Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Beating the System

It took quite some time to copy out my food purchases from a statement of 12 months back.  It wasn't much fun and I kept muttering to myself "people get PAID for doing this".   However - it was worth doing as it showed interesting results. 
At the time of the statement used, many foods were on offer, and as I used money-off vouchers, the cost (in money paid) was only half of the full price of the foods on sale.  But that is not the issue, what I needed to know was is there was any difference between the price then - and now.

Tesco statements are useful for they show the full price of each produce. We can see what products are on offer, these reductions taken off the total (full) price on the statement. so by just 're-ordering' the same things yesterda, was able to compare prices.

Of course there were several increases, but surprisingly - many items are now slightly cheaper. This week iceberg lettuce was the same price as last year but this week a  real snip as it was 'buy one get one free (BOGOF). In other words, each half-price if we buy two.
Cheese seem to be the item that has increased so much it is almost unbelievable.  But there again, when on offer still reasonable in price (and certain brands of cheese are regularly on offer).

If I had ordered the same foods this week, I'd have had to pay £11.16p more than this time last year, but this isn't quite the whole picture as there don't seem to be as many on offer this time as previously, so the reductions would have been less - meaning the difference between the actual amount charged would have this time been more.

Milk has gone up from £1.18p to £1.29p for 4 pints, and although sardines were not on the list, did notice the cheaper 'Tesco' brand that I normally buy has risen to 55p a can (for ages these were 35p, then last year rose to around 45p, and now another hike).

It's going to take me some time, but I'll be gathering up all my statements from the past 3 years then write down each product, with columns at the side to give the price charged every six months.  This should then make it easy for me to see when there is a rise or maybe even a fall.  When the price has risen, from now on I wait until the product is on offer.  If the price has fallen, then a good time to buy.

Some foods are almost never reduced in price, and when these become a mite too expensive, then I will probably a cheaper brand, or just stop buying altogether.
Have myself found that when it comes to baked beans, some of the cheaper varieties are just as good (well, almost) as good as the top brands.  We can always stir in a bit of curry paste, Tabasco, or brown sauce to lift the flavour of the beans, and then we'd never realise we started of 'with the cheap'.

On thing I used to do with our favourite Nescafe Original instant coffee was to buy a really cheap 'own-brand instant', and two parts of Nescafe with one part of the cheap coffee.  Almost undetectable when drunk, and it certainly saved quite a few pennies.  At the moment Nescafe is usually to be found reduced in price (the 200g jars on offer at the moment).  We still have several of the 300g jars in store (bought when these were '50% extra free'), so no need to buy more at the moment.  We like our coffee fairly weak, so one jars lasts us for ages. 

Our Sunday lunch jane was - this last weekend - vegetable soup made with chicken stock, this to ease B's cold.  Have to say the soup was wonderful, and we both finished it off yesterday for lunch. Later that day our Monday supper was - in a way - following the old tradition of using up the joint, but a week late this time as some of the left-over beef was minced and - with onion and gravy - made into two individual Cottage pies (topped with 'instant' mash), enough for both of us.  Still more of the cooked beef left, this has been frozen.

It didn't take more than a week for me to realise that we can still have a 'Sunday roast' (but not every weekend) and freeze the surplus rather than being bored with having to eat up the left-overs during the week.  Meals are much more interesting (both for the cook and the one who eats it) when each day a dish (and meat used) is completely different to the one served the day before. 
Today will be serving chicken, probably one thick (pre-frozen) chicken breast, sliced in half,  then each half bashed thinly, folded round a pat of garlic butter (have a roll of this in the freezer), then egged and crumbed (double-dipped), to make each of us a Chicken Kiev.  Served with baby 'new' potatoes and peas.

My intention was to buy a whole chicken for roasting this last weekend, but decided against as I already have chicken in the freezer, and the idea (in part) is to use up what I have, not add more. 

Was sorry to hear about your freezer shutting down jane, and a reminder that most house policies cover the cost of frozen food that is lost when a freezer breaks down.  Our newest freezer has this included in the warranty.  A loss of just a few pounds (££s) of food is not worth claiming for as most household policies pay up only if the amount claimed is (say) over £50.  Insurance that comes with a freezer probably would pay up for less.
As insurance companies like to know what food has been lost, preferably see it I suppose, it is best to take a photo of the thawed food, and then phone them immediately and tell them, in which case they may accept the photo and tell you to get rid of the 'spoiled' food (although some of it am sure we could cook and eat, and we should not then claim for that).

You are quite right Jane W, the larger packs are not always good value.  Believe now it is common practice (maybe the law) to put the price per 100g in small print on the ticket (at the front of the shelf )- where the main price is also shown. We should then be able to check which works out the cheapest to buy.  Not all are packed at the same weight even though the containers look identical.

But this all takes time, and something we really shouldn't have to do, but - unlike the old days when all foods had a set price, and sold at this in every shop - now we have to make our own checks for although supermarkets are supposed to conform to 'rules', many still charge more for 'bulk purchases' when they should charge less.  

We 'consumers' now have to treat shopping for food as though we run our kitchen like a business. This is something a good chef would do anyway - have to shop around to buy the best produce at the cheapest possible price, but that is part of the job - that they get paid for.  For us home-cooks it is a labour of love, unpaid, and I doubt very much that our family (esp partners) realise just how much work it now takes us to keep the wolf from the door.  On the other hand, running my 'kitchen' in a professional (business-like) way really helped me not only control my spending, but also improve the way I cook ('role-play' chef and you will see what I mean).

Do hope that you are able to get through the month living off your 'stores' Janet for it sounds as though January will be an expensive time for you.  If it is any comfort, being 'forced' to make do with what we've got often gives us that spark of creativity that we would never have made use of had we been able to carry on normally.  I wouldn't be sitting here now spouting forth about the many different ways we can save if I hadn't run out of money altogether.  That has to be the best thing that ever happened to me. 

In reply to an 'Anonymous', a couple of times I was asked by Woman's Own to send them my cost-cutting recipes for them to print (one was a pull-out supplement) but unfortunately cannot remember that recipe for 'doughballs'.  Doubt any reader has seen or even kept said features, so unless I can find them stuffed away in one of my many files, won't be able to help. If I knew what they were served with, or any other details, that might trigger my memory. 

So pleased Margie that you are able to watch the episodes of 'Wartime Farm'.  I have fallen in love with Peter Gill (is that his name?).  He is my type of man!   There was a new 'extra' episode shown recently: 'Wartime Farm Christmas' so hope you get to see that too. 
Memories of wartime came flooding back when I saw the series, it was exactly like that, right down to the clothes, food, sticky tape on windows and that dreadful siren we hear at the start - this still brings shivers down my spine.
Although many country folk were more fortunate than 'townies', due to them being able to have more 'free' food (rabbits, birds, river fish, and garden veg), on the other hand there was far less chance to get the canned foods (sold on the points system) as by the time they had walked or cycled to the shops (petrol being rationed), most 'townies' had already queued up early in the day and bought all there was on sale at that time.

How I envy your 2p tubs of cream Eileen, and flavoured too!  Just goes to show that there are still plenty of bargains to be had if we are in the right place at the right time.  Unfortunately I am rarely anywhere at the right time/place.   However, think I might try and persuade B to take me to Morrison's late one afternoon to see if we can find a bargain or two.  Our evenings are usually very routine:  supper, then watching TV, and neither B nor I would feel it is worth missing our 'soaps' to save just a few pennies.  Personally, I'd rather starve!  Mind you - if things got so difficult that we needed to save every penny, then perhaps TV would come second. 

Continuing the theme of 'cooking in a crock-pot', the recipe today is vegetarian and although could easily be made in a frying pan on the hob, this would entail constant stirring, this being something we may feel not like doing when we come in from work.  What we hope to have is a meal ready for us to eat, and this slow-cooked risotto needs no stirring at all.
Use different herbs if you wish (thyme or marjoram/oregan work well), and you could use a different bean.  Use creme fraiche or Quark instead of the mascarpone.  If you can't get quick-cook risotto rice, then use the ordinary, but allow longer time for it to become 'al dente'. 
Rosemary Risotto with Borlotti Beans: serves 3
1 x 14oz (400g) can borlotti beans, rinsed and drained
half oz (15g) butter
1 tblsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 - 2 cloves garlic, crushed
4 fl oz (100ml) white wine
8 oz (225g) easy-cook risotto (Italian) rice
1.25 pints (750ml) boiling vegetable stock
4 tblsp (60ml) mascarpone cheese
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
2 oz (50g) grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
Put 2/3rds of the beans into a food processor and blitz to a coarse puree.  Put the remaining beans into a bowl and leave to use later.
Heat the butter and oil in a pan and gently fry the onion for about 7 minutes until softened, then add the garlic and fry for a further minute.  Transfer to the ceramic slow-cooker pot and stir in the wine and the pureed beans.  Cover and cook on HIGH for 1 hour.
Add the rice to the pot, and stir in the stock.  Cover and cook for about 45 minute, stirring halfway through cooking.  By then the rice should be almost tender ('al dente') with most of the liquid absorbed.
Stir in the reserved beans, mascarpone, and rosemary, re-cover and cook for a further 15 minutes until the rice is tender, but still has a bit of 'bite', then stir in the Parmesan, adding seasoning to taste. Switch off the slow-cooker, but cover the dish and leave to stand for about 5 minutes to allow the rice to absorb all the flavours and complete its cooking.
If the ceramic dish is removable, then take it directly to the table for serving, otherwise spoon the contents into a warmed dish -  then serve immediately.  If you wish you could sprinkle extra Parmesan on top (opt).

Perhaps we all have our 'favourites' when it comes to shopping.  We have only to look at the amazing selection of cereals or biscuits on sale in the supermarkets to realise that we probably always choose the same (often no more than two different ones).  So as prices rise it could be a good time to consider eating something different, or at least the same thing but adding a bit of DIY. It is cheaper for us to cook (after soaking) dried beans than buy them ready canned.   Mushy peas are also cheap to make ourselves.  Both can be frozen after cooking.   Incidentally, after an initial 10 minute fast boil on the hob (important to do this to get rid of toxins), beans can then be transferred to a slow cooker and cooked for several hours on LOW (overnight if you wish), and will be beautifully tender. 
I always soak/cook a whole pack of beans/peas and once they are ready, drain well, and - with the beans - add a drizzle of oil and then toss, this helps to prevent them sticking together.  If you have a large freezer, then spread the cooked beans out on baking sheets, in a single layer if possible.  Once frozen then they should be able to bagged up as 'free-flow', so can be put into one container, then remove as few as you need.    If you have only a small freezer, then bag up in small amounts.

Am hoping that working out the difference in food prices (mentioned above) has shown that it's not all doom and gloom.  With the supermarkets fighting each other for our custom, we are still on the winning side for there will always be plenty of offers in each store to tempt us.  All we need to do is wait until what we want is on offer, and then pounce.
The good thing about this is that although the 'offer' may not be in our normal store the same week, we have only to wait for 'as sure as eggs is eggs' our store will then drop the price the following week to match.  That seems to be the way it works anyway.

Myself find the easiest way to keep control of my food budget is to work out what I need, type the on-line order and then see how much it comes to.  If it is over budget, then I remove items and substitute a cheaper brand (maybe baked beans, cheese, butter, flour....) or just do without that month (usually I have some still in the larder anyway).  There is always something else we can use.

It's surprising how little oil I use these days, this because I save all the fat that leaches out of sausages when they are oven-cooked.  Bacon fat also saved.  Chicken fat ditto (each in separate pots).  Yes I KNOW these are 'saturated fats', but as both B and I seem to be able to keep our cholesterol at the recommended level (and eating porridge helps to keep this low),  feel that using just a little of the saved fat for frying is OK.    I also use this fat for greasing baking tins when baking savoury filled pies. 

That has to be it for today as there is much I hope to accomplish in the kitchen, and if I don't start now, it may never get done.
Hope to meet up with you all again tomorrow.  Have a good day (we are supposed to have good weather/high pressure but so far today is turning out very dull and overcast AND it is raining!). TTFN.