Right now we are all minimising our visits to shops. So what should we buy in bulk to make sure we still have delicious and nutritious meals?
Stocking up on 10kg sacks of rice and bags of pasta is all very well but you'll soon find that these basics make a pretty bland meal unless you have the extras to dress them up and keep your mealtimes varied.
The majority of these cupboard essentials have a long life and can be used in many different ways to jazz up familar foods and routine meals.
This is by no way a comprehensive list of store cupboard staples and people with different cooking traditions will most likely give you a very different list. What I have tried to include is a handy guide for some ingredients that you might not have thought of for a quickly assembled breakfast, lunch or dinner. I have added my go-to freezer list as well. If you are trying to avoid going to the shops too often during lockdown, or during a spell of bad weather, a freezer can be a great ally.
Nut butters — great on toast with sliced banana and a sprinkle of cinnamon if you are feeling extra adventurous. They are a good addition when making your own granola and can also add protein to a smoothie.
Frozen berries — these are much better value than their fresh counterparts and as they are frozen when freshly picked contain as much or more goodness than those ripened during shipping. A handful of berries thrown into a saucepan just as they are, will warm up to make a good topping for porridge or yogurt. They can also accompany pancakes as a weekend treat with a dash of honey or maple syrup.
Oats — are one of Ireland's most nutritious and cheapest foods. Porridge is the most obvious use, but oats can be added to soda bread, or used to make granola or flapjacks or as a crunchy topping to a crumble.
Another great breakfast serving is Overnight Oats. Soak your oats in fruit juice or milk overnight with some chopped almonds and dried fruit. The next morning it will have softened and can be eaten cold with fruit or yogurt. You can make a large batch and keep it in a kilner jar for a few days.
Eggs — I put eggs in the breakfast store cupboard, but they are so versatile they can be used in any meal of the day. In the morning boiling, scrambling, poaching or frying are all possibilities. I sometimes scramble them with a dash of hot sauce and some seasoning and roll them up in a corn tortilla with some avocado and fresh coriander. It is a quick savoury Mexican inspired breakfast.
Corn tortillas — a good substitute for people who feel they eat too much wheat. You can order tortillas online from blanco-nino.com or from picadomexican.com which also has a wide range of Mexican condiments.
White Mausu peanut rayu — This rayu is delicious and addictive, it is now available throughout Ireland. It seems expensive when you first see it, but it does go a long way. The rayu is great tossed through some steamed vegetables then served with some rice, and a fried egg on top if you like. It is hot and spicy, nutty, and umami all in one. Another great lunchtime use is to drizzle a teaspoon of the rayu over a bowl of soup, it not only makes your soup look like is straight off a restaurant menu, it adds an extra dimension to the flavour.
Tinned salmon or tuna — you can use tinned fish for a quick and easy dish served on toast. Flake your fish into a bowl with a dessert spoon of mayonnaise, some black pepper, and an apple cut into small cubes.
Hard cheese and chutney — you can rustle up toasty cheese sandwiches for a warming lunch, spread chutney on a slice of bread before you add the cheese, then pop under a hot grill. Hard cheese has very low water content so do not go off at nearly the same pace as soft cheeses.
Nuts and seeds — can be added to salads, chopped up and sprinkled on soups or eaten as a snack on their own. Toasted hazelnuts perk up a parsnip soup very nicely.
Mustard — adds pep to a wide variety of lunches, it adds heat to cheese sandwiches, and can be used for making a dressing for a salad. And for dinner it is great added to mashed potatoes and is delicious with ham.
Light soya sauce — mixed with some honey, crushed garlic and toasted sesame seeds makes a great dressing or stir-fry sauce. A splash adds depth and saltiness to noodle or rice dishes and it can also be used as a marinade.
Pasta — pasta in all its shapes can be a life saver. For a carbonara you just need some parmesan cheese, chopped bacon and an egg. Take some of the cooking water from your pasta and mix it with the egg and grated parmesan and some seasoning and stir this through the pasta with the fried pieces of bacon for the ultimate comfort food.
Rice — comes in many forms and is a great store cupboard staple. White rice is the most common, but varieties of brown rice add fibre to a diet.
Passata or tinned tomatoes — invaluable for a quick pasta sauce or pizza topping, it is also good for soups and stews.
Miso paste — you can make a quick warming soup with miso paste but it can also be used as the backbone for noodle dishes or stir-fries.
Tinned chickpeas or beans — are excellent fillers and bulkers, and an excellent source of protein and fibre. Add a drained tin of kidney beans to minced beef when making a chilli or a tin of chickpeas to an Indian curry.
Coconut milk — I always try to have a few tins of coconut milk to hand to add to curries or soups.
Squash — squash last a long time before you have to use them. You can make soups, roast them in chunks then stir them into a salad with some soft cheese and leaves, or add them to stir-fried noodles or pasta dishes.
Onions and garlic — both store well and are invaluable in the kitchen. The process of sautéing onions and garlic, sometimes with peppers or carrots, is the basis for a great many dishes. Different words are used in different countries to describe this combination: mirepoix, sofrito, battuto, or the ‘holy trinity’. There are tweaks and differences, but the foundation is the same, the flavours are slowly blended together as the ingredients are softened in a pan.
Anchovies and/or capers — to add a salty hit to a pasta sauce or salad dressing.
Every chef will give you a different list of their essential spices. Here are a few I think are really handy to have at hand, but of course you can add plenty more: cinnamon, nutmeg, turmeric, chilli flakes, cumin, ground ginger, smoked paprika, cardamon and of course black peppercorns.
Stock — is very handy frozen in small batches that can be used for soups, risottos, stews or sauces.
Frozen peas — I throw a handful of peas into a huge variety of dishes.
Cookie dough — this is handy to have sliced up in the freezer. If you do not have the time or inclination to bake you can pop these in the oven and about 15 minutes later have fresh cookies and a wonderful-smelling kitchen.
Slices of bread — these can be popped straight into the toaster or under the grill.
Puff pastry — has a myriad of uses both sweet and savoury.