Sunday, July 08, 2012

Taking Stock

Although I've done this (current) challenge many times, am realising it can pay to take a different approach. Usually I would attempt to make gorgeous meals from only the food I have - and this without shopping for more food for weeks (and weeks and weeks). This only works because I normally keep a good variety of foods in store.

I could do the same again this time, and up to a point I am (at least by providing good meals), but this time I'm finding I'm becoming a lot more cautious, always asking myself (and yes, sometimes I even talk to myself out loud) if I REALLY need to use this, that or the other of the many ingredients to hand.

It probably makes sense, both nutritionally and financially NOT to over egg the pudding so to speak. How often do we see people order curry, rice AND naan bread, or even (horrors) curry rice and chips. There is really no need to use more than one carbohydrate when serving a dish, and so if making a meat and potato pie bow always ask myself "do I really need to serve potato4s AND pastry". Normally this is not a matter of choice, we expect to serve both as we eat what want, but when it comes to cost-cutting or making ingredients last as long as possible, then we need to be a bit more selective about the choice of carbo to use. And as there are so many we can vary a dish considerably by serving either pasta, potatoes, pastry, pancakes, rice, quinoa, couscous, bulgar (to name but a few) with our protein and veggies, and as these all very in price (per portion) then this can also help when pennies are short.

Another example of 'over-egging' is when we serve a main course that includes meat (and plenty of it), followed by a pudding that is made from eggs and milk, with possibly cheese and biscuits to follow. That's protein on top of protein on top of protein. And we only need one at a time to keep our body running as it should.

Most recipes today are well-balanced when it comes to the nutritional side, it is just the cost of making the meal that concerns us, and when it comes to 'making do, using up' then most recipes have to be adapted, sometimes beyond recognition.

Didn't do much cooking yesterday, but - for the first time - used my electric sliced to cut my latest baked loaf into 10 thick (toasting) slices, plus 8 thinner ones for sarnies, leaving 2 crusts (one each end). As the loaf was soft to start with, using the slicer gave me clean-cut slices of a kind I've never managed to get when slicing by hand (even if the loaf is stale and the crusts are firm). So from now on all home-made bread will be sliced on the machine. The good thing is the machine doesn't need cleaning afterwards as slicing bread is 'self-cleaning' (one way to clean a dirty mincing machine is to mince up the end crusts of bread as the crumbs wipe away an residue then all the machine needs is a rinse in water).

Think I'll have to find a permanent place to keep the slicer set up to use as with any 'appliance' it is the having to get it down from a shelf or from a low cupboard, then set it up before using. A bit of a waste of time when often used. The bread machine is at present 'set up' but not in a very convenient place, so think I'll need to move things around in the kitchen again to have them more to hand. One day the kitchen will be as I wish. Just wish it was like that now.

Would you believe the several layers of newspaper placed over the kitchen carpet under the table is STILL soaking up loads of oil, they are changed every couple of days by which time they are soaked through, and not use one sheet, but several layers. Am now using two complete (opened) Daily Mails over most of the oil-spilled area, plus half one over the remaining bit, and still these end up completely sodden.. At least this is a good thing, maybe most (if not all) the oil will manage to be removed this way. I must be a month since B kicked over the bottle, but then 2 litres of oil is a lot to get rid of when soaked into a carpet. Surely soon will see the last of it.

For B's supper yesterday decided to make Thai Red Prawn Curry (not sure it that's the right name but am sure you know what I mean). This because I had a small amount of the Red Curry Paste in a jar in the fridge (needing using up), had plenty of onions, and two packs of unopened frozen cooked small prawns. Plus two bags of frozen peas (one part used).
All that needed to be done was slice a red onion (I chose red as I could add some to my salad-for-supper), fry this in a little oil, then add the last of the curry paste (jar washed to use later for preserves etc).

Needed to add coconut milk and could I find the pack of coconut cream? No I couldn't. Searched high and low through the larder so eventually had to use a third of a can of coconut milk, putting the remaining milk into two small tubs and then into the freezer. Later noticed the pack of coconut cream tucked in between two packs of cheese on a shelf in the fridge door!! Well, at least have it for another time, plus the (now) frozen coconut milk, so nothing really lost there.

After adding the coconut milk to the contents of the pan, simmered it down until the sauce had thickened, then turned it out to re-heat later. All that was needed was to add some peas and prawns, reheat and then serve. I'd left the peas, prawns and pack of 2 minute microwave rice close to the pan ready for B to finish the meal all by himself - which he was able to do.

My salad needed a bit of thought. Wanted to use less lettuce (to make it last longer), so cut a small chunk off the iceberg, the went and gathered a good handful each of flat-leaf parsley, curly parsley, and mint (all growing well in the conservatory). Removed the hard stalks, gathered the leaves together and chopped them. These were mixed with the lettuce, the last three Peppadew from a jar, and some chopped cucumber. Threw in a few thawed prawns (taken from the ones waiting to be added to B's supper - he didn't miss them), and then poured some of the Peppadew liquid from the jar (this is sweet and vinegary) into some mayo, blended it together and it made a lovely salad dressing. Topped the lot with sliced of ripe avocado (well, it had to be eaten - saving the stone for planting later), and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Have to say that adding a variety of chopped soft herbs really does help to 'lift' a salad, and also makes the other salad leaves go further. I could have added watercress, but there is only enough left for B (he loves w.cress), so decided to save it. See what I mean about not using when something could have another use?

The Kiev was chosen by B after we'd been watching most of Hugh F.W's prog last night (where he was showing how to make one). I do have at least one fat chicken breast in the freezer, and will thaw that out today so B can have it 'stuffed, breaded and crumbed' for his supper with the watercress and some new potatoes, and maybe even a few peas.

Was pleased that the tennis went on longer than expected (and hurray for having the first male English doubles winner since 1936!!). Today we are all hoping that Andy Murray will also win, could this be more than a coincidence that their two surnames are so very similar? Or that the last British player (but this time a woman) was Virginian Wade in the Queen's Silver Jubilee year? Stranger things have happened.

Whatever weather the rest of the country had, here in Morecambe it was hot and sunny. Again I spent a good hour sitting outside in the sun (and nodding off a bit). Today also looks as though it could stay fair, although the forecast is dubious, and cooler weather is expected as the week progresses. Also more rain, although not quite as bad as it has been. If the sun is still shining once I've chatted to Gill on the phone, then will have another sit outside with a cup of coffee and the newspaper supplement/crossword, then return indoors to prepare as much as I can of our supper/s, before sitting down to watch the Andy match on TV. As sailing today - due to tides - starts early afternoon B will miss the match. Cannot believe that he would put sailing before watching tennis (he loves to watch Wimbledon), so fingers crossed the wind gets up (it is a bit breezy) and sailing will be cancelled. On the other hand maybe everyone wants to watch tennis so no-one bothers to turn up to sail. But whatever, you can be sure I will be watching.

Will scoot up the prom one day and take a look at the shop and market you mentioned gillibob. At least am allowed to use the scooter in the indoor 'Festival' market, and so enjoy 'wandering' through that, although am easily tempted so haven't gone often.

Although I mentioned I do eat more than one portion of fruit a day Alison, this is only my own choice and it does go against certain diets. I don't even stick closely to the Atkin's diet, as I've found that by cutting out carbohydrates altogether I can then eat just about anything else and still lose weight. Certainly the Atkin's works well, although this diet tends to be more about eating nothing but protein for a while, and I do like to include fruit and veg. On the good side there is no need to calorie count and as I can eat cheese, cream, butter, crispy fat on roast meats etc, plenty of original 'naughties' to keep me happy. On the other hand these 'fats' tend to only be pleasant when eaten with a carbo (bread and butter, cheese and biscuits, scones jam and cream etc) so in a way are self-limiting.

That EasyYo strawberries and cream yogurt really is lovely, so hope you enjoy it Jane. One way to keep the water hot in the EasyYo flask is to wrap the flask in a towel or woolly jumper or something to 'insulate' it further. Don't know why some EasyYo yogs work better than others, but have found that by leaving the yog for a good 12 hours gives a better set, also using a little less water than recommended gives a firmer set, and if all else fails, replacing the water with more boiling water (up to the level of the yog in its container), then leaving it for another 4 - 8 hours.
As mentioned before, unset yog can still be used as a 'yogurt drink' (and yogurt is now on sale as a 'drink'), or used to make up a jelly (just dissolve the jelly in a very little water - best done in the microwave - and make it up to a pint with the yogurt).

You certainly have been busy in the kitchen Jane, what a lot of different dishes/baking you have done in just one day. And isn't it enjoyable when we can see the results of our labour? Not to mention the saving we will have made.

With B having a Kiev for supper, think this morning I'll make up a big pan of vegetable soup so I can use up some of the chicken stock before I freeze away the rest. This should keep me going for a couple of days for my own meals, and I'll also make up another big pan of popcorn as I find this lovely to nibble at whilst watching TV, even just the popped corn without any butter, salt or flavourings. Not sure whether the same applies to corn that has been 'popped', but apparently sweetcorn kernels pass through our bodies virtually 'untouched'. In other words not broken down, so almost calorie-free. Useful to eat when on a diet. They say celery takes more calories to digest that in the vegetable itself, so another worth eating.

The other day picked up a leaflet that gave a list of frozen 'ready-meals'. Not the supermarket kind, more the type of dishes that are classed as the quality of 'home-cooked'. These lists I like to read as it makes me more aware of how very much we CAN save when we make these ourselves.
Here are a few examples.... each serves one.
Chicken and Mushroom Lasagne: layers of chicken and mushroom between pasta with a sauce packed with Italian flavours - sun dried tomatoes, basil and garlic. £3.85.
Chilli con Carne: A rich meaty chilli with two types of beans. £3.25.
Cottage Pie: Made with minced beef fried to seal in the flavour, then braised in milk to make it fluffy and tender (a trick picked up from Italy). A dash of red wine adds richness to the sauce and parsley added to the topping of mashed potato. £3.50.
Beef Strogonoff: pieces of silverside beef in a brandy and paprika sauce with chopped gherkins and roasted mushrooms. £4.50.
Beef Bourguignon: A taste of rural France. Pieces of silverside beef, slow-cooked for three hours in red wine and port before adding bacon and mushrooms. £4.50.
Liver, Bacon and Onions: Tender lambs' liver in a red wine sauce, garnished with onions and smoked bacon. £2.85.
Lamb Casserole: chunks of lamb braised in stock with root vegetables and served with minted new potatoes. A meal that is very low in calories and fat. £4.99.
Meatballs in Tomato Sauce: Hand-rolled balls of minced pork and beef, seasoned with red pesto, chilli, basil and garlic, in a sun-dried tomato sauce on a bed of spinach. £3.50.
Fisherman's Pie: Smoked haddock, cod and salmon, lightly poached and served in a white wine and tomato sauce, layered with spinach and topped with mashed potato. £4.50.

Macaroni Cheese: Macaroni in a creamy sauce of mature farmhouse cheddar. £2.75.
Mushroom, Spinach and Butternut Lasagne: Oven roasted mushrooms with baby spinach, layered between white pasta, topped with feta and butternut squash. £3.75.
Risotto with Porcini Mushrooms: Arborio rice with porcini, cup and button mushrooms topped with a knob of lemon and sage butter. £3.99.

Curry Range:
Roasted Vegetable and Chickpea Curry: Peppers and carrots roasted to perfection, with cauliflower and spinach, toasted cumin seeds and a nicely spiced chickpea and lentil sauce. £2.99.
Lamb Dopiaza: Diced lamb, marinated in a mix of spices and yogurt, cooked with tomatoes and plenty of onions. £4.99.
Aloo Gobi Saag: Diced potatoes with cauliflower and spinach leaves. £1.50 (serves 2 as an accompaniment to curry).
Peas Pilau: Basmati rice flavoured with saffron, cardamom, cinnamon. £1.25.
Vegetable Samosas and Onion Bhajis: 2 of each £1.99.
Hand-stretched Naan Bread: £1.50.

Green Thai Chicken Curry: A mild green Thai curry with marinated chicken, coconut milk, red peppers and green beans. £3.85.
Sweet Chilli Chicken and Noodles: Strips of chicken with noodles, water chestnuts and stir fried vegetables served in a sweet chilli sauce. £3.85.

Bramley Apple and Blackberry Crumble: serves 2, £3.25.
Sticky Toffee Pudding: serves 4, £5.50.

We all know that it is far cheaper to make at home rather than buy, but perhaps don't realise how expensive the 'readies' can be when compared to the cost of the ingredients. Also the portions are almost certainly smaller than we would expect them to be for the prices charged.

What does make me smile is the almost obligatory way the contents of meals such as above (and those also on restaurant menus) are now phrased. 'Hand rolled' meat balls, 'hand-stretched' Naan bread for instance. Seems that we home-cooks who make almost everything using our hands should now not be just plonking a meal down in front of the family, but letting them know their fish-cakes were 'hand-formed' or a sauce has been made with 'hand-grated' cheese that is now covering a 'freshly picked and organically home-grown cauliflower'. Never forgetting that those fried potato chips (served with 'hand-mixed and formed beef burgers') have been 'hand-cut'. Our sandwiches could be made using 'hand-sliced bread.
It all gets very silly, but certainly this does make food sound more tempting and of course this then puts up the price. If only our families knew how lucky they are to get what others would pay a fortune to eat (yet at little cost to the cook's own budget).

As sweet chilli sauce is mentioned above in one of the recipes, and a bought version used to flavour my sweetcorn mentioned yesterday, today am giving one version of many recipes for this sauce. As it can also be used as a dip on it own, it has more than one use, and a little could be blended into cream cheese to make a different 'dip' or 'tastier cheese for spreading', and also blended with mayo will make an 'interesting' salad dressing.

Sweet Chilli Sauce:
4 tblsp light soy sauce
juice of 1 lime
1 red chilli (or Peppadew) deseeded and finely chopped
1 tsp icing sugar
Put everything into a bowl and mix together, then use as required. Will keep in the fridge for a few days (covered), but use within a week.

Watching Hugh F.W. doing some fishing made me think again about the sense of fishing here locally in Morecambe. We are always seeing fishermen with their rods along the prom, only a spit away from where we live, and as far as I am concerned, any fish caught is 'free food'. I'd really love to take fishing up as a hobby, as could so this easily whilst still sitting comfortably in my scooter. The only thing is I really couldn't face sticking live maggots onto a fish hook, removing the hook from a fish's mouth, and then having to bash the fish on the head to kill it. How can I get round this? Suppose I could wear rubber gloves so I wouldn't have to touch the wriggly grubs (or even use minced meat as bait), but handling live fish - don't think I could, especially as I can't even bear cooking fish when it has still has a head (other than whitebait). Perhaps I should take up crocheting spaghetti instead, at least we could end up eating that.

Am not even sure what fish is there to be caught in Morecambe Bay as it seems only the flatfish would bother to swim in the fairly shallow waters here (and I prefer the thick chunky cod and haddock type of fish and never did enjoy eating plaice, sole, halibut and turbot that my mother used to prefer to cook - cod and haddock being a 'poor man's fish' in those days, and salmon was pure luxury unlike today when it is one of the cheapest fish to buy at the moment. How times change!)

Getting on for 9.00am, grey clouds have now arrived but I can still see some blue sky but think that is moving away rather than towards us. Gill will be phoning in a few minutes so just time for me to click on 'spellcheck', do any necessary editing and then publish. Hope you can join me tomorrow - if so, see you then.