Saturday, March 16, 2013

Making a Meal of It

The visit to the Morecambe Foodbank yesterday really did give me food for thought.   Being able to be 'in on the act' so to speak, was able to discover what type/variety of foods were being allocated, and one of the volunteers took the trouble to make up a 'singles' basket for me so that I could spend some time working out what meals could be made.   I stayed there for nearly 5 hours, even provided with lunch (a real treat to have a meal made for me).

It's odd how people view things differently.  Faced with the basket I felt thrilled to bits, it was even better than having a small bag containing a few things to turn into something edible (as in 'Ready, Steady, Cook).  This time loads more 'edibles', but even so - not so easy.   What a difference having an onion, and egg or two, would have made.  Even so, realised that less experienced cooks would have found it much more difficult to turn the 'allocation' into something really tasty.

On the good side, I was amazed at how generous the Foodbank had been.  Not only the allocated amount, but several more 'treats' (because, at the moment, they had enough of these donated to spare), and quite honestly, although the foods brought to me were for one person to 'last three days', with enough cookery experience, these could have lasted at least a week, even then enough to feed two during that time.  Yet, in all honesty, have to say I could easily have managed to munch my way through the lot in three days, purely as 'comfort eating' (what other way can we gain comfort when we have no other means of pleasure?). We all 'cut our coat according to our cloth' as the saying goes, and unless we have cooking experience (many of the 'customers' - as I call them - don't have this knowledge), although there is certainly enough food (nutritionally) provided by the Foodbank, unless this is enjoyed, there is no incentive to cook more creatively and make the food go that much further.  Do we always have to eat a whole can of beans in one go, or tin of soup or can of corned beef? Couldn't they each be made to go much further?   Of course they can, but only when we know how.  A lost art unfortunately but one I hope we can revive.

As you know I'm the sort of cook who is not ashamed of using (some) convenience foods.  Many have been around for over a century (like custard powder, and probably Bisto...) and myself use many canned foods.  In fact these are the perfect half-way stage between not knowing how to cook at all (relying on ready meals to re-heat, or take-aways), to cooking something almost from scratch.  

When existing on a very small food budget, ready meals should definitely be avoided, as these are always far more expensive than anything similar we could make ourselves even at the half-way stage.  When it comes to canned foods, the 'cooking' has already been done for us (so can be eaten hot or cold).  Perfect when we have no means of cooking, or haven't the time to prepare everything from scratch.  Saving cooking time also helps to keep fuel bills down.

To a novice cook, having an assortment of of canned and packet foods to play with could begin the start of an enjoyable journey that ends up with a lot more home-cooked meals on the table, and less money being spent on food than previously.  In many ways, the Foodbanks are giving younger people a great opportunity to make this start that they would probably never get otherwise, so all power to their elbow, so with that thought in mind, the Morecambe Foodbank,  with the help of others (who I met yesterday, bless them all) will be putting together a little cookery booklet to be popped into the 'baskets' that I'm hoping will show how easy it is to put at least SOME tasty meals on the table.  

So - the next few weeks (and the sooner the better) I'll be busy putting recipes together, and hunting our more that could be of use, always working out how to make a meal the easy way from what was provided, and although 'useful foods' (not included) such as eggs, onions, cheese, flour.....and how important these now seem to be), would make SUCH a difference, can at least give suggestions to help improve a meal when these can be afforded. 

You wouldn't believe how grateful I am that I've been asked to do this.  It is good to keep on 'working', as hate my 'retirement' so much.  Hopefully will later be able to give a talk to interested folk on 'cost-cutting', for during this recession, every hint and tip helps. 

One of the most warming things about yesterday was the way the volunteers opened their doors (and arms) to their 'clients', many of whom seemed to have no friendly contact with any otheronce back in the 'outside' world.  Tea, coffee, cakes, biscuits etc were there in the sitting area, to be freely given and enjoyed as they waited for their allocations to appear.  To give people this feeling that they were welcome would (hopefully) remove any shame or embarrasment of their situation that some might seem to feel (and truly there is should be none of this feeling anyway, for it is just 'circumstances' that put us where we are at this moment in time, and there but for the Grace of God go I...).

Returning home, but still in the same frame of mind, my thoughts turned (well, you know me and my thoughts...) went to how we buy our food in the first place.  Practically always we puchase buy 'by the pack'.  This could be a can of food, a packet of food, or pre-wrapped 'fresh', and always, ALWAYS, these packs seemd to be sized so that they are not quite enough for one (so we need to buy two), or too much (so we have some left over - and this often gets thrown away).  The reason why is because the supermarkets can rub their hands with glee as we are virtually 'forced' to spend (or buy) more than we need.
Even those dreaded 'ready-meals' are so small that I've know people buy two to make sure there is enough to serve one meal to a hungry husband or teenager (or at least three 'readies' to serve two with normal appetites).  Each time we spend more than we intended to.

Canned foods tend to come in standard sizes, so we usually can make these suit our purpose. But prices rise.  Not by a penny a can, but jumping overnight by 10p a can (or more). Occasionally we may see them 'on offer', almost back to the 'original' price, making us believe we have made a saving, but often these offers (I've noticed ) are not what they seem.  Some tins are dented (but still safe to use), others nearer their b/b. date (but again still safe to use - canned foods keep indefinately if undamaged).  I've bought sardines at the new higher price that I discovered had a on the cans that was less that sardines bought at the cheaper price many months before.

"Who cares about a few pence?" some might say. Well, I certainly do, as over the weeks/months these 'few pence' on almost every food item bought, will add up to £££s. 
My moan is about who we now seem 'forced' to buy almost everything  by weight, when we often could use a lot less.  We can use small amounts of 'dry goods' and store the rest, but when it comes to the 'fresh' we should be free to buy only the amount we need or can afford.
Several years ago (and I do it now sometimes and it still works), I'd have no option but to buy within the limit of the money left in my purse, and many was the time I'd go into the butchers and plonk down on the counter the few pence, and ask for this to be use to pay for (say) minced beef.

Today, scales in shops show not only the weight but also the price (per kg/lb) and how much the meat weighs is immaterial, what the butcher would be concerned with is reaching the price I wanted to pay.   So easy enough to say to the butcher "I'd like 45p of minced beef please", and 45p worth is what you would be given.  No shame in that.  Every shopkeeper wants a sale, however little it is. Rather than no sale at all.

Do remember walking up to the shops with my mother when we lived in Leeds.  Outside the butchers she asked me to go and buy her two rashers of bacon (as that was all she needed) 'because I don't want him to think I'm poor' she told me. It didn't seem to matter if the butcher thought I was on the breadline, because he already knew that I'm sure as I was always asking him to keep me his ham bones, or save me the scraps of bacon that fell from the slicer during the day.  Not to mention giving me (free) chicken carcases that I could boil up for stock.  Today I will happily do the same as it makes sense to buy only the amount we need at any one time.  But few of us do.  We are so used to it being 'read-packed' *and don't forget some of the price covers the cost of the packaging and this we can't eat). Another way the supermarkets get us to part with our money.

Many war-time recipes are well worth making today Tess.  Myself today still enjoy eating  'Woolton Pie' (a meat and vegetable pie, but without the meat), now improved with the addition of a savoury sauce binding the veggies together, and using better pastry (fat and quality flour being in short supply due to rationing).
With that thought am today giving a few more recipes for dishes made when food was rationed, and though many seem unusual (by today's standards) always worth making as - like many dishes - often meals cooked in the 'olden days' can now become fun to eat again today, even if only for nostalgic reasons.
Which reminds me - on a TV prog the other day heard a man talking about similar dishes that he called 'Nosh-talgic' foods, but sadly he felt that nostalgic recall of the lovely meals our grandmothers made was more by fond memory (perhaps that she bothered to cook at all), rather than the actual flavour and quality.  He felt that food today was much better, and can only hope be meant HOME-COOKED not those dreaded 'readies'.

A welcome to terriersintiaris (hope I've got the spelling right, most of the time I can't read my own writing).  There could be several reasons why your sponge cakes end up too crisp around the edges.  As Les says, perhaps your oven is too hot (so try reducing the temperature by 20C or so next time you bake).  Using a fan oven can also make a difference, as can using cake thins that are rather too light-weight (thin around the sides).  Have myself found that bakes, cooked in very light-weight oblong foil cake tins also tend to end up with slightly crispy sides (I then slice these off after turning out).  Use these tins as they are very cheap and I don't need them returning when I give the traybake away (but they are reusable).  Sometimes I sit one tin inside another prior to baking, so that there is a double thickness around the sides and base, with virtually trapped air between the two, and this does help to keep the cakes 'softer' around the sides. 
Even though many recipes suggest baking sponge cakes at 180C (gas 4) I now bake them at 160C (gas 3) for slightly longer than the recipe suggests, and this does seem to prevent too much 'crust' forming. 
Don't give up baking 'terry', if your round cakes still end up too dry round the sides, bake in a Swiss Roll type tin, then trim the edges after baking (these can be used as the base for a trifle and and these trimmings can be kept in the fridge for a few days - or months in the freezer), then cut the remainder of the 'slab' in half to make one square cake with a chosen filling, or cut lengthways and sandwich together to make one long cake (useful size for cutting slices). 

Here are today's 'nosh-talgic' recipes.  I'll certainly be making some (eventually) all, over the next weeks or so, and certainly will enjoy eating them.
As the original recipes were in the old imperial weights, will be giving the metrics for those who prefer to use these..

For anyone who enjoys curry (or at least the flavour of curry), this dish makes a perfect meal for those who wish to make an economical meal (and of course have all the 'makings'. As with most pasta dishes, we could use another pasta 'shape'.  It's just that during the war, pasta was not much used in this country, macaroni being the only pasta I remember my mother using (served only as macaroni cheese or macaroni pudding).   With this dish, as the macaroni needs breaking into smaller pieces, we could crush down any of those extra ounces of pasta we've saved when weighing out pasta packed in kg, and instead using lbs/ounces.
Curried Macaroni:
1 oz (25g) margarine
2 onions, sliced
1 apple, sliced
1 tblsp curry powder (or curry paste)
2 tblsp sugar
1 tblsp vinegar
8 oz (450g) macaroni (see above)
2 pints boiling water
hard-boiled eggs (opt)
Melt the margarine in a saucepan, then add the onions and apple and fry for 5 minutes.  Stir in the curry powder and fry for a further minutes, then add the vinegar and sugar.  Bring to the boil, then pour in the boiling water.  Break up the pasta into small pieces, then cook for 30 minutes.  Serve very hot. Slices of hard-boiled eggs make a very tasty addition (and add protein) to this dish.

Next dish is basically a sage and onion stuffing served as a dish in its own right.  We could use a bought stuffing mix (it could be a different flavour), but in those days, stuffing was always made from scratch, and no reason why we can't do the same today.  If we have no fresh or dried sage (use as little or as much as you wish 'to taste') we could used mixed dried herbs. 
Although a simple dish, when served with a really good gravy (and for this best to use a 'quality' bought gravy 'mix' made up with water) and also with some cooked (or even canned) veggies, this will end up tasting almost as good as a 'meat and two veg' dinner.
Sage and Onion Pudding:
6 oz (175g) breadcrumbs
2 oz (50g) porridge oats
1 onion, chopped
2 oz (50g) suet (Atora)
1 tsp sage (see above)
salt and pepper to taste
milk to mix
thick brown gravy (to serve)
Mix all the ingredients (other than gravy) together, adding just enough milk to form a soft mixture. Spoon into a greased in and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for about an hour.  Although can be served with roast meat, this is excellent served sliced with a rich, thick brown gravy poured over (and with or without extra veggies such as carrots, potatoes, cabbage, peas....)

The next recipe I'm including purely because I saw this 'meat' served in a diner when watching the Food Network (Diners, Drive-in's and Dives). Apparently the 'regulars' raved over it, so as their trotter are - today -one of the hardly-ever-used parts of the pig, and - for this reason - very cheap to buy, why don't we make a meal of them?  The water (aka stock) the trotters have been boiled in make a very good soup with the addition of vegetables.  Like chicken stock, when boiled down it is very gelatinous, so could also be used as the 'jelly' for those of us who make our own pork pies.
It could be - like me - you might wish to avoid making the parsley sauce from scratch (but please do if you can) and make this using Bisto parsley sauce granules instead.  If you do prefer this speedier way to make the sauce, at least add some chopped fresh parsley (this will make it taste more like home-made).
Pig's Feet (trotters) and Parsley Sauce: serves 4 - 6
4 pigs' trotters
half pint milk (300ml)
1 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
1 tbslp cornflour
knob of butter or margarine
salt and pepper to taste
Wash/scrub the trotters thoroughly, then put into a saucepan with enough water to cover.  Bring to the boil then reduce heat and simmer for 2.5 - 3 hours.
Meanwhile, make a parsley sauce by blending the cornflour with a little of the milk, then heating the butter in a pan, adding the milk, and slaked cornflour, heating gently until thickened.  Add seasoning to taste, and finally stir in the parsley.  Serve with the trotters (if you wish you could remove the flesh from the trotters before serving, this usually helps to give an extra one or two portions, esp. when served with veggies.

In the old days recipes seemed much more simple, often hardly any 'method' need be given.  Possibly this is because most cooks learnt 'how to' at their mother's knee, so not much more needed to be learnt.   The final recipe today is an example, but seems simple enough for the slightly more experienced cooks to deal with.  A 'quick oven' is a Hot oven - 200C/400F/gas 6 maybe slightly more.  Unfortunately time of cooking is not given, as most cooks used to be able to judge this (as I can do today) by working out that when we can 'smell' the baked goods, they are just about ready.  Giving a gentle press to the centre of the baking usually shows whether it is done or not.  When firm to the touch it is fully cooked.
The 'treacle' would almost certainly mean 'black treacle', but golden syrup would also work, or a blend of both.  The ginger used in those days could be grated fresh ginger root, or more probably ground ginger.  Myself would use pieces of crystallised ginger to put on the gingerbread before baking, instead of candied peel (this peel probably being home-made and cut larger than today's bought ready-chopped candied peel).
This is one of those recipes that can be prepared the day before, put into the tin and then left for 24 ours before baking.  Useful when we have the oven on at 'quick' (aka high heat) the following day cooking something else.
Great Grannie's Gingerbread:
1 lb (450g) plain flour
8 oz (225g) treacle
8 oz (225g) sugar
8 oz (225g) butter
half ounce (15g) good ginger (see above)
candied peel (see above)
Twentyfour hours before baking, mix everything but the candied peel together. Then (presumably roll out and cut into biscuits) and put into a baking tin (no mention of this but I would grease and line it), and place a piece of candied peel on each biscuit, and bake in a quick oven.
If preferred add 1 or 2 drops of lemon essence (or grated lemon rind?) and a dust of baking powder (presumably to the mix, not on top of the biscuits).

You can see how difficult it would be for today's novice cooks to make any sense of the above recipe, and even I'm not sure my additions (in brackets) are necessarily correct.  But they seem to make sense.

Expecting our daughter to arrive any minute (she has been away for a few days), so need to get this edited then published to be free for her arrival.  One final mention (as usual) about the supper made for my Beloved yesterday.  One of my 'quickies' (with the help of half a pack of 'Beef Strogonoff sauce mix).
Poured boiling water into a saucepan, added some quick-cook pasta penne, gave it a stir and left it to cook whilst I heated a little oil in a frying pan, added a thinly sliced onion, fried this for a couple or so minutes, then added some sliced mushrooms.  Blended half a pack of the above sauce with some milk, stirred this into the mixture in the frying pan, and brought it to the simmer.  It thickened nicely, and then added a few scraps of cooked chicken (picked from the carcase after making stock). This them made a very thick mixture, so added a little double cream to slacken in, plus plenty of pepper to add a bit of 'bite'.  Took me less than 10 minutes to make from start to finish, so just drained the pasta, adding a little butter to keep the penne separate and my B just loves the taste of butter! - and the 'chicken and mushroom strogonoff' poured over the top.  According to my B, it tasted absolutely wonderful.   Amazing what some leftovers plus half a pack of mix and a little cream (the cream was opt) can make.

Hope you all have a lovely weekend and looking forward to meeting up with you again tomorrow.  See you then.