If you want to skip to the good bit and get straight to cooking, feel free. Those that want some pantry guidance, keep reading.
I’d also like to caveat this section with a disclaimer – my Kitchen is not stocked with these things at every single waking hour of the day, but these are the items I keep my eye on as often as I can.
They are very much skeleton items in a lot of recipes so having a nice amount of some of these ingredients ensures I sleep at night.
Listed below are my go-to spices, herbs and oils.
These are the items that I will always have in rotation in my Kitchen because these basic items are what gives a meal it’s soul.
- Cumin – my favourite. Tacos, chillies, on veggies, sprinkled on top of hummus. It’s unstoppable.
- Paprika – I keep mine sweet and smoky and in the vintage, colourful tin I bought it in.
- Cinnamon – both sticks and ready ground.
- Nutmeg – I like the nutmeg still whole. I love those cute little graters too much.
- Mustard Powder – bright, yellow and Colman’s please.
- Cardamom – ready ground… can’t be arsed for the pods.
- Turmeric – use a rubber spatula when using this for God’s sake.
- Chilli powder and dried chilli flakes – I like them fiery. I keep my flakes in a grinder and finish off meals with it.
- Garam masala – the basis of all good curries start here.
- Coriander – ready ground and not interchangeable with fresh.
- Garlic powder – for when mincing garlic is just too much.
- Herbs de Provence – literally I throw this in everything. It’s a mix of a bunch of herbs so saves you the hassle.
- Oregano – because that pizza’ish taste is just too damn good.
- Bay Leaves – in every and anything.
- Mint – beautiful rubbed into chicken or lamb.
- That’s it – anything else just tastes like dusty grass
- Olive – I keep a regular fruity and deep green regular one for cooking and a punchy and sweet extra virgin to pour over things before serving.
- Sesame – noodles just don’t feel right without it.
- Flavourless – like vegetable or sunflower. This completes out my three essentials.
- But also truffle – an extravagance but I allow myself because I work hard, God damn it.
- Soy sauce – noodles and soups aren’t the same without it. A big bottle and as dark as I can find it.
- Apple cider vinegar – tangy and fruity. Drowning some sliced up vegetables with salt and sugar to make a quick pickle.
- Fish sauce – in a big, smelly bottle. Hold your nose if you’re squeamish.
- Worcestershire sauce – pronounced Whusster-chestershire or not pronounced at all
- Smoke water – not essential but brings a huge depth of flavour to stews and meats. I buy mine from Halen Mon
You will find that the majority of my recipes include a balance of fridge and store cupboards ingredients.
This meaning, while each recipe may include the odd fresh item, the rest of the recipe is then padded out with items that will sit in your pantry for centuries and survive a nuclear war.
- Salt – flaky, from the sea and in industrial quantities. That’s how I like my salt. I have several variations – white sea salt flakes as my go-to, smoked salt, chilli and garlic salt and celery salt for a Bloody Mikey (all from Halen Mon)
- Black Pepper – bought from any old where. I like to buy them whole and then grind them myself.
- Bread – a hefty old sourdough loaf will do me fine. Maybe a bagel now and then. Also some plastic, white bread – and I buy it cut into XXL thick slices – for toast when I’m feeling sluggish.
- Lemons and limes – unwaxed and not kept in the fridge
- Garlic – big fat bulbs of the stuff.
- Cans, cans and cans – chickpeas, red kidney beans, butter beans , black beans when I find them in the shop, chopped tomatoes (not plum), tuna, sweetcorn, peaches, pears, pineapple, custard and coconut milk. Not the light coconut milk.
- Eggs – out of the fridge. Welsh, large, free range and organic, preferably. In cartons of 12 and used for baking but mostly for stirring through fried rice or boiled to make really chunky egg and cress sandwiches.
- Rice – I keep white long grain, brown and risotto at all times. That’s it.
- Pasta – I’m fine to only keep a short pasta and a long pasta. Just having penne and linguine in the house will keep me safe.
- Noodles – I like the thinner rice ones I can soak in water or the thicker eggy ones.
- Lentils – small, red, cute. Tonnes of them. All the dal for me, please.
- Couscous – I cook couscous more than I care to admit. All you need is some seasoning and a kettle.
- Oats – big, puffy and rolled
- Seeds – I will always have pumpkin, sunflower and chia.
- Granola and cereal – I make my own granola and always keep a jar of it to hand. Otherwise, it’s Kellog’s Crunchy Nut for me.
- Mixed nuts – I buy a bag of mixed ones and then fish out what I need when I need them. It’s cheaper. Plus the basis of a banging pesto.
- Peanut butter – thick and crunchy for me and smooth for the dog. It’s his favourite treat.
- Marmite – don’t be a hater. Great melted with butter and Parmesan for pasta but also just on buttery toast.
- Tortillas – they will get you out of MULTIPLE troubles. If you have any stales ones left, cut, oil and bake them for quick nachos.
- Coffee – instant and preferably Alta Rica. I have a coffee burner but I’m lazy.
- Salted popcorn and pretzels – my favourite snacks.
- Milks and creams – blue lid milk or nothing. Double cream for sauces and puddings. Maybe a coconut yogurt now and then. Almond milk for overnight oats.
- Bacon – I like it in thin strips, smoked and streaky. Of course fried and slapped between two thick pieces of white bread for a sandwich but also snipped into cooked linguine with some butter and black pepper. When it’s baked they also make fantastic pancake toppers, dunked into maple syrup.
- Sausages – cooked whole with lentils or the meat taken out of the skins and rolled into little meatballs. Also, good to have frozen on standby for when you want a midweek, ‘Sausage Sunday Dinner’ 90’s style.
- White fish – cod or haddock fillets. I rarely buy salmon. Salmon always tastes like salmon. White fish will take on the flavours you give them, and I like that kind of versatility.
- Coconut yogurt – a breakfast in a rush with some cut-up fruit and granola, also good spooned on top of cake. Makes a fabulous dip with some cut up mint, tahini sauce and olive oil stirred into it. Great with some curry powder added to it to marinade chicken or little cauliflower florets.
- Potatoes – both regular Maris Piper ones, small baby potatoes for bashing and also beautiful orange sweet ones.
- Onions – the whole lot. I like white, red and spring. I will often have a leek or three hanging about too.
- Ginger – ready to be peeled with a spoon
- Chillies – long, red, thin and fiery.
- Cheese – I only ever keep 1 or 2 at a time. A block of mature (for Mac & Cheese, grating on beans on toast or a grilled sandwich) and a block of blue will do me fine, plus Parmesan and a tub of soft cheese
- Mushrooms – for soups, noodles, gravies, salads… for life.
- Tomatoes – plump and always on the vine
- Carrots – because I’ll always end up need them for something. When I have a few strays left in the bag, I’ll either grate them into stir fried rice, or grate, mix with some sweetcorn and bind with an egg and fry for quick fritters or roast them and blitz with some vegetable stock to create a soup, stir some miso paste through it, dunk in some good bread.
- Butternut Squash – because I know I’ll get three meals out of it.
- Courgettes – only 2 or 3. Wonderful sliced up and fried to be eaten with some rice and smoked mackerel. Any leftover fried courgettes can get smashed up with some pesto and put in a thick, melty omelette.
- Cauliflower – I can break up the cauliflower into florets and cover in some curry powder, coconut yogurt and oil, bake it, toss in the softer outer leaves for the last ten minutes of roasting. Or boil in some stock and blitz to a soup and add in some blue cheese and butter. Makes the house smell a bit though, but I live alone so it’s fine.
- Broccoli – I like them long and leggy, chopped up, legs and all, thrown into some stir fried rice. Any leftover scraggly broccoli gets boiled and eaten dressed with some olive oil, some lemon juices and eaten on the side of a chicken.
- One or two red peppers – meh. Could take or leave these. I prefer the red peppers packed into a jar with oil, but fresh ones sometimes get sliced up into stir fries.
- Pillow bags of leaves – I only ever buy rocket for salads and makeshift homemade pesto’s or spinach for blanching really quickly in hot water and eaten in salads or added to the last few minutes of a tray bake. I hate mixed leave salads.
- Herbs – I’ll always have thyme, rosemary, coriander and parsley. Anything else can come and go as it is needed.
- Pickled stuff – plump green olives, oily roast red peppers, gherkins, jalapenos, little onions, preserved lemons, kimchi
- Jars – cherry jam, blackberry jam, lemon curd, redcurrant jelly and all the jars of marmalade I can fit, one good chutney on the go, Branston pickle, mint sauce on every Sunday roast, Colman’s mustard, pesto (always green and mostly homemade) and a random jar of Shrimp Paste I’ll never use
- Sauces – Frank’s Hot Sauce forever and always and maybe some Sriracha when I fancy it. A bottle of red ketchup too. I don’t care about the brand, it only ever goes in bacon sandwiches.
- Alcohol – bottled beer and Prosecco for me
- Peas – always on hand. I want the wherewithal to make a pea puree at all times.
- Ice – for drinks. The only things in life that should be served room temperature water are house plants and kettles.
- Fish fingers – for quick fish tacos and of course, sandwiches. Lots of butter and ketchup. Also Nigella’s Fish Finger Bhorta which has become a weekly staple for me.
- Stock – usually vegetable or chicken from the bones of a roast. Made from scratch and frozen in ziplock bags.
- Breads ends – to defrost and blitz up for breadcrumbs
- Birthday cake – because I like to keep the celebration going for as long as possible.
Baking is a slightly different approach and I do have a shelf on my pantry that is dedicated to such an ordeal.
The beauty of baking is that you can buy a handful of ingredients and you are literally set for months because they maintain themselves for ages and are always useful to have on the shelf to snatch at when the mood takes me.
- Flours – I keep a bag of plain, a bag of self raising, and a bag of buckwheat because it makes amazing pancakes. I also keep ground almond flour for fun.
- Rising powders – a jar of baking powder, bicarb of soda and a few sachets of yeast will do me fine. Extra bicarb though to put in a tiny jar and keep in the fridge to ward of smells, like my Nan used to do. Don’t know if it works though.
- Butter – unsalted and always kept in the cupboard
- Sugars – white, caster, soft brown and dark brown.
- Dried fruits – apricots, prunes, dates, cranberries and sultanas and some shredded coconut flakes
- Syrup – smoky maple and thick golden. And honey. Does honey count as a syrup?
- Vanilla extract – never essence of
- Chocolate – bars of dark chocolate at all times for sauces, bakes and even adding to chillies
- Condensed milk – for fudge and ice creams
To put this simply, I don’t have many gadgets. I am extremely simple when it comes to cooking.
Not because I’m one of those bloggers who says cooking is simple and then asks you to spend six hours preparing things with different machines, but because I am scared of new technology.
I only got ‘contactless’ in early 2017. I am not the most digitally advanced of people so I like to keep things simple.
The only two electrical pieces of equipment I use is a food processor and a hand blender.
Other than this, the rest of my equipment is pretty much the same as yours.
The two key ones being my favourite frying pan which has been through wars with me (I say war but it’s basically just University – same thing) and a large stock pot that I make everything from stews to popcorn in. Best when they can go from hob to oven without shattering. Although I have shattered a Le Creuset pot before now so you’re no better than me if you share this experience.
I believe if I only had to live with a frying pan and a deep stock pot for the rest of my life, I’d be fine.
I do however collect wooden spoons everywhere I go. As a result I have a big-ass metal plant pot near my stove CRAMMED full of scorched and distressed wooden spoons.
Some people collect stamps, I collect spoons. Sue me.
I pre-plan all of my meals and cannot recommend this enough.
Not because I’m anal, but because I don’t want to trek to a shop more than I need to so knowing what I am eating through the week saves me unnecessary trips.
Every weekend, I take 5/10 minutes to think about what I am going to cook Monday-Friday. This tends to happen when I’m still in bed on a Sunday morning with a coffee.
I make a note of each meal I want to eat in my Notepad on my phone and underneath each meal, write the ingredients I will need to buy to make it.
This helps me figure out which meals can carry over to the next day and I can take into work. This also helps me figure out ingredients I will need to buy and what I will have in excess so that I can make use of it across the week.
For example, if I buy a butternut squash for a meal on a Monday but won’t be using the whole thing, I’ll come up with something to cook with a squash on the Wednesday.
However, eating needs to be flexible. While I do tend to stick to the plan as much as I can, I’m also aware that sometimes I just want to eat out with or order in. We’re human. You have to allow room for spontaneous acts like this otherwise you’ll be a slave to your Kitchen.
Food and cooking is all about being in a rhythm and being connected to life.
It may look like it takes a lot of energy and money to put a decent meal on the table but it really doesn’t.
Like I have said time and time again, I assume you and I have the same life commitments. Work, friends, families etc. I have the same exposure to my Kitchen that you do.
And I only cook this way – not least because it’s a passion – but because it’s so simple.
Cooking can connect you to your life. Not from a health or dietary perspective, but to get you aligned with moments that are important and helping you find the soul in the smallest of occasions.
The popcorn you share with your partner on movie night, the stew you could cook blindfolded that your mum used to make or the chocolate cake you cook for your child’s birthday.
These are all small life celebrations without you even knowing it, and food can connect you to these moments in a very simple way.
Once you get to the core of WHY you want to eat, this will then guide WHAT you cook and ultimately HOW you cook it.
These are recipes for the rhythm of REAL living.