Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Look and Learn...

At long last, a cookery programme really worth watching.   Yesterday we saw the first of the latest series of 'Food and Drink'.  Hosted by my two favourite cooks: Michel Roux jnr and Mary Berry, the programme dealt with what to do with left-overs and any food that might normally have been thrown away.  You can imagine I was in seventh heaven watching it.  The point also made that by that by using up foodstuff instead of throwing out, we have then saved enough money to buy a bottle of wine to serve with the meal. 

Next week they will be serving budget meals, but have a feeling their budget will be set around the normal TV standard for such meals, as we saw meal made with an inexpensive cut of meat that worked out "at only £2 a portion".  Well, that's over twice the amount I would expect to spend on a 'budget dish', although have to say that I occasionally serve B his favourite lamb shank (£2.50 for the shank) with small/new potatoes and peas. 

However, nothing wrong in serving both expensive (to me) meals and really low cost meals as long as they amount spent averages out over a week, and as I eat different meals to B (always cheaper as I don't eat much meat, or as large helpings as B - and no desserts), it is easy enough for me to keep my costs the right side of wrong.

It amazed me to hear how so much bread ends up in people's bins.  That's something that has never happened in the Goode kitchen.  Maybe this was due to memories of wartime when bread was rationed and people were fined a great deal of money (like a month's wages) if bread had been found to be thrown in dustbins. Even seen throwing crumbs to birds would bring a (smaller) fine. 

As Mary B is almost the same age as myself (and don't I wish I looked as good as she does), we both have the same respect for food, and using it up.  Although I haven't yet used cubed bread on top of a fish pie (what a good idea), at least I do use stale bread to make croutons, and also dry the cut-off crusts in the oven.  These crusts I leave whole, bag up and then store in an airtight container.  They can then be crushed if I wish to make crumbs for coating things, or - as I prefer - I use them as 'breadsticks' to plunge into the many dips I like to make.   I used some of these as 'dippers' only the other day, and they must have been made at least six months ago and still as crisp and 'fresh' as ever.

As ever, a big thank you for sending in more comments.  Hope shabbychic,  you don't mind me still calling you 'shabbychic' , as otherwise we'll get mixed up between yourself and our other regular Eileen.  If you prefer me to use your real name, just add another letter at the end or area you live then I can include that in my reply and we won't then mix you up.

A welcome to Clari who requests the name of a book mentioned.  As I'm always mentioning books I'm reading, not sure which you mean, but the one most recent (on cleaning products etc) is the Reader's Digest 'Hints and Tips from Times Past'.  ISBN 0-276-42559-6.  You may be able to get it from your local library.  It covers a host of things from natural health remedies, to beauty products, to around the house,  kitchen secrets, gardening etc.

Possibly the price of Canadian milk Marjorie is dearer than the US because not so many cows are reared (I've always believe Canada to have many mountains and not a lot of grazing land, and most of the cattle reared for eating.  Also both being huge countries, it would cost a lot more in transporting milk from area to area).  Here in the UK (a very small country) we have plenty of cows, but even then I believe we import cheaper milk from mainland Europe (France I believe) that is used in hospitals, institutions, and - I understand - made into some UHT milk.  I always read the info on a container of milk to make sure I buy British.  Have to admit I haven't checked where dried milk comes from - it probably says 'packed in Britain' which means only that, and could be bought (dried) in bulk from any country that has plenty of cows I suppose.

British milk sold in supermarkets is very inexpensive compared to the milk still delivered in some areas by a milkman, this being around 50p a pint.  It's natural enough for people to wish to buy cheaper milk, and this has led to the supermarkets controlling the amount they pay to farmers, and not enough to enable many farmers to keep going as the price of cattle fodder keeps rising, the amount they are paid for their milk does not.  So many dairy farms have had to close down. 
We now have a milkman delivering in our road again, and am sorely tempted to buy my dairy products from him and not the supermarket, but having worked it out (milk, eggs, cream....) it would cost me more than double what I normally pay, and at the moment cannot afford to do this. 
However, if the organic veg-box is manageable, then am hoping to change to returning to door-step milk deliveries in a few months for between them (and buying meat from DR or local butcher) I really would have little need to use a supermarket except - perhaps - three or four times a year, just to stock up on the 'dry goods'.  Almost like returning to the good old days.  Like the thought of that.

Yesterday made B a 'sort of' beef casserole for his supper.  He'd brought back a peeled swede from the Burns' Night social as it wasn't needed, so I used some of that.  He'd raved over the mashed 'neeps' (made from swede but traditionally should have been turnip!), so I cooked some of the swede and mashed it up with plenty of seasoning to serve with the 'casserole'.  Can't say it would have been my favourite mash, but each to his own.
As I was able to use pre-cooked and frozen stewing meat, I was able to thaw this in the microwave while I cooked the carrots, swede and potatoes all in one pan.  I fried a chopped onion in some bacon fat that was already in the pan, then added some Bisto Best gravy granules that I'd blended in a mug of water, when this had thickened, then added the now-heated meat, then then carrots and potatoes. Mashed the swede with a little butter, plus the seasoning, and it made a very warm and comforting supper for my B. 
Myself ate some fish-sticks (a little past their use by date but I'm still alive), with coleslaw and a dressing made from low-fat mayo and Thai sweet chilli sauce.   Am determined to lose a few more pounds weight, although my scales are still being stubborn.

It was yesterday that I discovered a packet of dried milk in the larder, and while discussing the cost of the cost of our fresh milk compared to that in the US/Canada should have considered this as an alternative, so am wondering if dried milk, sold in the US and Canada, would be cheaper than their fresh.  If so worth using as a substitute for the fresh when baking (as I often do).  For instance we can add some dried milk to instant potato before making up with water, or to custard powder or flour -  and again using water instead of fresh milk-  when making custard or pancake batter.  I've tried it when making Yorkshire Puddings but fresh milk gives a better rise.  \Dried milk works well when making 'milk loaves'.

In my very early days of coping without any cash to spare, I used to reconstitute dried milk and then mix it with fresh milk (half and half) and then pour it into the glass milk bottle (we used then to have doorstep milk delivered) and put it back in the fridge.  When the family used to pour this milk over their cereals, they never realised it wasn't all 'fresh', yet they certainly would know if it was only the reconstituted dried milk  (which they really didn't like).

Minced beef we tend to use to either make beefburgers, Cottage Pie, or dishes such as spag.bol and chill con carne. All very good and tasty (when made properly).  But we could go one step further and serve the mince as 'pauper's posh nosh'.  So - when you have mushrooms to spare (with mince and puff pastry in the freezer) why not make this dish. Please note that it serves eight - so either reduce the amounts by half to serve a family of four, or plan to serve it at your next dinner party .  As this can be made a day before cooking, time then to make something else the next day to cook while the oven is on - making use of those spare oven shelves can save us a lot of money - as mentioned by shabbychic in her comment).

Ground Beef Wellington: serves 8
2lb 4oz (1kg) minced beef
4 oz (100g) tomato ketchup
4 eggs
salt and pepper to taste
3 fl oz (75ml) water
2 large onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp dried sage
handful chopped fresh parsley
1 oz (25g) butter
 7 oz (200g) mushrooms, finely chopped
1 x 500g pack puff pastry
Put the beef into a bowl with the ketchup, 3 of the eggs, seasoning, and the water.  Stir together then add the onions, half the garlic, and the herbs. Mix well to combine, then tip onto a baking sheet and shape into a thick sausage-shape approx. 12" x 4" (30 x 10cm).  Bake at 200C, gas 6 for 20 minutes then set aside to cool.
Heat the butter in a frying pan and cook the mushrooms for 3 minutes, then stir in the remaining garlic and cook for a further couple of minutes.  Tip into a sieve to strain away any liquid, then set aside.
To assemble the 'Wellington', roll the pastry into a rectangle large enough to wrap up the beef (I find it easier to use a sheet of baking parchment as 'pretend' pastry, then wrap this round the beef, cutting it to the size needed, then roll the pastry out to the same size as the paper).
Beat the remaining egg with a little water and use this to brush over the pastry.  Spread the mushroom mix in a strip along the middle and place the meat 'sausage' on top.  For an attractive presentation, cut the pastry lying either side of the meat into strips, then criss-cross these over the meat. Alternatively just wrap the meat up in the pastry, either way making sure the ends are covered with pastry.  At this point it can be left overnight to cook the following day.
Brush with more egg then place on a baking sheet and  bake at same temperature as above for 40 minutes.  Serve with vegetables of your choice/

Final recipe today again uses mince, but this time pork (pork mince usually cheaper than beef). Quite different to the above, this dish has an Oriental flavour, and with any luck uses ingredients that many readers already have in their larders.  If not - improvise!
The original recipe suggests using 10oz (300g) thin rice noodles, but I prefer to use those very cheap (11p pack) Chinese chicken flavoured noodles.  As the chicken flavour is in a sachet, we can save this to flavour something else, and for this dish just use the noodles.

Pork Satay with Noodles: serves 4
2 packs Chinese noodles (see above)
sunflower or sesame oil
1 lb (500g) minced pork
1 clove garlic, crushed
8 oz (225g) mangetout peas
3 tblsp peanut butter (pref crunchy)
1 red chilli, seeded and chopped
2 tsp light muscovado sugar
1 tblsp soy sauce
2 tblsp warm water
Cook the noodles as per packet instructions, then drain. Drizzle a few drops of oil over the noodles, tossing to prevent the noodles sticking together, then set aside.
Meanwhile, using a wok or large frying pan, cook the pork over high heat for 10 minutes, or until any juice has evaporated and the pork grains begin to crisp. Add the garlic and peas and stir-fry for 2 minutes.
Whisk together the peanut butter, chilli, sugar, and soy sauce, then stir in the warm water.  Add the noodles to the pan, pour over the peanut sauce, then toss everything together.  Stir-fry for a further minute, then serve in individual bowls.

Reading yesterdays newspaper it seems quite a lot of the country has had some bad weather, with photos of massive hailstones, in some areas, snow in others, and of course more rain.  So far, where we live we have been more fortunate, it rains, but not a huge amount, the wind has dropped, and all we are experiencing is slightly colder weather.  It could be a lot worse, and there is still time for this to happen, but by the end of the week it will be February and a feeling that in another month winter will have given way to spring.   Or let us hope so.
In my youth the seasonal weather was when it should be and you could pretty well plan ahead picnics and holidays as we could almost guarantee summer months would be warm and the sun would shine. In the winter the snow would fall for sometimes weeks, and we would have severe frosts with ice thick enough to be able to skate on ponds and small lakes.  Now we cannot be sure what weather we will get from day to day.  

That's it for today.  It's taking me a couple or so days to get back into my routine, but had better make a start on sorting out what's left in the larder, and also the fridge as am expecting my first delivery of organic veggies today.  I still have a few veggies left from those bought before Christmas - such as carrots, potatoes, parsnips, celery, but need to keep removing the sprouts from the spuds, so these really need using up a.s.a.p and am sure that potatoes will be in the box.  Can let you know tomorrow what has been sent - and the price charged.
I don't mind paying extra when veggies are really fresh (as in the box) as their flavour is superb.  But when working out the cost of a recipe, a carrot is a carrot, a potato is a potato, and whether it is organic or bought and imported (from a supermarket) is immaterial.  It's my choice whether to buy the better quality, or stay with the norm, and as nutritionally there is no difference between an organic veg and any other-way grown,  when push comes to shove and money is very tight, then I'd always opt for the cheapest veg (these usually grade 2 that are mis-shapes and just as good as the 'perfects').

Suppose it's the same with meat.  All meat of the same 'cut' has the same protein content (as well as anything else - minerals etc). Yet there is a vast difference in the flavour of well-hung (and dearer) meat than the cheapest.
Myself feel this is why 'budget' meals shown on TV work our more expensive than they could be.  The produce the cooks use is probably the best (free-range eggs for instance).  So if we wish to make the same dish we could almost certainly make it cheaper - but it may not taste quite as good.  Having said that, how many of us have been lucky enough to know what really good food tastes like?  Cooking meals from scratch (at home of course) puts us half-way up the ladder of sublime eating for a start.  So let's keep on climbing.
With that thought in mind, must now go and bake a fresh lot of bread for B, and also make a batch of marmalade as there is only one teaspoon left in the last bottle of Lemon and Lime....and no orange and ginger at all.  Horrors!  Time I pulled myself together and acted like a proper cook (pity that includes having to do all the washing up - that seems to take more time these days than cooking).

Will be back tomorrow, usual time.  Hope you all have a good day.  TTFN.