Saturday, February 09, 2013

Can it Be?

It goes without saying that my thoughts yesterday were on that "3 course meal to serve four for £3".  It could be done some years back, even some months back, but with continual rise in food prices I was beginning to feel I'd bitten off more than I could chew. So sat down with a pad and pencil to work out some economical dishes.
So for Debra (welcome, or is it welcome back?) and also others that have shown interest, hope that the details below will be both interesting and helpful.

Although still haven't reached my definitive menu (if there ever will be one), at least am nearly 90% of the way there, and feel it will probably be useful if I gave an idea of how my mind works when dealing with a problem such as this.

Deciding the first course should not be difficult - as was planning to serve soup - felt this should be able to be made (to serve four) for no more than 50p total.  I like to try and keep within set figures (50p, 60p, 75p, £1, according to what dish I'm hoping to make), and normally this will vary by one or two pence in either direction, but at least knowing I have a 'budget' for each course, helps me keep control (some might say 'blinkered').
Allowing 50p for the first course (give or take a few pence) was then left with £2.50 for the next two courses.

To keep as much money as possible for the main course I then thought it best to choose what dessert to make, and a really economical one is similar to Angel Delight, but  making it using the much cheaper packs of Tesco's Strawberry Whip (10p a sachet), two of these - with a pint of milk (32p - could be cheaper from other stores) would make four servings, a total of 52p max.  (If I needed to keep the price down to 50p I'd use a little less milk and make it up with water, but as it happened didn't need to do this). 
That's got rid of another 50p (give or take that penny), so approx £2 remaining to spend on the main course.

At least with my 'vegetarian' Chilli con Carne at least know where I'm going because I've made it for B and myself many times (always having at 2 portions left over to freeze, so the amount made will be adequate - in fact more than - as with a soup as starter AND a dessert (B normally is satisfied with just the chilli), no chance of anyone ending the meal still feeling they haven't eaten enough.

To make this particular chilli  I use a packet of Beansfeast's Mexican Chilli (dry mix, 99p a sachet from Morrison's), adding a can of 'value' chopped tomatoes (31p), and a can of 'value' red kidney beans (18p).  Plus water.   Total £1.48.
A good guide when using canned foods is allow one can (of anything) per person, so a can of toms, and a can of beans makes enough for 2.  But as we also have the dry mix AND water, certainly enough for four - even more.  
The Chilli could be served with pitta bread (7p each), or rice.  As Tesco's 'value' long-grain rice is only 40p a kg, this seems much the best choice, as the amount needed should not cost more than 10p to serve four once cooked.   The chilli is filling, not a lot of rice need be served. Total £1.58p.

An alternative main course could be Curried Eggs with Rice.  We know the rice is cheap enough, and Tesco's 'value' eggs are - when bought by the tray - 12p each (sometimes cheaper), so allowing 10 eggs between four (5 halves each) plus rice this totals £1.28 so we have only to find a cheap curry sauce to pour over the eggs.  We could make that ourselves from scratch if we already have all the spices.  
At one time I could buy cans of curry sauce for 4p (yes I do mean 'four pee', one of Tesco's loss leaders).  Some supermarkets may still stock cheap curry sauce at a very low price, and if reader's know of any please let us know.

At least, can confirm that it is possible - at today's prices - to make a main course to serve four for £1.58p, a dessert for  52p.  And, surprise, surprise this now leaves me with 90p to spend on the first course.  Of course I wouldn't need to use all that, but it does mean I could use a third of a pack of white or brown Tesco's bread mix (66p but using 22p worth) to bake four crusty bread rolls to eat with the soup.

Although at first thought, it could seem seem impossible to make a low cost meal these days,  the trick is to break it down into sections, understanding that three courses can work out cheaper because these 'make us feel full' more than two courses might do (and this because- it is said - that after eating for 20 minutes we feel satisfied).  Quick eaters can get through large amounts of food, slow eaters end up eating far less (those not familiar with chopsticks but having to use them, will feel very full even when only half a small portion of a Chinese meal has eventually emanaged to reach their mouths), so having three courses, and having to wait a few minutes between each serving means the 20 minutes is up often before we have reached the dessert. 

The next thing to work out is making sure that dishes served are made with inexpensive ingredients, and as even these can differ in price, when working to a set budget we need to shop around (I check prices online) to make sure I get the most for my money (as I have done with today with rice, eggs, red beans, canned tomatoes...).  The 'strawberry whip' I buy regularly anyway as it makes a quick dessert for my Beloved, and - considering the price - is pretty darn good. As is the Beanfeast Mexican Chilli, so it's not as though I'm trying to palm off pauper's meals to all and sundry.  In the Goode kitchen we do eat cheap, but we also eat well.

The cost of home-made soup can sometimes be lessened by what we can get 'for free'. Myself would go to the butchers and ask him for some the chicken carcases that he gives away to his customers (well, the ones he likes anyway), to these I would add an onion, carrot, celery (I keep the celery 'stump' to add to stock, as it has a lot of flavour but not of much use otherwise), plus a couple of bay leaves and some salt and pepper. Cover with water, simmer for a couple of hours, and end up with a pot of excellent chicken stock. The veggies could then be pureed with some of the stock to make soup, adding the bits of cooked flesh still clinging to the bones. Together these make a really good and substantial Chicken Soup, so the 'mains' would then not need to be so 'filling'.  This 'stock n'soup' is very low cost, certainly under 50p to serve four, with stock left over (maybe also cooked chicken flesh) to eat another day..

Carrots are cheap enough ('value' carrots 30p lb) so we could make plenty of carrot soup for under 50p, even allowing for a few other ingredients for seasoning/flavouring.
My favourite-soup-of-the moment (tomato and chicken, I call it 'chickato), is also cheap, and using 1 'value' can chopped tomatoes (31p), a sachet of chicken cuppa soup (20p when on offer, sometimes less), and a squirt of tomato ketchup, plus a can of extra water, this makes a thick, creamy soup (especially when blitzed and diluted, for it is very thick with lots of chunky bits of tomato in it) should serve four for not much more than 50p. 

Of course prices above are not the same in every supermarket, but on the other hand YOU could do better.  Aldi I believe sell fresh produce very cheaply at times, so we could plan our soup (or even main course) using foods bought from discount stores. The cost of a dish we make will always depend on the best bargains at the time we choose to shop.  It would be good to hear from readers who have made a main course for under £2.  Or soup for less than 50p, or a cheap dessert for 50p or less - each course to serve four.

When the costings above are reduced to price per portions (or portions),  this means the £3 three course meal works out at 75p (or less) per person.  Just seeing it in print it looks pretty impossible.  But it obviously can be done.  Times like this I surprise even myself.

It didn't take me very long to work out the above menu, probably because I've had almost half a century of doing just this: working out the cost of a meal, or  ingredients (by the oz or g).  It has become second nature and a challenge I really enjoy doing, fortunately as it's not a job that once done, stays done, for food prices keep rising all the time, but - because of the 'store wars' - it is still possible to buy many products at rock bottom prices, we just have to shop around, then plan our meals according to what can be made from the cheapest at the day of purchase (think I've just said that).

The above mini-challenge has been fun to do, and it's also unlocked my mind so that other ideas are now being thought about.  How about a 'savarin' (large) or the individual same thing (rum babas) for a pud? We'd need only half a pack of bread mix (33p as used), plus an egg....and some sugar syrup (sugar and water).  Make and bake the savarin, then - once cool - thoroughly soak it in the syrup (flavoured with rum if you have it).  This would feed 8!!

Yes, you are right. Rum is expensive so why am I even bothering to mention it.  But this and other spirits are 'free' if we request a bottle (could be rum, brandy, limoncello, kirsch, vodka...) as a birthday or Christmas gift.  Used sparingly the spirits last for ages (often a year or more), and really add a taste of luxury to a dish without it costing me or you anything extra. Let someone else fork out, I'd rather have a bottle of 'useful' booze, than a present I probably didn't like, and would never use.

It could be an expensive week coming up what with Chinese New Year on the 10th (that's tomorrow), Pancake Day on Tuesday (12th), and Valentine's Day on Thursday (14th).  Expensive only if we make it so.   Chinese meals can be some of the most inexpensive to make, so don't be lured into buying the 'banquets' on offer at the moment. 
Pancakes are cheap enough to make, and as B says, best when served with just lemon juice and sugar.  I reminded him when all four of our children were living at home, hungry teenagers, two either side of the table with B at the head, and me juggling three frying pans trying to make as many pancakes as I could so they each had one, and how ever fast I worked there was always one with an empty plate waiting for the next.  Each expected at least four pancakes, freshly made, so had to make 20, one after the other, and don't think I even bothered to make any for myself.  And yes, I could have made them earlier and kept them warm, but somehow - on Pancake Day - it's not the same, they each have to be made, served, then another made to serve to another and so on, and so on ad infinitum.
Thankfully (but also regretfully) those days are over and I have only to stand there and make pancake after pancake for just my Beloved.  Still takes time though.

As to Valentine's day, that day as well as this Sunday, B will be in Barrow (or some location yet to be told) taking part (as an 'extra') in the filming, so hope he (and daughter) will end up (both days) 'eating out'.  Saves me cooking, but even then am sure B will want a pancake whatever time he returns.
Valentines' is a two-way thing, and shouldn't always fall upon the lady to provide, so perhaps time that B did something for me rather than the other way round.  He never does, so why should I bother? 
Somehow don't think that is the right attitude.  Mary Berry seems to have the right idea, she says her husband doesn't even know how to make a cup of tea, and she's quite happy about that, seems to love caring for him.  She's nice about her husband (unlike my usual moans about B). 

But - there is a but.  Mary Berry did say her husband loves beef dripping, especially the beef jelly underneath that he loves to spread on his toast,spreading the beef jelly at the bottom on his toast (as does my B), but she says he's never going to have that (for health reasons obviously). At least I am caring enough to still make this for my B (rarely as it means buying a large joint and asked the butcher for more fat), so in a way I am being kinder to my OH than Mary is with hers, although she is doing it for the right (health) reason I suppose.  B says he'd rather die happy than live longer and do without the food he loves.

This brings me to an article read last week, all about butter and how now it is being proved to be better for us than margarine, in fact most sold today, even the 'lowering cholesterol' ones didn't come out well.   The feature also said that results are showing that having a slightly higher cholesterol than average is actually better for us than lower. 
Have kept the article to show the diabetic nurse next time I see her as she keeps saying my cholesterol should be lower, even though it is at the correct level.  It just seems that every blood pressure, cholesterol etc 'has' to be lower than the recommended level when diabetic (type 2).  As long as all my 'levels' are as recommended for a person of normal health, then I don't see why these should be bad for me.
The above is only my personal opinion, so don't any of you go and start eating the wrong things just because of what I've just said.  We each differ in the way our body absorbs nutrients, and many of us still need to take care of what we eat and how we eat.

Ending today with a couple or so very economical recipes, each would fit in to the £3 'feast for four' that I've been chatting about today, but care needs to be taken as to the other dishes, we don't want too much 'stodge' or two dishes using the same ingredients (rice for the 'mains' and rice pudding for dessert etc).

Here is a very filling pudding, that helps to fill corners if the first two courses are a bit meagre as to content.  As can serve more than four, and - if using home-baked bread etc - should cost under 50p, very well worth making during the cold winter days.
Baked Roly Poly Pudding: 4 - 6 helpings
5 oz (150g) self-raising flour
2 oz (50g) fresh white breadcrumbs
4 oz (100g) chopped beef or vegetarian suet (Atora)
water for mixing
2 tsp Demerara sugar
 jam or marmalade
Put the flour in a bowl and mix in the suet, followed by the crumbs.  Add enough cold water to mix to a light, spongy dough, then turn out onto a floured board and roll out to an oblong about 7" - 8" wide.  Spread the surface thickly with warmed jam or marmalade, then roll up.  Press the edges lightly together to seal.
To prevent the 'roll' spreading as it cooks, take a small baking tin, at least 1" deep, then butter one half of the tin and the side.  Place the suet 'roll', fold side down, tucked against the buttered side, then, when putting it into the oven, tilt the tin, tucking something under (maybe a bunch of crushed kitchen foil) so that the suet 'roll' rests in the 'v' formed by the sides and base of the tilted tin.
Bake for 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 35 - 40 minutes.   Serve as-is or with more jam, melted in a little water, to serve as a 'sauce'.

Next dish is a very traditional one, much liked even though economical.  Children love it (my B loves it).  A good way to use up bread that is becoming stale.  Depending on the size of eggs and how much is to be made, start with one egg, then use another only if necessary (purely for control of the cost - but as cheap anyway, might as well use two eggs, after all these add extra nutrition (protein) to a meal (and it doesn't matter which course, it all goes down the same way).
Poor Knights of Windsor: serves 4
1 - 2 eggs, beaten
1 - 2 tblsp milk
pinch of salt
4 slices toasting bread
Caster sugar or jam
Beat 1 egg with 1 tblsp milk and a pinch of salt and pour into a shallow dish..  Cut each slice into three thick 'fingers' (remove crusts if you wish), and lay the bread in the egg/milk. Leave for a few seconds then turn the bread over.  If you can afford to use two eggs, then leave the slices of bread in the egg until they are saturated.
Heat a little oil (with butter if you have some) in a frying pan, then fry the 'eggy bread' until golden, turning once.  Remove, using a slotted spoon and either toss in caster sugar, or spread with jam. Serve immediately. 

Although not necessarily 'cheap' (even though they are compared to those bought), this is one way to make doughnuts that does not require them being fried.  Myself use a pack of bread mix, adding a little extra yeast.
Baked Doughnuts: makes 10
1 x 500g pack white bread mix
6 oz (175g) caster sugar
1 tsp instant yeast
1 egg, beaten
4 fl oz (120ml) milk (pref semi-skimmed)
5 fl oz (150ml) hot water
jam (pref strawberry)
4 tblsp caster sugar
half tsp ground cinnamon
Put the bread mix in a bowl with 2 oz (50g) of the sugar (placing the rest of the sugar in a shallow dish, with the cinnamon), then mix in the yeast. Make a well in the centre and add the beaten egg.  Mix together the milk and the hot water (it should then end up 'hand hot') and pour this into the well, then mix everything together to make a soft dough.
Turn out onto a floured board and knead the dough until smooth and elastic (takes about 8 minutes). Divide into 20 equal portions, then roll each into rounds.  Arrange on a greased baking tray, leaving plenty of space between to allow for rising (you may need 2 trays).  Cover loosely with cling-film and leave in a warm place until almost doubled in size (takes about 45 minutes).
Bake for 12 - 15 minutes at 220C, 425F, gas 7 until risen and golden.  Then leave to cool.
Make a slit in each doughnut as far as the centre, then - preferably using a piping bag or syringe (or even use a spoon, push in 1 teaspoon of jam into the centre of each doughnut.  To complete: brush each doughnut with water, then roll in the dish of sugar and cinnamon.

That's it for today, am hoping that my 'cheap feast' suggestions are understandable and also appetising enough for you to wish to have a go.  Or - even better - make up your own budget meal, then share the details with us.
Snow is forecast for our area tomorrow, not sure if Morecambe will get any of it, but maybe B will need to take care, especially if he plans to reach Ravenglass via Hardnott Pass.  We've been that way many times in the past and well remember 'Rhino's Bottom'.  It was many years before I realised my mistake and the spelling was 'Wrynose Bottom'.  Prefer my version.

It must be very hard for foreigners to learn our language for so many words sound the same but spelt differently (bough, bow...), and others look the same but sound different.
It was when we had German students to stay that I, myself, got mixed up.  They showed me their book of 'past and present words' and all seemed clear until I came to 'wind and wound'.  I said'"what has 'wind'(pronouncing it  'winned' - thinking it meant a breeze, or gale) to do with 'wound' (pronouced 'wooned' - as when cut myself)?  They fell about laughing for the words in their book stood for 'wind' (pronounced 'whined'), as winding a ball of wool, or a stairs winding upwards, and 'wound'(pronounced 'wowned'), as 'the wool has been wound'.

Many of our words can only be pronounced/understood) correctly when read in context with other words.  We do this automatically I suppose, but I've always great respect for all foreigners who speak English (with or without an accent) as most of us would find it almost impossible to learn some of their languages, at least to speak it as fluently as they do ours.
Perhaps it is because we expect everyone to learn our language that we don't bother enough with others, French and German probably the only others taught in our schools today, and possibly not now even German, although I have read that Chinese may soon become our 'second language' due to the 'need to converse'' for trade purposes.

"Stop rambling Shirley and - for goodness sake - sign off" (this the plea of you all no doubt), so had better take my leave before you decide to switch off.  Hope you will return tomorrow, and - as ever - a request to keep those comments coming.  Back again tomorrow, probably after Gill has phoned, so late start again.  But not necessarily if I get up early enough.  TTFN.