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.
(click image to download pdf version)
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.
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.
When Matt and I started looking for a house to buy or where to build ours, we really only had one stipulation. We were spoilt with the flat we shared, although technically a “studio”, its lack of doors was made up for with high ceilings, a split level and a large, modern kitchen – something pretty unusual for a city-centre property. We had workspace for miles, storage enough for two cook’s wants and needs, and room to swing the proverbial cat. So when we decided to buy our own place, we agreed on one thing: the kitchen in the new place must be large. It’s where we spend most of our time, so it makes sense. Since Edmonton kitchen renovation pros helped us with the process of planning and designing the results have been very promising.
But it turns out, even when you only have one box to tick, sometimes compromise is necessary. Even after four seasons of Kirsty and Phil under my belt I wasn’t prepared to give up my one sticking point, but somehow, when Matt and I viewed our now-home it just felt like the right place for us – despite it’s piddly kitchen space. To be quite fair, there wasn’t a lot in the house that didn’t need transforming, and we took it all in our stride. While the prep space was set to be small, the kitchen opened out into a huge dining room which now houses an industrial style table and benches, big enough to seat 12 comfortably – 14 at a push. As long as we had that room for people to congregate – to kick back and relax while something bubbled on the hob – we’d be content. And so the contracts were signed, the money changed hands and the building began.
Still a bit of painting to do…
When I look at the “Before” pictures, I find it hard to even see the bare bones of it in what we have now. Work on the kitchen started in early September 2013, and finished mid-October. The breakfast bar was taken out first, followed by the cabinets, plumbing and old appliances, and actually, following an unplanned central heating system replacement and a total rewire, nothing but walls remained.
We had a reasonable budget, but we still decided to go with IKEA. The units are so versatile and we did loads of research online to dress it up and get just what we wanted from the basics. We ordered custom worktops in Iroko from WoodWorktops.com, which were then cut to size by our builders. We sanded and stained them ourselves, and I think they play a big part in making our kitchen look much more custom than it might’ve. On our honeymoon in Portland, we found some ornate doorknobs to add something else a little bit different from the norm. We went without cabinets up-top, because we thought what it offered in storage wasn’t enough to counteract the amount it would make the space appear smaller. Instead, we tiled up to the ceiling on the wall behind the cooker and ordered extra worktop wood to have thick shelves cut, held up by cheap, plain brackets that could hold large weights.
The open shelves became home to all our glassware, crockery and some frequently used dried herbs and spices. This was something we agreed on from the start and pulled inspiration from loads of different places – from cookery programmes on telly to Pinterest and blogs. I also found my backlog of Living Etc magazines a real source of inspiration during the whole renovation. The kind of things in those magazines are usually totally out of my price range (it’s a how the other half live kind of thing) but I jotted ideas down and then trawled the web for cheaper alternatives or things we could do ourselves.
We chose to allocate big sums of money for our appliances – nothing crazy, but a little more than we perhaps needed to, because we wanted quality. I’ve not regretted that once. A good quality fridge-freezer and oven are the kind of things that bring us joy – as sad as that may be – and we both happily sacrificed meals out or a holiday, or more money for the rest of the house, because we use them all the time. We bought a range-style oven by Belling, which gave us five hobs, two ovens and a grill. We bought a double fridge-freezer from Samsung with water and ice dispensers in the door. A slim-fit dishwasher straight from IKEA was a necessity too. Finally, a farm-style square sink and pressure washer tap to make washing up quick and painless.
Having a kitchen island for the past three years meant we were really loath to give it up. That one-step triangle between work-space, hob and sink was something we’d both grown used to and we didn’t want to sacrifice it, even if the alcove gap between kitchen and dining room wasn’t quite wide enough to make it comfortable. We tried repeatedly to work out a way to fit a standard size island in but it just wasn’t happening. We needed something narrower, so instead we decided to fashion our own island out of IKEA cabinets – cheap, easy enough and great for storage. It’s only 80cm wide, but that’s more than enough space to stand at. We topped and backed it with the remaining worktop wood, with an overhang to turn it into a little bar one of at can sit at if the other is cooking. It’s not the most solid or sleek thing in the world, but it’s practical, and I think it looks pretty sweet too. Once the island was fitted, the beloved one-step triangle was back, and everything was within arms reach to prepare a meal.
This kitchen really is a dream to cook in because of the professional help from kkcentre.co.uk. There are a couple of things I had to learn – clean up as you go, the key, but once I developed new habits in place of old, I found everything within reach, great light and a real “heart of the home” feel. You face it as you come into the house, there are no walls or doors obscuring it from the front door, so you really do enter straight into it, so it always feels busy and welcoming.
Whether you’ve gutted your space and you’re starting from scratch, or you want to adapt a rented kitchen to suit your needs, these will be worth bearing in mind:
1. Keep it practical
Fundamentally, you need your kitchen to work for you. If you’re here at Whip Until Fluffy, the chances are that you like to cook, or at least you’d like to start. Unless you use your oven for storage (Hello Carrie Bradshaw), then workability should be at the top of your priority list. Keep the kitchen work triangle in mind. This can be your own version – for example, I adapted that model from oven, fridge and sink to be more like workspace, oven and sink – that’s just what works for me, but nothing is more than one step away and it works really well when you’re in the zone, getting stuff done.
Try not to be fooled by super-fancy technology or gadgets – know yourself and know what you’ll use. Kitchen real-estate value is high – don’t go wasting it. Don’t adapt your kitchen design because you see something and think “My life would be so much better with one of those”. Unless, of course, it would. This ties in with point number four.
2. Modern doesn’t necessarily mean sterile
When we decided on an IKEA kitchen, I was worried it wouldn’t look right. I was worried it would be flimsy, that it might look plastic-y and cheap. We learnt really quickly that to avoid that lightweight, sterile look a lot of modern kitchens have, you don’t need to spend a lot of cash – you just need to be inventive. Our open shelving livens things up a bit – the contents of the shelves, as long as they’re tidy and organised, add a bit of colour and interest to the room. It’s also about some of the things I mentioned earlier – splashing out on different worktops avoids that matchy-matchy look, and a few added accessories like a lamp or antique door handles can add a richer, more lived-in quality. Our spotlights are great but they’re very bright. The angle-poise lamp we clipped on to the shelves is great for lighting a specific area and gives the room more of a soft, yellow glow, great for cooking in the evenings – especially in the winter.
3. Use colour to make it yours
Small spaces can be hard to make your own. Fill it up with trinkets and you risk it looking cluttered, and kitchen furniture and appliances tend to come in a bland colour palette. Personally, we like to keep walls and furniture to similar tones (we’ve done this throughout the house – with a few feature walls), but we’ve injected a bit of personality into the kitchen by using colour in smaller pieces. Our Le Creuset collection is all Volcanic, providing lovely pops of bright orange all over the room, and then we’ve mixed in smaller accents in the form of our Kitchen-Aid, which is Boysenberry, and some lovely vintage tea, coffee and sugar canisters in pale green. Cheap, bright utensils in clashing colours really aren’t for me, but little pops that compliment each other have really helped to give the room a bit of personality. We’ve kept the trinkets to a minimum but small touches like the carved wooden wine holder, an antique thermometer on the side of the fridge and the odd piece of decorative crockery are subtle nods to who we are and what we like, without dominating the room and taking up valuable space.
4. Be ruthless
I asked Matt what his advice would be to anyone building a kitchen. He had just as much, if not much more input into planning ours than I did, and his number one tip was “don’t be afraid to downsize”. When we moved from our flat we packed six large boxes of kitchen stuff. We had to unpack slowly due to the ongoing work, but we’ve been here for nearly 18 months and there are still three boxes in garage which we haven’t even touched. The best bit? I have no idea what can be in them, even though I clearly thought everything was essential when I moved. If you don’t use it on a regular basis, chances are you don’t need it. This goes for any smaller gadgets you have out on your worktop, too. If you don’t use it once a week, put it away.
If you’re redesigning from a kitchen that came before, remember that just because you think it belongs in the kitchen doesn’t mean it does. This works on a bigger scale, like a washing machine for example. Can you find an alternative space for it? Do it. Anything that doesn’t link directly to food and food prep, try to move it out. I put my washer/dryer in under the stairs and it’s so much more practical – I can do laundry while Matt’s in the kitchen without getting in his way and vice-versa, plus there’s a door in the way to help block noise.
So, that’s the story. We’re still adapting, and no doubt things will change for us over the next few years, but at the moment, I’m happy. It’s taken a lot of work and there are a few unfinished bits (anyone spot that unpainted pipe cover in the corner?) but it’s getting there.
As for renovation inspiration, I have so many recommendations. I decided it was best to put together a whole separate post to share my favourite links. Please feel free to share any thoughts, ideas or questions down in the comments or over on Twitter @WhipUntilFluffy. I hope this has helped anyone thinking of doing it themselves.
I spoke a bit last year about how to learn “the basics”. Both online and in real life, I seem to be asked often about how I cook, well, and on a regular basis. But what do I need? You ask. What are your staples? Basically, most of you (and my offline friends) want to know how to do the simple stuff.
At the start of last year, I talked you through my philosophy of how to eat well. Today, I want to talk to you not so much about cooking, as preparation. Tools, tricks, habits to garner better results from your life in the kitchen. These are some simple tips I’ve picked up over the years. This post has been sitting in my drafts for about 8 months, and I’ve been adding bits and pieces as I go, trying to share only the really valuable tips. Some of them may seem like common sense, but it’s alarming how many people tend to ignore something so obvious – myself included of course.
In case you’re planning a kitchen renovation yourself, I thought I’d put together a few tips I picked up along the way, if the project is to big for you to tackle on your own, Boise Kitchen Remodel has a great team of contractors for those of you living in Idaho!. Whether you’ve gutted your space and you’re starting from scratch, or you want to adapt a rented kitchen to suit your needs,
I hope these ideas help, after all – the way I see it, I’ve learnt the hard way so that you don’t have to.
1. Cook in a clean kitchen
Now I understand that this might not always be an option. You might get home late from work, tired and grouchy, see the dishes piled up in the sink and think no thanks, I’ll have an oven pizza. The last thing you’ll want to do is wipe down the surfaces, sharpen your knife and fasten your pinny at the back. But, where possible, it’s a great idea to take a few minutes out to prepare your space before you cook. Besides, you have these wonderful tips you can get from kitchenhome.co.uk on how to expedite the cleaning. A grubby, cluttered kitchen will stress you out, throw off your timings and put you at risk of burning yourself or damaging your crockery if you’re fighting for space. Grab a cloth and spend just five minutes decluttering your prep area and, trust me, your experience will improve tenfold. You might even enjoy yourself.
Of course, this’ll work even better if you clean as you go, and spend ten minutes after dinner every night doing dishes and wiping down the hob. But after a couple of hours slaving over a hot stove and a belly full of good food, that’s not always realistic. Cleaning as you go is beyond valuable if you have an open plan kitchen like mine. No one wants to arrive to see their hostess whisking furiously in a cloud of icing sugar with dirty pots covering every surface, and there’s no door to hide behind. Simple adjustments like using a mixing bowl as a make-shift bin to keep your surfaces clean as you prep can make a world of difference. It’s a space saver and it’ll fence in the amount of mess you can make. I’ve done my best to get into these habits after renovating my kitchen and it’s really improved the time I spend cooking and baking.
2. Build up that store cupboard
This is more about cost than anything else. Without doubt, you’re less inclined to play around in the kitchen if each recipe you attempt costs £15 minimum. Experimenting can be expensive – and in January, money is tight. If you do have the cash, just one big shopping trip will sort you out – spend a morning wherever you usually buy your groceries stocking up on dried goods and herbs. Follow that with a trip to your local Asian supermarket for cheap sauces and spices in bulk packs. Health food stores are also great for large bags of pulses and grains – if you’re in Leeds, try Millie’s for things like couscous, pearl barley, corn kernels and lentils. It can be a big outlay at first, but it means you only need fresh ingredients to create an awesome meal.
If your budget doesn’t stretch, add bits and pieces in small amounts to your weekly shops. Things will soon build up, and with a full store cupboard you can get creative anytime. Use my listas a starting point. You’ll also start to learn a lot more about marrying flavours and what tastes good with what. Over the last year or so, I’ve come to rely on the fact that I can raid my cupboard and freezer anytime and be set for a day or two if needs be. Speaking of which… Worried about your cutting board? If you are worried about selecting the right amazon mineral oil, product labeled as “white mineral oil” are considered food safe, as these are refined to a certain degree past other oils.
3. Use your freezer (and not just for chicken nuggets)
For years my freezer was the place where unidentifiable liquids and pieces of meat went to die. In our old flat, the freezer drawers were all but frosted closed: loose spinach leaves lying brittle and sorry for themselves, old chicken breasts shrivelled with freezer-burn. These days, I run a tight ship. Number one, my new freezer is frost-less and it’s BRILLIANT. It’s also full height so it’s easy to keep track of what’s in it, much less chance of something slipping by, unnoticed for months. Number two, I am very organised about it. I have regular sort outs and I keep an inventory stuck to the door. When I use or add things, I delete or add them to the list accordingly. It’s sounds a bit obsessive, but trust me, it’s a good system. I love a system.
Knowing what you’ve got in the freezer makes you more inclined to base your meals around what you already have, instead of buying new. This is great because it cuts down on waste, and it saves you money. Outside of pizzas, peas and ice cream, there are a great many things you can put in your freezer. Some of my favourites are berries, pastry, cookie dough, bread, spinach, herbs and chicken bones. Take a look at this Lifehacker infographic about shelf-life for a bit more info. For example: Matt and I never get through a whole loaf, but we love having sourdough bread around. When we buy it, I slice half straight away and put it straight in the freezer, and toast it straight from frozen in the mornings. Also, when do you ever use a whole packet of fresh rosemary or coriander? Chop herbs, add water and freeze in ice-cube moulds to add to stocks and sauces. Save your chicken carcasses and freeze them until you have four or five to make a stock from. Pinterest is a breeding ground for freezer talk, have a look on there for inspiration – make sure you follow my boards while you’re there!
At the supermarket I always check the reduced section for cuts of meat or fish – usually their used-by dates are fast approaching and that’s why they’re discounted, but I just take them home and whack them straight in the freezer to call upon when needed. You can make massive savings this way and get some really lovely cuts. Taking advantage of offers on meat is also a really cost effective way to fill your freezer. Finally, I’m really into freezing leftovers after I cook too much, which happens a lot, instead of living off them for days at a time. I’m rubbish at eating the same meal twice so freezing works well for me – I just make sure I label everything clearly with names and dates, and add it to my list so I don’t forget it’s there.
4. Cook from scratch
Over the last two or three years I’ve managed to cut out almost 100% of processed foods from my kitchen. The weird thing? It was kinda easy. It started small, I wanted to learn a few basic recipes – things like how to make an easy pasta sauce, a Béarnaise to eat with steak or a simple custard for an apple crumble. I wanted to learn basic skills, like how to fry safely and cleanly at home, how to steam and chargrill and all that stuff. Gradually, I started to realise that my new recipes weren’t all the effort and money I’d expected. Once I had them down after a few goes, they were really quick, they tasted better and they actually cost less than something prepackaged.
I also found it really easy to get my five a day all of a sudden. Knowing what goes into your food doesn’t guarantee a healthy diet, of course, but it does help you learn a lot about how your body reacts to things and factors like seasonality stop being a mystery and start to define how you pick your meals. It also ups your enthusiasm for high quality, basic ingredients. Since then I’ve learnt that you can eat like a prince on cheap, common ingredients like lentils or chopped tomatoes, and even from someone who relies on at least one burger a week – the amount of sugar and additives in a lot of shop-bought dishes makes me turn my nose up. Cutting out processed foods sent me on a real path to finding my way in the kitchen. Sure, I liked to cook before that, but this level of enthusiasm was all new. Skills are easily picked up and transferable, so making one dish could lead to five more – opening the door to a whole new culinary repertoire.
5. Create in bulk
Sometimes, inspiration just isn’t there.And you can’t force it. Other days, however, the kitchen is the only place I want to be. On a quiet, rainy day, with a sunbeam or two peaking through the window, I can stand at the hob for hours on end making stock, flavouring oils or roasting veg. It took me a while to realise, but those days don’t have to be wasted on making cupcakes for the sake of it, or a massive lavish dinner for your other half – although sometimes it’s nice to do that. Those days can be spent stocking your cupboards, fridge and freezer for the days ahead. One of my favourite things to do is caramelise onions. Pretty sad, right? I know, but there’s something about it – watching those chunky, sharp slices turn from white to translucent, all the way through to brown – picking up a sickly sweetness on its way that’ll add oomph to any gravy or sauce you chuck them into. I do this in bulk sometimes, at the start of the week, and keep a box in the fridge.
I also love to roast sweet peppers, sprinkled with rosemary and garlic and left to sizzle in a hot oven. Keep them in the fridge, or in a jar of oil to preserve them for longer, and add them to sandwiches or serve with roasted sausages and slices of halloumi for an easy mid-week meal. I’ll also buy olive oil on offer and stuff the bottles with garlic, peppercorns and rosemary, or hot birdseye chillis – shove them to the back of a shelf and let them infuse for a few months. You can also make a batch of your favourite cookie dough, roll it into balls and pop each portion in a ziplock bag. Pull them out one at a time and cook on a baking tray in a 200º oven straight from the freezer – satisfaction in minutes! Stocks, soups and ragus can bubble away on the stove all afternoon and then be portioned out into tubs or bags for the freezer, too – then when you hit a busy patch, or you’re stumped for cash, you have an easy, stress-free solution.
So there you have it. That’s what I’ve learnt. I hope these ideas help, and I hope I can share more with you as I pick up more skills. Do you have your own tips for staying chirpy in the kitchen? If so, tweet them at me @whipuntilfluffy or share them down in the comments. Thanks for reading!
Lil | Leeds | Big Eater
Hey, I'm Lil. I'm a freelance food and drink consultant living in Leeds, West Yorkshire. My life revolves around my next meal, and this is where I come to talk about it.
Whip Until Fluffy is also where I share my recipes and practice my styling & photography skills. I'm a new mum to twin girls Nina and Ada, so there'll be a bit of parenting chat, plus a good ol' ramble about things I like and places I visit.
For now, take a look around, but if you fancy a chat you can find more of me via the channels below.