Thursday, July 07, 2011

Making it Easy

Weather seems to have taken a turn for the worse again Wearing short sleeves instead of sleeveless, and if it doesn't soon warm up will end up wearing long-sleeves. But at the moment am enjoying seeing my very brown arms against the white of my T.shirt. Yes, old ladies do wear T. shirts. At least I do. Although mine are now three sizes too big.

Was very annoyed this morning. Ate only some hummous with a handful of breadsticks for lunch yesterday, and a large glass of milk for supper. Sometime during the day do remember eating a couple of kiwi fruit. But that was my lot. Had completely lost my appetite yesterday , so happily jumped on the scales today o see how much (more) weight I'd lost. And found I'd lost none. Well, there's always tomorrow.

Took the opportunity to look busy whilst sitting down, so counted the approximate number of leaves on the very small bay tree in our conservatory. Over 200 full-sized ones, and almost as many smaller ones - and that's not counting the ones already used this year. So working on the commercial cost of a leaf, already the bush is worth twice the price than that paid for it. Must pot it up again into its final large pot (at least for this year). Then will put it outside by the kitchen door until the cold weather arrives, then back into the conservatory it will go.

Having no appetite at all yesterday, didn't even feel like cooking for B, but managed to cobble together a Pasta Carbonara - which got rid of the last of my 'lardons', plus a bit more bacon, three mushrooms, the last of a tub of creme fraiche, a 10p egg, and some quick-cook pasta penne. Made a good helping when served, but (this time) didn't ask if it tasted OK. There are times when B will have to make do with what he is given. He satisfied any remaining cravings by topping up with his usual snacks.

The newspaper wasn't delivered yesterday, so B (eventually) went to the newsagent, of course by then it was shut (not sure why, unless it was half-day closing), so he brought in a different paper - this time The Times from somewhere else. Have to say was very impressed when reading it. Very informative and none of that completely boring celebrity stuff that seems to fill other papers these days. Unfortunately nothing about food, but maybe on other days? Did notice a calender of foodie events for this month (food festivals etc), but nothing in our area so didn't really take much notice.

Tomorrow sees the cookery programme I have been looking forward to seeing. On BBC at 7.30 (clashes with Corrie - oops, sorry B), and called 'The Good Cook' ("add an 'e' and it could be me", went through my mind then, followed by "I'm a poet and didn't know it". Apologies for sounding silly, but that's me, mad as a hatter... .

Sitting looking out into the garden yesterday saw a squirrel scamper across our lawn to one of my vegetables containers and busily bury a whole peanut (still in the shell) in the soil. So that's what keeps disturbing my plants. No wonder many of them seem reluctant to keep on growing. Should I leave the nuts there? Might they start growing under the soil and I find I will be able to harvest more later in the year?

There was a mention on the news yesterday about the rise in prices this last year - food prices rising more than anything else - as if we didn't already know that. What was said was what was in my trade mag this week (probably mentioned by me anyway a couple of days ago), but what they didn't say was that the stores themselves are now feeling the pinch, and we will be finding fewer foods on offer than have been these last few months.
But - as I said to Beloved - why on earth any of us should start complaining about how much it cost to feed us these days, when there are those starving in Africa. Time perhaps to forget the cost and be thankful we have food at all to eat - and still such a variety.

There was just one comment sent in - from entropycottage, and this about the foods children eat these days. Almost certainly the rot set in once the children were almost pressured into eating certain foods when they saw the ads on TV. Plus the rise of all the burger bars, pizza parlours and other such 'eating places'. Never sure why it is we always have to follow what America does. They seem to feel the need for 'big' over the board. Big country with big roads, big cars, tallest buildings... Big companies, even bigger food companies. Big stores, big steaks, big helpings of chips, and of course now big people. Maybe they felt 'big' was good for their image (and profits), especially when spreading themselves further afield in the foodie line, but now proving to be a really bad thing when it seems to be affecting our children's health.

America too tends to be less strict when rearing their children, letting them just about rule the household. This is also happening here (well, has been for a long time now). Allowing children freedom to express themselves ALL THE TIME doesn't always work well.

Maybe we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, but when visiting America, it was very apparent that their children just ran riot, making a heck of a noise and trying to get our attention every time we spoke to the adults. Yet, not one was told to be quiet.
Even worse in cafes - children allowed to run around tables and be a thorough nuisance, and if an adult complained it was they that were told off, not the children.
Yet - 0n the continent (esp in France and Italy, possibly also in Spain and Greece...) the children eat at table with their parents and are very well behaved both at home and outside. Also the youngsters are taught to cook from a very early age, and to appreciate good food. Very few children in those countries eat junk food I would expect.

Why is it we let children get away with so much bad behaviour these days? And why is it that parents seem now to feel that something is only worth buying for their offspring if it costs a lot? Are we so ruled by the price of something that this is the only reason to buy?

In more than one magazine I've seen a page (or three) where someone either furnished a room or bought a complete outfit to wear, and the items were listed separately and the prices given, and - on the same page - was shown almost identical items but very, VERY much cheaper. Most of us I'm sure would not know the difference between a £4,000 handbag and one almost original copy that costs £40. And for that matter, I wouldn't pay £40 for any handbag. Maybe £4 from a charity shop is the furthest I would go.
Which brings me back to food. Why pay £5 for a jar of 'quality' preserve, when we can make the same (or even better) for 50p? We can still enjoy the good life as long as we use the good(e) approach.

As you can see I've got that 'jaundiced' feeling about life at the moment. Nothing seems to be going right at the moment. The need to find new ways to cut costs is causing me some headaches. Many of my 'old ways' need to be revised as prices rise. Should I just 'go with the flow' and allow myself to spend more on food, or am I right to try and keep my food budget still the same as it was last year and, the year before. You tell me.

Suppose there is still much that can be done by finding ways we can use certain foods as 'substitutes'. Not necessarily cheaper ones, but if we have the products anyway - just sitting on the shelf doing nothing - then at least using them means we don't have to pay for the 'real thing'.

With the next recipe comes the mention of 'cashew nut milk'. We can - of course - just use skimmed milk, but if we have cashews (or maybe peanuts or desiccated coconut also) these too can be turned into 'milk' - and if short of milk, possibly a useful substitute. Here is what to do:
cashew nut milk: makes about 3/4 pint (450ml)
3 oz (75g) cashew nuts
16 fl oz (455ml) water
half tsp sugar (or sugar substitute)
pinch salt
Put the nuts and 4 fl oz (115ml) water into a blender and whizz until smooth. Add remaining water, the sugar and salt and blend for a further 30 seconds. Will keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

This recipe makes a quick and easy tea-bread for fairly low-cal comfort eating. Feel the need for a bit of that at the moment.
Orange and Raisin Tea-Bread: makes 1 loaf = 18 slices
2 tsp baking powder
half tsp salt
4 oz (120g) plain flour
2 oz (50g) butter or marg. softened
3 oz (75g) sugar
3 fl oz (75ml) orange juice
2 fl oz (50ml) cashew milk (see above) or skimmed milk
2 tsp grated orange zest
3 oz (75g) raisins
3 tblsp sugar (or sugar substitute)
2 tblsp plain flour
half oz (15g) butter or marg, softened
Sift together the baking powder, salt and flour, and set aside.
In another bowl beat together the butter/marg and sugar, then beat in the milk, orange juice and zest, then stir in the raisins. Fold in the flour then spoon the mixture into a greased and floured 9"x 5" (23 x 12cm) loaf tin. Mix the topping ingredients together to make a 'crumble mix', then spread this evenly on top of the mixture in the tin. Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 25 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Turn out and cool on a cake airer.

This next recipe is a cross between a cake and a scone. I've chosen this because it is made using oil instead of a more expensive fat, and only the whites of eggs - which means the yolks can be used in another dish (perhaps a quiche or an omelette/scrambled eggs etc). If you have lemon favoured yogurt all the better, but natural will do. Eat spread with your favourite preserve (even better with lemon curd).
Lemon Wedges: cuts into 8 wedges
9 oz (250g) plain flour
1 tblsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon or ginger (opt)
half tsp salt
3 tblsp sugar
1 tblsp sunflower oil
3 egg whites
4 oz (115ml) plain or lemon yogurt
1 tblsp lemon zest
Sift together the flour, baking powder, spice and salt. Stir in 2 tblsp of the sugar, drizzle in the oil and - using a fork - mix thoroughly together.
Remove 1 tblsp of the egg whites and set aside. Tip the remaining egg whites into the flour mix with the yogurt and lemon zest, and stir gently together until just mixed, then turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead (about 8 'pushes') to mix the dough together. Pat out to form an 8" (20cm) circle. Take a sharp knife and cut the circle evenly into 8 wedges and then arrange these (about 1"/2.5cm) apart on a greased and floured baking tray. Brush tops with reserved egg white and sprinkle with remaining sugar.
Bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Eggs are not the cheapest of ingredients when it comes to baking cakes etc, and although they do provide us with necessary protein, it probably makes more sense to use the whites in one dish and the yolks in another - thus cutting the total cost of both. In other words 'you can have your cake and eat it too'.

As so many readers now make their own yogurt, this too is an ingredient in the following recipe for a type of chocolate brownie. With raspberries coming into season, these are named, but almost any soft fruits would do (or leave them out).
Chocolate Avalanche Cake: serves 12
8 oz (225g) plain flour
8 oz (225g) sugar
2 oz (50g) cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
half tsp bicarbonate of soda
pinch salt
12 oz (340g) natural yogurt (pref low-fat)
2 tblsp sunflower oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 egg whites
6 oz (175g) fresh raspberries (see above)
2 tblsp runny honey
2 tblsp hot water
raspberry jam
Into a bowl put half the sugar and half the cocoa, all the flour, baking powder, bicarb and salt, then mix well together. In another bowl put the yogurt, oil and vanilla and mix together.
Taking a clean bowl, put in the egg whites and beat to soft peaks, then gradually beat in remaining sugar until stiff peaks form.
Fold the yogurt mixture into the flour mix until just moistened, then fold in the beaten egg whites. Pour into greased and floured 9" x 9 " (23 x 23cm) cake tin and sprinkle top with 4 oz (100g) of the raspberries. Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then remove from tin to cool completely.
In a small bowl make the chocolate 'sauce' by mixing together the honey, water and remaining cocoa. In another bowl mix together the remaining yogurt with some raspberry jam (to taste).
To serve: cut the cake into 12 squares and serve each with a dollop of the 'raspberry cream' with the chocolate sauce drizzled on top.

This is possibly the best (and new) approach to save those precious pennies. Make something go twice as far - or even further.
When meat is now slow-cooked in a crock pot, I add extra water which then makes a great stock to use in other dishes. Often cook more than one type of stewing meat at the same time (shin, beef rib trim, braising steak etc) - as these are intended to be frozen after cooking in a little of the stock. Have found myself that by freezing this well-flavoured stock on its own, then thawing, re-boiling and again using it in the slow-cooker to cook even more meat, end up with a VERY well flavoured stock that almost takes the place of meat when making a casserole. Certainly we can get away with using only 4 oz stewing steak and a meaty gravy, instead of starting off with 1 lb meat and water.
On its own this beef stock makes an excellent and nutritious soup (with perhaps a few lentils if you like it 'bulky').

Even though most of us don't have much waste nowadays when it comes to food, still feel there is room to manoeuvre when it comes to 'sharing' ingredients. Maybe mushroom stalks in one dish, the caps in another. Citrus peel to flavour one thing, the juice another.
The oil that many things are preserved in (roasted peppers, olives, even sardines/tuna/anchovies etc) can all be used for frying up something savoury. Fats that float to the top of a stock/casserole can be spooned off (or left to set in the fridge - they rise to the top and can then be lifted off) can also be used for frying.

My Beloved always wants me to save the fat that oozes out of sausages when cooked in the oven (or on the hob) so that he can fry his eggs in it another day. He says he likes the flavour. Probably no worse for him than the butter he would use instead, and certainly cheaper for me.

As you know, the other week spent some time salting lemons to preserve them. Tried salting down some lemon shells that had been squeezed, and these seem to work just as well. So again - juice in one dish - shells used for another purpose (as well as being grated to remove the zest, or turned into candied peel).
Which reminds me - having read a tip about lemons keeping better when wrapped tightly in cling-film and stored in the fridge - gave this a go. It certainly works. Previously used to keep lemons/limes/oranges in a fruit bowl in the kitchen, and within a week or so they began to dry and wizen up. The wrapped and stored lemons have now been in my fridge at least a couple of months and are still perfect as I found when I used one the other day. If anything slightly softer and juicier (so perhaps continuing to ripen whilst chilled). Will have to try that with the limes and oranges as these too don't seem to store too well at room temp. during the summer months.

If any of you have suggestions as to how to make one ingredient end up in two dishes, then please let us know. Also any other money-saving tips you may have. It's now coming to the time when we need to find every way we can to make the most of what we buy. As if I haven't been trying to do this already. But there is always something new to learn.

Seems we might be having a sunny day today - so far at least. Fingers crossed we will, then can go out and sit amongst all the flowers that are now 'bloomin' lovely'. Enjoy your day. It won't be long before the weekend is here when we can roll up our sleeves and carry on cooking. Forget the shopping. Stay at home and use up what you've got.
An early finish today, but have run out of things to chat about. Well, interesting things anyway. Hope you will join me tomorrow, and 'keep those comments coming". These are so useful when 'writer's block' falls upon me. Like is happening now. Queries always welcome. So send me some! Until tomorrow in the hope we meet up again...