Sunday, 20 January 2013

Store cupboard staples - where to start?

I have a store cupboard - it contains all the essential building blocks of a meal.  By its nature, cooking frugally means you just can't afford to go for the best cuts of meat, or the latest food fad.  Knowing how to make the most of a pack of cheap mince, flavour-wise, is an essential skill.  I call it a skill, when really it's about knowing how to pack food full of flavour so you can enjoy the end product and forget it's not made with finest steak mince (unless you scored a win in the bargain section of asda* - more on that later).

Most people have at least a stock cube lurking at the back of their cupboard, but unless you are a passionate cook or just a hoarder, spices, herbs and flavouring are not something you always think about when compiling your weekly shopping list. I'm not advocating you rush out and buy everything on my staples list, that would instantly break the budget.  What I am saying is if you don't have one, its worth considering  building one up over time. I am well aware before you throw your hands up in horror just how little money there is for food when you live below the bread line.

When i say we have a budget of £40, it is often less and on occasions we have as little as £10 a head for the week. Having these staples can help pack your cheap meals with flavour and make a little go a long way
and make food fun and interesting..not just frugal and worthy

So what goes into this gold mine of taste?

Here are my basic essentials:

There are lots of herbs and spices you can use, and many recipes call for specific ones, so often Ive been put off a recipe because the ingredient list is so long and has a big list of expensive items, i don't have and will never use again.

If you can grow fresh ones in a window box or pot in your garden then great but if you cant a few goods ones to go for are:
if you cant afford indovidual herbs - most places do a cheap mixed herb pot so go for that

there are bound to be others - but having those will allow you to add flavour from an Italian inspired dish to roasted veg.

I freely admit LM is the spice king in our house, we have a few unusual spices that im unsure of - but here goes, try and go for whole spices like black pepper corns, cumin seeds etc, they last longer and are often cheaper. If like me using a pestle and mortar is a chore, use a small food blender. and if you don't have one the ground spices are fine.

Chili powder
Cumin (seeds or ground)
Coriander (ground)
Black pepper
Garam Masala as a pack contains a load of spices giving you the building blocks of a curry

Worcestershire sauce
Peanut butter
Soy sauce
Vegetable/sunflower oil
jar of chilli's or dried chili flakes gives different heat to powder
marmite or yeast extract

Sauces & Stocks
Brown sauce
Gravy powder
Beef, veg, chicken stock cubes
Hot pepper sauce*
Sweet chill sauce*
lemon juice

Food Staples
Food staples are the kind of things i reach for when i deciding what to cook or meal plan, its the stuff you don't buy often but all add to the basic building blocks

Plain Flour
Self Raising Flour
Corn flour
Lentils - red lentil even if you dont like them bulk meals out
baking powder
bicarbonate of soda
sugar - caster, granulated
cous cous* - its cheap and bulky but not every ones fave
rice - I buy cheap long grain
dried pasta  - again i buy cheap and cheerful
popping corn
cocoa powder or ***cheap dark chocolate bar

Meal basics
 I'm really talking about some tins, packets and short cuts. Just because i try hard to avoid processed not standing over a hot pan making fresh custard..i know how to, i just choose not to..packet custard is just fine

Tinned tomatoes, I find its a false economy buying the absolute cheapest tins,- sometimes cheap is not good, you end up using loads of tomatoes puree to get flavour - you may as well have bought a decent tin in the 1st place. we always check out the bashed tin section
Kidney beans
Butter beans
Cannelloni beans
Baked beans
Tinned Rice pudding* ok i just love rice pudding
packet custard mix
jelly cubes
tinned fish - tuna, sardine, mackerel - that kind of thing
vegetable packet soup

 Fridge staples - this is a matter of taste really
cheese - go for strongest flavoured cheese you can afford - super cheap mild cheddar has little flavour - by using a strong flavour, its goes further so you use less.
baking marg block* if you ever make pastry
mayo or salad cream* not an essential but useful
tomatoe puree

That's it - I know its a bit of a list and im sure you might be reading it and thinking but she's not mentioned something or i hate marmite, or im a vegan or what ever im sure everyone will have your own ideas what constitutes a store cupboard essentials list. what i have tried to do is cover the flavour building blocks, for instance i know from memory a dollop of ketchup, splash of Worcestershire sauce, honey and some soy sauce will make a great cheap bbq type marinade for chicken drumsticks.

As i said earlier I'm not advocating you go buy all of the above in your next shop, or that you have to use any or many of them. build up your own stock of key things. I never buy branded stuff  (unless its on offer) and find the world food aisle in my local asda a godsend..if you live near an Asian area then head for their mini markets for cheap spice heaven, if you don't and your only option is online buy a few key things.

If I was pushed to choose from that list of herbs, spices and condiments id go for - because i know i could add flavour to many dishes from that list. like anything its knowing how they go together that's key.

Worcestershire sauce
veg stock cube
corn flour
salt & pepper
chili powder
mixed herbs
soy sauce
garam masala mix (mix of spices which are the basis of curry)

the rest are nice to have and i do use them, but i could live without if i couldn't get hold of them - personally id rather replenish my store cupboard than buy a treat..but then that me, mind you id i was presented with

I have found over the years that having a few staples in, I can make my money go a bit further and if my benefits are messed around, I cant get out or i have more week than money, having a few things on hand to eek my food out so i dont go hungry makes a big difference.

 ***My top Delia style tip :) - the best cheap dark chcolate ive ever used for baking is the Sainsburies basic dark chcolate at 30P for a 100gram bar its brilliant, its has a great bitter edge, melts brillinatly and is my choc of choice.


  1. Lol I think you've been in my cupboards I can tick most of that list off with ease :)

    For baking purposes we always seem to have some dried fruit in - lots of biscuits and rock cakes get made here.

    The only other thing I tend to keep in is chickpeas - cans are very cheap and they are great for bulking out so many dishes: curries, moroccan foods and of course whizzing up into houmous.

    Top tip: I saw in a magazine the other day that if you don't have Tahini which can be expensive.(we don't our jars were broken by small son) then 1/2 the amount of peanut butter is a good replacement (I've not tried it yet but sounds a good idea)


  2. Having seen your cupboards I know you can, and a load more besides.
    lordy yes the humble chcick pea how could I forget :)

    I was thuinking about baking stuff, I have way more i could have added..idea for another time baking staples

    great tip, shall store away and do a page for tips.

  3. Yes I currently have a rice collection to rival any top chef's. Embarrassingly I have about 7 different types of rice. In my defence I've tried some different recipes recently that asked for odd rice like sushi, risotto and paella rice.

    I always like to keep lasagne sheets in as well more normal varieties of pasta again you can bulk out a lasagne with lentils in the meat mix.

  4. Anyone know what you would use flaked rice for? I saw it on the supermarket shelf the other day but me and hubby couldnt work out what you would do with it.

    As for the other ingredients I have a very basic store cupboard that could def use some improvement, although part of the problem is physical cupboard space :(

    1. a google search sometihng to do with brewing..but seems flaked rice makes a quick rice pudding - which would be good, as rice pudidng is the food of the gods :)

  5. we love rice pudding here.. I make mine with honey... its gorgeous. My top tip is to boil the pudding rice for 5 mins in the microwave 1st. Cuts down the oven time by half :)