Today is a day for making lists. For standing in front of your freezer and taking inventory. For opening the fridge door to observe your leftovers. It’s a day for browsing cook books – for inspiration not instruction – for thinking forwards and getting your affairs in order. Because tomorrow everything starts again, and it’ll be a good few days before you get the chance to step back and take stock again.
I seem to have made somewhat of a transformation over the past few months. I think I’ve finally become one of those things I thought I’d never be: an adult. Weekends have become a time for being at home, for catching up with each other and the house. My Sundays so far this year have been restorative, an exercise in boosting morale and getting excited about being organised, as sad as that may be. Yesterday we cleared out our box room. I now have a dedicated space for my food props and styling stuff, and the idea is to slowly turn it into a Utility Room/Pantry – a plan I couldn’t be more pleased with. This plan will free up space, find a place for those things that float around the house without a designated home, and it gives me somewhere with shelves and boxes, to be calm and quiet.
These days, I find planning a treat. As I mentioned in 5 Steps to a Happier Kitchen Life, I’ve stocked my cupboards and I have everything I need to make the basis of delicious meals all week – without having to spend loads of cash on a weekly shop. Honestly, a well-stocked store cupboard can really sort you out. The cost of every single meal you prepare at home will start to go down, and paired with a fit-to-bust freezer, soon all you’ll need is a few fresh ingredients to serve up a banquet. It encourages you to cook seasonally and allows those one or two fresh ingredients you have to really shine. A well-stocked store cupboard saves money and it gives you free reign to get creative.
Give it a quick Google and you’ll find there are hundreds of “Store Cupboard Essentials” lists on the internet. Everyone from Jamie Oliver to Mumsnet has their recommendations, and honestly, I think it’s a very personal thing. Each household uses ingredients differently, so I don’t see how one list can fit all. As you cook, you’ll start to gain an idea of what your own personal taste is. If you cook a lot of North African dishes, you’ll need more couscous and sumac, if Asian’s your thing you’ll need to stock up on egg noodles, Szechuan peppercorns and anise. You’ll fashion your own list for must-haves, and that’s what we’re aiming for. For now, this is just a starting point to help you on your way.
A few notes:
– Spices and Herbs Dried Bay is the only green herb you’ll find in my cupboard. I keep small plants on the kitchen windowsill which provide me with coriander, parsley and basil, and I have rosemary in the garden too. I know that isn’t possible for everyone, so while supermarket packets aren’t the most cost-effective or sustainable things in the world, a pack each of rosemary and thyme will serve you well and their woody nature means they have a longer shelf life than most. Freeze your leftovers.
– Olive Oil Buy the most expensive olive oil you can, but use it sparingly. I use vegetable oil or butter for most of my cooking, reserving olive for pasta dishes, salad dressings and roasting vegetables. It should taste so good that it feels like a treat, and it should really make the difference to your dishes.
– Rice Vinegar A lot of lists will have white wine vinegar in place of rice vinegar. Ideally we’d all have both, but if you have to choose, I think rice vinegar is a more versatile investment. Great in Asian dishes, for dipping sauces and pickling liquor, it does the job of white wine vinegar and much more besides. The same can’t be said in reverse.
– Beans This is just down to taste. Tinned beans can be anything from Borlotti to Chickpeas, and you’ll work out your own favourites. In my household we use a lot of Cannellini and Black Eyed Beans. They go a long way and they’re extremely cheap.
– Anchovies, Capers & Redcurrant Jelly These last items on my list are great for packing in flavour and are worth a look even if they don’t seem necessary. They seem costly upfront but they last for ages. Lots of people think they hate anchovies, but chopped and added to dressings and sauces, they add a layer of umami that’s hard to find elsewhere, plus they’ll make a whole meal simply by lying them on top of garlic-rubbed toast. This works similarly for capers in salads and pasta sauces. Redcurrant jelly is perfect to stir into gravy or to glaze meat with.
Further reading on this subject:
For a general philosophy of eating what you have, and making use of seasonal ingredients – try Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries. For example, on this day in his book he ate pork chops with chard, topped with a herb butter he made from fridge-dwelling odds and ends. Well worth a look, and if you’re anything like me – a game-changer.
A few years ago I was given Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace. I’m currently rereading chapters like “How to Boil Water” and “How to Have Balance” with added interest. You’ll look at your kitchen, ingredients and equipment differently after reading this.
I hope this list helps. These ingredients have come to be the ones I live by and rely on, and they haven’t let me down yet. Here’s to a tastier 2015! Any thoughts or questions? Leave them down in the comments or catch me over on Twitter @WhipUntilFluffy.