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Friday, 30 March 2012

the ultimate store-cupboard

Even if it does take me
twenty minutes to locate
 what I'm looking for,
 it's MY store cupboard,
 and I love it.
I'm one of those people that has the habit of buying one of the following items on every shopping trip, in the full knowledge that I have at least three in back-up at home. But still, for the most part these are non-perishable- so space permitting, go crazy...

Anchovies- On toast. Melted into sauces. Clumsily yanked out of the jar when you're drunk, hungry, and in need of a juicy little salt-kick. Or maybe that's just me.

Capers- Another glorious multi-tasker, these are perfect for adding texture and balance to any dish that might otherwise be a bit on the rich side. Or, chuck a load over any kind of cured fish, put a dollop of creme fraiche on the side with a heaping of peppery rocket, and hey presto. A pretentious-looking lunch.

Olives- With the first two store cupboard essentials, these form a Holy Trinity of sorts. Just ask any passing Neopolitan, if you can find one.

Goose/Duck Fat- pricey, but ESSENTIAL for any roast potato worth its salt.  Lard and vegetable oil don't even come close. If you don't fancy paying four quid for the tinned stuff, just pop round to your local butchers. Give them a cheeky little smile, ask very politley, and I'm sure they'll oblige with a good lump of tasty fat for far less than Mr. Tesco would ask of you.

Parmesan/Gran Padano/Parmigiano Regiano etc - Now, when I say Parmesan etc, I mean etc. Any kind of hard, piquant, peppery cheese is a must-have, in my house at least. Swap for manchego (derived from ewe's milk instead of cow's) or anything else you fancy. It's probably also worth mentioning that most hard cheeses of this nature freeze excellently- just pull out a nugget, and grate/shave/whatever, and it defrosts instantly. Pop it back in, and it'll keep for ages. My mother-in-law taught me that. Useful, eh?

Chilli- I'm a heat-fiend. I love anything with a kick- the hotter, the better- and I am yet to be trounced in any variety of hot sauce shooting contest. So needless to say, there's rarely a shortage of scoville-providing goodies in my kitchen. It is worth baring in mind that you never really know what you're getting heat wise until you test a chilli- some of the varieties considered 'medium' in heat can often turn out to be disappointingly mild. I always like to have a tiny little nibble first, just to gauge how much I should be using. That said, I wouldn't suggest trying this for any of the super spicy varieties. Scotch Bonnets burn. And, as always, WASH YOUR HANDS AFTER. I won't divulge any of the more intimate nasty experiences I've had after failing to do this, but be warned.

Oh, and chillis both dry and freeze quite nicely.

Lemons/Limes- Perhaps it has something to do with being wife to a mixologist. Or maybe it's because I'm overly fond of a nice G&T. Either way, lemons and limes are essential. You can even cook with them, if you must.

Garlic- Need I really justify this? No? Thought not.

Cheap Red/White Wine- Now nothing so good that you'll be tempted to drink it, but nothing so crap it'll turn a hearty chilli into a vinegary mess. Whilst wine can be used at the iffy point where you wouldn't really mind drinking it- you know, if you were desperate, don't be mistaken into thinking anything with a decent ABV will do. If you have a couple of bottles knocking around somewhere, you're only a few steps away from whipping up a decent pasta sauce or wintery stew.

Palm Sugar- Found pretty easily in ethnic food shops, markets, or even some bigger supermarkets (if you must), palm sugar is fantastic for anything Asian or Carribbean-inspired. With a bit of lime, chilli and oil, you have a beautiful little dressing for a Thai beef salad. Obviously you can just use normal sugar, but where's the fun in that?

'Tipo 00'- the strong stuff
Caster Sugar- Just for those impromptu baking whims. Don't fool yourself by thinking any sugar will suffice- granulated won't dissolve properly in most cakes, biscuits or sweet pastries, and whereas anything dark might compliment a ginger or chocolate cake, it will just overpower Grandma's Victoria Sponge. So if in doubt, opt for caster.

Flours- Plain and self raising are, of course, store cupboard staples, but I always like to mix things up with a Spelt or Buckwheat. Both are really good for savoury recipes (galettes with goats cheese and chorizo are a personal favourite), but are also suitable for anyone with a gluten intolerance. Happy days.

Eggs- Please, forgive the rant. It will be a short one, because I'm planning an entire post dedicated to whinging about the awareness of food provenance (it's something us Brits in particular are double-crap at...) So- eggs. PLEASE please please, DO NOT ever buy from caged or battery farmed hens. Aside from the fact that the conditions these chickens are kept in are unbearably cruel, the resulting eggs are pale, tasteless little lumps of horribleness. Just shell out the extra- what? 30p?? And get some from hens that are free to roam around and be happy. Or better still, get them from a farm. Or a farm shop. Or my dad- he has loads of hens, and the eggs are big, juicy, with tasty golden yolks.

Result: you get nice eggs, keep a clear conscience, and people power will help destroy a cruel industry that's mean to chickens.

NB. Don't bother putting eggs in the fridge. They are almost always better off cooked from room temperature, and cold egg whites are a lot harder to fluff up. They'll keep just as long, promise.

Maldon Sea Salt- It has no preservatives (so none of that weird bitter taste some cheap cooking salts have), looks pretty, and is fun to smash up. It also has the added bonus of being British, which is always nice.

Virgin and Extra-Virgin Olive Oil- Don't just stick to what you know with oils. Virgin is best for cooking (don't waste the good extra-virgin stuff- the taste just disappears as soon as it heats up), but extra-virgin is where you can have fun experimenting. Different countries and regions can have a huge impact on the taste of the oil that's being produced. For instance, as a rule, Cypriot olive oils tend to be grassier, and the Italians more fruity and mellow. But shop around, and don't be afraid of spending a bit more on a nice bottle, because it's definitely worth it. Remember to keep in a cool, dark-ish cupboard (or else in a tinted bottle) to stop it going dodge.

Rapeseed Oil- It's British, it's a nice colour, and it tastes lovely.

I wouldn't recommend eating Daffodils.
Paprika- Buy the smoked stuff in the pretty tins, and sprinkle it over anything for a bit of warmth and spice- it really is very versatile, and can save any casserole or chicken dish from blandness. Nutmeg and cinnamon can be used to a similar end, in a pinch. Neither have the same smoky heat, but both will help create some warmth. Personally, I like my paprika over griddled asparagus with olive oil and lemon zest.

Cumin (Ground and Seeds)- Essential for any kind of Indian or Middle-Eastern cooking. It has such a distinct taste, and it can really help to transform a meal in a jiffy. Seeds can be bashed up and fried lightly in oil to give an aromatic base to anything else you want to throw into the pan. Cumin and root veg- especially carrots or parsnips- are a match made in heaven, and it goes just as well with lamb and (perhaps surprisingly) shellfish.

Fennel Seeds- Use with lamb, fish, chicken, pork, or anything that reminds you of the sunshine.

Mustard Seeds- Black or yellow, these are great at imparting flavour into oil before you chuck your meat in, and help add a bit of heat and pepperiness into Indian cooking. You can also get creative and make your own mustards, if you feel inclined.

Chicken Stock- I really do believe that people don't poach chicken enough, and here's why it should be done more: 1) it keeps it so moist and lovely, whereas most other forms of cooking tend to dry it out, 2) it's a super laid back way of cooking, but really helps saturate the chicken with the flavour of whatever it is you're sticking in the water with it, 3) you get a nice big pan of stock at the end of it. Stick in a freezer bag, and use in soups, risottos, and sauces. I don't care what Marco Pierre White says, I seriously doubt he'd pick a bloody Knorr cube over home made stock any day.

Rices- Long grain, arborio risotto rice, and basmati. Cook it up in your chicken stock, and don't use the microwave stuff. Yes, it's quicker to turn to Uncle Ben, but it's also expensive and, let's face it, crap.

Now this is by no means a definitive list of the world's most useful ingredients, and it certainly isn't going to see you through any kind of nuclear holocaust (though I'm fairly certain I could survive off anchovies alone for a year or so...) That said, everything in here will help to provide a pretty solid basis to some decent meals. So what more can I say? Happy shopping!

mrs hunt.x

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

the imaginatively titled first-post

Hmm. This feels like a momentous occasion: I have finally ceased colour-tweaking, and actually started blogging. Which was, after all, the idea.

the idea:

I like to write, and I like to cook. Asking me which I prefer is like asking a parent to admit to having a favourite child- they secretly know, but will never let on. So why on earth have I decided to chuck my food-based musings (and rants- I'm sure there will be rants) into the abyss that is food blogging? Partially, I suppose, because if I spend nearly every spare waking moment cooking, I really ought to give more people the opportunity for ridicule; it just wouldn't be fair otherwise. Equally, with most of the remaining  non-cooking moments spent eating, I always think it's rather nice to let people in on some of those unexpected gems that crop up in the way of places to get fed.

Now, I say this with every intention of avoiding sappiness, but I suppose all of this (*nods towards the sea of notes, recipe clippings and reviews I've scribbled over the years swamping both myself and the cat on the sofa*) boils down to  having a passion for anything I can put in my mouth (Ahem. Food-wise. This is not one of THOSE websites. Sorry to disappoint), and it all comes from a girl who recently spent her last fiver on  ceramic baking balls instead of actual food, for either myself, husband, or aforementioned cat. But then the satisfaction of having a beautifully blind-baked tart case surely overshadows the grim reality of having nothing to fill it with. It might be worth mentioning that Husband failed to see where I was coming from on this particular whim.

That said, my ramblings are not necessarily intended for those as obsessed (or financially reckless) as myself. To enjoy my blog, I hope all anyone needs is a modicum of interest in good food, where it comes from, and the fun you can have when you start to mix things up a bit. And, as always, enthusiasm is far more important than actual talent. Enjoy.

mrs hunt.x