Friday, January 20, 2012

Foot in the Door

Noticed this morning that no longer do I come into a very dark room to being my blog, through the window this morning could see dawn had already broken. This time last week it seemed very dark, now we see lighter skies - although perhaps more due to lighter clouds than previously. But good to see anyway. Gets the sap stirring in my veins. If you know what I mean.

Was reading a copy of a plant brochure sent through the post, and they were selling mushrooms kits - four different varieties: white 'buttons', chestnut, oyster, and shittake. £9.99p each, but if you bought two you got the third free, so that would make them £6.66p each (?). Although several crops from each are expected, would like to know if these work out any cheaper than buying ready-grown mushrooms from the supermarket. Has any reader grown these mushrooms. If so please let us know if it is worth it financially.

Did not do any of my Boris sorting yesterday, due to late finishing of my blog. Do intend doing it today. Beloved had lamb shank, baby 'new' potatoes and green peas for his supper, with the usual mint sauce, redcurrant jelly, and gravy.
Normally I boil the spuds on the stove whilst the shank is cooking in the oven, and 'cook' frozen peas in the microwave (although suppose I could throw them in to the spuds near the end of their cooking time). However - to save fuel - this time cut the spuds in half and placed them around the lamb shank - its container (I now use a deep foil tin that held the frozen turkey breast eaten at Christmas - it is just the right size for the shank).
Although the shank comes with its own mint-flavoured gravy, by the time it is cooked this has mostly evaporated away (or soaked up by the meat), so I always add half a glass of red wine (from the bottle B has opened for his own consumption), and the end result is just the right amount of rich gravy that is not too runny. Perfect in fact. This helped to 'steam' the spuds, and they were perfectly cooked when the shank was ready to be served. Suppose the peas could also go in another covered dish in the oven towards the end of the cooking time, and the oven then cooks the lot. I'll get there in the end.

As I ate the last orange yesterday evening, and also a couple of apples with a bit of Cheddar, now feel that I really should buy some more fresh fruit. But am trying to cope for a further week, after all we are just about at the end of this one, and - fingers crossed - may be able to last out another week as still have canned fruit in the larder.

Viewing the larder from my seat at the kitchen table can only see the 'dry goods' shelves (on the left as you walk in), they look exactly the same as before, but then not a lot has been used other than flour and sugar and these are kept in large containers anyway. The other side - holding the canned foods - has quite a few gaps now, but not enough to concern me at the moment. The soups are all gone, and most of the baked beans. Still loads of canned tomatoes and assorted canned fish. Plus a wide but small variety of others.
The fridge shelves are now 'gappy', but enough to keep me going for several weeks, yet, even have a dozen eggs left. Maybe I will fall by the wayside and send in an order, but seeing Tesco are offering me £5 of my next order (sent me an email) and half-price wine, think I will not order from them because then they will offer me a lot more money off to get my custom back. Well, that's what I'm hoping for.

Beloved came in yesterday with a lump of Cheddar because he had forgotten to get it earlier in the week (so didn't mind), and also some grapes (he likes to each cheese and grapes - had these for his 'afters' yesterday). So will have to add the cost to the running total. It's all adding up, but could have been worse I suppose.

Thanks for your comments.
Lynne, Don't feel too badly about the amount you have spent since Dec. 20th (you say this is £15.89, and probably the same as me and a thousands others doing this challenge). If you were planning to limit yourself to spending no more than £10 a week after that, then as it is nearly 5 weeks since the 20th, by now you could have spent nearly £50 and still within your budget. And it doesn't sound as though you have. So very well done!
£10 a week isn't much money to spend on food (even though it is just topping up), yet £50 sounds so much more - even though it is to last 5 weeks. Looks like another challenge could be fitted in somewhere - like how much can be bought for £5? It is surprising just how much. I've tried it more than once.

Les, were you once a physics and chemistry teacher? Do try and remember I'm an adult and do know that when a red light comes on the oven is using electricity, and when it goes off, it is not. Even know about Archimedes - wasn't he the one who shouted 'Eureka' when he fell in the bath? I even discovered this myself when I once got into a rather full bath, and the water then rose up and flowed over the sides onto the floor, but Eureka was not the word I shouted, mine began with a B. This 'displacement' works well for fat people ('like wot I am') especially for those during the war years who were limited/rationed to using only a very few inches of water in their bath, and even now this works well for those using a water meter.

Still feel my 'sucking' air out of a bag is far simpler than the way you use, messing around with a bowl of water. But then I'm a woman and you are not. A woman would find filling a bowl with water a bit unnecessary, and the chore of filling a bowl with water then either throwing the water away for finding a use for it (we can't even waste water these days) something to avoid if there was an easier way to the end result. Maybe I am lazy, or just old, but the more time I can save the better.
The saying 'teaching grandmother to suck eggs' came to mind when I read your comment. But then I am a grandmother, so perhaps years of 'experience' are almost as good as 'teacher training', and it just boils down to (no pun intended) to you and I using a different approach to how we explain things.
Am sure there are readers out there who will understand your reasoning far better than mine which can often be rather vague. So thanks for your input.

Reading that minimiser deb is 'doing a Shirley[' almost makes me feel some trepidation. Let's hope it's all the sensible things I've suggested that are followed and not some of the stupid ones (but then have there ever been any of these?). I don't have much faith in myself, it has to be said, just tend to believe ideas I come up with should work, and often set challenges that are too hard to accomplish. It is easy enough for me to cope when my larder and fridge/freezer is stacked from floor to ceiling, and only one and a half to feed (I eat a lot less than B), but given less stores and a family of four to feed, all would be used up within a month, that's for sure. So what 'challenge' suits one, does not necessarily suit everybody.

However, hope the general idea of not going out to shop unless something is really needed, and buy nothing else is working. OK, if something really is worth buying - like baked beans on offer (these have a long-shelf life anyway) - then we are probably wise not to miss the 'offer'. Generally though, making more use of our 'dry goods', and also introducing more canned and other food products from our stores into our recipes will make the fresh produce last much longer, especially when a 'ready-meal' is bulked out with veggies to give an extra helping that can then be frozen.

It could be that going back to the 'old ways', buying just the fresh produce we need (from the local shops), to use almost on a daily basis that could work out cheapest of all. Much depends on the price, and of course the time we have. Maybe that is a challenge I will set myself later, when the weather is much warmer and I'm prepared to venture out several times a week with Norris. Norris useful as he cannot carry too much bulk as well as me, so purchases have to remain limited to one full carrier bag at a time.

With small children, it is almost obligatory to take them out each day for a walk (or in a buggy) to get them some fresh air, so a trip to the local shops could be fitted in with that. People who go 'out' to work probably prefer to nip into the local supermarket to buy what they need, and there the temptation to buy something else is hard to resist. Even I find it hard to buy only what I need which ever shop I'm in. Self control has to be the answer, and I have very little. But I try.

Recently was asked about ideas for alternative breakfasts, so here is another coming up. As always this meal could also make a good lunch or supper dish. Seems now we eat anything, anytime, and cafes are now serving 'all day breakfasts'. Perhaps because the 'full English' really is so very good.
Although this is a 'tart', it contains no pastry, the base being made with breadcrumbs, so it's a bit like getting eggs and bacon and toast in the same dish. If you wish it to taste more like a 'full English' then add some sliced mushrooms, and sliced cooked sausage to the onions/bacon, and possibly some halved cherry tomatoes, there is enough egg to hold the lot together. If wishing for baked beans AS WELL, best serve these separately.
Bacon and Egg Breakfast Tart: serves 4 - 6
1 tsp olive oil
1 large onion, halved then thinly sliced
3 bacon rashers, chopped
3 tblsp dried breadcrumbs
4 eggs
9 fl oz (250ml) milk
6 oz (170g) goat's cheese, ricotta or curd cheese
salt and pepper
Place an omelette pan over medium hob heat. Drizzle in the olive oil, then add the bacon and onions and cook until the onion is softened, about 5 - 10 minutes. Remove from heat, and using a slotted spoon, remove the bacon and onion and set aside.
Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the base of the pan, stirring it into any residual fat, then press down slightly to form a base and sprinkle the bacon and onion on top.
Crumble the cheese (don't break it up too much), then beat the eggs and milk together and fold in the cheese. Season to taste. Pour this over the bacon and onions and cook until the top is just setting, then finish it off under a hot grill.

It is not always easy to come up with an interesting dish when we have oddments of veggies to use up. It has got to the point with me that now I often leave a vegetable (say mushrooms) out of something like a casserole that contains meat just so that the veggies is there to be used in another dish (or maybe even more than one).
This next recipe contains no meat (so any you might have have planned to use to make a casserole can then be saved to use another day), but if you wish to for the flavour of meat, then use a good meat stock (chicken, lamb or beef) instead of vegetable stock. As the stock is absorbed by the pearl barley, each mouthful will then taste as though meat is (somewhere) in the meal.
As always you can use different vegetables according to what you have. As long as the total weight of veggies remains the same, the dish will serve the same amount of people. If you have the small Chantenay carrots, use these and leave them whole.
Veggie Casserole with Dumplings: serves 6
1 tblsp sunflower oil
12 oz (350g) shallots or small onions
2 leeks, thickly sliced
half a swede, peeled and chopped into chunks
2 parsnips, peeled and quartered
12 oz (350g)carrots, roughly chopped
6 oz (175g) pearl barley
8 fl oz (225ml) white wine (or water)
1.75 pints (1 ltr) vegetable stock
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs thyme
2 tblsp finely chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper
4 oz (100g) self-raising flour
2 oz (50g) vegetarian suet granules
2 oz (50g) mature cheddar
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
2 tblsp water
Put the oil in a large flame-proof casserole and fry the shallots for five or so minutes until turning golden brown. Add leeks and cook for a further minute, then stir in the swede, parsnip and carrots. Stir in the pearl barley, then pour in the wine, stock and herbs, with seasoning to taste. Bring to the boil, then cover pan, reduce heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes until the barley and veg are tender. Stir occasionally to prevent the barley et al sticking to the base of the pan.
Meanwhile make the dumplings by mixing the first four ingredients together, then stir in 2 tblsp of water to make a soft dough. You may need more or less water. Divide the dough into six and roll each into a ball. Place on top of the 'stew', cover and continue cooking for 20 or so minutes until the dumplings are risen and cooked. Covering the pan 'steams' the dumplings so they become light and fluffy.
Alternatively, pop the dumplings on top of the stew and finish off in a pre-heated oven set at 200C, 400F, gas 6 and cook uncovered for the 20 or so minutes which will then make the dumplings firmer and golden (a bit like scones).

A comment recently mentioned the lack of vegetarian alternatives to the trad. Christmas dinner. Think was was meant was 'able to be bought', but as I've come across the following recipe, it is worth filing away ready to make and serve to guests whether at Christmas or any time of the year. As I've most of the ingredients already in store (have even got dried cranberries mixed in with other mixed fruits, so could always pick these out), perhaps others have too.
Vegetarian Wellington: serves 6
2 oz (50g) long-grain rice, pref basmati
pinch turmeric
grated zest of 1 lemon
boiling water
2 oz (50g) butter, melted
1 onion, chopped
1 lb 6 oz (600g) chestnut mushrooms, sliced
1 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
1 tblsp chopped fresh tarragon or other chosen herb
1 tblsp dried cranberries
2 hardboiled eggs, chopped
salt and pepper
9 oz (250g) puff pastry
beaten egg
1 tsp sesame seeds (opt)
Measure the rice, then put in a pan with the turmeric and lemon zest plus two of the same measure of boiling water. Boil for 8 - 10 minutes (long-grain may take longer) until the rice is tender. Drain well.
Put the butter in a frying pan over medium heat, then add the onions and mushrooms and fry for a few minutes until both are softened. Stir in the herbs, cranberries, cooked rice and eggs and when combined, add seasoning to taste. This is now called 'the filling'.
Roll out the pastry large enough to cut a 30 x 20cm rectangle, and brush the edges with beaten egg. Spoon 'the filling' down then middle of the pastry, then bring the sides together, pressing firmly to seal. You can leave it with the seal at the top, or turn it over so it lies underneath - just make sure there are no gaps.
Brush the pastry with beaten egg and chill for half an hour, then brush with egg again and sprinkle with the sesame seeds (you can omit the second brushing and seeds if you wish).
Bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 30 minutes or until the pastry is risen, crisp and deep gold. Sliced into six portions and serve with (a meatless) gravy.

All of a sudden now have a desperate urge to go into the kitchen and unload Boris. Perhaps I just like making lists of what I have in store. Prefer to do this rather than cook much of it I have to say. Am hoping to discover some lambs' liver so that B can have liver, bacon, cabbage and spuds for supper. He hasn't had that for ages. Might bake a cake so that I can make B a trifle with the trimmings. OR could make a sponge cake and fill it with some of the last of the lemon curd folded into a bit of Greek yogurt (instead of cream). OR could fold equal amounts of lemon curd and the yogurt together then freeze it (tastes like ice-cream), OR could make up a Knickerbocker Glory with layers of lemon jelly, crushed meringue (have some of these in a jar in the larder), lemon curd and yogurt. Maybe even topping with whipped double cream. Decisions, decisions. And what's the betting I don't make any of these?

You will have to wait until tomorrow to find out what I've been doing today, so do I hope you will log on to find out. If so - see you then.