Monday, September 05, 2011

Simply Does It

Thanks for article details Les. Sounds much the same as the way most of us shop, but it takes a man to give it a fancy 'name'. After all, it's just plain common sense.
As to bananas - firm ones can be frozen, although the skins turn black and the flesh softens a bit. They even keep quite well in the fridge (but again the skins turn black, but then we don't eat the skins anyway). So if their skins are not speckled brown (a sign of ripeness) they are worth buying extra when on offer. Frozen bananas (skinned but as-is) make perfect 'frozen lollies'.
As you say Wen, buying smaller bananas make more sense if the price is comparable by weight to the larger ones (or cheaper).

Good to hear from you again Eileen, and looking forward to catching up with the news. Will be contacting you later this month.

Problem with freezing tomatoes is that they 'collapse' when thawed due to their high water content. Myself used to freeze them as-is (skins and all) and they then resembled red snooker balls. Popped into hot water whilst still frozen, the skins just slid off. Saves a bit of prep time.
As to freezing hollowed out tomatoes 50 and still trying... have never heard of frozen stuffed toms, but if wishing to make these yourself, feel it would be better to stuff your tomatoes BEFORE freezing, as when hollowed/frozen alone they would collapse and probably split if stuffing later.
A recipe for stuffed tomatoes will be given today.

This British weather! We had a gorgeous day here yesterday, unlike Susan G. who had the rain and maybe later - thunderstorms. Today it is us getting the rain. It is POURING down as I write.
Your mention of cheese on beans on garlic bread sounded really good Susan, and proves that if we vary the 'toast' we can often improve the flavour of what we pile on top. There are so many flavoured breads around, and also different types (focaccia, ciabatta etc) that we should experiment more. Have seen good 'pizza' recipes where the pizza toppings have been put on a ciabatta (or other bread) base, instead of using bread dough.

Sorry to hear that rabbits had attacked your cabbages Urbanfarmgirl. These creatures must be a problem in rural areas. No doubt in old days (and even now) these would be trapped or shot to give more 'free' food to put on the table.

Reading the trade mag over these past weeks has proved to me how much we are now coming to depend upon the supermarkets to provide our food. And not just the food we NEED, but also foods they persuade us we think we need.
Having a spare hour to 'have a think' yesterday, my thoughts turned to foods of yesteryear, and even further back than that. People still managed to eat well and healthily enough on far less variety of foods on sale today. Most of what was eaten was also seasonal and not available all year round.

Before electricity there were very few 'labour-saving' gadgets for the cook to use. Generally as spoon, fork and one good sharp knife would suffice, plus plenty of elbow grease. Somehow, it seems today, the more appliances we have, the more we search for new recipes to put them to 'good' use. Old style 'meat and two veg' would now be boring when put before us, but when blitzed together in a blender/liquidiser/food processor would be eagerly devoured as a 'quality soup'.

What is so wrong with making a plain Madeira type cake? Do we really need to spoon the mixture into a dozen paper cases (costing more money), to make cup-cakes? Each with a spiral of buttercream on top (costing more) and then sprinkled with something else (costing even more)? Why do we make work for ourselves when it isn't really necessary?

In my earliest memories people 'ate to live' (and this even before war-time rationing when then we had no choice but to). After the war, there was little interest in new recipes. We got used to each day being served up that particular 'dish of the day', always based on the meat chosen for the previous Sunday roast. If any food was looked forward to, it was the 'first fruits' of the season (be it tomatoes, peas, strawberries, blackberries...). It seemed that there was more to life than being concerned about what we ate. Sometimes it seemed that meals almost got in the way, but as few people ate 'snacks's between meals, and all had plenty of exercise, hunger was the main reason we cleared our plates - even though most of the time the food (as a dish) was not really enjoyed.

One way to save money during this 'recession' would be to go back to 'old-style' eating. Cook traditional and inexpensive dishes using only seasonal locally grown ingredients. Yet - is it as simple as that? Imported produce is often much cheaper than that grown in this country. Traditional ethnic dishes are almost always inexpensive, for most countries had more poverty than any in this country, so had to learn to make the best from what they had. Maybe - if we keep a tight rein on our purchases we can have the best of both worlds. Be able to spend less and yet eat far tastier (but not necessarily better) meals than our ancestors. One way takes less work, the other needs more thought. As ever - up to the cook!

One way we can cook 'old style' and also save money is to buy dried beans (of which there is a wide variety), to soak and cook ourselves. Easy enough to make our own 'baked beans' (and cheaper) but still we buy them already made in cans (even I do this). One 500g pack of dried pulses will absorb from 2 - 3 times its weight in water, so although the price of one pack of dried haricot beans is probably the same as one can of baked beans, once soaked/cooked, we end up with enough to fill (including sauce) around four cans.

So today am giving some recipes that are a 'fusion' of 'grandma's' recipes from more than one country. All use inexpensive ingredients, and - in the old way - cooked 'from scratch'. Herbs would be used more in the old days than more recently, but pleased to see they are coming back into favour as a way to add more flavour to a dish.

This first is a dish that uses mixed beans and lentils, so you can use a blend of any dried beans you have, and also split red lentils or those whole green ones on sale. Myself prefer the 'green' (sometimes called brown) as they have a much more 'meatier' texture.
Although bacon is not included in this dish, this does go well with both beans and lentils (as does belly pork), so could be included as a 'side' to make a more substantial meal (as if it wasn't already).
Braised Beans and Lentils: serves 4
7 oz (200g) mixed beans and lentils, soaked overnight
4 fl oz (100ml) olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 - 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or crushed
5 fresh sage leaves, chopped
juice of 1 lemon
3 spring onions, thinly sliced
4 - 5 tblsp chopped dill (or other chosen herb)
salt and pepper to taste
Drain the soaked pulses and rinse well under cold water, then drain again. Put into a large pan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 1 1/2 hours or until the beans and lentils are quite soft and tender. Strain, but keep back 15 fl oz/450ml of the cooking liquid, then return then bean/lentils to the clean pan.
Put the oil in a frying pan and fry the onion until softened and turning light gold, then stir in the garlic and sage. Fry for two minutes (or until the garlic gives off an aromatic smell) then stir contents of the pan (incl oil) into the beans. Add the reserved liquid and plenty of seasoning, and bring back to the simmer and cook gently for ten or so minutes, or until piping hot.
Stir in the lemon juice then divide between four individual bowls, top with a garnish of spring onions and chosen chopped fresh herbs, and serve.

This next dish is more a vegetarian version of chilli con carne than anything our grandmother's would have made in the UK. For lazybones am giving the easy way (aka 'opening a can or two'), but the thrifty can save a lot more money by soaking and cooking dried beans, and using home-grown tomatoes. Good home-made Greek-style yogurt is not a million miles away from sour cream, so another way to 'improvise' and save money. If you don't grow our own chillis (they grow easily on windowsills) then use a teaspoon (or to taste) of chilli powder, or hot pepper sauce. If you haven't coriander, then use another herb (parsley, basil or marjoram).
Chilli con Beans and Tomatoes: serves 4
1 fresh red chilli, seeds removed, thinly sliced
1 x 400g (14oz) can chopped tomatoes
2 x 400g (14 oz) cans mixed beans, drained and rinsed
large handful fresh coriander, finely chopped
4 fl oz (100ml) sour cream or Greek yogurt
Put the prepared chilli into a pan with the tomatoes and beans and bring to the boil. Simmer for five minutes, then add most of the chopped coriander (save some for garnishing) and give a stir. Cover and simmer for 10 more minutes - giving an occasional stir and adding a dash of water if drying out, then spoon into warmed individual bowls, topping each with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt, and sprinkling over the reserved coriander. Serve immediately.

Although 'Boston Baked Beans' is believed to be an American way of cooking beans (and because they use molasses, and salt pork etc it surely is), do remember very similar 'British' recipes in books published a good century or so ago. Made in much the same way this is a dish well worth making today. Serve it as a main dish, with extra beans to save and serve later on toast. Ham hock or a chunk of gammon could be used instead of the belly pork, but as some of our recipes omit the meat altogether, it is just as good made without. Instead serve it with grilled or fried sausages.
It is said that the slow cooker was invented purely for making baked beans, so obviously the best way to cook these. Otherwise cook in a very slow oven for hours until tender.

British Baked Beans: serves 8
1 lb (450g) dried haricot beans, soaked overnight.
4 whole cloves
2 onions, prepared but kept whole
1 bay leaf
3 tblsp tomato puree (or 6 tblsp tom. ketchup)
2 tblsp black treacle
1 tblsp dark muscovado sugar
2 tsp English mustard
16 fl oz (475ml) vegetable stock
6 oz (175g) approx, piece of belly pork
salt and pepper
Drain the soaked beans, rinse under cold water then place in a large pan, cover with plenty of cold water, bring to the boil and cook for 10 minutes, then drain and place beans in a crock pot (or casserole if oven cooking). Then stick a couple of cloves into each of the onions and push them into the beans,also adding the bay leaf.
Mix together the tomato puree/ketchup, treacle, sugar, mustard and stock and pour over the beans. If necessary add more water or stock so the beans are just covered with water. Place on the lid and cook on Low for 3 hours.
Shortly before the above has reached the time given, put the belly pork in a pan of boiling water and cook for 5 minutes then remove and - using a sharp knife - score the rind to a depth of half an inch (1.5cm). Add the pork to the pot, pushing down flat into the beans, skin side up. The beans need to cover the meat, but only just.
Replace lid and cook for a further 5 - 6 hours until the beans are tender, then remove the pork and set aside to cool slightly, then remove rind and fat and thinly slice the meat.
Any fat that has risen to the surface of the beans should be spooned off, then fold the slices of meat into the beans. Season to taste and serve hot.

Penultimate recipe is for stuffed tomatoes, with a choice of three stuffings (the one with mushrooms and ham can also be used for stuffing vegetable marrow, the meaty one normally used for stuffing bell peppers, which cook longer in the oven, so if choosing a meat based stuffing for tomatoes, due to the shorter oven cooking time, make sure the meat is cooked enough before stuffing the shells.
The largest and firmest of tomatoes are the ones to use for this dish, either served alone as a 'starter' or with cooked or cold meats as a main course.
Stuffed Tomatoes: serves 6
6 large firm tomatoes
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 oz (25g) butter
half pint measure frozen peas, thawed
1 tblsp chopped fresh mint
salt and pepper
1 egg yolk, beaten
black olives for garnish (opt)
Wash and dry tomatoes thoroughly, then slice off the tops with a sharp serrated knife, then - using a pointed teaspoon - carefully remove the core and seeds. Turn upside down on kitchen paper so the tomatoes can drain thoroughly.
Put the butter into a frying pan and when melted, stir in the onion. Fry gently until the onion has softened, then stir in the peas and mint. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring constantly, then remove from heat, allow to cool for a few minutes, then mash or pulse in a food processor to make a coarse puree. Return this to the pan and add seasoning to taste, then add the beaten egg yolk, and stir over very low heat until the mixture thickens.
Remove from heat and leave to cool and stiffen up.
Place the tomato 'shells' open side up on a well-greased ovenproof dish. Season the insides of the tomatoes with salt and pepper, then spoon in the stuffing mixture. Replace tomato lids on top, securing with a cocktail stick.
Cover tightly with foil, then bake at 190C, 375F, gas 5 for 15 minutes or until the tomatoes are just tender, but still holding their shape. Serve hot. For special effect - stick a black (stoned) olive onto the top of each cocktail stick.
another stuffing:
2 oz (50g) butter
2 oz (50g) mushrooms, roughly chopped
4 oz (100g) lean cooked ham, diced
1 tblsp fresh parsley, chopped
salt and pepper
2 tblsp fresh white breadcrumbs
Melt half the butter in a frying pan and fry the mushrooms and ham for 2 - 3 minutes, then stir in the parsley. Add seasoning to taste. Stir in enough breadcrumbs to bind the mixture together. Use for stuffing tomatoes or marrow. Dot surface with butter before covering and oven baking.
and a third stuffing:
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tblsp olive oil
4 oz (100g) minced lean beef or pork
1 thick slice white bread
1 egg, beaten
salt and pepper
1 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
Put the oil in a frying pan and saute the onion until softened, then stir in the minced meat, using a wooden spoon to break it up into 'grains'. When the meat has completely browned and just about cooked, remove from heat.
Put the bread into a dish and pour over the beaten egg. Leave for some minutes to allow the bread to soak, then mash together with a fork. Stir this into the meat, adding the parsley and seasoning to taste. Blend thoroughly to make a firm - but still moist -stuffing. Spoon this into the tomatoes, cover with foil and bake at heat and time given.

Final recipe today is a variation on our traditional rice pudding. Any long or short-grain rice can be used, but 'pudding rice' is best as it takes less time to cook. Any autumn fruits can be used, but am suggesting apples as a good way to use up the 'fallings'.
This is a three-stage pudding, and could be left at any stage if you prefer. Keep it simple and make only the rice pudding, or make the pudding and put apples and jam on top to warm up under the grill, or follow the complete recipe and make the whole thing.
Paradise Pudding: serves 4
2 oz (50g) long-grain or pudding rice
15 fl oz (425ml) milk
few drops vanilla essence
5 oz (150g) granulated sugar
half pint (300ml) water
1 lb (500g) cooking apples
3 tblsp double cream, lightly whipped
3 good tblsp apricot jam
1 large egg white
2 level tblsp ground almonds
2 level tblsp caster sugar
2 tblsp flaked almonds
Put the rice and milk in a saucepan and heat gently to simmering point, then cover and cook over low heat for 15 - 30 minutes (pudding rice takes less time than long-grain) or until the rice is cooked but still slightly al dente in texture. Stir often to prevent the rice from sticking to the base of the pan. When cooked, stir in 1 oz (25g) of the granulated sugar and vanilla, then leave to cool.
Peel core and slice the apples. Put the remaining 4 oz gran.sugar into a pan with the water and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved, then bring to simmering and add the apples. Cook for a few minutes until just tender but still holding their shape. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a plate to cool.
Fold the whipped cream into the cooled rice, then take a shallow 8" (20cm) ovenproof dish or pie plate and cover the base with the jam. Place the apple slices on top, then cover with the now creamy rice.
Beat the egg white until stiff, then fold in the caster sugar and ground almonds (the latter are best mixed together first), then spoon this on top of the rice, scattering flaked almonds on top, then pop under a hot grill for a few minutes until the topping is crisping up and the almonds have turned golden. Serve immediately.

So that's it for yet another day. Weather seems to be clearing up a bit, as quite a breeze seems to be blowing the rainclouds away. Still very much an autumnal feel to the day. Not that I mind, this being one of my favourite times of the year. Can't wait to start eating those comforting casseroles again. Who needs anything more complicated?

Please keep those comments coming as I so look forward from hearing from you. Our 'togetherness' (aka community spirit) really helps me keep me on track when it comes to money-saving. Difficult circumstances always seem easier to cope with when we can share hints and tips with others who have the same sort of problems. Hope you feel this too.
It would be good if every one of you who reads this would send in at least one comment, but so far only a few do. How can I tell if this blog helps save money if no-one tells me. Thankfully a few do, but hearing from a few more would be even better for we don't all have the same life-style or problems, and the more we can share our difficulties, the more likely one or t'other of us can come up with ways to overcome them, and so we learn even more to help improve ALL our lives.
With that thought I leave you, and look forward to 'meeting' up with as many of you as can be bothered to let me know you are 'out there'. But if too shy, well - thanks for reading this blog anyway.
Regulars will know I will be back again tomorrow - so hope to see you then.