Monday, August 13, 2012

Tightening Belts?

Have now managed to publish the photo regarding my mini-challenge, the 'verbals' of this only able to be shown yesterday because blogger was acting up re publishing photos.

As you can see below, the £5 budget didn't go very far. To re-cap, from top left you can see a pint of milk, a can of red beans with a can of sardines on top. Below that is a dish holding five eggs, and below that the pack of chicken flavoured noodles, and a bag of brown bread mix. A packet of jelly at the front.
On the tray is the iceberg lettuce, a chunk of white cabbage, 3 tomatoes, six onions, six carrots, 12 small 'new' potatoes, and a banana. As mentioned yesterday, if the above was only for one person, then the lettuce would last longer than a week (possibly three), and cheaper potatoes could have been bought (canned and 'instant'), flour instead of bread mix, this would have allowed me to include porridge oats should have been included and possibly something else as well.

All this was more for an exercise on working out how much we can buy for a set amount. Could have bought loads more really cheap products, but then I wasn't aiming to copy the old game of 'how many things can you fit into a matchbox', but provide enough nutrition for one person for a week. Perhaps not enough by some standards, but starving would be unlikely.

A 'display' such as the above also shows what is missing. In my case it would be more protein (meat, fish), and also fats. But then canny cooks can gather 'free' fat, and as I've said before, those free chicken carcases many butchers give away for free will provide a little meat left on the bones, an also some chicken fat if lucky enough to have some chicken skin provided.

It wouldn't cost a lot more to include those 'extras', and this then means we could be looking at well under £10 a week to feed one person, and we wouldn't need to double the amounts to feed two (or treble if to feed three etc) as we can get away with using fewer ingredients (per head) the more we feed. For instance one egg will feed one, two eggs could be enough to feed three (depending upon the meal/dish chosen).

On Saturday night cooked liver, bacon, cabbage and potatoes for B's supper. His favourite. This time he asked what I'd done differently as both the liver and cabbage was even tastier.
The only thing I'd done differently was to use some fat that I'd saved after cooking sausages in the oven. These tend to lose quite a bit of fat during the cooking process, and I always pour it into a little pot and leave it by the hob so it can be used for frying.

The liver 'gougons' were fried in this fat, and when the potatoes were cooked they were also added to the pan. Had steamed the cabbage over the potatoes, and in a smaller frying pan, had fried some rashers of bacon, not much fat came from these, so once they were beginning to crisp up, placed the bacon on top of the liver, and added more 'sausage fat' to the little pan and tipped in the cabbage so the shreds got coated with the flavour (B loves 'greasy' food).
So - in truth - that was 'free' fat used when cooking B's supper, and good to know that it added even extra flavour to a meal that B always enjoys, but enjoyed it even more, just because.

Took a photo of the avocado (on the left) and the lemon tree (on the right), so you can see how they are progressing. If you remember, the avocado was grown from the stone in a fruit, and the lemon tree from a pip saved (with several others) when squeezing lemons.
At one time the avocado was growing faster than the lemon, but the latter seems now to have caught up, and possibly this is because the avocado roots have grown through the holes in the bottom of the pot (by inches) so will now need re-potting, and then it will grow even bigger. No sign of roots yet peeping out with the lemon, so will leave the re-potting of that for later.

Expect most readers were watching the closing ceremony of the Olympics yesterday. Myself (and B) found it rather boring, this almost certainly due to our age, as it being mostly music, this was definitely for a younger audience.
I was muttering to B that there should have been more 'Britishness' with presentation, and it would have been good to see some of our traditonal dancing such as Morris Dancers, and Clog dancing. Also Scottish reels and Irish dancing. Would also loved to have heard/seen sailors singing sea shanties.

Things improved when Eric Idle appeared, and there was almost a sort of Morris dance shown (well men prancing about clashing sticks - not quite the same thing), and I loved the display of Indian dancing. Also saw some bagpipes played (in full Scottish dress, kilts etc), but sadly only a brief look at that.

Being the age I am, had not heard of most of the singers. Fatboy Slim only because he is married to Zoe Ball. John Lennon of course (on film only), and Freddie Mercury (ditto). Was it Robbie Williams that sang (the presenter said he was brave to be there - or some such words. Why?).

Definitely knew The Spice Girls (I loved them the first time round), and thankful most of what we recognised came towards the end of the ceremony. The Olympic flame effect was superb as it folded itself down to a dome shape before it finally went out (what a sad feeling that gave me), as were all the amazing colour effects running over the audience, all due to the little 'pixel' paddles that each visitor held, and worked by remote control.

At this moment in time we can feel very proud to be British, let us hope we don't now fall into deep depression again. Even if our nation has to tighten its belt even more, we don't have to feel miserable. Think all readers can agree that however gloomy the recession is, 'making do' can be a lot more fun than being able to 'spend, spend, spend'.

In a way, our 'using up what we have', learning new skills etc, is a bit like being an Olympic athlete. Hard work learning how, yet with practice and dedication we can aim to achieve great heights and work miracles (certainly in our own kitchens). It's not a matter of beating someone else for we are all in this together, and it doesn't matter if we get don't come out on top, just attempting - and progressing from there - is what counts.
From reading comments, see that a lot of readers to this blog have already won Gold in my eyes.

No comments sent in since yesterday (at least not when I looked first thing), but want to go back to a previous one from Lisa who said that when money was short, being able to still put food on the table meant her children didn't realise her financial situation. All because of keeping food in store for that rainy day.

For those who poo-poo the idea of what they think as 'hoarding' food. and who prefer to buy as and when needed, this is fine until there is a change in finance or other circumstances, then 'making do' then becomes the name of the game, and the only way to win a game such as this is start off with an advantage.

Regular readers know that I did once run out of money altogether (after a rather expensive Christmas), and had to 'make do' with what food I had in store. Luckily I did have enough (but very much less than I have now). At that time I also had to learn how to learn how to cook/make just about everything from scratch once the ''basics' had run out. But it's worth a short repeat for newer readers for at that time this was a real learning curve for me.

Up to then I'd done nothin much more than 'plain cooking', buying fresh food, and a few groceries needed in the old way: a daily shop.
When running out of money, this meant eventually running out of almost everything normally bought, so with no more bread, then it had to be made at home. Same with pasta. The milkman was paid monthly (thankfully), so a daily delivery of milk meant that butter, yogurts, cream, soft cheese (and even hard cheese) was then made from the 'top of the milk' (can't do this now as todays milk is homogenised, although Channel Island milk still has the cream on top).
Three course meals became the norm instead of two, and if this sounds strange, purely because starting with soup helped to fill the tummies, as did ending with something like a steamed pudding , so this meant main course servings (the one most expensive) could be smaller.

Because at that time I wrote down each day what I made 'from my larder' - AND worked out how much the cost of all ingredients used (and if I hadn't done that I wouldn't be sitting here writing to you now) - was able to prove to myself (and later the BBC!!!) that I'd managed to cut my food costs down by less than half what was normally spent, and - this is the best bit - my children asked me "why are we now having better meals Mum?" Dread to think what they thought of the food I'd been serving them before.
If nothing else this shows that good home-cooking can be a thousand times nicer than any bought 'ready-meal'.

Because I'd pulled out all the stops, not wanting my husband (or children) to know I hadn't any money that month, had spent a lot of time turning some ingredients into extra 'treats', like flapjacks, biscuits, scones, cakes... Lack of money (and basic ingredients in the larder) meant there was even more than before provided. Meals became something to look forward to, not just the boring 'usual'. Since then have never looked back.

What I did was nothing special. Nothing special at all, for my mother and earlier ancestors would have naturally cooked most meals from scratch, not because they were forced to, but in the 'old days' there were few convenience foods and so things we buy now were always home-made. It's just today we have got out of the habit, and because of the war-time rationing, was not myself able to learn 'at my mother's knee', and once rationing had finished, we - as a nation - took advantage of the many convenience foods that almost instantly began to fill the grocer's shelves (supermarkets came later). So it wasn't until I was in mid-30's (or maybe even older) that I taught myself how to cook 'properly.

Enough of that, I've said it all before (and no doubt will say it all again) and that was then and this is now, so esterday sorted out my freezer drawers, and discovered I have quite a lot of chicken, so will probably make something 'chickeny' tonight for B's supper. Decided to thaw a pack of ox cheeks and one of minced steak and instead of cooking them in water in my slow cooker, decided to try cooking these whilst still in their vacuum packs in the water using my slow-cooker as a sort of 'sous-vide'. This has worked well as regards tenderness of meat, but not a good idea (at least for me) as now there is now no rich 'stock/gravy' that would have been left in the crockpat had the meat been cooked in the normal way. All that is there is hot water. And not that hot - took the temperature while it was on and it read 83C.
This - to a cook who relies a great deal on using home-made stock - means the 'old way' of cooking is best (at least for me).

The temperature in the slow cooker is higher than the water-bath method and on Low about the same heat that it takes to slow-cook lamb shanks in the oven (as done the other day, and very tender they were too). Low oven heat also works for slow-roasting other meats, especially good with belly pork. Added to that also get the fat that can be poured off and used for cooking.
Am sure Les will come back with his views on slow cooking in his sous vide, but that is for other readers interest. Myself am going to stick to the 'old ways' and cook in the way I like best.

Read an interesting article about Mary Berry recently, she was talking about all these new gadgets, and lots of the 'new' ingredients we can buy. She prefers to keep thing simple, and as far as the money in our purse is concerned - myself feel we should follow her example.
There will be another series of The Great British Bake-off starting this week, and as Mary says, she looks for texture and flavour, perfection (in appearance) is more important to her co-judge.

It certainly seems that anything sold nowadays as 'home-made' or professing it to be 'the same as', now usually looks more 'rustic', and probably intended to be. Perfection of appearance now we associate with being 'manufactured', so we can take strength from that and not be at all bothered if our scones don't rise up with straight sides and have flat tops (the times I've tried to get mine to look perfect, now I don't bother any more. Well, sometimes...).

Yesterday decided to grate some cheese using the food processor. Annoyed that there was no Red Leicester left in the fridge (one of B's favourites, he'd helped himself to that), so ended up grating a block of mature Cheddar and one of Double Gloucester.
Discovered another block of 'extra mature Cheddar' that B had brought in (for himself) from the deli counter at Morrison's and he hadn't touch it even though the date was b.b. early June.
By now it had gone very hard, almost Parmesan-like, so fitted a finer grater onto the processor and grated that down to use as Parmesan. Might even mix the last bit of grated Parmesan -in the fridge -with it.

Think autumn is already stirring in my veins as all of a sudden I have the urge to start making preserves and fruit cake, mincemeat etc. Also making up batches of pastry mix, crumble mix, scone mix, bread mix etc., and store these away in fridge and freezer. With me it always seems that I have more interest in making things to keep my larder/fridge-freezers full and less finding ways to use them up.

Two recipes today. Both using ingredients that most of us have (why do I always assume everyone buys/keeps the same food as in the Goode stores?).

This first dish can be either cooked on the hob or in the oven, so will give both methods. Myself prefer to hob-top cook, but if we have visitors, or when rushed oven-cooking is then preferable.
If you prefer to use frozen (thawed) cooked prawns, these are added to the dish in the same way as the raw prawns (the time taken to heat the raw is the same time it takes to heat through those already cooked).
If you wish, use peas (thawed if frozen) instead of the green pepper. If so, add these with the prawns towards the end of the cooking time.
Cheat's Paella: serves 4
1 tblsp olive oil
1 onion, sliced
1 red and 1 green bell pepper, seeded and sliced
2 oz (50g) chorizo, sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed
9 oz (250g) paella rice (or use basmati)
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
18 fl oz (500ml) boiling water
6 oz (175g) peeled raw prawns (see above).
hob-top method:
Heat a frying pan over a high heat, then add the oil. Fry the onions, peppers, chorizo, and garlic for 3 minutes, then stir in the rice and tomatoes. Pour over the boiling water, cover then simmer over medium heat for 12 minutes.
Remove lid and stir contents of pan. The rice should be almost tender. Fold in the prawns (if the rice looks a bit dry add a bit more boiling water), and cook for a further minute or two until the prawns are pink (or heated through if already cooked), and the rice is tender to the bite.
Take an ovenproof dish and put in the oil, onions, peppers, chorizo, and garlic. Bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 15 minutes, then stir in the rice, tomatoes and water. Cover and bake for a further 20 minutes, adding the prawns for the final 2 - 3 minutes.

Second (and final recipe for today) uses up the scraps left after carving a home-cooked gammon. Left-over potatoes (any kind: old boiled, new, canned....) also used, and if you haven't any horseradish sauce, 'sharpen up' the dressing with a little made mustard.
No chives? Then grate a small shallot, or chop up the green parts of a sprouting onion to add flavour. Goes without saying we should be growing our own mixed salad leaves, or use some shredded iceberg with plenty of assorted chopped fresh (soft) herbs such as mint, flat-leaf parsley, basil etc..
Ham Salad with a Kick: serves 4
3 tblsp creme fraiche or Greek yogurt
2 tsp creamed horseradish sauce (see above)
2 tblsp water
1 lb (450g) cold boiled potatoes (see above)
1 tblsp chopped fresh chives (see above)
shredded cooked ham (equiv. of 4 - 6 slices)
1 x 130g bag herb salad leaves (see above)
1 x 250g pack cooked beetroot, thickly sliced
Mix the creme fraiche (or yog.) with the horseradish sauce and enough water to make the thickness of pouring cream, or like single cream if you prefer your dressing thinner.
Mix the remaining ingredients together, and arrange in a salad bowl. Cover and keep chilled, pouring the dressing over the salad just before serving.

Have a couple of weeks now to catch up with household chores left because of 'the Games', fitting in the baking for the social club towards the end of this week.
Yesterday watered the big containers holding flowers that are in the garden. First time they have needed watering since being planted! No doubt this means it will now start to rain. Rain was forecast for this area (but didn't know this until after the watering had been done), but so far today looks as though it will be dry. High clouds hiding the sun, but bits of blue showing here and there. Quite a breeze, so doubt I will be sitting outside today. Too much to do indoors.

Hope you have all got your breath back after two weeks of athletic pleasures. Even Gill - who is not the slightest bit interested in anything 'sporty' on TV, said she was glued to the set most of the time. Think the whole nation has gained much pleasure, not from just the Olympics, but also the Jubilee celebrations. We must try to keep up this positive feeling. I'm going to try and write about nice things from now on and stop my continual moaning. Wonder how long THAT will last!

Looking forward to hearing from those of you who can find time 'for a chat', and maybe tomorrow will have some comments to reply to. Whether or not, hope you will still find time to 'drop in' and check out what is happening with the Goode life. TTFN.