Monday, February 13, 2012

No Two Alike. .

After great dreams again (other than David Beckham winning a lottery in the hotel where we were both staying -me on a cheap package holiday, he 'just popping in. Of course he won the first prize of two million pounds!). With me also dreaming about losing my purse with my remaining small amount of cash (the holiday courier had all our necessary return papers, passports etc,) and secure in the knowledge I could return home, to B who was out of a job, am now wondering if deep down, in my subconscious, I'm just the tiny bit envious of people who DO have money. Sincerely hope not.

Perhaps some of this came from reading the total of the grocery bill once I'd 'loaded' my virtual shopping trolley. It came to just over £200!!!!! Feverishly I went back and removed as many items I could do without (at this time, even though they were on offer), and managed to reduce the amount considerably. So it just shows how easy it is to believe we really should buy this, that and the other.
The amended total still worried me, but then realised that at least £25 of it was paying fortowB's social 'desserts' (so this will be paid back), and also lots of vouchers also to be deducted, PLUS the savings made by the offers/half price/discounts this week, so feel that the final total will be not much more than I planned for. Will let you know the good or bad news once it has arrived and I have the statement in front of me.

Lovely comments in my 'in-box' this morning. Our 'local delicacies' minimiser deb start with Morecambe Bay (potted) shrimps. This region also has good salt marsh lamb from the many flocks grazing on the salt marshes close by the river Lune/sea.
Our county is famous for its Lancashire cheeses (crumbly, creamy etc), also for Black Puddings, and if you count Cumbria (the border to Lancashire being only a few miles away from where we live and at one time considered the same) we can include Kendal Mint Cake, Cumberland Sausages, Cumberland Rum Nicky (a bit like a big flat mince pie), Grasmere Gingerbread, and not forgetting Damson Jam (damsons grow in abundance in an area near here). There is a 'rare' edible fish called (I think) 'char' that is only found in one (or two) Lakeland lakes, and sold only in the local fish shops I believe.
Other than the above that are normally 'bought', we also have the traditional dish 'Lancashire Hot-Pot'. Probably others too that I cannot bring to mind at this moment.

Did give those frozen 'microwave' jacket spuds a mention the other week Les, when I read about them in the trade mag. Myself see no point in purchasing them as it only takes a couple of minutes more to cook 'from fresh' in the microwave, and as they work out at 50p a spud, obviously it is far cheaper to cook our own from scratch. The only difference (perhaps) is that the microwave spuds are said to taste like oven-cooked.
Even if we cook our spuds in the microwave we can reduce the time and pop them into an oven for five or so more minutes (but only if the oven is on for something else of course) just to crisp up the skins a bit more.

Remember once having a little gadget that had four metal upright spikes on which a large potato could be speared. As the metal heated in the oven, this helped to cook the 'jackets' from the inside as well as from the outside, thus reducing the cooking time. By pushing a metal skewer through the potato down the centre of its length, this should also work in the same way.

A welcome and hugs to Eden Valley M who has sent in her first comment. There are salt substitutes on sale, this I do know, but not sure of the name. Also 'low sodium' salt. If using any salt at all do recommend the sea salt crystals as very little needs to be needed to 'lift' the flavour of what is being cooked. 'Natural' ingredients that could be used instead of salt to 'lift' flavour are celery, ginger, and any herbs (type according to what you are cooking). Some foods - such as fish - are naturally salty anyway.

When using a flour for thickening Christine, myself would normally thicken a beef casserole using plain flour, the easiest way to do this is to put seasoned flour and cubed meat in a bag and toss together. Then the flour thickens the liquid as the meat cooks. Ordinary flour can also be used to thicken a sauce, usually by melting butter in a pan, stirring in some plain flour, cooking until thickened, then slowly whisking in the liquid. Once smooth and beginning to thicken, simmer for a few minutes (this removes the taste of flour).
Our cornflour (US cornstarch), I would use to thicken warm liquid. A teaspoon (or so) is put in a cup, a little liquid mixed in to 'slake' it, then this is stirred into warm liquid in a pan and causes it to thicken as it comes to the boil.. When boiled for too long, unlike plain flour, cornflour based sauce will then becomes thin again.
The Chinese use cornflour to coat their fish/chicken before cooking/stir-frying as it gives it a 'velvety' texture.

One or two comments have remarked on the price of that 'lettuce wrap' mentioned yesterday, and priced highly because I suppose it has a short 'shelf-life' (so some might go to waste), but more because people are prepared to pay for it.
The following - taken from the end of yesterday's article on 'food-to-go' - shows how the trade can - using the 'yuppy' mindset lead us in directions they wish to take.
"FTG is worth £11.5bn in the UK and has grown 7% in the last year assuming customers have put their demand for inspiration on hold is surely missing a trick".
"...the lettuce wrap is a refreshingly modern approach to healthy eating...revisiting the original insight behind the low-carb format (more fill, less bread) and reframed it to connect with todays health-conscious consumer. It's a clear demonstration of consumer involvement and confidence in trying more adventurous food, regardless of the financial climate. The opportunity is there to ensure sandwiches are not the default purchase but part of a wider, more sophisticated FTG repertoire."
"In a category that's this big and that's growing fast, why miss out on an opportunity?"

Good business tactics. There are people out there now more concerned that ever about healthy eating, and as many can still afford to buy FTG without considering the cost so the manufacturers/stores will continue to target that market. We readers who have a bit more sense, know we can copy any FTG that appears on the shelves (sandwiches, wraps, boxed mixed salads...) and by being our own 'manufacturer' save those ££££s. So in a way, knowing what is 'out there', can work in our favour. We can still eat the best with the rest, but have the advantage of keeping most of our money in our purse.

Morrison's new vegetarian range 'hits the shelves on Monday' (that's today). These meals are in response to customer feed-back who complain that much of the veggie food in supermarkets was 'bland and uninteresting'.
So if you do wish to purchase a ready-veggie you will be delighted to find that the M range covers a variety of cuisines - these including "sweet potato and sun-blazed tomato crisp-melt"; "crushed Charlotte potato topper with West Country Cheddar sauce"; a 'bean burger with spicy sweet potato and nacho crumb"; also a North Indian paneer and vegetable curry with rice (developed by twice Michelin-starred chef Atul Kochar". More will be added to the range throughout the year, with further products in the line especially for Christmas.
Have to say the very names of the meals have got my mouth watering already so let us hope they live up to as "These are superb recipes that will be enjoyed by anyone who loves food".

Far be it from me to 'advertise' products that we could make ourselves (and far cheaper), but sometimes we cannot always find time and if we fall by the wayside and buy a ready meal, then it's worth knowing what might be worth trying.

Myself really fell off my pedestal this weekend after asking B to bring me in the three different packs of 'guess the flavour Walkers crisps'. I just love crisps and myself prefer Walkers to any other brand.
B brought in a six-pack (two of each) and blow me - could I detect any flavour from any? Not on your Nellie. Possibly a hint of beef at first bite of one, but after that was left with nothing but a greasy taste in my mouth, so it might have been imagination (or was it Marmite?), another might have been 'fish 'n' chips', but very unlikely for again only the first bite gave a hint, left again with a very greasy taste of nothing in my mouth. The third tasted much the same s the first two. Even working my way through them again in different order cannot say any of them left me with wishing to buy them again even if I did know what they were supposed to taste of.

Gill tells me that if we take a concoction of pills this often removes our sense of taste, so perhaps I've lost mine and others would detect a flavour in above crisps. But whatever, it just goes to show how easily we can be tempted to buy something new because it is 'different'. In my case it wasn't the opportunity to win loadsa money (if I could guess the flavour, then millions of others would too), it was the challenge of trying to detect what the flavours were. Was sure I would be able to. Unfortunately I wasn't clever enough. Boo,hoo!

Well, while I'm 'free advertising' at the moment, readers might be interested to know that Heinz has expanded its salad cream range with an onion & chive flavour (like the sound of that). This 'rolls out' next month in 295g bottles (rsp £1.15) that feature serving suggestions. "This product would open new usage occasions for the brand, particularly for topping jacket potatoes".
Again useful info. We now know this will shortly be on the market, and we now also know by adding very finely chopped/grated onion and chives to the basic salad cream we can make our own version.

Cooking sauces take over several pages of the trade mag this week. Have to say I am a fan of these - my shelf consisting of many different (quality brands) of curry sauces, and sachets of Chinese sauces. They just make making a meal so easy.
Yesterday proved the point as, having decided to thaw out DR's meatballs for supper (free with an order placed months ago), and knowing the meat was superb but the balls didn't have THAT much flavour on their own (have eaten them before), decided instead of cooking them in the usual passata type tomato sauce, this time would put the contents of two packs (24 meatballs in total), into a baking dish and pour over the one jar of Levi Roots Reggae Reggae sauce that had been on my shelf for some months. Then covered the tin with foil to put in a low oven to cook until supper time. How simple was that?

The intention was that B would have 8 meatballs (he normally ate six but I was feeling generous, and the rest would make two more meals to freeze for another day (or possibly blitzed down to make a fiery chilli by adding a can of red beans). So the 'free' meatballs plus the sauce made a very inexpensive and extremely speedily prepared meal for 3.
B thought he'd eat the meatballs/sauce with rice instead of the pasta I suggested, so let him go and heat the microwave rice himself (2 minutes) then serve himself with meatballs and sauce.

Later went to box up the remainder to freeze and discovered B had eaten EIGHTEEN meatballs and most of the sauce. Hardly worth saving the final six plus the tablespoon of sauce, so ate them myself and they were VERY GOOD INDEED. Not surprised B kept eating them.
Certainly the sauce was hot, hot, but 'manageable' and will be buying it again. Think there must have been a lot of chillis in this 'reggae' sauce as after eating the meal did have a large helping of 'feel good' come over me (chillis AND oats are both supposed to contain this 'feel good' factor). Who needs drugs when food gives us the same result?

Anyway, coming back to the 'cooking sauce' article. The question was asked "how did the brands make the more expensive option of tearing open a sachet more appealing than unscrewing a jar?"
"It's simple" was the reply "by packaging sauces in smaller formats, manufacturers have created the illusion of providing better value for money for today's cash-strapped shoppers."
"The price of sachets and pouches is the key factor in the steep rise in sales. They may be perceived to be cheaper than buying a big jar, even when this is not the case, so more people are likely to pick one up and try one."

The 'illusion' of providing better value for money, means the manufacturers have found a way to get us spend more for less. Even if something SEEMS cheaper we can still end up getting comparatively less for our money. So we always need to compare weight for weight if we get the chance.
Another reason given to 'pack small' is that waste-conscious consumers "also prefer small pouches to larger jars that tend to languish half-used in the fridge".

Myself consider pouches could mean more waste not less, for glass jars are always recyclable, and pouches get binned, and although it is true we don't always need to use a whole jar at a time, myself tend to use the lot in the jar at any one time, but always making several meals with it, the surplus being then frozen. Alternatively we could decant the rest of the jar into one or more small containers and freeze to use weeks/months later. Then no chance of the jar contents going 'off'.

This next bit of 'reading' saddens me: "Consumers no longer plan the weekly shop and make shopping lists, instead they make purchasing decisions based on immediate meal needs". And goes on to say that the success of pouches and sachets is not just down to convenience but increasingly exotic flavours help achieve high-quality results for consumers who are eating out less, but treating themselves at home more. "Shoppers want help and inspiration in a conventional format".

I've nothing against trying out new dishes AND using ready-made 'convenience' sauces. I use them often. It does make cooking so easy. It is the persuasive attitude of advertising that concerns me a bit, also the fact that we (as a nation) seem now not even make shopping lists, instead just going into the store and be tempted by what is on offer. Ending up paying far more than we might normally had we planned ahead what to buy.

May have 'grouched' about this before, but last week Norma and I were pulling to bits the way our world is today. We both agreed that our parents and certainly grandparents would have thought the normal 'standard of living' we 'working class' have today was the life only the uppercrust could have afforded in their day.
How easy it is for us to take TV, computers, washing machines, dish-washers, holidays abroad, a family car, mobile phones, microwaves, convenience foods, take-aways and 'eating out', fitted carpets, central heating and electric blankets, for granted today. Even an inside toilet and a fitted bath was a luxury in the old days (like 50 years ago).

Was watching the series about The Midwife - this set in the middle of last century - and as I was in my late teens at that time could remember that life was exactly like that. It made me feel very nostalgic, but could also see how much we have progressed since then, especially with home surroundings and furnishings that seemed perfectly adequate at that time.
Thinking about my own family home, despite us eventually moving into a large house (very cheap as bought during war-time), none of the rooms had more furniture than was necessary for its purpose. None of the bric-a-brac that we have today (or they had in Victorian times). It was positively minimalistic by today's standards. And all the better for it.

Just wish the younger generations of today could appreciate what they have today instead of moaning because they may have to cut down and live a slightly less affluent life.
We should never feel we need money to bring us happiness, although pessimists are inclined to believe one advantage of money is that we can be unhappy in comfort. If we get too unhappily 'comfortable' then we stop finding ways to cheer ourselves up. Instead we should start making what we need, not just sit and moan because we can't afford to buy it.

It is surprising how much we can make a lovely home for our families using our own fair hands. We all have a creative urge which is why 'the industry' tempts us with packs of ready-cut fabric to stitch up our own patchwork cushions and covers. Why we don't cut up our old clothes to make quilts I don't know (perhaps many of us do), and we can always go to jumble sales to buy secondhand clothes and curtains to use in this way).
One thing I've realised that is the more modern a house (or any house that has no character), the harder it is to make it more 'homely'. We have only to step carefully into stately homes to realise there is nothing new there at all. It wouldn't look nearly so 'authentic' if the carpets and upholstery weren't just about threadbare, even the curtains often dropping to bits. So no reason why we shouldn't 'role-play' lord of the manor and accept our own 'worn-outs' in the same way.

Seeing cheap rental accommodation with wall to wall new carpeting, a plasma TV, plus a 'leather-look' three piece suite, would give me the impression of people living there who have with no creative gene in their body. Or even a brain between their ears. But then it is easy for me to say that as I'm biased I suppose. It just grieves me SO much how so many people just can't pull themselves out of a life of 'want, want, want', and instead decide - that by their own efforts -they can have most of what they desire. Certainly they would begin to enjoy life to the full instead of waiting for the next benefit cheque to arrive'.

Why can't I 'live and let live'? Everyone has the right to make their own choices as to what they do and whether to work or not, or make instead of buy. It's just that so many seem to moan about things that have happened to them they could so easily have avoided, and always it's someone else's fault, never theirs.

Maybe it's remembering the war-time, everybody giving up almost everything that meant something, ending up living on very meagre rations, working hard for long hours, and the whole nation pulling together. Perhaps because then everyone was in the same boat. Whether royalty or labourer, no-one had more food than another (unless we grew our own and then we shared it). The uppercrust had to clean their own homes (servants having gone off to fight the war), and learn to cook there own meals and dig their own gardens. We were 'together' in the fight for our country.
If this British 'spirit' could come back, we will be back on track much, much sooner than if we moan and groan and do nothing as seems to be happening today.

Is it just me, or have I got the wrong idea? Because of their almost bancruptcy the Greeks are gathering in cities, setting fire to things and the way I see it it will cost their country more to put things right when they do this than if the people just quietened down and did more for their country. Not quite sure what, but as formerly their wonderful history would bring in plenty of holiday makers to add money to their coffers, they are doing themselves no favours by frightening visitors away with their rioting.
Sometimes people are like lemmings. Enough gathering together then surging forth and ending up falling to a certain death over the top of a cliff. Thank goodness I'm English, that's all I can say, but with the melting pot of nationalities now firmly settled on our shores, and with many having cultural differences as to how their immediate world should be run, who knows what can happen next.

Perhaps best if I keep my thoughts to myself and concentrate on only food. It's not as though anything I say will make any difference to what is to come. We all have to make our own decisions as how to improve our life and future. Thankfully there are no two of us alike. If everyone was like me, life would be an eternal fight to be the won who wins. Am very quickly taking a dislike to myself.

Wether you hate me or not, hope you will return again tomorrow, I may even have more spleen to vent, but think today have done enough and food will be the main topic for the rest of the week. But it all depends on what life throws at me today.....TTFN