Author Archives: thelostpenguin

About thelostpenguin

Writer. Sound Designer. Researcher. Film Maker. Photographer. Puzzling my way through my 30s and across the world in search of a way to combine my varied interests, from Astro-physics to Archeology to Animation to Architecture. A believer that ideological fundamentalism (whether political or religious) is the second biggest source of the world's problems. The first being greed. This blog serves as an online record of my writing.

CCC Intinery Update

I’ve not been very adventurous in the kitchen the last couple of weeks. The first week it was intentional, my big pasta bake from my last post, was meant to see me through my week of early shifts and it did. Then I was able to make a surprise visit to my parents for the weekend, and this week while I’ve been on annual leave it has, honestly been mostly too hot to cook anything complicated. I made myself a nice giant couscous and beetroot salad – with sprouting broccoli and baby sweet corn alongside the essential feta cheese – and some tasty beetroot hummus to use up the rest of the beetroot, and those lurking flat breads.

I was thinking about what I could make for the coming week – perhaps a stir-fry? – and I wasn’t feeling inspired, so I decided to look to my cupboards for inspiration and remembered that I had actually documented what was in there so I looked up my list and updated with some new acquisitions. While I was off work I’d given my kitchen a good tidy out, re-organised some cupboards and sorted out some better storage solutions. It seemed a waste to just throw that empty box that the Christmas crackers – the kind you have with cheese, not the kind you pull – came in, it’s a good sturdy plastic box, so now it’s keeping all the less usual dried ingredients I’ve picked up lately for one recipe or another and haven’t got round to trying. (There’s two different kinds of flour, both loose and pre-made polenta, split yellow peas, pinto beans and randomly a bag of caster sugar – spot who intended to bake lots this week before the heatwave hit…) Hopefully having them all in one place will encourage me to actually use them up!

First up we have a can of jackfruit, I dug up a recipe for a bean chilli with jackfruit, because a) I love chilli and lately my chilli has felt a bit uninspired so that seemed a good option for trying out a new ingredient and b) that’s an ideal bulk cook meal for the week ahead. Also, lately I seem to have lost the ability to leave the supermarket without at least one can of some variety of beans or another and this recipe uses several different kinds.

At some point I found a flat-bread recipe that called for corn flour – in the American sense of maize flour, rather than in the UK sense of the starchy stuff you use to thicken sauces – and went to the effort of tracking it down. The recipe book in question had a bunch of recipes that used it so it seemed a good plan at the time. However the recipe book has long been back at the library – and for obvious reasons I can’t get it back out – and most other recipes that I would expect to use it, give substitutions for the sensible reason that it’s actually a weirdly specialist ingredient here, I eventually tracked it down a health food shop, I guess because it’s gluten free? Anyway, eventually I’ve tracked down a tortilla recipe that at least uses some maize flour so that seems a fun accompaniment to my chilli.

That’ll still leave quite a lot of maize flour, so I had the bright idea of making cornbread or at least cornbread muffins, but all the UK recipes I’ve come across seem to use polenta rather than maize flour – and frankly a lot of chefs seem to treat the two as interchangeable, heck the BBC Food website, usually my ally in these matters, offers ‘maize’ recipes that use both polenta and cornmeal interchangeably. I am a terribly confused penguin.

(More importantly, if you’re a vegetarian and therefore don’t put bacon in your cornbread, what do you put in…? Spring onions maybe?)

Finally, given how nice the weather has been lately, it seems like a good time to take another run at making Bubble Tea. After the success of my tapioca pudding, I feel like I have a better grasp of how long to cook my pearls for now, so I have a more realistic view of the time investment required.

I’ve got a few more ideas lurking about, but I think that’s quite adventurous enough for one week…

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CCC – From Italy to India

And back again…

I fell down a hole in the internet watching Indian cooking programmes – a classic 90s series from the BBC and a more recent series on Netflix that was in Hindi with subtitles – and got side-tracked from my efforts to cook my way through my little Italian and Pasta recipe book. It was a very tasty detour, I made Matar Paneer again, along with a lovely dal – it’s been ages since I last cooked with urid dal and it’s such a good and different flavour even before you add the spices, nutty and fragrant – and a quick and dirty quorn korma, the leftovers of which ended up as lunch one day, wrapped up in a flour tortilla.

This week it’s been back on the wagon for Italian cooking and I’m back to working my way through the recipe book. First up I tackled a pasta frittata, I’ve never actually made frittata before so that was it’s own adventure. I cut the recipe down by half – largely because it called for six eggs and I only had three – and didn’t sufficiently cut back the pasta, so it was a bit, bumpy, on top rather than the even surface I’d hoped for. It was also supposed to be made with mackerel, which wasn’t happening, so I substituted quorn and also swapped out frozen peas and used frozen edamame beans instead. I ended up using my in-between sized frying pan – which I’d been debating whether to keep or not as I’d never previously used it – which proved the perfect size for the purpose. Though if I ever make a full sized frittata for guests, I’m definitely using my big frying pan, as it’s oven safe and I was a bit nervous of my wee frying pan’s handle when I realised it would need to go under the grill. (I left the handle sticking out and it was fine.) While I feel the recipe may need some further refining for my preferences, it makes a nice lunch or light summer dinner, particularly with some oven chips.

Having both mushrooms and leeks needing used up, I did a bulk cook of baked macaroni – unusually for me, I bought actual macaroni, as I needed more pasta anyway so saw no need to substitute – I must confess, I turned it into a more traditional pasta bake sauce, rather than a creamy mushroom and leek topping for the pasta, and used panko breadcrumbs I found in the cupboard instead of faffing around grating bread crusts and frying them, I did mix them with not!parmesan for a more authentic flavour. I do think I prefer crème fraîche as part of that kind of sauce – where you make a roux – rather than as the sole base of a sauce, it was creamy and indulgent here, whereas on it’s own in a sauce I tend to find it a little sour/tart tasting. I used about half the pasta, mushrooms and leeks the recipe called for and still ended up with enough food for four portions so I dread to think how much the full recipe would have made.

One of the unexpected side pleasures of my meal planning adventures, is that I often have lots of left-over odds and ends in the fridge, that are ideal for throwing together more adventurous weekend brunches. On Sunday I had some ‘ripen-at-home’ apricots left and grilled them with a dollop of mascarpone I’d bought for another recipe, and drizzled with honey and it was revelatory. I’ve always considered mascarpone a rather bland ingredient – nice in a sauce but not really worth the extra cost – and rather cloying if you try and serve the leftovers with fruit or cake. However, whether it was the grilling itself, or some alchemy with the honey, but the combination of it and the grilled apricots was like an explosion of joy in my mouth – just divine.

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CCC Mostly Italian

I made a concerted effort to finish off the dried tagliatelle last week, in part so I could free up the tall and pretty jar it was stored in to keep the fancy new noodles I got during the week. Early shifts meant that I needed to keep it simple and straight forward most days, so first we used up some broccoli florets I’d got on special in a dish that was essentially, pasta, broccoli and two kinds of cheese, simple and delicious. Later in the week I made two variations on tagliatelle with beans – the recipe called for broad beans, but I had edamame which don’t need peeled – crème fraîche and garlic, which got spruced up with various combinations of peppers, spring onions, hard Italian cheese and toasted pine-nuts.

The Tuscan Beef Ragu did indeed convert successfully into a Tuscan Bean Ragu, though given how much ragu I ended up with, I feel if I’d used beef instead of beans, I’d have been eating ragu all week! As it was, I had a lot of food rather than two much food. Between shifts and the weather, I actually ended up prepping the ragu to the point where it’s meant to go in the oven and then actually baked it the following day. It came out pretty decently, though it wasn’t special enough for me to consider it worthy of inclusion in my regular rotation of bulk cook recipes – the effort to tastiness ratio isn’t worthwhile.

Speaking of gnocchi – one of the better parts of the ragu was the gnocchi in it – a colleague who keeps chickens had an excess of eggs, so I’ve been eating cooked egg breakfasts more frequently lately, and it’s reminded me how much I enjoy paprika fried gnocchi as a side with a cooked breakfast. Crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, just a little spicy – lovely.

Additionally, I’ve been making a valiant attempt at cooking up the giant tapioca that has been lurking in the cupboard since my ill-fated experiments with making bubble tea a couple of years ago. I loved tapioca pudding as a child, but it’s not something I’ve ever made for myself as an adult, in fact, I’m not sure I’ve actually ever eaten it as an adult, as I don’t think my mum’s really made it since I went to uni. My dad has always preferred rice pudding and semolina – he tends to refer to it and its sibling sago as ‘frogspawn’ – so I guess it wasn’t worth the hassle? Whatever the reason, I had a hankering and got her to send me the recipe, and lo, after much patient stirring – and also an impatiently burned tongue – I had tapioca pudding. It was more glutinous than I remembered, seeming to take forever to thicken up, but that might be a product of it being giant tapioca, and the recipe omitted the essential ingredients, generous sprinklings of both nutmeg and cinnamon. However, once my tongue had recovered from it’s scalding, I had a big bowl of hot, filling, comfort food – and equally important, leftovers for the following day!

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CCC Week 7

This week has continued the theme of making old favourite recipes, between my favourite quick and dirty tomato pasta sauce – in fact the recipe that my header photo showcases, minus the cooked chicken – a batch of English muffins and a banana loaf, mildly tweaked for the current circumstances but otherwise from a recipe of my mum’s that I’ve been making all my life. I’ve come to the conclusion that if I’m using all wholemeal flour instead of half and half, it makes a drier cake and I need to compensate with more eggs/other liquid than the recipe would normally call for.

I went through a phase, before I moved up here, when I first got into making bread, of attempting to make all the weird and wonderful bread options in my Lorraine Pascale cook books. However, having fun aground on focaccia, and never being entirely satisfied with my rolls, I mostly stuck to making Soda Bread and English muffins, and while I do sporadically make soda bread when I’m at my parents, I haven’t made these kind of muffins in a good six years. You can make them in the oven or on the stove top, but I always prefer to make them on the stove top. I’ve made the successfully in a heavy bottomed frying pan, but these days I’ve got an actual girdle pan so it feels rude not to use that.

My girdle pan has actually been getting a fair amount of use lately, between the banana pancakes and the English muffins. I wasn’t sure if I’d use it enough to make it worth giving some of my limited cupboard space to when my mum offered it to me, just after I moved house. It’s really just been lurking on the shelf above the fridge since I moved in, but it’s proved a fun and handy tool over lockdown so I suspect it’s here to stay. Now I’m wondering if I could make flat breads on it.

Now that pasta has returned to the supermarket shelves properly and there’s enough on the shelf that I don’t feel guilty buying some, I’ve been revelling in a different kind of comfort food. Certainly there was my abovementioned quick and dirty pasta sauce, but I was moved to dig out my little Italian food cookbook and dry some more complicated and decadent recipes. I have barely touched that recipe book since becoming a vegetarian, because so many of my favourite recipes from it are heavy on the meat. However, it’s proved quite inspirational, and I’ve rediscovered some tasty recipes some straight forward – I made a cheesy mushroom pasta bake that was heavy on the garlic and included three different types of cheese – and plotted out a couple of rather more adventurous dishes to try to next week.

Vegetables stuffed with other things – rice, couscous, other vegetables – were a bit of a cliché of vegetarian cooking when I was a kid, and while I tend to agree that life is too short to stuff a mushroom, I do love a stuffed pepper so the rice stuffed peppers rather appeals. There’s also a few polenta based recipes, and I used to love cooking with polenta before I went veggie so clearly it’s high time I brought that back into circulation. I also mis-read a recipe Tuscan Beef Ragu as Tuscan Bean Ragu but on reading the recipe, I bet you could make a lovely dish with beans instead of beef that would fit the bill nicely. And that’s before I even look at the dessert section!

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CCC Catchup Post

I’ve fallen a bit behind in making these posts. I somewhat hit the wall the other week, both with isolation more generally and cooking specially. Probably exacerbated by having planned a bunch of filling a warming meals and being faced with an unexpected warm weather spell. I struggled through with some nice but unadventurous pasta salads until a colleague happened to make the most amazing smelling curry and the desire for curry of my own kicked me mostly out of my cooking funk. At least enough to get a batch of sweet potato and lentil korma made and eaten.

This week, however has been much better. On Sunday, I finally got round to making a big pot of chilli, while on Monday I made a generous – if less substantial than the chilli – pot of rice. This proved to be one of my better plans, as I ended up on the road for work unexpectedly and having a quick and easy tea already to be microwaved was a life-saver – there would be no stopping off for chips on the way back from this trip.

After having hit the wall so decidedly, I decided to retrench completely and focus on making old favourite recipes. I’ve been increasingly drawn to the earlier pages in my home-made recipe book, but this week I’ve mostly been cooking from the recipe books that I haven’t looked at in years, the ones I used when I was first properly exploring my culinary passions. The rice dish I ended up making is called Melting Sunshine Rice and is both super straight-forward and super comforting. Basically cook some rice in vegetable stock and with a teaspoon of turmeric, once cooked, add a chopped pepper, a couple of spring onions, a small tin of sweet corn and about 100g of cheese, preferably edam, put the lid back on for a few minutes so the cheese gets all melty and serve. There are few things more satisfying than realising exactly what you most fancy making/eating and then discovering that you do indeed have everything you need for it in the fridge or cupboard. I tend not to keep tinned sweet corn on hand – I generally prefer frozen sweet corn – and I rarely have edam – Babybels are normally travelling snacks rather than cooking supplies – so it felt extra serendipitous that they were all there to hand.

I’d been meaning to bake properly for weeks, I’d even bought some duck eggs off a colleague with a croft, specifically for the purpose, but I kept putting it off. So after the success of my old school cooking, I dug out my Ainsley Harriott cookbook – in all it’s battered ex-library copy glory – and looked up the old faithful that is his blueberry muffin recipe. I was going to make it with raspberries as I knew I had some in the freezer, but when I went looking I found some cherries which got me thinking and somehow blueberry, coconut and lemon muffins became wholemeal cherry and almond muffins, as I had both ground and flaked almonds in the cupboard. It’s the kind of recipe that comes in three different options with tips on substitutions and encourages adventurousness, and everything came together perfectly. I haven’t made muffins in ages, and this batch reminded me why for so long they were my go-to baked goods.

Next up, another old favourite, some English muffins, though these ones get cooked on the stovetop rather than in the oven.

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Food Based Media

For the purposes of virtual film club, I’ve recently signed up for a Netflix account who have an entire rabbit-hole of food programming to get lost down. My first, and favourite, discovery was the series Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, which is based on the book of the same name by Samin Nosrat, who also presents it.

As a child, I really enjoyed those travel/food programmes that were all the rage in the 90s, but I hadn’t realised until I watched this series how much I missed that genre and how much it still being dominated by white guys of a certain age annoyed me. There was something so delightfully refreshing about listening to her converse with local specialists in Italian and Spanish, and the way she used her Iranian food heritage to relate to the other cuisines that were talked about in the show, made all the difference.

It’s a lovely and informative little series, and ten years ago I could really have used it – in fact I’d like to give my younger self a copy of the book to work through. There was a lot in the salt and acid sections that I was already intimately familiar with, but that knowledge was acquired piecemeal, largely through trial and error, with occasional helpful pointers from episodes of Gastropod. (I’d learned from experience that lime juice could rescue a stir-fry sauce if you’d overdone the soy sauce component, and a really fascinating episode of Gastropod had opened the world of vinegar as a flavour enhancer to me.) Nonetheless the series gave me lots of ‘huh, interesting’ moments, largely by explaining why elements worked in certain ways, some things that I knew to be true from experience but didn’t know why they were that way, are now much clearer to me than they ever where before.

After the success of my food based television binge, I decided to seek out more food programming to comfort watch. I went searching in the iPlayer and found an old favourite of mine. Fuine is a very gentle baking programme from BBC Alba, where the programme goes round to local ‘star bakers’ kitchens and they teach the presenter how to cook their signature bake. I started watching it years ago when I was studying Gaelic, as a low stress way to learn more of the kind of vocabulary that I did get in class. They changed presenter for the most recent series – the new presenter is a chef who had been on the programme as a guest baker on a couple of occasions – and I realised that while I’d heard good things about it, I hadn’t actually seen any of it to judge for myself. This latest series has more of a balance between sweet and savoury dishes, which is great for me as I love a savoury bake. (There was also an episode dedicated to ‘free-from’ baking, but throughout the series they were good at saying ‘substitute this to make it vegan’ or ‘this recipe is actually gluten free’.) It’s very much a series where the intent is that you can make the things at home yourself – a lot of the recipes are on the website if you prefer it written down – and I’ve now got a whole list of recipes that I’m keen to try. Those crackers for humus looked both tasty and easy to make!

The Netflix algorithm is still learning what I like at the moment – to start with I was only watching Studio Ghibli films and fairly violent martial arts movies so it was a little confused about my household – but my decision to watch Salt. Fat. Acid. Heat. has caused it to give me all the food recommendations. There is a whole world of food documentaries and cooking programmes that I never knew existed – Hindi-language series about the different food cultures of India anyone? – but given that the current situation has mostly nixed my usual appetite for documentaries I am ready to head down that rabbit-hole.

This week I’ve been watching a series called Street Food: Asia (I presume that means there are companion series about street food on other continents, or at least that they plan for there to be.) It is definitely food to watch with snacks, because all the food and cooking made me so hungry – I definitely hold it responsible for my decision to make sushi this week, along with everything I’ve made involving tortilla wraps. I have such a craving for noodles now, every kind and variety that you could imagine.

The decision to – mostly – focus on cities other than the capital cities of the countries in question, was one I really appreciated as I felt it gave a much better sense of there being different food cultures in different regions within a country rather than one homogenous food culture in the entire country.

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CCC Week 3

One of the unexpectedly useful things about writing these posts is that they help keep track of how long this whole strange situation has been on the go. Sometime it feels like there’s some kind of weird time dilation field over everything so that things simultaneously feel like it’s been forever and no time at all. Writing what essentially amounts to a lockdown food diary helps keep track of things. We’re now into the fourth week.

Week three of lockdown didn’t really produce much in the way of exciting cooking. I did, however, manage to cook the two meals I’d planned for at the end of last week. I made some slight tweaks to the recipe for Matar Paneer to suit my own tastes but it turned out delicious, exactly what I wanted to eat at the start of last week. Towards the end of the week I made my sweet potato and kale bubble and squeak, even though I had to pick up more sweet potatoes as it turns out to not actually be a ‘use up your leftovers’ sweet potatoes recipe as you need pretty much a whole bag of them. On previous occasions that I’ve made this recipe I’ve always felt I had either too much or too little for the oven dishes that I have, but I now have one of my gran’s old pyrex casserole dishes which is both the perfect size and has a lid. No need to faff around with cling film for the leftovers! In an unusual point of connection between the two dishes, hot paprika was the hero of the hour ensuring that both dishes were the correct amount of spicy.

The weather is now mild enough that soup feels excessive, so realistically unless I need to break into my freezer stash, that’s it for soup for the next few months. (I don’t think I mentioned it in the previous blog entries, but at the start of this whole situation, I made several pots of soup and frozen a couple of portions of each kind for emergency, mostly in case I got ill. Most of the top drawer of my freezer is now given over to tubs of soup.)

Several of my cooking plans lately have been scuppered by the newest thing to be in short supply in the shops – eggs. There are over-ripe bananas in the bowl, I could make banana bread – no eggs. I’m not really eating soup so no point making soda bread, I could use up that buttermilk in pancakes – no eggs. I’ve got spinach and feta needing used up, could make those egg and spinach breakfast muffins – no eggs. I was so pleased that I’d succeeded in getting chopped tomatoes – and passata – at a reasonable price, only to be stymied by no eggs.

I suspect that the packet of flour tortilla wraps that are currently the sole occupant of my bread bin might be this week’s lunch-time heroes. So far they’ve already housed the last of my mini potato waffles – I’m trying to make space in the freezer – on a bed of cream cheese and spinach. A pot of chilli is almost always a good shout, there could be burritos, or quesadillas or even enchiladas quite easily, and that would definitely lend itself to freezable leftovers.

This week has started off well, with the yoghurt-maker doing it’s thing and veggie sushi for tea tonight, I usually make far too much rice but I made enough for three rolls of maki – one pepper, one carrot and one mixed – which seems much more manageable. I don’t remember now what I opened the Ketjap Manis for but it’s that much thicker than soy sauce so it’s ideal for dipping sushi into.

So while I’m on a roll, this coming week I also want to make, bao buns with mushroom filling – I found pre-made bao buns in the reduced chiller and I’ve a recipe for a tasty sounding filling – English muffins, as I may not have eggs but I do have plenty of flour and banana pancakes, because Jack Monroe to the rescue I’ve found a way to make pancakes with buttermilk but without eggs, all while using up my over-ripe bananas – victory!

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Covid Cooking Week 2: The Bag O’ Carrots Edition

As mentioned in my last post, I got a bunch of vegetables for ridiculously cheap on my last grocery run. Which was excellent, but also left me with a bunch of vegetables that were nearer to their expiry point than I’d like. For reasons I’ve never quite figured out – it’s probably that the room is too warm, but the only cool dark place is the meter cupboard and they’d just get forgotten about there – carrots have a really short shelf life in my kitchen, so they were the priority.

First up I made a big pot of brown rice, carrot and cashew pilau. This has been a long-term favourite recipe of mine, since probably about the time I first moved up here – it’s one of the few recipes I have in my hand-written recipe book that doesn’t include the recipe’s providence so I can’t date it more exactly than that – and is a super straight-forward, but super satisfying meal. It’s also the reason I always have nigella seeds in the spice rack. I generally double the recipe so that it ‘serves four’ as the leftovers make a filling and easy dinner to take to work with me on backshifts. Especially if served with a generous handful of tortilla chips.

Next up, well I’d opened those tortillas anyway, and it was film club night so I needed some dip. I knew I had a couple of tins of chickpeas, a new jar of tahini in the cupboard and the end of a jar of harissa paste in the fridge so humus seemed a good plan. One of the recipe books that I have out of the library at the moment has a recipe for roasted carrot humus that I’ve made previously but found to be an awful faff, so I decided to just grate all the broken bits of carrots I had – it was a bag of ‘wonky’ carrots – and be a bit heavier handed with the cumin and harissa paste and see how that went. It turned out the humus could have stood a heavier hand with the harissa paste, but it works nicely with a little topping of pine nuts. I had the sense to decant it into small portion sized tubs immediately so I can always spice those up with extra harissa if I feel the need.

I finally managed to track down some Nori sheets at the health food store of all places – now that I know they’re still opening, they could be a good shout for getting lots of the more unusual ingredients I like in the coming months – which meant I could make veggie sushi again. To which end I made carrot batons of the remaining broken carrot bits and alternated carrot and cucumber maki. I ended up batoning far more carrots than I needed for sushi, but actually once they’re chopped and put in a handy tub somewhere obvious in the fridge they’re surprisingly versatile. Much like with bell peppers – half a pepper in a tub will go off before I remember to use it, but if I chop it up first it’ll get used up a handful at a time in pasta or noodles or omelette or as a side vegetable with something else without me really noticing – so it is with carrots. But then that sort of thing is at the heart of my food prep philosophy, making life easier for my future self, as an extra few minutes one day with save an exponentially great amount of time, energy and oft-times wasted food, later on.

I also needed to use up my 10p cauliflower, so I ended up making cauliflower and leek soup – generous seasoning with za’tar a must – and used up another couple of carrots – that I had admittedly put aside specifically for the purpose – in that while I was at it.

Which brings me pretty much up to date with my cupboard cooking adventures. This coming week I’m planning on making soda bread to go with the soup, Matar Paneer to use up those frozen peas that have been lurking, and some sweet potato and kale bubble and squeak, as my soup making revealed that I have plenty of both that could do with being used up.

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Covid Cupboard Cooking: Week 1

While I was working on my last post I ended up getting distracted and creating an inventory of my food cupboards, which seems the ultimate in procrastination but has actually turned out to be very useful in terms of meal planning. I’ve always been a fan of meal planning and food shopping with a targeted list, but in these strange days it’s become even more important than before. Also it means that if I find myself faced with a bargain I can make the impulse buy or not based on knowing exactly what I have in the cupboards that I can cook it with.

As part of this challenge I’m attempting to use up some of the dried pulses and tins that having been lurking longer in my cupboards than I’d like. Also those little ends of packets where I had just too much to fit in the available jar. (The section of my cutlery drawer that houses my freezer/packet clips is full to busting in a way it hasn’t been since I first moved in and still had an empty freezer.) To that end I’ve used up some lurking dried mung beans in my – broccoli and blue cheese – soup, freeing up a jar to keep the rest of my quinoa in, and made giant couscous for dinner one night using up the rather sad end of a packet so that it all fits in one jar. I don’t know that the packet of cheddar and sundried tomato bread mix that I turned into a loaf the other day really counts towards this challenge – as I only bought it as a treat a couple of weeks ago – but it sure does taste good. I’d planned to do more bulk cooking this week but I discovered that there was actually very little free space in my freezer. There were, however, lots of half used packets of things lurking at the back of drawers so I’ve also been trying to use them up. First up were the end of a bag of edamame beans that had frozen solid – I’ve fully defrosted them and chucked a handful of them in almost everything I’ve cooked this week. They work really well in giant couscous and with gnocchi, but less so in an omelette. I also finished off a packet of ‘no duck’ Chinese pasty things which were definitely elevated by being served with some edamame and the Ketjap Manis I unearthed in my cupboard inventorying.

I’d also stocked up on frozen fruit mixes as I’d thought fresh fruit might be harder to source at the moment, but on my last grocery run, I discovered that evidentially lots of people had had the same thought as I was able to pick up a pile of bargains in the fruit and veg section – I got a bag of carrots, a cauliflower and a bunch of spring onions for the princely total of 22p – and other than bananas and tangerines, fruit seems plentiful. So it looks like I won’t need to keep my jam gooseberries for keeping up the vitamin C and can actually make jam with them.

Oh and I did track down those dried black beans, it turns out they’re in a cupboard in my mum’s kitchen – a cupboard that, despite my not living there in six years, is still referred to as ‘my’ cupboard – if they’ve been there all this time I suspect that pickling them will be the only way to still get any use out of them at this stage.

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Cupboard Living in a time of Covid 19

When I decided to start a food blog at the start of 2014, my original intention was to document my adventures cooking as much from my cupboards as was possible. I had lots of cupboard staples – I’ve always been a sucker for being tempted by new ingredients that are reasonably shelf stable – and I thought it would be a fun way to work through the back log, while hopefully saving some pennies at the same time. The blog has drifted in focus over the last few – six! – years that I’ve been writing it, but in the current circumstances, it feels like a good time to bring the blog back to basics. It might even be helpful, entertaining to other folks stuck in their houses right now.

I should add at this juncture, that I’m not actually in quarantine at the moment, of all things I was supposed to be on holiday this week – my parents were coming up for mother’s day and a friend was supposed to be visiting from Oz – so I had done a certain amount of pre-stocking up and meal planning ahead of time. I’m just trying to be a good citizen and only go food shopping once a week so that means less perishables and no ‘popping out’ for things I’d forgotten.

The idea of bringing the blog back to basics came about as I was making my beloved beetroot risotto, having found some leftover red wine that needed used up I was excited to discover that I actually had everything I needed for the meal already in the cupboard. I’m going to need to do more of this, I thought, and at least I’ll get through some of that pile of beans and pulses in the cupboard.

It’s been a good opportunity to inventory my cupboards to see what I actually have in there. Since I’ve lived in my new flat I’ve been pretty decent about rotating my cans so that things get used up in something approaching date order – just the other day my stir-fry was enlivened by a tin of water chestnuts I’d forgotten about – and the plan of putting the little extras – cashew nuts, pine nuts, flaked almonds and sesame seeds – in pretty little mini kilner jars on my work-top has been great at both reminding me to use them and preventing me finding sad musty packets when I go looking for something else in the cupboard. I must confess I was surprised by how few cans of tomatoes I have – why do I always end up with either 6 tins or 1? And having seen Jack Monroe’s intriguing recipe for sweet and sour beans, I’m mystified as to what happened to my jar of dried black beans…

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