Thursday, December 20, 2012

Already Making a Start

Like most things, we get the best results when we do some advance planning, so I've been taking my own advice and doing just that.   The Tesco delivery yesterday contained not just the 'extras' needed for the sailing club's desserts (they'll be paying for those anyway), but also bought some foods for next year's challenge.

Yes, Cheesepare, I will be costing out everything I use from my stores (dry goods/frozen/chilled etc) once the challenge begins.  In fact this will begin the weekend after Christmas as this is the perfect time to cooking the first of my 'Sunday roasts'.  So don't wait for New Year to arrive before reading all about it, as by then I'll have made a start.  

The previous challenge you mentioned (this must be some 6 years ago just after my blog began) I then spent £250 on food (to include meat/fish/dairy/fruit and veg/dry goods etc) with the aim to see just how far these would take me without having to buy anything more from the shops (although I did have a doorstep delivery of milk, eggs, cheese, yogurt, cream, butter, spuds etc during that time, but the cost of these came into the above total).   At that time was able to manage very well for ten weeks with no need to go buy anything from the shops at all. Unfortunately then - with some foods still to be used up, I had to go into hospital with cellulitis, which rather spoiled the challenge as I could probably have kept going for at least another week (maybe two).  Basing it on ten weeks, the money averaged out at £25 per week to feed the two of us (£12.50 each) and have to say we really did eat well during that time.

Since then I've had to go on a diet, so now eat less, and with this in mind am hoping that even though the cost of food has risen enormously since then, have set my 'challenge budget' to be £20 a week for the two of us (probably £15 for B, £5 for me, ha,ha). This may be possible, the only thing to do is wait and see. 

All foods bought (from Tesco, Morrison's, Donald Russell, and Riverford) previously or fresh will be costed as used, and I'll still be having the occasional delivery of the organic veggies as and when needed.  So in a way we'll (hopefully) be eating better quality foods during this challenge.  This makes it even more interesting as it will be more like two challenges than one as the original idea was to go back to the traditional ways of eating (as in my youth), when the week's meals were based on a Sunday joint (aka 'meat and two veg' in various forms).   It has to be said that the meals then were a bit boring (but good), so I'll be using a few 21st century recipes to give some of the meals a bit of a lift.   We have a lot more ingredients now (peppers, chillis, aubergines, spices, different pasta etc) than we had in the 50's.   So why not use them?

There were several good programmes on last night's TV that I found interesting.  Just loved the one about the making of 'The Good Life', and reminded that when first showing it inspired me so much to try and copy (in a very small way) their way of life.  Almost cried when I saw their kitchen as it was almost identical to the one we had in Leeds.  The back door, sink, cupboards etc in the same place (we even had white drawers and pine doors), but we didn't have the range - there was one in the same place in our kitchen but long gone, our 'gap' now housed a big gas boiler to heat the water.  The only difference was our door to the hall was out of sight, we had shelves where the studio kitchen had a door.  I do so wish I had 'my' kitchen back again (hate the one we have now).

Another programme watched was 'Superscrimpers' (on More4), and although some of it seemed new to me, most seemed repeats.  I didn't watch it all.  However, there were some good ideas for Christmas.
A better programme was the one on Channel 4 where Kirstie Allsopp showed how to make Christmas decorations et al.  Somehow she seems to suit my 'vintage' approach to 'make-do-and-mend' than that shown by Mrs Moneypenny's band of superscrimpers.  But perhaps I'm too old to be concerned about paying less when I want my nails painted. 
Incidentally, it was many, MANY years ago I mentioned (think in a magazine) about not throwing away out of date dried milk powder, but to use it by adding some to bath water (and pretend to be Cleopatra) - as mentioned in yesterday 'Superscrimpers'.  The 'scrimper' who gave the tip was too young to have read mine, so just proves there is nothing new when it comes to using up what we've got.

Incidentally, Mrs M was one of a team on University Challenge earlier this week, can't remember her university, was it Liverpool?.  Think her team won, so probably she'll be appearing again.
Seeing the presenter with a university degree has slightly spoilt Superscrimpers for me. as I wanted her to be like me - thick as two short planks with no qualifications whatsoever, her cost-cutting self taught etc.  Or is it that I have an inferiority complex?

Seeing the Duchess of Rutland in her stately home ( Superscrimpers) - showing how she tightened her belt - didn't help much either.  Am sure we'd all love to keep warm wrapped in a second-hand fur coat, and owning a dress that cost £200 (very cheap as it was originally priced at four figures - and 'cheap' because this worked out at 'only' £5 a wearing).  But in a way good to be shown that the uppercrust also have to keep an eye on how much things cost, and suppose it's all relative to income.  We can do almost as well when we shop for designer labels in charity shops.

My favourite programme last night was on BBC2 (B had then gone to bed) where the traditional Christmas Dinner was chatted about.  We saw tables loaded with food through the ages (well from Victorian onwards - including wartime (when the table wasn't loaded of course), and it was interesting to be told that nowadays the 'middleclass' have turned to buying organic foods.  That remark made me feel quite good, as having spent most of my married life being dirt poor, now being bracketed with 'middle-class' has pushed me several rungs up my ladder of life.  Who knows, I may even reach 'upper middle-class' now that I'm buying D.R. meat as well (they are suppliers to the Queen!).
Even so, as Prue Leith said 'there is no shame in buying carrots from Waitrose' (or some other supermarket), which puts me nicely back into my place and brings me back to my Tesco order, of which I am now not ashamed of at all.  If it's good enough for Prue, it's good(e) enough for me.

As I've still got quite a few veggies in the fridge left from recent organic deliveries, was short of a few thing, so bought a stick of celery (89p), box of chestnut mushrooms (£1), a 2.5kg bag baking potatoes (£2), 3 x 1kg packs of cooking onions (69p pk), a 1.5kg bag of carrots (89p),  and 2 x 1kg bags of parsnips (£1 pk).  My excuse being that as carrots, onions and celery are the cook's 'Holy Trinity' when it comes to making savoury dishes (together used in many), I always like to have plenty in store (they also keep well). 
Still have a lot of smaller spuds left from the organic deliveries, but no large ones, so bought the baking potatoes to served as 'jackets' and 'roast' are needed from time to time, and when buying the  'seasonal box' from Riverford (which I prefer now), these don't contain potatoes, onions and carrots.  So thought best to buy extra from Tesco to have a back-up.

There are three items I purchased that are intended for the 'after-Christmas' challenge. One is the large rump of beef - and this because it was offered at half-price so made sense rather than wait until New Year when probably would have been full price (and in any case would never have been able to afford it - even on offer - from D.R.). Although this cost me £13.33p the joint is MASSIVE and as it can be frozen will divide it in half to make two 'Sunday Roasts', which will then work out at less that £7 each - leftover beef being used in the traditional way through out the rest of the week.  Sounds a lot to spend on meat, but then as I am  aiming to spend £20 a week total (£5 a week LESS than the previous challenge set some many years ago), this still leaves enough money left over for the veggies et al, also any purchases I make from my own stores (in other words 'buy' from myself).

I've also bought a 2.2kg smoked gammon (£10) to cook (some to be eaten over the Christmas period), and this will leave me plenty of sliced ham to freeze away to eat later.
There were two 'naughties' purchased ('naughty' only in that these are not free-range).  One was a 1 kg bag of frozen chicken breasts (£4.75) - I don't know how many the bag contains; and a 2 kg bag of chicken portions (£3.50).  Was a bit disappointed in the latter as it was supposed to be a mixture of 'thighs, drumsticks, and leg'.  A pack bought yonks ago contained about half thighs and half drumsticks, but this time I counted them out and the pack was all drumsticks (albeit 15 of them), and just one thigh.

Not that it matters too much (this time) as at least it shows that each chicken portion was so cheap that this could make it a worthwhile buy (especially for mothers with large families) as these joints can make a really inexpensive meal.   Myself bought these mainly to make chicken stock - using the flesh for other meals (to be made and frozen).   Today I'll be slow-cooking half the drumsticks, and roasting the remainder (the roasted thigh and one drumstick will be for B's supper tonight).  The remaining roast chicken  will have the flesh picked from the bones, again to make up other meals. and their skin and bones added to the stock-pot as when roasted they add even more flavour.
I include the skin as it forms a layer of fat on top of the stock when chilled. I remove this and use it for frying (so it's FREE!!).

Some weeks during 'the challenge' I will be buying a large chicken (free-range as long as it is under £10) from our butcher for one of our 'Sunday Roasts',  so unlike the earlier challenge (mentioned above), this will be 'pay as I go', rather than stock up with everything beforehand - even though I appear to already have done some of this. 
Previously there was no need to cost out the ingredients used as I'd set my budget, and bought in most of the foods (other than those delivered from the milkman) before I began.  This time I'll be working on a restricted budget of £20 a week to feed two (and yes - I know this is hardly 'cost-cutting', some families have to feed four on that) for as many weeks as I can (could be a whole year, who knows),  and during this time I'll be 'buying from myself' (paying myself back for any foods previously bought) when necessary, so it will not be that much different from going 'out' to the shops.  Certainly easier as my personal 'shop' is within my four walls, so I'll have more time to make things from scratch.  Also grow a few things as well.

Am hoping to manage to save enough each week to eventually have enough to pay for another of those excellent offers from Donald Russell, and at least twice a month am planning to have a Riverford box of 'organics' delivered.   Have no idea how I'm going to manage, but manage I must or I'll have to hang my head in shame and admit defeat, and defeat is not a word I recognise.

A welcome (or welcome back) to Julie as a name not recently appearing in the comment box.  I haven't (yet) seen the 'Oz blog' mentioned, and hope to find time to have a look.  Have to say I'm not a reader of blogs normally, not because I don't wish to, but mainly because I am not really a 'computer person'.  It is so easy to get caught up for hours reading blogs, Twitter, Facebook et al, and the three hours (on average) I spend 'chatting' to my readers, plus replying to emails sent to me etc, is quite enough for me.  Maybe I am too self-centred and should be a lot more interested in what other people are doing, on the other hand having taken a look at one or two other blogs (mentioned by readers) and finding them beautifully set out with wonderful photos, it makes me ashamed of mine, so the less I see the better.  Unless I have my grandson at my side, there is no way I can update my blog, and now my comp won't accept photos, have to wait until his visit to get it working properly and improve the site, so hope you will put up with me until then.

Poor B, he is getting withdrawal symptoms - he loves his 'treats' - and as the coffee table in our living room is becoming piled high with presents from our family (think this is chocs and wine), and a big tin of biscuits (won by B in a raffle), a big tin of Quality Street (Tesco), some packets of Bassett's liquourice allsorts, and Werther's Original toffees (also Tesco - and on offer), and B is forbidden to touch them until Christmas Eve (if he starts now they all be gone by then), he is suffering.  I don't mind if he eats most of the sweets, I shouldn't eat them anyway,  it is the empty tins I am desperate for - they make very good containers for home-made cakes, biscuits and other dry goods. 

Recipe today is a carrot cake with a seasonal twist as it has more than a touch of 'gingerbread' about it.  If you prefer a paler cake then use double the syrup and no treacle, or if you prefer it darker (more 'gingerbready') then use double the treacle and no syrup..
Stem ginger (sold with ginger syrup in jars) can be expensive, so I often substitute chopped crystallised ginger.  Alternatively leave this out and add another spoonful of ground ginger.  This cake can be frozen, but not with the icing, add this after thawing.

Carrot and Ginger Loaf: serves 8
4 oz (100g) butter
4 oz (100g) dark muscovado sugar
2 oz (50g) golden syrup (see above)
2 oz (50g) black treacle (see above)
grated rind of 1 orange
grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
1 large carrot (about 5 oz/140g) grated
4 balls stem ginger, finely chopped (see above)
6 oz (175g) self-raising flour
quarter tsp bicarb. soda
2 tsp ground ginger (see above)
2 eggs, beaten
5 oz (140g) icing sugar, sifted
Put the butter, sugar, syrup and treacle, and half the grated citrus zests into a large pan and heat gently until melted.  Remove from heat and fold in the carrot, most of the chopped ginger, all the flour, bicarb, ground ginger, and the eggs.  Mix well to make a smooth batter.  Pour this into a greased and lined 2lb (900g) loaf tin, and bake for 45 minutes at 180C, 350F, gas 4 or until dark brown and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool in the tin for half an hour then turn out onto a wire rack.
Make the icing by putting the icing sugar into a bowl and stirring in enough lemon juice (about 4 tsp) to make a smooth, fairly thick, icing, then - when the cake is completely cold, spread the icing over the top, allowing it to dribble down the sides, scatting the top with the reserved chopped ginger (if using).  Leave to set, then cut into slices to serve.

That's it for today.  Earlier this morning put the gammon in to soak for at least 24 hours (changing the water once during that time), and today will be cooking the chicken portions (both slow-cooked and roasted).  Also need to bake three pastry cases blind for the quiches that I'll be making tomorrow (they eat better the day after making).  Plus sorting out my larder and laying out the 'prep' for the social's desserts (to be made on Friday/Saturday).

According to research, it seems that the average amount spent by a family on Christmas is a bit more than £800!!!  If I spend £80 (for the lot - incl gifts) I think I'd have overspent.  It's amazing how many good things can be bought and made for that amount - when we put our minds to it.

Next year I'll be pulling out even more stops to make it an even more frugal year for us - but of course, still ending up with the best - so do hope that many of you will follow some of my suggestions.  Worth reminding everyone now to take care when opening presents, then fold and (later) iron the wrapping paper so that it can be used again (placing paper over sellotape and ironing it melts the glue and you can then remove the sticky tape).  Save Christmas cards so the plain white card can be used for shopping lists, and cut up the pretty pictures on the front to make gift tags and Christmas decorations.  You might even wish to save the colourful 'flyers' that keep dropping through our letterboxes, and tear out some pages from magazines, as these can later be cut into strips to make paper chains. Keep everything together in one box or suitcase, then you will always know where they are.  Look out for Christmas cards sold cheaply in January (crackers also), as this is a good time to buy these ready for next year.  You see, I've already saved you loadsa money. and that's only the start.  Roll on January so we can find more ways to stuff those pounds back into our purses, and by the end of the year we could have, SHOULD have, saved hundreds of ££s. 
Am getting all excited by just the very thought of this....

So time now for me to roll up my sleeves and get working on the rest of this year, hope you will still find time to join me for our 'meeting of minds' again tomorrow.  If so - see you then.