Friday, August 23, 2013

Taking Control

Yesterday, watched a repeat of 'The Men Who Make Us Fat' (BBC 2).  Do hope that readers also saw this - if not hope you will watch it on iPlayer.  If nothing else it highlights how practically all foods marked 'healthy eating' are not as good as they make out.  As I'd mentioned before, reducing the fat sounds good, but nothing is said about the extra sugar and salt added to bring back flavour.  
It was remarked on the prog. that reducing the 'bad' ingredients for us does spoil the flavour of many dishes, especially the 'ready-meals.

More was said about the 'traffic light' - and other - forms of dietary info. printed on the packs, and have to say this is useful as long as it is rapidly visible.  However, myself really don't want to have to read each pack when I want it to end up in my shopping trolley, it takes too much time - and anyway, I can't do this when ordering via the computer.  Perhaps one reason why supermarkets want more of us to order on-line.

What was sad to hear was how our life is in the hands of those who want to make the most profits (especially in America where they seem not to have the concern we do about the health of their residents as long as enough profit can be made). Sad only in that we allow ourselves to be duped, and time now to bring back some sense into our culinary lives.   Thankfully, it is mainly the 'ready-meals' that - dare I say it - are 'junk' foods. These may contain food as we know it, but a whole lot more unhealthy ones that we'd rather do without.  I dare say there are several brands of good 'readies' on sale, but we all know these will be expensive.

The above is only a problem when we allow ourselves to buy and eat the ready-meals.  Other processed foods are less likely to do us harm.  As said before, about the only foods that aren't processed in some form or another are the fresh fruit and vegetables, meat and fish, and we do know that these too can be processed when dried, canned or frozen, but little added (if any) to do us harm.

The good(e) news is that once we begin to cook from scratch (allowing some processed foods of course, what would I do without the ketchup and brown sauce, and herbs and spices, flour and raising agents....?), we then have complete control over what we put into the meals.  Good food, with no need for preservatives (because most won't be kept, although some can be chilled or frozen), and any 'additives' only the ones we wish to include (here I'm thinking of seasonings etc).

Another thing on the prog that concerned me (a bit) was the mention that we are all being urged to eat less calories.  Nothing wrong with that, but what seems not to have be said (yet) is that not all calories are 'good' for us.  I we know we should keep to the recommended calorie intake for our personal need (more if active and a man) less if a woman (and even less if inactive and old), then it could be some people prefer to take most of their calories just eating ice-cream or chocolate.  It all comes back to eating a 'balanced meal' (and how I hated that expression after the war when all I wanted to eat was what I wanted, not what I should).

As long as we buy, cook and eat as much fresh food as we can afford, then make and bake anything else we need, buy the basic essentials by way of 'dry goods' (canned, bottled and packets), then I think we are well on the way to recovery.  Not recovering from just the obesity problem our nation now has, but recovering from being freed from the supermarket/manufacturers control. 

The thought has just flashed into my head:  'how many square feet of a large supermarket is given over to fresh produce? How much to those aisles of 'processed' foods?'  It seems we can find umpteen different varieties of cereals, potato crisps, biscuits.... on sale to choose from, but probably no more than 2 types of fresh carrots or lettuce, and possibly only one variety of fresh strawberries or plums.  Even in America it seems they have many different varieties of potatoes and onions, all seemingly necessary for the dish being made, their salads too are varied.   Perhaps it is us that have got stuck in a rut.  If we don't ask, we don't get given.

Yet, do we need such a wide variety of almost everything?  Before the war wives and mothers used to buy fresh food almost every day, and practically all of it was grown/produced in this country.  Having said that, I'm eternally grateful that we can now buy foods from all over the world - and how strange it is that most of these are cheaper than our common or garden British grown produce.  At least that is something that eases our food budget but I wish it was the other way round.

Don't know what it is, but I'm hooked on any sauce that contains chipotle.  Have to have some every day or life is hardly worth living.  Must be the 'pepper' effect, the chemical it contains that gives that 'feel good' feeling (which it does).  I'm even mixing it into my salad dressing!

Apart from the now-known reasons why a 'ready-meal' is not a healthy option, we need to understand that these will almost always be much more expensive to buy than if we make them ourselves.  They sometimes may seem not to be when priced - on offer - at 99p (or a buy-one-get-one-free), but start analysing the contents!!!  The meat content will be shown, and this could be very low (sometimes 3%), and the type of meat could be dubious (pre-formed etc).  The actual 'good food' in the meal, usually shown as a percentage, would add up to very little, so what makes up all the rest of the weight of the pack?  Perhaps better we didn't know.

When nutritionists tell us that 100g meat (150g fish) is the recommended amount for us to eat, then I bet your bottom dollar no ready-meal will include that amount.  If it does, then it will - of course - cost a lot more than the cheaper meals.   Every time I look at a ready meal (and have bought some purely for research purposes!!!), I realise that not only am I paying for the ingredients, I've also paid for the preparation and cooking, the packaging - which includes the photography used, the advertising, and the profits made from manufacturer to warehouse, to supermarket profits, not forgetting the fuel used for delivery between them all.  When millions of these meals are made and sold, then that adds only pennies to the product, but still we are paying for something we can't eat.
When we buy our foods as fresh as possible and cook these ourselves we have no other overheads than the fuel it takes to cook them, and we know our meals will be GOOD!   Once we start to do this we will find a very healthy rattle left in our purse at the end of each week. 

Enough of this, time to take my schoolmarm hat off and replace it with my cook's cap.  Enjoying the repeat of Downton Abbey I now role-play Mrs. Packmore.  Just wish I had a Daisy to do the washing up!

Made the meringues from those three 'free' egg whites, plus sugar (15p).  Made 9 meringue nests and six 'finger-shape' meringues.  At supermarket cost of £1 for 6 'nests', mine would have cost me £1.50, so home-made gave me a saving of AT LEAST £1.85p and I also had the 'fingers'.  Having made these before, know they will keep for months when stored in a poly-bag in an air-tight container.

For B's supper yesterday thaw out a steak and kidney pie I'd previously made in a Fray Bentos tin.  First I'd lined the tin with short pastry and baked this blind, then when cool, filled it with cooked and cooled steak and kidney. Covered it with foil, put into a freezer bag and froze.  Normally I first would cover it with short-crust pastry before freezing, but this time left the top open so that I could later cover with short-crust or puff pastry.  B does not care for a pastry topping to touch the filling as 'it gets a soggy bottom', so I also paint the undercrust with a glaze of egg when baked blind so no filling seeps through.  An if using puff pastry lid, prefer to cut this out to size and then bake it separately while the pie is also re-heating in the oven.  Then pop the lid on top once the pie has been turned out. 
As the S and K pie already contained onions and carrots, B only needed a green veg, so chose peas (normally I would serve Brussels sprouts, but it was his choice).  Made a bit of extra gravy to go with the meal, and then left him to enjoy it.  Had made myself a salad (lettuce, red bell pepper, sliced mushroom, home-grown cherry tomatoes, and 10 seasticks that I'd chopped up into chunks and folded into a bit of salad cream spiced with chipotle sauce.   Tossed the lot together and it was very, very tasty (mainly due to the chipotle - and a good way to make those seasticks taste more interesting. Probably have the same again today.  B having cold meat (ham, corned beef, sausages....) with salad tonight.  Well, that's the plan.

The weather improved after a bad start yesterday and I managed to grab some time to have a sit in the garden to top up my tan once the clouds had rolled away.  Was very annoyed when I found my big pot of curly parsley had had all but one leaf nibbled away, presumably by slugs.  My tray of growing herbs had been knocked to the floor by something, the Tumbler tomato also ended up upside down on the chair in the greenhouse.  So all but the parsley had fallen from the pots and eaten or gone missing, and it might have been a squirrel or a cat that caused the damage.  So brought the parsley indoors, cut the stalks down as it seemed there could be new shoots growing at ground level, filled more pots with soil and sowed more seeds.  Just hoping that something will grow to keep me in parsley for the winter.  Otherwise I'll have to buy a pot from the garden centre.

The forecast for the weekend is a bit hit and miss, but reasonably fair.  The temperatures about the same as you are expecting Margie - between 20C and 24.  It is also humid which makes it difficult to sleep at night.
I remember the series you mentioned, set in Morecambe. I enjoyed watching it.  Not a lot of Morecambe is shown, but do remember one or two scenes where the children were running along the prom. 

Interesting you say that not all Aldi products are a bargain Louise.  Like most stores, we are tempted in knowing they have low prices on many products, then end up buying a lot more of the more expensive, just because we might as well do the whole shop while we are there.  When it comes to bargains (judging by the flyers that come through the door from Lidl and Aldi), do know that Tesco sell one or two of the same offers even cheaper that week, as probably do most other supermarkets. 

I see that Nigel Slater had a cookery prog tonight (BBC 1 - 7.30) where he is 'making food go further'.  I will be watching to see if I can pick up any tips, and with that thought in mind will be giving my recipe for the day - a dish of pasta with roasted vegetables.
As ever, use the recipe as a guide.  Use different veg if that is all you have (as long as they will roast satisfactorily. My choice of roasted veg is always bell pepper, butternut squash, parsnips, red and white onions, maybe throwing in some mushrooms and cherry tomatoes towards the end.  Although not often used (B doesn't like them) aubergines and courgettes also roast well.  Whole cloves of garlic, left in their skins, are GORGEOUS when roasted as they then go soft and can be pushed from their skins to make a very sweet and only faintly garlicky pulp.

Feta cheese is used, but crumbled mozzarella, goat's cheese, Wensleydale cheese, or even home-made curd cheese (made from yogurt) could be used with this dish.  Instead of spinach leaves, choose any salad leaves you may have but serve these separately, not added to the veggies).
As the vegetables for this dish can be roasted the day before (then put into an airtight container and kept chilled), worth planning ahead and roasting extra when making a meal, then saving the surplus to serve with this dish the following day.

Roasted Vegetable and Feta Pasta: serves 2
1 small butternut squash (or other veg, see above)
1 large red bell pepper
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped (or see above)
3 oz (75g) feta cheese, crumbled
1 tsp fresh rosemary leaves, chopped (opt)
1 tblsp olive or sunflower oil
salt and pepper
7 oz (200g) pasta penne (or other shapes)
4 oz (100g) baby spinach leaves
Peel the squash, remove seeds and cut flesh into chunks. Deseed pepper and cut into chunks.  Pile the veggies, garlic and cheese into a large roasting pan and drizzle with the oil.  Sprinkle with a little salt (opt) and plenty of ground black pepper.  Toss lightly until all the veggies have a coating of oil, then spread out to cover the pan in a single layer. Roast at 200C gas 6 for 30 - 40 minutes, tossing or turning veggies after 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta as per packet instructions.  Remove the roasting tin from the oven, drain the pasta (reserving half a mugful of liquid) and add the pasta to the veggies with the spinach, and once this has begun to wilt (adding a splash of reserved liquid if needed for moistening) spoon into two serving bowls and eat whilst still warm.

Feel like typing all day, but need to go and spend some time in the kitchen as am aiming to make meals that use up what I have rather than go and buy more.  Why we always have the urge to buy more food when we already have plenty that we could make meals from I don't know.  Even I do this, so now trying to take myself under control and use up a lot more of my 'dry goods' and replace only the fresh when needed.    There is still plenty of time to restock the shelves in time for the winter meals.

Friday today.  I may blog over the weekend, but as this is a Bank Holiday so not sure yet what we'll be doing (may have visitors).  It could be Monday (or Tuesday) before I'm back with you. Worth checking tomorrow just in case something's happened I can't wait to tell you about.  B is out all weekend (sailing) so I'll have a bit more free time and prefer to spend this with you rather than twiddle my thumbs, have to see how things work out.  Hope you all have a good Bank Holiday and make the most of this good weather for it can't last that much longer.  This year we have been very lucky and actually managed to see the sun for hours at a time.  It's shining now, so am off to take a mug of coffee into the garden and sit and enjoy it.  If we can have an Indian summer as well, then winter won't seem that bad.   TTFN.