Cupboard love

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.

The cupboards...

The cupboards…

My acres of fridge space…

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.

Dry stuff
flour: plain and bread (white and wholewheat)
rice: basmati and risotto
puy lentils
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)
dried yeast
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
oyster sauce
golden syrup
cocoa powder
bicarbonate of soda
baking powder
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

anchovy fillets
whole plum tomatoes
coconut milk

onions: white and red
lemons (I can’t resist the 7 for £1 deals…I always regret it when they start to go off)
butter: unsalted
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)
Greek yoghurt
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…

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6 Responses to Cupboard love

  1. alison and noel says:

    Happy new year to you too Louise. Ooh looking forward to your frugal foodie inspiration. Noel and I have committed to a regular Riverford organic veg delivery – the highlight of our week! Even welcomed a bag of brussels into our home today now I have discovered I can use them like cabbage in a fantastically tasty and simple Madhur Jaffrey recipe (Green Cabbage Sabzi from her Ultimate Curry Bible) – only 9 ingredients in total and that includes salt and oil. Let me know if you would like the recipe.
    Hopefully see you in March for some Loopiness.

    • Louise says:

      Happy New Year to you too! I would love that recipe; I am going to be living on the likes of potatoes, cabbage, onions and cheese this month! Yes, see you for loopiness soon xx

      • alison and noel says:

        Green Cabbage Sabzi

        1-1.5kg green cabbage (or brussels!)
        1 medium tomato halved and cut into slices
        1 medium onion halved and cut into thin slices
        1 tablespoon of garlic, peeled and crushed
        1 tablespoon of fresh ginger grated
        3/4 tsp ground tumeric
        1 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
        1 1/2 tsp salt (too much I think – I always cut right down)
        4 tablespoons of oil (corn, peanut or olive)
        (I always add about 2 tablespoons of dessicated coconut as well because I like it and it adds another dimension).

        Put all ingredients except oil into a large wok or wide pan.
        Add 120 mls of water – stir to mix and cover well.
        Bring to boil and then turn down to simmer – cook gently for about 10 mins or until cabbage completely wilted and almost cooked.
        Remove the lid, add oil and increase heat to high.
        Stir and cook for 5-6 mins or until all the liquid has evaporated and you are able to stir and fry the cabbage briefly.

        Let me know what you think.


      • Louise says:

        Perfect for my thrift month too since I have everything bar the tomato. Thanks; I’ll let you know how I get on x

      • Louise says:

        Hmm, so a bit turmeric-y for me; did you find that? It was really overwhelming so must have put too much in, or perhaps I’ve discovered something I don’t like! I might try it again but cut that out. Think it would be lovely with just the garlic, ginger, onion and oil. x

  2. alison and noel says:

    Not sure how much the tomato adds – sure I have done it without before. Going to do it tonight with my rather sad looking brussels!

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