Sunday, September 04, 2011

Consumer Confidentials

Am hoping to have time to finish my blog before Gill phones, or it will be well after 10.30 before completed. But that's normal anyway.
Comment replies first, yesterday's Goode life, and then on with trade secrets.

As am now trying alternate carbo days/protein days Les, am pleased to say the spuds and beans seemed not to affect my weight and certainly made me feel a lot warmer. Yesterday was a carbo free day and I was shivering so much that I ended up wearing another jumper on top of the one that was already wearing, under two cuddle blankets and clutching a hot water bottle plus two hot drinks before beginning to warm up. Looks like a winter of wearing two of everything plus eating more carbos is on the cards. Blow the weight. Just keep warm.

Not sure that Bread and Butter pudding would be 'retro' Wen. The chefs now class Black Forest Gateau as such, and to this I would add Lemon Meringue Pie. There must be others. The BFG is quite easy to make (if you avoid the traditional recipe and just use a basic chocolate cake mixture), it also freezes well so could be made in advance. If wishing to serve only a portion per person, slightly freeze the BFG to make it easier to slice, then cut into portions and interleave with baking parchment before freezing completely and packing into a firm container, this makes it easy to remove one or more slices when needed, then leave them to thaw at room temperature.
Another 'retro' that has just come to mind is the Knickerbocker Glory. Again easy to 'make' (if you can call it that) a the necessary can be prepared in advance: jelly, fruit, whipped cream, ice-cream..... Fruit Fool (equal measure of lightly whipped cream, custard and pureed fruit of your choice gently folded together) might also be classed as 'retro', though perhaps more a traditional dish that is not made so often these days.
If anything else comes to mind this week will let you know. Readers may have other suggestions?

Will keep trying different recipes for scones Alison. Did have one of my own that was really good (and later printed in Woman's Own), but have mislaid it. Think the raising agents were two mixed, not just baking powder. Do know that it is important not to twist the scone cutters when cutting the dough as this can cause the scones to lean over when baking. Mine stay 'upright', but still not very 'up'. Smooth cutters normally work better than the wavy ones, and metal better than plastic, but still haven't reached the heights I am seeking. My neighbour said (when I apologised for the appearance of mine) - "it's a sign they are home-made when they don't look perfect, and know they will taste good for your last ones were gorgeous"), and Ithink that's perhaps the best way to approach home cooking. Don't try for perfection. After all the 'home made' biscuits etc on sale nearly always look a bit mis-shapen, which given them both charm and a look of authenticity.

At our coffee morning we were discussing favourite TV progs, and after a mention of my liking of 'Poirot', my friend told me that her mother was once cook-housekeeper for two years for Agatha Christie. My neighbour being 11 at the time and one of her memories is seeing her mother ironing sheets at 8.00am using two flat-irons, one on the range getting hot whilst the other was used, and then changing over as the first heated up.
We were also moaning about our husbands when it came to them 'shopping' for us. She recently asked her husband to bring in a reel of sewing cotton. The colour HAD to be "navy blue, and if no navy, then bring black. DON'T BRING ANY OTHER KIND!". So he brings her back a reel of palest blue, his excuse being "well, it's blue isn't it"?.

Which brings me nicely on to a comment on the back page of this weeks' trade mag: "...research says that three-quarters of British women 'don't trust their male partners' to do the weekly shop. Oddly, just half said the lack of faith was because their idiot husbands had previously come back clutching the wrong items. Presumably the others simply didn't trust them to come back at all."

A comment on the first page shows us how easily we can be swayed to believe something we read in the papers. "...amongst this week's (what seems like daily) headlines spewing out the latest 'news' - about red meat causing cancer, red meat not causing cancer, red wine prematurely ageing your life and, on the next page, prolonging it - came news that potatoes can lower blood pressure."
The mag has its own theory on why the potato has proven a hit in the health department. Sales of 'prepared spuds' are soaring - in contrast to their unprepared counterparts, and "by our reckoning, microwaving a try of ready-made mash instead of scrubbing, boiling and mashing has got to be enough to lower even the most chilled-out shopper's blood pressure. As the growth in prepared is governed by the younger shopper, we predict people will indeed live longer....and who cares if you look like a sack of spuds if you've got the heart of an ox!"

Good news (possibly but not necessarily probably) is that the British wheat harvest is better than last year despite the earlier adverse weather conditions. Bread grade wheat has been safely gathered in before the heavy rain of last fortnight and the quality is expected to be positive "with easily enough wheat as an industry in the UK".
But as every silver lining in the retail trade has a cloud, the article goes on to say "the pricing situation remains in the balance....and whether prices move up or down in the coming months depends largely on harvest news from other parts of the globe". It should become clear in six to eight weeks where prices will settle."
The article ends by saying "Because wheat could be used in the feed market as a substitute for corn, a potential outcome of the US drought was that the price of lower-grade wheat would be pushed up, this in turn putting upward pressure on the price of bread-grain wheat".

An article on 'shrinking sizes' made good reading. Apparently one well-known chocolate company have shrunk the weight of their tins of chocs, although the prices remain the same. One 'trading controller' said "shrinking pack size was a better choice than price rises as 'it's more important to maintain successful price point based on the current climate of rising raw material costs." It seems that consumers would notice the difference but few would be deterred from buying. Seems that "virtually everybody has changed pack sizes. Consumers understand the cost of food now."
But then haven't we always been alert to the price of food? It is the reduction in weight that we don't always notice, and as long as the pack is much the same size and price, would we realise if it lacked an ounce or two? Not only now do we have to keep an eye on rising prices, we also have to keep checking on whether weights are becoming less.

This week Tesco has the cheapest shopping basket, and only because Dove Body Butter (a moisturiser, not to spread on bread!) was on offer at £4.99 as against £7.47 at Asda. The 'not in my basket' items mixed in with the basics in this weeks listing were: Original tofu, coconut, olives, Dove Body Butter, Gouda cheese, Wine, Thomas the Tank Engine Pasta shapes, Twiglets, Magnum ice-cream, Pomegranate, Prunes, Quiche Lorraine. Just wish they'd keep the shopping basket listings to basic items we all would be buying, then perhaps this would show the store that would truly save us the most money.

James Martin has launched a new range of baking mixes. Produced by Symington's it includes speciality bread mixes, cup-cake mixes and a chocolate cake mix (adapted from the chef's own cookbook). Bread mixes (rsp 99p) include cheese and chive soda bread, roasted red onion and balsamic vinegar bread, and mixed seed bread, and have to say these certainly sound worth trying, however, when it comes to cakes would like to feel that chef's promote home-cooking, not pushing people into taking the convenience route, but perhaps better to cook something partly prepared than not cook at all. We all have to start somewhere. And if there is a chance for a celeb to make money by promoting something, suppose we shouldn't blame them. Even Delia Smith has a Christmas Cake 'mix' on supermarket shelves.

Carte d'Or is launching a miniature range of ice-cream to "fill an evident gap" in the minis sector for a premium offering. They will be in 200ml pots - mini versions of their existing 900ml tubs - the rsp being £1.49.
My first thought is by the time you've got to the check0ut, packed it in the car and driven home - the tiny amount of ice-cream will have melted. Does this mean mini-cool boxes will now be marketed to prevent this happening! Or perhaps take a spoon with you, and eat it before you have got to the check-out.

New research by a frozenfood seafood company reveals a tenth of Brits don't eat fresh fish due to worries about choking on a bone - and 12% of 18 to 34 year-olds avoid it because they don't know how to cook or serve it. Probably true. Most of the fresh fish in the Goode kitchen has been prepared/filleted, and usually frozen before purchase. The only 'fresh' being a recent purchase of salmon which was filleted for us and all I had to do was cut it into chunks and removed the 'pin bones' with my eyebrow tweezers before packing and freezing.

It has been a poor growing season for Blueberries apparently, so stores are cutting the sizes of their packs and although the price per pack is then lower, not in proportion as where we originally got 75g of blueberries per £1 we now get only 60g. Several readers to this blog have said they have had bumper crops, so now they have these prices they can work out how much money they have saved.

Morrison's is promoting Kids Smart Bananas - currently half price at £1.49 - as a cheap item to put in kid's lunchboxes ahead of the school term. As most bananas seem large anyway, perhaps more useful to buy smaller ones while the price is right.

A new table grape will soon be imported. This having a sweet, candy-floss flavour. Sainsbury's being the first UK retailer to stock this variety, 400g punnets going on sale this week priced £3.

Anyone keeping poultry will be interested in this - "the FAO has warned of major resurgence of Highly Pathogenic Avain Flu throughout Asia. No country can consider itself safe, it said". This could mean free-range poultry will then have to be confined to barns if the problem arrives here. Believe - with domestic hens - the problem can be kept in check if the runs are covered to prevent 'droppings' from contaminated wild birds falling on ground pecked by hens. But always worth knowing so that any precautions can be planned sooner than too late. Still no need t0 be concerned and may not even be a need, but advance notice is always helpful.

Final consumer news of interest to readers this week (plenty written about batteries but of no interest to us 'foodies' I thought). Seems that sales of prepared vegetables has leapt up. The growth believed to be because shoppers were switching from conventional, unprepared produce rather existing shoppers buying greater volumes of the prepared.
Younger, more upmarket shoppers were particularly buying into the prepared veg trend and "it's a good sector to appeal to. In terms of potatoes, that's a key target group: it's the demographic the potato industry has been after for several years". Seems shoppers no longer buy prepared produce for special occasions, but as an everyday purchase.
"Many prepared products were now competitively priced against wholehead, especially when customers factored in the time taken to prepare the product and the weight lost once products had been peeled" said a marketing manager.

Don't know about you, but I certainly don't 'factor in' time taken to prepare, and weights lost. For one thing we KNOW we pay more if someone else has taken time to prepare something, and when it comes to weight lost, if I'm going to 'factor in' anythng it would be that with the prepared veg we have then lost potato skins and other peel, and outer leaves of greens etc, all providing us with essential fibre, extra vitamins and - if nothing else - the means to make 'free' vegetable stock and garden compost. For that matter, we don't even need to peel potatoes, just cook them in their skins. What could be simpler?

Some time back had my say about Facebook and Twitter being an easy way to contact the 'bad' in our society (rioters, terrorists etc). Now it seems the grocery trade is having second thoughts about getting closer to the public via their Facebook pages. It can backfire.
In the US last year a company had temporarily to withdraw its biodegradable crisp bags after 40,000 people signed up to a Facebook page to complain the packs were too noisy. Seems that given enough criticism, products can be removed from the shelves or the 'new, improved' returned to its former flavour (as I believe is happening to a certain brand of Earl Grey Tea), due to enough people saying it isn't liked. So food for thought there. Maybe Facebook can be useful after all - at least to consumers.

Of course, didn't get this completed before Gill phoned, but have managed to finish before 11.00am. Yesterday was cold and very wet. Today it is nothing but sunshine and wall to wall blue sky. Have the day to myself as B will be in the Leeds area, so am planning to put my feet up. Blow the cooking - it can wait.
Do hope you also get good weather and can make the most of it. Hope you can join me tomorrow - if so, see you then.