I've been wanting to develop my own reliable chocolate cake recipe for some time, and I think this is it! It's a fairly traditional, all-purpose chocolate cake, just with a couple of twists in the form of dark brown sugar and honey in place of the usual white sugar. It's made extra delectable by the addition of a luscious chocolate buttercream that is sandwiched in the middle and slathered on top. What more could you want?
Note: For gluten-freen, substitute an all-purpose gluten-free flour for the plain flour.
for the cake:
200g unsalted butter, softened + 1 t extra
200g (1 cup, firmly packed) dark brown sugar
90ml (just under 1/4 cup) honey
1 t vanilla extract
200g (1 1/2 cups) plain flour, sifted (or all-purpose gluten-free flour)
55g (3/4 cup) cocoa, sifted + 1 t extra
1/2 t baking powder
125ml (1/2 cup) milk
100ml hot water
for the icing:
250g unsalted butter, softened
500g (3 1/2 cups) soft icing sugar mixture, sifted
55g (3/4 cup) cocoa, sifted
100ml (just over 1/3 cup) milk
1 t vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 160°C and prepare a 20cm cake tin. To do this, cut a circle of non-stick baking paper to fit the base of the tin, then thoroughly coat the inside walls with a teaspoon of softened butter, before dusting with a teaspoon of cocoa, making sure it is evenly coated and tapping out any excess (do this over the sink).
In a large mixing bowl using a handheld beater or the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, cream butter, sugar, honey and vanilla. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Combine sifted cocoa, flour and baking powder. Add to the butter and sugar mixture in three batches, alternating with the milk and mixing on the lowest speed to just combine. Occasionally scrape down the sides of the bowl. Still on a low speed, mix in the hot water. Do not overmix. With a large spoon or spatula, give the batter a final few stirs to ensure there are no dry pockets of flour and the batter is of an even texture. It should have a mousse-like consistency.
Spoon into the prepared tin, smoothing the top as much as possible, and bake for 60min or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out (mostly) clean. A couple of moist crumbs are fine. Leave to cool in the tin for 10min before turning onto a wire cake rack to cool completely. Don't be concerned if a few cracks appear, they will close up slightly as the cake cools and sinks, and they will be covered with icing later anyway.
While the cake is in the oven, make the icing. Again using a handheld or stand mixer, beat butter until light and creamy. Gradually add icing sugar and mix on a low speed to combine. Add cocoa powder, milk and vanilla and beat again, gradually increasing the speed and mixing until the icing is silky and voluminous. Add a dash more milk if the icing is too stiff.
When the cake is completely cold, place on a cake stand or turntable if you have one and split into two halves. To do this, use a long-bladed serrated knife and position it horizontally at the half-way point on the side of the cake. While applying gentle pressure but keeping the knife still, slowly turn the cake. Keep gently pushing into the cake as you turn until you have cut all the way through. Remove the top half of the cake to a clean board or plate.
Dollop half the buttercream onto the bottom cake layer and gently spread out with an offset spatula or other wide, flat knife to within a centimetre or so of the edge. Carefully position the top layer over the bottom, pressing down gently, and dollop on the remaining portion of buttercream. Spread icing to the edges, making large swirls as you go. Serve.
This cake will serve for any celebratory occasion, (though I'm posting it now in time for Father's Day), and can easily be fancied up with berries, flowers, or even doubled, cooked in two tins and stacked to make an impressive towering cake (though I haven't done this, so proceed at your own risk!). You could also substitute white or light brown sugar for the dark if that's what you have, but the dark brown sugar does add a seductive, molasses-mood, and the honey adds a subtle floral complexity (please use a good, raw honey if you can). What I like about this recipe is that while it's indulgent, it's very accessible. By only using cocoa powder it is easy to make with store-cupboard basics, and less expensive too. Nothing is lost by this approach, however, as this cake is intensely chocolatey and fudgey, but not heavy. I did test this with a gluten-free flour and it worked just the same, so go ahead and substitute the wheat flour for a gluten-free alternative if required.
I hope you enjoy it, whatever the occasion, or even if there is not occasion at all. Sometimes you just need chocolate cake. I know I do.
This warm salad is great alongside any cooked meats, or as a meal in itself, perhaps with a soft-boiled egg added. Substitute whatever vegetables you have on hand. Cauliflower, broccoli, eggplant fennel, pretty much anything works here, it's an endlessly variable template. In this iteration, I had some leftover steamed green beans that I also added. The point of this recipe is slowly roasting the vegetables, as this allows for more caramelisation to develop, intensifying the flavour. Doused in this addictive tahini dressing, it really highlights how complex and delicious vegetables can be, when treated with care.
1 1/3 cups of faro, rinsed and drained
2 large potatoes, skin on
1 red capsicum
1-2 red onions, peeled
sea salt flakes
large handful of steamed green beans, topped and tailed (optional)
1/4 cup (100g) hulled tahini
1/4 cup (100g) Greek yoghurt
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove
1 t sea salt flakes, extra
fresh lemon juice, to taste
Preheat oven to 180°C. Chop vegetables into roughly 4cm sized pieces. Arrange on a baking tray, toss in some olive oil and a pinch of sea salt and roast for about an hour or until everything is soft and very well caramelised.
Meanwhile, cook farro in boiling water until al dente (about 20-30min). Drain.
Make the dressing by combining the tahini, yoghurt and oil in a small bowl. Crush the garlic by peeling, roughly chopping, sprinkling with the salt and then 'wiping' with the flat of your knife, pressing down as you go until you have a coarse paste. Add this and the lemon juice to the tahini, yoghurt and oil. Add enough water to make the sauce pourable, but still viscous. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
Combine the faro, vegetables, and dressing, tossing gently to coat everything well. Serve as a side or as a meal on its own with some extra protein added.
Note: This tahini sauce is also great as a dip, or with any roasted or grilled meat or fish. If you want to use it as a dip or sauce rather than a dressing, only add enough water to make everything smooth, but still nice and thick.
Ok, we all know how to roast a chicken, right? I know plenty of people have their sacred tried and true way, perhaps something their mother's mother's great-great grandmother passed down, or something, or perhaps you flirt with different styles, sometimes stuffing the cavity, sometimes not, simply slathering with butter and salt, or going a full pre-marinade prior to roasting. But, while I think pretty much any way to roast a chicken is a good way, I have to say, if you want fast, delicious, crispy and easy-to serve roast chicken goodness, it's pretty hard to go past a spatchcocked whole bird massaged with a spice paste and roasted until deep bronze and succulent. Read on for the recipe and notes.
Depending on the size of your chicken, either quarter or cut into sixths, dividing the drumstick from the thigh for the extra portions. The spices listed below are just a guide - experiment with different combinations!
Equipment: Mortar and pestle, or a spice grinder
1 free-range chicken
1 lemon, skin on, thickly sliced
few sprigs of rosemary, thyme, or bay leaves (optional)
sea salt flakes
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 T cumin seeds
1 T coriander seeds
2 t dried saltbush (substitute dried thyme or oregano)
1-2 t smoked paprika
1-2 t chill flakes (optional)
About an hour before cooking, (if you remember), take the chicken from the fridge to remove some of its chill. Keep away from heat sources and out of direct sunlight. I don't usually get to do this but it's good practice if you can.
Preheat oven to 200°C. Lightly oil a roasting pan and arrange lemon slices in the centre, topping with sprigs of fresh herbs, if using.
To prepare chicken, drain any liquid from the cavity and pat dry with paper towel. Place the bird on your work surface breast-side down. With shark kitchen scissors, cut along each side of the spine (you will need some elbow grease), cutting through the ribs all the way to the neck cavity. Remove the spine, place in a freezer-safe bag and freeze for later use in stock. Turn the bird over and press down on the breast bone to flatten, (you may hear a crack). Splay out the legs and tuck in the wings neatly (see image below). Place spatchcocked chicken on top of the lemon slices and fresh herbs, if using.
Remove board and knife from the work surface, wash hands, and clean up any residue. (Wash and dry board and knife throughly before using for any other food preparation).
In a mortar and pestle, mash up garlic, a good pinch of salt and all the spices. Add olive oil and mix until you have a coarse, spreadable paste. If using a spice grinder, grind up the dry spices separately, then put into a bowl with the minced garlic and oil, mixing to combine.
Using your hands, slather this spice paste all over the chicken, making sure to get under the wings and legs and around the edges as much as possible. Wash hands again.
Put in the oven and roast for 50 min to an hour, depending on the size of your chicken (see Tip below). Test for doneness by piercing the thickest part of the thigh. The juices should run clear. However, this method ensures very even cooking, so you shouldn't have any issues. If you like, toss in some par-boiled potato chunks halfway through cooking, tossing them in the flavoured oil in the tray.
When cooked, remove from the oven, cover loosely with foil and rest for 15min. In this time, you can prepare a simple gravy (see below). Serve with whatever you like, but roast potatoes and salad are always good.
Tip: Most of the time, a lot of liquid will exude from the chicken as it cooks. This is the enemy of crispy skin, but a boon for the cook. Halfway through cooking (before you add the potato, for example), remove the tray from the oven and carefully pour off as much liquid as you can into a small saucepan. Return the chicken to the oven as quickly as possible. While the chicken rests, boil down this liquid until you have a richly-flavoured jus. I sometimes like to add a bit of Dijon mustard, vincotto, or balsamic, for extra depth. Keep warm and serve with the roasted chicken.
There are many ways to roast a chook, and I don't profess to be an expert in this (hotly contested) field. What Chinese cooks do with poultry, for example, is in a league of its own, but what I can tell you is that if you are a home cook who wants fast, crispy-skinned and delicious roast chicken, this is a pretty fine way to go. Like all my recipes, this is really a template - you can mix up the flavours as you like - but I would suggest you don't try and mix too many different spices, or you can end up with a confused flavour profile where everything gets a bit lost. I'd like to try a Chinese five-spice mix, as well as a more North African-leaning approach with some ras el-hanout or harissa paste, either bought or homemade. The options are endless. You can even just use this method with a bit of butter, lemon and salt - I can attest that the result will be sublime. What I like about using a coarse spice paste, though, is how it gets a bit charred in the oven, forming a deeply-flavoured crust. The paste will also flavour the pan juices beautifully, as well as anything you decide to roast alongside, like the potatoes I suggest in the recipe. Don't overcrowd the tray, however, or you will have more braised than roasted vegetables. The lemon slices underneath the bird act as a trivet, allowing more heat to circulate around the meat, but also, ingeniously helping to keep it moist and adding flavour at the same time. Any additional herbs you have will only help. Enjoy, and as always, I love to know if you try one of my recipes, do let me know!
I made these with my little girl the other week, and she loved them, as did I! Best eaten warm with butter, though. Despite buckwheat having a very pronounced flavour, it was not overpowering in these muffins, rather lending a pleasing nuttiness that offset the fresh, slightly tart berries. I don't have a taste for very sweet things, and I deliberately kept the sugar low for kid-related purposes, but if you fancier a sweeter bite, by all means up the sugar a bit, but I probably wouldn't do more than about 3/4 cup, working on the principle that cakes often have half the quantity of sugar to flour.
Makes 12 mini muffins
1 1/2 cups (210g) buckwheat flour
1 t baking powder
1/4 cup (85g) caster sugar
1/3 cup (90ml) light vegetable oil (I used grapeseed)
1/4 cup (80ml) milk (substitute non-dairy alternative for dairy free)
2/3 cup (150g) blueberries, washed and dried
Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F). Prepare mini muffin pan by lining each hole with mini muffin cases or squares of non-stick baking paper moulded to shape over the base of a small glass.
Sift buckwheat flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl. Stir in sugar. In a jug, combine oil, milk and eggs, whisking well with a fork to combine. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in the oil mixture. Stir well but do not overmix. Gently fold through blueberries.
Divide mixture evenly between muffin holes and bake 15 - 20min or until risen and golden.
Provided it's not too hot, these keep well out of the fridge for about five days. After that time, put them in the fridge and microwave slightly before eating. Once cool, the muffins can also be frozen for up to one month. Store between pieces of baking paper to prevent them sticking together.
You don't need to be a dietician to know this is good for you, but that's not all it has going for it. Food, for me, has to be delicious first and foremost and I love the more complex, nutty flavours you get here in contrast to plain oat porridge. Porridge, of course, can be made from any grain, and you could certainly substitute your favourites here, some brown rice, for example, would be lovely. I happen to love this combination and I hope you do too.
Approx. 150g, or 3/4 cup dry weight is sufficient for two adults, depending on appetite. On that calculation, this quantity will yield around 9 serves.
200g rolled oats
100g steel-cut oats
100g pearl barley
100g whole buckwheat
100g cracked (bulghur) wheat
100g amaranth (substitute quinoa)
Apple cider vinegar (optional, substitute lemon juice)
Sea salt flakes (optional)
Combine grains and store in an airtight jar. The night before you want to make porridge, measure out the required amount, and put in a glass jar or jug with half a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar per person and enough water to cover by about 2cm. Cover with a lid or cloth and leave on the kitchen bench overnight.
The next morning, place porridge, the soaking liquid and more fresh water (enough to cover) into a saucepan. Add a pinch of sea salt flakes if desired. Stir over moderate heat, adding more water if necessary, for 15-20min or until you have a porridge consistency to your liking. Serve with whatever you like.
If so inclined, I encourage you to add some live yoghurt and fresh or stewed fruit for sweetness to your bowl, which makes for a pretty awesome, power-packed, and gut-friendly breakfast. I am not so virtuous as to eat this every day, and I only eat it because I love the flavour and texture, as well as the slight smug feeling of having made something from scratch, as basic as it may be. I use the rolled oats to ensure the final product is lovely and creamy, so although I have six grains listed, it's only five different grains in total. I consider porridge a winter breakfast exclusively, and I think this is the perfect foil to all the delicious poached or baked fruits you can have at this time of year - quinces, pears and apples especially - but any fresh or cooked fruit would be delicious, I like this combination of soft, sweet-sour quince with the crisp apple matchsticks. Not something I would bother with every day, but when you feel like being a little bit fancy…But really, the classic brown sugar and cream, or milk and honey are also sublime. Add cinnamon for good measure.
I can't recall where I read the tip on adding vinegar to the soaking water (and it was such an excellent website!), but from my cursory reading since, I know that the acid helps to break down the phytic acid in the grains. It is this phytic acid which inhibits the bioavailability of key nutrients. I am certainly not trained in nutrition, and am not presuming any expertise, but it is widely accepted that soaking grains both improves the uptake of essential nutrients, and increases their digestibility. It also has the obvious benefit of making the cooking time shorter, and as long as you remember to soak them the night before, this porridge couldn't be simpler. I hope you try it, do let me know how you go if you do!
Begin the recipe a day before. The beans need to be pre-soaked and cooked before proceeding with the recipe.
320 g navy beans (substitute black-eyed beans, canellini beans or other) to yield 480 g cooked
2 T olive oil
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 t coriander seeds (sub. 1 t ground)
2 t cumin seeds (sub. 1 t ground)
1 t fennel seeds (sub. 1 t ground)
2 t smoked paprika
2 t yellow mustard seeds
1 t ground cinnamon
1 t dried saltbush (sub. thyme or oregano)
dried chilli flakes to taste or 1-2 fresh large chillies, minced
4 T tomato paste (low or no salt)
1 x 400 g can tomatoes
2 T brown sugar
2 T worcesteshire sauce
4 T apple cider vinegar
600 g smoked pork bones or 1 ham hock (optional)
salt and pepper
The night before, rinse beans, discarding any grit or discoloured beans and place in a bowl or saucepan with plenty of fresh water to cover. Cover and leave overnight.
The next day, drain the beans, place in a saucepan with some more fresh water, bring to a gentle boil and cook until tender, about 20-30 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the remaining ingredients. Place olive oil in a large stockpot or crockpot and sauce onion over moderate heat for a few minutes until it begins to turn translucent. Add the garlic and remaining spices and herbs and cook for a further 5 or so minutes.
Add tomato paste and cook out for a minute or two. Add canned tomatoes, filling the can with water and adding that too, then the sugar, worcestershire and vinegar. Hold off on the seasoning for now. Bring to the boil, then turn down to a low simmer. Add pre-cooked beans and pork bones or hock and cook on a low heat (just simmering) until the sauce has thickened and reduced and the pork is falling off the bones. Note, if using pork bones, tie them in a piece of muslin or a food-safe fine mesh bag before adding to the pot as they may contain very small bones which are difficult to remove after cooking.
Carefully remove the bones or hock and allow to cool slightly. Leave the beans on a low heat. When cool enough to handle, carefully shred the pork from the bones and return it to the pan. Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. You may need to add more sugar, vinegar, worcestershire or chilli to get the right balance of salty, sweet, and spicy flavours.
As this makes a lot, you may want to freeze some for later. Allow the beans to cool until they are no longer steaming, then store in the freezer for up to a month. Enjoy any way you like beans! They are pretty good with a poached egg for breakfast.
A quick and simple snack for your little and your big people. The apple provides ample sweetness, no need for sugar at all. I usually give them to my daughter plain but a little bit of butter wouldn't go astray. After the recipe, I have some suggestions for variations and tips on storage.
Pat of butter, for greasing (about 10 g)*
1 medium free-range egg
1/4 cup (60 g) Greek yoghurt
1 T milk
1 medium apple, preferably unwaxed, coarsely grated
1/2 cup (65 g) self raising wholemeal flour (substitute whole spelt or another all-purpose flour plus 1 t baking powder for lift)
1/2 t cinnamon (optional)
Warm a fry-pan over medium heat, add the butter and allow to melt. Meanwhile, crack egg into a batter jug or small mixing bowl, add yoghurt, milk, and apple and mix with a fork until just combined.
Add flour, baking powder, if using, and cinnamon, and mix again until you have a well-mixed but still lumpy batter. Pour in the melted butter from the pan and mix gently. Wipe out the pan with some kitchen towel so you are left with just a thin film of butter. This creates a non-stick surface for the pikelets.
Return the pan to the heat and drop in dessertspoofuls of batter, spreading them slightly with the spoon if needed. Don't overcrowd the pan as you need to be able to flip the pikelets with ease.
Wait for some bubbles to appear on the surface and then carefully flip the pikelets with a spatula. They should be nice and golden on the underside. They are cooked when the surface springs back. Remove to a kitchen towel-lined plate and continue to cook pikelets until the batter is used up.
NOTE: I find I have to adjust the heat as I go as the pan tends to get too hot after a while, meaning that the pikelets overcook on the outside while remaining undercooked in the middle. If this starts to happen, turn the heat to medium-low. You may find you have to alternate between medium-low and medium heat in order to maintain an even cooking temperature. You can always return any undercooked pikelets to the pan at the end and finish them on a low heat.
*If you have one, use a non-stick pan and you can omit the butter and the greasing step.
These pikelets, or variations thereof, have been a staple snack of Ingrid’s ever since she started on solids (she's just turned two). I make them by eye, as I know the batter consistency I'm after, but I finally made myself measure the ingredients so I could share them at last! Sometimes I use all yoghurt, sometimes all milk, or like this recipe, a combination of the two (which produces the best result, I think). Apple is my preferred fruit, but I have also made these with berries (though these can cause the pikelets to catch in the pan, so be careful), and even make savoury versions with zucchini, carrot and so forth. It's a very versatile, basic recipe that can be adapted pretty much endlessly, so feel free to make it your own. I haven't done so, but I'm sure it would work well with a gluten-free all purpose flour and of course you can substitute a vegetable oil for the butter, and a non-dairy yoghurt and milk if you are dairy free. These pikelets freeze really well, too. I interleave them with small pieces of non-stick baking paper and seal in a zip-lock bag. Then I can easily take out one or two at a time and defrost as needed. They are ideal for packing in lunch boxes. If you make these often enough, soon you'll be making them by eye as well. There's nothing fancy here, just a simple, useful family recipe. I hope you find it so, and do let me know if you have any questions or feedback, it's always a great help for this novice blogger!
I developed this recipe in response to the flour and egg shortages we were experiencing due to the small numbers of people panic-buying at the height of the anxiety about COVID-19. However, it is a really good recipe, and obviously great for those who avoid gluten or eggs for allergy-related reasons also! I hope you enjoy them.
Makes 22-24 cookies
125g softened unsalted butter
175g (1 cup) brown sugar, lightly packed
1 t vanilla extract (optional)
200g (2 cups) rolled oats, 1 cup ground into a semi-coarse flour
1 t baking powder
1 t ground cinnamon
1 t ground ginger
1 t fresh grated ginger
180 g (1 cup) raisins
Preheat oven to 170C. Line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper. Cream butter, sugar and vanilla, if using, until pale and creamy.
Add oat flour, remaining rolled oats, ground spices and baking powder. Stir to combine. Stir in grated ginger and raisins.
Roll mixture into ping-pong sized balls and place onto baking tray. I prefer to cook one tray at a time to control the results.
Bake for 10min or until just coloured around the edges. Leave on the trays for 10 min to allow the cookies to set, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container in a cool place for up to a week.
Warming and sustaining, these spiced carrot muffins are definitely one to have in your baking repertoire. The fact they are sugar-free (if you forego the icing), is just a bonus. They can also be baked as a cake, just use a lined 20cm tin and increase the cooking time by 15-20 min or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.
Before I get into the recipe, I wanted to share with you my patented (not) method for making your own muffin cases. Yes, you can just buy them, but I a) never think of doing this when I'm shopping and b) I dislike superfluous spending, as well as excess packaging from multiple products. I always, however, have non-stick baking paper on hand, so I can always make these, and they are a breeze. Take a roughly 30 x 40 cm piece of baking paper, and fold lengthways in half, then half again, so you have four even parallel sections. Turn the paper and fold into thirds. You should now have 12 square-ish sections. Cut along these lines and then, stacking 4 together at a time, make a 2.5 cm cut on opposite sides on each piece (see picture). These cuts help the cases mould to the muffin holes. Smear a little butter into the base of each muffin hole, or spray with cooking spray and place each muffin 'case' into each muffin well, overlapping the cut sides and allowing the remaining paper to crease as it likes. You end up with a family rough and ready effect, but I rather like that and the benefit of having muffins that are easy to remove far outweighs anything else! Scroll down to the recipe below.
iMakes 12 muffins
2 cups whole spelt or wholemeal flour
1 1/2 t baking powder
2 t cinnamon
1 t mixed spice
130 g medjool dates
100 ml water
2/3 cup oil
2 eggs, lightly whisked
zest and juice of 1 large orange
2 cups grated carrot
2/3 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1/2 cup sultanas
Coconut Lemon Icing (Optional)
150 g coconut oil
2/3 cup icing sugar mixture
Zest of 1 lemon
1 - 2 T lemon juice
1 t vanilla extract
Shredded coconut, to serve
Preheat oven to 170°C. Line a 12 cup capacity muffin tin, as above.
Place dates and water in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over moderate heat. Cook until dates are soft. Set aside to cool slightly.
Sift flour, baking powder and spices into a large bowl. Mash dates with a fork until you have a mostly smooth paste. Stir in oil, eggs, and orange zest and juice, mixing quickly to combine.
Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, add the date mixture and stir well. Stir in carrot, walnut pieces and sultanas.
Spoon into prepared muffin holes and bake for 25-30 min or until the muffins are golden and cooked through. Remove to a wire rack to cool.
Coconut Lemon Icing
Add coconut oil, vanilla and lemon zest to a bowl. Whisk with electric beaters or a stand mixer until soft and creamy. Add icing sugar in three batches, beating in each addition thoroughly. As the mixture thickens, add lemon juice a tablespoonful at a time until you have a smooth, spreadable consistency. Add more lemon juice, or water, a teaspoonful at a time, if icing is still too thick.
When cupcakes are completely cold, dollop heaped tablespoons of icing onto each muffin and spread to the edges. Sprinkle with shredded coconut. Store muffins in a sealed container in a cool, dry place for up to four days. The icing will go very hard if stored in the fridge, but you may store the cupcakes in the fridge if keeping for longer than four days or if the weather is very hot, just allow to come to room temperature before serving.
I have long been a 'pantry cook,' and in these difficult times, I would love to share with you how I cook everyday from a well-stocked, yet basic, pantry. With the addition of a few fresh ingredients - never forgetting the all-important staples like onions, garlic, and lemons, to name a few - I can cook delicious and nutritious meals everyday. They may often be basic, but to me that's the best sort of homecooking, simple and adaptable meals that you can make at a moment's notice, even (or especially) when supplies are limited.
As I write, one third of the world is in government-enforced lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Countries around the world are scrambling to get on top of the spread, and each face a vast array of different challenges, whether that be ageing populations, lack of intensive care beds and essential supplies, communication issues, or socio-economic issues. I’m mindful that certain populations have had to deal with severe epidemics before – the SARS crisis of 2003 is just one example - but this time it’s hitting communities hard the whole world over.
I don’t think it’s an understatement to say COVID-19 has thrown the world into crisis, and we are all doing our best to cope. Forced to spend more time at home, many are looking for ways to shop sensibly and safely while still feeding their families nutritious flavourful meals. It has been really heartening to see so many chefs, food bloggers and others freely sharing their tips and tricks to make the most of what you have. A problem we’re all facing, however, is the depletion of essentials like flour, rice and pasta due to some people resorting to panic-buying and hoarding (there are also those who are stockpiling in order to profiteer from the crisis by selling items at inflated prices online – do not support these criminals!). Supermarkets as well as smaller stores are having difficulty restocking supplies and the fallout is affecting everyone. There is no need to stockpile but there is merit in knowing how to shop wisely so that you can stretch your dollar further, cook delicious and healthy meals at home, and make fewer trips to the shops. To that end, I’ve compiled a list of pantry staples based on the cooking I do most regularly, however, everyone’s preferences and cooking needs are different, so please just use it as a guide. When I say ‘pantry staples,’ I’m referring to basically everything you can keep in cupboards (apart from things like potatoes, onions, and the like) that’s not fresh. It’s still vitally important that we eat fresh food as much as possible.
Cooking economically but deliciously and nutritiously is right up my alley! I have spent more time than I care to admit being a student while supporting myself and so learning to cook smart was actually a matter of survival to me. I don’t agree with the common wisdom that eating healthily is more expensive than using alternatives like take-away or pre-prepared foods. Sure, if you compare individual items, say, a whole free-range chicken with a pre-prepared chicken meal that serves four, you might find that latter is cheaper. However we need to take the whole picture into account. One of the easiest ways to minimise costs is to eat less meat. Not only is this better for your wallet, it is also better for the planet and your health. Eat chicken once a week instead of three or four times and suddenly that free range chicken - which gives more than one meal in the form of bones for stock, pan juices, and so on – suddenly seems a lot more economical, and you can take comfort from the fact that the bird was raised ethically and not imported from some factory in god-knows-where.
I agree fresh fruit and vegetables can be expensive but I’m going to let you off the hook here: You don’t need to eat top-shelf organic produce to be healthy. In an ideal world, we all would, but let’s face it, I certainly can’t fork out $18/kilo for beetroot, so I work with what I can do, buying the best I can and not giving myself a hard time. So let go of unrealistic expectations! Buy what’s in season (its more plentiful and therefore cheaper and tastier), and don’t forget your freezer – frozen peas have got me out of many a fresh-vegetable shortage situation. Keep in mind that cheaper fruit and veg though is not always to be found in your supermarket. I’ve often been very pleasantly surprised at the prices of fresh produce at my local markets, so it’s worth shopping around, though in these times, that will pretty tough, I know. And finally, while we need our daily fresh fruit and veg intake, if you can learn how to base your cooking around a few essential pantry items, you can always find something to make, even if you only have a slightly shrivelled carrot, a sad stick of celery, an onion and some frozen peas. In such a dire situation, a well-stocked pantry will be your saviour.
So, let’s get started! This is a cut-down list of what currently resides in my pantry. For example, I have more spices than I’ve listed here but I’ve included what I think are good foundation to build upon. With this list, I can cook broadly across different cuisines. As I said, consider it a guide and adapt to your personal needs. I’ve also included a recipe (a template, really), to what I should just call my ‘Staple Soup,’ though this sounds incredibly uninspiring, so I’m just going to leave it as ‘Minestrone’ for now, which is essentially what it is, and work on that title another time! For this kind of soup, I just as often use beans or lentils instead of pasta, and change the flavourings depending on my mood. Ok, now to the point.
Stocking Your Pantry
I admit this seems like a long list, but you’ll find you already have a lot of this in store anyway. Most of these items don’t need to be bought regularly, just replenished from time to time. It’s also not in any way exhaustive, so consider this a good starting point, from which you can curate your pantry in any way you wish!
A note about stocks, sauces and preserved foods (remember to decant any remains from tin cans into another vessel before storing in the fridge). Certain products, while listed as pantry items, will obviously migrate to the fridge once opened. With regards to stock, I do occasionally make my own - usually vegetable or chicken - and freeze in portions in a large ice-cube tray, but I don’t always have some on hand, so I do back up with a good quality, low-salt alternative. Whether you are in the store-bought or homemade camp, or a little bit of both, is entirely your business, but that is why I list them here.
Minestrone, aka 'Staple Soup'
I could so easily continue with what I consider my ‘essential’ store-cupboard, fridge, and freezer staples, but I think I should stop here! Suffice to say that if you consistently stock your fridge/freezer with fresh produce, and have a well-stocked pantry, you’re good to go any day of the week! Now to a recipe! A no-fuss, hearty soup based around pantry staples that makes great leftovers (it’s also freezable) and is anything but boring. When I eat a soup like this, I am liberal with salt, pepper, olive oil, herbs, yoghurt, parmesan, basically whatever it needs to lift it into delectable territory. And always with a side of toast. If I’m feeling under the weather, I’ll chuck in some ginger and turmeric for an immunity boost. Swap out the vegetables for what you have or prefer, substitute the pasta for beans, and so on. Robust greens like kale or cavalo nero are really lovely in this type of soup, especially when combined with butter beans* and perhaps some bacon or pancetta. If using the latter, sauté with the onion, carrot and celery before proceeding.
*If using dried beans or chickpeas, soak overnight and drain before adding to the soup. Depending on the variety, they will take anywhere from 20-40min to cook. Or, you can cook them first and add to the soup at the last minute.
Serves 6 - 8
2 T olive oil
2-3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 onion, diced
I carrot, diced or sliced
2 sticks of celery, diced or sliced and leaves reserved and roughly chopped (substitute another leaf like silverbeet or kale)
2 t cumin seeds
2 t coriander seeds
1 t paprika
Chilli flakes, to taste
2 x 200g cans of whole or diced tomatoes
1 L vegetable or chicken stock
I zucchini, sliced or diced
1 cup of dried small pasta (for example, orzo or macaroni)
Ground black pepper
Sea salt flakes
Handful of flat parsley, roughly chopped
Grated parmesan (optional)
Extra virgin olive oil (optional)
In a large saucepan or crockpot, sauté onion, carrot, and celery until the onion begins to turn translucent (you can add a pinch of salt here if you want to prevent the onions browning too much). Add the garlic and spices and cook for a further minute or two until fragrant.
Tip in the canned tomatoes, crushing them with the back of a spoon (you can also insert some scissors into the open can and chop them up this way before adding to the pot). Add the stock and bring the soup to the boil. Once boiling, turn the heat down to a moderate simmer.
Add the zucchini and pasta and cook until both are al dente. Turn off the heat and add the reserved chopped celery leaves, or other greens, allowing them to just wilt. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
To serve, ladle into bowls and top with parmesan (if using), parsley, and generous swirl of extra virgin olive oil. Eat with warm toast, preferably snuggled up near a window observing the cold outside world.
About The Daughter's Table
The Daughter's Table is a living archive of recipes and stories. It is inspired by my daughter, and the desire to create a food legacy that connects us to what we eat and why.