Friday, November 01, 2013

Time is Worth Spending....

After all my efforts, we didn't have any Trick or Treater's call yesterday evening.  this could be because early evening we had a few flashes of lightening followed rapidly by big blasts (more than a rumble) of thunder.   Not sure if it rained (curtains closed).  Even so, did not hear the sound of any children happily chattering in the road later.   B was pleased, all the popcorn and biscuits are now all his.

Good to hear Maggie Mac that you tried the recipe I gave and it turned out well.   It's always good to know that.  Gives me confidence in myself.
Re your mention of 'mysupermarket' to check out prices.  Appreciate this is a good site, but as I order online (mainly), it's not worth me opening accounts at all the major supermarkets just to get the best deals.  Fact is, Tesco are pretty much on the ball when it comes to that.  Over the last year, every time I have ordered they have sent me a comparison chart showing me how much more I would have paid had I bought the same items from another store (once it was around £17).  Once or twice they have reimbursed me money because it would have been cheaper to buy some items elsewhere.

Was very sorry to hear Rae, that you were disappointed in D.R. meat.  You did mention it was the steak you found tough and tasteless.  Can't comment on the steak but have found (with any butcher's meat) that it is how the steak is cooked, and especially how it is sliced that can make a great difference to the texture.  If sliced along the grain all meat become very chewy as the meat fibres are long.  Cut across the grain (short fibres) it almost melts in the mouth.   Have tried this myself when eating a steak, and it is very true. 
Myself normally buy steaks for B (who cooks them himself - preferring them well done, but has learned that medium-rare is better otherwise they are tough to eat), and my main purchases are always the cheaper cuts (mince, stewing steak, beef rib trim....) as - after slow cooking - they really do melt in the mouth and have much more flavour than the more expensive steak.

A couple or so months ago B brought in a turkey leg from Morrison's Jayne (a new name to us, so very welcome). Think that was £3 and consisted of a massive drumstick and a separate thigh alongside.  Cook one, freeze one.  Both had plenty of meat so was able to make several meals from it (and a good amount of stock).

Lovely idea to spread pesto onto a pizza base Margie. Also using different breads as a base (naan, pitta etc). Myself remember a time (many years ago now) when I used to make small pizzas for the youngsters using diagonally sliced baguette as the base. Sliced baps (bread rolls) when split, and slices of toasting bread - when very lightly toasted - also makes a good base to pile on the toppings then finish off under the grill. 

Many recipes suggest using a bought pizza mix (instead of using bread dough) to make a pizza base, so the mix you got from Approved Foods would be very useful jane.  You might find your 'bap and bread mix' (from the same supplier) would work if you used your bread machine to make just the dough, then once that was ready you could then form the baps/loaves, let them rise and then bake in a conventional oven.  This is what I do anyway as it makes better bread than if fully made in the machine (especially a better shape and crust).

Most replies were to do with pizzas, so it seems I have several readers thoughts turning in that direction.  Another lovely idea from Sarina,  lay out pizza bases and bowls of different toppings, then let children make their own choice of what to put on top of theirs. 
Kathryn got a good bargain, reduced price pizza bases, chopped peppers etc, and with a few little extras she already had, each of her pizzas cost only pennies.

A lovely picture and article in the Daily Mail yesterday of Jack Monroe who writes a blog: 'a girl called Jack'.  Am sure she is destined to have her own cookery series in the future. 
The one good thing about people who are not employed (some having to live on benefits which means a very small food budget) is that they have time on their hands.  We all have more time on our hands than we believe (switch the TV/computer/mobile off can give us hours to use more profitably).

We 'spend' time to 'make' money when we are employed, but at home the same thing works.  We spend the time cooking from scratch and this means we spend less than if we went out and bought something similar.   Of course we all know that by now, but what we often don't realise is that there are several dishes that are served in top restaurants (also demonstrated on TV), that we consider far too difficult to make ourselves, and probably why the restaurants are able to charge high prices for a dish where the ingredients cost very little indeed, but took a little more time to make.

An example is ravioli. You see we are all so used to buying dried pasta (even the Italians use dried pasta, and there are many different shapes to choose from). But when it comes to ravioli, this has to be made from fresh.  We can buy 'fresh' ravioli (to then take home and cook), but again - expensive, and not nearly as good as home-made.

'Eating out' you may find you would be served three ravioli in a clear stock as a starter.  Perhaps eight ravioli as a main dish.  But think about it - how much do the ingredients really cost?  Probably less than a can of baked beans.

Yesterday I was reading a recipe for ravioli.  The pasta needed 4 eggs and 4 yolks, and no doubt this was the correct way to make pasta, but not the cheapest, and I'll let you into a secret....
...Many years ago myself, daughter and Gill used to run a small catering business (more for friends than to make money, but we were often asked by others to cater for their weddings, celebrations etc). On time we were asked to make an Italian based buffet (for a man who was familiar with Italy and loved their cuisine).  One of the dishes I made was cannelloni (meat stuffed pasta tubes), making the 'tubes' from sheets of home-made pasta that was cut and rolled around 'sausages' of cooked meat (spag bol meat sauce if I remember - I'd formed the sausages/tubes of meat and then froze them, and after wrapping each in the pasta returned them to the freezer, later to be thawed and reheated in a lovely tomato based sauce).
After eating the meal the man came to me and said it was as good as anything he'd eaten in Italy (doubt that, but think he meant it.  Perhaps he'd got used to eating in Italian restaurants in this country, not all of them true to their cookery culture). Thing is, my pasta was so quick, easy and cheap to make, and it WORKS. 
So why not try my simple method and cook yourself this very economical but classic dish that you'd never in a million years believe that you could afford.  Just because we're hard up doesn't mean we can't eat well. All we need is a bit of time. 

My pasta was far cheaper to make than the traditional, but it actually WORKED.  I didn't even use the 'OO' grade flour that is recommended for pasta (similar to strong bread flour I believe), as at that time the stores didn't seem to stock it.  So I just used plain flour.
Here is my basic pasta recipe, followed by one for ravioli:
4 oz (100g) plain flour
1 large egg
2 tsp sunflower or olive oil
pinch of salt
Put the flour in a basin and add the egg, oil and salt. Mix together with a fork until the mixture forms a ball.  Add a drop or two of water if the mixture seems too dry, or a sprinkle of flour if too wet.
Knead the mixture very well on a floured surface for at least 5 minutes (until it's smooth and silky), then divide in half and wrap in cling-film and leave to stand at room temperature for at least 15 minutes, then roll out the dough very thinly, sprinkling it with flour to prevent it sticking and breaking.  Cover each sheet with a cloth (or cling-film) while working with the other to prevent it drying out.

When I wrote the above the idea was to lay out one sheet of the pasta and cover this with evenly spaced teaspoonfuls of chosen filling, then brush the exposed bits of pasta (between and edges) with water, place the second sheet on top, making sure all the air has been pushed out before pressing down to seal.  Finally cut between the 'lumps', making sure all the cut edges are sealed (otherwise the filling will leak out when cooking).

Because the above will make a dozen or so ravioli, you will only need about half-a-pint of 'filling' (possibly less).  Myself use a cooked spag.bol meat sauce (hardly enough for one serving with spaghetti, but when used for ravioli that is enough to make four starters. 
An even cheaper - and more classic - filling is using curd cheese and wilted spinach (squeeze out as much moisture as you can before using as a filling).  Diced/cooked mushrooms also make a good filling.

Once the ravioli has been assembled, it can be kept under cling-film (and chilled if you wish) for an hour or so.  To cook, first bring some chicken stock (home-made of course) or just salted water to the boil, drop in the ravioli, one at a time, and boil for approx. 5 - 6 minutes.  May take less time, but no need to clock-watch as once the ravioli rise to the surface they are cooked, so can be removed with a slotted spoon and left to drain.  Either serve floating in a little of the hot stock with (if you have it) some grated Parmesan sprinkled on top of the pasta), or with a hot, herby flavoured, tomato sauce.

If you prefer not to divide the pasta into two, then roll it out into one large sheet, dot the fillings over one half, wetting between (as mentioned above), then fold the other half over the top and press down, taking care to remove all the air from each 'lump'.
Slicing between each will make square ravioli, for a different shape cut each using a small scone cutter or use the top of a small wine-glass/liqueur glass. ~Trouble with this is it leaves pasta scraps, but these could be dried/frozen to add to dishes where you would normally use pasta shapes.

Perhaps an even easier way to make the above dish is one I saw recently in a cookery mag.  Just cut the pasta into squares, cook these separately, then place one on a plate, top with chosen filling, place another pasta square on top, and repeat.  They called it 'open ravioli', but I think that's being a bit of a cheat.  Myself thought it looked like a very loose lasagne.

Once we've made sheets of pasta, we can then choose either to turn it into ravioli, or cut it into oblongs to make lasagne (or roll into tubes for cannelloni). We can also dust it with flour, roll it up like a tight Swiss Roll, then cut it into thin strips to shake out and use as 'pasta noodles'.

Let's suppose for a moment we don't have any spag bol meat sauce, or spinach and ricotta, or mushrooms.  We probably do have the flour, egg and oil.  What other fillings could we use?  Almost any that would go with pasta, and is not too wet.  Try flaked canned tuna/sardines,  or mashed corned beef with a little tomato sauce, or (for the children) maybe even mashed baked beans (drained, keep the sauce for serving).  We could make a filling with scraps of cooked chicken taken from a carcase, or ham (from a bone), both carcases and ham bones are often given away free at a butchers.  Am sure readers will have other suggestions for ravioli fillings.  Please let us know.

What I've hoped to do today was explain that - especially when entertaining - as long as we have a little time to spare, we can serve 'posh nosh' that costs very few pennies. Generally though we prefer to buy the dried pasta and not bother with the D.I.Y. 
So here is a dish using bought pasta shapes (the bows look the prettiest but any shapes could be used).  Ideal when you have any (home-made) scraps of ham to use up, or cooked chicken torn form the bones. But equally as good are chunks of cooked fish, cooked sausage, salami, corned beef, canned salmon/tuna... Just let's hope you have some fresh herbs growing on your windowsill, the rest you should have - then you've got it made.

Make up your own Pasta Salad: serves 4
9 oz (250g) uncooked pasta shapes 
5 oz (150g) frozen peas
handful fresh parsley, chopped
handful fresh chives, chopped
zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 tblsp olive oil
salt and pepper
ham, chicken, fish etc (see above)
Cook the pasta as per packet instructions, adding the peas a couple or so minutes before the end of the cooking time.  Drain and rinse with cold water, the drain well again before tipping into a bowl with the rest of the ingredients (but not the meat unless intending to serve immediately).
Cover the pasta salad and chill for up to 3 days, adding your choice of meat/fish when portioning it out.

Can't believe it is already Friday.  Am looking forward to having coffee with my next-door neighbour today.  Probably already mentioned that her mother used to work as housekeeper for Agatha Christie, and so they all lived at Greenways (A.C's house in Devon).  This house was used for filming the Poirot episode shown this last Wednesday, and I was astounded to see how large the house was and how big the grounds.  It must have been lovely to have been there as a child (my neighbour was about 11 at that time) so we will have loads to talk about this morning.  Not sure if the inside of the house (seen in the prog) was real or a studio set. My neighbour will let me know. 

Have to toddle off now, another busy day for me. Not sure if I'll be blogging this weekend, depends on what else has to be done.  The more free time I have (in the kitchen) the more money I can save.  But watch this space, I could return tomorrow, even if only for a short chat.  Otherwise it will be Monday.  Even if not chatting, I still keep thinking of you.  Enjoy your weekend.