Saturday, November 26, 2011

Counting the Pennies

A later start this morning due to me having another one of my dreams. Did get up at 5.00 but went back to bed to continue what then was a nice dream, but it turned out a nightmare. Suffice to say it was about a friend's wedding, in London, in a big hotel, and the registrar (wedding celebrant) didn't turn up. After we had been waiting all of four hours, the search was then on to find the person who had booked the registrar and woke up before this was sorted. Think no-one had!!! Loads more complexities in the dream but would take far too long for me to tell you. Food of course played a major part, although I wasn't (for once) involved in that side, other than going into the kitchen and having a long talk with an Italian chef there (proving to him I was also a cook because I was wearing my butcher's striped apron at the time. At a wedding?!!).

We move on to reply to comments, and firstly must give a very warm welcome and group hugs to Bets who sent a very inspiring comment. It certainly inspired me to hunt out more ways to leave frugally. Must just give another mention to , a website that gives loads of great info on how to 'cook on the cheap'. Full details are given - the cost and nutrition of each portion of the recipe chosen etc - including photos of the dishes.

When it comes to having a really small food budget, we have to sometimes change our menus to suit. This can often work out that we end up eating a dish that others might serve up as 'posh nosh'. My mind is thinking 'chicken livers' here as they are less than 50p a tub (frozen) from the supermarket (enough to feed two), and can turn into chicken pate or served (cooked) mixed with salad leaves (or as an ingredient in a risotto).
Speaking of which - another real money-saving idea is to buy a pack of Mixed Salad Leaves (at this time of year look for those that grow well during the winter months, many do), and sow a few regularly in a box and place on a windowsill. After six weeks (a month in the summer months) they should be ready to harvest. One pack (from 99p - £1.50p) should provide enough seeds to grow on through a twelvemonth. Buying mixed leaves from a supermarket they cost at least that for one bag. So - think chicken livers and mixed salad leaves and you have a start for a plateful that cost pennies!

Here feel it is worth a reminder to home-cooks to ask for the more expensive 'ingredients' (that we would normally not be able to afford) to be given us as a Christmas (or birthday) present. Even a small bottle of brandy, port or rum can raise the ridiculous to the sublime, and myself - having now built up a (gifted) stock of the above plus limoncello, kirsch and Cointreau can 'lift' almost anything cooked to a higher level without having to even open my purse. It doesn't have to be boozy. Extra Virgin Olive Oil, a quality Balsamic Vinegar, Sherry Vinegar, and so on all make wonderful gifts for the cook. Who needs Chanel Number 5 when a few drops of Truffle Oil make my husband (or any other male who eats a meal containing this) fall delightedly into my arms?

Am pleased readers enjoyed the new series about the Amish. It is true, how rarely these days do we stand back and listen to what nature offers. As a young girl, we lived in a house that had a very long garden, the end of which was almost woodland, and I would sit up there and just listen to all the birdsong and smell the fragrance from the garden next door - the top part alongside ours being an orchard.
We are lucky in Morecambe living in a road that has little traffic, and only when the wind is in the right (or wrong) direction do we hear the sound of the trains as the railway line is at the top of our road. We have very few trains anyway - it's more a shuttle service from Morecambe to Lancaster. Unfortunately the birds we have in the garden are the larger ones - the seagulls making the most noise. Have seen a robin and a wren, we have a couple of blackbirds, loads of magpies and collared doves, plenty of pigeons (someone has a loft nearby), and fortunately do have blue-tits that appear from time to time (they reared youngsters in our nest box last year).
But where are the thrushes, the chaffinches, the bluetits, the goldfinches, wagtails and other birds that I remember coming into my parents garden - all seem to have disappeared now? It must have been over 30 years since I heard a cuckoo - and that was in Scotland.

Urbanfarmgirl's mention of 'to shop or not' gave me food for thought. It does seem as though we tend to shop by habit, and if we enjoy shopping (for anything) we then tend to go out and buy more than we need. Yet at other times - such as this time of the year - it is instinctive to stock up our shelves to make sure we have enough food to see us through the winter months. Having said that, in the old days most of the stores were made at home (bottling fruit, vegetables, drying certain foods, making jams, marmalade and pickles etc. Meat would be smoked, fish salted and dried, and plenty of dry goods (flour etc) stored in bins. Fresh vegetables would be sparse, but there are always the root vegetables that keep well and also kale that is a winter 'green'. Nowadays with freezers, we have the opportunity to store so much more that couldn't be stored then. Also we've got used to eating more than we need (and more often).
It's surprising how little we need to eat to keep ourselves healthy (think war-time rationing here), and just because we eat more and don't seem to suffer from it is because our body is very good at removing the excess in the way it knows best. In other words we are paying for food our body doesn't need and - eventually - discards it.
Tip here is to eat first (and maybe only) nutritionally good foods (they don't have to be expensive), and only then allow 'treats' if we can afford it (these needn't be expensive either). The Shirley way hope to prove we can have both.

As you say Elaine, scrimping and saving (my words) is both a challenge that can be fun. With an attitude like that we can all end up being winners.

Do hope you will enjoy using your electric slicer Alison. Myself find it can slice so thinly that it makes even the smallest gammon (or roast beef etc) go a lot further. Slices can be adjusted so slice according to your need. Definitely cooking our own meat (always boneless of course or the bones will damage the blade) then cooling and chilling (it slices more neatly when cold), will save £££s. Just compare the weight of your meat (after cooking), against the weight as given per kg (found on Tesco's website - probably other supermarkets sites too), and you will find that after cooking a couple of gammons or a gammon and roast beef (brisket or topside) the machine will have paid for itself when the price of YOUR sliced meat is compared to that sold in the supermarkets.

Storing large appliances can be a bit of a pain. I keep my electric slicer in its separate parts, usually wrapped in a plastic bag (be careful of the blade - it is very sharp. Wrap separately). It is very speedy to assemble and clean. Don't - of course - immerse the bit with the 'electrics' in water. I just wipe this down with a damp sponge that has been rinsed in anti-bacterial 'Fairy'.

As I have several large appliances, Beloved screwed two brackets onto the wall at the end of our kitchen - a narrow bit that juts out (it used to be an outside wall before being removed to gain access to the conservatory). These hold adjustable brackets. Each shelf is only big enough to hold one appliance, but VERY useful. On the topmost (almost too high to reach) is our deep fat fryer (which I rarely - if ever - use now). Then my big jam-pan, below that my slow-cooker, below that my electric slicer, and below that (at one time although now moved to somewhere more convenient) my bread-maker, and at the bottom is my Kenwood mixer (a smaller version). Under that - on the floor - is a large basket holding our outdoor shoes. Really need one of the shelves to store my food-processor, at the moment this is on our kitchen table as it is probably the one appliance (other than the bread-maker) that is used the most often.

Glad to say the biscuits turned out well. Might make some more today - they are very easy, so will give the recipe again although it is still on this site (as had to look it up for myself) think it was in October 07, but can't be sure of the year.

Sorry to hear you are not well Ciao and that your doctor will find out the cause. One of the reasons I gave up shopping in a supermarket (Safeways at the time) was because of the long wait at the checkouts. In those days I was not 'disabled' but believe me - by the time I'd gone round the aisles, my back was aching, and the wait made it 100 times worse.
This is why I changed to home-deliveries, and have to say because there was no real temptation to buy more than needed, and if I bought enough to keep us going for a month, then the delivery charge was no more than if I'd spent the money on petrol to drive to and from the store (having previously shopped there weekly). At the moment Tesco seem to be offering free delivery for the first order. So a good chance to stock up (they have loads of offers at the moment). No one forces us to continue shopping with them, although if we don't they then tempt us back by giving us (say) £10 off the next shop which more than pays delivery charges. Canny shoppers can play supermarkets at their own game as they are so desperate to keep our custom.

It is sad Campfire, but The Midland Hotel (here in Morecambe) is not what it used to be. The exterior is the same, but the interior is a dismal failure. Everyone says that. Why they didn't carry on the Art Deco theme I don't know. It is simple enough and extremely attractive in the right surroundings. As an Art Deco fan (one of the reasons I'm hooked on Poirot - watching the repeats I tend to look at the background decor of property rather than concentrating on the plot) feel that they missed the plot when refurbishing The Midland.

Hope you manage to go to Lindisfarne for you anniversary Campfire. We too tend to stay at home for anniversaries, yet am reminded of the time my Beloved say he would take the two of us to Amsterdam for our wedding anniversary (the Ruby one). I was so thrilled and excited, he normally didn't bother to celebrate, but this one was a bit special. I had my hair done, made sure my passport was OK, even packed my case. On the day made sure everything was ready then asked B what time we were leaving for the airport. He looked bemused and I had to remind him. Turned out he had forgotten what he had said and done nothing about it at all. How disappointed I was. But not surprised. That's B all over.

Good to hear your daughters hens are still laying regularly Eileen. The ex-bats that she has would be Warrens, these bred to lay more eggs than most other breeds - often 'keeping going' throughout most of the winter months. As she has three hens, and even when the colder weather comes, she will probably get at least one egg a day. It will be interesting if you can let us know from time to time. As the hens tend to lay less when there is less daylight, the good and sunny weather we have been having recently will also help, and with the shortest day being less than a month away, and if the weather stays fair(ish) up to then, your daughter may find her hens still keep laying their full quota.

Am beginning the recipes today with the repeat of the Fork Biscuits. Mind you, they are so yummy (when made with butter) it is difficult to stop eating them. As they spread a fair amount, keep the 'balls' small (about the size of a cherry tomato) and space well apart on the baking sheet. Making the 'ball' smaller we can gain a few extra biscuits.
These biscuits I feel are so good they are worth giving away as gifts. Certainly perfect if wishing to add a little extra something to the Christmas Gift Hamper that many readers give as a gift.
The way things are today, anything 'home-made' is worth more than its weight in gold.

This mixture makes about a dozen biscuits, but when made recently I doubled the amount of ingredients, then - before I kneaded into the final dough - divided the mixture into three, adding an egg-cup of cocoa to one, the zest of an orange to another, and a teaspoon of ground ginger to the third, then kneaded each separately to make differently flavoured biscuits. Worked a treat!)

Fork Biscuits: makes approx 10 - 12
4 oz (100g) butter or margarine
2 oz (50g) caster sugar
5 oz (150g) self-raising flour
Cream together the butter and sugar, then work in the flour (at this point add the chosen flavouring). Using clean hands (of course) gather the mixture together and knead until smooth. Break off even pieces (5 or 6) and roll into balls. Place well apart on a lightly greased and floured baking sheet (you may need two sheets). Flatten each ball slightly, then press down even further with the prongs of a knife that has been dipped into water.
Bake at 180F, 350C, gas 4 for about 15 minutes. Check to see if they are firming up - they will still be softish in the centre - allow a minute longer if you feel they need it (depending on size of biscuit). Remove from oven and leave on the baking sheet for five minutes, then - using a fish slice - carefully remove to a cake airer. They will crisp up as they cool, and become even crisper when left for longer. When completely cold store in an air-tight container.
Have self control when eating - or you'll eat the lot in one go!

Next recipe is for chicken liver 'parfait', this being a smoother version of chicken 'pate'. Yes, brandy is an ingredient, but could be left out - myself would prefer to use Cointreau and leave out the tomato puree. If we don't get the booze given as a gift, use orange zest and orange juice.
Chicken parfait comes under 'posh nosh' and - as it freezes well, should be made up in small pots so we can thaw to eat as a treat over several weeks. It will also keep well for 3 - 4 days in the fridge if the layer of butter topping is intact. Once this seal has been broken, eat up the parfait/pate within a couple of days.

Chicken Liver Parfait: serves 6
8 oz (225g) butter, diced and softened
2 shallots, finely diced
1 clove garlic, crushed (opt)
1 lb (500g) chicken livers
1 tblsp (or less) brandy
salt and pepper
1 tblsp tomato puree (see above)
extra butter for sealing
Trim the chicken livers, removing any sinews or green bits. Melt half the butter in a frying pan, then - over low to medium heat - fry the onions until softened, if using garlic stir this in towards the end of the cooking time. Raise the heat and add the trimmed chicken livers, frying just long enough to brown on all sides (they can still be a bit pink in the centre). Add the brandy then boil down to reduce (some chefs allow the brandy to catch alight - this helps to add flavour and burn off the alcohol, but not necessary - unless you want to show off). Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.
When cold, add a pinch of salt and plenty of pepper then tip the pan contents into a food processor with the tomato puree and remaining butter and blitz until smooth. At this point it is a 'pate'. To make it really smooth (a 'parfait') rub through a sieve (if you have a mouli-mlll this makes the job easier) scraping all the remaining puree from the underside of the sieve to add to that fallen beneath, then pot up into one serving bowl (or several small ramekins) and level the surface. Chill for several hours until set.
To seal the pate/parfait, melt a little butter then - after the solids have fallen to the bottom - pour the clarified butter (from the top) over the parfait until covered completely. Replace in the fridge to set (it can then be bagged up and frozen if you wish - thaw before serving).
Serve with plenty of toast. Sliced gherkins, chutney, relishes also eat well with

One of the simplest desserts to make is the 'Poor Knight's of Windsor'. Originally made by soaking left-over jam sarnies in beaten egg, frying them THEN dipping in sugar, the following recipe is more elaborate, although can be adapted to leave out some ingredients if you wish. The sweetened cream cheese takes the place of butter in the sarnie, but if you prefer just butter the bread instead. As I so often say - use the recipe as a guide then do your own thing with it.
When the bread is stale, it will soak up more of the egg. Less egg can be used (say 2 large instead of 3 - 4 medium) especially if using fresh bread, but as egg is 'animal' protein, so when serving any pudding that contains egg (esp if one egg per portion) this means less or no meat can be served for the main course. Milk to is 'animal' protein, so a 'proper' custard made with eggs and milk is - nutritionally - as good as a small beef steak. Add cheese and we are on to a winner.
The more we begin to understand the value of different foods, the more we find we can spend less but still eat enough to keep ourselves healthy.

Poor Knight's of Windsor: serves 2
3 - 4 medium eggs
3 fl oz (75ml) milk
2 tsp vanilla extract (opt)
2 tblsp caster sugar
4 oz (100g) cream cheese (Philly type)
2 tblsp icing sugar
4 tblsp jam (blackberry is good)
4 slices fairly stale bread
1 oz (25g) butter
Put the eggs, milk, vanilla and sugar into a basin and whisk together. Beat the soft cheese with the icing sugar and then spread onto each slice of bread, covering with the jam. Clap two slices of bread together to give two 'rounds' of sarnies.
Place these into the egg mixture and leave for 30 seconds then turn so the top side also soaks up the egg (leaving again for 30 seconds).
Melt the butter in a large frying pan until hot (but not burning) then fry the sarnies for 3 - 4 minutes on either side until golden. Slice in half (diagonally looks more attractive) and serve hot with or without cream, ice-cream. Alternatively drizzle over more hot jam and sift over some icing sugar.

We should always remember that every drizzle, every sift all adds up and over a year might have cost us pounds. In wartime cooks used to open unfold the empty sugar packets so they could shake out the few crystals that had become trapped in the creases. The paper that wrapped butter always kept to use for greasing tins. Even today I do this. "A penny saved is a penny earned". Yes, I know I keep saying this, but its true.

Another thing worth remembering is that 'fats' are now no longer cheap to buy. Oil is expensive, margarine is expensive, the only one reasonable in price is lard - and how few people today use this for frying?
Whenever we make stock (beef or chicken) once it has cooled there is a layer of fat on the top. Most people throw this away, but it can be used to frying. After frying bacon, leave the fat in the pan and use this when frying something else that can take on the flavour of bacon (omelette, sausages etc). Even sausages give off fat - again can be used for frying.

In the old days cooks used to use the above fats when making pastry. Chicken fat makes good pastry when used to cover chicken pies. Ask your butcher for extra (free) fat when buying beef for roasting. Place on top of the meat to roast and you will end up with a pan of free 'beef dripping' - far too tasty to use any other way but spread on toast with a sprinkle of salt. My Beloved ADORES this, but unfortunately can only make it for him about twice a year when I buy a large joint to roast. This is then usually sliced fairly thickly and frozen in beef gravy to later thaw and serve as a 'roast beef dinner'- with all the trimmings), or sliced more thinly for sarnies and to add to my 'platter' of cold meats (slices of home-baked ham, chicken or turkey, beef, tongue etc).

Butter gives a gorgeous flavour so always worth buying at least some to use when making (say) a risotto or frying an omelette. When baking find the tubs of Stork make even better cakes than when using butter. Almost all the soft margarines are good in baking and can replace butter, although for really great flavour when baking biscuits, butter cannot be beaten.

By now, regular readers know that I can be downright mean when it comes to some purchases and making the most of what I have, but by doing this am able to save just enough money to allow me to buy what I deem as 'the necessary for good eating'. This being 'quality' meat (not the fillet steaks but good stewing cuts), butter and (occasionally) olive oil - although rely to a great extent on the latter being given as gifts. "What would you like me to bring back for you?" is usually asked by members of our family when they go abroad (Spain or France etc) and I always ask for a bottle of olive oil.
Beloved went on a sailing holiday to the Canaries and brought me back a huge Chorizo sausage (it needed cooking). Unfortunately the case in which it was packed got lost en route and it was some weeks before it was found and returned. By then dare not risk eating the Chorizo - although, being spiced - it might still have been fit to eat once cooked. So chucked it in the bin to be on the safe side (me being the only one that liked Chorizo, did not wish to take the risk!).

Heavens - is that the time? Better love you and leave you again. The trade mag has arrived so will now go and have an intensive read to find out what financial horrors may await us. On the other hand there may even be good news. Doubt it though.

Please remember both old and new readers, that if you have a query or wish to stretch your money even further, just come to me, ask the question and I'll try and come up with sensible and thrifty answer. Getting any query usually gets my head down to find what is required, and this often leads on to other thoughts of the frugal type that prove worth sharing.

Another very windy day, but with Beloved out tonight, and most of tomorrow "No need to get me any supper, I'll be eating there - and they're having a Hog Roast on Sunday" he tells me. So at least no need to make him a meal. Alright for some. I'll make do with eating baked beans out of a tin shall I?
Even yesterday was easy. B brought in a Chinese take-away, although my digestion suffered a bit afterwards (it was a bit too dry and spicy for me - think it was called 'Singapore' noodles, a sort of Chow Mein, everything mixed together with noodles and (seemingly) curry powder. Nice but not quite me. I like plenty of sauce with rice to soak it up. The prawn crackers were nice though.

Must go or it will be shortly be noon. Hoping that I get up early enough tomorrow to finish the 'trade secrets' and publish before Gill's hour-long phone call. If not you'll just have to wait that bit longer. Most of you will probably be having a lie-in anyway. It's not that my blog is - like important.

Whatever the weather, make sure you enjoy your day, and if Kathryn is reading this - think positive. Every cloud has a silver lining when we look for it. The trick is to cast our eyes up to see clouds, not keep our heads hanging down in sadness. As they used to say (esp in wartime) "keep your chin up". TTFN.