Store Cupboard Delights
I think lockdown has told us all that our grandparents’ policy concerning ‘best before dates’ was probably the best i.e. “give it a sniff, if it smells alright, it’s probably still fine to eat.” It can be hard, however, to be inventive with the ingredients that are usually left to linger at the back of the cupboard, but it is certainly not impossible.
Forget flour-free cakes – here are some very simple ideas to help rustle up tasty, quick suppers and snacks.
Chick peas Fennel Butter beans
To begin with, pulses are a great staple – cheap, filling and surprisingly versatile.
Drizzle with a little oil, place on non-stick baking tray and roast in oven for about 20-25 mins at 200°c. Remove when starting to get crispy; pat off any excess oil and sprinkle over cumin, cayenne, cajun seasoning or simply paprika.
A terrific side dish for Mexican feasts, or fabulous cold on salads the next day.
Gently sauté chopped onions, garlic, mushrooms and peppers in butter on the hob. Drain the butter beans and add with carrot (slivered, using basic peeler, or spiraliser) spinach (rinsed) and perhaps some sweetcorn. Add sauce using chopped tomatoes, tomato puree or even tomato juice. Turmeric, cumin and parsley add a wonderful, delicate spiced flavour.
Bored of mashed potato? Steam cauliflower florettes until tender and combine with butter beans (or haricot, or cannellini beans) in a food processor adding a touch of nutmeg, teaspoon of Dijon mustard, a splash of milk and knob of butter – gently heat through on the hob and serve.
Another alternative to standard mash is to combine potato with pureed sweetcorn. This can be an appetizing topping for vegetable or fish-based gratins in cheese or white sauce.
Any white bean (butter, cannellini, haricot) can also be mashed with vegetables such as cauliflower or mushrooms as a basis for vegetarian meatballs. Search online – recipes can easily be adapted to use what ingredients you have.
Not just for toast! They can be added to vegetarian stews and chilli-non-carnes. You can always drain some of the sauce from the beans before use.
It is best to add herbs and spices – for stews try paprika, thyme, garlic, parsley and pepper. For a surprising, but scrumptious addition to a baked potato, bring the beans to life with a dash of cumin, chilli, balsamic vinegar and a pinch of brown sugar.
Be creative – a topping to a vegetable/tomatoey stew can comprise cheesy mash potato (bake for about 25 mins after assembling) or crumble (mix double the amount of flour, by weight, with butter – crumble between clean fingers and sprinkle over top – again, bake for 20-25 mins until base is bubbling through). Don’t forget – leftovers can always be pureed into a soup for another day.
Curious spices and condiments
When we acquire a spice rack there are inevitably herbs we find ourselves unlikely to use. Here are a few suggestions for those such condiments:
Fennel & Tarragon
These two work together a treat – particularly with leeks.
Slice four leeks (to feed four) and two onions (plus sliced fennel bulb if you have it) and cook gently in a pan with butter for about ten minutes. Stir through a tablespoon of plain flour, season with fennel and tarragon, add a dollop of wholegrain mustard, about 200ml milk and 200ml vegetable stock and place in a roasting pan. Bake for about 25-30 minutes with a variety of toppings: Mustard mash, cheesy mash, thinly sliced parboiled potatoes, breadcrumbs or crumble (flour and butter) and, of course, topped with grated cheddar. If you haven’t four leeks, parboiled parsnips also go well in this dish.
Add to vegetable/olive oil with demerara sugar, chilli flakes and salt and let it infuse for a while to produce the most delicious Mexican season you will have ever tasted. Use to fry onion, peppers, mushrooms etc for fajitas – thus removing the need for a tomato-based sauce.
Important to make sure you use celery seed, not celery salt – the latter is far too saline!
Adds vibrant colour to stews and curries. Combine with chopped carrot, chickpeas, sliced mushrooms, onion, garlic and chopped tomato to make a wonderfully warming stew. Add additional veg stock, chilli, cumin and coriander and let it bubble on the hob until the carrots are tender.
Turmeric also adds a depth of flavour and spice to many tomato-based vegetable concoctions.
The internet provides many ideas for their use but for me, they really add something baked with roast potatoes.
Not a fan myself, but my husband swears by it as an accompaniment to prawns and chilli, gently fried until cooked through. Also, he tells me, it gives a warm, gentle heat to any cheap white fish – fresh or frozen.
Not just for stir-frys. For an indulgent if not unusual breakfast, slice some mushrooms and gently sauté in butter or oil until browned. Add a dash of soy sauce, then just enough single or double cream to cover. Season with black pepper and simmer for a few minutes and serve. It sounds bizarre, but it really does work!
And finally, for dessert…
Have you ever thought to cook rhubarb in a microwave? Probably not, but it’s a sure-fire way to make almost instant cheat’s rhubarb fool. Slice and place in microwaveable steamer (water in base) and cook on full power for approx. 5 mins. Add sugar or powdered sweetener and combine with instant custard, topped with sultanas or even a dash of honey. Without the custard, it is a delightful topping to porridge.
Great meals don’t require considerable culinary skill, or indeed an enormous amount of effort. If you are anything like me, whilst appreciating wonderful flavours, you either lack the inclination or the time to invest in daily indulgent treats. The more you cook, the more you come to know and love, so can create a stable of “go-to” recipes that can be rolled out as often as you like, resulting in a meal you know will more than satisfy your hunger and your taste buds.