Saturday, February 18, 2012

From Start to Finish

Thanks to chrissie (are you a new commenteer? If so welcome) for the mention of the pancake batter bought 'ready-made' at M & S (approx one pint for approx £2 - how easy it is to believe that £1.99 is a LOT less than £2. This is why so many food items have prices always ending in 99p. Always best to 'round up' to the pound as we read the price as it often acts as a deterrant).
No doubt - being M & S -the eggs used were free-range, myself would use the cheaper 8p ones (15 in a tray from Tesco). Either way it is far cheaper to make our own batter, costing us well under £1 for same amount of batter when using expensive eggs, and under 50p if we use the cheaper ones. We have also to remember that manufacturers buy their ingredients at much lower prices (wholesale) than we 'domestics' who always pay more. So a good profit for the 'makers/retailers'.

As you are in Scotland Urbanfarmgirl, then you probably have to sow your seeds even later that we do on the English side of the border, certainly a good month later than down south'. However, as you have both a greenhouse and a polytunnel, no doubt this means you can make an early sowing.

Here too the birds have begun to sing and becoming very active. Not so today as the weather has turned atrocious and it took all my will to get out of bed (so a late start again today), as it is raining as well as blowing a fierce gale. Will definitely be going out today (hadn't planned to anyway), and will make a start on the profiteroles. Good thing about those is I can make the mix in the morning, and although it can be baked immediately, can also leave it to cool and bake them this afternoon. As each batch of 'mix' makes 50 profiteroles, will make another batch another day, then have some 'profs' to spare in case I ruin any (as they will be frozen, then can be eaten another day).

Had a letter from 'the pensions' yesterday. Yippee - my part of the pension has risen by a massive 47p this year!!! Just enough to buy a first class stamp. B will get more, but as it is all paid into the 'house running costs' account at least can control where it all goes. Most of it on the ever increasing fuel payments no doubt. Did read in the booklet that came with the letter that people over 80 MAY qualify for an extra fuel payment. Have begun to never believer or trust anything that says 'may'.

Even though our pension is being increased it does not keep level with inflation. Have already mentioned fuel costs, but water rates will also be going up and probably council tax (rates), not to mention food (the latter at least I have a certain amount of control over this budget).
With this in mind, plus the fact my outgoings are rapidly coming close to the 'income' (this being purely state pension), have decided to cancel the trade mag from the end of this month (expensive at £2.50 a week).

As have been taking this trade mag for several months now, there is never any good news in it, only the wheelings and dealings behind the scenes, and think by now we are all aware of how the food industry's aim is to keep pulling the consumer strings. Well not just food, all retail outlets do the same. This is just the way they make profits.

Think also we have learned how the stores 'target' certain of our population, sometimes it is mothers with babies, other times teenagers, then the elderly, and - more recently - those who buy food to take to lunch at work.
With the extracts from previous mags given, have hoped to show that almost every time I've been able to show that we could make the same things FAR CHEAPER, and although it might be useful to persuade children to eat something 'healthy' because it comes in a pack with a cartoon character on it, my suggestion would be to open the pack carefully, then keep it when empty, then refill with your 'home-prepared'. Not only would this work well with cheese slices, popcorn, cookies..., but we can also mix cheaper cereals with the more expensive but always store them in the 'expensive' box. Do similar with instant coffee (mix and keep in the 'expensive' jar), or baked beans (mix cheap with favourite brand then let everyone see you tipping them out of the 'brand' tin).
If the difference is noted (and mostly it isn't - it's surprising how we are swayed by a name or look of a container rather than notice any slight difference in taste of contents), we can always say "it's the 'new improved', so will taste slightly different, myself think it tastes better!". Well, this is not a lie - it is a 'new version' that has been 'improved' by yourself.

This week's trade mag has just been brought to me by B, and see on the cover headlines "as cocoa costs drop, why are chocolate prices still rising?". Will find out later today when I read the mag., but then is that of interest to me or you? Cocoa, chocolate is what I call a 'luxury' ingredient/treat. Hardly used in the Goode kitchen at all. At least not THAT often.
Other 'highlights' (in the mag) mentioned on the cover are Selfridges launching 'chilled dips' (something else we can make ourselves), 'restructuring Pepsi' (never drink it), and see also 'froyo (frozen yogurt) set to grow'. (assume this means growth market, not left to set in the fridge and then grow mould!!).

It would be good if there was a 'consumer' mag on sale with articles and features written by customers, so that we could get to read the other side of the story. Even cookery mags are full of adverts and mentions of new foods appearing on the shelves that we really don't need, but the editors feel that we might like to try. Very few recipes are given that shows how we can make our own. But as magazines need advertising to pay for the publishing, then who can blame them?

Perhaps we can take my daily blog as one way to find the grass can be greener on our side of the fence. Everytime I find a recipe to make our own sort-of 'basic' then I'll be giving it. Am pleased to say that my home-made baked beans really did taste very similar to Heinz (especially after adding a little more golden syrup) and when the two were mixed together - they all tasted like this top brand.

Even though not yet had a come-back as to whether you wish for more 'starter > sides > lunch/supper dishes, am continuing with more recipes just because I want to. So there!
Anyway, it is worth using cheaper (and seasonal) vegetables in a slightly different way so that we end up with a much tastier meal than if served on their own.

The first recipe is a poor man's version of Potatoes Dauphinois (at least think it is this dish I'm hoping to emulate). The good thing about this one is that although it is made with potatoes and parsnips, we can use other root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, carrots, swede, turnips... in place of potatoes, in other words make it with what root veggies you have. Aim to keep all the slices to the same even thinness (if you have a mandoline or food processor with a slicing blade then use this). Small parsnips are best as their core will cook to tender, with large parsnips the core has to be removed as it takes far longer to soften. Don't discard cores, store/freeze as these add flavour when making a vegetable stock/soup.
Normally this dish is served as an accompaniment to any number of main course dishes, but eaten with a little cold cooked meat could also work as a lunch/supper dish.
Spuds and 'nips' with Garlic 'n Cream: serves 4
3 large potatoes peeled (or other veg, see above)
10 oz (3oog) small-med parsnips (ditto)
6 fl oz (175ml) single cream
6 tblsp milk
1 -2 cloves garlic, crushed
3 oz (75g) Cheddar cheese, grated
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
Slice the peeled veg very thinly and evenly, then place in a steamer and cook for 5 minutes. Leave for a few minutes to cool slightly.
Meanwhile put the cream, milk and garlic into a small pan and bring to the boil, then remove from heat and leave for 10 minutes for the garlic to infuse and flavour the creamy milk.
Lightly grease (oil or butter) a 10" (25cm) long, rectangular shallow ovenproof dish, and arrange the sliced vegetables in layers in the dish, sprinkling each layer with a little nutmeg and seasoning (little salt but plenty of pepper).
Pour the infused milk/cream over the sliced veggies and - using a fish slice - carefully press them down so the liquid comes almost level with the topmost layer of slices. Cover dish with lightly greased foil (or baking parchment) and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 45 minutes.
Remove from oven and discard foil or paper. Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the surface and return to oven (uncovered) to bake for a further 20 or so minutes until the veggies are tender.
Best way to check is to stab veggies with the tip of a knife, if it slides in evenly the veggies are ready, if there is a bit of resistance, cook for a few more minutes. Serve hot.

Next recipe is an all-rounder (as 'appetizer', accompaniment, or lunch/salad dish). There are plenty of ways we can include protein if we wish: hard-boiled eggs, cooked chunks of chorizo, crispy bacon, chunks of home-cooked ham/chicken....
For flavour we should ideally use Jersey Royals or Pink Fir Apple potatoes, alternatively one of the waxy salad potatoes such as Charlotte. At a pinch we COULD use the canned new potatoes (these are relatively very cheap compared to 'fresh') but the end flavour of the dish would not be as good. But when strapped for cash, any port in a storm!
We Goode's are not fond of the flavour of fresh coriander, so myself would use another herb such as chives, flat-leaf parsley or even mint, or a mixture to suit our taste. We could also add a little more 'spicy' flavour (as given by the coriander) by sprinkling a little ground coriander or other spice over the spuds.
Although good as it stands, you could use this as a 'base' recipe then add to it what you will.
Potato and Olive Salad: serves 4
8 large new potatoes, cut into large chunks
pinch salt
3 - 4 tblsp garlic oil (see below)
4 - 6 tblsp chopped fresh herbs (see above)
10 - 12 black olives (pitted) and halved
Put the potatoes and salt into a pan of boiling water and cook gently until just tender, then drain well. Leave in the colander so they dry out completely, then - when cool enough to handle, chop the potato into smaller chunks (or dice) and place into a bowl. Drizzle the garlic oil over, sprinkle on the herbs and toss well to combine. Add the halved olives, give another toss then place in a serving bowl and chill for at least one hour before serving.

Myself like to make my own flavoured oils but was once warned that home-made garlic oil doesn't keep well (perhaps best to check this on the Internet), even so my cookbook does give a recipe for this, so it could be made in small quantities.
Here are three recipes taken from a book (so don't blame me, blame the author). To avoid plagiarism the method given is in my words.
When buying HP sauce always buy it in glass bottles as these (once cleaned and sterilised) make good and matching containers for a collection of flavoured oils. Great for gift-giving.
flavoured oils:
Wash and dry chosen herb (such as rosemary or basil) then put enough in a jar until it is half-full. Pour over olive oil until the herbs are completely covered, then seal the jar and place in cool dark place for 3 - 4 days. Strain the now-flavoured oil into clean sterilised jars or bottles and seal. Discard the herbs.
However, a sprig of washed/dried rosemary can be inserted into rosemary flavoured oil as this looks very attractive and makes a good gift.
chilli oil:
add five or six dried chillies to a bottle of olive oil and leave to infuse for 2 - 3 weeks before using. If the flavour is not strong enough leave for another week (and add another chilli if you wish). No need to remove chillies as they look very attractive in the bottle. Also make another good gift.
garlic oil:
Separate one whole garlic into cloves and and add to a bottle of olive oil and leave for 2 weeks before using. The garlic an be left in the oil, but best to strain the oil into a clean bottle, seal and store n a cool dark place.
If deciding to make garlic oil in small quantities, use less cloves and less oil and store in smaller jars.

Have to include this next recipe as it is (to me) a much more interesting accompaniment to curry than the more normal 'Raita'. Not to be made ONLY to eat with curry as it also is great with any spicy fish dishes and also grilled meats. Alone it can be served as a light and refreshing salad or relish. Good news is that it can be made well ahead of serving and be kept in the fridge.
Ideally dry-roast cumin seeds and grind to a powder yourself (gives better flavour)instead of using bought ready-ground cumin.
Chunky Cucumber and Shallot Salad: serves 4
1 cucumber, peeled and halved lengthways
4 shallots, halved lengthways
1 - 2 green chillies, deseeded
4 tblsp coconut milk
1 - 2 tsp ground cumin (see above)
1 lime, cut into wedges (for serving)
Using a teaspoon, scoop the seeds from the cucumber, then slice the flesh and place in a sieve and sprinkle with salt. Set aside for 15 or so minutes, then rinse well under cold running water, draining off excess water. Pat with kitchen towel to absorb as much surface water as possible.
Slice the halved shallots finely along the grain (not across as we would normally), and place this in a bowl with the cucumber. Slice the chillis finely, also lengthways, and add to the bowl, then pour over the coconut milk and toss everything together. Sprinkle most of the cumin on top. This can then be covered and kept in the fridge to chill before serving.
When ready to serve, toss the salad again, adding a little salt, then sprinkle the remaining cumin on top. Serve immediately with lime wedges to squeeze over the salad.

Suddenly noticed the wind has now dropped (a bit) and the sun is now shining, clouds rolled away and lots of blue sky. That has lifted my spirits somewhat.
Have loads to do today (daughter coming for supper) so now need to move myself from my comfy chair into a less comfy one in the kitchen. As long as I have somewhere to sit am not too bothered as to comfort when cooking. Otherwise might end up nodding off!
Hope you all have a very good weekend and hope I can get up early enough tomorrow to publish before Gill's hour-long phone call. If not you will have to wait until nearly noon before it is up on the screen.

My most favourite programme of all time 'Benidorm' begins a new series next Friday. I was on cloud nine when I saw the trailer, then B tells me this is the day of his 'social' where he expects me to attend, so am devastated. Never watched 'repeats on 'ITV player', but will have to give it a try in the hope it will be shown. Terrible state of affairs when watching a TV prog seems so much more important to me than attending my Beloved's 80th birthday 'bash' (although his birthday is not on that actual day - we are celebrating that more quietly earlier in the week). Yes, I should be ashamed. And am (no I'm not!). Quite often it seems there are two of me, the one that does what it wants, the other has more of a conscience. The times I sit in my chair and fancy a 'snack', and then fight a battle with my 'other me' who telling me not to. Sometimes one wins, sometimes the other. Am I alone in this?

Enjoy your weekend and - if you have time - pop in and have a virtual coffee morning with me. Otherwise see you when I see you. TTFN.