Monday, June 18, 2012

Read the Small Print

Not everything is as good as it first appears. The other day had an email from Tesco with a 'delivery offer'. Pay a set price for three or six months up front and I can have as many deliveries as I wish within this time for no extra (delivery) charge - as long as the minimum order is £40.
This sounded really good for instead of one large delivery a month, I could have three smaller ones and pay no more for the goods, the bonus being I could then take advantage of the short-term weekly offers that I often have to miss when buying monthly.
Then I realised that if I kept to my normal monthly order, the delivery charges would be LESS than the upfront payment, and only if people normally order once a week would they make any savings (and I bet these people are not given the 'pay up front' offer). So the 'great savings' that could be made are just a dangling carrot, and we should always double check the advantages against the disadvantages before we take up any offer.

Many stores have had their knuckles rapped because their 'offers' of things like 4-pack of (say) tuna etc, work out DEARER per can than if we bought each can separately. Also I've noticed in the 4-packs recently one or sometimes two (or more) cans in the pack are dented. These would not normally be on sale anyway (other than on a reduced counter).

It is a pity that we now have to keep our wits about us when it comes to paying for foods on offer as they may not always save money, and 'bulk buys' can sometimes work out more expensive than in single or smaller packs. Gone are the days when foods were priced the same in each store. All we had to do then is find the store that gave a 'freebie' or something away with a purchase.

But enough of the complexity of shopping in the 21st century, it could be worse I suppose. At least we have plenty of choice on the shelves although not all of it is 'healthy'. This week am looking forward to the next episode of 'Men who made us Fat'. This I believe about the rise of the burger bars and pizza houses in the UK. Before they arrived on our shores (courtesy of American companies), the obesity level in this country was very low (think the mention was 5% or thereabouts), and since the rise in these 'snack-bars/eateries', the obesity level has gone up to 60%. The same is happening in other countries. We see the McDonald's sign now all over the place, in every continent, in almost every country, and is has been proved when oriental countries adopt the 'Western' way of eating, they then begin to suffer from the same health problems that we do. Moral there somewhere.

For want of anything better to see on TV have been watching some repeats of Jamie's 30 minute meals, and have to say find him very inspiring. It might well be that less experienced cooks take longer than the half-hour to make the several dishes he demonstrates, but does that matter? He is proving that cooking can really be quite simple, and still end up with great meals to share.

Have to say do like the 'fast food' way of cooking, and by this I don't mean eating take-aways, but using food I've prepared earlier and frozen away. Certainly can cut hours off the time to make a casserole when using pre-cooked (and by this I mean slow-cooked) meat. All I have then to do is cook the veg (takes about 15 minutes for carrots, potatoes and less for parsnips), and fry an onion, add the cooked meat and some gravy (using meat stock and a quarter of a casserole 'mix'), and - when thickened - add the drained veg. All done and dusted in less than half an hour, and often made earlier in the day and left in the pan for B to heat up when he feels like eating his supper (the timing for this dependent on the footie matches that take up much of his leisure time these days).

Made a loaf of bread yesterday that was a disaster. Not sure why, it just took ages to rise, and then seemed to sink during cooking. Also was rock hard on the crust. Perhaps because I tried a new 'bread mix' ((which contained yeast), although did follow cooking instructions. Anyway, the crumb was fairly moist, so I cut several slices, removed the crusts, buttered the bread and then layered these in an ovenproof dish with some cinnamon and sultanas, pouring over an egg/milk custard. Left this for a couple for hours for the bread to soak up the liquid, sprinkled sugar on top and baked it in the oven. B had half for his 'afters' and said it was lovely, so that is one use for the bread. Will probably cut off more slices, remove crusts, dip into egg/milk/Parmesan and fry off as 'eggy bread'. The rest can be turned into croutons and/or breadcrumbs.

Today think I will make a 'fish dish' for B (and maybe even for me). Certainly will use some of that salmon bought the other day, must remember to bring it out of the freezer to thaw. Might serve it fried with salad for B, or take out the salmon trimmings, a 'white fish' fillet, and a fillet of smoked haddock and make these into a fish risotto instead. As ever, I won't make up my mind until the last minute.

Two comments to reply to. One query from Campfire re storing carrots. Yesterday's posting did give some tips on the best way to store root veg, but this normally was over the winter. Summer carrots are probably best bought in small amounts and used up within a few days. Mind you, I buy the 'value' bags of carrots (because they are cheaper), and store these in the 'salad drawer' at the bottom of my fridge. Two things to remember, if they are left in the unopened bag they will start to sweat and then go soft and mouldy, if removed from the bag they dry out. So I just make a slit in the plastic wrapping then leave the carrots in the bag, this way they can breathe but still have enough moisture to prevent drying out.
If the carrots grow hairs all over, these are easily removed using a vegetable peeler, but it is a sign they need using.

Another alternative for storing carrots during summer months - especially if carrots are on 'offer' or even a sackful can be bought (and perhaps shared with others) - is to prepare them as for cooking, then blanch, chill in cold water, dry and then bag up and freeze.
The advantage with carrots is they can be prepared in so many different ways, cut into fingers, sliced across into rings or diagonally into ovals, cooked and mashed, and cut into chunks to use for casseroles. Can also be grated (but not worth freezing grated carrots, use these fresh).

The problem with many slow-cookers (especially at the lowest temperature) is that many root veg will never cook to tender, however many hours they are in the pot. The meat can be falling to bits, but the carrots still rock hard. This is because meat will cook under 'boiling point' and veggies need at least that and preferably more (which is why they cook best and fasted when steamed). So a mixture of blanched or part-cooked root vegetables can be prepared and then frozen, to later use for slow-cooked casseroles, especially when the veggies are put in first so they touch the hottest part of the crock-pot (usually the base), the meat and liquid goes on top.

Weather improving, and we could be having several settled and good days this week, so hoping it lasts for your pony show Kathryn. Will you not be competing yourself? Or is it just for youngsters?
Good idea using a knitting needle to test whether a cake is done or not. Never thought of that.

Gill didn't phone me yesterday as she was visiting family near Ipswich for three days. She sent me a text to say the weather had been gorgeous whilst she was away, very hot and sunny. Pleased that at least some parts of our country have had fair weather, Morecambe not being one of them, but today the sky is deep blue with no clouds in sight, and it does seem a tad warmer, and the wind has dropped a bit, so hope to be able to sit outside with a mug of coffee mid-morning and soak up some of the sun.

Still haven't heard what cakes the sailing club wish me to make for this coming weekend, but will probably start making some either today or tomorrow (cakes that keep well) and if they want different ones, then know that B will eat up what is not needed. I'm so tempted to eat cake myself, but have gained another couple of lbs, so this week will really have to try and get control of my eating and lose the excess weight before it 'settles' (easy gained weight is easily lost if done a.s.a.p). Perhaps a rise in temperature will make me feel warmer, and the urge to 'eat to keep myself warm' will be gone.

Having said that, both B and I finished off the vegetable soup yesterday and have to say it really was gorgeous. I could eat buckets of it, and keep on eating it. Suppose it is healthy enough and probably not too many calories, so perhaps I should eat nothing but soup for a week. Do know what is causing my weight gain, it is eating too much home-made bread! Well, it is lovely, and although I KNOW I should avoid carbohydrates if I want to lose weight, still get tempted, and once started - downhill all the way.

One recipe today (just writing about food makes me want to keep eating it, so the sooner I change the subject the better), this for a chicken casserole that is far speedier to make than the traditional method). Chicken thighs could be used (one per person) as these are cheaper than breasts, but they will probably need a little longer cooking time.
Chicken Chasseur: serves 4
8 rashers streaky bacon
2 large or 4 small chicken breasts, cut into chunks
7 oz (200g) small button mushrooms
1 tblsp plain flour
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
half a beef (or chicken) stock cube
dash Worcestershire sauce
Chop the bacon in to large pieces and put into a shallow pan over medium heat. Fry for a few minutes until the bacon is beginning to brown (but not crisp). Add the chicken and fry for 3 - 5 minutes until it has changed colour. Raise the heat and add the mushrooms, fry for a couple of minutes then stir in the flour until it forms a paste.
Tip the tomatoes into the pan with the crumbled stock cube, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes (longer if using chicken thighs), add the W. sauce, check the meat is cooked, then serve with mashed potatoes or cooked rice.

All of a sudden the above seems a meal that B will enjoy, so might make that for him tonight instead of the fish dish. Makes sense as I found one chicken breast in the freezer yesterday (been there some time), have some button mushrooms that will be past their best if not used - like today. Have plenty of canned tomatoes, and can use a 'cube' of home-made concentrated chicken stock. When at Glasson (buying the salmon) B popped into the shopping basket a vacuum pack of smoked bacon 'bits'. Was intending to use some when making spag.bol meat sauce, some to add to a home-made pork pie, and am now pleased that some can be used for the above recipe.

Am going to make the most of this lovely sunny day, so will stop tapping my fingers madly on the keyboard, and take myself outdoors to enjoy a bit of 'me time'. Hope you all manage to enjoy your day (and the rest of the week). But keep on writing. It is always good to hear from you. TTFN.