Saturday, 26 January 2013

Rip off Britain?...

After spending too much at Christmas, having the hot water tank split on our rented out property, oh and a tax bill to pay we have had to do some serious money juggling. 

I've also been toying with the idea (for a long time) of buying a suitcase generator to take some of the strain from the engine charging and potentially save money over a longer period. I will need to see exactly how much can be potentially saved per month and see what the pay back time would be, but that won't be enough on its own we will have to spend a little less. 

Most of our costs are fixed; licence, insurance etc and a lot are variable to a lesser degree, diesel, servicing, coal etc. The only area that is a quick fix and easier to control is food shopping. 

It is an area that I am confident, and I think competent, in as cooking (and eating) is a hobby of mine and was my career for a couple of decades. I still love experimenting and learning new things, I even cooked yesterdays dinner using a spice commonly known in India as "devil's dung"! 

I am not alone in trying to cut down supermarket bills, and I wouldn't mind betting that nationally I am part of the vast majority. So what would be on your list of good old budget 'British' food. 

OK No#1 has got to be good old bangers. After that probably anything made with mince; shepherds pie and of course a good old British spag bol :-) . Turkey has featured on loads of home menu's over the years and is healthy and very versatile. I haven't left out the obvious benefits of vegetarian meals, and we choose to eat vegi at least a couple of times a week mainly because vegetables last longer! 

So is that a job done then, not quite. As I said I think that lots of families will be looking at British staples to save money in these times of austerity and looking square into the eyes of a triple dip recession and of course the supermarkets are doing their bit to help, telling us how much cheaper they are than each other and how many prices they have rolled back but are they all a bunch of lying shyster's?

Its not hard to look a little closer at what you're buying. The first rule is to look at buying food organoleptically, a word used by idiot trainers in the catering industry to try and stamp a level of authority and superiority over the attentive students. I remember attending a regional training event where the speaker completely embarrassed herself by not only insisting on calling it 'organopholeptically' obviously needing the extra syllable but also correcting a colleague who gave a very accurate and concise description of how microwaves work by saying ' no, it works by bouncing these ziggy zaggy things round like in the picture' - good grief.

Organoleptically - use your senses. We all buy the first melon of summer by picking it up, squeezing it and giving it a sniff to see if it is up to mustard so we have already used three senses (two if you do your shopping with your eyes shut). For us purse string pulling penny watchers, whilst checking quality we are also scanning prices. So back to the supermarket shysters and take a look at how much we can save with our meals of spag bol, bangers and mash or even turkey stir fry for a treat. 

I have noticed over this year that the price of cheap staples has increased where as more expensive options haven't really changed or may have even come down. The average banger in the average supermarket is priced as a luxury item. I have checked tinternet today for the prices Richmond, walls and own brand (not ultra budget) sausages at Asda, Sainsbury's and Tesco's. The average price per kg of those three products is £4.41 at Asda, £5.10 at Tesco's and £5.24 at Sainsbury's. It shows two things, firstly, Asda is cheapest secondly, they are all bloody expensive. The worst was Tesco's Walls sausages at £6.04 per kg - what a rip off. 

How about British mince, again averaging the prices of standard mince and minced steak (so not ultra value or taste the difference kind of qualities) Asda £5.88, Tesco's £6.55 and Sainsbury's a whopping £7.50 per kg for mince. Its the same with turkey breast strips or slices £8.22/kg at Asda, £8.63 at Tesco's and £9.35 at Sainsbury's

So is the vegi isle the only option? No not at all, you just need to look at the next quality up! Kind of the opposite to Martin  Lewis on money saving expert's idea of downshifting a brand to a cheaper level (ie downshift from taste the difference to standard sausages) my idea is to scrap what is perceived as a cheap item and buy a less regularly bought item instead, or at least buy much better food for the same money!

For less money than Sainsbury's turkey escalopes (£9.35/kg) you could buy Asda's pork fillet (£8.50/kg), even Sainsbury's own is only 14p/kg more!  So that is swapping, for similar money, meat that is considered a cheap item for one that is a luxury you will only find on high end restaurant menus jostling for space with game and Sea bass. 

Best value by far across all supermarkets are whole fresh chickens. We buy one 1.6kg ish chicken a week and get five good dinners out of it. OK it takes a bit of know-how to learn to butcher it into portions but its a skill worth learning. We usually get a stir-fry, a curry, a casserole, a pie and big pan of soup from each one and the price per kg is £2.76 at Asda, £2.52 at Tesco's and £2.86 at Sainsbury's. Oh and all three shops have multi buy deals as well!

If we have to use supermarkets, let's not let them rip us off eh :-) 

Monday, 21 January 2013

Time to teach old dogs new tricks...

I have had a busy winter doing loads of jobs on both the inside and outside of LJ but there is one job that I have been saving for a few quiet winter days in front of the fire. Fender making. 

That's one big cotton reel

Just a light dusting of snow today, perfect for fender making

Apart from the narrow rubber side fenders we only have one rather tatty side fender that we have on a movable mount for mooring up. So the plan is to start with a couple of chunkier side fenders and if that goes well move on to some circular ones and possibly rebuild the tipcat and rear button fenders. It will be a challenge as my, usually pretty reliable grey matter just doesn't do too well with knots, not sure why (I know that by the time we are cruising again I will be standing at the bollards with a rope in my hand and a confused look on my face.


The east bit

Trying to keep 40ft of unwound rope from rewinding

For my first foray I chose traditional Manila rope. It looks great on the reel and was nice and cheap but byeck it is not too easy to work with. The fibres are quite loose and those loose bits are sharp, good job I had been forewarned by the guys I bought it from in Braunston to wear gloves. Never having made one before I made a little one from para cord to get the gist of it which made it much easier to transpose onto the rough stuff.

Attempt number one

I might even attempt fender No#2 listening to The drunken sailor on Beeb 2 tomorrow night. Now Ive just got one more pile of those loose fibres to sweep up, glad we have wooden floors!

Friday, 18 January 2013

Hawkesbury Junction (Sutton Stop) in the snow...

On the phone last night mum was waiting for their dollop of snow over on the west coast of Wales. They don't often get too much over there and I can only remember proper  snow on a couple of occasion's in the fourteen years I lived there. The snow near the west coast has a habit of only visiting for a couple of hours then turning to a muddy brown slush that makes everything cold, damp and miserable (maybe Mum will email me a couple of pretty snaps if I'm proven wrong - still waiting for ones from August though!!)

Anyway as promised here are some extra pics of today's snow in Sutton Stop

Making the most of the last patch of grass - its about six inches under snow now!

Our winter mooring 

The actual (Hawkesbury) junction

Us four winter moorers (the off side are permanent) 

Sutton Stop lock

A swan outside the Greyhound, I wonder If I will get to take a pic of a greyhound outside the Swan?

Luckily we managed to defrost a tap and filled up yesterday

The Greyhound Pub (and the Whippet bar behind) next to Sutton Stop cottages

Brilliant white snow - less than white Bongo

Bridge with Pump house behind

I don't get the same thirst craving passing these tables in the snow as I do in the summer - don't know why

Not the only way to the boat, there is a smaller bridge or the lock gate but where is the challenge in that?

LJ just past the junction

Its equally as steep and slippery on the way down

But a nice view from the top

The old Police station/box/shed

Made it down!

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Poor old wildlife starting to struggle...

Still managed to keep the hottest end of the boat above 22°C today, and even had the central heating on for an hour as well. Sadly the local birds (no not that type!) Don't look too happy today with gradually less and less water to swim in and feed from. 

Wait for me!

Are we nearly there yet?

I think we will just wait here for spring

Guys, what's the plan when we run out of water?

I'm too young for this!

Monday, 7 January 2013



Toad in the hole, bubble and squeak and beans - part off line

Wow what can be more British than that lineup?  Read on for crispy foolproof yorkie recipe, a simple 'bubble and squeak is not just for Christmas' and how to make budget beans taste better than the super brands. 

First the list of roughly what you need:

Plain flour
Value beans

Now what to do with it all:

Nice and easy this one. Firstly peel and chop the spuds and get them on the stove. Cut up the greens (spring greens, kale savoy cabbage any will do as long as its nice and green) and slice up the onion, set both aside. 

Next, the foolproof yorkies. As its baking you will need to measure out the three ingredients. Luckily this is a recipe by volume not weight so its a sinch. Use an egg per portion and crack them to into a mug or glass. Take a mental note of where it comes up to the side and transfer to a mixing bowl. Using the same glass/mug measure plain flour to the same level that the egg was. Add to the eggs in the bowl and measure the same quantity of milk/water (50/50). Give this a good old beating with a whisk for a minute. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and its done. Its the same for Yorkshire puddings for your Sunday roast, just equal quantities by volume of flour, eggs and liquid. 

Put the bangers in a tray (non stick or glass seems best, but I managed it with a couple of take away trays that I bought for painting). Add a splash of oil and a clove of garlic, I like a sprig of thyme as well. Get this nice and hot in the oven before pouring over the batter mix (minus the thyme if you used). It will take about 25 minutes to cook but keep an eye on it and adjust the heat accordingly. 

Back to the spuds that should nearly be cooked, chuck the cabbage in and give it a gentle stir and put back on the heat. In a large frying pan fry the onions. The spuds/cabbage are now ready. Drain, and return it to the pan over a low heat for a few minutes to dry out a bit. As soon as it is dryer add to the frying pan with the onions and give it a good fry up. 

Lastly the beans. In my opinion the only real difference between the super brands and budge version is that the quantity of tomato sauce in the cheapies is greater so when they are heated and served they end up running all over the plate. So just drain some of the tomato sauce off and heat them up slowly with a small knob of butter and a generous crunch of fresh pepper. 

That's it, by the time the beans are warm the bubble and squeak should be browning off and the toad in the hole should have risen and be crispy on the outside but still nice and soft at the bottom. Finding the chewy roast garlic clove is a real bonus, I bet next time you make it there will be a few more hidden in there. 

Sunday, 6 January 2013




Belly pork and Stuffing - mainly off line

I'm sure mum made something similar to this once or twice when we were kids. Belly pork was a good cheap meal then, now, like so many thrifty cuts of meat it's all gone a bit trendy (read over priced!) but you can't ignore it's versatility or flavour. No one likes tough pork so this is a slow cook recipe.

Apart from twenty-ish minutes in a hot oven (why not bake some scones at the same time) everything can be cooked off line and a lot of it is better for it. One of the almost byproducts of the cooking method is a tasty cooking liquor that makes a very easy but top-end restaurant quality sauce as an alterative to gravy. (In fact the sauce was a regular on the menu of a country house hotel I used to work in when I was a teenager.)

First the a list of roughly what you will need:

Belly pork or boneless chop (whatever is better quality/value)
Stock cube
Bramley apple (or what ever is lying around getting wrinkly)
Stale bread (crust is good)
A banger or two (leftover cooked ones are fine)
A few wallnuts
A few dates
Chilli jam if you want
Splash of calvados or brandy if you haven't drunk it all
Sugar, salt and pepper

Now what to do with it all:

Stuffing first then. Dice half an onion, rip up the stale crust of bread, chop up the sausage, and chuck it all in a mini food processor with the nuts, dates and chilli jam. Give it a good blitz until it looks a bit like crumble topping. It will be a bit dry so put it in a bowl and add water a table spoon at a time until it all comes together. A bit of salt and pepper and you're done. I cheated today because I've got loads to do and hate washing up so I've used aluminium trays like takeaway ones to build the dish up in. 

 Next the pork. Trim any rind off but keep the fat. In a heavy based pan (I use cast iron on top of the stove) seal the pork, no need for extra oil. Once it's browned off, cover with water add a stock cube put the lid on and forget about it for an hour or so until very tender.

When the pork is just about done go back to your stuffing tray and add thin slices of bramley apple, about quarter of an apple per serving, all over the top. Before the apple starts to go brown put the pork strips or chop on top. Skim some of the fat off the pork cooking stock and drizzle it over the exposed apple. Once your layered pork tray is done it can be covered and kept until about half an hour before you want to eat (mine was done by 8.00 this morning).

Back to the sauce.  Dice the rest of the apple nice and small, chuck it in with the stock with a little salt and pepper a touch of sugar to balance the apple acidity and just a touch of booze (calvados for dinner party, brandy for yourself or even a bit of dry sherry left over from Christmas). Let the sauce tick over on the stove until reduced to about a wine glass full, bramley apples should have held their shape, eaters will be mushy but still taste good. Add about the same quantity of double cream and slightly reduce. Take it off the stove until needed.

Nearly there, cook the pork trays in a hot oven 200+ deg C for about half hour until nice and crispy on top.

Deb tucking in! 

To finish, just warm the sauce up stirring in a nice healthy knob of butter.

As you can see, this is quite a rich dish so I've served it with quick and easy stove top ratatouille, no spuds needed in my opinion.

What's for dinner...

Whilst Deb has been out getting some shifts in, I've been doing some serious DIY but also providing Deb with a good old plate of grub when she gets back for a couple of hours break. Now Deb has said a couple of times recently that she doesn't know what to do for dinner as I spoil her with lots of nummy stuff. In my defence I was a chef for decade or so for my first career. So, two birds one stone, I thought I'd blog some of my recipes and number them as I went on throughout the year so if she says "what do you want for dinner" I can just say "how about a #3 with #52 for pud" simples :-)

Hopefully what the list will consist of will be a selection of tasty treats that have evolved around the thought process of; cheap to make, tasty, not too labour intensive, minimal equipment usage, not too much washing up, and being cooked offline where possible (cooking on the wood burner, BBQ, fire pit, in fact any way that means using less purchased fuel) oh and did I mention cheap - probably no more than £1 per portion, £1.50 or so for the meal, so don't expect ribs of beef or any fish more expensive than mackerel. Its not going to be too scientific, I won't include exact quantities. In fact you really only need to worry about precise weights and measures with bakery and patisserie goods. As seasons progress there may be regular foraging forays as well which will be included and  should get the store cupboard topped up with a few jams and chutneys.

If you like any of the recipes enough to roll up your sleeves and have a go I'd love to know about it. Send me a picture and I'll post it up :-)

Recipe one follows on the next post, I've kept the intro separate so I can try and label the recipes as a new tab on the blog.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

What a mild night...

With the stove ticking over last night the temperature hasn't dropped below 22 deg C in the lounge.... hmmm that looks like brewing temperature to me, where did the brew kit go?

An arm stretched out through the rear door at half six showed not only a mild morning but also bone dry. Looks like I will be able to get a second top coat of paint on the port side today. Ill wait until the sun has shown its face and warmed the steel a bit which will give me time to put a fourth varnish coat on the side hatch doors, refix the varnished skirting boards/pipe boxes get lunch on the go and repot my now setting chilli jam.

Deb is working today so at least the boat will stay still whilst I'm painting. She has also been working on her blog contribution as when she dipped in last year there was a bit of repetition, this year it will be a stats round up of where we have moored, miles covered, locks wound, miles walked/cycled, etc so there will e o disputing when we were last at x or how long since the last oil change.

Roll on end of Feb when we can get back to proper boating!

I wish painting the side was as easy as it looked in the photo.