Monday, December 05, 2011

Trials and Tribs...

Aiming to finish yesterday's blog before Gill phoned me (for the full hour), only just managed to do so, but didn''t leave myself time to reply to yesterday's comments. Apologies for tht. This will be done today, together with those more recently sent.

Even before I begin the 'trade secrets' - have to mention that we MAY be in for some snow today. It has been forecast for this region, although 'those who live by the sea will probably not get any'. Still dark outside, but sleet is tapping away at our window and it is bitterly cold (in the room I'm in which has no central heating). Almost wish it would snow just because I enjoy seeing it, but then I'm safely indoors with no need to venture out. Others who still have to go out to work will think differently.

Also forgive me if my blogs are a bit erratic, maybe missing for a day (possibly not 'blogging' tomorrow, but have to wait until tomorrow comes before I know where I'll be at blogging time, all I can say is keep watching this space), suffice to say three of our children are causing me concern, one made redundant last spring and not yet managed to get employment, the other two with (possible) serious health problems, so my mind is more on them and I also have commitments of my own, although - having said that - it does help me to focus on something else (like my blog) for a couple of hours each day, and essential for me to save even more money for who knows what the future holds for all of us.

Yes, it is beginning to snow. The terrace outside the patio doors now has large lumps of 'sort-of' snow on it. The tapping on the window now sounds more like nails being thrown at it, and it looks like lumps of solid snow rather than just the softer flakes, too big for sleet and not really hail. Am very pleased am indoors and think I will switch the gas fire on in here for a short time - blow the expense. Why shouldn't I be comfortable?
Sorry - rambling again. Here follows this week's trade secrets....

First article to stop me in my tracks was about us 'consumers'. Apparently a 'study' has shown that, "Shoppers aren't the penny-pinchers they've been made out to be" and "despite reports that shoppers are reining in spending as the tough economic climate continues to bite" a research 'tracking' company interviewed more than 4,200 shoppers at supermarkets of 3,000 sq.ft to 25.000 sq,ft - incl. Asda, Co-op Group, and Waitrose, and found 63% had not bought anything on promotion,. Just 19% had bought one product on special offer, and a mere 13% bought two or more deals.
"Shoppers were also failing to use popular money-saving methods", the study found. "Some 79% claimed they didn't have a budget to stick to, 28% didn't use a loyalty card, and 97% did not use a voucher. The vast majority of shoppers also claimed they had no plans to change their shopping habits in the next 12 months - such as buying special offers and using vouchers".
All I can say is 'more fool them'. Sometimes feel that a lot of financial problems today are because many are just not sensible with money (and probably never have been - which has then led to the enormous debts on credit cards that many young folk -with families - still have). What happened to the golden rule "live within your means. If you can't afford it, then you shouldn't buy it".

The discount store Lidl has trademarked 'heat, eat and enjoy', leading to the probability that it will be launching its own range of ready-meals in the future. That possibly won't interest readers who prefer to home-cook their own 'readies' (then freeze them to heat n' eat later), it's this next bit written that is worth remembering (esp. if you fall by the wayside and buy a 'ready' now and again): "Ready meals deliver good profit margins at all price points,...". It is trade mag remember, so advice is for the stores - like make as much money from the consumer as you can.

Time perhaps for us to think of our culinary efforts as also being able to give us 'domestic chefs' a good 'profit margin' (aka 'savings') when we make our own ready meals. Have said it before but will say it again: the cost of the ingredients in a bought ready meal can be as low as one-fifth of the price we pay, as this also has to cover the cost of the packaging (the card, printing and photography, plastic sleeves whatever), as well as advertising. The supplier of ingredients has to make a profit, the manufacturer of the meal has to make profit, the store that sells the package has to make profit. We end up paying for a proportion of all, most of which is inedible.
This means that If we pay £2.50 for a ready meal, we just might be able to make the same for not much more than 50p. I can happen because I've done it. Usually it would cost us slightly more because we would use more of the main ingredient for one thing (meat/fish) but at least we would end up with a meal that is nutritionally WORTH the money.

Good bit of info coming up....
The food redistribution charity 'FairShare' has enough food for 1.2 million people after its recent Million Meals Appeal held at Sainsbury's supermarkets this last weekend (think that means now the weekend before last) when FairShare asked shoppers to donate store cupboard items to help feed the 700 charities it serves.
The shoppers who donated the food products (on their way out?), probably bought the extra cans or packages from the store whilst in there. I gladdens my heart to know how many people DO care. Trouble is, the cynical side of me is now wondering if Sainsbury's hearts are also gladdened by the extra sales they will have made, and can only hope they will donate the profits they made. Let us hope so. Almost certainly we will be told if they did - for that will prove to customers what a good kind store it is. But don't hold your breath.

An article about 'seasonal cuts (prices)' is more for the stores than for me - it's just about which of the major stores have done the best, but it seems to read that all prices have been raised since this time last year. The one thing worth knowing about is "...deli products have been the subject of price hikes since the beginning of the year, and frequent visitors to deli counters were amongst the hardest hit by food inflation this year - even after the slight drop in prices last month, prices remained 8% higher than last year".
"Asda shoppers should be particularly wary - the supermarket's good overall credentials on price (Asda often shown as the store that sells the 33 items in the shopping basket for the lowest total price) do not stretch to the deli counter, where products are 26% more expensive year-on-year".

A 'second opinion' article on Christmas puds makes interesting reading: "beware the ingredients in your shop bought pudding" (or should this 'be aware of' before you buy). "The long list of weird and distinctly un-wonderful ingredients that turn up in yule-tide cakes, pudding and pies. Delights such as 'gluten-free breadcrumbs', and their secondary ingredients of water, potato starch, maize, vegetable oil, guar gum, methylcellulose, salt and a dash of mono and diglycerides of fatty acids".

Those readers who feel they have played safe by making their own Christmas puds/cakes/mincemeat etc are still playing with fire, for the article continues by saying "anything with dried fruits is a haven for synthetic flavourings, colourings, preservatives, shelf life-extending humectants and various forms of glucose-fractose sugar, an ingredient increasingly linked to the obesity epidemic in the US." (Perhaps eating less burgers-in-buns- with-chips-on-the-side might be more likely to reduce the US obesity level).

The article goes on to say "You'll struggle to find a pie, cake or pudding made with freshly-shelled eggs, let alone liquid ones. It'll be pasteurised if you're lucky, a substance called 'dried egg albumen' if you're not. Even Heston uses dried egg in his mincemeat pies.
Be sure to go for 'all butter' items, otherwise you'll be chomping your way through margarine and vegetarian suet made with rapeseed and rain-forest depleting palm oil. Ethical ingredients go out of the window at Christmas." It continues: "I've often wondered why shop-bought Christmas offerings never taste quite right. For an explanation look no further than the ingredients you'd never use at home - such as citric acid and 'lemon juice concentrate'."
And the article finishes with "my home-made pudding, with organic raisins, sultanas and home-made candied orange peel, plump Agen prunes, a decent amount of pecans, freshly-cracked organic eggs, freshly squeezed orange juice, grated windfall apples, freshly ground spices, sourdough breadcrumbs and lashings of Somerset apple brandy - looks and smells fantastic. Call it cocky, but I'm cautiously confident that it will taste a whole lot better than anything I would buy".

Maybe the above 'home-made' version is a bit more expensive than we can afford, but the feature does give us food for thought, and maybe we would be wise to seriously consider some to the things said. It makes sense - when we eat oranges - to candy the peel ourselves (it can be frozen and dealt with later), use breadcrumbs from a home-made loaf, not bought one. Of course use freshly shelled eggs, and butter when we can afford it.
Am now 100% sure that my recurring facial swelling is due to some preservative or other additive in certain processed products. Seems that too much too often can cause a build-up over time and eventually our body will let us know in one way or the other - with me facial swelling or alternatively dyspepsia. Discovered that eating only home-cooked foods I have no problem whatsoever. Until another cuppa soup et al passes my lips - then hamster face again.

Readers (male or female) may be interested in this from the mag's 'letter page' regarding a Men From Mars, Women from Venus 'shopping seminar' held in London "highlighted just how influential women are in many areas considered male-dominated - electronics, automotive, financial and alcohol. Women account for 85% of consumer spend - and they have a major influence even when it's a man spending.
But when brands try and speak to them, they usually get it wrong. Ninety-one per cent of women say advertisers don't understand them. We have a long way to go in marketing before we can honestly say we understand female shoppers. Added to that, we need to recognise their importance in the categories we think men dominate".
This I found interesting, but at least with me have no control over what my B wishes to spend his money on. On the rare occasions I've tried to prove that something is not a good buy, he then waits until I'm away for a few days and then buys it. Like a car that I didn't trust (who would trust a service record that showed the mileage (at service) being always round figures (like 1,000 miles, 3,000 miles, 8,000 miles!! AND always serviced in Ireland!!!!!). B - while I wasn't looking, paid thousands for it from a dealer, then discovered it had been clocked and within a very few months was a write-off. We involved the police - the dealer was proved to sell clocked cars, and was found to be guilty on all counts m'lord. Not that we got any money - apparently 'our' submission was 'left on the books' for the next time, yet it was us who instigated the whole thing. Sometimes life is just not fair, even if B does need to learn a lesson.

New products keep coming on the market, and myself often wonder who thinks them up. One mentioned in the mag is United Biscuits new range of savouries called 'Oddities'. These new bite-sized biscuits come in an assorted mix of seven "unexpected shapes" (in my day these were called mis-shapes and thus sold cheaper!!) in two flavours: cheese, and smoky bacon. At least they contain no artificial colours or flavours. Nothing said about preservatives.
The reason for launching the above is that "there's almost no other snack that kids can enjoy, and mum feels OK about giving to them". Let's see what you think about the price: a multipack of five x 25g packs (rsp £1.75p = 35p per pack); 125g sharing packs (rsp £1.42 per pack = this equal in total weight of the previous pack but 35p cheaper overall); and 30g 'on the go' packs (59p). If we take one 25g pack (35p) add the extra 5g (7p) this comes to 42p - so why charge 17p more for the slightly larger pack? Maybe I've got my sums wrong, but it usually the case, when we are offered different sized packs or amount, the cost (per gram) can vary enormously, so we really should work it all out before we buy. And then don't buy anyway.

Sainsbury's has introduced a new range of apple and pear packs to its Local stores. Seems that in these stores they are getting rid of the normal packs sold in the supermarkets (incl. bags of fruit, loose fruit and plastic-wrapped trays), replacing them with a range of punnet-less flow-wrapped bags (what's flow-wrapped?) because "we know that our customers want to eat healthy food on the move".
Personally if I wanted to crunch on an apple or pear would prefer to buy loose ones. They'll end up in a bag anyway unless I refuse the bag and put the fruit in my pocket, this being much the best way as there would then be no wrapping to have to get rid of, 'flow-wrapped' or otherwise.

Several pages have been given over to the 'food of the week', this time cheeses. Requires more than just a 'speed-read' so will leave that until another day, and only if something useful comes to light. More often than not an article on a specific food is more about which brands consumers prefer and how to bring other brands more to the forefront.

Final page of the mag is given over to fairly light topics, although the seeming fact that Britain is now topping the European obesity leagues - our 'brave' girls leading the way. Now that we are so multi-cultural, and having myself seen many mul-cul 'tubbies', maybe a lot of it has to do with genes. But whatever, a quarter of British women (24% if you wish me to be accurate) are now deemed to be obese.
Mind you, it seems to be out 'body mass' that the doc works on when fixing the obesity level. It really shouldn't work like that, for all those hunky chunky male Rugby players have enough body mass to each to be medically called 'obese', which they are not. In my day extra weight was often due to having 'heavy bones' or 'big muscles'. With youngsters today growing ever taller (with extra flesh in proportion) each generation gets heavier.
Continuing: "Extra research makes interesting reading for advertisers. Apparently British women feel less guilty buying chocs when they're advertised by a fuller figure (Dawn French shown as an example). As am writing this before the watershed will not repeat what it goes on to say about the svelte glamour pusses advertising the chocolate 'Flake', other than that is the type of ad males prefer (to watch rather than buy I assume - so what's the point?).

Time now for me to reply to a couple of day's comments. Overall, not that many due to it being a weekend. Isn't that the time most of us are busy cooking? Who has time to sit and chat!

Thanks Ciao for telling us about the Latin for our pounds and pence (where does 'shilling' come from). Did know this as think we older ones were always taught this in school - along with other now-not-used measurement such as rods, poles and perches. Hundredweights and tons. Advoirdupois and the suchlike.
Always remember the first exercise book I was given. It had a red shiny soft card cover that had a sort of impressed wavy 'silk' pattern on it, I used to run my finger nail up it to scratch it. On the outside back cover was always printed all the different measurements, such as the above, possible 'times tables as well'. The cover was full of such 'facts' and very useful they were too.

Even a wedding costing £1,500 (as on the Penny Pinching prog) seems a lot to me Ceridwen. Suppose much depends on where the money goes. If a honeymoon abroad has to come from this budget, then perhaps it isn't expensive at all.
In times past, girls used to wear their mother's wedding gown - so it didn't cost anything. Today we can still make our own (but first learn how to sew and alter patterns). Wedding cakes really should be made at home AND iced (esp easy now the softer fondant icing is used). Even cheaper 'wedding cakes' are those tiers of cup-cakes that seem to have become popular, and even cheaper would be the French wedding 'cake' the 'croquembouche' - a cone of profiteroles.

There is the cost of the licence and the wedding venue, although it is possible to be married in other places than a church or registry office - even a hotel (but then this would cost more I suppose). A perfectly good 'reception' could be catered for by family members and held in a local hall (or even in a marquee in the garden if there is enough space.
Weddings should be a bit like Christmas. A reason for friends and family to get together, but not necessarily need cost a lot. In centuries past, especially in rural areas, the wedding ceremony was in the local church, the bride in a pretty dress (not necessarily white) with perhaps a circlet of flowers on her head, maybe not even a bouquet. From then everyone walked back to the brides (usually parent's) home, where food and drink was there ready for everyone to enjoy. Often dancing would be in the garden with a fiddler or a small group (usually a friend or friends) providing the music. After that the bride and groom would go off for a honeymoon (maybe not that far away) in a small carriage or floral bedecked farm cart pulled by horses. Now THAT'S what I call romantic. Who needs all the expensive trappings of today?

Agree with you Margie, there is far too much choice in the (food) stores today. There was never so much in my earlier years (just after wartime rationing finished) and we never seemed to feel deprived. Mind you, we were not then used to eating 'ethnic' meals, on the other hand can remember only about 8 varieties of biscuits on display (in special stands, each in its own tin with a glass lid, tilted so we could see what was inside. Three rows of three tins, the ninth tin holding a mixture of broken biscuits from the other tins. Now the supermarkets must display almost a hundred different packs of biscuits, although some are similar but different brands. Do we need all these? Maybe tastes differ, but generally each person or family is happy with the same three different sweet ones and two savoury ones.

Regarding TV seen in Canada (and the US). Our British soaps really do reflect the personalities and 'type' of people - also the way of life in the area they portray. Myself do not watch all the 'soaps', but Coronation Street is pretty true to way folk live in the 'northern' region, and Eastenders to that area of London. Emmerdale used to reflect the Yorkshire way of life, but as I haven't seen it for years (catching only the occasional episode) think it still gives a fair interpretation of life there, but not as good as formerly when it was more 'farm orientated'.

What you said about making plum jam Susan G - it then leaving more freezer space made me think a bit harder about what I keep in our freezer. Sometimes it does work if food can be removed, cooked and then either stored elsewhere, or just eaten. Unfortunately, I've found that when cooking meat in bulk, then making this up into 'ready-meals' to freeze, when it needs the addition of other cooked foods such as vegetables, or canned beans etc, the end product takes up more room than the meat did in the first place.
Perhaps too much room in our freezer is taken up by boxes of soft fruits which COULD be made into jam, but do like to have blackberries to add to apple pie, and other berries to make a 'summer pudding' or fruit pies, Perhaps it is the pleasure of being able to eat them 'out of season' that appeals, but it possibly would make more sense to turn them all into jam and eat fruits ONLY when they are in season. At least then we get the added pleasure of being able to look forward to them, this being denied us when we have them all year round.

Even though at home all day and can cook a meal when needed, even I get fed up of cooking from time to time and wish our freezer was stocked with meals that had been 'bought-in'. The simplest and very much the cheapest way is to make them myself )which I do now, but only when I have room in the freezer to store them). Perhaps now time for me to have another 'stock-take' of frozen food. Considering we bought the four-drawer freezer earlier this year in addition to the one in our Americal style fridge-freezer (to give me even more room to store frozen food), am wondering why I still don't have enough room. Possibly because I'm as bad at 'hoarding' frozen food as I am the food in my larder).freezer space. Of course I don't call it 'hoarding', to me it's 'back-up' plus a few extra 'just in case'.

Think we are all now aware that a well-stocked larder can help see us through when times are hard. Canny cooks can keep going without for weeks at a time without making any more purchases. With long-life milk, and enough flour to make bread, we really don't need much else. Maybe a few eggs, and many readers keep chickens!

With me my stores are my 'life-line' when the going gets tough (most of my life has been on the 'chewy' side). Now - with the recession - it's all making sense again. Bear this in mind.

Interested in your comment about fennel/aniseed Cheesepare. Recently have seen TV chefs cook fish using a flavouring of (say) Pernod. The flavour of liquorice (I love liquorice allsorts) and aniseed/fennel is very similar, and we have a bottle of Ouzo given as a gift which I don't care for as a drink, but it does have a very 'aniseedy' flavour and wonder if that could be used in a fish dish. Has anyone tried it? Have heard of liquorice-flavoured ice-cream, so perhaps I could add some Ouzo to my next batch of home-made. Hate to keep seeing a bottle of booze still sitting unused on my 'food-booze' shelf, especially if some could be used to 'lift' a cheap meal to (almost) gourmet level.

Will leave you today with a few 'store-cupboard' recipes. Not necessarily the cheapest dishes we could make but when we already have the necessary in the larder fridge, freezer or veggie rack, then why not use them?

Crispy Fishcakes with Beetroot: serves 4
1 lb (450g) mashed potato (could be 'Smash')
1 shallot, finely chopped
7 oz (200g) cooked beetroot, finely chopped
1 x 170g can salmon or tuna in brine, drainded
1 tblsp sunflower oil
Put the mashed spuds, chopped shallot and beetroot into a bowl and mix well together. Flake the fish and fold this into the mix. Divide into eight and form each into a rough ball, flattening each to make them into fishcakes.
Heat the oil in a pan and fry four 'cakes' at a time over fairly high heat. When the underside is brown and crispy, turn and cook until that side is also crusty brown. Drain on kitchen paper and keep warm whilst cooking the remaing four fishcakes. Good served with a salad of your choice.

Next dish uses sausages - these can be canned chipolatas, or the standard (thawed if frozen) and partially cooked, or could use left-over cooked sausages. Timing depends if the sausages need further cooking.
Sausage Stew: serves 4
1 tsp sunflower oil
4 large or 8 chipolata sausages
2 x 420g cans mixed beans, strained and rinsed
2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
1 tsp each dried basil and oregano OR...
...2 tsp dried mixed herbs
1 tblsp sugar
salt and pepper
Using a large frying pan, fry the sausages in the oil over high heat for 3 - 4 minutes to start browning them. Add the beans and chopped tomatoes, herbs, sugar and seasoning to taste. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, giving the occasional stir, until the sausages are cooked through and the sauce has thickened enough to coat the beans. Take the pan to the table to serve. Makes it easier.

Although this next dish uses leeks, we could use onion instead. Likewise we can leave out the bacon and instead add grilled mushrooms. Or why not use both? If you are a cook that thinks ahead (like months ahead) you will already have an ice-cube tray full of cubes of frozen red and white wine to use as required. If you haven't wine, then use a little lemon juice and chicken stock instead of the vegetable.
All I can do is give suggestions of what is useful to store/freeze - if you decide not to, then you will sometimes find you have to leave a very tasty ingredient out of some recipes.

Leek and Bacon Risotto: serves 2
1 tblsp olive or sunflower oil
2 leeks, sliced
6 sage leaves, shredded (0r pinch of dried)
6 oz (175g) risotto rice
glass white wine
14fl oz (400ml) hot vegetable stock
4 rashers streaky bacon
4 tblsp grated Parmesan cheese
pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the leeks and sage for a couple of minutes or until the leeks are beginning to soften. Stir in the rice so that the grains are coated in oil, cook for 1 minute then add the wine. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for about 12 or so minutes or until the rice is tender.
Meanwhile grill the bacon until crisp and golden, then drain on kitchen paper (it will crisp up even more as it cools). Turn out the heat from under the rice, stir in half the Parmesan and pepper. Serve on individual plates, sprinkling over the remaining cheese, and top each with a bacon rasher.

Final recipe today is more a side dish, enough to serve 5 - 6 with (maybe) cold cooked or grilled meats. Perfect summer picnic food, to serve with a barbecue, as well as eaten indoors any time of the year.
Lemon Rice with Peas: serves 5 - 6
10 oz (300g) basmatic rice (pref brown)
3 fl oz (75ml) olive oil
8 oz (225g) frozen peas
1 x 410g can lentils, drained and rinsed
1 x 410g can chicken peas, drained and rinsed
juice of 2 lemons
1 bunch spring onion, trimmed, all parts thinly sliced
salt and pepper
1 bunch coriander or parsley, chopped (for serving)
Cook the rice in a pan of boiling salted water for about 15 minutes - or until tender. Drain well then drizzle over a little of the oil, give a shake to help coat the grains and stop them sticking together, then set aside to cool.
Defrost the frozen peas, then pour over boiling water and leave them for a few minutes to 'cook', then drain them.
Take a large bowl, put in the cooled rice, the 'cooked' green peas, the lentils, chickpeas, lemon juice, onions and the remaining oil. Add seasoning to taste.
This salad is best served at room temperature, but can be covered and chilled in the fridge for up to two day before eating, but bring back to room temperature before dishing out. Stir the chopped herbs through the rice prior to serving (after chilling).

Don't know if it really snowed here or not, nothing to be seen now. Possibly will be some over the hills, certainly in Cumbria and Scotland. Hope readers there won't be too put out with a white world. My advice is 'keep your larder well-stocked', then hopefully if stuck indoors we can still keep ourselves well fed. Like for months!

Whatever the weather, have a good day. Not sure yet whether I'll be blogging tomorrow - could be later in the morning or not at all, but best check anyway. Like what's is name says "I'll be back!" and as soon as possible. Maybe even sooner. TTFN.