Monday, August 15, 2011

How Fresh is Fresh?

Was delighted to hear of your electric slicer/steamer bargains bought at the car boot sale Woozy. You'll now be ready to start cooking boneless joints for slicing and freezing. Always freeze using containers/bags suitable for freezing or the meat will dry out.

After the 'turkey roast' was cooked and chilled, yesterday sliced it on my machine and -because it was a very small 'roast', managed to get 20 slices, but all were thicker than I would normally slice beef or ham. There were no scraps because the joint was circular and so only the top end was slightly mis-shapen, the photo below shows the slices with a few of the end slices barely visible on the left as they had been tucked underneath on the left so they fitted on the plate.

Although the slices were not the shapes as if carved from the breast of a cooked bird, the meat was not 'pre-formed', just wrapped around itself as you can perhaps see from the picture. It certainly tasted good, with a lot more flavour than sliced chicken. The two packs of cooked sliced turkey shown on Tesco's website showed the most expensive 'Finest' range being at £2.25 per 100g, the other just 'roast turkey with no added water' - at £1.52 per 100g.
My uncooked turkey roast gave the weight as as 450g (1 lb) and once cooked - due to weight loss (all meat loses weight when cooked) this brought it down to over 350g (13 oz)- this being the weight used to find out the comparison price. So for a lay-out of £2.50 and working with the cheapest Tesco price for the pre-packed managed to save £2.82p (more than was paid for the 'roast' itself). Had I compared with the higher price, my savings would be £5.63p! So we can see that when we cook and slice meat ourselves, money will always be saved, and often a considerable amount.

Three slices of the turkey were given to B (along with a couple of sausages and 2 slices of corned beef, plus salad etc) for his supper, plus a jacket potato. For 'afters' he had a Summer Pudding which turned out of the individual dish very easily (I had forgotten to line it with clingfilm). This he had with some of the juice left over, and double cream. Yummy. The other three S.Puds have now been frozen and will be removed from their containes when solid and bagged up so the containers can be used again.

After myself sampling the very end bit of turkey (to taste the quality), bagged up the remaining slices in three's and fours' and put all but one in the freezer. B can have the two slices (now in the fridge ) to make a couple of sarnies for one or more of his 'snacks'. Or I could heat them up in turkey gravy and serve them with the trimmings as a 'roast dinner'.

As only two slices have been taken from a can of corned beef, the rest will be sliced and then frozen in two lots so that the can be thawed and used next time I serve Cold Meat Platter for B. If left in the fridge B will keep slicing it to make even more sarnies which he really doesn't need. It is cheaper for me to provide cakes and biscuits for him to nibble on throughout the rest of the evening than have him eat meat and cheese.

It crossed my mind last night that hardly ever is the larder raided to make an evening meal for my Beloved. Generally all foods used are 'fresh', although this term is debatable considering that most produce can take days from soil to supermarket shelves. Frozen food I tend to think of as 'fresh' for - quite honestly - all produce is frozen as soon a possible after harvesting. Meat being the only exception. The longer most meats are hung, the better the flavour.

Some produce can be kept for weeks when stored correctly. It is Nature's way to give us root vegetables that are meant to store to last us through the winter, so supermarket carrots, onions, white cabbage, butternut squash, celery, potatoes are all part of what I call my 'fresh' produce, even though they may have been in my fridge/veggie basket for some weeks.

Yesterday a tin of corned beef was put into the fridge to chill, and sausages thawed from the freezer and apart from a jar of Branston, that's all that was used from the larder. Everything else was from the freezer or fridge, and this happens most days.
Occasionally B helps himself to a tin of sardines (for one of his snacks on toast), and I use a can of red beans used when making a chilli for him. Not forgetting a jar of curry sauce when he fancies Rogan Josh (or another variety). More often it is me that uses larder products - making myself a meal of baked beans, or canned tuna, sweetcorn - with of course some 'fresh' foods.

And it's me that brings into play the 'dry good's, the rice, couscous, pasta, lentils, pearl barley, oats. Flour is another 'regular', as are the 'tracklements': ketchup, brown sauce, Branston, mustard, mint sauce, redcurrant jelly. Together these would barely fill two of the longer shelves in my larder, so why do I feel the need to pack the remaining six shelves full as well? True, one is taken over to home made jams and marmalade, another s stores cans of MaMade and big bags of sugar ready for another supply (probably next year). Another shelf has been partly cleared to store all my baking tins, but - as always - have too much of foods rarely used. There are packs of gelatine crystals and leaf gelatine sitting there, several blocks of cooking chocolate, umpteen bottles of flavouring 'extracts' for cakes, the same of food colourings. So perhaps time for me to start using them.

Fortunately nothing is really past its b/b date as we brought very little food with us when we moved here two years agao (apart from rice and sugar and still have a lot of both, but these keep forever), so not a problem where b.b. dates are concerned, other than remembering to cook dried beans a.s.a.p as the older they are the longer they take to cook. I try to cook these within a year of purchase, two years maximum (they do freeze so always cook the whole pack at a time - saves both time and fuel). Was once given a pack of red beans that - although soaked up water - they never did cook to softness, even after several hours. But they had been in a larder for 8 years previously.

Not sure whether it happens to everyone who enjoys gardening and cooking, but myself always feel the 'urge' to do things at certain times of the year. Think this is called 'instinct'. Even if we don't actually do what we seasonally should, we still feel the stirrings to 'spring clean' and begin - like squirrels - to hoard up food for the winter.
This time of year the feeling comes over me to preserve as much food as possible, although this is now usually only preserves and pickles. Freezing food is another way of 'preserving'. In the old days there was a lot more smoking of meats and fish, salting of beans, storing eggs in sawdust or waterglass, drying of nuts and berries, storing apples and pears in lofts, and clamping root vegetables in soil to last through the long winter months.

Thankfully, a lot of this load has now been taken off our shoulders, but there is much we can still do if we really feel inclined, although we are probably more likely to be concentrating on building up a stock of 'ready-meals', vegetables, fruits and both raw and cooked meats and fish in the freezer than in any other form.

Yesterday, watched two (back to back) episodes of earlier Hugh F.W. programmes, starting with when he moved from River Cottage to a larger farm and then set up (in other farm buildings close by) his 'River Cottage HQ '. Hugh is very watchable and each time I see a programme of his find him very inspiring. For those with enough money, he runs cookery courses held at his own farm, but not cheap and accommodation is at local B & B or hostelries, and presumably the cost of this and travel is on top of the course fees. Tempting though.

Next week am hoping (at long last) to get to 'shop' at our local Farmer's Market (which I believe is the fourth Thursday in each month). Have only been once, just after we moved here, so as long as the produce is reasonably priced, this could see me 'topping up' the fresh. Sometimes wonder if it worth having those 'vegetable and fruit' boxes delivered weekly (or fortnightly). Did try this once, but very disappointed as in every delivery some of the produce had 'gone off'. Mouldy fruit, collapsing cucumbers, soggy tomatoes to name but a few disasters. They refunded me the cost, but as there was no improvement, cancelled after a couple of months. Perhaps now the quality is better. Must see if anyone delivers in this area and maybe try again. But - as ever - it is the prices charged that matters to me most at the moment.

Twisting round to look out of our patio door, see that the ground is fairly dry, but it has been raining. Did notice several ripe raspberries on the canes that have been planted in the front of the narrow patio outside the doors, so must gather these today.
The sky is cloudy, but can see blue sky appearing behind the houses in front of me (I've twisted back to look through the side window behind the comp), so hope for some sunshine today. It did come out later yesterday afternoon, and was pleased to see that all the seeds planted the other day are now showing through the soil, placed - for the moment - on the conservatory windowsill. Since re-potting the bay tree, this has grown another 12 inches with a lot more leaves, and the mint has also a lot more new growth since removing most of the stems recently (to freeze the chopped leaves if you remember). The pot of mint outside (stems also pruned) are not showing new growth, and think it is now contemplating dying down for the winter as it normally does, so am hoping the 'indoor mint' will keep going for several weeks longer.

The stem 'tips' are thriving in the glass of water placed under the corner light in the kitchen, but so far have not thrown off roots, just the vestige of one or two can be seen on a couple of mint stems, so perhaps nature is deciding this is not the right time after all. Perhaps plants too have an 'instinct' when to do things.
(The sun has just begun to shine and more blue sky appearing - let us hope it lasts).

If shopping for food is my 'retail therapy', then must try and challenge this into 'shopping from home' for unless I do, my stores will continue to increase. As I obviously have an 'instinct' to prepare meals (cooked or uncooked) and an 'instinct' to grow and nurture plants, then perhaps it is time they took over and the supermarket takes a back seat. Will have to start role-playing 'grocer', 'customer', and 'chef' again to gain the greatest pleasure from what I do. "Life's a Game" as the saying goes.

I'd love to demonstrate and teach cost-cutting cookery again, but little chance of this unless I use this site to do something similar. Maybe - using photos - might be able to add more interest to what is written. Certainly when looking at cookery publications it is usually the photo of a dish that inspires us to have a go at making it.
With some convenience foods and ready-meals it is normally the picture on the front of the pack that leads us to purchase it, usually very disappointed after as the contents look nothing like the picture.
Having worked myself as a 'food stylist', know that an immense amount of time can be spent putting every pea and every sesame seed etc. in place to make the product look as good as it can get. A final spray or brush of water or oil will make the food glisten and look appetising, and the very few lumps of meat that might be in the meal are usually placed close to the surface so it looks as though there are a lot more. When it comes to most pictures on the front of 'ready-meals' don't expect what you see, and not in the amount it appears for if the meal is seen 'plated up' as a 'serving suggestion', then almost certainly small plates have been used.

There is so much psychology used when it comes to luring the consumer, most of the time our strings are being pulled without us even realising it. Am hoping that by having the trade mag, and being able to pass on 'useful info', we will all become far more aware of this, and are now able to close our kitchen doors against a lot of the 'invisible' pressure put upon us. Let me know if you have found this useful. It also helps to know when prices on certain products are due to rise. Butter is becoming more and more expensive, so if you can get an offer on that, worth storing some in the freezer. Salted butter keeps well enough when frozen for at least six months, unsalted butter will store for a few months longer.

The only problem why buying anything NOW due to price rises later is that once we have used it up and having to re-stock, there could - in the interim - be a dramatic price rise which then hits us hard. The best way is to keep buying - when on offer - the amount that would normally be used in a week/month, and then use what has been previously been frozen/stored and then store the new. This keeps all the frozen (say) butter as near as 'fresh', as possible and the newly stored will then have a longer 'shelf life'. Eventually we will all be having to pay higher prices, but not yet. The more we can save now, the more money we will have to pay for our higher food bills.

It does seem that prices will continue to rise for this year, next year, and who knows how much longer. The supermarkets AND manufacturers and producers are now also feeling the pinch, so 'offers' will become fewer.
By growing our own produce and doing a lot more home-cooking we should be able to keep well within our budget. After all there are enough products on the market for us to pick and choose from, that will still be cheaper than some foods we buy today purely because of habit. Worth trying an untried product or brand - you'll probably find you enjoy it more.

Did hear that Busy Lizzies' have been attacked by a fungus Witchy Witch. Think mine have gone because of the weather and slugs - up to a couple or so days ago there was no sign of any other problem. Gill says hers (in Leicester) have also died, but her container planted begonias are doing very well indeed. Might change to those next year.

Gill also mentioned that there had been riots in Leicester, but not on such a large scale as the bigger cities, which is probably why it wasn't given a mention in the media. Almost certainly other towns also had riots that we were not told about.

Not sure why we are not supposed to eat Rhubarb after early July Susan G. Certainly I used to pull a few stick through the year until autumn. However, Rhubarb does get more 'woody' 'stringy' and much less sweet the further on into the year, so perhaps this is a reason.
Did watch Doc. Martin the first time round and enjoyed it, and have recently been watching the repeat of Martin Clune's prog on horses on Freeview 10. He did a similar one on dogs, and also another programme on the islands of Britain. Although he is great in comedy roles (Men Behaving Badly for instance), much prefer to watch him as a person in his own right. He seems to have a great love of animals and very gentle in his ways. Would love to meet him.

Who else would I give my right arm to meet? David Suchet, Clarissa Dickson Wright, Alan Titchmarsh, Pauline Quirke, Prince Charles, Nigel Slater, Hugh F.W. Ann Widdecombe, Dawn French, Alan Sugar, Ainsley Harriot, David Jason, are the first that come to mind. There will be others, but these are my first choice. Get them all round my dining table (with me at the head and B locked away in a cupboard) and my cup of happiness would be full.

Monday today, my favourite day as it is the start of a new week and by the end hope to have done something 'useful'. No recipes today, but if you are looking for new ways to use a glut of garden produce or other foodstuff you want to use up, please let me know and I'll hunt out the more unusual recipes for you.

Intending today to be active again in the kitchen, although the sky is now almost all blue, so might just take an hour to scoot down with Norris to the chemist to get my prescription renewed. It would be nice to have a chat with someone (B never chats - he prefers me to be seen not heard, and for that matter not always seen. Are most 'old-style' husbands like that? Or probably because one started I talk too much and anyway am not that good to look at).

Please join me again tomorrow, for then I have a captive audience to chat to without any interruptions. Just joking, as I love to hear from you even though only by comments. So hope to be with you this time tomorrow. Enjoy your day.