Monday, December 19, 2011

Every Which Way...

Had my usual 'think' last night in bed before I fell asleep. This is usually about food, and possibly what I intend writing about today. It crossed my mind that - due to the current recession and very possible strikes causing food shortages etc - would it be wise for me to work through my stores and NOT keep my shelves fulled? There had to be a way to compromise, and the only one I could come up with was always 'buy' from myself, costing only the amount used at any one time (probably works out in pence), and 'store' this money 'spent' (also in the larder, Shirley Jar = grocer's till). Then - why supplies run a bit low and when only on offer - buy to replace BUT keep a separate shelf for the replacements so that the original stock is still being used up.

Much depends on the state of the nation (and also global finances) next year' Methinks things could get worse (not necessarily culinary, cooks can work miracles), so we both need to be prepared and also thrifty. As long as the running costs of a house (and other necessary bills) are paid, then the only thing we need is food to keep ourselves healthy. This coming year could be the time the Englishman's home is truly his castle, and he can pull up the drawbridge and keep safe until the worst is over. This is what they did in the old days, the cellars holding enough food (and a well of water) to see the occupants through. If it worked for them, it can work for us.

None of this is doom and gloom to me, as the dismal future is making feel the best for years, for at least now have a real chance to do what I enjoy most. Making ends meet. As I keep saying, every silver lining has a cloud!
Those of us with gardens could do well digging up a bit more lawn and growing more produce. Every little helps. B does not wish this to happen, and having had a very bad year with courgettes (slugs got every one of them and anyway I'm the only one who eats them and don't even like them that much), the greenhouse tomatoes cropped very badly, the Romanesco still won't come to a head, it was only the redcurrants, pears, apples and herbs that did well (the autumn raspberries didn't crop too well, think they need to be moved). Also mixed salad leaves and the cut-and-come again lettuce grew fairly well.
Having 'trialled' a couple of seeds of string beans in a pot on the windowsill, they DID grow well, so this coming year will be growing string beans, and any other bean, pea or veg that will grow UP rather than outwards. This will make far more use of the small amount of room we have.

But let's face it, we all eat more than we need to keep ourselves alive. Gill and I were talking on the phone yesterday and she asked me how much food she would need to keep her going for 3 months. That was an interesting question, and the first thought that came to my mind was TO work out how many days that was (13 weeks x 7 days, this working out at 91. And when I suggested that the worst case scenario was all we had to eat was one can of beans a day (that was pretty much the number of cans of beans that man stored in his garage (mentioned very recently) then - with just a glass or two of water and hopefully a vitamin pill, we might just keep alive. But it would never come to that. Think one can (of anything) per day, and then pad this out with some fresh veg, or pasta/rice, or maybe no need to use a can and occasionally rely on meals made with eggs, cheese etc. If we count up jars, cans packets of EVERYTHING we have in store, then as long as we have at least 100 (mixed) we could last out for many months. For instance one pack of pasta is enough for more than one meal, same with rice or any grain. One bag of flour will last for quite a while, as does one bottle of oil. One jar of instant coffee can last for weeks. Even though we tend to use a whole can of can of beans/potatoes, canned tomatoes at any one time, if we can get away with using only half a can this then makes it go twice as far. so we don't really need as much in store as we may believe. It all depends upon how many we have to feed at any one time.

Seems only to have been this past year Lisa, that our TV chefs have been adding salt to chocolate. Perhaps they got this idea from the US on one of their visits. Have not tried it myself, but apparently it works well, even though we are all advised to cut out salt when we cook (raises blood pressure). Your iced cheese biscuits with a filling of peanut butter is something really different, and will have to give it a go. Am sure the youngsters would love it, not so sure about us 'wrinklies' who tend to keep sweet and savoury on separate plates.

Your garage Alison sounds good and dry and perfect for storage. And Lynn, as you have a fridge/freezer, possibly you might be able to fit a shelf above, as they give off the heat extracted from the air to keep their contents cool, and many foods are best stored at dry and not too cold temperature.

Scarlet has done a freezer 'stock-take' and bet - like most of us - she will have found she has more than she expected (or perhaps shortages when she didn't realise it), but whatever - it is always useful to check what at least twice a year (four times if possible), to make sure we have all we need to see us through the next season at least. A wide variety of a small amount of foods is often better than large amounts of just one (or two) things, as this can make for a much more varied diet that is more interesting to eat, and can often work our cheaper.

minimiser deb is a bit short of storage space, and has suggested storing foods under the bed. That is a good idea, have done that myself many times, and my mother always kept her precious canned 'treats' under my bed during wartime. One, at most two, were only opened for a special occasion, maybe a birthday, usually only a Christmas when a can of salmon would be made into sarnies, and maybe canned pineapple turned into a dessert.

Myself try to collect as many large storage jars as I can. Often sweets (esp at this time of year) are sold in or from big plastic sweet jars. If we buy the filled jars, we can then use them to store pasta, sugar, porridge oats, rice,dried fruit etc.....either loose or just store several packets in one jar. Sweet shops often give the empty jars away (or maybe sell them for a few pence - always worth asking). The ones I have are stored either on shelves or in cupboards, or even on the floor of the larder. The old-fashioned glass sweet jars are heavy, but certainly mice-proof, so worth using as storage in a garage etc.

Our instant coffee I always buy when on offer or when the 300g jars are the 'best buy' (always check the price per 100g). These jars are the perfect size for my storage, and I now have at least a dozen, with several more (unopened) still holding coffee in a kitchen cupboard. The 200g coffee jars (bought a few when these were the 'best buy') also good for smaller things like stock cubes, special sugar (soft brown etc), no-soak apricots, mixed seeds, dessicated coconut....
They all look good lined up on open shelves, and don't take up that much room when placed on sideways. Instead of labels I now write the contents directly onto the glass using a black marker pen, as the ink can be easily washed off if the jar is to be used to store something else.

Other places that food can be stored are wardrobes, an empty drawer in the bedside cupboard, under the stairs, and blanket boxes. A really good way to make storage space is to get a strong empty cardboard box, and fill it with what needs to be stored (could just be magazines), then make a fabric cover and use it as a foot stool/pouffe. If wishing to sit on it perhaps best filled to the top with cans. Tightly rolled 'tubes' of newspaper, packed tightly, stood on end, in box to reach the top, will make a very solid filling that once the box flaps have been sealed back in place, it can stand the weight of man, not just sitting, but standing on it. A cheap way to make a fairly light-weight extra 'seat'. Several placed side by side with matching covers, and maybe a fitted piece of strong board on top will make great coffee table.
Just remember to make a list of what is stored in where.

Many years ago Campfire, I used to make crisps by deep-frying them. Also tried making some in the microwave, and as long as the slices were very thin, it worked well. 'Flavouring' was added afterwards, in the old-fashioned way, by sprinkling over a little salt (anyone remember those tiny blue paper 'twists' of salt that came in the bag of Smith's crisps?).
Once we had got use to more than just salt-flavoured crisps, I tried to give the 'home-made' a few different flavours, and I used to sprinkle vinegar over salt, then leave it on top of our boiler (a radiator would do - or even a cool oven) so that the liquid would evaporate, but the salt still holds the flavour. Onion juice was another 'liquid' that also worked.
Maybe slices of potato soaked in vinegar (or onion juice) then left to dry before being micro-crisps would work. Maybe sprinkling salt over the uncooked slices of potato would help to absorb some of their moisture and could then be wiped off before being microwaved.
Think some experimenting needs to be done here, but if you try any of the above suggestions Campfire, let us know the results.

Far be it for me to suggest making our own 'convenience snack', but as pot noodles seem to be students favourite food, here is a way to make one at home (or uni kitchens). Have not compare cost of bought v home-made, but pretty sure it wouldn't be any more, and certainly give more for your money as well as being far tastier (and healthier). Instead of the bacon, just-thawed cooked frozen prawns could be used.
The cheap Tesco 11p packs of noodles would be good to use for this 'pot', as they cook rapidly and one pack would probably be enough to make 2 'pots'. The packet of dry chicken seasoning that is in the noodle pack can be used to flavour the cooking liquid (in this case water) that then takes the place of the veggie stock.
Of course this does take a little longer than boiling up water to pour in a bought pot noodle, but this still has to be left to stand before stirring and eating, so not really that much more time to wait to eat. Definitely a 'recipe' worth passing on to a student. On the other hand you and I would find this makes a very good lunch or supper dish for ourselves.

You-make-it Pot Noodle: serves 1
1 rasher smoked back bacon, fat removed, flesh diced
1 - 2 spring onions
1 heaped tblsp frozen peas
pinch paprika
2 tsp cornflour
7 fl oz (200m) vegetable stock
1 x 150 block straight-to-wok noodles (see above)
dash Worcestershire (or Tabasco) sauce
Take a small pan and dry-fry the bacon for a few minutes. Finely chop the white parts of the spring onion, and add these to the pan with the peas and paprika. Cook for a further minute. Mix the cornflour with a little of the stock to make a paste, then stir this into the pan with the remaining stock, noodles and the chosen sauce. Bring to the boil and simmer for a couple or so minutes until thickened. Finely chop the green stalks of spring onion and sprinkle over, then serve immediately in very big mug (eat with a fork/spoon), or more daintily in a soup bowl.

As an alternative to making fishcakes with potatoes, why not ring the changes and make them with breadcrumbs instead? More like 'burgers' I suppose but still very tasty. Myself like this version as canned tuna and sweetcorn kernels are two of my favourite store-cupboard items.
The choice of serving is up to you, either eat like fishcakes - with salad or warm veg, or tuck into buns with a salsa dressing and some salad leaves to eat like burgers.

Tuna 'burger-cakes': serves 4
3 oz (75g) white bread, crumbed
1 x 198g can sweetcorn kernels, drained
2 x 185g cans tuna in water/brine, drained well
1 oz (25g) grated hard cheese (pref Cheddar)
2 - 3 spring onions, finely chopped
salt and pepper
1 egg, beaten
2 tblsp sunflower oil
burger buns (pref wholemeal)...
...with salad leaves, salsa for serving
Put the breadcrumbs into a bowl. Blitz half the sweetcorn until finely chopped then stir this into the bread with the remaining sweetcorn, the flaked tuna, cheese, onions and seasoning to taste. Mix well together, then add the egg (but only enough to make it all bind together). Shape into four even-sized cakes/burgers.
Heat the oil in a frying pan, then carefully place in the burgers and cook for 5 minutes on each side until golden (avoid turning them earlier than this or they may break up). When fully cooked (hot right through the centre), shove each into a split bun that has had a layer of lettuce sitting on the base. Smear salsa on the burger top and cover with the bun lid. Munch and enjoy!

Final recipe today is a quick-to-make home-made 'take-away'. Quick because it is cooked in the microwave. Can be eaten as-is, but a pack of those cheapo noodles (mentioned above) can be cooked and added to the ready-to-serve to make it stretch to an extra serving without using more of the other ingredients.. Mostly made from store-cupboard ingredients, this is the meal to make when you have a dish of cooked chicken (or turkey) scrapped pulled from the 'finished' carcase. Instead of chicken you could use frozen (thawed) cooked prawns, or maybe chicken AND prawns. As ever - use what you have.

Speedy Sweet and Sour Chicken: serves 4
8 tblsp tomato ketchup
2 tblsp malt vinegar
3 tblsp dark muscovado sugar
1 - 2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 pint cooked chicken scraps
1 onion, sliced
2 red bell peppers, seeded and flesh cut into chunks
1 x 227g can pineapple pieces
4 oz (100g) sugar snap peas or chopped string beans
handful salted cashew nuts, or peanuts (opt)
In a large dish (suitable for the microwave) put the tomato ketchup, vinegar, sugar, garlic, onion and peppers. Microwave on High for 8 minutes, or until the sauce is sizzling.
Stir in the pineapple, chosen veg and the cooked chicken, then cook for a further 4 - 5 minutes or until everything is heated through thoroughly. Fold in the nuts and serve either alone, or on a bed of hot Chinese noodles.

Finishing early today (also the rest of this week) so that I have time to catch up with what needs to be done prior to next weeks festivities. Hope you all find time to 'drop in' and keep having our 'coffee break' via this blog each day. Myself will probably take next (Christmas) weekend off being that we'll all be mega-busy doing something or another those days, returning to the blog on Monday. But still five more days of 'blogging' before then. So keep watching this space!