Saturday, 26 February 2011

Store cupboard 2: Easy meals

This time it's mostly tinned stuff and packets

My last post on the store cupboard turned into a bit of a diatribe about herbs and spices and they are all very well but you can't rustle up a quick meal out of nothing but herbs. So I thought this one might be a bit more substantial.

The idea of a storecupboard (well MY idea of a storecupboard) is that it should help you to create good food when you need to. Everyone has those days when they don't fancy what they planned to eat, or they didn't get to the shops or someone turns up unexpectedly and needs to be fed.

That's when the storecupboard comes into play. Some of the things I keep in my cupboard are:

Dried spaghetti and pasta shapes
As long as you've got these, some decent olive oil or butter and your herb selection you can always eat.  Pasta is simple and you can throw almost anything on top of it to make it fancy.  At the least you can boil it, sprinkle olive oil over it and give it a good grinding of black pepper. Anything beyond that is a bonus. Got dried oregano and basil? Chuck them in too. Tail end of some parmesan cheese in the fridge? Grate that over it as well. (And never EVER use that nasty ready-grated stuff in the tubs. It smells of vomit and adds nothing to a meal except unpleasantness.)

Also included in this section are dried noodles. Medium egg noodles are always good and are perfect for under a stir fry of leftover veg.

Basmati is good if you like curries and it's also a good stand-by for most rice dishes. Risotto rice is handy because you can turn practically anything into a risotto. Tin of peas. Browned onion. Mixed leftover veg. Chicken bits. Fresh tomatoes.
Otherwise just plain old long grain will do. 

Tinned tomatoes
Now you're talking. At their simplest you can chuck them onto a couple of slices of toast and give them a good slosh of brown sauce or worcester sauce. But if you've got them and pasta you're made. Simmer a tin of toms with a few Italian herbs and flavours (basil, oregano, few chilli flakes, garlic salt, black pepper) and, if you have them, any of the following: some sliced mushrooms, chopped cooked veg, leftover cooked meat such as ham, olives, anchovies or other fish, handful of prawns, fruit at a pinch, pineapple might work. Give it about 10 minutes or so on a low heat and if the tomatoes are staying too whole give them a bash with a wooden spoon.
Chuck it over cooked pasta. Yummy.

They also brighten up lots of mince-based dishes like cottage pie, chilli, lasagne, bolognese, moussaka etc. It's a great way to hide veg in meals if you have reluctant eaters too.

Baked beans
They're a staple. On toast with a little cheese grilled over the top. Over a baked potato. Used in chilli in place of red kidney beans. Added to mince to bulk it out and make it a little healthier.

Tinned olives can be added to pizza or baked into bread or just served on their own as a nibble if people turn up unexpectedly.

Other tinned veg
Whatever you like really. Some pulses are handy - chick peas, borlotti. You can use them to bulk out other things or as the base for a curry. They take ages to cook from dried so a tin or two is much easier.
Sweetcorn: Tinned sweetcorn is wonderful stuff and unlike a lot of veg it doesn't lose its flavour. Goes into salads, fritata (like an omelette), served on the side of practically any 'meat and two veg' kind of meal, mixed with leftover chicken bits and some mayo for a sandwich filling.
Something fancy is always handy too. I keep artichoke hearts and palm hearts. They make wonderful starters with a bit of virgin olive oil and a hunk of bread. They also go well on pizzas and the Italians also put artichokes in ham sandwiches.

Tinned fish
A tin of tuna, mackerel in some sort of sauce, smoked oysters or mussels, white crab meat, prawns.  Open the tins. Put the contents into a load of small dishes and you have tapas almost straight away. Jug of wine, loaf of bread, tin of olives, bowl of mayo. You're made.

Tinned meat
I don't care what anyone says you can't beat a Spam fritter. But a tin of corned beef is always handy too. Mash it up with some leftover spuds and a bit of fried onion, fry it gently until the mixture browns a bit and you've got corned beef hash.

Extra bits
A couple of pints of "plastic" milk

You know the sort I mean. The stuff in boxes. It lasts for ages and you've got the making of custard (as long as you have custard powder in the cupboard too. I always have). In fact here is a recipe for quick steamed sponge pudding to go with it.

The base for lots of things - not least soda bread, which can be made in about 40 minutes and is so easy you wouldn't believe! But you can also rustle up pancakes as long as you've got an egg and some milk, or buns, or all sorts of stuff. And it's good for thickening soups and sauces.  If you can only run to one bag make it self raising.

Baking powder
You can't make scones without it. Or soda bread. Or quick steamed jam sponge. It's cheap and handy.

Dried yeast
Be brave. Follow the instructions on the back (there's almost always bread instructions on the back of yeast packets) and make some pizza bases. You'll love yourself for it.

Well it goes without saying really doesn't it? And besides - we covered it in storecupboard 1.

Good extra virgin olive oil
If you've been paying attention you'll have noticed olive oil mentioned a couple of times already. There is virtually nothing you can eat that won't be enhanced by a drizzle of good olive oil over the top. (OK - maybe not chocolate cake, but you know what I mean)

Buy in a medium sized jar and keep it in your fridge. Goes really nicely under cheese on toast. Great for sandwiches. Wonderful with a tinned veg as a starter. Egg mayo - retro but yummy. (Boil an egg. Peel it. Slather mayo over it. Sprinkle lightly with cayenne pepper. Serve with brown bread.) Mixed half and half with yoghurt as a cold sauce base.  Add more or less anything you like. Finely chopped onion, curry powder, anchovies, use your imagination.

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