Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Counting and Discounting...

Gone are the days when we could just decide what to cook and then go out and buy the necessary to make the meal - knowing it didn't matter what store you went to, the prices would always be the same.
We didn't even have to bother with counting the calories, or work out how much fat, sugar, salt and other additives were in the foods, for mostly we bought fresh - these being local and seasonal. 

One good thing (I suppose) is that all the supermarkets are now competing with each other, so when when brings down the prices (to stay down!), the others follow.  Even the discount stores are finding it difficult to keep their offers as low.  Going by the 'flyers' that come through the door, the price cuts are mainly on what I call 'junk' food, or at least foods we don't buy that often.  Maybe one (or at best two) basics are discounted, just to get us into the store I suppose.

Managing the food budget today, and aiming to cook good meals that cost less, can be as difficult as working as a buyer in a large restaurant.  So many things to consider: buying the best quality food at the lowest price, or changing the menu to suit what is on offer that day.   Sometimes (and in my case quite often these days) it seems hardly worth the trouble.  Let's buy a ready-meal (to heat in the microwave) seems to cost no more and takes far less time.  It's just that these never taste as good, or contain the quality ingredients that we could buy to make the same thing at home, for probably the same price (or even cheaper).  But it all has to be worked out.

I can spend hours sorting recipes, working out costs, ending up with nearly a notebook full of listings and prices, this all taking the fun out of cooking. Don't get me wrong, it is VERY useful to know how much ingredients cost, especially by the ounce or gram, for then we can 'have a play' at (say) making a meal that costs no more than 40p a portion (or less, or even cheaper than that).  Generally thought I don't bother any more to cost out the meals I make.  My savings are made when I send in my grocery order, and only then - after the bargains arrive (they are nearly always those on offer that week/month), do I decide what meals to make each day.  Have to say this does seem to work best for me.

But enough of food.  Due to my bad throat I've not been eating much, mainly a liquid diet and a couple of oranges.  Asked B to go to the local chemist (they call these pharmacies these days), and bring me some black-currant Strepsils.  These were extra-strength and after sucking the first one, almost instantly my throat felt better.  These lozenges contain a type of anaesthetic that numbs the soreness, and also something that is supposed to kill the bacteria/virus as well.   Anyway, this made me feel well enough to go to the meeting this afternoon.  
My neighbour is not sure whether she wants to go any more, and I'm now feeling guilty that it seems to be me that gets  'picked up' by mediums when I attend the Saturday evening meetings, especially as I went only for my neighbours benefit - as  she wishes very much to get a message from one of her deceased relatives/husband/friend.  But with such a lot of people there, only a few do get 'chosen', so am hoping that she will be approached soon.  If she still wants to go.
If she does leave, I think I will still attend some of the meetings for my own 'spiritual life' seems to be moving gently up the ladder so to speak.  But not sure if I want to be a medium, although the people at the church are all urging me to continue.

It's been another warm day, and heard on the news it was 27C at Heathrow.  Not quite as warm here in Morecambe as there was quite a cool breeze.  It got very cloudy and 'heavy' when approaching dusk and I've got a bit of a 'thunder headache', so probably might get a storm during the night.  Heavy showers are forecast in the North, but that might miss us, although we could do with a shower, the ground is getting very dry.

Have a feeling I have used dried stuffing mix to use as a coating for something Mary.  It might have been instead of sausagemeat when making Scotch eggs (mixing the mix with water to make it hold together).  If whizzed down in a blender the stuffing mix would then be more powdery and could then probably be added to lots of dishes to add flavour as well as extending it (meatloaf for example).

Myself am very fond of watching Martin Shaw.  Have heard he is a Buddhist, although that didn't stop him leaving his wife for someone else.  Don't expect any religion frowns on this these days, but then I'm old-fashioned. 

With your mention of having plenty of potatoes Hazel, today am giving a recipe for potato-based soups.  This first most unusual and a favourite in  Central and South America.
If you use salted peanuts, then no need to add further salt.  If using unsalted peanuts, than add salt later.  If you don't have peanuts, the use peanut butter.  Ideally, equal quantities of crunch and smooth peanut butter will give the right texture.
When using potatoes in a soup, always use the floury ones (King Edward, Maris Piper, Cara, Estima, Golden Wonder....) as these disintegrate when finely diced and so help to thicken the soup.

Peanut and Potato Soup: serves 6
4 tblsp groundnut oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 red bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
9 oz (250g) floury potatoes,  peeled and diced
2 fresh red chillis, seeded and chopped
7 oz (200g) canned, chopped tomatoes
5 oz (150g) roasted peanuts
2.5 pints (1.5ltrs) beef stock
salt and pepper
2 tblsp chopped fresh coriander for garnish
Fry the onion in the oil for 5 minutes until beginning to soften, adding the garlic towards the end, then stir in the bell pepper, potatoes, chillies, and tomatoes.  Stir well to coat the vegetables evenly with the oil, then bring to the boil, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes or until the veggies have softened.
Set aside 2 tblsp of the roasted peanuts to use as garnish, then process the remaining peanuts in a blender until finely ground.  Add the vegetables, then continue to process until smooth.
Return mixture to the pan and stir in the stock.  Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.  Ad seasoning to taste, then pour into heated bowls and garnish with a generous scattering of coriander, and the remaining peanuts.

The second soup has few ingredients so simple to make.  Traditionally an Irish soup, it is not only good as it is, but very versatile as it can be used for the basis of many other soups.  One worth making in bulk to freeze in smaller quantities so that it can then be used in many ways.

Irish Potato Soup:  serves 6 - 8
2 oz (50g) butter
2 large onions, finely chopped
1.5lbs (675g) floury potatoes, diced
approx. 3 pints (1.75ltrs) hot chicken stock
salt and pepper
milk if necessary
chopped chives for garnish (opt)
Melt the butter in a large pan and add the onions, stirring them into the butter until well coated. Cover and leave over the lowest heat to sweat for about 10 minutes.  Add the potatoes to the pan, mixing well into the butter/onions, adding seasoning to taste.  Cover and cook over a low heat for 10 minutes, then add the stock.  Bring to the boil and simmer for 25 or so minutes until the vegetables are tender.
Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly, the puree the soup either in a blender or food processor or using a stick blender directly in the pan.  Reheat over low heat, and if too thick add a little extra stock or milk to make it the consistency you require.
Serve very hot, sprinkled with chopped chives.

That's it for today, am hoping to find time to plant out the collection of herbs I've bought/been given/sown in pots.  Most of them can go in the window box (actually a large white polystyrene box the Donald Russell meat is delivered in), this is a big deep box now standing on a low table that has wheels, so it can be rolled into the sunlight (at the moment it is under the side north facing window of the conservatory so only gets late afternoon summer sun).  Filled with daffodils, these now need taking up to dry off for planting in the autumn somewhere else. Keeping most of my herbs together means that they will always be close by the back door. ready for culinary use.  We do have a huge rosemary bush planted under the long west-facing window of the conservatory, this is evergreen so can be used all year round.   Mint will have to be kept in its own container or it will take over.

After midnight, so already Wednesday, feels as though the week has only just begun and already nearly half-way through.  Believe there is another Bank Holiday soon (this weekend or the next?).  With Easter being in the later half of April, that's three holidays in a very short time.  Then no more until August Bank Holiday.  At least the weather seems to have been on our side for once.  Usually it rains cats and dogs at holiday time.

Next blog written in about 22 hours time (or maybe sooner if I have nothing else to do).  Hope you will find time to have a read.  TTFN.