Thursday, 3 February 2011

Store cupboard 1: A taste of things to come

Auntie Anne's kitchen has a well stocked store cupboard and I don't know what I'd do without it. As long as you have a few key ingredients you can always rustle up a meal at short notice. So I thought I'd do a few posts on what I keep in my store cupboard to give you a helping hand.

Writing about my herbs made me think about what else I keep around that can help me make my cooking more interesting. As more and more of us are trying to save money we're being forced increasingly to buy less meat or go for the cheaper cuts.

Now some cheap cuts have plenty of flavour but in other cases they need help in the taste department. Consider mince. It's cheap and cheerful and extremely versatile but it can be horribly bland, especially if you go for the low fat option. Fat is where meat keeps its flavour (which is why belly pork is so yummy) but it's also really not good for you.

In our house we use a lot of turkey mince because it's very low in fat, relatively cheap and easily available. But it's pretty low on savour too! I use mince for its potential to be the base for a lot of really nice dishes. Think spaghetti bolognese, lasagne, meatballs, chilli, cottage pie. But that means having a good range of herbs and spices available to me.

As you've already read I grow my own herbs and keep pots on the shelf so they are in easy reach but I also have a good selection of dried herbs too.

So what do you need?

Well that depends entirely on what your favourite meals are. If you love curry but hate Italian you're going to need coriander but won't have much use for basil. But if you're like the majority of us and enjoy a range of different cuisines you'll want a varied selection of flavourings.

So where do you start?

Let's assume that you're setting up your kitchen from scratch and you currently have nothing in store. There's a few flavourings that you really need to buy up front. If you really are starting from scratch it can be an expensive business so you need to know what's essential and what can wait.

You will definitely need:
Don't mess around with separate table salt and cooking salt. Buy what's cheap and use it for both. You might like to buy sea salt if you feel the need for iodine but it isn't necessary for your cooking.
Can't have one without the other really. If you can only afford one I'd suggest black peppercorns and a grinder (buy one you can refill). If you add black pepper to white sauce you'll get visible specks, of course, so have a small pot of ground white on hand as well if you can afford it.
If you can only afford one go for a white wine or cider one. Malt's best for chips but it isn't all that great in anything else, like sweet and sour sauce or salad dressing.
A tin of dried mustard powder is a wonderful thing to have. It adds heat and spice to lots of foods and will perk up sad curries or chilli. Don't buy the ready made stuff in a jar. It goes off. And you can always mix a bit of your own if you fancy some on a ham sandwich - the instructions will be on the side of the tin.
OK so you probably have this anyway if you take it in tea or coffee but you'll still need a small bag, even if you take your beverages as they come. It's handy for sweet and sour, freshening salad dressings and some people even put it on tomatoes. (Honest!)

Stage two
Got your first few items? Still got some money left? Let's go for stage two then.
Worcester Sauce
Or Yorkshire relish if you're in that part of the world. Not the thick stuff like ketchup - the thin stuff like vinegar. A dash of this will perk up the most boring of dishes and you must have seen the adverts where they throw it over all kinds of stuff like cheese on toast. A dash in tomato soup does wonders for it.
Tomato ketchup/puree
If you like tomato ketchup buy it and let it earn its keep off the table as well as on. If (like me) you're not exactly a ketchup fan, buy tubes of puree. A good squidge helps the colour of stews no end. It's also a great start for pizza.
Soy sauce
No it isn't the same as Worcester Sauce. It's distinctively Chinese and you can't do Asian food without it. Buy a low salt version if you can.

Stage three
We're getting a real start now! Onto the herbs and spices. Like I said earlier - it depends on what you like to eat. If you really love Mexican food buy chilli powder. If you really love curry buy a curry powder- how hot is up to you - and some ground coriander seed. For Italian fans buy dried oregano and basil. Chinese? Then it's five spice powder and star anise.

You can do that over the space of three weeks so it doesn't break the bank but you'll still be able to make some good tastes from day one.

Moving onwards
After that the world's your oyster. Buy as many as you can afford each week. Even if that's just a single new spice each shopping trip you'll soon see your store cupboard growing.

My suggestions? For the curry fan you'll eventually need black mustard seed, fennel seed, cumin, dried ginger, turmeric, garam masala, cardamom and fenugreek.

Just love aromatic spice? Cinammon, nutmeg (buy whole ones and a grater), allspice and cloves.

Herb fan? Parsley, bay leaves, tarragon (great with chicken) mint, marjoram, sage, rosemary, thyme.

Other great flavours? Celery salt (you can't make a Bloody Mary without it apparently) Carraway. Cayenne pepper. Paprika. Smoked paprika. Garlic powder (for real emergencies when you don't have fresh) Juniper berries. Lemon grass. Anything you particularly like.

Now's also the time to start buying extra vinegars - a good balsamic, red wine, now get your malt for your chips!

Above all - enjoy cooking with all the different flavours and make sure you experiment to find your own style!


  1. I have quite a wide range of herbs and spices in my cupboard and many of them are used with mince as you say:) I don't buy low fat anything as I consider that fat in moderation is actually a good thing - my mum loved fat and amde it to 88 with no physical health problems whatever:) Of course these things are all a personal choice and everyone has their own views on the subject. I shall be using cayenne pepper tonight in a nice healthy kedgeree - it's a fdavourite meal with me but I loathe anything to do with curry so use cayenne instead. Goes beautifully with smoked fish.

  2. Oh how I wish I could afford to eat the full fat versions of food but high cholesterol and a family history of relatively early deaths by heart attack doesn't bode well.

    Auntie Anne