Tips for Stocking Your Store Cupboard
I recently moved house (countries in fact), so obviously I couldn’t take my filled store cupboard ingredients over with me. But at the same time, I couldn’t bare to part with a few of my favourites! So I did what any sane home cook would do and managed to find room in my suitcase for Maldon sea salt (I am and always will be an Essex boy), some rather posh mustards and a weird Thai spice mix that I probably will never use.
But it got me thinking that it can be quite daunting to start over again, but also pretty refreshing! So I thought I would share some top tips and recommendations for buying herbs and spices, should you ever find yourself in a similar situation.
1. Avoid dried herbs whenever you can.
Tarragon, thyme, and oregano; they are so easy to grow yourself! You’ll be amazed at how well, for example, rosemary and basil will grow on a window sill as much as a sprawling estate or farm. The fact is fresh herbs liven up a meal and provide incomparable taste, plus they are also very good for you and look pretty :) I always try and keep mint, parsley, and coriander in a glass of water in my fridge.
2. Spices are different, obviously!
Not many people are able to grow their own nutmeg tree (or is it a bush?) or are able to harvest crocus stems for saffron. So whether you like it or not they will almost always come into your pot or bowl from a shop. And that’s okay.
But be warned, spices do go off! Or more accurately, lose their flavour and aromatic quality. So if you’re looking to get involved in cooking, it might be a good plan to bin the lot of them and buy some new fresh ones. The number of times that I have cooked at a friend’s house and asked for the cumin, only to find out that it actually moved house with them several times, and is, in fact, older than their eldest son!! Having a large collection of different coloured spices neatly displayed on a spice rack is not quite the same as having functional cooking spices for flavour :)
3. Don't forget the dried foodstuffs.
it’s important to have a few basics, that won't go off, like pasta and rice - because let’s be honest, most people won’t be making their own pasta. So a bag of pasta shells, farfalle, and some spaghetti or tagliatelle is a must. Having these on hand enables you to make a myriad of dishes; from the simplest bakes with white sauce and cheese, to wonderful carbonara or spaghetti arrabbiata.
And while some of us might make pasta occasionally, (you should definitely give it a go - it’s so bloody easy! Oscar and Jemima’s will soon be giving a quick video guide on just how simple it is!I’d put my life on the fact that most of you don’t have your own paddy field? So stock up on a few bags of rice and keep them either sealed in their original bag, or in an air tight container, once opened. Our go-to's are jasmine rice for everyday use, and arborio for paellas and risottos.
You also want to make sure that you have some couscous on hand, and it’s such a quick and simple dish to cook, by just following the packet instructions. Lentils and pulses keep for ever too and make a great filler for a hearty soup, or as an excellent substitute if you have to entertain an aggressive vegan. Lentils are wonderful nutritionally low in fat, high in protein, folate, phosphorus, fibre and iron.
4. Canned goods are a necessary evil.
Obviously, you (like us), always chooses fresh ingredients over mass-produced packaged items. But sometimes (i.e. always!) time is short and canned goods are just so convenient :) So we recommend lots of tinned tomatoes. They will never go to waste, and can be used for any number of dishes from tomato sauces to gazpacho soup, and even a cheeky Bloody Mary pasta (watch out for the Oscar and Jemima’s recipe coming soon)!
5. Oil, oil, toil and trouble!
Olive oil! Ideally a couple of bottles. One for everyday frying, the other (preferably a superior quality) for dressing salads and for dipping! And remember that vegetable oil has a higher point at which it burns, so always use when cooking stir-fries and curries.
I am a big fan of flavoured oils and they are so easy to make yourself - buy a few small bottles of extra virgin olive oil, add some chopped garlic and rosemary perhaps and voila! A few dried chilies make for great dressings and they look rather pretty in the olive oil bottles on the shelf.
6. And a few more essentials that deserve a mention:
- Tuna - preferably in spring water
- Capers and anchovies.
- Chicken stock - not necessarily in a tin, but cube form is fine!
And never, ever run out of Heinz tomato ketchup! :)
So now that you have a fool-proof checklist of everything you need in your store cupboard, hit the shops, stock up and subscribe to one of our meal plans. Fall in love with cooking and start enjoying delicious and nutritious meals at home.