Saturday, December 31, 2011

This Time Tomorrow!

This time tomorrow am just hoping I'll be a lot more organised than I have been this year. So far only my larder gets that treatment. I need to be more focused when deciding what meals to make each day. Having already got the 'makings', it would make more sense to plan a weekly menu, esp as I do tend to make my mind up almost at the last minute - which doesn't always help.

As I still didn't get around to photographing the 'fresh produce' (see what I mean about not doing things when I had planned to), this will definitely happen today. The camera was showing 'low battery' when last used, but on checking this morning (it is kept in the desk drawer by my side) it seems to have enough power to take the photos, but if B is going out will get him to bring spare batteries back with him (he uses them too). He may already have some - somewhere! If so he probably won't remember where he put them anyway.

Was pleased that B eventually did the washing up, although not all of it. As per usual he left all the pots and pans and dishes used for mixing, boiling and roasting, just washing the plates, serving bowls and cutlery. But at least that helped, apart from he had stacked all the clean ones onto the kitchen table for me to put away, and left all the cutlery still in the draining tray. It was because of that I was put off doing the produce photo as the table needed clearing first, and I didn't feel like doing it right then. Most of it has now been put away, so if I can keep B away from the kitchen this afternoon (hopefully some footie matches on TV or a film he can watch) then I can stay in the kitchen to 'have a play'.

Also planning to sort out my freezer/s and find out just what I've got left in there (they are both full), also plan to bulk-make meals using some of the beef mince (chilli con carne, spag bol, curry etc), so that there is a meal to re-heat for B rather that having to make one from scratch. Quite often there are good cookery progs on (or repeats of Midsomer Murders, or Poirot) on when I should be doing the cooking, and really don't like to miss watching them. We don't have a DVD recorder or anything like that. I know that many repeats of progs can be watched via the various TV websites, but somehow find this not as appealing as when sitting watching the TV in the normal way, perhaps because there is no easy chair in here to snuggle into, also the room is quite cold.

Thanks to those who send New Year Greetings, and although they may be taking a day off from 'comp. reading', hope they manage to catch up with any posts they have missed.

It was Lisa who has sent several comments, and these have prompted a reply. How different cooking can be from one country to another. The black (turtle) beans sounded as though they had a lot more flavour than the normal (dried) beans. Not sure if these are the same as the small black beans we can buy. Do hope so.

The soy milk maker sounded an excellent buy as it appears to make soy milk for one fifth of the price of bought. Am presuming it begins with soy powder that is diluted with milk, or maybe even soy beans are used. Please describe it further Lisa, it may be the same 'equipment' is for sale over here.

Your mention of red sky in the morning reminded me of an old (traditional) saying of ours. Maybe the Pilgrim Fathers took this saying with them. "Red sky at night, shepherd's delight, red sky in the morning, shepherd's warning". Having said that, noticed over the last few years, when dawn rose showing a very beautiful red/orange sky (looked like a magnificent sunset), the weather stayed very fair. For days.

As to my storage jars. At one time always used to label them, now - if storing dry goods that I need to be reminded of cooking times 'as per instructions on packet', just cut up the packet and keep the instruction bit and put that in the top of the jar before sealing with the lid. Sometimes I cut the name of the product from the front of the pack and slide that into the jar between whatever and the glass, so I can read what it is.
Instead of now using labels, I write the name of the contents directly onto the glass using a black marker pen. This can be easily washed off when the jar is empty and if wishing to store something else inside. If I don't like seeing the labels or writing, I just turn the jars round so the clear side faces outwards.
Nothing wrong with labels, but I'm so finicky about everything looking good on my shelves, if the labels aren't exactly the same height on each of the same-sized bottles, it really irritates me.

Obviously some bottle-contents don't need labelling, but when there is such little difference in appearance between 'soft brown sugar' and 'light muscovado sugar', they jars need marking.

Still with Lisa, I now ask what are 'bento' lunch boxes? An am presuming the boiled eggs you mentioned are soft-boiled so the whites are soft enough to be pushed into shaped moulds (but wouldn't the whites tend to break?). Another question coming up. What is a Mexican Wedding Cake? And not sure what a 'tamale' is (something about hot chilli peppers comes into my mind, and maybe something to do with tortillas, but that's as far as my brain can reach at the mo.)

When the Amish series was show, we saw many of the women 'canning'. Now to us, 'canning' is storing in tin (or metal cans). Do remember that we could buy canning equipment to do just this. Now it seems that the US canning is what we always call 'bottling', and perhaps because of the danger of not doing the sterilising correctly (tomatoes not done correctly can cause botulism), few rarely bother doing this. Maybe we find the freezer is a simpler alternative.

Liked the idea of a 'rice crispies' cake as a base for icing, minimiser deb. It doesn't have to be a tier for a wedding cake, it would make a perfect birthday cake for small children. 'Crispie' cup cakes could also be decorated as we would normal cup-cakes.

Not sure what the 'sausage thingy' was that you mentioned Campfire, but possibly was the one mentioned in the book that I'd 'invented'. This came about when I realised that flour, when mixed with protein and liquid was able to be poured out and cooked as a pancake. Normally the protein in pancakes would be egg and milk, so I experimented using other proteins, mashed up baked beans with flour and liquid... and the same with one sausage/liquid/flour. Believe me, this also worked and with one sausage was able to make three thin 'sausage flavoured' pancakes, each served wrapped round a filling of salad (as we make a tortilla wrap) and made a good snack for three people.
The same pancakes - served wrapped round a veggie filling - could be put into a small oven-proof dish, have cheese sauce poured on top, grated cheese scattered over, and this would make a substantial lunch or supper dish for one - maybe two if served with a side salad. Another way of making a little go that very much further.

Am always hunting for recipes that can use up what I've got. The problem is - do YOU have the same bits and bobs in your cupboard? Sometimes I wonder if I should write up a list of ingredients we should ALL keep in store, then give only recipes that use these.
Many old cookbooks do list up foods 'we should have', and even cookery mags today (esp at this time of year) list up all the foods we need to buy to make the recipes in that particular issue. Myself find this off putting as it would encourage me to buy those I don't already have, and would prefer to use a different (but similar) ingredient in its place.
This is one reason why I try to suggest alternatives in many of the recipes posted on this site, and the one that follows can easily be adapted in this way.

Basically, this recipe is a fruit loaf, but you could use less fruit, or vary the dried fruit you use (instead of using the recommended sultanas, raisins, or mixed dried fruit, chop up dried dates, prunes, apricots etc), or mix any dried fruits together to weigh the amount shown, and you don't even have to stick to that weight, use less if that's all you have. Keep the other ingredient weights the same if you can.
Many recipes suggest using golden caster sugar, I normally use the plain white caster, or - if you have a blender - you could whizz demerara down to make your own 'golden' caster sugar (whizz granulated down in the same way to make caster sugar, whizz this down further and it will make icing sugar).

Many tea-loaves are made with cold tea. Ordinary cold tea is fine. If you have flavoured tea (Earl Grey, Green Tea...) or herbal teas (the fruit flavoured kind are best), use these as they will give a much more interesting flavour to a cake, and if you are like me - you probably have some 'herbal' teas that you never really fancied and they have ended up sulking at the back of a shelf.
A whole orange is used in this cake, but no reason why just the zest isn't included (esp. if the orange is large as this will add enough flavour) then use the segments for something else. Instead of juice just add a few drops of vanilla extract with a little water. Another adaptation would be to use half the zest of one large orange, half its juice, and then use the remaining zest and juice for the syrup and omit the lemon.

Right - now I've given some suggestions as to how to adapt the recipe (it being my adaptation of one of Jamie Oliver's), let's begin, then you make up your own mind what to do with it.
Tea Loaf: serves 12
6 Earl Grey (or other - see above) tea-bags
half pint (300ml) boiling water
14 oz (400g) dried mixed fruit (see above)
zest and juice of one orange, or zest only (see above)
1 large egg
11 oz (300g) golden caster sugar (see above)
14 oz (400g) self-raising flour
1 tsp mixed spice
half tsp ground cinnamon
7 fl oz (200ml) water for the syrup
zest and juice of 1 lemon
Take four of the teabags and put into a jug with the half-pint of boiling water, then leave for 5 minutes to brew. Remove the bags.
Put the dried fruit into a bowl with the orange zest, then pour in the hot tea, give a stir then cover and leave to soak for several hours - even better leave to soak overnight - so most of the liquid is taken up by the fruit.
When ready to make the fruit loaf, whisk the egg and stir into the bowl of fruit, adding 7 oz (200g) of the sugar. Sift together the flour and spices and add the orange juice (if using). If there is some tea left in the bowl that the fruit hasn't soaked up, this could take the place of the orange juice, or add a little water. The aim is to end up with a dough-like mixture that is very slightly dry.
Spoon this into a greased and lined loaf tin (a size that would hold 1 ltr/1.75 pints water) and bake in the oven for 1 hour 10 mins (give or take a few minutes) until cooked through. Test it is done by sticking in a skewer in the centre and if it comes out clean it will be cooked. If not, cook for a further 5 or so minutes.
While the tea loaf is cooking, make some syrup by putting the remaining 2 teabags into a pan with the 7 fl oz (200ml) water, and the zest and juice of the lemon. Over low heat, bring to the boil and simmer for a couple of minutes, then removed the teabags. Raise heat to medium then - without stirring -let the liquid for 5 - 10 minutes or until reduced by half to give a golden syrup. Remove from heat and set aside.
As soon as the tea loaf is baked, use a cocktail stick/skewer or fork prongs to make lots of little holes on the top, then slowly pour the syrup all over it. Leave the loaf in the tin until all the syrup has been absorbed, then turn out, and place on a cake airer to cool completely.
Serve sliced, plain or buttered, at tea-time, or later with a good wedge of cheese (Wensleydale goes well with this) for an evening (or after dinner) snack.

As B has managed to finish all the ice-cream, Bakewell Tart, and triple cheese quiche, feel it is time for me to make him another 'treat', and possibly will make the above (due to the soaking of fruit it won't be ready to eat until tomorrow), and probably some biscuits to keep him going in the meantime. Or maybe another cake, apple pie, fruit crumble, trifle, or, or, or....

I just can't keep pace with the amount B eats, and just wish I could eat that much - he never seems to gain weight on it, other than a few pounds. Me, I've put back a good half-stone over the last month, due to eating 'normal' meals again (despite my helpings being smaller than average). Too many carbos and not enough protein I suspect. Come New Year I will eat less again, lose those pounds and by doing this, the food stores will last that little bit longer. No doubt most readers will have gained a bit of weight over Christmas, so eating less can help lose both sorts of 'pounds', the lbs and the ££s. What I call a 'win-win' situation.

Watching recent documentaries and requests for help for the starving nations on TV, made me feel that many readers would think it is obscene of me to keep so much food in my larder and fridge/freezer when so many have to do without. Have even thought that myself, but then as I give monthly AND annual donations to various charities (Oxfam, and charities that help/teach Third World nations to grow their own produce etc) feel that it's not just me, me, me that I'm thinking about.
Having stores in my larder is my 'survival kit', and strangely find that when I take on my usual 'start the year' challenge of using them up, despite all the money that is being saved by doing this, find it also rather unnerving as the shelves become empty. It will take a lot of self-control not to start filling them up again, although if there is a chance of making a 'very good purchase' (say one of Donald Russell meat offers) may use some of my savings to buy these, but then put them away in a special freezer drawer to be untouched until the rest of my meat/fish stores are depleted.
We will just have to wait and see how long I can stay the course. And it isn't even New Year yet and already I'm feeling the stirrings of terror when I see a shelf that has space.

At least, filling bottles with freshly made candied peel, mincemeat, more marmalade (made from stocks already in the larder) will take up some of the empty space, as will (now empty) sweet tins) full of home-made biscuits. Or others with gingerbread, fruit cake.
Yes, that's the best thing to do - another role play for me 'be my own manufacturer' - and fill those shelves with my own 'stuff', then the larder will still appear to be full and my stress levels will fall.

Time for me now to get on and start 'manufacturing'. Hopefully fitting in the role-play 'photographer' sometime during the day. If I feel like 'tarting up' a dish, that means role-playing 'food stylist' as well. Looks like next year will be more acting than living a normal boring life. Could be fun.

Time now for me to give (again) Happy New Year greetings to all, for when we meet up again (hopefully you can fit in a read tomorrow), it will be January, and this time tomorrow you will see how my frugal, miserly, downright thrifty year has begun. With bells on. See you then.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Nearly New Year!

Only a couple of days now and it will be January. Let us hope we manage to keep all our New Year Resolutions.
Many thanks to those who wrote in sending (advance) New Year greetings - mine will be sent to you in this posting, and probably again tomorrow, but being the weekend, and with maybe more parties in the offing, am sure not a lot of you will be sitting at the comp. until perhaps Tuesday (hangovers permitting!!).

Was not able to spread out my fruit and veg to be photographed, due to my belief that B would do as he said. After lunch (which went very well by the way, even B seemed impressed with the 11 different items on the plate cooked and dished up by me with what seemed hardly to be no effort at all). After lunch, I went to have a sit down whilst B took our daughter to a garden centre where she wanted to buy some half-price Christmas decorations etc (got some really good bargains too, she did). Before they left B said he would do the washing up, I said I didn't mind, I could do it while they were out, and he very firmly said No!!!", he would do it. I was to leave it for him on his return.
Far be it from me to go against my lord and master's wishes, so I left it. Didn't need to go into the kitchen again, for he even brought me some 'supper' (an orange, a piece of quiche and a slice of Bakewell). Went to bed early leaving B to carry on with his life.

This morning went into the kitchen and all the dirty plates, glasses, cutlery, pots and pans are still on the conservatory table, all over the kitchen table, on the hob, all over the place. Am assuming he decided to leave the washing up until this morning, but still have to wait before the table is clear enough for me to spread out the 'fresh' produce for it to be photographed.

It wasn't that B forgot to wash up, he could see all the mess each time he went back into the kitchen to get himself another snack (like several times during the evening), he just didn't want to do it THEN. He always likes to do things when HE wants to, never when asked. Think this gives him a feeling of power, but it is very annoying when other people are having to wait.
Yet - when B asks me to do something for him (like sew on a button or iron a shirt) he expects me to do it immediately. After many years, then told him he was a good teacher and now I'd begin to do things his way, so from then on started not doing what he wanted when he wanted. He - of course - was not prepared to wait days/weeks/years (like I had to) for an urgent job to be done, so meekly gave up and now does any of his stitching or ironing himself (not that there is much ironing to be done - think since we moved in the iron has only warmed up twice).

Good idea minimiser deb to stick on jewels, glitter etc on those crowns. They could also be sprayed with gold and silver (aerosol) paint.

Welcome back Wen, hope you are now able to reach this site again after having difficulty. Not sure how you normally get to it, but if you type in Shirley Goode in Google, it usually comes up at the top of the page listings with a mention of Taste The Goode Life, and then click on my name etc to reach the current posting. Perhaps once reached, if you can get it onto 'favourites' then it might then be easier to find.

Do hope the ice-cream is satisfactory Lynn. Let us know. A mix of eggs and single cream can also be used for a quiche (with cheese, or other filling), or poured over bread and butter (with fruit and sugar) to make a Bread and Butter pudding.
A really good dessert (my cheat's panna cotta) can be made by dissolving a packet of fruit flavoured jelly in about quarter pint (5fl oz/150ml) of hot water, cooling for a while, then making up to the pint with cream. Pour into individual moulds, then leave in the fridge to set. Unmould onto a plate and garnish with a little fresh fruit or fruit coulis if you have some.
If you use orange jelly, you could also add a dash of Cointreau (opt) and garnish with grated chocolate.

Single cream is also good swirled into a smooth soup ('cream' soup), and - if a tub of cream has been kept chilled, and not yet opened it should keep for several days beyond the date shown on the tub. I've found cream still usable a month after the date, but not suggesting others should do this. We keep our fridge at 3C, this being lower than normal and helps to keep dairy food fresher for longer.

Your mention of the houses on Sunderland Point Campfire, reminded me that when we first visited Morecambe to 'house-hunt', we were taken to S. Point and there was a house for sale there. We were tempted, but knowing the houses could be cut off twice a day due to the tide, felt that because of any sudden illness, was concerned how a doctor/ambulance could reach us (n time!). Also, it was quite a distance in road miles from the nearest (large) shops, and doubt a Tesco van would deliver. However, it would be a lovely place to live if you like the type of solitude that sea-marshes, bird-life, fishing, has to offer.

Eileen's mention of having a small kitchen and no space for (extra) storage, made me have another think. Every kitchen must have four walls (maybe two doors, one internal, one back door). Possibly one wall has a window. Other walls usually have some fitted cupboards or are just blank walls. Removing cupboard doors (even those below units), does seem to help to give more 'usable' space, for we can then instantly see what is 'in there', and arrange accordingly. Anything that will be hidden behind closed doors is more often than not just shoved inside at the front of everything else, so hides what is behind. With no doors, it is far easier to keep 'stores' more neatly arranged (be it foods or baking equipment). Narrow shelves might be able to be fitted to blank walls without protruding into a room enough to bump on them as we walk past (w have a small 'dresser' type of shelves that hang over a central heating radiator. Useful for standing on narrow loaf tins to warm up the bread when rising, also for storing other things that can stand a bit of heat.

The mention of a bookcase (to store foods) in your larder Margie, was a great idea. Even the old style, glass fronted bookcase we have in our living room, this could also hold canned and packet foods if more shelves were needed. We often see photos in mags of bookcases that have a gathered fabric placed behind the glass (hiding what is inside), so by placing a 'curtain' (could be net) behind the glass, then we too could keep stores in our living room. As to where we then keep our books. Well, that's another matter.
Luckily we do have a large floor to ceiling wall to wall cupboard in our narrow 'hall' (a now enclosed - what used to be open - porch. The bottom cupboards house the gas and 'leccy' meters, fuse boxes etc, but plenty of shelves in the cupboards above, but the top two far too high to reach without a step ladder. We store books and loo rolls and various other non-foods in there.

Daughter and I were talking yesterday about 'what to do next'. She was planning to make more Christmas decorations, crowns, tags etc from her cards, plus a new batch of mincemeat ready for next year. Think I'll follow her example. Prepare for next Christmas even though this season's Twelve Days are still only half-way through.

Was given a book on cakes (at first thought it was a book on decorative icing), that our daughter got me from M & S. She had one the same - they give them away. Realised why they were 'for free' as they were not an instruction book, it was a booklet of celebration cakes that we could order from the store.
Anyone who likes making cakes and enjoys decorating them would find this booklet very inspiring. There is no cake in there decorated beyond what most of us could manage. The soft fondant icing used makes it so easy to cover a cake (unlike the royal icing which took more time, patience and a certain amount of skill).

What really stunned me was the price we would be expected to pay for these M & S special occasion cakes. Well, we always DO have to pay a LOT when we expect other people to do the work for us, but now, with the recession, it seems a waste of money to pay for something that we should be able to make ourselves. Some of the cakes in the booklet are just plain icing, with a trimming of a couple of (real) cherries on each tier, or maybe a couple of fresh roses.

To help you start thinking about improving your cake 'skills', here are some prices. In most cases the cakes can be either all fruit, or chocolate cake or plain sponge cake (or for a three-tiered cake a combination of all three, the fruit layer being at the base to give support).
fruit cake:
small tier (10cm dia) £10 (12 portions)
medium tier (15.5cm) £24 (24 portions)
large tier (22.5cm) £40 (44 portions)
extra large tier (27.5cm) £56 (64 portions)

sponge cake (choc or vanilla) same dimensions
Small tier (£8) 8 portions
medium tier (£16) 16 portions
large tier (£30) 30 portions
ex. large tier (£44) 44 portions

One of the easiest decorated cakes to follow is a Chocolate Ganache Wedding Cake. A three-tier set of chocolate cakes, filled with chocolate ganache and covered in a choice of white or milk 'rough plaster effect' chocolate (looks exactly like the white icing we used to thickly smear on top of Christmas cakes to give a rocky, snowy effect. Nothing could be simpler to do). Top cake is 16cm dia, middle tier, 20.5cm, bottom tier 25.5. Comes fully assembled (one cake on top of another, no pillars needed), and cost one pound less than £200 (if I put the true price of £199 it would sound to cost a lot less, but isn't). The cake gives 100 portions which is just about £2 per serving.

The booklet then has a few pages of other 'special occasion' cakes, starting with cupcakes - some displayed in tiers (for a 'wedding cake' instead of the traditional tiers). The cakes are sold as 'sets' of 48 (four dozen), just vanilla sponge with an icing frosting and edible glitter. Cost £48 (£1 per cake).
A triple layer classic Victoria sandwich, filled with jam and cream and a dusting of icing sugar on top, would set us back £17.50 for 14 slices. A triple layered carrot cake filled with cream cheese, decorated with walnuts and marzipan carrots, als0 £17.50.
The rest of the booklet shows 'personalised' cakes, and these are really worth looking at for inspiration, showing all types of simple cakes that have been decorated with coloured fondant icing to make anything from dinosaurs, to fairy tale castles, pool tables and handbags. Enough ideas there to keep a family of children happy from baby-hood to the wedding feast.

Have just seen at the bottom of a page see how to handle and build your cake online: so the above might be able to be seen. Also worth looking at where they might show photos of the cakes.

It is the same with many ready-meals/cakes/biscuits/preserves etc, that we might normally be prepared to buy, instead of purchasing, just let them inspire us to try making them ourselves. We all need to get our ideas from somewhere, even I can't conjure up a 'new' dish without something having lit my fuse.

When our children were small, I always made their birthday cakes, and over the years improved enough to be asked to make celebration cakes for others. Used to make (or just decorate) quite a few wedding cakes and other anniversary cakes - never charging that much. Do know that many people do the same for family, friends and neighbours, so if you have small children, use their formative years to gain the skills necessary to make their wedding cakes. Learn to sew and then you could also make the daughter's wedding dresses. You could also provide food for the reception (maybe grow your own flowers for the bouquets!!). Then no need to worry about the money when a wedding is planned. Your own could be a cut above the rest, even if the cost is low.
We home-cooks, over time, can become as skilled as any that sell their (culinary) wares. We just don't appreciate our worth. It may be much easier to employ someone to do everything for us, but this doesn't mean it is any better than we can do. Having read some of the menus for wedding buffets, have to say we should be able to provide much better for a fraction of the cost (and I do mean fraction).

There are people who will jump on me and suggest by saying all this could start to put 'people who cater' out of business. Think M & S can afford a few less cakes sold. They have other string to their bow.
Anyone who watched the TV series 'The Goode Kitchen' may remember the wedding cake I'd made, where the third (top) tier was formed from two empty packs of icing sugar stuck together (made a square shape 'block'), these then icedto match the two tiers beneath. Looked really good, and useful, especially as the top tier is never cut at the wedding (traditionally kept as the christening cake for the first child usually born within the twelvemonth following - and even then usually has to be re-iced due to the icing discolouring). Had a really unpleasant letter sent to me from the wife of a man who made/decorated wedding cakes, and said my suggestion would cause him a big loss of earnings as people who saw the programme would now not want to pay for 'proper' cake on the top, as some were already requesting this false tier.

Good that sometimes my ideas save some people money, not so good if it does harm to others. On the other hand, think a cake-decorator would get even more orders if he suggested he could provide a three-tier cake (when only two could be afforded) if he charged very little for a third false tier. Not quite 'having your cake and eating it too' but very nearly that. Every bride wishes for a three (or even four) tiered wedding cake, it's all part of the magic of the day. Now she can afford to have one (and if only the bottom tier need be 'real', the remaining tiers can all be false).

Iced 'special occasion' cakes in some confectioners windows are quite often a polystyrene block (round or square) that has been iced for display purposes only. These blocks are very useful to practice our ice-decorating skills. They can be bought especially for this purpose, or we could just upturn a pre-formed piece of polystyrene that a gift might have been packed in, and practice icing the bottom and sides (which would be flat).

Instead of making a thick (royal icing) we could make a very stiff mixture of smooth mashed potato (made with Smash is best) so that we can practice 'icing' those blobs, shells and sqiggles that tend to be used to decorate cakes. Children may also like to practice 'icing' using mash. It's cheap, it's fun, and as long as the surface is kept clean (decorate the surface of a clean plate), the potato could still end up being used (in fish cakes, potato scones etc).

Yesterday's turkey dinner, despite it having 11 different 'foods' on one plate (cranberry sauce the only one already prepared), was no harder to put together than the traditional Sunday roast of 'meat and two veg, with gravy'. As ever, it is all to do with the timing, and for this a list is necessary, start with the food that takes the longest to cook, then keep adding more to the oven when the time is right (or on the hob). Told B that cooking the meal was almost boring, as there was nothing to 'stretch' me. Even found that with no stress was able to sit down and eat a plateful myself (this being unusual as when cooking a big meal for others usually find that when it comes to serving, am too exhausted to eat).

When nearly time to serve, just wanted to re-heat the bread sauce in the microwave and the flippin' thing wouldn't work. It had been OK up until then (fortunately). Tried several times and it still wouldn't start. Suddenly realised why. I had forgotten to turn the clock dial on to the time needed. Doh! What am I like? Suffice to say it did work when I remembered what to do. Am getting as bad as B.

The last of the Amish progs was shown last night. Reminded me even more of the J.W's religion. My friend's son had been thrown out of their church due to some man telling lies about him.
He then had to be 'shunned' by his family, and they weren't allowed to have any personal contact or speak to him on the phone. A month or so later, the person who accused the son admitted to the church elders that he had lied (because he didn't like their faith and wanted to stir things up), and so the lad was then allowed back, but he refused saying that if they weren't prepared to believe his word against that of a non-believer then he had no wish to stay in the faith. Good for him.

The problem is with many of these slightly 'off-centre' religions is that too many rules are made by man-kind. The Mormans have a 'leader' they call 'the living prophet', who passes on advice/rules that come directly from God (or so it is thought), they also have their own version of a Bible. The J.W's stick more closely to the Christian Bible but still have their 'headquarters' and leaders who give their own 'advice' on how things should be done.
As was mentioned in the prog. yesterday, the young men who still agreed with the basic Amish principles, did not agree with several of the rules and regs given to them by their 'elders', who had made their own decision as what was right and wrong, and nothing to do with bible teachings. Even setting up a tent and camping out was forbidden to these young men, yet am in Biblical times many people travelled long distances and sleeping in tents (as the nomads did and still do) was an acceptable thing to do.

Think my favourite Amish family was the couple in the first episode. Others too were lovely, it was this last Swartzenbrueger (or some such similar name) branch that tended to make us think twice about their faith. It is always very dangerous when humankind put themselves into a position of giving 'godly advice' but with nothing remotely spiritual to back it up. But whatever, still admire the Amish and hope they continue living the same way for many more year (with maybe a few electrics thrown in to make life that bit easier).

No recipe today as time has run out, but maybe tomorrow. Am not taking any more time off as New Year (for me) is less about celebrating (learned yesterday that B will be out seeing the New Year in with his sailing club mates at their club house, so I'll be tucked up in bed by midnight no doubt), and a lot more about girding my loins ready for the Challenge. Just can't wait for the fun to start.
Hoping that as many readers of this site as possible will also be 'making the best of what we already have', like for weeks, even months, not days. As long as we keeping giving moral support to each other, we can work miracles. You'd better believe it!

If we don't meet again until January, Happy New Year greetings. But once 2012 is here, please keep logging on, for who know what the future has in store for us, as we may find we need to tighten our belts even further, and every tiny cost-cutting hint or tip will be needed.

As ever, I'll be back again tomorrow (you may like to know it is around noon and I can hear B starting the washing up - yippee!!), if you can join me, see you then.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Open All Hours!

Loads of comments sent in re my larder. So pleased it met with your approval, and have to say the larder and the kitchen is the one place where I am always organised. But never anywhere else. Just find it makes it easy when I don't have to hunt for things.

Several of you have mentioned storing your food in kitchen cupboards (probably wall units?), and we also have these in the kitchen here in Morecambe. In one of these I keep all bottles - cookery 'booze', and assorted oils and vinegars. Another cupboard holds as yet unused coffee jars, and bags of rice (basmati, paella rice, risotto rice etc - the long-grain in the larder). Also pasta shapes/sheets (although spaghetti is in the larder). Other cupboards hold glasses, plates and serving dishes, assorted teas, the last remaining cuppa soups, and the very top shelves that I can't reach are either empty or hold empty glass jars saved for later preserve making.

When we lived in Leeds, we also had wall cupboards which I found a real nuisance, as anything hidden behind closed doors can often be forgotten, so asked B to remove them and fit narrower shelves instead. As I still have a photo of these, this is shown below. The 'storage jars' in those days were empty glass jars that contained (fresh?) orange juice. More and different containers were added as I collected more. We did have an original Edwardian cupboard on another wall (recess at the side of the fire-place (which used to house a Yorkshire range but unfortunately that was long gone by the time we moved there), in the recess the other side of the fireplace were more open shelves on which I kept all my serving plates, dishes, etc.

If not wishing to move wall units and replace with open shelving, possibly not need to go the whole hog, just removing the doors might help. This will give easy access to what is stored in a cupboard, and also everything being always in sight will prompt its use. It is also possible to buy (or make) 'stepped' shelving that fits at the back of a deep cupboard to 'lift' what would otherwise be hidden items into full view. Alternatively, narrow shelves could be fitted inside a tall cupboard (the ones in our kitchen here have shelving that can be raised or lowered by means of holes/pegs drilled into the sides of the cupboards).

We now come to the cardboard 'crowns' that our daughter made for us to wear on Christmas Day. I was so taken with them that I thought you'd love to see at least one of them.
Old Christmas/birthday (or even cardboard packaging around food!!) can be used to make these as long as they are fairly colourful. The design often gets lost with the cutting, but try to make at least one have a recognisable picture so that it can be worn at the front.
With Twelfth Night festivities still to come, the crown worn by the one who finds the bean (Lord of Misrule) could be made in a similar way, but with gold coloured cards, and no reason (if you feel THAT artistic) why shapes couldn't be cut from each pentagon to form a more 'lacy/filigree' effect.

The first picture shows the white (back) side of cards, cut into ten pentagons, each folded in half to give a crease (this helps to make a better fit when placed over the head). Our daughter either leaves the tips as-is, or as seen below, snips off a bit at the fold to give a double-point.
The pentagons are held together with sticky tape, but could be fastened with staples.

The photo (below) shows the same, but turned over to show the colourful side, with several of the shapes having a 'complete' picture, one should be placed at the front of the head when worn.

Final picture (below) shows the crown as seen as worn on the head, and the one thing about these 'paper hats' is that they can be folded to pack away easily and be used year after year, unlike the paper hats found in crackers that tend to be discarded after wearing.

Even if you don't wish to make these yourself, always worth keeping old cards as they can be used to make gift tags, or maybe make the crowns and sell them at a charity stall as children would love to wear them, not necessarily at Christmas, but for any party. Backs of cards can be used for many purposes - writing shopping lists for one.

My thoughts turn now back to my larder (my comfort zone - you note there was a chair in there where I sit and enjoy looking at my collection), and although feeling rather guilty at the amount of food there, remembered that Nigella Lawson's larder was almost the size of a small room (at least 3 times the size of mine), and her shelves were also well stocked (but slightly more disorganised than mine). One of Delia Smith's programmes showed her having well-stocked larder AND an outside shed where she also stored a lot of food. She had an even larger shed where she kept all her crockery and other kitchen equipment. Loads and loads of it. So perhaps 'cooks/cookery writers' do tend to keep more food in store than average. After all, we do like to have enough ingredients to hand to try something new that we've just thought of. The thought of having to go out and buy something tends to dampen the sudden inspiration and so what might start off as 'the rolling stone' often never sees the light of day. Not quite sure whether that is a mixed metaphor or some such thing - but I tend to mix my 'sayings' all the time, so live with it.

Today is our turkey dinner day. It is now not quite 8.00am as I write, and already the potatoes have been peeled, waiting in the saucepan for a par-boil later, the stuffing made and in the dish ready for the oven, the sausages and bacon rolls also ready. Clove studded onion infusing in hot milk, the breadcrumbs ready at the side to make the bread sauce. Carrots prepared ready to cook. Only the Brussels sprouts and peas to take from the freezer, the turkey crown to be cooked from frozen - that has to be in the oven by 10.30am - the spuds put in later, followed by the bangers, bacon and stuffing. The cranberry sauce to be put on the table, and gravy to make. Don't think I've forgotten, anyway got the full list in the kitchen, so can check later.

My Beloved of course is still in the Land of Nod. Not sure what would have happened if he'd gone on with my idea of "why don't you cook the turkey lunch this year darling!" He agreed, very crossly, and I said he didn't have to, it just would have been nice to have it cooked for me/us for once. He got grumpier and grumpier and started shouting at me when I suggested he made a list of things to do. I gave him a small booklet on how to cook a turkey dinner (Jamie Oliver's) that came with our newspaper and he began to read it. Almost immediately after, there was a prog. on TV with Gordon Ramsay showing how to prepare the Christmas meal, and I suggested B watch it, and he almost immediately fell asleep and was very, VERY cross with me when I woke him to say 'the best way to learn is to watch rather than read'.

As B (like most men) is not capable of multi-tasking, when he said he'd TRY (it was he who emphasised the word) to cook the meal - I replied "trying is no good, you have to make sure you get it right, after all you expected me to the first time I cooked Christmas meal" (this less than three weeks after we moved into our first house, we lived with my mother before that and she did all the cooking so I didn't know anything, and - incidentally -I gave birth to our third child two weeks later). Also reminded B that he had then brought me a turkey - someone had given it to him - and it was the complete bird, head on, feet on, possibly innards still intact and certainly all the feathers on. B then leaving me to deal with it as he wasn't prepared to (women's work!). How I coped I don't know, but I did, and if I could, then why can't he now??

Anyway, thought it through, hoping to find a get-out clause, so while B was in a good mood on Christmas morning, gazing happily at the high tide blocking the causeway to Sunderland Point, mentioned to him that "silly me, had completely forgotten something important. so I'll have to take over cooking the turkey dinner" adding that with B having to drive over to fetch our daughter that morning, no way could he (or even I) manage to cook AND spare the time to drive to Lancaster and back and get the timing right to get the meal on the table. B seemed quite relieved, but said the only thing that he had been worried about was making the gravy!!?? He had read the bit in the booklet how Jamie makes it, using chicken wings, vegetables, and - well - a bit too complicated for B (he didn't know I'd got some chicken wings in the freezer, not that I was intending to make gravy with them, as my gravy would be made with the juices from the bird with a touch of Turkey concentrate from a jar!!)

Sometimes it's best to keep easy ways secret. The more B thinks that cooking is difficult, the more likely he is to appreciate what I do.

There was still one trifle left in the fridge that B hadn't eaten. When I mentioned that it wouldn't keep for ever, he said he thought he might eat it for 'afters' (after the turkey) and share it with our daughter "as it was a bit bigger than normal". I said not to keep it that extra day as we'd got Christmas pud for afters anyway.

Later said I'd have the 'spare' half of the trifle, and B immediately pulled a face and said divide it into thirds, two for him, one for me. I said if he was prepared to have only half for his 'afters', then he should share it just as equally with me. Suggested he could divide up the trifle himself if he wished, but (knowing he'd give me less) bring in the two portions and let me choose which one I wanted.

Mind you, after I'd eaten my half (with some of the ice-cream (I'd made for him) wished I hadn't. Was full to start with having eating Pukka Pie and veg for supper (same as B, only his pie had a different filling). More meat in those Pukka's than any other bought, the pastry also excellent. Well worth the money (on offer recently for £1 at S'bury's). They can be frozen, cooked from frozen or thawed and cooked for a slightly lesser time. B wanted to go and buy more, but had to (regretfully) remind him that no more food was to be bought for weeks and weeks and weeks, and needed to make more freezer space anyway.

Yesterday cooked a square Bakewell Tart (pastry case, jam on bottom, cake topping, almonds sprinkled on top), and a cheese quiche. Forgot to mention the day before had sorted out the fridge and collected up oddments of hard cheese, then grated them up and mixed the lot together to store and use later (B having immediately helped himself to some of it to make 'cheese on toast'). Some of the grated was used for the cheese quiche. Noticed this morning that Beloved had eaten half of it yesterday evening. As he was using the comp. for several hours (usually he plays games on it), he must have taken his snacks in 'the comp room' (aka our dining room) with him to eat.

Think also B was messing around with sea-charts and maps, for the dining table - that had been cleared for our meal today - is now completely covered with papers and books and things, and I mean COMPLETELY. So will probably serve our meal in the conservatory - which is simpler as this is at the open end of our kitchen, and saves me walking out of the other end of the kitchen into the inner lobby, then down a short corridor to the dining room.

Was yesterday having a think about all the different appliances and gadgets that we can buy (or be given) for culinary use. All these should make cooking very easy to do, and often they do, but so many end up pushed to the back of a cupboard. Sandwich toasters come to mind.

Certainly some 'useful' equipment I own, is not used very often. I have a liquidiser/blender, that hardly ever leaves the cupboard, much preferring to use a food processor, and a hand blender that can blitz up soups while still in the saucepan us not used as often as it should be.

Also rarely used is a large electric mixer on a stand (a Kenwood, but not the super-duper type that I used to own), this is used mostly for whipping a large number of egg whites (when making soft-scoop ice-cream/meringues etc). It is too heavy to move around with ease, so prefer to use my electric hand whisk whenever possible.

We have a deep-fat fryer, only used once since we moved here two and a half years ago.

My food processor is set up at one end of the kitchen table, plugged in ready to use. And this I do use fairly regularly. Although it has to be said if only a small amount of grated (cheese, carrots etc) is needed, tend to do this the old-fashioned way using a metal hand-grater that belonged to my mother.

I do have a very small 'food processor' (Delia uses this one) that is useful for blitzing up small amounts such as herbs, nuts, breadcrumbs etc. But not used as often as the larger one.

Another often used 'appliance' is the slow-cooker, also the bread-maker (this too plugged in ready). The electric slicer used probably less than once a month (maybe only 8 times a year), but worth every penny (sliced home-cooked beef/ham/tongue/turkey breast so VERY much cheaper than bought pre-packed slices).

Do have two sets of scales. The one with a clock-face dial, but have never found this satisfactory when weighing small amounts. Much prefer using my old fashioned balance scale that has a brass scoop and (imperial) weights from 2 lb down to half ounce.

For many years used to have a pressure cooker, but then couldn't get the spare parts, so ended up just using the base-pan (useful for making jam, stock etc). Don't know what happened to it, but haven't seen it since we moved here, so it probably got chucked out when B did his final clearance (I'd already moved out a couple of days previous to moving day). Had thought of getting another, but don't really see the need (other than to save fuel). The microwave can steam veggies at speed, and the slow-cooker good for 'tenderising' other things such as meat and dried/soaked beans. Takes a lot longer, but uses very little fuel.

Lovely lot of comments again and hope you won't mind if I give a 'blanket' thanks to several readers (KC's Court - nice to hear from you again, Susan G, Mother Noah, Frugal Queen et al) who referred to my larder. My suggestions for gaining more 'shelf space' have been given at the top of this posting.

As you said Elaine, the picture did have some similarity to the old fashioned sweet shop. In fact thought that myself when sitting at the kitchen table the other day (could then see only the glass storage jars).

Think all readers can understand how easy it is for me to role play both 'grocer' and 'customer' once in the larder, for it is like a mini-supermarket.

That was a good idea Sue15cat re paying child benefit for the first child only. It makes a lot more sense than when we had our children and no 'family allowance' was paid for the first child, we only got it with our second, third and fourth (and in those days was probably about 5/- each).

It is the first child that costs the most. By the time the second is born, then we already have a pram/buggy, a cot, high chair and numerous other baby equipment, not to mention outgrown clothes. Second children hardly cost any extra at all.

Once I've got today's meal out of the way, will put my 'fresh fruit and veg' on the kitchen table to photograph, so you can see what I have to work with. This will include a few 'old stock' that still has to be used (but kept separate).

Will include a recipe for ice-cream for you Lynne, but if it is double cream that you have a surplus of, this will freeze and can be used later.

After writing about birth control yesterday, had another think (Ceridwen might be interested in the way my mind works re this) and this is where nature and 'human intelligence' seem to divide. Nature's one wish to to keep creating, improving with each generation, and also in a balanced way, so any creature that is not that strong, or who has a deformity etc, would be left to die, or be eaten as food by other creatures. Survival of the fittest they call it.

Some creatures (esp fish) are food for larger creatures, so a lot of babies are born as most of them never grow to maturity. Just enough left to keep the balance and produce the next generation.

Early man lived by his natural instincts. To pro-create being a very strong one. In those days the sick, ill, maimed would be left to die. It made sense.

As man evolved, so did his intelligence, and with medication and treatment, many babies were able to be saved that would have died in the past. Strangely (or not - there has to be a reason), some of the cleverest and intelligent people have been (and are) those that are not 'perfect'. If they had been culled at birth, we wouldn't have the technology and such wonderful music that we have today.

With this in mind, and the realisation that as the world population is growing far too fast for the amount of food (and fuel) it can provide to keep us alive, it makes sense to control the number of offspring we have. We can see with our own island, that because it has boundaries, unless we slow down immigration, we will end up like lemmings falling off the cliffs into the sea. Certainly, unlike pre-war when we could grow/rear/supply almost all the food we needed without having to import much, now we have to import LOADS to keep us all alive.

Eating is another instinct that still seems beyond the control of many of us. Perhaps the best thing we can do is go back to 'no sex before marriage and then be careful', and let wifie stay at home and cook only healthy meals, and not a lot of that.

There must be more to life than sex and food. Trouble is not sure what else can give us quite the same pleasure (yes, I still remember, even though I am nearly 80!).

Presume your Jamie 'pasta maker' Alison is the type that rolls out pasta dough. It probably also has cutters on it for making noodle 'strips'. This has reminded me that this is another 'gadget' I own and have not used recently. But if you like pasta dishes, certainly one worth having. Must drag mine out again and start making ravioli etc.

Some cooks use their pasta 'mangle' to roll out short-crust pastry. Now there's a thought.

To make a really tasty and dark stock, the bones (or chicken carcase etc) need first to be roasted - possibly on a bed of veggies, then simmered (with the juices) with water and vegetables, for a few hours.

To make a light stock, don't roast, just put the raw bones in water with veggies and simmer (and a really low simmer, just so the water 'burps' rather than bubbles). DON'T mix beef and lamb bones together. Different types of meat bones should always be cooked separately.

To save freezer space, one the stock has been drained, put it back into the pan and reduce down by half (or even a quarter), then put into small containers (if really concentrated put in ice-cube trays), cool and freeze. These can then be popped into water and thawed to bring them back to normal 'strength' before using. Just make sure all you freeze is labelled correctly as certainly stock can look like something else once frozen (chicken stock can look like lemon juice, egg white or apple sauce, beef stock can look like red wine, dark fruit puree etc).

Just time for me to give a couple of recipes for ice-cream, one uses double cream, the other uses single cream. Myself would split the vanilla pod, scrape out the seeds and put these in the milk, and shove the pods into a tub of caster sugar where it will add vanilla flavour for years (just keep topping up with more sugar as it gets used).

Vanilla Ice-Cream: serves 6

half pint (300ml) milk

vanilla pod

1 whole egg

2 egg yolks

3 oz (75g) caster sugar

half pint (300ml) double cream

Put the milk in a pan with the vanilla pod and bring almost to the boil. Remove from heat and leave to infuse for 15 minutes, then remove the pod.

Put the whole egg, yolks and sugar into a basin and whisk together until thick and pale, then slowly stir in the flavoured milk. Strain this into a clean pan (helps to remove vanilla seeds - although they can stay if you wish - also any 'lumpy' bits of egg).

Heat this (custard) mixture slowly over very low heat, continually stirring, until thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Pour into a bowl and leave to cool.

Lightly whip the cream, then fold it into the custard. Either pour this into an ice-cream machine and set it working, or pour into a container and place in the freezer for an hour (or so) until half frozen, then whisk the mixture and return to freezer. Best repeat this part-freezing whisking twice to give a really smooth cream before freezing until solid. Cover and keep frozen until needed. It will need bringing into room temperature for 15 or so minutes to soften it enough to be 'scoopable'. Alternatively can be put into the fridge where it make take about half an hour to soften.

Rich Chocolate Ice Cream: serves 6

3 oz (75g) caster sugar

6 tblsp water

4 egg yolks

1 pint single cream

vanilla pod

7 oz (200g) plain chocolate, roughly chopped

Put the sugar and water into a small saucepan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil nd continue boiling until the sugar has reached thread stage (about 220C). Beat the egg yolks, then - adding it slowly in a thin stream - whisk in the hot syrup.

Put the cream, vanilla pod (or seeds), and chocolate in a pan and heat gently until just below boiling point. Remove the pod, then pour the chocolate into the egg mixture, whisking until thoroughly mixed together. Cool and freeze (as above recipe).

Time for me to now go and put the oven on ready to roast the turkey breast, also par-boil spuds etc. Hope you all have a good day, and looking forward to meeting up with you again tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Through the Keyhole!

Well, I've done it! Taken a couple of photos of my larder, and so now you can see it in all its glory.
Could have taken just one photo facing inwards from the door, but that way it would have been difficult to make out what was on the shelves, so took two photos - the shelves on the left, and the other showing shelves on the right.
Am sure you wish to know what is in every jar/packet, but can only give an approximation, but think you will get the idea. If you wish to know the contents of each of my numerous jars, will be happy to let you know.

First photo shows
shelves on the left,
these holding mainly
'dry goods'
Top shelf, partly
hidden, are stored
bags of flour, plain,
s.raising, strong bread
flour, and pasta flour.
Shelf below shows my
glass (kilner) storage
jars, in which are dried
fruits, bread sticks,
dessicated coconut etc.
Below that are more
glass (coffee) jars with
different sugars, choc
drops, meringues, etc.

At the end of that shelf (across the end) you can see taller glass containers holding red lentils, spaghetti, cocoa.
The next shelf down holds things I need for baking/desserts. A jar of dried beans (used for baking blind), tubs of custard powder, cornflour, a jar of Nutella, some Nesquick, jar of preserved ginger, then comes packets (not easily seen) of gelatine (leaf and crystal), hidden are a couple of cans of condensed milk/evap. milk. Then some 'savouries' such as Beanfeasts, sun-dried tomatoes, dried marrowfat peas, packs of dried beans (cannellini, haricot etc). Also some packs of (strange) flour that Gill gave me (yam etc). Also some packs of Chinese sauces, noodles, casserole mixes...

Shelf below that holds my 'essentials' for baking: tubs of raising agents etc (baking powder, bicarb, cr. of tartar, arrowroot, candied peel, glace cherries, angelica, spray on egg glaze etc.
Then come boxes that hold croutons, packets of jelly,
Towards the end of that shelf are big containers of long-grain rice and also big bags of sugar.

On the floor are several large Tupperware tubs that hold 4oz bags of s.r. flour, another with the same of plain flour, next has 4 oz bags of caster sugar, the last holds unweighed icing sugar.
On top of these containers are assorted baking tins, paper liners etc (still have to find an empty cupboard to keep them in).
There is a top shelf (unseen) as this is almost too high for me to reach it holds spare tins of Marmade, a Victorian type apple peeler and very little else.

The second photo (below) shows the right hand side of my larder. These shelves hold mainly canned and bottled foods.
The bottom shelf starts with the assorted sauces and pickles,, that are used regularly, and further down the shelf there are many small jars of assorted (home-made) jam. Also a jar of two of honey.At the end of the shelf is a PG tin that holds re-fill packs of spices.

Next shelf up starts with the taller bottles of ketchup and HP sauce, then several cans of baked beans (the shelf isn't full, there is room to put another layer at the front, so am not THAT much of a hoarder), followed by canned plum and chopped tomatoes, then a few cans of corned beef and Spam, followed by 'the fish' (pilchards, sardines, salmon, tuna, anchovies...). Unseen - but there - are half a dozen or so cans of fruit (sliced peaches, fruit cocktail, cherries, cherry pie filling, pineapple).

In the corner are some canned soups, and cartons of passata, and the shelf across the end also holds canned chickpeas, new potatoes, UHT milk and cranberry juice. We see (again) the tall glass jars mentioned/shown above.

Next shelf up holds jars of assorted curry sauces, behind these are 'back-ups' of mint sauce, redcurrant jelly, mango chutney, vinegar, packs of rock salt, sea salt, black peppercorns etc. Towards the end of the shelf are spare jars of golden syrup (the tins of black treacle and tin of golden syrup are on the 'cake' shelf but unseen), also a jar each of crunchy and smooth peanut butter.

Last 'get attable' shelf holds unused bottles of mayo, salad cream, more vinegar, and have to say 'bits and bobs' of things that I have been given (like 'mock' caviare') but never got around to using. Across the end are a couple of jars of Peppadew some more canned chickpeas and boxes of tomato juice/cranberry juice.

On a VERY high shelf can just be seen my bags of sugar (next to some boards and a roll of wallpaper). This shelf carries on round and also holds hardly-used equipment such as an ice-cream machine, my Mouli-mill etc.

My intention was to put the second picture at the side of the first but they wouldn't fit into the same space, so now not sure where the second picture will go. But to save me writing all this again, hope you have been able to make sense of it. Tomorrow will show the photos of the paper crown that my daughter made, one not to miss.

Beloved has requested no main meals at the moment, he is 'saving himself' for the turkey dinner tomorrow. So that let me off baking yesterday. Put my feet up instead.

By the way, if anyone wishes to know what veggies I have in store, can always get them out of the fridge and put the lot on the kitchen table to be photographed, or I could just write a list. Let me know.

Now to comments... Did love your expression 'chat pack' Elaine. So pleased you found yesterday's offering worth a read.

Also liked your approach to the challenge Lynn - not attempting a 'super duper frugal' but 'eat well for as little as possible'. Once we have got the latter right, and possibly last out a couple of months the easy way, then this means if we had to start again using the same foods (and no more) that we had in store, we could keep going for twice that length of time.

Love the sound of your combination microwave/grill Cheesepare. Think Les would be interested in having one of those. If our old micro fails, then might just get one myself. But do I need one? That is the question.

As you say minimiser deb, it is lovely to be spoiled. And Alison, your mother must have really enjoyed her day with you for that very reason.

Don't get me wrong Ceridwen, as myself am always ready to try something new. But usually a 'new to me' natural food, not something like a packaged and flavoured couscous. Although nothing wrong in that. With me it is always whether something can be afforded, not because I wish to try it regardless. As you can see from my shelves, I don't rely only on 'basics', tucked in there somewhere are tiny jars of soft green peppercorns (in brine), capers, harissa paste, a tube of anchovy paste...

Some of the Amish families did seem to have a lot of children, but believe that many do live in one house as an 'extended' family, the older sons and daughters with their wives/husbands and their children.

I once wrote about how the population was controlled in China, no family being allowed more than two children (or was it just one?). In many ways this makes sense, for we would see a lot less famine and deaths in Africa if the population was similarly controlled. When I mentioned this had almost a hate-mail from ladies who wished to have a large family and saw no reason why they shouldn't. We so often read about large families living on benefits, and quite happy to do this. All I can say is, if we wish to have a large family, then we have to be sure we can afford to provide for them without any outside help. Otherwise it is not fair.

In the old days, having a lot of children was not always good for a wife's health. Have to say that with our four (three born within three years, a fourth four years after the third - with two probables in between that were lost almost before they began), have to say that it seemed to do me no harm other than making me gain too much weight. Certainly all the daily walks with the youngsters kept me fit. Think nature decides whether a woman is a 'good breeder' or not.

Having been an only child, do feel that we should all have at least one sibling for companionship. Larger families can be even more fun, but the way the world is today, it requires more thought. If we can live the simple life, and allow (as the Amish do) our children to 'help' from a very early age, and not expect presents at any other time than birthday and Christmas, and not expensive ones even then, maybe it would work. Bring more children into the world then 'spoil' them, teach we then make a rod for our own back as well as theirs in the future.

Have three times got in a mess with this posting, hitting wrong buttons, putting photos in the wrong place, and each time had to edit when in 'draft', so think I'd better wind up for today and continue 'chatting' again tomorrow. Keep those comments coming, and enjoy finding ways to use up the left-overs before the challenge really begins. TTFN

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.

Friday, December 23, 2011

New Beginnings

Several readers have said they'd love a walk round my larder, and I did put a photo on this blog showing my laden shelves, possibly 18 months ago. Was about to publish it again today, but because B has added more shelves (so now able to store more food), and what was in there then has now been moved around, thought it better to take a new photo before I start running 'the collection down'. Too much food of course. I'll probably be ashamed to show it. But if I do, it will be at the end of this year - just before I begin starting to use it all up.

What a good idea to break chores into what can be managed in 5 minutes Lynn - which makes good use of the time taken up by those ads on TV! Do I get tired of cooking you ask? Sometimes now I do. Never minded when I had four children to feed (plus B, dog and grandma), even though it was often hard work. If my Beloved was a bit more appreciative, then perhaps it wouldn't feel such a slog. Honestly, I can spend all day in the kitchen cooking up 'something special' for him, and he just eats it and rarely gives any praise (though quite good at criticising).

Yesterday mentioned to B that Christmas probably doesn't seem any different to any time of the year as his meals are always 'treat standard', and he said he was always telling his sailing buddies at the social what good meals he ate at home. I then said "bet none of them regularly eat such good meals as you get here", and he agreed. So suppose that's a compliment in a roundabout way, even if I had to drag it out of him. But it would be nice for him to say so, like often.

Generally am happiest when 'experimenting', rather than just cooking meals that I've cooked hundreds of times before. Yesterday made B a spiced fruit loaf. Put far too much spice in it (I thought), but think it is OK. It was the normal bread dough (but this time half white half brown flour used), plus a little sugar and plenty of cinnamon and mixed spice. Plus a knob of butter and water of course.
Halfway through making dough (in the bread machine) threw in a 'guestimated' amount of sultanas and finely chopped dried apricots. The dough was enough to make a 1 lb loaf and four large 'teacakes'. The latter I cooked in a covered baking tin, this helped to keep the tops soft (normally they tend to crust up a bit too much for my liking).
I toasted on of the 'teacakes' for my breakfast this morning, and think there was too much spice, also should have let them rise a little more. The loaf appears much better and lighter, so later today will see how that cuts/toasts.
Although the loaf was cooking in the tin in the normal way, half-way through covered the top with foil (shiny side up), to prevent it getting too brown and crusty. This too helped to give the loaf a soft 'feel', more like the fruit loaves on sale.

Making the loaf was interesting, but thinking about what to make for B's supper was not, so (luckily) found a home-made Beef Jalfrezi (curry) I'd frozen, so thawed that out, leaving B to finish heating it through in the microwave, and also 'cook' his 2 minute rice in the microwave once the piping hot curry had been taken out.
He helped himself to my soft-scoop ice-cream for 'afters', and also continued snacking during the evening, although wasn't able to see what he was munching.

I'd taken the second tin of assorted sweets (recently bought but saved for Christmas) and yesterday shared them between three bowls (one bowl slightly larger than the other two matching ones). B asked what they were for, and I suggested he took one bowl and kept it by his chair so he could snack from it, so he immediately picked up the largest bowl! Bless him, he still has this fear that someone else will take what he feels is rightfully his (having four older brothers meant when he was small he only got what they didn't want, and often than meant nothing left for him at all). Told B he needn't panic, as ALL were for him, and I'd just put them into bowls so that there would be sweets for him in each room he was likely to be.
Did ask him to try and to make the sweets last until New Year, but doubt he has that much self-control. Mind you, tomorrow is Christmas Eve, and only just over a week to go before we hear the fireworks bringing in the New Year. Just can't wait! I love new beginnings.

Think I've eaten black beans only once, and have tasted most of the other varieties more often, and to me doubt if eating blindfold I would know one from the other. So perhaps your husband's preference Lisa, as to which beans he eats comes more from what he was used to seeing in a 'traditional' dish he enjoyed. Or is there really a difference in flavour? Do know that chilli wouldn't look as appetising if I used a paler bean than the normal deep red kidney bean. Even though the taste might be the same.

Heavens Woozy, shopping late afternoon on Christmas Eve? Not my idea of fun, even though there might be plenty of bargains. Did do this once myself many years ago, and remember there was little meat/veg left on the shelves then, and none reduced in price. But it was a smaller store (Safeways), so that may have made a difference. If you can trust your husband, then let him go by himself to discover bargains worth buying. He will probably enjoy the old 'hunter/gatherer instinct being awakened in him. You never know what other old instincts it may arouse. Just prepare yourself to be dragged by your hair into his cave later that evening.

Having had my fright over the possible food loss due to electrics failing (which fortunately never got that far), began to realise that the old ways, when we had no fridges, may have been the best and right way to go, even though this would mean going out to shop for fresh food to make the main meals almost every day. This worked because most women stayed at home and (suppose) had the time to do this. Also meals were pretty standard, none of the 'clever stuff' served up today that uses umpteen more ingredients than were ever used before. Life then was so simple and food served more to keep us alive than to keep us happy. There were much more interesting things to do than bother about what food we ate. Sometimes even sitting down to a meal took time away from the 'better things in life'. Now it seems that food is the only enjoyable thing left. Perhaps not a bad thing considering.

Can't quite understand your logic Les. For one thing water is not measured in grams but in mls or cls. and any measure can be used when cooking rice, it doesn't have to be the America 'cup'. Rice grains can differ in size (basmati being smaller than long-grain), so when measured by volume may not necessarily weigh the same.
All I can say is that if anyone uses one measure of rice to one and a half measures of water, then the rice will be cooked perfectly and also 'free-flowing'.
As you seem to appreciate the scientific side of cooking Les, you will probably be keen to purchase a 'sous-vide' (water-bath) that so many chefs now use. Am happy to tell you that Lakeland is selling one suitable for domestic kitchens, this will be seen in its latest catalogue (or on its website). If not too late to spread the message, this would probably be the best Christmas pressie you could ever have.

You mention clementines Campfire, and in my opinion these are far superior in flavour than the satsumas that most of us buy, and they peel just as easily, and don't have so much fibrous membrane. I've bought two 'nets' of clementines for the festive season and planning to save all the peel either to use as zest, to use for candied peel, or to remove membrane and dry the peel to add to casseroles etc (gives a wonderful flavour to the gravy). In January we will be having the large navel oranges appearing in the stores, these are my most favourite oranges (good flavour and no pips!).

Liked the idea of soaking dried fruit in cold tea AND scotch Margie. For those in the US, 'scotch' is Scotch whisky. If you see whisky with an added 'e' (whiskey) this means it is made in Ireland (Irish whiskey). Believe American whisky/whiskey is called 'bourbon'.

Sorry your Stollen didn't turn out as it should Lynn, but probably due to different flour being used. If something similar happens again (even if the correct ingredients are used as per recipe, some flours will always absorb more liquid than others), so - if necessary - we can always work in a bit more flour to 'stiffen' up the mixture and make it easier to handle/shape.

There was something mentioned on the news about the price of Christmas dinner, but as I wanted to watch 'Eggheads' missed what was said. No doubt we are (as a nation) paying more than last year, certainly far too much anyway. Might be that we HAVE all cut down. All I can say is that by keeping within my food budget, am still able to cook/serve the festive feast, even if not on the correct day (this year it will be closer to New Year). Really there needn't be much difference in the cost of a normal Sunday roast, and the Christmas dinner.
Breaking it down, already have sausages in the freezer, bacon in the fridge, packs of stuffing in the larder, breadcrumbs in the freezer for bread sauce, jar of cranberry sauce in the larder, Brussels sprouts in the freezer, also peas, string beans, broccoli....carrots in the fridge and onions and potatoes stored in their respective baskets. A turkey crown is also in the freezer (plus an uncooked gammon - we already have some cooked ham in the fridge). What else do we need? Even gravy can be made without having to buy anything more.
Christmas cake, mince pies, trifle, ice-cream, sweets, sweet and savoury biscuits, cheese, pork pie, salads, fresh fruits, already made/bought, so perhaps I've got away with it lightly. Mind you, watching TV pictures of families sitting round tables heavily laden with all sorts of festive food, makes me feel we all provide far more than is necessary. We can make the table look just as good without filling every last gap with something we probably wouldn't eat anyway.
Perhaps we are so used to eating 'well', that we now have to go OTT to make Christmas Dinner even more special. It's strange how things change. In my youth we always had a large joint of meat for our Sunday roast (beef one week, pork another, lamb or veal), and a roast chicken only once or twice a year to celebrate an occasion. Now most of us eat chicken all year round, possibly several times a week, and can only afford a roasting joint of beef (or other meat) once or twice a year.
So if we are now used to serving up what our ancestors would call 'a feast' most days of the week, then of course it will cost us a lot more (time, labour, and money) when we wish to provide 'the extra' for our enjoyment (if you can call heartburn, indigestion, and hangovers 'enjoyment'). Next year perhaps we would be wise to ease off a bit, and enjoy fresh produce only when in season, and discover that looking forward to the 'first fruits' then eating them gives far more pleasure than being able to have them any time we wish.

Yesterday took my Tesco not-quite-statement handed to me with the Wednesday delivery, and began working out how much each onion, baking potato, carrot would cost once they had been remove from their bags. It was really surprising. Had bought some loose onions (because they looked bigger than those in bags) but they worked out much dearer than the bagged ones even though there was not that much difference in size. Despite the weights being the same, in one 'bag' of onions there were 10, in the second there were 12. But when cooking, an onion is an onion, is an onion. A slight difference in size rarely matters. But cost per onion does.

The bagged carrots were a bit of a mixture. Some really large, most were medium sized, the large ones would be cut into two. each half then used as one 'medium', and one medium carrot would be enough to add to a casserole for 1 - 2 servings, so averaged the number of (medium) carrots and they worked out at 3p each. I

Anyone who really wishes to prove that home-made can work out cheaper than bought 'readies' will find that by working out the price of any ingredient either by ounce or gram (flour, sugar, butter, rice, pasta etc...) or by unit (onions, potatoes, carrots, parsnips, eggs.....) and keeping a note of these, we can then easily cost out what we are making, and then compare prices. Also if we feel like 'having a play' (often more fun) we can challenge ourselves to 'spend no more than 50p total on ingredients, and then see what can be made from these - and quite a lot I can tell you).

At one time I always did this, and the reason why I discovered that in the past I'd been spending double the amount of money on food products that I should have been able to make far more cheaply at home. Since then never looked back, although now - perhaps because I've learned enough over almost half a century - tend now not to 'cost out' what I make, instead take the easier route and just aim to never go above a set monthly food budget, with an ongoing challenge to try and spend less each month. Sometimes spending even less than the month before, and - very occasionally - not spending any money at all. January is almost always the best month to keep the purse padlocked. Then maybe again during the summer when we hope to have some home-grown produce (windowsill salads etc) to provide us with our fresh 'greens'.

Although it may seem unfair for me to have a larder full of food when others do not, my January 'challenge' is more about being able to explain/prove how basic ingredients (always the cheapest and have a good shelf-life) can be used to 'pad out' our meals, and make 'fresher' ingredients (whether frozen or chilled) go that much further.

My friend Gill rarely keeps flour in her kitchen cupboard as she tells me she never has a use for it. Well, maybe it does require a bit of effort to turn flour (plus a couple or so other ingredients) into something, and as she lives alone and can afford to buy rather than make or bake can see her reasoning, but as we use flour to make: bread, biscuits, cakes, pastry, pasta, pancakes, batter, for thickening sauces....and more besides, we can see how useful it is.
Even the price per oz/g can vary according to the brand, and it is possible to make a cake using top-price flour and free-range eggs that works out twice as costly than if we used 'own-brand' flour and the cheapest (8p) eggs (and possibly Stork marg). Yet not THAT much difference in flavour/texture. Certainly nothing that anyone would notice, for an egg is an egg, marg often works better in cakes than butter, and 'cheap' flour we can twice-sift ourselves to bring it (almost) to the quality of the 'super-sifted' (which settles back down in the bag when packed anyway, so needs sifting again).
When it comes to some ingredients we should not be too precious about the ones we choose. If it is cheaper and works, then why pay more?

Although my larder has a good variety of foods in there (some I can't even remember), many ingredients that I don't have seem to be regularly used in recipes throughout the year. Perhaps this is the reason why we (as a nation) spend more than we need - buying an ingredient for a recipe that takes our fancy but we probably might never make/use again.

Have just taken a look at a December cookery mag that gives recipes they hope (at least some) we will follow and serve this Christmas. Practically all 'expect' me to have one or more of the following ingredients (listed below) and give or take a couple, the rest I DON'T have at this moment in time and not intending to buy them in the near future - if ever. It just shows how easily we can be persuaded to go out and buy what we feel we ought to have.

The following ingredients are listed as they turn up in almost every recipe given from start to finish of the mag, and are not shown in 'types' (veg, spices, booze kept together). Worth reading through to find out how many YOU may - or may not - have).
caraway seeds; juniper berries; lingonberry jam; whole almonds; pancetta; pine nuts; ciabatta loaf; Marsala; pecans; cooked chestnuts; Brie; walnut oil; duck or goose fat; sherry vinegar; polenta; leeks; red cabbage; Savoy cabbage; chipolata sausages; white peppercorns; blade mace; allspice berries; pomegranate juice; Puy lentils; fresh and dried cranberries; Drambuie; prosciutto; canned Morello cherries; pistachio nuts; marshmallows; edible glitter; Turkish delight; Brazil nuts; Roquefort cheese; dark rye bread; celery seeds; chicory; poppy seeds; spring onions; shucked oysters; mirin; red chillis; malt syrup; bok choi; oyster sauce; rice wine; fresh pineapple; ripe mango; cooked lobster; lobster stock; celeriac; black pudding, scallops, truffle oil; fresh tarragon; avocado; bulb fennel; blini pancakes; mangetout peas; dark and white crabmeat; dried porcini mushrooms; chorizo sausage, sourdough bread; dried chilli flakes; radicchio; sumac; frozen mixed seafood; Camembert; salt beef; cornichons; pomegranate seeds; marscapone; chestnut puree; bottle Pinot Noir; creme de cassis; hazelnut liqueur; savolardi biscuits; buttermilk; fennel seeds; chilli bean paste; salami; peppadew; lemongrass; fish sauce; rice noodles; tilapia (fish) fillets; ras el hanout spice mix; caramelised onion chutney; sandwich baguettes; chipotle paste; taco shells; panko crumbs; Thai fish sauce; shiitake mushrooms; laksa paste; beansprouts; Gruyere cheese; toasted sesame oil; sushi rice; nori seaweed (sheets); jalapeno peppers; guacamole; black cherry conserve; Angostura bitters; Calvados; Italian '00' flour; lemon balm, passion fruits; white miso paste; maple syrup; fresh pea sprouts; bird's eye chillies; tamarind; pig's foot (trotter); port; can stout; pear brandy.

Phew! Goodness me, how much would all the above cost to add to my stores I wonder? One or two might actually be able to make/grow myself. Honestly though, during a whole year, would use very few (maybe no more than five). The rest would never be considered worth the expense.

What would my mother make of all the above? She probably wouldn't know what most of them are. Which perhaps goes to show that we don't really need any of them to still be able to cook and eat wonderfully tasty meals. Or maybe it is that I am 'old-fashioned' in my outlook, and ignore the fact that others are quite happy to spend loadsa money so that they can keep eating 'something new'.

Before I finish for today, must given a mention to yesterday's episode of the Amish series, the family shown seeming to be a lot more closer to their religious 'teachings' than the previous families in this series. Yesterday's reminded me a lot of Jehovah's Witnesses. Having once a close (friendly) connection with a JW family, remember the many bible readings, daily prayers, and the 'spreading of the word'. Not that this is a bad thing, but can be a bit oppressive to those that take a more relaxed approach to the Christian faith. Sometimes too much of a good thing (like in your face), can push people away rather than encourage them to join in. Which is a pity. But there you go.

What is noticeable is the way the Amish tend to work from dawn to dusk, starting working life at a very early age - barely more than a toddler. Very young children seem to enjoy helping their mums and dads (we should try this with our youngsters). Most of adult life is spent doing something useful, although the Amish still allow themselves free time to meet up with others of the faith and enjoy what they call 'partying'. Truly a good life, and probably a better and happier way to live than that we consider 'normal' today.

Well that's it. Am now taking Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day off (although will be checking my email and if a comment requires an urgent reply will probably give that on Boxing Day). This means it will be Tuesday when I am back busily tapping away at the keyboard telling you about anything of interest that has happened and if it didn't, then will bore you instead.

Happy Christmas To You All!