Saturday, December 14, 2013

And For My Next Trick...

In two weeks it will be all over (that is if you don't count the run up to New Year).  My frugal cooking begins the minute that Boxing Day is almost a memory. 

After checking the prices of turkey, was stunned at how expensive they are this year - even just a turkey crown.  Thankfully B has requested roast beef for Christmas dinner (we will be having turkey at the restaurant when we meet up with some of the family on 23rd).  A joint of beef IS expensive but gives me the chance to make a few bowls of beef dripping (I ask for extra fat to make this), and it freezes well - once sliced, with or without gravy.   Or maybe I'll do something completely different and use the D.R. lamb (French-trimmed rack that has been in the freezer for a year). That won't cost me anything as already paid for from savings at the time of purchase.

Made another 'tree' from folded paper yesterday,  still using the same catalogue (think it was Wickes, not Screwfix).  Very colourful even when folded.  Out of date 'Yellow Pages' and other telephone directories are another good source of pages-to-fold.

My heart went out to you jane when I read about your husband forgetting to check your cake as it was baking.  He deserves to be given the burnt offering and made to eat it while you enjoy the one he bought to replace it (and hope he was made to pay for it out of his own money).  I've never felt so cross in my life when I read what had happened. 

Men don't seem to realise how much time and labour we use in the kitchen,  or don't wish to.  Only a couple of days ago B wandered into the kitchen to find me collapsed in my chair.  "Everything alright?" he asked.  "I'm exhausted" I replied, "but still got a lot to do". "Oh, I'll get out of your way then" he said "I'll go and play games on the computer while you get on with things".

Yes of course I meant panna cotta (not panettone) jane.  Thanks for bringing it to my attention .  I so often get names mixed up, I knew something wasn't quite right when I wrote it, but thought it was my spelling).  Nothing seems to have gone right for me this week, but thankfully most of my 'work' is now done and I can relax a bit, at least until the end of this coming week when it will all mount up again.

Panna cotta should have a good 'wobble' when plated up, and I've found that making a packet jelly up with mainly cream (after melting the jelly with water), gives quite a strong 'set' (stronger than if made with all water or fruit juice), so if wishing to make four individual panna cottas, then perhaps better if I used half a jelly and three-quarters of a pint of double cream.  Maybe single cream would make a wobblier p.cotta, so I'll keep experimenting and maybe 'water down' double cream with some milk before using it.  Certainly this 'cheat's' version looks and tastes very good, it's just the 'wobble' I need to get right.

Didn't realise that Vesta meals were still on sale Alison, and surely they must now be 'new improved' compared to the originals sold about half a century ago.  In those days, we could buy lots of things singly that are now sold in packets (like your mention of OXO cubes).  Nowadays there is little that can be bought individually.  We have no choice but to buy more even if we don't need all in the packet (am thinking here also of non-foods such as screws, nails, batteries....).

Already my mind is moving past Christmas, asking myself if I have all the basics to see me through the lean months (as I like to call them, but during that time try to serve even better food than before when I could shop 'til I drop).  These means having a good rummage along my larder shelves, and keeping an eye on the b.before dates (esp. with dried beans/pulses as these are the ones that really should be cooked before the date - or as soon after as poss - as although they won't go 'off', the longer they are kept the harder they go and then will never soften when cooked).  Thankfully, rice keeps almost indefinitely, as does sugar (and syrup, honey, glucose).

Glucose seems to be mentioned more often in recipes, and so I thought I'd better get myself another jar just in case I wanted to make something that needed it.  Normally I've bought it from the chemist, and when B went to fetch me some he said they had none.  They rang around several suppliers said there seemed to be none available in the country anymore.  (Had there been a run on it I wondered?) The chemist suggested trying the supermarkets and yes, was able to get some (in small tubes) from Tesco.  
Not of course that glucose is a food item that we really NEED.  But you know me, I like to always be prepared when it comes to trying out a new recipe.   Perhaps time I pulled in my horns and worked with foods that we are all likely to have, and ignore the more fancy ingredients.

Watched a film last night about Julia Child (Julie and Julia). Had seen a bit of it many months ago but nodded off halfway through, this time kept awake to watch it all.  Not sure if Julia Child was as played by Meryl Streep (she seemed rather strange and kept making mistakes during her TV progs), but if so then must have been very watchable.  Cookery progs would be much better if mistakes were left in and not edited out.  We all make mistakes, and this is one reason why I liked cooking on Pebble Mill at One - it was a 'live' programme.   When things go wrong, it makes us all feel so much better. 

There must be hundreds of well-known cooks in the US (but known only to the American audience), and can safely say that Julia Child and Martha Stewart are the only ones I'd heard of up to recent months when a few more have come to my notice (via the Food Network).  Possibly the many cooks we have over in the UK are unknown in America, although am sure they have heard of Nigella Lawson, Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver, and - possibly - Delia Smith?  And what about Michel Roux jnr?  Is French cuisine and fine dining part of the American cookery scene?
I've recently become aware of Tom Kerridge who has the most pleasant smiley face I've seen in ages, also a very cuddly-looking man.  He starts a new series next week (to do with Christmas), and I'm really looking forward to watching.  Next week we'll have LOADS of Christmas cookery to watch, all expecting us to pay through our noses for ingredients we don't have and make dishes we'd really prefer not to.

Over the next weeks (and hopefully months) I'm concentrating on giving recipes that use up what we are most likely to have.  But in an interesting and tasty way. These could be left-overs, or - more likely - foods that have a long shelf-life, and includes 'fresh' foods such as carrots, celery, white cabbage, potatoes, onions....  Those of us who keep a supply of UHT milk/dried milk will probably only need to buy eggs now and again. 

Just think about it - stock up for the (so winter, and we could last until the end of spring without having to spend more than £5 a week (if that) just 'topping up' the fresh foods, and by 'stocking up' I don't mean spend a fortune.  Just shop sensibly, buying only the foods used regularly and that will store well.
Although I've always kept within my food budget (making deliberate savings for when I wish to purchase something special - like quality meat), this year I've allowed myself £50 extra - or thereabouts - to stock up with foods that I use regularly (canned tomatoes, tuna, sardines, baked beans, flour, bread mixes, cheese, butter, UHT milk....).  Even this extra has come from (again) deliberate savings (so the average spend over a year has not increased). 

Newer readers may not understand what I mean by 'deliberate savings'.  These are extra savings above and beyond my usual thrift, and come usually from extra efforts made.  Like the regular supply of 'mixed salad leaves' grown throughout the year on the windowsills, one 99p pkt of seeds giving me a crop equal to £15 worth of salads (that I would otherwise have bought). Or making meringues using deliberately saved egg whites (when frying large eggs I break one into a pan and just add the yolk of another to the white of the first).
All such 'savings' are noted in a book, totted up, and then when I have enough money saved, this (or some of it), will be spent on 'quality meat/fish' etc).

The first few months of each year are a good time to make these 'deliberate savings'.  Perhaps many readers might continue spending the same amount on food each month, buying more even when we still have plenty to eat/cook with at home (and don't we all do this?).  If we have - over the months - built up a good stock of food, then instead of spending our food budget (let's say £100 a month to feed a family of four-six), and we begin using up only the food we already have, allowing ourselves just £5 a week to 'top up' (total £20 a month), we could then already have saved ourselves £80 by the end of January.  If we can continue for 10 weeks (spending £50 instead of £250) we would then have £200 'deliberately saved' left to play with). And doesn't that sound good?
And for my next trick.... well watch this space.

After the Christmas blow-out we'll probably all feel like eating a lot less, but if the weather turns really cold we need to feed ourselves comforting and sustaining meals.  You can't beat a good bowl of hot porridge for breakfast, and this is still the cheapest of cereals, especially if eaten the Scottish way made with water and salt.  Myself prefer to make it with milk and honey, but still cheaper than a bowl of cornflakes.  Porridge is very warming, and filling - keeps us going until lunchtime when you may wish to try one of the following recipes.

Baking potatoes come in various sizes, some are enormous.  I've seen recipes that suggest we serve a 12oz (350g) potato per person, others that suggest potatoes weighing 1lb (459g) each.  Myself find an approx. 9oz (250g) spud is adequate per serving especially if the skins are eaten (some people won't eat the skins - what a waste!).  So - with really large potatoes, cook in jackets as recipe suggests but serve just half one per person.

Many recipes suggest the variety of potato to use, but myself tend to use King Edwards or Maris Piper according to which is the cheapest at that time.  King Ed's are my favourite, and although all are best when cooked in a conventional oven (lovely crispy skins), myself tend to bake them in the microwave for speed (and fuel saving).   However, this first recipe does need a final bake in the oven (although might work under a grill), so plan to make these when the oven is on for something else.

This - of course - is a recipe that can be easily adapted.  Instead of baking the eggs, just scramble them in a pan (or fry them) before adding as topping to the filled potatoes.  Use left-over veggies (broccoli, sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower....) instead of cooking from fresh, or - if you prefer - follow the second recipe and omit the veggies, but I'd probably still include them) and add cheese. You can also alter the flavouring according to your taste (paprika instead of Tasbasco etc).
What the heck, just have fun stuffing your spuds.  The main thing is 'eat and enjoy'.

Baked Potatoes with Eggs: serves 4
4 large baking potatoes
1 oz (25g) butter
4 oz (100g) broccoli florets (see above)
4 oz (100g) mushrooms, sliced  OR...
...3 oz (75g) grated hard cheese (see above)
salt and pepper
8 small eggs
Bake the potatoes (oven or microwave) until just cooked through.  Meanwhile, melt the butter in a frying pan and fry the broccoli and mushrooms for about 3 - 5 minutes, then set aside.
When the potatoes are ready, slice each in half lengthways and scoop out most of the flesh into a bowl.  Add the broccoli, and mushrooms with the pan juices and seasoning to taste, then pile this mixture into the potato shells, pressing down the centre of each to form a well.
Place the potatoes in a baking dish and carefully break an egg into each.  You will probably find you have too much white, so reserve any surplus to make meringues later (egg whites will freeze).
Place in the oven (200C, gas 6) for 10 - 15 minutes until the eggs have just set. 

If you prefer to not to oven cook these in a conventional oven, then microwave them, but then cut in half lengthways, make the filling as directed, then pile back into the skins. Place under a medium grill to finish cooking (probably take about 15 minutes), sprinkling the cheese on top half-way through the cooking time.
Cheesy Jackets: serves 4
4 baking potatoes (you choose the size)
2 oz (50g) butter
4 tblsp milk
4 oz (100g) grated Cheddar cheese
2 eggs, beaten
Tabasco or other sauce/spice, to taste
salt and pepper
Bake the potatoes until cooked, then leave until cool enough to handle.  This time just remove the top of each potato, scooping out most of the flesh, leaving the shells intact.
Mash the flesh with a fork, beating in the butte4r, milk, 3 oz (75g) of the cheese, the eggs, and Tabasco.  Add seasoning to taste, then spoon this mixture back into the shells, any excess can be piled on top.   Sprinkle the remaining cheese over, and bake for a further 20 minutes (conventional oven - 200C) until fluffy and golden.

Third recipe is another 'jacket', this time the protein provided using smoked fish, but we could use canned salmon, tuna, sardines...
Smoked mackerel is usually sold prepacked, normally 3 fillets.  Why use all of them just to make one dish?   Smoked mackerel has a strong flavour, so make this work for us.  Less is more if you make up any shortfall using more of the other ingredients.
The Shirley way is to make one food item stretch from one dish (as a recipe might suggest) to make two - or more - different ones.  So in this instance I'd make one packet of Smoked Mackerel go three ways.  One fillet to make the recipe below, another to make a few fish cakes, the last fillet to make Smoked Mackerel pate.  'Deliberate' ways to save money that works for me, and I hope will work for you too.

If cooking the spuds in a microwave, cook the filling on the hob at the same time, then the two should be ready together.
Smoked Mackerel in a Jacket: serves 4
4 large baking potatoes
2 oz (50g) butter
2 leeks, thinly sliced
2 tblsp horseradish sauce (creamed)
3 smoked mackerel fillets (see above)
squeeze fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper
Bake the potatoes until cooked through.  If using a conventional oven, when the spuds are almost done, heat half the butter in a frying pan and cook the leeks for about 6 minutes or until softened.  Keep stirring as they cook.  Add the horseradish sauce. Remove the skin from the smoked mackerel, and flake the fish, then fold this into the onion mixture with the lemon juice and seasoning to taste.
Halve the cooked potatoes lengthways, and scoop out most of the flesh, mashing it up with a fork and adding seasoning to taste.  Replace the flesh back into the skins then pile the onion/fish mixture on top, dotting with remaining butter.  Serve hot.

That's it for today.  May not be blogging tomorrow (tend to now take Sunday's off), but who knows, if I get up early enough...!
Have an early appointment on Monday at the surgery (results of my blood test), so it'll be either a short early blog or maybe a longer, later one.  With the run up to Christmas, am not at all sure how much free time I'll have until then, so it could be 'expect me when you see me', but be assured - you'll still be getting plenty of chat before the big day. 

The weather has turned a bit chilly, very breezy today but the sun is shining.  Can cope with almost anything as long as the sun shines.  How dark it seems first thing in the morning, doesn't seem to get light until about 8.00am, then dark again by 4.00pm.  Still, shortest day this time next week and then we're over the worst, the days begin to get longer, even though our winter hasn't yet really started. Or at least doesn't feel as though it has.   With any luck the snowdrops will soon be nodding their heads in the border, and we'll find winter has been and gone without us even noticing.  Or not! We will have to wait and see.

Have a good weekend, and try and relax ready for the next one - which will be truly hectic if you are planning to shop then.  Myself have done all my in-store shopping, other than a joint of beef from the local butcher and maybe not even that.   At least all my work will be in the warmth of my own home (when the heating is on), and am going to try and make it as easy as possible.  Have to admit that this week I've begun to feel my age.  And spitting feathers because of it.  TTFN.