Store Cupboard Essentials

In many of my recipes I talk about using store cupboard essentials, which are items that I deem to be kitchen cupboard staples, ingredients that can turn the most mundane leftovers into a tasty wholesome family meals and so I thought that it was only right to share with you what these items are.

OLIVE OIL – not only used for frying but also great for making marinades and salad dressings. I never buy pre-made dressings as they tend to go off quickly and can contain many additives, home made dressings can be whipped up with very simple combinations of oil, vinegar or lemon and herbs.

WHITE WINE VINEGAR – as above, it’s great for salad dressings and marinades and can also be used to add acidity to a large range of dishes.

SOY SAUCE, SESAME OIL & HONEY – the holy trinity for any Asian cuisine enthusiasts out there, these three ingredients make a great base for a quick teriyaki sauce and can also be coupled with other ingredients to open up a huge array of Asian inspired recipes.

WORCESTER SAUCE – I believe that this is a traditional English ingredient and I’m not sure of it’s availability worldwide but it is an excellent tool for adding a bit of je ne sais quo to casseroles and a Kung Fu kick to the humble cheese on toast.

RED CHILLIS/ CHILLI FLAKES – an instant flavour hit, chilli is used in many cuisines, fresh red chillies can be cut, deseeded and stored in the freezer but if this sounds like too much effort, dried chilli flakes also make an excellent substitute.

FLOUR – simple flat breads or rotis can be knocked up in minutes with the addition of a bit of salt or sugar, flour can also be used to whip up a white sauce for pasta and to thicken up casseroles.

EGGS – one of the few fresh ingredients that I insist on keeping in stock. Omelettes are a speedy and simple way to use up leftover vegetables and cheese and the humble egg is also a fabulous source of protein.

GARLIC – not much to say here apart from that it’s used in pretty much every dish I cook, also ignore the best before date as it’s pretty obvious if garlic’s off when it changes colour or dries up

TOMATO KETCHUP – yes indeed, believe it or not but many chefs use ketchup as a flavour agent; it can be used in casseroles and stir-fries as an effective sweetener

STOCK CUBES – I always have beef, vegetable and chicken stock cubes in as they are the bases of many sauces, simple gravy can also be made with flour, butter, water and a stock cube. If you make your own stocks you can freeze in ice trays to be use at a later date.

TINNED TOMATOES – one of the most versatile ingredients out there, there’s absolutely no need to buy expensive jars of pasta sauce as the humble tinned tomato can be the base for creating your own.

PASTA/RICE/NOODLES – dried items that have a long shelf life can be used as the carb portion of your meal when you have fresh ingredients to use up.

HERBS – so many herbs to chose from but no need to but them all. Whilst fresh herbs might not go off, they do lose their flavour. Many herbs can be used as substitutes for another, make sure to check out website here before you run out to buy a new jar of something you don’t have. I’d recommend having mixed herbs, paprika and chilli powder in as a start.  You can even create your own dried herbs by drying out leftover fresh herbs.

And that’s it, a rather comprehensive list of almost all imperishable ingredients that can help to make a delicious dish out of pretty much any leftover.

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Fail to plan, plan to fail (the basics of meal planning).

Now I’m certainly no saint, and food (very occasionally) gets thrown away in my house. This tends to happen when I’ve not planned ahead.

Saturday mornings in my house are spent with a cup of tea, a scurrage around the kitchen cupboards to see what perishable items need using up, and some time in front of my computer planning the meals for the week ahead.

This might not be the ideal Saturday morning for many of you, but believe me, a quick 30 minutes of planning will not only reduce your food wastage, but is likely to reduce your food bills as well.

THE BASICS

Little Miss Hubbard…

The first step in my weekly meal planning is to see what ingredients I already have in stock. These ingredients will form the basis of the following weeks meal plans. Perishable items such as fruit and veg are to be used up first, whilst any items that are frozen or have long-shelf lives can be used if they fit into a recipe that incorporates the “must use” perishables.

Planning ahead…

My partner and I have pretty busy lives and our schedules are never the same each week. Sometimes we’ll be home and eating together every night at 7pm, other weeks we’ll only see each other at breakfast. To ensure that this doesn’t result in thrown away food, I check our expected schedules for the week before I plan the weekly shop. This means that I’m not planning additional meals that won’t get eaten, it also takes into account time available which impacts whether I’m cooking up a culinary storm or emptying a tin of beans into a saucepan.

Where to start…

So, mentioned earlier were the perishable items already lurking in the kitchen cupboard, these will be the starting point for the meal plan. The ingredients might include an onion, some potatoes, cheese on it’s use by date etc…so therefore my recipes for the week have to contain these items. How you plan your recipes is up to you, you might have a full database of recipes in your head, be an inventive chef who can knock up a new invention with the available ingredients, or be like me who uses the powers of the internet and a meal planning app.

The meal plan…

To start, I’ll use the above 3 ingredients as a basis for my meal plan. I’ve got potatoes and onions, and I might have some sausages in the freezer, therefore with a few extra ingredients I reckon I can knock up a yummy sausage casserole. What I have will make 4 portions, therefore I can take left-overs for lunch, save them for a night when I haven’t got time to cook, or freeze for a later date.

I’ve now got some cheese to use up, I probably had to buy some tomatoes for my sausage casserole and cheese and tomatoes sound like a pretty tasty base for a pasta bake. I’ve now used up all the perishables that I had in, but probably had to buy some additional ones for the recipes above. Therefore I repeat the same process for the new ingredients and keep repeating until I’ve got a full weeks plan.

Don’t worry if you’re not a confident cook, the fundamentals of meal planning still apply, whether you cook everything from scratch or rely more on sauces and meals that come out of a jar or packet. However, hopefully you’ll find that introducing new recipes into your meal plan will increase your kitchen confidence.

The List…

The final piece of the plan is the shopping list, write down all the ingredients and quantities needed for your weekly meals, don’t forget the weekly essentials and add any snacks that you want for the week ahead, and hey presto, your meal plan is finished and you’re ready for your shop…