Sunday, 28 April 2013

Pure Indulgence 15p

Mandarin & Pineapple Meringue
Probably not the most attractive looking dessert you've ever seen, but it may well be one of the most indulgent, and certainly calorific, that you are likely to have. Best of all (as long as you are sensible and restrained, and not greedy little piggies like we were) it serves 12 making it perfect for a dinner party or celebration (piping the meringue would pretty it up no end -I liked the random chaos of just splodging it on, besides, my piping bag has gone awol) and brings the cost in at 15p per portion.

I've been meaning to post this up all week but life just sort of ran away with me. This is the dessert I made when my step-daughter and her husband visited last weekend. As they had promised to bring beer and pizza (rare treats), it was only fair that I provided pudding, and as I'd got quite a stash of egg whites in the freezer, meringue was the obvious choice.

I think I may have mentioned before, my hubby detests eggs whites on fried eggs and as he's rather partial to egg on toast I collect far more than my fair share of egg whites. I am on a permanant mission to discover new and interesting ways to use them (suggestions very welcome). Thankfully they freeze very well.
A quick rumage through my cupboards revealed a tin of mandarins and a tin of pineapple chunks, maybe not my prefered choice, but they'd do and step-daughter promised me she'd pick up some double cream. It was all coming together nicely.

Mandarin and Pineapple Indulgence

All prices rounded to the nearest penny

6 egg whites 24p* (Aldi 15 eggs £1.35)
300g sugar 26p (Aldi 1kg 85p)
1 can pineapple chunks, drained 20p (Morrison's Savers 20p)
1 can broken mandarin segments 23p (Morrison's Savers 23p)
20g lemon curd 1p (411g Morrison's Savers 22p)
300ml pot double cream 85p (Aldi 85p)
1 tablespoon Cornflour 1p (Aldi 400g 55p)
Total cost £1.80     Serves 12 at 15p per portion

* I've costed the egg whites as half an egg each as I'd already used the yolk.

Pre heat oven to gas mark 2 (150C)

Whip egg whites until light and fluffy then gradually stir in the sugar and continue to whisk until thick and glossy and forming stiff peaks. Stir in cornflour.
Spoon or pipe mixture onto a baking tray lined with a sheet of greaseproof paper. I used a circular shape for simplicity but you could use any I suppose. When you have your circle about an inch thick, pipe or spoon extra dollops (that's a technical term, don't ya know) around the edge creating a central well for the fruit and cream once it's cooked.
Bake on a low shelf at gas mark 2 (150C) for one hour, the turn down the heat to gas mark 1(140C) for a further 2 hours. This gives you a meringue that is a lovely golden colour, crisp on the outside but still slightly gooey in the middle. If you prefer yours softer or crunchier just adjust the timings.

Once baked, turn off the oven and LEAVE IN OVEN to cool. This helps to reduce cracking. I forgot, as you can probably tell from the picture.

When completely cool, whip your cream until it forms soft peaks and gently stir through the lemon curd. Spoon the cream and fruit into the meringue casing in as pretty or haphazzard way as you prefer.
It went down very well, and we still have quite a bit in the freezer all portioned up but I'm trying to forget it's there. Tasty it may be, innocent it isn't!

You could, of course, use any fruit. I just used what I had in my cupboards as it was all done on rather short notice but I think it would work well with most things. I fancy raspberries, although if I make it again I'll probably make much less of it, it's just too much of  a temptation ;)

Friday, 5 April 2013

Thank You For Your Concern, It Means a Lot

Over the last few weeks I've become increasingly aware that many people are concerned about how we are managing. Some have been people who read this blog and have heard about the changes hitting us financially; others have been family who have seen behind the smiles designed to keep my worries from them; some have been friends who have read between the cheerful lines I put on facebook, or recognised that edge in my voice that says 'I don't really want to talk about it but I'm almost ready to scream'.
People generally react in one of two ways, either there is an almost imperceptible nod of recognition as they see in my eyes the same haunted look that stares back from the bathroom mirror each morning, (just before they launch into tales of having dry cream crackers for tea or how there is only 18p left on their electric meter, confident they are talking to a kindred spirit) or they ask with deep concern if you've taken advice, and double checked that you're receiving all you are entitled to because they cannot believe that, in this day and age, anyone could be left to struggle so much. I can't believe it either, but this is how it is. Not just for me, but for many. Thousands. Up and down the country there are people, families, who can't afford to live. It's not like it because we're somehow missing out on something we're entitled to but because we are having to pay more and more and more out of the bare minimum we get to live on and, eventually, something has to give.

For those of you fortunate enough to have never experienced having to claim something like Jobseekers Allowance or ESA, when you are first awarded whichever benefit you receive, you get a letter. Somewhere in that letter it will tell you how much little you will be getting each week, followed by the words 'this is the amount the law says you need to live on'. When my husband's war pension went up by the grand sum of £1.26 (or thereabouts) the exact same amount was taken off the small amount of ESA he receives to top up that pension to what the law decrees we can live on. Heaven forbid we might have been £1.26 better off. And yet the cost of living spirals ever upwards. The gap between living and barely existing is getting wider. It isn't only impacting on the unemployed of course, those on low wages are in the same boat, it's just that right now I'm viewing things, albeit unwillingly, from the position of being a dependant of someone ESA.
If you haven't already, read Hunger Hurts by Jack Monroe on her fantastic blog A Girl Called Jack. It was written last summer and, thankfully, life is on the up for her now but for many others this is still an everyday reality. It is a reality that feels like it has no end. A reality where desperation is a constant companion and hunger is always waiting in the wings. For the thousands in the welfare system, it feels the light at the end of the tunnel really is the lights of the oncoming train.
That is how the recent, and the imminent, changes to benefits feel, like we've just been hit by the 9.25 from Waterloo. And the 6.15 from Paddington. And the... well you get the idea.
I'm not saying the benefit system didn't need changing, because it did. It was chaotic and confusing and full of cracks. However what it is being replaced with is doing more harm than good, damaging the poorest and most vulnerable in our society at a time when they are truly on their knees. Despite what certain factions of the media would have us believe (yes, Daily Mail, I mean you, although you are not the only one) the vast majority of people on benefits DO NOT WANT TO BE. Seriously, who in their right mind would live this way by choice? Yes, there are those who abuse the system, just as there are big corporations who avoid paying tax, and politicians who fiddle their expenses, but that does not mean that every big corporation isn't paying their dues or that every M.P is corrupt. I'm tired of being tarred with the 'scrounger' brush. I'm tired of feeling like a second class citizen. I'm glad I can't afford to buy a newspaper because some days, most days just lately it seems, the headlines make me want to cry.

My husband fought for this country, he has worked hard throughout his life, working long hours, taking every scrap overtime to provide for his family. He has paid his taxes and avoided claiming benefits at all costs, even during brief periods of unemployment when he was perfectly entitled to, until he really had no other choice. Now that money the 'law says' we need to live on has been effectively cut by the changes to housing and council tax benefit.

It is taking it's toll. Already we are feeling the pinch and it is only going to get worse. A few days ago I paid this week's rent and this month's instalment of council tax. The council tax was paid, at least in part, by my mum, although she doesn't know it. She sent us a bit of money to 'get ourselves something nice' for Easter. I couldn't think of anything nicer than the peace of mind that comes with knowing I haven't got to worry about it this month. I don't know where I'd have found it from otherwise, but even so it's still left us short. There is no fruit or veg this week, I needed potatoes and toilet rolls. I made decisions like that over and over as I walked dismally around the supermarket, paring back the shopping like never before. I've defrosted the freezer and unplugged it. No point in wasting electricity on it when it's empty anyway.

But I would like to reassure everyone that yes, we are getting everything we can. My husband sat down and went through it all with his employment adviser, who in turn got a nice lady at the CAB to do a benefits check independently for us, just to make sure he hadn't missed anything. I am thankful for your concern, at a time when those on benefits are being slated everywhere I turn, it means a lot to know that some people don't fall for the propaganda, and that some people still care.

WE WILL MANAGE, somehow, because we have no choice. We get up each morning, like everyone else, and do the very best we can.