Monday, December 12, 2011

Every Which Way - but Beware The Cheapest

Have quite a bit to mutter about today re the price of Christmas (store to store), so will get 'replies' done first, then will begin.

Normally, foods with a low GI are recommended as suitable for diabetics Woozy. These - in the main - are carbohydrates. Sugar of course has to be avoided. With my medication was also told 'no alcohol' (but don't really miss it). Myself have always used sugar sweeteners in tea/coffee, so not really missing out there. There is even a diabetic ice-cream on the market which I have to say is tastes as good as that made with sugar.

With me found the carbo diet didn't work. In a way it DID, but when I eat carbos these always make me sleepy, so never got enough energy to burn off my excess weight. I asked the doctor if I could change to the Atkins (type) diet (protein and veg and NO carbos) and he said if it made me lose weight, then I could. So I did, and it did. The weight loss then brought down my diabetic blood glucose level (as well as my blood pressure). Did not stay on the Atkins for more than a few weeks (the weight loss can be phenomenal), and as - by then - had got used to eating fewer and smaller meals (protein is very satisfying), now seem to be able to include carbos in my diet (rice, pasta, some home-made bread, spuds etc) without gaining weight. Bread is my worst enemy when it comes to carbos - I gain weight on that. And nod off a lot more!

Last Christmas did stuff myself with all the sweet 'naughties' (Beloved was on holiday so suppose it was 'comfort eating') and was expecting my BGL to have risen, but it hadn't and dropped even lower so am now below the 'diabetic level' (but one classed as diabetic, always diabetic it seems).
This because of my continuing weight loss I understand. This has also lowered my blood pressure.

People are all different, what suits me may not suit another, so when dealing with diabetes, ALWAYS follow the advice given. If you are overweight, then losing weight will help I'm sure.

Cheesepare's mention of Heston's Christmas Pudding v traditional ones proves a point. Heston's Pud is one of those 'new' foods that people seem to feel they have to have (especially when the stores run out and - last year - some who bought these puds were able to sell them on eBay for £200!). It's made in much the same way as our traditional Sussex Pond Pudding - this having a lemon and butter in the centre of a sponge-type pudding, then steamed. Heston's is just the basic (sort of) Christmas Pud with a clementine or tangerine in the centre. What's the point? Just another gimmick to get people to hand over their money.

The 'must have' approach to food reminds me of last century when - for some reason - there was a shortage of bread. People queued up for the few loaves on sale (probably at local bakeries) and were paying £5; for a loaf. In those days £5 would be worth triple (or more than that) now.
We (Goodes) gave up eating bread during that month, although I probably made Irish Soda bread as the ingredients for this are in all cooks larders. There is always something else to eat, and a shortage of any food does help to get the brain cells working. Sometimes I wish there were a lot more shortages just to bring me a challenge - you know how I love challenges!

Pleased your polytunnel stayed in place Urbanfarmgirl. Just make sure it is well anchored for - according to the weather forecasts - we are going to get more severe winds over then next few days, especially over Scotland. Oddly there seems to be no wind at all outdoors at the moment. But there soon will be. The isobars (is that the right name?) were shown to be so close together you couldn't run a sheet of paper between them. Never seen them that close before.
Before the storms we would also be wise to do any 'necessary' shopping to avoid venturing out when the weather is at its worst.

A welcome and group hugs to frosty89. Congrats on your Lottery win - seems to have been a lucky week for some of us - and do hope you enjoy the DR meat. Don't dispose of the poly box it comes in - it can make a good cool box for the car to hold frozen foods. If you have a garden, it can also be used (with a few holes in the base) as a container to grow salads etc.

Although DR meat IS expensive (although when on offers is no more than normal butchers prices), it is of such good quality that a little goes a long way regarding flavour, so the recommended servings DR suggest, can - cannily cooked - be extended to half (or even) twice as much again. This makes it fit well into the budget of a thrifty cook.
Myself tend to stick to the 'braising packs' as these cooked slowly (in my slow-cooker overnight) also make wonderful stock. As mentioned in a previous posting, I cook several packs at a time (shin, braising steak, beef rib trim etc) then - once cooked - box up the cooked meats with a little of the stock to freeze (in amounts to serve two or four). Often the joint 'brisket' is included in the pack, this is also thawed and cooked in the same stock once the other meat has been removed. By then the stock is REALLY well flavoured with lots of 'solids' and this is then frozen separately. Doesn't need much else added to make a soup in its own right, but perfect for adding to veg and DR mince to make spag.bol.meat sauce etc.

Do agree with you Sue15cat about supermarkets 'taking over' branded products. Even the mention of cheaper butter (from abroad) means that many will prefer to buy that rather than our excellent British (which can be regional) butter.
It is so difficult these days to be able to afford to 'buy British', and understandable - to some extent - why people look at price first and 'place of origin' second, and they may not even be bothered about the latter.

This brings me to my topic for today. The price of our festive foods. Firstly - it wasn't until the end of last century that we had any choice regarding how much we paid. All foods on sale were priced by the suppliers/manufacturers, so it didn't matter what shop we chose, the baked beans, the ham, the potatoes....would be the same price as the shop in the next street, next town....

A shop could 'entice' us in by offering dented cans, broken packs etc for a lower price, or give us 'freebies' (maybe a plastic daffodil- remember those?). Even the trade mag was able to list all foods showing (rather like shares on the Stock Exchange) which would be sold cheaper the next week/month, or dearer. This having a lot to do with whether crops had been good that year, or maybe even failed in some parts of the globe.

Now it seems we don't know where is the best place to buy food at the cheapest. What we can be certain of is there is no one store that sells EVERYTHING cheaper than the others.
In Saturday's paper, my Beloved (bless him - he's really getting into the foodie thing), showed me a double page giving a list of the major stores selling the same 'festive' foods (although not the same brands). Each food had been given a rating out of ten, and Beloved had even worked out the full list for each store to find the one with the best rating (which happened to be Waitrose). Not that this really helped, for I spent time yesterday working out how much it would cost to buy the foods from just one store. Who wants to shop around?
Then worked out how much it would cost to buy only the 'Winning' foods, and which store they came from.

Even then, not every food served for our Christmas Dinner was listed - no Brussels sprouts, no carrots, no bread sauce mentioned. Even what was shown was a bit of cop-out as surely no-body BUYS gravy when we have the juices from the bird to make our own with. Likewise - do we NEED to buy stuffing mix?

Here is the list of what was 'price-checked' and the store that is selling the 'winner' of each. Just in case you feel like shopping around that is. Note the spuds 'ready to roast' (the winning spuds in goose fat)'

Turkey: £5.39 per kg. Waitrose
Roasting Potatoes: £1.50 for 450g. Morrison's
Bacon-wrapped Sausages: £1.99 (240g). Aldi
Sage and Onion Stuffing: 15p (85g) Asda
Turkey Gravy: £1.99 for 300g. M & S
Cranberry Sauce: 68p (200g). Asda
Smoked Salmon: £2.79 for 200g. Tesco's Value
Christmas Cake: £8.00 (907g) Asda
Christmas Pudding: £2.99 for 454g. M & S
Mince Pies: 12 for £1.40. Tesco
Champagne: £12.99. Lidl

Aldi's 'Four Bird Roast' (£9.99 for 1.48kg) came a close second to the winning turkey if you work on point value (9/10). The turkey also got the same points but won because "it was easily the best turkey we cooked, with a gamey flavour and tender meat". Remember the price for the turkey was 'per kg', not for the whole bird.

A couple of years ago did by a 'Three Bird Roast' from Aldi, and - like many others - found the photo on the box showed plenty of meat layered with some stuffing. Inside the box was plenty of stuffing layered with (relatively) very little meat. We were all very disappointed. However - as two Michelin chefs tested the turkey range, can only assume the product has been upgraded and now there is less stuffing and a lot more meat.
The remaining products were rated by a journalist and her children, and has to be more a matter of taste rather than - let's say - quality?

Judging the overall cost of the above 'Christmas Hamper' it is impossible to do this as some turkey's were priced 'by the bird', others by the kg. Many of the other foods were packaged in different weights. But taking the lists as given (weights of turkey could add more to some) they averaged around £50 - (to feed four?) and that doesn't include the missing foods (veggies, bread sauce etc) as mentioned above.
It really needn't cost as much as that. And do we need all those 'extras' such as a starter made with smoked salmon? And 'real' champagne to drink? With the main meal being so substantial, we find this is enough - hardly leaving room for any Pud., and the sparkling wine is using a cheaper 'rose' or white.
We normally don't eat mince pies or Christmas Cake until tea-time, and possibly not even then (still being full up), in any case we could make both ourselves.

What was interesting with the above foods listed is that a cheaper one (in this case the spuds) was be the 'winner' of that batch (10/10 points), one more most expensive given only 2/10.
The lowest rated smoked salmon (2/10) was the same price/weight at the winner that had 9/10 points.

Problem is that we can no longer judge the quality/flavour of a food by the price charged. Some sold at low cost DO appear to be better than many priced more highly. To find out what has the best flavour to suit our individual palettes, it seems we have to taste test as many as possible. Not that I've done this (much), but when I have it has shown me that many 'own-brands' really do taste as good as (if not better) than many branded products. We really do enjoy Tesco's cheaper sardines, and even the flavour of one of their lower-priced baked beans (can't remember the brand name, Oak something or other?) I really like. When it comes to baked beans, the 'beans' (haricot) are all much of a muchness (when rinsed), it is the sauce they are packed in that varies in flavour.

So it's no good me saying one brand is better than another - for sure as eggs is eggs, you won't care for my personal favourite. All I can suggest is - especially during this credit crunch - is to try a cheaper brand and see what you think.
This doesn't mean it has to be an own-brand', just a different brand (which may be of offer). At least this keeps known brands on the shelves. If we HAVE to buy cheaper because this is only what we can afford, then at least buy a more expensive one from time to time 0r - like Sue15cat says - branded foods we know and love may eventually disappear altogether.

We could - of course - eat a little less, and put the money saved towards buying the better 'quality'. This I do now when buying meat. Save what I can elsewhere then buy a DR offer. This way we still eat well without feeling at all 'deprived' but still manage to keep well within budget.
But I've said all this before. Think you must have all got the message by now.

Am wondering if vegetarians are finding it just as difficult to keep within budget as us 'meat-eaters'. With meat rising in price (it seems by the hour), do veggies rise in price just as rapidly? Maybe it could be financially (and healthily) better to serve more veggie meals to ourselves and family and a lot less of the meats.

With that thought in mind the first recipe for today HAS to be vegetarian. Although given as using frozen mixed veg, we could use par-cooked fresh veggies. Quinoa is a really useful grain as it cooks more rapidly than does rice/pearl barley, and is packed with lots of nutrients.

Spicy Veggie Laska: serves 4
1 onion, sliced
4 tblsp mild or medium curry paste
1 tblsp water
1.75 pints (1 litre) hot milk
1 lb 10 oz (759g) mixed frozen vegetables
6 oz (175g) quinoa
salt and pepper
Put the onion, curry paste and water into a large saucepan over medium heat and cook for 5 minutes - stirring occasionally. Once the onion has softened, add the vegetables, quinoa and the hot milk. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until the quinoa is cooked. Season to taste. Serve with warmed naan bread.

Whilst this second recipe begins as vegetarian, the 'additions' - being fish - perhaps take it out of that league, although believe some 'veggies' do eat fish. If not then use bread croutons.
This is one dish that will certainly make a pack of fish fingers go much further than usual, and no reason why we can't make our own fishy fingers slicing cod or haddock (or cheaper white fish) into strips then egg and crumbing them. Made from fresh fish these can then be frozen to cook later.

Pea Soup with Fishy Croutons: serves 4
1 lb (450g) frozen peas
4 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
1.75pints (1 ltr) hot vegetable stock
2 tblsp pesto
8 fish fingers
Put the peas in a pan with the potatoes and the stock. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 10 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.
Meanwhile, grill the fish fingers (as per packet instructions) until golden. Then remove, cut into even sized cubes/squares and keep warm.
Using a slotted spoon remove roughly a third of the peas and spuds from the pan and set aside. Put the remainder - with all the liquid - into a blender, adding the pesto, and blitz until smooth, then return to the pan with the reserved vegetables and reheat to just simmering.
Serve in individual warmed bowls with the fishy croutons scattered over the top.

Final recipe is for a speedy 'minestra' (this being a minestrone soup made without meat). We can use any oddments of the smaller pasts shapes, from broken spaghetti to small 'shells', even just 'ordinary' macaroni.
For those who care - this soup is high in fibre, has plenty of vitamins nd provides 2 of our 5-a-day. Non-veggies could make this using beef stock.
Sixty-second Minestra: serves 4
4 oz (100g) pasta 'pieces' (see above)
1.75 pints (1 ltr) hot vegetable stock
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
12 oz (350g) mixed frozen veg
4 tblsp pesto
olive oil
grated Parmesan for serving
Put the stock and tomatoes into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the pasta and cook for 6 minutes or until the pasta is 'al dente' (quick cook pasta will need less time).
Halfway through the cooking time, add the vegetables, bring back to the boil and continue cooking until everything is cooked. Serve in warmed bowls, drizzle over a little olive oil, then sprinkle over the Parmesan.

And yet another blog hits the page. One of these days my brain will dry up. Hopefully not yet as it will be interesting to see what culinary hopes and fears await us in the new year, just so that I get the chance to keep on moaning, groaning whilst I try to find the light at the end of this particular tunnel. There always is a light, trouble is most of the time we cannot see it because the tunnel isn't straight.

Am now reminded of a dreadful hour when I was on a narrow boat going through a 3 mile long tunnel (also not straight). As I am very claustrophobic, felt I was gasping for breath and had to go and sit in the windowless loo for most of the time trying to fool myself that outside was countryside and not a wall in sight. Seemed to work. The return journey was much easier for I then know exactly how long it would take to get from one end to the other, so was prepared. Still went and lay on my bed with the covers over my face for most of the time.

But that's enough about me (it always seems to be about me, doesn't it? - sorreee), but at least hope this doesn't put you off and you will return to my open - and welcoming - arms tomorrow. See you then.