Thursday, March 01, 2012

It Only Takes One Seed....!

Today is the 1st March so 2012 is well on its way. Certainly spring is in the air, we have lots of spring bulbs now flowering in the garden and the weather is still staying mild. Time now to start sowing seeds.
The 'press preview' (advance copy) of the latest Lakeland catalogue arrived yesterday - this one to do with the garden and other related products. It came with a free pack of basil seeds!! So will begin sowing some today.

Checked on the date the baby lemon seedlings were first photographed (seen below) this was shown on this site on 28th January. Can't remember when I planted the pips, but as you can see from the second photo (taken this week - exactly a month later) how well they are growing.

Think they are ready to be transplanted, and due to their most attractive glossy leaves am sure each will make a good house plant, worthy to give as a gift, whether or not they eventually bear fruit. Have seen tiny lemon plants on sale for £9.99 (to fruit a few years later) and larger ones at nearly £50, so definitely worth planting the pips next time you use a lemon, orange, tangerine, clementine, satsuma, or grapefruit...

To make the best savings we should always try to plan ahead. Sometimes it can be better to live for the day - such as snapping up food bargains in stores. Other times we should look at the wider picture and consider where else our money goes. If on gifts, then we could plan for these (such as the above citrus plant suggestion), or for our own consumption (or even as gifts) we could 'grow our own' instead of buying. Herbs, mixed salad leaves, and anything edible that can grow on windowsills - for not everyone has a garden.

Yesterday was thrown a query "what meals can be made to feed four that cost no more than £3?" It could be that Mabel meant that this should cover just one dish, or at most two course, but of course I dived in at the deep end and suggested three courses.

With any challenge that takes my fancy I then can't stop thinking about it, so having found a recipe in a mag for a 'mains' that looked 'interesting', decided to cost it out and it didn't come to more than £2 max even if all the ingredients needed to be bought. If we grow our own salad leaves then this would probably save 25p. If we grow our own potatoes (using a sprouting spud from one previously bought, so from then all it's 'offspring' are free) this would then save a further 50p.

So this means the 'mains' could now cost as little as £1.25p, this leaving plenty (from the £3) for the 'starters' and 'pud'. But as we know that a good soup is cheap to make, also a pudding, then probably we could make this three-course meal for four costing no more than £2 total. Give me the chance and I'd get it down to £1.50. Perhaps even £1...or is that a step too far?

To do this - as I hope readers are realising - we do need to plan ahead, sow a seed (or spud) or two, and buy canned foods when on offer. Also use any 'freebies' that are around (dandelion and other wild edible herbage, 'free' chicken carcases from the butcher....).It is almost impossible to make a cheap meal from scratch when we have to go out and buy every ingredient needed at that time. We need, nay HAVE to build up a stock of reduced price long-storage foods and work with these if we really want to cut costs.

The recipe given was not published as cost-cutting, for it could be more expensive if left 'as-is., I just know that it can cost less (and a lot less) if the following suggestions are followed: use the cheapest own-brand canned tuna we can find, work out which works out cheaper: the 'fresh' baby new potatoes (often sold as bogof or reduced) or canned new potatoes, a 'handful' of watercress is only about a quarter of a £1.00 bag (so 25p) , but home-grown mixed salad leaves would be far cheaper (say 5p).

The oil, mustard, vinegar I SUPPOSE should be costed, but I tend to suggest 10p - 20p to cover the cost of these as we (should) already have them in our kitchen cupboard. Herbs, capers, garlic are optional, but again 'from store', so with bit of thought (perhaps 'advance thought' might be better to give us a chance to fill our larder shelves with the necessary) we can assemble this dish to serve between the first and last courses.

Because of the (suggested) meal being a three-courser, the middle (main) course portions need not be as large as we might normally serve. Most of the time we serve more than we need anyway, but together the three courses will certainly be 'satisfying'.

If omitting a course, then with this recipe use an extra can of tuna and add a few more spuds.

New Potato, Tuna and Cress Salad: serves 4

1 x 300g canned new potatoes (or cooked 'fresh')

3 tblsp oil (pref olive oil)

2 tsp mustard (pref Dijon)

1 tblsp white vinegar (pref wine vinegar)

1 small red onion, finely sliced

1 clove garlic, crushed (opt)

2 tsp capers (opt)

1 tblsp chopped fresh chives (opt)

1 - 2 cans tuna, drained and flaked

handful watercress or mixed salad leaves

If using baby new potatoes, boil then cool. If using canned, drain and rinse. Either way then slice the potatoes. Into a bowl put the oil, mustard, vinegar, onion, garlic, capers and chives and mix together to make a dressing.

Put the flaked tuna and potatoes into a bowl with the watercress and toss together, then tip into a shallow dish. Drizzle the dressing over just before serving.

Here is another 'mains' - again using canned fish (and although the recipes uses canned salmon - often on offer - we could use the cheapest canned tuna) and this also is not expensive to make, especially when we already have rice in our larder. Noticed today (on Tesco's site) that pre-packed trimmed leeks (three in a pack on offer), work out the same (per 100g) as a leek with all its leaves. As we tend to discard most of the green leek tops it makes sense (this time) to buy them trimmed.

Salmon and Leek Paella: serves 4

2 leeks, trimmed and finely sliced (see above)

1 tblsp olive oil

half tsp turmeric

4 oz (100g) rice (pref basmati)

14 fl oz (400ml) vegetable stock

salt and pepper

1 can salmon or tuna, flaked

2 oz (50g) frozen peas

Put the oil in a frying pan and gently fry the leeks until softened. Stir in the turmeric and rice and when the rice is coated with the oil add most of the stock and bring to the boil. Cook for 10 - 15 minutes until the rice is nearly cooked (add more boiling stock if necessary but all the liquid needs to be absorbed before serving), then add seasoning to taste. Stir in the peas and chosen fish then cook for a further 3 minutes. Serve hot.

One of the problems when serving family meals is that not everyone eats the same amount. We all know how much teenage boys (and in my case husband) can managed to wolf down, while the 'girls' probably eat much less. So the best way to make a meal 'filling' (for the lads) is to add plenty of carbos and fibre. One of the most 'filling' foods to serve is a jacket potato (as long as the skin is also eaten), so a meal could be based round these, split and topped/stuffed with a meat or cheese filling and either cooked 'greens' or a salad on the side.

Other useful 'carbos' to serve are the grains: couscous, bulgar wheat, quinoa, rice - and not forgetting pearl barley (one of the cheapest). A good risotto can be made using pearl barley instead of rice. We can also make a savoury bread and butter pudding made with cheese instead of fruit/sugar. If serving this as a 'mains' (it contains plenty of protein with the cheese, milk and eggs - the carbos coming from the bread) then we could get our vitamins serving a chunky (or creamed) vegetable soup for starters, and maybe something fruity for 'afters'.

Oh I just love planning meals like this. I could ramble on for ever...

On the other hand, when we prefer to make a bread and butter pudding for dessert, then here is an upmarket version based on one of Michel Roux Jnr. dishes. This is a useful recipe as this version is eaten cold (with a topping of warmed jam) so can be made well in advance.

For economy use twice as much milk as given (omitting the cream) but you could use both as given. Another adaptation is to use the usual black raisins instead of the 'golden ones' (never seen these anyway),alternatively use finely chopped no-soak apricots if you already have them. M. Roux uses 'good quality bread', but then if I haven't my own home-made, nothing wrong in my eyes with using supermarket cheapest thick-sliced.

The rum is optional, but anyway I would use less (purely to make my 'cooking rum' last that much longer). The added flavour it gives we could still provide with grated orange zest and orange juice.

Diplomat Pudding: serves 6

4 slices good quality bread, crusts removed

1 tblsp icing sugar

2 tblsp (golden) raisins (see above)

2 tblsp sultanas

2 fl oz (50ml) or less, dark rum

9 fl oz (250ml) milk

9 fl oz (250ml) single cream (see above)

4 oz (100g) caster sugar

4 eggs

1 - 2 tblsp apricot jam (to glaze)

Break the bread into large chunks and place in a single layer on a baking sheet. Sift over the icing sugar then bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for about 10 minutes until crisp, then remove from oven and reduce heat down to 150C, 300F, gas 2.

Meanwhile put the dried fruit in a pan, cover with cold water, bring to the boil, leave for a couple of minutes then strain into a bowl. Pour the rum over the fruit and leave to cool, then stir in the crispy pieces of bread and divide between 6 buttered ramekin or individual pudding basins.

Make the 'custard' by whisking together the milk, cream, sugar and eggs, then strain through a sieve into a jug and pour this over the bread in each ramekin. Cover each with buttered foil and place into a roasting tin. Pour in enough warm water to come about two-thirds up the sides of the ramekins, then place in the oven and bake for half an hour or until set.

Remove from oven and place ramekins on a cake airer to cool, then chill in the fridge.

To serve, turn out onto saucers or small plates and glaze with a little warmed jam.

Interesting comments received since yesterday. Have not heard of the Mow Cop area Campfire, but it does sound as though some time ago Spanish 'settlers' came to live there.

Many of the Cornish folk have Spanish ancestors due to the many ships from that country having come to grief on the rocks, and the crew presumably liked Cornwall so much they stayed there.

Lisa's remark about baking bread using empty cans reminded me of the time when I used a tin (once contained cooked ham - a sort of Spam) that must have been at least a foot long, in which to bake bread. I'd removed both ends with my tin opener.

Have noticed some of the cans that hold sweetcorn have 'ribbed' sides, but as they are coated with white inside not sure whether this would be heat-proof. Surely it must be as once the sweercorn was canned it would have gone through some sort of heat/sterilising process. If able to be used for 'baking tins', then possibly could be useful for baking bread.

Despite our weather being much the same as Missouri, at least we haven't the massive thunderstorms and tornados that happen in a larger continent, so we are more fortunate than Lisa. Her mention of an ancestor closely resembling a man from Kent also reminded me of something written in the book mentioned yesterday. Must see if I can find it and then can give more details of that region (and others).

Susan G and T. Mills both seem to find Superscrimpers hardly worth watching. Perhaps much is to do with our age (apologies if you are one of the more sensible youngsters). The older we are the more we know about money-saving. Younger generations appear to know very little at all, and it has to be said that most TV companies these days are run by young people (by this I mean under the age of 40), so not surprising that they don't realise the hints and tips they give are not new at all. Unfortunately very few of the tips they give really ARE worth knowing about as they don't 'hit the spot' when it comes to true thrift - such as feeding and clothing the family, not to mention 'growing our own'.

However, better to have a programme such as Superscrimpers than no money-saving prog. at all for it is sowing seeds that hopefully will bring a bit more 'craft' back into young lives, and it only takes one seed for something to flourish. The more seeds we can sow the more we end up reaping, and 'from small beginnings' etc..

Yesterday my Beloved fancied trying out his new wok, so to make it easy I prepared the veggies for him: strips of celery, onion, yellow bell pepper, and carrot. Also some broccoli florets, sliced mushrooms and shredded Chinese leaves. Thawed out some cooked prawns and put a sachet of a Chinese sauce and a sachet of 'straight to wok' noodles by the side, then left him to get on with it.

He brought it into the living room to eat and it smelled gorgeous (not enough for me - I made do with homemade veggie soup), but he said the stir-fry veggies were too 'al dente' for him. He does like his veggies very soft and mushy, so all I could suggest was next time the veggies were part-cooked before he stir-fried them. I'd already par-boiled the carrots as I knew otherwise they would have ended up too crunchy for B, but the rest of the food wasn't that crunchy to begin with. B is very fussy about just how tender he likes his veggies, I've got used to that, but he will have to learn how to get them to that stage himself if he wishes to stir-fry again.

An early finish as have just had a phone call that needs my attention. At least had time to give enough 'rambling' to hopefully keep your interest. Join me tomorrow for the next extract from the diary of the Goode life. See you then.