Friday, January 11, 2013

Read the Labels

Computer seems to have speeded up a bit this morning, maybe because I switched the gas fire on prior to starting.  Did read somewhere that cold sometimes slows down electrical things.  On the other hand, whether it has anything to do with or not, whenever it is cold and frosty outdoors, the picture on our TV is much sharper (almost High Definition) than when the weather is warmer.

Thanks for your comments.  Good to hear Sue that my gut instinct was right about medical practices receiving extra funding when they have diabetic patients, and that they are paid extra when prescribing statins.  Who knows, there might soon be an 'industry' who pays doctors to remove 'parts' from people (unnecessarily) just so they can sell them off to implant in someone else.   Or is that already being done in some areas of the globe?  Have a 'gut feeling' it might be.

So pleased your beans turned out well Kathryn.  If they have turned out to be slightly undercooked, they can be cooked on further when being reheated.  Have read - and myself found - that when on a fairly constant diet of foods that cause 'wind', our bodies then become used to the fibre and 'wind' is no longer a problem.   So previously you may already have been eating plenty of fibre, and have got passed that stage, so the beans will have no 'windy' effect.  Who cares anyway?

Think I now do remember the 'doughballs', now that I know they were really called 'dumplings' Moira, but unfortunately still can't remember the recipe.  Do know that some readers  have kept this particular supplement of the Family Circle (published - I think - in the 80's?), so perhaps they might be able to send us the recipe.

The article of how to save money on shopping Anne, was - I believe - one in the Family Circle that was published a few months after the one mentioned above.  It was called something like "How to save £500 a year".   Several readers wrote back to say how they had managed to save this much and more after reading then following the 'how to'(and considerate enough to thank me) , but there were others who said I didn't know what I was talking about as they could already spend less - and told me how much better they did it, but in every case those who criticised me grew their own produced on allotments or had an AGA cooker that both heated the house and cooked the meals (one person just lived on a pot of minced beef and veg she kept hot on her stove throughout the week. And many kept chickens for both eggs and for killing (old birds) for meat. Some had the lot.

Thing is, when writing any suggestions as to how to save money, with me it has to be set at a level obtainable by most of the population, otherwise it is not fair.  Of course there are people who can grow their own food, have constant - almost free - heat and fuel for cooking, especially if they have trees on their land, or who live in the country near a wood. Naturally they will spend less than others.  Unfortunately there will also always be people who are worse off - with perhaps not even a windowsill that gets the sun, so not even able to grow a pot of herbs, but even with the worst circumstances there are ways to improve things, but myself would need to have a one-to-one chat with the individual to offer any practical suggestions.  No two people live the same way, and what suits one would not suit another.   All I can do with my blog is generalise, but always, ALWAYS, ready to help with useful advice (as long as I know it), when a reader has a 'need to know'.

Returning to yesterday's mention of wartime, surprisingly we can still find products on sale today that almost fit into the food rationing of those years.  Not all the time, but more often that we think.  This came to mind yesterday when our daughter dropped in around lunch-time.  After suggesting she stopped for lunch, she chose just 'soup and toast'.  My B then decided to have some too, so as time was a bit limited, I decided to open a 400g (14 oz) can of Beef and Vegetable Broth - this would be a large helping for one, or two - more normal - smaller ones.  To make it feed two medium to large helpings I added half a can more of water and a packet of Oxtail cuppa soup to help thicken it slightly more and improve the 'beef' flavour.   This really worked well, and - with the toast - was told it make a good and satisfying lunch.

Whilst heating the soup, and before I put the can in the (correct) waste bin, I removed the label. Then sat an read it. The ingredient list - the ingredients shown, as always with the 'most first, least last' - was almost a 'recipe' in its own right, so I thought I'd see just how much of everything (especially the beef) was included in the broth. Then perhaps next time would be able to make a similar soup myself from scratch.

The can weight was - as I said - 400g, and although the weight of every ingredient was not given, some were.  Here is the list...take a note of the percentages shown as I've also shown these as metric weights:
Beef and Vegetable Broth (400g, 89p can):
Water, Tomatoes, Carrots 10% (40g) , Potatoes 10% (40g), Beef 6% (24g), Haricot Beans, Pearl Barley, Maize Starch, Beef Fat, Sugar, Yeast Extract, Salt, Parsley, Concentrated Carrot Juice, Coriander Leaf, Flavouring, Vegetable Oil, Black Pepper, Paprika Extract, Ground Coriander, Citric Acid. 

Obviously more weight of water than anything else, so this is the predominant ingredient, followed closely by tomatoes.  Carrots and potatoes are the more solid 'main' ingredients (even then less than 2 oz per can), and the Beef content less than 1 oz.  Strictly speaking, usually the heaviest (most used) ingredient would be given as the first name, so shouldn't this be sold as 'Vegetable and Beef Broth" instead of the other way round? Certainly the weight of ingredients would match a wartime recipe for the same soup.  If we choose to follow the list, remembering that there will be less weight of the other ingredients as we work our way through, in many cases just a 'pinch',  when making the soup at home we probably would prefer to omit some, however always a guide as quite a few do add a good amount of flavour, and - as we know - the better the flavour, the more we enjoy a meal..   

Maybe this is a good time to reconsider both the nutritional and cost of the manufactured products we do buy.  We expect a good brand of soup to be a meal in its own right, or at least make us a 'light lunch/supper' with the addition of some crusty bread or toast, and generally they do.   Possibly the chunkier soups/broth are satisfying enough to be a meal in their own right, but when reading labels we can now see they really don't contain THAT much food compared to the amount we might ourselves use when making something similar..   Certainly if we stuck to the above ingredient list, it would cost us a great deal less to make from scratch than when buying it read-made in a can.  So - as always - we are paying far too much for convenience.  We may even be using more ingredients when we make our own than we really need (as fuel for our bodies), and still it works out cheaper.

Yesterday it was good to be able to instantly open a can, as my daughter did not have time to wait for me to make soup from scratch (did offer to cook an omelette but given the choice she preferred soup).  From now on think I'll leave enough freezer space for me to make my own 'broths', and freeze them away in single or double portions so all I have to do is defrost (in the microwave) and re-heat (microwave or on the hob).

I'm now removing labels from any canned soups that I enjoy (and there are several - particularly Mulligatawny, Minestrone, Pea and Ham, Lentil and Bacon, Tomato with Chilli....).  I'll keep the labels, then it shouldn't be difficult to use the ingredient list as a guide to make my own to freeze. But then I have a huge cookery book with nothing in it but hundreds of recipes for soup, so perhaps I'll make use of that as well.

During the war, cooks had to invent their own versions of 'what used to be' - but now longer was able to be made due to lack of the necessary.  Some of these recipes work quite well today, and here is one using 'mock-sausage meat', to make sausage rolls that contain very little meat, so worth making (perhaps half the amount) so that we can get a true taste of 'how we ate then'.  Who knows, we might even like to make improvements by varying the other ingredients using products that are now available but weren't during the war (certain herbs, spices etc).  Canned baked beans are made using haricot beans, so perhaps we could use these instead, the tomato flavour adding that little extra 'something'.  We might perhaps include a whole rasher of bacon instead of just using the fat.  Glaze with beaten egg instead of milk... but still keeping the 'austerity'.  The pepper in those days would white, not the ground black that most of us use today. 
Imitation Sausage Rolls: makes 20
4 oz (100g) cooked haricot beans
2 oz (50g) cold cooked meat
fat from 1 rasher of bacon
sage leaves, finely chopped
1 lb (450g) shortcrust pastry
salt and pepper
Mince the cooked haricot beans, meat and bacon fat together, and season with salt, pepper, and the herbs. Mix everything together well, then form into 3 long sausages. each about 14in in length.
Divide dough into three, then roll out each piece into a strip long enough and wide enough to completely wrap and cover each 'sausage'.  Place the 'sausagemeat' onto the pastry and brush the long edges of pastry with milk before sealing together.  If you wish brush the rolled pastry with more milk (to 'glaze') then bake at 180C, 450F, gas 4 for 20 minutes, then slice each into smaller 'sausage rolls'.

With fish being scarce during the war years (many fishermen were called to serve in the navy),  sea fish was still caught by older local fishermen, but normally in small amounts, bought and eaten by those fortunate to live close to the sea.  People who lived inland were lucky to get any fish at all.  What was available to them was was often whale meat or 'snoek', both horrible and not worth eating.

Here is a recipe that was in Ambrose Heath's 'More Kitchen Front Recipes', and much better than many 'vegetarian' fish substitutes around at that time.  Again you might like to try it.  In fact feel that we should all have a go at cooking wartime recipes so that we can appreciate more what we have now, and also realise how lucky we are to still have such a choice.  

Mock Fish: serves 2 - 3
half pint milk (300ml)
2 oz (50g) ground rice
1 tsp chopped onion or leek
a knob of margarine (size of a walnut)
anchovy essence (to give flavour, but optional)
1 egg, beaten
handful of breadcrumbs
Put the milk in a pan and bring to the boil.  Add the ground rice, onion, margarine, and anchovy essence (if using). Leave over low heat to simmer gently for 20 minutes, then remove from heat and stir in the egg.  Mix well together, then transfer to a flat dish, spreading the mixture out to about 8" (20cm) in diam.  Cut into pieces the size and shape of fish fillets, then brush each will milk and roll in breadcrumbs.    Fry until golden brown, and serve with parsley sauce.

Those of us familiar with Italian cookery will have realised that there is some similarity to 'polenta' once the above mixture has been cooked.  The difference being is that polenta is made using ground maize (cornmeal) whilst the above uses ground rice.  Something very similar could be made using semolina as the 'thickener'.
Polenta - made and eaten by Italians for generations - once cooked and thickened, is normally spread out onto a baking sheet to cool, then be cut into squares or oblongs, then often fried.  So nothing really different in what was cooked 'then' as is cooked 'now', other than today we would never now dream of disguising this as 'fish'.  Maybe, adding the anchovy essence when making polent could end up as worth making to incorporate into a 'today's polenta-based' dish.  That's how 'new' recipes get 'invented'.  As I said yesterday - nothing really 'new' about any recipes, all we see now are just different ways of making and serving what was originally a very basic dish.

Thinking about, even trying to live on wartime rations should at least prove to all of us that we don't really need to eat as much food as we do in this 21st century, and when we begin to eat less, this naturally reduces our food budget.  As a bonus we would probably become even healthier.  More than a win-win situation this time.

Yesterday's newspaper gave shocking headlines - "We throw away half the food we buy" (or similar wording.  Seems that this is true (if you count the mis-shapes that supermarkets won't buy and these then get ploughed back into the fields). 
It's an odd thing about mis-shapes.  My last organic veggie box contained both parsnips and carrots that were VERY mis-shaped, liked pairs of fingers, almost impossible to peel.  Certainly these would never reach as supermarket, even as the cheaper 'grade 2' (grade 2 are just as good as the more expensive grade 1 which tend to be  perfect 'clones'), the second grade vary in length and shape.

Many consumers certainly waste about a third of the food they purchase - due it says to buying too much (obvious!), and also the Bogofs that we don't really need (well I'm happy with Bogofs as long as these are something that we normally eat, and particularly if the 'freebie' can be frozen).  Thing is that if I - and many readers - never throw food away, if the  'average' family wastes a third, then this means that many others must throw away at least half, or even more.

Those 'dates' on packaging are also a reason why food is binned. People are afraid to use anything past its given date when certainly many foods are edible for days longer.  We have to understand there is always has to be a level of 'safety' for not everyone is sensible enough to dash home with the shopping and get food stored in the fridge (when necessary).  Some people go to the supermarket on a very hot day (not that we get many of those), put their purchases in the warm boot of their car, then maybe go somewhere else before returning home.  Maybe then unloading onto the kitchen table and not putting the food away immediately.   Very necessary then to make sure the food is eaten by the due dates on the packaging.

Those of us who keep a cool bag in the car to store the chilled/frozen foods, then immediately return and place said foods in fridge/freezer can usually guarantee the food to last a little longer than the given date.  Keep the fridge set to 5C (less if poss), and the freezer to - 18C, then this allows even longer storage.  But - as always - if in doubt, stick to the dates.  Like AWT  says, the best test to see if a food is still fit to eat is 'sniff and taste'.  Normally this works, but there are some foods - like cream cheese, yogurts etc (especially if the pack has been opened), that should be used by their given date.   What I'm hoping to do is suggest how to prevent wastage.

When it comes to 'best-before' dates, these normally can be ignored.  All the dates mean is what it says...the contents of tins and packets are at their best until the given date, after that they will slowly deteriorate.  Often taking months to get to a point when they are not worth using.  It's been proved that canned goods have a much longer shelf-life than that given.  How can the contents change if no air can get to them?  Just make sure that cans are not dented (normally safe when sold as such) in case the can in punctured, and discard any tins that are 'blown', as this does mean the contents have gone bad.

Because so many canned products do have a good shelf-life, wonder if they are date-stamped in the hope that when we find any out-of-date on our shelves, we will then bin them, so have to go and buy more to replace?  Another form of unnecessary waste leading to manufacturers making more profit.  Maybe so.

Just please remember these are my own opinions and not necessarily correct. It is always best to be on the safe side when it comes to dates (esp the 'use-by' ones), and just because I choose to ignore many dates, doesn't mean this is the right thing to do.  We should all use common sense. All I can say is - after eaten many chilled foods well after their given date, am still here to tell the tale.  This means I've maybe made the fatal error of trusting my 'gut feeling', and just been lucky, so what's the odds that I soon will be laid up with food poisoning (or worse) purely because that packet of cream cheese had been kept one day too long. 

Right, have had my say about all sorts of things today - reading labels to use as 'recipes', realising that wartime rations were not that bad after all, and making sure we buy only the food we need so we have none to waste.  Does any of it make any sense?  For that matter is there anyone out there who even cares what I have to say? 

If just one reader manages to cut her costs and end up eating better meals, purely through following hints and tips on this blog, then my 'raison d'etre tree' has born fruit.  My hope is that if we all share our triumphs - and even failures - through the comments box, this will bring us together to form a band of serious cost-cutters who are then able to keep improving our lives and by doing so find we worry less about rising costs and anything else the current financial and national situation throws at us.   'Eating for comfort' has always been the easiest way to cheer ourselves up, and luckily we home-cooks can always find a way to do this without eating unhealthily and breaking the bank.  
There are other ways to save money tham just the what we buy and cook, but that is another story, to be told another day.  So watch this space.

The forecast is several places in the UK is that we will shortly have some snow, blown in from the east.  When the rain coming in from the west hits this, more snow will fall.   So could this be a good time to start making soup? 

Am now off into the kitchen to do a bit of 'larder sorting' and maybe make a Flapjack.  My Beloved is (hopefully) bringing me an electric hand mixer to replace the one that 'died' (his Christmas present to me).  Have also asked him to bring me a portable digital radio so that I have 'company' when in the kitchen.  Am far more likely to enjoy my cooking when I have something to listen to.  It is lonely in the kitchen here in Morecambe, especially as there are no windows where I sit and work.  Even watching the birds and squirrels in the garden (through the window in front of me when I sit and write) is seeing living things, and these help to lighten my life (B doesn't count, and he doesn't give off much light at the best of times, especially in the kitchen!).

At least the cold weather is making me feel more energetic (it always does - have a feeling that there truly is Viking blood in me), so am raring to go.  B has gone out and when he returns can get back to whipping the cream that is in the fridge (probably now out of date, but still unopened so almost certainly still fit to use, our fridge being set at 3C!!) and make ice-cream or another dessert that can be frozen.
More from me tomorrow when another weekend begins.  Doesn't time fly?  Hope you find time to join me.  See you then.