Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Checking the Date

As up early today, have already spent two hours in the kitchen/larder this morning doing more stock-taking.  It certainly takes time when done properly, and am finding that it is best to check dates on all products, even if well within b.b.date as recently have found some products bought recently have an b.b.date that is under ones bought some months ago (but now risen in price).  This seems to imply the stores are selling goods bought at the old price, but charging more to keep in line with the increased prices on newer stock.

Even when canned foods have another couple of years of good shelf life, with the expectation that all would be used before then, it's important to keep the old stock to the front of the shelves so that they don't get hidden at the back and then forgotten (we all pick up the first we see) as this makes sure everything is as 'fresh' as possible.
It does pay to 'stock-check' at least twice a year to make sure we use the oldest first, and at the moment this is a good time to review our stores so that we can be sure we have all the necessary for Christmas, and buy a few more (if we haven't enough already) to see us through what could be some bleak winter months (both financially and climatically).

After Christmas is the time when I always start the new year by beginning to 'live off' my stores, and try not go to the shops for weeks/months (other than buying milk, eggs etc....and even then could use my long-life milk). This began as a 'challenge', just to see how long I could last out, but now has become habitual.  And more than once a year as it really, REALLY helps to keep money in my purse rather than find it disappear rapidly as can so often happen these days when we keep to a 'regular' weekly food purchase.

Because the larder has kept me busy, still have the fridge/freezers to sort today.  This morning managed to weigh out loads of 4oz bags of flour ready for 'instant' use when baking.  Caster sugar also.  Pre-weighing the ingredients save so much preparation time when baking.    Other packets have been decanted into glass jars (empty 300g Nescafe jars).  I write the name of the contents directly onto the glass using a 'permanent marker' pen - the writing being easily washed off the glass if I want to use the jar again for something else.  Saves buying/using labels.

Beloved will be eating like a king over the next few weeks as I work through my 'treasture chest'  of quality meats/fish in the freezer.  As these have all been bought when on offer (for a very reasonable price), I almost fainted yesterday when I realised how much they could have cost me if bought at 'full price' (which I could never, ever afford unless we won the Lottery).  A fillet steak for B's strogonoff on Monday, and two pheasant breasts (serve with roasted veg, 'forestiere' mushrooms and bacon) for his supper yesterday shows dishes that can be served when we wait to see what is on offer AT THE RIGHT PRICE - and then pounce.

Something that makes me feel good (well, smug if you like) is to read some of the many brochures around that show the foods on sale for this Christmas season.  By this I mean the 'quality' ones (not those from Aldi, Lidl - but Booth's, M & S etc., all expensive (at least to my way of thinking) but knowing  I can make them for pence not £££s. 
Was overcome with joy when I saw photos of canapes almost identical to those made for the recent club social, and - believe it or not - most were priced at £1 (or more) each.   Just for interest, worked out how much the club would have had to pay for everything I made had they bought 'out', and it was good to know by making them myself (cost of ingredients only) the club 'saved' over £500!!! AND they got a Game Terrine, a Tarte au Citron, and Champagne Jellies AS WELL.

Nothing I did was clever.  Everyone can assemble canapes (the Game Terrine and Tarte au Citron need a bit more experience - but not a lot).   It's just that today  many people expect to buy everything ready-prepared instead of the old fashioned way of rollin up our sleeves and making things from scratch.
Thing about canapes, they are so small (one-bite size) that they only need a smidgin of  'topping', so a little goes a very long way, making these some of the cheapest 'treats' that we can serve.  So with a bit of thought to the presentation we can get away with spending a lot less than we expect when we throw a party. 

After Christmas I'm considering whether to go back to eating meals that were served when I was a child.  At that time food was thought of as fuel for the body, it didn't matter if we didn't like what we were given (if not eaten up, then we were served it again cold for the next meal - at least that was the threat, so then we ate it when first served) 
The week's meals were based on the roast meat served on Sunday, and we always - to the day - knew what to expect.  The only difference being the vegetables served would be the ones in season (also fruits for desserts etc). 
Around that time our nation's food was not rated highly by the rest of Europe, even though we had some of the best produce (certainly meat). This I think mainly because we overcooked our vegetables until they were almost unrecognisable.  The smell of boiled cabbage floating through every house was pretty normal in those days.  The one thing that B remember best about visiting his aunt (housekeeper in a big house in London) was the smell of cabbage floating up the steps as he walked down to the basement kitchen. 

Now we know how to cook just about everything 'properly', and our 'traditional dishes' are considered some of the best.  Our cheeses are now believed to be as good as - and some say even better - than those made on the Continent.  So why shouldn't we go back to eating 'British' again? 

Granted a largish joint of beef/lamb/pork can now be very expensive, but making it last a full week (roast, cold meat, then minced, and casseroled....) it need not cost too much when served with seasonal vegetables - and a traditional, seasonal (and cheap) dessert.  What else do we need?  Nothing really. 

In my youth, chicken was rarely bought (other than occasionally an 'old boiler'), and so roast chicken kept for special occasions.  Today we can take advantage of serving roast chicken more often, again with seasonal vegetables. 
So think for a month (at least), starting January, I'll go back to cooking traditional meals, and see if it works out much more expensive, and hopefully proce it might works out cheaper than expected.
Also, mindful that the meals of my youth were pretty boring (because we were never asked "what would you like for supper today?") always knowing each day what was to be placed in front of us  - this time the meals could be made more interesting if I included a bit of 'global cuisine' when using up the ends of the weekend roast, the cooked minced meat then might end up in a chilli or lasagne instead of Cottage Pie, and cooked lamb in a Moroccan Tagine.  You could say this way we get the best of both worlds.

Atrocious weather again today, with Scotland getting the floods with several areas/towns under water again.  This seems to becoming almost normal in some parts of the country, and devastating to those who live in the areas that keep on flooding.   So however much we moan about the rain (it is pouring down as I write), as long as our houses stay dry, then we are the lucky ones and should give thanks.

Replies to comments coming up....
Was wondering Marjorie, whether those sweets you so enjoy (and cannot buy locally) can be ordered on-line to be posted to you?  Or would this be too expensive?  I do have a recipe somewhere for 'peppermint creams' and as these are very easy to make will hunt it out and publish it so you could have a go at making some yourself.

Regarding beef that has been hung for several weeks.  Apparently the flavour develops because of this, and as it hangs it also 'dries' out slightly so the flesh appears much darker, and costs more because the flesh weighs heavier than if 'younger' (as freshly slaughtered meat holds more water).
But really good quality meat will always taste better than the cheaper, whatever age it is. 

How lovely to have had a holiday in London Margie, and also staying so close to the museums etc.  Did not realise we had lots of sweets on sale, but perhaps London does have more than most towns due to the tourists.  Do hope the weather was good for your visit, and that you managed to see as much of London as you could.
We don't seem to be bothered with people begging for money,  there are plenty around, but usually they sit in doorways or against walls, just hoping that someone will throw them a coin or two.  Believe that it is illegal to go up to someone and deliberately ask them for money.  Not sure.

Noticed that Alan Richman (Man v Food presenter) is visiting this country at the moment.  Saw his name given as a guest on a TV prog last week, but only after the prog had been shown.  Is he here on holiday or will he be visiting some of our  'diners'.  If so he is in for a sad surprise for the helpings here are tiny compared to those served to diners in the US. 
I quite enjoy watching Guy (Ferreri?), who doesn't stuff his face (well, not quite as much as ~Alan R.), as he visits the 'Diners, Drive-ins...." all over the US (even Hawaii). Also like his programme where he cook with his sons in his own (outdoor) kitchen.

Does America have really GOOD cooks on TV?  Here we have many good chefs regularly demonstrating on TV, not just British, but French, Italian, Indian, Chinese....  We also have a few 'lesser' cooks (other than chefs) who have plenty of charisma, but so far have seen no - what I call 'quality' US chefs on the Food Network (other than a short guest appearance).  Even the lovely Barefoot Contessa can't cook an omelette correctly.

Cakes seem to be the 'food of the moment' on the above network.  This morning switched on the TV just to catch the news and it was set on the Food network channel when it came on - so I was able to see yet another 'series', this time 'Planet Cake'.  These 'cake' progs seem to have very little to do with how to make the base cake, just lots of messing about seeing who can do the most elaborate - and often quite yucky - decoration.  Loads of fondant icing used, and with all those cupcakes piled high with swirls of soft icing, not at all 'healthy' eating.

It was good to read Lisa's comment, where she does mention what I call 'good eating'.  Sounds as though it is Thanksgiving time, so 'Happy Thanksgiving' to all my American (and Canadian) readers. 
With the mention of asparagus (only in season here in the spring), it sounds as though this is sold all year round in the US.  Such a large country is probably able to grow vegetables in one State or another so they are 'in season' all year round .

Just one recipe today, one of my favourite  'pickles/relishes'.  Make it in season using the kernels from corn-on-the cob, or use frozen corn, or canned corn.  White cabbage is on sale all year round as are the bell peppers.
This would make a lovely gift to pop into the Christmas Hamper we cooks like to fill with our home-made 'goodies.  I enjoy eating it so much that I have been known to sit with a small jar and a spoon and eat it all up (with or without a lump of cheese).
Sweetcorn and Red Pepper Relish:
2.25lb (1kg) sweet corn kernels
2 onions, finely chopped
7 oz (200g) white cabbage, finely chopped
2 red bell peppers, deseeded, finely chopped
1 tsp each salt and black pepper
1 pint (600ml) distilled or cider vinegar
6 oz (175g) sugar
1 tsp cornflour
 2 tsp mustard powder
1 tsp turmeric
If using fresh or frozen sweetcorn, boil for 3 minutes then drain.
Put the prepared onions, cabbage, and bell peppers into a pan with salt and pepper, and pour over all but a tblsp of the vinegar.  Simmer for 20 minutes then add the sweetcorn and sugar.  Stir until the sugar has dissolved.
Mix together the cornflour, mustard powder, and turmeric with the reserved vinegar, then add this to the pan.  Stir well, then simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens.
Pour into sterilised jars, cover and seal.  Store in a cool place where it will keep for up to three months.

That's is for today, I'm now trotting back to the kitchen to carry on with my stock-taking and also re-arranging my kitchen slightly so that ingredients used regularly are closer to hand. 
No Norma tomorrow (re-arranged appt. to Friday afternoon) so should be back at the usual time.  Hope you'll join me then.