The Food Challenge

This title has come from a variety of recent ideas I’ve had!  I find that happens, a little ideas forms a bigger one which grows and adapts.  It started off as a freezer challenge eating what’s in the freezer as the freezer was fit to burst.  Given its bulging sides, apparently that will take months (which is a good thing, as that was and is the point of filling it!) and then it turned in to a pantry challenge of using up the tinned and dried goods that were bought and since sat there with just a partial amount used.  Finally it’s turned in to a use up the jars in the fridge challenge.  I think they are breeding in there!  There’s 2 shelves full of bits of mustard or pickle or cranberry sauce and other items I am not too sure as to what they even are!  So combined with my weight loss challenge I’ve set myself for this year, you can see the predicament that we have a bit of a mutation of challenges going on.

Essentially I find myself in a position where I want to step back and assess what we are trying to achieve before my head becomes too full and I give up on it all.  Do you ever get that feeling?  Sometimes it can manifest itself as feeling overwhelmed?  Life is so busy for us all and personally, I feel that without planning, things don’t always happen.

This whole Corona virus thing has got us all thinking too.  I don’t want to be in a position where we have eaten everything down to the bare minimum and end up self isolating for a period of time.  It seems there’s going to be a bit of scaremongering in the next few days, which naturally may result in people panic buying.  Given we are normally stocked up for 3 months plus with food etc, this is probably the worst time this could have happened.  We still have a good amount of food in though, so I am not worried, it’s just typical and shows it’s always good to be prepared, or have a plan A and B at least.  Anyway, I’m not spending time worrying about that until we know more.

Generally, even though we are working our way through what is in stock in the said areas, generally there’s left overs from those and I will reuse them in something else.  Eg if we roast a (raw) chicken for a Sunday lunch, I will reuse left overs in a pie and eat one for another meal, then freeze one, so the pie goes back in the freezer in a differed “state” (ie cooked chicken, not raw) to how it came out, which is fine.  

That takes me to the title of the post, The Food Challenge.  What are we trying to achieve? An organised, prepared, useable stock of short term and long term food items which are adaptable, healthy and budget friendly.  Easy right?  I will do a separate post on supermarkets and why I believe you should have a menu plan, shopping list and shop efficiently to help you lower your outgoings.  Given everything we have in stock, there’s absolutely no reason we should be maxing our grocery budget, or even coming close, for a month or two at least.  For the record, our budget it £300 a month, which is reduced from around £600 from when we first moved in 4 years ago. 

I didn’t choose my words without giving this a fair bit of thought.  

Organised:  this is a task that can be fairly quickly achieved and is tangible.  Physically organising the freezer, fridge and pantry which are they key elements in this challenge, is something I can be getting on with.  It doesn’t stop there though, once they are organised, how do they stay organised and how do we benefit from them being organised?  Keeping an inventory is key here.  That makes this task a little bit more time consuming and if you can get a helping hand to either write the list as you go through the items, or vice versa then that will save you a bit of time.  I’ll set myself aside some time to do this and report back.
Prepared:  this is a reference to a few different things.  I need to be prepared (and organised) with regards to menu planning, writing shopping lists, doing the weekly shop etc.  Also it means preparing ahead, getting up on a morning and taking tea out of the freezer, batch cooking, taking time to prepare meals ahead.
Useable stock:  what is the point of having a tub of quinoia, pearl barley, blue food colouring and eastern spices if I am never going to use them?  Over the years I have been pulled in to advertising, expensive recipes, following the ideal and impulse buying.  Not any more.  Everything we have in stock needs to be useable.  That may mean I have to be inventive with recipes, avoid others, think differently and so on.  That’s fine, bring it on.  I like the idea of having almost a capsule wardrobe pantry, does that make sense?
Short term and long term:  to me, there’s a obvious need to have fresh and non fresh items.  Dried, frozen, pickled, preserved, whatever it may be.  What is the ideal amount and what benefits can we get from both?  Time will tell.
Adaptable:  Something that will not work for us as a family is restrictions.  We eat at 6:30 on an evening, after we have done the jobs outside and caught up with each other.  Sometimes though, something happens, chickens escape, the wind has blown down a fence, the greenhouse takes longer to water and then everything gets shunted along time wise.  Tea needs to go from a 45 minute Aga time to 15 minutes.  Instead of making lasagne with the ragu, I’m going to heat the ragu and throw it on top of some quick cook spaghetti or penne with a garlic bread.  See what I mean?  I may have some dump bags (idea adapted per The Batch Lady slow cooker) that I can use as a stir fry, or to add to longer cook rice or short cook noodles.  So for my family, adaptability is key.  
Healthy:  I guess this speaks for itself.  One thing that was important to us when we moved here was moving to a more healthy lifestyle, food and drink included, where I cook as much as possible from scratch.  That doesn’t mean we won’t eat fatty food or drink red wine, far from it!  It about a balance and as long as the scales tip in favour of the healthy, I’m happy with that.
Budget friendly:  2020 is about minimising our outgoings and I can not see that ever changing.  Why would you want to spend more than you needed to?  For us, it’s to allow us to pay our mortgage off early, other people will have their reasons.  All to the same goal though. 

I told you I had given it some thought 😂.

So over the coming days and weeks I will add updates as to where I am in The Food Challenge journey.  I will share my inventories, subsequent menu plans and shopping lists, where I shop to get them and recipes for making the meals.  Please join us on this journey, we would love to hear how these things work for you guys and learn from how you do things too.  I’m planning on doing a YouTube video or two on this for anyone who is interested – I will let you know when it’s ready.

In the mean time, I’m off to start the inventory lists, which will inevitably result in a cleaning session too!  I’ll grab some pics of before and after.

Pantry special

Pantry special!! Some time last month I started harping on about the pantry.  After much deliberation, I decided to go with plastic containers for my pantry over Kilner Jars.  Firstly, my children help with a lot in the kitchen (my kids are 9 and 6 for those who don’t know) and glass, kids and an extremely hardwearing farmhouse tiled floor are not a great combination.  Secondly, the Kilner jars were just too expensive to even make a start on.  We do already have a few Kilner jars but I think I would like to use these for the homebrew alcohol that we’re trying out.  They look very pretty lined up and the colours of the fruit in the alcohol do them justice.  I researched online for the plastic tuppawear type boxes, yes I am that sad, and settled on Tesco’s Klipfresh.  I have ‘free’ next day delivery with Tesco so they were ordered and turned up as expected, plonked in the greenhouse by our kind postman.
Now, they aren’t cheap either.  I do however manage to easy my conscience with that knowing that they are an investment (I can hear my husband’s comments in my head as I type this).  I think they are an investment anyway.  Remember my comment about flies a few weeks ago?  Well these containers keep their contents fly and bug free (think weevels in flour) and moisture free too.  If items that are decanted have a specific cooking time, I will take a photo of the instructions but to be fair, I don’t tend to follow packet instructions when using the Aga.
Here’s what the pantry looked like, unedited, on the day that I ordered the containers. 
I spent a long time, with the help of my daughter, sorting the pantry out so that it now looks like this.
Anything that was open in terms of cereal, flour, sugars etc, were decanted into a container of suitable size and a label on to remind us what it was.  If an item was not open, it was stored with other like items for when it was needed.  I did notice the self-raising flour was coming to its use by date and given that we now have a freezer with lots of space in it, it would be criminal not to bake some cakes and freeze them sliced ready for unexpected guests and packed lunches, wouldn’t it now? So that’s on the cards for the weekend.
Overall I am rather pleased with how it turned out.

Happy Autumn

I’ve had to change my morning routine round to suit the change in season.  It’s too dark when I go out at 5:50am to let the poultry out, or even to feed the horses in the field.  So I complete my morning jobs that are to be done in the big barn and then head back in the house for breakfast and to wake the kids.  Before we leave for school and work, we go back out in our muckers and farm coats and feed the horses in the field and let the poultry out then take the dogs up the lane to stretch their legs.  It’s working well though I do notice the later in to the week we get, the harder it is for us all to get up, even though we ensure to go to bed in good time.  Slowly, things come together.  They do fall apart again, when I forget to get the meat out for tea, or haven’t prepared the lunches due to being busy elsewhere and it slipping from my mind, but for the most part it’s going in the right direction.

I spent part of last night on the phone to a friend in need instead of doing what I had intended to do, which was clean out and organise the kitchen cupboards.  So tonight I plan on getting on with that for an hour or so.  The cupboards have turned in to a bit of a dumping ground for any papers and odds and ends that inevitably end up on the kitchen table and need to be put somewhere in a hurry before a meal is served out.  They fill up surprisingly quickly!
Not only that, but a major learning curve of living where we do is flies!  I’ve never seen so many.  They duplicate within the hour, I’m sure!  So ensuring food is cooked and covered or cooked, cooled and put in an air tight container and stored in the fridge or pantry is high up on the list of priorities in the kitchen.  I know this is good practice anyway but it was never an issue previously if I left the cakes or bread on the top to cool without a tea towel or such over them.  I don’t have many more air tight containers or storage boxes so I am going to have a look on Lakeland etc and see what they have on a budget.
I’m excited to report – earlier in the year, I tried one of my first experiments and planted a bag of old potatoes that were too old to eat, directly into one of my muck heaps (without the bag!).  The muck heap was a pain as the previous owner had left all sorts of junk in it that shouldn’t have been in a compost bin.  At the time we didn’t know this until I started putting new manure (from our horses) on top of it.  By then it was too late, I wasn’t digging through it all again so I decided to try the potatoes and if it failed I’d just leave it all to rot.  I’m pleased to say it didn’t fail!  We harvested this little lot which I’m really pleased with, given that I’d prepared for lots of foliage from the manure and no potato production.  We had some of them with a slow cooked pork joint and veg from our veg box delivery and they were delicious.  I’m going to try pumpkins too next year
I also harvested a good amount of potatoes that were put in later than suggested and they turned out ok too.  So we have plenty of these for the next month maybe.

More additions! Animals and veg!

I would like to introduce you to our very own smallholding chicks.  Now we’ve had chicks before and grown and eaten some however, these are different!  They were eggs from our own hens which were fertilised by our own cockerel.  The eggs we’ve had before we’ve bought in.  So we have been doing a merry dance in achieving (well we didn’t actually do much!) our own home raised chicks.  These guys were incubated as we don’t have a broody hen and we have 12 all together of 20 eggs.  Considering we weren’t even sure Big Red was having any luck, this is a huge success! 
I had my first sungold tomato fresh off the vine and it was delicious.  We’re harvesting strawberries every few days and the raspberries are showing their glowing red faces.  The currants are still trying to develop before the birds take them and I have a feeling this one will be a losing battle this year.  Fruit cages next year I think.
The local supermarket had iceberg lettuces on offer so I bought a load in for the hens and we tied them up to keep the hens entertained.  The rescue girls weren’t interested at all but the old ones went through 2 in no time.  I have been told hens love natural yoghurt and it’s good for them so I will be getting them a tub of that to try soon. 
As planned, this weekend we harvested some Elderflowers and I set about making cordial.  It was my first attempt and I must say I was very impressed.  It tastes very refreshing.  It will take some time to get used to it over supermarket drinks (squash) for the kids as they are so used to the sugar, sadly.  Although Elderflower cordial has sugar in it, I’m sure it’s 100% better for you than every day squash.
When we went to the farmers auction on Saturday, we had a great time and learnt a lot.  We came away with 12 Jersey Giant fertile eggs which will be going in the incubator tonight or tomorrow (we have 1 eggs left in there which I don’t think is going to hatch), a Buff Orpington cockerel (now called Henry VIII) which we’ve been looking for one for a while and 3 brown hens for laying.  They are young healthy birds and have fit right in with Big Red’s flock.
At the farmers auction we enjoyed some home made pies, sausage rolls and some rather poor sausage buns.  The home made stuff was fab, the sausage bun was cheap and tasteless.  You live and learn.
Finally I managed to give the pantry a good sort out so we know where everything is and the shelves are nice and clean, ready for the strawberry jam I’m making tonight with out 1kg of strawberries harvested yesterday.  YUM.

Chicks a couple of days old.
Apologies for the blurry pic, this is the auction about to start (eggs in this room).

Another cheeky face enjoying a steak pie.  My everything ❤
Our selection from the farmers auction.  Girls are in the washing basket and cockerel in the Port a Pet

Cheeky, how did she get in here.  Also my everything ❤

Seconds old 🙂

One of the new brown hens.  Clipping wings before putting out with the other girls and Big Red.
Elderflower cordial being made

My first sungold tomato!  In fact, my first EVER tomato!

Rescue girls wondering what on earth the green ball is 😀
Bored by the green ball

Strawberries are coming thick and fast.  There runners are too!
Spot the raspberry?

Our old faithful hens who we brought with us that laid the eggs which are now the chicks.  Big Red in the top next to the tree.

The new chicks at 1-2 days old

Meet Henry VIII the Buff Orpington cockerel (and my husband Steven :D)