Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Future For Food?

With the economic crisis forcing many to entertain at home instead of dining out with friends, can visualise a new range of 'easy eats' appearing on the multiple's shelves, for it could be simple enough for manufacturers to put together a package where all we had to do was thaw out a 'filling' for (say) Steak and Ale Pie, to put into our own containers, also providing for us a lump of puff pastry that we could roll out and place on top of the dish. The very fact we sealed the pastry to the lid by crimping the edges with our own fair hands, and (as per instructions on the pack) decorated the top with some of the leftover scraps of pastry, then baking, this little bit of work alone would make the complete dish look 100% 'home-made'). The pack could even contain frozen veg that just needs a few minutes boiling before serving.

Trick when serving is to say a few words before a guest asks if you made the meal, as hearing the 'cook' say proudly, "believe it or not, ALL this was prepared with my own fair hands and cooked in my own kitchen" will make anyone believe all cooking was done from scratch. It is so easy to mislead by just using slightly different wording. As 'locally grown' and 'locally sourced' are not the same thing at all, then neither are 'home-made' and 'home-cooked'. But how often we believe it these are.

When we serve a meal to guests that started off 90% prepared by the manufacturers, we can still fool even ourselves that we made the meal in (almost ) its entirety. Remember the cake mixes in the old days (maybe they are still the same, I wouldn't know not having bought one for at least a quarter of a century)? Although possible - using a mix - to make cakes by just adding water (still done in some catering establishments), it was (in those days) deemed 'necessary' to allow the cook to add an egg as this would then mean she could consider the cake to be 'home-made', and her family would also believe this. Well, it was baked in the oven wasn't it? Isn't that how cakes are made?

With quality 'ready-made' soups on sale, and given suggestions of what we could add (fresh herbs or spices, swirl of cream etc) served with freshly baked bread (and no we don't need to bake it ourselves, we can buy part-baked bread ready to finish off in the oven) this is another dish we can get our guests to believe to be home-made from start to finish. Even when it comes to. desserts, see that Lakeland are now selling 'mixes' such as Panna Cotta et al. We hardly have to lift a finger now to put 'home-cooked-style' food on the table, and in the future it will probably be almost impossible for anyone to know the difference.

This is an opportunity that I feel manufacturers have so far missed. True we can buy 'ready-prepared' dinners (such as M & S offer for £10 incl. wine), but doubt there is any need to lift a finger other than place the heated food on 'real' plates. No rolling of pastry and using our own baking dishes needed. If manufctureres allow the cook to do a little bit more (but not a lot, just enough to make the meal look a bit more 'natural') then hoards of novice cooks will be queuing up to buy the 'makings'.

Even the oil producers are missing a trick when it comes to promotion. Most people who go abroad hope, when they return home, to make a meal they enjoyed whilst away and never quite getting the flavour right. To be really authentic, use Italian olive oil when making Italian dishes, Spanish oil for Spanish dishes etc. Will we now see this being suggested?

Two new names in the comment box today, so welcome and hugs to both.
makingthemostof....has just begun to a website of her own, but unfortunately the comp 'stuck' when I tried to log on to it. Will try again later. She is not into fine dining (are any of us?), and she is right to suggest we enjoy dishes we are comfortable making and have stood the test of time.

Campfire mentioned yesterday (sorry CF that I missed replying) that restaurants served huge portions. Not sure this is quite accurate, as many dishes today look large but this is because they are served on smaller than normal sized plates. A cheating way to make us think we are getting plenty for our money. 'Fine dining' is usually tiny bits of this and that, very attractively presented, but barely a mouthful in total - for which we pay a king's ransom.
There are some 'eateries' where we do get good value for money. Cherish these if you find them.

GillyCreamy is the second newcomer and asks how to make soft-scoop ice-cream. Basically my version is just meringue (made from 2 oz caster sugar to each egg white), but the sugar is first dissolved in 1 tblsp water per 2 oz sugar, then boiled to soft-ball stage before being poured very slowly in a thin stream onto the beaten egg whites (which should still be beaten, so a mixer on a stand makes it easier then holding a whisk in one hand and pouring the syrup with the other). The hot syrup cooks the egg whites, and these should continue to be beaten until cooled down (could take 10 minutes to reach this stage although I wrap pre-chilled wet tea towels round the bowl to speed up the cooling). The end result is what is called 'Italian meringue', very thick, and - unlike the normal meringue - will keep solid in the bowl all day long if you wish.

To make the ice-cream I blend equal amounts of whipped double cream and yogurt together, then fold this total amount (by measure) into the same of the Italian meringue. The yogurt is added as all cream makes it too rich. Put into a box then freeze. No need to beat further. It normally comes out 'soft-scoop'.
Although not quite the same as 'real' ice-cream (it contains no egg yolks/custard etc), it can be coloured and flavoured and pureed fruit can be used instead of the yogurt (or cream but do use one or the other with the fruit). In fact using a fruit flavoured yogurt alone with equal portions of the meringue makes a really lovely frozen dessert in its own right.

Thanks Sairy for letting us know how much we could be paying if we bought coffee and muffins at an 'eaterie' (price given as £4.50 total). Don't know if anyone does what I do, but more than once have counted out how many teaspoons of instant coffee there are in a jar then worked out the cost per spoon (we use one spoon per mug). Even allowing for a little milk and sweetener, we should be able to make a mug of coffee at home for around 10p max. A home-made muffin probably costs the same (maybe less), so it would grieve me to pay £4.30 more just for the 'convenience'. No wonder that cafes won't allow people to bring in their own 'edibles' to eat with the coffee they have drunk.

Whenever I grumble about how much we pay for food and drink at a cafe/restaurant etc, everyone comes back with 'well, they have to make a profit to cover their overheads". This is true, but what used to be the acceptable 'profit' was that the prices charged were 5 times more than the cost of ingredients (sometimes less). So - working out we can make our own coffee and cake for 20p, times that by 5 still brings it to only £1. Where does the other £3.50 go?

When looking down a menu, a 'cook who counts the pennies' (like me who is a bit obsessed with the need to work out how much cheaper a dish could be made at home), should be able to get a general idea of how much it cost the restaurant to make the meal, and as they usually pay wholesale prices for their ingredients, not the full price we 'domestics' pay, the meal would work out (overheads not included) cheaper than we could make it. Many dishes on a menu can work out at half the cost of another to make, yet very little difference in the price the customer is charged. Suppose as long as everyone doesn't always choose the most expensive, it all balances out.

Don't know what it is with me, but I really do grumble (under my breath) when paying out such a lot of money when I just KNOW it is so much cheaper to make the same at home. Paying for the convenience and pleasant surroundings we should expect to pay extra for, but even if it is B that pays the bill I still mutter because the profit margin really seems OTT. As my daughter says, "it's not like it use to be in the old days, Mum. Things cost a lot more now". Relatively, not sure they do, but then possibly I have lost the plot.

Today recipes are pretty simple. For instance there is no need to peel potatoes for the following as this makes them more 'filling' and also leaves no waste. Anyway more a way to add extra flavour than doing something more elaborate with the spuds.
The best potatoes to use for the suggestions below are the 'floury' kind: King Edwards, Maris Piper, Desiree...

Chips with a bit of a Kick: serves 4
2 lbs potatoes (see above)
2 tblsp sunflower oil
1 tblsp Cajun or Jerk seasoning
Leaving the skins on, cut the potatoes into 1cm slices then cut each into strips. Place in a large plastic bag with the oil and toss to coat. Sprinkle the chosen seasoning over the potatoes in the bag and toss again so they become evenly coated.
Place chips on a non-stick baking tray (pref pre-heated) and bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for half an hour or until golden and crispy (larger chips take longer).

Chips Kentucky-style: serves 4
2 lbs potatoes (see above)
2 tsp onion powder
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp paprika pepper
good pinch sea salt
1 - 2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
8 tblsp olive oil
Mix all the spices together, then cut the potatoes into chunky chips. You can either toss with the seasoning before putting in the oven, or add halfway through the cooking time.
Heat the oil into a shallow roasting tin (in the oven at 200C...or on the hob) the add the potatoes and oven-cook for 1 hour.

Spices really can 'lift' what what we deem as pretty dull eating into something much more enjoyable. Here is a recipe (again using potatoes) that can might quite a good lunch or supper dish (eaten with salad) or just fried-off as a snack.

Chilli Potato Cakes: serves 4
2 lbs potatoes, diced
1 tblsp olive oil
1 red chilli, seeded and finely diced, OR...
...2 -3 Peppadew, finely diced
1 tsp smoked paprika pepper
4 oz (100g) Cheddar cheese, grated
2 tblsp flour
1 - 2 tblsp fresh coriander or parsley, chopped
salt and pepper
oil for frying
Boil the potatoes for about 10 minutes until tender, then drain well. Wipe out pan and dry.
Put the oil in the pan and fry the chilli and paprika for one minute, then add the potatoes and cheese, flour and herbs and roughly mash together, adding seasoning to taste.
Divide mixture into 8 and shape each into a round, flat cake, then cook in a little oil in a non-stick frying pan and fry four 'cakes' at a time, for 1 - 2 minutes on each side until golden and crispy.
Can be served hot or cold, and good eaten with salad and/or tomato salsa.

Final recipe today is a tray-bake, and as this doesn't need to be cooked, a good way to use up broken biscuits, nuts, those choccies you don't like left over from the tin given you at Christmas (chop 'em up,mix 'em in). Alternatively (or as well as) add a few sliced glace cherries, no-soak apricots, desiccated coconut if you wish. Just use the recipe and total weights as a guide, then make up your own version.

Rocky Road Bars: makes 12 'snacks'
8 oz (225g) butter, melted
4 oz (100g) plain chocolate, chopped
2 tblsp golden syrup
2 tblsp caster sugar
2 tblsp cocoa powder
4 oz (100g) Maltesers (or similar)
2 oz (50g) milk chocolate buttons
2 oz (50g) white chocolate buttons
4 oz (100g) marshmallows, chopped
8 oz (225g) ginger (or other) broken biscuits
icing sugar to dust
Put the butter, plain chocolate, syrup, sugar and cocoa into a saucepan and heat gently. When all have melted stir to blend then leave for 10 minutes to cool slightly.
Crush the Maltesers slightly (or leave whole), then place in a bowl with the chocolate buttons, marshmallows and biscuits, then pour over the melted chocolate mixture and fold everything together.
Pour into a lined 8" (20cm) square baking tin (or cake tin) and place in the fridge to set. This will take a minimum of 2 hours. When solid, remove from the tin and cut into 16 'snack-bars'. Dust with icing sugar.

Eileen phoned me yesterday to tell me that Morrison's were now selling new type Pukka Pies that could be heated in the microwave for around 3 minutes (time varies with different microwaves), and as they were on 'introductory offer' price, thought B would be interested. And he was. Within half an hour of telling him he had gone out and returned with 3 packs (each containing two frozen pies). Considering they worked out at around 60p each (offer price) certainly good value. The best part was that B could heat one up for himself, so had one (with Brussels sprouts) for his supper, saying they were just as good as the heat-in-oven ones.
The only difference between the 'normal' and the microwave pies is the pastry. Oven baked pies have puff pastry, microwave oven have short-crust pastry - also these have slightly less 'depth'.
Think I'll 'cook' one for my lunch today. Why should B have all the best?

Thoroughly enjoyed the cookery prog at 7.00pm BBC 2 last night (Cooking Made Easy with Lorraine P?), she really does make things look so easy. Was not overly impressed with Superscrimpers later than evening. The holiday share was a good idea (could work here as we live so close to the sea in what the estate agent grandly called 'a gentleman's residence', even if we only own his bottom half). The rest of the prog was not that interesting, even the demo with the cheaper cuts of meat. Trouble with me is nothing much seems new to me when it comes to cost-cutting where food is concerned.

Was intending to watch the whole programme, but couldn't watch Corrie AND S.Scrimpers due to the timing overlap. Normally could have see SS on 4 + 1 an hour later but B wanted to watch Channel 5 all about horrors in Afghanistan at 9.00. Why are men so obsessed with war and killing?), so Corrie won and I missed the last half of SS, where - I believe - the cooking of kidneys and liver was shown. I don't like kidneys, B loves liver and kidneys. His loss.
Also wished I'd seen the result of the holiday exchange.
Believe that Channel 5 progs can be 'knocked on' to view an hour later, but don't know the Freeview channel number for this, can anyone tell me?

In the middle of February (or even before that) will have to place an order online to make sure all the (right) food needed for B's 'social' will be delivered in good time. Left to B he will bring the wrong things.
This means I might as well take advantage of any worthwhile offer going (on foods I would normally have bought anyway), so either I put these away on a high shelf (or freeze) and carry on using food already in store, or I could take a photo of what food I have left (can also show the original photos of food in store before the challenge was begun, so you can see just how much there is left - and there is still quite an amount). How do you wish me to play it? Grit my teeth and buy only what is needed for the 'social', then battle on making the most of what is left until it's all gone, or be sensible and stock up if the opportunity arises? I bow to your wishes.

Despite my continual chat about cookery, have to admit to having 'cook's block' at the moment. The last thing I feel like doing is preparing a meal. Thank goodness for the microwave Pukka, although doubt B will want these two days running. Might make a fish pie for tonight. Poached fish, bound in white sauce (made from Bisto gravy granules) with a Smash(ed) potato topping. Think even I can force myself to make that. And enough for both of us.

No doubt will change my mind and bake a cake as well. Or shall I down tools altogether and have a 'take-away'? The suggestion to B that he cooks me a meal each week (instead of him having to use money to buy me a Christmas present) he seems to have conveniently forgotten about. Perhaps a 'take-away' could count as one so he pays for it. He doesn't even like spending money on those. Can't blame him, as we both know I could make the same thing - far cheaper!

Suppose I'd better get on and see if I can make the remaining two hours before lunch-time produce something useful. Worth giving it a try. TTFN.