Thursday, November 17, 2011

Be Generous with Time, not Money

Just two comments to reply to today - both referring to less-costly-to-run cookers. Les favours an inexpensive one from Lidl, T. Mills is a great fan of the Remoska. The latter may have more 'facilities' than the cheaper oven, but either seems to be a very 'good buy' when it comes to saving fuel when cooking. Seems now no longer can we save money by making and baking instead of buying, we now have to consider the cost of the fuel when cooking just about everything.

With this in mind am aiming to offer more recipes that have either a short cooking time, or those than can be cooked in a slow cooker (which uses only the wattage of a light bulb). Alternatively, any recipes that do take longer should aim to be cooked when the oven is on cooking something else. Any residual heat left in the oven when it has been turned off can also be put to good use (drying mushrooms, apple rings, meringues etc), and myself tend to always put what has to be cooked into the oven from the start - the moment it has been switched on - as it takes only a few minutes to heat up, and as long as whatever is being cooked takes more than 30 minutes it normally doesn't make any difference. Don't do this with cakes etc (what we call 'baking') as this will affect the end result. However something else - such as sausages - could be put in the oven when just switched on, and the cakes then put on a higher shelf when the oven has reached the correct heat. Much depends upon the time things take to cook and whether the oven door can be opened halfway during cooking time (some cakes will 'drop' if this happens). But you get my drift - fill the oven whenever possible and then reheat something cooked for the next day in the microwave.

Yesterday was thinking about the chicken breasts and diced steak bought recently from Barton Grange. Normally recipes allow one chicken breast or 8 oz beef per person, and this still is what many people serve. Yet, nutritionist's advice is that a serving of just 4 oz of animal protein is all we need in a meal, and it's a good idea (both financially and for health) to stay with that. Why serve more if our bodies don't need it?
A serving of the meat/poultry bought from B.G. even above the recommended amount, because bought in bulk, would not cost me more than 50p per serving. Vegetables would (or should) be less than 50p which makes a meal for under £1 a head. Not bad compared to the price of the 'readies' on sale - and we get a lot more meal for our money when prepared and cooked at home.

Our appetite is often controlled by the appearance of a meal put before us. If it looks attractive it makes us want to dive in and gobble it up. Having said that - if the cheffy meals currently being shown on TV (Masterchef and Great British Dish - all prepared by chefs in competition with each other) are anything to go by, their portions although delightful to look at, are pretty small.

One chicken breast, if cut in half horizontally, but not quite through, then opened out like a book (aka 'butterflied') looks ENORMOUS and when floured, egged and crumbed (twice!) looks even bigger, so just half (one of the 'butterfly wings') one would look a generous portion on a plate when served with salad or veg.

A casserole is a splendid way of making a small amount of meat go a very long way as the flavour of the meat carries on into the gravy and even the veggies included soak this up too. So another way to spend less on meat but still end up with a very tasty and substantial meal. Especially with dumplings on top!

We could omit meat altogether (or use a meat substitute - but then these would again add to the cost), and if vegetarians allow themselves to eat eggs, cheese and milk (none of these products involve killing an animal to 'make it'), then we have an even cheaper source of animal protein that can be used in a main course, or dessert (semolina pudding made with milk and an egg beaten in for instance).

Another suggestion is to 'think outside the box' and change the way we present some dishes. With this in mind am suggesting two variations on the 'full English' - the breakfast that is normally a plate of bacon, eggs, sausage, tomato, mushrooms, baked beans, fried bread - and possibly some black pudding as well. Do we really need all that? Some believe it makes a good start to the day, and -yes - it does, just as long as we eat less at lunchtime and even less at supper time, like the old saying "eat like a King at breakfast, like a Queen at lunchtime, and a pauper at suppertime".

'Outside the box' in this instance is the reverse, for the first variation of a 'full English' IS in a box, albeit one made of pastry. Pastry is the carbo, and filling enough to take the place of the fried bread, and the contents of the 'box' can be what we wish, but not everything that would normally be on a plate (we could omit the beans, black pudding, even bacon, for instance). Even then it is satisfying enough and certainly would be less expensive than the full plateful. See what you think.
tip: if making the first recipe for breakfast, then prepare the 'makings' for muffins the previous night and just fold the 'wet' and 'dry' together to spoon into muffin cases, then these can cook in the oven at the same time as the 'breakfast in a box'. A recipe for muffins also given (unlike most muffins, these need not be eaten the day of making).

Breakfast in a Box: serves 4
1 x 375g pack of ready-rolled puff pastry
2 tsp sunflower oil
1 - 2 rashers bacon, diced
few sliced mushrooms
2 tsp tomato puree
sliced chorizo or sliced cooked sausages
4 eggs
salt and pepper
Cut the pastry into four rectangles (if using block pastry roll out thinly and cut to size required). Place the rectangles on a baking sheet and prick their centres with a fork (leaving an unpricked border about the width of your finger).
Put the oil in a small frying pan with the bacon and mushrooms and fry until the bacon is just beginning to crisp (it will cook further in the oven). Spread the tomato puree over the pricked base of the pastry, top with the bacon, mushrooms and slices of the chosen sausage then bake for 10 minutes at 220C, 425F, gas 7. The pastry will have begun to rise at the edges and turn pale gold. Gently move the filling to the ends of the each 'box' and break an egg into the well, adding seasoning to taste then return to the oven for 5 minutes until the white is set and the yolk still slightly runny. Serve immediately.

Next 'full English' is a variation on the more normal 'fry up', and can also be eaten cold (but best served hot).
Breakfast in a Pan: serves 4
4 pork chipolata sausages, cut into chunks
4 rashers bacon, cut into large pieces
4 oz (100g) mushrooms, thickly sliced
4 - 6 eggs, beaten
salt and pepper
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 oz (50g) grated cheese (opt)
Put the sausages and bacon into a frying pan and fry over medium to high heat for about five to eight minutes or until the bacon has begun to crisp. Reduce heat slightly, add the mushrooms and fry for a further five minutes. Using a wooden spoon, stir the pan contents so they are evenly mixed.
Season the eggs, then pour these into the pan, giving the pan a good shake so the eggs settle and flow though any gaps to the bottom of the pan (the idea is to aim for a thick omelette), and gently moving the contents around a bit to help the egg to set. Tucking in the tomatoes here and there while the top of the meal is still runny.
To finish, either sprinkle top with cheese, or omit this. Either way take the pan to a pre-heated grill and cook for a couple of minutes to set the surface.
Serve hot (or cold) in wedges with brown sauce or tomato ketchup.

Although not the 'full English' this next recipe would make an alternative breakfast, or even a light lunch/supper dish. Have seen this made using a muffin tin to hold the contents, but any small ovenproof round dishes could be used. Very simple to prepare. Although this recipe does not include mushrooms, my suggestion would be to include a lightly fried mushroom placed on top of the tomato and below the egg. To save time make the tomato 'sauce' a day before (it can be frozen if you wish - also good spread on pizzas and served with pasta, so worth making plenty).

Breakfast in a Pot: serves 4
2 tsp sunflower oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
shredded basil leaves (opt)
4 -8 slices cooked ham
4 eggs
salt and pepper
Put the oil in a pan and fry the garlic for a couple of minutes, then add the tomatoes and basil and simmer for 10 minutes until thickened (see above).
Line chosen moulds with the ham (you may need to tear it so it fits to the sides closely, then spoon in the tomato 'sauce' and top with an egg, sprinkle a little seasoning on top. Bake for about 15 minutes at 180C, 350F, gas 4 (less if you want your egg yolk runny). Carefully removed from the muffin tin (if using) or can be left as-is in individual dishes. Serve with crusty bread to soak up the juices.

Not necessarily a breakfast dish - this next could be. It's actually a vegetarian version of a 'burger'. Thing about the Portobello mushrooms (similar to the large field mushrooms but are 'chestnut' mushrooms) they are very 'meaty' and once cooked, look very similar to a burger made with beef.
Myself find that 'baps' (those large bread buns) are too much 'bread' for me, and the English muffin would be better. But only my suggestion. Use any round bread rolls you wish. The cheese suggested in the recipe is one that melts easily, but see no reason why a slice (or part) of processed cheese could not be used instead. Not as good of course, but has to work out cheaper.

Mushroom 'burgers': serves 4
8 large flat mushrooms (pref Portobello)
olive oil
salt and pepper
2 tomatoes, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
tablespoon of finely chopped red onion
4 bread buns - lightly toasted
handful mixed salad leaves
4 slices Emmental cheese (see above)
Remove the stems from the mushrooms and brush liberally top and bottom with the oil. Season to taste then - using a frying or griddle pan - fry for 3 minutes on each side. Mix the tomatoes, garlic, and onion together with a dash of oil, then starting with the base of a bun, place a mushroom top with some salsa and leaves, a slice of cheese, then place on a second mushroom, a final spoon of salsa and top with the bun 'lid'. Eat as soon as assembled.

Final recipe today is not one of my cheapest, but if you already have the ingredients, then worth making as it can be prepared in advance thus making good use of the oven when on for something else. Also worth remembering that the eggs are a good source of protein, and serving this after a meatless main course, the cost of the two together would probably be no more (and possibly less) than if meat had been served. This is something we really need to take time to consider. Normally our 'time' costs nothing, so we can afford to be generous with it, and take those few extra minutes to work out what are the best meals we can serve that are tasty but still economical, and also provide what we need to keep in good health.

Here is the variation of the 'chocolate fondant', but far easier to make and as it is also served in the container and not needed to be 'turned out', far simpler to serve. Because this also does not need the double 'buttering' then dusting of containers with cocoa before filling, this version also saves a few pennies.

Not Quite Chocolate Fondant: serves 6
7 oz (200g) dark chocolate, chopped
5 oz (150g) butter, cut into chunks
extra butter for greasing
6 eggs
6 oz (175g) caster sugar
4.5oz (125g) plain flour, sifted
Grease six ramekins (ovenproof teacups or individual pudding basins) with butter, then put the chocolate and butter into a bowl standing over simmering water (don't put the base of the basin in the water - this can cause the chocolate to 'seize' up), and don't rush it. Let the chocolate melt in its own good time.
Meanwhile, beat the eggs with the sugar until very light and fluffy (worth taking time over this also), then gently fold in the flour. Blend the melted chocolate and butter together then fold this into the egg/sugar/flour mix. Divide this equally between the ramekins. At this point they will sit happily in the fridge for several hours if you wish, then - when ready to cook - place in the oven and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 8 - 12 minutes. They should have risen and be firm on top, but still slightly runny inside. Great served hot with cream.

Having yesterday discovered a large jar of Marmite on my larder shelf, brought it out into the kitchen to stand in my little box that holds a jar of marmalade, a jar of jam, and a jar of peanut butter. This box stands by the toaster with a dish of butter close by. All ready for B to toast his bread and spread with what he wishes. Myself LOVE Marmite, so immediately toasted two slices of bread and spread this with butter and a smidgin of Marmite (good thing about M is you only need a smidgin, it is so strongly flavoured). At lunch time decide to make myself a hot drink of a large smidgin of Marmite blended into a mug of near boiling water. Have to say it looked exactly like - and tasted very similar to - a beef consomme (clear soup). Certainly found it warming.
Later, after hard-boiling some eggs (a couple to add to B's supper Kedgeree), chopped up the remaining eggs, then blended some Marmite and salad cream together, folding this into the eggs and made myself a couple of rounds of egg and Marmite-mayo sarnies for my own supper. Tasted really good.

Only problem with Marmite is that it is very salty (salt is second on the fairly long list of ingredients, the first being 'yeast extract'), but then the other day read in the newspaper that it now seems that we need to eat more salt than has normally been recommended. Another 'U' turn by the dietitians/nutritionists? But don't take this as gospel. If our doctors have told us to lay off the salt, then (suppose) we still should. Have to say though that myself occasionally get 'cravings' for something salty, and so then ask B to bring me in a couple of bags of crisps. They don't seem to have affected my blood pressure as it was lowest ever last time I was checked (although I put that down to now regularly drinking/eating. Rock or sea salt is said to be more beneficial to our bodies than the finer table salt.

Beloved is out most of the day. He is taking our daughter to Preston for more medical checks, and she has to go into hospital for an overnight stay for further tests this coming Sunday. Then - hopefully - we will finally know what her illness is and whether it can be cured (or at least contained).

As so often happens when I'm worried, needed to get out of the house for a bit, so once Norma had done my hair, B and I went to a craft shop in Morecambe where I could buy some glue for my 'craft-work' (Christmas decorations etc). The shop was full of all sorts of 'crafty' things and I could have spent a fortune. Maybe will one day. But a few pipe cleaners, one spray can of adhesive and one pot of Gloy-type 'glue' was enough to get on with.

After that, B suggested going to a near-by cafe for a coffee, but it was shut (too early in the morning I suppose), so we drove over to what was the Zoo cafe. Went through the door to discover than man had fitted a wood-burning stove which was well lit and gave out a terrific amount of warmth. B and I both had a sausage 'butty' (with brown sauce), and whilst we were there more and more people came in until the place was full. The cafe is close to a beach and headland where people always take their dogs to run off lead, so being a chilly day, they all felt like having a hot drink to follow (their dogs all tied up outside, lined up as good as gold). Think that having a 'real' fire was a very good idea as several people sat in the small club chairs placed in front to toast their toes.

The bacon served at this cafe is especially good (at least as far as B and I are concerned as we like the flavour and the way it crisps up). The proprietor buys it from a wholesalers in giant packs (three piles of rashers to each pack), and I (cheekily) asked the man if he could sell me part of a pack (for a profit), and he said he would. He gave me one third of a pack and charged me £3. I knew it weighed heavy, so gave him £5 saying "extra money this time, then I can ask you again!!" He was ever so pleased.
When I got home weigh the bacon from the cafe, then compared the weight (and price paid) to the bacon I buy from Tesco (which is sold under their own brand, and not the most expensive they sell). The cafe bacon was HALF the price of Tesco's (even allowing for the bit extra paid), so - if it cooks as well here in the Goode kitchen as in the cafe - looks like I'll be changing my 'supplier' in future.

Looking through the window in front of me (at the moment it is 8.45am) it looks like being another beautiful day. Only a slight breeze, and a blue sky with only a very few pink tinged clouds here and there. At the moment we are very lucky with our weather - considering it is mid-November, although it is now turning quite chilly.

The other day remembered how I'd bought a sort of 'spiral' of wire that could be stretched up and fixed to a supporting wire - this meant to hold beans or anything that climbs upwards. Thought if I brought it indoors and fixed the pole into the big pot that holds my bay 'tree' (not much bigger than a small bush at the moment, but growing long shoots upwards from the centre), this could form a 'base' for my Christmas Tree, and I could decorate the spiral with various things and it could look quite pretty, especially as the green leafy interior will make it look more like the 'real thing'. If it works will photograph it so you can see.

Why do I read the newspaper at all? Globally things are going from bad to worse, even China is now having an all time low when it comes to finance (mainly because other countries can't now afford to buy what China produces anymore). I can't see the end of all this. People need to spend money to build up a countries industries. If we don't have the money to spend, then we can't afford only necessities.

There have always been recessions and depressions, and within my memory (and my parents) these have been before World Wars, and certainly afterwards things got easier (more employment etc putting the nation back to rights) and both B and I (who are not normally on the side of Labour) both now agree that when the rail, electricity, gas, coal, etc were 'nationalised' it was run far more economically than today with so many different companies, each with their directors and shareholders wanting their cut of the profits).
Today it doesn't seem that any of the big companies (fuel, banks, transport...) have any thought or consideration to people at grass roots level. Money is their god and the more that can be made (at our expense) they happier they are. Even supermarkets are making enormous profits.
Nothing wrong with profit - after all everyone is in business to make money, but today - surely - the government should fix a level of profit so that no-one makes too much. Alternatively tax highly (very highly) any profit made over a fixed minimum amount.

An article in the paper yesterday mentioned how people were having to cut down. You know, like not being able to afford to have bubble baths any more!! Such deprivation, how can we cope???
True, many are having to cut down, and cut down hard, but hopefully - other than fuel costs, we will all still be able to hold our heads above water. Self-sufficiency is the answer to most 'deprivation' today. Make instead of buy. If our ancestors were able to do this, then no reason why we can't (especially given the advanced technology we have today - like sewing machines, washing machines, electric/gas ovens, fridges, freezers....all things we take for granted that folk never had in the past). Many domestic 'appliances and gadgets' these days take the place of servants that only the wealthy had in the past, so let them 'work' for us, not leaving them sitting at the back of a cupboard. Despite having these advantages, we still feel there is not time in the day to do anything much. Yet compared to the past we spend hardly any time at all 'working'. Maybe too much time spent in front of TV (I hang my head in shame because I do) and computers when we could be doing something much more 'useful' and money-saving. We could also get up an hour earlier.

In the old days people would be up at six (or even earlier) and be at work at 8 am - often not leaving until after 6.00pm AND working Saturdays. This I did myself (but only worked half-day on Saturday) and this was perfectly normal and acceptable. Have just added this up and seems I worked a 10 hour day weekdays and 5 hours on Saturday - making a total of 55 hours. This still left plenty of time to do what else had to be done - like enjoying myself. Nowadays people work 40 hours a week and apparantly come home too tired to do anything else - at least men, working women are still expected to do most of the 'domestic work'. No wonder they choose to serve 'ready-meals', even I might do this - occasionally!)

I don't know what will happen next. Just feel things will get a lot worse before they get better. The silver lining of this particular cloud is that we are now being given the opportunity (if you can call it that) of re-learning old skills and bringing back a former way of life that worked incredibly well and that was certainly far less expensive that the way we have trod over the past few decades. Even ingnoring the financial benefits, we can also bring back the feeling of achievement that certainly has been missing from many of our lives. In many ways - allowing 'others' to do everything for us (at a price), we have deprived ourselves to such that many are no longer in control of their own lives. Time to bring back control and 'do our own thing' WITH ENJOYMENT. Hope you agree.

Have now to love and leave you again and do a bit more of 'my own thing'. If I've inspired you in any way, please pass this in and inspire others, then maybe - between us (and it has to be a lot of us) - we can bring our nation back to its feet again. This is going to be a lot like dieting. Take the first step, but continue, and eventually all the mileage will have been covered and we get to where we wish to be. Give up half way and we could be back to square one. It may not always be easy, be we should always be able to make it fun.

Enjoy your day and am looking forward to hearing from you (well some of you) tomorrow. See you then.