Friday, March 09, 2012

A Little Can Go a Long Way...

Since putting up the ingredient list for a week's main course meals, this has given me even more to write about. Firstly, very many thanks to Lisa who took the trouble not only to cost out the ingredients (in US dollars) but then give the British pound equivalent to the total. I was amazed at how expensive the ingredients would work out, but at least have now seen they do cover a couple of other meals, not just the main one, but don't include breakfast, snacks or drinks, and only one day has a dessert.

Perhaps useful to give the suggested 'menu' for the week so you can see where the ingredients went. All used to make 'dinner' (I have called them 'supper' as they are not my idea of 'dinner' which would certainly always be two or even three course of something more special) other than Saturday and Sunday as these both have a lunch and 'dinner' dish, and Sunday is the only one with a pudding!
Sunday lunch: Rump Brandy and Peppercorn Steak; Glazed Strawberry Tart for pudding.
Sunday supper: Broccoli Frittata.
Monday: Chilli Potato Cakes, serve with salad and tomato salsa.
Tuesday: Gnocchi with Pumpkin sauce.
Wednesday: Fantastic Fish Risotto with salad.
Thursday ;Spicy Caribbean Vegetable Soup.
Friday: Salmon with a Grana Padano Crust, with new potatoes and broccoli.
Saturday lunch: Sandwich Wrap with Horseradish ( soft cheese, smoked salmon, watercress, radishes, cucumber et al.)
Saturday supper: Easy sausage and potato casserole.

Thanks also to Eileen for a part working out, and this also showed how prices can differ from one supermarket to another, so there can only be an 'average' costing I suppose.
Also thanks muchly for the tip about using evaporated milk when making up EasyYo as one litre of this is about the same as buying seven 'ready-mades' over the counter, so it just shows how much can be saved when we make yogurt ourselves.

More interesting 'costings' came to light yesterday when our daughter came for supper. She had first been taken to Aldi to buy some things and when she got home she read out some of the prices on her till-slip. Surprisingly several items she bought I have now discovered would be cheaper if bought at Tesco, others were about the same. One Aldi 'stew pack' of fresh veg (containing some swede, carrots, and quite a few onions, possibly other veg to me worked out more expensive that if the items (by weight) had been bought separately.

With B now really interested in cooking his own 'stir-fry' in the little wok I bought for him, they'd managed to buy some sachets of different Oriental sauces from Aldi that WERE cheaper than those (of a similar but different) brand sold at Tesco, but their flavoured noodle were three times the price of those at Tesco, although probably better quality? To me dry noodles are dry noodles, and as Tesco are still doing packs of noodles at (wait for it) 11p!! a pack with a sachet of chicken flavouring included, these are what I would suggest buying. Half a pack would be sufficient for one serving.

Now we come to the Donald Russell delivery. Very exciting as there was quite an amount due to my 'birthday present for B' order of steaks an mini-roasts (and some fish). Plus other bargain offers that I took up at the same time. Only just managed to fit it all into the freezer drawers, filling the two large empty ones and half of another. Had to leave out four packs of beef-rib trim as couldn't squeeze them in, but thawed these out during the day and put them in the slow cooker late yesterday evening (only just managed to fit them in that as well).
There were six thick 'fingers' of beef rib trim in each pack (making 24 in total), and this morning saw that all the 'fat marbling' has melted and am now left with six thick fingers of all beef and LOADS of lovely stock/gravy. Incidentally took the temperature of the pot contents/liquid and it was exactly 100C. Slightly higher than a sous-vide, but then I found this is the perfect temperature to bring stewing beef to meltingly tenderness.

Because they are quite large, just one beef rib trim 'finger' - when thinly cut into 'sticks' would be perfect to add to one of B's stir-fries, and this means there would be enough of this 'trim' to make 24 stir-fries if I wished (they would be individually be frozen to use as required). Although will certainly save some for this, other 'fingers' would be used to make a Strogonoff, and perhaps cut into chunks to make a chilli con carne, or used for a casserole.

I roughly worked out how many individual portions could be served from the meat bought, and it came to nearly 200 if used carefully, thriftily, and 'making the most of' etc (as suggested above). The price includes the expensive Chateaubriand and other quick-cook steaks, making an average costing for the meat/fish used (other ingredients being relatively much cheaper) at much less than £1 per serving which is pretty darn good considering the quality and the cuts ordered. More than darn good. Flippin' miraculous!

And yes - I could even say that the order was 'almost free' as much of the money that I'd 'not spent' (aka 'saved') during the recent challenge was going towards paying for it. But now don't even have to be concerned about that as Yippee!, when my bank statement arrived a couple of days ago, saw that this is the month when I get TWO state pension payments (they are paid every four weeks, making 13 payments a year so one month each year we always have two, one at the very start, the other at the end). As the normal monthly payment covers our household 'running costs' - including food, with some left over, this extra payment is (to me) 'free' money. Well, probably not, as later am sure some of it will be needed to cover the extra fuel costs and also rising food prices, but at least still feel secure enough not to have to be overly concerned.

Others who still work (or not) who are not yet at the pensionable age and who probably are still paying a mortgage and have offspring living at home could find life very hard at this time of recession, but have to say that once we are old enough to receive the state pension then life does (or should) become much easier. For myself I could relax for the pension is a guaranteed income, not like B's wage which always depended either on whether he had a job or not. He had 14 jobs in 14 years with often several months unemployed between each, and there weren't the 'benefits' then there are today. We had then only 'dole' money which barely covered the mortgage let alone food for a family of four.
Other 'pensioners' I have spoken to have also said how secure they feel now they are paid the state pension. Mind you, none have ever been the type to expect to have a holiday or go 'socialising' even when they were working (as so many seem to wish to continue doing today once they have retired). Maybe this is due to age, as the older we are the less we probably had in our youth, so now never expect what others consider to be 'normal' today. During the wartime, we didn't have holidays anyway, and any after that were always a huge treat and certainly never abroad. Think I was in my late fifties before I even went on a plane or ferry to have my first steps in another country.
In my day, 'going pictures' (as they say in Leicester - they always miss out the 'to the') was about the only 'socialising' we did, maybe the occasional dance, but proper ballroom, not even jive. Women did not frequent bars as they do today (it wasn't lady-like), not even sure we were allowed to drink until we were 21 (or was it 18?). Married women stayed at home and looked after the house and children. Beer was for men (wine or soft drinks for women) and do remember beer being only 11p a pint when I worked as barmaid. Now it seems (watching TV) it seems that everyone has enough money to buy more than one round for friends, and it seems that this could work out at £25 or more a throw! All I can say is thank goodness I don't (now) drink! Even at B's social am sure that the one sparkling orange juice that I made last all evening probably cost a lot.

It appears that even ordering a pot (or cup) of tea in a cafe has now been worked (by the gallon) as more expensive than the same amount of petrol!!! Prices at catering establishments are just getting silly. At one time 'eating out' would work out five times more than the cost of what it would be to make the same at home from scratch. Four-fifths to cover the overheads: rent, rates, ingredients, wages, and a fifth for profit. That was fair enough. Today - even though the overheads have now probably doubled or even trebled, the amount we are charged for a cuppa (or sarnie, or biscuit, or slice of cake) is certainly way above five times the cost of ingredients. It can be even higher when the 'audience is captive' like at a motorway service station.

Coming back down to earth, we at least know how much we pay for our food when making a meal from scratch, and if we are canny cooks we should be able to make a little go a long way. One of the best meals to do this is the Chinese Stir-fry. It really is incredible how only a little of each individual ingredient is needed to make a substantial meal. Here is an example, and because it is the type of meal that can use a wide variety of ingredients (according to what we have), other than just preparing the veg to virtually the same size (usually strips), we can choose any from the following: ordinary onion, spring onion, or shallots, cauliflower, broccoli, green 'string' beans, mange-tout or sugar snap (or ordinary loose) peas, baby sweetcorn or sweetcorn kernels, strips of different coloured bell peppers, celery, shredded white cabbage or Chinese leaves, pak choi, bok, choi, beansprouts, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts.

The meat (if using) can be thick matchsticks of lean pork, beef, chicken, or we could use cooked meats. We could use fish or shrimp, prawns as these take little time to cook if raw, just heat through if cooked. If preferring to stay vegetarian then tofu could be added. Other useful 'additions' would be grated root ginger and one of the oriental sauces suitable for the dish. Oyster sauce with beef for instance, or a sweet and sour with chicken or vegetables alone. Every time we make this dish using the same ingredients we can change the flavour by adding a different sauce. With some stir-fries all you need is soy sauce.

Here is a very simple stir-fry recipe, that uses very few vegetables (but any of the above could also be included so you could change the ingredients according to what you have). This serves four but easily adapted to serve one. To 'stretch' the protein (meat or fish) just use less and include more veg. Also this dish does not need any 'special' sauce, soy sauce being sufficient.

Scrambled Egg Stir-fry: serves 4
2 tblsp sunflower oil
7 oz (200g) cooked prawns (defrost if frozen)
1 tblsp grated root ginger
1 pint (or less) beansprouts
1 onion, cut in half then thinly sliced
4 large eggs, beaten
2 tblsp cashew nuts (opt)
2 tblsp soy sauce
2 spring onions, sliced (opt)
Heat the oil in a wok or deep frying pan and stir-fry the prawns for a few minutes, then add the ginger, beansprouts, onion and cashew nuts (if using) and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Reduce the heat to low and pour in the eggs. Leave without stirring for a few seconds to allow the egg to begin to set, the move the pan contents around with a spatula so the egg 'scrambles'. When set, add the soy sauce and let it bubble for a few seconds.
Serve sprinkled with the spring onion (if using) and an extra sprinkle of soy sauce if you wish.

This next stir-fry is vegetarian, but you could include strips of cooked chicken or prawns if you wish. Some 'take-away' Oriental dishes include a mixture of: pork, chicken, prawns, beef, so this is another way we can make the smallest amount of meat serve a goodly number of people.
We can either use the microwave rice (expensive) for speed, or cook the rice in advance using loose brown rice, or even use ordinary white long-grain rice if that's all we have..
Vegetable Stir-fry: serves 4
1 tblsp sunflower oil
1 tblsp grated fresh root ginger
1 - 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 bunch spring onions, sliced along the length
5 oz (150g) mushrooms, sliced (pref shiitake)
2 carrots, finely sliced into matchsticks
1 red pepper, cut into matchsticks
3 eggs beaten with ...
...2 tsp milk
1 tblsp chopped fresh coriander
salt and pepper
2 x 250g pouches brown basmati rice, cooked
1 tblsp soy sauce
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
2 tblsp sweet chilli sauce
1 tblsp sesame seeds, toasted
Heat half the oil in a wok or deep frying pan, add the ginger and garlic and fry for 1 minute, then add all the prepared vegetables and stir-fry over high heat for 3 - 4 minutes.
Stir the coriander in to the eggs/milk and using a separate non-stick frying pan pour in the egg mixture, stir once then leave to cook over low-medium heat until almost set, then flip over and cook on the other side (to make it into a thick pancake). When cooked, slide onto a board or plate, roll it up and cut it into strips.
To the main stir-fry then add the rice, soy sauce, sesame oil, and chilli sauce and stir all into the vegetables until heated through. Divide into four bowls and top with the 'eggy strips' and a sprinkling of sesame seeds. Serve immediately.

The speed at which we eat a meal can make a difference as to whether we feel as though we have had a good meal or not. Apparently after 20 minutes of eating our appetite is satisfied, so those who eat at speed are normally those who end up obese as they continue eating until there 'time' is up. Those who eat slowly (we used to be told to chew each mouthful about 30 times before swallowing!) are those who managed to stay the size they should be.
Now, the good thing about a Chinese meal is that when eaten with chopsticks, it always takes longer to eat than if a fork (or spoon) is used. So even a small meal (by Western standards) can - if cooked the Oriental way - be made to last the full 20 minutes when chopsticks are the 'eating implements' used, especially if the 'ordinary' long-grain rice is served as this is difficult to pick up in any quantity with chopsticks.

Chinese rice is 'sticky' and much more easily picked up as a 'lump' with chopsticks, so if you want to serve an Oriental meal in the small bowls in the traditional way, use the Chinese rice. The correct way to eat is to lift the bowl high up to nearly touching your chin so that the chopsticks can 'scoop' up the rice with some of the meat/veg/sauce we have spooned on top, and almost shove it into our mouth, not picking up little bits from a plate and then watch them fall off as the chopsticks are lifted. Mind you, eating 'from a distance' would make the meal take even longer to finish.

Must reply to Suzi before I finish today. Had to smile because she is so 'English' with her 'blimey'. If she had said 'cor blimey' would this be Cockney-speak? (a Cockney is only those born within the sound of Bow Bells - in London for those who are not familiar with our nation). And is that why we we Brits are sometimes called 'limeys' by those in other countries? And why do the Australians call us 'pommies'? Maybe because potatoes are our staple food. In the same way we call the French 'frogs' because they eat frogs' legs. And Liverpudlians (from Liverpool) a 'Scouse' (traditional dish of that region). Or am I treading on dangerously non PC ground here? It's a sad thing when it comes to not being allowed to use nick-names - even fondly - any more. 'Short-forms' are also not allowed. We have to be careful to call a person (not native to this country) by the full name of his country, rather than a shortened version as it could cause offence. Why should this be. To have a name shortened or altered means an acceptance to the level of friendship, not the opposite. Do we offend the Australians by calling them 'Ozzies'? Or those who come from Birmingham 'Brummies'? Should we now call the medical profession by their full title instead of saying "I'm going to the doc's"?
We're not now even allowed to call people 'luv', 'me duck', 'sweetheart', 'precious', 'chuck' or 'pet', (all regional words meaning the same thing), or many similar words that are nothing but friendly. Well, certainly I never mind hearing someone say that to me, and it really used to lift my spirits when I heard a wolf-whistle when I walked past a group of working men (probably not allowed to call them labourers these days). Today these whistles are not allowed. We could actually have the law on them if someone did. Didn't even mind having my bottom pinched. All the fun has been taken out of life by the po-faced people who think they know best. Don't you agree?

Today there is another extremely high tide that B wishes to take me to see at Sunderland Point when the causeway will be covered for several hours (instead of the half hour at normal high tide, and not always then). We have to leave in a couple of hours to be in time, so as I have other things to do will now take my leave of you and wish you well for today. Tomorrow it is AGAIN the start of yet another weekend - how fast time flies when we get old. I normally don't get many comments over the weekend due to everyone catching up on things they wish to do (the garden especially at this time of year), but do hope some of you will find time to drop me a line.
Will be returning again tomorrow, usual time - so see you then.