Tuesday, December 27, 2011

No Time Like the Present - to Begin!

A thank to all who wrote in with Christmas Greetings. Hope you all had a lovely couple of days. It was lovely to have a Christmas meal cooked FOR me - the first time in over half a century!

Christmas mid-morning Beloved said he was taking me out for 'a surprise' before we left to go to our daughter's house. Had no idea what it would be, so quite exciting. We drove for a while and ended up on the road going to Sunderland Point - this being a strip of land that 'points' out to the sea, and is reached by a causeway. When the tides are at their highest, the middle of the road is covered by sea-water, but usually only a foot or so in the hollows, and within half an hour of the tide changing the road is clear again. Not so on Christmas Day, couldn't believe what I saw, nothing but sea. The causeway completely covered, not just the bit in the middle, but ALL of it. Almost reaching up to the end of the road that runs on to meet the causeway. The tide must have been over 15ft at least. And still not at its peak. Just hope anyone visiting those who lived in the houses at Sunderland Point - any visitors joining them in their Christmas meal - were already settled in for it would be several hours before the tide was low enough to be safe to drive over the causeway.

We had a lovely meal at my daughter's, she had made some party crowns for us to wear - they were so good that we brought ours home and I'll be taking a photo of them to show you, for this is something we could all do for next year. Just don't throw any festive cards, wrappings away until I explain 'how to'.

Most of the rest of Christmas has been spent in front of the TV, although most mornings you would have found me in the larder rearranging the food products in there. It's just about ready to take a photo - which I hope to do today - then you can see what there is in there. Certainly enough to keep us going for a good three months, probably six months, and if we were really having to be frugal, some products would last a year (or more).

The choice now is either I make the food last as long as possible (frugal food), or just eat as we would normally (B stuffing his face with all sorts of goodies). Think the latter appeals to me as then it will prove that we can all eat well making the most of what we have, rather than just 'making ends meet'. After several weeks, no doubt the supplies will be running down, especially of the fresh products (veggies etc) so different dishes will then be cooked. Eventually some fresh foods will need replacing, but we will cross that bridge when we come to it.

The temptation is to wait until 1st January before the challenge begins, but really it should start immediately after Christmas Day for there is no reason to wait as all foods had now been bought with no need to buy further for (hopefully) weeks, so they had to be started some time.

Yesterday made Beloved (who wanted a light meal due to the amount he ate the previous day) a prawn cocktail (in a slightly larger bowl than normal). Served this with a 'Bloody Mary' (tomato juice, W.sauce, Tabasco, celery salt and vodka, plus a leafy celery stalk to stir it with). For 'afters' he had some hot mince pies with cream, followed by trifle, and later he made himself some cheese on toast, and finished up the remaining sweets (from the bowl that I'd saved for New Year). Myself also had a B.M. and a salad with some Spam (am I the only one who likes Spam?). Oh yes, also had an orange and a clementine.

One of the first things I'll be doing is making candied peel from the citrus rind (orange, lemon and clementines). Should have enough to last the full year ahead. Will also be making some mincemeat ready for next Christmas. No time like the present to think to the future!

Am now starting to write down little tips as I do them (would forget to tell you otherwise). One was re a just emptied double cream tub. Always a little cream left stuck to the sides, and normally I would throw the tub away, but this time let it stand for a bit, and there was a good two teaspoons of cream that had drained back down - and still some on the sides - so filled the tub half-full with milk and gave it a good stir round, then we used to during the day when we made coffee. MUCH nicer than made with our normal semi-skimmed milk. We could beat up eggs into the cream tub to gather up the remaining cream and then use this to make either a quiche or scrambled egg or even an omelette. Adding even such a small amount of cream can 'lift' a dish to almost (or as I like to believe) gourmet level, rather than just bog-standard.

When sorting my larder shelves, decided to break up the block of dark cooking chocolate that I'd been collecting, and filled a large (empty) coffee jar with them . Each block had an internal wrapping of paper that was gold on one side, so these have been saved and put into a large envelope with other gold (and silver) wrappings and will be used to make more Christmas decorations or used for wrapping a small gift etc.

We will be having our 'turkey dinner' this coming Thursday when our daughter visits us, but as already have all the 'makings' in the fridge/freezer etc, this will not cause me extra expense. After all, it's only the sort of meal I'd be making anyway, plus one extra portion.

When I look at all my stores, can't believe it has been so simple to gather so much. The trick is to not always buy the same foods each time we shop, just buy the 'necessary' (usually fresh foods) and when it comes to the 'dry goods' buy something different each time. Maybe pasta one trip, rice another, or couscous, pearl barley, lentils etc. We rarely use a whole pack of anything in a month, so eventually end up with small amounts left of a lot of things. It is then I start all over again 'topping up', and at the end of a shopping year, end up with a wide variety.

Shopping on-line makes it even easier, for often find there is so much money left from my budget (after ordering the essentials) I can afford to spend £5 more buying (say) ten different items (usually on offer) to add to my 'collection'. The more I have in the larder the chances are I need to spend less the next time, this giving me another £5 to spend on 'stocking up'.

Thanks for your comments, Athyn seems a new name, so very welcome. Her difficulties having no fridge/washing machine bothered me somewhat. Had to blow away the moths from my memories to remind me how I coped when I was younger (three children under three years old, no washing machine, no fridge!). Washing was done in a large pan on the hob, then had to be rinsed in the sink, and wrung out by hand. The best way to wring out sheets is for someone else to hold one end, then twist the sheets round into a tight rope, this wrings out a lot of water. We had to drape the sheets, clothes etc, over a clothes airer in our living room (the only warm room in the house - we had no central heating), if too wet/frosty to hang them outside to blow dry.

We used to keep butter, milk and other foods cool by soaking a tea-towel in water, giving it a bit of wring out, but still keep it very damp, then hang this over our milk bottles/butter dishes, the ends of the towels tucked into a dish of water. The summer heat evaporated the moisture from the towel - when then soaked up more water from the dish - and this caused a drop in temperature, enough to keep cool what was underneath

My thoughts re having to pay a substantial amount on bus fares and launderette bills, when not having a washing machine gave me an idea. Possibly there are neighbours who do have a washing machine but strapped for cash. They would almost certainly be grateful to wash a load for someone if they got paid a small amount in return. A card in a post-office window asking for someone to do laundry would almost certainly come up with a speedy reply, and it would work out far cheaper than the other costs mentioned above. The money then saved could be collected and then this could pay for a washing machine or fridge. Sometimes these can be rented, which again may work our the cheapest way to get the job done.

A welcome back to Julie and to Christine. It is always good to hear from all those who used to send in comments, but haven't recently, then we know you haven't wandered off to pastures new (not that I'd blame you considering some of the drivel I write).

Thanks Les for the weights and measures. Am still not sure you understand what I was getting at. Of course I know the oz/ml, g/cl comparison, what can be confusing is that novice cooks could believe that weights are the same as measurement by volume. Only liquid weights (oz)are the same as the liquid measure (fl oz). The American 'cup' measurement of 8 fl oz, hardly ever holds the same weight of a 'solid' ingredient (flour, sugar, pearl barley, dried beans....) all these being varying weights for the same 'volume'.

It always interests me how so many male chefs are very exact with their measurements. We see their electronic scales weighing to the exact amount (no more, no less). and the same when they use their electronic thermometers. Is it really that important? Women, especially when more experienced, tend to just 'throw' things in, and still it works.

All the latest culinary 'gadgets' and 'appliances' are much favoured by male chefs (the sous-vide) for example, who are - by nature - more mechanically minded than us females. But it has always been proved that however good the equipment we have this does not make anyone a better cook.
If we gave someone a box of paints, an easel, a set of good paintbrushes and a guide book, then asked them to sit and paint a portrait or a landscape, would this mean they could then produce a masterpiece? Of course not. The same goes with cooks. We have only to watch 'Great British Bake-off' to see how the same ingredients and recipes - when given to a handful of cooks - who then work alongside each other, no one ends up with something identical. It should be, but it never is. Some people just seem to have the magic touch when it comes to cooking, as I know to my cost. Even this weekend nearly fainted at the taste and texture of the pastry my daughter made. It was absolutely GORGEOUS. Another daughter of mine makes superb pastry, as did my mother, yet mine is the nearest thing to cardboard you'll get, even when I make it exactly the same way.

I've known quite a few cooks who have learned the trade at well-known catering colleges. They know everything there is to know about the 'scientific' side of cooking, but they still can't cook a decent meal.
So - anyone who hasn't all the 'necessary' - don't be disheartened. Just enjoy cooking and very soon you'll find you are a far better cook than many who are knee deep in gadgets, but will always be shallow in ability.

Have I ever squashed roast spuds for B? Can't remember doing so, but he does like 'crusty'. However Cheesepare, did see Jamie O squashing his roasties, and might try doing the same this Thursday. To get a good crunchy roast spud it's best to rough up the surface of the par-boiled spuds before putting them into very hot fat. Easiest way is to drain the spuds in the colander, let them steam for a minute or two, then toss in the colander, this helps to flake the outsides a bit. You could also run the tines of a fork along the surface of the spuds to 'roughen them up. Alternatively, toss the spuds in a little semolina or cornmeal, or even plain flour - this will also 'crust up' the outsides of the spuds as they roast.

Your query Karen re comparison pricing of bought lasagna v home-make got me immediately interested, so I began today by looking up the price of a bought 'ready-meal' on Tesco's website.
Again we have the difficulty of deciding which ready-meal to compare with. A home-made version should be certainly as good as one of the most expensive on sale, but might cost a wee bit more than the cheapest 'ready' (which is not worth buying/eating anyway).
Just for interest (and comparison), a Beef Lasagna is on sale for £2.10p (400g), the cheaper version (same weight) costing just £1. Am assuming each should serve two, although possibly only one. So - using more meat than either shown on above packs - we would probably be able to make a much better lasagna for no more cost than the cheapest, and certainly enough to feed two.

The way I'd go about making an 'inexpensive' home-made lasagna is to first buy the Value pasta sheets (39p), usually enough in a pack to make several meals (meals not portions). So only a few pence there.
Next I would use a cheap brand of chopped tomatoes, boiling them down to reduce if wishing for a stronger tomato flavour (or add a teaspoon of tomato paste or good dollop of ketchup t0 give boost). You can add extra flavour by adding a pinch of dried herbs and/or a little fried onion.
If meat is to be the 'main' ingredient in the dish, then use less (next time in the supermarket read on the back of the pack the percentage of meat they use - you will be shocked how low it is), and make up the shortfall by using more finely diced carrots, onions and celery.
Start with some tomato 'sauce' in the bottom of an ovenproof dish, place on a layer of pasta, top with your meat mixture, more sauce, more lasagna, then repeat, finishing with pasta. Cover with a topping of white sauce (made with flour, milk, butter, seasoning to taste) and grated cheese sprinkled over.
Some cooks put layers of the white sauce between the pasta sheets instead of the tomato sauce, and some place tomato sauce over the final pasta instead of the white sauce, so we have plenty of ways to assemble this dish.

Final note on this - we can use minced cooked beef/turkey/chicken when making lasagna (or spag bol meat sauce - which is virtually the same filling for lasagna as when served with pasta in the normal way), or we could use a veggie filling, the mose usual one being spinach and ricotta (or curd cheese). We could even use a 'Beanfeast' Spag.bol mix - this would probably make enough to make 3 lasagna.

Not sure what the main meal today will be. Perhaps B can be persuaded to eat another Pukka Pie from the freezer (they can be cooked from frozen or thawed first). as do need plenty of room in the freezer to begin storing more of my made-in-bulk meals. What comes from the larder (curry sauces etc) and also from the freezer (meat etc) eventually ends up (after cooking) back in the freezer again, taking up even more room than that lost when just the meat was removed. Is there no end to juggling for space here there and everywhere?

Also today hope to make a start on the candied peel (this could be on-going over the next month - large oranges then being at their best). Also make some more cake (heavy fruit and a lighter sponge), plus a cheese quiche, and maybe even biscuits. Don't let it ever be said that because Shirley has stopped shopping, she won't now be putting good(e) food on the table. It's usually the other way round. Meals will be even BETTER just to prove it is possible.
OK, if the supplies do run out sooner than expected, at least should have saved AT LEAST one month's food budget, maybe two. More than enough to stock up again, with money left over. Well, that's the aim anyway.

So follow my example and don't cut down, don't cut out. Make good meals but aim to use ingredients we have in store that we don't normally use. This makes the rest last that bit longer, and gets rid of any excess we may have. Each day I'll try to make 'something new' or use a different food product, then report back. Hope you'll do the same.

Am not making this dish today (possibly will later) but for those of you who have some ham, (pref-home cooked) and 'greens' left over from last weekend, you might like to give this a try. Basically this is a stir-fry suitable for a brunch, lunch or supper dish. You could use turkey instead of ham if you wish (or both). The shredded 'greens' could be cabbage, kale, sprouts, Chinese leaves, broccoli, Little Gem lettuce etc. or mixture of any. If you haven't spring onions, use shallot or half onion/leek. By including other vegetables (mangetout or frozen garden peas, string beans, left-over cooked carrots cut into strips, strips of bell pepper etc) it can make an extra portion (or two). If no chilli sauce, use tomato ketchup with or without a dash of Tabasco, and if serving more people add more of this 'liquid' addition.

'Wok' around the Clock: serves 2
1 tblsp olive oil
1 lb (450g) shredded 'greens'
half bunch spring onions, shredded
1 tblsp water
2 - 3 thick slices cooked ham, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely sliced
3 tblsp sweet chilli sauce
1 tblsp soy sauce
1 tblsp cider vinegar or wine vinegar
Put half the oil into a pre-heated (dry) wok, then swirl it around and immediately add the greens, onions and water. Stir-fry until the greens are wilted, the tip into a bowl and set aside.
Return the pan to the heat, add the remaining oil and when hot, add the garlic and ham. Stir-fry for one minute, the add the sweet chilli sauce, soy sauce and vinegar. Taste and add a little more of any of the three liquids if you wish for a stronger flavour. When heated through return the greens/onions to the pan, heat for a further minute, tossing to mix everything together. Serve with boiled or steamed rice, noodles etc.

Good heavens, in half an hour it will be noon. This time last year was probably the coldest on record (-18C), yesterday was the warmest Boxing Day on record (+12C). Thirty degrees C between the two. Personally wish it would snow. Makes me uneasy when the weather isn't as it should be.

We had no trad mag. delivered on Saturday In fact we have had no newspapers since then, the newsagents seems to be shut. B went to get some petrol and brought back a paper from the garage yesterday, so whether or not we get a paper today, B will have to pop into the newsagents (if open) to make sure we are not being charged for what we haven't had - and to see if my missing trade mag should have been delivered.

Must now get on and make the most of my 'free' time, busily working in the kitchen, bet I don't make half the things I had planned to do. Maybe even none. Tomorrow you will find out. Hope to see you then.