Odds & sods

spices being ground

Firstly, my apologies for the larger-than-usual break between posts. I have spent this time with friends & family, working, eating in & out, cooking, enjoying jazz, learning how to relax, and planning Christmas…

Now to the purpose of this post. It is basically a catch-all for anyone who:

  • is unsure of some of the basics — I am by no means an expert but I can tell you what I do;
  • hates wasting food;
  • has run out of something, or doesn’t have standard measuring implements, and wants to know what can be substituted; and
  • is curious about what I use/do in the kitchen.

In time, I will create this post as a page of its own (like the About page), so please return! Also let me know how I can better meet your needs.

Cooking to formulas. I thought I would start with a plug about a book I haven’t read yet: Ratio, by Michael Ruhlman. This is a book about cooking by formulas instead of recipes, something that I have always wanted to be able to do, and I am hoping that someone very kind and lovely buys it for me for Christmas [hint, hint] or I will simply have to purchase it myself.

How to convert cup measures to grams to ounces to…anything really. Check out GourmetSleuth.com. I go straight to the ‘Conversions’ tab whenever I need help and its comprehensive listing has never let me down.

How to make self-raising flour from plain flour. Mix 2 tsp baking powder into each cup of plain flour. That’s it! I realise that baking powder is not in every supermarket, so what is baking powder? It’s simply two parts of Cream of Tartar to one of bicarbonate of soda. And why would you ever want to make your own? Sometimes you may not have baking powder in the kitchen — plus, commercial baking powder often contains aluminium. Avoid this additive by making your own.

I hate wasting food, so here are my top 5 tips for preventing food wastage:

  1. If you notice a vegetable is near its use-by date, steam it and freeze it. To use again, just heat up with some boiling water in a saucepan;
  2. For herbs that need using up, you can:
    • oven-dry them — this works especially well for herbs such as sage, thyme, oregano and marjoram,
    • freeze them — with or without pulping first, just note that the herbs will be limp on thawing, or
    • air-dry them — just about any herb can be air-dried by tying it into a posy with a piece of string, then hanging to dry;
  3. cook older fruits in tarts or stew and freeze them for later use — some fruit, like mangoes, bananas and berries, freeze really well without stewing;
  4. freeze and reuse leftovers as they are — this works well for most cooked foods, such as rice, pasta and roast vegetables. I always cook too much and this means I always have a few shortcuts in the freezer at any one time. Cream and cheeses also freeze well; and
  5. use leftovers in stews, soups or sauces — leftover bolognese, for example, can be pumped up with some tinned tomatoes and blended into a soup or a rich tomato sauce.

Things I do that are different to many people:

  • I use a fork to juice citrus. I don’t actually own a citrus juicer.
  • I cook as much from scratch as possible. In this way, I avoid nasty additives and feel a certain sense of pride in what I produce.
  • I consume cookbooks like novels.

Brands I frequently use for fridge/pantry basics and why:
[Disclaimer: I am nowhere near popular enough to receive offers of anything from these companies. I just really, really like their products]

  • Salt — Maldon sea salt. I am addicted. The little flakes are perfect little flavour parcels just waiting to burst in your mouth. When I am baking with Maldon, I grind it in my mortar & pestle before adding it to anything; otherwise, I just use the flakes as they come.
  • Butter — Lurpak. I use unsalted butter to cook with; among other things, it means you are never at risk of salty icing. Lurpak has been my favourite brand for a while now. It’s not the cheapest, and it tastes awesome.
  • Olive oil — the best I can afford/get my hands on at the time [at the moment, I am loving Minerva] and always first cold pressed, otherwise it’s extracted via chemical means. There is no substitute for good olive oil. Seriously. The way the grassy freshness envelops your tongue, the bitter catch on the back of your throat… Excuse me for a moment while I cut some ciabatta to dip into my evoo.
  • Stock — Massel stock cubes. I don’t always use fresh stock and the Massel cubes have a great flavour. They are also vegan, so I can add these to a vegetarian dish and know that I haven’t corrupted the ingredients for my vegetarian friends.
  • Pepper — Global Spices or Spencer’s. I use mixed green, pink, black and white peppercorns because they look pretty when ground over your meal, and I like the flavour.

Ok. That should do for now. There is much that I have missed — let me know what is relevant to you. I am keen to make this into as useful a reference as possible.

Until next time,

H 🙂



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