Friday, November 08, 2013

Use it or Lose it...

There are times when I used to gasp and think (of a cook - whether TV, published or website), "how clever is that"?  But more and more what I see them accomplish already has been done before, sometimes many times.  There is nothing new in cooking, only adaptations.

Yesterday was watching half an hour of the Food Network - this about ice-cream, and there was one woman whose class - at university - had been set a project to come up with a new marketing idea.  She 'invented' almost instant ice-cream made using liquid nitrogen.  Worked so well she set up a store (stores) selling this.  Anyone could go in, choose the flavour, choose the colour and the ice-cream would be made in 3 minutes.
Now isn't that something that Heston B is so proud of 'inventing'?  As I said, nothing new.  Unless - of course - you consider Heston's Snail Porridge.

Jack has said in her blog, she turns to cooks who - in the past - have published books on budgeting, naming Jocasta Innes, Delia Smith (and grateful that she included me to) for her inspiration.  Myself was inspired by Marguerite Patten, Fanny Cradock and Mrs Beeton, as well as Harmsworths Encyclopedias.  Not so much for learning how to budget, more about learning how to cook.  Before recipes were published I suppose young cooks were inspired by mothers and grandmothers.

Why is it then that we still see so many monthly cookery mags published, and hundreds of new cookery cooks?  Almost sure the older we are the more we realise that every recipe is just an adaptation of one that has been around for years (often centuries).  A cookery writer has only to tweak the ingredients slightly to make it his (or her own).  Also as there is no copywrite with recipes, cookery writers are free to use the same ingredients/same measures, but the method IS copywrite, so always needs to be re-written.  With traditional classic dishes (such as Victoria Sandwich),  the original copy can be used all the way through.
As an example of repeat after repeat, how often do we see that dish 'Spaghetti Bologaise' in print?  Or Macaroni Cheese?  For that matter - Victoria Sandwich?  Nearly every book/mag has it somewhere. But then younger reader will probably have never read the original recipe, so to them almost everything is a new food invention. 

What bugs me is that all too often, cookery mags (published by the same company, so not illegal) have an identical dish/ recipe in at least two of their mags, same ingredients, method, and photo.  Find it annoying to pay for something I've already got - even though other recipes given  are different (although many reappear again within a month or two in another of their publications) republished).  All goes to show is that there is nothing new, and we shouldn't need to buy cookery mags or books any more.  Just one good cookery anthology (or set - such as Delia's 'How to Cook') should be enough for novice cooks. 

So why then did I own several hundred cook books when living in Leeds?  Because at that time I hadn't discovered how so many of the recipes were the same.  Also I preferred the more instructional books, the 'how to do it', and 'why we should do this' interested me.  Most of my books were over 50 years old, a few were more than a hundred (or so) years old.  In those days recipes weren't written down as they are now, it was more "take a cup of sugar, a cup of flour, add 2 eggs and 4 tablespoons of melted butter, beat well and pour into a greased cake tin.  Bake in a warm (or hot) oven until cooked through".   We were instructed how to tell if an oven was warm or hot by sticking our hand in and count the seconds before we began to scream (or how long it took a slice of bread to toast in the oven was a less painful way).

To more important matters.  The cost of living.  Yesterday there was a programme on TV telling us how we could cut the fuel bills for gas and electricity in our homes.  Didn't watch it all, but what I saw taught us nothing we didn't know already.
Myself am beginning to feel the pinch as my bank statement arrived this week and the payments out were the same as the payments in (this being only the basic state pension).  Just £1 difference, and luckily this was on the right side.  Realised this was only because I'd had the extra 25p a week added to the pension because I'd reached 80!  Seems that our pension is adequate to cover our domestic bills, but leaves nothing left over for 'extras'.  Time now for me to start another foodie challenge (live on a pittance sort of thing).

In the newspaper yesterday there was a short article on food wastage, and a survey has shown that that families waste £60 a month by throwing the equivalent of almost a meal a day into the bin.  Is that an average per family?  As myself (and a lot of readers too) thrown virtually no food away - like EVER, then other families must throw away more (£120 plus?).

Details of food most often thrown away were given: more than a fifth of bread, one in five potatoes, and one in ten bananas end up in the bin.   Why are potatoes binned?  Is it when they begin to sprout?  I regularly check my potato bag and rub off any small sprouts that occur, and they can then all get used up. Why is bread wasted, it can be either dried and stored to use as a coating, or crumbed and frozen to use as 'fresh' (stale 'fresh' crumbs are very good for adding to liquids as they soak it up more easily).
When banana skins go brown and 'speckly', all this means is that they are softer and a lot sweeter, the 'innards' can still be eaten.  Really soft bananas make good cakes, and any 'speckly' bananas can be frozen in their skins, to use at a later date.  I love really soft banana mashed onto hot buttered toast.

Other items that end up in the bin include more than a third of fresh (bagged) salads, one in eight apples, and one in 20 pints of milk.  When it comes to chicken, 13% of that is thrown away (the equivalent of 86 million chickens a year!!).
I agree that bagged salads are the worst thing to buy when it comes to shelf-life.  An iceberg lettuce will keep for a week or more in the fridge, but bagged iceberg leaves last only a few days (and - weight for weight - a much more expensive way to buy this lettuce).  My B is very fond of watercress so often brings in a bag for himself, so I have to keep an eye on this as only too rapidly this will deteriorate (but can turn any surplus into pesto or soup).

Was surprised to read that milk is often thrown away.  Each month I buy 3 x 4pt containers of semi-skimmed milk from Tesco, and it last us for at least 3 weeks without any sign of deterioration (even though it has gone past its 'use-by' date.  Once did buy the same amount from Morrisons and that had begun to 'turn' before being used up, although I was able to catch it and boil it up and make it into custard etc.

Stores are promising to scrap confusing 'display until' dates on fresh fruits and vegetables, and will be offering a wider range of portion sizes.  The latter sounds a good idea, but am pretty sure the contents of the packaging won't be weight-priced only.  The large packs will almost certainly be cheaper (by weight) and because of this we will be tempted to (again) buy more than we need.  We will have to wait and see.

Interestingly, over the last 6 years, families have reduced the amount of food they throw away by a fifth, but it is said this improvement has been gained because our food budgets have been squeezed. So possibly we use the surplus to make another meal or three, or just buy less food anyway.
With 70% of consumers worried about rising food prices, the best way to manage is use every bit of food we buy and waste nothing.

Some of the foods we have in our fridge, veggie basket, and larder might be sitting on the shelves, used only occasionally.  A bit of one, and smidgin of another, a spoonful of a third, and a whole new dish (at least new to us) can be served for supper. 

As you know my Beloved has turned to making his own stir-fries (and this may occur tonight as I have odds and ends that need using up), and there is nothing better than a stir-fry to make a quick and colourful as well as tasty meal.   Use this recipe as a guide, and include other vegetables (of the same type) if you haven't what is in the list.
Looking at the list have to say it is really a 'cook's meal' as there are many ingredients that a lot of novice cooks probably won't have, but once bought - and kept in store (or frozen if they won't keep) - can always be used to add that little extra something that turns a boring dish into something special.

The noodles in this dish are those very cheap dried ones sold in many supermarkets (they used to be 10p a sachet but a few pence more now, but worth keeping in store for the sheer economy).  These usually contain a sachet of powder that flavours the cooking water with chicken.  After cooking the noodles this can be used as 'chicken stock' in the list below.
 Ginger root I buy in a huge clump (almost the size and appearance of a monster hand), it keeps well in the fridge and can also be frozen).  Myself find a packet of sachets of coconut cream are more use than canned coconut milk.  I just open one sachet of the c.cream,  put the contents into a jug and pour over boiling water.  If you haven't coconut milk, and you do have dessicated coconut, then fill a half-pint jug with this and cover with the water and leave it to infuse.  Blitz it in a blender if you wish for a more concentrated coconut milk. Or just strain, use the liquid and freeze the coconut to use in another dish.

Thai Satay Noodles: serves 4
3 tblsp peanut butter
3 tblsp sweet chilli sauce
4 fl oz (100ml) coconut milk (see above)
4 fl oz (100ml) vegetable or chicken stock
2 tblsp soy sauce
1 pack dried Chinese noodles
2 tblsp sesame or olive oil
2" (5cm) piece fresh root ginger, grated
5 oz (150g) broccoli florets
1 red bell pepper, diced
3 oz (75g) sweetcorn (baby corn or kernels)
2 oz (50g) mangetout or frozen peas
1 clove garlic, finely chopped or crushed
1 oz (25g) roasted peanuts, chopped
Mix together the peanut butter, chilli sauce, coconut milk, stock (see above re noodles), and soy sauce - this makes a smooth satay sauce. Cook the noodles as per packet instructions.
Heat the oil in a deep frying pan or wok, then stir-fry the ginger, broccoli, peppers and corn for 3 minutes, then add the mangetout and garlic and fry for a further 2 minutes before pouring over the satay sauce.  Bring to the boil,  add the drained noodles, then stir-fry over high heat for a couple of minutes.  Serve with the roasted peanuts sprinkled on top.

Here is another vegetarian dish where lots more 'use-it-up' ingredients can be included.  The more we can add, the more portions we can serve.  A perfect dish for using up mushrooms, bell peppers, mangetout peas....

Cheese and Tomato Rice: serves 4
2 tblsp sunflower oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed
10 oz (300g) long-grain rice (see above)
1.75fl pints (1 ltr) vegetable stock
1 x 227g can chopped tomatoes
salt and pepper
4 oz (100g) mature Cheddar cheese, cubed
Heat the oil in an flameproof casserole and - over medium heat - fry the onion and bell pepper until golden.  Stir in the garlic and cook for a further minute before adding the rice.  Stir until the grains are coated with the oil, then add the stock and tomatoes with seasoning to taste. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes until nearly (but not quite) all the liquid has been absorbed.
Sprinkle the cheese on top, cover the dish and place in a pre-heated oven (180C, gas 4) and bake for about half an hour or until the rice is tender.  Remove from the oven and leave to stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Final recipe is another stir-fry, but this time a salad.  Sounds strange but it works.  Not only that it uses up many of those salad ingredients (lettuce, spring onions, cucumber, watercress, tomatoes...) that are the ones that - in many families - end up in the bin. Also a good way to use up crusty rools that are beginning to dry out (to mop up the juices).
Don't worry too much about sticking to the weights, just use what you've got.  In other words:  use them or lose them!

Salad Stir-fry: serves 4
2 tblsp olive oil
1 bunch (or less) spring onions, sliced
half a cucumber, seeded and sliced
3 ribs celery, sliced
8 oz (225g) small tomatoes, quartered
2 Little Gem lettuce, torn into pieces
1 oz (25g) watercress
juice of half a lemon
half teaspoon sugar
salt and pepper
2 oz (50g) toasted flaked almonds
Put the oil in a frying pan or wok and - when hot - fry the spring onions, cucumber, celery and tomatoes for 2 minutes, then remove from heat.  Add the remaining ingredients and toss together until combined.  Add seasoning to taste.
Spoon the warm salad onto a serving plate, spooning over any juices left in the pan.  Serve with crusty bread.

Thanks to Eileen for telling me there is an Iceland store in Morecambe.  Am tempted to see what they have on offer. Not that I have any space in the freezer/s at the moment, although it did appear that they also sell fresh foods as well as frozen.
Was pleased to see that they now deliver.  They hadn't used to.

Suppose I am a night owl Granny G.  Hardly ever go to bed before midnight, but then am also an early riser.  Possibly nodding off in my chair once or twice a day makes up for the shorter night's sleep.

Unsalted butter keeps for a longer time in the freezer than does the salted Margie, although both keep fairly well in the fridge for some weeks (if not months).  Think that most of us try to manage on what we have once Christmas is over, and can get through January and February without having to buy much more than the fresh foods.   However, if a lot of us do this, these months would prove to be a lean time for the  supermarkets who would then reduce prices even lower to tempt us back.  So perhaps we need to have a rethink about what and when to buy.

That's it for today.  Hope to be back with you tomorrow, but as recently I've been taking the weekend off from blogging, it depends how I feel come Saturday.  Won't be blogging Sunday unless there is something important (foodwise) I feel worth discussing.  Expect me when you see me, but keep those comments coming as they inspire me to continue blogging and seeking out recipes that you request.  TTFN.