Happy New Year! I hope that your festive season, if it was festive, was full of good food and drink, lovely people and no nasty lurgies. As ever, I ate, drank and spent too much and although I have no plans to go on any kind of food diet, hoping that the simple acts of moving more and eating fewer cakes will balance me out, after an autumn where work was as thinly spread as January sunshine I am in distinct need of a financial one. However, in food terms, this doesn’t faze me and, in some ways, it rather intrigues me. Food prices are due to go up massively this year so, rather than being a temporary blip, I sense that making the most of less is going to become part of daily life. And since I hate waste and love the alchemy of creating something extraordinary from the everyday this need to simplify, save and yet innovate is very appealing. This, as many people greater than me have already worked out, is the age of frugal innovation and I, for one, am planning to imbue my life, particularly my cooking life, with a little bit of that spirit starting right now with a month of recipes inspired by my cupboards.
As anyone who reads this blog will know, I divide the required ingredients for recipes into things that you might have in a cupboard/fridge, typical things like flour, oil, milk and eggs and the less typical or perishable, like meat, fruit and vegetables or flavourings (e.g. soy sauce, herbs and, er, pomegranate molasses), that most people, including myself, will have to shop for. But I have never actually sat down and thought about what exactly is in my cupboards when I do this, or what might be in yours; the distinction has always been instinctive not calculated. Obviously there is no way I can try and devise a perfect list, since no two kitchens, or tastes, are the same in terms of size or preferences. But in order to conduct this experiment, of seeing how much I can make from very little, I thought I would start by throwing open my own cupboard doors so you could have some sense of what I store myself.
As you can see below, I have two kitchen cupboards, separated by some shelf space, plus a tiny fridge (see, wasn’t kidding was I?). There are a few bottles on the surface, a bowl of fruit and another bowl with onions but that is all the storage I have. Southfork this is not.
Despite having such a small ranch, I do manage to cram in an awful lot of stuff and that, combined with my proximity to a) Waitrose b) a very good Turkish greengrocer’s and c) a Chinese supermarket means that I am rarely two ingredients short of a picnic. And since this month I plan to find recipes that rely heavily on storage, not shopping, let me share with you what I will be using. I almost always have the following at home; it’s not an exhaustive list, which would bore you senseless, just typical.
flour: plain and bread (white and wholewheat)
rice: basmati and risotto
grains: couscous and bulgur wheat
nuts: almonds, whole and ground, pine nuts and walnuts
sugar: caster, light brown and dark brown
Spices, flavourings and small things
oil: plain (usually sunflower or light olive oil) and something for salads (extra-virgin olive oil or walnut)
salt and pepper (I have sea salt and freshly ground pepper, plus table salt)
ground and whole cinnamon, cloves, cumin and coriander; ground, fresh and stem ginger
mustard: wholegrain and Dijon
vinegar: red or white wine; rice wine and sometimes cider
light soy sauce
Thai fish sauce
bicarbonate of soda
stock cubes/powder: vegetable, chicken, beef
dried and fresh chillies
some kind of alcohol: red or white wine, fino sherry, Marsala, good beer, not-so-good brandy
whole plum tomatoes
onions: white and red
lemons (I can’t resist the 7 for £1 deals…I always regret it when they start to go off)
bacon: smoked streaky
cheese: usually something hard like Cheddar and/or Parmesan, plus sometimes a blue, sometimes a soft goat’s cheese or feta
fresh herbs: depending on the season, basil (from my window ledge), thyme, rosemary and sage (from the balcony)
cream or crème fraîche
coffee: good, strong espresso grind
I am going to stick my neck out now and say that you could probably cook many of the things on this site with the above list and all of them with only a few additions. That means there are tons of interesting meals, including breakfasts and lunches, which can be prepared with a few stored ingredients and a pathetic amount of space for perishables. So, for the next month, I plan to do just that. I’m not going to give myself a budget, or say I won’t buy anything (since I have no interest in getting scurvy and will need to buy fruit and vegetables to add to this) but I am going to post recipes that rely on the basics, both to inspire myself and you, dear reader, to make more from less and save (or, in my case, not spend) in the process. It may even galvanise me to clean out those cupboards…