Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Keeping in Touch

Watching Jamie's series (budget meals), and this week the Hairy Biker's 'Everyday Gourmet', it seems that an 'economy meal' is (at the time of writing) expected to average £1.50p per portion.   My first though is 'that's not what I call economical', but maybe I expect too much.  Am I out of touch with life today?  Trying to think positive, I worked out that as seven portions (one main meal a day) could cost less than £10 a week, if one take-away can cost more than that, then perhaps I'm not thinking clearly. 

On the other hand, surely, surely, it is still possible to make a good 'one-portion' meal for less than £1.50p? There are many writers-of-blogs who can do a darn sight better than that.  Is it they (and me also) who is really in touch with the times?  Or is it still an 'us and them' division?

Ideally, even following a TV prog suggestion, we could look on it as a challenge.  Make the same thing (almost) but cheaper.  Maybe for £1.25, or even £1, or even less.
Every price or cost given in food mags and on TV cookery progs depends a great deal on how much is paid for the raw ingredients in the first place.  In Jamie's case he likes to buy 'freedom foods' and 'free range' etc, and we all know these are not the cheapest.  Even the Hairy Bikers seems to spend more than I expect, but then perhaps the prices are higher where they shop.  Hardly any cooks seem to buy food from a supermarket, it is always the farm shops, or local butchers, greengrocers etc. So as we cooks know already, there is always somewhere we can buy things cheaper, even if it does mean shopping around.

What I liked about the Hairy B's prog was the way they showed that presentation makes a HUGE difference.  Make a dish look as though it came from a Michelin starred restaurant and it makes us believe the ingredients have cost ££££s more than they have. 

This week we've had a paper pushed through the door offering a door-step delivery of milk and eggs. Just like the old days, and I was so pleased.  That is until I saw the prices being charged.  No delivery to pay, but the milk - admittedly from local farms - was 56p pint, more than twice the cost of supermarket milk (this being 25p per pint when 3 x 4pint containers are bought).  Eggs too were almost double the price. 
Have to say - despite the 'doorstep' price - I am tempted.  It would be good to use local farm produce and avoid going to the supermarket (where almost always something else is bought at the same time as the milk and eggs).  Yet, working the extra cost per month and knowing that fuel prices will continue to rise (they say another £100 a year), feel that it would be better to use this money to keep warm in the winter.  What is it they say now?  "Heat or eat?"  Seems that I am now having to think that way too.

Yet, in Leeds, because our milkman also delivered butter, yogurt, cheese, cream, crème fraiche, eggs, potatoes....these - with veggies from the greengrocer - helped me get through many weeks, even months, without going to the supermarket to buy 'other things' (that we probably didn't use at that time, but would use later).  It could be, as Jamie keeps saying, we need to 'spend more to save more', and maybe this is the case with doorstep deliveries of milk.   Will have to phone the man to see if he does deliver other things than milk/eggs, if so - well, watch this space.

Yesterday managed to get quite a lot done due to being able to have an early start.   Mince beef was thawed and cooked in the slow cooker.  Some will be used to make spag.bol for tonight's supper, the rest frozen in packs to use another time.  The gravy also.

B had a Fish Risotto for his supper, and I had a real job finding some chicken stock (frozen), to add to this.  Eventually found a few 'cubes' that had been frozen in ice-cube trays, but that seemed to be all there was.  Must buy some chicken wings (or hopefully 'free' chicken carcases) to make more stock as this is one of the most important 'ingredients' in the Goode kitchen.

Still have lbs of plums to use up, and our small pear tree (planted 3 years ago) has cropped really well (we have about 20 pears from it). Even the old apple tree, despite most of the fruit being scabby/pitted, has had more fruit this year than I've seen before - not a lot but enough to freeze away.  Yesterday made an apple and blackberry crumble for B with some of the apples and blackberries that we've picked.   What a good year for fruit this has been.

The other day made my usual salad for supper, but instead of tomatoes, I used halved plums and would you believe they worked really well as a salad 'veg'. In any case, I'm a quite a fan of including fruit in (my) salad: green grapes, sliced banana, chunks of avocado, sliced or grated apple, so why not plums (or even pears)?  It's a bit like having a main course and dessert rolled into one. 

Yesterday was both warm and wind-free, so although a bit cloudy and now a real feeling of autumn in the air, it seemed a pity to have to clear my containers ready to plant the spring bulbs.  So far have have finished lifting all the geraniums, still growing well, but few flowers on now. Repotted they will be kept in the conservatory where they should continue flowering throughout most of the winter (as they have done in previous years).
 Because there was blue lobelia in the same containers, their roots were disturbed a bit when lifting the geraniums, and not sure if it was the roots or the lobelia flowers, but certainly something was giving off a lovely perfume.  At the moment have left the lobelia where it is, the bulb planting can wait another week. 
The two small lavender plants bought in early summer have now fully filled their pots (after a second transplanted), and will transplant them again this week, probably into the large window box that is under the conservatory window by the side of our back door (that is, once I've planted the spring bulbs).

Was SO disappointed when I saw my hosta.  In early summer I'd bought one in bloom, the leaves green with a white stripe, and very attractive.  Knowing how much the slugs love to eat hostas, I stood the pot on a house brick, this standing in a tray of water (slugs won't cross water), and all summer it has looked beautiful. 
Yesterday saw that something had knocked over the plant (cat, squirrel?) and although the pot was still lying - on its side - on the brick, the leaves had crossed over the water and had, apparently, fallen to touch the ground (which was grass).  I say 'apparently' as there were no leaves at all, just the dead flower spike in the centre.  The slugs had eaten the lot!

As I bent down to pick up the pot in the hope of seeing new growth at soil level, lost my balance and nearly fell to the floor, being saved only by a big pot of acanthus which I fell onto, my hand smashing most of its leaves but fortunately did not too much damage.  As ever, found myself apologising out loud to the plant.  This is what I do.  Fall over onto a hedge and I apologise, bump into a tree and I apologise, severely prune a plant and I apologise...  well they have as much life force (maybe even more) than we do, so tend to think of them as able to feel some sort of discomfort (if not real pain) when they are damaged.  Just because we can't hear a lettuce scream when it is pulled from the soil doesn't mean it isn't hurting.

Just a couple of comments to reply to (hope I have not forgotten anyone).  No, I haven't seen the Gourmet Vegan website buttercup, and although I first thought 'not my cup of tea' because asparagus was mentioned (asparagus being expensive) really LOVED your suggestion of using peas instead of asparagus. That shows great incentive and how we should never dismiss a recipe because one (or more) ingredient is costly for we should be able to find a very similar - and cheaper - alternative (as did buttercup). 

Seems that the Fork Biscuit recipe is going down well.  Kate has added her own choice of flavourings and these sound gorgeous.  Must try them myself as am today making more Fork Biscuits.  B so enjoys them that they disappear as fast as I make them.

Due to this season's glut of plums thought a couple of recipes might come in useful. Plum Duff is a very old-fashioned pudding and - because dried fruit also used - when cooked is similar to a Christmas pudding.  So, if you have surplus plums, why not freeze some to later thaw and make this cheaper version to serve on Christmas Day (or any other cold day in the winter - you can always make half the amount).
The ingredients (other than plums) are what I call 'store-cupboard' (even the apple and orange keep quite well), and we could omit the rum.
Please not that the metrics are slightly more by weight than normally shown (often 100g = 4 oz, this time it is 125g).
Served after a large meal (such as Christmas turkey with the trimmings) we really only need a taste of a pudding such as this, so although the original recipe serves 6, at Christmas it will serve 8. 

Plum Duff: serves 6 -8
4 oz (125g) self-raising flour
4 os (125g) breadcrumbs
4 oz (125g) suet
3.5 oz (100g) soft light brown sugar
3.5 oz) 100g) currants or raisins
4 oz (125g) sultanas
1 tsp mixed spice
10 oz (275g) plums, stoned and chopped
1 dessert apple, peeled and chopped
grated zest and juice of 1 orange
2 tblsp rum (opt)
2 eggs, beaten
7 fl oz (200ml) milk (approx. amount)
Put into a large bowl the flour, breadcrumbs, suet, sugar, dried fruit, prepared plums and apples. Mix well and add the zest and juice of the orange, the rum (if using) and the eggs. Stir in enough milk to give a good dropping consistency, then spoon the mixture into a 1 ltr (1.75pt) greased pudding basin and cover with a folded sheet of greaseproof paper.  Secure with string.
Sit the basin on an upturned heatproof saucer or on a rack in a large pan.  Half-fill pan with boiling water and cover with the pan lid.  Steam for 3 hours, adding extra boiling water during this time as necessary (it may need adding several times depending on how tight the lid fits). 
Cool for 10 minutes before removing the lid, then turn out onto a plate.  Serve with custard or cream.

Here is a recipe for Plum Chutney that will keep well for up to a year (worth adding to that Christmas Hamper). This traditional recipe is often published, and am pleased that new publications suggest we reduced cooking time (saves fuel!!) by first softening the onions, apples and plums in a microwave before continuing with the recipe.
Plum Chutney: makes about 4 lb.
1 lb (450g) onions, chopped
9 oz (250g) cooking apples, peeled and chopped
1 lb 8 oz (675g) plums, stoned and quartered
half a pint (10fl oz) pickling vinegar
4 oz (100g) sultanas
6 oz (175g) light soft brown sugar
1 stick cinnamon
Place everything into a large pan, bring to the boil then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 45 minutes (less if the fruit has first been microwaved - see above), or until the chutney is thick and pulpy.
Cool for about 5 minutes, then remove the cinnamon stick and pot up into warmed and sterilised jars using vinegar proof lids.   Store for a couple of months before using to give the flavour a chance to mature.  Will keep unopened for a year, but once opened store in the fridge and eat within a month.

Seems the Women's Institute are gaining thousands of new members as home-cooking now becomes popular.   In this instance it is the jam/preserves that everyone now wants to make.  Considering we are supposed to avoid eating foods that are high in sugar and fat, odd that jam and cakes seem to still be the first things we think about making (and pushed in that direction by several TV progs).  On the other hand, no comfort food tastes as good as these when home-made, and the worse the recession the more comfort we need.  As my B says, 'I'd rather enjoy eating what I like than live longer and die miserable'.  Tend to agree with him to some extent, but we can still eat healthily AND enjoy what we eat. Trouble is, sometimes it can become too expensive.

Here's a recipe from my first BBC book and considering the ingredients, expect something similar was made in wartime.  Before then carrots were served only as a vegetable.  Since then used in many sweet dishes (think Carrot Cake...).  Carrots are cheap enough and store well (I keep mine in the fridge), so when cooking some as a veg to go with a main meal, cook extra to use a day or two later to make this dessert.

Carrots are the same colour as apricots, and almost as sweet, so if you wish to add a touch of  'luxury', include a few no-soak apricots to this dish. Everyone will think the 'fruit' is all apricots (and no carrots).

Carrot and Sultana Flan: serves 4 - 6
4 oz (100g) carrots, cooked
1 oz (25g) butter, melted
1 egg, beaten
1 tblsp sultanas
2 tblsp breadcrumbs (brown or white)
2 tblsp caster sugar
grated zest of 1 lemon
pinch of grated nutmeg (or cinnamon)
8 oz (225g) shortcrust pastry
flaked almonds
Mash/sieve the carrots and mix with the butter and egg (or put them into a blender and whizz to a pulp). To this mixture add the rest of the ingredients (except pastry and almonds).
Roll out the pastry and line an 8" pie plate (or quiche tin), the spoon in the mixture, levelling the surface.  Scatter the almonds on top and bake at 350C, gas 4 for half an hour.

Well, that's it for today.  Couldn't blog earlier as had to wait until Norma had left (she was late arriving).  Busy tomorrow (visitors) but hope to be back with you on Friday.  Keep those comments coming.  TTFN.