I go through periods where I don’t really want to cook very much, as everyone does. I don’t really enjoy takeaway food that much, so I like to keep stocked with some shortcut ingredients that help me make things quickly, and means I can avoid a lot of processed foods. I would call this a larder, except that these mostly live in the freezer. I have developed something of a rhythm with these things over time, and although (like everything else I do) my commitment to this waxes and wanes, here is the list of things I continue to return to.
So when your weeknight cooking degenerates to pasta with tomato sauce, fried rice and curry, as mine often does, having these things in stock will keep you going with cheap, good food until you can get back into the kitchen properly.
I have a snacking problem. A serious need to nibble while at my desk. I have recently re-subscribed to Graze, which is helping somewhat. I also like to have some muffins in the freezer. The recipe is based on a Gordon Ramsay one, and uses mashed bananas, a little oil and wholewheat flour for a wholesome and not too sweet muffin. I don’t think I’ve made the same flavour twice with these. Ones I have tried include: raspberry and white chocolate; espresso banana; ginger coffee walnut banana; chocolate and cherry; cherry and almond; apple and walnut – I could go on.
I can get one out of the freezer in the morning, pop it into a ziplock bag and into my handbag and take it to work. By the time the munchies kick in about 10:30 (OK, sometimes it’s 9:30), it has part defrosted. A minute in the work microwave and I have a warm, fresh muffin to have with a cup of tea.
I know, you don’t need a recipe for breadcrumbs. It’s great to have fresh breadcrumbs in the freezer, and that helps assuage my guilt about all the times I buy bread and let it dry out in the bread bin. I use them occasionally for baking, but mostly I toast them to put on pasta, or use them on top of a gratin or pasta bake. But the real revelation came from Ruth Reichl’s website. She suggested making and freezing toasted breadcrumbs, and even giving them as a gift. Pre-toasting them means they can be put right onto the pasta, and speeds up the creation of a crisp topping on a baked dish. And there are times when it’s good to have yet another shortcut.
I became a stock convert with Nigella’s How To Eat, and haven’t looked back. It does sound like the sort of thing only absurd housewives do, and I don’t often admit to it in public. But I like doing it. There are endless recipes and tutorial on proper stock, and it will be better if you do it really carefully, but a simple method will still be good. I generally freeze chicken bones from roast chicken as they appear. When I have two or three in the freezer, I put them in a pot, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Barely simmer for 2 hours then add roughly chopped carrots, celery, onions and/or leeks, bay leaves and some peppercorns. Cook another hour, then strain. Chill overnight in its bucket, remove the fat from the top, and then boil hard to reduce it a bit. Freeze in small containers.
You can use the stock for risotto, soup, to moisten curries and sauces, and importantly for gravy. And if all else fails, when your heating breaks down, nothing heats the kitchen quite like a big pot of stock on the stove.
Tomato sauce is incredibly useful. A really good tomato sauce is the best thing to have with pasta. You can also use it for baked beans and grains, curries and chilli. It shortcuts that long simmering period you need to get the sweetness out of tinned tomatoes and onions. The easiest and best version is Marcella Hazan’s (and others agree). It needs only tinned tomatoes, an onion, butter and salt. I also use some passata, and you can add herbs if you want to make it fancy.
There are three basic bread recipes that I’ve been making semi-regularly. All are minimal effort recipes. I generally slice and eat whatever we want immediately, and then slice and freeze the rest.
The first is the original no-knead bread recipe from Jim Leahey in the New York Times. Although this is low effort, it is a long project, needing about 24 hours start to finish, so I more often make:
A Michael Ruhlman-style 5:3 ratio recipe: 400g flour, 240g water, dried yeast, a tablespoon or so of oil and a teaspoon of salt. This makes a smallish loaf that can be made either in a loaf tin, or freeform on a baking sheet. It can also be baked in a pot like the no-knead bread. After reading Azelia’s incredibly helpful post on how she makes bread, I often don’t knead this at all,
Finally, if I want bread in short-order, such as for Saturday lunch when I’m starting from not-very-early on a Saturday morning, I make soda bread. I like Deb’s soda bread, which is a little sweet with raisins, and so a nice thing to have with cheese or with butter and tea. I also like Lorraine Pascale’s soda bread recipe, which uses wholewheat flour and treacle to make a rich-tasting loaf that is particularly good with soup.