Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Future For Food?

With the economic crisis forcing many to entertain at home instead of dining out with friends, can visualise a new range of 'easy eats' appearing on the multiple's shelves, for it could be simple enough for manufacturers to put together a package where all we had to do was thaw out a 'filling' for (say) Steak and Ale Pie, to put into our own containers, also providing for us a lump of puff pastry that we could roll out and place on top of the dish. The very fact we sealed the pastry to the lid by crimping the edges with our own fair hands, and (as per instructions on the pack) decorated the top with some of the leftover scraps of pastry, then baking, this little bit of work alone would make the complete dish look 100% 'home-made'). The pack could even contain frozen veg that just needs a few minutes boiling before serving.

Trick when serving is to say a few words before a guest asks if you made the meal, as hearing the 'cook' say proudly, "believe it or not, ALL this was prepared with my own fair hands and cooked in my own kitchen" will make anyone believe all cooking was done from scratch. It is so easy to mislead by just using slightly different wording. As 'locally grown' and 'locally sourced' are not the same thing at all, then neither are 'home-made' and 'home-cooked'. But how often we believe it these are.

When we serve a meal to guests that started off 90% prepared by the manufacturers, we can still fool even ourselves that we made the meal in (almost ) its entirety. Remember the cake mixes in the old days (maybe they are still the same, I wouldn't know not having bought one for at least a quarter of a century)? Although possible - using a mix - to make cakes by just adding water (still done in some catering establishments), it was (in those days) deemed 'necessary' to allow the cook to add an egg as this would then mean she could consider the cake to be 'home-made', and her family would also believe this. Well, it was baked in the oven wasn't it? Isn't that how cakes are made?

With quality 'ready-made' soups on sale, and given suggestions of what we could add (fresh herbs or spices, swirl of cream etc) served with freshly baked bread (and no we don't need to bake it ourselves, we can buy part-baked bread ready to finish off in the oven) this is another dish we can get our guests to believe to be home-made from start to finish. Even when it comes to. desserts, see that Lakeland are now selling 'mixes' such as Panna Cotta et al. We hardly have to lift a finger now to put 'home-cooked-style' food on the table, and in the future it will probably be almost impossible for anyone to know the difference.

This is an opportunity that I feel manufacturers have so far missed. True we can buy 'ready-prepared' dinners (such as M & S offer for £10 incl. wine), but doubt there is any need to lift a finger other than place the heated food on 'real' plates. No rolling of pastry and using our own baking dishes needed. If manufctureres allow the cook to do a little bit more (but not a lot, just enough to make the meal look a bit more 'natural') then hoards of novice cooks will be queuing up to buy the 'makings'.

Even the oil producers are missing a trick when it comes to promotion. Most people who go abroad hope, when they return home, to make a meal they enjoyed whilst away and never quite getting the flavour right. To be really authentic, use Italian olive oil when making Italian dishes, Spanish oil for Spanish dishes etc. Will we now see this being suggested?

Two new names in the comment box today, so welcome and hugs to both.
makingthemostof....has just begun to a website of her own, but unfortunately the comp 'stuck' when I tried to log on to it. Will try again later. She is not into fine dining (are any of us?), and she is right to suggest we enjoy dishes we are comfortable making and have stood the test of time.

Campfire mentioned yesterday (sorry CF that I missed replying) that restaurants served huge portions. Not sure this is quite accurate, as many dishes today look large but this is because they are served on smaller than normal sized plates. A cheating way to make us think we are getting plenty for our money. 'Fine dining' is usually tiny bits of this and that, very attractively presented, but barely a mouthful in total - for which we pay a king's ransom.
There are some 'eateries' where we do get good value for money. Cherish these if you find them.

GillyCreamy is the second newcomer and asks how to make soft-scoop ice-cream. Basically my version is just meringue (made from 2 oz caster sugar to each egg white), but the sugar is first dissolved in 1 tblsp water per 2 oz sugar, then boiled to soft-ball stage before being poured very slowly in a thin stream onto the beaten egg whites (which should still be beaten, so a mixer on a stand makes it easier then holding a whisk in one hand and pouring the syrup with the other). The hot syrup cooks the egg whites, and these should continue to be beaten until cooled down (could take 10 minutes to reach this stage although I wrap pre-chilled wet tea towels round the bowl to speed up the cooling). The end result is what is called 'Italian meringue', very thick, and - unlike the normal meringue - will keep solid in the bowl all day long if you wish.

To make the ice-cream I blend equal amounts of whipped double cream and yogurt together, then fold this total amount (by measure) into the same of the Italian meringue. The yogurt is added as all cream makes it too rich. Put into a box then freeze. No need to beat further. It normally comes out 'soft-scoop'.
Although not quite the same as 'real' ice-cream (it contains no egg yolks/custard etc), it can be coloured and flavoured and pureed fruit can be used instead of the yogurt (or cream but do use one or the other with the fruit). In fact using a fruit flavoured yogurt alone with equal portions of the meringue makes a really lovely frozen dessert in its own right.

Thanks Sairy for letting us know how much we could be paying if we bought coffee and muffins at an 'eaterie' (price given as £4.50 total). Don't know if anyone does what I do, but more than once have counted out how many teaspoons of instant coffee there are in a jar then worked out the cost per spoon (we use one spoon per mug). Even allowing for a little milk and sweetener, we should be able to make a mug of coffee at home for around 10p max. A home-made muffin probably costs the same (maybe less), so it would grieve me to pay £4.30 more just for the 'convenience'. No wonder that cafes won't allow people to bring in their own 'edibles' to eat with the coffee they have drunk.

Whenever I grumble about how much we pay for food and drink at a cafe/restaurant etc, everyone comes back with 'well, they have to make a profit to cover their overheads". This is true, but what used to be the acceptable 'profit' was that the prices charged were 5 times more than the cost of ingredients (sometimes less). So - working out we can make our own coffee and cake for 20p, times that by 5 still brings it to only £1. Where does the other £3.50 go?

When looking down a menu, a 'cook who counts the pennies' (like me who is a bit obsessed with the need to work out how much cheaper a dish could be made at home), should be able to get a general idea of how much it cost the restaurant to make the meal, and as they usually pay wholesale prices for their ingredients, not the full price we 'domestics' pay, the meal would work out (overheads not included) cheaper than we could make it. Many dishes on a menu can work out at half the cost of another to make, yet very little difference in the price the customer is charged. Suppose as long as everyone doesn't always choose the most expensive, it all balances out.

Don't know what it is with me, but I really do grumble (under my breath) when paying out such a lot of money when I just KNOW it is so much cheaper to make the same at home. Paying for the convenience and pleasant surroundings we should expect to pay extra for, but even if it is B that pays the bill I still mutter because the profit margin really seems OTT. As my daughter says, "it's not like it use to be in the old days, Mum. Things cost a lot more now". Relatively, not sure they do, but then possibly I have lost the plot.

Today recipes are pretty simple. For instance there is no need to peel potatoes for the following as this makes them more 'filling' and also leaves no waste. Anyway more a way to add extra flavour than doing something more elaborate with the spuds.
The best potatoes to use for the suggestions below are the 'floury' kind: King Edwards, Maris Piper, Desiree...

Chips with a bit of a Kick: serves 4
2 lbs potatoes (see above)
2 tblsp sunflower oil
1 tblsp Cajun or Jerk seasoning
Leaving the skins on, cut the potatoes into 1cm slices then cut each into strips. Place in a large plastic bag with the oil and toss to coat. Sprinkle the chosen seasoning over the potatoes in the bag and toss again so they become evenly coated.
Place chips on a non-stick baking tray (pref pre-heated) and bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for half an hour or until golden and crispy (larger chips take longer).

Chips Kentucky-style: serves 4
2 lbs potatoes (see above)
2 tsp onion powder
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp paprika pepper
good pinch sea salt
1 - 2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
8 tblsp olive oil
Mix all the spices together, then cut the potatoes into chunky chips. You can either toss with the seasoning before putting in the oven, or add halfway through the cooking time.
Heat the oil into a shallow roasting tin (in the oven at 200C...or on the hob) the add the potatoes and oven-cook for 1 hour.

Spices really can 'lift' what what we deem as pretty dull eating into something much more enjoyable. Here is a recipe (again using potatoes) that can might quite a good lunch or supper dish (eaten with salad) or just fried-off as a snack.

Chilli Potato Cakes: serves 4
2 lbs potatoes, diced
1 tblsp olive oil
1 red chilli, seeded and finely diced, OR...
...2 -3 Peppadew, finely diced
1 tsp smoked paprika pepper
4 oz (100g) Cheddar cheese, grated
2 tblsp flour
1 - 2 tblsp fresh coriander or parsley, chopped
salt and pepper
oil for frying
Boil the potatoes for about 10 minutes until tender, then drain well. Wipe out pan and dry.
Put the oil in the pan and fry the chilli and paprika for one minute, then add the potatoes and cheese, flour and herbs and roughly mash together, adding seasoning to taste.
Divide mixture into 8 and shape each into a round, flat cake, then cook in a little oil in a non-stick frying pan and fry four 'cakes' at a time, for 1 - 2 minutes on each side until golden and crispy.
Can be served hot or cold, and good eaten with salad and/or tomato salsa.

Final recipe today is a tray-bake, and as this doesn't need to be cooked, a good way to use up broken biscuits, nuts, those choccies you don't like left over from the tin given you at Christmas (chop 'em up,mix 'em in). Alternatively (or as well as) add a few sliced glace cherries, no-soak apricots, desiccated coconut if you wish. Just use the recipe and total weights as a guide, then make up your own version.

Rocky Road Bars: makes 12 'snacks'
8 oz (225g) butter, melted
4 oz (100g) plain chocolate, chopped
2 tblsp golden syrup
2 tblsp caster sugar
2 tblsp cocoa powder
4 oz (100g) Maltesers (or similar)
2 oz (50g) milk chocolate buttons
2 oz (50g) white chocolate buttons
4 oz (100g) marshmallows, chopped
8 oz (225g) ginger (or other) broken biscuits
icing sugar to dust
Put the butter, plain chocolate, syrup, sugar and cocoa into a saucepan and heat gently. When all have melted stir to blend then leave for 10 minutes to cool slightly.
Crush the Maltesers slightly (or leave whole), then place in a bowl with the chocolate buttons, marshmallows and biscuits, then pour over the melted chocolate mixture and fold everything together.
Pour into a lined 8" (20cm) square baking tin (or cake tin) and place in the fridge to set. This will take a minimum of 2 hours. When solid, remove from the tin and cut into 16 'snack-bars'. Dust with icing sugar.

Eileen phoned me yesterday to tell me that Morrison's were now selling new type Pukka Pies that could be heated in the microwave for around 3 minutes (time varies with different microwaves), and as they were on 'introductory offer' price, thought B would be interested. And he was. Within half an hour of telling him he had gone out and returned with 3 packs (each containing two frozen pies). Considering they worked out at around 60p each (offer price) certainly good value. The best part was that B could heat one up for himself, so had one (with Brussels sprouts) for his supper, saying they were just as good as the heat-in-oven ones.
The only difference between the 'normal' and the microwave pies is the pastry. Oven baked pies have puff pastry, microwave oven have short-crust pastry - also these have slightly less 'depth'.
Think I'll 'cook' one for my lunch today. Why should B have all the best?

Thoroughly enjoyed the cookery prog at 7.00pm BBC 2 last night (Cooking Made Easy with Lorraine P?), she really does make things look so easy. Was not overly impressed with Superscrimpers later than evening. The holiday share was a good idea (could work here as we live so close to the sea in what the estate agent grandly called 'a gentleman's residence', even if we only own his bottom half). The rest of the prog was not that interesting, even the demo with the cheaper cuts of meat. Trouble with me is nothing much seems new to me when it comes to cost-cutting where food is concerned.

Was intending to watch the whole programme, but couldn't watch Corrie AND S.Scrimpers due to the timing overlap. Normally could have see SS on 4 + 1 an hour later but B wanted to watch Channel 5 all about horrors in Afghanistan at 9.00. Why are men so obsessed with war and killing?), so Corrie won and I missed the last half of SS, where - I believe - the cooking of kidneys and liver was shown. I don't like kidneys, B loves liver and kidneys. His loss.
Also wished I'd seen the result of the holiday exchange.
Believe that Channel 5 progs can be 'knocked on' to view an hour later, but don't know the Freeview channel number for this, can anyone tell me?

In the middle of February (or even before that) will have to place an order online to make sure all the (right) food needed for B's 'social' will be delivered in good time. Left to B he will bring the wrong things.
This means I might as well take advantage of any worthwhile offer going (on foods I would normally have bought anyway), so either I put these away on a high shelf (or freeze) and carry on using food already in store, or I could take a photo of what food I have left (can also show the original photos of food in store before the challenge was begun, so you can see just how much there is left - and there is still quite an amount). How do you wish me to play it? Grit my teeth and buy only what is needed for the 'social', then battle on making the most of what is left until it's all gone, or be sensible and stock up if the opportunity arises? I bow to your wishes.

Despite my continual chat about cookery, have to admit to having 'cook's block' at the moment. The last thing I feel like doing is preparing a meal. Thank goodness for the microwave Pukka, although doubt B will want these two days running. Might make a fish pie for tonight. Poached fish, bound in white sauce (made from Bisto gravy granules) with a Smash(ed) potato topping. Think even I can force myself to make that. And enough for both of us.

No doubt will change my mind and bake a cake as well. Or shall I down tools altogether and have a 'take-away'? The suggestion to B that he cooks me a meal each week (instead of him having to use money to buy me a Christmas present) he seems to have conveniently forgotten about. Perhaps a 'take-away' could count as one so he pays for it. He doesn't even like spending money on those. Can't blame him, as we both know I could make the same thing - far cheaper!

Suppose I'd better get on and see if I can make the remaining two hours before lunch-time produce something useful. Worth giving it a try. TTFN.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Time is of the Essence

Later start than normal due to late rising (dreaming again!), plus decided to make some Apricot EasyYo yogurt whilst the water was boiling for my morning coffee, also did a few other 'culinary' activities. Then had my coffee and pills, came in here and spent a few minutes working out why it is that B ALWAYS brings in more groceries than requested, as yesterday this expense was more than my allotted £10 due to him not 'listening' (or more likely having what he wanted not what I wanted).

We were running low on butter and B won''t eat marg or any other spread, so asked him to check on Lurpak (his favourite) and bring in a block ONLY if it was under £1.50 a pack. So he brings in four packs, each priced at £1.60! If he could only have waited a couple of weeks I could have bought Tesco's Value butter (which he says "tastes as good as Lurpak") at £1.19 a block and saved £1.74p.

Food bought was 6 navel oranges (35p each), a bag of Gala apples (£1 - and VERY good value as 9 in the pack = 11p each), 2 x 4 pint containers of milk (price gone up), another Pukka Pie for £1(he now can't resist them, but they are very good), grapes £1.87 (didn't need them but B wanted them), and four packs of Lurpak (a massive £6.40!).

Of course there is still enough food in store to keep B well fed for several more weeks if not months, but - like so many of us - once in a store he does get tempted, and as the food he buys will be eaten, this just leaves me more in store. It's not as though we are spending hand over fist, even with this last expense, still well under the £10 a week 'budget' since Christmas.
Maybe I worry too much, trying to prove something that no-one is really interested in aiming for. Possibly just 'cutting down drastically on purchases' instead of 'cutting out altogether' is possibly the way to go.
In any case will shortly have to place an on-line delivery with Tesco as need to stock-up ready for my marathon dessert 'cook-in' for B's sailing club in a few weeks. Waiting until the last minute is never a good idea (been there, done that....) as more often than not the store has run out of what is needed, and then means a frantic chase round other stores. I don't do chasing. Me, I like to feel secure, knowing I have everything to hand when needed.

Due to my wish to get yesterday's blog published before Gill rang (managed it by the skin of my teeth), forgot to reply to comments that had been sent in. Do apologise for this and am doing this now, followed by replies to those that came in later.

Having one than one man in the family almost certainly means our larder/fridge gets raided for snacks. Gillibob has this problem. Mind you, when our son AND grandson used to do this I was always content, more so than when B did it. Most be the mother in me. Thankfully, other than ice-cream, the rest of the frozen food is left alone due to it not being for 'instant' eating. Pity we can't keep everything in the freezer.
One way to prevent food being eaten that is intended to be kept, is to keep these in boxes or tins that are labelled 'do not touch' or 'not to be eaten', leaving a certain amount of (say bacon, biscuits) for those that have stomachs like bottomless pits. Should do this myself, but perhaps because when stores become depleted (esp in the fridge) I can then 'go shopping' again, which is - I have to say - something I really do love to do, even though these days it is confine to foods (plus some non-foods like detergents, loo rolls etc).

Welcome back to Elaine who has a husband who doesn't help himself to food, and as he sounds as though he prefers to be waited on, not sure whether that is good or bad. If he asks for snacks etc to be brought to him, would suggest you explain that you have put cake/biscuits in tins, and other snacks (that he likes) in the fridge, so that he can help himself when the need to eat comes over him. Just provide him with his main meals and then let him sort the rest out himself.

The wartime rations of a suggested 3 - 4 baked potatoes a day Sairy would have been because these are extremely 'filling/satisfying' so not a lot more food (there wasn't a lot more anyway) needs to be served with them. Cabbage has always been a healthy veg. to eat, especially those with dark green leaves, the winter kale being one of the best. Even though in those days the nutritonal value of foods wasn't understood as it is today, it seemed that the insistence to 'eat your greens' told to us as children (by mothers AND grandmothers) was for a good reason.
The 'two other veg' would probably be carrots or swedes, or anything in season that was able to be bought (or grown) in any amount, for some reason onions always being in very short supply. If they had the equivalent of eBay in those days, an onion would have been able to be sold for a LOT of money. As it was then in what what called 'the Black Market'.

Your husband Sairy sounds as though he was brought up in a large family (as was B) during the war years, but doesn't seem to feel as deprived as B seems to think he was. Possibly this is due to your OH's good upbringing and his other siblings ready to share. According to B, his brothers always grabbed the food before B got a chance, so he was left with 'the leavings'. Am sure this was not the case, more the way B thinks it was.
One of our daughters (a clone of her father, and now living in America for a 'better life' which has not come up to her expectations - but nothing ever does) always used to complain that her brothers and sisters got more than she did, and this was absolutely not true. When we tried to reason with her, she said she wanted better than they were given. Once or twice gave her the opportunity to choose which gift she would like from several, saying to her 'the ones she didn't want would be given to her sisters' and this really upset her, for whichever she chose, she tgeb said she'd made a mistake and her sister's gifts were still better than hers.
This craving 'for better' or 'more than' must be a type of personality that is embedded in the genes, and as it can't seem to be altered, just have to live with it.

Having caught up with the previous comments, carrying on with the next....
The recent shopping bill has shown that the price of some fresh 'five-a-day' fruit is way beyond that of canned fruit (one orange costing more than 1.5 cans of sliced peaches). Even if an orange was shared, still makes it a much more expensive 'portion', than that from a can of fruit.
The apples WERE good value. So, Urbanfarmgirl, worth buying canned fruit that is low price or 'on offer' and certainly those of us who have room in the garden should plan this year to plant fruit bushes and small fruit trees (blueberries, raspberries, gooseberries, black and redcurrants et). 'Patio' cherry, apple, plum and pear trees also worth growing if garden space is limited. We can always freeze the fruit to enjoy during the winter months (our redcurrant bush has been loaded the last two years, and we only planted it 2.5 years ago).

Think the slump in 'cereal' sales is more to do with the processed cereals such as cornflakes and the like sue15cat. For some reason oats come under a different category. The article in the trade mag listed the 'top 10 bestsellers' (starting at the top with Special K, followed by Weetabix, Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes, Kellog's Corn Flakes, Quaker Oat So Simple, Coco Pops, Cheerios, Shreddies, Shredded Wheat, and last on the list - Rice Krispies). Even so, the overall 'volume' of sales has dropped. All these cereals are what I call 'processed'. Porridge oats are as near to 'natural' as we can get, but now more and more being packaged with other things (as mentioned yesterday) so that manufacturers and retailers can make more profit.

This year we will be seeing a lot more pressure (by the government and nutritionists) for the nation to 'eat healthily'. 'Ready meals' will contain less calories and more veg (probably this means using less meat to keep the package weight the same, but this won't make the meals any less expensive, probably the reverse), and so there will probably be lot of new 'healthy' products appearing on the shelves. The Oats So Simple topper pots mentioned yesterday is an example. Avoid 'basic', add flavour then reap in the profits seems to be the order of the day.

How much would a coffee and muffin cost if bought from a coffee shop (mentioned in a comment)? Quite a lot I should think. Simple enough to make a flask of coffee and have home-baked muffins in the freezer to take out and eat and drink 'on the hoof' so to speak. Keep the savings to pay for a holiday in the Maldives.
The best AND cheapest way to eat healthily is to avoid all these cereal gimmicks, pressure from Starbucks etc , buy basic ingredients, fresh produce, and make up our own meals right through from breakfast to supper. Let us hope more do this.

After reading the supplement on 'oil' yesterday, feel I'm in a bit of a quandary. What is true? What isn't? For as a cook have always read AND believed that extra virgin olive oil should never be used for cooking - always use cold in small quantities to add flavour to a salad dressing for instance, but as you will see in one of the the extracts taken from the supplement, this is now not the case. Extra virgin being the most expensive, seems that they will suggest anything to get us to buy more of it.

"The trend towards consumers staying in and cooking during the economic downturn has been to the undoubted benefit of edible oils. As consumers experiment more in the kitchen, they are increasing the number of oils in their repertoire: for instance choosing extra virgin olive oil for dripping and drizzling, standard olive oil for marinades, light and mild oils to complement delicate flavours and seed oils for basting and frying".

The above seems only to apply to the more wealthy who initially used to 'eat out' rather than cook. For one thing they probably have to learn how to cook rather than 'experiment' (this can be costly when you get it wrong), and even those past novice level would rather not be confused as to how many different types of oil need to be kept in the larder. If you ARE a person who understands the value of different oils, then almost certainly is already an experienced cook who rarely eats out.

"Extra-virgin olive oil is another varient that continues to build a loyal fan-base. However, he fact that the per capita consumption is extra virgin is only half a litre per annum proves that the market is still at the incubation stage... there are millions of litres of potential growth yet to be captured by UK multiples. The key to unlock this is by persuading and enabling consumers to use extra virgin in every day cooking. Taking extra virgin beyond the occasional drizzle on a salad will unleash fantastic incremental sales."

From a retail aspect this makes sense, after all - business is business, but it does show how a store is always looking for ways to pull a few more of our spending strings. For instance there was a 'tailored Christmas promotion' to give (oil) consumers a chance to win up to £10,000..."the on-pack offer proved to be a great mechanic to attract people to purchase. It sold through quicker than expected and consumer penetration over the 12 weeks up to Christmas ncreased by over 15% as a result".

Another slightly disturbing bit of info is "We have found shoppers are particularly willing and indeed expect to pay the full rsp for oils that add a point of difference.....and if suppliers can effectively communicate to consumers the usage occasions of speciality oil, they have the potential to add significant value to the category."

"The growth in fine home dining during the economic downturn has presented fine food categories such as specialist oils with a unique opportunity for growth. As more and more people enjoy following intricate, fine food recipes at home, that opportunity is growing as more and more specialist oils are being used as key ingredients in everything from stir-fries and sauces o home-made dressings and cakes."

Quite honestly, the above makes me wonder if I don't try hard enough to put 'fine-dining' on the table, having never found it necessary to use 'intricate recipes'. Cooking for guests is stressful enough without having to make it complicated. Mind you, all this chat about the oil varients is making me think twice. Perhaps I should keep more than just sunflower, extra V and truffle oil in my larder.

One manufacturer has a mission to get UK consumers cooking with extra virgin olive oil. Their ad shows a bottle with the message under saying: "Extra Virgin British style: A drizzle here, a drizzle there, save it for the salad!" and underneath that "Extra Virgin Spanish style: Pour it on! Litres of the stuff. 99% of it for cooking."

"The myth that consumers have to use a lesser quality 'refined' oil in cooking is blown out of the water with the advent of *** " say the manufacturers (not giving the brand as don't wish to give them free advertising).
They continue..."So called pure and refined oils have undergone harsh chemical extraction and refining processes. High heat and strong chemicals are used to extract, de-gum, neutralise, deodorise and bleach the oil. The resulting de-natured oil has virtually no taste or smell, and so a small amount of standard extra virgin is added to improve some minimal olive oil character. Amazingly these 'refined' oils are sold in the UK at virtually the same price as the treasured extra virgin."

If the above is the case, then how can we sort the wheat from the chaff? Probably make sure we buy a reputable brand of extra-virgin, and go for a sensible and cheaper frying oil (then mix the two together for other purposes).
Despite olive oil said to be one of the healthiest for us (and probably still is) the following may be of interest when it comes to making a choice...
Olive oil: contains 15% saturated fatty acids, 75% monounsaturated ans 10% polyunsaturated.
Rapeseed oil: contains 5% saturated fatty acids, 15% monounsaturated and 15% polyunsaturated.
Sunflower oil: contains 5% saturated fatty acids, 25% monounsaturated and 65% polyunsaturated
Peanut (groundnut) oil: contains 20% saturated fatty acids, 50% monounsaturated and 30% polyunsaturated.
Corn oil: contains 15% saturated fatty acids, 35% monounsaturated and 59% polyunsaturated.

...and because I save chicken fat skimmed from the top after making chicken stock (I include the chicken skin to get extra) to use for cooking/frying, it is good to know that my reference books tell me that "chicken fat is not too saturated for an animal fat, with 35% saturated fatty acids, 50% monounsaturated (i.e. neutral), and 15% polyunsaturated, depending upon what the chicken has eaten.
Chicken fat is softer and nearer in consistency to oil than other animal fats. When clarified it fries well and can be heated to 200C (392) without burning. It is much used in south-western France and in Jewish cooking".
Considering the price we have to pay for all fats, why not make our own for 'free' each time we make chicken stock?

Hope some of the above has given good food for thought. Now must dash off into the kitchen to make the most of the rest of the morning. Time is of the essence they say. Use it or lose it.

Looks like being a lovely day today, blue sky (which means lots of sunshine), but still very cold with frost still on the lawn. Snow forecast for several places, but doubt we will get any, but each morning the dawn breaks earlier and can feel spring already stirring in my veins.

B had chilli con carne for supper last night. I was good and froze the surplus (really wanted to eat it, but am trying to lose a few more pounds, so ate a big bowl of strawberry yogurt and two oranges instead). Will perhaps cook that Pukka Pie for his meal tonight with some Brussels sprouts. As I made three individual trifles yesterday to use up the bit of cake I'd saved and the drained peaches (the syrup went into the baked beans), there are still two left, so no need for me to think about a pud, although might make a fruit pie as have thawed out some pastry. Also might make a quiche (both of us like quiche, B particularly as a snack), and a Bakewell Tart. Whatever I do, you will no doubt be told about it tomorrow. Hope to see you then.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Cheaper Ways...

Beginning today with a photo of 'my' baked beans, once they had cooked in the crockpot. These started life as one 500g pack of dried haricot beans (98p), and after soaking in cold water (free) overnight, then began cooking them in half a carton of tomato juice (42p worth used). Later adding some leftover syrup (allowed 10p for that) and juice from a can of sliced peaches (juice 'free' as the fruit was to be used for a trifle). This came to £1.50.

This next picture shows the beans once they have been put into a glass bowl - so you get a better idea of how much was made. This beans/sauce (not the bowl) weighed 2kg, so that meant they now weighed four times their original dried weight. As you can see the sauce is just about the right amount, and certainly less that that 'supplied' in many of the canned beans.
As baked beans come in 450g cans, that meant the beans below would have filled about four and half cans, and probably works out at about the same price as the cheapest canned beans (34p) so was it worth it? Certainly was impressed by the flavour of mine (even though not as good as Heinz), and having a pack of dried haricot beans meant that if I ran out of canned it was easy enough to make my own.
Passata might have been cheaper to use than tomato juice (bought to drink), the peach syrup ws used because many years ago read that peaches were used as a flavouring for beans (or was it ketchup?) anyway it worked. The 'bean sauce' was exactly how I like it, very slightly sweet and not too runny.

While I had the camera in the kitchen, decided to take a couple of photos of my now sprouted lemon pips. Can't quite remember when these were sowed, probably around Christmas when I'd been making a batch of lemon curd. As you can see, once they had sprouted (kept them over a c.h. radiator to do this), moved them to the conservatory windowsill protected by half a plastic lemonade bottle (mini-greenhouse).

In the picture below you get a better idea of what the shoots look like, and although only six pips were sown, several seem to have thrown off two shoots, so will let them grown on a bit before re-potting, then may be able to divide them up to grow even more 'lemon trees'. As said before, these could make good and very unusual gifts to give to family and friends who like indoor pot plants. Perfect presents for next Christmas.

Did a bit of price comparison yesterday re the 'five-a-day' and it does seem that if we include canned produce it will work out cheaper than if we rely only on the 'fresh'. For instance one orange could cost at least 25p, but a carton of orange juice (62p ltr) works out at around 10p per 'serving'. An apple could be around 15p each, apple juice would - likewise -work out cheaper.

Compare the following prices to any 'fresh' that you might have bought, and then possibly you could supplement your diet with more of the 'readies' as a way to save money but still get your five-or-more-a-day. Am giving the lowest prices, normally 'own-brand'/value packs.

Canned Peaches (29p): = 2 servings for 15p

Canned tomatoes (42p): = 4 servings for 10p

Canned Sweetcorn (42p): = 3 servings for 14p

Canned Peas (24): = 3 servings for 8p

Canned red (and other) beans (42p): = 3 servings for 14p

Canned carrots (17p): = 3 servings for 6p

Canned Mixed vegetables (39p): so count as half to one serving

With the canned mixed veg you could be getting the full five, but not quite enough of each, but at least this might work out the cheapest way of all. It's also useful to compare the prices (per serving) against frozen veg (these I feel superior to canned and often cheaper AND 'fresher' than buying fresh produce over the counter).

Now for a look at how the stores and manufacturers are working to tempt us to buy more, starting first with the concern they feel over the governments wish to slash the nation's daily calorie intake. "Behind the scenes there has been frantic negotiation to reach a compromise..." as many companies do not wish to reformulate or reduce the size of their portions "as this would have been hugely damaging to the brand" (this from a well-known confectionery manufacturer).

Seems that by having to change the calorie count of many products would cause so many problems (new machinery, packaging etc) that this might even put up the price of 'healthy eating'. We will have to wait and see.

An interesting challenge by the British Frozen Food Federation led to surprising results. They fed diners identical plates of pub grub, and no diner could spot the difference between dishes made with frozen ingredients, and those made from fresh, and "the pub menu was used to demonstrate to diners and pub owners the lower cost and reduced waste that frozen offers without compromising quality" said the BFFF spokesperson.

As frozen veg are processed within minutes of being picked, and 'fresh' can often be hanging around stores for some days, seems that frozen does make sense, and if it works out cheaper for 'the trade', it could also work out cheaper for us consumers.

You have to laugh. An 'age verification' alert was triggered by a £1.19 pack of six Basic teaspoons at a self-scan checkout in Sainsbury's (Crawley branch). When the customer asked why the spoons had to be 'verified' she was told "could be used for drugs paraphernalia". Later the store said the scanning system recognised the spoon's SKU (?) as one for a knife.

We must keep venting our spleen whenever we get the chance, for a survey has now shown that "frustrated shoppers believe that 'supermarkets have not done enough to reduce the price of the weekly shop', with older Brits feel the strongest, with 79% saying the level of prices are 'disappointing'."

Far be it from me to suggest we go out and buy confectionery, but as there will be a limited edition of Smarties in a retro hexatube format to mark the brand's 75th anniversary this year (rolling out to the trade from this coming week), and remembering how 'very old or limited stock' can be sold on eBay for a good price, maybe this is the type of investments we would find most profitable. So why not buy a couple to leave as a legacy for your great-grand children to flog? Just don't open the box and eat the contents.

It doesn't take much for the manufacturers of 'healthy eating' to get on the band-wagon of 'instants'. Quorn is targeting the lunchtime market with a range of vegetarian 'meal pots'. If you wish to pay £2.79p for 300g pot of Chicken style Biryani or Tagine, or Pasta Bolognese (these containing between 285 and 345 calories each), then why not? Myself KNOW I could make my own 'pot-not-quite-noodle lunch pot for far less cost.

Cereals take over several pages of the mag. Basically there has been a volume slump in sales even though the promotional activity has increased. This is causing concern to both manufacturers and retailers. A lot written about different types of breakfast cereals, but the good news is that consumers seem now to prefer products made with oats. So what do we see?

A Quaker Oats So Simple topper pot (saw it advertised on TV just last night), Basically a pot of porridge with 'cluster' toppings of either chocolate chunks or strawberry pieces. "Ready to eat in two minutes after hot water is added". Available from 6th February and (wait for it) 'at an rsp of £1.29p'. It doesn't say it comes in packs, so probably that is the price for just one!!!

At least a porridge brand called 'Oat Burst' now is selling porridge in sachets, these either sold in 12-packs of 'plain', or 10-packs flavoured with golden syrup, strawberry and apricot and honey. Not a bad price either as the rsp is £1.88p a box, with an introductory price of £1. At the offer price that is around 8p for a bowl of porridge (not including milk etc), but even so - still twice the price than if made (easily and quickly) in the microwave using bog standard (unbranded) porridge oats.

Price of jam is increasing due to the cost of sugar, and it now seems we are prepared to be a bit selective about who we serve the best to. Maybe I got it wrong but this does seem to read as though the kids can make do with the rubbish, whilst mum and day get the luxury "Consumers are now making a distinction between the jam used in the kid's sandwich after school and the jam eaten over a leisurely weekend breakfast with toast and croissants".

Proves again that we should all make our own jam so everyone gets the best, as 'the best home-made' costs less than the worst jam on sale.

Gill will be phoning in about five minutes - and as her calls last a full hour, feel it better I publish this now, and any more from the mag will be mentioned tomorrow. Hope you can join me then.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Always Worth Checking The Cost

A late start again due to me waking early after what seemed a full night of great dreams (lasting worked many 'days' of 'dream time') that I really didn't want to wake up. Not that all dreams were good, but certainly gave me plenty of challenges. Lots about food.

Yesterday, after the haricot beans had soaked overnight, drained them and put them in a large pan with half a carton of tomato juice, plus about 4fl oz of the orange flavoured 'syrup' that I'd saved when candying the orange peel (this never worked, so for once the peel was discarded). Put the lot into my slow cooker on Low and left it for several hours. Around tea-time the beans had taken up all the liquid, so added the light syrup from a can of peaches. This just enough to get the beans just about 'floating' again. By late evening the beans were cooked with just enough thick liquid to coat - they tasted very similar and looked exactly like 'bought' canned beans with the same amount and thickness of the sauce that would be if canned, and I was delighted.
Today will weigh the beans/sauce and see how the cost of ingredients used compares to the cheapest canned beans ( a brand I would buy, Tesco's own brand is quite good). Tomorrow will let you know the result.

Also yesterday decided to make a Victoria sponge for B to indulge himself. Thought I'd made a bit of a mess of making the cake as I decided to use the 'all-in-one' method, putting the ingredients into one bowl them beating them together. But as I used some Stork marg (fairly soft) and some butter (very hard) decided to rub the fat into the flour and sugar until like crumbs before beating in the eggs. It sort of worked but didn't really cream the fat, could see little flecks of it still there. It also needed more liquid, so I dumped in a big tablespoon of Greek yogurt and half a spoon of bicarb (to give a bit more rise - bicarb works better than baking powder if yogurt is an ingredient). This made a good mixture and filled two sponge tins that rose well, although did turn fairly brown even though the temperature was slightly lower than I normally use.
The sponge layers were deep(ish) so decided to cut each through in half and use three sandwiched together with the contents of a small jar of lemon curd in the fridge (this being towards the end of its shelf-life. The fourth slice is being kept to make a trifle (or two). Thought the lemon curd had been kept too long (6 weeks max) but fortunately had used a marker pen to write on the date of making - a useful tip when it comes to short-shelf life products - and was relieved it had a week to go).
Beloved has already eaten over half of the cake and loved it. I tried a very thin slice and didn't really like the texture, will use the normal creaming method next time. Mind you, the lemon curd tasted wonderful.

Also prepared several more 4 oz (100g) bags of flour AND caster sugar as my 'some I made earlier' supply was getting low. It really does save a lot of time when things are already weighed before starting baking.

Whilst pottering around the kitchen yesterday began thinking about the food purchases made this year. Under £20 spent so far, but really none of them absolutely NECESSARY. Fresh milk has been bought, but as I have plenty of UHT in the larder, no real need for this. B just brought it from Morrison's as it was a good price. Cheese also bought because B had been eating what was in the fridge for his 'late-night snacks' - again not really needed (he still had some of his Christmas selection left).
It was only the other night I got up to get a drink of water (after midnight) and found B (who was watching a late-night film) with his head in the fridge loading up a plate while the adverts were on TV. He had already had a big supper, and at least two snacks after that before I'd gone to bed). Maybe he got himself another after that. Wouldn't be surprised.

So, although I am keeping a record of money spent on food since my last grocery order was delivered (several days before Christmas), it is comforting to know that very little bought was - if indeed any of it - 'essential'. Also that if - as many are doing - my limit was to spend no more than £10 a week to 'top up', could by now have have spent £50 without going over that budget, so have plenty of (theoretical) money still in hand, so far haven't gone over £20 total.

We have just about run out of fresh fruit, only cooking apples left and a few grapes. But this then brings me to another thought that came into my mind yesterday. What is the least expensive way to get our 'five-a-day'? So - over this weekend - am hoping to find time to compare costs of 'prepared' five-a-days. Canned fruits count, as do canned vegetables (including baked beans), and fruit juices in cartons, the canned containing at least two if not three servings, so the price can be divided by 2 or 3 to find out the portion price, which should then be fairly low. We don't always have to buy an expensive orange. Carton orange juice drink would probably give six portions for less cost.
'Fresh' produce is always best, but not always necessary if we can find a cheaper alternative, so will have a 'look-see' through Tesco's website to compare prices. Not forgetting that during the summer and autumn months there is 'fruit-for-free' that we can go foraging for (blackberries being the obvious).

Knowing what 'five-a-day' means can be puzzling, even misleading. We can't eat five apples and say we've eaten the full amount. The five have to be different. In the old days we used the 'traffic light' recommendations, eating some red produce (tomatoes, bell peppers, strawberries etc), some yellow/orange (carrots, butternut squash, oranges, lemons....), and some green each day (leafy veg, kiwi fruit, apples....). Now they include purple - known to be excellent for our health (beetroot, black grapes, blackcurrants, blueberries, blackberries etc.). Again in the old days it was thought that we should eat all fresh produce uncooked, but now it has been proved we gain more (healthwise) from eating carrots and tomatoes that HAVE been cooked (so it's OK to eat lots of ketchup with our chips!).

It's better to eat a smaller amount of five different veg each day (or three veg and two pieces of fruit) than eat only a full portion of (say) three. Different produce has different vitamins and minerals and other things I can't even pronounce let alone spell. We could take (say) one carrot, one onion, a couple of ribs of celery, one parsnip, one bell pepper (that adds up to the recommended five), and one potato (which doesn't count), chop finely or grate and cook in water or stock to make a good panful of soup in which all the vitamins are retained. On their own these veggies would be the five-a-day for one person, put together they then could make soup to feed three, and better for each person to have a good sample of 'all five' than maybe just two of the 'five'. Well, that's my feeling anyway.
We can always make up any shortfall (if we feel the need) by eating an apple, drinking a glass of orange juice and maybe starting the day with baked beans on toast.

Can almost visualise me from now on living very frugally on just on 'five a day'... baked beans, soup etc., with a little extra protein and carbo added to complete the 'balance'. In a way seem to have been doing this for quite some time. Seems to be keeping me healthy. My 'flu experience' a couple of days ago came and went within 24 hours.

Sometimes I wonder if we do really need to eat so much fruit and veg? Obviously good for us, he vitamins keeping us healthy and the fibre keeping our pipes working properly (carbos give us energy/warmth, protein builds our muscles, and together make the very necessary 'fuel' for our bodies and keep us alive).
Yet, when I read about a young woman who has eaten nothing but chicken nuggest since she was just about weaned, then I wonder if we worry too much about missing one or more of our 'five a day'. Certainly the health of the young lady is causing great concern, and she is (if I remember correctly) now having to have injections of vitamins.
I've spoken to many elderly ladies who husbands have always refused to eat any veg at all (other than potatoes) and also don't like fruit. At least they've managed to grow to old age without (seemingly) too many health problems. Possibly the 'five a day' pressure we are getting, is more to hope repair the problems caused by too much eating of 'convenience' foods, especially where children are concerned. The older man above probably never ate any of those either, so had less of a health concern (high cholesterol, blood pressure etc) because of this.
This is not said to put off anyone eating the five-a-day, we should all aim for this, but just to give the subject a bit more perspective.

Beloved has brought in this week's trade mag for me - this I'll be reading later and pass on anything that we (as consumers) ought to be aware of. The supplement that came with it is all about oils and a quick flick through the pages shows again how retailers will be taking lengths to get us to purchase as many different types as possible "Oils for all occasions" is the heading to one section, this including a box (in big letters) that says "To build the category up in a sustainable way, all suppliers need to focus on education, education, education..."
Looks like being an interesting read, especially as my eye has now seen "there is an increase demand for Virgin Sesame Oil, Walnut Infused Oil, Hazelnut Oil, Roast Peanut Oil, Grapeseed Oil, and Olive Oil with Chilli.....again consumers are willing to pay a fair rsp for oils that cost a premium but which are still affordable, and which they may expect to last a while, as they ten to be used in small volumes".

Well, either this is another U turn in information, as more than one cookbook has led me to understand that nut oils (in particular) have a very short shelf life once opened and should be used as soon as possible. Did once buy myself a small bottle of (relatively expensive) walnut oil, and within a very few weeks it began to taste rancid. These flavoured oils are not used for cooking in the normal way, mainly used to add just a little extra flavour, sesame oil to a stir-fry (sesame oil), or nut oils for a salad dressing etc.

Myself seem to cope quite well using sunflower oil for general frying and some baking (muffins etc), and make my own 'light' olive oil by mixing equal amounts of extra virgin with sunflower, and then keep extra virgin for 'specials' (this usually given me as a gift from a family member who holidays abroad). Did fall by the wayside and buy a tiny bottle of truffle oil for B (men just love it, I know why but modesty forbids me to say). Have made my own 'walnut' oil by crushing some dried walnuts and putting them in a jar with oil, then leaving it to steep for several days before draining, then using up a.s.a.p. More about oils on a later day, if there IS anything in the supplement worth us knowing about.

Front cover shows several topics to be found inside the mag. One says: "Cereals. As sales decline, despite promotions, what's Plan B?" Must read that to find out. The whole foodie business is sounding more like a game that the stores are out to win. We need to be aware of all the cards they are hiding up their sleeves.

Was having a think about those lunchboxes you will be preparing Lisa. You are really wonderful helping out family and friends in this way. Think we mothers are hard-wired to do just this. It's in our genes.
Appreciate what you said about the food needing to be eaten 'on location' not necessarily having a table to sit at. Cornish pasties (meat or veggie filled) make good 'picnic food', easy to handle, but also substantial. Scotch Eggs are another 'handy' edible, as are sausage rolls and wedges of quiche.

You sound as though your seasonal 'genes' are waking Urbanfarmgirl. However much we believe we have moved on from the past, even in this 21st century we still have the same natural instincts as had our ancestors thousands of years ago, and come late January/early Feb. we get the urge to being the preparation towards seed-sowing. Many of us already choose to read seed catalogues rather than a novel (or even cookbook). In March most women feel the stirrings to begin spring-cleaning (although I try to resist the urge, and pleased that I have enough self-control to do so). Autumn sees us gathering in the harvest and in the kitchen preserving as much as we can, and then making sure our larder shelves are full to see us through the winter months.
Maybe some now don't get any 'stirrings' at all, but for those in tune to nature they will feel them full blast, and aim to do what nature has always intended we should. Becoming 'civilised' should never get in the way. But then I'm not really part of today's world, always wanting to live as they did in the past.

Interesting reading about the time zones (Margie and Lisa). Although my AA map of the USA and Canada (a huge tome) shows all towns, townships, and some farms, many of the country roads look dead straight, also those in towns (the only long straight roads in England are what were once the old Roman roads), and certainly the US state borders are shown as straight lines (unless the boundary is a river). Don't they ever weave round mountains? Which came first, the towns or the state boundaries? If the latter first, then probably the towns were, built one side or the other.

Do know that at least one town in England has a boundary running right through the middle of its main street. Not a county boundary, but the one between the city council and the county council, so the housing rates/rent on one side of the road are cheaper than on the other (for exactly the same type of property).
Not sure what happens if the road needs repairing, maybe they share costs, or each council repair only their own side.
Believe also there was a problem with schooling there, for children who lived on the 'town side', had to go to the 'town' schools, the 'county' children going to the county schools, so even if a child on one side of the road lived immediately opposite a school, he/she couldn't go to it, instead having to (maybe) travel some distance to get to his alloted one.

Even within a town, think the pupils in schools have to come from what I believe is called 'an encatchment area', this meaning within a certain distance of a school. Again possible that if you live across a road that makes you a few yards outside this 'area', a school further away is the one that has to be attended. Certain schools are preferred by parents who might sell up and move the other side of the road just to be resident in the right place, or if the children's grandparents lived close enough, their address maybe used as the children's address just so they can go to the chosen school.
With private schools, don't think it matters where you live, as long as the fees can be afforded and the entrance exam shows some sort of intelligence, then anyone can go to any of them.
Probably got some of the above wrong. Someone is bound to let me know if I have. Hope they do as I don't want to give misinformation.

Recipes today are the last on the theme of 'one basic batch - with variations'. Today based on a loaf-cake. Three variations given after the basic mix (this can be baked on its own), and these should inspire you to make your own alternatives by using different flavourings, fruit etc.
This is very similar to the recipe for a Victoria Sandwich mix, and you could omit the ground almonds and baking powder, adding more of the flour and less milk (but the almonds make a slightly better cake for this purpose). The oven temperature (170C, 325F, gas 3) and the baking times (45 - 50 mins until risen and cooked through - test with a skewer etc), the same for all.

basic mix for loaf cake:
6 oz (175g) butter, softened
6 oz (175g) caster sugar
3 eggs
5 oz (140g) self-raising flour
3 oz (75g) ground almonds
half tsp baking powder
4 fl oz (100ml) milk
Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in the eggs, flour, baking powder and ground almonds to make a smooth batter. To bake as-is, pour into a greased and lined 2 lb (900g) loaf tin, and bake until risen and golden (and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean). For the other variations, follow the method as given.

This first variation suggest using 4 tblsp elderflower cordial, but it could be another 'fruit juice' or even some orange liqueur (for adults only!). To help removal of cake it's a good idea to line with enough paper so that it comes slightly above the sides, the paper then can be used to help lift the cake from the tin after cooling.
elderflower crunch cake:
1 x basic loaf-cake mix
4 tblsp elderflower cordial, or other (see above)
4 tblsp white granulated sugar or demerara
Make and bake the cake as in the basic recipe (above, but allowing plenty of lining paper as suggested), then as soon as it is baked, and whilst still hot from the oven, prick the top all over with a skewer. Mix the cordial with the sugar and pour this over where it should soak in, leaving a crusty top. Leave to cool in the tin before carefully removing, ready to be sliced.

The chocolate variation suggests using melted chocolate for decoration, suggesting the cake is placed over paper to catch any drips. As melted chocolate will harden again, any drips can be collected up and re-used, so my suggestion is put a plate under the cake or baking parchment. If you don't want to save the 'drips' then newspaper is probably the cheapest 'catcher'.
The flavour of orange goes very well with chocolate, so by beating in some grated orange zest this gives the recipe below another dimension.
chocolate loaf cake:
1 x basic loaf-cake mix
4 tblsp cocoa powder
2 oz (50g) plain chocolate, roughly grated
extra chunks/drops for decorating (opt)
Make the cake batter as in basic recipe but include the cocoa when beating together. Fold in t the grated chocolate then spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and bake at given temps and times as given above.
Cool in the tin then remove and place on a cake airer that has been placed over a sheet of baking parchment (see above). Melt the chocolate chunks/drops in a bowl over hot water (or in a microwave) then drizzle over the top of the cake, allowing some to drip down the sides. Leave to set before cutting into slices.

Instead of using mashed bananas, use mashed/pureed cooked beetroot and omit the nuts. As chocolate and beetroot go together, this could be a marriage between the recipe below and the one above.
banana and walnut loaf:
1 x basic loaf cake mix ingredients
1 large (or 2 small) very ripe bananas, mashed
2 oz (50g) walnut pieces, chopped
3 oz (75g) butter, softened
4 oz (100g) icing sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla extract
walnut halves for decoration (op)
Begin by making the basic mix, but start with creaming together the sugar and butter and then beat in the bananas before adding the egg and the rest of the basic mix ingredients. When smooth, fold in the walnuts, then spoon into the prepared tin. Bake as given, then cool in the tin before lifting out.
Make a topping by beating the butter, icing sugar and vanilla together, then spread this on top of the (now) cold cake. If you wish decorate top with walnut halves, or sprinkle over chopped walnuts.

Beloved has just come in to inform me he has opened the last pack of bacon (to make himself some bacon sarnies for his 'brunch'). This has given me a bit of a problem. Once it has gone, does B then have to go without bacon? He likes it always available for when he fancies it. His preference (when he shops) is always buy from Morrison's, and we both prefer Tesco's smoked streaky bacon rashers. Am hoping he will leave enough to last at least one more week, then maybe will have to place a small order with Tesco for delivery to 'top up'. On my own there would be no need to buy. Beloved would be sulking for England if he has to do without his favourites.

Are all men like B when it comes to food? He seems to think that all edibles bought are for his use, he never asks if he can have anything, just helps himself - constantly. Only a couple of days ago made a litre of EasyYo strawberry yogurt, and notice that he has already eaten most of it, and there was me hoping I'd be able to have a half share. If I point out there are two of us living here, and food is for sharing, he gets the hump.
Not that it really matters, it is nice that he enjoys what I make. Trouble is he brings in food for himself 'that he fancies', then I discover later that he hasn't eaten all of it, and sometimes none(such as a recent goat's cheese "thought it was something else"). Hate finding half-eaten bags of watercress left too long and not fit to be used.

As said before, the problem with B's constant 'snacking' is that he is working his way through foods/ingredients that could have been used to make 'proper' meals for him. So my stores are not lasting as long as they should. Mind you, still have plenty left, and as the idea was to eat 'normally' during this challenge, shouldn't then really grumble. Just useful for all to realise that a little CAN go a long way when there isn't a man about the house. Teenage boys are probably even worse, but then B never has grown up past this stage, as I think is apparant. Some might think I was lucky. Dream on!

That's it for today. Thankfully B is out again tonight at the 'sailing social club'. Am beginning to wonder what is he doing now each Saturday? This time he says the club is having a 'musical evening'. Find that hard to believe. All they seem to want to do is eat and drink. Anyway, now I'm too old to care where he goes or what he does, just very pleased to have him out of the way so I can watch the TV programmes of my choice. Sometimes it's nice to be very old, the only concerns now being the hope we'll wake up after we've nodded off. I'd be really cross if I didn't!

Enjoy the weekend that has already started. Hope to hear from you if you can find the time, and - as ever - I'll be back tomorrow (unless the strong solar flares forecast disrupt communications, but then all our comps may be 'down' and you couldn't then use your comp anyway). TTFN.

Friday, January 27, 2012

What To Make Next?

Late start this morning due to flu symptoms hitting me yesterday. Aches in all bones, suddenly feverishly hot, then shivering with cold. Really felt bad so took myself off early to bed once B had his supper (Pukka pie with green string beans). Had a bad night, took me ages to get to sleep, but did eventually and this morning seem fine again, although a bit weak. Thank goodness I had the flu jab as almost certainly this prevented me from getting full blast symptoms.

Firstly must reply to Les who seems to think that there was no posting on Wednesday with no comment from me as to say why. I certainly didn't miss a day, so checked my drafts/postings/veiw blog to make sure a publication hadn't failed, and all were then.
What might have led Les to believe Wed. was missing was because I started this late Tuesday night, finishing it early Wednesday to make sure it was posted before Norma arrived. Blogger tend to show the date/time the posting was started, not the date of publications. Even so, having already published Tuesdays, So Les, if you are one of those who checks the date rather than whether each posting is a new one, then forget the dates in future and concentrate on what's published. It's one posting per day unless otherwise notified, although it could be if the comp/broadband gets a wobbly, I can't then post, although would always ask Steve and/or Eileen that day to post up the reason why.

It must be very hard for you living on a very low income Suzi. This makes me all the more furious when reading about those who won't work seeming to gain more benefits. Most of the supermarkets and discount stores are now selling 50p bags of fresh fruit and veg, and am hoping these might work out to your advantage, but it is always worth finding out if each item was bought speparately (one carrot, one onion, one potato etc) these would work out cheaper. Has anyone ever done this?
If you can possibly shop at the major stores around 7.00pm at night, they have lots of fresh produce they sell off really cheaply.

Hearing that Lynne has overspent on heating, she might be interested to know that when we lived in Leeds our domestic dual-fuel bill (gas and electricity) we paid through 'Staywarm', who then did (and probably still do) a lower tariff for people over a certain age, and this is based on how many bedrooms in the property. Even if only one bedroom is used, the full number still counts. The price was set for the full year, paid off monthly by direct debit, and regardless of how much fuel was used, so in a cold spell we could turn up the heat
However, although there was no debit to pay at the end of the year when a lot of fuel had been used, the annual charge was then increased slightly the following year. As this was still way below what we'd have to pay another supplier, and with no worry as to whether we could afford to keep warm or not, we stayed with Staywarm until we moved to Morecambe.

When we moved here we had to stay with British Gas (used by a previous occupant) as Staywarm told us we were back to them immediately, we'd have to wait for a while before we could, but even though now we have only one bedroom we have decided to stay with British gas, as it now costs less than it did in Leeds (but we did have four bedrooms in Leeds, Staywarm charges there were then more than we would be paying here). We will go back to Staywarm if fuel prices rise much further although almost certainly we will have to pay a 'leaving charge' to B.G. if we switch.

Am pleased you found the biscuit recipe a success Lynne. Was the choc. jelly cake the one that was supposed to end up like 'Jaffa cakes'? Possibly cooking a sponge cake separately, then splitting in in half and sandwiching together with a slab of set jelly before cutting into circles, each then dipped into melted chocolate to fully coat would work better. Any cake/jelly left over could be used as the base of a trifle.

Myself began soaking a pack of haricot beans yesterday, they are now ready to strain and fast boil, and my suggestion to Alison (who nearly burned hers) myself will transfer them to the slow cooker with some tomato juice and other 'flavourings' to hopefully end up with a large batch of baked beans. They could also be cooked in a slow oven until tender. This saves constantly checking the pan when cooked on the hob as often too much liquid evaporates which then can cause the beans to dry and burn.
Some cooks/chefs push a large circle of greaseproof paper/baking parchment into the pan to fit closely on top of what is being cooked, and before fitting on the lid, this helps to prevent them losing too much steam. Another way is to make a stiff 'dough' of flour and water, roll it into a strip and place it round the rim of a pan, pressing the lid into it to fit, this causes an almost air-tight seal, and again prevents the loss of steam, but the pan needs to be placed on the lowest heat to barely simmer.

The lamb 'hocks' mentioned (bought from a small Tesco) sound very much like the lamb 'shanks' that I buy (also from Tesco) for £5 for two. Perhaps they cost a £1 more in the smaller branches, or maybe the price has now risen - they have been £5 for seemingly years, even though the price of lamb has risen considerably over that time.

That plan of yours to provide packed lunches for your daughter's friends sounds a lovely idea Lisa. Soup, stews and curries especially sound good (for winter meals), and probably cheaper to make than the sarnies and fresh fruit, so perhaps you could do soup one day, sarnie and fruit another, and on the third the stew or curry. It might be each day you could then afford to include one piece of fruit (or even a fruit pie) to eat for 'afters'. A recipe has been included today that you might find useful. If the ingredients are too expensive you might be able to adapt it in some way.

Pleased you found the 'tenting' method of baking bread works (makes for a softer crust and moister crumb). Don't know why it took me so long to find out this would work.

Did notice the request Julie, from Superscrimpers for more people to become involved in their programme. In fact did contact them even though they were only (at that time) needing groups of friends who would get together to be taught a new skill. I sent them a few hints and tips that they could use if they wished, without me needing to take part. Did receive an automated reply of thanks. From then on have to wait and see if they make use any, or come back to me re this.

With the success of the biscuits, and hopefully the same for yesterday's cakes, today sees further recipes from the same stable. These based on shortbread. Although am giving the recipes as should be made, the lemon bar one sounds a lot like making lemon curd then letting it 'cook' on the top of the cake until thickened (while the base finishes off cooking beneath). Another recipe uses jam sandwiched between shortbread as it cooks, so my suggestion is, if you have already-made lemon curd, then sandwich this between the shortbread instead of putting it on top where it might then go a step too far and burn. Different flavoured jams could be used for the jam slice. So plenty of choice.

The topping for the 'Nut squares' uses bought Carnation caramel. We can make this ourselves by simmering a tin of condensed milk for 3 hours (making sure the tin is always covered by water), then leave it to cool completely before opening. If we covered the shortbread with this caramel, then topped it with melted chocolate and allowed to set, it is then called 'Millionaire's Shortbread'. So this is yet another variation on the ones given.

The basic recipe can be cooked with no additions as 'shortbread' if you wish. This will probably take approx 20- 25 minutes to bake at 200C, 400F, gas 4 but at this heat will make it slightly crisper and more golden than traditional shortbread. If you wish it to be lighter in colour and more 'tender', then cook at a lower temperature.
Note that the timings for the variations can differ.

basic shortbread base:
6 oz (175g) plain flour
2 oz (50g) ground rice
3 oz (85g) caster sugar
5 oz (140g) butter, chilled and diced
1 tblsp milk
Put the flour, ground rice, sugar and butter into a bowl and rub together until like breadcrumbs (you could blitz the lot in a food processor if you wish). Using a knife, mix in the milk, then tip the lot into a lined 8" or 9" (20 or 23cm) shallow baking tin and gently press down to even the surface. Then follow the method given for the variations.

strawberry slice: makes 9 - 12
1 x basic shortbread mix
8 tblsp strawberry jam, slightly warmed
2 tsp caster sugar
Make the shortbread mixture as above recipe but tip only three-quarters of the mix into the prepared tin. Press down evenly, then bake at 200C etc for 15 - 20 minutes until golden and slightly crisp. Spread the jam on top then sprinkle/crumble over the remaining shortbread mix, then bake for a further 5 - 10 minutes more until the topping is also golden. Sprinkle over the sugar, leave to cool in the tin then cut into 9 squares or 12 oblongs.

lemon curd bars:
as for the jam bars, but split the mixture, bake one half or 12 - 15 minutes until golden, then top with lemon curd, then sprinkle the remaining mix on top to cover, pressing down very lightly and continue to cook for a further 10 or so minutes.
Alternatively make from scratch using the following recipe.

lemon bars: makes 12 - 15
1 x basic shortbread mix
zest and juice of 4 lemons
3 eggs
7 oz (200g) caster sugar
1 oz (25g) flour
icing sugar to dust
Put the basic mix into a lined tin (size as above), pressing down gently, then bake for 15 - 20 minutes at 200C for 15 - 20 minutes, then remove from oven and lower the heat down to 180C, 350F, gas 4.
Mix together the lemon juice and eggs, then sieve into a bowl containing the sugar, flour and lemon zest. Whisk until fully combined, then pour this over the shortbread base, returning it to the oven. Bake for 10 - 15 minutes until the top is just set, then leave to cool in the tin. Dust with icing sugar, the cut into slices.

caramel nut squares: makes 12
1 x basic shortbread mix
9 oz (250g) mixed nuts, roughly chopped
11 oz (300g) caramel (see above)
3 tblsp flour
1 - 2 tblsp sunflower or pumpkin seeds (opt)
Make up the shortbread mix, pressing it into a lined tin (size as above), pressing it down evenly as before, and baking at 200C for 15 - 20 minutes until golden. Remove tin and reduce oven temperature to 180C. Mix together the nuts, caramel and flour then spread this evenly over the base, scattering top with seeds (if using), then return to oven and bake for a further 8 - 10 minutes. Leave to cool in the tin before slicing.

Final recipe today is for a baked cheesecake. Good and healthy so as this could be one that Lisa may wish to make to pop into those packed lunches, am also giving US cup measurements.
Yogurt and Honey Cheesecake: serves 8
4 oz (100g/1 cup) digestive or ginger biscuits, crushed
2 oz (50g/half cup) flaked almonds, toasted
3 oz (73g/6 tblsp) butter, melted
9 fl oz (250ml/1 cup) Greek yogurt
1 lb 10oz (750g/3 cups) cream cheese or mascarpone
2 eggs
zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
9 fl oz (250ml/1 cup) runny honey
Crush the biscuits and almonds together, then mix with the butter. Press into the bottom of a deep 9"(23cm) dish (either a cake tin, baking dish or roasting dish). Bake at 170C, 325F, gas 3
for 10 minutes until crisp.
Meanwhile, mash together the yogurt and the cheese, then whisk in the eggs. Fold in the citrus zests and most of the honey (reserving about 2 - 3 tblsp).
Spoon this on top of the biscuit base, cover loosely with foil and bake for one hour, then remove foil and cook for a further 15 minutes until the top is pale gold and firm with just a hint of a wobble in the centre. Leave to cool in the tin. Then chill in the fridge (where it can be kept for up to 2 days). To serve, drizzle over the remaining honey and serve with fresh fruit.

Despite a late start, still seemed to have managed to write up something 'useful'. Let us hope so anyway. Can't believe it is Friday already, how the weeks seem to fly by. We have spring flowers now in bloom in the garden, and am hoping they will survive during the cold spell forecast for this weekend. But the days are lengthening and on a clear-sky day, it is beginning to get light at 7.30am.
I've often wondered what it is like in a large country, such as the US, where they have 'time zones'. Are they in straight lines, going right through a house? If so it could be an hour later in one room than the next. Probably the zones deviate so they curve right round a town. But it can't be easy, it could be you leave one town to go to work and arrive almost an hour before you started.

At least in the British Isles and all of Ireland, the time is the same even though the sun rises on the west coast of Ireland almost an hour and a half later than the east coast of England. But then this means they seem to have longer days than we do (their sunset over a good hour later).

Time now for me to go and fast-boil my beans. This reminds me - don't ever soak your beans then leave them a day or two before boiling, as they start to ferment (even when kept in the fridge). Fast boil them for 10 minutes as soon as fully soaked, then reduce heat and cook them slowly in whichever way you prefer (and easiest to you). Given long enough time, and an initial 15 minutes fast boil, they should then cook on to tender using a hay-box. One way to save fuel.
Would a thermos work as well I wonder? Bet Les would know.

Although many of you are busy over the weekend, do hope you will find time to drop me a line, or at least read this blog (or eventually catch up). Just love hearing from you, and as many as possible. So keep those comments coming. Enjoy your day, tomorrow will be back as normal. Hope to see you then.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Playing Games

During yesterday felt that I'd not given a very useful reply to Anonymous (name not given) who was normally needing to prepare three different daily meals for her family, and was trying to think of a more labour-saving way to approach this problem. For some reason began to think of is like a 'puzzle' that we sometimes read. 'A' can eat anything, 'B' cannot eat fruit and eggs and only some veg., and both 'B' and 'C' don't like the texture of meat in their mouths. What same meal can be served to all? This I found quite fun trying to work out.

The first problem was wondering what veg could be eaten by B, and whether B and C would accept the flavour of meat without the 'texture'. Then we come to using the small amount of info given (and hoped) that could work together.

If meat or chicken stock is acceptable, then there are plenty of soups that can be made using this 'protein' stock as a base, maybe even a simple minestrone with added pasta or rice to give 'bulk'. Or possible a lentil soup, a French Onion soup (with bread and toasted cheese floating on top), or an acceptable vegetable soup. Most can be made in advance and frozen to save time later.

Many vegetables can be cooked and blitzed together to make a pizza sauce. Onion, carrots and celery are good as together then end up tasting fairly sweet and marry well when blitzed with a can of chopped tomatoes. Perfect for pizza toppings or a pasta sauce. As a 'puzzle solution', then A, B, and C should be able to eat pasta layered with a cheese and maybe spinach filling, coated with above tomato sauce and a cheese topping. Or if serving pasta shapes with the 'hidden veg' tomato sauce, meat balls made from vegetarian sausages (for B and C) could be fried in the same pan as 'real' meat balls (for A), and this again should make meals for all three at the same tune, pans. Or it could be that all three would eat meat when it has been blitzed down to make it similar to a paste/pate, this can be used to make meatballs, burgers etc.
Pork sausage, egg beans and chips could be served to A and C, with extra beans instead of eggs served to B.

There was no mention of fish or poultry, but if the texture of fresh fish was unacceptable to B and C, then perhaps tinned fish might be, especially if it was mashed down well to remove any 'texture' then mixed with mashed potato and/or breadcrumbs to make fishcakes, able to be served to all. Can be made in bulk ready to cook as and when.

These are only suggestions going on the small amount of (accepted ingredients) that were given. Unless any more details can be given, there is not a lot more I can suggest at this time, and am just hoping that Anon is still with us and reading this. But as many people have reason to cook different meals according to various allergies etc, the above might be useful.

By the way, there are several egg 'substitutes' on sale that can be used for both savoury and sweet dishes, so quiches can be made successfully as well as many cakes. In fact several recipes have been given on this site for eggless cakes.

Welcome again to Jim who is asking about the reason for the more moist 'commercially' produced bread. There are several reasons, but mainly because the bread has additives (usually vit.C) to help it rise more with a looser texture (an presuming this means less volume of dough is needed for each loaf, so less costly to make than bread bought from a 'proper' baker. Also steamed as it is baked to give a moist crumb. Baker's (artisan) bread is not so moist, and dries/stales more rapidly.
To help keep our oven-bake bread softer we can put a large roasting pan of water on the bottom of the oven (or lowest shelf) to heat up as the oven heats, the water then evaporates to give a steamy atmosphere in the oven as the bread bakes. Myself find 'tenting' with foil (or even covering the loaf tin with a matching sized tin also works well. If using a matching tin, remove this about 10 minutes before the end of cooking time to allow the top to brown and form a crust.

Interesting Ciao, to hear that an Italian uses soy sauce when cooking. Believe this is common practice among many chefs in this country, but for some reason hardly ever mentioned. Maybe this sauce is also used in many other countries. It certainly does help to 'beef' up the flavour of casseroles. Suppose Marmite works in much the same way.

Am pleased that others have sent in comments 'ranting' about our benefit system giving so much to those who just expect this, who - in return - show no gratitude or seem to have any inclination to work in the future. Am wondering if all Commonwealth countries are obliged to do so much for their layabouts and immigrants/asylum seekers. Am pretty sure the US is much tighter-fisted, and good for them if they are.
The more we hard-working Brits shout about this unfairness of the benefit system, then perhaps more will be done to remember those where were born here come first - or should. This country is known all over the world to be a 'soft touch', and why so many people keep pouring into this country to get free housing and all the benefits they can.

Do remember that many years back families here, where the man had useful skills, were urged to go and live in Australia. They travelled by ship, costing no more than £10 as an 'assisted passage'. When they arrived, the men were sent to one compound, the women and children to another, and not allowed to leave until the husband had a job and got some accommodation for them. Because of this, several families (who expected immediate housing and family 'togetherness') returned home. Others stuck it out and then built up a good life for themselves.
We knew this because several of our friends went over with their families, but not all stayed the course, and so returned home to complain bitterly of their 'experience'. "It wasn't what we were hoping for". The others ended up happily in Oz getting all they hoped for, and more just because they 'stuck it out'.

Why don't we do the same here? All immigrants arriving here are placed in compounds, and when the men have got themselves employment, then we could perhaps provide them with council housing to give them start. If the people want better, then they - like we all do - have to earn the money to pay for it. Or would keeping husbands and wives apart be against 'human rights?' Don't think there seems to be any human rights in the countries the people come from, so why not make the compounds part of their 'nation' (like we do with embassy's), they can then keep the laws according to their own country.

People who are prepared to work are always welcome into this country. Others come in crawling with hands out like beggars (many turning out not to be as needy as they seem), and we give them help. They just then sit back and take, take, take. But there are limits to the money we have to give as 'hand-outs', and we could at least set a time limit on this. We can't keep giving it for ever. As a very small island we also have the problem of space. There are countries that have a lot more room to spare than we do, maybe even land to give that can be worked successfully. Sort of like the pioneers did in America a couple of hundred years ago, and all coming from different nations, eventually taking over from the native Americans (this being a disgraceful thing to do), which makes me think the same thing could happen here!!!

Those seeking to come here and have an easy life (on benefits and without work) shouldn't believe it will be their final stopping place. They either have to buckle down and work for their money, or end up where they are put (smaller homes or different country). If they don't like it they can always return to their birth nation. Well, it's one solution.

Of course I am generalising. There are many who come into this country who are prepared to work hard, and if we feel they take our jobs, this isn't usually the case, as much of the work they do we turn out noses up at. Things like cleaning, crop picking, anything with unsocial hours.
It is the layabouts, the 'free' money-grabbers that I wish we could pluck from our soil as we do weeds.

Don't know why I've such a bee in my bonnet about all this. Possibly it is the recession on my mind. An oil depot going bust down south (how on earth did they manage that, thought oil was a money-making concern?). This could lead to more expensive petrol, this then would mean more food prices rise due to the transport needed to get from port to warehouse, warehouse to store. Let alone the extra fuel cost of local transport (bus or car) getting to the supermarkets to buy the food. Probably home-delivery charges would also increase. Is there no end to our problems?

As a nation we have only so much money to 'spend', and if so much is paid out on benefits (especially to those who don't deserve it), then this means cuts have to be made elsewhere. Running the country is exactly the same (on a much larger scale) that running a domestic budget, and we all know how we are finding this much more difficult now. It must be very hard for those 'in power' to make cuts, knowing that there are always those out there who will start complaining because their standard of (very good) living will have to be (slightly) less. Doesn't seem to matter about everyone else, it's the 'me, me, me' attitude coming to the fore. Why should I have to do without?" Just how greedy a nation have we become?

Of course there are thousands out there who are sensible enough to know we are going through a bad patch and prepared to make the best of it. Just wish most would, then perhaps we would get back on our feet that much faster. Yet, now we have less money to spend, we now buy less, which means the industrial output is less, showing a minus drop in growth figures at the end of last year, so even our personal 'make do and mend' doesn't help those in small businesses who need our custom.
Thankfully China seems to have a sudden urge to buy 'all things British' (it used to be the other way around), as believe their bow affluent nation can afford our prices, so let us hope we get plenty of exports these coming months.

Because I am who I am (think they must have broken the mould when I was born), have no concern when it comes to shortage of money as am a born 'survivor[, indeed find much pleasure doing so. As you know, there is nothing I enjoy more than a challenge. Although - now at a great age - things are not quite so easy for me to do as in the past. However, those of you who have your youth (anything under 70 is what I consider 'youth' to be) and health, and (hopefully) a garden, should be able to 'dig for Britain' and grow much fresh produce to keep going for many months of the year. We can also barter - fresh veg for pots of preserves etc.

Those of us with less mobility can still grow herbs, mixed salad leaves....on our windowsills, and bake cakes/biscuits that could be used for barter. Wherever possible we should form 'groups' of like-minded people, neighbours etc, so food could be bought in bulk (esp from Approved Foods where it is exceptionally cheap), then shared between so that each pays an acceptable price, also do crafts together and have a chat (knit and natter etc). Maybe even have group baking sessions. Believe this already occurs in some rural communities, but it would be good to hear of the same thing happening in urban high-rises etc.

Thanks to Campfire for her offer of wrist-warmers. With the mention of 'finger-less' makes me wonder if these are what we used to call 'mittens'. Very useful for those working outdoors who need the use of finger tips when handling things (our milkman always wore them in the cold winter months, less chance of milk bottles slipping out of his hands, and easy to handle money when making the weekly collection of payments). Myself never could cope with mittens, but thanks for the offer.
Our daughter knitted me a 'frilly, lacy' scarf, and this I wear every day wound round my neck, as it keeps me very warm. She has knitted and sold loads of these in aid of charity, and they are very popular as they are far cheaper than the same sold in shops. It does seem that if a neck is kept warm, most of the body stays warm. Helps also to wear something warm on the feet (bed socks are good when sitting down). A bald man would keep warm if he wore a woolly hat on his head all the time. In olden days, men and woman used to go to bed wearing bed socks, a very long night-shirt AND a night-cap. Plus a hot water bottle put in the bed to warm the sheets before retiring. Before the 'bottle' it used to be a brass/copper bedpan full of hot coals inserted between the sheets to warm up the bedding.

Forgot it was Burn's Night yesterday, reminded when I saw haggis on the Alan Titchmarsh show yesterday. Hope you enjoy your Friday 'Scottish' meal Margie. Have never eaten haggis myself, so really should give it a try. Maybe now the traditional day of eating is over, any unsold may be availableat reduced price in the supermarkets.

Am slowly working my way through my food stores, probably more than half of the 'fresh' already used, and quite a lot of cans. Have only one can of baked beans left, but do have a pack of dried haricot, so will make up my own 'baked beans' using these.

Looking into the larder whilst I drank my coffee this morning (could only see the first few feet of the left-hand side), realised that most of the shelves on the left were almost the same as they were before Christmas. For some reason these 'dry' goods are not often used. True, have so much flour, sugar, dried fruit etc, that small amounts are hardly (visibly) missed, but the right-side of the larder (where I keep the cans, bottles etc) has shelve now showing huge gaps.

Is there a reason why I favour more the foods on the right shelves rather than the left. I began to wonder, for when in a supermarket ALWAYS work up the left-hand side of the aisle, which is odd as I am right-handed and would expect it to be easier to pick foods from shelves on the right rather than the left. Is it because pushing a trolley is a bit like driving a car, and in this country we drive on the left. The rare occasions that someone is working in the other direction (and then gets in my way) is when they are carrying a basket. Usually this is a man who probably lives on his own so doesn't need enough to fill a trolley).
When I reach the end of the aisle, I then do a U turn and come back down the other side, the shelf contents then still being on my left.
Realised that as often go and sit on my chair in my larder before choosing what to cook that day, as the chair faces towards the door, the shelves holding canned food are then still on my left.
There has to be a reason why I prefer to shop 'from the left', as do know I feel quite uncomfortable doing it the other way round. Even if I see something I want on the right (whilst shopping on the left) will not go across and fetch it, will always do that U turn and go back down the other side just for that one thing.

Is this the same way others shop, preferring the left-hand side of the aisle? Perhaps left-handed might do the opposite.? It would be interesting to know for this might be yet another way that supermarkets can 'pull our strings'.

The 'basic biscuit' recipe given the other day (with variations) seemed to go down well with some readers, so today am giving a basic recipe for a sponge cake 'traybake', also with alternatives.
This is very similar to the normal Victoria sponge recipe (weight of eggs, flour, butter, sugar being equal) but geared up to 'the metrics' so weights are 'rounded up'. Useful when it comes to butter as it comes in 250g packs (equivalent to 9 oz). The addition of yogurt gives a moisture texture. The recipe suggests each cake cuts into 15 squares, but we can make these these larger or smaller or even oblong or triangular if we wish.

basic traybake sponge recipe:
9 oz (250g) butter, softened
10 oz (289g) self-raising flour
9 oz (250g) caster sugar
half teaspoon baking powder
4 eggs
5 fl oz (150ml) natural yogurt
1 tsp vanilla extract
Put all the ingredients into a mixing bowl and beat well together until smooth then either bake as is (in a greased an lined 20 x 30cm tray-bake tin) at 180C, 350F, gas 4 until risen and cooked through, or continue with the variations. Oven temperature same for all (as above) but timings can vary.

Upside Down Traybake:
1 x basic traybake sponge recipe
1 tblsp caster sugar
1 tblsp flour
1 can peach slices, drained, OR...
...1 can pineapple rings, drained
Grease and line a traybake tin (as above). Mix together the sugar and flour and sprinkle this over the base of the tin. Cut the fruit into 15 pieces and place these evenly in the tin. Make up the sponge recipe then spoon this carefully into the tin, over and around the fruit, then bake for 50 mins to 1 hour until golden and risen and cooked through.
Turn out onto a flat board and cut into squares, each topped with a piece of the fruit. Can be eaten warm (with cream or ice-cream) as a dessert, or cold as we eat cake.

Mocha Traybake:
1 x traybake sponge recipe
1 tsp cocoa powder
2 tblsp instant coffee
4 fl oz (100ml) boiling water
5 oz (150g) icing sugar, sifted
12 oz (350g) soft cream cheese
Grease and line the traybake tin. Make up the coffee by dissolving the 'instant' in the hot water, then leave to cool (you could also use 4 fl oz of cold 'proper' coffee).
Make the sponge batter as per recipe, but include the cocoa and HALF the coffee before beating together. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and bake at the given temperature for 25 - 30 minutes until golden, risen and cooked through. Lightly stab top with a fork and drizzle over the remaining coffee, then leave to cool in the tin.
Mix the icing sugar into the cream cheese, then spread this over the top of the cake, dusting with a little cocoa as decoration. Cut into squares whilst still in the tin.

Bakewell Sponge:
1 x traybake sponge recipe
1 tsp almond extract
4 tblsp jam (pref blackcurrant or raspberry)
1 oz (25g) toasted almonds
icing sugar for dusting
Make the sponge batter as in the basic recipe but include the almond extract. Spoon into the prepared traybake tin and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and immediately and rapidly drizzle the jam over and scatter the almonds on top, then return to the oven and bake for 10 - 15 minutes more or until the traybake has risen, golden and cooked through. Cool in the tin and dust top with icing sugar.

There are other variations we should be able to come up with. Maybe adding some dried fruit to the cake batter, or topping with lemon curd. Or we could cut the traybake in half to sandwich together with butter cream, whipped cream or jam.
Also we could freeze the basic cooked traybake to later assemble as a 'layer cake'.

Next week will see the start of February, with our minds then turning to Pancake Day and St. Valentine's Day. It is good to have more 'traditional celebrations' to look forward to and cook for. Then we have Easter (is that early or late this year?), after that we have to make do with any warm summer weather that our climate allows us this year. It could be - going on recent past year, if we have a late Easter in 2012, we will get our April heat-wave before we've even unwrapped our Easter Eggs. After that it is down-hill (weatherwise) all the way.

Cannot believe it is past 11.30, last time I checked it wasn't yet 10.00am. Apologise for publishing late AGAIN. I can't stop 'rambling' and - at the moment - having a good old moan about 'things'. Must try to stop, think kind thoughts, put a bit of sunshine into lives etc.
Well, maybe tomorrow. Join me then to find out.