Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Making More for our Money?

After watching James Martin new cookery series (BBC 1 - afternoons), was not quite sure whether it works for me.  Although agreeing with him in that we should all be eating home grown/reared produce this only works if we can afford to do so.  So many of us can't these days (although am trying hard at the moment to be patriotic).

A foodie programme I've not been watching since the first two episodes is 'The Taste', but as I see the competitors are given the task to produce a spoonful of something tasty from left-overs and fish heads etc, it could be worth watching (on tonight? Channel 4), even if we never really get to see how the ingredients are prepared and cooked.

Was interested in your mention of chicken 'frames' Saffron (Australia).  Was that a misprint or is that the term for 'thighs'? Myself think it sounds like just the flesh-free carcase that we cook for stock.

As you say Marjorie home-made stock is fabulous (are you the M in Canada that we haven't heard from in yonks?  If so, welcome back). 
After cooking the veggies in the basic stock, then using these veggies to make soup, I was left with a good pint of very concentrated chicken stock that I diluted down with just under the same amount of water - even then it set to a firm gel when left to chill overnight in the fridge.  It has now been packed up in small boxes (I save the cream cheese tubs for this purpose) and frozen. 

Although a chicken carcase does make excellent stock, it sets/gels more when chicken wings are added, so if I joint up a whole chicken myself, I always save the wings, then if I have no carcase or other joints, the wings themselves (with the usual veggies) make a good stock. 

Having kept away from the carbos yesterday, am happy to report this morning I weigh 5 lbs less than yesterday!!! Much of the loss is probably water, but who cares - it's a loss, and that's all that matters.
Was so chuffed that I decided to have a piece of  toasted low-cal bread for breakfast, with either Marmite or marmalade (a treat for me), but realised I'd frozen the bread to keep it away from temptation.  Even though I could have toasted it from frozen, just having the instant gratification taken away from me to an almost instant one was enough to make me change my mind and I settled for coffee and then an early lunch (brunch) of my favourite soup.

As you say Jo, after eating healthily for some days (protein and veggies), a meal containing carbos (particularly bread or products made with flour) really is a 'downer'.   Once I've eaten carbos I then almost immediately want to have a nap - and usually do, off and on for hours. 
I've said to the diabetic nurse (who is in favour of a low GI carbo-rich diet), "this for me is not a 'slow-release energy', it is a 'NO-release energy diet'."

Because of my overnight weight loss and a sort of 'detox', this morning woke slightly earlier without any wish to stay in bed.  Unfortunately B was expecting a phone call between 9 and 10, so I said I'd wait until after the call before I began my blog (our land-line phone is on the desk at the side of the comps keyboard).   Well, of course, the phone call didn't come, so exactly at 10.00am I came back to the desk, ready to tell the caller he had left it too late and to phone again at the next arranged time.

While waiting for the call, I was in the kitchen sorting out things.  B had been unable to buy several of the items from Lidl as they had sold out.  A bit annoyed we'd missed getting the reduced price Nescafe, but we still have three full jars as yet unopened, they will last us for several months (we prefer our coffee weak).  The 24p microwave rice also sold out (that would have been useful), but as I have plenty of ordinary rice in store, it is not likely we will run short.
At least B was able to get the seed and potting compost, two bags - larger size than I expected so will be very useful and enable me to grow a lot more things from seed on the conservatory windowledge.
This is the time to start sowing the seeds of tomatoes and peppers/capsicums, and although I already have seeds for both, I could also use the seeds that are in the ripe bell peppers that have been bought.

There was a good tip in my organic veg. magazine - if bean seeds are old they tend to be harder to germinate (the same goes when it comes to cooking them - the older they are the longer they take to cook, and too old they won't soften at all).  When wishing to sow these old seeds is to pour boiling water over them, then immediately drain them.  Tests have proved that soaking them longer doesn't help, but the quick plunge makes them sprout as they should when normal 'age'.

Still with an hour to spare before this desk was free, I sat in the living room reading through some old and fairly recent cookery mags.  One or two mags now give the price per portion with each recipe, and - as always - like to believe (or at least hope) that we could make it even cheaper.  The one thing I HAVE noticed about recipes is that they tend to use ingredients that are higher-priced - this could be because they prefer to use free-range, or they just base it on London prices (where most of the publishers/cooks work/live). 

One 'healthy low-fat snack'  is suggested for packing in a lunch-box, and this is one meal that I feel would be worth making.  The price per portion is given as 55p (but as it makes enough for two, so works out at £1.10 in total), so am giving details for a 'reader-challenge'.  Whether you decide to make it or not, work out how much YOU could make it for, and as the recipes suggests using cooked shredded chicken instead of the chickpeas, if you've cooked a carcase for stock then you should have enough 'free' chicken picked from the bones, making this 'snack' even cheaper.

Whenever we cost out a recipe it is always and only the actual amount used.  If we don't have all the ingredients already in our larders/fridge, then we have to buy a whole pack and only use part of it.  This 'having to buy because I haven't got this, that or the other', then means to make the dish we then have to spend more. But once bought, the 'left-overs' can and should always be used in other meals (or frozen) so we have to acknowledge that making a cheap meal can sometimes mean spending more at the time, but then once bought, we don't have to spend the money again to make another meal, and this could then turn out to be almost 'free' (or at least feel like it).

With this dish I would use one beetroot from a long-life vacuum pack.  The remaining beetroot could be cooked with corned beef, chopped cooked potatoes etc as 'Red Flannel Hash', or served heated and sliced as a hot vegetable, or cold with cooked meats and a salad.  We could also cook raw beetroot and freeze it.
Whether we choose to bake or buy our pitta bread, this is another 'ingredient' that can safely be stored in the freezer to use as and when we want.  Carrots we all have (don't we?) and also canned chickpeas (or soak and cook dried chickpeas, draining and freezing them when tender).
The harissa paste we may not all have, but as it is hot and spicy am sure we could find something similar to use in its place.  Maybe a tomato pesto, or a little curry paste...?
Greek yogurt am hoping that most of us keep in our fridge (make my own using EasiYo).

Chickpea Pittas with Beetroot/Carrot: serves 2
1 cooked beetroot, grated
1 small carrot, grated
a few mint leaves (opt)
1 x 200g can chickpeas, drained/rinsed
salt and pepper
1 tsp harissa
2 tblsp 0% fat Greek yogurt
2 large, wholemeal pitta breads, split in half
Mix together the beetroot, carrot, mint (if using), and chickpeas adding seasoning to taste. Blend the harissa into the yogurt and spread this inside the pittas.  Fill each pocket with the chickpea mixture,. and wrap in clingfilm ready to pack in the lunch-box.  Instead of using chickpeas, use 7oz/200g shredded cooked chicken.

There was an interesting ad in the same cookery mag that promoted a certain supermarket and gave a recipe for 'Pesto Polenta Squares' that worked out at 'only 29p a portion'.   To make these (for that price) for four people we buy the ingredients from the named store , the amounts used being half a 400g pack of polenta (55p), 2 tblsp Italian pesto sauce (26p), 2 slices ham 11p, handful of grated cheddar (21p).   Trouble is - how much would it really cost us to buy the ingredients as packed?   A pack of polenta would cost us £1.10p before we start and that's around the given cost of the complete individual portion. and goodness knows how much more we would be paying for the rest as we only need to use a small amount of each pack.   So again we need to think twice before we purchase, and make sure that we can use/store leftovers so there will never be any wastage.

Next recipe has no price-per-portion, but nothing to stop any of us working it out for ourselves. Am including this as it is a traditional bake: 'Rock Cakes (aka Rock Buns)- one of the first things I remember my mother making - that seems to grown out of favour.  So let's bring it back.  The basic cake/bun mix (originally not much more than flour, white sugar, butter/marg and raisins) is an excellent base for adding different fruits or spices, also different sugars change the flavour.  Almost any dried fruit can be used, chop up the larger ones (dried dates, prunes, apricots, cranberries, blueberries...) to more 'sultana size'. If you use dried apples use cinnamon as the spice, or you may wish to use ground ginger.  Very easy to make so perfect for this half-term's 'child-play'. 

Sweet and Spiced Rock Cakes/Buns: makes 10
7 oz (200g) self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp mixed spice (see above)
4 oz (100g) butter, diced
3 oz (75g) light muscovado sugar
4 oz (100g) mixed dried fruit
1 egg, beaten
approx. 1 fl oz (30ml) milk
optional topping:
1 tblsp Demerara sugar
half tsp mixed spice
Sift the flour with the baking powder and chosen spice, then rub in the butter until like fine crumbs. Stir in the sugar, dried fruit, egg and the milk, to make a fairly firm mixture. 
Spoon 10 rough dollops of this mix onto a parchment lined baking sheet, leaving a little space between each.  If wishing to give them a sugary topping, mix together the Demerara sugar and mixed spice and sprinkle this over, otherwise leave them plain.
Bake for 20 - 25 minutes at 180C, gas 4 until golden brown, leave to stand on the baking sheet for five minutes before removing to finish cooling on a cake airer.

A pleasant sunny day today, temperatures up to 9C in places.  Yet parts of Scotland is very deep in snow.  We expect a week of good weather before the next storms roll in, but hopefully they won't be as bad as previously.  We just have to wait and see. 
People living in the flooded areas are having more problems.  Now it seems that looters are coming along in boats, entering the flooded and empty houses and stealing things.  Also a fear of illness due to contaminated waters.  Reminds me of the Blitz in Coventry when our water pipes were bombed, and everyone had to be given typhoid injections.  I hated having injections so went and hid in the garden when the doctor came to give them to us (in those days the doctor came to the house, we rarely had to go to the surgery).  Unfortunately for me I was found and hauled back into the house kicking and screaming to be met by a beaming doctor who was used to that sort of thing.  One jab and it was all over. 

Have to say that in wartime, with all the other things to contend with, it did seem the government at that time were right on the ball.  People who had their homes bombed were almost immediately found accommodation, given new ration books etc.  As I said we all had the 'jab' even if typhoid hadn't yet happened.  In this more up-to-date modern world it seems we have to wait a great deal longer for anyone to pull their finger out (if you'll excuse the expression), and leave things to get worse before they decide to do anything to better them.
In a way am reminded of that great storm when New Orleans (was it?) was almost devastated by floods.  The US government did virtually nothing to help - at least not until much later.  Let us hope we can improve on that.

That's it for today having pushed my buzzing bee back under my bonnet.  Not sure tonight what B's supper will be, but am sure it will be something using chicken as I'm already thawing out a breast for him.
Hope you all have a very good day and hope you can join me again tomorrow.  See you then.