Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Better Late Than Never...

Late start to the blog this morning as decided to wait until Norma the Hair had left before settling down in front of the comp. Anyway - had other things on my mind earlier that would have stopped me blogging, for as I went into the kitchen this morning, discovered it was bitterly cold in there (despite the central heating being on) and what did I find? The back door was half-open!!! As this faces north, and a minus degree temperature last night, cold air had been pouring in.
Do know that when I went to fetch myself some apples to eat whilst watching late-night TV, the door (next to the 'apple basket') was not then open, anyway B was on the comp and went into the kitchen afterwards. He swore he had locked the door, but obviously not.
Anyway, nothing seems to have been taken, my handbag was visible if anyone had moved further into the kitchen, and this was still there, so maybe B hadn't properly shut the door when he went out to his car earlier that evening, and a dog might have come down the drive and pushed open our back door. On the other hand, did hear B get up to go to the bathroom in the wee small hours and saw by the light through our bedroom door (it has glass in it) he had left the bathroom, but was quite a while before returning back to bed, so maybe he was sleepwalking and opened the back door for some reason. Very puzzling!

Today am feeling very undecided about where to go next with my blog. When it comes to cost-cutting have no problem as far as working out the price of a portion of anything, but even this can vary person to person, according to the selling price as these can vary from store to store.

Then we come to another problem: what I have in stock will almost certainly not be what others have, some maybe, but not everything. Recipes can be given, suggestions made, but these may suit only one or two readers - if that. Comments and queries sent in always help as they can point me in the right direction to a need at that moment, but as only 1 -2% of readers regularly keep in touch, I've no way of knowing what type of dishes/foods others wish to know about. So please - if you have some ingredients you would like to use up but not sure how to, or if you have a very limited budget and need to know the 'best buys' (and dishes to make) to help feed a family, then please do write in. This is a communal blog, not just 'do only what I suggest', and the more money-saving hints and tips we can share, the more all will benefit.

There are so many cookery progs on TV these days (although none cut costs down to the bare minimum), and am sure thousands of useful websites that we can log onto to find the cheapest way to eat. As am not a reader of other blogs, don't know much about them other than is one of the best, and they really do work on a shoe-string.

Even then I wish to go one step further, to explain new ways, old ways, it doesn't matter, as long as we can still keep finding ways to cut costs without sacrificing the quality of our meals. At the moment am suggesting 'challenges' that we can all join in (or those that wish to). Certainly the ongoing one of 'use only what we've got in store' does seem to be working well, as several of you are finding they have spent far less than they might normally. This has to be a good thing.

Apparently Superscrimpers are suggesting daily challenges while the current series is on. Have not myself looked these up on their website, other readers may have. Are they useful? Do they work? So perhaps it might be a good idea (on this blog) to keep suggesting an easy weekly (or monthly) challenge so that nothing gets boring, but that are quite fun to attempt (or at least interesting). What are your thoughts re this idea?

Most of your comments lean towards me 'allowing' myself to re-stock, even though there is food still in store. Now you've said that, feel almost contrary and this means I might stick it out for at least another month (just buying the food for B's social). Yet common sense tells me that the longer I go just with the occasional 'top up' (brought in by B), even more money will be spent on the 'unnecessary' due to B unable to stop putting into the trolley other foods that he desires at that time. If there is no need for him to go to a supermarket at all, then only what is needed is ordered on-line and delivered. Also, as several comments have said, I could be missing good bargains now that will be more expensive when I really DO have to re-stock.

Here is an example of B's version of 'economy shopping'. The other day asked him to bring in half a dozen eggs (or a dozen if they were cheap enough, preferably less (and no more) than 20p each). He came back with a dozen (large free-range) thrilled to bits as "they costonly £1.65p" so I was well pleased. Later I checked the price (B brought two boxes of 6 eggs in each) and discovered this was the price per pack, so the dozen cost me £3.30p = 25p each. "Well, only one pack was marked with the price, and the boxes were stacked in pairs" he said "thought that was the price for the two") (turned out he had bought them from the butcher not the supermarket), so possibly a genuine error, yet why didn't he query the price when asked for the money. Probably because he had bought something else he 'fancied' at the same time.. Doubt many men today realise just how much prices have risen, and how carefully we have to check these days. They seem to be unconcerned how much they pay for them at the till. just as long as we end up paying them back the money from our own 'budget'.

Even though the butcher's eggs were (fairly) expensive, it does seem the local butcher is worth patronising, and very much the best place to buy meat. Eileen did very well with her purchases. And yes Eileen, I did enjoy the microwave Pukka Pie, but feel the ones to be oven-baked are better value as they are deeper and containing more meat (and the meat is GORGEOUS), alsothe puff pastry on top is lovely. When at full price the microwave pies will be slightly more expensive than the oven-baked, and although the speed of microwave re-heating could be useful when short of time, myself like to feel I get more for my money, even if the oven has to be switched on to do the cooking. Anyway, when this happens, always aim to cook other things in the oven at the same time.

As most of the comments cover thoughts on me re-stocking (or not) and B paying for the ingredients for the dishes made for his 'social', as it is already 11.00am, will be giving a blanket thanks to all who have sent in comments. With no queries today, no real need to give individual replies, although I try to do this whenever time allows.

Today is the first of February. Another lovely sunny day, but really, really cold. Today will be cooking a chicken dish for B's supper (may also have some myself). Yesterday made a fish pie (potato topping) for both our meals, but can't say I found it very 'interesting'. Fish can be quite bland, especially when served with a white sauce. Did include peas and sweetcorn, and parsley in the sauce, but even then... Maybe have just got too used to eating (and enjoying) spicy dishes.

Despite time being at a premium, do wish to offer a couple of recipes today that are 'useful'.
When making a Victoria Sponge, the same weights of ingredients are used (butter, sugar, eggs, flour) so it's not surprising this is one of the most popular cakes we can make at home. Yet by increasing the flour (this being the cheapest main ingredient) and adding a little liquid, we can make a larger cake that gives more portions, ending up (per slice) cheaper than the Viccy Sponge.

The recipe given today was - in the old days - called 'Pound Cake', and as I like traditional recipes am still calling it this, even though in the 19th century, when upper-class homes began the tradition of always serving a slice of this cake with a glass of madeira wine, this then led to the name we know it by today: The Madeira Cake. Another tradition is this was always baked with one good slice of candied lemon peel on the top ( laid on the surface before baking). The recipe below uses home-candied lemon shreds added after baking, but these can be omitted.

Before you start, a few hints and tips to get a perfect result:
To make a really light cake that rises to a good size, it is essential to beat the butter and sugar together until it is very light and fluffy. Using very soft butter helps, but it musn't be melted as this then affects the rise (in the opposite direction).
Eggs used should be at room temperature - cold eggs will make the mixture curdle (if this happens whisk in a couple of teaspoons of the flour with the eggs). Sift the flour (twice if you can be bothered) as this also helps to give lightness to the cake, and fold in with a metal spoon in a figure of eight movement. Don't overdo the folding as this can knock out some of the trapped air, but make sure all the flour is folded in.
Bake for the full time (or at least until the cake sends out a 'baked smell' into the kitchen) as checking too early can cause the cake to sink.

Pound Cake: serves 10
6 oz (175g) butter, softened
6 oz (175g) caster sugar
3 large eggs, beaten
9 oz (250g) self-raising flour, sifted
3 tblsp milk (pref full fat)
zest of 1 lemon
icing sugar for dusting
candied peel for topping:
2 oz (50g) sugar
2 fl oz (50ml) water
fine shreds of peel from one small lemon
Cream the butter and sugar together until very pale and fluffy (aim for mousse-like texture), then slowly beat in the eggs, adding a little flour if necessary (see above tips). Have ready the sifted flour, then sift this through a sieve onto the cake 'batter', then add the lemon zest and fold in with just enough milk to give a firmish dropping consistency.
Spoon the mixture into 8" (20cm) greased and base-lined deep cake tin (greasing both sides of the baking parchment). Gently level the surface, then bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 45 - 50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Cool in the tin for 15 minutes, then remove from tin and place on a cake airer to cool completely.
Meanwhile, candy the lemon peel by putting the sugar in a pan with the water and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved, then add the lemon shreds and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, then remove from heat and strain (don't discard the syrup, this can be used for something else). Dust the top of the cake with icing sugar, scattering the candied peel over as decoration.

Normally I don't 'bake' using the microwave, so haven't yet made this next recipe. However, it does seem a good one to consider when feeding a family at speed. To make it even speedier, the dry ingredients could be pre-weighed then bagged up ready to make as and when. The fat can be measured and kept in the fridge for the same purpose, then really it is a matter of putting the lot together. Having the 'necessary' already prepared, means this cake should be able to be made and baked and served within 10 minutes as a hot pudding, or the lot (or leftovers) served cold as we would a cake.
This recipe was made using an 800W microwave oven, adjust timings if yours has a different wattage.

Speedy Chocolate Cake: serves 8
4 oz (100g) plain chocolate
4 oz (100g) butter
4 oz (100g) soft dark brown sugar
4 oz (100g) self-raising flour
2 tsp cocoa, plus extra for dusting
pinch salt
2 eggs, beaten
few drop vanilla extract
Put the chocolate and butter into a microwavable bowl and cook on Full for 1 minute, or until melted, then stir in the remaining ingredients and pour into a greaseproof lined shallow glass dish and bake on Medium (50% power) for 6 minutes, or until just set. Allow to cool slightly, then dust with cocoa powder. Turn out and serve warm with cream, ice-cream, creme fraiche etc as a dessert, or leave to get cold and slice and serve as a cake.

Better take my leave as it is now past noon. Hope you all have a good day, and - if you do go shopping - remember that in a couple of weeks it will be Valentine's Day and sometime this month probably also Pancake Day. So worth planning ahead for these.
Hope you will find time to join me tomorrow, if so see you then.