Monday, August 19, 2013

Freedom of Choice

Problems again with the comp, but managed - eventually - to get onto this page.  Hope it publishes OK.
Firstly, thank you for comments.  A welcome to Virginia from Tennessee. Also to an 'Anonymous' who I hope will write in again and give a name.  I feel closer to the person I am replying to when they have a name.
Not sure if Emma is a new reader, but welcome (or welcome back).

Sorry to hear your grand-daughter has allergies Janet, but hope easy enough to avoid.  Certainly easier with home-cooking, but you can never be sure what is in anything bought these days.

On Saturday, my Beloved was going to Morrison's late afternoon to restock up with his diet lemonade, and I asked him to look to see what good (late) offers there were on the fish and butchery counters.  He came back with a big pack called 'Turkey Leg', which seemed to consist of a huge turkey drumstick and an even bigger turkey thigh.  Total weight 4lb 4oz (2kg).  It cost £3.20p which I thought was pretty good.

On looking at the thigh, noticed it had been partly boned so that it could be wrapped round some stuffing if I wished, although I left it wrapped in its elastic net.   Yesterday cooked both, but didn't follow the cooking directions on the pack that said 200C for 60 minutes.  What I did do was cut up a couple of carrots into chunks - about an inch thick, and also cut up a big onion into the same thickness slices.  Placed these on the base of the roasting tin and stood the turkey leg and the thigh - spaced apart - on these veggies.   I then added some small potatoes round the sides, and poured in a pint of water. Covered the lot in foil and cooked it for an hour.  Checking the internal temperature of the meat it wasn't done - as I expected - so removed the foil and carried on cooking for a further 45 minutes when it was cooked perfectly.  All the water had evaporated leaving only the turkey juices - and these I used to make the gravy.

After eating his meal, B said the flavours were wonderful, and as I'd also sampled some of everything agreed with this.  The vegetables were served as part of the meal and had absorbed some of the turkey juices and also began to slightly caramelise, so were very sweet.  The small potatoes, still in their skins were almost 'roasted', but not overly crispy, and with the frozen/cooked Brussels sprouts made an extremely good meal.

Of course only a little of the cooked turkey was carved, the lot would have served four to six people, so today will remove/slice the rest of the meat and freeze it for other meals. 
It crossed my mind that anyone who thinks that Christmas this year might be a bleak one due to possible financial circumstances, could still serve turkey (even if not the white meat), by buying a similar offer as above and freezing it ready to cook in December (it did say 'suitable for freezing, and I considered freezing the thigh - wished now I had!).

Returning to the 'challenge'. As with any food purchases, we have freedom of choice even when following suggestions.  We may prefer to buy a different brand of baked beans, or a different cut of meat. In the first week's purchases I chose to buy tomato passata because it was cheaper than the cheapest canned tomatoes.  Every week a supermarket seems to reduce the price of some foods while the other stores stay the same, the following week other stores reduce the price of the same foods while the original one puts the price back up again.  Unfortunately to buy ALL the foods we want at the lowest price we would then have to go from store to store.  Ideally, wait until what we want until it IS at its cheapest in the store we normally go to.    My personal food bill/'statement' (comes with my on-line delivery), shows that each time I order  - usually once a month - only the 'basics' are regularly ordered, everything else has been waited for until it is on offer (coffee, cheese, canned foods, dry goods etc). Even the 'basics' are often 'on offer' so sometimes I can stock up with these as well (milk can be frozen...).

Once we have made our purchases, and hopefully they will be healthy ones, we then have complete freedom of choice as to how we put them together.  Although a 'balanced meal' is the ideal, to me it seems that if all (or most) of the purchases are good for us, then it doesn't matter if one or two meals are slightly unbalanced because over the week what has been eaten then does 'balance' out.  If you see what I mean.

We are always urged not to eat too much sugar - and rightly so, but if we normally might sprinkle a teaspoon of sugar over our breakfast porridge, or even have a little in our tea or coffee, then - on the days when we don't have porridge, and instead use the same amount of sugar to make cakes or biscuits, we are not eating MORE sugar, just keeping the weekly 'ration' the same.  This reminds me of war-time when I expect our mothers (or your grand-mothers) would probably also have to make the best use of the small amounts of food that were rationed, and that all families in the nation had - no more and no less.

With being able to have money left over the second week (once the 'basics' had been replaced and with plenty left over from the first week to keep us going), the purchase of flour then turns cooking into a whole new ball game.  We can choose between making pancakes, drop scones, pasta, and even pastry.  Not to mention scones and biscuits and maybe a fat-less sponge cake (that could be the base of a 'sort-of' trifle if a jelly and a 15p Strawberry Whip/Dessert had been purchased.  Dumplings could be added to the stew, or 'cobblers' on top. 

Once we begin to buy a few dried spices, then we can improve the flavour of a very bland dish - but that may have to wait until week three or four.  Let's take what we already have.  Myself might  aim to make a savoury dip by using some of the yogurt and mixing in some salad cream/mayo with a little of the passata, or maybe mashing some sardines with yogurt.  Even mashed baked beans/yogurt make a good 'dip'.  Especially if a dash of Tabasco or curry powder can be added (both of these a later purchase but you can see where I'm going.

We can use carrot sticks to eat our dips, and I've found that by cutting off the crusts from sliced bread, then drying these off in the oven (or under the grill), these too make good 'bread-sticks' for dipping. Myself always enjoy dipping in the triangular 'tortilla chips' (Doritos etc), bur since I've found out how to make something similar very easily, then often make these. No need to add any flavour to these 'nachos', but they are even tastier when sprinkled with a little paprika, or ground cumin before they are cooked. Another reason why one or two spices are worth buying.
If you wish to make your own 'nachos', here is the recipe.  Can't remember the number, but it makes about 100 (even more)!!  So you could halve or quarter the ingredients. You do need oil for the cooking - so make this your next purchase.  If you have bought plain flour then you also need baking powder.  If you have self-raising flour this should work without adding any raising agent.   If you have no salt, use a salted butter.

9 oz (250g) plain flour (see above)
1 tsp baking powder (see above)
pinch salt
1 tblsp butter
4 fl oz (100ml) semi-skimmed milk (warmed)
oil for frying
paprika or other chose spice (opt)
Sift the flour with the baking powder and salt, rub in the butter. Add the milk, and when well combined, cover and leave to rest for 15 minutes.
Divide mixture into 12 and roll each out as thinly as possible into circles.  Cut into triangles, you get at least 8 from each circle, even more if you like them a bit narrower (the more the merrier I say).
Shallow fry the triangles (a few at a time) for 3 minutes on each side.  Drain on kitchen paper.
Sprinkle with paprika whilst they are still hot, then leave to cool.  Store in an airtight tin.

Once we have bought some oil (I prefer to use sunflower but of course you choose the one you prefer), we already have the ingredients to make our own pasta.  Yes, it is MUCH less trouble to buy the dried pasta, and there are several sold at low 'value' price.  However, home-made pasta cooks so rapidly, and seems so superior to the bought that it is well worth making some when you wish to cook lasagne or cannelloni (pasta tubes but the same effect when the lasagne sheets are rolled round the filling), and of course a sheet of pasta can be dusted with flour (to stop it sticking), then rolled up and cut into strips to make noodles.  Sheets of pasta are also good to make ravioli, and as this is one of the best dishes to make use of a small amount of filling (I suggest Beanfeast Bolognese), will give the recipe for that as well. 

Here is my economy recipe for pasta (correct recipes use more eggs and 00 grade flour, and mix the lot on a worktop like making cement... but I've found the recipe below works well).
Basic Pasta Recipe:
4 oz (100g) plain flour, sifted
1 large egg
2 tsp sunflower oil (see above)
pinch of salt
Put the flour into a basin making a well in the centre, then break in the egg, add the oil and salt and mix well together with a fork until it forms a ball.  Add a drop or two of water if the mixture seems too dry, or a sprinkling of flour if too wet.  Turn out onto a floured surface and knead well for at least 5 minutes until silky in texture. Divide in half, wrap each in greaseproof paper (or clingfilm) and leave at room temperature for at least 15 minutes before rolling out (again on a lightly floured surface) VERY THINLY - sprinkling it with flour to prevent it sticking/breaking.   Cover each sheet with a cloth to prevent it drying out.

approx. 4 oz (100g) chosen filling
pasta sheets (see above recipe)
Take one sheet of the pasta and place small dots (about 1 teaspoon) of the filling spaced about 1 1/2 inches apart (4cm).  Brush the second sheet with water and place it over the filling, then press down between each 'lump' removing as much air as you can, sealing the two sheets of pasta together. Cut between each 'lump using a pastry (scone) cutter if you want them round, or with a knife if you want them square.  Check to make sure each little parcel is completely sealed around the edges (or the filling with burst out when cooked).
Put the ravioli into a pan of salted boiling water (or chicken stock) and simmer for a few minutes, the  ravioli will rise to the surface when it the pasta is cooked.  Lift out with a slotted spoon, draining well, then place in a (preferably a buttered) dish.  Serve with hot tomato sauce (passata) and - if you have it - a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.  Any filling left over can be added to the sauce.

As an alternative to the meat filling, and if you have drained the yogurt to make some firm 'curd' cheese, by adding a few other ingredients (when you have them - and even if you haven't you could possible use a substitute) you can make a meatless filling for the ravioli.
curd cheese filling:
approx. 8 oz (225g) curd cheese
1 small pack frozen spinach, cooked/drained
1 egg
tblsp finely grated cheese
salt and pepper
Drain as much whey from the cheese as possible then mix with the spinach.  Stir in the egg, the cheese, and the seasonings/nutmeg.  Dot this filling over the pastry in the same way as the above recipe, then continue by covering with the second sheet (following above recipe) and cook.

Reading a recipe such as the above, when I haven't got 'the necessary', I'd try and think up useful substitutes.  If I had frozen peas (another worthwhile buy), I'd mash these and use instead of the spinach. Or perhaps cook some of the white cabbage until soft, then chop this up and add to the curd cheese.  What else would work? What else do I have?  This is where dried herbs and spices would come into their own.  But never give up just because we haven't got all the makings. Improvise.

One last thought on the above.  If we haven't any pasta and don't even have the flour to make any, then beat up a couple of eggs with a couple of teaspoons of milk or water, then pour a little of this mixture into a small frying pan, just enough to cover the base (first adding a little oil if using a non-stick pan), and cook until set on top (no need to turn as they are so thin).  Slide this egg-only pancake onto a plate and continue making more (you should make 3 pancakes for each egg used - total of six in this instance) then stack one on top of the other.  Roll up tightly like a Swiss roll, then slice across thinly to look like strips of pasta.  Use these instead of noodles when serving a Chinese Stir-Fry, or can be used as 'pasta' when serving a pasta dish where the rest of the ingredients are vegetables.

These - or 'proper' pancakes' - can also be used as a substitute for sheets of pasta when making lasagne or 'cannelloni'.  Especially good when the filling is vegetarian as there is plenty of protein already in the egg.   Cover the lasagne or cannelloni with a tomato or cheese sauce and with grated cheese on top and finished off in the oven,  this really makes a substantial and healthy meal.

Hope these suggestions have inspired you to have a go at making your own pasta.  Remember, it needs to be rolled really thinly (as it swells when cooked), takes very few minutes to cook (usually less than 5) and is very tender when eaten.  When I used to do 'catering', used the above recipe for pasta and people raved over it - even though it was the economy version - and am sure this is because it was 'home-made'.  Incidentally, I used to make the pasta, part-cook it in boiling water before wrapping it round a (cooked meat) filling to make cannelloni, then freeze these. (The ravioli doesn't need part cooking as it cooks in the boiling water. But home-cooked does need 2 - 3 minutes in boiling when in sheet form to use in other dishes that carry on cooking in the oven). Later would thaw the cannelloni, sit them on a bed of tomato sauce, cover with more sauce, top with cheese sauce/grated cheese - then cook them in the oven.

Hope I've given you some ideas of what to do with the little we've already bought with the £10 challenge.  More suggestions will follow in future blogs.   Not sure if I'll be back tomorrow, depends upon whether I've done anything interesting today.  And if the comp/ doesn't play silly beggars as it did today.  Just hoping this publishes.  You I will soon find out as I now press 'publish'. TTFN.