Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Keep in Focus

Another early start this morning, and had to drag myself away from my 'stock-taking' to come and write today's blog (which will be short as I'm wanting to get back while I'm in the mood!).

Apart from checking what foods are in my larder/cupboards, it does help to focus my mind on using the 'dry goods' in the best way possible.  I've still got an unopened pack of yam flour that I'm not sure what to do with, but you know me - never throw anything out if it has a use.  It looks a lot like cornflour, so maybe it would work in the same way.  Anyone know?  (Yes, I know I could check on the Internet, but do like to give readers something to ponder over.  It 's the best way to learn more about food....).

Finding a pack of trifle sponges on the larder shelf, and a box of assorted jellies close by, decided to make B a couple of individual 'trifles'.  Melted a strawberry jelly in a little water (in the microwave), then added  half a wineglass of red wine (from the wine box in the cupboard that is supposed to be used for my cooking, but normally never get the chance as B helps himself to it!!!).  This improved the flavour enormously, so - after tearing up a couple of trifle sponges (one in each dish), poured over half the jelly, and put the dishes in the fridge to set.

Began sorting out the freezer drawers, and immediately found a box of frozen blackberries, so removed some of these to add to the trifle, then got distracted and forgot about 'stock-taking' freezer contents, and moved on to sorting out the fridge.
The veggie drawer need a good sort out, and as the veggie box has now been delivered have a good assortment of 'keeping' veggies, plus a bag of kale (this needs using within a few days or it will turn bitter).  Also had some organic fruit - lovely eating apples, pears, oranges, bananas and kiwi fruit. Of course the last three were imported fruits, but I was prepared to overlook this.

Shared the blackberries between the two bowls, and poured the remaining jelly on top.  When set B would eat them with some cream.
As there was a small bowl of whipped cream that B brought back from the 'social' on Sunday, I also made him half a dozen fruit scones so that he could eat them with jam and the cream.  One of the good thing about sorting the larder was that I found four more jars of home-made jam tucked behind the marmalade in there, and there was me thinking I'd run out and have to make more this week.  So that has saved me a chore (not that making jam is a chore....).

When putting the blackberries back in the freezer, noticed a home-made steak and kidney pie there, so brought that out for B's supper yesterday.  It wasn't actually a PIE.  Just the filling frozen in a small foil pie dish.  So decanted the steak and kidney, rolled out some saved short-crust pastry 'scraps', lined the pie dish, shoved the filling back inside, topped the pie with more pastry, then later baked it in the oven.  Served with some string beans (from the freezer), and tiny carrots (from a previous veggies box). Plus some lovely rich beef gravy (made from frozen stock and some 'Bisto').

Not sure what I'm doing wrong with the scones, but they don't seem to rise as high as I feel they should, even though they are fairly thick when cut into rounds.  Maybe they are too 'rich', and I should go back to making the (cheaper) Devonshire scones (sans fruit and egg) that used to look more like the real thing.   If I remember, they were much better when made (years ago) with a teaspoon of bicarb and a teaspoon of cream of tartar instead of using baking powder.   Will try that and let you know if there is an improvement.

Thanks for the recipe for the peppermint creams Jane.  It is similar to the one I published some decades ago (the one I was hoping to unearth).  Very easy to make, and when left overnight on a cake airer, the 'creams' end up with a dry surface, so don't stick together when bagged up).
Your mention of Fray Bentos meat pies took me back.  These I used to cook for B some fifty or so years ago and didn't realise they were still made.  Always saved the tins as they could be used again for home-made pies (sweet or savoury).

You sound busy Lisa, and can visualise you sitting there knitting socks/mittens etc, in between your making lovely meals for your family.  I'm only sorry you get plagued so often with migraine.  Is there nothing that you can take (or do) that will help to prevent these attacks?   When I used to have them (teenage and early adult years, they then disappeared), there was something that always used to trigger it off - one main thing was sunlight that was focused more intently through my specs. especially when at an angle, not directly (I'm very shortsighted).

Thanks Les for the details of the two TV progs. Had noticed these were on but might have forgotten had you not reminded me.  As a fan of both Steven Fry and Jo Brand, the programmes will be much enjoyed.
B went to the library again yesterday and brought me a book by Heston Bloomin'tall.  Lots of 'chat' followed by some recipes, so it could be a good read.  However, found the letter 'format' a bit annoying as for when the letters 's' and 't' fall side by side, they are printed with a little half-circle above them, connecting them up.   Yet, there are one or two words where the 's' and 't' are together where this is not done.  I began to read the first page and each time I came across the 'tied together' letters, it made me stop, and the 'flow' of reading was held up.   I'll probably get used to it, but why it was printed this way I'll never now.   Another of Heston's 'quirks'?

Yes, Margie, I suppose we do seem to sell a lot of sweets in this country.  There are whole aisles in the supermarkets full of many different varieties, and then when we come to the checkout, more stands with assorted sweets hanging in bags to tempt us whilst we wait in the queue.
Regarding obese children (and adults),  these are usually obese because they don't take much exercise (stuck in front of a comp or TV most of their spare time).  So unlikely you would see many walking around London (at least the main areas frequented by visitors to this country).
You were lucky in being served generous portions where you ate.  Certainly 'pub grub' is generous and not too costly (and London prices ARE much higher than in other areas of the country), and recently believe that the swing is to encourage more tourists, and as 'eateries' compete, what better way to gain more custom than to serve larger portions.

Having said that, have myself noticed that portions do seem more than adequate when we have (very occasionally) eaten out.  It's not so much that they are larger than normal, it's just the older we get the less food we seem to need.   Often 'the trade' can deceive us into believing we are served a 'good helping', when really the food is served on a smaller plate.   A good trick to use when dieting.

Oddly, the more 'upmarket' restaurants have this strange way of serving very small (but beautifull presented) portions on extremely large plates, so we end up thinking we don't get much for our money.  My B says I am never to serve his meals this way - he likes a real plateful (and his meals are served on small meat platters, not the normal dinner plates!).

Before I leave, must give a mention to a short article (torn out of yesterday's newspaper). I quote:
"Britons are increasingly relying on junk food as a result of the financial crisis, according to research.
Sales of tinned pies, pizzas and instant noodles are rising while the numbers eating fresh fruit and vegetables have fallen steadily.
Experts say families are more inclined to buy cheap, high-carbohydrate foo in the hope it will fill them up quickly.
Sales of fresh ready meals, including pizza, have increased by 25% in the past two years....and the number eating the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables has risen by 15% over the same period.  The average Briton now eats just 2.5 portions a day......Health is not seen as a priority when budgets are tight.
The research compared the food shopping habits of 30,000 households across all income levels over the past three years.  Official figures showed recently that food prices have risen by a third in five years."

This amazes me.  Not the fact that food prices have risen and that many families are finding it hard to cope, but that most of the 'junk food' and carbohydrates - that appear to be chosen in favour of the healthier foods- are in fact just as (if not) more expensive.  Take a look at bread.  The average price of a large loaf is now £1, a pizza would cost several £££s,  and instant (Pot?) noodles may be quick to heat, but don't give much nutritional value.  Put the cost of these 'carbos' together, and we could instead buy enough veggies, and maybe even some chicken, and make several good meals that would do us far more good.

Are we now becoming a nation that want's almost 'instant' food.  A ready-meal that can be quickly reheated in the microwave, ready-cooked pizzas, and then filling up on sandwiches?  These may seem cheap enough, but really they are not when compared to much the same thing but home-made with more thought to the content.

If I can find time this week will work out how much I've spent on the organic veggies boxes since I began ordering them, because once they started arriving a couple or so months ago, as during this time have only needed to order twice (one of these was food for the club social and paid for by them so can be discounted) the recent one was where I kept the price down to the minimum amount (to take advantage of a £13 voucher), then was also able to use a £5 voucher that I had (saving £18), but not only that, for as the prices were given as 'full price' on the statement (the total worked on these), because most were on 'offer' (or BOGOF), ended up with another £21 reduction in price for these, AND a further £1.25 'price match' refund as they had to replace an ordered item with another (that was much dearer).   That's around £40 off a minimum purchase of £50!!!), Did have to pay £3 delivery charge, but even so.....
As now ordering less from Tesco (compared to formally where I would send in an on-line order once a month), this means money saved.  The 'fresh' foods that needed 'topping' up (milk, cheese, etc), have been brought in by B from Morrison's, and have added up to not much more than £20 over the weeks.   Then we'll see if 'eating' healthily can prove to work out cheaper than filling a supermarket trolley with 'all sorts'.

To be fair, the meals over the past weeks have included foods from my larder and fridge/freezer, but as all these were bought 'on offer', they can be discounted as it is the average amount normally spent over each month that I am now basing my costing on.  Money in my 'food budget purse' stays in or goes out.  It all depends on what is bought with it.  Stored would have been bought months back, and used normally, replaced only when necessary.
Same with my frozen meats/fish.  Bought when on offer, and several times from money 'deliberately' saved by my 'efforts' - which in my book means 'almost free'.

You must be getting fed up with me constantly knocking the hammer on the 'economy door' that will lead the way to a life of fine dining, and even I cannot believe it should be possible, but so far it seems to be working.  I must be doing something right.  Perhaps 'home-cooking' everything is the secret, for it doesn't really make sense to pay extra for food when most of the cost of a ready-meal (or anything that has been has prepared by someone else) is not for the ingredients, but all the other things such as :  packaging, advertising, manufactures/supermarkets profits/overheads...  all are costed into everything we buy.  So why pay for something we can't eat (or even use - although some of the packaging is reusable so worth keeping)?

This is not to say I don't have feet of clay.  It never crosses my mind when chomping through a box of chocolates that I could make them cheaper myself.  The only thing is I do tend to save the box and internal plastic 'moulds' that held the chocs, just in case I can find a use for them again.  Perhaps this helps me feel less guilty.   I even carefully save the gold/silver sheets of wrapping that come round bars of chocolate (normally the dark 'cooking' chocolate) as this can also be used to wrap home-made sweets, Christmas tree decorations etc. 
If we are going to pay extra for something not edible, then let at least make use of it if we can.

With a mention of home-made soap in a comment, thought that the following might be of interest. Have made these myself using left-over scraps of soap (saved for the purpose) and they make good gifts. 
Use what scent or perfume you have, and here again I 'cheat' as we sometimes have an Avon catalogue pushed through our letterbox, often these contain a free sample of one of their perfumes.  I normally don't wear perfume, but always save them for things like 'soap', or when I make scented sachets.  The tiny plastic 'phials' that contain the perfume sample are saved (with the lid) to be placed in the doll's house kitchen as they are exactly the right size to make tiny 'spaghetti jars'.

When making this you could use rose oil instead of rose water, in which case use half a teaspoon of oil to 5 tblsp water.
 Perfumed Soap Balls:
7 oz (200g) scraps of leftover soap
2 fl oz ( 100m) rose water, heated
3 - 4 drops lavender oil or choice of perfume
extra rose water
Grate (or chop) the soap into a basin. Pour over the hot rose-water. stir together, then leave for 10 - 15 minutes for the mixture to set.  Give another good mix, then - using a wire whisk - beat in one drop of the lavender (or other) oil at a time.  Alternatively you could pour the soap mixture into a blender and add a drop of oil at a time).
Allow to cool before pouring into a small round container, then leave - undisturbed - for two or three days. 
Once the soap has begun to dry out and set more firmly, take spoonfuls of the mixture and roll in the palms of your hands into small balls.  Put on a cake airer (or similar) and place on a sunny windowsill (or in the winter in an airing cupboard or close to a radiator) to dry out.  Then - when almost dry - dampen hands with a little rose water, and roll the balls until they are shiny and smooth.

That's it for today.  Will I manage to 'stock-take' my frozen food.  Let us hope so.  Must chill the ham I baked last night (then left to cool in the liquid overnight).   B can eat some ham in sarnies (with watercress that needs using up).  For his main meal, not yet sure.  Depends what I unearth from my 'cold collection'.  If I ask him what he wants, he'll say 'chicken' (he hasn't had any of that for ages), and not even sure if I have much anyway.  

Stop rambling Shirley, and get on with your 'kitchen work'!!  Yes, miss, will do.....hope you will all be able to join me for more 'rambling' tomorrow.  See you then.