Friday, May 16, 2014

Scraping the Barrel - again!.

When we can afford a reasonable food budget, then most of the time we stick to following recipes with never a thought as to whether the same dish could be made cheaper, or for that matter even better, for no extra cost.  It takes a lot of the weight from our shoulders when other people have done most of the thinking beforehand. 

So not surprising that how we don't look beyond the actual cooking or heating of ingredients, yet myself feel we keep missing a trick.  Example:  many years ago B used to complain there was too much sauce in the cans of baked beans, and would carefully used a slotted spoon to remove his portion of beans from the dish, leaving me with very few beans and a LOT of sauce.  So what I do now is drain off most of the sauce before heating the beans, but always save/freeze the sauce so that it can be added later to spag.bol etc.  I've also found that soaking haricot beans in water overnight, then draining these and cooking them in saved baked-bean sauce plus a good squirt of tomato ketchup really makes the beans taste like the original brand the bean-sauce came from. 

As always interested in domestic history - by this I mean mainly kitchen life in times past - some improvements have of course been made over the centuries, but are they always necessary?  For instance I read this week that pancakes used to be made with egg, flour and water - not milk.  I've tried this and there really isn't that much difference.  The Scots make their porridge using water, not milk and likewise, not too noticeable a change in flavour.  

Supermarket milk is not expensive (currently 25p a pint when we buy the milk in the 4pt containers for £1).  But when working with a very tight budget, and having to make the milk last as long as possible, then why not - when baking - use water when milk is the liquid a recipe suggests? 
When making scones I find half milk, half water works very well. 

Often we use a whole egg when just the yolk alone (or the white) does the job. Depends a lot on the recipe, but when used for binding together ingredients, we normally don't need the whole egg anyway.  Just add a little extra water to make up the missing yolk/white.  We then have the left-over yolk/white to use in another dish.

Most people wouldn't bother with such scrimping and saving, and why should they?  Does it really save so much money?  Answer is - not a lot AT THAT TIME.  But done regularly, pennies soon mount up and 'every penny saved....etc'.  

My search for traditional foods that are not expensive to make today is not so easy.  Food that were cheap a century or so ago can be costly today, and vice versa.  
One of my favourites is Treacle Tart.  Even this name is misleading as it is made with Golden Syrup, and not the true black treacle.  It's not even that old as golden syrup only became available in the early 19th century.  Well, as that is now over 200 years ago, and Treacle Tart has been made regularly since, am sure it is now listed as a traditional British/English pudding that can be served warm or cold with cream or custard.

Although this tart is made using a pastry case, then filled with a mixture of breadcrumbs and syrup, the addition of ground ginger and/or the grated zest and juice of a lemon adds a great deal to the flavour with not a lot more cost.  If we have no breadcrumbs we could use stale (sponge) cake crumbs.  Another variation is using crushed cornflakes instead of the crumbs.
Despite this being an extremely economical pudding, it is now included in many of the top restaurant's menus, and no doubt a high price charged for the pleasure of eating something that our grandmother's used to make.  Just because modern grannies now have forgotten how to.  And it really does taste good. 

Traditionally, this is made in a round pastry case, but no reason why we can't blind-bake an oblong version and cut it into squares. Most recipes line the tins with pastry, then add the filling and bake the two together, but a blind-baked pastry case could be used, just reduce the cooking time as the filling is more a matter of heating it through rather than cooking something raw.

Treacle Tart: serves 6
approx. 12 oz (350g) short-crust pastry
3 oz (75g) fresh breadcrumbs
half teaspoon ground ginger (opt)
7 oz (200g) golden syrup
grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured board to a size large enough to line an 8" (20cm) flan tin or pie plate.  Re-roll out the trimmings and cut into long narrow strips.  Set these aside.
Mix the breadcrumb with the ginger (if using) and spread this over the bottom of the pastry case. Put the golden syrup in a pan with the lemon zest and juice and heat gently until quite runny, then pour this over the breadcrumbs (or if you wish melt the syrup/lemon and then fold the breadcrumbs into this before putting them in the pastry case).
Take the strips of pastry, and twist each into spirals and arrange them in a lattice pattern on top of the tart, pressing the ends into the pastry around the rim.  Trim to neaten then bake at 180C, gas 4 for about 25 minutes or until the pastry is golden and cooked through, and the filling has just set.
Serve warm or cold with custard or cream.

When we were married and our first children were born (in the '50's) we would expect to pay no more than 1d (one old penny) for a lb of potatoes.  When decimal currency came in this meant we needed 2 and a half old pennies to make one new 'p'.  Today we expect to pay 25p for one baking potato that weighs 8oz.,and would have cost me one(old) half-penny in 'the old days'. 
As my Beloved earned £7 a week at that time, the cost of food then was relative to the wages earned, and I really can't be bothered to work out whether potatoes are still cheap, or not.  My feeling is they are not.

This does not stop me giving another traditional recipe- this time from Northumberland - because it is simple to make and not expensive.  Just shop around to buy the cheapest spuds of the type you need.  Normally the larger packs work out cheaper than buying loose, but always check.   Firm-fleshed spuds are the best to use for this dish, the recipe suggests the red Desiree, or the stalwart Maris Piper.  Cara is another variety but this is not a name I'm familiar with.

Pan Haggerty: serves 4
4 tblsp sunflower oil
1 lb (450g) firm potatoes, thinly sliced
1 large onion, thinly sliced
4 oz (100g) Cheddar cheese, grated
salt and pepper
Heat the oil in a large frying pan, then remove pan from the heat and fill with alternate layers of potato slices, onion, and cheese, starting and finishing with potatoes.  Season each layer as you go.
Replace pan over a low heat and cook for 30 minutes, until the potatoes are soft and browned underneath. 
Meanwhile, pre-heat the grill and when ready place the pan under the heat and grill for 5 - 10 minutes to brown the top.  Slide the potatoes onto a warmed plate to serve, or serve straight from the pan, cut into wedges.

Am still glued to the TV between 5.00 and 7.00pm watching 'Roots'.  We've now got to the fourth generation (first was Kunte Kinte who was kidnapped and taken to be a slave in America, then he had a daughter called Kizzy, she had a son called George who has two children, the son grown up.  George (aka 'Chicken George') has been given his freedom.   This at first seemed a good thing, but obviously not as he now does not have the protection of his 'owner'.  Have to wait until next week to find out what happens, think the Klu Klux Klan are involved somewhere along the way.  It's also around the time of the American Civil War.  Not that long ago really by English standards.

This begs the question, does freedom really help to improve things?  Several years ago we had two German students staying with us, their homes were in East Germany, and originally this was a communist area, controlled by the Russians.  No-one was allowed to leave the country, but there was virtually no unemployment,  homes and jobs were secure, wages adequate.  The only thing missing was freedom.   Once the East/West were united, then nothing was secure, not even a roof over heads.  One of the students was very bitter about this, his father had lost his job, and on his return he expected they would have to leave the (council-type) flat where they had been allowed to live.  There was little chance of employment for the student, the only work seemed to be in West Germany and he didn't want to leave his father. Prices had risen, and wages had fallen.  Although he enjoyed being able to travel abroad he said he'd rather have the life he had before because this was secure.
On a way this reflects the insecurity that the slaves would find once they had been given their freedom.

Seems that several readers have heard sirens being tested.  It's not so bad when it is expected (regular time of day or warning of tornados etc), and even I don't mind hearing the 'all clear' type of siren, it is the 'air-raid warning' one that sends shivers down my back.

Normally Les I don't check my blog once it's been published other than viewing via 'draft', but did so today by clicking on your link, just to see what date/time the previous blog showed.  As expected it gave an hour earlier than the time when I clicked on 'publish', showing Thursday 11.45pm (have forgotten the exact time) when it was an hour later, then being Friday 12.45am.  So it doesn't matter what time I start the blog (or even if I leave it in 'draft'), it is the publishing time that is given.

As you say Mary, the dry mustard (Colman's) is useful, probably more so than the jars of made mustard, although these are handy when wishing to spread some on bread when making ham/beef sarnies.  
English mustard (whether bought ready made or made at home with water) is very hot.  Mixing the powder with milk makes it much milder, more like Dijon mustard.  Worth bearing that in mind as it saves buying both. 
It has always been said that Colman's made their millions from the mustard that was left on the sides of the plates, and do remember when my mother made mustard (always with powder in those days), she always made too much even though it didn't look a lot, a little went a long way, so always some left over on the plates. 
Mustard was always served in little mustard pots, often silver with blue glass liners, each having a little spoon for serving.  I have a couple of the spoons, but don't now have the containers.  We just scoop the mustard out of the jar and plonk it on the side of our plates, and yes - even now there is always some left uneaten to be washed away.

Although I do like English mustard, there are times when Dijon works better, and I really do love whole grain mustard, tastes like Dijon with 'bits' in it.  I could eat that by the spoonful.  What with my addiction to everything spicy (esp chillis), the love of mustard and wasabi, think I must be joining the 'some like it hot' brigade in my old age.

Whatever the posting says, it is now 30 minutes into Saturday, so that's the end of today's blog.  As usual will be taking Saturday off, and returning to write this blog late Sunday evening, or maybe early Monday morning.  I have not yet decided.  But there will be a blog to read on Monday.

Apparently the mini-heatwave I thought would last a couple or so days is now said to hang around for a couple of weeks.  Do hope so.  Today has been very warm, and it already has a summery feel in the evenings, almost warm enough to sit out in the twilight....with a glass of wine and a bottle at my side!!
Tomorrow evening off to the spiritualist church with my neighbour so maybe something interesting to chat about in my next blog.  In the meantime - keep those comments coming.  TTFN.