Sunday, May 11, 2014

Add or Subtract?

Nothing seems to go right.  Couldn't go to the sp. church yesterday as B discovered the car had a flat battery.  He couldn't find the battery charger - thought he'd lent it to our daughter.  She didn't have it.  To cut a long story short the car is now on the road again and B has bought a new charger (I bet he finds the other one now). 

My friend Gill didn't phone me today as she had visitors, and so I've been at a bit of a loose end.  Didn't feel like doing much, but decided it was time that B had a hot pudding (he hasn't had one for ages), and my intention was to make this from 'things' that I'd got left over.

A couple or so weeks ago I made a gingerbread for the foodbank and this didn't work out at all well, so I made a different cake to give them.  Not sure what happened to the ginger cake as it was cooking, but it didn't rise in the oven, seemed only to bake on the underside and top side and was very dense indeed in the centre.  Possibly this was because I added the melted butter, syrup and treacle to the dry mix (including the eggs) while it was still too hot.  Anyway, it was a disaster.  Even I couldn't face eating it.  So I wrapped it up and put it in the freezer - anyone else would have thrown it away, but you know me, NOTHING gets thrown out.

Today decided to bring out the cake and use it to make a 'sort of' bread pudding, using the cake (when crumbed) as I would bread, and then pour beaten egg and milk over it then bake.  It began like that, but then remembered I'd got about a third of a can of condensed milk left in the fridge (this had been there for days), so decided to beat this with eggs and a little more milk to make the custard part, but then saw that B had left a small amount of double cream in one of the cartons, so used that instead of milk, plus the water that I'd used to rinse out the tin (use every last bit - that's me). 

While I was at it decided to throw in a small dish of raisins that had been soaking in some rum for 3 days - my intention was to use these to make a fruit cake - but  decided against the cake and make the gingerbread-crumb pudding into something even more tasty, so in went the soaked fruit as well (it had soaked up all the rum).  When all mixed together it went into a greased 8" (20x20cm) square roasting tin and then baked at 140C for about 40 minutes.  It then appeared to be done, risen well, spongy on top, so turned out the heat and left it in the oven until B was ready to cut into it after his main meal (which he made for himself - eggs and bacon sarnies I think, his suggestion and I didn't object - it saved me cooking).

I'd warned B that the pudding was something I'd made up on the spot and I'd no idea what it would be like, and when he brought some into the living room to eat (while he watched TV) I asked him what it was like.  "Lovely" he said, "this is my second helping".  "Doesn't taste much of ginger, and I couldn't taste any rum" he added.  Well, you can't have everything I suppose, although the original cake was very 'gingery' in flavour.  Perhaps the eggs/cream etc. modified it.   Anyway, later I cut myself a very thin sliver, and there was ginger flavour there, and the pud was extremely moist due to the raisins.  Quite luxurious in fact.  I noticed B had eaten half of it already.

This really brings me to what I want to write about this evening.  Whether to add extra ingredients to a dish or not?  For instance the above pudding would have worked even if I hadn't included the soaked fruit.  For that matter the fruit would have worked if I hadn't soaked it in the rum. 
So I've spent a bit of time today having a think about this and realised that cookery writer's have been doing this for at least half a century - not taking away but adding more (and more, and more).   By this I mean in my youth (well after half a century ago), our mother's didn't need recipes, they just cooked meals that their mother cooked, and all their mothers before before that.  Good plain food it was called.  It was only in the '60's when more convenience foods arrived on the grocer's shelves, and very soon after the grocer's became the supermarkets that we became used to foods and dishes from all over the globe.  

Traditional British recipes seemed then very bland so these were adapted to include the 'newer' ingredients, and this is still happening.  We now seem to always need a printed recipe before we begin cooking, as these seem to have more and more ingredients that we are expected to buy if we wish to cook these dishes.  And wish to cook them we do. 

In the first half (and later) of last century, food seemed cheap, but wasn't when we work out how low the wages were for that time.  It's all to do with percentages.  I can't remember now what it was then, but let's say 25% of a weekly wage was then spent on food (and in those days a wage could be as little as £4 a week (the amount my Beloved was earning when I met him).  So that means food would have cost £1 a week.

Although the price of food has risen, and other household bills take most of the wage packets these days, the percentage paid for food is actually less now than it was then.  Well it could be, should be if we stuck to eating simpler meals. The problem is that we now tend to buy more expensive ingredients that we can really afford, just to keep up our 'new' standard of eating.

It's only today that I realised that books and magazines that give economy recipes now always seem to use ingredients that are still expensive.  True, lentil burgers ARE much cheaper to make than those made with meat, but then lentils are twice as expensive as split peas (which do the job just as well), but have yet to see a recipe published that makes burgers using these.

Lentil and chickpeas seem to be the accepted ingredients today when it comes to making economy meals, so I've taken a look at prices and discovered we could save more money if we go back to using ingredients that our mothers (grandmothers/great grandmothers...) used.

Here are some examples to compare prices.  All dry packs are 500g.  Canned are 400g, and in all instances the price per kg is given in brackets.

Pearl Barley 55p (£1.10kg)
Split Peas 53p (£1.06 kg)
Red Lentils £1.09 (£2.18kg)
Bulgar wheat £1.09 (£2.18kg)
Couscous 68p (£1.36kg)
Canned Red kidney beans 30p (£1.28kg)
(Most other canned beans 50p )
Canned chickpeas 55p (£2.30kg)

I've double checked the price of the canned beans and especially chickpeas as in some the kg price is much more than that of the dried packs of the same given weight, so can only assume this is worked out at their weight after draining.

The way it seems to me (and this is not necessarily the right way to go but it seems to make financial sense) is to stop inventing new recipes and just go back to using old ones.  It is true that in 'the old days' people were served larger amounts of meat (or other animal protein) that was needed to keep us healthy, but we can easily cut this down. 

In a way I suppose I would be considered a figure of fun as I'm a person who will buy a pack of 'broth mix' - this being a bag of mixed dried beans with maybe some rice included - then spend an hour sorting them all out.  I tip the bag onto a tray and then using my index finger slide each bean to its respective pile.  I end up with about seven small heaps of seven different varieties of beans, and a small amount of rice (if included).  Each then put into a small pot (I used empty mustard pots), to be soaked and cooked when needed.  Very useful for someone who might live on their own (or who cooks for two), as no way would they work through seven different packs of beans (or even want to try them all).  It actually works out less expensive using them this way.
Tip: this bean-sorting is something children love to do, so buy a pack and on a wet day give them a tray, a bag of broth mix and let them sort the beans out for you.

Another thing I do is empty a bag of mixed dried fruits out into a shallow dish and then pick out all the tiny chunks of candied peel.  These I can use for one dessert (Sicilian Cassata) and the remaining dried fruit I use to make cakes or anything else that uses dried fruit (do we even notice or care whether candied peel is an ingredient, or for that matter glace cherries?).  At a pinch I suppose I could sort out the raisins, sultanas, and currants as well, but haven't bothered doing that yet.

There are so many things I make that now have an ingredient subtracted.  I will make fruit scones but omit the fruit, I will even make fruit scones omitting not only the fruit but also the egg.  They still work.

When making meat pies that usually contain carrots and potato, I now always omit the potato.  Why? Because the pastry provides the carbohydrate.  Even my B tells me now not to give him potatoes with any veg I'll be serving with the Pukka Pie he has bought himself (contains just steak and onion).

Is this all to do with cost-cutting?  I'm not sure.  What I have learned over the years is more about nutrition and that we eat far too much of some things (and not enough of others).  This helps me to keep a meal fairly well balanced, and with such a variety of foods of the same type on sale (carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables, animal proteins...) when it comes to being thoroughly miserly (and I put myself into that category) it is not too difficult to make an inexpensive meal.  Suppose the skill comes from making it tasty enough, but that comes with experience.

In the Lyall Watson book 'Carnivore' mentioned recently, he talks about spices.  "Spices have no food value at all" he says, "Our bodies do not need them".  Yet, in an Indian cookery book that covers most of the ingredients used in their meals, the information it gives shows that almost every spice has some medicinal value, so I'm pretty sure our bodies may not need these, but using them would probably do us a great deal of good.  As well as adding flavour.

So miserly me would unpadlock my purse just long enough to buy a few spices, and also squeeze out enough pennies to buy a few herbs (can be grown from seed) for if thrifty meals turn out to be on the bland side (like meals my mother used to make - she used no spices or herbs), then they can have a real make-over with just a pinch of this, or a spoon of chopped that, and joy upon joy, a delightful meal is there ready to eat.

In all my old cookbooks there was always a chapter giving recipes for 'Invalid Food'.  Don't think these are ever given a mention theses days.  Who makes Calves' Foot Jelly any more, or Junket? Or steamed or poached white fish served with a little mashed potato and white sauce.  Now that's bland food.

When I was ill my mother used to give me bowls of bread soaked in milk, with a sprinkle of sugar, and this I really liked.  At least it was better than porridge (although today I really like porridge).  What other 'invalid food' can (older) readers remember being given.  

While we are remembering the past, what games did readers like to play.  I can remember bowling a hoop along the ground, playing marbles with friends, tottering around on stilts.  Also spent a lot of time playing with whips and tops, and skipping.   Indoor games were board games, starting with ludo, then when older playing draughts, and then Monopoly (chess and other board games later).  Card games were Happy Families, Snap, many different types of patience, then Newmarket and Cribbage, Whist, Pontoon and Rummy.  Poker and Bridge in later life.  Always jigsaws to do (and still do them).

One of my favourites was a toy farm.  In those days the animals/people were made of lead. Over time I gathered lots of each and spent hours laying them all out.  Each person had a name and their own jobs on the farm.
Another pleasure was the large doll's house that my dad made for me.  It even had little ceiling lights and fireplaces that had a tiny light in them behind red paper to make it look like a lit fire.  I'd like to have a doll's house now.

When the age of 13 I began painting as a hobby, and this has continued off and on during my life (more off than on as I have to be in the right mood), in between tried my hand at many crafts, but once I'd mastered them, didn't continue - preferring to move on to having a go at something else.  It's only cooking (and I suppose now writing...) that I have continued with.  But then cooking is one thing we can't not do just because we don't feel like it.  Or maybe we can.  Maybe that is what many people have been doing for years and years.

With just one comment to reply to, this does touch on the above.  Jane mentions someone she had met who had never seen a potato peeled (well we can buy them ready-peeled these days - at a price!) and it reminded me of a boy friend of one of our daughter's.  She used to bring him to our home and I would serve tea - often home-made scones with home-made jam, and even with home-made butter.  And of course home-made cakes... He used to love to come and eat with us as he said his mother had never cooked anything for him, she always used to buy it.   At the time I couldn't believe any mother would be like that, but of course now it seems to be more the norm.    All the fault of course of the manufacturers who have persuaded every woman who goes out to work to 'let them do the work for you, all you have to do is buy the meal then 'heat-and-eat' etc. etc. etc.   Well, it is tempting, and if I went out to work I'd probably have done the same.  So thank goodness I didn't.

There is of course more to 'the culinaries' than just cooking.  Only the other day I heard on the radio that we should store our eggs the larger (round) end facing up, then they will keep fresher for longer (something to do with the air trapped inside the eggshell).   In any case they come in the egg cartons this way up, I've never put them in the egg rack any other way (because they fit in better the pointed end down).

Here are a few more tips:
Fresh peas in the pod don't need shelling before cooking as they retain more flavour when cooked in their pods.  When ready the pods will open and float to the surface.

Adding a little instant-potato powder to a thin soup will make it thicker and taste creamier.

Adding a tablespoon of vinegar to a beef stew or curry at the start of the cooking process will add flavour and help to tenderise even the toughest meat.

Left-over white wine can be added to white wine vinegar to make your own wine vinegar (use red wine with red-wine vinegar).

When making cakes that include a raising agent (or made with self-raising flour) you can replace one egg with 1 tablespoon of any type of vinegar without any noticeable difference when baked.

If short of milk for baking (and have no dried milk powder) peel and liquidise 100g of courgettes and use the liquid as a substitute for 2 cups (16fl oz) milk.

Instead of buttermilk, mix 6 fl oz (175g) natural yogurt with 2 fl oz (50ml) milk.

First inse all bowls and utensils/cutlery used after cooking eggs, milk, using cold water before washing them properly.  Do the same with bowls that have held cake batter, flour etc., as when these are washed in hot water this 'cooks' the protein in these ingredients and makes this difficult to wash off.

As today's blog is more to do with what to leave out rather than what to put in, the recipe below is a cheaper version of a beef rissole (or burger).  I've taken the original recipe that used 1 lb (450g) beef mince and used only 4 oz (100g) making up the shortfall with cooked chickpeas (or lentils). No reason why we couldn't leave the mince out all together.  It just depends on personal tastes.  The rest of the ingredients I've left as-is, although we can still remove more if we wish (but hardly worth it - what's a penny or two more matter? But if it does matter....then feel free to use as few ingredients as you can get away with). 
We all have to cut costs from time to time, but essential to find our own way, not to blindly follow what others tell us to do (and that could include me telling you).

Not Quite Beef Burgers: serves 4
2 rashers bacon, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tblsp Worcestershire or HP sauce
3 oz (75g) stale breadcrumbs
1 egg
3 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
4 oz (100g) beef mince
12 oz (350g) cooked lentils
Gently fry the bacon until the fat begins to run, then add the onion and fry until softened. Remove from heat.
Put the W.sauce, breadcrumbs, egg, parsley, beef mince, cooked lentils and the bacon/onion in a bowl and using (clean) hands mix everything well together.  Form into 8 rissoles (flat cakes we call burgers).  Cook these in the pan that held the bacon/onions, a few at a time, until browned on all sides and cooked through (thinner they are the shorter time they take to cook).  Serve with mashed potatoes and gravy (or a spicy tomato sauce or ketchup).

Hope today's blog has given food for thought.  It is a pity we have to spare so much time thinking about the food we cook each day, but it is the only way to really keep those costs down.  Something our mothers knew automatically, but in those days cooking was far more simple.  Is today better or not?  You tell me.

Not yet midnight, so still Sunday.  If life throws no curved ball at me then I'll be blogging again this time tomorrow (Monday) night. 
The weather still seems cold, and still showery, so am needing the heating on to dry the laundry. A third of the way through May (doesn't the time fly?) so maybe June before the temperature becomes more like summer.
Hope you all had a good weekend.  Comments have been few and far between over the past few days.  I miss hearing from you, but then I have to remember you all have a life with better things to do than sit in front of a computer.  It's only me that doesn't have enough to keep myself occupied.  So I'd better carry on cooking.   TTFN.