Saturday, August 11, 2012

Budgeting for Food

Late start this morning due to waking late and then having several urgent emails to read and reply to.

Thanks for comments (a couple sent recently that arrived too late for me to reply to on the day). Not sure about the 'pre-wash' treatment Les as this uses more electricity. Will try Sarina's tip about diluting Tesco's softener with white vinegar and water and see what happens when I use that.
As you say, digital scales do take a lot of hassle out of the weighing of ingredients, but watching the US cookery progs, just holding a set of 'spoons' (cup measures) in one hand and using these to measure several different ingredients in the space of a few seconds really does appeal to me.

Whilst you are now having cooler weather Lisa, we are now having the heat. It was a gorgeous day yesterday, and so able to sit outside on the garden bench for an hour or two, in very hot sun, and my arms are getting the colour of bronze, although unfortunately this is causing my (now old) skin to have the appearance of crocodile!
Today looks as though we will have another wonderful day, so possibly I may take the opportunity to scoot down to the sea-front with Norris. Otherwise will stay and bask in the garden sun again.

Jane mentions the Food Network, and I too have seen some of the rather strange programmes such as the 'cup cake challenge', the final between two cooks who had to make 1,000 cupcakes and display them to represent some 'big car' (was it called Car Jam?) sporting event. Seemed the judges were more interested in the display than the cakes, and not really a 'cook's' programme.
Have seen several of the English 'Street Food' episodes, and do like these, although still not up to the sheer enthusiasm of the US presenters.
It would be interesting to know which of our British cooks/chefs are on US TV. Almost certainly Gordon Ramsay (as he does a lot of progs in America), but he doesn't really count as it is more his personality, than actual food he cooks in these progs. Have seen Nigella and am now cringing each time I watch, she really doesn't represent the best of our cooks. Again it is her 'personality' that the programme seems to be about rather than good honest cooking. But perhaps that is what the US/Canadian viewers like to see. Let me know your views.

Have already have been given an idea of next Saturday's 'Eat by the Sea' programme at the sailing club. At least the venue will be in the club not on the prom along the sea-front. That means food will be safe from heat, rain and flies.
The idea is to serve an 'English Tea', with a good choice of sandwiches (I may cook the ham for them), and a selection of cakes (also will be providing several), and of course scones. Probably also quiches, vol au vents and a lemon mousse or panna cotta for dessert. Also jam, marmalade and lemon curd for sale, so again will be busy, but looking forward to it.
When the sailing season ends - October I think this is - there will only be one 'eating' event each month from then on, maybe less than that, so I won't have anyone to bake for. Boo hoo.

The first of three episodes about the price of food began on TV yesterday (between the two Corries), and I could not believe how difficult it has become for many families - after paying all the other bills - to have enough money left to buy food. There was a very sad tale of a girl, with two small children, who could not manage on the small wage paid to her soldier husband who was away training. Eventually she was given food from a charity to help her on her way. Since the programme was made, her husband has now finished training, they are now living in married quarters, and his pay has risen.
But there are so many people 'out there' who just cannot afford to buy food any more. They have to rely on soup kitchens and hand-outs from the charities and - as the programme showed - there is so much food thrown away by the supermarkets that is perfectly safe to use, and very little of that gets given to these charities to hand on to others.

With the financial state of our nation (and this seems to be getting worse, not better) you would think that the government would clamp down on this edible food wastage, maybe taking over the supplies and bringing back fair rationing (as in war-time), so that everyone gets enough food, but this time with the option to be able to buy more if we can afford to do so. At least that way no-one will starve, and probably (as happened during the war), the limited food allowance kept people healthy and certainly would prevent the obesity levels we are getting today.

Always, when watching a programme like that, I feel extremely guilty about the food in my larder. Yet, when watching other programmes (such as Superscrimpers) am amazed at how much people think they should spend each week to feed the family. It is because of thrift that I've managed to build up a good larder, and as this is something our ancestors used to always do (well before supermarkets) perhaps younger generations feel the supermarkets do the providing and never even consider they could do more themselves to help keep the costs down.

What we need is a lot more teaching in schools about domestic budgeting, and also learning not just how to cook, but also how to 'food shop' economically. Include 'growing your own' in the curriculum, plus some home-crafts (sewing, knitting, carpentry...) and then perhaps our nation will become far more self-sufficient within their own homes.

Was only thinking yesterday (you know what happens to me when I have a 'think'). All early man had to do was go out and hunt for protein food, the womenfolk stayed closer to home an collected the nuts, herbage and berries.
Later, when people stayed close to home and began farming and using other skills, then bartering would increase the food and other supplies. Still no need for money.

However basic life was then, am sure it could have been pleasant enough, even though there were hard times. It cannot have been easy to keep warm when the only heat came from a wood fire, and you needed wood for that. Food too was seasonal, and if the weather was bad, there were crop failures.
With no public transport, people rode or horseback or just walked, and it wasn't until the Industrial Revolution that people began to move away from villages and small towns to find work elsewhere. Then is seemed (to me) that things began to go downhill as regards 'happy with our lot'. Everyone soon wanted more, then more and more. Only a few (at first) could earn that, but this then left thousands even worse off as selfishness became the name of the game.

We are obviously much better off today on all counts, but most of it we have to pay real money for. How we behave can even make a difference for if we didn't have the riots, the shoplifting, the stolen cars, the burglaries, and all the other crimes, then we would be paying a lot less insurance. If our government took control of our railways, coal, electricity, gas (as in the last war), then we should almost certainly be paying a lot less. Now it seems that once something is owned by a company that has thousands of shareholders and directors that expect a million pound bonus a year, they up their prices so we have to pay to keep the fat cats happy.

It seems that our 'standard of living' has risen so high that we now cannot afford to keep it up. So maybe we should begin to aim for a simpler way of life. We don't HAVE to have more than one TV (or even any TV - people were happy with just a radio at one time). Computers are useful, but not sure that computer games are worth their money. A basic mobile is all we need, just something that allows us to keep in touch, and texting also is a good idea, but only to send a message of some importance, not just to 'twitter'. Do we need those expensive mobiles that can do just about everything? It could be that many youngsters spend so much time using their mobiles that they haven't time to do anything else. Certainly no time to do anything 'useful'.

As my daughter has said more than once, I 'live on another planet'. Perhaps I should keep up with the times (or even 'keep up with the Jones'), but I know that to do that it would cost far more than I could afford and it certainly wouldn't make me any happier. Possibly would make me more discontented, when the 'need the 'new improved' model kicks in.

We are continually being bombarded by manufacturers and traders to keep buying their wares, and despite the need to keep industry going, we really should stop buying what is unnecessary and concentrate more on the sensible way to live - and eat.
So where does that leave me? Although happy in my own small - and what some people would believe to be almost deprived and very restricted - way of life, could I make it even better? Without paying out more money I mean.

It is easy enough to sit from a comfortable position and not have too many worries for the future, but this isn't really much help when it comes to writing this blog. So would like your suggestions as to whether to keep this much the same, or whether another 'challenge' would be useful.
As a suggestion, we could each go to a supermarket (or any place that sells food) and just see how much 'useful' food we can purchase for (say) £5. Or - for that matter - just £1. Challenges like that really do help us to focus on what's good value and what is not. Then just see how far the food will go (and what we make from it).

We don't even have to leave our homes to do this challenge, just rummage through the kitchen cupboard/larder, fridge/freezer, and vegetable basket and see how much we can gather together for £5. Might just do that today then take a photo of it.

Two recipes today giving me the chance to 'push' the real advantage of choosing chicken thighs over the more expensive chicken breast. The thighs have much more flavour (especially when cooked still with the bone - this easily pulls away once the flesh has been cooked), and as well as this, the thighs contain twice the levels of zinc and iron than breast meat. These minerals are said to lift our spirits and also help towards restful sleep.

This recipe uses wine, but not essential unless you have some spare (and how many of us do?). I suggest using chicken stock instead.
Braised Chicken and Beans: serves 4
2 tblsp olive or sunflower oil
4 large (or 8 small) chicken thighs
2 onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 - 2 tsp dried thyme
half pint (300ml) white wine (see above)
half pint (300ml) water
salt and pepper
2 x 400g cans flagelot (or other) beans, rinsed
Heat the oil in a large frying pan over high heat and fry the chicken until browned all over, then add the onion, garlic and herbs and fry for a further couple of minutes. Add the wine, water (or chicken stock), bring to the boil. Reduce heat to a simmer then cook for 10 minutes before covering with a lid. Simmer for a further 10 minutes or until the chicken is tender and cooked through (may need a short or longer time depending upon size).
Stir in the beans and cook long enough for them to heat through, then serve.

Have to say this next recipe is a favourite of mine as it is packed with flavour. Again using chicken thighs (but drumsticks could also be used) and again use 4 or 8 according to the size of the joint (and your purse). You can of course leave the bone in if you wish.
If you haven't a cinnamon stick (this gives the authentic flavour) you could use half a tsp of dried cinnamon, but mix this with the other spices when making the 'rub'.
Although the cooking is finished in the oven, have successfully made this in a deep frying pan (that has a lid), and cooked it completely on the hob (at low simmer) where it usually to takes less time than when oven-baked.
Moroccan Chicken with Lentils: serves 4
2 tblsp olive or sunflower oil
4 or 8 skinless and boneless chicken thighs
1 - 2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tblsp ground cumin
1 tblsp ground coriander seeds
1 tblsp sweet paprika pepper
1 large onion, finely sliced
2 oz (50g) split red lentils
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
1 tblsp tomato paste or ketchup
1.5 pints (700ml) chicken stock
1 cinnamon stick (see above)
6 oz (175g) no-soak dried apricots
fresh mint leaves (opt)
Rub half the oil over the chicken thighs, then mix together the garlic, cumin, coriander, paprika (and ground cinnamon if using) and rub this all over the chicken.
Place the thighs into a large flameproof casserole with the remaining oil and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, turning the chicken, until golden on both sides. If the thighs are large, best to do this in two batches so they 'fry'. Packed together they reduce the heat of the pan and then end up being 'steamed'.
Remove chicken from pan and add the onions, frying these for 5 or so minutes until softened, then stir in the remaining ingredients (not the mint) and bring to the boil. Place the thighs on top with their juices. Cover, then place in a pre-heated oven 180c, 350F, gas 4 and cook for an hour and a half, or until the chicken is tender and the sauce has thickened.
Serve on a bed of cooked couscous or rice with roughly chopped mint leaves sprinkled on top.

Just had a phone call from Tesco to let me know they have deducted the delivery charge from both orders 'as a gesture of goodwill', so this has made me a happy bunny as that's £10.50 I haven't had to pay.

Have to go as a lovely day awaits me although still not sure what I'll do with it. Enjoy your weekend and also the final days and closing ceremony of the Olympics, I - for one - despite being usually disinterested in any sports on TV (other than show jumping, snooker and tennis when Andy Murray is playing), will be feeling very sad with no more sports to watch as am now completely hooked on many I've not 'fancied' seeing, such as syncronised swimming (amazing!), and even BMX cycling.
Have missed so much anyway, didn't see any weight-lifting, javelin, discus, high jump etc, they were on but I was probably cooking or doing other necessary chores at that time. It's been a great two weeks, and the weather was pretty good on the whole, and now likely to stay fair until all is over. As a nation we really do need to find something else to enjoy together, the Jubilee and the Olympics proving that together we can have a really great time without too much expense.

Hope to meet up with you again tomorrow. TTFN.