Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Ditch it and Switch it...

Managing fairly well with my 'chores' this week, so rising early decided to sit down and have a chat. Knowing you are there (eventually) gives me a warm glow, and I can start my day in a happy mood.

Had my blood test taken by a different nurse (at a different surgery - the medical centre has three in Morecambe), and this time much less of a problem (the nurse that usually does it can't find the right place on the vein to stab me with her needle.  Yesterday I told the nurse this and she chose a vein only an inch away from the usual one, and everything went splendidly with NO 'ouch' from me).
Let us hope the results are as good.  These I should know next Monday.

The Tesco delivery arrived right on time, I'd ordered streaky bacon without checking what was in the small freezer drawer (where I keep it) so now we have several packs.  Not a problem, it keeps well and I do need some to use when making my own pork pie (similar to a 'fidget' pie).  Myself am very fond of bacon, so now I've had my tests done, can allow myself some 'treats', at least until the end of the year when I'll be pulling my horns in and being a good girl again.  Have to be, for it will be then I'll start being mega-frugal again.

Had around £12 off my food bill (offers and vouchers), and today had a email from Tesco to say I'd have paid £5.29p more had I some of the foods ordered from one or more of the other main supermarkets.   All in all, even though I'd bought quite a bit to keep us going through the winter (dry goods, cans etc), after deductions my monthly food bill has not risen.  

We were going to have our Christmas meal here with our daughter, but a new arrangement is that we three go to a restaurant (close to Barton Grange) 0n 23rd Dec. and meet up with our son and his partner as they travel up to Scotland.  We can have a Christmas Lunch there, so not really any point in me going the whole hog and cooking another a couple of days later.  It will cost me £25 for the restaurant meal anyway, so have decided to have our 'blow-out' at New Year instead, and just spend Christmas Day having a light lunch, a bigger tea (Christmas Cake, mince-pies, trifle etc),   This arrangement may alter, but it will make things a lot easier for me.

Thanks for your comment Emma.  I've always wanted to watch Tom Kerridge's 'pub-grub' series, but something else I wished to see was on at the same time.  I've even missed seeing a repeat, but believe only the first.  I do like T.K. and hope to see more of him.
I watched Nadia G. last night, but not one of her best, sometimes she is too much OTT, but as this was geared to 'student meals', she was presenting her programme to suit their (at least the US) way of life.  Hans (of course) was a gorgeous as ever, and strangely it's not his body so much that attracts me, I just like his face and his rather gentle, pleasing way he speaks.

James Martin's prog was a mite better yesterday, and personally think the whole prog should be presented (and cooked) by Brian Turner, with no guests at all (so far the ones that have been on have not liked what has been cooked).
Good to see A.W.T back on TV (Food Network), but the series must be years old as Keith Floyd was a guest (and didn't he pop his clogs some time back?).

Time now to take a few minutes to have a sit down and review our current (food) situation with regards to the future.

Alarming news in the paper yesterday.  An article headed by "Food prices to rise faster than salaries until 2018!. Followed by "Fresh produce could become a rare treat for poorer families".
There was good advice given: "we urge families to learn from the restaurant trade and take simple steps in planning and shopping to help control spiralling costs.
And recommended families and pensioners should consider switching to frozen veg. rather than buying fresh, only to throw a lot of it away.   Also suggesting a return to simple 'meat and two veg' meals, rather than elaborate dishes with lots of expensive ingredients".

This next bit to is something I keep saying time and time again, but worth repeating: "Mr. Read added 'You can get more value out of a meal by using cheaper cuts such as chicken thighs instead of breasts or preparing dishes with more mixed ingredients such as meat stews with pulses, root vegetables and dumplings'."

It has been said that most of us tend to regularly cook around 5 different dishes (we probably do others as well, now and again, but have 5 'favourites'), and I think this could be true.  It is always easier to prepare what we are familiar with.   Yet, this might prove to be more expensive if prices are going to rise (and rise).  Depends of course on what we each choose to cook, but by substituting a different 'basic', we could find we end up preferring the 'new-improved', and also save money.

Am reminded of the mid '70's when there was either a lorry drivers strike or a potato shortage (probably both at the same time), when the price of spuds rocketed.  Until then we'd had potatoes served with the main meal just about every day.  Usually boiled, sometimes 'jackets', sometimes roast (with the Sunday joint), occasionally mashed, and once a week fried as chips (to go with the sausage and egg, or fish - take your choice).

Having no potatoes had then to find a different carbohydrate to go with the meals.  Not too difficult if a stew was served with a pastry topping, or with dumplings, but something made me decide to try pasta (until then we'd normally had pasta in macaroni cheese) and also rice (only then as rice pudding - I am talking many years ago when we were still 'meat and two veg' sort of people).

Scouring the cook books I managed to cobble together really tasty dishes such as Spaghetti Bolognese, and (of course) curry (mild at that time).  Because they were different the family really enjoyed them (as did I), and when potatoes began to return to the shops and I started to serve them again, we realised how tasteless and boring plain boiled potatoes could be.   Since then I've never served boiled potatoes as-is, unless they are the small potatoes, cooked in their skins and eaten in their skins.   We eat more rice and pasta than we do potatoes these days.

So, when something we normally eat becomes a bit too expensive, then ditch it and switch to something nutritionally similar, but cheaper.  We ought to eat to keep ourselves healthy and alive, so really don't really NEED to be so selective about what we eat.   But of course we are.  Fortunately, since the '70's we've had fresh foods imported from all over the world, many of them cheaper than the same grown here (that never makes sense to me), so it will be a long time before we find everything is too expensive to 'make a meal of it'.

One thing that never seems to be mentioned on food progs (foodie articles) is that 'making do' can be a great deal of fun.  There is nothing like being creative in the kitchen to bring a massive sense of achievement (when things work out right). 
Not everyone enjoys cooking, that I can relate to as I used to fall into this category, but I DID find the 'managerial/professional' side of catering very appealing.  I just loved working out the cost of small amounts of ingredients (an ounce in those days), I wrote it down on the packets and this then made it easy for me to tot up a recipe to find out how many pennies (or £££s) that would be.  Then came the challenge (I also love challenges) as to how to make it cheaper.   I'd spend hours doing this without even bothering to cook any of it.
But it taught me a lot, and when money was short (at one time had none at all for a month), it was these very cheap ingredients that I had in store and saw me through those hard times.

We don't realise how inexpensive some foods are (usually long-life ones).  Depending on brand (own-brand is cheapest), flour (when on offer) can be as little as 1p an ounce (or a lot more when paying full price for a top brand).  We can pay as little as 7p for one egg, or as much as 38p.

In the '70's and for a decade or so more, food was priced the same in every store.  This rule was brought in by the government so that our local shops would not lose customers to the newer supermarkets.  When that law ended, the supermarkets slashed prices and most of our local grocers closed.
Nowadays we need to keeping a continual check on the prices of what we buy, as it is surprising how much more we can spend than we don't need to. And that's when we buy the same foods (but not necessarily the same brand). 

My personal cuts have been mainly the 'proteins'.  Using less meat when making a casserole, and adding more of the veg.  This does save quite a bit of money over the months, but as regular readers know, I deliberately save some of this money to buy better quality, more expensive meat, but in itself this doesn't work out more expensive as well-hung quality meat has so much more flavour, so I can use even less in a casserole etc.

I bought some quite expensive free-range eggs the other day (mainly for B), and also bought a tray of the cheapest eggs, so decided to use some of each when baking this week.  I broke three of the better eggs into a bowl, each had lots of white and were very pale yellow with quite small, yolks.  The cheaper eggs had less white, and larger yolks that were a much deeper colour.  Weight for weight the dearer eggs were very slightly heavier, but that was mainly due to the extra whites (albumen).  My money's-worth of food value (yolk protein) then seemed to be with the cheaper eggs.

Maybe I'm a bit obsessed with food values (mainly the costs), and maybe I take more of a professional approach to the way I cost out meals (portion control and all that).  Is that a bad thing?   Am hoping not as at least you know that the recipes I give are some of the least expensive (once I've adapted them), and as long as you feel they are worth trying, that's good enough for me.

In my free time yesterday (one eye on the TV of course) was reading many of my back copies of cookery mags (I never throw them out).  Came across a cake recipe that uses all sorts of left-over root (and other) veggies.  Could be one worth trying (will give it later when I've had a more detailed read).

Did not watch Heston B. last night as he was giving his own version of our 'iconic dishes' (such as fish and chips).  When it comes to traditional, 'if it ain't broke, then don't fix it' is my advice.
In Masterchef yesterday a very well known chef (think in Switzerland) was showing the competing professional chefs how he cooked.  Not my type of cooking, so didn't take too much notice, but did see his presentation of Tiramisu - 'deconstructed'.   Just because all the different elements of a dish are re-assembled and placed individually on a plate does not mean it is the same dish.   To me it ends up as a completely different one.
Many recipes use the same ingredients (maybe in different proportions), but each ends up unrecognisable from the next.  Let's stop playing about with our food and enjoy the more simple meals.

Chatting to our neighbour the other day our talk turned to foods we used to enjoy in our youth.  One of my personal favourites was jelly and blancmange (haven't heard this mentioned for years).  My neighbour didn't like blancmange (why?), and B did but hated the skin.  I loved the lot.
B enjoys the skin on rice pudding, but I don't. 

A good way to make chocolate blancmange (without buying a pack) is to make up custard powder and sugar with boiling milk that has been flavoured with cocoa.  In fact I like flavouring lots of things that we often eat 'plain'. We can make chocolate pancakes using cocoa with the flour, or colouring savoury pancakes (or pasta) red with beetroot juice, green with spinach. I have not felt inclined to colour things black using squid ink, but don't let me stop you.

Here is a basic recipe that is not at all expensive to make.  I've probably variations of it before - several times, but as this is a great pud for the cold weather and we can add different flavourings (even colour) according to what we have or wish, it's worth a repeat. 
Think of this as a cake that is steamed, not baked, and then add either 3 tblsp golden syrup mixed with 1 tblsp fresh breadcrumbs to the base of the prepared bowl to make a 'sauce', or instead use 3 tblsp jam.  Leave out the 'sauce' and include dried fruit into the mix, and serve with lashings of custard.  Give another flavour to the plain mix by adding ground ginger or cocoa (sifted into the flour), or grated orange/lemon zest (folded in with the milk). .
Butter is used in this recipe, but it's nearly as tasty when made with a good soft marg - which I've suggested.  On a cold winter's day, this is the pudding to serve after a lighter main meal, the eggs in the pudding provide protein.  This is a very satisfying (filling) pud so will serve four adults or two ads and 3 - 4 children.

Basic Steamed Pudding: serves 4 - 6
6 oz (175g) butter or marg, softened
6 oz (175g) caster sugar
3 eggs, beaten
6 oz (175g) self-raising flour
2 tblsp milk
Beat the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy, then add the eggs a little at a time.  Fold in the flour, and finally the milk. If adding other ingredients follow directions suggested above.
Spoon the mixture into a well-greased 1 ltr pudding basin.  Cover with a double layer of buttered foil and baking paper (foil on top) making a pleat in the centre to allow the pudding to rise.
tie securely with string, then place in a steamer or large pan (if in the pan stand the bowl on an upturned saucer with enough simmering water to come halfway up the sides of the bowl).  Steam for one and a half hours, then turn out onto a serving dish.  If using syrup or jam, heat a little extra to drizzle over the top when serving. 

Won't be blogging tomorrow as it is Norma (the Hair) day and I've also got to finish the rest of my baking.  Should be back Friday with more recipes and money-saving tips.  
Final thought - I had a dream the other night where I was decorating the house for Christmas and decided to put tea lights in half egg shells (removed from hard-boiled eggs), resting them in egg-cups. They looked very pretty when lit, and strangely - this might just work.   TTFN.