Friday, April 06, 2012

Counting Pennies!

Not sure why, but at the moment seem obsessed with working out the cost of everything. Like ALL the time.
Yesterday B brought me in half a dozen large eggs and half a dozen medium eggs from the butcher (both lots of eggs came from the same farm, and were free range). The medium eggs were £1.38 for six (23p each) and the large were £1.62 (27p each). Their weights varied slightly egg to egg within each batch, but not significantly. At least managed to work out that the price paid for the large eggs cost nearly 6p more than buying the medium - which all adds up.. Another way of looking at it is that for the price paid PLUS one extra egg.

As all recipes use medium eggs (unless otherwise stated) there is no point in buying larger eggs unless these are to be used in place of meat (the extra egg 'protein' then coming in useful).
It should also be remembered that the price above was for 'free-range' (and we all know this means the hens could reared in a barn that has access to outdoors, but many hens prefer to stay indoors anyway, so their eggs could be classed as 'barn eggs'). Myself am even more thrifty and go for the cheapest eggs (currently 8p each - sold in a tray of 15), and as each of these are stamped with the little red lion know they come from salmonella free hens (the butchers eggs did not have a lion stamp on them).

Another thing that bugs me at the moment is the 'costing' out of many recipes now published in cookery mags. Another arrived yesterday with wording on the front cover saying "quick family meals to help you budget".
I took a look at this feature and was again 'flummoxed' at the price per portion. Maybe I've got the wrong end of the stick, but the very word 'budget' to me means a certain amount of frugality.
Perhaps today 'budgeting' means allowing ourselves a limit to what we spend on food, and if we choose to spend up to £200 a week, then that is our 'budget'. Others may have a 'budget' of £100, others much less. This then means giving the price per portion could be a help (as long as our budget is high enough it seems).

Acknowledging that I'm now living in cloud cuckoo land, and food prices are considerably higher than what they were, my view is that we should still be able to serve a good meal for less than £1 a portion. To me that IS budgeting.

Just for interest I give the names (only) of the recipes in the mag, together with their costings to show how it does seem that although some - to me - are what I call downright 'expensive', there are also lower priced meals, but NONE under the £1. This doesn't mean these meals can't be made for less cost. By now we should all know the foodie 'areas' where money can be saved and make the meals when 'the price is right'. This is the good thing about seeing a recipe costed in a mag. It throws us a challenge 'to do better'. See what you think about the mags 'contribution' to our 'budget'...
Salmon and horseradish Burgers : £2.63 per portion
Smoky Pork and Black Bean Tacos: £1.33 p.p.
Asparagus Risotto: £1.74 p.p.
Butternut & super salad with mackerel: £2.75 p.p.
Curried chicken and mango salad: £3.12 p.p.
Pollack, beet and potato traybake: £1.60 p.p
Cheesy bean and sweetcorn cakes: £1.04 p.p
Pasta with watercress and almond pesto: £1.69 p.p.
Lamb and potato kebabs/broad beans: £1.40 p.p.
Sausage and mushroom pies: £2.23 p.p.

I'd weighed the eggs, muttered under my breath as I read the cookery mag, then went into the larder to have a sit down and view my stores (this always gives me pleasure, not sure why). Decided to look at the most recent purchase of sardines from Tesco - these now having gone up in price by many pennies per can. Discovered the packing and b/b. dates on the 'new' cans were the same as those I bought several months when the price was much lower. Now how can that be, for it is supposedly illegal to raise the price of products bought by a store at a former (lower) price. One would assume that 'new' stock would have a later b.b. date on the can.
As the 'old stock' was not on offer, there is no excuse by the store that this is why the price was lower (then!). It does seem that stores are now putting up prices when they shouldn't and pocketing the extra profits.

You see what I mean about 'price obsession', just about EVERYTHING in the food line bought these days has to be double-checked to see if there is a cheaper alternative (this could be a larger size on offer, or vice versa). Many people use the site to check 'best buys', but as I tend to stick to Tesco when ordering, prefer scrolling down their (sometimes) length lists to find the 'best buy' for each product. Often it is worth scrolling down pages (and pages when looking at one particular product) for all of a sudden a really 'good buy' suddenly appears (or something you've been looking for for months than never appears when you write it in the 'shopping list' (it then comes up as 'unknown' or something).

Thanks for your comments. If you wish to collect acorns Lisa (on your trip to the UK), you will need to come in late autumn when the acorns are ripe (if the squirrels haven't got to them first).
Regarding 'rib-sticking breakfasts', over here think porridge is the one we would choose.
In the 'old days' (esp. when money was short), Yorkshire Pudding with gravy was served as a first course at dinner-time because this was 'filling' and meant a much smaller helping could be served for the 'mains', followed by something again 'filling' such as a steamed pudding. Today this is still a good idea for then we could serve less meat for the 'mains' or even a vegetarian dish.

In the 'old days' (like when I was a 'gel') we worked at least 9 hours a day (sometimes 10), five days a week and usually Saturday mornings (another 4 - 5 hours). Approx 50 hours a week. In recent years the working week is expected to be no more than 40 hours (and Gill tells me this has now been reduced to 35 hrs or thereabouts). Considering in my youth we had no central heating, and very little use of cars (we used to walk or cycle a lot more), we now don't need to eat as much now as we did then, for today we burn up far less calories.
Yet- with all the 'temptations' in the supermarkets, not to mention the 'take-aways' and other snack bars, it seems we all eat far more now than we did then. No wonder our nation has an obesity problem.

Split peas Lisa - at least here in the UK - are one of the cheapest 'pulses' we can buy. They can be used in almost every dish as an alternative to red lentils. They make good 'burgers', 'falafel' etc, and good in soups especially when blitzed up to make a smooth, creamy soup with other ingredients.

A lot of risottos are made in the Goode kitchen, but it is necessary to use the short-grained 'risotto' rice (Arborio etc) that has plenty of starch and cooks slowly to give a creamy consistency. Ordinary long-grain rice doesn't work as well being too 'dry' once cooked.

Do know what you mean Jane about the pleasures of shopping for food. Especially in the more 'specialised' shops.
At one time I just loved 'shopping' (and not necessarily for food - this then was 'boring'). My pleasure came from collecting things, and I used to hunt through the charity shops, car boot sales, even buy 'full price' to add to my collection.
When in Leeds had a vast assortment of blue/white pottery (most of which we used for meals, although some were on display on our Delft rails). Another collection was old Victorian/Edwardian jelly moulds (ended up with about 30 different ones), and then my 'cockerels'. From tiny ones to almost life size, collected these 'roosters' made in metal, wood, china etc. Had about 100 of these.
Dare I even mention collecting books (mainly cookbooks, reference books, mostly all non-fiction), and with our 'library' shelves holding up to 3,000!!!

Goes without saying that most of the above we sold (well at least MY collection, B still has clung to his), this helped to pay for having our Leeds house painted, and the rest went because of moving and the need to 'down-size'. Bitterly miss much of the blue/white collection, and also many books, even reduced my 'roosters' down to one favourite wooden one, having had to cut my coat according to my cloth as the saying goes.
This means now I've channelled my love of 'shopping' into just foods. With eating being a natural (and necessary) thing for us humans to do, at least the purchases disappear over time and this means more lovely 'shopping' can be done. Have managed to keep this down to once a month, and ALWAYS within my own personal budget. In fact the added challenge (this gives me even more enjoyment) means my purchases HAVE to be less than 'budget'. In a way this also satisfies my need to 'collect', for now I 'collect' cans of baked beans, sardines, chopped tomatoes.... and sit and enjoy looking at those instead of something less 'useful'.

Strange how what was once a cheap food becomes 'fashionable' the price rockets sky-high. At one time the butchers almost had to give away lamb shanks because no-one wanted them, and with all the cookery mags and TV chefs raving over belly-pork it won't be long before that too becomes more costly (but still a very inexpensive cut, and gorgeous when cooked correctly).

Sometime the opposite can happen. In my youth salmon was only affordable by the wealthy, now farmed-salmon is one of the cheapest fish we can buy. We can get a large fresh whole salmon from Glasson docks (Smokehouse), for £10 (plus a bit extra for filleting), this cuts into at least 10 good sized portions (and I do mean a good size) with quite a bit of 'trimmings' left over for 'fish pie/fish cakes'. This week Morrison's are doing a half-price offer on fresh salmon, so worth buying some. I wrap each portion tightly in foil, then freeze until needed. They thaw out perfectly and taste just as fresh when cooked/eaten.

So here is a recipe that uses fresh salmon, although see no reason why canned salmon could not be used. If canned fish IS used, then it won't need cooking, just add it to the pan for the final few minutes to heat through.
If using home-made, already reduced chicken stock, then use a little less - this saves times as it won't need to reduce further when in the pan.
Salmon with Veg in a creamy sauce: serves 4
1 tblsp olive oil
1 leek (or onion) finely sliced
9 fl oz (250ml) fish or chicken stock
4 oz (100g) creme fraiche
salt and pepper
5 oz (150g) frozen peas
5 oz (150g) frozen broad beans
4 salmon fillets, skins removed (see above)
tblsp chopped chives
Heat the oil in a frying pan and cook the leek (or onion) over low-medium heat for 5 - 10 minutes until softened (but not coloured). Add the stock and simmer until reduced slightly (see above), then add the creme fraiche and seasoning to taste. Add the peas and beans, and the salmon, then reduce heat to low, cover pan and simmer for 12 - 15 minutes until the fish is cooked through (if using canned salmon then add this when the veggies are just tender).
Sprinkle over the chives and serve with rice, pasta or potatoes.

The next recipe is for a ginger cheesecake and my version would use the digestive biscuits that come with a pack of assorted cheese biscuits (and never seem to get eaten, so collect at the bottom of our 'cheese biscuit tin'). These when crushed, with a little ground ginger added (or add some finely chopped crystallised ginger) make a good substitute for 'ginger biscuits'. Soft cheese I always keep in my fridge, but although the type used in this recipe is 'full fat', I find the 'light' (lower fat) cheese works just as well. Goes without saying the Greek yogurt is home-made.
It is not difficult to use the 'basics' (cream cheese, yogurt etc, plus biscuit base) then add different flavourings/fruit etc to make up our own versions.
If you haven't a loose-bottomed cake tin, line a solid tin with cling-film, baking parchment or foil, allowing some overlap, then the cheesecake can be more easily lifted from the tin.
Ginger Cheesecake: serves 4
8 oz (225g) ginger biscuits (see above)
4 oz (100g) butter (pref unsalted), melted
14 oz (400g) full-fat soft cheese (see above)
2 oz (50g) icing sugar
juice half a lemon
1 tsp ground ginger
2 oz (50g) crystallised ginger
fruit topping (opt)
Crush the biscuits finely (in a bag or in a blender), then add the melted butter. Press evenly over the base of an 8" (20cm) loose-bottomed cake tin. Chill in the fridge.
Meanwhile make the filling by putting the remaining ingredients into a food processor and blending them together until smooth. Alternatively, put all but the crystallised ginger into a bowl and blend together, then add the finely chopped crystallised ginger. The mixture won't then be completely smooth, but that's OK. Spread over the top of the chilled base, levelling the surface, then return to the fridge and leave overnight to set. Remove from tin to serve in wedges as-is, or top with a layer of cold stewed rhubarb and ginger, or cold apple and ginger puree.

Being the Easter weekend am hoping today - being Good Friday - we all have the traditional Hot Cross buns to eat (toasted with lashings of butter). Have made a Simnel Cake only B didn't want the marzipan (so the apostles have had to take a back seat), and so this is now nothing more than a basic fruit cake. But does it matter, it is the thought that counts! Already a quarter eaten by B, as he just 'loves it'.
Really should cook roast lamb for Sunday (lamb trad. at Easter), but despite it being a holiday, it seems that if the tide is right (which it will be, and an extremely high tide as well at around noon), and the wind is not too strong, then B will be out all day with the sailing club. If so then he will be ready for a 'proper' roast dinner. Luckily do have a DR lamb 'mini-roast' in the freezer, so must get that out today to allow it to thaw out slowly in the fridge, ready to cook on Easter Sunday. There will be enough for at least 2 good helpings, so no doubt I will eat a 'proper' dinner for once myself as never find cold lamb as pleasant to eat as cold beef or pork.

Today am cooking the second gammon bought several weeks ago (as cheaper to buy two). Weighed it this morning and it is several gs heavier than that stated on the label which is all to the good. This time have bought some coca-cola to use as cooking liquid as both Nigella and another top chef swear this gives home-cooked ham a superb flavour. It will end up costing slightly more per 100g, but will still be well below supermarket prices for packaged sliced ham. Will let you know if the flavour is really that good after my 'trial'. In any case, the cola left in the pot after cooking will be strained and frozen to use again next time I have a gammon to cook, so this will keep the cost down a bit.

The Goode kitchen looks as though a bomb has hit it. Clutter everywhere, and this is surprising since it is only a few days (or is it weeks?) that I had a good 'tidy-up'. So this weekend will see me having a really good sort out and find a place for everything, and then everything put in its place. Maybe then will find room to do more imaginative cooking.
Plants in the conservatory too need attention, so it could be my postings are shorter over the next few days so that I have time to do all the work that needs to be done. It all depends on what time I wake in the mornings.

Anyway, that's it for today, and do hope that you all have a lovely and extended weekend, and if you can't find time to 'have a read' or send a comment, I fully understand. My final words today are HAPPY EASTER TO YOU ALL (and I'll be back again tomorrow). Hope to see you then.