Thursday, May 01, 2014

Thinking Outside the Box...

It's only over the last decade or so that I've realised that by eating certain foods out of habit, this costs us more.  By this I mean serving potatoes (with other veggies) and a meat pie.  Potatoes are carbohydrate as is pastry, we don't need to eat both.  Worth thinking about when trying to save money.

Something else I've learned is that foods that have a low GI index can help us feeling fuller for longer. Pasta (any shape) has a fairly low GI.  What is also useful to know is that if we overcook pasts the GI value increases (we need it to be low, not higher), so we should always cook pasta 'al dente', and don't throw away any left-over pasta (as if we would) and this has an even lower GI than when hot.  So use it in a salad the following day. 

Since yesterday I've been searching through cookbooks/recipes to find out how much pasta or rice we should allow ourselves per person - the weight taken as dry, before being cooked.  Recipes vary but a good rule of thumb is to allow 350g (spaghetti) to serve four if not much more is added (tomato sauce made with chopped toms etc), and 300g (or less) according to what else you wish to add to the dish.  So that makes it around 3oz (75g) per serving.   Use the same proportions when using rice.  

It's useful to know this as when buying a full pack of pasta/rice we then know how far it will go, and if we are even more thrifty, probably can gain an extra portion (or two) so a 500g pack of Value spaghetti costing 20p should then be enough for the base of 7 individual meals (for one - so that is around 3p per portion).  In other words - last a week if served every day.
The 1kg pack of long-grain rice (40p) with then last twice as long - in fact two weeks, so together these will make meals (for one) over 3 weeks.  Which is pretty good going for a total cost of 60p.

This is why, when faced with a very small amount of money to spend, I'd rather buy rice and pasta and not choose potatoes.   Even the cheapest canned new potatoes (15p) would probably only be enough for two meals.  

That is just the start....we don't always have to have a meal made with rice/pasta.  We could make a good chunky and nourishing soup, and this is why chicken would always be included in my purchases.  Not only can we make stock from the flesh/bones, but when including the skin this will give a layer of chicken fat on the top of the stock as it cools, and once chilled can be carefully scraped off and used for frying.  This fat also makes good savoury pastry, so with the flour (also on my list) a chicken pie could be made.

When it comes to chicken, have still not quite decided the best to buy.  Am always tempted with a whole fresh chicken, but even though this would give 8 portions plus the carcase for stock, it is still much more expensive than the Value bag of frozen chicken portions.  Should it be a whole fresh chicken (for £2.48 per kg this could give eight portions plus the carcase for stock), or would a 2kg bag of Value frozen chicken portions be a better bet even though it cost more?  I often do buy the latter as it usually has a mixture of drumsticks and thighs and at least a dozen in total (often more - much depends on size), these make excellent stock as well as providing plenty of flesh.  The chicken I buy would depend on how much money I could afford at that time.

A loaf of bread (brown or white, store's own brand @ 45p will give 20 slices.  A slice a day and the loaf will last a fortnight.  One slice doesn't seem much, but when piled high with baked beans or scrambled eggs, then this is a meal in itself. 

The tray of 15 eggs can last a week or a fortnight depending on whether one egg a day is eaten (or maybe two as an omelette, and some used in other dishes, but even I (with all my baking and cooking) find that 15 eggs will last me two weeks. 

No fresh meat has been included in the shopping list because - as we know - it is far too expensive to buy if we want to include as many other things as we can in our shopping basket.  Variety is the spice of life they say and we don't want to eat beans on toast and spaghetti with tomato sauce EVERY day.

However, I have included a pack of Value sausages (and at 66p are good value, and contain the same amount of meat as several of the branded sausages - I've tried them all and can't say there is much difference between them in taste, but certainly in price).  Also would include at least one can of tuna and one of pilchards.   Although I haven't completed my shopping list (still fine tuning it) am hoping to include a pack of Beanfeast spag.bol mix (99p) as by adding carrots and onions, plus a can of chopped tomatoes this will make at least 6 portions that when mixed with the spaghetti could even stretch to 8 or 10...

OK, so far the above (rice, pasta, bread, eggs, sausages, baked beans, chopped tomatoes...) would have cost £3.64.  We also need milk (£1) so now pretty close to the £5 limit if that is the challenge we are attempting.  Although we can cook reasonably healthy meals (and certainly not starve) with the above, we also need to include veggies.  My suggestion would be iceberg lettuce (49p), broccoli (49p) and white cabbage (27p) - because all keep well in the fridge for at least 2 weeks, and would make many meals.  I'd also like to buy a 2.5kg bag of carrots (89p) and a bag of onions (63p). 
Now, here's the rub.  The total then would reach just over £7 (and I haven't included the Beanfeast or chicken).  On the good side (if you can call it that) a can of carrots cost 15p, and if just a few loose onions were bought, the £5 limit would not be broken. 

What I will be doing over the next few days is to give a complete list of suggested purchases (with prices) - and there are about 25 items - the total still being far less that anyone would expect (bur more than £10.  At least half the items would last for at least two weeks, probably three, this means any that are eaten up and need replacing would/should total under £5. 

My choices will never be the same as anyone else's, but at least we get a chance to see what can be bought within a budget, and maybe you could - with canny shopping - reduce the cost even further.
Even when making a list, this still needs some thought before finalised as working through it would make more sense to buy a can of tuna or pilchards and ditch the sausages, and do the same with some other items, then I'd have more money to play with. 

In the newspaper today there was a mention of Morrisons triggering a price war by slashing its charges for 1,200 basic products by up to 60%!!!  Not everything will be reduced that much, the average price cut will be 17%, with some high-profile products such as butter, down by 33%.

The store is spending £1 billion on long-term promotions to try and see off the challenge of Aldi and Lidl, and also the move will pull Tesco, Asda, and Sainsbury's into this price war.  All I can say this is very good news for us, but makes me wonder if they can afford to spend that much, they must have been making massive profits over past years, so why didn't they cut prices sooner and allow customers to benefit, especially during this recession?   Tesco are already reducing their delivery charges down to £1 (at certain times of the day), and also bringing down the prices of many of their fresh products.

A welcome to Hazel (or is it welcome back?).  We've eaten ox cheeks that I cooked in a little stock in our slow cooker, and they were really tender.  Our son was visiting at the time and he loved them, saying they'd even be better cooked in a little red wine.  He was quite right.  Next time I added wine to the stock and the cheeks really had a wonderful rich flavour. 
Was very impressed by the mention of gnocchi being made with potatoes.  To make enough to feed 8 at a cost of only 30p is pretty good by any standards.

It is never easy to live 'hand to mouth' Mary (Perth), as whenever we buy small amounts of anything it always seems to cost more than if we were able to buy larger quantities.  Have tried to explain that above - and not very well, as always find it difficult to give simple explanations.

What a lovely sight those spring flowers must be Margie (Toronto).  Didn't realise that so many that grow in this country also grow well elsewhere.  You are right - it is Lilies of the Valley that have those little white flowers that hang down like baby bells.  One of my mother's favourite flowers, as they have such a lovely scent.
The £1 a day challenge can be done, but far easier if purchases can be done by the week, preferably by the fortnight as hopefully explained above.  Not quite sure why people seem to be getting so obsessed about living hand-to-mouth, as most people would (or should) have enough money, even if a limited amount, to shop once a week, not every day.  When benefits change and money is sometimes held over until sorted, then there is no money to spend, and this is where the foodbanks help.  In Morecambe there are several 'soup kitchens' open every day where people can go and sit and have a (free) hot meal. 

Before I finish, must add to yesterday's comment of mine when I said we should never take anything for granted.  This evening, B and I were talking about B's older brother (now deceased) who was a prisoner of war during World War II.  Imprisoned in several places, the last being Stalag Luft 3 (or was it 2?) anyway the one where that film 'The Great Escape' was based on.  There were four compounds there, my brother-in-law not in the one where the prisoners escaped from.

Anyway, I asked B what his brother was like on his return, and he said it was about six weeks before he came home, first after rescue he was de-briefed then taken to hospital to be brought back into good health again.  When he then went home on leave B told me that several times, when his brother had been eating a boiled egg, he would ask B if he could use the little bit of salt and pepper that he had left on his plate.  Apparently in the camp, any food left on a plate would be given to another prisoner as there was so little to go round they shared every last crumb left over. 
So beans on toast, scrambled egg on toast, pasta with tomato sauce would seem like a feast set before a king to some people, so even if we can't buy a lot for £5 we should still be able to feed ourselves well enough.  Then maybe we will respect and enjoy our food more.  Not take it always for granted.

Feel that I'm wearing my school-marm hat on again.  I do get quite depressed these days at all the fuss made about poverty.  Since when has money made us happy? 

I'd like to think that all my readers feel the same as me.  When we can afford to buy what we want, we don't get nearly as much pleasure as when we are forced (if that is the word) to start cutting corners and make do with what we have.  To me it is exciting to find new ways of coping, to make meals from food that we might (in the past) have thrown away.  
Am pretty sure there are hundreds of blogs where the writers have done just that, and everyone enjoys reading about it.  Let's hope examples are followed, we need people to feel happy.

Right I'll take my mortar-board off now and try and be normally domestic and do useful things like washing up, the laundry, and maybe some cooking.  Why should I care if people can't afford to feed their family?  But of course I care, very much indeed yet I can't seem to do a darn thing to help.  Even if I do chat with someone who is on short commons, they really don't want to know how to cope, they say home-cooking would make life far more difficult for them, the sooner they can buy ready-meals again the better.

That's it for now, one more blog this time tomorrow night (ready for a Saturday read) and then I'll take a day off again, or maybe a couple as it is again a Bank Holiday (and we've only just had Easter). Weather should be good over the weekend, but a lot colder at night - frosts forecast.  Could be worse.  Hope you'll keep sending comments.  I love to read them.  TTFN.