like sweet wrapper or crisps packets). These make good 'packing' for Christmas Hampers etc.

You will like my muffin recipe. These really do taste wonderful, and although it was my adaptation of a basic recipe, was very impressed myself. If you don't have a muffin tin/paper muffin cases, use a tart tin with 'fairy cake' cases and you will then make at least a dozen if not more from the one batch (reduce the cooking time by a few minutes if making them smaller).
For best flavour and texture always use well-ripened bananas (the ones that are 'squishy' inside and not really fit for any other use than perhaps making a smoothie). Ripe bananas can be frozen for later use. The skins will turn black, but after thawing then skinning, the flesh is perfect for cooking. So never throw ripe bananas away!

If you use self-raising flour, then omit the baking powder. Do NOT omit the bicarb.
Banana Muffins: makes 9
8 oz (225g) plain flour (cheapest will do)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
good pinch of salt
2 large very ripe bananas
3 oz (75g) granulated sugar
1 egg, beaten
3 fl oz (75ml) sunflower oil or 3 oz butter
2 fl oz (60ml) milk or water
Sift the flour, raising agents and salt together into one large bowl. In another bowl mash the bananas until virtually a puree (it doesn't matter if it has a few lumps left), then add the egg and sugar and mash these into the banana, then work in the oil and water/milk. Pour this into the dry mixture and stir until just combined. It doesn't matter if there are lumps, but no dry flour should be visible. DO NOT OVERMIX.
Fill muffin tins (lined with paper cases) with the mixture and bake for 20 -25 mins at 180C, 350F, gas 4 until the tops are golden and spring back when lightly pressed. They can be left in the muffin tin to cool, or remove to a cake airer.
Best eaten on the day of making, but will keep a couple of days in an airtight tin, and will freeze beautifully. When thawed they are particularly nice when slightly warmed up in the microwave.

To your comments.
Good to have your recommendations re the Quorn 'fish' products Sue15cat. Do they work out cheaper than 'real' fish, which today is as expensive as some of the best meats? If cheaper, then it might be worth us non-vegetarians changing to using Quorn.

Hope the sale of your house goes smoothly Alison. It's a slow market at the moment, but looking on the bright side, once you have sold your house you will be in a very good position to negotiate the price of the property you wish to buy. People who have 'no chain' can usually are able to knock thousands off the asking price because in today's market a 'quick sale' is as rare as hen's teeth. Sometimes it can take years to sell a house when buyers have first to sell theirs, and so on down the 'chain'.

Whatever cheap jam says on the label, can bet your bottom dollar it is not made from 'whole fruits' Eileen. Usually a mish-mash puree type. Am pretty sure the 'apple jam' mentioned yesterday will be of very good quality, but then we can still make our own - very high quality - preserves that still cost little or no more than the cheapest.

If your yogurt didn't end up as thick as you wished Sarah, try making it again using a Greek yogurt as a starter Sarah. Also if your's is a bit 'runny', then you will probably find the next batch thinner still. Think you really need a tablespoon of yog to start it off, your 2 teaspoons may not be enough (but not sure how much you were wishing to make in the first place). You could work a thicker yogurt into a thinner one, then bring to the right heat and start it 'yogging' again. Never any need to discard thin yogurt as it is good eaten with muesli, or mixed with a little mayo to spoon over salads and use as a dressing. You could even melt a pack of jelly in a little water and make it up to the pint with the yogurt - ending up with a type of 'panna cotta'. And of course it can be used in cooking, adding to cakes instead of milk, or quiches instead of cream.

Regarding the supermarket that has the cheapest prices. Of the 'big five' (Asda, Morrison's, Tesco, Sainsburys, Waitrose) according to the trade mag. Asda came out on top. The cost of the 33 items in their 'shopping basket' (and as you know this did include foods few of us would buy) came to £64.41p. The same foods at the others stores would have been £64.73 at M's; £67.39 at S; £69.59 at T; and £74.74 at W.
However SOME foods were cheaper in one store than another (i.e. lettuce 78p at Asda, 50p at M.) so whichever store we chose to go to it's 'win some, lose some', and the store that comes out top will change from week to week. Last week it was Asda, the previous week it was Morrisons ( cheaper by £3) but this time with different items in the basket).

The problem is - with the contents of the shopping basket changing each week - we cannot really get a true idea of which is the best supermarket to patronise. Each will give offers that others don't, but then they soon follow suit, so it's a real mine-field to know where we should place our feet. Even the trade mag doesn't really help as it gives results only on the previous weeks 'basket'. Offers will have come and gone in the meantime.
Possibly the only way to find out the best store to shop at the time is to type in our 'shopping list' onto the www.mySupermarket.com website that helps sort it out for you. Not that I can be bothered to do this - Tesco already being more than generous with its double points and £41 of money-off my on-line orders (within a certain period of time - some of which have already been used/spent but still £18 left).

Pleased to read you were happy with your free chicken carcases Polly. Half a lb (225g) of usable cooked chicken is not to be sneezed at (and you managed some extra as cat food as well). Plus the chicken stock. Just shows what we can get for free when we know how.
As to your scones. Not sure what recipe you use, but the problem may be more in the mixing. Scone 'dough' should be fairly soft, and not at all dry. It should then be kneaded only lightly, and rolled out gently to about an inch thick. If cut into rounds, always dip the cutter into flour before pressing into the dough (this prevents it sticking) and don't twist the cutter before removing (or the scones will then twist when cooking and end up a very strange shape). Bake in a hot oven for (I think) about 12 minutes, and they should rise well enough. After cooking they normally have a natural 'split' halfway up the scone in just the right place to pull apart or cut, to then spread with butter, jam, cream or what you will. In some areas butter is not used, cream is spread first on the scone, the jam then placed on top. In other areas it is the jam on buttered scones, with the cream on top.

This has reminded me of yet another way to save money. Maybe only a bit at a time, but over the months could be several £££s.
When we make sarnies (or topping savoury biscuits) the main reason why we spread butter on the bread/biscuit is to protect it from any moist filling that would make the bread/biscuit go soggy. But it doesn't have to be the expensive butter/marg. We could instead spread the bread with mayonnaise, a soft (pref-low fat) cream cheese, or even tomato puree/ketchup. these are good with a salad filling. With a meat filling we could spread with redcurrant jelly (lamb) cranberry sauce (chicken/turkey), horseradish sauce (beef), or tartare sauce (fish).

Having eaten 'hospital sarnies' that had good fillings but nothing spread on the bread, found these to be very 'dry' and unpleasant to eat (mainly meat or cheese, salads would have been too 'wet'), but as long as we provide something to give 'mouth appeal' such as the above suggestions, this can be a good and cheaper substitute for the more expensive (and less healthy) 'fats'.

Do we always need to make a sandwich using two slices of bread. We COULD instead make a 'club sandwich', that although using three slices of bread, one of these 'clubs' stands in for two normal 'rounds' of sarnies (which would then take four slices of bread). Also we could serve 'open sandwiches' where the filling is piled on top of just one round of bread as the Scandinavians do. The name for these is something like 'smorgasbord'.

Seems the south east of the country yesterday was basking in extreme heat. Not so here - warm enough, but not THAT warm. Not that I got a chance to go outside for wished to watch Andy Murray play during the afternoon where again my OH needed to be 'considered'.
Well, he likes to think he makes bread all by himself, but after yesterday when I had to make up the bread mix for him, tell him the bread-maker had 'bleeped' to say the dough was ready (he being too deaf to hear although he says he is not deaf), then later clear the table of all the flour he had left there after turning out the dough (to shape then put into the tin), then - during the afternoon - having to remember to wake him to remind him to check whether the dough was nearly risen enough to be baked (it wasn't. Why is it his takes so much longer than mine to rise?). THEN having to wake him to switch the oven on, THEN having to wake him to remind him to put the bread in the oven, THEN having to wake him again to tell him the time allowed for the bread to be baked was passed.... I really think it would be far simpler if he left me to make the bread myself. I really don't feel he has made the bread 'all by himself' if all the time he needs reminding to do this that and the other.

Problem is with my husband, the minute he sits down and relaxes, he nods off, and as I said to him yesterday "when cooking, you have to be on the ball ALL the time. You just can't leave things to sort themselves out, you need to be constantly checking timings etc". Of course, cooking isn't really as bad as that, lots of things we can leave to get on with by themselves (slow-cookers for example), but felt he needed to realise he has to think a bit more about what he is doing/has done. He has always relied on me to get him out of any trouble he is in (cooking or otherwise) and perhaps time I left him to sort his own problems out. Trouble is I can't bear anything to be spoiled or wasted.

Looks like being a glorious day today, and maybe will spend more time outside and less in the kitchen (just for once). Feel I need a break. Don't remember the last time I had a holiday, must be at least 10 years ago, although as B says, "moving to Morecambe seems like being on holiday". Well, maybe it is if you can get out and about, which I can't easily. Perhaps a holiday on a cruise ship would be more suited to my life-style, although as I get sea-sick just being in a boat on flat sea-water (doesn't even have to have a wobble), maybe that's not such a good idea. Oddly though, find cruising the canals doesn't seem to make me ill.

Time now for me to go and put a load of washing into the machine. Then clear the kitchen decks, MAYBE think about making lemon curd/ice-cream (possibly this will be done this afternoon), then take a cup of coffee out into the garden with a banana muffin to sit and contemplate, before getting up and watering what needs to be watered. Possibly picking more strawberries. Life could be worse.

Hope you can join me again tomorrow. See you then.