Monday, February 11, 2013

Counting the Cost

Having yesterday to myself certainly got my little grey cells working, and with no reason to stop what I was doing (reading/watching TV/thinking...) managed to come up with interesting ideas anthoughts.

As was not able to watch Food and Drink first time round, watched the repeat, and always a delight to watch Michel Roux Jnr with his obvious love of (all) food.  Saw a dish of mealworms being sampled, and this led to a natter about different foods eaten by different cultures.  It was good to hear M.Roux say that horsemeat is eaten in France (because actually it is a very good and tender meat, it's just we don't like to think of eating these handsome creatures). Still eaten abroad, the concern today is because it has now been found in processed products when it shouldn't have been there, the main concern being that horses not fit for human consumption (due to being given certain drugs) got into this (illegal) food chain.   With some processed meals now found to contain 100% horsemeat when it should have been beef, means that we could all have been eating horse for ages without realising it.
What did cause my eyebrows to shoot to the top of my head was when I heard Roux Jnr say "in Italy, salami is made from dog".  Did I hear this right?  Could this be so?  When I mentioned it to B, he said in China, people do eat dogs.  Again a cultural thing?  Have to say although I would happily eat horsemeat, think from now on will give salami a miss and stick to chorizo.

The subject of cuts of meat came up, how everyone tends to choose the leaner, quick-to-cook cuts, which means there is such a lot more of the animal that people tend to dismiss.  We know about - and use - the cheaper cuts, but what about the heart, brains, lungs...? All edible.  Perhaps we should think a bit more about using offal such as this.  Many chefs do cook these to serve in restaurants, and what is good enough for their customers should be good enough for us.

My thoughts then were led on to what I said yesterday "would it be possible to serve 'gourmet food' to four guests for that £3 I'd suggested?", and as I was also able to watch a repeat of the final day of Best British Chef was able to see it was again more to do with the presentation and skills of the chef, and not a lot to do with the expense.  Certainly not a lot to eat served on each plate, proving to me that when it comes to entertaining, it is more to do with a cook's skills than the cost.

From then on it was really easy to come up with many inexpensive suggestions for 'posh nosh' that could be served, and possibly three courses ending up costing LESS than £3.  For remember, this time we need not be concerned with the nutritional side, just the 'balance'.
But more on that once I've had my say about other things.

In the Sunday supplement to our paper there was the usual 'cooks' test' where each week a certain food is bought from five or so several different stores then rated from worse to best. This week it was about Macaroons.
You may remember me recently giving an easy recipe to make these (turn out as good as when made the classic way), which cost relatively very little when we use 'deliberately saved' egg whites.  Get ready for a shock!
The cheapest macaroons were £6.80 for 7 (nearly £1 each), and the second best £22.70 for 12 (nearly £2 each).  The winning macaroons priced at £14.70 for 8 (again nearly £2 each).  Remember this is for EACH macaroon.   Possibly something to make and serve at the end of that dinner party?

Surprisingly the winners had fewer flavours than did the second, which shows we don't have to go overboard when trying to compete.  Favoured flavours were vanilla, pistachio, raspberry, and caramel - all within our capabilities.  The more extreme (that came second) included these but also liquorice, mango, and grapefruit.

It was also good to read that although the best did not look quite as 'perfect' as the second, they were 'smooth and crisp outside, with a soft and chewy centre', and there was me thinking that they should be crisp throughout and mine always ended up crisp on the outside with a 'soft and chewy centre'.  So I got it right without realising it.  Good for me!!

Two comments to reply to:
Thanks Carol for telling me about difficulties with blogger/photos, and I'll need to get my grandson to show me how to sort it out via Google as I'm so computer illiterate I just wouldn't know where to start and probably end up making things worse (as so often happens - it's a wonder I can still keep reaching my blog page I've had so many problems with it recently).

Hope by now you and your family Lisa, are feeling much better after your bout of 'almost flu'.  When you mentioned that people don't normally cost out the meals they make, feel that this is much the same over here (maybe all over the world?), and possibly this is why my type of cooking proved interesting when first demonstrated (late 79's an onwards).   I've never seen anyone do the same on TV other than in 'Daily Cook's Challenge' when two chefs were allowed a set amount of money (50p, £1...up to £5) changing the amount each day of the week, then had to make a 1 portion serving spending no more than this amount.  They were allowed four or five items from the larder (oil, flour, spices and suchlike) that they didn't need to cost in.
The costings were shown - to the penny - but unfortunately the chefs often used only part of some food or other (like a quarter of an avocado becasue that's all they could afford), that didn't seem quite fair (always asking myself what happened to the remaining three-quarters?).

When I cost, I aim to use only 'parts' of foods when the left-overs can be kept safely (fridge or freezer) for a day or two to be used later.  As I always say, 'never any waste in the Goode kitchen'.

So yesterday - when it comes to my 'gourmet meal' - I had a really lovely time dreaming up a menu, with the aim being more to use up what I had and then buy very little.  This would allow me a little lee-way when it comes to the actual cost for then hope that some ingredients (like home-made beef or chicken stock) would be allowed to be treated as 'free'.   If so, then I'd begin the meal with a soup, but not your ordinary soup - this would be the 'posh' consomme (just a good home-made beef or chicken stock clarified - this is where the cook's skills come in).  As you know I cook cheap cuts of beef in water in the slow-cooker for hours, then add more beef to the meaty stock, and then maybe when that is cooked, add more, and end up with a couple of pints of extremely well flavoured stock (usually frozen in small containers to add to casseroles etc) - some of which would be used for the makings of my consomme. 
Stock can be cleared using egg shells (another freebie) to make a consomme, so you could say the first course is almost free.  Certainly under the 50p I'd set myself for the 'family feast'.

Instead of soup there could be a 'starter' of a pate (chicken liver, cheese, mushroom, ham, salmon...). Chicken livers are VERY cheap, and the other pates could be made from 'scraps'.  All we need to then make is a little Melba toast to go with.   If the 'consomme' was almost free, then this could open the doors to a FOUR course meal, a starter followed by soup.....!!!

Main course should look extremely attractive (as should all courses) and doesn't have to be a huge plateful.  My suggestion would (if not serving chicken liver pate as starter) to serve 'Chicken Three Ways' with a salad.
This sounds so impressive, but would be made with one chicken breast (with skin left on), a few chicken livers and a few assorted salad leaves (we could grow these ourselves on a windowsill). Remove the skin from the chicken and grill or 'roast' this skin in the oven until crisp, this then forms one part of the 'three-ways' with crispy slivers used to garnish the dish.
The main breast (second part of the 'three-way') would be cooked (poached or roasted) then served in thin slices (about a couple of slices to a plate), and the chicken livers (third part) lightly fried in a little butter and scattered amongst the salad leaves.   All it would then need is a drixxle of a good home-made salad dressing, and maybe a little concentrated chicken 'jus'.

If we do without the chicken breast/skin, we could serve a similar dish serving individual savoury cheese (or vegetable) souffles with a salad and chicken livers. 

Dessert could be something as simple such as glasses full of coffee granita (frozen cold black coffee, sweetened with sugar, then forked up to form crystals).  Serve these with a couple of sponge fingers (aka boudoir biscuits or lady's fingers).  Really cheap but impressive. 
Or we could take a similar dessert as suggested yesterday, this time making up only 1 x 10p sachet of that Strawberry Whip, then freezing that to serve a scoop (or scoops) in a chocolate 'cup' (paper muffin cases brushed inside with melted chocolate, the paper peeled off when the chocolate has firmly set (it shouldn't be too thin - turn the cases upside down whilst choc is still melted so that surplus choc. gravitates to the edge and then less likely to break when paper removed).
Or make Brandy Snaps, but instead of rolling the circles when just cooked (and still soft), place the circles over an upturned, greased teacup to make frilly, lacy containers to hold the 'ice-cream'. 

Another great dessert for a dinner party is profiteroles.  Again cheap to make and even when filled with cream not THAT expensive (a recipe for a cheaper filling shown tomorrow).  It's always worth setting enough money aside it buy a small tub of whipping or double cream as this is the sort of ingredient that adds that taste of luxury.  As happens when we can add a (free' teaspoon or so of that booze that we have been given as a gift.

When we want to cook 'good food', then we need to plan ahead.   Get those containers of 'mixed salad leaves' growing on our windowsills, and continue to sow and grow throughout the year. Ask for a bottle of rum, brandy, kirsch....for your next birthday present.  When slow-cooking meat, always freeze away the liquid/stock.  Never throw away a chicken carcase, always use it to make stock.  Check the fridge and use up oddments of veg to make soup, then freeze this.
Remember that the 'best' food to serve, whether for family or guest, is always home-made, and preferably from scratch (although M.Roux admitted there is nothing wrong with using the bought, ready-made pastry, be it short or puff, as long as the best brands are used, none of that cheap stuff).

Once we realise that something like a good beef or chicken (or fish) stock can be turned into a really impressive 'consomme', we begin to view things more from a chef's perspective.  They rarely waste anything, and the only difference between the professional and domestic cook is that the profs. tend to make everything from scratch from (normally) quality ingredients. Even 'left-overs' have their place in their great scheme of things.  It's worth watching progs like 'The Great British Chef' to understand the workings of their minds.  THEY know how much everything costs because when running a restaurant, every penny has to be accounted for, and the same idea works even better in a domestic kitchen, and one we have begun to learn how much everything costs, not just the whole thing - as  'by the pack' -  but 'by the oz/g', only then do we realise that there are many, MANY foods that really don't cost much at all.  When we can use more of these and less of the expensive we can then reduce our costs but still end up with something good.  As many chefs now do today. 

I've taken to walking around wearing my pinny most of the day as it has a big, deep pocket.  In there I keep a notepad and pen, and now jot down all the things I read or see on TV  'worth thinking about'.  Such as yesterday when I saw another 'snippet' on the Food Network.  This to do with a Chinese dish called 'Mock Eels'.  Well, I'd be unlikely to want to eat eel anyway in whatever shape or form, but was very impressed with what I saw.  The chef took some mushrooms (think they were Chanterelles but could be wrong), soaked them in water overnight, then cut them with scissors, round and round until the formed long strings that looked exactly like eels.  Think these were either fried or finished off in a sticky sauce to serve with rice, but just LOVED the idea of cutting up the mushrooms in that way. 

I''ve sliced the big field mushrooms (pref the Portobellos as they are firmer and 'meatier') to fry with a very little thinly sliced fillet steak when making 'Strogonoff'.  The mushrooms absorb the meat flavours and actually look like the meat, but next time might use the cheaper and smaller open-cap mushroom and give these that 'eel' look as they would then look even more like those strips of meat, AND if soaked in beef stock overnight (even using a stock cube) would also taste more like beef.  Could try making a strogonoff using all mushrooms and no beef this way, and bet B would be none the wiser.

Right, let's now have a few recipes to start us on the road to serving 'posh nosh'.  The first is a soup, and it does come at a small cost - in other words not 'free' - but as most of us will have the 'makings' in our fridge and freezer, we could still keep our purses firmly shut.
Peas and lettuce go very well together, and this is a great way to use up the last bit of that iceberg (or other lettuce) that is well past its best and more bitter than sweet (as the core will be, but when grated can be used and not thrown out).
Am expecting that readers will - in a month or so's time - have fresh mint growing in their garden or window sill.  Alternatively use a teaspoon of concentrated mint from that bottle in the fridge.  The Parmesan biscuits are the only 'expensive' ingredient, extremely easy to make and absolutely GORGEOUS, definitely adding a touch of class which is what we aspire to.  Otherwise serve home-made bread rolls.
Make the soup when we have all the makings (aka 'left-overs') and then freeze - up to 6 months -  to serve as 'posh nosh' when needed.  Make the Parmesan biscuits on the day, or can be kept in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
Pea and Lettuce Soup: serves 4
1 tblsp olive oil
small knob of butter
1 shallot, finely diced
1 potato, peeled and diced
4 oz (100g) lettuce leaves/core, finely shredded
1.5 ppts (900ml) hot vegetable stock
1 lb (450g) frozen peas (pref petit pois)
4 oz (100g) lettuce leaves, incl core
small handful fresh mint leaves, chopped
3 oz (75g) Parmesan cheese, very finely grated
Heat the oil and butter in a pan, and when foaming, add the shallot, potato, and lettuce.  Reduce heat and cook gently for 5 minutes (don't allow them to colour), then add the stock, bring to the boil, and simmer for 10 minutes or until the potato is very tender. Stir in the peas, bring back to the boil, then cook for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the mint, then put into a food processor or blender an blitz until a smooth puree.  This can then be cooled, put into containers and frozen.
To serve, reheat and divide between 4 individual soup bowls, with one or two Parmesan biscuits on the side. 
parmesan biscuits:
Line a baking sheet with baking parchment and on this spoon the grated Parmesan in 8 small strips (or 4 long ones).  Place under a pre-heated grill (set on high) and grill for 1 minute, or until the cheese has melted and slightly golden.  Watch carefully as it quickly burns.
Use a palettel or fish slice to remove biscuits from paper whilst they are still warm and pliable,and place on a cake airer to cool until firm..  Take care when serving them as they will be a bit fragile.

This next dish is an absolute MUST when it comes to entertaining as it is one of those 'twice-baked' souffle dishes that can be made in advance, and can be frozen for up to 6 weeks before continuing the final bit of the cooking. 
If we haven't made these before (or any other dish we intend serving at a dinner party) we should always have a trial run just to make sure we get our timings right, and have the comfort and security of knowing we've made it all before and now got it right.  The family will enjoy eating your 'tests', and they won't care a jot if the appearance isn't what it should be', what is more important is that the food tastes good.
Perhaps that is the main difference between a family meal and 'gourmet'.  Families prefer the more 'rustic' approach to presentation, whilst chefs prefer the 'prettier' look.   

This souffle uses smoked salmon (the trimmings are cheaper and perfect for this dish) but we could use finely flaked canned salmon (if we have it). If you haven't fresh dill, then use half tsp dried dill or some fresh chopped parsley.
Twice-baked Smoked Salmon Souffles: serves 6
2 oz (50g) butter
1 oz (25g) plain flour
half pint (300ml) milk
3 oz (75g) soft cream cheese
2 tsp chopped dill, see above
salt and pepper
3 eggs, separated
3oz (75g) smoked salmon, chopped
zest of half a lemon
creme fraiche
six 'flakes' of unchopped smoked salmon
Put the butter into a pan and heat gently until dissolved, then add the flour and stir until it is 'cooked' and leaves the side of the pan, then slowly stir or whisk in the flour until the sauce is smooth and has thickened.  Stir in spoonfuls of the cheese, then add the dill and seaoning to taste. Beat everthing together to make sure all ingredients are well blended.  Cool slightly then stir in the egg yolks, followed by the chopped salmon and lemon zest. 
Beat the egg whites until stiff, then carefully fold these into the salmon mix, do this gently to retain as much air as possible.  Spoon the mixture into buttered individual (5floz/150ml) souffle dishes that have had their bases lined with baking parchment. and place in a roasting tin filled with cold water to reach halfway up the sides of the dishes, and bake for 15 minutes at 200C, 400F, gas 6.  Remove from the oven but don't panic if/when they sink, this is normal.
When ready to serve (or wish to freeze) carefully turn them out of the dishes, and remove the baking parchment.  To freeze, wrap each with baking parchment, then foil. Can be frozen for up to 6 weeks. Thaw for 5 hours in the fridge, then cook as when freshly baked (as above).
After removing from the souffle dishes, and discarding the paper, place the souffles on squares of baking parchment, place on a baking sheet and top each with a teaspoon of creme fraiche. Continue baking at above temperature for 10 - 15 minutes until the souffles start to puff up.  Remove from oven and immediately top with a piece of smoked salmon and a sprig of dill (if you have it). Serve at once, either alone as a starter, or with some dressed salad leaves. 

The other day mentioned serving an Egg Curry as the 'mains' for the '£3 three-course meal to serve four', and only gave a suggestion of how to make.  Have unearthed a recipe that sounds much more appetising, and allowing approx £2 to make this dish, it would be good practice to cost out all the ingredients used and see if it comes to more or less (haven't yet done this myself, but on first look it doesn't seem expensive).  If it comes to more than the 'budget', then you and I would have to find out ways to reduce the cost without losing too much of the flavours (maybe using less peas, 6 eggs instead of 8, and also whether the eggs, canned tomatoes, peas and other ingredients can be bought - or made - more cheaply than the current price you might have already paid for those in your stores.
I'd love to hear from as many readers as possible who can be bothered to cost out the recipe(and if you can't, shame on you), so that we can discover how varied the costs will be, and by how much.  This could be very useful, for if one of you can make it cheaper than another, and we then know why, this should spur us on to do as well (dare I say even better?) ourselves.  But then I always was a bit of a competitor.
Remembering the 'planning ahead' approach, we can make yogurt far more cheaply at home, and - as you know - I've made a really inexpensive (and gorgeous) mango chutney using my slow-cooker.  When it comes to rice I have LOADS in the larder (dry rice keeps for ever when stored in airtight containers), and bought at the lowest price (in bulk, when on offer).  Another way to save.  Incidentally, basmati rice is going up in price due to crop failure or something, so if you get the chance to buy it at the old price, like NOW, then worth doing so.  Smug Shirley already has plenty of basmati in store.  Sorry and all that, but if you want to spend less, then Start Saving Like Shirley!

Creamy Egg Curry: serves 4
2 tblsp sunflower oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 tbslp mild curry paste (hotter if you prefer)
1 small can (230g) can chopped tomatoes
7 fl oz (200ml) water
salt and pepper
8 eggs (see above)
5 oz (150g) frozen peas (see above)
4 tblsp Greek yogurt
cooked rice and mango chutney to serve
Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the onion for 10 minutes until just golden (do not allow to burn). Stir in the curry paste and stir-fry for 2 minutes before adding the tomatoes and water.  Add seasoning to taste.  Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and leave to simmer for 20 minutes.  If the curry sauce is becoming too thick, add a splash more water.
Meanwhile, hard-boil the eggs or 8 minutes, then peel and halve.  Stir the peas into the curry sauce with the yogurt, and when it comes back to the simmer, cook for a couple or so minutes then carefull add the halved eggs, cut side up, spooning some of the sauce over them. 
Serve with cooked rice and mango chutney.

That's all the 'food chat' for today.  Just enough time left for me to say that B and daughter returned mid-evening (D had left her car here), both extremely tired.  After arriving at Barrow, they then were taken to Ravenglass, had their costumes, make-up, hair done etc, then went to the catering vans to eat a 'huge lunch', roast chicken wrapped in bacon, all the trimmings, and two lovely desserts with cream (B in his element). Then mainly waiting around (in the cold0 with a 'trial run' before two 'takes' (all 10 minutes of it).  Welcome to the world of TV and film.  I've done this so many times, an early start (like 6.00am) to get to the venue by 8.30am, then make-up, hair, rehearsals, and more rehearsals, sitting around and more sitting around, lunch only if lucky enough, then the actual filming (no more than 10 minutes), thankfully I had got so used to doing it was called 'one-take Shirley'.  Then back home to arrive about 11.00pm.

The amusing thig was, the filmed bit yesterday involved a camera on a haycart following a number of children as they walked down the road.  The other 'pedestrians' (including my B and D), had to cross the road in front of the children, so all that the viewers were see whould be their backs anyway.
Of course it was drizzling with rain, so they had to stand waiting under umbrellas, D with a plastic hood over her newly set hair, B holding an umbrella over both of them, then when ready to film, everyone threw off their coats (and plastic hoods), discarded brollies, and 'action'.  Not sure if anyone realises, but light rain never shows up when filming, so unless there were spashes in puddles, no-one would know.  The 'extras' just had to grit their teeth and get wet and chilled to the bone.  There should have been only one take, but whilst doing the first, one of the residents of the village chose that time to open her front door and walk out into the bit that was being filmed.  So it was 'cut' and start again.

Reminded me of when we went to Safeways (Leeds) to film some of 'The Goode Kitchen'.  It was very early in the morning, and so few customers, but when in one aisle or another, you could be certain one member of the public would come down to 'fill her basket', and most times obvious (from the ages they spent picking up one can, reading the label, then another.... that they hoped to be included in the 'film'.  We just had to wait until they left and start that particular 'piece' all over again.  We were not allowed to prevent customers doing their shopping, so had to work round them, waiting until they had moved on.  Some of the 'crew' managed to help distract some customers before they got within the filmed area,  but a few minutes shown on TV could take a whole morning (sometimes a day) to complete.  We took a whole week to film just the 'supermarket' bits, usually bits edited into each of the 10 episodes.  Then two weeks to film the indoor (my kitchen) shots (beginning at 6.30 for hair/make-up, learn lines, then start at 8.30 to rehears film, finish for lunch - the crew went out for lunch - I had to sit at home and learn the script for the afternoon session - then back filming at 1.30 until probably 6 or 7 when they all left to have a night out at a restaurant and probably clubbing, whilst I again stayed at home, sorting out the next days' food to be used etc.  Whatever anyone thinks, appearing on TV can be very hard work indeed.  Especially for a cook.  Today TV cooks have back-up cooks/helpers to prepare the ingredients to be used, and probably also make the 'here's one I made earlier' dishes.  Very rarely did this happen to me, most of the time I had to do everything.  But not normally (when out on 'location') having to do the washing up.  Thank heavens for that.

Even saying 'end of food chat' still didn't stop me writing about food in general, just can't seem to get away from it.  Story of my life you could say. So better sign off now before I start all over again, and do hope that all of you will give thought to my 'costing' suggestion because this is probably the best (and maybe only) way we can learn to gain complete control of our food budget. 
Looking forward to hearing a few results from you tomorrow.  See you then.