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Cooking from your store cupboard

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A good store cupboard should be at the heart of every kitchen.

 

It’s the starting point for a lot of meals and can save you time, effort and money. Starting one from scratch doesn’t need to cost a fortune. Dried beans, for example, are very good value and last for ages.

 

Buy a spice or herb every week to build up the cupboard and look out for deals and stock up, eg buy tins of tomatoes or beans when they’re on special offer. If you add something every week you’ll soon have a useful store cupboard, enabling you to create tasty, nutritious dishes or adapt meals turning them into a feast. 

Golden rules

  • Choose a cupboard furthest away from the oven or hob as the heat will hasten deterioration in most foods.
  • Airtight containers preserve the shelf life of everything from herbs and spices to flour, nuts and seeds. You don’t need expensive containers, recycled jam jars are excellent, just remember to label them.
  • Rotate your ingredients – keep new packets unopened until you’ve used the old ones. Check the dates on labels and if something is nearing its best-before date then bring it to the front of the cupboard to remind you to use it.
  • Have a spring clean, check dates on packets and tins, remove everything from the cupboard and clean it out occasionally. Stale particles of flour, grain, cereals, sugar and crumbs on the bottom of the cupboard can attract pests such as moths, beetles and weevils.

High-fat foods

Oils should be stored in a cool dark place and used within a year as they can go rancid. Nuts and seeds also contain a lot of fat and so shouldn’t be kept for long periods. If nuts show any signs of mould they can be toxic so should be thrown out.

Best-before dates...

are for guidance, you can still safely eat foods past their best before date but they may not be at their best quality. For instance spices could lose some pungency, so you may need to add more to get the same flavour. Avoid eggs which past its ‘best before’ date as it may contain more salmonella after this date. 

Use-by dates… 

are put on fresh foods and foods past their use by date may be unsafe to eat. ‘Use by’ dates do not always mean you have to eat the food by that date. For example, if the food can be frozen, then you can extend its life beyond d the ‘use by’ date. If you decide to this, it is extremely important that you follow the instructions on the pack – eg how it should be stored, whether to defrost before cooking or cook from frozen etc.  

Easy store cupboard dishes

These quick and easy meals can be created in minutes with ingredients from your store cupboard.

Minestrone soup

If you have a stock cube, a handful of pasta shapes, a tin of tomatoes, a teaspoon of dried oregano and an onion you almost have a hearty minestrone. Just add a mixture of 500g of vegetables anything from carrots, mushrooms and cabbage to frozen peas and tinned sweet corn. You can even add lettuce. It’s great for clearing out the fridge and the veg rack. 

Biryani

With basmati rice (or other long grain or even risotto rice) an onion, stock cube and some curry powder or paste and you are well on the way to a tasty biryani. You can then just add fresh, tinned or frozen vegetables, frozen prawns or leftover cooked chicken.

Clafoutis

For a really versatile and quick pudding you just need flour, eggs, oil or spread, baking powder, sugar or sweetener and milk, plus some fresh fruit such as apple or pear, or tinned or dried fruit. Just put the fruit into an ovenproof dish mix the rest of the ingredients together, pour over the fruit and bake.

Basic storecupboard ingredients

These products are the mainstay of any kitchen... 

Tinned fish

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A tin of salmon or tuna can be transformed into a meal, used in fishcakes or just mixed with a can of beans or chickpeas, a finely chopped onion and a little olive oil, lemon juice or vinegar to create a super salad. Add chopped peppers, tomatoes and cucumber and you have a healthy meal in seconds.

Tinned chickpeas

Can be used to make a tastyhummusor a quick curry with just the addition of an onion, some curry paste and a blob of yogurt or a couple of tomatoes. You could also roughly mash them and add finely chopped sautéed onion and garlic along with a tsp of ground cumin or curry powder. Mix with a beaten egg, form into golf ball sized patties and fry in a tsp of olive oil for delicious falafel.

Tinned tomatoes

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The main ingredient in many pasta sauces. Simply add a heaped tsp of dried oregano, a crushed garlic clove and a pinch of chilli flakes and you have a basic tomato sauce. You use this for pizza or pasta. Just add some chopped onion, peppers, courgettes or mushrooms and toss through any pasta shape or top any pizza base.

Flour and dried fruit

Can be made into lots of different breads, desserts and cakes which are also ideal for using up spices, such as cinnamon and mixed spice. You can also add odds and ends of dried fruit such as apricots, prunes and raisins, or seeds and nuts. For a quick soda bread just mix together flour, bicarbonate of soda or baking powder, water and chopped dried fruit.  

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