Monday, August 29, 2011

Value for Money

Before I continue with the remaining trade news must first reply to comments, and pleased to read that several of you are finding the trade 'secrets' a bit more than interesting. All inside information can help us guard ourselves from having our strings pulled by the stores, as can so easily happen.

What a magnificent crop of onions and shallots you managed to grow this year Scarlet. For interest, checked Tesco's prices for both, and the large 'loose' onions are 99p EACH!!!. Smaller 'cooking onions' (lesser grade) are £1.20 a bag (usually contains nine), and shallots are £3.35 a kg. Very approximate conversions to metrics (2 lb = 1kg), means your 66lb onions (if large ) would have cost you £33 to buy, and 16 lbs shallots to (say) £25. Meaning for a £2.80 layout you have managed to save approx £55!!!
Your mention of finding that it is cheaper to buy 2 x 100g jars of coffee than 1 x 200g does occur from time to time,, but always worth checking all sizes (some come in 300g plus) as now and again one or another is on offer. With anything, always check the price per 100g or kg, as this makes it easier to work out the one that is best value AT THE TIME.

We all like to grow different veg, but to get the most for our money next year it would be worth concentrating on fruit and vegetables (esp veggies) that give us the most for our money, so as this year's crops are now being harvested, it would be good to hear from all you gardeners as to how much money has been saved on the various crops sown, and we can then c0ncentrate on sowing the 'best of the money-saving' bunch next year.

Myself have not grown enough to give us big yields, but do know that redcurrants and raspherries are good 'money-savers'. Our rhubarb should be, but either our soil is not conducive to growing rhubarb (as it was in Leeds), or we bought the wrong varieties. The oak-leafed 'cut and come again' lettuce is also saving me much money, as are the year round supply of Mixed Salad Leaves. Not sure about the tomatoes, although still plenty on the vines, so possibly they will break even, and should certainly save money next year when all tomato plants will be grown from seeds. Herbs grown from seed too are 'paying their way', especially the parsley (both flat-leaf and curly).

We can see from Scarlet's comment that onions are very 'profitable' when it come to growing our own, snf from 50 and still's.... comment she also had a good crop, so a good idea for us all to so try to find space to grow these next year. Possibly they will grown in some of my deepish Donald Russell polystyrene delivery boxes (when filled with compost) as these have been used for growing courgettes this year, the plants huge, but all the fruits eaten by the slugs!
So please, keep letting us know of your best crops, so that we can all make sure we grow the ones that save us the most money. It would also help to know what variety is grown as some are more prolific than others, also different in flavour/colour/size.

What an amazing buy Kathryn, 5 lbs ripe strawberries for 1 lb. If still time, puree some and freesze to later make a coulis/sauce, or use for jam. Do have some rose syrup myself, but so far have only used it to flavour ice-cream/Turkish Delight/rose petal jam. A little added to yogurt/rice pudding/panna cotta would add a lovely flavour. Also cakes, and especially the icing on the cake.
Do hope you are now feeling much better and back on track again. Was beginning to worry about you.

What terrible weather you have had in Toronto Margie. Let us hope it has now 'blown over' and things get back to normal. Was interested in reading the 'fixings' your friend makes to freeze. What a good idea. Not sure whether the onions/carrots would work unless blanched. Possibly if only intended to be frozen for less than a month, otherwise unpleasant things can happen to unblanched veggies. Have seen bags of frozen 'casserole vegetables' in the uupermarkets, these being chunks of carrot, swede (and quite honestly not sure what else - but worth looking to find out), these bigger pieces of veggies would be easy to blanch and then able to be used in a slow cooker as they are already 'part-cooked' - as well as in the normal way.

The mention of grated veggies reminded me of Saturday's cook-in when I took several carrots from the fridge and chopped them into chunks, peeled and cut 3 onions into quarters, chopped up the last few inches of a head of celery, and put half in the food processor with about 8 small mushrooms (that needed using up), and whizzed them into 'crumbs'. Repeated with the remaining veg and the last of my mushrooms, and then sauteed the lot in a little butter/oil in my largest frying pan. These to be the base of a meat sauce destined to turn into spag.bol and chilli con carne. Even without the meat, the dark gills of the mushrooms made the mixture look as though the meat was already mixed in.
After sauteeing, the veggies were put into a saucepan and a pack of minced beef was fried off in the frying pan, then when ready, the veggies were stirred back in, with a can of (cheap) tomato soup), some beef stock and a dash of both Worcestershire and HP sauce, then covered and left to simmer for a couple of hourse (one hour would have been long enough, but the longer the better in my opinion.
When most of the liquid had been absorbed, spooned about 2/3rds into a saucepan, poured a glass of wine over the remaining meat sauce in the pan, boiled it up, then set it aside to cool slightly before decanting into three individual portion boxes ready to freeze. One saved in the fridge B's supper on Sunday.
To the reserved mixture in the saucepan, added a tablespoon of tomato puree, a teaspoon of sugar, a quarter pint of water and the remaining third of packet of 'Hot Chilli Sauce Mix'. Stirred together and simmered the 'meat sauce' thickened beautifully, and all that was needed then was to stir in the drained and rinsed contents of a can of red kidney beans. This 'chill con carne' then was enough to fill another three individual boxes.

Now I've got myself up to date, will continue with the trade news....
Farmers' Markets have been as badly hit by the recession as many food outlets. Soaring rents have forced many traders to look further afield for places to store their food and it's worth noting that at least one London market held as a monthly event has now converted to a weekly market because "we always wanted to go weekly, as this is how we buy our food". Does this mean their warehouse remained empty three weeks each month, or did it store certain veggies for longer periods (those with a long 'shelf-life', such as carrots, potatoes, white cabbage, onions etc?). Me being Miss Naive, always thought that Farmer's Markets sold produce that was harvested in the wee small hours of the morning of the market, and so 'fresh as fresh'.

There has certainly been a slow down in sales in the current economic market, but this might be for many reasons, perhaps because many people are now growing their own produce, or supermarket produce is cheaper.
One good thing about a Farmers' Markets is the ambience. "Possibly more about a ' destination and experience' rather than a regular weekly shop....with many markets offering a strong foodservice element, which allows customers to consume as well as buy short, make they make shopping more fun".
But the final sentence in the article says it all... "charm alone won't pay the bills".

Food buffs who will be in the London Area between 4 - 6th September will be interested to know there is a Speciality and Fine Food Fair held at London Olympia at that time. This is to bring new products to the eye of food businesses/ stores etc, but am sure would also be open to the public.
Check on for more information. The ad says 'free expert advice and tp chef demos. 1000's of new products and am sure plenty of samples to try. My mouth is watering at the thought. Of course most of the products will be beyond the budget of the thrifty. But nice to dream.

Another 'column' caught my eye. This time the reporter was commenting on 'Twitter'. Apparently 30% of people check their Twitter account before they've even got out of bed in the morning. This seemed unbelieveable, but sniggering to his office workers "can anyone believe this>", 30% of the people there stuck their hands up.
Seems that the 'age profile' split for (office?) tweeters was 0% for all over the age of 30 and about 75% for those under.
The reporter continues..."Like Facebook, I can see it's another useful tool for companies looking to get short, targeted messages to customers and consumers.....but who'd really want to know what a great restaurant I'd been to for lunch or that I'd just seen Cheryl Cole in Tesco?"

It is true that a lot of the 'twitterati' twitter on about nothing interesting at all, and although I feel twittering is time wasted, surely I am doing the same thing myself with this blog. So must really try and write 'things of interest' and less of 'what we ate yesterday'. It'll be difficult, but will try.

Final comment from the trade mag is a mention that according to 99p Stores, "Hartlepool is the nation's most downmarket town based on its low sales of middle-class staples such as sun-dried tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, and pomegranate juice". That really puts me in my place. Am now officially lower-class. However, did like the sting in the tail at the end of the article that said "it would surely be unfair to suggest that the true mark of a 'posh town' is the absence of a 99p Store."

Having been fortunate in the past (mainly through playing bridge, but also through certain culinary activities) to be invited to 'upper class homes', being me, food was often introduced into the conversation, and can tell you that 'middle-class staples' are usually considered to be too expensive for upperclass eating. They much prefer eating the good old-fashioned 'farmhouse -style' meals. True, they do occasionally eat game (but usually shot by their own fair hands) and they do grow a lot of their own produce as most have 'walled gardens', but as I've said before, I (and the rest of the bridge four) may serve two kinds of tea from silver pots , but when invited alone to visit 'casually' during a morning, was almost always given tea in a mug made with a tea-bag, with the bag carefully saved so the lady of the manor can use it again (maybe with the second bag saved from her mug) to make herself another cuppa during the day. These little money-saving tips are quite openly shared with me. The wealthy take a pride in being mega-thrifty, because it costs so much to keep their houses in order and they need to save every penny. Sometimes they wear their overcoats indoors during severe winters because they cannot afford to heat all the house, and often rely on only just log fires (these giving warmth only to those who sit closest to it).

Seems today, both the lower (working) class and the upperclass have a great deal more in common that we think. Certainly it helps to know that when I'm struggling to make ends meet, I know of many titled ladies who are doing exactly the same, and so - for a few minutes - can role play I'm one of them.

Being very interested in 'domestic history' have come to realise that throughout the centuries, servants saved more money than it cost to have them. Gardeners would grow all the fruit and veg needed for all the occupants of the house (and how fresh would that be?). Cooks too knew every way to make the most of the food they had, the best going to the 'top table' with leftover or cheaper cuts feeding the staff. Not only that all the jams, preserves, pickles, and other foods that would store would be made. Very little 'convenience' foods bought. Some estates had rivers or ponds that provided fish, others had farmland that would grow cereal crops that could be milled to make flour. Hens, cows, pigs, sheep, for eggs, milk and meat products.

All bed linen would be repaired as it got worn. Even in my day have stitched 'sides to middle' when the sheets wore out in the centre. Woollen socks would always be darned. Cuffs and elbows on quality country jackets would always have leather trims or patches stitched on when they started fraying. Why buy new if the old was able to be repaired?
Even household furnishings were kept until almost falling to bits. No new carpets every few years, use the ones that had been their a couple of centuries. Flaking paintwork and faded wallpaper was all part of the charm. Anything 'new' stood out like a sore thumb. Nothing ever seems to be thrown away. A moral there somewhere?
Today - in some of the smaller - dare I say working class - homes (and the older the house the more 'natural' it looks) this style has returned and called 'shabby chic'. Rag rugs and patchwork quilts made from scraps fit in beautifully in a home such as this. So - if we wish - it is very simple to live in the style that we like to imagine we should have been born to.

Moving on to the culinaries. Today's recipes are centred round cabbage (and yes expect the Queen eats cabbage now and again - probably home-grown in Windsor Great Park, but then cabbage is cabbage....).
We start with a slightly different recipe for coleslaw. Obviously the easy way to make this is just mix together finely shredded cabbage, carrot and onion, and bind together with mayo. But it can be improved. Try this one for size. Use less mayo and more yogurt (half and half of each) if you prefer.
More than Coleslaw: serves 4 - 6
half a small white cabbage, finely shredded
2 carrots, finely grated
1 onion, finely grated
2 oz (50g) sultanas
5 fl oz (150ml) mayonnaise
2 tblsp natural yogurt
juice of half a small lemon
1 tsp caster sugar
salt and pepper to taste
Mix the vegetables and sultanas together. Fold the remaining ingredients together and combine thoroughly with the veggies.

Stuffed cabbage leaves is an old fashioned dish, and one my mother found worked well during war-time when she had to make the meat ration go as far as possible. This recipe uses more meat that she was able to, but if you wish to use less, use more of the remaining ingredients.
Stuffed Cabbage: serves 4
12 large cabbage leaves
1 tblsp olive oil
12 oz (350g) lean minced steak
1 onion, grated
5 oz (150g) cooked long-grain rice
2 tsp dried mixed herbs
1 tblsp tomato puree
salt and pepper
1 pint (600ml) vegetable stock)
14 fl oz (400ml) tomato 'pizza type' sauce
Remove the tough central stalk from the cabbage leaves, then blanch for 2 minutes in boiling water. Drain and refresh under cold running water, then drain and pat dry with a kitchen towel.
Stir-fry the mat in the oil over medium-high heat until browned, then add the onion, rice, herbs, tomato puree and seasoning with 5 fl oz (150ml) of the stock. Cook for 5 or so minutes until the stock has been absorbed.
Divide the mixture between the cabbage leaves (about 1 tblsp in the centre of each leaf) then roll up, folding the sides in to make a 'package'. Place side by side in a casserole (they need to fit snugly together). Bring the remaining stock to the boil and pour over so the rolls are half covered. Cover and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 45 minutes, then remove stuffed leaves with a slotted spoon and serve with hot tomato sauce.

A simple dish that many remember as served with cold Turkey on Boxing Day, but all too often forgotten about the rest of the year. This can be made with any left-over 'greens' such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage etc.
Bubble and Squeak: serves 4
9 oz (250g) cooked cabbage, chopped or shredded
12 oz (350g) mashed potato
salt and pepper
1 oz (25g) butter
1 tblsp sunflower oil
Mix together the cabbage and potato and season to taste. Put the butter and oil in a pan, and when hot plonk the mash in the pan, spreading it evenly like a thick pancake. Fry over medium heat until the underside has turned golden and crisp, then flip it over to brown the other side. It doesn't matter if the mixture breaks up when turned, it actually tastes better and becomes more crispy if turned and broken several times before the final browning and flattening of the underside.
If you wish, the mixture could be made into several individual flattened ' cakes' these being easier to turn, but it's not the traditional way of cooking.

This next dish is a one-pot 'rustic' winter supper dish that eats well served with either rice, pasta or other 'grain'. The recipe suggests using Puy lentils, as they have a fuller flavour, but myself tend to use the normal red or green lentils.
Cabbage and Lentil Casserole: serves 4
4 rashers lean back bacon, chopped
1 tblsp sunflower oil
1 onion, chopped
9 oz (250g) lentils (see above)
1 green cabbage, shredded
2 carrots, diced
7 oz (half a 400g can) chopped tomatoes
2 tsp tomato puree
1 pint (600ml) vegetable stock
salt and pepper
Fry the bacon in the oil for a couple of minutes, then stir in the onion and fry for a further 3 minutes. Add the lentils and cabbage and stir together. Cook for a couple of minutes then add the carrots, chopped tomatoes, tomato puree and stock, add seasoning to taste. Give a final stir then cover and simmer for 40 minutes. Have a taste, add more seasoning if necessary, then serve.

Served with crusty bread, this classic soup is a meal in a bowl. Some recipes include a little minced beef, a meatless version is much the same but is then called 'Minestra'. A very good dish to use bacon scraps, almost any sort of cooked dried beans. Any firm centre cabbage could be used. Sometimes oddments of broken pasta are also added. We could even included a sliced cooked sausage. Almost certainly a 'peasant' dish that was made from 'what we have', and so feel free to adapt according to your personal circumstances.
Minestrone Soup: serves 4 - 8
1 onion, chopped
2 - 3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 carrots, diced
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
2 tblsp olive oil
half a Savoy cabbage, shredded
1 x 400g can (14 oz) borlotti beans (or similar)
1 x 400g can (14 oz) chopped tomatoes
1 tblsp tomato puree
2 pints (1.2 litrs) vegetable stock
salt and pepper
4 tblsp pesto for garnishing (opt)
4 - 8 tblsp grated Parmesan (for garnshing)
Fry the onion, bacon, carrots and celery in the oil over medium heat until softened (but not coloured) then stir in the garlic and fry for a further couple of minutes before adding the cabbage, drained and rinsed beans, chopped tomatoes, tomato puree and stock. Stir well to combine, then bring to the simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Add seasoning to taste, then serve, garnishing each bowl with a drizzle of pesto (opt) and Parmesan chese.

Final recipe today is for a stir-fry. This can be part of a Chinese meal or served as a side-dish with any meat of your choice.
Stir-fried Cabbage: serves 4
4 oz (100g) cashew nuts
1 tblsp sunflower oil
1 tblsp sesame oil
9 oz (250g) white or green cabbage, finely shredded
1 large carrot, thinly sliced or coarsely grated
1 clove garlic, finely chopped or crushed
2 tblsp soy sauce
juice of 1 lime
black pepper
Stir fry the cashew nuts in the sunflower oil until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.
Add the sesame oil to the pan and when really hot, stir-fry the cabbage and carrot for 2 minutes, then add the garlic and fry for a further minute. Pour in the soy sauce, lime juice and season with pepper, and stir-fry for a couple or so minutes until the veggies are just tender. Fold in the cashew nuts and serve.

Can't leave today without a final mention of yesterday. Our son was late arriving due to heavy traffic delaying him, and was only able to stop a couple of hours as he had another appointment, but it was very good to see him. Beloved had managed to fit the 'sliders' under the legs of the table in the conservatory, so this made it much easier for 'the lads' to slide the very heavy table over the carpet to the opposite side of the space. This has made conservatory look much larger and realised this was because one long side of the table now overhangs the wide window ledge, which means that we have gained a few more inches of 'width' to the space. It looks really good, and as I also moved things around in the kitchen a bit, the table in the kitchen is now my 'work space', and have moved my knife stand and food processor onto it, so the necessary is to hand without me having to get up from my chair what I need. Although the table is now almost clear, when working on it it will (as ever) get rapidly littered, so it's good to have a clear table in the conservatory to eat our meals. The table in the room I'm in at the moment (our dining room cum study) is normally only used when we have guests and 'dine in'.

Beloved has now gone off to the sailing club (being a holiday they are sailing today - if not too windy), so should have most of the day here alone and can't wait to start cooking in my 'almost newly arranged' kitchen.
So off I go and leave you with my wishes that you all manage to have a lovely day despite whatever the British climate throws at us. Looking forward to hearing from you, but even if you don't wish to comment, please join me again tomorrow. See you then.