Sunday, 24 July 2011

The joy of markets

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a market nearby. When The Family Jay lived in South London, I wouldn't have had any idea where to find a market, but given that there was a Sainsburys 2 minutes walk from the house (there is always at least one supermarket less than 10 minutes from the house in London) we probably wouldn't have gone there anyway. What markets there were, were all "farmers markets" which seem to be marketing ploys to allow people to pay over the odds for admittedly good produce, and always put us off with their inflated prices.

However, in our new home town there is a market in the town square for 3 days a week. Despite having lived here for a year, I've never really used it for a weekly shop as it doesn't meet the "time" criteria of RFFTF. Anything we have bought there has been of very high quality and lasts longer than anything we buy from our supermarket, so we thought we'd give it a go this week. It's a big week as The In-Laws are visiting, so we knew it would be an expensive shop. Having planned our menus for the week I headed off in to town with a shopping list clutched in my paw.

Something they just didn't have - aubergines are in season but may be a bit cosmopolitan for Suffolk (the supermarket has courgettes and corn-on-the-cob in the "exotic" section) and the kind of pre-packaged stir-fry mixes which make life so much easier are not the stuff of street markets - but in the main we did very well and I did a comparison online between what we bought for £12.50, and what that would have cost us at the supermarket.

This is what we had on the list:
  • onions (0.5 kilos)
  • tomatoes (1kg)
  • lettuce (1 iceberg, 1 red)
  • spring onions
  • mixed peppers
  • 1 red onion
  • garlic
  • mushrooms (0.5kg)
  • 5 braeburn apples
  • bananas (1kg)
  • 1 courgette
Sainsburys online bought this lot in at a whole £15.71 - or 25% more than the market. Extrapolated over a year that's a saving of £166.92, which seems like a decent amount to me. (And makes me think - what would you spend that amount of money on? That's a festival ticket, or 8 trips to the cinema for myself and Mrs Jay. That's a whole Christmas dinner for 12 people, based on last year's effort, or 0.001% of John Terry's weekly wage.)

Granted, it took us a lot longer to do the shop, but it got us out of the house and we had a good walk together. It meant a little bit more money that will stay (in the main) in the local economy. But the main thing is - it tasted better. I don't mean that I had a warm glow and some sense of moral empowerment, but that the food had more flavour, and surely that's the point?

Anyway, during the week we had a RFFTF special meal. It met all the criteria - quick, easy, cheap and I reckon that kids would love it, so it ticks all of the boxes really. Fish and chips is much maligned, but can be done reasonably healthily, as demonstrated here.

The total cost per head of this meal is about 60p, using value-range white fish fillets (pollock, as it happens - more information about choosing fish is available here), a couple of potatoes and some frozen peas. I had some leftovers in the fridge such as parsley, mint and a lime but you could do without those.
  • cut the potatoes in to wedges, and dry off with kitchen towel to get rid of some of the starch. Put in bowl with a lid and add a tablespoon of olive oil, salt and pepper.
  • Give the whole thing a good shake so that the chips are covered in the oil and bake in the oven at 200 degrees for about 40 minutes.
  • In the meantime, season some flour on a plate with salt, pepper and finely chopped parsley.
  • Drop the fish in to the flour to coat it (just use a dinner plate, it's the easiest thing) and fry in a little bit of butter and vegetable oil for about 5 minutes on each side, until it's gone golden brown and crispy.
  • Boil the peas with a tablespoon of finely chopped (or dried) mint.
  • Serve with lime wedges, tartare sauce, and a schoolboy grin.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Spring Rolls - as requested

Well, the lunches project was not an unmitigated success. The salmon and potato salad worked well, packing the key ingredients in one box to be warmed up, with a dressing in a smaller pot to be added afterwards. The chorizo salad (as shown in one of my previous posts) was less of a triumph. How was I to know that our new tupperware wasn't microwaveable? After the plastic had fused to the slices of chorizo and filled the office with acrid smoke I wasn't all that popular with my workmates and it all had to be binned, leaving me with some salad leaves and croutons to keep me going until dinner time. Luckily a colleague stepped in with emergency supplies of chorizo purchased at the Tesco around the corner and I was saved. "Every day is a school day", as Mrs Jay likes to say. Which is a nice way of saying "You're an idiot. You've survived well over thirty years on this earth but sometimes I'm not sure that you tie your own shoelaces."

One thing that worked really well - but didn't microwave brilliantly - is the spring rolls and last week one of you asked me to post the recipe, so here it is. I'd always been a bit afraid of trying to make them as they look horribly difficult, but it's really not a faff at all.

1. Cook your favourite stir fry, and add some vermicelli noodles to the wok. I used a small pack of prawns (cut in half to avoid the rolls being lumpy) and a 300g bag of stir fry veg with ginger, sweet chilli sauce and a bit of fish sauce to season. This made 4 decent sized rolls.

2. Take a sheet of filo pastry for each roll and cut it in half. Brush one half with oil and lay the other on top of it. Lay a quarter of your stir fry mix along one side, leaving about 2cm on the long side and 3cm at each end.

3. fold the ends over the mix and roll from the front so that everything is enclosed. Brush with some more oil and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

4. bake in the oven at about 180 degrees for 15 minutes, with the seam of the roll downwards.

One makes a good starter, 2 with some salad on the side makes an excellent lunch.

With Mrs Jay heading back to the smoke next week to work after an arduous 9 months off looking after Master Jay (who now spends his days charming the pants off nursery staff - they seem to find it more amusing than we do when he blows a raspberry with a mouthful of food, bless them), I'll definitely have to spend some more time in the kitchen making sure there are decent meals to take in to town, but I think with a little imagination it can be done cheaply and well - and without resorting to that national institution, the over-priced sandwich bar.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Two new projects!

Apologies first of all for the lack of posts up here - it's not that I'm being slack, you understand, more that there hasn't really been anything noteworthy in the Culinary World of Jay to delight you with. As so often happens, life has taken over in the last few weeks and while I have, of course, been eating, I haven't been thinking about food in the way that I like to. So this week I've pulled my metaphorical socks up, donned a thinking cap and an apron, and gone back to the kitchen.

I have two projects this week - the first is about overcoming my reliance on cookery books. I've planned a set of dinners for which I have no recipes at all, but I'm pretty confident I can cook.
  • Mackerel with harissa pasts and herby couscous
  • pot-roast pork with apples, red cabbage and potatoes
  • Lamb kebabs with homemade flatbread
Ok, so I'm stealing a recipe for the bread as I've never been brave enough to try this before, but the rest of it will be absolutely from scratch and I'll post up the results later in the week.

The second project is some lunches. I'm still working from home at the moment but I'm trying to write some recipes that I will be able to take in to work and prepare with the limited facilities available in the office - i.e. a microwave and a kettle. These will again be made up from scratch, and I've got:
  • turkey noodle soup
  • chorizo salad (as shown in the last blog post - I'll have to fry them and make the dressing in advance, of course)
  • Salmon and potato salad
  • spring rolls and Thai salad
The idea is that I'll prepare them at home, but as I would in the office, as a "proof of concept". What I'd like to be able to do is prepare (and then share with you) 5 or 6 week-long lunch menus for two people that come in at under £2 per person per lunch. I'd also like to stay away from having too many sandwiches as, let's face it, they're no fun.

So what do you do for working lunches? Do you have the best canteen in the world, or are you reliant on a local Subway for sustenance? Do you take food in, or buy something at a supermarket branch and make it up during the day? What's the best working lunch you've ever had?