Friday, August 30, 2013

Pleasing Ourselves

Saw Jamie Oliver on TV (The One Show) yesterday and hadn't realised what effect his words have had over the nation.  Seems that half are for what he said, the other half ain't!  But he said it as it is, whether we like it or not,  it still remains that a great many youngsters don't know the meaning of hard work, and many people do prefer to spend money on plasma TV's and ready-meals to sit and eat in front of the screen as they watch. 

In the Daily Mail yesterday (read later) there was also a page re J.O's words, and it did say there was some understanding of why strapped-for-cash people need a TV to give them something to sit and enjoy.  True I suppose, but our children were school age before we got TV and we never seemed to be without anything interesting to do in their free time.  What's wrong with board games, card games, any old games?  Long walks looking for 'nature', much of which can be found in the town as well as the country.  What would we have done without the Observer books to help with this?

Was a bit surprised to hear that Jamie's new series on budget meals worked out at an average of £1.36p a head (think I got the 6p right).  To me that is not food on a 'budget'.  Strictly speaking, a budget is a set amount we allow ourselves to work with and would depend a great deal on how much the food budget is per family.  For some it could be £100 a week/  To cut this down it then becomes a 'reduced budget' (but still could be plenty).  Perhaps nowadays cooking on a budget means spending a lot less than normal.  Even so, 50p - £1 a portion seems not too frugal. 

It could be that I'm working with food prices that are lower than Jamie might use.  Even the lower priced foods (stewing meats etc), would be considerably higher in London than north of Watford. It will be interesting to watch Jamie's series and I hope we will all be able to find some ways of making his suggestions even cheaper.  Well, this could be another challenge?

One good thing is that Jamie said that they have arranged that his book would be in every library of the country (so that people who can't afford to buy will still be able to read it).  Cynically I thought that he wouldn't lose out even doing that for he will get Public Lending Rights on the books taken out (a few pence each time).  I didn't discover the PLR until my books had been on sale for about 10 years, then applied and so got several £££s a year 'library royalties' (my books weren't in every library), but there had to be a set number taken out before they paid any money on the rest.  I forgot to send them my change of address when we moved, but by then the books didn't reach the number they should have, so no money was sent.

Thanks Sarina for your comment.  My B discovered a blackberry bush hidden in a corner of our front garden this week, and it was covered in berries, so he picked what he could reach.  In the sailing club compound is a HUGE bush, and he went and filled several more tubs with berries from there, and still a lot more to pick (no-one else seems to want them and the compound is not open to the public). Lucky me!! 
Elderberries start of by their clusters facing upwards (like the flowers) and when the clusters turn and hang face down, this is when the berries are ripe and ready to gather.  Not a lot of people know this (or perhaps they do).

Thanks Eileen for your tips about Aldi and low cost veggies.  B went to M's yesterday and brought me back a bag of carrots and a white cabbage but haven't yet seen the check-out bill to find out the cost, but considering that is all that I (really) needed, then am still managing to make meals with what we already have.  Oh yes, have to admit that I did ask for B to bring in a bottle of Worcestershire sauce (as had run out) and a Tabasco with chipoltle (as I need my daily 'kick')'

Yesterday was able to use fallen apples and some 'free' blackberries to make a crumble for B's pudding (enough for two helpings).  For his supper he had chosen home-cooked ham (I had thawed/cooked a gammon a couple of days previously), with egg and oven-chips.
Myself had a salad of lettuce, mixed salad leaves, home-grown tomato, the end of a cucumber, with a can of tuna, with mayo (from the larder) and a dash of Tabasco/chipotle to make a sort of Marie Rose sauce for the fish. 

We have three new readers to welcome. Joy, an Anonymous, and another Eileen (myshabbychic). Look forward to hearing from them again. 

We are definitely in for a cooler spell of weather over the weekend, but hopefully still fairly dry. Not that I mind if it is chillier, as I find I feel as though I have more energy the colder it gets (as long as I can keep warm within myself).  I'll be looking forward to cooking more casseroles and stews and the gorgeous smell wafting around when baking things like Sticky Toffee Pudding (freezes well).

Still having problems reaching the blogger page, and the publishing.  Steve is planning to be here tomorrow to fix the new router and iron out any creases, so - depending on how things go - I will not be blogging again until Sunday (more likely Monday), but only then if the computer works without Steve standing at my side.  He knows how to sort out things like 'this page cannot be displayed' - which happens a lot now, but I can't.  Have to take a scenic route to even reach blogger at the moment.

Once things get back to normal (and I'm crossing my fingers we'll be able to get the comp to receive photos from my camera again), I'll be giving a lot more cost-cutting recipes.  Suffice to say, if we all decide NOW (as I'm doing) and stop going to the supermarket for a 'big shop' (use local stores for the necessary even if it does cost a few pence more) then we are bound to end up with more in our purse at the end of each week.   

We began the recent challenge by spending only £10 a week, this still being enough to buy the essentials (which doesn't mean tea, coffee for always have water to drink), leaving just enough money left over for the longer-lasting store-cupboard foods (pasta, rice, flour).  So - jumping forward several weeks/months,  we should then have built up a fairly healthy store-cupboard, and so from then on be able to manage on £10 a week to 'topping up'.

Having steadily 'built' up stores since we moved here 4 years ago, have been able to manage to do this without ever going over my ordinary budget.  Regular readers will know that I deliberately 'save' (by aiming not to spend any money at all for a week, or even month, making good use of what I already have, wasting nothing, and this money is then used to buy quality meat/fish.  I like to think of this as 'free' as I (sort of) worked hard to save the money and make rather than take the easy road and buy something.  I now have a good supply of frozen food, vegetables that have a good shelf life (onions, carrots, cabbage, celery, potatoes....) so all I need to buy regularly are the milk, eggs, butter, margarine.  Cheese keeps well so I buy this when on offer and freeze some (usually grated).

Canned foods I buy when at the right price (and beware, sometimes they work out cheaper per can than the same thin in 4 or 6 packs so always check the price per 100g).  Also like to keep a stock of tuna, baked beans, sardines and chopped tomatoes in my larder, also the cheaper cans of red beans. But all these 'necessaries' are able to be bought within a £10 weekly budget. 
I'm not saying we should always live like this, but it is a good way to focus our thoughts on what we have, and the best way to say (and eat healthily) is to buy only what we NEED, not what we WANT. I want a bar of chocolate (desperately), but as I can't (at the moment) order online due to comp probs, then I have to do without choc and a whole host of other things that I'd written up on the order that wouldn't go through 'check-out' and apart from the carrots and cabbage have to ask myself "did I really NEED any of the other foods"?  The answer has to be "NO"!   Lesson learnt.

So now you will be hearing from a very frugal Shirley as she happily (and I do mean happily - I can get enjoyment from the strangest things) manages to serve up - hopefully - good meals and still keep away from the shops.  From now on will let you know how much I spend on 'topping up' each week, and what has been bought (and why).

Will be back again as soon as poss, so watch this space.  Enjoy your weekend and the beginning of autumn. TTFN.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

More Food for Thought

Still can't access my normal blog page, but as this seems to work will continue (has to be a shorter blog than usual) until Steve comes on Saturday to fix the new router and sort out the problems that still keep arising.

Thanks for comments.  I too normally bake cakes and would never use a cake mix Louise, except I'd bought some for the Foodbank but then they couldn't accept them as an egg needed to be used (and they didn't provide eggs), so ended up using them for 'research purposes'.   They are - of course - packed with additives and preservatives, and made as per pack instructions really don't taste that good, but have to say that by adding the banana, was agreeably surprised.
Bananas are one of the things that we can add to our baking that can be a substitute for an egg (or at least a second egg), so perhaps why the texture of the cake ended up far lighter than it would normally have been.  It gave a good flavour as well.

I had heard about Jamie's new series Taaleedee/Louise, but not heard him speak about it.  However, it is true that many people do eat rubbish in front of TV (readers of this blog excepted of course), and these are usually people who prefer to 'snack' in front of TV rather than sit at a table to eat a proper meal (or am I being unkind?). Have to say that B usually prefers to sit at a table when eating his supper, but is bringing is home-cooked stir-fries to eat in the living room, on his lap, because he is enjoying watching the repeats of Downton Abbey.   Myself tend to bring my supper (and it is a healthy meal) into the living room and eat at a small table in front of my chair whilst watching D.A.

Watched '...Bake Off' last night and managed to stay awake this time.  Didn't realise that the contestants knew what they would be baking, and had no chance to practice until the last (a cake/bake of their choice).  This time it seemed they knew what they would be baking and had been able to have a trial run or ten at home before they arrived.  Not that it matters.

Yesterday, noticed that our small freezer had begun to almost defrost itself (front of the drawers covered in clear ice when I opened the door).  This happens when SOMEONE (and it could have been me) had not closed the door tightly the last time it was used.  Possibly caused by a build up of ice inside that had prevented one of the drawers not being able to be pushed back far enough, just enough to impeded the closure of door.  Anyway, this meant having to get all the food out, put into a cold box, and then defrost completely.  Didn't take too long (warm day), and all the food was safely installed still solidly frozen.  At least it gave me a chance to see what was in the freezer (more than expected), and all I left out was a box of home-grown rhubarb (to make a crumble today), a box of ganache (to use for a cake), and what I thought was a chicken breast for B's stir-fry last night but it turned out to be a slice of raw gammon cut from a big piece (cooked for ham).  Cut this piece into little chunks and fried them gently, then added the stir-fry (chilli) sauce, and cooked on until tender, B was then able to add this (meat/sauce) to his stir-fry after he'd cooked his veg.

Still good weather, yet Saturday sees the official end of summer, and autumn begins.  We will have now had over two months of pretty well perfect weather, save the odd rain shower.  Parts of the country had worse weather (thunderstorms etc) but we've never had it so good since we moved here.  The forecast is for it to continue for a few days, so am well pleased. 

A large Lidl flyer came through the door (many pages) and I marked several items that I liked the look of, but today will cross all of them out except the packs of microwave rice (far cheaper than the brand I normally buy) that B prefers to use when he is cooking his - at least once a week - stir fries.  Also allowing myself some 'less than half price' bottles of fabric softener (brand normally used).  The rest of the chosen food I CAN DO WITHOUT!!!  
This is something I'm going to have to start thinking about.  Not because I need to save the money (but of course I should), but ask myself "why am I wanting to buy this when I've already got a larder and fridge/freezer full of food?"   The answer has to be because I enjoy going out to buy something, and buying food seems to be a better option than buying anything else I suppose.  At least it has a purpose.   Or it should have.  But as I have to keep reminding myself, it has not purpose at all if left on the shelf.  So now I am going to buy ONLY what I need, when it is needed.  

With only two small finger length carrots left from that 1.5kg pack bought several weeks ago (kept in the fridge), that is one item that really will have to be replaced.  Like onions (still have a few left of those), carrots are cooked regularly, either as a vegetable in their own right, or chopped finely or grated to extend a dish such as spag bol meat sauce, chilli con carne etc. Could say these are eaten either by myself or B every day of the week.   It's surprising how long the pack lasts. 
Also need to buy another white cabbage (also goes a long way and keeps for ages in the fridge). And that's all that I REALLY need this week, so am very pleased that I couldn't get Tesco's site to move on from the order (nothing happened when I pressed 'check-out').  The thought of all those 'replacement' things I'd ordered makes me feel really shocked, because if I can manage without them this week, and probably next week as well, why did I even think about placing an order?  (B could buy carrots for me at Morrison's).

Norma text me yesterday to change the time of her arrival, and as it will be 9.00am (instead of 1.00pm) thought I'd write my blog before she comes, rather than leave it later (because I need the rest of the morning to prepare supper etc).  If the sun will shine (cloudy at the moment) I hope to get outside and top up my tan for an hour.  Now the sun is lower in the sky, it shines through the top branches of our apple tree, so I have to sit in a dappled spot, let us hope I don't end up with a dappled tan.  Still pleasantly warm, even in the shade.  How lovely an English garden can be when the weather is good.  The scent from the lavender wafting through the air as we brush past the bushes.....

Noticed that during September, the Food Network are showing many cookery progs relating to Christmas.  There are several sayings such as: "It is better to travel than to arrive", and "Anticipation is better than the event".  In other words the pleasure of looking forward to something is as good as (if not better) than what we are looking forward to.  
This is why - in the old days when food was always 'seasonal' - we were always looking forward to eating the 'first fruits'.  Now, because we can buy these all year round, they have lost their appeal and when it comes to all foods, we really have nothing to look forward to.
You could say that Christmas is about the only time we really have something to aim for, as am not sure that mincepies are on sale all year round.  Or Christmas pudding.  Mincemeat probably is, but we still stick to cooking/eating the traditional foods at this - the right time - of year.  But having Christmas based probs on TV starting in September (which will be next week) is a bit much.  Prefer to wait until October (or even November).   Once into the New Year I suppose everything will then start pushing Easter at us.

Before Christmas we still have Hallow'een and Guy Fawkes (Bonfire) night.  Let's get those over with first. On the other hand, we can start THINKING (and then preparing) what we can do in advance to make life easier for us in December.  So don't let me stop you making your mincemeat, Christmas Cake, Christmas Pud, and preserves (autumn is the right time to make preserves anyway), some of these could be destined for your gifted Christmas Hampers.
But while we still have some sunny and warm days left, let us enjoy them for we may not see the like again for several years.  Winter can wait!

Not sure when I'll be back, maybe tomorrow, maybe Friday, as have now lifted the daily blog from my shoulders, giving me a bit more freedom.  To have a good think.  Seems to be working to my advantage.  Enjoy your day.  TTFN    

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Still Struggling

Having difficulty AGAIN reaching blogger, also with the publishing.  Steve should be coming to sort it out once the router arrives (it is taking its time).  So bear with me.
Keeping this short as blogger is happier publishing short pieces, not my usual rambles. A reply to Sue who mentions having to pass many aisles on the way to buying her fresh purchases.  This is one of the supermarkets 'secrets':  'keep the bread, eggs, milk, butter, cheese etc (most of the 'fresh' basics) at the back of the store so we have to walk past a lot of other things put there to tempt us.  At least in most stores the fruit and veg ARE at the start, but not all.  We still have to carry on to the back and buy the rest.

A lovely day yesterday - I spent some of it in the garden, the rest doing some cooking.  I wanted to place an order with Tesco but the comp would not reach 'checkout', so I couldn't pay.  At least that prevented me buying anything, and made me take a second look at what I had and realise I didn't really NEED any of what I thought I did.   So off I went into the larder and got a pack of Tesco's Value Sponge Cake mix (VERY cheap and had bought a few 'for research purposes').  Has to be said it works out cheaper than making the cake from scratch, but not a patch on home-made.  However, yesterday, as I had an over-ripe banana that needed using, mashed that up and mixed it into the mix (plus the added egg and water) and have to say it made the lightest, beautifully flavoured cake I've made in ages. Cut in half and sandwiched together with home-made lemon curd I had to go back and have a second slice.  A big one!

Am publishing this now just to make sure it DOES get published (it might not - who knows), will be back tomorrow and write more.  Perhaps little and often is better than a lot occasionally.  TTFN.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Trying Times

Wrote a blog yesterday (Saturday) but for some reason it wouldn't publish.  Tried several times and again this morning, but still won't do it.  A test proved that a new page would publish (just one word 'testing' - should now be deleted), so am just letting you know that I'm getting a bit stressed due to blogger probs, so will take today off and hope to start again afresh tomorrow. Have to rewrite the Sat blog (short form) and hope it is accepted.  Have a good day!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Taking Control

Yesterday, watched a repeat of 'The Men Who Make Us Fat' (BBC 2).  Do hope that readers also saw this - if not hope you will watch it on iPlayer.  If nothing else it highlights how practically all foods marked 'healthy eating' are not as good as they make out.  As I'd mentioned before, reducing the fat sounds good, but nothing is said about the extra sugar and salt added to bring back flavour.  
It was remarked on the prog. that reducing the 'bad' ingredients for us does spoil the flavour of many dishes, especially the 'ready-meals.

More was said about the 'traffic light' - and other - forms of dietary info. printed on the packs, and have to say this is useful as long as it is rapidly visible.  However, myself really don't want to have to read each pack when I want it to end up in my shopping trolley, it takes too much time - and anyway, I can't do this when ordering via the computer.  Perhaps one reason why supermarkets want more of us to order on-line.

What was sad to hear was how our life is in the hands of those who want to make the most profits (especially in America where they seem not to have the concern we do about the health of their residents as long as enough profit can be made). Sad only in that we allow ourselves to be duped, and time now to bring back some sense into our culinary lives.   Thankfully, it is mainly the 'ready-meals' that - dare I say it - are 'junk' foods. These may contain food as we know it, but a whole lot more unhealthy ones that we'd rather do without.  I dare say there are several brands of good 'readies' on sale, but we all know these will be expensive.

The above is only a problem when we allow ourselves to buy and eat the ready-meals.  Other processed foods are less likely to do us harm.  As said before, about the only foods that aren't processed in some form or another are the fresh fruit and vegetables, meat and fish, and we do know that these too can be processed when dried, canned or frozen, but little added (if any) to do us harm.

The good(e) news is that once we begin to cook from scratch (allowing some processed foods of course, what would I do without the ketchup and brown sauce, and herbs and spices, flour and raising agents....?), we then have complete control over what we put into the meals.  Good food, with no need for preservatives (because most won't be kept, although some can be chilled or frozen), and any 'additives' only the ones we wish to include (here I'm thinking of seasonings etc).

Another thing on the prog that concerned me (a bit) was the mention that we are all being urged to eat less calories.  Nothing wrong with that, but what seems not to have be said (yet) is that not all calories are 'good' for us.  I we know we should keep to the recommended calorie intake for our personal need (more if active and a man) less if a woman (and even less if inactive and old), then it could be some people prefer to take most of their calories just eating ice-cream or chocolate.  It all comes back to eating a 'balanced meal' (and how I hated that expression after the war when all I wanted to eat was what I wanted, not what I should).

As long as we buy, cook and eat as much fresh food as we can afford, then make and bake anything else we need, buy the basic essentials by way of 'dry goods' (canned, bottled and packets), then I think we are well on the way to recovery.  Not recovering from just the obesity problem our nation now has, but recovering from being freed from the supermarket/manufacturers control. 

The thought has just flashed into my head:  'how many square feet of a large supermarket is given over to fresh produce? How much to those aisles of 'processed' foods?'  It seems we can find umpteen different varieties of cereals, potato crisps, biscuits.... on sale to choose from, but probably no more than 2 types of fresh carrots or lettuce, and possibly only one variety of fresh strawberries or plums.  Even in America it seems they have many different varieties of potatoes and onions, all seemingly necessary for the dish being made, their salads too are varied.   Perhaps it is us that have got stuck in a rut.  If we don't ask, we don't get given.

Yet, do we need such a wide variety of almost everything?  Before the war wives and mothers used to buy fresh food almost every day, and practically all of it was grown/produced in this country.  Having said that, I'm eternally grateful that we can now buy foods from all over the world - and how strange it is that most of these are cheaper than our common or garden British grown produce.  At least that is something that eases our food budget but I wish it was the other way round.

Don't know what it is, but I'm hooked on any sauce that contains chipotle.  Have to have some every day or life is hardly worth living.  Must be the 'pepper' effect, the chemical it contains that gives that 'feel good' feeling (which it does).  I'm even mixing it into my salad dressing!

Apart from the now-known reasons why a 'ready-meal' is not a healthy option, we need to understand that these will almost always be much more expensive to buy than if we make them ourselves.  They sometimes may seem not to be when priced - on offer - at 99p (or a buy-one-get-one-free), but start analysing the contents!!!  The meat content will be shown, and this could be very low (sometimes 3%), and the type of meat could be dubious (pre-formed etc).  The actual 'good food' in the meal, usually shown as a percentage, would add up to very little, so what makes up all the rest of the weight of the pack?  Perhaps better we didn't know.

When nutritionists tell us that 100g meat (150g fish) is the recommended amount for us to eat, then I bet your bottom dollar no ready-meal will include that amount.  If it does, then it will - of course - cost a lot more than the cheaper meals.   Every time I look at a ready meal (and have bought some purely for research purposes!!!), I realise that not only am I paying for the ingredients, I've also paid for the preparation and cooking, the packaging - which includes the photography used, the advertising, and the profits made from manufacturer to warehouse, to supermarket profits, not forgetting the fuel used for delivery between them all.  When millions of these meals are made and sold, then that adds only pennies to the product, but still we are paying for something we can't eat.
When we buy our foods as fresh as possible and cook these ourselves we have no other overheads than the fuel it takes to cook them, and we know our meals will be GOOD!   Once we start to do this we will find a very healthy rattle left in our purse at the end of each week. 

Enough of this, time to take my schoolmarm hat off and replace it with my cook's cap.  Enjoying the repeat of Downton Abbey I now role-play Mrs. Packmore.  Just wish I had a Daisy to do the washing up!

Made the meringues from those three 'free' egg whites, plus sugar (15p).  Made 9 meringue nests and six 'finger-shape' meringues.  At supermarket cost of £1 for 6 'nests', mine would have cost me £1.50, so home-made gave me a saving of AT LEAST £1.85p and I also had the 'fingers'.  Having made these before, know they will keep for months when stored in a poly-bag in an air-tight container.

For B's supper yesterday thaw out a steak and kidney pie I'd previously made in a Fray Bentos tin.  First I'd lined the tin with short pastry and baked this blind, then when cool, filled it with cooked and cooled steak and kidney. Covered it with foil, put into a freezer bag and froze.  Normally I first would cover it with short-crust pastry before freezing, but this time left the top open so that I could later cover with short-crust or puff pastry.  B does not care for a pastry topping to touch the filling as 'it gets a soggy bottom', so I also paint the undercrust with a glaze of egg when baked blind so no filling seeps through.  An if using puff pastry lid, prefer to cut this out to size and then bake it separately while the pie is also re-heating in the oven.  Then pop the lid on top once the pie has been turned out. 
As the S and K pie already contained onions and carrots, B only needed a green veg, so chose peas (normally I would serve Brussels sprouts, but it was his choice).  Made a bit of extra gravy to go with the meal, and then left him to enjoy it.  Had made myself a salad (lettuce, red bell pepper, sliced mushroom, home-grown cherry tomatoes, and 10 seasticks that I'd chopped up into chunks and folded into a bit of salad cream spiced with chipotle sauce.   Tossed the lot together and it was very, very tasty (mainly due to the chipotle - and a good way to make those seasticks taste more interesting. Probably have the same again today.  B having cold meat (ham, corned beef, sausages....) with salad tonight.  Well, that's the plan.

The weather improved after a bad start yesterday and I managed to grab some time to have a sit in the garden to top up my tan once the clouds had rolled away.  Was very annoyed when I found my big pot of curly parsley had had all but one leaf nibbled away, presumably by slugs.  My tray of growing herbs had been knocked to the floor by something, the Tumbler tomato also ended up upside down on the chair in the greenhouse.  So all but the parsley had fallen from the pots and eaten or gone missing, and it might have been a squirrel or a cat that caused the damage.  So brought the parsley indoors, cut the stalks down as it seemed there could be new shoots growing at ground level, filled more pots with soil and sowed more seeds.  Just hoping that something will grow to keep me in parsley for the winter.  Otherwise I'll have to buy a pot from the garden centre.

The forecast for the weekend is a bit hit and miss, but reasonably fair.  The temperatures about the same as you are expecting Margie - between 20C and 24.  It is also humid which makes it difficult to sleep at night.
I remember the series you mentioned, set in Morecambe. I enjoyed watching it.  Not a lot of Morecambe is shown, but do remember one or two scenes where the children were running along the prom. 

Interesting you say that not all Aldi products are a bargain Louise.  Like most stores, we are tempted in knowing they have low prices on many products, then end up buying a lot more of the more expensive, just because we might as well do the whole shop while we are there.  When it comes to bargains (judging by the flyers that come through the door from Lidl and Aldi), do know that Tesco sell one or two of the same offers even cheaper that week, as probably do most other supermarkets. 

I see that Nigel Slater had a cookery prog tonight (BBC 1 - 7.30) where he is 'making food go further'.  I will be watching to see if I can pick up any tips, and with that thought in mind will be giving my recipe for the day - a dish of pasta with roasted vegetables.
As ever, use the recipe as a guide.  Use different veg if that is all you have (as long as they will roast satisfactorily. My choice of roasted veg is always bell pepper, butternut squash, parsnips, red and white onions, maybe throwing in some mushrooms and cherry tomatoes towards the end.  Although not often used (B doesn't like them) aubergines and courgettes also roast well.  Whole cloves of garlic, left in their skins, are GORGEOUS when roasted as they then go soft and can be pushed from their skins to make a very sweet and only faintly garlicky pulp.

Feta cheese is used, but crumbled mozzarella, goat's cheese, Wensleydale cheese, or even home-made curd cheese (made from yogurt) could be used with this dish.  Instead of spinach leaves, choose any salad leaves you may have but serve these separately, not added to the veggies).
As the vegetables for this dish can be roasted the day before (then put into an airtight container and kept chilled), worth planning ahead and roasting extra when making a meal, then saving the surplus to serve with this dish the following day.

Roasted Vegetable and Feta Pasta: serves 2
1 small butternut squash (or other veg, see above)
1 large red bell pepper
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped (or see above)
3 oz (75g) feta cheese, crumbled
1 tsp fresh rosemary leaves, chopped (opt)
1 tblsp olive or sunflower oil
salt and pepper
7 oz (200g) pasta penne (or other shapes)
4 oz (100g) baby spinach leaves
Peel the squash, remove seeds and cut flesh into chunks. Deseed pepper and cut into chunks.  Pile the veggies, garlic and cheese into a large roasting pan and drizzle with the oil.  Sprinkle with a little salt (opt) and plenty of ground black pepper.  Toss lightly until all the veggies have a coating of oil, then spread out to cover the pan in a single layer. Roast at 200C gas 6 for 30 - 40 minutes, tossing or turning veggies after 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta as per packet instructions.  Remove the roasting tin from the oven, drain the pasta (reserving half a mugful of liquid) and add the pasta to the veggies with the spinach, and once this has begun to wilt (adding a splash of reserved liquid if needed for moistening) spoon into two serving bowls and eat whilst still warm.

Feel like typing all day, but need to go and spend some time in the kitchen as am aiming to make meals that use up what I have rather than go and buy more.  Why we always have the urge to buy more food when we already have plenty that we could make meals from I don't know.  Even I do this, so now trying to take myself under control and use up a lot more of my 'dry goods' and replace only the fresh when needed.    There is still plenty of time to restock the shelves in time for the winter meals.

Friday today.  I may blog over the weekend, but as this is a Bank Holiday so not sure yet what we'll be doing (may have visitors).  It could be Monday (or Tuesday) before I'm back with you. Worth checking tomorrow just in case something's happened I can't wait to tell you about.  B is out all weekend (sailing) so I'll have a bit more free time and prefer to spend this with you rather than twiddle my thumbs, have to see how things work out.  Hope you all have a good Bank Holiday and make the most of this good weather for it can't last that much longer.  This year we have been very lucky and actually managed to see the sun for hours at a time.  It's shining now, so am off to take a mug of coffee into the garden and sit and enjoy it.  If we can have an Indian summer as well, then winter won't seem that bad.   TTFN.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

More Than We Think...

Perhaps the secret behind economy meals is that we should all spend a little time aiming to make more from what we have.  This seems obvious I suppose, but how often we get into a routine when we cook and not go one step further.

Yesterday was an example.  At the time I was trying to make as much as possible in one hour, to prove that by spending just one (extra?) hour a week we could accomplish miracles.  Once I had begun I then fell into my 'jigsaw' type of cooking (where one ingredient - an egg or lemon or..... - can be used in more than one dish).

I began by making a 'sort-of' Tiramasu for B.  Used my Lemon flavoured curd cheese (made by draining EasiYo lemon yogurt through muslin).  The draining had concentrated the lemon flavour and it was really nice when mixed with a little icing sugar.  I dipped the sponge fingers into so lemon juice mixed with a bit of Limoncello (and for those who then complain because this drink does not fit into an economy budget... I asked for a bottle as a Xmas gift some many years ago, all my 'cooking' alcohol: brandy, rum, kirsch, Cointreau, vodka... have been gifted to me, and as only a small amount needed each time, the bottles do last years, and years, and years...).

Anyway, the lemon curd cheese was layered between the dipped sponges, the top layer of cheese having grated chocolate on top.  Because the yogurt had by not turned very thick (like ricotta cheese) I did slacken it with a bit of cream, but milk could have been used).  B said it was lovely.

Before squeezing the lemon for the juice I grated the zest from it, then added this to the grated rind and juice of 3 more lemons.  This, with butter and sugar, were heated in the microwave, and then eggs were added to be then cooked on to make Lemon Curd.  Because I had 'plans' I saved 3 egg whites to make meringues, adding an extra egg yolk to compensate.  It works!  So today I will be making meringues.   I had time to make them yesterday but got distracted so covered the whites and put them in the fridge.

The whey - drained from the yogurt - had separated almost back to yogurt at the bottom and water at the top, so mixed this together and used as 'buttermilk' to make some scones.  So something else not wasted, and incidentally, the squeezed lemon shells were put into a basin with some water, put into the microwave for a few minutes, and the resulting steam then was wiped away from the innards of the microwave (walls, floor, ceiling etc), and this cleaned it both very easily and perfectly.

By then it was less than an hour gone by, so I decided to make a 'boil and bake' fruit cake.  Had I thought of this earlier I could have had the fruit/marg/sugar/water boiled and left to cool down whilst making the Tiramasu and the Lemon Curd.  Then I could have put the rest of the ingredients into the fruit mixture, into the cake tin and in the oven.  Anyway, the cake was made, and as all the time I'd been happily listening to the radio, it was a very pleasant hour and productive hour and a half (am ignoring the time the cake took to bake as I wasn't having to hold its hand while it did it).

So, all in all, a Tiramasu, Lemon Curd, scones, a big fruit cake, all made in less than 2 hours (could have been in one hour if I had started the fruit for the cake earlier).  Doesn't sound a lot, but there would be three helpings of Tiramasu, plenty of scones (they could be frozen), three jars of Lemon Curd (should last several weeks) and - at a pinch - if dousing the cake with brandy, this could be our Xmas cake...but it won't be.  B will make sure that all are eaten within a month I'm sure.

Yesterday B cooked himself another stir-fry.  I'd run out of some veggies (mangetout and baby sweetcorn), so made do with carrot strips, onion, red pepper, and some cauliflower florets.  I also removed the few leaves that came wrapped around the cauli and sliced off the actual 'leafy' bit, just leaving the thick 'rib'.  This I sliced and popped into the pan with the carrot strips and florets to give them about 3 minutes blanching as B doesn't like veggies that have too much 'bite', and by part cooking these, all he has to do is to add them to the pan of onions and peppers and just heat them through before adding the pre-fried meat, and his chosen Chinese sauce (and perhaps noodles if he hasn't decided on rice).

Myself cooked half a head of cauliflower (florets) in the microwave (in other words steamed it), then put it into a saucepan and poured over a chilli-flavoured tomato sauce.  Made a cheese sauce in another pan, adding some grated cheese, then put the cauli and tomato sauce in a bowl, cheese sauce on top, and that was my supper, and very good it was too.
The remaining outer leaves of the cauli and the core have all been saved to grate up and cook in milk with a rind of Stilton cheese to make 'cauliflower soup'.  Have done it before, and this also is very good indeed, and apart from the cost of the milk (enough for 3 servings) is otherwise 'free'!

Thanks Les for your 'how it was then', and how true.  An earlier comment of yours mentioned the advancement of technology and how it meant things could be 'saved' (on computers).  Saved only as long as the comps. work.  Myself still feel that it is worth printing out anything really important to save it getting 'lost'.  If there was a national disaster either man-made or something nature threw at us, and we had no electricity for days (weeks, months!!!), then where would be if we had not kept a written record of what was important?  Myself much prefer to curl up with a real book rather than sit with a 'tablet' or whatever books are 'printed' on now.

Like you Margie, I'm realising that food prices are rising (and rising...), not just by a penny, but often by a lot more - usually at least 10p a throw. When it comes to meat it can be as low as 50p rise, and often £££s.  There are still cheap foods around, but not the quality we are used to, although enough for us not to worry too much.  Ideally we should not stick to what we normally buy, but start to try other - cheaper - ingredients that we haven't used before, but really are good (and sometimes preferable to what we ate before).

One day I will venture into Aldi Eileen.  The one on the front (Morecambe promenade) looks small enough for me to walk round (with the help of a trolley to lean on), so one day I will venture in there and see what it is on offer.  Even so - have noticed that Tesco were selling some foods cheaper than the offers on the Lidl flyer than came through the door, so the store wars continue.

A welcome to Ruth who asks if I was the same person who gave demos at the Leeds Flower Show. And yes, that was me.  It was quite a busy time for me for not only was I giving demos (with advance prep of foods etc), but we also had several B & B guests staying with us (these were also connected with the Show - stall holders etc), and so had to provide their meals (including supper). But it was great fun.  Most of the guests used to book in again the following year for the Show.

I too used to have problems with my scones Ruth, but recently they have improved beyond measure. What I now do is add a teaspoon of baking powder to the self-raising flour (sifted together), rub in a little butter, add a little sugar, and also add a small egg when mixing with milk.  The mixture needs to be soft but not sticky.  I knead it very gently to make it fairly smooth, then roll out on a floured board to about an inch thick.  The scone cutter can be any size you wish, but I prefer a fairly large one (say two inches wide).  The scones are then put onto a greased and floured baking tray, the tops brushed with milk (only the tops, don't let the milk go down the sides), and although some cooks tend to place the scones close together, it doesn't seem to matter, and as these are thick I prefer to place well apart to let the heat get round them.  They then rise quite well and even the tops stay flat (in the old days ended up very rounded).
I bake at 180C (fan) gas 4 for 12 - 15 minutes, then leave them on the hot tray for about 10 minutes before removing, this way they continue cooking internally for a bit, and don't get too brown on top or dried up inside.  Then put them on a cake airer. When cool, but still a tiny bit warm, if wanting to keep them for a few days I put them in a polybag to keep them fresh.  If being eaten that day, I just cover them with a towel, that way they taste really 'fresh'.

There have been some good cookery progs. on recently.  A new one about spices caught my attention and I look forward to watching the rest of the series.  Silly me nodded off half-way through Great British Bake-Off last night, but am sure it will be repeated at the weekend.  Is it me, or did Paul Hollywood seem 'not quite himself' and rather subdued (not like him)?  The show was already being filmed before we heard about his peccadillo although probably he had already begun his US filming. 

Have to say, after watching the Food Network's 'Unique Sweets', it really is opening my eyes as to variations on our 'basic' cakes and desserts.  Even though many US cakes (such a cupcakes) go OTT with the creamy toppings, certainly their cookies and tray-bakes, breads and ice-creams look scrumptious and I can't wait to try making some myself.  This morning I saw some home-made caramel being mixed in with popcorn and - believe it or not - crumbled crispy bacon, and have to say it actually sounded rather good.   It's surprising how - in the US - bacon IS added to many sweet things.

Another series I'm enjoying is a new one with Kirstie Allsopp (Freeview 14). If there is one person guaranteed to make me want to start making everything myself (instead of buying) it is her.  Appreciate that not everyone would find her as appealing as me, but the sheer pleasure she gains from 'learning how to', that she gives off (even if it maybe false) really is inspiring.  Do other readers feel the same?

Today I'm giving a recipe that uses the ingredients already bought during the first two weeks of the £10 challenge, but before I begin would like to point out that although this is truly 'living on the breadline', I'm not expecting my readers to have nothing at all in their larders before they begin. Hopefully they already have some seasonings, herbs, spices, sauces....especially oil.  The idea is to then work with a lower budget (and why not start at £10?) and also build up the store cupboard (if not already done). 
Anyone with a little knowledge of cooking will have a few 'dry goods' in their larder (even if they don't use them often), and there are plenty of websites/blogs written for truly novice cooks with not a  bean in their pocket (or in a can on their shelves). 

With the continual rise in prices, even experienced cooks are finding it almost impossible to keep within their food budget, so this is what my blog is about.  How to spend a lot less but still eat well (and make the most of what we already have).

The original recipe for this dish used goat's cheese, but also suggested that 'dollops of soft cheese such a ricotta or mascarpone could be used instead.  'Perfect use for the strained yogurt 'curd cheese', so as we can make that ourselves, and also have the small potatoes, and can make the pastry, all we need are the herbs.  Oops, we don't have these (although some readers may grow them, and we could use dried herbs...) so there has to be an alternative.  Maybe a spoon of pesto or mint sauce? If we have them. Myself might spread the pastry with some passata before adding the potatoes and cheese. Anything to add flavour, and flavour is what it's all about.  So use this recipe only as a guide, and make up your own set of flavours from what you already have.  A well-flavoured meal is one of the many secrets to eating well on a budget.
The pastry should be puff pastry, but rough-puff, flaky, or even short pastry can be used.
Incidentally, 'new' potatoes are just small potatoes, available all year round (and often on offer). I always keep these in the fridge as they then won't 'sprout'.   Only the true Jersey New Potatoes are really 'new' (in other words seasonally fresh).

This tart can be made up to *** 4 hours ahead, then cover and chill. Follow rest of the recipe for baking.
Cheese and New Potato Tart: serves 4 - 6
12 oz (350g) pastry (see above)
10 oz (300g) small potatoes, thinly sliced
8 oz (225g) soft curd cheese
handful each fresh parsley, tarragon, chives
1 tblsp olive or sunflower oil
salt and pepper
Roll the pastry thinly to fit a Swiss Roll tin.  Especially when using puff pastry (or rough puff/flaky), score a line around the edges to about 1" (2.5cm) in, then use a fork to prick the pastry all over the inside of the marked lines. You can also do this with short pastry and roll it out slightly larger than the tin so that the edges can be rolled back over (or tucked in) to make the sides slightly thicker.
Boil the potatoes for about 5 or so minutes until just tender, then drain and leave to cool.  Crumble the cheese evenly over the pastry (if using passata spread this over the pastry first),  but keep the cheese within the marked edges.  Sprinkle herbs (if using) over the cheese, then scatter the potatoes over the top, seasoning with a little pepper and salt***.  Drizzle with the oil and bake at 200C, gas 6 for about 18 - 20 minutes or until the pastry is crisp and the potatoes browned.   Serve warm or at room temperature.

It's been many years since I wrote (with co-author Erica Griffiths) 'More For Your Money' (Penguin books), but am now referring to it again to find more useful recipes that work with the above challenge.   Here is one that could be served as a side-dish, but equally good eaten alone as a light lunch or supper dish.  Especially with a brown (or in my case chipotle) sauce drizzled over.
If using small potatoes, no need to peel.
Potato Pudding: serves 3 - 4
1 lb (450g) potatoes, peeled and coarsely grated
1  small egg
pinch salt
1 tblsp soft marg
1 oz (25g) butter
1 onion, thinly sliced in rings
Put the potatoes, egg and salt into a bowl and mix together.  Heat the margarine in an oven dish, adding the potato mixture, smoothing the top.  Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes until golden and crispy.  Turn out onto a dish and return to the oven for 15 minutes to bake the underside.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a frying pan and add the onion rings.  Fry gently for about 10 minutes, making sure they don't burn.  Remove the potato pudding from the oven and scatter the onion over the top.  Cut into wedges and serve hot.

From the same book is a recipe using much the same ingredients but cooked in a different way. This makes a really good lunch dish, especially when served with apple or cranberry sauce.  Myself am now gathering our fallen (maggoty) apples, cutting out the bad bits but still leaving on the skin, then simmering them down in a little water to rub through a sieve to make 'apple sauce' (can be frozen).
When it comes to 'fat for frying', use lard, bacon fat, dripping, or just oil.  It's always worth saving fat when cooking (I save then use the chicken fat that has risen to the top of a bowl of chilled chicken stock).

As you grate the potatoes, put them immediately into a bowl of cold water to prevent them going brown.
Potato Pancakes:  makes 8
1.5lb (700g) potatoes, peeled if old, and grate
2 eggs
1 small onion, finely grated
1 rounded tblsp plain flour
pinch salt
approx. 4 oz (100g) fat for frying (see above).
Beat the eggs, add the onion, then beat in the flour and salt.  Drain the potatoes well and put them between two tea towels to pat out as much moisture as possible (or twist them inside a tea towel and wring out the excess liquid), then stir the potatoes into the batter.  Melt the fat in a large frying pan over a high heat.  Pour in a ladle (or half a teacup) of potato mixture, using a fish slice to press into a pancake.  Reduce heat to medium and fry until the bottom is golden brown, then flip over and cook the other side.  Remove to a heated plate and keep warm as you cook the other pancakes (add more fat if necessary).  Serve at once with chosen sauce.

Meals become more interesting when we can include more ingredients, so the third week we should be looking to add a strong cheese and streaky bacon.  Recently I've been buying different cheeses purely to differentiate between the taste.  Have to say that Cheddar is either tasteless or slightly flavoured.  Even the 'mature' or 'strong' Cheddar hasn't the strength that I've found in Double Gloucester.  Not that I am particularly fond of the D.G. but it is perfect to add to other hard cheeses when grating (to use in quiches etc when I really do want to taste the cheese).

Lancashire cheese is milk but can be either crumbly or creamy.  The crumbly is similar to Wensleydale (one of my favourites), Cheshire cheese is mild but has more of a texture of Red Leicester (another favourite).  There seem to be very few English cheeses(other than Stilton) that have a well pronounced flavour these days, and by this I mean the plastic wrapped from the supermarkets.  Am pretty sure the more expensive 'counter wrapped' are tastier, but naturally far more expensive (we get what we pay for), and you know me - economy always in mind.

That's me for today, and what a miserable day it is turning out to be.  All the time I was unable to publish my blog properly (so kept the content down), we had the glorious hot, sunny weather. The good news is that this will be back over the Bank Holiday weekend (at least the Monday, and hopefully for longer than that).  The nights are drawing in, and it already we are being reminded by various companies that Christmas is on its way.  Why can't we enjoy summer and autumn before having to consider more expense?   But of course, OUR Christmas (yours and mine) doesn't HAVE to be expensive, does it?  Follow this blog to find out.

Probably be back with you on Friday, maybe even tomorrow (but do enjoy having a 'day off' now and again).  Am now off to find out how many meringues three egg whites (free) and 6 oz sugar (about 15p) will make.  It's great fun seeing how much 'profit' I will have made (comparing the cost against bought meringues).   Enjoy your day.  See you soon .




Monday, August 19, 2013

Freedom of Choice

Problems again with the comp, but managed - eventually - to get onto this page.  Hope it publishes OK.
Firstly, thank you for comments.  A welcome to Virginia from Tennessee. Also to an 'Anonymous' who I hope will write in again and give a name.  I feel closer to the person I am replying to when they have a name.
Not sure if Emma is a new reader, but welcome (or welcome back).

Sorry to hear your grand-daughter has allergies Janet, but hope easy enough to avoid.  Certainly easier with home-cooking, but you can never be sure what is in anything bought these days.

On Saturday, my Beloved was going to Morrison's late afternoon to restock up with his diet lemonade, and I asked him to look to see what good (late) offers there were on the fish and butchery counters.  He came back with a big pack called 'Turkey Leg', which seemed to consist of a huge turkey drumstick and an even bigger turkey thigh.  Total weight 4lb 4oz (2kg).  It cost £3.20p which I thought was pretty good.

On looking at the thigh, noticed it had been partly boned so that it could be wrapped round some stuffing if I wished, although I left it wrapped in its elastic net.   Yesterday cooked both, but didn't follow the cooking directions on the pack that said 200C for 60 minutes.  What I did do was cut up a couple of carrots into chunks - about an inch thick, and also cut up a big onion into the same thickness slices.  Placed these on the base of the roasting tin and stood the turkey leg and the thigh - spaced apart - on these veggies.   I then added some small potatoes round the sides, and poured in a pint of water. Covered the lot in foil and cooked it for an hour.  Checking the internal temperature of the meat it wasn't done - as I expected - so removed the foil and carried on cooking for a further 45 minutes when it was cooked perfectly.  All the water had evaporated leaving only the turkey juices - and these I used to make the gravy.

After eating his meal, B said the flavours were wonderful, and as I'd also sampled some of everything agreed with this.  The vegetables were served as part of the meal and had absorbed some of the turkey juices and also began to slightly caramelise, so were very sweet.  The small potatoes, still in their skins were almost 'roasted', but not overly crispy, and with the frozen/cooked Brussels sprouts made an extremely good meal.

Of course only a little of the cooked turkey was carved, the lot would have served four to six people, so today will remove/slice the rest of the meat and freeze it for other meals. 
It crossed my mind that anyone who thinks that Christmas this year might be a bleak one due to possible financial circumstances, could still serve turkey (even if not the white meat), by buying a similar offer as above and freezing it ready to cook in December (it did say 'suitable for freezing, and I considered freezing the thigh - wished now I had!).

Returning to the 'challenge'. As with any food purchases, we have freedom of choice even when following suggestions.  We may prefer to buy a different brand of baked beans, or a different cut of meat. In the first week's purchases I chose to buy tomato passata because it was cheaper than the cheapest canned tomatoes.  Every week a supermarket seems to reduce the price of some foods while the other stores stay the same, the following week other stores reduce the price of the same foods while the original one puts the price back up again.  Unfortunately to buy ALL the foods we want at the lowest price we would then have to go from store to store.  Ideally, wait until what we want until it IS at its cheapest in the store we normally go to.    My personal food bill/'statement' (comes with my on-line delivery), shows that each time I order  - usually once a month - only the 'basics' are regularly ordered, everything else has been waited for until it is on offer (coffee, cheese, canned foods, dry goods etc). Even the 'basics' are often 'on offer' so sometimes I can stock up with these as well (milk can be frozen...).

Once we have made our purchases, and hopefully they will be healthy ones, we then have complete freedom of choice as to how we put them together.  Although a 'balanced meal' is the ideal, to me it seems that if all (or most) of the purchases are good for us, then it doesn't matter if one or two meals are slightly unbalanced because over the week what has been eaten then does 'balance' out.  If you see what I mean.

We are always urged not to eat too much sugar - and rightly so, but if we normally might sprinkle a teaspoon of sugar over our breakfast porridge, or even have a little in our tea or coffee, then - on the days when we don't have porridge, and instead use the same amount of sugar to make cakes or biscuits, we are not eating MORE sugar, just keeping the weekly 'ration' the same.  This reminds me of war-time when I expect our mothers (or your grand-mothers) would probably also have to make the best use of the small amounts of food that were rationed, and that all families in the nation had - no more and no less.

With being able to have money left over the second week (once the 'basics' had been replaced and with plenty left over from the first week to keep us going), the purchase of flour then turns cooking into a whole new ball game.  We can choose between making pancakes, drop scones, pasta, and even pastry.  Not to mention scones and biscuits and maybe a fat-less sponge cake (that could be the base of a 'sort-of' trifle if a jelly and a 15p Strawberry Whip/Dessert had been purchased.  Dumplings could be added to the stew, or 'cobblers' on top. 

Once we begin to buy a few dried spices, then we can improve the flavour of a very bland dish - but that may have to wait until week three or four.  Let's take what we already have.  Myself might  aim to make a savoury dip by using some of the yogurt and mixing in some salad cream/mayo with a little of the passata, or maybe mashing some sardines with yogurt.  Even mashed baked beans/yogurt make a good 'dip'.  Especially if a dash of Tabasco or curry powder can be added (both of these a later purchase but you can see where I'm going.

We can use carrot sticks to eat our dips, and I've found that by cutting off the crusts from sliced bread, then drying these off in the oven (or under the grill), these too make good 'bread-sticks' for dipping. Myself always enjoy dipping in the triangular 'tortilla chips' (Doritos etc), bur since I've found out how to make something similar very easily, then often make these. No need to add any flavour to these 'nachos', but they are even tastier when sprinkled with a little paprika, or ground cumin before they are cooked. Another reason why one or two spices are worth buying.
If you wish to make your own 'nachos', here is the recipe.  Can't remember the number, but it makes about 100 (even more)!!  So you could halve or quarter the ingredients. You do need oil for the cooking - so make this your next purchase.  If you have bought plain flour then you also need baking powder.  If you have self-raising flour this should work without adding any raising agent.   If you have no salt, use a salted butter.

9 oz (250g) plain flour (see above)
1 tsp baking powder (see above)
pinch salt
1 tblsp butter
4 fl oz (100ml) semi-skimmed milk (warmed)
oil for frying
paprika or other chose spice (opt)
Sift the flour with the baking powder and salt, rub in the butter. Add the milk, and when well combined, cover and leave to rest for 15 minutes.
Divide mixture into 12 and roll each out as thinly as possible into circles.  Cut into triangles, you get at least 8 from each circle, even more if you like them a bit narrower (the more the merrier I say).
Shallow fry the triangles (a few at a time) for 3 minutes on each side.  Drain on kitchen paper.
Sprinkle with paprika whilst they are still hot, then leave to cool.  Store in an airtight tin.

Once we have bought some oil (I prefer to use sunflower but of course you choose the one you prefer), we already have the ingredients to make our own pasta.  Yes, it is MUCH less trouble to buy the dried pasta, and there are several sold at low 'value' price.  However, home-made pasta cooks so rapidly, and seems so superior to the bought that it is well worth making some when you wish to cook lasagne or cannelloni (pasta tubes but the same effect when the lasagne sheets are rolled round the filling), and of course a sheet of pasta can be dusted with flour (to stop it sticking), then rolled up and cut into strips to make noodles.  Sheets of pasta are also good to make ravioli, and as this is one of the best dishes to make use of a small amount of filling (I suggest Beanfeast Bolognese), will give the recipe for that as well. 

Here is my economy recipe for pasta (correct recipes use more eggs and 00 grade flour, and mix the lot on a worktop like making cement... but I've found the recipe below works well).
Basic Pasta Recipe:
4 oz (100g) plain flour, sifted
1 large egg
2 tsp sunflower oil (see above)
pinch of salt
Put the flour into a basin making a well in the centre, then break in the egg, add the oil and salt and mix well together with a fork until it forms a ball.  Add a drop or two of water if the mixture seems too dry, or a sprinkling of flour if too wet.  Turn out onto a floured surface and knead well for at least 5 minutes until silky in texture. Divide in half, wrap each in greaseproof paper (or clingfilm) and leave at room temperature for at least 15 minutes before rolling out (again on a lightly floured surface) VERY THINLY - sprinkling it with flour to prevent it sticking/breaking.   Cover each sheet with a cloth to prevent it drying out.

approx. 4 oz (100g) chosen filling
pasta sheets (see above recipe)
Take one sheet of the pasta and place small dots (about 1 teaspoon) of the filling spaced about 1 1/2 inches apart (4cm).  Brush the second sheet with water and place it over the filling, then press down between each 'lump' removing as much air as you can, sealing the two sheets of pasta together. Cut between each 'lump using a pastry (scone) cutter if you want them round, or with a knife if you want them square.  Check to make sure each little parcel is completely sealed around the edges (or the filling with burst out when cooked).
Put the ravioli into a pan of salted boiling water (or chicken stock) and simmer for a few minutes, the  ravioli will rise to the surface when it the pasta is cooked.  Lift out with a slotted spoon, draining well, then place in a (preferably a buttered) dish.  Serve with hot tomato sauce (passata) and - if you have it - a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.  Any filling left over can be added to the sauce.

As an alternative to the meat filling, and if you have drained the yogurt to make some firm 'curd' cheese, by adding a few other ingredients (when you have them - and even if you haven't you could possible use a substitute) you can make a meatless filling for the ravioli.
curd cheese filling:
approx. 8 oz (225g) curd cheese
1 small pack frozen spinach, cooked/drained
1 egg
tblsp finely grated cheese
salt and pepper
Drain as much whey from the cheese as possible then mix with the spinach.  Stir in the egg, the cheese, and the seasonings/nutmeg.  Dot this filling over the pastry in the same way as the above recipe, then continue by covering with the second sheet (following above recipe) and cook.

Reading a recipe such as the above, when I haven't got 'the necessary', I'd try and think up useful substitutes.  If I had frozen peas (another worthwhile buy), I'd mash these and use instead of the spinach. Or perhaps cook some of the white cabbage until soft, then chop this up and add to the curd cheese.  What else would work? What else do I have?  This is where dried herbs and spices would come into their own.  But never give up just because we haven't got all the makings. Improvise.

One last thought on the above.  If we haven't any pasta and don't even have the flour to make any, then beat up a couple of eggs with a couple of teaspoons of milk or water, then pour a little of this mixture into a small frying pan, just enough to cover the base (first adding a little oil if using a non-stick pan), and cook until set on top (no need to turn as they are so thin).  Slide this egg-only pancake onto a plate and continue making more (you should make 3 pancakes for each egg used - total of six in this instance) then stack one on top of the other.  Roll up tightly like a Swiss roll, then slice across thinly to look like strips of pasta.  Use these instead of noodles when serving a Chinese Stir-Fry, or can be used as 'pasta' when serving a pasta dish where the rest of the ingredients are vegetables.

These - or 'proper' pancakes' - can also be used as a substitute for sheets of pasta when making lasagne or 'cannelloni'.  Especially good when the filling is vegetarian as there is plenty of protein already in the egg.   Cover the lasagne or cannelloni with a tomato or cheese sauce and with grated cheese on top and finished off in the oven,  this really makes a substantial and healthy meal.

Hope these suggestions have inspired you to have a go at making your own pasta.  Remember, it needs to be rolled really thinly (as it swells when cooked), takes very few minutes to cook (usually less than 5) and is very tender when eaten.  When I used to do 'catering', used the above recipe for pasta and people raved over it - even though it was the economy version - and am sure this is because it was 'home-made'.  Incidentally, I used to make the pasta, part-cook it in boiling water before wrapping it round a (cooked meat) filling to make cannelloni, then freeze these. (The ravioli doesn't need part cooking as it cooks in the boiling water. But home-cooked does need 2 - 3 minutes in boiling when in sheet form to use in other dishes that carry on cooking in the oven). Later would thaw the cannelloni, sit them on a bed of tomato sauce, cover with more sauce, top with cheese sauce/grated cheese - then cook them in the oven.

Hope I've given you some ideas of what to do with the little we've already bought with the £10 challenge.  More suggestions will follow in future blogs.   Not sure if I'll be back tomorrow, depends upon whether I've done anything interesting today.  And if the comp/ doesn't play silly beggars as it did today.  Just hoping this publishes.  You I will soon find out as I now press 'publish'. TTFN.   


Saturday, August 17, 2013

Tell it as it is!

Thankfully, am now able to write my blog as I wish it to appear (the 'trials' have been OK anyway). But still not happy with the comp, but will get used to it.  Steve fitted a new hard-drive, a Microsoft 7 (one up from the previous one), but of course, the layout is different and a bit perplexing to a wrinklie like me.  It also wouldn't connect to the Internet, so Steve has lent me a 'dingle' (or is it 'dongle') that connects but with less power, so again lack of speed.  He is arranging for a new router to be sent to me and will come back in a few weeks to get it working again.  I cannot now get onto the Tesco webpage, and still probs with the camera.  Haven't yet checked whether the printer will work (and I bet it won't).

Have to say that on Thursday when Steve and partner came, the rest of the day was 'how it is now'.  Steve glued to our comp sorting things out, plus moving back and forth from his own lap-top to gain information on his as to why ours still didn't work properly. Steve's partner had brought her 'tablet' (is that what it is called, I was quite impressed with it), and she showed me some of her very creative knitwear on it.  Our daughter arrived with her lap-top and was using that most of the time (viewing pictures on Google Earth 'street-view' of the homes where she used to live.

Several days ago, our daughter had rescued a huge plasma screen TV from a neighbour who was about to take it to the tip (nothing wrong with it, he just didn't have room because his family had a larger one), and so we were able to purchase it for £20!!!  It is now in this room as 'B's personal TV ' and so while everyone was glued to their computers, tablets, and lap-tops, B was watching the TV.

Suddenly, it was as if I was watching a nightmare.  "Is this what the world is turning into" I thought. Everyone fixated with screen-watching?!  I went into the kitchen to prepare supper (planned for 5.30) and then sat in the conservatory watching natural life out there doing what it has done happily for no doubt trillions of years.  When supper was nearly ready, went to gather the family who were then ALL watching TV - 'Come Dine with Me' which they all loved and wanted tow watch it until the end (6.00!).  So I grumpily went back into the kitchen to have a sulk, drained the pasta and added it to the bolognaise sauce, mixed it together and turned off the heat.  OK, if the pasta was overcooked, then it was their fault not mine (it was OK as it happened).

I felt so stressed on Thursday night, first because this computer had not got rid of all its gremlins, and realised  that this age of technology MUST cause more stress than give relaxation.  Yesterday my next door neighbour came for coffee and she was telling me about when she went to the local butchers to buy a bag of potatoes (they also sell a small amount of vegetables), there was a customer there buying meat whose mobile phone rang, so she then began a long conversation with a friend, ignoring the butcher who was waiting patiently to finish her order.  My neighbour got so cross having to wait that she slammed a £2 coin on the counter and said 'that's for the potatoes, I can't wait any longer', and marched out of the shop.

What is this with mobile phones?  They are convenient when needing to contact someone urgently, or maybe order a taxi,  but can see no reason why they should be used every flippin' hour of the day just to have a chat.  Wouldn't life be much more pleasant if we arranged to meet friends and chat face to face?  But then perhaps life-styles have changed and everyone is now too busy.  Then comes the question 'busy doing what?'  Busy talking on mobile phones or tweeting or whatever it is called.

Some technology can be good, but in the wrong hands is very dangerous indeed.  Look at what is happening now, several youngsters committing suicide because of what has been said to them via a comment website.  People all over the world can be contacted via websites or texts and so now we see more and more uprising in many countries because of this.  One starts, then the message is sent out to others to do the same somewhere else, and the snowball then starts rolling....

But what do I know?  All I can say is I lay in bed on Thursday night unable to sleep, my mind going round and round, all caused by the return to 'computer-land' after several day of relaxation, and I thought that we were all able to live happily AND cook good meals without the need of any of this particular technology.  Having said that, I believe there are loads of websites that do show - with detailed photos - how to cook certain foods, and am sure these are very useful.  But if we could manage without them before, then hopefully we can still manage to cope on our own (perhaps with the aid of cookbooks etc). 

Yet there is me writing a cookery blog, and (once I can get the camera and comp. compatible) also starting a new website that has had to be on hold until I can take/send photos.  So call me a hypocrite if you like (I think I must be).

Anyway, back to basic domesticity with the only connection between me and the comp being this blog.  There was a recent mention of interest (still) in my £10 challenge, so I'll be continuing with this.  We've already  had the first week's supplies bought, many of these being enough to last over the second (and maybe third week), this leaving money left over to buy more 'food to store', and so it should go on. 

The best thing for me to do is now begin to suggest what could be made with the provisions bought, and give ideas for others that are worth having.  But - as always - it is YOU who makes the final decision as what I would buy will almost certainly not be the same as your choice.   Certainly I hope 'the basics': eggs, milk, bread, porridge oats, pasta, baked beans etc, plus carrots, onions and cabbage, then flour, sugar, oil, rice,  margarine/butter, chicken portions, celery,.... these, together with the canned fish (sardines/tuna/pilchards etc), and Beanfeast, can turn into many good and different meals.  and that's only week two.

From there we can begin to choose other foods for our store-cupboard such as custard powder, jellies, raising agents, stock-cubes, ketchup, mayo, brown sauce, lentils, couscous, split peas, and here begins another challenge within the challenge.  What would be YOUR choice? Maybe something I've forgotten to mention.

What I intend to do (maybe today) is go to Morrison's and see how much can be bought for £10. Not necessarily to live on for a week (it should last longer than that), but just to see what is sold at a really low price.  These can include foods from the 'reduced' shelves because these are nearly always available but not always the same.   Those who have a larger than £10 budget (and hope most of us do) might like to spend £5 each time they shop just building up a store cupboard (if they don't already have one).

You note I haven't mentioned tea or coffee or soft drinks.  That's because over the past weeks I've drunk mainly water (to prove to myself I can do without), although have to say that B has made me a coffee once or twice during that time.  I keep a bottle of water by my chair in the living room to drink as and when I want, and when in the kitchen just turn on the tap!  As I generally make soup for lunch each day, am not lacking in fluids.  

Do hope that many of you have been watching the food programmes on TV over the past week/s.  These certainly have high-lighted the way that convenience foods (esp. ready-meals) have taken over our lives.  In a prog. yesterday a girl spent a week eating these foods (the same than many people prefer to eat), and in just one week had gained 4lbs, 2" round her waist, got a rounded belly (looked as though she was in the early stages of pregnancy) and her cholesterol level had shot up, and also her b/p.  Her iron level was down, and  - quite frankly - she was suddenly 'unhealthy'.   As it was said, fortunately for her, having only been eating these foods for a week, she would soon get back to normal good health, but for everyone who constantly eats these processes meals, they would end up very unhealthy indeed, with a probability that children now will die at a younger age than their parents.

All we have to do is to stop buying the processed foods that are deemed 'unhealthy' to eat, and it has to be said that many foods that are deemed 'fresh' are 'processed' in some way or another (even milk).  So processing is OK up to a point.  Baked beans are processed and so can be called a 'convenience' food (well we haven't had to soak and cook the dried beans from scratch, have we?), the problem lies mostly with the 'ready-meals' that contain very little nourishment (read the label and see just how much meats they do contain, and how many preservatives and additives).  

If we can, by cooking the same meals at home, managed to end up with a lot more good food on the plate for half to one-fifth the cost, then we should all make an attempt to do this.  As I said before, it we decide to pocket  the 'profit' we have made, then why not if it is the incentive we need to get us back to cooking again.

However much I'd love to go back to suggesting cooking the meals as our grandmothers did, this really wouldn't fit in to today's life-style.  We have become so used to eating dishes from all over the world, and with most of the ingredients being imported, we can buy these to cook them ourselves.  The good news is that most other countries have often had to struggle to afford to put food on the table, but at the same time made sure that what they eat is enjoyable.  Here in the UK, in those days, we grew enough food, and produced enough quality meat for the people who lived here, but sadly didn't really bother much about the best way to prepare it.  Roast meats were excellent, but generally all the veggies were boiled to within an inch of their life.  We had it all, and just lacked the knowledge.  Now we have the knowledge but not the money to put the 'home-grown' to good use.  But at least we can enjoy the world cuisine and gain satisfaction from that.

Myself am finding (due to the £10 challenge) that the Italian dishes such as spag. bol( made with Beanfeast - so not truly traditional), can be incredibly cheap.  Myself just love pasta with pesto, and if we make our own pesto, that dish costs only pennies).  Second favourite is the Chinese stir-fry, this being made with the widest amount of veggies we have, but only tiny amounts of each.
Another favourite of mine is vegetable soup made with - what I call 'bendy' veggies, past their freshness', such as carrots, parsnips and celery, adding onions and potatoes, all diced and then cooked in home-made chicken stock (stock being free, made from the butcher's chicken carcases).

Other 'cheapies' I enjoy are coleslaw (shredded carrot, cabbage and onion), and 'dips' made with yogurt, with a selection of vegetable 'sticks'.

The other day, B staying in here to watch 'his' TV, I made for him some fork biscuits.  Then decided (because I had a jar of popping corn), to make a batch of popcorn for him.  5g of popcorn (£1.89p for 500g - so 5g = approx. 2p!!!!) - when popped - filled nearly a 2 pint jug!  With some left-over pastry and dried out cheese (grated) I made loads of cheese straws - more like 'twiglets' they were so long and thin).  Perfect nibbles for B, and yet really cost very little.  I throw nothing away when it can be used.
Incidentally, noticed in a brochure that 'popping' corn is on sale to grow our own.  Am going to soak one of the corn kernels to see if it will sprout, then next year will have a go at growing my own popping corn.  If dried peas and dried beans (bought for cooking) sprout and grow, then why not popping corn?  A few corn kernels(or peas or beans) from a whole pack wouldn't be missed, yet - when planted and grown - would supply us with ££s more seeds to dry, cook and some left to sow again the following year.   There is so much we buy that we could put to secondary (and good) use, but never give it a thought.   Do hope that readers can come up with more suggestions.

Well, I began this blog feeling a bit stressed. On thing that is happening is that there is now a back-ground noise (that  I can't get rid of), continuously annoying me.  It sounds a bit like morse code. But learning to live with it.  Probably not notice it at all eventually, like the tick of a clock.  We only notice it when it stops ticking.

Because I was a bit stressed (makes me cross) I then made my feelings clear about modern technology, and carried on about processed foods.   What I want to do is bring myself back to living life 'au naturel', especially when it comes to food.  So over the next weeks I'll be concentrating on writing about the £10 challenge, and giving suggestions on making the best use of the provisions we have bought.  I might have a moan now and again about something else, but then that's me.

A thank you to Anni who I believe is a new 'commenteer', so very welcome.  Thanks for the instructions on how to make condensed milk.  Believe I did give this a mention some years ago on my blog, but completely forgot about it.   I'd like to be able to give all three measurements with my recipes (imperial, metric, and the US 'cups'), but may stick to just metric.  However if readers want all three I will do my best.
You say you have scales Margie, so assume you now choose to cook 'metric'?

I've never had good results with kitchen scales as those that have a sort of 'clock' face and a 'hand' that moves to show the weight never seems to be that accurate, especially with small amounts.  At one time I preferred using my old-style balance scales - a brass scoop  at one end, and a platform to put on weights at the other.
A year (or so) ago I bought myself a digital scale that shows the weight in a window at the bottom front.  It is flat so can be stored tucked between cook book if I wish.  By pressing a button it can change from lbs and ounces, to grams and also mls.  If I place a bowl or pan on the scales and then switch on it sets it at zero, so I can add ingredients to the container, and then reset to zero if needing to add something else.  I find this very useful and now use only this set of scales.  One bit of technology I approve of.

With 'The Great British Bake-off' soon to be on our screens again, am sure we will all be forgetting Paul H's misdeeds (after all, his private life is his own affair), and enjoy the programme.  Your mention that he will be a the Bolton Food and Drink Festival, Kathryn, has made me wish we lived closer as I would really like to meet him because he is darn attractive.  Those eyes!!!

Well, let's hope this publishes as it should.  If it does, then there will be no stopping me.  However, I will still publish only a few days each week, not every day, so expect me when you see me.  Will do this because the freedom and relaxation it gives me by not HAVING to blog is paying off, both with frame of mind and more time to experiment with new ways to save money and still eat well.

We are due for a few days of dull and wet weather so will be able to find something to do in the kitchen over the weekend.  I will take tomorrow off blogging and possibly (probably) be back blogging on Monday.  Hope to meet up with you then.  TTFN..


Thursday, August 15, 2013

Publishing OK but having to use a dongle as cannot connect to the Internet, this is slowing me down due to low power. Steve will bring me a new router and then it should be OK.  A lot depends on whether I can get this new hard-drive to work without Steve by my side, so if no blogs over the next few days then you will know why.  I will be back when it has finally been sorted.
testing to see if it publishes in paragraphs.

Please publish in paragraphs
testing to see if it publishes in paragraphs.

Please publish in paragraphs

Changing Pace...

A short blog today as Steve will be bringing another computer to try in the hope it works faster than this one. So he will have to transfer all the info stored on this onto the other. Am hoping it cures a lot of the problems I've been having, but those with blogger may still be with blogger and can only hope Steve van show me how to get it back to how it was (separate paragraphs etc). If Ok I should be back tomorrow, but don't hold your breath! In any case, am finding that blogging every other day is much better for my life-style (giving me more time to work out - and make - money-saving recipes) that this should benefit all of us in the long run. ****Today am just reply to comments sent in, then we'll have to wait and see what the future holds re the blog. ****Interesting to hear that you've seen more and more veggies growing in pots in your neighbourhood gardens Louise. Think this is the way things are going, perhaps thanks to the gardening programmes that show us the way. Regarding the Blue Badge (for the disabled), I was able to get one (thanks to the doc's recommendation), and do find it very useful as B can park the car close to where I wish to go. Many supermarkets now have their own mobility scooters, so I only have to walk a short distance from the car (with the help of my stick) then the rest of the time can scoot round. I'd never be able to cope with pushing a trolley around as the stores are now so enormous. I could probably cope in a small one as the trolley is something to lean on. A welcome to Margaret (now living in the US and originally from Barrow UK). I don't know if the rock is still made with Morecambe printed through it, but would expect so as there is a 'Rock Shop' on the sea-front, it looks as though it has been there for generations, perhaps where you once bought the rock. I also like winter Angela, except the cold - which I never felt when younger. Now I seem to always have to cuddle a hot-water bottle under a double layer of quilts when sitting in my chair watching TV. The room certainly warms up once the curtains are drawn (the only room with no double-glazing due it having a very large bay window with some very attractive original leaded and patterned glass, some in colour. Suppose we might be able to have secondary d.g. fitted, but so far B is not keen on paying for it (he doesn't feel the cold like I do). ****Was wondering the other day why I suddenlyt felt we were close to autumn (that instinctive feeling I mentioned). Perhaps something to do with the sun now not quite so high in the sky, but although I is still very warm when sitting outdoors, this week tried to tune into Nature, and distinctly felt a 'closing down' of all the 'herbage' around me. When things are growing they seem to give off a sort of what I call 'power', that has now gone, and it as if something has been switched off and the plants are now beginning to close down (or begin to hibernate - if long lasting) for the winter. Has anyone felt this? ****Congratulations are in order Taaleedee, for not just making a meal that cost only 56p a portion, but spending time to work out this cost. Just telling us about it is ispiring to us all as is so easy to spend those few pennies more than we need, and we all know how these soon add up. Have to say that I don't now cost out the meals I make because I don't really need to cut down that much, and perhaps know by years and years (and years and years...)of experience that the meals I make are as cheap as I can get away with, but always do exact costing when I'm working out a recipe for this blog or any other time needed. Almost any printed recipe should be able to be made cheaper than suggested (sometimes even mine), just by slightly altering the weights of the ingredients (use less of the expensive and more of the cheaper), or using different (but similar). Your mention of Approved Foods jane has made me wonder if it might be worth while sending in an order. I'll have to take a look at their site. Trouble is, with only the two of us in the family, and B being the only one who eats a full size meal, would I need to buy in bulk? At the moment, my larder is fairly well stocked, and I'm using up what has been there longer than it should (although with all having only the b.b.dates - not the 'use-by', a year older doesn't really make that much difference. Only the other day I made up a batch of EasiYo Lemon yogurt and I daren't tell you the date that had on the pack. Suffice to say it was several years past its best. But it still worked. ****As this is said to be a good year for berry fruits (all fruits in fact), it's worth finding space in our freezers to store any 'freebie fruits' that we might find when out in the countryside. The darker berries (the blue ones) are said to be extremely good for our health, so worth freezing blackberries etc. Our apple tree keeps dropping fruit, but all are small and full of maggots or some such creatures. Hardly any flesh on these worth saving. A pity as there was - this year - a good crop. A few leavez falling from the tree, a bit early, so does that mean an early winter? ****Regarding the £10 a week challenge. So far have covered only the first two weeks, and as it is difficult for me to print out readable recipes on the blog at the moment, have stopped in mid-stream, but will pick up where I left off once Steve has sorted this blog (and comp problems) out for me - which hopefully will be today. ****A welcome also to Barbara who remembers me from the TV days. Good to know that there are still people out there who have such a good memory! Think it was in the 70's when I first got involved with the media (on 'Indoors, Outdoors), and - thinking out it - that was just about the time that we - as a nation - was about to move on from the 'meat and two veg' meals that had been cooked (and eaten) for generations and a whole new world of ethnic foods/recipes/meals was about to hit the supermarkets. Not only that, in 1971 we changed from pounds, shillings, and pence to using the decimal currency. Later we then also had to change from using lbs and ounces, to the metric equivalent (which isn't equal anyway). ****It would be interesting to know whether readers prefer me to use both weights (imperial and metric) when writing recipes or whether I should now just stick to the metric? Asking this as am sure there are some older readers (not as old as me - is anyone older than me????) who still prefers to use the old weights. Have to say thought, that now everything is packed in grams (usually 500g or 1 kg), it is much easier to work out the cost of small portions (say 5g - as this is one tenth of the price of the pack). ****Anyway this is (hopefully) the last blog written on this comp. Can only hope the replacement (second-hand) will be an improvement. A lot depends - so keep watching this space for it may be tomorrow or a day or two later before I return). Slowness I can still deal with, but this blog MUST be sorted out so that it will publish as I have written it (still in paragraphs, but blogger change it to one single para when published). A thanks to readers who suggested I put astericks to show whereo one para ends and the next begins. Do hope this has helped. ****We are due for some wet weather today, and it began like that but seems to be clearing. Drier weather to come followed by more rain and then some strong winds over the weekend. I've still been able to grab an hour or two sitting in the garden most days, so am thankful for that. Reminds me of my youth when summers always seemed to be dry and sunny (but not excessively hot), or is it that I only remember the good times? ****By the way, I'll probably have to do some trial and error testing before publishing my next blog, just to make sure I've got it right (or blog has got it right), so if you see something written that doesn't make sense, then ignore it. I'll eventually delete it. Enjoy your day and hope to be back again as soon as possible. TTFN.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Saving Time AND Money

My £10 challenge has not been discontinued Angela, it's just that the idea was to show how - during the first week - we could exist on that amount of money and still be able to build up a store cupboard. The next week we could buy the 'replacements', then - with the remaining money - buy more store cupboard ingredients so that meals could become more varied. The idea would be to continue in much the same way, so we would discover what are really inexpensive 'basics' (esp own-brands), eventually leaving more money to spend on quality 'fresh' ingredients.**** Am sure that we all have different ideas of what storecupboard items we wish to keep on our shelves, and some of the cheapest are exceedingly good value: pearl barley, split peas etc. What we do need is the knowledge of how to make good meals of such seemingly uninteresting ingredients. ****There seem to have been a spate of cookery progs about Italian dishes, and have to say that many of these are some of the most economical, and although I normally use Beanfeast Bolognaise (a vegetarian mix) to stretch out a small amount of 'real' minced meat, I like it so much that I often leave out the meat. As you know, the Beanfeast was included in the £10 challenge, as was Value spaghetti (the latter given as one of the best in a recent testing by a journalist and at only 29p for 500g what more could we wish for?). If an own-brand (cheap!) can of chopped tomatoes (or passata)was added to the Beanfeast, plus some grated carrot and a handful of porridge oats (also included in the challenge, then added to a whole pack of cooked spaghetti this - when served the Italian way - would make a meal for 6 to 8 people for - approx 25p - 30p a head. **** The Italian way of serving spag bol is not to pile the pasta on a plate then add a dollop of the meat sauce (as normally served in the UK)but to add the spaghetti to the sauce and carefully fold (toss) it together, the idea being that each strand of pasta has a coating of the sauce, so a little of the meat sauce can go a long way. Add more pasta to the basic sauce and you get more servings, each then working out even cheaper. Just how cheap could we make it? ****Moving away from this low-cost dish to something a bit more expensive, I have to say that I've tried making the Italian Gelato (ice-cream)this week and it is the best thing ever. No more expensive than - say - a Tom and Jerry Ice-cream, and a good deal less if we buy the cream when it is reduced. As it is so rich, we only need one scoop of Gelato anyway. To make this all we have to do is whip together a pint of cream (double or whipping cream) with a can of condensed milk, plus 1 - 2 tsp vanilla extract. When thick, fold in any fruit or flavouring you wish (it could be crushed biscuits, fruit puree etc) or just leave it as 'vanilla'. Pack it in a box (it makes a good litre) and then freeze it. It won't freeze rock solid like most home-made ice-creams (and thank goodness for that!), just nicely firm but 'scoopable', and - if you work it out cost-wise - when eaten after the 30p portion of spag bog mentioned above - together the two won't make that much of a dent in the food budget. It's all a matter of balance and averages. One cheap dish, one expensive dish, together make a meal that can still be affordable but with more than just a taste of luxury.. ****This week I'm going to make a big batch of pancakes as I've remembered that these are extremely cheap to make and freeze well. They can then be used either for savoury or sweet dishes. It was a recent mention of those retro savoury (filled) pancakes that put the idea into my head: "why not start making these again?" I told myself. Think about it, just a little of the bolognaise meat sauce would make a good filling (making the meat sauce go even further), and then the pancakes could be egged and crumbed to fry, or could be used like pasta - rolled round the meat with a cheese sauce poured over, grated cheese on top and baked off in the oven. ****A welcome to 'Anonymous' from Texas who used to live in Barrow (across the Bay from where we live). Do write again 'Anon' giving us a name so we can recognise you. **** There seem to be a lot of progs. on TV at the moment about food, mainly about what goes into the processed foods we buy, and often what we believe to be a home-produced British Dish (such as 'Lancashire Hot-Pot')is made from ingredients all over the world, and not one of them from this country. Personally, where the food comes from doesn't bother me that much, although I know it ought to. Trouble is home-produced foods, especially meat, seem so expensive now and why New Zealand lamb can be cheaper than British doesn't make sense when we think of the cost of freezing the meat then sending it - probably by boat - those thousands of miles to reach us. Every food that is imported seems to be cheaper than the same thing produced here. Why? ****As you say Sarina, autumn will soon be approaching, and I've already got the autumnal stirrings rising in my veins. Someone once said it was a true 'Earth Mother' (not sure what they meant), but do seem to feel the pull of nature as the weeks go by, even though spring-cleaning is more thought about than actually done these days. At least the autumn will give us free food in this country by way of the hedgerow berries, and this year it is said - due to the good weather we've had - that there will be an abundance of fruits, so we must all go out and gather as many blackberries, elderberries, bilberries etc, as we can (they all freeze well). ****Glad you saw the 'Make me a German' prog Margie. Do agree that their way of life is quite a good one. At one time we used to take in German students during school holidays, they had come (with others) to learn more about our language and customs. Have to say they were all extremely well mannered, and it amused me how they always took their outdoor shoes off the minute they stepped into the house and then left them by the back (or front) door in neat rows. We once had two male students (about 20 years of age) who lived in East Germany and one really did have a chip on his shoulder about how bad things had become now that the East and West Germany were back together again. What may have seemed a wonderful thing to have happened, did have repercussions, as - under Communist rule - East Germans all had work, a guaranteed wage and a place to live (even though it might be in a high-rise flat). The only thing they didn't have was freedom to move away from the country. Once East joined up with West, everything then seemed to fall apart in the East, and there was much unemployment, and no guaranteed housing, only what could be afforded. ****One of the lads who stayed with us was training to be a doctor and came from a fairly affluent family, so was expecting to move to England to work. The other was returning to an uncertain home. His father had lost his job, the lad had no job to go to, and they might have to leave their flat as they couldn't afford it. For him it did not seem that freedom was worth having, and have to say that I think I agreed with him. Is it better to have complete freedom to travel, or would it be better to know we have a secure future re work and housing? You could say that many people who now come from abroad to live here are actually getting all that. Admittedly some don't work, but they do get benefits. Which reminds me about a programme I saw last night about benefits. There was a lady there who seemed to have much the same 'disabilities' as I have, but it never crossed my mind to claim any 'disability benefit' for them. I just put my aches and pains and walking with sticks down to old age. The lady obviously didn't seem to need the money as much of it seemed to have been spent on 'bling'. There was an article about her in the Daily Mail yesterday - worth reading (am sure it can be found on the paper's website). ****As I've mentioned in earlier postings, one of the problems with cooking is the time it can take (mainly in the preparation), but considering how practically every other aspect of domesticity has some labour-saving device to cut down our work, you would think we would have more time to spare. And we do, for those who have hobbies will spend hours enjoying these, so perhaps we should consider taking on cooking as a hobby. ****Since I bought a cheap digital radio, I now spend more time in the kitchen as I can cook AND listen at the same time. This takes me away from the TV where I can't do much else that watch (or nod off), although I suppose I could go back to knitting as this can be done without looking at what we are doing. It was on the radio the other day when I heard a discussion about communication (or something), one lady saying how she did about 70 'Tweets' a day, 40 of them being celebrities 'as enjoying knowing what they are doing, even if only going to the shops'. She also admitted to spending quite a lot of time with Facebook. Presumably the other 30 were friends and acquaintances? Heaven help us if all we can find time to do is glue ourselves to the computer (or tablet or smartphone or whatever new thing has been brought out to take more of our money and time). I know that since I've now begun to blog intermittently instead of every day, I've given myself several more hours that I can spend on really useful things - like cooking cheaper and better meals, also have time to do some reading (research) in the garden while sitting and enjoyng the sun. I've been feeling so much more relaxed now that the pressure of writing every day has been lifted from my shoulders. Let us hope this means that I am now able to write something a bit more interesting. ****Returning to the £10 challenge. Although some foods are cheap enough, they are even cheaper when bought in bulk. Sugar is an example (yes, I know it's not that cheap but those who bake and make preserves may use a fair amount). Sugar has a shelf-life of forever, so worth buying it at the best price. The smaller packs work out at 99p per kg, but only 95p per kg when bought in 2kg packs. The best buy is the 5kg bags as then the sugar is only 80p kg. You may find rice works out cheaper (per kg) when bought in larger packs, but always check as there are some own-brands that work out cheaper, even when bought in the smaller packs. ****Normally, the dry foods such as pasta, rice, pearl barley, lentils, couscous...are sold in 500g packs (but often cheaper in kg - or larger - packs). By estimating we would use 50g for each portion/serving, then we get 10 portions to a pack. 'Value' rice I note is 40p a kg! That's 20 portions for 2p a serving, even cheaper than the spaghetti. So it's worth listing as many of these dried ingredients as we can think of, then work out the price per serving. All will be cheap, but some cheaper than others, and 'every penny saved is a penny earned'. Incidentally, 50g/2oz may not seem much, but when they've taken in water during the cooking process will double or treble in weight. ****Think I've written enough to keep readers happy for a couple of days. Norma (the Hair) day tomorrow, so I'll be blogging again on Thursday. We are still enjoying good weather, but fairly cloudy in our neck of the woods. Still warm, so let's make the most of it before the days get even shorter and the chill begins to return again. Who knows - if we've had a 'proper summer' for once, maybe we'll then get a 'proper winter'. Lots of ice and snow! All I can suggest is Be Prepared. Stock up the larder and freezer, and look forward to cooking - and eating - those lovely warming winter meals that are so very 'British' (even if the ingredients have come from other lands). Enjoy your day. TTFN.