Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Fighting a Losing Battle?

Things were going really well with the current 'challenge'. Still plenty of food left, hadn't run out of anything other than 'fresh' milk - although still have about a dozen cartons of UHT semi and whole milk in the larder. Even though B did bring in more fresh can still move the UHT to a higher shelf and 'pretend' its been used.

Yesterday with an unexpected 'third' for supper, decided to cook cannelloni as I still had plenty of those pasta tubes in the kitchen cupboard, and some ready-made spag bol meat sauce in the freezer to use as 'filling'. Once the meat was thawed, spooned it into the tubes (used a teaspoon but a slightly less messy way would be to have used a piping bag), this filled ten, which just fitted into a recycled foil tin. Poured over the last of the tomato juice from the fridge so the pasta didn't dry and split, then sprinkled over some grated cheese. Made a thick cheese sauce using Bisto Parsley sauce granules (as hadn't any Bisto cheese sauce granules)- mainly for speed and made with water this saved the milk - then into this stirred some grated cheese from the fridge (mixture of Red Leicester, Edam and Cheddar) to spoon over the cannelloni, finishing with a good sprinkle of the last of the grated cheese plus a little added parmesan. Set it aside until ready to cook.
The pudding made was from a new recipe, and absolutely BRILLIANT, but more on this later.

Beloved was ferrying our daughter around that day, and bringing her back for supper '"after I've taken her to Morrison's". So I decided to ask him to bring me a piece of Red Leicester and the same of Cheddar cheese, so that I could make more grated cheese. Suppose could have done without the cheese, but as I hadn't yet spent much (but more than expected because of B's unrequested purchases) thought it would be accepted by you.

In they trooped later that afternoon, dumping a supermarket bag by my feet. "Lemons were going cheap" said daughter "so brought a bag to share with you". Not that I needed them as still had 8 in the fridge, but it was a kind thought and they could be grated and frozen (then ignored for the period of the challenge).

It was when I opened the bag my mouth dropped open. Not only were there lemons, but a Pukka Pie "well, Dad loves these so I put one in the bag" said daughter. And where was my Cheddar cheese? The Red Leicester was there, but so was a good sized piece of Stilton, a wedge of Blackstick's Blue (this is Lancashire cheese with blue bits), and a pack 'special offer' of Goat's cheese with Cranberries. When I asked B what happened to the Cheddar he said he thought the one 'with blue bits' was Cheddar. Apart from the Red Leicester, none of any real use to me, but B likes blue cheese and what B likes he buys. Neither of us care for goat's cheese??!!

Together the cheese, the Pukka Pie and lemons came to £7.63p! Now, I could have said that I wasn't paying for what I hadn't requested, but as it is 'food' and will have to be eaten (very little other than the pie able be frozen/stored for any length of time) what was brought has to be included in the challenge, or the end result won't be fair. This now means (if I remember correctly) that £15.13p has now been spent on food,. none of which we didn't really NEED.

When I pointed out to my daughter and B that the whole point of this challenge was to live off what we already had, not buy more, they seemed to think it amusing. Why? Turns out they felt that if you see something you fancy, then why not buy it if you can afford to. No need to go to such extremes as I've been doing (in the hope to persuade everyone to try), but to me it is the only way to prove the point that we should all be able to make good meals from food in store, and save a lot of money whilst doing so. Surely - in this time of recession - this IS important?
But then, as it is me that pays for food that comes into the house, it isn't their purse that suffers. They know I can still afford to buy 'treats', so why shouldn't B et al, still have what they want?

Don't think the family have ever taken me seriously when it comes to my cost-cutting. They just think it is a rather useless 'hobby', and I'm 'playing at it'. This is absolutely not true. In my eyes it is more a vocation. Perhaps people don't want to know how to save money, or maybe they wish to find their own ways to do so. Maybe I'm just bashing my head against a brick wall, but have to say yesterday felt a bit deflated, and wonder if - after all - I'm wasting my time writing this blog. Perhaps it is just that I like the sound of my own voice - but written, not spoken. But I will continue.

With B's birthday coming up next month the decision has been made (by him) for me to buy him a Chateaubriand as his gift. Reduced in price to £24!!! (serves 2 normal people, probably only enough for B). As he says, the local Italian restaurant have it on their menu at £45 per serving, so it will saving a lot of money 'eating in' rather than 'eating out'. True!

Enough of that. Must move on to the yesterday's pudding, this being Chocolate Fondant. Have made this before but not very successfully as the ingredients were not always in full rounded ounces, and do not like messing around trying to weigh out out half an ounce. The recipe used yesterday was - once understood - extremely simple, it was just a matter of melting butter and chocolate together, then whisking sugar and eggs together, then folding the two together, and finally folding in a little flour. Very easy-peasy.
The joy of this dessert is that it is very cook-friendly, as once 'potted up' the containers can sit happily chilled in the fridge for a day before being cooked, and can also be frozen (and cooked from frozen), so perfect as an impressive dessert for a dinner party when we are normally far too busy to make something hot, so end up serving a cold pre-prepared dessert. Don't forget that the ingredients can be weighed and measured and bagged (butter with choc kept in the fridge) sugar and flour pre-weighed and bagged. Eggs already 'packaged' in their shells. Anything ready prepared in advance saves even more time.

There were two small problems, one was getting the cocoa to stick to the butter-lined mould before filling, but got around this by putting in plenty of cocoa, then shaking it round the mould thenpressing it into the melted butter with my fingers or back of a teaspoon.
The other problem was the size of the container. Dariole moulds were suggested or 'individual pudding basins' (the ones Delia Smith uses). I had three sized, dariole and two sizes of 'individuals'. I used the largest size, the amount filling five instead of six, so allowed a little extra minute cooking time. The recipe was very exact about the timing.

If it's any help, the dariole moulds held 4 fl oz water to the rim, the medium 'individual' pudding basins held 6 fl oz, and the larger ones held 8 fl oz. Think the best to use would be the middle sized ones (only have now given these to my daughter as she wants to make the puds).
Although I allowed an extra minute cooking time for the larger puds, maybe 2 minutes would have been better as then there would have been more 'sponge' and less runny choc. So if using dariole, allow the given time, for the Delia size allow a minute more, for anything larger, allow 2 minutes. Use the volume capacity as a guide. Incidentally, as they are so rich, both B and daughter thought the serving was almost too large, so had better buy myself some Delia size containers to replace the ones given to her.

Chocolate Fondants that Can't Fail: makes 6
6 oz (175g) butter, plus extra melted for greasing
6 oz (175g) dark (79%) chocolate. broken up
7 oz (200g) caster sugar
4 eggs
3 oz (75g) plain flour, sifted
cocoa for dusting moulds
First prepare the moulds by brushing with plenty of melted butter, then placing in the fridge to chill. Once the butter has set, brush them again and then coat the inside with a dusting of cocoa. Best do one at a time to prevent the butter setting on the cold moulds too quickly. As by then the butter was cooling, found it better to reheat to make it very runny so was easier to brush around and also hold the cocoa. It is the double coating of butter that helps the puds to turn out easily. Previous trials (using other recipes) had only greased the moulds once, and coated with cocoa, and they were harder to unmould, some even broke.
When ready, the containers can go back in the fridge to fill later, or leave handy on the work surface to fill a few minutes later.
Put the butter and chocolate in a bowl over a pan of just simmering water, pref the bowl not touching the water, then leave until both are melted, then remove from heat and mix together.
In another larger bowl put the sugar and eggs and - using an electric whisk - beat well until very thick and creamy, it should at least double in bulk. Then fold the chocolate/butter into the beaten sugar/eggs. Finally sift in the flour and carefully fold this in. What began as quite a runny mixture, thickens as the warm choc hits the cold eggs, and adding the flour will thicken it further.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared containers, not quite up to the top, doesn't matter if it only 3/4 fills 6 larger containers, these can then be cooked for the recommended time given for 'medium'. The mixture will normally rise above the rim as it cooks, souffle fashion.
Place on a baking tray (I put them directly onto an oven shelf as I didn't read that bit), and bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for EXACTLY 12 minutes (for middle size containers), until the mixture has puffed up, crusty on top (like sponge cake) but still slightly wobbly inside.
Turn out onto shallow dishes, serving each with either a scoop of whipped cream or ice-cream. The puds look like chocolate sponge puddings, but once cut into with a spoon, lots of lovely gooey molten chocolate pours out. A real winner!
The puds can be cooked from solid frozen, but then allow 15 minutes cooking time (16 if larger).
For a variation of flavour, fold a dessertspoon of strong coffee into the mixture before adding the flour, or a similar amount (or slghtly less) of Cointreau. Alternatively, fold in some finely chopped stem ginger and add sift little ground ginger in with the flour.

Back to the cannelloni. This was put into the oven (also at 200C - it's useful to have the same oven temp. for both mains and pud) for 20 - 25 minutes to heat through and the top was golden and bubbling. Had estimated 3 cannelloni each, so left the final four in the dish in case anyone wanted seconds. As per usual, I wasn't eating (due to try to lose a few more pounds weight), but sat at the table and drank some wine!

With the pasta dish, served a salad made up of shredded centre of Sweet Gem lettuce, a little finely sliced red onion, some cucumber, the last tomato, and finely chopped celery and celery leaves, plus the last of the watercress, and a chopped Peppadew to give an extra 'bite'. Over this drizzle some of my home-made balsamic and cranberry dressing (half balsamic vinegar, half cranberry juice put in a bottle and shaken together - it appears to store well).
Then decided to fry a couple of rashers of smoked streaky bacon, chopped into pieces, and when just crisped, put them on a sheet of kitchen paper (where they crisped up even further as they cooled). Scattered these on top of the salad.
To the bacon fat left in the pan, fried the last of the chestnut mushroom, my intention was to eat these for my supper later (didn't matter about the fat, as there would be no carb in the meal).

The cannelloni was enjoyed and as both requested 'seconds', between them ended up eating the lot (five each over the course of the meal). Was very pleased about that as the spag.bol sauce (if you remember) was more veg than meat. A tiny bit of 'scrapings' left in the tin which I sampled (well I have to make sure that what I cook is good enough to eat) really did taste good.

Why is it that cannelloni seems to taste so much better than just spaghetti (or other pasta) with the same spag.bol meat sauce served in the normal way? Whether it is the cheese sauce that enhances it am not sure, but then Lasagne is made using exactly the same ingredients (pasta, meat sauce, cheese sauce..) and still feel Cannelloni has an edge on that. Maybe because it is just that little bit ''different' in presentation. This makes the point that whatever we are wishing to use up, there is always more than one way to serve it, often a better way than we might normally.

If you wish to make this dish and have no large cannelloni tubes, then just soak lasagne sheets in water to soften and roll them round a thick 'sausage' of made spag.bol meat filling. You could make the filling in advance and freeze it into 'sausages' ready bring out and wrap around with pasta, then cover with cheese sauce and allow to thaw before cooking.

If I gave 'just' a recipe (of anything) it would take only a few lines - so why do I feel the need to write up a page or two chatting about it? Perhaps hoping this will inspire you to have a go. Apologies if you find it boring, I do go on a bit.

Now must reply to comments. Understand what you say minimiser deb, and suppose problems began once we had stopped hunting the odd mammoth, and begun to farm animals for our food. Suppose if we hadn't begun to do that, we'd never have found time to develop other skills.

Regarding the health issue mentioned yesterday (my belief that all natural foods should not do us harm etc), forgot to mention that it is not the food, but it is our life-style today that is at fault. We now don't need to eat certain foods (usually in season) to keep us warm (we have central heating) and to build up immunity to illness (we now have medication), and if we lived 'old-style' we would probably work a lot harder and for longer hours than we do today, so need the extra calories. We eat more today than our ancestors despite using far less energy (we drive instead of walk, sit at desks during the day, and then in front of the TV at night...). It's no wonder we are becoming a nation of obese people. We are becoming far too lazy and eat far too much. Me included!

You have a much wider variety of meats on sale Lisa than we do here, although we can order ostrich, squirrel and I believe kangaroo from certain butchers (not that I ever have, in any case these are expensive). Not sure what game birds you have, we have pheasant, quail, partridge, grouse, wood pigeon.... also duck (not considered 'game'), but again expensive.
Fish used to be fairly cheap, cod being one of the cheapest, haddock next, then slightly more expensive flat fish such as plaice, sole. Herrings, pilchards, bloaters, kippers, mackerel also cheap. Then more expensive hake, turbot, trout et al. Now all have risen greatly in price and we see pollock and saithe and other less interestng fish the affordable kind. Strangely, salmon -this used to one of the most expensive fish - is now relatively cheap due to it being 'farmed' in great quantities.

Your mention of the groundhog reminded me of one of my favourite films 'Groundhog Day', and this I watch every time it is shown on TV (also enjoy repeat-watching Dirty Dancing, Brokeback Mountain, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, High Society, Muriel's Wedding and many others....). The groundhog in that looked a bit like a beaver. Is there really such as thing as 'groundhog day'?

For what reason did you use a dehydrator when cooking the dish you mentioned? Have seen this kitchen 'appliance' on sale (Lakeland have one), and have wondered whether it is worth getting one myself. At the moment tend to 'preserve' foods in the freezer, rather than dry them (although I have dried mushrooms in a cool oven).

You probably know Les that Lakeland sell a 'professional-type' vacuum sealer (if you have their recent catalogue this is shown on the opposite page to the 'sous-vide' that they are now also selling). Possibly the 'seal-a-meal' bags are the set that uses a vacuum pump, and think I had one of these before (but gave them to my daughter). Although this (cheaper) equipment does removes air from bagged foods, am not sure these would necessarily be waterproof, so if you use them to cook in a 'water-bath' best test first as the heat might expand 'bits' and allow water to leak in. Let us know your findings.

Thanks Margie for telling us about the misleading notices regarding meat in your neck of the woods. The same thing happens here, and probably all over the world. We now have to be so careful when we read something that seems to 'prove' that what we are buying is 'quality'. As you say, 'grain fed' does not mean a better class/flavour/rearing of meat. Practically all animals bred to eat are fed grain during the winter month. Yet somehow the wording makes us feel that the meat on sale is sort of 'special', worth paying extra for.

Have mentioned before that 'locally sourced' (another misleading statement) DOESN'T mean locally grown/reared, just bought locally. This can mean from a supermarket who have imported the produce called this.
'Free-range' is another name that can lead us to think all is what it seems If farmer puts a small door in his barn to give his barn-raised chickens freedom to go outside IF THEY WISH (and often very few do), all eggs laid are then allowed to be called free-range, even if the bird who laid the egg never set foot outside in its life - purely because it chose not to.
Many farms do have their poultry running around freely, but even some of these let them run on over-run ground that is so bare of nourishment that they gain nothing from it other than building up muscle - this in itself can make the flesh tough to eat.
Today it seems nothing is quite as good as it makes out. So if we wish to be very careful where our food comes from, we need to look further than what it says on the tin.

Have cancelled my hair appointment today (think this was mentioned a few days ago) so at least some money spent unnecessarily on food can be replaced in my 'food budget purse'. That should bring it back to almost what I was hoping to achieve, although have to say if B continues to be a 'shopaholic' doubt this challenge will end up worth even being started. But I will still keep trying to fight the good(e) fight and persevere for as long as I can.

Regarding fresh foods still in store, have almost all a Sweet Gem lettuce, and most of the white cabbage, and Chinese leaves and not quite half cucumber. Still have the butternut squash, but half the parsnips, carrots, celery, onions, and baby 'new' potatoes have been eaten in one dish or another. Only two baking potatoes left. Also all the tomatoes and peppers have now been used, plus the kiwi, clementines and grapes. Still have some oranges and quite a few apples. Two bananas were put in the fridge to see how long they last, the others ripened ages back and now long gone, but today will use the chilled 'nanas', and see if it this works satisfactorily. It is supposed to give another 2 weeks life to the fruit.

As the unexpected extra 'guest' last night, plus trialling the 'pudding' threw me off track a bit, defrosting the little freezer has been put off until today. B will help me, he defrosts while I make a list of all frozen foods in there. Must also sort the two small drawers holding meat/fish in our large fridge-freezer, then put all the chicken together in one drawer, veggies in another, fish/meat in others, and write down which drawer they are in so that in future the door is opened for as short a time as possible.
As ever will probably be very surprised just how much I've still got in store. Certainly enough to keep us going for a few months (if not years!!!). Do need to make more space, if only to keep my ice-cream machine liners frozen ready to make 'proper' ice-cream instead of the soft-scoop.

Have now to go into the kitchen, clear the decks and find a cold box (one - or two - of DR's polystyrene boxes) to hold the frozen food while it waits for the freezer to chill back up again.
Might even set up my sewing machine on the conservatory table so that I can take in some of my 'smalls' that - because of losing weight - are now my 'large'. Why buy new when a few stitches here and there will make everything fit perfectly again? It's not as though anyone is going to see them when worn. Those days are long gone. Part of me wishes they weren't, and now I'm beginning to feel all nostalgic. Although not THAT bothered about growing old (and I am now very old - at least to my children) there are times I can remember being young, and wish I could experience those days again. Some of them were magic.

After many dry days, some warm, some very cold, the temperature has now risen slightly and it has been raining, quite heavily I think as I heard some water pouring out from possibly a broken gutter during the night. Later this week the temperature is due to drop again and some of the country may get snow. We will have to wait and see.

The little lemon pips are now growing steadily (must take a photo) and soon it will be time to start off other seeds on the windowsill in the conservatory. Can't believe how fast this winter has flown by this probably due to the milder weather, it has recently felt very much more like spring/summer, than summer felt last year. But as it is still January, it can just as fast return to normal weather conditions for this time of year. Not that we get 'normal' weather now any month of the year, we always have to wait and see what each day will bring.

But whatever the weather, make sure that today we enjoy whatever is thrown at us. Do keep sending in those comments, for each of you that writes in inspires the others, and together we will prove that we can cope however much we have to tighten our belts and pursestrings. Join me tomorrow for yet another Goode outburst. See you then.