Friday, December 16, 2011

Role Playing

From comments sent in since yesterday's posting, it sounds as though several of you have been reorganising your cupboard space/larder shelves/freezers. Possibly coincidental, for coming up to Christmas most of us do have to find (a) food we are short of, and (b) then find more space to put it.

Although very untidy and disorganised around the rest of our home, in the kitchen I do like to have a place for everything and everything in its place. It wastes so much time hunting for something. We have to face the fact that (some) cooking DOES take time, and one reason why I do as much advance prep. as possible (bagging up flour, sugar, fats etc in bags of 4oz/100g each), making boxes of crumble mix, scone mix, pastry mix. Also boxes of grated cheese and ice-cube trays full of tomato puree (once frozen put into a box), also 'cubes' of frozen fresh herbs.
It's taken me about 50 years of cooking to see the sense of doing all that, but at my time of life prefer to get the laborious side of cooking over as quickly as possible. Most things are now done sitting at the kitchen table, and I even draw up a chair to sit on instead of 'standing' over a risotto for the continuous stir (for 20 minutes). Sometimes even sit down to do the washing up!

Anyway - having cans/packets/bottles in my larder lined up in order means that I instantly know when I'm 'running short'. Even the numerous cans of baked beans are in order of brand. Cans of chopped tomatoes and plum tomatoes (usually bought in four-packs when on offer) stand side by side (or one on top of the other) but still keep chopped and plum separate (but on the same shelf, side-by-side), for in the past have often picked up a can of 'plum' when I intended it to be 'chopped'. Not that it matters - easy enough to chop the 'plum'.
A quirky side of my nature is that I love role playing. So often treat my larder as my 'grocers shop', and in the new year - when my major challenge always begins - can role play both 'grocer' and 'customer'. There have been years when I've gone as far as to trot into the larder (or fridge/freezer) with a grocery list and a basket and do a bit of 'self-service', then work out how much I've 'spent', and write it in the book where I jot down my 'housekeeping' expenses, and sometimes have even put the cash into the 'grocer's till' (aka jam jar). Can't always remember how much everything cost when bought, although I do keep all my Tesco and DR statements/receipts. As well as any other that B might bring from (say) Morrisons.

Perhaps I should go back to my old trick of writing on each product the price paid for it. Makes sense if we are thinking of aiming to 'make a meal for £1' or some such challenge. Yes, from now on will do that. It will also help to show how much prices rise (or fall ha,ha,) during the next twelve months, and it will be fun to put real money into the 'till' (this then spent later to replace products used).

Have sent an on-line order to Tesco to be delivered next Wednesday (later in the week all the delivery slots were taken). Have to remove some items today (and add a few others) because I've gone over my budget (as usual). Mind you - seeing that Lurkpak was on offer (2 packs for £2) ordered loads. It is B's favourite, although he is happy with Tesco's own brand (normally cheapest) but at the moment that is still £1.19 pack, so Lurpak it will be (buying this brand 'in bulk' will save me over £2, and as half the butter will be put into the freezer, including ALL the unsalted Lurpak (bought for baking etc) it should last a long time.

It has occured to me that it might be a good idea to then 'buy' the Lurpak (£1) from myself at the normal Tesco butter price (£1.19p) , so I end up with a bit of 'profit'.

If the news in the trade mag was correct, we should see all imported butter coming down in price over the next few months, so by the time the Lurpak is used up, then hopefully will be able to pay less than I've been forced to do recently. When I tell you that B can work his way through 2lbs butter a week, you will see it can make a dent in the budget. But he loves butter, and it appears not to harm his cholesterol, so why shouldn't he have what he wants?

Hope you read this in time - those of you who missed Superscrimpers Christmas - as believe it is being repeated today - late morning, noon (Channel 4). If you have Freeview, then you can watch it an hour later (Freeview 13). Think I'll watch it again. Love programmes like that.

Thanks Eileen for your tip on using the top leaves from the Brussels sprouts stalk. If anyone else has a similar 'stalk' and keeps chickens, the birds love it hung up in their run so they can peck at it.
Do you buy your blank cards in Morecambe, or on the Internet? Wasn't quite clear, but I must get some myself. Hope to meet up with you in a few days to have a pre-Christmas coffee and chat. Give me a ring and we'll fix a date.

Your comment really concerned me Lynn. I cannot bear the thought of anyone worrying about their finances, especially not the 'culinary' ones. It is surprising how little we need to spend to eat healthily. Most people don't like to let on (via the comment box, for then everyone reads it)how much - or little - they have to spend on food, but be assured if I can give recipes for foods/ingredients that you might like to use (because they are very cheap), but not sure how to, then all you have to do is ask.

Loved hearing about your church group with its 'meal swap' and 'pantry swap' Lisa. Watching yesterday's episode on the Amish, felt so sad that I couldn't belong to a community like that. I asked B if he'd like to live that way and he said he certainly wouldn't. But it is so very true what they say, you don't need money to be happy. B is one of those what wants more than he has, and when he has it he is still not happy. He always seems to feel that all his friends (and neighbours) have a better life than he has, but then they probably have saved their 'disposable' money and he never did. Trouble is with B he can spend, spend, spend and end up with nothing to show for it, yet even what he has he seems never thankful But if we were all the same, life would be a bit boring. I'm fortunate in that I can find more happiness by 'making do', than if I had an extra £1 to spend.
Mind you was quite thrilled when I found a 50p coin on a larder shelf when 'tidying up' yesterday. Short lived as I then saw it was an Irish £1 ('punt'). Is that now obsolete since they changed to the euro's? Or maybe it could still be spent in Northern Island (Ulster).

The Mennonite branch of the Amish was featured in yesterday's programme, and this was the branch I liked the most, with its slightly more relaxed approach to life. Although their clothes are home-stitched and all the same design (dress with an apron for women and the usual head-cap as worn by all the Amish ladies) at least they used very modern sewing machines. Though still not using cars, they were able to use tractors for farm use, and their horse-drawn buggies had lights (one very well lit with flashing lights and even some type of electronic gadget inside).

Unfortunately, the programme made me realise how 'alone' I am. Not that I mind too much, as perhaps being an only child with a mother who did not approve of me mixing with local children, I sort of grew up having to find my own amusements. It was only school where I was able to meet others, but was not encouraged to bring them home to 'play with'. When I changed school in my teens I was at last able to have a few 'close' friends (that my mother approved of).

Most of my life has felt 'solitary', even once married and with four children, it wasn't quite the same as being about to 'go out' and meet friends. To my family I was always 'mum', and felt I'd completely lost my independence.
The TV series got me out and about (demos, book-signings and doing 'live' TV and radio), and though I thoroughly enjoyed meeting people, but again these were just 'ships that passed in the night'. My home life was still solitary. True I had B, but then he's always preferred to 'do his own thing' without me casting a shadow over his exploits. He is not interested in what I do and is not one for conversation.
Maybe that is a good thing, for my neighbour has a husband who - apparently - loves chatting to her non-stop and it drives her mad.
Playing bridge was probably the high-light of my 'social life', as then I gathered many (bridge) friends and spent a good 15 years with many of them, playing bridge. Even went on (a bridge) holiday to Tunisia with one.

Normally am completely happy with my own company, it's just when watching a prog. about a community like the Amish that shows me what I've been missing. After Christmas am going to try to join up with some charity where I can get out and about and meet people as well as doing something useful.

I crossed my mind yesterday that I could just go to church and join in with that community, but as the reason would be more selfish than religious don't feel that would be right. Just have to face the fact that my time is perhaps better spent alone (years of that have at least given me the chance to learn a heck of a lot), than perhaps 'waste' it cavorting on a cruise ship or something.

Don't I sound sad? Well, I'm not, it's just that sometimes I feel a bit wistful when I see how happy a community can be living the simple life and just wish I was part of it. Think it is the hard work they do with the sense of achievement that appeals to me. Are there any Amish communities outside of America? Never heard of any in Britain.

By the way Lisa, what are 'can cozies' (the only 'cosy' -that's the English spelling - is the one we put over our tea-pots, although there are wee ones to put over a freshly boiled egg sitting in it's egg-cup - does anyone do that)? Just cannot visualise anyone needing to put a knitted or quilted cover over a can of Heinz beans.
Your 'cracker toffee' is probably the one made with boiling sugar that froths up when bicarbonate of sugar is added, then - when instantly poured onto a lined baking tray - it spreads (still frothing) then sets rock hard. We call this 'Cinder Toffee' and it is usually made to hand around on Guy Fawkes night (Nov. 5th - Fireworks Night).

The way I store fresh ginger Alison is to wrap the root in cling-film (or in a bag) and store it in the freezer. When I need some I then grate the frozen root (the skin usually stays the 'right' side of the grater'), then re-wrap and put it back in the freezer.
Lemons store for a goodly length of time when individually wrapped tightly in cling-film and stored in the fridge (I keep mine in my veggie drawer), they need to be checked from time to time as eventually they will soften and if left for months can turn mouldy. Certainly they will store for weeks/months longer than if kept in a fruit bowl where they soon dry up.

If lemons are 'on offer' or seasonally low in price, then I buy a dozen or so at a time, grate the zest from some (storing this in ice-cube trays), squeeze the juice (also store this in ice-cube trays or small containers) then keep both in the freezer. Always make sure to label the juice for once frozen it looks exactly the same as apple puree, chicken stock, egg whites... as I've found to my cost when thawing out a cube. Not wasted, just annoying.

At this time of year (can be done other times too of course) am now bagging up all the leftover orange and lemon peel and storing this in the freezer, for my plan is - the new year - to make my own candied peel. This will keep well, and will see the start of my 'be my own manufacturer' (another role I play), for the year ahead.

Just love 'role-playing' for can lose myself in the moment and believe I'm someone I'm not. Wearing the right apron (doesn't work with all of them) I can role-play 'chef'. In early spring will certainly be role-playing 'fresh produce producer' when I sow my seeds and grow crops (even if only on the windowsill). Obviously 'grocer' and 'customer' will be played to the hilt, and maybe, just MAYBE I can bring myself to play 'cleaning lady'.
The latter actually does work well, and remember how I used to go out of my front door, then come in through the back, remove my coat, put on my 'Hilda Ogden' apron, and set about scrubbing, dusting, hoovering and polishing until noon. Then put on my coat, went out through the back door, in through the front, handing myself a £1 note (pre-decimal days) from left hand to right, as 'my wages'. And that money was all mine!!!

Most work is done well when we can concentrate only on the job in hand. Trouble is - with me - my mind flits from one thing to another, and good intentions are often (usually) forgotten until too late. Role playing does mean an hour or two of solid work on 'the job in hand', and it's surprising how much work can be achieved in that time.

Many years ago decided to write down how long it took me to do each 'chore' throughout the day. Normally didn't do all that should have been done, but that day I was determined to work through without being distracted. The list began with something like '6.30 am - get up, wash dress... 7.00am. prepare breakfast. 7.30am. make sure all family is up and ready to eat breakfast at 7.45am. Then see off to school/work. 8.30am, do the washing up. 8.45am - go up and make the beds and put laundry on landing to bring down to wash. 9.00am. Tidy/clean bathroom and loo. 9.15am. Go down and begin tidying living room.....and so on and so forth.
Because I had almost 'tunnel vision' with every chore, was not at all distracted and was even able to allow myself a 15 minute break for 'elevenses' (coffee and biscuit), and a full hour for lunch. Think all the house managed to be done and dusted in just one day - with time also to take the dog for a walk, do the shopping and prepare the evening meal. On a fine day, gardening would also be done. Final chore was the washing up of supper pots and around 7.00pm was able to sit down and put my feet up (although probably then was knitting or sewing or reading - and, of course, watching some TV).
Those were the days. Today am lucky to find time to make B's supper. Watch far too much TV, and nod off a great deal once sitting in my chair. All to do with growing old I suppose. Or am I just lazy? Don't answer that!

My thoughts are now returning to my grocery order. Other than the butter, the main items 'for storage' are canned sardines, beans, coffee. The usual 3 x 4pints containers of milk, plus a six-pack of UHT semi-skimmed for when that runs out. Eggs normally store well in the fridge, so will buy extra to last at least a few weeks. Fresh fruit will be plenty of oranges/clementines, eating apples, grapes, kiwi fruit and just one hand of 'keep me' bananas (these don't keep too well). Am buying a gammon to cook, chill/slice eat 'n freeze, extra bacon and sausages (the latter will be frozen). Carrots, celery, and onions are also needed (but all keep well), plus beetroot (fresh and vacuum packed), parsnips, small and large potatoes. Foods that can be (or are) frozen will be short-crust and puff pastry, oven-chips. Also buying paracetamol and ibuprofen, and some cleaning products. Not a lot else other than cheese.
Hardly Christmas fare, but then I've already got what I need. Even cream (long-life). Anything 'missing' is something that can be home-made anyway. Well, I do need to find something 'useful' to keep doing. Can't wait until Christmas is over (even before January 1st) when I can really start to 'made do'. It is always so much fun. No doubt everything I do will be written up day by day - even the disasters (don't hold your breath as I don't do disasters, just turn them into something good).

Each day is becoming busier and busier as I'm gearing myself up for several weeks (hopefully months) of not needing to spend any money shopping for food. Am hoping that readers will also take up this challenge and together we can work side-by-side and regularly report back our highs and lows (but there won't be any lows will there).

Here is a recipe that uses ingredients we should have in store. Any type of small cooked bean can be used (haricot, borlotti, cannellini, pinto, etc), and as the recipe also uses canned chopped tomatoes, see no reason why baked beans could not be used (as these are beans plus tomato sauce). If you choose to do this, you could omit the passata. Ideally, use left-over cooked pasta which can be any shape, white or whole-grain or a mix. If you have none left-over, cook 4 oz/100g dried pasta from scratch. Easily extended, this dish comes under 'superhealthy' (that makes a change) and very easy to 'throw together'.

Beans and Pasta: serves 4
1 tblsp sunflower oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 large apple, cored and chopped
1 x 410g can chopped tomatoes
pinch dried mixed herbs
1 x 300ml carton passata (see above)
1 x 290g can borlotti beans (see above)
3 tblsp red or green pesto
7 oz (300g) left-over cooked pasta (see above)
Fry the onion in the oil for 3 minutes, then stir in the garlic and apple and cook for a couple or so minutes longer until both the onion and apple have softened, then stir in the tomatoes, passata, dried herbs and beans (if using baked beans add the whole can, if using other beans, drain and rinse before adding to the pan).
Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, then fold in the pesto and the cooked pasta and simmer for a couple of minutes more until the pasta has heated through. Serve in bowls with crusty bread to mop up the sauce.

Myself am very fond of using pesto as cooked pasta with a good dollop of pesto stirred in makes a very simple but tasty lunch/supper dish. Normally buy mine ready-made in a jar, but think it is time now (and certainly will be in the new year) to start making my own. This is a useful way to use up the ends of a bag of mixed rocket, watercress and baby spinach leaves - just whizz the lot up together with the rest of the ingredients. Use the recipes below as a guide, then make up your own version. If you wish to make red pesto then blitz sun-dried tomatoes into the 'basic' mix and omit most of 'the greens'.
Instea of pine nuts use almonds or other nuts. It's all a matter of personal taste.
Tip: whether home-made or bought pesto, once the jar is opened and some of the pesto has been used, always level the surface inside the jar, and cover with a thin layer of olive oil. This keeps away the air and helps prevent it turning mouldy. This way the pesto should keep for at least a week in the fridge.

(Hey! It's begun to snow, wish you could see the big smile that has appeared on my face. Who would believe the onset of bad weather would cheer me up so much.)

'Classic' Pesto:
2 oz (50g) pine nuts
2 oz (50g) Parmesan cheese, roughly grated
2 cloves garlic, peeled
3 oz (75g) fresh basil (leaves and stalks)
5 fl oz (150ml) olive oil
salt and pepper
Toast the pine nuts in a dry frying pan over low heat until golden, keep moving them around or tossing (can never quite get the hang of tossing, tend to toss things out of the pan which is not a good idea), until golden. Make sure they don't burn. Then put the nuts in a food processor/blender with all the other ingredients and blitz until smooth. Taste, and if you feel it needs it, add a little salt and pepper.
Spoon into small sterilized jars, and cover surface with a thin layer of oil before placing on the lid (this helps the pasta store longer), then keep in the fridge.
variation: use wilted baby spinach leaves instead of basil, feta instead of Parmesan, and add a pinch of freshly ground nutmeg with the seasoning.

(Huge flakes of snow, the lawn is almost covered).

Walnut Pesto:
1 clove garlic, peeled
6 oz (175g) walnut pieces
handful basil (leaves and stalks)
4 oz (100g) Parmesan cheese, grated
2 oz (50g) butter
4 tblsp extra v. olive oil
seasoning to taste
Start by blitzing the garlic and walnuts together until finely chopped, then add the other ingredient and give short pluses until as smooth as you wish (nice if left a little bit 'grainy').

(Flip, the snow has just about stopped. Yah, boo! Still enough on the lawn to look as though an angel with a coarse sieve has sifted over icing sugar. Let us hope it doesn't thaw and we get more snow, B has just come in and told me the weather is set to get worse. Yippee!)

Back to pesto. This is basically a coarse green sauce, classically made with basil (recipe above) but another green herb could be used instead such as mint, parsley, even rocket leaves.... also can be made with green peas, double-shelled broad beans. It's the Parmesan, garlic and olive oil that are almost 'essential', even then the cheese could be another hard cheese finely grated (or even Feta cheese). As always, a matter of experimenting (and using up what we have!!).

Instead of pesto, a freshly made 'salsa verde' can be folded into either hot or cold pasta to make another quick meal. Ideally the parsley should be 'flat-leaf', but if you have only the 'curly', then that will have to do. It is always worth growin both, and the flat-leaf grows far more rapidly than does the curly, although the curly keeps growing as it s cut, and the flat-leaf needs using and then re-sowing over the months to keep a regular supply.

Salsa Verde:
1 big bunch parsley (see above)
1 clove garlic, crushed
zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 tblsp chopped capers
3 tlsp extra v. olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Chop the parsley and put into a bowl with the other ingredients and mix well together. Add dollops to hot or cold cooked pasta and toss (or gently fold) together.

Have planned (hopefully) to get a lot done today, so will take my leave of you, hoping the weather in your area is not too unpleasant. Please join me again tomorrow, and keep those comments coming!