Monday, January 23, 2012

Back to the Beginning?

It was Mabel (new name so very welcome and group hugs) who has asked about cooking breast of lamb and the price. The recipe was first on this site on 5th Oct. '08, but on checking back see it seems to have been one of those that was 'lost' due to blogger cutting down on my allotted space (well I do use a lot of it each day). At least have kept a copy of all previous (earlier) postings on my blog, so will repeat the recipe today (after the usual 'chat').
Cannot now remember how much the lamb cost - it's been in the freezer for several months - but it is a 'joint' that is similar to pork belly, both being one of the cheapest cuts/joint.

When back-checking the blog this morning (and discovering the omission), decided to read what had been written on that day over 3 years ago, and - quite honestly- surprise myself sometimes. I quite enjoyed what was written, especially the recipes, so urge the newest readers to this site to go back to the very start of this blog (Sept '06) and work their way through from start to the current postings. This will take time, but as a lot of the 'chat' has now be edited out by me, this leaves mainly hint and tips and recipes that don't cost a lot but taste great and too good to miss.

The way you compare different store prices is an excellent idea Scarlet. Maybe this can be done easily on, but so far haven't yet got my head around that website.
Problem with food prices is they rarely remain the same for any length of time, so what will be cheap in one store one week maybe more expensive in another, but the reverse a week or so later so it is impossible to stick to one store hoping that ALL will be cheaper. Believe that Sainsbury's (or might be another store) will give back money (or voucher) at the check-out if the goods purchase could have been bought cheaper elsewhere, but this may be only on branded goods. Anyone know more about this?

Know what you mean Urbanfarmgirl about seed/plant catalogues being enticing. If only I was years younger then I would have bought a Sweet Chestnut tree to plant in the garden, and also a damson tree. Not that our garden is really large enough, but there are now so many fruit trees grafted onto small stock that never grow THAT tall, so given that I knew I had ten more years of 'sensible' life, this garden would be full of small and different fruit trees, almost a fairy orchard.
Am very tempted to try growing kiwi fruit as this seems possible, even in our climate.

No-one has yet come back to me re my query about growing mushrooms from kits. Desperately need to find out if it is as economical as it sounds. Those who go horse-riding will have access to stable manure and should be able then to make up a stack in a dark shed or somewhere and plant mushroom spawn which will then produce many more 'rooms' than those rather-expensive-for-what-you-get-kits.

When visiting a mushroom farm in Yorkshire, saw a pile of steaming horse manure which came, the farmer proudly said "from a local racing stables". Apparently the quality of the food the horses eat is then passed onto the mushrooms. Maybe so, can't say I would be able to tell if there was a difference in flavour. But perhaps why field mushrooms (growing in fields) are prized. All those cow pats, horse droppings???

Continuing this week's 'trade secrets', this week several pages had been given over to baby foods. It maybe that many readers are past this stage, but again there is much 'food for thought' in what is said...
"The range of food and drink available to babies and toddlers has changed beyond recognition over the last eight years, but the challenge to engage mums and get them to buy from the baby aisle is stronger than ever".

This to me shows the power of advertising, or maybe the way the world is today. In my day doubt there were many baby foods on sale, mothers made them themselves from food they prepared for adults. We did have Farex (type of porridge/biscuit) and 'bickipegs' (hard oblongs of 'biscuit' to help babies cut their teeth), and of course baby milk powder (when bottle feeding was necessary), the rest we had to provide for ourselves, like just pureeing the adults cooked food (with not added salt - this is important). Food in those days being mainly meat and two veg, we didn't have the problem of coping with highly spiced meals.
Few domestic kitchens had freezers in those times, so normally the baby meal was prepared fresh each day. Today we can make up a whole batch and freeze it in ice-cube trays or small containers.

Today it does seem that some children can be very picky eaters. Maybe this is because so many these days are bottle fed. It is known that breast fed children (once they are weaned) will happily eat foods their mother ate during (and maybe before) pregnancy. If she ate Brussels sprouts, then the child will too. If the mother spent her teenage years and early twenties downing Big Mac and pizzas, no doubt any babies she had would also prefer this diet.

There is some good news re baby foods. Seems that the last quarter of last year, although the value is up 7% (due to rising prices?) the volume sales were static, and "wet food and snacks" began declining due to"more mothers preparing food from scratch". Snacks for babies? Seems the 'snack habit' sets in even before they begin to crawl! At least some mothers are beginning to find the economical sense of making babies meals instead of buying.

From the supermarket angle (and this is one to think about for although this relates to baby foods, it covers all aspects) none of us are ignored in the stores and manufacturers attempt to drag the pennies from our pockets..."the good news is that there are more players in the market than ever, and innovation is prolific in the snack, wet food, chilled, frozen and toddler categories, delivering strong growth for organic manufacturers." And this is the same whatever age we are.

This next bit made me smile "parents refuse to compromise on the quality of their babies' food, even in hard economic times when other areas of the family's budget are being cut". Surely, surely, SURELY the best way to get quality and also save money is to make the baby foods yourself?

Bit more gloom coming up-from the viewpoint of our purse, any silver lining aimed at the storekeeper who is now being advised that "the value of a mum to the retailer has also never been higher, with her shopping basket coming in at over £31.46 per week higher than average". Possibly this extra amount also covers disposable nappies, talcum well as baby food, but even so.
"What we feed our children in the first three years sets their palates for the future. This age group is crying out for nutritional quality" says a kid's organic ready-meals producer.
There is still hope for the sensible, speaking now from my viewpoint when I read "but with 65%of meals being cooked from scratch at home, manufacturers and retailers have to work hard to attract mums to the baby aisle - and to keep them there".
"Many mums scratch cook and don't buy into the wet baby foods category at all..." this is not good news for the stores, so expect even more products on the shelves in the near future. On the other hand, any reader of this site who has young children, then beware and continue (or even start) making meals for your little ones yourself.

A list of take-home sales is shown with nappies coming at the top of the list (don't mothers use 'terries' any more?), then moist wipes, followed by milk, food, toiletries, accessories, healthcare, drinks (these up by 15%), and sterilants.

Dear oh dear, what do I read now - re infant chilled ready-meals..."It's growth is testament to the quality and range of products....and the fact mums can gain a bit more 'me time' by purchasing ready-made 'cooked at home' meals". So when is 'me-time' so much more important than the few minutes to make a child-size version of a meal? Surely less time than it takes to walk through a supermarket to find the chilled baby meal in the first place.

Do remember that after about 15 years raising four children and seemingly having no 'me time' at all did then start to feel I was being taken for granted and had lost my independence. But babies and toddlers, and even teenagers should come first. That's what being a mother is all about. Or it used to be. Now it seems life is all 'me, me, me' and everyone else comes second. No one will ever end up happy with an attitude like that.

More advice in the mag for the stores. The average baby aisle shelves are groaning under the weight of snacks, juices and to a certain extent pouches that are regularly bought by mums with older mouths to feed. Seems that once out of the baby aisles, mums don't wish to search across the supermarket to find the readies to feed older children, so they probably still get fed baby food when they are five? The advice is that "supermarkets are missing a trick by not having a children's food aisle. It could be an extension of the baby aisle. Parents with kids of different ages would just have one place to go". So manufacturers are now given even more opportunity to 'invent' new 'kid's food' to appeal to those between the age of three and ten, which a lot of mum's will then be persuaded to purchase just because the 'kids' have seen it on the shelves. "If you buy our baby food here, then why can't you buy something for me as well" I can hear echoing round the stores in the near future.

It's pretty obvious that supermarkets are aware of both of our needs and weaknesses, and nothing wrong with that. If I was a retailer and not a customer I would probably do much the same 'to help customers find what they need' - every missed sale being less money in the till etc.
Almost certainly a small independent shop needs every penny it can make, and we would respect them for that, it's just when it comes to the large stores that make such huge profits that we (or at least I do), begin to feel that they really are manipulating us consumers beyond a level we are happy with. The above extracts from the mag may be to do with foods for children, but this is almost a 'master-plan' that can carry on through all age groups and none of us are free from the pressures to buy whatever is any major store we step into.
But - as ever - once we are aware of what is happening, we can at least do something about it, even by just giving a little more thought as to what we purchase, and ask ourselves "why don't we have a go at making it ourselves". We could be highly delighted when we do.

One final extract from the trade mag..."A storekeeper in Whitwell discovered a vintage cereal haul after taking down some shelving. Behind lay some boxes of Nabisco's Malted Shreddies dated from the 1970's. They inevitably ended up on eBay, with a single box fetching upwards of £150." A very happy ending for the store owner who had earlier been unable to persuade her hens to eat some.
Make you wonder if it might be worth me keeping some of my unopened packets that have now reached their and storing them away to leave as a legacy for our grandchildren to keep in store for their grandchildren, for by that time each item might be worth quite a bit of money.

A reminder that tonight Superscrimpers will be on Channel 4, 8.00pm or 9.00 on 4 + 1 (it is the latter time that I'll be watching it, due to the soaps that both B and I can't miss (shown tonight between 7.30 and 9.00!!).

Now to the recipe for today. This is Poitrene d'Agneau au Chou (my French version that may not be correct, but hope means 'breast of lamb with cabbage', French sounds so much more appetising than English when it comes to food).
Although the ingredients don't sound appetising at all, surprisingly the end result is full of flavour. Even yesterday had my doubts, as though having made this dish many years ago and knew it ate well, couldn't really believe it when made again yesterday. I even apologised to B in advance, saying "if you don't like it I'll cook you something else", but after eating it he came in and said it was really, really good and could he have it again. There was a little left over which I then ate myself and had to agree with him.

Yesterday couldn't remember whether the skin on the ribs should be removed or not, but left it on and as well I did for this ended up exactly like pork crackling, but even better as it was more 'tender' and so my ancient teeth found it easy to crunch. Hot roast lamb fat is particularly sweet, and as some of this filtered down through the oats, this made them almost 'toasted' when eaten. As there is not nearly so much fat with lamb breast as (say) belly pork, not THAT unhealthy.

Because the bones are still in the breast, the meat itself has great flavour, but it does mean the ribs need eating with the fingers, in the same way as Chinese (pork) spare ribs. Tear off the now tender meat with your teeth and crunch the fat/skin as you do so. Unbelievably good.
(Reminds me of another way I've cooked breast of lamb. Cut into ribs, simmered for half an hour in water (to help tenderise the meat), then drained well and coated with a sticky glaze to finish off in the oven for 15 minutes and they end up identical to Chinese 'ribs', and taste as good as, if not better.

This dish can be served with potatoes or rice, but because it contains oatmeal (a carbo), yesterday just served it as-is, and it was fine like that.
Poitrine d'agneau au Chou: serves 4
half a hard white cabbage, finely shredded
1 tsp sunflower oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
4 rashers streaky bacon, chopped
4 oz (100g) porridge oats
zest and juice 1 large or 2 small lemons
1 breast of lamb, cut into ribs
chopped fresh parsley, optional
Steam the cabbage until tender, then set aside. Put the oil in a frying pan with the bacon and onion and fry until the onion is softened and the bacon lightly crisp. Stir in cabbage, then the oats and lemon zest and juice, and remove from heat.
Spread the contents of the pan over a shallow greased ovenproof dish and top with the lamb, skin/fat side up. Bake at 200C, 400F, gas 4 for one hour. If using, sprinkle the chopped parsley over the top when ready to serve. As said before - eat and enjoy!

That's it for yet another day. We've already had rain, now some blue sky has appeared, but still fairly breezy. It was supposed to snow over the weekend, maybe it did in Scotland. Certainly not here in Morecambe. Maybe we will have none this winter which will be a pity as I do love to see the big flakes fall. Wouldn't it be lovely if we could have a long hot summer, with any rainfall coming whilst we were all tucked up in bed. Waking to a garden full of scented flowers, not to mention butterflies and birds is my idea of paradise (as long as there are angels around to do any weeding that is necessary).
In the meantime have to bring myself back to the real world and start planning tonight's supper, not yet sure what. Lamb yesterday, so tonight's meal should be based on either chicken, beef, pork, fish or even vegetarian meal. Or maybe something simple such as sausage, egg, beans and chips. Have to run a few ideas past B to find out the one he prefers (then make something else. Just kidding!).

Please join me tomorrow, I so look forward to meeting up with you - even at a distance. Don't let me down. Enjoy your day. TTFN.