Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Feeding the Five Thousand?....

Just one comment sent since yesterday, this from Les, and one that really made me shake my head in - almost - disbelief. Not at the 'small' amount of money (£2.60) allowed to be spent per head per day (in prisons?) or setting the bar as low as £1 per meal for those in hospital. What did make me grimace is the thought that few still seem to understand the true fact that the more people we have to feed, the cheaper it works out PER HEAD!

It is not THAT difficult to feed one person throughout the day for £2.50, although if only one, the meals might be a bit boring and repetitive. Feed two for £5, then it becomes easier. Feed 100 for a day on a budget of £250 then - as the saying goes - we're cooking on gas!

As most prisons hold more than 100 prisoners, then the food budget goes up accordingly, and as many inmates choose to learn how to cook, when in prison, to give them a trade when they leave, then a lot more 'proper' cooking is done in the kitchens, using fresh ingredients - remember these will be bought at wholesale prices so the money then goes even further - and therefore the meals should be good.

Hospital food is often cooked 'elsewhere' then heated up in the kitchens, although some foods (salads etc) are also cold.
Having spent nearly 3 weeks in 'Jimmy's (St. James Hospital) in Leeds, was amazed at how good the meals were. These are always calorie controlled - so usually slightly smaller than we might eat at home. When lying in bed we don't burn up energy, so need less to eat. Also the meals are prepared to suit various diets.
Each day we were given a fairly big menu (choice of starters, main course, desserts) for the following day, and we would tick off the ones we preferred. I was never disappointed, and that is something coming from 'a cook' who knows a good meal from a bad one.

We also tend to believe the cost of a main course dish should be at least £1.50 per head - with breakfast, lunch, desserts, snacks and drinks all adding to amount we 'expect' to spend each day. Perhaps it is the supermarkets at fault here with there "Feed a Family of Four a Meal for only £5! (based on the price of the ingredients they sell of course). Cookery mags now are tending to give the cost of each recipe. But even that is debatable as they often work with free-range eggs (25p + each) when us paupers would use the cheaper 8p eggs (well I do anyway).

Chefs may find it hard work to feed a large number on what Les says is a 'stupidly tight budget', but then chefs are so used to using the more expensive 'quality' foods (like the free-range eggs) that they probably wouldn't dream of using any lesser quality.

Having said that, in the programme 'Daily Cook's Challenge', (not shown at the moment), each weekday two competing chefs were given a different budget, ranging from 50p to £5, to make a one portion serving of the dish they chose to make. Easy enough when given the higher budget, but they all managed to come up with very good meals costing no more than 50p. Perhaps more a 'light lunch' or 'supper dish' than a substantial main course, but sometime they could even do that.

In a programme some months back, a couple or so chefs scavenged the skips and bins picking out still-usable food that supermarkets had thrown out. They also went to butchers and fishmongers to ask for their 'chuck-outs' (offal, fish pieces etc). Even went to farms to get fruit and vegetables that were to be discarded because they were mis-shapes or too ripe. With all these freebies they provided the most wonderful three course meal that was served at a banquet.

None of should be in a financial position as to have to feed a family of four (all meals, drinks etc) on only £25 a week. But sadly today more and more people are having to. But it can be done. We have only to log onto http://www.cheap-family-recipes.org.uk/ to discover that this site shows how two adults and two teenagers (and you know how hungry teenagers can get) can be fed well for this amount. And that works out at around 80p per head per day!!! If they can do it, then we can too. Just follow their instructions, for this is an amazing site. Not only does it give recipes with photos), it also gives a list of them all with the price per portion AND nutritional notes. Even with price increases this still proves how much can be done using the lower priced (and sometimes 'free' foods that together will provide all the nutrition we need.

Am not trying to defend those who put a cap on how much money should be spent in 'institutions', would that it could be more. Just hoping to prove is that the more we have to feed, the less money (per head) we need to spend, and it sometimes help to view this wider picture. Also that when are prepared to make and bake from scratch, how much cheaper it can be compared to over-the-counter prices.

In some ways, the rising cost of food has put us into a similar situation as happened in war-time. In those days - although everyone was allowed a fixed amount of food per week (sometimes just one egg per fortnight!), usually affordable by all, the larger families fared so much better because the total amount of food was able to be 'spread' further, more could be made from it.
My Beloved came from a large family, two adults, one grandmother, five siblings all living in the same small house during war-time, AND they kept chickens and rabbits (for eggs and food) in their tiny back-yard, this meant the meat allowance (rationed by price, so more weight of cheaper meat could be bought than frying steak etc), larger joints of roasting meat were then able to be afforded. A good chunk of cheese (when grated) would go a lot further than the inch cube one person (living alone) would have to manage on. And so on and so forth....

Despite all the other overheads (clothes etc), it costs less today to keep large families fed and also takes less fuel to keep warm, than smaller families, worst off are those living alone. 'Warmth' is mentioned because we all 'radiate' a certain amount of heat from our bodies, and a known fact that when several people are gathered together in one room, the temperature of the room will rise because of this, so a good reason to bring children back down from their bedrooms (and computers) and - instead - stay and play together in one room. Lowers the fuel bill and helps to bring back games/jigsaws etc that the family can do together (or let's hope so).

Recently we have seen ads for Pukka Pies on TV - this pleased B for a 'mate' of his, Trevor Storey I think was his name, lived on the same estate as us in Oadby (Leics). Same type of small semi-that we lived in. He started Pukka Pies, and B said they (then) tasted absolutely wonderful. The factory that makes these pies is still in Leicestershire, so I suggested B went and bought one of these pies to see if it is as good now as it was then. Sainsbury's sell them. He went yesterday and came back with four! One he will have tonight for his supper. Maybe the company was bought out long ago by others, maybe the meat will now be imported not 'local' as it was then. Have to see what B has to say once it has been eaten. Will let you know his verdict.

Yesterday, decided to make another batch of bread dough, divide it in half then - using one half- divide into even pieces to fill those 'cardboard' mini-loaf baking cases. The remaining half of the dough I rolled out flat, sprinkle sugar, cinnamon and mixed spice over, and topped with sultanas, then rolled up (Chelsea Bun style), but then kneaded it together to mix everything into the dough, before putting into a 1lb loaf tin. All were left to rise, the 'fruit' loaf then baked at 180C for 45 minutes, the smaller loaves taking just 20 - 25 minutes.

Not quite sure what happened to the fruit in the fruit loaf, I used loads but once cut there seem to be only a few showing at one side of each slice. Tastes good though. It would have been better if I'd added the spices to the flour, then the sugar and the fruit to the dough as it was being kneaded. But this means it will end up as a 2lb loaf, although suppose I could use half the dough to make flatter fruit 'baps' (aka 'teacakes'). Yes, will do that next time.

Have been lovely and cosy in bed the last couple of nights since I threw a light fleece blanket over the top of the duvet and tucked it in at one side, also at the end. This holds the duvet in place and the 'tucked' in feeling takes me right back to the old days when we used sheets and blankets.

Could hear it raining throughout the night, and the wind getting up again. The rain has now stopped and again we have the strange 'cloud-set' of mostly clear blue sky to the south of our garden and nothing but dark rainclouds to the north, although almost getting to be gale strength the wind, coming from the southwest will probably blow the clouds further north and we may have a day of blue skies and sun after all. I hate wind, so the thought of it getting even stronger over the next few days does not make me a happy bunny. For once our kitchen (having no windows in the main part) is a good place to be as am not then able to see what is happening outdoors. Nothing worse than seeing a wheelie bin fast-rolling down the drive, especially when it is ours. Even worse if the bin was full in the first place, and empties itself as it zips along towards the road, and it isn't our bin but the one that belongs to 'upstairs'. And they're out at work so it would be Beloved who has to clear up the mess. Not that this has happened yet, so why am I even fantasising? Perhaps memories of the 'good(e) old days' when we lived in Leeds are haunting me.

Yesterday evening watched two 'foodie' progs. Not quite sure what to make of them. The first was about 'stocking up our winter larders'. Much was seen of Borough Market (London), and that really did look a fun place to shop. I'd love to go there, when B once stayed in London, close to the market, he had a walk round and was very enthusiastic.

As ever, suggestions as to the foods we could cook/store did not fit into my (normal) lifestyle. True we did see pots of different mustard being made (and I did give recipe for a few home-made mustard the other day), but when it came to eating wild boar, making Scotch Eggs with wild boar sausage meat etc, as well as all the other 'boar' products, the price would make it prohibitive for most of us. An interesting programme for all who loves to learn more about food, but not useful for those who wish to cut costs.

Second programme was 'Jimmy's Home-Grown Christmas'. Here Jimmy Doherty showed how - in times past - the meal differed somewhat from that served today. Mainly to do with the cost.
Apparently in the old days a turkey would have cost three weeks wages, today it takes only 3 - 4 hours of work to pay for a turkey. The 'old-style' turkeys were single-breasted (can't get my head around that one, as the turkey had a breastbone, then was the meat all on one side?). Today's turkeys are bred to be MUCH larger and - of course - have two breasts.

Was a bit disappointed when it came to serving the turkeys at the meat. The diners were asked if they could get which was the 'old-style' and which was the new, and of course they guessed right. What would have been better would be to first carve the birds then ask which tasted better.

Jimmy also grew his own potatoes, Brussels sprouts and carrots. Home-grown said to taste better than the bought ones (also served), although myself did not care for the scrawny look of the carrots, and they were an odd yellow colour. Interesting how Jimmy cooked the top of the sprout stem, this having grown into a small cabbage. He shredded it, probably steamed it, maybe added crispy bacon (not sure) and served it as a veg in its own right.

Earlier in the year Jimmy had bought a fir (Christmas) tree - had loads of roots - and planted it into his plot. Close to Christmas he then went and got a saw and cut it off at soil level to take indoors to decorate. Why on earth he didn't dig it up, pot it up, keep it watered then take it indoors, decorate, then later replant again I don't know.

To prevent a home-grown tree growing too large, just put it up into a slightly larger pot each time, but plant the tree in the ground still in its pot, then it won't grow larger. It can be kept small by trimming off any roots that grow through the bottom holes of the pot. Rather as we trim small trees to 'bonsai' them. Anything grown in pots in or out of the soil, needs to be checked it doesn't dry out, so water if necessary. Trees planted directly into the soil usually grow long enough tap-roots to reach underlying water.

An Eliza Acton Christmas Pudding was also made, despite the fruit being covered by wasps in the making. Maybe some even got into the pudding. An important bit of 'the method' was edited out, for we saw the mixture being taken indoors to add the 'silver trinkets', then next shot was Jimmy hanging the pudding (now in a cloth) from a hook saying it was left to mature for several months. No mention of it being first steamed for hours before it got to that stage.

Liked the idea of 'grow your own Christmas', but it would have been good to see less of the bird (we would probably have to buy this anyway), and more of 'making the rest' ourselves, from baking the bread for the bread sauce, and for the stuffing (which would also use home-grown herbs). Maybe even how to make our own sausages. Certainly showing how easy it is to make cranberry sauce. Naturally those with gardens would grow our own spuds, sprouts, carrots and maybe even parsnips and/or peas.

The older I get, the more cynical I seem to become. It doesn't matter if the programmes are made to show us how to reduce our food budget, or grow-our-own, even how to make-do-and-mend, they all seem to have lost the plot. Barely skimming the surface. Maybe this is because the more recent generations haven't yet learned how to make anything themselves, and even sewing on a button is a disaster waiting to happen. Everything is simple once we have learned how, but we need more and MORE programmes to show the way. Even cookery programmes still use ingredients that many of have to go out specially to buy, and probably then can't really afford them. Seems that programme makers are probably paid enough for them not to have to worry about cost-cutting, or at least feel that reducing their food budget of (possibly) £200 a week (this usually includes things like smoked salmon and booze) by (say) £50 will be enough to bring it down to what they consider to be poverty level and able to be achieved by even those on benefits. Or am I being cynical again.

One recipe today - being reminded of the 'bubble and squeak with crispy bacon in a bap' as eaten with pleasure by the TV presenter at Borough Market, though you might like a different version of the B & S. Comes under very cheap food. So why not?

Bubble and Squeak is usually made from left-over mashed potatoes and cooked sprouts mixed together then fried (trad. served on Boxing Day with cold turkey). This is not a million miles away from 'Champ' (recipe below) or 'Colcannon' (this being similar as it has added cooked cabbage). Use the recipe below as a 'base' then add cooked, shredded greens that you may have left over. Once cooked it can be served (as mentioned above) with crispy bacon (or cooked sausage) in a bap to eat at the wander.

Myself find the easiest way to make mashed potatoes is cook large potatoes in the microwave (as for 'jackets), then slice in half and scoop out the flesh. This mashes easily with normally no lumps. The empty shells can either be brushed with butter then crisped up in the oven to cut up to dunk into dips, or can be filled and reheated (freeze the shells if not using that day).
The mashed potatoes in 'Champ' will end up 'softish' as intended to be served piled in a dish (sometimes with melted butter poured on top) for everyone to help themselves. If intending to add greens, it can still be served in this way, but if wishing to fry the combination then use only enough milk to make the potatoes soft enough to combine with the other ingredients.
Naturally adding a good helping of shredded 'greens' this will make a larger amount so end up serving more than four.

Mustard Champ: serves 4
2 lb (1kg) floury potatoes, cooked (see above)
1 big bunch spring onions, sliced (incl the green parts)
2 oz (50g) butter
6 fl oz (180ml) hot milk
1 - 2 tblsp wholegrain mustard
Put half the butter in a frying pan and fry the onions for a couple of minutes until soft. Heat the remaining butter with the milk then pour this over the potatoes, add the mustard and mash together, then fold in the onions.
This eats well as a side 'veg' with gammon or fish.

That's it for today. Let's hope that you all manage to cope with the bad weather we're getting at the moment. Above all, keep warm, keep happy. Hope to meet up with you all again tomorrow - may be later as it will be Norma the Hair day, and she arrives at 9.00am. But be assured (as long as the comp doesn't throw a wobbly), I will be back!