Sunday, October 09, 2011

We Struggle On!

Not a lot in the trad mag this week of interest - the main 'storyline' was all to do with alcoholic drinks, and other that new varieties are being made for 'the ladies' (with less 'fizz' to prevent horrid bloating which might increase the waistline for a couple of hours etc), nothing there of interest to me (or our readers).

Seems the good news (ha!) is that there has been a slump in corn and wheat prices over the past few months with a good harvest in the Northern hemisphere. But then is says that "those hoping that wheat and other commodities prices will gradually deflate may be disappointed as speculative traders continue to influence in sometimes surprising ways..... Commodities now have as much to do with the stock market....and as long as the financial fields continue their rollercoasting run, key food connections are likely to do the same".

But it's not all doom and gloom as there is a new forecast from EEFP that the UK food price inflation will fall from a peak of 7% this year to just below 2% by the end of 2012 "and this certainly offers hope, but how much isn't clear".

As far as I'm concerned, food price inflation may 'fall', but price hiking won't go away. All the above means is that the rising cost of food will be slower than before, But still rise - and this is what is worrying. We can only cope if our income (wherever it comes from) keeps pace.

Apparently "calorie counting won't work - says the industry". This to do with the news that the health secretary is hell bent on introducing a target to slash the calories consumed in England by five billion a day (that's 100cals per person). Are they now going to stand over us and watch just how much we put into our mouths? It seems that some ready meals will have their fruit and veg content boosted - and this I suppose in now bad thing. But then I read on another page that.... "WeightWatchers from Heinz is producing a larger frozen ready-meal that includes a portion of veg. 'Even More' meals weigh in at 380g each rather than 300 - 350g of existing meals (representing 9 ProPoints instead of a standard meals 6 - 7)"
These larger meals are in response to a demand for 'more substantial' ready-meals as "these days, consumers want a quick, convenient meal without having to buy, prepare and cook a separate portion of vegetables".

It's just getting worse isn't it. Are we becoming so feeble we can't even both to heat up a few frozen peas or beans to go with our frozen 'diet' meals?
Also Plusfood UK are launching a 'Perfect for Eating In' range of frozen chicken fillets that have been flattened to cut cooking time (listed by Tesco at £3.49 for 500g).. No doubt weight for weight these will be dearer than one fresh chicken breast which at the moment (if we need it thinner) we can either split it into two or vent our spleen by bashing it with a rolling pin to turn it into a really thin 'escalope'. We do have brains you know. Most of what the supermarkets are doing for us we are quite capable of doing for ourselves - and far cheaper!
For those that think I'm a bit picky - the cost of 500g of frozen thin chicken fillets is more than I would pay for a whole fresh chicken - which would then give me two breasts plus four chicken portions and the carcase to make stock - plus extra cooked meat then able to be picked from the bones!

There was a lovely little article about "The Great British Bake-Off" - this apparently leading to a demand in cake tins and accessories as the series has been continuing. So at least we can now be sure a lot more home-made cakes, pies and perhaps even bread will now be appearing more often at family meals. I missed seeing the last half of the last episode, but will be watching the repeat this morning, and maybe even see that naughty squirrel. Which reminds me - found a carrot in the 'value bag' purchased some weeks ago. Dare not post a photograph of it or I might be charged with indecency. But it is good to know that not all carrots look perfect, and mis-shapes are now appearing in the grade 2 packs (they also seem to have taste better).

There is a new campaign by John West that I really don't understand. Apart from changing their packs, they will now be putting a bar-code on the label so customers can go onto their website to access information about which region of the ocean the tuna was caught in, the exact species name AND the name of the John West-owned boat that caught it, and a photo of the boat. This feature available for canned tuna only, but there are plans to extend it to canned mackerel and sardines within the next six to nine months.
This is supposed to give us the ability to trace the provenance of the food we buy - which, don't get me wrong is always a good thing - but surely we need to know that BEFORE we make our purchase, not wait to find out afterwards. There is some educational value I suppose in this scheme, children might like to know where the fish came from and the boat that caught it, but myself am not the slightest bit interested.

....just been on the phone for my weekend chat with Gill (forgot it was Sunday) and mentioned some of the above (thin chicken etc), and she said that WE (oldies) know how much dearer it can be buying these sort of things, but younger folk are now so used to buying the 'ready-prepared' that they never even consider how much more it costs than if they did the work themselves. So am hoping that schools will bring this into their domestic science curriculum for am sure if youngsters once realise that by preparing and cooking more for themselves this will then leave them with a lot more money to play with, they will soon make a start.

Yesterday, a rather damp bag was pushed through our letterbox saying that if we left it outside the front door, today we would be left a full-size (360g) pack of All-Bran Golden Crunch. We left the bag - out in the rain - and B has just brought in the box, fortunately wrapped in a clear plastic bag, so not wet and able to be enjoyed. It seems a long time since we had freebies like this. In times past all sorts of samples were pushed through our letterbox (and sometimes, being the end house on the road - if the delivery began with us - we got all our neighbours samples as well, to save the delivery person moving on up the rather long street).
Have to say the crunchy All-Bran looks good and much of it will probably be added to my home-made muesli mix.

We also had a free 32 page Jamie Oliver recipe booklet with our newspaper yesterday. We can get free recipe cards every day from Tesco (using the voucher in the paper) or send off for the lot if we pay a fair amount of postage. To me the recipes are a mixture of cheap and expensive. Just wish they were all low-cost. No way could I afford to buy 6 lamb shanks (to feed six), or 1 large free-range goose, or even sea-bass. Asparagus too would be unlikely to grace our plates. On the other hand, recipes for pork belly, Toad in the Hole, and rice pudding probably will be used. There is even an interesting recipe for an Earl Grey Tea Loaf (and if you don't already drink this tea, then you will have to use either another tea or buy it specially as you need six tea bags!). Surprisingly - apart from dried fruits, the only other ingredients are 1 large egg, sugar and flour, plus spices and lemon. No (apparent need) to use any fat. So will give this a try (probably using a herbal tea - of which I have plenty unused as don't much care for them).

Just a couple of comments to reply to today.
Pleased to hear that your 'tapenade bread' was successful Eileen. Am now wondering what you intend doing with the remaining feta cheese. Can't wait to hear.

Was a bit disappointed to read that you will be buying tins of biscuits to give your neighbours at Christmas Ciao. Why not bake some yourself? A few home-made cost less than a tin and worth a lot more when it comes to enjoyment of eating. There are many biscuits where the dough can be prepared in advance, then formed into a roll and frozen, so slices can be cut off to cook when the oven is on for something else (am now reminded to start preparing biscuit dough myself for the same reason).

There is nothing really as good as home-made (well, some home-made). Discovered this yesterday (although knew it already), but more at a personal level. Let me explain.
These past few days, while our daughter was in hospital, due to visiting hours being at our normal 'meal-time' we have eaten out (or had take-aways) more than usual. Once we went to Hest Bank Inn/Hotel where the food is ALWAYS excellent (they have just won an award), so thoroughly enjoyed. We also ate elsewhere and have to say that at one place - eating our 'main meal' late morning, where I had a 'full English' (consisting of one sausage, one fried egg, bacon, baked beans and fried bread), that although the bacon and fried bread was lovely, the sausage and beans were not, even the egg had been flopped onto the top, sunny side down so it looked more like a small round pancake than anything else. It was then I began to realised how good my own 'full English' would taste compared to that.
Yesterday, for some reason (B being out) decided to make myself a BLT 'brunch', but without the tomato. Cut myself four thin slices of home-made granary bread, spread with a little butter, then fried six rashers (each cut in half) of streaky bacon. When the bacon was ready put three pieces on one slice of bread, topped this with a couple or so leaves of crispy ice-berg lettuce, then topped this with another layer of bacon before covering with a second slice of bread. Eating the first sarnie in my usual way - not really thinking about it, or even bothering to 'taste' it, suddenly realised what I was doing, so the second round I decided to eat as though it had been made elsewhere, and then give it marks. This led me to discover that it really did taste very good indeed, and if I had 'eaten it out' would recommend the cafe to everyone.
Too often 'my' food that I eat is downed without really bothering to enjoy it, although I am very careful to make sure that what I cook for B does taste good, and maybe others who cook for a family are the same. We are so used to getting the food on the table and serve everyone first, that we often rush our own meal so that we are then ready to dish up the next course.
Certainly now I feel that meals cooked in the Goode kitchen would stand up well compared to some of the really awful meals that other people are prepared to eat 'outside'. Perhaps it is because many do not cook at all that they don't even know how lacking in flavour and quality a lot of the food is that is served today. Of course there are many excellent cafes and restaurants (particularly in Morecambe - probably due to competition), but sadly many that are not - but still seem to get plenty of customers. Perhaps because their food is not quite so expensive. Let us call it cheap! As read somewhere yesterday " good is not cheap, and cheap is not good", but when it comes to home-cooking, hope I have been able to prove that good food CAN be inexpensive.

With pumpkins soon on sale (probably cheaper once Hallow'een has passed) these can make a variety of dishes. Using home-made chicken stock (plus scraps of meat from the carcase) and rice, plus pumpkin and a few other ingredients, together they make a soup that is a complete meal in itself. To make it even more substantial, add a little more rice and chicken.
Pumpkin, Rice and Chicken Soup: serves 4
approx 12 oz (350g) pumpkin flesh, cut into small cubes
1 oz (25g) butter
1 tblsp sunflower oil
6 green cardamom pods
2 leeks or one onion, chopped
1.25 pints (750ml) chicken stock
salt and pepper
4 oz (100g) long-grain rice (pref Basmati)
4 oz (100g) shredded cooked chicken
12 fl oz (350ml) milk
1 - 2 tsp grated orange zest (opt)
Heat the butter and oil in a pan and fry the cardamom pods until slightly swollen, then add the leeks/onions and pumpkin. Stir-fry over medium heat for 4 - 5 minutes or until the pumpkin is beginning to soften.
Pour 1 pint (600ml) of the stock into the pan, bring to the boil then lower the heat, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes or until the pumpkin is really tender.
Dilute the remaining stock with water to bring it up to half a pint (300ml) and put into another pan with the rice. Bring to the boil and cook for about 10 minutes (if using Basmati) until the rice is tender (other rice may take longer). Add seasoning to taste.
Remove the cardamom pods from the pan of pumpkin, then put the contents of this pan into a food processor or liquidiser and whizz until smooth. Replace in pan and stir in the milk, chicken, rice (and any stock that has not been absorbed by the rice) and heat until simmering. Spoon into individual bowls, garnishing each with a little black pepper and orange zest (if using). Serve with warm, crusty granary bread.

As kale was mentioned yesterday, my final recipe includes this as an ingredient. Another soup which has a lovely spicy 'bite' to it. Eaten hot, the flavour improves if the soup is made a day in advance and then chilled overnight before re-heating. To serve four, reduce the weights and measures by half.
Kale, Potato and Chorizo Soup: serves 8
8 oz (225g) kale, stems removed
8 oz (225g) chorizo sausage
1.50 lb (675g) potatoes (pref red variety)
3 pints (1.75 ltrs) vegetable stock
salt and pepper
12 slices baguette, lightly grilled
Chop the kale finely by hand (or use a food processor). Prick the sausage and place in a pan with enough water to cover, then simmer for 5 minutes. Drain and slice thinly.
Boil the potatoes until tender then drain (reserve some of the water). Place in a bowl and mash - adding a little of their cooking liquid to form a thick paste.
Bring the vegetable stock to the boil, add the kale and chorizo and simmer for 5 minutes, then gradually add the mashed potato and continue simmering for a further 20 minutes. Add seasoning to taste.
To serve, place the grilled bread in individual bowls and pour over the soup. Garnish with an extra sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper.

As it is now almost time for the repeat of the "....Bake-off' prog, will love you and leave you with the hope we can all get together again tomorrow. Enjoy your day.