Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Top Tips?

After watching Superscrimpers last night was a bit disappointed. It could be I missed the outcome of the family budget as B distracted me close to the end of the programme, or it could be the meals were not 'up to standard'.
Whatever, it was good to actually SEE how much food a family (two adults, 3 children) can waste during a year. Normally they spent £200 a week on food, of which £50 ended up in the bin. Around £2,500 a year's worth of food dumped. A big truck came in a dumped the lot on a big table in their garden just so they could see.
Their challenge was to spend no more than £50 on food the next week. Around £7 a day to feed five, and how they grumbled. However, after making out the menu for the week's suppers, off they trotted to the supermarket and bought all the necessary - this coming to under £44.
Think most of us could manage to make a supper for five if we had up to £7 per meal to spend, and - even allowing for the little saved (around £1 a day), nothing was said about buying food for breakfast, lunch, drinks or any other meal, so myself feel the challenge was a bit misleading.

Being your own manicurist and painter of nails was interesting, but again - do people spend money on nail varnish when there are bills to be paid? Mind you, it took me back to my youth when I must have been way ahead of my time, for although we, in our late teens, did paint our nails, it was usually only pale pink. One day I painted mine with bright green enamel and sprinkled over gold glitter dust. Today this would have been perfectly acceptable. In those days not so sure it went down well. But I was happy, the green matched something I was wearing and the gold dust picked up the glitter in my hair (probably the same 'spray dust' used for my nails)!

Very interesting watching the bit about shopping around for car insurance, and possibly also about buying unnecessary warranties on 'white goods'. Have to admit myself to buying insurance on our big fridge-freezer and washing machine (it doesn't add up to much), but then as we've had the washing machine for so long, the insurance company have put on the policy that if it goes wrong and can't be repaired the will then give us a brand new one for free.
In the old days, electrical goods seemed to last for ages, and we still own several we've had for twenty, thirty, and up to fifty years that are still working. New 'electrics' seem to break down almost as soon as the first warranty (a 'free' guarantee for the first year) has expired. We now seem to have had to replace several electric kettles, toasters et al within a very few years of purchase.

There was something on the prog. about their website where they gave a new moneysaving challenge each day (or was it week?). Haven't yet checked, but it sounds a very good idea.
There was a good demonstration of making cushion covers from material scraps, but only a small shot of a lady with her rag-rug. Do hope they show more of this craft, it is very simple and really does make use of all sorts of rags. Myself have made rag 'cushions' to place on chairs, not even padded ones, more as protection for seats, but very comfy to sit on.

The trade mag 'discussion' this week seems to have been interesting to some. Am sure some mothers still use terry nappies, deb, perhaps using disposables when away from home. Certainly 'disposables' are labour saving, but so very expensive that it does make sense to use something that can be washed and reused again and again and again.
Even 'terries' must have been upgraded since I used them, as Urbanfarmgirl mentions them held in place with Velcro! In my day it was nappy pins to hold things in place - these still on sale even now, and used by me to anchor my fitted sheets to a rather deep mattress (otherwise it slides up, across and sometimes half off the bed as I toss and turn during the night). I do like smooth sheets when I sleep.

As Scarlet mentioned, many young mothers these days seem to want to keep their 'freedom', and myself have known many first-time mothers who return to work two months after their baby was born, not for money, but just because they wanted to. To do this the baby was taken to an expensive nursery each working day, the cost for this a lot more than the money the mother earned. High price to pay for 'keeping your independence'.
Seems that, like big cars, holidays abroad, plasma TV's etc, having a baby is part of the social 'status' these days. Everyone should have one.

Heard something on the news that the PM is intending to cap the benefit payments, so that non-workers (asylum seekers etc) have to manage on the same money that working families earn. At the moment the benefits are higher than average earnings. As B said, this possible new 'allowance' would still be more than many families manage to live on quite successfully.
Yet what do we then see, some 'poor' woman living in a very respectable and well fitted house with two children complaining bitterly that her standard of living would go down if she had to move into smaller accomodation, and she'd be moving away from her 'friends'. Do know that many religions are prepared to put their hands into pockets to help those of their faith worse off, and this lady has an added advantage of her bank giving interest-free loans, which she might be able to get, at least until her children are (presumably) old enough for her to go out and earn money and pay back what she owes.
No, I'm not bitter, twisted or even against religion (in fact respect all faiths), just feel that there seems to be one rule for one (like you needn't work but we'll give you the money to live in good accomodaton), and one for another (who is willing to work a 12 hours day but can't afford more than the rent of a council high-rise) which makes life a bit unfair.

Maybe things are different today, but in my day, living on 'benefits' just didn't happen. We did get 'dole' money when B was out of work (sometimes this was for 6 months out of each year), but this was barely enough to cover the running costs of the house, let alone food, and certainly nothing left for clothes, holidays etc. If we were not in work, then we expected to be really 'poor', not still have TVs, run cars, have computers etc. When I took a job as a bar-maid to help make ends meet, they reduced the dole money by the amount of money I earned. The only money I managed to take home was the 'drinks' that customers had paid for me to have, and the landlord let me keep the money instead.
We had to make everything we needed, cook all meals from scratch. Sew patches over worn cuffs and elbows, turn collars on shirts, sew sides to middle of sheets. Walk if we could, get the bus if we couldn't. Now it seems that those on benefits expect to keep up with the Jones, and have more as well. If this 'benefit capping' goes through, and the way things are going, will we see those faced with 'restricted benefits' now going to the EU and start complaining about their 'human rights'?
My feeling re this is how I feel about criminals. If anyone breaks the law then they should have no rights. Now it seems if someone breaks into a house, and the owner pushes the intruder it is the trespasser that can claim for assault and even compensation if he falls or gets a black eye. Human rights again I suppose.

Shouldn't it be that if we refuse to take work offered, then we too have no rights, but before you all come back at me all barrels blazing, this doesn't mean EVERYONE on benefits. Many single mothers have no choice but to stay at home and look after their small children - at least until they are of school age. It is the layabouts, those who feign illness and disability when they have none, that I'm going on about. But enough of this. Today's world is not what it was in my day, and probably never will be as good and honest and hard-working ever again. Allow me to be a grumpy old woman. If you don't like what I grumble about, move to another site that says what you like to hear.

It's interesting about the reaction from this week's 'trade secrets'. T.Mills seemed quite shocked at the lengths that stores will go to keep our custom. And rightly so, although I've tried to look at it from the other side of the fence, and it does make sense to keep certain products together if you wish them to be bought rather than missed. Do this myself in my own larder as the foods there in full sight are the ones most often used. Those placed elsewhere, sometimes forgotten.

There is a lot of psychology when it comes to placing products on shelves, stores pay consultants to give them adice on this. We have to remember this is 'business' we are talking about, and profits have to be made. If we owned a shop almost certainly our aim would be to keep our head above water, and lure in the customers, not be too generous.
Today - with the store wars - it is up to each 'major' to try and better the others, and general 'trade advice' (as given in the mag) can often point the way to getting customers to buy more. Advice that is useful to us as we can then be a bit more aware of what the 'other side' is doing.

The fact still remains that the superstores are still making huge profits. One major store mentioned on the news yesterday said it is providing several thousand new jobs (that is at least a good thing), but to do this it is opening new stores around the country. At what cost? Much of the money for this comes from profits no doubt, and most profits surely come from purchases made by their customers.

The order in which stores spread their products around can differ from store to store, and how often do we get incensed (well I do) when suddenly nothing is where it was the previous week. Food is moved around to prevent us getting used to it being there as this sometimes stops us looking at anything else we hadn't planned to buy. If a cream cake suddenly appears where the baked beans were last week, we might be annoyed, but then we might also decide it's a good idea to buy the cake THEN go and look for the beans. You see how it works?

In the old days all we had to do was write out a shopping list then go to and give it to the grocer who would either then pack it all up for you while you sat in a chair and waited, or would take the list and have the food delivered later to your door. Sometimes the grocer would suggest you might like to try a new product or ingredients, maybe even give you a free sample, but we did not then have the freedom to wander down aisles and put into a basket whatever took our fancy.

Nowadays temptation lies on every shelf in every aisle, and even across ends of aisles and in trolleys scattered around holding 'reduced price' items. Never before has shopping offered so many varieies with so much to be enjoyed. All we need is self control. Wish I had some!

We can blame the supermarkets for 'pulling our strings', but it really is up to each of us to try and work our way round the stores buying only what we went out to purchase AND NOTHING MORE. Having said that, of course if there is a really good bargain, then this could be worth buying, but if so then return to the shelf something already bought. For example, if having chosen a certain cut of meat and you see another that is cheaper, put the expensive one back and bring home the one most economical. After all meat is meat, and if your first choice was lamb, then does it matter if instead you bring home pork? Think nutrition and need. Need is necessary, 'want' can be an expensive luxury. Nutrition can come from various sources. But then today, it seems we all expect to have what we want, and what is still luxury to me, now the norm. Even the Queen herself is known to be frugal where it matters.

Yesterday, even before I mentioned supper, B said he'd like egg, sausage, beans and a few chips. so this is what he was served. Suppose always having what he wants to eat is his idea of 'luxury', for in our youth we had no choice as to what we were given, and had to eat it all whether we liked it or not, and if we didn't it was served up cold for our next meal, and continued to be until it was all eaten. But then that was wartime. Mind you, even before the war this was how things used to be. Now they'd call in Child Protection if we did things like that.

As the oven was at the right temp, popped one of those frozen Chocolate Fondants in to cook whilst B was eating his main course. Because it was slightly larger than the size given in the recipe allowed it 20 minutes instead of 15 and it turned out perfectly. Seems if cooked a little longer than the recommended time, the 'outer' casing of 'sponge' becomes thicker and there is then less runny chocolate in the centre. So don't think the timing is as critical as the original recipe seemed to suggest.

A thank you to Jim (new name? if so welcome), who seemed to like the sound of the breast of lamb recipe given yesterday. This cut is often rolled around a stuffing (the way Jim cooks his), and possibly the base of yesterday's dish (cabbage, onion, bacon, oats, lemon etc) could be spread over the breast to use as a 'stuffing', before the meat was rolled and secured to roast slowly, instead of placing it under the breast (this then cut into ribs) and cooked at a high heat.

Watching 'Hungry Sailors' yesterday saw them cooking goat meat. Forgot to mention this to Lisa when I gave a list of the meats we can buy in this country. Not that I've yet eaten any goat meat yet, but it is becoming popular. Do they eat goat in the US I wonder? Over here is it cheaper to buy than other meats? Or more expensive? Someone write in and tell me.

Beloved is out all morning, so having made an early start with today's blog, this should allow me extra time to 'have a play' in the kitchen, and maybe cook up a few things before he returns. Think I'll serve meatballs in a good sauce with some pasta for supper (having loads of meatballs in the freezer). This will leave me time to make a good pot of soup (mainly for me) AND do some baking, starting with another loaf of bread. Get the timing right, so while the mixture is kneaded then rises in the bread-machine, then rises again after being transferred to the loaf tin, should be able to make a cake AND some biscuits before the bread goes into the oven.
Must remember also to make another litre of EasyYo yogurt, fruit flavour yet to be decided.

Although the traditional English meal (meat and two veg) is often the easiest to prepare and cook, it is usually the more unusual that are cheaper and can often be tastier. The recipe today is one of these with the less familiar 'spelt' as one of the ingredients. Whole grain spelt can be used in place of rice in risotto, but then so can pearl barley and quinoa, so any of these grains can be used in this recipe (pearl barley being the cheapest, spelt being the most filling, quinoa having the most protein).
The beetroot can be raw then home-cooked, alternatively (as I often do) use the beetroot sold in vacuum packs. Instead of the butternut you could use pumpkin. With either of these, wash the seeds, dry well, then toss in a little olive oil and sea salt, then spread over a baking sheet and roast in the oven until golden. They can then be used as garnish for this dish, or used as a 'snack nibble'. Save a few seeds (unroasted) as these can be planted the following year to hopefully 'grow your own'.

Made with spelt, this is a very 'filling' meal, the amount given serves 2 as a main course, or 4 as a starter.
Grain and Squash 'risotto:
2 - 3 cooked beetroot, each cut into quarters
1 small butternut squash, skin left on
2 tblsp sunflower oil
salt and pepper
1 - 2 sprigs rosemary
2 sprigs thyme
18 fl.oz (500ml) vegetable stock
4 shallots, finely sliced
9 oz (250g) pearled spelt (or another grain)
5 fl oz (150ml) white wine
2 oz (50g) butter, chilled and diced
1 heaped tablespoon cream cheese
2 oz (50g) Cheddar cheese, grated
Cut the squash in half and remove seeds, then dice the flesh (no need to peel). Put the squash into a roasting dish and drizzle over some of the oil. Add seasoning to taste, and place the herbs on the top. Roast for about 20 minutes or until almost tender, then add the beetroot. When ready, set aside but keep warm.
Meanwhile, bring the stock to the boil, then reduce heat to low and leave the stock to simmer whilst frying the shallots in a large frying pan with the rest of the oil. When tender but not coloured, add the spelt (or other grain), stirring well so the grain is coated with oil, then add the wine. Keep stirring gently until most of the liquid has been absorbed, then start adding the hot stock, a ladleful at a time. Keep stirring (to prevent contents sticking to the base of the pan and burning), adding more stock when most has been absorbed. Don't let it dry out between ladles. How long it takes to cook depends upon the grain used, pearl barley will probably take the longest, quinoa cooks fairly rapidly. The texture will feel different to rice but should be soft in the mouth (but not too soft). When to your liking, beat in the butter, then when all this is combined, beat in the cheese. Aim for a creamy and fairly loose texture. If too thick, then add a little more stock. Serve with the roasted butternut and beetroot, garnishing with the roasted seeds if you have them.

The other day saw a chef cook a traditional pudding that seems rarely to be served today. Maybe because it is just too easy. In some ways it is a hot version of Summer Pudding, prepared in similar way. Probably will be making this for B's 'afters' today. The recipe will make one large pudding, but it can easily be made in individual pudding basins, each to serve one. Although haven't tried this, am sure - once assembled - it will freeze successfully, and probably even be able to be cooked from frozen.
Because every recipe is now in 'g's rather than 'oz', it is easier to 'round up' to 200g, but myself would probably use a little less sugar, say 6 oz. Saves a few pence, and every penny saved etc....
Use less blackberries and more apples if you wish, or omit the berries altogether. It goes without saying we dry the bread crusts off in the cooling oven to grind up and store.
Apple Charlotte: serves 6
1 lb (450g) Bramley apples, peeled and chopped
good pinch ground cinnamon
zest and juice of 1 small lemon
7 oz (200g) caster sugar (see above)
1 lb (450g) blackberries
1 slice bread, crumbed
4 oz (100g) butter, melted
10 slices white bread, crusts removed (see above)
Put the apples into a saucepan with the cinnamon, lemon zest and juice. Place over a low heat and cook until the apples are soft, then remove from heat and stir in the sugar, blackberries and breadcrumbs.
Take an 8" (20cm) deep cake tin or Charlotte mould and grease generously with butter. Cut the bread to the shape to fit the tin (a round for the base and lid, and strips or wedges for the sides), then dip one side of each piece in the melted butter and place in the tin buttered side down on the base and buttered side facing the sides. Allow each piece to slightly overlap.
When the container is lined, fill right to the top with the cooked fruit/sugar, then cover with the reserved bread 'lid' this time with butter side facing up. Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 5 for 1 hour until the lid is crisp.
To serve, carefully turn the Charlotte over onto a shallow dish or plate, but leave the tin in place for 15 minutes before removing. Serve with pouring cream or custard.

If you make your own American muffins, the final recipe today is a 'quickie'. Use ginger or chocolate flavoured muffins to serve this 'faux' Sticky Toffee Pud. As muffins normally should be eaten the day of making, normally they freeze well, so then perfect for thawing to make this dessert.
If you prefer, you can first make the sauce, and using a microwave container, heat the muffins/fruit in the microwave for a couple or so minutes, then serve as given.
Alternately, if the oven is going to be on anyway (for the main course), prepare in advance, but don't heat the muffins, just put into individual or one large ovenproof container, pour over the sauce and leave to cool. Chill then bake at the given temperature for 15 - 20 minutes until the sauce is bubbling and the puds are piping hot.
'Sticky Toffee' mini-Puddings: serves 4
4 large chocolate muffins, crumbled
2 oz (50g) sultanas or finely chopped dates
2 oz (50g) light muscovado sugar
2 oz (50g) butter
3 oz (75ml) double cream
ice-cream or whipped cream for serving
Mix the muffin crumbs with the dried fruit the divide between four buttered ramekin dishes (or fill one larger container). Cover with foil and bake at 200C, 400F, gas 4 for about 5 minutes or until heated through (one large container will take longer).
Meanwhile, put the sugar, butter and double cream in a saucepan and heat gently, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Pour this on top of the muffins and serve warm with a dollop of ice-cream or whipped cream on top.
See above for alternative ways to cook.

Time now for me to wave B goodbye for several hours and then I can begin my culinary activities. Outside it is another miserable day, so am glad to be able to remain indoors. Not everyone is so fortunate. Don't think many of us appreciate what a good life we have, even the weather isn't THAT bad, compared to other countries. Perhaps we are turning into a nation that loves to have something to moan about. The newspapers are full of doom and gloom and moans and groans. Anything good written about is usually hidden towards the back, if you can find it amongst all the adverts, many of them taking up a full page (often supermarket ads paid for by their profits - this being once our money - in the hope they will persuade us to spend more). Seems now we have more ads than news, and most holiday ads (for hols abroad) are now offering very good discounts. Just a pity we haven't the money to take advantage. Never have been able to understand that it can be cheaper to holiday abroad for two weeks, including flight fares, for less cost than one week in our own country.

Keep those comments coming, and join me again tomorrow. See you then.