Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Simply Does It

Have to say this 'Sunday roast' challenge is proving all too easy.  No longer do I have to rack my brains to think up what to serve for B for his supper.  Nothing difficult in serving cold roast beef, or - as yesterday - using some of the left-overs minced and made into a spag.bol (I have B a choice: Cottage Pie, spag.bol, chilli con carne, or casserole).  Today will be a vegetarian dish (probably cauliflower cheese), and tomorrow probably a Chinese stir-fry, then the rest of the joint will be sliced and frozen away to make meals for later weeks. 

It seems this joint of beef is going a lot further than I expected, but after all there only two of us, even though we've both been eating the beef each day (yesterday I made myself a chilli con carne)and I'm trying to keep the servings down to the recommended 100g of meat per head.  Or less when it comes to spag.bol and chilli as I included some rich meat 'gravy' with the spag.bol, plus veggies, and B had grated Parmesan to sprinkle on top.  I had red beans with my chilli.

When it is time to cook the second half of the rump (at present in the freezer) think I might cook it like Alison did with hers - in the slow cooker, although the superb 'roast' flavour is lost when cooked like this.  On the other hand, there should be a lot less weight lost, so win some, lose some.

Perhaps your slow-cooked soups Lisa, are thinner than those cooked on the hob because there is little evaporation and maybe also you have added a 'thickener' too soon.  Cornflour (US 'cornstarch') for instance will thicken liquids, but prolonged cooking will make this break down again and the liquid becomes 'thin' again.  So always add cornflour towards the end of the cooking time.

Not sure if slow cookers have improved over the years, mine must be over 30 years old now, but it still works well.  The main problem with these cookers is that although the  toughest of meat will - with lengthy slow cooking - become meltingly tender (protein will cook at under boiling point), vegetables need a much higher heat - preferably above boiling (and why they cook better and faster when steamed).  Onions do seem to cook well in the slow-cooker, but the 'tougher' veg: carrots, potatoes, swedes etc, .can slow-cook for hours and still end up hard. 
So - if wishing to cook vegetables in the slow cooker (with or without meat), then first part-cook them, then place them on the base of the pan (or where the most heat will be),  meat will still cook perfectly when placed on top of the veg.

Think slow-cookers are going to be one of the most useful kitchen 'appliances', as not only do they use very little electricity, they also relieve us of the job of clock-watching, for once cooked, the contents of the cooker come to little harm if left to cook on for longer.  Great for people who go out to work and then stuck in a traffic jam on the return home.  Supper will still be ready and waiting to enjoy without being spoiled.

Over the next few weeks will be giving more slow-cooker recipes, nontravellingninjas, hopefully finding some vegetarian ones for you that will cook well mega-slowly.  The good thing about being vegetarian is that is generally works out much cheaper when we don't have to serve meat.  On the other hand, it can sometimes make it more difficult to reduce a food budget when meat has already been excluded. 

Well done Janet for making that Chinese meal from what you had in store.  Even better - if the take-away hadn't been closed, you would never have thought of doing it, so this particular cloud did have a silver lining as proof that you were still able to eat a Chinese meal at far less cost than if you had bought it. Better still - no money spent anyway as you already had the ingredients.  This is definitely 'food for thought' as if we can make what we might normally have bought, then let us at least have a go. 

With my quest to keep costs down, the first recipe today is vegetarian, but it doesn't have to be as it can also be a good way to use left-over cooked minced meat. Using both chickpeas AND meat (use less chickpeas and make up the shortfall with the mince) works out cheaper than using all meat. 
Chickpea 'burgers: serves 4
1 x 400g can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 small red onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed (opt)
handful fresh parsley
1 tsp each ground cumin and coriander
half tsp chilli powder
pinch of salt
2 tblsp plain flour
2 tblsp sunflower oil
Drain the rinsed chickpeas well and put them in a food processor with the onion, garlic, parsley, spices, salt, and flour.  Blitz until smooth (but coarser than a puree), then form the mixture into four 'burgers.   Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the 'burgers for 3 minutes on each side until golden.   Serve in toasted pitta breads with a green salad and tomato salsa.

Although the above are cooked and served as 'burgers, the mixture can also be rolled into small balls to make 'Falafel', and - after frying - served with a rich tomato based sauce, a bit like 'meatballs'.

Here is another recipe to make meat (this time chicken) go further, and because haricot (or similar white beans) are included in this dish, they add extra (vegetable) protein so we don't need to use too much chicken.  The original recipe did use more chicken, but my version - working on the 100g of (meat) protein per portion, the chicken and beans together provide more than our fair share. As long as the nutrition is there, then no need to spend more.  

One problem when cost-cutting, is that even though serving a nutritionally balanced meal, this could mean smaller 'helpings' that we hope for.  Most of us eat too much food because we like it, not just enough to keep ourselves alive and healthy.  My B certainly likes to see his plate full (and his plate is a meat plate - larger than a dinner plate).  The cheapest way to increase the amount served for a main course is to add extra vegetables (or rice/pasta etc). 
Once made, this dish can be frozen for up to 3 months.  Defrost fully before heating through thoroughly.
Chicken and Bean Stew: serves 4
2 tblsp sunflower oil
9 oz (250g) skinless chicken thighs, cubed
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 ribs celery, finely chopped
half tsp dried thyme or mixed herbs
1 bay leaf
1 pint (600ml) chicken or vegetable stock
2 x 400g cans haricot beans, drained and rinsed
chopped fresh parsley to serve
Put the oil in a large pan, and add the chicken.  Fry until lightly browned, then add the carrots and celery and fry for a few minutes longer before adding the herbs and stock.  Bring to the boil, then cover, reduce heat and leave to simmer for 40 minutes, then add the beans.  Bring back to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes.  Sprinkle with parsley and serve with crusty bread.

Making a list of 'things to do today' really worked well as yesterday managed to work through my list by lunchtime.  Another New Year resolution of mine is to go to bed early and then get up early - something I did yesterday, so today was up and about by 6.00am.  This has meant I've been able to write my blog and get it published well before 9.00am, leaving me the rest of the morning to do my 'chores'.  Previously it's been about 11.00 (or later) before publishing and this doesn't leave me much time to do anything before noon.

Having said that, tomorrow will be the new Norma the Hair day (9.00 appointment). But if I go to bed early again, probably will be able to write and publish before she arrives.  If not - well, back to normal and 'late again'. 

Don't know whether it's the same for all readers, but it is so much easier to get work done in the early part of the day, than later.  Myself seem to be able to accomplish five times as much during the morning than during the same amount of time in the afternoon.  I've always been like that.

Although I did bake a large loaf yesterday, that was for B.  Today will bake a brown loaf for me, and the temptation is to bake other things as well - just because I have the 'makings', but then probably there will be too many 'treats' for B (he'll eat them just because they are there), and common sense tells me to take it slowly, or at least make something that will freeze to draw upon later.  This way my stores will last that little bit longer.

B is taking the car to the garage for its MOT this morning, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the work that needs to be done will be done today.  Being without the car has been a bit of a nuisance as B has not been able to take all the rubbish to the tip as he normally does each week (B will not put the rubbish in the wheelie bins because he can't remember what goes in where - we have four bins in which to put different things - and having had the bins remain unemptied by the bin-men because the correct rubbish wasn't in them, we gave up using the bins.
Having seen the 'wheelies' emptied in our street, and how the bin men (sorry 'refuse collectors') just seem to tip the different bins in the one lorry - ending up all mixed together - am wondering why we have to sort the stuff out in the first place.   But that's how everything seems to work today - 'let's give the public more rules and regs to conform to, even when not necessary'.  At one time we had freedom of speech.  Now we have to be very careful what we say in case we upset some minority group and get hauled in front of a judge for saying what everyone thinks anyway.   Have you noticed how these 'minority's' seem to be able to say and do exactly what they want (however non-PC and derogatory) without anyone 'daring' to admonish them?  

It's nearly 8.30am and time to publish, then off to have a good tidy-up whilst B is out (easier when he is not here). As I have more time today, will probably make up a batch of scone mix, ditto crumble mix, and also grate up some cheese - all to store in the freezer.  As short of caster sugar, will whizz up some granulated in the liquidiser to make my own.
The more things I have prepared ready to draw upon, the simpler a recipe is to make.  And simple is how cooking should be.  Why make work for ourselves when we don't have to?  And I don't mean buy the ready-made (meals etc).  We must carry on cooking, but the easy way. As I do.

Hope you will be able to join me again tomorrow.  Have a good day, and keep those comments coming.  TTFN.