Wednesday, August 21, 2013

More Than We Think...

Perhaps the secret behind economy meals is that we should all spend a little time aiming to make more from what we have.  This seems obvious I suppose, but how often we get into a routine when we cook and not go one step further.

Yesterday was an example.  At the time I was trying to make as much as possible in one hour, to prove that by spending just one (extra?) hour a week we could accomplish miracles.  Once I had begun I then fell into my 'jigsaw' type of cooking (where one ingredient - an egg or lemon or..... - can be used in more than one dish).

I began by making a 'sort-of' Tiramasu for B.  Used my Lemon flavoured curd cheese (made by draining EasiYo lemon yogurt through muslin).  The draining had concentrated the lemon flavour and it was really nice when mixed with a little icing sugar.  I dipped the sponge fingers into so lemon juice mixed with a bit of Limoncello (and for those who then complain because this drink does not fit into an economy budget... I asked for a bottle as a Xmas gift some many years ago, all my 'cooking' alcohol: brandy, rum, kirsch, Cointreau, vodka... have been gifted to me, and as only a small amount needed each time, the bottles do last years, and years, and years...).

Anyway, the lemon curd cheese was layered between the dipped sponges, the top layer of cheese having grated chocolate on top.  Because the yogurt had by not turned very thick (like ricotta cheese) I did slacken it with a bit of cream, but milk could have been used).  B said it was lovely.

Before squeezing the lemon for the juice I grated the zest from it, then added this to the grated rind and juice of 3 more lemons.  This, with butter and sugar, were heated in the microwave, and then eggs were added to be then cooked on to make Lemon Curd.  Because I had 'plans' I saved 3 egg whites to make meringues, adding an extra egg yolk to compensate.  It works!  So today I will be making meringues.   I had time to make them yesterday but got distracted so covered the whites and put them in the fridge.

The whey - drained from the yogurt - had separated almost back to yogurt at the bottom and water at the top, so mixed this together and used as 'buttermilk' to make some scones.  So something else not wasted, and incidentally, the squeezed lemon shells were put into a basin with some water, put into the microwave for a few minutes, and the resulting steam then was wiped away from the innards of the microwave (walls, floor, ceiling etc), and this cleaned it both very easily and perfectly.

By then it was less than an hour gone by, so I decided to make a 'boil and bake' fruit cake.  Had I thought of this earlier I could have had the fruit/marg/sugar/water boiled and left to cool down whilst making the Tiramasu and the Lemon Curd.  Then I could have put the rest of the ingredients into the fruit mixture, into the cake tin and in the oven.  Anyway, the cake was made, and as all the time I'd been happily listening to the radio, it was a very pleasant hour and productive hour and a half (am ignoring the time the cake took to bake as I wasn't having to hold its hand while it did it).

So, all in all, a Tiramasu, Lemon Curd, scones, a big fruit cake, all made in less than 2 hours (could have been in one hour if I had started the fruit for the cake earlier).  Doesn't sound a lot, but there would be three helpings of Tiramasu, plenty of scones (they could be frozen), three jars of Lemon Curd (should last several weeks) and - at a pinch - if dousing the cake with brandy, this could be our Xmas cake...but it won't be.  B will make sure that all are eaten within a month I'm sure.

Yesterday B cooked himself another stir-fry.  I'd run out of some veggies (mangetout and baby sweetcorn), so made do with carrot strips, onion, red pepper, and some cauliflower florets.  I also removed the few leaves that came wrapped around the cauli and sliced off the actual 'leafy' bit, just leaving the thick 'rib'.  This I sliced and popped into the pan with the carrot strips and florets to give them about 3 minutes blanching as B doesn't like veggies that have too much 'bite', and by part cooking these, all he has to do is to add them to the pan of onions and peppers and just heat them through before adding the pre-fried meat, and his chosen Chinese sauce (and perhaps noodles if he hasn't decided on rice).

Myself cooked half a head of cauliflower (florets) in the microwave (in other words steamed it), then put it into a saucepan and poured over a chilli-flavoured tomato sauce.  Made a cheese sauce in another pan, adding some grated cheese, then put the cauli and tomato sauce in a bowl, cheese sauce on top, and that was my supper, and very good it was too.
The remaining outer leaves of the cauli and the core have all been saved to grate up and cook in milk with a rind of Stilton cheese to make 'cauliflower soup'.  Have done it before, and this also is very good indeed, and apart from the cost of the milk (enough for 3 servings) is otherwise 'free'!

Thanks Les for your 'how it was then', and how true.  An earlier comment of yours mentioned the advancement of technology and how it meant things could be 'saved' (on computers).  Saved only as long as the comps. work.  Myself still feel that it is worth printing out anything really important to save it getting 'lost'.  If there was a national disaster either man-made or something nature threw at us, and we had no electricity for days (weeks, months!!!), then where would be if we had not kept a written record of what was important?  Myself much prefer to curl up with a real book rather than sit with a 'tablet' or whatever books are 'printed' on now.

Like you Margie, I'm realising that food prices are rising (and rising...), not just by a penny, but often by a lot more - usually at least 10p a throw. When it comes to meat it can be as low as 50p rise, and often £££s.  There are still cheap foods around, but not the quality we are used to, although enough for us not to worry too much.  Ideally we should not stick to what we normally buy, but start to try other - cheaper - ingredients that we haven't used before, but really are good (and sometimes preferable to what we ate before).

One day I will venture into Aldi Eileen.  The one on the front (Morecambe promenade) looks small enough for me to walk round (with the help of a trolley to lean on), so one day I will venture in there and see what it is on offer.  Even so - have noticed that Tesco were selling some foods cheaper than the offers on the Lidl flyer than came through the door, so the store wars continue.

A welcome to Ruth who asks if I was the same person who gave demos at the Leeds Flower Show. And yes, that was me.  It was quite a busy time for me for not only was I giving demos (with advance prep of foods etc), but we also had several B & B guests staying with us (these were also connected with the Show - stall holders etc), and so had to provide their meals (including supper). But it was great fun.  Most of the guests used to book in again the following year for the Show.

I too used to have problems with my scones Ruth, but recently they have improved beyond measure. What I now do is add a teaspoon of baking powder to the self-raising flour (sifted together), rub in a little butter, add a little sugar, and also add a small egg when mixing with milk.  The mixture needs to be soft but not sticky.  I knead it very gently to make it fairly smooth, then roll out on a floured board to about an inch thick.  The scone cutter can be any size you wish, but I prefer a fairly large one (say two inches wide).  The scones are then put onto a greased and floured baking tray, the tops brushed with milk (only the tops, don't let the milk go down the sides), and although some cooks tend to place the scones close together, it doesn't seem to matter, and as these are thick I prefer to place well apart to let the heat get round them.  They then rise quite well and even the tops stay flat (in the old days ended up very rounded).
I bake at 180C (fan) gas 4 for 12 - 15 minutes, then leave them on the hot tray for about 10 minutes before removing, this way they continue cooking internally for a bit, and don't get too brown on top or dried up inside.  Then put them on a cake airer. When cool, but still a tiny bit warm, if wanting to keep them for a few days I put them in a polybag to keep them fresh.  If being eaten that day, I just cover them with a towel, that way they taste really 'fresh'.

There have been some good cookery progs. on recently.  A new one about spices caught my attention and I look forward to watching the rest of the series.  Silly me nodded off half-way through Great British Bake-Off last night, but am sure it will be repeated at the weekend.  Is it me, or did Paul Hollywood seem 'not quite himself' and rather subdued (not like him)?  The show was already being filmed before we heard about his peccadillo although probably he had already begun his US filming. 

Have to say, after watching the Food Network's 'Unique Sweets', it really is opening my eyes as to variations on our 'basic' cakes and desserts.  Even though many US cakes (such a cupcakes) go OTT with the creamy toppings, certainly their cookies and tray-bakes, breads and ice-creams look scrumptious and I can't wait to try making some myself.  This morning I saw some home-made caramel being mixed in with popcorn and - believe it or not - crumbled crispy bacon, and have to say it actually sounded rather good.   It's surprising how - in the US - bacon IS added to many sweet things.

Another series I'm enjoying is a new one with Kirstie Allsopp (Freeview 14). If there is one person guaranteed to make me want to start making everything myself (instead of buying) it is her.  Appreciate that not everyone would find her as appealing as me, but the sheer pleasure she gains from 'learning how to', that she gives off (even if it maybe false) really is inspiring.  Do other readers feel the same?

Today I'm giving a recipe that uses the ingredients already bought during the first two weeks of the £10 challenge, but before I begin would like to point out that although this is truly 'living on the breadline', I'm not expecting my readers to have nothing at all in their larders before they begin. Hopefully they already have some seasonings, herbs, spices, sauces....especially oil.  The idea is to then work with a lower budget (and why not start at £10?) and also build up the store cupboard (if not already done). 
Anyone with a little knowledge of cooking will have a few 'dry goods' in their larder (even if they don't use them often), and there are plenty of websites/blogs written for truly novice cooks with not a  bean in their pocket (or in a can on their shelves). 

With the continual rise in prices, even experienced cooks are finding it almost impossible to keep within their food budget, so this is what my blog is about.  How to spend a lot less but still eat well (and make the most of what we already have).

The original recipe for this dish used goat's cheese, but also suggested that 'dollops of soft cheese such a ricotta or mascarpone could be used instead.  'Perfect use for the strained yogurt 'curd cheese', so as we can make that ourselves, and also have the small potatoes, and can make the pastry, all we need are the herbs.  Oops, we don't have these (although some readers may grow them, and we could use dried herbs...) so there has to be an alternative.  Maybe a spoon of pesto or mint sauce? If we have them. Myself might spread the pastry with some passata before adding the potatoes and cheese. Anything to add flavour, and flavour is what it's all about.  So use this recipe only as a guide, and make up your own set of flavours from what you already have.  A well-flavoured meal is one of the many secrets to eating well on a budget.
The pastry should be puff pastry, but rough-puff, flaky, or even short pastry can be used.
Incidentally, 'new' potatoes are just small potatoes, available all year round (and often on offer). I always keep these in the fridge as they then won't 'sprout'.   Only the true Jersey New Potatoes are really 'new' (in other words seasonally fresh).

This tart can be made up to *** 4 hours ahead, then cover and chill. Follow rest of the recipe for baking.
Cheese and New Potato Tart: serves 4 - 6
12 oz (350g) pastry (see above)
10 oz (300g) small potatoes, thinly sliced
8 oz (225g) soft curd cheese
handful each fresh parsley, tarragon, chives
1 tblsp olive or sunflower oil
salt and pepper
Roll the pastry thinly to fit a Swiss Roll tin.  Especially when using puff pastry (or rough puff/flaky), score a line around the edges to about 1" (2.5cm) in, then use a fork to prick the pastry all over the inside of the marked lines. You can also do this with short pastry and roll it out slightly larger than the tin so that the edges can be rolled back over (or tucked in) to make the sides slightly thicker.
Boil the potatoes for about 5 or so minutes until just tender, then drain and leave to cool.  Crumble the cheese evenly over the pastry (if using passata spread this over the pastry first),  but keep the cheese within the marked edges.  Sprinkle herbs (if using) over the cheese, then scatter the potatoes over the top, seasoning with a little pepper and salt***.  Drizzle with the oil and bake at 200C, gas 6 for about 18 - 20 minutes or until the pastry is crisp and the potatoes browned.   Serve warm or at room temperature.

It's been many years since I wrote (with co-author Erica Griffiths) 'More For Your Money' (Penguin books), but am now referring to it again to find more useful recipes that work with the above challenge.   Here is one that could be served as a side-dish, but equally good eaten alone as a light lunch or supper dish.  Especially with a brown (or in my case chipotle) sauce drizzled over.
If using small potatoes, no need to peel.
Potato Pudding: serves 3 - 4
1 lb (450g) potatoes, peeled and coarsely grated
1  small egg
pinch salt
1 tblsp soft marg
1 oz (25g) butter
1 onion, thinly sliced in rings
Put the potatoes, egg and salt into a bowl and mix together.  Heat the margarine in an oven dish, adding the potato mixture, smoothing the top.  Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes until golden and crispy.  Turn out onto a dish and return to the oven for 15 minutes to bake the underside.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a frying pan and add the onion rings.  Fry gently for about 10 minutes, making sure they don't burn.  Remove the potato pudding from the oven and scatter the onion over the top.  Cut into wedges and serve hot.

From the same book is a recipe using much the same ingredients but cooked in a different way. This makes a really good lunch dish, especially when served with apple or cranberry sauce.  Myself am now gathering our fallen (maggoty) apples, cutting out the bad bits but still leaving on the skin, then simmering them down in a little water to rub through a sieve to make 'apple sauce' (can be frozen).
When it comes to 'fat for frying', use lard, bacon fat, dripping, or just oil.  It's always worth saving fat when cooking (I save then use the chicken fat that has risen to the top of a bowl of chilled chicken stock).

As you grate the potatoes, put them immediately into a bowl of cold water to prevent them going brown.
Potato Pancakes:  makes 8
1.5lb (700g) potatoes, peeled if old, and grate
2 eggs
1 small onion, finely grated
1 rounded tblsp plain flour
pinch salt
approx. 4 oz (100g) fat for frying (see above).
Beat the eggs, add the onion, then beat in the flour and salt.  Drain the potatoes well and put them between two tea towels to pat out as much moisture as possible (or twist them inside a tea towel and wring out the excess liquid), then stir the potatoes into the batter.  Melt the fat in a large frying pan over a high heat.  Pour in a ladle (or half a teacup) of potato mixture, using a fish slice to press into a pancake.  Reduce heat to medium and fry until the bottom is golden brown, then flip over and cook the other side.  Remove to a heated plate and keep warm as you cook the other pancakes (add more fat if necessary).  Serve at once with chosen sauce.

Meals become more interesting when we can include more ingredients, so the third week we should be looking to add a strong cheese and streaky bacon.  Recently I've been buying different cheeses purely to differentiate between the taste.  Have to say that Cheddar is either tasteless or slightly flavoured.  Even the 'mature' or 'strong' Cheddar hasn't the strength that I've found in Double Gloucester.  Not that I am particularly fond of the D.G. but it is perfect to add to other hard cheeses when grating (to use in quiches etc when I really do want to taste the cheese).

Lancashire cheese is milk but can be either crumbly or creamy.  The crumbly is similar to Wensleydale (one of my favourites), Cheshire cheese is mild but has more of a texture of Red Leicester (another favourite).  There seem to be very few English cheeses(other than Stilton) that have a well pronounced flavour these days, and by this I mean the plastic wrapped from the supermarkets.  Am pretty sure the more expensive 'counter wrapped' are tastier, but naturally far more expensive (we get what we pay for), and you know me - economy always in mind.

That's me for today, and what a miserable day it is turning out to be.  All the time I was unable to publish my blog properly (so kept the content down), we had the glorious hot, sunny weather. The good news is that this will be back over the Bank Holiday weekend (at least the Monday, and hopefully for longer than that).  The nights are drawing in, and it already we are being reminded by various companies that Christmas is on its way.  Why can't we enjoy summer and autumn before having to consider more expense?   But of course, OUR Christmas (yours and mine) doesn't HAVE to be expensive, does it?  Follow this blog to find out.

Probably be back with you on Friday, maybe even tomorrow (but do enjoy having a 'day off' now and again).  Am now off to find out how many meringues three egg whites (free) and 6 oz sugar (about 15p) will make.  It's great fun seeing how much 'profit' I will have made (comparing the cost against bought meringues).   Enjoy your day.  See you soon .