SHOPPING AND STORES
Unlike some people, you will need more than five loaves and two fishes to see you through the week! Consequently, unless you live very close to good food shops, you'll need to plan ahead and buy in enough food to see you through several days.
Most food shops and supermarkets now stock a wide range of fresh foods, frozen foods and pre-cooked dishes. Almost without exception, pre-cooked and frozen foods include full instructions for use, so I try not to duplicate these here at "Chocolate and Chestnuts". Be certain, though, to read the instructions carefully. Also make sure that you check the dates on all packaging (often referred to as the 'sell by
' date or the 'use by
When buying fresh fruit or vegetables, only a certain amount of experience will tell you whether an item is under-ripe or over-ripe; whether it is fresh or a few days old. Until you are used to the appearance and feel of fresh foods, I would recommend that you shop only at the major supermarket chains because these tend to ensure that all produce on display is fresh and in good condition. Details on selecting various meats are shown at the beginning of each relevant section.
I include this list of necessities as an aid if you have not had to think about housekeeping before. Most things are common sense but may just act as a reminder to you.
. A few sweet biscuits and biscuits for cheese.
. White, brown or wholemeal. Bread keeps fresher if stored in the refrigerator or in a plastic container.
. The variety packs are useful if you have no firm favourites.
. I prefer salted butter, but you can choose for yourself. Always keep your butter in the refrigerator.
. There is quite a variety of cheese (see under 'Useful Information
' for details of some of the most common cheeses available) and you will soon discover your own favourite. Cheddar is the best for cooking. Always keep your cheese in the refrigerator wither in polythene bags, cling film or plastic containers.
Coffee, tea and drinking chocolate
. For thickening gravies, soups, stews and sauces.
. I always keep at least half-a-dozen in the 'fridge.
. It is always useful to keep a small stock of tins of salmon, sardines or mackerel for those quick snack meals or suppers. Fresh fish should be purchased as required so that it is exactly that... fresh!
. Fresh fruit is nutritious and full of vitamins and fibres. I always have a bowl with a few oranges, apples and bananas. Additionally, I always keep a few lemons in the fridge for cooking and salad dressings.
. Until you are proficient at basic cooking, I would advise the use of pre-made gravy since making the real thing can sometimes prove a little tricky.
Herbs and Spices
. A list of basic herbs and spices is included under under 'Useful Information
'. Most jars of spice last a long while and store well in the containers or jars provided.
Jams and Marmalades
. It's useful to keep a couple of jars in stock for breakfast or snacks.
. There are fundamentally three varieties; skimmed, semi-skimmed and full cream milk. They are all available in long life form (UHT) and these keep well for a long time before opening and for several days after opening (in the fridge). The type you choose is a matter of personal preference and generally makes no difference when cooking.
. Ready-mixed mustard is now considerably more popular than mustard powder. I always have a jar of Dijon Mustard for salad dressings and, additionally, I like French Mustard in a meat sandwich. English mustard is particularly hot but is wonderful with a slice of cold ham.
Oils and Vinegars
. I keep a bottle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil and a bottle of Red Wine Vinegar available at all times for making salad dressings. In addition, it's handy to keep a bottle of Corn Oil or Sunflower Oil which is less expensive and ideal for frying.
. Throughout this book you will find recipes that include the addition of pepper. In every case (unless specified otherwise) I refer to freshly ground pepper (from peppercorns) and not white pepper. You will find there are several types of peppercorns available; black, green and various mixes. For myself, I use a mixed pepper, but that is purely personal preference. It is not necessary to purchase an expensive pepper mill since most peppers are now available in small jars with twist tops that grind the peppercorns as they are needed.
. Salt is used in many, many recipes so I always keep a large box handy. Also useful is a small jar of celery salt which can add a nice tang to various salads.
. I like to keep a bottle of Soy Sauce at hand because it adds flavour to many different recipes. I keep a bottle of light Soy and a bottle of dark Soy in my cupboards.
. Stocks are nothing more than water flavoured with different meats (beef, pork, chicken etc) and are used to enhance the flavour of foods when liquids are added. I have included recipes for making your own stocks but I also keep a variety of stock cubes in my cupboards as an acceptable alternative.
. I keep a bottle handy all the time since it can be used in many recipes to add just a dash of flavour.
As well as the basic requirements, I always make sure that I have the following in my kitchen...
. Don't be afraid of this French-sounding monster; it's no more than a mixture of Thyme, Bay Leaf and Parsley. Either you can add these as individual items or purchase them as small bundles of fresh herbs tied together with string or, indeed, you can buy them as sachets (rather like a tea bag). In any event they should be removed after cooking since they are only there to impart flavours to the food.
You may wonder why many recipes include this tricky little beat! Well the best way I can explain that to you is to suggest you make one of the dishes using a bouquet garni and then try the same dish without! You will, like me, come to admire that little infusion of flavour into your cooking.
. Dried breadcrumbs are sold in boxes and will keep for a long while. They are used in several recipes for coating foods prior to cooking. If a recipe ask for soft white breadcrumbs, these are made by removing the soft inside of a white loaf and either crumbling it between your fingers or chopping it finely in a food processor.
. This can be bought in most fruit and vegetable shops and in major supermarket chains. You should cut about half-an-inch (1cm) off the bottoms of the stems, remove any low leaves and then stand the parsley in a small class of water. Replenish the water and re-trim the stems every few days and you parsley will keep for a week or more. Parsley can make a huge difference in both taste and presentation of a meal.
. At one time, it was thought that only the French used garlic. Now it's globally accepted and can make an enormous difference to many dishes. It's not necessary to have it tasting unbearably strong; often just a hint of garlic is enough.
A whole garlic is called a 'head' of garlic. By removing the dry outer skin, you will find several 'cloves' inside. To prepare garlic for cooking, remove the thin dry skin from the clove and chop it finely (or crush it in a garlic press). Garlic will keep for several weeks before it dries out. Also see Hot Tips
for some vital
Absorbent Kitchen Paper
. I may be stating the obvious, but I always have a roll (and some!) of absorbent kitchen paper handy. It's useful for draining cooking oil from fried foods, keeping toast hot without it becoming soggy, mopping up spills (naturally) and a multitude of other purposes.
. Similar to onions but smaller and with a slightly sharper flavour. They keep well and I always find it useful to have them available, particularly during the summer when we eat lots of salads.
. Our taste buds have been bombarded over the past thirty years or so with tinned foods that contain tomato sauce (baked beans, spaghetti etc.). We have now happily accepted the use of tomato flavouring in many dishes and, for this reason, I always have a tube or jar of tomato puree at hand. You'll find several recipes where it is included.