Friday, March 01, 2013

Creativity Costs Less...

Not sure if it is a man thing, but so often it seems that Les and myself view cost-cutting quite differently, for he believes I have missed the point of the new series of the Hairy Bikers.
Well, if we are led to believe (as with the last two episodes) that - as mentioned in our TV supplement - the H'B's will show us "how to make gourmet lunches on a tight budget" and their 'tight budget' means they can afford to spend £25 on a salmon which would make enough gravadlax to serve more than 50 people.   Or "gourmet party food on a tight budget", that worked out at £2.50 a head with half the ingredients being cost-free anyway (home-grown produce, eggs, milk...), then Les' idea, and the H.B's idea of a 'tight budget' and mine are miles apart.

Of course I know the above programme deals with ;gourmet-style' food that we would not normally make at home, at least not often, and certainly it would cost a lot when on the menu in restaurants. Almost anything made at home that we might otherwise pay for ALWAYS works out cheaper.  But how cheap is cheap? 

Perhaps the problem is that I see 'cost-cutting' more from the eyes of a chef.  We have only to look at the food served in the professional chef's challenges, be it Masterchef, or the Great British Menu (et al), that whether the ingredients are costly or not, it is usual to serve very small portions, with much time taken giving attention to presentation so it delights the eye as well as the mouth. 
Many times the chefs have used the cheapest cuts of meat, especially offal, to produce that 'gourmet dish', and am sure they could make 'gourmet lunches' and 'gourmet party food' much cheaper than shown in the H.B's prog.

Methinks the main problem with the above programme lies not so much with their over-budgeting, but more that they have to give recipes that are easy enough for any novice cook to make.  'Easy-cook' fresh foods that require little preparation are generally more expensive. The way chefs can serve wonderful dishes is to use less expensive ingredients and a lot more of their skills - and this can sometimes take a lot of time. As we know - time costs money.  Especially when we have to pay for someone else's.

Possibly the problem lies with me, as when I read the words "on a tight budget", I expect this to BE tight and it's all relative to our personal funds.  Many would be happy to spend £2.50 a head party food, and have to say this could take less effort than my - not being able to afford it - way which would be to spend no more than £1 a head (perhaps a lot less, for the more people to feed the cheaper - per head - it works out) perhaps ending up with much the same thing as those that spend more (dare I say even better) but only because more time and thought has been given.

The amount of money that is spent unnecessarily on food is astronomical.  Of course we all earn money, and in today's world this is normally for spending, not for saving.  Once the household bills have been paid, anything left over (aka 'disposable income') usually gets spent, especially on something that saves us time, but we should not fritter this away, especially when we can get much the same thing for far less cost.  Here's an example:
In the newspaper yesterday it was reported that a survey has revealed that "a lifetime of lunches can cost £90,000", and this just for takeaway coffees and sandwiches, and I find it hard to believe that "on average, the typical worker spends £7.81 a day on lunch, drinks, and other snacks", but obviously they must do as research has proved this to be the case. To make matters worse, the researchers did not adjust the figure to factor in the rising cost of living. 
So we should think on this:  "Those who bring in their own packed lunch as well as making their own tea and coffee, spend an average of only £1.50 a day."   I've worked out to make a massive saving of £31.50 a week!!  'Nuf said.

Returning to the Hairy Bikers.  This week they showed a dessert (and yes this IS something we would normally eat at home), that they called a 'Vacherin', and consisted of three layers of hazelnut meringue, sandwiched together with whipped cream and (I think) fresh raspberries, with cream and berries on top.  Total cost of this they said was £1.30 per head (so as it gave 8 portions presume this means it cost THEM £10.40 to make.  Do me a favour.  Egg whites are cheap enough, so is sugar.  Hazelnuts, cream and raspberries in the amount used wouldn't cost more than £5 total (and that's over-egging the cost).  So how come this is AGAIN a 'budget' dessert?
You want budget desserts at gourmet level?  Try these for size...

Similar to a Vacherin, the layers for this dessert are formed with broken sponge fingers (aka boudoir biscuits), chocolate and glace fruits, alternated with a light cheesecake cream.  Because this is at 'gourmet level' fresh pineapple is used, and the treatment of this takes time, but we could omit this part and instead use canned and drained pineapple rings, and just glaze the fruit with a little warmed golden syrup, or pineapple jam.
Pineapple and Chocolate Gateau: serves 10
1 large pineapple
10 oz (275g) plain chocolate
2 oz (50g) butter
1 tblsp hot water
half a packet of sponge fingers
4 oz (100g) candied peel
4 oz (100g) glace cherries, chopped
juice of 1 lemon
12 oz (350g) granulated sugar
half pint (300ml) double cream
2 oz (50g) icing sugar, sifted
2 oz (50g) curd or cream cheese, at room temp.
2 tblsp natural yogurt
glace cherries and toasted flaked almonds
Remove the skin and core of the pineapple, and cut the flesh across into half-inch (1cm) thick slices, or thinner if you wish.  Put slices into the bottom of a large saucepan and just cover with water.  Bring to the boil, cover pan, and simmer for 45 - 60 minutes until the fruit is soft when a knife is pushed into it.
Meanwhile, put the chocolate in a mixing bowl and  place over a pan of simmering water.  When melted, add the butter and hot water.  Roughly break up the sponge fingers and stir them into the chocolate together with the candied peel and chopped cherries.   Spread this mixture over the bottom of two greased and base-lined sandwich tins, then place in the fridge to set.
When the pineapple is ready, remove from pan using a slotted spoon, and set aside. Raise the heat and boil the pan water until reduced to half a pint (300ml), then add the lemon juice and sugar. Reduce heat so the sugar dissolves slowly, then add the slices of pineapple, raise the heat, and boil, uncovered for 10 - 20 minutes, until the pineapple looks translucent and the syrup has reduced and thickened - take care it doesn't go too far and end up as toffee! Remove rings and place on greaseproof paper to cool. Reserve the syrup.
To assemble the gateau, carefully turn out the chocolate discs, peeling off the greaseproof paper, then place one,, smooth side down, on a serving plate.  Beat the cream with the icing sugar until softly thick, then beat in the cheese and yogurt until thickened and smooth.  Spread this over the disc of chocolate, then place the second disc on top.  Cover with overlapping rings of pineapple, placing half a glace cherry in the centre of each.  Finish by scattering the almonds over the pineapple.
When ready to serve, spoon the reserved syrup over the fruit.

This next is possibly my favourite dessert and one I have made many times (both for my family, and requested by friends to serve at their dinner parties).  Although made easily enough using a baking tin (as per recipe below), myself save those large clear round 'containers' (like the packaging for ready-made poppadums etc), as these make good moulds for this type of dessert, and good for freezing.  Alternatively, individual desserts (for buffets) can be made by brushing the inside of paper muffin cases with chocolate, allowing it to set before filling with the lemon souffle, but for dinner parties the larger version (as given) is far more spectacular.
Lemon Souffle in a Chocolate Case: serves 8
6 oz (175g) plain chocolate
1 tblsp water
small knob butter (15g)
grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
6 oz (175g) caster sugar
4 large eggs, separated
half oz (12g) gelatine
half pint (300ml) double cream, whipped
chocolate shavings for decoration
First oil an 8" (20cm) round loose-based cake tin, and line base with a disc of oiled greaseproof paper or baking parchment. 
Break up the chocolate and put in a bowl with one tablsp of water, and place over a pan of simmering water, until melted, then stir in the butter.  Spoon onto the base of the cake tin and spread evenly with a spatula over the bottom and up the sides.  It will look better when served if the top of the chocolate has rough and uneven edges.  Leave to set whilst making the souffle.
Put the grated lemon rind, the sugar, and the egg yolks into a bowl and whisk until pale and thick.
Put the lemon juice into a saucepan with 2 tblsp water and sprinkle over the gelatine, leave for a couple of minutes to begin to soften, then heat gently until dissolved, but don't let it boil.
Pour the hot gelatine slowly onto the egg yolk mixture, whisking as you do this, and continue to whisk until cooled slightly and just beginning to thicken, then fold in the whipped cream.
Beat the egg whites to soft peaks, then , using a metal spoon, fold these into the above mix.  Pour into the chocolate-lined tin, the edge of the choc. should be just above the top of the souffle.  Then place in the freezer and freeze for 2 hours (longer if you wish).
To unmould, rub the sides of the tin with a hot cloth, then slide a small sharp knife between the chocolate and side of the tine until loosened enough to push up (easy way is to place the tin on top of a smaller bowl or jam jar, and then slide the sides of the tin down).
Remove the base of the tin and carefully peel off the paper.  Place on a serving platter and refreeze until about an hour before eating, then place in the fridge as it is best eaten very cold, but not quite frozen.  When ready to serve decorate the top with chocolate shavings. 

Would like to have given more recipes today but have just had a call to say the repair man (for washing machine) will be arriving between 9am and 1.00,  B says he will be going out, so I need my time free to get the machine sorted.   Will give more recipes tomorrow.  TTFN.