We knew this house had a prepayment electric meter. It was with EDF and, as they were the supplier in our previous home, I phoned them and asked them to put in a proper credit meter, which they did within two weeks. I also asked them to transfer the gas from British Gas to themselves, without realising that that meter was also a prepayment one, so the replacement process is rather more convoluted.
The gas meter had a £57 debt on it, and when I put my card in, with its £30 of credit, I only got £3’s worth of gas; I was horrified. Long conversations with BG later, I found that if I paid off all the debt, so the meter was clear, they would refund it all; we’re very lucky we could afford to do that – many folk couldn’t.
Also, it was costing about £4 *per day* to run the central heating for a few hours, and deliver hot water (two showers and three lots of washing up daily – cooking is all electric here). Truly, those who have nothing, have to pay more. Quite outrageous that prepayment gas and electric should be so much more expensive than metered.
However … the weeks we spent having to pay in advance (and through the nose) made us extremely aware of how much it was costing, and we have become far more frugal and careful in our use of power, which is no bad thing, I suppose.
Many apologies for the radio silence – we’ve been moving house, which meant eating everything in the freezer and the cupboards, finding homes for all our culinary stuff in the new (and frankly inadequate) kitchen, sourcing new fridge and freezer (the USAnian behemoth having been left behind), and then starting to fill them. So no new recipes to relate, really.
We have moved to the eastern side of Hull, where there is much real poverty, and the local shops are even cheaper than where we were previously. There is a good independent butcher at the top of the street, who sells shin of beef. Shin Of Beef! And is the sort of shop where they go and cut what you want. There is a greengrocer next door, which has good produce, if a limited range – nothing like an aubergine, or a herb, or much of a choice of apples, but they are inexpensive and decent quality. We have a big Asda 15 minutes walk away, and a Morrisons 20 minutes in the opposite direction, and we have Fulton Foods, Iceland, Poundland, and Home Bargains, close to hand. Those latter are all great for inexpensive cleaning materials, loo rolls, etc., and actually Iceland has some interesting stuff if you rummage.
The inadequate kitchen includes an ancient and unvenerable ceramic electric hob, which is a nightmare. We’ve already had to replace the oven (bought an AEG fan oven from eBay). It came with a matching gas hob, so we’ve got someone coming in to quote us for plumbing that in. We’ve also got a newer ceramic hob to fit, which I picked up for £85, so decisions to be made there. And praise be for Ikea, who have allowed us to make the house workable for about £300 (and two 165 mile round trips!).
So we’re settling in nicely. I’ve put a dozen tubs in the freezer: old stalwarts like roast veg, lentils and cauliflower, bolognese sauce, and pork and beans. Herbs are waiting to go in the garden when we get the beds dug over. Might even plant some veg later!
More posts soon 🙂
I must confess to just a little schadenfreude upon hearing of Tesco’s woes. Yes, I know they employ thousands of people, and yes, I know that a lot of pensions are invested in them, but they were a bit Icarus like of late.
I very occasionally visit the huge Tesco in the centre of Hull, when I can’t get what I want anywhere else, and I’m always overcome by the choice in there. Who needs dozens of different breakfast cereals, or olive oils, or sausages, or whatever? I find myself just standing in front of the shelves, whimpering.
This morning, in stark contrast, P and I walked across the park in the wind to our local Aldi – we spent the princely sum of £27.73, and here’s what we bought:
2.5kg baking potatoes
1kg wholemeal flour
1 large cauliflower
2 smoked salmon and cheddar fishcakes
1 pack of chicken thighs
2 packs puff pastry
1 double pack pancetta cubes
1 pack pork sausages
1 pack chestnut mushrooms
2 balls mozzarella
1 bottle baby shampoo (for my sensitive locks)
1 pack Frikadellen meatballs (lovely for lunches)
1 pack Bavarian ham
1 pack egg noodles
1 pack Earl Grey tea bags
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 carton passata
1 tub hummus
1 pack Wensleydale cheese
1 tub pate
3 bulbs garlic
8 rashers back bacon (won’t be as good as Normans, but will do fine)
Yesterday, we spent about 5 quid in a local greengrocer, for cabbage, swede, courgettes (yes, I know, but I need moar! courgettes!), a bag of peppers, mushrooms (we eat a lot).
I’m not quite sure what I’m going to do with it all yet. Tonight’s supper is the fishcakes, with sautéd potatoes and baked beans (yes! don’t care!). Sunday we are cooking a huge vat of chili with some ox cheek that’s been in the freezer for a few weeks – never used it before, so that’s quite fun. I’ll keep you posted.
And if you haven’t tried one of the German discounters, you really should!
Baroness Jenkin said this week, as the report on poverty and food banks was released, that “the poor don’t know how to cook”. Which was a tad patronising, really – lots of people who living in poverty know how to cook, and indeed lots of people who aren’t haven’t a bloody clue. And quite a few of them know how to cook, but can’t afford the ingredients, or even the utilities to cook them.
But that’s not really the point, is it? There she sat, in her Chanel jacket, and her expensive jewellery, and her posh hair cut, and she pontificated about others. And said that her bowl of porridge cost her 4p for breakfast. Well, I dispute that.
Sainsburys basic porridge is £0.11 per 100g, and their own recipe says to use 50g, so that’s 5.5p already. They recommend you make it with milk, but you can use water. So choose – can you afford milk? Has your water been cut off? Do you have a bowl and spoon to eat it with, a microwave or hob to cook it on, a way to measure 50g and 270ml? Is there money in your meters for the electricity or gas?
Cheap processed food is filling food, and if you’re tearing about working two jobs, or walking great long distances to do workfare, you’re not likely to have the time or energy to conjure up a delicious, nutritious and cheap meal. Sticking a 99p microwave lasagne on for the kids gets them fed quickly, rather than waiting while you try to prep something better.
Last night we had a quick pasta dish, as is our normal Tuesday fare. 125g of own brand fusilli, an onion, courgette, yellow pepper, a few mushrooms, and two small smoked salami (the latter unnecessary, but needed using up). And to cook it I used a hob, a saucepan for the pasta, and a frying pan for the vegetables. I used a set of scales to weigh the pasta, a decent sharp knife and chopping board to cut up the veg, a drizzle of olive oil to cook them in, some cooking salt, and a grating of parmesan at the end (requiring, obviously, both cheese and some sort of grating implement). And some black pepper.
So the ingredients probably cost less than two quid, but the stuff I needed to actually cook it cost considerably more, and the experience gained from 40 years of cooking, so I can hurl together a meal out of pretty much anything cannot be costed.
Oh, and there’s about 170 calories in a bowl of porridge made with water. The good baroness must be starving unless, of course, she fills up at the subsidised House of Lords various canteens the rest of the time.
I wish people, particularly wealthy peers of the realm, wouldn’t be so fucking judgemental.
Having made the Christmas cake yesterday, I was all set to make some mincemeat.
I started by blitzing an orange and a lemon in the food processor, and then pulled opened the baking cupboard to get at all the other ingredients (they’re all kept in a pull out cupboard). And there, on the top shelf, was a huge jar of mincemeat from last year. And we don’t eat much …
So, what to do with a pair of marmalised citrus fruit? Make a cake!
100g butter or marge
120g granulated sugar
140g desiccated coconut
100g plain flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
100ml natural yoghurt
Whizz the citrus fruit first – cut it into chunks, then hurl it in, peel, pith and all.
Then add the other ingredients and whizz some more.
Decant into a 2lb loaf tin (either well greased, or use a liner), bake for about 45 minutes at 180C. I suggest you use the fan setting, rather than the grill – it works better 🙂
I made the Christmas cake yesterday morning, after boiling the fruit up with sugar and butter and brandy on Saturday. It, thankfully, seems fine. However …
A chicken went in the oven to roast on a bed of vegetables. Roast potatoes went on top in another dish, as did a coconut and citrus cake (see later post).
Spuds were doing beautifully, but the cake caught, so I took it out. Chicken appeared to be done ((juices running clear) but bed of veg was not. Investigated.
1. Had put oven on wrong setting – top heat/grill, this is why cake burned
2. Had put chicken in upside down.
3. Discovered all this when everything else was done.
Then the kitchen ring blew …
Pete reset the ring, then we took the spuds out, set oven to correct incantation (bloody Neff – far too complicated), and returned the chicken to its roasting place. And we opened a bottle of wine.
Then, when it was cooked (and dinner was only forty minutes late), I bunged the cake back in the oven for twenty minutes, and it’s fine if we cut the burnt bits off.
I did make some scones for supper, and they were OK too, but it was a trying day.
There was a lemon waiting to be used up (I generally use lemon juice in my cooking, as it’s so much cheaper), and a pot of plain yogurt in the fridge, and no cake in the cake box. So I had a bit of a google, as you do, and found a recipe on Nigella’s site (which I could probably have found in one of the many Nigella books I own, but the interwebs is quicker). Here’s the original recipe.
I do apologise for the photograph, but I left the cake on its final cool in the box, and THE BLOODY KITTENS NIBBLED IT. Sorry, but really – virtually nothing edible is safe from their little sharp white pointy teeth.
After the success of the orange and chocolate cake, where I just hurled the orange into the food processor and mashed it up I thought I’d try the same result. We tried just half a slice last night, and I’m not yet sure it worked – seemed little depth to the flavour, but I’ll revisit it tonight.
1 lemon (the recipe called for just the zest)
150g plain flour
100g granulated sugar
5 fl oz natural yoghurt
5 fl oz vegetable oil
2 medium eggs
1 heaped teaspoon baking powder
I blitzed the whole lemon in the Magimix, then added the rest of the ingredients, and whizzed some more. Then I just poured the mixture into a paper case inside a loaf tin, and baked it at 180C/gas 4 for about 55 minutes. The recipe said 35-40, but I suspect it took longer as I had a wetter batter.
And it sank spectacularly quickly within five minutes of its exit fom the oven, but it’s cake – what’s not to like?
But I will swing for those kittens … Should you be interested, you can find them on Facebook.
Actually, that’s unfair, because we haven’t had a risotto in ages. But we did last night.
We bought a pack of chicken thighs in Aldi last week. Pete manfully skinned and filleted them on Saturday, and they’ve been stowed in the freezer (yes, for this was just *before* PumpkinGate) for stir fries or whatever; the cats had the skin, with much enjoyment but no gratitude *at all*, and I slung the bones in the baby slow cooker with some water, with a view to soup making. But then, after the Graet Pumpkin War of 2014, soup was already well over-catered, and I couldn’t freeze this stock either.
I reboiled the bones yesterday, and it made a lovely gelatinous stock. Which seemed absolutely ideal for a risotto, especially as there were little shreds of chicken as well. So I strained the bones out, and rinsed them off with boiling water, to get every drop of chickeny goodness from them, and then topped that up to a pint*.
Sliced a leek and a red pepper, and set them to saute off in a little olive oil and butter. Then added 5oz of Arborio rice and stirred it round to coat it, and then started adding the stock bit by bit, stirring all the time. During the process, I discovered that making risotto is yet another thing that doesn’t go with watching Borgen with subtitles; no wonder it’s taking me so long to get through it. I digress.
When about 75% of the stock was added, I seasoned with salt and black pepper, and when all the stock was absorbed, I added half a block of feta cheese and stirred until it was melted.
And I can tell you that, although a bowl of risotto in those quantities (we halved it, obviously) doesn’t look much, it’s plenty, and it was delicious.
*This is one of the few recipes I still cook in imperial – easier to remember the mantra of 1 pint / 5 oz.
I know, I know, it’s shocking, but sometimes you just get carried away in the moment …
Regular readers will know that I’m a big fan of slow cookers, and own three of varying sizes. I belonged, briefly, to a slow cooker group on Facebook, but mostly the members used theirs to put in meat and a couple of jars of cooking sauce, and that isn’t really what I do. However, for some of them, slow cookers seemed almost a religion. They tried *everything* in them. One person – honestly – was cooking full English breakfasts overnight in theirs. It seemed somehow grounds for excommunication if you didn’t buy into this, and I left.
But I was intrigued by using a slow cooker to bake a cake. Apparently, it couldn’t be just any cake, it had to be a Wright’s cake mix. I have no idea why. Caught up in the religious zeal, I bought a ginger cake mix from Aldi – I think it was about £0.80 – but sanity prevailed and it stayed in the cupboard.
And then, the other day, the oven was on for something, and there was no cake in the cake box, and I thought “why not?”. So I mixed it up with the mandatory oil and water, and then chopped up some dates and added them, and then I baked it.
The first slice off was quite dry, but we didn’t worry – it could easily be turned into a sticky toffee pudding. But then, on the second day, it was really not bad. And by day #4, yesterday, it was actually nice. Not nearly as nice as I could make myself, but then a lot cheaper and easier. As I am shortly off to Aldi for some bits, I may invest in the other varieties.
But I’m not doing them in the slow cooker, because really …