Saturday, January 28, 2012

Always Worth Checking The Cost

A late start again due to me waking early after what seemed a full night of great dreams (lasting worked many 'days' of 'dream time') that I really didn't want to wake up. Not that all dreams were good, but certainly gave me plenty of challenges. Lots about food.

Yesterday, after the haricot beans had soaked overnight, drained them and put them in a large pan with half a carton of tomato juice, plus about 4fl oz of the orange flavoured 'syrup' that I'd saved when candying the orange peel (this never worked, so for once the peel was discarded). Put the lot into my slow cooker on Low and left it for several hours. Around tea-time the beans had taken up all the liquid, so added the light syrup from a can of peaches. This just enough to get the beans just about 'floating' again. By late evening the beans were cooked with just enough thick liquid to coat - they tasted very similar and looked exactly like 'bought' canned beans with the same amount and thickness of the sauce that would be if canned, and I was delighted.
Today will weigh the beans/sauce and see how the cost of ingredients used compares to the cheapest canned beans ( a brand I would buy, Tesco's own brand is quite good). Tomorrow will let you know the result.

Also yesterday decided to make a Victoria sponge for B to indulge himself. Thought I'd made a bit of a mess of making the cake as I decided to use the 'all-in-one' method, putting the ingredients into one bowl them beating them together. But as I used some Stork marg (fairly soft) and some butter (very hard) decided to rub the fat into the flour and sugar until like crumbs before beating in the eggs. It sort of worked but didn't really cream the fat, could see little flecks of it still there. It also needed more liquid, so I dumped in a big tablespoon of Greek yogurt and half a spoon of bicarb (to give a bit more rise - bicarb works better than baking powder if yogurt is an ingredient). This made a good mixture and filled two sponge tins that rose well, although did turn fairly brown even though the temperature was slightly lower than I normally use.
The sponge layers were deep(ish) so decided to cut each through in half and use three sandwiched together with the contents of a small jar of lemon curd in the fridge (this being towards the end of its shelf-life. The fourth slice is being kept to make a trifle (or two). Thought the lemon curd had been kept too long (6 weeks max) but fortunately had used a marker pen to write on the date of making - a useful tip when it comes to short-shelf life products - and was relieved it had a week to go).
Beloved has already eaten over half of the cake and loved it. I tried a very thin slice and didn't really like the texture, will use the normal creaming method next time. Mind you, the lemon curd tasted wonderful.

Also prepared several more 4 oz (100g) bags of flour AND caster sugar as my 'some I made earlier' supply was getting low. It really does save a lot of time when things are already weighed before starting baking.

Whilst pottering around the kitchen yesterday began thinking about the food purchases made this year. Under £20 spent so far, but really none of them absolutely NECESSARY. Fresh milk has been bought, but as I have plenty of UHT in the larder, no real need for this. B just brought it from Morrison's as it was a good price. Cheese also bought because B had been eating what was in the fridge for his 'late-night snacks' - again not really needed (he still had some of his Christmas selection left).
It was only the other night I got up to get a drink of water (after midnight) and found B (who was watching a late-night film) with his head in the fridge loading up a plate while the adverts were on TV. He had already had a big supper, and at least two snacks after that before I'd gone to bed). Maybe he got himself another after that. Wouldn't be surprised.

So, although I am keeping a record of money spent on food since my last grocery order was delivered (several days before Christmas), it is comforting to know that very little bought was - if indeed any of it - 'essential'. Also that if - as many are doing - my limit was to spend no more than £10 a week to 'top up', could by now have have spent £50 without going over that budget, so have plenty of (theoretical) money still in hand, so far haven't gone over £20 total.

We have just about run out of fresh fruit, only cooking apples left and a few grapes. But this then brings me to another thought that came into my mind yesterday. What is the least expensive way to get our 'five-a-day'? So - over this weekend - am hoping to find time to compare costs of 'prepared' five-a-days. Canned fruits count, as do canned vegetables (including baked beans), and fruit juices in cartons, the canned containing at least two if not three servings, so the price can be divided by 2 or 3 to find out the portion price, which should then be fairly low. We don't always have to buy an expensive orange. Carton orange juice drink would probably give six portions for less cost.
'Fresh' produce is always best, but not always necessary if we can find a cheaper alternative, so will have a 'look-see' through Tesco's website to compare prices. Not forgetting that during the summer and autumn months there is 'fruit-for-free' that we can go foraging for (blackberries being the obvious).

Knowing what 'five-a-day' means can be puzzling, even misleading. We can't eat five apples and say we've eaten the full amount. The five have to be different. In the old days we used the 'traffic light' recommendations, eating some red produce (tomatoes, bell peppers, strawberries etc), some yellow/orange (carrots, butternut squash, oranges, lemons....), and some green each day (leafy veg, kiwi fruit, apples....). Now they include purple - known to be excellent for our health (beetroot, black grapes, blackcurrants, blueberries, blackberries etc.). Again in the old days it was thought that we should eat all fresh produce uncooked, but now it has been proved we gain more (healthwise) from eating carrots and tomatoes that HAVE been cooked (so it's OK to eat lots of ketchup with our chips!).

It's better to eat a smaller amount of five different veg each day (or three veg and two pieces of fruit) than eat only a full portion of (say) three. Different produce has different vitamins and minerals and other things I can't even pronounce let alone spell. We could take (say) one carrot, one onion, a couple of ribs of celery, one parsnip, one bell pepper (that adds up to the recommended five), and one potato (which doesn't count), chop finely or grate and cook in water or stock to make a good panful of soup in which all the vitamins are retained. On their own these veggies would be the five-a-day for one person, put together they then could make soup to feed three, and better for each person to have a good sample of 'all five' than maybe just two of the 'five'. Well, that's my feeling anyway.
We can always make up any shortfall (if we feel the need) by eating an apple, drinking a glass of orange juice and maybe starting the day with baked beans on toast.

Can almost visualise me from now on living very frugally on just on 'five a day'... baked beans, soup etc., with a little extra protein and carbo added to complete the 'balance'. In a way seem to have been doing this for quite some time. Seems to be keeping me healthy. My 'flu experience' a couple of days ago came and went within 24 hours.

Sometimes I wonder if we do really need to eat so much fruit and veg? Obviously good for us, he vitamins keeping us healthy and the fibre keeping our pipes working properly (carbos give us energy/warmth, protein builds our muscles, and together make the very necessary 'fuel' for our bodies and keep us alive).
Yet, when I read about a young woman who has eaten nothing but chicken nuggest since she was just about weaned, then I wonder if we worry too much about missing one or more of our 'five a day'. Certainly the health of the young lady is causing great concern, and she is (if I remember correctly) now having to have injections of vitamins.
I've spoken to many elderly ladies who husbands have always refused to eat any veg at all (other than potatoes) and also don't like fruit. At least they've managed to grow to old age without (seemingly) too many health problems. Possibly the 'five a day' pressure we are getting, is more to hope repair the problems caused by too much eating of 'convenience' foods, especially where children are concerned. The older man above probably never ate any of those either, so had less of a health concern (high cholesterol, blood pressure etc) because of this.
This is not said to put off anyone eating the five-a-day, we should all aim for this, but just to give the subject a bit more perspective.

Beloved has brought in this week's trade mag for me - this I'll be reading later and pass on anything that we (as consumers) ought to be aware of. The supplement that came with it is all about oils and a quick flick through the pages shows again how retailers will be taking lengths to get us to purchase as many different types as possible "Oils for all occasions" is the heading to one section, this including a box (in big letters) that says "To build the category up in a sustainable way, all suppliers need to focus on education, education, education..."
Looks like being an interesting read, especially as my eye has now seen "there is an increase demand for Virgin Sesame Oil, Walnut Infused Oil, Hazelnut Oil, Roast Peanut Oil, Grapeseed Oil, and Olive Oil with Chilli.....again consumers are willing to pay a fair rsp for oils that cost a premium but which are still affordable, and which they may expect to last a while, as they ten to be used in small volumes".

Well, either this is another U turn in information, as more than one cookbook has led me to understand that nut oils (in particular) have a very short shelf life once opened and should be used as soon as possible. Did once buy myself a small bottle of (relatively expensive) walnut oil, and within a very few weeks it began to taste rancid. These flavoured oils are not used for cooking in the normal way, mainly used to add just a little extra flavour, sesame oil to a stir-fry (sesame oil), or nut oils for a salad dressing etc.

Myself seem to cope quite well using sunflower oil for general frying and some baking (muffins etc), and make my own 'light' olive oil by mixing equal amounts of extra virgin with sunflower, and then keep extra virgin for 'specials' (this usually given me as a gift from a family member who holidays abroad). Did fall by the wayside and buy a tiny bottle of truffle oil for B (men just love it, I know why but modesty forbids me to say). Have made my own 'walnut' oil by crushing some dried walnuts and putting them in a jar with oil, then leaving it to steep for several days before draining, then using up a.s.a.p. More about oils on a later day, if there IS anything in the supplement worth us knowing about.

Front cover shows several topics to be found inside the mag. One says: "Cereals. As sales decline, despite promotions, what's Plan B?" Must read that to find out. The whole foodie business is sounding more like a game that the stores are out to win. We need to be aware of all the cards they are hiding up their sleeves.

Was having a think about those lunchboxes you will be preparing Lisa. You are really wonderful helping out family and friends in this way. Think we mothers are hard-wired to do just this. It's in our genes.
Appreciate what you said about the food needing to be eaten 'on location' not necessarily having a table to sit at. Cornish pasties (meat or veggie filled) make good 'picnic food', easy to handle, but also substantial. Scotch Eggs are another 'handy' edible, as are sausage rolls and wedges of quiche.

You sound as though your seasonal 'genes' are waking Urbanfarmgirl. However much we believe we have moved on from the past, even in this 21st century we still have the same natural instincts as had our ancestors thousands of years ago, and come late January/early Feb. we get the urge to being the preparation towards seed-sowing. Many of us already choose to read seed catalogues rather than a novel (or even cookbook). In March most women feel the stirrings to begin spring-cleaning (although I try to resist the urge, and pleased that I have enough self-control to do so). Autumn sees us gathering in the harvest and in the kitchen preserving as much as we can, and then making sure our larder shelves are full to see us through the winter months.
Maybe some now don't get any 'stirrings' at all, but for those in tune to nature they will feel them full blast, and aim to do what nature has always intended we should. Becoming 'civilised' should never get in the way. But then I'm not really part of today's world, always wanting to live as they did in the past.

Interesting reading about the time zones (Margie and Lisa). Although my AA map of the USA and Canada (a huge tome) shows all towns, townships, and some farms, many of the country roads look dead straight, also those in towns (the only long straight roads in England are what were once the old Roman roads), and certainly the US state borders are shown as straight lines (unless the boundary is a river). Don't they ever weave round mountains? Which came first, the towns or the state boundaries? If the latter first, then probably the towns were, built one side or the other.

Do know that at least one town in England has a boundary running right through the middle of its main street. Not a county boundary, but the one between the city council and the county council, so the housing rates/rent on one side of the road are cheaper than on the other (for exactly the same type of property).
Not sure what happens if the road needs repairing, maybe they share costs, or each council repair only their own side.
Believe also there was a problem with schooling there, for children who lived on the 'town side', had to go to the 'town' schools, the 'county' children going to the county schools, so even if a child on one side of the road lived immediately opposite a school, he/she couldn't go to it, instead having to (maybe) travel some distance to get to his alloted one.

Even within a town, think the pupils in schools have to come from what I believe is called 'an encatchment area', this meaning within a certain distance of a school. Again possible that if you live across a road that makes you a few yards outside this 'area', a school further away is the one that has to be attended. Certain schools are preferred by parents who might sell up and move the other side of the road just to be resident in the right place, or if the children's grandparents lived close enough, their address maybe used as the children's address just so they can go to the chosen school.
With private schools, don't think it matters where you live, as long as the fees can be afforded and the entrance exam shows some sort of intelligence, then anyone can go to any of them.
Probably got some of the above wrong. Someone is bound to let me know if I have. Hope they do as I don't want to give misinformation.

Recipes today are the last on the theme of 'one basic batch - with variations'. Today based on a loaf-cake. Three variations given after the basic mix (this can be baked on its own), and these should inspire you to make your own alternatives by using different flavourings, fruit etc.
This is very similar to the recipe for a Victoria Sandwich mix, and you could omit the ground almonds and baking powder, adding more of the flour and less milk (but the almonds make a slightly better cake for this purpose). The oven temperature (170C, 325F, gas 3) and the baking times (45 - 50 mins until risen and cooked through - test with a skewer etc), the same for all.

basic mix for loaf cake:
6 oz (175g) butter, softened
6 oz (175g) caster sugar
3 eggs
5 oz (140g) self-raising flour
3 oz (75g) ground almonds
half tsp baking powder
4 fl oz (100ml) milk
Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in the eggs, flour, baking powder and ground almonds to make a smooth batter. To bake as-is, pour into a greased and lined 2 lb (900g) loaf tin, and bake until risen and golden (and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean). For the other variations, follow the method as given.

This first variation suggest using 4 tblsp elderflower cordial, but it could be another 'fruit juice' or even some orange liqueur (for adults only!). To help removal of cake it's a good idea to line with enough paper so that it comes slightly above the sides, the paper then can be used to help lift the cake from the tin after cooling.
elderflower crunch cake:
1 x basic loaf-cake mix
4 tblsp elderflower cordial, or other (see above)
4 tblsp white granulated sugar or demerara
Make and bake the cake as in the basic recipe (above, but allowing plenty of lining paper as suggested), then as soon as it is baked, and whilst still hot from the oven, prick the top all over with a skewer. Mix the cordial with the sugar and pour this over where it should soak in, leaving a crusty top. Leave to cool in the tin before carefully removing, ready to be sliced.

The chocolate variation suggests using melted chocolate for decoration, suggesting the cake is placed over paper to catch any drips. As melted chocolate will harden again, any drips can be collected up and re-used, so my suggestion is put a plate under the cake or baking parchment. If you don't want to save the 'drips' then newspaper is probably the cheapest 'catcher'.
The flavour of orange goes very well with chocolate, so by beating in some grated orange zest this gives the recipe below another dimension.
chocolate loaf cake:
1 x basic loaf-cake mix
4 tblsp cocoa powder
2 oz (50g) plain chocolate, roughly grated
extra chunks/drops for decorating (opt)
Make the cake batter as in basic recipe but include the cocoa when beating together. Fold in t the grated chocolate then spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and bake at given temps and times as given above.
Cool in the tin then remove and place on a cake airer that has been placed over a sheet of baking parchment (see above). Melt the chocolate chunks/drops in a bowl over hot water (or in a microwave) then drizzle over the top of the cake, allowing some to drip down the sides. Leave to set before cutting into slices.

Instead of using mashed bananas, use mashed/pureed cooked beetroot and omit the nuts. As chocolate and beetroot go together, this could be a marriage between the recipe below and the one above.
banana and walnut loaf:
1 x basic loaf cake mix ingredients
1 large (or 2 small) very ripe bananas, mashed
2 oz (50g) walnut pieces, chopped
3 oz (75g) butter, softened
4 oz (100g) icing sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla extract
walnut halves for decoration (op)
Begin by making the basic mix, but start with creaming together the sugar and butter and then beat in the bananas before adding the egg and the rest of the basic mix ingredients. When smooth, fold in the walnuts, then spoon into the prepared tin. Bake as given, then cool in the tin before lifting out.
Make a topping by beating the butter, icing sugar and vanilla together, then spread this on top of the (now) cold cake. If you wish decorate top with walnut halves, or sprinkle over chopped walnuts.

Beloved has just come in to inform me he has opened the last pack of bacon (to make himself some bacon sarnies for his 'brunch'). This has given me a bit of a problem. Once it has gone, does B then have to go without bacon? He likes it always available for when he fancies it. His preference (when he shops) is always buy from Morrison's, and we both prefer Tesco's smoked streaky bacon rashers. Am hoping he will leave enough to last at least one more week, then maybe will have to place a small order with Tesco for delivery to 'top up'. On my own there would be no need to buy. Beloved would be sulking for England if he has to do without his favourites.

Are all men like B when it comes to food? He seems to think that all edibles bought are for his use, he never asks if he can have anything, just helps himself - constantly. Only a couple of days ago made a litre of EasyYo strawberry yogurt, and notice that he has already eaten most of it, and there was me hoping I'd be able to have a half share. If I point out there are two of us living here, and food is for sharing, he gets the hump.
Not that it really matters, it is nice that he enjoys what I make. Trouble is he brings in food for himself 'that he fancies', then I discover later that he hasn't eaten all of it, and sometimes none(such as a recent goat's cheese "thought it was something else"). Hate finding half-eaten bags of watercress left too long and not fit to be used.

As said before, the problem with B's constant 'snacking' is that he is working his way through foods/ingredients that could have been used to make 'proper' meals for him. So my stores are not lasting as long as they should. Mind you, still have plenty left, and as the idea was to eat 'normally' during this challenge, shouldn't then really grumble. Just useful for all to realise that a little CAN go a long way when there isn't a man about the house. Teenage boys are probably even worse, but then B never has grown up past this stage, as I think is apparant. Some might think I was lucky. Dream on!

That's it for today. Thankfully B is out again tonight at the 'sailing social club'. Am beginning to wonder what is he doing now each Saturday? This time he says the club is having a 'musical evening'. Find that hard to believe. All they seem to want to do is eat and drink. Anyway, now I'm too old to care where he goes or what he does, just very pleased to have him out of the way so I can watch the TV programmes of my choice. Sometimes it's nice to be very old, the only concerns now being the hope we'll wake up after we've nodded off. I'd be really cross if I didn't!

Enjoy the weekend that has already started. Hope to hear from you if you can find the time, and - as ever - I'll be back tomorrow (unless the strong solar flares forecast disrupt communications, but then all our comps may be 'down' and you couldn't then use your comp anyway). TTFN.